THE ROAR OF THE CROWD was deafening. Olympians sprang to their feet cheering on the very first inter-Olympian soccer match. The Solar Streamers were playing Hercules’s Heroes, but this was no ordinary soccer match. The scene on the field was as impressive and extraordinary as you would expect on Olympus.
When Joel first proposed the event, he was amazed by how many Olympians wanted to get involved. Now, with a full stadium of spectators cheering him on, Joel, captain of the Solar Streamers, expertly maneuvered the ball down the pitch and between the legs of a charging satyr. The half goat, half boy turned and charged after him as if his very life depended on it.
Joel broke through the defense line and passed the black-and-white ball to his Olympian teammate and friend Paelen, who dashed forward to get into position. The winged boar, Chrysaor, caught up with Joel and drove away the Hercules’s Heroes defenders, Mercury and Minerva, while Pegasus flew across the field over a line of centaurs and giants and called to Paelen to pass the ball. With a quick kick, the ball was in the winged stallion’s possession.
Emily sat on the sidelines beside Jupiter. She marveled at how adept Pegasus was at a sport he and the other Olympians had only just learned. Pegasus was able to keep moving forward while the ball remained in play between his four hooves.
Suddenly a satyr ducked beneath Pegasus and stole the ball away. Moving swiftly on his goat legs, he kicked it back to his teammates. But no sooner did the opposing team have the ball than a young female centaur on Joel’s team made a move that caused the crowd to cheer even louder. Leaping gracefully into the air, she blocked a high kick with her brown equine body. As the ball touched down on the ground, she expertly kicked it forward to Joel.
Running toward the goal line, Joel and Paelen kept the soccer ball moving between them. Finally Joel moved into position to shoot it at the goal.
“Go for it, Joel!” Emily shouted from her seat. “Shoot!”
The opposing side’s goalkeeper was a terrifying sight. The Sphinx reared on her lion’s haunches, spread her arms and eagle’s wings wide, and prepared to block Joel’s shot.
With one quick dart away from a young Nirad defender, Joel kicked the ball. It flew in the air and then seemed to arch as if it had a life all its own. It caught the upper bar of the goalposts and flew into the net above the head of the Sphinx.
When the goalkeeper saw the ball enter her goal, she roared in fury and sprang forward, tackling Joel to the ground.
Emily’s heart nearly stopped. The Sphinx had Joel pinned down with her large lion paws. She threw back her head, roaring a second time, and raised a fearsome paw in the air, as if to tear into him with her sharpened claws.
“Jupiter, stop her!” Emily cried to the leader of Olympus standing beside her. “The Sphinx will tear him apart!”
But instead of moving to stop the attack, Jupiter cheered louder and started to applaud. He leaned closer to her. “My dear child, Alexis may be short-tempered, but she knows this is just a game. Joel is perfectly safe.” Jupiter paused and looked at all the men in the stands raising their hands and cheering. “I am certain that Joel is the subject of many Olympians’ envy.”
Out on the field, the players on Joel’s team continued to celebrate the goal, unconcerned by the goalkeeper’s assault on their star player. Finally the Sphinx brushed back the hair from Joel’s eyes, leaned forward, and kissed him full and long on the lips.
“Foul!” shouted Emily as she ran furiously onto the field. Pushing between the players, she shoved the goalkeeper. “Get off him!”
As the Sphinx climbed slowly off Joel, her serpent’s tail swished playfully in the air. She narrowed her green eyes and smiled mischievously at Emily. “Is the Flame of Olympus jealous?”
The Sphinx may have looked ferocious and dangerous with her lion’s body, eagle’s wings, and serpent’s tail, but she had the head and upper body of a young woman. In fact, she was breathtakingly beautiful.
Emily paused and looked from Alexis to Joel. Seeing him on the ground with his beaming smile, warm brown eyes, and handsome face, Emily was stunned to realize that she was very jealous.
“Of course not!” she shot back. “But kissing the opposing players isn’t part of the game.”
The smile never left the Sphinx’s face as she padded lithely back to her position in front of the goal. She looked playfully over her shoulder, flicking her long raven hair. “Pity. It should be.”
Paelen reached forward and, with Emily’s help, lifted the stunned Joel to his feet. As they brushed him off, Paelen stole a look back at Alexis. “Wow!” he breathed. “That was some kiss. You are so lucky!”
The color in Joel’s cheeks brightened further as Alexis called, “I will see you later, Joel.”
“Don’t count on it,” Emily fired back. She ignored the soft chuckles coming from the Sphinx and returned her attention to Joel. During his time in Olympus, he had grown taller and more muscular from all the physical work in Vulcan’s workshop. Joel’s growth spurt was the cause of much complaint from Vulcan, as he constantly had to enlarge the silver mechanical right arm that replaced the one Joel had lost in the fight against the gorgons.
“Did Alexis hurt you?” Emily asked.
Joel looked back at the Sphinx curiously and then shook his head. “Not at all.”
Paelen smiled his crooked grin, then pursed his lips in an exaggerated kiss. “Perhaps bruise your tender lips?”
“What?” Joel cried. He shoved Paelen away as his cheeks reddened deeper. “Stop that. I’m fine! Can we please get back to the match?”
As the players returned to their positions, Pegasus escorted Emily to her seat on the sidelines. The stallion nickered softly, and Emily saw an extra sparkle in his beautiful dark eyes. Pegasus was laughing.
“What are you laughing at?” she challenged.
Emily’s teacher, Vesta, approached, overhearing the conversation. “Pegasus believes the Sphinx was correct. You are jealous of her.”
“Jealous of Alexis? That’s crazy,” Emily said. “For one, she’s just an overgrown, green-eyed, flying house cat. And for two, Joel and I are friends. That’s all.”
The smile on Vesta’s face grew. “Of course you are, dear. . . .”
“We’re friends,” Emily insisted as she returned to her seat. “That’s all! Now, Pegs, your team is waiting for you; you’d better get back.”
Pegasus let out a loud, laughing whinny before trotting back to the field of play to take his position on Joel’s team.
As the match progressed, the score remained tied. While the Sphinx was the Hercules’s Heroes goalkeeper, Joel’s team had a huge orange Nirad called Tirk guarding their end. With his four arms, he proved a capable goalie and rarely allowed the ball into the net.
“That’s quite a match going on out there. But I’m not too sure if flying up and down the field is in the rulebook.”
Emily jumped at the sound of her father’s voice. “Dad!” She threw her arms around his neck. “I’ve missed you.”
He had been away from Olympus with Diana and Apollo for what felt like ages. They were leading a small team back to Earth to determine if Jupiter’s ban on visits should be lifted. The Olympians had heard about human advancements and were curious to learn more. Her father went as an adviser and guide.
When Emily released her father, she welcomed Diana with a firm hug. “I’ve missed you both. When did you get back?”
“Not long ago,” her father said. “We went to the palace first and were told about the big match.”
He looked at the pitch and whistled in amazement. “When you told me you and Joel were teaching some of the Olympians to play soccer, it never dawned on me who or what would be playing. I’ve never seen a more fantastic sight.”
Emily looked over at the satyrs, harpies, centaurs, giants and some of the Muses out on the field playing alongside winged creatures never mentioned or even imagined in the ancient myths.
“We tried to teach Cerberus to play, but it didn’t work,” Emily continued. “His three heads kept fighting over the ball and tearing it to shreds. It was the same with the Cyclops. With only one eye, he kept missing the ball and got really frustrated. He even tore down the goal in a rage. Jupiter finally had to ask him to keep score. You can see him over there.” She pointed to the end of the field, where the giant Cyclops was updating the scoreboard with each goal. “But most of the other Olympians seem to enjoy the game.”
Their eyes were drawn back to the field, where a satyr had broken free of the giant guard and was rushing with the ball toward Joel’s team’s goal. As she neared the net, Paelen appeared from the left to block the kick. But the satyr was faster and she easily got away from him. With a second quick dart, she kicked the ball between the Nirad’s four arms, and it entered the net.
The crowd exploded with excitement and stood cheering. Emily looked around and smiled ruefully at the Olympians. She glanced back to her father. “I don’t think they fully understand the concept of supporting one side or the other. Everyone celebrates when there is a goal—it doesn’t matter which team made it.”
Her father nodded. “Maybe they’ve got the right idea. We could use more sportsmanship like that back in our world.” He focused on Emily again. “You love soccer. Even with your leg brace, you can move just as well as before your leg was hurt. Why aren’t you out there playing?”
Emily hesitated before answering. “I didn’t feel like playing today. I wanted to watch with Jupiter so I could explain the rules. Not that anyone actually follows them.”
Emily watched her father’s face, relieved that he accepted her explanation without question. Emily wanted very much to play, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t because she couldn’t trust herself.
Since her return from the Nirad world, where they’d defeated the gorgons, Emily had mastered the power of the Flame that lived deep within her. She could now control it fully. But recently more powers had surfaced. Powers that went beyond the Flame. Where objects moved by themselves, or sometimes, if she became very frustrated or upset, vanished completely. Vesta hadn’t mentioned more powers. Emily wondered if her teacher even realized there were others. But too many things were happening around her. Until Emily could better understand and control them, she wasn’t going to risk hurting her friends.
The match ended with Joel’s team losing by one goal. A celebratory banquet was planned for later that evening. Emily walked with her father and Pegasus back to the apartment they shared with Joel and Paelen in Jupiter’s palace.
“I am going to tell Jupiter that I don’t think it’s a good idea for Olympians to visit Earth. There are just too many dangers. Our world has changed far too much for them now. They had no idea how different or advanced it is.”
“But after everything they’ve heard from us, they’re all so anxious to visit,” Emily insisted.
“I know,” he agreed. “The big problem is that Olympians aren’t human. Very few of them look even remotely human. Can you imagine what would happen if a centaur or even the Cyclops were to visit our world? In the past, they were accepted as gods, but today . . .” He paused and looked back to Pegasus. “Look what happened to him in New York.”
Pegasus snorted and nickered loudly. Emily reached over and stroked the stallion’s neck. Memories flashed to the surface of her mind. Pegasus had been shot by the secret government agency the Central Research Unit, and taken to their hidden facility on Governors Island. The sight of her beloved stallion lying prone on the floor and struggling for each breath caused a stab of pain in her heart, even now.
Emily looked back at her father and nodded. “It wasn’t just Pegasus who was hurt. Look what the CRU did to Cupid. Their helicopters nearly killed him, despite Olympians being immortal. If they stop eating ambrosia, they become vulnerable, and it’s too easy for them to get hurt.”
“Or captured,” her father added. “Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. I’m going to tell Jupiter this. Olympians are an amazing people, and I don’t want to see anything happen to them.”
As they continued to walk down the tranquil, cobbled road, the clopping sound of Pegasus’s golden hooves was the only thing to disturb the calm of Olympus. After a long silence, Emily’s father spoke again.
“Your aunt Maureen sends her love.”
“You saw her?”
He shook his head. “There were CRU agents posted around her building; we couldn’t get near her. But I did call and tell her we are fine. She asked a lot of questions, but I’m sure her line is bugged. So I told her we’re in hiding but together and safe.”
“I wish we could see her again,” Emily said wistfully.
“Me too,” her father agreed. “Maybe one day soon we can go back for a real visit. Just you and me.”
Emily brightened. “That would be wonderful.”
• • •
When they arrived at their apartment, Emily’s eyes flew wide at the assortment of gifts her father and Diana had brought back for her, Joel, and Paelen: clothes, music, and some of Emily’s favorite snacks, like salted peanuts and her real weakness, marshmallows. There was even an assortment of chocolate bars just for Paelen.
Emily noticed a stack of newspapers. She had never been interested in the news when she lived in New York, but now that she was living in Olympus permanently, she craved to learn what was happening in her city.
Top of the pile was the New York Times. A photograph on the front page caught her attention.
Was that Pegasus?
Emily immediately snatched it up, curious.
Yes, it was definitely Pegasus—but without wings!
She read the caption under the photograph.
Record Breaker! Tornado Warning wins Triple Crown with greatest time and distance ever recorded.
“Tornado Warning?” Emily muttered aloud as she read the article about the winning horse breaking every record in the history of horse racing.
“Look at that face,” her father said lightly. “He looks just like Pegasus, doesn’t he? His body and legs are darker gray, but if he were all white, it could have been Pegasus. Tornado Warning is everywhere and causing quite a stir. They haven’t had a Triple Crown winner like him since Secretariat—and Tornado’s even broken his records!”
Emily barely heard the knocking on the door. As her father went to answer it, she continued to scan the article.
“Pegs, you’ve got to see this.” Emily held up the newspaper for the stallion. “Look at his face. He really does look like you. I mean, you two could be twins!”
When Pegasus looked at the photographs, Emily could sense he was greatly disturbed. Apart from the color, Tornado Warning was identical. His size and shape were the same. All that was missing were the wings and golden hooves. Emily looked at the stallion. “How is this possible?”
“So you have seen the newspapers.” Diana had entered the living room and approached Pegasus. “Is there something you wish to tell me? Did you get up to some mischief while you were in Emily’s world?”
Pegasus snorted angrily and stamped a golden hoof.
Emily frowned and then shook her head. “That’s not possible. Tornado couldn’t be his son. Look here, the paper says Tornado Warning is three years old. But Pegasus only came to our world last year.”
“But he does look just like you, my friend,” Diana said softly as she stroked Pegasus’s face. “What else could it be?”
Emily’s father, Steve, shrugged. “Maybe he’s just a very handsome horse who happens to look a lot like Pegasus.”
Emily studied her father’s face and realized he didn’t see Pegasus the same way she and the other Olympians did. On the surface, Pegasus could look mostly like a horse, but there was a big difference. It was something that she could plainly see, but her father couldn’t. Pegasus was more than a horse, much greater than one. It was in his intelligent eyes and the way he held himself, that created the aura surrounding him that said, I am not a mere horse.
Olympus had many horses and some, like Pegasus, had wings. But none of them were remotely like Pegasus. He was unique—until now.
“You’re wrong, Dad,” Emily insisted. “Tornado Warning doesn’t just look like Pegasus, he’s identical to him.”
Diana put her arm around Emily and gave her a light squeeze. “Well, whatever it is, that horse, Tornado Warning, is in your world while we are all here in Olympus.” Diana abruptly changed the subject. “Now, would you like to try on some of the new clothes that your father and I chose for you?”
Emily looked at Diana and saw there was something the tall woman was not saying aloud. A secret message that said they would speak later. She nodded. “You’re right. Let’s forget Tornado Warning. I want to see what you’ve brought back.”
The New Olympians
When Emily’s father and the goddess Diana return from a visit to Earth, they bring with them disturbing news. There’s a horse called Tornado Warning that’s winning all the races, with times faster than anyone’s ever seen. What could this mean? Emily, Joel, Paelen, Pegasus, and the sphinx Alexis return to Earth to investigate—and discover a CRU plot to clone Olympians and Nirads using DNA retrieved from their previous time in the human realm.
The CRU has already created dozens of Nirad warriors, Dianas, Paelens, Cupids, and Pegasuses. Now they want to create their own Emily clone—even if the original is killed in the process. Can Emily and her friends put a stop to the CRU’s plans before Jupiter finds out and carries through on his own threat to destroy the Earth?
- Aladdin |
- 432 pages |
- ISBN 9781442444157 |
- February 2014 |
- Grades 3 - 7