Chapter II – Central Park Gains a Wheat Field
"There you guys are!" Nico puffed as he jogged up to us. He sounded out of breath. We were leaning against the stone archway leading into the Grand Army Plaza in Central Park South.
"We're right where you told us to be," Annabeth told him, her brow furrowed slightly.
"Yah, but I was on the other side of the plaza. I mean, this place is huge. I had no idea Central Park was this big."
"Well it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux," Annabeth stated, rolling her eyes as if everybody should know this.
"Okay, Nico," I said, "What's the problem you needed our help with?" Nico sighed and fiddled with the collar of his calf length black coat absently. I wondered vaguely if he ever got hot, always dressing in black coats and things. But then again, being death's son, can you ever?
"Um," Nico paused, as if decided how to word something. "I think I should let her talk to you. She wouldn't tell me the entire story unless you two were there."
"Who's she?" Annabeth demanded, sounding slightly hostile. If there's one thing I've learned about Annabeth, it's that she hates not knowing things
"Hey," Nico said, holding his hands up defensively, "I was just told that I should get you two for her and then she'd tell all three of us what's going on." I sighed, realizing we weren't going to get anything more out of Nico until we followed him.
"Fine." I let out a huff of air. "Lead the way." Nico's dark eyes fixed on mine for a minute, and I couldn't decipher anything in their bottomless dark depths. I felt as if I were falling into the darkness from my dream again. I shook my head and trotted after Nico.
"Is she far?" I asked after a while. Nothing was unusual in the park. It was a sunny June day, and Central Park was filled with people. Nothing unusual unless you count the wood nymphs and forest spirits melting in and out of trees and things of that nature. But then again, normal is just a setting on a washing machine, so think what you want
"She's in the trees surrounding that huge meadow…uh…by West Drive." "Sheep Meadow?" I asked. "Yah, that one," Nico replied.
"Stupid New Yorker," Annabeth muttered. That made me smile. It felt good to know a little more than her about something sometimes. Even if it is only the name of some meadow in Central Park. After a little more walking we came up on a large meadow. Some families were picnicking on blankets spread on the grass. Kids were playing Frisbee. Couples were sunbathing together. You're typical Hollywood, perfect day in Central Park.
"Over there," Nico said, pointing to the thicket of trees encircling the large open space. "Right across from us. In those trees."
My ADHD had my mind wandering around, focusing on every little thing. Annabeth's hair in the sun, the brilliant green-ness of the grass, and how out of place Nico looked clad in black, black, and more black with his pale skin and sunken eyes.
"Annabeth called you the prince of darkness," I blurted out before I caught myself. Annabeth, who was walking a little in front of me, wheeled around and gave me her triple-deluxe "you idiot!" stare. Nico just blinked, surprised.
"Percy!" Annabeth exclaimed. "Whoops," I said sheepishly. I was really getting tired of all the blushing. "That's the ADHD talking."
"We all have ADHD!" She cried, throwing her hands up in exasperation. "But when I get side tracked, I don't go around blurting "Percy drools when we make out sometimes!""
"Annabeth!" I exclaimed, "I do not!" Annabeth just rolled her eyes.
"Okay, that was more than I ever needed to know about you two," Nico murmured after a little cough. "So let's go, okay?"
"Sorry, Nico," I muttered as we started walking again.
"Yah, sorry I called you the prince of darkness," she said quietly. Ahead of us, Nico shrugged.
"Water in the Styx," he said, waving his hand passively. "Besides, I kind of like "Prince of Darkness for a title. Sounds cool."
"Well, then, lead the way, your majesty," Annabeth said sarcastically, gesturing across the meadow. Nico turned and started walking, looking extremely pleased with himself.
We wove through the labyrinth of picnic blankets, dogs (apparently leashes were optional), and giggling couples top the opposite side of the meadow. Although I really preferred this to the actual labyrinth.
Lots of sunshine, no attacking monsters, no walls moving around and trying to eat you.
It was great.
We reached the far end and continued on into the trees. Nico lead us farther and farther away from the sun and the people and eventually stopped in a deserted, silent section of forest.
"I've brought them, mi'lady," Nico called into the trees.
For a suspended moment, the forest around us was silent. Then, a figure emerged from the trees.
The woman's hair was the color of a golden wicker basket, braided over one shoulder with stalks of wheat woven in between the strands. Her dress was a dark, earthy green; like late august grass that cascaded down to her sandal clad feet in sold folds and was drawn around her waist with a belt of dried, braided corn husks. She smelled of a wheat field in the baking September sun.
"Lady Demeter," I said, realizing who she was, and where I'd seen her before.
"Greetings, Perseus Jackson," Demeter said formally. "Annabeth Chase." She inclined her head towards Annabeth. We both did little awkward half bows to the goddess of the harvest. She turned to Nico. "Thank you, young man. You're quite helpful. I don't know why my daughter has such distaste for you."
Nico frowned at her comment, as if the idea of being "helpful" was just about as appealing as fighting a Drakon.
"So…" I began, but as the goddess's piercing eyes focused on me all thought kind of just drained out of my head. A slight smile turned up the corner of her mouth.
"You're wondering why I summoned you here," Demeter stated.
"Yes, ma'am," Annabeth replied, nodding.
"Well there has been somewhat of a disturbance in the Underworld while my daughter has been away."
"What disturbance?" Nico asked. "I was just there last week, and nothing seemed to be wrong. Even my father—"
"Even your father," Demeter interrupted, cutting of Nico's sentence, "does not control ever square inch of the underworld, young one. There is a place that belongs to my daughter and my daughter only."
"Persephone?" I stated, just to make sure my family tree calculations were right. I'd gone on a quest for the goddess of spring two winters ago.
"Correct, Percy Jackson. Have you ever heard of her sacred lake?"
"Sacred lake?" I scanned through the myths I could remember. But then again my mythological knowledge was "startlingly lacking, for someone whose life depends on it. What does it take to make you do your homework, Percy?" as Annabeth put it. "No," I responded to Demeter's question.
"I remember!" Annabeth exclaimed. Of course she did. "In the underworld, Persephone has a small lake surrounded by trees and things with swans. It was kind of like a little piece of spring she was allowed to keep in the underworld."
Demeter's eyes glittered. "You are worth of your mother, child." Annabeth blushed.
"She has…a duck pond?" Nico asked. Demeter's eyes flashed with annoyance, as if she were starting to reconsider her earlier comment about Nico's "helpfulness".
"Well, not exactly. My daughter has a small piece of spring to keep with her during her dark months with that husband of hers." She spat the words out as if they were made of acid. "I mean no ill towards you father," she said, looking at Nico. "But there is a problem. While spending the spring and summer up in the world above, something has gone amiss."
"It seems to be poisoned."
"Poisoned?" Annabeth's face was startled. "I thought no one could even get near to the lake without Persephone's permission!"
"Or so we thought," Demeter corrected. "But then again gods have trespassed on each other's sacred grounds before. Take your father Percy in Annabeth's mother's temple."
"No one is ever gonna let that go, are they?" I muttered. Demeter chuckled, a light airy sound like wind blowing through cornstalks.
"You assume it was another god who did this?" Annabeth asked.
"Yes. It would have to be someone very powerful to bypass the magic borders."
"Do you have any ideas who it could be?" I asked. I knew Persephone could be bitter sometimes, but who would want to ruin the only bit of spring in the underworld. Talk about kicking someone when they're down. Demeter shook her head.
"I have told no one of this, but I have been watching the other Olympians. Only Persephone and myself know of the tragedy."
"What will happen if her lake dies completely," Annabeth asked. Demeter's eyes darkened.
"It is not the source but a reflection of her powers. If it fades, it means she is. It is tied directly to her powers. Poison the lake, poison my daughter."
"Woah," Nico interrupted, holding up his hands in the universal "wait" gesture. "Hold the phone. Someone's trying to kill Persephone?"
Annabeth elbowed Nico in the ribs and hissed, "You can't kill a goddess, Nico."
"Well, poison, then?" Nico corrected, elbowing Annabeth back. She shot him a look I was all too familiar with and then exhaled loudly before fixing her eyes back on Demeter.
"Exactly," the goddess of the harvest replied.
"Why would someone wanna hurt her?" I said, "Okay, I can admit she's a jerk sometimes, but still…she's better than my first step-parent." I leaned over to Nico and whispered, "Trust me. You've got it made." Nico just rolled his dark eyes.
Demeter quietly cleared her throat and I muttered: "Oops," and stared at my feet.
"So, my dear children," the goddess said, "I need your help."
"Our help?" Annabeth asked, astounded. "Why…what…?" She stuttered to a halt.
"Why else would I call you out her, my dear? Although it did give me a chance to visit Central Park. I haven't been here in ages." I wondered vaguely if ages really meant ages to her. "Look at the poor useless field," she gestured behind us to the meadow from which we'd come. I could barely make out the sunlight streaming onto the open grass. "Not growing anything productive, poor thing."
Before my eyes, the goddess waved her arm in an arc towards the field, and in a burst of shimmering light, Sheep's Meadow, as I saw through the trees, had been converted to a small, but still field of gently swaying wheat.
"Much better," Demeter said, smiling to herself. The three of us gawked at her. "Now where was I. Oh yes, I need your help."
"Why?" Nico asked. "Why don't you just go figure out what's going on?"
"Oh, I cannot enter the Underworld without Hades' permission," Demeter explained, a bit of annoyance in her voice. "And I do not wish Hades to find out about this little mishap as of now."
"Why not?" Nico demanded, stepping forward two steps towards the goddess. "Why shouldn't my father know what's going on in his realm?"
"Silence, boy," Demeter commanded, and for a second I thought Nico was going to turn into a pile of your Goth variety ash, but after a fearful second of the trees becoming darker and seeming to close in around us, Demeter's expression cleared back to a passive calm. "Do no question me, son of Hades. You will learn that when you need it."
"But—" Nico started, but Demeter raised her hand, and he fell silent. "Yes, ma'am."
"Lady Demeter," Annabeth asked in her formal voice, the one she only used when addressing gods, goddesses, or people of that such rank. The goddess turned to look at her. "Since it is summer, and Persephone is here in the world above, why isn't she telling us this herself?" Demeter regarded Annabeth for a moment and felt a strong urge to drive in front of her, bodyguard style for a minute but then Demeter spoke.
"She is feeling very weak," Demeter explained, "she asked me to come for her." Before Annabeth could respond, she turned back to Nico. "I trust you can get them to the Underworld safely?" Nico nodded slightly. "You father sometimes brags about your shadow travel." Demeter rolled his eyes, but Nico's entire expression lit up like I didn't think a kid of the god of death's was supposed to.
"Good, then I bid you farewell, young demigods. Help my daughter. May the Gods be with you." And with that, the goddess of the harvest allowed us a split second to avert our eyes before disappearing in a flash of blinding light, leaving me, Annabeth, and Nico standing in the middle of the woods.
"Well, that wasn't weird in any way," Annabeth huffed.
"The world was supposed to be saved already," Nico complained.
"C'mon guys, we're half bloods. Its non stop fun, twenty four seven!" Annabeth just rolled her eyes at me.
Two girls, friends, I'd guess, in their mid twenties walked by the edge of the woods and I heard them say something about how wonderful Central Park was helping out with the new urban farming project by planting a wheat field in Sheep's Meadow to help feed the homeless.
"So we're shadow traveling," I asked. Nico sighed.
"Yah, I've gotten better at it. I can bring someone with me now." His eyes looked back and forth between Annabeth and me, "Although, bringing two people is going to be a challenge."
"Sorry I'm not the prince of darkness, Nico," Annabeth said sarcastically. Nico quirked a smile.
"It's all right Annabeth. No one's perfect." Annabeth rolled her eyes for the millionth time today. You'd think she'd get migraines or something. "Now both of you, grab onto my arm, and we'll be off in a second. Just be ready to, like, catch me or something if I fall over from exhaustion when we get there."
"No problem," Annabeth assured, "I do it all the time." She looked over at me and smirked. I just stuck my tongue out at her and then walked over to the opposite side of Nico.
"We're off to see the wizard," I sang with mock enthusiasm under my breath as I grabbed hold of Nico's arm. "The wonderful wizard of—"
And I was thrust into darkness.
~End of Chapter II~
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