Carter and Sadie were running for their lives, and the worst part about that was that it was nothing new.
"We'll talk with the curator," huffed Sadie as she ran, somehow still managing to be sarcastic. "He might know something that can help us. His exhibit's full of scrolls about Egyptian family trees. There's no chance he might actually be a member of the House of Life in disguise!"
"Shut it, Sadie," said Carter. "We had no reason to think he was!"
"Oh come on! Haven't you ever watched The Mummy?"
"Less talking, more running, both of you!" said Bast sharply. "This way!"
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History was crowded, as was to be expected. It was spring in Washington DC, so the city was full of tourists there to see the cherry blossoms, school groups on their spring field trips, and families whose kids were out for spring break. At first Carter thought that the crowds were a problem, but he quickly realized that Bast was making them work in their favor.
"Coming through!" shouted the goddess as she cut through the packed lobby. "Sorry! We're going to miss our bus! 'Scuse us, coming through!"
Their pursuers, a group of large, burly men who hadn't yet stashed their staffs in the Duat, did not have as easy of a time. Carter glanced back over his shoulder just in time to see one of them trip over a child who started screaming, then the kid's mother advanced on him, giving the House of Life freak a piece of her mind.
"Carter, come on!"
They burst out the main doors and kept running down the steps. "You two keep running," ordered Bast. "Get to the monument and get out of here. I'll hold them off."
"But Bast –" protested Sadie.
"Child," said Bast, her eyes glittering wickedly. "Do you really think they'll have an easy time catching a cat on a busy street?" With that, she changed into her other form. One moment she was a statuesque knockout of a woman, the next she was a four legged feline, complete with collar and arched back.
"Let's go, Sadie!" said Carter, grabbing his sister's hand to drag her along.
Sadie immediately yanked her hand away. "I don't need you to hold my bloody hand, Carter!" she said in that ill-tempered way of hers, but she followed him.
There was a convenient row of tour buses lined up against the curb. Carter wove between two of them, then kept running down the street, keeping the line of buses between himself and the museum doors so he and Sadie would be out of sight to anyone exiting the museum.
"That cat! There!"
"It's the goddess! Follow it!"
"What if we ambush them from behind?" asked Sadie. "While they're distracted I could wrap them up with bandages so tight they –"
"No," said Carter. "Bast told us to get out of here, so we're getting out of here. She doesn't need our help. Not with a bunch of lug-heads like them."
"Lug-heads?" asked Sadie. "Who says that?"
"Just come on!"
The siblings raced down the street, away from the museum. The Washington monument loomed before them on the other side of the mall. If they could just get there, they'd be home free, provided that the House of Life hadn't contacted its New York agents to make sure someone was waiting for them at the obelisk back in Central Park.
"Sadie," he said, "I just thought of something."
"That's very nice, Carter. I'm happy for you," muttered Sadie.
"I'm serious! We shouldn't use the portal to get back to New York," he said.
"And why the heck not?"
"Because we're getting too predictable," he said. "Remember what happened the last time we portalled to Central Park?"
Sadie groaned. "How could I forget?" she asked. "It's not every day we set a prophecy that'll destroy the world into motion, though meeting cute, dark haired, emo Death Boys is starting to become commonplace!"
Carter almost rolled his eyes but fought the urge. To be fair, he'd kind of been asking for a response like that, having phrased that question the way he did.
A month and a half ago, they'd also been running for their lives, trying to get away from agents of the House of Life, who were doing their damnedest to stop the Kanes from recruiting others with the blood of the pharaohs, so that they could revive the old ways. It didn't matter to the House of Life freaks that a giant chaos snake was going to destroy the world if they failed. They'd chased Sadie and Carter out of Seattle, and had agents waiting for them at the obelisk in Central Park when they'd portaled through.
Sadie and Carter had run into a strange, skinny boy with dead black eyes and hair to match, as they'd tried to escape. A boy they later learned was called Nico diAngelo. Nico was the son of the Greek Lord of the Underworld, Hades, and had an arsenal of amazing, if creepy powers, as well as a strong sense of right and wrong. He'd immediately seen the contradiction in an agent of the House of Life having a jackal as a familiar, as a jackal was a symbol of death, and decided to set things right by sending said jackal to his father's realm, so that his pet dog Cerberus could use it as a chew toy. At least that's what he claimed his reason for getting involved was. In truth, Carter and Sadie both knew it was because it hadn't been hard to see who the bad guys in that situation were. Nico had stood up for them even though he didn't even know them, and had tried to protect them. The House of Life freaks had mistaken him as a godling, not knowing he was a demigod. His powers seemed a lot like necromancy to them, and so they'd tried to banish him with the Ribbons of Hathor. On any other demigod, those ribbons would have done a big fat lot of nothing. Their power was some sort of life essence, which wouldn't have hurt a normal demigod, but Nico was a death god's son. The spark which kept him alive was closer to the power that animated the corpses he raised than the stuff that kept everyone else alive, and so the ribbons had just about killed him.
Nico's soul was actually sent to the Egyptian underworld, where he met Anubis in the Hall of Judgement. Anubis hadn't exactly been pleased, because demigod souls weren't his jurisdiction. Carter remembered the jackal headed god as being kind of a jerk, but had come to change his mind about Anubis since. Nico had fallen to his knees in pain while he was in Anubis's realm, and Anubis had put a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to help him. That had been a mistake which proved what everyone said about good intentions. Somehow, and neither Nico, Anubis, nor Thoth knew how, Anubis had accidentally fused his soul to Nico's. He'd involuntarily taken Nico as a host, something which should have been impossible, and had caused an awful lot of trouble.
Things spiraled out of control after that. Nico sank into a coma for four days. Hades assumed that his son had been kidnapped by the House of Life and had been prepared to start a war with them to get Nico back. The House of Life realized how badly screwed they were, and decided to try to kidnap Nico back and return him to his father. Percy Jackson, Nico's protective older cousin, found out that Nico was being held by the Kanes, and mistakenly thought that they had kidnapped him. It turned into a whirlwind adventure of misunderstandings, battles, and more running for their lives. Lots of running for their lives. And through the adventure, they'd actually come to be friends with Nico and Percy . . . and Anubis, though Carter thought they'd been on good terms with him before. So at the end of it all, they were better off than they'd been before it. Nico might or might not have the blood of the pharaohs in his veins, but he was still a god's host. It was quite possible that he was the only demigodling in all of history, but whether he was or wasn't, he was still a force to be reckoned with. And Percy was just awesome, the kind of guy Carter really wished he could be. Percy was steadfast, and brave, and caring, treating Nico more like a little brother than a DNA-less cousin, an altogether good person, but at the same time he was a wicked awesome fighter with insane powers, near invulnerability, and a special affinity with tiger fish. They weren't what Carter and Sadie had been looking for. They were better. And the more Carter and Sadie learned about them, the happier they were that those boys were their allies now. They had some experience at saving the world, at least.
But as awesome as it was to have made friends like that, neither Sadie nor Carter wanted to repeat the experience.
"London," huffed Carter. "We'll portal to Cleopatra's Needle, then summon the boat on the river."
"No," said Sadie, contrary as always, "Memphis. We'll portal to the Pyramid Arena, so we'll be right up on the river. Less running."
"Fine," said Carter. It wasn't worth arguing over, especially since she had a point.
In the end, it didn't matter. Their plan was foiled when they approached the monument and Carter noticed several suspicious faces trying to blend in with the sea of tourists. It was their eyes that gave them away. Everyone else around the monument was at ease. Maybe not relaxed, since standing around, waiting until their turn to enter the monument couldn't be fun, but people who were just impatient and irritated usually weren't on full alert, with their eyes darting from face to face suspiciously.
Carter grabbed Sadie's hand again to yank her to a stop.
"I told you, Carter, stop trying to hold my hand," said Sadie, and she tried to pull it away.
Carter held onto her this time. "Stop," he said softly but urgently. "Don't fight me. Turn slowly. They're already there."
"They . . ." Sadie trailed off and stopped rebelling.
"They haven't spotted us yet, I don't think," said Carter. "We can't give them any reason to give us a second glance.
"So we're pretending that we're a couple?" asked Sadie, her voice incredulous.
"What – no –"
"That's actually a brilliant idea," said Sadie, and she stepped closer to Carter and leaned her head on his shoulder. "They're looking for a brother and sister, after all. Come on." She started leading Carter away from the monument, back down the path. "Any ideas on what we should do now?"
Carter tried to think, but it was hard with Sadie's hair flying in his face, and her standing so close to him. They were siblings, and they loved each other, but neither of them were big on physical contact. Carter remembered thinking, many of the times that he'd seen Percy picking up Nico and carrying him when he was too exhausted to walk that Sadie would throttle him if he ever tried to help her that way. He and Sadie were growing closer, as siblings, but he still found it incredibly disturbing to be acting like they were a couple.
"There's a river nearby, right?" he asked. "If we can just get there, we can summon the boat."
"Right," said Sadie. "Good plan."
"Thanks," said Carter, genuinely surprised.
"Don't let it go to your head," Sadie warned him, and stepped away from him abruptly. She must have figured they were far enough away from the House of Life freaks guarding the monument. Either that or she deliberately set him up so that he stumbled into a mud puddle. "I wish Nico and Anubis were here," she said, as if she hadn't noticed that Carter's khakis were now mud splattered.
"Or Percy," said Carter. "He's good to have in a fight."
"Nico's better for escaping and sneaking away," said Sadie, as if it was some sort of argument.
"And Anubis is good at faking split personalities," muttered Carter.
"What was that?"
Carter actually did wish that Nico, and by default Anubis, were there too. He'd gotten used to having the younger boy around, and the kid more than pulled his own weight. And it had been nice to have someone around to practice sword fighting with. Nico always beat Carter in their practice matches, and graciously attributed it to his demigod capabilities, rather than rub Carter's face in it like some people would have. He'd explained how most demigods were diagnosed with ADHD (but not him, because he'd been born in the thirties, and that term hadn't been around then, as he liked to point out) because their bodies were wired for fighting monsters and always being on the move, rather than sitting around studying. And studying wasn't easy either because their brains were hardwired for Ancient Greek, so most demigods were dyslexic. Incidentally, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics weren't any easier for Nico, but Anubis was awake in his head most of the time, and had been willing to help out.
Nico had taken off almost two weeks ago, presumably to go train using his demigod powers. He'd disappeared before, but usually only for a day or two at a time. Never a full week or longer, and Carter had to admit that he was getting a little worried about the younger boy. Nico was powerful, yeah, but he was still just a kid. He was Sadie's age, and didn't really have any business running to all corners of the world and underworld by himself. Carter didn't have the nerve to tell him that, and knew Nico wouldn't be happy if he suddenly had to account for his whereabouts at any given time, but he still worried. At least when he had time to, and since no one was trying to kill them at that exact moment, Carter suddenly found himself with time.
He and Sadie put some distance between themselves and the Washington Monument and before too long found themselves at the Reflecting Pool.
"I don't suppose we could summon the boat here?" suggested Sadie.
"I doubt it," said Carter. "It's a two feet deep concrete pool, not a river. Let's see if we can buy a city map at one of those souvenier kiosks." He motioned toward the row of kiosks off to the side of the Lincoln Memorial.
"Or we could just ask at that tourist center right there," said Sadie. She motioned toward a tiny building that seemed to be a sort of visitor's center.
"Whoever's in there could be a House of Life freak," said Carter warily.
"Or they could just be a normal person, doing their job."
"That's what I thought about the curator."
Sadie rolled her eyes. "You just don't want to ask for directions. What is it about guys and that?"
Carter didn't stop her as she strode over to the tourist center, but kept a wary eye on her. He opened his Duat locker and was ready to snatch out his sword at a moment's notice, but Sadie didn't seem to be in any trouble. She chatted amiably with the attendant for a moment, then nodded and started walking back toward Carter.
Movement out the corner of Carter's eye caught his attention, and the hairs on the back of his neck all suddenly stood up. Trouble. He could feel it. He turned his full attention in that direction and nearly did a double take. A small group of people were running for their lives, and right behind them was the biggest freaking dog Carter had ever seen. It was easily the size of a small bus, with teeth the size of kitchen knives. Drops of saliva flew out of its mouth as it ran. Its fur was black as night. Carter's best guess was that it was one of the hellhounds that Nico had told them about, but whatever it was, it was definitely some sort of mythical creature. None of the normal humans paid the small group or the giant dog any heed. The veil, or what Nico called the Mist, probably showed them a dog on a leash, chasing after its owners.
"Sadie," Carter said and pointed toward the dog. Pointed with his sword, which he'd drawn because he had the feeling he was going to need it.
"Wow, that's a big dog," said Sadie, staring with wide eyes.
"We have to do something. Come on!"
"Carter, don't!" said Sadie. "It could be a trap!"
"Look at their faces!" Carter called back to his sister as he sprinted forward. "That terror's no act!"
Even as he advanced on the group and the hellhound, the smallest member of the group of four tripped and fell flat on her face. She was just a little girl, and couldn't have been older than seven. It took the dog only two bounds to catch up, and then he was nearly on top of her.
Carter acted without thinking and flung a fire ball at the hellhound. He nailed it in the flank just as it was about to crunch down on the little girl.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Dog! Leave her alone!"
That was about the time that all the tourists around them began to react. The Mist now showed them their cocker-spaniel, or whatever they saw the hellhound as, foaming at the mouth or doing something equally scary and dangerous. There were gasps and cries of shock, and people began drawing back, but no one flat out panicked the way they would have if they'd seen what it really was.
The little girl on the ground looked right at Carter and stared at him with fear clouded eyes. She looked like a pixie from a painting, with a mischievous glint to her eyes and curly sandy hair. But there was nothing cute about the terror gripping her. "Help me!" she screamed, still staring right at Carter.
Carter flung another fire ball at the hellhound. It had no more effect on the monster than if he'd hit it with a baseball. In fact, that seemed to be what the humans around them thought he'd done.
"Damn that kid's got a great swing," someone muttered in awe.
"Careful, kid! You're only making it mad!"
"No kidding," muttered Carter, backing up a step as the hellhound started toward him. He raised his sword, but as the monster bore down on him, realized the futility of trying to fight it that way. He doubted his blade could reach any vital organs, even if he managed to stab it in all the way to the hilt, and the monster's head was too low for him to slit its neck open.
He dodged and rolled to the side, barely managing to avoid those kitchen-knife teeth. Several droplets of saliva actually splattered on his skin. Somewhere, close by, someone screamed.
Then hieroglyphics appeared in the air around the hellhound and bandages appeared out of nowhere, shooting up like ropes attached to invisible harpoons. They wound around the monster, between its legs, then around them, tripping it up, then wrapping around it, binding it as tight as a spider's supper.
"Take that," said Sadie, as a bandage twined around the hellhound's mouth, muzzling it.
"YAAAAAH!" A mace clamped down on top of the hellhound's head, as a funny little man with goat legs leapt at it from above. "Take that, foul beast! And that! And that!" His mace made a sound like a cleaver hitting meat each time it connected.
"Hey!" shouted someone from the crowd. "That's uncalled for!"
"Animals deserve to be treated humanely! Even if it does have to be put down, you don't have to beat it to death!"
"You're one to talk, you filthy polluting humans!" roared the satyr, for that's what it had to be. He continued trying to clobber the bound hellhound, but the beating he was trying to administer didn't appear to be doing much good. Either he wasn't very strong, or the hellhound was as tough as a monster from Hades sounded like it'd be.
"What are we supposed to do now?" asked Sadie, stepping uncertainly up beside Carter.
"We can't just leave that thing there," said Carter, eyeing the monster warily. "Those bandages won't hold forever."
Already the linen strips were fraying as the dog strained against them.
"Hurry up and kill it already, then," said Sadie. "Cut off its head or something. That usually kills stuff."
Carter nodded and stepped forward, but before he could reach the monster, a whistling sound filled the air. Then a golden arrow sank right into the back of the hellhound's head, at the base of its skull. The monster dropped like a ton of bricks, then dissipated into a shower of golden particles. Carter jumped back, trying to avoid getting the gold stuff all over himself. "Holy!"
A chariot drawn by two pegasuses dropped out of the sky and landed between the Kanes and the monster. A boy with golden hair and a bronze tan, with a bow in his hands jumped out. A dark haired girl remained in the chariot, holding the reigns. Both of them wore bright orange shirts, which Carter knew could only mean one thing.
"You bastard Son of Apollo!" yowled the satyr, brandishing his club at the beach blond. "You stole my kill!"
"I didn't see your name on it," said the Son of Apollo, a lazy sort of smirk on his face as he watched the satyr literally hop about in anger. He walked quickly over to the little girl who was still sprawled on the ground, and lifted her up as if she weighed no more than a doll. "Here we go. Don't worry, you're okay now. We're going to take you someplace safe."
"Hurry up already," yelled the girl in the chariot.
"Relax, they're not going to run away."
"They will when that hellhound's packmates catch up, if we're not gone by then!"
"Right, right. Well, you heard the lady. Come on." The Son of Apollo motioned them all toward the chariot. "There's more of you than we thought there'd be, so it might be a little tight. Which of you ladies would like to sit on my lap?"
"Save the pillow talk for when we're back at camp!" shouted the girl. "I swear, Brendan!"
"I'm Brendan Noonan, by the way," Brendan introduced himself. "Son of Apollo, but you might recognize me from a couple Abercrombie and Fitch ads. That's Clarisse LaRue. Don't let her scare you, her bark's worse than her bite."
Clarisse was turning red with anger now.
Sadie looked at Carter. "What do we do?"
A howl sounded in the distance. Carter glanced back over his shoulder, in the direction that he thought it came from. He didn't see any giant truck sized dogs racing toward them, but he did see something just as unsettling. One of the House of Life freaks was trying to shove his way through the crowd. Carter recognized him as the curator from the museum. He caught Sadie's eye and jerked his head toward the man. Sadie spotted him immediately.
"Come on already!" Clarisse was shouting at them as they made their decision.
"Let's go," said Sadie. She ran forward and climbed onto the chariot. Carter was right behind her. Brendan Noonan, the little girl he'd picked up, the satyr, and the other two kids who were almost certainly also demigods were already on board.
"Yah!" Clarisse shouted, and cracked her whip. The horses sprang forward and into the sky.
Carter had no idea what the humans saw, but they had all appeared to lose interest. The House of Life agent, on the other hand . . . well Carter was pretty sure he saw things exactly as they were. Carter waited tensely, waiting to see if the man would try to attack them with magic. He wasn't surprised when the man decided not to. After the last incident where the House of Life had messed with demigods, Carter was pretty sure they were going out of their way to avoid them now so as not to cause any inter-pantheon incidents.
"Ha ha," said Sadie triumphantly, and she gave the enemy magician a little wave as they made their escape. "Sucker."
Carter laughed a bit nervously, but he had to admit that this had turned out pretty well. Escaping with demigods might make the House of Life back off a little. Carter doubted that they wanted Hades or any other Greek god paying a visit to the First Nome and exacting vengeance for their children, so if they thought Sadie and Carter were closely connected to the demigods, they'd be more likely to tread lightly around them.
Now all that was left to do was to slip away from these demigods the first time they landed, and find a river so that they could get home. It seemed easy enough.
Unfortunately, Carter had forgotten that nothing was ever easy anymore, at least not for him and Sadie.
AN: I meant to get this written and posted sooner, but I haven't had the chance. First it was school work and cross country, then it was school work and doctor visits and physical therapy because my hand that got crushed in that weight-room "accident" didn't heal right. I had to go see a specialist in the next state over which has not been fun. My parents are really busy so I've had to take a bus partway there, then meet my oldest sister at her college so that she can drive me the rest of the way the next day. And my sister really doesn't want me around, or let me touch her computer, so there's nothing for me to do there. Except there is a really big bookstore within walking distance. It's kind of a long walk, but it's better than sitting around doing nothing. Thankfully (hopefully) I only have two more of those doctor visits. Sorry, I just needed to vent about that, and I've been holding off at home because my parents are doing the best they can and it would make them feel bad. And they did give me spending money to buy books and food because they know how my sister is, and that's a plus. So anyway, that's why I haven't gotten this fic posted sooner.
But about this fic: I've tried to incorporate as many requests from my reviews as possible. Thalia and Annabeth will both be making appearances in this story, and Carter and Sadie will be seeing what Camp Half-Blood is all about. They're not demigods though, they've just been mistaken as demigods by other demigods who don't know any better. Paul Blofis won't be in this fic, but he will be in the next one I'm planning to write, which is a Christmas fic. And I will get that one finished by Christmas, even if I have to write the entire first draft on napkins with my left hand. As far as trying to keep things mainly in canon, so that this AU could kind of be something that happens between the books . . . well, The Lost Hero kind of blew away all chances of that. Not that I didn't like the book, because I liked it very much . . . except for the fact that Nico wasn't in it at all. But that aside, I don't see any way that my fanfic plotlines can be reconciled with Mr. Riordan's real plotlines, so this AU looks like it's going to be more AU than I planned it to be.
And lastly (sorry, I'll try to keep the ANs shorter from now on) Thank you everyone who voted for my other fic, "The Death God Alliance" in the Veritas Awards! I don't want to go all Miss America on you and make a speech, but I am very grateful that people liked my story, and right before I found out that I won, I'd just had to drop off the cross country team because of the medicines I'm taking for my hand. It really turned my day around, so thank you so much!