AN: I'm going to Hell, I know. I'm terrible about updates. I'm one of those hypocrite fanfic readers/writers who yells at other authors in reviews for not updating every week when I've left my story nearly three months without any love. Please don't kill me, really, I'll get better at this, I promise.

Official Seal of Edit by Beta: CHECK! I looooove you, oh hetero life mate. You kick ass. And you're sitting right next to me as I type this. So you know that I'm saying this. :) GO SHANE!

Disclaimer: You're crazy if you think I own Percy Jackson. Nuff said.

...

"I should watch out? I should watch out? You, boy, will be lucky if your balls are still in tact tomorrow morning! Don't be telling me to be careful! I'm not scared of you!"

I buried my head in my hands and tried to ignore Katie's screeches across the table to an equally embarrassed Nico. I didn't have to look up to know that the entirety of the diner around us (which, to be honest, consisted of not much more than a trucker eating off a large plate filled entirely with bacon, a skinny guy that looked like he hadn't slept in days surrounded by at least fifteen empty coffee mugs scribbling furiously in a notebook, and a waitress with a beehive haircut bigger than any other I'd seen before) was staring. Katie's voice was rising in pitch with every word that left her lips, every threat, every sneer, every angry comment. I mean, I understood why she was so angry, Nico did kidnap her and Shadow Travel us to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, but she was overreacting, that was for sure.

"I'll chop all your hair off, cut of your ears, pluck out your eyelashes one by one, I'll-" She cut off suddenly. I looked up from my hands to find her and Nico staring at the beehive-haired waitress. I joined in and stared right back at her, waiting for her to speak. She didn't seem to be able to. It wasn't rocket science to figure out why; all of a sudden, three starving, irritable, wounded, sleep deprived teenagers she's never seen before burst in to her diner and instantly begin screaming at each other. I'd be pretty freaked out too, I bet we all looked a mess. I know Nico and Katie sure did, with their dirty clothes, un-brushed hair, and cheeks all flushed from yelling. I could only guess at what I looked at. No, I couldn't even bear to do that. I didn't want to think about what a mess I surely was.

I was waiting for the waitress to speak, about to just ask her what her name was and what there was to eat around here, but Katie beat me to it. And she didn't exactly ask as nicely as I would have done. "Yo, waitress, you gonna speak any time soon?" she asked in that Katie way that just made you want to slap her. I wouldn't have been surprised if the waitress had actually done it too, so many back in Texas hadn't hesitated to smack her when she went off on one of her spoiled brat rants. But that was just a price you had to pay to be friends with Katie. She was wonderful, sure, but facing the brat inside was something you couldn't manoeuvre around. We just got used to it.

"Um... my name is Sam, I guess I'll be your server today..." The girl looked around the diner as if in search of someone, probably someone who could take her place with this terrible group of strange, moody teenagers. She didn't succeed in her search for someone else, and she sighed, turning back to us. "Yeah, I will be. What can I get you guys to drink? We have coffee, ya'll look like you could do with some." Her southern accent was comforting, so much like my mother's. I opened my mouth to reply and wasn't surprised when my accent suddenly matched hers.

"Yes please, that'll be wonderful," I said back, smiling. The poor girl needed that. She seemed to regain her footing after hearing that I was from the south as well, and she seemed a little more confident. "I'll take it with milk, Katie here," I gestured to Katie, who was the closest I've ever seen a person to looking like a dog bearing her teeth, "will take it with two creams and two sugars, and Nico? What about you?"

"I'll take it black," he said simply, his head resting on his arms, now folded on the table. He looked like was going to pass out any second, probably from sheer exhaustion. Katie could be tiring sometimes, as was apparent here. She was angry at the waitress for interrupting her little rant, and she wasn't making any attempt to hide that. She continued to stare angrily at her with her teeth bared, looking like she was going to lunge across the table and attack her if she didn't just walk away, and after a few seconds, Sam got the message, nodding quickly to say she'd understood, and speeding away from the rabid girl in front of her.

As soon as the waitress was gone, Katie didn't skip a beat resuming her little rant. "I mean really, Nico, how hard would it have been for you to take us to, oh I don't know, Barbados or something? Somewhere nicer? Somewhere significantly less shabby? Is it really that hard just closing your eyes and poofing somewhere else? I can't believe you right now! And, we can't forget, that you kidnapped me to bring me here! I couldn't have a say in this? Why couldn't I have a say in this? I'm just as important as the rest of you! And maybe, if you'd let me in on this, we wouldn't have been taken to such a crap little town! You were obviously not thinking about that now, where you, Zombie Boy! Sofia was never one to go behind my back before you came along, you dirty little son of the devil. You're a bad influence on her. If you'd have let her speak, maybe, she would have thought of bringing me along! I just can't believe you forgot me! You're such a bastard, you honestly didn't think about what I wanted to do! I mean come on-"

"Oh will you just shut up!" Nico cried suddenly, sitting up straight and cutting Katie off mid sentence. "Shut up, shut up, shut up! I've listened to you whine and cry and bitch and moan for the last three hours, Katie! You go on about how I always give you headaches? Well you're giving me one heck of one now, and I'd quite like for it to go away! So why don't you just shut up for ten seconds, please!" He put his head back down on his arms and closed his eyes, trying to block out as much light around him as possible.

Katie just stared at him, her mouth hanging wide open as she thought through Nico's audacity over and over again in her head. He never told her to shut up, normally just waiting out her little temper tantrums until the end and finishing off the fight with some brilliant remark Katie ends up wishing she'd come up with though she'd never admit it to him. But this time, he'd come right out and told her to be quiet, for the first time ever. Needless to say, she was shell shocked. As was I. She just sat there, mouth wide open, staring at him with a mixture of curiosity and a new level of anger in her eyes.

Sam came back just then, surveyed the scene cautiously, and put the three mugs of coffee down on the table before darting back to the kitchen and away from our table. I wanted nothing more than to be able to go and follow her, get away from the tension building up between the two of them, right about to explode, but I knew I couldn't.

I stared at Katie, wincing as I prepared myself for the loud screams and threats sure to follow, but I was surprised again at the fact that it was Nico who broke the silence first. But the most surprising thing was what came out of his mouth when he did.

"You know what? I am so sick and tired of your bitchiness, Katie, I really am. All I ever hear from you is how I don't do enough to help you out on quests, how I'm always causing you trouble, how I'm always an inconvenience to you, and I'm done with it! You're bitter and cold and lonely and angry all the time and, for some strange reason, you take all of that anger out on me. I wish I could help you with your problems, Katie, I really do, but to be honest, I don't know if my help would do any difference! Because you are so deep rooted in this idea that you are supreme, that you are in control, that the world revolves around you and your perfect little ideas. Well newsflash, Sunshine, it doesn't, okay?"

She was just gob smacked, staring at him with a shocked expression on her face. It was almost as if he and Katie had traded places, her just watching silently as he shouted angrily at her from the other end of the table, a strange sight indeed.

"Maybe, if you stopped running your arrogant little mouth for just a few seconds, which I honestly don't think is possible, you'd see that I actually do care about what's going on around us! That I do pay attention! That I'm not just tagging along to mooch off of you and get a couple good thrills along the way! I brought Sofia out here without Chiron's permission because I care about her and this quest! I brought us to a town in the middle of nowhere, though, I will admit it, at the time, I didn't know exactly where that middle of nowhere was, so we couldn't be tracked down! And I brought you along without your permission because I knew you would act like this! I care, Katie, I really do, so next time you spend hours bitching about how nobody cares about you and your needs, try looking past the end of your nose and thinking about other people for once, okay? You'll find it makes you a lot more friends than being a self centred bitch like you are now."

Katie, staring at Nico, completely shocked, didn't say anything. Sam returned then, and sensing that something was off, hesitated a second before opening her mouth to take our orders. "No, it's fine. Say what you were going to say," Nico said, waving a tired hand in her direction. "I was done."

"Um... okay... here are the menus. Do you need a minute to think?"

We looked them over quickly. "No, I think we're good," I said, speaking for both me and Katie, who was still staring at Nico, mouth hanging wide open. "I'll just get a large stack of pancakes and split them with Katie. What are you getting, Nico?"

"I'll have an apple Danish," he said, handing the waitress his menu. I did the same, and she walked away. As soon as the waitress was gone, Nico resumed his position from before, resting his head on his arms and ignoring Katie's shocked expression entirely.

After a few minutes, Katie turned to me as I was finishing off the rest of my coffee. It was crap, but it was caffeinated. That was just what I needed. She grabbed my arm and pulled me around to face her.

"Ow, Katie! That arm is broken!" I cried, pushing her off of it with my good hand.

"Sorry," she said half heartedly, before bouncing straight into defence mode. "Did you see that? The little bastard has the nerve to say all that to me? I'm not going to let him live this one down..."

"Katie," I said warningly. She looks at me. "Pick your battles, Kate. You've lost this one, okay? It's over. And he's right. You can be a little self centred sometimes."

At first she looked like she'd heard me wrong, but then she just looked betrayed. "Yeah, good to know who's side you're on, Sofia." And with that, she stormed out of the diner.

I sighed once I heard the little bell on the door, signalling that it was closed. A few seconds passed before one of Nico's eyes opened and he whispered, "Is she gone?"

I chucked and nodded. "Yeah, she's gone."

He sat up straight and squinted a little against the light, looking thoroughly relieved that Katie was no longer in our presence. "She can really piss me off sometimes," he said.

"Yeah, me too. You handled that well though. Gave her a taste of her own medicine." I smiled to tell him I was with him on this one. I normally didn't pick sides with this kind of stuff, but Katie was out of line this time.

Nico smiled back. "Your accent is different," he commented.

"I'm with my people now, I guess."

"People in Kansas have accents?" he asked.

"Weren't you listening to the waitress at all this past couple minutes?" I asked back.

"Not really. I was too busy plotting to kill Katie," he joked, but I knew he was really angry, so I didn't push it farther.

"Here are your pancakes, and here's your apple Danish," Sam said as she returned, placing the plates down in front of us. "Where's the... um..." She pointed to Katie's empty seat.

"The crazy one?" I offered.

Sam laughed. "Yeah, her."

"She stormed off outside a minute ago. She'll come back a little later," I told her. She nodded in understanding and walked off towards the kitchen. I looked up at Nico and saw that his Danish had already disappeared. "Um... someone's hungry," I laughed.

He swallowed and laughed too. "Yeah, I know. I like Danishes."

"I can tell." I took a bite of my pancakes. They were alright. They just tasted like pancakes. I opened the little tub of syrup and poured gallons of it over the top, taking another bite. Better. Much better.

Nico opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by a loud scream from outside. We both looked towards the windows in the front and saw Katie struggling against the grasp of the strange man we had seen on our way in. He had hold of her arms, and was trying to pull her from the diner, towards an obnoxious looking truck on the side of the road.

"Oh my God! Katie!" I stood up, abandoning my syrup sodden pancakes, and darted towards the door. Nico jumped up just as quickly, knocking over his cup of coffee he hadn't yet drunk out of all over the table as he did.

"Get off of me, you dirty, disgusting bastard!" we heard as we ran outside, Katie's voice just as angry as before, only now it was laced with a hint of fear. "I'll call the police! I'll call the FBI! I'll call the fates and have you tortured for all eternity in Tartarus, you no good, dirty, nasty son of a fury!" she screamed.

The man laughed. "Come on, honey, be nice," he said in a slimy voice that sent chills up and down my spine.

"I have two friends in the diner right now! They'll come and save me!" she yelled, fighting him as much as she could with his tight grip around her wrists.

"Who? Them?" he asked, nodding in our direction. I watched as Nico's hand moved from inside his pocket. It reached around my waist, and for a second, I thought he was going to give me a hug, but then I saw his hand reach into my pocket. I tensed up, not really sure what to expect, and let out a sigh of relief when I saw his hand wrap around the hilt of my dagger, just chilling in my pocket, and pull it out slowly. He'd left his sword in his bag in the diner, I realised, once it left my pocket and he hid it behind his back. "They don't look like they'd do much. They're just watching. Come on, honey, come with me. I won't hurt you..."

He began to pull her away, pull her to the car. I wanted to lunge forward, I wanted to save her, but Nico's hand wrapped around my own wrist before I could and held me back. "Stay here," he whispered, and ran towards the man. With my dagger.

"Nico!" I screamed, and watched as he jumped on his back, and aimed my dagger at his throat. What the...?

I could hear Katie banging her fists on the doors to the truck that were locking her in, I could feel my own heart pounding, I could see Nico struggling against the man he was fighting who was putting up a strangely good fight, and I felt as my vision began to blur and my head start to pound. Great time for a panic attack, Sofie.

The air grew intensely hot all of a sudden, the wind beginning to pick up. I could hear Katie screaming even louder from inside the truck, something within scaring her. It was probably something I was doing, knocking something into her or whatever. I ran towards the back of the truck and stared at the deadbolt on the handles. How did he get that on there without us noticing? I shot a look back at Nico and the man and nearly screamed at what I saw. Out of the strange man's hands were beginning to grow claws, his nasty greasy hair turning a weird shade of blue, his eyes tinting orange, his face morphing into that of a... no, it couldn't be. I was hallucinating! There was no way on God's earth that this guy was turning into a dog. Then again, this isn't God's earth, is it? This is the Greek gods' earth, and in Greek mythology, things like this happened quite regularly.

"Nico! What's happening?" I screamed to him, now pinned against the front of the truck and firing several repeated attempts at the monster's chest with my dagger, missing every time.

"Sofia!" His voice was strained. "Get... Katie!"

He didn't have to tell me twice; Katie's screams were getting louder and louder from inside the truck. What used to be a series of loud threats and explicatives was now just loud shrieks that accompanied the heavy pounding of her fists against the doors. I focused my attention back on the truck but it was hard to do so over the screams of the people from inside the diner, Sam in particular, who I'm pretty sure was only seeing Nico attacking some random dude from her diner, the sound of the wind, and Katie's frantic banging against the door of the truck. What to do, what to do? I had no idea. I looked around for a stick or something, something to ram the door with, but I didn't see anything. In my search for a tree branch, something caught my eye from inside the diner. Chairs.

I ran inside, dodged past the confused diners at the tables, and grabbed a shabby looking white chair from a table in the corner. Jetting it back to the truck as best as I could with one arm, I got a running start at the doors and smashed them in. I felt the chair smash into the doors, one of the legs going straight through, and heard an even louder scream.

"What in Tartarus was that?" Katie screamed. I looked in the hole. She had her hands up over her eye. "Sofia? You did that? Why did you smack a chair leg into my eye?" I opened my mouth to answer. "Aw never mind, I'll be fine. Just get me out of here!"

"How?" I cried back, looking around for some way to get her out.

"I don't know! If I did, do you think I'd still be stuck in here?" She had a point.

"Um... maybe I can pick the lock?" I offered.

"Maybe. But what with? Shit, Sofia, I'm bleeding. Thanks."

"Sorry! And uh... how about I just slam the chair into the lock a couple times? Just stay away from the doors."

"Whatever, just don't hurt me, and make it quick! I keep getting hit in the back of the head with a box I think you're moving!"

"Sorry again! Okay, here we go!" I backed up and ran back at the door. I hit the lock once, twice, again and again and again, until finally, after what felt like hours even though I know it was probably only like a minute, the lock fell to the ground. I dropped the chair, feeling my shoulder, my only good shoulder, whine in protest, swung open the doors, and watched as Katie jumped off onto the ground, ran into the diner, and came out as fast as she could, arrow knocked and aimed at the strange dog-hybrid that Nico was currently standing in front of, eyes wide and scared, my dagger broken in half in his hands. Great.

In one swift movement, Katie let the arrow fly towards the monster, missing Nico's head by mere tenths of an inch, and hitting the dog-guy straight in the eye. Almost instantly, he exploded into a cloud of dust that floated away on the strong wind whipping around us. As soon as he was gone, Nico looked up from my snapped dagger in his hands and up at us. Katie and I ran up to him, Katie checking him over for injuries being the daughter of Apollo that she is, and me staring blankly at my broken dagger in his hands.

"Um... Sorry?" Nico looked up at me, more fear in his eyes than there had been while he was fighting the weird monster dude, and I just sighed.

"What'd you do?" I asked, picking the two halves of it up in my free hand.

"I didn't do anything," he said.

"You sound like a three year old," Katie said, rolling her eyes.

"You didn't let me finish!" Nico whined like a little kid just to make a point. I laughed. Katie grimaced and walked back into the diner to look at her eye in the bathroom mirror. It was pretty badly bruised, thanks to my little chair accident.

"What happened then?" I asked, thumbing the hilt sadly. This couldn't be fixed, that was for sure. I'd need my own dagger, my own way of defending myself. Nico was going to have to get me another one somehow.

"He broke it. Just swept his hand across it and it snapped clean in half. I'm sorry, Sofia, I really am..." He was being genuine, I could see it in his eyes, and I wasn't angry. In fact, I was sort of amused.

"Good, because now it's your responsibility to get me a new one. A custom one this time, made just for me. With your own money."

He sighed. "I had that coming. Okay, well we'll track down Katie, Shadow Travel out of here before Homeland Security shows up, and work out a plan."

"Sounds good to me."

"Me too."

...

Sofia, Nico, and Katie's Superquest To-Do List
*Oh-so wonderfully written by the super awesome King of the Ghosts Nico di Angelo ;)*

- Get Sofia a dagger

- Visit Hades

- Find Sofia's Dad

- Have a chat with Chaos

- Get Katie a haircut (snigger snigger)

- Find a place to sleep at nights

- Buy some socks

- Figure out how that monster found us

"Is that enough?"

"I believe so."

"I can't believe after all that pestering about socks you forgot to bring them! You!"

"Hey! Somewhere between nearly falling to my death from a Pegasus and trying to get you organised for the trip, I must have forgotten!"

I laughed. He had a point.

"So. Shall we order these tasks then?" Katie asked, looking at the paper before pulling out a chunk of Nico's hair.

"Ow!" he yelped, his hands flying to where Katie had pulled his hair.

"Karma's a bitch, Ghostie. You get your own haircut!"

Nico shut up.

"Back to the tasks at hand, please, children?" I asked, rolling my eyes. They both huffed and quit hurting each other. "Order then. Well first up already is getting me a new dagger, and I think that is sort of the priority, so we'll keep that one first." I checked to see if they agreed. They did. "Where's the best place to get me weapon, Nico?" I asked.

"Hey! Why do you ask him? I can give you a legit answer too, you know!" Katie protested.

I sighed. "Okay then, Katie, where is the best place to get me a new dagger?"

"Hephaestus. You want a custom dagger fit for someone as weird as you? You go to the god of jiggery-pokery. He'll make you a good weapon."

"Awesome. Up next, visit Hades. I'm sure Nico could get some socks from Hades, right? And that'll serve as a place to stay for a while. Does that one work as task two?"

"I think so!" Katie said as she brushed a piece of hair from her face, wincing a little as she touched her black eye. It looked really bad, I felt like crap. I'd apologised about it about as much as Nico had apologised about the dagger, which was quite a lot.

"Cool. So where's the entrance into the Underworld again?" I asked.

"Hollywood," Katie replied, reaching in her bag and pulling out a National Geographic map of the United States. Of course she would carry that around. Although Nat Geo didn't really seem like her style, it was a magazine, and where there's magazines, any magazines, Katie's bound to be there. "Okay so here's Hollywood," she said, pointing at a spot on the West Cost. I nodded along. "And here's Kansas." She winced as she said that last word. She was still pretty pissed about the fact that we'd been Shadow Travelled to Kansas, but she'd decided to drop it once she realised Nico wasn't in the mood to fight, which was something strangely civil for Katie to do. I was still getting over the shock.

"And where's Hephaestus's lair?" I asked, looking at the map. I prayed it wasn't in some place like Maine or Florida, somewhere out of our way.

"Yosemite, I think," Katie said, pointing to the area on the map where the national park would be.

"That's perfect!" I said happily, smiling down at the map. Yosemite was located conveniently en-route to California, we could stop in while we travelled. "What's the fastest way to get to Hollywood that would take us through Yosemite in the process?" I asked. I looked over at Nico, suddenly remembering that he was with us. He had been strangely quiet as Katie and I planned out our trip. It had been his idea to sit down and think all this through in the first place, why wasn't he contributing? Come to think of it, he did look a little pale.

"Nico? You okay?" I asked, looking at him curiously.

"The Labyrinth," he said quietly, his voice strained.

"What?" Katie and I asked simultaneously.

"The Labyrinth. The fastest way to get to California that takes us straight through Hephaestus's lair." He wouldn't look at us. His voice was quiet and scared. What was he not telling us?

"Duh! Why didn't I think of that!" Katie exclaimed, slapping her hand to her forehead and wincing in pain when it hit her bruise. She must have forgotten about it.

"The Labyrinth? That's real too?" I asked.

"Yep. It runs throughout the entire world, changing, of course, but passing through every major city or mythological landmark there is. Hephaestus's lair will be right on the main path, and all we have to do is hop on a couple minor ones and use a compass to find our way to the Underworld. Nice thinking Nico," Katie said, before covering her mouth with her hands. "Did I just compliment Nico di Angelo? Oh my gods, I did! You see this Sofia? It's your quest that's doing this! Blasphemy!"

...

This was originally gonna be a longer chapter but I decided you'd rather have two short chapters updated within a couple weeks of each other than one long one and a leave of absence from myself for another three months (God, has it been that long? I feel like crap...). So parte dos of this little chapter will be up soon, don't you worry! Review!

Maggie :)