Disclaimer: As usual, I do not own Percy Jackson and the Olympians. (Cue exaggerated sigh.)
P.S.- I want to apologize for the lateness of this chapter... The website was being complicated, and wasn't letting me upload any new chapters. Good thing is, the chapter is here now, and I'll upload the next one as soon as it's done. Enjoy!
The god was waiting for us in the diner parking lot.
"Well, well," Ares smirked. "You didn't get yourself killed."
"You knew it was a trap," Percy accused.
The evil smirk turned into a wicked grin. "Bet that crippled blacksmith was surprised when he netted a couple of stupid kids. You looked good on TV."
Percy shoved the shield at him. "You're a jerk."
I caught my breath, waiting for Ares to turn Percy into a gerbil, or mouse, or something of equal or less humility.
But Ares just grabbed the shield and spun in the air like pizza dough. It transformed into a more or less inconspicuous bullet-proof vest. He slung it on his back.
"See that truck over there?" The god pointed to an eighteen-wheeler parked across the street. "That's your ride. Take you straight to L.A., with one stop in Vegas."
I looked at the truck. On the back, in reverse-printed white on black letters, said KINDNESS INTERNATIONAL: HUMANE ZOO TRANSPORT. WARNING: LIVE WILD ANIMALS.
"You're kidding." Percy said.
Ares snapped his fingers. The back door unlatched. "Free ride west, punk. Stop complaining. And here's a little something for doing the job."
He slung a blue nylon backpack off his handlebars and tossed it to Percy.
He peeked inside, and said "I don't want your lousy—"
"Thank you, Lord Ares," Grover interrupted. I was glad Grover had said something before I had the chance to put Percy in a headlock and cover his mouth with tape. Sure, Percy's previous remarks had gone right past the god, but I didn't want to risk his snotty comments getting us killed. "Thanks a lot."
I glanced back at the nearly empty diner and saw the waitress that had served us was watching timidly out the window, like she was afraid Ares might hurt us. I watched as she dragged the fry cook out from the kitchen to see. She said something to him, and he nodded, held up a cheap, disposable camera, and snapped a picture of us.
Wonderful, I thought. The first thing we need is more photo evidence of us, the three supposed teenage outlaws.
"You owe me one more thing," Percy growled. "You promised me information about my mother."
I tensed; whatever Ares had in mind to tell Percy would probably only fill his head with ideas, ideas that were risky and would surely get us killed. Because if I remembered anything from that first night, it's that mortals don't die in a great flash of light. It was most likely metamorphosis, a godly measure to take Percy's mother prisoner.
"You sure you can handle the news?" Ares kick-started the motorcycle. "She's not dead."
Percy took the news just how I expected he would. "What do you mean?"
"I mean she was taken away from the Minotaur before she could die. She turned into a shower of gold, right? That's metamorphosis. Not death. She's being kept."
"You need to study war, punk. Hostages. You take somebody to control somebody else."
"Nobody's controlling me."
He laughed. "Oh yeah? See you around, kid."
Percy balled up his fists, his anger peaking. Uh oh. "You're pretty smug, Lord Ares, for someone who runs from Cupid statues."
A hot, dry wind blew through, and the fire behind Ares's glasses blazed hotter. "We'll meet again, Percy Jackson. Next time you're in a fight, watch your back."
He revved the motorcycle, and roared off down Delancy. I held my breath the whole time, expecting him to turn back around and pounce on us.
"That was not smart, Percy." I said after he was gone from my sight, exhaling a little bit.
"I don't care."
"You don't want a god as your enemy. Especially not that god."
"Hey, guys," Grover warned. "I hate to interrupt, but…"
He pointed towards the diner. At the register, the last two customers were paying—two men in identical black jumpers, with a white logo plastered on their backs that boasted: KINDESS INTERNATIONAL.
"If we're taking the zoo express," Grover continued. "We need to hurry."
I was hesitant about jumping into a truck with who-knows-what, but I'd enough of Denver to last me a life time.
So, together, we ran across the street and climbed in the back of the truck, closing the door behind us.
The first thing I noticed was the smell. It was a gods-awful combination of a fridge-full of rotting food and the world's biggest pan of kitty litter.
The trailer was dark until Percy uncapped his pen, which I later learned was named Anaklusmos: Riptide. The blade emitted a dim bronze light over an extremely depressing scene: a row of filthy metal cages sat pushed against the wall, hosting a zebra, a male albino lion, and a gazelle.
Someone had obviously been thinking as much as a rock when they fed the animals: in the lion's cage sat a sack of turnips, which the carnivorous animal obviously didn't want. The poor thing was pacing around on soiled blankets, in a space too small for doing anything other than lying still, panting from the unventilated heat in the trailer. Flies buzzed around his pink eyes, and his ribs showed through his white fur.
The zebra and the gazelle were each given a Styrofoam tray of hamburger meat. The zebra's mane was matted with multi-colored chewing gum, like somebody had nothing better to do with their lives than spitting gum at this poor animal. The gazelle had a ludicrous silver balloon tied to one of his horns that read OVER THE HILL!
It made me sick, looking at what these animals had to live in.
"This is kindness?" Grover yelled. "Humane zoo transport?"
He looked ready to march back outside and beat the drivers up, and I would've helped him, but just then the engine roared to life, the trailer started to jerk forward, and we were forced to sit down or fall down.
We all huddled together on some mildewed feed sacks, trying to ignore the smell and the heat and the flies. Grover tried in vain to communicate with the animals using a series of goat bleats, but the caged up animals just stared at him sadly. I was all in favor of breaking the cages and freeing them immediately, but Percy pointed out that it wouldn't do much good until the truck stopped moving. I had to agree with him there.
Percy refilled the water jugs, and, using his sword, he had managed to drag the mismatched food out of the cages, giving the lion the meat, and the turnips to the zebra and gazelle.
As Grover calmed the gazelle down, I used my knife to cut off the stupid balloon from his horn. I wanted to cut the gun out of the zebra's mane too, but I was afraid I would hurt the animal with the trailer bumping around so much. After we'd done all we could at the moment, we settled in for the night.
Grover coiled up on a turnip sack; I searched through the pack Ares had given us and found a package of Oreos. I opened the package and nibbled on the cream-filled cookies unenthusiastically.
My mind drifted back to the water park, how I'd basically lost my mind at the sight of those spiders. Even thinking about the creepy things made me shudder. I hated that I had cower whenever I saw a spider. It was ridiculous; I despised the fact that Percy had to save me. It was embarrassing. But, then again, I probably would've been overrun by the spiders if Percy hadn't fended them off. I guess I owed him an apology.
"Hey," I began. "I'm sorry for freaking out back at the water park, Percy."
"It's just…" I shuddered. "Spiders."
"Because of the Arachne story," Percy said. "She got turned into a spider for challenging your mom to a weaving contest, right?"
I nodded. "Arachne's children have been taking revenge on the children of Athena ever since. If there's a spider within a mile of me, it'll find me. I hate the creepy little things. Anyway, I owe you."
"We're a team, remember?" I smiled. "Besides, Grover did the fancy flying."
Half-asleep, Grover mumbled, "I was pretty amazing, wasn't I?"
Percy and I laughed.
I pulled apart an Oreo and handed Percy half. "In the Iris message… did Luke really say nothing?"
He munched on his cookie and looked straight ahead, confirming that I was right: there was something he wasn't telling me. "Luke said he and you go way back. He also said Grover wouldn't fail this time. Nobody would turn into a pine tree."
I flinched inwardly at the indirect mention of Thalia. It had been close to five years since I actually talked about my old friend. I felt guilty that I'd gone this long without really giving a second thought to her and her fate. In the corner, Grover let out a mournful bray.
"I should've told you the truth from the beginning." Grover said to Percy, his voice trembling. "I thought if you knew what a failure I was, you wouldn't want me along."
"You were the satyr who tried to rescue Thalia, the daughter of Zeus." Percy guessed.
He nodded glumly.
"And the other two half-bloods Thalia befriended, the ones who got safely to camp…" He looked at me. I could just barely read his expression in the dim light emitting from his sword; it was one of satisfying knowledge, one of humble amazement. "That was you and Luke, wasn't it?"
I put down my uneaten Oreo; the talk of my depressing childhood had diminished my appetite. "Like you said, Percy, a seven-year-old half-blood wouldn't have made it very far alone. Athena guided me toward help. Thalia was twelve. Luke was fourteen. They'd both run away from home, like me. They were happy to take me with them. They were… amazing monster-fighters, even without training. We traveled north from Virginia without any real plans, fending off monsters for about two weeks before Grover found us."
"I was supposed to escort Thalia to camp," He said, sniffling. "Only Thalia. I had strict orders from Chiron: don't do anything that would slow down the rescue. We knew Hades was after her, see, but I just couldn't leave Luke and Annabeth by themselves. I thought… I thought I could lead all three of them to safety. It was my fault the Kindly Ones caught up with us. I froze. I got scared on the way back to camp and took some wrong turns. If I'd just been a little quicker…"
"Stop it," I said. I couldn't stand Grover beating himself up over this. "No one blames you. Thalia didn't blame you, either."
"She sacrificed herself to save us," He said miserably. "Her death was my fault. The Council of Cloven Elders said so."
"Because you wouldn't leave two other half-bloods behind?" Percy asked. "That's not fair."
"Percy's right," I said. "I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for you, Grover. Neither would Luke. We don't care what the council says."
Despite our condolences, he continued to sniffle dejectedly in the dark. "It's just my luck. I'm the lamest satyr ever, and I find the two most powerful half-bloods of the century, Thalia and Percy."
"You're not lame," I insisted. "You've got more courage than any other satyr I've ever met. Name one other who would dare go to the Underworld. I bet Percy is really glad you're here right now."
I kicked him in the shin, urging him along.
"Yeah," Percy said, shooting me a look. "It's not luck that you found Thalia and me, Grover. You've got the biggest heart of any satyr ever. You're a natural searcher. That's why you'll be the one who finds Pan."
Grover heaved a deep, content sigh. I waited for him to say something, but his breathing only got heavier. When I heard snoring, I realized he'd fallen asleep.
"How does he do that?" Percy marveled.
"I don't know," I said. Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep as effortlessly as Grover, instead of having to toss and turn at night, thinking about the past, the future. Life. "But that was a really nice thing you told him."
"I meant it."
We sat in silence, passing mile after mile. I absently reached up and rubbed my camp necklace, one of my most treasured possessions. My mind wandered to Thalia. I missed her so; I missed her eccentric ways, her—literally—electric attitude. She was always fun to be around. How old would she be now? She was twelve when I was seven, so she should be around seventeen now. I wondered if she was conscious inside her tree, and, if she was, did she think about us? I like to think that she did, but I really never know.
"That pine-tree bead," Percy remarked after a few uncomfortable moments of silence. "Is that from your first year?"
I looked down; I hadn't even realized that I was rubbing that specific bead, though it was no surprise. I always touched that bead went I felt lonely and scared, just to remind myself that I wasn't alone. That I had friends to lean on.
"Yeah," I said. "Every August, the counselors pick the most important event of the summer, and they paint it on that year's beads. I've got Thalia's pine tree, a Greek trireme on fire, a centaur in a prom dress—now that was a weird summer…"
"And the collage ring is your father's?"
I tensed, remembering the golden ring that hung along with my beads. "That's none of your—" But I stopped myself. I had to stop being so defensive about him. Maybe it would feel good to let someone in… "Yeah," I sighed. "Yeah, it is."
"You don't have to tell me."
"No… it's okay." I took a shaky breath. This was my first time admitting the story behind the ring. "My dad sent it to me folded up in a letter, two summers ago. The ring was, like, his main keepsake from Athena. He wouldn't have gotten through his doctoral program at Harvard without her… That's a long story. Anyway, he said he wanted me to have it. He apologized for being a jerk, and said he loved me and missed me. He wanted me to come home and live with him."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"Yeah, well… the problem was, I believed him. I tried to go home for the school year, but my stepmom was the same as ever. She didn't want her kids put in danger by living with a freak." I said resentfully, speaking of my stepmom with bitterness. "Monsters attacked. We argued. Monsters attacked. We argued. I didn't even make it though winter break. I called Chiron and come right back to Camp Half-Blood."
"You think you'll ever try living with your dad again?"
I didn't meet his eyes. "Please. I'm not into self-inflicted pain."
"You shouldn't give up," He told me. "You should write him a letter or something."
"Thanks for the advice," I said coldly. "But my father's made his choice about who he wants to live with."
We fell back into an awkward silence. I thought about my dad, and about my stepmom. They were so insensitive to me; I enjoyed fighting off the monsters as much as they enjoyed seeing their perfect family put in danger. It made me sick, how my dad didn't once stand up for me when my stepmom and I were fighting. He would just rub her shoulders, encouraging her, as she yelled at me.
I was so lost in my fury that I was startled when Percy spoke up, bringing up a subject so much different than self-pitying thoughts.
"So if the gods fight," He said. "Will things line up like the Trojan war? Will it be Athena versus Poseidon?"
I leaned my head on the backpack that Ares had given us, slowly shutting my eyes. "I don't know what my mom will do. I just know I'll fight next to you."
"Because you're my friend, Seaweed Brain. Any more stupid questions?"
He was silent after that, and soon sleep overwhelmed me.
Fortunately, it was a nice, dreamless slumber. That's how I like it.
I woke up the next morning to silence.
At first, I didn't see anything wrong with the silence. Silence meant peace, tranquility. Silence was good.
But we were stowaways on a truck, and silence meant no engine.
Which meant we weren't moving. And if we weren't moving, then nobody would be driving. And when people aren't driving, they're usually checking on their cargo…
We were the cargo.
Grover was already up. I looked at him, and he shared my thoughts: We needed to hide.
He sprang into action, shaking the snoring Percy out of his sleep. He mumbled when came around, drowsy from his doze.
"The truck's stopped," He said. "We think they're coming to check on the animals."
"Hide!" I hissed.
I whipped out my invisibility cap and put it on, instantly vanishing. I pushed up against the trailer wall, keeping my breathing measured. I watched as Percy and Grover hurriedly dove behind some feed sacks, trying their best to imitate turnips.
The trailer doors creaked open, spilling in dry heat and harsh sunlight.
"Man!" One of the truckers exclaimed, waving his hand in front of nose, wafting away the smell. "I wish I hauled appliances."
He climbed inside and poured some water into the animals' dishes.
"You hot, big boy?" He asked the lion, splashing a bucketful of water into the lion's face.
The lion roared in ire.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," The man said.
The trucker threw the antelope a grimy Happy Meal bag. He smirked at the zebra. "How ya doin', Stripes? 'Least we'll be getting rid of you at this stop. You like magic shows? You're gonna love this one. They're gonna saw you in half!"
The zebra, wild-eyed with panic, backed away from the man frightfully.
Suddenly, I got an idea. I quietly crept across the trailer and banged three frisk knocks on the tin trailer wall.
"What do you want, Eddie?" The trucker yelled.
A voice—presumably Eddie's—called back, "Maurice? What'd ya say?"
"What are you banging for?"
Knock, knock, knock.
Outside, Eddie yelled, "What banging?"
Maurice rolled his eyes and went back outside, cursing at Eddie for being such an idiot.
I walked back across the trailer, having done my duty. I crouched behind the turnip sacks with the boys, and took off my hat.
"This transport business can't be legal," I said.
"No kidding," Grover said. He paused, as if listening. "The lion says these guys are animal smugglers!"
It didn't surprise me.
"We've got to free them!" Grover said. We looked at Percy, waiting for his move.
Percy looked at the zebra, which was intently staring back. Then it hit me: Poseidon created horses, and zebras were a close relative. Since Percy was the son of their creator, then it would make sense if he could understand them. They were probably conversing.
The truckers outside were still yelling at each other, but I knew we didn't have much time until they came back. Abruptly, Percy uncapped Riptide and slashed the lock off the zebra's cage.
The zebra burst out of the impending confinement, and bowed thankfully to Percy. Grover held up his hands and muttered something over the animal, probably a blessing.
Just as Maurice poked his head back into the trailer, the zebra leaped over him and ran into the street. There was yelling and screaming and honking. We rushed to the trailer doors just in time to see the zebra galloping down a boulevard lined with hotels and casinos and bright neon signs. That's when I realized we had just released a zebra in Las Vegas.
Maurice and Eddie ran after the animal, and a few policemen ran after them, shouting, "Hey! You need a permit for that!"
"Now would be a good time to leave," I muttered.
"The other animals first," Grover insisted.
Percy cut the locks to the remaining cages, and Grover spoke the same blessing he'd used for the zebra over the lion and gazelle.
"Good luck," Percy told the animals. They burst out of their prisons and ran off together down the street.
Tourists milled around, taking pictures and minding their own business, that is, until they caught sight of the zoo animals. Some screamed, but most just backed off and snapped pictures, most likely assuming it was some kind of stunt by one of the casinos.
"Will they be okay?" Percy asked Grover, staring after the fleeing animals. "I mean, the desert and all—"
"Don't worry. I placed a satyr's sanctuary on them."
"Meaning they'll reach the wild safely. They'll find water, food, shade, whatever they need until the find a safe place to live."
"Why can't you place a blessing like that on us?" He asked.
"It only works on animals."
"So it would only affect Percy," I reasoned.
"Hey!" Percy protested.
"Kidding," I said. "Come on. Let's get out of this filthy truck."
We stumbled out into the desert heat. It was easily a hundred and ten degrees, and we must've looked like nomadic, filthy hobos, but nobody wanted to tear their attention away from the animals to look at us. Which was fine by me.
We passed the tons of casinos and hotels, pyramids, a pirate ship, and even the mini replica of the Statue of Liberty.
We ambled along aimlessly, not really sure what to do next. Get another ride? Or maybe stake out in Vegas for the rest of the day?
Eventually, we found ourselves at a dead end, standing in front of the Lotus Hotel and Casino. The entrance was a flashy neon flower with blinking petals. Nobody seemed to be entering or leaving, but the chrome doors stood open invitingly, spilling out lotus-scented air-conditioning.
The doorman smiled at us. "Hey, kids. You look tired. You want to come in and sit down?"
I looked at his lotus-print shirt and shorts suspiciously, but I was so fatigued and worn out from the truck ride and everything that'd happened, I decided it wouldn't be too bad. Would it?
Yes. It could be bad. After all, we were demigods. Bad things seemed to seek us out religiously, time and time again. It was odd if something like a Las Vegas casino turned out to be harmless if we were involved.
But it was so hot, and my friends were already making their way towards the door. I quickly wighed my options. We could stay out here in the scorching heat, hungry and lost, and spend the night in an alley somewhere. Or we could go inside, cool off, maybe eat something, and develop a plan. So, putting my fears behind me, I walked inside.
"Whoa," Grover said.
The whole lobby was a kid's dream. An indoor waterslide was twisting around a glass elevator, which went up at least forty floors. A climbing wall was positioned on the one side of the building, and a bungee-jumping bridge was set right beside it. Games, like virtual reality suits with working laser guns and 3-D simulations and video games with widescreen TVs, were sprinkled out everywhere in the lobby. Snack bars with attending waitresses were abundant, serving everything from burgers and fries to crème brulee. It was amazing, to say the least. All thoughts of preparing a plan melted right out of my mind.
"Hey!" A Hawaiian-print-clad bellhop called out to us. "Welcome to the Lotus Casino. Here's your room key."
"Um, but…" Percy stammered.
"No, no," The bellhop said, laughing. "The bill's taken care of. No extra charges, no tips. Just go on the top floor, room 4001. If you need anything, like extra bubbles for the hot tub, or skeet targets for the shooting range, or whatever, just call the front desk. Here are your LotusCash cards. They work in the restaurants and on all the games and rides."
He handed us each a green plastic card.
I knew I should've been on guard about this person's generosity, that this must be too good to be true, but I was staring intently at a trivia booth across the lobby. I was itching to use it.
"How much is on here?" Percy asked; he was starting to get suspicious.
The bellhop knit his eyebrows together. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, when does it run out of cash?"
I thought it was a reasonable question, but the bellhop just laughed. "Oh, you're making a joke. Hey, that's cool. Enjoy your stay."
After the smiling bellhop left us, we traveled upstairs via the glass elevator and checked out our room. It was a suite with three separate bedrooms and a bar stocked with candy, sodas, and chips. The water beds were topped with down pillows and feathery comforters, and big-screen televisions were in each room. The balcony had a hot tub and a skeet-shooting machine with a shotgun.
I gazed out over the Vegas skyline and the desert, the sun spilling out hot afternoon light over the city.
"Oh, goodness," I breathed. "This is place is…"
"Sweet," Grover supplied. "Absolutely sweet."
I explored the suite, and found a bathroom. I took a shower, feeling slightly relieved as the previous days of travel and grime and stress washed off. I raided the closets, which held clothes that, coincidentally, were my size. I frowned, thinking that was a little odd. But I quickly shrugged it off and slipped on some jeans and a casual white, flowing shirt, trashing my dirty clothes.
I ventured out into main room, and found Grover perched on a chair eating chips. I sunk into a plush couch and switched the TV on. Out of habit, I flipped to National Geographic, and found an interesting feature running about the Appalachian Mountains.
Percy came out later, his black hair shining from the shower. He looked revitalized and fresh. He glanced at the television curiously.
"All those channels," He told me. "And you turn on National Geographic. Are you insane?"
"It's interesting," I defended.
"I feel good," Grover said, the chips crunching in his mouth. "I love this place."
Absentmindedly, wings sprouted out of his shoes and lifted him gently a foot off the ground, and then set him back down again.
"So what now?" I asked. "Sleep?"
Percy and Grover exchanged a look and a mischievous grin. They both held up the LotusCash cards.
"Play time," Percy said.
A grin spread out on my face, and we were out the door before anyone could say anything else.
I couldn't remember a time I had so much fun. I'd been stuck at Camp Half-Blood since I was seven, and the most fun we ever get there is Capture the Flag and the occasional prank, and even when I lived with my father, he would never lift his nose out of a book or project to actually spend time with me. A five-star Vegas hotel was a taboo in my house and at camp, an exclusive dream that we knew would never happen.
Yet, here I was. And I planned to make the most of it.
I tried the bungee-jumping bridge, but the exhilaration was almost too much. So, after that, I traveled the lobby, floating from one trivia game to another. But then I found this huge 3-D sim game where I could fabricate my own city, and I was in heaven. Holographic buildings would actually rise from the display board, and I could overlook everything: the supports, the aerodynamic ability, everything.
I was so lost in building my own metropolis that I soon lost track of time. I was absorbed in the game, absolutely swallowed up in its magnificence. All I could see was the game, and that was fine by me.
And then a thought came to me. What time was it? How long had I been building my city? Certainly just a couple hours, at most. No more than that, right? Of course. No more than a couple hours…
I lost track of time again, and that thought soon floated to the back of my mind.
Just as I was creating my twenty-seventh building, a skyscraper that reached higher than the Empire State Building, I heard a vague voice. It sounded familiar.
I ignored it, and went back to building my city.
Someone shook my shoulder. The voice was clearer now, saying, "Annabeth?"
It was Percy. I decided I better answer, but I was almost done with the skyscraper…
Finally, I just looked up, utterly annoyed by Percy's carelessness. "What?"
"We need to leave."
Was he crazy? "Leave? What are you talking about? I've just got the towers—"
"This place is a trap."
My building caught the corner of my eye; the seventh floor needed more windows. I pushed some buttons and ignored Percy's babbling. Trap? Impossible.
He shook me again. "What?"
"Listen. The Underworld. Our quest!"
The words rang a faint bell, but I guessed they weren't of much importance. "Oh, come on, Percy. Just a few more minutes."
"Annabeth, there are people here from 1977. Kids who never aged. You check in, you stay forever."
That didn't seem so bad to me. "So? Can you imagine a better place?"
He grabbed my wrist and pulled me from my city.
"Hey!" I shrieked, hitting his arm in a vain effort for him to let me go.
He steadied me and forced me to look into his eyes. "Spiders. Large, hairy spiders."
Suddenly, my vision was filled with the creepy things. Spiders as big as my skyscraper, slowly skittering towards me. I blinked, trying to rid myself of the image. When I opened my eyes, everything seemed so clear. Questions arose in my head like bubbles in our balcony hot tub: What were we doing here? How long have we been here? Why are we still here?
"Oh my gods," I said. "How long have we—"
"I don't know, but we have to find Grover."
After some searching, we found playing Virtual Deer Hunter, a reality shooting game where the deer shoot at the rednecks. I could see why Grover would like it.
"Grover!" We both shouted at him.
Still glued to the screen, he said, "Die, human! Die, silly polluting nasty person!"
He turned the plastic gun on Percy, clicking the trigger as if he was a virtual image, too.
He looked at me, and I caught his message. Together, we took Grover by the arms and dragged him away. His flying shoes sprang to life and started to drag him in the opposite direction as he cried out, "No! I just got to a new level! No!"
The bellhop rushed up to us. "Well, now, are you ready for your platinum cards?"
"We're leaving," Percy told him.
"Such a shame." The bellhop said, and from the disappointment in his eyes, I knew he meant it. But we had to get out of this place quick. "We just added a whole new floor of games for platinum card members."
He held out three silver cards, and Grover started to reach for one, but I quickly swiped his hand away. "No thanks," I said sourly.
We walked toward the door, and the closer we got, the more I wanted to go back. The smell of food wafted from the bars, and the luring sound of the millions of games rang in my ear, tempting me, alluring me…
Then we surged through the glass doors of the casino and ran down the sidewalk. It was such a relief to escape that place, but something felt wrong. Storms played out across the Nevada sky, and heat lightning flashed out over the desert.
I followed as Percy ran to the nearest newspaper stand, and read the date over his shoulder. Thank gods, it was still the same year. But then my eyes rested on the day: June twentieth.
My heart dropped to my stomach. We'd been trapped inside the Lotus Casino for five days. Tomorrow was the summer solstice. Which meant we had only one day to complete our quest.