I just owe everyone the biggest apology right now. I am so, so sorry that I have taken so long to get this up. I just don't know where the time goes, I really don't, but it doesn't go into fun things like my writing, that's for damn sure. However, I have 4,000 words of the next chapter written (this was actually supposed to be one chapter but it got waaaaaaaaaaaaay too unwieldy) and I also have something else written that I'll post soon, so there will be more from me and more regularly in the near future, hopefully before April is out.
As usual, thank you one and all for just being so fantastic. I know I have review replies from back to December that I need to get on to, but I just want to take the opportunity to take you all now before I get around to doing it in person. You make this fic what it is as much as I do. Thank you for your support so far.
And thank you, as always, to JJDracula, who provided the spark and the kindling to get this fic ablaze in my head. I owe her for this — it's such a pleasure to write, I do sometimes feel like I should be paying her or something.
Anyway, chapter is below. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
"This would be a lot quicker if I'd just shadow travelled," Nico grumbled, plodding along next to Percy with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. He hunched his shoulders against the wind blowing around the corner of a building, glowering as he did so. It was after midnight and the sidewalk was empty apart from him and Percy, which Nico found unusual but couldn't tell if he was overreacting or not. Maybe even the city that never slept had to take a break sometimes, but the eerie quiet emptiness was unnerving him. They'd just dropped Annabeth off at her building and were now making their way back to Percy's apartment.
"You just got your powers back," Percy said. "You haven't even taken yourself from one end of the room to the other yet, let alone transported you and two passengers across town. I'm totally with Annabeth on not wanting to end up in China tonight."
"That was one time!" Nico protested in frustration. "Once! And besides, I was aiming for China Town. I just got a little bit too… carried away. Authentic. Plus, I was a total newb back then. I'm all over it now. I can do a few blocks as easy as blinking. You just wanted to walk because Annabeth didn't want me to jump. You don't have to do everything she says, you know."
Percy made a face and held out his hand, tilting it from side to side to show that he wasn't so sure about that.
Nico wrinkled his nose. "Ugh. Do I need to break out the whip cracking sound effects?" he asked.
"Hey, listening to Annabeth tell me to be cautious is probably at least half of what's kept me alive so far. Besides, what's wrong with walking?" Percy asked, darting forward in front of Nico and turning around to walk backwards. He grinned at Nico, spreading his arms, although as his hands were embedded deep in his jacket pockets it made him look like he was going to attempt to flap away.
Nico scowled at him
"Fine," Percy said, rolling his eyes heavily. "At least think of the cardio workout."
"Hanging around with you, I'll probably be getting plenty of cardio what with all the running for my life," Nico said. "Monster magnet."
"Hey pot, I've got kettle on line one for you. He wants you to know that you're black," Percy said, his grin widening. "Seriously, dude, don't start throwing around that kind of accusation. It sucks to be a hypocrite."
Nico sighed and found himself smiling despite everything. His face was unaccustomed to it and it actually began to ache within a few seconds. "You know as well as I do that you have been in way more trouble than me with monsters."
Percy blew air out through his lips contemptuously. "Please," he said. "You're still a baby. You've got plenty of time to break my record. Come on, where's your sense of adventure?"
Nico cocked an eyebrow at him. "Missing," he said. "I've had a few too many adventures and I think I burned through it. And I thought you said Annabeth telling you to be cautious had kept you alive?"
"I said that was half of it," Percy corrected. "The rest is pretty much knowing which end of Riptide to jam in things. And prayer. And oh my gods, like a boatload of luck that I'm still waiting to run out on me. Plus, you know, I'm just generally awesome at ass-kicking."
"And so modest about it," Nico said dryly. "Okay, so tell me: are you really saying going toe-to-toe with gorgons is your idea of a good time?"
Percy shrugged, frowning vaguely at something over Nico's shoulder as he tried to place a memory. "I think I actually had a date with Annabeth that ended that way," he said. "Like… maybe two years in? Anyway, FYI, Stethno is deadly allergic to garlic. Thank the gods Annabeth was still trying to cook at that point and had come up with lasagne with about fifty bulbs of it in. Long story short, after we'd sent them back to Tartarus, what with all the fighting…" He took a deep breath and smiled fondly. "Well, let's just say it was a pretty successful date night."
Nico stopped dead and shook his head hard. He looked like his stomach had just staged a coup. "Oh, wow, that's… I didn't need that mental imagery. Thanks, Percy, really. I mean, are you trying to make me puke my guts up in the gutter or…?"
Again Percy grinned and shrugged affably. "Hey," he said. "You asked."
Nico looked at Percy like his cousin had just spouted another head and hook his own head slowly in disbelief. "No, I really didn't," he said. "When did I ask for that mental scarring to be inflicted?" He paused. "Wait, now I'm done being grossed out, speaking of things inflicted on me, did I hear that right? Annabeth has quit cooking? I'm safe?"
Percy nodded sagely. "After two oven fires and this one time where a whole bunch of microwave individual servings of macaroni cheese ended up with molten plastic garnish, Rachel and I sat her down and had an intervention. Her utensils pot is now a vase and the oven has been converted into the world's first ever library of takeout menus with its own decimal system."
"And people say the gods aren't merciful," Nico said. "Thank Olympus."
"I got invited to holiday drinks with the families of about seventeen different delivery men one year," Percy said. "Think about the number of Christmas cards we have to write now before you start talking about mercy."
Again, Nico found himself smiling. Sometimes, Percy was too damn infectious, although it was probably just what he needed after his mini bathroom breakdown earlier. The smile slid off his face as he thought about it and how close he'd been to screwing everything up. It would have been so easy, and that scared the crap out of him. If Percy hadn't come in when he had then Nico was pretty sure he knew what would have happened, and the thought of it turned his stomach.
"Percy, about earlier…" Nico started, carefully examining the paving stones.
Percy withdrew his hand from his pocket and waved it. "Forget it," he said. "Seriously, Nico. As if it never happened, okay? I know what I signed up for. You're going to have wobbles but we'll deal with it. Just like we just did. Anyway, I hardly did anything. Well, except for get the imprint of the bath plug on my ass. Most of what happened there was you."
Nico sighed and ducked his head further. He wasn't sure Percy realised just how hard everything was right now. It had taken all he had to say no to those stupid pills in Rachel's bathroom, and he couldn't imagine doing that over and over forever.
He was about to open his mouth to argue when a strange sound drifted domineeringly towards them, surging off the buildings on either side of them like a pinball and reverberating on the air. Nico could practically see the individual air molecules quivering and singing like tuning forks as the haunting melody meandered its way over concrete and around steel.
"What is that?" Nico breathed, stopping dead and not wanting to speak above a whisper in case it drowned out the beautiful sound. He turned slowly on the spot, swaying in time to the tune, his eyes glazing over as his ears went into overdrive.
The sound was so familiar, so comforting, that immediately Nico felt warmer and safe in a way he hadn't felt for the longest time, not since—
"Mammà?" he asked the dark street, his voice cracking on the word.
He closed his eyes, allowing the darkness behind his eyelids to transport him back to the time where his mother held him in her lap and sang this same song to him. Whenever he got sick, she would hold him and rock him and sing him this song. It had to be her. It had to be. He began to retrace their steps down the street, fingers trailing absently along the walls of buildings as he did so. When he found her, he would be safe. Bianca would be there, and everything would be okay. He knew that she could smooth away everything that had gone wrong in his life as easily as she smoothed his hair.
"I'm coming," he said to no one, breaking into a run as a half-sob tore at his chest in desperation. He had wanted this so much, more than anything, and now it was coming true.
The song grew louder, compensating for his ragged breathing and pounding feet. It even drowned out the sound of Percy's running; Nico hadn't even realised his cousin was chasing him until Percy, blessed with longer legs and not having dedicated the past couple of years to sitting on his backside getting high, caught up with him. As Percy moved to pass Nico, he barged the younger demigod out of the way without a second glance. Nico lost his footing and stumbled, falling off the curb and into a parked car so hard he snapped the wing mirror off on his way down.
As if the ringing in his head from the impact wasn't bad enough, the car immediately lit up like a Christmas tree. The headlights and blinkers all came to life and a shrill alarm pierced the air, accompanied intermittently by long, low blasts of the horn. Nico clapped his hands over his ears and pushed himself away from the car, his feet crunching on shards of mirror as he did so. The alarm totally blocked out his mother's song, filling his head and the entire street, echoing back at him through the manmade canyon between the buildings.
Why had he been running? Where had he been running to? His mother was long dead and so was his sister. It couldn't have been them at the other end of the song. It didn't make sense.
Percy was still moving forward, though. He was half a street away from Nico with his forehead creased into a tight frown as he tried to discern whatever it was that they had been hearing over the noise of the car alarm. He was no longer running; instead, he was taking faltering steps forward, his facial expression a tumultuous pool which read confusion one minute and desire the next. He kept glancing back at the blaring car and Nico before something took over and his head swivelled back forwards.
"Percy!" Nico yelled. "Percy, something weird is going on. Listen to my voice. We need to get out of here. Now."
Percy shook his head and started making more confident steps away from Nico, away from the noise of the car alarm that was so effective in drowning everything out for Nico.
Nico gritted his teeth and looked around him desperately, his eyes coming to rest on the glassless shell of the wing mirror lying in the gutter.
"And he says he's not a monster magnet," Nico muttered, picking the mirror up and testing the weight of it in his hand. The car Percy had ploughed him into was part of a long line parked on the street; squinting through the darkness, he hurled it as hard as he could over the roofs of the cars between him and Percy. It sailed through the air in a lazy arc before coming to rest squarely in the middle of the windshield of a car right next to Percy. The safety glass spiderwebbed under the impact, the blow leaving a head-sized impression in the centre.
That car clearly objected strenuously to having the severed appendages of its comrades hurled almost onto the backseat and started up a chorus of its very own, if anything louder than the first. Percy came to an abrupt halt, almost tripping over his feet as he did so. He blinked hard, looking like he was emerging from a deep sleep, and scratched the back of his head. He looked curiously at the car and then back at Nico, his head cocked, before walking back towards his cousin, still glancing uneasily over his shoulder.
"What the hell was that?" Percy asked shakily, extracting Riptide from his pocket and uncapping it. The dim light from the blade washed out his face, highlighting the fear etched into his features. "I swear to the gods, if that music had asked me to jump in front of a subway train to get to it…"
"Yeah," Nico said, holding out his palm towards Percy, which was bleeding from the spill he'd taken. "I noticed."
Percy winced apologetically. "Ow. Yeah, sorry about that. I was kind of…" An epiphany burst into life in his head like burning magnesium powder, blasting away his earlier confusion but making his stomach drop. He remembered Annabeth's desperate swim and her kicking him in the face all those years ago and his blood turned to ice. "Oh crap," he hissed. "Nico, everything I said about shadow travelling? Forget it. We need to get out of here."
"Uh, yeah, I know," Nico said scornfully. "I already said that, but you were too busy ploughing into me to notice, apparently. Anyway, what's with the escape plan? I thought you said you liked killing monsters?"
Percy shook his head, switching Riptide nervously from hand to hand and searching the street. "Not these monsters," he said tersely. "In fact, I don't even know if they can be killed. I don't know anyone who's succeeded. I mean, they're pretty much—"
The car alarms squawked like two giant, noisy birds being trampled by an elephant and silence reigned once more. It rang deafeningly back at them after the intrusion of the car alarms; they got just a few seconds of roaring silence before the first few notes of the same melody began to creep back in.
Percy grabbed Nico's arm. "Get us out of here," he said. "Back to the apartment. I'll explain there."
Nico didn't need to be told twice. The song had already started to tug on his heart again and he didn't like it; it made him feel like someone else's puppet, and he'd had enough of that to last a lifetime. There were plenty of shadows to bend to his command and he threw them around them both, vanishing from the street.
Nico always found the screaming darkness of shadow travelling comforting, but never in his life had he been more grateful to let it envelop him and block out all other sights and sounds.
They reappeared back in the middle of Percy's apartment. Percy didn't even pause to turn on the lights; he immediately took enormous strides away from Nico, expertly skirting around the furniture until he got to the coffee table.
"Where did I put it…?" he muttered to himself through gritted teeth, his eyes darting wildly across the surface of the coffee table. He used the flat of Riptide to scatter the empty fast food containers and soda cans and other detritus, but apparently didn't find what he was looking for. "Dammit," he said savagely, spinning on the spot and beginning to tear the couch apart, tossing cushions and Nico's bedding over his shoulder as he did so. "Annabeth would love this."
Nico's forehead was wrinkled in concern. Has his cousin finally cracked under the pressure of being Percy Jackson, the almighty chosen one, saviour of the world? He crossed to the light switches by the door and flipped them on, illuminating the whole of the apartment. Percy barely noticed.
"Annabeth would love what?" Nico asked. He reached instinctively for his sword, the first time for a long time he'd done that, but then he remembered that he wasn't wearing it. He needed to get back into the habit of having it on him at all times after spending so long without it. Going to Rachel's apartment hadn't felt like it would be a monster-fest and having possession of his sword was so new that he had barely thought about taking it. It was still propped up against the table in the kitchen and he grabbed it now, buckling it around his waist and letting his hand rest comfortingly on the hilt.
"She's always telling me that I need to tidy up, that I'll never be able to find anything, and one day I'll see that she's right," Percy said tersely. He finished pulling the couch apart, apparently without success, and began yanking out the drawers in the coffee table and rifling through them. "Didn't think it would happen, let alone in a situation like this but here we are. I can't believe she was right again." He ran a distracted hand through his hair, straightening up and kicking the last drawer closed in frustration.
"Percy, you're freaking me out," Nico said. "What is going on? What was that singing? And what are you looking for? It's been a while since I've had to fight for my life so this kind of thing could make me panic, you know?"
Percy dragged a hand down his face, pausing it on his chin. His eyes were roving around the apartment but unseeingly; Nico could practically see the cogs turning behind them. "I've heard that song before," he said. "Well, obviously, I haven't heard it before because I'd be dead and stuff, but Annabeth has heard it before. I had to rescue her from it. Years ago. When we were looking for the Golden Fleece and sailing through the Sea of Monsters, we had to sail past the Island of the Sirens. Annabeth, she—"
"She wanted to hear the song and ended up going overboard," Nico cut in with. "Yeah, thanks. I've heard all the stories about what a great hero you were even when you were, what, twelve? It's just this great way to feel good about myself, you know? Anyway, I don't think we have time for memory lane here, Perce. Sorry to cut the trip short."
Percy smiled at him. "I'm sensing misplaced anger. I can't help being awesome."
"Hey, I threw that mirror back there," Nico said. "I should have just let them eat you. Ingrate."
Percy opened his mouth to retaliate but then he shook his head. It was almost as if a switch had been thrown and suddenly he was deadly seriously. "Later is the time for dealing with your inadequacy issues," Percy said. "Right now, I need to find my— armchair!"
"Your armchair?" Nico asked, totally lost and still wondering if he needed to call the men in white coats for his cousin. Then he decided that, with the Sirens bearing down on them, he'd probably wait until after the battle to have Percy committed. He needed all the firepower he could get, crazy or not.
"It's where I last had it!" Percy said, snatching up a couch cushion and brandishing a battered iPod triumphantly at Nico, its headphone wires dancing jerkily up and down. He tossed it over the back of the couch and across the room towards Nico. "Put it on. Loud. You're going to need it."
"What about you?" Nico asked, snatching the iPod out of the air. "Don't tell me one of these abandoned containers of Chinese food has a supply of candlewax in?"
"Now that would be a serious perk of ordering Kung Pao chicken," Percy muttered. "Free gift with purchase: tools for monster slaying." He shrugged. "No, I'm fresh out of candlewax. I don't know. I'll think of something. I'll be okay."
"Like hell you will," Nico said, performing a quarter turn on the spot and vanishing into the shadows. He returned barely any time later with a second iPod clutched in his fist, which he threw back across the room at Percy.
"Did you just steal this?" Percy demanded, eyeing Nico disapprovingly instead of looking at it as he grabbed it out of the air.
Nico waved a hand. "Relax. Only from Rachel. By the way, I had to wake her. I told her it was your fault."
Percy threw his head back in exasperation. "Thanks. Well, let's hope the Sirens kill me," he muttered, pressing the earbuds into his ears despite himself. "I figure that would hurt way less. Rachel likes to sleep. A lot."
"Yup," Nico said, wincing. "It could be messy. Although, plus side? You could always toss her failure to predict the Sirens escaping their island and coming to eat us at her. She kinda dropped the ball."
"It doesn't work like that and you know it," Percy said. "You've been on the receiving end of the, 'I'm the Oracle, not a clairvoyant/psychic/lost and found office/supernatural weather girl' speech just as much as I have."
"How are they off the island, though?" Nico asked, putting in his own earbuds. "I thought they were meant to stick to the Sea of Monsters. There're not exactly a lot of sailors to lure to their deaths in Manhattan, you know? Why change their MO? How did they change their MO?"
"How is there a heavenly city above the Empire State Building?" Percy returned. "While it would be nice if all the things sent to kill me — us — stuck to the rules that just never happens. Maybe they flew. They have wings. Maybe they made a boat out of coconuts. Probably caught the scent of two Big Three kids in the same place wafting down from the north without any messy wars this time to screw with their travel plans and decided to chance it. Who knows?"
Percy's thumb paused, hovering over the shuffle all songs option. He wasn't sure he wanted to subject himself to what Rachel's shuffle could bring, knowing full well Rachel's eclectic taste in music could leap from Bach to Korean pop music to death metal without pausing for breath. Then the sound of singing filled the apartment and Percy had no choice, stabbing his thumb down hard.
"Geronimo," he muttered, not sure whether he meant that more about Rachel's music library or the incoming Sirens.
Percy turned the volume to a level he was pretty sure would make his eardrums bleed before the whole thing was over and dropped the iPod down the inside of his shirt so the wire wouldn't be dangling in his way and risk getting yanked out. Then he shoved the iPod in his pocket as the opening riff to some vaguely country-sounding song blasted into his ears.
Well. He supposed it could be worse.
Then the Sirens started appearing all over the apartment, whooshing into view as a column of sea spray descending to the floor. They were ungainly on the ground like the vultures they resembled, shifting uneasily from clawed foot to clawed foot and leaving gouge marks in the wooden floor.
"Great, as if my neighbours don't hate me enough," Percy muttered as the water from the Sirens' entrance broke in waves across the floor. He had a sneaking suspicion his downstairs neighbours were going to have a very wet ceiling tonight.
The water hit Percy in the face and immediately knew it wasn't just water; it was tinged pink in the light and there were definite chunks in it, as if the Sirens were being hosed down by their method of transportation. His stomach clenched as he imagined being speckled with remnants of the last person who hadn't had a schizophrenic iPod on their side.
There were eight of them in all. Each spread their filthy grey wings, stained brown with blood dried to a crust, and Percy knew that they were singing through their blood-smeared mouths. He just hoped the iPods were enough to drown them out. He couldn't believe how fast he'd lost it back on the street as soon as he'd heard them. It had barely registered; first, he was just walking along and suddenly he was about to take his place on the Sirens' à la carte menu. It had shaken him up to know they had that kind of power over him and he reflexively tightened his grip on Riptide.
Percy looked across the room to Nico, who had drawn his sword and adopted a battle stance. He seemed paler even than usual, and Percy was acutely aware of what Nico had said not five minutes ago about it having been a while since he had had to fight for his life. They'd done it at Him's but Nico hadn't even had his sword then and you didn't just shake off a couple of years of rusty battle skills in an instant.
Still, Nico's jaw was set and his dark eyes were glinting dangerously, glaring as he slowly turned on the spot, trying to keep his eyes on all the Sirens at once. Maybe he was more prepared than Percy gave him credit for.
The Sirens weren't making a move — they were just standing around and singing. They thought they only needed to rely on that to get an easy meal and probably hadn't come prepared for a fight, but that didn't make them any less dangerous. Percy saw their faces shimmer and shift, twisting and morphing into his mom, Paul, Rachel, Annabeth, Tyson, Grover, anyone who they thought would look inviting to him. Percy snorted at their attempts, blocked successfully so far by the music blaring in his ears, which had moved on to some kind of tinkling piano concerto.
Then a small shudder ran down his spine and he looked over at Nico again, whose resolve seemed to be wavering slightly. Percy's eyes closed as he kicked himself. How could he have been so stupid? He'd experienced this once before — Nico was brand new at this. He'd never mentioned to Nico that the Sirens could mimic the most important people in your life, and pretty much everyone that important in Nico's life was dead. Only the gods knew whose faces Nico must be seeing on the Sirens' shoulders, but judging by the strangled look of pain on Nico's face, it was clearly seriously messing with him.
Percy took a step towards Nico but then the Sirens realised suddenly that their singing wasn't getting them anywhere and they stopped abruptly. The fleeting impersonations passing across their faces oozed gelatinously downwards, leaving their true faces contorted in anger. Percy caught Nico shake his head as the Sirens dropped their act like he was trying to dislodge the spell they'd held over him and relief flooded through him, underscored by the swelling of something with a deep bassline as the iPod changed tracks.
It didn't last long. One Siren leapt into the air, the downdraft from her wings scattering empty takeout containers and magazines. She flew at Percy impossibly fast, flattening her wings against her body like she was a falcon in a dive, and Percy barely had the time to twist out of her way. She banked a sharp left just before hitting the wall and came at him again, claws outstretched.
Percy had time to register the tatters of material hanging off them, like she'd recently ripped the clothes from someone less fortunate than him, before he had to throw himself to the floor. The Siren sailed overhead and made another sharp turn, her mouth open in what was clearly a horrible screech.
They were really fast and manoeuvrable. Percy had not been expecting that; they looked like giant freaking turkeys, for crying out loud, but they were flying around like hummingbirds. Percy shoved himself to his feet, just in time to avoid one of them diving down from the ceiling at him. Her claws raked into the rug, slashing it down to the wooden floor beneath and gouging into the exposed boards like they were wax. The impact had rumpled the rug and it had snagged on the Siren's talons; she was too slow to get back into the air and Percy got in a lucky shot with Riptide that would have missed a split second later and managed to slash her into monster dust.
There was barely time to take half a breath before another Siren flew at him, talons outstretched and grasping at his abdomen, ready to disembowel him. Percy swiped with his sword but it just met the Siren's claws and sparked harmlessly off with a screech. It was enough to divert the Siren, though, and she pulled up, wheeling around overhead.
The Sirens were streaking around the apartment in blurs of grey feathers, barely visible with the speed they were moving. They ducked and weaved around each other, congregating above and around Percy and Nico, who were forced to defend themselves from a constant 360 degree assault. The Sirens' talons were razor sharp and made of something as hard if not harder than Stygian iron or celestial bronze; it was more than sufficient to deflect blows from both Nico and Percy's swords. The Sirens used this and their speed to their advantage, becoming blenders with wings.
Nico was forced back against the counters in the kitchen as a Siren hovered in front of him, kicking out viciously at him with her talons and sending his sword spinning harmlessly away from her each time he tried to get in a kill shot. He ground his teeth hard and flicked his eyes to the right and the pile of washing up Percy had accomplished earlier. Coiling his legs, he sprung up and back to land on the counter, swinging his foot backwards to jam his shoe in one of the slots on the toaster. He flicked his leg at the Siren; the toaster was torn from its socket and whipped towards her.
The Siren snagged it with one foot and with a screeching crunch dug her claws into the metal, buckling the toaster almost in half. Nico grinned, using the brief moment of distraction to yank a heavy, cast iron skillet from the drainer and launch himself into the air, bringing the pot down hard on the Siren's shoulder and wing. The music from Percy's iPod stopped him hearing anything, but Nico felt the crunch through the pot as it crashed home. The Siren's wing sagged, semi-useless, and she spiralled away into one of the kitchen chairs. It toppled under her weight and splintered; Nico was over her in an instanct and dispatched her quickly into a swirl of oily black smoke that was gobbled greedily by his sword.
Nico stayed crouching low on the floor, his eyes quickly roving over the apartment to try and assess the situation. Percy was fending off four Sirens at once, the gold blur of Riptide's blade as he made ineffectual swipes at the Sirens were mostly blocked from Nico's view by the swirl of plumage that surrounded him like a dust devil.
He tried to get up to help but a Siren swooped over his head, talons raked forwards. He would have lost an eye if he'd been any slower; as it was he felt hairs being ripped from his scalp. Cursing, he slashed out at the Siren but only caught tail feathers; they fluttered down to the floor, buffeted by the continued aerial assault he was suffering.
These things were so fast and it felt like there was nothing he could do to even the playing field. He'd never really considered the practicalities of summoning skeletal soldiers so high above the ground; would he have to wait while they got in the elevator? As the image of dozens of his best warriors listening impatiently to muzak overtook him, he was momentarily distracted from the bigger issue at hand. It almost resulted in a Siren slashing his throat open; had he not thrown himself backwards, embedding splinters from the broken chair in his palm, he was fairly sure he'd have bled out all over Percy's kitchen floor without even realising he'd been cut.
As if was, he was left with three bloody trenches all along his collarbone. His shirt and jacket flapped in shreds as the warm wetness of the blood spreading down his chest became apparent. The wounds felt deep; he could feel the flesh puckering as he moved.
"Hey! I liked this jacket!" Nico yelled angrily, jumping to his feet and spinning on the spot as the Siren turned and made for him again. In one hand he had a broken chair leg and in the other he had his sword; he used the chair leg to engage the Siren's grasping claws, which were still glistening darkly with his blood, and managed to hold her back for long enough to hack her in the side, killing her.
There was no time to celebrate; Percy had all but vanished being a screen of feathers. Nico threw the chair leg in the direction of the maelstrom of feathers surrounding Percy. It seemed to bounce harmlessly off something, but he had certainly got their attention.
"Hey!" Nico yelled, picking up the destroyed toaster by the cord. "Hey, bird brains! Thanksgiving is coming up and you know what that means? You. Cranberry sauce. Stuffing. Do the math."
Three Sirens immediately emerged from the flurry around Percy and Nico smiled darkly, slowly starting to swing the toaster from side to side as they made their way over to him. He brought it up in arc and felt it hit something; one Siren spun off and crashed into the fridge hard enough to leave a dent. The freezer popped open and began disgorging frozen food onto the floor. A bag of peas split on impact and spewed, rattling, across the tile.
Nico grinned, very much liking his new toaster/mace and wondering if he could get a spot of Hephaestus TV selling them. Tired of household appliances that don't help you slay monsters? Buy the di Angelo Toastomatic and you can make healthy, nutritious meals and batter the crap out of monsters all in one! Also comes in coffeemaker and, for those demigods who've been working out, microwave format.
What was he doing again?
Oh, right. Trying not to die. He had to stop forgetting that.
Percy was breathing heavily, a mixture of sweat and blood from a gash just below his hairline running down his face. He'd been dodging and ducking and twisting and weaving under the onslaught of four Sirens for only a few minutes, but he already felt exhausted. They were so fast and he felt like he needed to be at least eight people just to keep up with parrying their claws away from his vital organs. He imagined they'd like nothing more than to snack on a couple of kidneys, with a spleen for dessert if they could get past his defences.
His arms looked like he'd lost a fight with a lawnmower, with long cuts bleeding profusely. He was showering the empty fast food containers on the coffee table with crimson droplets of blood from his arms as he fought; they bloomed through the cardboard like roses opening in a snowbank.
The downdraft of fusty air tinged with rancid flesh around him lessened as Nico drew three of the Sirens away from him. Without the flurry of feathers around him, he felt like he had a chance to breathe and took it, swinging Riptide through some lazy figure of eight movements to fend off the one remaining Siren.
Madonna had just finished telling him she was living in a material world and was replaced by a primal male scream set to intense guitar and drumming when the Siren managed to seize his sword arm. He'd been distracted by his toaster separating from its cord and sailing through the air; it had crashed into a framed collage of pictures of him and Annabeth hanging on the wall, shattering the glass. The frame had crunched to the floor, the wood splintering and allowing the backing paper and photos to loll listlessly from the ruined glass.
The Siren's claws dug deeply into his forearm and he cried out in pain; he felt the sensation of nails down a chalkboard inside his arm as her talons screeched along his ulna and almost lost the lunch Rachel had bought him. His hand twitched uncontrollably and Riptide fell to the floor, switching back to a pen in midair and bouncing off the corner of the coffee table to skitter under the couch.
He tried to fling the Siren off but she just dug in deeper, cawing triumphantly and sending a new wave of pain jangling up his arm. He said a word he hoped his mother didn't even know he knew and gritted his teeth against it to stop his knees buckling.
Half-blinded by pain and with what remained of his vision focused on Nico vanishing beneath a blur of feathers, he staggered sideways and swept his free hand across the coffee table, snagging a fork out of an empty takeout carton more out of luck than anything else. He jammed it has hard as he could into the Siren's scaly leg; the handle of the fork bent almost double with the force he used but he got it through the armour-like scales and the Siren shrieked, detaching herself and shooting back up towards the ceiling.
Percy looked grimly at the lump of meat he'd once called his sword arm and tried wriggling his fingers; the ring and pinky finger didn't respond. There was a rush of air and suddenly the Siren was diving towards him impossibly fast, claws outstretched and heading straight for his stomach. With images of his intestines spilling out from the handy access door the Siren was about to give him in his bellybutton flashing across his vision, he flicked his eyes down to his feet and kicked up one of the couch cushions he'd flung earlier when looking for the iPod. It sprang into his grasp and he barely got it up in time; it interceded between the Siren and several vital organs but the force of the dive was enough to shunt him off his feet and into the air.
He crashed down on his back into the coffee table; two legs detached under his weight and he slid down the incline to the floor as the detritus that had been on the table slithered and clattered to the floor around him. The air had burst out of his lungs with the impact and he felt the all-too-familiar spasming of his diaphragm as his body desperately tried to reinflate his lungs.
The Siren pulled up; she reached the ceiling and flattened her wings against her body to go in for another dive. Percy felt Riptide reappear in his pocket and yanked it out with his good hand, thumbing the cap off. The pen blossomed into the sword just in time and the Siren impaled herself; her body made it almost down to the hilt and Percy felt Riptide leap in his hands as her last few heartbeats juddered down the blade before she turned to dust.
Percy and Nico had both got two kills in each and the Sirens reacted badly to having their forces reduced by half. The tornado of shrieking Sirens around Nico dissipated as they flapped up to the ceiling, circling around the overhead light.
Percy finally managed to draw a breath and got shakily to his feet, sharing a concerned look with Nico over the back of the couch. Nico began to edge towards Percy, his heart hammering against his ribcage and sending adrenaline hurtling through his bloodstream. Nico rounded the couch and stood next to Percy, eyeing the Sirens warily.
Then the screaming started.
It penetrated the loud music playing in his ears and was like nothing Nico had ever heard before. It was a combination of a hundred noises and then some — the shrill whistling of a teakettle; the shriek of wind over jagged rocks; the screech of rending metal; the squeal of an approaching subway train applying its brakes; the rasp of a whetstone over a blade were all blended together and spat back out.
His earbuds gave a loud screech of feedback and he hissed in pain, wrenching them from his ears. As he did so, the iPod came loose from his jacket pocket; the screen had spiderwebbed and the back light was stuttering intermittently. He clapped his hands over his ears; Percy mirrored his actions, his own earbuds dangling uselessly from his pocket by his feet.
The sound was like a dental drill trying to bore through his eardrums. Nico was sure he felt it exerting pressure on them, ready to make them burst. He staggered as pain overtook him, screwing his eyes closed to try and get a handle of it. Dimly, he heard a crash from his left and suddenly Percy had grabbed him around the waist and forced him down into the gap between the couch and the coffee table, an arm thrown protectively across his back.
Nico glanced up and he realised that, one by one, the windows in the apartment were shattering, blowing outwards in a maelstrom of flying glass and shredding the blinds to ribbons. They flapped like tongues of flame out of the window as the night air wafted into the apartment, opening magazines and rifling through their pages.
Percy's hands were back over his ears now; Nico was sure he was balled into the same foetal position, desperately trying to get the pain in his head to stop. He realised that he and Percy were squashed into such close quarters he could feel his cousin's toes scrunching in his ratty Converse against his calf; his own biceps were trembling with exertion as he pressed his hands harder and harder over his ears.
There were empty beer bottles on the coffee table and they burst into millions of tiny shards, spraying through the air like sandpaper. What felt like tiny drops of acid spattering across the back of his neck were actually flying glass ripping chunks from his skin. A large china bowl with a handful of burnt popcorn kernels in it began rattling against the wooden coffee table before exploding with a ringing crunch.
The pile of washed dishes in the kitchen was the next to go; crockery and glassware jumped and hopped off the pile, spinning up into the air and annihilating itself like someone had lit firecrackers under it. Nico felt shards embed themselves in the back of the couch and closed his eyes again, feeling something warm and wet oozing out of his ears, making his palms slick on the side of his head.
And then, suddenly, it stopped.