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Me and Nico: Review!
Octavian huffed, and pushed the door open to go inside too.
His jaw dropped at what he saw.
Reyna was right about one thing.
Looks can be deceiving.
Inside the little house, was an exact replica of the dining area back at camp. Only, it was bigger. There was also a kitchen through another door.
"Told you looks could be deceiving." Reyna smirked, turning in a spinny chair, or what ever you call those things.
"Black root beer." Nico said to his goblet.
"Uh...Nico? Why are you talking to your goblet?" Hazel asked, looking at her brother weirdly.
"Tell your goblet what you want." Nico ordered.
"Just do it."
"Fine." Hazel picked up her goblet, and said, "Water."
Water filled up the goblet to the rim.
"Woah." she said, then took a sip.
"To the gods." Nico said, raising his goblet.
Everyone else raised their goblets and repeated.
When everyone finished dinner, they went back outside to read.
"Who's reading again?" Dakota slurred, taking a swig of kool-aid from his goblet.
"Me." Hazel said, picking up the book.
"Bianca di Angleo Makes a Choice" she read.
Nico grimaced. Yeah, he thought. The wrong choice.
After seeing Dr. Thorn turn into a monster and plummet off the edge of a cliff with Annabeth, you'd think nothing else could shock me. But when this twelve-year-old girl told me she was the goddess Artemis, I said something real intelligent like, "Um… okay."
"How in Pluto is he alive!" Reyna exclaimed.
That was nothing compared to Grover.
Nico snickered, remembering what Grover did.
He gasped, then knelt hastily in the snow and started yammering, "Thank you, Lady Artemis! You're so… you're so… Wow!"
Everyone burst out laughing at Grover's response.
"Get up, goat boy!" Thalia snapped. "We have other things to worry about. Annabeth is gone!"
"Whoa," Bianca di Angelo said. "Hold up. Time out."
Everybody looked at her. She pointed her finger at all of us in turn, like she was trying to connect the dots. "Who… who are you people?"
Artemis's expression softened."It might be a better question, my dear girl, to ask who are you!Who are your parents?"
Bianca glanced nervously at her brother, who was still staring in awe at Artemis.
Everyone turned to Nico, amused.
Nico blushed and shrugged.
Our parents are dead," Bianca said. "We're orphans. There's a bank trust that pays for our school, but…"
She faltered. I guess she could tell from our faces that we didn't believe her.
"What?" she demanded. "I'm telling the truth."
"At least," Nico muttered. "The truth that we know."
"You are a half-blood," Zoe Nightshade said. Her accent was hard to place. It sounded old-fashioned, like she was reading from a really old book. "One of thy parents was mortal. The other was an Olympian."
"An Olympian… athlete?"
"No," Zoe said. "One of the gods."
"Cool!" said Nico.
"No!" Bianca's voice quavered. "This is not cool!"
Nico danced around like he needed to use the restroom.
Everyone burst out laughing as Nico blushed beet red.
"I did not." he complained.
"Sure you didn't, Niccy." Hazel said, ruffling his hair.
Nico swatted her hand away, and huffed, beet red.
"Does Zeus really have lightning bolts that do six hundred damage? Does he get extra movement points for—"
"What in Pluto are you talking about?" Gwen asked.
"It will explain." Nico groaned, putting his face in his hands.
"Nico, shut up!" Bianca put her hands to her face. "This is not your stupid Mythomagic game, okay?
"Mythomagic?" everyone echoed.
"What's Mythomagic?" Frank asked.
"A card game." came Nico's muffled response.
There are no gods!"
As anxious as I felt about Annabeth—all I wanted to do was search for her—I couldn't help feeling sorry for the di Angelos. I remembered what it was like for me when I first learned I was a demigod. Thalia must've been feeling something similar, because the anger in her eyes subsided a little bit.
"Bianca, I know it's hard to believe. But the gods are still around. Trust me. They're immortal. And whenever they have kids with regular humans, kids like us, well… Our lives are dangerous."
"Dangerous," Bianca said, "like the girl who fell."
Thalia turned away. Even Artemis looked pained.
"Do not despair for Annabeth," the goddess said. "She was a brave maiden. If she can be found, I shall find her."
"Then why won't you let us go look for her?" I asked.
"She is gone. Can't you sense it, Son of Poseidon? Some magic is at work. I do not know exactly how or why, but your friend has vanished."
I still wanted to jump off the cliff and search for her,
"Awww," Gwen said. "That's so sweet...I think?"
but I had a feeling that Artemis was right. Annabeth was gone. If she'd been down there in the sea, I thought, I'd be able to feel her presence.
"Oo!" Nico raised his hand.
Nico face-palmed as the others snickered.
"What about Dr. Thorn? That was awesome how you shot him with arrows! Is he dead?"
"He was a manticore," Artemis said. "Hopefully he is destroyed for now, but monsters never truly die. They re-form over and over again, and they must be hunted whenever they reappear."
"Or they'll hunt us," Thalia said.
Bianca di Angelo shivered. "That explains… Nico, you remember last summer, those guys who tried to attack us in the alley in DC?"
"What happened." Gwen asked.
Nico just gave her a creepy smile.
"Never mind." she shivered.
"And that bus driver," Nico said. "The one with the ram's horns. I told you that was real."
"Rams horns." Reyna repeated. "Doesn't Atlas have rams horns?"
The Romans frowned.
"Yeah...he does." Octavian said.
Nico just shrugged.
"That's why Grover has been watching you," I said. "To keep you safe, if you turned out to be half-bloods."
"Grover?" Bianca stared at him. "You're a demigod?"
"Well, a satyr, actually." He kicked off his shoes and displayed his goat hooves. I thought Bianca was going to faint right there.
"I thought she was going to faint too." Nico said.
"Grover, put your shoes back on," Thalia said. "You're freaking her out."
"Hey, my hooves are clean!"
"Bianca," I said, "we came here to help you. You and Nico need training to survive. Dr. Thorn won't be the last monster you meet. You need to come to camp."
"Camp?" she asked.
"Camp Half-Blood," I said. "It's where half-bloods learn to survive and stuff. You can join us, stay there year-round if you like."
"Sweet, let's go!" said Nico.
"You seem excited." Hazel teased.
Nico didn't say anything.
"Wait," Bianca shook her head. "I don't—"
"There is another option," Zoe said.
Nico crossed his arms and growled.
Hazel looked at him, worriedly.
"No, there isn't!" Thalia said.
Thalia and Zoe glared at each other. I didn't know what they were talking about, but I could tell there was bad history between them. For some reason, they seriously hated each other.
"We've burdened these children enough," Artemis announced. "Zoe, we will rest here for a few hours. Raise the tents. Treat the wounded. Retrieve our guests' belongings from the school."
"Yes, my lady."
"And, Bianca, come with me. I would like to speak with you."
Nico pulled his knees to his chest, and put his chin on his legs.
"What about me?" Nico asked.
Artemis considered the boy. "Perhaps you can show Grover how to play that card game you enjoy. I'm sure Grover would be happy to entertain you for a while… as a favor to me?"
Grover just about tripped over himself getting up. "You bet! Come on, Nico!"
Nico and Grover walked off toward the woods, talking about hit points and armor ratings and a bunch of other geeky stuff.
Nico frowned at how easily distracted he was. If he stayed, would Bianca still be here?
Artemis led a confused-looking Bianca along the cliff. The Hunters began unpacking their knapsacks and making camp. Zoe gave Thalia one more evil look, then left to oversee things.
As soon as she was gone, Thalia stamped her foot in frustration. "The nerve of those Hunters! They think they're so… Argh!"
"I'm with you," I said. "I don't trust—"
"Oh, you're with me?" Thalia turned on me furiously. "What were you thinking back there in the gym, Percy? You'd take on Dr. Thorn all by yourself? You knew he was a monster! If we'd stuck together, we could've taken him without the Hunters getting involved. Annabeth might still be here. Did you think of that?"
My jaw clenched. I thought of some harsh things to say, and I might've said them too, but then I looked down and saw something navy blue lying in the snow at my feet. Annabeth's New York Yankees baseball cap.
Gwen looked sadly at the book.
Thalia didn't say another word. She wiped a tear from her cheek, turned, and marched off, leaving me alone with a trampled cap in the snow.
"Well that's nice." Dakota said, lips red from the kool-aid.
The Hunters set up their camping site in a matter of minutes. Seven large tents, all of silver silk, curved in a crescent around one side of a bonfire. One of the girls blew a silver dog whistle, and a dozen white wolves appeared out of the woods. They began circling the camp like guard dogs. The Hunters walked among them and fed them treats, completely unafraid, but I decided I would stick close to the tents.
"Good idea." Reyna said.
Falcons watched us from the trees, their eyes flashing in the firelight, and I got the feeling they were on guard duty, too. Even the weather seemed to bend to the goddess's will. The air was still cold, but the wind died down and the snow stopped falling, so it was almost pleasant sitting by the fire. Almost… except for the pain in my shoulder and the guilt weighing me down. I couldn't believe Annabeth was gone. And as angry as I was at Thalia, I had a sinking feeling that she was right. It was my fault.
Nico rolled his eyes. That's Percy. Blaming himself on everything.
What had Annabeth wanted to tell me in the gym? Something serious, she'd said. Now I might never find out. I thought about how we'd danced together for half a song, and my heart felt even heavier.
I watched Thalia pacing in the snow at the edge of camp, walking among the wolves without fear. She stopped and looked back at Westover Hall, which was now completely dark, looming on the hillside beyond the woods. I wondered what she was thinking.
"Don't we all." Octavian muttered.
Seven years ago, Thalia had been turned into a pine tree by her father, to prevent her from dying. She'd stood her ground against an army of monsters on top of Half-Blood Hill in order to give her friends Luke and Annabeth time to escape. She'd only been back as a human for a few months now, and once in a while she would stand so motionless you'd think she was still a tree.
Nico nodded. He's seen that too.
Finally, one of the Hunters brought me my backpack. Grover and Nico came back from their walk, and Grover helped me fix up my wounded arm.
"It's green!" Nico said with delight.
"With delight." Hazel repeated. "Really?"
Nico shrugged, blushing slightly.
"Hold still," Grover told me. "Here, eat some ambrosia while I clean that out." I winced as he dressed the wound, but the ambrosia square helped. It tasted like homemade brownie, dissolving in my mouth and sending a warm feeling through my whole body. Between that and the magic salve Grover used, my shoulder felt better within a couple of minutes.
"That stuff is awesome." Frank said.
Nico rummaged through his own bag, which the Hunters had apparently packed for him, though how they'd snuck into Westover Hall unseen, I didn't know. Nico laid out a bunch of figurines in the snow—little battle replicas of Greek gods and heroes. I recognized Zeus with a lightning bolt, Ares with a spear, Apollo with his sun chariot.
"Big collection." Gwen said.
Nico grinned slightly.
"Big collection," I said.
"You think like Percy!" Dakota exclaimed, pointing at Gwen,
Gwen rolled her eyes, and snatched Dakota's goblet and emptied it in a bush.
Nico grinned. "I've got almost all of them, plus their holographic cards! Well, except for a few really rare ones."
"Like Dad." Nico mumbled.
"You've been playing this game a long time?"
"Just this year. Before that…" He knit his eyebrows.
"What?" I asked.
"I forget. That's weird."
Hazel looked at Nico, sadly.
Stupid Lotus Hotel. Nico thought, glaring at nothing.
He looked unsettled, but it didn't last long. "Hey, can I see that sword you were using?"
I showed him Riptide, and explained how it turned from a pen into a sword just by uncapping it.
"Cool! Does it ever run out of ink?"
Everyone laughed at the unexpected question.
"Um, well, I don't actually write with it."
"Are you really the son of Poseidon?"
"Can you surf really well, then?"
Everyone laughed again.
"Really?" Hazel laughed, amused.
Nico shrugged, a little red in the face.
I looked at Grover, who was trying hard not to laugh.
"Jeez, Nico," I said. "I've never really tried."
He went on asking questions. Did I fight a lot with Thalia, since she was a daughter of Zeus?
"Yes." Nico said, answering his own question.
(I didn't answer that one.) If Annabeth's mother was Athena, the goddess of wisdom, then why didn't Annabeth know better than to fall off a cliff?
"Did you seriously ask that in front of Percy?" Gwen groaned.
Nico just smiled sheepishly.
(I tried not to strangle Nico for asking that one.) Was Annabeth my girlfriend? (At this point, I was ready to stick the kid in a meat-flavored sack and throw him to the wolves.)
"Harsh." Nico pouted, as everyone else laughed.
I figured any second he was going to ask me how many hit points I had,
"I wouldn't have asked that. As if he'd ever get a card/figurine in Mythomagic." Nico said.
"Didn't Juno say something about these coming out in the mortal world?" Frank said. "He might get one."
"Hey, your right! Maybe everyone in the books would get one! That would be pretty cool!" Nico said, then blushed as everyone snickered. "Er...I mean...um..."
and I'd lose my cool completely, but then Zoe Nightshade came up to us. "Percy Jackson."
She had dark brown eyes and a slightly upturned nose. With her silver circlet and her proud expression, she looked so much like royalty that I had to resist the urge to sit up straight and say "Yes, ma'am."
"She probably would have liked you better if you did that." Reyna said, still chuckling at Nico's reaction. She didn't know that a child of Pluto...um Hades...whatever, could be so happy and cheerful.
She studied me distastefully, like I was a bag of dirty laundry she'd been sent to fetch.
Octavian sneered. That's exactly what the Greek was.
Hazel glared at him, realizing what he was thinking.
She read before he could say anything.
"Come with me," she said. "Lady Artemis wishes to speak with thee."
Zoe led me to the last tent, which looked no different from the others, and waved me inside. Bianca di Angelo was seated next to the auburn-haired girl, who I still had trouble thinking of as Artemis. The inside of the tent was warm and comfortable. Silk rugs and pillows covered the floor. In the center, a golden brazier of fire seemed to burn without fuel or smoke. Behind the goddess, on a polished oak display stand, was her huge silver bow, carved to resemble gazelle horns. The walls were hung with animal pelts: black bear, tiger, and several others I didn't recognize. I figured an animal rights activist would've had a heart attack looking at all those rare skins, but maybe since Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, she could replenish whatever she shot. I thought she had another animal pelt lying next to her, and then I realized it was a live animal—a deer with glittering fur and silver horns, its head resting contentedly in Artemis's lap.
"Woah..." was what everyone, sans Nico and Octavian, had to say.
"Join us, Percy Jackson," the goddess said.
I sat across from her on the tent floor. The goddess studied me, which made me uncomfortable. She had such old eyes for a young girl.
"Are you surprised by my age?" she asked.
"Uh… a little."
"I could appear as a grown woman, or a blazing fire, or anything else I want, but this is what I prefer. This is the average age of my Hunters, and all young maidens for whom I am patron, before they go astray."
"Go astray?" I asked.
"Grow up. Become smitten with boys. Become silly, preoccupied, insecure. Forget themselves."
"That's all he has to say?" Reyna said, rolling her eyes.
Zoe sat down at Artemis's right. She glared at me as if all the stuff Artemis had just said was my fault, like I'd invented the idea of being a guy.
"You must forgive my Hunters if they do not welcome you," Artemis said. "It is very rare that we would have boys in this camp. Boys are usually forbidden to have any contact with the Hunters. The last one to see this camp…" She looked at Zoe. "Which one was it?"
"That boy in Colorado," Zoe said. "You turned him into a jackalope."
"Ah, yes." Artemis nodded, satisfied. "I enjoy making jackalopes. At any rate, Percy, I've asked you here so that you might tell me more of the manticore. Bianca has reported some of the… mmm, disturbing things the monster said. But she may not have understood them. I'd like to hear them from you."
And so I told her.
When I was done, Artemis put her hand thoughtfully on her silver bow. "I feared this was the answer."
Zoe sat forward. "The scent, my lady?"
"What scent?" I asked.
"Things are stirring that I have not hunted in millennia," Artemis murmured. "Prey so old I have nearly forgotten."
Reyna narrowed her eyes.
She stared at me intently. "We came here tonight sensing the manticore, but he was not the one I seek. Tell me again, exactly what Dr. Thorn said."
"Um, 'I hate middle school dances.'"
"I doubt that's what she meant."
"No, no. After that."
"He said somebody called the General was going to explain things to me."
"Did he say it with a french accent?" Gwen asked, lips twitching upwards.
Nico didn't say anything, which made Hazel worried.
Zoe's face paled. She turned to Artemis and started to say something, but Artemis raised her hand.
"Go on, Percy," the goddess said.
"Well, then Thorn was talking about the Great Stir Pot—"
"Stirring," Bianca corrected.
"She just learned that she was a demigod and she already knew more that him." Frank snickered.
"Yeah. And he said, 'Soon we shall have the most important monster of all—the one that shall bring about the downfall of Olympus.'"
The goddess was so still she could've been a statue.
"Maybe he was lying," I said.
Artemis shook her head. "No. He was not. I've been too slow to see the signs. I must hunt this monster."
Nico had trouble not snorting, remembering what the 'monster' was.
Zoe looked like she was trying very hard not to be afraid, but she nodded. "We will leave right away, my lady."
"No, Zoe. I must do this alone."
"This task is too dangerous even for the Hunters. You know where I must start my search. You cannot go there with me."
"As…as you wish, my lady."
I will find this creature," Artemis vowed. "And I shall bring it back to Olympus by winter solstice. It will be all the proof I need to convince the Council of the Gods of how much danger we are in."
"You know what the monster is?" I asked.
Everyone turned to Nico, who just smiled mysteriously.
Artemis gripped her bow. "Let us pray I am wrong."
"Can goddesses pray?" I asked, because I'd never really thought about that.
A flicker of a smile played across Artemis's lips. "Before I go, Percy Jackson, I have a small task for you."
"Does it involve getting turned into a jackalope?"
"Sadly, no. I want you to escort the Hunters back to Camp Half-Blood. They can stay there in safety until I return."
"What?" Zoe' blurted out. "But, Artemis, we hate that place. The last time we stayed there—"
"What happened." Hazel asked.
"Yes, I know," Artemis said. "But I'm sure Dionysus will not hold a grudge just because of a little, ah, misunderstanding. It's your right to use Cabin Eight whenever you are in need. Besides, I hear they rebuilt the cabins you burned down."
Hazel blinked. "I think I know what they did now..."
Zoe muttered something about foolish campers.
Nico muttered something about foolish Hunters.
"And now there is one last decision to make." Artemis turned to Bianca. "Have you made up your mind, my girl?"
Nico looked down.
Bianca hesitated. "I'm still thinking about it."
"Wait," I said. "Thinking about what?"
"They… they've invited me to join the Hunt."
"What? But you can't! You have to come to Camp Half-Blood so Chiron can train you. It's the only way you can learn to survive."
"It is not the only way for a girl," Zoe said.
I couldn't believe I was hearing this. "Bianca, camp is cool! It's got a pegasus stable and a sword-fighting arena and… I mean, what do you get by joining the Hunters?"
"To begin with," Zoe said, "immortality."
I stared at her, then at Artemis. "She's kidding, right?"
"Zoe rarely kids about anything," Artemis said. "My Hunters follow me on my adventures. They are my maidservants, my companions, my sisters-in-arms. Once they swear loyalty to me, they are indeed immortal… unless they fall in battle, which is unlikely.
"Yeah, super unlikely." Nico muttered.
Or break their oath."
"What oath?" I said.
"To foreswear romantic love forever," Artemis said. "To never grow up, never get married. To be a maiden eternally."
The goddess nodded.
I tried to imagine what she was saying. Being immortal. Hanging out with only middle-school girls forever. I couldn't get my mind around it.
"Neither can I." Frank mumbled.
"So you just go around the country recruiting half-bloods—"
"Not just half-bloods," Zoe interrupted. "Lady Artemis does not discriminate by birth. All who honor the goddess may join. Half-bloods, nymphs, mortals—"
"Which are you, then?"
Anger flashed in Zoe's eyes. "That is not thy concern, boy. The point is Bianca may join if she wishes. It is her choice."
"Bianca, this is crazy," I said. "What about your brother? Nico can't be a Hunter."
Nico looked down. He wasn't sure if he should be happy that Percy mentioned him, or angry that Bianca still chose to be a Hunter when Percy mentioned him.
"Certainly not," Artemis agreed. "He will go to camp. Unfortunately, that's the best boys can do."
"Hey!" all the boys protested, sans Nico who was still down, knowing what was coming.
"Hey!" I protested.
"You can see him from time to time," Artemis assured Bianca.
Nico looked down. It was true...just not the same. He couldn't hug her.
"But you will be free of responsibility. He will have the camp counselors to take care of him. And you will have a new family. Us."
"A new family," Bianca repeated dreamily.
Nico frowned. What was wrong with her old family?
"Free of responsibility."
"Bianca, you can't do this," I said. "It's nuts."
She looked at Zoe. "Is it worth it?"
Zoe nodded. "It is."
"What do I have to do?"
"Say this," Zoe told her, "'I pledge myself to the goddess Artemis.'"
"I… I pledge myself to the goddess Artemis."
"'I turn my back on the company of men, accept eternal maidenhood, and join the Hunt.'"
Bianca repeated the lines. "That's it?"
Zoe nodded. "If Lady Artemis accepts thy pledge, then it is binding."
"I accept it," Artemis said.
The flames in the brazier brightened, casting a silver glow over the room. Bianca looked no different, but she took a deep breath and opened her eyes wide. "I feel… stronger."
"Welcome, sister," Zoe said.
She's not your sister. Nico thought bitterly. She's mine.
"Remember your pledge," Artemis said. "It is now your life."
I couldn't speak. I felt like a trespasser. And a complete failure. I couldn't believe I'd come all this way and suffered so much only to lose Bianca to some eternal girls' club.
"Do not despair, Percy Jackson," Artemis said. "You will still get to show the di Angelos your camp. And if Nico so chooses, he can stay there."
"It's not like I can go anywhere else." Nico said, bitterly.
"Great," I said, trying not to sound surly. "How are we supposed to get there?"
Artemis closed her eyes. "Dawn is approaching. Zoe, break camp. You must get to Long Island quickly and safely. I shall summon a ride from my brother."
Zoe didn't look real happy about this idea, but she nodded and told Bianca to follow her.
As she was leaving, Bianca paused in front of me. "I'm sorry, Percy. But I want this. I really, really do."
Nico looked down again. This was just not his chapter.
Then she was gone, and I was left alone with the twelve-year-old goddess.
"So," I said glumly. "We're going to get a ride from your brother, huh?"
Artemis's silver eyes gleamed. "Yes, boy. You see, Bianca di Angelo is not the only one with an annoying brother.
Nico didn't say anything. He was too bummed out.
Everyone else didn't say anything either. Octavian looked like he wanted to say something, but Reyna's glare silenced him.
It's time for you to meet my irresponsible twin, Apollo."
"That's the end of the chapter." Frank said.
"I will read." Octavian said, snatching the book from Frank.
Before anyone else could say anything, there was a flash of light.
When the light died down, Nico's jaw dropped.
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