Okay, well, this was way, WAY overdue, I suppose. (Ducks a dinner plate being thrown at my head). Hey, don't blame me! It's just…(Sighs) I lost a lot of my enthusiasm for writing this thing after I read Blood of Olympus. I don't want to give away any spoilers but…it was so anti-climatic for an ending that I just didn't want anything to do with Percy Jackson for a while. I still wrote, but mostly side projects like my Shrek Parody that I've also uploaded.
Anyway, I also had to deal with real life stuff like trying to find a job, my parents were out of commission for a while so I had to take over, my sister Silver's own projects and more. But, I finally have part one of Mark of Athena here. I split the book into two parts mostly because I'm doing the entire book instead of just half of it like the others. Don't worry, I'm only doing half of House of Hades and Blood of Olympus.
By the way, one of the reasons I didn't like Blood of Olympus was because Rick Riordan made Orion a small giant of Gaea instead of a son of Poseidon. I have never known the amazing author of Rick Riordan to mess with Greek Mythology like that but EVERYONE knows that Orion was a son of Poseidon! Not a giant!
Just enjoy the chapter already.
(New Rome, Forum)
When everyone in the area had gathered in the forum, Danielle looked up. The Argo II was hovering in mid-air and judging by the sounds of what was going on up there, Terminus, god of borders, was talking to the Greeks and Jason.
Percy, Frank and Hazel were with her as they watched, nervous about how this was going to play out. Reyna looked confident about meeting her new guests on the surface but it was obvious to those around her that she was anxious as well.
Octavian was glaring at everything and everyone, his hands twitching toward the teddy bears that hung from his belt.
Everyone around her looked tense, others nervous. Some were bandaged from the recent battle with the giant, but no one was armed. Terminus not allowing weapons inside the city itself.
Finally, the talking from above stopped and a rope ladder descended from the stern of the ship. It didn't take long before the four demigods on board the Argo II had climbed down and were standing in the middle of the forum.
At least none of the Romans attacked.
Entire families had gathered to see the newcomers. Danielle could make out children as well as their parents and their parents, all wearing a combination of ancient Roman robes and modern clothes. It was hard for the magical Hunter to believe that everyone here was either a demigod or a legacy of one. It was so different from Camp Half-Blood where most were teenagers. And if a Greek demigod lived past their high school graduation then they would either try their best to live in the real world or become camp counselors. Here, it was an entire multi-generational community.
The three Greek and one Roman demigod finally stepped onto the forum, looking nervous as well. Annabeth was clearly seen, her blonde hair visible even from distance Danielle was standing.
Jason was standing in front, his orange Camp Half-Blood shirt clashed horribly with the purple cloak he was wearing as a symbol of his old position of praetor. His blond hair was cut in the same style it had been when she had first seen him, not the slightly longer hair style it had been when she had taken off for the Amazons.
Piper was trying to play down her role of a daughter of Aphrodite by dressing as unfashionable as possible. Today she was dressed in tattered jeans, worn-out sneakers, and a white tank top with pink Hello Kitty designs. (Maybe as a joke, though with Piper, it was hard to be sure.) Her choppy brown hair was braided down the right side with an eagle's feather.
Leo wore the same clothes Danielle had seen him wearing in that video message an hour ago. He was looking around, hands in the pockets of his tool belt and overall looking like he had had several pounds of sugar that morning.
Annabeth meanwhile looked like she had died and gone to architecture heaven. The blonde's eyes were moving over the marble columns, the mosaics, the monumental arches and the terraced villas.
The crowd around them parted and allowed Reyna to move forward. The daughter of the Roman goddess Bellona was wearing full Praetor clothes. Medals decorated the armor she wore. She carried herself with such confidence, it was hard for anyone to not think she was the leader of Rome.
The two girls considered each other. The Greeks and Jason fanned out behind Annabeth in support as she stared at Reyna. The Romans murmured Jason's name, staring at him in awe.
Then the crowd parted again and Percy stepped forward, next to Reyna.
Percy smiled at Annabeth; that same sarcastic, troublemaker smile that annoyed everyone until they got used to it.
The daughter of Athena stared at him, almost like she was too stunned to move. Not surprising as they had been the perfect couple until Hera decided they needed a forced vacation from each other.
Reyna straightened. With apparent reluctance, she turned toward Jason.
"Jason Grace, my former colleague…" She spoke the word colleague like it was a dangerous thing. "I welcome you home. And these, your friends-"
Annabeth apparently couldn't take it anymore and surged forward. Percy rushed toward her at the same time. The crowd tensed. Some reached for swords that weren't there.
Percy threw his arms around her. They kissed and Danielle knew they were dead to the world. An asteroid could have hit the Roman camp, wiping all life off of the planet, and they still would have kept going without a care.
'And Aphrodite wanted to make Percy's love life interesting. Ha!' Danielle thought, smirking.
Percy pulled away and studied Annabeth's face. "Gods, I never thought-"
Annabeth grabbed his wrist and flipped him over her shoulder. He slammed into the stone pavement. Romans cried out. Some surged forward, but Reyna shouted, "Hold! Stand down!"
Annabeth put her knee on Percy's chest. She pushed her forearm against his throat. She didn't seem to care what the Romans thought as she glared at Percy on the ground.
"If you ever leave me again," she said, eyes watering, "I swear to all the gods-"
Percy had the nerve to laugh. "Consider me warned," he said. "I missed you, too."
Annabeth rose and helped him to his feet. She clearly wanted to rush him again but refrained herself for the moment.
Jason cleared his throat. "So, yeah…It's good to be back."
He introduced Reyna to Piper, who looked a little miffed that she hadn't gotten to say any of the speech she had no doubt prepared for meeting the Romans, then to Leo, who grinned and gave Reyna the peace symbol.
"And this is Annabeth," said Jason. "Uh, normally she doesn't judo-flip people."
Reyna's eyes sparkled. "You sure you are not a Roman, Annabeth? Or an Amazon?"
Annabeth didn't seem to know if that was a compliment or not but held out her hand. "I only attack my boyfriend like that," she promised. "Pleased to meet you."
Reyna clasped her hand firmly. "It seems we have a lot to discuss. Centurions! Ambassador!"
A few Roman campers hustled forward. Frank and Hazel appeared at Percy's side while Danielle smirked at everyone. The Hunter was feeling that this was going great. Although, Hazel kept staring at Leo with an unreadable expression on her face. She was going to have talk to her about that.
Meanwhile, Reyna was giving orders to her officers. "…tell the legion to stand down. Dakota, alert the spirits in the kitchen. Tell them to prepare a welcome feast. And Octavian-"
"You're letting these intruders into the camp?" Octavian elbowed his way forward. "Reyna, the security risks-"
"We're not taking them to the camp, Octavian." Reyna flashed him a stern look. "We'll eat here, in the forum."
"Oh, much better," Octavian grumbled. "You want us to relax in the shadow of their warship."
"Well, if you happen to have a warship of your own, you can use it," Danielle said, smirking. "After all, we are taking on Gaea. Shouldn't you have a huge ship so you can fire it at the goddess of the earth? You are always going on with how great you are, Octavian."
Octavian glared at her while Reyna smirked herself. "These are our guests," Reyna clipped every word. "We will welcome them, and we will talk to them. As augur, you should burn an offering to thank the gods for bringing Jason back to us safely."
"Good idea," Percy put in. "Go burn your bears, Octavian."
Reyna now looked she was trying hard not to smile. "You have my orders. Go."
The officers dispersed. Octavian shot Percy and Danielle a look of absolute loathing. Then he gave Annabeth a suspicious once-over and stalked away.
"Little bastard," Danielle muttered softly so only Percy and Annabeth could hear.
Percy slipped his hand into Annabeth's. "Don't worry about Octavian," he said. "Most of the Romans are good people; like Frank and Hazel here, and Reyna. We'll be fine."
Annabeth looked up at the Argo II. It's massive bronze hull glittering in the sunlight. It looked like she wanted to grab Percy, climb on board, and get out of there while they still could.
"We'll be fine," she repeated, as if trying to believe it.
"Excellent," Reyna said. She turned to Jason, and Danielle thought she saw a sort of hungry gleam in her eyes. "Let's talk, and we can have a proper reunion."
In no time, sets of couches and low tables were carted into the forum until it resembled a furniture showroom. Romans lounged in groups of ten or twenty, talking and laughing while wind spirits swirled overhead, bringing an endless assortment of pizzas, sandwiches, chips, cold drinks, and fresh-baked cookies. Drifting through the crowd were the Lares in togas and legionnaire armor. Around the edges of the feast, fauns trotted from table to table, panhandling for food and spare change. In the nearby fields, Hanibal the elephant frolicked with Mrs. O'Leary, and children played tag around the statues of Terminus that lined the city limits.
Overall, Danielle was having a great time. True, she was not with the Hunt at the moment but she was sure this was the best place for her at the moment.
She wanted to go back to her sisters, but the quest of seven demigods needed her. She couldn't just leave her friends and go home, even if Queen Hylla had done the same thing that morning after the senate meeting.
Reyna and a few of her officers (including Octavian, freshly back from burning a teddy bear for the gods) sat with Annabeth and her crew. Percy joined them with Danielle along with Frank and Hazel.
As a tornado of food platters settled onto the table, Percy leaned over and whispered something to Annabeth, smiling at whatever he had planned.
The daughter of Athena tried to look enthusiastic about whatever her boyfriend had planned, but it was clear she wanted to leave. She wouldn't stop looking at Percy's arm, where the SPQR tattoos were branded.
Finally, she nodded to Percy. "Okay, sure."
"I've been thinking," Percy said nervously. "I had this idea-"
He stopped as Reyna called a toast to friendship.
After introductions all around, the Romans and Annabeth's crew began exchanging stories. Jason explained how he'd arrived at Camp Half-Blood without his memory, and he'd gone on a quest with Piper and Leo to rescue the goddess Hera (or Juno, take your pick) from imprisonment at the Wolf House in Northern California.
"Impossible!" Octavian broke in. "That's our most sacred place. If the giants had imprisoned a goddess there-"
"They would have destroyed her," Piper said, looking at Danielle for a moment before continuing. "And blamed it on the Greeks, and started a war between the camps. Now, be quiet and let Jason finish."
Octavian opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Danielle was really starting to love Piper's charmspeak. She noticed Reyna looking back and forth between Jason and Piper, her brow creased, as if just beginning to realize the two of them were a couple.
"So," Jason continued, "that's how we found out about the earth goddess Gaea. She's still half asleep, but she's the one freeing the monsters from Tartarus and raising the giants. Porphyrion, the big leader dude we defeated at the Wolf House; he said Gaea was going after the ancient lands, Greece itself. Gaea plans on being awakened fully and destroying the gods by…what did he call it? Pulling up their roots."
Percy nodded thoughtfully. "Gaea's been busy over here too. We had our own encounter with Queen Dirt Face."
Percy recounted his side of the story. He talked about waking up at the Wolf House with no memories except for one name, Annabeth.
When she heard that, Annabeth looked like she was close to tears. She gave Danielle a grateful look for being so supportive and the magical Hunter just gave her a thumbs-up back, smirking. Percy told them how he'd traveled to Alaska with Frank and Hazel, meeting up with Danielle at the Amazons. How they'd defeated the giant Alcyoneus, freed the death god Thanatos, and returned with the lost golden eagle standard of the Roman camp to repel an attack by the giant's armoy.
When Percy had finished, Jason whistled appreciatively. "No wonder they made you praetor."
Octavian snorted. "Which means we now have three praetors! The rules state we can only have two!"
"On the bright side," Percy said, "both Jason and I outrank you, Octavian. So we can both tell you to shut up."
Octavian turned as purple as a Roman T-shirt. Jason gave Percy a fist bump.
Even Reyna managed a smile, though her eyes were stormy.
"We'll have to figure out the extra praetor problem later," she said. "Right now we have more serious issues to deal with."
"I'll step aside for Jason," Percy said easily. "It's no biggie."
"No biggie?" Octavian choked. "The praetorship of Rome is no biggie?"
Percy ignored him and turned to Jason. "You're Thalia Grace's brother, huh? Wow. You guys look nothing alike."
"Yeah, I noticed," Jason said. "Anyway, thanks for helping my camp while I was gone. You did an awesome job."
"Back at you," Percy said.
Danielle was sure these two would be the best of bros if they had the opportunity and while it was great that the two most powerful demigods alive today had a great friendship, it was starting to make her sick from all the sweetness. Luckily, Annabeth kicked Percy's shin.
"We should talk about the Great Prophecy. It sounds like the Romans are aware of it too?"
Reyna nodded. "We call it the Prophecy of Seven. Octavian, you have committed it to memory?"
"Of course," he said. "But, Reyna-"
"Recite it, please. In English, not Latin."
Octavian sighed. "Seven half-bloods shall answer the call. To storm or fire, the world must fall-"
"An oath to keep with a final breath," Annabeth continued. "And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death."
Everyone stared at her, except for Leo, who had constructed a pinwheel out of aluminum foil taco wrappers and was sticking it into passing wind spirits.
Frank sat forward, staring at Annabeth in fascination, as if she'd grown a third eye. "Is it true you're a child of Min…I mean, Athena?"
"Yes," she said, looking defensive. "Why is that a surprise?"
Octavian scoffed. "If you're truly a child of the wisdom goddess-"
"Enough," Reyna snapped. "Annabeth is what she says. She's here in peace. Besides…" She gave Annabeth a look of grudging respect. "Percy has spoken highly of you."
The undertones in Reyna's voice could have been taken several ways and Annabeth looked like she didn't know which one was the correct one. Percy looked down, suddenly interested in his cheeseburger.
It didn't take a child of Aphrodite or Venus to figure out what had happened. Danielle shook her head. Reyna had clearly tried to make a move on Percy. That explained the tinge of bitterness, maybe even envy in her words. Percy had turned her down for Annabeth.
"Uh, thanks," Annabeth told Reyna. "At any rate, some of the prophecy is coming clear. Foes bearing arms to the Doors of Death…that means Romans and Greeks. We have to combine forces to find those doors." She turned to Danielle. "You're the Mistress of Death, do you have any idea where they are?"
Danielle shook her head. "No. Thanatos only told me that the doors are in Rome. The original Rome. Nico went looking for them, apparently, but he's MIA. No one knows where he is."
Hazel, picked up something next to her plate. It looked like a large ruby, but she put it way into her pocket before anyone could get a good look at it. "My brother, Nico. I'm afraid…I'm not sure, but something happened to him."
"Wait," Annabeth said. "Nico di Angelo? He's your brother?"
Hazel just nodded as if it were obvious.
"We'll look for him," Percy promised. "We have to find the Doors of Death anyway. Thanatos said it's in Rome. That's on the way to Greece, right?"
"Yes, Percy," Danielle sighed, eating her sandwich. "Rome is in Italy, which is in between us and Greece."
Percy took a bite of his burger. "Now that Death is free, monsters well disintegrate and return to Tartarus again like they used to. But as long as the Doors of Death are open, they'll just keep coming back."
Piper twisted the feather in her hair. "Like water leaking through a dam," she suggested.
"Yeah," Percy smiled. "We've got a dam hole."
"What?" Piper asked. Danielle couldn't hold in her chuckles though.
"Percy," she said. "Now's not the time for inside jokes."
Percy grinned but nodded. "The point is we'll have to find the doors and close them before we can head to Greece. It's the only way we'll stand a chance of defeating the giants and making sure they stay defeated."
Reyna plucked an apple from a passing fruit tray. She turned it in her fingers, studying the dark red surface. "You propose an expedition to Greece in your warship. You do realize that the ancient lands-and the Mare Nostrum-are dangerous?"
"Mary who?" Leo asked.
"Mare Nostrum," Jason explained. "Our Sea. It's what the Ancient Romans called the Mediterranean."
Reyna nodded. "The territory that was once the Roman Empire is not only the birthplace of the gods. It's also the ancestral home of the monsters, Titans and giants…and worse things. As dangerous as travel is for demigods here in America, there it would be ten times worse."
"You said Alaska would be bad," Percy reminded her. "We survived that."
Reyna shook her head. Her fingernails cut little crescents into the apple as she turned it. "Percy, traveling in the Mediterranean is a different level of danger altogether. It's been off limits to Roman demigods for centuries. No hero in his right mind would go there."
"Then we're good!" Leo grinned over the top of his pinwheel. "Because we're all crazy, right? Besides, the Argo II is a top-of-the-line warship. She'll get us through."
"We'll have to hurry," Jason added. "I don't know exactly what the giants are planning, but Gaea is growing more conscious all the time. She's invading dreams, appearing in weird places, summoning more and more powerful monsters. We have to stop the giants before they can wake her up fully"
Annabeth shuddered. "Seven half-bloods shall answer the call," she said. "It needs to be a mix from both our camps. Jason, Piper, Leo, and me. That's four."
"And me," Percy said. "Along with Hazel and Frank. That's seven. And Dani, want to come with? We could use your help."
Before Danielle could say anything, Octavian interrupted. "What?" he shot to his feet. "We're just supposed to accept that? Without a vote in the senate? Without a proper debate? Without-"
"Percy!" Tyson the Cyclops bounded toward them with Mrs. O'Leary at his heels. On the hellhound's back was Ella the harpy.
Tyson stopped by their couch and wrung his meaty hands. His big brown eye was full of concern. "Ella is scared," he said.
"N-N-No more boats," the harpy muttered to herself, picking furiously at her feathers. "Titanic, Lusitania, Pax…boats are not good for harpies."
Leo squinted. He looked at Hazel, who was seated next to him. "Did that chicken girl just compare my ship to the Titanic?"
"She's not a chicken," Hazel averted her eyes, as if Leo made her nervous. "Ella's a harpy. She's just a little…high strung."
"Ella is pretty," Tyson said. "And scared. We need to take her away, but she will not go on the ship."
"No ships," Ella repeated. She looked straight at Annabeth. "Bad luck. There she is. Wisdom's daughter walks alone-"
"Ella!" Frank stood suddenly. "Maybe it's not the best time-"
"The Mark of Athena burns through Rome," Ella continued, cupping her hands over her ears and raising her voice. "Twins snuff out the angel's breath, Who holds the key to endless death. Giants bane stands gold and pale, Won through pain from a woven jail."
The effect was like someone dropping a flash grenade at the table. Everyone stared at the harpy. No one spoke. Danielle gulped. She probably should have silenced Ella when she had the chance. Everyone in unison turned from Ella to Annabeth, who looked pale.
Around them, the sounds of the feast continued, but muted and distant, as if their little cluster of couches had slipped into a quieter dimension.
Percy was the first to recover. He stood and took Tyson's arm.
"I know!" he said with feigned enthusiasm. "How about you take Ella to get some fresh air? You and Mrs. O'Leary-"
"Hold on," Octavian gripped one of his teddy bears, strangling it with shaking hands. His eyes fixed on Ella. "What was that she said? It sounded like-"
"Ella reads a lot," Frank blurted out. "We found her in a library."
"Yeah," said Danielle, catching on. "She probably just read about it in a book somewhere."
"Books," Ella muttered helpfully. "Ella likes books."
Now that she had said her piece, the harpy seemed more relaxed. She sat cross-legged on Mrs. O'Leary's back, preening her wings.
Annabeth gave Percy a curious glance. She could tell that he, Frank, Danielle, and maybe Hazel were hiding something. Just as obviously as Ella had recited a prophecy, a prophecy that concerned her.
Percy's expression said, Help.
"That was a prophecy," Octavian insisted. "It sounded like a prophecy."
No one answered.
Annabeth helpfully laughed. A clearly fake laugh. "Really, Octavian? Maybe harpies are different here, on the Roman side. Ours have just enough intelligence to clean cabins and cook lunches. Do yours usually foretell the future? Do you consult them for your auguries?"
Her words had the intended effect. The Roman officers laughed nervously. Some sized up Ella, then looked at Octavian and snorted. The idea of a chicken lady issuing prophecies was apparently as ridiculous to Romans as it was to the Greeks.
"I, uh…"Octavian dropped his teddy bear. "No, but-"
"She's just spouting lines from some book," Annabeth said. "Like Dani suggested. Besides, we already have a real prophecy to worry about."
She turned to Tyson. "Percy's right. Why don't you take Ella and Mrs. O'Leary and shadow-travel somewhere for a while. Is Ella okay with that?"
"Large dogs are good," Ella said. "Old Yeller, 1957, screenplay by Fred Gipson and William Tunberg."
Annabeth didn't seem to know how to take that answer, but Percy smiled like the problem was solved.
"Great!" Percy said. "We'll Iris-message you guys when we're done and catch up with you later."
The Romans looked at Reyna, waiting for her ruling.
Reyna had an excellent poker face. She studied Ella, but everyone could tell she was thinking.
"Fine," the praetor said at last. "Go."
"Yay!" Tyson went around the couches and gave everyone a big hug, even Octavian, who didn't look happy about it. Then he climbed on Mrs. O'Leary's back with Ella and the hellhound bounded out of the forum. They dove straight into a shadow on the Senate House wall and disappeared.
"Well," Reyna set down her uneaten apple. "Octavian is right about one thing. We must gain the senate's approval before we let any of our legionaries go on a quest, especially one as dangerous as you're suggesting."
"This whole thing smells of treachery," Octavian grumbled. "That trireme is not a ship of peace!"
"That's kind of the point," Danielle said, matter of factly. "What, are we supposed to paint ponies and rainbows on it and make monsters who see it smile to death?"
"Come aboard, man," Leo offered. "I'll give you a tour. You can steer the boat, and if you're really good I'll give you a little paper captain's hat to wear."
Octavian's nostrils flared. "How dare you-"
"It's a good idea," Reyna said. "Octavian, go with him. See the ship. We'll convene a senate meeting in one hour."
"But…" Octavian stopped. Apparently he could tell from Reyna's expression that further arguing would not be good for his health. "Fine."
Leo got up. He turned to Danielle, and his smile changed. It happened so quickly that she thought she might have imagined it; but just for a moment someone else seemed to be standing in Leo's place, smiling coldly with a cruel light in his eyes. Danielle blinked, and Leo was just old Leo again, with his usual impish grin.
"Back soon," he promised Annabeth, turning to her. "This is gonna be epic."
A horrible chill settled over Danielle and Annabeth when he said that. As Leo and Octavian headed for the rope ladder, Danielle thought about calling them back, but how could she explain that? She looked at Annabeth and she knew that the daughter of Athena had felt the same thing too, but what could they say? Tell everyone they were going crazy, seeing things and feeling cold?
The wind spirits began clearing the plates.
"Uh, Reyna," Jason said, "if you don't mind, I'd like to show Piper around before the senate meeting. She's never seen New Rome."
Reyna's expression hardened.
Danielle almost face palmed. How could Jason not see that Reyna still had feelings for him? Wasn't it obvious? Was it possible he really didn't understand how much Reyna seemed to care for him? It was clear to her and she was a Hunter of the maiden goddess herself. Asking to show his new girlfriend around Reyna's city was rubbing salt in the wound.
"Of course," Reyna said coldly.
Percy took Annabeth's hand. "Yeah, me, too. I'd like to show Annabeth-"
"No," Reyna snapped.
Percy knit is eyebrows. "Sorry?"
"I'd like a few words with Annabeth," Reyna said. "Alone. If you don't mind, my fellow praetor."
Her tone made it clear that she wasn't really asking permission. It reminded the magical Hunter of Hylla, Reyna's sister, who commanded her Amazonian warriors the same way.
Annabeth clearly didn't like the idea of following Reyna when it was obvious she didn't like her. Maybe the praetor didn't like the idea of two guys who had rejected her giving their girlfriend's tours of her city. Or maybe there was something she wanted to say in private. Either way, Annabeth was reluctant to be alone and unarmed with the Roman leader.
"Come, daughter of Athena," Reyna rose from her couch. "Walk with me."
Danielle watched as Jason pulled Piper into the city, her running after him with a look of laughter in her face. In contrast, Reyna gave Annabeth a look of pure steel and they both took off in the opposite direction, presumably to talk about that prophecy Ella had given them.
That left her alone with Percy, Frank and Hazel, who watched the two girls walk off nervously.
"I don't think Reyna would deliberately hurt Annabeth," Danielle said, slowly.
"No," Frank agreed. "Just…wanted to discuss about what Ella had said, right? After all, child of Athena burning through Rome and everything."
"Annabeth wouldn't destroy Rome," Percy said with conviction. "She might not like this place, at worst, but she wouldn't try to destroy it."
'There are no children of Minerva,' Danielle thought, trying to put puzzle pieces together. 'The Romans are suspicious of Annabeth on sheer principle. She herself is uneasy here, I could see that. Ella said she was bad luck, whatever that means. What is the story here?'
She finally sighed, she didn't have all the pieces so the picture was incomplete. Still, something was off with this whole situation and she didn't like it.
"Come on," said Hazel, pulling Danielle away from her couch and making her join Frank and Percy. "We didn't really see much this morning before the senate meeting."
The Hunter sighed and nodded, joining the three as they walked through the city. She had to admit, New Rome was beautiful, exactly what the original Rome had probably looked like back when the Republic was at the height of its power.
They passed shops selling togas and modern clothes, coffee houses, and various other stores. "Guys, I need to make a call," she said to the others. They nodded and they went to the fountain, which was creating a good mist that created a rainbow from the sunlight.
She pulled out a drachma. "Oh Iris-"
"Uh actually," said Percy, rubbing the back of his head. "When we met Iris on the quest, we found that her assistant Fleecy actually does most of the messages. Her direct line is 'Oh Fleecy, do me a solid.'"
"You're kidding," said Danielle, raising an eyebrow disbelivingly. She shook her head. "Sure, whatever." She turned back to the fountain. "Oh Fleecy, do me a solid and accept my offering." She threw in the gold coin and it vanished. "Show me Thalia Grace at the Hunter's camp."
It took a brief moment but an image of Thalia appeared in the mist. She seemed to be shouting at something. "For the love of Olympus! Stop doing that!"
Danielle blinked. "Thalia!"
"Huh?" Thalia turned to see that she had a call. "Dani? What's up, you at the Roman camp? How's Jason? Is he there?"
"He's fine, Thals," Danielle smiled, glad to see her friend and sister again. "He and Piper are exploring the city. By the way, Percy's here."
"Kelp head, huh?" Thalia smirked. "Percy, come out, I know you're hiding!"
Percy sighed and stepped next to Danielle. "Hey Thals. What's up?"
"Don't you say 'what's up' to me!" Thalia yelled at him. "You were gone for months! Do you have any idea what kind of state she was in while you were gone?"
"Enough to judo-flip me when she saw me," Percy said, dryly. "What's going on over there?"
Thalia sighed. "You try to teach a group of immortal girls the basics of archery, even with the blessing of Artemis, and see how you feel when half of the arrows almost hit you." Danielle smirked, she had been there, alright. "Lady Artemis is trying the best she can but even she's not a miracle worker. Oh, hey! You are?" She was looking at Frank and Hazel, who looked surprised at meeting the long lost sister of their old praetor.
"Oh, this is Frank and Hazel," Danielle said, introducing them. "Frank is a son of Mars and Hazel is a daughter of Pluto. Percy and I went on a quest with them and they're probably coming with to Rome and then to Greece."
Thalia nodded, almost sadly. "I take it you're going with them then. On the Argo II."
Danielle sighed. "It's…the right place to be Thals. I need to help them. I think I could be a big help."
"I don't like it, but, you're probably right," said Thalia. "Message me if you need anything on this end, okay?"
"We'll be sure to protect her," said Frank, stepping forward. "Just like she'll protect me, no doubt."
"I don't doubt that," said Thalia, smiling. "We're talking about the person who defeated giants, monsters, Titans, and a psychotic mad mass murderer. And Percy, look after Jason."
"I think I can manage that," said Percy, grinning. "The guy is pretty cool so far. I think we'll be pretty good friends."
Thalia nodded. "Well, good to talk to you and Dani, make sure to keep me up to date. I want to know if anything big happens and the butts you kick on that big badass warship." She cut the connection.
"It was good talking to her again," said Percy, shaking his head, smiling. "She's still the same Pinecone Face I remember."
"And you're still the same Seaweed Brain everyone remembers," Danielle said, smirking.
"I walked into that one, didn't I?"
They sat down at the fountain and just enjoyed watching the people running around New Rome, enjoying themselves.
"Overall, this went better than I expected," said Percy, thoughtfully.
"Percy, you say that, and the next thing we know something bad happens," said Hazel, almost glaring at him now.
"Yeah, but Annabeth is here," Percy said, a goofy grin on his face. "We'll beat anything that happens together."
"Providing Reyna doesn't kill her," Frank pointed out, enjoying Hazel leaning her head against his shoulder.
"She's suspicious, but that's understandable," said Danielle. "She's used to keeping on her guard, not wanting anyone to destroy her city." She paused. "She's constantly vigilante."
"Sorry, something my first real mentor used to say."
"Good idea though," said Frank.
They were silent for a while, Percy the only one of them who really had a sense to move. His ADHD were forcing him to constantly move and he kept twitching every so often.
Frank's words were drowned out when a shrill sound pierced the air. Light flashed in the corner of Danielle's eye.
She watched just in time to watch horrfied as an explosion blasted a new crater in the forum. A burning couch tumbled through the air. Demigods scattered in panic.
"What was that?" Hazel yelled, standing with the others. Danielle gulped as she turned to look at the Argo II.
As soon as she said it, the Argo II launched a second volley. Its port ballista fired a massive spear wreathed in Greek fire, which sailed straight through the broken dome of the Senate House and exploded inside, lighting up the building like a jack-o'-lantern. If anyone had been in there…
"Mars Almighty," Frank said, looking around. "What is that Leo kid think he's doing?"
"I don't know but I think we have a lot of angry Romans around us," said Percy. Roman demigods were being thrown into a blind panic as they started an angry mob, turning against the ones responsible.
"This is bad," Danielle said, wishing she had her weapons. Sadly, she didn't even have her invisibility cloak at the moment, giving it to Terminus to be inside the city. She suddenly had to dodge as an empty dinner plate almost hit her head. "Hey!"
Romans had already surrounded them and were making the best with what they had. In the distance, Danielle could see several Romans surrounding Piper and Jason, who were trying to calm the crowd, not that it was working.
"Hate to do this, but," Percy pulled the other three onto the fountain and started using the water to repel the attackers.
Danielle, the only one of the four besides Percy who could use their powers without weapons, had no choice but use magic. Two angry Romans tried to grab her but two beams of pure magic later and they were blasted off their feet. Jabbing at another Roman in two quick thrusts in different parts of his body, another went down, unable to move.
Meanwhile, the Argo II continued to fire, blowing up random buildings, sending burning couches everywhere. Hundreds of purple ghosts drifted through the forum, passing straight through the demigods' bodies and wailing incoherently. The fauns had also taken advantage of the chaos. They swarmed the dining tables, grabbing food, plates, and cups. One trotted off with his arms full of tacos and an entire pineapple in his teeth.
A stature of Terminus exploded into being and started yelling in Latin, but he was quickly pushed over by the panicking Roman citizens.
Annabeth's cry was heard just as another explosion rocked the forum. This time the flash of light was directly overhead. One of the Roman catapults right outside the city limits had fired, and the Argo II groaned and tilted sideways, flames bubbling over its bronze-plated hull.
Danielle noticed a figure clinging desperately to the rope ladder, trying to climb down. It was Octavian, his robes steaming and his face black with soot.
Percy blasted the Roman mob with more water. Annabeth ran toward him, ducking a Roman fist and a flying plate of sandwiches.
"Annabeth!" Percy called. "What-?"
"I don't know!" she yelled.
"I'll tell you what!" cried a voice from above. Octavian had reached the bottom of the ladder. "The Greeks have fired on us! Your boy Leo has trained his weapons on Rome!"
Danielle's insides froze. No, Leo wouldn't attack New Rome.
"You're lying," Annabeth said. "Leo would never-"
"I was just there!" Octavian shrieked. "I saw it with my own eyes!"
The Argo II returned fire. Legionnaires in the field scattered as one of their catapults was blasted to splinters.
"You see?" Octavian screamed. "Romans, kill the invaders!"
The mob was so crazy for bloodlust that none of them argued. There was no time for anyone to figure out the truth. The crew from Camp Half-Blood was outnumbered a hundred to one, and even if Octavian had managed to stage some sort of trick (which was likely), they'd never be able to convince the Romans before they were overrun and killed.
"We have to leave," Annabeth told Percy. "Now."
He nodded grimly. "Hazel, Frank, you've got to make a choice. Are you coming?"
Hazel looked terrified, but she donned her cavalry helmet. "Of course we are. But you'll never make it to the ship unless we buy you some time."
"How?" Annabeth asked.
Hazel whistled. Instantly a blur of beige shot across the forum. Arion the horse materialized next to the fountain. He reared, whinnying and scattering the mob. Hazel climbed on his back like she'd been born to ride. Strapped to the horse's saddle was a Roman cavalry sword.
Hazel unsheathed the golden blade. "Send me an Iris-message when you're safely away, and we'll rendezvous," she said. "Arion, ride!"
The horse zipped through the crowd with incredible speed, pushing back Romans and causing mass panic.
Then, from halfway across the forum, she heard Jason shouting.
"Romans!" he cried. "Please!"
He and Piper were being pelted with plates and stones. Jason tried to shield Piper, but a brick caught him above the eye. He crumpled, and the crowd surged forward.
"Get back!" Piper screamed. Her charmspeak rolled over the mob, making them hesitate, but the effect wouldn't last.
"Frank," said Percy, "it's up to you and Dani. Can you help them?"
Danielle nodded while Frank swallowed nervously. "Frank, you get Jason, I'll get Piper," said Danielle before she levitated a few inches off the ground and shot off toward them.
While Percy and Annabeth managed to grab the ladder, yanking Octavian off and throwing him to the mob in the process, Danielle was busy. "Back!"
Letting out a pulse of magic, she blasted every Roman ten feet around her off their feet. Shooting blasts of magic out of her hands and knocking demigods back, she grabbed Piper while Frank managed to make every Roman scream in fear.
A full sized dragon charged through the forum, a beast even more fearsome than their bronze dragon figurehead on the Argo II. It had rough gray skin like a Komodo lizard's and leathery bat like wings. Arrows and rocks bounced harmlessly off its hide as it lumbered toward Danielle, Piper and Jason.
"It's just Frank," Danielle assured Piper before shooting off into the sky, letting Frank the friendly dragon pick Jason up with his front claws before vaulting into the air as well.
Landing on the deck of the ship just as Percy and Annabeth climbed up from the ladder, Danielle set Piper on her feet to take in the damage. The rigging was on fire. The aerial oars were broken. The foresail was ripped down the middle, and the ship listed badly to starboard.
Leo stood amidships, calmly reloading the ballista.
"Leo!" Annabeth screamed. "What are you doing?"
"Destroy them…" He faced them. His eyes were glazed. His movements were like a robot's. "Destroy them all."
He turned back to the ballista, but Percy tackled him. Leo's head hit the deck hard, and his eyes rolled up so that only the whites showed.
The gray dragon soared into view. It circled the ship once and landed at the bow, depositing Jason, who collapsed. Piper rushed toward him.
"Go!" Percy yelled. "Get us out of here!"
Danielle ran for the helm, Annabeth not far behind her. They both made the mistake of glancing over the rail and saw armed legionnaries closing ranks in the forum, preparing flaming arrows. Hazel spurred Arion, and they raced out of the city with a mob chasing after them. More catapults were being wheeled into range. All along the Pomerian Line, the statues of Terminus were glowing purple, as if building up energy for some kind of attack.
"Damn Leo for making this so complicated," Danielle muttered, remembering some of the things the crazy son of the god of blacksmiths had told her about how he wired this thing. Most of it had flown over her head but she remembered enough to yank the aviation throttle straight back. The ship groaned as Danielle managed to grab a Wii remote and push the A and B buttons at the same time. The bow tilted up a horrifying angle. The mooring lines snapped, and the Argo II shot into the clouds and toward Berkley.
Panting, when she was sure the Romans weren't chasing them right away, she pushed the A button and their speed slowed slightly and entered cruise mode.
"Why did Leo use a Wii remote on this thing?" Danielle asked, setting it down again.
"I have no idea but I want answers," Annabeth said, angrily. Both girls nodded and went to find Coach Hedge, who was with Frank, watching Leo on the deck. Percy must have gone below deck to find out what the damage was. Leo himself was slumped against the mast, groaning as he woke up in a daze.
The daughter of Athena marched right up to him. "Leo!" The boy jumped and watched her almost fearfully. "Exactly, what happened?"
Danielle took a closer look at the deck now that she could. The aft crossbows were piles of kindling. The foresail was tattered. The satellite array that powered the onboard Internet and TV was blown to bits, which made their 'responsible' chaparone Coach Hedge mad. Their bronze dragon figurehead, Festus, was coughing up smoke like he had a hairball and judging by the sounds she could make out, some of the aerial oars had been knocked out of alignment or broken off completely, which explained why the ship was listing and shuddering as it flew, the engine wheezing like an asthmatic steam train.
Leo chocked back a sob. "I don't know. It's fuzzy."
He looked at each of them in turn, flinching as Annabeth and Danielle glared at him.
Annabeth crossed her arms. "You mean you don't remember?"
"I…" Leo looked like he was trying to swallow a marble. "I remember, but it's like I was watching myself do things. I couldn't control it."
"Possession?" Danielle suggested. She looked at Leo, right in the eye, and stared at him.
Coach Hedge tapped his bat against the deck. In his gym clothes, with his cap pulled over his horns, he looked like a standard school gym teacher. The way the old satyr was glowering, it made Danielle wonder if he was going to order Leo to do push-ups.
"Look, kid," Hedge said, "you blew up some stuff. You attacked some Romans. Awesome! Excellent! But did you have to knock out the satellite channels? I was right in the middle of watching a cage match."
"Coach," Annabeth said, "why don't you make sure all of the fires are out?"
"But I already did that."
"Do it again."
The satyr trudged off, muttering under his breath. Even Hedge wasn't crazy enough to defy Annabeth.
She joined Danielle as she knelt next to Leo. Her gray eyes were as steely as ball bearings. Her blonde hair fell loose around her shoulders, but it was clear that she wasn't one of those dumb giggly blondes that were the standard stereotype.
"Leo," she said calmly, "did Octavian trick you somehow? Did he frame you, or-"
"No." Leo shook his head, not stupid enough to lie. "The guy was a jerk, but he didn't fire on the camp. I did."
Frank scowled. "On purpose?"
"No!" Leo squeezed his eyes shut. "Well, yes…I mean, I didn't want to. But at the same time, I felt like I wanted to. Something was making me do it. There was this cold feeling inside me-"
"A cold feeling." Annabeth and Danielle looked at each other, having felt that before.
"Yeah," Leo said. "Why?"
From below decks, Percy called up, "Annabeth, we need you."
Percy had said something about checking up on Jason, who was still unconscious with a nasty gash on his face. As soon as they'd gotten on board, Piper had taken Jason below. Leo instantly started to panic. Leo had known Jason longer than anyone at Camp Half-Blood They were best friends. If Jason didn't make it…
"He'll be fine," Annabeth's expression softened. "Frank, Dani, I'll be back. Just…watch Leo. Please."
Frank and Danielle nodded.
Leo looked horrible now. Like Annabeth trusted a Roman she had known for about three seconds and a Hunter she had met only a dozen times more than she trusted him.
Once she was gone, Leo and Frank stared at each other. Frank looked pretty odd in his bed sheet toga, with his gray pullover hoodie and jeans, and a bow and quiver from the ship's armory slung over his shoulder. Leo remembered the Hunters of Artemis and tried to imagine Frank frolicking with them. The thought was so ridiculous, it almost made him feel better.
"So," said Frank. "Your name isn't Sammy?"
Leo scowled. "What kind of question is that?"
"Nothing," Frank said quickly. "I just…nothing. About the firing on the camp…Octavian could be behind it, like magically or something. He didn't want the Romans getting along with you guys."
"Leo," said Danielle, getting his attention on her instead. "There is magic that allows me to look through your memories. I'm not good at it and I need my wand, which is back in New Rome by the way, to do it, but I would be able to see if you really did do it."
Leo was quick to agree. "Sure, anything." He looked desperate for any sign that he was not responsible for ruining the chances of the Greeks and Romans of ever working together. He had been the one to start firing, true, but hopefully it hadn't been his fault.
"Look," said Leo. "I should talk to Festus and get a damage report. You mind…?"
Frank helped him up. "Who is Festus?"
"My friend," Leo said. "His name isn't Sammy either, in case you're wondering. Come on, I'll introduce you."
Fortunately, the bronze dragon figurehead wasn't damaged. When they reached the bow of the ship, the figurehead turned one hundred eighty degrees to look at them. Frank yelped back and backed away.
"It's alive!" he said.
"Sort of," said Danielle, clapping the big guy on the back. "Festus is the figurehead of the Argo II and used to be a real metal dragon at one point. He's really just a user interface now with an advanced AI programmed into him."
"He's programmed to look alive when he's actually not. He also controls the ship."
"He's more than that," said Leo, rolling his eyes. "How are things looking, Festus?"
Festus snorted smoke and made a series of squeaking and whirring sounds. Over the last few months, Leo had learned to interpret this machine language. Other demigods could understand Latin and Greek. Leo could speak Creak and Squeak.
"Ugh," Leo said. "Could be worse, but the hull is compromised in several places. The port aerial oars have to be fixed before we can go full speed again. We'll need some repair materials: Celestrial bronze, tar, lime-"
"What do you need limes for?" asked Frank.
"Lime is actually a material used in cement and a bunch of other products," said Danielle before Leo could. "It's a kind of powder, not the fruit."
"It's actually Calcium carbonate," Leo said. "The point is, this ship isn't going far unless we can fix it."
Festus made another click-creak noise that Leo didn't recognize. It sounded like AY-zuhl.
"Oh…Hazel," he deciphered. "That's the girl with the curly hair, right?"
Frank gulped. "Is she okay?"
"Yeah, she's fine," Leo said. "According to Festus, her horse is racing along below. She's following us."
"We've got to land then," Frank said.
Leo studied him. "She's your girlfriend?"
Frank chewed his lip. "Yes."
"You don't sound sure."
"Yes. Yes, definitely, I'm sure."
Leo raised his hands. "Okay, fine. The problem is we can only manage one landing. The way the hull and the oars are, we won't be able to lift off again until we repair, so we'll have to make sure we land somewhere with the right supplies."
"It'll have to be a place with Celestrial bronze," Danielle offered. "The tar and the lime is easy, that can be found in any hardware store. But the magical bronze might be a problem. Festus, run a scan for the magical signiture of Celestrial bronze."
"He can do that?" Frank marveled. "Is there anything he can't do?"
"Take orders only from me," Leo muttered as Festus did his thing.
Danielle figured they were still in central California and they needed to put as much distance between them and the Romans as possible. She looked over the ship's bow. The Central California valley was passing below. The Argo II could cover vast distances pretty quickly, thanks to its magical engine, but Danielle was sure that the Romans had their own ways of getting across the country.
Behind them, the stairs creaked. Percy and Annabeth climbed up, their faces grim.
"Is Jason-?" Leo started.
"He's resting," Annabeth said. "Piper's keeping an eye on him, but he should be fine."
Percy gave him a hard look. "Annabeth says you did fire the ballista?"
"Man, I-I don't understand how it happened. I'm so sorry-"
"Sorry?" Percy growled.
"It wasn't entirely his fault, Percy," said Danielle, getting in between them. "It was clear he wasn't in control of his actions. I've seen something like this before at my old school. Right now, we have to fix the Argo II and get to Rome."
Annabeth nodded. "What's the situation with the ship?"
Leo looked scared of Percy and the glare the son of Poseidon was giving him but managed it. He told Annabeth about the damage and the supplies they needed. At least he looked better talking about something fixable.
He was bemoaning the shortage of Celestrial bronze when Festus began to whir and squeak.
"Perfect," Leo sighed with relief.
"What's perfect?" Annabeth asked. "I could use some perfect about now."
Leo managed to smile. "Everything we need in one place. Frank, why don't you turn into a bird or something? Fly down and tell your girlfriend to meet us at the Great Salt Lake in Utah."
It didn't take long before they reached the lake in question with Leo at the controls, even if the landing wasn't pretty. With the oars damaged and the foresail torn, Leo could barely manage a controlled descent. While Danielle and everyone else strapped themselves in below; except for Coach Hedge, who insisted on clinging to the forward rail, yelling, "YEAH! Bring it on, lake!" Leo stood astern, alone at the helm, and aimed as best he could.
To the southeast, a city was nestled in the foothills of a mountain range, blue and purple in the afternoon shadows. A flat desert landscape spread to the south. Directly beneath them the Great Salt Lake glittered like aluminum foil, the shoreline etched with white salt marshes.
With a WHOOM! A swell of salt water washed over the bow, dousing Coach Hedge. The Argo II listed dangerously to starboard, then righted itself and rocked to the surface of the lake. Machinery hummed as the aerial blades that were still working changed to nautical form.
Three banks of robotic oars dipped into the water and began moving them forward.
A few moments later, Leo rang the All clear bell and everyone except for Jason and Piper made their way to the large mess hall/lounge Leo had made for them. Danielle sighed and sat down in the middle of the table, sitting on the opposite side of Frank. Percy and Annabeth joined them, all of them sitting dejectedly in silence.
Leo had made the lounge as nice as possible, since he figured they'd be spending a lot of time there. The cupboard was lined with magic cups and plates from Camp Half- Blood, which would fill up with whatever food or drink one wanted on command. There was also a magical ice chest with canned drinks, perfect for picnics ashore. The chairs were cushy recliners with thousand-finger massage, built-in headphones, and sword and drink holders for all hero kicking-back needs. There were no windows, but the walls were enchanted to show real-time footage from Camp Half-Blood; the beach, the forest, the strawberry fields, although now it was only making the Greeks homesick rather than happy.
Percy was staring longingly at a sunset view of Half-Blood Hill, where the Golden Fleece glittered in the branches of a tall pine tree.
The door opened to reveal Leo and Hazel, who had just arrived.
"So we've landed," Percy said. "What now?"
Frank plucked on his bowstring. "Figure out the prophecy? I mean…that was a prophecy Ella spoke, right? From the Sibylline Books?"
"The what?" Leo asked.
Frank explained how Ella had perfect recall of everything she had ever read. At some point, she'd inhaled a collection of ancient prophecies that had supposedly been destroyed around the fall of Rome.
"That's why you didn't tell the Romans," Leo guessed. "You didn't want them to get hold of her."
Percy kept staring at the image of Half-Blood Hill. "Ella's sensitive. She was a captive when we found her. I just didn't want…" He made a fist. "It doesn't matter now. I sent Tyson an Iris-message just before we landed, told him to take Ella to Camp Half-Blood. They'll be safe there."
"How long do you think it will take for Octavian to march on Camp Half-Blood though?" Danielle asked the room at large. "He already hates the Greeks for some reason. When we're out of America and he can't follow us, he'll push the Romans into attacking Camp."
"And Reyna can't afford to look weak at the moment," said Hazel, sitting down next to Frank. "She wont be able to call off the attack."
Annabeth laced her fingers. "Let's worry about that later. Let me think about that prophecy…right now we have more immediate problems. We have to get this ship fixed. Leo, what do we need?"
"The easiest thing is tar." Leo looked glad at the change of topic. "We can get that in the city, at a roofing-supply store or someplace like that. Also, Celestrial bronze and lime. According to Festus, we can find both of those on an island in the lake, just west of here."
"We'll have to hurry," Hazel warned. "If I know Octavian, he's searching for us with his auguries. The Romans will send a strike force after us. It's a matter of honor." She turned to Danielle and handed her something from a bag at her side. It was a wand and a cloak. "They were the only things I was able to get for you. I couldn't get your knives or your other wand back. Sorry."
Danielle nodded and took the offered items. "Thanks Hazel. I'll make due with these." She had really wanted to get her old wand back, but odds are the Romans were burning it. She would have to deal with just the Elder Wand for now. "Leo, I should check your memories to see if you were the one to attack on New Rome."
Leo nodded and Danielle pointed the Elder Wand at him. "Legilimens."
The son of Hepheastus actually had some really good natural mental shields, probably for being so powerful, but she was able to push her way through. The problem was that she was getting everything but what she needed. 'Leo,' She thought to him, hoping he would answer, 'I need you to concentrate on what you want to show me. You're too powerful for me to simply dive in.'
The random bits and pieces from Leo's life instantly started to clear a little and Danielle was able to make out Leo's memory from the Argo II right before the attack. She watched as Leo and Octavian walked around the deck, pointing out various features and weapons for taking down monsters. Everything seemed fine until Leo went into a kind of trance. His eyes glazed over and he seemed like a different person. Leo went up to the ballista and started firing, blowing random holes into the Roman forum. Octavian had apparently yelped and had started climbing down the ladder, not even trying to stop him.
Danielle pulled out and watched as everyone stared at her. Leo seemed to try to get over a headache. "What was that?" he asked.
"I looked through your memories," said Danielle, rubbing her own temples to drive off her own headache. "Really helped that you were working with me and not against me, by the way. Yeah, you were in a trance, not in control of your actions. Obvious possession."
Hazel gasped, sitting up. "Eidolon."
"Sorry?" Danielle asked her.
"They are a kind of spirit from the Underworld," Hazel explained. "Gaea must have risen one to possess him."
"Will it happen again?" Frank asked, looking at the fire user in their midst.
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Danielle said, frowning. "This Eidolon thing is a spirit? Well, Mistress of Death right here." She pointed the Elder Wand at Leo again, who looked slightly nervous. Focusing, she tried to use her death related powers on him. "Eidolon, if you are there, you will speak."
Everyone looked at her like she was crazy, but Leo's eyes glazed over and glared at her. "Mistress of Death," the spirit said in Leo's voice, "you are not our mistress. I serve Gaea. She has promised me a better life in this new body."
"This is not your body and your time is over," Danielle growled, using a body bind on Leo so the spirit couldn't move, but still talk. "As Mistress of Death and herald of Thanatos himself, I command you!"
"You…command…me," the Eidolon said, grimacing as he said that, as if each word was painful.
"Swear on the River Styx to leave and never possess any person ever again."
"I swear so…on the River Styx," the spirit said, equally as painfully.
Something left Leo alright as the fire user collapsed and hit his head on the table. Danielle twirled the wand in her fingers and put it away, letting out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. "Well, I never thought I would ever have to do an exorcism on this quest."
"Is Leo alright?" Annabeth asked, getting up and poking him slightly.
"Yeah, I'm alright," Leo groaned, sitting up again. "Man, what is up with magic giving me a headache. Am I all good now?"
"You should be," said the magical Hunter.
"Good. My head hurts but I'm fine to move, I think. If we're getting everything we should leave now. Maybe we should use the buddy system. Nobody goes anywhere alone. We can leave Piper and Coach Hedge on board with Jason. Send one team into town to get tar. Another can go after the bronze and the lime."
"Split up?" Percy said. "That sounds like a really bad idea."
"It'll be quicker," Hazel put in. "Besides, too many demigods in one place is dangerous, right?"
Annabeth raised her eyebrows, as if reappraising Hazel's merits. "You're right. The same reason we needed the Argo II…outside camp, seven demigods in one place will attract way too much monstrous attention. The ship is designed to conceal and protect us. We should be safe on board; but if we go on expeditions, we shouldn't travel in groups larger than three. No sense alerting more of Gaea's minions than we have to."
Percy still didn't look happy about it, but he took Annabeth's hand. "As long as you're my buddy, I'm good."
Hazel smiled. "Oh, that's easy. Frank, you were amazing, turning into a dragon! Could you do it again to fly Annabeth and Percy into town for the tar?"
Frank opened his mouth like he wanted to protest. "I…I suppose. But what about you?"
"I'll ride Arion with Dani and Sa…with Leo, here." She fidgeted with her sword hilt, which seemed to make Leo uneasy. "We'll get the bronze and the lime. We can all meet back here by dark."
Frank scowled. Obviously he didn't like the idea of Leo going off with Hazel but conceded as an anti-love Huntress was going with them.
"Leo," said Annabeth," if we get the supplies, how long to fix the ship?"
"With luck, just a few hours."
"Fine," she decided. "We'll meet you back here as soon as possible, but stay safe. We could use some good luck. That doesn't mean we'll get it."
As Danielle and Hazel left the lounge, Percy personally took Leo aside to tell him some of Hazel's story.
"Leo, if you are going with Hazel, just know a few things. She's a daughter of Pluto and she died back in the 1940's, coming back only a few months ago. Just treat her with respect and nothing will happen."
While it looked like Percy was doing him a favor, it was clear to Leo what his undertone was. If you mess with my friend, I will personally feed you to a great white shark.
Arion was on the deck of the Argo II when the three arrived, looking ready to ride and get off the ship. As the Argo II was still rocking back and forth in the lake and Hazel started looking green, the immortal horse had the best idea of getting off quickly.
The daughter of Pluto jumped on the horse's back like it was no big deal and Danielle got on with no problem. Leo on the other hand needed a leg up as he wrapped his arms around the magical Hunter, grimacing as Arion took off across the surface of the lake. The horse's hooves turned the surface of the lake to salty mist.
Ahead of them lay an island, a line of sand so white it might have been pure table salt. Behind that rose an expanse of grassy dunes and weathered boulders.
Danielle could feel Leo's arms around her waist as he tried to stay on board, but it was clear that he was trying to keep the close contact to a minimum, not wanting to be castrated for touching a Hunter.
As they were riding, Leo was watching Hazel, wondering if everything Percy had told him was true. The daughter of Pluto didn't seem zombie like or any less of a person like Medea, Midas or any other reborn mortal he had tangled with. Hazel, if anything, seemed warm and full of life, much better with people then the fire user himself.
Arion thundered onto the beach. He stomped his hooves and whinnied triumphantly, like Coach Hedge yelling a battle cry.
The three teens dismounted. Arion pawed the sand.
"He needs to eat," Hazel explained. "He likes gold, but-"
"Gold?" Leo asked.
"He'll settle for grass. Go on, Arion. Thanks for the ride. I'll call you."
Just like that, the horse was gone, nothing left but a steaming trail across the lake.
"Fast horse," Leo said, "and expensive to feed."
"Not for Hazel," Danielle grinned.
"True, gold is easy for me."
Leo raised his eyebrows. "How is gold easy? Please tell me you're not related to King Midas. I don't like that guy."
Hazel pursed her lips, as if she regretted raising the subject. "Never mind."
That of course only made Leo more curious, but he let the subject for the moment. He knelt and cupped a handful of white sand. "Well...one problem solved, anyway. This is lime."
Danielle frowned. "The whole beach?"
"Yeah, see? The granules are perfectly round. It's not really sand. It's calcium carbonate." Leo pulled a Ziploc baggie from his tool belt and dug his hands into the lime.
Suddenly he froze, thinking hard about something that neither Danielle nor Hazel could figure out.
"Leo?" Hazel asked. "You okay?"
He took a shaky breath and nodded, trying not to freak himself out. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, fine."
He started to fill the bag.
Hazel and Danielle knelt down and helped. "We should have brought a pail and shovels," Hazel grinned.
Danielle just looked at her and with a wave of her wand, trowels appeared, making the whole process much easier.
Leo smiled. "We could build a sand castle with these," he said, examining the trowels.
"A lime castle," Hazel corrected.
Their eyes locked for a second too long.
Hazel looked away. "You are so much like-"
"Sammy?" Leo guessed.
She fell backward. "You know?"
"Hazel," Danielle sighed, standing up once the baggie was filled. "Come on, he's not Sammy."
"I…" Hazel shook her head, standing as well. She looked Leo, who looked confused. "Is your family from New Orleans?"
"Nah. Houston," Leo shrugged. "Why? Is Sammy a guy you used to know?"
"He looks like your clone, man," Danielle muttered, helping him up. "He was from the forties, about fifty years before you were born. Come on, we have celestial bronze to find."
If this was going to be some stupid love triangle between Hazel, Frank and Leo, then she was going to end it before it started. To her it was just weird for Hazel to move her crush on Sammy onto the guy's grandson or great-grandson or something. She really wanted Hazel and Frank to get together but if Leo was going to mess it up she was going to scream.
They scanned the island; bleach-white dunes, blankets of grass, and boulders encrusted with salt like frosting. "Festus said there was Celestial bronze nearby," Leo said, looking around, "but I'm not sure where-"
"That way." Hazel pointed up the beach. "About five hundred yards."
"How do you-?"
"Precious metals," Hazel said. "It's a Pluto thing."
Leo remembered what she'd said about gold being easy. "Handy talent. Lead the way, Miss Metal Detector."
The sun was beginning to set. The sky turned a bizarre mix of purple and yellow. Danielle realized that she and Hazel were walking on a beach with Leo during a sunset. Glaring at the sky like it was its fault she was in a somewhat romantic setting, she was glad when Hazel turned inland.
"You sure this is a good idea?" Leo asked.
"We're close," Hazel promised. "Come on."
Just over the dunes, they saw the woman.
She sat on a boulder in the middle of a grassy field, a black-and-chrome motorcycle was parked nearby, but each of the wheels had a big slice removed from the spokes and rim, so they resembled Pac-Men. No way that thing was drivable in that condition.
The woman had jet black curly hair and a bony frame. She wore black leather biker's pants, tall leather boots, and blood red leather jacket; sort of a Michael Jackson joins the Hell's Angels's look. Around her feet, the ground was littered with what looked like broken shells. She was hunched over, pulling new ones out of a sack and cracking them open. Shucking oysters? Danielle knew oysters weren't found in the Great Salt Lake.
Leo hesitated when he saw her but Hazel and Danielle forged ahead, so he didn't have much choice but to follow.
As they got closer, they could make out more details. Attached to the woman's belt was a curled whip. Her red-leather jacket had a subtle design to it, twisted branches of an apple tree populated with skeletal birds. The oysters she was shucking were actually fortune cookies.
A pile of broken cookies lay ankle-deep all around her. She kept pulling new ones from her sack, cracking them open, and reading the fortunes. Most she tossed aside. A few made her mutter unhappily. She would swipe her finger over the slip of paper like she was smudging it, then magically reseal the cookie and toss it into a nearby basket.
"What are you doing?" Leo asked before he could stop himself.
The woman looked up. All three of them either gasped or grimaced when they saw her face clearly.
"Aunt Rosa?" Leo asked.
Danielle didn't know who his aunt Rosa was but she saw someone completely different, she was sure. The woman in front of her looked just like an insane maniac she used to know.
"Is that what you see?" the woman asked. "Interesting. And you, Hazel, Danielle, dears?"
"How did you-?" Hazel stepped back in alarm. "You look like Mrs. Leer. My third grade teacher. I hated you."
Danielle grimaced. "Weird how you look like Helena Bonham Carter to me. But I guess you were going for Bellatrix LeStrange."
The woman cackled. "Excellent. You resented her, eh?"
"She killed multiple people and loved to torture others," Danielle said with a dead panned expression. "She was a sadistic bitch that needed to be put down."
"I dropped a safe on her head. So yeah,"
"And you?" she referred to Hazel, who gave the auburn haired girl a strange look.
"Mrs. Leer, she used to tape my hands to the desk for misbehaving," Hazel said. "She called my mother a witch. She blamed me for everything I didn't do and…No. She has to be dead. Who are you?"
"Oh, Leo knows," the woman said. "How do you feel about Aunt Rosa, mijo?"
Leo didn't say anything but his clenched fists told the whole story. Danielle had learned from Jason and Leo himself that after his mother died in a fire, his family had refused to take him in and he was bumped from foster home to foster home. Aunt Rosa must have been one of the first to say no to raising him.
Her eyes drifted to the motorcycle with the Pac-Man wheels. Where had she seen that symbol before? Something about a goddess with a broken wheel at Camp Half-Blood…
"Nemesis," Leo said. "You're the goddess of revenge."
"You see?" the goddess smiled at the two girls. "He recognizes me."
Nemesis cracked open another cookie and wrinkled her nose. "You will have great fortune when you least expect it," she read. "That's exactly the sort of nonsense I hate. Someone opens a cookie, and suddenly they have a prophecy that they'll be rich! I blame that tramp Tyche. Always dispensing good luck to people who don't deserve it!"
Danielle looked at the mountain of broken cookies. "You do know those aren't real prophecies, right? They're just nonsense written by some factory-"
"Don't try to excuse it!" Nemesis snapped. "It's just like Tyche to get people's hopes up. No, no, I must counter her." Nemesis flicked a finger over the slip of paper, and the letters changed to red. "You will die painfully when you most expect it. There! Much better!"
"That's horrible!" Hazel said. "You'd let someone read that in their fortune cookie, and it would come true?"
Nemesis sneered. It really was creepy looking, seeing that expression on Bellatrix LeStrange's face, like she was going to pull out a wand and send a Cruciatus curse Hazel's way. "My dear Hazel, haven't you ever wished horrible things on Mrs. Leer for the way she treated you?"
"That doesn't mean I'd want them to come true!"
"Bah." The goddess resealed the cookie and tossed it in her basket. "Tyche would be Fortuna to you, I suppose, being Roman. Like the others, she's in a horrible way right now. Me? I'm not affected. I am called Nemesis in both Greek and Roman. I do not change, because revenge is universal."
"What are you talking about?" Leo asked. "What are you doing here?"
Nemesis opened another cookie. "Lucky numbers. Ridiculous! That's not even a proper fortune!" She crushed the cookie and scattered the pieces around her feet. "To answer your question, Leo Valdez, the gods are in terrible shape. It always happens when a civil war is brewing between you Romans and Greeks. The Olympians are torn between their two natures, called on by both sides. They become quite schizophrenic, I'm afraid. Splitting headaches. Disorientation."
"But we're not at war," Leo insisted.
"Leo," Danielle looked at him. "You were possessed and fired on New Rome."
Leo stared at her, wondering whose side she was on. "Not on purpose!"
"I know," the magical Hunter said, sighing. "But the Romans won't let that just slide by. They'll be wanting to attack Camp Half-Blood in retaliation."
Nemesis cackled. "Leo, listen to the girl. War is coming. Gaea has seen to it, with your help. And can you guess who the gods blame for their predicament?"
Leo looked like his mouth was filled with calcium carbonate. "Me?"
The goddess snorted. "Well, don't you have a high opinion of yourself. You're just a pawn on the chessboard, Leo Valdez. I was referring to the player who set this ridiculous quest in motion, bringing the Greeks and Romans together. The gods blame Hera, or Juno, if you prefer! The queen of the heavens has fled Olympus to escape the wrath of her family. Don't expect any more help from your patron!"
Danielle grimaced. Hera wasn't that bad when she wasn't meddling in people's lives and she did see the wisdom in her plan to bring the Greeks and Romans together. Still, if she was out of the picture now…
"So why are you here?" Leo asked.
"Why, to offer my help!" Nemesis smiled wickedly.
Leo glanced at Hazel and Danielle. They both looked like they had been offered a free snake.
"Your help," Leo said.
"Of course!" said the goddess. "I enjoy tearing down the proud and powerful, and there are none deserve tearing down like Gaea and her giants. Still, I warn you that I will not suffer undeserved success. Good luck is a sham. The wheel of fortune is a Ponzi scheme. True success requires sacrifice."
"Sacrifice?" Hazel's voice was tight. "I lost my mother. I died and came back. Now my brother is missing. Isn't that enough sacrifice for you?"
"Not to mention that in order to defeat Voldemort I nearly died," Danielle added, looking at Nemesis. She had been almost killed by Voldemort personally before she brought the Order and the others into the battle, not to mention all the pain she felt while she was training for the final battle.
"Right now," Leo said, trying to control his anger, "all I want is some Celestial bronze."
"Oh, that's easy," Nemesis said. "It's just over the rise. You'll find it with the sweethearts."
"Wait," Hazel said. "What sweethearts?"
Nemesis popped a cookie in her mouth and swallowed it, fortune and all. "You'll see. Perhaps they will learn a lesson, Hazel Levesque. Most heroes cannot escape their nature, even when given a second chance at life." She smiled. "And speaking of your brother Nico, you don't have much time. Let's see…it's June twenty-fifth? Yes, after today, six more days. Then he dies, along with the entire city of Rome."
Hazel's eyes widened. "How…what-?"
"And as for you, child of fire." She turned to Leo. "Your worst hardships are yet to come. You will always be the outsider, the seventh wheel. You will not find a place among your brethren. Soon you will face a problem you cannot solve, though I could help you…for a price."
Danielle and Hazel smelled smoke. They quickly realized that Leo's fingers on his left hand were ablaze. Hazel stared at him in terror.
He shoved his hand into his pocket to extinguish the flames. "I like to solve my own problems."
"Very well," Nemesis brushed cookie dust off her jacket.
"But, um, what sort of price are we talking about?"
The goddess shrugged. "One of my children recently traded an eye for the ability to make a real difference in the world."
Danielle glared at her now. "Ethan was killed by Kronos when he switched sides at the last moment. I was there, I saw Kronos open a hole in the Olympian throne room floor that sent him falling into open air over six hundred floors above the ground."
"He gave you enough time to stop the king of the Titans, didn't he?" Nemesis asked, grinning.
Danielle scowled at her but didn't answer.
The goddess turned to Leo again. "In your case, perhaps another sacrifice would do. But something just as painful. Here." She handed him an unbroken fortune cookie. "If you need an answer, break this. It will solve your problem."
Leo's hands trembled as he held the fortune cookie. "What problem?"
"You'll know when the time comes."
"No, thanks," Leo said firmly, slipping the cookie in his tool belt anyway.
Nemesis picked another cookie from her bag and cracked it open. "You will have to reconsider your choices soon. Oh, I like that one. No changes needed here."
She resealed the cookie and tossed it in the basket.
"Very few gods will be able to help you on the quest. Most are already incapacitated, and their confusion will only grow worse. One thing might bring unity to Olympus again, an old wrong finally avenged. Ah, that would be sweet indeed, the scales finally balanced! But it will not happen unless you accept my help."
"I suppose you won't tell us what you're talking about," Hazel muttered. "Or why my brother Nico has only six days to live. Or why Rome is going to be destroyed."
Nemesis chuckled. She rose and slung her sack of cookies over her shoulder. "Oh, it's all tied together, Hazel Levesque. Danielle Peverell, do try to not to destroy Rome in your grief when what you fear happens, rebuilding cities is such tedious work. As for my offer, Leo Valdez, give it some thought. You're a good child. A hard worker. We could do business. But I have detained you too long. You should visit the reflecting pool before the light fades. My poor cursed boy gets quite…agitated when the darkness comes."
Danielle didn't like the sound of that, or what she said about what she feared coming to pass, but the goddess climbed on her motorcycle. Apparently, it was drivable, despite those Pac-Man-shaped wheels, because Nemesis revved her engine and disappeared in a mushroom cloud of black smoke.
Hazel bent down. All the broken cookies and fortunes had disappeared except for one crumpled slip of paper. She picked it up and read, "You will see yourself reflected, and you will have reason to despair."
"Fantastic," Leo grumbled. "Let's go see what that means."
As they walked over the hill in the direction Nemesis had pointed to, Hazel looked at Leo. "Who is Aunt Rosa?"
Leo frowned, clearly not wanting to talk about her. "Long story," he said. "She abandoned me after my mom died, gave me to foster care."
"Yeah, well…" Leo looked ready for a subject change. "What about you? What Nemesis said about your brother?"
Hazel blinked like she'd gotten salt in her eyes. "Nico…he found me in the Underworld. He brought me back to the mortal world and convinced the Romans at Camp Jupiter to accept me. I owe him for my second chance at life. If Nemesis is right and Nico's in danger…I have to help him."
"We will," Danielle said with certainty. "Odds are, this quest will lead us straight to him."
"Here's hoping," Hazel muttered, mostly to herself.
"Any idea what Nemesis meant about Rome getting destroyed?" Leo asked.
"None," Hazel admitted while Danielle shook her head as well. "But I'm afraid…"
Whatever she was thinking, she decided not to share it. Both girls climbed one of the largest boulders to get a better view. Leo tried to follow and lost his balance. Hazel caught his hand. She pulled him up and they found themselves atop the rock, holding hands, face-to-face.
Hazel's eyes glittered like gold.
"Hmm, hmm," Danielle gave a very Umbridge like cough, getting their attention. Leo and Hazel suddenly became aware of how close they were and moved apart from each other, both slightly blushing. "Anyway, we were looking for this piece of godly bronze. Ring any bells?"
"Right," Hazel muttered, looking at everything but at Leo. "Uh, when we were talking to Nemesis," she glanced in Leo's direction, "your hands…I saw flames."
"Yeah," he said, not looking at her either. "It's a Hephaestus power. Usually I can keep it under control."
"Oh." Hazel put a hand protectively on her denim shirt, where a certain piece of firewood was being kept. She looked like she wanted to back away from him, but the boulder was too small.
Leo gazed across the island. The opposite shore was only a few hundred yards away. Between where they were and there were dunes and clumps of boulders, but nothing that looked like a reflecting pool.
You will always be an outsider, the seventh wheel. You will not find a place among your brethren.
Danielle looked at Leo, a little worried that he looked so lost in thought. Leo had spent what was probably months alone in Bunker 9 at Camp Half-Blood, working on the Argo II while the others trained together, shared meals and played capture-the-flag. Piper and Jason were always together after they started dating, never spending any time with Leo. The only one he had spent time with constantly was Festus, and he wasn't exactly the best conversationalist.
"Leo?" Hazel asked gently. "You can't take what Nemesis said to heart."
He frowned. "What if it's true?"
"She's the goddess of revenge," she reminded him. "Maybe she's on our side, maybe not; but she exists to stir up resentment."
"We should start moving," Danielle commented, looking around. "Nemesis said we need to finish before dark."
Hazel glanced at the sun, which was just touching the horizon. "And who is the cursed boy she mentioned?"
Below them, a voice said, "Cursed boy she mentioned."
At first, they couldn't see anyone. Then their eyes adjusted. A young woman was standing only ten feet away from the base of the boulder. Her dress was a Greek-style tunic the same color as the rocks. Her wispy hair was somewhere between brown, blonde and gray, so it blended with the dry grass. She wasn't invisible, exactly, but she was almost perfectly camouflaged until she moved. Even then, it was hard focusing on her. Her face was pretty but not memorable. In fact, each time Danielle blinked, she couldn't remember what she looked like, and she had to focus to find her again.
"Hello," Hazel said. "Who are you?"
"Who are you?" the girl answered. Her voice sounded weary, like she was tired of answering that question.
The three teens exchanged looks. With the godly world, one never knew what they would run into. Nine times out of ten, it wasn't good. A ninja girl camouflaged in earth tones didn't strike them as something they wanted to deal with just then.
"Are you the cursed person Nemesis mentioned?" Danielle asked, trying to be as kind as possible. "She mentioned a boy, but you're a girl."
"You're a girl," said the girl.
"Uh, I am," Danielle said, wondering what was going on.
"I am," the girl said miserably.
"You're repeating…" Danielle stopped. "Oh, right. Guys, there was a story about a girl who could only repeat the last thing she heard."
"Echo," Hazel said.
"Echo," the girl agreed. She shifted, her dress changing with the landscape. Her eyes were the color of salt water. They tried to home in on her features, but they couldn't.
"I don't remember all of the story," Danielle admitted. "You were cursed to repeat the last thing you heard, right?"
"Right," Echo said.
"Poor thing," Hazel said. "If I remember right, a goddess did this?"
"A goddess did this," Echo confirmed.
Leo scratched his head. "But wasn't that thousands of years…oh. You're one of the mortals who came back through the Doors of Death. I really wish we could stop running into dead people."
"Dead people," Echo said, now slightly annoyed, like she was chastising him.
He realized that Hazel was staring at her feet.
"Uh…sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean it that way."
"That way," Echo pointed toward the far shore of the island.
"You want to show us something?" Danielle asked. She climbed down the boulder and the two others followed her.
Even up close, Echo was hard to see. In fact, she seemed to get more invisible the longer they looked at her.
"You sure you're real?" Leo asked. "I mean…flesh and blood?"
"Flesh and blood." She touched Leo's face and made him flinch, proving she was real.
"So…you have to repeat everything?" he asked.
Leo couldn't help smiling. "That could be fun."
"Fun," she said unhappily.
"Kiss me, you fool."
"LEO!" Danielle slapped him upside the head, making him stop. "Don't tease her."
"Don't tease her," Echo agreed.
"Okay, okay," Leo grumbled. It wasn't every day he met somebody with a built-in talkback feature. "So what were you pointing at? Do you need our help?"
"Help," Echo agreed emphatically. She gestured for them to follow and sprinted down the slope. They could only follow her progress by the movement of the grass and the shimmer of her dress as it changed to match the rocks.
"We'd better hurry," Hazel said. "Or we'll lose her."
Echo led them down into a grassy meadow shaped like a blast crater, with a small pond in the middle. They found the problem easily enough, if one can call a mob of good looking girls a problem. Gathered at the water's edge were several dozen nymphs. They wore gossamer dresses, their feet were bare and they had elfish features, their skin had a slightly greenish tinge.
Danielle couldn't tell what they were doing but they were all crowded in one spot, facing the pond and jostling for a better view. Several held up phone cameras, trying to get a shot over the heads of the others. Danielle had been around Elizabeth a lot and she knew that nymphs with phones were extremely rare, so this many in one place was weird. And why were they all bouncing up and down and giggling so excitedly?
"What are they looking at?" Leo wondered.
"Looking at," Echo sighed.
"One way to find out." Hazel and Danielle marched forward and began nudging their way through the crowd. "Excuse us, pardon me."
"Hey!" One nymph complained. "We were here first!"
"Yeah," another sniffed. "He won't be interested in you."
The second nymph had large red hearts painted on her cheeks. Over her dress, she wore a t-shirt that read: OMG, I 3 N!
Danielle glared at the second nymph. "I'm a Hunter, so I'm not interested in him. Now get out of my way so I can find out who I'm not interested in."
The nymphs grumbled, but they parted to reveal a young man kneeling at the edge of the pond, gazing intently at the water.
Danielle was a Hunter and had been thirteen for the last several years, so she was not interested in guys. She had never really bothered to look at how attractive they were after the Lockhart incident in her second year at Hogwarts. That guy was all looks and no brains whatsoever, which had prevented her from falling for him like most of the female population at Hogwarts like the others.
She had laughed at even Hermione Granger for falling for a useless pretty boy like that.
At any rate, she had admit that the guy at the pond was actually pretty good-looking. He had a chiseled face with lips and eyes that were somewhere between feminine beautiful to masculine handsome. Dark hair swept over his brow. He must've been seventeen to twenty, it was hard to say, but he was built like a dancer; with long graceful arms and muscular legs, perfect posture and an air of regal calm. He wore a simple white t-shirt and jeans, with a bow and quiver strapped to his back. The weapons obviously hadn't been used in a while. The arrows were covered in dust. A spider had woven a web in the top of the bow.
As they edged closer, they realized the guy's face was unusually golden. In the sunset, the light was bouncing off a large flat sheet of Celestial bronze that lay at the bottom of the pond, washing Mr. Handsome's features in a warm glow.
The guy seemed fascinated with his reflection in the metal.
Hazel inhaled sharply. "He's gorgeous."
Danielle looked at her oddly when around her, the nymphs squealed and clapped in agreement.
"I am," the young man murmured dreamily, his gaze still fixed on the water. "I am so gorgeous."
One of the nymphs showed her iPhone screen. "His latest YouTube video got a million hits in like, an hour. I think I was half of those!"
The other nymphs giggled.
"YouTube video?" Leo asked. "What does he do in the video, sing?"
"No, silly!" the nymph chided. "He used to be a prince, and a wonderful hunter and stuff. But that doesn't matter. Now he just…well, look!" She showed Leo and Danielle the video. It was exactly what they were seeing in real life, the guy staring at himself in the pond.
"He is sooooo hot!" said another girl. Her t-shirt read: MRS. NARCISSUS.
"Narcissus?" Leo asked.
"Narcissus," Echo agreed sadly.
The three teens had forgotten Echo was there. Apparently none of the nymphs had noticed her either.
"Oh, not you again!" Mrs. Narcissus tried to push Echo away, but she misjudged where the camouflaged girl was and ended up shoving several other nymphs.
"You had your chance, Echo!" said the nymph with the iPhone. "He dumped you four thousand years ago! You are so not good enough for him."
"For him," Echo said bitterly.
"Wait." Hazel clearly had trouble tearing her eyes away from Narcissus but she managed it. "What's going on here? Why did Echo bring us here?"
One nymph rolled her eyes. She was holding an autograph pen and a crumpled poster of Narcissus. "Echo was a nymph like us, a long time ago, but she was a total chatterbox! Gossiping, blah, blah, blah, all the time."
"I know!" another nymph shrieked. "Like, who could stand that? Just the other day, I told Cleopia, you know she lives in the boulder next to me? I said: Stop gossiping or you'll end up like Echo. Cleopia is such a big mouth! Did you hear what she said about that cloud nymph and the satyr?"
"Totally!" said the nymph with the poster. "So anyway, as punishment for blabbing, Hera cursed Echo so she could only repeat things, which was fine with us. But then Echo fell in love with our gorgeous guy, Narcissus; as if he would ever notice her."
"As if!" said half a dozen others.
"Now she's got some weird idea that he needs saving," said Mrs. Narcissus. "She should just go away."
"Go away," Echo growled back.
"I'm so glad Narcissus is alive again," said another nymph in a gray dress. She had the words NARCISSUS + LAIEA written up and down her arms in black marker. "He's like the best! And he's in my territory."
"Oh, stop it, Laiea," her friend said. "I'm the pond nymph. You're just the rock nymph."
"No, he obviously came here because he likes the wild flowers!" another said. "Those are mine!"
The whole mob began arguing while Narcissus stared at the pond, ignoring them.
"Hold it!" Leo yelled. "Ladies, hold it! I need to ask Narcissus something."
Slowly, the nymphs settled down and went back to taking pictures.
Leo knelt down next to the handsome guy. "So, Narcissus. What's up?"
"Could you move?" Narcissus asked distractedly, "You're blocking the view."
Danielle looked at the water. Leo's reflection rippled next to Narcissus's on the surface of the submerged bronze. She saw herself all the time in mirrors and she had never felt the urge to stare at herself and Leo didn't look that great in comparison to Narcissus. There was no doubt however that the metal was a sheet of hammered Celestial bronze, roughly circular, about five feet in diameter.
What it was doing in this pond, she had no clue. Celestial bronze fell to earth in odd places. Most came from Hephaestus's various workshops when he would lose his temper when various projects didn't work out, tossing the scraps into the mortal world. This piece looked like it was supposed to have been a shield for a god, but hadn't turned out properly. If they could get their hands on it, it might be enough to repair the Argo II.
"Yeah, great view," Leo said. "Happy to move, but if you're not using it, could I just take that sheet of bronze?"
"No," Narcissus said. "I love him. He's so gorgeous."
Danielle raised an eyebrow and looked at the nymphs swooning and nodding in agreement, not thinking anything wrong with that statement at all. This had to be a joke, it just had to be. Only Hazel seemed to realize what she had been doing and was ashamed of herself.
"Dude," Danielle pushed Narcissus a little. "That's you! You're only looking at a reflection of yourself!"
"I am so great," Narcissus sighed. He stretched out his hand longingly to touch the water, but held back. "No, I can't make ripples. That ruins the image. Wow…I am so great."
Danielle looked ready to strangle the guy in frustration but Leo tried again. "Yeah, but if I took the bronze, you could still see yourself in the water. Or here…" He reached into his tool belt and pulled out a simple mirror the size of a monocle. "I'll trade you."
Narcissus took the mirror, reluctantly, and admired himself. "Even you carry a picture of me? I don't blame you. I am gorgeous. Thank you." He set the mirror down and returned his attention to the pond. "But I already have a much better image. The color flatters me, don't you think?"
"Oh, gods yes!" a nymph screamed. "Marry me, Narcissus!"
"No, me!" another cried. "Would you sign my poster?"
"No, sign my shirt!"
"No, sign my forehead!"
"No, sign my-"
"Stop it!" Hazel snapped.
"Stop it," Echo agreed.
They had lost sight of Echo again, finding her on Narcissus's other side, waving her hand back and forth in front of his face as if trying to break his concentration. Narcissus didn't even blink.
The nymph fan club tried to shove Hazel and Danielle out of the way but they brought out their sword and bow respectively, forcing them back. "Snap out of it!" Hazel yelled.
"He won't sign your sword or bow," the poster nymph complained.
"He won't marry either of you," said the iPhone girl. "And you can't take his bronze mirror! That's what keeps him here!"
"You're all ridiculous," Hazel said. "He's so full of himself! How can you possibly like him?"
"Like him," Echo sighed, still waving her hand in front of his face.
The others sighed along with her.
"I am so hot," Narcissus said sympathetically.
Danielle looked ready to lose it when she turned to the nymphs. "You do know that he can't marry any of you or do anything for you if he just stares at himself all the time, right?"
None of the nymphs either cared or listened to her, they just kept watching Narcissus.
"Narcissus, listen," Danielle was ready to shoot an arrow in this guy's head and just take the bronze, "Echo brought us here to help you. Didn't you, Echo?"
"Echo," said Echo.
"Who?" Narcissus said.
"The only girl who actually wants you live your life and cares about you, apparently," the auburn haired Hunter growled. "Don't you even remember dying?"
Narcissus frowned. "I…no. That can't be right. I am much too important to die."
"You died staring at yourself," Hazel said. "I remember the story now. Nemesis was the goddess who cursed you, because you broke so many hearts. Your punishment was to fall in love with your own reflection."
"I love me so, so much," Narcissus agreed.
"You finally died," Hazel went on. "I don't know which version of the story is true. You either drowned yourself or turned into a flower hanging over the water or…Echo, which is it?"
"Which is it?" she said hopelessly.
"I think he likely starved himself to death by refusing to move!" Danielle said loudly and pointedly, hoping that Narcissus would take the hint. No such luck.
Leo stood. "It doesn't matter. The point is you're alive again, man. You have a second chance. That's what Nemesis was telling us. You can get up, and get on with your life. Echo is trying to save you. Or you can stay here and stare at yourself until you die again."
"Stay here!" all of the nymphs screamed.
"Marry me before you die!" another squeaked.
Narcissus shook his head. "You just want my reflection. I don't blame you, but you can't have it. I belong to me."
Hazel sighed in exasperation, forcing Danielle away from Narcissus before an arrow could be shot through his head. Glancing at the sun, it was sinking fast. She then gestured with her sword toward the edge of the crater. "Leo, Dani, could we talk for a minute?"
"Excuse us," Leo told Narcissus. "Echo, want to come with?"
"Come with," Echo confirmed.
The nymphs clustered around Narcissus again and began recording new videos and taking more photos.
Hazel led the way until they were out of earshot. "Nemesis was right," she said. "Some demigods can't change their nature. Narcissus is going to stay there until he dies again."
"No," Leo said.
"No," Echo agreed.
"We need that bronze," Leo said. "If we can take it away, it might give Narcissus a reason to snap out of it. Echo could have a chance to save him."
"A chance to save him," Echo said gratefully.
Danielle vanished her bow, thinking. "We snap Narcissus out of it, that would leave several dozen nymphs angry with us," she said. "He might still remember how to use his bow, but by the look of it, it looked so old it might shatter if he tried to use it. I know a few things about bows and arrows."
Meanwhile, the sun was just about down. Nemesis had mentioned that Narcissus got agitated after dark, probably because he couldn't see his reflection anymore.
"I could use magic to simply summon the bronze to us," Danielle said, slowly. "But that would, again, trigger an angry Narcissus and an army of Nymphs. The closer I am the less magic I have to use and with a piece of godly metal that large…I probably should be fairly close." She really hated that godly metal like Celestial bronze and Imperial gold were somewhat resistant to magic. She couldn't do it from the Argo II and expect to stand for a while if she did that.
Leo was also thinking hard. "All right," he said. "We'll have to try something risky. Dani, how about you summon the bronze from here? Summon it with magic and then we'll run for the ship."
"Narcissus watches that bronze all the time," she warned. "We would need a distraction that would get his attention."
"Get his attention," Echo echoed.
"That'll be my job," Leo said. "Echo and I will cause a distraction."
"Distraction?" Echo asked.
"I'll explain," Leo promised. "Are you willing?"
"Willing," Echo said.
"Great," Leo said. "Now, let's hope we don't die."
Leo's plan was, without a doubt, the strangest strategy Danielle had ever seen. And she had seen Percy defeat a huge lion with space food packets. Using some magic, she conjured a pair of cool sunglasses for the crazy fire user while he summoned some breath mints from his tool belt. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. He used some machine oil to grease back his hair. He stuck a wrench in his back pocket (why, though, he wasn't sure himself) and he had Hazel draw a tattoo on his biceps with a marker: HOT STUFF, with a skull and crossbones.
"What in the world are you thinking?" Hazel asked, sounding flustered.
"I try not to think," Leo admitted. "It interferes with being nuts. Just concentrate on moving that Celestial bronze, Dani. Echo, you ready?"
"Ready," she said.
Danielle gave Hazel a look that clearly said she was sure this was insane. The daughter of Pluto couldn't agree more.
Leo took a deep breath. He strutted back toward the pond, hoping he looked awesome and not like he had some sort of nervous affliction. "Leo is the coolest!" she shouted.
"Leo is the coolest!" Echo shouted back.
"Yeah, baby, check me out!"
"Check me out!" Echo said.
"Make way for the king!"
"Narcissus is weak!"
The crowd of nymphs scattered in surprise. Leo shooed them away as if they were bothering him. "No autographs, girls. I know you want some Leo time, but I'm way too cool. You better hang around that ugly dweeb Narcissus. He's lame!"
"Lame!" Echo said with enthusiasm.
The nymphs muttered angrily.
"What are you talking about?" one demanded.
"You're lame," said another.
Leo adjusted the sunglasses and smiled. He flexed his biceps, though he didn't have much to flex, and showed off his HOT STUFF tattoo. He had the nymphs attention, if only because they were stunned; but Narcissus was still fixed on his own reflection.
"You know how ugly Narcissus is?" Leo asked the crowd. "He's so ugly, when he was born his mama thought he was a backward centaur; with a horse butt for a face."
Some of the nymphs gasped. Narcissus frowned, as though he was vaguely aware of a gnat buzzing around his head.
"You know why his bow has cobwebs?" Leo continued. "He uses it to hunt for dates, but he can't find one!"
One of the nymphs laughed. The others quickly elbowed her into silence.
Narcissus turned and scowled at Leo. "Who are you?"
"I'm the Super-sized McShizzle, man!" Leo said. "I'm Leo Valdez, bad boy supreme. And the ladies love a bad boy."
"Love a bad boy!" Echo said, with a convincing squeal.
Leo took out a pen and autographed the arm of one of the nymphs. "Narcissus is a loser! He's so weak, he can't bench-press a Kleenex. He's so lame, when you look up lame on Wikipedia, it's got a picture of Narcissus; only the picture's so ugly, no one ever checks it out."
Narcissus knit his handsome eyebrows. His face was turning from bronze to salmon pink. For a moment, he'd totally forgotten about the pond, and Leo could see the bronze slowly rise from the water.
"What are you talking about?" Narcissus demanded. "I am amazing. Everyone knows this."
"Amazing at pure suck," Leo said. "If I was as suck as you, I'd drown myself. Oh wait, you already did that."
Another nymph giggled. Then another. Narcissus growled, which did make him look a little less handsome. Meanwhile, Leo beamed and wiggled his eyebrows over his sunglasses and spread his hands, gesturing for applause.
"That's right!" he said. "Team Leo for the win!"
"Team Leo for the win!" Echo shouted. She'd wriggled into the mob of nymphs, and because she was so hard to see, the nymphs apparently thought that the voice came from one of their own.
"Oh my gods, I am so awesome!" Leo bellowed.
"So awesome!" Echo yelled back.
"His is funny," a nymph ventured.
"And cute, in a scrawny way," another said.
"Scrawny?" Leo asked. "Baby, I invented scrawny. Scrawny is the new sizzling hot. And I GOT the scrawny. Narcissus? He's such a loser even the Underworld didn't want him. He couldn't get the ghost girls to date him."
"Eww," said a nymph.
"Eww!" Echo agreed.
"Stop!" Narcissus got to his feet. "This is not right! This person is obviously not awesome, so he must be…" he struggled for the right words. It had probably been a long time since he's talked about anything other than himself. "He must be tricking us."
Apparently Narcissus wasn't completely stupid. Realization dawned on his face. He turned back to the pond. "The bronze mirror!"
The sheet of bronze was hovering a few feet above the water but when Narcissus turned around, it suddenly zoomed in Danielle's direction. Unfortunately for the handsome guy, he was in between the bronze and the magical Hunter so the bronze smacked him in the face, sending him to dream land on the grass.
The girls gasped. One pointed. "There!"
Danielle and Hazel managed to combine their powers and caught the bronze, carrying it between them as they started running for the beach as fast as they could.
"Get it back!" cried a nymph.
Probably against her will, Echo muttered, "Get it back."
Leo could run pretty fast when someone was trying to kill him. Sadly, he'd had a lot of practice.
He overtook the two girls, which was easy as they were lugging fifty pounds of Celestial bronze between them.
Normally nymphs were quick, at least the ones at Camp Half-Blood were, but these were burdened with posters, t-shirts and other Narcissustm merchandise. The nymphs also weren't great at working as a team. They kept stumbling over one another, pushing and shoving. Echo made things worse for them by running among them, tripping and tackling as many as she could.
Still, they were closing rapidly.
"Call Arion!" Leo gasped.
"Already did!" Hazel said.
They ran for the beach. They made it to the edge of the water and could see the Argo II, but there was no way to get there. It was far too far to swim and Danielle couldn't just fly off with the bronze and leave Leo and Hazel on the ground.
Turning, they saw the mob was coming over the dunes. The nymphs had conjured assorted weapons. Some held rocks, some had wooden clubs wreathed in flowers. A few of the water nymphs had squirt guns, which seemed not quite as terrifying, but the look on their eyes were still murderous.
"Oh, man," Leo muttered, summoning fire in his hands. "Straight up fighting isn't my thing."
"Hold the bronze," Danielle summoned her bow, looking to injure but not kill. "Get behind me!"
"Get behind me!" Echo repeated. The camouflaged girl was racing ahead of the mob now. She stopped in front of Leo and turned, spreading her arms as if she meant to personally shield him.
"Echo?" Leo looked stunned that she would actually protect him like that. "You're one brave nymph."
"Brave nymph?" Her tone made it sound like a question.
"I'm proud to have you on Team Leo," he said. "If we survive this, you should forget Narcissus."
"Forget Narcissus?" she said uncertainly.
"You're way too good for him."
"Get him for Narcissus!" one of the nymphs shouted, brandishing her club that held a dandelion on it.
"Yes!" the girls screamed, except for one confused nymph in a yellow dress that squeaked, "Team Leo!"
The nymphs surged forward and Danielle was about to fire when the sand in front of them exploded. Arion raced out of nowhere, circling the mob so quickly he created a sandstorm, showering the nymphs in white lime, spraying their eyes.
"I love this horse!" Leo said.
The nymphs collapsed, coughing and gagging.
Hazel climbed into the saddle, Danielle right behind her and hoisting up the bronze, offered Leo a hand.
"We can't just leave Echo!" Leo said.
"Leave Echo," the nymph repeated.
She smiled, and for the first time they could clearly see her face. She really was pretty. Her eyes were bluer than they had realized.
"Why?" Leo asked. "You don't think you can still save Narcissus…"
"Save Narcissus," she said confidently. And even though it was only an echo, Danielle could tell that she meant it. She'd been given a second chance at life, and she was determined to use it to save the guy she loved; even if he was a completely hopeless moron.
Leo looked like he wanted to protest, but Echo leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, then pushed him away gently.
"Leo, come on!" Hazel called.
The other nymphs were starting to recover. They wiped the lime out of their eyes, which were now glowing green with anger. Looking for Echo again, she had dissolved into the scenery.
"Yeah," Leo said, throat dry. "Yeah, okay."
He climbed up behind Danielle. Arion took off across the water, the nymphs screaming behind them, Narcissus, awake apparently, started shouting. "Bring me back! Bring me back!"
As Arion raced toward the Argo II, Danielle was sad their new friend was wasting her second life on a guy like Narcissus but they said love was blind so maybe she could manage it. She was determined not to forget Echo's face, she was a good person and deserved to be remembered, but already the memory of her smile was fading.
Almost as soon as they got back to the ship, Leo took the Celestial bronze from the other two and started for the engine room. He couldn't carry it the whole way however so the three of them were forced to walk with the sheet between them.
"Is this enough to fix the ship?" Danielle asked, hoping that they didn't go through fan girls and a narcissistic jerk only to be told it wasn't enough.
"Just enough, I think," Leo said, as they passed a few open doorways.
As they were passing the one that held Piper and Jason, the daughter of the love goddess stared at Leo, who was still dressed like a bad boy. "Gods of Olympus," Piper looked at him. "What happened to you?"
"Long story," he said. "Others back?"
Leo cursed. Then they saw that Jason was sitting up and his face brightened. "Hey, man! Glad you're better. I'll be in the engine room."
He ran off with the sheet of bronze, leaving Hazel and Danielle in the doorway.
Piper raised an eyebrow at them. "Team Leo?"
Danielle smirked. "We met Narcissus," she said, which didn't explain much. "Also Nemesis, goddess of revenge."
Jason sighed. "I miss all the fun."
On the deck above, something went THUMP, as if a heavy creature had landed. Annabeth and Percy came running down the hall. Percy was toting a steaming five-gallon plastic bucket that smelled horrible. Annabeth had a patch of tar in her hair. Percy's shirt was covered in it.
"Roofing tar?" Piper guessed.
Frank stumbled up behind them, which made the hallway pretty jam-packed with demigods. Frank had a big smear of the black sludge down his face.
"Ran into some tar monsters," Annabeth said. "Hey, Jason, glad you're awake. Hazel, Dani, where's Leo?"
Danielle pointed down. "Engine room."
Suddenly the entire ship listed to port. The demigods stumbled. Percy almost spilled his bucket of tar.
"Uh, what was that?" he demanded.
"Ah," the magical Hunter looked embarrassed. "We might have, accidently, angered the nymphs in the lake. Like…all of them."
"Great." Percy handed the bucket of tar to Frank and Annabeth. "You guys help Leo. I'll hold off the water spirits as long as I can."
"On it!" Frank promised.
Figuring she would be better off helping Leo, Danielle took off with Frank and Annabeth, leaving Hazel with Piper and Jason.
To say that fixing the Argo II was difficult was a gross understatement. Danielle was forced to shield the others more than once and Leo still had his shirt partially shredded. By the time they were done, Leo was covered in sweat, lime dust and tar but he grinned like a mad man a couple of hours after they had started.
"Meeting in the mess hall, one hour," he said, grinning like mad man. "Crazy day, huh?"
After everyone had cleaned up, Coach Hedge took the helm and the demigods gathered below for dinner. It was the first time they'd all sat down together, just the seven of the prophecy and Danielle. It truly felt like they were the team the prophecy had said would stop Gaea and it was unfolding at last. No waiting for Leo to finish the ship. No more lounging at Camp, pretending the future was a long way off.
The others must have felt it too. The tension in the mess hall was like an electrical storm brewing, which was possible, considering Percy's and Jason's powers. In an awkward moment, the two boys tried to sit in the same chair at the head of the table. Sparks literally flew from Jason's hands. After a brief silent standoff, like they were both thinking, Seriously dude? they ceded the chair to Annabeth and sat at opposite sides of the table.
The crew compared notes on what happened in Salt Lake City, but even Leo's story of how he, Danielle and Hazel had tricked Narcissus wasn't enough to cheer up the group.
"So where to now?" Leo asked with a mouthful of pizza. "I did a quick repair job to get us out of the lake, but there's still a lot of damage. We should really put down again and fix things right before we head across the Atlantic."
Percy was eating a piece of pie, which was completely blue; filling, crust, even the whipped cream. "We need to put some distance between us and Camp Jupiter," he said. "Frank spotted some eagles over Salt Lake City. We figure the Romans aren't far behind us."
That didn't improve the mood around the table. Piper looked uncomfortable and a little guilty. "I don't suppose we should go back and try to reason with the Romans? Maybe, maybe I didn't try hard enough with the charmspeak."
Jason took her hand. "It wasn't your fault, Pipes. Or Leo's," he added quickly. "He was possessed, Gaea's work to drive the two camps apart."
Piper looked grateful for the support, but still looked uneasy. "Maybe if we could explain that, though-"
"Without any kind of proof at all?" Danielle said, looking at her over her stew. It had bits of meat that didn't look like beef in it but no one questioned her. "The spirit inside Leo is gone but Octavian won't let us swear on the River Styx that it wasn't our fault before he tries to kill us."
Annabeth nodded. "I appreciate what you're saying, Piper. I don't want the Romans on our bad side, but until we understand what Gaea's up to, going back is suicide."
"They're right," Hazel said. She looked queasy from her earlier bout of seasickness, but she was trying to eat a few saltine crackers. The rim of her plate was embedded with rubies that weren't there at the beginning of the meal. "Reyna might listen, but Octavian won't. The Romans have honor to think about. They've been attacked. They'll shoot first and ask questions posthac."
Piper still looked unsure but nodded, looking like she had lost her appetite. "You're right," she decided. "We have to keep going. Not just because of the Romans. We have to hurry."
Hazel nodded. "Nemesis said we only have six days until Nico dies and Rome is destroyed."
Jason frowned. "You mean Rome Rome, not New Rome?"
"We think so," Danielle said, nodding to Hazel. "But if so, that's not much time."
"Why six days?" Percy wondered. "And how are they going to destroy Rome?"
No one answered. Piper shifted uneasily.
"There's more," she said. "I've been seeing things in my knife."
Piper's dagger, Katropis, had belonged to Helen of Troy back in the day and the daughter of Aphrodite could use it to see events of the past, present and future if she concentrated hard enough. It didn't mean she could see what she wanted but it could give her a warning if nothing else.
Frank froze, with a forkful of pasta half-way to his mouth. "Things such as…?"
"They don't really make sense," Piper said, "just garbled images, but I saw two giants, dressed alike. Maybe twins."
Annabeth stared at the magical video feed from Camp Half-Blood on the wall. Right now it showed the living room in the Big House.
"Twins, like in Ella's prophecy," Annabeth said. "If we could figure out those lines, it might help."
"Wisdom's daughter walks alone," Percy said. "The Mark of Athena burns through Rome. Annabeth, that's got to mean you. Juno told me…well, she said you had a hard task ahead of you in Rome. She said she doubted you could do it. But I know she's wrong."
Annabeth took a long breath. "Reyna was about to tell me something right before the ship fired on us. She said there was an old legend among the Roman praetors, something that had to do with Athena. She said it might be the reason Greeks and Romans could never get along."
Leo, Hazel and Danielle exchanged nervous looks.
"Nemesis mentioned something similar," Leo said. "She talked about an old score that had to be settled-"
"The one thing that might bring the gods' two natures together," Danielle recalled. "An old wrong finally avenged. Did the Romans mistreat the Greeks at one point or vice-versa? Jason?"
Percy had only been praetor for about two hours but Jason had held the position for much longer. He must have heard something from either Reyna or from some other place.
Jason was still holding Piper's hand, looking nervous.
"I…uh, I'm not sure," he said. "I'll give it some thought."
Percy narrowed his eyes. "You're not sure?"
Jason didn't respond. The others gave him a look but the son of Jupiter gave Piper a look, telling her he would tell her later.
Hazel broke the silence. "What about the other lines?" She turned her ruby-encrusted plate. "Twins snuff out the angel's breath, Who holds the key to endless death."
"Giants' bane stands gold and pale," Frank added, "Won through pain from a woven jail."
"Giants' bane," Leo said. "Anything that's a giants' bane is good for us, right? That's probably what we need to find. If it can help the gods get their schizophrenic act together, that's good."
Percy nodded. "We can't kill the giants without the help of the gods."
Jason turned to Frank, Hazel and Danielle. "I thought you guys killed that one giant in Alaska without a god's help, just the three of you."
"Alcyoneus was a special case," Danielle said slowly, stirring her stew for a moment. "He was only immortal in the place he was reborn, Alaska. But not in Canada. He couldn't have been killed in Alaska even with a god's help while he was there. Beating the other giants won't be as easy as dragging them from one country to another, but," she paused. "Percy's right, we'll need the gods."
Danielle was staring at the images of Camp Half-Blood absentmindedly as she finished. She had never really felt at home at the Greek camp and the Roman one was no better. She wanted to go back to the Hunt, to her family but no doubt they were suffering as well. She decided to IM Thalia as soon as possible and get a status report, if Artemis was fighting with Diana, unable to do anything…
The other lines of the prophecy was turning in her mind as well. A woven jail? These giant twins clearly had Nico as his last name was Di Angelo, which was Italian for angel. Hopefully the lines about the key to endless death meant that Nico knew how to close the Doors of Death, stopping the dead from coming back.
"So…" Leo pushed his chair away from the table. "First things first, I guess. We'll have to put down in the morning to finish repairs."
"Someplace close to a city," Annabeth suggested, "in case we need supplies. But somewhere out of the way, so the Romans will have trouble finding us. Any ideas?"
No one spoke. Piper looked like she was thinking hard. "Well," she ventured, "how do you guys feel about Kansas?" When they stared at her, she continued. "In my knife I saw a vision of some strange man in purple, standing in front of a sign that said TOPEKA 32."
"Topeka is in Kansas," Danielle said, looking thoughtful. "The sign was probably a highway one."
"Not sure who this guy in purple is," said Percy, "but it couldn't hurt to at least check it out. We'll probably be near Kansas in the morning."
Leo nodded. "We'll be there by then, I can guarantee that."
"Anything else?" Annabeth asked the table in general. When no one said anything, she stood up. "Looks like this meeting is over then. We'll meet up again in the morning."
No one argued and everyone dispersed to their rooms for the night. Danielle sighed and stood up as well, heading to her room. Leo had given the Argo II plenty of space so everyone had their own rooms, so she had no problem in collapsing onto the bed, staring at the ceiling, knowing she wouldn't be able to sleep for awhile.
It didn't help that Coach Hedge spent the first hour after curfew doing his nightly duty, walking up and down the hallway yelling, "Light's out! Settle down! Try to sneak out, and I'll smack you back to Long Island!"
He banged his baseball bat against a cabin door whenever he heard a noise, shouting at everyone to go to sleep, which made it impossible for anyone to sleep. The magical Hunter figured this was the most fun the satyr had had in a long time.
Staring at the ceiling, she had to admit that her cabin was pretty nice. Leo had programmed their quarters to adjust automatically to the occupant's preferred temperature, so it was never too cold or too hot. The mattress and the pillows were stuffed with Pegasus down (no pegasi were harmed in the making of these products), so they were as comfortable as they could be. A bronze lantern hung from the ceiling, glowing at whatever brightness she wished. The lanterns sides were perforated with pinholes, so at night glimmering constellations drifted across the walls.
After Coach Hedge figured he had yelled at them enough and went to bed himself, Danielle had to admit she actually liked the peaceful rocking of the ship and the drone of the aerial oars as they scooped through the sky.
It didn't take long after that to finally drift off.
It seemed only a few minutes had passed before she woke to the breakfast bell.
Seeing as she had been tired the previous night she had never changed out of her Hunter's uniform. Shrugging, she just used magic to clean her clothes as she took a shower and head off to breakfast.
From above, Coach Hedge yelled, "Thar she blows! Kansas, ahoy!"
Grabbing some food from the mess hall, she joined the others as the ship's landing gear extended. She climbed on deck and saw the Argo II settled in the middle of a field of sunflowers. The oars retracted. The gangplank lowered itself.
The morning air smelled of irrigation, warm plants, and fertilized earth. Not a bad smell. It reminded her of the greenhouses at Hogwarts and the Hufflepuff common room.
Piper was the last to arrive, holding a bagel and looking around at the change of scenery as well. Percy was the first to notice the daughter of Aphrodite and nodded to her, smiling. He was wearing faded jeans and a fresh orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt, as if he'd never been away from the Greeks. The new clothes had probably helped his mood, as well as the fact he was standing at the rail with his arm around Annabeth.
The daughter of Athena looked happier and more full of life than Danielle had seen in her in months.
"So!" Annabeth plucked the bagel out of Piper's hand and took a bite. Back at camp, they'd had a running joke about stealing each other's breakfast so it didn't bother Piper at all. "Here we are. What's the plan?"
"I want to check out the highway," Piper said. "Find the sign that says Topeka 32."
Leo spun his Wii controller in a circle and the sails lowered themselves. "We shouldn't be far," he said. "Festus and I calculated the landing as best as we could. What do you expect to find at the mile marker?"
"That man in purple, Leo," Piper sighed. "Whoever he is, I'm sure he has something that can help us. He, I think, had vines on his hat."
Jason looked thoughtful. "Purple shirt and vines huh? Sounds like Bacchus."
"Dionysus," Percy muttered. "If we came all the way to Kansas to see Mr. D-"
"Dionysus did save us from that manticore though, remember Percy," Danielle reminded him, though the son of the sea god did have a point. The guy's personality was usually less than helpful.
"Bacchus isn't so bad," Jason said. "I don't like his followers much…"
Piper visibly shuddered. She, Jason and Leo had had an encounter with the maenads a few months ago and almost gotten torn to pieces.
"But the god himself is okay," Jason continued. "I did him a favor once up in the wine country."
Percy looked appalled. "Whatever, man. Maybe he's better on the Roman side. But why he'd be hanging around in Kansas? Didn't Zeus order the gods to cease all contact with mortals?"
"That was only until Hera smacked him a few times after she was saved at the Wolf House," Danielle smirked. "After that, the gods were just ordered to limit their interactions."
Frank grunted. The big guy was wearing a blue tracksuit this morning, like he was ready to go for a jog in the sunflowers.
"The gods haven't been very good at following that order," he noted. "Besides, if the gods have gone schizophrenic like Hazel and Dani said-"
"And Leo said," added Leo.
Frank scowled at him. "Then who knows what's going on with the Olympians? Could be some pretty bad stuff there."
"Sounds dangerous!" Leo agreed cheerfully. "Well…you guys have fun. I've got to finish repairs on the hull. Coach Hedge is gonna work on the broken crossbows. And, uh, Annabeth, Dani-I could really use your help. You two are the only people here who even sort of understands engineering."
Danielle sighed and nodded while Annabeth looked apologetically at Percy. "He's right. I should stay and help."
"I'll come back to you." He kissed her on the cheek. "Promise."
They were so easy together that it almost made Danielle hurl her breakfast over the side of the ship.
Why couldn't Poseidon and Athena make up because of these two? She got that their rivalry was thousands of years old but their kids were perfect together. That should at least get the two gods talking and finding common ground.
The other couples on the Argo II were nowhere near as cute or perfect. Danielle could tell that there were problems in the world of Piper and Jason. Frank and Hazel were still too new for them to not have any issues with each other as well.
Frank slid his bow off his shoulder and propped it against the rail. "I think I should turn into a crow or something and fly around, keep an eye out for Roman eagles."
"Why a crow?" Leo asked. "Man, if you can turn into a dragon, why don't you just turn into a dragon every time? That's the coolest."
Frank's face looked like it was being infused with cranberry juice. "That's like asking why you don't bench-press your maximum weight every time you lift. Because it's hard, and you'd hurt yourself. Turning into a dragon isn't easy."
"Oh." Leo nodded. "I wouldn't know. I don't lift weights."
"Yeah. Well, maybe you should consider it, Mr.-"
Hazel stepped between them.
"I'll help you, Frank," she said, shooting Leo an evil look. "I can summon Arion and scout out below."
"Sure," Frank said, still glaring at Leo. "Yeah, thanks."
It almost seemed that Frank wanted to flaunt the fact that he got Hazel in front of Leo as a bit of male rivalry but as Danielle was pretty sure that there was or should be nothing between Leo and Hazel anyway, it didn't bother her that much. That, and Leo could be insensitive without meaning to.
Hazel turned to Percy. "Just be careful when you go out there. Lots of fields, lots of crops. Could be karpoi on the loose."
"Karpoi?" Piper asked.
"Grain spirits," Hazel said. "You don't want to meet them."
Piper didn't seem convinced how a grain spirit could be so bad but she convinced herself not to ask.
"That leaves the three of us to check on the mile marker," Percy said. "Me, Jason, Piper. I'm not psyched about seeing Mr. D again. That guy is a pain. But, Jason, if you're on better terms with him-"
"Yeah," Jason said. "If we find him, I'll talk to him. Piper, it's your vision. You should take the lead."
Piper shivered, like she was remembering things she had seen in her knife she hadn't told the others. "Of course," she said, trying to sound upbeat. "Let's find the highway."
Right after the others left, Danielle told Leo she needed to contact the Hunters to get a report of what was going on there and Annabeth was desperate to hear from Thalia again so Leo had no choice but to let both girls do their own thing before helping him. He didn't seem to like it but he wasn't stupid enough to defy either of them at the moment.
Danielle concentrated a little and a cloud of mist appeared in front of her, making a shimmering rainbow on the deck of the Argo II. "Drachma?"
Annabeth flipped the golden coin in her hand through the rainbow and it vanished.
"Oh Fleecy, do me a solid and accept our offering. Show us Thalia Grace at the Hunter's camp."
The daughter of Athena stared at her as the image in the rainbow showed a forest clearing. "'Oh Fleecy do me a solid?'"
"Blame Percy," Danielle shrugged. "He told me that Iris's assistant handles most of these calls anyway."
Annabeth looked at her dubiously but was distracted when Thalia finally appeared in the image. She looked haggard and exhausted, looking ready to snap and fry someone with lightning at any moment. "Thalia!"
The daughter of Zeus turned and looked releaved at seeing them. "Annabeth, Dani, thank the gods! What in the name of Hades is going on here?" she demanded. "Lady Artemis just started fighting with Lady Diana out of nowhere yesterday and then vanished. Now we're left virtually unprotected as monsters are attacking us."
Danielle grimaced. Looked like things were getting worse. "Gaea. She got a spirit from the Underworld to possess Leo and he was forced to fire on the Romans. Now they want revenge and the gods are being pulled in both directions, Greek and Roman."
"Most of the other gods are pretty useless right now," Annabeth said, watching as Thalia's face turn grim. "Only the gods that didn't change from Greek to Roman much are somewhat sane and capable of doing much."
"That explains a few things," Thalia sighed, completely ignoring a small explosion behind her and the yell of a monster as it was vaporized. "Lady Artemis looked torn between her Greek twelve year old self and Lady Diana's eighteen year old self, flashing back and forth before she was forced to simply vanish, probably to Olympus. Dani, you're Mistress of Death. Didn't you sense the spirit in Leo right away?"
"I've never encountered something like that," Danielle defended herself, now frowning. "I have no clue what to look for in someone that's possessed when they're not being controlled."
Thalia picked up on her mood and raised her hands in surrender. "Sorry, but this is a crazy time right now. A lot of us want to either go to Olympus or to Camp right now but-"
"Camp is better right now," Annabeth said, nodding. "Thalia, if I was you I would get the Hunters to Camp Half-Blood. They'll need you as the Romans are going to want revenge on us by attacking the camp."
"The guy leading the attack is likely Octavian," Danielle cut in. "He hates the Greeks for some reason and Reyna, Praetor of New Rome, can't afford to look weak at the moment. She knows that this is likely Gaea's work but she has an army of angry Romans demanding blood."
"Understood," Thalia said, scowling now. "I'll see if I can get the Hunters to Camp the hard way. It'll be hard without godly travel but we'll manage. I'll also see if it's possible to deal with the Romans. Talk them out of attacking the Greeks. I doubt it but it might do something. Where are you?"
"Kansas, specifically Topeka," Annabeth answered. "Piper saw something in her knife and there might be a god nearby that isn't incapacitated. Even if we have to rely on one god to defeat the giants, it's better than nothing."
"Leo is fixing the Argo II now," Danielle continued. "We should probably start helping him now. Thalia, the amazons might welcome you more than the campers right now. If I were you, I would at least check on them. Just tell Hylla that I sent you."
Thalia nodded. "Go. We'll handle everything on this end. Annabeth, great talking to you again." She then waved her hand through the mist and the connection was cut.
"Well, that's something," Annabeth sighed as she and Danielle started to head to the gangplank. Leo was still working on the outer hull of the ship and probably needed their help.
They found Leo inspecting one of the smaller holes in the hull and was in the process of fixing it when the two girls got closer. "About time," he grumbled slightly but he instantly started telling them what he needed them to do to fix the ship.
Danielle and Annabeth were replacing the last wooden board to fix the hole when Frank and Hazel came back. They were about to report what they saw when they heard a horse's whinny from somewhere. Since Arion had taken off again after he had dropped off Hazel, they were surprised to see Blackjack the Pegasus.
Danielle stood up as she saw Piper was riding him with an unconscious Percy and Jason. "What happened?" she demanded as she levitated Percy and Jason on board the ship, Frank and Hazel tending to Blackjack.
"At this rate, we're going to run out of ambrosia," Coach Hedge grumbled as both unconscious boys were put on beds in the sickbay. "How come I never get invited on these violent trips?"
Danielle glared at him as she started using healing magic. "Great. Other than a couple bumps on the head, they weren't hurt much. Piper, what happened?" she asked again.
"Leo," Piper said, looking at him, "are we ready to sail?"
"Set a course for Atlanta. I'll explain later."
"But…okay." He hurried off.
Annabeth didn't argue with Piper either. She was too busy examining the horseshoe-shaped dent on the back of Percy's head.
"What hit him?" she demanded.
"Blackjack," Piper said.
Piper sighed, feeling better after just drinking a mixture of nectar and water. "We ran into Bacchus at the mile marker, just like I saw in my knife. He explained a few things than Gaea made an appearance." She turned to Danielle, who was using pain numbing charms to get rid of some of the pain when both boys woke up. "You didn't get rid of all the eidolons."
Danielle snapped her head up. "Percy and Jason are…damn! How did Gaea get these spirits into them in the first place?" She asked herself as she berated herself for being so stupid. "Okay, once this is over and both of these guys are awake, we're having a meeting. I'm getting rid of any and all Underworld spirits from the entire crew if I have to!"
She was furious with herself for not even considering the possibility of anyone other than Leo being possessed.
Seeing Danielle was beating herself up about her lack of foresight, Annabeth laid a hand on her shoulder. "You couldn't have known Dani. You said it yourself that you're still learning how to control Thanatos' powers."
Danielle looked at her for a moment before she sighed and nodded.
Before anyone else could say anything, both Jason and Percy groaned as they opened their eyes.
Within a few minutes, both boys were sitting up in their berths and able to talk in complete sentences. Both apparently had fuzzy memories of what had happened so they appreciated Piper filling in on the details.
"…I am sorry for having Blackjack knock you out Percy. But it was the only way I could think of to stop you and Jason with Tempest from killing each other." Piper said, head down in shame while Percy himself waved it off.
Jason however winced at the description of the fight. "Knocked out twice in two days," he muttered. "Some demigod I am." He glanced sheepishly at Percy. "Sorry, man. I didn't mean to blast you with lightning."
Percy's shirt was peppered with burn holes. His hair was more disheveled than normal. Despite that, he managed a weak laugh. "Not the first time. Your big sister got me good once at camp."
"I can attest to that," Danielle smirked, causing both boys and even Annabeth to smile.
Jason still shook his head. "Yeah, but…I could have killed you."
"Or I could have killed you," Percy said.
Jason shrugged. "If there'd been an ocean in Kansas, maybe."
"I don't need an ocean-"
"Boys," Annabeth interrupted. "I'm sure you both would've been wonderful at killing each other. But right now, you need some rest."
"Food first," Percy said. "Please? And we really need to talk. Bacchus said some things that don't-"
Annabeth raised her hand. "Okay, fine. We need to talk. Mess hall. Ten minutes. I'll tell the others. And please, Percy…change your clothes. You smell like you've been run over by an electric horse."
Leo had given the helm to Coach Hedge again, after making the satyr promise he would not steer them to the nearest military base "for fun."
They gathered around the dining table, and Piper explained what had happened at Topeka 32; their conversation with Bacchus, the trap sprung by Gaea, and the eidolons that had possessed the boys.
At the mere mention of the eidolons, Danielle had growled and used her Mistress of Death powers to remove the spirits from them. The spirits weren't happy, but then again, she didn't care and had forced them to swear on the River Styx not to possess any human, monster, mortal or immortal for the rest of their undead lives. Needless to say, that little exorcism worked without a hitch.
"I so want the Romans off our back after this whole spirit business," Leo commented as the spirits left Percy and Jason forever, even swearing that they would stop other spirits from possessing anyone on their team again. "Just to prove that I didn't start World War Three."
"Too bad the Romans won't believe us," Annabeth said. "And why would they take our word for it?"
"We could contact Reyna," Jason suggested. "She would believe us."
The moment Jason mentioned Reyna's name, like it was a lifeline to his past, made Piper sink slightly in her chair.
Jason turned to the daughter of Aphrodite with a hopeful gleam in his eyes. "You could convince her, Pipes. I know you could."
Unseen by Jason, Piper actually started getting paler as the blood rushed from her face. Annabeth looked at her sympathetically as if to say: Boys are so clueless. Even Hazel and Danielle winced.
"I could try," Piper said halfheartedly. "But Octavian is the one we have to worry about. In my dagger blade, I saw him taking control of the Roman crowd. I'm not sure Reyna can stop him."
Jason's expression darkened. It looked like he was about to argue when Hazel and Frank nodded in agreement.
"She's right," said Frank. "This afternoon when we were scouting, we saw eagles again. They were a long way off, but closing fast. Octavian is on the warpath."
Hazel grimaced. "This is exactly the sort of opportunity Octavian has always wanted. He'll try to seize power. If Reyna objects, he'll say she's soft on Greeks. As for those eagles…It's like they could smell us."
"They can," Jason said. "Roman eagles can hunt demigods by their magical scent even better than monsters can. This ship might conceal us somewhat, but not completely, not from them."
Leo drummed his fingers. "Great. I should have installed a smoke screen that makes the ship smell like a giant chicken nugget. Remind me to invent that, next time."
Danielle gagged while Hazel frowned. "What is a chicken nugget?"
"Something that shouldn't exist since chickens don't have nuggets," Danielle said, rolling her eyes while glaring at Leo. She didn't care what he said, those things just sounded unnatural.
"Moving on," Annabeth cut in, stopping Leo from arguing. "The point is, we'll have a hard time explaining the truth to the Romans. Even if they believe us-"
"You're right." Jason leaned forward. "We should just keep going. Once we're over the Atlantic, we'll be safe, at least from the legion."
He sounded so depressed, that it was clear to everyone he was taking the loss of his friends and comrades hard. "How can you be sure?" Piper asked. "Why wouldn't they follow us?"
Jason shook his head. "You heard Reyna talking about the ancient lands. They're much too dangerous. Roman demigods have been forbidden to go there for generations. Even Octavian couldn't get around that rule."
Frank swallowed a bit of burrito like it had turned to cardboard in his mouth. "So, if we go there…"
"We'll be outlaws as well as traitors," Jason confirmed. "Any Roman demigod would have the right to kill us on sight. But I wouldn't worry about that. If we get across the Atlantic, they'll give up on chasing us. They'll assume that we'll die in the Mediterranean, the Mare Nostrum."
Percy pointed his pizza slice at Jason. "You, sir, are a ray of sunshine."
Jason didn't argue. The other demigods stared at their plates, except for Percy, who continued to enjoy his pizza. Danielle wasn't that worried as she was separate from both Greeks and Romans. She would like to see either camp trying to get at her when she was a Hunter.
"So, let's plan ahead," Percy suggested. "And make sure we don't die. Mr. D…Bacchus…Ugh, do I have to call him Mr. B now? Anyway, he mentioned the twins in Ella's prophecy. Two giants. Otis and, uh, something that started with an F?"
"Ephialtes," Danielle supplied.
"Twin giants, like Piper saw in her blade…" Annabeth ran her finger along the rim of her cup. "I remember a story about twin giants. They tried to reach Mount Olympus by piling a bunch of mountains."
Frank nearly choked. "Well, that's great. Giants who can use mountains like building blocks. And you say Bacchus killed these guys with a pinecone on a stick?"
"A thyrsus!" Danielle hissed, glaring at the big guy now. "I've seen what kind of damage a pinecone can do! Don't insult the power of a godly one!"
Everyone was kind of impressed by the impassioned way she defended the pinecone on a stick. "Something like that," Percy said. "I don't think we should count on his help this time. He wanted a tribute, and he made it pretty clear it would be a tribute we couldn't handle."
Silence fell around the table. Danielle could hear Coach Hedge above deck singing "Blow the Man Down." Except he didn't know the lyrics, so he mostly sang, "Blah-blah-bum-de-dum-dum."
The auburn haired Hunter wondered what the point of Bacchus appearing in Piper's vision if he wasn't meant to help them. If she had learned anything of demigod quests, it was that nothing was unimportant. Anything could be a clue to helping them later.
"She wants two of us," Piper murmured, breaking everyone out of their thoughts.
Everyone turned to her, wondering what that meant.
The daughter of Aphrodite blushed now that everyone's attention was on her. Despite her parentage, the child of a movie star and the goddess of love, she didn't actually enjoy being in spotlight.
"Today on the highway," Piper started, "Gaea told me that she needed the blood of only two demigods, one female and one male. She, she asked me to choose which boy would die."
Jason squeezed her hand and smiled at her. "But neither of us died. You saved us."
"I know. It's just…why would she want that?"
Leo whistled softly. "Guys, remember at the Wolf House? Our favorite ice princess, Khione? She talked about spilling Jason's blood, how it would taint the place for generations. Maybe demigod blood has some kind of power."
"All blood has power," Danielle whispered, not really registering that everyone was listening with rapt attention. "Blood is the source of life in not just the Greek world and has extremely powerful properties depending on how potent it is and how it is used. That Gaea wants a male and female's…"
"Oh…" Percy set down his third pizza slice. He leaned back and stared at nothing, as if the horse kick to his head had just now registered.
"Percy?" Annabeth gripped his arm.
"Oh, bad," he muttered. "Bad. Bad." He looked across the table at Frank, Hazel and Danielle. "You guys remember Polybotes?"
"The giant who invaded Camp Jupiter," Hazel said. "The anti-Poseidon you whacked in the head with a Terminus statue. Yes, I think I remember."
"I had a dream," Percy said. "When we were flying to Alaska. Polybotes was talking to the gorgons, and he said, he said he wanted me taken prisoner, not killed. He said: 'I want that one chained at my feet, so I can kill him when the time is ripe. His blood shall water the stones of Mount Olympus and wake Earth Mother!'"
No one was sure but the temperature of the room felt like it dropped a few degrees after Percy had said that. Danielle wasn't too worried as Gaea just wanted her dead, not to be used as a sacrifice to bring her back. Sometimes, she liked not being a demigod herself.
Piper, shaking from the sudden chill everyone felt, looked at the room at large. "You think the giants would use our blood…the blood of two of us-"
"I don't know," Percy said. "But until we figure it out, I suggest we all try to avoid getting captured."
Jason grunted. "That I agree on."
"But how do we figure it out?" Hazel asked. "The Mark of Athena, the twins, Ella's prophecy…how does it all fit together?"
Annabeth pressed her hands against the edge of the table. "Piper, you told Leo to set our course for Atlanta?"
"Right," Piper said. "Bacchus told us we should seek out…what was his name?"
"Phorcys," Percy said.
Annabeth looked surprised, like she wasn't used to her boyfriend having the answers. "You know him?"
Percy shrugged. "I didn't recognize the name at first. Then Bacchus mentioned salt water, and it rang a bell. Phorcys is an old sea god from before my dad's time. Never met him, but supposedly he's a son of Gaea. I still don't understand what a sea god would be doing in Atlanta."
Leo snorted. "What's a wine god doing in Kansas? Gods are weird. Anyway, we should reach Atlanta by noon tomorrow, unless something else goes wrong."
"Don't even say that," Annabeth muttered. "It's getting late. We should all get some sleep."
"Wait," Piper said.
Once more, everyone looked at her.
The daughter of Aphrodite looked at the Hunter in their group. "The eidolons, you're sure they can't get at us anymore?"
Danielle nodded. "They shouldn't be able to come back…but just in case, I'll see if I can create something to block unfriendly spirits from possessing any of us. Just because I'm immune from them because of my status of Mistress of Death, doesn't mean you guys are."
"Thanks for doing that," Annabeth said, nodding to her.
Danielle nodded back and headed out of the mess hall toward her room and sleep.
"FIND THOSE TWO OR ELSE!"
Danielle bolted upright, almost hitting her head on the wooden ceiling above her when her flight skills shot her into the air as well. Landing quickly, the auburn haired Hunter didn't have time to do anything more than blink when her door burst open to reveal Coach Hedge, who didn't look happy in the slightest this morning. Baseball bat swinging around him, he looked like he was in the mood to hit a demigod out of the park.
Or off the ship, as it were.
"GET DRESSED GIRL AND HELP ME FIND THOSE TWO!"
Wincing and rubbing her ears, Danielle simply waved her hand over herself and her night clothes were replaced with her Hunting uniform. "Find who? What's going on?"
Coach Hedge growled, leaning on baseball bat in frustration. "Percy and Annabeth. They're missing and ARE IN SO MUCH TROUBLE!"
Before Danielle could respond to that, the psycho coach slammed her door shut, probably to find the others to help in the search. Rolling her eyes at the satyr's…enthusiasm, she finished getting ready and was searching the Argo II with everyone else.
"Lovely way to start a morning," Leo muttered, the only one beside herself fully dressed. As Leo had probably been up working on the Argo II, he had been awake before Coach Hedge most likely.
Luckily, five minutes after they were forcibly yanked out of bed to search the ship, Frank had found the two wayward demigods. Meeting in the mess hall, thankfully with everyone fully clothed this time, Frank didn't seem to know to laugh or blush.
"Well, I kind of found them in the stable," Frank jabbed his thumb at both Percy and Annabeth, who were sporting faint blushes. "…You know, sleeping together…"
To be expected, everyone had different reactions to that news. Jason and Piper were mostly relieved that they were safe. Leo couldn't stop grinning and muttering, "Classic. Classic." Danielle only rolled her eyes and shrugged, seeing that it was none of her business. Only Hazel seemed scandalized, probably from coming from the 1940's. She kept fanning her face and wouldn't meet Percy's eyes.
Naturally, Coach Hedge went ballistic; which no one could really take seriously when he was barely five feet tall.
"Never in my life!" Coach bellowed, waving his bat and knocking over a plate of apples. "Against the rules! Irresponsible!"
"Coach," Annabeth said, pinching the bridge of her nose, "It was an accident. We were talking, and we fell asleep."
"Besides," said Percy, "you're starting to sound like Terminus."
Hedge narrowed his eyes. "Is that an insult, Jackson? Cause I'll…I'll terminus you, buddy!"
Percy looked like he was trying not to laugh. "It won't happen again, Coach. I promise. Now, don't we have other things to discuss?"
Hedge fumed. "Fine! But I'm watching you, Jackson. And you Annabeth Chase, I thought you had more sense-"
Jason cleared his throat. "So grab some food, everybody. Let's get started."
The meeting that followed was like a war council with donuts. Then again, at Camp Half-Blood they used to have their most serious discussions around the Ping-Pong table in the rec room with crackers and Cheez Whiz, so the Greeks felt right at home.
Percy told them about the dream he had had the previous night. Twin giants planning a reception for them in an underground parking lot with rocket launchers and man-eating tigers; Nico di Angelo trapped in a huge bronze jar, slowly dying from asphyxiation with pomegranate seeds at his feet.
Hazel choked back a sob. "Nico…Oh, gods. The seeds."
"You know what they are?" Annabeth asked.
Hazel nodded. "He showed them to me once. They're from our stepmother's garden."
"Persephone's garden," Danielle nodded in understanding.
"The seeds are a last-resort food," Hazel said. Everyone could tell she was nervous when all the silverware on the table started moving toward her. "Only children of Hades can eat them. Nico always kept some in case he got stuck somewhere. But if he's really imprisoned-"
"The giants are trying to lure us," Annabeth said. "They're assuming we'll try to rescue him."
"Well, they're right!" Hazel looked around the table, her confidence apparently crumbling. "Won't we?"
"Yes!" Coach Hedge yelled with a mouthful of napkins. "It'll involve fighting, right?"
"Hazel, of course we'll help him," Frank said. "But how long do we have before…uh, I mean, how long can Nico hold out?"
"One seed a day," Hazel said miserably. "That's if he puts himself in a death trance."
"A death trance?" Annabeth scowled. "That doesn't sound fun."
"It keeps him from consuming all his air," Hazel said. "Like hibernation, or a coma. One seed can sustain him one day, barely."
"And he has five seeds left," Percy said. "That's five days, including today. The giants must have planned it that way, so we'd have to arrive by July first. Assuming Nico is hidden somewhere in Rome-"
"That's not much time," Piper summed up. She put her hand on Hazel's shoulder. "We'll find him. At least we know the lines of the prophecy now. 'Twins snuff out the angel's breath, who holds the key to endless death.' Your brother's last name: di Angelo. Angelo is Italian for 'angel.'"
"Oh, gods," Hazel muttered. "Nico."
Danielle took in a deep breath and nodded to herself before facing Hazel. "I haven't really seen Nico that much over the years but he is important to me. I owe it to him to help him. You can count on us, Hazel."
"We'll rescue him," Percy promised her. "We have to. The prophecy says he holds the key to endless death."
"That's right," Piper said encouragingly. "Hazel, your brother went searching for the Doors of Death in the Underworld, right? He must've found them."
"He can tell us where the doors are," Percy said, "and how to close them."
Hazel took a deep breath. "Yes. Good."
"Uh…" Leo shifted in his chair. "One thing. The giants are expecting us to do this, right? So we're walking into a trap?"
Hazel, Piper and Danielle looked at Leo like he'd made a rude gesture. "We have no choice!" Hazel growled.
"Don't get me wrong, Hazel. It's just that your brother, Nico…he knew about both camps, right?"
"Well, yes," Hazel said.
"He's been going back and forth," Leo said, "and he didn't tell either side."
Danielle summoned her bow, plucking the string angrily at Leo. She wasn't going to just sit there while Hazel was crying and Leo was insulting Nico if she could help it.
Jason sat forward, his expression grim. "You're wondering if we can trust this guy. So am I."
Hazel shot to her feet. "I don't believe this. He's my brother. He brought me back from the Underworld, and you don't want to help him?"
Frank put his hand on her shoulder. "Nobody's saying that." He glared at Leo. "Nobody had better be saying that."
Leo blinked. "Look, guys. All I mean is-"
"Hazel," Jason said. "Leo is raising a fair point. I remember Nico from Camp Jupiter. Now I find out he also visited Camp Half-Blood. That does strike me as…well, a little shady. Do we really know where his loyalties lie? We just have to be careful."
Hazel's arms shook. A silver platter zoomed toward her and hit the wall to her left, splattering scrambled eggs. "You…the great Jason Grace…the Praetor I looked up to. You were supposed to be so fair, such a good leader. And now you…" Hazel stomped her foot and stormed out of the mess hall.
"Hazel!" Leo called after her. "Ah, jeez, I should-"
"You will do nothing!" Danielle growled, standing up as well. "You will wait until she cools down and then you can apologize for accusing her brother of being a traitor to Olympus!" She stared at everyone in the room, who looked shocked. "Nico is no traitor and has my full support in this war. If he has been going between the two camps, I can only guess that he has been working to make sure Greeks and Romans work together." Her face softened somewhat. "Not to mention that I'm sure he feels like an outsider to both camps."
Annabeth looked a bit sheepish. "Well, he never really got involved in any activities at camp-"
"And did you personally invite him, or did you just assume he wanted to get involved?" Danielle fired back, causing the daughter of Athena to grimace. "Anyway, this is pointless. We should wait until we rescue him. Then we can just ask him everything you just piled onto Hazel."
"That was pretty cold, you guys," Piper agreed.
"I'm just being cautious," Jason muttered, not sounding very sure of himself now.
"Nico is dying," Piper reminded him. "And being her brother…"
The now awkward silence was cut off when a whirring sound like a large drill came from above.
"That's Festus," Leo said. "I've got him on autopilot, but we must be nearing Atlanta. I'll have to get up there…uh, assuming we know where to land."
Everyone turned to Percy.
Jason raised an eyebrow. "You're Captain Salt Water. Any ideas from the expert?"
Was that resentment in his voice? Was the son of Jupiter still miffed about what had happened in Kansas? It was hard for two powerful demigods to be in a fight and not have them wonder who was stronger.
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "Somewhere central, high up so we can get a good view of the city. Maybe a park with some woods? We don't want to land a warship in the middle of downtown. I doubt even the Mist could cover up something that huge."
Leo nodded. "On it." He raced for the stairs.
Frank settled back in his chair uneasily. Danielle gave him a grateful smile for sticking up for Hazel and the son of Mars gave a weary smile back. She knew how protective he felt for Hazel.
"When we land, I'll scout around in Atlanta," Percy said. "Frank, I could use your help."
"You mean turn into a dragon again? Honestly, Percy, I don't want to spend the whole quest being everyone's flying taxi."
"No," Percy said. "I want you with me because you've got the blood of Poseidon. Maybe you can help me figure out where to find salt water. Besides, you're good in a fight."
That seemed to make Frank feel a little better. "Sure. I guess."
"Great," Percy said. "We should take one more. Annabeth-"
"Oh, no!" Coach Hedge barked. "Young lady, you are grounded."
Annabeth stared at him like he was speaking a foreign language. "Excuse me?"
"You and Jackson are not going anywhere together!" Hedge insisted. He glared at Percy, daring him to mouth off. "I'll go with Frank, Dani, and Mr. Sneaky Jackson. The rest of you guard the ship and make sure Annabeth doesn't break any more rules!"
Danielle blinked. "Wait, since when am I tagging along?"
"Someone has to be the levelheaded one," Jason said, shrugging.
"You are the most versatile," Annabeth said, still ticked off at the satyr coach.
"This," Percy said, "is going to be so much fun."
After landing in Atlanta Georgia, the three teens and one satyr climbed on deck. Percy nodded in approval. "Wow."
They had landed near the summit of a forested hill. A complex of white buildings, like a museum or a university, nestled in a grove of pines to the left. Below them spread the city of Atlanta; a cluster of brown and silver downtown skyscrapers two miles away, rising from what looked like an endless flat sprawl of highways, railroad tracks, houses and green swathes of forest.
"Ah, lovely spot." Coach Hedge inhaled the morning air. "Good choice, Valdez."
Leo shrugged. "I just picked a tall hill. That's a presidential library or something over there. At least that's what Festus says."
"I don't know about that!" Hedge barked. "But do you realize what happened on this hill? Frank Zhang, you should know!"
Frank flinched. "I should?"
"A son of Ares stood here!" Hedge cried indignantly.
"I'm Roman…so Mars, actually."
"Whatever! Famous spot in the American Civil War!"
"I'm Canadian, actually."
"Whatever! General Sherman, Union leader. He stood on this hill watching the city of Atlanta burn. Cut a path of destruction all the way from here to the sea. Burning, looting, pillaging, now there was a demigod!"
Frank inched away from the satyr. "Uh, okay."
Danielle frowned as she looked around. "Civil War battlegrounds always have at least some restless spirits. As Mistress of Death, I can sense some but hopefully they'll leave us alone." She really didn't want to have deal with more spirits trying to possess her friends again.
"Anyway," Percy said, "let's try not to burn down the city this time."
The coach looked disappointed. "All right. But where to?"
Percy pointed downtown. "When in doubt, start in the middle."
Catching a ride there was easier than they thought. The four of them headed to the presidential library, which turned out to be the Carter Center, and asked the staff if they could call a taxi or give them directions to the nearest bus stop. Percy could have summoned Blackjack, but claimed he was reluctant to ask the pegasus for help so soon after their last disaster. Frank didn't want to polymorph into anything and Danielle couldn't fly everyone at the same time. And besides, Percy was hoping to travel like regular mortals for a change.
One of the librarians, whose name was Esther, insisted on driving them personally. She was so nice about it, the three teens thought she must be a monster in disguise; but Hedge pulled them aside and assured them that Esther smelled like a normal human.
"With a hint of potpourri," he said. "Cloves. Rose petals. Tasty!"
They piled into Esther's big black Cadillac and drove toward downtown. Esther was so tiny, she could barely see over the steering wheel; but that didn't seem to bother her. She muscled her car through traffic while regaling them with stories about the crazy families of Atlanta: the old plantation owners, the founders of Coca-Cola, the sports stars, and the CNN news people. She sounded so knowledgeable that Percy decided to try his luck.
"Uh, so, Esther," he said, "here's a hard question for you. Salt water in Atlanta. What's the first thing that comes to mind?"
The old lady chuckled. "Oh, sugar. That's easy. Whale sharks!"
Frank, Percy and Danielle exchanged looks.
"Whale sharks?" Frank asked nervously. "You have those in Atlanta?"
"At the aquarium, sugar," Esther said. "Very famous! Right downtown. Is that where you wanted to go?"
An aquarium. Georgia was completely landlocked. There was only one place an ancient Greek sea god would be and Bacchius had told Piper to find salt water.
"Yes," Danielle said, nodding to the others. "That's where we're going."
Esther dropped them at the main entrance, where a line was already forming. She insisted on giving them her cell phone number for emergencies, money for a taxi ride back to the Carter Center, and a jar of homemade peach preserves, which for some reason she kept in a box in her trunk. Frank stuck the jar in his backpack and thanked Esther, who had already switched from calling him sugar to son.
As she drove away, Danielle whistled. "Talk about southern hospitality."
"Are all people in Atlanta this nice?" Frank asked.
Hedge grunted. "Hope not. I can't fight them if they're nice. Let's go beat up some whale sharks. They sound dangerous!"
Turning for the entrance, it hadn't occurred to them that they might have to pay admission, or stand in line behind a bunch of families and kids from summer camps.
Percy sighed, looking wistfully at the summer camp kids for a moment. "Well, I guess we wait in line. Anybody have money?"
Frank checked his pockets. "Three denarii from Camp Jupiter. Five dollars Canadian."
Danielle just shook her head. "I have an emergency twenty and some drachmas but I don't think that'll be enough."
Hedge patted his gym shorts and pulled out what he found. "Three quarters, two dimes, a rubber band and…score! A piece of celery."
He started munching on the celery, eying the change and the rubber band like they might be next.
"Great," Percy said. The only thing he pulled out of his own pockets was pen/sword Riptide. Just as they started debating the pros and cons of altering the Mist or the use of magic to get in versus sneaking in somehow, a woman in a blue-and-green Georgia Aquarium shirt came up to them, smiling brightly.
"Ah, VIP visitors!" She had perky dimpled cheeks, thick framed glasses, braces, and frizzy black hair pulled to the sides in pigtails, so that even though she was probably in her late twenties, she looked like a schoolgirl nerd; sort of cute, but sort of odd. Along with her Georgia Aquarium polo shirt, she wore dark slacks and black sneakers, and she bounced on the balls of her feet like she simply couldn't contain her energy. Her name tag read KATE.
"You have your payment, I see," she said. "Excellent!"
"What?" Percy asked.
Kate scooped the three denarii out of Frank's hand. "Yes, that's fine. Right this way!"
She spun and trotted off toward the main entrance.
Percy looked at the other three. "A trap?"
"Probably," Frank said.
"Most likely," said Danielle.
"She's not mortal," Hedge said, sniffing the air. "Probably some sort of goat-eating, demigod destroying fiend from Tartarus."
"No doubt," Percy agreed.
"Awesome." Hedge grinned. "Let's go."
Kate got them past the ticket queue and into the aquarium with no problem.
"Right this way." Kate grinned at Percy. "It's a wonderful exhibit. You won't be disappointed. So rare we get VIPs."
"Uh, you mean demigods?" Frank asked.
Kate winked at him impishly and put a finger to her mouth. "So over here is the cold-water experience, with your penguins and beluga whales and whatnot. And over there…well, those are some fish, obviously."
For an aquarium worker, she didn't seem to know much or care much for the smaller fish. They passed one huge tank full of tropical species and when Frank pointed to a particular fish and asked what it was, Kate said, "Oh, those are the yellow ones."
They passed the gift shop. Frank slowed down to check out a clearance table with clothes and toys.
"Take what you want," Kate told him.
Frank blinked. "Really?"
"Of course! You're a VIP!"
Frank hesitated. Then he stuffed some T-shirts in his backpack.
"Dude," Percy said, "what are you doing?"
"She said I could," Frank whispered. "Besides, I need more clothes. I didn't pack for a long trip!"
He had a point there but then he added a snow globe to his stash, which didn't seem like clothing to either Percy or Danielle. Then Frank picked up a braided cylinder about the size of a candy bar.
He squinted at it. "What is-?"
"Chinese finger trap," Danielle said, wondering what Frank was doing.
Frank, who was Chinese Canadian, looked offended. "How is this Chinese?"
"It's not," Danielle told him. "It's like fortune cookies. It's just a gag gift."
"Come along people!" Kate called from across the hall.
"I'll show you later," Danielle promised.
Frank stuffed the toy in his backpack and they kept walking.
They passed through an acrylic tunnel. Fish swam over their heads, and Percy started looking a bit white.
The Hunter, while curious about Percy, was more concerned about Kate. Hedge had already detected that she wasn't human. Any minute she might turn into some horrible creature and attack them. Unfortunately, she didn't see much choice but to play along with her VIP tour until they could find the sea god Phorcys, even if they were walking deeper into a trap.
They emerged in a viewing room awash with blue light. On the other side of a glass wall was the biggest aquarium the teens had ever seen. Cruising in circles were dozens of huge fish, including two spotted sharks, each twice Danielle's size. They were fat and slow, with open mouths and no teeth.
"Whale sharks," Coach Hedge growled. "Now we shall battle to the death!"
Kate giggled. "Silly satyr. Whale sharks are peaceful. They only eat plankton."
Percy scowled while Danielle looked at Kate suspiciously, each wondering how Kate knew the coach was a satyr. Hedge was wearing pants and specially fitted shoes over his hooves, like satyrs usually did to blend in with mortals. His baseball cap covered his horns. The more Kate giggled and acted friendly, the more the teens didn't like her, but Coach Hedge didn't seem fazed.
"Peaceful sharks?" the coach said with disgust. "What's the point in that?"
Frank read the plaque next to the tank. "The only whale sharks in captivity in the world," he mused. "That's kind of amazing."
"Yes, and these are small," Kate said. "You should see some of my other babies out in the wild."
"Your babies?" Frank asked.
Judging from the wicked glint in Kate's eyes, they were pretty sure they didn't want to meet Kate's babies.
"So, Kate," Percy said, "we're looking for a guy…I mean a god, named Phorcys. Would you happen to know him?"
Kate snorted. "Know him? He's my brother. That's where we're going, sillies. The real exhibits are right through here."
She gestured at the far wall. The solid black surface rippled, and another tunnel appeared, leading through a luminous purple tank.
Kate strolled inside. Every member of their group knew it was a trap but if Phorcys was really on the other side and if he had information that would help on their quest…Percy took a deep breath and followed the others into the tunnel.
As soon as they entered, Coach Hedge whistled. "Now that's interesting."
Gliding above them were multicolored jellyfish the size of trash cans, each with hundreds of tentacles that looked like silky barbed wire. One jellyfish had a paralyzed ten-foot-long swordfish tangled in its grasp. The jellyfish slowly wrapped its tendrils tighter around its prey.
Kate beamed at Coach Hedge. "You see? Forget the whale sharks! And there's much more."
Kate led them into a even larger chamber, lined with more aquariums. On one wall, a glowing red sign proclaimed: DEATH IN THE DEEP SEAS! Sponsored by Monster Donut.
Percy looked at Kate, now looking beyond nervous. "Monster Donut?"
"Oh, yes," Kate said. "One of our corporate sponsors."
The bad feeling Danielle had from the moment they started following Kate cranked up to an eleven when she looked in the tanks. In one aquarium, a dozen hippocampi, horses with the tails of fish, drifted aimlessly. They were supposed to be highly intelligent creatures, easily able to understand English. But when Percy tried to talk to them, they just floated around, occasionally bonking against the glass. Their minds seemed addled.
"This isn't right," Percy muttered.
"It gets worse," Danielle growled, looking at another tank. "Much worse."
At the bottom of a smaller tank, two Nereids, sea spirits, sat cross-legged, facing each other, playing a game of Go Fish. They looked incredibly bored. Their long green hair floated listlessly around their faces. Their eyes were half closed.
One of Danielle's best friends and sisters was Elizabeth, a dryad. Seeing fellow nature spirits being treated like this made her feel so angry that it felt hard for her to breathe. She glared at Kate. "How could you keep Nereids here?"
"I know," Kate sighed. "They aren't very interesting. We tried to teach them some tricks, but with no luck, I'm afraid. I think you'll like this tank over here much better."
Danielle and Percy, who was furious as well, started to protest but Kate had already moved on.
"Holy mother of goats!" cried Coach Hedge. "Look at these beauties!"
Danielle stared at two sea serpents, thirty foot long monsters with glowing blue scales and jaws that could have bitten a whale shark in half. In another tank, peeking out from its cement cave, was a squid the size of an eighteen wheeler, with a beak like a giant bolt cutter. Not as big as the Giant Squid at Hogwarts but pretty dang close!
A third tank held a dozen humanoid creatures with sleek seal bodies, doglike faces, and human hands. They sat on the sand at the bottom of the tank, building things out of Legos, though the creatures seemed just as dazed as the Nereids.
"Are those-?" Percy struggled to form words.
"Telkhines?" Kate said. "Yes! The only ones in captivity."
"But they fought for Kronos in the last war!" Percy said. "They're dangerous!"
Kate rolled her eyes. "Well, we couldn't call it 'Death in the Deep Seas' if these exhibits weren't dangerous. Don't worry. We keep them well sedated."
"Sedated?" Frank asked. "Is that legal?"
Kate appeared not to have heard. She kept walking and pointing out other exhibits. "We need to stop this," Percy muttered in horror, looking back at the telkhinies. One was obviously a youngster. He was trying to make a sword out of Legos, but he seemed too groggy to put the pieces together.
"Way ahead of you," Danielle whispered, feeling sorry for the sea demons as well. "But we can't blow the tanks without drowning."
Percy didn't like it but nodded. As much as they wanted to help the various sea creatures, they lacked the resources, time, and means to do it. But if they could tell someone that could help…
"And these sea monsters," Kate narrated up ahead, "can grow five hundred feet long in the deep ocean. They have over a thousand teeth. And these? Their favorite food is demigod-"
"Demigod?" Frank yelped.
"But they will eat whales or small boats, too." Kate turned to Percy and blushed. "Sorry…I'm such a monster nerd! I'm sure you know all this, being the son of Poseidon, and all."
Percy frowned, staring at her. None of them liked how much Kate knew about Percy or the way she casually tossed out information about drugging captive creatures or which of her babies liked to devour demigods.
"Who are you?" Percy demanded. "Does Kate stand for something?"
"Kate?" She looked momentarily confused. Then she glanced at her name tag. "Oh…" She laughed. "No, it's-"
"Hello!" said a new voice, booming through the aquarium.
A small man scuttled out of the darkness. He walked sideways on bowed legs like a crab, his back hunched, his arms raised on either side like he was holding invisible plates.
He wore a wet suit that was several horrible shades of green. Glittery silver words printed down the side read: PORKY'S FOLLIES. A headset microphone was clamped over his greasy wiry hair. His eyes were milky blue, one higher than the other, and though he smiled, he didn't look friendly; more like his face was being pushed back in a wind tunnel.
"Visitors!" the man said, the word thundering through the microphone. He had a DJ's voice, deep and resonant, which did not at all match his appearance. "Welcome to Phorcy's Follies!"
He swept his arms in one direction, as if directing their attention to an explosion. Nothing happened.
"Curse it," the man grumbled. "Telkhines, that's your cue! I wave my hands, and you leap energetically in your tank, do a synchronized double spin, and land in pyramid formation. We practiced this!"
The sea demons paid him no attention at all.
Coach Hedge leaned toward the crab man and sniffed his glittery wet suit. "Nice outfit."
He didn't sound like he was kidding. Of course, the satyr wore gym uniforms for fun.
"Thank you!" The man beamed. "I am Phorcys."
Frank shifted his weight from foot to foot. "Why does your suit say Porky?"
Phorcys snarled. "Stupid uniform company! They can't get anything right."
Kate tapped her name tag. "I told them my name was Keto. They misspelled it as Kate. My brother…well, now he's Porky."
"I am not!" the man snapped. "I'm not even a little porky. The name doesn't work with Follies, either. What kind of show is called Porky's Follies? But you folks don't want to hear us complain. Behold, the wondrous majesty of the giant killer squid!"
He gestured dramatically toward the squid tank. This time, fireworks shot off in front of the glass right on cue, sending up geysers of golden sparkles. Music swelled from the loudspeakers. The lights brightened and revealed the wondrous majesty of an empty tank.
The squid had apparently skulked bank into its cave.
"Curse it!" Phorcys yelled again. He wheeled on his sister. "Keto, training the squid was your job. Juggling, I said. Maybe a bit of flesh-rending for the finale. Is that too much to ask?"
"He's shy," Keto said defensively. "Besides, each of its tentacles has sixty-two razorlike barbs that have to be sharpened daily." She turned toward Frank. "Did you know the monstrous squid is the only beast known to eat demigods whole, armor and all, without getting indigestion? It's true!"
Frank stumbled away from her, hugging his gut as if making sure he was still in one piece.
"Keto!" Porky snapped, literally, since he clicked his fingers to his thumbs like crab claws. "You'll bore our guests with so much information. Less education, more entertainment! We've discussed this."
"No buts! We're here to present 'Death in the Deep Seas!' Sponsored my Monster Donut!"
The last words reverberated through the room with extra echo. Lights flashed. Smoke billowed from the floor, making donut-shaped rings that smelled like real donuts.
"Available at the concession stand," Phorcys advised. "But you've spent your hard-earned denarii to get the VIP tour, and so you shall! Come with me!"
"Um, hold it," Percy said.
Phorcy's smile melted in an ugly way. "Yes?"
"You're a sea god, aren't you?" Percy asked. "Son of Gaea?"
The crab man sighed. "Five thousand years, and I'm still known as Gaea's little boy. Never mind that I'm one of the oldest sea gods in existence. Older than your upstart father, by the way. I'm the god of the hidden depths! Lord of watery terrors! Father of a thousand monsters! But, no…nobody even knows me. I make one little mistake, supporting the Titans in the their war, and I'm exiled from the ocean, to Atlanta, of all places."
"We thought the Olympians said Atlantis," Keto explained. "Their idea of a joke, I guess, sending us here instead."
Danielle narrowed her eyes at her. "Keto…oh, right. You're the goddess of sea monsters, right?" That would explain why she was so knowledgeable of the bigger monsters and uninterested in the smaller fish.
"Yes!" she smiled happily. "Whales, sharks, squids, and other giant sea life, but my heart always belonged to the monsters. Did you know that young sea serpents can regurgitate the flesh of their victims and keep themselves fed for up to six years on the same meal? It's true!"
Frank was still clutching his stomach like he was going to be sick, like he had inherited Hazel's sea sickness.
Coach Hedge whistled. "Six years? That's fascinating."
"I know!" Keto beamed.
"And how exactly does a killer squid rend the flesh from its victims?" Hedge asked. "I love nature."
"Stop!" Phorcys demanded. "You're ruining the show! Now, witness our Nereid gladiators fight to the death!"
A mirrored disco ball descended into the Nereid exhibit, making the water dance with multicolored light. Two swords fell to the bottom and plunked in the sand. The Nereids ignored them and kept playing Go Fish.
"Curse it!" Phorcys stomped his legs sideways.
Keto grimaced at Coach Hedge. "Don't mind Porky. He's such a windbag. Come with me, my fine satyr. I'll show you full-color diagrams of the monsters' hunting habits."
Before the teens could object, Keto led Coach Hedge away through a maze of aquarium glass, leaving them alone with the crabby sea god.
A bead of sweat traced its way down Percy's neck as he exchanged a nervous look with Frank and Danielle. This felt like a divide-and-conquer strategy. Their didn't seem to be any way this encounter was going to end well. Attacking Phorcys, with the element of surprise, might work but they hadn't heard anything useful out of him yet. Not to mention that, even if they won, they would have to find Coach Hedge again and the exit.
Phorcys must have read their expressions.
"Oh, it's fine!" the god assured them. "Keto might be a little boring, but she'll take good care of your friend. And honestly, the best part of the tour is still to come!"
Danielle swallowed, seeing Percy lose focus from his recent head injury. "So," she managed, trying to sound polite. "Bacchus told us you might know something you mom, Gaea, is up to. And there are these two giant brothers, Ephialtes and Otis."
"And if you happen to know anything about this Mark of Athena, that could help," Percy added, now looking slightly better.
"Bacchus thought I would help you?" Phorcys asked.
"Well, yeah," Percy said. "I mean, you're Phorcys. Everybody talks about you."
Phorcys tilted his head so that his mismatched eyes almost lined up. "They do?"
"Of course. Don't they, Frank?"
"Oh…sure!" Frank said. "People talk about you all the time."
"What do they say?" the god asked.
Danielle tried to smile. "Like how your showmanship is amazing! I mean, look at those explosions and smoke machines. And that announcer's voice? Perfect."
"It's true!" Phorcys clacked his fingers and thumbs excitedly. "I also have the largest collection of captive sea monsters in the world."
"And you know stuff," Percy added. "Like about the twins and what they're up to."
"The twins!" Phorcys made his voice echo. Sparklers blazed to life in front of the sea serpent tank. "Yes, I know all about Ephialtes and Otis. Those wannabes! They never fit in with the other giants. Too puny, and those snakes for feet."
"Snakes for feet?" Percy looked at Danielle and Frank, shrugging.
"Yes, yes," Phorcys said impatiently. "They knew they couldn't get by on their strength, so they decided to go for drama; illusions, stage tricks, that sort of thing. You see, Gaea shaped her giant children with specific enemies in mind. Each giant was born to kill a certain god. Ephialtes and Otis…well, together they were sort of the anti-Dionysus."
Percy looked like he was trying to wrap his mind around that idea. "So…they want to replace all wine with cranberry juice or something?"
The sea god snorted. "Nothing like that! Ephialtes and Otis always wanted to do things better, flashier, more spectacular! Oh, of course they wanted to kill Dionysus. But first they wanted to humiliate him by making his revelries look tame!"
Frank glanced at the sparklers. "By using stuff like fireworks and disco balls?"
Phorcys's mouth stretched into that wind tunnel smile. "Exactly! I taught the twins everything they know, or at least I tried to. They never listened. Their first big trick? They tried to reach Olympus by piling mountains on top of one another. It was just an illusion, of course. I told them it was ridiculous. 'You should start small,' I said. 'Sawing each other in half, pulling gorgons out of a hat. That sort of thing. And matching sequined outfits. Twins need those!'"
"Good advice," Danielle agreed, mentally shuddering as she thought of Las Vegas rejects like that. "And now the twins are…"
"Oh, preparing for their doomsday show in Rome," Phorcys sneered. "It's one of Mother's silly ideas. They're keeping some prisoner in a large bronze jar." He turned toward Frank. "You're a child of Ares, aren't you? You've got that smell. The twins imprisoned your father the same way, once."
"Child of Mars," Frank corrected. "Wait…those giants trapped my dad in a bronze jar?"
"Yes, another stupid stunt," said the sea god. "How can you show off your prisoner if he's in a bronze jar? No entertainment value. Not like my lovely specimens!"
He gestured toward to the hippocampi, who were bonking their heads apathetically against the glass.
Percy tried to think, like the longer he was around the addled sea creatures the more their lethargy was affecting him. "You said this, this doomsday show was Gaea's idea?"
"Well…Mother's plans always have lots of layers." He laughed. "The earth has layers! I suppose that makes sense!"
"Uh-huh," Percy said. "And so her plan…"
"Oh, she's put out a general bounty on some group of demigods…and a Hunter for some reason," Phorcys said. "She doesn't really care who kills them, as long as they're killed. Well…I take that back. She was very specific that two must be spared. One boy and one girl. Tartarus only knows why. At any rate, the twins have their little show planned, hoping it will lure these demigods to Rome. I suppose the prisoner in the jar is a friend of theirs or some such. That, or perhaps they think this group of demigods will be foolish enough to come into their territory searching for the Mark of Athena." Phorcys elbowed Frank in the ribs. "Ha! Good luck with that, eh?"
Frank laughed nervously. "Yeah. Ha-ha. That would be really dumb because, uh…"
Phorycs narrowed his eyes.
Percy slipped his hand into his pocket, no doubt ready to pull out Riptide. Even this old sea god must be smart enough to realize they were demigods and Hunter with the bounty on their heads.
But Phorcys just grinned and elbowed Frank again. "Ha! Good one, child of Mars. I suppose you're right. No point talking about it. Even if the demigods found that map in Charleston, they'd never make it to Rome alive!"
"Yes, the MAP IN CHARLESTON," Frank said loudly, giving Percy and Danielle a wide-eyed look to make sure they hadn't missed the information. He couldn't have been more obvious if he had held up a large sign neon sign that read CLUE!
"But enough boring educational stuff!" Phorcys said. "You've paid for the VIP treatment. Won't you please let me finish the tour? The three denarii entrance fee is nonrefundable you know."
None of them were excited about more fireworks, donut-scented smoke, or depressing sea creatures. Glancing at each other, they decided they'd better humor the crabby old god, at least until they found Coach Hedge and got to safely to the exit. Besides, they might be able to get more information out of Phorcys.
"Afterward," Percy said, "can we ask questions?"
"Of course! I'll tell you everything you need to know." Phorcys clapped his hands twice. On the wall under the glowing red sign, a new tunnel appeared, leading them into another tank.
"Walk this way!" Phorcys scuttled sideways through the tunnel.
Frank scratched his head. "Do we have to-?" He turned sideways.
"Seriously?" Danielle asked, looking at him incredulously. Frank shrugged and she shook her head. "Come on."
The tunnel ran along the floor of a gymnasium-sized tank. Except for water and some cheap decorations, it seemed majestically empty. There must have been about fifty-thousand gallons of water over their heads. If the tunnel were to shatter for some reason…
Well, at least they had a demigod that could breath underwater. That was always a plus.
Phorcys stopped in the middle of the tunnel and spread his arms proudly. "Beautiful exhibit, isn't it?"
In one corner of the tank, snuggled in a forest of fake kelp, was a life-sized plastic gingerbread cottage with bubbles coming out of the chimney. In the opposite corner, a plastic sculpture of a guy in an old-fashioned diving suit knelt beside a treasure chest, which opened every few seconds, spewed bubbles, and closed again. Littered across the white sand floor were glass marbles the size of bowling balls, and a strange assortment of weapons like tridents and spearguns. Outside the tank's display wall was an amphitheater with seating for several hundred.
"What do you keep in here?" Frank asked. "Giant killer goldfish?"
Phorcys raised his eyebrows. "Oh, that would be good! But, no, Frank Zhang, descendant of Poseidon. This tank is not for goldfish."
At descendant of Poseidon, Frank flinched. He stepped back, gripping his backpack like a mace he was prepared to swing.
Danielle gulped. The crabby sea god knew who Frank was and that meant he most likely knew who they were as well. A sense of dread made her ready to summon her bow at a moment's notice.
"How do you know Frank's last name?" Percy demanded, getting ready for a fight as well. "How do you know he's descended from Poseidon?"
"Well…" Phorcys shrugged, trying to look modest. "It was probably in the descriptions Gaea provided. You know, for the bounty, Percy Jackson."
Percy uncapped his pen. Instantly, Riptide appeared in his hand. "Don't double-cross me, Phorcys. You promised me answers."
"After the VIP treatment, yes," Phorcys agreed. "I promised to tell you everything you need to know. The thing is, however, you don't really need to know anything." His grotesque smile stretched wide. "You see, even if you made it to Rome, which is quite unlikely, you'd never defeat my giant brothers without a god fighting at your side. And what god would help you? So I have a better plan. You're not leaving. You're VIPs-Very Important Prisoners!"
Percy lunged. Danielle summoned her bow and fired a silver arrow. Frank hurled his backpack at the sea god's head. Phorcys simply disappeared.
The god's voice reverberated through the aquarium's sound system, echoing down the tunnel. "Yes, good! Fighting is good! You see, Mother never trusted me with big assignments, but she did agree that I could keep anything I caught. You three will make an excellent exhibit-the only demigod spawn of Poseidon and Hunter of Artemis in captivity. 'Demigod Terrors'-yes, I like that! We already have sponsorship lined up with Bargain Mart. You can fight each other every day at eleven AM and one PM, with an evening show at seven PM."
"You're crazy!" Frank yelled.
"You won't hold us here forever!" Danielle said, vanishing her bow in anger.
"Don't sell yourself short!" Phorcys said. "You'll be out biggest draw!"
Frank ran for the exit, only to slam into a glass wall. Percy and Danielle ran the other way and found it blocked as well. Their tunnel had become a bubble. Percy put his hand against the glass and paled.
"The glass is softening, melting like ice," Percy said, looking worried. "Soon the water will crush us." He growled and looked up. "We won't cooperate, Phorcys!"
"Oh, I'm optimistic," the sea god's voice boomed. "If you won't fight each other at first, no problem! I can send in fresh sea monsters every day. After you get used to the food in here, you'll be properly sedated and will follow directions. Believe me, you'll come to love your new home."
Over their heads, the glass dome cracked and began to leak.
"I'm the son of Poseidon!" Percy was clearly trying to keep any fear out of his voice. "you can't imprison me in water. This is where I'm strongest."
Phorcy's laugh seemed to come from all around them. "What a coincidence! It's also where I'm strongest. This tank is specially designed to contain demigods. Now, have fun, you three. I'll see you at feeding time!"
The glass dome shattered, and the water crashed in.
If there was any time Danielle was happy she was fast to work her magic, it was now.
Unable to prevent the glass from shattering, she had done the next best thing and used the bubble-head charm on herself, making it look like she had an upside down goldfish bowl on her head. While not the most attractive of solutions, it still gave her an unlimited supply of fresh clean air.
Looking around, she found Percy as good as ever. His underwater abilities allowed him to breathe in water as well as he could air so she hadn't worried about him.
Catching Percy's eye, and seeing him smirk at the sight of the bubble of air around her head, Danielle rolled her eyes at him and they started trying to find Frank. The magical Hunter would have to work fast if she wanted to save him from drowning.
But where was he?
Turning in circles around themselves, neither teen could find the large son of Mars. Looking up, they found a giant goldfish. Frank had turned; clothes, backpack and all, into a koi the size of teen-aged boy.
'Dude.' Percy sent his thoughts through the water, the way he spoke with other sea creatures. 'A goldfish?'
Frank's voice came back to both of them surprisingly. 'I freaked. We were talking about goldfish, so it was on my mind. Sue me. By the way, Dani, what's with the air bubble around your head?'
Danielle rolled her eyes again. 'There really isn't a lot of ways to breathe underwater with magic, okay? This was the simplest way I could think of.' She was not going to risk herself by giving herself gills or turning herself into a mermaid or something stupid like that. 'Anyway, is there anyway you could turn into something a little more…useful?'
Silence. Maybe Frank was concentrating, though it was impossible to tell, since koi didn't have many expressions.
'Sorry.' Frank sounded embarrassed. 'I'm stuck. That happens sometimes when I panic.'
'Fine.' Percy gritted his teeth. 'Let's figure out how to escape.'
Frank swam around the tank and reported no exits. The top was covered with Celestial bronze mesh, like the curtains that roll down over closed storefronts at the mall. Percy tried to cut through with Riptide, but he couldn't make a dent. Even Danielle's Elder Wand didn't do much, though it did do slightly more than the various weapons Percy grabbed off the tank floor.
Percy tried to control the water. Making gestures that should have blasted the water through solid steel, he only succeeded in revealing that the water wouldn't obey. Maybe it was enchanted, or under the power of Phorcys. Percy clearly tried as hard as he could and the best he could do was blow the lid off the plastic treasure chest.
Danielle looked around the tank, trying to figure out a plan. The idea of fighting Percy and the amazing human koi fish didn't seem like a good life and she had no intention of being a spectacle for an audience.
Phorcys had promised they'd learn to love it. Danielle thought about the dazed telkhines, the Nereids and hippocampi, all swimming in bored, lazy circles. The thought of ending up like that didn't help her stress levels.
Was Phorcys right though? Even if they managed to escape, how could they defeat the giants if the gods were all incapacitated? Bacchus might be able to help. He had helped as Dionysus before and had defeated the two giants in question before, but he would only join the fight if it benefited him.
'Look!' Frank said.
Outside the glass, Keto was leading Coach Hedge through the amphitheater, lecturing him on something while the coach nodded and admired the stadium seating.
'Coach!' Percy yelled. Then he seemed to have realized it was hopeless. The coach couldn't help telepathic yelling.
Frank bumped his head against the glass.
Hedge didn't seem to notice. Keto walked him briskly across the amphitheater. She didn't even look through the glass, probably because she assumed the tank was still empty. She pointed to the far end of the room as if saying, 'Come on, more gruesome sea monsters this way.'
Realizing they only had a few seconds before the coach would be gone, Danielle decided to take a risk. Pulling out the elder wand again, she shot out a blasting curse at the glass, causing a small ringing sound like a mini gong.
Coach Hedge had the ears of a satyr. He glanced over his shoulder. When he saw Percy and Danielle, his expression went through several changes in a matter of microseconds; incomprehension, surprise, outrage, then a mask of calm.
Before Keto could notice, Hedge pointed toward the top of the amphitheater. It looked like he was screaming, "Gods of Olympus, what is that?"
Keto turned. Coach Hedge promptly took off his fake foot and ninja-kicked her in the back of the head with his goat hoof. Keto crumpled to the floor.
Percy winced, remembering his own head injury from Blackjack the previous day. Never had they been happier to have a chaperone who liked mixed martial arts cage matches.
Hedge ran to the glass. He held up his palms like: What are you doing in there?
Percy pounded on the glass and mouthed: Break it!
Hedge yelled a question that might have been: Where's Frank?
Percy and Danielle pointed at the giant koi.
Frank waved his left dorsal fin. 'Sup?'
Behind Hedge, the sea goddess began to move. Percy pointed frantically.
Hedge shook his leg like he was warming up his kicking hoof, but Percy waved his arms, 'No.' They couldn't keep whopping Keto on the head forever. Since she was immortal, she wouldn't stay down, and it wouldn't get them out of the tank. It was only a matter of time before Phorcys came back to check on them.
'On three,' Percy mouthed, holding up three fingers and then gesturing toward the glass. 'All of us hit it at the same time.'
Percy wasn't the best at charades, but Hedge nodded like he understood. Hitting things was a language the satyr knew well.
Percy hefted a giant marble ball from the tank floor and turned to the others. 'Frank, we'll need you too. Can you change form yet?'
'Maybe back to human.'
'Human is fine! Dani, use that spell on him so he can breath underwater and we'll see if this works…'
Keto rose to her knees. No time to waste.
Percy counted on his fingers. 'One, two, three!'
Frank turned back to human and instantly had an air bubble on his head, shoving his shoulder against the glass. The coach did a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick with his hoof. Percy used all his strength to slam the marble into the wall, but he did more than that. He called on the water to obey him, and this time he refused to take no for an answer. Water liked to be free. Given time, water could overcome any barrier, and it hated to be trapped, just like Percy. Fifty thousand gallons of water responded to his anger.
The glass wall cracked. Danielle grinned as her turn came up and she shot a huge magical blast at the fracture lines zigzagging from the point of impact. The blast might have been a bit of overkill as the tank didn't just break but shattered in an explosion of force, sending water everywhere. All three teens were sucked out in a torrent of water with some large marbles and a clump of plastic seaweed. Keto was just getting to her feet when the diver statue slammed into her like it wanted a hug.
Coach Hedge spat out some salt water. "Pan's pipes, Jackson! What were you doing in there?"
"Phorcys!" Percy spluttered. "Trap! Run!"
Alarms blared as they fled the exhibits. They ran past the Nereid's tank, then the telkhines. They wanted to free them, but how? They were drugged and sluggish, and they were sea creatures. They wouldn't survive unless they found a way to transport them to the ocean.
Besides, if Phorcys caught them, they were sure the sea god's power would overcome Percy's. And Keto would be after them too, ready to feed them to her sea monsters.
Over the sound system, Phorcys voice boomed. "Percy Jackson!"
Flash pots and sparklers exploded randomly. Donut scented smoke filled the halls. Dramatic music, five or six different tracks, blared simultaneously from the speakers. Lights popped and caught fire as all the special effects in the building were triggered at once.
Percy, Danielle, Coach Hedge and Frank stumbled out of the glass tunnel and found themselves back in the whale shark room. The mortal section of the aquarium was filled with screaming crowds, families and day camp groups running in every direction while the staff raced around frantically, trying to assure everyone it was just a faulty alarm system.
The group of four knew better. They just joined the mortals and ran for the exit.
When Danielle and Frank burst into the lounge of the Argo II, all they found was Annabeth trying to cheer up Hazel for what Leo and Jason said that morning. By the look of it, the blonde daughter of Athena was telling the other girl Percy's greatest moments or blunders. It was hard to tell.
Frank gasped, trying to catch his breath. "Where's Leo? Take off! Take off!"
Both girls shot to their feet.
"Where's Percy?" Annabeth demanded, looking around for her boyfriend. "Or the goat?"
Danielle turned around and found that both the son of Poseidon and Coach Hedge were missing from their group. "On deck," she answered, trying to remember why they didn't come with. "They're fine but we're being followed!"
Annabeth pushed past them and took the stairs three at a time, Hazel right behind her and Frank and Danielle trailing behind them. Frank was still gasping for breath while the magical Hunter was fine. Percy and Hedge lay on deck, looking exhausted. Hedge was missing his shoes. He grinned at the sky, muttering, "Awesome. Awesome." Percy was covered with necks and scratches from the glass tank breaking. He didn't say anything, but he grasped Annabeth's hand weakly as if to say, 'Be right with you, as soon as the world stops spinning.'
Leo, Piper and Jason, who'd been eating in the mess hall, came rushing up the stairs.
"What? What?" Leo cried, holding a half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich. "Can't a guy even take a lunch break? What's wrong?"
"Followed!" Frank yelled.
"Followed by what?" Jason asked.
"I don't know!" Frank panted. "Whales? Sea monsters? Maybe Kate and Porky!"
In unison, everyone turned to the only one of the group to the city that was sane and mostly recovered from their run. Danielle sighed. "Ran into Phorcys and Keto, sea gods, at an aquarium and they tried to trap us. We escaped but we need to leave now before they catch up with us."
Leo put his sandwich between his teeth, pirate style, and ran for the helm.
Soon the Argo II was rising into the sky. Annabeth manned the aft crossbow. There was no sign of pursuit but whales or otherwise, but Percy, Frank, Danielle and Hedge didn't start to recover until the Atlanta skyline was a hazy smudge in the distance.
"Charleston," Percy said, hobbling around the deck like an old man. He still sounded pretty shaken up. "Set course for Charleston."
"Charleston?" Jason said the name as if it brought back bad memories. "What exactly did you find in Atlanta?"
Frank unzipped his backpack and started bringing out souvenirs. "Some peach preserves. A couple of T-shirts. A snow globe. And, um, these not-really-Chinese finger traps."
Annabeth looked like she was forcing herself to stay calm. "How about you start at the top…of the story, not the backpack."
They gathered on the quarterdeck so Leo could hear the conversation as he navigated. The three teens on the mission took turns relating what had happened at the Georgia Aquarium, with Coach Hedge interjecting from time to time: "That was awesome!" or "Then I kicked her in the head!"
At least the coach seemed to have forgotten about Percy and Annabeth falling asleep together in the stable the night before. Though judging from the story, they had worse things to worry about than being grounded.
When they explained about the captive sea creatures in the aquarium, Annabeth nodded in understanding over why Percy was so upset.
"That's terrible," she said. "We need to help them."
"We will," Percy promised. "In time. But I have to figure out how. I wish…" He shook his head. "Never mind. First we have to deal with this bounty on our heads."
Coach Hedge had lost interest in the conversation, probably because it was no longer about him, and he wondered around the bow of the ship, practicing his roundhouse kicks and complimenting himself on his technique.
Annabeth gripped the hilt of her dagger. "A bounty on our heads…as if we didn't attract enough monsters already."
"Do we get WANTED posters?" Leo asked. "And do they have our bounties, like, broken down on a price list?"
Hazel wrinkled her nose. "What are you talking about?"
"Just curious how much I'm going for these days," Leo said. "I mean, I understand not being as pricey as Percy, Jason or Dani, maybe…but am I worth, like, two Franks, or three Franks?"
"Hey!" Frank complained.
Leo yelped when a silver arrow came close to hitting his head, but veered off at the last moment and hit the wall next to him. He gulped seeing the ticked off look Danielle was giving him.
"At least we know our next step is to go to Charleston," Annabeth said, trying to get their conversation back on track. "To find this map."
Piper leaned against the control panel. She'd done her braid with white feathers today, which looked good with her dark brown hair. It was a wonder that she even found the time to brush her hair, let alone style it into something like that.
"A map," Piper said. "But a map to what?"
"The Mark of Athena." Percy looked cautiously at Annabeth, like he was afraid he'd overstepped his boundaries. The daughter of Athena was giving off a serious 'I don't want to talk about it' vibe.
"Whatever it is," Percy continued. "We know it leads to something important in Rome, something that might heal the rift between the Romans and Greeks."
"The giant's bane," Hazel added.
Percy nodded. "And in my dream, the twin giants said something about a statue."
"Which statue would be, though?" Danielle idly wondered. She could think of a few famous statues in Greek and Roman history, but only knew of only one really important statue dedicated to Athena.
What was this 'Mark of Athena' though? What did Annabeth know that she wasn't telling anyone else?
Well, other than Percy, anyway.
"Um…" Frank rolled his not-exactly-Chinese handcuffs between his fingers. "According to Phorcys, we'd have to be insane to try to find out. But what is it?"
Everyone looked at Annabeth. The blonde looked distinctly uncomfortable, as if wishing she didn't want to know more about this thing.
The daughter of Athena saw Jason and Danielle studying her. But while Danielle was more in a curious way, Jason's was more like he knew exactly what the blonde was thinking and didn't like it any more than she did. For a brief moment, a flash of annoyance was sent from Annabeth to Jason, as if questioning his loyalty to the mission, but it vanished as soon as it came.
"I…I'm close to an answer," she said. "I'll know more if we find this map. Jason, the way you reacted to the name Charleston…have you been there before?"
Jason glanced uneasily at Piper, though no one was sure why.
"Yeah," he admitted. "Reyna and I did a quest there about a year ago. We were salvaging Imperial gold weapons from the C.S.S. Hunley."
"The what?" Piper asked.
"Whoa!" Leo said. "That's the first successful military submarine. From the Civil War. I always wanted to see that."
"It was designed by Roman demigods," Jason said. "It held a secret stash of Imperial gold torpedoes, until we rescued them and brought them back to Camp Jupiter."
Hazel crossed her arms. "So the Romans fought on the Confederate side? As a girl who's grandmother was s lave, can I just say…not cool?"
Jason put his hands up in surrender. "I personally was not alive then. And it wasn't all Greeks on one side and all Romans on the other. But, yes. Not cool. Sometimes demigods make bad choices." He looked sheepishly at Hazel. "Like sometimes we're too suspicious. And we speak without thinking."
Hazel stared at him. Slowly it seemed to dawn on her that he was apologizing.
Jason elbowed Leo.
"Ow!" Leo yelped. "I mean, yeah…bad choices. Like not trusting people's brothers who, you know, might need saving. Hypothetically speaking."
"Nice save," Danielle muttered, and Hazel's lips quirked into a small smirk.
Hazel finally nodded once. "Fine. Back to Charleston. Are you saying we should check that submarine again?"
Jason shrugged. "Well…I can think of two places in Charleston we might search. The museum where they keep the Hunley, that's one of them. It has a lot of relics from the Civil War. A map could be hidden in one. I know the layout. I could lead a team inside."
"I'll go," Leo said. "That sounds cool."
Jason nodded. He turned to Frank, who was trying to pull his fingers out of the Chinese finger trap. "You should come too, Frank. We might need you."
Frank looked surprised. "Why? Not like I was much good at that aquarium."
"You did fine," Danielle reassured him.
Percy nodded. "It took all of us to break that glass."
"Besides, you're a child of Mars," Jason said. "The ghosts of defeated causes are bound to serve you. And the museum in Charleston has plenty of Confederate ghosts. We'll need either you or Dani to keep them in line."
Frank gulped. Danielle smiled at the memory of seeing the big guy as a giant goldfish. She would never be able to look at him again without remembering that.
"Okay," Frank relented. "Sure." He frowned at his fingers, trying to pull them out of the trap. "Uh, how do you-?"
Leo chuckled. "Man, you've never seen those before? There's a simple trick to getting out."
Frank tugged again with no luck. Even Hazel was trying hard not to laugh.
Frank grimaced with concentration. Suddenly, he disappeared. On the deck where he had been standing, a green iguana crouched next to an empty Chinese finger trap.
"Well done, Frank Zhang," Leo said dryly, doing his best impersonation of Chiron. "That is exactly how people beat the Chinese finger trap. They turn into iguanas."
Everybody burst out laughing. Frank turned back to human, picked up the toy and shoved them into his backpack. He managed an embarrassed smile.
"Anyway," Frank said, clearly anxious to change the subject. "The museum is one place to search. But, uh, Jason, you said there were two?"
Jason's smile faded. Whatever he was thinking about, they could tell it wasn't plesent.
"Yeah," he said. "The other place is called the Battery, it's a park right by the harbor. The last time I was there…with Reyna…" He glanced at Piper and rushed on. "We saw something in the park. A ghost or some sort of spirit, like a Southern belle from the Civil War, glowing and floating along. We tried to approach it, but it disappeared whenever we got close. They Reyna had this feeling, she said she should try alone. Like maybe it would only talk to a girl. She went up to the spirit by herself, and sure enough, it spoke to her."
"What did it say?" Danielle asked, curious.
"Reyna wouldn't tell me," Jason admitted. "But it must have been important. She seemed…shaken up. Maybe she got a prophecy or some bad news. Reyna never acted the same around me after that."
Danielle considered that. After her experience with ghosts and spirits, both at Hogwarts and in America, she had learned they usually kept their powers after death. It was possible that this ghost was some seer or oracle and passed on the message to Reyna. Then again, with her Mistress of Death powers, she had command over ghosts and spirits so she would be their trump card if needed.
"A girl's adventure, then," Annabeth said. "Piper, Hazel and Dani can come with me."
All three nodded, though Hazel looked nervous. No doubt her time in the Underworld had given her enough ghost experience for two lifetimes. Piper's eyes flashed defiantly, like anything Reyna could do, she could do. Danielle just nodded, as it was kind of in her job description.
Annabeth suddenly looked at Percy, as if realizing that if they left on their solo adventures, her boyfriend would be alone on the ship with Coach Hedge, which was not exactly a situation a caring girlfriend should put him in. On the other hand, Percy took the sight of the captured sea creatures the hardest out of the entire group to the aquarium and he could probably use the rest. Percy seemingly knew what Annabeth was asking and gave a silent nod, letting her know it was fine.
"So, that's settled." Annabeth turned to Leo, who was studying his console, listening to Festus creak and click over the intercom. "Leo, how long until we reach Charleston?"
"Good question," he muttered. "Festus just detected a large group of eagles beyind us, long-range radar, still not in sight."
Piper leaned over the console. "Are you sure they're Roman?"
Leo rolled his eyes. "No, Pipes. It could be a random group of giant eagles flying in perfect formation. Of course they're Roman! I suppose we could turn the ship around and fight-"
"Which is stupid and dangerous in the extreme," Danielle said. "We would give away our position to Roman demigods and show that we are enemies of Rome."
"Or I've got another idea," Leo said. "If we went straight to Charleston, we could be there in a few hours. But the eagles would overtake us, and things would get complicated. Instead, we could send out a decoy to trick the eagles. We take the ship on a detour, go the long way to Charleston, and get there tomorrow morning-"
Hazel started to protest, but Leo raised his hand. "I know, I know, Nico's in trouble and we have to hurry."
"It's June twenty-seventh," Hazel said. "After today, four more days. Then he dies."
"I know! But this might throw the Romans off our trail. We still should have enough time to reach Rome."
Hazel scowled. "When you say should have enough…"
Leo shrugged. "How do you feel about barely enough?"
Hazel put her face in her hands for a count of three. "Sounds about typical for us."
Annabeth decided to take that as a green light. "Okay, Leo. What kind of decoy are you talking about?"
"I'm so glad you asked!" He punched a few buttons on the console, rotated the turntable, and repeatedly pressed the A button on his Wii remote really, really fast. He called into the intercom, "Buford? Report for duty, please?"
Frank took a step back. "There's somebody else on the ship? Who is Buford?"
A puff of steam shot from the stairwell, and Leo's automatic table climbed on deck.
No one had seen much of Buford during the trip. He mostly stayed in the engine room. (Leo insisted that Buford had a secret crush on the engine). He was a three-legged table with a mahogany top. His bronze base had several drawers, spinning gears, and a set of steam vents. Buford was toting a bag like a mail sack tied to one of his legs. He clattered to the helm and made a sound like a train whistle.
"This is Buford," Leo announced.
"You name your furniture?" Frank asked.
Leo snorted. "Man, you just wish you had furniture this cool. Buford, are you ready for Operation End Table?"
Buford spewed steam. He stepped to the railing. His mahogany top split into four pie slices, which elongated into wooden blades. The blades spun and Buford took off.
"A helicopter table," Percy muttered. "Gotta admit, that's cool. What's in the bag?"
"Dirty demigod laundry," Leo said. "I hope you don't mind, Frank."
Frank choked. "What?"
"It'll throw the eagles off our scent."
"Those were my only extra pants!"
Leo shrugged. "I asked Buford to get them laundered and folded while he's out. Hopefully he will." He rubbed his hands and grinned. "Well! I call that a good day's work. I'm going to calculate our detour route now. See you all at dinner!"
As they left, Annabeth gave Danielle a look, one that clearly said: 'I want to talk to you later tonight.'
Danielle gave an almost impossible to notice nod and left to relax until later.
Since Percy passed out early that evening, that left Annabeth without much to do other than wait for the Hunter and stare at her laptop. She was just about to search through it some more when Danielle entered without knocking, seeing the blonde waiting for her on her bunk.
"You wanted to talk to me?"
Annabeth nodded, putting the computer away for the moment. It had been a gift from Daedalus, the genius inventor who had created the labyrinth and the greatest inventor of all time. Even being inherited two years ago, it was still full of schematics and diagrams that the daughter of Athena still hadn't figured out. A normal laptop would be out of date after two years but it was probably still fifty years ahead of its time, possibly more. It was rumored to be able to do anything other than tying shoes, though there might be an app for that somewhere.
Annabeth was quiet for a moment before she gestured for Danielle to sit down, which she did so in the desk chair. "I know you're curious about this Mark of Athena, right?"
Danielle nodded. "That did peak my curiosity, yes."
The blonde sighed. "I need to talk to someone about it and Percy, as sweet as he is, isn't the best person to bounce ideas off of. And let's face it, you are possibly the smartest of our group after myself and Leo."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Danielle smiled, before becoming serious. "Now, what's going on with this Mark of Athena?"
Annabeth frowned as a few memories came to the surface. "It goes back to what my mom talked about when I saw her several weeks ago. I was visiting Percy's mom, keeping her company with her new husband and give an update on the search for him, when I met her on the subway."
Danielle raised an eyebrow. She had known that the last spring had been particularly hard on the blonde. They had found out about the Roman camp, Jason's memories were coming back but not the location of the camp itself. They couldn't even confirm if Percy was alive or not. She should know, Annabeth had convinced her to work with the Hecate cabin to try and scry Percy.
Annabeth had spent every spare moment she had scouring every source she had for any rumors on Percy. She had talked to nature spirits, read legends about Rome, dug for clues in Daedalus's notebook and spent hundreds of drachmas on Iris-messages to every friendly source she had ever met, all with no luck.
"I was coming back from Sally Jackson's and was taking the subway from Lexington Avenue to Grand Central. I found my mom looking at the subway map on the wall and called out to her."
"What did she say?"
Annabeth sighed and shook her head, now hugging her knees. "She…she wasn't my mom, Athena. She was Minerva and kept saying how she needed to return home. She didn't even seem to recognize me." That had clearly hurt the smart blonde more than she was letting on. "She told me how I should avenge her for what the Romans did to her. How Romans were all evil and how her children would destroy the usurpers."
Danielle grimaced and shook her head herself. "Hazel said that Minerva had no kids, that there hadn't been any kids of her for as long as the Romans had been around."
Annabeth nodded. "Reyna said about the same thing. She said that Minerva isn't as honored as the Greeks loved Athena. And even if there were kids of Minerva, they would architects and advisors, not fighters. Minerva isn't considered a goddess of war or battle strategies."
"They already have Bellonia as a war goddess," Danielle nodded, starting to put the pieces together. "Your mom probably hates the Romans for weakening her job and position."
Annabeth reached into her pocket and pulled out something. It looked like an old fashioned subway token, until it turned into an ancient silver drachma, the kind used by the Athenians. It showed an owl, Athena's sacred animal, with an olive branch on one side and a Greek inscription on the other.
"It says 'The Mark of Athena,'" Annabeth said, looking at her intently. "I tried to ask her about Percy, but the moment I said that he was with the Romans and we had to work with them, she yelled at me, telling me that if he worked with them, than Percy should suffer too. 'Kill him, kill all the Romans. Find the Mark, follow it to its source.'" The blonde sighed again, looking down. "I refused and she said I was no child of hers."
Danielle sighed and allowed Annabeth to hug her, clearly needing the support. 'I do have a history of being kicked out of a family, I guess.' She thought. Out loud, Danielle said, "You okay?"
Annabeth let out a breath and shrugged, pulling away from the hug. "Not really but I'll be okay. I just need to follow this 'Mark of Athena' and hopefully whatever is at the end will help."
Before Danielle could say anything, a knock on the door caused them both to jump.
Figuring it might be Percy, they were surprised to see that it was Frank.
"Um, sorry," he said. "Could I-"
"Sure," Annabeth said, distracted. "Yes."
He stepped inside, looking around the cabin. There wasn't much to see. On Annabeth's desk sat a stack of books, a journal and pen, and a picture of her dad flying his Sopwith Camel biplane, grinning and giving the thumbs-up. It made both Annabeth and Danielle smile as they remembered the time the guy had gunned down an army of monsters just to protect his daughter; pretty much the best present a girl could hope for.
Hanging from a hook on the wall was Annabeth's New York Yankee's cap, the hat that could turn her invisible. Since Annabeth's argument with Athena, the cap had lost its magic. At the moment, it only served as a reminder of her mother's wrath.
Otherwise, the cabin was bare. She kept it clean and simple, which seemed to work for the blonde.
"So…Frank," Annabeth ventured. "What can I do for you?"
Out of all the heroes on the ship, Frank was one of the least likely to pay someone a visit unless he had to. They were no less confused when he blushed and pulled out the Chinese finger trap out of his pocket.
"I don't like being in the dark about this," he muttered. "Could you show me the trick? I didn't feel comfortable asking anyone else."
Danielle smiled with a chuckle. It was kind of cute, the big guy was embarrassed and Leo had been making fun of him pretty hard. Nobody liked being a laughingstock. Frank's determined expression said that he never wanted that to happen again. He wanted to understand the puzzle, without the iguana solution.
Annabeth herself felt strangely honored. Frank trusted her enough to not make fun of him. Besides, the daughter of the wisdom goddess had a soft spot for anyone seeking knowledge, even about something as simple as a Chinese finger trap.
The blonde patted the bunk next to her. "Absolutely. Sit down."
Frank sat on the edge of the mattress, as if preparing for a quick escape. Annabeth took the toy from him and held it next to her computer.
She hit the key for an infrared scan. A few seconds later a 3-D model of the toy appeared on the screen. She turned the laptop so that Frank could see.
"How did you do that?" he marveled.
"Cutting-edge Ancient Greek technology," she said. "Okay, look. The structure is a cylindrical biaxial braid, so it has excellent resilience." She manipulated the image so it squeezed in and out like an accordion. "When you put your fingers inside, it loosens. But when you try to remove them, the circumference shrinks as the braid catches and tightens. There's no way you can pull free by struggling."
Frank stared at her blankly. "But what's the answer?"
"Well…" She showed him some of her calculations, how the toy could resist tearing under the incredible stress, depending on the material used in the braid. "Pretty amazing for a woven structure, right? Doctors use it for traction, and electrical contractors-"
"Uh, but the answer?"
Both girls laughed. "You don't fight against it, Frank," Danielle said, smiling. "You push your fingers in, not out. That loosens the braid."
"Oh." Frank tried it and it worked. "Thanks but…couldn't you have just shown me on this thing without the 3-D program and the calculations?"
Annabeth hesitated, then shook her head as she looked at him in a new light. "I guess you're right. That was silly. I learned something too."
Frank tried the finger trap again. "It's easy when you know the solution."
"Many of the best traps are simple," Danielle commented. "You just have to think about it, and hope your victim doesn't."
Frank nodded. He seemed reluctant to leave.
"You know," Annabeth said. "Leo doesn't intend to be mean. He's just got a big mouth. When people make him nervous, he uses humor as a defense."
Frank frowned. "Why would I make him nervous?"
"You're twice his size, you can turn into a dragon." 'And Hazel likes you,' Danielle thought, though she didn't say that last part out loud.
Frank didn't look convinced. "Leo can summon fire." He twisted the toy. "Annabeth, Dani…sometime, maybe could you help me with another problem that's not so simple? I've got…I guess you'd call it an Achilles' heel."
The fact that Frank was possibly trusting Annabeth with his secret firewood problem made both girls get a warm and fuzzy feeling. It was so easy to see why Hazel liked him. He was a giant teddy bear. "I'd be happy to," said Annabeth. "Does anyone else know about this Achilles' heel?"
"Percy, Hazel and Dani here," he said. "That's it. Percy…he's a really good guy. I would follow him anywhere. Thought you should know."
Annabeth patted his arm. "Percy has a knack for picking good friends. Like you. But Frank, you can trust anyone this ship. Even Leo. We're all a team. We have to trust each other."
"So what's the weakness you're worried about?"
The dinner bell sounded and Frank jumped.
"Maybe…maybe later," he said. "It's hard to talk about. But thanks, Annabeth." He held up his toy. "Keep it simple."
The next morning Leo docked the ship at a pier in Charleston Harbor, right next to the seawall. Along the shore was a historical district with tall mansions, palm trees, and wrought-iron fences. Antique cannons pointed at the water.
By the time Danielle was on deck, Jason, Frank and Leo had already left for the museum and they were just waiting for Annabeth. According to Coach Hedge, the boys had promised to be back by sunset. Piper and Hazel were ready to go, but when Annabeth finally arrived, she turned to Percy, who was leaning over the starboard rail, gazing over the bay.
Judging by their conversation, and Percy's gestures, the son of Poseidon was going to try and talk to the local Nereids in the harbor for advice.
Giving the couple some privacy, Danielle didn't look back until Annabeth returned. "Okay, ladies. Let's find the ghost of the Battery."
To Danielle's surprise, she actually liked hanging out with Hazel, Piper and Annabeth during their peaceful walk along the Battery. According to the signs, the seaside park was called White Point Gardens. The ocean breeze swept away the muggy heat of the summer afternoon, and it was pleasantly cool under the shade of the palmetto trees. Lining the road were old Civil War cannons and bronze statues of historical figures, which made Annabeth and Danielle shudder. They both remembered the statues in New York during the Titan war, which had come to life thanks to Daedalus's command sequence twenty-three. They both wondered how many other statues around the country were secretly automatons, waiting to be triggered.
Charleston Harbor glittered in the sun. To the north and south, strips of land stretched out like arms enclosing the bay, and sitting in the mouth of the harbor, about a mile out, was an island with a stone fort. The structure in question had probably been important in the Civil War, but none of them spent too much time thinking about it.
Turning away from the seawall and the exploring the inland side of the gardens, they were glad when the park wasn't crowded. Most of the locals had probably gone on summer vacation, or were holed up at home taking a siesta. They strolled along South Battery Street, which was lined with four-story Colonial mansions. The brick walls were blanketed in ivy. The facades had soaring white columns like Roman temples. The front gardens were bursting with rosebushes, honeysuckle, and flowering bougainvillea. It looked like Demeter had set the timer on all the plants to grow several decades ago, and forgotten to come back to check on them.
"Kind of reminds me of New Rome," Hazel said. "All the big mansions and the gardens. The columns and arches."
Annabeth nodded. The American South had often compared itself to Rome back before the Civil War. In the old days their society had been all about impressive architecture, honor and chivalry. And on the evil side, it had also been about slavery. Rome had slaves, some Southerners had argued, so why not us?
Danielle internally sighed. It was always the same, in her mind. Many wondrous and beautiful things had to be wrapped up with evil history. Or was it the other way around? Magical Britain probably had one of the oldest magical civilizations in history, but it also had the most dark lords and magical wars in its past as well. Maybe the evil history made it necessary to build beautiful things, to mask the darker aspects.
She shook her head. She was probably getting too philosophical about this.
The other girls didn't say much.
Piper kept looking around like she expected an ambush. She had said she'd seen this park in the blade of her knife, but she wouldn't elaborate. Danielle guessed she was afraid to. After all, the last time Piper had tried to interpret a vision from her knife, Percy and Jason had almost killed each other in Kansas.
Annabeth seemed lost in thought, possibly thinking of the same things she was. On the outside, she seemed calm, but to the trained eye it was clear she was ready to bring out her dagger at a moment's notice. Having so many adventures with Percy had clearly taught her to be on her guard.
Hazel also seemed preoccupied. Maybe she was taking in her surroundings, or maybe she was worrying bout her brother. In less than four days, unless they found him and freed him, Nico would be dead.
Danielle felt that deadline weighing on her, too. She'd always had mixed thoughts on Nico di Angelo. As the brother of Bianca, the first Hunter she had seen die in combat, she felt like she should have at least told him in person about his sister. Nico had also brought back Hazel to have a second chance at life and get to know about a half sister he had never known about. She could understand how he would want more family, after all, he was pretty much an orphan who had lived on his own for a while.
She felt a little responsible for how he had wound up but there was a sort of darkness about him too. She couldn't really fault him for it, he was a son of Hades after all, but she had some of the abilities he had now so they were actually rather alike in that aspect.
She was so deep in thought that she would have walked around the park forever if Piper hadn't grabbed her and Annabeth's arms.
"There." She pointed across the harbor. A hundred yards out, a shimmering white figure floated on the water. At first, it could have been mistaken for a buoy or a small boat reflecting the sunlight, but it was definitely glowing, and it was moving more smoothly than any boat, making a straight line toward them. As it got closer, it was clear that it had the figure of a woman.
"The ghost," she said.
"That's not a ghost," Hazel said. "No kind of spirit glows that brightly."
Danielle checked her sense and agreed with Hazel. "I'm not detecting any spirit in the area. She's alive…but…"
As if in a trance, Piper walked across the street toward the edge of the seawall, narrowly avoiding a horse-drawn carriage.
"Piper!" Annabeth called.
"We'd better follow her," Hazel said.
By the time the three girls caught up to Piper, the ghostly apparition was only a few yards away.
Piper glared at it, like the sight offended her.
"It is her," she grumbled.
Danielle squinted at the not-ghost, but it blazed too brightly to make out details. Then the apparition floated up the seawall and stopped in front of them. The glow faded.
Annabeth gasped. The woman was breathtakingly beautiful and strangely familiar. Her face was hard to describe. Her features seemed to shift from those of one glamorous movie star to another. Her eyes sparkled playfully; sometimes green or blue or amber. Her hair changed from long, straight blonde to dark chocolatey curls.
Danielle got the feeling she shouldn't like this woman and she realized why a moment later. She glared at her, wishing her an early and painful death as the last time they had interacted, however indirectly, she had been dressed up like a rodeo clown.
The woman was dressed like a Southern belle, just as Jason had described. Her gown had a low-cut bodice of pink silk and a three-tiered hoop skirt with white scalloped lace. She wore tall white silk gloves, and held a feathered pink-and-white fan to her chest.
Everything about her seemed calculated to make Danielle feel in adequate: the easy grace with which she wore her dress, the perfect yet understated makeup, the way she radiated feminine charm that no man could possibly resist.
Too bad for her that she was a Hunter so she was able to shrug her aura off like it didn't exist. Danielle was comfortable with her looks and didn't need some ancient fossil dressed as a Southern lady to make her seem less than perfect.
"Aphrodite," she spat, glaring at the goddess.
"Venus?" Hazel asked in amazement.
"Mom," Piper said, with no enthusiasm.
"Girls!" The goddess spread her arms like she wanted a group hug.
The four teen girls did not oblige. Hazel backed into a palmetto tree.
"I'm so glad you're here," Aphrodite said. "War is coming. Bloodshed is inevitable. So there's really only one thing to do."
"Uh…and that is?" Annabeth ventured.
"Why, have tea and chat, obviously. Come with me!"
Aphrodite knew how to have tea.
She led them to the central pavilion in the gardens; a white-pillared gazebo, where a table was set with silverware, china cups, and of course a steaming pot of tea, the fragrance shifting as easily as Aphrodite's appearance, sometimes cinnamon, or jasmine, or mint. There were plates of scones, cookies, and muffins, fresh butter and jam, all of which, Danielle figured, were incredibly fattening; unless, of course, one was an immortal goddess of love.
Aphrodite sat (or held court, rather) in a wicker peacock chair. She poured tea and served cakes without getting a speck on he clothes, her posture always perfect, her smile dazzling.
Danielle hated her more and more the longer they sat. It didn't help that the goddess gave her the smallest cup and the most deformed cake.
"Oh, my sweet girls," the goddess said, looking at the three demigods. "I do love Charleston! The weddings I've attended in this gazebo, they bring tears to my eyes. And the elegant balls in the days of the Old South. Ah, they were lovely. Many of these mansions still have statues of me in their gardens, though they called me Venus."
"Which are you?" Annabeth asked. "Venus or Aphrodite?"
The goddess sipped her tea, pinkie out. Her eyes sparkled mischievously. "Annabeth Chase, you've grown into quite a beautiful young lady. You really should do something with your hair, though. And Hazel Levesque, your clothes-"
"My clothes?" Hazel looked down at her rumpled denim, not self-consciously, but baffled, as if she couldn't imagine what was wrong with them.
"Mother!" Piper said. "You're embarrassing me."
"Well, I don't see why," the goddess said. "Just because you don't appreciate my fashion tips, Piper, doesn't mean the others won't. I could do a quick makeover for Annabeth, Hazel and the other one, perhaps silk ball gowns like mine-"
"Fine," Aphrodite sighed. "To answer your question, Annabeth, I am both Aprhodite and Venus. Unlike many of my fellow Olympians, I changed hardly at all from one age to the other. In fact, I like to think I haven't aged a bit!" Her fingers fluttered around her face appreciatively. "Love is love, after all, whether you're Greek or Roman. This civil war won't affect me as much as it will the others."
Wonderful, Danielle thought. Her mother figure, Artemis, the one who always fighting for the betterment of Olympus, was struggling with both personas and sanity for the sake of the future. Athena, the most levelheaded Olympian was, according to Annabeth, had been reduced a raving, vicious scatterbrain in a subway station. And of all the gods who might help them, the only ones not affected by the Greek-Roman schism seemed to be Aprhodite, Nemesis, and Dionysus. Love, revenge and wine. Very helpful.
Hazel nibbled a sugar cookie. "We're not in a war yet, my lady."
"Oh, dear Hazel," Aphrodite folded her fan. "Such optimism, yet you have heartrending days ahead of you. Of course war is coming. Love and war always go together. They are the peaks of human emotion! Evil and good, beauty and ugliness."
She smiled at Danielle in a creepy manner, as if she had known what she had been thinking earlier about the Old South.
Hazel set down her cookie. She had a few crumbs on her chin and Danielle liked the fact that Hazel either didn't know or cared.
"What do you mean," Hazel asked, "heartrending days?"
The goddess laughed as if Hazel were a cute puppy. "Well, Annabeth could give you some idea. I once promised to make her love life interesting. And didn't I?"
Annabeth almost snapped the handle off of her teacup. Danielle gave a bitter smile as she thought about that. It was no secret that the daughter of Athena had had a crush on Luke, who had only seen her as a little sister. Next was Percy, who was infuriating but sweet, yet he seemed to have fallen for Rachel Dare for a while, and then he almost died several times. It wasn't until recently that she and Percy finally became a couple and even then he vanished for six months only to lose his memory.
"Interesting," Annabeth said, "is a mild way of putting it."
"Well, I can't take credit for all your troubles," the goddess said. "But I love twists and turns in a love story. Oh, you three are such excellent stories; I mean, girls. You do me proud."
Danielle, who had been forcing herself to stay silent so she wouldn't accidently insult the goddess of love, finally sighed, this conversation going nowhere. "My lady," she said, with only a small sarcastic tinge to her words, "is there a reason you're here?"
"Hmm? Oh, you mean besides the tea? I often come here. I love the view, the food, the atmosphere; you can just smell the romance and heartbreak in the air, can't you? Centuries of it."
The goddess gave her a smirk, as if loving the fact that she could sense all the love in the air and the Hunter couldn't. She then pointed to a nearby mansion. "Do you see that rooftop balcony? We had a party there the night the American Civil War began. The shelling of Fort Summer."
"That's it," Annabeth remembered. "The island in the harbor. That's where the first fighting of the Civil War happened. The Confederates shelled the Union troops and took the fort."
"Oh, such a party!" Aphrodite said. "A string quartet, and all the men in their elegant new officers' uniforms. The women's dresses, you should've seen them! I danced with Ares…or was he Mars? I'm afraid I was a bit giddy. And the beautiful bursts of light across the harbor, the roar of the cannons giving the men an excuse to put their arms around their frightened sweethearts!"
Danielle's tea was cold. She hadn't eaten anything but by the look on her face, Annabeth was just as horrified and disgusted as she was. "You're talking about the beginning of the bloodiest war in U.S. history," Annabeth said, looking slightly green now. "Over six hundred thousand people died, more Americans than in World War One and World War Two combined."
"And the refreshments!" Aphrodite continued. "Ah, they were divine. General Beauregard himself made an appearance. He was such a scoundrel. He was on his second wife then, but you should have seen the way he looked at Lisbeth Cooper-"
"Mother!" Piper tossed her scone to the pigeons.
"Yes, sorry," the goddess said. "To make the story short, I'm here to help you, girls. I doubt you'll be seeing Hera much. Your little quest has hardly made her welcome in the throne room. And the other gods are rather indisposed, as you know, torn between their Roman and Greek sides. Some more than others." Aphrodite fixed her gaze on Annabeth. "I suppose you've told your friends about your falling-out with your mother?"
Heat rose to Annabeth's cheeks. Hazel and Piper looked at her curiously.
"Falling-out?" Hazel asked.
"An argument," Annabeth said. "It's nothing." She looked pleadingly at Danielle to help her, but Aphrodite interrupted.
"Nothing!" the goddess said. "Well, I don't know about that. Athena was the most Greek of all goddesses. The patron of Athens, after all. When the Romans took over…oh, they adopted Athena after a fashion. She became Minerva, the goddess of crafts and cleverness. But the Romans had other war gods who were more to their taste, more reliably Roman, like Bellona-"
"Reyna's mom," Piper muttered.
"Yes, indeed," the goddess agreed. "I had a lovely talk with Reyna a while back, right here in the park. And Romans had Mars, of course. And later, there was Mithras; not even properly Greek or Roman, but the legionnaires were crazy about his cult. I always found him crass and terribly nouveau dieu, personally. At any rate, the Romans quite sidelined poor Athena. They took away most of her military importance. The Greeks never forgave the Romans for that insult. Neither did Athena."
Annabeth's ears buzzed.
"The Mark of Athena," she said. "It leads to a statue, doesn't it? It leads to…to the statue."
Aphrodite smiled. "You are clever, like your mother. Understand, though, your siblings, the children of Athena, have been searching for centuries. None has succeeded in recovering the statue. In the meantime, they've been keeping alive the Greek feud with the Romans. Every civil war…so much bloodshed and heartbreak…has been orchestrated largely by Athena's children."
"That's…" Annabeth clearly wanted to talk Aphrodite down, but fell silent, remembering her mother's insulting words to every Roman, no matter who they were.
"Romantic?" Aphrodite offered. "Yes, I suppose it is."
Danielle frowned. How was that even remotely considered romantic? She had no interest in romance or anything involved in it and she couldn't even begin to conceive how that made sense.
"But…" Annabeth fell silent for a moment. "The Mark of Athena, how does it work? Is it a series of clues, or a trail set by Athena-"
"Hmm," Aphrodite looked politely bored. "I couldn't say. I don't believe Athena created the mark consciously. If she knew where the statue was, she'd simply tell you where to find it. No…I'd guess the Mark is more like a spiritual trail of bread crumbs. It's a connection between the statue and the children of the goddess. The statue wants to be found, you see, but it can only be freed by the most worthy."
"And for thousands of years," Annabeth said, "no one has managed."
"Hold on," Piper said. "What statue are we talking about?"
The goddess laughed. "Oh, I'm sure Annabeth can fill you in. At any rate, the clue you need is close by: a map of sorts, left by the children of Athena in 1861, a remembrance that weill start you on your path, once you reach Rome. But as you said, Annabeth Chase, no one has ever succeeded in following the Mark of Athena to its end. There you will face your worst fear, the fear of every child of Athena. And even if you survive, how will you use your reward? For war or for peace?"
Annabeth's legs started trembling under the tablecloth. "This map," she said, "where is it?"
"Guys!" Hazel pointed to the sky.
Circling above the palmetto trees were two large eagles. Higher up, descending rapidly, was a flying chariot pulled by pegasi. Apparently Leo's diversion with Buford the end table hadn't worked, at least not for long.
Aphrodite spread butter on a muffin as if she had all the time in the world. "Oh, the map is at Fort Sumter, of course." She pointed her butter knife toward the island across the harbor. "It looks like the Romans have arrived to cut you off. I'd get back to your ship in a hury if I were you. Would you care for some tea cakes to go?"
The four teen girls looked at each other before hastily leaving the table, bolting for the ship. Aphrodite didn't even budge, too focused on her muffin to actually help, not like they expected her to do anything anyway.
Halfway to the dock, three giant eagles descended in front of them. Each deposited a Roman commando in purple and denim with glittering gold armor, sword and shield. The eagles flew away, and the Roman in the middle, who was scrawnier than the others, raised his visor.
"Surrender to Rome!" Octavian shrieked.
Hazel drew her cavalry sword and grumbled. "Fat chance, Octavian."
Annabeth cursed under her breath as Danielle summoned her bow. By himself, the skinny augur wouldn't have bothered them, but the two other guys looked like seasoned warriors; a lot bigger and stronger than they wanted to deal with, especially since Piper and Annabeth were armed only with daggers.
Piper raised her hands in a placating gesture. "Octavian, what happened at camp was a setup. We can explain."
"Can't hear you!" Octavian yelled. "Wax in our ears! Standard procedure when battling evil sirens. Now, throw down your weapons and turn around slowly so I can bind your hands."
"Let me turn him into a pincushion," Danielle almost pleaded. "Please."
The ship was only fifty feet away, but there was no sign of Coach Hedge on deck. He was probably below, watching his stupid martial arts programs. Jason's group wasn't due back until sunset, and Percy would be underwater, unaware of the invasion. If they could get on board, they could use the ballistae; but there was no way to get around the three Romans without fighting.
They were running out of time. The eagles circled overhead, crying out as if to alert their brethren: Hey, some tasty Greek heroes over here! The chariot wasn't in sight anymore, but it was assumed it was nearby.
What they needed was something unexpected. Some kind of distress signal to Coach Hedge, or even better, Percy.
"Well?" Octavian demanded. His two friends brandished their swords.
Very slowly, using only two fingers, Annabeth drew her dagger. Instead of dropping it, she tossed it as far as she could into the water.
Octavian made a squeaking sound. "What was that for? I didn't say toss it! That could've been evidence. Or spoils of war!"
Annabeth gave him a dumb-blonde smile, like: Oh, silly me. Nobody who knew her would have been fooled. But Octavian seemed to buy it. He huffed in exasperation.
"You other three…" He pointed his blade at Hazel, Danielle and Piper. "Put your weapons on the dock. No funny bus-"
All around the Romans, Charleston Harbor erupted like a Las Vegas fountain putting on a show. When the wall of seawater subsided, the three Romans were in the bay, spluttering and frantically trying to stay afloat in their armor. Percy stood on the dock, holding Annabeth's dagger.
"You dropped this," he said, totally poker-faced.
Annabeth threw her arms around him. "I love you!"
"Guys," Hazel interrupted. She had a little smile on her face. "We need to hurry."
Down in the water, Octavian yelled, "Get me out of here! I'll kill you!"
"Tempting," Percy called down.
"What?" Octavian shouted. He was holding on to one of his guards, who was having trouble keeping them both afloat.
"Nothing!" Percy shouted back. "Let's go, guys."
Danielle frowned as her bow vanished. "We're going to let them drown?"
"They won't," Percy promised. "I've got the water circulating around them. As soon as we're out of range, I'll spit them ashore."
Piper grinned. "Nice."
They climbed aboard the Argo II, and Annabeth and Danielle ran for the helm. "Piper, get below," Annabeth yelled. "Use the sink in the galley for an Iris-message. Warn Jason to get back here!"
Piper nodded and raced off.
"Hazel, go find Coach Hedge and tell him to get his furry hindquarters on deck!"
"And Percy, you, Danielle and I need to get this ship to Fort Sumter."
Percy nodded and ran to the mast. Danielle took the helm. Her hands flew across the controls. She had watched Leo enough to know what most of the buttons and levers did so she was a decent captain for this crate.
Percy stood on deck and his sea related powers didn't disappoint. Ropes flew on their own, releasing the dock ties, weighing the anchor. The sails unfurled and caught the wind. Meanwhile, Danielle started the engine. The oars extended with a sound like machine-gun fire, and the Argo II turned from the dock, heading for the island in the distance.
The three eagles still circled overhead, but they made no attempt to land on the ship, probably because Festus the figurehead blew fire whenever they got close. More eagles were flying in formation toward Fort Sumter, at least a dozen. If each of them carried a Roman demigod…that was a lot of enemies.
Coach Hedge came pounding up the stairs with Hazel at his hooves.
"Where are they?" he demanded. "Who do I kill?"
"No killing!" Annabeth ordered. "Just defend the ship!"
"But they interrupted a Chuck Norris movie!"
Piper emerged from below. "Got a message through to Jason. Kind of fuzzy, but he's already on his way. He should be…oh! There!"
Soaring over the city, heading in their direction, was a giant bald eagle, unlike the golden Roman birds.
"Frank!" Hazel yelled.
Leo was holding onto the eagle's feet, and even from the ship, they could hear him screaming and cursing.
Behind them flew Jason, riding the wind.
"Never seen Jason fly before," Percy grumbled. "He looks like a blond Superman."
"This isn't the time!" Piper scolded him. "Look, they're in trouble!"
Sure enough, the Roman flying chariot had descended from a cloud and was diving straight toward them. Jason and Frank veered out of the way, pulling up to avoid getting trampled by the pegasi. The charioteers fired their bows. Arrows whistled under Leo's feet, which led to more screaming and cursing. Jason and Frank were forced to overshoot the Argo II and fly toward Fort Sumter.
"I'll get 'em!" yelled Coach Hedge
He spun the port ballista. Before Annabeth could yell, "Don't be stupid!" Hedge fired. A flaming spear rocketed toward the chariot.
It exploded over the heads of the pegasi and threw them into a panic. Unfortunately, it also singed Frank's wings and sent him spiraling out of control. Leo slipped from his grasp. The chariot shot toward Fort Sumter, slamming into Jason.
Annabeth watched in horror as Jason, obviously dazed and in pain, lunged for Leo, caught him, then struggled to gain altitude. He only managed to slow their fall. They disappeared behind the ramparts of the fort. Frank tumbled after them. Then the chariot dropped somewhere inside and hit with a bone-shattering CRACK! One broken wheel spun into the air.
"Coach!" Piper screamed.
"What?" Hedge demanded. "That was just a warning shot!"
Danielle grumbled and gunned the engine. The hull shuddered as they picked up speed. The docks to the island were only a hundred yards away now, but a dozen more eagles were soaring overhead, each carrying a Roman demigod in its claws.
The Argo II crew would be outnumbered at least three to one.
"Percy," Danielle yelled. "We're going to come in hard. I need you to control the water so we don't smash into the docks. Once we're there, you're going to have hold off the attackers. The rest of you help him guard the ship."
"But…Jason!" Piper said.
"Frank and Leo!" Hazel said.
"I'll find them," Danielle promised. "Annabeth, you have to find out where that map is."
Annabeth nodded, knowing where she was going with this. "Since I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who can do that."
"The fort is crawling with Romans," Percy warned. "You'll have to fight your way through, find our friends, assuming they're okay, find this map, and get everybody back alive. Just you two?"
"Just an average day." Annabeth kissed him. "Whatever you do, don't let them take this ship!"
The new Civil War had begun.
Danielle and Annabeth separated almost instantly as they jumped off the Argo II and onto the dock. The blonde following some kind of lead that only she could answer while the Hunter rushed off to save the others.
Leo had somehow escaped his fall unharmed. Danielle saw him ducking from portico to portico, blasting fire at the giant eagles swooping down on him. Roman demigods tried to chase him, tripping over piles of cannonballs and dodging tourists, who screamed and ran in circles.
Tour guides kept yelling, "It's just a reenactment!" Though they didn't sound sure. The Mist could only do so much to change what mortals saw.
In the middle of the courtyard, a full-grown elephant, (could that be Frank?) rampaged around the flagpoles, scattering Roman warriors. Jason stood about fifty yards away, sword-fighting with a stocky centurion whose lips were stained cherry red, like blood. A wannabe vampire, or maybe a Kool-Aid freak?
As Danielle watched, Jason yelled, "Sorry about this, Dakota!"
He vaulted straight over the centurion's head like an acrobat and slammed the hilt of his gladius into the back of the Roman's head. Dakota crumpled.
Danielle pushed off against the ground and landed next to Jason, shooting a blunt tipped arrow at a random centurion about ten feet away. "Hey Jason, what's up?"
Jason turned and stared at her as she calmly shot another arrow and injured the wing of an eagle as it swooped down on Leo again. "Dani?"
Danielle pointed at the direction the Argo II was docked. "Get the others on board. We're retreating."
"I'll cover your back. Annabeth is doing something too and I'll try to support her but only if we can get back to the ship."
Jason nodded and called for a full retreat to Leo and Frank. Danielle was about to follow them when her Hunter instincts called for her dodge. Following her instincts, she jumped to the side just in time to avoid a sword slash from a Roman behind her. The Elder Wand flashing into her hand, she ignited it with a mere thought and used the light sword to block a gold gladius before it could take her head.
She then got a look at who she was fighting. "Reyna?"
The daughter of Bellona was wearing full battle armor, a gold javelin strapped to her back as a back up weapon. Her two metal greyhounds growled a few feet away.
Danielle jumped back, examining the area. They were alone for the moment. The small courtyard clear of demigods and tourists as the fighting was slowly moving down to the docks. Hopefully Jason had managed to get the boys to the ship but they couldn't go anywhere without herself or Annabeth. Especially Annabeth.
"Reyna," Danielle tried. "You do know that Gaea is trying to keep the Greeks and Romans apart, right?"
Reyna shook her head once and sighed. "Doesn't matter, does it? New Rome was attacked and we demand satisfaction." She glared at the Hunter. "Not that I have a choice here. Octavian demands blood and he has the whole legion in a frenzy. Thanks to you and your group, I'm powerless to do anything about it."
Danielle slowly nodded as she tried to find an escape route. She could possibly fight Reyna off if it was one-on-one, but with those metal dogs, it wasn't exactly a fair fight. The best thing she could do at the moment was retreat and protect the Argo II.
Reyna seemed to know what she was thinking. "If you retreat now, I'll have to chase after Annabeth Chase instead. I saw which way she ran and can catch her in minutes. Whatever she's up to, it must be important if she had to leave the rest of you for it."
Danielle sighed and raised her glowing green light sword. "You're not really giving me much of an option, are you?"
The daughter of Bellona shook her head, smiling a little as she tightened the grip on her sword. "Not really, but, for what it's worth, I am sorry that I'm not able to do anything about this."
That was all the preparation time Danielle got before Reyna made a gesture with her hand. Jumping back, she barely avoided the flashing silver teeth of one of the metal greyhounds. Ducking quickly allowed her to dodge gleaming golden ones before they tried to rip her throat out. "Sending your dogs to attack me first. Both brutal and smart, Reyna."
Going on the offensive, Danielle jumped back to put some distance between herself and the dogs before slashing with her sword. The golden dog didn't seem to take much damage from the blade but the attack did send it back a few feet.
Seeing that that wasn't working, she had to use a different strategy to fight Reyna alone. Side-stepping to avoid a large metal dog lunging at her, she tried channeling levitation magic through her glowing green light sword and slashed at the silver greyhound.
She was actually surprised to see that it worked so well and the silver dog suffered a slash mark to its side and went flying much farther than she thought she would, slamming into the wall of the courtyard where it stopped moving.
Reyna didn't take it well. Growling as much as her dogs, she charged in to attack Danielle herself, forcing the auburn haired girl to block the blow with her sword. "My dogs are special to me Danielle," she said, looking at her almost hatefully. "I can tolerate you attacking me, but you don't damage my dogs."
Danielle frowned as she traded blows and combinations with the daughter of Bellona. "I was trying to get them out of the fight," she said, finding her and Reyna on equal footing, the remaining gold greyhound circling around them both. "I don't want to fight you Reyna, but I will for this quest to succeed."
The magical Hunter pushed forward, swinging her blade faster and harder, forcing Reyna to struggle to keep up. Both teen girls were obviously master sword users with about an equal amount of experience and skill. Reyna had her battle reflexes honed from years of combat experience while Danielle had her own knowledge and magic to draw on, increasing her speed and reaction time.
Wondering if it would work, Danielle tried something new and different. Channeling more magic into her light sword, she noticed that it glowed a more brilliant green than before. Glowing green light met Imperial Gold as the swords clashed.
It looked like a stalemate until the Imperial Gold sword started glowing red hot and heating in Reyna's hand the longer it was in contact with Danielle's light sword. With a blast like a gun, the gold sword exploded in a blast of pure magic as the magical weapon released all of its power, spinning out of Reyna's grip.
Quickly shielding both her and Reyna with a force field of magic, Danielle waited for the explosion to die down before lowering the shield, deactivating her sword in the process.
The explosion had created a small blast radius that had vaporized everything five feet around it. As the sword had just been Imperial Gold and not enchanted, it hadn't been very large but it had been enough to draw the attention of everyone in the area, including the other Roman demigods.
The daughter of Bellona stared at where the explosion had been, surprised that any weapon the magical Hunter had had managed to do that to her sword. She still had the javelin strapped to her back, but it wouldn't be a smart idea to continue the fight, especially when one of her dogs needed repairing.
Danielle herself was panting lightly but otherwise fine. She was curious about the explosion and what it meant if she could use magic to boost the power of her light sword though. If she experimented enough, it could be a lot more versatile as a weapon. Sighing, she stood up and put away her wand, Reyna standing herself next to her.
Both teens stared at each other.
"Until next time, Danielle Peverell," Reyna commented, walking off. Her gold dog growled at her before running after her while the silver one rebooted enough to follow.
"Wait-" Danielle was about to chase after her when Roman demigods on eagles started swooping down her, talons extended. Frustrated that Reyna was getting away, possibly to challenge or threaten Annabeth, she took it out on her new targets.
Summoning her bow, she pulled the arrow she wanted and fired at the eagle currently trying to rake its talons across her face. The arrow exploded on contact and released a thick cloud of smoke that smelled of sulfur, causing the demigod and eagle to cry out in shock and crash into a nearby wall.
Vanishing the weapon, she used the smoke screen to her advantage and jumped into the air, flying down to the docks to back up the Argo II.
In the air, she could hear a familiar voice over the wind: "Kill them! Kill them all!"
Octavian had survived his swim in the harbor. He crouched around his guards, screaming encouragement at the other Roman demigods as they struggled toward the ship, holding up their shields as if that would deflect the storm raging all around them.
On the deck of the Argo II, Percy and Jason together, their swords crossed. Danielle got a tingle down her spine as she realized the two boys were working together, summoning the sea and sky to do their bidding. Water and wind churned together. Waves heaved against the ramparts and lightning flashed. Giant eagles were knocked out of the sky. Wreckage of the flying chariot burned in the water, and Coach Hedge swung a mounted crossbow, taking potshots at the Roman birds as they flew overhead.
As she flew she did her best to flare her magical aura, glowing silver like Thalia had said she had looked when she had fought Voldemort. Now looking like a silver comet, she hoped it would be enough to stop anyone attacking her from the sky as she got closer to the Argo II.
It proved to be a good idea as Coach Hedge apparently knew not to shoot at her and the Romans were too surprised to try either. Landing on the deck, she didn't let the aura fade as she summoned her bow. Nodding to the surprised demigods, she managed to take down a few Romans with blunt tipped arrows.
Octavian kept shouting. "Kill her! Kill them! Stop her!"
A spear flying past Annabeth as she ran toward them, Leo finally got the Argo II moving as it started pulling away from the dock. Piper was at the gangplank, her hand outstretched.
"Go!" Annabeth screamed. "Go, go, go!"
The engines rumbled beneath them. The oars churned. Jason changed the course of the wind, and Percy called up a massive wave, which lifted the ship higher than the fort's walls and pushed out to sea. By the time the Argo II reached top speed, Fort Sumter was only a blot in the distance, and they were racing across the waves toward the ancient lands.
I figure that this would be a good place to split the book into two. The next chapter will come out in less than a year as I've started getting into this story again. I WON'T STOP WRITING THIS THING! It's just taking longer than I thought is all. Anyway, reviews are always appreciated and blame the real world for the delay in the chapter, not me.
Gold and Silver were in his office in Golden Dragon Lord Studios and relaxing in the sun filled room. Gold was working at something at his desk, probably writing a new chapter, while Silver was tossing a tennis ball up and down on the nearby couch.
"You think I should read the next Twilight book?" Silver asked, looking at her brother for a moment. "Just to say I have. I mean, you read the entire series just to say you hate it on a new perspective and I've only read the first book."
"You read a lot of books," Gold commented off handedly. "You sure you have the time to read New Moon, despite how terrible it is." He snorted. "'Oh, I'm Bella Swan and I got dumped because of a paper cut! How terrible is my life now! I have Schizophrenia and see and hear my ex boyfriend everywhere I go if I get into danger. Then I go save him without any thought whatsoever despite how miserable I've been.' Oh yeah, great story," he finished sarcastically. "He literally drove her insane and no one comments on it."
"True," Silver nodded slowly. She then smirked. "Not like I want to read a story about a Mary Sue main character and a bunch of Blood Fairies."
Gold looked at her. "Blood Fairies?"
"My new name for them." Silver's smirk widened. "I think I just coined a new term for Meyer vampires. After all, they do sparkle like fairies and drink blood. So, Blood Fairies."
Gold laughed a little and nodded. "Just as good as Vampmires or Pixipires or something like that."
Silver nodded and tossed the ball up and down some more when the ball suddenly stopped in midair, hovering. As she blinked, Silver watched as the ball turned into an apple and a bite was taken out of it. "Gold, someone to see you."
The author looked up and frowned. "Okay, who is that?"
A laugh from everywhere in the room got his attention. "Ah, the up and coming writer Gold Dragon Lord. How I've wanted to meet you and discuss a business deal with my fandom."
"And you are?" After dealing with Deadpool once, Gold was ready for almost anyone.
"Oh, where are my manners?" With a flash of light, one of the strangest creatures he had ever seen appeared in front of him, still eating the apple that had been a ball a minute ago. He actually looked like a messed up dragon with strange body parts from various other creatures like a goat hoof, a lion's paw, and two different antlers on his head. "I am Discord, spirit of chaos and master of mayhem. My card."
Gold took the card with some reluctance and saw a picture of Discord on the card, winking at him and giving him a thumb's up. The author looked back at him. "Interesting. May I have the pleasure to know which fandom you're from?"
Discord vanished, only to appear again with a screen and projector. "The show I'm from is a magical far away place known as Equestria. Where ponies and other magical creatures learn about the elements of harmony and friendship. After all," he smirked and looked right out at the readers. "Friendship is magic!" He used the projector to show off various characters like unicorns, pegasi and griffins, along with two large ponies with both horns and wings, one white and the other navy blue.
Gold frowned. "Wait, isn't this-"
"My Little Pony!" Discord shouted, confetti and streamers coming out of nowhere along with banners. "Think about it, it is an up and coming show from 2010 and is nowhere near as girly as you would think."
Gold sighed. "Leave me a copy of season one then and I'll see what I can do."
Discord gave a brilliant smile and vanished, multiple DVD boxes crashed onto the couch, flattening it in a cartoony way.
"Well, this should be interesting."