"ZOË!" the surprisingly heavy load screamed from her shoulder.
Thalia looked back over her shoulder to see what Percy had yelled about, and what she witnessed made her stop her escape from the mythical beast of legend that her half-brother defeated millennia ago, the Nemean Lion.
Her electric-blue eyes watched, mesmerized by what she was seeing. Percy's pen flipped over itself in the air as it sailed towards the now-pinned Zoë Nightshade. The legendary lion then let loose a grand, victorious roar that was so loud that it shook the very floor beneath their feet. The Huntress then caught Riptide, gripped it so hard her knuckles turned white, hurriedly uncapped it and extended the blade, and quickly drove Percy's sword through the top of the lion's mouth all the way to the weapon's hilt.
The gigantic monster's lone-remaining eye was wide in a comic show of disbelief as the blade's Celestial Bronze tip pierced out of the top of its skull. The beast's golden paw fell to the floor limply as its entire body went slack, removing Zoë from her pinch against the wall.
The lieutenant of the Hunt let go of the blade's grip as the lion's arm went limp and she dropped to the floor. A pained grimace flashed over her face as her feet landed on the tile beneath her. Zoë then leaned her left shoulder against the wall behind her and lifted her right foot off of the ground.
It must be broken, Thalia thought about what Zoë's actions must've meant. That's probably what I heard snap earlier.
The Nemean Lion fell to the ground in a disheveled golden clump as the last bit of life left its eye. The legendary monster's entire body was then covered in a golden light so bright that it forced Thalia to squint her eyes. The lion's prone body lifted into the air slowly and the light enveloping the now-defeated monster continually grew brighter and brighter.
Once the gigantic mass of glowing, golden fur floated up until it was around ten feet off the floor, it began to spin in the air at a slow, sedate pace without ascending any further. The beast's lifeless body gradually spun faster and continued to glow even brighter as it picked up speed. When the lion's form spun in the air so fast that it was just a golden blur to the naked eye the golden light emanating from it flashed so bright that it was like the teenaged demigod was looking at another sun that had taken up residence in the Air and Space Museum.
Not wishing to be blind – especially since she wasn't the one who beat the damned fur ball – Thalia shut her eyes tight, turned her head away from the display behind her, and quickly pulled Percy's un-moving body off of her shoulder. She pulled his head to her chest and wrapped the other demigod's head with her arms in order to protect him from what was occurring since he was currently unaware and unable to do so himself.
Sensing that it was finally safe to turn around after a few brief moments, she released her tight hold on Percy's head and leaned down. She then grasped one of his hands and pulled him up to her height before draping one of his arms over her shoulder and then snaking one of her own arms around his body and holding his side from just underneath his opposite shoulder.
Thalia felt her stomach churn as her hand felt moist while she held the son of Poseidon up with her arm. Instead of freaking out like she had done earlier, she took a deep breath to calm her mind and still-shocked nerves before slowly laying the boy's body onto the floor stomach-first with his head facing to the side so that she could look at and begin to treat his wounds.
A sharp intake of breath was her reaction to what her sharp eyes reported to her mind. Four deep, inch-wide gashes from the Nemean Lion's claw ran up the entire length of his back and were slowly oozing blood. His jacket and shirt over his back were both in tatters and what little remained of them was stained crimson from his wounds.
Why? Thalia couldn't help but wonder as she knelt down at his side and began to gingerly grab a few pieces of his torn clothing and removed them from his wounded back. "Damn it, you fucking dumbass," she whispered. "Why did you do that for me?"
"I wish to ask the same question," Zoë's unusually un-stern voice came from behind her.
The spiky-haired daughter of Zeus slowly turned her head until she was facing where the sound had come from – behind her and slightly to the right. Bianca had one of Zoë's arms draped over her shoulders as she assisted her superior to walk over to Thalia's side next to the downed demigod. The youngest Huntress' onyx eyes were moist and had the beginnings of tears were in the corner of her eyes as she looked down at Percy's still-bleeding, prone body.
Some Hunter she is, Thalia nearly snorted at the sight. You're supposed to celebrate a boy's injuries and death, not bawl your eyes out for him.
Bianca helped Zoë limp over to Thalia's side and they both looked at the lengthy slash wounds on the lone male's back. A single tear escaped from the younger follower of Artemis that was accompanied by a lone sniffle – the electric-blue-eyed demigod expected a sharp reprimand from Zoë on her behavior, but none came. The oldest follower of the Hunt stared down at Percy's downed body with the first emotion aside from distaste noticeable on her face: bewilderment.
"Bianca," Zoë stated without any emotion in her tone, "pull out a vial of nectar from my pack and give it to me."
The younger Huntress summoned a silver backpack and reached into it. She pulled out a golden vial after a few moments of searching and handed it to her superior dutifully. Zoë then did something that surprised everyone present who knew anything about her.
She uncorked the bottle and held it out to Thalia while telling her, 'Take it and lightly cover his most serious wounds with it. Too much will result in his death. There will be scars remaining, but it is better than his life leaving him."
The girl helping her stand looked at the Hunt's lieutenant with her obsidian eyes going wide in astonishment. "You-You're saving him?" Bianca asked with a hint of hope in her eyes.
Thalia's electric-blue eyes narrowed in suspicion at the olive-skinned girl, however. "Why should I?" she asked skeptically. "You've made no secret about how you feel about Percy. You'll probably take this chance and try to poison him in an effort to rid the world of one more boy."
Bianca looked at her with a stunned expression at her words, but Thalia didn't care about that. Percy was already seriously, if not mortally, wounded, and accepting help from someone who wouldn't care one way or the other if he lived or died didn't sit right with her. She'd use her lightning to cauterize the wounds if she had too, but she wasn't going to let the most vocal man-hater kill her friend.
"I swear on the Styx that this will help save his life and prevent his death," Zoë swore to her emotionlessly, making the daughter of Zeus' expression morph into one of shock while thunder boomed in the distance to seal the oath. "While 'tis true I despise him, I always pay my debts. Honor is essential in the Hunt, and my Mistress would be displeased should I abandon my honor."
"Fine," the black-haired teenager grumbled gruffly after regaining her composure before snatching the vial out of her hand and pulling out a rag from one of her jacket's pockets – hey, it's not just a fashion statement; it's damned useful as well. Thalia then poured some of the nectar onto the cloth and slowly wiped the nectar-coated rag onto her friend's wounds.
A few moments of tense silence passed with Thalia applying demigod-first aid on the downed son of Poseidon with her face contorted into an appearance of complete concentration. She continued to gently wipe the bloody wounds on his back with the nectar-soaked rag and his slash wounds eventually stopped bleeding so profusely and began to slowly sew themselves together again.
She felt a few beads of sweat fall from her brow as she finally relaxed her facial muscles and leaned back into her hands after tossing the blood-soaked cloth rag into the trash. The blue-eyed daughter of Zeus watched in a grim satisfaction as the lengthy wounds managed to scab over before they turned into permanent reminders of today. A small, relieved sigh escaped from her mouth as Percy's breathing returned to normal and his face no longer looked so tense and pained.
She then reached up and wiped the sweat off of her forehead with her forearm and stated sarcastically, "Well that was a barrel of laughs. Anybody else planning on giving me a heart attack?"
The punk-styled teenager turned and watched Zoë toss a slightly-larger-than-normal square of ambrosia into her mouth. A small 'pop'; came from Artemis' lieutenant's ankle and a small flash of pain shown on her face before being replaced with her usual impassive look whenever she was away from her 'family.' The volcanic-eyed girl's gash over her eye closed up without a trace of its former presence being left. Her swollen eye slowly deflated and lost its purplish color until both of her black eyes shone in the museum's bright light. The midnight-haired girl's skin returned back to its unblemished look and she stood back up at her full height after gently removing herself from Bianca's shoulders.
"Is he… Is he gonna be okay?" Bianca asked as her voice slightly cracked while she wiped a small trail of water away from her eyes.
"He shall recover," Zoë informed her fellow Huntress. "However, the wounds were much too severe and life-threatening to adequately recover through only appropriate levels of nectar. The scars will forever remain, as the food of Olympus may not heal any wound which has persevered for longer than twenty-four hours."
A small, sad whimper came from the onyx-eyed girl, and Thalia just blankly stared at the four thin, white lines running up the other teen's back. He's gonna stay like this forever, the daughter of Zeus reminded herself. Her electric-blue eyes softened as she gingerly extended her shaking palm out and her fingers whispered over the length of each scar, causing a small shiver to travel down the prone boy's body. And it's all because I was a bone-headed idiot. "Why did you do it?" she wondered in a small whisper. "We're not even that close of friends. And now," her fingers trailed back down the far-right scar, "you're never gonna be the same."
"We need to hurry," Zoë told them all again. Bianca nodded while Thalia just flipped Percy back over and began to take off the shredded clothes on him.
"Then help me," she said to the two Huntresses as she pulled his torn jacket off of him. "It's freezing out there, and if we bring him with us then he'll die from the cold."
The oldest Hunter shook her head, "Let us leave him here, Thalia. It is the best for him. You heard what 'tis coming after us, and if I know the General at all, then he will have scented those Skeleton Warriors to we Hunters. We can lead them away from him while he may return to Camp on his own and heal further. We can Iris Message Chiron and inform him –"
She was cut off as a piece of silvery fabric fell from one of the pockets of the male demigod's jacket. Thalia began to shake involuntarily as she reached one of her shaky hands down and gripped the scarf before bringing it up for Zoë to see.
"I don't think that they've been scented for you, Zoë," Thalia informed them as the lieutenant's eyes went wide in disbelief and shock. "Here, look," she instructed the immortal girl as she held up Percy's shredded jacket and pointed to its left sleeve. "I didn't realize it when we ran into each other earlier because of how we met, but one of his sleeves had been torn before he'd met with us, and he'd just gotten away from spying on Luke and…his friends. I don't think I need to tell you what this means, Zoë."
The longest-tenured follower of Artemis was stiff in shock as she held the traditional scarf of the Hunters. Her head creaked from side to side while she shakily answered, "No, you don't. To think… He did that for us. I suppose what I felt wasn't wrong earlier." Thalia wished to ask what she meant, but Zoë quickly shook herself out of her stupor and told her, "We need to take him with us. If we don't…"
"I know," the daughter of Zeus replied emotionlessly as she managed to get the green shirt off of Percy. "Do either of you have a shirt Percy can wear for the time?"
"Not me," Bianca answered, and Zoë gave a similar answer. Percy was already taller than both of them and broader in the shoulders. Apparently, he'd either tear one or look like a belly-dancer if they chose to give him one of their shirts, not to mention that Artemis would have a cow if she found out a boy was wearing one of her Hunter's uniforms.
"I've got one!" Grover's voice squealed as he trotted up the ramp and to them all. "Is everyone okay?" his worried voice mixed with a slight bit of panic caused Thalia to turn her head and watch as he made it to their level and clopped over to them all. "Nobody came down and I was starting to –" He stopped and went stiff as a board when he noticed Percy's prone body in front of the kneeling daughter of Zeus. "Percy!" he screamed frantically before he sprinted across the platform and slid to his knees next to his best friend. He then asked his first assignment as a Protector, "What happened? Will he be okay? Is he –"
"He's alive," Thalia interrupted before the panicky satyr could forget to breathe, making the half-goat let out a relieved bleat. "The scars won't go away, but he should be okay in a little bit. He's only unconscious right now, and thanks for bringing the shirt," she said to him while taking the souvenir T-Shirt from the teary-eyed satyr.
"Thank Zeus," Grover said with a small sigh. He then helped keep his best friend sitting up straight while Thalia slid the blue shirt that had I Flew with the Astronauts! on it – which made her crack a small grin – and spoke, "Chiron and Poseidon would've torn me to pieces if he'd died. Not to mention how sad Sally would've been when I had to break the news."
Seeing a need to change the subject in order to keep her friend from becoming an emotional wreck and not being prepared to deal with an even more emotional satyr than usual, Thalia asked him, "Did you take care of all the mortals?"
"I did," he nodded in confirmation. "A little Barry Manilow took care of the guards. We've got about another two minutes before it wears off."
"Thalia," Zoë's even tone cut through the two friends' chat. "Grab Percy. Now. We need to leave immediately."
"What for?" Grover asked as he and Thalia both stood up and each wrapped one of the unconscious teen's arms over their shoulders.
"Look," the oldest member of the Hunt stated without emotion and a slightly pale face as she pointed at the front door of the Museum, and each member of the quest still conscious took in a sharp breath at the sight.
"Spartus," the blue-eyed demigod breathed out in fear while her face lost a little color as she watched the skeleton warriors the son of Poseidon had warned them of earlier emerge from the Natural History Museum. "Grover," she ordered, "I'm taking Percy. We need to get out of here and as far away as possible A.S.A.P."
"R-Right," the now-sweating satyr acknowledged with an audible gulp. He then helped her heft Percy's still form onto her shoulders in a fireman carry. "We-We need to get moving."
The members of the quest each sprinted down the ramp and out the museum's doors as fast as each were able. Zoë was the first through the doors and was already halfway to the van before Bianca managed to make it through next.
"Come on!" the newest Huntress encouraged the two members of Camp Half-Blood. "We need to move!"
"We know that," Thalia grumbled as she gripped Percy's unconscious, dead-weight body tighter and barreled through the open doorway after Grover. "Gods you're heavy," she directed at the son of Poseidon.
"Am not," was a sleepy murmur from her shoulder.
"Are too," she shot back as a small grin cracked her face. "Your mom needs to quit letting you eat so much candy, Kelp Head. I think you're turning into a baby whale with all that blubbery fat. I might just be able to make some blubber nuggets here soon."
The sound of tires squealing drowned out whatever Percy's retort would've been, if he'd even made one. The white camp van shot out of its parking spot down the street and came towards the remaining members of the quest as fast as possible. Zoë whirled the van around once it made it in front of the remaining members of the quest and began to shoot arrows out the driver's window at the group of twelve Spartus in an effort to delay them and allow the others the chance to get in safely.
Bianca was the first to the van's side. She slid open the van's back door as fast as possible and Zoë screamed at them, "Get in!"
"Let's go," Thalia spoke as she jumped into the van after Grover had climbed in and had jumped into the very rear of the vehicle. Bianca slammed the door shut and climbed into the front passenger seat as Thalia set Percy off of her shoulders and onto the seat.
"We're all here!" Bianca shouted over the sound of the honking horns of the vehicles from behind them.
"Hold on!" the olive-skinned girl told everyone. She then slammed her foot onto the accelerator and Thalia had just barely managed to seat herself before the van took off and slammed her into the seat.
Thalia nervously reached for her seatbelt as the van's speedometer speedily rose.
"…the van!" a voice shouted that Percy's hazy mind barely recognized as he began to open his eyes groggily. "We have to ditch it!"
There was a rhythmic 'thum, thum, thum' repeating in his ears a little too loudly for his tastes before the world beneath him suddenly lurched to the right and the awakening demigod felt his body go weightless for an instant before he slammed into someone next to him.
"Ow!" that same voice nearly screamed and Percy's sea-green eyes shot open. "Damn it all, Zoë! I know we need to get away from the frickin' helicopter, but do you even know how to drive!? Percy's bouncing around like a Zeus-damned pinball back here!"
Thalia, he recognized her while his head came to a rest on the aforementioned daughter of Zeus' lap. A small tint of red wormed its way onto his face right as her electric-blue eyes shifted down and met his green ones.
"Be silent!" Zoë barked back in response. "I despise backseat drivers! And had you simply used a seatbelt on him that wouldn't be an issue!"
"There!" Bianca's frantic voice chimed in before Thalia could continue their verbal spar. "Turn in there!"
"A parking garage?" Grover asked in confusion.
"We're trying to lose the helicopter here, Bianca!" the daughter of Zeus reminded her.
"Trust me!" the onyx-eyed sister insisted. "We don't have time for me to explain! We're gonna miss our chance!"
"Do it," Percy's calm voice cut through the panicky atmosphere. "I trust Bianca on this."
Thalia's head leaned down and she stared at her fellow demigod with a searching gaze in her eyes. The corner of her lip twitched upwards before Grover's relieved head popped up over her shoulder and he exclaimed, "Percy! Thank the Gods you're awake!"
"Hold on!" was the only warning given from the driver's seat before Zoë turned the wheel to the right hard and shot across multiple lanes of traffic, heedless of the other vehicles surrounding them.
Horns blared and tires squealed as other drivers were cut off while the van's occupants were all lurched to the left. Grover's head disappeared from over Thalia's shoulder and a small 'thud' came from the rear seat of the van where he presumably collided with the van's side. The daughter of Zeus leaned down over the black-haired boy and wrapped her arms around his neck protectively in order to prevent him from bouncing across the seat and imitating Grover and colliding with the steel van's door and possibly wounding himself even further than he already was.
A sharp sensation went down Percy's spine at the same instant he felt her breath tickle his ear lobe. He felt the van's direction shift beneath them again and he just barely caught the hint of a whisper that came from the daughter of Zeus.
Sorry? Percy wondered silently as she leaned back up and helped him sit up again slowly. What's she got to be sorry about? he asked himself while looking at Thalia confusedly.
He was about to voice his confusion to her, but the van suddenly skidded to a sudden halt and sent him tumbling forward from his seat. Before he could collide with the seats ahead of him though, he felt two hands grab his shoulders and hold him to his seat.
What's going on? he silently wondered as he turned and watched Thalia turn away from him after removing her hands. What happened – His thoughts were cut off by a sharp stinging pain coming from his back as he twisted his torso just a little too sharply.
Grover, noticing his friend's discomfort immediately, hurriedly asked, "You okay there, Perce?"
"Y-Yeah," he replied with a small wince. "I'll be okay, G-Man."
"We need to move," Zoë cut in sternly. "The General's men will no doubt be looking for us here."
"Right," Bianca nodded in agreement. "I know a place where we can get away without being seen."
"We'll follow you, then," Percy told her, making the newest Huntress offer him a small smile before she opened her door and climbed out of the van.
Thalia and Zoë both followed suit and left out their respective van doors and Grover was the next out. Percy managed to slide himself across the seat and bounce off of the seat and out of the van, but as soon as his feet hit the concrete beneath him his knees buckled and his legs collapsed beneath him.
Grover and Thalia both immediately moved and each grabbed one of his arms to prevent him from falling onto the hard floor face-first before both of them hoisted him up and wrapped one of his arms across their shoulders.
"Sorry," Percy mumbled as they started to help him along.
"It's no problem, Percy," the satyr assured him as they followed the two followers of Artemis through the parking garage and to a staircase. "You were hurt pretty bad."
"How bad?" he asked with a little trepidation.
"Like, 'Four Scars even after Nectar' bad."
"Mom's gonna kill me," was the first thing Percy's mind thought out loud as the two fellow Camp Half-Blood members helped him down the stairs.
"Chiron's gonna kill me," the half-goat told him with a small shiver. "I'm supposed to be your protector, remember?"
"Your mom would never hurt you, Percy," Thalia told him with a tone the son of Poseidon couldn't quite place. He looked at her and saw… Was that jealousy? Thalia was jealous of him?
Grover must've been using his natural abilities of a satyr to sense emotions, because when Percy turned to him he shook his head as a sign to just not ask. The green-eyed teen reluctantly agreed with a small nod, but his curiosity was peaked now as Grover and Thalia helped him make his way down a staircase.
Why would Thalia be jealous of me? he wondered silently. I'm not that special. As the members of the quest each continued to descend the stairwell and their steps echoed against the silent walls, Percy began to feel a little awkward in the silence. He then decided to speak up and ask Bianca, "What's down here, Bianca?"
"Subway," she answered him as she reached the bottommost level first and opened the door leading onto the train's platform. "We can take it south. It goes to Alexandria next, if I remember right."
"Oh," Percy realized as he was helped through the doorway after Zoë and Bianca had made it onto the sparsely-populated subway station.
"I don't care where," Thalia said to them all, "but we need to get on that train and get outta here before those Spartus find us."
"Sparta-who?" Percy asked, bewildered.
The demigod helping him remain upright rolled her eyes at him while the oldest Huntress answered for him, "The Skeleton Warriors you witnessed the General summon."
"Oh." Percy then blinked in shock as he just realized something. "Wait a second. That's the first time you've said anything to me without trying to insult me in some way."
He noticed the silver-clad girl stiffen and her clenched fists begin to shake, but after a brief moment of nothing happening, she took in a deep breath to calm herself before simply turning and walking away from them all.
Bianca, Thalia, and Percy all just stared at the sight that'd just occurred in no small amount of disbelief. The Huntress was the first to shake off her shock at seeing the most adamant 'boy-hater' disengage from the possibility of conflict with a male before saying, "I'll… I'll go help Zoë take care of getting our tickets."
The dark-haired girl then scampered off and followed her fellow Hunter before Percy asked nobody in particular, "What the Hades did I miss?"
"A few things, apparently," the female next to him answered him.
He wanted to protest and demand that it did, in fact, matter to him, but the far-off and out-of-place-on-her look made him stop. Whatever it was, it's affecting Thalia too. Just what happened while I was out?
Zoë and Bianca both returned a few minutes later with five subway tickets. All five members of their little Fellowship then got aboard the train and rode it out of the station and away from their pursuers.
Percy and Grover were both sitting together on one of the seats in the subway car. Thalia was standing at one of the ends of the car while leaning against the wall and staring out the window – what she was thinking about Percy had not an inkling. Bianca and Zoë were both huddled together a few benches down from the two friends and were conferring amongst themselves in hushed tones.
"Okay, Grover," Percy turned and gave his best friend a stern stare. "What happened while I was out?"
Grover fidgeted nervously under his gaze for a moment before answering him in a small voice, "They, uh, figured out who the Spartus were really chasing."
"When Thalia was finished cleaning your wounds, she found the scarf you had in your coat pocket."
"Oh." Percy leaned back into his seat then and asked, utterly bewildered, "Why would that shake them so much?"
"I don't know," the half-goat shrugged at the same moment the train made it above-ground. "I'm pretty sure that's what got to Zoë, but I'm not sure what's got Thalia in a funk. All I'm getting from both their emotions is confusion, but for different reasons."
The son of Poseidon just resigned himself to not knowing what had gotten their proverbial goats before reaching his hand out and grasping one of the poles that lined the train car and trying to shakily stand on his own. Grover was immediately out of the bench and standing with him and had an arm around his friend's torso to help him up.
"I'm fine, G-Man," he attempted to wave the satyr's concerns off, but Grover elected not to move at all and gave his friend a surprisingly stern glare. Percy merely let out a resigned sigh before finally relenting, "Fine. Can you help me over to where Bianca is, then? I'd like to thank her for remembering about the subway."
"Sure," Grover nodded to him before helping his best friend walk over to where the two Huntresses were sitting together.
"Hey, Bianca," the demigod called out cautiously as they got closer in order to not startle them by their sudden appearance and prompt a rash reaction from Zoë. The two silver-clad girls both turned and faced the raven-haired teen and he told the younger of the two, "That was pretty good, thinking of the subway. Thanks," he finished with a grateful grin.
"Oh, it was no trouble," the younger follower of Artemis answered with a pleased air about her. "I saw the station when Nico and I both came through last summer. I was pretty surprised to see it, because it wasn't there when we used to live in D.C.."
Grover frowned at that piece of information before saying, "But that station looked really old to me."
"I suppose," Bianca answered with a shrug. "But trust me, when we lived here as little kids there was no subway here."
Thalia then leaned over, obviously overhearing and paying attention to their conversation, and cut in, "Wait a second here. No subway at all?"
Bianca simply nodded, and Percy felt a sneaking suspicion grow in his mind.
No subway, he reiterated to himself. At all. I may not know much about D.C., but there's no way that this subway is younger than twelve years old. I think mom said one time that she once rode a D.C. subway when she was still in high school, and that had to be almost twenty years ago. Something's up here, and if the looks on everyone else's faces are any indication, I'm not the only one thinking something smells pretty fishy here… And it's not me.
"Bianca," Zoë then began with her voice both curious and serious while Thalia walked over and joined their small gathering. "Just how long ago was –" Her voice was drowned out as they heard the rumble of the helicopter getting closer to their train.
"We need to change trains," the son of Poseidon told everyone with a serious look on his face. "Next station."
All four other members of the party nodded with grave expressions of their faces.
Thirty minutes, two additional train changes, and seven train stops later, they lost the helicopter for seemingly good.
"Um," Grover asked timidly while he still helped Percy stand. "Where are we?"
"Looks like the end of the line," Thalia answered from the other side of Bianca. For some reason, she'd gone back to avoiding Percy while they'd been on the trains, making him wonder as to her reasons for doing so. At least back at Camp, he knew why she did it. Now he was frustrated in a whole different way.
"Just great," Percy grumbled as he hobbled along in the snow.
The group of five were now in an eerie industrial area that gave Percy a healthy helping of the Heebie-Jeebies. They were all surrounded on all sides by huge, seemingly abandoned warehouses with railway tracks running everywhere on the ground.
"Too…much…snow," the child of Poseidon said with the chill seeping through his thin shirt as he and Grover both trudged through about a full foot of snow together. "Does anyone…have a c-c-coat…I could borrow?"
"Here," Zoë sighed before summoning her pack, pulling out a golden trench coat, and tossing it to him. "Since we had to throw out your previous clothing that is the least we can do."
"Th-Th-Th-Thanks," he communicated between his clattering teeth while he caught the cloak with one of his hands. The raven-haired teen pushed himself off of Grover and quickly pulled Zoë's gift over his shoulders. As soon as the coat rested over his shoulders, a great warmth enveloped his body, as if it was so well insulated that it was impossible for anything to pierce through the cloak.
Thalia turned towards Zoë and arched an eyebrow at her and queried, "Did you just give him a spoil of war?"
"'Tis not your concern," the Huntress responded to her snootily before her pack re-disappeared in a flash of silver. "I shan't be using it, and it is more useful in the hands of a brute anyway."
Spoil of war? Percy wondered. Brute? His sea-green eyes then went wide as he realized just what Zoë had given to him. "No," he stated quickly.
"Excuse me?" the elder Huntress asked with a dangerous edge to her voice. "Do you intend to make a mockery of a show of kindness?"
"Of course not," he answered her carefully, not wishing to set off the powder-keg that was Zoë Nightshade at the moment, "but I can't accept this." He then pulled the coat off of him and felt the cold pierce through his far-too-thin-for-this-weather shirt once more. "It-It doesn't belong to me. This-This is rightfully…yours."
"Oh?" the volcanic-eyed girl asked slowly with a cocked eyebrow. "You would risk freezing to death for some misguided honor?"
"It's-It's not mine," Percy reiterated as he felt his teeth chatter and his body shiver because of the cold. "You're-You're-You're the one…who-who killed the l-l-l-lion. Not me."
"And?" she returned, her eyebrow still raised in curiosity. "If it were truly my kill, then it would belong to me, correct?" Percy nodded in response, and she then continued, "Then is it not mine right to decide whether to gift it to someone?"
The child of Poseidon felt his mind freeze at that. It…is her choice, he thought, but quickly shook his head of those thoughts. He refused to be greedy. He'd made a pledge not to be like all the other Heroes Mr. D had said he'd become like. He wasn't the one to kill it, so he won't deprive its rightful owner of it. "You-You can use it b-b-b-better than I-I could."
"I do not need it," the olive-skinned girl told him with a hint of a smile on her face.
"N-N-N-Neither do I," he insisted.
"Appearances must be rather deceiving, then," she said with a slightly teasing smirk.
"They-They-They usually are."
"Keep it," Zoë told him with an amused shake of her head. "I will not have someone placed in my care die if I am able to prevent it. Besides, thou also holdst a right to the beast's pelt."
"H-H-How?" he asked in shock.
"Feel your pocket for Anaklusmos," she instructed, and he did so. As he felt the pen, she told him, "Whilst I dealt the blow, it was done with a weapon which still recognizes you as its master and was sent to me in an attempt to save mine own life. Therefore, through thine efforts to prevent my death, you also were a part of the Lion's defeat – nearly as much-so as even I. The pelt is just as much yours as it is mine."
Riptide came back to me, he thought in awe. But… Zoë's its original owner. It should have stayed with her. "Just…Just one question," Percy spoke through the cold, his frozen breath showing in the air. "Why'd Riptide come back after I gave it to you?"
A small flash of surprise went across the eldest Huntress' face while the other three watching the scene just looked at the teenaged demigod in confusion.
Zoë's volcanic eyes closed and her lips curled upwards slightly before telling him, "I hold an idea. I am unaware as to how you know that, as none other than a few are aware of your blade's true history and origins. However," she told him as she gazed at him directly, "it truly doesn't matter. All I will answer is this: That it is the reason I suspect you might yet be different, Perseus Jackson."
At this admission, there was a collective dropping of jaws from everyone gathered. The most outspoken man-hater in a group of girls known for despising all males…saying a boy might be different?
"Uh…thanks, I guess," Percy tried to accept what had just happened, but was currently having problems wrapping his mind around what had just occurred.
"Come," Zoë instructed everyone as she somehow managed to walk atop the snow without sinking down at all. "We must continue on. My Lady awaits our arrival."
The other four members of the quest remained frozen for a moment longer until Thalia sneezed and broke everyone out of their shock. The green-eyed demigod threw the Nemean Lion's cloak over his shoulders before beginning to slowly make his way through the snow on his own.
"P-Percy!" Grover's worried bleat made Percy turn around and regard his friend. "You-You're walking. On your own."
"So?" He then realized what the satyr was saying and his eyes went wide in realization. He twisted himself around once and noticed not pain in his back or legs anymore. "Oh. Apparently I'm alright now."
"The snow," Thalia interjected. Percy turned and noticed that she was shivering in the cold while she held herself. "It-It must've melted a little…around his f-f-feet and healed h-him a bit."
"Ah," both males said simply.
The group of five trekked through the snow at a slower pace than any of them would've liked, but it couldn't really be helped since they could only afford to move as fast as the slowest person in their party allowed in order to not get separated from each other. The two Camp Half-Blood demigods both continually sent jealous, dirty looks at the two members of the Hunt for being able to walk on top of all the snow without getting dragged into it.
After about ten minutes of aimlessly wandering the area and finding nothing but an overabundance of seemingly-abandoned freight cars which were all covered in snow, they happened upon a homeless man standing next to a trash can fire.
"F-F-F-Finally," Thalia mumbled while she shivered. "Some warmth."
The homeless man took one look at them all before giving them all a toothless grin and calling out, "Y'all need to warm up? Come on over. Gots enough for errybody!"
Nobody offered any protest and they all hurried over. The five members of the quest each gathered around the roaring flame and held their freezing hands out to warm them up.
"Well this is just g-g-g-great," the daughter of Zeus spoke through chattering teeth.
"My hooves are frozen," Grover whined.
"Feet," Percy amended for him. We don't want the mortal to think anything's weird here. Well, any weirder than five teenagers walking around without any supervision in an abandoned train yard already is.
"Maybe-Maybe we should try and contact camp," Bianca offered in her two cents. "Chiron –"
"No," the older Huntress interrupted sternly. "They cannot offer help anymore. We must end this quest on our own."
Percy's eyes went up into the sky and looked off to the west. Out there, he thought, is Annabeth. Artemis too. We need to find some way to get across the entire country though. This just feels so hopeless right now.
"You know," the homeless man piped in, "you're never completely without friends." Beneath his grimy, tangled hair and beard his face held a kindly expression as he asked, "You kiddies need a ride west?"
"Yes, sir," Percy answered politely. "You happen to know of any?"
One of his hands, as greasy as a fast-food triple cheeseburger, went away from the fire and pointed directly behind the green-eyed demigod.
All of the members of the quest then turned away from the homeless man and they all noticed a freight train that none of them had seen there before. It was an automobile-carrier locomotive car with steel mesh curtains and three levels of cars inside with each level housing two sports cars. There was absolutely no snow on it, and on the side of the rail car, even with the second level of vehicles, was the apparent name of the rail line: Sun West Line.
"That's," Thalia finally said, "convenient. Thanks, uh…" she didn't finish after turning back to the homeless man. "Where'd he go?"
Everyone else then turned back around after suddenly feeling the fire's warmth disappear and each sucked in a sharp breath when they realized that both the homeless man and the fire were now gone, and there was nothing in the trashcan at all – not even any ash from something that should've been burnt.
"Why do I suddenly get the feeling we just talked to a God?" Percy asked rhetorically. "Hey, Zoë, do you know of any God of the Hobos?"
Thalia merely rolled her eyes at him while Zoë scrunched her brow in thought. She remained that way for a few minutes before letting out a frustrated breath and saying, "I'm afraid not."
Did she really think I was serious? Percy couldn't help but think as he and Thalia both stared at the Huntress with deadpan expressions.
"Dibs on the Lam-bo!" Grover bleated excitedly as he bounded through the snow over to the train car. "You guys comin' or not!?" he shouted back to them.
"Lexus is ours!" Bianca exclaimed as she was the next to the car. "Silver belongs to silver!"
"Wonderful choice, Bianca!" Zoë yelled over to her in congratulation, making the girl grin. She then followed her fellow Hunter over to the rail line while running on top of the snow.
The two children of the Big Three each then looked at each other before both of them sprouted identical smirks on their faces.
"Blue Porsche's mine," Percy called it first. He then started sprinting before Thalia could say anything, but he tripped when he felt his foot collide with something and fell into the snow drift face-first.
"Oh no you don't," Thalia taunted him. He looked up after spitting out some snow and noticed she was standing over him with a suspiciously guilty grin on her face. "I'm getting the Porsche. You can have the Mercedes." She then turned and started running towards the rail line ahead of them.
The green-eyed demigod quickly stood back up and began to move after the now-laughing daughter of Zeus, but halted as he felt the proverbial light bulb go off over his head. The raven haired teen grew a mischievous grin as the idea finalized in his mind.
The traditional tug in his gut preceded his idea becoming reality right before him. Over at the train, Grover and Bianca's eyes were bulging nearly out of their sockets at the site while Zoë looked at his feat with an appraising eye.
"Hey, Thalia!" he yelled at her while prepping his initial stage of the onslaught.
"What?" she shouted back. Her head turned as she continued to taunt him, "You can't beat me, Kelp Head! That Porsche is – oomph!" she was cut off by a white flash suddenly colliding with her face and exploding in a shower of powdery white, sending her sprawling off her feet and down into the snow.
Percy outright laughed at the positively gobsmacked expression on the other demigod's face while Grover and Bianca both snickered; even Zoë had an amused smile crack her face.
"So that's how you wanna do it, huh?" Thalia growled at him with a playful twinkle in her eyes as she stood back up and shook her head, but she was unsuccessful at ridding her spiky locks of all the snow. "Alrighty then," she grinned at him before reaching down and scooping some snow with her hand. She patted it down with her hands until it was a recognizable snowball. She then cocked her arm back and declared out to him, "You're toast, Kelp Head!"
The child of Zeus then let her projectile fly so fast that it was a white streak soaring through the snowy sky. It slammed into Percy's chest, causing him to grunt at the contact and his grin to grow even further as he was forced to steady himself with a step backwards.
Bianca and Grover both gasped dramatically before the youngest Huntress whispered, "Thalia returned fire."
"Then it's WAR!" Grover exclaimed excitedly.
"What? Not gonna finish what you started?" Thalia asked her fellow demigod mockingly after he didn't shoot anymore snow her way and he made no effort to scoop up any snow to make any snowballs. "Well then, I will," she told him teasingly as she reached down into the snow.
"I'm just savoring the moment," Percy grinned at her. "Because the look on your face when you lose will be so funny," he said while pointing above them.
"What're you – Oh," she realized as she followed his finger and looked up. The blue-eyed demigod sent him a flat stare before accusing in a monotone, "That's not fair."
"Tough," he told her before enacting his plan and a continuous rain of snowballs came down from the sky and landed right on top of the other demigod. The snowballs continued to fall at such high speeds that it seemed that everything was whited-out surrounding the daughter of Zeus.
Eventually, the hail of snowballs ceased and revealed Percy's artistry. Where Thalia had just been standing there was now a large mound of snow that completely covered her except for her comically-wide eyes now. Her eyes blinked once, twice, three times before she managed to shake her head enough to where all the snow around her face fell off and exposed her now-snow-white hair to everyone.
She sucked in a shivering breath before fixing the now-hysterical demigod rolling on the ground with a heated glare. "So not funny, Barnacle Brain," she told him with barely-restrained anger.
"You're right," he managed to say through his gasps for air. "It's not funny, it's absolutely hilarious!" he exclaimed before continuing to laugh and roll on the snow drift.
Thalia stuck her lower lip out before blowing a stray bang of now-white hair out of her eye, but the strand of wet hair just came right back down and slapped her face with a wet 'squish.' She sulked and grumbled for a minute while continuing to glare at the still-laughing demigod, but her resolve eventually crumbled and she began to chuckle herself until she eventually joined in on the laughter. Grover and Bianca then joined in on the humor while even Zoë managed a few chuckles as well at the site.
A/N: Sorry about the delay, but here you go. Hope you all enjoyed it.
Nemean Lion has been gifted to Percy by Zoë. I wonder how that will change things? You'll have to keep up with the story to find out, 'cause I ain't telling!
Let me know your honest thoughts, because they help me grow as a writer.