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Part One: Nameless FinderEdit
Chapter One: I Hate PinochleEdit
- One -
I hate Pinochle
Peter was starting to hate his dreams about his childhood. He would dream about his brother, and because of that, he would wake up in tears. The dream he just had was a blurry memory. He didn't remember much at that time, but it was the day his family discovered that he was a clear-sighted mortal, just like their mom. His brother was worried about little Peter, knowing the fact that he could see things that weren't suppose to exist. Those are just myths, Peter would think. But everything was true. All of his brother's adventures were all true, not silly (but awesome) bedtime stories he used to tell Peter every night.
"Well, here we are," the taxi driver announced, "are you sure this is the place in the address?" the driver said nervously. Peter shifted on his seat, looked through the window and saw the large Pine tree on top of a hill. It was the same one in the stories.
"Ah, yes, this is it.…" he quickly wiped the tears away from his eyes, hoping the driver didn't see him crying in his sleep at the rear mirror.
He paid for the fare fee, stepped outside, and watched the taxi drove back to the city. Whatever it was that he had to offer, Peter hoped it was worth the trouble going to this place. He climbed towards the top of the hill to the pine tree, where two figures waited for him. Peter wasn't the athletic type, so he felt like he was carrying the world on his shoulders just by climbing.
When he reached at the top, he was greeted by the sight of a large dragon (which was sleeping soundly, thank goodness), and a woman around her late 20s (or early 30s, Peter couldn't tell). She was tall, with wavy blond hair, and wore an orange t-shirt under a traveling coat and jeans. Her face was familiar, but it didn't ring any of Peter's bells. "You've grown," said the woman. Then it clicked.
"Anna?" Peter said timidly. The woman smiled in a welcoming way. "You can call me Annabeth, but I wouldn't mind."
It had been a long time since he met any of big brother's friends, much less than a former girlfriend. He called Annabeth "Anna" back when he was little, because he was having a hard time saying "Beth" when all he could do was, "Bell" and "Bed".
"I got your call," Annabeth started, holding out a cell phone, "what is it that you want to tell me, or rather, us?" Peter swallowed. Here it goes. Keep yourself together, Pete!
"I…" he hesitated, "I…think I know where Percy is."
"Oh, who's this, new camper?" a kid approached Annabeth on the way to a big building. She shook her head and put a hand on Peter's shoulder. "This is Peter. He's a special guest here at Camp Half-Blood," She said to the kid. The camper gaped at Peter, and then sheepishly smiled. "Well, make yourself at home, Peter. I'm Leon, nice to meet you." Leon took Peter's hand and shook it. Peter didn't know how to respond. He might say something that might offend the kid. "Ah, well…nice to meet you too," he said carefully. Leon chuckled. He looked like he's around Peter's age, maybe a bit older, and wore the same orange tee Annabeth was wearing. His brown hair looked like it wasn't combed for a century. "I have something to catch up, but I'll see you around!" Leon waved and jogged away to the strawberry fields. Peter breathed a sigh of relief. This place was making him nervous. "Leon's a nice kid. He isn't going to blast you into smithereens." Annabeth said with a slight chuckle. But then she saw the expression of his face and frowned. "Is something wrong, Pete?"
"Huh? Oh…no, it's nothing. It's just that…I'm not one of you." He just then realized his mistake of saying it aloud. Annabeth stared at him then smiled sadly. Her hair seemed to glow when it faced the sunset. "I think you're lucky that you aren't one of us." She said, "Many of us even wish to have a normal life. You know, any typical life where you wished you wanted to be someone you wanted, and doesn't have fighting monsters in the what-to-do-when-grown-up list…"
Peter shivered. Monsters, they existed too. He could see them. Peter thought he was just imagining things back then, but it was real. So could the monsters notice him too? Was this why big brother was always with him? Was it to protect him from the monsters? His brother was, of course, one of them.
"This is the Big House," Annabeth announced. They stopped on their tracks, and Peter stared at a large farmhouse painted purple. On the porch, four people were sitting around a table, playing cards. Annabeth approached one of the players. "Chiron, he's here," addressed Annabeth. One of them, a man on the wheelchair, looked away from his cards and smiled. He had scruffy brown beard, thinning hair and wore the camp tee under a winter jacket. There was a blanket over his lap. He doesn't look like it, but I think he's friendly enough, Peter decided.
"I know that you feel, err, out of place," the man said, "but, of course…welcome to Camp Half-Blood, your brother's second home." A man in a tiger-patterned sweater snorted while looking down at his cards. Everyone ignored him. "Umm, thank you…" was all Peter said. He only hoped any upcoming conversations about his brother wouldn't just pop out of the blue. "Sorry about this…" Annabeth whispered at his ear, glancing at the small group. "…I think they're in a middle of a long game."
"No, no…we're fine here," the tiger-shirted man chimed. He seemed to be in a pleasant mood. "Go on, Chiron, continue on where you left," he hand waved.
The bearded one called Chiron sighed. "Would you like to join us? It's Pinochle." Peter quickly refused. Besides, he didn't know the game much. He was though offered a seat beside Chiron. "I'll go get some hot chocolate for Peter." Annabeth said, and then went inside the farmhouse. There was silence as cards shuffled and players coughed. Peter sat on his seat awkwardly. He got the feeling he's not just seating beside regular players. There was something…powerful in each of them. "I guess you have already heard the basics, but you wouldn't mind if I could explain a few things?" Chiron said through the silence. "No…sir, I…don't mind," Peter said in a small voice. He was curious, excited, and frightened to hear more of his brother's other world. He hated it if he felt so many emotions at the same time.
Annabeth handed him the chocolate—perfect for any cold winter day—and Peter listened to the details his brother left out in his stories. It was only a few things about Camp Half-Blood, the gods and the explanation of western civilization. Peter felt like a trespasser to know all of these, and yet…he couldn't help but feel so special. Only a few lucky mortals could gain such knowledge as this, but Peter knew that if he tried to insist the facts to his classmates, they'll think he's gone to Cloud Ten.
"So Peter," Chiron started, staring at nowhere, "we heard that you knew where Percy is." The Tiger-shirted man, who wanted to be called Mr. D, suddenly sneezed and blew the game cards away from the table; the other players were too stunned to notice the disruption. "This…boy, he knows it?" one of them chided, "A mere mortal like him?"
"Shush, Atalanta!" another one said, "Just because he's male doesn't mean he's garbage…"
"Oh yes, this coming from a guy who brings coffee to the gods," Atalanta sneered. The coffee guy's ears went pink. "At least I'm doing a favor to them," he argued back, "unlike a certain Artemis maiden who likes wrestling."
"By the gods, be quiet, you two!" Mr. D exclaimed after blowing his nose from a snotty handkerchief. His pleasant mood had vanished. "And you, boy," Mr. D glared at Peter, who cringed, stood up from his chair and took a few steps back. According to his brother, it was not cool to anger this person, no matter how angry you were to him. "Boy…what do you mean you know where he is?"
"W-w-well, I think I know where h-he is…" Peter stammered. He knew one thing though: he just got into Mr. D's bad side. And they've just met.
"I…I had a dream, a few days ago." Peter continued, trying to muster up the courage to speak straight, not stammer. He had to tell them appropriately. Correctly. "I thought it was just one of those 'mortal' dreams, but…he really was there, and I knew this wasn't a memory. He…called out and told me he was there. I wanted to talk to you personally, he said to me, I'm at the place where no one knows, not even the immortal beings in the stories I used to tell you. I'm somewhere unreachable to others except a chosen few. You are one of them. Well, thanks a lot, bro…for the clue…" he mumbled in the end. Then silence fell towards them again. The sun had set and stars started to appear at the sky. Peter knew these people know where he was. He was right all along to approach them. He knew how delicate his brother was to these people.
"But, how will the dream end up to you, child?" Atalanta said.
Peter looked down at his feet. "It's because I'm his brother…half brother, to be exact."
"Unreachable…is he talking about that place? Impossible. It doesn't exist."
"That's why it's called Nameless, Ganymede, you imbecile!" Atalanta retorted, "It was considered the graveyard of the heroes! They say that those who found the dwelling never came back. No contact or anything. They had disappeared completely. Their souls never arrived to the land of Hades. But this…"
"We are not sure if Percy Jackson is in there," Chiron interrupted, "we cannot confirm it. But this coming from his family…" he looked at Peter; there was something in his eyes Peter couldn't explain. "…we must not take this matter lightly." Chiron finished, and then turned his gaze at Annabeth, who nodded at him. They must be agreeing on something secretly, but Annabeth said clearly, "It's going to be one of those quests, right? The one that happens only every one hundred years and…it's led by a mortal."
When all eyes were on him, Peter's heart froze. No…he didn't expect that it'll go this far. He told them what they needed to find Percy Jackson, and then he'd leave it to that. He didn't want to be dragged into something bigger. Peter wasn't prepared for a quest. He'll just have to turn it down and…
"Being a half-blood is dangerous," Percy once said to his little brother. He remembered the lines well, because it was said in the time when Percy first told his stories to Peter. "It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways."
Would Peter be fine if he went on a quest? He wasn't a half-blood. But…he wanted to be one. He loved Percy's stories about his quests to retrieve the master bolt, to find the Golden Fleece, to carry the world on his shoulder, the tale where he explored the same Labyrinth in the Greek stories, and then, his brother defeating the Titan Kronos, lord of time. Peter wanted to experience them all. He wanted to go on an adventure like his brother's. This could only happen once, and he might miss this chance. He didn't care if it would kill him in painful, nasty ways. He wanted to be like Percy. Peter became determined to find Percy Jackson. He was shaking in excitement. He was going to see his big brother again.
"But it is still unclear to me," Ganymede the coffee guy mumbled, but all ears were on him, "…Percy Jackson died a long time ago, right?"
Chapter Two: Plants Are Evil, I Tell YouEdit
- Two -
Plants are evil, I tell you
Peter had to be very careful if he wanted to stay alive. Camp Half-Blood was a place for demigods, not the kind like him. Thankfully, there was one (clear-sighted) mortal living at camp, but Annabeth pointed out that that person was the Oracle of Delphi. Apparently, she stayed at a cave. Peter couldn't decide if said mortal was civilized or not. "You'll have to stay here overnight," Annabeth said as she led the way to the cave. "A meeting will be held with the Council of Cloven Elders in the morning, to discuss about the search for Percy."
"What's that? Do I have to attend too?" Peter asked. It was hard to see, at that moment it was dark, but Annabeth was walking like she had crossed the path many times. "You don't have to. We're just making plans for the quest, that's all. I have to attend because I'm an honorary member. I could give you a proper tour of the camp before the meeting, if you like…"
"Ah! Y-yes please!" Peter suddenly burst, which startled Annabeth. When he realized what he did, he covered his mouth with both hands. How embarrassing, especially in front of an adult. But Annabeth simply chuckled and continued on. "This is it," she declared, stopping in front of a menacing-looking cave with red curtains hanging on the entrance. "Come on, there's no monster living here…" Annabeth lifted the curtains and went inside. Peter considered for a moment, took a deep breath and followed.
It certainly took him by surprise. Instead of seeing a cave lit by burning firewood (as Peter expected), the place was colorful as a rainbow. A bright lantern lit the whole room. The cave walls were painted with childish graffiti. There were canvases hanging on the walls, most of them with surrealistic painting style and feeling. Some of them were sketches, but it almost looked like a photo that was photoshopped. Someone actually did all this? This place looked like an art museum! There were other things that were out of place like a bed with a laptop. And there was the stereo and a music player at the corner. Peter couldn't name them all.
This cave was really awesome.
"Rachel? Are you here?" Annabeth called out. There was a muffled reply from outside. Then a woman entered. She had short red hair, green eyes and freckles crossing the bridge of her nose. She was also tall like Annabeth, but had a very weird fashion sense. She was wearing a winter cloak over a glittering t-shirt and jeans that looked like it had been spluttered with paint many times.
"Annabeth!" the woman said happily, hugging her blond friend. It didn't look like she noticed Peter. "Oh, I haven't seen you for a while! I didn't leave the cave until today because of an emergency. I told the Apollo kids to bring dinner here," the woman mumbled in addition, "anyway; I heard that someone new came to camp. A camper, I guess? Determined? Undetermined?" She spoke so fast Peter thought she must have drank ten cups of coffee. Annabeth smiled slightly, "It's only a few days. Besides, I'm always around here until someone could get the job. The new guy you're talking about…is right here." They both turned and noticed Peter standing awkwardly for the first time since entering the cave. Peter smiled sheepishly. "Rachel, this is Peter. He's clear-sighted, like you." Annabeth made the introductions. Rachel squinted, her eyes scanning Peter like a metal detector; there was a hint of interest, curiosity and reminiscence in both of them. Peter had the impression that Rachel thought he might transform into a monster. But in the end, she smiled. "Is this him? The one Percy talks about?" she asked Annabeth in a sincere voice. Annabeth nodded, "This is his brother. Would you mind if he could stay here for one night? There's going to be a meeting held at the forest in the morning to discuss about him and, well, Percy."
Rachel was still considering a decision when a horn blew somewhere in a distance. "Let's talk about it at the pavilion, can we?" Rachel cheered, "I'm hungry already."
"For the gods!"
Everyone else raised their goblets and cheered. Then most of the crowd stood up, brought their plates with them, and scrapped a portion of their food to a firepit. Peter remained seated with Rachel and Annabeth, the Pinochle players earlier, a few satyrs, and a centaur that he didn't know was Chiron. This camp was full of surprises, even if Percy had already told him what Camp Half-Blood was. But back then he thought they were all just fairy tales by his step brother. It was going to be quite a while to get used to this.
Everyone returned back to their seats and started wolfing down their dinner. Peter stared at the barbeque he received from a girl who popped out from a forest tree. "Go on, you must be hungry from the long trip," Annabeth said, who was sitting besides him, "and don't worry, it won't burn you up". Peter nodded to his barbeque and joined the pack.
Shortly after that, Chiron the centaur called for attention. He said that Capture the Flag would happen in two days and that Cabin Eleven would present the laurels (cheers from a group of kids in one table). Then Peter was given a very short introduction by Mr. D (Chiron had to correct his name and they didn't bother to state his last name). And then there was sing-along. There was a lot of singing and laughing at the camp's amphitheater. The flames of the fireplace grew higher as the campers sang loudly with their unusual songs. Peter was too tired and full to join the fun.
If he were a half-blood like Percy, would he be singing and laughing like the rest? Peter knew that Percy used to go to this camp during the summer to train so he could fight monsters and protect himself, but he never knew it could be so much enjoyable.
"See? I drew this back then," Rachel said as she revealed an old sketch portrait of Percy to Peter. He narrowed his eyes, "Wait, why does it have little holes-"
"Never mind that," Rachel laughed anxiously. Despite the small holes on the nose and other places, the sketch was really good. There was his brother, still young and alive, his face full of determination, like it was natural for him to look like that. "So…how long have you been living in this…place?" asked the boy to the young woman while scanning the pages of an old sketchbook. Rachel thought for a moment. "I don't know…I moved in here about a year ago after graduating from college, but before that, back when I was still in your age, I stayed here at camp like Annabeth and the others during the summer and winter breaks. One time, Apollo built this." She moved her arms around to indicate the whole cave. "I thought he was just joking…" she murmured while preparing herself a blank canvas.
For some reason, Peter felt relaxed speaking to Rachel, unlike the many times he felt uncomfortable just being with girls (not counting his mom). It's probably because he could relate to her in a few ways. "You're really talented in this," Peter said, though he felt a bit stupid stating the obvious.
"Thanks," Rachel replied, with the look of pride on her face. She picked up a pencil and started sketching something on her canvas. "Hey, could stay still for a couple of minutes? You can still look through the book."
"Uh, sure," Peter said. There was silence for a while, and then Peter asked, "Do mortals usually go on quests?"
Rachel sighed, her eyes not taking off the work she was doing. "In very special cases, they can come with demigods to help them. But it's a rare chance to have them lead a quest. And that rare chance is the Hundred-Year Quest. It only happens in every…err, one hundred years." She stuck out her tongue, "And mortals rarely come across this camp…except for the occasional pizza guys crossing the camp boundaries."
"Oo-kay," Peter wanted to ask about the Pizza guys, but he decided to leave the question, "So, how did you find Camp Half-Blood?"
"Percy and Annabeth found me. Well, it was really Percy, but it's a long story." Rachel chuckled lightly. Peter nodded and continued to scan the pages of the book. Each page was imprinted with events that he remembered from his brother's stories, some of them were scenes he was familiar and unfamiliar with. But out of all the hundred sketches, there was one scene that took his full attention: a drawing of a teenage boy and a little girl. The boy was crouching down, his whole figure exhausted and frayed. He was gazing up to the little girl; his face looked desperate, like he was begging for something really valuable. The little girl, dressed in shawls, was looking down to him, her expression unreadable, but had a warm feeling. "It was a vague memory," Rachel pondered, noticing Peter's interest to the picture. "It happened back at our Titan War. I was being held to safety in the throne room on Olympus with a goddess when someone busted in. We thought it was Kronos, and it wasn't Percy, yet for some reason, that person almost felt like him. Then I realized it was just a demigod." Peter moved his eyes to Rachel, eager to learn more. "He looked worn out and was ready to collapse. He ran up to the goddess, who I think was Hestia, and he was demanding something from her. They were having a long and aggressive conversation. After that, everything went blank. The next thing I knew, battles were over, and the said titan lord was defeated. I forgot what the boy looked like; only the color blue."
"Blue." Peter repeated, nodding. Percy's favorite color was blue.
"The scene that I saw felt so important I had to draw it to remind myself. The conversation between Hestia and that boy helped me set my decision to become the Oracle of Delphi, though I didn't remember what they were talking about." Rachel grinned clumsily. She stopped sketching and stared at her piece. Suddenly, her face turned sad. "Here, want to see this? It's done." Rachel held the canvas and passed it to Peter. It was a sketch of him reading the sketchbook. However, Peter couldn't understand the expression of his face; it was both mixed with emotions he didn't even felt earlier. "This is…really cool," he said to Rachel, trying his best to hide the little pain in his voice. Rachel smiled back, although she had a sympathetic look that reminds Peter of his mom.
After the tour of Camp Half-Blood at six in the morning, Peter and Annabeth took a quick stroll at the woods. Regardless of the snowfall last night that marked the true beginning of winter, it looked like it didn't happen at all. Apparently, it looked more like spring than winter at the forest. Peter wondered what happened to everyone's description that the forest was always full of monsters and that you needed to enter armed and prepared. Annabeth came without any weapon, and that made Peter a little bit uneasy. "Oh, don't worry," she assured, "At this time in the morning, the monsters are asleep. The meeting will happen around here shortly. Are you sure you don't want to come?" Peter shook his head. "I'll just stick around for a while, and wait for the news here."
"I see," Annabeth said, and then she stopped walking. She turned her head to the left and her expression softened. "What's wrong?" asked Peter, looking at the direction she was facing. A little far ahead, a tall tree stood in the middle of a grove. It looked brighter than the other surrounding trees.
"Can we go here, just for a while?" Annabeth said.
"Sure, I don't mind," Peter replied, though he was confused of the sudden mood change. They walked down the grove and stopped in front of the tall one. Annabeth knelt down and touched its roots. Her expression was sad, but she lifted a small smile. "I guess he's still standing strong," she said to herself. "Hey, Pete, do you remember…how Percy, as everyone had presumed…died?" Annabeth said it like it was a question that had been bothering her for ages. Now that she had mentioned it, how did he die? Peter forced himself to think back, and all he could remember was another blurry memory. It was few years ago when Percy told his family that he was going to some place. That was the last time Peter saw him. The next day, his mom came around telling Peter to get up and get changed, so that he would attend his brother's burial. He told this to Annabeth, whose expression grew sadder.
Then Peter's phone suddenly rang. He fished it out from his pocket and stared at it. "That's weird," Annabeth glanced at the gadget, "you don't get signal here in the forest, and bringing one isn't a really great idea if you're a demigod."
"I still have to answer it, right?" Dad was calling on the phone, but Peter was hesitating to answer.
A satyr came out of nowhere and trotted towards the pair. "Annabeth, the meeting had started a while ago," he said, looking weary, "Chiron's been looking for you."
"Sorry for the trouble, then," Annabeth said, "I'll be going. I'm going to leave you for a while, Pete," then she took one last look to the tree and went on her way with the satyr. When Peter was alone, he answered his phone that had been ringing for minutes.
"Hey dad, it's me," Peter knew what was coming after this.
"Pete, where have you been yesterday? Your mom was worried about you!" a man on the other side of the line cried. Peter could not help but smile. "Sorry for worrying everyone. Are you with mom?"
"No, I'm at the school. We're holding a meeting before the break. Peter, why didn't you at least tell us where you were going? You know your mom; she doesn't like her children running around, blowing up buildings without telling her the real reason."
"I don't even have the guts to steal explosives and blow up a car." Peter snorted. His dad, Paul Blofis, was good enough to get nominated for the Coolest Dad in the World award. He was the "normal" one in the family, and the only one who couldn't see through the Mist. Regardless of how weird (and probably dangerous) the family was, Paul was still with them, and that was really cool and awesome of him.
"Sorry dad, I can't tell you where I am, though I might come home later than planned. Mind if you tell mom that?"
Dad hesitated, but he answered nonetheless, "Okay. I'm just glad that you're well. Just keep us updated by calling. I have to go; everyone's looking for me. I just found the time to check up on you."
"Alright. Talk to you later dad, and tell mom…to get well soon." Peter closed the connection and sighed. He looked up towards the tree. For some reason, he felt like he should know this tree, he just couldn't pin it down. It had a familiar aura that reminded Peter of forests and wildlife.
Peter was about to walk away when he heard a loud scream. He jumped and found that it came from the tree, which was glowing brighter. The ground shook and Peter was forced on his knees. His heart raced. His legs ached. He suddenly felt like he was going to explode. He wanted to get away, but he couldn't move. Then abruptly, everything stopped.
Peter slowly brought his head up. Everything went back to normal. The majestic tree stood tall, innocently looking down to him. No glowing or anything. What on earth just happened? He backed away from it, his heart still beating fast.
"You're still here, Peter?" Annabeth voice rang. Peter hastily turned to face the concerned adult. "Did something happen? Pete, you don't look so good."
"Did…didn't you hear it?" Peter asked, his voice shaking. Annabeth frowned, "Hear what?"
"The scream, it came from this tree," he pointed accusingly to the plant. Annabeth stared at Peter. "Pete…I didn't hear anything unusual during the meeting."
"I…I don't understand." Or maybe he did. Maybe the tree didn't like him. Maybe he was only tired. Maybe the so-called Mist was just playing around him. Peter decided he shouldn't tell the rest to Annabeth, or she would have to inform the others about his recent discovery of screaming trees. He had to figure this out by himself. "A-anyway," he swallowed, keeping his voice from shaking, "Is the meeting over? T-that was quick one."
Annabeth's face was unreadable. "Pete, the meeting took 4 hours, maybe longer. We had to contact a few people outside of camp to help out with the matter. We're still not finished organizing. Are you sure you're okay? Maybe you're just hungry. Lunch will start soon."
This time, Peter didn't respond.
"If you're wondering if I'm carrying any news," Annabeth continued, breaking the silence, "I do have. There will be a quest to find Nameless in the next few days. And you will lead it."
Chapter Three: We Plan To Go ShoppingEdit
- Three -
We Plan To Go Shopping
Peter prayed that he wouldn't be discovered. Most of the campers had mistaken him for a demigod, which was good, since Annabeth said that he shouldn't just reveal himself as a mortal. The campers kept asking him if he was "determined" or "undetermined;" he simply shrugged to their questions. He was invited to camp activities like archery and Pegasus riding. Peter politely refused to them and went on his own way of fitting in. He wasn't going to participate in those dangerous things, no matter how tempting it was. Well, not yet. Peter managed to relate to a few of them, though. Year-rounder Leon was one. His godly parent was unknown, so he stayed at the Hermes Cabin. And he talked a lot.
"See, a lot has changed in the past decade," he said to Peter one afternoon, during free time. They were at the canoe lake, watching the naiads weave baskets. "Back then, the Big House was still painted blue, and Capture the Flag still had two teams, not four. There have been a lot of half-bloods coming into camp these days, and it's a good thing too, I guess."
"Umm, how long have you been staying here?" Peter asked.
Leon tapped his chin. "I guess I've been here my whole life."
Peter stared at him. "You…don't have any mortal parent or something?" But he felt a lump in his throat. He knew family matters were a serious discussion. He had many classmates who told sad stories about their families; some of them were still depressed about it. But Leon grinned to the question like it didn't bother him a bit.
"I don't have any. I did remember a demigod bringing me to this place. It was loooong time ago."
One of the naiads giggled to her other friends, spoke something in naiad language, and then all of them dived under the lake. Peter stared at the lake's surface for a while, deep in thought, but from the corner of his eye he saw a girl approaching them. Leon made a face that clearly stated that he wasn't happy to see her. "Oh boy, here comes miss know-it-all. I'd bet anything she's going to pull something intelligent when she sees you."
"Why? What's wrong with her?"
"Oh nothing, it's just the fact that she likes showing off her smarts and skills to anyone. She thinks she's exceptionally special. She's a daughter of Apollo, the only thing that's common about her. That and…."
The girl stopped in front of the two boys, both hands on her hips. She looked like the classical red-head with the trademark red hair (short), green eyes, and freckles on her cheeks. The only thing that stood out in her appearance was the necklace with a silver cross. A Catholic demigod? Peter thought, Well…that's new. She glared at Leon for a second then turned to look at Peter. "You're being called to the Big House by Annabeth. She said she wanted to talk to you about something."
"Oh," Peter said, uncomfortable at the way the girl spoke, "D-do I have to go, like, right now?"
"Immediately," the girl nodded.
Leon groaned and crossed his arms. "Don't act smart on him, Claire," he said.
The girl, Claire, frowned and clicked her tongue, turning her head away. "I wasn't talking to you," she replied angrily. Then she stomped to the archery range. Peter looked at Leon, who still had an annoyed look on his face.
"A-aren't you a little harsh on her?" he said.
"No," Leon replied, gritting his teeth. "It's enough to tell her that she isn't the boss around here."
Leon accompanied Peter to the Big House. Inside, they sat down around a coffee table. Annabeth sat opposite of them, looking down at the weapon laid on the table, a bronze knife.
"Peter, we had talked about the quest, and I think everything's ready," Annabeth said. She paused, and then looked at Leon. "Uh, Leon… ummm…"
"No, it's okay. You can tell him," Peter said. Like everyone else, Leon didn't know Peter's true category, until Annabeth hesitantly told him. It took Leon for a while to swallow all the words, but he was able to digest it.
"Still, you can't ignore javelin throwing forever, Pete," he said with a shaky chuckle.
"Peter, the dream you told us was still unclear in meaning," Annabeth continued, "but one of our contacts had volunteered to go to the Underworld to check out… a soul. And another one offered us a lead. A very solid lead. But he stated that the information is too, err… how I should put this, valuable. You'll have to listen to it from him personally. And that means going to Wichita. The second you set your foot in the city, he'll be right there to pick you up and bring you to safety just for a while to discuss about it."
"Sounds like kidnapping… but wait a minute," Leon interrupted, "I thought Nameless was supposed to be an unknown place? How come he knows?"
Annabeth bit her lip. "I don't know, exactly. But that person is an old friend of mine, and I trust him. I've known him for a while, though I haven't contacted him until a few days ago."
"Well, what's his name?" Peter asked. The young woman sighed. "I can't tell you his real name, since I don't have permission."
"Why not? And what permission?"
Annabeth glanced at Peter and sighed again. "Here's the long story." She shifted on her seat.
"Fifteen years ago, we had another war," she started. "It was bigger than the previous Titan War. In the end, our side won. There was a great difference in the way we lived back then, after that war. There were no more monsters chasing us, more half-bloods were safely brought here at Camp. Basically, life had become easier for us demigods. That was until Percy…as some people would like to put it, disappeared a few years ago."
"We assumed that the reason why the monsters were backing down was because Percy was around. They started to fear him and the other half-bloods that lead our army, though that didn't stop them from chasing them. But now, the danger was twice than before. We needed to find as many demigods as we can before they would be killed off. And they, the monsters, are currently hunting down those who fought in the war. We all went into hiding. Some of us are already dead. Others may still be alive, but we avoid contact as much as possible. It's too risky. This was the only place in the world that could keep us safe, but we're not children anymore. We have to keep moving to prevent anything bad happening. We had to leave our families to keep them safe. Right now, we don't have a permanent home." Annabeth took a shaky breath and paused. She let the two boys alone for a while in their own thoughts.
Thinking about it, Peter's heart sank. There were other people's lives that were affected by his brother's disappearance, not only himself. For some reason, he felt like he was responsible for all the things that happened in the past. He felt really bad for making Annabeth homeless.
"Nevertheless, we can't change it," Annabeth continued. "Names have power; everyone here knows that. My friend, the guy who will talk to you about Nameless, he was also part of the war and he contributed a great deal. Saying his name without his presence or permission will only make the monsters go wild and hunt for him. You could say he's top on the most wanted list. I'm still surprised that he's still managing fine today."
"I wish I could meet this guy. He seems awesome…" Leon commented. Peter couldn't help but agree. If Annabeth trusted him, then he could trust that person too.
"I have a question," Peter asked. "You said we can't say the name of the person who fought in the war unless we're near him or have his permission. What do you mean by permission?"
"Well, what else does it mean? Ask the person if you can speak his name," Annabeth simply stated. "Peter, what was the first thing I said to you when you first came here?"
"Uh, you've grown?" Peter said sheepishly.
"You can call me Annabeth?"
"That's permission," Annabeth pointed out. "I told you that you can freely call me Annabeth. But of course, this doesn't apply to every half-blood. Just us."
"Now that we at least know where to go," Annabeth said, "the next question will be: how do we get there?"
Leon raised his hand like he was in class. "Well, we could use the mall passages," he suggested.
Annabeth nodded. "It's unsafe to travel by air now. You've seen the local news; there were cases of airplane crashes because half-bloods were on board. The reasons are unknown, but our best guess is that Zeus does not like flying demigods and monsters, unlike before. The only means for a safer journey is by land or sea. But four years ago, three sons of Hades built passages underground, passages that connect through all the country's states. The entrances to the passages are inside shopping malls. And a shopping mall is not a place for a demigod."
"How come?" Leon asked. "And why the mall if it's not safe for us?"
"While the mall has packs of monsters roaming the stores, the place is also full with mortals. The mortals' scents can mask a demigod's own scent. If you're lucky enough, you could pass by without those creatures noticing you." Annabeth stood up from her seat and turned her back to them. "Tomorrow, Argus will drop you off to the nearest mall. Before that, you need to prepare yourselves. We need two half-bloods to accompany Peter. Claire could be a good candidate-"
"Whoa, whoa, slow down, miss…" Leon interrupted, "…Claire? Are you serious?"
Annabeth eyed at him. "Claire is a skilled demigod. She has more quest experience than the rest of you. Is there something wrong with it?"
"Ah… then could you give us a chance to have quest experience too?" he asked, rather sardonically. Annabeth chose to ignore it.
"Sure, Leon, you could be the third person. You know Peter much more than the others. This way, you'll have better teamwork." She sounded like she was calculating the chances of winning a lottery. "Well, do you want to come with him?" Annabeth finally asked. Leon hesitated, and then nodded.
"Fine, I always wanted to get out of camp for a while and do other stuff, you know."
Annabeth faintly smiled. It was probably the best smile she could muster up. "Could you call Claire and tell her to come here? I will tell her the basic details of Peter's quest. Then, tomorrow, you'll be going. Best be prepared."
Leon left without a word, maybe unhappy to the fact that he would be with Claire throughout the whole trip. Peter remained seated for a while, thinking. Then he asked Annabeth, "Can't you come with me in this quest?"
Annabeth shook her head. "No, we have our own problems to tend to. But just gives us a ring and we'll try our best to help you out."
"Thanks," Peter said. He was about to follow Leon outside when he remembered something else. He turned his back to the door and asked Annabeth once more, "Quests usually have prophecies to guide you, right? Percy told me once. Do… do I have to get one too?"
Annabeth blinked, rubbed her arm and sighed. "Yes, you're correct, Pete. But for this one… there is no prophecy to help you out."
Chapter Four: We Behead The CashierEdit
- Four -
We behead the cashier
"Well, you're set now. I heard that Wichita is a breezy place during the winter, so keep your coat on. Did you sleep well last night?" Rachel said to the young boy. Peter hesitated, and then shook his head. The older woman patted his shoulder. "At least you're being honest," she said. They were at the top of Half-Blood Hill, where the pine tree stood serving as a border for the camp. Rachel was there to help Peter out with his own things to bring in the quest.
She looked around her surroundings and saw Leon and Claire, who were walking down the hill to the road, arguing about something. She sighed. "Those two…when will they ever make up?"
Argus, the camp's security guard, was walking down towards the van in his chauffeur outfit, jingling his keys, whistling a tune. Five of his eyes were staring at Peter. Rachel stared back at him in a funny way. "He seems like he's in a good mood," she said to herself. She shook her head, smiling, and once again turned to Peter. "Well, time to go now. I wish you the best of luck."
Peter briefly nodded. Now that the day had come, he didn't feel excited anymore. If anything bad would happen, he would be held responsible since he was the one leading this quest. And learning that he would go without knowing what was ahead of them, it was making him more anxious.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot." Rachel took out an item wrapped in cloth and handed it to him. "Here, Annabeth said you should bring this with you." Peter unfolded the cloth and in his hand he held a sheathed combat knife. He blinked. This was the same knife he saw back at the Big House.
"Celestial Bronze can't hurt mortals; I learned that the hard way. You can only fight monsters and demigods with it," Rachel said. "This was Annabeth's knife. She wanted you to have it for a while. It'll keep you safe."
"But…I don't know how to fight," Peter murmured. He didn't have demigod training like Leon and Claire. He didn't have ADHD that would help him out as battle reflexes. And to fight with a knife that may hurt his companions… he wasn't so sure if he was even worthy of wielding something like this.
"You don't have to unsheathe the blade all the time. Just think of this as a luck charm. It may be a burden, but who knows, it might come in handy," Rachel said. "And here's a luck charm from me." She tossed something that gleamed in midair. Peter caught it on his palm. It was a large gold coin with a person stamped on it.
"It's not much, but it should somehow help you out."
At the road, the van's horn blew.
"They're waiting for you." Rachel sighed, "Now, hop along, get moving. These half-bloods are impatient critters."
"W-wait…mind if I ask you one unrelated question?" Peter quickly said, "There are some demigods that are called children of the Big Three, right? Annabeth mentioned that the children of Hades made the mall passages. Are there any other Big Three children who are still alive?"
"There are the three sons of Hades, yes. The Boston brothers who are currently staying at this camp, and the third one, he's a survivor of the last war so he's in hiding. And then there are the Grace siblings, children of Zeus. The older one is currently a Hunter of Artemis, and the younger one is also in hiding."
"Any children of Poseidon?"
Rachel started pushing Peter towards the van. "Percy was the last son of Poseidon that we know. Well, in the Greek side anyway. We don't know much about the Roman side."
Then Peter stopped himself. When he looked around to face the young woman, he caught sight of something etched on the side of Rachel's neck: a red Greek letter. He didn't notice it until now. Before he would ask about it, Rachel shoved him to the shotgun seat of the van. "Have a safe trip, guys." She waved. "And please say hello to Mr. Flamingo for me!"
"Who is Mr. Flamingo?" Leon—who was sitting in the back—asked incredulously.
"The guy you'll be meeting," she replied. "He goes by that alias now. Rumor has it he's fond of the color pink lately, but maybe that's just me."
Argus started the engine and drove slowly out of her sight. Peter took one last glance of her and Camp Half-Blood. He sensed that this trip was going to be a long one.
Though she wasn't close anymore, Peter noticed Rachel putting her hand on her neck, like she was hiding a scar that had troubled her for a lifetime.
The group arrived at one mall entrance. It was crowded with groups going in and out, children crying, people talking on cell phones, the usual mall business.
"Man, it's been a long time since I visited one of these places," Leon commented. Claire stared at him, holding her silver cross and muttering something in Latin.
"We've got to hurry," she said. "The entrance is at the customer service. We have to be quick if we want to remain unnoticed."
Leon arched an eyebrow. "How do you know that the entrance is in there?"
"I've been here twice in the past when I'm going on quests. Now, come on…"
They walked past a few stores; some of them had interesting items on sale. Leon once stopped to stare at the new gaming gadget. "This is so cool…" he kept muttering "…if only camp could let these kinds of things there."
It also had been a while since Peter had gone to malls. The last time he did was maybe two, three years ago? Peter vaguely recalled the reason why he stopped hanging out. Though he remembered there was something in malls that kept scaring him…
Claire raised a hand, gesturing the two boys to stop on their tracks. She cocked her head at one side. "Our first monster," she said. Leon turned his head to look at the direction Claire was pointing and gaped. "No way…that big?"
His curiosity overwhelming him, Peter turned his head to take a glimpse of the monster. The monster was standing only a few yards from them, his head turning to every direction. Peter looked closely, and then he felt his heart thumping in his throat. Head of a bull, a body of a man…a familiar description he remembered from the stories.
"He seems to looking for us," Claire stated. "But he's still confused." She looked pale, a clear sign that this was the first time she had seen the Minotaur up close. "We better sneak around him while he still hasn't spotted us."
But it was too late. The Minotaur's bloodshot eyes were staring at them. At Peter.
"I guess he's attracted to your hair," Leon scowled at Claire, "But now the best option is to run!" They sprinted pass confused and aggravated customers, and hid at the nearest shop, a bookstore. They moved toward the Young Adults section and stopped behind the bookshelves. "Y-you think we lost him?" Peter wondered. He was still shaking from the early shock. It wasn't his first time seeing monsters close, but back then they weren't attacking him because Percy was with him, maybe except…
"Shhh! He's coming…" Claire whispered urgently. The monster came into view. He was wearing a security guard uniform that was stretching out due to his large body. He sniffed the air for a moment, and then approached a customer, a fat man wearing a tourist shirt. The Minotaur was grunting and groaning and making hand gestures. Whatever he was saying, the tourist understood it.
"I'm guessing that man thinks our monster's a tall security guard, huh?" Leon pondered. He looked slightly amused at this. They watched the monster shook his head and exited the store. Peter breathed a sigh of relief; safe for now. But it was a mistake for them to relax too early.
"There you are!" someone from their right side shrieked. They snapped their heads to the voice's direction, and to their dismay, they had met monster number two. It was a green lady wearing a staff uniform (with a tag cashier), and instead of feet she had two snake tails. And she was holding a spear. It was creepy of her to smile innocently at them while raising the spear to Leon and Claire, but when she looked at Peter, her expression hardened. "You are not the ssson of Poseidon," she hissed. "What are you, child?"
Before Peter would answer, the monster brought out her talons then managed to scratch his left shoulder. Peter was taken aback by the pain. His vision suddenly blurred and his knees buckled; he felt like he was burning.
"Mortal!" he heard the monster shriek. "This child is—!"
She was abruptly stopped halfway by the sound of something sharp cutting through, and a there was a disgusting thud shortly after that.
"Well, that should shut her up," Leon said. Peter's vision slowly came together and he saw Leon and Claire in front of him, weapons raised. The snake lady earlier was gone, leaving the smell of something burnt in the air.
Claire knelt down and checked Peter's wound. "This is not good. She poisoned you. Do you feel alright?"
"Well, what do you think?" Peter scowled.
"This needs to be healed with magic." She ignored Peter's retort. "We have to find someplace safe. Leon, help me get Peter up."
They exited from the store and trotted to find the customer service. The people inside seemed to notice the commotion at the bookstore. The group moved quickly toward the end of the mall when they heard a piercing roar. The ground shook slightly and came out from one corridor was a large red reptile the length of two buses. The monster stared directly Peter, and for a moment he felt a familiar and dreadful feeling he had never felt for a long time; it only happened whenever he would confront…
"A dragon," Claire said, gritting her teeth. "It appears it doesn't have any wings."
"Well, we can't fight something that large," Leon said, backing away with Claire, "and with all these people around."
The dragon crouched down and glared at Peter, who was rooted on the spot, shaking in panic. He couldn't even feel the pain of his wound anymore. He thought of getting out the knife Rachel gave to him, but he couldn't bring himself to do it; the feeling of nostalgia and fear was taking over his body. Just when the monster was about to roar again, someone caught Peter's arm and pulled him away from the dragon's blazing breath.
"What's got into you, man?" Leon said, "You're going to get yourself barbecued!"
"Get behind me," Claire said, bringing out a bow and a silver arrow from her backpack. She aimed at the dragon's head. The two lads followed her order. "On my mark, follow my lead," she instructed. She waited for a second and then fired the weapon. The arrow went through the reptile's head clean and, with one last roar, stumbled down and lay motionless.
"Now!" she cued. They ran around the stilled dragon and went straight to the department store.
"What was that? The arrow," Peter said, exhausted from all the running. "It's not dead," Claire replied, "It'll only paralyze him for a few seconds, but he's still on our tail, like right now."
Sure enough, the ground shook again when, from the corner of Peter's eye, they saw the dragon trotting behind them, furious. Thankfully, they had arrived at the customer service. Two women were at the counter, staring at them suspiciously. "May I help you?" one of them asked politely.
"We…we need a passage to Wichita, Kansas." Claire said breathlessly while fishing out a golden coin from her pocket—the same kind of coin Rachel had given to Peter—then handed it to the woman. She stared at the coin blankly. "Hurry!" Leon alerted, looking behind. Not only was the dragon charging straight at them, but the Minotaur from earlier had joined the stampede.
After another second's silence, the woman sighed. "Alright, get in. Wichita is in door three hundred and sixty three," she said casually. The other woman opened a door at the back of the area and gestured the group in. Claire jumped over the counter and ran inside. Leon helped Peter climb up and followed suit. "Remember, door three hundred and sixty three," the woman said, and then she closed the door with a click. Then silence. No sound of stampede or roaring giants.
"Safe, for now and for sure," Leon said, sitting down on one corner and closing his eyes. "I need a nap, just for a while," he added. Peter nodded in agreement. He clutched his wounded shoulder to ease the pain and tried to stop himself from bleeding to death.
"This is very unusual," Claire said. She slumped at another corner and put her bow down. "This mall doesn't have any large monsters; only dracaenae and Laistrygonian giants. But a dragon…and the Minotaur! Something's wrong."
"Gee, you noticed just now?" Leon said sarcastically.
Claire was right, though. Something was definitely wrong. Every monster they had encountered, they were all looking straight at Peter, like he was their long-time enemy. Especially the dragon. Peter had the feeling that red dragon wanted him eaten in one go. Could monsters even distinguish the difference between mortal and half-blood? Did they know about this quest?
Peter remembered what that snake lady had said to him. "You are not the son of Poseidon."
What had made them think he was a demigod?
Chapter Five: Robot Animals Save The DayEdit
- Five -
Robot Animals Save The Day
"H-hey, is that going to hurt?" Peter stammered.
Claire rolled her eyes. "No," she said simply. She pressed her hand against Peter's wound, and muttered something in Greek. She slowly brought her hand back and watched the wound close itself, the pain subsiding. Peter suddenly felt great. He felt like he could punch someone in the face (which was very unlike him). "You're cured, for now," Claire said, "until we could get proper treatment."
"You mean it's still not healed?" Peter said incredulously, blinking. Claire shook her head, stood up and looked around. They were still in the mall's underground passage. It was a narrow hallway so long Peter couldn't even see the end of it. It had steel walls and there were many kinds of doors (the most common doors seen were the big, metal, and flowery kinds) with numbers on top of each. Blue neon lights lit the way.
Leon came back from scouting the hallway, looking exhausted. "Ah, what number is the door we're supposed to find?" he panted, "Three-six-three?"
"Three hundred and sixty three,"Claire corrected. "But yes. We're from door three hundred seven, so it's not far."
"Well, I found it." He pointed at Peter's right. "Can we get out of here? This place is making me uneasy."
"Your claustrophobic senses tingling?" Claire teased. Leon scowled at her and took his bag from Peter.
"This place…is there any end to this?" Peter said as they walked toward their destination.
"Actually, there were rumors that Nico di Angelo, one of the people who built this, is not yet finished with the construction," Claire replied. "He has plans to make more passages. Some say he is planning to make passages that will lead outside the states. Who knows, he might be in the very end of this hallway."
"Spooky," Leon shivered. "Some guy waiting for us at the very end."
"That name sounds familiar to me…" Peter pondered. He recalled a Nico in his memories, but he couldn't pin it down. He tried whacking his head. He knew he'd heard it somewhere.
"Well, of course you should know!" Leon said. "He's a celebrity in the mortal world, an actor. Rumors say he's over a hundred years old. But that's just gossip and the internet. He looks twenty-something to me."
"We're here." Claire announced. They stopped in front of a normal looking door with a sign that said, "Janitor's Room". Above the door were the numbers three-six-three.
"Wow, we're already in Kansas in like an hour!" Leon said, checking his watch. "Must be a world record or something." Then he opened the door and took a peek for a second. "All good, no monsters in sight," he said.
The group moved away from the passageway and blended in with the shoppers. The temperature had gone lower and even inside the warm mall, everyone was still shivering. "Gods, I should've brought another jacket with me," Claire complained to no one in particular.
"So, we're here. Now, where's the guy who's going to pick us up?" Leon looked around. "No one seems to mind us."
"Maybe we have to wait for him," Peter said. Claire shook her head. She had been doing that a lot today. "No, we have to find somewhere safe before another wave of monsters could attack us."
"Speaking of monsters," Leon chimed. "Not a single one of them in sight. Not even staff monsters. Do you think it's strange?"
"No, wait…" Claire said, stopping at her tracks. "Look…at that shop." She pointed at one store that was fairly crowded with people, mostly adults carrying bronze swords.
"Hermes's Godly Supplies," Leon said. "Whoa, a store for demigods?" He exchanged looks with Claire. "We might as well check it out," she said.
When they entered the store, Peter felt like something was pressing him down. The store was vast, with plenty of items displayed on shelves and walls, and there were many customers, though it didn't take much space. But Peter could feel the same powerful force he felt back at camp, especially when he was at the porch on his first day, sitting beside a god and three more people from the Greek myths. Maybe it was the demigods' aura in this store, since most of the customers had weapons hanging on their belts.
"This is so cool," Leon said. "Weapons, ambrosia…they have it all."
Claire looked around the shelves, picked up a powder bottle and read the label. "'Aphrodite's Magical Powder: apply and your demigod scent won't be detected. Magic lasts for an hour for one slap.' Wow, this is really impressive. Do you really think it'll work?"
"Why, yes, of course it will!" someone said. A staff member appeared behind them. He was tall with short brown hair, freckles on his face, and wore a red vest over a white sweater. He grinned at the three of them. "From Aphrodite herself, delivered to us by our father, Hermes. Five drachmas or fifty dollars, if you want one."
"So you guys manage the store?" Leon asked.
The man nodded. "Just me and my brother. Right now, we're the center of any demigod resources here, other than Medea's department store, which gives out bad deals, though you have to check out her stuff. It's really cool, but very pricey." The man cringed at the thought. "We get a lot of orders from Camp Half-Blood, and traveling demigods can visit the shop for some extra supplies. Today, we have a lot of customers because, well, let's face it, tomorrow's the winter solstice. Half-bloods who aren't yet brought to safety, well, need to be brought to safety, before the monsters can eat them. To camp, of course."
"Umm, how come there aren't any monsters roaming around the mall?" Peter said. "I thought malls are supposed to be dangerous?"
The employee chuckled. "Yes, you're right about that. But this is Wichita, the safest place for any demigod in America other than Camp Half-Blood. Demigods everywhere you look. We're like the camp, except with no magical borders because we can't make one. A few demigods guard the streets of the city, disintegrating the monsters immediately when caught in sight, while the majority of the group here are searchers, helping out satyrs look for stray half-bloods outside the city and bring them to camp for training. The demigods here are mostly adults; some of them are from the big Gaea war. Right now, the searchers are preparing themselves for their next big search because winter solstice is the day where the Olympian gods meet up, leaving no one to watch over us. Oh, and monsters are stronger during that day."
"Ah, you sure have organized a lot for the safety of the half-bloods, like you actually formed a big group," Claire said. "If that's the case, then there is supposed to be a leader, right?"
The employee tilted his head to the right, thinking. "Yes, I suppose he is the one in-charge, since he started this idea six, maybe seven years ago. Besides, he's also the one who made the store's weapon supplies."
"Then, could he be, umm…well, Mr. Flamingo?" Peter said. "Could you tell us who he is? We're trying to find him."
When he heard the name, the employee stifled a laugh. "D-did you hear that, Connor?" he shouted at the counter to another employee, who was also laughing. "Those people at camp are calling him a bird! They are really not going to take him seriously with that name! But that's him alright!"
They laughed for another minute (the customers were staring at them oddly), then slowly recovered from their secret joke.
"Ah, sorry about that, but yeah, that's him. Though, we don't have permission to speak his real name except when he's around." The employee smiled apologetically while wiping a tear. "But you can ask my brother, Connor, at the counter, for the address on where he lives. The place is not far from here, actually."
"Alright, thanks a lot!" Leon said, recovering from his own chuckle. The threesome walked across the shop to the payment counter, where another man who almost looked like the employee earlier manned the place.
"Now that we have a lead, do you think this is the guy we're looking for?" Claire said uncertainly.
"I think he's the one," Peter replied. Leon nodded in agreement.
When Claire paid for one bottle of Aphrodite's powder, they asked for Mr. Flamingo's address. Connor the cashier wrote it down on paper and passed it to them. "But I think he's on patrol today, since many searchers are going out of the city to begin their search," he reminded them. "There's going to be a lot of monsters flooding the roads later, so I doubt he's home."
"We're still giving it a shot. And thanks a lot," Claire said.
Connor smiled, "No problem, just come again next time!"
"Sure!" Leon said, and then the three stepped out from the store, exited the mall and went into the streets.
The sky was littered with dark clouds, giving an ominous feel to the city. The streetlights were on and only a few cars drove on the slippery roads. There weren't any pedestrians on the side streets.
"Isn't it dangerous for a demigod to live here?" Claire said as they walked down a snowy street. "I mean…I think there are more than a hundred of them staying here altogether, maybe the monsters outside the country can sniff them out."
"Relax, the store already explained how things are working here," Leon said, "Wichita is a place for adult demigods, while Camp Half-Blood is a place for demigod children. Besides, they must have been applying that powder you bought to keep themselves hidden." They turned to a corner near a bus stop.
Claire took out the paper with the address and read it carefully. "It's…actually far, not too far though. It's in walking distance, but we can ride a bus if you all want to," she said.
"We'll just walk. There's no harm in doing a little exercise in the winter," Leon said.
Just then, Peter's phone rang. Leon and Claire exchanged looks, and then quickly took a few steps back away from Peter. Peter gave them a bewildered expression. "W-what's wrong with my cell phone?"
"You didn't tell me that you own one," Claire said, rather shakily. "You know those things act like flares in the sky so they could find us."
Peter chose to ignore them and answer the call. It was Annabeth on the other side of the line. He was glad to hear from her.
"Hey, it's me. How's it going?"
"Uh, well, we're fine. We were attacked by a few big monsters an hour ago but yeah, we're still…fine," Peter said sheepishly.
"An hour ago?" Annabeth pondered. "Ah…never mind. But glad you're all fine. Listen, Pete, I have something for you. I just got news from my friend who volunteered to search Percy's soul in the Underworld."
"R-really, what is it then?" Peter couldn't stop his voice from shaking. Either it was caused by his excitement to know or the cold winter air making him shiver.
"He Iris-messaged me just now, saying…well, that Percy is dead, but…there is no soul."
"What do you mean?"
"Percy's soul isn't at the Underworld, even though Hades himself explicitly stated he is dead." Annabeth's voice was also shaking. "They don't know how or why. But in the past, Thanatos searched for it, the soul. But he gave up shortly, telling Lord Hades that it's really gone for good."
"So…there's a chance Percy's still…alive?"
Annabeth hesitated. "I don't know. Maybe? But that's why you're in this, right? Anyway, did you already meet him?"
"That Mr. Flamingo guy? Uh…no, we're looking out for him, though."
"…uh, oh…huh? Sorry, Pete. I have to go. There's something going on outside, and Chiron is calling me out. I'll talk to you later. Stay together, alright?"
Annabeth abruptly hung up. Peter was left on the phone, confused. At least he knew that this search wasn't a waste of time. He put it back in his coat's pocket and turned to his companions. "Let's keep moving," he told them.
Then suddenly an arrow whistled past Peter's head and stuck itself on a tree. Peter stood stiffly, still unable to understand what had happened seconds ago. Leon and Claire, who seemed to have sensed something, quickly took out their weapons and moved closely at him. They snapped their heads in different directions, searching for the attacker. There was no one. The area was deserted.
A moment later, a rain of arrows came down from the sky. The group sprinted from point of range and continued to run, not looking back. But then, a horde of monsters appeared from back alleys and buildings and cornered the threesome. They quickly backed away and turn around, but they were greeted by another group. Leon and Claire searched frantically for a narrow way out, but Peter knew they were hopelessly surrounded.
"It was the phone, isn't it?"
Leon scowled at Claire while eyeing each Laistrygonian giant and dracaena surrounding them. "So you're blaming Pete?"
"I didn't say that."
Peter took out Annabeth's bronze knife and unsheathed it, though he wasn't sure how he was going to use it. It was too small to fight big and tough enemies, and he didn't know how to use knives in combat.
"I don't understand," said Claire. "What's going on? Why are there so many monsters chasing us?"
"Oh, I will tell you, miss," someone from above chimed. "We only want that half-blood." Then the speaker landed on the ground and came into view. He was riding the same red dragon from the mall (Peter took a step back). The man wore dark winter robes and his facial features were handsome, pale and fine like he was made from ivory. He looked down at them with his blue eyes.
"No way, when did this dragon get wings?" Leon exclaimed. The man in robes raised his hands in the air and smiled in triumph to them.
"Why, I gave it to him," he said. Then he turned his head to Peter with a look of curiosity and disgust. "You do not look familiar," the man pondered. He stepped down from the dragon and approached one of the snake ladies. "This is not him. Are you sure this is him? I do not think so," he said with distaste.
The snake lady looked offended. "But, sir Iamusss, he smellsss like him," she hissed, pointing her bow at Peter. "He smellsss like Perseus Jackson."
"No! This boy is not Perseus Jackson!" Iamus bellowed. "Do you not notice it? You creatures keep relying on your noses! All of you are blind!" He turned his back to the group. "He is not the one we are looking for."
"You…you know my brother?" Peter said uncertainly. Then everyone's eyes were on him, and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand. Iamus narrowed his eyes. Leon and Claire drew their weapons tightly and moved their backs closer to Peter.
"Brother?" Iamus said. "Perseus Jackson does not have any brother other than the Cyclopes Tyson. I do not know what you are talking about. Unless…unless…"
The dragon growled and took a step back. The other monsters aimed their spears and arrows at the threesome. The giants drew their clubs and big swords. Peter tensed and held the knife tighter.
"Unless you are the one in the prophecy," Iamus finally said. He stared at the sky for a while, and suddenly burst with fits of laughter. The monsters were looking at each other with puzzled looks on their faces. "Now it makes perfect sense!" Iamus mused, covering his face with his hands. "Our search here is not in vain, ladies and gentlemen!" He looked at the dracaena from earlier. "Are you sure he smells like our favorite person?" he asked gleefully.
The dracaena blinked, but answered, "Yes, sssir."
"Then we could stop the prophecy from happening right here, right now. We are very lucky today." He smiled at the three friends. "Why, you two, why don't you just back away and leave your friend here to die for us?"
"We're not leaving him," Leon said, gripping Peter's shoulder. Claire nodded and aimed her arrow towards Iamus.
Iamus shook his head, still smiling. "I pity you, children. It was your only chance to escape. Nonetheless…"
He was about to snap his fingers to signal an all-out attack when something pounced on him and knocked him down on the snow. A large canine made of bronze growled on top of Iamus. Dozens more came charging at the surprised monster army, and seemed to force them away from Peter's group. The monsters fought and tried to graze them, but the wolves' bronze hide were sturdy.
"Automatons!" Claire said, looking excited. "There are still more of them?"
Behind their group, someone said, "Listen Iamus, buddy. This is my city, my turf. How many times do I have to tell you that if I caught your people, especially your monsters, skipping around the streets of my home…" he paused for a while, thinking, and then said, "…I'm seriously running out of puns to use. But I'm telling you, man: stay away from this city."
Iamus pushed the bronze hound away from him and stood up, unfazed but enraged. "Do not interfere, son of Hephaestus. As much as we want you sent to Hades, we have our own matters right now."
Peter turned his head around to see a man walking towards them. He was around his late twenties, with curly black hair and—oddly—brown eyes that were so bright it looked like it was glowing in the dark. He was wearing a green winter jacket, goggles hanging around his collar, a band aid stuck on his cheek and a cigarette dangling on his mouth.
"Oh, I have my own matters too," he said. He looked at Peter, then at Leon and Claire. "Sorry I'm late," he said to them with an apologetic smile. "I was busy taking care of Nico's monster chase, but we're okay now. Annabeth sent you guys on a quest, right?"
"You are not going to take him away!" Iamus shouted, looking frustrated that he was being ignored. "Think about the prophecy! If you let this child live, who knows which side he will be on and what decision is he going to make in the future! He must be killed!"
The man scoffed, clearly unimpressed by Iamus' end-of-the-world theory. "Prophecies, blah-blah-blah, fate of the world lies in one child, yeah, we get those a lot. Mind if I request for something new and refreshing?"
Iamus didn't look like he was amused. He raised his hand and snapped his fingers. Then everything went silent. The monsters and automatons stopped fighting. There was a tense moment in the air until Iamus muttered angrily, "You just made a mistake coming straight to us, demigod…oh wait, you have a name, am I wrong? Could it be…Leo Valdez?"
The name rang throughout the street, and suddenly the monsters spun their heads to the man's direction. Their eyes glowed red and in a split second, they charged towards him.
"Kids, get behind me," he said calmly to Peter and the others. The three moved behind him, eager to see him do something cool. The monsters were closing in to him. The man was still standing on the same spot, lighting another cigarette.
"What's he doing?" Claire said, looking at him desperately.
The man kept flicking his Zippo lighter on, not minding everyone else. "Oh shoot, no more light," he finally said, sounding a bit disappointed. When the first giant was about to swing his club downwards, the man tossed the lighter up in the air.
A fiery blast spread all over the corner, sending monsters in every direction. Peter was sure they were still included in the explosion. He could feel the heat around him, but for some reason, he wasn't affected. A minute later, the explosion died down. When the smoke and debris cleared away, Peter looked around. The street was in flames. The man and Iamus were not in sight.
"I'm right here." Someone tapped his shoulder. Peter jumped and found himself in front of the man. He looked fine, not even a scorch mark on his clothes. He peered at Peter's back, and then he looked behind. He whistled, and the flames around the lot died down at once. Snow was starting to fall. It all went back to normal, just like that time when the tree went berserk.
The man moved around, and picked up his lighter from the ground and flicked it. A small flame came into view. He slightly smiled and put it back to his pocket along with the cigarette stick.
"Who…who are you?" Peter said, breathless. The man turned to him and smiled playfully, a trait Peter hadn't expected him to have.
"I thought you already knew because of that narcissistic oracle Iamus. Oh well. The name's Leo Valdez, your friendly neighborhood mechanic. Call me Leo whenever you like, just don't pass that permission to oracles. I don't give that big a fortune to such people. To some of them, though, I'm also known as Mr. Flamingo."
Chapter Six: Leon Weilds The Pink TowelEdit
Leon Wields The Pink Towel
"Yeah, I know." Leo dismissively waved his hand. "Rachel the oracle thought of that alias for me. At first I didn't like it, but then it grew on me. Okay!" he clapped his hands and motioned for Peter to stand up. "Grab your bags, wake your friends up. We're walking down to the auto shop. Need someplace to stay for the night? Then I'll lead you there, looking alright!"
"Uh, yeah…" Blinking at the poem the man had shared, Peter stood up and brushed the snow off his clothes. His body was still shaking from the events that had happened a minute ago. Everything just occurred in a rush. Then he noticed his two other companions on the ground, still unconscious. Peter hurried towards them and tried to wake them up. No luck. Their clothes were singed just like his, but they didn't have any serious injuries.
"Oh, don't worry," Leo said, looking over Peter's shoulder. "They're fine. Maybe they went through a shock from the explosion. After all, the lighter is a little bit rickety for me to use today. I could've set fire to the whole district."
When everyone finally felt awake, they walked down a dark empty street of the city, with only streetlights illuminating the way. Peter looked up to the sky, wiping out the snow that was coming to his eyes. He was guessing it was nighttime (how long had they been traveling?), but the place was making him uncomfortable; walking down an eerie looking street wasn't his ideal pastime. Then there were the automatons that had saved them earlier. They were walking around Peter's group in circles, searching in different locations, scouting small alleyways and messing up garbage cans. When they all turned to a corner, a few people ran past them in a rush, with bags slung to their backs. When passing them, the crowd greeted Leo with nods and good evenings.
"Oh hey, Leo!" someone said and came to him. The dude was slightly taller than Leo (about an inch or two) with an athletic build contrasting the latter's rather slim one. He had blond hair and brown eyes, and a bow was slung on his back with a duffel bag. He looked at Peter and his group and said, "These demis need some help?"
"Yeah, I'm bringing them to the shop," Leo said. "Speaking of it, how's he doing?"
"Oh, you mean Nico? He said he's going to check on something, but he'll be back."
Leo scratched his head. "That guy can't stay still for one minute. Ah well, can't blame him. Being chased by two hellhounds that weren't obeying him…it must be some demigod who said his name accidentally."
Peter and Leon looked at Claire, remembering the time when a certain name at the underground passage (they remembered it vividly, for some reason). Even though her face was red, Claire was giving the two boys a 'what-are-you-looking-at' look. "I'm sorry, I forgot, okay?" she defended.
Leo fished out a small piece of paper from his pocket and gave it to the man. "Oh hey, Billie, can you do me a favor? If you're going to camp, mind if you ask Mr. D for these things?" Billie took it and scanned the list. Then his eyes widened. "You're asking too much, Leo," he commented. "Two kilograms of Imperial Gold? That'll cost a lot! Besides, you don't use it often to make weapons or armor, so how come?"
"For some things." Leo waved his hand. Then he took something else out from his pocket. He gave a small brown pouch to Billie. "This should cover the debt and the payment," Leo said. "Oh and, Bill, can you say hi to Miss Lieutenant of Artemis for me? They're going to stop by at Camp too, right?"
Billie arched an eyebrow. "Yeah, they will. Okay then, as long as the Hunters won't shoot me down. But I'm telling you, pal, she's out of your league."
"Aha, maybe," Leo chuckled. After a few minutes talking about some not-important things, Billie left them with a goodnight greeting and went on his way. Peter's group continued to walk a few blocks until they reached a small two-storey auto shop located between two tall apartment buildings. The shop had roller shutters for its entrance. Leo looked down to one of the bronze wolves besides him. It was slightly larger compare to the rest of the pack. Leo said to it, "Salve, you know what to do."
The automaton barked and moved into the left narrow alley between the shop and the other building. The other automatons followed suit.
Leo was about to lift up the roller shutters of his house when he cursed in Spanish. "Keys are inside the place. I hate it when I keep forgetting them," he murmured, then turned to face the teenagers behind him. "Got any pins or any small pointy objects in your pockets?" he asked them.
Peter found his mother's hairclip after checking out his own pocket. His two companions looked at him funny, but Leo broke the awkward silence. "Just what I need, thanks."
After fiddling with the lock for a few moments, Leo pushed the shutter door upwards and entered.
When they stepped in, they were greeted by an old Honda car in pieces that was taking up most of the space of the garage. Displayed on the shelves were a few boxes; some of them were labeled, "Horse Shoes", "Bolts" and "Metal Pencils". There were maps, blueprints, drawings, and—oddly—a Transformers poster taped on the walls. Screws and bolts littered the floor. Leo gestured for the others to follow, then walked to the left side of the garage and opened a door at the back of the room. "Make yourselves at home," he said.
The next room was decorated like an old apartment. The lamps were the only things that were lighting the room. There were photos and frames filling up the walls. An unkempt sofa—with a leather tool belt hanging loosely on one aside—faced an old television, which looked like it was built on the sixties. At the back of the room were a dining table and a small kitchen. An old and tattered green military jacket was hanging on the wall. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, like Rachel's cave back at the camp. And, for whatever reason, the room smelled like breath mints. There were no signs of the color pink that might be displayed proudly in the room, to Peter's relief.
"So, uh…where do we crash the load?" Leon said, showing his backpack. The adult turned to him and pointed upward. Then he walked further to the back of the room, near the back door. He brought his hand up, closed it like a fist, and brought his hand down like pulling something from above. Startlingly, a trap door appeared on the ceiling, with a ladder being pulled down. "The beds and the bathroom are up here," Leo said, "Built especially for you people, if you need a place to stay for free."
"Do you sleep up there too?" Claire asked. Leo shook his head and pointed at the sofa. "Oh," was all Claire could manage to say.
"Come down here if you want hot chocolate or first aid," Leo added. They nodded and climbed up the ladder connecting to the second floor. Leon reached out for the light switch. The lights popped on revealing six beds in two rows on each side. There was a door at the other end of the room; the bathroom.
Claire plopped her bag on a bed near the door. Peter and Leon did the same, each choosing their own bed. When Peter sat down, there was a startling pain in his shoulder. He noticed that his clothes were starting to stain with fresh blood. "Mom's going to kill me for this," he muttered to himself. His friends noticed this shortly, and he was immediately taken back down to get proper treatment.
Then they noticed Leo was not alone; another man was sitting on the couch. He was tall, handsome, with dark hair and eyes and pale skin. He was wearing a dark winter coat, and fastened on his belt was a sheathed sword. He looked like a typical Goth, except he wasn't. His face looked familiar, Peter was sure he had seen it before somewhere. That's when Claire made a muffled sound with her mouth. "Oh my gods, it's Nico di Angelo! What's he doing here? Holy cows, he looks so hot!" she squealed. Leon stared at her while shaking his head in disgust.
Nico turned his head towards Peter's direction (ignoring Claire). Then he turned to the other adult and said, "Traveling demigods?"
Leo nodded, tilting his head at Peter. "Apparently, he's the one Annabeth's talking about. You know, missing brother…"
Nico blinked and stared. Then his eyes widened. "Oh, I see!" He sounded a bit amazed. "You must be Peter, right?"
"Did you hear from Annabeth earlier? About…well, you know."
"Yeah, she told me." But Peter's throat became dry. Now he remembered: Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades in Percy's stories. He had seen the guy on TV a few times, maybe in one of the movies he'd seen in the past, but he hadn't paid much attention. He had heard from Percy that Nico had gone through a lot of harsh things when he was a kid, but now he was managing fine.
"Right, well, we have some emergency here." Claire pushed Peter towards Leo. "He's got an injured shoulder. It can't be healed with magic."
Leo rubbed his chin, thinking. "I suppose it can't," he decided. "Well, sit down and I'll get the medic's kit. There's hot choco on the table if anyone wants one. And Nico," Leo glanced at the old television, "can you turn on the TV? I want to see what's going on in this hour."
"Hephaestus TV?" Nico asked, grabbing the remote and switching through channels.
"No, no, the channel before that," Leo said. "Channel five ninety-nine."
Claire passed mugs of hot chocolate to Leon and Peter. The three of them watched as Nico flipped through channels with three digits until it landed on 599. Strangely, the TV had high definition and fine stereo sound despite its old build. Leo came back with an aid kit and started tending Peter's shoulder wounds. Other than the pain on his shoulder, Peter felt like he was being pulled to the ground. With a place full of half-bloods, he was getting used to the pressuring atmosphere surrounding him, but there was something about Leo—maybe Nico as well—that was making him tired. His demigod aura? If it was, then it was powerful. Really powerful. He almost felt like those four people playing Pinochle at camp, combined.
"All done." Leo patted the bandaged wound—causing a surprised Peter to flinch. "Everyone must be tired from the trip. Maybe you should all go upstairs, get some rest, come back down in the morning and discuss things."
"But we're not tired," Peter said. "Besides, the trip wasn't really exhausting."
Leo jabbed a thumb to the digital wall clock; the time displayed was 11:38pm. "Kids like you should be sleeping at this hour," he commented.
"But we didn't even—but we—what the…" Claire stammered. "But the trip seemed like an hour or so, and we used the mall passages as a shortcut! How come…"
"The mall passages were built near the Labyrinth," Nico chimed in, not taking his eyes off the screen. "You all know about it, right? Back then, we used the Labyrinth to go to different locations with many entrances littered around America. Though inside, time acted weirdly and there were monsters trapped. A few years ago Kronos took advantage of the Labyrinth so he could invade Camp Half-Blood, which also had an entrance. When it disappeared during the time, we all agreed to make sure the rest had disappeared, or, at least, collapsed or caved in. It took me a while to find them all. Then you all know the rest, am I wrong? We built the new, safe passages, which are now guarded by mortals who could see through the Mist." Everyone nodded. They suddenly became exhausted from hearing the Labyrinth's back story. After a few minutes, Nico—who still did not move his eyes from the TV—almost jumped from his seat and called out, "Leo, you have to check this out."
"…another conflict over the northern side of Topeka," the female newscaster on TV said. "Sixteen half-bloods were injured, but, fortunately, no deaths. According to the mortal newscast, the mortals think that they've just seen a weird twister and assumed it was. Mao McKenzie, vice-mayor of Topeka and son of Hermes, is currently covering the issue from the mortals. It's no surprise that monsters would attack today. Later this evening will be December 21, Winter Solstice."
"It's going to be a busy night tonight, Becky," another newscaster said, "The searchers from the Esperanza-"
"Psst, Leo, they're mentioning you," Nico said, nudging Leo with an elbow.
"—had already moved out to start their search for young half-bloods. We don't know much about this organization, but they have been much of a help these past few years. It is rumored that the group resides somewhere in the Kansas state, but if the rumors are true, then they're doing a great job going undercover!"
Nico whistled. "They still haven't figured out? Wow, Leo, what's your secret?"
Leo pointed upwards again. "Aphrodite's magical powder, what else? It came straight from the goddess herself. But I don't use it. It's itchy and makes my hands purple."
"Well, it does say: '-not for Hephaestus' kids, may cause irritation,'" Claire chimed in while bringing out her own powder bottle and reading the label aloud. "Are you a Hephaestus' kid?"
"Yep." While saying that, Leo took out a cigarette stick from a pack and lit it with his lighter. Then he coughed. "I hate this. It's like fire in my throat," he murmured.
"Why smoke when you hate it?" Peter asked, curious.
"W-well, that's because tobacco, like the powder, hides half-blood stench, and can pass you as a mortal," Leo explained with a rough voice. "The smell of tobacco can disguise you. But I don't recommend it to you kids. Like ambrosia and nectar, taking too much can burn you up. A few teenage demigods like you in the past figured this out, and started smoking to hide from monsters and the like. They didn't know that taking too much was not the only thing that could kill you. I'd prefer sticking with stinky mortals if I were you. You know what: maybe I shouldn't take one right now. I don't feel like it." He threw the cigar in an ashtray besides him.
"…how much do you smoke per day?"
Leo shrugged. "I dunno. A pack or two per year, I guess. More on summer and winter Solstice, when the monsters will choose to eat me instead of the inexperienced youngsters."
"Why do they all want you?"
Leo shrugged again. It seemed that this was the only form of response he could muster for the night. "Who knows," he said. "Back then, it was Percy, but he knew how to hide pretty well. Wonder what his secret is…"
Awkward silence followed, with only the sound coming from the TV (showing a man in a sky-blue suit forecasting the weather while talking to his earpiece). Then Nico clapped his hands and stood up. "Well, I'm going to take my leave. I can't leave Mrs. O'Leary outside alone for a long while. She's sick today. Besides, I still have a good load of things to check into. And I had a call from Camp Half-Blood."
Leo also stood up and stretched. "I still have patrol duty. I'll have to stay awake, twenty-four-seven." He looked at the three other visitors. "Get some rest. I'll call you later."
Reluctantly, Leon and Claire climbed back to the second floor. Peter was about to follow them when someone grabbed his shoulder. "Come down here in four hours, and we'll talk about Nameless," Leo whispered.
Peter narrowed his eyes. "Why is that?"
"Because I don't want your friends getting cursed by the gods. Only the chosen few can pass the place, piece of cake. Unlike the rest of us, you won't get affected just knowing a few things about that place, but the gods are watching you. Very closely. You're invading someone private property so it's reasonable. But if your friends knew its secrets, the trouble is double to them."
Peter's mind was suddenly full of questions. "But, why only me?"
Leo patted Peter's shoulder. "I know you have loads of questions you want answered, but save them for later. Get some sleep. Talk to your friends for a while."
Seeing the man up close, Peter noticed a few things he didn't notice earlier. Despite his kind features, his eyes looked tired and there were small scars on his chin and near his eyes. Other than that, laugh marks on his cheeks. It reminded Peter of a retired veteran who went through a lot of things, laughed at it and left it behind like it was nothing else. He wondered if there was more in this man than what it meets the eye.
"Speak up, Leon. What's wrong?"
While arranging his bed, Peter looked up and found his two companions together. Leon was sitting on his own bed, staring at empty space while Claire looked down to him, not amused. Leon didn't seem to notice her. "Hey," she tried again, "snap out of it!"
Leon blinked and shook his head. "What? Oh, it's just you."
"You're quiet. You're never quiet."
"Glad to hear from you."
Other than Leon's side comment, Claire was right. Leon was always the one to ask questions, and sometimes he would think of something talk about and start a conversation. He was always looking for someone to talk with. But he remained silent throughout the time when they were down with Leo and Nico.
Leon shifted around his bed and sighed. "It's nothing important, really. Maybe it's just me."
"It's about this Leo guy."
"What's wrong with him?"
Leon shot an irritated look to Claire, and then sighed. "I…don't know exactly. There's something about him that makes me, well, gloomy? Like he's hiding something from us. Not in an evil way, of course!" He held up his hands in defense. "He's just—I don't know—sad."
"He didn't look sad to me. What made you think of that?" Claire asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I don't know. It's like I can read him. Not like mind-reading, more like emotion-reading. Lately, I've been feeling jumpy whenever there's a crowd around me." Leon shook his head and laughed. "Nah, that can't be. Forget what I said." He jumped out his bed and went to the bathroom. "I'm gonna go freshen' up, change and go to sleep." He closed the bathroom door behind him.
"That was…weird," Peter said quietly, but Claire caught his words.
"No, I don't think so. I think, I think…that was one of his demigod abilities: reading emotions. It came from his godly parent."
"So are you saying we'll know his godly parent soon?"
Claire nodded grimly. "But I don't know any god who could read emotions. Except the god Pan. But Pan faded away fifteen years ago, during the modern Titan war. Then again, Leon was born during that time, though I doubt the parent was the nature god. If it is Pan, then he should be a satyr, a kid with goat feet."
"Uh, how old is Leon, again?"
Claire tapped her chin. "Sixteen, I guess."
Peter gaped. Leon was a couple of years older than him. "But he looks younger."
"Some people are just like that," Claire concluded.
Someone in the bathroom shouted gleefully, "Oh, wow!"
"What now, Leon?" Claire shouted back. Leon came out of the bathroom holding a towel on his hand.
"Mr. Flamingo's towel is pink! I can't believe it!"
- Seven -
A Basement Full Of Bronze Artillery
With only a few hours of rest, Peter got out of bed and tip-toed down back to the living room. It was only three in the morning, but Peter couldn't go back to sleep. When he landed down, he noticed it was quiet. A lamp was left open. Peter could hear the monsters in a distance, which was making the hairs on his arms stand on end. Even through the dim lighting, Peter could see the colorful decorations of the room. He moved around, looking at the pictures on the walls. The people in the photos were mostly teenagers. In many of them, there was a teenage Leo Valdez, accompanied with two other people. His best friends, maybe? Leo looked young and happy in them. And then there was Annabeth, Rachel, Nico, and—not surprisingly—Percy in a few photos.
Peter turned his attention to the other things. There were certificates framed on the walls, among them was one congratulating Leo for graduating flight school years ago. Hand-drawn blueprints and maps were proudly taped on the ceiling. The green army jacket and the tool belt were left on the sofa, unkempt. The house reminded Peter of Rachel's cave back at Camp Half-Blood; it had the same warm atmosphere.
"Oh, you're awake already?" said a familiar voice behind him. Leo had stepped inside the house through the backdoor. "You're looking at them?"
"Ah well, I was just admiring, uh, the jacket." Peter pointed to the attire. Leo chuckled. "Yeah, I love that jacket. I lost it once, but I eventually found it in Aphrodite's private junkyard. I didn't know she had one." Leo closed the door behind him, moved towards his table, fished out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket and put them down. He caught Peter staring at the lighter. "Don't worry about this," Leo assured. "It's just a normal lighter. I just fixed it today, and it doesn't explode. By itself, anyway. Catch!" He tossed the item to Peter. For one dreaded moment, Peter thought it was going to explode, so he didn't catch it and let it skid on the floor.
"S-sorry, I thought it was going to, well, you know." Feeling embarrassed, he clumsily picked up the lighter and flicked it open. A small candle-like flame appeared, making his hands warm. "No worries, kid." Leo said. Silence followed, and then Leo spoke again, "So you're Percy's younger brother? Peter Blowfish?"
"Blofis," Peter corrected, "But don't worry. We get those a lot of times. It became a family joke. Percy sometimes slipped up by saying Blowfish, too."
"No surprises," Leo walked beside Peter, and stared at the pictures. He suddenly looked nostalgic. "Say, did your brother mention the Gaea war? That's what we call it now, generally. It happen a couple of months after the Titan War. So, did he?"
"I…don't think so," Peter said. "He only told me about the Titan War. I didn't know there was another one shortly after that, until Annabeth told me."
Leo sighed. "I guess that means that my name isn't familiar to you?"
Peter shook his head. "Sorry."
"What? Why are you apologizing?" Leo said, "It's no big deal, really. Though it would be nice to have my name known by a couple of cool people, but I guess that this war shouldn't be well-known. To you kids, anyway. Shouldn't go down to the history books, too. It was nasty, a lot of people died. But we won, so everything we did was good. It would be a cool bed-time story to tell to children, but to learn that's all true story, it'll give you nightmares." He laughed darkly, like it was some joke that he seldom heard around a prison.
"Percy was in this war, right?"
"Yeah. He went through a lot of things, I heard."
Peter gulped. "But he didn't tell me anything."
Leo nodded. "Maybe he was planning to, but he, uhh, disappeared before he could even start with it. I wish I could tell you the whole story, but maybe I couldn't deliver it like your brother's, and besides, I'll only tell you what I know. My friends, Jason and Piper, have their own side of the story. There are other people as well. The story's quite scattered around,so to grasp the entire tale is going to be difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. Your brother has his own views in this. Some say it's one of the most important. But sadly, he wouldn't tell it personally. Though maybe he did tell it to someone else."
"But that someone…is not me," Peter said, rather sulkily. He wasn't usually ashamed of talking about his brother, but at subjects like these, like learning more about Percy's life as a demigod, he would feel like a trespasser. And yet Peter wanted to know what had happened in the second war.
"Can you tell me what you think about the war?"
Leo tilted his head to his left, thinking. And doing so, his curly hair bangs swayed, and revealed on his right temple a mark similar to Rachel's: the red Greek letter. It hit Peter with a pang of curiosity. He didn't know what that letter mean, but he knew that there had to be a connection between Leo and Rachel. A secret? An ability? A relationship? Before he could ask, Leo interrupted with his answer, "Maybe next time, kiddo. My story's too long, too personal, unlike the others. Besides, we aren't here to talk about the Gaea war. We're here to discuss about Nameless, right?"
Peter was disappointed to know that Leo wasn't interested in talking about the war. He was deciding what to say. To ask, rather. But after a moment's hesitance, Peter simply replied, "Yes."
He was still holding Leo's lighter. In close examination, anyone could tell that the lighter was personalized because of the hammer emblem engraved on one side near the initials LV. Peter handed it back to Leo, but he didn't take it. "Keep it for a while," he said to Peter, "Though you have to return it to me eventually. That's my favorite lighter. And by returning it means that I'll be seeing you. And then maybe I'll tell you my story of the war and pretty much the other questions you want to be answered. Deal?" He winked.
Peter reluctantly accepted. For the past twenty-four hours, people had been giving him stuff that he couldn't even use. He only carried them as luck charms, though heavy. He kept them anyway, since they were trying to help him out. But what could Peter do with all these things?
"Now, let's go downstairs and talk about the place." Leo rubbed his hands together. "Because I'm not giving any chances for eavesdroppers. If they're around the house…"
"Downstairs?" Peter said. He didn't see any other doors other than the ceiling trapdoor, and the two doors leading to the exit.
"The building's got a basement. Come on," Leo gestured towards the back door.
Turned out, it wasn't a door leading to a backyard. They were in another small room with nothing except a trapdoor on the floor. "Every Hep kid has to have these, you know." Leo knelt next to the door and opened it. Light came out and filled the room. "It's probably the only place where we could get our hands busy," he continued. "I'm really thinking of building an elevator for this. Or maybe a fire pole. Whaddya think?"
Peter was too distracted to answer. The basement didn't look like a basement at all. It looked like underground hangar connected to the house with a steel ladder. The ground was more than ten feet below. "This is just…crazy."
Leo snorted. "Really? Well, I think Bunker Nine is still bigger than this."
They descended down to the basement. When Peter moved away from the ladder, his eyes wandered to every corner of the hangar. Light blared from the top, making the place look gold. On top of worktables were toys, weapons, and unfinished projects. Large white drapes hanged high on the ceiling, blocking one corner of the room from sight. A silhouette of a big machine in development could be seen, though Peter couldn't make out its exact shape. At the other end of the room, a huge steel door with a circular glass pane was chained shut, with a large bronze padlock in the middle to go with the decorations.
"So, uh, what's this?" Peter pointed at the drapes covering the project.
"Well, it's something I've been working on for the past ten years," Leo replied, "Fortunately, it's almost done, but you can't see it just yet."
"And, umm, how about the door?" Peter added, before he could stop himself. "What's inside it?"
Leo hesitated, like he was expecting the question to spring up but couldn't decide what to answer. "Go see it for yourself, but don't go too near," he finally said. Leo looked a bit anxious.
Now Peter was starting to regret for asking about it.
Peter approached the door. His heart was thumping fast, expecting something inside to jump up and scare him. He stopped in front the door. Peter looked back, and saw Leo behind him, watching him with both interest and anxiety. Peter swallowed, squinted and peered through the window. There was a tall panel in the middle of the room. On top of it, a locket held in a glass. Peter didn't find anything strange with it, except there was something about the room that made him feel… guilty? Something was making him uneasy. All of a sudden, he was overwhelmed with guilt, anger, dissatisfaction. He wanted to break into the room, take the locket and destroy it. Something was making him frustrated, bothered.
Someone pulled Peter away from the door. "Okay, that's enough," Leo said, quickly bringing him towards an empty worktable. "Take a breather for a while."
Peter shook his head frantically, taking out all the unnecessary feelings. His body was quivering. If it weren't for Leo, he could've done something bad. "What is that?"
"Something taken from Tartarus," Leo said, but he didn't add anything else aside from that. "Claire was a close call too. She almost broke the padlock."
"She and Leon also came down here a few hours ago. Actually, I came up to check on all of you when those two were still awake. You were asleep already. I decided to let them see this place and told them where you'll be going for the next few days."
Peter's heart sank. He was beginning to think that—out of all his companions—he was the only one to see this basement, only to be proven wrong about it. Don't dwell on it, Pete. It's not important.
"I only told them where you should go next, but I didn't flesh out the details on Nameless, like I told you earlier," Leo said while bringing out a map of the United States from under the table. "You can tell this info to your friends or anyone in particular. You're free to do so. But, uh, there will be trouble. Most say that Nameless is the 'resting place' for some heroes, but nobody, not even the gods, can prove that completely. They couldn't find it, and when people did start a quest in finding it, they didn't come back. Some say their souls weren't registered in the Underworld. But you know what's the twist of all this? The Nameless I'm talking about right now… is what the people think of it."
Leo paused to give Peter time to take it in, but he didn't understand what the man was saying.
"Let's start with a back-story. Nameless is a sacred place which stuck with us since the beginning of time. Maybe at the time when Ouranos and Gaea-" he said the latter's name with a bit of distaste, "-were still building up the whole world with their relatives. But some people think that it was Pandora who built the place with her husband. I go with the latter theory, if you're curious. Anyway, the funny thing about it is that the Olympian gods had only discovered the place seven years ago, and then all of a sudden, Bam!"
Leo brought down his hand to the table, which startled Peter.
"'No trespassing; private property'. They punished the other gods and a couple of people who knew the place's existence by changing their memories about it into fabricated ones, since god memories can't be erased. Doctored description, rumour-ized, gossip-ized, something like that. The only thing that they didn't change is the fact about their souls. There were cases that some souls who made trips there went missing and were never found. Nobody knows how and why. After that, the gods spread their new idea of Nameless throughout the world just for the fun of it, to see how the people would react. But they didn't know about us."
From somewhere above, thunder rumbled and the hairs on Peter's neck stood up. Leo simply clicked his tongue and shook his head. "Ignore it, Pete. He's just talking nonsense."
"W-w-wait, what do you mean by that?"
"Don't worry about it." Leo waved his hand dismissively. "Now where was I? Oh yeah. The Olympians thought that they were the only ones who knew about Nameless, but they didn't know that, in the past millennium, a few people actually went there. Until we could find a cooler name, we call them The Chosen. They say that a few chosen people are able to enter there, invited, and can come back unharmed. I don't know how were they chosen and why were they chosen. But there were also some people who tried to force their way inside for different reasons. We call them the Un-Chosen ones." Leo used air quotes to emphasize the word.
"Before the gods discovered Nameless," Leo continued, "Some people, mostly half-bloods, were very curious about this Nameless place, but there were other people who needed to find the location for not-so selfish reasons. They tracked down the people who were able to enter and forced the information out of them. Because, if you're going to look for the place, you'll have to collect pieces of a special key to get in, which is scattered all over the continent, and forge it back together. You have to look everywhere, and I mean, everywhere. Inside private homes, top of buildings, can goods, the toilets-"
"Yeah, even there, just for a small piece of it. But of course, these Un-Chosen people didn't leave unscratched. They needed to face the consequences for coming to the place without invitation. The same thing happens to people who told them where to look. That's why no really knows about it. Everyone's afraid to tell, even Homer or Hesiod or whatever Greek poets in the past. Either they knew about it but didn't write it down or they really didn't know."
Leo shook his head. "No, I wasn't. Are you?"
"I think I am."
"That's good," Leo breathed a sigh of relief. "Then I'm doing the right thing."
"What do you mean?"
But Leo didn't answer. "Back to the topic. I'm telling you this to save the trouble of going around the country for a decade just to find the key. The gods don't even know how people, particularly mortals, are invited inside, but since they're immortals, they can come in and out unharmed. Tell me, kid, when did you get the 'invitation'?"
"I think," Peter pondered, "a couple of weeks ago?"
"And they haven't figured you out? What are they up to right now…?" Leo muttered, more to himself. He paused and then continued, "The Olympian gods did not only modify the minor gods' memories, but they erased the memories of The Chosen. But not the Un-chosen. The gods didn't know about them until recently. Now, they're tracking them out, but, at the moment, they have no luck finding at least one. The Un-chosen were good at hiding, at least physically. The rules apply to them as well: don't tell anyone about it, or else."
A short silence followed while Leo was scanning the map on the table.
"Err, can I ask you a question?" Peter said.
"Sure, go ahead."
"If…if you weren't invited, how do you know about Nameless?"
Leo didn't answer right away. "From Tyson, Percy's other half-brother. He was invited by a goddess, but he didn't tell me which one." He glanced at the steel door. "I didn't force it out of him, though. There was this thing I have to create, but the magic was just too powerful for me. Then he came to me, telling that I have to go and finish it there. Tyson knew the risks of telling this to not-so important people, but he did it, and I listened to him anyway. It could've been his biggest sacrifice."
"Did he...?" Peter started, but Leo chuckled.
"Oh no, he didn't die telling, no way, he's a toughie. He's managing fine down at Poseidon's kingdom. I get telegrams from him time to time. Except…" Leo faltered, and then smiled sadly. "He doesn't remember anything about Nameless. They were erased. But that doesn't mean he isn't welcomed in the group. Because the real purpose of this organization, as some people would like to label it—mainly, the media—was not only to help Camp Half-Blood, but to reveal the truth. What kind of truth, I can't tell you yet. But because of that, they figured us out and decided to form their own group as well. They're called the Oneiro. Yeah, I agree with you, cheesy name. They're a group of people related to the gods. They try to keep us quiet, but, uh, they're still working on that.
"But I'm going off-topic!" Leo exclaimed, scratching his head. "Now that you know pretty much know about Nameless, let's show you how to get in there. Right, Here's where I left the pieces, and where you're going to go," he smoothed the map on the table, "there's one piece of the key here in the Washington State," he pointed at the top right of the map, to Seattle. "And there's two pieces here in California—say hi to Hazel for me, will ya?" he pointed at the right corner, near San Francisco. "There's also another in Florida, I think somewhere in Miami. And maybe the last piece is here in Buffalo, New York. That's five of them. Sorry I couldn't tell you where the exact locations are, kid. But I know you'll find it. When I was looking for them, the last dude who came in broke it in nine pieces. It took me two months to find it all and fix it together. I mean, really? Two months?"
"The key has to be broken and scattered after use? Why is that?"
Leo shrugged. "When I entered, some voice came into my mind and said that I should break it, scatter the pieces, and grab my curses before getting the heck out the place if I'm done with my business. If I didn't, then there's this or else phrase. I dunno."
He yawned and cleared his throat. "Man, my throat's dry. Too much talking for today."
"Maybe you should rest," Peter said.
"Yeah, maybe. But before we go back upstairs, do you have any other questions you want answers?"
"Well, how long until the gods, uh, find out about me?"
Leo thought for a moment. "Now that I passed the info of Nameless to you, I think they already knew. Except maybe they're interested in seeing if you would survive this quest. Like I said, they're watching you very closely. They like entertainment."
"You sound like they're not a good bunch."
"Meh," Leo waved his hand again, "they're just like us with ups and downs, strengths and flaws. If some people look at them in negatively, some gods look at us the same way. They just don't die and have more power over us."
Thunder rumbled again, this time louder than the first one.
"I have neighbors who are sleeping!" Leo said angrily to the ceiling.
"Who are you talking to?" Peter asked incredulously.
"Some god, but that's not really important." Leo clapped his hands at random. "So anything else? Don't worry kid, let it all out."
Peter hesitated, and then spoke, "You said that if anyone who reveals real information about Nameless faces some kind of consequence, right? So…how come you're telling me when you're not supposed to tell?"
"Ah, yes, a good question. Actually, someone else asked the same thing, and also told me a nice warning."
Leo fished out a long narrow slip of paper and showed it to Peter, but Peter couldn't understand the dots and lines printed.
"It's in Morse," Leo said, "We can't communicate with each other via telephone anymore. At least, here in our group anyway. Everyone in the country is on watch to find us," he winked and gave the slip to Peter. "We communicate via telegraphy. This one's from Rachel and it just came in a couple of hours ago. Want to know what it says?"
And so Leo told Peter. A moment later, Peter took a step back, surprised that the atmosphere around him changed abruptly. That didn't sound like Rachel at all. At least, that's what he thought.
"A-aren't you bothered by the message? Rachel's warning, I mean."
"Yeah, I was," Leo said, "But let them be. And to answer your question, let's just say that I'm glad that I'm not the last one to visit the place. I don't want my name printed on godly textbooks, along with anything personal. Yeesh." He shuddered.
"Does the message have anything to do with—with that?"
"Oh this?" Leo pointed at the red mark imprinted on his temple, hidden by his hair bangs. "You could see it, huh? Nah, this is a different story. It has something to do with the gods, but nothing important. I'll tell you next time, when I'm in a mood for storytelling."
"Rachel has something similar to that." Now Peter wished he hadn't said anything and just kept his thoughts to himself. Leo's eyes widened.
"Oh, really?" he wondered.
"Well, I mean, I was thinking that there's some sort of connection between you and her. And uh, well…" he faltered and decided to stop saying anything else.
"Huh. Well, guess I'm not alone then." Leo crossed his arms and stared down to his feet, deep in thought. Leo hadn't known that Rachel had a mark like his, so it might not be possible for something happening between them. Peter felt relieved thinking about that.
Leo looked up and smiled. "Ah, sorry about that. I guess I'm just tired. This is all for today, Pete. I know you have more questions, but I think some have to wait when the sun's up. Get some rest, and maybe I will too, after sending a telegram to Rachel and a few couple of contacts."
Together, they climbed back up to the first floor. Peter made one last glance at the door located at the back of the hangar. There were a lot of things in his mind, with more questions still unanswered and new ones were forming. He was suddenly tired from listening to all of this information.
Peter dwelled on the things he learned, about that place where his brother could possibly be in. Was he really there? They finally had a lead now, but the more Peter came closer to finding this place, the more uncertain he became. What if he didn't find it? The gods had now found out its location and he doubted that he would be welcomed in someone else's private property. What if it's the wrong place?
Then it hit him.
"Hey, uh, I have one last question," Peter said before going back upstairs to the second floor. "The gods discovered Nameless only recently, right? But in my, umm, 'invitation'…" Peter couldn't bring himself to say dream. "…Percy said he's in a place no one has ever entered, not even the gods, but only a few people could."
Leo turned and stared at him. "Good question. Actually, Pete," he sighed, "The gods didn't know Nameless until seven years ago, but they know now. Maybe the message arrived to you late; the sender must have sent it to you when the gods weren't aware of the place yet. Or, it's another place the gods don't know. It's a big world, Pete."
"And that's what I'm afraid of," Peter looked down to his feet. "What if I'm wrong about this place? What if he's not there? What if… what if he isn't alive?"
Peter climbed back to the second floor to see Leon and Claire whispering to each other. "I thought you two are asleep."
They stopped whispering and turned to him. "We thought a storm was coming, with all the thunder." Claire waved her hand. "And Leon woke up because he started having nightmares about the pink towel."
"Hey!" Leon protested.
"The man didn't tell us much," Claire continued, ignoring him, "So, what did you learn?"
Peter hesitated. "I…I can't tell you."
"Did he make you swear on the river Styx?"
"What? Oh no, I just…can't."
Silence followed. Downstairs, someone cursed and there was a sound of metal clanging, and more cursing.
"Now that we know where to go, we're leaving first thing in the morning," Claire said. "I suggest our next stop will be in Miami. Anyone agree?"
Leon and Peter looked at her, taken aback at this sudden announcement. "Wait, why are you the one planning our schedule?" Leon scowled.
"We shouldn't waste any more time, Leon. This is a quest, not a field trip. We can't stay in one place longer than the last. Now-"
Leon snorted. "Peter's the quest leader. He's the one who's supposed to be making the choices, not you. Why don't you let him decide?"
Claire took a step back, stunned. She shook her head furiously and turned away from him. Leon did the same.
"Uh, guys," Peter started, glancing between the two of them. "It's okay, really. I mean, I really do need some help with all these-"
"No, Pete. You shouldn't let her do most of the things," Leon glared at Claire's turned back. "Heck, you shouldn't even let her in this quest!"
"She thinks she could do anything! She thinks she knows all! But she's just going to make everything-"
He broke off, surprised at way Peter spoke; it came out louder than Peter intended. Peter glanced at Claire again. Her shoulders were shaking, and she was covering her face with her hands.
"Let's…let's just all rest up for today, can we?" he said, his voice shaking. "Let's talk about everything tomorrow. And Leon…"
Peter turned to him. "Claire saved us back in the mall, you know. She bought us time to move away from that…that dragon."
Leon bit his lip and then sighed in defeat. "Yeah, you're right." But he wasn't apologizing to Claire; he was just looking at her. Maybe he could read her emotions right now, because his expression softened.
Peter slightly smiled. Seeing these two in a truce was a rare sight to see.
Suddenly, his head became heavy. His knees were wobbly. "Ah, I need to lie down."
Slowly, Peter walked towards his bed. But half-way through, his knees buckled. His two friends noticed this, and quickly rushed toward him and brought him on his bed. "Gods, you're burning," Peter heard Claire say, a hand on his forehead. "You have to rest for a while. We can't let you go out in this condition."
"I'll go downstairs and get something for Pete," Leon said.
"Wait—wait a minute!" Peter managed to say, bringing his hand up. He held out a piece of paper, the telegram slip from Rachel. He didn't notice that he was still holding it until now. "C-could you return this to him?" Peter said.
"Just a message."
"A code?" Claire squinted at the paper. "Do you know what it says?"
Peter didn't answer for a moment. "I think I know."
"I…" he was abruptly reminded of the conversation he had with Mr. D from Camp Half-Blood, when he was questioning Peter about Percy's location, and all Peter could answer was: "I think I know where he is."
Then he was starting to question himself more and more. Peter was getting more worried every day, becoming uncertain about finding Percy. He could have just said: You know what? Maybe I'm not the type to go through this kind of stuff. You go on ahead. But he didn't, and here he was. He wished for something like this, and this was what he got. There was no turning back now. He had to find his brother no matter what, and all the trouble he went through wouldn't be a waste.
Peter swallowed then lifted the telegram slip to Leon, who took it. It wasn't for him anyway, so why keep it? Annabeth's knife, Rachel's coin, Leo's lighter, these things were enough for Peter.
"Le—He told me what the message says," Peter pointed to the ladder. "It's not really heartwarming…or anything comfortable."
"What does it say?"
Peter closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I guess I can't hide everything forever.
"The gods are going to find and destroy you, Leo," Peter said. "And they'll do the same to me."
Chapter Eight: Piper Doesn't Die In The End, After AllEdit
- Eight -
Piper Doesn't Die In The End, After All
"I think he's a girl."
That very statement made Leon choke his pancakes out. Then he stared at her, passing Claire the 'you-offend-me-lady-how-could-you-say-that-you-are-not-being-scientific-at-all' look.
"Girl," he sneered, pointing his fork at Claire accusingly. "I'm not the one whose job is to defend the dude, but really? What makes you think that he's, like, a girl, other than that…that pink towel?"
Peter, Claire and Leon shuddered at the thought of it. They were having breakfast in the house's kitchen. The day of the winter solstice had come to pass, and Peter was feeling better after that much needed rest. Claire and Leon's arguments were frequent but only small, which relieved Peter.
Yesterday, they'd been arguing for hours, trying to decide which one of them was going to help Leo for patrol duty and which one of them was supposed to stay behind and guard the house. They would turn to look at Peter for his opinion, but he would pretend to be in a peaceful nap, minding his own business.
In the end, it was Leo who decided for the two of them.
They stood guard outside the house, fending monsters away. There were times when the ground would shake, and the walls of the house would threaten to break down. Peter didn't know what Leon and Claire were fighting outside, but he reluctantly decided that he shouldn't think about that. Miraculously, the shop didn't have any serious damage after the day. Maybe it was built for something like this. The basement almost looked like a military barracks, so why not the whole place?
Maybe Annabeth was right about Leo; he must be one of the most wanted demigods for the monsters, possibly Olympus if you would count Rachel's message. But neither the monsters nor the gods could touch him, much less capture him, along with the rest of the demigods living in the city (or so their leader bragged).
The attacks to the shop could also be retaliation from Iamus, the man who had brought a winged dragon as a welcome gift to Peter's group two days ago. With the amount of loathing splattered clearly on his face when he saw Leo, it was no doubt that the attacks came from him.
Or, maybe everyone from that day just wanted Peter, either dead or because they all thought he was Percy.
"But he smells like Perseus Jackson."
Without thinking, Peter lifted his left arm and sniffed his armpit. Nope, he definitely did not smell like Percy. And maybe he should take a bath after breakfast.
He didn't notice that his friends were looking at him, confused and amused at the same time.
"What are you doing?" Claire asked skeptically.
"Uh, nothing. Just checking." Peter sheepishly smiled.
"Anyway," Peter tried to change the subject, "Where's Mister, err, Flamingo?" "Let's…just call him Mr. Valdez, can we?" Claire looked at him weirdly, but replied. "He's outside, fixing that Honda car. It's for a customer."
"Oh yeah, Pete," Leon chimed in. "Did you learn anything new from him? I mean, he only told us where to go, but he pointed out four different places. I don't even know what those mean. Do you?"
Peter nodded. But he didn't speak.
"So when are we leaving?"
"I guess we'll leave later in the afternoon," Peter said.
"I don't think so. Maybe we should make it earlier. Eight o' clock maybe," Claire suggested, glancing at the digital wall clock. It was 6:15 in the morning. "With all the monsters acting weirdly around us, we should finish the quest before something else can happen."
"Or, maybe you're just hoping that we finish this quest before Christmas, hmmm?" Leon nudged his elbow to Claire's arm. She shoved the elbow away.
But Peter had to agree with her silently. Leo had said that the gods were watching him. They were probably waiting for an opportunity to wipe his memory about Nameless. It could happen any minute, and it was best to keep the memories fresh while searching for it. It would suck if all the things he learned just went away in a middle of the quest.
"So where's our first stop?"
Peter thought for a moment and then said, "Our first stop is Seattle. It's nearest to California. Then we'll go to Miami, and then lastly, Buffalo. In that order, I guess." Peter was surprised that he spoke with such confidence.
"Sounds like a good plan." Leon flashed a glare to Claire. "Do you agree?"
Claire nodded, though grudgingly. "We'll talk about transportation later."
She took out a piece of paper from her pocket. "Mr. Valdez told me to pick a package up. He's also going to give something to us after that. And then we could leave to continue our trek. Leon, you're coming with me."
"Aww, can't I stay with Peter?" Leon complained. "I mean, he gets to hear all these cool things about the quest and we don't even learn anything! I want to hear something from Mr. Flamingo!"
"Mr. Valdez said that if we're able to bring the package early, he's going to give you the sword you've been staring at when we're down at the basement."
"I'll be right behind you, sis." Quickly, Leon gobbled down his pancakes, grabbed his coat and pushed Claire to the front door.
"Peter, when we're back, we're leaving right away," Claire said while walking towards the door. "So get yourself ready, alright?"
"Okay." Quietly, Peter finished breakfast, got dressed (he didn't forget to take a bath, of course) and arranged his bag upstairs. When he went back down, he decided to go outside and check on Leo (out of curiosity).
When Peter stepped outside, he noticed that it was cold. The streets were covered with snow, and morning people were trying to clear them up with their shovels. He brought his jacket around him and marched on. Then he saw Leo pushing the Honda car to the streets. A man around his fifties was waiting outside, watching him. The customer, Peter guessed.
"Is it done?" the man said to Leo.
Leo grinned and patted the hood of the car. "All done, sir. She's good as new."
The customer went inside the car and started the engine. "Wow, she works! Thanks a lot," the man said with delight. "The other mechanics I went to said that the vehicle's beyond repair. I thought all was lost, but thanks to you, look at her!"
Leo and the man both laughed and exchanged more talk about cars. Peter scanned around the streets for a while until he noticed a small group of kids standing on one corner, watching at the two men. They looked like they were waiting for them to finish their conversation before they could continue playing.
"Alright then, I have to go, and thanks again!" The man waved to Leo and drove away to the main street. Leo sighed and glanced at the huddled children at the corner. He gaped, then smiled and waved at them.
"Uncle Leo!" they shouted and charged towards him, eventually tackling him down to the ground.
"Whoa there, guys," Leo laughed, leading them inside the garage while tousling their hair. "You might wake up the neighbors, and how come you're all awake early?"
"Story time!" demanded one kid. The rest nodded in agreement. "We can't wait anymore! We want to know what happens next!"
Leo stood up and brushed his clothes, smiling at the children. Then he caught a glance of Peter. "Ah, Pete, feeling alright now, eh? Kids, that's big brother Peter over there. Say hi to him!"
But instead of a simple 'Hi', the kids went to him and tackled him down like some rugby player. They started introducing themselves to him: Josh, Derek, Steve, Bob, Mary, Annie, Paige…
"Ah, these are the neighborhood's children, if you're wondering." Leo gestured at the apartment buildings besides the auto shop. Peter guessed that the youngest was four years old and the oldest, nine or ten years old.
"Hey, is big bro going to tell stories too?" the boy named Derek asked, looking up at Peter hopefully.
"He has a lot of cool stories, Derek, but ah, Peter here is going to leave today," Leo announced. The kids groaned and started to ask Peter to stay with them. "But he's staying for a little while, though, so he can hang out with us," Leo added, giving Peter a thumbs-up. The kids cheered, took Peter by his hands and dragged him towards the mechanic.
"Sorry about this, Pete," Leo grinned apologetically. "They're a noisy bunch."
The girl named Mary stomped on his foot. Leo let out a yelp, and the kids howled in laughter, even Peter, who couldn't help himself.
"Now, please tell us what happens next!" they pleaded when Leo recovered from his foot injury.
Paige raised her hand, "Did you survive the fall, Uncle Leo?"
"I think Jason's evil. Was he?" Bob followed.
"Did Piper die?" Paige hastily added to her previous question.
"My mom wants to date you, sir," Josh interrupted.
"Oho, don't rush me kids," Leo sat down on a stool with the children. "Piper and I did survive the fall, so that means she didn't die too, Paige. And really, Josh? Maybe it's just your mom mumbling in her sleep. Aha, that's Drew, alright. And no, Bob, Jason isn't evil. He's in the good side the whole time. I spoiled you now, kid."
"Aww, man!" Bob snapped his fingers. "But I got the feeling he's up to no good!" Everyone laughed again. Peter saw that Leo looked happier than he usually did.
"So, what's story are you telling them?" Peter asked Leo.
"Oh, it's just a story about a man name Leo and a woman name Piper. They go around the world to find their best friend, Jason. Crazy stuff happens during that."
Leo told the children about him and his friend Piper entering a secret cave inside a waterfall that was another portal to some place. But they ended up in Mexico and then got chased by storm spirits and jet fighters, instead of ending up on their targeted destination, Quebec in Canada. Eventually, Piper defeated the jet fighters with her dagger (How she did it, they would never know) and Leo was able to hijack a fighter for him to use and chased the storm spirits away (the kids cheered at this).
The chapter ended when Leo and Piper found the next clue that could hint to Jason's location. Peter had to admit that he enjoyed the story, and wished he could hear more of it. The way Leo had delivered it reminded Peter about how Percy would tell his stories.
"That's all for today, kids," Leo finished. "Uncle here is tired now. I'll tell you more tomorrow."
"Okay," they grumbled, but they didn't leave their places and stared at him.
When Leo saw the children's disappointed faces, he sighed in defeat. "Actually," he added, "when Peter comes back here, I'm going to tell you another story."
"Oh, what kind of story?" asked Mary.
"Hoho, I think everyone's going to like the story," Leo winked at Peter, moved his face closer to the children's, and lowered his voice to sound more mysterious. "It's a top secret story, kids. So don't tell your parents about this. Because I'm going to tell you the story-" he glanced to his left and right, "-on how Leo, Jason, and Piper first discovered they were demigods."
The children gasped dramatically, and Leo was trying hard not the chuckle. "Well, actually, it was Leo and Piper who figured out they were one. Jason discovered he was a demigod long time ago. But I can't tell you unless big bro Pete's here, and he's going to leave for a big trip."
Everyone turned to look at Peter. "Are you coming back, bro?"
"Well, let's see about that." Peter managed a smile.
One of the kids raised his hand. "Hey, I have a question, uncle."
"Alright, Steve, what is it?"
Steve, the oldest kid among the group, stood up and asked, "Are these for real? The stories, I mean. You told them like it really did happen. Not that I have something against you, I mean, you're awesome. I'm just curious, that's all."
Leo didn't speak for a while. He looked at the children one by one and sometimes tousled their hair. "Well," he finally said, "Uncle Leo is here, so that makes him real, right?"
They mumbled in agreement. "But what about the stories?"
Leo made a playful shrug. "It's up to you kids, if you're going to believe them or not. But I'm telling you this in hopes that you'll all remember Leo and his friends and his crazy adventures, and you can tell it to other kids as well. I'm sure they'll enjoy it as much as you all do."
Steve nodded and smiled. "I already told my parents you're awesome!"
The rest of them nodded approvingly, promising that they'll remember Leo in some way. Peter couldn't help but feel awed at the scene he was watching. It reminded him of his childhood, when Peter would ask Percy if the stories were real. His brother would pinch his cheeks and say, Silly boy, it's just a story!
Someone came running towards the garage. It was Connor from the demigod store, wearing his employee outfit, looking exhausted. He was holding a piece of paper in his hand. "Leo! I have news! We received a telegram!"
Leo squinted. "From who?"
"From Camp Jupiter!"
Leo quickly stood up. "This can't be good." He told the kids that he'll be back for a while and approached Connor. They spoke in quiet, serious voices.
"What do they want?" Leo said.
"They found us, Leo, and they want affiliation. I didn't understand it at first, but… I think they're suspecting that Camp Half-Blood is siding with the Oneiro. And they also said, err…" Connor glanced at the paper. "They also said that really bad stuff will happen soon. And if we don't join forces, we might be in big trouble. I don't know what they meant but maybe it's about the prophecy that the Oracle of Delphi issued two days ago."
Leo rubbed his head. "Why is it always the prophecies? Besides, it isn't big enough to be called the 'The Next Great Prophecy', and even if it is, then the third one should be done by now."
"Yeah I know, but the contents of the new prophecy are really big, though. I don't even know what they mean. So, what now? Should we reply back to the camp?"
Leo didn't answer right away. He was looking at the children joking around and laughing at each other. "If it's Camp Jupiter, then it's serious. Really, really serious. Except maybe…"
"Even the camp doesn't like the Oneiro, which really surprised me since the clan consists of well-groomed gods, but, for some reason, Camp Jupiter doesn't like the rules that the big group applied," Connor said. "And look, man, I know how much you don't like prophecies. And I don't think the dude who's supposed to be fulfilling it is you or any of us, but we're all in this."
"Contact the Kanes."
"I mean, seriously, we—wait, what? Contact the Kanes? Are you crazy?"
Leo raised an eyebrow and, for a moment, grinned. Then he quickly went back to his 'serious mode' expression.
"I'm going to set aside the affiliation thing for a while. Besides, if we do accept, they might force us to cut out the supplies we've been giving to support Camp Half-Blood, especially at these times."
"You're right. But why contact the Kanes again?"
"We're going to need all the help we can. We're outnumbered, both in quality and quantity."
Connor laughed uneasily. "Wait a minute. Don't tell me you're thinking that a full-scale war will happen, right?"
Leo shrugged. "Might as well be prepared if it does happen. I just hope the Kanes haven't chosen a side yet."
"And you're expecting they're going to help us if they do pick our side? They have their own problems, Leo, so I doubt they know ours."
Leo gestured to Connor to wait for him. Then he approached the children inside the garage. "Hey kids," he greeted with a smile that looked forced. "I have to go somewhere right now, so maybe I'll tell you another story later when I come back? Maybe in the afternoon, I guess. But, the good news is, you don't have to wait for tomorrow, which is cool, right?"
The children nodded grimly, reluctantly stood up and went back to their apartment homes. Leo watched them go with a painful expression on his face. When the last one was out of sight, he dived inside his house. Peter didn't understand what was going on, but he knew that among Leo's organization, something bad was about to happen, and that was all he could understand. Leo came back a couple of minutes later dressed up like he was going to travel to the mountains and hunt bears.
"Pete, hey, sorry about this, but I have to go," he said urgently to Peter. "There's something going on and I have to look at it. I left all the things you need inside the house, and everything's free. I also left you the door numbers of your destinations if you people are going to use the underground passages. And, uh…"
Leo took an envelope. "By any chance, if you're going to pass the Caldecott Tunnel, and see some weird looking dudes dressed in armor, give this to them and tell them that Leo Valdez sent you."
"What is it?" Peter asked.
"A letter. Just…give it to them if you happen to pass by, okay? If not, find a girl name Hazel Levesque, the one I mentioned yesterday. She's just around California." Leo handed the white envelope to Peter, who pocketed it. He was uncertain that he would find this Hazel woman, but he kept thinking that he was doing a favor for Leo.
"Also, tell Claire and Leon to leave the package at the refrigerator," he continued. "There are also two people who are going to pick you up a little bit later and they'll help you out of the city safely, so wait for them, will ya? And don't worry about finding the key. Someone chose you, so you're bound to know where the pieces are located. Follow your instincts or heart or something. And last, but not least, good luck on your quest." Leo gave Peter one last pat on the shoulder and walked away from his side.
"Wait, Leo, where are we going?" asked Connor, confused.
"Well, let's hold an unannounced meeting today. Gather up the most trustworthy people from in and outside the city. We're all going to discuss a lot of things in headquarters."
"We have headquarters?" Connor said incredulously
"Uh," Leo trotted to one of the abandoned buildings across the streets. He threw the "keep out" sign that was hanging on the front door to the garbage can nearby. "There, now we do."
Connor nodded approvingly, amused at the feat. "But wait, Leo. You said to bring up the most trustworthy members right? Is she included?"
Leo was starting to look grim. "I trust her, alright. But I don't know where she is now. And let's not bother to look for her."
"Oh, alright. Whatever you say, man." But Connor looked like he was berating himself inwardly. "I'll just send her a message when we're all settled. She can't leave camp in this time of the year; they'll get suspicious if she does."
Together, they started to walk away to one of the corners of the streets near the highway, Connor still shooting Leo with questions, and leaving Peter alone again, in deep thought.
Chapter Nine: British Men Like To GossipEdit
- Nine -
British Men Like To Gossip
Hercules Busts Heads: every nite at 9pm, ch. 600 (rerun). DON'T MISS IT!
Things to do, 23rd: finish laundry, usual dog repair, pick-up delivery, house clean-up, finish customer request, eat cereal for dinner.
Mr. F, can I borrow your plane for a while? – From the Overtaker
If you keep telling my son tall tales about you and that woman (I wouldn't count Jason; he didn't do anything wrong), I'm calling the press. With love, Drew…
Leave Package 2 Inside. – Leo
Everyone blinked at the notes on the refrigerator's door. They were reminders and letters that were taped, ranging from extravagant stationary with great penmanship to ripped-out sheets of paper with indistinguishable handwriting. Leon and Claire stared at them for a moment, shrugged, and then crammed one of the two cardboard boxes they were holding inside the fridge.
"Man, what's inside of this? It's heavy!" Leon complained. "And why does it smell like Tabasco sauce?"
"Because it is Tabasco sauce," Claire scowled. "I don't understand this man. Just, I mean, look at this!" She gestured to the living room. "I'm not being judgmental or anything. It's just…it doesn't look like an environment for kids."
Leon and Peter frowned, probably thinking, 'What's not child safe about this place?' but they didn't say anything.
"So, why did Mr. Valdez leave?" Claire asked after hefting the box inside the poor appliance.
"He has to do something. It's about this big war," Peter said.
Peter told them about the things Connor mentioned to Leo, about a prophecy and a big war coming if they weren't prepared. He also told them about the two individuals who were supposed to pick them up in a moment. While he was talking, they packed up their stuff and grabbed the things Leo had given them, which were laid on the dining table. And when they made their way outside the auto shop, Peter was wrapping up his story.
Leon held a bronze sword that was about three feet long. "Man, this sword looks so cool. It's so light and it just suits me. Can't believe he's giving it away for free."
"Well, they're always a reason why he'd give it away, you know." Claire said. "Maybe the sword is cursed."
"Ha-ha, very funny."
"I'm not kidding," she said. "I heard that there was this cabin curse from the Hephaestus cabin fifteen years ago at camp. Anything that they would make would go haywire, sometimes killing off the creator. But eventually, the curse lifted after some demigod accomplished a big thing. Maybe a quest. What I'm telling you, Leon, is that maybe Mr. Valdez is the Son of Hephaestus, and he made the sword during the time the camp curse was still going."
"You're scaring me, girl. I didn't know about this cabin curse until right now."
Claire laughed, and Leon looked more puzzled.
"So wait, it's just a made-up story?"
"Oh no, it's real alright, but the look on your face when I told you that it might be cursed is priceless!"
Leon frowned at her, but slowly smiled and laughed along with Claire.
Peter blinked and rubbed his eyes. What was he seeing? Laughter between these two?
"So, are you saying that Mr. Valdez is The Valdez from the Gaea war?" Leon said.
Claire shrugged. "There's a possibility that he isn't the real thing. Maybe he's just an impersonator or something."
"Why is that?"
"Because," Claire paused, "well, because Leo Valdez died ten years ago, after a war between demigods. I've already told you about this, Leon. Last night, remember?"
"But I still don't believe it."
"Well, these are rumors around camp, but there are some facts to prove it. Maybe this man is just a normal son of Hephaestus."
"Then we're being helped by a stranger," Peter said. He doubted that Leo was not the friend that Annabeth mentioned. And this new information about Leo wasn't what Peter expected at all. "He's done a lot of things for us."
Claire shrugged. "Annabeth didn't specify his name."
"That's because there's this rule that prevents people to spit out proper nouns."
Claire stared at Peter. It was her turn to look puzzled. "Maybe, but I'm not sure. Leo Valdez is a fire user, I heard. The first one after hundreds of years. The power he had is dangerous, and he could have died by using it during this private war."
"What about two days ago, when he saved us? Wasn't that fire he made?"
"There are logical explanations in his—what he would like to call 'fire manipulation' that Leo Valdez displayed back in his time." Claire started going logical and explained the possibilities that Leo's lighter could be fueled with dangerous gas. Peter was having the urge to defend and prove to her that Leo Valdez was the man that had been aiding them through their quest. He wanted to pull out the lighter that Leo had given to him and prove them that it wasn't filled with dangerous chemicals. Peter could go on and on about Leo. But what am I doing? He thought. I barely know this guy. And yet even though he didn't know Leo, there was something familiar about him. Peter didn't know where to point it out.
"All I know, Peter, is that Leo Valdez died ten years ago after a volcanic eruption in Alaska. He was the one who started it."
"I thought you said he died after a war!"
"The volcano was part of the war."
"Okay, that's enough," Leon came between Claire and Peter's heated discussion. "Okay, I get it. We get it, Claire." He shot a worried glance to Peter, then back to Claire. "Fine, you think this 'Leo Valdez' is not the real thing. But he is still cool, the Valdez or not."
"So, what did he give you?" Leon said.
It took time for Claire to readjust herself. She could sense Leon's change of subject. "Oh, just this." She grumbled and brought out something small to her hand. Peter and Leon and moved closer to examine it.
"A car beeper?"
"I don't know what it does," Claire admitted. "There's a note attached to it saying that I should only press the button when we really, really need a lot of help. And I get the feeling that this is only a one-time use."
"Then better save it. So, how about you Pete? What did you get?"
Before Peter could say anything, a whistle was blown somewhere in a distance.
"Over here!" someone shouted.
They looked around to locate the sound of the voice, but they gave up shortly, becoming more confused. Then a moment later, a red car appeared around the corner and parked in front of Peter. Everyone was looking at each other when someone got out of the vehicle. He turned to them and smiled. At a glance, Peter recognized the man's face.
"Hey! I'm here to pick you up, since Mr. F wants us to. My name's Billie Matthews. Nice to meet you." Billie held out a hand and Peter shook it.
"Likewise," Claire said. "This is Peter, and here's Leon. My name is Claire."
"Peter, Leon, Claire. Cool. So, is everyone packed up? Good. Now, where do we drop you off?"
"To the mall, where the underground passages are."
Another shrill whistle, this time it came from inside the car.
"Hey, if you keep doing that, the kids could get a heart attack!" Billie yelled to the car.
"Who's driving?" Leon asked.
Billie sighed. "A colleague of mine. He wanted to go to the meeting that was just announced a couple of minutes ago, but I told him that we need to pick up all of you. Besides, it's direct orders from Mr. F. So uh, get in, kids, and let's head over to the mall. I need to go grocery shopping."
It wasn't exactly a smooth ride to the mall. Traffic jammed the roads. The radio inside the car was beeping wildly. (Morse code, Billie explained. Leo was sending messages throughout the continent via some radio station that was hard to locate and tune in.) And the driver was grumpy and quiet.
"Children, you can call him Mr. Ream," Billie said, gesturing the man at his left.
Mr. Ream appeared to be a bit older than Billie, around the thirties. The man grunted and didn't take his eyes off the road. The rest of the teenagers were crammed into the backseat of the car, Peter in the middle of the other two. There was an awkward silence between the three that was brought out by the argument earlier. The silence was only broken by the beeping radio and Mr. Ream's constant tongue clicking. Peter was getting used to the pressure whenever he was surrounded with demigods since the start of the quest, which gave him a break from the occasional headaches.
"So," Billie glanced at them from the shotgun seat. "You're from Camp Half-Blood, right?"
The three of them nodded.
Mr. Ream suddenly coughed. "Never liked that bunch." His accent sounded British.
Billie rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you told me this for a hundredth time now. But you were practically raised in Camp Half-Blood. What is it that you dislike about the place?"
Mr. Ream grumbled. He didn't answer Billie's question.
The younger man sighed. "Don't tell me it's both about Chase and the oracle of Delphi."
"Or pretty much everyone," Mr. Ream clicked his tongue again and pulled out a whistle from his pocket. He brought the car window down and snuck his head out of the car door.
Billie frowned. "Uh-oh. Cover your ears, kids. This is going to be loud!"
But the whistle lets out a loud sound before Peter could put his hands on his ears.
"A whistle? Why can't you just use the honk or something?" Leon shouted along with the noise.
"Well, we can't use the car honk for a reason!" replied Billie, grinning. When the whistling stopped, everyone suddenly looked frantic and alert.
"I hate traffic," the man on the wheel murmured. Their car turned into another road where there were fewer cars.
"Just declare it that you hate the world. It'll save the trouble." Billie didn't say anything else for a couple of moments. Then he glanced at Peter, winked, and mouthed: watch this. "Say, I heard Nico's planning to marry someone."
Suddenly the car jerked to a stop, and Peter, Leon, and Claire almost jumped from their seats. Mr. Ream stared at Billie incredulously, eye and mouth twitching. "Are you serious?"
"Well, it's on TV this morning," Billie said cheerfully. "Proposed to his mortal girlfriend, three days ago. They're planning to move to Los Angeles. And don't stop! You know that these kids are on a quest."
Leon wanted to say something, but he simply left his mouth open, clearly flabbergasted. Claire was pursing her lips, trying to hide her fanatic's grin.
Mr. Ream barked a laugh. And then his face turned serious again.
Their car turned to another corner, and the mall could be seen a couple of meters away. "What about Chase?" Mr. Ream asked.
"Chase also got a proposal, but she's hinting that she might break up with her mortal boyfriend. Don't know why though. That's all I know that's new."
"Glad to hear that di Angelo is settling down for a break. Valdez couldn't do the same, can he?"
"Originally, he was planning to. Until, well…lately he has been looking frantic. It's not just him. The whole bunch in Camp Half-Blood looked more jumpy than him. And then when Alexia went to Olympus to deliver a package, everyone in the place looked like they were going to burst into a loud song. They either looked like they want to rejoice, or they're going crazy. I don't know…I'm not the one who went there."
"A lot's been going around the past few weeks. Yet, the winter solstice was just yesterday, and nothing happened. Ah…here we are."
They parked in front of the mall's main entrance, where taxis were loading and unloading passengers. Billie got out and gestured Peter and the others to do the same. When everyone's bags were out, Billie brought his head inside the car and said to Mr. Ream, "Go ahead without me. I'm gonna do some shopping and then I'll meet you and the rest in the new headquarters."
He slammed the door and watched the car turn to another road. Billie turned and smiled at the three companions. "I know what you're thinking. He's a mysterious guy. For a moment, he's all serious and then a minute later, he's got his ears open for news. He likes gossip. Sometimes he sounds like an old man!" He laughed and then started to walk inside. Everyone else followed suit.
"Hey, Billie," Peter said. "How did this grouping start? I mean, there are a lot of things going around and…"
Billie turned to Peter and grinned. "Curious bunch, huh? How about sparing a couple of minutes with me in the grocery store while I fill you out with details?"
They were in the toiletry section when Billie started explaining.
"See, it all started five years after—what is it that people call it now?—the Gaea war. There was a war…"
"Another war?" Peter said.
"This one was private. And it was done quietly…most of the time, anyway."
Billie moved into the instant food section and started taking out noodles from the shelves. Leon and Claire were busy looking at the selections, deciding rations for their journey.
"I don't know the specifics on how it really started. For all I know, it started with Mr. F. going on a quest with a woman friend when he was around, maybe, twenty?"
The story Leo told earlier, Peter thought. Then he remembered his and Claire's argument, about Leo.
"Demigods started taking sides, made small groups," Billie continued. "Mr. F. decided to make one with Percy Jackson."
"Percy?" Peter was almost taken back.
"Yeah. He started this with Valdez. He gave their group a name and purpose. Then they fought in the war, even though they were small in quantity. Percy Jackson didn't do much, because his excuse was 'that he had many families to tend to'. But he contributed a lot, anyway."
Peter didn't say anything.
"The war was short, but many died. Well, there are always causalities in war. It lasted for three months, and it ended at Alaska, where Mr. F. and his friends made the climax. Then Valdez died."
Peter frowned and looked back to his friends. Leon and Claire were speaking in hushed tones far away from him and Billie and his grocery cart. It looked like they weren't listening to Billie's story.
"Well, the people thought our leader died," Billie explained. "He just played dead rat. It was only a few weeks after the war that he made an announcement to us, and only to us, that he was alive and that he was going to take charge. It didn't make any sense, at first. Then… it happened." Billie looked solemn.
"W-what happened?" Peter asked.
"The day Valdez announced that he was the new commander…was also the day Percy Jackson died."
They pushed the cart toward the meat section. Billie didn't say anything for a while, letting Peter take the information in.
"Everyone was puzzled, including Mr. F., who some of the members assumed was Percy's power-hungry killer," Billie snorted. "That accusation was just ridiculous. Mr. F. had proof, for Pete's sake!"
"Oh no, not you, just an expression," Billie chuckled. "But Mr. F came clean to us, alright. He didn't do anything. We learned that Percy just… disappeared out of nowhere. Even his mother and father didn't know the reason. But many assumed he was dead."
They made their way to the cash register. Leon and Claire were already on their heels with their own supplies, but they were still in deep discussion. Peter was too absorbed in listening to Billie.
"Mr. F. took over and rigged a new system to keep us hidden, like the other groups. Mr. F.'s 'death' actually did stop the war, but the groups weren't disbanded, much to his chagrin. But he kept telling as that 'everything isn't finished yet' so he let it be and told us to be peaceful and joyful for now. We were hidden for ten years, welcoming newcomers who wanted to join, who felt isolated, homeless. If people need help, we'll come, as long as they keep a promise that they'll never tell about us." Billie winked.
Peter nodded and put his hand on his pocket, and held the letter that Leo gave him.
"We help out Camp Half-Blood in any way as possible while keeping ourselves anonymous to them. Until now." Billie shrugged, and then he grabbed the plastic shopping bags from the counter.
"Mr. F. contacted Camp Half-Blood a few days ago via Iris Message, for some reasons we don't know yet. He, of course, took extra precautions, careful the line wouldn't be traced to locate him. Besides, Iris is a friend. Mr. F. revealed himself to Chase and to Chiron. And I know he shared information with them."
"So!" Leon said, dashing to Peter's side. "What did we miss?"
"A lot." They exited the grocery department and walked along the earlier shoppers of the mall.
Billie then explained the group's power and influence over the city. He told them how they were able to migrate secretly and communicate with telegrams and Morse and everything that dated way back around the 1920's. He also explained how Leo had more power than the mayor, and he secretly operated from the outside with the help of the demigods, without the mayor knowing at all.
The man's influence had spread throughout the city, and it leaked in some places around the continent. The three of them wondered how much power Leo had. Billie even joked that Leo could use his charisma to take over the world if he wanted, and that it wouldn't take long if he did plan to. But Billie also countered that the other groups were more powerful than their own, especially the Oneiro, which was practically filled with gods, oracles, and other demigods who decided to side with their parents.
Billie checked his watch. "Oops. I have to go. I'm already late for the meeting, and I have to bring my grocery to the house."
He looked down to Peter. "Fill them up with what I said earlier. Sorry for leaving you so suddenly."
"Understood," Claire replied. "We can take care of ourselves. Thanks for the ride though."
Peter waved goodbye to Billie while they watched him disappear to the crowd. Leon took a deep breath and laughed. "So we're here again. Now what?"
They started moved around the mall, finding the janitor's room.
"Adults these days," Claire muttered. "They act too much of a kid." She must be talking about Mr. Ream.
"Ah, kids these days," Leon mimicked her tone, "they act too much of an adult."
Claire was about to retort when she caught something from her eye. She paled and pointed. Leon and Peter, both puzzled, turned to look at the direction she was pointing.
She was pointing to a fortuneteller (at least, Peter thought it was a fortuneteller) leaning on one of the walls. He had the typical shawl wrapped around his forehead, and he wore a purple robe. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, and there was a small table in front him, with a glass orb on top. The shoppers appeared to not notice him, but when he looked up to Peter, he smiled and gestured him to come near.
Peter didn't know what to do. He looked at his friends for any comments, but they kept staring at the fortuneteller. Then Claire started pushing him towards the table.
"Hey," Peter started to protest. "What are you doing?"
"Just do what he says," Claire insisted. Leon nodded encouragingly. They forced Peter down on the floor, facing the fortuneteller. Then they backed away and watched him in a distance. Peter glared at them momentarily before sighing.
"Hi," he said to the fortuneteller.
"Hold out your hand, young man." The fortuneteller continued to smile warmly. When he reached out to take Peter's right hand, the fortuneteller started tracing the lines on his palm.
"Ah, interesting," the man murmured, still reading whatever was written on Peter's hand.
"You have a brother," the fortuneteller started, in a dreamy voice, "and he is missing, am I wrong?"
"And you are searching for him?"
"But be careful, young one. In your search, there will be dangers. Ah…I have never seen anything like this before."
"What?" Peter didn't believe in fortunetelling, so he wouldn't believe anything this man said. He didn't take it seriously, fortunetelling, even though it was fun to see what people thought of his future.
"Oh, believe it, child. You know that the gods are real."
"What? What do you mean by that?"
But the fortuneteller continued, "You are about to face dangers, dangers that no mortal could cope with. But you…you are special. Time, love and friendship, loyalty, determination and courage, these are the things that will guide you through your journey. They are important. But there are things that will come into your way. Betrayals, fear, greed, ignorance, beware them. And yes…"
The fortuneteller stopped tracing Peter's palm and his smile faded. "Yes…of course he will…"
"You're scaring him, dad," came Claire's voice. Peter turned his head to see the Leon and Claire looking down at them, arms crossed.
The fortuneteller threw his head back and laughed. "Aha, yeah, you got me." He took off his turban and shook his head. "I was supposed to add the 'you'll die in the end' part but you already came. Ah well, I think it was worth it."
Peter didn't notice that his own forehead was sweating from the nervousness of his body. Hastily, he wiped it away and sat up straight. "So, you're…Claire's dad?"
"Apollo, the god of music and ruler of the sun…err, that's what I remembered from the books. Am I right?" Leon turned to Claire.
She nodded. "He is also the god of prophecies. But dad, what brings you here?"
"Well, I came to see you!" Apollo grinned, but his daughter's stern face didn't change, he added, "And I also came to see the brother of The Whale."
"The Whale?" Peter said.
"The Whale of the Northeast. Err, previously known as Perseus Jackson." When he mentioned the name, Apollo's mouth slightly twitched. "You mortals like making titles with flair. Everyone on Olympus prefers calling them those than their birth names."
"Titles, really? And when?" Claire said while waving her hands in frustration. Apollo shrugged. "A couple of years ago, I guess. These very titles could sometimes strike the hearts of many half-bloods and monsters. It was once used in a war. I think you all know what I mean. But now in the new decade, these titles don't get mentioned anymore. Until now, when I stated one. But I doubted that you know who he is."
"Well, he's my brother," Peter said with a slightly indignant voice. "He's a hero, right?" Claire and Leon stared at him, suddenly looking frantic.
Apollo arched an eyebrow, smile fading. "We know that, mortal."
Silence for a moment until Claire cleared her throat. "Well! Is that all, father?" She grabbed Peter's shoulder and hoisted him up. "We better get going now. Time's really important, as you mentioned!"
"Ah, but wait!" Apollo's bright demeanor returned. "You have to keep in mind about what I said, about your reading. I'm not kidding about it…well, I'm not certain about the 'die in the end' part, but that's a possibility."
"And you're telling this to us…why?" Peter eyed the god suspiciously.
Claire gripped his shoulder tighter. "You're talking to a god, Peter," she whispered. Where are your manners?"
Peter was tempted to say, "I probably left them back at the shop," but he bit his tongue. But still, he wondered, what was wrong with him today? He wasn't his normal self. Peter shook his head for a moment and then looked at the god again. Apollo was staring at him.
"I'm telling you this because we care about you," Apollo said. "Me and Hermes, anyway. The rest of the gods…well, they want to vaporize you."
"Because of what? Because I'm looking for Percy?"
"Exactly! You see, the gods look at you as a…small problem. And they want you out of the picture."
"From what picture?" Peter pressed on.
"From, well…from, uh…we…can't tell you." Apollo smiled apologetically, which Peter found strange and out of place. "But I came here to warn you, of course. What I told you earlier is the first half of a prophecy broken down into much simpler words."
"Is it a prophecy for the Hundred-Year Quest?" Claire chimed in.
"Yes and no, darling. Yes, because part of the prophecy talks about this quest. No, because Hundred-Year Quests doesn't get prophecies."
"What about the other half?" Leon decided to join the conversation.
"Ah…we can't tell you that part yet. But you'll know soon. Peter, Leon, Claire, I give you my blessing for a safe trip around the continent." He raised his hand and muttered something for a minute.
The threesome didn't say anything. They all stood there, stunned at Apollo's rather generous blessing.
Apollo placed his hand back and then smiled. "There. That should be enough to tell you that I'm on your side, for now."
"What do you mean 'for now'?" Peter said, but Apollo waved his hand.
"I'm sorry, Peter, but I can't stay for long. I'm being watched. We'll see each other next time, so uh, bye!"
In haste, Leon forced Peter to turn away from Apollo and placed a hand on Peter's eyes.
Peter could sense a bright flash of warm light from behind him. A moment later, Leon removed them and glanced behind him. "Oh good, he's gone. Okay, it's safe to look now!"
They all turned back to see an unoccupied wall.
"He even took his fortunetelling stuff," Leon murmured.
"So is that all?" Claire asked. She looked anxious. "We better be going, guys."
Leon grumbled and followed her to the janitor's room, which was a couple of yards away from where they stood, walking with the morning commuters. Peter stared at the wall for a moment, and then moved on towards them.
When they arrived, they all stood in front of the janitor door, staring.
"Hey, can you both do me a favor?" Claire looked between her two friends. "Can we finish this quest in two days?"
Peter and Leon exchanged looks. "Why is that?" Peter asked.
"Oh, I think I know," Leon smirked, nudging Claire. "Anthony's birthday is on the twenty-fifth, and it's also Christmas."
Claire shook her head furiously, rubbed her necklace and then muttered to herself, "Yes."
Leon shook her head, clicking his tongue. "Alright, fine. I'm only doing it for you because Anton's my friend. How about you, Pete?"
"If it's possible, then, yeah."
It would be nice to go back home to Mom and Dad and spend Christmas together, Peter thought. He hadn't seen them for weeks now. They were probably worried about him. And it was best to finish the quest as fast as possible.
"Alright then!" Leon kicked the door open and peaked inside. Then he looked back to his friends and smiled. "All clear. Seattle's our first stop! Let's go team! Can't waste time. We only have two days!"
Leon grabbed Peter's and Claire's arms and pulled them inside the underground passages once more.
Chapter Ten: I Win A SkateboardEdit
- Ten -
I Win A Skateboard
"Hey, dad. … Yes, I'm fine. I'm a little scratched and almost got killed a couple of times, but I'm still in one piece. … Yes. That's right. … I know. Hey, can I speak to Mom for a while?" Paul Blofis hesitated before speaking again. "Sure."
Peter waited for a moment until he heard a woman say, "Peter, is that you?"
"Mom!" He couldn't contain his excitement to hear Mom's voice again. "Mom, how are you?"
"Oh, enough about me, Peter, when are you coming home?" interrupted his mother. Peter glanced behind to his friends, who were stationed around the telephone booth. Leon gave him a small nod and continued looking around; his new bronze sword prepared to be unsheathed just in case monsters came down the block.
"I might come home for Christmas." Peter smiled faintly. "And I might even bring a surprise." He hoped he could find Percy in time.
"Mom, I'm just calling to tell you that I'm alright. And, uh, I do hope that Dad doesn't mind that I'm having an early winter break." Peter heard his mother laugh at the other line, and it made Peter calm down a bit from his nervousness of the journey.
"Alright then," he heard his mom say. "I'm glad you're still in one piece. When you're done, return home as soon as possible. Tell us everything. Be careful and, whatever you do, stay out of trouble, honey. We're worried about you."
Peter pursed his lips. "I know, Mom. I'll talk to you next time. I love you, and get well soon."
He put the phone back and stepped out of the booth. Peter's friends looked at him with worried expressions. He nodded to them reassuringly.
"So now we're in Seattle…what are we going to do now?" Claire said.
Leon was busy staring at the old telephone booth in amazement. "I can't believe these things are still here. I thought they were in museums or something."
"They're still useful in some way, and they're cheap," said Claire. "Anyways, you're the leader, Peter. What are we going to do here?"
Peter looked around. "It's got to be here somewhere. But the place is big… really, really big."
They walked past shops, parks, and alleyways. Leon and Claire didn't know what they were looking for, but Peter didn't bother to tell them. Leo had said Peter was one of the Chosen or, or simply put (in a funny manner), a Chosen One, and whatever he did, he would eventually find the key.
Follow your instincts or heart or something, Leo had said to him.
Okay. Very useful advice.
They decided to hang out in one of the parks for a while to get some rest.
Leon took a deep breath and sighed. "I love green parks. It reminds me of camp. Though I don't like tall grass." He frowned. "For some reason, snakes just appear whenever I'm around tall grasses. It's scary. Oh well. No tall grass here anyway."
Then he started running around the trees like a ten-year-old.
Claire groaned. "We're here to rest, not to play—get up, Leon; you can't make an angel in grass. And I thought you hate grass."
Leon sat down on the ground and smiled. "Didn't you hear what I said seconds ago? I said tall grass. We've been sticking on the quest tightly I haven't have much freedom. Why can't I enjoy it?"
"By rolling on grass?"
"It's almost Christmas! And why are we talking about grass? Funny how it isn't snowing here yet…it's kind of late in the winter now."
Peter looked up to the blue skies above him. It was a nice day, indeed, with fine weather conditions and temperature. But he had to agree with Leon that snow had not yet fallen in this area. Global warming, he guessed. Or maybe something else.
"Hey, Peter," said Claire, who was standing beside him, watching Leon goof around. "I'm sorry about earlier, about that argument about Mr. Valdez."
"No big deal."
"I couldn't help but feel bad."
"People have doubts. Besides, I'd just come out of a fever."
"But it is true. Leo Valdez was rumored to be dead… so are the others." Claire looked uncertain now. "I didn't know that I would actually be face to face with a fire user."
Leon snorted in a distance and shouted, "Then be happy or whatever! Not to mention, you met your idol too! Too bad he's getting marrieeeeed!"
Claire flushed. "Whatever."
After a few minutes, they were back on their feet to continue their trek to search the whole city for something only Peter knew about.
They checked out shopping districts and office buildings. They were passing another typical row of shops when the hairs of Peter's right arm suddenly stood. It took a moment for him to realize that he was sensing something. Well, his right arm, anyway.
Peter looked at his right, and noticed a small bright alleyway between two shops. He sensed something beyond it. Could it be one of the pieces of the key? If so, then, that was fast.
"Peter, what's wrong?" Claire said.
Peter pointed at the alleyway. "Let's go there. I could sense something."
"I don't sense anything, Peter. But there might be monsters in there so maybe we should…"
But Peter wasn't listening anymore. He crept inside the alleyway, with Leon dutifully following him, sticking out his tongue at Claire. They shuffled to the back of the shops and went through another alley. Finally, they made it into a clearing.
They were in some kind of hidden skateboarding park, with a few kids and their skateboards and bikes on their sides, and steep and sloping obstacles and platforms that went up and down.
A few kids noticed Peter and his small, skateboard-less gang, and some of them walked up to him.
"Hey, kid," one boy said. "You new here?"
"Um, kind of," Peter said. The boy looked around eighteen or nineteen with a lot of necklaces and chains around his neck. He looked at Peter up and down before smiling to him. "Since you're new, wanna do a bet?"
"Uh, I don't know about the gambling thing," Claire said. Then she moved to Peter. "We should leave. There isn't anything here."
Peter was too busy staring at the boy's collection of chains. One of the chains was glowing gold, and it had a powerful aura. The medallion looked jagged and broken, almost split in halves or fourths. Peter couldn't decide if the thing was a good thing, or a bad thing. He assumed it was a good thing.
"All right, details," Peter said suddenly. Claire stared at him, incredulous. The boy grinned.
"Here are the mechanics. We simply please the crowd," the boy gestured to the kids and on-lookers of the park. "The people pick who they prefer. Whoever gets more votes, wins."
"I don't understand," Leon scratched his head. "How do you please the crowd?"
"Skateboarding, duh!" The boy turned back to Peter and then smiled crookedly. "So, you gonna take it? I bet anything that you couldn't even ride a bike."
Peter glanced at Leon and Claire for a moment, and then nodded to the boy. "Then give me that necklace when I win."
Confidence was a word that passed through Peter's brain and ears. One moment, he would feel calm he wasn't afraid to speak out. Then the next…his usual stammering would come back.
This was one of those moments.
And now Peter (kind of) regretted agreeing with the boy.
Leon and Claire continued to look incredulous when Peter took off his red winter coat.
"Are you serious?" Leon said.
Peter shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "Might as well give it a try."
He handed his coat to Leon and followed the boy, whose name was Eric. They were about to arrive at one of the platforms when Eric abruptly stopped. "Oh yeah, I forgot."
He turned around. "If I win, I'm going to take that," he pointed at Leon's sword. "I want that golf club."
Leon took a step back. "Golf club…?"
"And," Eric moved his pointer finger to Claire. "That necklace."
"W-what?" Claire clutched her cross necklace. "What's so important about this?"
"A nice addition for my collection." Eric lifted his own chain of necklaces. They all jingled together. Leon cringed at the sound of the clinking.
"All right," Peter said. "Then if I win-"
"You can have my skateboard." Eric bent down to pick up his skateboard and showed it to Peter. "And maybe I'll throw in my can of spray paint."
"And one of your chains, too?"
Eric looked uneasy. "Yeah, sure, why not?"
They made their way to one of the tall obstacles. A crowd was already gathering around to watch the challenge announced minutes ago. They were looking at Peter and Eric, probably deciding who would win. The small and skinny new guy or the one who had been around?
Peter was already starting to sweat, even though the air was cold and he had removed his coat. He stole a look with his friends and then back to Eric. "Hey," he started. "Can I do a quick warm-up before we start?"
Eric turned again and raised an eyebrow. "Sure, go ahead."
Peter breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks."
"You don't have a skateboard?"
"No." Did Peter look like he had one?
Eric looked away from him and nodded to his friends. They nodded back and then one of them approached Peter and handed him his own skateboard and helmet. Peter thanked the boy, but he was already going away. He didn't appear to hear Peter. So much for good manners, Peter thought.
He swallowed and climbed up to one of the platforms of the obstacle. His helmet was now on his head, and one of his feet was propped on the skateboard.
Just a warm up, he assured himself. Haven't done this in years.
He looked down to the crowd. Peter saw his friends' worried faces. He nodded to them and mouthed: It's for the key. But they didn't appear to understand him anyway.
Finally, Peter dropped down to the slope, careful to keep his balance steady. He held his breath while the wind whistled past him. He was approaching another slope, this one going upwards. He kicked and tried to keep his feet on to his skateboard.
Peter was in mid-air when he heard the crowd suddenly cheering. Then, he was finally spinning for a second, except…
He placed too much spin on himself, and now he was momentarily out of control.
Fortunately, he dropped to the platform safely, almost breaking his ankle. Peter sighed in relief and glanced back down. He saw his friends staring at him in amazement, and then started cheering among the crowd.
"All right, we're starting!" a boy holding a megaphone echoed. "Ladies and gentlemen, please sit back and watch."
The scoring system of the challenge was through votes of the people to whom they prefer. Seeing that Peter Blofis was a new guy, the odds were against him. But after a couple of stunts against the all-time favorite Eric what-was-his-last-name-again, some votes were moved to Peter's side.
When the challenge ended, the crowd wrote down a name of the performer they preferred on a piece of paper and placed them on a box. There were only fifty of them in total.
When the ballots were gathered, the "judges" - three tall dudes with hats - counted the votes.
Eric was flabbergasted. When he confronted Peter and asked what the secrets behind his stunts were, Peter simply shrugged. "Maybe I got lucky," he said. His answer was honest.
Eric reluctantly gave his skateboard and his only supply of spray paint to him.
"And the chain, please," Peter said. Eric grumbled and gave the glowing chain to Peter.
He smiled and took it to his hand. The item was warm and it had a powerful aura. Peter clutched it and skateboard and nodded to Eric. "Thanks. I had fun. We'll be going now."
"Hey," Eric called out when Peter made his way to his friends.
"Come by again next time, will ya? It's nice to have a good rival to beat up."
Peter couldn't help but grin. "Sure thing. Next time."
Peter jogged back to Leon and Claire's side.
"So what are you going to do with the skateboard?" Claire said, pointing at the wheeled board that Peter was carrying on his side.
Peter shrugged. "It's mine now."
He put the skateboard and the spray inside his bag. Half of the board was outside of the bag, but Peter didn't mind.
Leon grinned. "Where did you learn skateboarding? You were so awesome up there."
Peter smiled sheepishly. "Percy likes skateboarding because he thinks it's cool, and I thought so too, so yeah. I thought I'd…well, look cool on one."
Leon laughed. "Well, you do, buddy. So, why do you want the chain? There isn't anything special about it. Except that it's broken."
"It's… for this quest," Peter replied. Leon and Claire hadn't heard the details about Nameless and the key. He assumed that if anyone heard about the information (chosen ones or not), their senses would trigger to sense the key's aura or power. Add to the facts that they were being watched right now… if Leon and Claire knew about the true Nameless, they could be in big trouble.
"We're all good. Let's go to California now."
"Now?" Leon said, doubtful. "We're done with our business here? W-we're going?"
"We can't waste more time."
They walked back to the main street. Claire was relieved to finally getting away from the skateboarders who were looking at her with interest. But she hadn't looked anxious when she was around them. Instead, Claire looked like she was ready to kick them to where it would really hurt. Or maybe it was just Peter.
Peter pocketed the chain in his pocket, where he also kept Leo's letter to Hazel.
One down, four to go.
He looked around the street for a moment. Strange. There was no one in sight, not even a dog escaping with a leash tied around its neck. Not a good sign.
Peter shrugged it and started planning for their next destination when he noticed that someone was blocking the way.
Leon tapped his shoulder. "Hey, aren't those the judges?"
Three boys were standing side by side, hats on, staring at Peter with malice.
Peter had heard enough stories from Percy to know that this was also not a good sign.
The boy in the middle held out a hand and said, "Can we have the piece back?"
Peter stepped back and clutched his pocket. "What… piece?"
"Don't play games with us, mortal. It's forbidden to go to that place."
Leon and Claire started taking out their sword and bow, stepping in front of Peter.
The boy on the right side stepped up. "We came because we have orders from the gods."
"The gate should not be open," spoke the third, who was on the left.
"But he's there," Peter said. "I have to find him."
"You cannot enter."
"But I was…"
"Whatever excuse you have mortal, you cannot enter, because it's forbidden."
"They… they can't keep everything to themselves forever."
The three of them were silent for a long time.
"You leave us no choice, mortal," they said in unison. Then they took off their hats and dropped on their limbs. The boys started growing hairs all over their body, and their teeth grew fangs. Their eyes were becoming large and teary.
"Oh gods, no," Claire's voice was shaking. She lifted her bow higher and looked back to Peter. "I hate wolves. Let's move it!"
The threesome broke into a run through the wide streets, the wolves tailing them from behind. Claire started firing her arrows at the creatures. Some whistled past them, some were able to hit the wolves, but their hides were thick like iron.
They turned into a corner. It was empty like the rest.
"Shouldn't we fight them?" Leon shouted, still sprinting along Peter. "It's three-on-three!"
"You're counting Peter!" Claire exclaimed. "He doesn't know much of combat!"
"Let's just find a mall and find the door to California!"
"With these guys on our tail? Do you know how much disaster it would cause?"
"Point taken," Claire grumbled.
"I'll try," Peter said to them. "Don't worry about me!"
They stopped in an empty road and faced their pursuers. Claire took out her special arrows from her bag. Leon unsheathed his new sword. Peter brought out whatever he could get his hands from his bag: Annabeth's bronze dagger and Leo's lighter. He pocketed the lighter and unsheathed the dagger when one of the wolves leaped overhead to face him, growling.
Peter glanced around to his friends. They were busy with their own wolves, slashing and firing, but he noticed they were also keeping Peter in close watch, slightly distracted from their own battles.
"Don't worry about me," he assured more to himself than to the others. He couldn't hide the quiver in his voice. When the wolf was circling around Peter, his heart was racing.
Think, Peter, he thought. There has to be some way to defeat it without getting attacked. But he was a little discouraged about this because he knew he couldn't leave a battlefield unscratched. He learned that from Percy's stories.
Then suddenly the wolf jumped towards his back. Peter dropped down to his knees, dodging the attack. But he had a hard time standing up; his knees clicked hard on the pavement. Peter flinched, and gripped his weapon tighter and stared at the wolf, his mind still looking for ways to defeat it, getting only minimum damage.
This isn't like that dragon. You can do this.
Peter had noticed earlier that the hides of the wolves seemed indestructible. If there was a way to weaken them, then they could finish the wolves. Silver? They didn't have that. There had to have some other alternative. Maybe fire could burn their fur, which served as their armor. But the lighter didn't seem like enough.
The wolf attacked again, but this time the claws were able to dig beneath Peter's slacks.
Peter cried in pain, and his knees buckled again.
Even though his mind was swimming with a thousand thoughts, all he could muster to say to himself was, "This sucks."
Then, among the thousand thoughts that have been threatening to burst out, something clicked.
Quickly (though painfully), Peter reached out to his bag and took out the spray can. He remembered something Claire had said about chemicals that could react when flames were near. He didn't bother reading the label. What was this paint made of? He prayed there would be alcohol in this brand. Peter didn't have the time in the world to check since the wolf was still planning to kill him.
Kneeling on the pavement, he shook the can and then flicked the lighter open. The wolf stared at his odd choice of weapon for a while, furiously shook its head, and then lunged at Peter for the third time.
The lighter lets out a blast of flame straight to the creature, completely enveloping it. Peter could feel the fire burning through his fingers. This was normal fire, not the one Leo made a few days ago. After a moment, Peter snapped the lighter closed and dropped down on the ground, exhausted from the pressure from the wolf's aura, and the searing pain surrounding his fingers.
The wolf howled and rolled away from Peter, body cringing and twitching while its fur burned. Claire and Leon noticed this too and quickly came to Peter's side, their wolves a good distance away from them.
"Hand over the lighter, Peter," Claire said. Peter gingerly gave the can and the lighter to her, and she gave it to Leon, who was holding duct tape.
Peter looked down at his hands and paled. His fingers were dark, and he felt numb. Claire took out her handkerchief and wrapped it around his hands. "Temporary," she noted, "until we have time to wrap it properly."
Leon was done wrapping the lighter and the can of spray together with the duct tape. "This would make a fine weapon," he said. "Gods, I think we're so blessed to have this spray."
Blessed? Peter frowned. Apollo? For some reason, he couldn't help shake the thought that the god had answered his prayer. But was he the god of flammable alcohol?
Leon shook the can, charged at the wolves and wielded the new weapon around them.
Peter quietly crawled away from Claire, who was busy helping Leon spraying fire at hairy dogs. Along the way, he picked up his dagger and continued to move to his own wolf, which was lying on the ground, burned and was still twitching. He gripped the dagger and raised it up to its chest.
Peter's vision was starting to get blurry. His hands were still numb.
This whole journey you couldn't do much other than sit around, a voice suddenly said in his mind. The least you could do is take this one out. The gods sent them to hurt your friends and take you away from your brother!
Peter raised the dagger higher and brought it down to the enemy's chest.
The wolf stopped twitching.
Peter watched as it slowly disintegrated into golden dust, swirling around and then finally disappearing completely.
By the time Leon and Claire were done with their wolves, Peter remained sprawled on the ground, knees bleeding, hands burned, and vision unclear.
"Gods, look at you," Claire commented while taking out a long bandage from her backpack. "They love taking you out, don't they?"
Peter let out a bitter laugh.
While Claire was busy bandaging his bruise, Leon was finishing the last of the wolves, which were rolling on the ground trying to extinguish their flaming fur. He brought down his sword in each one of their chests. The wolves disintegrated, going "poof" the moment his weapon made contact with them.
Then Leon tiredly made his way towards Claire and collapsed besides Peter, wiping the sweat off his forehead. He also had bruises around his forearms and cheeks. He grinned to Peter. "Great job, man. You just proved Claire wrong on so many levels. Who says you couldn't defend yourself?"
"He almost got killed." Claire tightened the bandage around Peter's knee, which made him wince. "We could have just run away!"
"Just give me some nectar, will you?"
Claire grumbled and made a grab for her bag. She took out a small cube and handed it over to Leon. "Don't swallow it whole. Just little by little."
Leon nodded dismissively and started chewing the nectar. Peter wondered what it tasted like. He was tempted to ask Claire to give him a small piece when he remembered something about mortals getting burned up when they tried eating it (source: Percy's stories, again). It must have tasted good. Maybe it was even worth getting killed to taste something so sweet.
"So you're blaming me for all this? I just suggested that we should fight them!"
"Well, you had the idea in the first place. Now look at Peter!"
Peter's hands were inches away from his ears. "Guys, just stop it."
And they did. They just sat on the road in silence, staring at each other. Claire finished murmuring a spell on Peter's wounds and shifted to Leon. When all the injuries were fixed, they prepared to move on when they heard more growling in a distance.
Leon cursed. "More of them?"
"We have to get out of here," Claire said (while Leon rolled his eyes). Leon and Peter didn't need any telling. They moved quickly to another intersection of empty roads. Peter limped behind his friends, trying hard to catch up. He was starting to notice people appearing eventually along the way. But then, after a couple of streets later, something was starting to bug him. Among those people, there was no male on sight.
Leon and Claire abruptly stopped on their tracks, Peter bumping into their backs. He moved besides them only to be pushed back again. Claire and Leon drew their weapons for the second time. Peter could hear barking and growling in front of them.
"Well, well, well…" a familiar voice echoed. "We meet again."
Peter now had a clear view of the scene in front of him. There were dozens of big hairy dark wolves, surrounding a cloaked man with a familiar face.
"There is no one here to protect you now," mused Iamus, the narcissistic oracle. "The son of Hephaestus's influence has not yet reached this territory; I would like to thank the gods for that. But of course, the gods could not protect this territory without my help."
Leon blinked. "Uh, sure. Great job on helping the gods close down the district."
Then he cursed when the mini flamethrower they made wouldn't work anymore. He passed it back to Peter. "Sorry, no more fuel."
Peter threw the can away and held on to the lighter, the dagger on his other hand. They were in a tight situation. Iamus started walking around the threesome, carefully examining them with interest. The wolves tailed him, sniffing Peter's shoes and growling up to his face. They were different ones from the ones they fought a while ago. They doubted fire could penetrate their hides.
Someone help us, Peter pleaded silently. They could take down three wolves, but, just like in Wichita, they couldn't fight a big group of them, in addition to a male seer. They needed help this time.
He glanced at one of the female bystanders, who was watching them with interest. Could she actually see them?
"If you really are the one in the prophecy," Iamus chimed, gazing at Peter, straightening his posture, "if you really are affiliated with Perseus Jackson, the Great Whale, then… tell me who you are, other than a threat to the gods. You look like you are of no importance, just a passing human being."
Peter didn't answer.
"Stop this search, young man," Iamus continued, "if you do not wish to be crushed by the hand of the gods."
"He's alive, I know it," Peter said. "Percy's alive and I have to find him. I need to hear from him. Can't you… can't you at least give me a chance to see him, just this once? The gods know where he is, and yet why are you all hiding him? What is it that you're hiding from us? Does Percy know something, so that's why you're trying to hide him?"
Iamus' eye twitched. "I do not know where Perseus Jackson is, and if the gods do know, they would not let me know of his location, and that is why I am searching for him by myself. I have pleaded them his location and they would not tell me, and told me that they know nothing about Perseus Jackson. The gods have secrets that must remain secrets, truth that is very painful that they would not reveal to the world."
Peter thought for the moment before speaking. "But the gods can't keep everything forever. Someday, somehow, someone would have to unearth the truth. Because that's just how it is."
The male oracle smiled bitterly. "Your words reminds of the Dragon's."
Peter almost flinched. "Um, excuse me?"
But Iamus frowned, looking at something in Peter's hand. He grasped Peter's wrist and took the lighter.
"What is this…?" Then Iamus' eyes widened. "No. This cannot be."
The threesome looked at each other with confused expressions. Then they looked at Iamus again to see him angry.
"You brought him here." Iamus looked like he was ready to ambush them. Which, Peter supposed, he already had. Peter looked around to find anything that would help them get out of this trouble. But then he also noticed that the women watching them were growing in numbers, and their eyes were also wide when they saw the lighter held by the male oracle. Iamus seemed to not notice them, apparently distracted, putting his hatred in a small old Zippo lighter.
"You brought his power with you," Iamus said angrily, glaring at Peter. "I should have known. You are already tainted by his words. You have affiliated yourself with him. You are that man's pawn now. You… you cannot be saved anymore, demigod."
Peter couldn't help but feel like he had betrayed someone. Was Leo a bad man? He didn't seem so.
It was only then Peter noticed how Iamus called him "demigod".
The wolves on Peter's feet started tugging his shoes with their sharp fangs. The women surrounding them were starting to step forward, taking something from their pockets.
"Why… why Peter?" Claire said. "Why do they want him gone so badly? What did he do wrong?"
Iamus shook his head, stifling a laugh. "His blood is similar to that of Perseus Jackson… and his scent as well. Probably because you are always with the man, am I wrong? You are always with the man when he was still… much alive. But… I am not sure who you are, demigod. You are his 'brother', yes, but…" His face twisted in confusion. "Nevertheless, your description is accurate enough to compare it to the prophecy. Plus, you are affiliated with the Whale, and now you have affiliated yourself with the son of Hephaestus. You truly are a threat for the gods. You know where Perseus Jackson is, do you? After meeting him, you know where your 'brother' is now, do you? Tell me, and maybe I will spare you, for now. But then, of course, the prophecy may come true if I let you live… but the information is more precious than anything else. So…?"
He stared at Peter, expecting a reply.
"I… I don't know," Peter said.
"Don't lie!" Iamus suddenly snapped. "You know something! It has been years since we have been trying to capture the son of Hephaestus for the information you have. He is the only one we know who knows about it. This… place that the gods would not tell me. The place which everyone assumes that is all just a fairy tale. But he knows… and we need to get to him and make him tell us. Use force if we have to."
"You won't get stuff that way."
"And that information may give us a clue to where Perseus Jackson is. He is not dead, I am very sure. His scent is getting stronger and stronger, lately."
"But Pete has his scent," Leon pointed out. Claire glared at him.
"Maybe…you are here to distract us from truly finding Perseus Jackson," Iamus said. Then his face suddenly lifted. "Then we will have to kill you to locate him properly."
Leon and Claire gripped their weapons tighter and came closer to Peter's defense. Iamus smiled smugly. "Are you still going to stick with him? You know you are only going to be in trouble, at this rate. Surely you do not want to be in this, right?"
They didn't say anything.
"Very well, then." Iamus snapped his fingers. The wolves straightened up like statues.
Iamus raised the lighter. "If you will not tell me the location, then you leave me no choice…"
"Like you had any," someone spoke. "You're an oracle, right? You follow this fate or inevitability thing, so you'd think that your choice is the real choice and nothing could change or something along those lines. Geez, no wonder Valdez doesn't like you."
Peter turned to see a woman around her early twenties walking towards them, emerging from a sea of women holding out swords and bows and shields and other medieval weapons. She was really tall, and she had long, light brown hair tied in a braid. She was wearing a simple white shirt and jeans, a yellow jacket tied around her waist. And she held a bow in one hand.
Iamus scowled, face contorted in pain. Blood suddenly started trickling from his lips. "D-do not use his name in front of me!"
"Well, it's your fault for saying Valdez's name," the woman rolled her eyes. "You oracles aren't supposed to, even if you have permission. He took advantage of the 'no to real names/names have power' rule that's been established not long before Percy Jackson's death and used it against you people. Sly move. Now look at yourself. You just wasted half of your life. You just keep underestimating us, do you? Always think you're all exceptions."
The wolves growled at them. The women lifted their weapons in defense. Some were coming to Peter's aid, surrounding his group in a protective way.
She pointed at the Leo's lighter. "Plus, there's that. Seeing an item from Valdez—especially that lighter—is an invitation for alliance. This was his method of recruitment. So he's still alive after all… I have notified Lady Hylla about this. Who's the messenger?"
Peter slowly raised his hand. He figured that he should answer the woman. She looked at his direction. Then at her watch.
"Please tell him that we accept the invitation, approved by Lady Hylla just seconds ago. Just in case, we'll send an email to him about the alliance, though I doubt he has a computer at his home. Despite what other people say about the Dragon, I think he's the right man we should side with. He's a good man, really. My name is Lydia, by the way," she looked back to Peter, "one of our queen's hands when it comes to work like this."
"Umm, excuse me," Leon tapped to one of the women's shoulder, "who's the Dragon she's talking about?"
"Valdez," she whispered. "The full title's The Bronze Dragon of the South."
"Oh, cool. Thanks."
"No problem. People think it's much cooler than his Flamingo alias."
"I like that more, though."
"A pink bird? Who on earth thought of that?"
"Err, the local oracle of Camp Half-Blood?"
"Jessie!" another woman said. "Quit talking and focus!"
"Oh, sorry…" Jessie sheepishly smiled before turning around to face the canines again.
Iamus said something in Greek, and Peter got the feeling that whatever he said wasn't pleasant. "In other words, this area is…"
"Not your turf anymore," Lydia finished. "Since it was unoccupied, and no war organization owns it, the lot is taken now."
"But – how dare you!" he screamed. "You Amazons - how dare you take his side!"
"Ask our queen," Lydia scowled. "We only follow orders. You oracles sometimes think differently than the gods, don't you?"
Iamus bellowed and yelled a command, which made all the wolves go berserk and start attacking the women. Everyone went into action, with Amazons slashing and crashing through the sea of fur, Claire and Leon joining in, leaving Peter in Lydia's hands. Iamus was about to throw the lighter up high when an arrow shot passed through his hand. He screamed and the lighter fell to the ground. Peter quickly came, picked it up, and pocketed it while walking back, away from the angry man.
"Not so fast," Lydia said, putting her bow down. "Don't just go throwing those things away. And Peter, stay beside me." They backed away from the crowd. "We don't want you injured. This is gonna be pretty nasty fight."
"Amazons?" Peter looked up the woman. "You mean that group of really fierce women in the Greek myths?"
Lydia shrugged. "And that online retail store."
"Never mind that. You have to get out of here. Now that we have approved of Valdez's alliance, we'll be getting trouble for a while until the Oneiro gives up and the trouble dies down." She looked down to Peter's leg. "Unable to walk?
"Only a little." Peter glanced at the riot in the streets, looking out for Leon and Claire. He couldn't find them in the sea of ripped fur and shining swords. "Hey, I have a question… I thought you people hated guys?"
Lydia groaned. "We get that a lot from you males. We don't hate men. We just like to show them who the real boss is."
"You're thinking of the Hunters of Artemis. But you should meet our queen, who's a little harsher and more judgmental when it comes to men."
"Maybe not today."
Lydia placed two fingers on her mouth and whistled. Two women were coming to their direction, moving out from the riot. Followed by a wolf which flew out from the battlefield, and fell in front of them like a disposed doll. They stopped for a moment to stare and it to make sure it was dead, and then moved the other way to Lydia's direction.
The woman nodded to them. "Bring the children to the train station."
One of them looked uncertain. "But ma'am, they're going to have to pay for the ride. And the fare's expensive."
"No worries. Mister… err…"
"Blofis," Peter answered.
Lydia stared at him for a moment as if considering the name familiar before continuing to speak to the other Amazon women. "Mister Blofis, can I see that lighter again?"
Peter took out the lighter and brought it to Lydia. She showed it to the others. "I guess he'll be paying. I hope he doesn't mind."
Peter doubt that Leo was going to be happy about this, putting all their expenses on his shoes. Well, he hoped the man wouldn't mind.
More and more wolves started coming to the battleground, and some of the women were shouting for backup. The whole street was flooded with the sounds of sword clashing and the howling of the wolves. Peter was having a hard time breathing. There was too much demigod aura surrounding him to handle. Then there was the monsters' aura, and then… and then…
"Hey, are you all right?" Lydia placed a hand on Peter's shoulder. "You look really pale."
Peter grimly nodded.
Leon and Claire emerged from the crowd, out of breath, their attire all torn and scratched.
"S-so many," Claire stammered, dropping her bow. "I've run out of arrows."
"Children," Lydia grabbed Leon and Peter's arms and nodded to Claire and other women who weren't fighting. "Follow me. You all have a train to catch."
The walk to the train station would have been a lot more comfortable if there was no screaming man chasing him like a dog.
Looking back, Peter was getting annoyed with Iamus screaming and shouting, "Take down that demigod! He must not fulfill the prophecy!" to the six wolves following while pointing at him. It didn't help that Peter was limping and he was the slowest of his lot. He was thankful that Leon was helping him catch up by half-carrying him.
"I wonder what the prophecy is," Lydia said, looking back to Peter. "The Third Great Prophecy is not yet done. Don't tell me it's the fourth already…"
"Can you tell us the third prophecy?" Claire shouted. "I—we don't know it much except for the fourth! And we just only heard half of the fourth!"
Peter didn't realize that they were entering a gray abandoned building. It looked like it would collapse at any moment. When they got in the lobby, Lydia shouted, "Bring down the shutters! Activate the barrier!"
The Amazons spread around the windows and entrances and did what they were told. The lobby suddenly went dark. There was silence until something – or someone – crashed against the shutters, followed with a lot of thuds in other places. Iamus screamed and kept banging on the metal, the wolves barking and scratching the doors.
Lydia and the rest stood for a moment to listen and then gestured for them to come. "Upstairs, everyone, to the roof. The train's located there."
Claire blinked. "The train is above this building? Demigod technology…"
"You do know that technology is dangerous for us," Lydia said. "Well, some anyway. Mostly wireless communication. You have to find a different way to communicate with someone far away." Then her eyes suddenly widened and slapped her forehead. "Darn, I have to re-study Morse again now that we're affiliated with Valdez's group. The way they communicate with each other is slightly complicated. Gives you headaches."
She shook her head and started walking among their small crowd. Leon was leading Peter upstairs when Peter heard Iamus shout, "I can tell you the third prophecy! I am sure you want to hear it!"
"Leon, stop," he told his friend.
Leon looked at him, puzzled. "You're going to believe him?"
"Can I listen to this… for once? We might never have the chance again."
Leon stared at Peter for a second before he nodded grimly. Peter looked back and shouted through his dry throat, "What in return?"
"Nothing!" Iamus said in a frantic tone. "I notice that you are… outdated with, whatever you call it – gossip? You have never heard the prophecy, have you? Well… I will tell you… I am generous man, of course."
That was pretty nice of him, Peter thought. He took a deep breath to prepare for what was to come.
The Phantom who rules all powerful gods'Awakens the highest among half-bloods'To bend the flow of time is his vision'And raze the benevolent is his mission'A kin of the forgotten champion'Opens the gate that'll set time in motion'Mirror of the Hearth shall help his wildest'And end the wickedness of the highest.'But one shall save and lose his sight'Another shall be cursed and lose his might'One shall leave his precious behind'offer as key for the worldly divine.'In the thrones he meets the goddess alone'He asks for her help to guide the way home.
The room was suddenly cold and chilling. Peter's knees were shaking.
Leon tugged his arm. "Let's go." He looked worried.
"Y-yeah," Peter gulped.
They walked up to the stairs where the others had climbed through, ignoring the oracle's maniacal chuckle, echoing throughout the building.
Chapter Eleven: Hazel Reveals The Red Flag Of WarEdit
Release date: December 24 - 31
Chapter Synopsis: In which Peter dreams about his brother again, learns Annabeth's view of the Esperanza, meets the beautiful and skilled woman called Hazel, who Peter needs to deliver the letter for, and, of course, sees one of the most threatening and fearful item in the past decade. Ever.