I clambered back into the Daemon's front seat, next to Percy. Percy pulled the keys out of his pocket, when we had left the keys were already in the ignition so I didn't get a chance to get a look at them.
It was funny in an ironic way. A simple gold key-chain, with golden hammer charm and a small clear plastic license holder containing Hephaestus' business card. The card read in curly gold font etched into he deep Scarlett brown card :
Various Locations Nationwide
Wonderful creations carefully crafted in the gods forges themselves.
Jake and Nico sat quietly in the back. Jake still looked a bit shaken, frail, and definitely bruised, from my extremely rude tackle. He gave me a wary smile as he rubbed his shoulder.
"You might want to buckle up, you're in for quite a ride," I told him. His hand whipped up to the straps and quickly fastened them.
"So Percy, how do we turn this thing around?" I asked. The tunnel was clearly too small for a u-turn.
"We go forward till we find a point where we can turn around," he suggested and then slammed on the gas. We tore down the tunnel and eventually came to a large cavernous forge. All of the dwarves turned and stared.
Percy clearly thought nothing of them and did a whipped us around to face the other direction. He did it such a way that I felt like I was in an epic action adventure movie; surging forward and the quickly turning the wheel so that the crawler spun 360 and the tires screeched. We only tipped a little and then flew back down the hallway the way we came. In no time we were screeching into the garage.
Hephaestus raised his bushy eyebrows at us; obviously surprised at how quickly we had finished our little mission. He then spotted Jake and his mouth dropped open in surprise. Jake hung his head in shame.
I put my hand on his should to show him, silently, that I didn't blame him.
"He had his reasons," I declared to Hephaestus, "no damage done."
"Well," huffed Hephaestus shoving his hands into his overall's pockets, " At least Nyx, doesn't have the shield."
Then he began to awkwardly fiddle with a wrench and wait for one of us to speak, like always I spoke up and voiced the groups questions, "Why is this shield so special?"
"Wield it, and you will see," he replied gruffly, nodding at me, then he nodded to Percy, "I'm sure this one'll know what makes it special as soon as he sees it."
I took the shield out of my pocket and gently ran my hand along its rim. I watched as the shield folded out. I had the feeling no matter how many times I saw it, I would never believe how something so small could become something so gigantic.
Percy's brows furrowed and he crouched down to get a better look at the detail etched into it's surface. As he ran he finger s over the metal surface he whispered, "Daedalus," then he looked up at me , then Hephaestus, "this was designed by Daedalus."
"Yes," one of his last designs before he died, "whilst he was in the labyrinth he found me and gave me the blueprint. His last request to me was to forge it. He said if I follow the instructions correctly the wielder may be permitted special powers. In other words the shield defends you without your help. Percy strike the girl with your sword," he nodded to me, "Don't try to deflect it."
Was he insane? Percy was great with as sword, and I didn't feel like getting decapitated today, thank you very much.
Percy looked apprehensive, but he didn't want to disobey the god so he pulled riptide out of his pocket and pulled off the cap. Then he whirled the sword over his head and swung it around, the blade would have hit my neck and cut my head clean off, if the shield hadn't moved. No, I didn't move the shield, the shield moved itself, blocking the sword easily.
"Awesome," I sighed.
"Guaranteed protection, it blocks 95% of sword strikes , but only deflects 70% of arrows. Be careful of backstabbers, literally," stated Hephaestus.
"Heh," shrugged Nico in agreement.
"What about bullets?" I asked curiously.
"Completely bulletproof, though I can't guarantee it will block them automatically, well at least not without ripping your arm off, due to sheer speed," replied Hephaestus casually.
"Oooh, fun, fun, fun," I murmured.
"We better get going," said Percy, "We don't have time to spare."
"All right," I agreed, "I s there anything more that you need?" I asked, nodding towards Hephaestus.
"No, no, I'm fine. Thank you for your help," he replied gruffly.
I was just about to hop back into the car when I realized something, "Hephaestus?"
"Why are all your workers dwarfs?" I asked.
Perfect timing, at that moment one of the dwarfs waddled in the room and dropped a heap of scrap metal on the table with a loud 'clang'. He glared up at me.
"Why don't you take a better look," said Hephaestus, "See through the mist."
"What?" I instantaneously respond but then I look at the little man. His face morphs slowly going from human into something vaguely humanoid, rapidly his jaw changed into a dramatic under bite, with two tall fangs sticking up through his lips like boar tusks. His skin tanned and then reddened with black ink looking tattoos cover his arms and face. His eyes went from a dark brown to jet black. Now that he transformed he looked sinister and scary, and the fact that he looked annoyed before didn't help me feel much better about his mood.
"Oookay…so we better get going," I mused as I quickly slinked over to Percy's side.
He looked a bit intimidated too, now that the dwarf thing was starting to take deep angry breaths as if trying to consume his rage.
"You see," continued Hephaestus, looking prided now, "My faithful workers are actually Cabeiroi, but the mist just disguises them as migits. But don't be fooled by their harsh appearance, they are actually quite gentle creatures."
"Hahahaha," I laughed nervously, "I can see that but we seriously better get going."
The Cabeiroi man was now clenching his fist around a solid rod of steel, it bended in half like a drinking straw.
"As Leroy, is displaying here, they have extreme strength which helps them when forging precious metals," drawled on Hephaestus excitedly.
"Yeah nice, gotta go, bye," I said, "we're taking the Daemon, by the way."
I said jumping into the sand crawler. I wanted to get out of there before Leroy bended me like he did that rod. I guess I wasn't so much afraid of him, but the guy had a bunch of little buddies that I guessed would come running at his call and I don't think I could handle 400 angry Cabeiroi.
Percy, Nico, and Jake jumped in after me. Percy qued the ignition and we sped back down the hall way, I heard Hephaestus's now faint voice call out after us, "I guess you can keep the shield."
After about twenty minutes of speeding through almost complete darkness, the light at the end of this literal tunnel gleamed in the distance and before I could blink sunlight burned into my eyes, blinding me for a few minutes. I hoped it didn't have the same effect on Percy. Or else who knows what could happen? We'd probably going flying of a cliff knowing my luck.
"Dude, this thing is even more awesome than I realized," said Percy, I squinted over at him, he eyes were now covered by a pair of golden aviator shades, it comes with these cool glasses!" He continued pointing to his face, grinning.
He reached forward, but I couldn't see what he was doing, the sunrays still too powerful for my adjusting eyes.
Before I could react Percy was roughly slamming a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses over my eyes, I quickly corrected their position on my face.
I could finally see what was whirring past me, endless desert. Percy was playing with the touch screen that controlled the crawler's air conditioning, a sudden jet of freezing air blasted me in the face.
"Whoa!" exclaimed Percy giddily, scrolling the dial back down which eased the flow of air, "That was a bit too high."
"A bit?" I questioned.
He then began to press all the buttons he saw, very loud Nickelback began playing through invisible surround sound speakers and the Pandora Radio logo popped up on the screen.
"Sweet I love this song!" yelled Percy. Then he began to scream the lyrics of the song, something about "standing together".
He pressed another button the song changed to "Mercy" by 'Duffy' and Percy let out a sad, "Aww" and then continued pressing buttons and thrashing to the music.
The next button he pressed made a map show up on the screen.
"Oooh, GPS navigation," mused Percy, "Looks like we're already in Wyoming. Wow."
I glanced at the map, when he said we were in Wyoming he was right, but just barely, at this rate we'd still have a few hours left. I began to wonder where we'd stop for gasoline. Or if this thing took ambrosia or jet fuel.
"BEST CAR EVER!" screamed Percy, "I am so keeping this thing."
I laughed quietly and turned to see Nico and Jake looking extremely wind blown in the back seat, I flashed a smile at both of them, they both grinned back.
"So Jake, where do you live?" I asked.
"Salt Lake City, Utah," He yelled back.
"Awesome, according to the GPS, we can drop you off along the way," I replied.
He looked somewhat put down, so I continued, "But maybe once we're finished with this quest, we can all hang out at camp."
Truthfully, I didn't want Jake coming, he wasn't exactly the biggest and strongest camper, and this quest was way too dangerous for someone like him. Although, I couldn't say I was much better than him, just thinking about what I would have to face at Shasta made me want to shrink up into a corner and stay there until all of this was over. But that was just it, it wouldn't end, not if I didn't destroy Nyx. Things would only get worse and it would be all my fault.
I shook the thought out of my head and focused on the feeling of the wind whipping my ponytail and the gradually increasing volume of the music. Percy would listen to a song for about ten seconds and then switch to the next one, until Pandora told him he couldn't anymore. Apparently, even the car was starting get annoyed with Percy's indecision.
We spent the rest of the afternoon screaming Karaoke as we sped through the desert. I noticed Nico wasn't singing along, as if he didn't know the lyrics, which was strange because we were listening to the classics, like Journey's Don't Stop Believin, which basically every kid knows. I figured maybe he was into more Rock music.
Once the sun began to set, I felt hunger begin to creep back into my stomach, I was surprised that the Cheeseburger had stuck with me that long between my extremely powerful digestive system which seems to make food disappear within minutes and the wild ride which should have made me puke. It probably would have last week, but I feel like my stomach had gained new balance after all of these adventures.
At one point I heard Percy's stomach growl over the roar of the engine, I raised my eyebrow at him, he grinned bashfully and said, "Perhaps it's time for dinner."
"Yeah, perhaps," I mocked.
We skidded over to a clearing on the side of a small deserted freeway.
"Campfire time," sighed Percy, grinning at me.
From the trunk area of the Crawler Percy pulled three thin futons, and shrugged, "Looks like we'll either have to share or someone will go without."
"I'll share with someone," I suggested, I didn't want any awkward guy on guy going on or anyone to sleep on the dirt.
Jake and Nico's cheeks both flushed furiously as the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the mountains.
"O-okay, Percy it is," I muttered.
Percy chucked a thin sleeping bag at me. It was a lot heavier than I expected and I nearly fell over onto the compacted dust. When I regained my balance I had about three seconds to drop the bag and catch the duffel bag that Percy was hurling at me. That time I actually did crash to the dirt. I glared at Percy who was absolutely oblivious. He continued feverishly unloading. By the time the sun had fully set we had a full ring of three futons and sleeping bags. I flopped down on one of them and Jake and Nico quietly sat down on the other two. I lie down on the not-so-comfortable sleeping arrangement and looked up at the newly emerging stars. I had a feeling we'd see a few shooting stars tonight and the sky would be amazingly clear, but that also meant it would be amazingly cold. The second it crossed my mind a wave of heat flooded over my face, I sat up to see Percy and Jake tending to a humongous campfire.
As soon as the fire was burning at a constant , Percy sat down next to me and opened his back pack. He pulled out granola bars, saltines, and beef jerky. The crackers were all smashed up into dust from their wild ride.
He also pulled out his water bottle, and Nico and I did the same. Mine had a purple zebra print design, Nico's was black with skulls, and Percy's was blue with waves. I laughed to myself, they matched our bags, for as uncoordinated we are usually it was funny to see how well our outfits and accessories matched. I took a quick sip from the metallic tasting water and felt the moisture return to my tongue. I guessed the desert air was a bit drier than I was used to. I handed my bottle to Jake, who didn't have any supplies with him, besides what he wore. He drank graciously.
I watched the fire as I cleaned the immense amount of dirt out form under my un-painted fingernails.
"Dinnertime," sighed Percy and he began to equally divide the rations. We each got two pieces of jerky, four crackers and one granola bar. Not exactly the most gourmet meal ever, but it was better than nothing. We ate in silence, me nibbling on my cracker pieces and Percy tearing apart his jerky like a ravenous wolf. Jake roasted his jerky above the flames before eating it and Nico just looked at his food mournfully, as if he was silently debating with himself on what to eat first.
By the time I had finished my granola bar, which was extremely stale so I had to wash it down with most of my water, the sky was darker black, but the stars, moon and fire all glowed spreading light in all directions.
"Percy, how did you lose your memory?" I asked turning to him.
From there he began the fantastic story of how he came to meet two demi-gods named Frank and Nico's sister Hazel. It was even more insane than all of his other adventures, except maybe this quest. I noticed that almost all demi-gods have family problems whether it's godly or not. He went on and on about all the troubles they faced while on the Argo II and how Annabeth always had a solution. He explained Jason and Leo's part in the story too, there was another girl named Piper, who seemed pretty cool.
By the time he finished telling me about defeating Gaia I had positioned myself into lying my head on his shoulder.
"Geez, Perc, is there any monster you haven't fought?" I asked.
"With the Greeks you never know, they seem to have an endless supply of deadly creatures that want nothing more than to eat demigod's faces."
"Goodie," I said sarcastically, "Hey, I have an idea, my friends and I used to do this at sleepover, which is kinda what this is. We all have to say a random fact about ourselves, who ever has the most out there fact wins."
For a second all the guys looked stumped, and then Percy piped up, "I can talk to fish."
We all laughed at that; he seemed so proud of his strange ability.
"I'm fireproof," stated Jake.
"Really? Sweet," I said, "Have you ever considered being a fireman?"
"Yeah, I'm thinking about being in the local force when I turn eighteen," he replied with pride.
"Awesome," I said, "hmmm, Let's see a weird fact about me. Geez, guys, so far you've got me beat, Nico you go, I'll think of something."
"I'm actually around 84 years old, but I was stuck in a magical casino for 70 years so I didn't age," he said.
"Crazy death boy says what now?" I sputtered.
"My father hid me and my sister from Zeus after World War II."
I'm not sure what shocked me more the fact that he was old enough to be my grandpa or the fact that I hadn't found out yet. No wonder he never got my references to modern day stuff.
"Well okay," I continued, "I think all of ya'll are tied for the lead because you are just plain weird. This by far the most extreme game I've played of this, ever."
"I'm sure there is something strange about you," teased Percy.
"I have a terrible phobia of sandpaper," I suggested.
At that all of them cracked up.
"Hey! It 's not my fault that when ever I see it, this image of someone sanding off my skin pops into my head!" I cried exasperated.
They all went silent at that, the vision of that terribly gory scene creeping into their conscious.
"Uuugh," shuddered Percy.
"Moving on," I said quickly, "So, where are we exactly?" I asked Percy.
"Next to interstate 80, in the south-western part of Wyoming, between Rawlins and Rock Springs," he said factually.
"So basically the middle of nowhere," I said glancing at the baron landscape around us.
"Yeah, pretty much," he admitted shrugging. Then he shivered, "It reminds me of a place I don't want to remember."
"Really, where?" I asked, not catching his tone.
He looked up at me with sullen eyes, "The land without rain."
"What's that? Some sort of code?" I interrogated. It sounded like some demi-god code for a hideout entrance.
"No, it's part of a prophecy," said Percy uncomfortably, glancing up at Nico.
Now I was confused, did something go wrong on the quest accompanied with the prophecy?
"The land without rain," repeated Nico quietly, "Where Bianca died."
Then a silent realization came over me as I remembered Percy telling me, "We were out in the middle of the desert, and we were attacked by a giant metal automaton, Bianca died in order to save all of us."
"It's nothing, it just looks like the same kind of landscape," muttered Percy.
A awkward and sad silence set in, "Bedtime," I decided.
The night, now that the sun was down completely, grew cold fast, really fast. I remembered learning in science from one of seventh grade teachers, Mr. Scott, 'Without cloud cover there is no insulation. That's why it gets so hot during the day in deserts, but it also means that there is no way of containing the heat, and it gets very cold at night.'
The only use that information was to me that night, was a chilly confirmation that I was in for a miserable night. I don't mind being hot as much as I hate being cold.
Percy must have seen it in my face, as I desperately scooted closer to the fire and rubbed my hands together.
He pulled a sweatshirt out of his backpack, a big, thick, lumpy navy blue San Francisco State University sweatshirt. It wasn't exactly a fashion statement, but it looked warm.
"Annabeth got it for me," he told me.
"She has great taste, big bulky and un-shapely is really in right now," I teased.
"Shut up, or I'm taking it back," he replied jokingly and he rolled over on the futon and closed his eyes.
I pulled the sweatshirt over my head and curled the ends of the sleeves around my fingers.
A climbed into the sleeping bag with Percy and zipped it up around us.
When I closed my eyes a new strange warmth wrapped around me, and I fell into a dream, oddly enough, I was not on Shasta and Nyx was no where to be seen. Instead I was sitting on a balcony over looking what appeared to be Los Angeles.
"Hey, Lea," said a voice next to me.
A I jumped a whipped my head around to see the ultimate beach boy. He had perfect golden tan skin, and bleached blonde hair and he was possibly the hottest guy I've ever seen. Not exactly my type though, like Eros was, but still freaking attractive. But his time I wouldn't let appearances fool me.
"Who are you and what do you want?" I demanded.
He held his hands up in false surrender, "Hey, hey I'm here to help."
I clutched to the plastic chair I was sitting in, preparing to use it as a weapon if I had to.
He lowered his Gold Aviator shades and looked at me with piercing gold eyes, "I'm Apollo, I'm a good guy."
The sun god, I should have guessed, no other god would live in L.A., it's self-consumed and always sunny.
He continued without my reply, "Do you remember your father telling you about the Golden River?"
"You were there, I mean, you could see inside my dream?" I sputtered, my privacy feeling seriously infringed.
"Yes, I'm a god I can do basically anything," he replied, "but that's not my point. What do you know about the Golden River?"
"I know people get greedy and bad things happen, and that's about it," I shrugged.
"Well, I'll tell you. The Golden River is my creation, it's not actual gold of course, that would be absurd, it's liquid sunlight."
"Oh, of course, gold is absurd but liquid sunlight, totally possible."
He frowned but still continued, "You see a little sunlight is good it warms the soul and helps enlightened the mind, but as your dad said, many who come across it get greedy, and it burns their bodies alive, literally."
"Oh, pleasant," I gulped.
"Lea, I'm here to tell you how to defeat Nyx."
"Why? What is to you if I die?"
"If you fail on this quest I will be powerless the world will fade into eternal night and I will fade completely, there will be no such thing as the sun, and humans will perish because of it."
Suddenly, I felt a whole lot more pressure, to get the quest over with, and fast.
"Tell me what to do," I demanded.
H smiled encouraged by my new found vigor, "The Golden River, is in California, but finding it isn't so easy, but if your intentions are pure, it will find you, when you least expect it."
"We're talking about a River here, not hope or anything sappy like that."
He chuckled, "Hah, I like you Lea, I wish I had some daughters like you, with the same," he paused to think, "spunkiness."
The second he said 'daughters', he began to age in my eyes, no longer coming off as the eighteen year-old his body portrayed but as a full grown man. Then I realized that, that full grown man was the father of my step-father and he might as well have been a toad in terms of attractiveness. This guy was my step-grandfather, gross.
"Once you find the river it's pretty easy, take the vial our father gave you and fill it with as much sunlight as you can and then leave quickly, and watch out for the guardians."
"The guardians?" I asked hesitantly.
"Yes," he nodded, "but I'm afraid that information is…confidential.
"Alright," I sighed, remembering what my dad had said about god's limits, "Go on."
"The morning you arrive close enough to your destination to reach there in a day's time, douse your blade," he said gesturing to my necklace, "In the sunlight, it will make it twice as powerful and just one slice to a monster will make it explode, but be careful it is as deadly to demigods as it is to monsters."
"So hit all the monsters you can, but don't touch the demi-gods."
"Correct," he replied, "That is the only blade that can take down Nyx, the Blade of the Sun."
"I'm guessing that's all your allowed to tell me," I suggested.
"Yes it is," he replied.
"But can I ask you one question?"
"You may ask, but I might not be able to answer."
"Since, this is a dream, I can't die, right?"
"No, not whilst your dreaming. But why?"
I didn't answer, I just took a deep breath and jumped over the railing. And fell twenty stories.
I snapped awake just before I hit the ground, the felling of free-fall still hanging in my stomach.
I sat up in the sleeping bag. The fire was completely out, but the coals still smoldered. The night was freezing but the boys didn't seem to mind, Jake and Nico just slept on in peaceful silence. Percy rolled over to face me and cracked one eyelid, "Nightmare?" he murmured.
"No, just cold," I half-lied.
"Well, try to get some sleep, we have a long drive ahead of us."
I lay back down and stared at the glowing red coals. Percy lay his arm over me and went back to sleep. I was glad that I was sharing a sleeping bag with him, I would have been freezing on my own.
There was something about Percy, maybe the fact that he had been through so much, made him seem more trustworthy. I felt like he was my brother, we think so similarly that things that would be awkward with someone else, like sharing a sleeping bag, seemed normal. I've always wanted a brother, or at least a dog, but the closest thing I had was Henry, which wasn't much, but still good. Now with Percy, I felt like I'd known him for years, maybe it was the fact that we've hacked apart monsters together, it's pretty easy to bond over that.
I let myself fall asleep under the weight of his extremely muscle toned arm.
I awoke the next morning, extremely hot wit sunglasses already on my eyes. I felt disoriented my eyes trying hard to adjust to the bright light.
We ate a breakfast on saltines and water, not very filling but Percy promised we'd stop for lunch, because we were doing good and saving money by using the Speed Daemon. I was looking forward to a panini.
Percy began to take inventory in his endless Mary Poppins bag. I decided I should probably do the same. I had three different colors of pink tank tops, two pairs of jeans, some denim short, two CHB shirts and a few other supplies. The hem of one a my pairs of jeans was ripped due to the Kobaloi, one of the tank tops and slash marks in it from Alyssa, and another tank top had monster grime from fighting the Alodae. I seriously needed to go and buy some indestructible clothes are something, because I was down to three good tops and four good pants, including the ones I was wearing. My hot pink tank tops seemed to be holding up fine though, besides being a bit dusty.
I un-zipped the special compartment in my bag and pulled out my most important items, and set them on the futon, to check their condition.
I pulled the Daedalus shrinking shield out of my pocket and set it down next to the sun vial, my armor, my messenger bag of forks. I then took off my necklace, and sighed, "Boy, people sure do love giving me stuff," and then I glanced up at the Speed Daemon, and laughed to myself. A god gave a us a car. Now, that's a cool gift.
"Lea, it's time to go," called Percy, throwing the last sleeping bag in the trunk. I put my necklace back on, shoved the shield back into my pocket, shoved all of my clothes back into my bag, except one CHB, shirt which I quickly changed into. I then transformed my armor back into cloth and folded it on the top of my clothes leaving it easily accessible, and placed the sun vial on top of it. I rolled up the futon and tossed it to Percy and shouldered my messenger bag, I liked the feeling of it on my shoulder. It felt very securing because I knew I could take down pretty much anything with the celestial bronze forks.
I hopped into the crawler next to Percy, he revved the ignition, and said to me, "Salt Lake City here we come."
The second the city name left his lips, my stomach twisted, my instinct telling me to stay away from that place. But I swallowed my apprehension and we flew off down the desert road.
I tried to forget the feeling, but as we got closer to the destination something in my gut got tighter and tighter. I focused my attention on the wind in my face. The second I did I noticed a strange smell coming from the west, the direction we were heading and it was strong. I recognized it as the stench of a monster and strangely enough…dairy products.