It took about five minutes for us to completely finish all of the ice cream. Percy claimed the cotton candy ice cream, which was a dark shade of blue, and so was his mouth and half of his face after eating it. Nico and I just shared a gallon of Butter Pecan, both fervently plunging our spoon into the half-melted goodness.
"Where should we bunk for the night?" I asked Percy.
He chuckled in response and continued to lick at his spoon mischievously.
"What?" I demanded, "Do I have Ice Cream on my forehead or something, because it wouldn't be the first time."
He grinned and then sighed, "I love my new car."
Nico turned to me, "The Daemon can turn into a small bed-like thing, if you flip down the seats."
"Oh, awesome, that's going to be great for the next few nights."
"It was quite scary when we discovered it," said Nico.
The image of him being crushed by the seat as it folded on top of him, entered my mind, and I wondered how they discovered that new feature.
We didn't know what to do with Lamia's truck, so we just left it on the side of the road, figuring it'd probably get towed sooner or later. When the sun finally finished it's quick descent behind the mountains, we loaded into the Daemon and drove for an hour, till we were far out of town on a small highway. When we finally found our stopping point, Percy folded down the seats with the click of a button. They fell in three loud Flawp-Flawp-Flawps and left what looked like a metal crib. There wasn't much padding and it looked kind of uncomfortable but then Percy laid down our futons and sleeping bags and I was about ready to burrow myself deep into the warmth. I climbed up onto the metal framing and let myself flop onto this quickly made bed.
I sighed and closed my eyes, feeling sleep creep up from my chest and making my eyelids heavily. I shoved my face into my pillow and mumbled what was meant to be, "Goodnight," but came out more like, "Gnnnumbrle."
I don't remember taking off my messenger bag or shoes and I definitely don't think I got into my sleeping bag, but when I awoke I found myself barefoot and my bag hanging from one of the metal bars. Percy and Nico lay on either side of me, Percy creating his own miniature waterfall of drool and Nico making little snuffling and mumbling noises.
I carefully picked up Percy wrist and stared at his golden watch, it read 9:49 A.M. My breath caught in my lungs, It was almost ten o'clock in the morning and then sun still hadn't risen. I shook Percy, after a bit of gurgling he finally half-opened his eyes.
"Wha?" he questioned.
"We need to get going," I whispered.
Nico rolled over next to me and nuzzled his face into the back of my neck.
"What time is it?" asked Percy, the grogginess apparent in his voice.
"Almost ten," I replied an edge of worry in my tone.
His eyes shot open to reveal his dazzling green iris'.
"Yeah," I agreed in response to his stunned reaction.
"Can't be," he argued then glanced at his watch, "Holy Zeus! Wake up Nico."
"I think you just did," I replied as I felt Nico stir a bit, groan, yawn and then sneeze on my back.
"Why are you guys up so early? The sun hasn't even risen," Nico complained rubbing at his eyes.
"It's late and I'm not even sure if the sun will rise," I said, wiggling out of my sleeping bag.
We folded up the seats, Nico wasn't much help he was too sleepy to do anything, so Percy and I agreed to let him sit on the dirt looking like a floppy teddy bear.
"How far until we reach our destination?" I asked.
"We still have to cross Nevada, but that shouldn't take long with this bad boy," he said patting the Daemon's railings.
"How many days do we have left? I've lost track of time."
Percy examined his shoes for a few seconds, and then stared up at me, looking into my eyes as if he were trying to read my emotions, "Lea, tomorrow is the winter solstice, tomorrow night you will have to face and defeat Nyx."
I gulped, as if I were trying to swallow the dread that was welling up in my chest, threatening to come pouring out of my eyes in the form of tears. I chewed on my lip nervously.
"Are you sure?"
"No. But I'm going to keep telling myself that I am and hope that it boosts my confidence."
In silence we loaded into the Daemon shoving Nico into the back seat where he growled disapprovingly and flopped onto the leather.
I smiled, a sad but thankful smile, "It's good that he's getting his rest. He'll need it just like all of us do."
Percy revved the engine and we drove off, leaving a dust trail behind us.
It was 10:30 when the sun finally peeked it head over the horizon and we were nearly three-fourths of the way through Nevada (Percy had found a button labeled Hyper-Mode the flung us even faster across the landscape. I was worried we'd hit some unsuspecting Semi-truck.)
Nico still dozed happily in the backseat until full daylight had set in and he just sat lazily in half-R.E.M.
I was so happy when I finally saw the "Welcome to California" sign.
I was finally back home.
If only I had known what was coming next, I wouldn't have been so excited. Heck, I would have told Percy to turn around.
As we approached California's border Percy and I grinned at each other, both knowing how good it was to finally be so close to our destination.
When we crossed the state line I sighed and was about to let out a excited "Whoo!" When Percy turned to me his eyes wide with fear. His spoke one word.
"Annabeth." And then the world exploded around us.
When I felt myself come back into conscious, everything hurt, especially my head. For the first few seconds I left my eyes closed and prepared myself for what I was about to see. When I finally did open my eyes, I saw the opposite of what I expected. I was predicting a burnt landscape, the desert stretching out before us, and the Daemon reduced to rubble. But instead what I saw made me gasp, it was gorgeous. A field an unnatural shade of green spread out in the distance fading off into rolling hills, the sky was a vibrant blue, the sun about to set behind the hills, making every blade of grass glow with golden edges. A stream bubbled and churned not but three feet away and beyond a river glistened in the sunlight.
I tried to lift my head and as I did I heard a sickening crackle and it felt as if I had been glued to the grass. The left side of my face stuck firmly and I had to peel it from the ground. When I looked to see what was holding me down, I nearly passed out. A pool of dried blackening blood glistened back up at me. I rolled onto my back and touched the side of my face. I looked at my fingers, which were now coated in the thick red slime. As I felt my way up my face, my finger met a few small scrapes, I counted three, about an inch long, but they were deep, even the slightest touch made me wince in pain. Just above my eyebrow was the source of all of the blood, about three inches long, across my entire forehead, was a cut, just a deep as it was wide. I yelped as I drew my forefinger across it, in order to calculate its severity. It wasn't good.
"Percy," I called out weakly. My voice was frail and quiet, almost alarmingly, as if someone had tried to steal my voice. I turned my head to the right, a black figure sprawled out next to me. Nico. I could only see his hands, but from what I could see, his hands were blistered and burnt, a puckering red. I tried to speak his name, but the words would leave my mouth, they hung on the edge of my lips and dangled until I closed my mouth.
I willed my aching body to stand, but instead I just crawled as close to him as I could and collapsed next to him.
I looked at my clothes, my converse had partially melted from the heat of the explosion, the white soles drooping. My entire body was scraped and burned. The pink tank top that I had changed into this morning was torn and burnt just like my jeans. Wait, was it this morning, how long had I been out? If it had been more than a day then that would mean that I'd failed and Nyx had already risen. After a few seconds of hyperventilation, I remembered the sun. No, it was only this morning that we had blown up.
I'd never been in so much pain, I felt as if there was someone standing on my chest, all of my limbs felt like steel, and the sharp twinges of pain stung me with every breath. Nico was turned the other direction, his shiny black hair glints like liquid obsidian. I reached out for him and ran my fingers down his jaw line and rolled him to face me. He didn't look as bad as I feel, only a few bloodless cuts, framing his face. One larger cut slicing his lower lip is the only the thing that worried me. He looked so peaceful when he's sleeping (or unconscious) all of the pain melted from his face. He groaned and I stroked his cheek, he smiled peacefully and continued laying there with his eyes closed. I wasn't sure if he was asleep or not, so I left him there.
I was about to stand up when I heard a loud and familiar groan, I whipped around to see Percy at the edge of the stream, before I could call out to him, he rolled and fell into the stream with a large splash. I scrambled to help him, if he was till unconscious and had accidentally rolled into the water, he could drown, and that would be a very sad ending to such a acclaimed hero. Drown in a non-magical stream. When I reached the stream I saw him laying below the surface of the water, his face calm and relaxed as if he were taking a nap. No bubbles were coming from his mouth or nose so he wasn't exhaling. I plunged my hand into the cool water and clutched his collar, pulling his head above surface. Weirdly enough, his cuts looked as if they had been healing for a while and were already starting to close over.
The second his face broke the surface of the water, he opened one eye and squinted at me, "What?"
I cried out and then dropped him back into the stream. He sat up, his shoulders and head above water, a he grinned, "Oh right, forgot to mention that I can breathe underwater."
Although I was so tired and sore I could barely stand up I still fumed and tackled him shoving his head below the surface, straddling him, pinning him to the streambed.
"You idiot! I thought you were going to drown!" I cried out, the vigor returning to my voice.
He laughed, still underwater, which made a funny gurgling sound.
I let go and let myself drift a little downstream. The water felt nice and cool. I sat a few feet away from Percy and looked at my reflection in the gleaming water. My face looked at bad as my torn clothes, the skin on my cheeks was peeling from both dry skin and burns. The scrapes were swollen and bright red, the blood still oozing. I laid back and let the cold water flood over my face washing away the grime. When I sat up I saw that Percy had now fully healed, his father's blessing coming in handy. If only he could heal me too. I stepped out of the water, feeling somewhat rejuvenated and dragged Nico to the edge of the stream and began to wash his cuts. The second the water touched his skin, his eyes shot open, but when he saw me and smiled the muscles in his body relaxing.
"Oh hey Lea," he said. His voice was soft, but not weak, he acted as if it was a normal thing to have your car explode and end up in a completely different place.
I brushed his matted hair out of his face, "Morning, or should I say late afternoon."
"Where are we?" he asked.
"No idea." I replied.
"Here," called Percy.
Before we could continue our conversation, someone cut us off, "Demigods?"
I jumped to my feet, which caused a lot of water to splash onto Nico. When I looked back at him, he was drawing his sword out of the shadows, Percy unsheathed Riptide next to me, and I felt it was necessary to join in.
I pressed the button on my necklace and watched as the sword folded out.
"Demigods, indeed," said the voice, when I looked up at it, I had to shield my eyes, a silhouette stood directly in front of the sun, it looked like a centaur but when my eyes adjusted, I realized different. It was just a guy on a horse. He had sandy brown hair and a short thin scraggly beard, he looked a whole lot like Thor from the Avengers, mounted on his simple brown stallion he looked like someone from a medieval age film. Although he was wearing a pale brown t-shirt and jeans.
"What is your business here?" he questioned, his voice firm and commanding. Not the type of guy you'd want to challenge to a game of arm wrestling. Not even considering the gigantic muscles that rippled through his biceps.
"Umm, finding out how to get to Shasta," I said, my pitch raising at the end of my sentence as if I was asking a question.
Thor furrowed his eyebrows, "Why would you even think about going there? A very powerful titan has made that her new castle, to rule a kingdom she has not yet taken. We have been waiting for the saviors to defeat her, just as they do all of the villains. "
Apparently, he talked like a person from the medieval age too.
"Yeah, we know. We're going to go take her down. Who are these saviors?"
"The ones who go and fight the battles for the gods. They can never be defeated!"
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's us," I replied, poking at the ground with my sword.
For a second, he looked taken aback, and then he shrugged, "I guess there is no law saying that the saviors can't be scrawny."
Scrawny? Who's he calling scrawny. I know I'm not exactly the biggest and buffest person out there but scrawny is definitely not a word I would use to describe myself. Just because he was the size and shape of a professional body builder it doesn't turn me into a puny little child.
"Follow me, I will take you back to my tribe," He said, turning his horse. He looked over his shoulder and said, "Oh, forgive me, my name is Capillus."
Now, my Latin isn't great, but somewhere in the back of my mind, something was telling me that Capillus roughly translated to 'beard'. It would make sense since the guy had a great beard, but who names their child after facial hair? I half-expected his father's name to be Goatee.
Capillus rode off down stream, Percy, Nico and I trudged behind him, clutching at our wounds. A dull pain clung to my left ribs, and I tried to put pressure on the focus point, wondering if I'd cracked a rib.
It took about twenty minutes to reach the small village that was our destination. There were horses of all different colors everywhere, they roamed the fields, ambled through the tents and were tied to posts near water troughs. It reminded me of a movie I would watch all the time when I was little, it was called like Soul or something.
All of the people in the village stopped and stared at us as we walked past, as if we some kind of alien. I couldn't help but stare at them too, I had finally figured out why Capillus had called me scrawny. All of these people were huge, like six feet minimum and there bodies were around a foot thick. They looked like they evolved from oxes instead of apes.
Capillus led us to a large tent at the end of the row. The thick green canas billowed in the cool breeze.
He led us inside, I felt a bit hesitant at first, the interior was dimly lit and someone could be concealed in the darkness, but I was probably just being paranoid.
"Young demi-gods, meet the chieftain, Barbus, leader of the Pilosus Tribe of the Aramsipi Race," he stated proudly.
Nico raised an eyebrow at me as if to ask, "Did he just say what I think he said?"
A man emerged from the shadows, he looked like an older version of Capillus, probably in his mid-fifties. His face was kind but stern, like he was someone you could trust, but would punish you harshly if you disobeyed him and he certainly looked powerful. A red toga draped over his chest, with a white chiton underneath, it was hemmed with what looked like real gold, or maybe celestial bronze, because it glowed in such a brilliant way. A golden Sun was emblazoned onto the red of his toga, it shimmered even in such a dimly lit room. It was only then that I realized his toga was the only source of light in the room, yet I could see his face clearly.
"Hello, young demigods, welcome to my home, I hope you find it welcoming."
His was deep, warm and welcoming, it reminded me of Aslan from Narnia, and the mane of hair he had, added to that.
"What is your business here?" it didn't so much seem like as an interrogation, but more like he was interested in our story. I instantly burst out, going on about our quest.
He was a great listener, nodding at the right moments and hmming when something tragic happened or a monster attacked and remaining respectfully silent at the boring ( well, boring in comparison) parts. Occasionally he would say "Yes, I see," or "Go on." When I began to speak about my dream with Apollo, he tensed.
I paused, and waited for him to say something, he just continued to stare at me.
The second I mentioned the River of Gold, something strange happened, his eyes glazed over and I watched in awe as they began to change. From both corners of his eyes, gold seeped in, like an extra metallic eyelid. His eyes widened, now completely gold, like a solid orb of the dimly glowing metal, and he stared intensely at me. Although I couldn't exactly tell where his gaze was going, since he had no iris or pupils.
Panic seized my insides and I shrieked, backing up into Percy, who also stood frozen with shock.
Barbus' voice echoed through the tent, now deeper and more metallic sounding, "Stay away from the Golden River, the waters are not your to take."
He walked slowly towards us, almost like a robot.
I glanced up at Capillus, hoping he would come to our aid, saving us from his possessed leader, but instead only found that he too, was in the same condition. His eyes a solid gold, glaring down at us.
"Eyes of gold," muttered Nico.
"Yeah! I can see that!" I cried, desperation ringing in my voice.
"Trust scales of blue, that was Mea. But not eyes of gold, and I think we found them," He stated. He glanced at me, barely daring to take his eyes off Barbus. I could tell that he was still trying to assess the situation, whether we should attack or not.
"What do we do?" I ask him, my voice quivering.
"Retreat, but draw your weapons," he said, calmly, slowly and quietly.
I pressed my necklace and the blade folded out slowly, as if it could feel my hesitation and matched it.
I felt Percy's forefinger on my shoulder, slowly he placed his middle finger down next to it, and finally his ring finger and then with a burst of energy, signaled by his silent count to three, I turned. With the hilt of my sword I knocked Capillus in the face, just where his forehead and nose meet. Then after seeing Nico do the same to Barbus, we dashed out of the tent.
Apparently the rest of the tribe was affected by the plague of gold, because they to followed like zombies after brains.
"Protect the river," they moaned in unison.
Luckily they were quite slow and we were fast, so escaping was no problem, the camp wasn't very big either and the tribe was only made up of about thrity people so we didn't face much trouble. We knocked the ones that we could out, on the way.
"Follow the sunset," yeled Nico back to me.
He clearly didn't suffer as bad of injuries, I was regretting having called shotgun yesterday.
My back ached with a fury and I limped a little, but other than that I sprinted just behind Percy and Nico, although I'm usually faster than them.
I only tripped once, I stumbled, and glanced back, the tribe was following us but they were far behind. Percy ran back and helped me up. I muttered an "I'm fine," although that's not exactly how I felt. Before I could resist, he grabbed me, tucking his arm around my back and under my knees. Then he sprinted into the sunlight. I felt like I damsel in distress being carried away by her prince charming. So in other words, I hated it. I struggled, trying to wiggle out of his arms, so that I could prove to him that I could do it on my own, that I'm not weak and defenseless.
"Come on, Lea, stop that. I know you can run, but this is faster," he explained. His calm tone oozing through the air and into me.
I sighed over-dramatically, in the most "Fine, whatever," way I could and hung my lead back limply.
Once we had covered enough ground, Percy set me down and I continued to jog forward.
Eventually, we reached a small stream, a different one than before. There was small cascading waterfalls, and it tumbled down and around the rolling hills. The water sparkled gold in the sunlight. As I got closer I realized, it was wasn't the sun that was turning it gold. We had found the river.
I remembered the special vial, and the second I did, I realized we were missing our bag, all of our supplies, my armor, my forks, all my clothes. I checked my back pocket, the shield was still there. As I did, I noticed a gold chain threaded through my belt loops.
I was wearing a golden chain belt? That's strange I don't remember putting that on or even owning one. Then as I followed the chain from my back to my front, I saw the vial, no wonder the chain was so long when my father gave it to me. It wasn't a necklace it was a waistband.
It quickly whipped it off, and stared into the tiny glass bottle. It probably could hold around 50 ml of liquid. As I looked into the shining glass a face reflected back, but it wasn't mine, the familiar sandy blonde hair and sparkly eyes. He winked then disappeared.
"Thank you Apollo," I sighed to the heavens, "Thanks for getting me my belt back."
I shakily unscrewed the cap and walked over to the stream, kneeling at the bank. A strange warmth emanated from it, then I realized, liquid sunlight, duh, it's going to be hot. Don't touch.
I dipped the bottle in and watched, mesmerized as the sunlight flowed in.
I waited a few seconds as the gleaming liquid dripped off.
I was so, so, so tempted to touch it, imagining the feeling, warm soft liquid silk, flowing across my finger tips.
I reached out and caught a drop on my finger tip, and immediately screamed in pain as it burned straight through my skin.
I flicked it off, almost dropping the fragile bottle in all of my desperate scrambling.
"Lea!" cried Nico, rushing to my side, obviously alarmed by my scream.
"Don't touch the water," I said. My eyes wide with fear or what could've happened if I'd touch more than a drop.
Apollo's words repeated in my head, "You see a little sunlight is good it warms the soul and helps enlighten the mind, but as your dad said, many who come across it get greedy, and it burns their bodies alive, literally… it is as deadly to demigods as it is to monsters". I should've heeded his warning.
But then I recalled something else that he said, "watch out for the guardians."
I guessed he meant the Arimaspi, but when Percy yelled, "New monster incoming," I began to second guess.
I didn't see anyone emerging over the hills, and for a second I was confused, but when I followed Percy's gaze to the sky. I gasped, it looked like pegasi at first, but as they circled closer, I noticed the tawny brown and gold barn owl-like wings and the beaks, all mounted on horse bodies.
"Griffons," muttered Nico.
"I've faced Griffons before, and trust me they didn't look like that, but then again I was in Alaska so…" said Percy trailing off as they drew closer.
"Californian Griffins, great," I sighed. I was in no shape to fight.
Then I looked at the setting sun, it hadn't moved at all since we'd arrived here which was strange, Apollo must be focusing all of his energy to rid us of Nyx's watch for a while.
I looked up at the sky, and spoke with all the strength and willing I had left, "Apollo, I have one last favor to ask of you…help."
The last bit of the sentence was less forceful and more pleading, desperation setting in. The three of us couldn't face multiple griffins and an entire tribe of zombie warriors, especially not in the condition we were in.
Nothing happen and I almost began to sob, I felt so hopeless. The griffins screeched angrily above a final warning call.
Then a brilliant flash of light, warmth overtaking my body, and silence gorgeous silence.