Everything around us was moving at half the normal speed. Even the chariot; which floated almost weightlessly in the time-suspended air. Apparently only Nico and I were the only things unaffected by the time spell. Us and our clothing that is. Funny how like in movies the clothes also magically are immune too.
I screamed for a few minutes, until I realized we weren’t really moving, and I just looked absurd.
The cave wall closed behind us, Nico and I looked at each other. While I was panicking he looked like a kid in a candy store. He was home, back in the underworld and he had me with him.
“Let’s go,” he said, jumping down from the five feet still in midair chariot.
I jumped down after him, little bits of dust curled of the ground where I landed, spiraling up in slow motion. It looked kind of awesome.
Nico grabbed my hand and pulled me after him.
“We’re just on the edge of the Fields of Asphodel, We just have to go through and then behind the judgment pavilion. This will be easy,” he said, his voice way to joyful to be normal.
“When is anything ever easy?” I asked as he dragged me a long.
He didn’t respond, instead he just led the way as we weaved in-between jagged spike of black stone.
I sighed and followed him.
I felt way too vulnerable without my armor but at least I had my sword and shield.
Nico clearly knew his way around whereas I was lost in the sea of darkness.
We rounded a corner and were exposed into the open.
From this point I could see the entirety of the underworld, in the distance I could see the outline of Hades palace, miles away.
“I though you said it wasn’t far,” I protested.
“Close enough,” he said.
I groaned dramatically but was cut off when I caught sight of something about halfway there.
A dim glow of fire surrounding hundreds of monsters. Giants, Harpies, the Furies, Cyclopes, Keres, Dracaena, Kobaloi, Empousai and some things I’ve never even seen before.
I gulped helplessly.
Nico stared in awe at the army with me.
“Your dad is screwed,” I stated dumbly.
“So are we,” said Nico, then he pointed just left of the main crowd, “They’re so spread out, there is no way we can get past with at least fifty feet gap.”
I looked closer, he was right. Though there was a more condensed group in the middle, the monsters were just spread out enough that there was no gap that Nico and I could get through.
“We’ll figure it out once we get there,” I said, trying to sound confident. I began to finish out decent down the steep slope of the cave wall.
“No wait,” said Nico, grabbing my arm, “over there.”
He pointed at the farthest right hand side of the army.
“If we climb those cliffs there is a small pass along the cave wall, that we can use to bypass the monsters, going over head of them,” he explained, hope rushing back into his voice.
“Cliff climbing. Great,” I muttered sarcastically.
Nico grabbed my hand and we began the walk down the hillside together.
He and I walked together for at least and hour.
We crossed the Fields of Asphodel easily, the grass waved slowly around us and the shades moved in slow-motion as we walked by. It was so eerily silent, just the sound of Nico and I’s breathing could be heard and a dull humming in the background.
I wished we could stop and rest, maybe get a drink of water or something, but unfortunately we had little time and no water.
“We’re coming up on the Fields of Punishment,” said Nico.
“Mmm, my favorite place,” I chided, my sarcasm was growing stronger with every step I took.
Eventually the Fields of Punishment came into sight, except it wasn’t really a field at all. It was just scattered volcanic rock, with geysers of lava and the stench of burning flesh. Well I guessed that what it smelled like, I’d never smelt burnt flesh before, but that’s how I’d imagine it would smell.
I gripped Nico’s hand a little tighter.
From what I could tell bad eighties music was playing loudly, just as Percy had foretold me, but it was slowed down dramatically, so it just sounded like a bunch of deep voiced demons trying to sing opera.
There were shades scattered among the volcanic rocks, doing various terrible things. One was attempting calculus without a calculator; another was washing thousands of dishes in the lava, and many other terrible things. I cringed as I watched them perform their tasks in slow motion. I ripped my stare away from the poor souls and looked straight ahead, focusing on my destination.
Nico and I walked quickly over the volcanic rock, trying to pass this area as quickly as possible.
Our feet skidded over the rough volcanic pebbles and sweat began to drip from my brow, it was unbearable hot down here with all the lava. The only thing that kept me slightly cool was the veil of bottle frost around my neck. It kept my collarbones cool but the rest of me was on fire. I felt like going for a swim.
As soon as I thought that, a river came into sight.
I nearly ran and dove in, but I felt Nico tense up and we both stopped.
“Crap,” he cursed under his breath, “I forgot.”
“Forgot about what?” I asked, curiously.
“That’s the River Lethe,” he said, “I came here before with Percy and Thalia, Percy was able to bend the water so that none of us touched it. Except the titan we were fighting.”
A flashback slammed into my conscious, the titan from last year sitting upon his throne, the one mad from mud and litter.
My stomach curled at the thought, I knew that one drop of this water would wipe my memory clean.
I clung to Nico, as we approached it slowly.
It churned with a dull roar the grey water swirling at half the normal pace of water.
“What do we do?” I asked looking at Nico helplessly.
“I-I don’t know,” he said, “There is no bridge to cross it.”
He glanced down at my neck his brow furrowing a little, “What’s that?”
I felt at my neckline, my fingers curling around the cool vial of ice.
My eyes widened with realization.
“We don’t need a bridge,” I exclaimed, “We can make one!”
“What?” asked Nico shocked and confused.
I pulled the necklace off over my head, the little ice blue vial glimmered in the dim light.
“Pure frost,” I explained, “Leo gave it to me!”
“Leo?” asked Nico, his voice lilting up weirdly at the end of the name.
I didn’t bother going into that conversation.
I walked up to the river bank, and carefully unhinged the vial.
As soon as I did frost began to crawl down the glass, creeping towards my fingers. I panicked a little and hastily tossed the vial into the river.
At first nothing happened then there was an eruption of white about halfway across the river. Swirls of ice blue, tumbled and expanded over the surface of the water in slow motion. There was the crack and crinkling sound of ice forming and within minutes a bridge of thick ice had formed over the river.
I grabbed Nico’s hand and dragged him across the ice, we slipped and skidded across easily, quickly overcoming our first obstacle.
“Good thing Leo likes you so much,” muttered Nico bitterly.
I punched him on the shoulder and said, “Shut up, jealousy does not look good on you.”
Then I continued to drag him towards the cave wall.
We arrived at the small pathway up the cave side within the hour.
There was a small pathway, about a foot wide meandering up the side of the cave wall. After a few yards, more tall shards of obsidian make a wall about five feet high parallel to the cave edge. The pathway cut through the thin crevice gradually growing steeper.
I went ahead of Nico walking up the slick pathway, bracing my hands on the walls, letting them serve as railings of sorts.
The hike was long and boring, we stopped every few minutes to catch our breath.
Near the end of the path about a hundred yards from the palace, just where the path starts to slope down, the stone spikes disappear. We were about ninety feet about the cave floor and below me I can see a collection of monsters, walking below. It was mostly Cyclops and few keres, nothing too scary, plus they were out of range to be any danger to Nico and I.
I looked at Nico, he gave me a nod, and we advanced forward beginning the descent.
We continued on in silence for a long while.
“Wait,” Nico stated abruptly, stirring me from my daze, “Rockslide,” he said, cautiously.
I turned to see what he was talking about, but I did this too quickly, my converse slid on the slick rock and I lost my footing.
The pathway was just thin enough that my foot slid over the edge and I lost my balance. For a second I tried to grasp for the cave wall, but it was too late. I tumbled down the cave wall. The slope was steep, almost a cliff. I skidded and rolled down the side the sharp rocks cutting into my exposed arms, ripping through my flesh.
I screamed as I fell not only scared of the pain of the fall, the separation from Nico but I could feel myself drawing scarily close to the monsters and I couldn’t find a way to get traction to slow myself down.
That when I hit it, I felt a wave a of warm air cushion me, like hitting memory foam and then passing through it. The time barrier hit me and then washed over the entire underworld in a quick wave. Time jumped back to normal speed for everything.
I skidded to stop, lying on my back cut and bleeding at the base of the cave wall. I groaned in pain, clutching my elbows, which felt like they been through a cheese grater.
Over the pounding of my heartbeat in my ears a roar cut through the silence.
“Demigod!” yelled a deep voice and in return multiple screeches and battle cries broke out.
Thundering foot steps shook the ground.
I jumped to my feet, well, not really jumped more like a drunken stagger to a half-standing position.
I gripped at my right arm which had a deep gash in it and looked up.
Every set of eyes was on me, hundreds of monsters were running towards me.
There was a moment that felt like an electric shock through my body, my whole brain screaming and then I took off.
I sprinted towards the palace.
I cursed repeatedly under my breath, I couldn’t outrun all of these monsters, not with a good two hundred feet left to go.
“Lea!” I heard someone yell from next to me.
It was Nico, I glanced at him and then kept running.
I knew he would help me, but there was no time for damsel in distress ‘Oh thank you, my savior’ greetings.
“Keep going,” he yelled to me.
“I wasn’t planning on stopping for tea!” I yelled back to him.
I heard him laugh and then there was a sound like the earth breaking open and I looked back to see.
As a matter of fact, the earth was breaking open.
A jagged crevice was cutting its was through the ground, Nico at the base of it.
Monsters tumbled into the pit of despair only to end up who knows where.
I laughed triumphantly and yelled back to Nico as I continued to run, “I knew there was a reason I agreed to date you!”
He chuckled and then used his powers to send a large chunk of rock to erupt from the earth socking a Hyperborean giant in the jaw.
In the distance more monsters roared and shrieked angrily trying to find a way across the crevice that block there path to us.
We were safe for now, safe enough.
I was getting out of breath, with still a hundred feet left to go.
My pace slowed and I fought as my body began to shiver, dying for more oxygen that my gasps could not deliver quick enough.
Suddenly, something grabbed my legs and then my back and I was lifted.
Nico held me, bridal style in his arms as he ran towards the palace.
I protested loudly, hitting him on the chest, “No, stop it! Put me down! Screw you! I can run fine on my own!”
He grinned down at me, “Are you sure?’
I groaned loudly and admitted, “No.”
Then I continued to pout until we reached the palace wall.
I he gave me a boost and then I pulled him up and he jumped down and fell down after him.
We jogged together and he led me into the palace the second we entered the corridor we were met by Hades who quickly stated, “Follow me.”
He strutted down the hallway into the familiar foyer where I had come last year, The portal through which Nico and I had gone through to Olympus last year was already open.
I looked around the room, staring at the stain glass windows of each of Hades family members.
There was new one above all the other showing a dark arena and a figure with pink and brown hair holding a golden sword and shield above her was a glowing ball of pink light.
I immediately recognized it as myself and was about to ask, when Hades cut me off.
He shoved a spiky object into my hand and said “Go quickly.”
“Dad I’m stay here to help you,” said Nico.
“No, go with your friend,” said Hades harshly, staring at Nico with eyes a dark as the obsidian stone that had cut me.
“She’ll do fine on her own,” argued Nico, then he grabbed me pulling me into a tight hug.
I tried to argue with him, he couldn’t leave me. Not again.
But before I could tell him that he shoved me through the portal.
I screamed and landed heavily on the marble floor of Olympus, the spiky object still clutched in my hands.
I looked at it closer.
It was crown, of sorts, it looked like it was sized for a doll.
The base was no bigger than the palm of my hand.
It was made from spiked stygian iron curling into itself like vines of metal intertwined into crown, with chunks of precious stone caught in-between some of the metal tendrils.
“Nico,” I muttered, quietly.
“Your friend will be alright,” said someone, “I have sent reinforcements to help him and his father.”
Zeus looked down at me with pity, from his throne.
“That doesn’t sound like you,” I spat at him, “Aren’t you usually the type to sit safely up here on Olympus and watch your brothers fight their battles alone.”
“This is all of ours war,” said Zeus, his voice trying to be emotionless but I could hear a twinge of grief breaking through.
I frowned at him, I was fed up with being put through this emotional and physical torture at the gods expense.
“I’m sorry for doing this to you,” said Zeus, “I really am.”
He snapped his fingers and all of my cuts sealed themselves healing instantly. I sighed with relief.
“Congratulations,” continued Zeus, “On collecting the third piece of the staff.”
From behind me I heard rushed footsteps, I turned to see Annabeth jog into the room.
“I got here as quickly as I could,” she said, running up to me kneeling on the floor next to me, “Lea, are you alright?”
“Just dandy,” I said, letting her help me to my feet, although I was healed I was still very tired.
We walked to the center of the room and she opened the Safe of the Gods, the podium rose from the floor and I carefully set the crown on top and watched as the marble column sunk back into the floor.
Zeus cleared his throat, glaring at Annabeth.
“I’ll be outside,” she said.
As soon as she left a new mirage mirror flickered to life in front of Zeus.
It showed San Francisco, zooming in on Mount Tamalpais.