We loaded into the car, as we drove I watched Mount Tam in the distance, there were no obvious hordes of monsters running in our direction no magic missiles being launched at us. It was almost unsettling how quiet it was.
I stuck my head out of the car window as we drove up the Mountain side, riding a sparkly black Prius into battle with my parents. This was something I should do more often.
The afternoon air was rich with the familiar scent of Eucalyptus; I had been to San Francisco many times, various field trips to the museums.
I never knew then danger that lay across the bay, but I guess now it made sense why I was attacked by a snake-demon in the King Tut exhibit in sixth grade.
We pulled over at a lookout, and began to gear up for battle.
I activated my armor and tucked by weapons disk into my back pocket.
After slinging on a messenger bag, re-tying my combat boots and pulling on my leather fingerless gloves, I was ready.
I squinted up at the Mountain, at first it just looked like a regular lookout at the peak, but the image flickered to the black marble fortress from my dream. I tried to focus through the mist but it was over whelmingly strong.
I was having trouble seeing through it and I was trained to, I wondered how my mom would survive. It would such if we were fighting Ladon and all she saw was a very angry willow tree swaying in the breeze.
I looked over at my mom and almost fell off my seat.
She was wearing a leather jacket, combat boots, jeans, biker gloves and aviator glasses, wielding a crossbow.
My jaw dropped open, with her hair pulled back into a ponytail she looked like some intense Angelina Jolie action movie character.
“Holy Hephaestus mom! You look awesome,” I exclaimed.
“Thanks sweetie,” she said grinning.
It was weird seeing my mom in such a casual outfit; she usually wore business suits with pencils skirts and heeled shoes.
Henry took a look at her and a smile spread across his face, “You look beautiful, Noel.”
“Where’d you get those glasses?” I asked, in awes at the shining gold rimmed aviators.
“They were gift from you real father, Morpheus, “They allow me to see through the mist,” she said proudly.
“I gotta get me some of those,” I said, seriously admiring the rockin shades.
We marched up the hill, the scenery faded from Eucalyptus trees and brush into rich flowers and trees. Everything became soft a green and moisture filled the air. Even though we were gaining altitude I could breathe easily in the oxygen rich environment. Everything cast shadows like it was late in the day, the flowers glowed dimly and everything had a strange golden aura to it, like it was being struck with the last light of day. As if the garden was in some eternal twilight, even though in reality it was mid-day.
“It lovely up here,” I admitted looking back out over the bay, “I’m gonna have to say that the Titans have got a better view that the gods.”
“They sure do,” agreed Henry, taking a second to look over the bay with me.
Our break was interrupted suddenly when a voice said, “You shouldn’t have come.”
A girl with obsidian black eyes came out from the shrubbery, glaring at us.
“Can we cut the ominous warnings short? Please?” I asked, “I get enough of those already.”
She looked taken aback, wounded even.
“I am one of the Hesperides,” she stated, “One of the dwellers of this garden.”
“That’s nice,” I replied, “I’m Lea. These are my parents.”
“You brought your parents on a quest?” she asked, looking seriously confused.
Apparently I was the first demigod to do this.
“Is she evil?” whispered my mom.
“Yeah, sort of,” I whispered back to her.
Before I could even react, my mother shot a bolt from her crossbow, it went straight into the nymphs stomach.
The nymph screamed in pain and rage, “Did you just shoot me?”
“Did you just shoot her?” I repeated in exclamation, shocked at my mom’s rash action.
“You said she was evil!” explained my mom quickly, “Aren’t I supposed to shoot evil things.”
“I said she was sort of evil!” I replied, exasperated.
“Sort of it enough for me,” replied my mom, “I’m not taking any chances.”
I looked at Henry desperate; he just shrugged as if to say, ‘It’s her decision whether or not she wants to kill garden nymphs.’
The Hesperid clutched her stomach and then with one last hateful glance she disappeared back into the garden.
“Oh gods, what have you done mom?” I asked, throwing my hands up in exasperation.
“Sorry! I don’t know how this whole good versus bad thing works!” she admitted.
“Whatever,” I said, “Let’s just hope she doesn’t call for reinforcements.”
Seconds later a roar tore through the air, the definitive sound of a dragon who had just been woken from his afternoon nap.
“Spoke too soon,” I said, pulling out my sword and shield.
“Lea,” said Henry, his tone urgent, “Go get the orb, Noel and I will stay here and distract Ladon.”
“But-” I protested, but when Henry gave me that ‘NOW’ look, I could argue.
I sprinted up the hill, toward the fortress the clouds swirling angrily above me, where atlas held up the earth. I veered as far right as I could without exiting the garden.
I reached the temple without being interrupted or detected by Ladon, unfortunately, there was someone waiting for me up there; Menoetius.
He was wearing heavy bronze armor, and he wielded a giant bronze shield.
“Demigod!” he yelled with a mixture of excitement and rage.
“Big dumb guy!” I yelled in return.
The excitement left his face, the rage taking over.
He charged down the hill at me, his shield protected the entirety of his body minus his head, and I did something so cliché I doubted it would work.
I played chicken with him, standing my ground, seeing who would move of the others way first.
The minute he was feet away I sprung into action, his shield was tilted perfectly at a slope, I ran up it like a ramp stepping off his shoulder jumping over him.
From there I continued running, glancing back to see him trying to come to a stop so that he could turn and chase me, but he had too much momentum.
He skidded down the steep hill trying desperately to slow himself down.
Luckily, gravity was working with me today; his heavy armor practically dragged him down the mountain side.
I knew I didn’t have long until he finally slowed down and began to run back up the hill.
I continued into the fortress, it was a simple black temple, much like the Parthenon, but more square.
Hermes had said this place faded away after Jason toppled the throne, but with the Stirring still on the rise, the building reformed quickly.
I skidded into the marble room; sitting on the marble pedestal sat the orb.
“Wow,” I sighed happily, “Why do they think it’s a good idea to leave it out in the open?”
I snatched it off the podium holding it tightly in both of my hands.
Suddenly, my body tensed up; every muscle going rigid.
It was a feeling I recognized, I was no longer in control.
The last time this happened was in the arena with Styx.
I could see a dim white glow around my vision, it reminded me of the pink I used to see when using my powers.
I could tell my eyes were glowing full white right now.
I was possessed.
Involuntarily my grip snapped open and I watched as the orb fell to the floor.
It shattered on contact thousands of tiny white shards spraying over the black marble.
My heart dropped with surprise and defeat.
The orb was completely broken.
I almost began to cry with frustration, of course, nothing in my life could be this easy.
The white light faded, and a chillingly voice echoed through the hall, “Be careful of traps.”
I quickly dropped to floor scooping the pieces of white stone into my hands and then shoveling them into my messenger bag.
I got out of there before I could be possessed again.
I took off running back down the hill, I passed Menoetius on the way, he was panting in attempt to lug his way up the mountainside.
“See ya!” I called as I darted by.
“Oh come on,” he yelled turning once again in pursuit of me.
I launched through the garden, eventually coming upon the tree infamous for its produce.
Golden apples gleamed as they hung from the limbs; I reached up and snatched one as I went.
I entered the clearing where my parents were fighting Ladon.
I gulped, Ladon was certainly the most terrifying dragon I’ve ever seen and I’ve fought Python himself.
Ladon had shining copper scales and hundreds of heads; he looked like a tangle of rattlesnakes combined into one creature.
Most of its head lay limps on the ground, with arrows or crossbow bolts through them, but he still had about twenty functioning heads, and my mother was about of bolts.
She and Henry dodged the heads frantically as Henry shot arrows at the writhing creature.
As I ran up to them I yelled, “Car, now!”
They both turned as sprinted down the hill back to our Prius. I took at second waving the golden apple in front of Ladon’s face, directing his attention to me. I darted to the right, splitting off in the opposite direction my parents.
Ladon lumbered after me as I disappeared into the forest. The second I was out of Ladon’s direct view I cut to the left, in the direction of the car.
Henry already had in running with my door open by the time I arrived.
I dived into the backseat at he stomped on the gas pedal, we sped off as quickly as an eco-car could go.
Ladon stayed in pursuit, about a hundred yards behind, dragging his inanimate heads behind him like a copper hula skirt.
We raced down the side of the mountain in our Prius the dragon not far behind.
In no time we had reached the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods,” I repeated as Ladon began to gain on us as we entered traffic.
Henry cursed in both Greek and English, “Screw it!” he muttered.
He didn’t slow down instead he swerved in and out of the cars in front of us.
This was the most illegal thing I had ever seen my father do and it was awesome.
Cars honked at us angrily as we passed them switching between lanes.
Soon cops would be chasing us too.
We were about halfway across the bridge when Ladon arrived.
Ladon ran along the roadway, placing his feet in the empty bike likes, he had no interest in killing anyone one but us.
The bridge shook as Ladon thundered behind us.
I prayed that this thing was built to support the weight of hundreds of cars and a vicious dragon. We screeched into the city, Ladon following us through the city buildings.
“I think we should split up!” I yelled over the rumbling of the dragon crashing through the streets behind us.
Henry was about to argue when my mom and I both looked at each other, and nodded.
Henry sighed in agreement, “Three, two, one!” He slammed the brake and we screeched to a stop.
I dove out of the car splitting off to the right my mother going left and Henry continuing forward.
I held the golden apple over the head as I ran, acting as a shining lure for Ladon. It worked.
Ladon swerved onto California Street not but a hundred feet behind me. I twisted and turned onto every street trying to throw him off my trail. Even though he rammed into some building corners he still managed to keep behind me.
Pedestrians screamed as the ground shook beneath Ladon’s feet.
“Earthquake!” some of them shouted as they stayed oblivious to the large copper dragon running past them.
In the late afternoon light the street glowed in twilight.
Just as I was about to get bitten by one of Ladon’s head and turned onto a familiar street, one that I had visited back in Middle School.
I was in China Town.
I sprinted down the street.
Ladon was catching up to me; he was now yards behind but gaining fast as I lost energy.
The street vendors watched in awe as I ran past.
Then something very strange happened they began to whoop and holler excitedly.
“Parade!” yelled one of them.
I glanced behind me and out of the corner of my eye I saw Ladon how the mortals did.
He was large puppet, like the one used in traditional Dragon Dances in the Chinese New Year parades.
Mortals flooded out onto the street some watching, other joining with me, dancing, skipping and running beside me.
This apparently confused Ladon; I guessed he was used to being so avidly celebrated.
I continued running down the street the people playing festive music as I went. Firecrackers began to go off and it gave me an idea.
I put my last bit of energy to get some space between Ladon and I and then I scooped up a freshly lit five foot string of fire crackers and hurled them like a baseball pitcher at Ladon.
Luckily at that moment he was launching one of his heads to bite me, the fire crackers flew straight into his open mouth and his swallowed them instinctively.
There was moment of the stunned silence as I waited for them to go off.
Then there was a dull crack-crack-crack and Ladon exploded into a thousand pieces. It rained copper confetti.
The people loved it, they danced in the confetti, unannounced to them it was actually raining dragon pieces.
I stopped and sat down on the sidewalk, watching the children play happily.
They must have thought that Chinese New Year had come six months late.
I remembered what today was, June 18th, three days before the Summer Solstice and five days until my sixteenth birthday.
It was only now, the with adrenaline dying I remembered what had happened to the orb.
I peered into my messenger bag, the white shards reflected back up to me.
I held back tears, I wouldn’t tell my parents what had happened to it. I’d deal with fixing it when I got back to Olympus.
There was no use worrying about it now.
After a few minutes a black Prius pulled up in front of me and Henry rolled down the window, “You okay kid?”
“Wonderful,” I panted, “How’d you find me?”
“Just followed the chaos,” he said laughing.
He and my mother pulled over and got out the car. They both hugged me tightly.
“Your right,” said my mom softly, “You are a big girl,” a tear of pride streamed down her cheek.
I squeezed her even tighter.
After that we went and got some Chinese food for dinner.
We were walked down one of the beaches when I finally figured out where to go next.
I used my mother’s cell phone to call Annabeth and tell her to watch for a Pegasus coming to Mount Olympus.
Then I gave my messenger bag, with the orb fragments inside to Henry, “Give this to Annabeth, she’ll know what to do wit it.”
He nodded and cab whistled to the sky.
Within second Pegasus landed on the sand, and Henry gave me kiss on the forehead and said goodbye to my mother, “Take her to Disneyland, I’ll meet you guys there,” and he kissed her warmly.
Then he climbed up on Pegasus’ back and flew off, back to New York.
“So,” sighed my mom, looking absolutely exhausted, “Disneyland?”
“Yeah, “I agreed, “I’ve got a tournament to win.”