I kicked open the screen door and quickly pulled off my Seattle clothes, changing into a camp shirt and some ripped up jeans. I almost forgot my shoes on the way out, but when a larger splinter jabbed into my foot I realized my painful mistake. I pulled out on the splinter, with quite a bit of cursing, and pulled on my combat boots.
I was met a the door by Maria, who tackled me with a hug and said, “Welcome back! Where’d you disappear to? Cloe, Ava and I were so worried?” then she lowered her voice, “Was it for, you know…the important mission?”
I tried to subdue my smile, feeling a swelling feeling of warmth in my chest. I was so glad to have friends that noticed and cared when I was gone.
“No, I was actually just picking daisies in a meadow in the forest with my unicorn friends, when I suddenly fell asleep to the song of the fairies and didn’t wake up until now,” I mused at her sarcastically.
“Really?” She asked.
“No,” I replied, and then began to walk to the pavilion.
“Errr,” she began, “You missed an event yesterday, Spear Throwing, so you can’t miss another event or else you’ll be disqualified.”
“What?” I said surprised, “But I could’ve done okay in Spear Throwing.”
“Sorry,” she said twisted her dark brunette braid.
As she twirled her hair, the tip of her braid, the part she was touching changed colors.
Being a child of Hecate, she was great with illusion spells, but sometimes she didn’t realize what she was doing.
I stared at her hair, a raised my eyebrows pointedly when she glanced at me.
She immediately let go of her braid.
“You could do some pretty cool stuff, with that, you know,” I told her.
“Yeah, I guess,” she agreed hesitantly, “Do you miss your powers?”
I sighed, “In a way yes, they were really nice when it came to fighting and quest stuff, but they were worth giving up for sure. It’s nice to be able to fly under the radar.”
“Yeah, but you used to be able to put people to sleep with a glance! Don’t you miss it?” she asked.
“Can we get off the subject?” I asked, feeling more and more like I a part of me was missing the more she talked.
“Oh right, sorry,” she said and looked at the ground.
At this time we had made it to the pavilion, pretty much everyone was already there talking and sitting on the tables.
The Stoll brothers were using rubber bands to launch bits of brisket at the Ares cabin.
I sat down next to Nico and the Minor table, Maria went over and sat down with her Hecate brothers and sisters. Dinner went by uneventfully, it was good to have camp food again, it reminded me of all the times I had eaten here before, making me feel safe and at home.
As we all finished our meals, Chiron stamped his hoof, the echo clattered off the marble, resonating through the pavilion. Silence fell.
Chiron cleared his throat to hush the final voices, “As you all know the First Annual Camp-Half Blood Olympics are halfway over. As you know the prize is three months excused from chores, and golden laurels presents by Lord Apollo himself. Now, we have determined what the final event will be,” he paused for dramatic effect, “Capture the Flag.”
The pavilion exploded with excited noise. Everybody loves Capture the Flag.
I whooped and hollered with everyone else.
I was glad to stand a chance.
Chiron held up his hands, asking for silence, “However, there are still three qualifying events, Chariot Racing, Wrestling and Archery. Chariot racing will take place next week and those from minor cabins are allowed to pair up.”
I punched Nico and the shoulder and when he made eye contact with me, we both nodded in silent agreement of partnership.
“When we have finished all three of the qualifying events, the two highest scoring cabins will move on for the final event. The two cabins will face off for the prize, the final event, however, will not take place at Camp Half-Blood.”
Murmers broke out, many people said “What?” and the overall feeling of confusion was almost tangible.
“The Final Event,” announced Chiron, “Will take place at Disneyland, in California. Courtesy of Apollo.”
I was deafened by the eruption of noise that broke out at that point. I don’t know what I expected, when you offer a large group of teenagers a trip to the happiest place on earth, the reaction you get in destined to be huge.
People laughed and fangirled together, the excitement almost tangible. Campers began to file out, chattering happily with one another, until just Nico and I were left.
“Campfire?” he asked.
“Nah,” I replied, “I already have a headache from all the noise.”
He grinned lopsidedly, “Yeah, me too.”
“Should be fun though,” I said lying back on top of the table, so that I could look up at the stars, “Going to Disneyland together.”
“Yeah,” said Nico lying next to me on the cool marble, “Wonder how they’re going to pull it off. I mean getting all of us there safely.”
“Hmm, I wouldn’t have thought it possible, getting that many demigods out of camp without monsters breathing down our necks,” I agreed.
“I’m sure Chiron knows what he’s doing, he wouldn’t put any of us into danger,” said Nico, but he still sounded unsure.
He and spent the rest of the night chatting mindlessly, staring up at the stars.
It was probably midnight by the time we said goodnight. For some reason whenever I was with him time seemed to move faster, slipping away from me.
The next morning, when I woke up, I was jarred out of my sleep by the clanging of metal. I stomped outside groggily, still in my pajamas to find multiple cabins dragging scraps of metal around, all getting a head start on their chariot.
Without bothering to change I ambled over to Nico’s cabin, shouldering open the door.
He was just pulling on his aviator’s jacket as I walked in.
He jumped, startled by my sudden appearance.
“Sorry, should have knocked,” I said with a yawn.
“It’s cool,” he said, “Ready to get to work?”
“No,” I replied, “Food first, I don’t know about you, but my brain needs some sort of nourishment in order to function.
“I’ll meet you there,” he replied pulling on hit combat boots.
I walked up tot the pavilion where met Ava and Jake, who looked slightly miffed.
As I dumped half of the brown sugar on my oatmeal I asked, “Sup guys?”
Jake scowled at his spoon, “Lance took over the Chariot Project. He’s not letting Ava or I help him, he says that we’re traitors.”
“Why would he say that?” I asked.
“Cause we’re friends with you?” replied Ava, tucking the loose strands of her dark auburn hair behind her ear as she dug her fork into a crack in the marble table.
“Sounds like he’s just upset that I beat him at sword fighting,” I replied, shoveling the oatmeal into my mouth.
“Well duh,” replied Ava, breaking the metal fork in half effortlessly, which kind of frightened me, “You wounded his pride.”
“You know what?” said Jake angrily, “I might as well be a traitor, I don’t want to be in the Hephaestus cabin if he’s leading it.”
“Yeah,” agreed Ava, “Lea, do you want us to help you make a chariot.”
“Y-yes,” I said astounded, “That would be awesome.”
Ava pulled a small sketch book out of one of the punches on her tool belt, and began to hastily sketch out a design.
Every few seconds she’d ask me a question like, “You’re with Nico right?”
“Mhmm,” I replied trying to sneak a peek.
You want stabilizers, right?”
“Err…yes?” I replied, “I think so.”
“Yes you do,” she answered for me.
Jake would add in some technical input every once in a while.
I just sat across the table and watched as they designed to chariot for me.
“What metal should we use?” asked Ava.
“I can get some of the underworld’s finest iron,” offered Nico as he walked up and sat down next to me.
Ava’s eyes widened with excitement, “Perfect. Nobody else will use iron.”
“If they did, that would be ironic,” I said, and then chuckled at my own joke, “Get it? You know dramatic irony?”
The others just looked at me both confused and embarrassed for me.
“Haha, yeeaahh,” I said quietly.
Then Ava sighed happily and turned the sketchbook o show me the sketch.
A lot of it I couldn’t understand, technical terms and such. But I could tell that they’re were strap in foothold, like those on snowboards, to prevent our feet from sliding around and a crossbow mounted on the front.
“Cool,” I said, “Cool, cool, cool.”
Then I grabbed the pencil off the table and quickly added in something, “Just needs something to show who it belongs to.”
I sketched in a quick lotus on the front.
“Perfect,” said Ava, “The iron to represent Nico and the lotus for you.”
“What about you guys?” I asked, “You should get some credit.”
“This isn’t our chariot, we were never here,” she said grinning mischievously, “No one will no about this.”
And then she hid behind a pillar, imitating a spy, and then walked away continuing to talk to Jake about the design.
Over then next week, she and Jake directed the skeletons that Nico summoned to do the dirty work, and by the Friday beforehand, it was complete.
I felt a little bad since I do much to make it. But I’m pretty sure if I tried to help I’d end up breaking it somehow.
It was gorgeous, a deep obsidian black, with veins of pink stone curling across the surface, the same type that made my necklace. There was a huge control panel, that I left Nico in charge of, and a bunch of hidden weapons. My favorites were these little magnets that could be launched at the wheels, which would attach to the metal and then secrete this acid that ate through any material. It was pretty awesome.
Nico and I did a few practice rounds, him controlling the skeletal horses that dragged us effortlessly around the track, and myself in charge of all the weapons. I got pretty handy with the magnet launching crossbow, and was excited to try it out on some real chariots. We could make it around the track in four minutes, even when dodging obstacles and being attacked by they automaton dragonflies Jake and Ava set on us. We were ready for the race on Sunday.
On Friday night, Nico and I stayed late at the track postponing dinner to get some extra rides in.
Now that I was accustomed to the rush and rockiness of the chariot, I didn’t mind it much. I still didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it either. Plus I think the years of getting used to being thrown off buildings and the stabilizers helped.
It grew dark as Nico and I skidded around the track.
On our third lap, as I was aiming for a target in the distance I spotted something in the forest. A light.
As we drew closer, more lights appeared, a trail of them.
“Nico!” I exclaimed points at the dim yellow glowing balls, “Look!”
As we drew towards the turn in the track, we got close enough for me to see what was holding up the lights.
They were women, around the age of twenty, ghostly pale, with long dark hair and white dresses, walking in line into the forest. Each of them held a lantern.
“Lampades!” Exclaimed Nico.
“What?” I yelled, trying to hear over the wind in my ears.
“Lampades,” repeated Nico, “torch-bearing nymphs from the underworld/”
‘Uh, okay,” I said.
“That’s it! That’s our sign!” shouted Nico, “It’s time for us to enter the underworld!”
We overshot the turn in th track and began riding onto the rough forest floor.
“But I’m not wearing my armor!” I argued, “I’m not ready!”
“Oh come on!” said Nico, “You don’t need armor.”
“Ye-es-esss, I do!” I yelled to him, my eyes wide, hands clenched to the crossbow and my words getting shredded by the bumpiness of the ride.
I was about ready to bail, my nerves welling up in my throat. I felt like I was going to vomit, but maybe that was from the insistent churning of the content of my stomach. Just as I was reaching down to unlatch my feet prepping for a roll out. A wall of black stone jutted up from the ground in front of us, a hairline crack jutted up the middle and then widened into a small archway into darkness.
The lamp carrying women entered and Nico and I rocketed in after them, into the underworld.
Oozing into a world of slow motion.