Almost a month passed before Percy and Annabeth were sent on a rescue mission. Annabeth had been spending every weekend at camp with Percy, fine tuning her fighting skills and learning about ancient Greek, something that came with a surprising ease, much to the consternation of Piper. Piper had not been told the whole story about Annabeth's apparent lineage, and Annabeth suspected she was jealous of all the time she explained away as being with Percy.
It was a simple extraction mission, Percy had told her. He had been on many over his ten years as a camper. Demigods that were becoming aware of their identity and monsters were infiltrating the school staff, nothing major, he reassured. Usually there wasn't even a fight with the monster. He borrowed his mom's car, and the two of them took turns driving north towards Vermont. The highway stretched out before them like a never-ending track as the states flew by.
Shortly after getting off the highway, they drove through a covered bridge. Annabeth had always thought the stereotypes of Vermont – the covered bridges, the maple syrup, Ben & Jerry's - were overexaggerated. But they had already passed through a covered bridge, there were signs for maple syrup stands seemingly ever twenty feet, and they had passed the Ben & Jerry's factory a mile or so back.
They pulled into a sleepy little town with the classic New England green and strange intersections. Percy made a loop around the central green, obviously confused by the one way, branching roads. It appeared he picked a road at random to drive down, but within a minute they were outside of a small junior/senior high school. He killed the engine on the street and the two of them walked up the driveway past playing fields that were frozen over. The school was backed up into a dense forest, mostly maple trees, that someone was using for syrup, judging by the tubing and metal cans scattered around the forest edge. It wasn't well groomed and tidy like the other maple fields they had seen on their drive up.
Percy walked purposefully towards the door. Annabeth hoped he had a plan. School security had increased exponentially in the past few years. Most schools, at least in cities and large towns, had cops stationed inside to keep watch for intruders. Her last high school had had multiple balding old guys wearing security vests stationed at the various entrances. She was somewhat reluctant to follow him. Percy walked into the main office across from the doors.
"Hi," he spoke to the secretary, who gave him a doubtful look. "We need to speak to Justin Forrest for a minute. It's important."
"What is this concerning?"
The woman looked skeptical but placed a call to a teacher. "He'll be right up."
"Great, thanks." Percy sat down on one of the benches and Annabeth sat next to him, her foot jumping at a hundred miles an hour. This was her first real mission. Ever. And what if something happened to them? What if she messed something up? There were so many things that could go wrong, and when she was anxious, her mind started doing cartwheels at a hundred miles and hour.
Annabeth recognized the limp that Justin walked with, the key feature of a satyr in disguise.
"What's up, Percy?" he asked as he sat down on the other side of Percy.
They exchanged a few words that Annabeth could barely hear, making certain that no one else in the office, people and potential monsters alike, could hear them.
Percy's expression grew more concerned the longer that they muttered to each other. Annabeth really didn't appreciate being out of the loop, but even more so, she didn't want to know what was worrying Percy.
Percy stood up and clapped the satyr on the back. Annabeth followed him out of the door.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"She never came into school today. Justin suggested we try looking in the woods, since that's where the monster seems to be hanging out."
It wasn't actively snowing, but there was about an inch on the ground. It was reaching the top of Annabeth's Converse and soaking through the canvas. Her feet were already turning numb and they had just reached the edge of the woods.
Percy pulled out his pen before shoving through the brambles. The twigs were dead this time of year with icicles hanging from them. Percy's thorn etiquette was horrible, and whenever one snapped back into her face it stung, more from the cold than the branch itself. He didn't have to worry about getting scratched up, so he was moving much faster than Annabeth was. Despite being careful, what little of her skin was exposed was covered in small scratches.
Percy had the ability to move almost silently through the forest. No twigs cracked under his feet. By comparison, Annabeth sounded akin to an elephant. Percy held his hand up. "Do you smell that?"
"Maple syrup?" Annabeth asked. She had been smelling it for the last few minutes, but figured it was because the maple trees near them were all tapped. Or perhaps it was wishful thinking about a pancake breakfast in bed.
"Yeah. It's getting stronger." Percy pushed forward and Annabeth stumbled after them. She could have sworn the tree roots were purposefully trying to trip her. She tripped face first into a spider web and stumbled backward, falling over another tree root. She had to suppress the scream that threatened to escape her lips.
She stayed on her knees for a minute trying to control her racing heartbeat. She looked up and saw some sort of cabin disguised to blend in with the surroundings. The walls were old wood, with climbing plants covering it, all dead and brown this time of year. The roof looked like it was about to fall in and already a fair number of large chunks were missing.
"Percy!" she hissed, pointing toward the building.
Percy backtracked to stand next to her. He grabbed her hand and pulled her up. The two of them crept steadily closer to the building. There were small holes in the front of the building, through which a mapley scent was flowing out in pulses.
"Do you hear that?" Percy mouthed to her.
Annabeth held her breath, straining her ears to catch the noise. She nodded. A light whimpering sound was coming from inside. Percy popped the cap off his pen and Riptide sprang to full size. They moved to opposite sides of the hidden door and Percy held up three fingers, counting down at an even rate. When he put the last one down, Annabeth pushed the door open. The two of them cleared the room, finding no monsters. The parallels to cop shows were almost enough to make Annabeth laugh. They could still hear the whimpering. Annabeth peaked under one of the tables and saw a girl, about twelve peering up at her.
"Hey," she said gently. "We're here to take you somewhere safe."
"You're… you're not one of the monsters?" The girls voice was trembling, whether with fear or cold, Annabeth didn't know. She was only wearing pants and a t-shirt, no jacket. Annabeth stretched out her hand and the girl grasped it as she crawled out of the table.
"Do you know where the monsters went?" Percy asked. He shrugged off his jacket and draped it around the girl's shoulders.
"I think the next room." She pulled the fabric tighter around her. The jacket was way too big for her, coming down past her knees.
Annabeth hadn't noticed the makeshift door of planks propped against the wall before.
"You two go. I'll take care of it."
"Go." He pushed them toward the exit. Annabeth rolled her eyes but did as he said. There was no way to suppress his nobility gene. And the most important thing was to get the new demigod back to camp. That was the entire reason they were here.
The two girls didn't make it very far, before Percy sprinted up to them.
"I think I killed it, but I don't know." He grabbed both their hands and pulled them after him.
"You think you killed it?"
"It just sort of melted? I don't know."
"What was it?" They were almost out of the woods, getting very beat up in the process.
"Maple syrup goblin."
"A what?" A thorn snapped back, hitting Annabeth just below the eye. Blood started dripping down her face at a concerning rate.
"I don't know."
They reached the car and turned around. There weren't any goblins or other monsters following them, but a fire was springing up from the woods where the cabin had been.
"What!" he protested. "She's heard that word before. And this definitely qualifies as a shitacular situation."
The fire was spreading outward from the origin. It was racing through the forest with terrifying speed. It luckily avoided approaching the school, but seemed to sense where the three demigods stood and wanted to burn them.
"Get out of here." Percy led Annabeth around to the driver's side door and opened it for her.
"No, I'm not leaving you!"
"Don't wait up. I'll get Blackjack to give me a ride back when it's taken care of."
"I just need to put out the fire. Maybe kill some goblins. Nothing to it."
"Don't worry, Wise Girl, I have a plan." He leaned in to kiss her cheek. "I love you, Wise Girl."
Annabeth watched; mouth still open as he charged to the edge of the woods. He hurdled a flaming log and disappeared into a hole in the flames that snapped shut behind him.
Had he seriously just told her that he loved her for the first time before charging into a dangerous situation? She shook her head. As much as she hated it, Percy was right. The two of them had to move. The flames were still moving towards them. She pulled the door closed and turned the key in the ignition. They sped back out to the town green and towards the highway. Annabeth for one was very eager to leave Vermont. And she didn't exactly want to come back if there were maple syrup monsters.
"What's your name?" she asked. A meager but important attempt at conversation.
"Nice to meet you."
There wasn't much conversation on the drive south. First, Annabeth was beyond worried for Percy. He had survived a volcanic explosion. He would be fine. Probably. She kept checking the rearview mirror while a "don't worry" mantra played in her head. She wasn't sure if she was looking behind them for a sighting of Percy on Blackjack, or for the flames that would signal pursuit by the monsters. Second, Amanda didn't ask any questions. Annabeth would have welcomed any type of distraction. Amanda seemed overwhelmed and still extremely nervous and Annabeth didn't want to push her.
They pushed 80 all the way back to New York. Annabeth was eager to get as far away from Vermont as possible. And the sooner they got back, the sooner she would see Percy. Assuming he was okay. No. She needed to not think like that. Percy was fine.
Sorry for not updating, but between school and this election, I have had far too much on my plate. I'll try to keep updating at least every other week moving forward, probably more since my first semester of university is almost complete! Thanks for reading!