Harry Potter & the Olympians : Tides of War
VII: What is it Good For?
"You're Clarisse's dad," Harry muttered with wide eyes. "Ares, god of war."
Ares grinned and took off his shades, where his eyes should've been, there was only fire, empty sockets glowing with miniature nuclear explosions. "That's right, punk, I hear you've been giving Clarisse a hard time."
"She keeps starting fights, it's not my problem if she keeps losing them," Harry said with a shrug as he tried to ignore the anger Ares' presence was causing.
"Hah, too true kid," Ares said with a grin. "At first I didn't really like you, but after what you said to Pops when you were in St. Louis? Hah! You should have seen his face, I thought his head was about to explode, even Hera laughed!"
Annabeth and Grover both looked nervous.
"And you should have seen Artemis' face when you ditched your weapon and jacket, she was furious," Ares said with another laugh. Harry twitched and clenched his jaw. "Anyway, to why I'm here - I heard you were in town. I got a little proposition for you."
The waitress came back with heaping trays of food, she placed the food in front of them. Harry gave her the money and she scampered away from the dangerous looking biker and the mean twelve-year old.
"I need you to do me a favour," Ares said as he stole a fry from Harry's plate.
"What favour could we do for a god?" Harry asked.
"Something a god doesn't have time to do himself. It's nothing much. I left my shield at an abandoned water park here in town," Ares explained. "I was going on a little… date. With my girlfriend. We were interrupted. I left my shield behind. I want you to fetch it for me."
"Why don't you go back and get it yourself?" Percy asked roughly.
The fire in Ares' eye sockets glowed a little hotter. "Why don't I turn you into a prairie dog and run you over with my Harley? Because I don't feel like it. A god is giving yourself a chance to prove yourself, Percy Jackson. Or maybe you only fight when there's a river for you to fall into, so your daddy can protect you. Not like Harry here," he patted Harry on the shoulder almost making him fall from his seat.
"He stood his ground and fought, tricked Zeus into killing a monster for him, and slapped around the Lieutenant of Artemis for good measure."
Percy looked like he wanted to punch Ares. "We're not interested. We've already got a quest to complete."
"I know all about your quest, punk. When that item was first stolen, he sent his best out looking for it: Apollo, Athena, Artemis and me, naturally. If I couldn't sniff out a weapon that powerful…" He licked his lips, as if the very thought of the master bolt made him hungry. "Well, if I couldn't find it you've got no hope. Nevertheless, I'm trying to give you the benefit of a doubt. Your dad and I go way back. After all, I'm the one who told him my suspicions about old Corpse Breath."
"You told him Hades stole the bolt?" Percy asked.
"Yeah, so in a way, you've got me to thank for your little quest," Ares said stealing an onion ring from a quivering Grover's basket. "Now, I'm a generous guy. Just do my little job, and I'll help you on your way. I'll arrange a ride west for you and your friends."
"We're doing just fine on our own," Percy snapped, Ares' aura seemed to really effect him.
"Yeah right," Ares laughed. "No money. No wheels. No clue what you're up against. Help me out, and maybe I'll tell you something you need to know. Something about your mom."
Harry twitched at that, for a moment he thought Ares was talking about his mother, Artemis.
"My mom?" Percy asked, dispelling Harry's thoughts.
"That got your attention," Ares smiled cruelly. "The water park is a mile west on Delancy. You can't miss it. Look for the Tunnel of Love ride."
"What interrupted your date?" Percy asked. "Something scare you off?"
Ares bared his teeth. "You're lucky you met me, punk, and not one of the other Olympians. They're not as forgiving of rudeness as I am. I'll meet you back here when you're done. Don't disappoint me."
Harry blinked, and in that tiny moment of darkness, Ares was gone and the chair he'd been using had moved back to where it'd come from. For a moment Harry thought he'd imagined the god of war appearing, but the looks on Grover and Annabeth's faces told him otherwise.
"Not good," Grover said. "Ares sought you guys out. This is not good."
"It's probably some kind of trick," Percy said. "Forget Ares. Let's just go."
"We can't," Annabeth said. "Look, I hate Ares as much as anybody, but you don't ignore the gods unless you want serious bad fortune. He wasn't kidding about turning you into a rodent."
They sat there debating whether or not to go on this little side quest as they ate their food.
"Why does he need us?" Percy asked.
"Maybe it's a problem that requires brains," Annabeth said with a shrug.
"If that's true why would he come to Percy?" Harry joked and received a mock punch on his arm from Percy.
"Ares has strength. That's all he has. Even strength has to bow to wisdom sometimes," Annabeth continued.
"But this water park… he acted almost scared. What would make a war god run away like that?" Percy asked.
"I'm afraid we'll have to find out," Annabeth said worriedly.
"What did he mean about your mother?" Harry asked suddenly, he'd been itching to ask ever since Ares mentioned it..
Percy, Annabeth and Grover all looked uncomfortable. They were hiding something. "My mom…" Percy started sadly. "She was killed by the Minotaur the day I came to camp."
Harry looked at them, Percy looked sad, Grover looked guilty and Annabeth looked at them both sympathetically.
"That's why you accepted this quest so quickly," Harry realized. Harry was on this quest to get his belongings and Hedwig back, not to mention clear his name. He'd never asked why Percy had agreed. "You're trying to bring your mother back from the Underworld."
The sun was sinking behind the mountains by the time they found the water park. Judging the sign, it had once been called WATERLAND, but some of the letters were smashed out, so now it read WAT R A D.
The main gate was padlocked and topped with barbed wire. Inside, huge dry waterslides and tubes and pipes curled everywhere, leading to empty pools. Old tickets and advertisements fluttered around the tarmac. With night coming, the place looked sad and creepy.
"If Ares brings his girlfriend here for a date," Percy said, staring up at the barbed wire, "I'd hate to see what she looks like."
"Percy," Annabeth warned. "Be more respectful."
"Why? I thought you hated Ares." Percy asked.
"He's still a god. And his girlfriend is very temperamental," Annabeth said nervously.
"You don't want to insult her looks," Grover added.
"Who is she? Echidna?" Percy joked.
"No, Aphrodite," Grover said, a little dreamily. "Goddess of love."
"I thought she was married to somebody," Percy said. "Hephaestus"
"What's your point?" Grover asked.
Harry looked at Percy with a raised eyebrow. "Zeus is married too, remember? Hera. That didn't stop him from having a bunch of kids with mortals. Even Poseidon is married, Am… Amph… ah, it's on the tip of my tongue."
"Amphitrite," Annabeth supplied
"Oh, right," Percy said awkwardly, wanting to change the subject. "So, how do we get in?"
"Maia!" Grover's shoes sprouted wings. He flew over the fence, did an unintended somersault in midair, then stumbled to a landing on the opposite side. He dusted off his jeans, as if he'd planned the whole thing. "You guys coming?"
Percy and Annabeth had to climb over the old fashioned way, being careful not to get caught in the barbed wire. Due to his skinniness Harry was able to slip through the bars. As Annabeth's feet hit the ground she immediately walked towards an old souvenir shop.
"Clothes," Annabeth said. "Fresh clothes."
"Yeah," Percy said. "But you can't just-"
"Watch me." Annabeth said as she snatched an entire row of stuff off the racks and disappeared into the changing room. A few minutes later she came out in Waterland flower-print shorts, a big red Waterland T-shirt and commemorative Waterland surf-shoes. A Waterland backpack was slung over her shoulder obviously stuffed with more goodies.
"What the heck," Grover shrugged. Soon, he and Percy were decked out like walking advertisements for the defunct theme park. Harry refused to wear any of it.
They continued to search the park for the Tunnel of Love. The theme park got creepier and creepier the darker it got.
"So, Ares and Aphrodite," Percy said, trying to get his mind off the growing dark. "They have a thing going?"
"That's old gossip," Annabeth said. "Three-thousand-year-old-gossip."
"What about Aphrodite's husband? He knows?" Percy asked
"Oh sure," Annabeth answered with a nod. "Catching them together has become like a hobby for him, he's always trying to embarrass them. That's why they meet in out-of-the-way places, like…" she stopped, looking straight ahead. "Like that."
In front of them was an empty pool. It was at least fifty meters across and shaped like a bowl. Around the rim, a dozen cupid statues stood guard with wings spread and bows ready to fire. On the opposite side from them was a tunnel opening up. The sign above it read: THRILL RIDE O' LOVE: THIS IS NOT YOUR PARENTS' TUNNEL OF LOVE!
"Guys, look," Grover pointed into the pool. At the bottom was a pink and white boat with hearts painted all over it. In the left seat, glinting in the faded light, was Ares's shield, a polished circle of bronze.
"This is too easy," Percy said as he cautiously peered over the edge. "So we just go down there and get it?"
"I said the same thing a year ago," Harry said looking down into the pool. "Ten minutes later I was fighting a giant chess set… long story," Harry added when his friends frowned at him.
Annabeth was busy checking out the nearest cupid statue, she ran her hand along the base.
"There's a Greek letter carved here. Eta. I wonder…"
"Grover, you smell any monsters?" Percy asked. The satyr sniffed the air.
"Nothing - like in-the-Arch-and-you-didn't-smell-Echidna nothing, or really nothing?" Percy asked. Grover looked hurt.
"I told you, that was underground."
"Ok, I'm sorry." Percy took a deep breath. "I'm going down there."
"I'll go with you." Grover didn't sound too enthusiastic, Harry suspected he wanted to make up for what had happened in St. Louis.
"No," Percy said, "I want you to stay up top with the flying shoes. You're he red baron, remember? I'll be counting on you for backup, in case something goes wrong."
"You should stay up here too Harry," Annabeth said eyeing his bow.
"Sure, I suppose that leaves you to go with Percy, into the tunnel of love, alone," Harry said failing to suppress a smirk. Annabeth's cheeks suddenly turned red.
"Oh gods, if somebody sees me," both Harry and Grover started chuckling prompting the daughter of Athena to glare at them with her grey eyes. "You're the son of Artemis, aren't you supposed to be dissuading me from going into a tunnel of love with a boy?"
"Fine," Percy said irritably as he started down the side of the pool. "I'll do it myself."
Annabeth sighed and followed him down, muttering something about how boys always messed things up.
"Tell me something," Harry asked as he watched Percy and Annabeth make their way down to the boat. "Ares and Aphrodite can go anywhere in existence on a date, from a tropical beach to the Antarctic, why would they come here, a ratty, closed down water park?"
"They have to be careful, stay hidden," Grover explained as their friends reached the boat. "Hephaestus is always trying to catch them in the act and humiliate them…" the smile on his face melted away, he seemed to come to the same conclusion Harry had moments before.
Harry snapped his head to the side to look at the base of the nearest cupid statue where Annabeth had seen the Greek letter.
"Eta… that's a Greek 'H', Hephaestus!" Harry turned to look into the pool just as Percy picked up the shield.
"STOP!" Harry shouted too late, Percy picked up the shield and both he and Annabeth saw a thin metal tripwire tied to it. "IT'S A TRAP!"
Suddenly the cupid statues came to life holding very real bows and arrows, Harry was about to grab Grover and take cover when they fired, but not at them, they fired arrows at each other across the rim of the pool. Silky cables trailed from the arrows, arching over the pool and anchoring where they landed to form a large golden asterisk. Then smaller metallic threads started weaving together magically between the main strands, making a net.
Percy and Annabeth started scrambling back up the slope with the shield, trying to get out before the net was complete, Harry and Grover grasped at the threads trying to hold it open for them but it kept weaving around their hands.
A moment later the cupids' heads split open and video cameras popped out focusing on Percy and Annabeth. Spotlights rose up around the pool blinding the four with illumination. Suddenly a voice boomed over a loudspeaker.
'LIVE TO OLYMPUS IN ONE MINUTE… FIFTY-NINE SECONDS, FIFTY-EIGHT…'
"I'm so stupid!" Annabeth screamed. "Eta is 'H'! he made this trap to catch his wife with Ares. Now we're going to be broadcast live to Olympus and look like absolute fools!"
"Hurry!" Harry shouted as he struggled to hold a small gap in the net open.
They'd almost made it to the rim when suddenly the rim of the pool opened like hatches and thousands of small metallic… things, popped out.
"Ahh!" Annabeth screamed and slipped back down to the bottom of the pool. It was an army of wind-up, creepy-crawlies: bronze-gear bodies, spindly legs, little pincer mouths, all scuttling towards them in a wave of clicking, clattering metal. "Sp-Spiders!"
It seemed incredibly out of character for Annabeth to scream like this which made it all the more disturbing.
"AH!" Harry yelped, one of the spiders had crawled onto Harry's hand and bit him, making him drop the net and allowing it to close up. Percy grabbed Annabeth and dragged her into the boat and away from the spiders.
"We have to get them out of there!" Harry said as he held his hand.
"They'll be okay right? I mean, this is just a prank on A-Ares and Aphrodite right?" Grover asked hopefully as he watched the spiders get closer to his friends.
"Grover look at my hand!" Harry said holding the hand out to him, it was bleeding and had a wound that looked like he'd been stabbed with a pair of wire cutters. "That was just one! This prank is meant for gods, not us."
Harry hadn't felt this powerless in a long time, all he had was a bow with a dozen arrows, there were thousands of spiders. Grover was hovering above the net with the flying shoes trying to find a way through. Percy was kicking spiders away from the boat. Annabeth was still frozen with fright.
Harry wracked his brain trying to figure out a way out of this mess.
"Ahh, where's Hermione when need her?!"
'THIRTY, TWENTY-NINE,' called the loudspeaker.
Harry came up with half a dozen ideas but abandoned each one quickly as suicidal, doomed to fail or just plan stupid. Then he saw it, inside one of the hatches that the spiders had come from was a water pipe with a small leak. Harry remembered the day he met Percy, when he controlled the water from the camp toilets to defend himself against Clarisse.
"That's it!" Harry pulled the bow from his back and readied an arrow, he let it fly, the shaft of wood pierced the pipe, its celestial bronze tip cutting through the metal like paper causing it to burst and spray water into the pool. "Percy, the water!"
Percy seemed to have had the same idea, he was already staring at the pipe intently trying to find that same ability he'd used that day at camp.
It didn't take long, the pipes burst and water roared into the pool sweeping away the spiders. Percy pulled Annabeth into the seats on the boat and strapped them both in just as the water slammed into and picked up the boat, carrying them into the dark tunnel screaming. Harry and Grover ran towards the other end of the ride where Percy and Annabeth would exit, only to see that the exit of the ride was blocked by a pair of chained gates.
The sound of rushing water echoed from inside the tunnel along with shouting. Harry was about to fire another arrow at the padlock hoping the gates would open when his friend hit them, but it was too late. The boat appeared out of the darkness and slammed into the closed gates, Percy and Annabeth must have been standing up out of their seats, because they used the momentum to jump over the gate and become airborne. They flew over the pool that they could have landed in safely and plummeted straight towards the solid tarmac.
Both Harry and Grover acted on instinct, Grover flew down and caught Percy by the wrist, he tried to catch Annabeth too but missed. Luckily Harry had dropped his bow and held his arms open to catch the daughter of Athena. She slammed into him knocking them both to the ground with a thud, but relatively unharmed.
It was over, everybody was laying on the ground breathing heavily, the only one who wasn't soaked was Grover who'd been in the air for the entire ordeal.
"A Hellhound, the Furies, Medusa, Echidna, Chimera… a hunter and now a million mechanical spiders," Harry said between breaths. "At this rate we'll get an express trip to the underworld."
A hundred meters away a camera on one of the cupid statues was looking directly at them, still filming with the spotlights on them.
"Show's over!" Percy yelled. "Thank you! Goodnight!"
"Percy! Don't encourage them!" Harry snapped at him as he stood up and strode up to the closest camera. Everything was starting to get to him, the near death experiences, being played for a fool by Ares, his mother's kill order. That anger seemed to fuel his strength because he gripped the camera and ripped it off the statue, it was still rolling when he looked into it.
"Let me give you some advice, you want me dead? Well take a number and get in line just like everybody else!" Harry shouted before smashing the camera against the head of the cupid statue, shattering both the head and the camera.
Harry took a few deep breaths to calm down before turning back to his friends, Grover and Annabeth looked horrified, Percy looked annoyed at the situation, he probably shared some of Harry's feelings towards the gods right now.
"We need to have a word with Ares," Harry said as he strode past them and made his way towards the exit.
"Agreed," Percy said falling into stride next to him.
The war god was waiting for them in the diner parking lot.
"Well, well," he said. "You didn't get yourselves killed."
"You knew it was a trap!" Percy accused.
Ares gave him a wicked grin. "Bet that crippled blacksmith was surprised when he netted a couple of stupid kids. You looked good on TV."
Percy shoved the shield at him. "You're a jerk."
Annabeth and Grover's breath caught in their throat. Harry however was trying to resist the urge to draw his bow.
Ares grabbed his shield and spun it in the air like pizza dough. It changed form in mid-air, melting into a bulletproof vest. He slung it across his back.
"See that truck over there?" he pointed to an eighteen wheeler parked across the street from them diner. "That's your ride. Take you straight to L.A. with one stop in Vegas," they looked at the truck, written on the side in large bold letters-
KINDNESS INTERNATIONAL HUMANE ZOO TRANSPORT. WARNING: LIVE WILD ANIMALS.
"You're kidding…," Percy said incredulously as he stared at the truck.
Ares snapped his fingers and the back door of the truck unlatched. "Free ride west, punk. Stop complaining. And here's a little something for doing the job."
He slung a blue nylon backpack off his handlebars and tossed it to Percy. Inside were some fresh clothes for all of them, twenty dollars in cash, a pouch full of golden drachmas and a bag of Oreos.
Percy was about to mouth off at Ares when Grover interrupted him. "T-Thank you, Lord Ares. Thanks a lot."
Percy gritted his teeth and took the bag, slinging it over his shoulder. He knew that his anger was being caused by the war god's presence, but his hand still twitched like he was resisting the urge to throw a punch.
Harry felt the same urge, he tried to focus on something else to stop him from doing something stupid. In the window of the diner, the waitress who'd served them dinner was watching nervously, like she was afraid Ares might hurt them. She dragged the cook out from the kitchen to see. She said something to him. He nodded, held up a little disposable camera and snapped a picture of them.
'Great,' Harry thought, rolling his eyes. 'We'll be in the news again tomorrow'
As he tried to clear his mind of the violent thoughts Ares' presence was stirring in him, Harry spotted something, standing at the corner near the diner was a man with a stand selling bumper stickers, one in particular stood out to him and Harry's mind immediately went into prank mode. Percy was still having words with Ares while Harry walked unnoticed over to the stand and used his last remaining dollar to buy the sticker.
'First Fred and George, now Conner and Travis, these twins are a bad influence on me.'
"You owe me one more thing," Percy tried to keep his voice level. "You promised me information about my mother."
"You sure you can handle the news?" He kick-started his motorcycle. "She's not dead."
You could hear a pin drop if it wasn't for the war god's bike rumbling.
"What do you mean?" Percy asked.
"I mean she was taken away by the Minotaur before she could die. She was turned into a shower of gold, right? That's metamorphosis. Not death. She's being kept."
"You need to study war, punk. Hostages. You take somebody to control somebody else."
"Nobody's controlling me!"
"Oh yeah?" Ares asked with a laugh. "See you around, kid."
"You're pretty smug, Lord Ares, for a guy who runs from Cupid statues."
Behind his glasses, fire glowed. Harry felt a hot wind in his hair as he returned to the group.
"We'll meet again, Percy Jackson. Next time you're in a fight, watch your back." Ares' threat ended when Harry came up behind him and slapped him on the back.
"Oh come on Uncle, you got your shield, we got a ride west, everybody wins right? No need to throw threats around," Harry said placating the god of war.
Annabeth was shocked twofold. Because of Harry's sudden change in attitude and because he just slapped the god of war on the back.
"Get out of here you three, I need to have a word with Potter," Ares ordered.
Percy looked like he wanted to say something else, but Annabeth and Grover grabbed him under the arms and dragged him away towards the truck. They didn't want to leave Harry alone but Percy's mouth was going to get them killed.
Harry was about to ask what the god wanted but didn't have a chance before Ares reached into his pocket and tossed something to him. Harry caught it with his skill as a Seeker and looked at it. It was a set of four bronze rings welded together and large enough for fingers to fit through, Harry had seen these a few times before, back in England on TV. Knuckledusters. Or Brass Knuckles.
"They're made of Celestial Bronze, since you ditched your little pocket knife I figured you could use a new weapon," Ares said hesitantly. Harry got the feeling that the god didn't really want to give it to him.
Harry slipped the knuckles onto his right hand and almost immediately a sharp bronze blade, almost seven inches long, slid out of the knuckles pointing down. The knuckles had become a trench knife, Harry recognized it from his old history class back in primary school.
"It reacts to your thoughts, you must have been thinking of attacking someone just now to take that form," Ares said with a smirk making Harry blush. "Try thinking of defending."
Harry tried to do it but Ares' presence just made him want to attack.
"Here, let me help," Ares reached for one of the shotguns attached to his bike, Harry's heart skipped a beat and almost immediately the blade retracted back into the knuckles, suddenly in a whirr of metal there was a bronze shield covering Harry's right forearm. On the front was a gothic engraving, like the head of a spear with two spiral tips on either side of the central tip. The engraving looked somewhat familiar.
"Why are you giving this to me?" Harry asked suspiciously just as Annabeth ran back to him shouting that the truck was about to leave. For a split second Ares looked uncomfortable, this quickly vanished and was replaced by an amused smirk.
"Twice in two days you've mouthed off at Pops and you're still standing, not a lot of people have the guts to do that" Ares explained, obviously he saw the footage from Waterland on Olympus. "I can't help but respect it. Consider that a bonus for amusing me."
Without another word Ares revved his bike and took off down the road. As he did Annabeth's eyes widened in horror and she understood why Harry slapped him on the back earlier. On the back of Ares' jacket was a bumper sticker that read-
I 'HEART' EDWIN STARR
"Oh gods… he's going to kill you, why did you do that?" Annabeth asked in a panicked tone grasping her hair in both hands.
Harry ignored her and walked towards the truck with a grin on his face muttering a few lines from a song.
"War, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!"
"Harry, I'll give you the same advice I just gave Percy. You don't want a god as your enemy. Especially not that god."
"Hey guys," Grover said. "I hate to interrupt but…" he pointed into the diner. At the cash register the last two customers were paying their bill, two men in identical black overalls, with a white logo on their backs that matched the KINDNESS INTERNATIONAL truck.
"If we're taking the zoo express, we need to hurry."
Harry and Annabeth ran across the street and climbed into the back of the big lorry and closed the door behind them, Percy and Grover were already inside.
The first thing that hit Harry was the smell. It reminded Harry of the time Dudley had pestered his parents for a cat. They gave into him and of course his loving aunt and uncle put it's litter tray in Harry's room… and by room I mean cupboard. Thankfully the cat was smart enough to run away in less than a week so Harry didn't have to put up with the smell for long.
The truck was dark until Percy uncapped his sword, the blade cast a faint light over a very sad scene. Sitting in a row of filthy metal cages were three of the most pathetic zoo animals they'd ever seen. A zebra, albino lion and some kind of antelope, all three were terribly thin. The lion had a sack of turnips in front of him and the antelope and zebra each had a tray of hamburger meat in front of them. Probably someone's idea of a cruel joke. The zebra had chewing gum stuck in it's mane and the antelope had a party balloon tied to it's antler. Each of the animals had flies buzzing around their heads.
"This is kindness?" Grover yelled. "Humane zoo transport?"
Grover looked like he was about to storm out of the truck and beat the drivers to death but was stopped when the engine roared to life and the truck started to move. The four of them were forced to sit down before they fell down. Grover tried talking to the animals in a series of goat bleats but they just stared at them sadly. Harry tried to help out a little, he took the meat from the zebra and antelope and gave it to the lion, while it was eating the meat enthusiastically Harry snatched the turnips out of it's cage and shared them between the two herbivores. While he was doing that Percy filled their waters bowls and Annabeth cut the balloon from the antler. She wanted to cut away the gum but it was too risky with the truck jerking around.
"Guys," Annabeth spoke up as she sat down on a filthy old turnip sack. "I'm sorry for freaking out back at the water park… it's just, spiders." she shuddered.
Harry remembered Annabeth's reaction when he told her about Acromantulas. Only now did he remember an old story he read in one of his Greek myth books.
"Because of the Arachne story," Percy vocalized what Harry thought. "She got turned into a spider for challenging your mom to a weaving contest right?"
Annabeth nodded. "Arachne's children have been taking revenge on the children of Athena ever since. If there's a spider within a mile of me it'll find me. I hate the creepy little things."
"Consider yourself lucky, where I come from they're not so little," Harry muttered causing Annabeth to shiver.
"Anyway, I owe you."
"We're a team remember?" Percy said. "Besides, Grover did all the fancy flying."
"I was pretty amazing, wasn't I?" Grover mumbled in his half asleep state.
Percy and Annabeth started talking about the situation at camp, Harry drifted in and out of consciousness only catching bit and pieces of their conversation, they were talking about what happened to Thalia five years ago.
'Stupid humans, keep it down! I'm trying to sleep!'
Harry jolted away when he heard an unfamiliar voice coming from beside him. He turned to the side and saw an empty turnip sack draped over something. He slowly crawled over to it and pulled the sack away carefully,
"Oh come on!" Harry wailed as he headbutt the ground in exasperation.
Under sack was a small clear plastic container with a snake inside, the cage was way too small to hold a snake this big, it had to curl around itself several times to fit.
"Why is it always snakes!" Harry moaned to himself.
"Careful Harry, that's a viper!" Annabeth had been watching Harry and was a little disturbed that they hadn't noticed the poisonous snake only a few feet away from them.
'Yes, be afraid, be very afraid...'The snake hissed in a monotone to Annabeth.
"You okay?" Harry asked the snake, it came out as a series of hisses and tongue flicks surprising his three friends.
"You talk snake?!" Grover stuttered out.
'You talk snake?!'the snake asked at the same time.
"I'm a parseltongue, it's a magical talent in the wizarding world," Harry explained briefly, he didn't feel the need to tell them that the skill was associated with dark wizards.
'Please bro, you gotta let me out of here, I'm begging you, do you know what it's like to be trapped in such a small space with only scraps to eat?!'Harry winced, the serpent really hit the nail on the head with that one.
'Plus a mouse keeps coming right up to the glass and mocking me!'
"Okay, but bite me or my friends and you'll be the lion's next meal, got it?" Harry warned. The snake nodded it's head franticly.
'You got it boss!' It answered bringing the tip of it's tail up to it's head in a salute.
Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the brass knuckles Ares had given him. He slipped them onto his left hand and the blade melted out of the bottom. With one downwards stab the padlock fell to pieces, the steel lock was no match for the celestial bronze blade.
The snake quickly slithered out of the container and stretched out on the ground. He didn't stay still for long though, he slithered towards a dark corner of the truck looking for something.
'Where are you? You thought you were so clever mocking me from outside the glass, now I'm out and hungry!' there was a rustling and a mouse shot out from under an old turnip sack. 'Got you!'the snake lashed forward and bit the mouse, then quickly swallowed it. 'HAH, who's the tough guy now Vinnie!'the snake yelled at the new bulge in it's stomach.
Harry watched the events with a disturbed look in his eyes. Before shaking his head pinching the bridge of his nose and saying "Why is it always snakes?"
The rest of the night passed peacefully. Annabeth talked about her home life before she came to Camp Half-Blood. She told Harry and Percy about her father marrying a woman who was mean to her, a typical evil stepmother story.
Percy tried convincing her to keep in touch with her dad, she wasn't interested. Harry couldn't argue with her, after his own experiences with the Dursleys he believed in letting her make her own choice, if Percy had tried to convince him to move back in with the Dursleys he probably would have hit him upside the head.
After a while Harry drifted off to sleep giving the snake one last warning to keep it's fangs to itself.
Harry was walking through the woods quietly, carefully stepping over any branch or cluster of leafs that may give his position away. He held a bow with an arrow. It was the best weapon for his task, much better than the sword on his left hip, or the axe hanging from his right thigh, or the spear strapped to his back.
Ahead he saw a deer in a clearing, drinking from a crystal clear lake. Coming to the side of a tree he aimed his bow at his prey and pulled the arrow back, taking careful aim at his dinner. He took a deep breath and… his finger fumbled with the arrow when he saw her. The most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, dressed in pure white clothes, her auburn hair tied back, her eyes, silvery yellow like the moon. She emerged slowly from the trees behind the deer and stroked it, the deer should have run away from a human being that close. Instead it looked up and leaned it's head into her hand.
Harry lowered the bow and took a step back, a loud 'SNAP' came from a branch he'd stepped on. The woman looked in his direction, her eyes turned from soft and warm to stern and dangerous.
The scene melted away and was replaced with another, Harry was in the middle of the same clearing, blood trailing down his left arm while he held his sword firmly in his right hand. Before him was the most monstrous thing he'd ever seen. It was huge, had eight spindly legs covered in black hairs, a pair of bulging pincers snapping at him and a tail curled up behind it with a sharp tip on the end ready to lash out and end his life. The scorpion was twice as big as him, it's mouth foamed and it's spider like eyes glared at him angrily.
"Back, get back! You won't harm them!" Harry lashed out at the monster with his sword stopping it from advancing. It tried to snap at him with one of it's pincers Harry took the opportunity to slash at it's arm, the sword cut through the carapace and one of the scorpions pincers fell to the ground severed.
The scorpion backed away trying to recover from having one of it's limbs taken from it.
Harry was about to retreat and regroup when he heard it. A familiar whooshing sound of an arrow flying through the air, he didn't have time to react before the arrow slammed into the back of his shoulder causing him to drop his blade. Harry turned and saw her, the same auburn haired girl he saw before, in her left hand she held a bow loosely.
"W-Why?" Harry asked through the pain.
Harry's distraction was a fatal mistake, he turned back to the Scorpion just as it raised it's poisonous tail and thrust forwards piercing his chest.
Harry jolted awake holding his chest, his dream felt so real.
"Harry, you okay?" Annabeth asked in a concerned tone. "You looked like you were having a nightmare."
"I'm fine," Harry said unsurely, he pulled his shirt forward slightly to check his chest just in case, it was fine.
"The truck stopped," she said. "We think they're coming to check on the animals. Hide!"
She had it easy, all she had to do was slip on her magic hat and disappear. Percy and Grover dove behind the feed sacks and Harry grabbed one of the empty ones and covered himself just as the truck doors opened and sunlight poured in.
"Man!" one of the truckers waved his hand front of his ugly nose. "I wish we hauled appliances." he climbed inside and poured some water from a jug into the animals' dishes.
"You hot big boy?" he asked the lion, then splashed the rest of the bucket right in the lion's face. The lion roared in indignation. "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
The trucker threw a squashed McDonalds bag to the antelope and then smirked at the zebra. "How ya doin', Stripes? Least we'll be getting rid of you this stop. You like magic shows? You're gonna love this one. They're gonna saw you in half!"
"Okay, that's it!" Harry snapped. He threw the bag off himself and stood up, before the trucker could react Harry brought the bag down over his head covering him with it.
"Hey! Who's there?! Let me out!" he struggled to get out of the smelly sack. Harry kicked him in the backside knocking him out of the truck and into the busy street. Annabeth and Percy were already in motion, they'd drawn their weapons and slashed the locks holding the animals and opened the cages. All at once the animals burst out of the van and into the streets escaping down a wide boulevard lined with hotels and neon signs. Harry recognized the place from TV, they'd just released three wild animals into the heart of Las Vegas.
"I've placed a satyr's sanctuary on them, they'll reach the wild safely," Grover assured them.
"We have to get out of here!" Percy said as he jumped out of the truck right over the still struggling driver. Annabeth, Grover and Harry followed shortly behind. Nobody saw them exit the truck, they were too busy staring at the retreating animals to pay attention to them. Even the policemen who were quickly approaching the truck paid them no attention.
"Sorry guys," Harry said after he had calmed down. "Now we have to find another way to L.A."
"Don't be sorry, I was about to do the same thing!" Grover interjected.
"Grover's right Harry," Annabeth agreed. "We had to do something, don't worry, it's only June Fifteenth, we still have six days to until the solstice. Plenty of time."
They passed by half a dozen different casinos. They passed pyramids, a pirate ship and a replica of the statue of liberty. They weren't sure what they were looking for. Maybe a place to get out of the heat for a few minutes, find something to eat and drink, make a new plan for getting west.
They must have taken a wrong turn at some point, because they found themselves at a dead end, standing in front of the Lotus Hotel and Casino.
To Be Continued…