The Titan's Curse

By Artie Gallezi

Adventure

Artie Gets Appolonia's Christmas Present

Artie reached the main chamber as soon as he heard a deep voice say " — sent a playmate to keep them occupied."

Two dracenae turn to see who approached. Artie guessed that the room was too far filled to the brim with the scent of monsters for them to smell his demigod scent. Artie waved them off with a clawed a hand and slight hiss. Combined with glowing eyes and the lack of screaming, the dracenae turned their attention back to floor below them. Artie could see Thorn was kneeling on the floor. He was looking up at a man concealed by shadow as he sat on what looked like a modern day throne on the second level, the same level Artie was standing on. Artie guessed from the kneeling, Thorn took orders from this man which made this General the girl had mentioned. Next to him, stood Luke. Luke looked pale and his blonde hair looked almost gray as if he had aged considerably in the past few months. He still had that angry look in his eye on his face as well as his scar which looked red as if it had been recently reopened.

A voice, Luke's Artie recognized, began to protest. "But — "

"Yes, boy," snarled Thorn. Artie's would sooner forget how to walk than forget him. "You are far too fragile to risk. Let me finish them off!"

"No." said the General as he rose to full height and the shadows disappeared around him.

He looked like a living statue , with dark slicked back hair, eyes like stone, light brown skin, and a muscular build. He was tall, with a brutal face, huge shoulders, and hands that looked like they could crush diamonds with minimal effort. He wore a brown silk business suit like any executive would, but Artie had a feeling this guy would be, as Sin City had said, right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody's face.

"Or in a Roman arena," Artie quoted aloud, forgetting where he was. "Taking his sword to other gladiators like him."

The dracenae were too far enthralled with scene playing out in front of them too ask what this strange creature meant. No doubt remembering a similar scene from another time period, they guessed, ancient Rome by the sound of it.

"You've failed me already, Thorn." said the General.

"But General — "

"No excuses!"

Artie picked something up about the General. Thorn may be wearing a military uniform, but the General was the real deal. The General was, without the slightest doubt, a natural born commander and he knew it.

"I should throw you in the pit of Tartarus for your incompetence." the General said. "I gave you a simple mission eight years ago and you failed. I provided you with an opportunity to redeem yourself and it took you four years with nothing to show for it. Then, against my better judgement, I send you to capture a child of the elder gods and you bring back a scrawny child of Athena!"

Artie was confused. Eight years ago? He couldn't mean . . . No, that's impossible.

"You promised me revenge." Thorn protested. "A command of my own."

"I am Lord Kronos's senior commander." said the General. "And I will choose lieutenants that who get me results! Not ones who retreat when their target if half dead! Its is only because of Luke that we could salvage our plan at all. Now get out of my sight, Thorn, until I find some menial task for you to fail."

Artie could have sworn that Thorn was about a half second from roaring indignantly and begin shooting spine, but to his surprise Thorn simply bowed curtly and walked out, Artie was tempted to follow, but the General had intrigued him. Artie was here for Annabeth. Once she was out of harm's way, Artie would be free to accomplish the rest of prophecy, namely the vengeance taken bit. He decided to stay and listen in case the General let something slip. Plus, someone might notice him try to slip out and demand why he was leaving without being dismissed.

"Now, my boy." The General turned to Luke. "We must isolate the half blood Thalia. The monster we seek will then come to her."

"The hunters will be difficult to dispose of." said Luke.

Try making them watch the Twilight movies, Artie though ruefully, From Appolonia told me, even the most die hard feminist will melt at the sight of Taylor Lautner shirtless.

Luke continued. "Zoë Nightshade — "

"Don't speak that name!" snapped the General.

Luke swallowed, "S-sorry, General. I just — "

He silenced Luke with a wave of his hand. "Let me show you, my boy, how we will bring the Hunters down." He pointed to a guard on ground level. "Do you have the teeth?"

The guard stumbled forward nearly dropping a ceramic pot in his hands. "Yes, General.

"Plant them!" he ordered.

That was when Artie first noticed the circle of dirt in the center of the room. He guessed it normally held some sort of exhibit, dinosaur bones most likely. Artie watched curiously as the guard took out pristine white teeth and pushed them into the dirt. He smoothed over the dirt as the General smiled coldly and the rest watched with bated breath. Artie squinted and wondered why was the guard planting tiger teeth, at least he guessed them to belong to a tiger. Artie may have had plenty of experience with the large cats of the world, but there were some subtleties that escaped him.

The guard stepped back from the dirt and wiped his hands. "Ready General."

"Excellent! Water them, and we let them smell their prey."

The guard then picked up a baby blue tin watering can with daises painted on it. Artie considered that to be strange, but then again it must be quite difficult to find one that screamed macho or evil. The guard poured a thick red liquid over the buried teeth and scent nearly made Artie gag. Even on the opposite side of the room and above ground level Artie knew it was clearly blood, and not animal blood.

"Soon," the General said. "I will show you, Luke, soldiers that will make the army from your little boat look insignificant."

Luke clenched his fist. "I've spent a year training my forces! When the Princess Andromeda reached the mountain, they will be the best — "

"Ha!" laughed the General. "I do not deny your troops will make a fine honor guard for Lord Kronos. And you, of course, will have a role to play —"

Artie could have sworn Luke became even paler and wondered what the General meant.

"— but under my leadership, the forces of Lord Kronos will increase a hundredfold. We will be unstoppable. Behold! My ultimate killing machines!"

Artie's hand dropped to his side, should he need his bow. The soil erupted as creatures struggled from under the dirt. Where each tooth had been buried emerged small furry creature and the first one said:

"Mew?"

Artie snickered, he just couldn't help himself, but quickly covered it with a sneeze when the dracenae looked back at him, "My apologizes, allergies."

It was a kitten. A tiger cub to be exact Artie judged by their scent, though they could be mistaken for common kittens. It looked like a little orange tabby with striped on the side like a tiger. Before long there were a dozen of them, all them rolling around and playing in the dirt. Had this been a different situation, Artie would have asked if he could have one to take home to Appolonia, she had always wanted a cat. He could almost hear her happily shriek when she found the adorable little creature under the Christmas tree with a little pink bow around its neck on Christmas morning.

The General roared. "What is this! Cute cuddly kittens! Where did you get those teeth!"

The guard that brought the teeth cowered in fear. "From the exhibit, sir. Just like you said."

"The tyrannosaurus exhibit?"

"No, sir. I thought you said — "

"Never mind." The General pointed to the kittens. "Gather up those . . . those infernal fuzzy little beasts and take them outside. And never let me see your face again." The guard did as he was ordered and the General motioned to another guard. "You! Get me the right teeth. NOW!"

The new guard rush to complete his order.

"Imbeciles." muttered the General.

"They're unreliable." said Luke. "That's why I don't use mortals."

"They're weak minded, easily bought, and violent." the General said. "I love them."

Artie was sure that nothing else would happen that might lead him to Annabeth when the guard hustled back into the room, his arms with white pointy teeth. Artie was sure this time the teeth did not belong to any large cat in the world.

"Excellent!" The General climbed over the balcony and jumped down twenty feet. When he landed the marble floor under him crack. He stood wincing. "Curse my stiff neck."

"Another hot pad, sir?" asked the guard. "More Tylenol?"

"The pain will pass." The General brushed off his suit and took the teeth from the guard. "I will do this myself." He held up one of the teeth and smiled. "Dinosaur teeth — Ha! Those foolish mortals don't even know when they have dragon teeth in their possession. And not just any dragon teeth. These belonged to Sybaris herself! These will do nicely."

Artie had the feeling he should try and stop him, but his curisoty won out. He reasoned that if he interfered he could make things worse and be killed for his trouble. From what he heard, whatever rose from the dirt this time would be used against Zoë's quest to save Artemis and not him. He might have been tempted to act, for Thalia and Grover's sake, but forced himself to focus on Annabeth's safety. As much he wouldn't admit aloud, Zoë and Thalia were more than capable warriors, they were the best he knew. All this went through his mind as the General planted the teeth, twelve in all, and watered them with blood.

A single skeletal hand shot through the dirt and all Artie think was, George Romero would kill to see this

The General looked the dracenae in front of Artie and he was glad he was out of his line of sight. "Quickly, do you have the scent?"

"Yesss, my lord." the one on the left held up a silver scarf which Artie knew by sight, and smell, that it belonged to one of the Hunters.

"Excellent." said the General. "Once my warriors catch a scent, they will pursue its owner relentlessly. Nothing can stop them, no weapon known to half blood or Hunter. They will they tear the Hunters and their allies to shreds."

Artie was second away from drawing an arrow that would have brought down the building, when the skeleton erupted from the soil. They looked like a prop that would have been found in any biology class in any school in America. Then they began to grow have transparent gray skin and yellow eyes. Clothes also began appear on them and they wore gray muscle shirts, camo pants, and combat boots. One them seemed to stare off the left like it was giving a death stare to an empty pocket of space and Artie wondered if he wasn't the only one that had managed to sneak in. Artie watched the scarf fluttered down to the General. As soon as he gave to the warriors, they would hunt down Zoë and the others until they were dead. Artie reached for his Kopis. He had to take out the dracenae to get a clear shot. No sooner than the thought crossed his mind, something knocked the warriors to the floor and snatched the scarf out of the air.

"What is this?" bellowed the General.

Artie saw a puff of dirt at the feet of a skeletal warrior which hissed.

"An intruder." growled the General. "One cloaked in darkness. Seal the doors!"

"Its Percy Jackson!" Luke yelled. "It has to be!"

Percy, seu idiota, Artie thought to himself. You're supposed to be back at camp. Artie drew his Kopis and killed the two dracenae in the blink of an eye. "Well, were you expecting maybe Warren Batey?"

Everyone looked up as he threw back his hood and revealed his face. Artie hoped Percy, or whomever it was, used the distraction to escape. Artie opened his bow and drew an arrow, holding the string back tight.

"Artie?" Luke looked more annoyed than surprised, how many times could this one demigod continue to infiltrate his bases again and again?

"Well, it ain't the girl scouts selling cookies." Artie said, settling on a line from Holes.

The General growled. "Are you trying to be funny, or do you think I'm stupid?"

Artie winked at another Holes set up, "I wasn't trying to be funny."

Surprisingly, the General smiled. "What are planning little demigod? You're surrounded with nowhere to go."

The demigods and monsters seemed to realize this for the first time and began to advance, weapons gleaming wickedly in their hands. Artie had indeed planned for this, thanks to Percy, and fired the arrow at the General. To everyone surprised Artie turned and raised cloak. They all realized what was about to happen a moment too late and Artie was the last thing they saw before they saw a flash of the brightest white light ever to been seen without seeing a god's true form. Artie waited a couple of seconds before he opened his eye and looked around. Everyone was on their knees or rolling on the floor as they roaring in pain as they clutched their eyes. Even the General seemed to be stumbling around as he roared and screamed obscenities in ancient Greek. Artie heard his quiver hiss behind him and he knew he would have to wait a until morning to use another arrow, even a plain one. He hopped over the railing and slid down a pillar. In the blink of an eye he reached the door and slammed it behind him. The lobby was empty as he spotted an emergency fire axe. He broke open the glass and slid the axe through the door handles. It wouldn't hold anything big back, but it might buy him a second or two he needed to disappear.

Artie burst through the front door and found a set of faint footprints and the scent of salty sea air. So it had been Percy, no doubt using Annabeth's invisibility cap, and he was on his way to warn Thalia and the others. Artie jogged as he switched his gaze between his rear and Percy's footprint. He was too busy making sure he wasn't being pursued that he tripped over a cardboard box . He looked at his feet and saw there was writing on the side of it. With his dyslexia and the bad handwriting, he thought it read, Fere ketniss lkooing fro a hmoe, he shook his head and tried to read it again.

"Free kittens." he said aloud. "Looking for a home."

"Aren't we all?" said a rough voice.

Artie turned and found himself face to boot with a homeless man. He had a dirty grey beard and matching hair. His jeans were so worn they almost were as white as Artie's cloak. His coat was ripped with so much stuffing falling out, Artie wondered how it kept the man warm. He also saw he wore dirty wool socks for gloves and a similar sock on his feet through the holes in his boots. The man gave him a warm, but toothless, grin.

"A man came out a little while ago." said the homeless man. "Poured a whole bag of kittens into a box and just left them."

Artie allowed the man to help him up. "Kittens?"

The man nodded. "Poor little things. No home and so close to Christmas. A lot them got taken by some nice looking folks."

Artie felt something sinks its teeth into boot and looked down. "Not all of them." He picked up the tiny feline by the scruff of its neck. "I guess no one wanted him."

The man looked sad. "Poor little guy. Left all alone with no one to take care of him and Christmas close. You should take him home."

Artie glanced at kitten as it gave him big wide eyes and batted at his nose playfully, "Mew?"

Artie rolled his eyes and opened a large pouch on his belt. "You're lucky you're cute." He gently placed the kitten the pouch and closed the top over its little furry head. "Try not to move around too much."

"Mew!" the kitten protested.

Artie ignored the adorable stowaway and took off in a sprint, following Percy's footprints, to the Air and Space Museum.

As he ran, Artie heard the homeless man, "Appolonia will love it. Don't forget the pink ribbon."

Artie looked back and the man was gone. That could have been . . . No, why would he be here?

Percy tore across the Mall, not daring to look behind him. He burst through the Air and Space museum and took off his invisibility cap as cleared the admission area. The main part of the museum was a humungous spacious room with planes and rockets hanging from the ceiling. There were three levels of balconies curving along the wall so visitors could see them at different heights and angles. The room was not crowded with only a few families a couple of tour groups of children, no doubt on some sort of school holiday trip Percy assumed. He fought the urge to yell at them to leave. The last thing he needed was to be ejected before he could find Thalia, Grover, and the Hunters and warn them about the skeletal warriors. Something told him that once they arrived, they would not settle for an audio tour. Percy ran into Thalia seconds later, literally. He was barreling up the third floor balcony ramp and he slammed into her, knocking her into the Apollo Space Capsule. Before either of them could regain their balance Zoë and Bianca had arrows notched, aimed at Percy's chest. He thought for a moment that they had simply appeared of nowhere, but saw the bows had sprung from a silver ring on their fingers like Artie's bow.

Once Zoë realized it was Percy, she didn't seem to anxious to lower bow, "You! How dare thee show thy face here?"

"Percy!" said Grover. "Thank goodness." Zoë glared at him. "I mean, uh, gosh, Percy, you're not supposed to be here."

"Luke!" gasped Percy as he tried to catch his breath. "He's here."

Thalia placed a hand on her bracelet. "Where?"

Stopping only to breath, Percy told them about the Natural History museum, Dr. Thorn, Luke, and the General.

"The General is here?" Zoë looked stunned. "That is impossible. You lie!"

"Why would I lie? Look, there's no time. Skeleton warriors— "

"What?" Thalia demanded. "How many?"

"Twelve!" Percy answered. "And that's not all. The General said he was sending something 'a playmate' to distract you here. A monster."

"Zoë," Bianca looked uneasy, "If it is the General — "

"It cannot be!" Zoë snapped. "Percy must have scene an Iris message or some other illusion."

"Illusions don't crack marble floors." Percy told her.

Zoë rubbed her temples to calm herself. "If Percy is telling the truth about the skeleton warriors," she said. "We have no time to are the worse, most horrible . . . we must leave now."

"Great idea." Percy agreed.

"I was not speaking to thee, boy." Zoë said. "Thy are not part of this quest."

"You shouldn't have come, Percy." Thalia said grimly. "But you're here now. Come on, lets back to the van."

"That is not thy decision!" Zoë snapped.

Thalia scowled, "You're not the boss here, Zoë. I don't care how old you are! You're still a spoiled brat!"

It looked like it would come to blows when a growl erupted below them so loud it almost drowned out the screams. Something enormous bounded up the ramp. It was roughly the size of a pick up truck, with silver claws and golden glittering fur. Percy had seen this monster once two years ago from a train. Somehow it looked even larger up close and personal. Its fangs glittled like steel as it lifted a lip to growl before it roared. It roared so loud, it actually parted everyone's hair.

"That's the Nemean Lion." Thalia whispered.

"Separate on my mark." Zoë said. "Try to keep it distracted."

"Until when?" Grover asked.

"Until I can find a way to kill it. GO!"

Percy uncapped Riptide and rolled to the left. Arrows whistled past him as Grover began a rapid sharp candance on his reed pipes. Percy turned to see Zoë and Bianca climbing the Apollo capsule, firing arrow after arrow only to see them bounce and shatter off the lion's fur. With a massive paw, the lion tipped over the capsule and the Hunters spilled off. Grover played a frantic, but horrible, tune and the lion turned towards him, but Thalia jumped in front, brandishing Aegis, and the lion recoiled like the shield was a blazing fire. Percy thought she had it under control, as much as one could control a lion outside of a circus, until he saw its muscles tense as it readied to pounce. Percy then charged the monster and slashed with Riptide which bounced off the monster's fur with a shower of sparks. The lion responded and raked Percy with a massive claw, tearing a substantial chuck from his coat. It backed Percy against the railing and then pounce. With nowhere to go, Percy turned and jumped. He landed on the wing of an old fashioned silver plane which pitched and he nearly spilled off to the ground, three stories below. An arrow whizzed past his head as the lion leaped onto the aircraft, the cords holding up the plane groaning in protest to the sudden weight increase. The lion swiped at Percy and he slid down to the next exhibit, a strange looking spacecraft with helicopter blades. He looked up as the lion opened its maw and roared. Then Percy had an idea. The fur may be invulnerable, but its mouth might not be. The problem was on of distance, namely closing without being ripped to shreds and eaten. Not exactly in that order.

Percy yelled to Zoë, "Zoë, target the mouth!"

The monster lunged and Percy dropped to the ground floor exhibit, a huge model of the earth, as an arrow missed the lion by inches. The Nemean lion growled and steadied itself, but the weight was too much. A cord snapped and the plane swung like a pendulum, the lion stepped onto the globe just it swung over it. Percy yelled to Grover to clear the area who tried the coral the few screaming children just as another cord snapped and the plane crashed to the floor. Thalia dropped down from the second floor and landed across the from Percy on the other side of the globe. The lion regard them both, trying to decide which demigod kill first.

Then a something threw the doors opens to the admission area.

Everyone. including the Nemean Lion, looked as the few screaming civilian ran out past a figure cloaked in black. The cloak was black as night as it covered every inch of mysterious man. At least Percy assumed it was a man since the wearer's face was clad in shadow by the cloaks hood. Percy had seen this newcomer in the Natural History Museum in the upper balconies, so the General had sent another playmate should the demigods prove too much for the lion. But lion didn't seem to know this was an ally and roared before charging the newcomer. Percy and Thalia watched as the newcomer also charged, with no visible weapons. Just as the lion pounced into the air, the cloaked figure ducked low and slid under with a grace that could only be achieved with some practice. He turned as he slide and took a small tube from under his cloak and pressed a button. In a fraction of a second, he held three bronze ball connected by a length of cord. He twirled them and threw it as the lion. The cords caught and wrapped around the lion hind legs so when it landed, it fell and smacked its face on the floor.

"Those bolas will not kill it!" shouted Zoë. "We need a clear shot at its mouth."

"Who's the new guy?" Thalia shouted back.

"I have no idea!"

"Thalia," Percy suddenly remembered he had been here and got an idea. "Keep it occupied!"

Zoë watched Percy take off towards the gift shop. "This is no time for souvenirs, boy!"

The lion backed the cloaked warrior swiping with its claws and snapping its jaws. The cloaked warrior continued to step back slowly, drawing various kinds of deterrents from under his cloak, all off which had no effect. Thalia watched at the lion stepped on a small field of caltrops like it was soft grass, bat aside more bolas, and tear through nets like paper. The Hunters's arrows continued to bounce off and shatter against the lion's fur. Thalia soon found herself also backing up next to the cloaked fighter whom she guessed to be a friend since he was trying to fight the lion with them. She jabbed her spear and brought up Aegis, but she found herself against the wall with faceless ally patting his waist like he had lost something important.

"Out of toys?" she asked.

He brought out two small cylinders, one of which he tossed over the lion and covered the monster in water. The lion simply shook itself dry and growled menacingly at the demigod who going to find out the hard way that cats did not like water.

"Water? That's your ace in the hole?" Thalia shouted. "Percy, whatever you're planning, hurry!"

"HEY!" shouted Percy from behind the Nemean Lion.

The mystery fighter tossed the last small cylinder under the Nemean Lion which sparked with blue electricity. The monster buckled slightly as it trembled with a couple thousand volts coursed through its body. He then tapped Thalia and pointed to the puddle of water that the lion stood in.

"Oh, that's right!" Thalia smiled wickedly. "Water conducts electricity."

Thalia did not call down lightning like her father, they had to be outside for that to happen, but she felt electricity travel from her body down the length of her spear and jump into the puddle of water. The sudden increase in voltage was enough for the lion to open its mouth in pain which was quickly plugged with a cellophane wrapped projectile, courtesy of the gift shop and delivered by Percy's pitching arm. Thalia and their new ally watched as the lion coughed and gagged like the lion had a hairball.

Thalia looked to her still unknown ally, "What was that he just threw?"

The figure's shoulders shrugged, but she swore she heard. "Mew!"

"Zoë, get ready!" Percy shouted.

The lion managed to choke down the cellophane wrapped food and turned to Percy with a look of pure hatred.

Percy hefted another packet. "Snack time!"

It made the mistake of roaring and Percy threw another packet, an ice cream sandwich, down its throat. The lion coughed and gagged as he followed up with more ice cream and a freeze dried spaghetti dinner. Its eyes bugged wide and stood up on it hind legs to escape Percy, its mouth wide open enough to swallow a truck tire.

"Now!" yelled Percy.

Instantly, arrows appeared in the monster's maw — two, four, six. The lion thrashed wildly, turned around, and fell down. And then it was still. Alarms wailed throughout the museum. People flocked to the exits. And security guard were running around in a panic without the slightest idea of what was had occurred. Grover knelt by Thalia as she sat down right there on the floor. She was simply tired and would be fine once she caught her breath. Percy did the same as Zoë and Bianca slid down and joined thier friends, keeping arrows trained on the cloaked stranger, while the lion dissolved until only its hide was left.

"That was an . . . interesting strategy." said Zoë.

Artie threw back his hood and revealed his face. "Hey, it worked."

Zoë did not lower her bow while Bianca did. "What are thou doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing." Artie seemed annoyed that Zoë had not lowered her bow. "I followed Thorn here."

"We were following Lady Artemis's trail." said Zoë

Artie snorted. "Well, you're heading in the wrong direction."

"How so?"

"The prophecy said to head west." Artie rolled his eyes. "This is Washington, D. C. Its south of New York. You walked right into the General's trap."

"I was against coming here." Zoë folded her arms. "But Grover's tracking spell said this was in the correct direction."

"Don't blame Grover." said Thalia. "If you were better tracker, we wouldn't need to use the spell in the first place."

"You dare challenge my skills, you scullion? You know nothing of being a Hunter!"

"What the heck is a scullion?"

"The male version of a scullery maid. A servant who performed menial kitchen jobs during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance." Artie coughed, "Basically, she was calling you a stupid boy."

Percy looked at Artie, "How did you know that?"

"Annabeth told me once when it came up during a Renaissance period movie." Artie explained. "She went on for nearly an hour how it was an arcitetureal marvel for the time period or something."

Thalia threw back her fist. "That's it!"

Luckily for Zoë, Grover ran up. "We have to get out of here. The security guards won't stay confused for long."

Artie looked around and whistled. "What did you use?"

Grover smiled shyly, "I played a little Barry Manolo. It works every time but it'll only last for a few seconds."

Artie picked up the lion skin and tossed it to Percy. "Here!"

Percy caught it and looked at him. "Isn't it some sort of animal rights violation or something?"

"Its a spoil of war." Zoë explained. "It is rightly thine."

"But you killed it." said Percy.

Zoë shook her head. "I think thy ice cream sandwich did that. Fair is fair, Percy Jackson. Take the fur."

Percy threw it over his shoulder and it shifted into a full length golden brown duster. "Not exactly my style." Percy remarked.

"Hey, Artie." Thalia asked. "Why didn't you use you're bow?"

Artie motioned to his quiver. "Needs a cool down between gadgets. I used a pretty big one getting away from Luke and the General. I won't even be able to use regular arrows until tomorrow morning."

"And your belt is empty." Bianca said.

"Belt?" asked Zoë.

Artie spread his arms apart and displayed the belt. "Not exactly empty. I have some herbs and other medical supplies, but nothing lethal. I used all of those toys against the lion."

Then, not to be forgotten, the kitten poked its head out from a pouch. "Mew!"

"Oh, and him too." Artie smiled. "Just in case we run into a monster who's allergic to cats."

Bianca scratched behind the kitten's ears. "Awww, he's adorable." Then the adorable kitten sank its teeth into her finger. "Ow!"

"Sorry about that." Artie glanced down at the kitten which was giving him big eyes. "I guess he's hungry."

As if to confirm the kitten nearly squeaked. "Mew!"

Artie gently pushed the kitten back into the pouch. "Later, I promise."

Percy gave Artie a quizzical look, "Artie, you didn't happen to — "

"Uh, guys?" Grover pointed to a window. "Please tell me those are just soldiers out on a run."

They all turned to gaze out the window. A group of men were walking across the lawn. Gray skinned men wearing camouflage outfits. While its was too far for either group to see each other, Percy was sure he felt their gaze on him. Then Artie looked a Percy and saw a piece missing from his sleeve. No doubt the skeleton warriors had acquired Percy's scent in the few seconds he was occupied killing the dracenae.

"Go!" said Percy. "They'll be hunting me. I'll distract them."

"No!" Zoë said. "We go together."

Percy stared at her. "But, you said — "

Thou are part of this quest now." Zoë said grudgingly. "I do not like it, but there is no denying it. You are the fifth quest member. And we do not leave anyone behind."

Artie couldn't resist a smile. "Well, good luck with that."

Thalia grabbed his shoulder. "You're coming too."

Artie just stared. "You're kidding."

Thalia's eyes flicked to Zoë. "At least until your quiver starts working and you can defend yourself."

Zoë sighed, "Very well, I highly doubt we have the time to debate the matter anyway."

Artie chuckled and held out his hand, "Then I'll get the van."

"Good idea, meet us at exit." Thalia tossed Artie the keys,

Zoë shot Thalia a look, "When did thee pick my pocket?"

"Not bad for a scullion, eh?"

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