You want to know one of the worst things about being a demigod? The nightmares.
Sure, there’s being chased by hungry monsters, nearly dying on multiple occasions, and the resentment I feel towards Poseidon for crushing my chances at a normal life, but between all of that pleasantness are the nightmares.
By now, I was pretty used to bad dreams. They were usually vague but terrifying—the camp in flames, the mortal world collapsing. Y’know, standard stuff like that.
Oftentimes I had dreams from my best friend Hayden’s life, reliving every third life-or-death experience she’d ever face, along with emotions I never quite understood, and memories of our friendship I nearly forgotten.
Let me explain that if that made no sense.
Long story short: my best friend Hayden died trying to protect me after we were hunted down by our crazy Social Studies teacher (a longer story on top of this long story) who, as far as I could figure, was working for Gaea. After Hayden’s funeral, her mother, the goddess Thetis, gave me a gift: the ability to run incredibly fast.
Hayden was gone, and I wanted to experience life for the two of us. For that I had to survive, and that’s part of why I agreed to let Thetis give me power. But the power came with the price of experiencing some of Hayden’s thoughts and memories. Some were pretty nice, some made me incredibly sad, but a lot were scary. Almost all of them were painful to see. I experienced Hayden’s memories first person through my dreams.
But this night was different.
The first thing I noticed was that it was bone-chillingly cold, cold enough to see my own breath…if I could see. I was surrounded in pitch-black darkness. I was never really afraid of the dark, but being wherever I was made my throat close up. I wanted to bolt, but knowing me, I’d run smack-dab into a wall and concuss myself like only a true hero would do.
I reached out, trying to feel around for a wall. What I found surprised me. It was a wall, but it was rough and moist, like uneven gravel after a light rain. I waited for my eyesight to adjust, and slowly I realized that I was in the middle of a cave. The passageways in front of and behind me went on forever and were swallowed into darkness. I heard a soft roar, which at first I thought was the roar of blood in my ears, but the sound was higher pitched and manic, almost like laughter from a large crowd. And it was growing louder.
Ice crawled up my spine. I ran away from the noise down the tunnel, keeping one hand on the wall, but the noise kept getting louder. I tried to backtrack, but there was a wall of solid earth where I’d previously been that wasn’t there before. I was forced to either stay put or go forward, and I didn’t want my back against the wall when whatever was laughing found me.
I kept moving forward, turning down corridors hoping to find a way back, but no matter how many times I turned, I never seemed to be able to distance myself from the noise. It was almost as if the cave was alive and was forcing me towards the source of the laughter…
Another chill ran through my veins. That idea was too horrifying to dwell on, even in a dream.
I kept walking for minutes, maybe even hours, on end. It was impossible for me to tell. Suddenly, my foot slipped from under me and I almost fell down a ledge I didn’t see that dropped down into a vast, dark cavern.
I bit back a yelp.
Down in the cavern, a dark humanoid figure was stuck halfway in the ground. Only its torso, head, and upper arms were visible. Even so, I could tell that this thing was huge—it was already twice my size. It was slowly rising from the ground, as if the earth were pushing it up while molding it from the top down. And if that wasn’t already terrifying enough, this thing had four arms, two protruding from each shoulder. It’d be almost comical, but those arms were big and beefy, like a body builder who was halfway through letting himself go.
There was worse news. Dozens upon dozens of creatures with huge bat-like wings were all congregated at the bottom, laughing and cheering. Small fights broke out in groups here and there; the creatures clawed at each other until they were both reduced to a pile of ashes. More were rising from the ground in wisps of black smoke and solidifying. I noticed that some had horns like the Minotaur’s, while others had tusk like a rhino or elephant. Thankfully, it was too dark to see them too clearly.
So far, none of them noticed me. As I watched in horror, I began to notice the thump, thump, thump of vibrations slowly growing beneath my feet, resonating through the ground. It grew louder and stabilized, almost like a—
I stepped back quickly, but stumbled and fell flat on my butt with a yelp. I realized that that thing was—
Two blue eyes shot open on the giant figure’s face. The sclera and irises were all unnatural shades of blue. Its pupils, which were a slightly darker shade of blue, were horribly jagged and misshapen.
The eyes fixed themselves on me and my heart dropped beating. A fanged smile slowly spread onto the face; evil gleamed in those awful eyes.
I woke abruptly. My ears were ringing and my heart was beating like it was trying to make up for lost time.
Dull morning light slipped past the slits on the closed blinds and hit me in the face. Monsters howled in the woods. The familiar scent of the ocean breeze wafted through my room, which helped me calm down.
I rolled to my back and tried to steady my heart by taking deep breaths. Celestial bronze Hippocampi danced in a circle on the ceiling, the craftsmanship of my half-brother, Tyson.
I sighed, and forced myself out of bed to get ready for the day. I went to breakfast as usual, but my dream was still on my mind. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Annabeth told me that sometimes demigods had dreams of the past and present. But was that what was happening? How could I tell? I never had a dream like that before. I wanted to ask Annabeth since she was the best person to help me figure this out, but she wasn’t at breakfast that morning. She was on another search mission for Percy and was supposed to be back sometime the tomorrow. I didn’t want to bother her now if my dream turned out to be trivial.
So I tried to go about my day normally. After a morning of swordplay and monster fighting techniques, I gathered my reading materials and headed to Bunker Nine.
It's been three months since Leo and cabin nine started building the Argo II, and even in its half finished state it already was amazing to behold. It stood large and gleaming in the middle of Bunker Nine. I could already tell that it would be imposing as soon as it was done.
It was hard to believe that March was nearly over already. Time flies when you’re building a spanking hot war machine, I guess. I didn't keep track of time all that well when I was at camp. My own birthday almost snuck up on me, and I only noticed it was coming when Valentine's Day rolled around and the Aphrodite cabin was more rowdy than usual. I hid from them in Bunker Nine.
I've been coming to Bunker Nine about every other day since January, teaching Leo Greek stories, relaying messages between the bunker and camp for those too cheap to shell out the drachma to send an Iris Message, and retrieving tools that were too big or too specific for Leo’s fanny pa—tool belt. I wasn’t part of the Seven, and I couldn't build anything to save my life, so teaching Leo when he didn’t get to go to class like the other campers was my way of contributing. That was true, but I’d be lying if I said that was the only reason I went there often.
Oh, like you never had ulterior motives before.
Today, I was reading Leo the story of Echo, but my heart wasn’t into it. If I sounded off, Leo didn’t seem to notice. He was testing the Wii remote’s control on the ship’s sails. Please don’t ask me why he connected a Wii remote to his warship. Leo was weird. He didn’t think about things the way others did.
He shook the remote manically and the sails began to rise, but stalled halfway like something was stuck in the gears. Leo swore and shook the control faster, like how you’d hit a button on a remote harder, as if that stops the batteries from being dead.
“Y’know,” I said drily, “you should really wear a wrist strap when you’re doing that.”
“Do I look like the kind of guy who needs the wrist strap?” Leo asked.
Leo shook his head, like I can’t believe this chick. “Just because you smashed the window in the Big House doesn't mean that the rest of us can't handle our Wii remotes.”
I blushed. “It wasn’t that bad…”
“You nailed two satyrs in the head with the remote.”
So here’s weird story: Leo and I were playing Smash Brothers in the rec room and Leo was totally cheating, I swear. I may or may not have gotten a little too into it and sent the Wii remote flying through the window were it ricocheted off of a poor satyr’s head and hit another one in the face.
I grimaced at the memory. “Okay. Maybe it was that bad.”
Leo laughed and placed the Wii remote on Buford the table. He gave Buford an affectionate pat, pulled a screwdriver out of his tool belt, and began working on the sails. He worked fluidly, as if fixing machines was second nature to him, which it was since he was a son of Hephaestus.
Leo tried to teach me a little bit about machines before, but he might as well have been trying to teach me rocket surgery or brain science, for all I understood. Every time he explained something to me in his technobabble, my eyes would glaze over and I would go “uh huh” and nod a lot. Not much different from what I did in school, actually. He’d just face palmed himself and muttered to himself in Spanish.
(I still don’t know Spanish swear words, btw.)
He did, however, teach me some Morse code, so I was able to ask you okay and say love you. I tried not to let him see how hard I was blushing, to questionable success.
Anyway, looking at the Argo II, I couldn’t help but think that June was less than two months away. I never liked thinking about it much. It was much easier to pretend that time was static, and Leo and his siblings were building the Argo II for fun instead of because Mother Earth was raising her most horrible children, the giants, to destroy the gods, and if the Seven didn’t stop her from waking, the world would end and everyone I knew and loved would die.
Speaking of loved ones, there were still no signs of Percy after all of these months. I’ve tried contacting Percy through Iris Messages a couple times just to see if I could get through. I never did. I went with Annabeth on a trip to the city to visit Percy’s mom and Mr. Blowfis. There was a lot of crying and hugging all around. Mrs. Jackson’s stomach was a little upset. Percy being gone so long was taking its toll on her.
No one else was having any luck trying to find him, either. The Pegasi were still being used to look for him. I’ve seen Tyson twice since I met him back when Percy first went missing. The poor guy still burst into tears, though I really couldn’t blame him. I’ve met Thalia and her hunters when they came to camp to meet up with Annabeth and Jason. Thalia reminded me of Hayden; they liked the same kind of music and clothes. I’ve checked up on Nico a few times who coincidently/ironically looked like the dead. I could tell he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Percy’s satyr friend, Grover, had contacts with nature spirits all over the country, but none of them have seen any trace of Percy.
Annabeth was as determined as ever to find him, but she was becoming more and more distressed with each passing day. She almost always looked exhausted and didn’t comb her hair as often. I tried to cheer her up by saying that maybe Percy was already at the Roman camp, but I don’t know if she believed me or not. I don’t know if I believed me or not.
During the day, campers old and new were trickling into camp from the mortal world. It was Spring Break for most schools, so I was expecting the camp to at least triple in size. I heard that even Rachel Dare, our Oracle of Delphi, showed up sometime during the afternoon.
My friend, Lacy, hadn’t showed up yet, and I was a little worried. I was heading to the dining pavilion for dinner when I was glomped from behind.
“Oh my gods, Kaia!” my attacker squealed. “I like your hair.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Thanks, Lace.”
Lacy turned to me with a big braces grin on her face. We stood in the green as some other campers passed us and started catching up since we saw each other last in January. Lacy was telling me about her friends from her school in Brookline, and I was filling her in on my birthday (minus some unnecessary parts…). She was drilling me for all the details about how I spent Valentine's Day at camp. When I told her the truth, she just scoffed at me.
“Gods, Kaia!” Lacy groaned, but was smiling. “You don’t have a romantic bone in your body.”
“No surprise there,” a familiar voice said behind us.
It was none other than Drew Tanaka. She had the same stupid make up, the same stupid jewelry, and the same stupid smug face. She stood behind us with some of her siblings from the Aphrodite cabin who didn’t much like me, their arms crossed. Lacy, probably on instinct, took a step behind me.
I rolled my eyes. “Hello, Drew. How nice to see you.”
“Hmm.” She looked me up and down and shook her head in disapproval. “You look worse since I saw you last. Did your scalp start sprouting seaweed instead of actual hair?”
Drew and her cronies started to laugh.
“Very funny, Drew,” I said. “You’re a regular Rob Schneider.”
She frowned. “Whatever, Kaia.” She said my name like it was the worst insult anyone could possibly call someone. “You’re just a…”
No doubt Drew was calling me all sorts of names, but at that moment a big group of campers came across the green and I spotted Leo among them, talking to Jason and Piper (I think I had Leo senses or something because I was could always pick him out in a crowd.). Piper was cracking up at something he just said and Jason just shook his head like, I can’t believe you just said that.
Drew stopped berating me when she realized that she no longer had my attention. Her gaze drifted towards the group I was staring at, then back at me. She smirked.
“Oh. I see.”
I frowned. “You see what, Drew?”
“No wonder you’re acting so dumb, well, dumber than usual.” She turned to her minions and clasped her hands.“How sweet!” She crowed in faux pride. “Our little Kaia is in love.”
They started laughing. For once, I was totally speechless. Some of the campers overheard Drew as they passed us and started snickering under their breath. Lacy looked at me sympathetically.
I clenched my fist, trying not to punch Drew’s teeth in. Stupid child-of-Aphrodite powers! I wanted to call Drew something so bad that Chiron would punish me by having my mouth washed out with soap for a month, but I couldn’t speak. Under normal circumstances I would, but when it came to the subject of guys, my brain became a cloud of farts and I could no longer act like a rational teenage girl (cough). And Drew mocking me about my feelings made it worse.
That’s one of the worse things about Drew Tanaka. Even without Charmspeak, she knew exactly how to get under my skin and push all of my buttons. She knew what angle was best to attack and pulled no punches.
“Oh that’s rich!” Drew wiped a tear from her face and turned scanned crowd. “So… who is the unlucky guy?”
Lacy spoke up. “You know Drew, maybe you shouldn’t—”
Drew shot her a glare. Lacy’s mouth snapped shut.
“I bet,” she went on, “it’s someone utterly repulsive, like Clovis, or maybe—”
“Drew.” Piper interrupted, like a guardian angel. She nodded at Jason and Leo to continue to go on without her. I thought I saw Leo’s eyes linger on me for a second with a look of concern, but it was probably my rational teenage girl imagination running away from me.
“What are you up to, Drew?” Piper asked.
“We were just catching up,” Drew said quickly. “Right girls?”
Drew’s followers nodded and agreed like trained little dogs. Female dogs, specifically.
Piper looked like she didn’t buy it. “Well, I believe you’re not causing trouble. Because you wouldn’t want to be on garbage patrol for the whole week, right?”
Drew gulped, nodded, and headed towards the dining pavilion, her lackeys following in silence.
I looked at Piper gratefully as Lacy greeted her with a hug. “Can you teach me how to shut her up like that, or is that just a child of Aphrodite thing?”
Piper laughed and put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t let Drew get to you. She’ll only be here for a week.”
“A lot of things can happen in a week,” I mumbled as we headed to the pavilion. “Like I can kill her in a week.”
Dinner was good, but lonely at the Poseidon table. That wasn’t anything new, but I still felt exposed during dinner, like at any moment there would be a spotlight on me and an announcer’s voice would shout, “And in this corner, from Honolulu, weighing in as something laughable I’m sure, The Lonely Loser Who Shouldn’t Have Been Born!” But dinner was just a delicious speed bump in the way of the real fun: the campfire.
I sat with Leo, Nyssa, and the rest of cabin nine. Jason and Piper were off together, holding hands and having some real sweet couple time, Will was singing with his siblings about all the bottles of ambrosia on the wall, Lou Ellen sat in front in case Rachel had a prophetic episode and needed to be caught before she fell. Lacy would have sat with us, but Drew pulled her to sit with Drew’s group instead, and give me the stink eye. I returned the gesture, along with a little hand gesture featuring my favorite finger. At least Lacy got to sit with Mitchell, another nice Aphrodite kid.
I tried to have fun and joke around, but it wasn’t easy when I could hear snippets of Drew’s conversation behind my back, still talking about me and which guy my ugliness was most compatible with.
I wanted to toss melted marshmallows in her perfect hair and see her have to chop it all off when she couldn’t wash them out, but that would get me dish washing duty for a week (been there, done that, no thanks). Besides, that’d be a waste of delicious marshmallows.
So I did my best to ignore her.
Leo was funny as usual; he’d say something ridiculously hilarious/hilariously inappropriate and I’d burst out laughing and hit him playfully in the arm. We did this most nights; it gave me something to look forward to during the long slog that is dinner at table three.
The Apollo cabin finished the song and the camp cheered, the bonfire flames turning a vibrant shade of green, my favorite color. The Apollo camper strummed their guitars and Lyres and began their next song, This land was Minos’s land.
“Spoiler alert,” Leo muttered. “All the land was Minos’s land.”
I chuckled at that. As the Apollo cabin sang the song, I overheard one of Drew’s friends say, “…maybe it’s that Valdez guy?”
“Oh, puh-lease,” I heard Drew say. “Even that grease monkey is way too good for her.”
My fist clenched. I turned and glared at Drew. She smiled back at me, like she’d just won some stupid game.
I probably would have called her something fairly appropriate—like a skunk bag or something— and punch her in stomach, if someone in the crowd hadn’t gasped loudly enough and got everyone’s attention.
Up front, Rachel Dare was bent over as if she’d just been socked in the gut. One of the Apollo kids reach out to make sure she was okay, but then Rachel shot up and stood stiff as a board. She fixed her toxic green eyes directly on a spot above my head, and my stomach dropped. I looked to see what Rachel was looking at, and was rendered speechless for the second time today. Rachel—the Oracle—was staring at Drew Tanaka.
Everyone around Drew scooted three feet away from, as if they’d just learned that Drew had some kind of disease. As for Drew, she looked so thoroughly stunned that she didn’t speak or move.
Through Rachel, the Oracle spoke:
“You shall sail south towards the land in full bloom
Destroy twins’ bane to halt impending doom
Spirits of slaughter and battle you must brave
And marauders at sea, their flag of bones wave
Companioned by the daughters of sea and war
And the elder god’s child shall be no more.”
The glow faded and Rachel collapsed, but Lou and a few others caught her before she hit the ground. They sat her upright again and, fanning her and giving her some water to drink.
Everyone was silent for a beat, staring from Drew to Rachel to me before erupting into a roar of a dozen campers talking over each other and asking a million questions. Chiron was trying to calm everyone down, but I didn’t hear any of them.
I stared at the bonfire as it sputtered and grew with the nervous energy of the camp. Even though it was spring and the camp had weather controlled boarders, I felt as if the air dropped ten degrees. My head was spinning. I could barely form a coherent thought.
But three things were clear to me: Drew Tanaka was just giveb a quest, I was destined to join her, and I was destined to die.