After Hunter left the table Javier worked on finishing his breakfast. Without any form of conversation to provide a distraction it didn't take very long. When he was finished he added his plate and fork to the stack of dishes that were to-be-washed. Javier wasn't certain who was in charge of the washing this week. It could be the staff, it could be some camper's punishment for breaking the rules of camp. Hopefully, it was the staff. They cared more about the actual cleanliness of the dish.
Javier filled his water bottle up before leaving the mess hall. 'Where to...' he wondered as he stepped outside. It was too early to go to the Arena. Plus he hadn't reserved any time today. But there were other places he could go for a short practice session. At a light jog Javier began moving towards to the beach, which was just north of camp. He stopped at the border where grass and dirt became light colored sand. The area appeared to be empty. Except for a few birds flying overhead. Javier slid off his shoes and socks, tied the laces together in a sturdy knot, then slung the combined footwear over his shoulder. Shoving his socks into his shorts pocket he took an experimental step forward. The sand was cool. The sun hadn't been out long enough to heat the ground. And if the sand was 'cool' the water was definitely not going to be above 'chilled'.
Cold water was only fun during the hot afternoon hours. 'I can wait'. Javier decided. He found a decent spot, leveled the small area of sand with his foot, and sat down. 'Shoulda brought sunglasses.' he realized belatedly. But now that he was seated he didn't feel like standing back up immediately. So he continued to sit.
Kat had just finished a decent breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes when someone nudged her shoulder. She turned around to see it was Shane. From the looks of his messy hair, he had just climbed out of bed. According to Shane, Leeroy had been caught beating up a Hypnos girl and Brandon knocked him out cold for his troubles. He needed help in hauling the unconscious Demigod to Chiron's office for questioning.
Pick on someone your own size, you fucking cretin, she thought bitterly as she tossed out her trash. "Okay, let's get the Neanderthal over to Chiron's and get it over with," she muttered angrily. With that, Kat and Shane made their way back to the Ares cabin.
Alexandros couldn't help but laugh with his half sister.
"We would need to separate ourselves or politely bow out of the competition altogether. Though I'm not sure any of us could manage to stop ourselves from joining for the fun of it all. Though to watch anything occur on the stage is something worth seeing I think. Even a simple rehearsal or first read of a play is always something I like to watch. Would be a hard choice between being up on stage and wanting to see what others could do." He replied once he had finished with a small bout of laughter.
"So what brings you here Lily? Heeding the call like myself or something else entirely?"
"Hey, it's true. We aren't exactly a combat heavy house, but you avoid practice like cabin 3 avoids flying."
Ambrose glared. She couldn't run away, and Chiron was right there. It looked like she was going to have to go out and get her ass kicked after she healed... "Ugh... why me..."
"Look, I'll go get your scythe. You an train with me, maybe, but I'm not up all the time. Maybe you can go find some nice Ares kid to spar with?" Ling-Lei dodged a pillow as she ran out of the room, sticking her tongue out at Ambrose.
"Fine, fine, I'll practice, okay? Just leave me aloooone..." she groaned, pulling the blankets over her head.
Half an hour had been plenty of time for Jessica to return to her usual fitness, more or less. She was perfectly fine with taking on another skeleton, maybe two since she felt like a bit more of a challenge. A two-on-one fight would probably leave her with a bit more bruising and the need for another quick shower afterwards, but it helped in the long run.
Jess got up from her spot on the steps, collected her knives and rejoined the two Thanatos girls with a keen smile. "I'm good for some more fighting. Maybe two skeletons against me this time?" she suggested, leaving it open to the others to decide how they were going to do it. It could be Hannah controlling two, or Zestia could step in to help her sister. Either way, Jessica was looking forward to see who would win that fight.
Soon enough Shane and Kat neared the Ares cabin, where the still unconscious Leeroy was lying in a heap. Together they hefted him up and began to head for the Directors' Offices. It was slightly slower going than normal, due to the dead weight they were carrying between them. "Wonder what caused this fucker to go apeshit on a sleeper kid," Shane mused as they hefted their charge into Chiron's office and unceremoniously dumped him on the floor.
"I mean, seriously. Dumbass might even get some kind of charge for this. I'm gonna have to grab one of the Hecate kids to keep him in check once he wakes up," he added.
"I'm here for a while, just watching, and then later... not really sure, to be honest," Lily answered. "If you're up for it we could head to the arena to get in some fighting practice... though I know you don't like the idea of combat. Or there's maybe the forge, or arts and crafts hall, if you're in the mood for something more artistic."
She turned her eyes back to the stage, where a minor dispute appeared to be taking place over who spoke when, and what people were supposed to be doing as they spoke their lines.
A small furrow creased Chiron's eyebrows as he listened to the exchange between Ambrose and Ling-Lei. "Ambrose, this is something that we can't leave you alone about. You might not like to fight, but it is a necessity. Everyone has to be able to defend themselves in case of emergency," he explained in a patient voice.
"I'm not asking you to do anything majorly exhausting. Just an hour or two of practice every day, and then you can sleep as much as you want."
"Well I can create ice using the moisture in the air," Hunter replied, the dryness in his voice removing any tone of humour that would normally be paired with such a reply. After a second he continued, "My shoulder has been experiencing some mild stiffness and pain. I already know that that's to be expected though, so it seems things are healing properly."
Hunter wasn't telling the full truth. The accelerated healing rate was a major difference. Things should have still been a lot worse for him at this point in time. But considering he could create ice from thin air, he chalked up the healing to where he'd normally be a few weeks down the road and called it from there.
The half-sisters turned their heads to each other and nodded. "Sure, two skeletons shouldn't be a problem." Hannah said, ready with her bone. "So long as you can keep up with them." Zestia said with a sly smirk. She held her own bone as well, as they both summoned their skeletons. There was an obvious difference between the two skeletons. Hannah's looked like it did before, just armed with a rusty sword and no sort of protection, whereas Zestia's had a finely sharpened sword and a nice looking shield to use. Hannah seemed a bit more impatient than Zestia, but then, Hannah didn't have the battle experience Zestia had. Just training.
"Any time you're ready, my dear." Zestia said to Jessica, her hand calmly placed on the hilt of her sword. Hannah did the same, but seemed more tense than Zestia. Their skeletons had noticeable differences in their stances as well. Zestia's stood kinda tall and proud, ready for combat when it would happen. While Hannah's looked more like a caveman, to compare it close to something, just ready for a bashing and thrashing, though it wouldn't go beyond its master's orders.
"Okay, I'll just grab a couple of x-rays of your shoulder, make sure everything's as it should be," Amanda began as she led Hunter into the small room in which familiar apparatus stood waiting to be used. The two of them had seen them before, of course: Amanda had taken initial x-rays of Hunter's limb after replacing the dislocation in his shoulder. She now wanted additional images to ensure that it had healed as she had expected it to. The aspiring doctor immediately set about helping the younger demigod into a lead-lined vest, and stepped back once it was secured.
"Alright, so you remember this from last time, right? Just lie yourself down on the bench there and try to remain as still as possible," she instructed as she moved the generator into position, lining it up to Hunter's shoulder. Once she was sure it was aimed correctly, Amanda headed behind the protective barrier; it too was lead-lined, with a small window to give her a look at what was going on.
Amanda flicked a few switches on a console, and soon a humming noise began to become apparent in the room. A couple more later, a quiet series of clicking noises took place as she took the x-rays.
"Alright..." Jessica said quietly as she drew her daggers, holding them in the same way as she had before. Right forehanded, left backhanded. She carefully approached the skeletons standing before her, already thinking about which of them would be better to eliminate first. Hannah's, maybe, since she had less control over the construct than Zestia did over hers. But then, if she used a lot of effort to take out Hannah's skeleton, Zestia would overpower her with ease.
With that in mind, Jess advanced closer towards her opponents... though she was at a disadvantage in terms of weapon reach. She threw a lunge towards Hannah's skeleton, but feinted and broke left, instead aiming for the sword hand of Zestia's. Jess moved quickly, trying to avoid getting hit by the opponents' blades... not for the first time she regretted her poor choice of clothing.
"Well I guess I can't avoid the arena forever, so may as well." Alexandros said with a smile as he got up and held a hand out to help his half-sister up.
The rest of the morning passed with no major incidents... until the clock struck noon and in that instant, a lone figure crossed the border into camp. He seemed to wander aimlessly around the place, paying no attention to anyone who called out to him or tried to stop him from going about his business. It was odd; he seemed to recognise no-one, even if he was facing directly at them. None recognised him, either: he wore a full-length brown robe, complete with hood, and a completely blank white mask over his face. There were no eye-holes or slits for nostrils or anything else that could be recognisable.
The demigod, for it could be no other, found Chiron's office... and there he simply sat down and waited. The instant the centaur walked in he was beset by panicked babbling in a mix of English and Greek:
"Chiron - help - anapántites prosefchés - ten thousand bones - to vdélygma, o gios enós daímona - traitors, intruders, they broke in and éfygan me éna vraveío - the Chimaera, in the mountains - poison, magic, I dunno what it is - ischyróteri me káthe thánato - they told me to tell you - o fylakisménos den tha kataktitheí - our days are numbered - xypná, vlépei, aftós periménei. To thirío tha afxitheí..."
Before the centaur could say a word in response, the demigod collapsed into a heap on the floor, having stood up to deliver his message. Chiron immediately removed the demigod's hood and mask, revealing a boy in his mid-teens. The camp director recognised him... but surely it couldn't be. Ten years past, this particular demigod had perished on a dangerous quest. How was this possible? No-one who had seen this boy alive could explain how this could happen, especially since he himself didn't understand it. Except perhaps one person.
The demigod's eyes had turned to twin orbs of white, having rolled back into his head, and the boy's last breath left his lips as the camp director watched: he was dead for the second time. There had been nothing Chiron could have done; it had all happened so fast. After depositing the body just off of his office, Chiron scribbled down the exact words the boy had said. He had spoken of intruders, the Chimaera and the imprisoned... parts of it made sense, but not all of it. Perhaps Narissa could shed some light on that, when the time was right.
The Chimaera... that was something that needed to be addressed. Last he remembered, it had been trapped in a prison in the far reaches of the Underworld, where none of the lingering souls dared to venture. If it had been broken out of its prison, then it could cause untold havoc if it were left to its own devices. It needed to be hunted down and eliminated... and the liberator apprehended. Or killed, if it too was a monstrous being.
His mind set, Chiron closed the door to where the body lay, so as not to disturb it, and galloped straight for the amphitheatre to call everyone together, taking the page of notes with him. An emergency meeting was necessary for a threat such as this. Upon his arrival in the empty building, he made straight for the lighting and sound control room, and found the broadcasting console that was part of the fittings. His message rang out through the entirety of the camp, besides the woods; a system of speakers had been set up in case of such a need for communication.
"Attention all demigods and staff. We have a situation in need of attention. Everyone is required to meet in the amphitheatre immediately. No exceptions. I repeat, everyone to the amphitheatre immediately."
His message sent, Chiron left the control room and made for the stage, taking a place in the center of the room. He would wait for everyone to arrive before explaining everything to everyone at the same time. In the meantime, he prayed to the gods for clarity... even the son of Cronus needed to pray in times like these.
Having just gotten dressed after she showered because of the training she did with her half-sister, Zestia stepped outside in the purpose of doing a bit of training of her own, or perhaps even relax a bit with Jessica. But the message from Chiron put a stop to those plans. She didn't really have time to look around for Jessica, so she went ahead towards the amphitheatre. Hannah was following her, having gotten out of the shower herself like her sister.
"What do you think it could be?" Hannah asked the older one. "Not sure, but I know it's serious if he has to repeat his message and tells everyone, even the staff, to meet up." The two girls rushed towards the amphitheatre, careful not to push anyone out of their way or bump anyone down onto the ground.
Once at the amphitheatre, it was no surprise that it was getting crowded. The girls looked for a seat and found two relatively close to the stage. Zestia looked around for Jessica, hoping to see her so she could wave towards Jessica for her to sit beside her.
Kate was just about to power her armor down and remove it when the speakers blared out their call. She sighed, then halted the sequence and brought the power back online before turning and heading for the amphitheater, this time keeping her helmet off so if this was a monster attack she hopefully wouldn't get shot at. Upon arrival, she kept to the back, not wanting to accidentally break anything.
"Noooooooo..." Ambrose pretended to be sleeping, but her half-sister knew better.
"No-pe. Get up Ambrose: we need to get to the ampitheatre!"
She kept her eyes shut for a few more minutes. Things were just starting to get peaceful again. Lethe was staring eyes half open, curled up next to the pillow. I wish I were a cat... Lethe folded her arms under her head, curling her tail around. Just seeing her made Ambrose sleepy. "Oh Lethe... you make me sleepier than poppies." She kissed her kitten's head softly. "You can stay here. I'll come get you on the way back, okay?"
Still a little sore, Ambrose walked slowly, arriving late along with the whole Hypnos cabin. They stayed in a group, leaning on each other and going back to their dreams as soon as they sat.
On his third lap of the beach property, a break finally came in the music flowing through Brandon's ears, allowing him to hear part of the Director's announcement. "Aw hell," he cursed to himself. "What's he on about this time? Some kid throwin' up on the stage again? This is just damn foolish."
It was a quick jog up to the amphitheatre, a number of the campers had already gathered on Chiron's order. Brandon took his spot near the stage with the other counsellors. Huh, guess this ain't no pity party for some actin' kid. What the hell is goin' on then...
"...everyone to the amphitheatre immediately."
'What's going on?' Javier wondered after the announcement finished echoing oddly in the bathroom. He shook his head briskly sending small droplets of water from his shower across the nearby mirror. He finishing pulling on his clothes and tossed his towel up to dry on a free hook. 'Better go.' It had to be something new, for there to be no preceding rumors or gossip. He hoped it wasn't anything too bad. Once outside Javier paused only long enough to make sure his water bottle was secured before breaking into a run.
He stayed away from the main walkway to avoid colliding with any other campers. Despite the wide arc his path became Javier's speed made up for the increase in distance. The world around him blurred slightly. Shapes lost their defined edge, colors blended into one another. Years of practice and his own heightened reflexes left him surefooted no matter the speed he traveled. Javier only slowed once the amphitheater came into view. He carefully jogged back onto the main path then slowed even more to walk the last few feet. Javier waved to some campers he recognized.
At the edge of the amphitheater Javier stopped. Partially to rest and partially to take a quick head count. There were still camp members arriving and only about half of his cabin was accounted for. His guys were easy to spot because they were all together, talking amongst themselves. Probably about how they hoped they got to go somewhere. Or they might be placing bets on what the 'situation' was. Javier unhooked his water bottle and took a few healthy swigs. He shifted, reaching down and back with his free hand to grip his ankle and stretch his leg. He repeated the process on his other leg then decided to remain standing for just a bit longer.
Within fifteen minutes the entire camp had assembled within the amphitheatre and taken seats. As the building had filled up, many of its occupants began to whisper among themselves, hazarding guesses as to why everyone had been called together. Only once the last person had taken a seat did Chiron trigger a small air horn for a few seconds - waking up the sleeping Hypnos campers in the process - to get everyone's attention before he began to speak.
"You may have seen a boy about your age, dressed in a brown robe. The lad came to my office to deliver a message. I fear it may bring much conflict. Based on what he told me, I have reason to believe that the Chimaera has been broken out of its Underworld prison. The beast was secured in Tartarus just over seven years ago, under guard and locked up courtesy of Lord Hades. If it has been liberated, it must be destroyed... and we must also find the one responsible for such an act. One moment."
With that, the centaur turned to the white backdrop behind him and snapped his fingers. Almost instantly a few lights flicked on, shining through prisms carefully placed to project a rainbow onto three-quarters of the white surface.
"What's he doing?" one of the younger campers asked in a hushed voice. The guy next to him quickly explained, "Iris-message. The rainbow goddess Iris delivers messages for the gods and their offspring. If she's not busy she takes requests in exchange for coins."
Sure enough, Chiron pulled an Olympian drachma, the divine currency, from a pocket and held it up to the shining image. "O Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, show us the threat that has been unleashed upon the world," he recited as he tossed the gold coin. The drachma fell straight through the light, but did not appear out the other side. Instead the rainbow shimmered momentarily and changed colours, revealing a pair of differing visions akin to a split-screen TV.
On the left side of the Iris-message, a snow-capped mountain was displayed against a background of blue and white. The vision zoomed in to focus on one section of the land: a massive cave entrance judging by the size of the black spot on the otherwise light brown rock. Quadrupedal figures seemed to be wandering back and forth nearby... no. They weren't wandering. They were patrolling. And they were armed.
The vision zoomed back out and panned back and forth across the area. It seemed that the mountain was part of a range.
On the other side, New York City was captured in stunning detail. The Iris-message quickly turned to the southwest of the city, to a warehouse in a run-down area. Similarly patrolling figures were walking back and forth or standing guard near the entrances to the building.
At the same time, the two visions froze and faded... then faded back into life. Only now it was not what Iris had chosen to show the camp. A pair of stormcloud-coloured eyes stared through the message for a second before a loud roar, like that of a lion, was heard: the cry of the Chimaera. Chiron quickly snapped his fingers again and killed the lights.
Almost instantly, campers began to talk among themselves, all discussing the new development. Chiron had to use the air-horn again to restore silence to the amphitheatre.
"It seems my suspicions were correct. The Chimaera is loose, presumably hiding in either the mountain or the warehouse we saw. We need to send teams of demigods to both find and eliminate the Chimaera, and to determine who would be so bold as to let it run rampant," he began. "Senior staff, do you recognise either location?"
The other staff members turned to themselves for a moment before facing the centaur once more. Ruby Lee, the Chief Ranger, spoke up. "The mountain is likely to be Mount Eolus in Colorado. I remember tracking down similar monsters in that area. I think it likely that the Chimaera has made its lair in familiar territory."
"Good. So we have a location." Chiron turned back to the seated campers. "Do we have any volunteers to join either of the two teams? I will say, though, that the Chimaera is a dangerous monster, not one to be trifled with or tested. There is a lot of risk in actively seeking it out." Surely someone among the demigods was raring to get out of camp and go on a hunt...
Both Gary and Jessica were keen to volunteer themselves. But ironically, neither was willing to speak up or stand up first. Jess turned to Zestia, beside whom she was sitting. "I dunno... I'm not sure I want to go on a monster hunt. Checking out that warehouse sounds like a better plan," she said quietly to her friend.
Other groups of demigods had begun to converse, some eager, others scared.
Alexandros reluctantly stood up, he had enough combat training. He hated combat, but if this chimera was as feared as it seemed, then it threatened everyone he loved. If he had to do things he wish he didn't have to to protect them, it wasn't really a choice.
"I volunteer to go with the team to the factory. My ability to change form and act could help get a small team inside the building at least." he said somewhat meekly.
'Hopefully what combat training I have will be enough.' he thought.
Zestia had a sparkle in her eyes and a smirk on her lips. "While you're right about that, I'd rather go and take care of the monster than check out some warehouse. If you want to go to the warehouse, that's alright with me. Me, I'm going to the mountains. Besides, he only said that it's likely to be in the mountains. However, it could still be in the warehouse rather than the mountains."
She stood up without hesitation, feeling ready for the task. "I volunteer to go with the team that goes to the mountains. I kinda like the cold and my skeletons would be easily hidden in the snow if the situation calls for that." She smirked still, not all that afraid of what needed to be done.
This was serious business that Chiron was laying down on the camp. The Chimaera was a legendary creature, one that would be a challenge to ever the most talented of combatants. Brandon was thinking about possibly skipping on this one, letting someone else handle it. But then that dang Ruby Lee stepped up about identifying the mountain in the vision. Oh hell no. She ain't getting no glory that I ain't getting. That's for dang sure! She didn't offer to go anywhere yet, so this was Brandon's opportunity.
Brandon stepped forward out of the line up of counsellors. "Well I don't know nothing bout no mountains there, but urban brawlin'? That's my dang specialty. So I'll head on over to that warehouse, that looks like wharf front property down there. A buddy of mine on the Mustangs from Brooklyn talked about the dockyards a lot since his pappy was a sailor. I'll head up the exploration team going into the city, and we'll bag that greasy Chimaera faster than you can say hog-tied!"
Kate stepped forward, her helm tucked under one arm. She craves an opportunity to prove herself, and it arises. And people say that the Gods don't smile upon them. She made a quick assessment - warehouse meant fairly tight quarters and the need to avoid the attention of the locals - even they'd be able to recognize a suit of battle armor, she was pretty sure. Her armor was designed for larger spaces and rough terrain.
"I'd like to join the team headed for Coronado, sir."
Even the oldest Hypnos demigods couldn't ignore loud noise that echoed in the theater. There were demigods that Ling-Lei hadn't ever seen awake with their eyes open. It was almost like meeting your cabin for the first time, except they were more interested in finding out why they had been woken up than who these people were around them. Ambrose stared at a few who were rumored to be able to enter other people's dreams and imprison them there, so they slept forever. Demigods that knew how to completely purge memories from their targets. Campers who could travel between the earth and the Underworld through their dreams, in spirit.
The presentation that happened next was something bad enough to keep all the cabin awake and attentive. A Chimaera? It was something Ambrose only heard about from other campers and read about in books. Even Lethe hid in her arms, scared of the loud, intimidating roar. "Yeah, I'd be scared of that too." she reassured the kitten.
Just as drowsiness started to set in again, there was another air horn blast. Groans of minor annoyance rose from her group, quickly silenced when Chiron asked for volunteers. As expected, no one in her cabin even entertained the thought. Everyone, that was, except Ling-Lei. This would be a perfect time for Ambrose to have her first mission. She can get in shape, get to know some people... The cabin leader grabbed Ambrose's hand and shot it up in the air. "I volunteer for the factory! Me and Ambrose!"
Ling-Lei covered Ambrose mouth. "We need to get you to practice, and this'll be perfect. Look, we can even go to the factory if you're a scaredy-cat, no offense Lethe." Even though she couldn't talk to the cat, she didn't want to make it mad. Especially since it could deprive her of much needed shut eye.
Javier found himself fascinated by the snow-covered mountains before he truly noticed the patrolling footmen. He didn't have the proper clothing to go hiking through snow but if the creature was in the cave he could probably handle that. The city didn't particularly interest him. And there were the opponents to consider. He hadn't fought, truly fought, against multiple enemies in quite some time. Not since he'd been used as a 'final exam' for one of the first-year staff classes. They had been quite enthusiastic. Javier was pulled from his debate by a loud roar.
'A Chimaera! An actual chimaera! Javier leaned forward, trying to see the image more clearly before it faded.
He waited until a few of the other campers voiced their opinion before raising his own hand. "I can assist the Colorado team." Javier offered. He lowered his hand and scanned the crowd until he found the next eldest Hermes cabin member. He was going to have to speak with the boy about temporarily taking over the cabin leader duties. Just until he returned from this 'mission'.
"Do we have any volunteers to join either of the two teams?"
Kat stood up.
"I volunteer to go to Mount Eolus," she declared, her tone firm and resolute. The Chimera, a beast of legend, has been released and they need to stop it. The investigative work could be left to the others, but as for Kat, she would join the effort to slay the beast. It would be dangerous, for certain, but she was a daughter of Ares. Fighting was in her blood. With Brandon going to the warehouse, the mountain team would need an Ares child.
Jessica was next to stand, confirming her earlier intentions. "I shall volunteer for investigating the warehouse, as a team leader or co-leader if there's such an option. We can't rush into something like that, as Ares' children tend to do... not that that's a bad thing, of course," she added, looking to Brandon. She had no intention of offending him.
Jess made a note to speak with her siblings on who would run the Aphrodite cabin while she was away.
Gary then stood up from his seat next to Mitsuko. "I'll help out on the Colorado team as well. If it's cold enough up there I figure I can lend a good frozen hand or two," he quipped, getting a couple of laughs from his fellows from the Hecate cabin.
Mitsuko tugged at Gary's hand from her seat. "You sure? You could stay here with me... I don't want to go on either one," she said quietly.
"Hey, it'll be alright. We'll talk later, okay? Not in front of everyone else," Gary quickly answered, not wanting to keep Chiron waiting any longer than he had to.
After waiting a little while longer, it seemed that no-one else wanted to volunteer, so Chiron quickly ran the numbers. Five demigods on each team... it sounded reasonable. Although the Hypnos campers would likely need the occasional corralling or prodding to keep them awake at important times. Jessica could likely keep them alert.
And the mountain team... well, Ms Mulciber's armoured suit appeared to be untested, judging by her performance that morning. If she was satisfied with the results of the hunt for the Chimaera, it could stave off future rude awakenings. And the new Ares girl, Katarina, she would be a welcome addition to the group of hunters.
"Very well. If there are no further volunteers, I will discuss plans with the two teams. The rest of you, make sure your cabins are ready for a fight just in case. If you think you are already prepared, you aren't. Otherwise, it's business as usual. We're adjourned. Both teams, follow me to my office." As the centaur turned and began to step down from the stage, a good portion of the campers got up and left in groups, most discussing the recent developments.
The ten volunteers followed Chiron as per his request, taking the quick trip from the amphitheatre to his office without incident. Chairs were provided for all save Kate, who would crush one under the size and weight of her suit. The centaur stepped behind his desk before speaking again.
"Alright. Let's start with the warehouse team. Since it's not far from here I can arrange transport to the building's district. If you leave sooner rather than later you may get there before nightfall. Do you have any suggestions as to how to approach this?"
Jess thought for a few moments before answering. "I don't think this should be a quick, hit-and-run type mission, sir. We might have to stake out the place for a while before going in. Got to see how many people are holed up in there."
"Are there any other thoughts from the warehouse team?" Chiron asked, aiming the question at the other demigods on the team. "Of course, if there are comments from the Chimaera team, they are also welcome."
Kate raised a hand. "Uh, yeah, I've got a thought. Are anyone on your team decent shots with a bow or rifle? Those creatures looked like they were probably intelligent, so if you can tranquilize one, we can inspect and interrogate it. Our team could do it, but it'd be a lot harder to drag one of those things from Colorado than it would be from the city."
"Well I got a bit of training with my hand crossbow, I'm not great but my power should allow me to get fairly close to them if I can mimic a guard there. So long as I see one of them and hear them speak it should work. Though I'd need whatever arrow or dart it is I'm supposed to use to knock them out. I'm not exactly a poison maker." Alexandros said in reply to the one who suggested knocking one of them out.
"Actually, do we have anything on what's guarding the place. If I could get a picture or profile I could pretend to be them."
"Don't need no bow or rifle when I'm packin' the heat I got there," Brandon piped up in response to the metalworker's question. "I'm your shot, but I'll do 'er with my pistols, thank ya kindly. I got some of them magic bullets from the armory there, but they ain't for stunnin', they're for gunnin'.
And if that thing what we told about is anythin' like them other buggers in the woods, they ain't going to be in a talkin' mood. They're gonna be in the mood for some Greek, some Barbeque, some Chinese and some..." he struggled to come up with another apt comparison for one of the other two girls on his team. "...uh, some combo plate. I'm assumin' they eat cat and human like some weird surf and turf or somethin'. Anyway, point is, I don' think we got Jeopardy players on the opposin' side here."
"Taking a hostage or prisoner is an option... but I advise highly against doing so," Chiron spoke up again. "Only capture one of the enemy if you're absolutely sure it won't try to escape, or attack at an unexpected opportunity. There may be hostile demigods alongside monstrous opponents; perhaps the former might be easier to restrain."
Gary was confused by this. "Hostile demigods? That's a thing? People actually reject the gods, turn against them and those who serve them?"
"There are always people who do forbidden things, purely because they are forbidden. Human nature is a strange thing," the centaur mused briefly before getting back on topic. "Anyway. At any rate, if you have the opportunity to capture someone without raising the alarm, do so. They might give you vital information if properly questioned."
How many others there are, what weapons they have, how best to launch an assault, how prepared they are for any intrusions... Jess's mind raced. Questioning a prisoner would be interesting... there were lots of ways to go about doing so, especially given the diversity of the team.
"As for the team heading to Mount Eolus... Colorado is a long way from here. You'll need some way to get there sooner rather than later," Chiron continued. "I imagine there would be difficulty in smuggling Ms Mulciber's suit through customs at an airport. Thankfully, we have other options. Daedalus's Labyrinth, for one."
"The... The Labyrinth. You're serious. That's the home of the Minotaur and probably countless other foul things I don't want to think about." Gary shuddered a little; just thinking about the place was enough to scare him. "And we'd need some way to get through it without getting hopelessly lost or caught in some kind of dead-end trap system."
While most demigods were aware of Daedalus's grand creation, the massive and ever-shifting maze that housed the Minotaur of Crete, another important thing to know was that it could be accessed from almost anywhere in the continental United States. Those who travelled its halls could find themselves anywhere, from Maine to California... and some stories told of places that could only be found in the maze itself.
Chiron nodded, having thought ahead in case of such objections. He snapped his fingers and a ball of grey wool thread materialised on his desk. The centaur picked it up and ran a hand over it, wiping away layers of dust to reveal the wool's true colour: slightly off-white.
"Ariadne's thread. It guides the holder to their destination of choice. But it only works while inside the maze, and the holder must remain absolutely certain of where they want to go. I will also note that I cannot say how long it will take you to get to Mount Eolus. The Labyrinth is a fickle thing. Ten minutes' travel could take you to the opposite side of the continent, but the same could be said of ten days. Everyone should prepare accordingly." He tossed the thread to Gary, who caught it in mild surprise.
"Both teams should leave as soon as possible. Does anyone have any more questions before I send you all off to get ready?" Chiron asked.
"Ha! You're lettin' newbs inta the labyrinth?" Brandon asked. He knew exactly what they were in for. The labyrinth was how he made the trek back and forth to Dallas to attend football practices while at camp in Long Island. He looked over at the Centennial State-bound group. "Good luck there youngin's! Best not let go of the thread! When I was headin' through there, I let go once. Ended up in Minnesota! Boring as shit and it was a hell of a time gettin' back here!"
"Nah, ain't got no worries there, boss. We'll bag n' tag your beast there, be back in time for supper! Let's weapon up and get this done!"
"No questions, sir. I'm ready to go as soon as the rest of my team is ready."
Need more firepower if I'm going through the Labyrinth. Guns? Guns would be good. Minigun? Yeah, I should install a minigun in this armor. Wait, no, would require large backpack to hold ammunition...unless...magic minigun! Use Celestial Bronze for the barrels to prevent overheating, attach to suit power supply, magic to create bullets. Wait, no, they don't let me have guns, they'd never let me have that kind of bullet hose. Rotary crossbow? No...triple crossbow! But wait, how would I reload it?
"I don't have any questions. Let's hope this just goes smoothly." Alexandros replied.
'I'd really rather not have to fight on my first mission. Though it seems like I'll be forced to do so.' He thought.
"I'd say I'm ready for anything. No questions here." Zestia said as she spun her bone around. "It'll be fun to kick some ass if I get the chance to." Even if the skeletons might get more fighting done than me, but we'll see. she thought as she put the bone away again, eager to go.
"Excellent. Everyone will have one hour to gather what they believe they will need for their journey. The mountain team will meet Ruby at the edge of the woods near the lake, while the warehouse team will meet me at the garage. Good luck to all... and may the gods go with you. Dismissed."
The demigods all hurried out of the camp director's office, and Chiron promptly made for the back room to check on the body that he had placed there. Upon opening the door, it was gone. No traces of blood, nor clothing... it had vanished. Whoever had sent the lad was clever enough not to leave their dead messenger behind.
One Hour Later
The two teams of five arrived at their destinations on time, each demigod having prepared as they saw fit. Some had to assign temporary cabin leaders while others could just pack up and go.
"Right, everyone's here," Chiron began as Ambrose, Ling-Lei, Jessica, Brandon and Alexandros assembled in front of him, All six were standing in front of the open door to the camp garage. "Now then. You can take one of the vans to get everyone to the warehouse's district sooner rather than later. I trust you will decide on a plan of action once you get there, or along the way." The vans in question were marked only with a simple logo depicting 'Long Island Strawberries', a front organisation maintained by the camp to give mundane passers-by a reason for the camp's existence. The magical barriers that warded off monsters affected the Mist over humans' eyes and made them see a simple farm instead of the demigod camp.
While Jessica was still a fan of the stakeout idea, she kept silent for the present as she got into the passenger seat of the van: Brandon was driving despite a complaint about the van being "un-Texan", and the other three were buckled up in the back. As Brandon started up the engine and eased it out of the garage, Chiron waved to the windows before the van trundled down the driveway and left the camp.
The journey was uneventful for the most part, interrupted only by disturbances in traffic and a couple of sections of road maintenance slowing them down. Driving a good portion of Long Island's length took a couple of hours, but thankfully the specific wharf district of Brooklyn was easy to find.
A few warehouses stood in a block, with a couple of factories close by. Jessica remembered passing what looked like a hotel on the way in: if they had to stay the night they could check in there. She made a mental note to bring that up after they had scoped the place out. She couldn't see anyone walking the streets.
"Everyone here? Right, let's get going. Got a little bit of a trek before we reach a Labyrinth entrance," Chief Ranger Ruby Lee explained, leading the team of Gary, Kate, Javier, Kat and Zestia into the woods. The six took a slightly worn dirt path through the forest before arriving at a large pile of misshapen boulders standing in a clearing atop a low hill. On one of the stones, a small Greek letter was chiseled: a Delta. The mark of Daedalus.
"This is the place," Ruby stated, pressing a finger against the chiseled letter. At the touch of the demigod, the marked boulder shifted aside with a loud rumbling noise. It revealed a large manhole and a ladder below.
It took some difficulty getting Kate into the entrance, but eventually everyone was down the hole. The walls, ceiling and floor were made up of brick and mortar, lit by strips of neon lighting. It was a one-way corridor.
"Okay! I'm gonna have to seal the entrance behind you! You can get out by climbing up the ladder here if things get too hot to handle too soon!" Ruby called down. "And remember, trust the thread more than your own judgement! It knows what it's doing. Good luck!" Above the demigods' heads, the rumbling started up again, and soon the entrance was blocked off.
Gary, who had hung onto Ariadne's ball of thread, held it up to see what would happen. The thread immediately changed colour from off-white to light blue. One of the ends of the thread popped out and pointed down the corridor.
"Well... best do as it says, I guess," he noted, considerably more nervous now that they were actually in the depths of the maze. He felt like he was entirely out of his element in such an unfamiliar setting.
As he guided the van along the battered waterfront streets, the look of disdain on Brandon's face was clear. It was bad enough having to traverse this portion of town, but to do so in such an ugly van...it was too much for him to hide.
"I just don't understand why I couldna just grabbed my truck outta the garage," he complained. "Much better ride then this here hunka bolts. Coulda played the iPod in 'ere too." He shifted down into neutral as he guided the van to a stop on the side of the road opposite the warehouse indicated in the vision.
Brandon turned back to the other three who had been assigned to his squad. "All right, ya'll ready for this? This ain't gonna be no walk in the park now. Gotta be alert, gotta be on guard, and ya gotta be ready for stuff you ain't never seen before. Got that?"
Zestia and the others walked behind Gary who was holding the yarn. The maze was incredible looking on the inside. The yarn kept pointing with its end each time they needed to make turns and change directions. The latter applying whenever the maze thought to be a jerk to them and change so that they would need to turn back. Zestia wasn't worried. She trusted that the yarn was leading them the right way.
Zestia had prepared herself with her armor, sword, shield and bone before the journey. Wouldn't have been correct to go on a mission without being properly dressed. She kept her helmet under her shield arm since she didn't need to keep it on for the moment. Her right hand switched between staying on the handle of the sword and the end of the bone, in case they'd need to fight while in the labyrinth. She mostly kept her hand on her sword, because while the bone would be useful to summon the skeletons right away, just keeping it close made her concentrate better on summoning them without holding it than if she didn't have the bone with her at all.
A lot of different kinds of walls and architecture could be seen as they traveled through the maze. There were walls there that looked like they were from ancient Rome, some looked fairly modern, and quite frankly, boring to Zestia. Brick walls and concrete walls that reached up as high as the eye could see. They even saw some dirt walls now and then, which Zestia thought was fairly odd. Walls that were beautifully decorated, with imagery that looked rather old. How old, she wasn't sure of.