Fighting a giant invincible lion wasn't very high on Percy's bucket list.
"Nemean Lion!" Zoë called. "Hercules fought it."
"Hercules fought everything," Thalia grumbled.
"How did he kill it?" Grover asked, backing up and readying his panpipes.
"Bare hands," Zedaph replied.
Percy looked at his twig arms. He was pretty sure he wasn't going to be killing lions with his bare hands anytime soon. He decided to take Beckendorf on that strength training offer when they got back to camp.
"Fire!" Zoë shouted. She and Bianca shot a couple of arrows at the lion. They shattered on its fur.
"What a waste of perfectly good arrows," Zedaph observed, and ran toward the lion with his sword. Thalia opened her shield and shoved it toward the Nemean Lion. The oversized cat roared and flinched back.
At least that sort of worked.
Percy attacked as well, to no avail. His sword bounced off of the lion like its pelt was made of steel and nearly gave Percy brain surgery.
The Nemean Lion roared again. It seemed focused on Thalia at first, but Thalia had the scary shield, so it turned towards easier prey. Namely, Grover.
Grover played a jarring note on his panpipes. The lion made a deep, rumbly growl. Its fur stood on end, and its ears flattened.
"Yeah!" Grover taunted. "You didn't like that, did you? There's more where that came from!"
The lion ignored him.
Zedaph sat on its neck, yelled something along the lines of, "YOU'RE NOT SANTA CLAWS!" and attempted to stab it in the head. Unfortunately, that just ended in him being hit hard on the nose with the butt of his sword. The son of Athena fell off of the Nemean Lion, rubbing blood off of his face.
As Zoë and Bianca shot another small volley of arrows, Percy looked around desperately. They needed a better way to do this.
He noticed how the lion was careful not to open its mouth too wide when it roared.
Thalia apparently came to the same conclusion, because she yelled, "Aim for the mouth!"
"We're trying!" Bianca yelled back. Somehow, she and Zoë had managed to stay calm through this. Maybe it was a Hunter thing.
"We need to get it to open its mouth more," Percy muttered.
"Make it mad so it roars?" Grover suggested.
"I think we've already done that," Percy said, jumping out of the way as the monster took a swipe at him.
Unfortunately, there wasn't anywhere to jump to.
Except over the railing.
Percy yelped as he fell and managed to land in a roll on the wing of one of the suspended airplanes. He scanned the museum again.
His eyes fell on the gift shop as the Nemean Lion jumped down onto the other wing. The cords holding the plane up groaned.
Percy took a leap of faith. He ran down the wing he was on, jumped off the end, and landed on a model of a rocket. He slid down that. He landed weird on his ankle and it popped.
Percy winced and kept running for the gift shop. "Now is not the time for souvenirs, boy!" Zoë shouted. Technically, that was none of her business, but Percy wasn't going for souvenirs anyway. He prayed they still had what he was looking for.
He found them - rows of silver packages on the back wall. He gathered an armful of them. The cashier, hiding under her desk, was too terrified to protest.
When Percy had been here with his mom, he had begged to try freeze-dried food. Only after they got home did he realize just how disgusting it was.
Percy exited the gift shop just in time to witness the spectacular sight of the airplane model collapsing and the Nemean Lion tumbling to the ground, roaring.
It took the landing as all cats did and glared up at the balcony. Thalia, Grover, and Zedaph had followed it to the ground floor. The two Hunters were still up on the second level, reloading their bows.
"HEY!" Percy yelled in a perfect imitation of Bdubs. "LION THING!"
The lion thing did not appreciate its new nickname. It whirled toward Percy, growling, and started to slowly make its way around exhibits.
"Snack time!" Percy said cheerfully, and threw a horrible freeze-dried spaghetti meal.
It bounced off the Nemean Lion's nose. The cat went cross-eyed for a minute, confused. Then its gaze went back to Percy, and it roared.
Percy was decent at throwing. He managed to land an ice cream sandwich in the Nemean Lion's mouth.
It did the trick. The Nemean Lion gagged, trying not to swallow the disgusting monstrosity that was space food. Right as it did, two arrows lodged themselves in its jaw.
Amazed at how it somehow worked, Percy took the opportunity of the roar that followed to make it gag again.
And so it continued. Percy managed to feed the Nemean Lion two more ice cream sandwiches and a lasagna before the monster finally disappeared in a cloud of dust and a fur pelt. Undoubtedly, said pelt would have just as impenetrable as the lion itself.
Grover put away his panpipes. Zedaph sheathed his sword. Thalia's shield retracted into her silver bracelet. Zoë and Bianca jumped down the suspended exhibits and landed perfectly on the floor. Show-offs.
"Well?" Zoë asked expectantly, gesturing to the pelt. "Are you not going to take it?"
"You're the one who killed it," Percy insisted. "You take it."
Zoë raised an eyebrow. "T'was your ice cream sandwiches that did that," she said. "Take it. You are a part of this quest now, whether thee - or I - like it or not."
She turned to Zedaph. "As are you."
Zedaph and Grover high-fived.
Percy reluctantly picked up the pelt. It was nowhere near as heavy as the Golden Fleece had been. He wasn't sure why he had been expecting it to be. It shrunk in his hands, turning into a long brown jacket. Not exactly Percy's style, but hey, if it made him invincible then he was okay with that.
A small mewl caught their attention.
"Awwww," Grover said.
It was a cat - a kitten, in fact, poking its head out from behind one of the pillar supporting the balconies. Percy recognized it as one of the skeleton kittens that Atlas had accidentally created.
Weapons were pulled out.
"Wait, don't kill it." Bianca stopped them, extending her hand toward the kitten. The animal sniffed her fingers, then butted its head against them.
Bianca picked it up and held it.
"She says her name is Floofle," Grover said. "Apparently she escaped the guard, named herself, and came here-"
They all fell silent as they heard helicopter blades thrumming outside.
"Time to go," Thalia decided. "Bring the cat. Or don't."
"We're bringing the cat," Bianca decided.
"We are not bringing the cat," Zoë demanded.
"We are bringing the cat," Bianca insisted.
Zedaph still seemed on top of the world that he was now allowed on this quest.
"We can take the subway," Grover suggested.
"Let's go," Percy said, and led the way outside.
Lunya, I finished a chapter AND added Floofle. Happy? /lh
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