Thalia

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The train landed them in a tiny little ski town in the mountains. No taxi, no car rental, no bus. Basically stranded in some random place in New Mexico. Hooray. Just what Thalia needed, when if what Zedaph and Percy said was true, Annabeth would only be kept alive until the winter solstice. Same time as when Artemis needed to be rescued.

"At least there's a coffee shop," Grover said. "Coffee's good."

"Coffee is good," Zoë agreed.

"Pastries," Grover drooled. "Wax paper."

Thalia sighed. Coffee sounded good. "Why don't you guys go get some food? Bianca, Percy, Zedaph, and I will ask around for information. Meet back here in fifteen minutes."

Everyone nodded. Grover stumbled off to the coffee shop like some sort of caffeine zombie, with Zoë following close behind. Bianca shifted uncomfortably at staying with the campers, but didn't protest. Floofle the Skeleton Saber-Toothed Tiger Kitten purred on her shoulder.

They didn't find anything of interest in the grocery store. Just that the town was called Cloudcroft and there were no good ways out besides calling a taxi from the nearest city. That would cost several hundred dollars that they didn't have.

"Where are those LotusCash cards when we need them?" Percy muttered, causing Bianca to glance away nervously. Then he bought a rubber rat for some reason.

Thalia was still slightly angry at him about the conversation they had in her car last night - stuff about Luke and Annabeth and the Hunters. She was also just restless. She excused herself to walk down the street and look for more information. Zedaph got up to join her, but Thalia waved at him to stay put.

She didn't find anything.

As Thalia turned back to return to the group - she could see that Zoë and Grover had acquired breakfast - she felt a warm breeze brush over her. It was still cold, but it was nice, like a hint of summer had gotten lost and ended up stranded here like the questers had.

Huh. Weird, Thalia thought to herself.

Then, ahead of her, Grover fell flat on his face in the snow.

Alarmed, she broke into a run. What had happened? Did he just die or something? Thalia didn't know if she would be able to stand this quest any longer if Grover died, she was pretty sure he was the only thing keeping her sane - if only because he was a reminder that it was possible to be less sane than she was.

Percy, Bianca, and Zedaph now seemed to have some mutual understanding now, which made Thalia feel like she missed something. But she decided that she could ask about that later.

"IS HE DEAD?" Thalia demanded.

"I dunno!" Percy yelped.

"Ughhhhh," Grover groaned.

"Not dead," Thalia concluded.

Floofle hissed.

Bianca wrinkled her brow at the cat, then started to pet it. "What's wrong?"

Thalia suddenly had a bad feeling. She drew her spear and glanced around. The street looked as innocent and small town-y as always, but it seemed ominous now. "The cat apparently knows something. Let's get out of here. Somehow."

The first of the skeletons appeared in what was probably their version of a dramatic ambush. They wore police uniforms instead of the grey camouflage from the last time they had appeared, but they were still easily recognizable.

"Friiiiiick," Zedaph muttered.

The skeleton warriors drew their weapons. They had guns. Guns were cool until they were pointed at you - or in this case, Percy. They seemed very intent on murdering Percy.

Thalia tapped her bracelet, allowing Aegis to spiral out and take shape. The skeletons didn't seem fazed by it. Next to her, Percy held Riptide in a fighting stance. Bianca couldn't seem to decide between her dagger and her bow. Floofle dove into the Hunter's quiver. Coward. Poor Zedaph had been left to carry Grover, so he dumped the satyr in the snow and drew his sword. Zoë nocked an arrow.

Thalia took a step backward, and the others did the same, but two more skeletons appeared behind them. Four out of twelve. Where were the other eight?

One of the skeletons raised a cell phone to his mouth and chattered into it.

"They split up to search," Percy realized. "It's calling the others."

"It's nearrrr," Grover mumbled. Everyone ignored him. "The gift! The gift from the Wild."

Nobody knew what he was talking about. They just got in a protective circle around him, since he was in no condition to fight.

"One on one," Thalia said. "Keep their focus on us. The other one can stay with Grover."

Zoë nodded sharply. Despite the situation, Thalia felt a bit smug that she agreed.

"The Wild!" Grover yelped.

There was another warm breeze.

Percy led the charge. That was a bad idea. Although he had the lion pelt, the skeletons were after him.

Thalia picked a skeleton and attacked. It shifted its attention to her and fired. Thalia ducked behind her shield just in time. The bullet dented it.

That made Thalia mad. She jabbed her spear. It wasn't very good against a literal fossil, so she went for the skull - it cracked and flew off the spine. The skeleton collapsed into a pile of bones.

Thalia huffed in satisfaction.

Then the skeleton regenerated. The bones reassembled themselves with a sickening clattering sound.

Thalia cussed.

The skeleton lost interest in her and promptly shot Percy.

Thalia felt a scream escape her, but he just grumbled something, got back up, and kept fighting.

The Nemean Lion's pelt. Right. Thalia suddenly felt embarrassed for being scared.

Grover stood up and stared towards the mountains. There was a crashing sound coming from the trees. Zedaph was once again the one left to watch the goat. He tried to lead Grover away from the fight. Grover stood rigidly, refusing to move.

Thalia started to give up hope. The skeletons kept regenerating. It was quite annoying.

Bianca seemed to have decided on her knife. She stabbed the nearest warrior to her in the chest. The whole skeleton burst into flames and disappeared into ashes.

Even the other skeletons seemed stunned.

"Lucky stab?" Bianca guessed.

"Do it again!" Zoë ordered.

The newest Hunter tried, but the other skeletons now knew what she was capable of. They kept the demigods at baton's length.

Thalia gestured for everyone to retreat.

The trees behind the skeletons shivered. There were more crashing sounds.

"Plan?" Percy asked.

"A gift," Grover whispered.

"Shut up!" Zedaph told him.

"Wait," Bianca said, squinting into the forest. "Is... is that a pig?"

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