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CHAPTER THREE

Percy sat there for several moments, too overwhelmed to move.

A metallic clicking sound from the branches above grabbed his attention, made him look up: a flash of silver and red light caught his eyes just before dissapearing around the trunk to the other side. He quickly scrambled to his feet, craning his neck for a sign of whatever he'd just heard, but the area was now bare.

"That was a beetle peg." Grover spoke behind him.

Percy turned around to see his 'protector' standing close to him, still there even after he'd had his meltdown.

"A beetle what?" His hand instinctvely crept to his pocket, where he knew his sword would be.

"Beetle peg." Grover pointed to the top of the tree, sounding a little bit nerveous. "They don't hurt anyone, they just keep their distance and watch us. They're small pegasi with cameras or something." He paused for a moment, then looked down at his feet.

Percy fought the urge to pat him or something, the poor saytr was obviously not having the best of days.

Another scream, this one long and nerve-grinding, tore through the air and Percy's heart lurched. The fear was like icy dew on his skin. "What's going on up there?" He demanded, glancing at the building.

"I don't know. I'm just a junior saytr. Just got my horns- they don't let people like us have all the security. All I know is that Dakota is in there, and they got him."

"They?"

"Yeah."

"Who are they?"

"Better hope you never have to find out, Probatio." Grover bit his lip.

This is my protector? Percy thought to himself. He coldn't shake his extreme discomfort, and now there was this nonsense. No one would answer his questions, things seemed so...off, and his head hurt from slamming into the side of the Box.

"Why is everyone calling me Probatio?" He asked, leaning an arm on Grover's shoulder.

"Cuz you're the newest Newbie." Grover gestured to Percy. "Since your new, you haven't been ranked with any cohorts. Probatio."

Another scream from the house, a sound like a starving animal being tortured to death. Grover winced but smiled.

"How can you smile at that?" Percy asked, obviously horrified. "It sound's like...that guy...David-"

"Dakota."

"Dakota is dying up there!"

Grover just shrugged, as if he didn't know what to say. "Um, gettin' caught by the hellhounds. It hurts a lot, poison in their teeth and claws, but no one dies if they make it back in time to get the Healer. It's all or nithing. Dead or not dead. Just a hurts a whole lot."


Percy didn't want to ask any more about that. Hellhounds. He thought to himself. That word seemed familiar. He turned to look at Grover, who was biting his fingernails. "Grover..." He swallowed uncomfortably. "How old do you think I am?" The saytr scanned him up and down. "I'd say you're sixteen. And in case you're wondering, five foot nine...black hair. Oh, and not desirable for any women. Not that we have any." Percy snorted and clapped his new friend on the back. "Not bad," he paused then added. "Shank." Grover grinned and then started to walk Percy towards the cabins, which were arranged in a "U", most likely for Omega. "I'm only sixteen." He muttered to himself. He certaintly felt older than that. He patted Riptide in his pocket then shook his head, as if to clear it. Everything seemed off. And it was almost as if...someone was missing. Someone...the feeling was similar to having a best friend, but it may have been something more. He couldn't recall her face though- yes it was definately a her. Everything else was clouded. Grover ran to catch up with him, and Percy realized he'd lengthened his stride. Feeling guilty, like he'd tried to leave him behind, he slowed his pace. "Is there a place to clean up?" He asked, almost in a sigh. How he longed to get wet, feel the water on his skin. Grover shook his head. "Too close, you'll have to do it in the morning. The Doors will close any moment now. Can't waste time." Percy didn't know what he meant by that, but pictured a small trap door opening and closing. Grover dragged Percy to the cabins arranged in the Greek Omega. "This is where we sleep and stuff. Most of us sleep under the stars. But um..." He glanced down at his fingers. "If you need a friend..." Percy immediately got what he was saying. He grinned inspite himself. "You got it Grover. I really need someone as brave as you to protect me." He mostly said that to boost the saytr's hopes, but in truth he really did need someone there for him. He flashed Grover another smile, then reached for the door handle. "Uh...Percy, I wouldn't go in there actually-" Grover warned, but Percy yanked the door open before he could finish his sentence. "Hey, look, it's the Probatio," one of the boys called out, just as he opened the door. With a start, Percy realized it was the black-haired guy who'd given him the look of death earlier. He looked like he was fifteen or so, pale and skinny. His entire face seemed disfigured, and he tilted it at a weird angle. "This shank probably crapped his pants so hard when he heard Dakota scream like a girl. Need a diaper, shuck-face?" The boy grinned. Nico, Percy recalled. He felt like he'd done something wrong to this kid. He would have liked the guy, if he wasn't insulting him. A handy person to be on his team. "Actually my name is Percy. " Percy stepped forward, easily towering over Nico. Nico glared straight up at him, not holding back for one second. "I could suck your soul up without a problem Probatio. I could easily kill you, and no one else would know. I've seen you before. I know what you did." His voice almost cracked, but it didn't. His voice was barely audible, loud enough for Percy to hear but no one else. Percy took a step back, confused. He didn't know what Nico was talking about, but it made him uncomfortable. The other boys in the shack stared in hushed silence, waiting to see what the two in the middle were going to do. "Go upstairs," Nico taunted. "Go upstairs and see what I mean. I've been through the Changing, Probatio. I've seen you before. And I bet you all the gold in the Underworld that Dakota'll say he's seen your shuck-face too." Nico paused as if still warming up. "I know something is going on. I'm going to find out what, and you can't stop me." He didn't bother masking what he was saying to Percy in front of the others. Percy refused to break eye contact but he couldn't think of anything to retort. Panic ate at his heart, chewing slowly away. What if what Nico said was true? "A little scared now? Don't want to get bitten by them do you?" Nico snickered and glanced at his buddies who nodded, mostly out of fear. "If Luke and Jason are up there, I need to talk to them." Percy kept his voice level and calm, but inside his heart was racing. Could he get in trouble? Something told him, that he didn't usually play by the rules anyways. Nico's face seemed to change expression. It turned into pity. "You're right, Probatio- I shouldn't be so mean to Newbies. Go on upstairs and I'm sure Luke and Jason'll fill you in. Seriously, go on. I'm sorry." He lightly slapped Percy on the shoulder, then stepped back, gesturing up to the stairs. But Percyknew the kid was up to something. Losing part of your memory didn't make you a complete idiot. "What's your name again?" Percy asked stalling for time, trying to decide if he wanted to go up there at all. "Nico, and don't let those two fools up there let you think that they're the leaders. I do all the work around here, they sit around and do nothing. I'm just unappreciated. You can call me the Ghost King if you want." He smiled sarcastically. His breath was disgusting- Percy almost stumbled backwards, the smell churning through his stomach. "Okay," he said dramatically. "Ghost King it is." He exagerated a mock bow and turned to go up the stairs before Nico could say anything. He knew he'd crossed a boundary, but he didn't really care. He had bigger problems. Percy walked over to the door, which light was coming from inside, ignoring the creaking floorboards and the laughter downstairs- ignoring the onslaught of words he didn't even half understand, and reached down to turn the brass handle. The door opened easily, without so much as a creak. Inside the room, Jason and Luke were crouched over someone lying on a bed. Percy leaned in closer to see what the fuss was all about, but when he got a clear look at the condition of the patient, his heart went cold. He fought down the bile rising in his throat, and tried not to run for the nearest toilet to puke. He only glimpsed Dakota, but it was enough to haunt him forever. A twisted, palge figure writhing in agony, chest bare and hideous. Tight, rigid cords of sickly green veins weaving around the boys body. Purple-green bruises and red scratches decorated his skin, like a Christmas disaster. His moans, were undescribable. In his hand, clutched tightly was a flask of red liquid. Dakota's knuckles were so white he thought he'd hear a crack any moment now. "Get the Probatio out of here!" Luke yelled, turning to see Percy. He jumped up to block Dakota from Percy's view as Jason closed his eyes, but didn't say a word. He kept treating Dakota's wounds quietly. Percy stared at the 'leader.' "When will I get answers. Answer that one, and I'll leave." Luke sighed, looked back at his patient then pointed to the door. "Get out. You get your answers tomorrow on the bloody Tour. I told you that." Percy glanced back at Dakota who was taking in heavy sighs and his whole body retching with sobs, and his heart almost melted. He hated to see people in pain. He then looked Luke in the eyes again, but he was already turned around. "Get out, Probatio." He muttered. Percy turned and walked down to the stairs, feeling like he'd just had his hopes crushed. He wanted answers. He needed to know more. He didn't know how he felt about these people, Grover seemed alright. Nico was a punk, but he could grow on you if you gave it time. Even if he hated him. Jason didn't seem like such a bad guy either and Luke could have been his grumpy old friend. Grover hurried Percy out of the crowd, before the boys could ask questions. He didn't say a word as Grover led him to get something to eat. He couldn't help but look around, and realize he was here for a purpose. There was something going on. Even though it wasn't cold, Percy shivered and glanced at the sky.


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