The alarm shut off by itself, Percy didn't know how but he didn't care. As long as the blaring noise left his ears, he was fine. A crowd had gathered in the middle of the courtyard around the steel doors through which Percy was startled to realize he'd arrived in just yesterday.
Someone gripped his elbow, taking the confused sixteen year old by surprise. He wheeled around, to find Grover staring up at him. The poor saytr looked like he had just wet his pants. "What's going on?" Grover asked, a bleat escaping in the middle of his sentence.
Percy glanced around, took in the view. Everyone was gathering around the Box, whispering and murmuring to one another. "Jason said that another demigod arrived today. And, I guess that's unusual." He shrugged.
Grover stared at him, mouth agape. "Another demigod? Two in one month?" He closed his trap, blinking profusely. Then, as if on instinct, his hand snaked to his back pocket and retrieved a small baggie of squished aluminum cans. "I can't believe you only had to be Probatio for one day," Grover finally choked out.
Percy smiled reassuringly at his friend. Obviously his nerves were on the edge. "C'mon Grover. Let's go see this new...shank."
When they arrived on the scene, Percy had an idea. "How do you know it's not just supplies coming up?" He asked, straining to see over the other demigods heads. Grover chewed thoughtfully on his cans. "Well, we don't usually have the alarm go off for supplies. Only for one another demigod comes up," he paused and pointed. "Let's go the front, where we can actually see. Usually it takes half an hour for them to get up here, but I guess the alarm went off late. Look, the Box is already parked."
They shoved their way through the crowd, almost to the front when one guy growled, "Hey watch it." Percy turned around and glanced down. His foot was barely touching the other guys toe. He glanced up at the other male. "Nico is it?" He removed his foot. Nico glared daggers at him. "Yeah, Probatio. Don't overuse it."
Percy was about to snap back a retort when Luke yelled for silence from the front of the crowd. "Shut it you shanks! If you wanna know what's going on, then I'd best be quiet."
The talking ceased almost immediately. Grover nudged Percy's elbow, trying to put a brave face on. Jason stalked up to the front, exchanged a look with Luke then together they stood right over the doors. Everyone held their breath, the feeling was mutual. Something unusual was happening.
Jason nodded at Luke and took the right side of the Box while Luke gaurded the other side. "Now you shanks stay back unless you want me to lock you in the Maze for the night." No one answered.
A crack split the metal square in the box right down the middle. Simple hook-handles were attached on both sides, and together they yanked them apart in unision. With a metallic scrape the doors were opened, and a puff of dust from the surrounding stone rose into the air, causing the Praetors to cough.
Complete silence settled over the demigods. Everyone was holding their breath, peering anxiously over one another's heads. As jason leaned over to get a better look into the Box, the faint mooing of a cow in the distance echoed across the courtyard. Percy leaned forward as far as his neck allowed him, hoping to get a glance at the newest member.
With a sudden jerk, Jason lurched backwards, pushing himself back and sprawling back out onto the grass. Luke grabbed his hand and yanked him up. "What is it?" He demanded. Luke just about pushed Jason back into the earth to get a good look himself. He peered down and then muttered something under his breath. "No way," he said his forehead scrunched up in confusion.
By this time a chorus of questions filled the air as everyone began pushing forward to look into the small opening. Percy fought to the front, almost made it but was pushed back by a fresh wave of demigods all jumping forward. In frustration, Percy began to shove but Grover grabbed the neck of his shirt and pulled him back.
What do they see down there? Percy wondered, waiting for Jason and Luke's orders. He felt a sliver of muted fear, similar to what he'd experienced that morning when he stepped toward the window to see that automaton hellhound.
"GET BACK!" Luke roared, unseathing Backbiter. Immediately the other demigods jumped backwards, glancing at Backbiters double bladed aura. It was a powerful weapon- celestial bronze and regular. It could kill monsters and mortals, so Percy had been told.
"Well, what's wrong then?" Someone yelled back. For some reason, this kid had a gutted teddy bear in his hands.
Jason turned and glared at Percy. "Two newbies in two days. Now this. What's going on Probatio?" Percy blinked, taken aback. "How am I supposed to know?"
"This can't be a coincedence!" Jason whispered, the rest of the crowd craning toward them.
Percy's gut clenched, his face turning red. From emberassment or anger of being accused he didn't know.
"Just tell us what the shuck is down there!" Nico called from the back. There were more murmurs, most in agreement and then another surge forward.
Luke swept his blade out, almost stabbing a black haired demigod. The crowd stopped again, but Percy had the feeling this method wouldn't work for long.
Jason stepped away from Percy and faced the demigods. "It's a girl." He said gravely.
Everyone started talking at once; Percy only caught pieces here and there.
"I got dibs!"
"Is she pretty?"
"I bet she's my age!"
Percy was drowning in a sea of confusion. And, personally he knew he'd never drowned. A girl? He thought to himself. He ignored the others and sat down on a rock, thinking hard. His mind was going crazy, and he might be going pyscho too, but he felt connected to this somehow.
Jason raised his hand for silence. "That's not the half of it," he said, then pointed down into the Box. "I think...I think she may be dead."
A couple of strong looking boys grabbed some ropes made from ivy vines and lowered Luke and Jason into the Box so they could retrieve the girl's body. A mood of reserved shock had come over most of the demigods, who were milling about with solemn faces, kicking loose rocks and not saying much. No one dared admit they couldn't wait to see the girl, but Percy assumed that they were just as curious as he.
He didn't know when he'd last seen a female, and if he'd been friends with one. Percy didn't even know if- maybe- he had a sister he didn't know about. What if she was at home, crying over a framed picture of them hanging out at a fundraiser event? Don't think like that. Percy reminded himself.
Nico was one of the boys holding the ropes, ready to yank her up. Luke shouted that they were ready, his voice echoing in the cube and the boys hoisted them, their muscles bulging from effort. A few grunts and a lot of sweat later the girls lifeless body was dragged out, across the edge of the door and onto one of the stone blocks making up the ground of the Glade. Everyone stayed back, a moment of hesitation, then in another instant they ran forward, forming a pack around her. Percy stayed back, watching them. The eerie silence gave him the creeps, as if Hades himself was behind him in his Helm of Darkness.
Wait. Percy frowned. Where had that thinking come from? Hades and a Helm of Darkness? He shook it off, his mind preoccupied.
Despite his own curiosity, Percy didn't bother forcing his way through. He had gotten a glimpse of her, before the demigods had blocked her from his sight. She was thin, but not creepily so. She had blonde hair, curled like a princess. She looked like she was about his height, and from what he could tell about sixteen years old too. Her hair wasn't pulled back, and Percy thought it should have been. She would have liked it better, if she could think without strands of hair getting in her way. Of course, she wasn't going to do any thinking right now.
And then again with the hesitation, and the doubt. How did he know that she would have liked to have her hair pulled back? It was a guess.
Luke marched over to Percy and snagged his shirt collar, half dragging and half yanking him to the lifeless girl. "You know her?" He asked, prodding her with his foot.
Percy looked blankly at her, studying her. He felt like...he felt...he didn't know what he felt. "I...no."
Luke narrowed his eyes, trying to tell if the Probatio was lying. "Are you sure?" His voice was getting dangerously angry.
Jason jumped in before Luke did anything crazy. "Hold up. We think you might because well two in one month...that isn't a coincidence. One alive- you, Percy and one dead. This blonde chick."
Percy's mind was spinning. He was sure he'd never seen her before- but then the slightest hint of doubt crept into his mind. "I swear she doesn't look familiar at all," he said, frowning at himself. But he was done with the accusations, he hated when people thought he'd done something. Percy hoped he wasn't lying.
Jason opened his mouth to speak but before he could say anything, the girl shot up into a sitting position. As she sucked in a huge breath, her eyes snapped open and she blinked, looking around at the crowd surrounding her. Percy watched her eyes, a startling gray, her face. Calculating, smart, like she knew what she was doing. Luke jumped back while Jason fell backwards again. The rest of the demigods had also scattered, clinging to trees and hugging one another. Percy felt the urge to snicker.
The girl's pink lips trembled as she mumbled something over and over, indecipherable. Then she spoke one sentence, her voice hollow and haunted, but loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Everything is about the change, the gods will decide."
Percy stared in wonder as her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell back onto the ground, sending up a puff of dirt. Her left hand shot up into the air, a piece of paper clutched inside. Percy looked around, everyone else was still watching, too nervous to go up.
He stepped forward and pried the paper from her fingers, shaking as he unfolded it. Percy dropped to his knees and spread the paper on the ground, squinting at the words. He was dyslexic, so the words messed with his brain and moved around, switching places with other letters.
Scrawled across the paper in thick black letters were five words:
She’s the last one. Ever.