Only a few minutes later, I was boldly approaching the house of a fire-breathing giant with a box of pepperoni pizza in my hands.
Annabeth and I had broken in to the local pizza joint and stolen something that was lined up for delivery, along with one of the employees' hats. We'd return that later, but there were no promises about the pizza making it out alive.
I kept thinking, This is suicide, this is suicide as I walked up to the front door. It was nearly ten feet tall. Not really knowing what else to do, I rang the doorbell. The sound of it almost blew me backward down the hill. It sounded like one hundred gongs all being rung at the same time and I couldn't help but wonder if Cacus was deaf or something. Maybe he just wanted to make an impression.
After my ears stopped ringing, there was a few seconds of silence then a rhythmic thumping, like someone was taking their elephant for a walk. The massive door swung open and there was Cacus.
You'd think with a house this big, he'd have a housekeeper or butler to open the door for him.
Anyway, when I first saw him, I wasn't sure if the word to describe him was "barbaric" or "classy." He was nearly nine feet tall with long dreadlocks and scarred, pockmarked skin that reminded me of Prometheus. To top off the whole look, he was wearing an Italian suit that looked like it cost more than I would ever see in my lifetime.
He scowled down at me and boomed, "What do you want?"
Well, I could see he'd gotten used to the New York lifestyle. I took a deep breath which was hard because when he'd spoken, his breath smelled strongly of sulfur. I tried not to cough. "Large pepperoni pizza for a Mr. Cacus?"
He opened the door a little wider and moved aside. "I did not order pizza." His accent was thickly Italian. "But bring it in. I am hungry."
The way he said that while eyeing me up and down made me nervous but I stepped in anyway. I felt a breath of air blow past me as Annabeth ran inside invisibly.
The inside of the house was beyond impressive. The ceilings were so tall I wondered if there was enough room left for another floor, but there was a massive staircase right in front of me, divided so the stairs ran up on the left and right. Between the divide I could see more of the house. The rooms to either side of me were darkly lit and piled to the ceiling with glittering treasures. It would be practically impossible to find one staff in all this. I could only hope that Annabeth had started looking and would find it soon.
Cacus led me underneath the stairs and into the rest of the house. There was a living room directly in front of me with white shag carpeting, white leather sofas that were taller than me, and a TV the size of a movie theater screen.
He thundered through the house in his designer shoes and I wondered where, exactly, he had those made. Honestly, I don't think Famous Footwear makes shoes in that size.
We finally made it to the kitchen and I set the pizza down on the counter that was also taller than me. Cacus just stared at me. I was about to demand that he pay me for my incredible service, when Annabeth shouted from somewhere upstairs, "Percy, I found it!"
He smiled at me and it was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen. All his teeth were brown and there were several holes in a few of them. A dentist would have a heart attack after seeing that. "Would you be Percy Jackson, by any chance?"
I wasn't about to stick around and make introductions. I drew my sword and ran back toward the front door, Cacus thundering after me. He probably would have caught up with me a lot sooner if it weren't for the delicate furniture he kept trying to get around.
In the front foyer, Annabeth was waiting for me, holding her hat and the caduceus. She ran with me to the front door, but there was only one problem: the front door. The thing was nearly ten feet tall and probably several thousand pounds.
I pulled on the handle, but it didn't budge. Annabeth and I both turned around, ready to face the giant, but he was just standing there. Smiling at us.
"Foolish demigods!" he boomed in his thick accent. "Thinking you could steal from me? On an errand from Hermes, are you?" He laughed once, a loud sound that shook the chandelier above his head. Then he inhaled sharply and I realized what he meant to do.
A half-second before the flames hit us, I threw up my arms and we were protected by a thin wall of water. The fire evaporated into steam as soon as it hit the shield and, miraculously, nothing in the house caught fire.
Annabeth suddenly gasped. "Percy, the door!"
I was about to say, "Yes, Annabeth, I know we need to get out through the door," when I realized what she meant. It was the only thing in the house that was made of wood.
Cacus paused to inhale again and I said, "Put your cap on, now. And get out of here! I have a plan."
She scowled at me but put her hat on anyway. No kiss this time. Sigh.
I let down my shield of water and Cacus took a step toward me, laughing like some mad scientist. He inhaled again and I backed up to the door. At the very last second, I hit the ground and the flames shot straight threw the wood, incinerating it. Really, though, who's idea was it to give a fire-breathing giant a wooden door?
I managed not to get burned, which was a miracle. When Cacus ran out of firepower, I stood up and felt Annabeth's hand on my shoulder. We ran out through the smoldering remains of the door, Cacus inhaling again behind us.
We jumped in the car, Annabeth tossed the caduceus in the back, and I floored the gas pedal. Cacus thundered out of the house after us, breathing fire on the back of the car, and I could only hope the tailpipe hadn't ignited.
By now, it was after eleven and the streets outside New York were a little more deserted so Cacus didn't kill too many people with his flame-throwing.
"How are we supposed to defeat him?" Annabeth asked, looking over her shoulder at the giant that was fast approaching our bumper.
"Don't look at me! This is your area of expertise."
She started thinking and I pressed the pedal harder.
"Can't this thing go any faster?" Annabeth shouted.
"It's a Prius, it wasn't exactly built for speed!"
"I've got an idea! Get to the waterfront. If you keep the car from getting wet, do you think you can drive it across the bottom of the Hudson?"
I scowled. "Yeah, I can do it."
"What's the problem, then?"
The problem wasn't that we would have to detour through Union City, New Jersey instead of taking the highway across. No, that would be easy. "The problem is that you assume I can do it."
She rolled her eyes. "Just drive."
By some miracle, we made it to the waterfront and only two houses in Union City had caught fire. I droves straight off the nearest pier and concentrated on keeping the Prius dry as we drove along the bottom of the river. Let me just say the headlights did nothing in that murk.
I drove the car up a small incline and onto the grass before careening out onto the road. I may have accidentally run over a garden of flowers on the way, but we were in the city and we had about thirty minutes to get to the Empire State Building. Plenty of time, fortunately.
In the rearview mirror, I could see Cacus pacing the waterfront, blowing fire into the sky. The most I could do for now was hope he didn't burn down New Jersey or ignite some power plant. Plenty of those around. I kept driving.
About halfway there, I realized that there was a light on the dashboard that kept blinking. We had a flat tire. I was wondering what that bumping sound was.
I limped the car to the side of the road with a fair amount of cussing and got out.
"What's going on?" Annabeth asked, getting out with me.
"Flat tire. No way this thing is gonna make it to Olympus."
I got around to the trunk and almost had a heart attack. The whole back of the car was scorched and rusted. The bumper was gone along with most of the trunk. It was still sizzling, so it took a few tries to get enough of it open that I could get the spare tire out.
"Paul is going to kill me," I muttered as I jacked up the car and pulled off the scorched, deflated back tire.
As I started replacing it, Annabeth leaned against the side of the car and exhaled audibly. A few of her curls were singed on the ends and the bottom of her dress was smoldering. There were a few patches of it that were practically ash.
"You look beautiful," I told her simply.
She smiled and touched the ends of her hair. The blackened parts crumbled off. "Thanks," she said dryly. "Well, this has been fun. But next time, let's just rent a movie and stay at your apartment, OK?"
I nodded. "That sounds great."
By the time I was finished, we had less than ten minutes. I floored the pedal, prayed the engine wouldn't give out and we had enough gas to make it the last few blocks, and headed for Olympus.
When we got there, the door was thankfully unlocked. We ran inside and the doorman glanced up at us.
?" he asked, looking at the caduceus in Annabeth's hand.
I nodded. "And we have about three minutes to get it back to Hermes so if you could kindly let us in
He pressed a button and the security doors swung open. The elevator came slowly, and went up slowly, and we had only about a minute and a half left. When the doors slid open, though, I was momentarily distracted.
"Wow," I said, stopping in admiration. "This place looks great, Annabeth!"
She smiled, glowing with pride. "Thanks. I was going for a sort of modern Mediterranean"
"Yeah, no time." I grabbed her hand and we ran full tilt for the Hall. Somewhere, I could hear a clock chiming midnight. We ran faster.
We got in with roughly five seconds to spare. Hermes was pacing the floor, looking distracted and very, very angry. He glanced up when he saw us.
"Right on time," he said, managing a smile. The caduceus flew to his hand. "Thank you both. Really, it's much appreciated."
I was about to shout something I would probably regret when he disappeared into thin air. I sighed. "Well, that was a waste of time."
Annabeth sighed too, and started for the door. "Let's just go home. I'm tired."
After I dropped Annabeth off at her school, I headed back to the apartment and the Prius somehow managed to survive. Though, when I put it in park, the engine started smoking and the front fender fell off. Another tire was flat. I turned the car off and trudged upstairs, thinking I'd take care of it in the morning. I fell asleep almost instantly.
The next morning, at around seven, I was awakened to a very loud, "Percy! Get out here, right now!"
I felt like I had a hangover, but I managed to get to the kitchen. Paul was standing in the doorway, holding up half a burned tire. Suddenly, I remembered the Prius.
" was all I could think to say.
"Oh? OH? My car is ruined and all you can say is 'oh?' Please tell me this is normal for demigods."
I ran a hand through my partly-singed hair, trying to think of what to say. "Um
it's normal for demigods who've been chased by fire-breathing giants?" I ended it like a question.
Paul's eyes widened. "Wha giants?" He started muttering something about how life was so much easier before he knew about all of this. "Look, I don't have time right now, but how, exactly," he fought to keep his voice under control. "do you propose I fix the car?"
Fortunately, I had the answer to that one. "I know someone at camp. I'll swing by later and bring him back here, see if he can do anything."
"No," Paul said firmly, brandishing the remains of the tire at me. "You'll swing by now."
With that, he walked out and slammed the door.
I wondered vaguely who I would rather face: a fire-breathing giant, or parents. You know what? A fire-breathing giant sounds pretty good to me.