"I was born on December 31st, in Wheeling, Illinois." Mira started, a faraway look in her eyes. She felt a lump forming in her throat. "My life wasn't as tragic as most demigods. Probably because I wasn't a demigod,"
Leo looked at her, but Mira decided to just forge ahead and answer his questions later. "I was a pretty normal girl. My parents loved me. I had friends. I loathed school. Everything was great...until one day, we went on a vacation cruise. Our ship sunk."
Mira laughed humorlessly, bitter tears stinging in her eyes. "It was your average Titanic story. Except this time, it wasn't two lovers who were torn apart from one another. It was my parents that were stolen from me."
Mira stole a glance at Leo. He was staring at her intently, compassion in his eyes.
"I was the only one from my family that was saved. My mom was Indian, but she had no family left in the States, and she never spoke about family abroad. My father had been an orphan himself, so I was truly alone. They put me in foster care, just like you."
"How do you know?" Leo asked, gently this time. Mira felt the corner of her mouth lifting slightly. Here goes nothing.
"You were all my best friends during the darkest time of my life." she said slowly, unsure of how to break the news of being a book character to Leo.
She waited for Leo to say something.
"I don't understand," he finally admitted, his brows furrowed deeply. "I just met you.
How could we have been best friends?"
"Because," Mira sighed heavily and bit her cracked lip. "When I was twelve years old, I was put into my third foster home, with the Walters. They were comparatively nice.
Mrs. Walter even used to take me to the library. That's when I first picked up one of the most famous book series of all time."
Leo still didn't seem to understand. Mira knew she was being too vague. But how was she supposed to tell someone they weren't real when she was sitting right next to them?
"Percy Jackson and the Olympians," she finally breathed out. She felt as though a huge burden had been lifted off her chest, even though she wasn't sure if Leo had even understood yet.
She stole another glance her the son of Hephaestus.
"Percy Jackson... And the Olympians," Leo's face was horror struck. "You mean..."
"I'm really not from here, Leo," Mira said. "I'm from another world. And as crazy as it sounds, in that world, all of you were fictional."
Thankfully, Leo didn't start laughing when she said that. His face looked calm, though he seemed to be clenching his teeth. Mira had a feeling he was using every part of his consciousness not to go all insane on her.
"So that's why you always seem to know what's going on," he gulped.
Mira shrugged. Not really.
"But, if you're from another world... How did you get here?" Leo asked.
"I'm not sure. I fell asleep one night, stargazing, wishing I could be here instead of with my foster family. I guess the wish came true," she answered him ruefully. All she wanted now was to go back. She didn't want to meet Percy or Reyna or Calypso. Not if it meant being the cause of the Giant War all over again.
She wanted so badly to just sit down and bawl, cry her heart out, throw a tantrum 'til the Fates (because they were real here) sent her home. But she knew she couldn't. Mira had made her bed, wishing carelessly for something she didn't truly want, and now she had to lie in it. Yes. She had to be strong. She was here now, and she couldn't afford to be a burden on the seven. She couldn't let the quest fail because she couldn't handle the consequences of her own foolish actions.
Resolved, Mira turned back to Leo, setting her jaw in determination as she brushed away a few stray tears.
"Um, let's get back to work. Bad things have always happened when Festus crashed," she said.
Leo looked alarmed, possibly confused as to why Festus would be crashing again, but he didn't ask Mira any more questions.
And the two went back to working in silence, a lot more on their minds than before.
“Enough, Valdez,” Leo said out of the blue. He surprised Mira so much that she almost fell off of Festus.
"Leo, what are you...."
“Nobody’s going to play any violins for you just because you’re not important. Fix the stupid dragon.”
"That's not true!" Mira protested. Leo just shook his head and went back to working.
It had only been a couple minutes before a third, unfamiliar voice spoke up.
The girl is right, Leo, it said. Leo fumbled his brush and dropped it into the dragon’s head, and Mira swung her legs off of Festus, and got on the ground next to Leo. No one was around them.
They couldn't find whoever had spoken until Leo pointed at the ground. Mira followed his gaze and gagged. Snow and chemical sludge from the toilets, even the asphalt itself was shifting like it was turning to liquid. A ten-foot-wide area formed eyes, a nose, and a mouth —the giant face of a sleeping woman.
Mira's breath caught in her throat. She knew who this was, but she couldn't warn Leo.
The lady didn’t exactly speak. Her lips didn’t move. But Mira could hear her voice in her head, and she had a feeling Leo could, too.
They need you desperately, she said. In some ways, you are the most important of the seven—like the control disk in the dragon’s brain. Without you, the power of the others means nothing. They will never reach me, never stop me. And I will fully wake.
“You.” Leo was shaking so badly Mira started to feel worried. “You killed my mom.”
The face shifted. The mouth formed a sleepy smile like it was having a pleasant dream.
Ah, but Leo. I am your mother too—the First Mother. Do not oppose me. Walk away now. Let my son Porphyrion rise and become king, and I will ease your burdens. You will tread lightly on the earth.
Leo grabbed the nearest thing—a Porta-Potty seat—and threw it at the face. “Leave me alone!”
The toilet seat sank into the liquid earth. Snow and sludge rippled, and the face dissolved. Leo stared at the ground, probably waiting for the face to reappear. Thankfully, it didn’t. Mira was shaken up too, for her part. The way Gaea left her alone was unsettling. It was almost as if she didn't care that Mira was on the quest. But why wouldn't she care? Did she think Mira was supposed to be here, too? Did she know how cowardly Mira was? Or was she just as arrogant as before that she'd win? Mira didn't like how scary the whole ordeal was.
Mira was about to go comfort Leo. But then, from the direction of the factory, she heard a crash —like two dump trucks slamming together. Metal crumpled and groaned, and the noise echoed across the yard.
"Jason and Piper!" Mira gasped.
Walk away now, the voice urged.
“Not likely,” Leo growled. “Gimme the biggest hammer you got.”
He reached into his tool belt and pulled out a three-pound club hammer with a double-faced head the size of a baked potato. Then he ran toward the warehouse, Mira following his every step.
Mira and Leo stopped at the door, trying not to make noise. The voice of the earth woman still rang in Mira's ears, echoing in her mind. She'd never been scared of Gaea. That was obvious, she thought. To her, Gaea didn't exist. Now? Things were completely different.
The last thing she wanted to do was plunge into a dark warehouse. She didn't want to be stuck in another situation where the people she cared about were in trouble and she was completely helpless.
But Leo was probably even more scared. He didn't show it, but Mira knew. Leo must have felt a horrible amount of pressure, because he knew everything was being repeated. If Mira was stuck in a situation like that, she'd probably get worried about the fact that if she made the wrong choice this time, she would change what was supposed to happen. Then again, she was worried about that anyway just by being there.
Leo didn't show any signs of weakness, though. He took a deep breath and peered inside. Mira ducked down beside him, trying to get a closer look. Her heart pounded in her chest. Nothing looked different. Gray morning light filtered through the hole in the roof. A few lightbulbs flickered, but most of the factory floor was still lost in shadows.
There was a catwalk above, and dim shapes of heavy machinery along the assembly line, but no movement. No sign of Piper or Jason.
Mira was about to call out to the duo when Leo tensed. He smacked a hand over her mouth before she could say anything.
Somewhere on the factory floor, Piper’s voice cried out: “Leo, help! Mira!”
Now Mira's eyebrows furrowed in suspicious confusion. How could Piper have gotten off the catwalk with her broken ankle? Leo gently dropped his hand from her mouth, gave her a look that said stay quiet, slipped inside, and ducked behind a cargo container. Mira gulped and rushed behind him, trying to keep up and not be a klutz. Slowly, they worked their way toward the center of the room, hiding behind boxes and hollow truck chassis. Finally the two reached the assembly line. They crouched behind the nearest piece of machinery—a crane with a robotic arm.
Piper’s voice called out again: “Mira?” Less certain this time, but very close. Mira peeked around the machinery. Hanging directly above the assembly line, suspended by a chain from a crane on the opposite side, was a massive truck engine—just dangling thirty feet up, as if it had been left there when the factory was abandoned.
Below it on the conveyor belt sat a truck chassis, and clustered around it were three dark shapes the size of forklifts. Nearby, dangling from chains on two other robotic arms, were two smaller shapes- maybe more engines, but one of them was twisting around as if it were alive.
Then one of the forklift shapes rose, and Mira almost gasped. It was a humanoid of massive size.
“Told you it was nothing,” the thing rumbled. Its voice was too deep and feral to be human. Mira tugged at her brain, her hand rushed over to massage her aching temples. It felt as though someone was playing tug of war with her memories, and this time she was getting close to winning.
In a flash, the pain subsided, and a single image flickered in Mira's head. A logo. Monocycle Motors it read. That was the name of this factory, wasn't it? But what use was it? Maybe it had something to do with the eye- oh no.
Mira was brought back to the present as Leo bumped into her as he shuffled backwards a bit.
One of the other forklift-sized lumps shifted, and called out in Piper’s voice: “Leo, help me! Help—”
Then the voice changed, becoming a masculine snarl. “Bah, there’s nobody out there. No demigod could be that quiet, eh?”
No. But a human from another dimension and a scrawny teen who hated her could. Mira thought.
The first monster chuckled. “Probably ran away, if he knows what’s good for him. Or the girl was lying about the other two demigods. Let’s get cooking.”
Snap. A bright orange light sizzled to life—an emergency flare—and Mira and Leo were temporarily blinded. Leo ducked behind the crane until the spots cleared from his eyes, pulling Mira down with him.
When he peeped over the machine again, Mira mimicked him, and she didn't like what she saw. The two smaller things dangling from crane arms weren’t engines. They were Jason and Piper. Both hung upside down, tied by their ankles and cocooned with chains up to their necks. Piper was flailing around, trying to free herself. Her mouth was gagged, but at least she was alive. Jason didn’t look so good. He hung limply, his eyes rolled up in his head. A red welt the size of an apple had swollen over his left eyebrow.
Shoot! He looks terrible. Guess the saga of 'Jason Grace gets knocked unconscious' starts here... Mira thought. She tried to think of ways to help her friends, but she couldn't concentrate. Looking around, she noticed a fire on the conveyor belt. The emergency flare had ignited a mixture of tires and wood, which, from the smell of it, had been doused in kerosene. A big metal pole was suspended over the flames—a spit, which meant this was a cooking fire.
That would have been scary enough, but but the most terrifying of all were the cooks. Maybe now would be a good time to tell Leo that they would have to deal with Cyclops. Then again, Mira supposed that after taking a look at the cooks, he'd figured that out by now.
Three massive humanoids gathered around the fire. Two were standing, stoking the flames. The largest one crouched with his back to Mira and Leo. The two facing him were each ten feet tall, with hairy muscular bodies and skin that glowed red in the firelight. One of the monsters wore a chain mail loincloth that looked really uncomfortable. The other wore a ragged fuzzy toga made of fiberglass insulation, which would probably not get on New York fashion week.
Other than that, the two monsters could’ve been twins. Each had a brutish face with a single eye in the center of his forehead. The cooks were Cyclopes. Mira didn't want to deal with them. When she'd meet Tyson, she'd remember these Cyclops, and it would be unfair and rude if she started having a nervous breakdown in front of him.
Luckily for her, they were so terrifying that even Leo was shaking, and he wouldn't be able to laugh at her later. But that wasn't what disturbed her.
These were real, honest-to-the-gods monsters. Mira had never encountered them before.
Sure, she'd seen venti. But this was different. These were actual, flesh-and-blood, ten-foot-tall living monsters who wanted to eat the main characters for dinner. And these were the first monsters Mira would be facing. Ever. Mira hoped they'd be the last, but she doubted it.
Mira wanted desperately to be the one to help them somehow, but she was so terrified she could hardly think. If only Festus were here. A fire breathing dragon to the rescue sure would make this a whole lot easier. But what could she do? She didn't even have a weapon. Maybe she should have gone on that walk with Will... She shouldn't have taken that nap. Instead, she should have gotten a weapon, or learned how to fight instead.
It would do no good to waste time on what-ifs now, though. Mira had to think quick. Did she not have anything that would be able to help her? Annabeth surely wouldn't have let her go on the quest without a weapon, right? Mira still wasn't sure what to do. But then her thoughts went back to the fanfiction she used to read. How did the other OC's handle situations like these?
Well, they would rip off a charm on their charm bracelet/necklace and kick some monster butt. But Mira didn't have a charm bracelet. She had her powers, but she's never used them on purpose before.
If only Poseidon would give me a charm bracelet. She thought. And then it hit her. Poseidon had given her something. Her nose ring! But was it magical? Mira didn't know. She didn't want to rip the ring off her nose only to get injured, so she decided to wait until she was really in danger to test out her theory. Out of ideas, Mira turned back to the scene unrolling in front of her.
The Cyclops in the chain mail loincloth walked over to Piper, who squirmed and tried to head-butt him in the eye.
“Can I take her gag off now? I like it when they scream.”
The question was directed at the third Cyclops, apparently the leader. The crouching figure grunted, and Loincloth ripped the gag off Piper’s mouth. She didn’t scream. She took a shaky breath like she was trying to keep herself calm. Mira smiled. That's Piper, for you! If only Mira could be as brave as her.
Hearing some rustles coming from Leo, she looked at him. He was in the middle of going through his backpack. According to Mira, he'd found stack of tiny remote control units. If Mira remembered correctly, those were the ones she'd seen in Bunker 9.
"So, what's the plan?" Mira asked Leo. Leo glanced at her with a smirk, and handed her a screwdriver. Mira skimmed her eyes around, and when she saw the robotic crane’s maintenance panel, she grinned back at Leo, and the two of them headed there as quietly as possible. They got to work immediately, but they had to go quietly.
The leader Cyclops was only twenty feet in front of them, and Mira didn't want to get caught and fried into a Mira-nugget. She knew monsters obviously had excellent senses.
Sure, pulling off the plan without making noise seemed impossible, but they didn't have a choice. Plus Mira was starting to not wish for the impossible anymore. In her experience, it ended badly. Such as ending up in another dimension. Noticing a mistake in what she had done, Leo nudged her quickly, and Mira fixed it right away.
She didn't want to get distracted, so she started playing songs in her head while she worked. She felt like she was in a daze- working together with Leo Valdez in such a horrible situation. Now if only their plan would work...