Thanks to Farsight’s driving, the team arrived at Market Street pretty quickly, although Jackboot would later claim that she was a speed demon who drove as if Anubis himself was chasing after them.
The Argo VII’s engine purred to a stop — with the school bus perfectly parked in the tight space parallel to two cars — before Farsight popped out of her seat to inform everyone that they’d arrived at their destination.
Beyond the window, Sam could see the dark silhouette of the old building that was Independence Hall on the opposite side of the street.
“The lights are out,” he reported.
“It is two in the morning,” Jackboot replied as he joined him by the window.
Thunder moved over to Sam’s other side. “Good. We can do this quickly and with no one knowing we were here at all.”
“You guys might want to suit up,” Farsight recommended.
Three heads turned her way and noticed that she’d just finished strapping her quiver to her back. Her short bow was already folded into its holster on her leg, too.
“Are we expecting company?” Sam asked.
“I’m not sure, but,” she aimed a finger to the side of her head, “My spidey-sense is tingling...”
That was all the convincing they needed to gear up as it wasn’t very smart not to heed a seer’s warning. It was a fact Sam had learned too late, one that cost him dearly when Red Weaver fell to the Trickster’s blade.
“You sure you don’t want to just wait here?” Sam asked Thunder as he helped her put on her new coat.
Thunder’s costume had been recently updated to include a white hood and coat with interior embroidery of healing sigils meant to help her manage the Blight while on their road trip. It was a Moonday original, one from his new Winter Healing line.
“Don’t even think of benching me, Sam,” she snapped at him. “I’m not an invalid yet.”
Sam sighed. “Fine, but leave the fighting to me, alright?”
Thunder smirked just before she smacked him playfully on his padded shoulder. “Look at you being all assertive.” Her smile dimmed slightly. “Where’s the sweet, bumbling, slightly endearing lame-brain I’d met only a month and a half ago?”
It was instinct that caused Sam to wrap his hand around hers, something the pair of them had gotten quite used to since their last battle with the Trickster.
“I’m still that guy,” he assured her. “I’m just a little more experienced.”
“Well, don’t go changing too much, lame-brain,” she replied warmly.
Someone cleared their throat by the passage back to the sleeping quarters.
“If you two are done snuggling up to each other,” Farsight teased, “We’ve got a riddle to solve... and I do love riddles.”
Getting inside Independence Hall wasn’t much of a challenge when you had a precog along for the infiltration. Farsight directed them past the gate, up the walls, and through a series of hallways without the security cameras or guards catching on. Eventually, after they stealth sprinted across a patch of green lawn, the team arrived at Liberty Hall, the small building that housed the bell they came to inspect. All that remained to block their way now was a glass wall.
“Hold up,” Farsight ordered. “I’ve got this.”
The glass began to disappear where her hands touched it. This phenomenon continued to spread out toward the rest of the wall until it had completely vanished as if the entire glass wall had been a mirage this whole time.
Jackboot whistled. “You can do that and you don’t believe in magic?”
“I believe in probabilities, totem-bearer,” Farsight countered. “And I found one where this wall hadn’t been built yet.”
She stepped forward first as if to assure everyone that her powers were working fine and then led the way toward the four-foot copper bell hanging in its display.
As he arrived within inches of it, Sam couldn’t help but feel the goosebumps rise on his skin. Here before him was an iconic symbol of American independence, an artifact that had been touched by the king of Olympus himself.
“Now what?” Thunder asked.
“To find the Ram’s Blessing, Pass into the unknown and Stow your disbelief with one beloved of the Fates,” Jackboot recited.
The four of them stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the Liberty Bell, but none of them moved to touch it.
“And what does that mean, exactly?” Thunder pressed.
Jackboot shrugged. “Sorry, love, I haven’t got a clue...”
“Maybe there’s a hidden clue inside the bell?” Jackboot suggested.
And so they searched every nook and cranny of the item in question while taking care not to touch it less they accidentally trigger its alarm. They found nothing. Not even a hint in the inscription hammered into the bell’s surface.
“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Farsight noted.
Sam would have loved to call on Chiron’s help right about now, but having Farsight and Jackboot within earshot made it difficult. No, he’d have to figure this out on his own.
“There has to be more to the clue than just that phrase,” Farsight insisted. “Let me see your grandfather’s journal again, Jack.”
Farsight read the journal entry out loud, and something about its last paragraph struck a chord in Sam’s mind.
So we left the barest of hints in a place where men of resolve once transcribed their will of independence to be found by those worthy of such a gift, guided as they are by the hand of the Fates and the chime of liberty.
Clearly, we’re in the right place, but why mention the Fates or the chime of Liberty? He wondered.
Sam’s eyes drifted over to the bell’s inscription.
PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF...
“Proclaim liberty...” Then a light bulb lit up inside Sam’s brain. “We have to ring the bell.”
He explained his deductions to his friends, how Jackboot’s grandfather specifically mentioned the chime of liberty, which he assumed was the mechanism required to reveal the nature of their clue.
“The Liberty Bell hasn’t rung since 1846,” Sam added. “And no one knows why.”
“Actually,” Thunder stretched her arm toward the bell, “it stopped producing sound entirely after the latent energies of Zeus’s thunderbolt finally ignited the enchanted bronze that made up ten percent of the bell’s metal...”
“Turning it into a relic of the Olympian god of thunder,” Jackboot whistled.
“Which no mere mortal could ever get to work again,” Thunder finished.
“Thunder...” Sam called her name worriedly. “What are you—”
“You want this bell to ring, don’t you?” Her fingers were inches away from the bell’s metallic surface. “Only I can make that happen, Sam.”
“You’re planning to absorb the bell’s celestial energy, aren’t you?” Farsight deduced.
“She can do that?” Jackboot asked.
Thunder nodded. “I should be able to manage that much...”
“It makes sense,” Farsight agreed. “You are a direct descendant of Zeus, one who can wield and manipulate a similar, but lesser type of energy as the thunder god’s lightning bolt...”
“Dangerous, I know,” Thunder cut Sam off. “Don’t be such a worrywart, lame-brain... I’ve got this.”
Thunder’s palm hovered hesitantly over a patch of metal surface.
“Here goes,” she said.
And just as she was about to place her hand on the bell, Farsight reached out with her own hand to yank Thunder’s arm away from it.
“Not there,” Farsight warned. “Here.”
She guided Thunder’s hand to the lightning-shaped scar on the bell’s surface.
“This is where Zeus’ power entered the bell so this is where you can siphon it out,” Farsight insisted.
“Guided as they are by the hand of the Fates,” Sam recited. “So that’s what the phrase meant...”
As Thunder’s hand brushed against the Liberty Bell’s cracked surface, ribbons of electricity rose out of it and clung to the tips of her fingers. They weren’t like the bright blue glow of Thunder’s own lightning bolts either, but a purer and whiter form of celestial energy which purred like the engine of a Maserati as more and more of it escaped its prison.
“Ugh...” Thunder fell to her knees. “So much... power... I... can’t...”
Bands of celestial energy flowed into Thunder, traveling the length of her arms and wrapping her body in an aura of power that was obviously causing her pain.
“No,” Sam whispered.
He knew exactly how it felt to have unimaginable power coursing through one’s veins which he imagined was like drinking a gallon of water from the Phlegethon, the Underworld’s river of fire. So it was with zero hesitation that he jumped forward and wrapped his arms around Thunder in his attempt to do for her what she was doing to the bell.
We really have to talk about you jumping the gun like that, kid, Chiron chided. It was a sentiment Thunder mirrored perfectly when she screamed, “Sam, don’t—”
The pain was immediate. It crashed into Sam like a tidal wave that threatened to drown him in its celestial depths. Surprisingly, he managed to roll with it, allowing the energies to spread into him so that Sam could taste its familiar flavor, one he’d only recently begun to feel all around him.
“It’s... life-force!” Sam yelled.
Why the king of Olympus would leave a portion of his godly power within the liberty bell was beyond Sam’s comprehension, although he guessed he would find out eventually as the gods were not known to do things on a whim.
“Sam... get... away” Thunder hissed through gritted teeth.
Slowly, but surely, the bright aura that surrounded her was losing its shine. Bits of it transferred onto Sam who was managing to siphon more of the celestial energy with far less difficulty than he thought he’d have.
“I can... take... it,” he insisted. “I was... made... for this.”
It took a moment longer, but Thunder eventually stopped trying to push Sam away. She leaned into him in a kind surrender and matched her breathing to his. Together, they attempted to achieve what seemed impossible, to take in the power of a god and make it their own.
|ALERT! Celestial life-force energy has entered your body and is now threatening to rip you apart.|
No, kid, Chiron sighed. You can’t take on the raw energies of a god into yourself... not unless Triple-A can refine it in time...
and make it their own.
|ALERT! The system is attempting to transfigure the celestial energy into a more refined state suitable to the hero’s cultivation.|
|ALERT! The system cannot transfigure the celestial energy. A second attempt will begin in five seconds...|
This last notification elicited a wordless scream out of Sam who was now feeling quite feverish.
Let me adjust the settings a bit, Chiron said, and Sam could almost visualize him tapping away on a keyboard when Chiron yelled, Eureka! I’m a godsdamn genius!
|ALERT! The system has successfully transfigured the celestial energy into a more refined state suitable to hero’s cultivation.|
|ALERT! You have received  bonus attribute points.|
And as the pain began to slowly subside, a new pop-up appeared, one Sam hadn’t expected at all.
|You have leveled up!|
Even more surprising, Sam could hear the hollow chiming of a bell echoing around them. They did it. Sam and Thunder achieved the impossible, and with it came the feeling that being together meant everything was achievable — even healing her of the blight.