|Not part of Riordanverse|
|“||Am I sure...? I'm not sure of anything, Dante! Have you been here for a single second for what's happened today? Green light, and shape-shifting slippers, and weird mist, and now the ghost of a girl who tormented me in the lunchroom showing up to stab a girl from my dreams... it all sounds ridiculous— don't you think I know that? Maybe all this is some bizarre nightmare, or I'm lying in a hospital bed in a coma right now, or we're all just zeroes and ones in some giant simulation of the human experience that's decided to malfunction at random. This is what we have to work with right now, okay? Ghosts and impossible things. I don't like it any more than you do. But if Marisa could come back after disappearing, then maybe Emma will too. Your grandma said we could still help her... If there's any chance we can find Emma in here, don't you think we should take it?||”|
–Pao to Dante after they get lost in the cactus field in Paola Santiago and the River of Tears.
Paola was born to César and Maria Santiago. When Pao was young, her father walked out on her and her mother and they moved into the rundown Riverside Palace Apartments. Around this time she befriended a boy named Dante Mata who lived in the apartment above her.
She would stay with him and his grandmother while her mother worked, oftentimes getting back between two and three in the morning.
She would constantly ask her mother for a dog only to be rejected.
Dreams of Drowning
When Pao was in the third grade, she started a riot in class after her teacher canceled a field trip. She also started to have recurring dreams of drowning in the Gila River. She told her mother who brought in folk healers to cleanse her of evil spirits. When she was in the fourth grade, her mother took her to a child psychologist who suggested treatments they could not afford. After that she just kept the dreams to herself. Around this time she convinced her mother that she was old enough to stay home alone.
When she was ten, she befriended a girl named Emma Lockwood from the wealthy section of town and she would secretly envy her life. When she was eleven her neighbors were arrested right in front of her and her mother never told her what they did. Around the same time Marisa Martinez, one of her classmates who relentlessly picked on her for her small friend group and fashion sense, drowned in the river and a curfew was imposed.
At one point she went with Emma and her parents to the country club, but things did not go well. She accidentally ordered duck and used the wrong fork. She kept apologizing and hasn’t been back since.
When they reached sixth grade, Dante joined the soccer team and she saw less of him, but they started to hang out again during summer.
As sunset approaches she tells her friends Dante and Emma are by the Gila River talking about algae as her friends talk about comics as sun sets and they clean up before heading home to not miss the curfew. Emma says goodbye to her and Dante as they head back to their apartment complex and say their goodbyes before going to their apartments. As she walks in she finds her mother reading tarot cards. Pao reminds her it is dinner time and her mother puts some cheese and jalapeños tamales in the oven as Pao goes to bed. She dreams she is drowning again but this time sees Emma’s hand pull her in. She wakes up close to midnight and finds leftover tamales for a midnight snack. Pao wakes up at ten the following morning and has cold pizza for breakfast and throws the crust to Charlie, one of the stray cats living around the apartment building. As her mother has an appointment, she goes to Dante's apartment and his grandmother lets her in. They play video games with her feelings strange whenever they touch. At lunch they learn of a string of kidnappings up north and that it is the anniversary of Marisa's disappearance. Dante's grandmother comments on the missing girl's beauty, which Pao thinks is dumb to judge people on, and Dante forces her to leave as his grandmother becomes angry. Later that day as her mother gets ready to go to work, Dante arrives and she tells her mother they are meeting up with Emma to look at the stairs through her telescope. Her mother tells them to stay away from the river because of La Llorona. She and Dante head to the river and wait for Emma, who doesn't show up. Dante suggests she forgot or got caught up in something and Pao suggests meeting up the following night, but Dante says he is meeting up with his soccer friends and reluctantly invites her and Emma. As it gets late they head back and she sees a figure on the other side of the river, but she blinks and it vanishes.
They call Emma's parents and learn she has been missing for almost two hours. They reveal they were supposed to meet up by the river and the Lockwoods tell the pair to meet them at the police station. When they arrive an officer tells them to leave and they tell him they are waiting for their friends parents as she was reported missing. The officer tells them she is probably at someone else's house and calls them crazed and superstitious. They head back home before the Lockwoods arrive. When she looks around her apartment, she takes a jar and smashes it on the kitchen floor. She then falls asleep dreams of being by the river and sees the figure from before, she notices that his face is pixelated and all light flees from him. When she wakes up her mother arrives and, after seeing the mess, asks if there was a break in. Pal says she did it and checks the answering machine to find no messages. Her mother scolds her before Pao explains that Emma is missing and the police called her crazy because people like her mother created a stereotype for all Latinos. Her mother explains that the problems between the police and Latinos goes deeper then that and tells Pao to clean up the shards before going to bed. She wakes up to the smell of coffee and men's voices coming from the kitchen and she exits her room to find her mother, Dante, and his grandmother talking to two police officers. They introduce themselves as officers James and Tyler. She and Dante lead the police and her mother to river and explains the officer they talked to yesterday called them crazy and kicked them out of the station. When they reach the spot they ask her and Dante how often they can there and if anyone else knows about this spot. After she tells them about the man she saw and gives a basic description, the officers say they are done as Dante pushes them to do more. As they bicker, Pao goes to the river bank and pulls out some reeds, cutting her palm. As she starts to cry, she sees something on the ground and realizes it is Emma's ring. The police go back to the station to mount a search and Pao stays with Dante. As they are alone in his room, she reveals the dream she had about the Mesa kidnappings and Emma's disappearance, which he believes. As they watch the news and eat lunch, they watch the story about Emma and learn that other girls around her age with expensive jewelry have gone missing as well. As they watch they hold hands until his grandmother returns. That night she sleeps on the Mata's couch and dreams of Emma's hand coming after her and a girl appears, who introduces herself as Ondina, and tells her to find her friend. Pap wakes up to find her mother standing over her and they head back to their apartment. She tells her mother she had a dream, but forgot what it was about. Two hours later she goes back to the Mata apartment to convince Dante to look for clues before the police arrive. He gives her a look that he thinks she is crazy. However Dante's grandmother appears in his doorway tandem has them come out. She closes the blinds and lights candles to perform and ritual. She gives Dante her slipper, which changes into something he would wear, and Pao and bag. She has them smear her Florida Water on them and tells them they have until the Summer Solstice in five days and that someone is afraid tone dreamer, which Pao thinks is her. After that the old woman's eyes glow green and she passes out. Dante moves her to the couch and checks her pulse as invisible waves force them to leave. She goes immediately while Dante clings to his abuela for as long as he could. When they are pushed out they see green light coming from his apartment as Dante desperately tries and fails to get back. They then head to the Gila.
When they arrive, Dante demands she tells him their next move, which she hasn't formed yet. After a short argument he apologizes and they hear a scream, thinking it's Emma she and Dante run into the cactus field and they are separated. She sees two girls fighting and realizes they are Ondina and Marisa Martínez. As Marisa tries to subdue Ondina, Ondina explains something about the moon in three days and Pao rushes over to help her. Marisa calls Ondina an ahogada pulls out a knife and stabs Ondina, who dissolves. Marisa then turns the knife on Pao and stabs her as she runs away, the knife feels like water as she passes out. She wakes up with Dante kneeling beside her and she explains that she saw Marisa and asks him to look at a stab wound in her back. He suggests they turn around but she refuses and dumps out the back his grandmother gave them, revealing her Florida Water and a toy flashlight her dad gave her. Dante demands they go back and call the police, but she berates him for wanting to dump her for the cool kids, something he does not deny. She walks away as Dante calls out to her, only to come right back to him. She tries again and again to move on but keeps returning to Dante. She kicks the flashlight in frustration and the two start to laugh at the situation. When they calm down and apologize, she notices the flashlight is on and the beam keeps shining east no matter where they point it. They then follow the beam. As they walk she marks an X as the beam changes from east to west. She and Dante continue east until they return to the X. They then head west until they get separated again and she comes face to face with a dog like creature. As they stair each other down, a sliver haired girl tackles the beast and Pao dowses it with Florida Water when it looks like she is losing, the girl uses the distraction to tie the beast up with Pao's help. She watches as it disintegrates after being stabbed and the girl demands to know what Pao is doing there. She doesn't break eye contact with the girl even when Dante arrives. The girl tells them to leave, but changes her mind and flinches in fear at the fight of Abuela Mata's slipper and reluctantly tells them to follow her.
The girl ignores their questions and leads them to the encampment of the Niños de la Luz, the children of the light, and introduces them to their leader, Marisa. They ask the pair if they have seen their friend, but they have no new recruits. Marisa asks what they were doing and they reveal as much as they can at the moment. Marisa takes interest in the Florida Water and the Clancha. They allow them to stay the night and she asks Marisa how she ended up with the Niños de la Luz, something she says she will explain another time. As they eat, Dante falls asleep and she sees Sal, a boy from the apartment complex who disappeared after his family was arrested by ICE. Pal goes over the him and he recognizes her. He reveals Marisa took him in after he escaped ICE and she forbids everyone from talking about their past. When she asks about the third quarter he explains that it is the third quarter moon, a time when the veil between worlds weakens and monsters come into their world. He leaves before she can get more out of him and when Pao returns to Dante, a horn sounds. They are rushed to a tent by Naomi and told to stay put. They rush out and see the camp being overrun by severed hands. Dante recognizes them as La Mano Panchona, something her mother never told her about. One of them grabs Dante and drags him away as Pao tries to free him. She remembers the clancha and grabs it out of Dante's pocket. Nothing happens and she realizes it can only work for Dante. She gives it to him and it explodes in a blast of light and takes the form of a yard long black club. He gets a burst of strength and smashes the hand into goo. They rush back to camp where they Niños de la Luz are struggling to fend off the Mano. She borrows Dante's club to save Sal before it flies back to him and she turns her attention to Naomi, who is on fire. She finds a tarp to put her out and is strangled by a Mano. As she suffocates, she hears Ondina telling it to spare her. When Pao recovers she sees Dante over her and kicks the inactive Mano into the fire, resulting in an inferno that incinerates her eyebrows. As they get rid of the rest of the Manos and search for stragglers, Naomi complements her and Dante for their actions during the fight. After Dante and Naomi stare at each other for a moment to long, much to her disgust, she tells them to head to the mess tent and she debates on telling Dante about the voice of not. After Marisa tells the Niños to rest and recuperate, she and Dante are told to stay behind as they tell them about their organization. They learn the Niños are one of many protectors in different worlds keeping the worlds safe from a world of monsters called the rift. Marisa invites them to join, as the need help during the solstice as the veil weakens then and the third quarter only weakens it more. When she asks about Emma, they say she is beyond Pao's help. Dante considers it and she berates him for wanting to abandon Emma. Dante believes they need to defend the town and their loved ones. He calls her jealous as she leaves the tent.
She walks out into the desert and looks at the flashlight as she thinks of her father. Sal comes over her and asks if she is staying, when she says she is uncertain he tells her to comeback for safety. When she falls as she dreams she is a monster dragging Dante into the Gila. The dreams shifts to Marisa standing in front of an ofrenda, looking at the picture of a boy named Franco, who she recognizes as the kidnapper. She watches in horror as Marisa burns the picture and eats the embers. The dream then shifts to Ondina telling her not to trust the Niños as they are murderers and thieves. When Pao asks why she should trust her and if she had the Mano spare her, she says their is no time and vanishes. Soon Emma's hand appears and drags her into the Gila and she sees her friend, who tells Pao not to give up on her. When she wakes up she finds Dante sleeping close to her and goes to talk with Marisa. When she reveals she knows about Franco, Marisa explains that he was the leader of the Niños before her and he brought her to camp. She explains Franco's plan to go into the rift by finding a key that he thought was a jewel and that the ahogadas were always close behind them. Pao becomes infuriated when she realizes they left the girls for dead and Marisa continues to explain how three days ago, Franco lead her and Naomi into the rift during the third quarter to try and stop the monsters once and for all, but they were soon over power and he ordered them to retreat. They watched as he died and she became leader. When she mentions a leader of the malevolent forces, Pao thinks it is La Llorona until Marisa laughs and assures her it is not her as Franco took care of her years ago and felt she was not much of a threat to begin with. Pap agrees to join the Niños until they find Emma and Marisa accepts the offer. She wakes Dante to tell him she is staying temporarily and they apologize to each other. She fills Dante in on what she learned as Sal comes in to congratulate them on staying. As they move to help clean the camp, she and Dante are told to come to the training pit. When they arrive Marisa tells her to pick a weapon for the blanket in the corner. Seeing the sorry state they are all in, she begrudgingly picks a sword and the edge of the rug comes up to reveal a dagger that she chooses instead. They start training and Dante has trouble activating his club, Naomi throws a knife at Pao and misses, but the action activates the club and he is told to find another way to activate it besides defending Pao, much to her pleasure and annoyance. They start training and she fairs better than Dante. They take a break and Marisa explains the threat of stronger monsters coming out of the rift due to the overlap of the summer solstice and the third quarter. Before they can resume training, they are alerted to an attack from the east and Marisa tells her to stay behind while Dante goes with Naomi as she is a distraction to him. As Pao protests, Dante kisses her on the cheek and promises to return, much to her shock.
As she and Naomi guard the fire with Sal and a pair of twins, the horn sounds as Marisa says it means one of the Niños has been taken. Before she can ask anything else they are alerted to a hoard of fifty adagas are heading for camp. With the arrival of Naomi’s group she fends them off one of the ghosts but is overpowered by a half dozen of them and she loses her knife. She grabs her flashlight as she feels herself being drained and warmth grows in her that repels her attackers and forms a barrier around the camp. As she passes out she asks about Dante. She dreams she is by the river with Ondina, who mocks her losing her friends. Pao demands she tells her where Emma and Dante are who who is leading the malevolent forces, Ondina becomes silent and starts to fade. Before she leaves she calls herself "La Hija de Lágrimas". Pao then dreams of being swallowed by a mouth of darkness before waking up to find Marisa and Naomi standing over her. Naomi berates her for hiding the key from them as Pao asks about Dante. They tell her he was taken and she demands her flashlight. They tell her they need it to defeat the enemy and show Pao the fresh white streak in her hair. She stops as they say the key can drain her life force and they tell her to rest. She agrees as they lead her to a cot. When she wakes up it is dark and she is tied to the cot. Sal comes over and frees her as he explains how Marisa and Naomi think she will leave with the key. He gives her the flashlight and some supplies and she promises she will be back and they will not have to fight monsters anymore. As she follows the beam of light, she wonders if she did the right thing as she hears something coming from a nearby dead cactus. Upon investigating she finds it in by a chupacabra puppy. It tries to go over to her as she fends it of. After realizing it means her no harm, she allows it to come close and it falls asleep on her lap. She determines that it is male and names him Bruto. When Bruto wakes up, he sees the flashlight and becomes defensive. She realizes the harm it can do to him, being a creature of the rift, and gives him the option of joining her. Much to her joy, he goes with her and she continues on.
As they travel she opens the food Sal gave her to find hardened bread, three bottles of water, dried meat, and, much to her joy, a pack of starbursts. She eats the pink and uses the yellow to train Bruto, who does the exact opposite of what he is told. Eventually the scene changes to the scenery from Pao's dream and she finds a hole in front of her that widens enough to walk through. She puts her flashlight away for just the right time and sees a hoards of ahogadas on the other side. She steels herself and enters. When she does they are swarmed by ahogada and she and Bruto manage to fend them off, but she gets tired from using her dagger and Bruto is hurt, forcing her to use the flashlight. It gets stronger when she thinks of her friends and family but weakens when she thinks of her dad and starts to doubt herself, however it gains in power when she focuses on her bravery. When the light fades she sees the flashlight in pieces and realizes she is in a water filled dome with some kind of structure. When she looks at Bruto, he backs away and realizes he is afraid of her. She sees a green light coming towards them and they run. After looking around some more, Pao wonders if it can be worse. They move forward to find a pair of ancient chupacabra and a hoard of Mano on the other side of a moat. She sees a black hole open up and deposit three kids, as she thinks of ways to save them to give her a group, Dante comes out of nowhere to try and save them. Pao draws her dagger and joins him. They meet up and she keeps him from hurting Bruto. Soon all paranormal creatures, including Bruto, freeze as the two chupabacra approach them. She picks Bruto up and tells Dante to lower his weapon as Ondina jumps on one of the chupacabra. She and Dante are frozen in place as well as the kids are sent through another portal. Ondina has them mount the chupacabras, Dante does so immediately while she resists temporarily. They head inside the palace and dismount, she drops Bruto and the young chupacabra snaps out of it. Ondina has them walk up s set of stairs and she trips and cuts her hand, she notices there is no blood on the stairs and she realizes this place is draining her. She sees skeletal figures at the top of the stairs before blacking out.
When she comes to she finds herself in a windowless and doorless cell and starts to panic. Soon Ondina enters the cell and orders her to get up. When Pao stays where she is Ondina is forced to drag her as Pao pushes her back into the cell and goes up a floor. She finds Bruto in a cell and uses a fuming Ondina to open his cell and another cell containing the bird creatures she saw earlier that she recognizes as Lechuza. As they swarm Ondina she calls Bruto over to her and he was obeys. They go up a floor just as Ondina catches up to them and they are met with a disembodied voice that causes Ondina to go into submission. As Ondina whimpers on the floor, Pao demands she get them out of the room. However Ondina reveals she can only do so if she has the general's permission before tackling Pao to the ground and blaming her. They pull each other's hair as Ondina explains they made promises to each other and the the general is her mother. Pao realizes that Ondina's mother, as well as her killer, is La Llorona. Ondina explains that her mother has been stealing children to resurrect her own, and that Pao's soul was the perfect match with her pent up anger. She manages to convince Ondina to help her get to La Llorona by getting her to think for herself. As she opens a portal, Bruto backs away and stays with Ondina as Pao confronts the weeping woman.
She appears in a room full of spirits and sees La Llorona, as she tries to get her to release Ondina she attacks Pao and blames her lover for her children's deaths. Pao tries and fails to get her to see reason as she passes out. When she comes to she finds herself alone in a cave with La Llorona, who explains she plans on using the souls of Pao, Dante, Emma, and Franco to resurrect her daughter. When Paola asks about her sons, she says she let them vanish years ago. She sees an orb of green light that she thinks it gave the weeping woman her power. When the ritual starts, cords come at her, as she is frozen from fear, Bruto appears and attacks La Llorona. The move snaps her out of it and she fends on the cords and attacks the weeping woman when she hurts the chupacabra. Before La Llorona can retaliate, Ondina appears and tells her to stop. She tells her mother that she didn't want to return to the life she stole from her children and neither did her brothers. She distracts the weeping woman as her daughter tries to stop it. Pao watches as Ondina reaches the orb before her mother becomes entangled in tendrils of energy. The room shifts to the web of time as Pao sees La Llorona's life before killing her children and becoming the ruler of The Rift. She sees the weeping woman's youngest son Luis vanish and her oldest son Beto, who looks familiar, walk away from his mother for trying to restore him to life. She also sees images of herself as a successful adult, but chooses not to accept The Rift's offer. Soon she sees Emma and Franco kneeling over her and Dante standing between her and the weeping woman and the orb, now powerless, is resting in her lap. She smashes it as the cave starts to crumble and everyone crowds around her. However it will not truly be over until La Llorona abandons her goals of resurrection. Ondina manages to convince her mother to give up and the two depart to the afterlife.
They float upward and end up in the Gila. They swim to shore just as she realizes Bruto is missing. As they walk Emma tells her she never gave up hope as three Niños appears and happily tackle Franco. They head back to the camp and Emma reveals she met Ondina at her country club and she was going to show her their spot on the river. However Franco intervened and asked her about her ring before being dragged under water. Pao feels slightly betrayed for her trying to make other friends but forgives her as long as they don't keep secrets from one another. Naomi walks up to them and tells them they need to research how the destruction of The Rift will effect things and asks what their next move will be. Pap says they will head home just as Dante comes to them and points out Bruto. The two happily greet each other as Marisa shows them the way out of the cactus field. As they approach the Riverside Palace Apartments, Pao makes up a story about Emma getting loin the cactus fields and staying put to be found while she and Dante got lost looking for her. Just then Dante’s grandmother appears from behind and takes them to her apartment for food. As they eat she apologizes for losing the bag and is shocked to learn she spent a century with the Niños de la Luz. Before she can say more, she is silenced and told this is just the beginning. Señora Mata calls her and Emma mothers and they embrace their daughters before going home. Her mother is surprisingly accepting of Bruto and she lets Pao keep him. They are kept at home but their parents and guardians relent after three days to let them watch the SpaceX launch. Her friends arrive at her apartment to watch the launch just as the news talks about their return and shows pictures of still missing children, including Marisa and Naomi. Pao lights a candle for them with her mother before sitting to close to Dante and holding Emma's hand as she thinks about her future.
Afterwards things start to go south for her as she was growing apart from her friends. About a week after escaping The Rift, Emma comes out to her and she helps her come out to her parents, which they quickly accept and the two join the school pride club. However due to their constant buying supplies for protests and her limited funds, she felt like she wasn’t pulling her weight and quit and the two somewhat grew apart. Things with Dante are not going any better with him doing whatever he can to avoid spending time with her. Eventually her mom starts to date a man called Aaron.
Six months after saving Emma, she reluctantly joins her mother and Aaron for dinner at Pizza Pete's. She starts thinking about her nightmare she had about finding her father father in a forest before the group swallows her. She tries not to scoff and makes small talk about cloaking technology she is working on at school as Emma, who is with the pride club, fails to notice her. Soon some teenagers playing a video game flings a quarter at her and her glass explodes. She goes to the bathroom to clean up and they head out soon after. When they are close to home, her mom starts to scold her, but she hugs her mom and says she doesn’t want things to change to quickly. Her mom hugs her back and says the bond of parent and child is forever. As they return home they find Dante sitting out front and she and him have an awkward conversation. When his grandmother calls him “Alberto” Pao asks if everything is okay, but he insults her and she leaves before he could apologize.
That night, she dreams of her father again, but this time she finds Dante's grandmother in her father’s place. She calls Pao by her mother’s name and tells her to stay away from someone named Beto, which she finds strange as her father is named César. Soon she vanishes and Pao sees floating green eyes start to surround her and she wakes up, still seeing the eyes and swats them away. After calming down she hears giggling and the blender from outside. Leaving her room, she finds her mother and Aaron making smoothies and offers her some before inviting her to go hiking with them. She declines and goes to investigate Aaron's backpack and her mother’s bedroom. After finding no incriminating evidence to get her mother to break up with him and realizing he is moving in despite her pleas the night before. In a fit of rage, she trashes her mother’s room and finds notebooks. After tossing them around, she finds a note with her father’s name and a PO Box in Pine Glad, Oregon. After waiting for Dante to be at soccer practice, she goes to speak with his grandmother. After Seniors Mata brings out random ingredients for a dish she wanted to teach Pao to make, she tells the old woman she broke up with Beto and is now dating someone named César. Seniora Mata pauses at this and, gripping Pao's face, says the two names are the same and that some will stop to nothing to stop her before passing out. Pao questions the old woman’s legal status and wonders if calling 911 would get her deported. She calls Emma who agrees to call and pay for a private ambulance. Soon the green lights return, as well as Dante who can see them as well. The lights vanish as soon as Dante comes close to his grandmother and reveals she has been acting like that since they saved Emma and blames Pao for it. The ambulance arrives and Pao tells the paramedic everything that happened and goes with the Matas to the hospital. As they rush to the hospital, Pao decides to go to Pine Glad to find her father.
When they arrive at the Silver Springs Hospital, a nurse gives Dante paperwork, he goes with the doctors as she waits for Emma. Soon Emma arrives and she tearfully tells her friend everything that has been happening since Emma was saved , including her plan to go to Oregon to find her father and cure Dante's grandmother. Emma is shocked by this and convinces Pao to only do this if their is no logical explanation. They enter the room, claiming to be Dante’s cousins, where they say Seniors Mata is fine physically but they are not picking up any brainwaves. Emma talks to the doctors as Pao pulls a reluctant Dante into the hallway to talk. He knows she is hiding something but before she can tell him, they hear screams and her phone rings. She chooses to focus on the screams. They find two specters terrorized the people in the hallway. She takes out her knife as Dante goes to get his grandmother’s Arma del Alma. Soon Pao and a janitor are the only ones to remain in the hallway with the specters. He tells her to use her knife as he takes on one of the specters. As the janitor is preoccupied with one of the ghosts, the other grabs Pao and starts to squeeze her. Just then Dante arrives and takes out the ghosts. Before being hit, the ghost squeezing her calls Pao by her name and says to seek it out for answers. After a moment of calm, Emma comes out and the janitor tells them that the nurses called the police thinking Pao and Dante destroyed the hallway and to get away as soon as possible, after Emma says she’ll take care and everything, Dante reluctantly agrees to go with Pao to Oregon to save his grandmother. They sneak out the back and out of town before heading to the Gila River to spend the night with the Niños de la Luz to throw the authorities off their trail and ask them for help in getting to Oregon. When they get close, Dante accuses her of orchestrating everything and hurting his grandmother just so she can be the hero. She snaps back that everything just happened and she had no control over it. After calming down he agrees to spend the night. However they find the camp abandoned and Pao starts to panic, with Dante's criticism only making her feel worse. After telling Pao this will be the first place the police would look, she snaps at him, saying she was going through things as he was pushing her away. Dante retorts by saying she abandoned Emma after saving her and helping her come out, and only contacting her when she needed something. Things then calm down and, after a couple hours rest, they agree to catch a bus at Rock Creek, the next town over. Pao takes first watch as Dante falls asleep. She soon falls asleep and dreams she is in the forest again, chasing Dante’s shadow before finding her father face down, begging for help before it is to late and Pao promises to save him.
Pao wakes up to find Naomi standing over her and the green lights circling her again. Pao notices Dante is still asleep and is happy he has not woken up. The lights vanish as Naomi interrogates Pao. Pao says they need to get to Oregon as Naomi says Franco has brought the Niños up north to investigate an anomaly up north. Pao listens as she criticizes Franco for making La Llorona stronger and his poor choices, as well as criticizing Marisa for blindly following him. After learning Naomi has been taking care of small problems to get by, she tells her Franco and Marisa are both terrible for leaving and asks if this anomalies are from Oregon. After a brief moment of silence, Naomi agrees to take them to a contact in Rock Creek who can take them to Central California, and hoping she would join her and Dante further north. Naomi offers to stand watch as Pao goes back to sleep. In the morning Pao wakes up to find Dante glaring at Naomi. He reveals she let him get taken and has a great distrust of her. As Naomi secures the camp, Pao reveals to Dante that she asked Naomi to help them, much to his anger. After a brief argument Dante reveals that he’s worried about his grandmother and the two reconcile as Naomi returns and they walk two and a half hours to Rock Creek. During the walk Emma calls to tell them nothing has changed with Señora Mata and that she was moved to a new room and the police believe drug addicts attacked the hospital. When they arrive they buy sunglasses and breakfast burritos. Naomi reveals someone she helped a few months back, Johnny, makes trips to Fresno and she thinks she can talk him into taking them. When they finish eating Pao goes to wash her hands and a woman appears out of nowhere. After telling Pao a sob story, the woman transforms and attacks the girl. Soon the woman stops and tells Pao to find someone in a voice not her own. After that the woman reverts back to normal and leaves. Pro forgets the encounter and goes outside. After meeting up with her companions, Pao sees an alter in the store for someone named Querida Elenita before they go to meet Naomi's contact. Naomi takes them to Juan & Sons Auto Repair and introduces them to Johnny. He agrees to take them to Fresno during a scheduled trip on Thursday, three days from then, but Pao insists they have to leave that day. Johnny rejects the offer and Naomi ushers them away after saying she will refuse Johnny's next call for help. Johnny gives in and agrees to take them in a car he is working on, as the owner won’t pick it up for a few days. Pao and Dante get in as she tries one last time to get Naomi to join them. The niño refuses and they head out, only for Naomi to change her mind and join them soon after.
As they are driving across the Arizona-California border, she and Dante look out the window as they are driven to their destination. As they are about to get on the interstate, Pao sees a man dressed entirely in red with long black hair in a ponytail looking for a ride. She becomes captivated and forgets everything, asking Johnny to pull over to pick him up. However Johnny drives past the man, ignoring him, and asks Pao if she wants a snack. Annoyed, Pao turns on her phone to read texts, from Emma. After learning Señora Mata is still the same as when they left and the doctors are bringing in a specialist and new equipment, she relays this information to Dante, who's expression is hard to read. After that Pao reveals she doesn’t know what to do with Dante to Emma as Emma says they will make up eventually, even assuming Pao and Dante were dating. Pao debunks this before turning her phone off. After a few miles they reach a rest stop and Johnny gives them ten minutes to use the bathroom or eat. After Pao uses the bathroom, she heads back to the car to find no one is there. She then goes to a strange vending machine and gets a snack. However the green lights appear again and she takes out her knife. Soon the lights form a wide ring around her and five cadejo, large black dogs with glowing green eyes, appear. She tries and fails to stab one when Dante’s Arma del Alma suddenly comes to her. She takes it and, after it turns into a club, uses it to take out four of them. As she kills them, she starts to see her companions. The fifth one bites her right arm, breaking the skin. Upon remembering the story, Pao licks her hand and the cadejo licks it before vanishing.
Naomi and Dante get to her and Naomi catches her. Pao feels disheartened upon learning that Naomi came up with the plan to throw her the Arma del Alma, but gets angry after Naomi let’s slip that she knew this things would happen. As Naomi defends herself by saying she thought Franco was exaggerating, Johnny comes up to them and says some tourists called the police on Pao “assaulting the vending machines” and they head out. As they continue north, Pao apologizes to Dante and says none of this is her fault and that they are still friends. He agrees that they are still friends as Johnny pulls into a dive for lunch. Pao turns her phone on to see if Emma has any news when her mom calls and she quickly turns it off. Back on the road, she notices a boy her age in red pajamas hitchhiking and asks Johnny to pick him up, but no one else sees him. She notices that the bite wound is acting up as Johnny asks for a drop off location. Pao and Naomi have nothing, but Dante requests they be dropped off in Raisin Valley, a town southwest of Fresno. They reach Raisin Valley at sunset and Dante directs Johnny to a house. When they get out of the car, Pao winces a little and worries that the bite might be infected. Johnny gives his fair wells and leaves them. Dante knocks on the door as a woman answers it as Naomi catches Pao as her legs weaken and she sees green light. As Pao is about to pass out, Dante addresses the woman as his mother and asks if they could come in.
In her dream, Pao is back in the forest and sees a Duendecillos, a creature her mother told her about what she was younger. The creature tells her something is Spanish, which she has not gotten much better at since the summer, but deduces it wants her to follow it. Pao refuses and continues on the path, but the duendecillo pulls at the hem of her sweatshirt and she gives in. The creature leads her to a pond, saying something and pointing at the water. After a while she realizes it wants her to get in the pond. Not being able to swim and fearing she might be on the verge of death, Pao is hesitant at first but gives in. The second Pao gets in the water, she feels better and notices that the bite is healing rapidly, not even leaving a scar. As soon as she is healed, Pao is sucked out of the bottom of the pond before finding herself falling down the the house they just arrived at. She picks herself up and finds a toddler who she realizes is a younger Dante. She realizes he can see her and pulls her towards the grapevines, saying a bad man is coming. Soon a large creature attacks the house, pulling a man out of the window and shaking him to death. Pao realizes he is Dante’s father as a younger version of his mother calls for Dante to come to her before running away when she is nearly hit by debris. Pao tries to calm a crying Dante by saying they will be best friends in the future and he perks up when she mentions his abuela. Just then Señora Mata appears and takes Dante. She addresses Pao, again calling her Maria, and says to distract the monster as she takes her grandson to safety. Pao agrees and the old woman finally addresses her by her name as Pao readies herself to take on the monster. Pao races into the house and, after seeing pictures and thinking about what Señora Mata mention by finding the ghost's family, realizes she is looking for an old photo. She searches the house for any pictures that were taken fifty years ago and finds one of a woman and two girls in a silver locket. She then heads into the kitchen and the locket heats up, sticking to her hand. Pao resists crying out in pain as the ghost tries to grab her. She finds a bottle of Florida water and pours it on the locket, detaching it from her hand and returning it to it’s original gold color. The ghost then turns into a man and vanishes. Pao then plants the locket and gold flowers emerge from it. Soon a magnifying glass sprout from the flowers and, when she takes it, it turns into a spear, her very own Arma del Alma.
Pao wakes up in Dante’s mom’s house alone. She inspects the wound and finds no evidence of it. She finds the magnifying glass in her pocket and searches the unkept house for anyone but finds no one. She finds Dante by the well, who knows she knows about his past and blames her for letting his father die. Pao says there was nothing she could do as Dante brings out his club. He says that despite his weapon, tragic backstory, and lineage, Pao is the hero and not him. He goes on to say that someone told him the truth and her lineage and why she has these dreams, as well as the danger she poses to his family. He explains that he was distancing himself from her to keep his grandmother safe and that he should be with her now and berates her for trying to keep him to herself. Pao apologies for it as he lands a blow on her shoulder. Surprised that he hit her, Pao transforms her Arma del Alma and pins Dante to the ground. Unfazed, he digs up the locket and breaks it, unleashing the ghost and escaping while she is distracted. Pao struggles to fight the ghost as she deals with Dante’s betrayal. She manages to stab the ghost in his shins and runs into the house, takes some pans to make noise to distract it. She is then grabbed by the ghost and it throws her against a wall. After willing her staff to her, Pao stabs the ghost and it shrinks before exploding. Pao then goes upstairs to find Naomi and Dante’s mother locked in his old room. Dante’s mother says their is a key in a drawer by the stove and Pao goes to get it. After unlocking the door, Pao runs out to the vineyard and vomits before calling Emma. After telling Emma the story, she says that Pao is not at fault and Dante is the one to blame. They call themselves each other’s hero before hanging up. Naomi catches up with Pao, who composes herself, and explains everything to Naomi. She’s shocked and angered by Dante’s actions as Pao goes to speak with Dante’s mother. After asking why she abandoned Dante, the woman reveals she feared for her life and was too ashamed to look for him after that, knowing he was safe with her mother-in-law. Pao says they need to get to Oregon as by the following night and Mrs. Mata says a bus will come at five and tells them to sleep. Pao dreams of Dante telling his “new friend” that the ghost is ready and she wonders what it means. As they wait for the bus, Mrs. Mata explains that the bus often takes children to the farms to work and asks them to help Dante if they find him.
For the first few miles, Pao and Naomi sleep with Pao dreaming in still images, her father begging for help, Dante in a white and gold outfit with glowing green eyes, and three dunedecillos by a pond talking about something important as something approaches and scares them. Pao wakes up screaming and tells Naomi about her dream. They then have a heart to heart where Pao reveals she thought Naomi had a crush on Dante, which she debunks and goes on to say she is disappointed in Marisa following Franco, who she sees as a bad leader. Pao is glad she and Naomi are bonding as they reach the California-Oregon border, however the bus stops and lets on a man in a Santa suit who starts bothering the female passengers. However he skips Pao and Naomi after catching a glimpse of Pao's magnifying glass. Pao thinks he is familiar and starts to think he is a ghost. Pao berates the man and he finally comes over to the girls. After seeing his eyes change color, they attack him, causing panic on the bus. The man then starts to change shape, which triggers a memory of something from Rock Creek. The ghost then turns into the man and boy she saw before the Cadejo attack. When she shares this with Naomi, the niño backs away in fear upon realizing what the ghost is. The bus driver, who was driving at a high speed, pulls over a all bus Pao, Naomi, and the ghosts get off. Upon remembering the legend of shapeshifters who turned into young women to seduce men into giving them a ride before killing, she shares Naomi's fears. The Hitchhiker says it was ordered to follow Pao before going to kill the other passengers.
The girls jump off the bus and search for the passengers, but do not find them. Naomi sees a white shape moving ahead of them and they follow. They lose track of the thing and, after a jump scare with a rabbit, Naomi reveals to Pao that she knows she is hiding something, that something in her story doesn’t add up. Pao then tells her about the dreams with her dad telling her to save him. After mentioning Dante’s grandmother saying the name Beto, Naomi says that is the name of one of La Llorona's sons. Pal starts to think that he could be her father, but Naomi says it might be someone with the same name. They then hear different laughs coming from all over the forest and mark a tree with their initials before moving on, only to end up back at that tree. Pao starts to think that he could be her father, but Naomi says it might be someone with the same name. They then hear different laughs coming from all over the forest and mark a tree with their initials before moving on, only to end up back at that tree. Pao falls to her knees and is about to give up when Naomi gives her a pep talk. After Naomi realizes it is a force field, just like the camp, she asks Pao how she navigated it before. Pao says she used her flashlight and Naomi jokingly tells Pao the niños used echolocation, which Pao believes and she laughs at Pao for it. Just then a duenducillos arrives, the same one from Pao's dream. Pal tries asking her for help, learning her name is Estrella, a more show up. The leader tells them to leave but Pao says they need help. Estrella informs them her kind don’t trust humans, but the leader says they don’t trust Pao's “other half”. They decide to pass judgment later and look Pao, Naomi, and Estrella in a tree, where they realize they are not alone. They find the Niños and Naomi becomes skittish when Marisa addresses her. Franco, who ignores them, says they have found the anomaly as Pao reveals what it is. Franco finds it hard to believe but Marisa takes her seriously. When Franco says there are timed appearances of the anomaly, he suggests using an experimental beam to catch it. But Pao, after learning he never tried it. Suggests something else. After noticing Estrella, Franco accuses her of being a spy, but Pao says she is not and goes to speak with her privately. Estrella says they will come if an emergency occurs. When Pao learns a fire counts she suggests, she suggests starting one, as she knows how, and the niños agree to help. After starting the fire they wait by the door. After several minutes of watching the fire grow to dangerous levels, the door opens and they escape, only to come face to face with the Hitchhiker.
They comes at the group and Pao and the niños attack them. During the fighting, the Hitchhiker tells Pao that those are her will never accept her and that he can tell her about her father if she stands down. Repressing the urge to have her questions answered, she rejects the chance and keeps fighting. However it is a losing battle and Pao and the niños are quickly defeated with her passing out. Pao dreams she is in a clearing with a reflective pool. When she looks into it, she sees herself as a pale skinned ghost with white hair and glowing green eyes. When she wakes up back in the destroyed cell, she discovers she is in a video call with Emma, who is with her mom and Bruto, and they are trapped in a ring of green lights that are closing in on them. Pap wishes they were with her and, after a second, they come to Pao. She sees the fight is still going on as Franco tries to use his device. Pao, who has a new plan, tells him to stop but he ignores her. Franco's plan backfires and the Hitchhiker knocks him out. Pap cuts off two of the ghost's arms and, telling her mom and Emma to stand back and having Naomi promise to take them home if anything happens to her, lures the Hitchhiker back into the cell where the green lights appear. After rejecting their offer again, Pao asks to be her father and the lights take her somewhere.
Pao finds herself on the same path she dreamt of and walks it with Bruto at her side. At the top they find a trailer and a pickup truck and head for it. As She knocks on the door, Pao hears two male voices, one pleading to stop something and the other promising the former, Beto, his freedom if he does this. The door opens and a man walks out and hugs her. After a minute Pao starts to ask questions, but he starts to talk to himself and she realizes he was talking to her. Bruto guards her as she walks away, but the man says he can answer her questions. Pao tries to run, but she is ensnared in tendrils of dark energy. She calls to Bruto for help, but he only obeys the man. Pao struggles helplessly as she is pulled into the trailer. The inside of the trailer houses numerous scientific equipment and a metal chair which her father moves her to. He explains that her dreams take her places, that she actually traveled back in time to save Dante. He explains how Carmela Mata has left her body due to traveling back to save Dante as well. He goes on to explain that he failed to get Pao when she was in The Rift, but has been whispering to Dante since then, manipulating him to get Pao to come to him. Pao blames herself as he shows her Dante, who he plans to dispose after everything is finished. As the man prepares to do something, Pao asks why he won’t look her in the eye. He reluctantly does so and she sees his life, after a while he apologizes to Pao. Her father frees her and they hug, as he explains that he is La Llorona's son, he is possessed by the soul used to resurrect him. Pao tells her father to fight it, but the other man takes control and slaps her and straps her in. He explains how La Llorona abducted him and shows her the process that was used to create Beto's new body. He explains how it is too late for him to get his life back, but plans on using Pao, the granddaughter of the strongest ghost to ever exist, to open the void. Upon realizing her heritage, Pao believes Dante was right to say she wasn’t a hero. He points to purple mist around the ceiling and Pao realizes his attempts to open the void was the anomaly Franco detected. As he is about to proceed, a voice stops him. Pao hears her mother pleading with her father to come back as Emma frees her and Beto regains control. Pao has Emma take Bruto outside and her father explains how he has a plan to close the void and separate himself from the other soul. However the process will most likely kill him. After Pao asks about Dante, Beto says if he is in the void, then it is already to late for him. Pao is hurt by this but agrees to go about it. As Maria leaves, Beto has Pao strap him into the chair and tells her to wait until the other soul takes control before aiming a device at him. Pao feels angry but obeys, waiting until the other soul taken control before activating the device. Her father’s body is coated in a purple goo and his sacrifice is separated from his body. After thinking about the agony fear he endured at the hands of her grandmother, Pao says she forgives him for luring her to Oregon, taking control of her father, and manipulating Dante. She asks for his name and, through looking into his memory, discovers it is Joaquín. He begs him to pass Onondaga helps him do so. Once he does, Pao returns her attention to her father, who is limp in the chair. Her mother and Emma come in the former goes over to her father. After a few seconds he comes to, albeit weakened from the separation. Soon the niños show up and Pao goes outside to greet them. As she does, she thinks of Dante, who is now trapped in the void, and promises to save him. Emma comes over to her and tells Pao she will be their for her.
Her mom rents a van to sit all fifteen of them and drives back to Silver Springs, breaking up with Aaron upon returning home. After getting a call that Señora Mata soon readings have returned to normal, Pao and Emma head to the hospital to deliver the news of Dante to her. After Señora Mata calls Pao Maria again, they deliver the news. She reveals that she knows and doesn’t blame them for her grandson’s fate. They leave soon after and part ways. Emma invites Pao to a protest the Rainbow Rogues are putting on, but Pao declines as she is having dinner with her parents. Emma vows to help her get Dante back before leaving.
Pao is a skinny girl of Hispanic decent with dark brown skin and unevenly parted black hair that's woven into two shoulder-length braids. After being attacked by an ahogada, one of her braids and one of her eyebrows turns white. She has round cheeks, a long nose, and heavy eyebrows threatening to meet in the middle, and never cuts her fingernails, letting them grow too-long and ragged.
Pao is extremely interested in space and is a level headed and critical girl, always looking for the logical explanation for everything as a shield against the unknown. Over the course or the story she comes to accept the unexplainable.
Pao is a generally caring girl, taking care of a lost chupacabra puppy, but she can be harsh and out spoken, and she tries to ignore her personal feelings for the rational option, like when she beats Dante at games and she sees that he’s upset, but refuses to throw the game.
Pao is, in addition, a feminist, and wants to fight against the world's many injustices, although her bitterness towards her mom often comes up where it shouldn't, like when Pao blames a police officer not believing her on her mother's superstitions. Because of that, Pao doesn't like when people reduce others to their beauty, especially since she knows that she is not conventionally attractive.
After learning she is the granddaughter of La Llorona, she starts to resent herself to a small degree.
- Prophecy: For many years before the events of Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, Pao had vivid nightmares of La Llorona and the river. She also dreams of Emma's hand in the river before she knows Emma is missing.
- Astral Projection: Pao communicates with other people in her dreams -- for example, Ondina.
- Flashlight: Pao was given a toy flashlight by her father when she was four that projects an image of the moon. When she uses it eight years later, its beam is about to point her in the direction she needs to go and repels Ahogada. It is later revealed to be the key to entering the Rift. It is damaged after the attack on the Camp of the Niños de la Luz and falls to pieces when she goes into the Rift.
- Knife: When with the Niños de la Luz, Pao finds a knife that she can fight well with and uses in The Rift.
- Arma del Alma: After soothing an angry ghost, Pao receives her own soul weapon. It takes the form of a gold magnifying glass when not in use and when in use becomes a purple spear with blue and gold vines on it.
Paola feels Maria Santiago is to detached from reality, focusing to much on the supernatural and not enough on things like rent and food. After returning from finding Emma, she starts to enjoy some of her mother's practices, such as lighting a candle for missing children.
Paola's relationship with her father is unknown, as he walked out on her and her mother when she was four years old.When she was in her early teens, she would learn the truth of her father and her heritage. Pao was pleased to meet him after a decade and would help him overcome the second soul in his body.
At first, Pao was annoyed with Ondina invading her dreams and hiding the true from her. After pleading with her to stand up to her mother, Ondina would finally go against her mother's wishes, refusing to let others die so she can return to life.'Pao makes no mention of her relation to Ondina upon learning of her parentage.
Pap feared La Llorona from a young age due to her mother's warnings about the Gila River, however she lost these fears as she entered middle school. After Emma went missing, she started to wonder if the stories were true, but uses science to debunk it until she came face to face with the Weeping Woman. She and La Llorona's daughter managed to get her to abandon her goals of resurrection and go to the afterlife.Six months later, after learning the Weeping Woman is her grandmother, Pao starts to wonder if she is destined to be evil, leading others to misfortune.
Paola and Dante have been friends since they were four, having lived in the same apartment complex for over a decade. They spent hours together in their younger days. When he went on to play on their school's soccer team she saw him less and less, however they hung out more during the summer. During this time she started to get a strange feeling whenever she was around Dante, something he would experience as well.
She finds his clinginess annoying at times but finds it sweet that he cares. She also gets envious when other girls look at him to long. After he goes to join Marisa in fighting enemies from the east, he kisses her on the cheek. When he is taken she is driven to save him. When they are reunited she is overjoyed. When Ondina takes control of them, they lean against each other for support. After La Llorona is defeated, they return home and during the SpaceX launch three days later they sit close to each other.
However, things start to become strained between the two of them as they enter seventh grade, Dante starts to find ways to spend less time with her and they hardly talk when they are together. Six months after saving Emma, after she hears his grandmother call him "Alberto", she becomes concerned and he quickly insults her. She leaves her he can apologize. The following day when he comes home to find her kneeling over his unconscious grandmother, he reveals that her mind has been going since they got back from saving Emma, something he blames her for. This response leaves her speechless. After he leaves her to die at the hands of the ghost that killed his father, Pao fells pure hatred for Dante, refusing to even say his name.After learning he was being manipulated by the soul used to resurrect her father, he began to feel sorry for him. When she is forced to leave him in the void, she vows to rescue him.
Paola and Emma met when they were ten or eleven and bonded over a love of America Chavez and the two girls are close friends. They hang out together and enjoy pranking Dante. However she has a ping of jealousy over Emma's wealthier upbringing. When she is finally saved both girls stay close to one another.
About a week after she is saved, Emma comes out to her and she helps her to come out to her parents, who are immediately accepting of her. They both join their school's pride club, but she feels that with all the signs they make for protests with all the money they spend on materials, she is not pulling her weight and quits the club. The two somewhat drift apart afterwards, much to Pao's disappointment.The reconnect after Dante's abuela is admitted to the hospital and keep in touch as Pao heads to Oregon. After learning how Dante betrayed her, she refuses to even say his name while calling Pao her best friend and hero.
Paola met the young chupacabra when she was heading to The Rift and quickly bonded. She was mildly annoyed that he wouldn’t listen to her demands, but she quickly forgave him. After her friends were freed from the weeping woman, she returned home Paola's mother let her keep him. He would sleep at the foot of her bed and understand her commands, much to her joy.
Pai first met Naomi when meeting the Niños de la Luz. She found Naomi to be untrusting and had little faith in her in return. Six months after meeting, Pao enlists her help in getting to Oregon, which she tricks the niña into joining her and Dante.Along the way, she helps Pao fend off a pack of Cadejo and comforts her after Dante betrays her. As they reach Oregon, they confine their concerns in each other, with Pao risking her own safety to save Naomi from The Hitchhiker. After everything is over, Pao invites her to visit her anytime she wants, which Naomi accepts.
- Paola is the Italian variant of "Paula".
- Santiago is a Spanish and Portuguese surname meaning "Saint James".
- She shares her surname with Ren Santiago, a character in the Storm Runner Trilogy and the Throne of Sand Duology by Jennifer Cervantes, another Rick Riordan Presents imprint series.
- Pao enjoys pink starbursts and dislikes yellow starbursts.
- She is a fan of America Chavez.
- In her younger years, Pao was a fan of Pinky and the Brain.
- Pao cannot swim.
|Paola Santiago series|
|Books:||Paola Santiago and the River of Tears | Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares | Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows|
|Main Characters:||Paola Santiago | Dante Mata | Bruto | Naomi|
|Secondary Characters:||Maria Santiago | Marisa Martínez | Ondina | Carmela Mata | Beto | Emma Lockwood | Joaquín|
|Minor Characters:||Sal | Franco | Aaron | Johnny|
|Mythical Creatures:||Chupacabra | La Llorona | Ahogada | La Mano Panchona | Lechuza | Duendecillos | Cadejo | The Hitchhiker|
|Related Content:||Tehlor Kay Mejia | Rick Riordan Presents|