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An Undertow of Sand (Percy Jackson and the Cthulu Mythos)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Shujin, Jul 28, 2021.

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  1. Threadmarks: Mall of America: No Pets Allowed
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    Summary: "A half-blood child of the eldest gods, shall reach sixteen against all odds." Who decided the sons of Kronos met the criteria? There are older gods. Elder Gods. Percy is the Child of Prophecy, but his very existence is a flaw. An anomaly. A bend in Fate. And if Fate can bend, then it can break.

    Hello. First story here. We are going to be a bit behind thanks to my perfectionism still looking for things to edit better. It will be one chapter a day until we catch up. There are only seven chapters right now. I have the same username on Spacebattles and SV. It's Shujin1 on Ao3 and FF. Please let me know if you have any questions.

    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction
    My first clue that everything was about to go to hell was when the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Spidey Sense? Super cool. What’s not cool is needing it because of literal monsters out to kill me. But that’s life. Lemons, lemonade, molotov cocktails. You know. I slowed down my walk, angling for the overly complicated monstrosity of a fountain in the middle of the concourse. I think it's supposed to be some kind of octopus, but it might have been Cthulu. Stones of all shapes and sizes, but differing shades of blue littered the bottom along with a bunch of quarters and nickels people had thrown in. I scanned the Mall of America’s three upper levels in the water’s reflection, but all I saw were people enjoying their Saturday afternoon. I turned my body even more, fishing in the pocket of my jeans for a dime as I glanced behind us.

    Oh hell.

    “So don’t look,” I said as they caught up to me, cutting through whatever they were arguing about now. I threw my dime into the water. “But there’s an evil dog on our six.”

    Of course, they both looked.

    Here’s what they saw: a creature the size of a healthy horse that looked anything but healthy. Matted orange-brown fur that did nothing to hide the contours of its ribs, weeping sores and bloated stomach, wiry limbs ending in paws that were more claw than flesh and a long snout decorated with a fanged grin. It’s tail was literally a string of bones. Blue eyes cloudy like it had cataracts lazily roamed the concourse. It looked like it would drop dead any second. No one was calling for animal control, so I assumed the Mist was hiding it, but people still knew it was there. Some instinct screaming in their hind brains made them avoid it.

    It was generally accepted that mortals lived in a different world than we did. The Mist did a thorough job of keeping us separate by hiding away what was truly there. Where we saw a rampaging monster, they might see gang members on PCP or like, escaped animals from a zoo. Greek vampires (don’t ask) were actually serial killers using barbeque forks. A dude ate another dude’s face? He’s from Florida. See an older teenage boy escorting two twelve year olds through a mall?

    Look again.

    Unless you could see through the illusion, you were an NPC. At best you were traumatized by whatever you thought you saw. At worst? Collateral damage.

    And there was nothing you could do about it.

    Sorry.

    Sometimes it worked against us. Put down a demon snake from Grecian hell and it was a coin toss if mortals saw you stop a mugging, or commit one. Let’s just say I had many reasons to try to stay out of the cameras, and my father seeing my face in the news was one of them. Still, I’d take it if it meant most people could live normal lives.

    In another life, that would have been me. Or maybe I would have wished it was me.

    Luke turned right back around, right hand drifting to his pocket for his dad’s lighter and left hand gently cuffing a still staring Artemis upside the head. “Keep moving.”

    I expected her to snap at him for touching her. I think Luke expected her to break a few of his fingers. What we got was her wordlessly draining the last of her soda and dumping the cup into a trashcan. When she turned back to us to catch up she looked, well, kind of spooked.

    Luke and I exchanged glances.

    As a rule, if something spooks a god, it’s probably bad.

    “What is it?” Luke hissed under his breath. The demigod son of Hermes was already looking for an out, peering into every kiosk we passed.

    “Something that should not be free,” Artemis answered quietly. “A cruel creature, an eater of children.”

    So evil dog was very evil.

    For some reason, Luke’s eyes flickered over me. “How do we kill it?”

    Our girl scout just swallowed. Hard.

    “It was killed before, right?” Luke pressed. “Or trapped? Or…”

    Now it was her turn to look over me, prompting me to look down at myself wondering what the problem was, before she deliberately looked away. “It has never been killed by anyone.”

    I didn’t want to hear that.

    No one?” It didn’t come out as strongly as I would like, but it wasn’t a squeak. “But - okay, but it can be trapped with something. You said it shouldn’t be free.”

    “There were special circumstances,” she began carefully. “My father was allowed to turn it to stone and cast it among the stars.”

    And Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt (no, I didn’t stutter) was already fulfilling our quota of godly interference. That was...this was fine. Obviously. My first Quest as a demigod pulls out Uber Monster 2000, but I was the one who argued for a literal god(ess, whatever) in my adventuring party so I was kind of asking for it. Come on, Luke was, like, a level 10 adventurer at least and I was, maybe 2. I’ll be nice to myself and say I was level 3, but made up for it in magic items. I’ve played enough sessions with my father as Dungeon Master to know that he would take one look at my party, laugh, then make me suffer for it.

    “Shit,” Luke muttered. His left hand palmed his face, stretching the scar that ran down from his left eye to his chin into a pale, thin line. “Perce,” he said in a low tone. “I’m eighteen.” I blanked on why that was important. He rocked his head back. “Child eater.”

    I spun towards the other twelve year old kid in our group. As soon as I met Artemis’ moonlit eyes, I recognized the flaw in my thinking.

    “Oh right,” I muttered. “And you’re actually ancient.”

    So I’m fucked, is what Luke was saying. Good. To. Know. I knew this was going too well. Well, I didn’t know that, I lied, but considering we’re after a WMD god weapon not even the gods could find, it had been going well in hindsight. And everyone knows hindsight sucks.

    My Mythomagic card deck was burning a hole in my jacket. I pulled out the aluminum tin embossed with a stylized etching of Mt. Olympus. No one had time for a full reading but maaayyybeee…?

    I flipped the first card.

    Thanatos, the God of Death.

    Okay, maybe not.

    “What’s the trick?” I asked as I stuffed my cards back into my jacket. I even remembered to pull up the zipper.

    “It is destined to never be caught,” Artemis said.

    What?

    Oh for -

    Mom, I prayed. So, like, one of your toys? Is stalking me. Can you maybe do something about it?

    Her response was a series of electronic beeps.

    Luke had caught on the same time I did, nudging my shoulder. “Maybe your mother can - “

    “Tried.” I cut him off, annoyed. “Busy signal.”

    His face pinched.

    “You can just feel the love,” he drawled with that bitter undertone in his voice. I can totally see where he’s coming from now. My mom is the best mom in the world and she still pisses me off sometimes. Imagine if I didn’t know her at all. “Can’t you?”

    “Dying builds character.”

    “I bet.”

    “She has ignored you?” Artemis asked carefully, always wary of accidentally insulting my godparent. Apparently being turned into a small woodland creature is only funny when she does it to someone else.

    “No,” I said curtly. “Mom will never ignore me.” I ignored the sad, indulgent look Luke gave me. “This is just her way of telling me to stop being a whiny bit - “

    Like a sign from providence, the crowd thinned off to our left, revealing an eye wear kiosk where some brown haired boy was trying on sunglasses in front of a mirror. They were wrap-around shades like mine. A slim futuristic solid piece of opalescent material in a black matte frame. His just darkened the world a little bit.

    Mine?

    “ - perhaps if I were to unveil my divinity…” Artemis trailed off.

    Luke picked up the slack. “It would vaporize everyone here. That’s not a solution, that’s mass murder.”

    “If it can rid us of the fox - “

    “Evil dog,” I muttered as I took off my shades. She ignored me.

    “ - then it would be well worth it. You know what is at stake should we fail. Perseus - “

    Percy.” I was ignored again.

    “ - is necessary.”

    Luke gritted his teeth and cast his blue eyes around again. Without my glasses, I could now see his ghost. It had pale, nearly grey hair and worn, haggard features that was out of place on someone so young. It was begging, pleading for something. It would take the dagger and stab itself in the black, pulsating dot.

    “We can lure it,” he whispered. “Underground parking garage, next left, through Macy’s.”

    I nodded, feeling sick to my stomach. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the Mall of America, going about their lives. I bet most of them took tomorrow for granted. I stuffed my glasses into the side pocket of my jacket and tried to ignore the ghosts of the world falling apart, rotting, dying around me.

    “Less people will see her magical girl transformation.” I quipped.

    I made the mistake of looking at said magical girl. Her ghost was physically older, maybe late twenties and looked like an actual ghost, fading away from the bottom up. She stared at the red, pulpy blood on her hands with an absolutely shattered expression. It was the look of someone who didn’t want to live anymore.

    “If that doesn’t work, maybe we can collapse the place on it?” Luke thought out loud. “Don’t look at me like that.”

    Dude.” I waved at his everything. “What do you have against buildings?”

    “That was not my fault - “

    “It cannot be trapped,” the Goddess of the Hunt said sullenly. “Only evaded. Its protection is absolute. Perseus cannot run forever.”

    Luke hissed. A long drawn out sound of frustration. He fiddled with his lighter. “Why hasn’t it attacked us yet?”

    “Is it not obvious?” Artemis raised an auburn eyebrow. “It is playing with its food.”

    That must have been the cue it was waiting for. A loud, high pitched cackle bark sounded from behind us. Against my better judgement, I turned my head.

    I met the eyes of Stephen King’s Cujo trailing us. It was still keeping its leisurely pace, Cheshire grin widening. Now that my glasses were off I could see some kind of heat wave, or aura around it. Like it was just slightly out of sync with the rest of reality. Like it distorted the world around it. It was almost tangible. It didn’t have a ghost.

    The world glitched. It rotated a few degrees to the right, slid to the left and moved down.

    Not now - !

    The sudden vision speared through my temples. A little girl skipped past me at her mother’s side with a teddy bear completely unaware of the danger. Her ghost had changed.

    Artemis!”

    Her silver bow was suddenly in her hand, drawing back a bright moonlit arrow. The shining celestial bronze sword Reclaim sprung from Luke’s vintage lighter as everyone around us let out cries of shock and alarm. There was a flash as the Goddess of the Hunt let loose her arrow. She had thousands of years of experience and practice. She was known as one of the Twin Archers of Greek mythology. I’d personally seen her shoot through a crowd to hit a target the size of a dove at 500 feet. Her very existence was tied to Hunting as a concept.

    She missed.

    I could see it, the way reality twisted around the Hound of Dracula, Zoltan to turn a bullseye into a few inches off. Artemis had already notched another arrow, but I already knew it wasn’t going to do any good.

    A cruel creature, she had said. It was here for me. It had my attention. For the record, I thought in my mother’s general direction. I fucking hate your tests.

    I shut my eyes and yanked at my necklace. The tiny silver sword pendant came off in my hand, unsheathing Damocles.

    I still heard the crunch. Everyone screamed.

    Cruel creature, Artemis had said. Child eater. Just because it looked like a dog doesn’t mean it isn’t a monster.

    “Luke, fire alarm. Clear the mall.” I threw my bag to the side. Blood was rushing through my ears, a low roaring in time with my pulse. The world snapped into crystal clear focus. Some ADHD part of my brain just shut off the unimportant stuff. I was vaguely aware that civvies were headless chickens making a lot of noise running anywhere that was away, but I could hear the click of claws on the marble floor. I could hear it breathe. A drop of blood dripped from a fang and I could hear it hit the ground. “Blow something up if you have to.”

    He probably wouldn’t have to. Children of the God of Thieves just get locks.

    He’ll probably blow something up anyway.

    “‘Temis, we’re killing it.”

    “Perseus,” she protested, voice tight with grief and rage. Luke did that thing he did where he turned on his heel and kind of faded into the background. “It cannot be killed.”

    We are killing it.”

    That was how Fate and Destiny worked. If there is a beginning? There is an end.

    I had to believe that.

    Gatekeeper Zuul let loose another harsh, laughing bark. I didn’t think it spoke, but I was pretty sure it understood English. Call it a gut feeling. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Artemis’ silver bow dissolve into motes of moonlight, replaced by twin hunting knives. Teeth idly snapped in her direction, as if it was taunting her. The bone tail lazily swung back and forth as it stepped towards me. I tensed, shifting my grip on Damocles’ long hilt, but it seemed content to let me make the first move. I wasn’t a huge fan of that. I had no idea how strong or how fast it was. Then there was the whole special snowflake destiny thing it had going on. If I didn’t know better, I would say it had more of mom’s support than I did. And I’m...a twelve year old boy. A demigod, but still not the most impressive thing on the planet.

    “Are you going to make me wait all day?” I asked, gesturing with my sword.

    Just so we’re clear, I was asking Cujo.

    Not Luke.

    There was a ‘whump’ sound followed by a bang as a giant gout of flame flared into existence in the food court we just left. The fire alarms started screaming with gusto, strobing emergency lights snapped on, fans in the walls roared to life, the whole nine yards. That wasn’t enough for the resident pyro. Thick, billowing smoke poured out of what I think was the Taco Bell. There was another explosion followed by an electronic screeching sound like R2D2 was being tortured.

    Cabin 11. Not even once.

    I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off it.

    My Spidey Sense screeched.

    I blindly threw myself to the left and took what felt like a shotgun blast to the right shoulder. I felt my body spin out of control, landing in a heap on the floor with enough momentum to slide into the legs of a bench.

    I still had my right arm. Good jacket. Nice jacket.

    Ow.

    I felt Damocles’ subtle pull and went with it, swinging the blade with my left arm in the general direction of danger. If I was up against a nice, normal Hellhound from the depths of Tartarus, Damocles’ edge would have cut right through its jaw as it leapt at me, splitting its skull in half. But I wasn’t. I could hear some kind of discordant clang as the evil dog’s head seemed to bend around the sword. The monster flickered and it was suddenly a foot to the right and three feet higher.

    It got do overs?

    My sword hit nothing but air as it alighted on the wall and I knew I didn’t have enough time to bring it back around. I tried anyway.

    A giant brown paw batted me out of the way. I could feel a wet crunch that was probably my hip dislocating. My gasp of pain was completely drowned out by a roar as the giant Grizzly that came out of nowhere took the hit for me. The two massive animals crashed into Cthulu’s fountain, scattering blue stones like marbles. Zuul flowed like sand, evading each and every attempt to pin it down as it tore into the bear. Bright, golden blood dripped onto the floor. My heart leapt. So it can be hurt -

    Wait, gold?

    Get up!” I heard Luke yell. I swallowed the pain down and used my sword as a crutch, forcing myself to my feet. We have to lure it, I thought. And then - and then what? Can’t hit it, can’t kill it. Can’t trap it. I heard the squeak of Luke’s sneakers zooming past somewhere above me. Second floor?

    The bear avoided a vicious bite to the jugular by suddenly shrinking, twisting shape. Sleeker, more agile. Hooves and sharp, vicious horns. What should have been a disemboweling headbutt hit nothing. The goat became a majestic eagle, swooping out from under raking claws. Jed from The Thing laughed, leaping back and fixing its cloudy blue eyes on me. A growing sense of dread sunk into my spine. Can’t hit it, can’t kill it. Can’t trap it.

    Mom, I pleaded. I can’t -

    I can’t run like this.

    I have to.

    Luke let out a piercing whistle. Jed lunged for me. I was already moving.

    Perce! Come on!”

    I don’t know where I found the strength to put one foot in front of the other. The sprinkler system was on, coating the floor in puddles of water that didn’t help anything at all. Everything was a blur. All that mattered was the back of Luke’s red vest fluttering a floor above me. I could almost convince myself we were back at camp, racing for a bag of Butterfingers. Almost. If not for that feeling prickling at the back of my neck telling me I was about to die.

    I threw myself over the miniature garden decorating the center of the concourse like the divider in a highway. I could feel the displacement of air as the monster just barely missed me. To my bewilderment, it actually skidded across the wet floors like it took an unwanted water park slide. It bowled over clothes stands left in front of a kiosk, a trash can and was on a collision course with a fossil stand.

    So.

    We can’t hit it, but it can hit things by itself?

    So physics was still a thing!

    Luke doubled back, somehow running down along the column (maybe physics wasn’t a thing) and hauling me to my feet by the collar of my jacket. I stumbled, feeling my hip grind before I hit my stride. My right arm was a noodle of pain. The knuckles of my left hand cracked as I loosened my grip on my sword.

    I was vaguely surprised I haven’t dropped it yet.

    “We’re close to the elevators.” Luke spoke quickly. “I’ve got a plan.”

    “Elevators work during a fire alarm?” I panted.

    “Alarms are my best friends!” Luke shot me the same sly grin he shared with his father Hermes. It pulled at his scar. “With a little persuasion.

    On the other side of the concourse, a twelve year old girl in a silver parka ran past us. “Don’t look back!”

    I don’t care who you are, or who you’re leaving behind. When a god says that?

    Don’t.

    It was like a bomb went off behind us. I could hear everything just shatter. Heat pulsed against my back as a tangible thing. Blinding light. That gut twisting shockwave of the rejected physical world shifting around the presence of divinity. I let myself hope for a second, hooking Damocles back onto my necklace.

    The light blinked out with a cry. Zowie the Zombie Dog let out a cackling bark.

    “Wait, Art - “

    “Leave her!” Luke snapped at me. “She’ll live!”

    Right. Literal god.

    But -

    Never mind.

    Luke leapt. One foot pushed off the column, the other kicked off the neon green lights of a kiosk front as he reached for the rails. I watched him vault onto the second floor. Okay. Like the Climbing Wall back at Camp, with less lava. I focused on the burn in my legs as I made the jump. I almost made it, my fingertips brushing the ledge. Luke grabbed my wrist.

    “I got you.”

    We sprinted through Macy’s, knocking over every rack and display and mannequin that didn’t get out of our way fast enough. At the top of the escalator, the lone open elevator surrounded by red alarm lights was like seeing an oasis in a desert.

    Luke reached them before I did. He dove through the doors and pulled me in behind him. There was a red light on in the car, a fireman’s helmet. His keyring was already in his hand, keys dangling right next to the lockpicks. It took him two seconds to unlock the car. Maybe three. Tops.

    The hairs on the back of my neck told me that was all the time we had.

    As soon as I saw Man’s Best Friend Max’s ugly grinning mug, I yanked Luke behind me and slammed my fist into the Close Door button. I had enough time to realize that I was stupid - I just killed us - that button doesn’t do anything! Reclaim flashed from Luke’s lighter as he let out a wordless yell. I think I screamed too as I saw Death take a flying leap towards us -

    The elevator doors closed.

    There was a loud bang as the doors buckled inwards as an imprint of Cujo’s face.

    I couldn’t stop my grin. Bad dog!

    And as if we hadn’t just narrowly escaped dying horribly, Artemis had the gall to yell back from somewhere. It’s a fox!”

    I turned to Luke. “You’re right. She’s fine.”

    Luke just snorted. With a flick of his wrist, his blade was just a lighter as he kneeled. “Emergency hatch, quick.”

    I climbed onto his shoulders. I could see the outline on the top of the car, but no obvious way to open it. There was another loud noise, and a groan of metal but it came from just to the left of our door. Our girl scout was buying us precious seconds. Damocles’ silver-gold rippled edge bit into the metal. Like opening a can. Kind of. I flinched as I hit some active wires, spitting sparks into my eyes.

    Come on. Come on.

    Another loud bang and a screech as the doors parted. Luke grunted and shook. I completed the square and slammed my right fist into the hatch. With a thunking sound, it came free. I scrambled out on top of the car. Luke came after me with a slight wheeze and just in time. The second he cleared the top, the doors burst open. The entire elevator dipped with the sudden weight. Razor teeth snapped at the hatch opening, before I heard that barking laugh I was starting to really hate. It shifted, pressing a cloudy blue eye close, just grinning at us.

    Like it was having fun.

    “Cocky bastard,” Luke muttered. The elevator shaft was a wide concrete space lined with cables and hydraulic pipes. It stunk of grease and I don’t mean the good stuff on quality pizza. He grabbed my right arm, ignoring my hiss as he pulled it around his shoulders. Pressed close like this, Luke smelled like fresh blood. I don’t know if the other cars were up or down, but it was a long drop either way.

    I trusted Luke.

    As he pulled us over the edge, I smiled back at Miles “Tails” Prower. “Bye!”

    The floors flashed by. Luke twisted, pointing his feet down. “Maia!”

    Honest to god wings sprouted by his ankles.

    I laughed out loud. “Dude! Featherfall!”

    I could hear him huff. “Nerrrrd.

    The landing in front of closed elevator doors shook my battered skeleton. I groaned. Luke practically collapsed to his knees.

    “You okay?”

    He straightened and that let me see what I missed. His grey T-shirt was soaked red all along his side. The fabric was sticking to a long cut running from his back to his stomach.

    “It nicked me, it’s fine.” He winced as he stood up. It’s fine. Right. He glanced around and unsheathed his sword. “Get the doors, yeah?”

    Normally telling a twelve year old to pry elevator doors open by himself was a good way to have closed elevator doors.

    But.

    Demigod.

    I had just gotten a good grip when Star Fox made an unwanted appearance, breaking through the doors floors above us.

    “Doors!” Luke roared. There was a staccato of ringing snaps and celestial bronze cutting through steel.

    I pulled.

    Then it was just a lot of sound. Screeching, tearing, grinding, cracking. Echoing up the shaft. Echoing through the garage. A discordant clang echoing in my head. The world tilted on an axis as Luke tackled me from behind, both of us spilling out onto cold concrete and cigarette butts moments before the final crash. It didn’t stop the spinning. There was a train. Collapsing bridge. Empty town. A beach filled with police. A lion? Images flashed by in first person - in bird’s eye view - in a kaleidoscope.

    “You alright?”

    “Yeah,” I lied, turning to Luke. His eyes were gold. Blue. Gold. His ghost was back. This time it was screaming as light broke through cracks in its skin. I squeezed my eyes shut. I thought of an endless ocean. Sapphire waves stretching to a far horizon. “Sudden migraine.”

    I haven’t had one this bad in a while.

    “Ah.” Luke sighed. “Well, I think you can take a breather. I’ll get a car.”

    “Sure. Sure.” When I opened my eyes again, I was staring at a dirty nickel squashed into pink bubblegum by a sneaker footprint. Back in the present. Take stock. Right arm, usable. At some point, I must have either popped my hip back into place, or my nerves gave up. I rolled over onto my back and sat up.

    Oh.

    Huh.

    The elevator doors looked like the Hulk opened them. The gun metal gray doors were crumpled with clear hand prints as if they were made out of aluminum. Some of the concrete bricks on either side were either broken or shoved out of place covered in mortar dust.

    Cool.

    I picked myself up.

    Maybe I’m actually a Level 4 Adventurer.

    I took two steps before I realized what was wrong with the whole picture. Disney’s Robin Hood followed us into the elevator shaft.

    It can’t be hit. It can’t be trapped.

    So where is it?

    A loud, growling engine purr kicked in, making me jump. Someone’s vomit green 2005 Ford Mustang pulled out of the rows, Luke behind the wheel. I glanced at the wreckage of the elevator behind me. Just. Making sure it didn’t move. Or anything.

    When Luke pulled up next to me, it took two tries to open the door. Shout out to everyone that can consistently remember to unlock the passenger side. You are literally god tier, okay?

    My mother is an actual god. Her batting average is trash.

    The All American muscle car smelled like cheap cologne, cigarette smoke and potato chips. I buckled in because Safety First, then blindly reached behind me in the back seat for my backpack.

    But wait. You’re probably thinking, when did he get his bag in the car?

    I didn’t.

    And at the same time, I did.

    You know how that Scrödinger guy had a cat?

    Mom doesn’t skimp on birthday presents.

    “I can dig out the ambrosia?” I offered as I hauled the canvas backpack forward, settling it between my feet. I probably should break out the medical supplies, but to be completely honest, I could really go for a Snickers right now.

    “Save it.” Luke turned the corners of the parking garage a little too fast. His thumbs drummed the steering wheel. “Artemis will find us. She can dress it later.”

    I bit my lip.

    Later. When we’re safe.

    A strange shiver ran down my back. That felt too much like jinxing it.

    We cleared the last turn and Luke floored it. The red and white cross striped bar of the ticketing station splintered across our grill as the machine protested. The speed bump hit hard and then we were out under the sunlight. I heard Luke let out a sigh of relief.

    The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

    Fuck!”

    I heard him slam on the brakes. I felt the bone-breaking impact shudder through my side of the car. I hit the cup holder hard, knocking the wind out of me. The world tilted but it wasn’t a vision. Just the car turning over onto its side, wheels still spinning. My ears rang with the screeching of metal on the pavement. Glass was breaking. The front window. Luke’s window. My door crunched as the monster fox jumped onto the car, cackling. Its bone tail lashed out in a whip strike - I raised my right arm and that saved my life. The bones were sharp. Not being able to be cut or torn didn’t stop my forearm from exploding in bright, grinding pain as shards of glass flew everywhere from the shattered window.

    In a flash of movement, the fox bit down on the door. With a crunch, a large chunk was torn away and then there was just teeth.

    The only reason I didn’t immediately die was the flash of celestial bronze from the driver’s seat. Reclaim carved a radiant upwards arc. I heard that discordant clang as the fox’s head seemed to split around the blade’s path before it flickered.

    But I was ready for it this time.

    Reclaim crunched into the roof of the car as gleaming, ivory fangs closed on Damocles.

    Clang.

    Luke swept his sword down.

    Clang.

    He seemed to expect it, stopping the blade a centimeter from my head, and flicking his wrist.

    Clang.

    I stabbed in the shadow of Luke’s swing.

    Clang.

    Have you ever seen a dog snapping at water from a hose? I don’t know if we were the dog, or the water. It was all a game to the fox though. It had never been killed, not even by the gods themselves. Just put among the stars. I had never seen it bother to dodge. Why should it? Can’t hit it, can’t kill it. It cannot be trapped. From the moment it caught my scent, it had been playing with me. Eventually, the game would have to end.

    But I don’t want to die.

    I twisted my body to lunge for its exposed neck and instantly knew it was a mistake. I overextended. I just got in Luke’s way and for absolutely nothing.

    Clang. Clang.

    A silver hunting knife flashed through its eye.

    Artemis.

    She only wanted to help. If I was faster. Smarter. More experienced, I could have used that split second she bought me to correct my mistake. But all I saw was the fox flicker when it shouldn’t have. My swing went wide in the wrong direction. Jaws crunched into my chest. My lungs ignited. My ribs felt like they were melting. Bile rushed up my throat as my sword fell from nerveless fingers. I thought I would see my life flash before my eyes. That didn’t happen. Instead, my world narrowed in focus.

    The clouds in its blue eyes were moving. This close, the shifting, twisting aura of the monster danced before my eyes. It was almost tangible.

    Oh, was the dim thought. I’m stupid.

    I can’t put into words exactly what I realized. I would never be able to.

    I raised my free hand, feeling my forearm bones grind as the fox dragged me out of the car. Luke’s blade flashed.

    Clang!

    A burning tug pulled at my gut.

    The fox yelped.

    The vise around me disappeared. I hit the ground. I might have blacked out. I didn’t even have the strength to scream when someone - Luke - pulled me up and it felt like every bone in my chest cavity shattered. All that came out was coppery liquid and broken air. It didn’t matter.

    A beautiful wound had ripped its way up the fox’s face, taking out its left eye. It was no longer grinning.

    I was smiling though.

    It had a ghost.

    “Maia!” Luke screamed.

    I knew we didn’t have the time to get out of its range. That was okay.

    It was well within hers.

    This close, Artemis couldn’t miss. Time seemed to slow as she knocked the gleaming arrow and drew it back. She took a moment to savor her aim, and then a flash of light. Back to the car wreckage, half in the air, I was a sitting duck. Thing is, mid-leap like it was, it was one too. Its seeming invincibility had taught it bad habits. My heart skipped a beat when I saw her silver eyes light up, nearly glowing with excitement, wonder and pure joy. The only thing ruining the Hallelujah chorus I could almost hear was the feral, bloodthirsty grin that pulled at her lips as every line of her body relaxed.

    It was a perfect shot.

    One moment, the stink of monster breath was slapping me in the face, teeth snapping an inch from my nose.

    The next, it was just golden dust blowing away.

    Bye, Fiona.

    “Percy!” I definitely felt the landing. “Styx!”

    My legs buckled. My right arm was a dull throb of pain, but I could feel my ribs screaming as I slid down to the ground. Wet coughs tore its way through my lungs and up my throat like magma welling in a volcano. It seared the whole way. I clumsily dug into my jacket with my left hand and pulled out my sunglasses. It wasn’t for the sake of fashion. My head was killing me.

    I can’t tell you if I meant that literally.

    “Not dead yet,” I whispered. I shoved my shades back onto my face. The ghosts of the world disappeared and that tight knot of pain between my eyes loosened. So, take stock. I felt like shit. Glass shards to the face meant I probably looked like shit. I’m probably going to pass out in a bit if the darkness at the edges of my vision mean anything. And my jacket was definitely best present. It’s no Nemean Lion skin, but that’s okay. I blinked slowly, staring up at the sky. Luke’s head filled my vision. His blond hair was matted with blood on one side. He must have hit his head on the window when the car tipped. He didn’t seem to notice it.

    “I’ve got - we’ve got ambrosia in - in - where’s our fucking bags?

    “Here.” I cast out my left hand, thinking about my backpack. My fingers fell on the canvas that definitely wasn’t there a second ago. And that was all I was good for. The urge to sleep became almost overpowering. Artemis, flushed and trembling, knelt at my side. She gently pressed a hand trailing silver moonlight to the side of my face. The pain didn’t lessen, but it stopped mattering as much.

    “The Teumessian Fox, killed for the first time in our very long existence.” Artemis nearly whispered as Luke tore through my canvas backpack.

    You would think literal food of the gods would be stored in something other than a Ziploc bag but, uh, no. A small cube was shoved into my mouth. It tasted like my dad’s special hot chocolate blend. A little pepper, a little vanilla and lots of marshmallows. He always made me a mug every time we pulled out the character sheets and twenty sided dice. As soon as I swallowed, I was given a second square. A warm feeling slowly spread from my stomach, like I actually had that hot chocolate. I let my eyes drift closed.

    “Oh?” I heard Artemis murmur. “He has a high tolerance.”

    “For - for ambrosia?” Luke asked just as quietly. “How is that possible?”

    She was quiet for a moment. “Sleep, Perseus.”

    Sleep sounded good. Unfortunately when I go to sleep, my brain shuts down first. Then my mouth.

    And my mouth decided on a haiku.

    “Lying here dying, refuses to use nickname, why are you so cruel?”

    There was a pause. I was almost completely gone when Luke snorted.

    “Okay. Your brother’s not allowed around him anymore.”

    “Agreed,” I vaguely heard Artemis reply.

    I might have said more before Hypnos pulled me under. It might have even made sense. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

    You’re probably wondering what the hell is going on. Demigods? Monsters? Greek gods? And they aren’t the only ones. Thor’s an actual thing. The Jotuun are too. Ra? Definitely. Susano’o, yup. Lakshmi, Quetzalcoatl, Anansi...sorry. I’m going too fast. You kind of came in the middle of everything here. Let’s rewind. Everything will make sense then. I promise. And who knows? Maybe revisiting the beginning will help me figure out where this is even going.

    My mother would tell you it’s a story millions of years in the making. If we cut out the history lesson, it began when I was born. Cut out the baby pictures, it started when I turned five and there was a sun god on our balcony. But what really set everything in motion was a Royal New York Cheesecake Blizzard from the local Dairy Queen Grill and Chill. I get one every Friday after school, no matter what school I’m going to. It’s been my habit for years.

    It’s how a satyr named Grover Underwood found me.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2021
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, Bagrat and 24 others like this.
  2. RichardWhereat

    RichardWhereat Aia airëa Fëanáro.

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    I enjoyed it over there, shall enjoy it here
     
  3. Watcher_of_Paper

    Watcher_of_Paper A problematic Lesesucht

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    Bruuuuuh. Top tier stuff right here.
     
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  4. Threadmarks: God Police Write Mom A Ticket
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction


    ‘The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.’ That’s how the audiobook of Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World starts. I must have listened to it at least ten times by now, but I still remember the first time.

    I was a cute six year old standing on a stool, being walked through using a kitchen knife on strawberries without murdering myself. Dad had turned down the sound there and said something like ‘Is that how it goes?’

    My mother, hands gently guiding mine, had pressed a kiss into my hair and said ‘There is a certain safety in repetition.’

    ‘There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time,’ the old man narrated and I remember her laughing softly. It hadn’t been a happy sound.

    ‘But it was a beginning.’

    This beginning took place in Trinity’s boy’s bathroom.

    That’s the school I go to. Trinity School. It’s a K-12 private school in Upper West Side Manhattan and pretty nice as far as schools go. Nice building, nice facilities. A lot of extracurriculars, a modern library, the cafeteria didn’t suck and unlike my last school they did not have a fully armed and operational cannon in the front yard.

    It was stupid. I don’t want to talk about it.

    Most of my teachers were cool. My geography teacher, Mr. Panotti was from Sicily and had ears he could use as a blanket, they were nearly as long as he was! I was pretty sure they don’t practice ear-stretching in Italy, but I’ve never been there, so what do I know? For science, I had Mr. Pretty who wasn’t, but he did have a great sense of humor. Everyone swore up and down that our English professor Ellen was an escaped Hollywood star hiding under a fake name, even if no one knew which one. And Mr. Brunner was replacing Mr. Carlyle for the end of the year in Latin. I didn’t know him well, but he seemed alright for a centaur. He could be a merman of some kind, but I was pretty confident in my guess. My Pre-Algebra teacher was a blood sucking witch, but we had an understanding. If she behaves, I won’t bring my mother into it.

    Trinity started almost two weeks earlier than other schools, but that just meant summer vacation came sooner too. I had one last final exam, Latin with Brunner, before I was home free. Nothing had burned down. Whatever exploded wasn’t my fault and best yet? It was not only Friday, but the third Friday of the month.

    It was a study hall. My tutor had come to sign me out of the classroom so we could use a private room in the library. ADHD things. On the way there, nature called. Loudly. I had to go. Let’s just say the tabasco sauce on my breakfast eggs had not been my best idea.

    So there I was, in the boy’s bathroom of Trinity, taking a massive dump when the vision hit.

    As far as everyone and my medical history knows, I’m one of those unfortunates cursed with chronic migraines. It lets me keep my sunglasses indoors without questions and if I get the rare bad vision, I can sleep it off in the nurse’s office.

    This one was Bad.

    I don’t mean one of the ‘sleep it off’ bad. I mean, cosmic imagery, mind opening and blood boiling Bad.

    As in, seizing, shaking, clawing my face, shrieking and screaming fit Bad.

    The whole apocalyptic nine yards.

    While on the toilet.

    Taking that massive dump.

    I don’t remember how I got to the Nurse’s Office. I’m hoping that’s because I managed to knock myself out, because if not, that means I was paraded through the hallways as the victim of an epileptic fit. Someone had bitten the bullet and pulled my underwear up, but the jury was still out on if my pants were part of a package deal or if I had flashed the entire school with Surfer Dude boxer shorts.

    When I woke up (was released) in the Nurse’s Office, I clapped a hand to my sore face and hoarsely screamed. “Oh my fucking God!

    I would honestly take dumping my entire class into a shark pit over this. Because I didn’t need to come back next year. We had a good run. There were other Ivy League Prep schools in New York. Dad would understand.

    “It gets better,” the voice of my tutor and best friend Cliff(ord) Randall drawled from somewhere to the left of me. He sounded like he was the bearer of bad news and loving it. “Your boxers were a complete write off so…”

    I shifted in bed and realized exactly what had happened. I had to be changed.

    “I’m wearing diapers.”

    “You’re wearing diapers.”

    There was only one thing I could say to that.

    “Kill me.”

    He made that amused sound he did. It wasn’t quite a laugh. I think he was allergic to those. It was more a short exhale of air and a grumble. “Ah, no. Sorry.”

    He did not sound very sorry.

    I groaned and pulled the blanket over my face. I briefly considered smothering myself with my pillow. I had some bad summer send offs before. There was that time the gym burned down because, well, vampires. The school picnic that had been ruined by an actual rampaging bear berserker thing. Accidentally swallowing glass (don’t ask). The, uh, cannon. But I can safely say this one was the worst ever. Of all time. I don’t know how I was supposed to even think about showing my face in the hallways ever again.

    Forget life support, my dignity was already applying for reincarnation in Elysium.

    “Hey,” Cliff ventured. “You are okay, right?”

    I sighed into the soft, fuzzy blanket and reluctantly pulled it back down. I looked over and met Cliff’s Labrador brown eyes. I ignored his ghost with practiced ease. Mostly practiced ease. “How bad was it?”

    He let out a soft whine and I winced.

    “It was like you were dying,” Cliff’s hands squeezed his knees as he reflexively licked his chops. His right leg started jumping before he caught himself. He was a cool kind of guy. He wasn’t the type to get worked up about anything. That he was showing this much? It meant he was rattled. “Like something was killing you and I - and I couldn’t do anything. I just - I ran for the nearest adult.”

    “There’s nothing you can do, it’s - “

    “All in your head, yeah, I know.” He finished miserably and raised a hand to scratch behind his floppy ear. “I gave you a bit of ambrosia for the cuts on your face. Cleaned you up a bit.”

    If you’ve caught on that Cliff is not quite a standard human, you’d be right.

    My best friend is one of the Cynocephali, which means ‘dog-headed.’ He’s not a lycanthrope or anything. It’s not a curse. No transformation magic was used and no animals were harmed in the making. He was born like that, from equally dog-headed parents. Human from the shoulders down and Golden Lab neck up. He’s people though, like you and me. Some are peaceful law-abiding citizens and some aren’t. Cliff’s one of the good guys. Keeps his nose clean.

    The Mist made him look like just another fifteen year old kid with blond hair and brown eyes. I mean, he’s a little under three years old, but that’s basically fifteen in dog years.

    And he tutors me in English and Latin.

    Me and reading? We don’t get along.

    I sighed again. “Thanks. They called my Dad?”

    “They wanted to call the ambulance,” Cliff sneered. “Like human medicine can do anything. Your father talked them out of it, though. It’s, um,” he checked his celestial bronze watch. It had been his second birthday present from our family. It had his initials etched into the watch face glass and turned into a khopesh. “Half past two, they excused you from the rest of your classes.”

    It was the Friday before school let out for the summer next Wednesday. Class at this point was basically playing jeopardy, hangman and charades for candy. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to look my fellow students in the eye somewhen this side of never, so it was still appreciated. I missed lunch, which was annoying, but it was the third Friday anyway.

    “Anything else?”

    “No,” Cliff said, a bit too quickly. I frowned. “Yes?” He changed his answer. He brought his hands up and softly clapped them together as if praying. “Don’t - don’t take this the wrong way. I wasn’t sure and I had to get help and then I couldn’t get too close and it was noisy and - “

    “Cliff.”

    He huffed. “It’s just - I thought - aren’t you Greek?”

    “Grecian born, Celt raised,” I confirmed. “Why?”

    Cliff eyed me.

    “Just spill,” I said, feeling tired.

    “So,” He licked his nose. “They pulled you out of the bathroom, right? And you’re still yelling, but not just ‘aah’ yell, but talking yell. Speaking yell.” So I didn’t manage to knock myself out. That’s great. “Chanting, almost.”

    Shit.

    “Are you telling me,” I began slowly. “That I might have given a Prophecy in front of everyone?”

    It was theoretically possible.

    Practically impossible.

    Mom would never allow me to hold an Oracle, no matter how much Apollo begs.

    “If you did, it was in no language I know of.” That ruled out Greek, Latin and Egyptian. I mean, I highly doubt it was Egyptian and I’m working on my Irish Gaelic, but it was good to be thorough. “It sounded creepy, whatever it was. I think there was a word you were repeating.” Cliff’s upright left ear folded back on his head in shame. “Not helpful, I know.”

    “Don’t sweat it, man,” I told him. “That’s, like, Mom’s thing. She’ll know.”

    Speaking of?

    I could have done without the literal pants shitting! I thought in her general direction. Some kind of hint, clue or warning would have been real nice.

    I got a faint brush of a feeling back. An apology, before it shifted to feel more like a plea for patience.

    I breathed a harsh breath through my nose.

    Fine.

    I swung my legs off the bed, grimacing as my...diaper...made crunching noises with the movement. My jeans had been replaced with cheap grey sweatpants that clashed something horrible with my purple and teal button up shirt. The look practically broadcast ‘I had a whoopsie.’

    I held out a hand and Cliff deposited my sunglasses into it. “Tell me I didn’t shit my shoes.”

    “You didn’t shit your shoes,” Cliff said obediently with a hint of a doggie grin pulling at his chops.

    I did shit my shoes.

    Jeeeeezuus Aaaaayyych.

    I could have screamed.

    Generic sneakers and socks were waiting for me under the bed. I shoved my feet into them, ignoring the pinching as I stood up. I felt a little sore all over, the kind you get after pushing your body the day before. I expected that. My blood was still simmering underneath my skin. It was an uncomfortable shifting feeling. Cliff pulled back the curtain for me and I stiffened my spine as I walked past him to the front section of the Office.

    Nurse Kim was at her desk doing paperwork with silent, mechanical patience and glazed eyes. Cliff held out his hand and snapped his fingers.

    The Mist wasn’t just some kind of mass hallucination or illusion. Or, it was, but those of our world could learn to manipulate the magic of it. Change a mass hallucination to a more subtle, personal illusion. It could be used as a form of hypnosis that way. The Young gods had it the easiest, using it essentially by instinct when they weren’t outright changing reality to suit their whims.

    Cliff took a three-month course on it as part of getting his Watcher license.

    Egyptians were as bad as the Romans in a lot of ways.

    As for me? I had both no talent and too much in Mist manipulation. Cliff notes (pun?): It was really hard using something you couldn’t feel or see. If Cliff wanted to, he could use an active illusion to look like a normal boy to other demigods too.

    He has never managed to fool my eyes.

    “Look who’s finally up, Nurse Kim!” Cliff’s hand came down heavy and supportive on my shoulder.

    The woman animated as she blinked away the cobwebs. She set aside her pen as she gave me a genuinely relieved smile. She was an older, Korean woman who had just started getting gray hairs. She probably had a few more because of me today. Lord knows, the responsibilities of the average school nurse start with lice management and vaccinations, and end with calling 911.

    There was no medical certification for ‘demigod bullshit.’

    “Look who’s finally up!” She said warmly. “How are you feeling, Mr. Stele?”

    Mortified.

    “I’ve been better,” I said instead. I adopted a hangdog expression “I’m sorry for worrying everyone.”

    “We’re all just glad you’re okay.” She searched through the papers on her desk and pulled out a sheet clearly designed to be filled out. The only splash of color on the white, gray and black worksheet was the logo of Trinity School.

    Parent homework.

    “Your father told us the last time you had a seizure was about seven years ago,” she said delicately as I took the paper. “There is a possibility you’ll have another before you graduate, so we would really appreciate it if your parents took the time to fill out a Seizure Action Plan for us. It will help us make sure you get the care you need, okay?”

    “Sure thing.” I folded the paper into a square and stuffed it into my sweatpant pockets. “Can I go home?”

    “Of course, hun,” she said with a grimace of sympathy. She slowly reached for the phone. “Your classes were canceled for the day. Your mother can pick you and your clothes up at the Front Desk. I’ll let the secretary know to expect you.”

    Fingers softly snapped.

    “I’ll make sure he gets there okay,” Cliff volunteered as the sudden confusion in the school nurse’s eyes faded.

    “Can you make sure he gets there okay, Mr. Randall?”

    Cliff grinned, tongue lolling out. “No problem.”

    As we left the Nurse’s Office, I asked under my breath, “What are you using me to skip?”

    Just as quietly, Cliff hissed. “Statistics!”

    I mean.

    That’s fair.

    Thankfully for the sake of my sanity, class was still in session. We made it to the Front Desk with minimal human contact roughly eight minutes to the bell where Cliff and I parted ways.

    Personally, I thought ‘Front Desk’ was a bit of a misnomer. It looked like someone had shoved an office building into a school. The entire wall was made out of glass allowing visitors to look into a tastefully decorated waiting room. A cheerful banner that said ‘Welcome to Trinity!’ was strung up underneath the glass shelf attached to the wall. The shelf was covered in brochure holders, application papers, and chained up pens for parents writing checks for fees. The actual Front Desk was behind the greeters, a large U shaped throne for Ms. Jensen, the true ruler of the school.

    The Principal existed, but the only time I’ve seen the guy was at our interview two years ago for my application. A real schmoozer that needed a third hand to find his ass. Everyone knew Jensen called the shots.

    “Hey, sweety.” Alice, the personable greeter, started as she got up from her chair. That twitch might have been the other greeter acknowledging my existence. Or despising it. Alice opened the glass door for me. “You can wait in here for your - “

    “Stele,” Jensen said in an iron tone. She didn’t even look away from her computer screen, expecting the world to obey. “Charles Brunner is giving you the option of taking your Latin exam early. You can take it this afternoon and be released for the summer, or study over the weekend and be here Monday.” Steel grey eyes met mine. “Your choice.”

    The way she said that made it clear she knew what I was going to choose.

    As if I would give up not having to see anyone in my home room for at least three more months.

    I smiled brightly at her. “I’ll take my exam now.”

    “His office.” I was dismissed.

    Five minutes to the bell.

    As a late year substitute, Mr. Brunner’s office wasn’t in the ‘6th Grade teacher cluster’ of offices at the end of the East Hall. He wasn’t far from it though, because we 6th Graders still had to be able to find him. His nameplate was clearly temporary as a rectangle of paper with C. Brunner written on it instead of a brass plate.

    He responded quickly to my desperate knocking. He opened the door looking alarmed with a fancy pen in hand, then confused, then relieved. “Mr. Ste- “

    “Pleaseletmeinclassisgoingtoletpeopleinthehallways!”

    Wordlessly, Mr. Brunner backed his wheelchair from the door so I could scoot in. The door closed behind me just as the bell rang.

    Safe.

    I sighed in relief, almost collapsing against the door. The centaur’s lips were twitching. I gave him a warning look and he ducked his head.

    My Latin teacher looked like he could have been a famous quarterback competing in the Super Bowl before breaking his back. It was in the scruffy beard, thinning dark hair and the fact the guy looked like he could break me over his knee, wheelchair or no wheelchair.

    “I’ve already set up your workstation in the back. Let me know if you need to use any other accommodations.” He handed me his pen. As I reached for it, the world stuttered. As I stiffened, I saw another hand, smaller, feminine and darker skinned gently push the gleaming hairpin the pen had turned into towards me. As my fingers closed around it, the vision faded. The pen was a pen.

    Mr. Brunner didn’t question my reaction. “Good luck.”

    He rolled his celestial bronze and silver wheelchair back to his desk. Greek lettering was etched into the silver, anchoring what was no doubt a complicated feat of folded space to the outside reality.

    I want a Tardis.

    Not until I’m old enough to legally drink, though. That was the rule.

    “Is it multiple choice?” I asked him.

    He looked up from where he had been digging another pen out of a drawer. “No.”

    I grinned cheekily. “Then what does luck have to do with it?”

    The centaur grumbled under his breath. I slipped into the small back room. It held nothing more than a cheap four legs and a slab desk, a chair, a cotton candy pink alarm clock, the reader, a box of Kleenex and a tiny trash can. The walls were blank of all decoration and color. A single uncovered light bulb dangled from the ceiling.

    School was prison, but this was a little too on the nose.

    I sat down. The first thing I checked was how many pages the test had.

    Ugh.

    I turned the pink alarm clock around, so I couldn’t see the moving hands.

    My name was pre-filled on the page in stenciled lettering, highlighted with neon yellow: ‘Perseus D. Stele.’ Yes, I have a middle name. No, I’m not telling you what it is. It’s awful. My grandparents are still under the impression my Dad had been on a huge rediscovery of the family’s Greek culture trip when I was born.

    Dad had still been interned when I was born. No, my name was Mom’s fault, 100%. I don’t know what she was thinking.

    I drew a solid ink line through ‘Perseus’ and wrote a shaky ‘Percy’ above it. Then I looked at the first question.

    The letters were playing musical chairs.

    I...I have dyslexia. Me and reading don’t get along. I’m okay writing, maybe a little slow. Numbers are more or less fine, but letters? I glanced at the clock, remembered I turned it around, turned it back forward, then went back to my test. I bit my lip. No matter how hard I stared, the letters refused to stop moving. I slowly reached for the start button on the reader, and... I felt like I had already failed.

    I’m not stupid. I know I’m not. I’m not.

    I don’t need a Speech-to-Text, or colored post-its and highlights. I’m fine. I can do this.

    I can do this.

    “Question 1. Name the members of the Dodekatheon,” Mr. Brunner’s voice said evenly from the reader. I felt the relief and then the shame for feeling relieved. “And their Roman counterparts.”

    Right.

    Easy enough.

    Next to the bold 1) I wrote the Greek Name of my favorite of the Greco-Roman pantheon: Hestia. Her Roman Name followed. Vesta.

    Might as well do it in Awesome order. I had to really think about putting Apollo next over his twin.

    I will admit to being a tiny bit biased there. A little. How could a sun god that crashed on our couch every weekend, was my Paladin’s Disaster Bard of a son, taught me how to handle my visions and play poker just barely eke out his twin sister whom I’ve only met twice?

    If your answer is A Humongous Crush, Just The Biggest Ever you are…

    Goddamn right and I hate it.

    I sped through the rest of the list with Minerva/Athena and then Jupiter/Zeus down in the trash where he belonged.

    Easy.

    I looked at the clock. Holy - that took longer than I thought. I turned the clock back around. That was not helping. I hit the play button on the reader.

    “Question 2. According to mythology, how was Rome founded?”

    With a loud sigh, I got to writing.

    “Question 3…”

    I don’t know how long that test took. I knew I heard the end of the day bell, which was a relief even if it meant I was cutting it close. How close? I don’t know. I kind of took apart the pink alarm clock. I would put it back together, but I lost two screws, a spring, and a little lever thing somewhere. I marched out of the room. I calmly placed my completed test on Mr. Brunner’s desk, handed him his pen and said,

    “The clock was a mistake.”

    The centaur’s lips twitched. “I’ll keep that in mind. Do you want to attempt the bonus question?”

    “Yes,” I said immediately. I learned early never to turn down extra credit.

    “The fall of Kronos - Saturn - was part of your syllabus for the year. He overthrew his father to become king and it was prophesied that he would be overthrown by his children in turn. So he swallowed them whole as they were born, sowing the seeds for his own downfall.” Mr. Brunner steepled his hands, peering at me over them. “How does that myth relate to real life?”

    “It teaches us that all prophecies are self-fulfilling,” I said without missing a beat. “It teaches us that if we let our fear control us, we create things to fear. It is our choices that decide our destiny.”

    He studied me for a long moment. I don’t know what he was looking for.

    “A good answer that deserves full credit,” he finally said softly.

    I smiled as I watched him write a + 10 to the top of my test. “Thank you for letting me take it early, Mr. Brunner. I appreciate it.”

    “We might not have had long, but it was a pleasure teaching you, Mr. Stele.” He placed his pen in his shirt pocket and adjusted the blanket over his forelegs before scooping up a dark green backpack from beside his desk. “Now I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to head home.”

    Dude. Today has been a special kind of hell.

    He let me out the door first, but as he closed it he spoke up, as if he didn’t want me to just take off without him. “I take it you’re a believer in destiny?”

    And with the perfect sense of dramatic timing like the wizard she is, a goddess rounded the corner with my backpack slung over one shoulder, a plastic bag of shitty clothes in the other hand and the subtle smirk of a crownless queen on her lips.

    I am absolutely a Momma’s Boy.

    Fight me.

    “Mom!” I called out with a giant grin on my face.

    At first glance, the only thing I shared with my mother was our straight crow wing black hair. We both wore it feathered, mine parted in the middle brushing my shoulders and hers brushing the small of her back. At second glance...uh. Nope, that was it. I was olive-skinned, she was pale. She had freckles and I didn’t. Everything from our ears to our chin was different. I knew I looked a lot more like Dad’s classical Greek, save for my eyes. She had eyes of black diamond, a fractal gaze that reflected bloody death.

    Behind my sunglasses and beneath the Mist, my eyes were the color of an aurora borealis. I had my mother’s eyes.

    It’s just this was not the Name of my mother that gave birth to me. It was the Name of my mother that raised me.

    “Percy,” Mom greeted me gently. She kept a soft, but noticeable Irish accent. If anyone asks, she’s from Ulster. She inclined her head towards my Latin teacher. “Mórrigan Stele, Mister…?”

    “Brunner,” the centaur said evenly. “Charles Brunner, filling in for Mr. Carlyle.”

    It happens sometimes. Take the Greeks and their Roman Names. Pallas Athena, Goddess of Strategic War, Wisdom and Crafts, the Patron of Athens and Heroes was shoved off the Fucking Useless tree by the Romans.

    And she hit every branch on the way down.

    Her Name Minerva was so limiting and weak she was basically a minor goddess of basket weaving. The power of Athena didn’t go anywhere, she would just be unable to access it. Her presence and awareness would be diminished. If you cursed out ‘Minerva,’ only the part of the deity allowed by the Name would answer. Exactly how limiting a Name was depended on a bunch of stuff. As a rule of thumb, the older the Name, the stronger it was. The older the god, the more a Name was more like an avatar, than a state of being. Young gods were called Young for a reason.

    I was born to Ananke, a Name of the Primordial Deity of Fate, Compulsion, Necessity, Inevitability and Circumstance. A Protogenoi. It is an old and powerful Greek Name. It is not a safe Name for mortals to witness. She learned that the hard way with my father. This way, she could be there for me, for both of us. After all, how does that saying go? What’s in a Name?

    She has older ones.

    Much older.

    Knowing them was too much of a risk.

    Even for me.

    My Mom shifted my backpack up higher on her shoulder, freeing her hand so she could offer it to my Latin teacher. “A pleasure.”

    “You should be proud of your son,” Mr. Brunner said and I’m not entirely sure I was imagining the emphasis on ‘son.’ “He’s attentive, hard-working and really gives the material thought.”

    The corner of Mom’s mouth curled up. “I am very proud of him.”

    I knew she was. It was still nice to hear it. I grinned at her and pulled away from my teacher. “Have a good summer, Mr. Brunner!”

    “Yes,” the centaur replied faintly. “You too.”

    I made it past two classrooms before I began to feel super self-conscious about the bag of shitty clothes.

    And the diapers.

    “Uh, Mom,” I began awkwardly. “Can you do something about - uh, the whole situation that I am...unfortunately...dealing with here?” I know - mentally - that my Mom was the one who dealt with the poop factory that was baby me, but this was...not the same thing? That was over a decade ago and I had a thimble of pride left that was chafing as hard as the diaper was. I could see the corner of Mom’s lip slightly curl up again as she opened the side exit and held the door for me. “At like - some point?”

    “In broad daylight?” She asked as if it was ridiculous, but I could hear the laugh in her voice. I heard it. “You can’t wait until we get home?”

    “Mom. Mom, please.”

    As I passed the door frame, the uncomfortable sweaty, lumpy diaper became nice, roomy boxer shorts. The sweatpants were now black slacks and the pinching of my feet abruptly stopped in black dress shoes.

    “Oh my God, thank you.” I sighed and stretched in the sunlight. I opened my mouth.

    “No, I’m not mind wiping your classmates.”

    Damn.

    “Yes, you are coming back next year.” Mom gently hip-checked me - plastic bag of shitty clothes conspicuously missing - on her way to the silver Mercedes parked directly in front of us in a reserved parking space.

    “I’ll convince Dad,” I threatened over the hood of the car.

    The amused look she gave me was also very smug and I didn’t appreciate it.

    She got in the car, preoccupied with putting my school bag in the backseat while I tried to get in the car. You would think a goddess would remember to unlock the passenger side. It takes a single extra second!

    But no.

    She already had a finger up as I sat down. “Not one word.”

    So I said four words instead as I buckled in. Safety First. “I didn’t say anything.”

    But Mom, I thought. Really?

    “I heard that,” she said as she put the car in reverse. “You know I heard that.”

    “But I didn’t say anything.” I said smugly as I elbowed the door for the window.

    “I don’t know why the passenger just doesn’t unlock with driver.”

    “Yes, you do.”

    “Percy - “ she glanced over and let out a resigned sigh. “Percy, no.”

    “Percy, yes.”

    As we left the school parking lot, I stuck my head out of the window and bellowed at the top of my lungs. I made sure the entire block heard my best impression of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace.

    “Freedoooooooommmm!”

    Someone’s dog howled back like it was being murdered.

    Everyone’s a critic.

    “You are definitely your father’s son today,” she groaned in mock disappointment.

    “You know you love me.” She just hummed like she was considering it. “You know you love me,” I repeated. I held up my fist for a bump. As always, she left me hanging. I don’t know why. It boggles the mind. A fist bump would not kill her. “You are perfectly capable of just - “ My fist danced around. “Come on.”

    She raised her hand, and my hopes at the same time, but, no. She grabbed at my fist, somehow uncurling my fingers so we were holding hands. She gently squeezed mine before letting go.

    “What’s the Friday Plan?”

    “DQ,” I said immediately. Because Royal New York Cheesecake Blizzard, obviously? Do you even need to ask - It’s pretty clear how that works. “Then Manhattan Pizza. Barnes & Noble. Water Park.”

    “City?”

    I scoffed. Water was my go to. The pool, the beach, the water slide, you name it. “As if you need to ask, the pool bag is already in the trunk, isn’t it?”

    Her lip curled again, not bothering to deny it. The third Friday of the month was our day to hang out. Just my Mom and I. It was my day to be as much of a kid as I wanted. I wouldn’t have to do homework or chores. I choose what we have for dinner. No bedtime!

    “I’ll think of something after that.”

    She made an amused ‘hn’ sound. “Do you want a hint?”

    “Let me at least think of it first!” I threw myself back in my seat, throwing an arm over my eyes. A second later I asked, “What’s the hint?”

    “I’ll let you think of it first.”

    I knew it.

    “Manhattan Pizza for dinner,” I said and heard her sigh fondly. Look, it’s not my fault they’re awesome. Everyone agreed with me. 5 star reviews. Mom was just a heretic.

    We spent a few minutes in comfortable silence, but I had to break it at the next intersection.

    “Hey,” I said softly. “What happened today, was it - ?”

    “Just a vision,” she said just as softly. The knot of unease I didn’t even know was there loosened.

    “Thank God.”

    She cleared her throat.

    I rolled my eyes. “And you, I guess.”

    She was never going to forgive my paternal grandparents for being devout Greek Orthodox.

    Her fingers briefly squeezed the steering wheel. A small shudder went through her before she looked at me. She had one of her unreadable expressions on. A little less humanity, a little more god. Her eyes reflected a hundred different gruesome deaths and I reflexively straightened my back.

    For Elder Gods, Names are avatars. They are always there though. The only difference is by how much.

    “It was a milestone,” she said distantly. “You’re getting stronger.”

    “Sweet.” I smiled, tentatively hopeful. The rest of the drive I spent telling her about my day. She already knew, but she liked listening to me.

    It kept her grounded.

    The local Dairy Queen Grill and Chill was one of those stores that was a lot bigger than it looked on the outside. You had to build long, not wide to find the space which meant the store fronts looked claustrophobic, but once you were in the door, it opened up. It was pretty empty for the time of day, just one person ahead of us in line.

    “Hey, G-Man!”

    The youth behind the counter shot me a bright, goofy grin. Then his brown eyes darted behind me and widened as his smile wilted. He hurriedly turned back to his customer, tugging his cap down firmly over his curly hair. Probably embarrassed. My Mom did that to pretty much everyone sixteen and over. Goddess thing.

    He’s new and stays at the counter since he has some kind of muscular disease in his legs that makes a lot of movement difficult. Standing all day like he was couldn’t be comfortable either, but he was a trooper. My last two appearances were with my Dad, so he hasn’t met her yet.

    As soon as the young mother with two small children moved to the side to wait for their order, I stepped up to the counter. “Getting the hang of taking orders yet?”

    He gave me a weak smile. “Hey, pressing buttons is harder than it looks.”

    His name was Grover Underwood, G-Man for short. He was a young looking sixteen, with a wispy start of facial hair and acne.

    “Wh - what are you getting?” He swallowed nervously, eyes flickering to my mother and back. He was one of those apparently. Some people just find it difficult to think around my mother.

    “Guess.”

    He bit his lip. “The cheesecake?”

    “Damn straight. Large.”

    My mother leaned in and Grover straightened as if he was about to snap out a salute. She let her hand tap a rapid rhythm on the counter as she made a show of looking over the menu. “Medium Oreo, if you would.”

    “Yes, My Lady,” he said immediately.

    “My Lady?” I laughed as his face fell, turning red. “It’s the twenty-first century, dude.”

    “I meant - ma’am.” He looked down at the computer, tapping in our orders with burning cheeks and ears. He looked like he was wishing the floor would open up and swallow him whole. “I meant ma’am. Ma’am. I just - ” He whispered a quiet, “Styx.”

    Oh he’s Greek.

    “I’m sure it just slipped out,” Mom graciously allowed.

    “Yes!” Grover latched on to the excuse. “I do - uh, over the summer, I have...drama club.” He was cringing, but kept going. “You know, re-enactments?”

    “Like a Renaissance fair?” I asked.

    He nodded miserably, like he was expecting me to rip into him for it.

    “G-Man. I play Dungeons and Dragons. Table top.” I smiled at him. “I don’t have room to say shit.”

    He tentatively smiled back. “Okay, that’ll be 13.47.”

    As we moved to the side, the store’s door opened to admit three old women. And I mean old, real senior citizen material. I’m talking brightly colored cardigans (because old = cold), sandals with socks, large sunglasses and granny pants. They each had sequined purses with electric blue yarn dripping out two of them and large shears out of the third. Don’t quote me on this, but I think they were siblings rather than just friends. Something about their faces.

    You ever get the feeling that you are missing something important?

    “Uh, welcome to Dairy Queen?” Grover’s voice warbled.

    And as they walked up to the counter, they threw my Mom absolutely poisonous looks. Sometimes that happened too. Random asshats, like this one guy who refused to believe the ring on my mother’s finger meant anything. That got my hackles up. I didn’t care that I was about to make a scene, Mom would back me up. We could humiliate them.

    “Wow, okay, excuse you,” I said loudly. I made a show of turning to my mother and asking, “What did you do?”

    The corner of Mom’s lips curled up. “Your father.”

    I stared at her in complete disbelief.

    “Blah-ha-ha!” Grover bleated out a surprised laugh while the mother with two kids snorted so loudly into her bite of ice cream she started choking.

    I could have died.

    “Wha- oh my God, Mom! Filter! Filter!” And she started laughing. It didn’t happen often, but when it did she wasn’t afraid to laugh, which just made everything worse. “Stop! It’s not - you’re not funny!”

    “Uh, a Royal New Yor - “

    “Here!” I grabbed our orders from the man and escaped.

    I can’t.

    As the car pulled away from the DQ, I mumbled around a spoonful of cheesecake ice cream. “You’re not funny.”

    “I am funny.”

    “You’re really not.”

    Thankfully, the rest of the day was a lot of fun and free of any more embarrassments. Our last stop turned out to be the game store for more packs of Mythomagic cards, hoping to complete my roster. That fact that it would help refine readings was a nice bonus.

    We got back to the apartment building a little before dinner time. We lived in the top floor penthouse, courtesy of the grandparents. It was...a penthouse. We had a nice balcony with a pool and view of the Manhattan skyline. We had a lot of plants. I don’t know what else to say about it? It’s home.

    “Pizza!” I called as I walked in through the door, carrying the two boxes of large cheesy, pepperoni goodness. I had just put them on the coffee table when my Dad emerged from his office.

    “Did someone say pizza?”

    My father is Dorian Stele. He’s a lawyer, which I think is why he’s such a pain in the ass Dungeon Master. He’s Greek-American with curly brown hair, strong stubbled chin and a proud Greek schnozz. He had one of his many, many ties draped around his neck and a broad smile.

    “He was your son today,” Mom announced as she tossed the car key fob onto the table by the door.

    “Is that how it is?” Dad asked her as I grabbed him in a massive hug, the biggest I could manage. Dad returned it as best he could with one arm. He had a small glass of - I took a small sniff - whiskey, I think, in the other hand. I could kind of already tell from the bags under his eyes that it hadn’t been a good day. “Look at that, fifty percent of the credit, one hundred percent of the blame.”

    In retaliation, Mom stole his tie.

    “Am I getting that back?” Dad called after her as she went towards the kitchen.

    Mom glanced back at me for some reason, the corner of her lip curling up as she met Dad’s eyes. “Later.”

    "I like the sound of that."

    “Are you guys being weird?” I asked my Dad’s chest cavity. “I feel like you’re being weird.”

    Dad sighed. “Pizza?”

    “One large pepperoni and a half and half mushroom pepperoni and ham pineapple,” I reported like a good son.

    He ruffled my hair.

    “That’s a good mini-me.” I refused to let go of him, so chuckling, he marched us both over to the couch. “Can I sit?”

    “No.” I couldn’t hug the shadows out of his eyes, but I was never going to let that stop me from trying.

    I never looked at him without my sunglasses.

    “Huh.” He said. And then, “You know, I got the most fascinating call from your school earlier today - “

    I let go of him. “I hate you.”

    He laughed softly as he sunk onto the couch. I sat next to him and separated the small stack, opening them both to check which one was which. Mom came in with the paper plates, napkins and -

    “Um.” She placed the canvas backpack at my feet with a grimace. Dad stiffened. “Why’d you bring the Bag of Holding?”

    She then made this strange pained expression.

    “Uh oh,” Dad said.

    Mom had a special look for what Dad called Quantum Stupidity. It’s Stupid she could see coming, but got Stupider every time she looked. A little disturbed, I slowly grabbed a regular pepperoni and a ham and pineapple slice.

    There was a knock at the door.

    Mom got up to answer it.

    Standing on the other side of the door were two men in classical Greek chitons, cloaks and sandals like it was the normal thing to do. The tall one had curly black hair, zephyr blue eyes and elfin features. He carried a sleek phone in one hand with an extended antenna that had two small snakes twinned around it. I think...that’s literally an iPhone with a caduceus attached to it. The shorter, blond haired man had a clipboard and ball point pen.

    “Hermes,” the black haired man introduced himself shortly. He jerked his head towards his companion. “Milos.” He grimaced. “By the authority of Zeus Olympios, King of the Gods of Olympus, Zeus Agoraeus of the Dodekatheon and Zeus Astrapios of the Sky, we’ve come to investigate a reported cross-pantheon violation regarding the rearing of the Greek demigod, Perseus Stele.”

    “What?” I said, bewildered.

    Cross-pantheon violation?

    That’s a thing?

    “We would appreciate your cooperation. It will help us resolve this in a just and timely manner,” Milos said like he was reading off an index card. “Please state your name for the record.”

    “The Mórrigan,” Mom replied easily.

    Hermes’ eyebrows rose.

    “Uh. What... is that?” Milos asked as he flipped pages on his clipboard. “That’s - that’s Norse, right?”

    “Celtic.” Her voice was frozen.

    “You guys are still around?” Milos blurted out. He grunted as Hermes sharply elbowed him.

    “I apologize for him. Sensitivity training isn’t what it used to be.”

    “What the actual fuck?” Dad whispered. He was staring at his drink as if it had betrayed him.

    “I am afraid the rules and regulations of Olympus are clear and absolute in this matter,” Hermes said. “As a Greek demigod, we are required by law to remove the boy from foreign influence until such a time that he is claimed by his godly parent.”

    Milos was speed writing something on the clipboard, finishing with a flourish and a proud smile as he presented my mother with a yellow slip of paper.

    “You have been summoned to appear before the Dodekatheon.” Milos said proudly. “As a member of a Class Four pantheon, you have seven days to respond. Failure to do so will result in penalties.”

    Mom took the slip. “I understand.”

    I did not!

    Hermes nodded. “Thank you for your understanding. Come along, kid.”

    “Wait,” I grunted, beyond confused. “What?” I slowly stood up, reflexively grabbing my canvas backpack and keeping a firm hand on my paper plate. “What is - Mom?”

    “Go with them, Perseus,” she said softly. She turned her back to the door and slowly, one corner of her lips curled upwards. Her black eyes glittered with vicious amusement. “I am certain your Greek parent will not wait long to claim you.”

    Hermes made a sympathetic noise, but said nothing.

    I swallowed the lump in my throat and slowly walked to the front door. I swung my bag up onto my shoulder. My mother pressed a kiss into my hair when I reached her. I got a brush of a feeling.

    Patience.

    Honestly, that was what kept me from absolutely losing my shit by a thread.

    What even -

    “Okay, so.” I glanced at the two Olympus stooges as the door closed, leaving me alone in the small hallway to the elevator with them. I’ve been in this hallway over a hundred times, but all of the sudden it was too small. I felt like the walls were closing in. I opened my mouth as if just speaking would push back against the black feeling in my stomach. “I guess I’m being confiscated now?”

    Hermes dragged a hand down his face.

    “Yeah,” he said eventually. “Yeah. Let’s call it that. It sucks, but the law’s the law.”

    “No appeals, huh?” I muttered.

    Hermes snorted. “Appealing the Fates...good luck with that.

    It is not all bad, young one, one of the snakes said. Because god, apparently? Whatever. Talking snakes. Not the first talking critter I’ve seen. You belong with your own.

    “Camp Half-Blood?” I asked, just to make sure I wasn’t going to be stuffed into a cell.

    “You know it, that makes things easier.” Hermes turned to Milos. “You know the drill, file the paperwork. In triplicate.”

    “But - “

    “You’re still around?” Hermes mocked him as the blond flushed.

    “Got it, Boss.” Milos disappeared in a breeze of wind.

    “Idiot.” Hermes turned back to me. “You might want to close your eyes. I’m told the first time is the hardest.”

    I squeezed my eyes shut. The lurch was not great. The sudden noise of dozens of people talking was almost worse. I opened my eyes and found myself standing in an old style Greek pavilion on a hill overlooking the sea. A large brazier burned in the center and there were nymphs and satyrs moving between the long tables. There were kids everywhere, staring at me over their plates of barbeque. The noise slowly dropped as more and more people realized I was there.

    I was still holding my pizza.

    “Nice entrance,” A chubby black haired man with a red nose and a tiger print shirt grunted from one of the tables. “Who the hell are you?”

    “Uh, Perseus Stele.” I said. “Hermes...sent me.”

    Hermes fucking literally just dumped me here.

    The man rolled bloodshot blue eyes and pointed to a table already full. Some of them were even sitting on the ground. A few looked like they could be related, something about their noses and mouths. Some shared eye color, but a lot of them didn’t look anything like each other at all. What they did share was this expression. The whole table as one looked resigned.

    “Cabin 11.”

    “That’s nice?” I said slowly. “But - “

    A thousand tiny, sparkling stars appeared around me and trailed upwards to a point above my head. I watched as they formed a gleaming holographic image: A blood red spindle of golden thread.

    A blond haired, grey eyed girl from a table filled with other grey eyed kids spoke up in the sudden hush.

    “Who...is that?”

    “Well,” the hungover man said.

    He took a long pull from his Diet Coke.

    “Fuck.”
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, Cheshirek4t and 12 others like this.
  5. NuclearBirb

    NuclearBirb A mysterious birb.

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    This is really fun. Loving the changes you've made so far, and can't wait to read more!
     
  6. Threadmarks: Camp Half-Blood's Welcoming Party Sucks
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction

    I’m going to take a second here to recap. My day at school literally went to shit. My mother thinks she’s funny (she’s not). And Olympus, the representation of the Greek pantheon, has stupid rules. Oh, you’re Greek. So we Greeks rule over your Greek, and we don’t want you raised by a non-Greek god because they have cooties. Stay at the Greek camp and let your Greek parent claim you because you’re Greek. It reminded me of one of my grandparents’ crazy neighbors. Old guy was still butthurt Germany lost.

    Greeeeeek.

    And then she does and the reaction I get is ‘Who is that?’ - what do they even teach demigods these days - and ‘Well, fuck.’

    I feel so welcome already.

    Today needs to stop.

    Seriously.

    “Okay,” I said harshly into the silence. “I’m not familiar with how you people do things? But - “

    The hung-over man stood, hands up in surrender, grumbling something. I think I heard the name ‘Chiron.’ As in that one centaur trainer dude. There were some Greek heroes? You might have heard of them.

    Diet Coke Man rounded the table, making motions for the rest of the kids to stand and pinning anyone a bit too slow with a harsh look. He stopped a couple of feet from me and cleared his throat. Then he knelt.

    “All hail Perseus Stele, son of Ananke.” It got really quiet when her Name was spoken out loud, like someone had turned the volume down on the universe. Tiger print shirt guy paled as my back straightened. I felt a smile slip onto my face.

    Mom had always been more as Ananke and having her attention like this was rare. Mom was Mom, but there was something about knowing this Name had me, made it special. The last time I felt her presence like this, she gave me my sunglasses. It didn’t bother me at all. I could see the alarm on the campers’ faces though. Mouths moved, but she crushed all the sound.

    “Protogenoi of Fate, Inevitability and Compulsion. First of Chaos. Mother of the Moirae, of Darkness, of the Celestial Sky. The Great Serpent, Eater of the Bloody Tongues, The Ruiner, The Beautiful One, The Thousand Mirrors -.”

    I had a feeling he could have kept going, but the fire in the center brazier suddenly snapped at full volume, making everyone jump. The chubby man I was beginning to suspect was a god bent over completely, forehead to the ground.

    “Whoa, no!” That took the wind out of my sails. My smile fell off my face. “No, no, no, no.” There was a shift in the air. My ears popped. “Mom! No.

    Some people might like having others bow before them, but I didn’t. Maybe Mom deserved that, but not me. I was just her kid.

    Noise flooded back into the pavilion as Mom lost interest.

    That...stung a little.

    Okay, a lot.

    She was...wasn’t she going to...fix...this?

    She saw nothing wrong with me being here? I thought - in a year or two maybe, and planned. I imagined both my parents dropping me off at camp, maybe with Cliff tagging along just to see what it was all about. Dad would have loved it. It would be a fun couple of months and then I’d go home.

    This was a test, right?

    It had to be a test.

    “You can...all get up,” I said uncomfortably. The camper kids didn’t look like they were ready to believe me and...yeah. The lone adult did though and I smiled weakly. “So...Cabin 11 you said?”

    “Ah,” Diet Coke guy said. I followed his gaze up. The red spindle of golden thread was still hanging over my head. Just slowly spinning around.

    Menacingly.

    “I’ll...clear out a room at the Big House?” The spindle bobbed. He gestured towards the table he had been sitting at with a few nymphs and two boys. “And...there’s room at the table for Cabin 12.”

    The spindle faded.

    The man closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose and took several deep breaths. I’ll say this right now, I was pretty good at identifying gods. There’s always something giving them away. Hard to pretend to be mortal when you don’t know what mortality is. This guy was kind of weirding me out though. I could maybe-sorta-kinda feel divinity? But he looked like a cherub that reached middle aged in a trailer park. Six packs of beer in his fridge.

    And blocks of cocaine under his pillow.

    I tried not to let all the quiet stares of the Campers bother me. Not my fault Mom’s awesome.

    It didn’t work too well. It was a relief when Maybe God motioned for me to follow him out the pavilion.

    The rest of Camp Half-Blood was sprawled out at the base of the hill. To the left there was a massive structure like an artificial cliff overseeing an amphitheatre. A large lake fed by an ocean-bound river sat next to an open rectangle of twelve gleaming cabins and a more mundane elongated building that was probably...the bathrooms? Other large buildings and clear spaces, including what looked like an arena, almost looked unreal in the setting sun. Half-modern and half transplanted out of ancient Greek history. Large gardens ran right up to the borders of a foreboding forest and a large sky-blue farm house-mansion thing marked the camp’s entrance.

    There were stragglers coming up the hill towards the dining pavilion. A few older campers. Some nymphs and satyrs including one oddly...familiar...looking one in an orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt…

    I know that satyr?

    I stopped walking. The satyr saw me and at first he smiled a bright, goofy grin, before flinching and suddenly looking very, very guilty. He had wispy facial hair and acne, putting his age anywhere from fourteen to a young looking sixteen.

    I know that satyr.

    I dropped my bag on the ground. I turned and handed the chubby god guy my paper plate of pizza - “Can you hold that for a sec? Thanks.” - and marched over, a big smile on my face. “Hey, G-Man!”

    Grover Underwood looked relieved. “You made it! I - “

    I punched him in the mouth.

    Satyrs roamed the world looking for demigods to guide to Camp Half-Blood, for the protection of the magic wards around the place keeping monsters at bay. Demigods with only mortal guardians had to defend themselves.

    I didn’t need protection. I had my mother.

    I knew he knew that. That had to be the reason for his slip earlier, when he called her My Lady. It was the traditional address for female deities. I bet he’s the one that made the report bringing Hermes to our door.

    “Thanks,” I spat at his crumpled form. “Protector.”

    Chubby God (I had no idea which one this dude was, but pretty sure it was a god) had a constipated look of almost-amusement on his face when I took my pizza back. I bit back a snarl and just stuffed my pepperoni pizza slice into my mouth.

    We continued walking down the hill into the camp in an uncomfortable silence. I had nothing to say. I was still angry. I was pretty sure this guy wasn’t Zeus, so complaining to him was not going to do much. My Mom apparently had different priorities than I did. I could run, but that would mean living on the street dodging monsters while Dad slowly lost his mind worrying about me. It would be just like Mom’s tests, except it wouldn’t end.

    I couldn’t do that to Dad.

    I let out a long breath. My gut churned. It was almost painful.

    “I guess I just stay...for the summer?” I bit my lip. “Like a normal camper.”

    Normal camper,” he snorted. He gave me a look out of the corner of his eyes. “I’m not gonna lie, kid,” he grumbled. “You existing? It’s shitty.” He tensed then, glancing around like he was expecting to be jumped from the bushes. When nothing happened, he relaxed and motioned with his hands. “The timing? Very shit. The parent? Double shit. And you’re a little shit, don’t try to deny it.”

    Okay. He had me until the second half.

    “I aim to please.” I said sarcastically.

    He rolled his eyes.

    “One of those,” he mumbled. “Look, Peter - “

    “Percy,” I cut in.

    “Whatever. It’s nothing personal.” He said in an almost conciliatory tone. “You just mean the end of the world.”

    I almost stopped walking again, before remembering.

    “Oh right, that Prophecy thing?”

    Chubby God did stop walking. He pinned me with this narrow eyed look. It might have been scary if he wasn’t wearing a Hawaiin tiger print shirt over a grey wife beater, if his nose wasn’t pulling a Rudolph and if he didn’t look completely hungover. I’m sure there is a story behind a literal god that can look however they want looking like a deadbeat, but for the life of me I had no idea what it was.

    Was he cursed?

    “You know about that.” He said slowly. It was hard to get a read on it.

    Mostly because I was still wondering if he was cursed.

    He’s probably cursed.

    “I got told when I was nine,” I answered him. Dad had taken me and child-sized Apollo out for a game of laser tag. Apollo had cheated (outrageously) and then dropped the bomb on both of us while we were eating chili dogs.

    He flubbed the delivery.

    Let me tell you, there is nothing like a chili dog after being told you’ll probably die on your sixteenth birthday.

    All three of us came back from our boys’ day out bawling.

    Mom was unimpressed.

    The thing about Prophecies is that they all have one thing in common: Shit happens. If you are lucky, your Prophecy starts and stops with a broad strokes ‘how to fix shit happening.’ If you are unlucky, it goes into detail and if your luck is abysmal, it will tell you that shit can’t be fixed at all.

    Mine went into detail.

    Mom told me not to worry about it. I figured she would know. Fate is her thing. I know you’re probably thinking ‘You were nine? Maybe it was a white lie.’

    No.

    Mom doesn’t lie. Not to me.

    “I don’t see the problem,” I said. “I just have to not.”

    Chubster shook his head and started walking again. “And we’re supposed to take your word for it?”

    “Yes?” I said, confused. “I like the world the way it is.”

    “Everyone says that,” he replied, sounding tired. “Until they’re offered something they want more, or they have nothing to lose.” I frowned. There was nothing I wanted that badly. I had everything to lose. “You’ve got years to change your mind,” he continued, like he could hear what I was thinking. His voice picked up. “Best case scenario, you’re disqualified for the crime of dying while heroic! Win-win.”

    I gave him a flat look.

    If this jerk was an Olympian, we were two for two on assholes.

    “Sure,” I drawled. “I’ll get right on that. Mom will love it.”

    “She’s Fate, or something. Apparently.” He gave me a sick looking smile. “Ball’s in her court.”

    I relaxed a little.

    I didn’t often think about it, because it was a bit too big to wrap my head around. The personification of Fate was my mother.

    The ball was always in her court, wasn’t it?

    But it’s our choices that make our destiny, I remembered.

    And Mom doesn’t lie.

    I adjusted my backpack and started munching on my ham and pineapple before my pizza got too cold. It looked like we were headed right for the big blue farm house. I guess that was the ‘Big House’ I would be bunking in. It had four floors and some kind of deck running around the outside.

    We swung past the bathrooms, allowing me to dump my empty plate in a trashcan. The shortly cut grass gave way to packed dirt. The twelve cabins were arranged in a large open rectangle, one for each throne on Olympus. It was half-funny and half-annoying that the cabins looked exactly how Apollo described.

    His was solid gold, shining with the light of the setting sun. Artemis totally did steal his idea with an all silver cabin that would do the same with moonlight. Ares had no taste at all with badly painted red walls and barbed wire on the roof for no reason. Aphrodite’s was a 1950s doll house. Demeter’s cabin needed a hobbit door. Dionysus just threw grapevines on his. Athena’s was boring. Hephaestus gave his kids a factory, Hermes’ was a dump. Zeus and Hera didn’t have summer camp cabins so much as miniature banks complete with Hellenic columns and Poseidon’s was the best made out of seastone with seashells and coral on the walls.

    Camp Half-Blood was a summer camp for Greek demigods, but more than just the Twelve had half-mortal kids. Or adopted kids, in Artemis’ case. I’m proof of that.

    “Where do the others go?” I asked my guide. “The other gods’ kids. The Big House too?”

    “Cabin 11.” Chubster grunted.

    My eyes swung back towards the run down building and its peeling brown paint. A caduceus was etched into the door and painted in with flaking gold. Cabin 11, Hermes. The God of Travellers.

    “That’s it?”

    He grunted an affirmative and I swallowed.

    Oh.

    That was why their table at the mess pavilion was so full.

    That didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It wouldn’t kill anyone to have a neutral cabin or two, right? Or a neutral table? Just enough to fit everyone comfortably. Hestia used to have a throne on Olympus. She was not only the eldest but neutral. Even if she would never have a demigod, she was still the goddess of Family and Home. Trusting her with kids should be a no brainer?

    Did Hades have kids? Did they just get stuffed into Cabin 11 too? He’s one of the ‘Big Three.’ Even if he didn’t have a throne on Olympus, he was still Lord of the Underworld. They wouldn’t…

    I looked over the cabins again.

    Exactly twelve.

    Maybe Hera?

    Goddess of Familial Love, right?

    Or am I stupid?

    ...I’m stupid.

    Maybe not Hera.

    Trusting Hera with any number of demigods was...probably a bad idea, now that I thought about it. Like classical Greek tragedy bad.

    But she had a cabin just slightly smaller than the eternal playboy Zeus’. A pretty, useless, empty building.

    “Can’t we just build more cabins?” I asked.

    “You can sign that petition Larry Castillo whoever sends to Olympus every summer,” Chub said uncaringly.

    My eyes caught on the large campfire in the middle. There was a small girl about seven or eight years old in brown robes kneeling next to it, poking at the coals with a stick that refused to burn. Was she - had she been there a second ago?

    She felt me staring, I think. Her head turned to look at me and her eyes were literally on fire.

    Which was, uh, new.

    I blinked.

    Oh.

    Oh!

    I know who that is!

    Grinning, I waved at my favorite goddess with both arms. She gave me a small, dimpled smile and raised a hand.

    Hestia Prytaneia and Hestia Potheinotáti, I prayed with the only Names she allowed herself to keep. They meant ‘of the Hearth’ and ‘the Beloved’ respectively. I wanted to make sure she heard me. You are awesome and adorable. Your dad was an ass. Keep up the good work.

    Her eyes widened as I gave her a double thumbs up for good measure before turning back forward.

    I was led across a small, narrow vine bridge across a slim river. Up close, the Big House was huge. It loomed, making me wonder what all the rooms were used for. The deck around the house was littered with lawn chairs and tables. On the top of the house, there was a bronze eagle weathervane with still wind chimes that was definitely not what it seemed. When we rounded the house to the front, someone was waiting for us.

    It was a tall woman in business casual. A white blouse with gray stripes on her shoulders and matching gray pants. I was pretty sure it was a goddess, but I could be wrong. Chubster was making me doubt myself.

    “Dionysus,” the maybe-goddess said tightly, surprising me.

    So deadbeat god was an Olympian. I am…

    I am actually not surprised at all.

    “And you must be the son of the Serpent,” she continued as we drew closer. She had a voice made for karaoke, but I think she would murder anyone who tried.

    She looked like that kind of person.

    “I guess?” I said. I guess it was like calling a Poseidon kid ‘son of the Earthshaker.’ “Percy Stele.”

    She had black hair that curled at the ends and eyes that reminded me of the coral skeletons I saw in a marine museum as a kid. Black Coral, I think? At first, it was just dark grey, but it was made up of millions of spots of other colors, blue, red, yellow, green and more like a color collage. It made her eyes shine like an oil spill. Like some kind of weird optical illusion.

    She inclined her head. “Athena.”

    Okay.

    So that was another Olympian.

    I -

    Huh.

    Meeting the hungover God of Parties kind of hit different from a Goddess of Strategic War.

    I smiled and tried to look harmless. “Not as Athena Promachus, I hope?”

    If she was here as a war and battle Name, I might be in trouble.

    Her eyes widened a little before her face blanked again.

    “No, I did not think it was necessary,” she said smoothly. “I speak to you as Athena Areia, Polias, Hygieia and Glaukopis in one.” Her eyes searched my face. Something told me she couldn’t see through my sunglasses, but that didn’t stop her from trying. “And you know what that means, don’t you?”

    “Judge, Protector, Physician and Observer,” I recited respectively.

    Those weren’t the literal translations. ‘Glaukopis’ meant something like ‘bright eyed’ or ‘owl eyed,’ but you get the idea. It was like equipping a perk in a video game, or a title in a Role Playing Game. If my Paladin earned the epithet ‘Vampire Slayer,’ and all it meant was ‘I killed 2 vampires yesterday and almost died?’ Then that would be pretty lame. Instead, it meant I killed a lot of vampires. I got good at killing vampires. I was known for killing vampires and gimme that +2 to damage rolls against vampires!

    If my Paladin was then ambushed by werewolves, I would be back to square one. However, there was nothing stopping me from earning a ‘Werewolf Slayer’ title. If I worked hard enough, my divine warrior could gain a title for underwater whistling. A Paladin wasn’t built for that, but I could.

    The Young gods worked the same way.

    Athena was still a Goddess of Wisdom, Handicrafts and Strategic War just like my Paladin didn’t just randomly lose Lay on Hands, but her Names shaped her focus.

    Apollo was Apollo, but it was the Prophet I shared my visions with, because he understood better. It was the Archer that dragged me outside, because not feeling the wind on his face bothered him. The Twin was a bit (more) of an idiot, but the Locust could get mean.

    Put all of Athena’s current titles together and you get something like...

    “Risk assessment?” I asked slowly.

    Her gaze sharpened like she was looking down into my bones. “Just so.”

    Drunkard God grunted. “If you ask me, he’s too dangerous to keep.”

    Whoa, wait.

    Before I could panic, Athena held up a hand.

    “Your feelings on this matter are irrelevant, Camp Director,” She told her half-brother with this carefully even tone of voice. Now that I noticed, everything about her seemed careful. Carefully blank expressions. Bland clothing. Hair down. Her hands were at her sides and empty. Non-threatening. “He could be dangerous, as can all demigods.”

    That got her an unimpressed look.

    “Prophecy,” Dionysus said flatly.

    “Which explicitly gives him a choice,” she countered casually. “He can. If we prove ourselves to be fools, however, his mother will.”

    So…

    Yeah.

    There wasn’t anything I could say to that.

    Mom was not a forgive and forget kind of person.

    Think of every terrible Fate you’ve ever heard someone suffer and then imagine how much worse it could get to personally be on Fate’s shitlist.

    “It’s some kind of fluke,” Chubster God waved a hand at me. “There’s no way - “

    “Dude, what is your malfunction?” I interrupted him. “Is this because you’re cursed or something?”

    Now that I knew who jerk god was, he had no room to complain about Fate. Sure his mother was a moron, but Zeus gave a damn. He escaped Hera cursing him by getting her mother to overturn it. That’s like being blacklisted by Steve Jobs, but convincing Bill Gates to hire you. Demanded to be worshipped while mortal, wiggled out of all attempts to punish him for it. Then Mister Demigod-of-the-Huge-Cajones invaded the Underworld twice to rescue people, succeeded, got happily married, and not only achieved immortality but was granted a major godhood. He wasn’t guarding a rock somewhere, Hestia lost her Name of Queen giving him her throne on Olympus.

    “Because if I remember my myths right, Mom gave you enough success to choke on.”

    I don’t know what I was expecting him to do. Get angry maybe? Instead he kind of just - it was like he was a whoopie cushion.

    I could almost hear the wet raspberry as he deflated.

    “You do not have to like the boy, but you will respect his parentage,” Athena said coldly. “I tell you this for your own sake, if anyone wishes you to fight Fate? Don’t.”

    Her younger brother lowered his eyes.

    “Not even the gods fight Ananke.” He said bitterly, like he was quoting someone.

    There was a flicker of Mom’s attention. A bit of pressure killed the breeze before she was gone again. Both gods stiffened and lost color in their faces.

    That was weird to me. What were they feeling from Mom’s presence that I wasn’t?

    Fuck,” Rudolph the Red Nosed God said. “Not doing that again.”

    “A fluke, is it?” Athena said. The ‘you idiot’ could be heard in her voice. “You were told what to do if any came to Camp.”

    You’re kidding, it’s been millennia - “

    “Your first mistake was thinking you knew better. You’re not suited for it.” She stepped forward, shutting his mouth and waved a dismissive hand towards the Big House. “You have your duties, Camp Director.”

    The jerk god gave me this unreadable look and for the first time I saw the divinity behind his strange mortal disguise. A purplish glow brewed in his blue eyes, shoving images of people eating each other, cutting off their own limbs and carving still beating hearts out of each other’s chests to place on a black altar into my head.

    It looked like something I’d see in Mom’s eyes.

    Deadbeat God snorted. “Figures.”

    He brushed past me and disappeared into the house. I scowled at his back. I literally haven’t done anything to deserve whatever his problem with me is.

    “Dionysus is the youngest of us,” Athena reminded me with a sigh. “He does not understand, but he will not harm you.”

    “Uh huh,” I said skeptically. “I’ll behave if he does, we’ll be great friends.”

    She chose to take my word for it.

    “I will admit to having questions I must ask you,” Athena ventured after a moment. “Are you amenable to speaking with me?”

    “Sure?” I shrugged one of my shoulders. She was polite, at least. “Can we sit?”

    “We can.”

    The metal lawn chairs on the deck were comfortable enough. They had well-used cushions with floral patterns bleached by sunlight. I put my bag down beside me under the table that stood between our chairs. There was an umbrella on the table, but judging by the stains under the strap holding it closed, it hadn’t been used in a while.

    Athena crossed her legs as she leaned one arm on the table. Her gray eyes searched me like I was a puzzle she was putting together. Or like a bug under her microscope.

    “Take a picture,” I muttered.

    “Photographic memory,” she said simply, not even blinking. “Your name is Percy, then?”

    “Perseus,” I admitted. “But Percy, yeah.”

    “I assume you live with your mortal father?”

    I nodded.

    “And you learned about divine Names,” she mused. “What else were you taught?”

    “We covered Domains, Signs, Wards, Monsters, World Knowledge, Pantheons,” I ticked them off on my fingers. Summer school, basically. “General combat stuff, Quest Preparation, uh, Sensitivity... and...my inherited abilities.” I said a bit quieter.

    Failing at learning my inherited abilities.

    The best I’ve been able to do is read my cards. Mom said she was proud of me anyway. I believed her. She was. She is. But I’ve never been able to actually use my divinity. I don’t know what I should even be able to do. I don’t know what Mom was waiting for, or why she couldn’t just tell me what I needed to do.

    Maybe a demigod of The Mórrigan would be too different, so she had to wait for Ananke?

    And the best we got from her was that I needed to get stronger first. How strong? I don’t know.

    “Your father taught you this?” Athena asked.

    “My mom,” I told her.

    Obviously?

    Athena’s brow furrowed. “You were personally educated by the Serpent?”

    “Uh, no?” I said. That would have been a bad idea. Her face relaxed for some reason, and I suddenly realized that they didn’t know. They had no idea the Celtic Harbinger of Fate was another Name of Ananke in service of the same Elder God. That was why they gave her a ticket. They thought I was adopted.

    And Mom didn’t correct them.

    Yet.

    “I was raised by The Mórrigan and she taught me.”

    Athena’s lips pursed. “Cross-pantheon upbringing...It is good you were removed then.”

    “What? No!” I protested immediately.

    “You are concerned with losing a parental figure.” Athena tried to be comforting. She was shit at it. “That is understandable, but The Mórrigan should never have risked - “

    “There wasn’t any risk!” I snapped at her, slamming a fist onto the table. The metal crumpled. “Mom wanted her to!

    It was suddenly hard to breathe. They had their reasons. I didn’t like it, but they did. They were probably stupid reasons, but they had them. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself down. It didn’t work, not until I felt someone gently card fingers through my hair. I inhaled a shuddery breath but there were no tears.

    “Of course,” Athena said softly. “It would be foolish to assume Fate herself had no hand in your upbringing.”

    “Right,” I said, just to say it. Just to hear it said. “Right…”

    They couldn’t keep me here. Not if Mom didn’t want me to be. At most, it would be three months. Just a normal summer camp. She said I’d be back at Trinity next school year. She said so. I’d have to be home for that.

    I’d have to be.

    My breathing evened out. It’s fine.

    It’s fine.

    Athena patted my shoulder, rising from her crouch behind me. “You must understand, we are unfamiliar with demigods of your caliber. Before you, there were only two in all of Olympus’ history. One of Night, the other of the Pit. And they were…”.

    Nyx and Tartarus.

    “Monsters.” I finished for her.

    “Yes.” She took her seat again as I cringed. I wanted to believe they grew up like I did. But I knew better. “And then there is you, given a divine education and mortal.” She paused. “You are mortal.”

    Uh.

    A divine education?

    “Uh, my spine sticks out a bit, I guess,” I offered with a weak smile. It’s why my hair was long. It wasn’t bad or anything, just noticeable. If I hunched over, it was actually awesomely gross! “A few extra ribs and organs, but I bleed red. You can ask Apollo!”

    Athena’s eyes narrowed. “Apollo.”

    “Yeah?”

    He was kind of the God of Medicine. You’d think he'd know a little something on how to tell mortals from everything else.

    “Apollo knew.”

    “He found me when I was five.”

    “Apollo knew for years.”

    “Yup.”



    ...

    That sound you just heard was Apollo screaming from under the Olympic-sized bus.

    “I see.” Athena closed her eyes. Her face twisted in frustration before it smoothed out again. I had to wonder what bothered her more, that Apollo knew or that it was Apollo that knew. Her eyes reopened. “May I see what your glasses hide?”

    I flinched, but reached up for my sunglasses anyway. According to Cliff, the Mist hid my eyes just like it hid his doggieness, turning the shimmering colors of an aurora borealis into a static greenish-blue. Sea green. That wasn’t why I wore my glasses though.

    We both sucked in a breath at the same time.

    Her ghost was messily dismembered. Someone took the time to rip it apart, piece by piece.

    “You say you are mortal,” Athena said softly.

    “I am? I just inherited them from my mom,” I said uncomfortably. I kept my eyes locked on hers stubbornly. Ignoring ghosts like hers, the ones that spoke of malice, were always the hardest. An accident? Sure. In battle? Okay. From sickness sucked. It was great when people died in their sleep, at peace, surrounded by friends and family.

    Most of the time they don’t.

    I guess not even gods.

    “Sometimes it happens, right?”

    “No,” Athena corrected me. “It does not.” I made a confused noise in my throat. “First, I will ask a question: What color are my eyes?”

    “Black Coral,” I said, trusting the Goddess of Wisdom to know what I was talking about. She should. That was her thing. “Color collage. Shines like an oil spill when the light hits them a certain way.”

    One of her slim eyebrows twitched up.

    Yes…” She drew out. “Be careful looking beneath the Mist like that. Not all expressions of divinity are safe to see.”

    “I...literally can’t help it,” I admitted.

    Her brow furrowed again. “Your glasses shield you, then?”

    “Nope,” I said, popping the ‘p.’

    There was the ‘bug under a microscope’ look again.

    “The easiest way to explain,” she moved on, but it was probably too much to hope she forgot, “is that the eyes of a god are literal, while the eyes of the half-mortal children of said god, if they even inherit it, are merely evocative.”

    I caught myself raising my hand like I was in class. “Sorry. Evocative?”

    “It is suggestive of, or strongly reminds you of, something else. A certain shade of red may be evocative of a ripe apple.”

    I think I understood what she was getting at. “So, I can see the sun in Apollo’s eyes. But.”

    She nodded once. “If his children inherit his blue eyes, they will be the shade of a clear afternoon sky. You will not see the sun in them. Evocative of divinity, but too mortal for it.”

    I saw my birth mother in my Dreams once.

    I had her eyes.

    Stars and everything.

    “Oh.”

    “Perhaps it is simply a rare peculiarity, like one of Aphrodite’s defects,” Athena thought out loud, but I don’t think she believed it. “And Apollo’s gaze does not blind you?” It sounded like she didn’t expect me to answer but I nodded anyway. “Interesting. Still, if a god requests you look away, I would not recommend disobeying.”

    “Duh,” I grumbled. I’m not that stupid. “What about the other kids?” I had to ask. “From Night and the Pit? Maybe it’s our thing?”

    “One did not even have eyes,” Athena said evenly as she stood up. “The other…”

    Ouch.

    Right. Monsters.

    She smiled thinly. “I will tell my father that Olympus’ intervention will not be necessary at this time. I would ask that it stays that way.”

    “I’ll behave,” I muttered, putting my glasses back on. “I’m not - I’m not like them. A monster. I’m not dangerous.”

    “All demigods can be,” she replied. She turned to leave, stopping long enough to warn me. “Aphrodite is whole. The Five Ages of Man began with the Titan Lord’s reign. The Titan Lord was the Sky Father’s son, and he deposed him with the aid of his brothers and the Earth Mother.”

    What?

    That wasn’t -

    That wasn’t what I was taught at all.

    The human record of Greek history got a lot wrong. Aphrodite was actually a hot mess and the Five Ages of Man started way, way before the Titans. I thought that even if no one wanted to go into detail about the War that made Kronos king, Olympus would still use the truth.

    “Do you understand?” Athena pressed.

    I didn’t understand, but… “Yeah. I won’t say otherwise.”

    A tension I hadn’t noticed was even there drained out of her shoulders.

    “Some knowledge,” she explained softly. “It would be best if we forgot.”

    I shrugged one shoulder. I get it. Some things are dangerous, even just to know about. Like all the Names of my mother. There was a difference between knowing that her Names were dangerous, and forgetting she even had Names though. Forgetting you could call things up, doesn’t mean it isn’t a mistake forgetting how to put them down.

    Just because you forgot history, doesn’t mean it won’t repeat.

    “And that way…”I asked slowly. “The knowledge forgets about you?”

    The Goddess of Wisdom didn’t answer.

    I’m not sure how long I sat in that lawn chair after she left. I tried to put my arm on the table, but it was broken. I don’t remember when that happened. It had to have been me, Athena didn’t seem the type for random destruction. I ended up hugging my canvas backpack to my chest, listening to strains of the campers singing songs I didn’t know as the sun was swallowed by the horizon, just trying to accept that I was at Camp Half-Blood. I was always going to go. I had even been looking forward to it.

    Cliff was a great friend, but he was my only friend.

    I couldn’t ask a classmate about the easiest way to kill a cyclops. I couldn’t ask the kids that lived a floor under me how they figured out their divine powers. I couldn’t go to the park and expect the kids throwing me a football to know the glory of audiobooks. I doubt anyone at the water park knew what it was like being hunted by monsters. To everyone at the library, the myths of gods and monsters, magic and giants, prophecies and heroes were just that.

    Myths.

    I could be just another kid here.

    A demigod.

    Like everyone else.

    I sighed.

    “Take a picture,” I grunted.

    “Percy, right?” The God of Wine grunted back.

    “Yeah.” I looked up at the God of Wine. He was frowning, but not at me, I think. He was just grumpy. “You got a nickname? Or…”

    I have my own issues with the name ‘Dionysus.’

    “Mr. D is fine,” he waved off. “We’ve got a curfew. You can stay outside all night, but the harpies will eat anything.”

    Yikes.

    I followed him into the Big House.

    “Most of the rooms are used as extensions of the infirmary, usually after Capture the Flag on Fridays.” On one hand, aww, I missed Capture the Flag! On the other hand, what kind of Capture the Flag game needed an infirmary? “Chiron’s office and rooms are over there. Mine are one floor up.”

    “Where is Chiron?” I asked.

    “Off playing teacher at some mortal school,” Mr. D grumped. “House call.”

    I nodded like that made sense.

    “Third floor is mostly classrooms, a mail room and study rooms for antisocial brats.” My lips twitched. Hope he wasn’t referring to me. “Attic is off limits.”

    I already knew what was up there. The Oracle of Delphi. Her corpse, at least. If I focused, I could feel her. A soft thrumming feeling running up and down my spine of borrowed power, feeling so very similar to Apollo’s but...twisted, somehow.

    “I won’t go looking for trouble,” I promised.

    Mr. D just gave me a look.

    “Demigod,” he said, pointing at me. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

    Oh, he’ll see it, alright.

    This would be a nice, quiet summer for me.

    “You’ll be staying here.” He opened the door to a large bedroom. It was about the size of my room at home with a bed against the left wall, a nightstand and dresser for clothes. There was a desk and chair in the corner, an empty rack of shelves and a plush red carpet in the center of the room. I had a ceiling fan with a light, but it didn’t look like air conditioning was a thing. A door off to the right led to a small half-bathroom. I could see Mr. D’s influence in the potted grape vines by the lone window across from the door and in the slim bands of Celestial Bronze crossing the wood walls.

    Celestial Bronze looked just like regular bronze, if regular bronze was polished to a mirror shine all the time and glowed. It was a godly metal, magically conductive, capable of killing monsters and wounding immortals.

    In the low light, the bronze would be like a night light. That was cool.

    Not that I needed a night light or anything.

    I didn’t.

    It was just neat, using the metal like that, is all.

    “This is really nice,” I said with a smile. “Thanks, Mr. D.”

    “Yeah, yeah.” He closed the door as he left and I could see there were Celestial Bronze bands on the door too, forming unbroken lines around the room when shut.

    I took off my shoes and crawled onto the bed. It was a little high, and definitely big, but I’d grow into it. I dug into my backpack for my money bag. It was a soft, leather purse jingling with the sound of gold coins.

    Authentic gold drachmas, the currency of Olympus. A little bigger than a quarter, stamped with various gods of the Dodekatheon on one side (usually Zeus) and the Empire State Building on the other, which would probably confuse the hell out of any historian of Ancient Greece.

    Then out came my ‘phone,’ a small gold tablet with two large hieroglyphs in the center and smaller runic letters around the edges.

    Time for a phone call home.

    I rubbed the crowned half-circle symbol with my thumb and a rainbow flickered above the tablet.

    “Oh Iris, goddess of the Rainbow, please accept my offering.” I tossed a gold drachma into it and the rainbow swallowed it. “Dorian Stele, Manhattan.”

    Our kitchen appeared within the rainbow. Dad was sitting at the table, head in his arms with a nearly empty bottle of something nearby. I searched for a glass, but didn’t find one. Had he been drinking straight out of the bottle?

    Fuck.

    “Dad!”

    He jumped up.

    “Percy - !“ His flailing arm knocked the bottle over the side of the table and I winced as it smashed on the kitchen floor. “Shit!” He bent, his chair scraping across the floor with a screech, then thought better of reaching for the glass shards with his fingers. He took a step towards the pantry, stopped, swore again, running a hand through his hair. “Percy, I - “

    “Dad, breathe. I’m okay. I’m fine.”

    He looked awful. He was pale and the bags under his eyes were dark. His eyes were red and there were stains on his shirt.

    “You’re okay,” he repeated dully. “You’re fine.”

    He fell back into his chair. It screeched again. A brown liquid was spreading across the floor from the broken bottle.

    “I’m at Camp Half-Blood,” I said as calmly as I could. “We talked about it before, remember?”

    Please remember.

    “Yes,” he croaked, running a hand over his face. “I - I remember. Summer camp, like I did as a kid.”

    “That’s right. You had fun, right?”

    He took several deep breaths.

    “Best times of my life,” he murmured. “Parents sent me.” His distant eyes searched the table before finding the bottle on the ground. “Oh,” he said. His hands shook.

    “Dad,” I said slowly. “Where’s Mom?”

    He shuddered, as if hit.

    “She - “ He shrugged. “Gone. She left.” My stomach twisted sharply as he let out a wounded sound. No, Mom - my parents loved each other. They were married. She wouldn’t just leave. “She - she left me.”

    “Did she leave the ring?” I demanded. Dad flinched. “Dad! Did she leave the ring?

    “I don’t - “ He looked around, like he was trying to spot it on the counters. “I don’t know.”

    “It’s probably like five years ago, remember?” I said, feeling like I was going to explode. “Remember? She had to go, but she came back. She plans ahead, and sometimes she has to leave for a little while.”

    “Five years,” He said blankly. “Five years ago?” His left hand traced patterns in the air. “You were...seven? Your - your birthday?”

    “Yes! But she came back. It’s just like that, okay? It’s just like that.” Apollo will be there tomorrow, I thought.

    He better be.

    “She’ll come back,” Dad breathed out. He ran a hand through his hair again. “Okay. Okay…” He blinked slowly and squinted at the microwave. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

    “I - third Friday.” It hit me like a lightning bolt. Mom plans ahead. “Today’s the third Friday of the month. I don’t have a bedtime!”

    Dad stared at me for a bit, and then his shoulders slumped. A sound that might have been a laugh left him. “You’re not staying up all night taking care of me.”

    “Bite me.” I said. I moved my backpack behind me so I could lean against it. “I got my own room at Camp,” I started with. “I don’t have to bunk with anyone and even have my own bathroom. Still need to use the communal shower though.”

    Dad huffed and ran a hand down his face. “Wouldn’t be a summer camp without communal showers…”

    I described Camp Half-Blood to him, everything that I saw on the walk to the Big House, as best I could. I told him about seeing Hestia with a minor detour reminding him why she was awesome, and my impressions of Mr. D and Athena. I talked about my day at school, as humiliating as it was, and the water park, my audiobook orders and how Grover the Dairy Queen counter server had actually been a satyr.

    And then I just...talked to talk. Anything I could think of.

    Dad needed me.

    Eventually, Hypnos’ pull grew too strong and I made the mistake of lying down when my neck complained.

    I said something, but I can’t remember what.

    Dad laughed. “Good night, son.”

    I didn’t sleep long. I woke up to my Spidey Sense screaming. The soft glow of Celestial Bronze on the walls shone through a spooky, heavy green mist.

    There was someone on my bed.

    I bolted upright, already reaching for the silver sword pendant on my necklace, but whoever it was lunged at the same time. I grunted as they pried my arm away from my weapon, and then I wheezed when their other hand closed on my throat.

    “It’s changed!” The Oracle of Delphi shrieked into my face. “It’s changed!” Her emaciated skull loomed in the darkness. Her shriveled eye sockets burned with green light as wisps of mist curled out of her shrunken nose and billowed from her mouth. “Hear me, son of the Ruiner! Loosen the shackles and relinquish control!”

    “I don’t - “ I choked out as I tried to kick her off. “I don’t understand!”

    Opening my mouth was a mistake.

    The green mist rushed in and it was cold. Like ice fresh from the freezer, sticking and pulling all the way down my throat. The world spun as visions assaulted my mind. A horse and an eagle fighting, desolated cities, flowers bloomed and died within seconds, people I have never seen before fighting, talking, laughing, dying, monsters, giants - the images were coming faster. Too many. Too many! A great chasm opening in the middle of a park and my vision swooped down into it. Down. Down. Down.

    Come down, little hero! Come down!

    I heard a woman’s voice. “I foresee the future. I cannot change it. It is a small blessing, but a greater curse.”

    You shall go west and face the god -

    And fail without friends -

    One shall perish by a parent’s hand -

    And lose a love to worse than death -

    The forge and dove shall break the cage!

    The half-blood child of the eldest gods -

    To storm or fire must fall.

    “Take it, boy.” The Oracle sneered. I could feel it coiling within her. Apollo’s borrowed power fed off a thread that felt like my mother, but lesser, infusing a soul and there was a dark, oily barbed wire strangling it all together. Binding it to the corpse with razor shards. I could feel it. The wire had reached out, raking across my mind. “Take it!”

    I can’t.

    “Take it!”

    I can’t!

    “I am the spirit of Delphi, speaker of the prophecies of Phoebus Apollo, slayer of the mighty Python!” I slammed my hands into her forearms. They gave with dry snapping sounds, but her grip just tightened. It wasn’t the corpse I was fighting. I could barely see the light of the bronze. My lungs burned.

    “Approach, seeker,” she crooned. “And ask.”

    Anger replaced the fear. It was like something in me broke. All the stress of the day came out at once. A sudden strength flooded my body and my vision sharpened. I could see shapes within the green mist. The wrinkles in her dead skin. Every crack in her lips. Every strand of brittle hair. I abandoned trying to stop her, and reached out for her skull.

    Take it.

    Loosen the shackles.

    The green fire in her eyes bored into mine.

    Take it!

    Give it to me,” I said and my voice resonated. The Spirit, the power, the curse, the soul. There was a burning, twisting, greedy tug in my gut, as if it had a mouth that had just opened up wide.

    Take it!

    And swallowed it all.

    It felt…

    Amazing.

    I was powerful, I was aware, I could see, I was flying and I wanted more -

    The light of the Celestial Bronze was suddenly blinding.

    The wind beneath my wings stalled.

    And like Icarus, I crashed hard.
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, Cheshirek4t and 13 others like this.
  7. RollingFire

    RollingFire Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Amazing, simply amazing. I haven't seen a good story for the Percy Jackson Universe in YEARS. I was smiling all throughout reading this. I cannot wait for more.
     
  8. Threadmarks: I Discover The Heart of the Cards
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction

    I tried to Dream.

    Habit, really. I’m asleep, I Dream.

    I vaguely remembered feeling Morpheus reach for me, like starbursts on my skin, but I was so out of it, I couldn’t greet him back. This was the usual stop for mortals, trapped in the well of Morpheus’ influence until he let them go. That’s not a bad thing, he took good care of them.

    His brother Icelos was a different story. He had a few other Names. Phobetor was one of them, meaning ‘Frightener.’ Otherwise known as Nightmare.

    Demigods of all kinds could go further, but if they don’t learn properly, the best they could do was straddle the borders. Sometimes they Dream like mortals, sometimes they see Beyond and sometimes they fall into the Dreamlands.

    It’s like Narnia. A whole new world under a red sun. When night fell here, a shattered golden moon rose in its place. And just like our world, things lived here. Built cities and tamed the wilds. What could be tamed, I mean. There were deserts and oceans and forests. If you were careful and knew what you were doing and when to run, there was a lot to explore. The Spires, the Moon, the Flat, the Crystal Seas. There was the Pit.

    You don’t want to go there.

    The Old and Elder Gods were known here, even if they weren’t exactly worshipped.

    Worship means getting attention. Getting attention was…

    Complicated.

    I landed in my home away from home in the Dreamlands like normal, but it was all wrong. It was like I was drunk. The furniture shimmered, stretched, duplicated and moved. The colors were off and the walls were partially see through. The miniature penthouse looked as solid as a soap bubble. There was light coming in through the windows of what I knew should be afternoon sunlight, but it was a ghostly blue color. There was a fire crackling in the hearth, but it was green. If I didn’t know any better, it looked like I was Dreaming. But I did know better. I don’t Dream like this.

    The only thing that looked right was the orange and white tabby cat groggily blinking from his bed by the fireplace.

    “The fuck -” The cat exclaimed as he looked around. He had an accent, so it sounded more like ‘tha fook,’ but I’ve gotten used to it. I’m sure you’ve heard worse. Don’t cats talk in your Dreams?

    Sam and I go way back. I’m still not sure if he’s Dreaming like I am when he’s here, or if he’s awake and his home somewhere in the UK is the Dream. He’s the one I learned the Queen’s English from as a kid as Dad put it. It didn’t do much to improve my vocabulary, but it certainly expanded it.

    “Sam!” I called out and then winced. My voice was all echoes. Everything from his uneven whiskers down to the small crook in his tail was just as it should have been. So what was wrong with me? “What’s going on?”

    Sam sounded a bit uncertain as he asked, “Lil' Fucker?"

    "Yeah?" I replied.

    "What the fuck did you do?”

    “Nothing!” I said quickly. “I think. I’m pretty sure. I got jumped by a zombie oracle - “

    I was cut off by my entire apartment buckling inwards - a loud bang rumbled through me as something slammed into the front door. I glanced out the window and saw a dense jungle filled with brightly colored flowers and dark, dark shadows. The trees looked like they were moving as shapes flitted above in the canopy. We were nestled in the side of some kind of black pyramid made out of stone blocks as big as my body. A staircase for giants led the way down into a wiggling darkness.

    I had no idea where we were.

    That’s bad.

    Sam’s ears folded back on his head as his tail puffed.

    “He’s not in!” Sam screamed back at the door. “Fuck off!”

    You got visitations here too. Friendly neighbors with cookies. A bum down on their luck. A few of Sam’s friends for a round of poker. Some gawkers who’d never seen a half-mortal before. Lost wildlife looking for a meal.

    Twisted, shrieking cultist abominations.

    You know. Missionaries?

    I took an unsteady step towards the door. Everything tilted back and forth like I was on a ship. “I can take the call. It’s fine.”

    Sam looked me up and down. I looked down at myself and saw an amorphous blob of grey smoke covered in burning green eyes. Which was...not great. Also, weird as hell. This wasn’t something that usually happened to me. At all. I didn’t even know where to begin. I guess that explained my voice? Did Morpheus do something to me when I passed the border? Why? I watched my leg try and fail to form a solid shape as I took another step. I tried to concentrate and a gold-silver rippled sword blinked into existence.

    And then fell straight through the blob that was my ‘hand’ to the floor.

    We both stared at it.

    “Bullshit,” Sam summed it up.

    The apartment shuddered again. Something was yelling, but it sounded like they were garbling golf balls while screaming into a wind tunnel.

    “His Royal Highness, the Tail-Puller - “ Sam was never going to let that go. I was two! It’s been a decade! “Is currently fucking indisposed! Come back later!” Whatever was out there didn’t like that answer and the door groaned as another impact crashed. The cat looked up at the ceiling. “I do not get fucking paid enough for this shit.”

    “You’re right, you deserve a bonus,” I offered as whatever passed for my stomach now crunched into a little ball. I shouldn’t be worried about him. Sam lived here. He didn’t need me to look out for him, but I couldn’t help it. “The whole spread, whatever you feel like.”

    “Damn straight.” He stretched along the floor, even as the hairs on his back reached for the ceiling. “So, zombie oracle?”

    “Uh, yeah.” My brain flailed for a moment, before my mouth blurted out, “I think I ate her.”

    “What the fuck.” The walls shook and Sam groaned, rolling his eyes towards the door. “For the love of - would you kindly go fuck yourself!” There was more yelling from outside. “Ya think I give a fuck mate!?”

    Another bang rattled the walls. There was a loud roaring sound, like somebody was trying to out-compete a drunken rock concert in the distance, with the sound suddenly echoing off like it had other things to do.

    I tried to bite my lip and felt my ‘face’ wiggle as I willed one of the windows open. I let out a small laugh of relief when it worked and Sam’s ears relaxed. “Can you make the jump?”

    The orange tabby's tail flicked towards himself. “Fucking cat.”

    “Sorry.” I watched him jump up on the window sill and peer out. “Talk later?”

    “Sure. We’ll chew the cud, kill some things, whatever.” Sam looked back at me and his cat green right eye swirled into a burning orange matching the now molten stripes on his fur. I felt a phantom hook drag itself through my insides, pulling me out and away. The apartment began to fade away, leaving just the walls and the window. “Zombie oracles - the things that fuck puts in his fucking mouth, I swear...”

    He was never going to let that go either.

    The walls imploded as something broke through and the last I saw of Sam was his crooked tail as he jumped. I think I saw what came in, but I couldn’t be sure. It did something funny to my eyes as I was tossed out of the Dreamlands.

    Morpheus caught me on the slingshot. Maybe he said something. Maybe he laughed. I burbled back a thanks as best I could as he passed me back into his father’s realm. Hypnos’ ever grasping presence found me immediately and pulled me close. Usually people don’t really remember being asleep. You are aware of it, trust me. It’s just a hard feeling to hold on to.

    I guess it was like floating in still water. There was nothing to hear, or see, or taste. I drifted. What little I could feel was Hypnos’ grip, like a reflection on glass. You know what that's like, right? Ever feel like you woke up from a Dream and you get up to go about your day, but then you wake up from a Dream?

    Don’t worry. That just means you were interesting.

    There was a moment when I thought - maybe I imagined - something or someone else noticed me?

    I don’t know why a Primordial would ever bother with me.



    ...

    Uh, Hypnos? Hyp - buddy, I think we’ve got a visitor - !

    Hypnos grip went from gentle to restraining, dragging me further down into Sleep. Concepts wormed into my mind as the god approached. Hypnos’ pride and congratulations was more comforting than it should have been. The logical part of my brain was screaming its little heart out, reminding me that not all of Mom’s Names were safe for mortals, but I was asleep. The logical mind did not rule here.

    Oh.

    Hypnos sent me a vision of a planet cracking open, releasing a creature that reached into space with a lot of reaching claws and ten heads screaming a note that killed the sun.

    So...like your mom? I get it.

    I could feel his pride.

    The star was close enough to see. It was in the shape of a dark haired woman in a star studded black dress, but her shadow loomed behind her as a massive, reaching shape. With every step she took, the shadow gained more definition, more mass. Vague shapes were birthed from her shadow writhing and struggling for freedom. They either vanished into the aether or failed and were consumed by the shadow that gave them form. One escaped towards me and it was a deformed thing. Lopsided almost, with too many limbs on one side, eyes all over and its mouths eating its own face. Hypnos crushed it with a thought and its blood was green slime.

    Something told me I didn’t really want to see his mother up close.

    But that wasn’t a reason to be rude.

    Hi, Hypnos’ mom!

    The woman smiled as she came to a stop a safe distance away, her shadow’s form hazy to my eyes. She was close enough for her shadow to dwarf her son, like a writhing cage. Her head tilted like a curious dog as she looked me up and down. She asked a question.

    I’m Percy, uh - ma’am...?

    I know, I know! Ma’am? But I’m really not a ‘My Lady’ kind of guy. ‘Aunt’ was technically not true. I could name her as Nyx, but Names to an Elder God were avatars. They were always there. The only difference is by how much and the god behind the Night was very much there. I could see it in her eyes.

    A dark star looking back.

    Your son’s awesome. Sleep is great.

    She agreed with me, obviously. And I got a compliment! That...didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.

    Um, thank you?

    Her smile widened. I got the sense of amusement/curiosity/adventure. And - a gift?

    Oh shit.

    Wha - no, no, no, no that’s okay - !

    OGTHROD AI'F GEB'L-EE'H VEEM’ARFH 'NGAH'NG AI'Y ZHRO!
    Gesundheit!


    ...

    I’m just a demigod? So it was probably some weird thing that my ADHD brain did sometimes.

    All too soon, I woke up.

    I regretted it.

    My body felt like there was a millipede in stilettos tap dancing on my every nerve and a scorpion made a nest in my mouth. My tongue was dry and nasty and every one of my teeth hurt. My nose had that ache that told me I slept with my sunglasses on. I felt like I was swollen, like my skin was pulled a bit too tight. My brain might have been dribbling out of my ears. I groaned out loud and went to pull my blanket over my head.

    “Don’t move.”

    I froze in place, caught mid-blink. My hands hung in the air with one leg twisted over the other as I obeyed the voice. Which - I don’t - the hell? There’s no way that came from a human. Whoever they were, they sounded like how I imagined an octopus sounded speaking English underwater.

    Just bizarre.

    “Wait, I think he’s actually awake this time,” said a voice I definitely recognized. Whatever force was holding me disappeared and I collapsed back into my -

    Chair?

    I pried my eyes all the way open.

    I was in one of the lawn chairs on the porch around the Big House in front of a card table with a blanket over my body and a pillow under my head. The first thing I saw was the valley running all the way up to the water which glittered like sapphires about a mile in the distance. Were we on Long Island? Yesterday, the setting sun had given everything a surreal look, but now the marble columns of ancient Greek architecture shone proudly in the afternoon sun. Kids were everywhere I looked. Playing volleyball in a nearby sandpit with satyrs, shooting arrows at targets in an archery range, milling around the cabins, riding horses with wings. For a moment, I wanted nothing more than to get up and join them. Then I moved and my body said ‘no, you’re not.’

    A strong breeze blew through, drawing my attention to an unclaimed glass of iced apple juice in front of me, complete with the fluttering little pink paper parasol I had noticed and a slice of lime on the rim. A teenaged boy about sixteen years old with hair of spun gold and the sun in his blue eyes was sitting next to me on a wooden stool. He had on a bright orange T-shirt like most of the kids running around the Camp and ratty jeans with flip flops. He finished shuffling his deck of cards and held a hand up in my face.

    “Paladad,” my Bardson said with the perfect grin I was still jealous of. “Do you feel better after seeing my gorgeous face? Do I brighten your day? Are you basking in my glory?”

    I stared at him.

    He sighed. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

    “Three,” I croaked back. My voice was hoarse, but at least it didn’t echo.

    “English!” He exclaimed. “He’s good.” The man, the myth, the legend of literally cursed dice because he won’t apologize to Tyche for being an idiot, the Disaster Bard Phoebus Apollo himself squinted at me. “You are good, right?”

    There was a snort and I realized that Apollo wasn’t the only god at the table. Across from me on the other side, Athena and Mr. D sat in their own chairs watching the sun god deal the cards. Athena had a half and half blouse on, one side plain white and the other covered in blue and red geometric patterns. Mr. D's hawaiian shirt was covered in coconuts with red and white straws sticking out of them.

    I had no idea why three Olympians were here.

    No. Wait.

    Zombie oracle.

    “He better be,” a girl huffed and I swung my aching eyes around to my other side. “Aren’t you supposed to be some super demigod and not some weirdo?”

    “Weirdo,” I repeated.

    Like she was one to talk.

    “That’s Drew,” Apollo jumped back in, leaning into my line of sight. He was grinning, but his eyes were warning me. “Drew Tanaka, newly claimed Daughter of Aphrodite.”

    Weird Girl was a little younger than me, maybe? But she couldn’t seem to decide what she looked like. It was like she was two different girls and was constantly shifting features between them. One girl had pale skin, almond shaped brown eyes, a small mouth and short straight black hair. The other had a mocha skin tone, large hazel eyes, a pouty mouth and red-brown wavy hair. Every time she moved, or even just breathed, her form changed. Borrowing noses, swapping chins, altering ears.

    Wait. I’m not sure it was a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of thing. It might have been an attune-to-the-right-frequency kind of thing. The girl had a third form, I think.

    And it didn’t look human at all.

    “Aphrodite, huh?” I said slowly. Not what I expected. Not gonna lie. “That’s cool.”

    She scowled at me and crossed her arms. There was a - was that seaweed? - bracelet on her right wrist with a large pearl shimmering with all the colors of a rainbow woven into it. “What do you mean by that?”

    “Uh, nothing?” Why was I getting the feeling nothing I ever did was going to be the right thing with this girl? “Daughter of Sea and Sky, one of the Olympians…” I gingerly sat up in my chair, feeling everything scream. “Love is cool.”

    She stared at me like she was trying to catch me out on a lie. The hazel of her eyes seemed to shatter into a kaleidoscope of colors for a second. I felt something. Maybe a pull? And I...pushed back?

    Her eyes were brown as she looked away. “Whatever.”

    I tried.

    “Okay. Who pissed in your Cheerios?”

    Honest question.

    Annoying Girl just sneered at me and turned towards Athena. “Am I free to go, my Lady?”

    The goddess glanced towards Apollo who nodded as he bid his cards. Athena gave the girl a small smile. “Continue to learn as quickly as you did today, and you will go far. Thank you for your assistance.”

    “Your welcome, my Lady!”

    I watched her flounce off, confused. “Assistance? With what?”

    Apollo passed me the glass of apple juice, making sure not to let go until I had a good drip on it. I took a sip and even knowing it probably wasn’t apple juice, it still took me by surprise. It tasted exactly like Mom’s honey mead. It was rich, sweet and it even burned a little on the way down. The pain slowly began to drain away as I drank what I now knew to be nectar. Drink of the gods. It would always take on the flavor of what you liked most. Chouchen, I think Mom’s mead was called. I was allowed one small glass every New Year and tasting it now, I could almost pretend nothing was wrong.

    Almost.

    “Stopping you from tearing off your arms and beating everyone to death with them,” Mr. D grunted as he picked up some cards, discarding others.

    I spat out my drink.

    “What?”

    “Ignore him,” Apollo said, rolling his eyes. He cleaned me up with a flick of his fingers. “It wasn’t that bad. You had some seizures in your sleep.” Oh. Visions. That’s weird. I’ve never had a vision in my sleep before. Or, maybe I did and just didn’t remember it? “Like the ones you had when you were five.”

    So. Bad.

    Like the one I had at school yesterday.

    “And we have got to work on your lines, man. Asking a girl who pissed in her Cheerios is not a winning strategy. Take it from me.”

    “I don’t understand how she helped,” I ignored him, like usual. “She’s like nine. And rude.”

    Athena played her turn. What game are they even playing? Rummy? Poker?

    “Rarely, a child of Aphrodite inherits more from the Sea than others.” The goddess raised a slight eyebrow as her eyes shone. I understood. That was the cover story, and probably the reason Drew Tanaka had a pearl bracelet that screamed divine gift on her wrist. A Mist cloak, maybe?

    She was one of the goddess’ defects.

    Demigods inherited from the Names the godparent had them in. That’s how you could get this kid of Zeus throwing around lightning bolts, this one with super strength, that one was pretty and none ever with the divine ability to enforce Laws.

    Not even Zeus was that stupid.

    As far as I knew, it worked the same way for the Old and Elder Gods.

    It’s just that Aphrodite was a special case.

    Athena studied her cards. “They have an ability similar to Sirensong and you needed to be restrained.”

    So octopus command voice had been Love Brat.

    I crunched on my ice. “Restrained?”

    “You were hurting yourself - “ Apollo started.

    “On the anti ‘get fucked’ measures.” Mr. D finished. Both of his siblings glared at him. “Just saying,” he waved his Diet Coke around. “I was this close to popping you like a pimple and letting Father sort it out.”

    I crunched on my second ice cube. “That wouldn’t have ended well.”

    “We know,” all three gods replied.

    I smiled innocently. “Just saying.”

    Mr. D glared at me.

    “So, you got a Camper from Aphro - “ I paused. Drew Tanaka, newly claimed. “You brought someone to Camp to help me.”

    “To help me,” the God of Wine corrected before bidding. “What, you thought the bronze on the walls was for decoration?”

    “Uh, yeah, actually,” I said.

    Guess it wasn’t a fancy night light.

    It was a cage.

    Figures.

    “Suppressors?” I asked quietly. If you needed to bind something with divinity, Celestial Bronze and Adamantine. Stygian Iron technically works, I guess. “I’m not dangerous.”

    I’m not!

    My gut clenched as I looked towards the sun god. He knew me almost as well as my parents did. He knew me.

    I’m not.

    Apollo winced. I could see him searching for the words. “Percy…”

    “It was an emergency measure only to be used as needed.” Athena said calmly. “Are you able to tell me truthfully that you were absolutely of no danger to anyone last night?”

    I cringed. My chest felt tight. She didn’t even look at me, setting aside a pair of her cards as I thought back. I remembered the high I had been riding before the light of the Celestial Bronze hit me. I could almost still feel it. The sensation of flying, like I didn’t have a body weighing me down. I should have felt horrified, I realized. Not free.

    Congratulations to me.

    I tapped into my inherited divinity, like I’ve been trying for years.

    I ate the Oracle of Delphi.

    And I had wanted more.

    “As I said, we are unfamiliar with your caliber of demigod.” Athena reminded me. “We developed a means of rudimentary control for the son of Night. He was blind. Lethargic during the day, but under his mother’s influence - “

    “Good kid, Chiron said. Hard working, he said. Means well, he fucking said.” Mr. D grumbled. “He’s just fucking batshit, no big deal.”

    Athena smiled thinly over her cards. “And the Pit’s daughter was... difficult to put down.”

    I swallowed hard.

    “Sorry,” I whispered. I didn’t know what else to say. I felt like Athena lanced a boil I didn’t know I had.

    All demigods could be dangerous.

    The Goddess of Wisdom inclined her head as she drew cards. “Training demigods is the purpose of this Camp. If we can avoid a repeat?”

    “Yeah,” I replied, staring down into my empty glass. No more eating oracles. Easy. “That sounds like a plan.” Apollo clicked his fingers, refilling my glass with more nectar. Athena’s eyes narrowed, studying me as I started drinking. Halfway through the glass, my pain was down to ‘mildly sunburned with some cavities,’ which was a huge step up from before. The taste of Chouchen reminded me. “‘Pol’, my dad?”

    “I’m with him,” he reassured me as he played his turn. “He’s a bit hungover, but okay.”

    “He was...a little confused,” I admitted. In my peripheral vision, I saw Mr. D go to say something, only for Athena to stop him with a shake of her head.

    “He was rattled a bit.” They played a few rounds before Athena claimed victory with a short ‘royal marriage’ and her brothers groaned. “From his point of view,” Apollo continued. “He just got told his wife got in trouble with Olympus and possibly her own pantheon for raising you. For all he knows, we can’t send you home until she divorces him.”

    I bit my tongue until I tasted blood.

    Apollo nudged me with his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” He said quietly. “Your mom’s almost as awesome as I am. Trust me.”

    I did trust him.

    He was basically my big brother.

    I know it's a bit unusual for a demigod to claim that of an Olympian, but in my defense, he grows on you.

    Like mold.

    It was too far to say he raised me. But he helped. I loved my parents, but I knew they weren’t perfect. Grandpa loved telling me that my birthday present when I was two years old was a stuffed animal and learning that my father was being discharged from the psychiatric hospital.

    And I was Mom’s first demigod.

    Seven years ago, Mom still had a bit of trouble being...human all the time. Sometimes the Elder God bled through. Too curious, maybe. She had pushed a little too hard and I saw too much. Young children break easily. Being a demigod, I was sturdier than most, so I bounced back.

    What I did remember was her raw regret. I went outside - or was led outside? Left outside? - and Apollo then face planted on our balcony in front of me wearing a white blazer and missing a shoe. I thought he was an angel, like the ones my grandmother told me about. Just very clumsy. He’d reached for me with a drop or two of golden blood dripping out of his broken nose, awe and fear on his face.

    ‘Found you!’ Were his first words to me as he picked me up.

    ‘You die sad,’ were mine to him. His ghost was the first one I saw. Mom - my birth mother, I mean - made her presence known then. Apollo had very slowly, very gently put me back down and then scrambled back, accidentally launching himself into the pool. I threw him a floatie, as the angel was too busy freaking out to remember how not to drown.

    After he pulled himself out, dried himself off and straightened his nose, Mom shaped thin sunglasses out of thin air in front of us. They deposited themselves in Apollo’s hands as he gaped.

    ‘These...I think these are yours.’

    ‘Cool!’

    ‘You got a name, kid?’

    ‘Perseus, you?’

    ‘Apollo! The Greek god of the sun!’

    ‘Cooool!’

    I got the whole story later. Apollo had been looking for a ‘Disturbance in the Force’ for years when he spotted me on that balcony. He tried to teleport, couldn’t because Mom warded our home and instead of memorizing the location for later like a normal person, decided to blind jump off the fucking sun chariot.

    Like a moron.

    He didn’t stop to think that maybe something that could stop his teleport could maybe flay him alive.

    Which she could.

    “So Percy,” Apollo pointed a finger gun at me. “We need to talk.”

    I was suddenly filled with dread. “Yeah?”

    “Starting with the quality of women you let in your bed.”

    Mr. D snorted into his soda.

    “I did not let - “ Like my mother, Apollo thinks he’s funny. He’s not. “Do you have to say it like that?” I handed him my glass when he opened his mouth. “No, don’t - I’m not - it was your zombie oracle!”

    “And she was a damn fine one!” Apollo said indignantly, tossing the glass over his shoulder. It hit the porch and vanished. “Eighty years ago.”

    I was not doing this.

    I threw up my hands. “Why was she even in my room?”

    The sun god immediately pointed accusing fingers towards his half-sister. “Ask her,” he nearly snarled.

    Athena’s eyebrows rose. “I had nothing to do with - “

    “You grilled me for hours.” He held out his hand and all the playing cards fluttered into it, like animated paper birds. He was still frowning as he shuffled. “Hours. On the stupidest shit. You dragged Father into it!”

    “You were being unreasonable.”

    “Does Eater of the Bloody Tongues ring a bell?”

    “That does not excuse keeping us completely ignorant.” Athena caught herself, leaning back into her chair with a small frown. She carefully spoke. “A Protogenoi had a child would have sufficed. You did not need to tell us which one.”

    “Prophecy,” Apollo countered flatly. “As if we would have voted to leave it at that with Olympus on the line. Can you imagine if the Child of Prophecy was of the Pit? What happens? Of Earth? Even Night, Father would risk it.”

    “He would not,” Athena protested.

    Her brothers just looked at her.

    The only sound between the three Olympians was the shuffling of cards. After a bit, Apollo began to deal them out, including me.

    “I wanted some good news,” he said quietly. “I thought someone had qualified for a Quest and it would change the subject from you, Perce. So I signed off on it.” He shrugged and smiled, but it looked a little brittle. “God of Prophecy, single handedly stops war, because he’s that cool.”

    Mr. D rolled his eyes and I would have too, if not for one word.

    “War?”

    My D&D party member god waved a careless hand. “Dad’s Bolt was stolen months ago.”

    Apollo.” Athena said sharply.

    “No,” was all he said, but it had the same energy as ‘fuck you.’ He turned to me. “Remember the rules for pinochle?”

    My mind was spinning. Zeus’ Master Bolt had been stolen? Months ago? That was actually pretty big. I could care less what it meant to Zeus' ego, anyone smart would be more worried about a god level WMD floating around who knows where. When I say god-level, think nuclear bomb aimed at Oklahoma, but capable of making Texas into something it would never accomplish on its own: being its own country.

    Moat and everything.

    What did - well it was Zeus so that meant he spent those months blaming people. Or a person, I guess. I would bet this month’s allowance that it was Poseidon. Either him or Hades, depends on who he argued with last, but it was the Sea God. And I...could not think of a single reason for Poseidon to do that? So he probably didn’t have his brother’s oversized sparkler and to say Zeus was stubborn would be an understatement.

    Ugh.

    Might explain those freak storms we had this winter. Did someone really swipe the Master Firecracker during Winter Solstice?

    And they hadn’t used it yet. What were they waiting for?

    I grabbed my cards. “I thought you said pinochle was a shit game.”

    Mr. D gasped. “How dare you.”

    Apollo wagged a finger at him. “God of Truth!”

    “So your oracle...lied to you?” I asked and Apollo paused. His face scrunched into a thoughtful frown as he set his cards down. He was quiet as Mr. D and Athena played their turns in silence. The Greek god of the sun was actually thinking. It was a rare occurence and none of us wanted to fuck it up for him.

    I hesitantly bid under Apollo’s considering look.

    “Maybe she didn’t?” He finally said as he drew cards.

    “I didn’t get a Quest.” I felt compelled to point out. I didn’t get a Prophecy either. Just nonsense. Apollo would know the moment a real Prophecy got made. It didn’t mean anything. “I got a murder attempt.”

    “I’m the god of Truth, not Facts.” He defended himself. “Maybe it was true, from a certain point of view.”

    “Not the Star Wars quotes.”

    “Wait a minute,” Athena cut in, sounding strangely thrilled. “You think he might - “

    “I lost it, yeah,” Apollo said, still looking at me. “That doesn’t exactly mean it's gone.”

    I froze mid-draw as what they were implying hit me. “You mean -”

    “Maybe.”

    “No.”

    “I said maybe.”

    “There must be some tests we could conduct.” Athena said the word ‘tests’ like she meant ‘dissect’ which was not filling me with confidence. “Perhaps a resonance sampling against the Grove of Dodona, or one of the other oracles you’ve been neglecting.”

    “I haven’t been neglecting - “ Athena gave him an incredulous look and Apollo corrected himself. “I got better!”

    She didn’t bother responding to him. “As the son of Fate, you do have some prophetic talents, don’t you?”

    I felt trapped. “But. Mom said - “

    “That she wouldn’t let you hold an Oracle.” Apollo rubbed his chin. “Technically, you aren’t holding it. You’re not a girl which is important. You didn’t swear to me which is necessary. Your mother out ranks whatever blessing the Fates would have given you and it's not possessing you because of...whatever it was you did to it.” He tilted his head. “Just to be thorough, what did you do to it?”

    “I ate it,” I said numbly. I wondered if I could throw it up.

    “You - “ he stopped. “Right. Okay.” He breathed in through his nose heavily, making his nostrils flare. “Percy. Get your cards.”

    I opened my mouth to ask if he was serious, but I couldn’t get the words out. He was serious. I bit my lip and reached down to the left of my chair for my canvas backpack. As I pulled it up into my lap, Mr. D’s blood shot eyes widened.

    “What the - “

    “A gift. From my mother.” I opened one of the pouches on the front and pulled out the aluminum tin case holding my deck. I rubbed my thumb over the etching of Mt. Olympus on the front before opening the latch. The sound was unexpectedly loud, making me flinch.

    “Okay,” I muttered as I dug out my cards.

    The thin geometric patterns of black and silver that decorated the back of every Mythomagic card was intimidating. If you’ve never heard of Mythomagic, it’s a modern take on Magic: The Gathering. Collectible cards with the theme of Greek mythology. You had character cards like Apollo and Athena, hero cards like Hercules, monster cards like the Hydra, item cards like Vial of Centaur Blood, etc. I knew how to play and it was fun, but I also knew how to read them like they were Greek tarot.

    Nothing fancy or anything. Vague warnings or foretellings.

    I shuffled my cards. I placed the deck on the table and drew the first card.

    Zeus, King of Olympus.

    Fuck.

    “It doesn’t mean anything,” I said before anyone could say anything.

    It didn’t mean anything at all.

    I drew the next card and the next until I had my usual four cards in a line on the table. I took a breath and stopped my drifting hand from picking a fifth card.

    “Percy…” Apollo said slowly.

    I gritted my teeth, clenching my traitorous hand in my lap and trapping it with my other one. I stared down at my four cards and knew they made no sense. I had years of practice at this sort of thing. I could feel it down to my bones. That feeling pooled in my gut like I had swallowed a jar of tadpoles. As I stared down at my cards, I felt like I was looking at my Latin exam all over again and the letters were playing musical chairs.

    The reading was incomplete.

    Finish it.

    My fingers uncurled. My body relaxed. I drew a fifth card. And then a sixth. I kept drawing, carefully placing each card at equal distance from the previous until I had two even rows of six. Twelve cards. I felt the soft click in my brain and knew I was done. My dyslexia took a back seat, allowing me to read them. Or maybe I wasn’t reading them with my brain. I was aware I was shaking as I reached out and picked up one of the cards in the first row.

    I buy packs of Mythomagic cards sometimes. Just to get new cards, it was a collectible game after all. The more unique cards I had, the more I could refine my readings. When you could only read four cards, every little bit helps.

    It got real old, real quick drawing Thanatos, the God of Death card only to figure out later it meant I was going to stub my toe. Now I got bad news in the form of Moros, the God of Doom and annoying things were Koalemos, the God of Stupidity. I kept an eye out for what I was still missing from the collection. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it worked out alright.

    I flipped the card in my hand around, showing Apollo The Oracle of Trophonius card.

    He blinked and then smiled. “Oh yeah! That - “

    “I don’t have this card,” I whispered and the god’s mouth shut with a click. “I don’t know where it came from.” I swallowed. “‘Pol’. I don’t have this card.”

    He took it from me. “Breathe, kid.”

    I tried to.

    I don’t want to be an oracle. I can’t be an oracle. I just wanted to be a normal Camper. Make friends. Have fun.

    Go home.

    Mom, I prayed, Tell me this is a joke. You didn’t mean it.

    “You’re not my oracle,” Apollo said, as if he had read my mind. Maybe he did. “You didn’t swear anything to anyone. You’re not mine.”

    I don’t know what I felt from her. It was alien. Like she jumbled several concepts together and the translation just tickled my brain. I almost understood. It was like I just tried to read a message in the reflection of a funhouse mirror.

    And I’m dyslexic.

    What? Mom?

    I understood the next message.

    Patience.

    This was -

    This was actually happening.

    As Apollo placed the Oracle of Trophonius back into its place between the cards of Hermes, God of Thieves and Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, Athena abandoned her seat in favor of the empty chair next to me.

    “Fascinating,” she breathed and I fought the urge to hit her. That would not help. “Card reading as a means of divination is a more chthonic tradition,” chthonic means Underworld, more or less. It's the realm of the Old Gods and the home of Nyx and Tartarus which means the usual translation is ‘Bad Juju.’

    “But this is undoubtedly a Prophecy.”

    Her eyes shone as she traced the cards with her fingertips. She probably had a dozen potential meanings already bouncing around her skull.

    “Better than that!” Apollo laid a very warm hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently as he picked up an item card from the line up. Zeus’ Lightning Bolt. “It’s a Quest!”

    “Yay.” Mr. D deadpanned. “Are we going to make the little shits draw lots then? Rock Paper Scissors? Sudden death match!”

    “I’ve never…” I swallowed. “I’ve never read for other people. Just myself.”

    Athena made a considering sound. I could almost see the puzzle pieces being put together in her head. “You issued a Quest for yourself?”

    Please no.

    “Secondaries were two out of the four if not negated by three, right?” Apollo mused, remembering the rules for how I read my cards. He hovered over the card of Boreas, God of the North Wind. His brow furrowed. “Which means assuming it's not you, and expanding for the number, it’s…”

    He picked up the sixth card. It was of his twin sister Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt.

    Athena scoffed. “It is likely an allusion to her domain as a literal interpretation of the task required.”

    Apollo glanced at her, but pinned me with burning blue eyes. “Percy?”

    “Uh.” My mouth was dry. There were protective older brothers and then there was Apollo.

    He wasn’t older, but don’t try to tell him that.

    “She...literally goes on Quests all the time for Olympus?” My mouth said without the thumbs up from my brain.

    It was just so obvious?

    Killing monsters was her job which I was led to believe was at least 80% of demigod Quests. The other 20% was a scavenger hunt.

    “Her Domain allows for tracking objects or people.” I began to list off. “She’s practiced at moving among mortals. She can kill monsters and mortals without breaking any rules and has almost as much leeway for travel through godly Domains as Hermes.”

    If I was Zeus trying to find my OverCompensator Plus Ultra, my first pick would be Artemis. That’s because something like the Master Bolt flat out can’t be directly stolen by another god. It would just return to its true owner. However, it can be stolen by a mortal or a monster. Something funky with the metaphysics of Domains. A god like Hades could challenge Zeus and take the Bolt after beating his ass into the ground, but he can’t steal it. He would need a mortal Champion to do that.

    And when it comes to mortals, there are Ancient Laws against just smiting every annoyance. That doesn’t mean they can’t kill you, because they very much can. They just can’t do it directly. Even indirect smitings still have to work within their Domains.

    Instead of turning you into a puddle of sea water in the middle of Nevada, Poseidon has to wait until you go on a cruise to sink your ship and send a few sharks. If you piss off Aphrodite for - I don’t know - breathing too ugly, she can’t just turn you into a dove out of the blue. You’ll probably wish she could have, as your life will now suck, but she can’t. Zeus can smack you with a lightning bolt, but it can’t have any divine oomph put into it. I’d give you good odds for surviving!

    If a god wants you to not be a thing, they have to get you to Challenge them somehow. That way they can do whatever they want to you.

    Unless that god is Artemis.

    Ares’ Domain covers all weapons of War, so he’s a good pick for finding his Dad’s Sparkler. Apollo can see all the sunlight touches while in his chariot. Athena can be a Noir protagonist tracking the perp. Zeus probably wouldn’t even consider asking a ‘minor’ deity to help, so those three could be expected to drag the thief alive kicking and screaming back to Olympus for judgement.

    Artemis will bring back a corpse.

    “And she already failed once finding Father’s Bolt!” Mr. D crowed. Athena grimaced as Apollo gritted his teeth. It wasn’t just Artemis that had failed. “Brat’s got a point.”

    Athena took Artemis’ card from him before he set it on fire. She studied it as if she wasn’t sure it should even exist.

    “There is a card for her Name as Goddess of the Moon, isn’t there?” She asked suddenly.

    “Yeah.” I offered a smile that probably looked like a grimace. “All of the Dodekatheon get multiple versions of their cards.”

    Her eyes darted back to the card table. “King of Olympus. God of Thieves.” The puzzle pieces were shifting around again. “What can you tell us about this card?”

    She picked up the tenth card. The Right Hand of Kronos, the Titan Lord.

    Fuck if I know.

    I said the first thing that came to mind. “It’s banned in tournaments.”

    Athena rolled her eyes and Apollo cracked a small smile.

    “Uh, there are five cards in total?” I kept talking. I don’t know why. Did I even have that card? I can’t remember if I had that card. “Right and Left Hand, Right and Left Leg and Head. If you assemble all the pieces of the Titan Lord in your hand, you automatically win. It’s game over.”

    Apollo wasn’t smiling anymore.

    Athena dropped the card back onto the table as if it had burned her.

    Mr. D sighed like Christmas had been canceled. He got up from his chair. He pointed to me with his Diet Coke can.

    “I hate you.”

    Then he walked away.

    “Fuck you too, buddy,” I muttered.

    I did not ask for this.

    “What else?” Athena demanded sharply.

    I looked over the cards wildly. “I don’t - I don’t know! We - she - needs to go north maybe? Moros and Despoina together is probably bad? I - “ My eyes caught on the Oracle of Trophonius card. Something in my mind was pulling at me. Oracle of Trophonius and Despoina, Goddess of Mystery. Connected? Then wouldn’t it be better to put them...like this? Moros, God of Doom and Geras, God of Old Age were...beside? Boreas, God of the North Wind…

    I started to arrange the cards. Some invisible counter in my mind kept track of the draw order. Four, four, four, it whispered as I moved Hermes, God of Thieves to the right. Eight, eight, eight. The Cydonian Cincture. Twelve, twelve, twelve. A Harpe Sword.

    When I was done, there was a circular pattern on the card table that looked like a wheel. Or maybe some kind of star? There was space for a thirteenth card in the upper left ‘corner.’

    And I was exhausted.

    I slumped back into my chair, head on the pillow and stared up at the fluffy white clouds in the sky.

    “Time-gated,” I said. Even my voice sounded weak. “It’s not active yet.”

    I was too tired to feel relieved.

    “You did good, kid,” Apollo murmured. “First times can be a little rough, and messy and unsatisfying, but practice makes perfect!”

    I rolled my eyes. “Dude.”

    “What?” I could hear the smile in his voice. “I’m talking about Prophecies, obviously. Get your mind out of the gutter.”

    I groaned.

    I heard the chair creak as Athena stood up. “This may not be what you want, Percy, but remember that should the Lords of Sea and Sky go to war, millions will be collateral damage.”

    I grimaced. I guess. I was being selfish. I wanted friends, but not at the cost of putting my Dad in danger. Not if I could help it.

    And.

    Saving everyone else would be great too.

    She leaned over the table, examining the cards. “And your ability is remarkable. No petitioners or requests required. You simply tire rather than losing consciousness and memory. You can tell us about a Prophecy before it is in effect, giving us time to prepare.” She straightened, tapped the table and turned to go. “If there are any more developments from the Oracle of Chthon, inform me.”

    Apollo gave a low whistle. “Chthon?”

    She gave her half-brother a superior look over her shoulder. “Do you have a better idea?”

    She turned the corner of the Big House and I knew she was gone.

    My Disaster Bard grinned. “Sun god’s protégé, growing into his awesome, credit to the team!”

    We never should have let Apollo go to Japan.

    “Your oracle still tried to kill me,” I said, tired. My eyelids were starting to get heavy.

    “But didn’t!” He said as if that excused everything. “I’ve been trying to do something about her for decades. Not the solution I would have picked, but your mom plans ahead. I have faith in you.”

    I think my heart grew three sizes. I couldn’t help my pleased smile. “Thanks, Bardson.”

    “Anytime, Paladad!” He fluffed my pillow with a wave of a finger. “Take a nap. Eat something later.” His voice lowered a bit. “And about my sister - never mind. Maybe it just means one of her Hunters, or something.”

    “Yeah,” I lied.

    Hunter of Artemis was its own card.

    The sun in his eyes flared and I knew he heard the lie.

    “It’ll be fine,” I said ahead of him. “She’s almost as awesome as you are.”

    True.” Apollo allowed himself to be defused, striking a pose. “If anything happens, shoot me a rhyme!”

    After the last Olympian left, I took that badly needed nap. I didn’t dare try to Dream. I woke up to the sound of people talking. The sun was just touching the horizon over the water, painting the sky in various shades of pink and purple. Camp activities were winding down with people putting away the canoes, abandoning the volleyball game and stabling the winged horses. I turned my head and saw a bunch of older teenagers leaving the Big House. One of them looked over at me. His blue eyes widened, before he smiled and walked over.

    “Hey! Perseus Stele, that right?”

    “Percy,” I corrected, trying to match his smile. I sat up and aside from a twinge in my stomach, I was good as new. I threw my blanket off and saw my black slacks from yesterday and bare feet. Someone had cleared the card table, leaving just an aluminum tin with the Mythomagic logo etched into it lying there as if nothing had happened.

    “You?”

    “Luke Castellan, son of Hermes. Counselor of Cabin 11.” He had an easy grin that softened the scar running down the left side of his face from his eye to his chin. He had thick blond hair and he’d torn the sleeves off his orange Camp Half-Blood T-Shirt to better show off muscular arms. “So...from what I understand, you aren’t actually in a Cabin, but you’re still a Camper, yeah?”

    I nodded.

    “Mr. D had all Counselors draw lots for, uh, ‘adopting’ you. Show you around, make your schedule, settle you in.”

    My chest tightened. “And I’m speaking to the loser?”

    Luke blinked. He studied me quietly for a moment.

    “The winner.” Luke said firmly. He offered me a hand and hauled me out of my chair. “No one’s given you the tour, right? We’ve got some time before dinner, go get some shoes on.”

    I stared at him like an idiot for a few seconds, then rushed back inside the Big House. I was smiling as I found my shoes and dug out fresh socks from my bag. I faltered a little when I got back to him as he was talking to a vaguely familiar blonde girl with princess curls and storm gray eyes.

    “Percy!” Luke nodded. “This is one of my friends, Annabeth Chase, Daughter of Athena. Cabin 6.”

    I immediately saw what Athena had meant about demigod eyes. Annabeth’s eyes studied me, much like her mother, as if she could see down to my bones. But the only color in her eyes was gray.

    “Hi,” I offered her a smile and a wave. “Percy Stele, uh,” I probably shouldn’t draw my mother’s attention here. Not after how the Campers reacted. “Son of Fate.”

    She smiled back, nodding her head.

    “I looked up everything we had on your parent,” She dove in immediately. “I’ve got a list of books that mention her, a few poems but they link her to Aphrodite which is ridiculous, but a few highlight connections to Night and - “

    “Annabeth!” Luke laughed. “Let’s start with the Camp first, eh? Giving him a tour, coming with?”

    She blushed, mumbling under her breath.

    “Uh, thanks.” I replied. I was a bit confused. Why would she offer to tell me about my own mother?

    “Alright, that sandpit is the volleyball court.” Luke pointed as he led the way off the porch. “Sometimes badminton.”

    It didn’t take long for Luke to start grabbing other kids milling around, introducing me to them and coaxing them to pitch in telling me about the canoe races, the contests, the Climbing Wall…

    My face was starting to hurt from my smile when a strange horn sound signaled that dinner was starting. My unease had all but disappeared. I was still a little homesick, but it wasn’t crippling anymore. Mr. D’s kids, Castor and Pollux pulled me over to their Table 12, telling me how it all worked. Non-alcoholic drinks for the enchanted goblet so chouchen was out, but apple cider was in! Apparently they gave burnt offerings here. Guess it was a Young God thing.

    I chose a portion of my barbeque, some grapes and bread to chuck into the fire.

    To Hestia Prytaneia and Hestia Potheinotáti, I prayed.

    The smoke didn’t smell like burned meat, burned bread or burned grapes. It smelled like Dad’s hot chocolate. A hint of spice and vanilla. And underneath, it smelled like fresh grass and spring water, the scent I associated with Mom. It smelled like home.

    Thanks. You’re the best.

    Mom plans ahead, I remembered as I sat back down and dug in, fielding questions from curious satyrs.

    Apparently, I smelled like the stars.

    Mom plans ahead.

    Everything was going to be fine.
     
  9. NuclearBirb

    NuclearBirb A mysterious birb.

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    God this is so good. Just from the first few chapters I can safely say this is significantly better then PJO.
    Also, related, hestia is bestia.
     
    ClassyCobra, Bolt97, Silvis and 2 others like this.
  10. Threadmarks: In Which I Am A Normal Camper
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction
    “So what happened Friday night?” Maybe-Pollux asked me when we sat down for breakfast in the dining pavilion. Mr. D was already at Table 12, face down and gently snoring. No one seemed surprised, so I guess it was just something the god did.

    “If you can tell us,” Maybe-Castor chided his brother and I swore to myself that eventually, I will be able to tell them apart.

    The twin sons of Mr. D looked a lot like their dad’s current mortal disguise before the trailer park and booze. They had his slightly curling hair just blond instead of black, violet eyes and cherubic look complete with Pillsbury Doughboy smiles. In their orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirts and khaki shorts they looked completely identical until you noticed that Maybe-Castor wore sandals while Maybe-Pollux was a filthy heathen in sneakers without socks.

    Breakfast was very Greek with yogurts and fruit and feta cheese and flatbreads and these sourdough pancakes made with olive oil and honey. It was the type of food Grandma swore by, so it wasn’t as big of a culture shock as it could have been. It was actually kind of nice. My grandparents didn’t know this place existed, but they definitely would have approved.

    Well maybe not the part about honest-to-God lava on the Climbing Wall - that was asking for a heart attack - but everything else.

    “Some bug crawled up the Oracle’s ass that made her try to kill me,” I said as I dumped a handful of grapes into my yogurt. “So I ate her.”

    “What.” Pollux (Castor? Damn it) said with his fork hanging out of his mouth while his brother stared at me over the top of his goblet and I realized that maybe I shouldn’t have said that last bit. Or at least changed ‘ate’ to ‘kill.’ They were demigods, right? You got used to things trying to kill you and killing them back, no matter how they looked or what they said.

    I could almost hear Cliff’s exasperated sigh and ‘Can you, like, not?’

    Apparently I can’t not.

    Speaking of, I needed to call him. Before he got to school Monday, saw I wasn’t there and assumed the worst.

    “Uh.” I waved my spoon around in the air as I searched for the words to explain what happened. “Oracle spirit?” Then I gestured towards myself. “Son of Fate. Weird shit happened.”

    Both boys nodded like they understood completely and I absolutely did not cry into my pancakes. Some of the flowering nymphs around - stuff got in my eyes, you know how it is. My sunglasses got most of it, of course. There was maybe a tear or two to clear away. You can ask the twins!

    One boy smiled gently at me, while the other politely shooed some of the nymphs away. It felt like this invisible chasm in the table between us had shrunk, if it hadn’t disappeared completely. Conversation yesterday was all about the Camp. Friendly enough, but it had been like no one was sure I was going to be a normal Camper.

    I could be a normal Camper.

    “We’ve all been there,” Castor (fuck it, he’s Castor) the Sandal Wearer said. “One time the neighbor’s dog chased Castor - “ damn, he’s not Castor - “into a ground bees’ nest and he escaped to a wild strawberry patch - “

    “And that’s the story!” The actual Castor the Sockless said loudly. “It was a literal pain in my ass, thank you,” he said as an aside to his twin. “Dog died. The end.”

    Pollux sniggered. “Weeeelll…”

    “The end!”

    I could be a normal Camper.

    “We visited Niagara Falls,” I offered. “Dad had to smuggle me back on the tourist bus without my pants because of a giant evil badger.”

    Yeah. Don’t ask.

    “We were kidnapped by trees when we were seven.” Castor shot his snoring father a cheeky look. “Pops wouldn’t let us out of his sight for a month, literally put us on a leash, fretting like an old woman.”

    Mr. D snorted mid-snore.

    “Heard that,” the god muttered, turning his head just enough to cast a bloodshot blue eye over his sons. His thick unruly black beard bristled.

    “He burned the forest down,” Pollux said with glee, winking back. “Turns out the Hunters were in it! The moon goddess was pissed.”

    Their father groaned, burying his face in his arms, mumbling something incomprehensible as we laughed. The dining pavilion was filling up with campers and the fire in the central brazier grew from hot coals to a roaring fire, as if responding to the amount of people around. Most tossed handfuls of fruit into the flames resulting in sweet smelling smoke. I wondered who they offered too.

    I thought about making an offering to Mom. Some cheese or something, but I couldn’t do it. I stood at the fire like a stump, a fork on my plate ready to scrape something into the flames and felt like I was two inches tall.

    I know how to make a proper sacrifice. That was not it.

    I finished off my pancakes and started to mix oats into my yogurt. “Pixies ruined my tenth birthday party.”

    Pollux’s eyebrows wiggled. “Was exorcised twice.”

    “Twice?” I mumbled, impressed in spite of myself.

    “The priest thought he was me!” Castor blurted out. He threw back his head and cackled.

    Breakfast at Camp Half-Blood was already great!

    We continued to trade stories in short blurbs out of an unspoken agreement that it was hilarious not getting all the details. Mid-way through the Pollux’s ‘Escaped a polka dance led by Pops’ demented fancult’ sentence, Luke Castellan the Counselor of Cabin 11, Hermes, coughed and tapped the table for attention.

    “I’m not even going to ask,” he said, eyebrows raised.

    Luke looked much like he did yesterday, but he was either not a morning person or didn’t sleep well. There were dark bags under his eyes and his shirt was rumpled. It was long-sleeved this time and orange on black, like a color inverted Ancient Greek vase. His scar in the morning light looked worse than I thought. Even half an inch higher and he probably would have lost his left eye.

    Demigods were resilient. We heal faster and heal better than normal people. That’s before we get into our ability to eat and drink godly food without turning to ash. Whatever gave him that must have been mean.

    Pollux and Castor grinned identical smiles up at the older boy.

    Luke grinned back.

    “He stays with Cabin 11, sorry boys!” The twins immediately dropped their smiles for pouts. The son of Hermes was unphased. “You lost fair and square.”

    Pollux coughed. “Hermes Cabin wins a game of drawing lots, what a surprise.”

    Luke’s grin shifted to something definitely more sly looking. It pulled at his scar, narrowing his eyes and making his sharp features stand out. It made him almost look evil.

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about. The goddess of fortune is my sister.” He barked a laugh as the two members of Dionysus Cabin rolled their eyes. “Alright, alright. I need to borrow Percy for a few minutes.” He fished a paper square out of his jean shorts and started unfolding it. “I’ve got a schedule made for you, but I want your opinion on it.”

    “Sure.” I nodded.

    Then there was this awkward moment where I didn’t move and Luke didn’t move and we kind of just stared at each other before he realized I wasn’t getting up and I realized he wasn’t sitting down.

    “Uh,” Luke looked taken aback, glancing down at the bench like it was a rattlesnake. “The tables are only for cabin members,” he said slowly. A frown was pulling at his lips and I saw him glance towards some of the empty tables in the pavilion. “We’re not allowed at the other tables.”

    Oh that’s right. Camp was stupid.

    I opened my mouth.

    “You were given permission,” Luke preempted me. The smile he plastered onto his face didn’t look happy. “Your mom’s too big of a deal to make you sit on the floor. I don’t think it’ll work the same for me. It’s only for a couple minutes, it’s fine.”

    “Never know until you try?” I asked.

    You might be wondering why I’m pushing this so hard. Just stand up, Percy. Just go with the flow, Percy. Can’t you see this is getting uncomfortable, Percy? Yes, I could see that, but there was one thing about this whole situation that was so compelling, so intriguing and so fascinating that it was like waving a red flag in front of the Minotaur.

    It was fucking stupid!

    I inherited my father’s tolerance for stupidity and I’m not going to apologize for it.

    We all looked towards Mr. D sawing logs as a bold nymph braided a strand of his black hair. She knew the god didn’t need to sleep right? That he was at least partially still aware right? She had to.

    “It’s fine?” Castor said a bit louder than normal. The god didn’t move and Castor nodded to himself. “It’s fine.”

    Luke looked like he swallowed a lemon.

    He gingerly sat next to me. As soon as his butt touched the seat he went rigid like he expected the bench to set off firecrackers under his ass. When nothing happened, Luke glanced back at the God of Wine again. A thoughtful look passed over his face.

    “Huh,” he said.

    The twins were frowning. Pollux pushed some of his cheese around on his plate as Castor stuffed a pancake in his mouth with a deep furrow in his brow.

    “Should have asked sooner,” Pollux muttered, looking towards the over-full Cabin 11 table across the pavilion.

    “You know how he is,” Castor said after swallowing. “Now we know.”

    Luke spread his paper out on the table where a timetable had been sketched out with pencil and a pen with a larger than normal point size. A few mistakes were crossed out here and there. Luke had this blocky way of writing that I absolutely had to copy. The letters still tried to skip around on me, but reluctantly. They were easier to recognize. Like they were trying not to piss me off but just couldn’t help themselves.

    “Every morning we have inspections for the cabin, making sure we didn’t trash the place. Chiron will probably do that for you as he also lives in the Big House,” Luke explained, pointing at the times printed by the blocks. “I’ll take over when he isn’t in, so tomorrow morning? Clean your room.” He moved to the next block and offhandedly asked, “How’s your Ancient Greek?”

    “Fluent in all dialects,” I answered with a shrug. Luke’s mouth snapped shut with a click as the twins perked up.

    “How long did that take you?” Castor asked, leaning forward. “Pops is grilling us on Doric Greek right now and we’ve been learning since we could talk.”

    I smiled apologetically. “Born with it.”

    Greek demigods have it a bit rough. The nature of our inherited divinity takes a hacksaw to the part of our brains dealing with language. Almost literally. I found out about that when Dad took me to the doctor after a bad vision ‘just to make sure’ my visions weren’t hurting me. He ended up getting questions on what happened to my brain, why wasn’t I a drooling idiot, and are those eyes?

    We got to keep the images, even though the doctors didn’t get to keep their memories.

    You can see it with an MRI.

    Children of Athena have a preference for Attic Greek, the language of Ancient Athens and its successor dialect Koine Greek. Children of Ares are for Doric and Macedonian because of Sparta and conquerors or something. Everybody has a basic competency with Mycenaean Greek. What I’m getting at is that we’re hardwired for Greek. Our first words were probably Greek, even if we’d never even heard the language before. The problems start the minute you give us a not Greek language.

    My brain takes one look at a sentence written in English and has a panic attack. Translation errors that come from being the child of a personified concept meant apostrophes were added out of nowhere, consonants shoved together and vowels repeated. Eventually, I end up with some bizarro language that probably predates Linear A Greek so much it's no longer technically Greek and is definitely worth an F on my book report.

    It’s a Greek thing. Every kid at this summer camp has dyslexia. Some have it worse than others. Protogenoi kids have translation to human problems. Everyone else inherited that translation to human problem because their parents’ divinity was welded on.

    The Titanborn are probably suffering bad in English class. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the children of Athena and Hermes had an easier time than the rest of us due to the Wisdom and Orators Domains their parents had respectively, but everyone had it.

    If you meet a Norse demigod, chances are they can read English just fine.

    Which was...

    I mean, that was probably fair, honestly.

    The Norse had their own problems.

    “Seriously?” Luke muttered.

    “Born...fluent?” Pollux puzzled as we watched Luke fish a pen out of his pocket and strike through the whole block with a thick blue line. “Were you blessed or something?”

    “I - I don’t actually know?” Now that I thought about it, Apollo had been pretty surprised by that too. “I think it’s because she’s a creator goddess and even languages have a Fate.”

    It’s normal for gods to be all kinds of broken within their Domains. For my mother, it’s her Domain that’s broken.

    “Okay…” Luke moved to the next row. “How about your mythology?”

    “Know ‘em.” I scraped up the last bits of my yogurt. These grapes were awesome, way better than store bought. “We focused on gods of the pantheons though, not the heroes.”

    Athena already outlined Olympus’ lies. I was pretty sure those weren’t the only ones. If they are willing to lie about something as basic as Kronos fighting with Gaia's help, then they are willing to lie about anything.

    The Five Ages of Man began with the Titan Lord’s reign. Aphrodite was whole. The Titan Lord was the Sky Father’s son and overthrew him with his brothers and the Earth’s help.

    I told Athena I won’t say otherwise.

    I won’t.

    I don’t need to lift the curtain.

    Poke enough holes in any deception and it will fall apart on its own.

    Apollo taught me that.

    “I could use a bit of a refresher,” I said with an innocent smile.

    Luke immediately looked suspicious.

    “It’s a book heavy course with tutors from Cabin 6,” he warned me. Cabin 6 was Athena, right? “We do use Greek texts, but don’t think you’ll be able to breeze through it.” I promised not to start a riot, but I don’t think he believed me. “So advanced, huh?”

    He scratched his cheek with the top of his pen before giving the twins a long suffering look.

    “Just put him with us.” Pollux rolled his eyes as Castor grinned.

    “Annabeth has enough headaches as it is. She does not need to know about your dad’s attempts to get her mother drunk,” Luke deadpanned, but he sighed and made a note on the paper. “The whole mythology actually matters thing is still new to a lot of campers, so its either stick you with kids who’ve been here a long time or - ”

    “Cabin Twelve!” Castor crowed.

    We hashed out the rest of my schedule as breakfast wound down. Activities like learning how to track and horseback riding and canoeing were interspersed with chores like making lunch, maintaining armor and chopping wood. I will be the first to admit I was looking forward to monster killing class and archery, but making fireworks and learning the javelin did sound fun.

    Tomorrow I’d get my finalized schedule, but for today I was sticking with Cabin Twelve, Dionysus which meant wood chopping right after breakfast followed by cleaning out the stables.

    Yay.

    I followed the twins back towards the Big House. Our destination was the Arts and Crafts ‘building.’ It had four marble pillars, no walls, and a roof that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a museum on Ancient Greece. As we got closer I could make out other details. Old school looms were set up across from painting easels. Long tables covered in bits and bobs, baskets stuffed to bursting with spools of yarn, plastic bags holding buttons and zippers. There were shelves upon shelves of materials. Tinsel and glitter reflecting sunlight, rolls of stickers, jars of paint. There were a few kilns on the south side of the building along with a pile of chopped and unchopped wood.

    “The Forge also uses wood for some work, but for the most part Cabin 9 have their…” Castor waved both of his hands. “Thing.”

    “If they need wood, they get it from here, so we have to make sure there’s enough for the kilns, for carving and the Forge if they need it.” Pollux explained to me as he passed me an axe.

    There are a few tricks to chopping wood I found out. Getting the angle right on uneven cylinders of dried wood, putting enough strength into the swing but not too much, eyeballing where the best split was.

    “You’ll get the hang of it,” Pollux promised after my log pulled evasive maneuvers and dove off the stand with nothing but a chip in the bark for my efforts.

    I wouldn’t call it back breaking work, but I definitely felt like the spoiled city kid swinging that axe under the morning sun. My cheesecake blizzard from Dairy Queen seemed like forever ago.

    Oh shit, my cheesecake blizzard!

    What was I going to do about this upcoming Friday? Should I pray to Mom about it? Was that dumb? What if she said no? Could Dad drop it off before it melts?

    I might actually go into withdrawal this summer.

    “Pops stayed with Ma to raise us,” Castor said out of the blue after a few more logs. “She had cancer.” I winced at the past tense. I had a feeling that was not because she was healed. I said it before, deaths caused by illness sucked. “He couldn’t do anything, because she had to go.”

    I cringed. “...sorry.”

    “No, that’s not - “ Castor exchanged a look with his brother.

    “That’s not what he meant.” Pollux split his log in one smooth move. The twins didn’t look that strong, but you’d be surprised. Demigods are always stronger than they look. “The point is our father stayed to raise us. It’s Sunday, so Clovis won’t wake up until tomorrow. Every three days, Alabaster and Liza get a polecat for the day. Lou and Moni get a puppy. Butch can make Iris messages for free. Twice a week, Fred is a member of Cabin 7.”

    I waited, but apparently he was done. I had no idea why I was being given random facts about random campers.

    Castor’s face scrunched.

    “You see your ma a lot, right? Not your step-mom, your birth mother. The god.” Step-mom? Whatever. I nodded and he sighed. “We figured.”

    “You know too much,” Pollux said seriously. He turned away to grab some more wood from the pile. “You’re not surprised, about anything.”

    My breakfast gained fifty pounds in my stomach.

    “Is that ...a problem?” I asked quietly. “You’re acting like it’s a problem.”

    “Not for us,” Castor said bluntly. My stomach twisted at the thought that it was a problem for other campers. “Luke seems okay with you, but he remembers his pa walking out. Most of the campers here don’t even have that much. Some have a divine gift or two. Others were visited once or twice?”

    “A lot have never seen their god parents at all.” Pollux shrugged, smiling sadly.

    I sucked in a breath through my teeth. Not so random facts then. I pointed at them. “Dionysus. Clovis is Hypnos’?” The twins nodded. “Alabaster and Liza are Hecate’s.”

    “Lou Ellen’s hers too, pretty sure. Along with Moni.” Pollux said.

    “Okay. Butch is Iris’. Cabin 7?”

    “Sun.” Castor split a log.

    So Apollo saw his kids, at least. Good. He had a terrible taste in incognito names - Fred, really? - but that meant this Paladad wouldn't have to kick his Bardson's ass for being a deadbeat.

    “And?” I prompted him, a tight feeling in my throat.

    “Maybe there’s more?” Castor offered, looking at his brother as he leaned on his axe. “If their parents are raising them, they don’t have to come to Camp, ain’t it? Like the Hunters.”

    “There’s an underwater camp somewhere,” Pollux mused. “That’s for water gods and their kids. That’s all we know of in Camp Half-Blood though,” he finished. “That’s - that’s it.”

    “So...what? The Camp is a - an orphanage?

    That’s why Annabeth offered to tell me about my mother. Because she thought the few mentions in mythology were all I had.

    Oh hell.

    Annabeth.

    The easily embarrassed, impulsive, smart girl that took me on a tour around Camp with Luke.

    Annabeth Chase, Daughter of Athena.

    The few mentions in mythology were all she had.

    I was starting to regret not hitting the woman when I had the chance.

    It’s just -

    Why?

    They could be in multiple places at once by just using their Names!

    I thought about Dad.

    I thought about Mom never coming back.

    I felt sick.

    “Yeah, we don’t - we didn’t understand it either,” Castor drew me out of my darkening thoughts with a careful nudge to the shoulder. “It’s not a problem, okay? Shitty parents aren’t your fault. Don’t feel guilty that yours care.”

    I met Castor’s violet eyes. “Do you feel guilty?”

    “Not anymore.”

    “Still do,” Pollux admitted quietly. “Sometimes. When there’s a new kid and no one Claims them.” He blew out a breath and his words sped up. “We’re not trying to protect you or nothin’, but we have a cabin to ourselves and kind of know what it’s like - “

    “If we’d known about your Ma, we would’ve cheated on the drawing lots.” Castor said with a mischievous smile. Pollux blushed, kicking at a log. “Protect, no. Poach, definitely.”

    I snorted.

    “Is it working?” Castor continued unrepentant.

    “Yeah,” I said. It was. The twins were good people. Maybe even friends. “Thanks.” I made a show of looking the boys up and down. “And if you learn how to wear proper socks and sneakers, we might even be friends.”

    I was hit with twin Pillsbury Doughboy smiles. Pollux wiggled his toes in his sandals.

    “Our free time is right after lunch,” Pollux told me as he placed a log on his stand. “We share the slot with Cabin 7 and there’s this...okay, don’t laugh, but have you heard of Dungeons and Dragons?”

    I nearly took out my own kneecap with the axe. “Have I heard of it?”

    “It’s not terrible!” He protested immediately and I had to laugh. Dad was going to love this. Cabin 7 was Apollo, wasn’t it? Note to self: Get Dad to draw up some adoption papers for one Phoebus Apollo Stele. “I said don’t laugh!”

    I swallowed my snickers as best I could and held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Percy Stele. I’m a Paladin!”

    Equally shocked faces turned to face me, before the surprise melted into glee.

    “Druid!” Castor yelled as Pollux grinned and said, “Cleric.”

    “So Lee runs the game when Fred isn’t around,” they told me as we turned back to our logs. “We have no idea what we’re doing, but it's fun…”

    The Arts and Crafts building slowly filled with campers. We watched them pull their projects off the shelves with obvious tenderness. It didn’t matter if it looked like it could be sold to a museum or a piece of garbage. It meant something to them. I started thinking about a project of my own. Something for my parents for being awesome. I set a log on my stand and adjusted my grip on my axe.

    Maybe some custom dice.

    I brought the axe down and with a satisfying chop, it split in two.

    Wood Chopping: Check.

    It was time for our second chore. I saw the winged horses my second day at Camp and couldn’t wait for the chance to ride them. But we weren’t riding them today.

    Today we were picking up their shit.

    I’ll be frank, cleaning out the pegasi stables was a disaster.

    It was nasty and smelled horrible and the horse-pigeons did not like me at all.

    By the time I was done, the feeling was mutual.

    Stable Cleaning: Check.

    After taking a shower and ditching my clothes, it was time for the javelin toss.

    And I was right about tossing javelins around.

    At first I had to sit through a lecture about safety from this bulky Ares’ kid which boiled down to ‘don’t throw spears at people’ and ‘don’t poke your eye out.’ I made all the right agreeing noises at the right places and soon enough I got to pick out a javelin.

    My first throws were terrible.

    No distance and no accuracy. After ten throws, my target stood proudly unmarked. The dirt all around it, not so much. Ryan pulled me back to the table after a bit and examined my hands.

    “Nice calluses. Sword?” In answer, I pulled on the silver sword pendant of my necklace. Damocles flashed in the sunlight and he whistled. It really was a beautiful sword. It was leaf shaped similar to a Greek xiphos but with shallower curves. The thick center of the blade was bone white and layers were shaved away as you got to the silver-gold rippled edges. The cross guard was bowl shaped bronze with a long leather grip and a small bowl pommel facing the opposite direction. Strands of horse hair dangled from the hilt.

    Ryan held out a hand.

    “May I?” I handed it over after a moment. Ryan’s eyes closed and it was like he had a waking dream, his eyeballs shifting rapidly behind his eyelids. He came out of it frowning. “What’s this made of?”

    “Bone.”

    He blinked.

    “Nice.” He handed it back and picked out a javelin from the table. At first, it looked like all the others, but when he handed it to me I could feel the difference. “Narrow leaf-shaped spear head.” He pointed out. “Different balance.”

    I threw the spear.

    It hit the target with a thunk. I pumped a fist in the air as my tutor nodded.

    “Again.”

    I was kind of right about tossing javelins around. The first fifteen minutes were great.

    The next half hour?

    Ugh.

    Javelin Throwing: Check.

    While breakfast and dinner was made completely by the nymphs at Camp Half-blood, lunch had the Campers pitch in to help. That meant it was the only variety in the menu ranging from sandwiches to flat bread pizzas.

    Lunch today was a lentil stew that didn’t taste half bad.

    Don’t tell my grandmother.

    A few Campers were coaxed to join us at Table 12. Mr. D gave us all the hairy eyeball and grumbled the entire time, but he didn’t say no. His sons gave him megawatt smiles as we all thanked the Wine God loudly.

    He opened a new can of Diet Coke and grumbled louder.

    Lunch: Promising.

    We didn’t have anything pressing to do after lunch.

    With our stomachs full, we headed over to the shining gold cabin where my BardGrandchildren were setting up. I am...not sure why the set up included a guitar, bongos and a feather boa. After a round of introductions and a summary of the story so far, the ‘music guy’ Michael started playing dramatic guitar music.

    When Castor and Pollux said they had no idea what they were doing on their D&D campaign, they Were. Not. Kidding.

    It was more like they were playing through the idea of the campaign Keep on the Borderlands with a Player Handbook they tore a few pages out of before setting the rest on fire and flushing it down the toilet.

    Everything ran on demigod logic, which meant lots of homebrew rules. Things like Wizards and Clerics not having to prepare spells, Bards can do anything they want, whenever they want, Katie Gardiner’s Monk was a god in disguise, you made Perception Checks by playing the Danger Bongos and don’t get me started on the animal companions. Monsters aren’t supposed to count!

    It was basically ‘Whatever Rule of Cool You Can Convince Lee Of’ followed by ‘Hope Your Dice Aren’t Cursed’.

    It was heresy.

    It was awesome.

    Free Time: Roll to Confirm Critical.

    Greek mythology class was where things got a bit interesting.

    Mom hadn’t been too interested in mortal heroes. I think it was just a little too small in scale for her, or maybe she didn’t want to set any expectations for me, good or bad. I knew I shared my first name with a demigod son of Zeus. The way Grandma put it, he spent his heroing days sticking it to Poseidon. Killed Medusa, gave the Sea God’s rival Athena the head, saved a girl from the god’s monster, and lived happily ever after.

    Being part of the advanced class meant you were thrown headfirst into genealogy studies led by Malcolm Pace, Son of Athena. It was all about the mortal heroes of Greek mythology and who was related to who, and who was king of what when and his family line, etc. I felt like I was in a college level course with a kindergartener’s understanding of physics.

    Thankfully, Malcolm was really good at reading my ‘Help me’ expressions. So when Perseus was mentioned, he made sure to tell me that he was a demigod of Zeus. He whose mother was seduced by a ...gold shower?

    I squinted at my notes, but the words didn’t change.

    Like...is that supposed to be literal? Or...I mean, how does that - I don’t want to know how that works.

    Oh God, now I was thinking about my parents.

    I don’t want to know how that works!

    “That’s not the worst of it,” Masayuki said under his breath, leaning slightly over. He was also one of Athena’s with the rare black hair but storm gray eyes like all of his siblings. “Myrmidon. The Sky Lord fathered him as an ant.”

    Apparently the King of the Gods is all kinds of deranged.

    “More proof Athena should have stayed king,” I muttered back. I didn’t think I said it that loudly, but the loud screech of a chair on wood flooring drew my attention up to Annabeth Chase standing in front of my desk and the rest of the class staring at me.

    What did you say?” She breathed.

    “Uh,” I answered intelligently. I looked towards the twins for help, but they just looked back with identical wide eyed expressions. “More proof Athena should have stayed king?”

    “Stayed king,” Malcolm said blankly from the front of the classroom. He was blond and gray eyed just like his sister. “That implies she was king.”

    “When?” Annabeth demanded.

    I held up a finger and closed my text book. The name of a human scholar danced mockingly in front of my eyes. The human records of Greek mythology got a lot wrong.

    I had wondered what they were teaching demigods these days.

    The answer was nothing.

    So.

    Okay.

    “Where did Athena receive her Name of Apatouria, the Deceiver from?” I asked as a starter.

    “From Aethra, mother of Theseus,” Annabeth answered immediately, beating her brothers by a few seconds if Malcolm’s exasperated eye roll and Masayuki’s open mouth meant anything. The twins of Dionysus hadn’t even tried, but they had identical expressions of concentration on their faces.

    Theseus. That was the founder of Athens, right? We literally just went over that guy.

    “And what did she do to be Given that Name?”

    “Gave Aethra the plan to have Theseus by the Sea God in a dream.” Annabeth was on the ball again. I said ball, but it was more like a whoopie cushion.

    Because wow.

    Hearing it first hand was kind of surreal.

    “And that’s a deed worthy of the title Deceiver?” I asked incredulously. “After all of Athena’s plans and guidance and insights? That’s what it takes?” Everyone had thinking caps on. I could almost see steam coming out of Annabeth’s ears. “It was a Given Name. There is power in it. You don’t get that by doing one mortal woman a favor and having her insult you.”

    Remember my Vampire Slayer example? That story was the ‘killed two vamps yesterday and almost died’ kind of lame. You get a Name by either doing something a lot or doing something epic.

    “Given Name?” Masayuki asked, pen poised over his notebook.

    “Their epithets.” I shrugged. “Have you ever wondered how Apollo can drive the sun chariot and appear someplace else at the same time? It’s because his Phoebus Name is driving while God of - I don’t know - Medicine or something, Acesius is overseeing an operation at a hospital.”

    “Avatars then,” Malcolm mused. I made an ‘eh’ rocking motion with my hand.

    “Close enough.” I drew a crude tic tac toe board on my paper. “The more Names a Young god has, the stronger they are. They have more to draw on when they are whole and the more options they have. It’s a source of godly power. It’s earned.”

    “What did she do?” Annabeth’s gray eyes bored into me like lasers.

    “Fulfilled a Prophecy,” I said honestly. “And convinced everyone she didn’t.”

    “Metis’ two children, girl then boy?” The girl asked, not even bothering with complete sentences any more, thinking furiously.

    “A very wise child was destined to be born of Metis. A warrior greater in strength than Zeus’ lightning bolt.” I tried to mimic my mother’s voice. It was a bit of an odd lilting sound. I really wasn’t any good at an Irish accent. “If the boy was the problem, why did Zeus swallow Metis before the girl was born?”

    I shrugged, opening my text book again. “The Titan Lord did the same thing, right? Since when does fighting a Prophecy ever work?”

    “Holy shit.” Masayuki sounded stunned. “When?”

    “Who built the walls of Troy?” I threw out in response. I knew about that story of the rebel's punishment for failing to keep Zeus off the throne from Apollo. To this day, Poseidon still had that favor hanging over his head. Asshole king tried to cheat who he thought was a poor worker out of money, challenging him to build the city walls in a day with only his ‘friend’ the sheep herder for help. Luckily for a mortal Poseidon, his sheep herder friend was mortal Apollo.

    And Apollo couldn’t stand sheep.

    They were stubborn, stupid animals perfectly willing and able to off themselves at the first opportunity.

    His words, not mine.

    “The revolt didn’t fail. It’s just that the new regime didn’t last.”

    You could thank Hera for that one.

    “It’s why Poseidon and Athena hate each other.” I explained. “Poseidon stood by her ascension and fought for her, and would have kept fighting for her right to keep it. He was willing to let the world burn for that, but the child of Metis was the king of gods and men.” I smiled weakly. “She wasn’t. They never forgave each other for it.”

    She abdicated her Name Athena Olympios when her father retook his throne the same way he took it the first time.

    By being an underhanded son of a bitch.

    And true to form, the 'rebels' were punished. I guess the only reason mankind even knew about the revolt was the fact that Poseidon and Apollo's punishment building the walls of Troy was not subtle, even if the details were lost.

    Or lied about.

    The Goddess of Wisdom had a bunch of Names for Good Governance, Sovereignty and the Welfare of Kings.

    Had.

    The Young gods could lose Names. They could give them up.

    They could have them Taken.

    “Oh my gods,” Annabeth whisper-screamed.

    “Why aren’t there any records of this?” Malcolm actually sounded heart broken.

    “Wouldn’t be much of a deception if there was,” I said, feeling bad for him.

    “How do you know this?” That was the first time Alabaster said anything all class. He was still in his corner, a translucent blue card shimmering on his desk. He had dark brown hair and bored green eyes. Well, not so bored looking now.

    Pollux and Castor exchanged a look.

    “His Ma taught him,” Castor said. Everyone stopped at how hard his voice was. “Like Pops with us.”

    “Did you know this?” Alabaster asked next. It sounded accusing.

    “No,” Castor shrugged. “But he does say a lot of things were before his time. Some things he says don’t match the books, but the books say a lot of things so it didn’t matter?”

    Pollux nodded thoughtfully. “Are there any...true books? Like a master record or something, Percy?”

    “Mnemosyne’s library,” I volunteered. “That’s at Mount Othrys. Uh, Orphism gets a lot more right than it does wrong. The Underworld probably has some texts.” Dead people do tell tales. “He’s not a book, but if you can get Hypnos’ attention, he’ll tell you. My Mom also mentioned this one book that has everything, but it’s dangerous.”

    As in, ‘you can find all of the Names of my mother in it’ dangerous. Hers and the Names of others, like the god behind the Night.

    Names that could drive even a god mad.

    “Mount Othrys,” Annabeth muttered to herself as she went back to her desk. “Titaness of Remembrance. God of Sleep. Orphism…”

    Masayuki looked thoughtful. Alabaster looked angry. The twins looked determined and Malcolm looked like he was about to cry.

    I did not think this through.

    Greek Mythology: Derailed.

    Canoe racing was next on the list.

    I have never been in a canoe before and it was pretty nice. I didn’t set any records or anything, but I didn’t do too badly. I love water. Whether it was the beach or the water park or a river on a camping trip, I enjoyed it all.

    It was similar enough to kayaking so I picked it up quickly. The naiads were new, but they just watched from afar. I was partnered with Pollux the whole time and we raced Castor. He lost all five times, and blamed his partner who was a bit of a wimpy looking guy from Aphrodite Cabin.

    The sixth time, Castor and Aphrodite Cabin boy got into a fight and capsized.

    Canoe Racing: Check.

    We had archery next.

    Music Guy Michael Yew was my tutor for this class. He fitted me with a bow and gave me some blunt arrows.

    “Alright, so the stance you want to take is - “

    I knocked an arrow and let it fly. With a puny thud, the blunt arrow smacked off the target. I frowned. I’m going to blame the balance of the blunted arrow for that. I turned back to my tutor who raised his eyebrows.

    “Your dad taught me.”

    Michael nodded and swapped out my arrows for real ones.

    With the bows and arrows, the twins looked even more like cherubs. That illusion lasted right up until you heard the curses spewing out of their mouths.

    Archery: Check.

    The day wound down with some strawberry picking.

    There are a few tricks for that too. You’ve got to pick by the stem, not by the fruit so you don’t damage it. Eyeballing bruised and rotting fruit was also a learning experience. Mainly learning that rotten strawberries will only show you their good side so that when you go to pick them, you get disgusting multicolored goop all over your fingers.

    I’m sure the good ones tasted great, but when they go bad...

    Blegh!

    Strawberry Picking: Mixed Bag.

    I spent my ‘free period’ before dinner down by the water.

    The ocean was breathtaking here. The way the sunlight of the setting sun sparkled off the waves and the water lapping against the clean sand. The far horizon slowly pulling on its coat of many colors, readying itself for nightfall. I loved the Manhattan skyline, but there was something about seeing the smooth, glass like blue marble in the distance that settled my soul.

    I flung out my left hand and pulled my backpack to me. I dug into one of the pockets for my phone. With my thumb, I rubbed the second large hieroglyph on the front.

    “Clifford Randall.”

    My phone vibrated. There was a soft high pitched static sound for a few seconds before Cliff adjusted the spell.

    “Reminding you to fix that,” I said as a greeting. If anyone came across me on the beach, it looked like I was talking to myself with a small bronze tablet on my lap. While it would have been cool to see Cliff’s Labrador face, he was still working on it. “For the hundredth time.”

    “Yeah, yeah.” There was a sound a lot like someone rubbing a cloth on a microphone. He was probably moving around. “I have no idea what’s causing that. Kills my ears. Whatever. I have, like, a dozen projects making me shed right now. It’s on the list.”

    “And non-humans aren’t real Magicians, so you aren’t getting any help.” I guessed.

    From what I know, human kids start learning how to be Magicians young and there’s this big Much Ado about being able to trace your bloodline back to the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Cliff was only three years old, but I was convinced he was a genius. This phone was the work of a month anchoring a spell not meant to be anchored with only a few tips from a “real” Magician.

    The Fall of Egypt fucked up a lot of their records. They preserved what they could, but it meant there was a lot left to re-discover. Magic included. Now convincing them that it was time to stop worrying about preservation in the twenty-first century was looking like the hard part.

    Cliff sighed. “One of these days, I’m going to wrangle you into a Nome and let a Magician demonstrate how broken they are.”

    “One of these days,” I agreed, smiling even though he couldn’t see it. A Nome was like Camp Half-Blood for Egyptians, if you’re curious. There’s one in Brooklyn! Wouldn’t really recommend trying to find it without a sponsor though. They’re pretty strict.

    “Besides, Watching has gotten pretty interesting lately!” Cliff’s voice picked up with actual excitement. “It’s looking like someone’s waking up or paying attention again. Two hits of the same signature within twenty years!”

    “Uh, isn’t that bad?”

    “Absolutely!”

    Sometimes I wondered about him. “As in apocalypse bad.”

    “Only if we fuck up!” Cliff squealed like a preteen girl. “We’ve actually gotten some big names from the First flying in from Cairo trying to isolate who it is.”

    “Planning on picking their brains?”

    “You know me!” Cliff made his amused exhale rumble sound. “I’m seriously considering blowing off my finals for it.”

    “You do that, your mom will skin you alive,” I warned him. Cliff’s mom was a Mastiff headed woman. Sweet as pie, really.

    Also?

    Terrifying as hell.

    Cliff sighed again. “Might be worth.”

    “Cliff.”

    “Statistics, Percy.”

    I snorted loudly and buried my toes deeper into the damp sand. My sneakers and socks were further up the beach behind me, safe from the water. I watched a waterfowl of some kind wing past me out over the water.

    “That reminds me, I’m not going to be there Monday. Brunner let me take my exam early so I’m at summer camp now.”

    Cliff paused.

    “At...summer camp,” he repeated slowly. The summer camp?”

    “Yeah.”

    “I thought - next year? “

    “I know,” I said a bit moodily. “But Olympus found out about Mom and took me early.”

    “That sucks, sorry man.”

    “Yeah.”

    “So you just got there this morning?”

    “Friday evening,” I corrected him. “Good news is Mom - my birth mother, I mean - was able to claim me right away and - “

    “Wait, wait, wait.” Each ‘wait’ got progressively more excited. “Wait. Friday evening. At the Greek Camp on Long Island? North shore, somewhere thereabouts?”

    “Yeah?”

    “Did you get claimed between the time of 6:30 to 7:00 PM?”

    “Ye - es?”

    “And you’re twelve!Cliff said as if he had just solved a problem that had been bothering him for years. “The way the Duat breaks down around you - Great Ra, no wonder you made no sense!”

    “...I feel so attacked right now.” Was all I could say.

    “Be right back.” Cliff said quickly and the line went dead. The high pitched static sound came back.

    Right.

    Okay then.

    I waited around for a few minutes, doing my best to tune the annoying sound out when the spell picked up noise again.

    “Still with me?”

    “Cliff, what’s going on?”

    “Sec. Sir - “ And that came out quieter, almost muffled giving me the impression that whoever he was talking to hadn’t quite caught up to him yet. “Percy Stele, Greek demigod. Percy, I grabbed Houy.”

    “He of the Flooded Toilets?” I quipped, just to beat down the jitters in my stomach.

    I heard a man groan. “Randall.”

    “Sorry, sir.”

    Cliff’s...supervisor, I guess would be the word for him, cleared his throat awkwardly. “So you did get it working, I see.” He definitely sounded like how I imagined an Egyptian would sound like. Very educated with a medium sized stick up his butt. “Notes later.”

    “Sir!”

    “Now, Percy, was it?”

    “Yeah?”

    “I - hold on,” There was a shuffling sound as Houy promptly lost the plot. “Why were you talking to a Greek?”

    Well this was awkward.

    “When I met him, he was being raised by a Celt, sir.”

    That meant something to the Magician who sucked in a breath. “Ah, I see now. Percy, are you able to tell us the name of your godly parent?”

    Am I able?

    What kind of question was that?

    I glanced around the beach. I wasn’t the only one enjoying the beach front, unfortunately. It wasn’t like there were a lot of people around, but I also had no idea what kind of mood Mom would be in if I drew her attention. It might be just a flicker. It might not. And really, I didn’t need her attention like that right now.

    “Would titles work?”

    It probably would.

    “That would be fine,” Huoy said as if he expected it. With Ptolemy, there was a lot of exchange between the Greek and Egyptian pantheons, even though it all crashed and burned shortly after. The Greeks might be fine letting people believe lies about their own history, but that kind of thinking would go over like a lead balloon with an Egyptian.

    “Uh, okay. The Great Serpent, Eater of the Bloody Tongues, The Beautiful One - “

    “Yes, yes, that’s enough,” the Magician said in a strained tone of voice. “That is...quite enough.”

    “That’s why we didn’t know which one,” Cliff interjected. “It’s using the Greek Name!”

    Oh I get it.

    “Mom has an Egyptian Name, doesn’t she?” The Magician made an ‘urk’ sound and Cliff started cracking up for some reason. “Uh, surprise? False alarm! Well not false exactly, but this is ‘mildly alarmed’ and not ‘end of the world’ alarm. No apocalypse is good right?”

    “Percy,” Cliff wheezed. “Percy, can you, like, not?”

    “What did I do now?” I demanded.

    “Be born, apparently,” Cliff deadpanned. “You don’t do anything by halves. You’re not capable of it.”

    “That’s called being awesome and I will not apologize for it.”

    “I’ll have to inform the others, perhaps summon the Chief Lector,” Houy was mumbling to himself. “Every senior Magician must be recalled, perhaps a team dispatched to Amarna - Blessed Nile, this is a disaster!”

    “Only if we fuck up!” Cliff said cheerfully.

    “Randall!”

    My dog-boy best friend tried to sober up. “Sorry, sir.”

    “It’s really not that big of a deal,” I said before this Houy pulled all his hair out. Or maybe he was bald. He sounded bald. “She had me, she Claimed me. She doesn’t want the world to end. My Dad and I live in it. Simple.”

    “No,” Houy said darkly. “The machinations of The Black Pharaoh are never simple.”

    The Black Pharaoh.

    Just the title alone sent a crawling shiver down my spine. I did not want to know what the Name would do.

    “It’s not what you think,” I said quietly. I don’t think Houy was intending to scare me, but I really didn’t like the feeling of that title. Mom was Mom, right? Knowing all her Names was dangerous, because it drew her attention and not all of her Names were safe for mortals to witness. That was the reason why I only knew two of the multitudes. To protect me from exposure.

    That was the only reason.

    Mom doesn’t lie.

    “It’s not what you think,” I repeated. “She doesn’t want anything bad. She’s good people now. I promise.”

    “Oh,” Houy said softly. “I hope so too.”

    They’ll see.

    I bet all their senior Magicians with their fancy magic spells are going to feel mighty stupid when nothing happens.

    I didn’t feel much like talking after that and Cliff understood. I promised to call him at least once a week before hanging up. As soon as I did, I regretted letting him go, because now I was alone on a beach with a setting sun and the whirling of my own thoughts.

    About Names.

    About lost history, secrets, lies and more.

    The Black Pharaoh.

    You know something strange? Maybe I’m not special in this and it’s just me entertaining paranoid thoughts for no reason but…

    I don’t know how my parents met.

    By that I mean, how did Dorian Stele meet Ananke?

    I know when The Mórrigan and I met Dad for the first time. It was after he was discharged from the psychiatric hospital. I was two and a half with a brand new stuffed tiger toy. Grandma took the picture. I was sucking my thumb. Mom looked like she was about to burst into tears and the wonder on Dad’s face as he stared at me in her arms was heartbreaking.

    My parents loved each other.

    But…

    “Penny for your thoughts?” Luke’s voice came from above me.

    I craned my head back and there he was in his orange on black Camp Half-Blood long sleeve shirt and shorts.

    “My parents,” I murmured. A complicated expression flickered over his face and I cringed. That was smart of me. Not. “Sorry.”

    “For what?” Luke eyed me. “Did you make Hermes a piece of shit?”

    I was suddenly very aware that I had never heard a camper use any of the Young Gods Names this entire day.

    Only titles.

    “Uh, no.”

    Luke shrugged. “Then you have nothing to apologize for.”

    I let out a breath. Lucky Luke is so cool about things like that. “Right…”

    “So I heard from Cabin 6 that you made a bit of a mess in Greek mythology class.” Of course he did. “You promised no riots,” he said with a wide grin. “Mr. D just locked them all in their cabin. Satyrs are going to deliver food through the windows.”

    I stared at him. “Are they rioting?”

    “No,” he snorted. “They’re researching.”

    That sounded even worse!

    “Oh.”

    He barked his laugh and held out a hand. I took it, allowing him to haul me to my feet.

    “How was your first day at Camp?” He asked as I grabbed my sneakers. I got a curious look when I left my backpack where it was after putting my phone back into a pocket.

    Thieves beware. This was cursed by a Celt and they know how to make you regret it.

    “It was great! Well, the pegasi stables part not so much, but everything else.”

    He clapped me on the back. “No one likes cleaning the stables. You get used to it.”

    “I am going to be sore tomorrow, I can tell.”

    “You get used to that too,” Luke said, completely unsympathetic. “Chiron gets back tomorrow evening from his house call and he might make a few adjustments to your schedule, but for now, I’ve got you bouncing between Cabin 6 and 12.”

    “That works,” I shrugged. “Castor and Pollux are cool. Athena’s kids seem alright too.”

    “Gotta say,” Luke began thoughtfully as the dinner horn sounded. “They’ve got me real curious what exactly you told them. Mind educating a poor ignorant soul?”

    Well.” I thought for a minute. “How much do you know about godly Names?”

    “Like...what they mean?”

    Oh boy.

    I launched into what was probably a rambling, confusing lecture because I’m not a professor and I’m not Mom, but I tried. It helped that Luke was a really good listener and by the time we reached the Dining Pavilion, he had a good enough understanding to start asking questions.

    “They can lose Names?”

    “Sure can. Take the Titan Hyperion, lord of light. His Domain is the passing of time by the light in the sky. He had Names of the Sun, Moon and the Dawn.”

    “But Apollo has the Sun and Artemis the Moon now,” Luke caught on immediately.

    “Yeah, those Names are gone. He still has his Domain, but all that extra power?” I fluttered a hand over my hand. Poof. “It’s the same for everyone that had Names of that same type. Eos, Oceanus, even Rhea. It all belongs to the Twins now, on top of their inheritance from Helios and Selene.”

    Luke nodded slowly. “Can Names be Taken?”

    I felt my nose wrinkle. “Yeah. Ever seen a documentary on zombie ants?”

    Luke joined me and the twins at Table 12 with a few of the younger Cabin 11 members and a sincere thanks to the ever-grumpy Mr. D for his benevolence. That got him a ‘whatever Larry’ but we’ll take it!

    After dinner I learned the basics of how to maintain armor, but since I was a total newb, I was stuck on polishing shields duty. After that was the Sing Along with Cabin 7 where I didn’t know any of the words, but enjoyed myself anyway. I called Dad when I got back to my room in the Big House and he really did seem better. I told him all about my day and as I went to bed, I realized that I was looking forward to tomorrow.

    And maybe the days after that, all the way until I had to go home again to get ready for another year at Trinity School.

    I sent Mom a quick prayer, reminding her about her cross-pantheon violation ticket and got back a very amused response. She sent a super mild rebuke for being a cheeky little shit. It was followed by a feeling of reassurance and then a gentle nudge. It felt like ‘good night.’

    I put my sunglasses on my nightstand and wiped a few stubborn tears from my eyes.

    My parents loved me.

    That thought kept me warm for the next three weeks of Camp activities and chores and BBQ dinners. I could safely say that I had friends at Camp Half-Blood. Chiron was my old Latin teacher Charles Brunner and the one who reported my Mom like an asshole. Grover apologized for bringing me to Olympus’ attention in the first place, even though he was surprised that my scent had strengthened so much after I was Claimed. And I got used to random Campers, mostly of Cabin 6, asking me random questions about mythology.

    I let my worries fade into the back of my mind.

    Then one day, I woke up to the crack of angry thunder and I felt a pull towards a certain aluminum case in my backpack filled with Mythomagic cards.

    And I realized that in the life of a demigod, nothing good lasts.
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, wargonzola and 8 others like this.
  11. Threadmarks: I Tell Some Smart Kids Their Grandpa Is A Jerk
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction

    Have you ever gone to the store or been at the gas station and felt someone watch you? The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, or maybe you feel a shiver go down your spine as humanity’s atrophied sixth sense warns you. You turn around, you catch them staring and all of the sudden you are hyper aware of exactly where you are and where that creepy weirdo is and you turn around and try to mind your own business and in your head you’re kind of like ‘Look at how completely normal, boring and uninteresting I am! Please don’t stalk me.’

    Except my creepy stalker is a pack of Mythomagic cards.

    I’ll take ‘Sentences I never thought I’d use today’ for 300, thanks.

    It’s all in my head, but my head was full of ADHD things. I kept track of that aluminum tin. I felt really uncomfortable just cleaning up my room. I grabbed my clothes for the day and nearly ran out the door.

    I was not ready for this.

    I’ve...never done a reading for other people. My cards were just harmless fun? It wasn’t like Mom needed any help knowing her own future. Or Dad’s. She was the one making sure he wasn’t in that five car pile up a few years ago. It was just something that made me feel closer to her, to what she was.

    Fate.

    Now I was an Oracle of some kind. Or had an oracle spirit, or whatever. I was closer than ever.

    It didn’t feel good.

    I closed the door to my room behind me and took a deep breath.

    I let it out.

    You can take the spoiled cityboy out of the city, but it was going to take more than three weeks at Camp to take the spoiled city out of the boy. I barely ached in the morning any more, not after something in my spine seemed to ‘click’ a week in and I had new calluses from training with the javelin, making runs at the Climbing Wall and canoeing.

    I had been here long enough to know that there hadn’t been a Quest in two years. Luke’s had been the last one and for a Camp full of kids almost desperate for attention from their god parents, that was two years too long. No one seemed to remember that Luke’s Quest killed two Campers and almost killed Luke!

    I almost understood sometimes. I almost felt it sometimes, when I pulled off that disarming sword move Luke taught me, or competed at the archery range, or when I looked out over the Camp from the top of the Climbing Wall.

    I was a demigod. The son of Fate herself. I could bring glory to her Name! I was made for more.

    And then I would remember that I bleed red. I would remember that I couldn’t control my divinity. I would remember the one rule that governed Mom’s tests: She would never give me a task she didn’t believe I could do. That she didn’t know I could. That did not mean I could not fail. That I couldn’t fail her. I would remember that I’m twelve and think,

    ‘I’m not ready.’

    Did that make me a coward?

    I told myself that the Quest wasn’t about me. And if it was, I could refuse somehow, or have someone else take my place and it would all turn out fine. I told myself Dad would understand. He would.

    Mom would still be proud of me.

    And then I felt sick.

    So I was not going to think about it.

    That has never gone wrong for anyone ever!

    The Big House had a bit of a weird interior design. There was something of an expanded foyer once you got in the front door making the ground floor’s floor plan look a little like the steering wheel of a ship. The rooms coming off it and the staircase at the back where the peg spoke things and the intake desk in the center was the, uh, center. There were places in the wall and the floor where it was pretty obvious there had been walls that were knocked down to give Chiron more space.

    I know.

    A god made the Big House in Camp for Chiron to live in, and the centaur had to remodel so that he could actually live in it.

    I’m eighty percent sure that god was Apollo.

    Considering Apollo basically raised Chiron, him building a house Chiron can’t live in should surprise me.

    It didn’t.

    As I shuffled across the big room yawning and stretching, I heard voices getting louder as they approached the double doors at the front to the Big House.

    “ - get used to how fucked everything is and now I’m learning something new every day!” Mr. D exclaimed as the doors flung themselves open. I blinked. I had to. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

    There wasn’t a Hawaiian shirt in sight.

    The god was in a white long sleeve shirt underneath a bright orange Camp Half-Blood T-Shirt. Black pegasus and all. I squinted at the extra writing above the horse.

    Dreitcor.

    Did that say Director?

    “Learning from my mortal sons.” There was a giant shit-eating grin on the Wine God’s face. “That’s novel is what it is!”

    Chiron was right behind him in a light blue button up shirt, frowning. I’m going to stop a moment here and confess something. It’s important, okay?

    His scruffy beard bothered me.

    Chiron was the kind of dude who was comfortable in a tweed jacket. He ironed his shirts. His white coat was always brushed. He shined his hooves. But the beard! Maybe he was like Dad, who couldn’t grow a good one for the life of him, but unlike my father, he didn’t have Mom to make him stop trying.

    “And that is exactly what is drawing the King’s ire.”

    “He’ll get over it,” Mr. D flapped a dismissive hand. Chiron gave him a look. Two raised eyebrows and everything. “Look, let’s say I do that. Wipe everybody.” He held up a finger. “But one.”

    They both turned to look at me.

    “Uh.” I clutched my clothes in front of me like a shield. “Morning?”

    Chiron returned my greeting, but Mr. D jumped right in with, “If Pollux forgot that cock and bull story about fire and humanity shit with Prometheus wasn’t true, are you gonna correct him?”

    I swallowed. The back of my throat burned and I thought - maybe - that I was tasting sulfur. My gut churned.

    If Pollux...forgot?

    “Yes.” I said, slowly. “I would.”

    The Wine God’s bloodshot blue eyes almost looked cruel as they bored into me. “Even if I order you not to?”

    “On pain of what?” immediately came out of my mouth as I glared at him. I was not going to be pushed around. Not by Olympus. I was not afraid to remind him why that was a bad idea. All it would take is saying a Name. I was pretty confident I had the bigger stick.

    I expected it, but the Young God didn’t bother threatening me. Instead, he turned back to the immortal trainer of heroes and waved his hands like he was presenting me as an answer.

    That,” he said. “And then the little shits figure out the wipe and the Camp continues to sail down shit creek, but now with enthusiasm.

    Chiron rubbed at his forehead. “As you say.”

    “He’ll get over it,” Mr. D repeated as he conjured a can of Diet Coke for himself and popped it open. “So will step-mother dearest,” he chuckled as he headed towards the stairs. “They got no choice.”

    Had there been some kind of meeting on Olympus today? I eyed Mr. D’s orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt.

    And he went looking like that.

    “Good job being a pain in the ass,” he told me as he passed by. I had the funny feeling that was an actual compliment. Which was...uh, weird. Very strange. Apparently I was causing problems, and Mr. D was A-Okay with it.

    I remembered what Athena had said my first night at Camp. Dionysus was the youngest of the Olympians. He didn’t understand.

    My stomach flipped a little.

    How many Young gods and goddesses were in his shoes, learning the truth second hand from previously ignorant demigods?

    Not like I could stop now.

    “Still hate you though,” the god continued. That was more like it.

    “Nothing personal?” I asked Mr. D’s back.

    “You got it.”

    I rolled my eyes and turned back to Chiron.

    The old centaur looked old with his brow furrowed like that and clearly unhappy by the deep frown and the hand he was running through his thinning dark hair. I slowly walked towards him. I was thinking, maybe I could come up with something comforting to say? I mean, it wasn’t really his fault or anything. Not like he could have known. Dealing with an annoyed Zeus and co. must be stressful.

    Yeah.

    Who was I kidding?

    “Bet you regret reporting my Mom now, huh?” I said with a broad smile as I waltzed past him out the front door of the Big House.

    “Immensely,” Chiron growled and that just made my smile bigger.

    After a nice refreshing shower, I stopped by my room to stash the simple white T-shirt and black shorts I used as pajamas and made a second sweep of my room. Normally, I just made sure my room was up to Dad standards. Buuuut Chiron might be a tiny bit annoyed with me right now? So I didn’t want to give him any excuse to make me clean out the pegasi stables.

    I just don’t want Camp Half-Blood’s beloved horse-pigeons to suffer, okay?

    Because if I have to deal with them trying to crush me against the walls and kick me in the chest and bite my hair and take off my glasses… if I have to pick up their shit one more time…

    Suffer, they will.

    The conch shell horn sounded as I straightened my sheets. Time was up. I...chose not to take my cards.

    I had more of a walk to the Dining Pavilion from the Big House than the Campers. That was fine with me, because it meant that every day I got to walk with different Cabins. Yesterday, Castor and Pollux dragged themselves out of bed early to get me and we met up with the early rising Apollo Cabin. Today, it looked like I was just in time for the clusterfuck of stragglers from the Ares/Aphrodite/Hephaestus Cabins. With the gods in question, you’d think they wouldn’t get along, right? That love triangle is pretty infamous and a frequent source of misery.

    You’d be wrong.

    Hephaestus Cabin makes the weapons. Ares Cabin swings the weapons. Aphrodite Cabin, most of them, are social butterflies who want to be liked. They just had strange, ritualistic priorities you had to get used to, or not care about in the first place.

    And Hephaestus’ and Ares’ kids didn’t care.

    Maximillian had a very strong sense of fairness, even worse than Ethan’s, with a gold drachma he flipped when he couldn’t decide while Jacqueline’s mood was determined by the feathers in her hair. Where she got the Northern Bald Ibis or Kakapo feathers, no one has any idea since they’re fucking endangered, but there you go. Lacy/Lace could be a boy or a girl at any time and was scary for a seven year old with healing powers. If you are wondering where a child of Aphrodite got healing powers, join the club. Renicio woke up at dawn every day like his dad was Apollo, had a perfect internal clock, hated Castor’s guts, and I’m not entirely sure he’s actually Aphrodite’s at all. I know she Claimed him like all her other kids.

    But the Hindi?

    “If it isn’t Horseshit!” Clarisse La Rue, Daughter of Ares, ambushed me with a meaty arm over my shoulders. “Come ‘ere!”

    I didn’t protest as she dragged me over. I learned that doesn’t work. Ares was her dad. That didn’t work on any of them. Sometimes Ryan pretended it did, but it didn’t.

    “Do you have to call him - “ Silena Beauregard, Daughter of Aphrodite, horse-pigeon whisperer and honorary Apollo Cabin member at the archery range, cut herself off with a roll of her eyes. “You don’t, but you will. Forget I said anything.”

    “Damn straight!” Clarisse squeezed her bicep around my head. She had light brown, almost blonde hair cut short, red-brown eyes and like all of Ares’s kids, she was solidly built and liked fighting. “Gotta make sure this noggin doesn’t get too big.”

    I’m just going to say it right now: I don’t understand Clarisse.

    After Chiron ruined my ‘Initiation Ceremony’ of a toilet swirly, she wanted my head on a stick. Capture the Flag that week was painful. Then there was the thing with the rabid horse-pigeon dragging me out of the stables covered in horse shit? I had to be rescued.

    I, uh, did not have...nice...things to say?

    Queen’s English, you understand. Sam would have been proud.

    Making friends was easier after that. In Castor’s words, putting me on a pedestal got difficult after a pegasus shat all over it. Clarisse was one of them.

    No idea why.

    “My head won’t get too big,” I said dully.

    My head was squeezed again. “Or I’ll kick your ass.”

    Maybe she wasn’t my friend, but a really strange enemy.

    “Or you’ll kick my ass.”

    Weird Girl Tanaka snorted from Silena’s other side, making a face at me. I scowled back as I finally squirmed free. Silena reached over and absently fixed my hair because she had absolutely zero sense of personal space.

    The usual stragglers were made up of Clarisse, Counselor of Ares Cabin after the last one died two years ago. Mark, who may as well be co-counselor since he did everything Clarisse didn’t want to, was another solidly built boy of Ares with black hair and eyes. Silena was a perfectionist who had to be the last to leave with black hair and blue eyes most of the time. Weird Girl stuck to Silena like a barnacle. Angelina, Counselor of Hephaestus Cabin was a carrot top with hazel eyes, a pencil behind her ear, a notebook and whichever of her half-siblings she managed to drag out the door with her. Today, that was Everett, with tightly curly black hair, great tan and brown eyes. He worked on jewelry instead of forging like most of his siblings. And last, but not least was Clovis, Son of Hypnos and a perpetual late riser.

    I made my way over to Clovis and waited until his one good eye - it was the left one right now - focused on me.

    “Hey, little cousin.” I greeted him and heard Drew scoff - ‘weirdo’s related to the other weirdo’ - making me roll my eyes. “How were the Dreamlands?”

    “Big cousin,” he said as the left side of his face lifted into a small smile. “Father didn’t let me stay long, but it was nice. New.”

    If you looked at us side by side, we didn’t look like cousins. But at the same time, I thought we did? Clovis reminded me of a baby cow with a mop of strawberry blond hair on a wedge shaped head, a wide flat nose and too big blue eyes. He used to have a thick body with thin limbs, but that was changing with exercise.

    I’m not saying I looked like a cow, okay? It was the other stuff.

    His spine stuck out too. He had extra ribs and a second heart. He was always half asleep with one side of his brain, like a dolphin. He picked his words carefully, because he had two extra rows of teeth behind the first set and his tongue sometimes got in the way. We swapped teething stories. Mom got rid of my second set before I started school somehow? But I remembered it sucking a lot. I think I still have the bronze sheep I used to nibble on.

    It was in his eyes too. Blue, normal enough. They just didn’t reflect anything. Like a mirror that swallowed light instead. You looked into them, and saw nothing at all.

    Ethan’s were like that too.

    “Thank you for convincing my Father to let me try.” Clovis said happily. “My brothers taught me a lot.”

    “Anytime my dude. We’ll get you a cat.” He nodded slowly and I nodded at the sky. “Nice weather we’re having.”

    Clovis looked up. “Is someone upset?”

    Angry dark grey storm clouds threatening thunder and lightning boiled overhead.

    Camp Half-Blood had been blessed with good weather by the Nine Muses at some point. That meant no rain, no fog, no snow, hail or sleet. It’s never been anything but sunny since I got here. The Campers making their way to breakfast were bravely ignoring it.

    I think everyone knew it was Zeus throwing a tantrum.

    “A little.” I pinched my index finger and thumb together for emphasis.

    My first cousin once removed (thanks Annabeth!) smiled again. Now that people were talking to him, he had really come a long way. He gave me a bland, “Oh no. Whatever shall we do?”

    “Oh, she isn’t.” Silena huffed suddenly and I followed her gaze to the large campfire we used for singalongs.

    Beckendorf 2.0!” Clarisse bellowed. The young brown haired girl in brown robes and shawl flinched, then huddled closer to the flames like she was trying to become one with the background. She probably was because her “curse” kicked in and a sudden obnoxious beam of sunlight fell on her head making her flinch again.

    I should feel bad about my part in this.

    I don’t.

    Camp was stupid.

    It shouldn’t be an orphanage. Claimed kids like Iris’ and Hecate’s shouldn’t be relying on Hermes as vagabonds. Claimed kids like Annabeth, Ryan and Silena shouldn’t be waiting for their divine parents to throw them a bone. Unclaimed children shouldn’t be a thing at all. My other first cousin first removed Ethan shouldn’t find out his mother was Nemesis after two years at Camp.

    Something was fucked so something had to be done to unfuck it. I’m not going to say this was my fault, because it totally isn’t. None of this was my idea. I was just as clueless as the rest of them when I first heard ‘Beckendorf 2.0’ screamed across the Arena.

    I think it started when some brave soul asked out loud how Athena could be king, not queen and believe me, that was a shit show.

    Long story short: Humans are weird.

    After the Titans got their asses kicked, the defender of the Hearth did not have the ambition to rule all of Olympus. She gave up the Names of her birthright. And when that was not enough for Zeus’ insecurities, she carved out the rest. Once upon a time, she would have been satisfied with just being noticed once in a while. I thought that was cool of her.

    Apparently I’m a dumb ass!

    It was Masayuki that pointed out that a home had to be maintained, not only noticed once in a while. You had to take care of your family to keep those bonds. The State had to be properly governed, or it fell apart.

    An ignored hearthflame dies.

    Our collective reaction was somewhere along the lines of ‘Oh. Fuck.

    No one was happy about that. But Ares Cabin were bulldogs with a bone.

    “Don’t you pull that shit!” Clarisse barked, hands on her hips as Silena’s face paled. “Where’s your Camp T-Shirt?”

    Hestia gave up on trying not to be noticed. Her shoulders slumped as her brown robes split into khaki three-quarter pants, and the bright orange Camp Half-Blood T-Shirt.

    “Better!” It was Mark’s turn to shout, spear over his shoulders. “You’re with Cabin 5 today, 2.0! Spar after breakfast!”

    “2.0” grabbed a tongue of flame from the campfire as she stood up. We were hit with an adorable pleading look. How she pulled that off with her eyes on fire, I don’t know.

    “Make sure 1.0 isn’t starving himself like a moron.” Clarisse was unrelenting. “No hiding today or I’ll break a foot up your ass!”

    Silena finally cracked. “I’m sorry, what?”

    The pleading look turned incredulous.

    Then Hestia’s lips twitched as the campfire behind her leapt into the air and we were all rewarded with an eye roll before she ran off towards Hephaestus Cabin.

    “Would you look at that!” Mark laughed. “We actually got some sass out of her. There’s hope yet!”

    “Why.” Silena threw her hands up in the air. “You idiots do remember who that is, right?”

    “Dumbass self-sacrificing scary pacifist workaholic who won’t talk unless she has to,” Mark said. He raised an eyebrow. “Like Beck. But smaller.”

    Silena opened her mouth.

    “Don’t,” Angelina cut her off as she scribbled designs in her notebook. “He’s right. We all know it.”

    “She needs to be less of a dumbass!” Mark declared, pointing his spear at the sky. “So a family that doesn’t treat her like shit, talking with someone who understands the pacifist crap, getting used to fighting again and motivation.”

    “I can make anyone hate me!” Clarisse declared proudly. I guess she was the motivation? “It’s a gift.”

    “Mhm,” Everett muttered under his breath. “Sure is.”

    “She’s like a rusted weapon,” Mark continued, and I think I found who was responsible for this. He had clearly put some thought into it. Not sure how he talked Apollo into helping him. “No self-respecting warrior ignores one!”

    “Hence, the therapy,” Angelina concluded, absently waving her pencil around.

    “Therapy.” Silena blankly returned. “You. Cabin 5.She pinched her nose. “I can’t.” Then she blindly pointed in my direction. “This is - “

    “Not my fault,” I insisted. It’s not. “You can’t blame this on me!”

    I knew before he even opened his mouth that Clovis was a damn dirty traitor.

    “Yes, we can.”

    I pouted the whole way up the hill to the Dining Pavilion.

    Breakfast was normal?

    That’s a question because I haven’t been here long enough to know what was normal, what I messed up and what was just the Campers being Campers.

    Mr. D was never going to stop complaining about his table, but whatever. Luke was still giving the Stoll brothers the stink eye for the food fight yesterday (or maybe it was the glitter bombs) over at the no-longer-full Table 11.

    “Everybody!” Apol - Fred proudly escorted a very overwhelmed mini-Fred towards the center brazier for Apollo Cabin’s first offering. “This is Will Solace!” The holographic image of a sun and golden bow appeared over the blond boy’s head and his blue eyes went huge. “Make a wish!” Fred paused. “A reasonable one. Something that won’t get me - that amazing god Apollo smited. Remember, little G god, not big G.”

    After a moment, Will threw one of his pancakes into the flames and Fred grinned. A gold glow flared around Will for a second.

    “Just...don’t bring anyone back to life,” Fred said. “That tends to go badly.”

    There were some very loud snorts.

    Table 6, Athena was covered in books, paper, highlighters and pens and a bunch of gray eyed kids ignoring their food. Half of Table 5, Ares brought weapons for no reason with a few playing finger dance with daggers. Table 10, Aphrodite were actually focused on eating ever since Melanie banned cosmetics and magazines from the Dining Pavilion. Table 4, Demeter brought their pet plants to present to the nymphs.

    Beckendorf 1.0 (his name was Charles. But it was Beckendorf) was a darker skinned fourteen year old boy, but was tall enough for seventeen with a permanent scowl. He looked like he could break people in half with the muscles he earned in the forge, but was probably the nicest person at Camp, second only to his trusty sidekick 2.0.

    The frequent all-nighters of Hephaestus Cabin trailed in behind him. Hestia pinned Fred with an unamused look as she was prodded towards Table 9. She got a completely unrepentant waggle of fingers in return.

    The Tables for Poseidon, Artemis, Zeus and Hera were empty.

    Breakfast came to a close as it always did with a soft toot of the conch shell horn. The clean up began and Campers began to split off to begin their day. I watched Mark and other members of Cabin 5 ambush Hestia, hoisting the small goddess up on his shoulders as everyone cheered on their way out of the Pavilion. As soon as I dropped my plate off with the harpies, I was ambushed by Annabeth.

    “Arts and Crafts, javelin practice, armor maintenance,” she said in one breath.

    I stared at her.

    “Did you seriously memorize my schedule.”

    It wasn’t even a question, because I knew that was exactly what she did.

    “Please say you’re not stalking me.”

    She rolled her eyes. “I’m not stalking you.”

    So she just memorized other people’s timetables for fun? I squinted at her. “Are you lying to me?”

    “No!” I could see her think through what she was going to say at least three times. “Why are you like this?”

    “Awesome?”

    She gave me a narrow eyed look.

    Alright.

    So not awesome?

    This.” She crossed her arms, eyeing me like a bug on the windshield.You know so much more than everybody here about the gods, but you - you’re a dork.” Ouch. “You act like it’s normal. Like it’s just a history lesson. Like all of this - you dumped barbeque sauce on the sun god.

    You would not believe how hard it was not to correct her.

    I was going to be a good boy.

    No outing the other pantheons.

    “In my defense, Fred had it coming,” I said. “He was blatantly cheating.”

    She shook her head with a reluctant smile.

    “Dork.”

    “Nerd.”

    “Aren’t you the one that plays tabletop games?” She pointed out with a smirk. “Dweeb.”

    “No need to be insulting.” I was smiling. “Dink.”

    Her blonde eyebrows rose. “Where’d you learn that one?”

    “Insults of the Day.” Have I ever mentioned how much I love my dad? “So if you’re not stalking me…”

    She sighed and the smile she had slipped right off her face like I had just imagined it.

    “Cabin 6 has free time right now and I was hoping - “ The Counselor of Athena Cabin bit her lip. Yeah, you heard that right, Counselor. That was a title given for the oldest members of a Cabin. Annabeth was just as old as I was, twelve. Like Clarisse, her predecessor died two years ago, leaving the ten year old girl responsible for her half-siblings. Luke helped her as much as he could while looking after his own siblings and all the extras.

    Like I said, Camp is fucked.

    “- we were hoping you could tell us the whole story?” Uh, yup, that was the entire Cabin 6 still at their table. “About...Apatouria.”

    ...I was not going to be that guy and say they could have asked Apol - sorry, Fred.

    “Yeah, okay.”

    You might be thinking that maybe this was a bit risky. Zeus was already mad and probably paying attention by the way the clouds were still blocking our sunlight. Maybe laying out one of Olympus’s big lies in detail right now was not the best idea.

    As far as I was concerned, if you don't want people thinking you’re a jerk, mmaaaayybeee you shouldn’t be a jerk?

    Food for thought.

    I sat down and looked around the table.

    About a dozen kids, mostly blond with two black haired ones, each and every one of them with storm gray eyes looked back. They had pencils and pens ready over blank pieces of paper.

    No pressure.

    “So...the beginning,” I started. The actual beginning would probably be explaining Ouranos’ whole deal with False Prophecies in the first place, but that was a lot of shit to dump on them right now? Not to mention, that would be blowing the lid on Athena’s List of Things Not To Talk About.

    Okay. Not the beginning. But a beginning. “Zeus was a fucking idiot.”

    Thunder clapped.

    Everyone but me flinched.

    “Metis, elder Okeanide of Oceanus and Tethys held the Domains of Good Counsel, Planning, Cunning and Wisdom. She was her boyfriend’s advisor throughout the war with the Titans and did a good job.” I drummed all ten of my fingers on the table. “They won the war. They got married and were expecting an heir when Zeus let the fact his wife was smarter than he was get to him.”

    It had been getting to him. Months, if not years, wasted fighting because of pointless pissing contests with someone who just wanted to help him. Who just wanted it all to stop.

    “He let the power of his eldest sister get to him, even though she gave up the throne. He let the Domains his second eldest sister shared with their father get to him, because she was the Earth Mother’s warden. He let his brothers’ strength get to him. And so he went to the Sky Father for advice and the Voice of Heaven will answer only one question.” I held up one finger. “So he asked ‘What should I do, that no other should hold royal sway over the eternal gods in place of me?’”

    Up and down Athena’s table, faces twisted.

    “A wise child is destined to be born of Metis. A warrior greater in strength than your lightning bolt. It is the snake to whom you will lose your throne. Consume it.”

    “Oh,” Malcolm said, looking down at his paper. “Is that why one of mother’s symbols…?”

    “Is a snake?” Annabeth finished for him. She pinched the bridge of her nose. “I never wondered why snakes were associated with wisdom.”

    “Didn’t...didn’t Greeks believe snakes speak words of wisdom, or something?” One girl I didn’t know the name of asked. She could have been Cas and Poll’s younger sister with her whole chubby cheeked blond look.

    “And that’s why no one could understand a snake?” Masayuki said dryly. “Cause and effect. Snakes were wise because the Goddess of Wisdom was a snake.”

    “This is insidious!” Annabeth burst out. She looked down at her books like she was trying to set them on fire with her eyes. “Think about it. All of us come here and we’re told one of our parents is a god. The Greek gods of mythology are real. And then...then we aren’t told anything. Not about how any of it works! Just that they’re real and we can do things mortals can’t and so we just accept this.” She shoved a book away from her. “As real too. Even when it doesn’t make sense.”

    There was a minute of uncomfortable silence.

    Annabeth took a deep breath and then glared at the sky. “Sorry. Please continue.”

    Everything about this situation sucks.

    “Anyway.” The whole story was pretty bad, but this part was scummy. “Zeus took Metis out on a date. He told her he was apologizing for being an ass.” Immediately, the faces of my audience darkened and I cringed. “There were flowers, food, music and everything. After she forgave him, he challenged her to a contest. They would compete in the form of animals. As she was a clever goddess, he needed a handicap. She would be prey animals and he the predator. If he couldn’t catch her before she made it back to Olympus, she could ask him for anything.” I opened my mouth and nothing came out for a few seconds. “She was a clever goddess.”

    I swallowed hard.

    “She almost made it?” Alistair, black haired and gray eyed, whispered sadly. He was Lace’s age, I think. Seven, maybe eight.

    “Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “You know the whole ‘born out of his head wearing armor’ thing. Metis’ doing.” I was starting to regret not keeping my goblet. My mouth was dry. “Good thing too.” I smiled weakly and mimed throwing a spear. “Ate a Master Bolt immediately. Blasted right off the mountain and landed by a river.”

    They were making notes.

    “Myth says when Athena was born the heaven and earth cried out and the sun stood still,” Malcolm muttered. “That was just the murder attempt. Thunder and the flash of light.”

    “Some origin stories say she was born by a river," Annabeth mused. "And the weird myth about gold falling down on humanity to celebrate her birth?” Annabeth unsheathed her Celestial Bronze dagger from the holster on her waist. The divine metal shone. In the firelight from the central brazier, the bronze really did look like shining gold. “Pieces of her armor?”

    The weird game of telephone that was the human record was kind of funny.

    I don’t mean ‘ha ha’ funny.

    “Her landing site was lucky. Athena was still the Daughter of Metis, Daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. As soon as she came into contact with the water, the river swept her away to the sea. It was actually Tethys that named her and fostered her with Amphitrite and Triton where she healed and was protected. Which was a problem for Zeus.”

    “The fatal duel!” Annabeth jumped ahead in the story. “He interfered on purpose so that she would kill the sea nymph Pallas, Triton's daughter and break her protection.”

    I nodded. “Everyone knew it was Zeus, but it was the first crack. She kept the protection of her lineage, but the tension grew. To prevent war, Athena asked to be presented to Zeus. ‘I would know of my crime before the King of the Gods,’ she declared. ‘You were born,’ her grandfather told her, but she was escorted to Olympus. She stood before Zeus and demanded to know what the fuck gives.”

    Some of Athena’s kids snorted and I flapped my hand.

    “Insert flowery Ancient Greek words here. Whatever. Point is she got her Prophecy out of him.” I felt the smile beginning to form on my face. “And like her mother, Athena is a very clever goddess.”

    A wise child was destined.” Masayuki tapped his pencil onto his paper. “No gender, no birth order.”

    Malcolm was smiling too. “And technically, he consumed the mother, not the child. Either he messed up, or he did what the Sky Father told him to, and she wasn’t the one.”

    “Maybe she had a twin brother,” Annabeth threw out with a grin. “He bought that.”

    “They all did,” I said. “Metis wasn’t there to say otherwise. Zeus couldn’t and his pride would tell him he did just as the Prophecy told him to. And he’s arguing with Athena.”

    Seeing the pride on their faces hurt.

    None of them have so much as talked to the goddess. Annabeth had an enchanted baseball cap that turned her invisible.

    That was the only clue the entire cabin had that she cared about her kids at all.

    “History happens. Zeus is an idiot and a jerk.” Thunder again and while the younger kids flinched, my friends just tensed. “And Athena had proven herself wise and powerful against the Giants and against Typhon.” There was a sudden flurry of scribbling from my audience. “She was the King’s heir and the King was too busy shitting on everyone to rule properly. So obviously, he had to go.”

    “The sea and sun gods?” Annabeth ventured.

    “Her mother and childhood meant the sea was a given. Zeus treating Leto terribly and screwing the twins over repeatedly meant she had the sun and moon.” Seriously. Kallisto’s entire thing where Zeus raped one of Artemis' Hunters while transformed into Artemis was really fucked up but also not the only tragedy. “Demeter’s Persephone thing where Zeus helped Hades out meant he pissed away all of that good will.” I paused. “Forever. So she had the harvest. And finally, he committed the crime of making Hestia regret abdicating, so she had the hearth.”

    There were round eyes all around.

    “Hephaestus was neutral. Hermes wasn’t born yet. Same with Mr. D. Ares, Aphrodite and Hera were with Zeus. Really, Aphrodite’s the only reason there was even a fight.”

    Really?” Annabeth said skeptically.

    I almost swallowed my tongue.

    Aphrodite is whole.

    Shit.

    “Uh, she was a bit different back then.” I tried. “Sparta liked her for a reason?”

    My too-smart friend made a face. “I guess…”

    “Anyway!” I moved on quickly. “Zeus got the boot, Athena ruled for the next few millennia.”

    “Millennia!?” Several voices shouted at once.

    “At least two,” I mused. “I never asked exactly how long, sorry.” They stared at me. “Eventually, Zeus crawled back out from under his rock, but he knew he couldn’t win fighting Athena directly. So he asked Hera if she had any ideas. And she did. She went to Hephaestus.”

    Annabeth grimaced. “Let me guess. ‘Craft me an unbreakable chain?’ Like in the myth?”

    “Yup. ‘I can’t do that,’ he said. ‘For everything created must one day break. But I can make chains that can’t be broken by the one ensnared. What will you give me for it?’”

    They all put on the classic Athena Cabin thinking face. Which meant they looked like they were trying to set something on fire with their eyes.

    “His birth myth is probably wrong,” Masayuki muttered.

    “Definitely,” Annabeth murmured back. “But I bet not all of it is a lie. Is the answer ‘I will love you as a mother should?’”

    I shot a finger gun at her. “Bingo! She swore it on heaven, the earth and the river Styx.” A rumble sounded far off in the distance. “Now all that was left was setting the trap. She approached her sisters Demeter of Sacred Law and Hestia of the State with her head bowed. For stubborn Hera with the Domain Legitimacy of Rule had just the bait. An official coronation. Because Athena was wise and powerful.” I sighed. “And very proud.”

    Faces fell.

    “She was shackled to the throne. The rebels smuggled in as guests attacked. Caught by surprise and without Athena, it was closer than it should have been. The lines were drawn between all the gods of Olympus. The old rule versus the new. It was a proper war this time. An Olympiomachy.”

    “Athena was suspended over the edge of the Devouring Void by those chains.” Annabeth said and I was a little worried? Because her voice was completely flat. “Her father visited every day, threatening to break them and send her into the abyss.”

    “Unless she gave up her Kingly Names,” I said as gently as I could. “She stalled as best she could, claiming some Names as Kingly when they weren't, but she had to give up something. Once a day, she tore out a Name for the Void to take. The war waged, and she bled herself of power.”

    “The Nereid Thetis saved my mother, didn’t she?” Annabeth’s storm gray eyes boiled.

    “Yes,” I said slowly. “With the aid of her foster son Hephaestus who felt guilty about the clusterfuck. They escaped right before Athena was made to give up her last Kingly Name, he got every bone in his body broken by Zeus when he found out his prisoner was gone. Athena returned to her people, but not nearly as strong as she had been.”

    “And then?” Malcolm asked impatiently when I stopped.

    “God wars are bad,” I said with a grimace. Mom could have shown them how bad, but she wasn’t here. And it probably wasn’t something I wanted to show a seven year old child of Athena anyway. “For everybody. Your mom wasn’t in the greatest of shape, uh, mentally after...everything,” I finished lamely.

    “No kidding,” someone muttered, but I could have sworn no one said anything.

    “We know the rest,” Annabeth almost snapped out. “Mom didn’t want to kill everyone to get her throne back. The sea god didn’t care.”

    “They fought over it. He won and that proved her point. She couldn't. It was the last straw.” I rubbed at my forehead, wishing I could take off my sunglasses to rub my eyes. I mean, I could, but it was a bad idea. “Zeus struck at his traitorous twin children first. Leto tried to protect them, but he was angry and she didn’t defend herself. The lightning burned right through her. Then it nearly burned through - “

    “Artemis,” Apollo’s voice said tightly and we all turned.

    Apollo was sitting on his Table, feet on the benches as he hunched over his knees. He still had on his Camp Half-Blood T-Shirt and ratty jeans with flip flops, but he was not Fred right now. His hair was like molten gold and flowed like lava. The sun had burned out the blue of his eyes. Arcs of soft white light came off him like those telescope pictures of solar flares.

    “Who was protecting me. Her little brother.” He pursed his lips. “It was my idea, you know. Kicking Dad off the big chair. My fault.”

    “Apollo.” I said as casually as I could. “Think of the poor mortals.”

    “Hm?” He said absently before looking down at himself. “Oh. Right.” He dimmed, allowing the children of Athena to cautiously crack their eyes open. He eyed their reddened skin thoughtfully and I felt the small pulse of energy from him. “Did I hear that right, owl head kept one of her Kingly Names?”

    I nodded.

    “Huh. Which one?”

    I shrugged. “Ageleia.”

    You could read it as ‘Protectoress of the People’ but it also meant ‘Leader of the People’ if you changed the context.

    Guess why she didn’t want to burn the world down for a throne?

    Apollo’s eyes went huge, like his son Will’s had earlier.

    “No shit?” I stared at him as he let out a small chuckle. “She said that was one of her Names of War. Her sponsorship of heroes, defender of cities and it was - she’s still - ” He couldn’t seem to get the words out. Then he laughed in a short, angry, desperate bark. “Every fucking time Athena.”

    “Adrasteia named her Deceiver for a reason.” I reminded him. Mom knew what she was doing. “She earned it.”

    “Yeah,” Apollo breathed as his hair lost the fiery glow and his eyes were once again blue. “She sure did.” He sighed and looked down at his hands. “Story time’s over, Athena Cabin.”

    They packed up their books and notebooks, pens and papers without comment. Except for Annabeth who looked between Apollo and I several times. “Later, Percy.”

    That sounded like a threat. Why did it sound like a threat?

    “Uh, okay?”

    I watched her leave, bewildered.

    What did I do?

    Apollo huffed. “Think of the poor mortals?”

    “Well, yeah. You were kind of…” I waved my hands around vaguely. “Goddy.”

    “And you weren’t affected at all,” he said slowly and I frowned. “And ‘goddy’ isn’t a word.”

    Sunglasses?” I offered. “And yes it is.”

    He snorted. “Sure.”

    He gave me one of those considering looks he hadn’t given me in years. Not since he found out I could understand the Ancient Greek he had been born knowing. The dialect was too old to even have a name anymore.

    “The Prophecy’s active, isn’t it?” He asked suddenly.

    And just like that, I was hyper aware of the Mythomagic cards stalking me again. I don’t know what face I made, but Apollo rolled his eyes.

    “God of Prophecy. I could feel it too.”

    Oh.

    That’s right.

    Well now I feel stupid.

    He smirked at me. “Dumb ass.”

    “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?” I demanded, trying to ignore the fact that I was guilty as charged. My eyes burned. The Pavilion was a bunch of Hellenic columns and trellis with no roof or walls but it still felt like the world was closing in on me.

    His smirk shifted into something a lot more sad. “Same reason as you, I think.”

    I tried to swallow the sudden lump in my throat, but it didn’t go away. That just made my throat hurt.

    “I’m scared, ‘Pol.’” I told my big brother. I didn’t have it in me to feel embarrassed about my voice cracking.

    “Yeah.” Apollo murmured. “Me too.”

    We lapsed into a comfortable silence.

    I don’t do well with silences. It gave my ADHD brain too much time to think. Eventually, I had to break it.

    “Okay. Let’s see what the survey says.” I leaned to the side and picked my backpack up from the floor. I found the aluminum tin so quickly, it was almost as if it had leapt into my hand. I pulled out the cards. I shuffled them. I drew thirteen cards and then arranged them into the star-like pattern I knew they belonged in.

    When I was done, I leaned back and took it in. The new card sat comfortably in the upper left corner as if it had always belonged there. It was an item card.

    Vial of Centaur Blood.

    “I think I prefer my Prophecies being made of words,” Apollo remarked. At some point he had drifted next to me, looking over my shoulder. “Rhymes are always better.”

    “You should have thought of that before you let your Oracle try to kill me.”

    “I’ll definitely remember for next time!”

    My Bardson was an ass.

    He reached out and picked up his sister’s card again.

    “Two out of four if not negated by three.” He picked up the fourth and fifth cards. Hermes, God of Thieves and The Oracle of Trophonius. “Or it’s not negated.

    “A triplicate,” I said miserably.

    Yeah.

    It’s fucking me.

    “And a demigod of Hermes,” Apollo murmured. “While he can go places and run his mouth, that’s about all Hermes’ Domains would allow for on a Quest.” I looked up at him in surprise and saw his expression twist. “You were right about my lil’ sis.” He sighed. “I decided that I’m going to...trust you with her wellbeing.”

    I stared at him.

    “I’m the one that bleeds red here.” I had to say it. “Also? If I tell her that, I will die.”

    Apollo gave me a very hairy eyeball.

    “Then don’t tell her.”

    He didn’t say anything about the whole ‘fucking mortal’ bit, I noticed.

    “Grab Chiron and tell Dionysus to let Athena know Prophecy’s up.” He moved his hand through the air and the air rippled, and bent into a rainbow. “Unless…” He began hopefully. “You want to be the one convincing Arte - “

    I hopped out of my seat.

    “Chiron and Mr. D to Athena. Got it.”

    I ran away.

    A bit later on, I found myself at the throw range. Unfortunately, it wasn't going well. I was super distracted during javelin practice. It was like I had never picked up a spear before. Ryan benched me after a particularly bad throw, pressing a bottle of water into my hands.

    “Focus.”

    “Can’t,” I muttered back.

    He eyed me like I was a puzzle piece to the wrong puzzle. “What’s stopping you?”

    Have you ever seen a moon landing?

    I’m not talking about putting things on the moon, I mean the moon itself landing on Earth. I should have expected it, even if I was hoping it would take at least a few hours. Or even days. It was only a few nights after a New Moon, meaning her chariot was virtually invisible unlike Apollo’s sun chariot that was as obnoxious as the god himself. I could hear the Campers start to yell that the Hunters were here and I felt everything in my chest cavity drop into my stomach.

    “That,” I moaned, standing up. I gulped down enough water to feel sick.

    Mom, I kind of threw out there. I had no idea what I was going to say.

    She already knew.

    Her presence was there, even stronger than it had been when she Claimed me on my first night at Camp. It was thick and churning, almost straining, and so comforting. In a bubble of absolute silence, I felt like I was a fish submerged in water for the very first time. The world made sense and I knew my place in it.

    And that place was larger than I had ever imagined.

    This must be what stars feel like when they explode, I thought.

    It was only for a few seconds, but when her attention moved on, I felt like it had lasted forever. I went to screw the cap back onto my water bottle, only to discover I wasn’t carrying one anymore. Everything around me: the bench, the grass, the dirt, had been ground into a very fine wet dust in a perfect circle around me.

    Ryan had backed away. His face was milk white and his brown eyes had some burst blood vessels in them.

    “Oh,” I said blankly. “Sorry for her.” I opened my mouth for more words, but they didn’t come. A vague sense of wrongness made me close my mouth. Ryan was hurt. I looked around and saw more scared faces. The wrongness got a little stronger.

    I left the javelin range. The fear was gone.

    Thanks, Mom.

    My feet carried me to the Big House. On the ground floor if you take an immediate right after getting through the double front doors, you end up in the Rec Room. It mainly has a bunch of old arcade machines, a TV and the ping pong table where the Counselors of the Cabins meet up for meetings. Right now, instead of kids aged 12 to 18 gathered around the ping pong table, it was gods aged 4600ish to…

    Wait.

    How old is Athena anyway?

    Annabeth’s mother glanced up at me. Luke’s dad was there too, for some reason? He was in a salt and pepper middle aged man get-up with brown hair, but I’d recognize those zephyr blue eyes and that sly grin anywhere. He was rolling a pair of dice. Chiron looked overwhelmed. Dionysus was sitting in a chair backwards, looking bored as he sipped at his Diet Coke. Apollo saw me and smiled, putting the card he was holding back down onto the ping pong table.

    “Hey, nice timing. We were just about to get you.”

    Across from him, Artemis turned just enough to look at me. I bit my lip to stop what was absolutely going to be a stupid smile.

    “So this is the new Oracle,” she said. A girl the same age as me in a silver parka and blue jeans eyed me curiously. She had auburn hair tied back in a simple ponytail and a silver bow leaning against the ping pong table next to her. Her eyes were a hungry void with the faintest sliver of silver at the far left edge of her irises. I watched with my heart in my throat as her brow furrowed.

    You ever been in a situation where you really like your older friend’s sister and she doesn’t notice you at all because you’re a lot younger than she is? But then you meet up again years later and you’ve grown up a bit and she looks at you like she’s never seen you before? But then the spark of realization comes into her eyes and you’re hoping you made some kind of impression and then she’s like,

    “I know you. My brother’s little tag along.”

    If you haven’t?

    It sucks.

    A lot.
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, Cheshirek4t and 10 others like this.
  12. Threadmarks: In The Name of the Moon
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction

    The breath I hadn't realized I was holding left me in a pained wheeze. For a moment, I imagined I was exhaling my soul. My heart plummeted from my throat back all the way down to huddle somewhere in my left big toe. I felt like my spine had scrunched into a little ball and now I was about an inch in height. I don't - I don't have the words to describe my disappointment.

    Maybe it was stupid of me to expect anything, I know. Last time I saw her, I was eight and I've been nursing this stupid crush this entire time and I hate it. But you can't help what the heart wants, isn't that how the saying goes? I mean, sure, she was smart and caring and amazing and the void in her eyes was wow and - and had literally thousands of years on me and spent every single one of them avoiding relationships.

    That was fine. I wouldn't change her for the solar system. We could just be friends!

    Right?

    I just had a bit of a handicap.

    Or a lot of one.

    "That's me," I said weakly. I turned to Apollo. I usually don't pray to other gods but right now I was silently begging him to put me out of my misery. "The little tag along…"

    "That's cold, sis." Apollo came to my rescue with a big smile and I felt my spirits lift. "I thought the little Tail-Puller would have made more of an impression!"

    I remembered why I don't pray to other gods.

    I said it before and I will absolutely say it again.

    My Bardson was an ass.

    I watched the small sliver of moonlight in her eyes light up. She definitely remembered me now and not at all like how I wanted her to.

    Hermes snorted as he tossed his dice again and even Athena's lips curled up. I probably looked like I was about to keel over dead from a heart attack or a stroke, because Artemis gave me this pitying look I never wanted to see again and tried to reassure me.

    "I hold no grudge against you for that," she said evenly. "I am well aware of how small children are around furry creatures and heal quickly."

    My soul was starting to shrivel. I could feel it. The little amused smile that stole across her face for a moment made me wish I could go back in time, grab my five year old self by the shoulders, and shake him until all thoughts of pulling the wolf's tail fell out of his stupid little head!

    Sam was never hearing about this.

    "Uh, good," I said numbly. "That you don't hate me. For that."

    "Yes, 'good,'" she echoed me and shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she frowned. "You are taller, but have not changed much, have you?"

    This was a fucking disaster.

    "Um. I guess not," I said miserably because every guy wants to be told they're basically five years old by the girl they like. "Is that bad?"

    She hummed thoughtfully.

    "No, I do not believe so," she offered, but I was scared to get my hopes up. And then I got my hopes up anyway - I couldn't help it - because she smiled again and asked, "You...have learned that tails are not for pulling, at least?"

    I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up.

    She just had to ask.

    Why?

    Chiron was starting to look constipated attempting to smother a smile before he gave up, hiding it behind a hand even as he flicked his own horse tail. This was not how I imagined this going. I thought maybe there had been something when I was eight? She credited me for Apollo being slightly less of an idiot, but maybe that hadn't been about me at all, but her brother. I was expecting….I don't know, anything but being called out on my tail-pulling ways. I had to defend myself.

    And I - !

    I -

    I got nothing.

    I didn't need to ask who could tell I was dying inside, because Hermes had a sudden, suspicious coughing fit while I stood there with lead in my shoes. Mr. D obnoxiously opened his can of Diet Coke as Apollo whistled. The final nail in the coffin was Artemis' lifting eyebrow, making it clear she was expecting an actual answer.

    I can't.

    I -

    Someone. Anyone.

    Please kill me.

    Mom.

    Please.

    "Yeah," I croaked eventually as the gods laughed at me. "I grew out of it. You're good."

    Let me die.

    Artemis nodded, looking very pleased with herself. Apollo grinned at me from across the ping pong table and it took a moment, but it finally clicked.

    I sighed.

    Right.

    Twins.

    She asked because she was fucking with me.

    "I'll be honest," my mouth jumped ahead of my brain. "Sharing a sense of humor with Apollo is definitely a mark against you."

    She let out this soft laugh, slamming my heart right back into my throat.

    I made her laugh!

    In a good way!

    "That is fair," the Moon Goddess allowed. "I was told you are to be a companion on my Quest."

    Holy shit, that's right!

    I was going on a Quest with Artemis!

    Mom, I love you, I prayed immediately. I take back every bad thing I've ever said about your tests.

    Her amusement this time had a bit of a malicious edge to it that definitely didn't say great things about the Quest, but I was going to forgive her.

    "Perseus, was it not?" Artemis asked neutrally.

    "Percy." I corrected her hopefully.

    She blinked slowly and I had no idea what she was thinking. I watched the void devour the sliver of moonlight in her eyes. That was her inheritance from Selene, wasn't it? Just - just wow. She looked away suddenly, passing a hand over her face as she turned back to the ping pong table.

    "I hope you did not pick up too many of my brother's bad habits."

    "Excuse me? My bad habits?" Apollo frowned at her while the sun in his eyes flared and Artemis relaxed against the table, leaning in his direction as the void receded. "I've spent years training him - "

    "Perseus. You have my sympathies."

    "Can you not be a little shit for two seconds?"

    Athena cleared her throat.

    I won't claim to be the most observant guy on the planet but I did notice the way the twins immediately gave her their full attention. Hermes shifted slightly away like he was bracing himself and Dionysus didn't seem to pay attention at all. If a random demigod at Camp saw them like this before I got here, they would have no idea how much history between them they just betrayed.

    Chiron, lastborn of Kronos and older than everyone here, quietly stood in his corner like a child in a classroom waiting to be called on.

    "To business then." The Goddess of Wisdom raised her hand and with a soft snap of her fingers, a very pretty wooden chair appeared at the ping pong table for me. The plastic folding chairs were still against the wall. The sitting gods had made their own chairs. I thanked her and took a seat. "This is the Oracle of Chthon. He had an altercation with the Oracle of Delphi that granted him its ability to discern Prophecies."

    That was a fancy way of saying 'he ate it.'

    "He ate it," Mr. D said.

    Hermes' eyebrows jumped. The lopsided troublemaker smile I often saw on the faces of his sons Travis and Connor briefly appeared as he glanced at Apollo. "You let him get away with that?"

    It was probably supposed to be a joke, but Apollo didn't take it like one.

    "The Fates are his half-siblings," he reminded the Young god who winced. I winced too.

    "You're the son of the Serpent then?" Hermes sucked on his teeth. "Guess I should have seen that coming." He cracked the same sly grin Luke had. "Maybe you can appeal to the Fates, eh?"

    I felt my face twist. "I'll pass."

    They made it very clear I was not their brother.

    Starting with the attempts to get Mom to abort me and I'm pretty sure it didn't end with the Pit Scorpion in my crib. You ever wish you weren't related to people because they were complete and utter cunts?

    Yeah.

    The Stele household left them off the Christmas list.

    "I assume that is where the Mythomagic cards come in? A form of divination?" Artemis asked and my brain stalled for a second. She knows Mythomagic?

    Officially my second favorite god of the entire pantheon.

    Apollo sighed. "Do I want to know why you know the game?"

    "Why do I know anything?"

    "To lord it over me."

    She raised an auburn eyebrow before tilting her head.

    "You are not wrong." She picked up her own representation from the table and after a second, Hermes did the same. "Of the Hunt," she murmured before picking up the item card Zeus' Lightning Bolt. "I see."

    "Told you." Apollo blew on his nails, buffing them on his orange Camp Half-Blood T-Shirt. "I know what I'm talking about when it comes to Prophecies."

    "Sometimes," she agreed and ignored her brother's indignant squawk. "However, you must admit a Quest offered to a god of Olympus is most unusual."

    Hermes rolled his head back and forth, cracking his neck.

    "You mean, that doesn't happen. Ever." He eyed the Hermes, God of Thieves card in his hands like it was a rattlesnake. "A thief took it, a thief to take it back," he mused. "I can negotiate and travel, but unless I want to get ass blasted by the Fates, which I don't," he stressed as Mr. D snorted into his soda. "I can't do much in confrontation with anything but another god."

    "It makes me question the nature of our enemy if two gods are necessary," Artemis asked with a side glance towards Athena.

    "The prisons are holding," she replied. "For now."

    "Maybe not two," Hermes said as he put his card back down. "I would - " A breeze kicked up in the god's zephyr eyes as his voice broke. "I would volunteer my son, Luke, as your thief, Artemis. I can justify teaching him a few tricks for this. It's unprecedented after all." He seemed to get into the idea, leaning forward in his seat. "Give me a few hours and maybe get him a proper weapon…"

    Luke too?

    I smiled to myself.

    We were going to be just fine.

    "Your eldest?" Artemis' eyes narrowed. "Ye - es...I remember him. He was tolerable. I accept."

    "This is fucking weird," Mr. D muttered from his seat. "Quests are for mortals."

    Yeah.

    Quests are for us poor bastards that can die.

    Dick.

    "Would you recommend recruiting extra members, Chiron?" The Goddess of the Hunt idly asked as she inspected the other cards on the table. "I would prefer at least one of my Hunters with me."

    "The tradition is three members for the sacred number," the immortal trainer replied from his corner. "It has served very well in reducing unfortunate incidents."

    He means deaths.

    People dying.

    "Pythagoras was a rather useful boy of mine," Athena said with an amused quirk to her lips. "Three then, or seven for your sacred number."

    "No offense," Hermes ventured. "But if it's just find and retrieve, seven seems... "

    "Too many. I agree. I will go without." Artemis glanced at me as she placed the cards in her hands back in their place and then tapped the Right Hand of Kronos, the Titan Lord card. "How certain are we that this is not a Great Prophecy?"

    Uh?

    Apollo and I exchanged glances.

    Fuck.

    That was a good question.

    "It came to him, not me?" Apollo offered, sounding more than a little unsure. I knew why. His Prophecies came from Mom's triplets, the Fates. And like he said, being Mom's kid outranked whatever blessing the Fates would have given me as an Oracle.

    "Yes," Athena said quietly, pinning me with her shining eyes. "It came to him, the son of Fate itself." I sat there in silence as everyone stared at me, feeling like my heart had just dropped out of my ass. "That would change things, wouldn't it?"

    "Would it even be about returning Father's bolt then?" Hermes ventured. "Right Hand of the Titan Lord, King of Olympus, Lightning Bolt, God of Thieves." He plastered a bright smile on his face. "And can't forget the God of Doom!"

    "No one forgets the God of Doom," Mr. D grunted. "We wish we could, but we can't."

    "It's not a proper Prophecy without him."

    Apollo frowned at them. "Well aren't you rays of sunshine?"

    Hermes opened his mouth.

    "Don't say it."

    Mr. D sighed noisily.

    "Two meetings in one day is two too many. And Father's already sitting on a cactus." He gave me a look out of the corner of his eyes. I smiled back and tried to look extra prickly. "So we're dragging this little shit back to Olympus, or what?"

    "Do we want to?" Athena asked softly. She met everyone's eyes. "Say that we do present him to the King of Olympus with this Prophecy. We do not have much to go on. We are unfamiliar with the characteristics of his Prophecies. It might be as the difference between the Grove of Dodona and the Oracle of Cumae."

    If you're wondering what that difference is, one is a bunch of prophetic trees (and boy did Mom rip Rhea off big time with that one) and the other is talking bone dust in a jar and technically Apollo's fiancée.

    Or something?

    He tried to explain once but I hadn't been paying attention.

    Look.

    Calling his love life a dumpster fire was an insult to burning dumpsters.

    "It might still be a Quest?" Artemis picked up another card. Vial of Centaur Blood.

    "Hope that it is." Athena said. "Unless we want Father to accuse the North Wind, Old Age, or the Lady of the Underworld of theft instead?"

    Boreas. Geras. Persephone, in that order. The card was her in her Name of Despoina of Mystery which meant it wasn't that simple, but, you know.

    Zeus.

    Everyone winced.

    You probably already know this, but Demeter was a wee little bit touchy on the subject of her daughter. Just ask Hades. He made the terrible decision of asking Zeus to help him court Persephone. That ended in a kidnapping. Demeter came back to find her daughter missing, Hecate reported the abduction and then Zeus was like 'what does her not wanting to go with him have to do with anything?'

    Every mother wants to hear that!

    So because Zeus was useless, she gave killing all life on the planet a good ol' college try and nearly broke open the Earth Mother's prison in the process.

    Accusing her daughter of stealing the Master Bolt would not end well.

    For anyone.

    "If I may," Chiron spoke up. After he got the nod from Apollo, the centaur stepped closer to the table. He picked up the item card The Cydonian Cincture. "An item representing all of the cunning bewitchment of mankind, belonging to a certain daughter of the Night."

    He means Apate, the personification of Deceit. She's my first cousin. So are Geras, Moros, Hypnos, Nemesis and Thanatos. And the Furies.

    Nyx has a lot of kids, okay?

    I'm talking, no joke, at least several hundred and that's just the immortal gods and spirits. She's also got monsters for children! Actual Eat-Demigods-For-Breakfast monsters. Like the cute and cuddly furry bundles of violent death Hellhounds she had with the three headed dog of the Underworld, Cerberus.

    I didn't ask for details and you shouldn't either.

    "Along with two sons of Night, Old Age and Doom, and then the goddess of Mystery," He finished.

    Athena's eyes narrowed as she inspected the star pattern of the cards.

    Mr. D grunted. "That's a lot of Underworld references."

    "It is," Artemis said slowly. "Mystery and Deceit. The Pit where the Titan Lord is imprisoned is within his realm as well. If The Crooked One could reach any of us with his whispers, it would be him."

    Hermes closed his eyes wearily. More gray appeared in his brown hair. "And Father has not been shy in giving him all the incentive in the world."

    Wait, what?

    Were they talking about Hades?

    What?

    "What?" I asked out loud. Athena's nose wrinkled as if she smelled something unpleasant. Hermes gave me a sad smile. Chiron looked away with a distant look in his eyes, as if he could see through the walls of the Big House. Mr. D grumbled something under his breath. Artemis sneered and the void broke free to swallow the whites of her eyes. My breath caught. Apollo nudged her, drawing her attention.

    "He can see that," he said, pointing towards me. "By the way."

    For a moment, his sister stared at him in incomprehension and then horror swept over her face as she hurriedly closed her eyes.

    "It's okay!" I said quickly. "It doesn't bother me. It's fine." I swallowed 'It's beautiful' because by that expression she just made, I don't think she felt the same way. I have no idea why not.

    "It's fine?" Hermes repeated and Chiron just...looked at me. After a moment, he started to stroke his beard thoughtfully.

    "He is unaffected," Athena confirmed. "The Mist hides nothing from him."

    Mr. D gave me this weird look, like he went to bite into a chocolate and discovered some jerk had turned it into black licorice.

    And he didn't know how to feel about it.

    I did.

    Licorice is nasty.

    "Neat trick," he said quietly. That was the second compliment he's given me and it's starting to creep me out. "I didn't manage that until I was...forty something."

    "Uh, thanks…?"

    Have you ever seen something move in your peripheral vision? You can't see what it is, what shape it is, or color, but you know it's there and you know it changed. Something like that just happened with Artemis. I could see it and couldn't at the same time.

    I bit my tongue as she opened moonlit eyes. Almost like molten silver.

    I guess they were okay.

    She leaned away from me. "What is he?"

    She's still great.

    But.

    That was kind of rude.

    "When you find out, let me know," Apollo said, shrugging. "Where were we?"

    "Uncle Dead," Hermes said, still glancing back at me.

    The sun god snapped his fingers.

    "Righto! So you know about the Prophecy, the big one," my Bardson said after a moment. "A half-blood child of the eldest gods, soul reaping at sixteen, world in endless sleep, yadda yadda? You weren't born yet. We thought that meant kids of the Big Three. Sky, Sea, Underworld."

    Zeus, Poseidon and Hades.

    I snapped my fingers, a habit I picked up from him. "So that's why their cabins are empty!"

    Only a literal apocalypse would get Zeus and Poseidon to stop chasing skirts.

    "I know!" Apollo burst out. "Super weird, right? You gotta admit, Dad and Uncle Sea do got hella game. Leaving the field unplayed is so not them."

    Artemis made a disgusted sound.

    "So the eldest - "

    Wait a minute.

    The sisters were older than their brothers. If they thought 'eldest gods' meant the children of Kronos and Rhea for...reasons? I got plenty of cousins that fit that title and there are Titans still around and gods like my mother, but whatever! Then Hestia, Demeter and finally Hera were born before Hades, Poseidon and Zeus.

    Where'd this idea that the younger set of siblings were the 'eldest gods' even come from?

    Did they just go 'prophecy about demigods, who here can't keep it in their pants?'

    They probably did.

    I will admit, I don't see Hestia ever having a demigod, Prophecy or not.

    I know how it works. Kind of. Sam's a cat, Mom does not have a filter and Apollo forgets I'm twelve sometimes. So I have an idea.

    Anyway, Hestia swore off that. On her little brother's head.

    As in she would have to sacrifice Zeus' head to her flames first. When Hestia makes an oath, she means it.

    Yes.

    When Mark said she was a scary pacifist, he was not kidding.

    Hera, on the other hand?

    I think keeping her marriage vows when Zeus wouldn't was a point of pride for her. How much pride she has left after all these years is anyone's guess. A demigod of Hera would be an immediate clusterfuck worthy of a Doomsday Prophecy, but I can easily believe no one wanted to be the one telling the Queen of Olympus that to her face.

    Demeter had demigod kids though. Apollo's Cabin played Dungeons and Dragons with them. The current Counselor Katie Gardner was an overpowered monk.

    "But, Demeter?" I asked, confused.

    Athena threw up her hands.

    "Thank you," she nearly hissed.

    So it wasn't just me.

    "To be fair, we just got done with that whole mortal war thing, what did they call it, World War...Two?" Hermes spoke up with a wide shit eating grin. I suddenly understood why his kids are all bastards. "Their kids screwed everything up, they absolutely would do it again."

    "They grew up in the belly of a time god," Mr. D pitched in. "They got thrown up in reverse order, so technically…"

    "And you were wrong anyway, so there!" Apollo exclaimed and stuck his tongue out at her.

    "The current demigod children of the Three had already passed their sixteenth birthday, as required by the Prophecy," Artemis cut in before the three idiots could goad Athena into strangling them. "Except for two young children of the God of the Dead." A muscle in her jaw jumped as she ground her teeth. "A girl not yet twelve years of age and her younger brother."

    Oh.

    I think I know how this ends.

    "He killed them," I said.

    "Yes," Artemis replied softly. A tarnished silver chair appeared behind her for her to sit in. She sighed, arm on the table. "Father killed them."

    Yikes.

    So if Mom wasn't Mom...it would have been a good idea to invest in rubber shoes.

    "The Three made an oath on the River Styx not to sire anymore demigods," Artemis continued. A low rumble sounded in the distance as a warning of the ancient river's attention.

    Huh.

    "Just the river?" I asked to be sure.

    Her eyes widened.

    "What do you mean 'just the river?'" Hermes asked with a frown as Athena's attention suddenly snapped completely to me from the cards. "It's the most binding form of oath we know of."

    I opened my mouth to ask what happened to swearing on the Voice of Heaven and the Bones of the Earth when I finally registered the warning look Chiron and Athena were giving me.

    "Oh come on!" I nearly yelled. "That's ridiculous!"

    Athena's eyes closed wearily. "I know."

    I waved at Hermes. "Literally a god. Throne and everything."

    "I know."

    Hermes raised his hand. "What am I missing?"

    "Swearing on the Styx alone is for mortals." The problem with pissing off the border between the land of the living and the dead is that she can change your address really easily.

    From Living Street to Dead Avenue.

    "Perseus." Athena said tightly.

    "And Hades," I amended as Athena rubbed at her temples. "He is kind of right there in the Underworld, and Styx is the Goddess of Hatred, so that'd still suck for him, but for the rest of you? What can she do?"

    "A fate worse than death," Mr. D said flatly.

    "Exactly," I said, pointing a finger at him. "She has to ask the Fates. And they punish when and who they feel like it."

    The Moirai have never let silly concepts like justice, fairness, morality in general get in the way of a good weave.

    "A true oath offers your intent to heaven, trusts the earth with the punishment for breaking it and calls upon the Styx as witness."

    And insurance the Earth Mother won't devour more than her due if you're a stupid oath breaker.

    See?

    I gave Athena a smug look.

    I can teach and keep secrets.

    She sighed.

    Hermes stared at me a moment too long. Then his head slowly turned towards the older Olympians. I could almost hear it creak.

    "Is that true?" He asked quietly.

    Athena pinched the bridge of her nose as Chiron cleared his throat uncomfortably. Apollo shuffled his feet, looking anywhere but at his half-brother. Artemis sighed and bit the bullet.

    "Yes," the goddess of the hunt said. "Have you not wondered why Father and his Queen keep some oaths and not others? Even when they clearly despise it? Particularly, the ones made before you were born?"

    Mr. D sighed heavily again. "Son of a bitch."

    "I thought...it was because he really cared…about…?" His middle aged guise melted away, leaving a black haired young man with zephyr blue eyes looking very small in his elaborate winged chair.

    I didn't want to, but I was starting to feel sorry for the Messenger God.

    Sure, he ticketed my Mom, but it was starting to look like he didn't know anything. Even though he really should.

    He was Luke.

    "Yes, he cared," Athena sneered. "He cares so much that when it comes to the fate of Olympus, he just could not help himself. Thalia Grace was because he cared."

    Wait, what?

    What?

    "As in the pine tree?" I blurted out. I lifted an arm to point in the general direction of the Camp entrance. "The one right out in front of the Big House? Just down the hill? Thalia's Tree? On Half-Blood Hill? That one?"

    "That one," Athena confirmed.

    I knew my mouth was hanging open. I couldn't help it. No wonder Travis had been so weird about me climbing the pine tree.

    It had been a demigod.

    "The God of the Dead sought revenge. A horde of monsters was sent after the girl. She had companions. One of mine." She didn't seem at all concerned about that, so I was hoping whoever it was made it. "And one of Hermes'."

    The God of Travelers still looked lost.

    "She faltered and fell. Father intervened, turning her into a pine tree at the top of the hill and robbed his brother of her soul." She punctuated her words with little waves of a finger, like a conductor in front of an orchestra. "She died with the intent to sacrifice and Hestia accepted."

    Hermes' eyes tried to escape his skull.

    "Hestia? But Father - " He pressed his lips together and the wind within his blue eyes swirled dangerously. He breathed in and let it out slowly. "Later."

    A quicksilver smile flickered across Athena's face. "As you wish."

    "Okay," I jumped back into the conversation. "So Olympus killed his kids and he couldn't take revenge. Is that really enough to go to war with everyone over? He's not dumb."

    Mom would do it in a heartbeat, but that's because she could.

    "He is in a rather unique position," Athena allowed. "We are no longer actively worshipped by humanity. Are you aware of why we allowed this?"

    "Stability?" I guessed. "No more Given Names, but also no more pesky clashes with other pantheons, having Names atrophy, having Names Taken and no more assholes deciding they don't want to be mortal anymore like Mr. D."

    The Wine God saluted the room with a new can of Diet Coke. Hermes stared at me in complete bewilderment. He looked around the room like he thought someone was playing a trick on him and was trying to spot the camera.

    "Shit, kid. What weren't you taught?"

    That was a dumb question. "How would I know what I wasn't taught?"

    He palmed his face.

    "The Mist allows mortals to believe a different explanation of the truth. Such as our chariots." Artemis said and she paused. "Then they die."

    You know.

    I have never wondered how atheists feel when they end up in the Greek Underworld. Or any of the afterlives.

    Awkward as hell, I'm guessing.

    "You think he's still getting Names from mortal worship." I said slowly. "It's just that his worshippers are dead."

    They were all quiet.

    "Is he?"

    "We do not know." Athena pursed her lips. "He is invited to Olympus during the Winter Solstice, but the influence of Night on him makes it...difficult to discern."

    Apollo snorted. "Try impossible."

    Athena's eyes flashed.

    "Difficult."

    "Night gave him power once," Hermes told me. "Who's to say it won't happen again?"

    "What about all of mommy dearest's fucking kids?" Mr. D grumbled. "I do not want to deal with that shit again. And that was just a demigod."

    "But motive?" I came to Hades' defense.

    I had to.

    The guy is basically my retirement plan if Mom decides not to pull rank.

    From what Mom told me, he seems like a cool dude with more than enough work on his plate. Imagine being king of a small country with a permanent refugee problem. You have to accept them. There is a quota on how many you can kick back out at a time, but they'll always come back. And you have to accept them. None of your citizens will ever die, because they are already dead. But they still feel hunger and pain and cold just like living people. Your 'help' is a hundred different gods with a hundred different ideas on what to do. The Night and the Pit are your next door neighbors.

    And every winter, your mother-in-law Demeter is on your ass 24/7.

    Unless his cunning plan was quitting his job and going to war against Olympus to make someone else do it?

    "That's right, the motive," Mr. D drawled with that cruel look in his eyes again. "Why don't you tell him what you all voted for?"

    Artemis nearly jumped out of her chair.

    "You abstained!" She spit. "Do not act as if you made that decision with any principles."

    "My principle was not licking Father's sandals." The Wine God rolled his eyes as Hermes stiffened, lips pressing together as his eyes narrowed. "Although…" He smirked, glancing between his sisters. "I've recently learned that maybe there's a reason for that, isn't there?"

    "Careful," Apollo warned him. "You have no idea what we've been through - "

    Athena was stone faced. "I voted for it as I agreed."

    "What?" Apollo's flaring sunlit eyes swung back around. Chiron shrunk back into a corner by an arcade machine. "Why?"

    "It would settle the matter, once and for all." She had on this grim little smile that was making my stomach scrunch into a tiny ball of ice. Settle the matter of...his Names?

    No.

    I swallowed and the back of my throat burned. My gut twisted.

    No.

    Please tell me they didn't.

    "One must learn to choose their battles, as I did."

    Apollo was not a loud angry. He was a loud annoyed, but when he was truly mad? He got quiet. He spoke slowly and his words seared. "You think everyone can figure out how to lie to Adrasteia, Athena Ageleia?"

    Adrasteia, my half-sister. Giver of Reward and Punishment. The Inescapable.

    To go before her was to expose the very make up of your soul. Her presence brought it out for everyone to see, like blood welling up from a cut. Can you imagine? Everything that makes you you float to the top. The ties of your existence, your Domains out in the open. You could see the Names you were developing, and which ones were withering away. You could identify all the Names of a Young god like that.

    You could carve them out.

    Mom brought my small sliver of divinity to the surface once.

    I never want to go through that again.

    They voted to torture him.

    Artemis let out a small cry of dismayed surprise echoed by Hermes, but for very different reasons. "You lied?"

    "It's true!?"

    The room devolved into arguing, shouting over each other, accusing each other while I sat there in my chair, numb. My mind spun in circles. Hades' kids were killed. He couldn't take revenge. That was it. And Olympus voted. There were only twelve members. If Zeus proposed it, he couldn't vote and Mr. D abstained. Ten. It needed a majority.

    Artemis. Apollo. Hermes. Athena.

    That's four.

    Olympus voted to force him before Adrasteia, like he was already guilty when he was the one wronged.

    Just because he might be getting stronger when they weren't.

    "What the fuck." It came out of my mouth as a hoarse whisper. I could barely hear it, the gods were so loud. The air in the room was thick and heavy, like moments before a storm broke. I could feel them, what they truly were, battering my mind.

    Kneel.

    Beg.

    No.

    Fuck you.

    The numbness was starting to burn away with rage as it truly sunk in. Blood rushed in my ears as my head pounded.

    How...fucking...PETTY!

    "What the fuck - " It was a struggle to even speak, but I pushed, clawed at the pressure until I felt that yawning pit crack open in my stomach and was able to stand. " - is fucking wrong with you?"

    My resonating voice cut through theirs.

    "With all of you?"

    Artemis bared her teeth. "If I were you, I would hold my tongue, boy."

    I snarled right back. "I would, if you acted more like a goddess and less like Zeus' by-blow!"

    So.

    Alright.

    I'm going to blame Dad's Insults of the Day for that one.

    It felt like the world froze.

    Then thunder roared through the house and there was a shout from someone -

    - a fucking mountain lion leapt over the ping pong table, intent on ripping my throat out with her teeth -

    - I heard my mother laugh in my ear -

    - And a raging bunny rabbit with auburn fur and silver eyes missed my jugular by a mile, smacking into my chest and falling back onto the table in a furry heap. The pressure I'd been feeling unceremoniously broke like a fart in a packed elevator.

    No one said anything for a good thirty seconds.

    We all just watched the small moon rabbit struggle to get to her feet, going from pissed, to confused, to terrified. When she started squeaking in distress, Hermes cracked with his cheeks puffed and a loud wet,

    "Phhhhhhbbbbt!"

    Chiron palmed his face as Apollo snapped out of his shock. "What the - turn her back!"

    "I didn't do it!" I protested immediately. Hermes was chuckling in fits. He'd stop himself, then look at the rabbit on the table and start up again. "It was Mom!"

    Mom, thanks? But - Oh, she was absolutely laughing her ass off. You are still not funny. Turn her back.

    Athena made a chair for herself and shakily sat down. She breathed out and her forehead made a thunking sound as it hit the ping pong table.

    Artemis remained an angry rodent.

    "Get her to undo it!" Apollo yelled and that was the last straw for Mr. D who started with a snigger, but when the mad moon bunny turned on him, squeaking, he started to howl.

    "I already tried!" I almost wailed. The consequences of my actions had just hit me. This was my chance! And I called my crush a bastard to her face and got her turned into a rabbit! Was it even possible to recover from this?

    I -

    I ruined everything!

    "You know how she is! She thinks she's funny!"

    "She's fucking hilarious!" Mr. D wheezed, his voice breaking several octaves higher. "How's that for some irony! Get me some hunting dogs!"

    "You - you're not helping," I told the Wine God who broke into a fresh wave of guffaws. "That is the opposite of helping."

    He tried to say something, tears coming to his eyes, but I couldn't understand it.

    "Do you need a minute?"

    "It's got to wear off, right?" Apollo was examining the bunny with brightly sunlit eyes. "Healthy, at least, but it can't be permanent, right? She's in the Prophecy. She can't go on a Quest as a fucking rabbit!"

    I think the answer was yes, he did need a minute as Mr. D staggered to the door and left the room, laughing all the way.

    "Okay then," I told his back.

    Hermes made a sound like he was dying.

    "I - I'm sorry," I offered the sun god miserably. "I'm willing to pay an Athenian reconciliation price."

    A muscle jumped in Apollo's jaw. "Athena."

    "She did try to kill him," the goddess responded. Her voice was a little muffled because her head was still on the table, but she sounded tired and relieved and exasperated and just...a lot of things.

    And more than a little done.

    "He has the greater claim. The burden of paying reconciliation falls upon Artemis."

    Oh.

    Well, I guess.

    I'm a demigod. We get used to murder attempts. At some point, you figure out how to shrug off the emotional baggage.

    "I provoked her," I said, not willing to let myself completely off the hook. Because I did and if I didn't want her to hate me forever, I needed to own up to it. Dad always said that if I have to insult the person, I lost the argument. "I apologize," I told the silver eyed woodland creature on the ping pong table. "I lost my temper and said something completely uncalled for. I offer reconciliation anyway for my part in it."

    The bunny gave me a narrow eyed look.

    "Sorry," I whispered, feeling my heart start to crack.

    The rabbit's ears twitched as she looked towards Apollo. He sighed. "Not my call. I hate to say it, but if you had killed him…"

    "Yes," Athena said sharply as she raised her head to glare at the moon rabbit. "If you had."

    Artemis shuffled a bit on the table and before my heart could shatter completely, she nodded with a small affirmative squeak.

    I bit my lip to stop the stupid grin from forming on my face. She was willing to forgive me! "Thank you."

    I already had an idea for my price too!

    I said I grew out of it.

    I reached out and before she could react, I gently - gently! - pulled on the fluffy white cotton ball bunny tail.

    I am a lying liar who lies.

    I turned away from the stunned moon rabbit to Apollo proudly as Hermes bit his thumb. With my hands on my hips I declared, "Paid in full!"

    My Bardson stared at me.

    "What?" I frowned. "Now we're even."

    His mouth opened and closed a few times before he just shook his head.

    "I...am not." And with that he scooped his small rabbit-sister up off the ping pong table. She curled up into a little ball in his hands. She was really adorable, but also not very happy with what had just happened. Her ears were hanging down against her head. I don't know rabbit body language, but if I had to guess, she looked almost depressed.

    I get it.

    I wouldn't want to be stuck as a bunny either.

    "Any ideas?" Apollo threw out half-heartedly.

    "Hunt a few sacrifices, build an altar, beg mom for mercy?" I suggested with a grimace.

    Artemis whimpered and her brother cradled her, sighing. "Yeeaaap."

    "Wait," Hermes looked up with wide eyes. "An altar? We can do that? We do that? That's an actual thing?"

    "Not something to do lightly." Apollo jerked his head towards the door. "Chiron, still remember how?"

    "To the Serpent?" The old centaur mused as he followed the two gods out into the foyer of the Big House, stroking his terrible beard. "I believe so. Might I suggest the Myrmeke nest within the Grove of Dodona? They have been getting aggressive lately."

    Then it was just me and Athena.

    Who was leaning on the table with a hand over her eyes like she was hoping the world would go away if she ignored it for long enough.

    "I do not know whether to curse or praise your existence," she said eventually.

    "Uh. Both?"

    "Both," Annabeth's mother agreed.

    "Did you really vote because you thought it was the right thing to do?" I had not forgotten. "You know what that's like."

    "I do not make wrong decisions."

    I stared at her in blank disbelief.

    "Often," she gritted out as if it was being pulled out of her with a chain and a pickup truck.

    "You know what I mean."

    "Yes, morals." She said that word 'morals' the same way I would complain about dog shit on my shoes. Charming, really. She shifted her hand off her eyes, peering at me with black coral orbs that shimmered with the rainbow in the light. "Ethics. Temporary discomfort is worth the King of Olympus being wary of war, rather than having him desire it."

    Temporary discomfort?

    I felt my anger rising again and beat it back down to simmer in my stomach. I already lost my temper once today. I don't need to have her mad at me too. She might not be able to hurt me directly, but if there was anyone I could trust to find a way to make me regret it without triggering my Mom, it would be the Goddess of Wisdom.

    "There must have been some other way."

    "None so definitive," she dismissed with a bored glance over the cards still on the table. The star pattern was still messed up where Artemis landed and she reached out to fix it. "If you had arrived a year or two earlier, perhaps I would have had more suitable options."

    I rolled that around in my mind.

    Options?

    That didn't sound like someone who was at all upset with me telling the truth.

    "Aphrodite is whole," I said quietly and that amused quirk came back to Athena's lips.

    "You are a young boy who was raised by one not of our pantheon. I would hardly expect you to buy into millennia worth of propaganda, and we have no leverage to quiet you, do we?" She settled her chin in one hand. "You were given an education worthy of a young godling. It would be a shame to suppress it."

    I nodded slowly. "And when the Master Bolt is found?"

    "You will ensure Artemis returns it to our father, of course. Now is not the time for instability." So there is a time for instability, it's just not right this minute. "We have four years until you turn sixteen, after all."

    Note to self.

    Athena is a snake.

    I bit my tongue and decided to let it go. I was pretty sure Boreas of the North Wind card in my Prophecy meant we weren't going anywhere near the Underworld entrance in Los Angeles, so Hades was probably very innocent. And we're going to prove it. I'll get the vote overturned, somehow. Maybe Adrasteia would listen to me, or I could beg Mom to talk to her.

    I'll think of something.

    I changed the subject. "Have you considered visiting Cabin 6 while you're here?"

    Athena frowned. "No, why?"

    "It's full of your kids." I pointed out dryly. "Who just learned Olympus has been lying to them and who all want to get to know their mother."

    "They will adapt to the truth," she said easily. "As for their wants…" She glanced up towards the lazily spinning ceiling fan of the Rec Room. "Perhaps if any others prove worthwhile."

    Yeah.

    I was expecting that.

    I was not her biggest fan for a reason.

    "Any others?"

    "One has intrigued me this past Winter Solstice when the Camp made their little field trip. She inherited far more of Strategic War than usual." Athena pursed her lips, tilting her head deeper into her cupped hand. "Annabeth. She must have been an inspired creation. Her father was a military enthusiast."

    I'm pretty sure I would have heard more affection from someone showing off their new car. Everything about Camp Half-Blood was really making me appreciate my own parents.

    "You gave her a divine gift." I said, hoping to spark some...I don't know. Maybe a clue that my friend was anything more to her mother than 'inspired creation?' I'm not sure what I was feeling, but I wasn't happy. Was it possible to be heartbroken on someone else's behalf?

    "If she wants to live, she'll use it well," was all Athena had to say about it. She stood up and vanished the god made chairs with a wave of her hand. "This meeting is adjourned, unless there is something else?"

    I swallowed thickly. It was one thing to read about it in the books Mom got for me, it was another to hear it first hand. Athena had all the makings of a great king. What made me uncomfortable was that it was so easy for her to be a terrible one. Maybe I was biased because I was mortal and really didn't like the idea of drowning, but some of her decisions regarding humanity seemed cruel. She didn't want to kill us all off, but that didn't exactly mean she cared. You ever heard that saying about a frog in a pot of water, slowing cooking to death? The Goddess of Wisdom could justify anything and if she couldn't, everyone else would make excuses for her because she was competent. I had a hard time deciding what was worse: suffering caused by stupidity or suffering caused deliberately.

    That gave me an idea.

    "Talk to Hestia, at least?" I tried weakly. Athena's former Queen. They weren't married or together or anything and I was high key regretting that for the sake of Athena Cabin. They would have had an awesome step mom.

    No, Poseidon and Hestia had been Athena's key advisors. The empathy and compassion she didn't have. Over time they picked up new Names suited for the roles they played. Hestia Basileia started out as a title for a high ranking official, but the meaning of it changed. Now it meant Queen. Hestia had to carve that Name out when she gave up her throne for Dionysus. I don't know if Poseidon got all his Names back after his mortal Trial. It would not surprise me if he didn't.

    I don't think Athena was going to ask Poseidon to advise her any time soon. But I was hoping she still considered Hestia's opinion worthwhile.

    Athena paused.

    "Perhaps," she allowed after giving me a knowing look. "I will try to act surprised if any of my children discover an urgent need to talk to her as well."

    And she saw right through that.

    Figures.

    "Well, I mean, you're not my King or anything," I said, wincing. "But I'm sure if you ask Cabin 6, they'll have a different answer, Wanax."

    That thing that happened with Artemis earlier, where something changed but I had no idea what, happened again and Athena's expression screwed up in pain, taking a step back like she had just been punched in the chest.

    Oh fuck!

    "Do not - " She snarled at me before catching herself. "Do not invoke that Name."

    She actually still had the title!

    Great.

    I try not to piss her off.

    Do it anyway.

    "Sorry." I whispered. "Won't happen again."

    Her eyes bored into me like she could see down into my bones.

    "I believe that is all." She strode to the door and paused with her hand on the door frame. "Both, indeed," she said quietly before she left me in the Rec Room with my Mythomagic card Prophecy still on the ping pong table.

    I quietly packed them back up in the tin.

    A few hours later, I was looking around the Dining Pavilion at dinner, rubbing at my aching right shoulder. He didn't say anything when he gave me rusted swords to polish, but I was pretty sure Ryan was pissed.

    'Test of competence' my ass.

    It was much like breakfast with a few extra gods and the Table 8 for Artemis Cabin wasn't empty. Apollo was back in his guise as Fred sitting by his newly claimed son, Will. Hestia was at Athena's Table along with Athena because she was a miracle worker when she put her mind to it. Mr. D was at our usual Table 12 staring at Clovis and Ethan with morbid fascination as they talked about their time with Hypnos. Artemis was -

    Uh.

    I looked over Table 8.

    The Hunters were an all girl group of the moon goddess' adopted kids. Maybe you've heard of them? Once they swear an oath to her, she blesses them with immunity to disease, halted aging and a greater ability to kick ass. You could tell who had it at the table by the silver glow under their skin. The Lieutenant of the Hunters was her second in command, a girl who looked fourteen to fifteen, but was actually older than Hestia, the Firstborn of Kronos.

    Zoë Nightshade, Daughter of the Titan Atlas.

    She kind of looked like a Persian princess with copper skin and slightly upturned nose. Her long black hair was tied back at the top under the silver circlet that was her badge of office. The only thing that gave her away as not being like her younger sisters was the dark, sluggishly swirling fractured nebula in her eyes.

    She was also holding a small depressed bunny rabbit with auburn fur, silver eyes and white cotton ball tail.

    I winced as Mr. D started snickering into his Diet Coke again.

    Oh my fucking god, Mom, please.

    "Hey," Luke's voice said as he sat down next to me with his plate of barbeque. "I - look, Chiron's probably going to tell you after dinner. I don't like it, but I can't change it."

    "Uh," I turned a bit in my seat to look at him. His face was pinched, clearly unhappy with whatever it was. "What's going on?"

    "A Quest." Luke gritted his teeth. His blue eyes burned with anger as he looked back at Table 11 where his father Hermes sat with his half-siblings. Telling jokes from the look of it. "I've been voluntold to steal back Zeus' Master Bolt or die trying."

    That's when I remembered Hermes walked out on Luke and his mom.

    So the 'die trying' bit did make things a little awkward.

    I'll admit it.

    "Yeah," I sighed. "With me and Artemis."

    He blinked in surprise. "You already know, eh? Another volunteer?"

    That was one way to put it.

    "Does it count if I'm the Oracle that gave the Prophecy for it?"

    His mouth fell open. "What."

    "Oracle of Delphi?" Castor asked from his seat across from me. His eyebrows looked like they were making a good effort to invade his hairline.

    "Yup."

    "He ate it," Pollux told Luke casually, like it was no big deal and I appreciated it. "It tried to kill him that night when he came to Camp."

    "Son of Fate," I finished. "Weird shit happened."

    Story of my life.

    "I am now the Oracle of Chthon. Apparently."

    Luke stared for a few seconds more before he rolled his eyes and then pinched his nose. "So you, the Oracle that gave the Quest Prophecy is going on the Quest, which is bizarre, a goddess known for killing men is in charge which is fantastic, and then there's me, dragged into the mess to steal a god weapon back. Is that right?"

    Uh.

    "Yeah, that's about it."

    Luke whimpered and buried his head in his arms. "Put Annabeth in charge of my burial shroud."

    "It's fine," my mouth said as my brain hung up on that word 'burial.' "We're going to be fine." I looked at my friends. Pollux was chewing on his lip and I think that was supposed to be a smile on Castor's face.

    Luke's Quest killed two Campers and almost killed Luke.

    Our godly back up was still a rabbit.

    "My mother knows what she's doing," I said. "It's fine."

    I hope.

    That night, after talking to my Dad which I did every night at Camp, I made a beeline straight for my apartment in the Dreamlands once I fell asleep, burbling a quick greeting to Morpheus on my way through the border.

    It was still a little weird, but every night the flaws in my home away from home were getting fixed. Everything was the right color now and the random teleporting to that black pyramid had thankfully stopped. I don't know what was up with my form here, but I was working on it. I was solid now, just with a few too many burning green eyes. It was a bit like I had somehow forgotten how to ride a bike years after I learned how.

    I was just a bit rusty.

    For no reason.

    I crept up on the sleeping orange tabby cat in front of my fireplace and reached out.

    Sam's ear flicked as he moved his crooked tail just out of range. "I will fucking cut you, mate."

    I pouted and sat down on the floor. "Sam, you would not believe the day I just had."

    "I already believe it," my feline friend yawned, stretching out with his claws on my wood floor. I buffed away the tiny scratches with a thought. "You only have two kinds of days. Nothing Happens and Fucking Disaster."

    I mean.

    That's fair.

    "You remember what I told you about Artemis, right?"

    He licked at a paw for a moment, thinking. "The...queen you want kittens with, yeah?"

    "I'm twelve," I reminded him with a sigh. "I don't like anyone that way."

    "Toms don't fucking gush to other blokes about a bird they just want to be friends with, is all I'm saying."

    Sam's kind of an asshole.

    He's a cat, so no surprise there.

    "Whatever. So that Prophecy thing came active today - "

    There was a polite knock on the door, which confused me a little. I wasn't expecting any visitors. Clovis wasn't at that level yet, and Ethan was just starting. We weren't in any towns either, just a cliff dropping off to the Crystal Sea and salt plains for miles around.

    Sam tilted his head, both ears upright and fully alert.

    "Who is it?"

    Sam blinked at me slowly. "Some fuck named Kronos. Know 'im?"
     
    Nerve, ClassyCobra, AoD_Patr and 13 others like this.
  13. NuclearBirb

    NuclearBirb A mysterious birb.

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    Hahaha holy shit that's an amazing ender. That's so fucking good. God I love this. Probably my favorite story on QQ rn. Of course I'm of the opinion lewds in the future would make it better, but that's just it - it doesn't need it. This is so genuinely amazing it's almost unbelievable. 12/10, unironically
     
  14. Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    Thank you so much for your kind words! I guess I am a bit behind the times with a Percy Jackson work, but I was inspired so here it is. We've just about caught up to other sites so after tomorrow chapters will come slower as I write them, sorry in advance. So far I am averaging about a chapter every week and a half. I am glad to see a few readers here. Thank you for taking a chance on an unknown author.
     
    da3monh0st3d and NuclearBirb like this.
  15. Threadmarks: It is I! The Intrepid Hero
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction


    I may have screamed.

    Not for the reason you’re thinking!

    Sam’s tail shot straight up as his fur began to glow and his right eye began to burn orange. “Right. Booting.”

    “No wait!” I yelped.

    I wildly looked about my living room as Sam sputtered out. So I kind of just copied our actual living room for my apartment and pieces of my bedroom had crept in because Dream. The logical mind worked in the Dreamlands, but it had a severe handicap. The unconscious mind was far stronger and it kind of just did what it wanted. I was still working on it?

    Our white leather couches and glass long table was right where they should be. My room’s desk with the small model of the dragon Bahamut on it was not but it wasn’t that obvious. Most of the windows opened up to the balcony where the Crystal Sea stretched out down below from the cliff to the horizon. Except for one window that opened out to a black sand beach. I closed the blinds on that one. So there were patches of my bedroom’s star studded wall paper interrupting the beige and dark wood wall of the living room, but it didn’t look too bad? This was okay? Maybe this was okay. Alright, the baseball bean bag I could just get rid of - wait, shit, the baby pictures! He can’t see the baby pictures.

    “Just, uh, tell him I need a minute.”

    The wall full of framed images went blank, but as soon as I stopped concentrating on it, they came back. Of course they did. The pictures were part of my actual living room, so the association in my mind was too strong.

    Crap.

    “So...” Sam began. “Were we expecting this motherfucker or - “

    “Uh, no. But that’s okay! I don’t mind.” I said quickly.

    Sam took his job watching over me seriously, which was great, but sometimes he was a little trigger happy. I didn’t need to leave the Dream. I needed to talk to him!

    Maybe the kitchen?

    No, not the kitchen - you don’t meet people in the kitchen, what am I thinking!

    “Are yooouuu sure? He’s fucking dodgy, mate, calling from the fucking Pit and I don’t think - “

    “He’s literally in a thousand pieces right now,” I interrupted him. Obviously not any of the bedrooms, but the balcony might work? Nice view right? And it's got chairs. The yellow duck floatie in the pool was eh. “He’s Dreaming, Sam. He can’t do anything to me here, it's a good faith thing. Really good.”

    ...why was the duck even there!?

    “...why does he need a good faith gesture.” Sam asked flatly and I cringed.

    Maybe good faith wasn’t the right term to use? I mean, Olympus was his problem, right? Mom wasn’t the one who cut him up and threw him into the Pit. Sure, he got that False Prophecy, but he knew that wasn’t Mom’s fault, right? That was just Ouranos being a prick!

    He probably knew, right? He was a smart cookie.

    “Why does he need a good faith gesture?” Sam repeated with a bit of a growl.

    “Can’t you just work with me here?” I shifted my apartment around us. The open space of my living room blurred into my replica of Dad’s office.

    “No!” Sam snapped as he hopped onto Dad’s big black art deco desk, scattering a few of the manila folders and spilling their blank white pages on the floor. His tail batted at the small lamp shaped like a giant piece of cut emerald as he stared me down with his green cat eyes. “Gimme a good answer or I swear I’m booting his creepy arse back - “

    “He’s like Potato!” I pleaded as I picked up the papers. “You know Potato, if he comes to visit we still try to break out the good treats and toys and everything?”

    “Well yeah, but that’s only because - “ Sam stopped and then pressed his forehead into the lamp. “Potato’s a fucking dog.”

    “It’s the same thing!” I insisted as I inspected the office. It was the same thing.

    Right?

    It was all dark wood walls with an equally dark wood floor underneath a plush red carpet. There was the diamond patterned shelf for Dad’s wine collection complete with the dusty bottles of wine that would probably taste like fire and sunlight if I opened them. The wall behind the desk was a giant bookshelf stretching wall to wall and all the way up to the ceiling. The left side had the books, notebooks and blocks of paper clipped together for his work and the right was the fun stuff. I knew that set of books was Tolkien and that was Jordan even if I couldn’t read any of the spines and the pages were either blank or full of gibberish. Reading in a Dream was already a bitch and a half. My Dreams still ran on demigod brain so that was not happening.

    This would work.

    “Perseus.” Sam said seriously and I bit my lip as I rounded Dad’s desk. He wasn’t going to work with me. I collapsed into Dad’s plush brown leather chair and spun around once. “What the fuck.”

    I snorted and kicked my feet.

    Where to even begin? The Dreamlands had visitors, but it also had natives. People who were born here would probably ask me if ‘Greek’ was a food. Cats not being able to talk? That’s crazy. No one batted an eye when my apartment popped up on a street corner. To most of the people here, Earth might as well be in a different galaxy.

    Uh, maybe it actually was?

    Anyway, you learn pretty quickly what you take for granted when you talk to a cat.

    “I’ll explain,” I promised. I guess it couldn’t be too different from teaching some of the kids at Camp. “I guess, from the beginning?” A beginning. “What’s the history of the Waking world according to Sam?”

    Cats in the Dreamlands didn’t have any official titles for the place. They just called it Here and There, changing depending on where they were.

    Sam was clever though.

    “Cats ruled the earth, then you fucking wazzocks popped up out of nowhere.” Yup. That version of events coming from him did not surprise me at all. By ‘wazzocks', he meant humans. I think that word meant something like ‘idiot’ but I’m not sure. Sam had a lot of words for idiot. “Training you took forever.”

    Trust a cat to have his priorities straight.

    “There was a war,” I told him. Sam knew what that word meant, but I think it was more of an abstract thing. It once took me an hour to explain what a billboard advertisement was for and by the time I was done I was the one confused. He knew killing though. “The star-spawn rebelled.”

    Sam’s head tilted.

    “Right. There was something about the Waking sun…” His eyes narrowed as he thought. Eventually, he started to pace back and forth on the desk as his right eye began to softly burn orange. “Yes...we had a blue one. Something broke out of it.” Sam paused, looking back at me. “You were a bit different then. Less fucking fragile, but a lot more manky.”

    ‘Manky’ meant ugly. Sometimes it was hard to believe Sam actually spoke English.

    “Humans were vessels for…” I waved a hand vaguely. “You know.”

    “Them muppets,” Sam said with a nod.

    He wasn’t a fan of gods.

    Any of them.

    I guess we kind of still were vessels? I mean, demigods were viable for a reason, right? Anyway, it had been all about the Elder Gods. I don’t know if we evolved or if we were created because Mom wouldn’t give me a straight answer, but I do know that we came to Earth through a Gate and we were ‘manky.’ We couldn’t help it though. Who you served and which planet in our corner of the cosmos you came from meant sometimes you had two arms and sometimes you had four.

    “The war lasted...a lot of cat years.”

    Sam huffed, raising a paw to groom his uneven whiskers. “This chuffer some big shot from all that then?”

    “One of them,” I admitted, fiddling with the drawers of Dad’s desk.

    I opened the top one and couldn’t stop the embarrassed, pleased smile when I saw the picture Dad kept there. It was just me and him at SeaWorld. Mom must have taken the picture. I looked about six with a toothy grin and Dad’s hand on my shoulder to keep me in one place as a dolphin curiously reared out of the water to look at me.

    “Mom would tell me bedtime stories and I always asked for more about him.” I smiled. “He was one of my favorites.”

    Wodanaz was another awesome dude I went to sleep hearing about.

    You know him, I’m pretty sure.

    He goes by ‘Odin’ now.

    Sam’s ears flicked back and then forward again. “Was?”

    I closed the drawer a bit harder than I should have as my smile flattened. “Yeah. Was.”

    Sam’s face wasn’t made for human expressions, so I didn’t know what he was thinking as he started to pace again. He walked from one side of the desk, all the way back to the gem lamp and then did it again before finally setting his butt down on the papers I had just picked up from the floor.

    He ignored the look I shot at him and sighed. “I get it. Fucking Potato.”

    “Fucking Potato,” I agreed.

    Potato had been the mayor of a nice little town in a lush, forested area in the shadow of the mountain range that dominated the south pole here.

    He was a dog, but that didn’t matter as much in the Dreamlands. He couldn’t talk, but he learned how to write in Dream letters. He started out an ambitious, adventurous pup following at the heels of an alchemist. He got there through hard work, long hours of study and connecting with the right people. A classic success story everyone knew about! He could have been happy with what he had, but you know how it goes. Eventually, it wasn’t enough. Despite warnings about the mountains of madness, he sent out survey crews to see if he could start up a mining enterprise. People were reluctant to work at the sites out of unease. They suffered horrible nightmares. They became obsessed. He couldn’t just leave it alone.

    They woke something up.

    Now he was an old dog, mayor of nothing. Everyone knew about that too.

    Try not to stare at the scars.

    Sam sighed again. “Well, your guest’s a patient arselicker, I’ll give him that fucking much.”

    The door to my father’s office closed with a flick of Sam’s tail. I slipped out of Dad’s chair and double checked the office before heading for the door. He’s Dreaming, I reminded myself as I reached for the doorknob. The butterflies refused to sit still in my stomach. Nothing was going to go wrong. I knew nothing was going to go wrong, and if it did, I could fix it.

    Some part of your brain was still a chicken with its head cut off for no reason.

    It was annoying.

    My hand landed on the carved wooden knob and I felt my eyebrows try to invade my hairline.

    Wow.

    He got fucked up.

    I could feel the shattered pieces of the Titan Lord beyond the door. It kind of felt like someone threw a handful of confetti in my face. His presence was very weak and I just knew he wouldn’t be anything more than a voice.

    Disappointing.

    But that’s what you get for being an ass to your kids!

    I took the call and opened the door.

    “Hel - “ The powerful voice of the Titan Lord started before I did...something. I don’t know. I’m going to blame my unconscious brain for it. He was now in my home as a disembodied voice and my Dreaming mind had things to say about that. It felt kind of like when I manifested Damocles in my Dream. What that meant was that all the gravitas of the powerful fallen evil dark lord whatever instantly disappeared as his voice broke two octaves higher. “- Llloooooo?

    Kronos blinked surprised eyes made of golden sand at me with his mouth falling open, before quickly raising his hands in front of his face. He went through about a dozen different emotions within two seconds before closing his eyes. He breathed in, then out, clearly thinking.

    “...How?”

    Fuck if I know.

    The Titan Lord looked exactly like how Mom showed me years ago. Short curly black hair and olive skin with heavy brows. He looked a bit like Dad. I think it was his chin and cheekbones giving me that feeling, but unlike Dad his short beard didn’t look patchy. My unconscious mind had put him in a classic brown chiton, thank God, with blue trim. The only hint that his form was a Dream construct were the harsh golden lines where every piece fit together.

    Did I actually pull him from the Pit into the Dreamlands proper or…?

    “Lil’ Fucker is made of bullshit,” Sam volunteered from the desk. “Don’t think about it too hard.”

    “I am awesome,” I corrected my cat friend and rolled my eyes. “Duh.”

    I stepped back from the door so Kronos could enter the office. That’s when I realized what I had been missing this entire time.

    A fucking chair for him to sit in.

    I made another copy of Dad’s office chair in front of the desk and tried to look like that had been the plan all along. Sam snorted and I gave him a warning look.

    “So, awkward question, but are you still in the Pit?”

    Kronos clenched his hands a few times into fists before slowly lowering them.

    “...I do not believe so.”

    Oh.

    Oops?

    “Well Sam could probably toss you back - “ Like the Titan Lord was an unwanted fish, but you know. Kinda. - “cause my apartment moves? Annnd you probably don’t want to be a pile of body parts in the Salt Plains.”

    The vultures were murder.

    Kronos sighed. “You might have just ruined everything, but I will forgive you.”

    See?

    He’s a cool dude.

    “Sorry, thanks and call me Percy,” I offered with a small smile as I went back to my Dad’s chair.

    “Percy it is,” he said easily. He flashed me a small grin after searching the room. His sand eyes traveled to Sam where the cat was spinning in a circle on the desk, preparing to lie down next to the emerald lamp. He dipped his head. “Master Sorcerer.”

    Sam groaned as he laid down and put a paw over his face.

    “Oh fuck off with that shit,” he moaned. “It’s Sam.”

    Kronos confidently sat down in the seat offered and let me tell you, a tall Greek dude in a classic chiton sitting in a modern office chair was kind of a surreal picture.

    “Sam of Ulthar, I’m assuming?” He asked.

    I flinched.

    It’s not like Ulthar was a bad place! It was one of the largest settlements in the Dreamlands and it’s been around for a very long time. It was actually really nice. Very rustic. Lots of cats. It’s just that unless I wanted to be used as a scratching post for all of eternity, it would be a bad idea for me to show my face there.

    And Sam had been banished.

    I had just...wanted to see my Mom. My birth mother, I mean. Face to face.

    I was stupid.

    It’s a long story.

    My fault.

    Sam bristled just as I knew he would as he glared at the titan with two colored glowing eyes as his fur turned molten.

    “Do I look like some bitch to you?”

    The Titan Lord held up both hands in surrender. “Forgive me. I meant no offense.”

    “Hmph.” Sam curled up against the lamp, looking like he was determined to ignore the world. I ignored the urge to pull his tail in favor of a few back scratches. “Why’re we entertaining this knob head?”

    “Potato,” I reminded him and ignored the completely bewildered look on the Titan Lord’s face as I tickled some exposed toe beans. Sam tucked his feet closer into his stomach as he pinned me with a one eyed glare. “Be nice?”

    “Fuck no.”

    “He’s an ass,” I told Kronos blandly.

    He shrugged. “Cat.”

    Sam grumbled. “You fuck up, I fuck you up.”

    “Noted,” Kronos said dryly.

    The titan leaned in the chair, propping one arm on the armrest and resting his head on his hand as he studied me. I wiggled a bit in my own chair suddenly super self-conscious about the burning eyes on my left collarbone and forehead and right shoulder.

    I -

    I have no idea how I forgot about them.

    I bravely resisted the urge to spin my chair all the way around away from him.

    “You do have her eyes,” Kronos observed softly.

    I straightened. “You’ve seen her?”

    “Once,” he said wistfully. “Then the Gate closed and the vision was lost to us forever.” He let out a little laugh. “Iapetus actually mourned her departure, stubborn fool.”

    Uh.

    Wait.

    “Please tell me you don’t have a crush on my mom.”

    Much to my relief, he snorted. “No, boy, I’m just not blind.” Okay, that’s fair. “Though I do wonder what caliber of man your father was.” ...Was? “What god was he born of?”

    I frowned. “Uh? He’s mortal? From...two mortal parents. And still alive?”

    His heavy brows lifted in surprise. “Indeed? Your eyes - perhaps I have severely underestimated the degraded creatures wandering the world now,” he mused. That was a little harsh, but he’s also not wrong. “I assumed a mortal would be dust in her presence.”

    “Oh, no he’s - “ My brain chose that time to remind me of the ring of dust around me at the javelin toss and the burst blood vessels in Ryan’s eyes. “ - fine.” I rethought the definition I was using for ‘fine.’ “I mean, he lost his mind for a few years, but he got better.”

    “Ah, of course. That does sound like her.” Kronos said with a little smirk. “She must have been fond of your father, if it wasn’t permanent.” His gaze drifted. It was the same look Mom got when she was remembering something she thought was funny. “Others were not so fortunate.”

    “Only if she’s mad,” I said a bit defensively. “And that takes a bit. Unless you’re stupid.” Awkwardly I ventured, “Like your old commanding officer?”

    Kronos’ sand eyes snapped back to me.

    “You know about that?” He asked in surprise. The sand in his eyes rippled, like there was some kind of worm moving just below the surface, as he studied me. I’m not sure what he was looking for. “She actually raised you, didn’t she? Her demigod.”

    “Yeah?”

    He leaned forward a bit eagerly. “What else did she tell you of us? The Titans?”

    I wracked my brain for a minute.

    Maybe I should have paid more attention to the boring stuff. How the armies were set up and the tactics used and all of the logistics, but I just kind of focused on the fun stuff. ‘Tales of daring do’ as Dad would say. The heroic, the clever and the just plain stupid.

    Can you blame me?

    I learned the important parts, like where the prisons were and how mankind used to be and the difference between the gods. Everything else was gravy.

    “Background knowledge, but my actual history lessons started with the Feast and went on from there.” I bit my lip. I wouldn’t call myself shy, but admitting this felt a little strange. “You were one of my heroes,” I said with a limp hand wave. I could feel myself smile sheepishly. His eyebrows rose and I sped up my words. “I mean, one of my first bedtime stories was that time you had to rescue Hyperion from the Spinner with the chains and the mirror - “

    Kronos pinched his nose.

    “I should have left that fool there,” he muttered, but I thought he looked pleased. Emboldened, I let myself smile widely.

    “ - and about the Devourer in the Mist with Wodanaz? The Dweller with Atum? The Sky’s surrender?” I sighed happily, leaning back in my own chair. I snuck a glance at Sam to find him taking a catnap. He was a sloppy, deflated cat loaf, looking like he had collapsed against the lamp and face planted into his paws. “It took us three nights to cover the campaign against the Earth Mother.”

    “Well, she couldn’t have told you everything,” Kronos said in a mock arrogant voice. “We had many great deeds to our Names, such as when Iapetus slacked on latrine duty - “ Oh. Oh! I think I know this story! “ - passing off a ready made pit as his work leading Okeanos to uncover a nest of chthonian worms - “

    “By shitting on them!”

    “That too? Amazing.” He barked a laugh. “By the Void, we were stupid then.”

    I smiled, but then I had to look down at Dad’s desk.

    “For years, I wanted to be you.” I confessed softly. “The story ended so well. You got a hero’s reward and married the girl.”

    Kronos’ smile withered. “Ah.”

    Good, he knew where this was going.

    “So what the fuck happened!?” Sam cracked an eye open at my raised voice. I took a deep breath, forcing the unpleasant bubbling of my stomach down and shook my head. My cat went back to sleep as I leaned forward over Dad’s desk. “You had everything. You won! Why did you have to ask? How could you believe Mom would betray you like that?”

    Like I said, he was Potato.

    Mom told me it was out of fear, but I couldn’t believe that. This was the man who boldly demanded the attention of Mom’s absent-minded nerdy ex-boyfriend to save his friends and got out of that mess with a mortal Name.

    Kronos.

    He was born Zagreus.

    This man was so scared of his first immortal child that he couldn’t think straight?

    He ate his kids.

    Mom doesn’t lie.

    But.

    I didn’t want to believe that.

    The Titan Lord sighed. “It was because I knew your mother that I believed.”

    “What?” I hissed. Blood immediately started rushing in my ears as my gut clenched with anger. I immediately tried to control it, because it was easy to fall into an emotional feedback loop in a Dream. The logical mind wasn’t as strong here. I still don’t like people insulting my parents. I don’t care who you are. “Pick your next words very carefully.”

    Kronos shifted in his chair, eyeing me like you would eye a hungry wolf. I was vaguely aware that I had sprouted more burning green eyes all over my body and I was...hazy? I could feel my spine shiver, sending ripples across my shoulder blades.

    “I know what you were told,” he said in this soothing, calm voice. He clenched and unclenched a fist on the arm rest as his sand eyes bored into mine. “That we were soldiers or warriors. We were rangers, scouts, researchers and physicians. That we were heroes.” His lip curled into a sneer. “We were slaves, boy.”

    The hot ball of anger abruptly bled away

    I -

    What was I going to say to that?

    I was told they served, but I don’t remember asking if it was voluntary.

    Mom doesn’t lie, but I knew that didn’t mean she told me everything.

    Maybe she had just been waiting until I was older and could understand what I was being told without my ADHD getting in the way too much. I got the kid friendly version of history. Kind of. It was easier to show me a battle, than to show me economics.

    I don’t remember being told their service was voluntary.

    “Generations upon generations upon generations fought for our gods.” Kronos said with this tightness to his voice. “We bled. We suffered. We died. We were promised freedom. How did we get it?”

    “The Feast,” I murmured. I fell back into my chair.

    “I can barely remember it,” Kronos admitted. “It is like a dream, filled with ecstasy and confusion. Our gods gave us one of the star-spawn. It was still alive. Our gods guided our blades. We dismembered it as it screamed. We ate it alive.”

    I remembered more than he did. It was a serpentine creature with many limbs and two heads and it had been born from the blue star that used to be the Earth’s sun. Greek tradition remembered it as ‘Phanes.’ That meant light-bringer. It had other names that made more or less sense. Erikepaios. Eros. Protogonus.

    Dionysus.

    His lips twisted into a wry smile. “I do remember how much growing out of my own skin hurts.

    The celebrated and the favorites of each Elder God were chosen to ascend and they each had their own meal. A captured star-spawn.

    You could literally trace each pantheon back to dinner.

    The birth of the Young gods still lingered in human consciousness. That concept of eating divine flesh to ascend could be found all over, but it wasn’t like you could just take a bite out of a god and get superpowers.

    Your divinity had to be welded on.

    Something, or someone, had to do that for you.

    This didn’t bother me. I was way more annoyed that Apollo’s stupid Oracle tried to kill me than I was about eating her. Maybe it should? You’ve probably guessed by now that Dad was in charge of my morals. But this was god stuff. He left that to Mom. I’ve known since I was little that this was how it was. It didn’t matter that they ate it alive. I remembered being so proud that Mom’s Chosen wouldn’t grow old and wouldn’t die, not like some of the others. This was history.

    This was now.

    “But you were free?” I tried uncomfortably.

    Do you ever get the feeling you aren’t as great of a person as you thought you were?

    “Free,” Kronos repeated blandly. He laughed lightly and it was not a happy sound. “Free. Who were we fighting?”

    I blinked at the change in topic. “Uh, the star-spawn?”

    “The same star-spawn that lay helpless as it was butchered alive the moment its betters tired of its rebellion?”

    Something lurched in my stomach, making me feel sick.

    “All it took was a moment of their attention and there it was.” Kronos was almost snarling. The golden lines holding his construct together began to bleed. “Time could have saved us. Fate could have saved us. Night could have saved us. The Pit could have saved us. What were we dying for, boy?”

    I -

    I don’t know.

    The unconscious mind was stronger in a Dream, but now that I was thinking about it the idea that Mom was ever truly threatened by the likes of the Earth Mother seemed...childish.

    I don’t know.

    He said he knew my mother and that’s why he believed she would betray him. He was a slave. Mom’s slave. The star-spawn rebelled and he only saw her once.

    I was - I was missing something?

    And I didn’t like anything my mind was coming up with to fill in the blanks.

    “I - I don’t - “

    “You do not know,” Kronos said for me. “Perhaps it was nothing more than a game. Some divine whim that spilled over to this wretched world. What need does She Who Stalks Stars have of this dirt?”

    My mind was reminding me of The Black Pharaoh and the unpleasant feeling it gave me. The trip to the moon I took with Sam. Eater of the Bloody Tongues.

    She said he was afraid.

    Mom doesn’t lie.

    Do you ever get the feeling your parents aren’t as great as you thought they were? The very thought that the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Titans, everyone had a good reason to be afraid of her and I was the one who was wrong…What did that mean for them? What did that mean for Dad?

    What did that mean for me?

    I had a Prophecy. It said my days would end in four years.

    The room spun. For a terrifying second, I actually thought I was having a vision as my apartment warped around me. I felt suddenly unanchored, like some part of me had broken off and had begun to just float away.

    “The fucking fuck - “ Sam was suddenly there, headbutting me in the chin. “Oi, Lil’ Fucker. Breathe.” His eyes were glowing, orange and green, along with his molten fur as he turned on Kronos with his fur beginning to stand up. I felt that phantom hook drag itself through my insides, beginning to pull me out and away. “What the fuck did I miss? What did you tell him, you fuck!”

    “Mom doesn’t lie,” I forced out as the apartment began to fade.

    “Your mother is Fate,” Kronos pointed out ruthlessly as he watched me with eyes made of sand. “She does not lie as a Prophecy does not lie.” He smiled at me. “And Prophecies always mean what we think they do, don’t they?”

    I was tossed out of the Dreamlands.

    Morpheus caught me. I was pretty sure he said something but I was a little out of it as he passed me back into his father’s realm. Hypnos welcomed me, pulsing feelings of pride and excitement as his ever-grasping presence pulled me close. The complicated mess of emotion swirling in my head and chest and stomach was doused in ice cold water when the immense pressure of someone’s attention fell on me.

    A woman with long twisting black hair in a pitch black dress studded with dismembered stars was looking at me. She had black eyes, like her pupils had swallowed her irises but a galaxy burned very faintly within and moonlight shone from under her skin. She stood underneath her planet sized shadow as it loomed over Hypnos and me. It was a living thing, moving and reaching and birthing twisted creatures that scrambled to escape before they were dragged back into the mass.

    I had this vague uneasy feeling. It was like...She was too close. I knew she was too close. I could almost hear the sirens wailing in my lizard brain. The reaching tendrils of her form were not made out of skin, or maybe they were? Like solid clouds or mist but it was still shifting like it was only following the idea of being solid in this way that kind of made my head hurt. There were drooling mouths filled with constantly gnashing teeth. I could see every contraction ripple through her shadow as another monster crawled free.

    I pressed back into Hypnos.

    Hi, uh, ma’am.

    Hypnos immediately hit me with an amused rebuke, followed by encouragement and happiness.

    I cringed.

    Uh, Aunt Nyx?

    I hope he didn’t just get me killed. Mom would be so pissed.

    The galaxy in her eyes sparked as her blank expression softened. I felt a pulse of approval from her before her attention moved off me, letting me breathe.

    I don’t know how long I slept as the third wheel to Hypnos’ visit with his mom, but it felt like I was watching a buddy get fussed over, complete with washing behind his ears, giving kisses to the cheek and questions about having enough clean underwear.

    Awkward.

    On top of that, I had my own issues popping up again. It sucked, because I knew I wasn’t able to think it through properly, but the thought of making myself wake up and having to think it through in the light of day was terrifying.

    Eventually, Nyx started to turn away and I felt a surge of desperation for answers. I needed to know. Problem was, I had a hundred questions, but didn’t know what they were. I didn’t know how to ask or what to ask or what I wanted to hear. I reached out anyway, because I was stupid probably, trying to stop her from leaving.

    Wait! I -

    I don’t know!

    It all came out somehow. Like I pushed it out or threw it at her. I thought I just imagined it, but she stopped and her attention was on me again.

    I shrunk back into Hypnos. All my insane courage just evaporated. I didn’t uncurl until Hypnos gently prodded me and I looked up to see the faint, almost thoughtful expression on Nyx’s face.

    There was a burst of hostility from her and I flinched, hard.

    But.

    It wasn’t aimed at me.

    You have enemies?

    Approval.

    Oh.

    I mulled that over and felt something unclench.

    That made sense.

    It was like a comic series, right? You had the street level stuff. That was where you got the boots on the ground, like Kronos, and then you had the high level stuff with higher stakes. Basically the difference between the Punisher and Superman.

    Right?

    Mom wasn’t perfect. I knew that. That was okay. She probably didn’t want to worry me. Maybe this was her being, for once, overprotective. Missing details were fine. I was still a kid.

    She’d tell me when I could understand.

    I felt relieved.

    Anchored again.

    Thanks, Auntie Nyx!

    She sent me her amusement as Hypnos radiated curiosity and confusion. Her attention shifted, probably to him because he was suddenly happy. He grabbed me in a ‘hug’ as his mom left, taking her terrifying shadow with her.

    He gave me a moving picture along with a sense of anticipation. It was...an egg? I think that was an egg, of the bug type. A pale, spongy sac that bulged and stretched until some kind of ugly as sin grub finished eating its way free.

    Uh?

    I puzzled.

    Uh, congrats on the new kid? Clovis...might be a little weird at first cause his mom? But he’ll get over it?

    Hypnos paused and then I was nearly bowled over by his amusement.

    I rolled my eyes.

    Laugh it up, buddy. I’m fucking twelve, what do you want from me?

    More amusement.

    Oh come on!

    Prick.

    I woke up annoyed.

    I laid in my bed for a few minutes, staring up at the ceiling as my stomach crunched and loosened and crunched. Thoughts chased each other around in my head. The bands of Celestial Bronze around my room were still shining in the dim light. Did I wake up early? It was a lot darker than I thought it would be.

    I might as well get up, even if it was early. I didn’t feel like going back to sleep.

    I grumbled wordlessly as I made my bed and then dug through my backpack for clothes to wear today. As I closed the metal latch on the canvas bag, I remembered my tin of Mythomagic cards in the pockets and the now active Prophecy.

    And Prophecies always mean what we think they mean, don’t they? Kronos’ voice rang out in my head, but I pushed it away with a simple reminder.

    It’s our choices that decide our destiny.

    The Prophecy bit was the wrong thing to focus on. By its very nature, a Prophecy does mean whatever we think it means. Maybe it’s not so much that Mom doesn’t lie, so much as she can’t.

    Ha!

    See?

    I breathed out the lingering unease. Nothing sinister here! Logical thinking is one of those things you don’t miss until it’s gone.

    And then you really miss it.

    I felt pretty good as I shuffled, yawning, to the front door of the Big House. I felt pretty good as I reached for the bronze doorknobs. I stopped feeling good when I opened the door to see the sky was still covered in angry boiling thunderclouds and Apollo-as-Fred was there leaning against the wooden rail of the porch looking completely defeated.

    I closed my eyes.

    His sister was still a rabbit, wasn’t she?

    Mom.

    Please.

    “You’re up,” he said with a failed smile. His eyes dropped to my bundle of clothes which was some shorts and my Camp Half-Blood T-shirt. “You probably want to wear...something else.” He rubbed a hand down his face. “Father issued an ultimatum. He wants his bolt back by the Summer Solstice or Olympus is going to war.”

    Um, what?

    There is now a time limit? His sparkler could be anywhere, as a few months was definitely enough time for a mortal thief to catch a plane and get out of dodge. If they couldn’t find it then, it was going to need a lot of luck for us to find it now.

    “That’s in thirteen days,” I said slowly and watched Apollo grimace.

    “He has full faith in the Oracle of Chthon.” That sounded like a load of premium bovine excrement. “And Artemis can’t fail him.”

    “But isn’t she - “

    “Serving a just punishment. Her actions endangered Olympus,” Apollo said dully with his shoulders slumped and golden hair hanging limply, some of his curls getting into his eyes. “And who are we to fight Fate?”

    Soooo.

    Not only is he setting up his daughter, and by extension me, to fail, he’s also pinning any and all consequences for his petty bullshit on my mother.



    ...

    Zeus is a fucking maggot.

    “Okay,” I said, feeling like I was going to explode. “Fine.”

    “Half-Blood Hill at 10.” Apollo slowly reached out like he was afraid I was going to bite him and ruffled my hair. “Sorry,” he said softly. “Dad’s an ass.”

    I just nodded as I turned back towards my room.

    I felt oddly calm, like I was so angry I had wrapped all the way back around to chill as I folded up my shorts and put them in the dresser I was criminally underusing. I took all of the other unsuitable clothes out, like some sweatpants and random swimming trunks I don’t remember putting in my Bag of Holding. I didn’t have to remove much, because the point of it was to have my backpack ready made for any of Mom’s tests.

    Or Quests.

    I double checked my thermos of nectar and my Ziploc bags of ambrosia squares. I adjusted how my sleeping bag fit next to the small tent and made sure my essentials pack was where it belonged. Flashlight. Matches. Water purification tablets. Toilet paper.

    That was a mistake I was determined to only make once.

    Knife. I unsheathed the small Stygian iron dagger. It was a short diamond shaped blade as black as a nightmare set in a pale wood hilt wrapped in some kind of bumpy brown leather, like it came from a reptile. Not all of my siblings were jerks. Erebus cared a little. I sheathed the dagger and put it away.

    Going through my check was calming. I had done this dozens of times and making sure I was as prepared as humanly possible helped bleed off some of my anxiousness. I didn’t have to worry about the weather or medical supplies. I had my ATM card linked to my bank account in the little leather wallet in my bag. Mom wouldn’t give me a test she didn’t believe I could do.

    It looked bad.

    It looked really fucking bad.

    But she wouldn’t do that to me.

    I finished the check and brought out my tin of Mythomagic cards. I drew cards from the top of the deck until I had all thirteen cards of my Quest Prophecy out on the desk.

    I eyed the card for Zeus, King of Olympus.

    Did it just mean it was a Quest on his behalf? That he would be responsible for kicking it off? Just doubling up on the fact that it was his symbol of power that was missing?

    My eyes drifted to The Cydonian Cincture. The symbol of Apate, personification of Deceit.

    Or maybe we would find it.

    I just didn’t have to give it back. If whoever took it could hide it from the gods, then maybe…

    I don’t know.

    Maybe.

    I shouldn’t make decisions while angry. That’s what Dad would say. I want to make an angry decision though.

    I want it bad.

    I packed my cards back into my bag and picked out one of my favorite shirts. It was an ocean blue tunic - and I mean tunic, real Robin Hood looking shit - with complicated looking Celtic knot designs in silver thread along the hems. I don’t know if Mom enchanted it. It took some work to catch her doing something. I wasn’t that good at Sensing yet. She never said anything and they were a package deal with my comfy Beholder slippers and the Lego version of the Millennium Falcon, so probably not.

    Wouldn’t hurt to wear it though.

    I rubbed the designs lining the collar with my thumbs. Anger is good, but it was not going to help me right now.

    Anger was good, but not now.

    Not now.

    I smiled a little.

    I sounded like Athena.

    Guess Wisdom is good for something.

    I picked up my new chosen outfit and headed out the door.

    As soon as I got to the shower stalls I noticed something strange was going on. For one, there were a lot less people waiting around than usual and for second, I could feel that subtle thrum of divine energy coming from the long building. There was no way I could miss it. This wasn’t some minor working, but a big recent thing.

    Did someone curse the place?

    I watched Melanie, Counselor of Aphrodite Cabin exit the building with some of her siblings, brown hair still wrapped up in a towel. I eyed them suspiciously.

    They didn’t look horrifically cursed. They didn’t sound it either.

    Was this going to be one of those things where the curse has a delayed activation and everyone keels over dead at dinner? I cautiously crept up to the boys’ side of the building and poked my head in. I felt it immediately.

    Not cursed.

    Very much not cursed.

    After a refreshing shower, I made sure to stop by the campfire pit.

    “Thanks for doing something about our showers, Hestia,” I said loudly in my most obnoxious voice behind her back and watched her head whip around towards me as several passing Campers slowed on their way to the Dining Pavilion. “It was getting kind of crowded.”

    Her eyes darted around as she shook her head.

    “Oh, my bad,” I said with a wide grin. “Spatial warping is complicated.” It is. Mom’s Tardis explanation lost me in 0.003 seconds flat and if Apollo ever lost his car keys it would take him a literal century to figure out how to change modes on his sun chariot again. “I just figured since the divine energy was a direct match for you that you did it.”

    “You can feel that?” She blurted out the first words I have ever heard her say.

    As a confirmation of her guilt!

    She realized that too, giving me a flat, unamused look that meant nothing because she was currently seven and cute as a button.

    Have you seen a three week old kitten try to intimidate somebody?

    Same energy.

    “Duh.” I rolled my eyes as the eavesdropping Campers came forward to thank her. “I am awesome.”

    I will never stop saying that.

    It’s true. And if it isn’t true, I will become awesome to make it true!

    “Someone’s in a good mood,” Castor said as the brothers joined me at Table 12 for breakfast.

    I knew it was Castor because he was usually the more forward of the twins. Three weeks was more than enough time for me to figure out some of the differences between them. They were both clever, but Castor’s sense of humor was stupid while Pollux was a nerd in denial. If one of them spoke up first, it was probably Castor.

    That and his shirt was inside out.

    Pollux still didn’t like socks, but at least he knew how to dress himself.

    “I’m in a decent mood,” I corrected him. “I am focusing on the good stuff.”

    Luke is cool and a friend. Artemis is great and will probably not be a rabbit the entire time. Maybe just one more day? I can do this. Zeus set me up to fail, Mom did not.

    “Because if I focus on the bad stuff, my first name will be spontaneously legally changed to Ethan.”

    “I resemble that remark,” Ethan Nakamura, son of Nemesis deadpanned as he sat down in his usual seat next to where Clovis will eventually sit. Once he woke up.

    “The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it exists!” I told him happily.

    He narrowed his eyes at me as the twins snorted, but I knew he wasn’t really mad. Ethan had contradictory eyes of dark brown but someone spilled a few drops of mother of pearl in them that moved around without his input. His eyes shined, but didn’t reflect anything. He was less cousiny. You could see his spine through his shirt, sticking out more than mine and Clovis’ and the bones were a bit weird looking, but he was otherwise normal. Well, maybe his canines were a bit long, but that was it.

    He was definitely a less annoying cousin than Hypnos.

    It is so stupid he’s stuck in Cabin 11 as a vagabond relying on Hermes’ Domain. His grandmother was the Night. Would it really be too much to ask for a ‘Protogenoi’ cabin for Nyx’s grandchildren and me?

    “Keep it up and I’m taking you off the Christmas list,” Ethan threatened.

    I gasped and turned back to my food, pouting.

    “Really?” Pollux drawled. “The Christmas list is what gets you?”

    “Presents,” was my defense.

    I take them very seriously.

    Castor nudged his brother. “Remember. He’s a spoiled city boy.”

    Let them laugh.

    Mom always helps me with my presents. Threatening to take them off my Christmas list will hit that much harder when I already have one under my belt.

    The Dining Pavilion filled up, getting louder and louder as everyone got their food and sat down with their friends and family. Fred was getting considering looks from his children at Apollo’s Table. That was probably because this was his third day in a row being at Camp when last week, and the week before that, he only stopped by twice. Hestia was watching the finger dances at her table among the Ares kids like they would randomly behead each other if she so much as blinked.

    Mr.. D grumped his way to his table. He sat down, made a can of Diet Coke and saluted me with it. “Good luck.”

    ...oh my god, he’s been replaced by the Illuminati.

    Castor and Pollux both checked their father for a second head as Annabeth Chase sidled up to our table with a plate of food.

    “May I sit with you, Ethan?”

    Nemesis’ son immediately looked suspicious. “What do you want, daughter of Wisdom?”

    “I want - “ Her eyes flicked to me, then back. She took a deep breath. “I want to know about your uncle. I want to know the truth.”

    Ethan bared his teeth like a wild dog.

    And, uh, remember when I said his canines were a bit long?

    My bad.

    Those were fangs.

    “Everything was fine until it’s your mother on the chopping block?” He growled.

    “It wasn’t fine!” Annabeth snapped back. She reigned herself back in just like her mother did. “It wasn’t fine, but there wasn’t anything we could do. Just making trouble for the sake of making trouble - “

    “Isn’t wise?”

    “If we want things to change, we need a plan.” She arched a blond eyebrow in this challenging way. “We don’t have one. I think we should.”

    Storm gray and brown with mother of pearl stared each other down until Clovis walked right between them sleepily, carrying a plate topped with fruits and feta cheese. He sat down, drowned his fruits in maple syrup then seemed to notice Annabeth standing there awkwardly.

    He scooted over to make space for her. “Hello?”

    She shot a scowling Ethan a triumphant look over Clovis head as she sat down. “Hello! Clovis, right?” She smiled sunnily as he nodded dumbly. “I was wondering about your father…”

    Even though there were like fifteen girls at Table Eight, they were definitely the quietest table because every single one of them looked like someone told them Santa wasn’t real. The reason for that was on the table, miserably staring at a small plate of grass and the lone baby carrot her Lieutenant just snuck on top.

    I quickly turned back around to my own food, before any of them caught me staring and decided murdering me would be worth it.

    Wait a minute.

    I turned back around (again) and scanned the Dining Pavilion.

    “Where’s Luke?”

    Apparently his dad was serious about the training thing. That’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but also weird? Like...he abandoned Luke as a kid, right? Did he just decide he made a mistake tossing his son away after all these years or what? Luke nearly died two years ago on his Quest and his dad had been nowhere in sight.

    Now he was personally training him?

    After volunteering him for a Quest where he might die for real?

    I don’t get it.

    None of that makes any sense.

    Hermes didn’t look that crazy when I last saw him, but you know. You think you know someone…

    When breakfast came to a close, the twins stopped me with uncharacteristically serious faces. Castor had set his chin to jut out stubbornly, while Pollux couldn’t seem to meet my eyes. I swallowed as I faced them, feeling my stomach sink. This was probably going to suck.

    “I hope you don’t mind…” Castor began. “That Cabin 12, Dionysus is going to be in charge of your burial shroud.”

    Yup.

    Oof.

    “No, I don’t mind,” I said quietly. I won’t need it. I’ll be fine. We were all getting through this. Then on a whim I blurted out, “Make it ugly. Really ugly. Super gross.”

    Both boys stared at me.

    Then, slowly, Castor began to smile. “Let me guess. Something you wouldn’t be caught dead in?”

    Pollux groaned. “You’re an idiot, Percy.”

    I laughed as I grabbed them both in a massive hug, the biggest I could manage. And maybe I wasn’t laughing and maybe my eyes were burning and maybe my voice was a little watery when I complained,

    “I resemble that remark.”

    “You do,” Castor said and maybe his voice was a little watery too.

    Pollux sniffled. “You really do.”

    Time flies when you’re having fun.

    I was absolutely blaming Mom’s absent-minded nerdy ex-boyfriend for time slowing to a crawl when you are anticipating being sent off on a dangerous Quest you are supposed to fail.

    Chiron came to get me from Archery class. By now, everyone knew I was going on a Quest and their stares followed me out of the archery range. I felt them boring into my back as I put on my jacket and it changed from a plain looking duster to a fancily decorated burnt orange poncho with ocean blue designs to match my shirt. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and headed to Half-Blood Hill.

    “Percy.” Luke was there in a grey T-shirt with a red vest over it and jeans. He didn’t look like he’d slept well again, but was just a little tired and not exhausted. He had two bags of his own, a purple and black backpack like he was just going to high school or college and a second bright yellow one strapped around his hips.

    Forget impending doom.

    Someone call the fashion police!

    “Is that a fucking fanny pack?”

    Luke smirked. “Don’t knock it until you try it.”

    Standing by him silently was a very tall, very buff, blond dude with blue eyes all over. Literally. He had eyes on his arms, hands, cheeks, forehead, neck, you name it. He reminded me of my Dream self, if my Dream self was a surfer dude from California. I nodded at him.

    “Argus?”

    He nodded back. So Hera’s pseudo-Giant servant. I could ask how he felt about everything but I was not going to push my luck. At least she was contributing something to Camp Half-Blood.

    And no, her empty pretty cabin no one could use did not count.

    “Cool.”

    A little ways down the hill a white SUV sat. Luke saw me looking.

    “Traditional drive out of Camp Half-Blood.” He smiled sadly. “He’s not going with us. Neither is the SUV.”

    Damn.

    Chiron cleared his throat. “If I may, the Lord of the Underworld is a dangerous opponent. If you are to face him, you are going to need to plan it out thoroughly.”

    I gave Chiron a look.

    “We’re not going to the Underworld,” I said and Luke’s head swiveled in surprise. “We’re going North.”

    “North?” Luke asked, bewildered.

    “Yup.”

    “...what’s North?”

    “Death, probably.”

    Chiron looked like he was going to say something to me, then thought better of it. “Luke. Please watch over Perseus.”

    “Percy,” I muttered.

    “I know,” Luke said a bit indignantly. “Son of Fate, really big deal and my responsibility. My Camper.”

    “He’s twelve,” Chiron said gently and Luke recoiled as if he’d been slapped. The son of Hermes looked at me then and he had this complicated expression I didn’t know how to read.

    “I know,” Luke said again.

    “I’ll listen to Luke,” I promised Chiron. “Unless he’s wrong. Then I, uh, won’t.”

    Luke snorted as the immortal trainer of heroes sighed. “Jason, Herakles, Achilles...all had more training.” He made a rumbling noise deep in his chest as the heavy brows he inherited from his father hung over his eyes. “I suppose all I can do now is trust in your destiny, whatever it may be.”

    “It’s whatever I decide it to be,” I said.

    I had to believe that.

    Argus’ wristwatch went off for our departure time as Apol - Fred - fuck it! Apollo walked up to us in bare feet ahead of the Lieutenant of the Hunters, Zoë Nightshade. Up close, the fractured nebula in her eyes looked broken. Like someone had messily ripped out a few wires behind the screen leaving the lights flickering, sputtering, and on the verge of fading away completely.

    She looked between me and Luke as her lip curled in contempt. I made the mistake of holding out my hands and awkwardly watched her hand her precious cargo over to Luke.

    “...your pet is not coming on this Quest,” Luke declared as he tried to hand the bunny back.

    With a sound of disgust, the Lieutenant marched off.

    “Don’t scruff her,” Apollo said in a no-nonsense tone straightening Luke’s spine even as the confusion on his face settled in deep. “That will tear the skin from the muscle, basically flaying her and if that happens, I will flay you.

    “I - I understand, Lord Apollo.”

    The rabbit made a small moaning sound as it shivered in Luke’s hands. I wanted to comfort her. Maybe a pat on the head or something, but I think she will probably bite me.

    “Make sure she eats grass every meal, don’t let her skip, give her enough support while holding her - how you’re doing it now is fine - you better know where she is at all times and don’t involve her in any fighting!”

    “I will take good care of your pet, Lord Apollo,” Luke said blankly, clearly not getting it at all.

    The silver eyes were a dead give away!

    Apollo sighed.

    “That’s Artemis.”

    Luke’s grip on the rabbit went from ‘I am holding a small, helpless creature’ to ‘I am holding a live grenade.’

    “Long story,” Apollo said.

    “She tried to kill me. Mom objected,” I said. Apollo gave me a very hairy eyeball as I shrugged. “Not that long.”

    “Our godly Quest member is a rabbit,” Luke said flatly.

    See? Not even worrying about the attempted murder. Demigods knew how to prioritize.

    Apollo shrugged. “Yeah. Good luck.”

    Mom.

    Please.

    I felt her. A gentle, warm feeling of reassurance and confidence. My eyes burned and I adjusted how my sunglasses fit on my face.

    Argus jingled his car keys and with that obnoxious ‘bwark bwark’ sound, the SUV unlocked.

    “Don’t die.” Chiron threw in.

    Her comfort faded with a feeling of finality. She wasn’t going to hold my hand anymore. The test begins now.

    It was time to go.
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, wargonzola and 11 others like this.
  16. NuclearBirb

    NuclearBirb A mysterious birb.

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    Every chapter I read I just want to read more. Only other story I've enjoyed this much is... I think constellations? The worm Ookami cross.
     
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  17. da3monh0st3d

    da3monh0st3d Эскапист

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    rofl that line.

    I've never actually read any Percy Jackson stuff before, so I'm purely reading this on its own merit. You're doing a pretty good job. The expanded Mythos is also nice to notice.
     
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  18. NuclearBirb

    NuclearBirb A mysterious birb.

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    As someonr who really enjoyed the percy jackson stories by Rick Riordan, i can safely say in a lot of ways this is a massive improvement on percy jackson.
     
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  19. Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    That's very high praise, thank you! I'm trying to keep everyone in character with Riordan's vision, but I think I'm failing more on Percy than I would like. Which is irritating me a lot! Anyway, we've got about 2 more updates, maaaybe 3 if I'm unlucky, before we catch up to chapter 1 and finish the 'prologue.' If you guys have any questions, let me know!
     
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  20. Threadmarks: My Niece Buys My Rabbit A Salad
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction
    I want to say the Quest got off to a good start.

    I really want to say the Quest got off to a good start. The best start. A truly auspicious beginning to a great and epic tale of triumph!

    But the truth is...

    The truth is the Quest started with the doorstep of Argus’ white SUV being a little further away or a little higher than I thought it was.

    Look. Don’t laugh. I was nervous and anxious and feeling all kinds of not great things and wasn’t paying as much attention to my shitty depth perception as I should have been. Don’t tell me that’s never happened to you. I won’t believe you.

    Still.

    I blame my sunglasses.

    My sneaker toe kind of just slid off it. I fell forward into the vehicle, banging my right knee on the step and my head off the surprisingly hard back of the passenger side chair. I flinched backwards (because OW!) and the weight of my backpack and my concussion meant I ended up falling right back out of the SUV into Luke. I tripped over his foot as he held Artemis safely over his head and the jerk just watched me hit the ground hard enough to slide down a little on the wet grass of Half-Blood Hill.

    I scrunched my eyes shut through that sick feeling you get when your brain gets rattled. I heard a meaty thwack as someone’s palm met their face.

    “He can’t even get in the car!” A very muffled voice groaned.

    Chiron choked as I raised a middle finger in Apollo’s general direction. Mr. Blind Jump Off The Sun Chariot Because I Can’t Teleport has no room to talk.

    At all.

    It took a bit for the stars behind my eyelids to go away and when I opened my eyes again, there were three blue-eyed blonds looking down at me. Luke looked disbelieving. Argus looked concerned and Apollo looked constipated.

    Artemis wasn’t looking because she had buried her face underneath her paws.

    I sighed. “Tell me we can pretend that never happened.”

    “No.” Luke said very seriously.

    Like many of his siblings, Luke was a bit of a bastard.

    Apollo pinched the bridge of his nose as Argus helped me up.

    “I know I am asking a lot Luke…” the Greek sun god said slowly as he passed a hand radiating a soothing, healing light over my head and leg. “...but please keep him alive too.”

    “His first week at Camp,” Luke announced as he got in the van with Artemis tucked under his arm. His voice became a bit muffled as he got in the back seat. “He was nearly murdered by a pegasus.”

    “You promised not to hold that against me!” I protested, a little hurt as I snapped the hem of my poncho-jacket and the grass stains vanished. I did nothing wrong! I checked my footing this time and held on to the little bar by the door. “And that wasn’t my fault! The horse-pigeons hate me.”

    “What’s your excuse for breaking the Climbing Wall?” Luke asked as he shrugged off his backpack and set Artemis down on the middle seat. She immediately curled up in a miserable ball of fluff.

    “Clarisse started it.” I shot back as I took my own seat. That was my story and I was sticking to it. “Both times.”

    “I had to save you from a nereid.”

    “She was blaming Mom for her dumbass boyfriend being a dumbass and she should have left his suicidal ass,” I grumbled as I closed the door. “What was I supposed to do?”

    Luke gave me a look. “Maybe not say that while you are in the middle of a lake, on a boat, with no water powers.”

    So.

    Okay.

    I’ll admit it.

    He’s not wrong.

    Mom doesn’t need me to defend her honor, but I’m going to be honest. The drowning part I could have really done without, but breaking that bitch’s nose was great.

    “I have no regrets,” I said stubbornly.

    Luke rolled down the window and stuck his head out as Argus got behind the steering wheel.

    “You are asking a lot,” he deadpanned at Apollo. “I am going to need a miracle.”

    Apollo gave the dark, boiling thunderclouds covering the sky a skeptical glance and grimaced.

    “No promises.”

    And that was a total buzzkill.

    “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence,” I muttered.

    Argus turned the key and I could pretend the funny feeling in my stomach was just the vibrations from the engine rumbling to life. Luke pulled back and went to roll the window up when he froze, and then put his head out again. I followed his gaze and saw that by the Big House, a blonde girl with princess curls was on the deck with her arms wrapped around herself holding a long dagger to her chest like it was about to break into pieces.

    Luke’s face was blank as he raised a hand. The girl waved back with wild, sweeping gestures. The kind you expect out of an over-eager four year old kid and not a Daughter of Athena. A little forced, maybe.

    A little desperate.

    Chiron fished a bronze pen out of his shirt pocket and uncapped it. A shining Celestial Bronze leaf shaped blade flashed through the air as he saluted us. Argus adjusted his mirrors and I felt a slight crackle surround the car. I thought I heard Apollo growl, but maybe I was mistaking the purr of the engine and the crunch of the tires on the gravel road for it as he flung a hand at the heavens. His father’s clouds reluctantly parted just enough to let through a ray of sunlight as the SUV started down the hill.

    Heh, ‘god’ rays.



    Don’t say it.

    Annabeth was right. I am a dork.

    Luke rolled the window back up and rested his forehead against the glass, sighing. Artemis shuddered as the car hit a small bump at the bottom of the hill and curled into a tighter ball. As for me? I buckled in, because Safety First and slowly counted to ten.

    First rule of survival: Don’t panic.

    Mom’s tests aren’t new to me. I’ve had them ever since I turned seven, but back then they were graded on a curve. They were impossible to fail because they were basically placement exams, and Mom would bail me out if I was about to die. It was like my personal version of Camp Half-Blood’s training, but better.

    Camp Half-Blood was sink or swim at both ends, which was another reason it was stupid. Untrained demigods fight monsters getting to Camp where they are then trained, but their version of live exercises were Quests where you chuck kids at a monster with no backup and hope they make it out alive.

    Definitely preferred the way Mom did it. She made sure my basics were not only solid, but tempered first.

    Then I get thrown into the deep end.

    Luke was six years older than me, but this was only his second Quest. I guess third, if you count how he got to Camp?

    Huh.

    I had twelve tests over him.

    So maybe he should be listening to me!

    Artemis blew us both out of the water with thousands of years of Hunts under her belt, but she couldn’t really lead the team right now. We don’t speak rabbit and I hate Charades.

    Okay, so, second rule.

    Trim the objective.

    I drummed my fingers on my knees as I looked out the window. We were leaving the countryside into western Long Island. It felt a bit weird being on the highway again. After almost a month at Camp Half-Blood, the rest of the world seemed dull and boring. My eyes skipped over the McDonalds, the billboards and shopping malls as unimportant. I smiled a little as I spied a small kid, maybe around five, playing on her Gameboy in the back of her parents’ car.

    But she was unimportant too.

    So far so good. Ten miles and not a single monster!

    “The real problem is the time limit,” I said, breaking the silence. A mortal hero stole the Bolt, so we probably didn’t have to dive into a monster pit for it. They probably had godly backing, but the Ancient Laws still mattered. They could send monsters and that would suck, but the objective was the Bolt, not killing them.

    “Yeah. Thirteen days.” Luke straightened and ran a hand through his hair. “Our best bet is our Prophecy, any chance you remember it?” He smiled weakly. “No one actually told me what you said.”

    Oh.

    I dug into my backpack for my tin of cards.

    “So, my Prophecies aren’t in words.” I flattened my backpack on the floor to use as a makeshift table. I paused with my hand over the cards. “It’s a Quest,” I made sure to tell him. “It’s a Quest because we are going on a Quest.”

    “Okay?” Luk’s brows furrowed as Artemis’ ears twitched back towards us.

    “That’s how this works,” I explained.

    Because if it was actually a Great Prophecy and we were fucking things by going on a Quest instead, that would be stupid.

    Mom’s not stupid.

    I started to draw those thirteen cards and put them in their star pattern. As soon as I laid out the last card, The Right Hand of Kronos, the Titan Lord, Luke sucked in a harsh breath. His eyes bounced between Hermes, God of Thieves and The Right Hand of Kronos as the blood drained from his face. I could hear his grip on the door tighten, making the fake leather squeak.

    “It’s okay!” I said quickly and he jerked towards me, like a weird flinch where he was half-pressing back into his seat away from me and half-leaning forward with this feral look in his eyes. “Luke, it’s okay!”

    He froze. After a few moments, he blinked slowly. He glanced at Artemis still curled up in a ball and then back at me.

    “It’s...okay.” He repeated dully.

    “Yeah?” I shrugged. “I mean, Titan Lord is scary, but don’t worry about him.” Artemis snorted and I shrugged again. “The thief probably wants to bring him back or works for him or something, but that doesn’t really matter?”

    Because if I know Sam, and I do, Kronos either ran away from or got his ass beat by a cat.

    We were basically at Hello Kitty Vader levels.

    He’s still Vader, but I wasn’t really feeling it right now.

    “It doesn’t matter,” Luke said, echoing me again. He relaxed slowly. “That’s right…” He smiled slightly. “I keep forgetting. Your mother has nothing to worry about so neither do you.” He gave me this weird, distant look like he was rolling that around in his mind over and over. “It makes no difference if it's Olympus or Othrys. You know so much because you owe Olympus absolutely nothing.” He let go of the door and slumped over, threading his fingers in front of his face. “It doesn’t... matter to you if the thrones fall?”

    “The backlash would suck,” I admitted. “But they don’t have to fall.” Luke tilted his head towards me. “They can be surrendered, right? Hestia and Mr. D.”

    His eyes widened. “It doesn’t need to crumble to be replaced?”

    “Nope.” I popped the ‘p’ and shrugged. “Some deserve to lose their fancy chairs.”

    The bunny stiffened.

    Luke pinned me with an intense look. “Who doesn’t?”

    “Uh, Apollo’s good people,” I said slowly. I shyly glanced at our resident moon rabbit. “His sister’s cool too.” Artemis snorted again and relaxed. “I would give Hestia her throne back.” I frowned and muttered, “Dunno about Athena. Maybe.”

    Maybe.

    Luke snorted as he leaned back. “And your mother could do that, if she wanted to.”

    “If she wanted to,” I agreed.

    “That is so weird,” Luke breathed.

    I get it.

    The Camp was built around the Twelve Cabins for Twelve Thrones of Mount Olympus. Luke spent four years getting used to the idea of being a demigod in a place where the children of every other god were extras. Vagabonds. At Camp Half-Blood, only the gods with thrones got tables in the Dining Pavilion. Got a Cabin for their kids. They called Hecate, the Three Formed and Queen of Those Below, Titaness of Everything Ever Because Fucking Magic, a minor goddess.

    She could have been King of Olympus. She was third in line.

    Because she scared people shitless.

    But they didn’t know that. No one taught them. It’s been millennia since a demigod of one of the Protogenoi was at Camp. They didn’t know other pantheons even existed.

    To Luke, Olympus looked like the only thing that mattered.

    “Why are you on this Quest at all?”

    “Zeus,” I said tightly. “My Dad lives in Manhattan.” If I failed - no. Mom wouldn’t - my parents loved each other. She wouldn’t put Dad’s fate on me. So it had to be an assessment. A placement test? She was going to grade me on a curve and maybe I couldn’t actually fail.

    Maybe I couldn’t actually fail.

    A knot in my chest loosened as I pointed at The Oracle of Trophonius card. “Mom decided I should probably stop the King of the Gods from throwing a tantrum over losing his sparkler.”

    Artemis let out this muttering sound as she lifted her head to look at me. I raised my eyebrows.

    “Tell me I’m wrong.”

    The rabbit returned to her sulking.

    Thought so.

    “So these three represent the Questers?” Luke asked. I nodded and he reached out for his father’s card and his lips curled into a slight sneer. “Hermes volunteered me in his place?”

    “Uh, yes? But actually no.” I made a rocking motion with my hand. “He technically can, but he’d be pretty useless.”

    Luke gave me a look of disbelief. “Pretty useless? He’s a god.”

    As Mom would say, “That doesn’t actually mean anything.”

    Luke stared at me.

    I sighed. “You know about the Ancient Laws?”

    Luke frowned. “Aren’t those just decrees from Zeus?”

    I groaned and bumped my head into my window. “Oh my fucking god, no!”

    Every time I think it couldn’t get any worse.

    “Well,” Luke shrugged as he also looked out the window. Traffic was really beginning to pick up. It was late morning on a Wednesday in New York City. No one was going anywhere fast. “We got time for a lesson?”

    “Short version,” I said. “The Fates are cunts.” Luke choked as Artemis cast an alarmed glance over her shoulder and shuffled as far away from me as she could without falling off her seat. I sighed. “They are my sisters. I can say that.”

    The son of Hermes barked a short laugh. “What’s the long version?”

    “The long version has like a dozen pages of exceptions but basically a Young god’s divinity is their Domain,” I quoted and watched Luke frown. “It means they can’t act like a god outside of their Domain.”

    “He’s not a war god,” Luke said slowly.

    “Right. So if he gets jumped by a Hellhound on a Quest, there’s a million things that will get him ass blasted by the Fates - ” damn it, Hermes. “ - and three things that won’t.” I ticked them off on my fingers. “Dodge. Let it chew on him. Recall all his Names from whatever they were doing and unveil his divinity.” I shrugged. “So yeah, useless meat shield.”

    Now it was Luke’s turn to bump his head against his window. He glanced down at the card in his hands and then cast a sideways glance at Artemis.

    “At least he’s not a rabbit.”

    A tiny growl rumbled from the furball as I wagged a finger at him. “That’s not nice. I’m sure you don’t want to be a rabbit. Think of how her Hunters feel about their patron being a prey animal.”

    Artemis flinched.

    Luke raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Didn’t you say she tried to kill you?”

    I scoffed. “Come on, it’s not like that’s super important.”

    If I held a little attempted murder against everybody, I wouldn’t have my best friend!

    “Ye - es,” Luke said. “It kind of is.” He paused. “No, it really is.”

    I stared at him. “And you call yourself a demigod?”

    “What does that have to do with -” Luke blinked, then he rubbed at his temples. “By the Styx, no, Percy, just because lots of things want to kill you, doesn’t mean people trying to kill you is normal. That’s not how it works.”

    “If shit normally happens,” I said slowly. I wasn’t trying to traumatize the guy. “That shit’s normal, dude.”

    “Wha - no.

    “It’s the twenty-first century!” I threw my hands up. “And we use swords because we’re demigods. It’s normal for us! That’s definitely how it works.”

    “Merciful Rhea.” Luke buried his face in his hands. “That explains so much about you.”

    Artemis groaned in what was totally a defense of me and thumped her head against the back of her seat. In the front, I caught Argus’ helpless smile. He saw me looking, of course, and the blue eye on the back of his neck winked at me.

    The drive was a long one.

    Just so you know Montauk, New York was at the very tip of Long Island and Camp Half-Blood was about a ten minute drive from there. We had to come all the way back through Long Island to Queens and then a bit of Brooklyn to get back to Manhattan. Traffic really slowed us down once we got to the city so by the time we got to Manhattan proper, the sun was already setting.

    Twelve days left.

    I swallowed down the sudden lump in my throat.

    Placement test.

    Luke peered blearily out the window after his short nap, taking in the skyscrapers and shimmering sunlight on the water surrounding Manhattan island as we crossed the bridge.

    “You live in Manhattan, right?”

    “Upper West Side.” I squinted at my Gameboy Advance screen as my character Isaac got jumped by yet another random encounter.

    Let me complete the puzzle already!

    “Why?”

    “Know where to find a pet store?”

    Artemis’ ears twitched as she raised her head and gave him what might have been an incredulous look. Bunny faces made it hard to tell. Hey, at least she was paying attention? I didn’t want to say she had been ignoring our existence, but...she had been pretty much ignoring our existence.

    Not that I blame her.

    Not much for a rabbit to do on a road trip.

    “We’re late for dinner,” Luke pointed out. “How’d you think we were going to feed her on the Quest? Keep buying salads at Wendy’s?”

    “Uh. Yes?” I tried, pausing my game. “Maybe McDonalds?”

    He sighed. “We need rodent food, some way to deal with her shit and maybe a collar,” he muttered. I kind of froze for a second? It had not occurred to me that moon rabbits might need to use the bathroom. Is that why Argus tossed her into that bush? Had that seriously been the first time Artemis had to poop in her entire life?

    Mind. Blown.

    “Do rabbits shed?”

    I was about to answer him when I saw the way her ears were flattening against her head.

    “Uh, Luke - “ I began.

    Luke held out both hands as if measuring her. “We can pick up some kind of carrier, for a gerbil or something.”

    We didn’t have to ask what she thought of that idea because the moon rabbit fucking hissed at him.

    I did not know bunnies do that.

    “Okay,” Luke said with his eyebrows raised as I leaned away from him and the impending blood spray. “Maybe a cat carrier.” As soon as she started to growl, he cuffed her on the head and she sputtered out in surprise like a dying lawnmower. “No,” he snapped. “If you get stepped on or run over in the streets of New York, your brother is going to make it my problem.

    I winced.

    Apollo do be like that.

    “Give her a little bit?” I tried to defend her. “She’s had a really long time being goddess of the hunt and a really short time being...” I waved at the flinching moon rabbit. “That?”

    “Does it change anything?” He asked me pointedly.

    That’s fair.

    “Maybe not a collar,” I offered in compromise. “Or a leash. We can carry her.”

    “We can always get her microchipped,” Luke said with a bit of a mean smile as he poked the rabbit’s side. “That way we can’t lose her, unless she prefers being carried by me - ow!” He recoiled and clutched his bleeding finger to his chest. His eyes were wide in disbelief. “You bit me.”

    “You put your hand in biting reach.” I had to say it as Artemis deliberately turned away and huddled into an annoyed rabbit loaf. “What did you think would happen?”

    “I didn’t think the famed Artemis, goddess of the Moon would fucking bite me!” Luke raged.

    They don’t need to be friends, alright? But it would be nice if I could be sure Artemis wouldn’t just murder Luke the second the Quest was over. Because that would kind of suck? Luke was one of my friends and that would devastate Annabeth and the rest of Cabin 11.

    It would also be nice if ‘can a rabbit murder someone’ remained a hypothetical.

    “Can we just - okay, Artemis, you are a rabbit.”

    The fur on her back bristled for a moment, before this shudder ran through her as she whimpered and shrunk in on herself. She shuffled further away from us, tucking into the crease between the back and seat of her chair. It was almost like - like she was trying to be angry and to stay angry, but despair kept winning out.

    There was nothing I could do about it.

    That didn’t feel great.

    Luke’s face twisted as he looked out the window. “So what’s the plan?”

    Uh, right.

    The Plan.

    I used these ten hours on the road to come up with the elaborate, genius plan of action known world wide as ‘fucking winging it.’

    If we were going North…

    What was North?

    “We could pay Boreas a visit?” I tried to make it not sound like a question, but it was totally a question.

    “Right, the North Wind. He had a card,” Luke murmured. He gave me a thoughtful look. “Think he knows something?”

    “Olympus is right in the middle of the intersection between him and Eurus,” I replied. That’s the East Wind, if you were wondering. The brothers were still arguing over which states counted as ‘North East’ and there was something about the US Census definition and Delaware, but whatever. “He takes his job seriously and everyone overlooks wind spirits. If they didn’t see anything, they probably heard something.”

    Words are wind.

    Literally.

    Artemis chittered, turning her head with her ears perking up.

    “Good idea, right?” I asked her and she reluctantly nodded. I grinned. “Awesome! So we can just get a few plane tickets - “

    And I am stopping you there,” Luke cut me off. “You know Zeus hates you, right?”

    Duh.

    “If he brings down my plane,” I said darkly. “He won’t need to worry about Kronos.”

    Also duh.

    Yeaaaahhh,” Luke drawled with a glint in his eye. “But we’ll still be dead.”

    Right.

    Why did he have to put it like that?

    Wait.

    Oh no.

    Oh no!

    Fucking no!

    “I am relying on Zeus not being a fucking moron!” I yelled out my realization to the heavens and smacked my Gameboy Advance into my forehead. Thunder rumbled threateningly as it began to rain. Argus huffed and silently turned on the windshield wipers. “Like a fucking idiot!

    Luke looked out at the overcast sky that had followed us all the way from Camp Half-Blood. Lightning flickered in the clouds. “No planes. You absolute koala.”

    I sputtered. “What did you just call - “

    Our rabbit honked.

    Luke and I both turned to stare at Artemis who stared back in blank surprise.

    “Did you just laugh at me?” I said with a growing smile and watched her quickly turn away and huddle into her loaf again. “I think she just laughed at me. What do you think, Luke?”

    His lips twitched. “The rabbit doth protest too much.”

    “I think she does.”

    Artemis inflated like a furry balloon and then let it out in a loud wheezing bunny sigh.

    “Hey Argus,” I twisted in my seat to look through to the front. “You know Penn Station?” Hera’s disowned son nodded with a smile, turning on the right blinker and shifting lanes. I twisted back around. “So we take the train to Quebec City.”

    “Canada, huh?” Luke rubbed his chin and then glanced down at Artemis. He looked at me and then looked down again, more pointedly.

    I sighed.

    “Pet store first.”

    If you’ve never been to New York City, I’ll let you in on a secret. If it isn’t fighting for space, it’s huge.

    Penn Station was short for Pennsylvania Station, which was the main rail station in New York City underneath Madison Square. The entrance was a giant triangular building with a flat top and the front all covered in glass with dozens of arcing lights making everything dazzle. It was faced by the James A. Farley Building which was basically Doric Order Columns, The Building. Even though it was time for a late dinner, the station was still full of people going places making the long, wide concourse still feel claustrophobic.

    Argus accompanied me to the ticket counter where we played Bratty Son, Mute Dad for the lady so I could buy our tickets without awkward questions and the police being called.

    People got weird when a lone twelve year old tries to leave the country.

    We grabbed two cheesy pretzels at Rose’s Pizza and nabbed a spot on a bench. Argus sipped at his Raspberry Iced Tea as he fished Artemis out of his duster and set her on the bench between us. The rabbit stared at the people rushing by with wide silver eyes. Several people not caught up in their lives did a double take and there were a few smiles.

    There was this one red headed girl flanked by what I was pretty sure were two bodyguards that noticed Argus instead, doing a triple take before visibly giving up, pinching the bridge of her nose and walking faster.

    Clear-sighted maybe?

    Cool.

    I just saw a demi-alien.

    I swallowed a big bite of my pretzel. “Does the Earth Mother talk to you too?”

    Argus started to shake his head before pausing and then wiggling his head side to side instead.

    “A few Dreams only?”

    He nodded, absently pulling the edge of his duster out from under Artemis’ furry butt, toppling her onto her side with a very disgruntled sound.

    “That’s not too bad.” I reassured him. “Probably only vaguely aware you even exist.”

    That got me a relieved smile.

    Argus and his brother Hephaestus were living proof of Hera’s brand of arrogance. Elder Gods like Ananke and Nyx could and did have fatherless children. They were powerful gods in their own right. Mom’s firstborn, Adrasteia was hell to experience but I’ve been told she looks the most like our mother who has the title of The Beautiful One for a reason. Nyx was known for monsters, but even the Furies could look however they wanted.

    Hera, Young goddess of Motherhood and Childbirth, Queen of the Gods of Olympus was going to do the same. She would have a perfect heir made from her own divinity.

    The problem was her inherited divinity had been welded on.

    Maybe you’ve wondered for a minute or two why Hera would reject her son for being ugly, when Young gods could change their appearance. They grow up really fast, so in a few days, he would have known enough to hide the defects. His divine form would be more of a problem, but a few Names could paper that over pretty easily. Maybe you thought Hera was just that fucking petty.

    I mean.

    She is.

    But there was a bit more to it.

    Hephaestus was given to the nereid Thetis to raise as a two week old baby. It took him over a century to physically mature. He couldn’t change his appearance. He didn’t have a divine form. Hephaestus was able to kill the Giant Mimas by himself, without demigod help.

    Because technically? Hephaestus is not a Young god.

    Hephaestus and Argus have a father.

    Phanes.

    The Light-Bringer.

    He’s got some weird Domain interactions too. Hephaestus’ kids all inherit from his Names as a god of the Forge and their connection to their grandmother is stronger than usual for demigods. I’ve never heard of Hephaestus having any demigods of Magnetism or Gravity. I wonder if Fire was still too risky? I wouldn’t be surprised if he, like Aphrodite, had ‘defects’ too.

    Hera learned the wrong lesson and maimed Argus in a different way.

    “Your mom’s a jerk, by the way.”

    Argus nodded as he pulled apart his cheesy pretzel, then he shrugged.

    “I get it. Mine is too sometimes.”

    He nudged me with his shoulder, squishing Artemis a little who protested with a squeak.

    “Yeah. She thinks I don’t notice, but I do.” I checked the giant digital clock hanging down in the middle of the concourse with the list of incoming and outgoing trains. “She’s my mother though. And she loves me.”

    Argus shrugged again with a helpless smile.

    “She’s got Dad though. Hera’s got a joke.”

    The eyes on the left side of his body opened for a moment like he was ‘looking’ in that direction. Then the right side opened. Then left again like he was expecting a ninja to jump out of the crowd. Then he solemnly nodded.

    I smiled and pointed at him for the rabbit’s benefit. “He knows what’s up.”

    A loud, high pitched gasp interrupted our conversation and I looked up to see a tiny blond boy pulling at his mother’s hand with one arm and a Pikachu pillow wrapped up in the other.

    “A bunny!” He squealed. “Can I pet - Mommy, please, can I pet the bunny?”

    His mother looked exhausted with dark hair that had been in an updo at one point today, but had long since given in to gravity.

    “Daniel…” She sighed and adjusted her grip on the suitcase as she looked towards that big clock. “I - fine, I’m sorry,” she addressed me with a very resigned tone. “Can he - ? He will be careful,” she directed more towards her son who nodded very quickly. “Only for a few moments.”

    I looked down at the rabbit.

    Artemis looked back up at me with a clear pleading expression, ears hanging down and everything.

    This was beautiful.

    I grinned.

    “Don’t worry,” I said brightly as I snatched Artemis up before she could make a run for it. “She is well aware of how small children are around furry creatures and heals quickly.” I gave the kid a skeptical look as I held out the very resigned small bun. “You have learned that tails are not for pulling, right?”

    Artemis let out another one of those wheezing rabbit sighs.

    With an eager nod, the little boy stepped closer and gently brushed fingers over her head. That seemed to be the cue for a bunch of less self-conscious people to come forward for a late evening dose of cute bunny rabbit.

    Five minutes into the pet show, someone cleared their throat.

    I turned and saw Luke standing there bemused with a cat carrier, a small bag of hay under his arm and a churro hanging from his mouth.

    He swallowed and put the carrier down. “What’d I miss?”

    Argus beamed and with slow, deliberate movements reached out and patted Artemis on the head.

    As far as I was concerned, her look of shocked betrayal was justice.

    After Artemis escaped into her carrier, the fun was over. We finished our pretzels (and churro) and threw out the trash. Argus escorted Luke and I to our train once again playing Mute Dad. Before we got on the train, the pseudo-Giant stopped us, placing a large hand on our shoulders. Luke looked surprised, his mouth falling open at Argus’ warm smile as he gave us one pat.

    I think that was ‘Good luck.’

    I smiled back. “Thanks, Argus.”

    He walked away, but the eyes on the back of his head and neck opened to watch us board the train. We quickly found seats at the back of our car. Demigod things. Just because we were in a moving metal box did not mean we were safe from monsters. It was just better for our nerves to sit by a clear exit. Artemis was placed on the ground between our feet and I dug my Gameboy out of my bag.

    Luke sighed as he leaned his head back. “How much did you spend on our tickets?”

    “About two fifty,” I said absently as the Golden Sun logo came up on my screen.

    “Two...hundred?”

    I looked over to see him staring at me. “Two hundred fifty,” I corrected him. “Well, two hundred forty seven dollars and thirteen cents but who’s counting?”

    His brows furrowed. “The camp store usually loans out about a hundred dollars to Quest leaders, but I guess Artemis is…” A rabbit. Or maybe he meant that usually a goddess doesn’t need a couple of Benjamins. “So you got it? Are we broke now?”

    “Not even close,” I snorted as I chose my save file. “I used my debit card. Last I checked, I have something like thirty two thousand dollars.”

    Luke choked. “How?”

    “My allowance, selling Quest rewards and Mom’s part-time job.” I double checked my progress and party members before I felt Luke poke the side of my head. I looked back at him.

    “Your mother just gives you all of her money.” He said incredulously. “For Quests.”

    It wasn’t like she needed it.

    “Dad’s a trust fund baby and corporate lawyer,” I explained. “Mom does random shit when she’s bored and is occasionally paid for it.”

    Sometimes it's translating a stubborn text for archaeologists in Ireland (that will probably ruin someone’s theories and/or career) and sometimes it’s getting a dude to volunteer himself as dinner for another dude in Germany.

    I know.

    I think one of the two had been a demi-something of some sort, but I might be getting that mixed up with something else. It was a few years ago and I’m still not sure what that was about. Dad had been horrified, but he’s human. If I got weird about the guy getting exactly what he wanted, I’d be a hypocrite.

    “So don’t worry,” I told Luke.

    “No - I mean, that’s great - but it’s more…” He trailed off, searching for the words. “Being a demigod sucks ass,” he said suddenly. “But the more I hear about your mortal parents, and how much your godmother gives a damn, it sounds like it doesn’t suck for you.” His face twisted for a second. “Why can’t we have that? Why don’t we have that?”

    “It sucks a few times a year.” I don’t like Mom’s tests. “It’s just...Camp is that bad.”

    “Yeah,” he sighed and ran a hand through his thick, blond hair. An alarm sounded as the doors to the train closed. “It is.” As the train began to move, Luke glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “You know, I send petitions every summer to Olympus for more Cabins, more showers, some extra tables at the Pavilion. It’s gotten to the point of including invoices and cost analysis sheets where the Campers do everything.”

    I vaguely recalled Mr. D mentioning something about that my first day at Camp Half-Blood.

    “Do they even get answered?” I was actually curious.

    “Once.” Luke’s smile was sharp. “Apparently, my petitions have been gracing the desk of Hera, as the patron of Camp Half-Blood in her capacity as Queen of Olympus.”

    And probably in her capacity as ‘Maybe I Won’t Murder Your Bastards, Zeus.’

    So even if someone like, say Hermes, wanted to make some changes, he would have to go through his step-mother that loathed his very existence.

    Holy fuck.

    “Oh,” I said dumbly. “So the reason why Camp is a shitshow circus…”

    “It's because it’s being run by a clown,” Luke finished for me. “Yes.”

    Our rabbit honked all the way out of Manhattan.

    My ass was completely numb by the time we got to the Metro station in Yonkers, New York. Billions of taxpayers dollars bought us only the very finest of hard plastic butt rests, as Dad would say.

    The sun had completely set when we got off the train. There were only a few people around, most carrying some kind of suitcase or bag as we walked through the old station to the next. I presented our tickets to the old man at the counter, who squinted at them behind coke bottle glasses. He gave Luke directions and then grumbled,

    “You’re supposed to arrive thirty minutes before departure for Amtrak.” He tapped the small digital clock he had on the desk for emphasis as I blinked at him. “It’s boarding right now, so be quick.”

    Luke looked at me helplessly.

    “Uh,” I said. “We didn’t buy Amtrak tickets?”

    You kind of need to book that ahead of time, like you would a plane.

    That got me the standard ‘Idiot Kids These Days’ look as he leaned over and pointed at the slips of paper in Luke’s hand.

    “You’ve got a reservation for the 8:30 departure to St. Lambert in Montreal, dated for today.”

    We both looked down at the dancing letters.

    I closed my eyes and nodded. “Right, sorry. Thank you, sir.”

    “Be quick or you’ll miss it,” he reminded us as he waved the next person up to the counter.

    “This font is murder on my eyes,” Luke grumbled as he held the tickets up to his face, squinting. “And why is it so small?” I bit my lip as I scanned the signs, looking for the stenciled letters and numbers on brightly colored circles that would tell me where to go. “I think we have reserved seats? Private car?” He lowered the tickets. “Mr. Moneybags getting us first class?”

    “I didn’t buy Amtrak tickets,” I said tensely. “Our tickets were swapped.”

    And I didn’t even feel it happen.

    Fuck.

    Luke nodded and then he registered what I said. He turned sharply on his heel, scanning the entire station for anything out of the ordinary.

    “God or monster?” He asked sharply as Artemis thumped in her carrier.

    “First class tickets,” I shrugged. “Probably god. Don’t challenge them.”

    Whoever it is.

    We were both quiet as we checked in, registered our carry on bags and got Artemis’ carrier checked. Luke pulled out this vintage lighter from his pocket (maybe a weapon. He’s not crazy) absently flipping the cap on and off as we shuffled through the rows and rows of seats behind our attendant.

    She seemed like a nice lady with mousy brown hair and wide hazel eyes. She probably didn’t deserve Luke eyeing her like she was going to sprout fangs, a tail and second head but…

    Lowkey, I was doing that too.

    She chattered about the amenities of our private sleeping room and the services that came with our tickets as she showed off how to flip the seats into a bunk bed.

    “Breakfast starts at 6:30. There is a last call for dinner due to the train schedule.” She looked at us earnestly. Probably not a monster?

    Something was stopping me from being sure about that, which wasn’t a good sign. I didn’t put my bag down and after glancing at me, Luke didn’t either.

    “Usually dinner ends at 9 o’ clock sharp, but it's been extended by fifteen minutes.” Her name tag read Alice and she was clearly trying. “I can show you to the Dining Car if you want to get something before the kitchen closes?”

    Luke shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

    “I could eat,” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

    My stomach chose that moment to demand more offerings. My cheesy pretzel had only appeased it for a half hour.

    “So could I,” I admitted.

    This was a classic Mouse Trap.

    Hungry demigods (or full gods) are lured into doing something they really shouldn’t because they were promised something tasty. One of the oldest tricks in the book.

    Because it fucking worked.

    My stomach felt like it was trying to eat itself and I knew my half-melted Snickers in my backpack were not going to help.

    Luke lifted the carrier so we could all see the rabbit. Her nose was twitching like crazy as she sniffed around her carrier, but when she noticed we were looking she froze like a deer in headlights.

    “Verdict?” Luke asked.

    The rabbit shrugged.

    We turned back to Alice, who had a very confused, very strained smile on.

    We’re not crazy. We’re demigods.

    “Lead the way,” Luke said with a frown.

    “If we meet anyone, let me talk,” I said.

    Luke nodded. “I understand. I won’t say anything.”

    Luke was also a goddamn liar in need of duct tape because the moment we got to the Dining Car, he zeroed in on the lone passenger seated at a table and snarled out,

    “What the fuck are you doing here?”

    The definitely-goddess with short, curling black hair under a black and red baseball cap tilted her head back. “And who do I look like to you?”

    I spoke up before Luke did something stupid.

    “Your eyes are awesome.” I complimented her.

    Imagine two mirrors facing each other, reflecting the same image between them in an endless corridor. Now imagine the image being reflected were teeth. Two endless corridors of gnashing fangs, needle hooks, serrated shark teeth and grinding molars. Her pupils were the centers of the infinite gullets.

    The goddess had a vaguely familiar lop-sided troublemaker smile. Who did I know that smiled like that?

    “Thank you, uncle.”

    Okay.

    That narrowed things down by a lot, but that still left way too many.

    “Your welcome, niece,” I said with a forced smile as I squinted at her black leather jacket and blood red shirt. “Sorry, I must have missed you at the last family reunion? So I have no idea who you are.”

    Luke did a double take and squinted as well.

    “So not Hermes,” he whispered.

    Hermes?

    Wait.

    “Wait,” I said out loud, holding up a hand as the goddess opened her mouth. “Let me guess.”

    I walked towards her table as I examined her. Everything else could change but her eyes. Maybe this was a stretch, but they reminded me of the drooling mouths of Night’s shadow. The more I thought about it, the better I felt about that guess. Hair color didn’t mean anything, but she did cast a very dark shadow.

    One of Nyx’s.

    “Nemesis?” I ventured and the forgotten car attendant let out a low chuckle as she passed us, holding menus.

    “So not just a pretty boy?” ‘Alice’ asked teasingly.

    “Are we seriously going to use the word pretty?” I gave Whatever-The-Fuck-She-Is a flat look as I pretended to scratch the side of my neck. I was about five seconds from unsheathing Damocles.

    Nemesis snorted. The teeth in her eyes shifted as she looked over us both before gesturing towards the seats across from her. “I am willing to swear on Earth, Heaven and the River Styx that I mean you no harm, uncle.”

    I wasn’t the one I was worried about though.

    “Don’t bother with that little stick, boy.” ‘Alice’ rolled her eyes at Luke. “You are not worth the effort.”

    Luke ground his teeth and the handle of Artemis’ carrier creaked.

    I sighed.

    She could be like Mr. D and his perfect mortal guise? Another goddess playing second fiddle to Nemesis, Daughter of Night? Immortal spirit or monster? Probably a monster? I couldn’t see a spirit pulling off a convincing human act.

    I sucked on the inside of my cheek.

    Fucking ‘Alice.’

    “Alecto?”

    Luke gasped and then glared. The Fury eyed me. “Not just a pretty boy at all.

    I scowled at her.

    “Sit,” Nemesis invited us. “You have a long trip ahead of you.” She glanced at Alecto who handed Luke the menu. After a long moment, he stuffed his lighter back into his pants pocket and took it. “And I hope you succeed in your Quest.”

    “Really,” I drawled as I shoved my backpack against the wall and sat. “All this just to see me off? You could have stopped by Camp sometime over the last forty eight hours? Ethan would have loved it.”

    Luke hissed through his teeth as he sat, but thankfully he didn’t say anything.

    “Yes,” was all Nemesis said.

    The goddess of Vengeance, Balance and Retribution had not been spanked enough as a kid. I was telling Erebus that in my next postcard for the holidays. Might be an awkward Thanksgiving at Nyx’s house, but damn it.

    “If you are willing, we would add additional objectives to your Quest for the Master Bolt,” my niece said as we grudgingly opened our menus. “Consider it an official request from the Lord of the Underworld.”

    Fucking what.

    Luke froze and I looked towards Alecto, who was leaning on the table on the other side of the aisle.

    “The Master Bolt was stolen during the Winter Solstice,” was all the Fury said.

    In other words, the one day of the year Hades is allowed on Olympus. He lost something important enough to flag down Questing demigods for it on the same day Zeus Bolt was stolen with reason to believe Questers looking for that would find his toy too.

    “What the fuck is Olympus using for security?” I muttered. Either the thief was a literal god (not possible) to swipe two symbols of power in one night under the gods’ noses. Or this was the equivalent of securing the nuclear football with a Post-It Note saying ‘donut steel’ and a Chinese Finger Trap. “Fucking shitty padlocks?”

    Luke swallowed a laugh.

    “Their hubris has been repaid,” Nemesis allowed. “Do what you will with the Bolt.”

    That sounded like Hades’ hubris had been repaid.

    Zeus was still in the red.

    “I will.” Once I figured out what I wanted to do with it. “Alecto, I get it now, but what do you want?”

    Hades couldn’t really order Nemesis to do anything. Neither could Zeus or Poseidon, making her something of a free agent. She was Balance. She had to be. Also?

    She said ‘objectives.’ Plural.

    “Two things,” the goddess admitted. “Firstly, I am curious about the demigod Mother has taken to.” Her grinding eyes looked at me like she was memorizing every detail. “It seems she has taken an interest in your development.”

    “More than an interest,” Alecto murmured. The hazel of her eyes burned away to reveal brimstone. “It’s as if he’s a lost pup, can you feel it? She’s touched him.”

    “What?” I said dumbly.

    Was that - was that what Hypnos had been trying to tell me last night?

    And instead of explaining, he just laughed at me.

    Like a jerk.

    “And he didn’t go mad.” Nemesis sounded almost impressed. “It seems our brother does have a decent taste in friends after all.”

    “Talk about a backhanded compliment,” I complained.

    There was an amused tug at the corner of her mouth. Ethan’s mother tilted her head towards our menus.

    “Order. I can hear your stomach from here.” I coughed a little. “Perhaps a salad as well,” Nemesis told Alecto. “For the sister of the Sun.”

    Wait, how did she - oh. The Goddess of Retribution probably knew the second Mom rabbited Artemis.

    I am not gonna lie.

    It was a little weird telling Alecto, the Persecution and eldest of the Furies, to go get me a sandwich.

    A BLT, extra bacon and fries.

    Luke was an extra picky four year old, changing his mind at least three times and being very specific with his shrimp scampi. I am pretty sure it was just to annoy the Daughter of Night for some reason? The food was actually really good. She might be a terrifying bat lady monster, but she knew her way around a kitchen.

    We let a very reluctant Artemis out onto the table for the large plate of greens and a few blueberries. The rabbit’s ears were spread and flat against her back. She was crouching and didn’t move from where Luke put her, staring at her dinner. Was she shaking?

    “Artemis?” I whispered and she let out a short, keening wail.

    Nemesis flashed a smile filled with teeth.

    “I have not forgotten about you,” the goddess purred. “Eat. It would be absolutely tragic if you were to starve.” That didn’t seem to help. The bunny was practically vibrating. “I have a great amount of respect for you, Daughter of Leto. You have always been so very committed to getting what you deserve.

    Ouch.

    “Mom just thinks she’s funny,” I mumbled around some fries.

    “Perhaps we should convince her to write the punchline to more jokes,” Alecto said with a side glance at the frozen rabbit and Luke tried to laugh around a mouthful of pasta.

    Don’t do that.

    It doesn’t work.

    Once he was sure he wasn’t dying anymore, he pointed at the Fury with his fork. “I still don’t like you.”

    She rolled her eyes.

    “Mother taking passing interest as the Night would have been impressive enough,” Nemesis cut in. “But she - “ Her eyes flickered to Luke. “ - bothered to offer you a measure of protection from us. Her children.”

    “...no more Hellhound attacks?” I asked hopefully.

    “...less.”

    I’ll fucking take it!

    “Grandmother must have invested quite a bit in your birth, which makes it all the more interesting.”

    “Because I’m a demigod.” I’ve heard that before, from Apollo. He was used to demigods being throw-aways. Dad set him straight.

    Alecto scoffed. “Try spawn.”

    Rude.

    “Demigod,” Luke snapped. He flinched, but held his ground when the Fury’s burning eyes shifted to him.

    “Reaaally,” she said.

    “I bleed red,” I muttered.

    Nemesis frowned and shared a glance with Alecto.

    “Not all mortals are human,” the goddess said quietly. I frowned. I knew that. Cliff was mortal. “I suppose we shall see. Grandmother clearly has a plan for you.” A slightly satisfied expression came over her face. “At the expense of the Fates’ plan. And mine.”

    I frowned.

    “That’s why you Claimed Ethan, isn’t it?” I asked with a sinking feeling.

    “He was made for a role that is no longer required,” Nemesis confirmed and beside me Luke stiffened. “A pity. I invested quite a bit in that boy.”

    “What…” I began slowly. “Did you need him to do that meant you let him inherit a lot, but didn’t want to Claim him?”

    That annoyingly familiar smile came back. “Force my hand.”

    Uh.

    What?

    “I am Balance,” Nemesis explained. “Does Olympus seem balanced to you?” Luke snorted. “I enjoy tearing down the proud and powerful, but the Fates have seen fit to restrict me. I will not let Mother be the arbiter of my Domain - “ Good call. Nyx being in charge of Greek karma sounds like a terrible idea “- and so I must make do. Demigods are loopholes.” She pinned me with this look I didn’t know how to parse. “Remember that.”

    “Okay…” I mopped up the rest of my sandwich and fries. “You still haven’t said what you want.”

    “I want you to continue on your Quest, succeed and receive your due.” Nemesis eyes trailed to the rabbit on the table. “Without her.”

    “Um.”

    I did not expect that.

    “This train will not reach the US - Canada border,” Nemesis stated and Luke went still. “There will be a technical difficulty and all passengers will be asked to transfer to another at the station. There will be a ten minute layover. Leave her, or die with her.”

    Artemis whimpered, shuffling back towards Luke. My brain stopped working for a minute. That was why Apollo had looked so defeated. That was why his sister had been so depressed. Artemis had to eat and use the bathroom, because she was fucking mortal.

    Mom turned her into a regular rabbit.

    She can die.

    “Wa - wait, can’t we talk this over?” I tried. “I’m sure she did some, uh, shit in the past but Mom gave her this Quest - “

    “You will have problems of your own to handle. It is out of respect for your mother that I am telling you this at all, uncle,” Nemesis said blankly as her dark shadow crept up her red shirt. “Choice and consequence is her Domain.”

    What was left behind was a seething mass of snapping, grinding teeth, inky shadows spilling from between the cracks like blood. Luke hissed, turning away and shutting his eyes as if someone had shined a spotlight in his face.

    “V̶e̴n̸g̷e̷a̷n̶c̶e̶ ̷i̸s̸ ̵m̷i̶n̸e̵.̶”

    Her shadow shattered into a billion pieces, making me flinch. When I opened my eyes, she was gone and Alecto was once again a hazel eyed train attendant. Before she left, the disguised Fury reached across the table to nudge the salad plate back in front of Artemis with a malicious grin.

    “Enjoy your last meal, huntress.”

    I didn’t say anything as I finished my sandwich. Luke didn’t either until he went to pick up his bread roll. He put it up to his mouth, glanced down at Artemis and sighed, putting it back down.

    “Well, shit.”

    “We can’t abandon her,” I said immediately.

    “Can we afford not to?” Luke asked mildly.

    I turned on him. “We can’t - the Quest - “

    “War, remember?” Luke cut me off. “Millions of people at risk, remember that?” I bit my lip. “And...like it or not, your mother is Fate. We’re Questers, yeah, but it's about you, isn’t it?” Luke savagely bit into his bread roll. “It’s always going to be about you. Not Artemis. Not me.”

    “I’m not leaving you,” I promised the rabbit even as I felt my chest ache as every ounce of fear I thought I got rid of came flooding back.

    I just accepted a lethal side quest.

    Worse.

    A lethal escort quest.

    Mom’s tests were simple.

    There was no such thing as extra credit.

    “You should eat though,” I said thickly. “You’ll need the energy.” The rabbit looked up at me with wide silver eyes, but eventually started nibbling. “We’ll be fine,” I said with false cheer, patting her back. “Didn’t Chiron say you were the best swordsman he’s seen in three hundred years?”

    Luke smiled weakly.

    “That’s right.” He brought out his lighter I saw earlier. Up close, it was actually pretty cool looking. It was made out of bronze and was patterned out of grooves in the metal making gentle curves reminding me of waves. “Hermes gave me this to celebrate that.”

    He frowned at the lighter, before twisting the cap and a shining Celestial Bronze sword sprung out.

    “Whoa.” It was a harpe sword with that characteristic sickle or hook-like extension near the tip. It wasn’t all bronze. There was a thread of greenish-white crystal winding through the blade. “It’s laced with Adamantine,” I said in awe. “Do you know how rare that is?”

    Luke frowned harder. “Like his own sword, huh?”

    “Have you named it?”

    Luke’s face went blank as he stared at the weapon.

    “...ανασώζω.” He said eventually. “Reclaim.”

    I wasn’t going to ask why he chose that name. It seemed personal.

    “Hey,” Luke said softly. “I haven’t gotten the chance to ask, but all those myths about the Titan Lord? That it was a Golden Age for humanity, that he was King of Elysium and all that.” He was still staring at his sword. “You said the Titans didn’t make humanity and he’s still locked away. Does that mean they were lies too?”

    “When the Titans ruled, people lived longer,” I said. “That’s just how we were though. Reaching seven hundred wasn’t rare. Sickness wasn’t really a thing.” I frowned and looked out the window of the Dining Car. It was just black with the occasional flash of light from buildings and lamps. “He ruled well, before he lost his fucking mind. Mom approved of him, I think.”

    She never said it like that, but I got that feeling.

    “He did govern Elysium though. Athena gave him parole.” I frowned as I rested my head against the window, squinting out into the darkness. “Atlas and the others helped Zeus overthrow her and he stabbed them in the back.”

    “Of course,” Luke muttered.

    “I’m going to get Mom and Dad to adopt Apollo,” I decided. “After the Quest.” Artemis squinted at me. “You’ll still be his sister,” I reassured her. “But you might want to ask Demeter to make your thing official too. Two moms aren’t bad to have.”

    The rabbit’s ears drooped a little as she went back to her meal.

    Shit, Leto.

    Right.

    That night, I claimed the top bunk bed to Luke’s rolling eyes and Artemis huddled into a corner. I called Dad, because ghosting my father was not an option, and made small talk. I let him know I was leaving the country in case he got pinged about my passport and that I was traveling with a qualified Camp counselor to run a little errand for Olympus.

    Yes, I prayed to Mom about it.

    She said it's okay.

    Technically true.

    Luke eyed my phone as I put it away. “I want one of those.”

    I laughed. “I’ll ask.”

    Holy fuck, Percy, I thought as my eyes closed. How are you going to get out of this one?
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, wargonzola and 18 others like this.
  21. RollingFire

    RollingFire Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Beautiful.
     
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  22. Threadmarks: My Rabbit Takes a Hike
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction
    I woke up.

    The disorientation that hit me on seeing the roof of the train car was real. I guess some part of me still needed to get with the program. I wasn’t going to be seeing my star studded bedroom wallpaper, or the Celestial Bronze banded ceiling of my room at Camp Half-Blood for a while.

    I thought about going back to sleep.

    What time was it?

    I had no idea when Nemesis’ vengeance would kick in and stop our train. So that meant...go back to sleep.

    After I used the bathroom!

    I learned a long time ago that there was zero point to holding it. Use the toilet now, so you don’t have to use a bush or the back of a dumpster later. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in that awkward moment of waiting for something to happen, but trust me, it beats needing to hide from a hungry hydra, trying to be absolutely still and then suddenly realizing you needed to pee.

    Bad.

    I put my sunglasses on and slipped off my bunk.

    Then I rushed to the bathroom. Amtrak was guilty of the same crime frequently committed by airports and medical clinics:

    Putting the air conditioning five degrees above freezing.

    The cold does funny things to your bladder.

    After I finished my business, I crept back into the main compartment and blinked in surprise.

    Luke in the bottom bunk bed slept like he expected to be attacked. He was curled around his pillow with his back to the wall and oddly tense. Like he was trying to stop himself from moving in his sleep and wanted to take up as little space as possible.

    It wasn’t until I saw Artemis’ small form at the foot of his bed that I remembered that kids in Cabin 11 shared bunks. There weren't enough beds for them all, and some still had to sleep on the floor.

    That - that was what he was doing. Luke trained himself to sleep like that. To not bother anyone and to be as small as his six foot, eighteen year old frame could be. And I - I have never felt more spoiled in my entire life.

    I slowly walked towards the bunk bed.

    Artemis woke up as soon as the step ladder to the top bunk creaked under my foot. She panicked a little, swinging her head and ears around as she tried to free her front paw from the sheets.

    “Hey,” I called softly. “It’s just me.”

    She slowly calmed down, then shuffled even further towards the end of Luke’s bunk like she would catch on fire if he so much as twitched in her general direction. I smiled a little.

    “Comfy?” I teased her.

    The rabbit’s eyes narrowed.

    “Sorry,” I said quickly. “Were you cold?” I got a very reluctant nod. “Okay, give me a second.” I quickly climbed the ladder just enough to grab my jacket from under my pillow. “Here,” I whispered as I threw it over her. The jacket reshaped itself into a red woolen rabbit sweater with a hood fitting around her ears and a small stitched golden reindeer chasing a crescent moon on the side. “It can’t be cut or torn,” I said uncomfortably as the rabbit stared at me. “It absorbs some of the impact too, not all of it, but it will help.” I shuffled from one foot to the other. “Help you not die, I mean. Just don’t get hit really hard. Or at all.” I needed to stop talking. “Um...yeah. Good night.”

    I escaped back to my bed.

    I tried to Dream again when I fell back asleep, but I wasn’t headed for the Dreamlands. Morpheus burbled at me curiously. Something that felt like ‘back again?’

    It took me a bit to respond properly.

    It wasn’t really a language thing. I could talk to Hypnos just fine. I’m not sure what it was, exactly. Maybe a mindset thing? You don’t really ‘speak’ while Sleeping. The physical isn’t a thing and you’re way too far in Hypnos’ influence for that. It’s like the difference between talking to Poseidon as a person and talking to Poseidon as a clam in his realm. English is useless.

    Hypnos and I got on just fine though. And his mom seemed to understand me pretty well even if the other way around was a bit odd. The thing is, there has always been a separation between Morpheus and I. We were still buddies, don’t get me wrong.

    It’s just that his father Hypnos and I were Greek.

    Morpheus was Roman.

    The difference between Hypnos of the Greek pantheon and Somnus of the Roman was...they used different letters to spell their name. There wasn’t a difference. Hypnos wasn’t a Young God. The Roman Name was just an avatar. I think the only reason he even bothered was his Roman wife. I don’t know if Nyx even knew she had a Roman name. It was kind of new. Mom knew about hers. She acknowledged it was a thing.

    Her Celtic dudebros got kind of shit stomped by the Romans. Many of whom also had Greek Names.

    Like Jupiter had Zeus.

    Made things a little awkward for her at one point.

    ‘Somnus’ gave his son a Greek name because he didn’t give a shit about the pantheon divide.

    It mattered to Morpheus though.

    Good Dream? I carefully mumbled at him. The lesser dream spirits avoided me. If I wanted to Dream like a mortal, I had to have some help. Morpheus responded with surprise and concern as he drew me close. Please?

    More of his concern sparkled on me, but he shifted. His presence solidified, twisting and then I was looking at a man in long black robes with permanent bed-head gray hair, scruff on his chin and blue eyes the same shade as Clovis’.

    He studied me for a long moment.

    Just when I thought he was going to refuse, he reached for me and then -

    I woke up in my bed.

    My actual bed. The one I had at home, in our apartment under the sparkling band of the Milky Way on my ceiling as space ships like the Battlestar Galactica, the Event Horizon, the Death Star, Lego Millennium Falcon, and Lego Enterprise hung on their transparent strings.

    I got up and noticed I was in fuzzy Wookie pajama pants and a white T-shirt. My pants were a little too short on me. Dad made me throw these out, I remembered. I exited my room and saw a hazy Manhattan skyline underneath sleepy, gray clouds and falling snow in our windows.

    I heard someone’s voice. Was that - ?

    With my heart in my throat, I crept into the living room.

    “ - he’ll be fine,” Dad was saying sleepily with his head leaning against Mom’s. I reflexively looked away, before remembering that I was Dreaming. This was an illusion. I wouldn’t see their ghosts. I cautiously turned back. They were sitting on the loveseat by the couch sharing a duvet blanket in front of the lit fireplace like they were on the Hallmark channel in their matching black pajama shirts. Sitting side by side, the white arrows on their chests pointed towards each other. I didn’t have to read it to know what it said. I know the shirts. It just said: Mine.

    “I believe that,” Dad murmured into Mom’s black hair. “We raised a badass.”

    Mom hummed as she snuggled into his shoulder. “Because I insisted. You kept saying he was too young.”

    “He was!” Dad protested, pulling back a little. “I reserve the right to be concerned about my three year old with a huge scorpion in his crib. That’s not a sign he’s ready to be killing monsters.”

    “That three year old didn’t scream or cry when he killed it,” Mom pointed out smoothly, taking his hand in hers. “Unlike someone I know.”

    I blinked back tears as I heard Dad groan and half-heartedly try to defend himself before finally grumpily admitting,

    “That’s fair.”

    The corner of my mother’s lips curled up in amusement as she looked away and saw me standing there, staring at them like they were going to disappear. She held her arm out and I carefully squeezed in next to her. Her arm settled around my shoulders and I knew I was crying.

    It’s stupid.

    I’m stupid.

    I’ve only been away for a month.

    “Is that Percy?” Dad sounded very tired and sleepy.

    “It is,” Mom said softly as she rubbed the tears off my cheek with her thumb.

    “He’ll be fine, right?” My father slurred as his eyes closed and he slumped against us. “You promised.”

    Mom just smiled this little smile and squeezed his hand.

    “I greatly prefer your father physically and mentally well enough to raise you,” she said without prompting and Dad snorted softly. I heard a faint ‘love you too, beautiful’ from him, making her expression soften. “He is important to me,” she said quietly. “But not as important as you.”

    I looked up in surprise.

    And saw a hundred bloody, painful deaths in her black diamond eyes.

    That - wait.

    This wasn’t an illusion.

    Mom?”

    She was actually here. In my Dream.

    “And…” Suddenly, Dad’s question - ‘he’ll be fine, right?’ - meant so much more. “Dad?”

    “We are in his Dream,” my mother confirmed as her eyes drifted back to her husband. She laid her head back onto his shoulder. “Try not to wake him,” she whispered. “He needs this.”

    “But - “ I sputtered. I had no idea how I ended up here. “I didn’t - “

    “Morpheus,” Mom said absently. “He sent you to me reeking of doubt and…” I swallowed thickly, curling into her. “Fear.”

    I flinched.

    “It’s nothing,” I said quietly into her side. “Just a bit homesick.”

    “I understand.” She hummed and gently rubbed the back of my neck. We sat like that for a while. All three of us before the fireplace like we had turned back the clock and it was just a few days before Christmas again. Back then, I was trying to guess what my Christmas presents were, was looking forward to Dad’s days off work and was slowly writing out holiday cards to my grandparents. Like any other kid.

    Now, I couldn’t stop thinking about how that snowy Manhattan skyline would change if Olympus went to war.

    It wasn’t even about the Quest. Not really. Even if I didn’t die for Zeus’ ego, and even if Sam managed to keep Kronos in the freezer, Athena wasn’t going to wait forever.

    And there was this Prophecy…

    “I can hear you thinking,” Mom said softly.

    I bit my lip.

    “Percy?” She prompted, squeezing me about my shoulders.

    “I’m a little scared,” I admitted.

    “About?”

    I shrugged uncomfortably. “Dying, I guess.”

    Mom blinked and dragged her eyes away from Dad’s face. “...why?”

    I frowned.

    Why?

    I had to take a second to remember that my mother was literally older than dirt and all of my siblings were gods.

    “Pain is pretty bad,” I said dryly. I watched her eyes light up as she glanced back at my father. Uh oh. I knew that look. “Filter,” I warned her. “I don’t need to know.” That one side of her lips curled up. “Filter.”

    “You have never feared pain,” Mom said curiously, rolling her eyes at me instead of traumatizing me with whatever horror she was thinking of. Again. “Are you sure that’s it?”

    I shrugged again and picked at the fuzzies on the duvet blanket.

    I guess not.

    Pain was bad, but...I wasn’t scared of it. If I got hurt enough to die, that would suck, but then it would be over and I knew there was an afterlife. It wasn't like I was going to disappear. Dying trying to help someone would probably be enough to push me over the line to qualify for Elysium? That wouldn’t be too bad. I wouldn’t be able to leave the Underworld, but I could still get visits!

    Cliff would end up in Tartarus maybe, but that wasn’t too far away. My other friends were aiming for Elysium too. I would have to wait for Dad, but Mom could see me whenever.

    There was a painful lump forming in my throat.

    “Figured it out?”

    I did.

    Dying wasn’t the problem.

    I was afraid…

    I was afraid of proving my half-sisters, the Fates, right. That Mom never should have had me. That I wasn’t worth it. That I didn’t make a difference and didn’t matter. I was afraid of being forgotten. I was afraid of disappointing her. I was afraid that Mom didn’t expect much from me, compared to her immortal children. My siblings.

    I wasn’t afraid of death.

    I was afraid...that if I put myself into a dangerous situation and I actually died, that meant Mom didn’t love me like I thought she did.

    It was stupid.

    Wasn’t it?

    “I just don’t want to disappoint you,” I mumbled.

    “Oh, Percy,” Mom sighed fondly. “You may fail me, but you could never disappoint me.”

    My breath caught and I looked up at her. “Really?”

    “Really really,” she said easily. “You exceeded even my wildest hopes the moment you were born.”

    “How?”

    Even as I asked, I just knew it was going to be something full of Kraft cheese about parents and their kids, or mother’s and their sons or whatever.

    But instead, Mom gestured and the wall and windows of our penthouse fell away, replaced by an image of the swirling cosmos. Have you ever been in a planetarium? It was like that, except everything was HD. I felt like if I reached out, I would burn myself on some of these stars. I stared in awe at the planets and nebulas around and eventually, my gaze was drawn to the very center.

    Where there was nothing.

    A large void hung there in the center of the sparkling beauty. Just an empty hole.

    No.

    Not empty.

    The more I stared, the more the void started to gain details and texture, even if everything in my mind was screaming that there was nothing there, I could see it. Some massive, dark thing was in the center, mindless devouring everything that was helplessly drawn into its reach. Clouds of space dust, asteroids, planets...stars.

    Mom was looking up at it too.

    “The moment you were born, I could tell that your mortality allowed you to take after your grandfather.” My grandfather? I thought - well, myths say Ananke was born from Chaos, but Ananke herself was just a name for an older Elder God. Maybe she meant Chaos though?

    Chaos is my granddad?

    Whoa.

    “My little Perseus,” Mom murmured as she held me close. “I could not be more pleased with you.”

    I grinned at her, but I couldn’t keep my eyes away from that devouring void.

    “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

    I absently nodded.

    We watched it together for who knows how long. An hour? Maybe two? Then the sound of a loud, piercing alarm ran through my head and the Dream shattered like glass.

    I woke up to the lights of our private train car flickering on as the brief alarm died. I snatched my glasses up. There was a thump under my butt and a curse as Luke hit his head. I smiled a little, but the ice growing in my chest made it wither. The intercom crackled.

    “Hello, this is your conductor speaking,” a man’s voice said calmly as I slipped off my bunk with my backpack. “I’m sure you all heard that alarm, but please do not be concerned. We are having some technical difficulties and will be pulling into Plattsburgh Amtrak Station.”

    Luke caught my eye as he shoved his feet into his sneakers, but he didn’t say anything. I didn’t either. Artemis whimpered, beginning to tremble in place. Hermes' son raised his eyebrows when he saw her sweater, but that didn’t stop him from picking her stiff form up and putting her back in her carrier as the conductor continued speaking.

    He didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

    We didn’t reach the border. They had called ahead and there would be a regular train that would take us through customs at Rouses Point all the way to St.Lambert in Montreal. Amtrak would meet us there for the rest of the trip to Quebec City and back down to New York for those with round trip tickets.

    Expected layover time: ten minutes.

    It was still dark out with the faint glow in the horizon that said it was maybe three to four o’ clock?

    Of course it’s dark, I thought. Nemesis was still the daughter of the Night and my half-brother, the Darkness. If it wasn’t like she couldn’t send monsters after a rabbit in broad daylight, because she could. It didn’t need to be nighttime for Nemesis to use a shadow to drop a monster on us. It’s just - I don’t know.

    Artemis had been scared from the start. She knew.

    It was dark.

    I have a bad feeling about this.

    Really bad.

    I quickly ran through my morning routine and even offered Luke my spare toothbrush. It helped with the anxiety. If I was going to be eaten by a monster, at least I would still have my sparkling smile!

    Luke sighed as he wrapped his toothbrush in a napkin and shoved it into his backpack’s front pocket. “You’re still going to try to protect her, aren’t you?”

    I nodded slowly.

    “Fine,” Luke said shortly and pursed his lips. “How? Take her on the train with you?”

    My gut clenched.

    “Can’t,” I said quietly. “That would put everyone else in danger.”

    There were more than a few monsters in Greek mythology that could casually derail a moving train. That was assuming it wasn’t derailed by my niece herself by breaking the track or something. Remember, no direct smiting, but that kind of shit was fair game and I was sure in a train full of people, there would be at least one Nemesis wouldn’t mind getting rid of as well to justify it.

    Which sucks for everyone else on that train, but hey, she’ll make it up by blessing others with good fortune to maintain the Balance so it…

    It would still suck for everyone else on that train.

    Luke eyed me. “So no train, you can’t fly, your only real option is stealing a car and do you even know how to drive?”

    “The basics,” I defended myself weakly. I mean, it would be very illegal, but demigod. Obeying mortal laws come a really far third to getting the Quest done and not dying. “But, uh, don’t suppose you have a How To For Dummies book hidden somewhere on hotwiring cars?”

    “You’re going to hoof it,” Luke said flatly. “Across the border to Quebec City, on foot, while defending a rabbit from monsters.”

    Remember when I said I accepted a lethal escort quest?

    Literally what I did.

    “I guess,” I mumbled. There was a faint, high pitched squeal as the train put on the brakes and began to slow down.

    Almost there.

    Luke stared at me disbelievingly. “Why are you risking so much for that?”

    I rocked back a little in surprise. His ‘that’ came out really strong as he jabbed a finger towards Artemis in her carrier. It wasn’t enough to replace the word with a curse, like shit or something. The anger behind it was raw and disgusted and bitter. He said ‘that’ the same way that butthurt-over-Germany-losing neighbor of my grandparents said ‘Jew.’

    Luke seemed to realize it, taking a calming breath and shaking his head once. “Millions of innocent people are on the line here, Percy,” he said in this even, soothing voice. “Her Domains can be covered by others. Hecate the Moon, Lelantos the Hunt and Wilderness - “ I knew that name. He was Leto’s twin brother, a Titan. “Perhaps Hestia can watch over Maidens in her stead?”

    Yes, but -

    But actually no?

    “I’m not worried about that, it’s just - “ I shifted from one foot to the other. “What about her Hunters?”

    “Hestia can take care of them too,” Luke said easily. “She’s the goddess of Virginity and Family, after all.” Luke’s blue eyes looked straight into mine. For a second, I forgot I was wearing my sunglasses. “Have you thought about how your parents would react if you got yourself killed?”

    I didn’t want to.

    I could almost see Mom’s face.

    She never looked disappointed. Mom didn’t really do the angry parent thing. She’s never grounded me in my entire life, no matter what kind of stupidity I got up to. It probably helped that she knew sometimes I’m just a dumbass and she could see it coming. Instead I would just get this blank, almost confused look for a few seconds like she didn’t know who I was.

    Or couldn’t believe I was hers.

    The ice in my chest was so cold, it was hard to breathe.

    Ringing in my head was Dad’s sleepy “He’ll be fine, right? You promised.’

    I was a demigod.

    But Dorian Stele had never wanted his son to be anyone’s hero.

    He would say that I should think of keeping myself safe first. I’m twelve. It’s not my responsibility. Do what I had to, survive, and come home. Heroes are for stories, songs and tabletop campaigns. He’s never been shy about letting me know that Mom and I were his world. The rest of it can burn, as long as we’re okay.

    He doesn’t understand that I just can’t.

    Mom would protect Dad, but if I die, I think he will break. I can’t do that to him. I can’t disappoint Mom. I can’t abandon Artemis. I can’t hurt my father. I can’t ignore someone that needs my help. I can’t fail Mom. I can’t. I can’t.

    Ï̵̝ ̷͕̂c̴̰̀́á̷͈͝ǹ̵̘'̴͎̤̚t̸̪̺͐.̶̢̒̈́

    “Percy!”

    I snapped out of...whatever just happened to see Luke looking down at me in concern. He had both hands on my shoulders and they ached a little, so he must have been shaking me. I blinked slowly up at him.

    “Hi,” I said blankly. “What the fuck just happened?”

    Luke eyed me as he slowly let go of my shoulders. “You tell me. It was like you were having a seizure.”

    “And you shook me?”

    Luke threw up his hands. “I didn’t know what else to do! Slap you out of it?”

    I was saved from having to answer by our private car door opening. On the other side was our attendant ‘Alice’ who wore a pleasant smile and an elderly couple with suitcases.

    “We have reached Plattsburgh, New York,” the disguised Fury said simply. I bit my lip. I hadn’t even noticed we’d stopped. “We are requiring all passengers to disembark.”

    Luke and I exchanged glances.

    I picked up Artemis’ carrier and followed the tall blond demigod out into the train corridor where we were shuffled along to the open doors out into open air. I stared up at the building. The Plattsburgh Amtrak Station was an old looking building made out of red brick with some kind of turret and towers like it was a castle. A big orange sign with an arrow pointing towards the doors leading into the building was in front of us.

    “All passengers of Adirondack Amtrak Line are invited to use the waiting rooms in the station until the replacement train arrives,” Alecto said, saving us the trouble of having to read. She checked the elderly couple for their tickets and identification for customs, then ushered them forwards. She then turned to me. “Have you decided?”

    I can’t leave Artemis to die.

    “Yeah,” I nodded. Then I blurted out, “It’s not you coming after her, is it?”

    Alecto just smiled and dismissed us with a polite wave, her eyes fixed on the carrier in my hand. “Bye, honey.

    I tried to feel good about it as we entered the building. Sam hadn't hung me out to dry when we went to see my mother on the moon, right? He even got banished for it! How could I do less than my cat? And - and Dad said Mom promised I would be fine, right? And she said I would be back at Trinity for the next school year! So I’m definitely going to live through this. She must know I’m going to be a bit stupid, so this was fine.

    And I’ve got that Prophecy! If the Great Prophecy was about me, it would be hard to die at sixteen if I was already dead at twelve.

    And Prophecies always mean what we think they do, don’t they? Kronos’ voice mocked me.

    You shut up.

    Mom does not lie.

    I was going to get through this.

    The real problem was making sure Artemis does too.

    Luke stopped at some empty seats in the lounging area of the train station. They were old style square chairs with right angle arm rests and plaid cushions. I stopped too, but for a different reason.

    “You go on ahead, Luke,” I said as confidently as I could. “We’ll catch up.”

    Luke froze in the act of putting his bag down by his chair. “Percy,” he said, completely exasperated. “You’re being a dumbass.”

    I shrugged with one shoulder and smiled. “I know.”

    I turned quickly and strode for the doors. Behind me, I heard Luke curse, but that didn’t matter. I pushed the front doors open and Plattsburgh, New York lay sprawled out before us.

    It was a quaint little town, the kind that had less than twenty thousand people with that typical colonial look common in the North East United States. Old fashioned houses and buildings with wooden placards with short street lamps that had flame shaped light bulbs. The whole place looked like it would give off a nice cozy feeling in the morning, but right now the dead streets, dim lights and wide open spaces gave it the appearance of a ghost town.

    By that I mean, where you can either find a ghost or become one.

    I scanned the town again, looking for anything at all that could help me. I started walking along the street, looking for a good vantage point. Artemis shuddered so hard in the carrier that the entire thing vibrated against my hand.

    “It’s going to be okay,” I told her. “Trust me.”

    I don’t know how long I walked, maybe five or six minutes before I was able to see that there was a river running through the town. I could follow it to where it fed into Lake Champlain which separated this part of New York from Vermont.

    There!

    Thank god for squat colonial buildings. Far in the distance and across the river was a very tall narrow building with a tapering tip.

    An obelisk.

    As soon as I saw that, it was like I drank 3 large expressos with extra cream and a Red Bull energy drink. The ice melted completely, replaced by the pace of my heart speeding up as this jittery feeling ran down my limbs. A million thoughts whirled about in my head, but there was one screaming really loudly:

    I can do this.

    An obelisk is supposed to represent a frozen ray of sunlight, a symbol of illumination and veneration. But Apollo wasn’t the god these structures called upon.

    It was Ra.

    It didn’t have to be an original, but it did have to hold some meaning. And in a small, Northeastern town like this that still clung to its colonial roots? I had a good feeling that the tower was a proper monument or a memorial, not just a cheap tourist attraction. And just like the pyramids, a proper obelisk can be used as a portal using Egyptian magic. I wasn’t an Egyptian, but I did have one on speed dial.

    I set Artemis’ carrier down on the curb and then searched around in my backpack for my phone.

    “I have a plan,” I told the frightened rabbit. “Everything sucks, but you’re mortal and that will work in our favor.” Artemis whimpered, trembling. “I mean it,” I said breathlessly as my fingers brushed against the cold metal of my bronze and gold tablet. “You can’t just be smited now like you could before and you are on a Quest, so that gives you some protection.”

    Not a lot, but it was something.

    “Once the hunt for you begins, Nemesis can’t intervene.” I pulled my phone out. “You know what that means, right?”

    Artemis stared at me with wide silver eyes from behind the bars of her carrier. Then she jerkily nodded twice.

    This was Nemesis’ chance, but that was all it was.

    A chance.

    We just had to make her blow it.

    “So if we stay three steps ahead of whatever she sends after us, we’ll be fine, because she can’t help her monsters catch up or track us.”

    That was the rule. Just as Young Gods were limited in how much they could help a mortal on a Quest out, they were also limited in how serious their murder attempts on a Questing mortal could be. Artemis was mortal now and I would bet my left leg she’d been grandfathered into those rules, or else Nemesis would have just smited her.

    That’s why the rules of Challenge were so important. Because if you Challenge a god, all of these rules and regulations and whatever else my fucking half-sisters came up with get thrown out the window.

    I rubbed my thumb against the second hieroglyph shaped like a bird.

    “Hope you don’t have anything against Egyptians,” I said a second before that annoying high pitched static sound assaulted my ear drums.

    “What the - Percy?” Cliff’s mumbly voice came through. A second later the noise went away. “Do you know what time it is, man?”

    “Uh, no,” I said. “Early.”

    “Fucking early,” Cliff agreed. “What’s the emergency?”

    “My niece wants to kill my rabbit.”

    There was this dead silence on the other end.

    “...this is going to be good,” Cliff muttered.

    I mean, I was trying to keep the details on a Need To Know basis, but if he was going to be like that, fine. “I’m on a Quest for Olympus and Nemesis has an issue with one of my companions who has been temporarily transformed into a rabbit by my mother.”

    Cliff did that thing where he sucked in air through his teeth. “You have the Rhamnousia on your ass.”

    “My rabbit has the Rhamnousia on her ass,” I corrected him. Artemis began to nibble on the carrier’s door, so I reached over to open it up. “I need to know if you got the emergency teleporter function on my phone worki - hey, wait!”

    Artemis ducked under my hand and bolted.

    “Wait! Artemis! I - “ Her little cotton ball tail disappeared into the brush of the small woods along the edge of the park we were in. She just - she just left. She ran away.

    Trust me.

    I have a plan.

    I turned and kicked the carrier away, sending it crashing into the base of a street lamp.

    “Fuck!”

    “Percy? You okay, man?”

    Luke chose that time to appear, jogging up with an annoyed expression and what might have been a folded map in his hand. My heart leapt into my throat. He followed me! He wasn't willing to just let me do something stupid without him! “Tell me you have some kind of plan, or do I have to knock you out - “ He caught sight of the carrier. His eyes narrowed as he looked around, then back at me. “Where’d she go?”

    Yeah.

    “She ran away,” I said dully. This empty feeling was trying to take root in my stomach. She'd rather take her chances as a rabbit alone, than let me help.

    “Who’s she? The rabbit? You named your rabbit Artemis? Wait - oh shit.”

    Luke crossed his arms over his chest. “You know what the gods of Olympus are like. You really thought she would accept your help? Why?”

    Because Apollo wasn’t like that. Hestia isn’t.

    I thought…

    I guess I’m just stupid.

    "She did us a favor," Luke pointed out ruthlessly. "If she doesn't want to be helped, then let her go."

    “I thought she was different,” I said miserably.

    “Huh?”

    Oh right. “Not you.”

    Luke raised an eyebrow. “What?”

    “Not you either!” I held up my phone. “I’m on a call! I had a plan, but now we’ve got to track down Artemis and make sure she doesn’t get herself killed - “

    “We?” Luke said pointedly.

    Fuck.

    “I - I’ll give you my wish if you help me out protecting Artemis.” I resorted to just straight bribery. I really didn’t have anything to say that would work on Luke. He’s been stuck at the shit show that was Camp Half-Blood for four years and by this point, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t spit on Hermes even if the god was on fire. The first thing he noted to me about Artemis was the ‘infamous for killing men’ part which wasn’t a great first impression, I’m not gonna lie. “I always get a small boon at the end of a te - Quest, and this one is no different. You can have mine. You can ask for whatever you want.”

    “Percy,” Cliff said low and warning. “Your mother is the Serpent, that’s not something you just give aw - “

    “I know,” I cut Cliff off. She's a creator goddess and Fate and Elder God and Luke might ask for something outrageous and knowing her, she'd think it'd be hilarious to just give it to him. “I know, but I can’t - “

    The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

    Luke and I both turned.

    Oh hell.

    “Is that...the Minotaur,” Luke said blankly.

    I swallowed.

    “No. It isn’t.”

    Luke looked at me curiously, then looked back. He squinted. I knew the moment he saw through the Mist because the blood drained from his face as his pupils dilated. He stumbled back, hand flying to his jean pocket for his father’s lighter.

    “What the fuck is that?”

    The monster was vaguely humanoid. It was covered in thick, ropey scar tissue the color of blood, almost looking like it was something that had been flayed alive and all that was left was the muscle fibers stretching over pockmarked and pitted black bones. The main head was eyeless and noseless, just a cone jutting out from a humanoid head, but then it opened like a blooming flower. Slimy, drooling tentacles covered in gaping mouths like the suckers of an octopus waved at us. There were two shrunken heads hanging off its body as it dragged its knuckles on the ground. They were covered in wide, bloodshot eyes wildly rolling around.

    It stepped out of the shadow it had come in, light spilling over every disgusting detail and even though it towered above us by at least three feet, there wasn’t a single sound. Silver scraps of some kind of cloth were barely hanging on for dear life. A tendril extended from one of its mouths and it tongued, or sniffed (?) the carrier. It’s head swiveled suddenly, fixated on the direction a certain rabbit had run off in.

    I was really hoping it would just ignore us.

    Nemesis didn't exactly say it would, not if the 'or die with her' part meant what I thought it meant, but I was hoping.

    Praying.

    “Hey Cliff,” I heard myself say faintly. “I’m going to have to call you back.”

    Mom? I prayed. I might need some help.

    And for the first time in my entire life, there was only silence.
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, wargonzola and 18 others like this.
  23. One-who-reads

    One-who-reads Illuminatus

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    Nice chapter. I don't recognize the description of the monster.
     
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  24. Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    It's an original monster, no worries. If you want an idea of what it looks like, the Demigorgon from Stranger Things is a good base to go off of.
     
    kabs and One-who-reads like this.
  25. One-who-reads

    One-who-reads Illuminatus

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    Thats the mental image I got, just with a Graboid face from Tremors.
     
  26. Valthorix

    Valthorix Making the rounds.

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    What's this over here for? Is it going to be different from the SB version?
     
  27. Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    Not everyone wants to read on or even knows of SB.
     
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  28. Deathreaper355

    Deathreaper355 I must consume.

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    holy shit this is amazing. i fucking loved the percy jackson series and you are giving it justice
     
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  29. Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    Thanks a ton for the compliment! I am hoping Percy himself is still somewhat recognizable to those familiar with the series.
     
  30. Threadmarks: Hitchhiking with ET Going Home
    Shujin

    Shujin Making the rounds.

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    An Undertow of Sand
    A PJO Fanfiction

    It was the sound that got me.

    There wasn’t any.

    The monster took another eerily silent step. A visible shiver ran down its back, like something was moving under its skin as it lazily extended tendrils in our direction. Luke stiffened, shifting into a fighting stance as he freed his lighter from his pocket while I - I did something I haven’t done in years.

    I panicked.

    I froze.

    It must have weighed a couple hundred pounds, but you couldn’t hear anything. It dragged its knuckles on the ground. Its black claws on the hind legs crunched through the pavement as the shrunken heads flailed around, tugging at the main body. And it was completely silent. It was like it wasn’t quite real. In between this reality and somewhere else where what should happen...couldn’t.

    Luke was right there, Cliff was still saying something into my ears and I had never felt so alone. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. It was like I was drowning in molasses as I stared at the monster as my neck thrummed in tension, almost cramping. I was used to the warning coming in bursts, screaming for my attention, but this was a low, steady warning that just being in this thing’s presence was dangerous.

    I have never seen this monster before. I didn’t know what it was.

    I knew my education was incomplete. I’m still only twelve. But these past few weeks, I've gotten used to being the guy who knew more than anyone else and now that I wasn’t - my tests sometimes throw curve balls but they never were - I still knew.

    I didn’t know what to do.

    “Mom?” I whispered as the monster slowly raised a hulking hand and then brought it down. Artemis’ carrier crumpled. The hard plastic snapped under its weight, breaking off around the rivets. The little lattice door twisted off its hinges. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears. I thought I could hear Luke’s heartbeat. The carrier door clattered to the pavement in absolute silence.

    Mom, please.

    “Perce,” Luke whispered harshly and I blinked slowly. She wasn’t answering. Why wasn’t she answering? “Percy.”

    I couldn’t help my shuddering as I tried to swallow the wail threatening to come out of my mouth.

    “Any ideas?” Luke asked. The monster had begun to move towards us with slow, pondering steps. It wasn’t walking in a straight line. It would take a few steps to the left, then double back a step or two and start approaching from the right.

    It felt like it was studying us.

    I don’t know what to do.

    Mom, please, I screamed in my mind. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll let her -

    I choked on ‘die.’

    Mom, please.

    I don’t even know why I was still asking. I don’t know what I was hoping for.

    Mom was Fate.

    And everything comes to an end eventually.

    Percy!”

    “Yeah?” I croaked as I woodenly turned towards Luke. We should run was my dim thought as I looked up at Luke’s frown and the sweat beading on his forehead. I felt numb. “Probably run.”

    Luke’s blue eyes flickered down at me.

    Neither of us moved.

    It was like some small part of our hind brains was digging up every long forgotten prey instinct in the vague hopes of not dying.

    Movement drew a predator’s attention.

    “ - unstable.” Cliff’s voice came into focus. There was a lot of static in the background and whooshing noises, like he was in a wind tunnel but it was probably him moving around like a labrador puppy on caffeine and crack. “It will spit you out somewhere random and probably blow up your phone, but it will work!”

    What?

    My phone.

    My brain came back online.

    Holy fuck, my phone.

    It will work!

    “Thanks, Cliff.” I hung up on him. He’d understand. “There is an obelisk on the other side of the river,” I said quickly out of the corner of my mouth. “We need to grab Artemis - “

    “Why?” He hissed.

    “Because I will give you my boon from my mother if you help me with her. I swear on the River Styx.” The rumbling from that ancient river sounded in the distance as Luke drew a sharp breath in through his nose. The thunder drew the monster’s attention. It paused. The tendrils extending from the petals of its head shifted towards the west.

    I was mostly thinking about how my father would probably ground me forever if he ever heard about my oath.

    “Deal?”

    Luke breathed out.

    And the monster moved.

    It should have been a blur of red and black, like everything else that moved fast. Instead it was like a living slideshow. Like the world glitched. It kind of just...blinked and slid and bent. One moment it was still in the middle of the wide highway. The next half of it was over the median, maybe three feet away leaving its legs behind and one of the shrunken heads hanging in mid air like a broken image and Luke cursed as Reclaim flashed from his lighter and then -

    It was gone.

    It -

    What?

    But -

    Shit.

    I whirled around just in time to see the back of it vanish into the small woods after Artemis.

    “Deal?” I turned on Luke.

    The older boy stared at me with his lips pressed together so hard they were white. He was thinking it through hard.

    Fine,” he said slowly, almost snarling. “Deal.”

    I’ll be honest, as soon as he said ‘fine’ I was already running after the monster. As the small branches slapped at my face and arms, the Styx’s gaze fell on me for a moment. An ice cold shiver, a slight burn of what felt a little like acid crept along my skin.

    Choice and consequence, son of Fate, the ancient river reminded me before her attention faded away.

    Yeah, I know.

    Luke caught up to me in a heartbeat with his son of Hermes-ness.

    “Follow,” he barked.

    He sped up in front of me and then something weird happened? It was like I could feel my stride changing. Wait - I could feel my stride changing. We were running and then as his red vest flapped between the brush in front of me, our footfalls were off beat and then that beat got closer and closer until I was almost stepping into his footprints. Luke was way faster than me, I knew that from experience on the track at Camp but somehow I was keeping up. He was letting me keep up?

    He was making me keep up.

    Hermes Enagonios, I thought just to keep my mind off the ball of ice sitting in my stomach. Hermes of the Games, patron of athletes.

    I followed Luke when he made a sharp left and we spilled out into an abandoned downtown section of Plattsburgh, New York. It probably wasn’t actually abandoned, but it looked like it was at this time of night with flickering lamp lights, dark windows and half the road dug up with construction efforts complete with a bulldozer and trucks filled with gravel.

    My heart fell as I took in where we were.

    There was a river cutting through the town. You could follow it to where it spilled in Lake Cheliak separating this part of New York from Vermont. There was a bridge to cross, but that meant a wide open four lane road and one way to go.

    We weren’t anywhere near the bridge. We were further from the obelisk than when we started. I wanted to think Luke had tricked me into running away from her and I just needed to turn around, scoop her up and get out.

    I just needed -

    Please.

    My gut told me we were right where we wanted to be.

    Artemis was alone and a rabbit. The former goddess of the Hunt. She would try to stay in a comfortable environment where she knew where she was at all times, where nothing would dare hurt her. The one place she would instinctively feel safe.

    Her Domain.

    But she didn’t have that anymore.

    The woods led away from the highway in a circular curve and abruptly cut off here.

    In the opposite direction of where she needed to go.

    As soon as I thought that the old gas station to the right of the road blew up.

    Shards and slabs of the wall and roof just exploded out, pieces flying anywhere as an auburn blur ran for the car garage next door. I saw what might have been an old freezer bounce in the parking lot as glass scattered all over, catching lamplight to sparkle like diamonds on the pavement as the side of the roof collapsed in.

    Without a single sound.

    I yanked Damocles off my necklace. I’ve never seen this monster before. Doesn’t mean it can't die.

    “Artemis!”

    What I got back was a shrieking, piercing howl. The rabbit bolted for the small opening under the car garage’s door as the monster glitched behind her, raising a lazy hand and I needed to be there. I tried to push more speed out of my legs, knowing that it wasn’t going to be enough - I had to be -

    Then I was there, at least fifteen feet from where I should have been, my spidey sense screaming, kicking Artemis under the door as I raised Damocles just in time to deflect the hit.

    Tried to deflect it.

    It felt like being hit by a speeding ice cream truck. The pavement, or maybe it was my ankle, cracked underneath me. Damocles sung as my arms immediately went dead. My right shoulder wrenched in its socket as I spun with the blow, crashing back into the garage door so hard I could hear the metal hinges squeal as it buckled.

    Damocles tugged at my arm and I swung with it, hearing some kind of whale song from the bone blade as it hit something.

    I only knew I hit it because I felt the impact echo back down my arm.

    It was still completely silent.

    The screaming warning at the back of my neck fell back into the low thrum of tension. When my everything stopped ringing, I was able to see the damage.

    The monster had backed off. Its head was tilted almost curiously and on its arm was a thin line bleeding a luminescent gold.

    My heart fell again.

    Monsters - true monsters - don’t bleed the blood of Phanes, the Light-Bringer. Most bled a mortal red. If you cut someone like Cliff, his very essence leaked like burnished bronze dust. It was the color Apollo bled. That Athena, Kronos, Zeus and the various immortal nymphs and spirits of Ananke’s pantheon bled.

    This wasn’t a monster.

    It can’t die.

    I swallowed hard.

    “You’re, uh, you aren’t one of my cousins, are you?” I ventured cautiously and watched it tilt its main head the other way as the twin bobble heads attached to its left side and right chest spasmed wildly. “Uh, sorry?” And then because I’m stupid, I continued, “I gotta admit, I do not see the family resemblance - “

    Its face unfurled, like a long petaled poisonous flower from the deep jungle. In the center, a round mouth opened, filled with rows of hooked needle-like teeth similar to a lamprey. Its throat pushed out of its mouth, stretching a pink membrane as it snapped at the air a few times.

    Then came the sound.

    It felt like taking the razor edge of a hollow echo filled with black noise right to the brain. Pain is too simple a word to describe it.

    It felt like being ground out of existence.

    Every single nerve lit on fire. This sick, oily pain sliced underneath my skin, a nauseating discordant note stabbed at my eyeballs and eardrums. It was hard to think. To move. To breathe.

    “Stop it,” I whispered, hands pressed against my ears, but it didn’t help. Hot bile was crawling up my throat. I was going to throw up. My stomach was twisting and churning as I tried to crack it open. I searched for the power I knew was there, but it didn’t come. “Stop - !”

    I vomited and from the iron taste, it was all blood. My heart was pumping too fast, a pain in my chest was growing as my temples throbbed. There was this sick fluttering feeling at the base of my throat and at some point I had fallen to my knees.

    It had to stop. I was going to - I had to make it stop.

    I don’t have - I had dropped Damocles.

    Where?

    I could barely open my eyes.

    I had to -

    Stop it.

    I opened my mouth and the burning tug in my gut pulled. I dug into it, deep.

    More.

    STOP IT
    I yelled, but what came out wasn’t in words.

    It was this roaring, whooshing, echoing sound that drowned everything out. So loud, I thought maybe it wasn’t really coming from my mouth, but my stomach too. That floating feeling was back. A strange happiness was bubbling up. I was vaguely aware of Artemis dashing out of the garage into my large, winged shadow. And I -

    And I was full of eyes -

    With a very different kind of roar, a John Deere bulldozer came out of nowhere, plowing the thing into the side of the car garage building. My stomach snapped shut so hard I almost barfed again. My head spun as I watched Luke back up his bulldozer and ram it right back into the building.

    I -

    I didn’t know what to think.

    “Hey!” I heard an unfamiliar voice shout from the direction of the road. “Hey you thieving fucks!” I turned, wiping my mouth and saw an old off white Volvo with a dumb looking dog peering out one window and an angry young black man shaking a cell phone. “I called the fucking police you - “

    I saw the mortal’s eyes go wide.

    I glanced back over my shoulder.

    The thing was reaching towards me with broken limbs, towards Artemis from where it had been crushed against the side of the building. The light from the street lamps caught on the scraps of silver cloth clinging to its form.

    Then it spoke in this sickening, cruel sounding croon.

    Never...safe...my….lady….

    Something stabbed me in the chest and twisted.

    Luke backed up calmly, adjusting this lever that dropped the shovel in the front, and then surged forward with a machine roar. With a loud cracking, crash sound the brick wall finally broke. The slab of brick, wood and a couple of metal beams fell forward onto the creature and the flat nose of the bulldozer.

    Luke kicked open the battered door covered in brick dust and squeezed out.

    “That boon,” he growled as he stomped up to me. “Better be fucking worth it.”

    I could see why he would say that.

    Blood was streaking down the side of his face from his ears. Similar trails came from his nose. There were bright red splotches of burst blood vessels in his eyes and his bottom lip was torn open so badly, I could see flashes of his blood stained teeth behind it. The wound was crescent shaped like he was bit by a clam or -

    He bit through his lip.

    I could barely move and he - he bit through his lip and drove a bulldozer into the thing.

    I want to be Luke when I grow up.

    “It’s not dead,” I said quickly. “It can’t - “

    The brick pile rumbled and we all jumped.

    “Get the fuck in!” The mortal called out. I didn’t question the complete 180 and neither did Artemis, the auburn fur ball making a beeline for the Volvo. Not even the dumb looking terrier in the window barking at her scared her away.

    Not that I was surprised.

    “Shut up, Bradley,” the man hissed as we got in the backseat of his car. He didn’t even wait for the door to finish closing before he stepped on the gas.

    I -

    I had to just breathe for a moment.

    I just -

    Fuck.

    “You alright, kid?” I looked up to see the mortal peering at me through the reflection of the rearview mirror. His car smelled like mint and potato chips. The passenger side was occupied by the lopsided eared dog, a suitcase and a pillow.

    “Yeah,” I said.

    I brushed my hand under my nose and then checked my ears. It came back clean. All I had was a lingering headache and a slight upset feeling in my stomach. Beside me, Artemis whimpered, with blood matted fur around her ears and tears still spilling from her eyes. Luke was digging into his fanny pack, pulling out a Ziploc bag with the golden blocks of ambrosia as his bottom lip pulled and bled all over his chin and dripped onto his shirt.

    Yeah, I was just fine.

    I felt my fists clench in my lap.

    “Right,” the mortal let out this shaky, wheezing sigh. “What was that?”

    “Bear,” Luke said the same time I said “Mountain lion.”

    Luke gave me the evil eye.

    Sorry, I mouthed at him. I can’t read minds, sheesh.

    “Monster,” the mortal said, thumping the heel of his palm on the steering wheel. “God fucking damn.”

    “You saw it?” Luke asked in surprise around a cube of god food. He offered a tiny piece to Artemis, who hesitated before nipping it off his fingers. I am assuming that tell tale ‘you just ate a fucking ghost pepper’ warning didn’t happen, because she immediately scarfed it down and didn’t burst into flame.

    So.

    Demigod rabbit.

    There have honestly been stranger things.

    “Yeah, I fucking saw it!” Our driver hissed. “I wish I fucking didn’t!”

    Same.

    “Who the fuck are you?” The man pressed down harder on the gas pedal after barely stopping for a stop sign. I was impressed that he even bothered to pay lip service to traffic laws with something like that behind us. He had a spine. “The Illuminati?”

    I think he meant it as some kind of strange joke, since in the mirror he looked like he was really hoping the answer was no.

    He was in luck!

    “We’re demigods,” I said with false cheer as we sped down towards the highway at 80 MPH. “And you’re clear-sighted.”

    The mortal squinted at me in the mirror. “You said that like it means something.”

    “It means you can see the world as it truly is,” Luke answered before I could. He was rubbing his ears. The ambrosia working on his eardrums probably itched something fierce. “The masquerade is real. It’s called the Mist and it helps make sure most people live normal lives.”

    “And what about that?” The mortal said a bit hysterically. “That wasn’t fucking normal. Did this Mist just fucking break?”

    Luke opened his mouth and then paused. He glanced at me. “There’s like one to two percent of people in the world that can see through the Mist.” More like three percent. “Because…” Luke trailed off leadingly, glancing at me again.

    “Because you’re a demi-alien.” I said simply.

    Luke turned to stare at me in complete disbelief.

    “The fuck?” His dog sniffed around the dashboard as the fake leather on the steering wheel creaked under his hands. “You’re fucking with me. I know who my parents are, kid, and none of them got butt probed by a Martian.”

    “I’m not,” I sighed. “You got it from Selene.”

    “The - the Roma - Greek? The moon goddess?” He scoffed. “Are you seriously telling me pagan gods are real too?”

    I shrugged. “My mom is pretty real.”

    And she didn’t answer me.

    “So is my father,” Luke deadpanned. “Demigods, remember?”

    The mortal stared hard at us, looking for the lie that wasn’t there. His eyes dropped back to the road as his right hand came off the wheel to absently scratch behind his dog’s ears.

    “Fuck,” he muttered.

    “Alien?” Luke asked under his breath. “Not demigod?”

    “She was adopted,” I told him. “She came from the stars. A few galaxies over.”

    “Huh,” Luke murmured with his eyes wide. The whites of his eyes were almost entirely bloody red. “The more you know…”

    You might be going, wait a minute. Isn’t everyone an alien? And...you’d be right, I guess. If you saw things from a cat’s point of view. Humans aren’t natives and I guess technically, mom is an alien too. When I say alien, I mean everyone who came in after everything was settled, and humanity won the Earth for themselves. The stragglers and unaffiliated. Not all of them came from another galaxy either!

    I was pretty sure Aphrodite’s great-granddad still lived on top of his space elevator in Kadath, of the Dreamlands.

    Some aliens were friends and some were foes. Most ended up attached to one pantheon or another. The Egyptians have been dealing with Apophis for ages.

    Selene had been our adoptee.

    Her and Pontus.

    “Fuck!” Our driver repeated himself. In the mirror, his hazel eyes shifted color from brownish to something a lot more green.

    “Sorry,” I said dully. My chest was still aching as I ignored the rabbit between us. “Don’t go looking for monsters. Try not to see too much.”

    That got me a narrow eyed look in the rear view mirror. “Why…?”

    “You’ll start growing extra eyes,” I said and Luke jerked in his seat. “On the inside. And if it gets really bad, you kind of tend to go rabid.”

    Hunting down the feral descendents of her predecessor would have been the job of a certain rabbit.

    “You’ll grow out of it eventually,” I tried to reassure our Good Samaritan. “There’s just this transformation window...thing.”

    “...fucking alien puberty,” the mortal muttered. He looked a little lost. “This is fucking insane.”

    He had no idea.

    We rumbled across the bridge linking one side of Plattsburgh to the other and I pointed it out. “You can drop us off at the obelisk.”

    The man glanced out his right side window. “Macdonough Monument? You sure?” He worried at his lip. “I mean, I’m already taking a long trip. I don’t mind taking you a bit further away from that - that - whatever that was.”

    Well, if he was offering…

    “Where are you headed?”

    The man flashed a shaky grin. “Montreal, actually.”

    Luke and I looked at each other.

    What were the fucking odds?

    That empty feeling in my stomach settled and I felt like I could breathe again. So that was how it was going to be.

    Still.

    Thanks, Mom.

    “I was just here visiting my girlfriend,” he said with an awkward shrug. “Heading back home, so... I can give you a ride.”

    Wow.

    I have got to tell Apollo.

    He was wrong!

    The mysterious Canadian boyfriend does exist!

    “We’re headed for Quebec City,” Luke volunteered. “Just getting us over the border would be a big help.”

    “Corey,” our driver introduced himself. “And this - “ he rubbed his sleeping dog’s head. “This is Bradley.”

    “Percy.”

    “Luke - “ He was cut off by his own yawn. The scabbing on his lip cracked and blood bubbled up again. “Sorry.”

    “It’s fine,” Corey brushed off. “It’s four in the morning and it's already been one hell of a day.” He snorted to himself. “Actual monsters. Christ.”

    Yeah.

    That revelation was going to take him a while.

    “So Luke, question.” I began nonchalantly.

    “Hm?”

    “Bulldozer?” I deadpanned. He had to cross an entire gravely field of construction work first to even get near me. “I didn’t hear a thing.”

    Luke smiled sleepily as he clumsily held a finger up in front of his mouth. "I was sneaking."

    Oh.

    So that's what happens when Hermes bothers to train one of his kids. They figure out how to turn a John Deere bulldozer into a magic weapon with sneak attack dice.

    "I will pay for you to join my D&D campaign,” I said very seriously and Corey snorted. “When did you learn how to operate one?"

    Luke shrugged with one arm, his eyes already closing. "Didn't," he slurred. "I just stole it from Annabeth."

    What?

    "Annabeth is on the other side of New York," I said slowly.

    "Nah," he murmured faintly. "Lil' sis is always with me."

    That was not how it works.

    Was it?

    Maybe it made me a bit of a creep staring at Luke as he fell asleep, but his entire existence had stopped making any sense whatsoever. Hermes threw him away.

    And yet…

    From what I could tell, Luke was up to four different Names in his inheritance. That was one more than Ethan. Hermes Promachus, the Champion was where he got his skill with the sword from. Hermes Enagonios, of the Games turned him into a casual Olympic sprinter. Hermes Hermêneutês, the Translator, helped him with his dyslexia and Hermes Pheletes, the Thief made him damn good at sleight of hand.

    Mom let me inherit from all her Names, because she wanted me. She loved my father.

    Nemesis let Ethan inherit a lot from her on purpose.

    If Hermes didn’t care about Luke…

    Was this another Nemesis situation? Was Luke made for something?

    But what?

    I frowned as I rolled my shoulder, wincing as it ground and popped.

    I glanced at the rabbit.

    She was an auburn ball of fur, tightly curled up between us on the floor with her little red sweater on.

    “Artemis.”

    She looked up.

    “That thing…” I didn’t want to say it. I had to. “Did you do that to her?”

    The rabbit flinched and silently turned away, curling up again.

    Right.

    Okay.

    I bit my tongue until I tasted blood. For a moment I wanted to just - just wring her little neck myself.

    I should have listened to Luke. Nemesis had even made a point of needling Artemis over getting what she deserved. Artemis had been scared before the goddess of Retribution had even said anything. She knew what had been coming.

    Choice and consequence.

    I had the feeling we were all on the hit list now.

    I was an absolute moron.

    I moved over to huddle by my window, as far away from her as I could get. I watched the New York countryside go by as Corey took us onto the greater highway expanding from 4 to 8 lanes across. He turned on the radio, flicking through the channels until he came across some late night ghost hunters.

    He paused.

    “What do you think, Brad?” The dog shifted in its sleep, snorting wetly. “Yeah, why the fuck not. Jesus.”

    At some point I fell asleep.

    I didn’t feel like Dreaming.
     
    Nerve, AoD_Patr, Cheshirek4t and 17 others like this.
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