General Disclaimer (applies to all chapters): Percy Jackson and the Olympians belongs to Rick Riordan and whomever he has given the rights to. I own nothing and am making no profit from this story. Although this is an AU after The Last Olympian, I will be using characters and situations from Heroes of Olympus and possibly The Kane Chronicles. Both series are also owned by Riordan, not me. The first two lines of dialogue are taken directly from page 373 of The Last Olympian. And it's my library's copy of The Last Olympian, so I don't even own that. Then Percy's fail turns epic, and the new stuff starts.
Religious disclaimer: Unlike Riordan (and probably for this exact reason), I will be pulling in characters from the mythologies of active religions-in particular, Shinto and Hindu, and probably Taoist and Buddhist eventually. I have nothing but respect for these faiths, and this story is meant only to entertain. No offense to practitioners of any religion is intended.
For the people wondering about my Bleach fic: Um, sorry. The death of my grandfather, and then three solid months of insanity at work, killed any writing motivation. When my muse resurrected, she said, 'And now, for something completely different.' In John Cleese's voice. I'm still working on Further Machinations, but it got moved to the backburner.
Note on Percy's school year: When I was planning this, I thought Percy had finished his sophomore year at the end of TLO, and was going into his junior year, and had made my story's timeline accordingly. When I realized that he was beginning his sophomore year instead, I decided to leave it rather than do a lot of re-writing. So, Percy has 2 years of high school left at the start of the story, not 3.
And (finally), on with the story!
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August 18. The day the Second Olympian War ended.
I brushed the cake off my hands. "When I was at the River Styx, turning invulnerable… Nico said I had to concentrate on one thing that kept me anchored to the world, that made me want to stay mortal."
Annabeth kept her eyes on the horizon. "Yeah?"
"Luke and I… we had the same-" She stiffened next to me, and I knew instantly that it had been the absolute wrong thing to say right then. I'd seen her face when Luke asked her if he loved her and she'd had to tell him she didn't. I'd seen her face when we'd burned his shroud earlier today. I closed my eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid…"Sorry."
"Yeah." She sounded resigned, and like she was trying not to laugh and not to cry at the same time. "You really are a seaweed brain, you know that, Percy?"
I swallowed. "Yeah."
"I…" She sighed, and didn't continue. I tried my best puppy-dog eyes. She glanced over at me and started laughing, so, maybe not so great, but she didn't have that slightly broken look anymore. Win?
She leaned over and pecked my cheek, then got up and started walking away. "Happy birthday, Kelp-head. And…" she turned around and winked. "Better luck next time."
After she left and I was done hitting my head on the Poseidon table repeatedly, Clarisse came up behind me.
"You know, Jackson…" and she switched to a Jack Sparrow accent, "If you were waiting for the opportune moment… that was it."
The canoe lake was all the way at the bottom of the hill. That did not keep her dry.
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I passed through the waves smoothly, following the call. I knew where I was, like I always had in the sea. I would be able to find this place again. I crested a ridge on the ocean floor, and saw her. Battered, broken, but she'd once had a beauty greater than Aphrodite.
I fell in love.
I woke up.
I pulled on some khaki shorts and a shirt, stuffed Riptide in my pocket, and crept out of the cabin. The harpies didn't raise an alarm as I snuck over to the stables. Everyone was tired after yesterday, but I needed to do this.
"Blackjack!" I hissed. "Wake up!"
Doughnuts? The black Pegasus snorted and sleepily blinked at me a couple of times. Boss? What's going on?
"I need to check on something. It's important. Can you give me a ride?"
You kidding, boss? The last time we snuck out, we got wrapped up in vines.
"Mr. D's still on Olympus. He's with his wife. I really don't think he'll notice." My horse looked at me skeptically. Time for bribery. "And next time, we'll stop at the closest Dunkin' Doughnuts on the way."
"On the Styx. A dozen, your choice of fillings." Thunder boomed, signifying that the oath had been made.
Wow. Where are we going?
Ten minutes later, we'd snuck out of camp without any entanglements, heading out to sea. I was able to point him in the right direction, and another hour's flight at normal speed had gotten us to what I was pretty sure was the general area. I would need to be closer to the water to be any more accurate.
"I'm getting off here." I put a knee on his back and balanced my other foot on the connection between his wing and body, preparing to dive from a few hundred feet up.
Hold the horse, boss. The ocean was at war yesterday, remember? I doubt your dad's taken care of all of Oceanus's monsters this fast.
I gave him a grin he couldn't see. "If I'm not back in half an hour… just wait longer."
I launched into a perfect swan dive- much cooler than my belly-flop off the St. Louis Arch four years ago. I knew as soon as I passed through the surface that we hadn't come out far enough. I surfaced and waved at Blackjack so he'd know I hadn't been eaten on entry, then pointed east and dove again. I swam until I saw the ridge from my dream, and paused at the top.
A two-masted sailing ship rested on her side on the floor of the sea. There were cannonball holes all over and a gaping hole in on the left (port, some part of me whispered) side, below where the waterline would have been, so there wasn't much question about what had sunk her. I swam close enough to look inside, and saw the remnants of a big explosion. It looked like it had been the powder magazine, where the gunpowder was stored. A stray flame, a fire started in the heat of battle, and she would have been lost. The surviving crew would have been lucky if they'd managed to abandon ship in time; I knew from personal experience how fast a ship could sink, and how hard it was for a mortal to get away from one.
I touched her side, and words I'd never known before came into my mind. Words like Baltimore clipper, topsail schooner, gaff rigging. She was smaller than the Queen Anne's Revenge (115 ft 6 inches, that same part of my soul told me), and built for speed. The eight twelve-pound cannons that lined each side said that she wasn't a trader. I knew, somehow, that she'd seen a lot of action. A pirate, or a maybe a privateer. The ship's flag was long gone, so I couldn't tell which, and there hadn't always been a lot of difference anyway.
I wandered around a bit below deck. What had once been the crew quarters were basically double rows of barnacle-covered hammocks and a barnacle-covered table. The entire ship was pretty covered, actually. I touched one of the hammocks, willing it dry, and the rope disintegrated, leaving a hammock-shaped crust of crustaceans behind. I decided not to do that again and just wandered around exploring the galley and food storage, poking my head into the closet-sized rooms that had to have been for the officers, and saying hi to the random fish that were beginning to swarm the boat to meet the son of Poseidon.
When I found the only locked hold, I just asked it to open, and the lock clicked like my dad was Hermes. Apparently, on sailing ships, I was the Prince of Thieves.
I did the same thing to one of the six small chests inside the hold, and then just kind of floated there gaping like an idiot for a bit. It looked like the ship had been heading home when she got in her final fight.
If they could help me find sunken treasure ships, I took back everything I'd ever said about my dreams.
Eventually I closed the chest, and locked it, and yes, I know that was probably pointless, and checked the others to find the same gold and silver coins. The other stuff in the hold looked like it had been spices; I pried open a small barrel and found a lot of water-logged cloves.
I finally remembered that Blackjack was waiting for me, and probably was really worried by now. He was right- the sea wasn't safe right now, even, or maybe especially, for a demigod son of Poseidon. I was just going to surface and call Blackjack, and come back for the chests later, but I couldn't stop remembering the feeling I'd had when I'd gotten on my first ship. I'd been worried about Grover, thought Tyson was dead, and had just been turned into a guinea pig, but it had still been the most complete I'd ever felt. I'd been doing something I was really good at, something I was born to do. It had felt like my body had always been supposed to have extra spars and sails, and I'd just never figured out those parts were missing.
I should have just swum away, but I circled the ship again anyway. The damage was bad. Her hull was intact except for, you know, the cannonholes and the gaping hole on the port side, but I could tell that the explosion had cracked the keel. If the Queen Anne's Revenge had felt like she was a part of my body, this felt like I'd broken my back. I didn't think that could be fixed.
I found the cracked part anyway. It was all still there, just… broken. I pulled on one side, trying to move the jagged parts back into contact. I wasn't even sure why.
"Come on," I muttered at my broken back. "What's the point of dreams if I can't do anything about them?"
This ship had been beautiful, once. Suddenly, more than anything else in the world, I wanted to see her sail again. I wanted her to be like the Queen Anne's Revenge, which had been a part of me until she was destroyed by someone I refused to call my brother. I wanted us to soar through the waves for the first time in hundreds of years.
"Remember what you were," I begged her. I wasn't even sure what I was saying. "Just, please… remember!"
And the keel clicked back together, as easily as raising a sail.
I blinked at it. There wasn't even a scratch where it had been torn apart.
"Praise Poseidon. Seriously, Dad, thanks."
The keel was ok. The rest of it could be fixed, if I could get her back to Camp Half-Blood. I experimented with pulling the water out of the ship, but that just moved more water in to take its place. I couldn't create a vacuum. I needed to replace the water with air, and I didn't think there were enough bubbles in a square mile to give her enough lift to float to the surface.
I was four hundred feet deep. That was the closest air. And, as soon as I had the thought, I reached.
Bubbles formed by the waves at the surface started floating down. It wasn't enough. It would never be enough to float my ship, and so I extended my power to the water around us, and twisted. A waterspout formed at the surface and extended down to me as I gave a mental yell at all of the fish in the area to get out of the way.
I stood steady on dry ground, in the eye of the storm. My new ship stayed where she was as the water inside drained out. The water around us circled in a whirlpool that would have done Charybdis proud. Now, all I had to do was let it go without it crushing my ship.
All. Right. Like it was easy.
I'd already used a lot of energy making the whirlpool, and I'd fought a battle and a Titan Lord yesterday with only half a night's sleep since then. And my stamina blew. I still wasn't used to the effect the Styx had on my endurance. I was like a cheetah now; I could do fast, intense bursts of incredible energy, but I couldn't keep them up for long and I needed to recover in between. And right now, I was pretty low on recovery.
It didn't matter. I wouldn't let it matter. I held the thousands of tons of water moving around us steady, and slowly, slowly began to let the water at the bottom out of my control, and only made sure that none got back into my ship. As she began to rise, I asked her to float upright in the water, and climbed through the jagged hole as we rose.
As I climbed onto the deck, I let the waterspout collapse faster, until the water level was going up at a dozen feet a second and the ship finally breached onto the surface like a humpback whale. She hit with a jarring crash, and I winced and patted the main mast. "Sorry."
Boss! I thought you'd got eaten! Blackjack backwinged and landed gracefully on the deck, in between two cannons that had been held in place by chains bolted to the side of the ship. He looked around and snorted, stamping a back hoof. Is this what you dragged us out here for? It's a wreck.
"She was a wreck," I corrected, grinning. "She's mine now."
I can see the inside from out here. There are bugs all over it. Even for a fixer-upper, this is ridiculous.
"They're barnacles. They come off." To demonstrate, I swiped my hand along the mast, willing the barnacles under my hand to let go. They did, and I had a clean segment of wood that would have taken some serious scrubbing if my father had been anyone else. "See?"
You're going to have to do that with every inch of the ship. And how are we going to get it home? The sails are gone.
"I'll manage. Can you let Chiron know where I am?" The sun was rising, and I'd be missed from camp soon; I hoped they hadn't restarted cabin inspections already.
OK. I'll be back afterwards. Just in case you get swarmed by telekhines and need a getaway. The Pegasus turned around and took a short run down the right (starboard) deck and from there to the air.
"Thanks, Blackjack!" I called after him, and then turned my attention to the water underneath us. The current shifted, turning west and tugging the drifting ship along with it. It was slow without the push from the wind, and would take all day, but I'd get her there.
Annabeth and I didn't actually talk much in the couple of weeks that were left in camp. By the time I'd brought my new ship into Long Island Sound and sunk her again off the beach of Camp Half-Blood, in an area deep enough that she wouldn't interfere with the triremes if they just avoided the masts sticking out of the water, Annabeth had had to go back to Olympus to talk with her mom and start surveying the area. She wasn't in camp much, and when she was it was mostly to get the plans for the new cabins settled. I gave her space; after our last conversation, I was a bit nervous about trying again. Did they make cue-cards in Ancient Greek for this type of thing?
Chiron had been understanding about my going AWOL, but he still wouldn't let me take Blackjack out for doughnuts until camp officially ended and the pegasus gave me a ride home. The first thing I'd done after getting back to camp at sunset was take a canoe, load up the treasure chests, and take them to Chiron to be inventoried. Once the Stoll brothers and the rest of Cabin 11 heard about sunken treasure in the Sound, it wouldn't take them long to find scuba gear.
"It's a considerable find, Percy," Chiron said, looking at a tarnished silver shilling. "Your ship was probably sunk in the War of 1812 or thereabouts, judging by the monarchs on the coins. I would recommend that we sell them gradually, as you need the money, to avoid flooding the market. The gold and silver has its own value, of course, but the coins themselves would be worth much more to collectors if we can get documentation verifying that they are legitimate."
"Great! Um, we?" I asked.
He smiled at me. "This is certainly a part of the aid I am expected to give to young demigods, Percy. I will show you the steps to take; if your dreams found you treasure once, they may do so again. It's one of the more pleasant uses of visions I've heard of. And believe me, after several thousand years, I've heard of many."
I shook my head. "It wasn't the money. It was the ship. I just… needed to find it. I don't think this will happen again."
"The ship?" he asked, losing his smile and looking at me contemplatively. "Did it call to you, or did you call to it?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, frowning. "She's just a ship. Like the Queen Anne's Revenge- I told you about that, right? She can't call anything."
"Ah. Yes, you did tell me. I had forgotten. And you were… thirteen? That's about the right age, I suppose." He sighed, looking very tired suddenly. Well, it had been a long couple of days, and he'd been hurt fighting his father's army. My sneaking out and coming back with a new project probably hadn't helped. "So your dreams helped you seek out a ship that came supplied with the means to repair it. Is that what you intend to do?"
"Yeah. This'll be enough money, right?"
"More than enough, I would say, particularly since you will do most of the work yourself and your power will aid you. You should have plenty left over for… whatever you intend to do."
I didn't ask why he'd assumed I'd be doing all of the work myself; it must have been obvious that I wasn't going to be letting anyone near my ship any time soon. Plus, it was underwater. "Nothing in particular. Just sail. I haven't seen any part of the world except when we went on quests. It might be nice to be able to actually take my time and visit the area."
"Sailing? Is that all?" His look grew stranger, like he was seeing me for the first time. I didn't know what he was trying to figure out- I was the same as I'd always been. The Styx hadn't changed that.
"Yeah. Just see what's out there. Do some exploring, you know?"
"Exploration," he sighed, lashing his tail in agitation. "Yes, I suppose it's finally time for it."
"Right- Kronos is gone, there's no prophecy except for that new one that might not come any time soon, and I'm still alive." I was free, for the first time in my life. "I'll take a couple of years to fix it up and head out when I've graduated from high school."
"I'm glad you intend to finish," he said, relaxing a bit. "It would be a shame to have peaked in your sophomore year."
I grinned at the reminder of my words to the gods yesterday morning. "Yeah, I'm still going. You don't mind my swinging by on the weekends, right?"
"You will always be welcome here, Percy. Please, always remember that." He looked at me earnestly until I nodded, a bit confused. He continued, "Though, if you will be in the area, would you be willing to teach the occasional class? We'll have many more campers this coming year than ever before, thanks to your efforts."
"Sure. Just let me know what I can do to help."
And that was that; I spent the next two weeks getting the barnacles off my ship (I needed a name, but everything I thought of seemed wrong) and helping collect new campers and get them settled. The most unusual part about it was the next time I saw Rachel- or rather, when she saw me.
I was at my table with Grover the morning I was supposed to head home, talking about his work organizing the satyrs to collect new campers, when our new Delphic Oracle marched over and sat across from me.
"What did you do?" She hissed. "Everything I saw about you has changed. I don't know where you're going anymore!"
I blinked at her. "Well, um, neither do I. Most people don't. And, hi, Rachel, how are you. Lovely day today, isn't it? How were your parents?"
"Shut it, Percy." She sighed, running her hands through her red hair. "Your future went… weird. I thought I knew what your next steps were going to be, and then I saw you just now and everything twisted. I don't know what happened."
"Maybe that's normal?" Grover suggested. "It's not like we can ask the former Oracle. Maybe the minor stuff changes unless there's an actual prophecy?"
"Maybe." The thought didn't make her look any happier. "Still, Percy, be careful, OK?"
"Yeah." I felt a cold chill. I couldn't help but remember that the last time she'd spoken to me, she'd been hinting about me and Annabeth. If that had changed…
The thought distracted me through the morning, and even a meeting with my dad while he was fishing for sea serpents couldn't quite drive it from my mind. Although the joke (?) about siblings next year did a pretty good job of it. It wasn't until after he was gone that I remembered that I'd meant to thank him in person for fixing the keel of my ship.
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September 18. One month after the Second Olympian War ended.
"And, enough about the ship, Percy. How's school going?" Annabeth asked around a mouthful of sandwich. She'd suggested we meet for a picnic in Central Park today; she was taking the afternoon off from Olympus and I'd told Blackjack I wouldn't need a ride to camp. She was dressed like she normally was, in shorts and an orange Camp Half-blood t-shirt, with her necklace around her neck. She looked stunning without needing any help from makeup or fancy clothing.
"Sorry," I grinned sheepishly. I had kind of been babbling and waving my hands, but to be fair, she'd been doing the same thing about the new palace on Olympus she was designing for her mom. "It's only been the first two weeks, but Paul's been helping me with English and History, and I think I'll be able to pass. Woodshop is fun, and Physics is… it's actually easy so far. I hated algebra even when my teachers weren't trying to kill me, but it gets better when you can see it being used, you know? And Pre-calculus isn't bad either."
"Well, maybe it's because you're a kinesthetic learner," Annabeth suggested, smirking.
"A what now?"
She was openly laughing at me now. "You learn best by doing stuff. And you've had so much experience with ballistics. 'A 70 kilogram demigod wearing 10 kilograms of armor and weapons ejects himself from Mount St. Helens at a speed of 300 meters per second. If he is 2,500 meters high initially and his launch angle is 80 degrees, how far away is Calypso's island?'"
"Ha. Ha. And the answer is 'none of the above'. She said Ogygia wasn't any place in the mortal world." I was pretty sure that was the first time she'd brought up Calypso on her own. "Anyway, school's going all right. For school. We can't all be geniuses."
"You've had your moments." She grinned at me, and for a second I was convinced that everything would work out, no matter what Rachel hadn't seen. Then she continued, "So do you think you'll want to study physics after high school? I'd thought it would be oceanography, or something else that would let you work in the sea a lot."
This would go over about as well as Luke going to Kronos, I could tell already. "I don't think I'm going to go to college. At least, not right away. Maybe someday."
"Oh. Too bad."
OK, she took that better than I expected.
Then she continued, "Are you sure? We're not at war anymore, so you'll probably be able to keep your grades decent, and admissions offices mostly look at SAT's, activities, and the grades from high school. Middle school grades don't really matter. You'd be able to get admitted somewhere, if that's what you're worried about."
"It's not." Though she was right, I probably would have been worried about getting in somewhere if I'd actually wanted to go. I'd changed schools more often than Aphrodite changed clothes. "I just don't want to go right into college. I want… do you remember when we were sailing in the Sea of Monsters, on Blackbeard's old ship?"
She grimaced. "Yes. I spent half the time seasick and the rest of it trying to forget about the Sirens."
I'd forgotten that. She'd turned the color of guacamole and had to go under the deck for the rest of the day. "Um, well. That's what I want to do. Only, without the quests and the danger. Just sail."
"Oh." She chewed on her sandwich for a bit, watching some kids play in the little playground across from us. Finally, she asked "Sail where? Just up and down the coast?"
"As far as I can. Around the world."
Her voice was quiet. "For how long?"
"I don't know. As long as I can. Until I have to stop or there's nothing left to see." I couldn't look at her. She didn't look at me. I finally broke the silence. "It won't be for a while. A lot can happen in two years. You said you'd like to see Greece. The Parthenon."
"At the St. Louis Arch." She smiled. It looked like it hurt. "I still can't believe you remembered that."
"It was one of the first things personal things I learned about you."
She was blinking a lot. "Do you remember what else I said?"
I couldn't make my voice anything more than a hoarse whisper. "That you wanted to create something that would last a thousand years."
We watched the playground some more. I don't think she wanted to say what both of us were thinking. I know wild hellhounds couldn't have dragged the words from my mouth right then. Finally she broke the silence.
"You could make a living sailing. Give tours, yachting expeditions, stuff like that. You don't have to leave to spend your life on the water."
"No." She looked at me, surprised by my sharp tone. It had kind of sounded like I should be petting the ship and calling her 'my precious'.
"Sorry. But, no. I need… I need to be able to go where I want to. I can't explain it. It's just… I feel like I'm weightless, for the first time in my life. There was always the prophecy hanging over me even when I didn't know about it, and now I'm free, and I… I can't stay."
Even for you.
She crumpled up the sandwich wrapper and drew her knees to her chest, hugging them. "Rebuilding Olympus… it's my dream, Percy."
"I can't leave."
Even for you.
I closed my eyes. "I know."
Neither of us said anything for a while. I didn't know where to go from here. We'd never been together, but this was a thousand times worse than the little 'I don't like you that way' speech I got from Rachel at Hestia's hearth. Annabeth had been a constant in my life since I was twelve. We'd fought everything from Medusa to Kronos together. I'd been willing to die to have the chance to live with her. And I didn't know why that had changed. I'd still die for her, but I couldn't stay still because of her.
So, all things considered, when Hermes showed up I don't think I'd ever been so relieved to see a god. And that included Hades at the head of his army.
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"Poor George and Martha," I said, trying hard to look like I was genuinely concerned about them. And I was, don't get me wrong, I do kind of like Hermes' snakes, but I was mostly relieved that I had a literally god-sent reason to stop thinking about my own pathetic problems. "This… Cacus is in Manhattan, you said?"
"Underground somewhere, if he's going by his old habits," Hermes nodded. If he noticed anything off about my performance, he didn't mention it, but he seemed more annoyed by his stolen caduceus and that Annabeth was there with me. Luke was still a touchy point for both of them, and they both kind of blamed each other. "You're resourceful. I'm sure you can figure out where. Getting it by five this evening would be great, so I can finish my deliveries."
"Sure, I'll do my best. See you at five. Annabeth, I'll catch up with you later, OK?" Yes, I was running away.
She didn't let me. "I'm coming too."
I winced. "I really don't think-"
"Percy. You're not going without me." Her grey eyes were narrowed and slightly puffy. I felt like the world's biggest jerk. "Besides, think of George and Marsha. They must be terrified."
"Wonderful," Hermes said, studying her pointedly. "The giant breaths fire. And do be mindful of the caduceus; it once turned a horrible tattletale named Battus to stone… but I'm sure you will both be careful. And of course you'll keep this as our little secret."
Styx. With friends like these… "Of course."
Four hours later, we had broken Annabeth's magic shield, been drenched in sewer water, destroyed most of the Meatpacking District, played a grabber-arm game with a ten-foot giant as the prize, and skeet-shot him with George and Martha's laser mode. Just another day as a demigod.
And the thing was… it really was. We still worked together incredibly. We'd tag-teamed Caucus like we'd rehearsed it, and when she'd gone for the crane and left me to distract the giant and grab Hermes' staff, I knew she wouldn't let me down. There were awkward bits, sure, but after everything we'd been through, we didn't let them affect us when it counted.
As we went to meet Hermes at Rockefeller Center, with George and Martha stuffed on sewer rats and comfortably sleeping, I turned to her and said desperately, "I don't want to lose this."
"You're an idiot, Percy." She gave me a half-smile. It was tired, but genuine. "I'm… I'm going to need some time. But we'll be OK."
"It's not you, it's me?" I offered, relaxing.
She sniffed. "Well, obviously. Come on, let's get this thing to Hermes before he decides we've been spreading gossip about his thief-god fail around New York."
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"So, that's it?" Gover asked, chewing on one of the aluminum cans I'd brought him for his birthday party. We were in Central Park again, and his girlfriend Juniper was dancing with the local tree nymphs nearby. It was the first time we'd seen each other since Annabeth and I had talked. She would have been here today too, but she had been planning a trip to see her dad for a while. "All the UST, and you just decide to not happen? You were, like, Aphrodite Cabin's favorite couple-to-be for a while there."
"It wasn't going to work. I'm not staying around. I know that already."
"Yeah… about that. I asked a couple of the naiads to look over your ship. They said it's in pretty bad shape. Are you sure about this?"
"I've never been more sure about anything in my life." We'd been empathy-linked for years; he could feel what I felt. He knew I was telling the truth. "I can fix her. As good as new, maybe better."
He baa'd contemplatively. "I asked the naiads to take a look because Annabeth Iris-messaged me. She was worried you'd been enchanted or something. She thought it might have been the ship."
I stiffened. I didn't know she'd talked to Grover before I had. "And?"
"As far as they can tell, it's just a ship. And whenever I reach out to you, I feel like heading for Canada to find new bits of wilderness. You're itchy. Something's different, yeah, but it's from you, not the ship. I told her that."
"Chiron asked pretty much the same thing, I think. In different words. He doesn't seem worried." I kind of wished I was under an enchantment. It would have made things simpler. I felt like I'd earned the happy ending everyone else wanted me to have.
He finished the can, then sighed and said, "Be careful, OK? There's a lot of stuff out there we haven't seen yet, and you won't have us as backup."
I grinned at him. I had good friends. "I will be."
At that point, Apollo showed up and interrupted Grover's birthday and our heart-to-heart talk to make us fetch his runaway mechanical backup singer for a concert in Olympus that night, and I wound up desperately hanging from a Times Square billboard without any pants on. (Long story.) But we got the automaton back where it was supposed to be, and gracefully ducked out of Apollo's reward of concert tickets.
If I'd known it would be the last time I'd see an Olympian god for years, I might have reconsidered, but… no, never mind, no I wouldn't have.
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August 17. Almost one year after the Second Olympian War ended.
"Remember those who fell, and know that they died as heroes," Chiron finished.
One by one, in no particular order, each cabin councilor came up and threw one flower into the evening campfire for each of their siblings that died fighting for the gods in the war, saying their name as they did. Silena's name was claimed by both Ares and Aphrodite, like her shroud had been when it was burned. Thalia had led the Hunters to camp for the memorial, and threw the flowers for Artemis's cabin. Chiron came forward again for the fallen Party Ponies. Grover threw in the crown of daisies he had been wearing and sobbed as he named each nymph and satyr that had fallen in the battle, while the spirits that normally remained in the woods looked on silently. Finally, Nico sat down after throwing Bianca's second flower in the fire- one for Artemis and one for Hades. I was the last councilor to stand.
I had no demigod siblings to mourn, and I was still the only camper in Cabin Three despite my father's joke last summer. But not all of the deaths had been said yet, and not all of the fallen had known who their parent was. For some of them, we only knew their names. For some of the rest, we didn't even know that. We'd done our best, though, and so I began throwing in the flowers for the demigods that had fought with the Titans.
"…Ethan Namakura." Ethan, who had died trying to fix his mistakes, and only wanted respect for his mother. I threw in a black-eyed susan, and followed it with a blue forget-me-not. For the last name, I'd had an unusually serious talk with Travis and Connor Stoll about who would throw the flower, and how many would be thrown. In the end, we had left him with the side he fought on. "Luke Castellan."
I looked around me. I wasn't great at speeches, but Chiron had insisted I say a few words, and Annabeth agreed. I had led them against Kronos, and although things had calmed down a lot, the halfbloods and nature spirits that had fought at the Battle of Manhattan still considered me a leader. The thought terrified me, but I tried not to let them down.
"We lost a lot of good people last year. On both sides. Some of us fought to preserve what we liked about Western Civilization. Some of us fought because we wanted to change the things we thought were unfair. If we hadn't fought, nothing would have lasted. And if we hadn't fought, nothing would have changed."
It hadn't been easy to integrate all of the new campers. A few of the members of the new cabins had been trying to kill us a few weeks before they came to camp. I'd been around more this year, and had been drawn into mediating a lot of the arguments. I had led the defense against Kronos's army and had knocked a lot of them out myself, but I had also made the deal that had given the new campers a home at Camp Half-Blood and given their parents thrones on Olympus. All of the former members of Kronos's army knew what I'd given up for the peace, and that even without Annabeth, I didn't regret my choice.
"It's been a hard year, but we've started rebuilding what got broken, and we've fixed some of what needed to be fixed. All we can do now is keep trying. The next time we see our brothers and sisters and cousins who died fighting for what they believed in, we need to be able to tell them about what we built out of their sacrifice, and make sure that they're proud of what they died for."
So many of the faces were new. Leo Valdez, in Hephaestus cabin, who had hunted down and repaired Beckendorf's bronze dragon less than a week after he'd gotten to camp, and then decided to give it wings. Piper McLean, who had volunteered for a quest to recover a stranded child of Hecate and who had promptly challenged for and won the position of Aphrodite Cabin's councilor when she got back. Clovis, the sleepy head of Hypnos's new cabin, who probably would have stayed unclaimed forever if he had come here before the war. They'd all found out who their godly parent was in their first week here, instead of having to wait for them to get around to noticing their kids. Yeah, it had been worth it.
"We can't forget," I finished. "We'll mourn, and we'll go on. We can't ever forget, but if we all keep working, we can make what we have better than what they had, and that will be the best memorial we could give them."
I turned and sat back down between Rachel and Grover, in front of where Annabeth was sitting with the rest of Cabin Six. She toed me in the back and gave me a grin of approval when I glanced back at her. "Not bad."
I mimed wiping my forehead in relief- she'd refused to help me write the speech, saying it was something that needed to be obviously from me. She had helped me memorize the list of the dead, though. Even with the names written in Greek it hadn't been easy.
"Thank you, Percy," Chiron said, coming forward one final time. He had been the stand-in director all year; Mr. D had been spending his time in Olympus. After the war, Zeus had halved his sentence, and was apparently also turning a blind eye to his extended conjugal visit. "As a final reminder, anyone who does not sign up to stay over the school year by noon tomorrow must have vacated their cabins by sunset, before the cleaning harpies come around. It would be a pity to end the summer on a sour note."
As the rest of the campers filed back to their cabins, Rachel, Annabeth, Grover, and I, along with some of the other friends Rachel had made in camp this summer, made our way to the newly-remodeled Oracle's Cave. It was appropriately spooky on the outside, but was actually a comfortable apartment with, as Apollo had suggested, an impressive entertainment deck with a large-screen TV in the game room. We had taken to spending the hour before curfew watching old movies and TV shows. Rachel's tastes tended to be artsy, but after Casablanca, Clarisse had staged a revolution and demanded Braveheart, and the choice rotation had continued.
As the opening credits of the current sci-fi series started, I nudged Grover and said, "I decided on a name."
'Take my love, take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand,
I don't care, I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me.'
"For your ship?" he guessed instantly, getting the attention of most of the people around us. I'd made a lot of progress this year, although I still wasn't ready to sail. The holes were gone- all of them. When I'd brought the new pieces of wood to replace the parts that were missing, all I had to do to add them was cut them to the right length and slot the wood into missing places. My ship wanted to be whole. It didn't matter that the boards were straight and the hull was curved- the boards bent at my request and fused with the old wood, until the only way you could tell that she had been injured was the color difference between the boards, and even that had gone away when I tarred and painted it. (Using a water-based paint while painting a ship's hull underwater had been surreal. I just applied a coat and asked it to dry.)
'Take me out to the black,
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea,
You can't take the sky from me.'
"Yeah. I'm bringing her to the surface tomorrow. I need a name, and I really like this song." She didn't have sails yet and I needed to haul over the new rope that had just been delivered, but she was basically seaworthy. I was going to spend my senior year making her livable. Annabeth had already offered to redesign the interior layout, Leo and Nyssa from Hephaestus Cabin were going to be helping me install modern plumbing and electric wiring, and Lacy and a couple of her siblings from Aphrodite Cabin wanted to do the interior decorating although I was a bit nervous about what they'd come up with.
'There's no place I can be
Since I found Serenity,
You can't take the sky from me.'
Clarisse, on Grover's other side, looked at me incredulously. "You're naming it 'Serenity'? You?"
"Not Serenity." Though I'd considered it. "Firefly."
" 'Take my love, take my land,' huh?" Grover glanced at Annabeth, who didn't look back at us from where she was making the popcorn. Things between me and Annabeth were pretty much like they'd always been, but with an extra bit of 'what-if'. I was just glad I hadn't broken us. "I like it."
"Yeah." It had taken me long enough to decide on a name. "Me too."
After the episode was finished, Rachel asked me to hang back to clean up while everyone else attempted to avoid the harpies. The campfire had taken longer than usual, and we'd gone a bit past lights out. As Clarisse's battle-cry and Leo's flames lit up the night air outside, Rachel handed me a wrapped box and said, "My dad's car is coming early tomorrow, so I won't be able to give this to you. Happy birthday."
"Thanks!" On unwrapping it, though, it turned out to be the latest smartphone and a hands-free headset. A really nice present, for anyone but a demigod. "Um, thanks, Rachel, but…"
"It tells monsters where the half-blood buffet is, yeah, I didn't forget," the redhead interrupted. "But, seriously, Percy, how many armies have you taken down singlehandedly?"
Two. One down in the Underworld and one on the Williamsburg Bridge. "Still, I'm not going to draw monsters home on purpose. That happens too often anyway."
"You can keep it turned off when you're at home, and you probably should, like Annabeth does," she agreed, "but I've just got a hunch that you're going to need it. It's got an international calling plan that's connected to my family one. My dad won't notice."
I put the headset on and pulled Riptide out of my pocket, trying a couple of sword swings. I'd probably be able to fight while talking- she'd put some thought into this. And I wasn't about to ignore the Delphic Oracle when she told me I'd need something. "Why wouldn't an Iris message be enough?"
She shrugged. "Maybe you'll be out of drachmas? I don't know. But call me if you need to."
"I'll call you even when I don't need to," I promised. "My mom, too. I know she's been nervous about letting me go off on my own- having a way for me to keep in touch more regularly might help. Or maybe make her worried more about me fighting a thousand monsters each time we talk, but it'll be something she's used to worrying about."
"Thanks," she smiled at the promise to keep in touch, even though I'd been planning on it anyway with IM's. "And there's something else, too… would you come to my Homecoming dance with me?"
I wasn't sure I'd heard her right. Hadn't we settled that a year ago? "Uh… don't you have a divine restriction on dating?"
"On sex, technically, but yeah, romance isn't exactly encouraged." She ran a hand through her hair, flopping down on her couch. "And, my mom doesn't really get that, and it's not like I can explain about being the Delphic Oracle. She still thinks I'm hung up on you. And Clarion is an all-girls academy, so you wouldn't think it would be a problem there, but we've got a boy's school that we have events like Homecoming and proms with, and I've turned down enough of the guys from there that someone started rumors saying I'm a lesbian. And that's made the locker room kind of uncomfortable."
"Is anyone bullying you?" I wasn't sure what I could do about it if they were, but she was at that school in the first place because she'd tried to help us at the battle to defend Olympus last year. Otherwise she'd still be at Goode with me.
"I've got my brush if anyone tried," she grinned at me. Yeah, anyone who'd hit a Titan with a hairbrush wouldn't have any problem with high-school girls. "And I don't like relying on it much, but it's the kind of place where everyone keeps track of the fact that my family could buy and sell theirs. So, nothing physical, and nothing really to my face, but it would just be easier if I had a boyfriend to point at. You know about my oath, and I trust you not to try anything, and you're not planning on dating anyone else before you leave."
I shrugged. "If it'll help, sure. Just let me know when I'll need to be there, and I'll get Blackjack to bring me to Connecticut."
Later that evening, as I lay in my bunk after letting the watch harpies break their claws on my Styx-protected skin on the way back to the cabin, I realized that I was sort-of dating Rachel.
"Well," I said into the darkness, "She probably won't expect me to remember our anniversary."
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August 18, the next morning. Exactly one year after the Second Olympian War ended.
"Dude, you didn't say you had artillery," Leo Valdez yelled as he and Jake Mason swooped by on Festus. The golden mechanical dragon backwinged and grabbed the twelve-pounder that was dangling from the new ropes I'd let snake up the mainmast right after the ship had breached the surface half an hour ago.
"Yes I did!" I yelled back. "That's why you're here, remember?" A rope lashed out and plucked him off the dragon, and Jake laughed and waved as Festus headed back to shore. I grabbed the same rope that was coiled around Leo and let it lower both of us to the deck. When we were safely down, he continued the conversation as though he hadn't just been snatched off a moving automaton from a hundred feet up.
"Yeah, but I was picturing hunks of useless metal. These aren't even that rusted. They're moving. And how can you direct everything in the ship even without looking at it? It's creepy."
"Says the firebender," I answered cheerfully, and made the cannon he'd just sat on come loose from the chains that had fixed it to the deck for two centuries and roll over to the mast. He jumped off and flipped me the bird.
"Waterbending doesn't do this. And, if they can still work, why're you getting rid of the cannons? What if you're attacked by monsters and need weapons?"
"You're kidding, right? Where would I get the shot and gunpowder for them? And why would I want to? I'll be travelling alone, and I can't levitate the cannonballs and powder into them during a fight." Yes, I'd tried. Ship control powers didn't extend that far, unfortunately.
Leo frowned, and went to the cannons on the other side of the deck as I rode the next one back up to the top yardarm of the main mast. He looked at the cannons I was still releasing and moving to gather around the main mast, then pulled out some sketch paper and a pencil from his tool belt of holding and started drawing. (And he was right- I hadn't realized how much I could sense about what was happening on the Firefly until someone else was on board, but the fact that I knew exactly what he was doing when I was a hundred feet up and watching Festus come back was kind of creepy.)
When Jake had successfully grabbed the second cannon and was heading to shore, I swung myself back on deck and turned to catch the sketch pad I had felt Leo throw at the back of my head. "What am I looking at?"
"Revolvers!" He'd started taking measurements of one of the cannon barrels. "Some Greek fire as the fuel and projectile, a revolving mechanism in the body to reload, and you're armed!"
"Greek fire? Leo, she's been sunk by her own magazine once already!"
He looked at me oddly, and then set himself on fire.
This wasn't as unusual as it sounds- his unexpectedly revealing that ability had given Hephaestus Cabin the victory in his first Capture-the-Flag game- but now he was doing it on my ship.
"Are you insane?" I immediately doused him with what seemed like half the water in the Sound.
He sputtered, pushing his dark hair out of his eyes. He looked like a drowned rat. "What was that for?"
"What was- you tried to set my ship on fire!"
"Yeah, 'tried' being the key word there," he muttered. "You kind of proved my point, Aquaman. No fire's going to start on this ship without you stopping it."
For a normal fire, sure, I'd sense it, but… "Seawater doesn't put out Greek fire. They use it for light in my dad's palace."
"Yeah, but I didn't even singe the deck, and I was trying." He pointed down, and I looked. He was right- the deck was unmarked. "Look, just let Uncle Leo show you how it's going to work, OK?"
He took a hold of a dangling rope, and his hand lit up. The flames traveled along the rope and up to the mast, but he was right- the fire didn't actually burn anything. It was just there, making that part of me feel warm. I took a spare page out of the sketchpad and held it up to the rope, and the paper caught fire like normal. Leo let the fire in his hand die, and the fire on the rope and mast disappeared along with it. The fire on the paper stayed lit, because it had fuel of its own. I let it fall to the deck, and could feel the paper land, and knew that this real fire wouldn't burn anything either. It wouldn't burn anything because I didn't want the Firefly to be damaged.
"Are you satisfied, or should we actually haul some of the green stuff out here? I know burning, man. She's fireproof until you decide not to be."
I swallowed. "I didn't know I could do that."
"And now you do, because I'm brilliant. You're welcome. Mind drying me off, or do I need to set myself on fire again?" He balled his outstretched hand, and I gave him a fist-bump that left him dry and unsalted. "So, the cannons?"
I began to grin. I liked the thought of extremely destructive guns I could control with my mind as much as the next teenage boy. "Yeah, go nuts, and you can keep some. I don't need sixteen. They take up a lot of room."
His grin matched mine. "How many?"
"Half and half?"
"Works for me!" He whistled, and Festus roared as Jake circled above us. I hurriedly hauled the third cannon up the mast, without bothering to ride up with it this time.
"Are you going to try to go on a quest this year?" I asked, watching them fly away. It was common knowledge among the counselors that Jake wanted Leo as his successor as Cabin Nine's leader, and that he'd almost handed the position over when Leo had fixed the out-of-control dragon last winter after Jake had been seriously injured trying. He probably would have succeeded if Leo had had even one quest under his belt, but Chiron hadn't wanted a complete rookie, even one as powerful as Leo, to replace a war veteran as a counselor. Jake had kept the position, but was heading out for his first semester at NYU today and had made Leo his deputy.
"Yeah. Chiron's already told me I'm leading the retrieval mission, the next time we get a distress call." He ran a hand through his hair and looked even twitchier than usual. "Do you want to come along?"
"Not if you're riding the dragon." With the near-invulnerability from the Styx in addition to the Big Three heritage, I was the most powerful demigod the camp had ever had, and I liked using that to help out. Chiron had needed to have more than one discussion with me about when to step back and let other people prove themselves. Most of the 'quests' we got sent on these days were calls from Grover's satyrs, and any team of trained demigods was usually enough to take care of it. The flight restriction was true and convenient, and I didn't really want to give Leo the same talk I'd gotten from Chiron at the Battle of Manhattan last year.
"Hey, what do you have against Festus? He's helping you out!" Leo usually talked like he thought the dragon was alive. I had the Firefly, though, so I got where he was coming from. Leo called my ship 'she', and I returned the favor.
"Yeah, I know, but I can't ride him. Zeus doesn't let his brothers' kids fly." I could see that Leo was about to point out that I'd been giving his cabin flying lessons since before he'd come to camp, and added, "Pegasi don't count. Horses are neutral territory. Poseidon created them, and the original Pegasus was Poseidon's son. If I try flying on anything else I get shot out of the sky."
That distracted him. ADHD at its finest. "Wait, so all of the pegasi in camp are your grandnephews?"
"Technically. You learn to limit your family." Tyson was still the only person I called my brother. "You'll do fine. Don't try to pick your team yet. Wait until you get the quest."
"Yeah. Thanks." He watched as his distant dragon settled on Fireworks Beach and left the cannon with the others; when we were finished I'd find out if I could still make them roll when they were off the ship.
Actually... I concentrated, and the cannon Jake had just delivered turned around and trundled towards the mess hall. "It still works."
"Huh?" Leo pulled a set of binoculars out of his belt and focused on the three cannons that were now forming a little parade. A few of the full-time campers that had come to watch me bring up the ship jogged after them; a younger demigoddess jumped on the one in front, and two of the other kids followed her example. "Huh. Not bad."
"I wasn't sure I could move them. I could sail the Queen Anne's Revenge from a distance, but it might have been different for a part that had gotten separated." I closed my eyes and focused as they circled the mess hall and I could no longer see them. This was only working because I knew the path really well; I had no sight from the cannons, just a sense of touch. The girl in front, one of the new kids in Athena's cabin, I think, grabbed the trailing chains when I hesitated and started directing the cannon like a horse, steering it through what I hoped was the mess hall tables. Above me, Jake and Festus grabbed the next cannon.
"So, you'll be armed, and I can start making plans for the wiring now that I've seen the ship. I know Grover thinks you should go solar all the way, but if that's what you want you'll need some serious batteries because it would suck if your heaters didn't work in winter because you hadn't seen the sun for a week, and you should probably still have a small generator just in case. For the plumbing, you can purify water yourself, right? So we won't need to build a filter system, but-"
I focused on my cannons and let Leo's chatter drift over me as he went below deck to take measurements. He wasn't really looking for comments, just a listening ear. We were on the ship for maybe another hour, until Leo finished and signaled for the now-riderless hovering dragon to pick him up. I hauled us both back up the mast one last time, and reversed the maneuver that had grabbed him off the dragon's back. Leo waved goodbye as the rope uncoiled from his chest, and I swung myself down the rope and back onto the deck. Or at least, that was the plan.
Bronze claws curled around me from behind, trapping my arms against my chest, and I was suddenly flying. I'm not ashamed to admit that I panicked a bit. (OK, a lot.) "Did you think I was joking, Leo? Let me go!"
"I'm trying! He thinks you're another cannon! It's the control disk- it's been acting up, and I'm not finished with the replacement!" He sounded panicked too. Styx, this wasn't a practical joke. And I had no leverage when I tried to push the claws open- I was stuck.
I closed my eyes and tried really hard not to pray. I knew exactly who would hear me.
We were descending towards Fireworks Beach when Leo yelled, "Got it!" and Festus, instead of opening his claws, swooped higher and cut over the forest towards the cabins. "No, sorry, wrong wire."
"I said I was sorry! But, hey, no lightning yet, right? Live in the moment!"
We finally landed on the main quad, and the adrenaline-hyped part of me that kept track of all the tiny details on the battlefield noticed that my cannons (and they would always be mine, even if I left half of them to guard the camp) had been divided between Hephaestus, Ares, and Athena's cabins according to the rider. Festus finally let me go, and I fell to my knees and almost kissed the ground.
"Hey, we're alive!" Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Leo Valdez, Master of the Obvious.
"We must not have been flying high enough." I got up and managed to get my knees to stop trembling. "I used Daedalus' wings a couple of summers ago, and he didn't try to kill me. A higher altitude would have been bad."
"Or maybe he's just not paying attention." Leo's voice was slightly bitter as he yanked a couple of wires out of the dragon. "Maybe none of them are. I've never even seen that D guy, and he's supposed to work here."
I knew it wasn't Mr. D or Zeus that he was angry at. All of the kids at camp had been claimed, but for the newcomers, that was where it had ended. The Olympians, and even the minor gods, hadn't been in touch. I was enjoying the peace and quiet, but I'd also met my dad, and knew he cared about me. Leo didn't have that. "Annabeth says the gods are still pretty busy. It wasn't just Olympus. Typhon did a lot of damage and the ocean got trashed."
"Sure." He wasn't buying the excuse any more than I was, and changed the subject. "So, since you can ride Festus, want to go on a quest?"
"Leo? You don't need me. Suck it up and lead."
Yeah, I was no Chiron, but it got the point across.
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"Ready to head out, Blackjack?" Most of my stuff was staying at camp, since I was still going to be spending at least one night a week here. I was only carrying a backpack on my back and an apple in my hand.
Always, boss. The black pegasus chomped on the apple cheerfully while I mounted. In a minute, we were airborne and doing a flyover of the Sound before turning towards New York.
Your wreck's looking better. You got the bugs off.
"Yeah. She's going to be beautiful when I raise the sails."
When are you going to leave?
"After camp next year, probably. Mom doesn't want me to leave before I'm eighteen. I should be able to get the rest of the work done this school year, and I'll make some short trips during the summer."
Oh. We flew in silence for a few minutes, and then Blackjack asked,
Got room for one more? I don't think a pegasus has ever gone around the world before. It might be fun.
I stiffened in surprise, and he felt it and snorted. What, did you think I'd let you go off without me?
"I don't know how long I'll be gone," I warned him. "Or how often I'll be able to visit New York. The lady pegasi would miss you in the spring."
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, he replied smugly. And a far-flying pegasus is hot.
"Then… yeah." I swallowed, touched. "Yeah, I've got room for one more. I'll build a stall for you on deck when we head back next weekend."
A stall? Who needs it? I'll be spending most of my time in the air. Just bring oats. And apples. And sugar. And make sure you find a doughnut place when we hit land.
"I think I can manage something to keep the rain off, at least. Maybe a shelter on deck that I can put up when we hit a storm. And… thanks, Blackjack."
You need someone to watch your back, boss.
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At my birthday party that night, it was just me, Mom, and Paul. We'd gotten pizza at a nice restaurant, with a welcome interruption by a birthday Iris-message from Tyson that appeared in the middle of the pie. He said that reconstruction under the sea was going well, but that our father's visits had been nonexistent. He was shut up on Olympus and was only in contact with Triton for official business. We said good-bye at around the time that the people from the neighboring tables went from aggravated looks to actual requests to keep it down; Hecate only knows what they were actually seeing, but it must have been annoying.
Back home, there was birthday cake (blue, of course) and gifts. Most of them were stuff to take with me on the ship; Mom got me a hoodie with the logo 'my boat, my rules' and a baseball cap saying 'I'm the captain. Get over it.' From Paul, I got a year's subscription to a sailing magazine. The big gifts were a detailed set of navigational charts for the European coast and the Mediterranean, where I was planning on heading first, and gift certificates for a sailing course and a coastal navigation course at a Manhattan sailing club.
I raised the sailing certificate. It was the birthday for odd gifts, apparently. "Uh, thanks, but…"
"Just because you know how to use a car, doesn't mean you know the rules of the road, Percy," Mom said firmly. "I checked, and they make sure to teach the safety signals and navigational signs you'll see in occupied waters. One trip on a mythological sea does not mean that you have the experience you'll need in a harbor."
I shrugged. She'd been amazing about my deciding to put my education and potential job off for as long as possible in order to bum around the world on an ancient boat. This would make her happy, and at least it was a classroom I'd enjoy. "Think I can get an 'A'?"
"Another one?" Her smile was proud. The celebration we'd had at the beginning of summer when I brought home an A in physics and a solid B in pre-calculus had been bigger than when I'd got home after the war. "I think you'll blow them out of the water."
Paul chuckled, and reached out to take Mom's hand. "Only, please, not literally. And, Percy, there's something else important we have to tell you…"
My mom lost her smile and gripped Paul's hand tightly. They did a quick couple-communication thing with their eyes, and then she sighed and said, "Percy, I'm pregnant."
I wasn't sure I'd heard her right, and just kind of sat there staring at her for a minute. Pregnant? I mean, she was only thirty-six, but somehow I'd never thought that a second marriage might equal a second kid. It hadn't ever come up with Gabe, but she'd probably been pretty careful about birth control with him. (She'd probably been pretty careful with my dad, too, but human birth control didn't usually work with gods and goddesses.) If she was pregnant this time, it was because she wanted to be.
"Percy?" she asked worriedly. It broke me out of my daze.
"That's… that's great! When? Is it a boy or girl?"
She relaxed, and I realized how afraid she'd been that I'd be upset about it. "I'm two months along, so next March. We won't know the gender for a few more weeks."
I got up and gave her a hug, and Paul a clap on the shoulder. "Congratulations! Seriously, that's the best news I've had all summer. Have you talked about names?"
"Well, if it's a girl, we're thinking either Estelle, after my mother, or Andromeda."
"Theme naming? Weird. Plus, she married Perseus, so go with Estelle," I advised. Mom laughed.
"If it's a boy, probably James, after Sally's father," Paul added. He was looking a lot happier too; I hadn't noticed his tension until it was gone. We continued celebrating for the rest of the evening, and I did my best to show how happy I was for them, and how much I was looking forward to having another sibling.
I tried to hide the creeping terror, and thanked the gods that I'd already made plans to leave. They would never have to think they'd driven me away.
I didn't manage that as well as I'd hoped. Paul came onto the small balcony after me later, while I was watering the moonflowers. Mom took care of them mostly, but had planted a few in a flowerbox that she insisted would come with me when I sailed, and she made me water them during the school months.
"Your mother is getting ready for bed. Just between us, I need to know, are you all right? We can talk it through if you're worried."
"I'm happy for you," I answered firmly. "Paul, you both deserve this. You're going to be a great dad."
"You know we're not replacing you, right?" He looked at me earnestly.
"I know. It's Mom." The only real constant I'd had my entire life came from knowing that my mom loved and was proud of me, despite everything. "It's just… half-bloods attract monsters. Around a pregnant woman, or a baby… I'm scared."
"I know. We talked about it, before she went off the pill at the beginning of the summer. But we really want you to be here. You shouldn't learn you're getting a sibling when you're an ocean away."
That didn't actually make me feel much better. That my mom and Paul knew the risk and decided to go ahead anyway didn't mean there should be any risk.
I got an idea. A stupid idea, yeah, but I was good at making those work. "I need to head out for a while. Do you mind?"
"I'll be back before midnight."
"Is it for your…" He did the hand-circle that had come to be the family sign for 'demigod-thing'.
"Yeah. I need to test out a birthday present." I went back to my room to grab my upper-body armor.
Half an hour later, Rachel's phone rang three times before she picked up. I used every bit of my minor Mist-manipulation ability to try to make sure that no-one would notice the battle that was about to start in the middle of Central Park's Great Lawn.
"Percy? What's going on?" She sounded confused, but not like I'd woken her up. It was probably a bit after ten now, too early for her to be asleep.
"I just want to talk. Do you have a minute?"
"Yeah! I mean, yeah, sure, but… I kind of thought you'd be waiting until after you sailed away to use the phone. What about monsters?"
I saw the first sign of movement above me. A Stymphalian bird, and the rest of its flock would join it soon. A dracenae slithered out of the Reservoir in the distance. It had probably been hunting from there since the end of the war.
I uncapped Riptide. "Let them come."
I figured a good boyfriend should call once a week. The monster population of New York was about to be drastically reduced.
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June, two years after the end of the Second Olympian War.
I made sure not to toss my cap too high. I wanted to keep it. There had been a lot of times I didn't think I'd get this far.
A couple of hours later, I was nursing a can of soda at the post-graduation party. Mom had been at the ceremony, but had left right after congratulating me since Estelle was getting fussy. Paul was on the other side of the room guarding the punch- most of the teachers had been roped into chaperoning. Rachel hadn't been able to see all of her old friends from Goode in person when she'd come with me to my senior prom, but left the group that she was catching up with and came over to where I was leaning against the wall anyway.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
She gave me a look that said she knew I was lying, and I sighed. "It's stupid, but I'd kind of hoped… well, it's been a couple of years since I've heard from my dad. I thought he might come today."
"Yeah, about the gods…" She fished an envelope out of her purse. "Happy graduation."
I opened it, and pulled out a brochure and a receipt for lessons for two. It took me a while to make out the wording on the brochure, at first because the letters twisted around, and then because I was sure I hadn't read it right the first time. "You want me dead? What, did I miss your birthday or something?"
"The king of the gods is not paying attention, Percy." Despite the words, she was careful not to use his name. That was smart, considering what she'd just given me. "You know that already. When was the last time you saw anyone higher up in the pantheon than a river god?"
I actually had to think hard about it. "On Grover's birthday, two years ago. Apollo had a concert and wanted us to find something for him."
"Exactly. No-one's heard from them recently but Annabeth, and they haven't left Olympus or let anyone but her in for a long time. I know you miss your dad, but at least you've met him, right?"
"Yeah." I had a great mom and stepdad, and my father loved me even if he couldn't be around a lot. I knew I was luckier than a lot of demigods, but that didn't always make it easy. I looked at the brochure again. "So what's this for, then?"
"Well, when the cat's away, the mice can play, right? You're not the center of the universe anymore. Your prophecy is over, and the gods have other problems. You can either cry me a river, or…" She tapped the brochure and grinned.
"…Promise me you've seen us living through this."
"I swear on Apollo's name."
Good enough. I grinned back at her. "Then let's go skydiving."
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August 18, exactly two years after the end of the Second Olympian War.
I scraped a spare-rib into the small eternal brazier that Chiron had given me last week, almost certainly as a reminder not to forget to respect the gods. I sat down next to my mom and took Estelle to let her and Paul eat while Tyson and my other friends made their offerings; I don't know what the rest of the restaurant thought they saw, but no one had complained about the fire-code violation yet. Half of Camp Half-Blood, it seemed, was gathered around the back table of the barbecue restaurant. I didn't often have a big crowd for my birthday, since it usually landed a few days after camp ended, but this was doubling as a farewell sendoff. I was flattered that so many had shown up.
Camp had ended at the normal time this year; last year, Chiron had extended the season by a few days so we could have the memorial on the day most of our campers had died. My ship was finally finished and moored on the Hudson. I'd been sailing her on day-trips around the Sound all summer, and the camp bead this year showed the Firefly-vs.-triremes battle from three weeks ago, where we'd substituted green paint for Greek fire in the cannons and catapults.
(I won. No matter what Clarisse said, using waterspouts to catch and return projectiles is not cheating. And Ares Cabin should have known better than to challenge a son of Poseidon to a war on the water anyway.)
Mom and Paul saw the Firefly for the first time when I sailed it back to New York after camp closed last week, and we spent four days sailing up the coast and back. My little sister, now five months old, had taken the trip well. My mom thought the rocking soothed her. I figured it meant that I didn't get everything from my dad's side of the family; Mom had fallen in love with the sea all on her own. Paul spent the first day seasick, but got his sea legs in time to enjoy the last half of the trip.
At Annabeth's suggestion, I had combined the captain's cabin and one of the holds into a cabin where I actually had room to stretch, and left the other two cabins the same size, but furnished them with new bunks for when I had passengers. The small mess area had a modern stove and a fridge and freezer, all of which were powered from a series of roll-out solar panels on deck that followed my commands as easily as the cannons did, and the head had a fresh-water shower and a compost toilet. The main room that had once been the crew quarters had a couple of comfortable couches, a low-slung table, an entertainment system with a satellite TV and internet hookup, and built-in shelves that I wasn't sure I would ever fill.
Turning the decorating over to Aphrodite Cabin had not resulted in the pink frilly monstrosity that I'd been halfway afraid of, and the furniture and paint in the public areas were all in warm shades of browns, reds, and dark oranges that I actually really liked. I felt Piper's influence, although she denied having any talent in decorating and had mostly given her siblings free rein. My own cabin was blue and green, and felt like a cozier version of Cabin Three; Lacy had been determined to go with a sea-god scheme in at least one part of the ship.
I was ready to leave. I had been ready ever since the last sail was raised; as soon as it was actually possible to sail away, the crawling that had been under my skin since the end of the war had gotten ten times worse. It lessened whenever I weighed anchor, but came back as soon as I turned the ship around to sail home. I had become as distractible as Leo this summer; I was just glad that I had finished school before finishing my ship, or I'd probably have flunked out again.
Annabeth kicked me under the table. "Percy!"
"What?" I asked, startled out of thoughts of tomorrow.
"You haven't been listening at all, have you? Speech!"
"Speech!" Will Solace agreed. The rest of the campers took up the chant. "Speech! Speech! Speech!"
I rolled my eyes and stood, holding out my hands until they quieted down.
"Thanks for coming. I'm gonna miss you guys." I paused. "Yeah, I've got nothing else."
I sat back down to loud booing, and they took up the chant again until I stood up one more time. "Fine, fine, if you insist. Let's talk about the future. Rachel, do you mind?"
Rachel and I had lived through the skydiving lessons, obviously. There hadn't even been a hint of thunder. It had been incredible; flying on a pegasus was completely different from free-falling.
She smiled at me from the far end of the table. "Go ahead."
"What is my destiny?"
She stiffened, and breathed green smoke from her mouth, making a nearby waiter remind us that we couldn't smoke inside.
"On the waves of Manannan mac Lir
Where the children of Morrigan breed
The dream of the poets and seers
Shall offer the prize that you need.
The choice between knowledge and wisdom,
Made well, is the choice that will send
The son of the sea on a journey
That continues for time without end."
Rachel collapsed; Nyssa and Jake caught her before she could fall into her brisket. The rest of the table was silent. It was a pretty unusual prophecy. They didn't usually contain actual names.
"…Who?" Pollux finally asked.
"Well, the 'son of the sea' is pretty obvious," Annabeth said, frowning. "The other two… the name Manannan is familiar, but I can't think of from where…"
"Irish mythology. He's a sea god," my mom answered. She got a couple of surprised looks, which turned to embarrassment as everyone remembered exactly why she had a good reason to be the authority on sea gods at the table.
The second name came from an even more unexpected source. Clarisse said, "I think I know the other name. Morrigan was a war goddess. Her sacred animals are carrion birds. Crows and ravens. She might have been from Ireland, I can't remember."
"But they're not real, right?" Leo asked.
"They might have been once," Grover answered grimly. "Gods that forget themselves, or that lose the source of their power… well, they fade. It happened to Helios and Selene. It happened to Pan."
I glanced down at my palm, where a few months ago a strange kid with a wand and crooked sword had drawn a summoning spell for if I ever encountered his brand of mythology again. I hadn't told anyone that the monster that had eaten Guido's girlfriend had been an enchanted Nile Crocodile. We were at peace. We didn't need to go looking for trouble. But if the gods of Egypt were still around…
Rachel groaned and shook her head as she came out of her post-prophecy daze. "That never gets any less weird. What did I say?"
"I need to go to Ireland and look for crows, have a dream, make a choice, and keep on going. Does that sound about right?" I looked around.
" 'The dream of the poets and seekers' may not refer to any dream you're going to have. You aren't much of a poet, although we may all qualify as seers because of the demigod dreams," Annabeth pointed out. "It also doesn't say you're going to be the one making a choice."
"I'll find out when I get there, then. Ireland will be a fun first stop. And I really like the last line." I raised my glass. "I think I've been standing up here long enough, so how about a toast? To all of us, and to Camp Half-blood. May our journeys never end."
We made the toast, and I managed to keep from spacing out for the rest of the party. They sang 'Happy Birthday', there was cake, and I enjoyed one final night with my friends and family. It almost made me regret leaving. Almost.
As people were filing out saying good-bye and after I'd settled the check, Nico di Angelo appeared next to me. He hadn't actually shadow-travelled, although he moved so quietly these days that it seemed like it. He'd been sitting next to Grover all night, and had seemed to have a good time helping him and Piper mock the restaurant's vegetarian selection.
I was glad; the fourteen-year-old was hardly ever at camp even though his father had a cabin now. Spending that much time around dead people couldn't be healthy, but he tended to disappear whenever Chiron or I tried to get him to stay longer. He seemed to enjoy the job of his dad's ambassador, at least. He and Annabeth were the only demigods still in contact with their parents, since they visited them at home regularly, and if they knew anything about why the gates of Olympus were shut neither of them was able to talk about it.
Once I'd finished jumping out of my skin, he handed me a finger-sized package in black paper. "Happy birthday, Percy."
"Thanks, Nico. And, thanks for coming. It was good to see you." The package turned out to be a… whistle?... of freezing-cold black metal. "Is this Stygian iron?"
"Yeah. Daedalus made a few dog whistles for Cerberus a year or so back. It's like the Stygian ice whistle that he gave you, but you can use it more than once. Your dog will hear it and come. I tried."
Wow. "Thanks, Nico. I've been feeling guilty about leaving her behind, but Mrs. O'Leary's too big to take on the ship."
He twisted his ring nervously. "That's not why I gave it to you. I mean, if you want to play with your dog when you're on land, great, but she can shadow-walk you back to New York. When you want to visit, I mean."
"Oh." I looked at the whistle with new respect, and added it to my necklace, arranging the beads so that the whistle was in the center. "Thank you, Nico. I wasn't looking forward to not seeing anyone here for years. I mean, it's not like I'd risk an international plane trip, and I'm not going to ask Blackjack to carry me across an ocean."
"You're welcome." He gave me one of the few real smiles I'd seen from him since his sister's death. "There's one other thing… hearing your prophecy made me think of it. I told you I'd shadow-walked to China a couple of times when I was still learning, right?"
"Over there, my powers didn't all work. I could still shadow-walk, but when I tried to summon the dead, they didn't obey me. I eventually figured out that… that they didn't owe allegiance to my father."
"Just a second." Most of the campers were gone, and Mom and Paul had gone home to put Estelle to bed an hour ago, but I pulled him into a more isolated corner anyway. He jerked his shoulder out from under my hand like I'd burned him; I'd forgotten he didn't like to be touched. "Did you meet whoever they belonged to?"
He gaped at me. That obviously hadn't been the question he was expecting. "You believe me? Just like that?"
"Yeah, why wouldn't I?"
"You know other gods still exist?" His voice cracked in surprise. I'd been so glad when my voice stopped doing that; there was nothing more embarrassing than suddenly going squeaky in front of the Olympian council.
"Yeah." I hadn't told anyone else about meeting Carter, but Nico seemed to know about all this already. "Earlier in the spring I went after a monster on Long Island that had eaten one of the pegasi. It wasn't a Greek monster. There was another guy hunting it, and he wasn't a demigod, but my sword was able to cut him. We wound up working together."
"Oh." Nico seemed relieved. I guess because I wasn't calling him either crazy or blasphemous. "Was the monster Chinese?"
I shook my head. "Egyptian. The kid was a magician. He gave me a way to contact him if anything like that came up again, but I haven't seen anything else. You're the first person I've told."
He nodded. "My father suggested I not share the information. But you actually want to go to China at some point, right? So I thought you'd find out anyway."
"Thanks. And I'll keep an eye out for any Irish gods." I looked at him thoughtfully. It couldn't hurt to ask, right? "Would you like to come with me?"
He went bright red. "What?"
Never mind, yes it could. No matter how friendly we'd been tonight, there was a lot of bad history between us, from Bianca's death to his handing me over to his father. But I'd already made the offer, so I forged ahead anyway.
"I've got extra cabins, and you could shadow-travel back home if you ever got tired of sailing. I'm going to Italy eventually. Don't you want to go back? Or actually tour China for real?"
"Um, no, not really," he stammered. "And if I did I'd shadow-travel there. There's no place for me on your ship."
I frowned at that. "Is this a son of Hades thing? Because if it is, I don't think my dad cares. Z- the king of the gods may be a jerk about us flying, but I'm pretty sure you can go sailing."
"Yes." He grabbed onto that like a lifeline. "Yes, it's a son of Hades thing. I don't sail. I get… um, seasick. Really seasick."
I called minotaur-dung. He still blamed me for Bianca. At least I'd made the effort, though.
"OK. Let me know if you change your mind, all right? The offer's always open."
"I won't." He stepped into a shadow and disappeared. I was pretty sure I'd somehow just made our tentative friendship even shakier. I sighed and went back to where Annabeth and Rachel were waiting.
"I guess this is good-bye, then?" Annabeth gave me a small smile.
"Not for good," I promised. "Nico just gave me a magic dog whistle. I'll catch up with everyone at Christmas. And we can IM, and I'll post pictures of everywhere I go."
"You'd better. Get some good ones of the Parthenon. I'll get there eventually." She stepped forward and gave me a hug. "Be careful, Kelp-head. The old seas are dangerous."
"I will be," I promised. I let go of her and turned to Rachel. "Do I get a hug?"
"Percy, we need to talk." She was trying to look serious, but her lips were twitching. "I don't think this is working out- you're going across the ocean, and I'm going to art school, and, well…"
I clutched my heart. "Are you… breaking up with me?"
"I'd say that 'it's not you, it's me', but I'd be lying. We both know it's you."
I grabbed her hand and stared deep into her eyes. "Rachel, please! I can change!"
She finally burst out laughing and broke my grip. Someone had been teaching her self-defense - probably Annabeth, who was laughing along with her. She gave me a hug, then punched my shoulder as she stepped away. "Don't, Percy. Don't ever change."
"Ow. And now you're abusing me. What if that had been my mortal spot?" I rubbed my shoulder theatrically. "Worst girlfriend ever. You can't break up with me, I'm breaking up with you first."
"If that makes you feel better," she giggled. "Ask me for a prophecy if you ever need one, Percy. Stay safe."
"No promises about safety, but I'll be in touch."
We left the restaurant and went our separate ways. It had become much safer to be a demigod in New York this last year, and, more to the point, much safer to live with one. Once a week or so, I let every monster in a hundred-mile radius know where I was, and the ones that hated demigods came to kill me.
I was still alive. They weren't.
The next morning, I went to the closest dock and called. In the distance, the Firefly's sails furled and her anchor raised. As my clipper came closer to the dock, I shook Paul's hand and gave Estelle a kiss on the forehead while she tried to stuff both fists into her mouth. Precocious kid.
I turned into my mom's open arms. When had she gotten shorter than me?
"Mom. Thanks. For everything." For always believing in me, blessing everything I had ever tried to do, being there when I needed her and letting me go when she knew I was ready.
"I love you, Percy. You'll always be able to come home."
"I know. I love you, Mom."
The Firefly pulled up to the dock, and ropes swung down and wrapped around my last pieces of luggage and the five hundred pounds of dog kibble we'd picked up on the way. When they were hauled aboard, I took a deep breath and stepped away from my mom. This was it. It was finally happening.
The boarding ramp pulled itself up behind me, and the sails furled. The itching under my skin disappeared. Completely. I was at peace, for the first time that I could remember.
As the Firefly pulled away from the dock, I raised an arm one last time in farewell, and didn't turn back again. When I got to the center of the Hudson, Blackjack landed on the clear spot on the foredeck.
Are we ready to go, boss?
I pulled a box of doughnuts out of my backpack and pushed them towards him.
"Yeah, Blackjack. We're ready. Let's see what's out there."
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August 18th, exactly four years after the end of the Second Olympian War.
"Happy birthday, dear Percy, happy birthday to you!"
I blew out the twenty candles on my birthday cake. We were at a pizza place in East Manhattan, which had given me a great opportunity to describe in horrific detail the single time I'd tried to order pizza in Rome. (I still felt vaguely gypped.) It was a smaller party than two years ago. Mom and Paul were there, of course, with Estelle in a high-chair between them. She had Mom's brown hair and Paul's brown eyes, and was probably the most adorable toddler ever.
No, I'm not biased.
Annabeth , Rachel, Grover, and Nico were on the other side of the table; Annabeth and Rachel were going into their junior years at NYU's programs in architecture and art, respectively, and they were both minoring in classics. Nico was still working for his father, but had finally started spending enough time in camp to participate in the modern school classes that the year-round campers took.
Clarisse and Chris Rodriguez-La Rou were a bit farther down the table. They'd been passing through on their way back from their ROTC program's third-summer officer training, and had managed to make the party. Clarisse had finally officially handed her councilor position to one of her younger brothers last year, since she hadn't been able to be at camp in the summers. Leo and Piper, at the far end of the table, were still the councilors of their cabins, and were both about to start their first years of college.
"And here is your cake, Percy!" My brother Tyson had made it up from the ocean for my birthday, and was sitting between me and Clarisse. He handed me a corner piece. Nice.
As I took a drink before starting my cake, I felt a cool, salty sea breeze on my face, completely out of place in the slightly stuffy restaurant. I exchanged a glance with Tyson (which is an acquired skill with a Cyclops) and cut off a piece of my cake and tossed it into the brazier in the center of the table. It had had a frosting flower- that had been a real sacrifice.
I raised my Coke in salute.
I'm doing fine, Dad. Thanks for checking.
The breeze ruffled our hair and disappeared.
Mrs. O'Leary would shadow-walk me back to Japan in two days, and after a final night out in Tokyo, I'd sail for China. It had been an amazing two years, and I had no intention of stopping. After I'd made it around the world, I'd go around again. I hadn't made it back to the Americas, or sailed around Africa, or touched northern Europe. There was so much left to see.
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August 11, five years after the Second Olympian War.
"Your birthday is approaching again. We would like you to celebrate with us this year. Will you stay?"
"Sure, I'll let my family know."
"I really can't agree with this course of action. Wouldn't it be better to see if a longer isolation would send Gaia back to sleep entirely?" Dionysus asked.
Apollo jerked out of his light doze at the question and glanced around at the assembled Olympians. He often caught bits of information in his sleep, as the god of prophecy, though they weren't usually in Japanese. He thought he even recognized the woman's voice, although he'd never before heard it that full of affection, or actually with anything but cold formality covering seething anger. They had only met once, but she had been memorable. The man who answered her had also been familiar, although he couldn't place him among any of the Japanese speakers he knew.
It would come to him. He never forgot a voice.
He turned his attention back to the meeting, and threw up his hands.
"I am really bored.
The Western World needs its Sun.
Let the giants come."
"Eloquent as always, Apollo," Hermes said dryly, "but I agree. We have neglected our duties long enough. The mortals have fallen into recessions and political gridlock, droughts and storms rage unchecked and undirected, and they made movies of the Twilight series."
Murmurs of agreement rose from around the room, and from the few minor gods that observed from the recently constructed amphitheater that contained their new thrones. After their Styx-imposed obligations were fulfilled, the first few meetings had been well-attended, but everyone had figured out pretty quickly that there was nothing more boring than an Olympian council when nothing was happening. Zeus had decided to spread the misery, and attendance at both Solstice meetings had become mandatory for every god that had claimed a throne on Olympus.
Zeus rolled his eyes. "Yes, we are as recovered from the fight with Typhon as we ever will be, and the gates will be opened. Dionysus, you will return to your community service. The rest of you may resume your normal functions. You may watch your children, but keep your distance unless you must claim them. It's high time we went back to the traditional values."
Poseidon in particular looked mutinous at that, but before he could speak, Hera interjected with, "All of our power will not avail us alone against the giants. We must reunite with the demigods, and reconcile them with each other. If we fight the children of the Earth, our mortal children must fight beside us, or we are doomed to fail."
"We do not require a demigod's help again. Our reach and influence have grown greatly since the first Gigantomachy. Gaia will be defeated without any mortals this time," Zeus snapped. When their half-blood children saved Olympus and their leader turned down the reward he was offered, it had stuck in Zeus's craw. The rest of them had been grateful for a few months, but then the jokes had started among the minor immortals. 'Hey, did you hear about Jackson? They tried to make him a god, but he wasn't selfish enough.'
"It's got nothing to do with power. That's just how they were made," Ares interjected unexpectedly in support of his mother. He shrugged at the looks he was getting- they would expect a voice of reason in war from Mars, but the war god was firmly Greek at the moment. "What? There's no fun in an enemy that can't be killed. Defeat a giant without a demigod around, and he'll just get up again."
"We must resume contact with our children," Athena agreed. "Though I do not believe that the Romans will be necessary. The Greek demigods will suffice."
"That is a debate for another day," Hera said. She had been agitating to unite their sides since Gaia began stirring five years ago. Apollo was pretty sure that, as Juno, she would go ahead with her plan and ask for forgiveness later once the gates of Olympus were opened. He didn't care; his Greek and Roman forms were pretty much the same, down even to their names. And the last five years had been so dull, stuck keeping the vast majority of their power and awareness closeted up on a single mountain.
Hera continued, "We have always been more distant from Rome, but the Greek demigods will certainly have noticed our silence. The five-year anniversary of the end of the war is next week. Let us invite the defenders of Olympus and their siblings to join the celebration, and renew our bonds with your children."
"Seconded," Poseidon said immediately, followed just as quickly by Artemis, who had been separated from her Hunt for half a decade.
"Cut a giant into pieces and he will have as much difficulty reforming as Ouranos and Kronos did," Zeus snapped. "We do not need them."
"There is a prophecy, brother," Hestia spoke up unexpectedly. Her throne, a comfortable rocking chair of deep brown wood with flame-colored cushions, had been restored to its place between Hera's and Demeter's, just as a new, stark black Stygian Iron throne now sat between Poseidon's and Hephaestus's thrones. Both stayed empty unless it was a Solstice; Hestia still preferred the task of tending the hearth, and Hades stayed in the Underworld except when he transported himself directly to Olympus every winter and, now, summer.
Apollo personally thought that getting laid every summer had improved Hades' temperament immeasurably, though Demeter got noticeably crankier every June.
" 'Seven half-bloods shall answer the call'." Hestia rose from her stool, perfectly at ease as a normal-sized eight year old in the middle of the semicircle of fifteen-foot gods. "It means that we will be forced to call upon them. Your mortal children will play a part in this fight. This is fated. Struggling against it is pointless.
"Four of the Seven will come from Camp Half-blood, and the children of Aphrodite and Hephaestus have never met their parent. Hera's proposal is wise. Whether you choose to limit contact afterwards is up to you, but first show them what they will fight for. Let them see the flames of the West."
Zeus grunted. Hestia was the peacemaker, and the eldest of the six children of Rhea. She did not speak up often, but when she did she was difficult to ignore. "Very well. All in favor?"
The only dissenters were Dionysus and Zeus himself. Hera smiled, gracious in victory, and handed a stack of pre-made invitations to Hermes, who grinned as the messages disappeared and he let his power leave the mountain for the first time in five years. He had been going stir-crazy, and had told Apollo many times that he and Artemis were the lucky ones- there was always a small part of them driving a chariot somewhere in the world. They had been the only gods still with a significant part of their consciousness out in the world, although their father always watched while they were in the sky to ensure that they made no stops or detours. Each time, Apollo had replied that it was no fun being able to look and not touch.
"Is there any other business?" Zeus asked, looking around.
"Yes, actually," Poseidon said unexpectedly. "It concerns the ocean primarily, but it may spill onto the surface world. In my last communication with Triton, he said that Ryujin has requested a face-to-face meeting concerning our disputed waters in the North Pacific. If we had not opened the gates today, we would have needed to do so three days from now. He told Triton that he has a proposal for a diplomatic settlement."
"Disputed waters?" Athena asked, as her eyebrows rose at the mention of the dragon god of the Far Eastern seas. "What do you mean?"
Poseidon grimaced. "When I was fighting Oceanus, the majority of my power was focused in the Atlantic. My control over the waters in the far western part of my territory weakened, and Ryujin pushed my influence back significantly."
"How far?" Artemis asked.
"From the Mariana Trench to the Midway Islands and Hawaii. I kept hold of the waters in the South Pacific." Poseidon shook his head. "It's a large chunk of the Pacific, but no merman colonies had settled that far west, and those waters are some of the deepest and most inhospitable in the world. Even we like some light, although the dragons may find it more to their tastes. It was not worth another war so soon after finishing the last one, and so we have had an uneasy peace on the new border since then. Ryujin appears to wish for a more permanent resolution."
"Was he working with Oceanus?" Zeus asked with a frown.
Poseidon snorted. "He would never stoop to an alliance with a Western god. It was an attack of opportunity, nothing more."
"But, it is a continuation of a disturbing trend," Hermes pointed out.
Most of the council grimaced, reminded of the turning tide after the Second World War, as pantheon after pantheon had put aside their conflicts with their neighbors and surged back to reduce the influence of Western civilization in their native territories. It had started with the Hindu gods back in 1947, and had continued ever since. The gods of a land were rarely aligned with the politics of the mortals that lived there; even when a new country remained friendly with its former colonial power, the native gods were usually implacably hostile to the West.
"It's an insult, is what it is," Ares snarled. "Are you just going to let him have your land? Er, water, I mean."
"Your loss of influence in the colonies is not relevant here. Understand, Ares, Hermes, I was not asking permission, only informing the council of an ongoing negotiation. The oceans remain my domain." Poseidon smiled thinly. "I will see what terms he offers. If they are not agreeable, the oceans will go to war. The conflict with Gaia will be fought primarily on land; Polybotes is not the opponent that Oceanus was. We are in a more favorable position than we would have been five years ago."
Zeus nodded curtly. "Very well. Keep us posted. Is there any other business?"
Despite how much he just wanted to get out of there and enjoy his new freedom, Apollo spoke up. There was something about his dream that nagged at him. It was too out of place. "I had an odd dream. Are there any memorable birthdays coming up soon?"
Aphrodite snapped her compact shut, and even Hephaestus stopped fiddling with the gadget in his hand to look at him incredulously.
"You're the god of prophecy, brother," Artemis said. " 'A child of the eldest gods/ shall reach sixteen against all odds.' Does that sound familiar?"
Oh. Right. Hadn't he and his satyr friend been celebrating Percy's birthday the last time he saw them, though? Maybe they'd put the celebration off until they weren't at war. That made sense.
Percy's voice had been settling into a light baritone that had sounded a lot like the man's voice in his dream… but Poseidon's son didn't speak fluent Japanese, and certainly not without any trace of an American accent. It couldn't have been him.
"He'll have just turned twenty-one at the party, hmm?" Dionysus mused. "A pity he's your son, Barnacle Beard. I never did manage to get Theseus drunk. He was able to keep everything but high-proof alcohol out of his bloodstream."
"And a pity I haven't been able to mention that trick to Percy," Poseidon answered, lips twitching and looking considerably less grim at the reminder of the upcoming celebration. "Everyone should learn the consequences of overindulgence once."
As Dionysus toasted him with a can of Diet Coke, Hermes snapped his fingers and produced three invitations. "And, done, with a few holdouts. Ares, Clarisse La Rou and my son Chris are deployed in Afghanistan; you'll be able to get the invitations to them easier than I can."
Ares grinned. "That's my girl!"
"And they got married at some point, by the way." Hermes tossed two cards to Ares.
"Poseidon, Percy's in your realm- I couldn't find him." The last invitation folded into a paper airplane and sailed towards Poseidon. The sea god caught it and sent the bulk of his power out into his oceans for the first time in five years.
"And, if there is no other business, we're done here. Finally." Zeus had gone as stir-crazy as the rest of them in the last five years.
"Wait." The second speaker in his dream couldn't have been Percy Jackson. But if it was… then Apollo must have been wrong about the identity of his companion, because she hated the West in general and Western demigods in particular with all the fury of the sun. "Wait until the invitation is sent."
"After five years, I will not delay resuming our duties for one arrogant-"
"He's not under the sea," Poseidon said.
It silenced Zeus. Poseidon raised his trident and pointed towards the hearth. White mist rose from the fire, but instead of forming an image of Percy's current location, it stayed opaque. Hestia rose from her stool again and added her own power to the fire, which doubled the size of the flames but made the smoke no clearer. Hera extended her own hand, and Demeter followed suit. Zeus grimaced and joined his older siblings, and the smoke finally became just a bit clearer, enough to briefly resemble a sleeping body. It was enough to show that he was alive, but no more.
Poseidon replaced his trident in the holster on his throne with a frown.
"Could a giant have awakened without our noticing?" Athena asked. "Poseidon's son would be the logical first target, if they fear that the gods and demigods will fight together against them once more."
"It does not feel like a deliberate concealment," Hestia disagreed. "He is just beyond our influence. Poseidon, have you looked in on him while we have been shut up on Olympus?"
"…yes. A year ago, on his birthday. He was close by, and happy," Poseidon admitted grudgingly. Zeus's expression turned thunderous, but none of them were particularly startled that Poseidon had maneuvered around the restrictions upon them all to check on his favorite son; the only surprise was that he had done so just once.
"Then he's just traveled north for some reason," Hephaestus rumbled. "Check with his girlfriend when we close up here; she spends half her time here anyway."
Athena raised her eyebrows. "My daughter is not Percy Jackson's girlfriend."
"What?" Aphrodite snapped. "What do you mean? He gave up immortality for her! They were meant to be!"
"Your machinations do not mean she had an obligation to accept his courtship. I am grateful she came to her senses."
Apollo cut off their uncle before the old Poseidon-Athena rivalry could take a new and interesting twist. "He hasn't gone north."
The Olympians looked at him as he rose from his throne and approached the fire. White mist billowed out of the Flames of the West once more.
"He's gone east. Ares, Athena, Hermes, with me." He was wrong about this. He had to be wrong about this.
(He was the god of truth, and could recognize a lie when he told it to himself.)
The eldest gods were powerful within their own domains, but it was the younger generation that served as the vanguard of Western Civilization.
Ares and Athena, their war deities.
Hermes, for trade and diplomacy.
Dionysus, the god of wine and debauchery and the patron of the theater.
Hephaestus, who with Athena and Hermes encompassed their various aspects of technology and innovation.
Apollo himself, whose influence in other civilizations these days spread mostly through music and pop culture.
(In the past, it had spread through plague. He had done far more than Ares or Athena to bring the Americas into the West.)
One by one, the deities whose influence extended into Japan focused on the fire, and the mist cleared.
The picture showed two people on a bed in a darkened room. The man was naked, but covered by a light blanket from the waist down. He had the body of an Olympic swimmer and the good looks of a Greek god. The Greek god behind him, to be precise- Percy Jackson's resemblance to Poseidon had only gotten stronger as he finished growing and lost the last of his childhood roundness.
They had only a second to take in the scene before the goddess next to him jerked awake and turned towards them. She was just as naked as her lover, and they had a brief glimpse of long black hair and a beautiful Asian face twisted in outrage before she made a sharp gesture. A golden line slashed across the mist and destroyed the image.
"Who was that?" Artemis asked in shock, speaking for the entire council.
Apollo removed his sunglasses. His eyes were glowing as golden as the power that had shattered the image of a damning betrayal. He didn't think he'd been this furious since Zephyrus killed Hyacinthus.
"That was Amaterasu-omikami. Sun goddess of Japan. Central deity of the Shinto pantheon."
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Mythology, picture links, and general notes:
The short stories referenced in this chapter were 'Percy Jackson and the Staff of Hermes' and 'Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo', with mentions of the events in the 'Son of Sobek'. This story was first conceived of when I saw one too many stories where Percy was betrayed or abandoned or ignored by the gods, and then did something silly like join Chaos or the Titans in retaliation, even though the gods are really annoying to have around in daily life. It branched off from there as I started thinking about where he might go and what he might do instead, and I've got some things planned that I've never seen before in a PJO fic, but that's kind of where it started.
So, it was a forty-page-long setup, but to summarize: When Zeus almost completely closed off Olympus in the hopes that withdrawing from the world would keep Gaia and the giants from waking up, it worked. Five years later, the gods have fully recovered from fighting Typhon and have left Olympus, the Giant War is about to start, and Percy is kind of hoping that the gods go back to ignoring him again soon, thanks all the same.
Explanations of the pairings, in the hopes of avoiding future flames: I thought about making this story Percabeth, but every time I considered writing a story with a brilliant architect who leaves an important and meaningful job that she'd dreamed about her entire life, just to follow her man as he bums around the world, a part of me died inside. I do like the pairing, and tried to give the 'breakup' the attention it deserved. Percy will have lovers of both genders, but his most lasting relationship is going to be with his ship.
Regarding the other canon pairings: it is my goal to make all of the relationships in the story driven by the plot, and not vice versa. The Heros of Olympus timeline has been pushed back five years, which means that Jason/Piper won't be happening because Jason had a lot of extra time to get to know Reyna, and I doubt I'll write any Frank/Hazel considering that he'll be twenty-one and she'll still be resurrected at thirteen. That's not even close to legal in California.
The Firefly: Modeled after the Chasseur, a Baltimore clipper that had a distinguished career as an American privateer in the War of 1812 and that did not meet the accident in battle that I described. Good pictures of a similar ship can be found at www. pride2 .org (remove the spaces). Despite being improbably intact after two centuries in a corrosive saltwater environment, metal and all, it is just a normal sailing ship; I've given Percy some significant issues, but the ship is a symptom, not the cause.
Ryujin: Dragons are the spirits of the water and rains in both Chinese and Japanese mythology; Ryujin is the ruler of the sea in Shinto mythology, although Susano'o, the god of storms, also has some power over the ocean. His daughter Otohime married a demigod hunter named Hoori, and their son was the father of Emperor Jimmu, the legendary first emperor of Japan. The page my mental image of Ryujin's dragon form is coming from is: www. gothambynight dot com /scion/ryujin. htm
In-story, I've squished the mythologies together where it concerns the ocean. Ryujin is the ruler of the dragon gods of the seas around China and Japan, with a separate court that has strong ties to the pantheons of both countries, but which is more independent from the land gods of either pantheon than Poseidon is from Olympus. Ryujin's original territory was the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea. Like Poseidon, who started in the Mediterranean and moved west, he has expanded his influence considerably in recent centuries. His territory now stretches around Thailand and through Indonesia and the Philippines, and he made a major push into Poseidon's waters in the North Pacific when Poseidon was distracted fighting Oceanus. His territory is bordered on the west by Varuna, the Hindu sea god in the Indian Ocean, and by Poseidon to the south (Australia and New Zealand) and east.
'The Hindu gods, back in 1947': India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947, and many former European territories followed suit in the next fifty years, up to and until Hong Kong was transferred from England's sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997.
Amaterasu: The sun goddess of Japan and the ruler of the Shinto pantheon; her full title is Amaterasu-omikami. My mental image comes from genzoman. deviantart dot com /art/Amaterasu-126263744 . Hoori, the hunter who married Ryujin's daughter, was her great-grandson, and so Hoori's grandson Emperor Jimmu was Amaterasu's descendent. All emperors of Japan claimed this divine heritage until the 1946 Humanity Declaration in Allied-occupied Japan after WWII, when Emperor Hirohito denied that he was divine. Amaterasu, consequently, is less than fond of the West.
Amaterasu has two brothers, the moon god Tsukuyomi, who is also her husband, and Susano'o, the god of storms, both of whom will be introduced next chapter. All three deities (and a lot of others) were born when their father Izanagi purified himself after failing to retrieve his wife from the Underworld; Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi were born when he washed his left and right eyes, respectively, and Susano'o was born when he washed his nose.
Amaterasu's most famous legend is when she and Susano'o got in a contest over who could make the best gods from a household object, and there was an argument over who won. Susano'o threw a tantrum that resulted in the death of one of Amaterasu's attendants, which made Amaterasu so upset that she closed herself up in a cave and refused to come out. The world was thrown into darkness, and everything was dying until a goddess of laughter did a strip-tease in front of Amaterasu's cave while all the other Shinto gods hooted and applauded. Amaterasu wanted to know what the commotion was about, and was told that they'd found a goddess more radiant than the sun goddess. She got insulted, came out of the cave, and saw her reflection for the first time in the mirror hung from the tree outside. While she was distracted by the shiny, the other gods sealed up the cave behind her and sunlight was brought back to the world.