AN: You probably don't even remember who I am, but hello again.

I was originally going to post this fic on my new account, but I figured that it would reach more people if I posted it through this one. Back when I used to write for the Percy Jackson archive, I remembered seeing a whole onslaught of Percy/Artemis fics of varying quality and plotline (i.e. he gets betrayed by Annabeth, becomes a guardian of the hunt, they magically fall in love, the end). I remember thinking, that's not how gods work. I thought, maybe I should try my hand at it. So I've had this idea for a really long time, but never actually got around to it. This began as a one-shot that rapidly grew teeth and decided to run off into the sunset. I hope you enjoy it, and take it as my apology for my two-year long hiatus. I'm not sure if I'll actually continue this story, what with classes starting next week, but anyway, here it is.

In this story, Percy is not canon. Neither is Camp, nor the gods. Once you get to the bare bones of it, Camp Half Blood is an institution designed to teach kids how to fight and die for their parents. This Percy is aware of that, and will strive to change it. He's up against much stronger and realistic opponents (don't tell me an eleven year old kid can defeat the god of war; that's just insane), so he's going to have to be smarter to reach his goals. This is not a rehash of canon.

This chapter covers Book I.


Chapter I: Desensitization

It is easier to kill if you do not feel.
(Do not worry, I will teach you.)


Child soldiers do not exist anymore, least of all here. This is 21st century America. We are a society of civilized, rational people, without need for such barbaric measures.



Percy's not into myths. If he wanted to see monsters, he could simply look out the window. (One day, he will gaze into the mirror and see a monster's reflection staring back with cold green eyes. It is in his blood to be cruel and unnatural. He will learn this in the years to come.)

When he was five, his mother left a book of Greek myths on his nightstand. He doesn't admit that it gave him nightmares for days after. (The Minotaur's eyes gleamed strangely from the page.) These stories always seemed more than that—almost alive. And when Mr. Brunner stared at him with those sad liquid brown eyes and silently beseeched him to understand—well tough luck, Mr. Brunner, he didn't get it. He didn't want to.

The avoidance strategy works well until he turns eleven and his mother dies.

He's eleven and alone, eleven and angry.

They bring him to Camp.

It's another world, trapped in the bowels of their own. Children with blonde and brown and black hair and eyes of all different shades but still so similar, still so tired, training to fight (to kill). And some part of him, even as the blonde-haired teenager with the disfiguring scar ripping his face apart (like a monster tearing at the seams, ready to gouge its fingers through that grotesque smiling face and tear through a meat mask) folds his fingers (soft, unworn, unstained) over a sword's hilt, thinks it's wrong. Teaching him to fit in (to be one of them). The weapon is unbalanced and heavy, and each swing knocks the breath out of his lungs. He convinces himself that the ache in his throat (I want to go home) is only temporary.

His name is Percy Jackson but they call him the Unclaimed. He's a piece of property, and no one pays him any attention because he's one of dozens, sad and grey and unwanted, wandering around until they faded or became bitter enough to get killed. It's then that he realizes the true nature of the world. He wants to survive. He's too deep in this world to get out ignorant, so all he can do is to become the best. He will be strong and he will leave.

He convinces himself that this is still possible.

(He doesn't believe it either).

So he plasters a smile on his face and hefts the sword with both hands, charging the boy with the traitorous smile like he has any hope of winning.

It's all different now. His mom's gone—dead, even though the gods insist, frozen. Grover has hooves and Mr. Brunner's not Mr. Brunner anymore and he looks like a thousand years of regret has pressed him into the ground. (Belatedly, he wondered if this was what his old teacher had been trying to warn him about—telling him to run.)


On the first day of camp, he wakes with a bucket of ice water to the face. He gasps in a breath and yanks the sodden blankets off of him reproachfully.

"What was that for?" he demands, blinking the water out of his eyes, angling his chin upwards so he can meet the stare of the girl in the hallway. She wears black, tight fitting clothing and an orange t-shirt. A bucket is carelessly tucked between the crook of her elbow and her hip.

"Time to get up," she says, jerking her chin towards the open door. "Showers start in five. Get your clothes and follow me."

"Well, I've already had a shower, thanks to you."

"Shut up and follow me."

Bemused, Percy grabs the bundle of steel-grey clothes sitting on his nightstand —which weren't his— and follows, stopping only to slip on his shoes. The girl doesn't wait. He gets to the door just in time to see her turn the corner. He jogs to catch up to her, falling in step. The corridors are badly lit and smell of dust, full of twists and turns and dead ends that it makes him think of a labyrinth, but the girl doesn't pause at all.

"Couldn't you have woken me up like a normal person?"

"It worked, didn't it?"

"What's your name?"

She tsk-ed. "Wrong question."

"At least tell me where I am."

Finally, she stops in front of a black metal door twice their height. At eye level, "shower" is stencilled in white blocks. When she turns around, Percy sees her clearly for the first time. She has blonde hair and grey eyes, but can't be much older than he is.

"You're in the Big House," she says after a pause. Her voice would be nice to listen to, if it weren't so cold. "At Camp Half Blood. How much do you remember?"

"I don't remember getting here." He wrinkles his nose in thought. There was Montauk—his mom—and Grover? In the sparse lightning of the storm it almost looked as though he had hooves, and goat legs, and... no, the car had flipped and Percy had dragged him out, they were definitely real—

The Minotaur, and—and...


The girl nods. "That's to be expected. You passed out while we were carrying you across the border. I don't know what god you pissed off to have a Minotaur come after you, but you're lucky to be alive at all."

"My mom..."

The girl shakes her head.

"I'm sorry."

She doesn't sound sorry at all. Her voice is flat and rote, like she's repeated this statement enough times that it has sucked any emotion she feels about it right out. Percy allows himself three seconds, then squeezes his eyes shut.

"So what now?"

In response, she pushes open the door and motions for him to get in with a sardonic flourish of her arm. Percy takes one last breath and squeezes through, trying to keep away from her.

The inside of the room is painted dark grey. Two showerheads are on either side. The floor is tiled white with crisscrossing black lines.

"You know how to take a shower, right?" she says sarcastically. "What are you waiting for?"

"Oh, I don't know—maybe for you to turn around?"

She rolls her eyes. "If you insist."

Then, with a snap of her fingers, a second cold deluge falls on top of him with a belch of water. Before he can do more than jerk in surprise, the flow shuts off and evaporates immediately from his skin.

"You're clean," says the girl. Her expression doesn't change, but at least she looks less hostile now. "Good to know. It would have been... troublesome." At his confused stare, she sighs and elaborates, "That was one of Apollo's mixtures. If you weren't one of us, you die. Burn up."

"I...what?" He stares incredulously at the quickly evaporating mist, being sucked out of the room by an invisible ventilation system. They weren't showers, after all. "Who... what are you? One of us?"

The girl meets his eyes. He feels lead settle into his bones and knows he will not like what follows.

"How much do you know about the gods?"


They call it "Camp Half Blood" but they all know it is a war camp. It's even got its different divisions, filled with children who were genetically programmed to be brilliant at their jobs.

There are twelve cabins in total. Cabins one through three are always empty. He doesn't know why, but no one offers answers and he learns on the first day that asking questions (especially the wrong ones, which Percy seems prone to do), is outright sacrilege. Cabin Four is Demeter's cabin; poisons and anti-venoms. Cabin five, Ares: front-line assault soldiers. Cabin six, Athena: intelligence, tacticians, and spies. Cabin seven, Apollo: doctors and snipers, opposite sides of the coin. Cabin eight is for the Hunters of Artemis, which is empty. Cabin nine are the Hephaestus kids, the forgers, the quartermasters. They make and distribute swords and armour like candy. Cabin ten, Aphrodite: infiltrators, charming and pretty, who flirt and seduce and kill in the same breath. Cabin eleven, Hermes: the messengers, codebreakers, swift of foot and tireless. Where the unwanted kids went. Cabin twelve, Dionysus: the interrogators (because who knew better how to break a mind than those responsible for insanity?).

He sits with them at mealtimes, these cruel, unnatural, lonely children.

He knows what it feels like to drown. They do not scream but he hears them nevertheless, all the words they will never say.

He scrapes off a part of his dinner into the bronze sacrificial brazier. Thousands of years ago, they used to throw people into them. Now, they just have another way of doing it.

Though the smoke smells sweet and fresh, it smells to him like burning flesh.


It seems surreal to have an actual god amongst them, even if Mr. D doesn't seem like much. He's pudgy, his cheeks are always flushed red with alcohol, and he doesn't look like he could harm a fly, let alone one of them. But when Percy looks into wine-purple eyes and sees twenty or thirty nubile, naked female bodies caught in the throes of fear, a white, twisting rope in a scenery of foliage—the screams, and satyrs with their skin of coarse, rough hair leaving bruises in their grasps, and—these are the nymphs and satyrs and this is always how it has been—

He never makes that mistake again.

On the outside, the Camp seems welcoming. A haven for tired demigods. A safe place to sleep, to train and get stronger so they could defend themselves and their friends (and die for the gods). This life is only for the elite of the group. Namely, the councillors and their factions. Those on the very bottoms of the food chain, like the Unclaimed... well, if a few Ares kids went overboard with their initiation, it was only to be expected, right? A little nectar and ambrosia and they'll be fine. It doesn't leave any lasting impressions. And if sometimes, a few of them go missing...

Well, Camp has limited space, anyway.


The other campers don't accept or want him. He's one of the Unclaimed, the bottom of the echelon, so he learns to watch out for himself, even in his sleep. He lives in the Hermes cabin with the other unwanted demigods, who eye him like an enemy even though he offers them kind smiles.

"Any idea who your parent might be?" Luke says one evening, before lights-out.

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be here, would I?"

Maybe in another world the Unwanted would have stuck together, but here, they revelled in the fact that Percy was now the lowest of the low, since he was the newest. They delighted in having someone to jerk around, and perhaps in some vicarious way, made them feel better about their lack of power. Percy pities them more than he hates them. It's not their fault.

Three days after Percy arrives at Camp half Blood, they decide to hold their traditional monthly Capture the Flag game. Percy's team puts him in the weakest spot because they're vindictive (he's just another useless mouth to feed). His helmet is too big and is always sliding over his eyes, and his sword is too heavy so he always has to prop the tip against the ground before he can reach up to push sweat slickened metal from his eyes.

Between one moment and the next, Clarisse flies out of the darkness and has him in the river before he can blink. Her electric spear is an inch from his throat, and she stares down at him with unblinking gleaming hungry eyes. This is the inky time she has looked alive.

"Well, Prissy?" she sneers. "That the best you got?"

She'll kill him and they both know it. He won't be missed. If anything, this kind of brutality is encouraged. This is a way for them to release their anger so they won't rebel—by turning on each other.

The tip of her spear diverts from its path and jabs into the water. Electricity courses through the river, up the armor, and melts Percy's body. He doesn't know if he's screaming or not but the river is running red and it's shaking and when he forms a fist the river rises—he points a finger at the daughter of Ares and she's gone, drowned beneath hundreds of litres of water. The riverbed is dry and flaky against his palms, he throws up on the bank and rolls over, losing his helmet and sword in the process.

He stands up, his knees trembling, and crunches on Clarisse's spear with the heel of his shoe until it splinters in two, and the sizzling yellow light at the tip fades. The forest is soaked. Clarisse is unmoving, and Percy hovers over her uncertainly. When the first campers emerge from the trees with surprised eyes, he blurts out, "I didn't mean—"

They're surrounding him. Almost a hundred of them, scattered around the trees. He can only see the whites of their eyes. He takes a step back, prepared to fight.

And then they kneel. Slowly, in a wave of clinking armour and gleaming eyes, they look to the ground and bend unwilling knees.

"Son of Poseidon," says Chiron (no longer Mr. Brunner). "Son of the sea."

It's then that Percy loses his identity as just Percy, the kid who went to Yancy and gets kicked out of a boarding school every year, who is a delinquent because he's never seen his dad and his mom's gone all the time because it's the only way they can survive. Percy Jackson dies that day, under the influence of Clarisse's spear, in all the ways that matter.

The Hellhound leaps out of the trees. Maybe to finish the job. Maybe he should have let it.

Running on terror and adrenaline, Percy makes it explode.

(He doesn't consider how easy it will be to do the same on a human.)

As the campers surround him, full of worship and respect (for his father, his lineage, never for him), he sees someone taking Clarisse away, like a thoughtless addendum to something long forgotten. She doesn't matter anymore. Her glory is over because she lost. That is how it works in this world.


He's given a quest to clean up his father's mess. A god, who is thousands of years old, relying on an eleven year old kid.

There's a part of him that wants to refuse. Call him selfish, but he doesn't want to die, especially not for his father. He wants to live for himself. But he's aware of how easy it is to die if the gods don't like him, so he pastes a smile on his face and bows his head to Mr. D, accepting it as graciously as he could (and if his fingers are curled into a fist, that was no one's business but his own). It's easier to pretend.

"Can I go home after the... quest?" he says.

Mr. D's purple eyes are dark black and Percy sees things in them that make him look away. If it were any other god maybe he'd be already dead, but Dionysus was once a demigod and knew how it felt, even if immortality and age had long since wiped those emotions from his body.

"You are home," is all he says. It is a warning.

Chiron clears his throat. "You won't be alone, Percy," he says kindly, but what Percy really hears is we're sending some spies to make sure you don't run away.

"Okay," Percy says, and pretends not to understand. It's easier to play the fool. "So who are my new teammates?"

"You've met both of them already. Grover, I'm sure you know. And Annabeth dear...why don't you come out?"

Annabeth is the girl with the blonde hair and cold grey eyes. She doesn't spare him another glance. Percy stares at her wide-eyed as she materializes out of thin air, twisting the dial of a watch as her image seems to shiver into existence.

"Annabeth Chase is the councillor for the Athena cabin. She was the one to nurse you back to health, Percy."

After a few more platitudes, Chiron gives them each a backpack filled with supplies, and sends them off to their deaths.

Grover is quiet and doesn't talk much anymore. He always sneaks cautious glances at Percy, looking worried. Twice he almost says something before he shakes his head and keeps silent.

Annabeth is the opposite. She always talks down to him like he's a kid and she's not. She also has a habit of seeing straight through him, which isn't an easy thing to do because Percy built masks almost as long as he's lived. He doesn't know which of her abilities he hates more. When they're on the Greyhound and there's nothing to do, and Grover's snoring behind them like a comforting white noise generator, she leans just a touch closer and mutters, "You don't have to keep pretending, you know."

"Pretend what?"

She gives him a look that says don't be stupid, which is ironic, because she obviously thinks he is.

"That you're happy."

He looks at her with narrowed eyes and a smile splitting his lips apart. "I am happy, Annabeth."

She wrinkles her brow but says nothing in return. It's obvious she does not trust him. It's not easy to become a councillor, especially of the Athena cabin. She knows not to reveal information about herself without a price, because information is power, and as a child of Athena she knows how best to utilize it. She probably had him pegged in the first five minutes. Well, he will enjoy proving her wrong.


Medusa is the first person he kills. Her snakes are nibbling on his flesh with tiny tipped fangs, a clawed hand is drawing him closer, lifting him simultaneously off the ground until he's choking and gasping but she's too strong, and he will die. He has no choice. He doesn't think—he lets himself go blank.

It's easy, almost too easily so, for his hand to go to the pen (the first and only gift his father has ever given him, a tragic weapon for a tragic hero), and he draws the sword up and over her throat. He cuts her head off. It's a practiced motion. He's repeated the motion hundreds, thousands of times under Luke's harsh tutelage. All for this moment.

There's a brief moment, when bronze slices through meat and grizzled bone and he feels Medusa's lungs hack to a stop, blood spraying over his face, where horror strikes him and he thinks, she wasn't a monster. He can't describe the sheer relief that makes his knees buckle when she does burst into yellow dust. But a part of that horror will forever remain, and in his mind, Medusa will always be the first person he killed.

He hefts Medusa's head up by the snake hair. He goes and finds a cardboard box and dumps the head in it, sealing it up with five layers of duct tape. He grabs a blackboard marker and scrawls over the top in thick, capital writing: THE GODS, MOUNT OLYMPUS. Then, as a thoughtful addendum, he adds, FREE.

"They're going to kill you," Annabeth says flatly. They watch the box poof out of existence. A weight lifts off his shoulders. Only then does he allow himself to breathe.

"Well," he says to her. "At least I'd get to the Underworld faster."

By the way her mouth twists, it's not funny. But he's too tired to care.


Dangling from one hand off the Arch, he has time for only one more thought to a god he has never seen, a father that was never there: if you're going to let me die, at least save my mom.

The water winks in reply, hundreds of feet away, snaking through Denver like a thoughtless whisper that shimmered grey-brown in the harsh afternoon sun. The poison is working its way through his heart. He feels his breathing grow heavy, his heart missing a few beats before clumsily restarting, the hot whuff of breath from the Chimera's head, stinking of fresh meat and blood.

"The last thing I can do..." he wheezes, staring into the monster's hungry maw, " to die on my own terms."

He lets go.

The wind steals the scream from his lungs, robbing him of breath. Briefly, he thinks of Grover and Annabeth. He thinks, sorry.

This doesn't count as flying, Zeus.


He doesn't die.

For now, he will feel relieved.

He meets with a Nereid his father summoned and she in return she gives him three pearls. Her expression is cool as winter's ice but so, so sad.


When he looks into Ares' eyes, he sees war. He sees a river that dried up ten years ago but now runs red with blood. He sees landmines and barbed wire fences and electric chairs, knives and steel and cold human brutality. He sees soldiers breaking down from the sheer weight of what they experienced, unable to speak for it only give flesh and bone to the nightmares that sit on their shoulders, crushing them down. Atlao.

Then the moment passes, and Ares is slipping his sunglasses back on. He doesn't realize he's trembling until Annabeth digs her nails into the back of his hand under the table to ground him. He looks at her gratefully but she's staring straight forward, with that neutral-but-still-kinda-pissed-off expression she has when someone does something she doesn't like.

Ares doesn't seem to care. He leans back in his seat, thick, bulging muscled arms resting against the back of the cushioned row. He's grinning. He has them cornered and he knows it.

"We already have a quest," Annabeth says. "We have a deadline. If we don't finish, it'll be your fault."

"Not my problem, sweetheart. Tough luck." He slides a piece of paper over the marbled table between them. Annabeth waits until his hands are gone before she reaches forward and pulls it close enough so they can all read it.

"An... amusement park. Why do gods go to run-down amusement parks?

"Doesn't concern you, squirt. I want my shield by sundown today."

So they go.


It's only when they see the pink scarf wrapped around the shield do they fully know.

"Ares and Aphrodite? But I thought she was married to Hephaestus."

Annabeth is peering at one of the grotesque cupids. One has a missing nose. Another doesn't have a head.

"Yeah. And?"

He shakes his head. "Never mind." He reaches for the shield.


There's an ominous click, and the ground beneath them rumbles like a sinkhole is opening to swallow them whole. Annabeth yells, "Down!"

The Cupids come alive. Flesh replaces lifeless marble like fire licking up a newspaper, consuming and shrivelling. With a horrible grind of steel against stone, the smooth marble slowly cracks along the joints. Stone dust slakes off them as they leap into the dry bowl of the water ride. He can feel the shockwaves of the impact rattling his brain, and the cement cracks beneath their large stone feet.

Their mouths crack open. From deep inside their barrel chests a chittering sound can be heard. Maybe it was their way of laughing, but from the way Annabeth suddenly pales and grabs for his hand, it's not that.

One of their stone eyes rolls back to reveal the red orb of a camera. It glows deep crimson, the shutter spinning rapidly as they focus on the two demigods. The pupil contracts; it blinks. Then a cloud of silver metal explodes out of its mouth. Shrapnel—no, it's alive but not quite, and it's got the same red eyes as the rest.



He would never imagine that cold, stoic Annabeth was screaming her head off because of spiders. Then again, these were particularly creepy ones.

"Grover!" At his scream, a head of curly hair pokes out from the side of the pool. A shimmering white dome of light, seemingly woven from threads of invisible metal, cut into Grover's hands as he tried to keep it from cutting off their connection. "Turn—on—the—water!"

"It's broken!" He's jabbing away at all the buttons, pulling all the levers. The spiders are crawling up his legs and he can feel their barbed legs hooking into his pants and skin as they scuttle. Meanwhile, the cupids are coming closer. They're slow, but one twist of those veined marble muscles would pop his head off like a champagne cork.

Time slows down.

A broken pipe.

Water explodes outwards. The spiders begin sparking, looking disoriented as their joints popped and they were swept away on the sudden roar of water issuing outwards. He's trying to pull Annabeth towards the boat, but he's only just touched Ares' shield when Annabeth shouts, "Watch out!" and he ducks just as a blow narrowly smashes into the place where his head once was. The tiled ground where it hits ripples. He swallows. That was their way out.

"We'll need to kill them," he says to Annabeth. He spares a quick glance at her and it confirms what he already knows. Her face is already deathly pale and she doesn't have the advantage of water to help her. "You're okay?"

She scoffs. "Who do you think I am?"

The hair on the back of his neck rises. He flattens his palms to the surface of the water and dives down, squinting past the yellow translucency and snaking between the first Cupid's legs. Quickly, he straps the shield to his back to free up his hands. It tries to follow, but it's clumsy and falls over. He makes a fist with one hand; the water forms a sloppy ball-thing that doesn't manage to grasp the statue well, but it pummels until the circuits short out and that's good enough. He hefts the ball of water and turns to the next Cupid. Annabeth's already taken one down. She has her legs wrapped around its neck, legs crossed in front as she's driving her knife into the eyes. After a moment, it crumbles into dust.

The third of five approaches warily. It's the one without a head. He smashes through it without grace or strategy. It's not elegant or refined, but at the moment he couldn't care less. Once it's dead he turns to the last one. He lands on top of the water again, one palm to the ground and the other clenched in a fist to his side, elbow bent ninety degrees. He runs towards it, the water giving him a boost until he's only a blur, and he slams the waterball into the Cupid's chest, drilling through and ripping off the stone covering to reveal a mess of wires. Its camera eye is flickering as its chest short circuits, and it turns itself to look at him. He reaches out and grasps its chin.

"Are you happy now?" he whispers, baring his teeth.

Then he digs his fingers into the soft, pliable chink of its neck, and tears the head off.

With the death of the last statue, the dome begins to crumble, falling out in chunks that shimmer rainbow-like over the edges. His blood is roaring through his ears, an itch in his fingers. His heart races faster and faster and his breathing picks up to compensate. There's a red mist hazing over his vision.

Annabeth rips the shield from his back, breaking the strap into two. Immediately the cloud lifts. He groans, putting one hand to his temples.

Annabeth's face is deathly still. After a few seconds she shakes herself out of it with a sharp grimace and drops the shield like it burns.

"Grover," she calls out. "Come and get this. We're going."

"Won't it affect him too?"

"It won't have that much of an effect on nature-attuned spirits." She casts him a sideways glance. "Besides, if Grover's angry he'll probably just cry and eat tin cans."

That was... probably true.

Aphrodite's scarf goes into Annabeth's backpack and they turn to leave.

"Uhm," says Percy.

The others turn to look back at him.


"Sorry, I—"

His knees turn to rubber and he pitches, face forward, into the darkness.


Knives against steel. Thousands of eyes in the darkness.

He stands before them and opens his mouth.

They could have killed us. We are their gladiators, their entertainment.

We are more than that.

We can be free.


He wakes up with something wet on his face. "Augh, Grover, stoppit," he mumbles. There's a brief pause, then a soft snort.

"Should I be worried that Grover's the first thing you think of when someone's licking you?"

"You never know." He opens his eyes with a slight groan. "How long was I out? Why's it so dark? And... where are we? It smells like shit."

"Probably because it is."

"Thank you for that enlightening statement."

He's lying on filthy straw, Annabeth's legs beneath his folded knees and Grover's jutting uncomfortably against his ribs. There are three animal cages in the truck. A lion, an antelope, and a zebra. The zebra is licking him.

"Lord," it's saying. "Lord, free us."

He blinks. "That's a talking zebra."

Annabeth pinches him. When he jerks away and bangs his forehead on the corner of a cage, she says monotonously, her amusement betrayed by the soft crease of her eyes, "You're not dreaming."

"Please, lord."

"Will someone please tell me what's going on?"

"Ares hitched us a ride, sort of," she says, drawing her knees up to her chin and resting on it. "We're heading to Los Angeles via animal transport."

"Kindness International," Grover snorts.

"That doesn't explain why that zebra is talking."

The zebra in question sticks its nose between the bars as far as it will go. Hesitantly, he pats it. There are flies buzzing around its head and its coat is matted with dry twigs, feces, and scabs of blood. He feels sorry for it. Casting his gaze slowly over the other two animals, he realizes that they're not better.

When the truck comes to an abrupt halt and faint voices could be heard from outside, Percy uncaps Riptide and slams the butt end into the brittle metal locks. The lion flung himself out of the open doors without looking back. The antelope and zebra follow, though not before the latter bows its front legs in gratitude. Shouts of alarm follow them.

"Thank you, lord."

He touches its soft nose. "At least one of us should be free."

Then it's gone.


She's looking at him as though seeing him in a new light. It's nighttime and they didn't light a fire, so it's doubtful she can even see him at all.

"You're alright, Percy Jackson."

"Somehow, I'm getting the feeling that it's a big compliment, coming from you."

She angles her chin upwards. "You're not wholly stupid. You're just a Seaweed Brain."

"We can't all be geniuses."

They're almost friends.


We can change the world for the better. It has been prophecized. Why do you think the gods fear me so? You and I... together we can bring ruin to this broken system.

Join me.


It's hard, leaving the Lotus Casino. Harder than it should be, like all of his dreams are evaporating in the smoke of a hot Los Angeles afternoon.

Grover's singing Hotel California under his breath. He looks dazed.

Percy looks back on the cool, air conditioned lobby, squares his shoulders, and continues.


He comes up behind Procrustes and slowly flexes one hand into a fist. On cue, the beds rattle.

"You're using water beds against a son of Poseidon..."

When the Stretcher is nothing more than sulphur dust floating in a puddle, he leans down and breathes, "You shouldn't have touched them."

It's only later, as he's descending into the Underworld, that he realizes he didn't even care this time. It's only monsters, he rationalized, then stopped himself in his tracks. Dehumanization. Desensitization. I am still being trained.

He remembers Annabeth's words. It gets easier.

He's not sure if that's a good thing.


I am patient. I can wait.

But you cannot.


"What do you dream about?"

"You mean when I sleep?"

"No, I mean the future." If there's even one left for us.

"I... want to lead the Athena Cabin to greatness. I want." She breaks off. "What is yours?"

He looks around, but there is no one to listen but empty air and crackling flame. It' sa leap of faith, but he trusts his gut when it says that Annabeth won't betray him.

"I want to free us."

Annabeth slaps a hand over his mouth. For the first time, her expression is fearful when she hisses, "They'll hear you!"

He shakes her off. "I don't care."

"Don't be stupid, Seaweed Brain. That's not something you can go around blurting out."

"Yeah, well, I trust you won't go around talking about it."

She's silent for a moment. For the longest time Percy thought he was the only one disturbed by Camp and the gods, but he sees a flicker of uncertainty on her face before she wipes it away.

"We are free, Percy," she says softly. "As free as we'll ever be from monsters."

"Maybe from monsters on the outside." He pokes her gently in the shoulder. "But there are just as many who reside among us, wearing the faces of humans."


It's hard to describe the Underworld. There's the Fields of Punishment, from which the smell of cooking fat and something coarse and sour waft lazily into the air. There's Asphodel, which is like... like that moment you list over the side of a roller coaster on its peak, just as its about to go down. The anticipation of future pain. There's Elysium, which does not seen to fit in. An eternal party for good people. It seems... disconnected, somehow. He can't explain it.

Grover picks a pomegranate and breaks it open. Instead of the rich red arils, small, delicately shaped rubies fall out.

It would have been quite awe-inspiring, if not for the large collection of Medusa's statues arranged over the front courtyard like an orgy of agony. And even from the courtyard they can feel Hades' aura seeping through the stone walls, insidious and oozing. There is a whole league between the Olympian Twelve and the Big Three with respect to power, and they all know it.

Percy is not a hero. This he knows. He is nothing more than an unwilling soldier for gods he hates and a colleague of other demigods, who he pities. Any form of independent thought seems to have been assimilated from their minds. They are beautiful, brilliant, and empty.

He doesn't want to be one of them.

But the gods... if they knew what he planned, what he wanted to do, could kill him without a single thought. It was that easy.

He could give up now. He could exchange his iron cage for a gilded one. He's here because he has to be, because this is a quest he cannot fail. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have his own agenda.

He's still selfish enough to want to live. But he thinks of Annabeth and Grover, who he can now call his friends, even if none of them admit it. He thinks of Clarisse, her dead-empty-angry eyes, and feels sorry for her. He thinks of the Unclaimed, without existence or meaning.

This is no longer about him.

The logical thing to do is to give up now.


"Lord Hades," he says, clutching the backpack tighter. "I have a proposition for you."


How long can you go before losing yourself?


When Annabeth and Grover reenter the throne room, they are greeted with a most peculiar sight.

Hades is laughing, his head thrown back and eyes gleeful. It is a sound that shakes them to the bone, makes them think of skeletons clawing their way out of the earth.

"I like you, little demigod," he finally says, and Percy is sitting by his feet, relaxed as ever, a smile of his own pulling his lips up. And that is what Annabeth finds most frightening—that a boy she has shared food and warmth with could make a god listen with nothing more than guileless eyes and a steady voice.

Hades reaches forward and presses one finger to the spot over Percy's heart. Annabeth stiffens, but Percy doesn't react. With a muttered word and a flash of light, a black-ink mark (a brand) burns itself into his skin before fading away.

"You have my blessing," says Hades, and it's all she can do to keep her jaw from dropping. "I will hold you to your promise."

Percy stands and bows. Hades watches him with amusement, like one would watch a favoured pet. Annabeth wonders what they have said.

"I will not let you down."

Hades grins. It is a horrible sight.

Then they are forced to close their eyes as a flash of light encompasses them all, and they find themselves kneeling in the throne room of Olympus, white marble embedded with gold streaks. Percy is directly in front of him, palms pressed against the floor. Annabeth knows he is shaking because she can feel it where her arm is pressed to his knee.

He was scared and she couldn't tell.

He's holding out the backpack now.

"Lord Zeus," he says quietly. "Your Master Bolt."

In an instant the backpack is gone, deposited at the base of Zeus' throne, and the Bolt zooms into his outstretched hand. Lightning flashes; thunder booms, and Percy freezes when Zeus' white-blue pupiless eyes turn to him.

"Boy," the king of the gods grunts. "You did well." Then he turns away with a negligent flick of his hand. Annabeth slowly raises her eyes to look at the gods. There are three staring at them. No, not them—only Percy. Her mother's slanted grey eyes narrowed in cold calculation. Poseidon's face is likewise expressionless, but Annabeth thinks there is something like tentative longing there, if gods could even feel anything like that. Anything like regret. The last is Apollo, which confuses her. He's gripping the armrests of his chair with white knuckles, his jaw clenched. He is angry. Veins stand out at his temples, easily as wide as Annabeth was tall.

He is the god of prophecies, her logic whispers. He has seen something.

"You may go," says Zeus, as though just remembering they were there.

"Wait," says Poseidon.

They freeze. Percy slowly turns back to face them, radiating tension.

"Come closer, my son," says the sea god.

At the affectation, Annabeth sees Percy stiffen, his face going white with anger, and she quickly jabs him in the ribs with her elbow. She knows he's going to do something stupid and piss off the gods, and she didn't want him to die.

"Go," she hisses.

There's a moment where she thinks he won't listen, but he only grinds his teeth and steps forward, each step looking painful. It is a large distance to traverse.

At the foot of Poseidon's throne, Percy kneels, slow and jerky.

"My lord," he says stiffly.

"You have no need for formalities with me, Percy."

"Apologies, my lord."

Annabeth cringes.

To her surprise, Poseidon does not look annoyed, only the distant cousin of amused.

"Your mother is safe."

His head snaps up, eyes blazing, so much life and rage inside of them that Annabeth wonders if they will ever successfully train his personality out.

"She has never been—" he bites his tongue, forces himself to drop his head, fists clenched at his sides. "Thank you, my lord. It is appreciated."

"I will call on you one day soon, if that is amenable."

"Poseidon," Zeus warns, gripping his bolt. (Percy's suddenly reminded of the way a toddler would clutch a favourite toy possessively, and has to stifle an inappropriate snicker.)

"Brother," Poseidon counters smoothly.

Their eyes lock. They seem to have a silent conversation. Finally, Zeus looks away with a grimace and Poseidon turns back to Percy, smiling pleasantly.

"Percy?" he prompts, gentle.

"I would be honoured," Percy says, each word bitten out. Athena seems to hear his distaste as well as Annabeth does, and she looks thoughtful.

"Good. That is all."

Percy stands, bows, then leaves.

Annabeth and Grover catch up with him.

He's shaking.

"I hate him," he breathes. He doesn't seem to realize he's speaking out loud. "I hate him so much..."

"Why?" says Annabeth, careful to keep her voice down. She rests a hand briefly on his shoulder to warn him to do the same.

"He doesn't get to decide my life."

"He is a god."

"He was my father."

They're silent for the rest of the journey back.


Their return is celebrated by applause at dinner, but after those few minutes have passed, everything returns to normal. It's just another day, another crisis averted.

"We have successfully taken out the trash, yet again," Percy says sarcastically next to her. "Hurray."

She elbows him. There is more fondness than annoyance now, and she wonders when this transition had happened, so subtle it had avoided her detection. But perhaps saving the world was one of those things that brought people together.


Then Luke happens.

Annabeth finds Percy dead in the forest (notdeadnotdeadnonono) and remembers what fear tastes like.


Percy wakes up with a new scar and another bucket of water to the face. This time, he doesn't react, except to scowl.

"Is this how you greet all your patients?"

Annabeth makes a show of pausing to think, then grins slightly. She does not think of finding him, face-down in the mud, surrounded by half-hysterical dryads, and how her own stomach had twisted and she had screamed—

"Nah, just you."

"I'm honoured," he says flatly. Both of them avoid looking at his hand. "So what are you off to?"

"My dad's come to pick me up, but I wanted to say goodbye first."

His eyes come up to meet hers, so sincere and unguarded that she's momentarily taken aback. She's more used to the backstabbing and subtle manipulations of camp life than Percy's open, genuine nature. She doesn't know what to say.

"Stay safe. I'll see you around."

"Yeah, Seaweed Brain. Don't piss off any more gods."

He winks.

"Don't worry about me, Annabeth. Everything'll be alright."

Somehow, that seems more like an oath than a promise.


"I can give you something more than the power of Zeus' bolt. I can give you power beyond your dreams, over all the Olympians, but it will take time and you will have to trust me. And from your agreement I will exact a promise."

"And what can you bring to me, little demigod, that I do not already have?"

Dark light flickers off his eyes.

"I will make them love you."