Yes! Another chapter and only ... 5 months later! Well, I'm happy about it either way. As most of you know, I tend to keep rather busy with work and for the last few, I've worked with near no breaks so it was hard to get time to myself. Hopefully I'll slow down and stabilize a bit on that so I can write regularly.
Anyways, I hope everyone is safe and healthy. Enjoy the chapter, next one shouldn't take as long ... I hope.
Jbubu, a pleasure.
As a primordial, it was hard to say if he could honestly sleep any more. Unlike in the days of his mortality, he never really lost the awareness of himself or his surroundings. The closest thing he could ever come to being truly unconscious would be falling into a fuzzy, numb limbo after an exhausting battle, and not just physically but mentally as well.
Now, what passed as sleep for them was more of a light meditation.
He rested and felt refreshed after the fact, but he'd just as easily spring into action at the slightest disturbance. The usual echo and whispers of prayers would go to the lowest possible while still just at the edge of being heard and perceptions narrowed down. And even while in this trance-like state, he could tell just how long he'd been in it and what had happened in his immediate surroundings too.
That meant he could immerse himself in what he felt was his personal heaven.
He could feel the heat behind the silky soft skin of his wives, their bodies cuddled close against him as they rested after a full day and night of intimacy and bonding. Their scents mingled and mixed with that of their activities that he inhaled with every deep breath. He and the three of them all carried earthy tones that reminded him of tall mountains but with tiny distinctions his new senses let him bask in.
Andy's was like the touch of spring on the breeze, the fresh ice-melt and new life blooming with the note of morning dew always stood out to him. Hestia's ever-present notes of smoky, dried herbs mixed with that of a forest basking in the full sun of summer. Rhea's almost musky, calming scent of aged oak and falling leaves as fall set in. And then his own, the sharper chill of winter carrying notes of pine and other, hardy winter life.
And yet, through all that his favorite part was the unique floral scent that permeated them. He didn't know how it happened, but he wouldn't change it regardless. It was something that he could always pick out now wherever they'd been. Honeysuckle, Camellia, and Lavender; Rhea, Hestia, Andromeda. Fitting as can be and now, the trace of his own black orchid mixed with it, making him almost rumble in satisfaction. He was ready to slip back into that quiet limbo, to stretch out this moment for all he could.
He sighed, eyes slowly opening to stare up at the dark ceiling of his room. Much like within his mindscape, his own version of stars and nebulas flowed across the ever-shifting surface. Parts of it were meant to mirror what any decent astronomer would be able to identify and name while the rest came into such close detail, said astronomers would sell their first born to even have a look. The major and minor constellations that some many deities were named and tied to, looking so small and almost insignificant in the grand canvas above him. He let his eyes drift about for a bit, just losing himself in it.
He gave the slightest grumble as he lowered his eyes to the door across his room. He could probably tell whoever it was to leave, but knowing his luck, it was important. Though his body tried to rebel against the thought of leaving the comfort of his bed and wives, he mustered through. They didn't seem too pleased with his moving either.
He had to coax Andy and Hestia off his right and left shoulder respectively and then slip Rhea off him entirely. Even if she didn't open her eyes, her annoyed growl—more of a low rumble really—let him know she was very awake now and not happy about the change. He mentally agreed even as he set off a round of kisses for each to soothe them as he finally slide out of the grabbing hands and climbed out of bed.
Pausing, he looked back to watch as his wives adjusted to his absence.
Without him, Rhea became the center of the cuddle pile, being Hestia's little spoon and Andromeda's big one. Watching them wiggle about to get comfortable, hands almost caressing as they slipped into the most desirable of places to hold onto, tempted him like nothing else. He was almost sure his wives were having a private, mental conversation as they moved about to get that result.
He sighed again as he turned about and finally made it to the door, a pair of silky pajama pants forming with a thought. He could hear a muffled giggle but didn't bother to see who it was. Without preamble, he all but threw the door open just as their guest was about to knock again. Nico blinked at him for a moment as he lowered his hand. His eyes then went over Percy's shoulder, an amused smirk forming on his face before returning to Percy.
"Was I interrupting something?" Nico chuckled out.
Percy couldn't help but let out a snort.
"Didn't get a chance to really start anything," he almost drawled.
Nico just shrugged. "At least the night was eventful."
That had Percy rolling his eyes. He and his ladies never really made it a secret when they were otherwise engaged with each other, so some light ribbing was to be expected after the night.
"So, why the early wake up?" Percy asked as he closed the door behind him and moved the conversation along, the pair starting move towards the center of their villa/mansion.
That hade Nico's face falling into a grim line, his eyes churning in their pools of reds and blacks. That certainly didn't fill Percy with confidence, and he just knew whatever it was, was going to bring all sorts of problems with it. It barely took them a minute to reach the center that counted as a living room/common space.
"That," Nico answered as he pointed at the large, floating screen connected to one of the many online signals of the planet below and showing a major American network.
'Breaking News: US President Owen Garfield Found Dead.'
"What the hell," Percy muttered as he made his way around the circle of couches facing the screen.
The message was flashing in bold, glaring red at the top of the screen while beneath, an emergency presser was being shown but it was muted so he had no idea what was being said.
"Been like that for an hour now," Nico stated as he stood beside Percy. "Just got back from the Underworld and learned what I could before coming to you."
"Who killed him?" Percy asked, his mind already racing with the implications of such a sudden death.
There was no way this wasn't a murder. Garfield was barely into his fifties and was as fit as a horse. The Louisiana born man was known for his health and one of his more popular movements was centered around it.
"He didn't see his killer," Nico responded, his features tightening in annoyance. "But his soul did have lingering traces of divinity."
"One of ours?" Percy asked in mild surprise.
"Third generation Roman legacy. Didn't even know it himself," Nico explained, getting an understanding nod from Percy.
It wasn't unusual for the somewhat older demigods to venture out and try to find anything to enjoy themselves away from all the mystic troubles. A one-night stand could easily lead to legacies born without any knowledge of what they are. Actually, looking back at Garfield's almost legendary ascendence to the height of US politics from being a small-town mayor in the span of a decade, it made sense.
This sharper features and way with speech that just gave him a command of the room. The presence he carried and the way he could get the people to follow him. If you knew what to look for, it was hard to miss the tells of a demigod—watered down as it was—in him. His rather successful stint in the US Army after turning down a draft for the NFL and graduating college with full honors also pointed to an iron set mind to match his impressive physique.
It was no surprise the man had record breaking support in both parties and after just three years, was all but guaranteed his second term from popularity alone. He'd also been a cornerstone for calm after the disaster that was Cordoba. He wasn't sure if the man had been particularly religious—Garfield was a more hands off, 'you respect me, I respect you' sort of deal in that area—but Percy was sure no American had missed the broadcast of the president leading the prayers himself for those affected along with his quick response to send the aid needed. The man was just what the council could have hoped for in a national leader to smoothen the transition to reveal the mystic world.
… And now he was dead.
"Whose legacy?" Percy couldn't help but ask, just to fill the air as he wondered who did him in and for what.
Given Garfield's track record and physique, Percy would had thrown down money on Mars, Bellona, or hell, even Minerva, as rare as her roman demigods were. And, given Garfield had been a third gen, it wasn't out of the question that he'd been a descendant of the Big Three. Not likely, given that Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades wouldn't miss the existence of a grandchild easily, but possible.
"Bacchus," Nico answered after a moment and Percy almost snorted in disbelief.
For all that could be said about the drunk, even he could be the source of a noteworthy demigod. Any Olympian could have a powerful child or descendent if the cards were dealt right.
"Think the old porker knows?"
Because if Dionysus knew about his great grandchild, then this would just throw more disarray into New Rome as it was… Or he could not know and worse, not care even if he did. That was a possibility too.
"Unlikely," was the succinct response. "… But this isn't just some political foul play."
Percy looked at his peer, waiting as Nico narrowed his black and crimson eyes and crossed his arms. "His death was too quick, and they haven't found a trace of how it happened other than his snapped neck but get this, no prints. No signs of any sort of forced entry, nothing disturbed, and no one was around him other than his wife when they guess he died. Hell, his wife didn't even notice he was dead right beside her until she woke up and finally noticed before screaming her head off."
"Any traces left on her?" he asked next, not liking the picture Nico was painting.
A man like Garfield would not go silently and even if he were physically overpowered enough that his killer made the kill so quick, it wouldn't have been silent enough for a mortal in the same bed to not notice.
"Lingering traces of Mist manipulation, but too small and faint for even Hecate to guess who did it," Nico muttered.
Percy sighed as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "This screams monsters at best, another god's play at worst."
"… Monster would have been messier, even the more intelligent ones, and killed the wife too," Nico added.
Neither spoke for a moment, just staring at the presser. The speaker looked shaken and pale, security was armed to the teeth in the background and Percy could even see some crowds starting to gather farther away outside the White House lawn from other screens showing different angles.
"He made another move," Percy stated, getting a heavy exhale from Nico.
"And probably with the goal of destabilizing the mortals even more," the hellish god pointed out.
"But for what?" Percy asked lowly as he resisted the urge to pace. "As far as we know, he has no gods under his command that gain power from discord and other such messes, so there shouldn't be a direct benefit."
"Sometimes gods don't need a reason other than spite and I'm sure that fossil hates most surface life anyways," Nico observed.
Percy conceded that point. He didn't like it, but it would fit with some of what Nyx had told him about her nephew.
"I'm guessing this is the talk everywhere?" Percy asked with a nod at the screen.
"Pretty much. Stuff about you too, for that matter," Nico answered getting a look from Percy. "… People know there's more to the world than they thought and suddenly one of the world leaders mysteriously dies without any evidence to point to who did it. Yeah, remember the days of you being Zeus' scapegoat?"
Percy groaned, already knowing this would be a headache down the road. Now if he made a personal trip to greet any world leaders, he was going to start from the back foot the moment they connected the dots with the footage of him from the moon. Andy was going to have to work double time to soothe any feathers and worries floating around the higher ups of the Canadian government and certain parts of the British now for that matter.
In fact, now that Nico pointed that out, Percy noticed the dull buzz near the edge of his mind felt more insistent and agitated, for lack of better words. It only took a glance to see what kind of prayers he was being flooded with at the moment. Mostly the kind begging for forgiveness of some imagined slight or just praying that he didn't give any surprise visits in the middle of the night.
"And the VP?" Percy asked, leaving the mental backlog of prayers for later.
He'd probably divide things up with his Shadows and sort it out in one session later today while helping Raven with her training.
"Barely treading water but I can't really blame her," Nico replied, waving his hand to change the channel.
This one was being broadcast from the House chambers with Vice—or now acting—President Maya Demetri was trying to rally a chaotic room. To her credit, she didn't look as frazzled as most of those around her, but there were plenty of tells so show she'd been deeply shaken by the news. Most politicians, as could be expected, were flipping their lid at the slightest upset without them having a clear plan or at least someone obvious to follow. And sadly, Demetri probably wasn't what most of them had in mind.
She was a relatively young one, barely into her forties and still somewhat fresh-faced to the political scene. Her choice as VP had some looking at Garfield oddly but he'd be adamant that she had the stuff to do it. Now knowing of Garfield's origins, Percy could assume those instincts of a Roman demigod to spot and recruit potential showed its hand.
And for the most part she'd been doing good. Not perfect but definitely learning and as far as the populace could tell, had her heart in the right place. Percy could easily see her learning and growing during the stint as VP, gain some credence for herself, get her name out there more, and then making her own presidential run in as little as a decade. Whatever plans there may have been, that was firmly out the window and Demetri was stuck in the driver seat for one of the world's biggest runaway trucks.
"Think we should reach out to them?" Nico asked, getting Percy out of his thoughts.
Percy looked back at the screen, eyes narrowed as he got pensive.
They'd been on the fence about reaching out to the Americans. For all the good open relations with them could do, the size and bloat of their government left too many openings for screw ups. Political parties with constantly shifting lines and agendas, all manner of interest groups and lobbyists that had to stick their fingers in all the pies. And naturally, the ever-volatile populace.
"… Maybe," Percy muttered. "But priority should be getting a handle on the mortals that already know about us first. Their backing could go a long way to easing any tensions."
"We'll need it at this point," Nico agreed.
The pair tapered off into silence, their eyes on the screens. However, Percy then caught the sound of approaching steps. He turned to see that Hestia, dressed in one of his spare shirts as was her habit, had come out of the room to check on him. If he'd been broadcasting his thoughts across the bond, the other two would have come too, but he'd kept a lid on it for the moment. And he was glad he did. He didn't want to go and disturb their morning when Nico had pulled him away. As it was Rhea and Andy were doubtlessly still in bed and likely entertained with each other at the moment.
Hestia on the other hand, tended to be somewhat of a worry wort at times.
The fact that he'd been a while and was purposely limiting the bond definitely caught her notice, so he wasn't surprised at her coming out to check on him. And, going by the look she had, he was probably showing some irritation. Without a word she simply walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, her face snuggling into his chest. He gladly returned the embrace, nuzzling into her hair as he let her presence calm him as she knew it would.
They were half turned towards the screen, so it only took her a glance to see what all the fuss was about.
"That can't be good," she murmured against him, getting a snort from him.
"That's one way of putting it."
Percy shared one glance with the otherwise silent Nico. His fellow primordial got the message, excusing himself with a nod and headed on towards the exit of the villa. Percy was pretty sure Nico was on his way back to the mountain in search of Styx. With Will probably busy as always in the early hours, Nico and Styx were a common sight together and given how annoyed he probably was at not knowing more about the situation, he'd seek her out for his own comfort.
"Let's head back to the others," Percy murmured, getting a nod from Hestia.
There was plenty to do and they'd already had their day to themselves, but Percy could at least enjoy some of the morning before they got back to all of it…
Raven sighed as she rolled over in bed, the seemingly ever-present throb in her head lowered to a duller ache that she could ignore with some effort.
How long had it been since Phoebe jumped her and all but foisted a powerful domain on her, incomplete as the connection was at the moment, she wasn't sure. A few days she knew, but the exact number eluded her and between her sessions of meditation and mental sorting, it all just blended together. Add in that her mother was accelerating the localized time within to give Raven more leg room to learn made it even harder to honestly tell. It also didn't help that her mother's mindscape was that of a massive archival library fashioned into a tower with no windows.
There wasn't even the illusion of the passage of time here, only moments of the surroundings dimming or brightening. Given how Andromeda's mindscape was especially reactive to her mood, Raven couldn't really count on that to be an accurate measure. 'Still, at least I got a lot of progress done,' she thought as she shifted to laying on her back.
It had been an unexpected but welcome surprise for her to have what felt like a full day and night to herself after a grueling morning session that also felt like a whole day. Though, to be fair, it had been her own fault. She'd been the one begging for longer hours, forcing them to go harsher on her, to help her learn faster. She could see and feel just how worried her parents were about her and the whole domain thing. Her dad especially had been upset about it even if he didn't show it.
Hard to completely hide his emotions when it was one of her specialties though.
He didn't want her involved with the war as it was and only begrudgingly allowed her to participate where he knew he could cover her if necessary. He was overprotective of her and she honestly couldn't complain. She loved the attention and knew that it came from a place of love, not distrust or thinking her as some doll one rough touch away from breaking. She'd more than proven in various spars and training that she could hold her own if needed.
But she was his daughter, and that meant she could be just as stubborn about doing her part.
He didn't want her in the front lines fighting against the Olympians. Fine, but she could go in, work alongside his wolves and Shadows, and get the demigods that didn't want to be part of the fighting in the first place. And the moment that fighting stopped, she shifted into being the warm and protective presence for them. It had been a happy median that let her be involved and didn't weigh as much on her parents' minds.
But now the sudden jump into what would entail full godhood all but kicked her into the thick of it.
The Moon was a powerful domain and with humanity's renewed awareness of the mystic, that power could only grow. Millennia of beliefs from all walks of life and cultures centered around it and now, she would have to claim it as her own. The weight of what would happen to her once she fully connected honestly scared her, but she had to go through with it.
Her mom had told her about Phoebe's reasons and could agree, it had to be done. As much as her parents worried about her being involved in the war, she could worry for them too. She knew they were strong but that didn't mean that she didn't worry about them just as much. And even if not them, then all those whose could get crushed under Pontus' wrath if he did unleash his forces.
The last thing they wanted was something as potent as the Moon in his clutches, directly or otherwise.
That's why she was pushing herself so hard. She needed to be ready and even once she took the moon, it wouldn't be over there. The rush of prayers, of the power given to her through belief would only rise in volume and potency. And that wasn't even considering what all that power would do to her body. She could already feel the changes of her body at a fundamental level. The churning power almost overflowing within and looking for an escape. Before, she'd been a directionless wellspring of power connected and fed into by her parents and in a way, leashed by them.
And that leash would very well shatter the moment she shifted to a divine state.
She didn't have a divine form at the moment, no defined nature and ability beyond what she naturally inherited from her parents. But that was changing by the minute as her core started to shift and essentially evolve. She wasn't sure just what the final result would be, but she hoped it didn't make her too distinct from her parents after the fact. She knew she'd retain a lot of what made her their daughter, even if it wouldn't be obvious, but that was just it. She wanted it to be noticeable, to show that she was their daughter.
She'd originally dreamed of eventually being ascended to full godhood under one of them, probably her mother. It would have taken something she already had and made it more pronounced, more developed, and specific, but at the same time leaving her much the same as she started.
But with full godhood mostly separate from either of them—though she planned on aligning to her father afterwards—the changes could be literal night and day in difference. Now the potential for being different didn't scare her, not really, but given it was the moon, she had a fair idea of what some of those changes would be.
There was a reason both Artemis and Selene had silver hair—even if changed to a redhead and platinum blonde respectively in mortal form—along with the silver eyes. Raven knew that was coming and though she could will herself to appear any way in mortal form, she wasn't sure if she wanted to. To take what was about to be natural about herself and just hide it felt cheap, wrong in a way.
But at the same time, it would make her look so much like someone her father hated.
She knew that type of fear was utterly irrational. Artemis was dead and gone, and her father would never put any of those sentiments on her just because she became the new moon goddess and had strong similarities in appearance. And yet, she couldn't help but let her fears rear up at times when she was alone—her current situation with an aching mind and constant whispers in the back of her head didn't help—and almost drive herself into a frenzy of emotion.
Even the possibility of some distance coming between them because of that change almost made her panic.
She knew she was both extremely clingy and family oriented by nature. She craved and searched out for that closeness, always trying to be in contact and near if she could. And she had no problems saying she was a total daddy's girl. It was a constant source of amusement and fond teasing from her moms while Percy did nothing to discourage it, showing his hand at being a rather doting father himself. So the thought of losing any of that, even if only temporary, would nearly drive her to tears.
It was utterly irrational to think it would ever happen, but her emotions and the closest analogue for hormones in her immortal body was just all over the place. 'Maybe I should talk to mom about it when she gets back,' she wondered, idly glancing at a clock she had on the nightstand beside her bed. The time it showed was mostly irrelevant in here, but it gave Raven a reference for the passage of time when she bothered to track it.
A stirring of shadows in the corner drew her attention though.
A pitch-black wolf almost the size of a horse emerged, walking in a gentle gate towards her. She looked into the she-wolf's startlingly violet eyes—a rather unique change thanks to her father's blessing—that brimmed with intelligence. She came up to the bed and laid down beside it, resting her head right beside Raven.
"Hey Akira," Raven greeted, running her hands along Akira's snout. "I guess you noticed I was getting upset."
She snorted in response, nuzzling against Raven's hand. The young goddess giggled a little at the ticklish sensation, already feeling better with her familiar's presence. Her companion and in many ways, her most trusted friend. Raven knew she could trust the powerful she-wolf above everything. Akira was the only wolf that would take Raven's orders over even her father's and stay by her side even if it meant death.
"You know, you're just going to get bigger once I take you as one of my divine animals," Raven mused out loud, getting an excited grin that was all teeth from the massive wolf. "So much for the runt of the litter," the goddess added.
Akira rumbled in response. It was a bit of a touchy subject for her after all. Wolves protect their own, but they can be pretty rough and unforgiving at times. Still, Akira had been a fighter, even as the tiny thing that barely managed to shadow jump into Percy's mindscape the first time Raven went there.
Raven could still remember spotting the little cub struggling to play with her and all the others, always lagging behind, but never giving it up either. While all the cubs had been vying for her attention and showing what they could do in their own, childish ways, she'd always kept an eye on the one smaller than all the rest. She never backed down from the playing even if she was outweighed and sized at every turn and in doing so, won Raven over.
She could even remember seeing those violet eyes widening in disbelief—a sign Akira had high intelligence from the beginning—as Raven had picked her up and told her father that she'd keep her. Raven had also then blushed in happy embarrassment at the look of pride her father had given her then. Since then, Raven had been steadily training with Akira within the mindscapes or out in small excursions.
Akira was usually somewhere in either Percy or Rhea's mindscapes though, making use of the time dilation to speed along her growth already boosted by her bond made to Raven. Now that she thought about it, the young goddess couldn't help but wonder just how her companion would change too.
"I hope your eyes stay the same though," she mused as she ran her hands along Akira's snout.
The bonded wolf gave what passed as a shrug to her comment, though Raven could sense that Akira was of similar mind.
The goddess remained silent as she continued to lavish affection onto her wolf, letting the motion of her hands draw her away from the near constant aches of her mind. The minutes still crawled by for her but after some time, she felt a shift in the world around them. A light chime was heard from everywhere, a consistent announcement that her mother had returned.
A few moments passed before she heard knocking. Given where they were, that was more of a curtesy that Raven appreciated all the same. She turned over to look at the door just as it smoothly opened, her mother's smile and a warm, glowing lavender eyes focusing on her as the primordial entered and made straight for her.
"Hi mom," she greeted, sitting up somewhat.
"Hey there Raven, how are you feeling?" Andy returned as she sat beside Raven, her hand resting on the young goddess' forehead.
"Better than before, but still a little achy," Raven answered as she shifted to leaning against Andy's shoulder.
Her mother hummed in response, one her free hand idly going to Akira's head as the wolf moved around the bed and laid her head on the primordial's lap.
"Do you want to rest for a little longer then?" Andy asked but Raven shook her head and looked at her mother levelly.
"No, you already gave me plenty of time off. I'm ready to pick up where we left off."
Andy sighed at her answered. "Definitely get that from your father." At Raven's look, the primordial elaborated. "Sometimes he'd curse like a sailor when Tartarus and Nyx were particularly grueling with him, but he was always ready for more even if he only got small breaks." The primordial gave a slight giggle as she added, "I used to tease him about being a bit of glutton for punishment."
"But the results speak for themselves," Raven pointed out.
"True," Andy conceded before her gaze focused more on Raven. "But are you sure? You've almost completed your mindscape structure. Once that's done, all that's left is for you to take the Moon for yourself …"
"… And it's going to be painful," Raven finished for her, almost wincing at what she knew was coming.
Percy and the others had years to train their mind during their time as heirs. Each of their mentors and new parent figures worked steadily with them to prepare, including using forms of mental attacks and pressure so the new primordial would be ready for the sudden expansion of their minds. Even then, Raven had heard stories of her father and co taking time to adjust, both mentally and physically to all their changes.
Raven didn't have that time and worse still, her ascension to full godhood will sever much of her links to her parents. They won't be able to lighten the load in any way until she aligned herself to one or both of them, and she couldn't do that until she stabilized herself after assuming divine form for the first time.
And she'd heard some all manner of stories of what the first time could be like.
A rush of power like nothing else could compare. To be able to influence, interact, and determine the nature of an aspect of reality around them. A feeling of nigh invincibility that was so enthralling, so addicting, that it was no wonder some gods were so full of themselves even after coming down from the high.
On the other hand, it could be disastrous. Some domains and what they connected to was like finally seeing behind the curtain of the world and witnessing the horror underneath. Emotion based domains were especially infamous for it. And that didn't even account for the pain of essentially exploding, literally tearing off the mortal facade and pushing one's divine body to the furthest it could go.
Raven couldn't help but shiver at the thought of what would happen with her.
The Moon was powerful already, and with the mortals aware, even more so. Regardless of what happened, she knew her ascension was going to be … eventful.
"Hey." Andy got her attention, taking Raven's hands in her own as she gave off a soothing air. "I know it's a big step, but your father is going be there every step of the way. Remember that."
Raven could only nod as her mother pulled her into a hug and Akira licked at her hands. She smiled lightly at that before thinking about the looming change. She'd made lots of progress and at this point, the sooner it was over and done, the better.
So, focusing on Andy, she asked, "Hey, what time is it outside?"
Her mother blinked at the question before humming as she glanced off to the side.
"Fairly early, around 9 or so, why?" Andy returned.
"Because …" she started, taking a fortifying breath as she looked into her mother's eyes. "… I think I can be ready by tonight."
The crackle of fires by torch was the only sound that Allen could hear, his eyes nailed to the document in hand as he marked another report with the bottomless pens they'd stocked. His fingers were still grimy from days of toiling away around the camp, leaving smudges on the papers but he just didn't care. Bellona wanted reports on the conditions of the army and how each division was doing, but she probably wouldn't care for neatness either.
And if she did, it wasn't his problem.
A heavy sigh escaped him as he stopped for a moment. As tedious as the work was, he could appreciate why Bellona was demanding it of the commanders. It was something for them to do, to focus themselves after the last few harrowing days. The sight of bodies burning in funeral pyres, the stench of burning flesh filling his nose as smoke and ash billowed out. The memories were there, constantly just at the edge of his mind as he kept his body moving.
He'd been numb as he stood there for seeming hours, just like many of his other peers.
Brothers and sisters, friends and family, lovers, and rivals. It didn't matter what they'd been, they all ended up in the same fire after losing their lives. His fingers curled; his knuckles almost white at hot tight his grip was getting at the thought of all those lost in a war that they didn't even need to be fighting. He felt a seething hatred for the Olympians rise up from what had always been a small pool of bitterness he held towards the gods since he learned what he was.
No one needed to say it, but it was implied; he was expendable. As a son of Athena, he held somewhat of a closer tie to his divine parent. Unlike most demigods, almost all of Athena's brood could claim some sort of artifact or tool gifted to them early on. A sign that their mother acknowledged their existence and provided the minimum she could even at her most apathetic.
It was common for it to be something as small and simple as a dagger or small sword; a tool to easily master. Other times it was a little more esoteric; unique books and manuscripts that held valuable information. And rarest, magical items such as Annabeth's infamous invisibility hat. Whatever it may have been, at least it was a sign that she expected them to make something of themselves.
And if they made it to the camp, they rarely spent longer than a week before being claimed and brought into their cabin.
Allen counted his lucky stars that his siblings were actually pretty close nit and welcoming, unlike some of the stories he'd heard about the other demigods meeting their siblings. But that was a tangent. What mattered was that even if their mother wasn't present, there was something to connect to from her and each other. It wasn't perfect, but it was enough to soothe even some of his more volatile siblings. It created a bedrock of loyalty that was steadier than what many other demigods could boast.
But then they got pulled into all the messes that eternally followed in the wake of the Olympians.
The pompous, arrogant bastards that caused half the messes they got into and then dragged their children into it whether they wanted it or not. The demigods didn't need to be here, that was a fact. They could run, return home, and never look back and the new primordials would let them be.
Annabeth had gone and proved it, risking herself both in the trip and the return with how paranoid the Olympians were getting. But the Olympians wouldn't let them go. Even if by some miracle they were allowed to leave at this very moment, Allen could guarantee they'd either had to live the rest of their lives in hiding or by ready to be hunted down one by one. No oath would be able to hold them back from retaliation for long; they'd find a loophole, somewhere, sometime.
And it was knowing that that made his blood boil.
He took a shaky breath, almost desperate to calm himself down. It wouldn't do to lash out now of all times when everyone had frayed nerves because of 'what if' scenarios. He closed his eyes and counted down in reverse from 10 to 1 in Ancient Greek. It was tedious but that extra bit of focus he used was helpful, distracting him from his previous thoughts. He did it twice, almost a third time, until he finally settled and opened his eyes again. Then he felt his gaze drawn to the same spot it had been every time he was even remotely idle.
The edge of the desk, the one untouched corner aside from the dull, cracked ring.
Ever since Apollo had dropped it on the table before the meeting, no one had touched it and Allen had been unable to look away from it. When the meeting had concluded and everyone had shuffled out until he was the last, he'd just stayed still, looking at it. He didn't really know how long he'd sat there, but he finally came around to get up. He'd almost walked out but one glance over his shoulder had him turning, grabbing it with trembling fingers and took it.
He couldn't exactly remember much more of that night.
He'd dragged his feet back to the mass tent of his division and told what was left of his siblings and those close to Annabeth about her fate. The silence that had lasted all of ten seconds before the crying started. Some just dropped where they were, numb and unwilling to deal with anything else after what they'd seen and had to do for hours before. Others clung to anything or anyone they could, sharing in the pain as they mourned their sister, and to those not related, a near mother figure that had done more to support them than their own divine parents.
At some other time he might have been touched at the support shown, but now he could only be numb.
His hands reached out until one finger dragged along the dim, cold metal, a tremble running along the entire arm. His gaze remained on it, tracing the crack running the length. However, a sharp knock at the entrance of the tent made him snap to attention, his hands returning to his sides.
He looked just as the flap to the large camp tent was pushed aside and in stepped one of his best captains.
A full head of long, lush reddish-brown hair that still looked vibrant with the wet sheen of fresh washing and pulled into a ponytail. Only one long strand was left free to frame a tan face carrying the sharpness of Roman descent of her father but then softened by the natural, doe-like features of her nymph mother. Bright eyes that looked almost red rather than brown looked at him with a familiar worry as she approached.
"Acacia," he greeted, his voice dry after hours of disuse.
"Allen," she returned, her normally musical voice marred with concern as she stopped right beside him.
A quick glance at his desk and a moment to linger on the ring was all it took for her brows to scrunch together. She then looked past him to another desk, this one topped with the remains of his half-eaten supper. A sigh left her lips as she turned her full attention on him.
"You promised you'd eat and rest," she said, hands moving to her hips as she gave him a stern look.
"I did eat and I'm only finishing some reports. That's easy enough," he replied but he knew that wouldn't be enough for her.
She didn't point out that the one thing he'd somewhat eaten had been his only meal in well over a day or that he hadn't truly slept in even longer. No, she already knew he'd just dig his heels in and go in circles until she left to carry on with her own responsibilities, or most recently, be somewhat of a mother hen to the few younglings left in their division. He was of two minds with that.
On one side, he was thankful as can be. As he was now, he knew he wasn't the most tactful or sympathetic and while not normally one of the temperamental ones, even he was at the hair-trigger these days. Acacia easily made up for it and then some as the warmer, attentive figure that naturally drew others to her. Even for a legacy of Venus, Acacia's empathetic abilities were nothing to scoff at and it showed with how easily she inserted herself into the group, bringing them closer into a cohesive unit.
On the other side, he felt guilty about it. He was the commander of their division, especially now with the loss of Annabeth and Athena, but for the last few days, he'd barely interacted beyond giving orders and checking things. It was left to Acacia and his three other captains; Nicholas, Ariel, and Benjamin, to actually supervise what was left of the division. Hell, he didn't even linger around after he did whatever task had been in mind, just skulk off to his tent and stay here, brooding.
'Just like I am now,' he mentally chided himself before movement from Acacia got his attention.
He watched her as she came closer, her eyes boring into his, her deep burgundy against his steely grey as the silence grew heavy between them. He could almost feel a battle of wills starting, a silent push for him to finally react beyond clipped lines and mulishness. The way he was now, if it had been anyone else, his hackles would have risen, and the temptation to use dagger hidden in the back of his pants grew.
But not with her.
She'd probably react just as quick and disarm him anyways. He'd seen her training with Annabeth after all. Either way, after a solid minute, his own tiredness made him falter and he blinked. A ghost of a smirk almost made its way to her lips as he huffed. Then she finally moved, reaching for his hand, and almost startling him at that. It was only now that he realized she'd been leaning down even closer while his eyes had been locked with hers. He couldn't play off making his hands busy with something else and given how she took a firm hold on him, trying to snatch his hand away wouldn't do much at this point.
And honestly, the feel of her strong, callused hand so unlike the children or legacies of Aphrodite's linage, yet somehow still soft was more pleasant that he cared to admit.
With a slight tug she had him up and guided him to an empty tub. A perk of being the commander with his own private washing spot but he'd never made use of it. He watched her as she waved her hand with a mutter that sounded almost like she was humming under her breath.
He wasn't one with much affinity for using the mystic arts and Mist manipulation but even he could feel the saturation of magic as water collected almost soundlessly, filling the tub in seconds with clear, clean liquid. Another mutter and a sharp snap this time had the water swiftly bubbling and steaming, filling the tent with hot moisture.
"That looked rather easy," he commented as Acacia leaned down to test the water.
Normally the satyrs and other nature inclined like Demeter's kids needed more time or full incantations to command nature like that.
"The Wild is absurdly saturated here. It's practically begging to be used," Acacia answered easily, nodding as she removed her hand from the water. Turning to face him, she looked him up and down before asking, "So, do you need me to undress and bathe you or are you a big boy and can do it yourself?"
He didn't dignify that with an answer, instead a flat stare being his response. After another few seconds of staring passed before he snorted as he started tugging off his grimy shirt. He was about to go for his pants but then paused, looking at the silent yet observant demigoddess. Her eyes flickered down and back up before a smirk made its way onto her face.
"Something wrong?" she asked innocently, hands falling on her hips.
A familiar glint of amusement was shining in her eyes, but he'd grown used to it after the months spent training at her side.
"Are you just going to stand there?" he shot back.
Had this been any other time, under different circumstances, he might have wanted a scenario like this … or be a blushing mess. Acacia was easily one of the prettier of Aphrodite's linage in the army and with the time he'd spent training by her side, Allen could honestly say he liked her for more than her looks.
"Well, its not like we haven't seen a little something here and there," Acacia returned.
"That's not the same and you know it," he replied with a sigh even as he fought down the heat that wanted to bloom at his cheeks.
Athena and Annabeth had drilled them in getting ready at a moment's notice. From waking up and arming up to rapidly changing between damaged clothes and armor to fresh sets. No time to look for a spot for privacy in the large tents or run off to the showers. And given that either goddess could spring a change drill at any moment, plenty of demigods had been caught less than covered and had to deal with it.
He'd forever deny having caught an eyeful of Acacia as the demigoddess had gotten caught in the middle of a shower during a drill. He looked at her again and got a knowing smile as Acacia walked past him, pausing at his side.
"I'm getting you some food. You better be in that tube when I get back or I will bathe you like a child."
She trailed a finger under his chin as she said that as the sharpness of her nail pleasantly scraping the skin, before she was off, leaving him alone in the tent. He stared at the entrance for a good minute, just to be sure that she'd really gone. As extra precaution he went and pulled out a divider stowed close to the bed and set it up to block out the view from the entrance. Once down with that he finished stripping completely and slowly easing himself into the waters.
A mix of a groan and a hiss escaped him as his skin tingled, dirt and ash slowly falling off him. He just let himself lay his head against the edge, relishing in the warm water after so long. Almost absentmindedly he watched as the water went murky as all the grime was finally starting to come off. 'I really have been filthy,' he noted silently before trying to relax a little more. He almost felt like finally dozing off instead of washing until he heard the tent flap opening again making him nearly shoot up.
'I didn't think the mess hall was that close,' he mused, seeing her silhouette through the thin divider and the candlelight near his desk. Then again, he could be so out of it he just didn't notice the time passing. Either way, his attention quickly went to the demigoddess. He could make out her carrying something and going by the smell that followed, it was a hearty bowl of venison stew.
However, his attention shifted from how she set down the tray at his desk to her form approaching. The fact that he was naked made him reflexively sink lower into the water, hands hovering over his crotch. The presence of the divider was a thin comfort. Thankfully, the demigoddess stopped just at the divider and didn't go and lean around it.
"Getting clean in there?" she suddenly asked, a hint of teasing in her voice.
"… Yeah," he replied back after a moment.
Luckily, the tub had small shelf with the essentials next to it so the soap and washing towels were easily in reach.
"Good. Then try not to take too long, otherwise the soup will get cold," Acacia continued as he grabbed some soaps and a small wash towel.
"Got it," he sighed back as he started.
He wasn't sure but it looked like she nodded and turned around, walking back to the desk as he started cleaning off the dirt along his arms. For several minutes there was little more than the sound of dripping and sloshing as he tried to clean himself as thoroughly as he could. Some bits were particularly stubborn, and he nearly rubbed himself raw to get clean, but he didn't mind. By the time he felt he was more or less done the water was almost pitch dark with dirt, formerly dry blood, and all sorts of other debris in it.
He was standing with the water up to his knees wondering how to get the last of the used water off him before he heard movement. He almost dropped right back in as he craned his neck around to look. Acacia had approached again but she didn't go around the barrier as she asked, "Need clean water to rinse off?"
A part of him wondered how she knew that but instead he settled for answering, "Yeah. Could you fill a bucket with some fresh water?"
She hummed something and before he could say anything more, a mini cloud appeared just over his head. He only had a moment to glance at it before it rained. And not some light drizzle but a good old pouring. He spluttered as he got a face full of it before it stopped as quick as it came, leaving him somehow more soaked than before.
"Clean?" came Acacia's far too cheery voice, the mirth clear as day.
"… Yeah," he muttered after a moment.
Reaching for a new, dry towel, he was quick to finish up. However, he then noticed that he hadn't grabbed some clothes and the trunk with it was next to his bed outside the divider.
"Oh screw it," he sighed as he wrapped the towel around his waist and made his way out.
The moment he stepped out from around the barrier, there was a pause of silence as Acacia looked at him. He stared back, fighting to not fidget or blush in any way otherwise he'd be at the demigoddess' mercy. Then, Acacia finally responded with a low whistle, eyes wiggling and all as he marched past her towards his clothes trunk. Stopping at it, he glanced back and shot a meaningful look at his captain.
"What? Afraid I'll see some tidy whities?" she asked with a smirk still on her face, but he just kept a flat stare. She then shrugged and turned around, leaving him some semblance of privacy.
Sighing at her antics, he was quick to fish out his underwear before dropping his towel and getting dressed. It took only a moment for him to finish in a fresh set of clothes before he turned around. He found that Acacia was already looking at him, but he tried not to linger on the thought of how long she'd been looking with his back turned.
Instead, he just walked back to his desk, noting everything had been cleared off save for the ring and the bowl of stew with a side of bread was there waiting, still steaming. Acacia left his chair as he got closer, instead somewhat leaning against the desk's edge as he finally sat.
A grumble escaped his stomach as the aroma really got to him. It was only now that he truly realized just how hungry he'd been. He just barely muttered a thanks to the gods out of sheer habit before he dug in. The first bite almost had him groaning, a mental thanks to those actually responsible for the food echoing around in his head as he chowed down. It was only his mindfulness of Acacia's presence that kept him from eating like a starved dog, not wanting to risk a swift swat to the head for messiness.
He'd seen enough getting that treatment from her.
Still, even with most of his attention on getting through the rather large bowl of food, he occasionally glanced at the silent legacy of Aphrodite. She was politely looking elsewhere around the tent as he ate but he caught the momentary glances on him. He didn't mind, knowing if there was something she'd want to talk about, she would have spoken up already.
Soon enough he was done with his bowl after scrapping the very last bite he could, using the end of his bread to soak in any drops left. A low, satisfied sigh left his lips as he leaned back into his chair, feeling full for the first time in a while.
Some movement drew his attention though as Acacia got up from her spot and reached for him as she said, "Let's get you to bed."
"… But the reports," he mildly protested, shooting a glance at the set aside papers. His gaze then shifted towards the closed tent entrance and the light streaming through the cracks. "And it's going to be noon soon," he pointed out.
His heart wasn't in it though. He could feel the sleepiness as his body started to get slow, his eyelids already fighting him to close. A week of less-than-ideal sleep and then well over two days of constant stress and work without any rest was finally catching up to him.
"I can finish them while you finally get some sleep," she shot back easily as she all but tugged him out of the chair and guided him to his bed. "… And honestly no one will care if you get some shut eye now. The others have everything handled."
"That's my responsibility though," he almost mumbled before trailing off into a yawn.
"Bellona won't know the difference for a few hours," she returned with a shrug as he got into bed and started to lay down, his gaze still on her. "Besides, I think even she'll appreciate having you better rested than just dragging your feet all day."
He couldn't think of a retort for that that Acacia wouldn't be able to counter. Honestly there had been next to nothing from the mountain. No new presence and as far as he was aware, the camp itself was more or less in a limbo too as some of the gods and campers alike recovered. Plus it was daytime and going by the last few encounters with Jackson's lot, twilight and full-on night were the times to be on guard. The day was going to be slow and quiet as far as he was concerned.
In a way, it was the silence and lack of action that was adding to the tension around, not taking from it but there wasn't anything Allen could really do about that.
"Wake me if anything happens," he all but ordered, dispelling some of his own drowsiness as he looked at his second in command.
"You know I will," Acacia returned with her own serious look. She then leaned down and set a hand against his chest as she gently started to push. "Now you rest."
He didn't protest further as he let himself fall back. The moment his head hit the pillow; the drowsiness came back with a vengeance. His eyes were already fighting to close as he watched Acacia for the last bit as she sat at his desk and reached for the papers he'd been doing earlier. The soft sound of rustling paper was a rather soothingly familiar; many in Athena's cabin would work late into the night over diagrams so one got used to it quickly.
His attention wasn't on the papers but the demigoddess rather. The lights of the candles and the shadows playing against her features were rather pretty if he was being honest. Then, he watched as she almost elegantly brushed her hair back, showing her right ear and the rather nice-looking earring she had.
It looked like it was an emerald, or at least the color of one and if he was right, shaped like a fang of some sort.
It was distinct, much like Acacia was herself. Most of Aphrodite's lineage or those rare few with nymph blood tended to favor dove or flower-based jewelry. 'She never was the type to fall into molds though,' he internally mused, a small smile playing on his lips at the thought.
With that, his gaze started to fade as all the exhaustion finally started to catch up to him, and he fell into the realm of Morpheus…
And that's that for the chapter. Not much action and more set up as it were for this chapter but things will really pick up next chapter and so forth. Hope everyone enjoyed and let me hear your thoughts, as always.