"How much longer can one human keep talking?" Gwen whispered to me. She was impatiently tapping her foot. "I swear, he's been going for hours."

"Gwen, we've been in this classroom since twelve," I whispered back, deadpanning. She shook her head as I followed, "It has been hours."

Gwen and I were in 7th period Ethics- the most boring class I'd experienced so far. It was only three days into the school year, and I'd already established this class at the black sheep of the flock. It was up there with Dodds' class back at Yancy in terms of dullness, and she was a legitimate demon working for my uncle.

Yeah. Let that sink in.

This class was on par with a class taught by something that wasn't even fully human. I can't make this up.

The rest of my classes were alright, but it was something about the drawl of this dude's voice that made me want to put my head down and sleep. It was just so warm and inviting…and boring…and slow.

Really! I mean it.

Sometimes when I was at home and had trouble sleeping at night, I'd imagine myself in this classroom, in this very seat. The shades would be drawn shut. It would be raining outside. I'd have my head nestled between my arms on the desk...

It always takes me out like a light. It's so much more effective than counting sheep or taking melatonin.

"Mr. Jackson," Our teacher, Mr. Lyman, cleared his throat from the front of the classroom. His dark eyes met mine, annoyance shining through rather clearly. Oops. "You're talking to Ms. Stacy about our classwork, I trust?"

"Yes, sir," I replied, my face devoid of all emotion. I'd just about mastered my poker face by now. "We were just discussing it, in fact. Very, er, impressive."

"Were you, now?" Lyman's face reddened as a small wave of laughter passed through the classroom. He grabbed a stress ball off his desk and started squeezing it over and over. It felt like he was trying to psyche me out with his glare.

I met his stare defiantly. Come on, man! I've faced timeless deities looking to take over my body. I've met monsters. An aging man bitter about his life choices did nothing for me- I was probably more likely to be scared by a junkyard dog. "I was."

As he decided what to do, I scribbled down on the top of my notebook: He looks like a tomato.

Lyman stood up to the board, writing something down aggressively. I could hear that poor piece of chalk getting slammed into the board.

As he turned around, I nudged Gwen- she looked back at my notebook and stifled a chuckle.

"Oh yeah?" He finally turned around a few moments later, tapping a piece of chalk on what he'd just wrote. I was right- his long piece of chalk had been snapped in half. "Tell me about John Stuart Mill, then, Edison. Since you're so smart."

I mentally rolled my eyes. Just because I wasn't actively paying attention to him didn't mean I neglected to learn the information as a whole, "John Stuart Mill was one of the earliest proponents of utilitarianism, a consequentialist way of thinking. He cultivated the belief that whether an act is morally right or not depends only on consequences, as opposed to earlier philosophers, who believed that the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act were what really mattered. The ends justify the means, basically."

Lyman's hand drooped. He looked put out at the fact he couldn't embarrass me in front of the class. "That…that's correct."

The bell rang right after. The class simultaneously started packing up their bags and getting up. Lyman went to speak but was drowned out by the combined scraping of thirty chairs.

"That's all for today. Enjoy your weekend," Lyman spat out loudly, his face all pruned up like he'd eaten something incredibly sour. I noted, with satisfaction, that his face was turning an odd shade of purple, too. Serves him right. If you're going to come at the king, you better not miss. "We'll continue with consequentialism on Monday."

"Percy, that was sick!" Gwen and I were joined by one of our friends, Liz as we exited the room. She was about Gwen's height, with a tan complexion and bouncing curls. She was also on the cheerleading squad, so I ended up seeing her most days. We'd become rather fast friends, "Did you see his face? He looked like he was going to explode!"

"He picked on the wrong guy," Gwen said, leaning in. Her voice was tinged with fake dread- it made her sound like the narrator of some horror movie. I rolled my eyes as she loudly whispered, "Lyman's no match for Percy and his big brain."

"It's not that big!" I interjected. Gwen raised her eyebrows, "My brain is completely normal, thank you very much."

"You know, Perce, I'm interested to see what other parts of you are big too," Liz said, fluttering her eyelashes. "Or average. Or under average."

"Maybe if you ask nicely," I shot back, the both of us grinning. "I can give you a private show. I'll just need your cheerleader costume."

Before you ask, which I know you will, no, I don't have feelings for Liz. She's cute, we get along, but I'm just not into that stuff right now. You understand why, I'm sure. It's pretty obvious.

This is just one of those things we do.

When I see my friend Flash or some other guys from the team, I dap them up. I high-five some of my other friends. Gwen and I have a secret handshake.

Liz and I? Well, we shamelessly flirt with each other.

It's all in good fun, and it's surprisingly good practice, so I'm not against it. Plus, it drives the rest of our friends crazy, so that's always a big bonus.

"You got any plans, this weekend, Percy?" Liz asked after we stopped laughing. She lightly touched my arm, "I'm having a party! I was hoping you'd come."

"Nah, I'll be up in Long Island," I said apologetically. I did have plans to visit camp this weekend-right now, actually- and those were plans I wouldn't be budging on. "I'm visiting some friends."

"Fancy. Well, you'll be missed. Who else is going to eat a whole pizza?" Liz sighed, throwing her hands up in the air. "Now we'll have enough food to eat. God, Percy, you love making my life hard."

Okay, so the first day I went to Midtown, I may or may not have had a whole large pizza for lunch. In my defense, Triton and I had a pretty intense training session that morning, so I kind of needed my calories.

Zeus knows he's been pushing me harder and harder since I got my ring.

Plus, the school was right next to this place that sold pizza for a dollar per slice. If you think about it, I never stood a chance, really.

"That was one time!" I protested, my face burning. Giving the table my lame excuse of needing calories obviously hadn't done much to help my case with them, and it wasn't like I could tell them the truth! "One time! I'm a growing boy, Liz, and I need my food."

"Yeah, yeah," Liz rolled her eyes. She readjusted the strap of her tote bag on her shoulder. "The worst part was that you didn't even offer me a crust."

We walked over to Gwen's locker. Some of the people walking in the hallways waved at us. Others stopped us to say hi.

I think we stopped a total of four times in the one-minute walk from Ethics to Gwen's locker, just because of the sheer amount of people stopping to talk to one of my companions about one thing or another.

I never stood a chance, really. Everyone in the damn school knew Liz, and Gwen was basically the president of the student body. I got roped into social interaction just by being within a certain proximity of them.

Not that I was complaining too much. It felt good to have friends at school. Even if they just knew me as that one guy.

"I still don't get how you two don't use your lockers," Gwen huffed, hefting her bag against the locker. She zipped it open and began piling binders in. I saw History, English, and Math fit in there before she somehow closed her backpack around them.

Liz and I spoke at the same time:

"I don't care about my grades."

"I just put everything in my backpack." Well, [Inventory], but no one needs to know about that.

Gwen shook her head, "Unbelievable."

As fun as it was just hanging around, I wanted to get to camp so I could say hi to everyone and stay for a few hours before getting back home for dinner.

"I should get going," I said, looking at my watch. "The train's coming at 2:15. See you guys on Monday."

"Bye, Percy!" They both chorused as I gave them a final wave and exited the school, running to the backlot.

I ran behind one of the school busses, through the hole in the back fence, and down the tiny hill near the school. One of the guys on the team told me this is where they went to smoke after games, so I figured it would make a good, secluded spot to enter the Duat.

Bwomp.

I commanded the Duat to open in front of me, a purple portal silently appearing out of thin air. Before I stepped any closer, I raised my ring to the sky, white-hot energy flowing through it.

I let off a small flash- nothing crazy, just enough to blind any cameras or people looking over in this general direction. I might've blinded some wild animals, honestly.

See, my thing is, I'm not quite sure if the mist works with Egyptian-style magic- I'm not in any rush to find out, either.

I hopped into the eerie darkness of the Duat, closing the entrance behind me.

After I closed the entrance to the Duat, I looked down once again. At the moment, I was suspended in the air, my hand hooked to the top of the Duat with a bit of mana.

This first layer of the Duat was…interesting.

It was shallow. Much shallower than any of the other ones. It almost looked like a glassy surface. If you weren't careful, you could fall right through and be trapped inside.

It was like going ice-skating on thin ice in November- it could be a fun, casual time, or you could fall through the ice and into the frigid depths of whatever pond you thought would be safe enough to skate on.

Unlike the pond example, falling into the Duat wouldn't just leave you feeling embarrassed and probably real cold- you'd be plunged deep into the depths of a magic world. Right into magic, monsters, and probably a god or two.

Not fun.

Luckily, though, I'd developed a way to avoid putting pressure on any part of this first layer. No falling through the ice for me!

I smashed my hands together, channeling mana into my fingers. Little sparks of electricity shot out, zipping back and forth through the small distance between my fingertips.

Mana Manipulation, LV-43 (54.2%)

Mana is a substance that flows through and is produced by ?. In lower concentrations, its density makes the substance act like a gas, but in higher concentrations, it behaves like a liquid.

LV 1- You can manipulate mana to some extent. The ferocity of your attacks multiplies exponentially with your emotions.

LV 10- Learn how to expel mana from your own body, granting faux-telekinetic abilities.

LV 20- Gain the ability to use your mana to reinforce your body's defense or speed.

LV 30- Your control has improved to the point where you can now stick to walls or other surfaces by expelling a steady stream of mana.

LV 40- Create constructs out of mana.

I moved my hands apart a bit. The electricity shot back and forth faster, creating a small outline in between.

Eventually, a small, plate-sized surface appeared underneath my feet. I exhaled slowly as I lowered myself onto it. The plate dropped a little but was still a good foot or two above the surface of the Duat.

Success. Time to get going.

With a small blast of fire from my hand, I propelled myself forward, zipping forward, right above the first layer of the Duat.

Imagine walking on a tainted-glass walkway over an abyss the size of Grand Canyon, but except for nothingness beneath you, there's a whole world full of things.

Monsters, animals, rivers of flowing magic.

Oh, and your walkway's the size of a dinner plate.

Now you know how I feel.

As I glided through the Duat on my little plate, Aladdin-style, a few flashes from somewhere off in the Duat caught my attention. Magician duels, probably.

It was rather rare to see anything else. I think, once, I saw some sort of deity floating around, close to the surface, but before I could examine it, the deity was gone.

Other than that, I'd seen a few other magicians in here, but I'd never ventured too close. I couldn't tell who was hostile and who wasn't, and I had no way of truly knowing whether they'd be nice to a Greek or not.

No, I'm not explaining that whole feud. Read a history book, man!

It was interesting, though. I'd read somewhere that Magicians, through birth or training, can specialize in various forms of magic. While yeah, a well-trained magician knows a little of everything, most have their bread and butter.

Some of the magicians I'd seen in the Duat were combat magicians, others specialized in animal charming. Some were elementals. I'd watch them duke it put from afar, my eye committing each spell to memory.

This thing's kind of like a cheat code.

I was drawn out of my thoughts by a rumble somewhere off in the distance. The plate I was riding on vibrated a bit. Mana constructs weren't really made for transportation purposes.

I tried to gauge the remaining time left for the trip.

Camp's…well, it's somewhere north of here. It's hard to tell exactly how far, but I know it's there because I can see the golden glow of Thalia's dome, even down here. Given the darkness of the rest of this place, it's basically impossible to miss. Not that I'm complaining- this method of transportation turns a trip of two hours into just a few minutes.

Mm. I'd say I'm a minute or two away.

As I floated on toward Camp, I swear I saw a girl staring at me from across the Duat. Before I could look further, she disappeared, climbing out.

Weird.

A couple of moments later, I reopened the Duat, climbing out next to the Athena cabin. I heard a couple of pings go off, quest completion noises, I think, and I vowed to look at them when I got a minute of free time.

That minute wasn't now, though! I wanted to go see my friends.

Not wasting any more time, I swung the door open, "Honey, I'm home!"

No one was inside. All of the beds were empty, the chairs vacant- even the books were closed and neatly placed against the wall.

I checked my watch- 2:10. Right. Lunchtime.

I jogged over to the dining pavilion, grinning when I saw Malcolm sitting on Annabeth's lap.

When he saw me, his eyes widened. He scampered off his feet and ran toward me, his little arms flailing in the air. "Percy!"

I met him halfway and picked him up in a hug, "Hey, buddy."

"What took you so long? I thought you said you'd be back in a few weeks," Malcolm asked, pouting. He grabbed a lock of my hair, staring at it with a confused expression. "And why is your hair white? Did you bleach it? Anna said that's bad for hair!"

"I got a bit caught up-and I did bleach it. Don't tell Anna that," I whispered. He was a bit too young to learn the truth about that part of the story. Honestly, he was a bit too young to learn about any part of the story, now since I thought about it. "She'll have my hide!"

He giggled as I carried him back to the Athena table, stretching his arms out and pretending to be an airplane.

"Welcome back," Annabeth raised an eyebrow at my appearance, but followed it up with a good-natured smile, "You can't stay out of trouble, can you?"

"What?" I replied, sitting down next to her. She gave me a small hug, "I can stay out of trouble! That, uh, was just an off day."

"Yeah, okay," Annabeth said sarcastically as she began feeding Malcolm, who was nestled in my lap, green beans. She gave me a concerned look. "Are you okay, Seaweed Brain? Chiron told us older campers what happened. With…"

"He's gone now," I told her. "And I'm fine."

She gave me a critical look.

"I mean it! He messed with the wrong guy," I grinned, shooting her a thumbs up. I tapped Malcolm's head, "Pass the bread."

Malcolm leaned up a bit and grabbed me a plate of bread that was making its way through the table. I thanked him and grabbed a few slices of Rosemary bread.

Annabeth looked at me some more as I started munching on it. She was giving me a look somewhere between amazement and befuddlement.

"Still…it's amazing you even walked away from that," Annabeth said in a low tone of voice, purposefully leaning in close enough so Malcolm couldn't hear. "I knew children of the Big Three were strong, but…"

"Glad to be of service," I said between bites. I took stock of how empty the hall seemed, "I never realized how many campers went home during the school year."

"Most of them can get through the year without incident," Annabeth shrugged. "It's really only the super-powerful ones that get attacked by the kind of monsters that pose a threat. Your average camper only deals with the average hellhound or two."

Annabeth's words brought another worry I'd been burying away back to the forefront of my mind.

My dad had warned me right before I left Atlantis: I had a target on my back now. In my first few months as a demigod, I'd dueled Ares to a standstill and destroyed Oceanus. How long would it be before my next challenge came along, and how powerful would it be?

If the average demigod fought a hellhound once in a while…what would a demigod like me be fighting?

"Me and Anna saw a hellhound yesterday!" Malcolm interrupted, pulling my shirt a bit. Annabeth sighed, cleaning some jam off his chin with a napkin. He continued, muffled, "She let me use binoculars from her bed!"

"There you go, tyke," I encouraged him. "Have you been training at all?"

"Percy," Annabeth's tone was dangerously still. "Malcolm's too young for physical training, wouldn't you agree?"

"Oh, uh, yeah," I backtracked, gulping. Momma Bear Annabeth was a whole new level of scary. I swear I saw actual fire burning in her eyes. "Totally."

Annabeth smiled sweetly at me, returning to her soup. "Good."

We enjoyed the rest of our lunch. I felt pretty good being back at camp, just chilling and talking to Annabeth and Malcolm. I realized how much I truly liked all of it now.

The people, the food, the overall aura. It felt amazing.

About a half-hour later, I saw Piper leaving from across the hall. The quest! Shoot, I'd almost forgotten!

I picked Malcolm up off my lap, "I'll be right back!"

"Piper!" I called out, catching up to her. "Hey!"

"Percy," Piper returned uncertainly.

Clarisse was right- she had changed. Her level was up to twenty, and most of her stats had taken substantial boosts. Physically speaking, she'd cut her rather long hair to only go up to her chin, and I could see hints of muscle on her previously thin frame.

"Can we talk?" I said rather abruptly. Looking back at our interactions…I felt a not-so-small bit of shame and sadness. Along with some annoyance. Maybe even a little bit of remorse. "It's important."

I lost sight of myself. Sure, winning at all costs was great and all…but I was so out of touch with how a human being would act. How a friend would act. I felt like a dick.

"Uh, I guess. I'm going to the arena," Piper continued, her tone guarded. "What's up?"

"I'm going to be honest," I started, rubbing the back of my neck awkwardly. "I was a dick. I…it's a long story. A really long story. I just…wasn't myself. I wanted to apologize."

"Percy," Piper said exasperatedly. "This…god, you aren't the main character!"

I gaped at her.

"You keep talking as if, like, I don't know! Like everything revolves around you! 'Oh, Piper, I'm sorry, my mom was taken!'" She said, imitating me mockingly. "'Piper, I wasn't myself!' Percy, it isn't all about you. I appreciate the apology, and I'm glad you have that much self-awareness, but you can't make every apology somehow about yourself. Just say you're fucking sorry."

"You're…right," I said slowly. She had a point, as much I loathed to admit that. I just didn't want her thinking I was a dick for no reason! It's natural to want to defend your actions, but clearly, I needed empathy in this situation, not the personal satisfaction of knowing I was subjectively not the bad guy. "I'm sorry."

"That's better," Piper sighed, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "You're forgiven. While I'm still annoyed at you, I want you to know I get it, kind of. Chiron explained some things, after that Capture the Flag game. I still don't like it, and you made me feel like shit, but I get it. I'd have done the same thing."

We reached the arena. The marble columns stretched higher than I remembered, casting shade on both of us. Piper waited patiently for my response, staring intently at the inscription on the wall.

I settled on, "Thanks, I think."

"So, what's up?" Piper asked as we stopped outside the arena door. She patted some dirt off her flannel. "Did you just come here to apologize, or?"

"Well, yeah, but there's something else," I said lamely. "I've been given…a rolling quest, of sorts. The gods basically have me on call, in case they need any sort of demigod help. I remembered you saying you wanted to get out of camp occasionally…so…if that's still the case, I wanted to see if you'd join me."

"A quest from the gods?" Piper's eyes brightened. Excitement filled her tone, "And I get to leave camp? How could I say no?"

"It'll be tough," I made sure to preface as we walked inside. "But I wouldn't mind the extra help. If you want, I can train you, too."

"Hm. Okay, but, before I say anything, I want to fight you," Piper said, pulling out a dagger. Determination shone through her eyes, "I want to see if you're as good as they say. I've never actually seen you fight."

She was right.

She hadn't ever seen me fight.

When I fought Medusa, she had basically been nonexistent, I sent her down when we were at the arch, and she'd passed out before I actually started fighting Ares.

"Fair enough."


Ah, battle.

No matter what happened in my life, I knew the one true thing I could always fall back on was fighting.

It just made sense. I don't know if my powers made my brain specifically hard-wired for fighting, or if it was like a boon from being a demigod, but whatever the reason was, I was immensely grateful for it.

A lot of being a demigod, full disclosure, was weird to me. I still don't quite understand the dynamics of everything works. Now since the Egyptian stuff got tossed in the mix, that whole arena is shot to hell.

Fighting, though? That's something I've, pardon my analogy, taken to like a fish to water.

We both stood across from each other on the arena floor. Piper unsheathed a bronze dagger and twirled it around her fingertips with practiced ease.

"You're not using a weapon?" Piper said incredulously. She seemed offended. "Do you really think that little of me?"

"Piper, you know the things I've done. I could defeat anyone in this camp without a weapon," I told her pointedly. Despite that, Piper's hand tightened around the worn leather grip of her weapon. "I want to see what you can do. This is the fairest way to do that."

I slipped into combat mode, consciously using my left eye, and examining her closely.

The position of her feet. Her reverse grip on the dagger. The rise and fall of her chest. The cadence of her breath. The lack of defense on her side. The good and bad parts of her opening position were ingrained into my mind.

"I'm not like the other people you've faced up until this point. You better come at me with the intent to kill," I found myself saying, settling into a defensive stance. "Or you won't even land a hit."

Her foot tensed. The muscles in her arm tightened. The dirt under her shoe moved. My instincts screamed.

LEFT!

As she lunged forward, my body moved to the left automatically. Piper began to move in slow motion for me.

I slid under her jab with ease, smacking her elbow and pushing her backward with a one-handed shove. She skidded a bit.

"Decent speed. Your form's a bit rigid," I told her. "Don't be so textbook on those. Those forms on the scroll are a baseline, not a step-by-step guide."

Nodding, Piper came at me again, with a noticeably larger amount of speed in her movement. Her footwork was fundamentally sound.

My eyes widened a bit in surprise- she took my advice and applied it quicker than I thought she would.

Piper grunted, the tip of her dagger crisscrossing. The rigidity I'd noted from before was melting away a bit, giving way to powerful, unpredictable slashes. Good.

I weaved out of the way, the dagger missing me by a mere inch or two every time. On her fourth slash, my hand blurred forward.

I grabbed her wrist, mid-slash. "Better. Still, you're leaning into these strikes too much. It makes it easy for someone to do this."

I stepped forward, putting my foot behind her ankle. I gave her a little shove and flicked her forehead.

"Ow!" She yelped, instinctively leaning back. My foot moved toward me, hooking her ankle and knocking her off-balance.

Even though she recovered admirably, her composure was shaken. The security of her form was unraveling, leaving openings all over her body. "What the hell was that?"

"Daggers aren't meant for heavy-handed hits like that," I lectured her as she came at me again.

I'm not much of a dagger guy, but that's by choice. I've still done a lot of reading on them, and Annabeth uses a dagger, too, so I'm still pretty knowledgeable about them as a whole. Definitely knowledgeable enough to help her fix some of this stuff.

"They're meant for quick hits. Fast jabs," I continued, smacking my palm against the openings that presented themselves as she continued her assault. "You're slipping up, Piper."

Piper, despite how she was doing against me, was still insanely impressive. Given what she was like when I first met her, she'd come a long way, both in terms of physical conditioning and battle sense.

What I told her before wasn't a lie- I could take most people in camp out without a weapon.

That's what made her showing right now even more impressive.

"You have a bad habit of projecting your strikes and leaning into them. Against a slower opponent, eh, not too important. Against a faster one?"

I ducked under her jab, grabbing her arm. "Not good."

I kicked her back. She backed up with a small oof and began rethinking her approach.

I gestured at her, "Again."

Scuffing her boot into the ground, Piper kicked up a cloud of dust. From somewhere behind it, she tossed dirt at me- almost exactly like the move I'd use on Clarisse.

I sidestepped the dirt. Just what was she planning?

Her dagger came shooting toward me, spinning through the dust.

"Throwing your weapon?" I wondered aloud, snagging the dagger out of the air. "Come on. You know better than…"

I realized my mistake not even a moment later.

This wasn't her dagger. It had the insignia of a plumed helmet engraved into the hilt. This was one of Clarisse's daggers.

HUMMMMMMMMM!

I felt a painful tingling all over my body. My hair stood on end. The arm I grabbed the dagger with went numb, and the air burned around me. I unwillingly dropped the dagger.

Piper followed through with her original dagger, blasting through the dust.

Smart.

I twirled out of the way, my right arm out of commission but my left arm doing just fine. I deflected her follow-up jab with a little bit of mana in my fingertips and swept my legs.

Piper grunted in exertion, jumping over the sweep, and trying to come down on my ankle.

Unfortunately for her, I was moving too fast. Her stomp missed.

Keeping her composure, she threw another dagger at me.

Where was she getting all of these daggers from?

I dropped my whole body, folding on my legs. The dagger embedded itself somewhere in the stands with a loud thunk.

The feeling was slowly coming back to my right arm. "You're pretty good, Piper."

"You're…you haven't even attacked, but I'm bruising," Piper panted, wiping some sweat off her brow. Her voice was teetering, "How?"

"The best offense is a good defense," I said sagely. My face cracked into a grin a moment later, "Nah, I'm playing. The most important thing you can as a warrior is finding your own style. My style is what you've seen so far. I like to fight in an analytical way, picking apart my opponent."

Well, unless I get mad, I added mentally, remembering just how 'analytical' my fight with Carcinus had been.

"I don't think I can land a hit on you," Piper admitted, her mouth set in a frown. "You're too fast. You might be the fastest opponent I've ever faced."

"You're correct."

She flipped her dagger in her hands. "I want to see you in action."

"Piper…" I began, but she shook her head.

"I know it's, like, dangerous or whatever, but I need to see this," She pleaded. "I need to know. Please."

I couldn't understand her weird obsession with seeing me at full power, but I relented. Even then, I wouldn't go full power, but…

[PYROKINETIC] activated, rows of green fire bursting to life on my body. A loud hissing noise filled the arena as the flames started burning the ground around me. She watched in awe as the poisonous flames licked at the air hungrily.

Blue light began shining through my fingertips.

I prepared a Death Drop.

"Brace yourself!" I warned behind the curtain of fire.

She nodded, and I disappeared in a snap of light.

I reappeared behind her, twirling like a pinwheel. My fist cocked back, charging mana. It shot forward, zipping through the air.

TUNG!

Piper had closed her eyes, and a holographic pink lotus bloomed to life around her, shielding her entire body. My fist dented it, the momentum behind the punch eventually shattering the shell into a million different pieces.

My first connected with her stomach. Even after running through the shell, it had more than enough power to lift her off her feet.

She fell to the ground a moment later, crumpled up and grabbing her stomach.

She croaked, "You hit like a truck."

"I tried to warn you," I apologized, rushing over to here and activating my powers from Hestia. Serenity Inducement wouldn't do much to vanquish the pain, but it would do enough to help her feel better. "What was that shell?"

"I discovered the ability some time ago," Piper said in a strained tone, sitting up. "I was experimenting with well…I don't know how to describe it. This warm feeling in my body, I guess. I eventually learned if I gathered up enough of it and just let it out, that shell would cover my body, keeping me safe from attacks. You're the only one to break it."

"Mana," I amended. She looked up at me, confused. "That warm feeling you're talking about. It's mana. You can train yourself to do amazing things with it. That's how I move so fast and hit so hard."

"I'll do this quest thing with you," Piper spoke up a few minutes later, standing with my support. "And in return, I want you to make me strong."

"Deal," I said pleasantly. "Now, let's get you to the infirmary."


We walked out of the arena, but I was instantly stopped by Chiron. He looked extra formal today- his upper half was clad in a tweed sweater, with a blue dress shirt underneath. His normally free hair was slicked back and bound in a ponytail. Even his, er, tail thing was braided.

"Chiron! It's good to see you," I greeted. I hadn't really seen him around camp, even before I went off to Atlantis.

His eyes crinkled as he gave me a soft, but genuine smile. I couldn't help but notice he looked rather preoccupied, "Perseus. How are you?"

It felt…weird. Looking at Chiron, I mean.

I could still remember those days he was my Latin teacher. He'd come into class dressed up in a suit of Roman armor and shout at us, challenging us, swordpoint against chalk, to run to the board and name every Greek and Roman person who had ever lived, and their mother, and what god they worshipped.

Even when I purposely avoided eye contact, or even pretended to fall asleep, he'd swing that piece of chalk, sniping me in the forehead. Then, he'd make me go up and answer all the questions.

I used to think it was so unfair. What twelve-year-old wouldn't?

He expected me to be as good as everybody else, despite the fact that I never made it above a C– in my life. Well, in those days, anyway.

I understood it now, though.

He'd never expected me to be just good; he'd always wanted me to be better. He knew that someday everything in that room would save my life- that it would mold me into the hero I'd inevitably become.

For all I know, that insistence saved my life.

"I'm pretty good," I said truthfully. I gestured around camp, "Excited to be back."

"Yes, I would imagine. Your deeds have been…talked about many times," Chiron chose his words carefully. He looked at Piper as if noticing her for the first time, and then back to me. "You have a message waiting for you in the Big House. It's of the utmost importance."

Piper and I shared a look, "Oh, well, I was going to take Piper to the infirmary…which is in the Big House…"

"I can take her to the Apollo cabin, instead. It's important that you see to this message, alone," Chiron said urgently. We made eye contact, and his eyes narrowed imperceptibly. Ah. He trotted over to us. "Come, child."

Piper looked like she wanted to protest, but nodded, "Bye, Percy."

"Bye, Piper."

The Big House was the same as it always was- creaky stairs, rickety deck, and chipping blue paint. I ran my fingers up the railing as I walked up the stairs.

Chiron's expression was telling- there was something rather large going on. Maybe it was my first quest from the gods. Maybe something had arrived for me from Olympus. Maybe they'd found out about my association with the Egyptians (something I was supposed to keep on the down-low).

The door creaked open. Somewhere off in the distance, Fantasy by Mariah Carey was blasting loudly. I heard a few voices trying to keep up with the tune.

Following the sound, I stepped into the rec room, where three people were posted up around the ping pong table.

"Percy!" Hestia said kindly from the left side. Clearly in her adult form, my aunt was sitting in one of the comfier armchairs, with a slightly emptied bottle of peach Snapple. She gave me a warm smile, "Welcome back!"

"Thank you, my lady."

I settled into the chair she offered me, eyeing the two other residents in the room.

One was Mr. D, who grunted as an introduction. There were three cans of Diet Coke, with a fourth in his hand. He looked a bit miffed.

The other guy was someone I hadn't met yet.

He was dressed in nylon running shorts and a New York City Marathon T-shirt. He was slim and fit, with salt-and-pepper hair and a sly smile. He looked kind of familiar.

"It's a pleasure to meet you in person," He waved at me, shoving some candy in his mouth. "I've heard only pleasant things."

His smile reminded me now- Luke. Plus, he wasn't Apollo, nor was he Ares, and he sure as hell wasn't ugly enough to be Hephaestus.

"Luke's dad," I muttered to myself, turning to face him. I respectfully inclined my head, "Hermes."

"Smart boy," Hermes complimented, his cellphone vibrating. He paid it no mind, "I am rather short on time, however. I come bearing a message from the gods. Your first mission."

"Okay," I said, grabbing a napkin and a random pen. I clicked it a few times to make sure it was working. I scribbled a bit on the napkin- yep, ink's all set. "Lay it on me."

"We found Hermes' brat," Mr. D followed, still rather annoyed with life in general. Hermes looked a bit put out at the introduction, "He was poking around some excavation site. Tripped one of our sensors."

"There was an…artifact of ours that was taken out of camp on a quest, years and years ago," Hestia thankfully explained. She paused, taking a sip of her drink, "It appears it's been found."

"My Thyrsus, to be exact," Mr. D's eyes darkened. I'd seen him annoyed more times than I'd like to admit…but this was something else entirely. Although he tried to hide it, he was pissed off. You could tell as much from the brevity of his sentences, alone. "A magic staff."

"Who found it?" I wondered curiously. "I doubt Luke got to work with a shovel in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world.

"You'd be correct. It was undertaken by some big corporation working out of New York," Hermes supplied, checking his phone. I noticed hissing snakes wrapped around it, one of them coiling toward Hermes. He nodded, "Oscorp."

"They sound familiar," I frowned. Something about Oscorp was tickling the back of my head. "Can you tell me about them?"

Hermes showed me his phone, pinging a tall-looking building in the middle of Manhattan. I recognized some of the streets around it.

He continued, "Oscorp is an American multinational corporation. It's headquartered in Oscorp Tower in Manhattan, New York City. Oscorp's President and CEO, billionaire Norman Osborn's the one who spearheaded this investigation."

Damn.

Now I remembered why the name seemed so familiar.

"His son goes to my school," I told the table. "Harry Osborn. His dad picks him up from school once in a while. I think I'm getting the gist of it now. How does Luke fit into all of this?"

A flash of pain crossed Hermes' face at the mention of Luke. Hestia shot him a compassionate look, but replied, "We believe he's working with Norman. It's unlikely he would've learnt of the existence of such an artifact on his own."

"Okay, so Luke convinces Norman to fund this project to find the Thyrsus. Norman foots the bill, because he's loaded, and gets the staff. Aside from the question of how a random teenager was able to convince an actual billionaire to help him, I can't help but wonder how this helps Luke," Thinking out loud, I started making a list of bullet points on the napkin. "Well, for one, the location of Oscorp is pretty close to the location of Olympus. Maybe he thought that would help him cover his tracks? Sort of a hide-in-plain-sight situation?"

"That's part of it," Hermes confirmed, his mouth set in a frown. "There's a graver situation at hand. The Thyrsus is a costly item to let go of. It's capable of turning men into monsters, powering entire cities, and has the concussive force of a hydrogen bomb. All around bad news."

"He wants to divide up your attention," I realized suddenly. The three gods around the table nodded grimly, "With Norman using the Thyrsus, there'll be too much of a mess in New York for you to focus on anything else. Divide and conquer."

"That's where you come in," Hermes smiled. "Your first mission is to locate the Thyrsus and bring it back to Olympus."

[SIDE][STORY] Quest Alert!

The Green Goblin

Spurred on by the discovery of the Thyrsus, Norman Osborn is planning something dire for the city of Manhattan. Dispose of him and return the artifact to Olympus.

Rewards:

+1000 REP with [GODS]

+200,000 EXP!

?

?

?

?

Failure:

Death!

[YES/NO]

"Understood," I accepted the quest.

"Good," Mr. D spoke up again. He looked at me seriously, "This staff is important to me, Perseus. I've pulled a few strings, and your class will be taking a…field trip to Oscorp sometime in the next month. I've allowed you this time to plan your approach. What you do next is up to you."

I don't know what surprised me more- the fact that Mr. D got my name right, or the fact that he was able to pull all of that off just a few minutes after I mentioned that I went to high school with Norman's kid.

"Okay. Thanks, Mr. D," I replied, looking over my napkin notes. "Is time a constraint? That might skew my approach one way or another, especially if this needs to be done fast."

"The opposite, rather," Hestia replied, wrapping her shawl around her shoulders. "Luke must still have a goal in the area if he's looking to get a distraction this large. The boy is smart."

"Lay low," I translated. "Get information on Norman and the staff. Then, when Luke makes his move, I make mine, toppling Norman and obtaining the staff. What do you want me to do about Luke? Should I cut him off at the next step?"

Hestia pursed her lips. Mr. D grumbled something under his breath, and Hermes looked away. Clearly, it was a sore spot for the table.

"If it were up to me, I'd have you kill the boy," Mr. D grumbled, crossing his arms. Hermes' glare did nothing to deter him. "But, alas, we cannot. We need for my grandfather to rise. Let the traitor continue his mission."

"Fight him if you must, but either incapacitate him or throw the fight," Hestia substituted diplomatically. "It's of the utmost importance that you foil his plans regarding the staff without gravely wounding him. We want to show the boy that we're willing to crack down on him, so he doesn't get suspicious about the leeway we're giving him, but we also don't want him to get thrust into a situation where he can't continue the resurrection."

I didn't like it, but I nodded, nonetheless. "Incapacitate. Okay. I'll get to work whenever I can."

"Good boy," Hestia smiled, getting up from the table. Her eyes turned a bit sad and she placed a hand on my shoulder. "I…If you ever need to talk, my champion, just know I'm here. The hearth will always be your home."

"Thank you, auntie," I replied softly, a megawatt grin forming on her face at the title. She disappeared out the door a moment later.

"You're the only one of these snot-nosed brats I don't actively root against," Mr. D sighed tiredly. Wow. An actual compliment from Mr. D. Kind of. "I would be…grateful…if you could do this for me."

That must've been his way of saying goodbye. The air seemed to fold and bend around him. He became a hologram, then a wind, then he was gone, leaving only the smell of fresh-pressed grapes lingering behind.

Hermes and I looked at each other. I got up to leave, but he randomly said, "Want to hear a story?"

I thought that time was of the essence for him. Nonetheless, I nodded at Hermes.

He smiled. "I knew a boy once…oh, younger than you by far. A mere baby, really."

His snakes began hissing loudly. One of them reached out and bit him on the hand, not that he seemed to notice, or care.

"One night, when this boy's mother wasn't watching, he sneaked out of their cave and stole some cattle that belonged to Apollo."

"Did he get blasted to tiny pieces?" I asked.

"Hmm…no. Actually, everything turned out quite well. To make up for his theft, the boy gave Apollo an instrument he'd invented—a lyre. Apollo was so enchanted with the music that he forgot all about being angry."

"So, what's the moral?"

"The moral?" Hermes asked. "Goodness, you act like it's a fable. It's a true story. Does truth have a moral?"

"Um…"

"How about this: stealing is not always bad?" Hermes offered, an impish grin on his face.

I deadpanned, "I don't think my mom would like that moral."

"I've got it," Hermes said. Something about his tone made me think he wanted to say this all along, "Sometimes it's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission."

"You're saying I should kill Luke," I said, "even without the permission of the council."

"No, dear Zeus, that's the exact opposite of what I wanted to say," Hermes said quickly. He awkwardly scratched his cheek when thunder rumbled across the sky. "I should've worded that better. I want you to save him."

"Look," I said. "Lord Hermes, I mean no offense by this, but Luke can't be saved. Even if I could fight him without one of us getting taken out in the process…he betrayed everybody he knew. His allegiance has been to K-my grandfather for some time now. This wasn't an overnight process."

Hermes turned his attention across the room, staring at the soda machine, "My dear young cousin, if there's one thing I've learned over the eons, it's that you can't give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it. It doesn't matter if they hate you, or embarrass you, or simply don't appreciate your genius for inventing the Internet—"

"You invented the Internet?"

"Not important. Yes. I did. But my point was and still is, you can't give up on family. Even when they make it hard not to," Hermes said with a sad smile. He looked at me, "Besides that, I know you're the guy for this quest. I know you can kick some ass and get the staff back. Just…keep it in mind."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that the moment I got the go-ahead…I'd do everything in my power to kill Luke on the spot.


[XXXXX] Quest Completed!

An Egyptian Affair!

Prepare to wake up on the western banks…

Rewards:

Egyptian-style magic!

200,000 EXP!

Skill: [Duat Manipulation]


STORYLINE CHOICE 4: [A ROTTING CORE] Completed!

There's a cancer in the body of Atlantis…find it and exterminate it before it rears its head and plunges the whole sea into disarray.

Rewards:

The Ghoul of Atlantis (MAX): You've gained access to natural mana! You've developed [Immense Pain Tolerance]. You've gained access to [?] mana!

100,000 EXP!


PERSEUS JACKSON

[SON OF POSEIDON]

[HESTIA'S FAVORED]

[ECHIDNA'S BANE]

[GODSLAYER]

[BLESSING OF HERA]

[DIVINE CONSULTANT]

Level- 47 (5,000/35,000)

HP- 51,000/51,000 (BOOSTED 2X)

SP- 34,000/34,000

MP- 84,000/84,000 (BOOSTED 2X)

Allegiance- N/A

STR- 63 (+5)

VIT- 25

DEX- 56 (+5)

INT- 39

CHA- 36 (+5)

WIS- 33

LUC- 27

Points- 55

Perk Points- 11

Money- $3405

Son of the legendary God of the Seas and Sally Jackson, Percy is the current child of prophecy. Despite his murky past, Percy is ready to take on his future with determination.

REP at Half-Blood Hill: REVERED!

REP at Atlantis: REVERED!

REP at Olympus: NEUTRAL!

*THE TITLE [SON OF POSEIDON] PERMANENTLY GRANTS +1000 MP AND BOOSTS THE REGENERATION OF MP!

*THE TITLE [HESTIA'S FAVORED] PERMANENTLY REGENERATES YOUR HEALTH BY 30% AND GAINS +5% FOR EVERY 100 HP LOST BELOW HALF!

*THE TITLE [ECHIDNA'S BANE] ALLOWS THE USER TO BE IMMUNE TO ALL POISON!

*THE TITLE [GODSLAYER] GRANTS THE USER 2X EXP WHEN INVOLVED IN A FIGHT WITH A DEITY! THIS EFFECT SCALES, DOUBLING FOR EVERY IMMORTAL OPPONENT AND TRIPLING FOR EVERY OLYMPIAN!

*THE TITLE [HERA'S BLESSING] ALLOWS THE HOLDER TO TRESPASS ON SACRED GROUNDS AND FEEL AMBIENT DIVINE ENERGY!

*THE TITLE [DIVINE CONSULTANT] DOUBLES THE EXP GAINED BY DOING A QUEST GIVEN TO YOU BY ANY DEITY!


AN: Hey guys! Another sort of set-up chapter here, and not much for me to touch on or go over. A pretty surface-level chapter, honestly, so yeah! I'll just touch on the big question about Peter:

Spider-Man: To preface, I love Spider-Man. I've played all of the games, read most of his comic-book runs, and seen all the movies. That being said, he isn't here just because I like him. He's going to have an actual impact on the narrative. As you saw in this chapter, even though you know it isn't supposed to be like this, for whatever reason, he exists in this universe. He will still become Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the way the story works, he won't really follow in the footsteps of other versions, but he should have some similarities.

MCU: As for the whole MCU, it'll come in bits and pieces. There's too much going on to fully delve into marvel territory, but eventually, yes, the MCU will be integrated. So, if you have any Marvel pairings, lay them on me.

I'll jump right into Q+A!


FollowerofOld: Two parter! First, I appreciate your analysis of the situation, and honestly, I'm with you on it. The whole Aphrodite thing is a mess, rightfully so, and it's even weirder cause you see it from Percy's POV. From an objective point of view, though, you hit the nail right on the head. With your analysis on Percy and Aphrodite, I have to say again, you hit the nail right on the head. Heket's…an interesting case. I don't think it's too out of the question for him to trust her- I still think it's dumb, mind you- but given her relationship with his powers, the immense emotional upheaval, and the stress he's under, I'm not too surprised he folded. Plus, it makes things tenser, cause now you don't know what's going to happen :)

Dark Dragon Tamer: I agree! I find too often (with FF in general) that a lot of pairings are sort of the end all be all. They'll have problems, sure, but more often than not it ends up as you described. I'm also a fan of Artemis, but like you said, setting it up believably is the tough part.

LordAlces: I wrote this chapter in the middle of class…and I'm embarrassed that even happened lol.

bable631: Hah, I was hoping people would like that reference. I was also surprised people noticed the description change so fast. I'm not going to formally change it cause there's more than one X-over but yeah!

ScientistXXXX: Yikes…wow. Lots of emotion in this one. I don't really understand what you were going for, but based on the words "sobbing mess" and "a very simpy thing" I can guess you weren't a fan of the break-up. Listen…break-ups suck. A lot. If you honestly think that a kid going through a break-up isn't going to cry…I don't know what to tell you.

ChangeMe4574: Hopefully the second option!

Lord Shiva: Well, I'll clarify that I'm a co-owner of the server. Silly analogies aside, I do have my own section, so if you do or don't want to join, that's your prerogative. It's been fun so far.