"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me exactly what's wrong," I said, my eyes narrowing at Aphrodite. Pushy? Maybe, but this wasn't my first rodeo with Aphrodite, and while I didn't think she'd be leading me into certain doom, I had a healthy amount of distrust still lingering around somewhere in my system.

You know- something about her stealing my emotions for a few months straight, and manipulating me. The usual stuff.

A friendly word of advice, though, if you ever find yourself in my situation- if a goddess ever tells you that you need to go anywhere with them- you go. Go first and ask questions later. I don't want to be responsible for any mishaps, you understand?

Aphrodite shook her head, a deep scowl marring her face. The expression looked so alien on her, so out of place, that I instantly knew something serious was going on. Serious enough to make me consider curbing my distrust of her, "Percy, it isn't that simple. You need to come with me so I can show you. This isn't the kind of thing I can just, I don't know, magically poof in front of you, or even explain without context."

I still wasn't backing down, "Alright, well, excuse me if I don't want to follow you to some random place! Ever hear of stranger danger?"

"Follow me? To someplace? Dear gods, Percy, the problem is inside of you," Aphrodite finally snapped, gesturing at me. Pink light briefly leaked out of her rapidly clenching and unclenching fists."That's why I need you to come with me."

I grumbled out a grudging, "Fine."

She grabbed my hand, and we both uncomfortably twisted out of existence.

The walls of her apartment folded backward, disappearing into this cloud of darkness that rushed out of the air around us. It began hissing and swirling, belching out cannons of black fog like the world's biggest smoke machine.

The floor gave way underneath us, and we floated in the middle of an ever-growing void. What looked like a small drop at first lengthened into a decent jump, to a cavern, and finally, I lost sight of how deep the hole truly went.

I felt it again. The pressure. The cold. The darkness. I swallowed and stared upward, into the endless and unyielding ocean of moving ice on top of me - that same vision that had been dark enough to muddle my sight and cold enough to make me feel like I was wrapped in layers of snow.

The currents moved, and I had to remind myself to take a breath.

My clothes were still on, but my fingertips were slowly turning blue. My chest ached. It felt like needles were stabbing into my back. My body felt brittle and weak- like a stray stick of bamboo, ready to snap at any given moment.

"Breathe, Percy," Aphrodite said slowly, running her glowing hands over my arms. Some of the tension lessened, and I felt my body move again. She held my face comfortingly, "You're okay. You're safe. Just breathe."

"This is where I was after my fight with Luke," I shuddered, warmth slowly pouring back into my body in bucketfuls. I rolled my neck, "Why are we here- no, better question, how do you know about this?"

"This? This is inside your unconscious mind," Aphrodite said, her voice echoing loudly. Her eyes slowly turned pink again as she looked around. "I've never been to yours. I just pulled you out of it. I'm just here because we can't look at it if you're awake… it should be over…um…hold on. It's somewhere around here. And….found it."

She raised her hands in front of me, forming a gleaming mirror, one where I couldn't even see my own reflection even though I was absolutely certain I was standing in front of it. The edges pulsed a few times, and a brain suddenly shot out of it, past my face, and into Aphrodite's waiting hands.

"Is that my brain?" Panic started overtaking my body. [Gamer's Mind] desperately tried to squash it, but I still felt myself hyperventilating. "Aphrodite, is my fucking brain in your hands?"

"Breathe," Aphrodite said soothingly, turning the brain over in her hands. I tried not to wince too much as her fingers jabbed into the squishy-looking parts. "This isn't your actual brain. It's just a model. A really specific, hyper-realistic model."

"That makes me feel much better," I said, shaking my head. My throat was twisting uncomfortably at the sight, "Thank you, Aphrodite, for knocking me out and showing me my brain. I really appreciate it. I'm so glad I came over here. Hey, I think my stomach hurts, too, why don't you rip my stomach–"

"Stop being a baby and listen: when you fought Iapetus, he overloaded your nerves with so much pain they stopped working correctly," Aphrodite explained, pursing her lips. It was kind of a weird experience having Aphrodite lecture me while flipping my brain all around, but I managed to focus somehow. She traced one of the veins, "While I'm not intimately familiar with how his powers work, I do have a baseline understanding of how those types of deities wield their influence. Even then, it's clear as day that it should've been impossible for you to move."

"How so?" I took in a few deep breaths, pushing the image of Iapetus barreling toward Malcolm out of my head, "It was painful, don't get me wrong, but it felt more like I was paralyzed than anything. Kind of like my brain was shutting out the pain."

If I had to throw a few guesses out there, some of my skills and [Gamer's Mind] must've been working in tandem to stop me from entering a comatose state, but there's no way I was going to tell Aphrodite that.

"Well…let's start from the top. Pain is basically just a reaction mortal bodies have- it's a signal that's supposed to proceed to your brain. It's important; pain necessitates stimulation and response, after all. Once it reaches your brain, the goal of the pain signal is to get to the thalamus. The thalamus's job is to direct the signal to many areas of understanding, at which point some areas in the cortex figure out where the pain originated and compares it to similar types of pain. Do you understand?"

"Okay. That makes sense. Fancy words aside, of course."

Aphrodite gave me a sweet smile. She crossed her arms, and with her dark eyes and 80s clothes, she actually kind of pulled the whole 'sweet but psycho' look off, "Explain it back to me, then."

"Pain tells my body whether the level of damage I'm taking is threatening or not by comparing it to previous instances of pain and then it stimulates a response that it thinks is appropriate."

"Hm," Aphrodite hummed, clearly expecting me to mess up. Rookie mistake. To her credit, she kept plugging on. "Well, there are levels to it. For our purposes, I'll keep it simple."

"Good, I'd hate for you to get complicated, and like, use scientific terms and stuff. Oh, wait…"

"You're feeling quippy today," Aphrodite admonished gently, though her lips curved upward slightly. The corners of my mouth turned my blank look into a smile as a response, "Humor me. Have you ever wondered why you cry with some types of pain?"

"Sure, as all teenage boys do."

"Well, that's due to the limbic system, which is the emotional part of your brain that receives signals from your thalamus. Every sensation you experience is associated with feelings and each feeling will generate a response courtesy of the limbic system," Aphrodite said, gesturing back to the 1:1 model of my brain. A part of me wondered why she was so knowledgeable about my brain, but another, more logical part of me remembered she'd put me back together a few times, so it wasn't too far out of the question, "When Iapetus overloaded your nervous system, your thalamus experienced a moment of confusion."

"Like a factory reset?" I questioned, imagining my body turning itself off and back on again like a phone. Given how I tended to get notifications from the Game once in a while, the analogy wasn't too far off.

For better or worse, I was just a giant Gameboy.

"Sure," It was Aphrodite's turn to humor me. I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I was enjoying our banter. A little voice in my head complained about why couldn't she have been a bit more like this when we were, you know, dating. "So, when you wanted to save Malcolm, instead of your thalamus giving the signal to your limbic system, your limbic system gave the signal to your thalamus."

"So that's how I overcame the pain," I said quietly, and Aphrodite nodded. Her phrasing made an idea pop into my head, "You said mortals have that sort of reaction. Do gods like you not feel pain?"

"Not in the way you might expect," Aphrodite replied, rubbing her chin. "How do I go about this…let's start from the top. Do you think I'm the same Aphrodite to you that I am to everyone else?"

"Uh…is this a trick question? Like, are you just asking me this to gauge where our relationship is at, or do you mean it more in a metaphysical sense?"

"Well, yes and no," Aphrodite gave me a sparkling smile. She raised her hand, and a picture of a tree appeared next to her. "Say I ask a thousand people to draw a picture of a tree, okay?"

"Uh-huh."

The paper flashed, and a moment later, there was another picture of a tree, except this time, it was more of a pine tree, whereas the original looked like dark oak. "Okay, so obviously everyone's going to draw a different tree- pine, oak- someone might even draw a picture of a plastic one. That's me, kind of."

"So, what you're trying to tell me is that you are who people think you are," I surmised. In my head, I remembered what she'd looked like when we'd first met- a collage of other people, of other features. "That makes sense. You kind of alluded to that before, when we first met. But how do you monitor that?"

"Well, yes, and no, again. The real question you should be asking me is whether I am who people think I am, or if I am who I think I am- and to answer that hypothetical question, a little bit of both. As for the monitoring, to be quite honest, I don't know."

"How do you not know?" I asked incredulously. "The myths say you were made by Ouranos' remains. Doesn't that give you some baseline of understanding? I mean, I get not knowing exactly who you are, that's a very human sentiment to have, but don't you wake up with some kind of inclination about whether you feel like yourself or not?"

"Well, it's like art. When you make art, you don't tell anyone how to feel about it- you let them decide what it means to them."

"That makes no sense," I replied instantly, shaking my head. "Well, okay, I guess it makes sense for things like art, but it doesn't make sense for gods and goddesses- forces of nature that govern day-to-day life. If we can't agree on one depiction of a god or goddess, how do we know what they do? What are you if you aren't you? The you that I think you are?"

"Well, I'm the me everyone thinks I am- including myself. I'm all those things, the good and the bad. It isn't like–"

"But…how? How are you what everyone thinks you are, if you were you before people knew you were you…if that makes sense," I asked, shaking my head. This was getting confusing. "Like, do you objectively exist, as Aphrodite, or do you need people to be experienced? Do you need mortals like me to believe in you for you to exist? Or does love exist without us?"

"Both. You may not understand now, or ever, but that's why I started this discussion- for immortals, human emotions aren't real. We don't feel things normally- things like pain and hunger. Sure, through centuries of living amongst you, we've begun to feel those feelings, but things weren't always like that. Thus, when we fight, we don't feel pain like you do. We still feel it, but it isn't what makes us fully die. Rather, it's a battle of willpower."

"Yeah, but…I didn't beat Iapetus in a battle of willpower. I exploded the blood out of his body like a gallon of Hawaiian punch," I reminded her. "And when I fought Ares, I didn't will myself past him- I survived his onslaught enough for Hades to come in and put the icing on the cake."

"Didn't you?" Aphrodite said coyly, smiling at me from under her curtain of hair. "Are you telling me you didn't best Iapetus in a battle of wills? That Ares just so happened to not be able to kill you? That Oceanus disappeared of his own accord?"

"I think I'm going to have a headache if this keeps up," I said truthfully, exhaling slowly through my nose. "And, if you don't mind me asking, how do you know so much about human anatomy?"

"I make my children," She reminded me, pink strings slowly forming at the end of her fingertips. She flipped my brain up, and a clone of me appeared in front of us, strings attached to his head. "I have to know about your anatomy. If I miss a connection here or misfire a neuron there, maybe add some DNA in early…"

"This is the creepiest hour of my life," I muttered, staring at the clone of me, who soon turned into a skeleton with the brain from before hooked firmly in the skull cavity. Spooky.

"Back to you, when I reconstructed your body, at first, I simply sped up the generation of stem cells your powers from your father already afford you. Due to the nature of your injuries, though, I came to realize that healing the lost parts like that was too time-consuming and much too risky. So, instead, I crafted you a new nervous system, based on the one you previously had. Unfortunately, I forgot to account for the quirk of your limbic system. Now, of course, fixing that would require the entire rewiring of your nervous system, something which I don't think you'd endure, even if you were submerged completely underwater."

"So, what? I'm stuck with it? Well, I won't complain too much. I'm alive, after all. And big whoop- my pain is directly involved with my emotion. It isn't too much of a hindrance. I just got out of a fight, and let me tell you…"

"No. You don't understand. It isn't just directly involved- it's a two-way street now. I have no way of knowing how deeply this will affect you, but based on what you told me, it seems like it already has. Your vision of Oceanus…"

"Yeah…" I replied softly, staring back up in the void. I shrugged, "Well, that's okay. I understand what I came to understand, I guess. Again, thanks for the bail-out. If I hadn't gotten up when I did, Zeus knows what could've happened to Annabeth and Clarisse. Grover, too, but he would've probably been fine…that monster was a weird one."

"That isn't all," Aphrodite bit her lip. She snapped her fingers, and my skeleton lit up in different colors. Pink, red, purple, blue, white, green. "When I finished the reconstruction of your body, there were only two colors: pink and blue. Your mana and my mana."

"Purple is pink and blue combined," I said, stepping closer to the skeleton. I raised my hand a little bit, my left eye examining the skeleton with microscopic precision. Hues of different colors were breaking out, too, "But…red? White? Those other mixes?"

"There are other immortals feeding into you," Aphrodite said, her eyes narrowing at me. "Other…entities. Undetectable unless you're literally torn apart, and you don't seem surprised. You don't even bat an eye."

"I think I'm just in shock." Honestly, I was in shock. I knew there was another immortal in my head, Heket, but I had no idea who the other signatures could possibly be. Who the other…hues…could be. "I don't know what to say."

"Percy…" Aphrodite trailed off, before sighing. She paced around for a bit, before looking back at me, a weird expression on her face. "Look. You're a secretive person. You have things you don't want to tell me. I get it. Really, I do. See it from my perspective, though. I tried, I really tried before to let you have your space. I tried when you somehow survived the Chimera. I tried when you looked five years older after a month. I tried when you staved off a full assault by Ares. I tried when you somehow severed our bond- simply because I wanted to make you feel comfortable. I tried when I saw things in your body I should've never seen. But now there are actual immortal beings using you as a host. Don't you think you should cut me some slack and tell me at least a little bit of the story?"

"Oh, don't do that," I snapped. Zeus, I hated when she did emotional turnarounds like this, "You tried? Aphrodite, I was twelve when we first met. I was twelve when you started manipulating me, taking my emotions. I was twelve when you started making me feel like I had to be something I wasn't, just for your sake. I didn't know what I was getting into, nor did I comprehend the full scope of who you were and what you wanted. You can't seriously be trying to use that time of my life to drum up some sympathy from me."

"I would've died without it!" Aphrodite screamed at me, flailing her hands. "My power would've simply run out, and every enemy I've ever made would've taken the opportunity to strike me down for good!"

"That's no excuse," I said simply as feelings from before started coming out of the woodwork. My jaw tightened, "You didn't care once about making me feel comfortable until the bond was in danger. When we are at Carcinus' palace, you swore an oath, not because you wanted me to feel okay, but because you wanted me to trust you. When I broke the bond, you wanted to start telling me every little bit of that grand plan of yours- not before. Not during. After."

Aphrodite was quiet, so I kept pressing on, "And you know what? I forgive you for that, because despite how you made some parts of my life feel horrible, and despite the fact that I can objectively say you acted in a manipulative way, I understand. I get why you did what you did- and, I enjoyed some of it. That's the only reason I don't mind talking to you now- but dear gods, please don't try me by trying to flip all of that."

"I wasn't trying–"

"You were, Aphrodite," I cut her off with a raised hand. Again, attempt this at your own risk, "You were. Now, again, I appreciate your help, and I'm beyond grateful that you saved my life and that we're friends now and all that, but I'm not going to elaborate on anything else."

Aphrodite stood quietly, and I let her think about what I'd just said, opting instead to just look around for a bit.

My unconscious was kind of a scary place. The utter darkness felt almost blanketlike. I felt infinitesimal in a sea of nothingness, so unbelievably small in something that was a part of me. I'd never experienced the sensation of drowning before, but if I had to associate it with an experience, this one would easily top the whole list.

If I truly stopped for a moment, just to take it in, I could hear the slightest rumbling sound somewhere off in the distance.

"I just don't understand it," Aphrodite moaned miserably. "What do I have to do to get you to open up to me, Percy? I just want you to be honest with me. Aren't friends honest with each other?"

"You're asking about things I haven't told anyone- things I won't tell anyone," I pointed out. "I think it's really nice of you to want to help me, and again, I appreciate the gesture, but that doesn't mean I'm just going to start giving out my deepest, darkest secrets."

Aphrodite seemed hurt, "Does MJ know?"

"No. And you know what- that's one of the reasons I care about her so much- she doesn't ask me. Because, to her, I'm not the chosen one, or a source of her power, or whatnot- I'm just me," I ran a hand through my hair. "I'm her boyfriend, and she trusts me enough not to pry. That trait isn't exclusive to romantic relationships, though–"

Aphrodite frowned at me and interrupted, "So, what? I just stop wondering, and let it go? I pretend I never saw anything?"

"Well, I'm not saying that," I started, rubbing my forehead. A small headache was building. I could feel the tightness in the middle of my brow. "I'm trying to find the right way to put this…I guess, friends have faith in each other–"

"You don't have faith in me," Aphrodite pointed out. Rightfully so, I guess. "You don't tell me anything, we don't talk at all, and we never do things together. The last three times we've even interacted have all been out of necessity. You're just saying we're friends. Everything else points to the idea that you're avoiding me."

I rubbed the bridge of my nose, "I'm not ignoring you. Intentionally, I mean. It's just…weird."

"Weird how?" Aphrodite pressed on, stepping closer to me. There was a nervous tension in the air. "What can I do? How can I make it feel, well, not weird?"

"I don't know if you can," I replied. Her face fell, and I felt my heart drop a little. "I just don't know how to do it. Like, okay, during the school year, I don't have time to hang out with you because most of my mornings and afternoons are spent at school and then with the team, or training with Triton and Jason. Then, I get home and spend time with my family. I'll either go visit the camp, my dad, or MJ on the weekends. Now, assuming all of that still leaves me with an hour or two open, I don't see MJ being especially open to me spending time alone with you."

"What? How could MJ have a problem with it?" Aphrodite asked incredulously. Her tone wavered on MJ's name. "You're with her- surely she doesn't think–"

"No, she doesn't," I said firmly. MJ had promised me she wasn't worried about Aphrodite and me- not after I told her all the stories from before. "And she's not an insanely jealous person, either, but I get how trying it must be to feel like you have to compete with the goddess of love and beauty. Do you see my predicament here? Even if I want to be the guy teaching you what's right and wrong and how to act like a mortal, I don't necessarily want to put my girlfriend in a weird situation to do that."

"So, then, do you not have other female friends?"

"No, I do," I said as Liz and Gwen flashed through my mind. "But that's different."

"Different how?"

"I haven't dated either of them," I clarified, sighing. "Look, different people have different opinions on it, but generally speaking, it's kind of a no-no to be in alone, intimate situations with an ex if you can avoid it. Especially when you're in a committed relationship with someone else."

"But…isn't the reason that a lot of people start dating is that they get along well? Just because two people are no longer dating or married shouldn't mean that they have to stop being friends."

"In a normal situation, sure. But we never really got along well before I broke the bond," I reminded her. "There were glimpses and moments, sure, but the real problem there wasn't a lack of compatibility, there just wasn't any time to build upon it before it became a relationship. Also- I was twelve. Twelve-year-olds, try as they might, don't care about long-term relationships. They don't even care about short-term ones. They just like looking at hot women."

"I suppose you're right," Aphrodite mused, raising an eyebrow. "So…you thought I was hot?"

"Obviously," My face burned. Leave it to Aphrodite to reduce what I was saying down to the part that'll boost her ego. "But you get what I mean, right? I do empathize with you and want to help you out and help you acclimate to the world, but I can't. I'm just not in a position to."

"It's just hard, you know?" Aphrodite said, blowing a raspberry and sitting down. "You're the only real mortal I know and trust. Like, I want to learn more, and trust me, I have, but the concept of relationships still alludes me. I guess I don't know how to act."

"You're telling me," I chuckled as she glared at me. "I get it. My best friend is kind of like that. Do you remember Jason, from that meeting on Olympus last year? He grew up in a super sheltered way, too. I've been trying to break him into all of those things, too."

"Jason?" Aphrodite asked curiously, picking her head up to look at me. "Right. Zeus' boy. How have you gone about that?"

"Eh, little things. I'm not going to infantilize him and act like he's a helpless little duck or something, but I basically just give him a little push in certain social situations. The rest is all him," I said as an idea began slowly forming in my head. "Hey…why don't you go talk to him? I know he isn't doing much right now, and he might actually be able to give you specific advice. You know, since you guys are kind of in the same boat."

Aphrodite nodded, mostly to herself, before turning back and looking at me. "And you think…MJ will be fine if we all hang out in a group?"

"Uh, I feel like you're jumping the gun," I said candidly but shrugged. "I don't see why not. As long as you're not going to be making googly-eyes at me the whole time. You're not planning on that, are you?"

"Actually, I was planning on giving you a lap dance, but now since you mention it, I'll settle for a striptease, instead," Aphrodite replied sarcastically, laying on her back and throwing her hands up in the air. "Obviously I'm not going to make a move on you with your girlfriend there. Or not there."

I chuckled, floating closer to her. "I'm glad. How's traveling been?"

"So-so. A lot of the world is worth seeing, don't get me wrong, but some of it is just…weird. You mortals used to carve each other up and sacrifice your hearts to us, and now you get over fights in clearance aisles and say weird things and act all strange," Aphrodite's head picked back up. "I thought America was supposed to be great and stuff. So far, it's just been sweaty."

"Sweaty," I repeated, shaking my head. Who knew Aphrodite had such a sardonic sense of humor? "That's not too far off the mark, actually. Kind of describes what I've come to know. I can't name too many people I know who would walk down the streets of downtown Manhattan when they could teleport themselves to the Amalfi Coast, or something."

"In a lot of ways, downtown Manhattan is more interesting than the Amalfi Coast," Aphrodite defended. "I've seen much prettier sights. The industrial changes- your smelly cars and tall buildings- that's something I haven't seen enough of."

I chuckled to myself quietly. She made some good points. I couldn't help but wonder if I'd feel much the same- like, for instance, if I'd been around to see some of the ancient wonders of the world, I wouldn't be so enamored by the present-day sights.

Could anything on the planet right now really begin to capture the same beauty of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Could any library truthfully capture the same intrigue the Library of Alexandria must've had?

Definitely not.

"As illuminating as this has all been," And trust me- it had been illuminating. Learning about some of the inner workings of immortals was quite interesting, along with more mysteries about myself. "I should get going. My dad and I need to train."

"You boys and your training," Aphrodite gave me a soft smile. There was a slight pause at the end of her sentence- a lingering moment where her mouth slowly opened and closed. Eventually, she just said, "I'll see you later, then?"

"Of course."


The next morning, bright and early, I was in the Royal Atlantean training ground. I'd been in and out of this arena only a few times before, but I'd never truly been able to train here.

Honestly? I was looking forward to it.

The floor was made of reinforced purple plexiglass, with glowing teal water flowing underneath. Sea animals of all sorts swam underneath, wading in and out of a trench that was set alight by a reef of glowing plants.

It was a smaller-than-expected room. If you were being a bit generous, it was more or less the size of two classrooms stacked together. Not ideal for group training at all, but more than enough for a one-on-one session.

The western-most rack was packed to the brim with royally branded weapons- everything you could hope to find, from axes to greatswords, and even cans of pepper spray and a particularly wicked-looking revolver.

Over on the eastern side rested what looked like a smoothie bar, with some medical supplies next to it. Toward the top of the arena stretched a glass dome, where light from my dad's power ball shone through, giving the impression of daylight.

As for my inexperience with the arena- most of, if not all of it boiled down to Delta; last summer, he'd been adamant that I train with the rest of the soldiers, in the standard arena.

Like a normal soldier, he'd said. Princes get no special treatment here.

After seeing this? Yeah, there was no way I'd be going back to that trash can.

"Percy," My dad greeted me with a wave as he appeared in the middle of the arena. "I'm glad to see you made it through the night with no trouble."

"Of course. I hope you managed to 'check up on the wards' without too much trouble, yourself," I shot back. Mostly from a teasing point of view, but there was a little bit of annoyance in there.

"Ah, well," My dad's face turned a healthy shade of red, which tended to be difficult given his tanned skin. "I did. I learned personal fitness."

"Oh, huh?" The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could help it. "You learned fitness? Don't tell me you're one of those pilates moms now. Does Lady Amphitrite put on some yoga pants and join you?"

"No!" Poseidon said a little too quickly, before coughing into his hand a few times. "Fitness! The art of sculpting your body- all of it!"

I blinked a few times, "You mean to tell me you learned everything there is to know about lifting in one night?"

"Not just lifting, but yes!" He disappeared and reappeared next to me. Dark blue glasses appeared on his face as he floated around me, muttering things to himself. His trident folded in on itself, lengthening into a tape measure that immediately encircled my right bicep as he poked my traps. "Impressive, son. What's your…split, I believe you younger folks are calling it."

Knowing my dad, younger could mean anything and anyone from Flash Thompson to Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Uh…nothing much. I like running and I lift with the basketball team during practice and training with Triton. And, of course, there's the occasional deity and/or monster that comes my way."

"Mm, hm," Poseidon hummed, the tape measure flinging back to him, wrapping around his arm as he patted down my shoulders. "Tell me, son, do you know what I hoped to do with you today?"

"Teach me a thing or two before the tournament," I repeated his words from the previous nights, with the proper air quotes and all.

"Yes!" Poseidon clapped, turning me around so that we were face to face. "And step one begins now: your routine. Every good warrior, every truly strong warrior has a routine. One they concoct, experiment with heavily and adjust as needed. Now…do you have a preference for a body type? Strong? Balanced?"

"Uh, probably somewhat quick, just 'cause Riptide–"

"Quick! Lithe!" Poseidon breathed, staring at the dome for a few seconds. "I know just the thing! We'll develop your core strength and enhance the limberness of your body- pilates, cross-country, cables- plyometrics in the highest degrees. Yes; I'll borrow a blue whale or two to aid with your speed and endurance. That level of high-intensity workout will no doubt cater to all the big and small muscle groups of your body…"

"When was the last time you slept, dad?" I asked with an awkward laugh. "Or, you know, took a break? Come to think of it, how much did you drink last night?"

"Irrelevant. What is relevant is your training," Poseidon returned quickly, flexing his fingers in front of me as a colossal shadow passed overhead, "Let's begin with a warmup. Lift this whale."


AN: Sorry for the later-than-usual update! I had writer's block for a while and then unexpectedly got a 9-5 job, so that's definitely cut into my time a bit more, but yeah! Aphrodite fans will be eating good with this chapter, I think. I hope everyone's enjoying the calm before the storm.

I'm hoping to fully finish this arc before the summer ends. We'll see if I can hold up to that promise. Please let me know if you have any questions in the meantime via PM or Discord.

Aside from the two other stories I have, I did map out three other ones, so if anyone has any input on what kind of story they'd like to see from me in the future, give it to me now, while I'm still in the drafting stages! I'd write a story in HP, DBZ, MHA, and probably Naruto, too!

Not PJO. Obviously.

Also, I don't normally endorse other stories, but AeroJester203 and I have been talking at length about potential ideas and such. We've shared some ideas back and forth.

I know a lot of the people reading this wish it was a bit more canon-compliant, whether that be in terms of my Percy not being such a dick, or leaving the world a bit more closed off, so if you fall in that camp, check it out. I can say confidently that from what I've seen, it'll be a very successful story- it's written well. I think he's done well with maintaining the spirit and characterizations from the source material, and I've let him borrow a few ideas here and there from this story, so again, check it out if this is your niche.

As for this story…the next chapter is definitely a Gamer chapter. I know some of you have been lamenting the lack of it recently, so don't worry- this next one is for you. I think it'll keep you satisfied on that end for a while- hopefully, haha. We've been building toward something huge for a while- and some, just some of it will make sense soon.

Anyway, thanks again, and sorry for the wait. I'll see you guys soon, hopefully. I just realized I said hopefully, like, a million times. I guess I'm just an optimist.

- Maroon