The sky had turned dark. Through monstrous, swarthy clouds, a curtain of rain began to fall over the forest, making a small pit-pit-pit noise against the monster's metal body.

The heat emanating from the monster was strong; the raindrops barely impacted its metal for a second before sizzling into nothingness.

That instantly took using my fists out of the equation- not that I was leaning toward that anyway. I was strong, yeah, but punching metal was never a good idea, even in the best of times.

"I'm not trying to be a dick- really, I'm not," I said, igniting Riptide's edge in green fire. It glowed brightly through the rainfall. Steam curled off the hilt. "But do all of you bad guys take the same intro class or something? Once- again, just for once- couldn't one of you act, I don't know, astonished to see me? Like, oh, whoa, it's Percy Jackson! That's someone I wasn't expecting to see today, what a pleasant surprise! I'm going to talk to him like a normal person!"

While I was talking, my left eye was flicking wildly across the scene, taking in as my details as possible. There weren't that many details to go off, but there were a few interesting things.

First off, to the best of my knowledge, the machination in front of me was supposed to be some sort of metal drakon. Nope, not dragon- drakon. You've probably heard the term before.

My old armor, back when I was in Delta's squad, was enchanted drakon-hide armor. These SOBs have magically resistant hide, so on the off chance Atlantis comes across the carcass of one, they either immediately cut it up and ration off its parts to their army, or they pump the magical animal market with the entrails and rake in the cash.

I've never seen a live one in person, though. On one of my training excursions last year with Delta's squad, I got the chance to see a dead one, but even that one wasn't quite as big as the one in front of me.

No one's really told me how to fight these things yet.

We have drakon-fighting classes at camp, but I've heard they're kind of boring. According to Piper, it's just two hours of Chiron detailing tactics for diverting their attention and running through various ways to buy yourself enough time to escape. I suppose that's fair, though- there's really no way for your average demigod to survive in a one-on-one battle with one of these things.

They're a nasty business. Drakons are several millennia older than dragons, and much larger. They look like giant serpents. Most don't have wings. Most don't breathe fire (though some do). All are poisonous. All are immensely strong, with scales harder than titanium. This one, unluckily, seems like it has scales stronger than even that.

Their eyes can paralyze you; not the turn-you-to-stone type paralysis, but the oh-my-gods-that-big-snake-is-going-to-eat-me type of paralysis, which is just as, if not more, bad.

The one in front of me looked like it was made from the same material that Carcinus' final form was made of. Surprisingly, it seemed like this one wasn't alive- there was no mana coming from the construct at all.

The second thing I noticed was the carcasses of multiple princes scattered around the forest. There seemed to be five in total, and only two of them still had faint glimmers of life in them.

Even for the ones that were still kicking, though, the situation seemed a bit grim. They looked like they were barely holding on. It was going to be a tall task to somehow beat the monster in front of me and get them back to safety before the glimmers faded.

While the already dead princes had a variety of wounds, the still-alive ones didn't seem to have any glaring physical deformities. Maybe the drakon had some sort of poison breath ability or something?

"You…are as…meddling…as he said," The drakon continued, its jaw unhinging slightly. The rows of teeth glistened with fresh blood. Deep, somewhere in its body, I could see a ball of blue fire burning. "You…will die…with the rest of them."

"On second thought- and hear me out, here- what if I take the princes and go? You know, you go your own separate way, I go my own separate way—"

CLANG!

The drakon moved much faster than a being of that size should be able to move, twisting and careening at me, shooting through the forest like one of those dragon dances you'd see in Chinatown around the new year.

I ducked underneath its maw, trying to stab Riptide into its undercarriage to no avail. For the first time in a long time, time froze for a second. Black lines sprouted out of the ground, smashing together into letters, and floating into the sky.

"No way," I muttered, staring at the Game. "You think this is important enough for a quest, Heket?"


[SIDE][STORY] Quest Alert!

{The Horror in The Forest}

|| By choosing to save Dorian, you've found yourself in the midst of a hairy situation. Five princes, in total, have been slaughtered by the beast, while two lay motionless, awaiting their own doom. Can you find a way to defeat the drakon and save them, before it's too late? ||

{Rewards:}

- 10,000 REP [GAINED] with various parties around the Sea!

- 100,000 EXP!

?

?

?

{Failure:}

- Death!

{Constraints:}

- You only have 10 minutes before the princes' wounds become fatal and they die!

[YES/NO]


As if I'd say no to saving lives! I clicked yes.

Time resumed, and I bounced backward, grunting in exertion as I pulled out Malice from my [Inventory].

9:55:53

I twisted my ring, staring the drakon down as my exoskeleton armor began forming around the tournament-issued clothes that I was wearing.

A scream worked its way out of my throat as I activated [Pyrokinetic] and [Heavenly Trigger] at the same time. The power that I now recognized as Sekhmet roared (literally, I heard a lion roar) to life around me, flaring into the storm in a green blaze.

Unlike most battles, where I tended to pace myself, I had to skip to the good stuff here. Ten minutes to kill a gigantic metal snake wasn't easy at the best of times, and with lives on the line, I couldn't stand to wait a single moment.

Worse, even, since the Game didn't recognize the drakon as a living organism, I had no idea how much health it had, or how much damage I was dealing to it. I just had to fight it until it stopped moving.

The Game lit up around the gigantic snake. Even though it wasn't recognized as living, the Game was still gracious enough to point out some of its weak spots to me: its eyes, the base of its tail- a tiny spot right under its undercarriage on the right side.

No time like the present. I flashed in front of the drakon, slamming Riptide into one of its eyes as hard as I could, smashing its headlight out.

Its tail slinked out, trying to grab me, but I floated over it, igniting the air around it and setting it alight. I noted, with slight annoyance, that the metal seemed to be resistant to fire, to some degree.

The drakon bucked wildly, tossing me off its tail and into the sky. The water stilled around me, and I froze in mid-air. The drakon waited for a moment before unhinging its jaw, bright blue fire starting to roll around in its maw in slow circles.

Deep within the sea of blue, a red spot brightened, lighting up another weakness.

I clapped my hands together and inhaled as my fingertips started to tingle. The hairs on my neck stood up.

KA-RACK!

Not even a moment later, bright blue lightning screeched to life around my body, traveling down my arms and arcing off my fingertips. The bolt curved through the rain and smashed into the red spot, pushing the drakon backward and forcing it to release its flamethrower into the water above it; curling into a tornado of blue flame that set the foliage on fire.

As it continued belching fire into the sky, I cracked my neck, shooting back at the drakon with a full-powered [Death's Leap], this time fueling the attack with water, fire, and lightning.

SCRUNCH!

My spear slammed into the drakon's hide, puncturing through the unknown metal with enough force to skewer a portion of its internal skeleton. Malice, whose tip had been channeling electricity, detonated inside of the drakon, perforating a hole through the other side.

Unfortunately, this meant that when the monster slid its body to the right, Malice went shooting out of my grip and clattered somewhere off the distance. I was forced to jump back into the sky a moment later, glaring at the monster through the sheet of rainfall.

8:31:24

"You're too slow to kill me," I called out, trying to figure out a new course of action. Using weapons seemed out of the question. While I got a good hit off with Malice, the drakon wasn't a living object.

Think about it like this: if that drakon was a real animal, a living breathing monster, skewering a part of its spine would've been a pretty big deal. Even if it wouldn't kill the bastard, it would've slowed it down or something.

I could only assume that the creation in front of me didn't feel that way. If it was like Carcinus, its internal motor would take more of a holistic beating to power down. Going for kill shots wasn't going to help.

What I had noticed, though, was the drakon's lack of multi-processing. Yeah, it was scary when it was moving and hunting and all, but it couldn't do it at the same time.

I first noticed it when I raked it with Riptide. I noticed it again when I popped its eye out, and when I slapped it in the face with that lightning bolt- it seemed like the machine had to either take damage and react or react in response to what it considered was a future event.

It was physically incapable of attacking and defending at the same time.

I couldn't help but notice that this drakon had the same weaknesses as Carcinus. Like, almost the exact same weaknesses. If this so-called Proteus Foundation really wanted my attention, or to kill me, or whatever, why would they send something out here with the exact same weaknesses as another one of their failed experiments?

"And you…are too weak…to save them."

"We'll see."

I grunted, flooding my fist with mana and summoning a [Mirror of Aphrodite] in front of me. It glistened darkly in the pallor of the forest, booming over the cascade of rain.

If it truly did have the same weaknesses as Carcinus, I already knew how to defeat it. I just had to be quick about it.

A translucent dragon the size of a train burst out of it, roaring and blasting toward the drakon in a deafening explosion. It slammed into its left side, throwing the drakon across the forest in a shower of pink and green.

I slung my arm forward, transforming the rain above it into deadly, foot-long icicles that smashed into its smoking body, peppering it. As the drakon did its best porcupine impression, I teleported above it, slamming my foot into its eye as hard as I could.

Pieces of yellow, stained glass shattered into my shoe. I ignored the twinge of pain as I jabbed my fingers into its eye socket, overloading its internal structure with enough electricity to kill a fully-grown blue whale.

And to some degree, it worked. Like Carcinus, the metal on the inside of the beast was incredibly conductive. I flipped back into the sky, about to summon another mirror when the drakon powered down.

Its tail went limp. The constant chugging noise that its motor was making seemed to stop. Even its mouth, forced to be perpetually open by the overflow of electricity into its circuitry, stopped moving.

Right as I considered checking on the princes, the drakon flashed with energy for a moment before shooting toward me in a silver blur. Dodging wasn't an option. I could still see the red weak spot glowing brightly in the forest- if I could somehow hit it with enough force, I'd be able to end it, right here and right now.

I knew I wouldn't have enough time to make a full-powered mirror, so I elected to try something my dad taught me in our training session. It was a bit risky, seeing as I didn't have enough experience with it, but I'd trained it to the point where I at least had a skill for it.

As you may or may not remember from middle school science, water has this amazing ability to stick to itself and to other substances.

Now I could get into detail on the real sciency parts- talk your ear off about hydrogen bonds and electrostatic force- blah, blah, blah. All you really need to know is that the attraction between individual water molecules creates a bond. A really strong and sticky bond.

The scientific community calls this quirky behavior the property of cohesion. My dad calls it συνένωση- coalescence.

Back in the first war with Oceanus, my dad used this power to flatten five hundred miles of underwater terrain in the blink of an eye. Triton used it to punch a hole through a hydra- the punch, of course, was so powerful, it accidentally excavated thousands of meters out of the ocean. Mortals took to calling it the Izu-Ogasawara Trench.

You're probably itching to know what it is. I'll stop stepping around it.


[ACTIVE][WIS]-[COALESCENCE]-[LV: 1]-[PROG: 15%]

|| You've evolved your control over bodies of water to a degree rarely attained by mortals. Through sheer force of will and intense focus, you can now control the very building blocks of water- the molecules themselves.

[DMG]: (WIS^10 x SEC^10)!

[COST]: 20,000 MP/SEC! ||


The logic goes as follows: with our shared power over water, with enough focus, we can control the molecules inside of the water, too. Through coalescence, we can fortify those molecules exponentially.

Breaking a hydrogen bond doesn't break up the molecules it's holding together. The molecules merely move apart- that is, unless someone like me or my family commands them to stay put.

So, theoretically, I can use that power to make the water around me indestructible. That means I can put as much force as I want into a punch or something, and not worry about damage back to me because of the water around me.

There are a few downsides, of course. I'd say they're both equally as annoying, too; the first one is that I have to stay focused for the whole duration, or the water molecules will go back to acting normal. Fair enough.

The second one, well…apparently rewriting the laws of physics and imposing your will on molecules to that degree is really taxing. I'll only have a few seconds to make this work, and if it doesn't, I'll be a sitting duck after the fact.

I screamed as a giant fist of water encased my right hand, blowing up outward like a blooming flower.

"Focus…focus…" I muttered, activating [Time Dilation] and [Coalescence] at the same time.

The world around me slowed to a standstill. I looked at the blue-green, shining construct hooked on my hand. I forced myself to look further, imagining the molecules in the water, the bonds crisscrossing together like a series of x's and o's.

I ordered them to stay put. I imagined my will as a rope, a long, black rope piercing through each individual molecule and stringing them together. It would run along the knuckles of the fist, running back and forth through the fingers and veins like waves on the beach shore.

With a titanic scream- heh- time resumed around me and I smashed the watery fist down, slamming into the drakon with as much might as I could.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

The drakon was sent slamming back into the ground. It hit the forest floor with so much force that the trees around it were uprooted. And then- the ground bent under the monster as it sunk further, and further, and further…all the way until it was a speck in the distance.

I cut off the water flow to my fist, panting loudly as sweat poured down my face. A string of drool was hanging off my bottom lip, which I wiped away quickly, tossing a prayer up to Tyche that no one watching would take note of that part.

Before I could even think about what to do next, I saw a hint of orange in the distance, flaring up through the gigantic hole in the ground like a rising tide.

"That thing is still kicking?" I muttered, raising my hands in front of me.

I summoned up whatever dregs of mana I could, wincing as the green fire began traveling off my body and to my hands. My fingertips sparked with lightning.

[Pillar of Fire]!

Bright, red-orange bulbs formed on my palms, hissing loudly against the rain. I inhaled for a moment, and then: SCHWEEE!

Twin pillars of fire burst out of my hands, with lightning twirling the edges. They twisted and churned together, jetting into the hole, pushing the beast's fire back into itself. I heard a brief echo, and then the hole detonated with so much force that I was sent flying backward, right into a tree.

The bark shattered on impact, and I slumped at the base of the tree, groaning and struggling to sit back up.

A column of fire, lightning, and poison exploded into the sky. The heat was so powerful, so potent that the grass and haphazardly fallen trees were charred to nothingness instantly. Gigantic gusts of wind trailed upward from the hole, flattening everything within a two-mile radius. Water droplets splashed everywhere.

I raised a hand to cover my eyes, but the wind was too strong. I watched, forcefully, as the column of fire stretched wide and long, piercing through the dark storm clouds like a ray of light for a whole thirty seconds, before dissipating.

I stood up, ignoring the twinges of pain in my back- apparently, some of the tree had embedded itself into my left trap, stabbing through my shoulder and side. Blood was beginning to stain through the white of the uniform.

Pit...pit...pit...

Droplets of water kept falling out of the sky, remnants of my final clash with the beast- but that's when I realized what felt so different about the forest.

It had stopped raining.


"Perseus!" I stepped out of the doorway, covered in a weird mixture of blood, smoke, and glass. The two alive princes were tucked under each of my arms, while the bodies of the dead ones were floating in the water behind me.

Chet ran up to me, his eyes wide. His well-kept suit was in shambles- his shirt was untucked, his cufflinks were missing, his pocket square was gone- it was as if he'd been mugged by a very specific robber. "What…what in the world possessed you to go back there? Did you not hear a word of what I told you beforehand? You damn fool, if you'd died in there, Poseidon would've had my head!"

"I went back in there because it was the right thing to do, Chet," I said simply. The pain from my wound was making me a bit woozy. Even though the water around me was doing its best to heal it and keep me awake, admittedly, it wasn't doing too great of a job on the second front, "Tournament or not, I doubt any good prince would've let his peers out there to die."

I noticed the princes lined up behind him, and added, "No offense."

"None was taken, man," The one in the middle said instantly. He straightened when I turned to look at him, "Perseus. Sir."

"I don't want to do this anymore," One of the smaller princes on the left side of the line said, his eyes locked on the floating bodies behind me. He was small; smaller than Malcolm, smaller than any child I'd ever seen hold a weapon, "I don't want to end up like that."

"You won't," Chet promised, trying his best to soothe the boy. I respected his effort, especially considering the bloody scene in front of him, but it looked like it wasn't working as well as he'd hoped, "That was a freak accident. No one was expecting such a monstrosity to be unleashed into what was supposed to be a restful event. Rest assured, my security team is working around the clock to ensure that whoever did this is brought to justice."

"That isn't good enough, man!" The same prince from earlier spoke up, pointing at me. I noticed, for the first time in the conversation, that his eyes were bloodshot. It looked like the forest hadn't been too kind to any of us. "Look at him! You really expect me to get back in the ring, or whatever, knowing some dude like that is in there?"

Chet was silent for a moment as he and the boy stared at each other. Eventually, Chet put a strained smile on his face, "Well then, what do you presume that I do? Kick Perseus out of the tournament? That's hardly how we treat our guests. Besides, that would be an ill-fitting reward for his act of bravery."

"Then I'm out, man," The prince spat, getting some murmurs from the crowd around him. He turned to face them, "I mean, come on, guys. Is some dumb tournament really worth risking your life?"

"This is the biggest tournament in the recorded history of the sea," Dorian, who was tucked into the corner of the hallway, interjected. Surprisingly, as everyone turned to face him, Dorian turned to face me, a blank expression on his face. He continued, "But I find myself agreeing with Calchas. Perseus demonstrated power, poise, and honor when he decided to come back for us, knowing that it could lead to danger. I concede to him."

Epidaurus scoffed, "You're all a bunch of pussies for bending backward for the princess, over here. So what, he got in a bit of a scuffle? There was a big snake? Get over yourselves."

"This tournament isn't worth my pride," Dorian fired back, making eye contact with me again. He looked down a moment later, "I…realize that now. I quit."

"Quit?" Chet repeated, raising his hands. For some reason, I felt like his indignation wasn't genuine, "Hold on, now—"

"Me too," The prince from earlier said, glaring at Epidaurus. "Have fun getting put in the ground by Atlantis. Perseus is going to kick your ass, you cocky shit."

"Let's not be so hasty—"

Murmurs of agreement broke out in the crowd.

I didn't really know what to say, or what to think.

I mean, I get it. Seeing the bodies of people you were supposed to be having fun with and competing with laying on the ground would be enough to deter most people. Adding in the fact that they were put there by a metal snake was just putting a hat on a hat.

Pride got the attention of the gods, and not in a good way. Pride got people turned into gigantic spiders. Pride was the reason Icarus died- the reason Achilles, Bellerophon, and Phaeton died. As far as I'm concerned, these guys were making the right call.

Listening to your pride was never a good idea.

The only problem; I still couldn't shake Chet's reaction. On the outside, he seemed afraid, frantic. Like everything was going wrong.

I don't know, though. To me, it seemed a little too smooth. It was like he'd already planned what to say, how to react- his reaction played out like a choreographed dance. Like he'd picked out the perfect way to sound apologetic and frantic without coming across as too desperate, or something.

By the time the quitters left, it was just Epidaurus and I standing in a hallway. No, really- it was just the two of us.

"Twenty princes joined this tournament. It was supposed to be a week-long show," Chet grumbled to himself, leaning against the wall. "Ten, then five, then three, that's how it was supposed to go. One day of rest, then a big parade. Now, on the second day, there are just two of you. Splendid."

Some medical people came by and took the princes from under my arm, gently placing them on stretchers and wheeling them out of the room.

Epidaurus and I stared at each other for a while, before Chet interrupted, "Take the next day off. Spend some time with your families, I don't care. I'll have to make adjustments to the plans now, seeing as the two of you are the only competitors left."


"Well, that's one way to win the tournament. I totally saw you drool, by the way," Triton was the first to break the silence after I told my family what happened. He raised a glowing hand, and I stiffened as I felt the pieces of wood in my back shift a little. "On the count of three, alright? One–"

Even though I was expecting it- kind of, anyway- I bared my teeth and flinched as the bark ripped out of my skin all at once, splattering blood on the wall behind me.

"Two, three," Triton ended quickly, wrapping a long bandage around my back a few times. "Sorry, silly old me. I meant one. I should really retake that Intro to Calculus course."

"Cheeky bastard," I complained with a smile, stretching my arms out. I could feel the water seeping through my bandages, stitching my skin back together.

We were all gathered in my father's suite. The city had arranged for us all to have hotel rooms next to each other, and they were top-of-the-line. Still, my dad whined- well, he claims he didn't whine (The Lord of the Seas doesn't whine, Percy)- but he not-so-subtly suggested that we still have the meeting in his room.

You know- since he's king and all.

I didn't mind. Well, I kind of minded, because I wanted to shower, watch tv, and eat a metric ton of food, but whatever. Last summer acclimated me to debriefing in a state of starvation and overall discomfort.

"This whole tournament blows. We saw you smack down that lance dude, freak out for a second in the forest, and then make a dome of ice. I guess watching you fight the drakon made up for it, but man, I kind of expected more. Like, a lot more," Triton, now wearing a shirt with my face on it, had the forward thinking to grab me a case of Cokes before the meeting. I caught it with an appreciative look, "Rest in peace to all of the dead princes. Man, if we knew it was going to be this much of a shit show, we would've just crowned you the prince and gotten on with it."

Pleased with his medical procedure, he had resumed his position of sitting cross-legged on the windowsill, holding his chin in a class thinker pose.

Across from him, MJ sat at the only available desk, with a notebook and pencil ready to go, diligently writing down my story. She looked like she wanted to say something, but refrained, choosing, instead, to reread some of her notes.

Poseidon, who disturbingly was wearing the same shirt as Triton, nodded his head in agreement. He gently placed his ice cream carton on the nightstand next to him. Ironically enough, he was eating a flavor called Phish Food. "Indeed, This is most disturbing. Though, if what you're saying is true, you're implicating Chet in all of this. Do you truly think he knew there was something amiss?"

"He had to have known. When I walked in here, the first thing he did was ask me if I brought it into his city," I said, sipping my soda. "For the life of me, though, I can't figure out what he gains from all of this. If anything, he loses revenue, fame, and viewership. He loses his reputation."

"That's why I think he didn't know," Triton stood up and began pacing, "Think about it. If he thought there was some bigass metal snake roaming around his city, he would've had it exterminated instantly. I looked into the ledgers yesterday, and the dust hasn't even settled yet, but Pavlopetri is looking at hundreds of thousands of sea dollars just off the first day. They haven't even tallied the parlays yet."

"Parlays?" MJ asked from her chair, cocking her head to the left slightly. "Like, betting? People bet on this stuff?"

"Oh yeah, big time," Triton returned. "Parlays are huge over here. Normally, you can't make that much off a bet because of the laws around gambling, but parlays are a major loophole."

I was interested now, "How so?"

"Well, parlays generally involve two or more bets linked together to create this gigantic bet with a greater payout. The catch, though, is that all the selections must win for the bet to cash. Bookies around these parts will give you bigger and bigger payouts for adding more stuff to your parlay, seeing as actually winning it gets more unlikely with the more conditions you add."

"But in a tournament?" I felt skeptical about the whole thing. "Is there really that much to bet on in a tournament?"

"Perce, you have no idea. You can bet on all kinds of things," Triton nodded, scratching his temple. He raised a hand and began ticking down his fingers, "Point spreads, time-to-win, over/under, player injuries, and more. Favorites, underdogs, you name it. Even with something as seemingly clear-cut as a one-on-one fight, there's probably dozens of different things to parlay."

MJ's eyes gleamed with understanding, "With all those people there, there's probably double, or triple the money from merchandising, just off betting alone."

"More," Poseidon said, rejoining the conversation after a few minutes of deep thought. "Much more. That's why I created the law, after all. People try to string together all kinds of parlays, and the payout when they fail goes directly to Atlantis."

"Huh. That's a pretty cutthroat move, dad."

"Not really, little brother. That's what the states do, too, if you think about it," Triton defended. He blew a raspberry and leaned back into the wall, "I guess we're all drawing blanks right now."

"Things will become more apparent soon. Delta is investigating Proteus right now, so we'll know shortly whether the machine Percy fought was of their creation or not," Poseidon said, a small grin forming on his face, "Excellent job deploying coalescence, son."

"So unfair," Triton groaned, good-naturedly glaring at me. "It took me, like, two weeks to master it, and wonder boy here did it in a day."

"Well, I didn't master it. I only kind of used it!" I placated him. "And I was sweating like a dog after."

"I think you should extend your stay in Atlantis," My dad said a moment later, his eyes crinkling. "If you mastered that much in a day, imagine what we could accomplish in a month. You could take the prophecy by storm."

"The prophecy?" MJ asked, blowing a strand of red hair out of her face. "What prophecy?"

Almost in unison, my dad and Triton turned to face me slowly. Triton's mouth was opening and closing slowly, and Poseidon looked like someone took his ice cream and replaced it with a bowl of brussels sprouts.

Triton started, "We need to go water—"

"—watch tv," My dad finished, his eyes widening. "I meant—"

"Watch a gardening show," Triton said, hurriedly grabbing my dad and all but running out of the room.

"Idiots. This is literally his room," I muttered under my breath before looking up at MJ, who was watching the door shut with a confused expression on her face.

"Percy…" She said a moment later, dangerously slow. "What's going on?"

Rip it off like a band-aid, Percy, I thought to myself. Rip it off like a bandaid.

"A long time before I was born, the Elder Gods had taken this vow to stop having mortal children. They tended to be too powerful for their own good, and in a lot of cases, they ended up seriously altering the course of history. Not soon after that, there was this prophecy made," I explained, closing my eyes. "A Half-Blood of the eldest gods shall reach sixteen against all odds. And see the world in endless sleep, the hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap. A single choice shall end his days, Olympus to preserve or raze."

MJ's eyes got wider and wider, and by the end of the prophecy, I could already see the tears building. "T-that…it's about you isn't it?"

"I…yeah, it's about me."

"And you never thought to tell me?" MJ screamed a moment later, hiccupping at the end of her scream. "Not once in the past few months did you think to tell me that you were prophesied to die?"

"I…"

"What, did you not trust me?" MJ spat a moment later, wiping at her eyes furiously. "Am I just not important enough to know, huh, baby?"

"No, it isn't that. I just…didn't want to put this burden on you," I struggled to find the words. I know it's unfair, but in that moment, I was cursing my dad, too. Did he really have to bring up the prophecy like that? "I didn't want you to worry."

"What? You didn't want me to worry about you?" MJ laughed thickly. "Right. Because when you go out and fight things, I'm just calm all the time. When you were presumed dead earlier this summer, I just decided to come to camp and read books in your cabin all day. That's what I did. I didn't worry, no, I just relaxed. Of course, I worry about you, Percy!"

"It's just tough, okay?" I shot back, pinching the bridge of my nose, "I didn't want it to put a damper on our relationship, and I sure as hell didn't want you thinking about it every time we were together! I just, well, I liked not having to tell you about that part of everything. I didn't want to talk about it."

"Percy, just because I don't pry you for things all the time doesn't mean I don't want to know!" MJ returned brokenly, leaning forward with her head in her hands. "I'm your girlfriend; you're supposed to tell me things like this. I don't expect you to tell me everything, but this? This is the biggest possible thing you could've hidden from me. Do you just not trust me?"

"No, that isn't it, I just…I don't…"

"I've tried to make myself useful, Percy. I can't fight like the rest of you guys, but god, I just wanted to be able to help at all. After Matt…after he died, I promised myself I'd be more of a help to people I love," MJ said, sobbing. "God, I was an idiot. Of course, you had some sort of destiny. Why else would so many Olympians be obsessed with you?"

"MJ," I said a moment later, trying to step closer to her. She raised a hand, stopping me, and I groaned, "Come on, let's talk about this!"

"Talk? Now you want to talk about it?" MJ sighed, sniffling. Her lips moved a few times, almost as if she was trying to hype herself enough to talk, "Were you ever going to tell me?"

I waited too long to answer. MJ just shook her head, grabbed her notebook and pencil, and said, "I need some time to think, Percy."

"I…understand."

"I'll, um, see you soon," She said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, and just like that, she walked out of the door, sniffling.

"That went well," I mumbled under my breath, leaning back in my chair. "I would've rather gone round two with the drakon."

After a few minutes of self-loathing, introspection, and two cans of soda, I stood up to follow her, when the water in front of me twisted, reading: INCOMING IM: PIPER MCLEAN.

"Accepted," I said as a wave of confusion washed over me. "Pipes?"

Piper swam into view a moment later, waving at me. The California weather had given her a nice tan, and she seemed a bit happier than she had been when I last saw her, "Hey, Seaweed Brain. How's it going?"

"Eh. Could be worse," I returned easily. My conversation with MJ kept weighing on my mind, but Gamer's Mind helped me keep my mental equilibrium, "How's Cali?"

"It's been pretty fun. I'm kind of glad you convinced me to go. It feels kind of weird relaxing for once, but I don't mind it too much, I guess. I always did like relaxing more than I liked doing, well, stuff. My dad and I actually went surfing today. Caught some pretty gnarly waves," Piper smiled fondly. She raised her hand, showing off a pretty sweet-looking Sharktooth bracelet. "Look what I got!"

"That's pretty cool, actually. Where'd you get it?"

"A shark tried to chomp my boogie board in half."

"No way," I scoffed, folding my arms and leaning forward. "Aren't the chances of that happening, like, a gajillion-to-one, or something? Didn't you ever go on iFunny as a kid? There used to be that one shark meme floating around."

"The one with the vending machine?" Piper smirked at me, shaking her head. "There's no way you actually believe vending machines kill more people in a year than sharks."

"I'm not budging on this, Pipes. Look it up!" I shrugged. "I've had nothing but good experiences with sharks. They're sweet animals."

"Yeah, 'cause you're their overlord and stuff," Piper grumbled. "They probably think you'll turn them into shark fin soup if they act up around you."

I chuckled to myself lightly, remembering the mako shark from St. Loius- Piper and I's first week of knowing each other, "Maybe- but hey! You're not getting out of this one that easy. A drachma says you bought it from the gift shop."

"Well, hope you're ready to fork it over since technically my dad got it. From a street-side vendor," Piper grinned, adjusting her hat. "Mmm, free money. I like making bets with you. It's how I pay for things around the camp. Speaking of which, have you talked to Medea lately?"

I paused for a moment, "Nah. I haven't talked to her since we left class, what, a few days ago? Why?"

Piper held up some polaroids for me to look at, "EDEN's going ham. Medea has shifts of construction workers working basically around the clock. The city, though, oh- it's so beautiful it's crazy. No offense to camp, but the second I qualify for the city, I'm getting an apartment and a job out there."

"Well, I am the liaison, so once I get back to camp, we can talk about it."

"You mean it?" Piper beamed. "Alright, then. You better hurry yourself up down there. How's the tournament going, anyway?"

"Well…" I said awkwardly before diving in and telling Piper the whole story.

To her credit, I could tell that she'd mellowed out a lot since I'd first met her. She didn't interrupt once, nor did she make any sort of expression that could be perceived as judgemental. It almost felt weird to say…but Piper had somehow transformed into a good listener.

"I so called it. I'm telling you, Percy, you're the living embodiment of Chekov's gun. You're a walking, talking, drakon-slaying literary device," Piper shook her head at my disappointed expression. "Sorry. I had to. Anyway, my two cents? That dude Chet is the one you should be suspicious of."

"Dude, that's what I'm saying," I groaned, throwing my hands up. "But my dad and Triton think he couldn't have known."

"You know, Percy, my Grandpa Tom used to tell me this story when I was a little girl," Piper volunteered, picking some dirt out of her nails. "I think it was called, like, Chahnameed the Glutton, or something."

"Chahnameed the Glutton," I repeated, raising an eyebrow. "What was it about?"

"Well, basically, there was this guy Chahnameed, as you'd expect. Legend says he and some other guy had some sort of a dispute. Each said that he could eat more than the other, so they soon decided that the only way to settle the fight was to have a big contest to see who could eat more. It was going to be this huge thing- the whole tribe was invited. But before the time came, Chahnameed went home and got a large bag. He fastened it under his coat with the opening near his throat so that he could pour food into it. Sure enough, the time to eat came, and a gigantic barrel of soup was brought. The two began to eat, with Chahnameed shoveling his bag with soup. Even when the other guy couldn't eat anymore and conceded, Chahnameed laughed and kept stuffing his face- or, well, his bag, and eventually, even the bag couldn't hold more."

"Sounds like Jason at lunch, bag-excluded," I commented, causing Piper to chuckle. "And, no, don't mention my Taco Tuesday thing. I mean it! I won't let you into the city if you do."

Piper rolled her eyes and continued her story, "Then he grabbed a knife and stabbed it into the bag. The other man was beaten, but still prideful, and he proclaimed that he'd do what Chahnameed did to prove he was still on par with him, or whatever. Obviously, when Chahnameed stabbed himself, only soup came out; when the other man stabbed his stomach, he died."

"And, I'm sorry, just trying to get a sense of the timeline here: when exactly did your Grandpa tell you this? This seems like a kind of morbid story to tell a little girl."

"Irrelevant. The point of the story is that Chahnameed was the only one who knew his secret; everyone else believed what they saw, or what they thought they saw, when, in reality, it was just what Chahnameed wanted them to see." Piper said sagely, "How do you know the same thing isn't happening here?"

I stopped for a moment, "I mean, it very well could be happening here, but why would my dad and Triton also fall for it? There's no way there's some magic out there powerful enough to skew both of their perceptions."

Piper pursed her lips, "Well, what if it isn't magic? Not all of it, anyway. The thing you told me about the dome, the warning Kalios gave you- people, maybe even including your dad and Triton, aren't going to look too deep into it, especially if that guy Delta is investigating your main suspect right now. Why would they? They see you as some sort of hero, and yeah, it sucks that the other princes got iced or whatever, but you're okay, aren't you? You're still representing Atlantis in, like, the most patriotic way ever. You're still saving lives, kicking butt."

"They do want me to be the prince," I said, rubbing my chin. "Do you really think someone out there gains something from me looking this good? I feel like the only one who benefits from this kind of exposure is, well, me."

My blood ran cold. Pieces of the puzzle, a puzzle I didn't even know I was solving, started clicking together. "What if I'm being framed? And, then, at the end of the tournament, Chet tries to expose me or something?"

"Well, either way, the next step is obvious- at least to me. if I were you, I'd take a look at whoever has the largest parlay on you. There are only two real possibilities here: like you said, either you're being framed, or someone's manipulating things exactly the way they want to get the biggest cut of the money possible."


AN: Annnnnnd we're reaching the climax. A few quick words on today's chapter:

Thanks for being so patient. I know a lot of you probably want to see Percy slam all of his stat points in, see EDEN, bang Artemis, crush Kronos, and become the strongest being in the world or something, but I commend your patience.

I said, at the start of the story, that it would be more of a power creep, and I'm happy to see so many people still enjoy this story.

Atlantis arcs are always my favorite arcs of the story because it lets me do some nice worldbuilding and I get to advance the story in a lot of ways.

That being said, the next arc after this one is the arc I've been waiting to write.

When I started this story, there were only two things rummaging around in my head:

1) A desire to write a Gamer!Percy story (the kind I always wanted to read).

2) The following arc.

So, again, thank you for your patience, but let's let Percy enjoy his peace and quiet for now. Lord knows he's going to be put through the wringer in every way imaginable soon.

As for uploads, I've decided to migrate to a bi-weekly schedule. Weekly felt a bit too cramped for me, and the scenes in this story tend to run around 4k, so I figured I'd just stick to uploading chapters that reflected that word count. I like the amount of substance in these kinds of chapters.


Onto reviews:

JackBlaze123: It's always so good to hear from you, my man! When I saw your reviews start, every time I got a little email notification on my phone, I dropped everything I was doing to read what you had to say. I think I've said this before, but I always think your reviews are perfect. You read the story the way I read it, which is saying something.

Enough gushing, though.

- Thalia is indeed blonde in this story. No real significance behind it, I just like changing things about characters, and Thalia was the only one I hadn't quite altered, so I just wanted to throw a quick cosmetic change out there.

- I'm glad you realized who the woman was, but no dice on anyone in-story realizing it, as it was all in Percy's head. Who knows what she was doing in his head, though…heh.

- Malia was the Carcinus' daughter from the last Atlantis arc, and now, she's Delta's newest minion…er, protege. She won't be getting that much screen time, but instead of making a brand new OC, I figured I'd just reuse one from the last arc.

- No comment on the cult thing. And yes, that was a slight dig (oops)!

- Leo is definitely kind of a non-sequitur on that panel of adults, and I definitely see your point about him being too young to be on there, but I figured he'd probably be the most enthusiastic about the job, given his love for machinery, so I said screw it.

- If I were to write a threesome, Thalia would be in it, no question. I did say Percy would have a few more relationships before he ends up with whoever he's supposed to end up with *wink* but I can confirm that Thalia is one of them. I won't say which. But she is.

Good hearing from you though, as always. See you in the next few months, lol!

Dragon Bone Z: To check my rank, I go to BooksPercy Jackson and then I filter it by follows, to see which stories get the most following. Currently 13th :)

XenonDark: I don't think I've ever been, well, emotional at a review, but this one legitimately almost made me tear up. Your big review, at the time, was the only reason I continued writing this fic. That's why, even if I never got a review again, I'd finish this story just for you. I hope I can blow your mind a few more times before this ends. Given that we have a lot more to cover, I think I'm up to it if you are!

Fausto Neto: I understand and agree with most of what you're saying, but I'd like to clear the air on the Aphrodite thing. I didn't alter her story to make her a good woman, or however, you put it. I changed it to be the inverse of what it is in canon- it just so happened to be that way, of course, but I didn't consciously do it to be like "oh yeah, imma make her a virgin so she's pure," I did it because I thought it was an interesting twist of fate that the goddess of love never experienced love or close bonds with another person. That was the cruelest fate I could think of for a deity who's supposed to embody love.

Noctis Lucius Caelum: Thank you! The Marvel stuff won't be here much longer, trust me, but at this point, it's just like a fun little cameo. Also, I want to somehow get Percy involved with Hera SOOOO BAD it's crazy. I don't know how or if it would work, but trust me, I've looked at that one from a few different angles in the past, lol. The Pantheon stuff is coming soon :)

See you guys later!

- Maroon