"Aphrodite," I started, ignoring the hammering sound of my heartbeat. Aphrodite could sense my conviction—I could see her expression begin to fall. She knew I wouldn't lie; not about this. The hammering sound subsided as I regained control of my emotions.

Tears were spilling out of her eyes. My fingers tingled as I gently grabbed her shoulders and tried to be as tender as I could. I didn't take much pleasure in the calming gesture, but I knew I had to find a way to get Aphrodite to calm down.

Because if she didn't calm down, well, people would start to notice. And by people, I mean Artemis. Or Alan. And trust me, that guy doesn't need any more of a reason to be all suspicious of me. Artemis already has me on thin ice with him with the whole 'forgot-the-wedding-invite' thing.

All jokes aside, I could deal with Alan. I just really didn't want Artemis to have any reason to come over here, because if she did, my cover was going to be blown sky-high. There was no other way around it. "Aphrodite, that isn't possible. It just isn't. There's no way it could've…why don't you walk me through what happened, okay? Slowly. Let's take it step by step."

My brain was firing on all cylinders. An unfortunate side effect of my hyperactive synapses was that even though I logically knew I hadn't gone to Aphrodite at any point in the last year or so, my subconscious was cooking up explanations like a bunch of popcorn kernels popping on a hot stove.

The first one? Well, what if it really was me? I'd heard Oceanus in my head before, was it possible he'd been playing me like a puppet and taking over my body? Ruining my life as some sort of twisted revenge for cutting his plans short and basically wiping him from existence? Yeah, it was impossible now because of [Gamer's Mind MK2] but back in that timeframe, I'd had the original.

I mean…it's interesting to think about, but there's no real merit to it. Even though my original [Gamer's Mind] wasn't as powerful as the new one, it was still more than powerful enough to protect me from that kind of stuff. Besides, I know Oceanus' ren. His entire nature is in the palm of my hands, and he can't explicitly do anything I don't want him to. Back in the fight, he'd influenced me, sure, but he'd been acting in the role of an advisor. He hadn't physically taken over my body and forced me to do anything I wasn't going to do anyway. All he'd done is fan the flames and bridge the connection between what I wanted and how I wanted it done.

That only left a few other options, and they were all just as far-fetched, if not more so in some cases.

I suppose there may be an alternate version of me running around, from a different universe. I know that the Game grants me multiversal capabilities from the [Home Screen] (or the Hall of Memories in my head where I first met Heket) so it isn't that far of a stretch to assume other versions of me in the multiverse have the same powers. There are a few pitfalls with that theory, though.

The multiversal power only really comes out when it's applicable. Like, when I need advice or the Fates decide I need a perspective change. Maybe there's some way I can learn how to do it regularly, and maybe some other version of me has it all figured out, but it still doesn't make sense.

Why would a different version of me want to ruin my life in such a specific way? Besides, for an alternate Percy to even orchestrate such a domino effect, he'd have to be way familiar with every facet of my life, and that just isn't possible. Unless, of course, that alternate version of me had been tailing me this whole time.

But no, that can't be it—I guarantee you that another version of me would've raised some eyebrows. One of me is already enough, and as you've seen, people keep all kinds of tabs on me. This is all without even considering the fact that Aphrodite and I still share a bond, and she would've been able to sniff out an intruder pretending to be me in an instant.

Which really only leaves one explanation, and one I'm not too keen on. For everything to make sense logistically; that is, Aphrodite trusting that version of me implicitly, the other Percy knowing where to go, what to do, how to do it—time travel! It sounds stupid, but I've already unlocked some time-related powers. It isn't too far out of the question to assume I'd get more powerful ones in the future, but again, this still doesn't track for me. Do you remember what happened on the back, against Ares? Nemesis had told me that true success required sacrifice, and at that moment, I'd been considering letting Ares take Piper. But, even as a kid, I knew and promised myself I'd never let an innocent person die if I could help it. If I really were to gain the ability to travel so far back in time, I'd just meet up with myself and tell me where to invest my skill points and perk points. Not orchestrate mass destruction at a high school. Besides that, I can't think of any reason I'd want to force myself to suffer a tragedy like that—nothing's changed for me. My goals are still my goals. Right?

This was all moot, anyway. Until I learned exactly what happened in the encounter, I'd be grasping for straws.

I turned my attention back to Aphrodite, who had been rambling incoherently. I tuned in halfway through her next sentence.

"I…I was getting ready for the dance. I wanted everything to be perfect for Jason and me," Aphrodite started, taking in a shaky breath. Her arms were shaking so badly that the bracelets on her wrists were tinkling over and over again. "And then I heard a knock on the door. I wasn't expecting anyone, nor did I remember giving out my address to anyone, so I was immediately on guard. But then it was you."

I frowned as she took another deep breath. Distant memories of her apartment bubbled at the edge of my consciousness. I hadn't been there in over a year and a half. If it wasn't for the fact that I had perfect memory now, I don't think I could've even picked out which building was hers, let alone remember her exact door. "At your apartment? The one downtown, in front of the Burger King?"

"Yeah. That's why…well, it doesn't matter," Aphrodite wiped at her eyes. Her hair was beginning to lose its luster, and the perfectly applied makeup on her face was becoming runny. "I was still suspicious. Despite us being friends, I knew you were away. Jason mentioned that his brother Percy was on vacation, and the Midtown basketball team was missing their star guard. So, when you came to my door, I was on edge."

"That makes sense," I agreed, still holding her comfortingly. I knew this was the part that was going to get tough, so I activated [Serenity Inducement] and asked, "What happened next?"

"I…" Aphrodite trailed off. She looked up and stared into my eyes. I felt a warm feeling—like being wrapped in a hug. It was as if her presence emitted a gentle, radiant energy that enveloped me, embracing me with a sense of comfort and solace. It was a feeling I hadn't felt in a long time. "Percy…"

The remnants of the bond.

"Can you show me?" I asked comfortingly. I felt a little queasy—the mix of soup and mozzarella sticks in my stomach felt like a rock. I was about to find out the truth about what happened that night. "I need to see what happened."

Aphrodite nodded and grabbed my face with her hands. She leaned forward and placed her forehead against mine. There was nothing romantic about the gesture, but I still felt my entire body get suffused with comfort and belonging. Warmth.

The warmth intensified and a strange sensation washed over me. It was as if gravity had relinquished its hold on my body, causing me to become weightless. Gradually, inch by inch, I felt my physical presence dissolve into nothingness. It kind of felt like an invisible cloak was beginning to envelop me, rendering me invisible, untouchable.

I'll never get over how weird this feels, Aphrodite said in my mind. I'm sure it feels weirder for you, though.

You're not wrong, Aphrodite.

I felt myself being pulled backward as if caught in a relentless undertow dragging me into the depths of darkness. Because of my powers as the prince of the sea, I'd never experienced drowning before, but if I had to guess, this is what it would feel like.

The present faded away. I felt like I couldn't breathe, like I couldn't see. There was this pressure building all around me. And then all of a sudden, my vision exploded in a kaleidoscope of colors.

The threads of time unraveled before my eyes, whisking me away into a river of memories. Each moment blurred past me, creating a whirlwind of emotions and sensations. The onslaught of memories felt like a dizzying whirl, pulling me deeper into the past with each passing second.

The colors began melding. One by one, the palette of colors in front of me began merging into a white expanse of nothingness.

Hold tight.

I fell forward into the white, surrendering to its gravitational pull.

My senses came alive with the sights, sounds, and emotions of a distant moment I couldn't place yet. It was as if I stepped through a portal, finding myself fully immersed in the scene that played out before me. The details emerged with startling clarity. The past was beginning to etch in my mind like an indelible painting.

I could see the colors, the intricate patterns, and the subtle shifts of light and shadow. The air carried the familiar scents of Aphrodite's apartment, triggering a rush of nostalgia.

Time seemed suspended, stretching and contracting in a fluid motion. The memory enveloped me, its tendrils wrapping around my consciousness, pulling me further into its embrace.

And then, it stopped. I was behind Aphrodite, who was answering the door in her apartment. "Percy?"

[Welcome to 'Detective Mode.' Before we begin, you must walk through the encounter in real time with no assistance so that the Game can sync the experience with your database. Your interface has been disabled.]

[Begin encounter?]


I reached forward and punched the yes button.

"Aphrodite," I had to hand it to her, I would've believed it was me, too. Looking through the door was like looking in a mirror. The Percy-Clone was the same height, weight, same build—my left eye was slightly greener, too, which I hadn't known was a thing until semi-recently. I recognized the outfit, though. It was the outfit I'd worn that night at MJ's. "I…I need your help."

[Clue detected. It has been added to your list of clues for this encounter.]

"My help," Aphrodite breathed. Her hand, which had previously been holding lipstick, shifted behind her back, as if to hide the makeup. "You never ask for help, Percy, unless you're in serious trouble. What are you doing here?"

"Like I said, I need help," Percy walked into Aphrodite's living room. The clone had all of my mannerisms down, too. The cadence of speech, the hand through my hair as I talked to Aphrodite. Even the twitch of my cheek as I looked at her. "I got a prophecy last night."

Aphrodite's apartment had changed a bit from the last time I was here. The clone was offered a seat by Aphrodite, which he took.

"You got a prophecy?" Aphrodite repeated, her brow furrowing. Her nose got a little smaller and higher on her face. "From the Oracle? At camp?"

"Yes," Percy replied, nodding. He blew a raspberry and added, "And I…don't know what to do about it."

"You'll figure it out; you always do," Despite the fact that she was busy, Aphrodite smiled and offered my clone a glass of water, which she summoned into her hand. As my clone began sipping it, she asked, "What's the prophecy?"

"In the realm of shadows, at a dance of delight, a malevolent force awakens, lurking out of sight. A monster of dread, with eyes of fiery coal, in its wake, chaos, and destruction shall unroll. Beware, oh hero, lest you stand in its way, for the price of resistance, your home will pay. At the stroke of midnight, the climax shall loom, to halt its birth would mean camp's doom. For fate's decree, you must abide, yet through the darkness, hope shall guide. A choice must be made, hearts burdened with pain, to let the monster form, or fight it in vain." The clone wiped his mouth, and I frowned. Not that Aphrodite or anyone would know this, but a consequence of my powers was that I couldn't get wet unless I explicitly wanted to. The fact that this clone had to wipe excess water off his mouth was another red flag. "Not so great, huh?"

[Clue detected. It has been added to your list of clues for this encounter.]

"That doesn't sound too great," Aphrodite agreed. She frowned and leaned back in her chair. There was something off about the clone that I couldn't put my finger on, and Aphrodite must've felt the same way. "And what exactly do you think it means?"

"Well, the Fall Ball is a given," Percy smirked. The smirk died down as he tapped his chin. "I think, somehow, that there's going to be a monster at the dance. One that I have to let go unchecked."

"That's horrible," Aphrodite said automatically. Her fingers tightened around the lipstick. Her tone shifted a little. I could tell she was nervous. "So, what? Do you want me to protect the school? You know I can't explicitly do anything. I mean, I don't even know why you came to me for it, I don't have any affiliation with Midtown—"

"I wanted your advice," Percy said seriously. He had a genuine look of concern on his face. "The prophecy makes it seem like I should sit this one out."

"And since when do you sit things out?" Aphrodite countered easily, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. A look of surprise formed on Percy's face, and I frowned. I wasn't one to show outward reactions like that. "This isn't like you, Percy."

[Clue detected. It has been added to your list of clues for this encounter.]

"Trust me, I swear on the River Styx that I'm Percy Jackson," The clone joked. The joking mood disappeared as it added, "As for sitting things out? I do when the lives of my other friends are on the line," Percy shot back. "Look, this prophecy might not even come to fruition. But, if I get involved, it could come to fruition, right?"

"That's just one interpretation of it," Aphrodite argued. "Prophecies can have a lot of meanings. You and I both know that."

"I don't know. Maybe," Percy relented, taking a deep breath and leaning back into the couch. I watched as he rubbed his forehead and said, "I just feel like camp is too important to risk. Especially now. I just, well, figured I'd come to give you the warning too. To not get involved, that is."

"Percy, why would I—"

"I mean, you're dating Jason now, right?" Aphrodite looked gobsmacked, and even though I couldn't see my own face, I was sure an expression like that would've been plain as day on me, too. I had no idea they were dating until that night! "What, why do you look so surprised?"

[Clue detected. It has been added to your list of clues for this encounter.]

"No reason," Aphrodite recovered admirably. Her eyes glowed pink for a moment. If I had to guess, she was trying to access the bond between us. To my surprise, she relaxed a moment later. "So you know I'm going to be at the dance, you think something bad is going to happen and you want me to…let this bad thing happen?"


"You're aware Piper, maybe Thalia—everyone's going to be there, right?" Aphrodite pushed back. I was a little impressed; I'd never seen her push back against me this much. Well, even if that wasn't me she was talking to. Dating Jason must've given her confidence. Either that or the clone didn't have the same level of persuasion I did. "If you think I'm going to let anything bad happen to any of them, you're sorely mistaken, Percy. I'm appalled you'd even ask!"

[Clue detected. It has been added to your list of clues for this encounter.]

"The prophecy is pretty clear, Aphrodite!" Percy fired back, and I noticed that despite the intense amount of emotion in the reply, his chest hadn't moved from when he'd inhaled deeply. "I don't care if you save them, you just need to make sure this tragedy happens, okay? It's for the good of Olympus! Do you think I particularly like signing off my mortal friends to die? Is that really how little you think of me?"

[Clues detected. They have been added to your list of clues for this encounter.]

I frowned at the obvious gaslighting at play here. Aphrodite did too. I could tell she thought something was off, but maybe she was willing to—

"I don't even know why I came here!" Percy growled. He stood up abruptly and began marching out of the apartment, even when Aphrodite kept calling for him to come back.

['Detective Mode' has finished compiling your observed clues. The encounter will now play back a second time, with your clues in tow.

Your clues have been evaluated using a scale from F to S. Rating clues on a scale from F to S can help you prioritize the importance and relevance of each clue during an investigation and help build toward a better overall conclusion.

Here are some general guidelines for each rating:

F (Fail) - Clues that are irrelevant or misleading, leading the investigation away from the truth.

D (Below Average) - Clues that have some relevance but lack clear significance or fail to provide substantial information to move the investigation forward.

C (Average) - Clues that provide useful information but are not particularly decisive or central to solving the case.

B (Above Average) - Clues that are solid, provide significant information, and lead the investigation in a productive direction.

A (Excellent) - Clues that are highly relevant, providing valuable information and narrowing down the possibilities significantly.

S (Superior) - Clues that are exceptional, providing critical information that is pivotal to solving the case and leading directly to identifying the culprit or understanding the motive.

Keep in mind that the specific criteria for each rating may vary depending on the nature of the investigation and the context of the case. What might be an "A" level clue in one case could be a "C" level clue in another.

The importance of each clue should also be evaluated in the overall context of the investigation, considering how they fit together and contribute to the broader understanding of the case.]

I found myself teleported back to the start of the encounter, except this time, there were glowing (i) icons all around, and the encounter was playing in varying states of speed.

"Aphrodite," The first part of the encounter was at double the speed, until the same point from before where I recognized the outfit. When it reached that point, it slowed down drastically. "I…I need your help."

[This clue was observed by the [Gamer] and has been given a rating of A. Read more about the clue?]


Of course, I will!

I clicked the button, and it transformed into this long, horizontal box where text began filling from the left side, like someone was punching it in through one of those old-timey typewriters.

[This clue has been rated an A because it effectively eliminates an entire suite of people as suspects and frames previous encounters differently. Think about it like this: out of everyone you saw that night, how many of them are still even alive?]

I frowned. Triton, my mom, Peter, and Peter's aunt were the only people I saw that night who were still alive. I mean, earlier that day, I'd seen Malcolm and Annabeth, but I hadn't talked to them much, so they couldn't be involved. And none of them could possibly be suspects. The only other thing that happened was the Minotaur.

Was the Minotaur somehow involved?

[You've discovered an additional clue! This clue is currently being evaluated…]




[This clue has been rated a C. While it helps connect the events of that night to current events, it doesn't help your conclusions.]

The memory sped up again, and it practically blurred to the point when the clone wiped his mouth.

[This clue has been rated a B. While it's important to note that this pretender has some of your mannerisms down, their illusion of being you isn't perfect.]

"That doesn't sound too great," Aphrodite agreed. "And what exactly do you think it means?"

The scene blurred again.

"And since when do you sit things out?" Aphrodite countered easily, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. A look of surprise formed on Percy's face, and I frowned. I wasn't one to show outward reactions like that.

[This clue has been rated an A. While it's important to note that this pretender has some of your mannerisms down, their illusion of being you isn't perfect. Furthermore, the severity of emotion on their face indicates a lack of your Gamer's Mind ability.]

"I do when the lives of my other friends are on the line," Percy shot back. "Look, this prophecy might not even come to fruition. But, if I get involved, it could come to fruition, right?"

"That's just one interpretation of it," Aphrodite argued. "Prophecies can have a lot of meanings. You and I both know that."

"I don't know. Maybe," Percy relented, taking a deep breath and leaning back into the couch. I watched as he rubbed his forehead and said, "I just feel like camp is too important to risk. Especially now. I just, well, figured I'd come to give you the warning too. To not get involved, that is."

"Percy, why would I—"

"I mean, you're dating Jason now, right?" Aphrodite looked gobsmacked, and even though I couldn't see my own face, I was sure an expression like that would've been plain as day on me, too. I had no idea they were dating until that night! "What, why do you look so surprised?"

[This clue has been rated an S. Only a very select group of people are close enough to Jason to even work out the fact that he has a girlfriend, let alone the fact that his girlfriend is Aphrodite.]

"No reason," Aphrodite recovered admirably. Her eyes glowed pink for a moment. If I had to guess, she was trying to access the bond between us. To my surprise, she relaxed a moment later. "So you know I'm going to be at the dance, you think something bad is going to happen and you want me to…let this bad thing happen?"


"You're aware Piper, maybe Thalia—everyone's going to be there, right?" Aphrodite pushed back. I was a little impressed; I'd never seen her push back against me this much. Well, even if that wasn't me she was talking to. Dating Jason must've given her confidence. Either that or the clone didn't have the same level of persuasion I did. "If you think I'm going to let anything bad happen to any of them, you're sorely mistaken, Percy. I'm appalled you'd even ask!"

[This clue has been rated an A. While it's important to note that this pretender has some of your mannerisms down, their illusion of being you isn't perfect. Furthermore, this clone doesn't have your persuasion skills, nor does it have the same level of charisma which usually disarms Aphrodite's rebuttals.]

"The prophecy is pretty clear, Aphrodite!" Percy fired back, and I noticed that despite the intense amount of emotion in the reply, his chest hadn't moved from when he'd inhaled deeply. "I don't care if you save them, you just need to make sure this tragedy happens, okay? It's for the good of Olympus! Do you think I particularly like signing off my mortal friends to die? Is that really how little you think of me?"

[This clue has been rated an S. When human beings speak, their chests tend to rise and fall, or even shake slightly due to the thrum of their hearts. The clone of you doesn't have those tendencies.]

The memory looped back to the start. Instead of letting it play this time, though, I stopped it.

All the clues I'd gathered lit up and stood side by side, and I felt the rudimentary beginnings of a conclusion start to form in my head.

First, the night at MJs.

Since the clone was wearing the clothes I wore that night, and the only other people who had seen me wear that outfit could in no way be involved, I was left to assume that the Minotaur somehow played a role in crafting this image of me.

Perhaps it had been some kind of surveillance tool whose goal was to follow me and try to kill me. The metrics it would've gotten from our fight would be more than enough to at least begin to mimic the way I move. Plus, if the image of me truly had been created from that fight alone, it would explain why the clone had no way of knowing the effect water had on me—or the lack of effect, rather.

Continuing on with the body of the clone, even though I hadn't originally fully considered what the possibility of his chest not moving meant, I now knew that it had something to do with the construction of the clone itself. Even monsters have to breathe. So, the only way that clone could somehow continue like that was if it wasn't a clone at all, but rather, a construct, like the fake-Minotaur or even the Hydra had been. That would also explain how it got away with falsifying an oath on the River Styx.

If I had a chin I could tap, I'd be tapping it. That was only one part of the puzzle, though. It wasn't just that the clone had a baseline of how I could move and act, it was also the fact that it had all kinds of information I didn't even have.

For the clone to know about Jason and Aphrodite, it would need information it had no way of getting in that same way. A monster somehow appearing inside of camp borders would be cause for concern, and even then, it appeared that Jason himself didn't even know he was dating Aphrodite until last week. Even if someone fed the information of their relationship to whoever created the clone, how did they know where Aphrodite lived?

Besides that, the construct must've had my mana or something. Aphrodite tested the bond, right? How could she have been fooled so easily?


Yes, Percy?

I stared at the frozen scene in front of me. When your eyes glowed pink in this memory, you were checking to see if the bond between us existed, right?

That's correct. It was the safest way of knowing it was you. Even though you'd sworn on the River Styx, I was still iffy on it. Er, the clone, rather, was acting quite differently.

Why were you so willing to hear the clone out? I wondered. I mean, it seems like a really weird request, right? Even if it's me.

Aphrodite was quiet for a while. Percy…when it comes to you, I…I don't know. Even though I wasn't sure, all I knew was that you were asking me for help. And if you ever ask me for help, I will.

Her tone was a bit hard to decipher, but the frantic feeling of her words was barely disguised by her soft voice. Did she still have feelings for me?

I pressed forward, I get that. So, how did you verify? I'm not trying to blame you, or anything, I just want to get an idea of how this could've happened.

Well, you have to understand, the bond between us can't be faked, Aphrodite's voice echoed all around me softly. Using mana to sense someone else's mana and perceive a bond between you two is transcending the boundaries of the physical world and delving into the realm of the mystical. It isn't possible to replicate by a mortal. To put it simply, I focus my awareness and hone in on your aura. Like a tapestry, your mana signature weaves a pattern in the fabric of existence. Each soul emits a unique blend of colors and hues, reflecting their essence, emotions, and past experiences. Once I find your mana, the bond between us starts to reveal itself. It appears as a shimmering, luminescent thread.

The pink line? I remembered the small, pink thread that had pulled me out of my inner consciousness when I almost died fighting Luke.


And it can't be faked?

Never. It has to be your mana.

A thought flashed through my mind. What if that's it?


This clone of me isn't human. It can't be. It isn't breathing, nor does it have my powers.

What else could it be?

I'm not sure, but I have it on good authority that one of our enemies calls themselves the Reality Architect. They're the person who sent the Minotaur to attack me, and the Hydra to kill everyone at Midtown. It's possible that they were also the ones who created this clone of me. An inanimate aberration of me.

Not that I'd tell Aphrodite this, but I'd dealt with clones like this before. A long time ago, when I was training with Heket, we'd practiced my spellcasting using shabti. Sure, at my request, Heket had made them less human, but it was entirely possible to craft a shabti that looked indistinguishable from a human.

And, if that was something an Egyptian deity could do on a whim, what could a motivated Greek one do?

I…suppose that's possible. Aphrodite replied, her voice turning somber. Let's say I agree with you, and there's some mystical force out there capable of creating constructs that look and act human. Even then, there are a ton of factors here that don't make sense. How did they know to come to me for help, or that you and I ever even dated? How did they know Jason and I are dating? How did they mimic you so well or even have your mana?

The mana part is easy. If the Minotaur was truly a decoy, it could've absorbed mana from my attacks somehow. As for the second part, I have an idea, I thought solemnly. I didn't like where this was going. It would've had to have been someone close to me at the time of that first night. Not many people know you and I ever had a relationship. Not only that, but most of the mortals around me at the time are now dead, so that really only leaves someone from camp. At the time of the Minotaur attack, Piper and I weren't really on the best of terms. Silena and I hadn't even been friends. Jason was still Prometheus' lackey. I really only hung out with Malcolm and Annabeth.

Athena's girl? Aphrodite hummed in my head. What does she have to do with it?

I don't want to accuse her with proof, but at the time, she was the only one who I was actively talking to. I didn't begin talking to everyone else after that. Given all the factors…I don't know. Is she close with Jason?

They're close enough. According to him, he, Thalia, Annabeth, Piper, and Silena have a friend group. They started hanging out more in the summer after you, er, left. Are you saying she's working with the Titans?

I'm saying it's the only way the Minotaur could've found me that night, I replied sadly. I didn't want to imagine that my first friend at camp could be a traitor, but given the clues floating in front of me, it was the only thing that made sense. And it would explain how word of you guys dating could've gotten out—Annabeth is smart enough to work these things out. Plus, we were close, at the time. The differences between the clone's mannerisms and mine could be chalked up to the fact that we haven't been close in a while, and the information she fed them doesn't really reflect who I am anymore.

That version of you did seem a bit more rough around the edges, Aphrodite reasoned. But even then, how do the parts about finding me make sense?

Well, from what I've seen, the Titans work in demigod-immortal cells of two or three, I thought back to all of the times I'd fought Luke. The immortals are there in case demigods get cold feet. That's what Luke and Ares did. That's also what Luke did with the two Titans from the garden.

You're saying Olympus has a spy?

Olympus has spies, I corrected her. Artemis and I are tracking down one of Hecate's groups right now. It's safe to assume there are more.

The memory faded, and I was back in front of the wedding venue. The moonlight filtered through the open rooftop and illuminated Aphrodite's face. After a few moments of silence, I had to ask the question that was burning a hole through my brain, "So you ended up doing what the clone said."

"I…yes. I wouldn't let the demigods die, but the rest of them…" Aphrodite and I shared a long look.

"And you did it because I asked," I interrupted the silence. "Or, well, because you thought I did."

"Yes," Aphrodite replied softly.

"But why?" Now since I'd seen the memory, now since I'd felt the impact of everything that happened that night, I was more confused than ever. "Why would you do that?"

"Why do you think?" Aphrodite cut me off, her voice thick with emotion. "Because I care about you!"

My eyebrows scrunched together, "Still? After all this time?"

"You saved me from a fate worse than death! You showed me how to live again, how to love again. You were patient with me and proved that I didn't have to be restricted to the life that had been set out for me. Do you remember when I said I was your wife, and that you could do anything to me and I'd take it? That you had complete control over me and that I wouldn't bat an eye? What did you do? You set me free! You changed my fate, Percy! Those kinds of feelings just don't go away!" Aphrodite said agitatedly, "Do you think I still want to feel that way about you? After everything that's happened? After starting a relationship with someone else? Because I don't. I don't want to keep loving you, but I can't help it, okay? I can't shut off the part of me that still wants your approval. The part of me that still wants to impress you so you'll love me. That's why I stood by. And, that's why I'd stand by again."

I stood in silence, just looking blankly at Aphrodite. Her hand closed on my chest and she whispered, "Are you telling me you never feel the same way? That you never...even for a second just wonder..."

"No," I lied instantly. She'd asked me a dangerous question. The truth was, I did wonder, but maybe not in the way she wanted me to. I never considered dating her again, but sometimes, I would wonder why she was so different with Jason than she was with me. We were so very alike, and as far as I could tell, our relationships seemed the same, more or less. I don't necessarily think means I still have romantic feelings for her or anything, but her words do have some form of meaning.

Maybe somewhere under all of that hate, confusion, and distrust, there is still some love, but I'll never know, because I'll never look. I don't care enough about her to try.

She nodded sadly and didn't even bother hiding the disappointment all over her face. She pulled her hand back before whispering, "So it was all my fault. You were right."

If she'd said this to me a week ago, or hell, even twenty minutes ago, I would've agreed. But the anger I felt before wasn't rising up anymore. Not like it had been before.

You know, there's this thing about anger. It can be all-consuming, like a fire raging inside you, burning away any semblance of reason and compassion. It's so easy to let it take control, to throw it at someone else, to seek revenge, to make them feel the same pain they caused you. Especially when you think they're the reason it happened.

For the longest time, Aphrodite had been that outlet for me. Sometimes she deserved it, and sometimes she really didn't, but after seeing this memory, how could I be mad at her? She'd been willing to forsake all of her morals, just because she thought I needed help.

In a lot of ways, being mad at Aphrodite was easier than being mad at the General, or the Reality Architect, or whoever else played a role in this. Unlike the others, who were, at best, concepts, Aphrodite was a real, breathing person. I could just focus all the anger and pain I felt onto her.

And she always took it, too. Not just now, but before. Whenever I was mad or annoyed, even if it wasn't at her, she still took it. I guess I was finding it hard to let go of my anger toward her, even though I knew now that she didn't deserve all of it. She did still deserve some of it.

It just came down to forgiveness. Aphrodite was an inherently flawed person, and someone had taken advantage of that. The real question I had to ask myself was whether I could stomach the loss I'd suffered in the name of her love or not.

It wasn't an easy question for me to answer, not by any means. But it was necessary. You see, holding onto this anger toward her wouldn't solve anything. It wouldn't make the pain go away, and it certainly didn't bring any real satisfaction, even when I beat her into the ground. It only prolonged the hurt, feeding it like a relentless beast.

I needed to save the anger for the people who orchestrated this, not the people who were in my corner. So, I guess I'd shift some of the blame to the people who deserved it more. I wouldn't call it forgiveness, not yet. But it was a start.

"No," I said firmly. The word felt alien in my mouth. Aphrodite looked up, her smudged mascara trailing down her face. I took a deep breath, "It isn't your fault."


"Aphrodite," I said calmly, placing my hands on her shoulders. Even though I wasn't sure if I still cared about her or not, I knew whatever this mess between me, her, and Jason was had to be cleared up. It had gone on too long, "It wasn't your fault. You thought you were helping me. And I…appreciate that. You were willing to help me even when you were uncomfortable. Even when you didn't want to."

Aphrodite was silent for a while. Her bottom lip trembled, "Your friends are still…I still…"

"You've never once said no to helping me," I cut her off. "This was no different. You couldn't possibly have known otherwise."


"You and Jason have a good thing," I smiled, trying to hide the ache in my heart. "A great one. I guess I let our…past cloud that. I figured you were doing the same thing to him that you did to me, and I didn't want him to go through that."

"I was scared back then. I'm not scared now," Aphrodite whispered, her voice trembling with vulnerability. "And I would never, ever hurt him. Not…not like I hurt you."

I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat. All those times I wished Aphrodite could just turn off the self-sabotaging part of her, all those moments I yearned for her to be a normal girlfriend. All the effort I put into helping her break through, only for her to do it effortlessly for Jason.

I shook my head. Aphrodite made Jason happy, and I'd let my past experiences with her blind me from that fact. I'm not saying I wasn't justified, because I was, and still am. But the truth is the truth.

If she was willing to change and he was happy, was it really my place to say anything at all?

For an inconceivable amount of time, Aphrodite was alone, craving something she saw everyone else get. Jason was the same way. He was ripped from his family at a young age and raised under the cold hand of a Titan. Both of them craved the same thing, more than anything else. Love and family. Both of them were forced to do things they didn't want to do, and both needed pure love to heal from those painful experiences.

In a way, Aphrodite was really the perfect candidate for a love story. Just not mine.

The weight of my unspoken emotions pressed heavily on my chest. It was a bittersweet realization that they had found what they longed for while I was left with the remnants of a broken connection and a dead ex. That somehow, even though I'd been trying for so long to play by the rules and do everything right, the two most flawed individuals I know got to be happy while I suffered.

Jason's your friend, A voice that sounded like Piper said in my head. You saw what he had to go through. Training for long nights while you cuddled up with your mom? Was that fair? Doesn't he deserve peace now?

"I'm sorry for making him swear that oath," I found myself saying before I could stop myself. "It was cruel. Needlessly cruel."

"It was," Aphrodite agreed with a sigh. "But we've found ways around it. You said he couldn't talk to me, touch me, or look at me. You didn't say he couldn't write to me, or think about me, or talk to someone else when I'm sitting there."

"Huh. You guys were willing to do all of that, just to be together?" I realized. "Is there any way you can overpower the oath? Gods can do that, right? If they couldn't, I wouldn't be here right now."

"Well, yes, gods can, but it takes a lot of power to outright break an oath. I barely have that much. Even then, Jason is the one who swore the oath, so I wouldn't have to just break it, I'd have to disable it completely, which would take way more power." Aphrodite said honestly. She gave me a tight smile. "It's fine, Percy, really. Even if this is all I have with him for the rest of our lives, it's okay. We'll make it work."

I closed my eyes. I'd inadvertently hurt Jason more than anyone had before. Sure, Prometheus had done worse things than me but he'd been expecting that from him. In my case, Jason trusted and loved me like a brother, and I still turned around and burned him.

Was he mad at me? Probably. Could I afford to alienate anyone else? Probably not.

My mind drifted back to Annabeth, and guilt washed over me like a tidal wave. I had always been the one who tried to protect my friends, the one who took on the burden of responsibility to keep them safe, just because I didn't want any of them to get hurt doing the same for me. In doing so, though, did I unintentionally push Annabeth further away?

Having friends who had a negative outlook on the gods wasn't a new deal for me. It's just, well, usually things were the other way around. One of my friends was a supporter of the Titans, and through careful conversation, I was able to bring them back to the side of the gods.

Take Silena, for example. She had faced her demons, and with my support, she found her way back to the light. We worked together to ensure a better future for the camp.

But with Annabeth, it was different. It was the opposite. She'd been my first friend at camp, my first taste of the Greek world. She and Malcolm had been the whole reason I became a divine consultant for the gods.

Annabeth was strong, resilient, and fiercely independent. I had always admired her for those qualities, but now I couldn't help but wonder if my admiration had blinded me to her struggles. Each memory of Annabeth kept replaying in my mind like a broken film reel. I recalled moments when she seemed distant, lost in her thoughts, and I brushed it off as her usual introspective nature. I remembered times when she would smile, but her eyes told a different story—a story of pain and uncertainty that I had failed to see.

I couldn't shake the feeling that I should have been there for her, that maybe I could have made a difference. The guilt gnawed at me, a relentless reminder of my perceived failure as a friend and a leader. How had I let her slip through the cracks?

And how could I stop the same thing from happening to Jason?

"The bond," I remembered. Aphrodite looked at me with a weird expression and I continued, "The bond from before, not the weak one we have now. You once said you weren't just drawing on the feelings between us, but my capacity to love, right?"

"Yes," Aphrodite answered uncertainly. "Your love for your mother was what drew me to you. You've always had a strong inclination to protect the people you care about. Why?"

"Reignite it," I said, and her eyes widened. "It'll give you enough power to disable the vow, right? You and Jason can be together."


"Listen, I know we've had a really weird relationship. In a lot of ways, it's been like, the worst-written rom-com of all time. Like one of those ones you used to try to get me to watch when we were together," I said with a smile and Aphrodite giggled. "But I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the back-and-forth, the misunderstandings. I don't want any of it. I want whatever this weird thing is between you and me to be over for good. And I don't want Jason to suffer. He's had enough of that. If you make him happy, and he makes you happy, there's no reason for me to get involved. Granted, if you break his heart or somehow do to him what you did to me—"

"—which I won't—"

"Then I'll give you a repeat of last week."

"What about if he breaks my heart?" Aphrodite questioned with a small smile. "You know you're one of my only friends, right?"

"Oh," I was stumped. "I guess I'll do the same to him, then. How about you both just, I don't know, not break each other's hearts?"

"We'll do our best," Aphrodite promised with a smile. Her smile faltered, and she asked, "Are you sure?"

"100% sure."

"Then let's do it," Aphrodite breathed, and her eyes glowed pink. Her fingertips glowed softly, and threads of string began to spill out and float toward me through the air. "Whenever you're ready, Percy."

I touched the threads. Instantly, I felt a surge of energy coursing through me, as if the thread was weaving itself into the very fabric of my being. The sensation was both exhilarating and comforting, like being enveloped in a warm embrace.

At that moment, it was as if a floodgate of emotions burst open, and I could sense Aphrodite's essence intertwining with mine. It wasn't just a mental connection; it was a profound sharing of experiences and feelings. I saw fragments of her past, her joys, her heartbreaks, and her journey to self-discovery.

I saw myself through her eyes for the first time, when I'd been a little kid and barely able to stand straight in her presence. I saw her guide Piper and I through the quest, I felt her elation when I'd come to visit her in the apartment for the first time. I felt her heartbreak when we broke up for the first time, and her jealousy at MJ's party.

As the world around me seemed to blur and shift, the colors of reality transformed into a vivid kaleidoscope of wonders. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the edge of the breathtaking Amalfi Coast, where the azure waves crashed against the rugged cliffs, creating a mesmerizing dance of light and water. The salty breeze caressed my cheeks as I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. The sensation was so palpable. I turned and saw the quaint pastel-colored houses perched on the cliffs, the vibrant bougainvillea cascading down the walls, and the boats gently swaying in the turquoise waters below.

The memory shifted, and I found myself standing amidst the mystical and ancient stones of Stonehenge. The golden rays of the setting sun cast long shadows across the hallowed ground, adding an ethereal touch to the already surreal atmosphere.

In the blink of an eye, I found myself on the serene banks of the Ganges River, and then the Amazon, San Francisco, and Montreal—I was drawn out of my thoughts as Aphrodite sobbed.

It looked like she was going through the same thing, just with my memories. She laughed with me during moments of pure happiness, and her eyes welled up with tears as she witnessed my struggles and challenges. It was an intimate exchange of vulnerability, and yet, I felt an incredible sense of trust and safety with her. As the magical bond solidified between us, I noticed something extraordinary happening.

The thread of pink began to pulsate gently, illuminating each memory we shared together. It was like watching the tapestry of our lives being woven in real-time, with every shared experience adding a new layer of depth to our connection.

"I'm sorry," Aphrodite said as the glow died down, and the threads faded out of existence. Her eyes were still glowing pink as she looked at me. "You've suffered so much."

"It's alright," I said, feeling lighter than I'd felt in a long time. "Do you have enough power to disable the bond?"

"I do," Aphrodite nodded. "I'm going to see Jason right away. I can't thank you enough, Percy. And I'll make sure he knows."

[HIDDEN][STORY] Quest Complete!

{Happily Ever After}

|| Although you haven't completely forgiven Aphrodite for everything she's done, seeing the memory from her head and reflecting upon what the loss of their relationship would do to Jason, you've decided to give them your blessing, so to speak. ||


- [+] MAXED OUT REP with [Aphrodite]!

- [+] MAXED OUT REP with [Jason]!

- [+] 150,000 EXP!

- [+][20] perk points!

- [+][1][Godly Perk!]

"Please do," I urged. I eyed the perk points—I was really due for an allocation session, soon. "I don't want to lose him, too."

"You won't," Aphrodite soothed with a warm smile. Her eyes glowed pink again and she added, "And don't give up on finding love just yet. It might be closer than you think." She disappeared, right as Artemis walked through the archway connecting the main hall to the room we were standing in.

"Where did Aphrodite go?" Artemis questioned, giving me a suspicious up-down and scanning the room. Her dress shimmered like the stars in the night sky. "Wasn't she just here?"

"Oh, yeah, she said she had to go do some stuff," I said, rubbing the back of my head. I realized how weird it was for a demigod to walk into a closet with the goddess of love and have her disappear after, but I didn't really care. That was far from the first thing on my mind right now. "Why?"

"The reception is starting," Artemis growled. She kicked one of the pots on the ground, and it shattered against the wall. "And they sent me to go look for her. Me! Like I'm some…riff-raff!"

"You are riff-raff," I reminded her, and she raised an eyebrow at me. Looking back at the pieces of the pot on the ground, I quickly added, "We both are, remember? The cover?"

"Right," Artemis said a moment later. It looked like I was safe from being dropkicked into a wall for now. "Riff-raff."

"And married," I added as I walked beside her. She glared at me, and I laughed, "Not my plan, by the way. You came up with that all on your own."

"It's more plausible than anything else and you know that," Artemis said simply. "Let's get inside the building before they close it off. I don't want to miss our chance."

I rolled my eyes and followed her toward the entrance of the building. I wasn't a huge wedding guy. The last wedding I could consciously remember going to was my mom's wedding with Smelly Gabe, and that one ended with him getting turned into a dove for the rest of his life.

Plus, the concept of weddings gets me feeling all introspective, and I don't really know if being Artemis' fake husband is going to mesh well with that.

"Welcome, welcome," The usher greeted Artemis and me with a pleasant smile. His eyes brightened as Artemis wrapped her arm around my waist. "You two look lovely. Are you on the bride's side, or the groom's side?"

Artemis and I shared a look. I answered, "Groom."

"Ah, splendid, splendid. Please take a seat anywhere to your left." He handed Artemis a piece of paper and gestured for us to sit in one of the benches on the left.

"Why did that man ask whose side we were on?" Artemis whispered in my ear as we shuffled into our seats by the aisle. "Is he preparing us for battle?"

We were seated toward the left side of the building. The high vaulted ceiling soared above us, adorned with intricate patterns inspired by traditional Greek architecture. The gleaming marble columns that lined the wall next to us, much like some of the architecture outside, were a seamless fusion of classic Greek Doric and modern minimalist design, creating a visual harmony that was both striking and elegant.

The walls were adorned with tasteful art, depicting scenes from Greek mythology, interwoven with abstract paintings that added a modern twist to the traditional setting. I thought it was kind of funny that Nereus had all these homages to the Greek world when he was actively trying to hide from it, but that's neither here nor there.

Soft, warm lighting cascaded from ornate chandeliers, casting a gentle glow that illuminated the space with an ethereal ambiance. Artemis looked at me expectantly, and I realized that I forgot to answer her question.

"Is this your first mortal, American wedding?" I whispered back. She nodded, and I said, "Well, usually at weddings, there's a fixed number of people who can attend. So, to make sure that ratio stays correct, there's a dude like that who makes sure there isn't an overflow of people."

Artemis leaned closer as some other people shuffled past us. The scent of her perfume burned my nostrils. "And the whole groom's side and bride's side thing?"

"That's mainly preference," I replied, plastering a smile on my face as some random people turned back to look at us. They smiled back and turned around. "Some people do it, some people don't."

In the center of the hall, a magnificent altar stood. Gorgeous floral arrangements adorned the altar, blending the timeless beauty of Greek olive branches with modern blooms in a harmonious array of colors.

The air was filled with the enchanting fragrance of eucalyptus, mingling with delicate floral scents, creating an inviting and soothing atmosphere. The sound of soft instrumental music filled the space, further enhancing the transcendent atmosphere.

"I see," Artemis muttered back. She turned the piece of paper over in her hands. It looked like some kind of a schedule. She huffed as she read it. "We're a little late, so our chances of nabbing him before the wedding are shot. We're going to have to do it after the wedding. Or during."

I got the image in my head of Artemis and I just running up there mid-vow and tackling him to the ground. As funny as that would be, I'd feel kind of bad for ruining his big day like that. "How about after?"

"There's a dance after," Artemis sighed. She put the schedule in her purse—I hadn't even noticed she brought a purse. Before she closed the zipper, though, I counted at least four different knives. "Do you think we'll be able to get to him during the dance?"

"That's probably our best bet," I agreed. "It's easier to accidentally bump into him on the dance floor than it is to bump into him mid-ceremony. Plus, since you're the one who wants to ask him a question, you're the one who's going to do the tackling, right?"

"Use that brain of yours, Oreo," Artemis said with a bright smile. She was practically resting her chin on my shoulder. I had to hand it to her, she was really good at acting. I was certain that anyone paying attention to us would buy into our cover. "I'm wearing a backless dress. Do you really think it's the best idea for me to be tackling anybody?"

"Your dress is so beautiful!" Before I could answer, I was interrupted by one of the girls in the row in front of us. "You have to tell me where you got it! And that necklace…"

"Sorry about that," One of the guys next to her told me as Artemis picked her head up off my shoulder and turned to talk to the woman. He added, awkwardly, "She was debating asking for, like, five minutes. I told her to just get it over with."

"Oh, no need to apologize, man," I returned easily. "So, how do you know the groom?"

"Oh, we work together," The man nodded, before offering me his hand and a business card. "I'm Mark. I'm an account executive."

"Luke," I shook his hand. I gestured toward Artemis, who was awkwardly engaging in girl talk with the woman from before. "This is my wife, Celine."

"Pleasure to meet y'all," Mark said pleasantly. He nodded his head toward the altar. "So are you guys family? Flying in for the big day?"

"Yeah, you could say that," I answered evasively. Thankfully, we were spared from more small talk when the song playing on the piano stopped and changed.

Most of the immortals I'd met outside of the Olympians and some minor gods were pretty ugly, so honestly, I'd been expecting the same thing from Nereus. In my head, I saw a kind of Santa Claus look alike, with a bad smell hanging around him, like hot seaweed, dead fish, and brine.

But then I remembered he was a shapeshifter. And that's why I wasn't surprised when the guy Artemis flagged as Nereus was six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and had a face that you'd only find on the cover of Men's Health.

What did surprise me, though, was the wide-eyed look of fear that formed on Nereus' face when he looked at me. As he passed by our aisle, all he had to say was, "My lord, thank you for your attendance."

When I turned and saw the look on Artemis' face, I knew all of the goodwill I'd painstakingly built up over the last few days was gone.

No one around us heard anything, though. Artemis' fingers dug into my shoulder as she pressed her lips close to my ear. "We need to have a conversation about what you do in your free time, husband."

AN: Hey all! Some things to mention here:

One, the final pairing is up. I debated putting it up for a while, but the nail in the coffin for me was the fact that I recently reread this story in its entirety and realized how frustrated I would be if I didn't know the endgame, so I wanted to make the official. I know I lied to everyone, and I had a whole lot of fun doing it, but do you remember that one-off spiel Percy had about Chekhov's Gun? About building something right under everyone's noses? Well...go back and reread some stuff, and I'm sure the clues will become apparent. My favorite clue? A lot of the time when Percy was with Aphrodite, her hair would become some form of gray or silver. Then, of course, his perk names, and his sword style, just to name a few. Also, there was some symbolism and stuff but I don't want to put anyone to sleep here, so please PM me or ask me on Discord if you would like to know. Obviously, there are all kinds of clues they'll get together in this arc, but I didn't want to cheapen their relationship by leaving you guys with the idea that they wouldn't get together. So to my Pertemis fans...here you go!

Two, yes this serves as an end to the Aphrodite drama. I know some of you liked her, and I know some of you disliked her, but either way, for now, this is the last we will see of her for a while. So don't worry, as someone mentioned, the 'Aphrodite shtick' has reached its climax. She did her job well. And, she'll continue to do her job in the future, but for now, her job is to stay away from Percy, lol. The next ~20 chapters all involve the fan-favorites.

Three, I won't be answering reviews for this chapter! It's kind of late right now, and I just really want to get this one out, but I promise I will answer all of them next chapter.

Four, I joined this cool new server called the Emerald Library. Everyone there's super nice, and it's a great way to meet people who read fanfics, get some cool recs, and talk to other authors, too. Now since I'm on there as well, if you would like to support me or talk about this story or any of my other stories, please feel free to join this discord. You'll have to take out the spaces since the website hates links for one reason or another:

Discord. gg/ elibrary

See y'all around!

- Maroon