Well, here we are. The final chapter. Or at the very least, the end of Jimmy's story arc. I'll try to make it a good one.
We stopped just before we passed the huge pine, and made a turn onto a dirt road that I later discovered did not exist on any map. The dirt road led past the Big House, to a small awning that covered seven other vans, identical in appearance to the one in which I was riding. Argus parked the van expertly (probably due to being able to look at the side mirror, rear-view mirror, and look over his shoulder all at once), and we clambered out. Percy and Annabeth shared a glance, but I didn't really stop to analyze it. The view was rather... distracting.
Percy and Annabeth hadn't done the camp justice, though I doubt you could do it justice with only the words in the English vocabulary. The place was huge, stretching so far that I couldn't tell where it ended.
I looked ahead to the forge, and beyond it, where I saw a little bunker that I guess held weapons, thought I had no clue what exactly. Beyond the bunker was a vast forest, deep and lush. To the left of the bunker, I saw stables, no doubt housing horses. My gaze swept to the right, drawn to the movement of what I realized was a climbing wall, one which dripped lava. Between the wall and me was an amphitheater, large enough to hold a crowd of hundreds.
"Whoa," I said. I mean, how else am I supposed to express my astonishment? This place had taken every single expectation I had, and drop kicked it out the window for being so low. This was on a different level.
"It is a bit much if you take it all in at once," Percy replied. I tore my eyes from the heaven on earth in front of me to look at the young man. He'd slung an arm over Annabeth's shoulder, looking far more relaxed now that we were within the camp's boundary. He smiled at me. "But you do get used to it."
"Time for the last step. Gotta check you in properly with Chiron and Mr. D." Annabeth gave a resigned sigh. I shared the sentiment. This had been a rollercoaster, one that I would be very grateful to dismount.
The three of us started walking over to the Big House, Argus having gone ahead to notify the two camp heads that we'd arrived. As we walked, my mind raced. Which god was my dad? What would happen to all the patients we'd left behind? Would those monsters still be there? Where do I go now?
I looked over at Percy, who looked completely at ease. He met my gaze with his own sea green eyes, the same as the ones from my dream. The sea green eyes from the dream WERE his, right? I mean, from what I'd been told by Percy and Annabeth, a demigod's eyes are the same as those of their godly parent. If Percy's eyes were the same as the ones from my dream, then that meant I was going to continue working with Percy.
"So, I guess we'll be working together now? Going on quests together and such?" I popped the question as casually as I could manage. I wonder what exactly we'd be doing. I thought it'd be sort of gallivanting all over the US, killing monsters, rescuing new demigods. Fun stuff like that.
"Well, no actually. This is more likely than not going to be the last time you'll be working directly with Annabeth and me. You might see us around camp, though. Always free to stop and chat about the good old days with a friend."
"What?" My confusion mounted. If I wasn't going to be working with Percy, then whose eyes had I seen? Maybe those of his father, Poseidon? Maybe one of Poseidon's other children? But Percy was the only demigod child of Poseidon in a long time. Who else could be the owner of the eyes from my dream?
I was so focused on the questions piling up in my brain, I nearly tripped on the first step up to the wraparound porch of the Big House. I recovered, taking hold of a support to stabilize myself. I took a moment to compose myself before entering the house. It would not do to embarrass myself to such an extent in front of the heads of the camp. I wanted to make a good impression.
I followed Percy and Annabeth through the front door, Percy holding the door for both of us, and entered a wonderful, if rather plain, entry hall. There were doors leading off to rooms on both sides, and a staircase opposite the door I had entered through, no doubt leading to the second floor.
I followed Annabeth through one of the side doorways, which led to a large living room, furnished with couches, lounge chairs, and three different coffee tables. There were a few demigods scattered about, several of whom noticed us and gave Percy and Annabeth friendly waves, and nodded respectfully to me. I returned them, grateful to finally be somewhere I was considered normal.
We headed toward one table, near the far wall, where two men were seated, deep in some sort of card game. One was a man in a neat three-piece suit, brown in color, sitting in a wheelchair. Opposite him was a plump man with a pudgy face, wearing a leopard print shirt and drinking a Diet Coke.
We approached them, and they put down their cards. The man in the wheelchair spoke first.
"Percy, Annabeth, welcome back. And you must be Jimmy Brandt."
"Yes, sir," I responded as politely as possible. The man might've looked in his early 40s, but his eyes betrayed wisdom of many years more.
"My name is Chiron. Welcome to Camp Half-Blood." His voice is exactly like Barry's. I'm never going to get used to that.
"Thank you. It's great to be here." I took the hand he had put forward in as firm a handshake I could manage. I was still malnourished from the facility, after all. "When do I get claimed or however that works? I want to know who my godly parent is."
The other man spoke. He had a tired, grumpy voice, like he'd been torn away from the most fun activity in the world to watch paint dry.
"My goodness, I almost forgot! Thank you, Brandt, for reminding me."
As I wondered how he'd learned my name, he waved his hand vaguely in my direction, and everything was tinged purple. I looked around for a moment, confused. Then I glanced up, and saw a purple, glowing wine goblet, floating over my head. I blinked, and the goblet faded away.
"Cutting it rather close, Mr. D. It's less than a week before his 13th." Percy's voice was filled with a reluctant respect.
"I remembered, didn't I?" The man replied, looking indignant.
"Wait, what just happened?" I asked, feeling like the floor was going to fall out from under me.
"Short version, he just claimed you. Mr. D is Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. And also madness, now that I think about it." Percy's voice was dripping with irritation. Evidently, he and Dionysus didn't get along.
"So you're my dad? You're my godly parent? You're the reason that I have voices in my head, that I've lost everyone who ever got close to me for the longest time? You're the reason that I was put in that hellhole for almost two years?!" My voice rose, my anger building as I continued. I felt a familiar tug in the pit of my stomach, and Tony's voice screaming at me: Don't do it again!
Dionysus... or Dad, or whoever he was, turned to look me directly in the eyes. His gaze softened, his face falling in sympathy for my suffering.
"I never realized you had inherited that side of my powers, my boy. I'm sorry you had to go through all that."
Everyone else was still, stunned by the apparently uncharacteristic outpouring of affection from the godly entity.
He stood and walked to me, his arms outstretched. "Come here, son."
I stumbled into his stiff embrace, my own arms locked to my sides, not really knowing how to react. He held the hug for a few moments, then pulled back. He addressed one of the other demigods who was in the room.
"Pollux, I want you to show James around. Help him find a place here."
The young man nodded, and put an arm over my shoulders. He led me away, telling me about all the different things that there were to do at camp, all the different places for me to make myself at home.
But before we did any of that, we went over to the Dionysus cabin, and I got a look at where I would be staying until I could get my own place. It was beautiful. Vines had overgrown most of the outer walls, leaving only the cabin front untouched. The cabin itself was painted in a dark purple, or was that just stain from all the grapes on the vines? The interior was even better. It was arranged like an army barracks, or like the ones shown in movies and such. Bunk beds were set up in rows, divided down the middle by a central walkway, opposite the door was a notice board, cluttered with different posters for events and clubs and other activities.
I'd never felt more at home.
Over the next few months, I made a place for myself at camp.
Life here is great. Mealtimes are regular, but different every day, and everyone eats together at these huge tables. Occasionally camp activities are set up, like capture the flag and chariot races. But other than that, and the daily curfew, the days are pretty unstructured, so the campers are basically free to pursue whatever interests them.
I found myself working at the forge with the Hephaestus kids most days, which everyone else found as strange. I found them a bit more palatable than most of the others, being less focused on who I was and more on how well I did the work. I did it well, so they didn't ask me about much, for which I was thankful. I did well enough, in fact, that the leader of the Hephaestus cabin gave me permission to use the forges and tools for personal projects, given that they didn't detract from the forge's regular output. I'd had a lot of ideas for different things since I started working the forge and after getting some experience working with celestial bronze, I had the knowledge needed to make those ideas real.
One of the first ideas was a rope woven from celestial bronze filaments. Think of more like a ship's cable, but made from bronze. I managed to make the filaments small and flexible enough that I could whip the rope around as if it were cloth, and I had it enchanted so it would alway return to me, looping diagonally across my chest from my right shoulder to the left side of my waist. And that's just my first project. I've got plans for a while host of celestial bronze weapons. For reasons known only to the gods, most of the arsenal of Camp Half-Blood is made up of ancient Greek weaponry, with very few weapons from later periods. There was this one guy, some mortal by the name of Frederick, who thought to use celestial bronze in bullets. I will most definitely be using those designs for something soon.
As for my powers, they're progressing. Apparently only about a tenth of Dionysus' children inherit his powers over madness to any usable extent. Since there weren't any others who had such powers already at camp, I had a variety of teachers. Chiron, Pollux, Clarisse helped a few times. Dionysus himself even showed up once or twice to give me pointers on abilities I hadn't thought of.
My mind was... quiet. Tranquil, like I've finally found the place where I can filter it all away, the pain and the anger. I can just... be. I haven't felt that way in a long time.
I sat down on Half-Blood Hill, near the big pine overlooking camp. The sun was nearing the horizon, but not quite setting yet. I took a sip from the bottle of craft root beer I'd found a while back, one that got close enough to the taste from ambrosia that it chased away the craving for the magical taste I hadn't quite yet found in any mortal drink.
I sat back, contemplating where all the days and weeks had gone, what I'd been doing. I thought about the friends I'd made, the connections I'd created. I'd come a long way from the scared, confused little kid I'd been when I got here.
Yeah. Not bad, kid.
I looked around for Chiron, sure I'd heard his voice. Nothing. I was alone up here.
"Barry?" I asked the air, hopeful to hear the familiar voice again.
Yup. Couldn't leave without saying goodbye, could we?
"You're leaving? Where are you going?"
Well, we're not really going anywhere. We'll still be here in your head. But there's going to be some changes. You don't need different voices in your head anymore. You don't need imaginary friends anymore. From now on, the only voice you'll hear in your head will be your own. After all, that's what we've been this whole time. So I suppose this is goodbye, James.
"Goodbye, Barry. Goodbye, Dustin. Goodbye, Tony. Goodbye, Jack."
I continued on for a bit, rattling off all the names I'd come up with. When I finally trailed off into silence, I sat there for a bit and watched the sun sink down over the water of the Long Island Sound. Then I stood up and began walking toward camp.
Back toward home.
Sorry this one took a while, folks. I don't set deadlines for stories here because it's kind of low on my priorities list, but I do like to get them completed. I will put up a short epilogue, hopefully within the next two weeks, and that will be this story done. It's been a blast doing this when I've been able to, and I hope to see you all a bit more in the next one.