It's not often that I get so much writing done so soon, but to heck with it. I appreciate all the feedback I've gotten so far. To those without questions, my response is, "Thank you very much."

For JustAnotherFan217:

1. Being honest, I included Grace of Moonlight because its original namesake (whose name I used for the fighting style), Moon's Dance, was included in the original "Stat Perks" of Maroon Smoke's fic. I've already written it as his preference since his "fighting experience" is limited to schoolyard brawls, hence the "[Brawling grew to Lv. 3]" message. Right now, he's gotten a taste of fighting a more experienced warrior, so it could change with his experiences. Though he himself said after the fact that he would prefer to be not made of paper against fighters that can outpredict him. I don't intend him to be a Fragile Speedster, but being able to reduce hits taken for anytime there's no water around would be good.

2. While Percy usually takes beatings and fights on in the source material, I feel that's because of his lacking ability to dodge, not necessarily a point of preference. He pushes on through raw determination and/or has homefield advantage in/with water.

Edit (9/29/22): I changed the description of Chokehold after a ilayhyams pointed out that real choking works far faster than I thought, even with poor technique.

Those were the questions relevant to the story as it is, so let's continue.


Chapter 2: The Approaching Storm

I followed the directions Annabeth gave me and saw the cabins' residents lining up to head for dinner. Luke waved me over and told me it was by seniority, which put me at the end. A bummer, but not a big deal. One thing I noticed is that Cabin Eight – which had been relatively normal looking before – was glowing silver as the sun set.

At the open-air pavilion, more than campers showed up since there were satyrs arriving along with girls of various ages rising out of the canoeing lake and emerging from the forest trees. Four tables were empty – I would assume Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and Artemis – and Cabin Eleven's table was overcrowded like its insides. I noticed Annabeth and Clarisse at their respective tables, both of them chatting with their own cabinmates.

To my surprise, Mr. D was sitting at one of the cabin tables, number twelve. Grover was with him, along with two stocky boys that looked a lot like the director. I guess if the patron god of Cabin Twelve was present, he would sit at his table. Wonder if he took the time to talk with his sons?

Chiron was off to the side since the picnic tables didn't accommodate his size. He got everyone's attention by striking his hoof against the marble of the pavilion. Raising a glass, he proclaimed, "To the gods!"

I barely managed to catch up to the action everyone mirrored and replied with them, "To the gods!"

At that point, wood nymphs came out carrying plates loaded with various fruits, cheeses, fresh bread, and lean barbecue brisket. I didn't see any drinks, but Luke nudged me and gestured to my glass.

"Speak to it," he instructed. "Whatever you want—non-alcoholic, of course."

I looked at the glass and said, "Cherry Coke." When it filled up, I got an idea and said, "Blue Cherry Coke."

When it changed to a deep blue shade, I smiled and made a silent toast to my mom. I had to believe she was still out there, and that I could get her back.

Luke offered me the platter of brisket and I loaded up my plate. But everybody else got up and started heading for the center, my counselor instructing me to do the same. When I got a good view, I noticed that the campers were taking a portion of their food – the biggest, ripest or otherwise best item of something they served – and tossing it into the fire.

"Burnt offerings to the gods," Luke explained. "They like the smell."

I glanced at him for a moment, and shrugged in response, "I can't be sure how good burnt food smells, but I'll take your word for it."

After Luke sent a fat bundle of grapes into the fire for Hermes, I got ready to do the same with a thick slice of brisket, thinking, 'Whoever you are, I could use a sign. Please.'

I chucked it into the fire, happening to get a whiff of the smoke. Oddly enough, it smelt really good—not at all like the items that had gone into it. Melted chocolate, wildflowers, grilling meat, and dozens of other scents all combining flawlessly. Now I believed that the gods could like the smell.

After everybody sat down again and finished their meals, Chiron pounded his hoof for attention again. Mr. D sighed and spoke up, "Yes, I suppose I'd better say hello to you brats. Well, hello. Our activities director, Chiron, says Capture the Flag is Friday. Cabin Five presently holds the laurels."

Laughing cheers came up from the Ares table.

"Personally, I couldn't care less, but congratulations," Mr. D continued unenthusiastically. "Also, I should tell you that we have a new camper today. Jackson, stand up so everyone can see you."

Realizing he was putting me in the spotlight on purpose, I stood up anyway and looked around the pavilion with a lighthearted wave.

"Yes, hurrah and all that," the director said as I sat back down. "Now, go run along to your silly campfire."

With the campers dismissed, we scattered, but Luke pulled me aside.

"Hey, I left a sleeping bag in your spot and stole some toiletries from the camp store for you," he said. "If they're not there when you get back, tell me. Everyone knows better than to try pulling a fast one on my watch."

After that, he followed the rest of the campers to the amphitheater. I went too for a while to not draw attention to myself, but quietly excused myself after having a couple of s'mores.

Back in Cabin Eleven, it was clear, which was reassuring. Sure enough, there was a rolled up sleeping bag with a bag on top, a toothbrush sticking out from under the tied knot. Unrolling the bag, I set the horn alongside the bag and sat cross-legged. If anybody asked, I could say I was meditating to try figuring out my power—it was even true, technically.

'Skills,' I thought to myself, the menu appearing a moment later.

It was a shorter list than I would like, but at least it wasn't empty. That would just be insulting. Underneath Gamer's Mind at the top of the list, I focused on each skill in succession to read them.

[Gamer's Body] (Lv. MAX)—Passive

Allows the user's body to heal by eating and/or sleeping, as if in a game. Cannot rest if inflicted with Bleed or Poisoned status.

- Sleeping in a bed fully heals HP and MP.

- Sleeping in a sleeping bag, tent, chair, etc. heals HP and MP by 75% of maximum.

- Sleeping on any other surface or while being carried by another heals HP and MP by 50% of maximum.

- Restoration halved if afflicted by Hunger/Thirst status.

[Ancient Greek] (Lv. MAX)—Passive

Understanding and writing of the Greek alphabet and language. At maximum level, it's indistinguishable from English.

[?] (Lv. MAX)—Passive

-Description locked-

[?] (Lv. MAX)—Active

-Description locked-

[?] (Lv. 20)—Active

-Description locked-

I frowned, since that would imply that I had the ability, but wouldn't know it unless it came up. That seemed unfair, but when has my life ever been? I kept on reading anyway.

[Brawling (Lv. 3)—Fighting Style]

First rule: There are no rules. An unpolished "style" that includes dirty tricks and improvisation. It's better than nothing, at least.

- Critical chance with improvised weapons increased by 8%

- 2% chance of stunning opponent with strike to weak points

And that was it. Three unknowns, three that seemed to be because of who I was, and one fighting style that was more of a starter.

Inventory revealed a whole lot of nothing since I didn't have any items in it. A paper doll-like picture was on the side with squares over various areas filled in with my current clothes. Next to it was two squares that were marked under "Personal Inventory."

I tried touching one of the empty boxes only to see that my finger sunk in. Deciding to test it, I took out my toothbrush and touched it against the box. The inventory square eagerly sucked it in and now displayed a picture of the toothbrush.

"Cool," I muttered, unable to help myself.

Wanting to see if items could be summoned more discreetly, I reached into my pocket and tried to think of the toothbrush in my hand. It appeared and I pulled it out, which would probably come in handy. After that, I put the brush back in its bag and deposited the whole toiletries bag and Minotaur horn in two squares, also seeing if I could send an item to inventory with my mind. The horn appearing in the first available square of the top row answered that question, and items grouped together only took up one square. I would have to test later if size of the item or group changed that.

A quick count determined I had twenty squares, total, with four columns and five rows. There was a plus sign in a square at the top row in the corner, which implied inventory space could be added, but I doubted it was free, so I decided to check the cost later when I wasn't flat broke.

Moving to the Reputation tab, I found another tutorial window.

[Reputation]

[What people think of you can open or close doors, certain actions either raising or lowering yourself in their eyes. It's easier to gain or lose reputation depending on where you are on the scale, each having their own values to surpass in order to move up. Reputation can be measured by Individuals or Locales, so be aware of your standing.]

Reviled (10,000) – Hated (3,000) – Disliked (1,000) – Neutral (500) – Liked (1,000) – Honored (3,000) – Exalted (10,000)

After that window cleared up to reveal the – again – somewhat short list of people and places where I had reputation to be measured.

[Individuals]

Grover Underwood – Liked (328/1,000)

Chiron – Liked (126/1,000)

Annabeth Chase – Neutral (250/500)

Dionysus – Disliked (106/1,000)

Clarisse LaRue – Neutral (175/500)

[Populations]

Camp Half-Blood – Neutral (314/500)

Olympus – Disliked (805/1,000)

Less than encouraging that I was already disliked on Olympus when I've never even been there. I'll need to figure that out later. At the very least, Dionysus probably only disliked me because I was a camper. I felt a little bit better that Grover and Chiron were on the positive side of the spectrum.

The rest were to be expected since I'd only just arrived at Camp Half-Blood and met Annabeth and Clarisse. Strange that Luke didn't pop up, though. Maybe he had something from his relation to Hermes that kept his hidden?

Moving to the Quests tab, I was unsurprised to find that it simply said "No active quests" at the top. When I was about to move on, a bar that said "NEW" appeared over that message. Frowning in suspicion, I mentally clicked it.

[Sidequest: For the Glory!]

Camp Half-Blood's game of Capture the Flag is this Friday evening, and you need to gear up for battle! Train, train, and train some more to bulk up your stats.

Main Objective: Gain 10 stat points from special actions (0/10)

Secondary Objective: Create three new skills from special actions (0/3)

Bonus Objective: Gain 10 additional physical stat points from special actions (0/10)

Reward: 500 XP

Secondary Reward: 5 unsorted stat points

Bonus Reward: "Trainee" special status, +50 reputation with Clarisse LaRue, +25 reputation with Camp Half-Blood

Penalty for Failure: None

Accept?
[Y/N]

If this was some sort of tutorial quest, then it at least gave decent rewards for pretty simple missions. The first two were essentially free stat points from a level up – at my current experience count – plus the five extras. Since there was no penalty for failing, aside from not getting the rewards, I decided to accept it.

'Friday,' I thought to myself. 'I was out for two days, so today is Monday.'

I effectively had three days to try reaching that goal of twenty stat points. Since the second half specified "physical" stat points, I guessed that meant STR, VIT and DEX. So, I should try starting with INT, WIS and CHA as much as I could for the first ten. I didn't know if there would be less gained for special actions the more that I collected.

Blinking at that train of thought, I pulled up my Status page again with a mental command and looked at it. Did three points to INT and the Bookworm perk really make a difference? Either that or ditching the Attention Deficit flaw was paying off already.

Jumping to the Options menu, I found that it was just to change interface options. The color of the windows was fine in my biased opinion – blue was my life – and it let me toggle between Touch or Mental Navigation along with Standard or Focus Interface. As it turned out, the last was set to "Auto" for now. Focusing on a question mark besides the set of choices explained that it would switch back to Standard after calming down or the next morning, whichever came first. Deciding that it couldn't hurt, in case the Game notices something I miss, I left it on Auto instead of turning it to permanent Focus Interface.

Closing the menu with a thought, I looked to see that a few campers were filtering into the cabin now, others already in their sleeping bags. Unrolling my own, I decided to do the same. If I wanted to make the most of my current quest, I would probably have an early start.


"RISE AND SHINE, CAMPERS!"

An airhorn startled me out of my sleeping bag as Luke stood at the doorway honking the instrument multiple times. I brushed away the confusion of being abruptly woken as Gamer's Mind took hold, also dismissing the morning recovery message with a mental command.

Surprisingly, none of the other cabin members seemed upset with their counselor. I found out why when they all pulled out earplugs that would have muffled the sound for the most part.

'Ah, so that's Luke's own initiation ritual,' I realized. 'Hopefully, he only does it the first morning after.'

"Good to see you alert, Percy," Luke said while pocketing the airhorn. "While it's safe in camp, waking up quick can save your life in the field."

Rubbing my eyes, I nodded my sarcastic agreement, "Right, and I'm sure there was absolutely no ulterior motive to this lesson."

"None whatsoever!" he replied happily. "Come on, let's hit the showers and then get breakfast."

After a meal of eggs and lean bacon (one of my eggs going into the sacrificial fire), camp activities began. I got my schedule from a nymph, apparently having daily morning lessons on Greek myth – history, in this case? – with Annabeth. Which translated to her giving me a book and telling me to read it while she did self-study.

While not exactly a fun teacher, she knew her stuff and explained questions I had as we talked about the Olympians. Since she had picked The Iliad as our first study piece, I learned about the Mist and how normal humans couldn't see monsters or even the fact that demigods were wielding swords. Their "human mind" would rationalize it as firearms, explosives or anything that was more mundane than the truth.

The description on Gamer's Mind also changed with that revelation.

[Gamer's Mind] (Lv. MAX)—Passive

Allows the user to shrug off any encroaching mental effects and remain calm even in the face of disaster.

- Immunity to mind control, emotion control and Fear status.

- Immune to Mist-based manipulation by those within 20 levels of you except in [?] (within 5 levels).

That also supported the idea that the question marks were all demigod-related. Unfortunately, I only got one INT point from the whole session. To try setting myself for a WIS boost, I asked Annabeth if she'd be interested in a game of chess later.

She looked at me with borderline contempt, but I could see a spark to prove herself as she said, "Do you actually think you can beat me in chess?"

"Nope," I replied bluntly. "But I should start learning basic strategy somewhere, right?"

She preened a bit, and then answered, "Then I might teach you. Meet me at the commons after dinner—you have another lesson now."

A pair of notifications hung in front of my face as I left.

[You admitted to another's superiority in a skill.]

- You gained +10 reputation with Annabeth Chase

[You managed to get help for one of your shortcomings by being honest about them.]

- You gained +1 CHA and +1 WIS

'Three down, seventeen to go,' I thought to myself while dismissing the messages.

After that, Chiron tried to teach me archery. Definitely not one of my natural talents, but I at least managed to avoid any ricocheted arrows flying around once I hit my stride and learned the Archery skill. I still couldn't hit a bullseye, but I could at least shoot in the general direction of the target and occasionally clip the side.

Unfortunately, it didn't count towards my quest since I "learned" it instead of creating it. Which meant I would need to do something outside of the norm to make new skills for that part of the quest. Or it needed to be something besides general weapon use.

[Archery] (Lv. 1)—Instantaneous

[MP cost: 0; SP cost: 10]

[The ancient art of stabbing people from a distance. At your current level, you won't win a prize for accuracy, but could probably hit a large monster.]

- (DEX)% chance of flying true.

- (STR x .5)% chance of arrow to pierce

So, archery was entirely dependent on my stats for now. Not good since they were barely into double digits. And my poor performance didn't net me any stat points either.

After lunch and a grace period where I did some more reading of The Iliad – no bonus from the short time, but it would only help in the future – I was directed to a track where the wood nymph instructors had me race them. I gave it my level best, and netted a vitality point along with putting in extra steam for the last quarter. As I had hoped, a more specialized action than learning a form of fighting or weaponry gave me what I needed, like creating Flirt.

[You've created a new skill through a special action.]

[Sprint (Lv. 1)—Active]

[MP cost: 0; SP cost: 50 per second]

[Putting your all into running at full speed. Great for saving your skin along with other people's!]

- VIT is added to DEX for duration of use

- Running out of SP afflicts Exhausted status

The nymphs were clearly trying to make me feel better by saying that they had centuries of experience in running away from amorous gods, but I waved them off with a smile since I got part of what I needed. Easier to ignore that – from a certain perspective – I was slower than a tree.

After that was free time until dinner, but I stayed at the track and did some push-ups, seeing if I could squeeze in a strength point before the day was out. I had never considered myself unfit, but twenty push-ups was harder than it sounded. Luckily, it wasn't for nothing since I gained a point as I had hoped.

A set of thirty squats did the same for another point, and after reviewing what went into DEX, I did some stretches to work my flexibility. More difficult than I expected since I never had a reason to before, but I gained a point for that too.

Deciding to cool down before dinner, I went to the boys' bathroom and pulled my toothbrush out of my inventory by sticking my hand into my pocket. Making sure no one was around, I also pulled out my toiletries bag to get the toothpaste. Unfortunately, cleaning my teeth didn't count towards a charisma point, so hygiene and appearance were probably represented by statuses, not the stat.

[You conducted an experiment to test a hypothesis and found it to be disproven. Nice try!]

- You gained +1 to WIS

This game could get really sarcastic sometimes.

But I ignored that and decided to try pressing my advantage if mental exercises could get me points too. That was why I had asked Annabeth for a round of chess, right? Looking at Sprint again with my new stats, I figured out that the ability would nearly double my speed and that my current SP – 2600 with my current VIT and DEX – would let me run full-power for fifty-two seconds if I used up my entire bar from maximum to exhaustion.

[You calculated the answer of a self-made math problem without needing to pull out paper.]

- You gained +1 to INT

I nodded, since that made nine points in all so far—only one more before getting the first half done and focusing on physical stats all-in. Turning on the faucet, I splashed my face to wash off some of the sweat since Cabin Eleven's shower time wasn't until morning. Feeling refreshed, I left back to my cabin to get changed.

After dinner, I met with Annabeth in the grounds between the cabins, where she'd set up a table and a chess board. She took the white side, which let her make the first move, and almost instantly swept my side of the field except my king. Once she pinned me in checkmate, I asked for another match since I didn't get any points yet.

She humored me and reset the board. Of course, she didn't use the same opening moves, but the only piece I captured of hers turned out to be a trap. I was pinned down in checkmate a couple of turns later. The next one would be the last game since Annabeth said she had other things to do.

Determined to get at least one point out of the encounter, I started out moving my other pieces before abandoning my line and moving my king through the field one space at a time. Annabeth seemed surprised, but said that was a bad move and started moving her pieces to cut off my route. While focusing on winning the match, one of her pieces happened to line up with my bishop and I captured it, making her blink in surprise before she redoubled her efforts with a competitive look.

Despite her efforts, I managed to get my king behind her line of pawns and started capturing pieces with it in that corner of the board. Unfortunately, her remaining ones managed to take out the bishop I used earlier and pin down my king for the win.

I let out a quiet sigh of relief at the message that popped up, but it was short-lived because of the second window's appearance.

[Your unorthodox approach managed to catch a tactically superior opponent off guard.]

- You gained +1 to WIS

[You made a mockery of your opponent by using your most essential chess piece as a battering ram. Annabeth begrudgingly respects the tactic, but is not pleased.]

- You lost 5 reputation with Annabeth Chase

Closing the windows and looking at Annabeth, she was staring at me hard.

I sheepishly shrugged, "You still won, right?"

Not breaking her stare, she packed up her chess set and pointedly turned away before heading back to her cabin. Looked like Annabeth wasn't used to being surprised, putting it nicely…

Waving that off, I checked the status of my current quest and confirmed that I had ten points, completing the first objective. So, the next two days should be focused on creating special actions and physical conditioning.

'Sheesh, I think the INT points are messing with my mind a bit,' I mused while scratching my head. 'I never considered myself a dunce, but before, I would've just called it exercise. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained—I don't want to miss things by being too dumb.'


The next morning, after a hot shower relieved my soreness from the previous day and my study session with Annabeth – which gained me an INT point midway through with my previous studying contributing – my cabin's first exercise was wrestling. Unfortunately, Clarisse was the instructor, and I could see her singling me out with a challenging smirk.

She went through the stances and some basic grapples, having us test them on each other, which had me learn the Ancient Greek Wrestling fighting style. Its information said that my combined STR and VIT would be pitted against my opponent's, and I did a passable job at keeping things even between me and my sparring partner. I even gained a Vitality point during the struggle, which started me on the Bonus Objective of my quest.

But Clarisse's plan was revealed when she moved to demonstrating how to reverse or otherwise break out of a hold, calling me as her "volunteer assistant." The next several minutes were spent with me trying to budge her (gaining a STR point from the repeated strain) with her knocking me on my back or putting me in various counter-grapples, the last of which involved her on my back and yanking my leg until I tapped out.

"Not how I thought my first time having a woman on top would be," I joked while getting up, subtly activating Flirt. The only way I could gradually level the skill up was to use it, according to the Help menu. It also let me get some payback on Clarisse by embarrassing her in front of the others. "I'm game to try again, though."

Clarisse's face scrunched slightly as snickers from the older kids rang out. Still, she wouldn't back down from a challenge, "Find me, and I'll be glad to tie you into a knot, punk."

"Sounds like a fun time!" I chirped with a cheesy smile, making her turn around to leave as some were audibly laughing now. Even if it was at me by extension, I did what I'd set out to do by souring her victory. A message appeared shortly after the activity broke for lunch.

[Though you lost the physical fight, you stood your ground and fought verbally. You were also funny while doing so.]

- You gained +10 reputation with Clarisse

- You gained +10 reputation with Camp Half-Blood

After lunch was canoeing, which I seemed to excel at even though I had never tried before, earning a DEX point by smoothly guiding the vessel with proper strokes. I just knew how to paddle to steer the boat properly, though I didn't get a new skill from it. And I knew the counselors were watching during the past couple of days to try getting a feel for my godly parent through the skills I displayed. This probably wasn't what they had in mind.

During free time, I did actually go looking for Clarisse and found her to take her up on the challenge she issued. I didn't have a prayer of winning, but pushing myself harder would be more likely to get me stat points. Plus, I had an idea for a new skill that I felt could only be safely tested on her with no hard feelings.

When we were back in the arena – this time with her girls left behind at the cabin – we both got ready for the match as she asked, "So, Jackson, what made you think it was a good idea to just walk up to me? I'm not going to back down, but I was only half-serious about a rematch."

"Training is training," I answered easily while arching my back in different directions. "Who better to practice wrestling with than my instructor?"

"And why do you think I'll actually teach you instead of just pounding you into the ground?" she asked pointedly.

I stretched my shoulders in preparation as I spoke the thoughts that had been rolling through my head ever since I first engaged Clarisse in an actual fight after escaping her hazing ritual. In addition to her teaching the course while also pitting me against her again. The INT and WIS boosts along with CHA were clearly paying off since I probably wouldn't have noticed before getting this odd power.

"Because you're not a bully."

When she seemed caught off-guard by that statement, I continued, "Clarisse, I've met bullies, and had to deal with them—both trying to pick on me or pick on Grover since I met him. They go after those they see as weak or who are alone and 'easy pickings', and you clearly wouldn't. Because when does that get fun if there's no challenge? If you wanted to be a bully, you could harass the boys and girls of Cabins Four or Ten. Heck, you could overpower Annabeth in an unarmed duel if you got your hands on her, along with – I'd wager – ninety-five percent of the campers."

I smiled, "Just because you're the biggest, strongest girl around doesn't mean you're a bad person."

[Flirt increased to Lv. 2]

[You looked through a tough exterior to see the inner side of a person.]

- You gained +1 to WIS and +2 to CHA

[Clarisse is flustered and doesn't know how to react.]

- Your next move can determine interactions with Clarisse LaRue in the future

Sure enough, the daughter of Ares in front of me was standing there with a bewildered expression, the gradually setting sun almost making her look like she had a slight blush. At least, that's what I figured it was to let her save face.

Clarisse rather quickly shook it off and got in a ready wrestling position, "You'd better be ready, Jackson, because it almost sounds like you're calling me soft."

"Clarisse," I replied while setting my stance, "having standards doesn't make you soft. And your muscles are far from soft too. I should know—I spent the last stretch of class closely acquainted with them."

She rushed me, "How about a reminder, then?!"

I knew I couldn't overpower her in a straight grapple; the last time proved her STR and VIT far higher than mine. She was also taller than me, so I had to get her to stoop down for my plan to work. Focusing on evading and using the heels of my hands to push her grabs off course while she played with me for now, I ducked to the side out of an attempted bearhug with my shorter height and jumped onto her back before trying to choke her out.

My technique was probably terrible, and she didn't seem worried at all as she gradually worked her fingers under my straining arms, but I got what I was hoping for when the notification box in the corner of my vision was updated. Apparently, the fight had triggered Focus Interface.

At that point, she forcibly pried me off and threw me clear over her shoulder like a javelin to land on my stomach. Before I could even try to get up, two limbs slid around my neck from the side before it was being forcibly pinched between muscle and denim, cutting off my breathing. It occurred to me that my neck and head were between Clarisse's thighs, which would've embarrassed me ordinarily, but I was too focused on trying to squirm free.

"Pro tip: Legs are stronger than arms if you're trying to choke someone out, even if arms give you more leverage against a smaller or equally-sized opponent," Clarisse instructed in a smug tone out of my sight while gradually increasing the pressure on my neck. Struggling to pull them apart, I conceded by tapping out with my hand against the crushing limb and she let me go.

I took a few deep breaths and felt the skin of my neck to make sure I didn't have any bruises before pulling myself to an unsteady standing position, "Wow! Haa… You don't hold back."

"And neither do you," Clarisse retorted. "While fine by the rules of Greek wrestling, I didn't expect you to try choking me."

"Told you the first time we met: If I fight fair against you, I'm gonna lose," I reminded.

She smirked, "And don't you forget it. We'll see how you do in Capture the Flag with real weapons; Princess and her cabin made an alliance with Cabin Eleven, so we'll be on opposite sides."

"It's a date," I quipped. "I'll make sure to bring my shield, sword and best armor."

Clarisse's eyebrow twitched and she put me in a headlock while fiercely giving me a noogie, "What is that supposed to mean?! Take this seriously, gods-damn it!"

Despite the friction burn I was sure to be sporting, I laughed at her reaction until she let me go. As we got ready to go our separate ways, something occurred to me, and I asked, "Hey, Clarisse? Humor me for a moment. When I got here, why did you single me out for your initiation? I imagine you don't do it for just anybody, and you seemed more eager for the fight after I slipped out than following through."

She looked at me for a moment before grunting, "Hmph, word in camp was that you're potentially Big Three material by taking down that bull. I personally don't see it, but at least you aren't a total wimp."

"Glowing praise that warms my heart," I replied while mentally filing away the term she used. It sure sounded like an important title, at least.

As the call for dinner sounded, we left the arena and met up with our respective cabins. After burning the offerings, I focused on the star in my view to pull up the backed-up notifications while we ate.

[You reached out to Clarisse as a person without calling her value as a warrior into question.]

- You gained +200 reputation with Clarisse LaRue

[Spar initiated.]

- Learning under a practitioner of Ancient Greek Wrestling boosts growth of the skill

[Bob, weave, and float like a butterfly!]

- You gained +1 to DEX

[You've created a new skill through a special action.]

[Chokehold (Lv. 1)—Active]

[MP cost: 0; SP cost: 20 per second]

[Despite being called a dirty move at times, it's a real maneuver in several martial arts styles. The better your technique, the less chance of being thrown off.]

- User's STR pitted against target's VIT x .9 for maintaining grapple

- Boost to user's STR by levels of [Ancient Greek Wrestling] (+2)

- Boost to target's VIT by levels of any martial arts that include chokeholds

- Will render target unconscious if held longer than 15 seconds

- Can kill if held longer than four minutes.

Swallowing a bit harder than necessary, I mentally sorted that skill under "last resort", but it could come in handy since Hercules beat the Nemean Lion by choking it out. Trying to put it out of my mind, I kept reading while having dinner.

[You're in over your head, but pushing as hard as you can to restrain a stronger opponent.]

- You gained +1 to STR and VIT

[Ancient Greek Wrestling increased to Lv. 2]

[Clarisse is having fun wrestling with you. In more ways than one.]

- You gained +20 reputation with Clarisse LaRue

While eating another bite of thinly wedged cheese, I frowned at the phrasing of the last window. Was it mocking me? Pushing that aside for later, I read the last few messages in order.

[You conceded defeat to Clarisse LaRue in your spar, but did your best and learned from the experience.]

- You gained 100 XP

- You gained +20 reputation with Clarisse LaRue

[Flirt increased to Lv. 3]

As I sipped my blue soda, I decided that I should be careful about overusing Flirt. Clarisse seemed nice enough and understood it was verbal warfare, but I wouldn't want to give anyone else the wrong idea. Still, it would probably come in handy for a distraction against enemies who I'd have no issues with tricking.

As I joined the campfire sing-along, I discreetly checked on the status of my quest since I had lost count at some point.

Main Objective: Gain 10 stat points from special actions [Complete]

Secondary Objective: Create three new skills from special actions (2/3)

Bonus Objective: Gain 10 additional physical stat points from special actions (6/10)

I smiled since I was close to finishing all three objectives and had all day tomorrow. The training was paying off on my stats as well.

[Lv. 8; 347/500]

HP: 3000/3000
MP: 1300/1300
SP: 3000/3000

STR: 16
VIT: 14
DEX: 16
INT: 12
WIS: 14
CHA: 15
LUCK: 7

After having some s'mores, I went back to my cabin and read more of The Iliad before going to sleep.


Thursday morning after breakfast, Annabeth abruptly canceled our daily study session, saying that she had another activity for the morning. Shrugging, I decided to spend the sudden free time trying to test out and level up my Sprint ability. Keeping an eye on the SP bar in the corner of my eye as it lost a chunk every second, I managed to get most of the way around the perimeter of the cabins before needing to stop. I deliberately didn't let it hit zero, but still needed to catch my breath at a lighter jog. If I still had fatigue at low SP, I didn't want to know what an Exhaustion status would feel like.

My speed had gotten faster, though, both while using the skill and in general. After my SP bar managed to mostly recover, I went for another Sprint and then stopped altogether. After resting for a bit with a breath of relief, I looked at the two messages telling me that I had gained a level on Sprint and a point for VIT. After dismissing the windows, I happened to glance at the commons and saw that same young girl tending the fire. Still with nobody appearing to pay her any mind.

'Can nobody else see her?' I thought to myself. 'Is it Gamer's Mind that's letting me?'

Deciding to investigate since I still had free time – sprint exercises don't tend to last long, after all – I walked up to the fire and sat a respectful distance from her. Despite being a hot summer day, the fire itself seemed inviting and didn't make the area too hot. What caught my attention was the label above her head, or lack of one, really.

[? ? ?]

[Lv. ?]

Come to think of it, even though I knew who Mr. D was, his label hadn't changed from the alias he used. So, gods were above even the Game's interface. Either that, or their levels were so much higher than mine that the Mist affected whether or not their names were shown. Maybe they could choose to reveal their true nature and the label would change accordingly?

'Which means this one is either a goddess or at least an extremely powerful being in disguise,' I realized. 'Can't leave now, though. That might be ruder to just walk up and sit, but not talk to her.'

Wanting to break the ice, but also not tip my hand or appear like a crazy person to the other campers, I kept my face forward while my eyes were directed at the girl, "Excuse me, miss?"

She stopped her idle tending of the fire and turned to me with a surprised expression, warm brown eyes blinking as she registered me looking at her. The girl didn't speak yet, so I continued, "I'm not sure I've seen you around at the sing-alongs or dining pavilion. Are you okay?"

Appearing to regain her composure, she laughed lightly, "Somebody has to tend the hearth, a job not often noticed. You're the first one to see me in quite a while."

"See… as in, visit?" I asked tentatively, looking around and seeing nobody appearing to note our conversation.

She shook her head as I turned back to her, "Most people are very wrapped up in their own lives. As I said, the hearth is a duty often overlooked."

The way she said "hearth" as if it was a living thing that needed to be nurtured kept ringing a bell, but I couldn't quite place it. The cabins of the twelve Olympians were around me, but none of them-

It clicked as I remembered the original six that were born from Kronos. Only five of them became Olympians—the sixth and eldest…

"Lady Hestia?" I asked in awe. Her current form surprised me, but if that's what she wanted to appear as, who was I to judge? As she smiled at me, her label changed.

[Hestia]

[Lv. ?]

I gulped, and said, "Being honest, I thought you might have been another demigod at first, one of the unclaimed like most of Cabin Eleven."

"Your honesty is appreciated, Percy," she replied. "Why do you believe you sought me out?"

At that point, I shrugged and answered, "Partly passing the time because my morning instructor had to cancel on me. Mostly out of curiosity since I noticed you on my first day, but I had to keep up with Chiron then."

Hestia nodded in acceptance and returned to her tending the fire, "And what is it you seek?"

"Right now?" I asked rhetorically before continuing. "My mom back. I lost her on the way here, and Chiron seemed to avoid saying she's dead with certainty. He suspects something, but probably doesn't want to get my hopes up."

"Chiron has lived a long life, as you can imagine, and lost many students along the way. He cares about you and likely doesn't want you to be another losing his life to rash action," the goddess informed. "What would you do to get your mother back?"

My very heart seemed to skip a beat at that question. Opening my mouth, I hesitated before speaking, "I want to say 'anything,' but… I'm getting the feeling that the price might be one I couldn't live with. Whether on my own conscience or that my mom wouldn't approve. Ideally, I would've been strong enough for her to not get hurt at all."

"Family is a precious thing," Hestia agreed. "You have a good heart, Percy. I wish you the best on being reunited with your mother."

Staring at her for a moment, I wondered if my next question would be overstepping. But after remembering how she mentioned others being wrapped up in their own lives, I decided to take the plunge.

"Lady Hestia, if I may ask… Are you okay?"

She paused her actions, but didn't look at me yet.

I sighed, "I'm sorry if it's private, and you don't even have to answer, but… why are you here instead of on Olympus? I'm sure you can maintain the hearth up there from here. But it seems… a bit out of the ordinary to have you away from-"

"Percy, you can stop; I'm not mad," Hestia interrupted.

I clamped my mouth shut, and she rested the stick she was using over her leg as the arm holding it rested across one of her knees.

Heaving a sigh of her own, the goddess replied, "Family is precious. I mean that with all my heart. But that's why it hurts me so much to see them in their current state. Aside from the hearth on Olympus, this was always my favorite to visit. Now it serves as my home away from home."

I didn't say anything since I didn't have experience with a large family. What could I say that wouldn't sound like empty words?

"Tensions are climbing higher and higher, but there's little to be done about it at this point," Hestia continued. "I can only hope that a solution presents itself before it's too late."

When she went quiet, I spoke up at length while staring into the fire, "I won't ask any questions about what's going on or when 'too late' will be… But I can understand feeling helpless to save family. I want to find my mom, but where would I even start?"

A small hand rested on my shoulder, and I received a reminder that the goddess beside me was in the form of a child. It was easy to forget while talking to her.

"Fate works in mysterious ways, Percy," Hestia comforted. When she let me go, she let out a deep breath, "Thank you for listening; I've had a lot of worry stored up and nobody uninvolved that I could talk with."

"Happy to help," I replied. "Hopefully, the next time we meet will be in better circumstances."

She smiled at me with a nod and went back to stirring the coals of the fire.

After I got up and left, a window appeared in front of me. I made sure I wasn't standing in anyone's way as I idled near one of the benches and read it.

[Secret Quest: Fireside Friendship—Complete!]

The little girl you noticed on your first day of camp turned out to be a goddess in disguise. While she wouldn't have held it against you for not noticing or engaging, you did so and lightened her emotional burden.

Objective: Talk to Hestia and listen to her worries. [Complete]

Bonus Objective 1: Find out the troubles on Mt. Olympus [Failed]

Reward: "Hearth's Blessing" special status

Bonus Reward: Hestia as your patron

I frowned at the "Secret Quest" title, since receiving no warning from the Game beforehand that this was a test meant I failed the bonus objective. Likely multi-stepped, too from how there was a "1" displayed, but no others since I failed the first. But I suppose that it was meant to be my genuine thoughts and actions for that conversation, so the Game couldn't tell me ahead of time without changing how I would handle it.

'What's done is done. Now, about that special status…' I thought while mentally focusing on the new power.

[Hearth's Blessing]

[This gift bestowed to you by Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, will keep you warm in the cold and comfortable in the heat while resisting ailments that try to harm you.]

- Overheat, Burn and Freezing statuses negated

- Poison damage reduced by 30%

If I had to guess, Hestia passed it along to me when she put her hand on my shoulder. Not combat-related, but it would probably come in handy.

"Percy! First activity!" Luke called for me from across the commons.

I closed the window with a thought and left to join the rest of my cabin, glancing at the hearth one more time to see Hestia still there.

'Quest aside, I really do hope that she can return soon,' I thought to myself while facing forward again to continue walking.

Arts and crafts turned out to be various trades such as metalwork and weaving alongside the more traditional arts like painting and sculpting. Today, Cabin Eleven was focusing on metalwork, specifically weapon and armor maintenance. The bright light of the forge next to us made me immediately glad that Hestia's gift kept me comfortable.

"Just because Celestial Bronze is near-indestructible doesn't mean that a warrior shouldn't know how to keep their own tools in top shape," Luke lectured. "And when you have to scavenge off the battlefield, being able to make a dented blade into a passable weapon could end up saving your life. Cabin Nine can't be everywhere."

After he finished speaking, the Hephaestus kids took over in teaching younger campers (me included) proper safety procedures and how to use protective wear. Luke had disappeared, but I guess that his being a counselor and senior camper let him work on his own projects. Shame I didn't get a chance to earn any stat points, though. Pounding metal in a forge probably could have netted me a STR point.


Once lunch had passed – and I sent up an offering for both my unknown father and Hestia – Luke directed our cabin to the arena. It was just us this time, since Luke was the instructor for swordsmanship, apparently.

We were all given practice swords and shields, but while I could manage it easily with my upgraded Strength and Dexterity, none of the blades felt balanced properly. Lining up to a bunch of cloth dummies stuffed with straw, Luke directed us through basic stabbing and slashing motions. Midway through, I got an alert that I had learned the beginner's sword style.

[You've learned a new skill through repeated practice.]

[Modern Greek Sword Form – Basic (Lv. 1)—Weapon Style (Sword)]

[Revolving around agility, parrying and a light shield optional, the Greek way of the sword has endured to the present day while picking up traces of other styles to keep evolving.]

- Options for wielding: One sword/One shield; One-handed sword; Two-handed sword; Dual wielding swords

- DEX +5% while sword-fighting

That was nice, but I was a little uneasy that the dummies were human-like, especially since most sword strikes we were practicing hit the gut area. Weren't we supposed to be training against monsters?

[You've spotted a logical inconsistency in a training method.]

- You gained +1 to WIS

I would probably bring it up to Chiron later. For now, Luke called for everybody to pair up for sparring, singling me out as his partner because I was new.

When one of the other campers sarcastically wished me luck, telling me that Luke was the best swordsman in the last three centuries, I realized this was probably part of the hazing ritual too. Go figure the son of a trickster god wouldn't be satisfied with the one instantaneous prank on Tuesday morning.

Regardless, I put up my guard and readied myself to face the music.

[Spar initiated.]

- Learning under a practitioner of Modern Greek Sword Form – Basic boosts growth of the skill

Luke showed me how not to parry, shield block or strike by whacking my open spots with the flat of his practice sword.

"You're overcommitting on your thrusts, Percy! Miss, and you'll be off balance!"

"Good effort on the shield, but you're supposed to deflect to create openings, not take the full impact!"

"Telegraphing your strikes is a good way to get yourself killed, Percy!"

By the time a break was called, my body felt like a mass of bruises even though my HP was still above half and gradually climbing back up. As everybody swarmed the cooler for water bottles, I discreetly checked my built-up messages.

[Modern Greek Sword Form – Basic increased to Lv. 2]

[You're out of your league, but taking your lumps like a man]

- You gained +1 to VIT

[Swinging around a sword and shield is far more involved than exercise drills!]

- You gained +1 to STR

[Modern Greek Sword Form – Basic increased to Lv. 3]

After I managed to get a bottle of water for myself, I saw Luke drink half before pouring the rest over his head. With how sweaty I was, that seemed like a good idea.

The instant I did, I saw my Health bar surge as the restoration per second increased. I was back to full in a matter of moments and felt completely re-energized, the sword feeling less awkward. That was probably a clue—I had never been below full health when showering or washing off at the sink before.

But Luke was calling for everybody to gather, so it would have to wait.

As everybody else circled around us and we took off our shields, our counselor explained, "Percy and I are going to demonstrate a disarming technique where you use the flat of your sword to twist the hilt of your opponent's weapon until they're forced to let go. I've had it used against me, so no laughing at Percy—it normally takes years to learn this."

Despite his warning, most were poorly suppressing smiles. I got the distinct impression that all of them had been in my shoes at some point. But it's always funny when happening to someone else, isn't it?

Luke demonstrated the technique first, slowly. As he said, my weapon was forced out of my grip. I picked it up, and he nodded, "Now in real time. We keep sparring until one of us pulls it off."

Apparently that water was still in effect, since I could see his strikes coming more easily and managed to keep him from the hilt of my sword. After engaging him for a short time, I sidestepped a swipe entirely and thrust towards his own. He deflected it, but his expression changed, and he started taking me more seriously.

I wasn't kidding myself; Luke was out of my weight class in level, stats, and probably sword-fighting experience. He was playing closer to my level and now gradually increasing the pressure to test me. But I knew the water would probably evaporate soon – the sword was feeling more off-balance – and Luke would overtake me.

Clashing swords again, I slid my blade down his and twisted with both hands to disarm him, pointing the blade at his chest before lowering it. The only sound around us was the echo of his sword clattering as the other campers were completely silent.

I nodded contritely and said, "I think I acted on instinct…"

"Instinct?" Luke repeated. "Percy, that was amazing! Even I took more time to perform that technique for real! Show me again!"

I knew I wouldn't have my secret edge anymore, but readied myself anyway as Luke picked up his sword. I tried my best, but he slipped past my blade and disarmed me after a few exchanges.

After a pause, one of the campers mused, "Beginner's luck? Or maybe it is instinct; he did better than most of the newbies do."

"Maybe…" Luke granted while wiping his forehead clear. He seemed interested in my potential as he added, "But I wonder what Percy could do with a properly balanced sword."


After I was alone, I checked the notification box of the Focus Interface and saw the backed-up messages. That second spar must have pushed it since it was more real than Luke's prodding of my weak points.

[Modern Greek Sword Form – Basic increased to Lv. 4]

[You've reached a new level of dexterity with a blade!]

- You gained +1 to DEX

[You've created a new skill through a special action.]

[Disarm (Lv. 1)—Instantaneous]

[MP cost: 0; SP cost: 20]

[A special sword technique that uses leverage to twist a weapon out of the opponent's hand.]

- DEX + STR of user vs. STR of opponent

If my count was correct, that meant that my quest was complete. I could check that later.

[You took a beating as you learned the forms, but put up a good showing and even managed to catch an expert swordsman off-guard by disarming him once even if he was holding back.]

- You gained 250 XP

- You gained +30 reputation with Camp Half-Blood

[You have grown to Lv. 9!]

- You gained five unsorted stat points

Even better. That meant I would get the five stat points from the quest and a head start on my next level, along with the five from just now.

[Sidequest: For the Glory!—Complete]

You rose to the challenge presented and gained both respect and a bounty of stat points for the trials ahead.

Reward: 500 XP

Secondary Reward: 5 unsorted stat points

Bonus Reward: "Trainee" special status, +50 reputation with Clarisse LaRue, +25 reputation with Camp Half-Blood

Smiling at the window, I closed it with a thought and instead pulled up my Status page to see where I was in terms of XP.

[Lv. 9; 597/750 XP]

Not far at all. I didn't know if Level 10 would be a milestone or what, but getting stronger could only help me in this new world. Checking the Trainee special status also gave me more good news.

[Trainee]

[Eager to learn and fresh to the ranks, you're going to grow fast as you pick up experience!]

- 50% increase to XP gained while below Lv. 15

So, a booster on a time limit, but not bad at all for what seemed to be a tutorial quest.

With that done, I got the chance to think on what the boost I got from that water could mean. Logically, it would be from my godly side since regular humans don't get performance enhancement from plain water. There were multiple beings in Greek myth – or… culture? – that were tied to water.

'Think, Percy,' I told myself. 'Were there any other incidents that-'

My thought process froze. That night, with the Minotaur, it had been raining. And before that – seeming like ages ago – where I got angry at Nancy Bobofit and she was suddenly in the water fountain without me touching her. The Mist would have covered it up, but could it be possible?

Feet carrying me on their own, I walked to the canoeing lake and squatted down at the bank, sticking a hand in. As I ran my hand through the surface, it didn't seem to move outside of how I stirred it…

Looking deeper in, I could see teenage girls towards the bottom, oddly enough. One of them noticed me and appeared to call the others around her. The trio waved at me with smiles, as if I was an old friend—only more evidence, but not conclusive. Not wanting to be rude, I waved back lightly.

"What're you doing?"

I started slightly and looked over my shoulder to see Annabeth. After she had canceled our session, I didn't expect to see her today. Regardless, I turned back to the water and said, "It's everyone's lake, isn't it?"

Annabeth stepped up next to me and apparently looked into the water at the girls back to their own business. Scoffing, she said, "You shouldn't encourage the Naiads. They're all terrible flirts."

"So am I, in case you haven't noticed," I retorted wryly.

"About that, I wanted to talk to you about-" she began before abruptly tapping my shoe with her foot. "Look at me when I'm talking to you."

Sighing, I stopped my tentative experiment and turned to face Annabeth while still squatting.

She seemed to have a brief mental debate with herself before sitting down beside me. Taking a breath, she said, "I'm going to come out and say it; I heard that you went looking for Clarisse last evening. What for?"

"An extra wrestling match," I answered easily. "Clarisse is the instructor, so if anyone can help me train in that skill, she can."

Her eyes narrowed, "And she didn't ask anything about my cabin? Our plans for Capture the Flag?"

I rolled my eyes, "Even if she did, you haven't kept me in the loop, so I wouldn't have any information to give her. For the record, I didn't even know that my cabin was allied with yours until she told me. Apparently, word's already gotten around on who's working with who for tomorrow."

"Then why would she help you?" Annabeth asked skeptically.

"Clarisse is a person too, Annabeth," I retorted flatly, leveling an unimpressed look at her for that question. "I don't know if both your divine parents have a rivalry or something – it'd make sense with the God of War versus Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy – but that doesn't make her less human than you or me. I think you're taking the upcoming game way too seriously."

"If you can't take this seriously enough, how can you expect to survive a real crisis?" she demanded.

I stood up, brow furrowed, "I've been in a life-or-death struggle. I made it out, but someone I cared about wasn't so lucky. Capture the Flag is a game."

"…I didn't mean it like that, Percy," Annabeth half-apologized as she stood up, fiddling with a ring on her necklace that seemed out of place among the clay beads. "Demigods lead dangerous lives. Capture the Flag is a war game—just as much training as a chance for glory. I heard about how you've thrown yourself into physical training, but you need to keep your mind focused too."

I turned away from her towards the lake, "Well, if we're giving advice, here's mine: Work on your Charisma, because I'm not feeling very inspired by your leadership, coach. Besides, I tried sharpening my strategy with you, and you stormed off in a huff even after winning."

"…Your 'strategy' went against everything that chess is about," she defended at length.

I shrugged uncaringly, "But it wasn't against the rules, was it? You need to loosen up and think outside the box, Annabeth. I haven't given any information I couldn't have known to Clarisse, and I will fight during Capture the Flag since I don't intend to stand around letting myself get beaten. Anything else?"

She frowned slightly, but shook her head and turned to leave, "No. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

With Annabeth gone, I pinched the bridge of my nose to try clearing my mind. Gamer's Mind apparently worked well as a battle mode and muted any extreme reactions, but didn't mean I couldn't feel emotions like frustration.

Taking a breath, I tried to focus back on what I was doing. Since I couldn't recall touching the water when Nancy Bobofit suddenly got pushed in, I instead held my hands out like I was going to part the lake.

Nothing happened at first, and I tried to think about what I felt that day. It wasn't so easy since everything seemed fuzzy, probably a red haze from rage that she was bullying Grover repeatedly that day.

Scowling, I held out my hands again and tried focusing on the water. An idea hit me, and I thought about the nature of water while trying to move it, 'Instead of trying to carry it, I should stir it—make waves. Build up momentum, and-'

The surface of the lake started rippling during my train of thought and I reached deeper to make a current that raced for the surface. The splash of water was a foot high at best and only the width of a manhole cover, but I smiled since I had discovered one of my powers. A pair of notifications confirmed it.

[You determined an aspect of your true nature through past experiences and experimentation!]

- You gained +1 INT and +2 WIS

[You've unlocked a skill through a special action.]

[Water Control (Lv. 20)—Active]

[MP cost: 15 per second; SP cost: 0]

[A gift of all children born from [?], this allows you to create water currents, waves, small geysers and even air bubbles underwater. A versatile power that can either save or batter your targets.]

So, it wouldn't tell me who my dad was, but didn't try to hide or forbid me from using the skills it had locked. Knowing it was a god or other entity tied to the water significantly narrowed the list down. Also explained the Naiads just a moment ago.

Remembering them, along with the fact that they could apparently breathe underwater, I stared at the surface of the lake contemplatively. Maybe if I just went up to my nose and tried breathing through my mouth?

Unable to believe I was doing this, I stepped forward and waded into the water. While my Health and Mana bars didn't change since they were at maximum, I still felt more awake while submerged even up to my shins. As more of my body went under, I stopped at my neck and couldn't help wanting to take a deep breath. Ducking down slightly, I submerged my lips and carefully opened my mouth.

…It didn't feel like it was filling with water. I double-checked that my jaw was underwater and tentatively took a shallow breath. Nothing happened; I didn't drown or even cough. Ducking the rest of the way in, I could also see perfectly in the water despite the setting sun.

The Naiads from before approached me with smiles, swimming closer before treading water to stay at my level near the bank. The center one had brown hair that looked straight aside from waving about in the water, while the left had blonde tied back with a seaweed strand and the right had black in a short cut down to her ears. From left to right, they were Mona, Kelly and Cori, all at Level 9.

"Good to see a water-aligned demigod," Kelly said. "There hasn't been one in a long time."

I nodded back and tentatively opened my mouth to talk, since I could hear them clearly. The same should apply to me, right?

"I'm still figuring this out," I confessed. "You could sense that I was…?"

"Most creatures of the sea will," the black-haired Naiad confirmed. "It's in your blood."

Mona added, "But… we can't tell you who, even if we knew for sure."

I sighed, "Should've guessed."

"It's nothing personal," the center Naiad spoke again. "But the gods have ways of going about things and don't like anyone interfering. If our hunch was right, we'd be punished for revealing it. If it was wrong, then either god might take offense and punish us anyway."

"It's fine, really," I replied while waving them off. "I wouldn't want anyone getting hurt for just a guess."

[You gained +50 reputation with Naiads for your genuine concern.]

I blinked in surprise. That was more than any other gain outside of a quest. And it was just for basic decency?

Mona sidled up closer to me – impressive since she had to keep herself afloat while making the smooth motion – and smiled, "So, has anyone told you you're pretty cute?"

"Mona!" Cori protested.

"What?" she replied coyly. "It's true!"

Despite being a bit flustered, I also smiled while replying, "No, but I've been told that Naiads are shameless flirts—another thing we have in common."

Mona and Kelly giggled while their friend palmed her face. Nudging her, the long-haired girl said, "Come on, you like it too, Cori."

"It's all in good fun," Mona added.

"I really should be going, though," I interjected. Then I remembered that only two mentioned their names and added, "Dinner will be soon, and I don't want to miss that. But first, I didn't catch your name, miss."

Giggling, the brunette replied, "Call me Kelly."

I nodded, "It was nice to meet you all. Hope we can chat again."

The trio said their goodbyes and I swam back to the surface, my strokes moving me through the water much faster than I would think.

[You've unlocked a skill through a special action.]

[Swimming (Lv. MAX)—Active]

[MP cost: 0; SP cost: 0]

[The ability to float, dive and otherwise move through water. At maximum level, you can survive any water pressure and breathe within any non-cursed water.]

Since I couldn't recall the extensive training to reach such a level, I assumed that the level of Swimming was already maxed out before I got this game power. The description also implied that the "max" level was out of reach to normal humans, since gaining the ability to breathe underwater would draw attention from the media.

The conch horn blowing to call for dinner interrupted my musing. I didn't know for sure who my father was, but had unlocked some of my powers. Sorting out my new stat points could wait until later.


Woo-hoo! Second chapter. Like I said, I don't usually get this much writing done so soon, but was still riding the initial inspiration. The Naiads' names were just plays on/abbreviations of "Anemone", "Coral" and "Kelp" since I couldn't come up with anything better.

Also, anybody who's read The Flip of a Coin will know that I went a different route with Hestia. That was intentional to make this more my own story. The "Secret Quest" was also a way of differentiating since having a defined objective and being warned in advance would affect interaction with the person in question.

Next time will be Capture the Flag and probably more given the length of these first two chapters. 'Til then.

-AJ203