Nico di Angelo was not having a particularly good day. Most of his problems had to do with the irritating daughter of Apollo who had decided he needed a best friend, despite his protestations to the contrary, and then, when all else had failed, threats of eternal punishment. He had tried to shake her off, but she was so damn cheerful. She just bounced back. The trouble was, he recognized that although she was exasperating beyond belief, she actually did want to make him less lonely. She was that sort of person. She saw someone lonely; she decided to become their best friend.
Gods, she was annoying.
And here she was again. Thirteen days of blessed peace, and after Connor, who Nico suspected of having a crush on Melbourne, had wondered out loud whether she had found a half-blood yet, here she was. Speak of the devil and she shall come.
Melbourne was standing at the pegasus stable with a small, slightly shellshocked-looking girl in a green dress. She had put her arm around the girl's shoulders, holding her steady. She gestured around with her unoccupied arm, and- oh no, Melbourne had seen him. She was leading the girl over now. Maybe he could sneak- too late. Here she was now, smiling first at him, then at the new girl, then around at the countryside in general, then at Clarisse, sitting on a bench some meters away, who had stopped sharpening her knife to watch, probably hoping Nico would finally explode and a bloody fight would ensue.
"Hi, Nico," she said, smiling her permanently blasted smile, "This is Gemma, who is almost certainly a daughter of Demeter. Gemma, this is Nico, son of Hades."
Gemma gave Nico a timid smile and bobbed her head. Nico managed a 'pleased to meet you'.
"What is Hades god of again?" Gemma asked quietly.
Nico glanced at Clarisse, who had gone back to her sharpening.
"Death," he said shortly. "Among other things." He smirked as Gemma's eyes widened.
"Oh," she said softly. Melbourne frowned disapprovingly at Nico, who simply shrugged and raised his eyebrows at her.
"Nice to meet you, goodbye," he said before Melbourne could start to chat about anything, from the sky to what Katie Gardner had told her to the weather in Idaho. He semi-sprinted to his cabin, glancing behind surreptitiously. Not that he thought anyone would follow him in there-it was unheard of for campers to venture into Cabin 13 uninvited, except that one incident with Connor, Travis, and a very large amount of molasses-but you never knew with Melbourne Corely. But no, she was wandering over to Clarisse, who took a sudden intense interest in the hilt of her knife.
Nico smiled grimly and shut the door.
It was another world for Gemma. A world out of her fantasies, a world that was exciting and dangerous and interesting. A world in which she could be the like the characters she had created for herself: competent, cool, respected, powerful... Gemma was on cloud nine.
Melbourne grabbed her arm, yanking her out of her reverie.
"This," she said, pulling her over to a muscular girl examining the hilt of her knife, "is Clarisse LaRue, daughter of Ares. Clarisse, this is Gemma Glenden, probably-daughter of Demeter."
"Shove off, Corely," Clarisse said gruffly, then to Gemma: "Get out of my sight, or the toilets will get into yours."
All right, maybe it wasn't a perfect world, but it was close. Not even bullies could pull Gemma down to the earth at the moment.
"Are you all right, Clarisse? You seem sort of... grouchy."
Clarisse turned slowly to face her.
"If I'm grouchy, Corely, it might have something to with you coming up and interrupting my sharpening!" She pointed the knife at Melbourne. "Now go away, or you'll spend the night in the infirmary!"
"All right, I'm going. Here, Gemma, I'll introduce more people to you. And show you around and explain stuff, of course." She beamed at Clarisse, who pretended to ignore her. "I hope you feel better, Clarisse."
As they wandered down the path toward the training ground, Melbourne gave Gemma an apologetic smile.
"Sorry about that," she said cheerfully, "She's not normally so- well, now that I think about it that was about normal behavior for her. Daughter of Ares, you know." She bounced on her feet, peering over the crest of the hill. "Oh, it's Rachel! Come on, Gemma!"
Dragging Gemma after her, she trotted up to the red haired girl whose expression, although troubled, reminded Gemma vaguely of J. 's descriptions of Luna Lovegood.
"Hi, Rachel!" grinned Melbourne. Good God, she had to be the happiest person Gemma had ever met. She positively bounced. Gemma was sure she hadn't been as smiley back in Nebraska. It had to be the fact that they were at this camp thing.
The girl- Rachel, wasn't it?- smiled wanly back at Melbourne.
"Hi, Mel," she replied, "Is this the new girl?"
Gemma nodded shyly. Rachel held out her hand.
"I'm Rachel, the Oracle of Delphi," she said warmly, and then, at Gemma's blank look, added: "I speak prophecies. Sometimes."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Gemma." The chick was coming out of its shell, but hesitantly, hesitantly.
"Glad to meet you to, and I'd stay to chat, but I need to go see Chiron about something. See you 'round." And she strode away down the hill.
"I wonder what was wrong, she looked upset. Come on, I'll find more people for you to meet!"
More people. Gemma was never a social person, and she wasn't sure how many more introductions she could handle.
"Melbourne!" came a shout from the foot of the hill. "Lacy told me you were back. Where've you been?"
"Connor?" called Melbourne. "Is that you?"
"Great! I've got someone for you to meet- eek!"
"What? Melbourne? Are you all right?"
Melbourne, Gemma saw, had stepped on a sort of gel pad and, as far as Gemma could tell, couldn't unstick her foot.
And now Gemma saw a teenager who was probably Connor, running up the hill for all he was worth. He was an impish boy with an expression that just spelled out T-R-O-U-B-L-E-M-A-K-E-R.
"Melbourne?" he shouted. "What's going on? Is it- oh, not again. Travis, I am going to murder you. Where are you?"
A group of sniggering teens appeared from behind a bush. Connor assumed an expression of tested patience and severity and preceded to tell the campers off.
"Honestly! I'm ashamed of you! All of you! To think you would ambush an unsuspecting-"
"Aww, Connor's defending his damsel!" interrupted one of them, a boy who so resembled Connor the two had to be related.
"So sweet!" cooed an elfish-looking girl.
"Connor and Melbourne, sitting in a tree-"
"Come off it, guys!" complained Connor, who'd turned so red he looked like he'd attempted to camouflage with the surrounding strawberry fields.
"K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love-" the entire gang of pranksters had picked up the chant now. Connor turned to Melbourne and indicated that they should leave him to defend himself alone.
"I'll manage," he whispered stoically when Melbourne protested.
Gemma glance back once, when they'd finished the chant, in time to see the elf girl mock-faint into the leader's arms.
Melbourne rushed her through a few more introductions with campers who crossed their path- Molly, daughter of Nike; Jorge, son of Hephaestus; and Carrie, daughter of Aphrodite- and finally they came to the training ground. Gemma didn't need Melbourne's explanation ("And this," she said, waving her arm wildly around in a gesture that encompassed most of North America, "is the training ground."); it was obvious from the dozens of campers sparring, climbing, and target training what the area was designated to.
The nearest campers were an older-looking boy and girl slashing at each other with bronze-colored blades, clearly trying their utmost to get past the other's guard. Melbourne glanced at them and then motioned for Gemma stand back a little. They waited until the fight was finally over- a stalemate in which the boy got his blade at the girl's stomach, the girl stomped on his foot, and both declared the other had won- and then Melbourne stepped forward as they mopped their sweat-sodden hair out of their eyes. She yanked Gemma up with her.
"This is Gemma Glenden, who's definitely a daughter of Demeter," chirped Mebourne to the two teens. Then to Gemma: "This," she indicated the tan, black-haired boy, "is Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon."
Percy nodded at her.
"What's Poseidon god of?" asked Gemma. "Sorry, I never studied Greek mythology. I just know a few of the gods. You know, Zeus, Ares and Apollo. That's about it."
"Poseidon's god of the ocean," said the blonde girl, sheathing her blade. "He's one of the Big Three: Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades. We have one demigod child of each at camp. I'm Annabeth Chase, by the way. Daughter of Athena. Goddess of wisdom and war," she added before Gemma could ask for an explanation.
"I thought Ares was god of war?" said Gemma tentatively.
"Think about it this way," said the boy, Percy. "Ares is god of bloody massacres. Mindless violence. Raging brutality. That sort of thing. Athena is more the goddess of the art of warfare. Necessary battles. Tactics. You get the idea."
Gemma nodded her thanks as the two wandered over to a ferocious-looking climbing wall.
"They were formidable," she said to Melbourne. The other girl glanced at her in surprise for a second, as though shocked at the fact that she'd spoken. Then
her face settled.
"Yeah," she said, her expression slightly wistful. "Two of the most powerful demigods at camp. Saved the world a couple of times.
You're jealous, realized Gemma, but she didn't say it aloud.
"Saved the world? Wow," she said instead. "How?"
As they wandered through the training grounds, Gemma got an abbreviated version of The Adventures of Percy & Co., interspersed with introductions and vague gestures so that it sounded something like:
"And then some bad guys attack so everyone ran around- oh, hello Katie, this is Gemma, she'll definitely be in your cabin, Gemma, this is Katie Gardner, head of the Demeter kids. Bye, Katie. Yeah, anyway, there was this big battle, and a bunch of people died, but in the end Daedalus killed himself so that the labyrinth was destroyed and everyone was happy except the people who died, the people who went crazy, and everyone else. Then there was a boat out there (expansive gesture indicating a good part of the Atlantic) and Percy and this guy named Beckendorf went to destroy it, but Beckendorf died-hi Leo! Leo, this is Gemma, Gemma, this is Leo Valdez, he's a son of Hephaestus and he lights himself on fire- Leo! Stop it! This is Gemma Glenden, who strangles werewolves with petunias- Leo! Come back! So, basically even though Beckendorf died, they still got rid of the boat, and then this god, I can't remember his name, but basically he put all of the mortals in Manhattan to sleep, or something like that, and there was a big battle and we won and everyone was happy. Then, twelve or so months ago, Percy disappeared and this guy called Jason showed up, and- here he is now! He quit the Romans to join us. Hey, Jason! This is Gemma! Gemma, this is Jason, son of Jupiter- are you all right, Gemma? You look a bit sick."
Gemma was not sick, just completely overloaded in terms of a bunch of information she didn't understand hitting her all at once.
"Yeah," she managed, "Is there anywhere I can lie down? Please?"
Melbourne looked confusedly at Jason, who shrugged.
"I think you've given her a bit too much info to process at the moment. She'll be fine."
"Okay. You'll probably be claimed tonight, so I don't want to make you a bed in the Hermes cabin just to undo it again." She thought for a moment, then perked up, "Ooh! I know! I'll show you the woods. There's places in there where the moss is really comfortable. Come on!"
She grabbed Gemma's hand and yanked her unceremoniously past a group of Ares campers hacking at each other with battle axes, which did nothing for Gemma's health, and onto a trail head of the edge of the training field.
The woods were cool, and Gemma started to feel better almost immediately. Soft rays of sunlight shone through the canopy of green and onto the moist ground below. Birds whistled at each other from the treetops. Melbourne lowered her voice and even stopped talking completely for seconds at a time.
The path wound this way and that through the tall trees, past clumps of rocks and fallen branches. Everything was calmer and quieter. Gemma relaxed.
"There's a little copse not far ahead," murmured Melbourne. "We can stop there."
The copse was small indeed: little more than a couple of boulders and a space about two meters wide cleared of tree. Gemma eased herself down on the fluffy moss stared up at the blue sky above.
Hi everyone! Happy holidays! I think this is the longest chapter I've ever written. Please review!