Disclaimer: To the best of my knowledge, Excalibur Almaz and its chairman Arthur Dula have no affiliation with any Celtic deity.
Mythology Notes- like in the last chapter, at the end of this chapter there is a (probably too long...) section with elaborations on the mythology references. I've tried to make sure that reading them isn't necessary for understanding the story; they are there for the curious. If I have deliberately taken liberties with a legend, I'll mention it in the notes.
Future chapters will not be this long; I just wanted to get Percy through Ireland in one chapter.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
Mid-September, Two years after the Second Olympian War
I put away my phone after leaving my mom a message telling her that I'd gotten to Ireland safely. Blackjack had touched down on a beach in the south of Ireland, a little ways out of the port of Cobh where I'd moored the Firefly. Off-shore, a sea serpent breached the surface, but seemed to decide against coming ashore for a bite of demigod. I kept looking around and didn't sheath Riptide. In New York, even that short of a message would have been guaranteed to bring out a Cyclops or two before I'd thinned the monster population out.
Right on cue, a woman came out of the woods. She was tall, taller than I was, and wearing a ragged green dress covered by a grey cloak. The hood of the cloak was down, and her long white hair fluttered in a nonexistent breeze around her pale face. She was crying from blood-shot eyes, but if she hadn't been she would have been beautiful, in the same way that the empousai in Kronos' army had been beautiful. Knowing that they would happily kill and eat me had always been a turn-off.
"A Roman half-blood? What brings you to this island, child?" Her voice matched her face- it was rough and scratchy, like she'd been crying for a long time.
I didn't lower my sword. Just because she'd stopped to talk first, didn't mean she was friendly. "I'm just passing through. I don't want any trouble. And I'm American, actually. Ah, why are you crying?"
She smiled through her tears. "Because someone is about to die."
I braced myself and gave her the setup. "Who?"
Naturally. Instead of attacking me physically, though, she opened her mouth and wailed.
I was suddenly grieving all over again for Bianca, Zoe, Beckendorf, Michael, Silena, Ethan, Luke, my own mother trapped in the Underworld by Hades- everyone I had lost, everyone I hadn't been able to save. My sword tip dipped towards the ground as I started to cry, and when the monster reached for me with clawed hands I didn't try to block her.
Boss! Snap out of it!
Blackjack bum-rushed me and shouldered me back into the water. As soon as I touched the sea, my mind cleared enough to realize what was going on. She could influence emotions with her voice, like the Sirens or Apollo's celedones, and I had no wax with me to plug my ears. I'd made peace with my dead a long time ago, though, and the monster was no Melinoe. If the ghost goddess had had no effect on me, I wasn't about to let this creepy lady take me down.
I pulled a globe of water to surround my head, which muffled and distorted the sound enough for me to fight back. She was more focused on dodging Blackjack than on me, and didn't move in time. It turned out that Irish monsters were as vulnerable to Celestial Bronze as Greek monsters were; the only remnant was golden dust and her grey cloak.
I let the water fall and stuffed the cloak into my backpack. "Thanks, Blackjack."
No problem, boss. What was that thing?
A banshee, a new voice told us unexpectedly.
I jerked around with Riptide still in my hand, and saw a white mare coming out of the sea behind us. She was dry except for her mane, which was sea-blue, dripping, and tangled with seaweed in several places. The local equivalent of a hippocampus, probably.
Banshees have become rarer since the Roman gods came. Most stay under the hills these days. Many of the old fairies do not welcome children of Rome, strangers. It was foolish to summon one.
It was nothing we couldn't handle, Blackjack boasted, extending his wings casually. It was almost a mating display, but I doubted an impressive wingspan would help him score with a seahorse.
So I saw. She curved her neck flirtatiously. I could be wrong. Maybe Blackjack had universal appeal. What brings you to Ireland?
We've got a prophecy. We're looking for some of your old gods- what were their names, boss?
"We're looking for the waves of Manannan mac Lir and the children of Morrigan. We don't necessarily have to find the gods themselves."
I can take you to where Manannan lives, she offered eagerly. Just hop on.
"Really? Thanks!" That was easy. "What's your name? I'm Percy, and this is Blackjack."
Aughisky. It's a pleasure to meet you. She stood still for long enough for me to get a leg over her back, and darted into the water as soon as I was settled. She swam the way Blackjack flew- all legs trotting.
I'll follow by air, boss! Blackjack called just before we sped away. I saw a hippocampus in the distance, but it saw us and headed in the opposite direction as fast as it could swim. Weird. Usually, all horses were as happy to meet me as Aughisky had been.
"Are there many hippocampi in the area?" I asked her.
Not really. There used to be more, back when I first came to the area.
"Oh." I'd try to catch up with one of them later, and figure out what was wrong. "How far are we going? Is Manannan really still around? We weren't sure if the gods of Ireland had faded or not."
Oh, no, the Tuatha de Danann are still here. Most of them went under the hills long ago, but they do ride out still, on the nights when their influence is strongest. You might have been able to see them on Samhain.
All Hallow's Eve, I believe it is also called. The night when all of the humans celebrate the old Celtic festival.
Halloween. October 31. I didn't mind staying that long, if I hadn't figured out Rachel's prophecy before then.
Wait. "What do you mean 'might have been'? And how far are we going?"
As far as we need to go. How are you still able to talk to me, Percy?
"What do you mean? Poseidon's my dad. I'll always be able to talk to horses." Why hadn't she known that? Horses usually did. "If you didn't know who my father was, why did you bring me underwater?"
I felt her muscles tense underneath me.
That was the only warning I got before her head whipped around and lunged for my throat.
I got my left arm up in time, and she chomped on that instead. I tried to jump off, but found that I was stuck to her skin. Her neck looked a lot more like a snake's than a horse's now, and… "My, what big teeth you have, Grandma."
What are you?!
She gave up on penetrating my skin and started pulling instead, trying to rip my arm off. She didn't really have the leverage for it. I finally managed to get Riptide uncapped one-handed, and had a clear shot at her throat.
In one hit, I was free, and trying to avoid breathing in any of the golden dust floating around me. Man-eating Irish seahorse remains couldn't be healthy.
Son of the sea god! You killed the aughisky!
The hippocampus from earlier- a young chestnut stallion with gold scales on his fish half- had come back with reinforcements. They circled me, happily sailing through the dust. I expected them to start singing 'ding-dong, the witch is dead' any minute.
"Yeah, she picked the wrong victim. Was she giving you problems?"
She hunted us, when she could not find food on land. We have called for help, but the mermen have been slow to respond. Poseidon is on Olympus, and his heir is overseeing the reconstruction of the cities on the other side of the ocean. Few others can speak to us.
The icthyocentaurs sent a hunting party, but she shape-shifted and hid until they ran out of supplies and had to return, an older blue mare added. We had heard that they would send Bill himself next, but there was a kidnapping, and he needed to go to Atlanta instead. We will tell them that he is not needed. You have our thanks, my lord. It was clever of you to trap her.
"No problem. I'm sorry about your losses." I decided not to tell them it hadn't been deliberate, and that she'd just happened to pick a victim that was undrownable and invulnerable. "She mentioned something about the Tuatha de Danann and Halloween. Is that a big thing here? I'm following a prophecy that mentioned the 'waves of Manannan'."
The mare looked at the rest of the herd, to see if any of them would speak up, then said,
I know nothing about 'Halloween', but the influence of the old sea god stretches throughout this sea.
That didn't narrow it down much. Well, it was a prophecy. It would come true one way or another, and probably not in any way I expected. If sailing around Ireland didn't help me figure it out, I'd head to the other islands touching the Irish Sea. I thanked the hippocampi, and then headed up to explain to Blackjack that his prospective girlfriend had been a carnivorous sea monster.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
I spent the next few weeks sailing generally clockwise around the island. The day after meeting my first Irish monsters, I visited Blarney Castle and kissed the stone just in case that particular myth was true too, but I was pretty sure I hadn't magically gotten any better at speaking. I did get some good pictures of the castle that kept Annabeth and my mom happy.
I tended to focus more on the natural attractions- Blackjack, Mrs. O'Leary, and I hiked through mountains and forests, flew over the Kerry Way, and visited the Cliffs of Moher. The monsters I saw were mostly ones I'd fought before, with some local flavor thrown in; once when I was dozing on the bank of the River Shannon after a drakon encounter in the center of the country, a newt tried to crawl down my throat. It had some way of keeping victims asleep, because I didn't wake up and spit it out until Blackjack kicked my head. Riptide hit it instead of just passing through, so it must have been something mythical and not just a suicidal newt.
I didn't think I was seeing everything around me, though. Unless a monster actually attacked me, I might not see it through the Mist. There were times when I was wandering through the forest when I heard giggling or whispers of 'Roman', or maybe saw movement out of the corner of my eyes that never actually turned out to be anything when I turned to look. It didn't ever seem hostile, unlike the monsters I'd summoned with a phone call, so I didn't bother any of my watchers until I actually caught one of them on the Firefly.
I was in Bundoran, a seaside town in the northwest of the Republic of Ireland. I'd been moored in the area for a week and a half, which made it the longest I'd stayed still since my birthday party. This was mostly because I'd come at the start of the surfing season. Apparently, winter storms made good waves.
For the full humans on the beach, wetsuits were required. Being able to feel your limbs was not.
I'd wanted to learn to surf for years, and had never gotten the chance in New York City or Camp Half-blood. It turned out that it came just as easily as sailing, but for all the wrong reasons- the first time my teacher Richie commented on how balanced I was, I realized that it was because I'd been using the water underneath me to hold up the board. After taking a couple of lessons just to make sure I knew the basics, I went out alone and focused on not using the wave to stabilize me, until I got to the point where I was able to stand and ride the waves without using my heritage as a crutch.
Except to summon the waves, of course. I wasn't above cheating when it made everything more fun. Whichever beach I happened to be on was always the best surfing spot; Richie and his friends called it beginners luck and had taken to following me around after I picked up my rented board from their shop each day.
I'd dropped my surfboard off again and was heading home when I felt something new jump onto the Firefly and broke into a run. By the time I got there, the intruder had gone down into the bilge, the compartment running along the bottom of the ship where the two sides met at the keel. On most ships, the bilge was where water and other liquids collected over the course of the voyage, and was usually pretty disgusting. The Firefly didn't take on any water I didn't want to be there, though, so my bilge was just another hold; it was where I had my fresh-water tank and hot-water heater and where I'd been keeping most of my non-perishable supplies.
I hopped down the ladder by the small washing machine (I'd put it in the hold that used to be the powder magazine, but hadn't needed a clothes dryer since I was twelve) and flicked on the lights. I had to bend almost double and watch my step; there wasn't more than five feet of room at the highest point, and the keel was a trip hazard.
Nothing looked out of place. That didn't mean anything. I could feel the monster, and I couldn't trust my ability to see through the Mist on this island.
I wandered as casually as I could through the hold, fiddling with the pen in my hand. When I passed an innocent-looking bag of oats, I uncapped it, dropped to my knee, and swung in one practiced motion. I stopped just a hair away from the center of the bag.
"Drop the Mist."
"Mist? What Mist? 'Tis as clear as day in here, lad."
The thick Irish brogue came from behind me. I wasn't fooled. "Drop it, or I decide I don't care what you're looking for and just worry about sweeping up the dust."
A can of Chef Boyardee sailed at me from where the voice had come from. I dodged it without looking back and pressed Riptide in a bit harder. "Last warning."
"All right! All right!" The bag of oats rippled and dissolved, and the voice started coming from in front of me. "Just… just back that thing away a bit, would you?"
I stared at the little man in front of me. He was wearing high-heeled brown shoes with buckles, long blue stockings, an apron, and a red jacket and nightcap. He had curly reddish-brown hair and a thick beard, and his large red nose and bloodshot eyes said that he was about as much of a stranger to alcohol as Mr. D was.
Okay, I knew I was in Ireland, and maybe I should have seen this coming, but this guy was not something anyone would chase after for his Lucky Charms.
"Please tell me you're not a leprechaun."
He immediately puffed up in indignation, making his two-foot-nothing height look even more comical. "Of course I'm not a leprechaun! Do I look like a blasted shoemaker, boy? Do I look like I go prancing around granting wishes and hiding away pots of gold?"
He looked like if he'd ever had a pot of gold, he'd spent it on beer long ago. "What are you then?"
"A clurichaun, of course!"
"Is 'clurichaun' the Irish word for 'drunken leprechaun'?" I asked.
"I am no' a leprechaun!" He levitated a foot in anger, and the bags of oats he'd been standing on started going up with him, before I concentrated a bit and the bags fell back to the ground. I pressed Riptide in a bit closer just to remind the guy that he was breaking and entering and that I still had him at swordpoint.
He blinked at me, startled out of his anger. "How did you do that? And how did you see through my Glamor?"
"This is my ship, and I can feel everything on it. I knew as soon as you came on board. The Mist doesn't matter here." And he smelled like a brewery. I wouldn't have had much trouble even off the Firefly.
"Humph." He settled back down, sulking. "A son of Neptune, I suppose? We don't see many Roman demigods here these days. I'd never heard they could control ships."
I frowned, distracted by the Roman name for my father. "He told me once that he prefers to go by Poseidon. And why do you all keep calling me Roman? The gods were Greek first."
"He'd been Neptune for centuries by the time Patrick came, demigod, and the missionaries were from Rome. Neptune, Poseidon, it's all the same to us."
Even I'd heard of St. Patrick. They had a holiday for him and everything. "Wait, the Catholic missionaries? I thought the gods didn't worry about metaphysics!"
"Never mind." I shook my head. "Old joke. Why would the missionaries matter?"
The clurichaun snorted. "'Tis one of the great ironies of Western civilization. They come preaching one god, and a thousand more follow behind without them noticing. The Roman Empire came to Britain, but didn't make it to Ireland before Rome fell. The Christian missionaries did more to bring the Roman gods here than anything else."
"What about your old gods, though? I met an aughisky that said that the Tuatha de Danann were still around. What about Manannan mac Lir and Morrigan?"
"Most of them stay in the hills these days, or on the Blessed Isles. Some have faded. Manannan had it easier than most of the gods of the land; the sea doesn't care about the laws and philosophy of humans. Neptune leaves the current management in place after a hostile takeover. Your pantheon has many minor water gods, and as long as he has power over a sea, he doesn't care if a native god also has influence there." The little man spat the word 'native' out like it was an old grudge.
I had no information on the old Irish pantheon. For all I knew, they cared even less about humans than the Titans did. But I was still kind of glad to hear that my dad didn't routinely drive sea gods into retirement.
"I'm from the US, though, and I haven't seen any native sea gods or monsters there." Nereus, Triton, various Naiads and sea nymphs… even the spirits of the East and Hudson had been basically Greek river gods.
"Oh, well, that's different, isn't it? America's the heart of the West, where Olympus' influence is strongest. England was over-run by your gods, back in the bad old days when Olympus was in London and Apollo never set on the British Empire. They still haven't recovered over there. I haven't heard tell of Robin Goodfellow, the puck o' the hills, in a good two centuries. He may have faded entirely."
"What about Morrigan?" He might not like 'Romans', but he definitely liked the sound of his voice. I'd take advantage of that if I could.
"Ah. That one," he sniffed. "Such fine Folk don't exactly go around telling the Little People what they're up to, you know, but I suspect she's still around. I don't think we can pin all the blame for the Troubles on your Mars."
"What about Morrigan's children?"
That finally seemed to clue him onto the fact that I wasn't asking from idle curiosity anymore, and he gave me a beady stare. "Why d'you want to know?"
I figured it couldn't hurt to tell him. "I'm here because of a prophecy. The only lines that talk about the location say 'On the waves of Manannan mac Lir/ where the children of Morrigan breed.' A friend told me that meant crows, but I haven't seen any since I got here."
"Ah, well, Morrigan's crows can be tricky to find, to be sure. I'll show you, if you put away your sword."
"Really? Thanks!" I said cheerfully, and capped Riptide.
He looked started for a second, like he couldn't believe that had worked, and then darted up the ladder faster than my eyes could follow, yelling "Hah! Sucker!"
Since I was down there anyway, I tossed a couple of bags of dog kibble up through the hatch, and followed it up with a fifty-pound bag of oats. I took my time hauling them up to the top deck.
"Get away! Get away, you blasted dog!"
The clurichaun was wrapped in a coil of rope and hanging upside-down at eye level from the main mast. He looked like some kind of avant-guard piñata. Mrs. O'Leary was lying down and sniffing him. As I hauled up the kibble, she started channeling her inner cat, and pawed at him until he started spinning around and wailing.
I figured I'd made my point, and took pity on him. "Mrs. O'Leary! Here, girl! Dinner!"
She barked and abandoned her new toy in favor of her food bowl. I'd finally managed to train her to move carefully on the ship; she was more than a quarter of the total length of the Firefly, and I'd had to use the waves to stop us from capsizing more than once, but she could eat and sleep on board as long as we were close to land. For longer trips I'd still have to send her back to Camp Half-Blood, but I was trying to avoid doing that too often; when I'd called her across the Atlantic after visiting Blarney Castle, it had tired her out so much that she'd slept for an entire day and hadn't wanted to shadow-travel herself between the land and ship for another week.
Boss. You caught a leprechaun. Blackjack came up and stopped the spinning with his nose.
"He's a clurichaun."
What's a clurichaun?
"No idea. We didn't get that far. Hey, Lucky- can I call you Lucky?"
"Great, thanks. Lucky, what's a clurichaun, and why'd you come on board?" I poured a few cups of the oats into Blackjack's trough, but he was more interested in peering at our visitor.
Lucky sighed and gave up trying to magic the ropes open. "Clurichauns are winery guardians. I was looking for your liquor."
Guarding it by making sure no-one but him gets it, it smells like, Blackjack commented.
"Yeah, I noticed," I agreed. Lucky didn't react to Blackjack's words; it looked like he couldn't understand horses. "I'm only eighteen. Why would you think I even had any?"
"Eighteen's old enough in Ireland! A rich boy with a private yacht- why wouldn't you have a good stash?" Lucky asked indignantly.
"A rich boy?" I blurted, and then thought about it for a second and realized for the first time what I'd think if I saw an eighteen-year-old with his own ship who was sailing around the world for fun, without really worrying about money. I'd decide he was… a rich brat. Just like the ones at Yancey Academy, only all grown up. I'd assume his parents were loaded and he had a vacation home somewhere in the Bahamas.
I'd rebuilt the Firefly with my own hands and had gotten a lucky haul once, but just the thought that I might look like that from the outside was disturbing.
I sighed and moved the rope so Lucky was right-side up, although I kept him in the air. I'd kind of lost my taste for pressing him for information. He probably thought he was some kind of Robin Hood, stealing the booze from the rich and giving to himself. I'd had that same thought sometimes as a kid. It was hard to be on the outside looking in.
"Alright. There's nothing in my holds, but you want alcohol, and I'm legal here. If you tell me about Morrigan's crows I'll let you go and buy you a drink."
He peered at me suspiciously. "D'you swear on your river?"
Awareness of that custom probably hadn't taken too long to cross mythologies. "Yes. I swear on the Styx."
Thunder boomed, and Lucky cackled. "There's one now!"
I looked where he'd tilted his head. There was a pale bird pecking at a discarded food wrapper on the dock, with black wings and tail and a black cap on its head. I vaguely remembered seeing them all over Ireland in the last few weeks.
It's white, Blackjack pointed out.
"Grey, I'd say, but yeah, that's not a crow."
Lucky was still chortling. "'Tis a corbie. The grey crow, the hooded crow, the favored shape of the Morrigan. You'd have to go to England to find a black crow, demigod! Pay up!"
Okay. Well, that wasn't going to narrow down where I should look. I was back to wandering around Ireland, it looked like. I let him drop to the deck.
"Thanks. Pick your poison."
His expression fell so fast it was funny. "You're thanking me?"
I shrugged and leaned against the rail. "I didn't know that, and I've done much stupider things for less useful information. Unless you changed into a killer whale, you couldn't really compare. So, yeah, thanks."
And getting annoyed about it would only make him happier, of course.
He shoved off the ropes with a grumble. "A free piece of advice, demigod. Do not thank the Little People. It says that the transaction is complete, and that you'll forget about the favor soon. It's rude, and means they'll leave."
"And just when we were getting along so well. Wine, whiskey or beer?"
"Whiskey. Old Bushmills."
Half an hour and a trip to a local store later, I found Lucky giving a detailed explanation to Blackjack and Mrs. O'Leary about why he despised leprechauns.
"And the rainbows! Where did the rainbows come from? They're shoemakers! And now all the humans think they live at the end of the rainbow! They get all the good press!"
Mrs. O'Leary whined and rested her head on her paws.
"Yes, that's right. Good dog."
I wrapped my arm around the rope that snaked down from the mast and let it pull me on deck; I didn't usually bother with the boarding ramp when I was alone. "I'm back."
I handed Lucky the bottle. I had the vague feeling that I'd become an enabler, but an oath on the Styx was an oath on the Styx.
He raised his bushy eyebrows as he pulled it out of the brown bag. "Sixteen-year single malt. Not bad."
I shrugged again. "I wouldn't know. It was what they had."
"And that means you're wasting your visit to the Emerald Isle." He hesitated, and looked back and forth from me to the $60 bottle, then visibly made a decision. "It's a generous payment. Killer whales, you say? That sounds like a story worth a drink."
Lucky produced two shot glasses out of nowhere, levitated the cork out of the whisky, and had poured two generous shots before I could blink.
"I wouldn't want to deprive you." The drinkers in my life were Gabe and Mr. D, and I didn't really want to mimic either of them.
"Kind of you, but it would be terrible manners to drink without offering you any!"
I took the glass he levitated towards me, more to be polite than anything else.
You're being peer-pressured by a drunken leprechaun, Blackjack remarked. I could see him snickering into his trough. Traitor. I took a tentative sip, and choked as it burned on the way down.
"So who turned into a killer whale?" Lucky prompted me, taking a generous gulp of his own and sighing in satisfaction.
I left out the bad parts (Annabeth missing, Bianca dead, Zoe knowing she was walking towards her own death, Bessie possibly being used to destroy Olympus…), and summarized the setup.
"… and Nereus was a shape-shifter, so when he was trying to get away he shifted into a bunch of different animals, including a seal and a killer whale. He couldn't drown me, and when he turned into an eel I started tying him into a knot, and he finally just gave up and told me to ask the question. I had to choose one, and I decided to ask him where the monster Artemis had been hunting was. And he pointed at the baby sea-cow that Blackjack had brought me to save a week earlier, and that had been following me ever since."
Lucky burst out laughing and poured himself a second shot of whiskey. Even I had to smile. Enough time had passed to dull the edges, and it was a pretty ridiculous story. If it had started and ended there, I would probably be laughing about it with him.
I finished my glass and handed it back to the clurichaun. I didn't thank him, since we were apparently friends now. (And my first drinking buddy was an Irish fairy. I wasn't sure how this had become my life.)
He drained his own glass a second time and made them and the bottle disappear. "A good tale. You're not bad, for a rich Roman demigod. Swing by Banoran again when you get a wine cellar, and I'll guard it for you."
I rolled my eyes at the description as he darted over the side of the Firefly and disappeared into the darkness of the evening.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
October 31, two years after the Second Olympian War
Halloween found us at the Giant's Causeway, in Northern Ireland. It had sounded like a good place to look for Irish myths. According to the visitor's center, it was either the remnant of a bridge built by the giant Finn McCool so he could cross the ocean to fight another giant in Scotland, or a 60-million-year old volcanic formation of interlocking basalt columns.
I preferred the giant story, personally.
"Ready for something to eat, Blackjack?" It was only about five, but it was already nearly dark; I needed to feed the dog. I stuffed the map and brochure from the visitor's center into my backpack and traded the sweater I'd bought in Donegal for a heavier jacket as the wind picked up.
Always, boss. Let's just get away from the humans.
Blackjack had been disgruntled ever since he realized that the Mist was making him and Mrs. O'Leary look like a matched pair of large black Labradors. I'd had to get leashes for them.
"The Mist made Mrs. O'Leary look like a poodle once. Do you think I could make that happen again?"
Sure, make fun of the horse.
I laughed, and called out "Mrs. O'Leary! Here girl!"
My dog came bounding up from where she'd been sniffing a much smaller collie, who for some reason was not absolutely terrified of the huge hellhound. I mounted Blackjack as soon as we were far enough away that no-one would call me out on what probably looked like dog abuse, and we started back to Bushmills, the closest town, where the Firefly was docked.
We had just passed a sign saying we were 2 kilometers from the town when Mrs. O'Leary suddenly started barking wildly. I drew Riptide, but nothing jumped out of the dark at us after she stopped.
"Do you think she scared it off?" Mrs. O'Leary was as large as a garbage truck and louder than an artillery round; whatever she heard might have sensibly decided to find an easier meal.
Blackjack didn't answer.
Do you hear that?
I listened. They both had better hearing than mine, but if that wasn't just ringing in my ears from the barking… "Geese? A flock coming closer?"
I don't think those are geese, boss.
I listened harder. It was approaching fast. "Dogs."
Over the sound of the baying, I heard a hunting horn.
Blackjack spread his wings and turned to take off.
Tell the dog to get in the shadows. We've got to get out of here!
"Stop! We can't outfly this."
I can outfly anything.
I felt the same thing he did. A whisper of
that the horn and the cries of the pack had called up from the parts of myself that I never liked to look at too closely. I was also pretty sure that doing what the hunters wanted would be a bad idea.
I hopped off Blackjack.
Have you lost your mind? Get on!
Blackjack weighed at least a thousand pounds more than I did; if he wanted to take off there was no way I could stop him physically without hurting him. He wouldn't leave without me, though.
"They'll chase us if we run."
They'll kill us if we don't!
His skin was quivering under my hand, and his eyes were rolled as he started backing up. I stayed next to him, with one hand on his shoulder, and tried to keep my voice soothing as the baying got louder.
"Calm down. They won't notice us if we don't run."
Boss? They noticed us.
I looked up. A pack of white hounds with red ears was running far over our heads. Behind them came the hunters. They were dressed in anything and everything, ranging from almost no clothing to the full plate armor of a medieval knight. Some of them looked human, some of them hadn't bothered to try- they had antlers, or shone with an inhuman beauty, or were so repulsive that I wasn't able to look at their faces for long. They were all mounted on horses that ran on air without any wings.
The leader of the hunt was looking down. He had a pale face and black hair, and was riding a horse as black as my own. Mrs. O'Leary, still next to us, barked a challenge again, and the white dogs bayed an answer. I uncapped Riptide, and stood my ground. Blackjack reared and kicked out his front hooves, finally past the 'flight' part of the adrenaline rush.
They were looking for prey. If we ran, they would hunt us down. That wasn't how I was going to die.
The huntsman laughed. It wasn't even close to human- it sounded a lot more like the calls of his dogs. He raised his horn again, and blew.
The call sang through my soul. I'd vaulted back on Blackjack before I realized what was happening as the dog pack changed direction and raced down towards us. My own hellhound howled in delight and turned to run with them.
The message was clear. Hunt or be hunted. We'd already made the choice.
The first rider touched ground and raced past us. Blackjack stretched his legs to keep up as we fell in with the rest of the riders. I wound up next to a dark-haired man on a light grey horse. He was fully clothed and wearing a breastplate, and looked mostly human under the streetlights, although his cloak couldn't seem to decide what color it wanted to be. It shifted from misty grey to purple to sea-green as I watched.
We weren't following the road for long; after a minute, the hounds angled up into the air again, looking for something to chase. Blackjack didn't have the room to spread his wings, but it didn't make a difference; he and Mrs. O'Leary were running on thin air just as easily as the other animals.
I couldn't say how long we were running for, but it must have been at least an hour. Blackjack kept up with the hunt easily, although we were running at a speed far faster than he'd ever managed on the ground.
I hoped this wouldn't come back to bite him later. The Mark of Achilles let me do the same thing, but I collapsed afterwards.
Mrs. O'Leary's barking became a lot more excited. She'd picked up on something, and took the lead. The other dogs let her. I knew enough about dog packs to know that wasn't normal, but although they were large for normal dogs she was still big enough to make them all look like puppies.
I was just glad it was Mrs. O'Leary that had caught the scent. She liked humans; she wouldn't follow anything I wouldn't want to hunt.
I took that back.
Oh no, Blackjack groaned. It can't be. Bad dog! BAD DOG!
If the Clazmonian Sow and the Erymanthian Boar had ever gotten together, their kid might have looked something like the dark-colored boar rooting through a newly destroyed barn underneath us. It was huge- not as large as the Erymanthian Boar, but still probably a good fifteen feet tall, and as long as Mrs. O'Leary. Its tusks were bigger than I was, and I didn't like the look of the pale liquid dripping from its mouth.
"At least it doesn't have wings this time."
Everything we've seen tonight has been able to fly, boss. What makes you think the pig can't?
The lord of the hunt blew his horn, and the pig turned and ran. Mrs. O'Leary and her new friends angled down and hit the ground running; the rest of the hunt landed just as gracefully.
The boar headed west first; we wound up jumping over the wall of Derry, which I'd passed through earlier in the week. The locals had told me I should stay for Halloween, and I could see why- everyone was in elaborate homemade costumes and out on the town.
Listening to them greet the giant pig stampeding across the bridge over the River Foyle with cheers and cries of 'the sluagh!' and 'Wild Hunt!' was the weirdest part of the night so far. The Mist was thinner tonight, or maybe wasn't working at all. Their own expectations were letting them see what was actually happening.
The adults would think we were an unusually realistic part of the Halloween parade. The children would remember the Wild Hunt until they grew old enough to dismiss the fairy tale that had ridden down the street in front of them, and would look back and laugh at how naive they had been as kids.
I hoped some of the kids I saw hiding behind their parents would remember the human in jeans and a jacket riding a black horse with folded wings, and someday wonder what he had been doing there.
The boar turned south when we got outside of the city limits, and we ran until we hit the Sperrin Mountains, which I'd hiked through two days ago. The dogs brought the pig to bay against a steep rise in the hill, and four of the riders in front dismounted to get closer as the dogs started circling it to harass the flanks. Two of them had boar spears, and two of them only had swords.
One of the white hounds managed to get a good bite on a hind leg, but that just made it mad. It charged the hunters and trampled the spearmen before they could react. As they disappeared in flashes of golden light, the swordsmen attacked from both sides, and it made a break for the riderless horses. They dodged, and in the confusion it broke out of the ring of hunters and was off again.
"It's smart. Smarter than the sow was." Smart enough to identify the spearmen as the bigger threats, at least.
Mrs. O'Leary bounced past us, clearly having the time of her life, and the rest of the dogs followed her. The lord of the Hunt waited for the swordsmen to mount, and sounded his horn as they rode out. I jumped off of Blackjack and grabbed the boar-spears; it might make me more of a target, but I'd still take a six-foot reach over a three-foot one.
The first thing I noticed about them was that they weren't bronze. They were much darker, though not quite as dark as my Stygian Iron whistle or Nico's sword, and they gave off the same soft glow that Riptide and other Celestial Bronze weapons did. They were unornamented and functional, with a razor-sharp spearhead that extended outwards at the base to form kind of a cross-guard.
You know we're not just going to disappear if that thing hits us, right? Blackjack asked as I swung back on and he started galloping.
"I know. Be careful."
Easy for you to say.
"What happened to 'I can outfly anything'?"
He snorted. We're on the ground now, if you hadn't noticed.
We followed the dogs to a huge lake- probably the Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Britain, which I hadn't visited yet. I hoped we'd corner the pig again, but when we got to the shore it was already a half a mile away and swimming through the water almost as quickly as it had been running.
On the plus side, though, we probably didn't have another flying pig on our hands.
Mrs. O'Leary and the rest of the pack bounded into the air, but I had a different idea. If we were close to the water, I'd prefer to stay there.
"Stay on the lake, Blackjack. Try to catch up with it." I'd kept the War Chariot on the water when Clarisse had her driving test on her fifteenth birthday. That had been years ago, and I was much more powerful now; keeping a single pegasus on the water's surface would literally be child's play.
He didn't question me, just headed straight for the water's edge when the rest of the hunt jumped up and followed the dogs. Only one rider followed us- the dark-haired guy from earlier, whose horse dashed over the waves as easily as Blackjack.
As we raced after the boar, I thickened the water around it, to let us catch up, but after just a second the water returned to normal and the boar surged forward again. The man- the god- riding next to us shook his head sharply.
No cheating allowed, apparently. For them, this was the same as when I refused to control the water to hold up my surfboard- they would give the prey a chance.
As potential prey, I appreciated that. As the only mortal rider in the Hunt, not so much.
We cut down the lead, but it still had a head start on us when it surged out of the water and headed southeast. I zoned out somewhere between the lake and the Mountains of Mourne; I hadn't ridden this hard or this long before, and didn't want to ever again. I barely noticed the mountain range I'd heard sung about in half-a-dozen pubs and diners around the country.
I started paying attention again when the hounds cornered the boar again, this time against an outcrop at the top of one of the higher mountains. It didn't give the hunters in the front time to dismount this time, though, and just pushed through the thinnest part of the semicircle and headed for the sea.
I didn't have a watch, but we probably hit the coast at around four in the morning; we'd been travelling across Northern Ireland the entire night. I felt better as soon as I felt the ocean spray. Like before, the water god (Manannan, probably, unless there were other Irish gods around with the same skill set) and I were the only ones to run on the surface of the ocean. When we hit land again a couple of hours later and joined up with the rest of the riders, I knew it couldn't last much longer; the boar was getting pretty tired, but so were our horses.
Blackjack had tripped twice. Over waves. I didn't know that was possible.
We didn't have to chase it far before it crashed through a stand of trees that led out to a cliff. Mrs. O'Leary and her new friends spread out around it as a murder of the hooded crows Lucky had pointed out were startled into flight.
The leader of the Wild Hunt gave a sharp whistle and called all of the dogs back, then got off his horse for the first time. Everyone else followed him and spread out around the boar, which looked around at us in fury. Even I could tell the hunt was pretty much over. It might take a few of us with it, but it wasn't in any shape to go much farther.
"Stay back, Blackjack," I whispered. He'd done enough tonight. The sky was lightening around us, and he'd been running since just after sunset.
You too, boss. Don't be a hero. Let the immortals take down the monster pig.
I meant to. I really did.
It didn't work out that way, of course. The story of my life.
The hunters with the longer spears went in first, and distracted it while a swordswoman attacked its right flank. She drove it hilt-deep, and the boar squealed and turned around to crush her. While it was occupied, two spearmen charged forward and stabbed it in the stomach, but only one of the spears actually did damage; the other just scratched it.
The boar squealed "REEEEEEEEET!" again and swung its tusks, sending both spearmen tumbling before trampling them, bringing the total body count of the night up to five.
The hunt leader ran forward, grabbed one of the tusks, and swung up to get within striking range of a vital spot as he drew his dagger. The boar swung its head and sent him flying, but that didn't save its eye.
I've never heard a more terrible scream.
I had been hanging back through all of this. I don't usually feel bad about killing monsters, especially ones that had destroyed buildings, but the call of the Hunt had faded sometime before we hit the coast and I didn't really want to stab it. This could easily have been us.
My sympathy died when the pig saw Mrs. O'Leary. She had retreated with the rest of the pack and was sitting panting behind the hunters. The boar was half-blind, and I guess she was the biggest target. Maybe it wanted to pick on somebody its own size.
It ignored the spears surrounding it and made one final, last-ditch charge through the hunters. My dog wasn't quite fast enough. The huge boar gored her in the side, and ran over her when she fell with a yelp.
I'd always thought that the phrase 'seeing red' was an exaggeration. It wasn't. A haze of red literally fell over my eyes as the boar turned back to finish the job.
"Stay away from my dog!"
I was still holding the two boar spears. I sucked at archery, but I'd always gotten decent grades at javelin throwing at camp. A boar spear wasn't anywhere near as aerodynamic as a javelin, but it was all I had. I sent a silent prayer to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, and threw.
I was right on target. It hit the boar in the chest with enough force that it was buried up to the wings just below the spear head.
That wasn't enough to kill the thing. I was starting to wonder if anything would be. Every weapon these hunters carried was meant for much smaller game, and although probably any of them could destroy it with a thought, none of them were going to. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the hunt leader raise a hand to stop any of the others from coming closer. The Tuatha de Danann just watched, waiting to see the confrontation play out.
It didn't matter to them that if Mrs. O'Leary dissolved into dust because of their stupid game she wouldn't come back for years, or that she might forget everything and become a vicious monster. That she might never be the dog I loved again. They didn't care.
These gods and their rules could go to Tartarus. The boar was going to die.
"Come on!" I yelled at it, and charged.
I had made it angry, at least, and it focused on me while Mrs. O'Leary limped away. It swung its tusks, trying to clothesline me, and I tucked and rolled through its legs. A bit of the saliva landed on my jacket; it started dissolving pretty much instantly.
Instead of using the spear, I got out from under it and ran for the edge of the cliff. The boar followed me. I turned and braced the spear on the ground, holding it with both hands, like I was going to try to let the boar run into the spear. That would have been the right thing to do against a normal-sized pig.
Against this one? Suicide.
As soon as it was close enough, I got out of the way. Like I'd already noticed, though, the boar was smart. Even furious, half-blind, and bleeding ichor from half-a-dozen other wounds, it had figured out what I was trying to do, and had already slowed down enough to turn and crush me without going over the cliff.
I'd assumed it would. I just needed to get it close to the edge of the cliff. I couldn't use the water below us against the boar; Manannan had far more power over this sea than I did.
I couldn't use the water. But I was the son of the Earthshaker.
I slammed the spear into the ground point-first, and the cliff under us shattered.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
I was hit by three rocks on the way down; if I hadn't automatically twisted to guard my back, one of them would have hit my mortal spot. I got off lightly, but the boar made a much bigger target, and although it was a strong swimmer, that didn't make the water it landed on any softer.
A tidal wave surged up the cliff, we both went under the waves, and the boar was finally, finally, still. Stunned, not dead, since it hadn't popped, but I could change that pretty easily. As I swum over the head, for the first time I noticed the glints of gold tangled in the dark crest of bristles that ran down its head and back.
It began to move groggily, and I hurried to its eyes. I was in the sea now, and had become much stronger. I drove the spear deep into the ruined eye, and it exploded into golden mud.
I hoped it would take a few centuries to come back.
As the water cleared, I saw a bunch of objects sinking to the bottom of the ocean, and pulled them to my hand. Some of them were the weapons that had been left in the boar, but the rest was the metal I'd seen in the bristles a minute ago- a comb, straight razor, and pair of scissors.
These were probably the most bizarre spoils of war I'd ever heard of.
I shoved the hair stuff in my backpack and used the remainder of my jacket to tie my spears and the sword and dagger together. I was about to go and climb up what was left of the cliff when I noticed frantic movement from below me. A fish, about the length of my arm. It looked like one of the rocks had landed on its tail, but that might have saved its life; a much larger rock was being propped up by the small one holding the fish down.
I sighed. I needed to check on Mrs. O'Leary, but since the wound hadn't been fatal immediately she would get better with food and rest, and this fish was trapped because I'd collapsed a cliff on top of it. I swam down.
The fish saw me and immediately started thrashing harder.
No! Go away!
That was weird. Most fish were all 'my lord' this and 'son of the sea god' that. I was pretty sure none of them had been afraid of me before.
"Calm down. I'm going to get you out of there."
You're going to eat me!
"I'm not," I said soothingly. "Relax. Think happy thoughts. Think of… I don't know. Kelp."
The big rock wasn't going to be easy to move without using the currents to help me, but when I reached out to the water experimentally, I found that I had as much control over it as I ever did.
Wonderful, the fish moaned. I'm doomed to be eaten by an idiot. This is so humiliating.
I looked at him. (Probably a him. I'd call it a him unless told otherwise.) "Idiot? I'm not the one trapped under a rock here."
Did you not notice the murder of Morrigan's crows you galloped through on Manannan's home isle on the night when his control over these seas is greatest? I despise prophecies. They always find a way. I go to sleep secure in the knowledge that you're on a completely different island, and wake up to find that you've joined the Wild Hunt for the sole purpose of dropping a cliff on me.
I froze. "How do you know all that?"
I am the Bradan Feasa, boy! The Salmon of Knowledge! Of course I would know of a prophecy that predicted my death!
I'd actually heard of this fish, yesterday at the Giant's Causeway. "You're the fish that that giant burned his thumb on when he was cooking it, right? Finn McCool. He stuck his thumb in his mouth to cool it down, and because of that he had to suck his thumb whenever he wanted to know something."
Fionn mac Cumhaill was no giant. Those legends have been debased. He was a hero, the great-grandson of Nuada, the god who ruled the Tuatha de Danann before his fading. He was one of Ireland's greatest warriors and generals, and used the knowledge he gained from my death far better than you ever will!
"I'm still not going to kill you, you know."
The salmon- I decided to call him Bradan- ignored me in favor of continuing his rant. This is what I have been reduced to! I was once sought after by every druid in Ireland! They spent years fishing the riverbanks on the mere chance that they would catch me! And now, everything that I am will go to a moronic son of Neptune!
I decided to ignore the 'moronic' part. "My dad prefers to go by Poseidon, actually. And, if you don't want to die, why are you telling me all this when you're still trapped under a rock?"
Bradan froze, and shut up. I was happy about it, for the five seconds until I realized that I was getting proud of myself for outthinking a fish. I'd hit a new personal low.
I manipulated the water around me to form huge, solid hands, and flipped the big rock away. Without the extra weight, the salmon was able to pull his tail out from the smaller rock with a little wiggling. The seafloor was soft enough that he didn't seem to have broken anything.
That's it? You're just going to let me go?
"I don't eat fish. It's against my religion," I deadpanned. I pushed off the seafloor, but the salmon swum above me before I got to the surface.
Stop. This makes no sense. Prophecies always come true.
"Look, I really need to make sure my dog's all right. If you actually want me to kill you, I'd suggest using that knowledge to find a therapist that can treat fish."
She has already been healed. The sun is about to rise, and the hunt will depart. Stay in your father's realm until then, or you will be dragged along with them once more.
I might have judged the hunters a little harshly, then. Maybe they just didn't care about me, rather than not caring about my dog. "OK. Thanks."
Do not thank me. Bradan swam around me, looking at me contemplatively. Why have you refused your destiny?
"I'm not going to eat anyone I've had a conversation with. Did you ever think that maybe this prophecy isn't about you?"
It is. Everything matches. Our druids and filids were seers and poets that chased after me; I was their dream. There are four crow nests still at the top of the cliff, left there from the breeding season this past spring. It is Samhain, when Manannan's power in these waters is at its greatest. And I have rarely met a human who needs knowledge more than you do.
I was getting really sick of being insulted by a fish. "And, even with all of your knowledge, rocks fell and you nearly died. It hasn't done you any good."
I cannot prophesize; I can only see the prophecies of others. All of my knowledge concerns the present or the past, not the future. As for it being useless… your preferred method of study is to have someone else tell you what is going on. You came here knowing nothing about the gods of Ireland beyond two names. You mounted an each uisce, and would be dead if you had not simply been immune to her attacks. You even knew that you would need to find crows, and instead of taking five minutes to look up the birds of Ireland, you needed to be told the obvious by a drunken fairy!
I flushed. He sounded like every English teacher I'd ever had before Paul. They all seemed to think I should like having to struggle to learn everything that came so easily to everyone around me.
"Why are you so mad at this? You should be glad I'm not just taking your information. Do you actually want to be eaten?"
He hesitated, and then somehow managed to give the impression of sighing even though he had no lungs. No. No, I don't. Dying is very unpleasant.
"What's your problem, then?"
… Better to be hunted than forgotten. I am not a monster, Percy Jackson, just a reincarnated fish. On the Blessed Isles, where the Tuatha de Danann dwell, there is a spring called the Well of Wisdom. Nine hazel trees surround the Well, and their nuts fall into the water. When a fish eats one hazelnut from each tree, I am reborn. I grow, live, and die as any normal salmon would. I have all of the knowledge of the world at the tips of my fins, and there is nothing I can accomplish with it.
For four lifetimes now, I have reached my full growth and spawned without being chased by anything more than a fishing boat. I am no longer remembered by humans except for a throwaway sentence in a legend that has become almost unrecognizable. If I am no longer a dream for humanity to chase after, what purpose is there in my existence? When even a prophecy has no strength, why should there be a Salmon of Knowledge in this day and age?
He was a depressed rude mythical salmon. Wonderful.
"Well, you must have some other purpose, right? You're not defined by being hunted. Maybe Manannan could use some help, or you could go to the mermen? Just because the humans don't remember you doesn't mean you can't find something else to do."
Mermen are Roman, and serve Neptune's heir. They also eat salmon, much like you eat cattle. Manannan may be an option, though. It hadn't been much of a pep-talk, but at least Bradan seemed a little less likely to let himself fade as soon as I was gone.
"Great. Good luck with that. And, it looks like the sun's coming up, so…"
Wait. Your prophecy….
I rolled my eyes. "Don't worry about it. Prophecies are weird. I'm not choosing knowledge. Let's say the 'wise choice' is to not eat anything that talks back."
It will do nothing to help with a journey, though. By eating me, you would have known everything you needed to know about your destinations.
"If I knew everything about where I was going, I wouldn't need to go there." That was obvious. Facts weren't everything, apparently. Score two for the ignorant demigod.
Bradan jerked and turned towards me. What did you say?
You would not need to travel there… yes. Yes, you're right. You do not need absolute knowledge. You need something to help you on your journey. I've never done it before, but theoretically, it should be possible…
"Seriously, what are you talking about?"
The choice is not yours. It is mine.
He started glowing, and then flicked his tail so hard that I thought he was having a seizure. A small scale fell off him and sailed towards me. He did that four more times.
Place the scales on your tongue, your eyes, and your ears. I have put all of the knowledge of the world at your fingertips, son of Neptune, but you must first gain the wisdom to seek it out. No-one will give it to you.
He started swimming away, more energetic than he'd been since he'd been trying to get out from under the rocks. He jumped through the surface, and must have gone up ten feet before coming back under. I wondered if someone had dumped anti-depressants into the water.
I will watch your journey with great interest, Percy Jackson! Farewell, and remember me!
"Um, I will." Bradan was well out of earshot, but he'd know what I said. That had been… strange.
I shrugged. Well, a prophecy was a prophecy. I put one of the scales on my tongue, where it burned briefly before disappearing. The two I put on my eyes flared a bright white light that left spots in my vision, and the ones over my ears disappeared with a loud noise that left my ears ringing.
The sun was rising above the horizon when I surfaced. Instead of making the climb, I gathered up the discarded spears and swam around the cliff to a rocky beach. I walked out of the water, dried myself off, and nearly collapsed. It had been a long night.
"Son of Neptune. I hear you've been looking for me."
Unfortunately, the sea god I'd ridden with had waited, and was leaning against his grey stallion under the trees.
I got my first look at him in the daylight; his hair was a dark brown, with a few laugh-lines around his mouth and dark blue eyes, and looked like he was in his late thirties or early forties. Unlike many of the hunters from last night, he looked completely human.
I gave him an awkward bow. "Ah, you are Manannan, then?"
"They call me Manannan here and in Ireland, yes. And you?" There was something odd about the way he was speaking, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. He didn't have an Irish accent- maybe that was it. It was strange to not hear it after more than a month.
"Percy Jackson. And…"
I made a vague gesture towards his horse.
Nice to meet you, the grey said cheerfully.
"You too. I wasn't looking for you specifically, Lord Manannan. I had a prophecy that said I would meet someone in your waters. And, where are we, exactly?" My coordinates when I was talking to Bradan had been 54, 5N and 4, 46W, but I was so tired I couldn't figure out where that was on the Irish Sea. We could have been in Scotland for all I knew.
He looked at me like I was an idiot. "The Isle of Man."
"…right." Sure, why not. "Is that just a lucky name?"
"No, I was the first ruler of this island, and have given it my protection ever since. They still honored me here long after your father gained power in this sea."
"Oh." I didn't really want him dwelling on my father. These guys already didn't seem to care much for demigods. To change the subject, I offered him the weapons I'd collected. "These belong to some of your hunters. Can you make sure they get them back?"
"You used the spears with more honor than their first wielders," he answered with an ironic smile, and only took the sword and dagger. "You may keep the weapons that killed the boar. Their owners will be glad to cede them to you."
They'd already lost them. And when you slammed one down and took the cliff with you? You're not supposed to use your powers, but that was badass, Seafoam agreed. They'd be laughed at if they asked for them back.
"Okay, if you're sure." I remembered not to thank them. The spear wasn't my weapon, but having extra monster-killing weapons on board couldn't hurt. Which reminded me… "What metal is this? It's not Celestial Bronze."
"Blessed Iron, our equivalent, and the only metal that was able to harm the Tuatha de Danann in old Ireland," he answered, shoving the blades into a small feather-covered satchel that had been hidden by his cloak. "Like so much else, that part of the legend has been warped by folklore. They remember only that we could be hurt by iron, and have forgotten the forging process, and exactly whose blessing they needed."
I winced. I hoped that not too many Irishmen had tried using normal iron on the local monsters. It would probably work about as well as throwing a bronze doorknob at an empousai.
"What about the hair stuff?" I took those out of my backpack. "Did the boar run off while a barber was working on him?"
"The Twrch Trwyth was once a human king, and kept his hair implements when he was transformed into a beast for his evil deeds." He took the straight razor and looked at the edge. "The kill was yours, and so the spoils of war go to you as well."
Hey, the boar had a name. My opinion of the 'spoils of war' must have shown on my face, though, because he laughed and handed back the razor. "Don't be so skeptical, demigod. The scissors will cut the strongest hair, the comb will untangle the worst snarl, and the razor will give a smoother shave than any other. When Ysbaddaden demanded these to trim his hair for his daughter Olwen's wedding, many men died to retrieve them."
"They died so someone could cut his hair?" Attacking the boar because he was destroying stuff, I could see, but just to get the scissors?
Ysbaddaden was a giant. They have very aggressive follicles, Seafoam explained.
Manannan's lips twitched again at the look on my face. "He had a prophecy that he would die on his daughter's wedding day. He was hoping that her suitor would die in the attempt, or at least fail to meet his conditions for the wedding."
My reply was cut off by a distant bark and a huge body crashing through the trees. I remembered that they'd healed her, and tried to figure out how to say 'thank you' without saying the words. "The Salmon said that one of you healed her. I'm glad she's all right. I don't know what she'd come back as, if she died."
Mrs. O'Leary came bounding out of the woods. She looked tired, but wasn't hurt. She still had enough energy to give me an enthusiastic licking that I wasn't able to move fast enough to avoid. Blackjack trotted out of the woods behind my dog.
Boss, you're back! Who're they?
"Lord Manannan, Seafoam, that's Blackjack, and this is Mrs. O'Leary," I introduced as I tried to dodge the tongue. "Down. Down, girl. Sit."
Manannan? Is your prophecy over, then?
"Yeah," I answered. I finally got her to lie down, and used a front leg as a bench. "I met the Salmon of Knowledge, who gave me a gift. I'm not sure what it does yet."
"You're not?" Manannan asked. "You haven't noticed?"
Boss, what's he saying? Can you understand him?
I looked from Manannan to Blackjack. "What do you mean?"
He's not speaking English.
"Yeah he is." I hesitated, and actually listened to the words that were coming out of our mouths. "Aren't you?"
"I am speaking Manx Gaelic, son of Neptune. And so are you. Quite fluently. " The sea god raised an eyebrow. "You didn't realize?"
I'd only noticed that he didn't have an accent. Blackjack had understood me, and not him; probably because I was Poseidon's son. To test it, I shuffled in my backpack for the brochure I'd gotten at the Causeway yesterday, which had sections in a couple of different European languages. A few sentences later, I'd confirmed that I was able to read French and Spanish just as well as I read English.
(Which actually meant not all that well, but I wasn't going to complain about still being dyslexic.)
"Wow. He was right, that's going to be a huge help."
So how did your prophecy tell you to find the Salmon? Seafoam asked casually.
The prophecy was pretty much complete now that I'd gotten the gift I needed to start a world tour; I owed Rachel big for this one. There couldn't be any harm in telling them. As I started speaking, I noticed that I'd switched back to English automatically, probably because the prophecy wouldn't rhyme in Gaelic. I'd have to see if I could translate stuff later.
"On the waves of Manannan mac Lir
Where the children of Morrigan breed
The dream of the poets and seers
Shall offer the prize that you need.
The choice between knowledge and wisdom,
Made well, is the choice that will send
The son of the sea on a journey
That continues for time without end."
The god and his horse stared at me in silence for ten heartbeats. I counted.
Then Seafoam started laughing.
I'd heard horses laugh before- Blackjack liked a good joke- but never like this one. He was whinnying so hard that he was almost braying. If he were human he'd have had tears coming from his eyes.
"Enbarr! Control yourself!" Manannan snapped. I could hear the word he was actually saying now that I was paying attention- Enbarr, the foam of the wave breaking on the shore, which the Salmon's gift had let me hear as 'Seafoam'.
His riders' words had no effect- the horse continued laughing, and once or twice choked out phrases like 'son of the sea' and 'hunter!'.
Seriously, stop. You sound like a donkey. You're giving horses everywhere a bad name, Blackjack told him.
That seemed to help Seafoam calm down, but then he looked at Blackjack and that set him off again with a nicker of 'wave-runner!'. He actually collapsed onto his front knees.
"Enough!" Manannan flicked his fingers, and Seafoam dissolved into little bubbles that flowed back into the ocean. I saw the horse reform a bit farther out and gallop away over the waves, still whinnying loudly. We stared after him while Manannan sighed and massaged his temples with one hand. I got the feeling we'd managed to give him a headache.
I was irritating gods in multiple pantheons. I had a gift.
What was that about? What was so funny? Blackjack finally asked, breaking the silence.
Manannan shook his head and answered Blackjack in English. "Nothing. A cosmic joke. One that he just found out we may not be the butt of after all."
"I could use a good laugh." I didn't like the horse's reaction. There was nothing in our prophecy that was that funny.
"You had to have been there," he answered dismissively. I wasn't happy about it, but pressing a god for answers he didn't want to give was a good way to get turned into a guppy. I let the subject go.
"Well, Lord Manannan, it's been a pleasure, but we should really be getting back to the Firefly and it's a bit of a flight, so if you'll excuse us…"
"It will not be as long a flight as you think," the sea god said with an odd expression on his face, and nodded out at the horizon.
I looked at the distant shape just visible through the morning mist, and realized that I could feel the parts of myself that made up the Firefly. I had a limited range, and couldn't feel my ship when she was more than a few miles away. "Oh. Thanks for bringing her."
"Do not thank me."
I turned my face away so he wouldn't see the eye roll. "Sorry. I'm glad to have her here, I mean."
He shook his head. "That taboo is a custom of the Little People, not of the Children of Danu. Do not thank me, because I did nothing. She came at your call."
"The Giant's Causeway is nowhere near here." It was more than a hundred miles, as the corbie flies. I'd called the Queen Anne's Revenge to me once, but she had been much closer. The Firefly would have had to set some sailing records, too- the Hunt hadn't even gotten to the coast of Ireland until a few hours ago.
He shrugged. "Nevertheless."
You don't know your own strength, boss.
Well, I wasn't thirteen anymore. At least this was more useful than making volcanos erupt. I hopped off my makeshift bench and shoved Mrs. O'Leary's nose until she woke up. "Come on, Mrs. O'Leary. Breakfast. Go home, girl."
She whined and went back to the forest to find a shadow and travel back to the Firefly.
Breakfast sounds good. So does dinner. And midnight snack. We missed them all, Blackjack complained as I mounted.
"We'll make up for it," I promised. I was as hungry as they were, and seriously needed a nap. I turned to say good-bye to Manannan, but he was gone.
No, not gone. Just moved. "He's on the Firefly. Let's go."
Despite his exhaustion, Blackjack couldn't have gotten us in the air any faster if he could still walk on it. The sea god was waiting next to Mrs. O'Leary when we landed, and was looking around with the same strange expression on his face.
He missed the sarcasm entirely. "Thank you. It's rare to see a ship of this type these days. You built her well; she'll take you far."
"She's a good ship." My irritation faded a bit; I was kind of a sucker for anyone who could appreciate what a beauty the Firefly was.
"Yes, she is. I am our god of sailors, as well as the god of the sea. It's good to see young folk still interested." He rummaged around in the feathery man-purse that he'd stuffed the weapons into earlier, while I took the bag of kibble left up here from yesterday morning and dumped it into Mrs. O'Leary's bowl to keep her occupied.
"I am also the guardian of the Mists that surround and protect the Blessed Isles. None can enter without my invitation. Now, where did I put it…hah!"
He hauled a tree branch out of his man-purse and handed it to me. An actual tree branch, much larger than the bag it had come from. It looked like it was made of metal, with silver bark and leaves and nine tiny golden apples clustered along it, but the detail on it was more than even Hephaestus could have managed. It had been grown, not made, and was one of the most beautiful objects I'd ever seen.
"What's this?" I asked, turning it over.
Ooh. Apples, Blackjack drooled.
"Your invitation, and your passport. It was my custom, when I was the only god in this sea, to allow the greatest mortal sailors of the day into the Blessed Isles. It is annoying that you are a son of Neptune, but you acquitted yourself well in the Hunt, and none would deny you welcome."
"You want me to visit your Olympus?" That seemed a bit suspicious. I was the son of a god that this guy didn't like. He didn't seem to be holding Poseidon against me, but that didn't mean that there wasn't a catch somewhere.
"Our home is more similar to the islands in your Underworld," Manannan answered. "The Isles are a paradise for mortals. You will not be touched by age or death. There is no fear, pain, or suffering, only happiness and plenty."
He sold it well. It might be interesting to visit, as a last stop before heading into the Mediterranean. "How long are you inviting us for?"
His lips twitched up. "Forever. You would be free to leave, but most who have tried have found that the years had passed like days without them realizing. They dissolved into dust when they touched the soil of their homeland."
And there came the catch. I wanted to go to the Isles of the Blest in the Underworld, yeah, but only after I'd died three times. I handed him back the silver branch. "No thanks."
"Your afterlife has no paradise greater than the one I offer you. Do you understand what you are refusing?" He didn't seem offended, though. His smile actually got wider; I had the feeling he'd expected the answer.
My answering smile showed a lot of teeth. "It sounds like dying. I've got a prophecy that says I'll be traveling for the rest of my life. I'm just getting started."
"And is that your desire? To journey for the rest of your days?" he asked intently.
"That sounds great, yeah."
He laughed. It was delighted, and relieved, and happy. The sound had a little too much in common with Seafoam's breakdown earlier to make me comfortable.
I needed to start a stand-up comedy act. I'd be a hit with the entire Irish pantheon.
"So be it, then, and my blessing upon you, Percy Jackson."
He turned and placed the base of the silver branch against the foremast at a bit higher than head-level. A power reached out to me through the contact point, asking for permission. It was a warm, happy, growing feeling. I invited it in and let it burrow into my awareness of the ship. The branch fused with the mast, and stayed in place when he let it go.
Manannan pulled one of the golden apples off the branch and tossed it to Blackjack. Where the apple had been, a silver bud sprouted.
Blackjack crunched the apple and stamped a foot. Boss, you need to try one of these. I've never eaten a better apple.
"And you never will, for the apples of Emain Ablach have no peer," Manannan told him. "A reward for your efforts last night, Wave-runner. When freshly picked, one apple is all the food needed for the day, and they will regrow overnight."
He looked back to me. "Should you change your mind, simply return to this spot and sail west. You will reach the Blessed Isles within a day, and I will ensure that you leave in a timely fashion."
Gods. Even when they weren't family, they were aggravating. "Was that a test, then? Why was that the correct answer?"
"A test…" Manannan said musingly. "Yes, I suppose you could call it that. There was no correct answer, only each person's choice. I would have made the other one, given the chance. The Isles have been my home for thousands of years. The prospect of leaving did not appeal."
What do you mean? Why would you leave? Blackjack asked.
"We have our own seers, you know. They spoke of a son of the sea, a member of the Wild Hunt, a horse that ran on the waves, and a journey. Tell me, son of Neptune, what is my full name?"
"Manannan son of …" I trailed off. 'Mac Lir' meant 'son of the sea'. The slightly queasy feeling I'd had since Seafoam started howling with laughter at my prophecy intensified.
He smiled slightly. "Indeed. My father faded long ago; I have been the god of this sea for nearly as long as the Tuatha de Danann have lived here. I would have done my duty, and followed the prophecy, but I took no joy in it."
I took a slight step backwards. "Is that all they saw? Just that some guy who could make his horse run on the waves was going on a trip?"
"Of course," he agreed easily. Too easily. "What else would there be?"
"Nothing like, say, a choice that means that your islands will be saved or destroyed? Because I've had too many nightmares about that."
"No. Nothing like that. The only choice mentioned was in the prophecy you brought with you." He raised an eyebrow. "Why do you ask?"
"Bad experiences." I relaxed a bit. Not completely, but a bit. "It still might be about you. I'm not even Irish. Why would your seers be seeing anything about a trip I'd make?"
"Why, indeed. It will be interesting to see how far you go, Percy Jackson." Manannan rummaged around in his featherbag of holding again and pulled out a brochure and a couple of business cards. "Enjoy your stay on the Isle of Man. Some interesting things are happening on the island. There's a museum dedicated to me nearby, and when you go to Douglas I recommend stopping by this company. They're having an open house in two days."
I glanced at the information, and was about to ask why a sea god had suddenly turned to playing tour guide when he added, "I must go; Badb just challenged Lugh to a drinking contest, and that can only end in tears. We will meet again, Percy Jackson, when you next ride with the Hunt in these waters."
I dropped the brochure. "Wait, what?"
"I'm sure I mentioned that already; try to keep up," he chided. "You passed your initiation with flying colors, and are now a member of the Wild Hunt. We don't normally recruit still-living mortals permanently, but no mortal has ever supplied their own flying horse and hellhound before, and you did deal the killing blow to the Twrch Trwyth, so an exception will be made. You're missing the after-party, of course, but there's always next time."
Initiation? Blackjack squawked, and then added, What next time?
"The Winter Solstice, probably, though we sometimes put it off until the first day of spring. Even if you're not sailing in the Irish Sea, you're free to join any of the other chapters of the Hunt. Most of the Celtic deities participate. They'll know when you're in the area and swing by to pick you up." Manannan was laughing at us again, I was sure of it. He knew damn well we'd just been trying to survive. "It is far easier to join the Hunt than it is to leave it, son of Neptune."
"You call that easy?" It came out as a strangled squeak. I coughed and tried again as I remembered my original problems with these guys. "Lord Manannan, do you normally hunt humans? Or demigods?"
He looked slightly offended. "We do not. There is no honor in pursuing the helpless. Mortals are rarely formidable enough."
Good for us for not being helpless, then, Blackjack said weakly. We're just that awesome.
"Yes, congratulations," the god agreed. "It was a Hunt to remember. Fair winds, Percy Jackson and Blackjack Wave-runner, and fare well!"
I looked away fast when he started glowing brightly. When Manannan was gone, I sat down heavily on the deck. I realized vaguely that I should probably be worrying more about this, but I couldn't really manage to work up the energy.
We're not actually going through with that, right? I don't care how wild the after-party is if these guys go after the biggest monsters around.
"We'll be long gone by the Winter Solstice. This isn't a Greek thing; Artemis doesn't let guys in her Hunt," I reassured us both. "And if we run into one of these other chapters… well, at least they hunt as a group, right?"
Look how well that worked out last night. And my hooves are going to ache for days.
"At least we got an apple tree out of it."
Don't think that gets you out of finding the closest doughnut shop.
"I wouldn't dream of it." I finally worked up the energy to tell the hammock hanging from the mainmast to extend out to the foremast, and had ropes haul up some spare sailcloth to block out the sun. I'd done this fairly often on the way over the Atlantic, and had slept up here on some of the clear nights- and, twice, on the stormy ones, where I'd made a waterproof tent to keep the rain off Blackjack.
"Do you need anything else? Oats?" I was trying to stop myself from falling asleep, and I could tell Blackjack was too. Mrs. O'Leary was already asleep again, even though she'd only had a light meal.
No. Manannan was right, one apple's enough. Eat one before you go to sleep, boss. Blackjack had seen me push myself enough over the last couple of years to tell when I was about to collapse.
I hauled myself to my feet and grabbed one of the tiny apples off of the new branch on my foremast, and then had a thought and grabbed another. The small brazier Chiron had given me, with a part of the eternal flame from the campfire at Camp Half-Blood, was down in my small galley. I didn't know whether or not Artemis had helped with the thrown spear earlier, but it was usually safest to assume that the god you'd prayed to had answered your prayers. I went down the ladder and tossed one of the apples into the fire.
I ate the other apple (and Blackjack was right- I'd never eaten a better one), brought a couple of blankets up to the deck, and slept for the rest of the day.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
I had nothing better to do, and ignoring the advice of a friendly god was a fast way to make them unfriendly, so I did visit the House of Manannan in the nearby town of Peel and learned more than I'd ever really wanted to know about the history of the Isle of Man. The day afterwards, I went to the open house he'd mentioned. The company, Excalibur Almaz, was dedicated to long-term commercial business and tourism in space. It turned out that the Isle of Man was a world hub for private space-faring companies. The tiny dependency of the British crown was the European nation most likely to return humanity to the moon, and was the fifth-most-likely in the world, after the US, Russia, China, and India.
"Lousy turnout," I observed at the warehouse where the company's recently-acquired Soviet-era space stations were being stored. I was alone; Mrs. O'Leary had already returned to Camp Half-blood in preparation for our departure for the Mediterranean in a couple of days, and Blackjack had dropped me off and left to look around the island some more.
"This event wasn't really well-publicized, I'm afraid. It was a last-minute thing, though we'll probably see more people wander by in the afternoon," the company chairman Arthur ('call me Art') told me. He was a balding white-haired guy in his mid-sixties, and was playing tour-guide to the first group, which looked like it was just going to be me. "Let's get started, shall we?"
I got my first look at the vaguely bell-shaped re-entry hulls as he ushered me through the door. They were clunky and about as attractive as the Twrch Trwyth. It didn't matter- their reason for existing was enough.
We walked around the re-entry capsules and the space station cylinders while he chattered about the Almaz program they had come from and the company's plans for them. I mostly tuned out the business information, but was a lot more interested in the long-term goals of sending a private voyage to the moon and of asteroid mining. He didn't miss that I'd turned away from the ships for the first time since I'd seen them.
"Interested in that, are you? Back in the Age of Sail, not all of the sailing expeditions and colonies were funded by the monarchies of the time. Private companies and interested parties funded ships as well. We're taking that as our spiritual example. Have you ever wanted to go into space?"
I shrugged. "All kids want to be astronauts, right? I went through that phase. Then I tried the space food at the Smithsonian."
He laughed. "Like everything else, the food has been improved with technological advances. Don't let that stop you."
"It'd be nice, yeah, but I can't fly."
"Ah. That would be a problem, yes," he agreed sympathetically. "A medical condition?"
"A genetic inability." A skydiving trip might be OK as long as Zeus wasn't paying attention, but a space launch didn't seem like the kind of thing he'd miss. And astronauts were usually pilots themselves- that much had stuck with me from that visit to the Air and Space Museum with my mom years ago.
"Well, don't give up just yet." He looked like he was trying not to smile. "You're still young. Who knows how far you'll go?"
He turned away and began chattering about the crew living arrangements on the space station. In a word: cramped. The tour took another hour, and I left the warehouse remembering that old dream for the first time in years.
I shook my head and put it behind me, and whistled to call Blackjack and get back to my own streamlined, beautiful, roomy ship. I'd spend tomorrow seeing a bit more of the Isle of Man with Blackjack, and head for the old lands the day after. There was so much I hadn't seen yet; this world was enough for one lifetime. I didn't need to chase after the impossible.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
August 11, five years after the Second Olympian War.
"That was Amaterasu-omikami," Apollo answered his sister grimly. "Sun goddess of Japan. Central deity of the Shinto pantheon."
Athena sat frozen in shock as several of the other Olympians let out cries of outrage. It could not be. Betrayal, from this source, was inconceivable.
"Treachery!" Zeus snarled. "Poseidon, what is the meaning of this?"
Above them, the amphitheater had settled into whispers of consternation. The few minor gods who had come to witness the hoped-for decision to open the gates of the mountain had found gossip of far greater interest. Openness, honesty- this was the legacy of Percy Jackson's demand, and it would come back to haunt him today. The news that the demigod that had bargained for their thrones was in bed with the leader of a rival pantheon would be around Olympus in minutes and in the ear of every god in the West as soon as the gates were open.
"My son is no traitor, Zeus!" Poseidon snapped back. "And I would know the meaning of this, if I had been allowed to look in on him!"
Inconceivable, that she had judged his character so poorly. She could not have been so wrong.
"He's sleeping with the enemy, Poseidon. Quite literally." Hermes was gripping his caduceus so tightly his snakes were protesting. Athena knew he was fond of Percy, and this betrayal, so soon after his own son's, would hit doubly hard.
(adjective: impossible to comprehend or believe. She knew well what the word meant.)
"There is another explanation! We do not know what sent him to Japan; he may not have gone by choice." Poseidon looked like he was seconds away from summoning a deluge into the throne room. Zeus's own hand was giving off sparks. The mounting tension, paradoxically, gave Athena the impetus she needed to clear her mind.
Set aside the hurt pride; set aside the shaken faith in her own judgment. Re-examine everything she knew of Percy Jackson. Rebuild her analysis of his character from the ground up. Come to the logical conclusion.
"Oh, she invited him, and he accepted willingly," Apollo said with a bitter smile as he flopped back onto his golden throne. "She sounded quite fond of him. And Amaterasu doesn't like the West. At all. He must be good."
A betrayal from Percy Jackson remained inconceivable.
"Then he does not consider it a betrayal." Athena's calm voice cut through the clash of rising power. Her advice, though not always popular, was inevitably wise. That she spoke in defense of a son of Poseidon would sway more of the undecided Olympians than a thousand testimonies from his friends on the council, the greatest of who were already indulging their hurt feelings.
Now at the center of attention, Athena continued, "Percy Jackson is loyal. It was his highest virtue and greatest flaw long before he bathed in the River Styx, which enhanced all that he was. Deliberate treachery could not occur to him."
"As you reminded us all too often in the war, his flaw is personal loyalty," Artemis pointed out coldly, "which a lover might well command. Whether it is deliberate treachery or simply thinking with the wrong head scarcely matters."
"He still sacrifices to his father," Hestia said quietly. "And to some of the rest of you, once in a while, but consistently to Poseidon."
"He does," Poseidon confirmed. "Not since yesterday, but he has gone silent for far longer in the past when he was not near a fire. He still honors the gods as he was taught."
"Is that what they're calling it these days?" Ares drawled, picking at his fingernails with a knife. Athena judged him to be one of the few in the room who truly did not care one way or another; he was merely adding fuel to whatever fire he could.
"We lack the information we need to make a rational judgment." Athena directed her advice primarily at her father, who had dismissed his nascent lightning bolt and leaned back to listen to the debate, stony-faced. "We have removed ourselves from the world for too long. We do not know what sent him to Japan, or what could have caused Amaterasu's change of heart. Percy Jackson still has his part to play. Condemning him in haste would be unwise."
"Then go gain your answers," Zeus told her grimly, "and find how deep his offense runs."
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
Athena appeared next to her daughter's current project, a gazebo for the Muses in their favorite garden. She had done an exemplary job in the rebuilding of Olympus; the battle damage had been cleared up and the emergency repairs finished in the first three months, and then she had dedicated herself to redesigning and rebuilding every building that had been affected. Two years ago, she had completed those projects and had turned to the requests for new structures, which had accumulated as the gods and immortals of Olympus saw the buildings she had designed.
"Annabeth." She did not raise her voice, but it echoed through the garden anyway. Annabeth's builders glanced her way, and her daughter jerked her head up and handed the blueprint to one of them.
"Mom!" Her favorite child jogged over to her. Athena was the most fortunate of the Olympians in that respect. When it became clear that their isolation on Olympus would extend for years, Athena had been allowed to transport her daughter directly to Olympus whenever Annabeth requested it out loud, as long as she swore not to discuss the affairs of the gods with her fellow demigods. Annabeth and the chariots of the Sun and Moon were the only exceptions to the otherwise rigid prohibition against travel out of Olympus.
There had been talk of sealing the breach, and keeping her on Olympus until the gates were opened, but Annabeth had declined to leave her friends and mortal life for so long, and Athena had argued against it in the council. All of the Olympians save Poseidon had assumed that Annabeth did not wish to leave Percy Jackson. Athena had stayed silent and allowed their misconception to continue, for it meant that Aphrodite had been her supporter and had swayed several of the male gods from indifference to Athena's side.
Poseidon himself had stayed out of the debate. Before the gates had closed, Athena had informed him that her daughter and his son would not become a couple, and had also warned him that if he took revenge on Annabeth for his son's lost chance at immortality, she would retaliate on Percy Jackson to the exact degree. She suspected that would not have stopped Poseidon if his son had been heartbroken, but they had both looked in on him when he was at home with his mother, and he showed no grief.
She had thought no more on it, and had merely forbidden Poseidon to interact with her daughter without her present. The three had only met four times in the last five years to finalize the plans for various building projects for Poseidon. The meetings had all been brief, and the topic of Percy Jackson had been carefully avoided.
They were both regretting that now.
"Hermes had some difficulty delivering Percy Jackson's invitation to the anniversary celebration," she told her daughter as Annabeth reached her. She could feel the attention of the other Olympians on the conversation; the minor gods were not impudent enough to spy on her. "We were hoping you could shed some light on his whereabouts."
"Percy?" Annabeth asked in surprise. "He's probably still in Hainan, unless he's gone to Tokyo already. I'm not sure when he was planning on heading back."
"Heading back?" He'd made multiple visits, then- worse and worse. The other location was even less expected; Hainan was an island in the South China Sea, and the southernmost province of the Republic of China. "Why was he in China, and what business does he have in Japan?"
"He's been sailing on the Chinese coast for a while, and he's in Japan because some of the friends he made there last year asked him back for his birthday," Annabeth answered, still puzzled. She didn't miss the surprise that briefly flitted across Athena's face. "You… didn't know?"
"Our restriction to Olympus was very thorough," Athena informed her. "We knew when our unclaimed children came to camp, but could look no further."
"He was planning the trip before you closed the gates. He found the Firefly the day after the war ended," she said flatly.
"Things were chaotic, after the war." Athena closed her eyes, remembering their deep exhaustion after the fight with Typhon, their dead children, the damage and thousands of lives lost to Typhon and Oceanus, and the signs that Gaia was stirring and waking her youngest children at the time when they could least afford a new war. "Poseidon likely had too many other demands on his attention. Why was Percy looking for fireflies?"
"He found a sunken wreck and brought it to Camp Half-blood, and spent the next couple of years fixing it up. He named it the Firefly when it was done." Annabeth shook her head, frowning. "That makes no sense. Percy said the ship was too badly damaged to be fixed when he found it. Poseidon repaired the keel for him."
"I suspect that will be news to Poseidon," Athena answered dryly. Percy Jackson had an unusual affinity for ships, and it would not be the first time he had displayed unexpected powers. "Why did he wish to sail to Japan?"
"Because it was there, I guess. I've never asked why, exactly, but as soon as he left Burma he skipped Thailand and Malaysia entirely and headed straight for Okinawa."
Athena realized she was missing something significant. "Annabeth, how long has Percy been gone?"
"Three years. We had his going-away party on his eighteenth birthday, and he left the next morning." Annabeth was studying her closely. "Why is that a problem?"
She smoothed her expression. "Poseidon said his son was in New York on his last birthday."
"He keeps his hellhound with him most of the time. It wears her out, and she can't really go anywhere else for a couple of weeks, but she's able to shadow-walk Percy and Blackjack home once in a while," her daughter explained. "This is the first birthday he wasn't planning on spending in New York. He came back in March for his little sister's third birthday, and I don't think he thought he needed to come home again so soon. I'm sure he'll come to the party once he hears about it, though."
She pulled out her phone and selected a number, but was quickly informed that the phone was out of coverage area. "I'll try Facebook."
"He uses a cellular phone?" Athena asked as Annabeth pulled out her brother Daedalus' laptop, which was still far ahead of the current models even after seven years. "Local monsters will hear a demigod using one no matter what part of the world he is in."
"He stopped caring years ago," Annabeth answered with cold satisfaction. "We've all got phones now. Things have changed."
Athena paused, and looked in on her claimed children. The younger ones remained at Camp Half-Blood. The ones older than eighteen, though, were in the boroughs of New York. All of them. And the monster density was far, far lower than it had been a few months after the war.
"You've created a safe-haven," she murmured.
"We've maintained it," she corrected. "Percy started using his phone regularly, and the monsters in New York that didn't learn to ignore the signal died fast. We never let the population recover. Groups of us get together a couple of times a week in different parts of New York and set ambushes. People get the chance to make longer calls while everyone else takes care of anything that shows up. Short calls are usually fine now as long as we don't attract anything at home, and wireless internet is almost risk-free. Hardly anyone gets attacked randomly anymore."
"Efficient. Well done."
Annabeth smiled at the praise and logged onto Facebook. She navigated to Percy Jackson's page and scanned through his most recent activity. "No, nothing new; he's only added pictures since he told us that he was heading to Tokyo for his birthday. Typical. He'd rather call home and fight an army of monsters than write a two-sentence update."
Athena looked over her shoulder as Annabeth clicked through a set of rainforest pictures tagged 'Jianfengling Nature Reserve'. "He probably took these for Grover. He's gotten good with the camera on his phone; he got some pretty impressive ones of the Parthenon a couple of years ago."
"Do you know anything about the friends he is visiting?" Athena asked. Nothing of the import of the query showed in her voice, but Annabeth was her daughter and knew her well. Athena did not make small talk, or ask idle questions.
"No. He's never said anything about staying in touch with anyone from Japan." Her tone was deliberately casual. "That's weird, actually. It's the sort of thing he'd mention. Percy doesn't really talk about himself much, you know? But he likes to tell stories about places he's been to and the friends he's made along the way. When he met Tiberinus and Rhea Silvia he told me all about them next Christmas. And ever since he sailed out of the Mediterranean, he's only talked about humans. He says he's fought monsters, but never describes them. And he's never mentioned meeting a single god."
She paused for a beat, then added, "That started about the time that Iris Messages stopped getting through to him."
Athena met Annabeth's grey eyes, so similar to her own, and did not deny the insinuation. Annabeth took the silence for the answer it was meant to be and dropped the line of inquiry. She turned back to the laptop and typed a few sentences on the message board to let him know, in couched terms, of the five-year anniversary party on Olympus.
Even if Annabeth was correct and he was willing to slight the Shinto gods to attend the Olympian celebration, Athena doubted Percy would have access to an internet connection in time to read the post. Takama-ga-hara, the home of the celestial gods of the Shinto pantheon, would deliberately contain nothing invented by Hermes.
Annabeth clicked the laptop shut decisively. "Percy usually lets demigods contact him, since he doesn't want to get anyone attacked, but he talks to his family and Rachel Dare pretty often. You could ask them if he's called home recently."
"We likely will." Athena turned away, and then paused and turned back. "Why did you and Percy Jackson never become romantically involved?"
She stiffened. "You didn't care back then. Why does it matter now?"
"I had believed that he desired more than you wished to give. In this day and age, sixteen is considered young to make a dedicated romantic commitment." If Athena had interpreted the timing of events correctly, though, the true answer would divert the resentment of Poseidon and possibly of Aphrodite, who was rather fond of the palace Annabeth had built for her.
"That wasn't the problem." She made an unconscious gesture of warding, and shook her head sharply. "Something changed after the war. Percy changed. The only reason he stayed in New York to graduate high school was because his ship wasn't fixed yet. He's got a… wanderlust, I guess is the best word. Grover said it made him feel like he had ants crawling under his skin."
She put aside an old memory and met Athena's eyes, calm once more. "Before he left, Rachel gave him a prophecy that said he's never going to stop travelling, and he was thrilled about it. That's not what I want out of life. He asked me to come with him. I asked him to stay with me. And we decided not to hurt each other."
Athena smiled slightly and disappeared.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
Apollo materialized behind the Delphic Oracle while she sketched the satyrs that were tending the strawberry field in the mid-afternoon sunlight.
She jumped and jerked her hand across the paper, ruining the drawing. "Damnit!"
"Well, if you really want me to, sure," Apollo agreed cheerfully.
"Um, no, that's okay," she said as she closed the sketchbook. "Welcome back, Lord Apollo. What can I do for you?"
His sunny smile didn't waver, and he'd finally calmed down enough to keep his eyes a human blue. "We're looking for Percy Jackson. Annabeth Chase said you might have talked to him more recently than she had."
"Probably, yeah," she agreed. "He called yesterday to let me know that he wouldn't be able to take any calls on his birthday. He'd just flown into Japan and has managed to find probably the only place in the country with no cell phone coverage to stay at."
"Flown?" He felt Zeus's focus on the conversation intensify.
"He took his pegasus with him," the redhead answered smoothly.
Apollo raised an eyebrow. "God of truth, sweetheart. A lie by omission is still a lie."
"…He picked up a flying carpet somewhere back in the Middle East. He still prefers riding, though." She shrugged. "When the cat's away…"
A memory whispered across her mind- a memory she associated with that phrase. Apollo finished the saying as he'd seen it. "The mice go skydiving. Not smart, dear."
Thunder rumbled across the sky as Zeus figured out what that meant. Rachel winced.
"So, um, you can find Percy in Japan. And," she said to the sky, "he probably rode a pegasus to get there."
"Do you know anything about his lover there?" Apollo asked bluntly. Athena might dance around the issue, but he wasn't about to bother. Percy Jackson didn't deserve discretion.
"His what?" She gaped at him, and then snapped her mouth shut and shook her head. "He hasn't said a thing! Are you sure?"
His expression darkened, and she raised her hands defensively. "Sorry. Of course you're sure. As far as I know, he hasn't dated anyone since we broke up."
"Since you what?" He started glowing, just faintly, and she took a step back.
"Whoa! No sex was involved, we're just friends!"
Apollo stopped short and turned away, taking a deep breath.
Right. He knew that. Even on Olympus, he'd have known if his Oracle didn't meet the qualifications for the position anymore. He was second-guessing everything today.
"Apollo." His twin appeared next to him in a flash of cool moonlight. "Finish swiftly and return to Olympus; we are needed in council."
He turned his attention back to the mountain he'd just come from, and felt the new problem. A foreign deity at the gates. Probably Shinto just because of the timing, although he couldn't tell who it was from out here.
"I'm done. She knows nothing."
"A moment, then." Artemis turned to Rachel. "Did your oaths become tiresome so quickly, Oracle?"
She straightened defiantly. "I am not of your Hunt, and have not sworn to turn my back on all association with men, Lady Artemis. Percy knows the requirements of my position and in high school there were social situations that were made easier by a visible boyfriend. We went to each other's proms together, nothing more."
"Many of my fallen Hunters once heard similar lines." She gave Apollo a look of exasperation, and he shrugged, unrepentant.
"Yeah, but Percy's not like that. You know that. It's Percy."
"Men change," Artemis sniffed.
"Percy won't ever change that much." Rachel shook her head, bewildered. "What happened? Why do you even care who he's dating?"
Apollo checked his watch. "Ah, look at the time!"
"Better that you not know, maiden." Artemis hesitated, and then asked, "He made no advances?"
"He was a perfect gentleman," she answered exasperatedly.
They departed in flashes of silver and gold, with a pensive expression on Artemis's face.
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
"-clear sign of a guilty conscience!" Zeus snapped as the twins appeared back in the council room.
"We have always instructed our children to keep encounters with other pantheons to themselves," Poseidon answered. "He is only keeping to that tradition."
Apollo glanced around as he sat back on his throne. Hermes was absent, but Hestia was seated in her throne and the amphitheater had been cleared to receive the visitor. The physical absence of the minor deities meant nothing at all; each god's power was connected to their throne, and if they bothered to focus on it they would know what happened in its vicinity.
Apollo could feel all of Olympus focusing on the throne room at the moment.
He was about to ask about Hermes' empty throne when the god himself returned, accompanied by Hades.
"I hear we're getting visitors," the dark god said dryly as he moved to the iron throne next to Poseidon's. "Can't have an empty spot, hmm?"
"Your input will be invaluable, brother. Your children got along so well with theirs, after all," Hera remarked acidly.
"And Poseidon's child has gotten much closer to them than Adolf ever did," Hades riposted, clearly amused by the entire situation. "Who are we expecting?"
The question was directed at Apollo, who knew more of the Shinto kami than any other Olympian. He focused on the goddess proceeding up the path to the summit, and frowned.
"Five syllables. 'I've never met her.'"
Hades lost his smirk. That wasn't just an inconvenience; it was a critical intelligence failure. They should have noticed this goddess a long time ago.
Most gods found it uncomfortable to leave their own domain. It was possible, but they were stripped of the vast majority of their power, and if the part that had been sent out was killed they had to spend a painful few days pulling themselves together at the heart of their territory. The lesser gods, the genus loci of the rivers and cities, did not leave their homes unless Olympus moved, and often not even then.
The greater gods had larger domains but the same limitations, with a few exceptions that had nothing to do with power. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades were the greatest gods of the West, but outside of it they were almost human. Of the Olympians, the gods that had the farthest reach were the gods of philosophy and trade, of invention and movies, of music and war- the gods of the aspects of Western Civilization more portable than their heavens, seas, or afterlife. When Apollo had visited Allied-occupied Japan to witness Emperor Hirohito's Humanity Declaration, the West had been at the height of its supremacy in Japan, and he had retained the majority of his power.
Cultural exchange went both ways, though. In the glory days of the Roman Empire, the Celtic horse-goddess Epona had shrines in Rome and the cult of the Persian war god Mithras had spread through the legions. Today, the influence of foreign gods was usually subtler, but still very much present, and they made a point to be aware of the ones in the West.
The Shinto goddess now approaching the Hall of the Gods was probably only moderately powerful in Japan, but she had kept most of her power while walking into their home. And they had no idea who she was.
"Five years. So short a time, even for mortals," Demeter murmured. "What happened, to let a new goddess reach so far?"
"She's old," Hades disagreed. "She was close to death, and fairly recently."
"She's come to introduce herself," Dionysus pointed out practically as he finished his Diet Coke and let the goblet disappear. "We'll figure all this out soon enough."
The goddess paused at the entrance to the throne room, probably waiting to be announced. They were considerably less formal than the Shinto court, though, so Zeus just called out,
Her sniff of disdain was audible from across the cavernous room, but she came in anyway. She was human-proportioned until she altered her size between one step and the next to match the fifteen-foot Olympians. The Shinto goddess was a beautiful Japanese woman who looked to be in her mid-twenties, with a pale face, black hair, and deep brown eyes. She was dressed in a brown silk visiting-kimono with fields of rice, herds of game animals, and a shoal of fish embroidered along the sleeves and hem, and was carrying a round, brightly-polished silver mirror cradled in both hands.
She stopped just behind the hearth, far enough out from the semicircle of thrones to be able to see all of the Olympians without turning, and gave Zeus a bow slightly shallower than she should have offered to a ruler.
"Lord Zeus, King of Olympus, greetings." Her voice was calm and cold. "My mistress, Amaterasu-omikami, would hear your explanation for the intrusion of your court on her privacy this night."
Ah. Right. They'd had concerns other than the potential diplomatic incident, but they had kind of spied on the ruler of another pantheon while she was asleep and naked.
"And who has she sent to request answers, goddess? We do not know you," Zeus rumbled back.
"I am Uke Mochi, goddess of food."
That almost made sense. Instant ramen was in every grocery store and convenience mart in the United States, and there were hundreds of sushi restaurants in New York alone. It almost made sense, but-
"You're dead," Apollo blurted.
Thousands of years ago, she had gotten a visit from Amaterasu's brother and husband, the moon god Tsukuyomi. Uke Mochi had vomited up a feast for him to eat while he was watching, and he had destroyed her for the insult. The Shinto underworld, Yomi, was their equivalent of both Hades and Tartarus; fallen gods sent to Yomi did not return.
"I have recovered." Rather than elaborate, Uke Mochi knelt and lifted the mirror in her hands to her chest. "You mistake me, Lord Zeus. I have been sent to demand nothing of you. My lady will hear your answers personally."
She sent her power into the mirror, and it expanded to cover half of the hall. They could see their reflections briefly before the image twisted and distorted until it showed Amaterasu in the throne room of the Palace of the Sun in Takama-ga-hara. The throne she was sitting in was a pretty chair, and nothing more; the Shinto gods did not place their power in thrones the way that the Greek gods did.
Apollo let out a startled curse as the image in the mirror resolved more fully, because the Japanese sun goddess was flanked on either side by a god seated in a less-elaborate throne. The god at her left hand was her brother Susano'o, the Shinto storm god. That was unusual enough, because his relationship with his sister and queen was notoriously tempestuous. It was nothing, though, compared to the presence of the god in decorative silver armor at her right, because Tsukuyomi had not been in Amaterasu's company since Uke Mochi's destruction.
When Amaterasu heard about the loss of her friend, she had been so furious that she banished Tsukuyomi from her presence entirely. She and her husband hadn't so much as been in the same room in all of the centuries since, and they always travelled in different parts of the sky. The Shinto pantheon had settled into an elaborate dance to keep the two apart without slighting either of them; all entertainments were held in duplicate, one in the day and one in the night, and the few occasions that required both of them to be present had an entire cohort of gods doing their best to tactfully ensure that they were never close to each other.
Uke Mochi had been resurrected, and so Tsukuyomi sat at his wife's side for the first time in millennia. In the five years Olympus had been silent, everything they knew about the internal politics of the kami of Japan had been turned inside out.
"Gods of Olympus." Amaterasu was now dressed, and in the full court regalia, with multiple layers of paper-thin silk that were only visible at the elaborately arranged collar. Her outermost robe was a solid dark gold that matched the color of her eyes perfectly. "Tonight, I sensed the intrusion of your combined powers in my palace and woke, only to find that your entire court had chosen to spy on my rest. What explanation do you offer for this insult?"
She was angry, but less so than she'd probably like them to believe. Apollo had seen her much more furious, seventy years ago when she'd had no choice but to welcome a foreign sun god to Japan. Sending Apollo, rather than wise Athena or silver-tongued Hermes, had been a deliberate insult on their part, meant to imply that Apollo would be shining above the island soon.
"You have in your palace a son of Olympus," Zeus answered darkly. "His father could not find him in the West, and we aided his search. Finding him in your realm was as much a surprise to us as it was to you."
"A thin excuse. Do you expect me to believe he is searching only now, when Jackson Percy left Poseidon's waters years ago?" Judging by Amaterasu's lingering glance at Poseidon, she was also cataloging the similarities to his son, but was coming at it from the opposite direction than the Greek gods usually did.
"I expect you to-" Zeus started to retort, but he was cut off by Susano'o's bark of laughter.
"They've been too quiet since their civil war," the storm god said to his sister. Susano'o had gotten rid of his beard since Apollo had last seen him, and had switched to brown hair rather than the deep black of either of his siblings. He was also the only one of the three wearing a suit, probably more to irritate Amaterasu than for any other reason. "They've been licking their wounds. They really did just figure out he was gone."
"Enough of this," Poseidon snapped, clearly stung. "We all know you hate our children, Amaterasu. What is my son doing in your home?"
"Your concern, however belated, does you credit, Poseidon." Her tone said exactly the opposite. "Do not be troubled. Your son is a welcome guest in my palace-"
"So we saw," Aphrodite said cattily.
"-and is free to come and go as he pleases. No coercion holds him, and none here would harm him. You have my word of honor." To a Shinto god, it was an oath as binding as the Styx.
"You can say that, with your husband at your side?" Hera asked coldly. Apollo figured the situation hit a bit too close to home. "Does your queen's oath bind you, Tsukuyomi, so much that you ignore the man in her bed?"
Susano'o was overcome by a sudden coughing fit. Tsukuyomi waited for his brother to catch his breath, and then answered calmly,
"I have no quarrel with Percy, and you are mistaken. The rest of the palace uses futons. If there was a bed involved, it was his."
"Okay, stop. Just stop." Apollo decided they'd danced around the question for long enough. Seventy years ago, Amaterasu had handed the task of escorting him around the island to Tsukuyomi. Giving the job to a god she never intended to see again had been meant to insult them in return; because the god in question was her husband, they couldn't even claim she'd been rude. Apollo knew the moon god had been just as humiliated by the outcome of the war as his wife had been.
Tsukuyomi and Amaterasu hadn't been husband and wife in anything but name in thousands of years, and they'd both taken other companions in that time. That hadn't necessarily changed, even if they were getting along well enough to present a united front against Olympus, but they had always been discreet enough about it that it hadn't entered into the mythos. Now, Amaterasu was openly flaunting a Greek demigod as a lover, and Tsukuyomi, who had killed gods for lesser insults, didn't care.
Apollo didn't have a way to condense all that into a few words, and finally just made an encompassing gesture. "What happened?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Athena sighed. "Percy rescued Uke Mochi."
The brief moment of shocked silence was broken by an eardrum-splitting crack of thunder. Poseidon groaned and rubbed his forehead when Amaterasu inclined her head slightly in agreement.
"He completed a task long thought impossible. We owe Jackson Percy a great debt."
"I was still mortal when I went to get my mother, I think, and that Harry Cleese guy did the same thing," Dionysus mused. "It's not like it's hard."
"Yomi does not have the revolving-door policy of your underworld," Tsukuyomi replied in the same blandly mocking tone as before.
Hades snarled. "Listen, Shinto-"
"Peace, husband," Amaterasu said, glancing reprovingly back at the silver-eyed moon god before returning her attention to the Olympians. "I will accept that your intrusion on this night was an honest mistake. Another attempt to spy on Takama-ga-hara will be considered an act of aggression, and we will respond accordingly."
"How… unexpectedly understanding of you," Hermes said with narrowed eyes. Apollo agreed; the Shinto queen was never so tolerant. They were still missing something.
"And what of my son?" Poseidon asked tensely.
"That will be between you and Ryujin," she answered. "I trust you will keep Percy's best interests in mind when the two of you meet."
They all took a second to connect Poseidon's upcoming meeting to the fact that his favorite son was squarely in the heart of Ryujin's ancient waters, and then Poseidon was on his feet with his trident in hand. "Hold Percy hostage and the tsunami I send your way will make you remember the last one fondly!"
"Do you question my word, Olympian?" Her voice rose, and her eyes flared bright gold briefly. "Percy does not need your protection!"
"Amaterasu," Tsukuyomi said quietly. "The phrasing was open to mistranslation."
Well, that answered that. They were ruling together again, if he was able to give her advice in public. This, of course, begged the question of where in Tartarus Percy fit into the equation.
She took a deep breath, and visibly let her anger go, until she had on the same stoic mask she had been trying to hold the entire conversation. "Percy is not a captive. Ryujin holds him in high regard as well. He intends for you to release Percy from his filial obligation to you and your pantheon-"
"Did you just ask me to disown my son?"
"-so that Ryujin may adopt him, and make him god of the territories in dispute."
The words hit Poseidon like a blow. "What?"
"The waters of the North Pacific," Amaterasu elaborated, slightly impatiently. "Ryujin will give the North Pacific waters to Jackson Percy, and include a stretch of his territory to the south that also touches your waters to fix the current borders between your oceans permanently in place. Percy's rank will be equivalent to the Dragon Kings directly under Ryujin."
"No," Poseidon whispered as he sank back into his throne, shaking his head slightly in bewilderment. It was almost painful to watch. "Why would he- why would you ask him to do this?"
Apollo realized distantly, through the shock and the simmering rage that hadn't ever really gone away since he'd summoned the picture that started this whole fiasco, that Poseidon's counterpart was good at political compromise. Even though the territory would stay under Ryujin's influence, the terms were favorable for the West.
The borders would be under the rule of a god that had strong ties to both oceans; Poseidon would not attempt to take Percy's realm, and he'd know that Percy wouldn't advance any further into Western waters if the opportunity came up again. Giving Poseidon's lost territory to one of his sons would allow Poseidon to save face, and the oceans would avoid a costly war. Percy's proposed realm was larger than any of the seas ruled over by the Dragon Kings, and if he became Ryujin's son as well, then the treaty would make him Triton's equivalent in the Far East in all but name. The position of heir was usually ceremonial anyway; neither Poseidon nor Ryujin would be fading anytime soon.
It probably would have worked, if they hadn't been asking for Percy Jackson.
"This proposal was not my suggestion," Amaterasu answered, misunderstanding the question completely. "Before he came to my court, Percy rescued Ryujin's eldest daughter from the Yamata-no-Orochi. A debt is owed, and this is the reward Ryujin would give him."
Apollo glanced at Susano'o, who had killed the giant eight-headed dragon the first time it had formed. Amaterasu was focused on Poseidon, but her brothers were studying the other gods. They hadn't missed Zeus's rigid posture, or the hissing of Hermes' snakes, or that Hera's throne was sprouting peacock feathers.
Amaterasu continued, "Ryujin desired the support of the pantheons he has been associated with since time immemorial. Bringing a Greek into his oceans could not be done lightly; he would not jeopardize his alliances when simple patience would serve to keep them.
"My price to welcome Percy to Japan, you already know. When Percy sailed to China last year, the Celestial Bureaucracy assigned Guan Gong to observe him. Two months ago, they fought the demon Chi You side-by-side and defeated him, and the Jade Emperor agreed that Percy would be welcomed by his court."
At the mention of Guan Gong, his counterpart in the Taoist pantheon, Ares drove the dagger he had been absently toying with through the leather armrest of his throne. Apollo was viciously glad; Ares hadn't cared about the defection until that instant.
"Your son will be gladly received in my pantheon and by the Taoist deities," Amaterasu concluded. "You need have no concern for his safety in Ryujin's waters, Poseidon."
"I… don't think that's the problem," Susano'o murmured.
"How dare he?" Hera hissed. "How dare he?"
Amaterasu looked around, and finally realized that the only reason they hadn't been interrupting was because they were mostly too furious to speak.
"Why do you object? Their treaty will affect few in the West outside of the seas, and peace in the oceans can only benefit them."
"We are only startled by Ryujin's proposal, Amaterasu," Athena replied calmly. "Percy is loyal to his father and family."
"His mortal family, surely," she answered, making a dismissive gesture. "But he sailed from the heart of your power years ago, and has made himself welcome in every realm he has passed through. He has earned divinity many times over, and your civil war ended five years ago. You have been absent from his life for longer than you were in it. Would you ask him to be loyal to the gods of his childhood, even unto death?"
"Gods of his childhood?" Hermes snarled.
Poseidon said nothing, but only sat rigidly on his throne as he aged before their eyes.
The part of Apollo that was always guiding the Sun Chariot glanced down to the sea. It was flat and mirror-like.
They'd be lucky if California was still attached to the United States when he snapped out of it. How could Percy do this to his father?
"We know that Ryujin has not yet given this treaty to Poseidon, and I have never heard that the dragon god would make a promise he is unable to keep. Have you discussed this proposal with Percy?"
Apollo couldn't believe Athena was still trying when even Poseidon was giving up. Pride, pride and a complete unwillingness to believe she could be wrong-
"There would be little point in raising his hopes too soon. The timing of the Jade Emperor's agreement is convenient; Ryujin hopes to have the details finalized in time for Percy's birthday."
- and the most annoying part was that she almost never was.
"So," Athena clarified, "Percy has not agreed to become a god?"
Amaterasu raised her eyebrows. "You cannot imagine he would refuse."
When that sank in, Apollo started laughing, which set off Hermes and Ares. Poseidon relaxed, and his white hair started darkening to black.
"Good communication is so important in a lasting relationship," Aphrodite remarked, pretending to try to hide her smile behind an upraised hand.
Zeus stood decisively, and summoned a thunderbolt to his right hand.
"Ask Perseus, then, of his… childhood. Ask him of his sixteenth birthday, and the destruction of Kronos his grandfather. Ask him of the reward he was offered, and of what he requested instead. And when he has given you your answer, remember this. We do not release him. Perseus Jackson is and will forever remain a son of the West. And if he should accept from your hands what he refused from ours, know that we will go to war for the insult."
He threw the lightning bolt, and the expanded mirror shattered into a thousand pictures of Amaterasu's startled face, leaving Uke Mochi visible and still holding the original mirror. She made a rude gesture at Zeus and assumed her true form, departing in a huff.
"You really should take over the theater from Dionysus, you know," Hades remarked.
"Poseidon," Zeus snapped, ignoring his eldest brother, "bring your son home."
SotWS_SotWS_SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS_ SotWS
In this chapter, Percy got hand-wavy language powers from a magic fish. Please assume that any conversation he has in the rest of the story is in the native language of the speaker unless told otherwise.
Like this one, all future story chapters will be split between Percy's trip and the present day. Percy will head for the Mediterranean next chapter and will visit countries bordering or in flying distance from the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Red Sea until roughly his nineteenth birthday. He'll spend the next seven or so months in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, then head directly to Japan for plot reasons as soon as he comes into Ryujin's territory. He'll spend the rest of the time until present day in Japan, China, and Taiwan.
Percy's trip is the part of the story I've only got a vague outline for. If you want to see Percy visiting somewhere, interacting with a particular myth, or acquiring a specific piece of magical bling, I'm open to suggestions! (And, regarding the trip: although I try to do the research, I've never visited these places. If you have, please let me know if you see inaccuracies.)
Banshee- Banshees in Irish folklore were fairy women that would wail when there was going to be a death in the house. They were a very bad omen, but weren't actually responsible for the death; only in more recent pop culture have banshees gotten a sonic attack. Fairies were always creatures to be wary of, though, and monsters don't like demigods, so although I left out the sonic scream this one is more aggressive than is traditional.
Aughisky (agh-iski) -An Anglicization of the Irish each uisce; also called the each uisge in Scottish Gaelic. It is among the most vicious of the various shape-shifting Celtic water horses; unlike the kelpie, which lives in running water and may only drown anyone gullible enough to ride the pretty horsy standing by the river, the sea-and-lake-dwelling each uisce will also devour the entire body except for the liver. If saddled and bridled, it is an excellent mount as long as it's ridden inland, but if it sees the ocean the horse becomes uncontrollable, dives in, and eats its rider.
Tuatha de Danann- The 'Children of Danu', the gods of ancient Ireland, who were supposedly driven into sidhes (fairy mounds) or to Avalon-esq islands by the coming of new settlers to Ireland. Eventually folklore and Christianity turned them into the Fair Folk. I'm using the Tuatha de Danann with names from the myths as gods; the various breeds of fairies from Irish folklore are the in-story equivalent of the various types of Greek monsters.
'Suicidal newt'- An alp-luachra, which has mystical effects equivalent to a tapeworm's. Swallow it, and you starve no matter how much you eat. It can be gotten rid of by eating salted meat next to a stream, until it gets thirsty and leaves through the mouth to get a drink.
Clurichaun- From the Irish clobhair-ceann. Little drunk fairies. If one moved into a wine cellar, he would avail himself of the contents; if the owner was lucky, the clurichaun also guard the cellar and prevent any of their servants from doing the same thing without permission. They're hard to get rid of- if you pack up and move to get away, he'll probably move with you. Sources differ on whether the clurichaun is simply an off-duty leprechaun, a regional variation of the same fairy, or a different race entirely.
The Wild Hunt- The Irish version of the Wild Hunt is the sluagh, which was either made up of malevolent fairies or the souls of the damned, depending on whether the tale was written before or after Christianity took over. When making the choice between having Percy fight fairies or go boar-hunting with them, I thought the latter would be more interesting, so he didn't meet the sluagh described by Irish folklore. There are variants of the Wild Hunt from all over Europe, and I tried for more of a 'true neutral' vibe than 'always chaotic evil.'
The leader of the Hunt is Odin, or Gwyn ap Nudd, or King Arthur, or the horned god Cernunnos, or the Headless Horseman, or any of a dozen others (and not always male); the host could be made up of the souls of the damned, dead heroes, fairies, pagan gods… the lists go on. The Hunt is generally accompanied by hellhounds; the white hounds with red ears are the Cwn Annwn, from the Welsh version of the myth. Since the boar was also from a Welsh myth, I thought it was appropriate, and modeled the leader of this particular Hunt vaguely on Anwyn, the ruler of the otherworld in the older Welsh mythology.
Twrch Trwyth- (Irish: Torc Triath) The pig is from the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, an Arthurian legend set to parchment c. 1100 AD, before the French poets got ahold of him. In short, Culhwch wants to marry Olwen, but her father, the giant Ysbaddaden, has a prophecy saying he'll die on his daughters' wedding day. Culhwch is backed up by his cousin Arthur's war band, though, including Manawyan fab Llyr, so Ysbaddaden gives the suitor and company thirteen wedding gifts that they need to collect before the wedding can happen.
Half of the material that has come to us through the ages is about Arthur's warband doing side-quests to collect the various people, animals, and objects that he'll need to hunt the Twrch Trwyth so Ysbaddaden can style his hair for the wedding. The boar himself was not hard to find, since he had already laid waste to a third of Ireland. They chase the boar and his seven piglets across Ireland until he gets annoyed at the random Welshmen attacking him and crosses the Irish Sea to destroy their homes instead. Then they chase the pigs across Wales until they manage to kill the piglets and get all of the grooming utensils off of the boar's head. He is eventually driven off a cliff in Cornwall and swims out to sea followed by two magic dogs.
The Salmon of Knowledge and Fionn mac Cumhaill- The only (surviving) legend the Salmon appears in is The Childhood of Fionn mac Cumhaill. Fionn's teacher, the bard Finnegas, had fished on the banks of the River Boyne for seven years looking for the Salmon. He finally landed it, and told Fionn to cook the fish, but not to eat any of it. Fionn did so, but a blister rose on the fish when it was cooking. He pushed down on the blister with his thumb, and it popped open and burned Fionn with the fish-juice. He stuck his thumb in his mouth to cool the burn, and became the first to taste the Salmon of Knowledge. When Finnegas started eating the salmon and didn't feel any different, he asked his student what had happened, and Fionn told him about the blister. Finnegas was a good sport about it, and gave the rest of the fish to Fionn. From then on, when Fionn needed to know something, he stuck his thumb in his mouth and the knowledge came to him. He went on to gain his father's former position as the leader of the Fianna, the warband of the High King, and was one of Ireland's greatest heroes.
Manannan mac Lir- 'Lir' is a grammatical variation of Lear, or 'sea'; Manannan has the sea-god post in every Irish legend he appears in, and the 'son of the sea' thing may be metaphorical. (There is a legend of the Children of Lir, but that Lir wasn't a sea god, and may just have had the same name.) The Welsh cognate is Manawydan fab Llyr, who was included in the original hunt of the Twrch Trwyth. The color-changing coat, crane bag, horse that can run over the waves, association with the Isle of Man, and job guarding the path to the Blessed Isles are all from his legends. The apples of Emain Ablach (the Isle of Apples) would never be reduced, no matter how much they were eaten, and whoever ate them wouldn't need any other food. The silver branch, sometimes with and sometimes without golden apples attached, is a common theme in several legends of sailors who headed out there.
One of those legends is of King Cormac of Teamhair, who met a nameless man on the road carrying a silver branch with nine apples of red gold. The king asked him for the branch, which had the ability to make anyone forget the cares of the world when the leaves rustled, and the man agreed to give it to him in return for three gifts to be named later. Cormac, having the bargaining skills of a five-year-old, agreed. (It was really nice branch.) The 'three gifts' were his wife, son, and daughter. Cormac was happy with the drug-branch for a while, but even though he was incapable of being sad, he eventually realized that this might have been a bad thing to do, and goes after his family. Manannan made it easy on him and transported him to his home island with a magic mist. Or Mist, if you prefer. When he made it to Manannan's house and figured out who the guy who'd taken his family was, he was reunited with his wife and kids, and they were sent back to Teamhair, presumably with a lesson about contract negotiation thoroughly learned. As a parting gift, Manannan gave Cormac the branch and a nice cup that broke into three pieces whenever the person holding it said a lie and repaired itself whenever they spoke the truth.
The drug-branch kind of creeped me out, so Percy's doesn't have that power. Planting it in his ship let it grow very nutritious apples instead.
Excalibur Almaz exists, and was founded by Arthur 'Art' Dula. They do eventually want to send a privately trained team to the moon, but that trip has a price tag of $150 million USD per ticket.
Takama-ga-hara: 'High Plains of Heaven', the home of the celestial gods. It is traditionally connected to earth by the 'floating bridge of heaven', which is guarded by the god Sarutahiko.
Uke Mochi and Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto: This is the Just-So-Story about why the sun and the moon are in different parts of the sky, creating day and night. The version of the story where Uke Mochi vomits up the feast is actually the least scatological; in some of them, she also shits and pisses part of it. While killing her was extreme to modern sensibilities, it's hard to blame the guy for being sickened. After her death, Uke Mochi's body continued to produce seeds; her eyes, ears, and nose produced stuff like rice and beans, she sprouted a mulberry bush with silkworms, and wheat and soybeans grew from her genitals and anus. Humans started farming to raise the food that came from her body after she died.
Uke Mochi's kimono is a homongi. My mental image for Tsukuyomi is coming from tablis . deviantart dot com / art / Tsukuyomi-The-Moon-God-84761827
Yomi: Fair warning: the underworld is a very poorly-defined part of Shinto mythology. If there are actual descriptions of it, comparable to the fairly detailed descriptions of Hades in Greek mythology, then I haven't seen an English translation of them. I'm not even sure who rules down there; I've seen stories where it's a never-seen god named Yomi, the goddess of death Izanami, or Susano'o. (It won't be Susano'o in this story, although he lives near the entrance.) When I show Percy going down there, I'll be making a lot of it up.
The only attempt to bring back the dead from Yomi occurred when the first woman, Izanami, died birthing the fire god Kagu-tsuchi. Her husband Izanagi went after her, but pulled an Orpheus and looked at her when she'd asked him not to, and saw that she had become a rotting corpse. Furious, she sent a group of hags to kill him, but he escaped and pushed a huge boulder across the entrance to Yomi. She shouted from behind the boulder that she would cause a thousand humans to die every day as revenge, and he yelled back that he'd cause 1,500 births to make up for it. And so, we die.
Adult adoption is culturally acceptable and relatively common in Japan, usually as a way to keep a business within the family while still making sure the heir is competent. The prospective son often marries a daughter of the family in addition to being legally adopted, leading to the saying 'Better to have daughters than sons, for then you can choose your sons', but men can simply be adopted if that is not possible. (Though Ryujin would still have preferred it if Percy had gotten together with one of his daughters.)
Dragon King- The rulers of the seas in Chinese mythology. In my aforementioned squishing of the ocean dragon mythologies together, the Dragon Kings of the North, South, East, and West Seas are the gods of those areas of the ocean under Ryujin's overall rule.
Susano'o and the Yamata no Orochi: When the gods tricked Amaterasu into coming out of her cave after Susano'o and Amaterasu fought, she stripped Susano'o of most of his power and banished him to the mortal realm. (One wonders why she didn't just do that in the first place.) He wandered around for a while having adventures until he ran into a couple of upset minor kami. He asked them what was wrong, and they explained that the Yamata no Orochi, a dragon with eight heads and eight tails the size of mountains, had demanded seven of their daughters as tribute over the last seven years and had just come back for their last daughter, Kushinada-hime.
Susano'o told them to relax, turned the girl into a comb and stuck it in his hair, cross-dressed, and took her place. He had the earth gods brew eight giant tubs of sake, and gave them to the Orochi, which drank all of them and fell into a drunken stupor. Susano'o killed it, cut it up, and found a magic sword inside of its body. He gave the Kusanagi sword to Amaterasu as an apology and she rescinded his banishment; the sword is now one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan. Susano'o married Kushinada-hime, settled down, and became a severely overprotective father. A nice picture of him and the Orochi is at
shugonotenshi. blogspot dot com /2012/12/susanoo-sea-and-storms-god. html
Jade Emperor: Yu Huang Shangdi, the ruler of the Heavenly Bureaucracy, the massive organization of gods in the Chinese folk religion. Chinese gods were considered to have been organized similarly to the bureaucracy that was used to rule over Imperial China. In Taoism, he is still the ruler of the Heavenly Bureaucracy, but is subordinate to the Three Pure Ones, the manifestations of the Tao.
Guan Yu: Often called Guan Gong (Lord Guan), or Guan Di (Emperor Guan). Guan Yu was a general under Liu Bei, who founded the kingdom of Shu in the Three Kingdoms period of China after the fall of the Han Dynasty. He is one of the main characters of the highly romanticized and aptly named Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, wherein he performs various feats of valor until finally getting captured by the nominal villain, Cao Cao, who tried to get him to switch sides and join him. He refused, and was executed in 220 AD.
Guan Yu had really good publicity and was deified by the Sui dynasty, roughly three centuries later, and there are legends that neatly fold his worship into Taoism (i.e., his defeat of Chi You, below) and Chinese Buddhism. He's still widely respected as a general, is credited with blessing a number of victories for worthy causes, and is generally considered to approve of people who follow codes of loyalty and righteousness. As such, Guan Yu is paradoxically worshipped by both policemen and members of organized crime rings. I figured that he and Percy would get along.
He's also the god of tofu.
Chi You: A demon/god/king from early Chinese mythology who fought the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di). He created a mist, forcing the Yellow Emperor to create a south-pointing chariot to find his way through it, and enlisted various water and rain gods to fight with him that were eventually defeated by the goddess of drought on Huangdi's side. Chi You lost the battle and was executed.
In roughly the 11th century AD, during the Song Dynasty, Chi You reportedly got annoyed by their worship of Huang Di and ruined some economically important salt ponds. Guan Yu took control of a celestial army and defeated him at the request of the Jade Emperor, and was brought into the Celestial Bureaucracy as a result of the successful campaign.