"And it's Eager Beaver across the line, coming in at seventeen to two, and what an upset! That'll really put the wind up the bookies! Anyone who put money on Eager Beaver, how about sending a drink up here?"

"You've done it again, kid," Jarrell's dad said. He reached down and ruffled Jarrell's hair, then took a sip of his coke. "Beats me how you pick the winners every single time, but blow me if it ain't useful."

"It's just guessing, dad," Jarrell said. "Like, you put some green flyweight up against Floyd Mayweather, you don't gotta be a genius to figure out what's gonna happen. Likely it's only gonna go one way, but you could see anything go down, who knows, right? That's all it is, just guessing." Jarrell's dad had taken him to the races as a treat maybe once every couple of months, for as long as he could remember. It was a tradition between them, and afterwards they'd go out and have a nice meal somewhere in the city. After so much time spent watching the races, anyone would get pretty good at predicting the winning horse, right? Jarrell couldn't see the big deal.

"Well, I ain't complaining. You got some kinda gift, kid."

Jarrell frowned. "Least there's something I can do right."

His dad patted him on the shoulder. "School still not goin' well, huh?"

"Naw, dad, school's goin' just fine, mostly. I got my meds, the teachers know 'bout my ADD and dyslexia, everyone's been real good about helping me out."

"You know that ain't what I meant."

Jarrell sighed. "I don't get it, dad. I know I'm pretty good at football, I can kick everyone's ass during drills and I'm quick as heck on my feet. Just, I dunno, whenever we have a game we never win. Ever."

"You know it ain't about the winning kid, it's about the-"

"Yeah, yeah, the taking part, I know. But c'mon, an entire season without a single win? That ain't right. And- look, dad... some of the guys are saying it's my fault."

"That right?" Jarrell's dad said. He had a neutral expression on his face.

"Yeah. Look, it's just bad luck, but someone noticed any side I was on in practice never seemed to win. Now everyone's heard the rumour, and no-one wants to be on a team with me, in anything. Not just football! Class projects, soccer at recess, anything!"

"Hm." Jarrell had half-expected his dad to start shouting about how that was plain unfair, that Jarrell should make them shut up and eat their words. But then, his dad was always pretty calm about that kind of thing. "You been trying your best, right?"

"Yeah, every damn day."

"Language, kid. Look, if you try your best, that's all anyone can ever ask. You know you don't have to win for me to be proud of you, right?" Jarrell knew. From day one, his dad had cheered him on in everything, and when Jarrell had inevitably lost once again, his dad had given him a hug and told him he was amazing just the same.

Still, though. It was kind of disheartening for a kid to have never won at anything in his life. Jarrell Bradley couldn't remember a single time it had happened to him. It wasn't that he was particularly bad or anything – he was pretty sure he was better than most kids at things like sports, and he wasn't exactly stupid, either. It was just that the other team always seemed to be a little better, or his own team made a couple more mistakes, or that he otherwise just plain got unlucky.

He hadn't let it get him down. Jarrell would just have to try harder, that was all. If he just kept at it, surely he'd have victory someday.

His dad stood up, and started putting on his coat. "Well, you know there's one thing you already won at, right?"

"What?"

"You're the best damn son I ever had. No contest, hands down, you win."

"Hey, I thought you said to watch your language!" Jarrell said, laughing.

"Me? Hey, I'm a grown-ass man. You're not even ten. What're people gonna say if I let my kid cuss like a sailor in front of me?"

They argued like that all the way home.


"Alright, Bradley, you listening?" Connor Stoll shouted.

Jarrell looked up, his head feeling weird with the extra weight of the helmet on it. "Uh, yeah."

"Man, what kind of response is that? It's like you don't want to win!"

You have no idea, Jarrell thought, but out loud he said, "Sorry. Carry on, head counsellor."

"Okay, like I was saying, since this is your first time playing capture the flag with us here at Camp Half-Blood, no-one's going to expect too much of you. Don't rush it, just take your time and learn how it all works. It's hard to move in armor if you're not used to it, so don't exhaust yourself running around. Other than that, you're pretty much free to move as you wish." He looked around at his team, and sighed. "Come on, guys. I know the competition's pretty stiff today, but that's no excuse for not trying!"

"Pretty stiff?" repeated one camper incredulously. "Freaking unfair is more like it."

"Yeah!" chimed in another. "They've got the entire Ares cabin and Athena cabin and Percy fricking Jackson! Who is invulnerable, in case you forgot!"

The other members of the team made noises of agreement. Jarrell just shrugged. He'd thought, once he'd been revealed as a demigod by that goat guy and brought to Camp Half-Blood, that his losing streak might finally break. But, just like the last fourteen years, he hadn't won at anything since he'd got here. The games of chance with the Hermes cabin he could sort of understand – they were rigged, or so he was told. But the wrestling matches, the sword fights, the foot races – once again he'd come dead last in everything. Still. He'd come to expect it by now, and to tell the truth he hardly ever bothered anymore. He did feel sorry for those on his team, though. It wasn't their fault they were about to lose.

...although from the sounds of it the other team would have steamrolled them even without Jarrell's curse. It couldn't be helped.

"Calm down, people!" Connor was yelling. "Look, we have a plan. We're going for an absolute defensive strategy today – we'll have everyone focusing on defending the flag. Meanwhile, we have our secret weapon here in Hermes cabin! Wendy, you're up!"

A young girl, around eleven, stood forward and raised her hand. She looked nervous, but resolute. Jarrell recognised her from the Hermes cabin, where he was staying. Unlike him, though, who was just staying there until he was claimed by his godly parent, Wendy West was an actual daughter of Hermes.

"Wendy here is the fastest kid here at Camp Half-Blood," Connor said proudly. "No exceptions. As soon as we start, she's going to rush Blue Team and take their flag before they're ready. The rest of us will take care of our flag. Don't let them get it. Oh, and don't forget to cheat. Seriously, guys, cheat your asses off."

Wendy saluted and sprinted off into the trees, even before the conch horn had sounded to start the battle. Connor looked after her fondly.

"That's my girl. Right, the rest of you, here's a defensive formation we jacked from Athena cabin..."

Jarrell listened with half an ear to the plan. It sounded good, but it wouldn't work. He didn't even have to use his gift for picking winners to see it. He could tell just from the fact that he was on the team.

He leaned over and spoke to one of the girls from Apollo cabin. Karin, her name might have been? He couldn't remember. "We're gonna lose this. You know that, right?"

"Look, Jared-"

"Jarrell."

"Jarrell, sorry." Karin put a hand on his shoulder. "Look, you can't be so negative. At least we do actually have a plan this time! That's better than we usually do. And I for one am not going to go down without a fight. Just let them come! I'll fill them full of arrows before they get close!" She faltered. "Um, non-lethal ones, obviously. Still! I'm feeling pretty good about my progress so far! We can totally win! And, um, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it?" Her last statement sounded more like a question to Jarrell.

He chuckled. Her optimism was refreshing after the poor morale the rest of Red Team had displayed. "Thanks. Don't change the fact that we can't win this, though. For what it's worth, I'm sorry 'bout that. It's probably my fault."

Bop!

One of Karin's fowling arrows bounced off Jarrell's head. "Stop that, you! You will be fine and I will be fine and everything will go perfectly and we will have cookies afterwards! So stop worrying!"

Jarrell laughed. "Yes, ma'am."


In the end, of course, the plan was a failure. Wendy managed to seize Blue Team's flag, but was brought down within twenty paces of returning it to the Red side by a rain of arrows masterfully fired from the Ares campers. The defensive formation Connor had had so much faith in turned out to have an easily-exploited weakness, and had been deliberately left lying around the Athena cabin for this very purpose. The blue team's big guns, Clarisse la Rue and Percy Jackson, hadn't even needed to make an appearance, instead watching the battle from a distance.

Jarrell had dropped his sword and surrendered pretty much immediately when the combined forces of the blue team had thrown themselves against the breach in Connor's defensive formation. Why draw out the loss? They hadn't bothered to actually take him prisoner, just sort of stand next to him pointedly. The scattered remnants of the red team looked to staging a guerilla war against the division of Blue Team taking the captured Red flag back to their base, but the battle was pretty much over.

"Don't feel bad," one of the girls from Athena cabin was saying. "Athena and Ares is a tough combo to beat, and your plan was decided by us in the first place. Given that, the smart thing to do really is just to surrender." She smiled at him. "What's your name again?"

Off to one side, Karin was looking pretty betrayed. She had been subdued, and was even now struggling to get out from underneath a burly Ares kid. Jarrell felt guilty. She'd tried so hard, was trying so hard even now, and had never even had a chance, just because he was on the team. And now he wasn't even lifting a finger to help.

He sighed, and turned to the Athena camper. "My name's Jarrell Bradley, and imma do something real stupid."

His punch knocked the girl out cold. He turned, and the motion made the blade aimed for his shoulder miss by a hair. He grabbed clumsily at his guard's hand, and somehow came away with the sword. A quick bonk on the head later, and both his guards were out.

The main part of Blue Team, scattered around the clearing, had noticed. There were, well, quite a lot of them. On the other hand, Jarrell had decided to try to win, and what exactly did he have to lose? He charged.

After about ten seconds, he realised with some surprise he hadn't actually been subdued yet. Luckily, the campers that had responded first to his unexpected resurgence were Ares campers, and their mad rush was blocking the more reasoned Athena campers from actually seeing what was going on, much less trying to co-ordinate efforts. So Jarrell just had to fight a whole lot of one-on-one battles.

Even then, though, he was pretty sure it was weird that every strike of his managed to hit his opponent just right so that they fell over. Or that three others got tangled up and went down with them. Or that some of them slipped on the wet leaves and fell over by themselves.

Jarrell hadn't won a single sword fight since he'd come to Camp Half-Blood. But that didn't mean he hadn't been paying attention.

A burly guy, from Hephaestus cabin maybe, came at him swinging two hammers. Jarrell sidestepped, and struck at his wrist. The kid howled and dropped his hammer – right onto his foot. He hopped up and down, and never saw Jarrell's second strike to the back of his head.

Two girls alternated shooting arrows at him, one firing while the other was reloading. He strolled towards them, and every arrow just happened to miss. Once in range, he hit one's bow so hard it broke, sending splinters everywhere - one of which snapped the other's bowstring.

Someone, he couldn't tell who, came charging at him with a spear. At the last second, he tripped, and fell face-first into Jarrell's upward swing.

In the space of about five minutes, Jarrell had singlehandedly defeated most of Blue Team. It was as if his entire life's stock of luck had been saving itself for this moment. He stared at his handiwork in shock. An entire clearing of groaning bodies, and himself standing above them all, victorious.

Something was very weird.

But, he wasn't done yet. To win, he needed to take Blue Team's flag back to his base, and stop the Red flag from being taken to the other base. Jarrell ran off into the woods after the group that had taken the flag.

He came across them jogging along the top of a small cliff. Maybe five metres below, the river ran; the half-way boundary of the battlefield, and the division of territory. If they crossed holding the flag, they'd won. Jarrell caught up with them, and in a handful of moments it was over, his freaky luck having seen him through once again.

"You were right, Jackson," said a voice from behind him. "He is interesting."

Jarrell spun, to find two older kids behind him. These didn't look the same as the others in Blue Team. One wore impressive red armour, complete with a helmet in the shape of a boar's head. The other was bareheaded, dark hair blowing in the breeze, with a scrap of blue cloth around his arm to signify which team he was on.

It was impossible to be at Camp Half-Blood and not know who these two were. Clarisse la Rue, drakon slayer, the head counsellor for Ares cabin, and by far one of the best fighters in the camp. In a demonstration, Jarrell had seen her wrangle no less than five of her unruliest half-brothers and -sisters with as much effort as picking up a puppy. He'd heard any number of stories about her, ones that seemed incredible even in this new world of gods and monsters that he'd found himself in.

The stories about Percy Jackson, though, he believed every word of. No-one could just make up stories like those.

And, apparently, they were both here and interested in fighting him.

"Uh, hi," Jarrell began, "would you believe me if I said this was all just beginner's luck?"

Percy chuckled. "Oh yeah. Hey, Clarisse, remember my first game of capture the flag?"

"Shut up, Jackson, or I'll kick your ass, invulnerable or not." Clarisse pushed her helmet's visor up, revealing her strong features, and glared at Jarrell. "Alright, kid, we were watching when you wiped out half my forces by yourself. You've been holding back on us. Beginner's luck or not, no-one manages that without either serious skill, or serious power."

"Well, I did," said Jarrell frantically. "Look, I surrender, okay? Ain't no way I can beat you two, no how. Take the flag and go, I don't care. I don't want no-"

"Now, you might not know this," Clarisse interrupted, "but I'm one of the ones that's responsible for the defence of Camp Half-Blood. So forget about capture the flag. Forget about cabin rivalries, all of that useless crap. You look like a guy I can use, so I'm gonna beat you until I see what you're made of. Sound good?" She took a stance. "No surrendering, maggot!"

"Kid, I suggest you take her seriously," Percy said, casually. "Although she looks like that, Clarisse's really diligent when it comes to finding fighters she can depend on." He raised his own sword. "I'm interested in how you'll do as well. You say you just got lucky? Well, I seem to get lucky myself, these days. I'd like to see what happens when we crack those two powers into each other."

Aw hell. Jarrell raised his arms out to each side. "Well, hell. Come at me, bro!"

Clarisse surged forward. She looked like a linebacker, but moved like a running forward, and her trident was launching towards Jarrell's neck faster than he could react. His flinch took him to one side, but Clarisse reversed direction immediately and bashed him with her shield. Jarrell staggered back a couple of steps, and Percy's opening strike passed through the space he'd occupied.

Jarrell attacked back with everything he had. Once again, he got lucky. Percy fell for every feint and fake Jarrell pulled, and assumed a feint every time Jarrell went for a direct strike. Each and every one of Jarrell's striked landed cleanly on Percy's arms and body…

...and had about as much effect as if he'd attacked with a nerf bat instead. Percy looked down. "Huh. So it's not just avoiding hits, I really am invincible. Thanks, kid!" He responded with his own flurry, incredibly fast and accurate. Jarrell struggled to defend, and the only thing that saved him was Clarisse barrelling into him once more and forcing him away from the punishing rain of blows.

Clarisse clearly wanted to deliver her own punishing blows.

Jarrell blocked and parried and riposted and dodged and spun and thrust and none of it was doing any good. His insane luck held, but he had no idea how to handle himself in a sword fight – heck, a fight in general – and Percy and Clarisse were just too good.

The daughter of Ares was like a living hurricane, unstoppable and irresistible. Each blow that Jarrell found his arm miraculously in place to block made his sword ring like a bell, and her shield simply cleared everything out of the way whenever it was swung. She never stopped attacking, not once. She was pure martial skill and ferocity embodied, and that was just unfair even before you added in her ridiculous strength.

Percy, on the other hand, was more considered in his approach. Perhaps appropriately, his attacks came in waves. Usually, when Jarrell was reeling from a bash from Clarisse's shield, Percy would dart in and deliver a hellish series of blows, then retreat out of range. There were periods when he could be counter-attacked, but it was like stabbing the ocean – pointless. Percy didn't carry a shield, because he could simply bat aside Jarrell's attacks with his bare hand. This meant he was almost – almost – as fast as Clarisse.

Yet still Jarrell's luck held. More often than not it took the form of one of the combatants interfering with the other, but occasionally one of them stumbled just as they were about to deliver a finishing blow, or else Jarrell found himself accidentally parrying Percy's sword into the path of Clarisse's trident.

It wasn't enough. He was still being pushed back towards the edge of the cliff. As soon as he realised this, Jarrell knew that he would lose. Again. As always.

Is this what you want? a voice in his head asked.

He grit his teeth. A rock under his heel gave him the footing to resist a kick from Percy.

Will you give up? Karin's expression, determined despite the odds, flashed in his mind.

No. He'd decided he was going to try, hadn't he? For the first time in a long time, Jarrell found himself believing it was possible to win.

"win..." he muttered.

"What's that?" asked Percy.

"I said..." began Jarrell. His sword blurred out in a horizontal line at eye level, forcing both his opponents to step back. "I WANT TO WIN!"

He closed his eyes.

He opened them with the sight of victory.


Everything was so clear. His luck, he realised, hadn't been luck at all, really, it just looked like that from the outside. Now, though, he was aware of what he was doing, and that made all the difference. He could see exactly the steps he needed to take.

Spin to one side so Clarisse's thrust overextends and places her on poor footing. Strike the back of the head as she slips so she falls down the cliff, then leap off. Land on the rocks here then here then here and stamp on the prone form. Kick the boar helmet into the path of Percy's slash. Lunge forward to dodge the wave from behind.

Follow the lunge, sway right then left, then strike the wrist and pull and throw the sword away. Leap backto avoid the water, kick Clarisse as she rises. Cut the water here to disrupt Percy's control, step in between Clarisse and Percy.

Wait.

Wait.

Dodge the lightning from Clarisse's trident. Throw the sword into the cliff precisely where it struck. Leap back from the landslide and kick Clarisse upon landing.

Cross the creek, retrieve the Blue flag, cross once again.

Victory.


"Hello, my son."

Jarrell awoke from… a trance? A dream? Well, not quite. He was back to his usual self, but now this state seemed like a dream – so unclear, so fuzzy. But there was no time to wonder.

He looked at the woman in the suit who had appeared on the riverbank next to him. She was white, if dark-haired, and Jarrell had certainly never had the money to afford a suit, let alone the classy black one this woman was wearing, but he could see some resemblance to himself in her nevertheless. The nose, maybe.

"You're… my mom?"

"That's right. I am Nike, the goddess of victory." She smiled at him proudly, and that part he did recognise. That was him after he'd tried his best as a kid.

Well, that made sense. Ever since he'd started trying to win, he'd just… won. It hadn't even been hard. And then at the end, when he'd done whatever he'd done, it was like he could see the path to victory, and simply follow the instructions towards guaranteed success.

"Huh. Look, um, this might not be the best time, got a couple of pissed-off demigods gonna be waking up anytime soon-"

"Look around you," Nike interrupted. Jarrell did. Everything looked normal at first glance. Then he saw it. The trees were too still. The birds hung in the sky. The water was frozen, but not flat like ice. Bits of spray hovered. The world, apparently, was on pause.

"Time stop? You the goddess of time as well?"

Nike shook her head. "Victory lives in a single moment. There is the battle, the game, the test, and then there is the aftermath, the celebration. But victory? There is exactly one instant you can point to, in this case the moment you crossed the river holding the Blue flag. That is where we are."

"Interesting..." It made sense to Jarrell. It wasn't over until the fat lady sang, after all. "So, Nike-"

"Mom will do," the goddess said softly.

"Right, um, Mom… that bit at the end there, is that how you feel all the time? That clarity?"

"No… not quite. I am victory, not the victorious themselves. But yes, that was my blessing in its purest form."

"And… I can just do that whenever? Just insta-win everything forever?"

"With caveats, yes." Nike studied Jarrell's face. She seemed… apprehensive.

Jarrell took a breath. Okay. Okay. His parent had claimed him. That was good. But, well…

He'd been thinking of what he'd say to his mother if he ever found her since he was five years old. His dad never once talked about her, and the one time Jarrell asked his dad had got such a sad expression on his face that Jarrell had changed the subject quickly and never mentioned it again. It had been hard. All he knew was that some kids had moms, and some didn't, and he was one of the ones that didn't. His dad was great, the best parent a kid could ask for, but it still felt like something was missing.

Now here she was. Jarrell opened his mouth to ask his first question, but he realised something mid-thought and what came out was, "So you've been out of my life forever… is that why I couldn't win at anything? Because victory herself wanted nothing to do with me?" His eyes stung. "Why, Mom? Why didn't you want to see how I grew up? Why didn't you want to be with Dad? Didn't you love him? Did-" he choked, "didn't you- didn't you love-"

Nike threw her arms around him as he started to cry, and buried his head in her shoulder. "Never believe I didn't want you, Jarrell. I wanted to be with you every moment of every day, I wanted to share in your every triumph. But more than that I wanted you alive. There's a reason the gods can't interfere with their children until they realise themselves as demigods. Right now, as a fully-fledged hero, I can channel my blessing through you easily, make you unstoppable. But then? As a child? All my presence would have done is draw every monster for miles around straight to the door of you and your father." She squeezed tighter. "I could never have stayed away if I'd come to you then, never have forced myself to leave. My only option was to stay away. For that… for that I am truly sorry, Jarrell. You strived hopelessly for victory all those years."

Jarrell took a shuddering breath, then raised his head. "But I don't need to strive any more, right? You're here with me, aren't you?"

"Always. Always."

Jarrell pulled away, and stood up straight. "Well, then. I guess I forgive you. And… I guess I'm gonna have to rethink a couple of things." He looked at Nike- at his mother. "So, um, those caveats you mentioned, what were they?"

"Ah? Oh. Well, it's tied into the nature of victory. There are foregone victories, and flawless victories, but there are also pyrrhic victories and victories one step above a draw. Thus, when you perceive the path to victory, your win is assured – but the consequences are not. Also, I am fickle – I can go to whichever side I will. So, my son, be sure your cause is correct, because I will care not. Also, victory is not the same thing as success. To be victorious requires another to be defeated – I cannot give you the power to heal, only to perform surgery better than the doctor next to you. And lastly..." she looked away, "look, I love you and I'm always there for you, but if you rely too much on my blessing to win your battles… well, every mother wants her child to succeed on his own. How could she ever be proud of him otherwise?"

"I get it. 'sides, what kid wants his mom to fight all his battles for him?" Jarrell laughed. "And I have Dad for the unconditional pride, anyway." He picked up his sword from the pile of rocks that was the collapsed riverbank. "Oh, that reminds me."

Nike quirked an eyebrow. "Hm?"

"What made you choose Dad? Like, what attracted you to him?" Jarrell thought for a moment and then waved his hands. "Feel free not to answer if I'm gonna be grossed out by it!"

His mom laughed. "It's nothing like that. It's… well, among other things I am also the goddess of personal victories. The ex-con who stays clean for another year, the mountain climber who conquers his most difficult peak, I can see such things clear as day."

"Right..." said Jarrell slowly.

"Have you ever wondered why your father never drinks alcohol? He was a drunk, you know. But each day he stays sober is another victory for him, and he has the humility to realise this and be glad of it." She smiled wistfully. "It's rather intoxicating for me, ironically. I suppose I should pay him a visit. I wonder if he's kept his figure..."

"Mom!"

Nike laughed, and planted a kiss on Jarrell's forehead. "Sorry, dear. I should be going, though."

Jarrell accepted the kiss the way all fourteen year olds did, and then wiped it off furiously. When he looked up, the river was flowing again.

Next to his ankle, a rock shifted, and Percy Jackson emerged, grinning cheerfully. "Well!" he said. "That… was quite something. Wouldn't you agree, Clarisse?"

"Kid's got chops, not gonna deny it," said Clarisse grudgingly, picking herself off the ground. "Hey, what's that on your forehead?"

Percy leaned in and peered at Jarrell. "Yeah, that's a godly mark all right. You've been claimed?" he asked.

"Um, yeah," said Jarrell. "Turns out my mom is Nike. So, uh, that's a thing."

"Nike? The freaking goddess of victory is your mother? Shoot," snorted Clarisse, "we never had a chance to begin with."

Jarrell shrugged. "Sorry."

"Ah, don't worry about it. Unfair fight's still a fight, and that's what counts. Still I'm having you on my team for the next capture the flag, and that's final, kid."

A thought struck Jarrell. "Yeah, about that..."


"What do you mean you're not participating in any more camp activities?" Clarisse's voice sounded a lot louder in the room in the Big House than it did on a battlefield. Jarrell winced, but everyone else present seemed used to it.

"I have to agree with Clarisse," Chiron said gravely. "They may seem like games to you, but these are the best ways to train you, all of you, for a world that wishes you dead. Jarrell, I urge you to reconsider."

Jarrell rolled his eyes. "I'm not tryna stop everyone from participating. I get it, mock battles for training, all that stuff. All I'm saying is, I'm opting out."

"He can opt out?" Percy asked. "Hey, why couldn't I opt out?"

"He certainly cannot," Chiron said. "We have been given a responsibility to train you all-"

"Train me, sure," Jarrell interrupted. "Put me through the wringer, bring it on. I'm not saying I'll skip out on sword lessons, I know I've still got a lot to learn." Clarisse snorted. Jarrell didn't acknowledge her, but instead looked straight into Chiron's eyes.

"Look, Mr. Chiron, I've been thinking a lot about victory, lately. I figure I gotta know about what it means more than anyone else does. And the thing about victory is you can't claim it at the start, you gotta actually fight the battle first. So, if I'm the closest thing to victory that we have here… you see the issue, right? If I join, the battle's done. And that ain't fair to you guys, and it ain't fair on me either."

Percy raised his hand. "You're not actually victory, you know. Like, I control the ocean, but I'm not my dad."

Jarrell nodded. "You're right, but… look, the ocean is in one place and that's it. With Zeus the sky is just up there. Ares is closer, since battles and conflict can be in a bunch of places, but they can still go either way. What I'm trying to say is, my mom's a bit conceptual than the other gods. She doesn't exist until the moment someone wins, and then she does, and only for that instant…. aw, hell, I'm just rambling here. Basically, I don't gotta try and attain victory, because my mom's got my back twenty-four seven, wherever I am. And because of that, the winning doesn't matter. The taking part doesn't matter either, because it's the uncertainty of victory that makes the game worthwhile. I don't have that, so your games mean nothing."

There was a pause while all present tried to make sense of this, including Jarrell.

"So you're saying," began Rachel Dare, "that since you can't lose, you can't really play in the first place?"

Jarrell shrugged. "Sure, why not. Sounds good to me."

Chiron sighed. "Well, I suppose I can't stop you from abstaining. But please at least show up? They really are quite wonderful bonding exercises," he said, sounding vaguely pleading.

"Yeah, okay. I can declare a winner, you know? I think my mom'd like that."

"Oh, very well. You are a complicated one, aren't you? You know, you're the first of the children of Nike we've found here at Camp Half-Blood. I suppose, as usual, this is your fault, Percy."

Percy grinned. "Yeah, but aren't things more fun now that the minor gods are acknowledging their kids like they promised? Like that Clovis guy in the new Hypno cabin." He leaned backwards. "Nike cabin. Heh. Can we make it like a gym? Treadmills and weights everywhere? Man, that sounds awesome."

"If sweaty," added Rachel.

"No, see, that's the best bit..."

Jarrell smiled. For the first time, he realised what it felt like to be a winner. Sure, the actual winning felt great. But another key part of victory was that you got to achieve your objectives. Jarrell had a feeling that things would just keep falling his way for a while.


Jarrell had his cabin to himself, for a long time after that. It wasn't built like a gym, although Hermes Cabin insisted on spray-painting Adidas logos on the front door every now and again. Somehow he always caught them in the act.

Over the years before he'd come to Camp Half-Blood, he'd grown apathetic with the whole idea of participating in games or sports. He'd trained himself to not care about the outcome, because he knew he'd always lose. It was an entirely different feeling, not caring about the outcome because he knew he'd always win. It felt much better.

His mother visited him a couple more times. His second summer, when he finally worked up the courage to ask Karin out (without using the blessing, which would have allowed him to say exactly the right things but not mean anything), it was apparently such a personal victory it allowed Nike to pull both him and Karin into a time stop and start gushing. Jarrell was just pleased she left before giving 'the talk', or asking for grandchildren.

As he'd intended, he didn't participate in any of the camp's mock battles, or races, or anything like that. Apart from once – Apollo cabin challenged him, with their blessing to date their sister as the stakes, and managed to drum up support from literally every other cabin. Victory against overwhelming odds was also within Nike's purview, though, and he'd come through without a scratch, having remained in 'path to victory' mode for a full hour and a half.

It was worth it, even if his mother took the opportunity, during his moment of victory, to recount her first date with his dad in the name of 'inspiration'.

Jarrell wasn't given any quests, which was just fine by him. He'd much rather live a quiet life, and the things he heard happened on Percy's adventures sounded just kind of horrible. Besides, it was far more important for the other campers to grow and learn and discover things about themselves. His hero's journey was done, he'd completed it as soon as he'd won something once.

He was delighted to discover his twin half-sisters, both six years younger than him. After her first week at Camp Half-Blood Jarrell had had to enter 'path to victory' mode no less than four times to rein Nanami in when she got over-competitive. She couldn't access the paths to victory, but her ability to be just slightly better than the person she was competing against meant it hardly mattered. Meanwhile, it was an established fact that Sakurako was the only person who could beat the entire Hermes cabin at poker. It didn't matter how they stacked the deck, she was so damned lucky it was unfair. Victory through skill, victory through luck. Jarrell loved them both.

All in all, Jarrell was quite happy with his life, with his newfound family. He was quite content to let the world go by, above the struggles that defined so much of the lives of everyone else.


Well, unless there was an Ares camper that really needed an ass-kicking, anyway.