The first thing I noticed when I came around was how dark it was.
Well, when I came around for good, that is. There were moments before where I felt a brief glimpse of consciousness, only for it to be cruelly snatched away before I could even begin to comprehend it.
This time, though. Permanent. It was permanent. I could think. I could recognize my own autonomy. My emotions, good and bad. I tried to open my eyes and failed before realizing that they were already open. Wide-open, actually.
I felt like I was at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, staring into the endless and unyielding ocean- a vision dark enough to muddle my sight and cold enough to make me feel like I was wrapped in layers of ice. It was a horrible, haunting feeling.
Take a moment. Imagine if you were outside, in the middle of the night. No cell phone, and no flashlight, either. No streetlights, headlights, commercial signs. Nothing. Imagine if someone shut off the stars and moon and you were left to stare blankly into the cosmos.
Maybe then you'll understand what I felt.
The darkness hung around me, clouding my senses. I couldn't smell anything. I couldn't hear my own breathing, feel the weight of my limbs, or feel the taste of my own mouth. I couldn't speak. All I had were the thoughts in my head. Even those felt fleeting...
For all intents and purposes, this existence, this lack of feeling was all I knew. All I'd ever known.
Who was I? Where was I? What was I doing before…I was…here…before…?
There was a fight! I think? Maybe?
Why would I be fighting? Who was I fighting? I don't like fighting, I think. Do I?
Something was missing. It felt off. I felt like a part of me was missing, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I felt hungry and thirsty, but full at the same time. I needed to sneeze. To pee.
Confusion and hysteria built up in my system. I felt like freaking out. Why couldn't anyone hear me? I was screaming! Screaming loudly!
I don't know how long I was like that. It felt like years passed by, but at the same time, it felt like an instant. Just…nothing.
I thought I was dead. I wished I was dead. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted to feel something, anything.
Then, suddenly, the darkness broke. A single thread of pink, no thicker than a string of yarn began coiling down toward me. In normal terms, it couldn't have been any brighter than a half-used glowstick, but in there, in the void, it felt like a column of light wider than a shipping container.
Then suddenly, it touched me. It illuminated my outline in the void, tracing the tip of my head, my fingertips. It snuck around my arms, dipped past my legs, and then lodged itself in my chest, right above my heart. The thread pulsed a few times, and I felt warmth spread from its point of impact. Wait, warmth?
I could feel again.
Before I could celebrate, my body hurt. It hurt like it'd never hurt before. For one of the few times in my life, I couldn't consciously move any part of my body, no matter how hard I tried.
I could still feel the pain, though. It had settled in my bones. Raced through my veins. Splintered out of my skin.
My legs were useless. I couldn't even feel my lower half. My arms hung limply from their sockets, with my hands utterly decimated. The bones in my fingers felt bags of dust, and the appendages hung loosely.
My chest was cut in half. No doubt about it. I could feel pieces of my ribs shooting out, followed by my collarbone. My skin was decimated in places. Even my eyes hurt.
And then, like clockwork, the damage started reversing. My skin slowly started molding back together, merging over pieces of bone that were magically being bent back into the right angles. The feeling in my legs slowly came back, like a small buzz at first, until the sensation overtook my whole body.
The rope tugged. Once. Twice. A third time.
My body went shooting upward, flying toward the top of the void. As it got closer, I noticed the edge shimmering with power. A glassy threshold, set alight by the thread that was currently pulling me along.
When I came to, I was on the ground in an oasis somewhere. I tried, in vain, to look around for a moment, before realizing that [Observe] wasn't coming up. A dream?
"Out of all of the stupid, idiotic things I've stood by and watched you do," A voice I knew all too well whispered furiously from beside me. "This takes the cake. This absolutely takes the cake. What were you thinking?"
Aphrodite sat in the space next to me, her arms crossed. Unlike how she'd looked before, she was tanned. Her previously silver hair was black and chopped short into curtain bangs that hung over her forehead. Her cheekbones were lower, gaunter.
There was no sundress this time. The goddess was clad in a faded leather jacket, ripped jeans, and a pair of beat-up hiking boots. I got the sense she'd just been up a mountain or something, if the snow on her jacket was any indication.
Plus, she was looking at me with a very angry expression. I wasn't used to being on the receiving end of that one from her, of all people.
I was laying on the ground for an incomprehensible amount of time. As I slowly regained my motor function, I could hear the soft swish of air. Salty droplets of water landed on my nose. I wanted so badly to move, to feel.
The thread shifted a bit, and I got pulled into an upright position, leaning against a tree. At least, I thought it was a tree. My touch was all wonky. The only reason I could even tell was that I was leaning against something was the fact that I hadn't collapsed onto the ground.
Aphrodite moved in front of me, getting on her knees so that we were level with each other.
I could see light reflecting off her eyes, a flickering warmth. The shadows of birds flying overhead. Unlike before, even though we were outside, the shadows skirted around Aphrodite- she shone brighter than the sun in the sky.
The goddess was radiating pure power. I'd seen Olympians tap into their power before, like when my uncle decimated Ares, but this was entirely different. I didn't feel scared, nor did I feel heavy pressure squeezing down on me.
I felt warm. Comfortable. It was like the air itself was settling into my skin, telling me that it was okay. That I was okay.
I couldn't seem to take my eyes off her.
"Don't bother trying to speak," Aphrodite spat angrily, her tone a complete antithesis to the palliative vibe she was emanating. Sitting back down, she brought her knees up to her chest, and I noticed the slight jingle of her bracelets. "You're still fragile. I mended your bones and muscles. I'm reconstructing your entire respiratory system right now. You're only breathing because I'm pumping you alive."
Alive? So, I died?
"Not yet. You were on death's door. A coma."
And you stepped in? Isn't that against the rules?
"For normal mortals. You're not a normal mortal," Aphrodite sniffed. "We're still technically husband and wife by Olympian standards, so I'm well within my rights to intervene."
Ah. You pulled me out of wherever I was. Thank you, Aphrodite.
"You weren't anywhere. Iapetus, that bumbling oaf, used his power to manipulate pain to stimulate the equivalent of getting your nerve endings completely obliterated. It fried your insides. Your body was scrubbed clean of all of its senses- you utter fool. If it weren't for the storm, you would've been dead instantly. All I did was jumpstart you."
Jumpstart me? Oh, the thread? Is that thing still there?
I tried to look down, to which she lightly grabbed my chin with her soft fingertips. "Don't move. Yes, you idiot, the thread is still there."
Hey! No need to be mean, Aphro! I'm just trying to make heads or tails of my situation, here!
"Percy, what am I…what am I going to do with you?" She sighed and leaned back into the sand. "Why would you fight that battle? Are you suicidal? You would've known there's no way you'd live."
I had to protect the camp. I needed to make sure my family was safe.
"You could've run- and don't bother arguing, I know you could've. Why not run into the water and call your brother? Slip into the Duat- yeah, I know about that too."
He's at a conference. Wait, how'd you know about the Duat?
"Unimportant. Why not call in Piper?"
"Let me save us both time. The truth, Percy, is that you're arrogant. You thought you would win that battle, somewhere deep down, even if you don't want to admit it," Aphrodite snarled. "And don't bother trying to deny it. Damn it! Do you even think about the people that love you? How do you think your mom feels right now? How do you think MJ feels? They're at camp right now, mourning your death. You told me you wouldn't do this! After all that talk of not lying and not being able to trust me, you just went ahead and did the one thing I suggested you don't do. Can I even trust you after that? Are you going to just keep asking me things I shouldn't tell you about and go ahead and do them anyway?"
I was shocked. I'd never seen Aphrodite so…I don't know…passionate. Not that I could talk anyway, but I was speechless. Mentally speechless. Thoughtless- there we go!
"Do you want to know something, Percy? Before the Greeks and Romans came along, before Homer appeared, and before Hesiod was even conceived, I was still a goddess, only then, I was also a deity of war. Before they took me and made me into what I am now, I traveled the world, and the ancients worshipped me in that aspect as much as anything else," Aphrodite said, looking up at the sky. "They gave me names- Ishtar. Astarte. Inanna. Ixchel. So don't try to tell me I don't understand because I do. I've seen it firsthand. I've done it firsthand. I've spread even more war than you could fathom."
As she spoke, the area shifted through colors. It was like watching paint seep through a canvas. In the trees, on the ground, on the doors, on the people. Reds, oranges, yellows, browns. My attention was drawn back to Aphrodite.
"Look…I know that individually, you and I are both made up of mistakes. I did…I did some things I regret," Aphrodite said tightly. Tears were running down her cheeks. "Our pasts haven't treated us well, but I know our future together- whatever that may be, will. Even if you're the only thing that I ever manage to get right, I'll be okay with that, because it'll mean that I finally let myself feel something I never thought I'd deserve. But for that, you need to be here, okay? Please don't do these kinds of things. Don't throw your life away. You don't know how hard it is for me to see you like this."
I still couldn't talk, so I settled for a nod. She gave me a small smile. Aphrodite placed her hands on my chest, and they glowed pink. "Good. Now hold still. Reconstructing humans is tough work."
And honestly? We just stayed like that for a while. I couldn't tell what I was looking for on her face, but I wasn't disappointed when I found it.
When I woke up from the dream, I expected to be back on the shore of the lake near we'd fought. As much as I'm sure Aphrodite would've loved to give me a lift back to camp, that probably falls into even more 'direct intervention,' and believe me, she's already stepped over that line, marriage or not.
Still, though, you can imagine my surprise, when instead of the marshy ground I remember passing out on, I woke up in a soft, comfy bed. No, scratch that, hospital bed.
Dozens of IVs ran into my arm, hooked up to a celestial bronze version of what looked like a menorah, with glass tubes instead of candles. Each of the tubes was filled with a different liquid that I instantly began to match with my mental database of liquids.
You know, just some son of Poseidon things. Tsunamis and storms are cool, but being able to place the specifics of any liquid after just looking at it is pretty nice, too.
The first one was standard, a hypertonic mix of sodium chloride and sterile water. It was probably for pumping electrolytes into my body. We use a less potent version of it at camp when kids get hurt fighting, or when Clarisse gets too carried away during Capture the Flag.
Knowing Clarisse, I think you can probably guess which one happens more often. Much more often.
The one after was nectar, mixed with a green substance I couldn't quite place. This was the good stuff- our nectar at camp was a diluted version of the ones gods used, but this stuff was pure. Straight from Olympus.
The other four contained different types of water. Freshwater, seawater, a mix, and finally, distilled. The last few IVs contained blood, my type, of course. O negative, baby. Universal donor over here.
Underneath the IVs snaked the wires to an EKG. You know those sticker things people have on their chests in the movies? Yep, that's it. I was sticker-ed up.
The wires were hooked up to a flatscreen that was displaying my heart's electrical activity. It was technologically advanced, with a whole three-dimensional display of my body and all its vital functions.
A resting rate of 55, seems about right. Hey- they even got my abs right!
I noted the EDEN logo in the top right of the screen. Exactly where was I?
The clothes I was wearing when I fought the Titan trio were folded neatly on the chair next to me, but it was pretty obvious that they weren't going to be in wearable condition ever again. I really liked that shirt, too.
My mom got me it for Christmas last year! Luke's done some terrible things, but this is just too far. Is nothing sacred anymore?
But wait…if my clothes are there…yep.
I'm in a hospital gown. The next monster that crosses my path will probably just end up dying of laughter unless I get some real clothes.
Besides that, the room was pretty standard for what I'd expect out of a hospital room. Clean, tile floors. Bright, white lights. The ambient smell of hand sanitizer.
"Ah. Our guest of honor. For a second there, I thought we were going to lose you," A feminine voice said from the door.
The woman who walked through the door, for lack of a better word, was the word metal personified.
Her auburn hair was tucked into a dirty snapback. Even though her torso was mostly covered by a long overcoat, the top few buttons were undone enough that I could see the glint of heavy bronze armor.
Speaking of bronze, her entire left arm was encased in a slim, form-fitting gauntlet that glittered with various jewels and gems.
Her jeans had various rips and tears in them, not that she seemed to notice. Heavy combat boots rounded off the outfit, and she noticed my staring and responded with a laugh that sounded like a bark.
The Game fluttered to life around her.
Medea Zadok [THE NEW DAWN]
STR- 88 (+25)
DEX- 108 (+20)
INT- 73 (+15)
Zadok is of Hebrew origin, and it means "righteous." A fitting last name for the leader of EDEN. Medea has lived a life full of trials and tribulations and suffered more than your average demigod.
Perks: Fearless Leader, The Indestructress, Godslayer*, Ghost…
*THE PERK [GODSLAYER] GRANTS THE USER 2X EXP WHEN INVOLVED IN A FIGHT WITH A DEITY! THIS EFFECT SCALES, DOUBLING FOR EVERY IMMORTAL OPPONENT AND TRIPLING FOR EVERY OLYMPIAN!
There must've been another overhaul while I was out, because for the first time ever, there was a floating 'i' encircled by a pale light next to the gauntlet.
I made the mental effort of pressing it, and the gauntlet's specs showed up, along with a little passage for background. Neat.
[STR][XXX] Pride of Astra Planeta
Orphic Hymn 7 to the Stars (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To the Astron Fumigation from Aromatics. With holy voice, I call the stars on high, pure sacred light, and Daimones of the sky. Celestial stars, the dear progeny of Nyx, in whirling circles beaming far your light; refulgent rays around the heavens ye throw, eternal fires, the source of all below. With flames significant of Fate ye shine, and aptly rule for men a path divine. In seven bright zones, ye run with wandering flames, and heaven and earth compose your lucid frames: with course unwearied, pure and fiery bright, forever shining through the veil of Nyx. Hail, glittering, joyful, ever wakeful fires! Propitious shine on all my just desires, these sacred rites regard with conscious rays, and end our works devoted to your praise."
Created from the essence of the wandering stars, the gauntlet is embedded with different gems that imbue the host with everything from power to speed, to hand warmers.
Um…how the hell did she get this?
"Finished checking me out, yet, Jackson?" Medea said good-naturedly, walking over to me and forcing me to tear my eyes away from the weapon. "I know you just probably went to hell and beck, but you're not in heaven just yet. I know I look it, but I'm not an angel, either. Sorry to burst your bubble."
"I feel like I was hit by an airplane," I said honestly, and Medea grinned. "Actually, scratch that. I wish I was hit by an airplane. That probably would've been easier to tank than the rest of…well, everything."
"Too right. I'm just glad I got to you in time. You're a tough guy to follow, even with our…special capabilities."
That put me on edge, "Our?"
"At ease, waterboy," Medea said gently, taking the seat closest to me. Her dark eyes sought mine out instantly. Confident, capable- I could respect that, "You received a letter from me."
"The bedside letter?" I remembered. "Right. I meant to get around to that, but you caught me at a bad time. And, I know you talked about it already, but it was creepy as hell."
"You try sneaking letter into one of the most secure places in the world. As for the bad timing, I know. I understand. I figured you'd be on the hunt soon after, but you moved a bit too quick for us to triangulate your position," Medea said, holding up a hand at my reaction to us. "Yes, us. Tell me, Percy, what do you know about the life of a demigod? Longevity-wise, of course."
"You find out if you're a demigod around the age of eight to twelve, ideally. Um, the real-lucky ones get to assimilate back into the real world with some training. The older demigods, if they survive, try to live life as normally as they can," I said, quoting Chiron's speech to me last summer.
"Hah! The old horse still believes that, eh?" Medea leaned back into her chair. "In any sense, you're only partially correct. I mean, come on. Do you really think all adult demigods just go on and become everyday joes? That we just decide to give up our heritage?"
"I just don't see any…oh," I stopped halfway. "That's EDEN, isn't it?"
"Sharp. I like that about you," Medea complimented, tapping her finger on the edge of her chair. "It is. Everything around you, technology, and all, was developed by our scientists. Heh. You'd be surprised what motivated Athena and Hephaestus kids can do, given the right tools and time."
"Are you seriously telling me—"
"That there exists a haven for adult demigods, just like camp exists for the younger ones?" Medea finished, a lopsided grin forming on her face. "Yeah. I am. I'm one of the strategoi. We run our government like Athens did, with a board of ten elected officials. I lobbied for the decision to reach out to you."
"Government?" I stared at the woman, numbness radiating through my body. "I…wow. I'm having trouble I think I need a drink."
"Wow, indeed," Medea agreed, offering me her metal hand. "How about this: I'll get you some shoes, I'll show you around, and then, we'll see about that drink."
EDEN was beautiful, in an industrial kind of way.
The first thing that I noticed was the smell. The entire town reeked of gasoline. Even from our vantage point above everything else, the stench hung around the air. It was like EDEN was positioned underneath a gigantic Febreze air freshener, spewing out tar every few minutes.
The next thing I noticed were the buildings; as far as I could see, there were floating buildings everywhere. For some reason, the city was super narrow, and the architects had decided to conserve space by building up instead of out.
I'm no architecture buff, but they also seemed like they made the very conscious decision to design those buildings to be mobile. While a lot of them stood, suspended in the air, there were just as many that were being slowly driven by giant propellers.
Lots of giant gears were just laying around the city streets, which looked like a patchwork of tile, cobblestone, clay, and whatever else they had on hand at the time.
Medea walked me through the city, offering her shoulder for support. "EDEN, well. It came to fruition a few decades ago. Back then, it was just a ragtag group of demigods who had decided to leave camp."
Medea gave me a look, "Why stay, after a certain point? Tell me, Percy, do you really think you'd want to spend time making macaroni art all day? Singing at a campfire?"
She had a point. "I guess not. But still, all of this?"
"You'd be surprised how many adult demigods there are, out there in the world. If you think it's hard being a kid and a demigod, imagine trying to be an adult demigod. Balancing work, taxes, relationships, all the while having no control over when a monster will attack and take it all away," Medea said solemnly. "Bouncing from city to city, trying to make ends meet. Doing all of this without the support of the camp. It's a cruel cycle- not many gain the favor of the gods as you have. A lot of us just kind of ended up by the wayside. There had to be a permanent solution."
I craned my neck. Above us, huge black clouds twisted into the sky. Wires for trollies splintered out like a spiderweb, spinning in every direction. Some ways away, near a tent, hammers made loud banging sounds.
There was something else- a low rumble. If I focused hard enough, I could hear it over the sound of everything else.
"Demigods, more than anyone, deserve to live a normal life. The founder, Stanley Tigerman felt this more than anyone else. He dreamed of a haven, a place where retired demigods could live, go to college, get married, and start a life. So, he defected from camp, took whoever would come, and came here. He wasn't the first to try it, and we're not the only ones out there, but trust me, you don't want to meet the others."
"And where is here, exactly?" I wondered aloud, filing away the secondary part of what she said away for later. My brain already felt like the trolley tracks- being pulled and stretched in every way imaginable. "And how does this work? How is this sustainable?"
"All valid questions," Medea smiled. I got the sense that this conversation was going the way she'd hoped. "We leverage our abilities and outsource work into the mortal world. Under the overarching company name EDEN, we provide everything from manual labor, to architects, athletes, psychologists- you name it. Anything a mortal can do, a demigod can do better. Fun fact, we actually trade on Wall Street."
She paused, closing her eyes.
"As for where we are, that's a bit tough. You see, Percy, we're…nowhere. Through careful planning between our Athenians and Hexes-children of Hecate- we've devised a way to mask ourselves from monsters. The downside, of course, being that we're constantly on the move."
That brought me up short, "On the move? This? How could this entire city possibly be on the move?"
"Children of Janus and Ariadne," Medea supplied instantly. "It's getting harder as our population increases, but for now, we've developed a method of transportation called caving. Children of Janus have the unique ability to create doorways to the legendary labyrinth- the one from the myths- whereas Ariadne's children can navigate it."
"I thought she was married to Mr. D," I muttered. On the other hand, that explained the constant rumbling noise. "So, you're constantly tunneling. You don't technically exist anywhere."
"Well, Mr. D has other kids, too. Don't…don't get me started on how weird Olympian marriages are. As for your second statement, precisely. That's another reason it took so long for me to reach you. I originally meant to aid in your battle, but the calculations to create a proper doorway to your position took far longer than expected," Medea bit her lip. "We only have so many children and descendants of Janus to spare."
"Your population is growing too fast," I put two and two together. "The more buildings you create, the more mouths you feed—"
"—the harder it is to sustain our safety. With the number of demigods we have in one place—"
"—you'd be swarmed with the worst of the worst," I finished for her, taking a page out of her book. "Camp's wards…you know I got the apple. You want me to key EDEN into them."
Medea stopped in her tracks, legitimate shock filtering through her constructed mask of neutrality, "You're even smarter than I expected."
"Camp has the space," I said, nodding politely at her praise. "Past the Big House. The only problem I see is the buildings themselves. I dig the whole steampunk vibe, sure, but you'd ruin the natural appeal of camp with all this gunk. Besides, why come to me? Surely, Chiron or Mr. D would be a bit more, well, proper."
"Simple. You're going to power the wards," Medea replied. "Even if Chiron and Mr. D want us there, once that apple is sacrificed, you get the final say. As for your other concern, we can convert to hydro for the factories and offices, and rebuild homes in a more sustainable way. You might need to help us with set-up though, given your unique talents with water."
"Okay, sure. In your letter, you said this was a good opportunity for me. How so? I want to help, yeah, but right now, you're making it sound like I'm just doing work."
"Heh. Good. Never give out things for free, even to allies," Medea praised again. "Simple. Should the camp and EDEN merge, you'll get access to all our vast resources. Not all of them, of course, but you'll be made a step near strategoi. It won't be strictly above, but diagonal to what I am. I want to protect my people, but I won't be giving one person complete control over everything we do."
"How about the overlap? If what you said is true, how can we combine the two camps into one seamlessly?"
Medea shrugged, "That's a good question. We can draft more detailed plans soon, but for starters, we'd have to make a sort of in-between, where our common buildings would be. Things like a supermarket, a school."
"And your government?" I wondered.
"Stays with us. We won't force kids to get involved with all of that, but I would recommend informing the counselors. I'm sure you guys want a say in stuff."
My training from Atlantis was starting to kick back in, and I started approaching the deal from an economic point of view. "Smart. And, probably for the best. You mentioned resources- can I get a lite version of EDEN's worth?"
"Our stock is currently valued at $330. Rather impressive, of course, seeing that our only shareholders are other prominent demigods. We have well over a hundred buildings, vehicles, you name it. Beyond that, I can offer the demigods at camp natural progression," We both knew that was the main appeal. "A few of our citizens are professors. We could bankroll a school at the camp for the year-rounders, a college. As I said, our construction companies could create a city around camp, with a little help from you. And, of course, for the demigods that don't want to let go of their heritage…"
Medea pulled up her gauntlet. It flowed with mana, slowly brightening. She tapped a green gemstone, and not even a moment later, two men appeared in front of us.
"You called?" The one on the right said.
"Just demonstrating something," Medea smiled. "Take a run for me."
The two men looked at each other with partially annoyed expressions but shrugged and got in a runner's stance. A moment later, they disappeared in an explosion of smoke, and even with my eye, I lost track of them rather fast.
"Demigods get more powerful with age. As you saw, children of Hermes, when trained properly, can move at speeds up to Mach 5 by the time they turn twenty."
"That isn't possible," I said instantly. "How can any mortal survive that speed? Wouldn't their skin just like, rip off?"
"Ah, ah, ah. You're thinking about the whole concept wrong. The question isn't what speed can a human body handle, it's what acceleration it can handle," Medea grinned. "Velocity doesn't matter. The Apollo 10 crew were traveling at Mach 32 for days and felt like they were just floating around in their spacecraft. If you approach it correctly, there is simply no limit to what a mortal body can handle- with reason, of course."
"So, you found a way to survive the initial acceleration," I gaped. "How did you ever create something capable of augmenting a human that much? And why the hell didn't you send one of them to save me?"
"Running fast by human standards doesn't protect you against a Titan," Medea returned sternly. "I won't send my men out to die. But, do you see now? This is what I can offer you. Together, we can create an ultimate haven for any child or descendant of the gods, safe from mortal eyes and any foe."
"Fine. If that's really the case, can I make a request?"
"My training is stagnating at camp," I said truthfully. "Can you get your people to create, like, a specific gym for me? With heavier than normal weights, faster treadmills. That stuff."
"I think we can do that. Besides, since you're the middleman, you should get your own office space, too, between camps," Medea said, tapping her lip. "We'll do that. I'll get you in touch with my best people, and we'll make it a reality. Call it a thank-you for letting us in."
"I don't think there's much left for me to say," I said honestly. I had a dozen more questions, but I'd heard enough to be on board. Besides, everyone in this city was technically my family. There's no way I was going to leave them behind in their time of need."I'm in. When are you—"
My head flicked to the right. A bright blue circle appeared in my vision- Annabeth snapped the arrow!
"I need to go," I said urgently. "Now."
"Settle down," Medea said, her commanding tone doing little to stop me. "You're in no condition to fight. You've been out for three weeks, man."
"Someone I care about is in danger. If I let myself get cut in half for my loved ones, do you really think I'll stop here?"
"Fine. I'll have to tag along," Medea smirked. "I'm not letting you get iced before you let us into camp."
"Ha, ha. I'll explain everything later," I said, closing my eyes and charging up the second tier. "Can you keep a secret?"
"You'd be surprised."
The broken arrow summoned us to the backside of some island, where long, jagged cliffs rose straight up a good two hundred feet.
"She must've snapped it before going up," I muttered to myself, bending down to pick up the pieces of the arrow.
"I've seen this place before," Medea supplied from behind me. "One of our scribes painted it. A fat lot of good that did, 'cause I still couldn't even begin to tell you where we are. Our best bet for your friend, though? Probably up those rather hospitable-looking rocks."
The cliffs looked climbable, alright, barely climbable—I'd say they were twice as difficult looking as the lava wall back at camp, and that wall was a nightmare to climb last time.
We didn't have the luxury of time, though.
Medea and I walked over to the edge of the rocks and made our way up, very slowly.
I hated to admit it, but Medea was right. Even though Aphrodite had supposedly reconstructed my body, I still felt raw and untapped. I'd compare the feeling to religiously going to the gym for a few days, taking a month off, and then coming back in and trying to max out.
I could tell I still had the raw strength, but it was locked away for now. My entire body hurt.
It was hard and barely doable, but I knew I needed to get to Annabeth. [Death's Leap] was grayed out because of the massive jump I'd just taken with it, too, so I had no choice but to scale it the old-fashioned way.
It wasn't too bad.
Alright, well, full disclosure, I did lose my grip once. My hand just refused to keep clenching, and it conveniently gave out as I tried to grab a handhold.
Lo and behold, I found myself dangling by one hand from a ledge fifty feet above the rocky surf.
"I'll catch you if you fall!" Medea promised, but I didn't feel like testing her theory out, so I just waited a few moments before trying again.
As I climbed, I thought back to Aphrodite. I hadn't talked to her in a few days, but she'd still gone out of her way to speed up my healing exponentially. I could only imagine what could've happened to Annabeth if I hadn't woken up out of that coma when I did.
Thinking about the love goddess made my head feel kind of dizzy though.
Why does she care so much about me, still? Is that normal for couples after they break up? I don't know why, but I just can't wrap my head around the fact that she'd go through everything she went through for me.
I can't really be that important to her. It just doesn't make sense. I'm just…me. I know I'm a kickass guy, but still. Why me?
Finally, when my fingers felt like molten lead and my arm muscles were shaking from exhaustion, we hauled ourselves over the top of the cliff and I collapsed.
"I'm impressed you even did all that," Medea complimented, helping me up. "Fresh out of a coma and scaling two-hundred-foot cliffs. We should spar sometime."
"Yeah," I wheezed. "Preferably after I'm back to normal."
"You're no fun."
"Garr!" A third voice bellowed out of nowhere, and I found myself stepping closer to the edge. A loose bit of earth shifted underneath me, and I frowned as it broke off completely.
The ledge we were sitting on was narrower than I'd realized. It dropped off on the opposite side, and that's where the voice was coming from—right below us.
"You're a feisty one!" the deep voice bellowed.
"Challenge me!" Clarisse's voice, no doubt about it. "Give me back my sword and I'll fight you!"
The creature roared with laughter.
Medea and I crept to the edge. "Percy…this isn't good."
Below us stood a giant Cyclops and Grover, who was in a poorly made wedding dress, for some reason. What did this dude get up to this summer?
Clarisse and Annabeth were tied up, hanging upside down over a pot of scalding water. My blood boiled at the sight, but I forced myself to stay calm. I needed to keep a clear head.
"Hmm," The Cyclops pondered. "Eat loudmouth girl now or wait for wedding feast? What does my bride think?"
He turned to Grover, who backed up and almost tripped over his completed bridal train. "Oh, um, I'm not hungry right now, dear. Perhaps—"
"Did you say bride?" Clarisse demanded. "Who—Grover?"
Next to her, I could see Annabeth muttering, "Shut up. She has to shut up."
The monster glowered. "What 'Grover'?"
"The satyr!" Clarisse yelled.
"Oh!" Grover yelped. "The poor thing's brain is boiling from that hot water. Pull her down, dear!"
His eyelids narrowed over his baleful milky eye as if he were trying to see Clarisse more clearly.
The Cyclops was an even more horrible sight than I could've dreamed of. I didn't even know they made monsters like this. He was dressed in a wedding outfit—a crude kilt and shoulder-wrap, stitched together from baby-blue tuxedoes as if he'd skinned an entire wedding party.
"What satyr?" He bellowed. "Satyrs are good eating. You bring me a satyr?"
"No, you big idiot!" howled Clarisse. "That satyr! Grover! The one in the wedding dress!"
I wanted to wring Clarisse's neck, but it was too late. All I could do was watch as the Cyclops turned and ripped off Grover's wedding veil—revealing his curly hair, his scruffy adolescent beard, his tiny horns.
Oh boy. The monster breathed heavily, trying to contain his anger.
"I don't see very well," he growled. "Not since many years ago when the other hero stabbed me in the eye. But YOU'RE—NO —LADY—CYCLOPS!"
The Cyclops grabbed Grover's dress and tore it away. Underneath, the old Grover reappeared in his jeans and T-shirt. Thank Zeus. If I saw Grover without any clothes on, I probably would've stabbed myself in the eyes, too.
He yelped and ducked as the monster swiped over his head.
"Stop!" Grover pleaded. "Don't eat me raw! I—I have a good recipe!"
I reached for my sword, but Medea hissed, "Wait!"
The Cyclops was hesitating, a boulder in his hand, ready to smash his would-be bride.
"Recipe?" he asked Grover. "You have recipe?"
"Oh y-yes! You don't want to eat me raw. You'll get E Coli and botulism and all sorts of horrible things. I'll taste much better grilled over a slow fire. With mango chutney! You could go get some mangos right now, down there in the woods. I'll just wait here."
"Grilled satyr with mango chutney," He mused. He looked back at Clarisse, still hanging over the pot of boiling water. "You a satyr, too?"
"No, you overgrown pile of dung!" she yelled. "I'm a girl! The daughter of Ares! Now untie me so I can rip your arms off!"
"Rip my arms off," The monster repeated.
"And stuff them down your throat!"
"You got spunk."
"Let me down!" The Cyclops snatched up Grover as if he were a wayward puppy. "Have to graze sheep now. Wedding postponed until tonight. Then we'll eat satyr for the main course!"
"But…you're still getting married?" Grover sounded surprisingly hurt. I somehow resisted the urge to smack my forehead. "Who's the bride?"
"Not bride, satyr, brides," He looked toward the boiling pot.
Clarisse made a strangled sound. Annabeth turned an ugly shade of purple and her mouth opened. In a surprising turn of events, Clarisse beat Annabeth to the punch, "Oh, no! You can't be serious. I'm not—"
Before Medea or I could think about doing anything, he plucked her and Annabeth off the rope like they were ripe apples and tossed them deep into the cave. "Make yourself comfortable! I come back at sundown for big event!"
Then the Cyclops whistled, and a mixed flock of goats and sheep flooded out of the cave and past their master. As they went to pasture, Polyphemus patted some on the back and called them by name—Beltbuster, Tammany, Lockhart, etc.
When the last sheep had waddled out, he rolled a boulder in front of the doorway as easily as I would close a refrigerator door, shutting off the sound of Clarisse and Grover screaming inside.
"Mangos," We heard him grumble to himself. "What are mangos?"
He strolled off down the mountain in his baby-blue groom's outfit, leaving us alone with a pot of boiling water and a six-ton boulder.
"Pleasant," Medea commented, rising out of her squat. "I'm guessing those were your friends?"
"Damn. I was hoping it was the Cyclops. Any plans on how to discreetly get in there?" Medea followed up, putting emphasis on the word discreetly. I noticed her absent-mindedly touch her gauntlet.
Somehow, I assumed that Medea blasting the rock into a million different pieces might catch the attention of the monster. She was right- we needed to find a better way in.
A plan started hatching in my head, "Yeah. We move the rock."
"How did I not think of that?" Medea shook her head as a sardonic chortle escaped from her mouth, "Good plan. Do you want to get some ice cream while we're at it? Should I order takeout, too? Maybe we can just convince the Cyclops to come back and let us in."
"Funny," I deadpanned- Medea has a bigger mouth than I do! I gestured downward, jumping, and sliding down the mountain. I skidded to a halt on the small strip of land in front of the cave.
As I brushed the dirt off my hospital gown- I really should've taken a minute to change- I peeked over the edge, where water was crashing into the jagged edges of the mountain.
Yeah, I can work with that. My body might still be recovering, but water is water.
A few moments later, I had control over two giant water watery arms. Medea made her way behind me, her eyebrows raised. "You, Jackson, are full of surprises."
"I aim to please," I grunted, motioning with my hands. The watery hands slammed into the boulder. It budged an inch at most. "This is going to be annoying."
I funneled more water into the hands, and slowly but surely, the boulder edged away enough to let us into the cave.
We didn't have that hard of a time finding our way through the maze. Medea and I ran down corridors littered with bones, past rooms full of sheepskin rugs and life-size cement sheep that I recognized as the work of Medusa.
There were collections of sheep T-shirts; large tubs of lanolin cream; and wooly coats, socks, and hats with ram's horns.
Finally, I found the spinning room, where Grover was huddled in the corner, trying to cut Clarisse's bonds with a pair of safety scissors. Annabeth was leaning against Clarisse, trying to put pressure on the rope.
Man, Annabeth looked rough. Dazed. She had a nasty cut on her forehead. Her eyes were glassy. Dried blood was on her shirt, along with partially blown away monster dust.
"It's no good," Clarisse said. "This rope is like iron!"
"Just a few more minutes!"
"Grover," she cried, exasperated. "I don't think..."
And then they saw me.
"Percy? " Clarisse said, saying my name right for once. Her eyes lit up. "You're supposed to be blown up!"
"Percy," Annabeth's reaction was a lot more emotional. Her bottom lip trembled. "Oh, thank Zeus. When Jason called me, I…thank goodness you're okay. How did you…and who is this…"
"Unimportant," I summoned Riptide and slashed open the ropes. "We need to go."
"The Fleece," Clarisse remembered. "The Fleece is outside. We need to get the Fleece before we go back."
Before I could reply, the cave shook. "Forgot shears!"
I twirled Riptide in my hand and glanced at Medea, who was slowly clenching and unclenching her gauntlet. She glanced back at me, "You have so much explaining to do when we're out of here."
AN: Da da da!
A big thank you to my boy JackBlaze123 who initially talked to me about the idea of possible adult demigods. There's still a lot more to go into as a whole, but yeah! I'm curious to see what people think about that.
Aslo, a fan faovrite is back! Ironic really, because she was always coming back, but I digress. Guess all those people who left when I made them break up will never know!
Thankfully, we're almost at the end of SoM, which is by far my least favorite installment in the series. After this, Percy will have a nice, relaxing summer full of building and Atlantis! Well, as relaxing as things get for him, anyway.
I'm also very happy and thankful to announce that we've officially cracked the top 20 in terms of the most followed stories of all time! This is HUGE and I can't thank you guys enough for all of the support. Of course, if you ever want to be more involved, I'll plug the discord again (formatting will be weird cause this site hates links):
discord . g g /
Everyone in there is literally best. So, either click that or PM me if you're interested!
Arrowman and Malosi06: I hope you two don't mind that I'm answering you together. You see, this fight was interesting because it was Percy at full power, not pulling back any punches, which is a concept I only pull out once in a while. The difference between his fight here and his fight with Alcyone was that in his fight with her, he knew she was a normally gentle soul who was being manipulated, so rather than blitz her, he wanted to help her. Jason is a bit more complicated, because you're putting Percy against a child of the Big Three who's been training his whole life and was pumped with a god's mana. Besides that, he was also wielding the Thrysus for a while. If you factor that in with Percy's fatigue from banishing Prometheus and his unwillingness to go for any kill shots, I don't find it too out of the question that he struggled more against Jason. Thanks for the review, though! I love talking about this kind of stuff.
Arya: These are the kinds of reviews I love to get. I'm so glad you enjoyed this story so much to give it praise. I'll continue to update as I have, and hopefully, I'll keep giving you something good to read!
Meryfcuckery: He's going to be bringing out their own latent abilities that are tied to their godly parent!
Flixie: I'll never tell!
TheHandOfJustice: This is the only review I've gotten thinking otherwise, and it's quite interesting! Also, thought you said you don't read FF anymore? Someone's a liar…
Scyfly: For some reason, FF always uploads the beta version of the chapter, so I have to go in and manually update it. Sometimes, even when I do that, I miss a word or something so I do it again. That's so weird, though I didn't know you got notices for that!
Blackjack 2000: My man! I was hoping someone would get it…I wanted to include more but then it would've been way too heavy-handed.