Nirvana. Not the band.


My head was spinning from the portal, which somehow felt worse than the slide made of stars I'd been corkscrewed through. You'd think that a different version of me would be more, not less focused on my overall comfort, but I guess you'd be wrong.

"That guy could've warned me," I grumbled. I lifted my face off what looked like a table and blinked a few times.

There was a soy sauce packet stuck to my forehead. A bunch of Burger King fries were sprawled out on the table haphazardly. I figured I must've knocked them over as I tried to regain my bearings. A packet of zesty sauce went dancing off the edge of the table as I tried to hold on to the edges—my vision was swimming.

A feminine voice spoke up from across the table, "Oh. It worked. Sorry about the spins, they'll go away soon. I think."

I looked across the table to identify who it was. I came up short. Granted, my vision looked like a Rene Magritte painting on acid, so that wasn't helping.

The feminine voice belonged to a girl who looked around my age. She wore a sleeveless dress of beige linen and black sandals—no makeup, no jewelry except for a gold scarab necklace. Her long black hair was tied back in a ponytail, except for a little strand that curled behind her right ear. She had amber eyes and warm coffee-and-milk skin that seemed to glow in the sunlight.

No, not seemed to. She was glowing. Blazing hieroglyphics faded in the air after dancing around her. One took particularly long, and it was perched precariously near her shoulder like one of those cartoony devils. "Only took five tries, I guess, but it worked. You seem strong enough if the aura of purple and blue that was wrapping around you like a cocoon is any indication."

I could feel her warmth from across the table. This mystery girl was emanating power, but it was quickly slipping away, like a brief fire that was being choked out by a lack of oxygen. She was like a space heater that had been unplugged.

Unlike other people, namely gods and rather powerful demigods, whose aura of power was always on, hers was fleeting—like it had been borrowed. All signs pointed to her being an Egyptian sorcerer of some sort. That, or she was using some freaky Greek magic I'd never seen before. I doubted it, though.

Trust me, once you spend enough time in this line of work, you learn how to put people in boxes. It helps gauge their threat level. Hers isn't too worrying, not yet, anyway. If she's got some hidden tricks, which I bet she does, I might have to reevaluate. We're good for now, though.

"I don't think whatever you did worked the way you wanted it to," I said as the spinning sensation stopped. I mustered up a smile despite the situation, deciding to take the friendly route. "I'm probably not who you think I am."

"Percy Jackson," The girl returned with a smile. She leaned forward, and her necklace lifted off the soft skin of her collarbone and gleamed with power. I had this mental image of a gauge, and her threat level needle inched up. "I know exactly who you are. Would you like some food?"

"Oh," I said. Food. Without skipping a beat, I looked down at the table. All my favorite food was there: Chinese, Mexican (the Macho Nachos), American (who doesn't like Burger King), pizza, and of course, there was ice cream to top it all off.

There was also a broken compass on the edge, closer to her. I eyed the food for a bit, but my stomach decided for me. I leaned across the table and picked up a slice of pizza—the greasiest, cheesiest slice. I was hungry. "Thanks."

As I bit into the slice, I decided that the mystery girl knew me. She just had to. It's one thing to be summoned into a completely different universe, and it's another thing to be summoned there by someone who knows you intimately enough to know all of your favorite food.

"You're very welcome," She smiled at me over her bowl of chow mein. "Well, some of the food is for me since this is draining…but…yeah. You're certainly taking this a lot better than some of the other ones. I'll tell you that."

"Trust me, given the day I've had, eating some food with company isn't the worst thing in the world," I returned as I bit into my slice. Should I have been more cautious? Maybe, but at this point, I didn't even care. Plus, the girl was super cute. If there's anything I'm down bad for, it's cute girls with ponytails. "Unless you're planning on fighting me? If we're going to do that whole song and dance routine, can I at least finish my pizza first?"

"Fighting you? I hope not," The girl said with a small smile. A burst of mana caught my attention as I cracked open a can of cola. Red hieroglyphs were inscribing themselves into the underside of the table. "You're stronger than most. I could probably put up a decent fight, but you'd win, and this is a new dress, so…anyway, I'm Zia."

"Zia," I tried out. Her name sounded exotic. Plus, her haircut and dress reminded me of Heket, for some reason. That just about sealed the deal—I was dealing with an Egyptian wizard. What did Heket call them, again? Right. Magicians. "I'd introduce myself, but that would be redundant, seeing as…well, anyway. Nice to meet you. Why am I here?"

Zia twirled her fork through her noodles. "Simple. I want to make a deal with you."

"A deal?" I repeated. I tried to decipher the girl's body language. The Game wasn't working, at least the interface wasn't, but I'd gotten good enough to pick up on a thing or two myself. "Right. Because that's what you want the mysterious person who summoned you into a random universe to say. Do you have a villain monologue next?"

"No. I didn't think I'd need one. I just want a little bit of your blood," Zia said. I raised an eyebrow, and she blushed before adding, "Just a drop. I promise that this isn't as weird as it sounds. And trust me, I know how weird it sounds. Most people don't give away their blood unless it's at blood drives. And, sorry in advance, I don't have any of those little stress balls to give you. It might hurt."

Zia was nervous. I could tell by the restless tapping of her foot under the table.

"Giving away blood sounds suspicious," I said honestly, taking a swig of soda. It burned my throat. "Especially when I've been summoned into another world for it."

"I have a good reason," Zia replied, placing her fork down. She pulled a picture out of her pocket and slid it across the table. I picked it up. It was a faded photo booth strip of what looked like Zia and a version of me posing at a carnival. "My Percy has gone missing."

"Missing? Like you just haven't seen him in a while, or…"

"He's disappeared off the face of the Earth," Zia clarified, staring wistfully at the pictures. In particular, she was staring at the last one, where the other me was kissing her forehead soundly. The nervousness on her face melted into a heartbroken expression that was so genuine, I knew she couldn't have been lying. Either that or she was the best liar I'd ever met. Her lip quivered, "No one knows where he is. Amos, Sadie, Carter—I asked the other nomes, I've prayed to the gods—"

"Gnomes? You have gnomes in this universe? Those little guys are magic?"

"Nomes. With an n. And, well, gnomes are magic, but that's neither here nor there," Zia huffed. My joke gave her enough leeway to compose herself, at least a little bit, but the hurt was still there. It was touching, almost, to think I mattered so much. Even if it wasn't me.

That thought is unfair. I know I have people who care about me back home. People like Silena, Piper, and Thalia. Persephone. Even Aphrodite.

As I looked at Zia continued talking, and I truly considered that aura of hurt that was clinging around her, a rush of guilt flooded my system.

Is that how Silena felt when I went weeks without checking in? Maybe Persephone worried about me the same way when I wasn't around, and that's why she didn't want me hopping right back into it. Were my friends really petrified with fear at the thought of something happening to me as I continued gallivanting around?

I don't want to say I've taken it for granted—I swear, somewhere deep down, I've always known they worry. I've known that since before Thalia spelled it out for me. But somehow, when face to face with someone so worried about me, even if it isn't me she's worried about, I couldn't stomach the sight. Funny how I had to go to a whole different multiverse for that.

I was broken out of my thoughts as Zia said, "I want your blood so I can enchant a compass to lead me to him."

Even though her emotions seemed genuine, I was still on guard. I wasn't that familiar with blood-based rituals, but I knew enough to be tipped off. Blood magic was some powerful stuff. "Not that I don't want to help, but why didn't anyone else give you their blood? You said I wasn't the first one to come here."

"Some were too skeptical. Others just weren't strong enough," Zia explained, biting her lip. Her fingers trembled on the broken compass. "I need the blood of a powerful variant to use, or the compass won't stay enchanted for very long."

I asked what seemed like the most obvious question, "How can you call other versions of me here but you can't find your own?"

Zia held up a baseball cap. It kind of looked like Annabeth's baseball cap, but the brim was covered in strange runes and symbols. "This is yours. Or, well, this world's version's. I don't know how he made it, but he used the Game to devise a way to travel the multiverse more safely. He also used it to bring other variants here."

"You know about the Game?"


"This has been the most random day of my life," I said, groaning and running a hand through my hair. The internal debate I was having between not giving away my blood and trusting Zia tilted in her favor. "But you know what? Fuck it. If I can help you, I will."

Zia smiled. The temperature in the food court seemed to go up another ten degrees. "So that's a yes?"

"Yes. What do I get in return?"

"This," Zia said, holding out her hand. Resting on her palm was what originally looked like a perfectly preserved human eye. The iris was a rich, radiant gold, and the pupil, instead of being an inky black, seemed to be an ever-shifting abyss of silver and blue. She flipped over the strip from the photo booth. "I know your [Observe] skill doesn't work in other universes, so I wrote down the description for you."

[Item Name:] Eye of Horus

[Description:] Crafted from the sacred remnants of Horus' actual eye, this divine relic pulsates with the power of the falcon-headed deity. The Eye of Horus serves as both a symbol of protection and a conduit for unparalleled celestial abilities.


Falcon's Gaze: Allows the wearer to see beyond physical barriers, unveiling hidden traps, treasures, and illusions within their line of sight.

Solar Judgement: Unleashes a devastating beam of solar energy, piercing through enemies and dealing massive damage. This ability has a cooldown of fifteen seconds to maintain balance.

Horus' Blessing: Enhances the wearer's combat prowess, providing a permanent boost to attack and defense stats.

Regeneration of Ra: Accelerates health regeneration during daylight or when exposed to sources of radiant energy.

Divine Resilience: Grants immunity to certain debuffs and curses, fortifying the player's resolve against the darkest of magic.

"This isn't what my [Observe] looks like," I commented, reading through the bonuses. [Regeneration of Ra] made it seem like I'd be Superman. On a more serious note, I knew that if she was giving away something like this, she was serious about needing to find her boyfriend. "But you've got yourself a deal."

"Excellent!" Zia said, clapping her hands together and gesturing under the table. "Place your hand under the table, please."

"You got it," I said, pressing my fingers on the hieroglyph from before. I felt a small pricking sensation, and the broken compass on the table began glowing and whirring wildly. "Did it work?"

"It sure looks like it," Zia said, trying for a smile. Her voice was thick with emotion. "Thank you so much."

"No problem," I said as she dropped the eye into my palm.

Even though some of my powers weren't working, words appeared in front of me:

|| You have acquired an item. ||


|| Would you like to equip it? ||


I clicked yes. I blinked. Once. Twice. Everything seemed normal. I didn't feel like blasting a hole into the mall, either, so I figured I'd try things out later.

"Thank you again," Zia whispered, clutching the compass. "I need to bring this to Sadie. I'll send you on your way."

"Thanks, Zia. I hope you find him."

Zia gave me a watery smile and waved her hand.

More words appeared in front of me:

|| You have completed some tasks for your [Kaleidescope Wheel] abilities. ||

[Tier 2]

[COMPLETED][Task of Reflection:] The user must delve into their own deepest fears and confront their personal demons. This task requires self-reflection and understanding of one's own vulnerabilities. By overcoming these internal struggles, the user gains the power to manipulate perception and trap enemies in their illusions.

[COMPLETED][Task of Compassion:] The user must demonstrate empathy and compassion towards others, especially those who have suffered greatly. This task involves helping individuals who are trapped in their own realms of misery. By easing their pain and granting them solace, the user gains a deeper understanding of the power to alter perception and manipulate time.

- Hidden Quests completed: [Happily Ever After], [Percy, Where Are You?]

Huh. Neat.

Another purple portal opened up and I went flinging through it. At first, all I saw was black, but then, a myriad of worlds materialized, a kaleidoscope of realities flickering past me like scenes from a TV show I could barely comprehend.

There was a universe where I was a girl. A universe where I was on an island with a pretty girl, holding a scythe. More universes, filled with me in all kinds of places, with all kinds of people.

I saw a version of me with glowing golden eyes holding a baby with Artemis. Another version of me held Zoe Nightshade as we plummeted into a dark cavern.

I think I saw a version of me holding a stick, like a wizard, and kissing a girl with silvery hair as fireworks exploded all around us.

I was in the Hunger Games. No, wait, that's Dragon Ball. Is that Avatar the Last Airbender?

The realities intensified. They started flickering past me so fast that all I could see were streams of light, against a black backdrop. It reminded me of one of those old-timey science posters of the Universe on ecstasy. It was like the stars had decided to throw a party, and I was surrounded by the confetti.

Then suddenly, something grabbed me and pulled me headfirst into the void. It was only halfway through, so my body and face were poking out into the world, and my body was still floating aimlessly, adrift in the chill of the multiverse.

Wherever I was, it was desolate.

The wasteland stretched as far as the eye could see, a barren expanse devoid of life. A sun, weakened and pallid, hung low in the ashen sky, casting long shadows across the desolation. The ground, cracked and parched, bore the scars of some forgotten cataclysm.

The air, thick with an acrid taste, carried the scent of decay and a haunting quiet. Skeletal remains of once towering structures loomed like ghostly sentinels, their jagged edges jutting into the air. A twisted silence settled over the landscape, occasionally broken by the mournful howl of a distant wind. The earth, now a mosaic of grays and browns, seemed to resist any attempt at vitality.

A sense of abandonment clung to the desolation as if nature itself had turned away from this forsaken place. Dust devils twirled through the desolate streets, stirring long-forgotten memories of a time when life flowed through the veins of this land.

"A dimension hopper?" A man said, his eyes covered in a green visor. His tone was emotionless. It was like one of those text-to-speech things. "Do you have authorization to do this?"

I tried activating my powers, but nothing seemed to work. The man was emanating an aura that numbed my senses and dulled the roar of power that was usually ever-present in my veins.

It was kind of hard to talk with his hands choking the air out of my throat, but I managed an "I don't know."

"Interesting. It appears to be your lucky day," The man continued, sighing. It was a robotic sigh—I couldn't even tell if he was really disappointed or not. "You could be a potential replacement someday. Continue training and grow strong."

With that, I was plopped back into another universe, and I prayed to every god there was that this would be the last one.

My vision faded to black.

And, just like that, I was coherent again.

My stomach stopped doing flip-flops faster this time, and my head stopped spinning. Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I grabbed onto the nearest wall and actively tried not to dry heave.

Hopping between dimensions isn't as easy as I'm making it look. I hope you know that. My powers cautiously flickered back to life, which was interesting. Most of the dimensions I'd been to didn't let my system work.

Alright, then, Game. Welcome back. Where the hell am I?



|| One of the sacred spots of Perseus, the Fourteenth Olympian. Located in one of the caverns connected to the Underworld. This location is in Universe-156, otherwise known as the universe where your counterpart goes by the moniker 'Monaxiá.' ||

"Right, that guy," I muttered, forcing myself to look around. The jitters from blasting through time and space were starting to leave. Still, though, a feeling of unease wormed through my spine. Something about this universe always made me feel just a little…off. It felt so close to being home, but it just wasn't. "I'm sure he'll be here soon if it's anything like last time."

My sneakers skidded against some rocks, and I found myself standing on the precipice of a cavern that sent shivers down my spine.

The air grew colder, and an eerie stillness hung around the place, broken only by the faint, distant echoes of whispers that seemed to emanate from the very walls themselves.

The cavern's entrance was like a gaping maw, jagged and foreboding. Its walls were encrusted with glistening, otherworldly crystals that emitted a sickly, pale-green glow, casting eerie, dancing shadows that played tricks on my senses.

The walls seemed to pulse with faint, sinister energy as if they were alive and aware of my presence. The ground underfoot was uneven and treacherous, covered in a slick, black, moss-like substance that seemed to writhe and squirm when I got too close.

Stalactites hung ominously from the cavern's ceiling like ancient, skeletal fingers, ready to plunge down at any moment. They dripped with a viscous, tar-like substance that pooled on the ground below, forming grotesque, ink-black puddles that seemed to ooze malevolence.

"I need to get this guy an interior decorator," I breathed, reaching toward one of the crystals. I stopped as I felt the Game alert me to the presence of someone else in the room.

A sudden surge of power rippled through the interface, causing it to glitch and flicker violently. It was as if a force of unimaginable magnitude was attempting to breach the boundaries of reality and manifest within my augmented vision.

The normally stable and orderly digital readouts shattered like glass, their fragments scattered by the sheer force of this intruding presence. Lines of code whirled and contorted, forming an intricate dance of chaos and order. Data streams twisted and bent, defying the laws of programming and logic.

I whirled around, my senses screaming that the threat was positioned right behind me. Lo and behold, someone was standing there, at a spot I could have sworn was empty merely a second ago. As my vision zeroed in on him, it was almost like the air itself bent around his form. Lines of binary curved in the air, my HUD glitching ever so slightly.

And yet, it wasn't just the insane pressure he was exuding that unsettled me. Don't get me wrong, it's unsettling, but it's kind of unsettling in an obvious way. Like, yeah, obviously that pressure is scary. A monkey could tell you that.

Standing this close to a pissed-off Olympian is never a good idea. To those of you reading this from home, I don't recommend this. I also don't recommend eating cucumbers with peanut butter.

Not sure what that has to do with the matter at hand, but it's just something I feel strongly about. The taste sucks.

Anyway, for me, the fact that his entrance was undetectable is what's unsettling.

Every time a god has appeared somewhere near me, I've had some sort of warning, a ping on my mana radar that they were coming. Well, except for the whole Amy-Aphrodite fiasco, though, in my defense, I was kind of drunk at the time, and she was trying her level best to disguise herself as a mortal.

Not here, though. All I got was the Game's notification after he had already arrived, and he didn't particularly seem like he was trying to hide.

One moment, it was just about calm as it gets in creepy Underworld caverns, and the next he was here, making the air pressure, and my blood pressure, shoot through the roof.

I eyed him. Moreover, with the other gods, there's kind of a realm of knowledge—I know what they're capable of. There are thousands of years worth of stories and cautionary tales to fall back on. Even if I'm in deeper shit than I can handle, I know.

This guy, though? Nada. All I know is that at one point, he was me, though his world was vastly different. And now, he's a divine nuclear warhead.

We were frozen for a moment, my gaze meeting his burning pits of green and orange flame. They remind me vaguely of Hestia, though that's only because of the color.

When my aunt turns her fiery look to you, it's comforting. It eases the tension right out of you, like a deep tissue massage. When he does it, I'm torn somewhere between drawing a weapon or running as far as I can in the other direction.

The standoff continued for a few more moments before recognition flashed in his eyes.

"Oh, it's you," He said, his voice just as gruff as I remembered. Instantly, the air returned to normal, allowing me to finally take a full breath without feeling like someone was giving me a bear hug. "Couldn't have warned me before dropping in? I was this close to vaporizing you, you know?"

Huh, seems like he isn't mad if he still has a sense of humor. I'll just ignore the vaporization part.

"Trust me, I wasn't planning on dropping in. The Fates have, uh, been sending me on a little trip. Something to 'show me my destiny' or some crap. It's good to see you, though—you sure know how to make an entrance," I gave the menacing figure a friendly wave. "Monaxiá. Am I saying that right? I feel like I'm butchering it. Is it more of, like, a mo-nacks-yuh, or mon-axe-see-ya."

He chuckled softly at that comment. Rude, I was just being curious. Excuse the hell out of me for wanting to say his name right.

"You really do embody my younger days. I guess I should have expected that. But it's Greek, so pronounce it like you would any other Greek word."

I resisted the urge to massage my temples.

Again, rude. Just leaving it all up to me. But whatever, maybe he finds it more fun that way. Gods know I do, so I guess I can't really blame him.

Though, I guess it begs the question—is this how Piper feels when I give her one of those 'you know the answer' answers when she asks me a question? If that's how it feels, I'll never do it again! I promise, Pipes!

"Alright then, So kinda like Mo-nucks-yaa?" Seeing how my brain accepted it as Greek enough, and the deity seemed fairly pleased, I guess I got it right. I gave him a grin, "Nice, nice. So, how's it been with you? Long time no see."

He gave me a weird look before comprehension dawned on his face. Seems like he's quick on the uptake. "Ah, I forgot; different realities. Well, it may have been a long time for you, but it's only been a week or so for me."

[Gamer's Mind MK2] dispelled the sliver of shock that snaked into my system. A week? It's been, what, two years and a few months on my end? I've been through hell and back in that time.

"Yeah, it's been a bit more than two years for me," I said casually, my lips twitching, like we weren't talking about multiversal timeline shenanigans. Just another day in the life of Percy Jackson, I guess.

Monaxiá just nodded. It was hard to get a read on him. "Makes sense with how much you've changed. I guess the waters of Atlantis helped you a lot. Honestly, if your energy signature wasn't similar to how it was before, and the fact that your facial structure hasn't changed much, I would honestly have attacked you the moment you turned around."

"Right. I'll be sure to thank the Fates when I see them again," Could he maybe just, I don't know, stop bringing up the fact that I was moments away from becoming a bloody smear on the ground? No? Okay, then.

Not that I said that out loud—I know I'm a cocky dude most of the time, but there's a time and a place. This isn't the time, nor is it the place.

The conversation lulled, and I didn't really know where else to take it.

The other universes had been a lot more open than this one. Zia had at least given me some food and a cool new eye. Roman Percy had damn near smothered me in a hug.

The only hug I figured I'd get from this guy would be if I decided to attack him, and he suplexed me into the ground.

I ran my fingers through my hair, grimacing a bit as I felt the knots in the length. Apollo's disguise hadn't stopped the growth of my hair, and even though Silena had given me a haircut, it was already getting to my forehead.

I wrinkled my nose as I felt some dirt in there from when I'd run into that robber this morning. Damn, I really need to take a bath soon.

Monaxiá's eyes instantly zeroed in on the movement. Oh yeah, my hair still hadn't turned white the last time we met. He's probably wondering how it happened.

"Oh," he said, and there was a bit of surprise in his voice, but not as much as I expected. "White hair? So you've already—"

I clamped my hands over my ears, wincing as they were once again assaulted by the infernal buzzing that had been a mainstay the last time I'd seen him.

Thankfully, it subsided quite rapidly. Apparently, Monaxiá had noticed my predicament and cut himself off. Small blessings.

"You know," I said, as I rubbed my still ringing ears, "I kind of thought I wouldn't have to experience that this time around considering there's not much I'm in the dark about anymore. Apparently not."

Monaxiá simply remained silent as I recovered, before replying. "Forgive me, I thought you'd already…" he paused, probably weighing his words so my ears didn't feel like they each had an electric drill jammed in. "I thought you'd already undergone something I had, which gave me something similar."

Saying so, he ran his fingers through his hair—which was definitely much longer than last time, falling down to his shoulders. Maybe he was trying a new style? Hey, I wasn't judging, and it honestly looked good on him.

My eyes hinged on his fingers as he separated a couple of locks of hair, which were a silvery white similar to my own. Unlike my hair, which was just white now.

"Huh," I said, narrowing my eyes a bit. I didn't take him for a silver fox. "And becoming a god didn't change it?"

Monaxiá simply shrugged. "Well, I could definitely return it to my natural shade if I wanted, or make all my hair white, but…" he sighed, his eyes suddenly adopting a faraway look. "This is a remnant from my demigod days, when I'd learned an important lesson. I keep it partly for nostalgia, and partly as a reminder."

Damn, he definitely is the most human god I've met till now. Even though Apollo tried to act this down-to-earth, on some level, I knew it was fake. A fad. A personality he was just adopting for the next millennia or so.

It was different here. Maybe it's because he was a demigod before his ascension? Nah, that wasn't it. Mr. D was one too, and he's the opposite of down-to-earth.

Maybe Monaxiá is just new at this, still. He's got the easy air of someone who hasn't been completely indoctrinated into the life of being an Olympian. Which is probably why he's so unsettling when he becomes serious.

"So you were confused as to how I got a head full of white hair, considering how I haven't gone through whatever you did," I guessed, getting a nod in response. Hmm, I guess not leaving my [INT] lagging does help. "Well, let's just say Triton and I had a run-in with ol' Oceanus. We managed to make him fade but it left me pretty banged up. In fact, the first time I met you was while I was in a healing coma following that fight. The white hair's a memento. Silena could've dyed it, but I've gotten kind of used to it. Mom gets on my back about it with Auntie Hestia, but they're coming around."

Monaxiá's eyes showed genuine surprise this time around. "Really? I guess our worlds are even more different than I imagined. Father and I only put the Titan down after the…" he paused again, right as I was about to clap my hands over my ears.

He really has to stop that for the sake of my ear health. I don't think it'll be in my best interest to be wearing hearing aids when I face Kronos.

"Well, let's just say there are still many years between your current time and when Oceanus is slain in mine," he finished. He paused for a moment, before shifting the topic again. He really likes to do that. Or more, accurately, I guess I really like to do that.

"Tell me, do you know the General's name? Maybe I can explain it in a way that makes sense if you do," he said. And while it was an interesting proposition, there was one glaring issue.

"The General doesn't have a name in my universe," I said, rubbing my cheek. "It's a real pain."

His eyes narrowed, although the glow in his irises meant that I could still clearly see the red flames dancing in the sea-green background.

Monaxiá eventually grumbled out, "That is a very weird way to say that you don't know it. Do you still hold onto the toddler mindset that if you don't know someone's name it doesn't exist?"

I could tell he was going for a more humorous approach, but he was getting me all wrong. Besides, his joke wouldn't have landed, even if I was joking.

Maybe, in exchange for some combat tips, I can help him with his standup. Hey, I know—once Kronos is taken care of, that can be my mission. I won't rest until every Percy Jackson in the multiverse is funny, and I'll start with him.

"No, I mean he literally doesn't have a name, at least not anymore," I said, feeling the uncertainty and apprehension well up within me until it was squashed down by [Gamer's Mind MK2]. "He's locked it away, along with his entire identity, through a sacrifice in exchange for way more power. Everyone who already knew his name can't reveal it to anyone else because they are physically incapable of doing so. Immortal beings can be bitches sometimes."

I finished my tirade, only to realize that my whole spiel was in front of a god. And yes, feel free to call me stupid for ranting at a being who could pulverize me, I just didn't realize that until I was done. I figured that Jackson connection would transcend whatever loyalty he had to other immortals.

My hypothesis thankfully proved to be right, it seemed Monaxiá was not angered in the slightest, in contrast to most other gods who would have seen my action as the highest form of insolence. Rather, he was deep in thought.

"So that's why it happened. What I was about to say would have given you a hint that you may have been able to use to figure out his identity. No wonder you couldn't hear it. Since I'm from an alternate reality, the sacrifice doesn't have the power to stop me from uttering his name or aspects related to him, but it can make it so that you don't hear it."

Well, I'll be damned, that made so much sense. I guess he's probably funneled a fair bit into his [INT] stat. Oh, and because he's a god, but whatever.

It seemed he wasn't done yet, however. "But the fact that he has undergone a sacrifice in your universe is concerning. How do I explain this? Maybe if I say it in a way that doesn't have any connection to who he is, then you won't have to experience the discomfort again."

I grimaced, knowing it was a pretty risky gamble, but then again, I knew I needed any intel I could gather, and this was the best opportunity I had.

"Go ahead, hit me with it," I said, steeling myself in case I'd bet wrong.

Monaxiá pondered for a moment, before speaking. "In my reality, when I met the General face to face, I bore witness to a battle between him and Artemis. From what I saw of their battle, they were around equal. Well, Artemis had been severely weakened due to… certain factors, but the General had been equally weakened for far longer and only had a week to recuperate, so I would say it was around even."

Huh, guess he was right, There was nothing in there that I could use to figure out the dude's identity, and even if it was a bit confusing, at least my ears weren't screaming in pain. But on the other hand, the picture he was painting wasn't the prettiest.

"Now, if you factor in the sacrifice, it gets even worse," Monaxiá continued. "A sacrifice of that scale would give him a massive boost of power, probably double what he had before. It'll be far more difficult to take him down now."

"That isn't the best news," I admitted. My stomach did a few flip-flops, but I tried to keep my mood light. "Well, guess we're just going to need Artemis and Apollo to jump him. That should work, right?"

Monaxiá, on the other hand, seemed adamant about being a wet blanket. "No, it doesn't work like that," he said, shaking his head. "Even though Artemis and Apollo are around equal in power, they would struggle immensely to defeat your General now."

"Okay, you've lost me. Shouldn't one plus one equal two?" Look, I know I'm being a bit childish, but I was genuinely confused by his statement.

Monaxiá simply laughed again. I guess he derived some form of humor from seeing what was basically a younger alternate version of himself being clueless about this. Hopefully, he would explain it.

"Well, I trust you have a basic idea of how scaling people in single combat works?" he began.

I nodded, always eager for a lesson when it came to combat. Athena would be proud. Not really. Maybe she'd hate me less, though.

"Well, it gets slightly more complicated once you add two individuals into the mix," he continued. "Let's use an approximation of your current situation. Take an individual, let's call them A, and two opponents X and Y. Now, A would have a power level of 100, and X and Y would have a power level of fifty each."

I almost snorted at the Dragon Ball reference, my mind traitorously bringing up the memory of Uncle Hades referring to my Gamer Powers as a Zenkai boost, but I kept it under control. Something told me this was going to be good. Mentally shaking myself, I tuned back into Monaxiá's explanation.

"Now, when it comes to strength, it's pretty straightforward," he said, lifting his hand and summoning tendrils of water, animating them into moving figures to represent what he was explaining. Which I found pretty neat. "A can lift 1000 pounds, while X and Y can individually lift 500. Now, basic math does say that X and Y combined should be able to lift 1000 pounds just like A, but they can only do that if they coordinate perfectly. If any one of them slacks off, they come tumbling down."

The water tendrils demonstrated what he said. The singular figure lifted a cubical shape over its head with a fair bit of strain. Meanwhile, the two figures working together struggled a fair bit more to lift the same weight, probably because they were trying to figure out how to synchronize themselves. They held it for a moment, before one of them gave out a bit, causing both of them to get crushed under the weight.

Did he really have to make it that graphic? I mean, yeah, they were watery stick figures, but still. They have feelings too.

I piped up with what I thought was a fair question. "But Artemis and Apollo are the twin archers, aren't they? So coordination shouldn't be an issue."

Monaxiá gave a look, and part of me wanted to shrink into myself. The moment was broken when he gave out a soft laugh, causing me to almost flush in embarrassment. Seriously, why does he laugh at me so often?

Would I be like this with a younger, less experienced Percy?

Alright, fair, I totally would. Guess I can't really be throwing stones in a glass house.

"I keep forgetting how impulsive I was back in the day," And yeah, he'd said that last time around as well. Not that I'm going to remind him. It felt like he kind of liked it, somehow. Seeing a younger version of himself, I mean. "But moving on, strength is actually the only aspect that operates anywhere close to additively when it comes to such situations. Other aspects are far more interesting to look at."

"Take speed for example. Say A can run at fifty miles per hour, while X and Y can both run at twenty-five miles per hour. Can you add speed together in the same way you can add strength? No, you can't. So no matter what, both of them will always be half the speed of A. And even if they attack together, A's reaction time will similarly be so much higher than either of theirs that it would be very difficult for them to land solid blows, even if they had perfect coordination."

As he spoke, the water figures zoomed around above his palm, one of them clearly moving and reacting at twice the pace of the others. I could see how rarely the duo were able to land a blow on their opponent, meanwhile, the singular figure was constantly slipping into their guard.

Ok, ouch. It's definitely making more sense now.

But it seemed Monaxiá still wasn't done. "We still have the two most important aspects to cover though. Let's move over to stamina. Again, A has twice the stamina as either X or Y. Now, you would think they could tire A out because if they fight together, they both will burn stamina at the same rate A will. But no, because if they want a shot of making his stamina drain the fastest, they have to go all out, and remember A has twice their stamina. Since the two of them are simultaneously going full throttle, they'll burn through their stamina in half the time it takes for A to burn through theirs."

This time around, the figures had a stamina bar above each of their heads; a visual representation of how fast it was being drained. With all three maintaining the same speed they were before, it showed how the duo were losing steam twice as fast as their opponent.

"Now you might say, how about they go at half of their maximal effort, or they take turns fighting? Well, if they go at half throttle, that means A can do the same without risking too much since it means the relative rate of depletion won't change. In fact, A can still go all out since their stamina would then deplete at an equal rate, so they'll pretty much be handicapping themselves for no reason. It's the same situation if they take turns. A can either hold back or go all out, and it still doesn't negatively affect them. It's a losing battle either way."

This time, the water figures showed one of the duo being grabbed and ragdolled by their opponent. I know it was supposed to alleviate the mood, and while it did make my lips twitch, I was starting to become much more concerned about the threat the General posed.

Monaxiá sighed softly, before turning to me. "The final category is godly energy. Now, before I explain it, I need to ask whether you know what it is."

Silently, I nodded. Even if I call it mana, it's pretty much just a name change and they're still the same thing.

Monaxiá grinned slightly at my response, before moving on with his explanation. "Now, the amount of godly energy one can output is directly scaled to their body's physical capabilities. Their innate reservoirs could vary in size, but their maximal output at a singular moment is tied to certain limitations."

Huh, I guess I can kind of work around that because of the Game. Then again, some of my more powerful abilities were level-locked at first, so maybe not really.

In theory, I suppose that the maximal output he's talking about doesn't exist for me. I just don't know how many skill points I'd need to get there.

Monaxiá soldiered on, and while most demigods in camp, other than those in the Athena cabin, would have probably fallen asleep by now, I was hanging on to every word. "As we've previously established, A is twice as strong as X or Y. So let's use flames as an example. Say A's godly energy output is equivalent to a flame of 2000 Kelvin. So, we can infer that X and Y would have an output equivalent to two flames of 1000 Kelvin each. Now, would you prefer the singular, hotter flame or the split-up weaker flame?"

In response, the water figures shot out streams of…fire? from their palms? Oh yeah, adopted son of Hestia, I'd forgotten that bit. It showed how the duo's flames were smaller and a dull reddish-orange, while their opponent's flame was larger and a bright bluish-white.

The latter easily overpowered the former, turning the two water figures into misshapen blobs that blinked out of existence with a wailing shriek.

Again, really man? Did it have to be that cruel?

But that right there was the final nail in the coffin. One of the first things I'd learned in this world was how greater mana usually meant victory, and with the example Monaxia gave, I could see exactly where the problem lay.

Now, a part of me could moan about how he used Kelvin instead of something a normal person would like Fahrenheit, but it made sense considering how Kelvin started at absolute zero so it was a better scale for measuring the amount of energy in a substance.

Even though I hated her at the time, I sent up a little thank you to Mrs. Girder's science class for teaching me that little tidbit.

Monaxiá merely dusted his palms before directing a questioning look toward me. "I trust you now understand why it would be difficult for Artemis and Apollo to face the General as he is now?"

I nodded, chewing the inside of my cheek. "Yeah, I get it. One plus one doesn't always equal two."

Monaxiá seemed satisfied with my answer. Credit where credit's due, he's actually a really good teacher. Which, he probably has to be—so many people in camp have trauma from their terrible school days due to their ADHD and dyslexia that they just can't pay attention in any classroom setting.

"And that, Percy, is why if you're presented with a choice of taking two individuals who are both half their opponent's power or one who's fairly close and the other far weaker, it's in your best interest to go with the second option," Monaxiá said, apparently done with his explanation.

I was about to ask what he meant before my mind supplied me with memories from my own battles. The first one I remembered was way back when I fought Carcinus' guards while the sleazebag was attempting to wear me out. If you'd simply added their levels and stats, they should have been well above me. But I cut through them like a hot knife through butter.

On the other hand, a more recent memory surfaced, once which, if it wasn't for [Gamer's Mind MK2], would have made my throat constrict due to the amount of guilt I felt. That night outside Midtown High, in the rain, facing off against Piper, Jason, and Aphrodite. The love goddess was the closest to me in terms of overall power, but I could have taken her on in a one-on-one, although it would still have been tough. But having to deal with Jason and Piper at the same time, especially since I was trying my best to not seriously hurt them? It made it so much more difficult.

I guess Monaxiá really does know what he's talking about. Then again, he is the god of combat, so it makes sense.

Either way, the weight of the revelation weighed on my mind, and even though I shuffled it away for later, I knew there would be no easy answers.

Still, the silence between us had almost stretched enough for it to become awkward. I had to do something to break it, so I did. Except you could say the way I broke it wasn't the best. You know, maybe I do need to buff my [INT] a bit more

"Well, talking of Artemis, how's the whole…wife…situation going?" I asked as my eyes were drawn back to his wedding band. "I actually met her, you know. Well, my version of her. She's pretty hot and kind of looks like Megan Markle. Does yours, by any chance, have these super scary vampire powers, too?"

It seemed Monaxiá was genuinely taken aback by my question for a moment before a rueful chuckle escaped him. I mean, at least this time he wasn't doing it because he found me funny. Although maybe that isn't necessarily better.

"Ah, that. Well, it hasn't really changed much, has it? I mean, it only has been one week for me," he said, making me want to facepalm.

Did I really expect him to make that much progress in a week? Well…maybe. Look at how much progress I made with her in a week.

"And also, no, the Artemis in my reality doesn't have any powers related to vampirism. Though I can kind of see how she could have them, what with a vampire's connection to the night and, in turn, moonlight. But I already have empousai to deal with, I don't want to deal with other vampires too."

I felt a bit put off by that statement. "Deal with them? But you're a god! Why would a few empousai give you any trouble when you could simply vaporize them?"

He simply gave a rueful grin. "It's something you have to deal with as the God of Monsters. Many of them think that they're entitled to a personal audience with me even if they have done nothing to deserve it, but I still give it in case something really is wrong. Of course, it gets awkward when I have to interact with the monsters I'd killed while I was a demigod."

And that was completely understandable. I do not want to imagine how a conversation would go with all the monsters I'd killed, especially if my old buddy the Minotaur showed up.

Monaxiá simply gave a tired sigh as he scratched his beard—and I must say it is a pretty nice beard all things considered. I'm more of a stubble guy, but he's definitely rocking that full-beard look. Honestly, he really does look like Dad with a younger face and longer hair, although there are some features I assume are from Hestia considering she's adopted him.

And that was something I'd wanted to ask. But I'd have to be smart about it, I can't directly come out and tell him, Hey, I have magic gamer powers and I know Hestia adopted you even though you never told me!

Yeah, that wouldn't really fly.

"Monaxiá," I began cautiously, "If you don't mind me asking, why do you have those reddish-orange flames in your eyes?"

His eyes lit up, although there was something else in them that I couldn't identify. "I was honestly wondering when you were going to ask," he said. "Well, it's because I was adopted by Hestia."

"Oh really?" I feigned surprise, hoping he didn't notice anything off. "How did that come about?"

This time, it was a bit easier to read the emotion in his eyes, but I don't know if I liked what I saw. There was a muted, yet still profound sadness. And lurking at the edges, were the faintest hints of a burning, unyielding rage.

"Are you sure you want to know?" His voice, already quite deep, dropped even lower, a faint growl present in his words. "It's not the kindest story."

Okay, I was getting more and more curious about this guy's past, even if warning bells were ringing in my ears. I'll tell you what I told the firefighters in my very first fire drill during nap time, though—the alarm doesn't mean you have to stop what you're doing. "Uh, sure. Go right ahead."

He took a deep breath, leaning against one of the stalagmites near the walls. The tar-like substance I'd seen earlier simply curved around him, leaving his person unaffected. It was kind of yucky.

"I guess it starts a fair bit after my eighteenth birthday," he began. "I had returned to New York to meet my mother and her husband - and yes, she remarried around the time I was fifteen. But even as I entered the district I could tell something was wrong. And then, I saw—" his voice cut off, and I could tell he was desperately controlling his emotions.

I had already felt apprehensive, and this just added to it. The last thing I wanted was to put this dude through the paces emotionally. "Hey man, if you don't want to continue, I completely understand."

"No," he replied, steel in his voice. "You, of all people, deserve to know."

Taking another breath, he continued, "I saw their building go up in flames, and I knew there was foul play involved. I ran as quickly as I could to reach their apartment, but I was too late. My mother, her husband; they were both dead, dead because I was too slow."

Even through [Gamer's Mind MK2], I could feel my stomach drop as he said it. His mom, no, our mom, died?

"How did it happen?" I muttered, needing to know. A monstrous anger was coiling in my stomach.

Monaxiá's eyes flashed a sickly yellow, a visible hint of his rage. "It had been under a year since the last major conflict," he growled, his voice deeper and more dangerous than ever before. "The faction leader, the one we defeated, had apparently left behind a couple of covert teams with one mission: find and kill my mother."

I froze. The rage I'd felt at MJ's death was still fresh in my mind. I was vengeful enough to attempt to force an Olympian goddess to fade. If it had been my mom instead?

I honestly don't know what I would have done, or if I would have ever stopped. I probably would've destroyed the whole world.

"Those empousai and dracaenae will never know peace," he swore, and I knew he'd kept that promise for however long it had been since that fateful day. "Tartarus is too good for their sorry hides."

All I could do was silently agree. Anyone who dared harm a hair on my mom's head deserved the worst the world had to offer.

Monaxiá took a long moment to recompose himself. "After that, I struck out on my own. I didn't have anyone left, but I still wanted to do good in the world. That was why I decided to help demigod children find their way to their camps because so many of us wished we had a protector when we were running for our lives, hoping to cross the border before we got caught."

I almost winced at the description, but something was not adding up. Wait, no one left? What about everybody at camp? The way he's talking it sounds like it's still standing, so why couldn't he stay there, or go to Dad's palace?

And yet, something told me to not interrupt him, sensing that this was a story that didn't deserve to be interrupted any more than it already had been.

"I had been on the road for a year," he continued, "After who knows how long, I was beginning to feel a semblance of peace, seeing the bright smiles of young demigods guaranteed to live another day. But I was still empty, barely getting by each day. And that's when Hestia found me. Initially, she'd simply proposed a small offer. She would assist in my self-imposed mission of leading demigod kids to the camps."

Okay, damn. It feels like Monaxiá is even more self-sacrificing than I am, and that's a serious achievement.

His story moved onward, although I could tell we were nearing the end. "The missions were grueling, but at the same time fulfilling. And in between said missions, Hestia would drop by whenever she could, and we would talk about anything and everything. And then there was that mission."

He gave a wry, almost self-deprecating smile, "It was supposed to be a routine extraction, only for some reason there were far more monsters than there were supposed to be. It didn't matter, I had a job to do so I charged right in. I succeeded in the mission, but I was fairly injured."

"Hestia appeared while I was recuperating, and the way she fretted was so motherly, it reminded me of… of Sally." For a moment, his voice softened, as he remembered his late mother. "We talked, and somehow our conversation went so off track, or maybe it was something that had been building up all the while, that Hestia proposed she adopt me. Accepting it was one of the best decisions I ever made."

I felt a small ball of emotions bubble in my chest. Honestly, that's the kind of story that could make a grown man shed a tear. "It must have felt amazing to be adopted, right? I've heard the experience is indescribable."

Monaxiá, however, simply smirked at me. "Well, to be honest, the actual adoption itself was far more painful than amazing, I was mostly referring to the aftermath."

I frowned in confusion at the statement. "What do you mean? From what I heard, isn't godly adoption just overloading the mortal with their godly energy with the will to claim one as their own?"

Okay, I was a bit iffy on the details. Godly adoptions were exceedingly rare phenomena. The most recent one had been Hitler, and he didn't really fit into a neat box considering how he was 'adopted.'

Monaxiá just shrugged, a mischievous look in his eyes. "That is correct, but I was adopted the other way. You know, the mixing-blood-and-appealing-to-Chaos route."

Okay, what?

He's got to be joking right? No, he's actually being serious. Oh gods, he was actually adopted that way?

Now look, the knowledge stored in the royal library of Atlantis is massive. It's so large that it can rival the library on Olympus itself. And even then, when I'd been studying under Delta the first time around or with my dad and Triton the second time, I'd only found one manuscript that referenced the method Monaxiá was talking about.

That method is ancient. It's so old that there are literally no records of it ever being used. But the fact that he was adopted in that way means he's every bit as powerful, and has just as much authority, as a full-blooded child of Hestia. For all intents and purposes, he is a full-blooded son of Hestia!

Oh wow, that means he was equally a son of Poseidon and Hestia while still being a demigod. Damn, those poor, poor monsters. They never stood a chance, did they?

"Alright," I said, shuffling my feet. "We're not getting into that, no thank you."

Monaxiá just laughed. Apparently, I was back to being his source of comedic relief. "As you wish. What else do you wish to talk about?"

"Honestly, I'm not sure," I sighed. "Like I said before, the Fates are sending me on this trip because I took a little break."

"Do you have any reason why?" Monaxiá asked, his voice a low rumble that reverberated off the walls.

"Maybe they're just not Knicks fans," I gestured to my Knicks jersey underneath my jacket and grinned. The grin faded as I said, "But yeah, I've got a few guesses. I should start from the top, though. Let's see…after I destroyed Oceanus, I confronted Aphrodite, who you were kind of right about, albeit for the wrong reasons."

Monaxiá paused for a moment when he heard Aphrodite's name, a faint hint of irritation crossing his face before he composed himself. "What do you mean by 'for the wrong reasons?'"

I took a slow breath before speaking. Even though we had pretty much all moved past those days, a part of me was still pained when I reflected on it. I had trusted her, and she'd thrown it back in my face. "While I was still unconscious, I was in my mindscape for a while after I left here. Well, Aphrodite had always told me that we had a bond, but that was the first time I actually saw it. It… honestly, it looked horrible. I expected something like a pink string, maybe a connecting portal, or something. Instead, it was like a funnel directly connected to my emotions, constantly feeding on all my positive feelings and dopamine so that she could regain her power."

Did I leave a lot of details out? Yes, I did. But honestly, I don't think I was ready to explain to a Greek demigod-turned-god from another reality that we had Egyptian deities in mine, and one of them kinda lived in my head along with a bunch of gamer powers. Sue me.

For a moment, Monaxiá's eyes flashed yellow again, but this time I didn't feel as unsettled as usual. Was he feeling angry for me?

"So that's what happened," he snarled, and the growl was back in his voice. "I guess some things don't change no matter what, but still, at least she was better to you than my reality's Aphrodite ever was to me, so at least there's that."

Did I ever mention just how deep his voice was? Like, even normally it's pretty deep, near the bottom of the baritone range, but when that growl creeps in it's pretty much a rumble. It's the kind of voice that makes you stop in your tracks and want to say "Yes, sir!" even though you did absolutely nothing wrong.

And yet, I couldn't just let him go on like that. Sure, there may have been times when I loathed Aphrodite from the very depths of my soul, but now? I'd seen and felt every one of her emotions. I'd felt her love for me firsthand. I had to say something in her favor.

"She's…a complex individual. There's a lot of love between us, and at this point, I don't blame her for what she did, even if it did kind of fuck me over in the short term. We're bonded again, except this time it's a lot more symbiotic," I defended the love goddess. "She's just got a fucked up definition of love and a whole suite of psychological things I'm not going to get into. But, like I said, we're close. She knows more about me than anyone else. In fact, when I first got involved with Aphrodite, she'd offered to protect Mom. And she did. Still does, in fact. From immortals, monsters, and telemarketers who come to the house from time to time."

Monaxiá still didn't seem fully convinced, but I guess he was willing to take my word for it. Seeing that it was the best I would probably get from him, what with his already present image from his universe's Aphrodite, I continued.

"Anyway, after that, we broke things off, and Mom pushed me to go back to school. I didn't want to, but I did. At school, I made a bunch of friends, and, in the afternoons, Triton and I would train. I don't know about you, but my version of Triton and I are actually like brothers. He's actually going to school with Mom. But, like I said, in the afternoons, we'd go to the beach under our house and train."

Monaxiá grew somber for a moment, the ever-present glow in his eyes dulling just a bit. Zeus, I should have known not to bring up Mom, not with how he'd just brought up her passing in his reality just minutes ago.

However, he composed himself, much quicker than I could have if I didn't have [Gamer's Mind MK2]. "Ah, that sounds great. Triton isn't really friendly with me in my reality. He felt snubbed with me being an Olympian while he, Father's firstborn, was still relegated to being a lowly sea deity. And Amphitrite is just as cold. I thought it was getting better during my demigod days, but the moment I became an Olympian and more important than any of her children, she went right back to loathing me."

Yikes. I remembered back when I thought Triton had betrayed me, and how horrible I'd felt. Monaxiá probably didn't have that kind of relationship with Triton, but it must still hurt not getting along with his half-siblings.

And no, I'm not touching the Amphitrite issue with a ten-foot pole. I still shudder whenever I think of Carcinus' party and the events leading up to it. Granted, a lot of that may have been Aphrodite, but still, no.

"That sounds horrible man," I said, as sincerely as I could. This dude just cannot catch a break, can he?

Monaxiá just shrugged in response, brushing some hair out of his face. Again, most gods would have just had it kept perfectly with their power unless they were doing it in a 'dashing' manner (looking at you, Apollo) but he did it in such a normal, human way.

"Also, you have a beach under your house? How did that come about?" A hint of genuine intrigue was present in his eyes. Then again, I guess I've never really told him about all the differences in my world, have I?

I gave him a sad smile. I knew I'd just make him sadder, but he deserved to know, "Yeah, dude. When I brought the bolt back, since I basically did it alone, I was rewarded by the gods. On top of that, Hestia decided she wanted to live with Mom, and Dad wanted to train, so they gave Mom and me a mansion to live in right in Montauk. That way I could train without worrying about her, and she could live peacefully without worrying about me."

Monaxiá was silent for another moment, a small, sad smile gracing his lips. "That's something mother always wanted to do. Live in Montauk itself instead of only spending a week or two every year. I'm glad she could live that dream in your world."

The longing in his voice hurt to hear, but at the same time, a part of me swelled with pride at the thought that I'd managed to fulfill one of my Mom's lifelong dreams.

"Anyway, one day, I went to a party with some of the guys from the basketball team at this…girl named MJ's house," I ignored the swell of anger and power that corkscrewed through my system. It was like a muscle spasm—gone before I could even control it.

Yet, it seemed Monaxiá had still noticed the slight shift in my emotions. He didn't mention it though, which I was grateful for.

"MJ and I were attacked by the Minotaur. I found out she was a clear-sighted mortal, and we started dating. Flash forward to that summer, and Thalia's tree was poisoned. Jason, who I saved from Prometheus—long story—Silena, Malcolm, and I went on a trip to get an apple of immortality so Aphrodite could convert its power into new wards."

"Wait, stop right there," Monaxiá said, his voice a bit harder than before. "You met Jason that early? And he was with Prometheus?"

Well, it looks like I wouldn't be able to skim over it even if I wanted to. "Yeah, apparently he'd been abandoned by his mom, and Prometheus found him soon after. The bastard took him in and 'raised' him, acting like his oh-so-great father figure while in fact molding him into nothing more than a loyal bodyguard." I spat the final words out, having no qualms about showing just how I felt over the Titan who had all but tortured the guy I saw as almost a brother.

Monaxiá, on the other hand, had a distant look in his eyes for a moment, before he turned back, chuckling softly. However, the laugh held far more sadness and maybe even resentment as opposed to mirth. "Oh, I remember the days when we used to be that close. I wish we could go back, but not everything I wish comes to pass."

That sounded ominous. Part of me was itching to ask exactly what happened between them, but the rational, non-suicidal part knew it was a sensitive topic that I had to approach cautiously.

Instead, I chose to just continue my story for now.

"Well, I managed to get him out of Prometheus' grasp, and yeah, it took a long while to do away with the conditioning he'd gone through, but we were able to do so. Now he's living with Mom and I when we're not at camp."

"So is Jason a son of Zeus in your universe?" Monaxiá asked, giving me an intrigued look.

I shook my head. "No, he's Roman, but we're keeping it under wraps for now. He doesn't know either, probably because Prometheus doesn't have a Roman aspect. The Olympians say revealing it could cause absolute chaos to break out, and that's the last thing we need right now."

"That is true. When the two sides came into contact in my world, it wasn't pretty." Well, it seemed like my ears were still functioning. I guess as long as Monaxiá kept his references vague, I'd be fine.

That reminded me. "Monaxiá, do you have a Roman aspect? How would it even work for a Greek demigod who got elevated to godhood? I know it worked for Hercules, but his stories were adapted to Roman times, what about you?"

The god simply chuckled. "That is a valid concern most of the time. It's why any demigods who were elevated to minor gods after the fall of Rome are either purely Greek or purely Roman. It completely depended on their heritage since they had no way of spreading their influence on both sides. However, I was the exception to the rule."

"How so? Did you go over to the Roman demigods and do so much that you got their seal of approval or something?" Yes, butting in may be stupid, but at this point, the dude has overlooked a dozen other transgressions that any other Olympian would have vaporized me for, so I think we're cool.

Somehow, that just prompted Monaxiá to burst into full-belly laughter. What can I say? I'm a funny dude.

"Something like that, yes," He said after he was finally done laughing. "But more than that, it's because I'm apparently both Greek and Roman."

You could probably hear a record scratch when he said that.

"Wait, what?" I don't care if I was a bit too loud, that made no sense at all. Plus, we're in a creepy cave in the Underworld. Who the hell is going to be here, anyway?

Monaxiá, however, simply shrugged. "That was a similar reaction to when I first heard it. Apparently, Dad had both his aspects present or something of the sort. The explanation is very convoluted. And due to that, Hestia's adoption ritual also drew from both her Greek and Roman forms."

"Okay, but…." I paused for a moment. Do I really want to ask how the dude was conceived? I mean, it may be another universe, but this is still my mom and dad we're talking about. Ew.

Shuddering slightly, I move on. "So does that mean you have a different Roman form or aspect?"

Monaxiá shook his head. "No, the only thing that changes is my name. The Romans refer to me as Solus. Other than that, any difference in clothing is simply me consciously doing so to make them more at ease with me around. But that's enough regarding that, I've taken you on a long enough tangent, and we still haven't answered why you are here."

And, I mean, fair. Although you can't blame me for being distracted. This is like the second big bombshell he's dropped on me during this conversation.

And no, before you ask, I'm Greek, through and through. If I wasn't, I wouldn't have been like a lost puppy when Lupa and Artemis, or I guess Diana, spoke Latin, would I?

"Well, Annabeth went for the fleece, I just didn't go with her," I continued. "At the time, and well, even now, I trust Aphrodite more. So, instead, we headed off to San Francisco in order to get an apple from the Garden of the Hesperides."

I expected another reaction, but Monaxiá was strangely silent for a while. "And did you succeed?"

Ok, that was genuinely concerning. A part of me was worried about the future. "Um, yeah. I beat Ladon, and then I was forced to fight Luke and a couple of Titans. It was tough. I almost died, to be honest, but I did it."

Again, more silence. It was genuinely creeping me out now.

"And who were the two Titans you fought?" he finally asked.

"Iapetus and Thea," I said, shifting a bit. I could still remember exploding the blood out of Iapetus' husk of a body. "I managed to kill both of them, so it's nothing too big."

Oddly, he wasn't as happy as I expected him to be. In fact, he looked a bit… sad? He said something under his breath, although the only words I could catch were, "I'm sorry, Bob."

Weird. I figured I'd stay away from the grittier details.

Either way, he turned back to me, a bit more serious now. "Well, I hope it was enough to strengthen the wards until the others got the fleece."

I simply nodded in agreement. "Yeah, it was. Except for the fact that old Gramps had guessed that Thalia would come back and he'd have another shot at the prophecy going his way. Anyways, I ended up going back to Atlantis for more training and a tournament to prove Atlantis is the best, I won—obviously—and, well, MJ and I broke up."

I've moved on, I have! Or at least, I think I have. But it's still a bit difficult to talk about, knowing what happened soon after. It seemed like Monaxiá understood that I didn't really want to delve into it at the moment, similar to how I could tell there were some topics he didn't want to broach.

"I got back to camp and found out Luke's been a double agent this whole time, so he and I joined forces for the betterment of demigods everywhere," I continued. "I do want to ask, how did you react when you found out about that? Because it was a doozy for me."

All I got in return was a blank stare, with a hint of shock.

"Luke was never a double agent in my world." His words were slow and measured, almost as if he were trying to figure out what was best to say. "He was loyal to Kronos until the very end, where…no, I don't think it would be wise to mention it. For all we know, the Fates won't want you to hear that."

I nod in understanding. "Oh, I've learned that it isn't exactly the Fates who are responsible for the ungodly noise I heard. I would explain it to you, but for all I know you would be subjected to the same atrocity I was."

The god simply laughed in response. "Well, I wouldn't have the room to complain after everything I subjected you to, would I?"

I just shrugged, a wry smile tugging at my lips. "I mean, if you're cool with it I am too. Well, soon after, Hades asked me to bring his kids back from a military school, but there was this manticore disguised as a teacher there, so I saved Nico and Bianca and brought them back to camp."

A quiet pause was all I received in return, causing me to meet his eyes again. All I could see was a muted sadness and… anger?

"Um, Monaxiá? Is everything—"

"Percy, just move on," he said softly. "I don't want to talk about it at the moment."

That was eerily similar to how he'd talked about Jason. Something went very wrong in his timeline, I can tell. At this point, I was more curious about what didn't go wrong in his timeline.

In the end, I decided that I should try to lighten the mood a bit. Maybe a little joke would help.

"Well, Khione ended up joining us, and she's like, creepy but in a kind of a hot way, and she tried to flirt with me. I actually flirted with her, too, which is how I got her to join us."

Well, all that my attempt at humor granted me was another blank stare, albeit one almost as judging as the ones my mom gave me. It is not fun having an older version of you give you the equivalent of, I'm not mad, just disappointed.

Especially right after he looked like he was having war flashbacks or the equivalent. Guess I should move on pretty quickly.

"There was this dance everyone was going to, and Nico and Bianca wanted to go. As a thank-you for helping him out, Uncle Hades said he'd make sure all monsters stayed away from the dance."

I paused for a moment, wondering if I should add in the part about Thalia kissing me just to see his reaction. But gauging from the responses I've received so far, it may not be the brightest of ideas. I guess we can leave it for later.

Taking a deep breath, I soldiered on. "And…I guess that is where things get really rough."

That certainly caught his attention if the sharpness in his eyes were any clue. But it seemed he also decided to stay silent and not interrupt me. He really does know the best times to do so.

"The General and someone named the Reality Architect, alongside Hephaestus and some other minor gods blew up the dance, killing all of my mortal friends…and MJ…in an attempt to get me to break psychologically."

The god fell dead silent, the ethereal glow in his eyes dimming a fair bit. Not that I could blame him. From what I remembered from our last conversation, the Hephaestus in his universe was among his closest friends, and to hear that a version of him was responsible for such needless slaughter was probably jarring, to say the least.

"I'm not going to lie…it almost worked," I continued, seeing no move to interrupt me. "I freaked out and almost killed Aphrodite, who was there in disguise because I thought she was the reason it happened. Jason and Piper were caught in the crossfire too, and I went to the Underworld in a desperate attempt to fix everything. I thought Hades would let me save my friends since I thought it was his fault, but we found together that it wasn't his fault, and it definitely wasn't Aphrodite's."

I paused for a moment, letting the silence hang heavy between the two of us. I wasn't worried about losing control of my emotions. [Gamer's Mind MK2] made sure of that. However, just casually moving past that seemed almost disrespectful to the memories of everyone I'd lost that day. It may not have been any grand way to honor them, but it was enough.

Monaxiá seemed to agree with my sentiment, if his somber mood was a good gauge of his emotions. His lips moved silently, mouthing I phrase I recognized as an Ancient Greek prayer to guide the souls of the deceased safely across the Styx.

"Uncle let me see MJ on the condition that I go to therapy after since he thought it would send me into the deep end, so I agreed. I saw her, and she was happy, so that was that."

Of course, it wasn't anywhere close to that simple, but I wasn't going to delve back into that again. That would be needlessly hurting myself. I'd moved past it, or at least I thought I had. Remembering my lowest point would not help me in the slightest. It seemed Monaxiá understood perfectly if the hints I'd gotten regarding his past were any clue.

"Afterwards, Persephone and I spent a lot of time together since she was the best candidate to help me work through my messed up emotions before Apollo recruited me for this quest with Artemis, and I said yes."

The god looked curious at that. "With Artemis, you say? That wouldn't have been possible in my reality. She would have already…never mind, I don't think it matters much." He shook his head, probably wanting to avoid any possibility of my ears being assaulted again.

"I spent a lot of time with her, and…my Artemis is weird. Intense. We got kind of close, and for reasons inevitably linked to some deep-seated trauma she has, she eventually said she didn't need my help and almost killed me by blasting me off her chariot."

Silence greeted me for a long moment before Monaxiá gave a low, rueful chuckle. "I guess being involved with Artemis is something unavoidable no matter what universe we're in. But why did she suddenly flip into trying to kill you if you were getting close? It sounds like your relationship with her is far different than mine."

Maybe because I wasn't trapped in a forced marriage like the both of you, I wanted to snark, but that probably wasn't a great idea. I guess using humor as a defense mechanism isn't the best decision at times.

Instead, I chose a route that would put me at a much lower risk of getting the snot beating out of me. "Well, for a couple of days leading up to the 'incident' I'd been getting flashbacks about Artemis' previous relationship with Orion."

The mere mention of his name caused a grimace to mar Monaxiá's face.

"Oh, you have some history with him?" I asked, intrigued.

He nodded, looking displeased. "Unfortunately. I never interacted with him directly, thank Chaos, but he had appeared for a while, and let's just say he created far too many problems in the short time he was around. It's a shame that I'm related to him by blood." The slight growl in his voice returned, but it wasn't as pronounced as before.

"Wait, Orion is your brother in your universe?" Color me surprised, I didn't see any familial relation between the both of us in my dream. I'm kinda glad I didn't honestly. He didn't seem to have the best downward spiral.

Monaxiá jerked his head, the nod so sharp I almost winced. "There are multiple myths surrounding his birth. Some claim him to be one of the Gigantes born of Gaia and Tartarus, while others paint him as a demigod son of Poseidon. Over time, the beliefs grew and mixed to the point that he embodied both of them, almost like the aspects of a deity. Although he almost always remains in the giant aspect, something all of us are grateful for."

The anger in his voice was palpable. Definitely not something I'd want to incur on myself. "I guess he doesn't have that in my world then. But anyway, from what I saw, it looked like he'd left her with a lot of deep-seated trauma and insecurity. I don't have the complete picture as of yet, but the difference between the first and second dreams is far too much to be explained away without Orion having done some seriously messed up stuff."

"I guess that is there. My world's Artemis definitely had a lot of issues too, and I guess a similar story happened between us." Monaxiá's words were somber once again, although they seemed to be tinged with hope. Almost as if he was seeing the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

"Either way," he continued, jerking me out of my thoughts, "I think it's best for you to complete your story."

All I did was shrug in response. "Well, there's not much left to be honest. Kind of fed up with everything, I went to hang out with Persephone in the mortal world, spent some time with Mom and Hestia, and had a pretty solid few weeks of relaxation. Then, out of the blue, the Fates turn up and send me on this whole journey to learn from my multiversal counterparts, namely you and a couple of other versions of me. That's all I know."

Monaxiá stood silent for a moment, before slowly sinking towards the ground, crossing his legs Indian-style as he sat. I copied him, although I winced a bit at how cold and rough the ground was. Couldn't he have summoned a couple of chairs if he wanted to sit, considering he was a god?

I guess he noticed my slight discomfort if the knowing grin was any indication. "You're probably wondering why I didn't summon anything more comfortable, aren't you? Well, I know you've probably heard this multiple times before, but you need to be ready for discomfort. And I don't mean just ready to face it, but ready to accept it. If I had to guess, having to talk about everything you went through wasn't the most comfortable experience, was it? And I'm quite certain the other Percys you saw left you quite disoriented as well."

I simply nodded, wondering where he was going with this.

"Well, discomfort is where you grow," he said, his words holding a weight that made me almost subconsciously lean in. "You can only be exposed to new ideas, new perspectives, if you step outside your comfort zone. And you need that stimulus in order to be able to grow further."

I felt it. A well of frustration within me, slowly overflowing. I knew I could easily suppress it, but this time around, I chose not to. For once, I wanted to let my emotions out when I spoke, and I knew Monaxiá would understand. Or at least, I hoped he would.

"I guess my question is…how much more do I need to go through Monaxiá? From the day I entered this world, I've been forced to fight for either my life or for those I care for. My first relationship crashed and burned, my second…" I paused for a moment. "...will remain one of my greatest regrets. I'm barely holding onto my friendships, and right as I begin forming a new bond, she decides to blast me out of a damn carriage! I'm not strong enough to defeat Kronos yet, but the more I train and take on quests, the further I get from my friends. I feel like I'm just two steps behind everything, all of the time. How much more do I need to take? I'm doing this so I can be strong enough to make sure my loved ones don't need to go through any more pain, not to constantly be in a repeating cycle!"

I drew a long breath, the cold air almost a balm as it filled my burning lungs. I should have known that I was still suppressing something. Every time Persephone approached anything related to Artemis, I deflected as best I could.

It may have been obvious, but she let it slide. I guess she wanted to give me some time to wind down, with how I'd just had an intensive therapy session with her right before I left for that quest.

But it hurt. Friends were a finicky thing given my job as a divine consultant. I didn't get to see mine as much as I wanted, and, at the same time, I felt oddly responsible for them. Like I needed to do what I had to do so that they'd get the option to grow in peace.

And, based on what I'd spoken with Artemis about, I thought she felt the same way about her hunters. We had that common ground, among other things.

I was finally getting a bit closer, finally breaking through her icy exterior and getting to know her. And she goes ahead and blasts me off the damned chariot while we're racing across the sky.

For all she knew, I was currently a bloody smear on the ground somewhere in the wild. Did she even regret what she did? Did she even care?

So much for trusting me.

I was so lost in thought that I didn't even see Monaxiá move. The next thing I felt was his rough, calloused hand resting against my shoulder, the gritty yet warm surface pressing gently, a show of support that I hadn't expected. But I was grateful, nonetheless.

"I know, Percy, and I'm sorry." From the way his eyes had dimmed, he was probably remembering something from his own past, even as he turned away to look out into the distance. "I didn't mean to imply that you should want pain and heartbreak. No one is truly ready to face either of those, and I hope you never reach that point where you think you have to."

"Rather, I only wished to say that you ought to be ready to face new circumstances, ones that would make sure you continue to grow not only in strength but as a person too. Maybe that's what the Fates sent you on this journey; because they thought that you had gone through so much that you would try your best to not only avoid pain but even discomfort since you would be afraid that it would lead to the very same pain."

I simply shook my head. While I understood why, I could also feel resentment for the Fates bubble to the surface. "But why do we have to abide by their whims, Monaxiá? Why are we simply dancing to their tunes while they weave our strings in whatever ridiculous fashion they fancy?"

The god, however, simply shook his head. "I had thought like that once too, wondered how it would be to be exempt from the Fates. But that's just a dream. None of us can escape fate, even if we try."

"So we're supposed to just roll over and let them play whatever twisted games they want?" A part of me wanted to blame them for everything that occurred. They would have been the ones who spun everything that occurred in my life to this point.

"That's where you're wrong," Monaxiá said, squatting down so he was closer to my level. "The Fates are a force that even us gods struggle to understand. It would be better for you to stop thinking about them as individuals, or even deities, and instead as a primordial force. They don't create difficulties simply to hurt you. They are meant to represent the inevitable march of time."

"But what's stopping them from deciding that they can just screw me over because they want to? Who holds them accountable?" I knew I was probably harping on a single point. I didn't care. I just hoped Monaxiá could answer it before I went too far over.

The god simply sighed, his free hand running through his long hair. "Ah, the question always posed to this concept. Who oversees the overseer? What prevents them from being vindictive or cruel?"

"I'll be honest Percy, there isn't." A cold chill ran through me at his words. "But that may not be as bad as it seems. The Fates may not be bound to any being, but they are still tied to the march of time. Their role is to ensure progress in a cosmic sense, even if we may not understand it. That's why I suggest not seeing them as deities in a sense. All deities, barring Chaos itself, have a distinct personality, and with that always comes some form of bias or prejudice. That is where the Fates are different. They are the most impartial force you can find in our world, ones that, for good or bad, maintain neutrality in every aspect."

He wasn't lying, the concept certainly felt alien. Even I, with the Gamer powers I possess that directly help me keep my emotions in check, am not unbiased. I have people I care for, people I would protect no matter what. To imagine entities who did not have a single tie and were just meant to ensure the progression of the world felt off.

"But still, doesn't that mean we have no freedom? That everything we do is already mapped out before us?"

He paused for a moment upon hearing my question, thinking deeply. "Not necessarily. Yes, the Fates write your destiny, but no one ever said that destiny was inflexible. Remember Achilles? He had a choice: either fight and die but be remembered forever, or leave and live but be forgotten. There is always freedom for you, but freedom does not mean being unbound to fate. Rather, I would say it means accepting it, and…simply not caring about it. Rather, you live your life how you see fit, no matter what."

Monaxiá's words reminded me of something that I'd almost forgotten about with the chaos my life had descended into. The note about [Pivotal Decisions] from Heket. He was right.

While my paths were laid out, the fact that there were paths and not just a single path should have been enough to know that fate wasn't necessarily linear. And from what I remember, there were additional [Pivotal Decisions] further down the line in each route, and who knows how many yet to come.

I guess it's probably because of how I grew up. The Western ideal of living free and unfettered by anyone or anything else seems so dissonant from the concept of the Fates, almost like were you to believe in one, you had to rebel against the other. But from what Monaxiá was saying, that didn't have to be the case.

Still reeling a bit from the drastic shift in worldview, I chuckled softly, trying to wrap my mind around it. "Every time, Monaxiá. Somehow, you always manage to cause me to doubt everything I know."

The god simply gave a wry grin. "Hopefully it's not too bad this time around at least?"

"No, I guess it isn't." I paused for a moment. "But could I ask you something?"

"What is it?" His words were light, but there was a slight undercurrent of tension, almost as if he could sense that I was about to ask something heavy.

"If you're not too uncomfortable, could you tell me exactly what happened to you? Every time I bring up someone in my life, it's like you have to force yourself to stay calm."

The god stilled, his eyes dimming more than ever before. He stared out into the distance, and for a moment I assumed he would just ignore me. Or worse, finally lose patience and attack.

Instead, he released a heavy sigh, a few locks of hair falling down and shielding his eyes. "I guess you deserve it. But forgive me if I keep it brief, otherwise, we'll be here for far too long."

I focused my attention on Monaxiá, knowing that he would only say it once.

"I will not say what war occurred or who it was against, since we do not know whether you will have to endure the same pain as before. But suffice to say that in my world, we finally got through it. And I expected to finally, after all this time, live in peace. But a demigod's life is never that simple, is it?"

"There was a new camper, a son of Apollo. I should have known something was wrong. Since the day he arrived, he had this sense of wrongness about him. I think some of the others may have sensed it as well, but they brushed it off, just like I did. I would soon regret it.."

He looked towards the roof of the cavern we were in, almost as if he were asking a higher power for strength.

"He was there simply to sow the seeds of chaos among us. He had a power that enabled him to sway most to his side. His goal was to ostracize me, to make me leave and never look back. But he, and those he was working under, were smart. They knew if they completely relied on the power, I would try my hardest to fight, to release those I loved from their clutches. So they ensured that as far as they could, the decisions they took were their own, with minimal influence. It was almost to mock me, to show me that he could sway those I held dearest and I could do nothing about it. Every single one of them. The Greeks, Romans, Reyna, Thalia, Jason, Frank, Hazel, Nico, Annabeth…"

His hand ran down his face, the action possibly the one thing that helped him stay calm. "And so, I left. And then everything I mentioned with my mom happened, so I guess we can skip a bit ahead."

I was genuinely speechless following what I heard. The thought of everyone I cared for, just leaving me? Considering me as the equivalent of human trash? I didn't know how I could possibly get through it. If I even could. And for him to have his mom die right after right in front of him? Dear Zeus. And from how he spoke, it seemed Annabeth and he were extremely close, far closer than we were in my world. I had intended to ask about her possible connection with the Reality Architect, but I could see it would probably not end well.

But apparently, he wasn't done. "It seemed like my life wasn't done though. After the adoption, and some more time on the road, circumstances forced me to have to accompany Artemis and her hunters for a while. And even though the gods knew about the truth behind everything that occurred, they couldn't do anything either. One of the aspects of the power was that once an idea was planted, it was nigh impossible to remove. And with hatred focused on me being the main idea…well, Artemis may have respected me, but she knew that her hunters were stuck on their paths, and she herself was slightly angered at my presence, mainly because she saw it as her father regarding her as being weak. With everything adding up, let's just say some instances were unavoidable."

"What?" I felt my stomach drop. First Aphrodite, now Artemis? How many goddesses who I grew close to would hurt me in another world? He's like the anti-me. "You're saying she allowed the hunters to physically assault you?"

"She only allowed the smaller incidents. She was unaware of the worst ones. And I, in my young naïveté, thought that if I didn't further antagonize them by going and complaining, not only would it not put Artemis in a difficult position, but it would also make it easier for me to make them believe that I wasn't in the wrong, since I still held on to the idiotic belief that I could somehow save them."

A hollow laugh, the emptiest sound I may have ever heard, fell from his lips. "What a fool I was."

Unfolding my legs, I brought my knees up towards my chest. Almost subconsciously, I wrapped my arms around them, almost as if it would offer some form of protection from the sordid tale I was hearing.

"Well, it finally culminated in an incident that got me kicked out, and even if they hadn't, I would have left anyway. I spent a couple of years in Atlantis, training under my father and trying to get away from everything, even if I did have to deal with my step-family. It didn't last long. Another war erupted, albeit being restricted underwater. Somehow, I became the hero of the war, and with everything else backing my name, the gods of Olympus offered me ascension."

Gods, and I thought my life was bad. What Monaxiá went through sounded so much worse, and I would be stupid to assume it would be any better after his ascension.

"I accepted. There was nothing tying me to mortality anymore, and I believed that I could do more good as a deity, regardless of the Ancient Laws. But I only expected to be a minor deity, one that could fade into the background and work quietly. But it seemed the Fates had other ideas. Due to a recent issue, Dionysus had permanently lost his throne on the council, and there were heated discussions about who would replace him. Well, it seemed the Fates chose to step in and make the decision for them. Not only was I a god, but I was also the newest Olympian."

Another rueful chuckle passed his lips. "Ironic, isn't it? That the vacant throne of a demigod-turned-god was taken up by yet another?"

I shrugged, already reeling as I tried to absorb everything I was hearing. His words were equivalent to heavy punches repeatedly being thrown at my gut, leaving me gasping for air. "But wouldn't you be able to do even more good as an Olympian?"

"One would think so, wouldn't they?" He looked down at the rocky floor, his long hair almost a curtain in front of his face. "I did too, fashioning a new name and identity for myself, always hiding my face and planning to remain in the backdrop. Until I found out just how intricate Olympian politics were. With my inexperience, it was akin to tossing a bleeding babe into shark-infested waters. The only ones truly on my side were Poseidon and Hestia. I knew I needed allies as soon as I could, so I formed a bloc with Apollo, Hermes, and Hephaestus. It was initially for political capital on both sides, but over time it became probably the closest friendship I've ever had."

A small smile broke the melancholy on his face, giving me a bit of hope as well. Only for his very next words to dash it to the ground. "And then the very same politics led to the point of arranging a marriage between Artemis and myself in order to maintain a 'peace-treaty' between our respective fathers."

My jaw dropped. I'd always wondered how they'd gotten together, but I don't think I ever expected that. "She must have hated it."

A sharp, humorless grin flashed across his face. "Of course. She loathed it and, by extension, me. The following years, nay decades, were some of the roughest between us. It took another recent war, one that almost doomed the world like none before, for us to finally move past our differences."

I waited for him to continue, but it seemed he was done. And yet, I could tell there were so many details left out, especially with how much gravity the mention of the war held. I knew not to pry, however. He'd already gone above and beyond what I expected him to reveal, and I was not going to push for him to tell me any more.

For a moment, my mind re-evaluated how I felt about Artemis. She may have blasted me off the chariot, yes, but she did so in the midst of what was probably a severe panic attack. Meanwhile, Monaxiá had endured who knows how much pain due to her, and if he could forgive her, then maybe…

I shook my head. I did not know the details of how exactly they came to a resolution, and I wasn't going to pry. But what I knew was that if I simply allowed it to be, I would be allowing her to get away with breaking the trust I'd had in her with no consequence. And if I gathered one thing from Monaxiá's story, it's how much he regretted not acting against the hurt and pain he suffered.

If I was to forgive Artemis, she had to approach me first. I would not go out of my way to find her, simply to tell her we were cool and to move past what had happened. After all, I don't think Mom, Hestia, or Persephone would be happy with me if I did so.

But a part of me was focused on another issue. Even if I accepted Monaxiá's words about the Fates being impartial, there was something else that I couldn't overlook.

"Monaxiá, why us? I've seen several other realities. Every single time, it's us who have to carry the burden. It's us who have to endure all the pain and abuse and are expected to come out stronger for it. Why? Couldn't it be someone else for once?"

Don't get me wrong. I want my family and friends safe. It's why I'm going through all this in the first place. But to go through all this pain, to witness my friends, whom I'd sworn to protect, get hurt or even die before me? How I wished someone else was willing to lighten the burden for once.

Monaxiá was silent for a moment before he took a deep breath. "Honestly? Nothing is stopping you from doing so. Fate, as I said, is a branching road, and I believe you may one day be presented with the choice to give your burden to another. But ask yourself this: would you ever feel truly secure knowing that you have to rely on someone else to keep those you love safe? And would they even be ready to take on your burden?"

I fell silent, contemplating his words. He was right. I was already stronger than any demigod alive, including those in EDEN. To find someone who could do what I could, I would have to find a minor god at the least. And even then, no matter how much I may hate it, would I ever be able to rest easy? Knowing that they almost certainly could not grow as fast as I could, as may be necessary even, thanks to my Gamer powers?

No, I couldn't. And from what I saw on Monaxiá's face, this was something he'd thought of long ago, and come to terms with. The quiet fire in his eyes, the refusal to concede regardless of what odds he faced, gave me hope. Yes, I could face the pain and hurt my life threw at me. But what Monaxiá said about facing discomfort to grow might mean that I could use that to be strong enough to prevent the worst pains from even occurring in my life.

For the first time since the Fates sent me on this trip, I finally began to understand the point of it all. At first, everything seemed like a random twist of events, which it kind of was. Now, though, I get why the Fates sent me here and why they did it now, of all times.

I'd been dealing with a loss of identity for a while. I'd lost my fire. Losing all of my mortal friends had made me feel like less of a hero than I'd ever felt, and I'm sure it was obvious, even if I didn't explicitly talk about it.

Not that I'd ever voice it out loud, but some days, I couldn't differentiate between if I was who I was because I'd randomly given the Game, that I'd somehow been in the right place at the right time, or if it had been my destiny to be great this whole time.

Furthermore, talking with Persephone made me realize that I never asked to be the chosen one, or a demigod at all. I never asked for these powers. I didn't know it would mean constantly fighting for my life, living through horrors other people couldn't fathom, no social life, and friends who all think I'm ignoring them!

It was all just a twist of fate. Bad luck. A random flip of a coin.

At least, that's what I'd thought.

Everyone I'd met so far, whether it was my Roman counterpart, Zia—even Monaxiá had their roles to play in proving that notion wrong, though.

With all the bad came the good. I gave my mom the life she's always wanted. I saved Aphrodite from centuries of torment, I began the slow process of mending the Olympian family, piece by piece. I created a safe haven for demigods, strong and secure enough to protect from the worst threats in the Greek world.

And even if I wasn't perfect, even if I let people die—like the hordes of dead in the forest—I saved countless more. I saved the world, over and over again. Hell, I even saved that old lady this morning.

Meeting my alternate selves was like staring into a living mirror, and the reflection was both awe-inspiring and unsettling. From the outside looking in, I saw the untapped potential that I had yet to explore, and everyone I saw felt like versions unburdened by the hesitations that had anchored me.

But now, I know that isn't true. It's not that they're unburdened—they've just been moving past the things holding them back. The Roman version of myself had his version of Jason, a brother, a true legitimate brother, turn his back on him, and be forced to hunt him down or die trying. Could he have stopped him? Maybe, but that's in the past now.

Monaxiá had lost so much. Some of it was on him, on his lack of action, and some of it was just fate. He couldn't have avoided it, even if he'd tried his hardest. He just learned to move past it. It's all he can do.

What I'm getting at is, that both of them have more regrets than I could ever dream of having. As much as they're snapshots, examples of what I could've been if just a few things were different, above all else, they're also cautionary tales.

I looked back to Monaxiá, who was staring at me intently. What did he say?

Discomfort is where you grow.

Until that moment, I had been merely surviving, going through the motions of life with a quiet desperation to avoid risks and keep everyone I love safe. I'd been going from one quest to another, hopping to the next big level I could see.

But as I gazed at Monaxiá, I felt a surge of conviction that echoed through the very core of my being. It was a realization that wasn't all I was meant for. I wasn't just here just to navigate the storms and protect from afar; I was here to be the lighthouse, to cast a beam of hope across the tumultuous sea.

It was the only way my story would turn out differently. If I wanted to make sure I didn't end up with the same regrets, the same skeletons in my closet, I needed to be better than I was so far.

If it meant making sure everything would go better than it did for him…I couldn't hold back anymore.

It was time to discard the safety nets I had woven around myself and embrace the uncertainty, to transform survival into a deliberate choice to thrive.

"No, I couldn't," I replied, as honestly as I could. "I don't think I could live with myself if I did."

The god nodded in agreement. "And there you have it. Now, what will be your next step?"

I was about to reply with something snarky before I stopped in my tracks. My mind flashed back to something I remembered from a while back. Almost frantically pulling up the Game HUD, I opened the section that listed the requirements to unlock a tier.

I saw [Tier 2] had both objectives complete, and a small notification next to it. I elected to ignore it for the moment though, instead focusing on the other tasks on my mind.

I zoomed in on the two at hand, discarding the others. One task from [Tier 3], and one from [Tier 1] respectively.

[Task of the Multiverse:] The user must navigate through different dimensions and face challenges posed by entities that dwell within them. This could include solving complex puzzles, outsmarting ancient guardians, or making difficult choices that affect the fabric of reality. By demonstrating mastery over the multiverse, the user gains the ability to transfer objects to and from other dimensions.

[Task of Embrace:] The user must confront and overcome their fear of death by facing a powerful opponent who embodies the concept of mortality. This opponent could be a legendary creature or a manifestation of death itself. The user must emerge victorious.

I knew that the first one would be completed no matter what after this was over. I had done more than enough to satisfy the task. However, the second one was a long shot in all honesty. There was no guarantee that Monaxiá would be considered someone who embodies mortality. But if it did work, that would be incredible. Even if it didn't, it wouldn't change my next decision.

It may have been stupid, or ridiculously impulsive. It may just have been me looking for an outlet after everything I'd just gone through. I will admit, I could have been just jumping headfirst into insanity.

None of that mattered, I decided as I closed the Game HUD and looked toward the god before me. I'd vowed to discard my safety nets. That meant pulling out as much power as I could, and the only one I knew who could take it without asking questions was standing right in front of me.

"This is going to sound really weird," I said, meeting Monaxiá's gaze. "But I need you to fight me. Full power."

AN (Maroon): Wow, that was a doozy. There are probably a trillion things I could say here, but I think, first and foremost, a big thank you is in order for both Etko and Prop, for a few different reasons.

Beyond the obvious of writing this chapter, helping me edit, making sure things are coherent, and a countless amount of housekeeping things, this story as you know it likely wouldn't exist without both of their help.

Creating a multiverse with Prop was something I first had as a throwaway idea at the inception of the first Atlantis arc—I had just finished reading RTT, and I thought, "Gee, I wish there was a way I could include that character and some of those themes into this!"

So, right after, I sent Prop a message, completely expecting him to deny my request to even name his character, let alone use it. Instead, we collaborated in a way that felt meaningful for both of us, and I'm happy to say we've done it again here.

If you notice some changes in tone or see some things you aren't used to, it's because we actually co-wrote this chapter, as well. Very happy to have been able to create something that I don't really think has been pulled off ever in fanfiction. A planned multiverse between two fics!

Aside from singing Prop's praises, as I could do that for much too long, I also wanted to reiterate how happy I am for all of the supporters of this story. This 'arc' is definitely a thank you to you guys, while still maintaining a bit of growth for Percy.

Some of the cameos in this chapter include:

The Lord of Time (my Percy/Calypso fic)

Queens Champion

The Altered Destinies series

No clue if a story like this exists, but a Percy/Fleur HP crossover (future story winks)

A Hunger Games/PJO crossover (I don't know if this exists)

Storms and Monsters (my PJO/ATLA crossover)

And, a very special cameo, courtesy of UU TWO. Hope I could do the Disruptor some justice, my man.

Next chapter, well, you can tell where that's going—but after, we're right back to Titan's Curse. Again, this will be my version of it.

This is going to be a return to form in a lot of ways. The arc is going to feel like the first few did—there's going to be more of an emphasis on camp and our core group of characters.

I've begun writing some of it out, and it definitely reads like retro TFOAC, so if this interlude wasn't your cup of tea, don't worry. A lot of stuff in the next few chapters is going to be Percy's return, and him dealing with the consequences of his actions. That includes explanations, confrontations, and some possible romance…

I'll leave you with that, and pass the proverbial mic to Prop.

(Proph): Hey everyone! I know you probably didn't expect to see me pop up here, but what can I say? Been a while since I wrote anything in the PJO fandom thanks to college and everything involved, and what better way to return than chipping in to write this mammoth chapter with my man Maroon?

Let me begin by saying that it was an absolute blast to write this chapter. Maroon and I have fairly different writing styles, and it was a really fun time trying to adjust more to his way of writing (I can't say if I did it perfectly or not, that's up to y'all to decide). But yeah, this chapter has been something we've planned for a long time, and it's genuinely an honor to have been privy to some of the planning for this fic, and any contributions I could have made to this incredible work. The growth has been genuinely insane, and I hope it continues to climb even faster.

Also, if some of you notice anything that you feel is slightly different from how Road to Tranquility played out, that was intentional. Was Monaxiá understating events for Percy's benefit? Maybe, or it could be something else… Let's just say I have some interesting plans for the future.

But that's for the future. For now, once again, big thanks to the homie Maroon for letting me collab on this chapter (and help out with the fic in general), and hopefully you all have just as much fun reading it as we had writing it.