"Everyone this way," Chiron ushered them into the Pantheon of the Gods

"Everyone this way," Chiron ushered them into the Pantheon of the Gods.

Hestia grinned at her twins from her place in the hearth, and probably would have invited them to join her in the fire had Chiron not scowled at her. Along with Hephaestus. And Artemis. And Hermes. And Demeter.

"Cool," Claire muttered, eyeing Hestia's hearth. Of course, it really wasn't cool in the literal sense because it was a giant fire, but whatever. Luna rolled her eyes. Everyone else had the sense to keep their mouths shut when the gods were present, but she had to get stuck with the suicidal/insane/idiotic twin.

Rino stared longingly into the fire, but was held back by Tyson's death grip on his arm. Tyson had Ayden as well. And Ayden was not happy. "Let me go!" she hissed. "Percy! Make him let me go!"

Percy looked about as startled as a deer caught in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler at seventy miles an hour. Partly because he wasn't paying attention, partly because he had no idea what to do. Thalia interrupted. "Why are you grabbing them both?" she asked Tyson under her breath. Sure, it wasn't a good idea not to stand at attention or something while the gods held council, but then, Thalia had never been particularly devoted to the gods.

Then everyone was interrupted by a rush of wind. The palace chilled a few degrees (leaving Hestia frowning mightily) as Hades swept into the room. "Brother Zeus, I claim my place as one of the major gods in this council." he said, holding up his hands in the universal sign for 'I come in peace'.

Hades waited impatiently for a little while, then scowled. "Zeus, am I welcome, or should I get out of the way before I am blasted by a thunderbolt?" he demanded.

Shade stared at the floor. It was just like his father to forget he existed. Or at least pretend he did.

Alex stared animatedly around the Pantheon. The nine year old was grinning with excitement. Before Sky could cork her up, Alex said loudly, "Now who's my da?" Sky slammed her forehead. Chiron sighed.

"Don't be ridiculous, brother," Zeus said, his face as impassive as a chunk of marble. He ignored Alex's outburst, though Dionysus sighed. It figured that his daughter would go and embarrass him publicly before she even knew who he was.

Hera leaned forward, peacock-blue eyes intent on her brother. "We have been expecting you, brother." As she finished her sentence, a pair of eagles swooped in, miraculously supporting a heavy-looking black throne, the exact duplicate of the one that Hades used in the underworld. They dropped it at the foot of the table, where it landed soundlessly.

Hades looked at his brother, wary for a trap, then sat regally in the throne provided. Chiron cleared his throat.

Hermes clenched the arms of his throne in his hands, wondering whether to speak. Finally, he sighed. Rising, he took Luke from Shade (who had slipped his end of the loop off of his wrist), and knelt before Zeus. "Father, I beg your mercy on account of your grandson." he declared. "Luke, explain yourself." he hissed quietly to his son.

Shade couldn't take his eyes off Hades. He looked beseechingly at his father for answers, approval, acknowledgement, but none came. Eyes stony, he lifted his chin. To Chiron, as well as the rest of the hall, he said as a challenge, "You were wrong. I'm fifteen. There are three candidates! Nico isn't dead. He never was."

Luke gave his father a "What the hell" glare. There are just some things no one in their right minds asks anyone to do. Like grovel to the boss Olympian who you really hate to the point of wanting to overthrow them and slice up into itty-bitty pieces and - anyway, off-topic. And also very bad if Zeus was reading his mind right then. Oops. Then Luke redirected his attention to Hermes. "You already know why," he said harshly. Apparently being yanked around on a leash had done nothing for his mood.

"And I would rather hear it from you, not my son," Zeus said.

"I know, but my father does not. Explain yourself." Hermes looked very, very angry.

"A third half-blood?" Athena interrupted Shade's "confession." The son of Hades really needed to learn tact rather than bursting out at randomly inopportune moments, she decided, but that could wait.

Hades looked at his son. "You turned seventeen last year!" he said.

Shade shook his head. "I let you believe that. I turned fifteen. It just showed me that you don't care. Nico is my half brother," Shade said to Athena. "He is in the forests in Montana, where we left him."

"Interesting," Athena said, an excellent understatement. "Which of you three turns sixteen first?" The prophecy spoke of the next to turn sixteen, and that was the immediate concern right now.

Shade grimaced. "I do. Percy's still fourteen, and Nico is twelve."

"So much family drama," Claire muttered. "I'm not sure what to watch."

Luna, for once, agreed. "Is it too much to ask to deal with one thing at a time?"

Apollo raised his hand. "I second that," he announced cheerfully, and Luna winced. Uh-oh. Claire grinned, for once not the one in the spotlight.

"Interesting," Athena said, an excellent understatement. "Which of you three turns sixteen first?" The prophecy spoke of the next to turn sixteen, and that was the immediate concern right now.

Demeter glared at Apollo. "Could you and your twins for once shut up? Both of these matters are important."

"Of course they are, but worrying about them at the same time gives me a headache," Apollo said cheerfully. "And anyway, Zeus and Hades aren't paying attention to both of them." Luna looked like she was doing her best not to look murderous, and was actually doing a fairly good job of it (as in, only a bit put-off by the plant goddess). The twins returned their attention to the whole three half-bloods thing, for rather different reasons.

Hermes glared right back at Luke, and Hera decided to interrupt. "Honestly, must you reek of so much testosterone?" The silver-haired goddess tapped the arm of her throne impatiently. "One of you start talking, or I shall personally devise a punishment worse than any of Tartarus's." She could do it, too. Hera would be quite excellent as a goddess of vengeance.

Even Luke didn't want three gods against him (three angry gods + one half-blood dead, dead, dead). "Let's be honest here. Why do you gods have more of a right to rule than the Titan Lord?"

"We have every right," Zeus snapped. "We made this world what it is, we made you and the humans and their world. What can dear Father say to that?"

"He said an awful lot about you gods needing to open your eyes. Have you seen what the humans have done to this world? Take Pan, god of the wild. I wonder whose side he would be on," Luke said mockingly. Crowded against the wall, Grover flinched like someone had stuck a knife in his ribs. Apparently that had never occurred to the satyrs.

Zeus seemed to practically radiate murderous intent, and probably would have roasted the half-blood right then and there had Hera not stopped him. She laid her slender hand over his wrist, stopping the king of the Olympians cold. "The boy only waits for you to kill him," she said. "His loyalty now lies neither with the Titan Lord nor you, but our father's ideals still hold him. Not yet."

"He would be easier to control from the Underworld," Dionysus volunteered boredly, not paying attention to either possible end-of-the-era drama.

Percy didn't say anything, but, well... It'd be really nice if the world decided if I'm supposed to bring doomsday or not. Athena sighed. "Then when is your birthday?" she asked Shade.

Luke raised an eyebrow. He hadn't been expecting the opportunity to lecture a god, and he might as well. They were probably going to fry him for siding with Kronos anyway, he decided. "For one, there were humans," he pointed out. "Just really stupid ones, but technically humans. Not to mention technically the six children of the Titan Lord were the first gods, so you're probably referring to the Titans - or did you fight inside your father's stomach?"

Zeus was pretty much torn between laughing at his brother being corrected by a half-blood traitor and roaring at said half-blood traitor to watch his mouth. Hera made the decision for him. "Do not show such insolence, boy," she warned. "Any one of us could slay you were you stand."

Hades' fist hit his throne. "Insolence! Remember your myths, boy! Who created humans?! Under whose orders?! Tell me that!"

Hades grimaced. "And who did Prometheus work for as he created your ancestors?"

"You're probably going to kill me anyway. I might as well say what I want," Luke said. "In any case, Prometheus created humans, good for him. He also tried to make their lives better and you chained him to a rock for his liver to be pecked out daily."

Hermes grabbed the back of his son's neck, pressing lightly the pressure points. "Shut up." he hissed. "Your friends have gone through too much work only to loose you because you can't stop mouthing off at Hades. If he kills you, you'll have a very unpleasant time in the underworld. And I can't stop him. I'm not on the same tier as they are."

Luke glared. "I'm going to have to die eventually," he hissed back. "And I don't think he's just going to forget." Then again, Thalia at the very least would probably track him down once she died and add her own torture to whatever inventive punishment the gods could think up.

Hermes promptly smacked the back of his son's head. With his other hand, so he didn't release his son's neck. Then he sighed. "I can't force you to do anything. Die needlessly if you so wish."

Shade shrugged. "Dunno – sometime in the winter. Hades might know."

Athena glanced at the god of the dead. "He seems busy at the moment. I don't suppose you could ask your mother?"

Shade had the same expression as his father. "My mother? She's dead. Has been since before I can remember."

"Is that all you have to say?" Hera asked lightly. Luke shrugged. "Then we should summon Astraea."

"Who?" Claire asked in a carrying whisper.

"Little-known goddess of justice, is the constellation Virgo," Annabeth explained, more quietly than Claire had asked. "Daughter of Zeus and Themis."

A rainbow winked into existence next to Zeus. "Get Astraea here," he told it, and the rainbow disappeared. A few moments later, a woman stepped out of nowhere. She had long, straight black hair and a dress of black cloth that glittered, like a patch of the night sky. She bowed to Zeus and Hera, ignoring the other gods in the hall. "You sent for me?"

"We would like you to judge this mortal and give him an appropriate fate," Zeus said.

Astraea nodded. "Lord Hermes, please stand aside." A pair of plain silver balancing scales appeared on her right arm. "Mortal, place your hand on one of the platforms." Luke did, knowing full well what the result would be. A feather materialized on the other, at first white and swiftly turning a strange shade of blue-silver. Astraea picked it up and examined it.

"He is indeed guilty of quite a few crimes going against Olympian law - very major ones - but his heart is mainly confused. I do not know of his intentions," she concluded. "The crimes he does have are, by Olympian law, punishable by death and then he is to be compulsarily judged when he passes into Lord Hades's realm. Shall I carry out the judgement?"

Annabeth shielded her eyes with her forearm as Zeus's reply was, "No, I shall." The crackling scent of ozone, and she knew the master lightning bolt was in the god's hand. With a burst of white light that she could see through closed eyes and a deafening thunderclap, the room was still.