The Age of Heroes

Chapter 16: On the Horizon (End)

The next time I woke, it was to the sound of someone knocking on the cabin door. Percy groaned from his position next to me and slid out of the bed. I heard him fumbling around – probably looking for clothes, I realized – and heard him pull something on before he called, "Yeah, come in!"

I heard the door creak open and a second later I head Annabeth say, "Hey, I wanted to let you know, you guys missed breakfast."

That woke me up fully – I mean, now that I was conscious, I realized that I was also starving. I blinked my eyes open, rolling onto my side under the covers to see Percy approaching Annabeth as she stood in the doorway, framed by the morning sunlight. Couldn't she have maybe woken us up in time for breakfast, instead of in time to let us know we'd missed it?

"What? Really?" Percy sounded as disappointed as I felt until Annabeth grinned and held up one finger, stooping to pick up something just behind her. I realized as she held it in front of her that it was a tray, piled high with enough breakfast food to feed the both of us. I had no clue how she'd gotten it out of the dining pavilion (usually they didn't let you leave with stuff, complaining about ants – or worse – in the cabins), but there it was. As the smell wafted into the cabin, my mouth started watering almost immediately.

"So I thought you might appreciate it if I brought you some," she said smugly, handing the tray to a somewhat shocked-looking Percy. "I've already thanked the gods for it on your behalf. Chiron's called the meeting for ten o'clock – that's half an hour from now, got it?"

"... Got it," Percy said, and Annabeth gave him a mock-salute and disappeared back out the door, shutting it before either of us could get a word in. "Hey, thanks!" Percy yelled through the door, because he couldn't very well open it with his hands full of food.

"Don't be late!" came the muffled reply.

Percy glanced over at me and cocked a grin. "Guess you're up now too, huh? You want some of this?" He came over and set the tray at the foot of my bed, inspecting its contents. Annabeth really had piled on everything – there was enough bacon, sausage, and pancakes for both of us, two apples, two glasses of orange juice, and a plate piled high with scrambled eggs.

"Gods, yes," I said, struggling into a sitting position as Percy fished two forks out from beneath one of the plates and handed one to me. I still felt about as dizzy as I had last night, but I was hoping that if I actually ate something it would subside.

Together we demolished everything on the plate in record time. It felt like I hadn't eaten in ages, which was just about right, and as I finished the last bite of my apple I sighed contentedly, glad to have a full stomach for the first time in days. Percy looked just about as sated as I felt, and I was indeed feeling a lot better after having eaten.

Of course, by then it was time to get ready for this big meeting Chiron wanted to have. I was a little nervous – after all, the prophecy had just been turned completely on its head. I mean, I hadn't fit in at Camp Half-Blood before – what were things going to be like now? I honestly wanted to stay here in Percy's cabin with him for at least another couple of days before I even thought about facing the world outside, but like so many other aspects of life for a half-blood, I just didn't have the luxury. There was no use in whining about it. At least not out loud.

Getting dressed was an interesting affair – the only clothes of mine in Percy's cabin were either sized for a twelve year-old or the one set of clothes Medea had given me that were grimy and gritty. I really didn't want to go to a meeting in the Big House wearing those. Silena Beauregard would probably have told me I stunk. And she'd probably have been right.

"You're just gonna have to wear something of mine," Percy said, and came up with a standard orange Camp Half-Blood t-shirt and a pair of his jeans with holes in the knees. "Sorry, this is the best I can do. I think we're pretty much the same size, at least."

Wearing Percy's clothes was weird. I mean, on the one hand they smelled like him, which was nice, but on the other hand I really didn't feel all that comfortable wearing bright orange – I mean, I'd been wearing nothing but black or gray for years now, and suddenly I felt like I might as well be wearing a big sign that said HEY EVERYBODY, LOOK AT ME! But as it turned out, the orange shirt probably wasn't what did it. It was the fact that Percy came out of his cabin that morning with a boy in tow who wasn't obviously Nico di Angelo at first glance; a boy who was clearly wearing Percy's clothes and who looked a lot older than twelve.

Despite the fact that they'd all been through a battle the day before, there were plenty of campers up and around when Percy and I left his cabin, and all of them were staring at us. I tried to ignore them as we made our way from Percy's cabin up the hill to the Big House, but it was hard. Really hard. I finally just tried to concentrate on the sound of Percy breathing beside me, and the way he felt warm against my side as I leaned on him to keep my balance as we walked.

Annabeth was standing out on the porch of the Big House, obviously waiting for us. She waved her hand as we approached and called, "Come on! Everyone's already waiting in the rec room." Then she turned and disappeared into the Big House ahead of us. I glanced at Percy, feeling more than a little uncomfortable, but there was no getting out of this and we both knew it. He only shrugged and offered me a grin before helping me up the porch steps and into the rec room.

The head counselors from all the cabins (well, all the occupied cabins at least) were already there, standing around the ping-pong table. Pollux from the Dionysus cabin stood next to Katie Gardner from Demeter. Standing next to each other at the far end of the table were Charlie Beckendorf and Silena Beauregard, who I still thought made an odd couple even if I really didn't have any right to think that about anyone, I realized wryly. Beside them was Clarisse, who was looking bored right up to the moment Percy and I walked in the door, when she started looking disgusted. Connor and Travis Stoll, who had been trying to drop something I couldn't see down the back of Clarisse's shirt, immediately hopped backwards and tried to look innocent.

Annabeth was standing next to Chiron, talking about something with Michael Yew. He watched me closely as we walked into the room, probably trying to assess my medical condition by sight alone. I gave him a weak smile and a thumbs-up, letting him know that I was doing a lot better, thanks to him. I might not be back at a hundred percent yet, but I could imagine just how out of commission I'd be if he hadn't done his nifty son-of-Apollo healing trick. He looked a bit relieved and nodded slightly.

The room fell completely silent as we entered. "Ah, here they are." Chiron pulled up a folding card chair and even though I really didn't want to sit because no one else was, Percy all but shoved me down into it and kept me there with one hand on my shoulder – though I had to admit, that hand was as much for my comfort as to keep me seated, and I glanced up at him to let him know I appreciated it.

"Now that everyone is here, you can see why I've called this meeting." Chiron put one hand on the back of my chair. I could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on me except for Percy, who was staring them down right alongside me and I really, really appreciated that.

"What, Nancy Jackson's got a new boyfriend and you gotta call a meeting of the head counselors?" Clarisse asked, sneering at us. "Boy, you sure like to love 'em and leave 'em, don't you?" Her eyes flicked to Annabeth for a brief second.

I could feel Percy bristle beside me, and he was probably about to say something back when Katie Gardner said, "No, there's something familiar about him..." She frowned at me, then looked up at Chiron, as though waiting for him to elaborate.

"Indeed there is," he said calmly, shifting on his hooves beside me. "As some of you already know, this is Nico di Angelo."

There was a split second of silence before Clarisse started snorting with laughter. "What? You want me to believe that he's," she pointed at me, "that little runt di Angelo? What'd you do, give him a major dose of human growth hormone?"

"No, Chiron's right," Silena said, looking at me more closely now. "He really does look remarkably like Nico." She glanced to Chiron, asking, "What happened?"

"Kronos thought it'd be a great idea to make me sixteen so he could get the whole prophecy thing overwith," I said, beating Chiron to the punch because I was sick of everyone talking about me like I wasn't there. I felt Percy squeeze my shoulder before I went on. "He's got Medea working for him, and she did this to me. I don't think it's exactly reversible."

"You didn't think it'd be a good idea to tell us about this last night?" Clarisse shot at Annabeth, who simply shrugged nonchalantly and stared her right back down.

"It wasn't important," she said coolly. "What mattered was that there was a battle and they needed reinforcements. The details could wait until later."

"Wait – so he's sixteen?" Connor suddenly asked, pointing at me with wide eyes. "You mean we've got a sixteen year-old kid of the Big Three sitting right here?"

"Yes," Chiron said, letting the gravity of that statement sink into every person in the room.

"So... this means we've got to step things up," Beckendorf said calmly, finally breaking the silence. I actually liked him okay – he'd always been pretty cool to me, and he wasn't the kind of person who got all crazy when things took a sudden turn for the unexpected. Beckendorf was the kind of person who looked at a situation, figured out what had to be done, and did it – no complaints, no questions asked. That was exactly the sort of person we needed on our side, I thought. Especially when we had someone like Clarisse; who, on the other hand, looked like she was going to explode.

"I'm not going to let that little runt run things!" she said, glaring at me. "He's just a brat no matter what he looks like! You can't honestly be planning on letting him fulfill the prophecy! I don't even like the idea of Jackson over there doing it, let alone a double-crossing, selfish little son of Hades – "

"Shut up," Percy said quietly, speaking for the first time since this had started, and there was something so cold in his voice that it actually did shut Clarisse up, though she kept right on glaring, her mouth open like she almost didn't believe he'd spoken to her that way. "Listen," Percy went on, his voice still quiet and calm. "Nico didn't ask for this. But it's the way things are now. He's on our side and he nearly took out Kronos single-handedly yesterday morning. I trust him with my life."

"I do, too," Annabeth put in.

"We may all one day have to do just that," Chiron said gravely, which honestly wasn't helping my confidence any but at least it kept everybody quiet. "We don't know what will happen now, but we can certainly imagine the likely outcome. Percy is correct – Nico injured Kronos very seriously yesterday morning, and as a result I feel he will advance his plans to overthrow Olympus." He shuffled his hooves again, making sure he had the attention of everyone in the room before he went on.

"So these are the facts, campers: Kronos doesn't have much time left to accomplish his goal, and there is now a child of Hades who has reached the age of sixteen. I think we can be sure that this means war is upon us, whether we are ready for it or not. As the heads of your respective cabins, I am trusting you to pass this information along and ensure that your brothers and sisters remain calm and level-headed. We will be holding twice-daily combat drills and I have already sent out the satyrs to call back every half-blood who has left for the school year."

"So it's really going to happen," I heard Michael Yew say quietly. "We're really going to fight a war."

I could understand where he was coming from. I mean, just a couple of days ago, the prospect of war was at least a year away. We'd had until Percy turned sixteen to figure out how to keep Kronos from rising to power. A year had seemed like such a long time; and now we had almost no time at all, and it was all my fault. Not only was I old enough to fulfill the prophecy in Percy's stead, but I myself had ensured that Kronos needed to strike soon.

"Yeah," Percy said from beside me, "we are. And I, for one, am going to be ready."

Around the table, heads were nodding. Not all of them – Clarisse still looked royally pissed and Michael Yew looked more than a little nervous. So did Katie Gardner. But Chiron stamped one hoof and said, "Good. Then this meeting is adjourned. We will meet again tomorrow at the same time to discuss our new schedule. All I ask today is that you inform your cabinmates and get the rest I know you all need."

At that, people began shuffling out of the rec room. Annabeth glanced at us with a worried sort of expression, but she left with the rest of them, obviously intent on giving her cabin the news. I stayed seated, not really excited about being the first out the door – after all, it wasn't like Percy or I had a cabin full of half-bloods to explain anything to. It was just us.

All the same, I could still feel everyone staring at me as they passed – seriously, hadn't they stared enough? At least most of them seemed uncomfortable enough with either my situation or the one that had just been thrust upon them that none of them tried to talk to me or Percy as they shuffled out.

Well – none of them except Clarisse. She, of course, stopped right in front of us and stared down her nose at Percy. "I don't know what you think you're doing," she sneered, "but if you or your little boyfriend think I'm going to follow him into battle, you have got to be insane."

Despite Percy's hand on my shoulder I stood, the chair scraping against the floor behind me. Clarisse didn't look quite so huge anymore – sure, she was still big. But now I was, too – as big as a sixteen year-old boy, and she hadn't scared me when I was the size of a twelve year-old one. She certainly didn't scare me now.

"I don't care what you think, Clarisse – and I don't care what you do," I said, not letting a single ounce of the worry or fear I felt creep into my face or voice. "You go do whatever the hell it is you think you have to, but if whatever that is doesn't include helping us win this war then you had better be watching your back."

Clarisse opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She just stared at me for a minute, her eyes wild. Then she snorted – I think maybe she was supposed to be laughing – and she smacked me on the shoulder. I couldn't tell if it was meant to be a friendly gesture or not. "Well, it's nice to know you've grown a pair along with those couple of inches, di Angelo. But I don't trust you. If I'm watching my back, you better be doubly sure you're watching yours." And she turned and walked out the door, leaving me blinking and, a second later, staggering into Percy.

"Well, that went well," I muttered, and he only chuckled softly and steered me out the door. We stopped on the porch, leaning our elbows on the railing as we watched the counselors make their way down the hill toward their respective cabins. I imagined all the meetings that were going to take place over the course of today and the rest of this week. I imagined the training sessions there were going to be: the swordfighting and archery and even field medic drills. I imagined all of the satyrs out there now, dragging half-bloods out of classrooms across the country to bring them back here to prepare for a war.

"Everything's going to change," I said quietly, staring at the hills and beyond them, Long Island Sound.

"It already has," Percy replied, leaning shoulder-to-shoulder with me. "But the important things haven't."

I glanced at him to see that he was watching me, his sea-green eyes solemn and calm. "... No," I said, smiling at him and thinking there was no one – demigod, god, or otherwise – that I'd rather have by my side. "I guess they haven't."

The End

[ A/N: Thanks for sticking with me, and thank you to everyone who left amazing reviews! Please keep an eye out for story #3, appearing hopefully in the near future! ]