This fic is a sequel to "The Boy on the Cloud."
one lone candle
"Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last..." (Matthew Stover)
i. the girl
"I'm Clio," she says, helping him to his feet. "Like the mood of history."
"The muse of history," Percy says, finding himself in the unprecedented position of correcting someone else on the finer points of the Olympian pantheon.
Her brow furrows. "Really? Andy always said 'mood.'"
"Really." He stretches his sleep-stiff limbs, waking up muscles unused to more than watching and waiting.
She brushes the mishap aside with a wave of her palm. "So what's the plan, hero?"
"Percy," he corrects, snapping his neck with an embarrassingly loud crack.
Her brown eyes go a little wider. "I didn't know you had a name."
"Who doesn't have a name?"
Clio shrugs. "The legend just says there's a boy on a cloud waiting to save the gods."
Percy shakes his head, looking at the celestial bronze cuff still clamped to his ankle. "That's just a story Lu– Scar told."
"So?" she says, brandishing her ballpoint pen. She uncaps it into a familiar long blade, and holds it as though she's been training all her life. Percy supposes she has, if the country is still swarming with monsters. "He was right about this sitting in the city and he was right about you being here."
"That doesn't mean I can save the gods," he protests. "I've been stuck on a cloud since the fall of Olympus."
"But you're a hero! You know about – quests and stuff!" She fixes him with an intense stare, with a flicker of Nico and a stage-whisper of Thalia. "You have to help. Or…" She frowns as though looking for the right words. "Or just tell me where to start."
"Where to start a quest?" He realizes, unexpectedly, that he does know that. It's out on Long Island, just at the edge of what he can see. "That I can show you."
She leads him through the ruins of Mount Olympus, but it's slow going. Percy stops to stare at every broken statue, and finds himself telling Clio everything he knows about them. When they pass through the throne room, he recites all the Olympians gods and goddesses, matching them to this wreck and that. She listens intently but impatiently, eager to get on with things. Demigodly ADHD, it seems, has survived the end of civilization pretty well. At one point, they find a slender sword of celestial bronze; Percy picks it up and carries it until he finds a mostly-intact sheath. It doesn't feel right in his hands, but he's noticed that the pen sits comfortably in her pocket without returning to his, and knows that Anaklusmos has found a new wielder. He finds that he's alright with that, somehow.
Clio's grown a sturdy looking vine across the chasm to the elevator, and swings across it with practiced ease. For a heartbeat, Percy considers simply jumping to the ground below, testing the curse of his immortality, but she looks at him expectantly and so he follows her across her impromptu bridge and down six hundred floors to the streets of New York.
He's known, for a long time, that humans left the city years ago, handing it over to the monsters and plants and animals. But there's something gutwrenchingly different between watching it from the side of Olympus and standing at the base of the Empire State Building. There are no cars, no conversations, no honking, no roaring engines, no ringing cellphones. The air is crisp and clean.
"There used to be so many people here," he says. "Eight million people."
"So I've heard," she says, but he's pretty sure she has no way of imagining what New York used to look like. Luke would, but… "We have to keep moving. There's monsters all around here."
She finds them a motorcycle after a scuffle with a handful of snake-women, and revs it to life with a little cube tossed into the gas tank and a strange looking key that twists effortlessly into the ignition. "Hephaestus and Demeter," she says. "biofuel for any engines we could find, and a skeleton key for just about everything. Hop on."
It's the fastest trip Percy has ever taken across the city. Without traffic, the only obstacles are wandering monsters chasing the sound of their engine. Percy dispatches them without a scratch to himself or Clio or the bike, and they tear out onto the expressway and towards Half-Blood Hill.
Thalia's pine is still standing, though the Golden Fleece is nowhere to be found. Percy places his hand against its bark and inhales the clean scent of it until Clio calls him down the hill.
"What are we looking for?" she asks, scanning the overgrown woods.
"The Big House," he says, then corrects himself. "A ruined house." He leads the way through past the old amphitheater and the open-air pavilion with its bronze braziers to a pile of rotten wood heaped where the Big House used to stand. "She should be here."
"The Oracle of Delphi."
Clio frowns. "Is that a god?"
"She prophesizes," says Percy. "And she can't be far from here…" He starts shifting the broken beams, rummaging carefully through the charred furniture crumbled walls. Clio follows his lead, though more slowly and with an air of impatient confusion, until she cries out, startled, and Percy knows that they've found her.
"It's a mummy," she hisses.
"It's the Oracle," says Percy. He shifts the debris off the black, mangled hulk revealing the tatters of a tie-dyed sundress and more twisted flesh. Clio makes a petrified gagging noise behind him, but when Percy is done clearing the area around the wizened body, he reaches out a hand to her, and her hand creakingly takes it. "Uh, Miss Oracle, this is Clio. She's here on a quest."
A trickle of green vapor rises from the mummy's mouth, and the Oracle begins to speak.
A cold hearth and twelve broken thrones,
Watch over a planet filled with bones.
The gods alone cannot reclaim
The world ruled in the Time Lord's name,
Their powers gone across the seas
Lost with their forgotten stories.
And those who try to change their fates,
Will find that only death awaits.
"Wow," says Clio finally. "Are all prophecies that bad?"
Percy leaves Clio to sleep in Hera's cabin – perhaps because it's used to neglect, it's the cabin in the best shape after two hundred years of an empty camp – and walks to the moonlit sea. First he takes in the fresh tang of the salt air and the sound of the restless waves, then the wet sand at the edge of the water, then the little wavelets that cling to his ankles. He tosses his thin clothes and his borrowed sword to the empty beach and lets the tide wrap around him and carry him out and away from the ruined mainland, where the sea brushes away his salty tears and hugs him close and warm.
Welcome home, burble the fish and the mollusks and the littlest microbes. Welcome home, welcome home.
"It's good to be home," he sighs, and means it, because out in the deeps he can give in to the soft caresses of the currents and almost forget that the Titans have crushed the West. "But I have to…"
To go, agree the fish and the mollusks and the littlest microbes. To bring back the sea god. But for tonight, rest here.
The tide carries Percy back to the shore just before dawn. He's just finished pulling his shirt over his head when the air pops behind him and a familiar pair of tanned arms drape over his shoulders. "Having fun?" Luke murmurs.
Percy pushes away and goes for his sword, but Luke holds up his hands in a show of peacefulness. Percy picks up the sword anyway. "What do you want?"
"To know how Clio is doing," says Luke. "I've been too busy with the monsters following you to get close."
"We took care of our own monsters," Percy scowls.
"You took care of some of your own monsters," corrects Luke. "I took down the ones who tried to follow you across the expressway and into camp. I did see that you excavated the Oracle. Did she have anything to say?"
"Going to pass it on to Kronos?"
Luke scowls. "If I didn't want her to succeed," he says slowly, angrily, "I would have let the dragons get her in the Lincoln Tunnel and left you up there. I would have let the empousai get into Hera's cabin. I would have told Orthys someone had set you free and let Atlas throw you into Tartarus. But I didn't."
"Still not telling."
Luke bends over, pulling something out of his high boots. It's celestial bronze, short but sharp and still fierce looking.
Percy's breath catches in his throat. "That's Annabeth's…"
"You chose not to trust me before," he says bitterly. "The choice that razed Olympus, remember?"
He grits his teeth. "I do."
"And now I'm the only one in the world who'll help you. Make the right choice this time."
Percy regards him furiously, warily. "Swear on the River Styx," he says finally, "that you won't tell anyone or anything. No Titans, no monsters, no mortals, no spirits, no – nothing."
And so Percy recites the prophecy – all of it, not faking the end like he and Annabeth used to, when there was an uncomfortable ending. When he's finished, Luke looks back towards the camp for a long moment, and says:
"It may not be as bad as it sounds."
"'Their powers gone' and 'lost with their forgotten stories' sounds pretty bad. And Clio's not big on 'certain death awaits'."
Luke shakes his head. "It's bad on its own, but it doesn't say that their powers are actually gone -- they haven't disappeared. They're just lost."
"Lost anywhere in the world. Clio can't search the whole world."
"She won't have to," says Luke. "Because they're lost with their forgotten stories. Listen. There's a hill on the island of Delos where a whole flock of quails live. At the top of the hill, there's a tree, and strung up in its branches are a silver bow and a quiver of arrows."
"The symbols of Artemis," Percy frowns. "How did you find them?"
Luke swallows, and looks pointedly away from the water. "I told you," he says. "I searched the seas there for a long time."
They both shift uncomfortably, both still visibly angry, until Percy manages to say, "So you found Artemis's symbol of power. How does that help?"
"Percy," says Luke. "You are really, spectacularly dense. The gods alone can't fight the Titans because they don't have their powers. Their powers – their symbols of power – are across the seas with their stories. The myth of Artemis and Apollo's birth says that they were born on Delos."
"You can't expect me to remember where all the gods were born," he protests.
"That's why they're forgotten stories," says Luke archly. "Why would restoring the Olympians be easy?"
"Not easy," frowns Percy, "but maybe… something we can do now. If the rest of the gods' symbols of power are hidden to the places sacred to them, it's not impossible for her to find them."
"With your help." Luke looks up at the rising sun and sighs. "Clio will be waking up soon. Take her to Greece; I'll go back to the city and see if there's anything useful stashed away in the old libraries."
"I hope the monsters haven't checked out all the copies of The Odyssey."
Luke laughs and caresses Percy's cheek before Percy can pull away. "The end of civilization does have its little advantages," he smiles. "I'll find out as much as I can and meet you in Greece. Take care of Clio, Percy."
He pockets Annabeth's dagger, pulls his sword from its sheath, and vanishes with a slash of air.