A/N: And JUST when you'd forgotten about this story!
Happy New Year, everybody.
You know the loud, awkward protesting when a guy pulls down his pants or something equally inappropriate in a crowd of people? You know how his friends start saying things like:
"What the heck is that thing?"
"PUT IT AWAY! JUST PUT IT AWAY!"
So, I wasn't a guy and I wasn't pulling down my pants, but Alex and Logan's reactions for when Percy's pen changed into a deadly, sharp-edged sword were much the same. Sheesh. It wasn't like I'd been planning on slicing them to ribbons anytime soon. Thalia, who'd been watching the stage serenly this whole time, seemed to be the only normal one of us three.
I touched the cap to the tip of the sword, and the bronzey glow of the metal died as it shrunk back into a cheap ballpoint. "I'm going to make this as efficient as possible," I said, staring straight at them. "I'm not Anna Bellhaven. I'm Annabeth Chase, the girl Alex is playing in the movie. I am not fictional, and neither is my friend Percy or Thalia or Camp Half-Blood, for that matter, and since you just saw Riptide, I'm hoping I won't have to explain a lot more than this."
Logan blinked at me. "Okay, seriously, how'd you do that trick with the sword?"
"Logan!" Alex cried. "Can you pull your head out of your ass for two seconds? I think she might possibly be telling the truth." She circled around me. "I read the first book…and you do look an awful lot like her…" she paused. "What color are your eyes?"
"Gray," I said, tipping forward so she could double-check in the darkness.
"Your beaded necklace?"
I held it forward, letting my dad's college ring swing a little.
"How about your Yankees hat?"
Good point. I rooted around in my jeans pocket until I found the crushed navy cap, and slipped it over my head. With a weird twinge in my fingertips and toes, the air around me shimmered and poof. Five-second invisibility.
This time, only Logan screamed. (Which, by the way, just revealed that he squealed a lot like a middle-school girl).
Alex whistled, impressed. "Wo-o-ow."
"So you're––" Logan whimpered, cowering against the auditorium curtains. "And he's––?"
"Yeah. Percy Jackson, famous son of Poseidon, yadda yadda yadda," I said, folding my arms. On the word Poseidon, thunder crashed noisily outside despite the fact that it was sunny and storm-free. "Come on. We've got to talk to this Riordan guy."
Alex grabbed my arm. "Not sure that's a good idea."
And at that moment, she was probably right. I wedged myself next to Thalia peeked through the velvet curtains again: Percy was busy dancing about the stage, answering audience members' questions as obnoxiously as possible.
"Have I ever had feelings for Thalia…" he repeated, pretending to be lost in thought. "Yeah, occasionally. Like, I've had the feeling I should douse her in gasoline and drop-kick her from the top of the Chrysler building."
Thalia's serene, almost bored glance barely wavered. "I'll kill him later," she said with a shrug.
"But what about Rick? We've got to speak with him!" I wailed as quietly as possible. "We've got to––"
Only, just then, I bent over double in pain. It felt a bit like twenty flaming knives punching holes in my heart's left ventricle, only worse, and there wasn't any way to get rid of it.
Alex and Thalia were at my side in an instant. "You okay?" Alex asked, just as Thalia lifted up the arm I'd cemented to my side to check for gunshot wounds or something.
But before I could answer, Logan interrupted, rising up from the corner and pointing a shaking finger at me. "You deserved it," he whispered ominously. "You're supposed. To be. Fictional!"
"Shut up, Logan!" we all shout-whispered at the same time.
I sighed as Percy answered some fan's question about whether he knew that "blue waffles," like the kind his mom made, was also the name of a rather nauseating disease.
The stabbing feeling in my chest had dulled, but not stopped. Still, it was enough for me to peel my arm away from under my ribcage––but once I did, I instantly regretted it.
My right hand had started to fade.
I mean, literally fade. The tips of my fingers had gone transparent, with the transparency spreading like gangrene to the rest of my hand. And you have no idea how disturbing that is unless it really happens to you––seriously, my heart dropped to somewhere near my small intestine. I immediately slapped my hand against the backstage wall in some insane attempt to snap the skin back to normal.
"Ouch," I muttered, yanking my hand back to my face. No see-through. Just skin.
Logan was giving me the strangest look. "I will never understand you book characters."
Just then, however, a loud groan from onstage made all four of us snap our heads toward the curtains. Percy––oh gods, poor Percy––had dropped to his knees mid-sentence, clutching at his side like he'd been shot.
But I knew he hadn't been shot. He was feeling the same pain I was. My eyes scanned his body wildly, hoping I wouldn't find what I was looking for––but there it was anyway. The edge of his shoulder has started to fade, the green of his t-shirt dissolving into thin air.
So of course I had to do something incredibly stupid to fix this.
"All right, that's all the time we have for questions today!" I shouted, grinning a maniac's smile as I strode onstage with a wave. I had no idea what sort of things Alex or Logan or Thalia were mouthing in protest behind me. "Thanks for listening! Don't forget to buy Mr. Riordan's books!"
About half of everyone started filing out; the other half was staring at each other, staring at Percy, or staring at me. I heard weird bits of conversation floating through the auditorium: should we go? No, she's part of the show. It's supposed to be Annabeth, numbnuts. Haven't you read the books? No, it's…
"Seriously," I said, my crazy grin fading. "Scram."
I must've looked a bit insane, because people started actually running toward the exits like we'd opened the gates of Tartarus.
It took only seconds for the whole room to clear, and only seconds more for Logan, Alex, and Thalia to dash out from behind the wings. Of course, when they did, Rick Riordan––a guy about my dad's age in a sports coat with carefully clipped hair in shades of black and gray––went from confused to bewildered.
"Logan and Alex?" He was blinking really fast, like maybe he could make us five irritating apparitions disappear if he tried hard enough. "Um, does somebody want to explain what's going on?" He glanced at Percy. "You did great, by the way. What's wrong with your stomach?"
I took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. "We've got a lot of questions." I whacked Percy's fading shoulder until it snapped back into green cotton. "And apparently, not a lot of time."
But Rick was cocking his head to the right, peering at me like you might peer at an amoeba or something. "Is this a costume? You look remarkably like one of the characters from my books." He started poking at my blond curls.
"So I've been told," I said, swatting his hand away. Unfortunately, hands reminded me of my fingers only minutes before––fading, turning transparent at the tips––and a sudden need to fix this disaster washed over me.
Without warning, I yanked Rick––still eyeballing my gray eyes and camp necklace––forward by the shirt collar.
"Listen," I said through gritted teeth. My name is Annabeth Chase, and that's Percy Jackson, so who the hell are you?"
I could practically feel Thalia's eyeroll behind me. "Annabeth…"
Well, yes, I was going a bit crazy. She was right to eyeroll. But she also hadn't had her fingers disappear before her eyes a few minutes ago.
"We know you've been writing about us," I hissed, yanking my bronze knife from my jeans pocket and holding it to his throat. "Don't play stupid. We want answers. What do you know about the Labyrinth, where are you getting your information, and why are you betraying Camp Half-Blood?"
It was quite ridiculous, really. I kept jabbing my knife closer to his neck at the beginning of each question, and Rick's eyes had grown to roughly the size of tennis balls by this time.
But that still wasn't as ridiculous as Logan.
"Don't listen to her, Rick!" he cried, dashing forward so quickly that Alex barely had time to restrain him. "She's a nutcase! She's a fruitcake! She goes invisible and makes pens turn into samurai swords!"
Well, that wasn't true. Riptide obviously wasn't a samurai sword.
But I never got a chance to correct him.
Because just then, in a crackling whoosh of spring air with the distinct scent of newly-bound library books and spilled blood, a statuesque young woman swirled into view in front of us.
She was beautiful and intensely frightening: she had a model's build, all six feet of her probably weighing about 120 pounds (if that much), and she'd clad her impossibly long, slender limbs in a rippling Greek chiton of forest-green silk. A silver sash wrapped around her delicate waist, tied in an imposing knot studded with silver beads. She'd tucked a silver theater mask––one of those exaggerated sad faces, a tragedy mask––into the sash, and twisted her snow-white hair into two perfectly round buns atop her head, letting long, wavy white pigtails twisted with silver ribbon flow down from each bun.
But something about her seemed timeless––despite her white hair or ancient clothing, she could be a twentysomething. A sad twentysomething. Her full lips were pale and turned downward in a perpetual frown, her slim white brows arching slightly upward as if she'd just seen somebody die. A silver wreath of ivy wrapped around her head a bit like a crown, a bit like a burial headdress.
"Melpomene," she sighed by way of introduction. "Muuuuse of traaaaagedy. And you three half-bloods are reeeeeeallly messing up my plaaaans."