[A/N] Again, with the help of my splendid beta Shrrgnien, it's time to do a full reupload of this story, same as it's predecessor. All kudos to the beta for working out the many grammatical kinks (there was a lot of ironing to do) but there we go. So I'll be posting the beta version of this fic up over the next day or so. Hope you enjoy!
Shadows of the Hunt
Chapter 1: Welcome to Camp Crazy
I HATE dead things!
Now this fact may not surprise you. I am, after all, a child of a nature goddess, so while being pinned to a tree by three decomposing zombies would hardly be a pleasant experience for anyone, it was particularly unpleasant for me.
I struggled in vain. The best I could do from my position was to summon an arrow, but all I managed to do with that was stab one of my captors in the eye and that only seemed to make it angrier.
The remainder of the dozen undead that had pursued me through the forest suddenly parted like air around a flame.
Nico Di Angelo stood in their wake, wearing a vicious vampire-like smirk. His Stygian iron blade glinted dully in the night as he twirled it menacingly in his small hand.
"I cannot help but get the feeling I've done something to antagonize you," I said blandly. (I wasn't the type to resort to vain threats like 'You're going to regret this!')
His brow twitched and the zombie holding my upper body increased the pressure up to the point where breathing became a difficult task.
"Do you know what I am?" Nico enquired evenly, once he was sure I was uncomfortable enough.
"Oh, I don't know…" I grunted, "…A crazy person?" the jibe was unwise, as the pressure increased again until I was seeing spots.
Nico just smiled coolly, and said in a tone that really disturbed me, "Come now, Armani, didn't you know? We're all mad here…"
You can tell a person's one arrow short of a quiver when they start to paraphrase Alice in Wonderland.
But I really am getting quite ahead of myself. Perhaps it would be better if I first explained how this little altercation with this simply charming young half-blood first came about…
A few weeks earlier…
It was childish to postpone the inevitable. I had been on the hunt for over a month now. I had a few drachmas in my bag, so buying some of the supplies I needed wasn't too much trouble. As for survival, well…I think my scent was getting more appetizing, as the frequency with which mythical beasts were attacking me was increasing rapidly.
I slept originally in simple encampments, but as things got worse I realized it was dangerous to remain on the ground and resorted to spending the night in the occasional wood nymph's tree.
They seemed to like me well enough, which I guess was natural considering what I am. Although I did wake up one morning to find one of them had braided one of my front bangs. This frustrated me somewhat. When I confronted the small creature she simply blushed and ran back into her tree, giggling like a schoolgirl. I'm really not sure what kind of networking ability they had, but it seemed to be a running gag for them to rebraid that one annoying bang every time I slept. So in the end I just caved and left the damned thing braded. It was the price I paid for a decent night's sleep, after all.
It was the night I was ambushed by a Fury that I decided my current method of laying low was starting to fail, especially if the servants of Hades were now starting to sniff me out at random.
I was half-asleep when she knocked me clear out of my tree, and I barely managed to roll into a crouching position. I could sense the little nymph was trembling behind the trunk of her tree in fear. The beast was obviously even less appealing to her than it was to me.
"Death!" the fury screeched as she hovered menacingly in the air above me.
I raised an eyebrow, "Excuse me?"
She extended a claw-like finger, "You have the stench of death about you!"
An ambiguous phrase, but I paid it no heed for now; I would at a later date. "Is there something I can do for you?"
She cackled menacingly, "I have been following your delicious scent for days now; I had completed my mission for his lordship when I smelled your simply delectable aroma; a half-blood whose very existence is steeped in death!" She licked her disfigured lips with a slavering black tongue.
Before she began her strike I dug my heels in the ground and in one fluid movement I formed my bow, nocked an arrow, and took aim at the fury.
Her ghastly eyes widened in shock, and she paused in midair.
I could feel the silver aura of the hunt, granted by my mother's charm, flowing through me and over my skin.
There was a form of disbelieving recognition in her hawk-like eyes. "But for you to have that power…" the fury hissed, "…That's impossible!"
A small smile twitched at the corner of my lips, "If that's the case, my friend, then this won't hurt a bit."
I loosed the arrow and it stuck the fury between her stunned eyes. An instant later it was raining dust. It glistened with odd beauty in the light that emanated from my skin.
I opened my hand and my bow disappeared with a silver flash, the aura around me disappearing.
I've never seen a reaction quite that strong before. My mother's words echoed in my head as I stared at my hand while the glow faded. It would've been nice if my mother had asked before giving me the power of a Hunter to add to my own. I mean sure, the added strength and stamina was nice, as was the bonus of never getting sick. But the novelty of lighting up like a Christmas tree every time I got tense was really starting to wear thin.
I turned to glance behind me to check the nymph girl was alright when a hollow sound echoed through the clearing. In a flash my bow was back in my hand and I had swung around, a silver arrow aimed upwards into the trees.
A snowy white owl sat on one of the branches, looking down at me with large inquisitive eyes.
Damn it, calm down!
I took a steadying breath and relaxed the bowstring. Shaking my head, I dropped my hands to the side, but kept both bow and arrow in hand, "That's what I get for letting my mind wander." I glanced back up into the trees and my brow furrowed in confusion; the owl was gone, without so much as a sound of moving branches or flutter of wings…
I couldn't quite relax; something was telling me I still needed to be on guard.
Another hoot sounded, directly behind me this time. Again I swung around, leveling my arrow at the source of the sound…and froze dead.
The same owl, undoubtedly, but now it was resting on the extended forearm of a woman; a woman with honey-blonde hair wearing a pristine white business suit. Not the sort of attire one normally sees on a person out in the middle of a forest.
I stepped slowly out of the tree's shadow and into the moonlight. Additional strength from exposure surged into me, every fiber in my being telling me that I would need it should it come to a fight.
The woman seemed more interested in the barn owl at the moment, as she allowed it to peck away at the seeds she held in her hand.
The woman didn't look up from feeding the bird as she spoke in a level unnaturally professional tone. "Are you as adept with that weapon as your posture states?" she enquired, extending one of her fingers slightly at my bow.
My thumb gripped the arrow tighter, "You might say that. In fact I can say without any ego that at this range I could most likely perform a successful appendectomy on you with it," I responded in a low warning tone.
"Indeed?" she responded in a tone of polite disinterest. The owl fluttered away a moment later and landed on a tree branch to begin observing me again.
The woman calmly strode over to a tree stump and settled down on it, folding her fingers together on her lap. She had the aura of a teacher about her, and I felt that if she had a desk in front of her right now she'd be reflexively straightening her papers.
"Now," she began, finally regarding me, "Do you know who I am?"
Now, when someone asks if you know who they are, it usually means they expect you should. And so I looked at her. I immediately dismissed 'lost businesswoman with pet owl'; something told me she wasn't the sort of person to lose her way.
"Indeed I am not."
Did she…oh, you have got to be kidding me!
The barest hint of a smile twitched at the corner of her lips, "I think you will find I rarely kid."
There was only one way to confirm it, and so I read her like I read most people, by their eyes. I immediately let out an involuntary shudder.
Cold… Such cold, analytical grey eyes…peering right into me as if reading my very essence and picking apart my whole existence…
Blank your mind!
I immediately quelled my emotions and allowed the memory of Apollo's song to once again fill my head, its meaningless warmth setting aside all other thoughts as I kept my bow aimed at the woman.
"A mental defense? Now that is impressive," she said, her eyes narrowing slightly.
"Yeah? Well, when you live with a god for over a decade you learn to keep your mind closed off when you need to. As I guessed; it doesn't just work with Apollo and m- Artemis, but with other Olympians as well. So if I might enquire, to what do I owe the distinct honor, Lady Athena?"
The goddess inclined her head acceptingly, "Firstly, if I might ask you to lower your weapon. You have my word that I bear you no malice. If anything, Artemis and I have always had quite an amicable relationship. Would you, as her child, wish to change that?" It was one of those occasions where a god wasn't so much asking a question as daring you to cross them.
Wait, did she just refer to me as-
After a moment, I lowered my bow. It shimmered and disappeared, along with the arrow. "So, you know, do you?"
The deity smirked slightly, "Actually it was little more than a rumor, but I thank you for confirming it for me."
The Goddess of Wisdom's smirk settled back into a small smile again, "Oh, I wouldn't feel too badly. I am the only one with the exception of Apollo and Artemis who now know for sure. That excludes Lord Zeus, of course."
I still felt bad about being so easily fooled. I gritted my teeth, "At the risk of sounding insolent, and at the further risk of being turned into a spider or gorgon, might I ask what exactly it is you want?"
She inclined her head curtly, "Mere scientific curiosity," she said as she pushed herself up onto her feet and regarded me. "So, a child of Artemis, now that is interesting. So rare is it for something genuinely new to appear on the playing field," she said, rubbing her chin in thought.
I backed up a step. I found being analyzed by her somewhat discomforting. Then she added, "And Artemis remains a virgin…"
"As do you," I felt I had to interject.
Her grey eyes narrowed again, "So your method of creation was similar to that of my own children?"
I nodded my head, "A combination of essences, yes. But whilst your children are born from thought, I was born from the very life force of my parents."
"That seems somewhat brutal and ungraceful," she noted with distaste.
I smiled acceptingly. "It was. In fact, it wasn't even done correctly the first time around, although that was sort of intentional. I was almost destroyed by the imperfections in my makeup, until my mother fixed me…so to speak."
"Artemis did this? How borderline uncharacteristic of her. I would've thought she'd simply have allowed you to die."
My eyes narrowed this time, "Then I suppose you simply don't know her that well after all, do you?"
I saw her brow twitch in irritation, "I meant no insult. I was merely stating a personal opinion, so guard your tongue, child of Artemis," she said tensely.
"Armani," I suddenly said, glancing off to the side.
"Armani Dove… That's my name, and I apologize, Lady Athena." I suppose volunteering the name was my small equivalent to an olive branch.
She nodded her head acceptingly. Her eyes had softened somewhat, at least. "Walk with me, Armani Dove," she said, and wordlessly I took position at her side as she strode slowly and calmly down the forest path. "Firstly, I accept your apology, and secondly, in return for the knowledge you have given me on this night I shall offer you some words of advice."
"Firstly, I would recommend you follow the advice given to you by Apollo and go to Camp Half-Blood. Your continued procrastination on the issue will soon begin to endanger your life."
"How did you-" She just cut me off with a raised hand and slightly ambiguous smile.
"The beasts will keep coming, and in greater numbers. Your combat prowess is impressive, I will admit, as I have been watching you for some days now. However there is a point where even you will be overwhelmed as word spreads amongst the beasts. I have no doubt they will soon begin pursuing you in larger numbers. Even the power of the hunt cannot protect you indefinitely."
She was basically just telling me what I already knew. But the fact that I had to be told by the Goddess of Wisdom before I listened was seriously pointing out that I should probably stop being so stubborn. Suddenly something she had just said occurred to me.
"Wait, what do you mean, 'observing me for some days'?"
She just smiled that unreadable smile again. "Like I said; scientific curiosity"
I decided it was about time to part; being in her presence made me quite nervous. "Well, I suppose I should say-" she raised a hand to silence me, obviously she wasn't finished.
"The second thing I wanted to do was leave you with was a warning." I stopped suddenly. She could clearly sense me becoming guarded again as she glanced back with a reassuring smile."…A friendly one, I assure you."
"Okay…" We began walking again.
"Beware Aphrodite." I'm not sure where it began or ended, but a shudder went through my very being at those words. "You are safe for now, as she knows not of your identity, but she will inevitably find out sooner or later, considering your now infinite longevity; an issue we will no doubt have to discuss in the near future with Artemis, but regardless. When Aphrodite does learn of you, be on your guard. I have no doubt she will immediately make you her next pet project and will pursue you relentlessly, and I am not talking about the pleasant way in which mortals dream she might pursue them."
I glanced to the side nervously. "Yes, I've heard stories of Aphrodite's attempts to get one over on my mother. It never seems to end well for the pawns involved."
Athena nodded. "The stories are indeed quite tragic."
"And what was that about my infinite longevity being an issue that you and the others will have to discuss with my mother?"
She waved it off, "Nothing you need concern yourself about just yet. I suggest you worry more about your current predicament."
I breathed a long, defeated sigh, "Understood"
"I'm glad you do" She nodded her head and with that she turned about to walk back in the opposite direction. The owl fluttered down out of nowhere to land on her shoulder and, with a blaze of light, she was gone.
With a start, I realized I was somehow on the edge of the forest. I strode into the open and spied a large hill not far off, an abnormally large pine tree on its peak. And with a groan of frustration I realized what had happened.
Don't ask me how, but during our little walk she had somehow managed to ferry me miles off course.
I frowned; as far as I knew Athena had no such power for crossing vast distances through the woods.
No, but you do.
I groaned; not ferried off course, just led off course.
She obviously didn't enjoy giving advice if she wasn't sure the person she gave it to wouldn't be forced to take it. I suppose, in her mind, she thought she was doing me a favor.
"I suppose now's as good a time as any…" With a dreary sigh I treaded across the grass, over the road and began glumly climbing the hill towards the huge pine.
The top of the hill gave me a decent perspective of the camp. I could see a lake, batches of cabins, a single large house, climbing walls, what looked like a dining area, a fighting arena and a large forest. All in all, it looked just like what one would expect of a summer camp…an Ancient Greece-themed summer camp anyways.
I ducked down just as a large claw swung by my head and embedded itself in the earth behind me. Leaping back to a safe distance I got a good look at my attacker.
"A dragon? What kind of nutbar uses a dragon for a guard at a summer camp?" I began to draw my sword but then noticed that the creature had seemingly lost all interest in me now that I was a good distance from the pine, and was now in the process of grumpily coiling itself up underneath the tree's lower branches.
Okay…note to self; avoid the tree.
I began calmly but cautiously strolling down the path from the tree to the camp. It was the dead of night (well, about half past eleven to be precise) so the place was quiet as the grave. It didn't seem so-
"EEEEEEEE!" This almost girlish cry was, in fact, me, as what felt like ten thousand volts of electricity shot up from my lower back and brought me to my knees. "What in HADES?" I snapped shakily. The response was the feeling of something blunt hitting my back and sending me sprawling onto my chest. "Okay… getting mad," I muttered as I began to push myself up and a foot slammed into my back, shoving me back down again.
Suddenly a voice spoke up, smug, overbearing and decidedly feminine. "Well, what do we have here? You really should know better than to break curfew when it's my night to patrol!"
Is there not a single girl alive who doesn't want to kill me?
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure," I mumbled into the grass. I had to admit; whoever she was, she must have the luck of the gods to get the drop on me so well. I didn't even hear her coming. I had to assume she was a half-blood, and one with some pretty fearsome combat abilities to boot.
I felt a foot hook under my chest and flip me onto my back. I found a tall brown-haired girl with a fearsome stare glaring down at me. What was even more fearsome was the Greek spear, crackling with electricity, which she had aimed at my chest. She was wearing jeans and a bronze breastplate. Her brow knitted and I could tell she was trying to place my face.
"How did you do that?" I asked suddenly, breaking the silence that descended.
"Do what?" I had obviously disturbed her thoughts as she pressed the spear down again, sending a small charge through my chest.
"Sneak up on me like that? You're no child of Apollo, and neither are you a Hunter. So how did you manage to get behind me without my knowing?"
The girl smirked again, "You were my enemy, and I possess the blessing of Lord Ares himself. When it comes to combat, luck is always on my side."
Blessing of Lord Ares?
I had nothing so say, as I suppose I'd be a hypocrite if I moaned about a half-blood using a blessing from their parent in battle.
"I'm sorry, I don't believe I caught your name," I asked conversationally.
"I'm asking the questions!"
"Fine," I sighed.
"I don't remember seeing you around..." she said in a guarded tone."Whose cabin are you in?"
"I don't follow."
"Tell me! How else will I know which cabin to drag your sorry butt back to when I'm finished disciplining you? Or perhaps you'd prefer I just hurl you into the lake when I'm done, instead?"
I rolled my eyes, "Are you so insecure that you can't punctuate a single sentence without ending it in a threat?"
"Say wha-?" it took her a few seconds to realize it was an insult. She jabbed her spear down again and almost pierced the skin. A violent surge of electricity tore through me.
Perhaps I should watch my mouth.
"Name?" she snapped. She had clearly stopped playing.
I breathed a trembling breath. "Dove, Armani Dove, and y-"
She interrupted by pressing her boot down on my chest. It hurt, but at least the reprieve from repeated electric shocks was nice. "Doesn't ring a bell, so again, which cabin are you in?"
I grunted. This situation was starting to frustrate me. "Like I said, I don't follow. Why don't you just put not applicable on that little mental clipboard of yours? After all, how can I tell you my cabin if I just got here?"
She jerked her spear away suddenly, "Y-you just, what?"
I gritted my teeth, "Just got here; recently arrived; am unfamiliar with this place. I suppose the operative phrase you're looking for is 'I'm new!'"
Her mouth opened as if searching for words to say, "Oh… Well…" she lifted her foot and stood to the side. She had her spear under her arm and was drumming her fingers on it nervously. "Sorry 'bout that…"
I dragged myself up to my feet, "Sorry? Oh never mind… It's not the first time a girls electrocuted me."
The girl looked quite sheepish suddenly, "Look, I thought you were a camper out on a midnight jaunt, all right? You were walking about like someone who was sneaking." She sighed, and inclined her spear towards the large farmhouse, "We'd best get you to the big house Amani."
"Armani…" I corrected as we walked towards the building, "And I still didn't get your name."
The tall girl sighed, "Clarisse, Clarisse La Rue. Daughter of Ares and lead counselor of cabin five," she muttered sideways to me.
An uncomfortable silence descended. "Nice spear, by the way."
She shrugged. "It probably won't last long; I have a nasty habit of breaking them."
I sighed, "Ah well, that's weapons, always useless in the end."
She sighed again. Obviously the mistake she made had depressed her, which was odd considering her tough demeanor. "So whose are you?" she asked after a moment. I think she was trying to be conversational.
I knew what she meant by the question, but if I was going to lay low I thought it best I didn't disclose my identity to the first half-blood I happened to run into. "That's…an issue."
Clarisse blinked. "Really? I thought they all had to claim their kids these days."
I just fell silent.
"Tough break," she said after another quiet spell.
I inclined my head, "Isn't it just?"
We reached the door of the large house and the half-blood named Clarisse climbed the steps and knocked twice with the base of her spear.
A moment later the door was opened by a dignified looking brown-haired middle aged man with a soft stare…and the lower body of a horse.
It was, after all, my first time seeing one. My encounters with mythical creatures (the ones not trying to kill me, that is) was limited to my teachers, which were some of Apollo's select group of water and wood nymphs…and, of course my griffin Tim, may Hades rest her spirit.
The centaur's brown eyes flicked between us and rested on Clarisse, "Problem, Clarisse? Who's your little friend?"
"Sorry to interrupt, but we have a new arrival, Chiron, I thought you'd like to know."
The man suddenly smiled happily, "Ahh, I see. Well, why don't you come right in and we'll get him registered. And it's no trouble at all; we were just having one last game before turning in."
I followed the tall girl and the centaur into the house, which on the inside still looked just like your average American country house, complete with contemporary furniture and all. Part of me half-guessed it would suddenly turn out to be all Greek columns and burning pyres on the inside, or other such absurdities. It was refreshingly normal.
There were several other people in the room, two of whom were situated at a round table near the fire. Both had cards in their hands and a third set was sitting face down on the table; these obviously belonged to the centaur. One of the two was a red-haired teenage girl who was frowning at her cards as if confused by them, and the other was a small pudgy man in a Hawaiian shirt who was staring at me as though I were a rat that had just scuttled in under the doorway. There were also two others sitting on a couch scribbling notes on a pair of what looked like timetables on clipboards. Both appeared to be around the same age as Clarisse so I had to assume they were also counselors.
The centaur Chiron trotted around to the wall and grabbed a clipboard, which appeared to have a pad full of blank application forms on it with a dangling pen attached.
"Well I suppose I should start by saying… Welcome to Camp Half-Blood!" he said with a wide smile, opening his arms as he did so.
I did my best to smile in response. "Thank you, sir."
Chiron waved it off, "Please, it's just Chiron. I'm activities director for the camp. I believe you've already met the head counselor for Cabin five, Clarisse", he said, extending his hand to the girl behind me.
I nodded my head acceptingly.
He extended his hand to the couch where the two people with the clipboards had stopped what they were doing and were regarding me with unnerving intensity, "And with us here we have the head counselor for the Apollo cabin, Will Solace," the tall blonde boy nodded his head and went back to his clipboard. Chiron then indicated the girl with long black hair, "and one of the counselors for the Aphrodite cabin, Mila Jennings."
I narrowed my eyes at her and she, as if not noticing, shot me a dazzling smile that I knew should make a normal person blush. As a child of Artemis it simply made me shudder. Again I did my best to smile in response. This seemed to evoke an odd giggle from said girl, which made me feel even more uncomfortable.
"And playing pinochle over there is our visiting Priestess of Delphi, Ms. Rachel Dare." The girl in question had turned her attention from her cards and was now eyeing me in a way I couldn't place, as if she were contemplating thoughts I couldn't comprehend. I averted myself from her odd green-eyed stare and returned my attention to Chiron.
"And finally we have our camp director, Mr. D," he said, indicating the small man with the blood-shot eyes.
He regarded me in silence, "Welcome… I hope you die a painful death." He immediately went back to his cards.
I really had no response to that. Although in an odd way, his bluntness was quite refreshing. There was also something about his eyes I found disturbing.
"Lord Dionysus, please, can you at least try and be cordial with the new arrivals?" Chiron asked in an exasperated tone.
Dionysus? Oh come on! Twice in one night?
I took a deep calming breath and tried again to clear my mind, although the light pressure I normally feel when a god looks into my head wasn't present. It seemed as though he simply didn't care what I was thinking. That suited me just fine, but it still didn't mean I wouldn't have to be careful about him.
"Lord Dionysus," I replied respectfully, bowing my head slightly.
The god scoffed. "Well I'll be a satyr's aunt; one of them has some manners after all."
The centaur just sighed and then glanced at his clipboard, "Well enough about us young man, let's talk about you. Hopefully we can get you registered and settled in with your group tonight before all of your cabin mates turn in."
I sincerely doubted it. But to be sure I glanced to the side and focused, listening for sounds of the hunt… Nothing. Besides the song of the wild I couldn't sense my mother or a single Hunter within my range. So if there was someone in the cabin that represented my mother I would be very shocked. I only then just realized the centaur was still talking, "I'm sorry, what?"
He smiled slightly, "I asked for your name," he said, pen hovering over his sheet.
"Oh. Armani Dove."
He echoed my name as he wrote it down, "Armani…Dove. Right, address?"
"Not applicable," I said blandly.
His eyebrows rose. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. In that case, reason for homelessness and/or cause of home's destruction?" he asked.
My eyebrows rose in return. "You have a section for that?"
He sighed. "You'd be surprised."
I sighed, and thought how best to sum it up. "Greek fire…and a woman's wrath."
The centaur just frowned, but then wrote it anyway, "Care to elaborate, Armani?"
"I would rather not, sir."
He nodded. "Parent's name?"
"My father's dead, I never knew him", I responded in a level tone. But it seemed to affect the others in the room a lot more than me, except 'Mr. D', who was now flicking grapes into his mouth and drumming on the backs of his cards impatiently.
"Oh, I'm… sorry to hear that," and he sounded it, and although I suspected it was a story he had heard many times before, it still seemed to affect him. The others in the room were now paying attention and looking quite solemn too. I didn't especially like making people feel this way; I just hoped the questions were nearly over.
I rattled off my date of birth and a few other meaningless stats. "Any next of kin, guardian, or emergency contacts?" he asked after a moment.
I fell silent in thought; I didn't want to mention my mother. So who was my closest next of kin? I suppose it would also make him my guardian… "Lord Apollo," I replied after a pause.
Chiron's pen froze, "Excuse me?"
I sighed, "You asked for my guardian. Apollo is, or at least was, the closest thing to family I had for most of my life. I did live with His Royal Rhyminess for over a decade, after all."
"Are you serious?" I heard the boy, Will, interject in an utterly disbelieving tone.
I rolled my eyes, "It is an unfortunate truth. Your father has been keeping me stashed up his divine sleeve for quite some time now. But now I'm free, so to speak, and here I am."
Will was just staring at me agape when Chiron spoke up, his voice deadly serious. "Okay, Armani, I'm about to write that down here, but know the consequences for making up such a deception should it turn out to be mistruth."
I narrowed my eyes. I disliked being accused of lying. "It is true; I swear it on the River Styx itself." The rumble of thunder covered the gasps of shock from those words. "Hmm, hope I didn't wake anyone up with that."
"All right…" Chiron said, and I saw as he wrote a single word in on the paper in shaky letters and could tell by the movement of his hands he had indeed written simply 'Apollo'.
The paper glowed yellow for a moment. Chiron recoiled and everyone in the room (even me) flinched, expecting it to burst into flames. The light settled down and Chiron spared a glance at the sheet, which was undamaged. "Hmm, looks like you were indeed telling the truth."
"But how?" Will demanded, pushing himself up. "I thought you said you didn't know your father!"
I blinked in confusion, "I don't. Oh, Apollo isn't my father; I was simply in his charge for quite some time…regretfully," I added the end bit with a grumble.
The boy just stared at me, wide-eyed, then turned to sit down again. "I see…" he said and began writing on his clipboard, seemingly having shut himself off from the conversation.
"What's Apollo want with a runt like you?" Mr. D suddenly spoke up.
I spared him a glance but kept my mind blank, "Too long a story, Lord Dionysus, and I suspect you wouldn't care one way or the other."
"Probably not…" and he went back to munching his grapes.
Chiron shook his head, "Very well, I suppose under contact number I'll just have to put 'Iris Message'" he appeared to collect himself after a moment, "Okay, you said your father had unfortunately passed on, that must mean your mother is-" he paused and waved his pen in a circle, as if waiting for me to finish. I knew what piece of information he was waiting for.
I paused and just put a bewildered stare on my face, "I told you, I grew up with just Apollo."
I didn't lie, I just omitted the truth.
"I'm not sure, but he said something to me about not knowing if he's been claimed or not," Clarisse spoke up from behind.
Chiron nodded with an accepting smile, "I see. Tell me Armani, have you seen any strange symbols lately?"
"I don't follow." I did, but it was a small white lie I think I can forgive myself for.
"Let me explain, when an Olympian-You do know you're a half-blood, don't you?"
"I've got that much down, yeah."
"Good. Well, anyway, when an Olympian deity claims their child they signify the event usually by manifesting their glowing symbol above the child's head."
I nodded, "Okay…"
"Why don't you take a look at this and see if you've seen any of these before." I walked over to the centaur and stared at the chart on his clipboard. It bore nearly twenty different symbols, each with a tick box by it. At the top of the page were the words 'Godly Parent'. My eyes traced the page. The symbol of Artemis wasn't present. I suppressed a smile; why would it be?
"Hmm, nope," I said after a second's glance.
Chiron frowned, "You're sure? None of these have ever appeared above your head. And none of them have a strange…appeal to you?"
"I swear, if I have an Olympian parent, then their symbol is not down on this page. If you don't believe me just ask Dionysus; he can read minds, can't he?"
"Mr. D?" Rachel asked cautiously.
The deity spared me an annoyed glare then went right back to his card game, "Kid's telling the truth, Chiron. His parent's not down there. Just chuck him in with cabin eleven like we used to do with all the undetermined brats."
Chiron sighed, but I noticed he was now regarding me closely. "I suppose it'll have to be that way, then."
"I'll show him the way down, he can get the full tour from Travis and Connor tomorrow," Clarisse said, turning for the door, but Chiron raised a hand to halt her.
"Wait, Clarisse. Why don't you go off and finish the rest of your shift and then turn in for the night? I'll escort our new friend down myself," the centaur said, still staring right at me.
"Fine… But we're finishing the game without you," Mr. D grumbled.
"An unfortunate sacrifice I am willing to make."
"I'm gonna head to bed now, I'll finish my schedule in the morning," said Will, who got up and headed for the door, seemingly doing his best not to look at me.
What's wrong with him?
"Come with me, Armani." With that I followed Chiron out of the door and down the path leading towards a large group of eclectic buildings.
It was a nice night, perfectly warm and not a cloud in the sky. I could sense the centaur wished to talk. "So, how long have you known you're a half-blood?" he asked conversationally, breaking the silence as we walked side by side.
"To be honest, I can't remember when I was first told. I suppose it must've been when I was about five."
Chiron hummed thoughtfully. "So long… If I might ask, how have you survived? As soon as a half-blood knows they are not of human birth, their scent becomes noticeable to many mythical beasts"
I inclined my head, "Well, I did live in one of Apollo's temples and was rarely allowed to go outside. When I did, he was usually with me. There's also the fact that I didn't really believe I was a half-blood simply because he told me."
He regarded me out of the corner of his eye, "And how about now?"
I glanced at the ground, "Things have changed."
"I'm guessing these are the 'things' you would prefer not to explain."
I just nodded.
"That's okay; I'm not one to pry."
I got the feeling this was the case because he was the sort to usually know most of the facts anyway, but still. "Thanks," I mumbled.
We crossed into an open area between large groups of cabins ordered in a large elongated U shape. Twelve of them appeared to have been standing for some time, and there were an additional eight either near completion or which appeared to have just been finished.
"It's a shame to put you in with the Hermes boys, you know?"
"Oh? And why's that? Are you saying they won't accept me?"
Chiron laughed slightly, "Oh, nothing of the sort, they're a very welcoming bunch. I was just saying that your Olympian mother might be offended if you sleep in the cabin of another god when you clearly already know who she is."
I skidded to a halt and turned around. Chiron had already stopped some feet back and was burrowing into me with piercing eyes. "I don't follow."
"Oh, I think you do"
"Elaborate," I said simply. I don't yield to battles of wills so easily.
The centaur approached me slowly. "Very well; it was not that you lied, but that you were obsessively avoiding the questions."
"I suppose living with Apollo has left me with a dislike of lying in general."
"But you weren't lying when you said your name wasn't on the list of Olympian parents. You specifically asked Mr. D to confirm that."
I sighed. The centaur was astute, I'll give him that. "And what else?"
"And when I asked you directly for the name of your mother to begin with, you simply went silent; no doubt waiting for me to ask a question you would answer."
"How very observant of you."
The centaur just smiled, "I've been training teenagers for thousands of years, young Armani. You don't live that long without picking up on certain signs and learning how to deduce."
I raised a single eyebrow, "And what does your deduction tell you?"
"My deduction is based on two things: firstly, your evasion to the question about your mother's identity tells me that you doindeed know who she is, and secondly, Mr. D's confirmation that you were not lying when she was not on that list."
"Which is, as you know, impossible."
The centaur nodded his head, "Indeed it is; so I deduce either Mr. D was wrong and you had somehow successfully lied despite him or your mother was indeed not on that list."
"Unless I lied about my father being dead. That would explain everything."
"But then you would've lied. And I think you were trying to avoid that."
I groaned. "What do you want from me, Chiron?"
The centaur smiled sadly. "Just tell me this; am I right in thinking you know who your parent is?"
I paused for a moment. He held my eyes with his, and then I spoke. "…Yes."
"And does that parent have a cabin amongst those that now surround us?"
I glanced around with my peripheral vision and caught a warm silver glow being emitted from one of them. "She does…"
Chiron nodded. "Finally, and this is the only thing I really need to know, is there a good reason why you feel you cannot tell me who that parent is?"
He continued to stare at me with those old but wise eyes, daring me to lie, daring me to disappoint him. He knew I couldn't. "There is, I swear it. It would be quite dangerous for me if her identity was revealed now. Apollo told me to wait until he and my mother can smooth things out first."
The Centaur approached me and rested a hand on my shoulder. His smile had become reassuring. "Then that's all I needed to know. You will hear no more questions on the subject from me."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Is that all then?"
"That will be all. I'll give you the tour in the morning. I suppose you can sleep in the Big House for a while. If you are a claimed child we can't have you sleeping in the wrong cabin, can we?" His mood seemed more jovial now, as if something in him had been satisfied.
My eyes flicked to the large building and I suddenly felt nervous, thoughts of a certain god in my head.
"With all due respect, Chiron, isn't there anywhere else I could stay?"
The centaur frowned, "Not unless you want to sleep outside…" his look changed as he noticed I inclined my head at his words. His own eyes widened. "You do?"
I shrugged my shoulders, "It's kind of my thing. I'd be pressed to keep my thoughts guarded all the time around 'Mr. D' and I've never lived in anything bigger than a ground floor condo before."
Chiron frowned. "There is a curfew…"
"I won't tell anyone if you don't. You can just tell everyone I'm on permanent night duty."
He seemed reluctant, but then nodded, "If that's what you want…" He reached into his bag and tossed out a small round badge with a large red C on it.
"That's a counselor's badge; it'll stop any of the night guards attacking you and will automatically ward off the cleaners. Just lay low, and if I find out you've been up to any… rowdiness… in the night, then I'm taking it right back. Then it'll be the Big House or your own cabin…whichever it may be."
"Accepted," I said, and pinned it to my black tunic.
"Would you like me to drop your bag in a spare room back at the house? That is, unless you want to carry your possessions around with you all the time."
I dwelled on it, but the centaur was correct. "Thank you" I said, tossing my bag up to him. He slung it over his shoulder and turned to walk away.
He paused. "Where will you be?"
"Forest seems nice," I said simply.
He frowned, "I'd be careful, we keep a few beasts in there for training. Nothing nasty, but I'd be on guard if I were you."
I inclined my head curtly. "I will. I'm always armed anyways…in a manner of speaking. Heck, I'd still be living in the forest if the scary owl lady hadn't tricked me into coming here."
His look turned to confusion, "The who?"
"You know; the wise one."
His eyes flicked to the cabin with the owl hanging over the door and back, and he laughed quietly. "I wouldn't let the kids in cabin six hear you call her that if I were you."
I smiled back. "Duly noted. Good night, Chiron," I said, turning to walk off into the forest.
"Good night Armani. I'll give you the tour in the morning."
"Looking forward to it." I spared a glance at the cabin that glowed in the moonlight. It looked eerily inviting, like home. I consciously pushed the feeling down and headed into the dark forest.
I immediately let out a sigh of relief as I felt myself back in my own territory. But I was weary, both physically and emotionally. When hunting I've found I can go two days without sleep, but tonight I just felt exhausted.
I stared around and listened to my instinct until I found what I was looking for; a warm, subtle surge coming from a nearby tree, it's branches large and perfectly formed and spaced.
I approached the trunk and tapped lightly on the bark. Seconds later a small head melted out from it, along with an upper body. "What's the big idea? Do you have any clue what time it is?" the little wood nymph snapped, and then seemed to give pause as I met her chestnut eyes.
I bowed slightly, "I apologize deeply for the imposition, but would it trouble you greatly if I spent the night in your branches?" I smiled as warmly as possible and the little nymph suddenly looked quite sheepish for some reason.
"W-well, I suppose it's all right…just don't make any noise…or anything." She appeared to be doing her best to appear upset, and was failing badly.
"I thank you…" I said formally and turned to climb, but then leaned back into view and flicked my braided bang, "And it's already braided, so please leave it alone." She must've been privy to the private joke as she let out a shrill giggle as she returned to her tree, blushing all the while.
As usual I found a nice branch to sleep on. I could've sworn I saw an indentation form in the bark as I watched, just perfect for lying against. I slumped down and let the feeling of the nature around me lull me into a deep and welcoming sleep.
I awoke to a strange sight that nearly made me leap out of my skin; the wood nymph from the previous night was squatting on the branch and staring at me with large, curious eyes. It was then that I glanced around and noticed that four more were standing in the branches of surrounding trees and eyeing me strangely. This had never happened before. "Um…can I help you?" And like startled gazelles the nymphs scattered, dashing off and giggling before melting into their trees, the one in front of me already gone by the time I glanced back.
I pulled myself around and dropped out of the tree, stretched mid-fall, landed as well as usual and began strolling to the edge of the forest. I leaned against a tree on the boundary to regard the camp before me in the morning light.
It was only the start of spring but it seemed the weather in this place didn't know that. It had all the feeling of a bright mid-summer morning. Unnatural, but not unpleasant. A moment later a horn sounded over the camp and the sounds of movement and murmuring became audible from within the various cabins.
And so it begins...
"Ahh…there you are!" came a familiar call, and I spied Chiron trotting towards me, "Thought I'd have to go hunting all through the forest for you. Did you sleep well?"
"I had an odd awakening but it was otherwise quite pleasant, thank you for asking."
"I'm glad. I assume you'll be taking a shower this morning, yes?"
I inclined my head; I usually did wash first thing, though when hunting I normally just found a stream or lake.
I shuddered uncomfortably as I recalled Athena's words about watching me for several days. I just hoped she had the decency to give me my privacy.
Chiron eyed me with concern. "Are you okay?"
"Y-yeah, just had a... very disturbing thought, it's nothing though"
"All right, well, shower blocks are over there, just follow the signs and you'll find a fresh change of clothes waiting for you when you're done. I'll meet you by the dining pavilion in an hour." And on that he swung about and headed off, no doubt to find his own breakfast.
Once I felt I was sufficiently clean I dried myself off and stepped out into the main area of the shower block. I immediately noticed two things. One was that there was indeed a full set of clothes waiting for me. The other was that my old clothes were nowhere to be seen.
I glanced about with a scowl, looking for a culprit, but no one was to be found. And it's not like I could pursue that far with nothing more than a towel as covering. No doubt this was the norm however, when it came to the laundry service here.
With a groan of disdain I proceeded to change into the clothes left for me on the bench. After fixing my bangs I regarded myself in the mirror.
And in that second I think a part of me died inside.
A bright orange Camp Half-blood t-shirt and blue shorts.
I looked like a lollypop…
I smiled a bright humorless smile at my reflection and echoed Chiron's words through gritted teeth. "Armani Dove… Welcome to the Camp Half-Blood."
To be continued…
[A/N] And thus the yarn commences, next chapter will be up ASAP.
See you in chapter 2: The Raven and the Dove