[A/N] Yup, back again with the freshly redone version of this little tale. As usual this has been a beta done by the always amazing Shrrgnien, so all kudos to her for her work on this little remastering, I'll keep pretty quiet on the A/Ns for the rest of the redone chapters until the end, so I'll see you there. Standard disclaimer stands; Rick Riordan retains all rights, only a fic, blah blah blah, will delete if asked, so on and so forth. No let's get on with the show...
Chapter 1: Marital Bliss
"This is all your fault, Armani!" Dionysus shouted as another crash echoed through the walls of the Big House. William Solace and I did our best to hold the doors closed. They bulged inwards again as the force outside smashed against them repeatedly.
"I'm afraid the logic of that accusation really escapes me!" I snapped back, bracing the door with my shoulder while the god just sat there frowning.
"Can't you do something?" William asked me desperately.
"Like what?" I gaped back at him.
"She's your wife!" Will shouted.
"Yeah? And whose fault was that, might I ask?" I demanded, glaring angrily at the god, who was suddenly trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
Everything suddenly went silent for about thirty seconds.
"Maybe she's calmed down," Will whispered, pressing his ear against the door to listen outside.
This observation was proven rather inaccurate when a pointed tree root thicker than a goalpost slammed through the door like an oversized spear half an inch from his face.
"Di Immortals!" Will yelped in shock and staggered back, landing flat on his backside.
The root tore back, leaving a perfect round hole in the door. Thankfully the appendage didn't take another random stab.
Suddenly there was a sound of loud creaking as the gigantic roots encircling the building tightened, causing the support beams to groan in protest.
"Mr. D…" Will said warningly.
"Oh, fine!" he groaned and snapped his fingers in the air. A shimmering white light flowed down the structure and around the floor, then disappeared. The sound stopped dead.
"What happened?" Will asked, glancing around at the walls.
I tapped the wall and listened. There was no echo; it was as if the wall had completely absorbed the sound waves. "I thought so…"
"I've seen something like this before. It's a defense charm. Your dad's condo had one just like it."
"I didn't know the Big House had something like that."
Mr. D grunted, "Don't you brats know anything? This place was originally designed to be the camp's last line of defense. If there was an invasion, this place was intended to be the last fallback position, a place big enough to house most of the campers in case of emergency and protect them until help arrived. Didn't you ever stop to wonder why this building was so big? Or why we just happen to store some of the most powerful magical artifacts collected on quests here?"
Will frowned. "Wait a minute, Mr. D. You're saying this place has a defense charm just like my dad's condo, right?"
Mr. D sighed. "A brilliant deduction. Yes, that's what I'm saying. Why?"
"Armani, what happened to that place again?" Will asked me, looking quite nervous.
I glanced cautiously at the doors; I saw where he was going. "It was leveled to the ground."
Dionysus waved it off as he materialized a Diet Coke in his hand. "Pah! This is a totally different situation."
Will still looked pale, "How?"
Dionysus glared at him. "Are you really that stupid? Artemis attacked that place head-on and at full strength. There are Titans who wouldn't go up against that little hellcat when she's in a bad mood. This place might not be entirely god-proof but there's no way a single wood nymph, even one as powerful as her, is breaking in here. You could hole up here as long as you want and there's not a thing she can do about it." He sounded unconcerned and carefree, but considering he could simply dematerialize himself at any time, this wasn't overly reassuring.
William seemed to relax. "So what do we do now, then?"
I glanced at the roots out of the window; they seemed to have relaxed, as if pausing to regroup. "Looks like she's taking a breather."
Will stood up and staggered over to the couch. "Is she still out there?" he asked, nodding at the door.
I leaned back slowly, and carefully peeked out through the hole in the wood. I focused on the one perfectly round clear spot in the ocean of tree roots that swirled around the house. "Yeah, she's still out there…" I said sadly, staring at the solitary figure of Lya, her arms at her sides and a look of wild rage on her small elfish face.
Will's eye appeared at the other side of the hole. "Wow, I've never seen anyone look that peeved off before. And I was here last time the Hunters visited. No offense."
I didn't respond. I wasn't looking at Lya's bared teeth or clenched brow, just the look of utter anguish in her large brown eyes.
She looks so sad. Oh, gods, what have I done to you?
"Okay, Armani, what did you say to her?" Will asked suddenly.
"Why do you think it was something I said?"
"Because you were the one talking to her when she lost it!"
I slumped back against the door, peering out of the hole at my shotgun wedded wife. "It's been building up to this for a while now. If anything, Lya's the biggest victim in all of this; I don't blame her for how she's acting."
Will sighed. "Well, it's not like she can stay angry forever, right? I mean, how long can she just stand out there?"
I groaned. "William, Lya is a tree spirit. In case you haven't noticed, trees are extremely adept at standing in one place for long periods of time. She could probably be there a decade before she even has to yawn."
"Right, so not good. But how is she doing all this? I know Nymphs have power over their own tree and some of the surroundings, but it looks like she's hijacked the entire forest," Will observed.
It was Dionysus who spoke up. "It's her sisters. Even I know Lya; she's the airheaded one that they're all so overprotective of. Nymphs can get very frat-sisterish, especially around young Nymphs like Lya. So, basically, every Nymph in the forest has thrown their power in with hers, and then you have all the un-spirited trees, which they can take control of at will. Put all that together and what you've got is one very dangerous little Dryad," the god explained as he vaporized his empty can and materialized a new one.
"You said it had been building for a while," Will suddenly said.
"Hmm?" I asked.
"You said this was coming for some time, so what's been going on?"
I groaned and rubbed my sinuses to relieve the headache I could feel coming on. "Oh, it's just…loads of things, it would take ages to go through."
Will shrugged. "We've got plenty of time; maybe we can work something out if we go through it."
I shook my head and walked over to the couch, slumping tiredly down into it. "I suppose it couldn't hurt. To be honest, I've been trying to analyze the past couple of weeks in my head, seeing if there was a way out of the situation."
"Did you work anything out?"
"Well, from what I could tell, my whole marital-issues thing seems to have escalated in three stages from the day I got married. Although, as it turns out they don't actually call it "marriage". No, it's just an eternally binding partnership of two eternal spirits, which is much nicer," I muttered sarcastically.
Will frowned. "What do you mean, three stages?"
I nodded, and began counting them off on my fingers. "Stage One: Bad for Lya."
Will didn't seem to grasp it, but nodded. "And then?"
I inclined my head. "Stage Two: Bad for me."
"And what's Stage Three?"
I glanced at the ensnaring roots that darkened the windows and back again. "Stage Three: Bad for everyone."
Will smiled weakly."Should've guessed that one. All right then, so how did Stage One start?"
I stared into the fire as I thought back. "I suppose it all began when I woke up after passing out at my 'wedding'…"
Two weeks ago…
I woke up with the scent of nature in the air around me. For one blissful moment, I forgot where I was and why I was there and reveled in the familiar feeling of the forest around me, but then the moment passed, and I remembered.
A sinking dread filled me as I lay there with my eyes closed. I knew I wasn't alone, but I was scared to find out just what horrors were awaiting me on the other side of my eyelids. I wondered…if I could just pretend to be asleep, they might-
"He's coming through." Chiron's voice sounded from somewhere above me.
There was no helping it, so I flicked my eyes open, adjusting to the glare of the sun shining through the canopy of trees, and glanced around.
Chiron was standing over me. "Welcome back. We thought we'd lost you for a second,"
Percy and Grover were there, looking equally concerned. "How long was I out?"
"A couple of hours," Percy replied.
I grunted as I pushed myself onto my shoulders to get a better look around. "Yeah, sorry about that. My brain sort of chose to shut itself down for a while. System overload, if you follow."
Percy smiled weakly and glanced to a spot to my left. His gaze turned sad, and I followed it.
Lya stood by herself, her small hands gripping the front of her dress as she stared at me with an almost unbearably sad look in her eyes. I knew what was coming, so I waited for her to find her words. After a moment she whispered in a tiny voice, barely managing to get the words out, "Is it true? Did you really not know?"
I gave a sad sigh. What could I say? 'Sorry, Lya, but what most people call the most important day of a girl's life was little more than a practical joke set up by a petty alcoholic god'? Yeah, I'm sure that would've made her feel much better.
"Did you…even know how I felt about you?" she asked after a moment in a trembling tone.
"I'm sorry; I'm just not very good at understanding things like this. Until lately I didn't even know what love felt like."
She glanced away. "And now? Did you ever even like me?"
"Of course I like you! How can you even ask me that?"
She still didn't bring her chlorophyll-stained eyes back to me. "But you never loved me…" she whispered, her hand running over the rose still attached to her arm.
I stared at her in silence, desperately trying to analyze my confused feelings. Strange, conflicting emotions were swirling about like a storm inside me. Every time I tried to get a feel on one it seemed to slip from my grasp. I clenched my fist in frustration. "I don't know," I whispered desperately.
She choked back a sob, nodded once, and bolted off into the trees, her brown hair trailing behind her.
"Lya!" I shouted and pushed myself quickly to my feet.
"Perhaps…" Chiron began, raising a hand, "…it would be best if you gave her some time. Maybe if you let her accept what has happened, it will help give her the chance to move on. Nymphs have very fragile hearts, and it might destroy her-"
"Chiron," I interrupted suddenly. One emotion had finally surfaced through the storm. It was clear and bright and I recognized it as a mass of concentrated and building fury. "…You knew, didn't you?"
"Ah..." Chiron looked like he was about to speak, but simply trailed off, not answering.
"Just a nice big joke for you and Dionysus!"
"That's not true! I would've told you if he hadn't-"
I cut him off again. "Centaurs are fast, aren't they?" I asked, staring off into the forest after Lya.
"Just answer; you're quite fast runners, aren't you?"
He hesitated before answering. "Of course; it's one of the things we're most renowned for."
I inclined my head, still not facing him. "Good, because if what you've done does, as you say, destroy her, then I swear, no matter how fast you run, it won't be fast enough." I saw the centaur pale slightly out of the corner of my eye and back up a few steps.
Without another word, I shot off into the forest after the nymph. It was true that I really should've been more angry at Mr. D and not his unwilling accomplice, and I had no doubt that I would apologize to Chiron later, but this way I felt he'd at least think twice before going along with something like this again.
Learning experiences are fun like that.
I didn't need to search to know where to find her. I found the nymph huddled in the branches of her tree, weeping openly into her hair, which she had hugged around herself like a blanket.
Just what are you doing?
I had no answer for my cautious-as-ever instincts, as I had no conscious idea as to what I really should do. I supposed I would just have to wing it.
I crouched down and leapt up into the limbs of the tree, swinging silently from branch to branch to land as quiet as a ghost upon the batch of limbs where the small girl was sitting, legs hugged up to her chest and her brown hair surrounding her.
I stood silently and watched her for a moment. Her back trembled occasionally as a sob would wrack through her, causing her to let out a small whimper each time.
I crouched down and shuffled up next to her. Her body tensed as she felt me squeeze beside her on the group of branches, which thankfully accommodated us both, mainly due to Lya's small size. I myself was not exactly of large stature, either.
Her sobs faded slightly after a moment. I could tell she was waiting for me to speak, and so I complied. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"W-What?" she asked, hiccupping mid-speak.
"I'm not trying to sound exasperated, just genuinely curious…so, why me?"
She parted her hair and looked up with her green blood-shot eyes. "Whad'ya mean?"
"Well, I was just wondering. Since there's loads of eligible nature spirits in this area, many of whom would probably kill to have a shot at you, why did you get so set on me? Was it just the whole son-of-the-forest-goddess thing and you being a tree?"
She wiped an eye with her finger and sniffled before answering. "That was part of it. All the others in the forest felt it, too. You felt more akin to us than anything we'd ever sensed before. That and you're kinda cute, too" she explained, choking out a laugh before continuing in a quiet tone. "But that wasn't just it; not with me, anyway."
"Oh? What was it, then?"
She looked me straight in the eyes, as if remembering something she'd felt before. "You looked really lonely…"
It was not the response I had expected. "What?"
Lya was hugging her knees tightly again. "When I first saw you, before I knew who you were, something told me that there was only one of you. When you were sleeping, I could feel your life force through my branches, and it felt so alone."
I pondered her words, stunned, as I'd never even pegged myself for the lonely sort. Solitary, maybe, but lonely?
"There's only one of me, too" she said after a moment.
I blinked. "Say again?
"In the forest; there's plenty of Pines, Oaks, bushes, and even some Redwoods, but there's only one of me."
"Picea Abies" I said, nodding
I smiled weakly. "Norwegian Spruce; not native at all to these parts. Amazingly large, too; has to be the finest specimen I've ever seen."
Lya blushed. "You're just saying that"
I shook my head, glad she had stopped crying, at least. "No, I know my trees, and I've never seen any spruce of such a young age with branches so well developed that they can support two people."
She looked at me nervously, her pointed ears twitching slightly. "You mean it?"
I smiled and rested a hand on her head. "I can honestly say, Lya, that you are by far my favorite tree of all."
She looked like she was about to smile, but then her face fell again. "You don't love me, though…"
I glanced away. "I honestly don't know what real love feels like, not really…"
"Then that's it!" Lya suddenly shouted in a triumphant tone. I was so taken aback that I fell right out of her tree. She leapt up with a beaming smile, as if someone had just flicked a switch in her head and turned off her sorrow.
For some reason it made me nervous. "W-what? What's it?"
She pointed a finger down at me. "I'll just prove that you love me!"
My eyes widened. "Yeah? And how are you going to accomplish that?"
She hesitated mid-point. "I don't know yet," she said, her tone as excited as ever. "…But I will, soon! You just wait, I'll prove to you how I feel and show you that you feel the same way too!" On that she leapt out of her branches and ran off into the forest, giggling and talking excitedly to herself.
I watched her go and breathed a defeated sigh.
Well I'll be: a bipolar tree.
To be honest, this didn't really seem odd in comparison with the fact that she seemed fine with the idea of getting married and THEN making her partner fall in love with her. Perhaps trees don't care about the order of things so long as everything gets sorted eventually.
They're patient that way.
I picked myself up and walked off with a sinking feeling. I didn't know what Lya was going to do to prove her affections…and I wasn't sure I wanted to.
"So that turned out okay. How did we get from happy Lya to…well…not-so-happy Lya?" Will asked.
"Stage Two," I said simply.
"Oh, yeah, forgot there's still more to come. So then what happened?"
I sighed. "Well, she spent the next several days trying to win my heart by giving me food."
Will nodded sagely. "Through the stomach, very classic."
I nodded. "Unfortunately, the most Lya really knew about human nourishment was that we drank water through our mouths and not through our feet. It took me two hours just to explain the difference between toes and roots to her."
"So what did she do?"
"Well, first she tried the traditional angle; she went with sweets."
"But where would a nymph get candy in Camp Half-Blood?"
"There's only one place that has a ready supply," I explained, "the Aphrodite cabin."
Will blanched. "The Aphrodite kids? But don't they all-"
"Hate me? Why, as a matter of fact, yes, they do."
Will winced. He could see where this was going. "What was in them?"
"Thankfully, nothing too bad, since they didn't have time to concoct anything. They went with a mid-strength paralyzing agent."
"Oh, so that's why you were in the infirmary for two days."
"Yes, Will. Luckily I only took one bite before I realized something was up."
"Hang on; did any of the Aphrodite campers eat any?" Will asked.
"Then why were half a dozen of them put in the infirmary about the same time?"
"Lya doesn't like being made a fool of," I responded simply.
I inclined my head acceptingly. "As you can see, she can be scary when she's mad."
"All right, then what?"
"Then she decided to just go for normal food. So, in keeping with being her, she made me soup with nothing but forest vegetables, roots and things from the trees."
"Oh, that sounds nice…or not?" he finished, catching the look on my face.
"Let's just say ground Laburnum pods are not a good thing to use as seasoning, no matter how 'yummy' they smell."
"Laburnum pods?" Will asked. "But those are-"
"—Poisonous," Dionysus interrupted around a mouthful of red grapes. "I'm enjoying your tale of woe, though. It makes me happy."
"So…" Will prompted.
"So, after getting me hospitalized twice in as many days and apologizing most heartily, she promised she'd get me a present instead."
I nodded. "A present, and I quote, 'so amazingly wonderful, thoughtful and loving that you'll simply have to see how I feel and you won't be able to help yourself from falling madly in love with me'," I said, doing my best Lya impression in a falsetto voice.
"That bad, huh?" Will asked.
"You have no idea…"
"So what'd she get you?"
"Well, you know that sparring session we had a few days back in the arena?"
"Well, do you remember what we were talking about while we fought?"
The son of Apollo's brow knitted together as he tried to recall. "Ah! Favorite movies! I was asking you what your favorite film of all time was."
"And I said-"
"The Deer Hunter, right?"
I nodded. "Yes. Despite its deceptive lack of any serious hunting, I found it to be a fine example of modern cinema."
"Right, but what's that have to do with Lya?"
"Well, you see…"
Lya was practically bouncing around me with excitement as I approached the Artemis cabin. "Lya, am I going to regret what I see in here?"
"Nuh-uh! I thought long and hard about this one, and there's no way no how that you're not going to love it!"
"Okay…" I said as I swung the door open. Lya slipped in ahead of me, having decided herself that she could come and go from cabin eight as she pleased.
She twirled about and stopped in front of me, positively beaming. "You know how you said to Will that you liked that movie The Deer Hunter?"
My eyes narrowed, ignoring the fact that she had obviously been spying on me (I was also shocked she even knew what a movie was). "Yeah, what about it? Please tell me you didn't kill a deer and leave it on my bed. If you did I'm going to be very disappointed in you, Lya."
She shook her head, her body-length hair twirling about her as she did so. "Nope, I got you…this!" she said and slid out my way, extending a hand at my bed. "Ta-dah!"
I took a step forward, frowning curiously at the shape on my bed. Then several emotions flooded through me; first curiosity, then suspicion, then terrified recognition, finally settling on full-blown panic.
I gulped loudly. "Lya…"
"Uh-huh?" she asked happily, rocking back and forth on her heels, her pointy ears twitching excitedly.
"That's not a present."
The Nymph frowned. "Huh?"
"That's Christopher Walken," I said. I could feel the color draining from my face.
Lya smiled. "Yep!"
I opened my mouth to speak, closed it as the words escaped me, and chewed on a knuckle. "Lya…forgive me for seeming somewhat at a loss. I never thought that in any situation, in any scenario, in any universe, I would ever have to say the following words. Lya…"
"What is Christopher Walken doing in my bed?"
"He's your present!" she said happily.
"My what?" I hissed, scared of waking the man. He appeared unconscious, and was tied up with tree roots.
"You said you liked The Deer Hunter. I asked around with some people and they said he was in that!"
"Jeez, Lya! If I said I liked the ending to Braveheart would you kill Mel Gibson and bring me his dismembered corpse?"
Lya's face fell. "Why?" she asked nervously. "Do you like the ending to Braveheart?"
"Not especially!" I hissed again.
"Oh, that's good."
"Lya we need to-"
"I don't wanna kill Mel Gibson."
"He's bigger than me, for one thing-"
"LYA!" I shouted. "No one's killing Mel Gibson! At least not you or I. So just tell me; why…how did you get him?"
Lya's smile came back in full force. "I know an Oak, who knows an Elm, who knows a Pine, who knows a Cedar, who knows a Fir tree whose cousin grows outside his bedroom window."
"You kidnapped Christopher Walken?"
Lya frowned. "We did not kidnap him! We just tied him up and took him out of his house without asking."
I rubbed my brow to halt the oncoming headache. "So you took him through the root system. How did he sleep through something like that?"
"Oh!" Lya said and began rummaging down inside her dress. "This!" she said holding up a small bag. "Sleeping sand! One of the Morpheus kids gave it to me, enough to keep him out for hours!" Suddenly a groaning noise came from the bed. "Or not…"
I clenched my teeth angrily. "Seriously, Lya, we've got to get rid of him!" I hissed.
Lya cocked her head. "Why? I thought you liked that thing he was in."
"That's besides the-"
"W-Where am I?" A dreary voice spoke up from my left.
I rolled my eyes. "You're dreaming, Mister Walken. Go back to sleep. Lya, we have to-"
"Really? This don't feel like a dream."
And then Lya said something perfectly random and brilliant that probably saved our bacon. "Hiya! I'm a wood nymph. My name's Lya!"
"Okay, so I'm dreaming," Christopher Walken said agreeably.
"Lya, I need to know how we can get rid of this-"
"And who are you?"
I swung around at the man who wouldn't let me finish a sentence. "I'm the immaculate son of a virgin!" I snapped pedantically and turned back to Lya to continue.
"What? Like Jesus?"
I rolled my eyes again. "Yes, Mister Walken, I'm Jesus. Now if you'll excuse me for a moment…"
"Okay…I was just checking"
"How do we send him back?"
"You really don't want him to stay?" she asked, her face in full pout.
"I think his wife might miss him in the morning!"
"M'kay, you'd better bring him then," Lya mumbled. She turned and left the cabin, not meeting my eyes. I was alone again…well, almost alone.
"Lemme guess; lady problems?"
I slumped sideways against the wooden doorframe. "You might say that. She's a nymph, actually."
Christopher cocked his head. "Meh, a woman's a woman. She someone close to you?"
"She's sort of my wife…"
Oddly, he didn't question the idea of "Jesus" being married to a wood nymph. He just nodded. "I see, having second thoughts?"
"I never even had first thoughts, oh gods this is such a mess…"
"You want my advice?"
I sighed. "Go ahead."
"Go tell her how you feel. In my forty years of marriage to the same wonderful woman, I can honestly say that truth is the most important thing you can possibly have between you. Without it you've got nothing."
Marriage counseling from Christopher Walken…It's a funny old world.
"And then what happened?" Will asked.
"Well, we passed him to one of the Nymphs, who sent him back through the root system. A disaster narrowly averted, although he did give me this…" I said, rummaging in my back pocket and passing Will a folded piece of paper.
He unfolded it and read it aloud. "To Jesus...Come back soon, we all miss you…Chris. Ahh, well that was nice of him."
"Yeah, nice guy."
"So is that the end of Stage Two?" Will asked.
I nodded. "I noticed Lya had disappeared once we had disposed of her 'gift'; she was back in her usual place, of course. Thus begins Stage Three..."
"I really tried this time. Really, really tried," Lya said in a small voice, wrapped up in her hair once again.
I sighed and rested an arm around her petit shoulders. "I know you did, and it was sweet in a way."
She looked up at me with teary eyes, back in Sad Lya mode again. "What more can I do?" she asked in a pleading tone, her voice breaking.
"I like you a lot Lya, I really do, but I just don't get the whole love thing yet."
She responded by sobbing louder into her hands.
I rubbed her back. "There, there…'There there'? Gods, was that as cliché as it sounded?"
She choked out a small laugh. "It's nice when you say it."
I decided to listen to the advice I had been given and tell her how I felt. "I've lived in isolation for most of my life. People learn skills; how to feel, how to act, including how to love, pretty much entirely from their interactions with other people. Needless to say, I still have a long ways to go. I'm glad for once that I have eternal life, because I still have so much to learn. Who knows, perhaps I really am lonely. I probably just don't know it yet."
I blinked as Lya shuffled closer to me. "Guess I'll have to be a patient nymph, then, until you do. But then you're all mine, got it?" she said, adding the last part with a petulant scowl.
I smiled and ran a hand through her hair. "Understood." I laid back and took a deep breath, savoring the taste of pine in the air. "Makes me wonder what would've happened if Dionysus had just told me what was going to happen."
Lya frowned. "What do you mean?"
I sighed. "Old Mr. D knew I didn't know about the marriage thing and thought it would be funny to let me find out when it was too late. Something wrong, Lya?" I asked, noticing her teeth starting to grit and a borderline manic look surfacing in her eyes.
"Yeah, well, spilled milk and all that…" I laughed ironically. "And I thought the whole Aren situation was complicated…"
Lya blinked and pushed her anger aside for a second. "Who's Aren?"
I opened my mouth to answer when a strange chill went through me.
If I might voice a word of objection at your answering that query…
I gave a start at the sudden intrusion by my gut in my thought process. "Strange…Anyways-"
"As I was-"
Don't you remember what happened last time you ignored me?
I shook my head, feeling quite dizzy.
We ended up married is what happened!
"Armani?" Lya questioned, blinking her curious brown eyes at me.
"Sorry, Lya, just got a slightly bad feeling there for a sec…"
You're going to ignore me again, aren't you?
Lya's eyes narrowed. "So, who's Aren?"
And then I did the dumbest thing conceivable.
I told her.
Thirty seconds later….
"Oh, hi Armani!" William called as he saw me bolting through the forest towards him at top speed. "What's wrong?" he asked as I skidded to a halt for a second.
I gasped for breath. "What's Wrong? I listened to Christopher Walken is what's wrong! Oh crud!" I snapped. Will's eyes followed mine and he gasped in horror at the tidal wave of roots hurtling towards me.
"What in Hades?" he gasped, dropping the wood he had been collecting.
"Run, Solace! RUN!"
I was making a break for cabin eight when the entire row of buildings was suddenly engulfed in furious intertwining greenery. The other half-bloods lingering about bolted in various directions, reaching their cabins if they could or, if not, making a break for any sheltered area.
Will glanced back over his head at the sea of green crashing over the camp. "Isn't that Lya riding on top of that thing?"
I glanced back as I ran. "Yeah…she got a little upset…"
"Not now William, just run!"
"Don't need to tell me twice; and stop calling me William!"
I skidded as the vines circled around the paths, cutting off areas of escape. "Big House, quick!"
Mr. D was sitting on the porch reading Wine Taster Monthly when we ran up. "Now what?"
I ground to a halt, gasping for air. "Mr. D, little tip, you might want to step inside for a moment!"
"What do you…" he trailed off as he looked past us and saw the ocean of greenery cascading towards him.
"DIONYSUS!" Lya's enraged voice screamed over the rumbling of a million tree roots.
If I didn't know better I could've sworn the god gulped. "You know what? I think it's getting a bit chilly out here. I'm going to step inside for a while." He gripped his magazine and ran inside with us on his tail.
Will and I slammed to doors shut just as the writhing mass crashed into the wooden structure…
"Wait, wait: wait just a moment," William said, raising a finger. "So let me get this straight. You thought it would be smart to tell your already furious wife that there was another woman in the picture?"
"There was not 'another woman'! I simply explained to Lya that there happened to be a fellow Hunter who happened to be female, whom I happened to be in love with at one point, whom I hadn't quite resolved my feelings with, and that I had to kiss her once!"
William went silent for a moment. "…You're really not that bright, are you?"
I gritted my teeth angrily. "Regardless. I need to find a way to calm her down…" I said, pushing myself up and glancing out of the hole in the door. Yes, she was still there, and still staring daggers at the door.
Bipolar is right…
"Mr. D…" I began, still looking out through the hole, "You said there were artifacts collected from quests in this place, right?"
Dionysus glanced irritably up from his magazine. "What about it?"
"Well do you know if there's anything that we can use, something that could calm her down?"
Dionysus grunted. "I dunno; why should I care, anyway?"
My eyes narrowed at the god. "Remind me, Lord Dionysus, what exactly happened the last time you messed with the heart of a wood nymph and Zeus found out?"
He didn't look up, but judging by the way he gripped his literature, I had struck a nerve.
"That was different!" he whispered, as if worried someone might hear.
I raised an eyebrow. "Zeus might see it that way, but then again…he might not."
Dionysus glanced up, his eyes burning into mine with terrifying ferocity. "Attic, left of the window, pile of boxes, should be something in there you can use. Look for something belonging to Morpheus or Aphrodite; that should do the trick. There, satisfied!?" he asked, glaring at me over the top of the page.
I smiled and bowed. "Thank you kindly for your assistance, Lord Dionysus." His response was a string of Greek curses that would be in very bad taste to translate.
I climbed the steps into the attic, coughing at the dust that assaulted my throat, and stopped in the middle of the cluttered space.
It was filled with boxes, wall to wall, and there were miscellaneous bits and pieces, ranging from armor to crystals to dolls and other trinkets scattered all over. Some were in boxes, others just leaning haphazardly against them. Each had either a tag or label stuck to them identifying them and how they came to be in this place.
The only out-of-place item was a single wooden chair lit up by a shaft of light from the window.
I circled the piece of furniture. For some reason it gave off a very strange vibe, though I got the feeling that, like most of the things in here, it was now little more than a relic that no longer served a purpose.
I dragged several boxes from the pile to the immediate left of the window down to the floor.
I tore the tape off the first one. The inside was filled with wool, which padded a series of pickle jars containing various eyes, noses, fingers and… other body parts.
Of help? Doubtful.
Sliding the box out of the way, I opened the second. This one was filled with various weapons, each with a label naming a different enchanted effect.
I had no intention of stabbing Lya with anything, but I glanced briefly at the various labels.
"Hmm, Petrifying Dagger…Blade of Withering Hope…Apollo's Singing Sword…" that last one took the last of my patience, so I shoved the sword box aside and tore open the third.
This one was different; it was filled with plates.
I may not know that much about girls, but something tells me if I hurled these at her it would just make her madder.
I reached down to push it aside, but as soon as my hand brushed the first upside down plate, a fragile-looking octagonal thing, a huge flash of pink light erupted from its surface and sent me staggering onto my behind.
Okay…that has some power.
Suddenly the room was filled with a strange muttering noise, like muffled voices.
I pushed myself up onto my haunches to look back into the box. The plate was no longer covered in dust, but shiny, as if brand-new. Its surface was made of a strange pink glass and studded with rubies. I slid my hand into my sleeve so I wouldn't be touching it directly and picked up the artifact.
The instant I lifted it the voices became clear, like a speaker that had been muffled by a carpet suddenly being stood up.
"Tell me how to release them!" a clear female voice suddenly resonated through the room; it had an air of rage and command to it.
The tag on the plate dangled down in front of me. Ignoring the voices for the moment, I frowned at the tag, trying to decipher the curly label.
Aphrodite's Mirror of Choices. Stolen by Thomas Reenings, son of Hephaestus, from Aphrodite's penthouse. 1984.
"Mirror?" I muttered, and flipped it over in my hand to find that, indeed, the surface of the other side was perfectly clear.
The image in it was not my own reflection, however. In fact, the face I saw nearly made me drop it in shock.
The love goddess was standing with her arms folded and a pitying smile on her face. She was wearing a skimpy nightdress and standing in what looked like a typical honeymoon suite.
There was someone else there, too; a girl in black jeans and a dark shirt. That was all I could make out from my vantage point; unfortunately, most of the image was dominated by Aphrodite.
Judging by the strip of celestial bronze swaying back and forth in the image, the black-clad form was also armed and prepped to strike.
"Oh you poor, poor dear. You really don't see, do you? How can I release those who have already been set free?" the goddess said in her sickly sweet patronizing tone. It irritated me to no end, and judging by the way the girl's body tensed it angered her in a similar way.
"Just FYI, Lady Aphrodite, I am on a very, very short fuse right now, and unless you stop beating around the bush and return the Hunters to how they were, I'm going to have to start breaking things," the girl said tersely.
I like this girl!
Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "So I was right; you really don't understand."
"I can only undo effects caused by me directly. If you recall, the power of love that was placed into them came from you, not me," she explained.
"A power that YOU forced into me!" she snapped, stabbing her sword in Aphrodite's direction. "You were the one who forced that power into me, and it would have gotten me, too, had my mother not stopped you!"
What is this? The Aphrodite channel?
"The power that affected the Hunters came from you as a side effect. It may have fizzled out when you kissed young Mr. Di Angelo, but every compatible Hunter you encountered up until then absorbed that power from you."
I heard the girl take a shuddering breath. "Like a plague…And I was the carrier."
Aphrodite's face darkened at the analogy. "Don't you dare refer to love like that. I may not be Artemis or Ares, but I assure you I still hold the power to destroy you. Just look behind you," the goddess said, extending her hand behind the girl.
The girl's body twisted around giving me little more than a view of the front of her shirt. "W-what is this?" she breathed out.
Aphrodite clasped her hands behind her back and paced forwards. "This is more than just a wall mirror. It shows all of those precious what-if's that people go through in their love lives. Before, the Hunters didn't even occupy a space here, they were totally invisible. Now that they know love, you've effectively set them free from the chains Artemis bound them with!"
"These are…the Hunters?" the girl said, obviously staring at whatever it was that was in front of her.
Aphrodite nodded. "All their possibilities; this mirror was created by the Fates themselves. Every left that could've been a right, every cappuccino that could've been an espresso, every choice that leads up to their next encounter. Of course, since it's mine, it can only be used to influence those choices that deal with love."
"What do you mean, change them?"
Aphrodite smiled. "Every image you see in front of you. Each one that looks like a tile in a collage of images, can be altered, even manipulated." The goddess laughed suddenly. "You could even destroy them! Would that be better? Smash that mirror and you remove the place the Hunter's existence occupies in this universe entirely. Every effect they've had, every blade of grass they moved and every head they turned. But no, you won't do that; you're far too loyal to the Hunters to do such a thing, even if it means letting them all fall in love and leaving Artemis without her little squad of handmaidens. Though I assure you, they will be far happier this way. Now at least they have a chance to live a meaningful life that doesn't involve serving that little brat for all time or until they die in her name."
The girl's grip tightened on her sword. "So you're saying, because of me being the one who changed them, there's nothing you can do?"
The goddess shrugged. "Not that I'd want to anyway, but no. dear, I'm afraid not."
The girl lowered her sword, obviously watching whatever it was she could see in front of her. "Can you show me my existence?" she asked after a moment of silence.
The goddess shrugged. "Now that you've been connected to me, too, that's a trifle," she said, and waved her hand. "And there you are, in all those tiny frames. All your choices in life."
"All my choices that have to do with love, you mean," the girl said. Her tone had an amused edge that I found enjoyable.
Aphrodite's brow twitched. "What?"
The girl swung around. "You just said you can only see or alter things that relate to love, which is your domain. There's no way you'd have the power to alter every choice a person can make in their life. You may be a goddess, but not even you have that power."
I could tell by her voice that the girl was smirking. "So, if what you're saying is true, and all the other Hunters falling in love was my fault, then that just makes me want to do this!" The girl raised the hilt of her sword and swung it down at the mirror.
"STOP!" Aphrodite shouted, her hand reaching out to stop her, but it was already far too late.
The hilt cracked into the surface of the image and another blinding flash of pink light appeared. I recoiled instinctively away and tossed the mirror down.
I probably should've been a tad more careful.
The mirror cracked on the wooden floor and exploded into a blaze of pink light ten times brighter than before.
The sound was so deafening that, through ringing ears, I was only partially aware of being sent hurtling backwards across the attic, through another pile of boxes, and smashing off a rafter with a sickening crack.
I grunted in pain from within a pile of torn cardboard and broken helms as my vision stabilized.
"Sweet Deus Ex Machina…" I grunted, pushing myself up. "…What in Hades was that?" I shouted as I steadied myself on my feet.
I didn't notice the dark form until the roundhouse kick hit me square in the gut and I found myself hurtling back into the mound of boxes.
Now, I'd like you to take into account that I had not really had a very pleasant day up until now. My wood nymph partner had attacked me in a rage, I had been hurled through the air, and I felt like I was once again being made into the universe's punching bag. Therefore I feel my reaction was understandable.
I exploded out of the boxes with a roar so loud it made my still-ringing ears hurt. I landed in the middle of the attic and, ignoring my sword, summoned my bow without hesitation. My silver aura pulsed madly around me with the intensity of a full moon as I aimed an arrow.
I found a girl standing there, a look of surprise and shock on her face and a naked blade in her hand. I was so angry I did little more than a threat assessment on her.
At this range…dead.
The girl clenched her fist. "Identify yourself! Where am I?"
I cocked my head, sneering. "Didn't you know it's rude to demand the name of another without introducing yourself first? You know what else is rude, kicking someone in the chest for no reason!" I snapped. Her eyes were focused intensely on my bow and I could see an odd form of disbelief in them.
She was panicked, that much was obvious. Her long auburn hair was tied in a braid behind her as she stared at me with oddly familiar sharp features and, unless I had hit my head harder than I thought, a pair of piercing silver eyes.
She crouched. I immediately recognized it as an attack position, like a serpent coiling to strike. She was frightened and shocked and I knew there was no way she could get behind my guard.
However, the instant before she lunged she said one thing, one thing that broke my guard better than if she had used a battering ram to do so.
"You can call me Selene, Selene Dove…Daughter of Artemis."
To be continued...
[A/N] And that's that, the reupload will continue soon.
I'll see you all in Chapter 2: Battle of the Sexes.