Deep as the Sea
"Welcome to our home," Percy said, rising from his seat in the chariot and extending a hand to help Simon up. The trip back home hadn't posed any trouble, though whether that was because of Conner and Travis's skill at finding safe ways or just because nothing wanted to mess with an army of demigods and a bunch of cranky wizards was up for debate.
Simon took his hand and rose to his feet, not bothering to try and hide the interest in his eyes. He glanced from Peleus' slumbering form to the Golden Fleece in Thalia's old tree, probably recognizing it for what it was. Percy led him quickly past it, over the boundary into the Camp.
"If you'd like to join us, we're going to eat in the dining pavilion now. I don't know about you, but I'm starving," He continued.
"As am I," Simon admitted, sighing. "Sadly, duty requires me to work, first. If possible, could you arrange a way for me to contact my allies? There's no need for any of my friends to wait in hunger, however, and I would appreciate it if you would let them eat."
"Sure," Percy shrugged, nodding at Annabeth when she glanced at him. She walked away, off to get something to eat, the other wizards trailing behind her after Simon gave a nod of his own. "We can use my fountain, I guess. The Cabins are this way."
"Twenty Cabins," Simon mused, drawing him from his thoughts. Until then, the wizard had been quietly taking everything in, attentive eyes taking note of anything that seemed important, so Percy paid attention when he heard his voice and looked around.
"There used to be twelve of them," He said, realizing what he was being asked and explaining the admittedly strange looking Cabins. "But that changed last August. Now all the Major and Minor Gods have cabins. We're still building some and accounting for everyone, but at the moment there are twenty, with Zeus being the first and Hecate being the last. I live in Cabin Three."
He gestured vaguely towards the long, low grey stone Cabin that he lived in as he led the wizard towards it.
"Once everyone's done eating, we'll get living arrangements sorted out. Usually, travelers stay in the Hermes Cabin, but if you'd prefer you can stay with my brothers and I. I'm sure Lou would be quick to offer you a place in Hecate's Cabin as well, and plenty of the others probably would too. Anyway, in here."
He led him inside and to the fountain his father had given him years ago, reaching into the water and fishing out a drachma before flipping it towards Simon. The wizard caught it and frowned down at it for a moment.
"Gold? Yeah. The Gods refuse to use anything less valuable than gold as currency, so you need it if you're going to ask Iris for help."
"Ah," Simon nodded, as if this was completely normal. "How exactly do I go about doing that, if I might ask?"
Percy gestured towards the fountain, where a rainbow had formed the moment he'd drawn a coin.
"Toss the drachma into the rainbow and say 'Oh Iris, goddess of the rainbow, please accept my offering.' Then just say the name of whoever you're trying to call and wave your hand through the rainbow when you're done."
Simon turned the gold piece in his hands, still frowning.
"Are you certain? I may need to make more than one call, depending on who I am able to contact."
"There are plenty of drachma in the fountain, if you need them," Percy said, turning back to the door and walking out. "It's not a big deal. Anyway, there's probably a lot of stuff you want to say that you probably shouldn't talk about in front of me, so I'll just wait outside until you're done. Don't take too long, though, or we'll miss supper."
Outside, he sighed. The closing of that door seemed to make it official somehow; they'd won, they'd succeeded, and they'd returned alive and victorious. He could relax, now, but mainly he just wanted to eat and sleep.
But alone by the cabins as he was, he couldn't help but glance sadly to the bonfire in the center, where Hestia was absent. At times like this, he wouldn't have minded speaking to her—she probably could have given him some good advice.
Moving towards it, he took the goddess's place by the fire in her stead, tending to it as best he could with his bare, unburning hands. Gazing into the flames, he couldn't help but think that this was it; they'd reached the turning point. Things were going to start moving soon and there was no way of stopping them now—no turning back anymore. They'd publically, officially sided with the White Council and, by interrupting such an important mission, delivered the Red Court a strategic blow that would paint targets all over them. The Red Court had temporarily ignored them as a lesser issue compared to the White Council, but that was sure to change now. The Camp would be targeting, now, and while he wasn't that worried about it given its protections, anyone who was outside the camp or left it would be in even more danger then before.
Siding with the White Council was the right move, he felt. But at the same time, things were different now then they'd been before; harder. Risking his life didn't scare him much anymore—or rather, it did, but he was just so used to doing it now that he hardly noticed. But being responsible for the lives of others? Having his friends live or die by his decisions? That was different.
A part of him wanted to rush out into battle and crush the monsters that threatened people, but at the same time, another part wanted to draw everyone to the camp and have his brothers turn it into a fortress to keep his friends out of danger. There was no prophecy this time, as near as he could tell. There was no hand of fate guiding him, seeing to it that all the pieces fell as they were intended, whether that was for or against him. It was just them—he, his friends, and any choices or mistakes that they made.
This war was the right choice, he was sure about that. But he wasn't naïve enough not to realize that people would die because of his decisions. Friends of his would be killed while they tried to perform the orders he'd given them.
He frowned, shifting a log in the fire.
Being a leader was hard.
He looked up as the doors to his Cabin opened.
"Did your message get through okay?" He asked, drawing his hand out of the flames and brushing the ashes off on the torn remnants of his shirt.
"Perfectly. Thank you again for your aid." Simon said, nodding lightly in his direction. "I had no difficulties contacting Arthur and once I assured him of my identity we discussed what has happened thus far."
Simon hesitated for a moment.
"He's interested in meeting you, as well," Simon continued. "He wants to meet with you and discuss your proposals."
That was good. Probably.
"I'll go with you back to Edinburgh, then," Percy said.
"Ah…about that. I do not wish to impose, but if possible I would like to stay here for…" Simon pursed his lips, glancing up at the darkened sky. "A day? The White Council plans to host a meet to discuss the war in the next couple of days and the Merlin wishes to speak to you before the meeting begins and have you stand amongst our allies during the meeting itself. If possible, it would be best if we travelled together, so that none of the Wardens mistake you for a threat."
Percy tilted his head to the side and nodded.
"That's not a problem. We intended to let you stay until we found a Way to Edinburgh for you, so staying for just a day is less than I expected. Where's this meeting, then?"
Chicago was about a million degrees that summer and they were waiting on the pavement for the wizards to arrive. Getting to Chicago had been easy—while Edinburgh had been a place that they'd previously marked under 'And we would go there why?' it wasn't unusual for demigod quests to take them all across the country—and given that the camp was still in a state of scrambling around and figuring out what they didn't know but probably should, large groups of them were now travelling from place to place, something that was dangerous for demigods at the best of times.
In case it actually needed to be said, this was not the best of times. Certainly, they'd had worse days—in fact, Chiron had become somewhat depressed thinking about how many worse days the Camp had had—but things weren't good by any stretch of the imagination. So in a move that even Annabeth had applauded, the Hermes Cabin had taken it upon themselves to search out pathways to most of the major cities and important areas in America. It was still a work in progress, to be sure, for they had to find not only Ways, but ones that could be travelled safely, in short times relative to Earth, and which could be relied upon not to suddenly change.
There were a lot of areas that needed to be mapped out, but the Hermes Cabin had been working down the list of the largest cities in the country and after New York, which served as their starting point, they'd found paths to Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia, and several were testing the path to Phoenix to make sure it was safe to travel. If nothing went horrible wrong—which Percy had a hard time imagining, given their line of work, though maybe it was just that he, personally, had horrible luck—Travis and Conner said they thought they'd be able to map out routes to the top fifty cities in America by the end of the year.
He had to say, he was definitely looking forward to not getting chased halfway across the continent every time something important was going on. This whole 'safe travel' thing was an incredibly novel concept and one with which he would be happy to grow more familiar with. The Hermes Cabin was more than pulling their weight in all this—he was going to have to think of something nice he could do for them at some point.
None of which changed the fact that it was hot out here and that they'd been waiting for nearly half an hour, due to the Way to Chicago having proven especially quick. He was doing the best out of the group due to being able to ignore the humidity, but ADHD demigods and long waits in the heat didn't mix well, period.
"Simon, how is this supposed to work exactly?" Annabeth asked, sweating heavily but not seeming particularly bothered by it. It must have been a California girl thing.
Simon wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He was dressed in his heavy black robes, which Percy imagined must have sucked, but he bore it without complaint.
"The Wardens will arrive first and make sure the area is clear before giving the go-ahead to the others. After that, everyone else will gradually trickle in, depending on how cooperative the designated Ways allow. Well, not everyone." He amended. "There will be many wizards who can't attend, for whatever reason, ranging from simply not caring to life-threatening events. But the majority of the Council will attend and the Wardens and Senior Council will discuss the situation and inform everyone of what they should do for the time being. Should anything come up that requires it, there will be a simple, majority rules vote, unless three members of the Senior Council move to make it a closed vote, in which case the seven Senior Council members will decide instead. It's relatively rare for that to happen in peace times, but most of the Council are not trained to do battle or wage war, so it's not uncommon for such votes to be called when swift action is needed or panicked decisions must be avoided."
Simon shrugged and Percy couldn't help but wonder how many such wars had occurred without them knowing.
"Near the end of the meeting, representatives from allied groups will stand and confirm that they will give their aid to the Council as a whole." The wizard continued. "All meetings are conducted in Latin, as it's a dead language and equally a pain in the ass for everyone involved to learn, regardless of their country of origin, or at least that's the explanation for it now. Originally, it was probably just spoken because the White Council had its roots in the Roman Empire, but it serves its purpose well enough nowadays, I suppose, and doesn't favor or discriminate against anyone in particular. Regardless, I will be sitting with the rest of the Senior Council, but I will have someone translate for you during the meeting."
"That's all we need to do, then?" Percy asked. "Sit through the meeting and say we'll help out at the end? I figured we'd probably have to give some kind of speech or explanation or something."
"You'll realize this quickly regardless, so I may as well state it outright." Simon said, turning to face him. "We're wizards. We never explain anything."
"Like Mary Poppins?" He said, before pausing as he wondered if Simon would get that reference. The wizard nodded without skipping a beat, however.
"Yes, precisely. In all likelihood, the Merlin will wish to speak with you prior to the meeting to get an explanation and a feel for you—after that, I imagine that any information would be granted on a need-to-know basis to ensure your security, keep you hidden so that you can retain the element of surprise, and to satisfy our wizardly desire to keep secrets. The Senior Council will know everything before the day is out and select members of the Council and the Wardens will also be told; the one's that will most likely work closely with you, who will inform their associates and subordinates as it becomes necessary. Knowledge is power and all that."
"The Merlin being the leader of the Council as a whole," Annabeth stated more than guessed. "What will he want to talk to us about?"
Simon made an expression somewhere between a smile and a scowl, but before he could reply, a voice interrupted.
"Many things," said the man who'd appeared out of midair. His hair and beard were long, white, and well kept; his eyes bright blue and alert. He wore formal robes of midnight black and a stole of purple, decorated with symbols and medals signifying who-knows-what. He looked, Percy thought, exactly like he imagined a wizard would. "Given the circumstances, I would say we have much to discuss—and I think we can all agree that it would be best to act quickly."
The man, who could only be the Merlin, looked calmly at Simon.
"I hope you haven't told them anything too awful about me, Simon."
"Of course not, Arthur," Simon replied inclining his head in a brief nod. "I was just about to discuss the good old days."
"Then I arrived just in time. If I may steal them away from you for a moment, Simon?"
"I suppose the first thing I must do is express my gratitude," The Merlin began. They'd gone inside, which meant they were out of the sun, but none of the air conditioners were on due to how wizards tended to mess up technology, so it was still kind of miserable. "If not for your timely intervention, many great wizards would now be lost to us."
He inclined his head toward Simon, who nodded shallowly in return.
"You'll be happy to know that the rest of the Brute Squad is largely intact," He told his fellow wizard. "They were forced away from your tower by a sudden invasion by the Red Court, but weren't caught completely by surprise thanks to the information we received prior—another thing I believe we have our guests to thank for. They were forced to retreat towards Edinburgh when it became obvious that fighting their way back to you was unfeasible and arrived shortly thereafter, though the Red Court harried them all the way to our gates. I must admit, when we first heard how many had come for you, we'd feared the worst, but we did not even have time to formulate an appropriate counter before you contacted us. I must admit, the method you used was quite intriguing. If possible, I would like to speak to you about it when possible."
"I'm sure Annabeth would be happy to explain it to you," Percy replied, sliding cleanly out from under the responsibility before it had a chance to settle upon his shoulders.
Annabeth rolled her eyes, but nodded.
"It can be an expensive way to communicate, but often worth it as well. If it would help you, we would be happy to share the method." She replied.
"Then you have my thanks once more. Sadly, the time before the meeting is short, so it shall have to wait. It is my understanding that you are the leader of your group?" He asked, returning his attention to Percy.
"Yeah, at least during times like this," Percy nodded, feeling somewhat surprised at how used to the position he was starting to get. "This is Annabeth, my second in command."
Well, technically, no one had given her that position—but really, it's because no one had bothered. Everyone had pretty much assumed she'd be his second in command, including him, and she'd stepped into the role without having to be asked.
"As you are likely aware, I serve as the leader of the Senior Council in my role as the Merlin. If possible, I would like your permission to forgo pleasantries and speak frankly to you, as one leader to another."
Percy sat up straighter in his chair, knowing that this was important. This would be the first time he'd really acted as the leader of the camp in a political situation, rather than a military one.
Which was to say, the stakes were the same, but it was a field of battle he had no experience in. Thank God Annabeth was here.
"Of course," He said.
"Simon has informed me somewhat of your goals and as such I feel it is only proper to tell you of my own. I'm aware that you may not agree with them, but I would like you to hear them from my own mouth, rather than from someone else's, and I would like a chance to explain my reasons." He paused for a moment, whether for dramatic effect or to give either of them a chance to interrupt. Either way, they said nothing and he continued on a moment later. "If at all possible, I intend to pursue peaceful negotiations with the Red Court."
Percy's eyebrows lifted high at those words and even Annabeth blinked a few times, though that was the only indication of her surprise. But Simon just closed his eyes and sighed.
"Um…I have to be honest; I'm pretty new at this and there's a lot I don't understand. But…they just tried to kill Simon and a lot of other wizards. Is pursuing peace really the best choice?"
"Oh, of course not; a peaceful negotiation is hardly ideal." The Merlin calmly shook his head. "I have hundreds of years of experience with the Red Court and I've seen first-hand the horrors they've inflicted upon humanity. They are monsters, responsible for the deaths of countless innocent lives—in theory, the ideal solution would be to wipe every last one of them from the face of the Earth. Sadly, there is often a difference between the ideal and the actual and such a solution…I would not say it's impossible, for it quite possible. But a number of factors keep it from truly being a feasible solution."
"What do you mean?" Percy asked, honestly confused.
"I firmly believe the White Council is more powerful than the Red Court. Should it come to an all-out war, I believe we shall triumph in the end. But it would not be an easy fight, by any means. It will require great effort and focus and even then, heavy losses are inevitable. Tell me, how much experience do you have with fighting the monsters that harass mankind?"
"A lot," He replied immediately.
"Then perhaps you can understand what a battle of attrition can be like against them."
Percy paused at that—because, yes, he could understand. How many times in the war had he killed a monster, only for it to come back? Sometimes in a week, sometimes in a month, sometimes it took years, but so many had returned and had to be fought again. That's just the way monsters were; they always, always came back.
But demigods didn't. All the friends he'd lost—they stayed dead. They'd won in the end, but their losses had been actual losses; on the other hand, he was certain he'd probably find himself face to face with the Minotaur again, some day.
"Yeah, I can," He said quietly. "It wasn't fun."
"No," The Merlin agreed. "I rather think not. The Red Court is worse than most; if it comes to a war, casualties would be heavy, and not just on the Council. As the tide turned against them, they would undoubtedly begin to draft more allies from the mortal population, which would result in merely thousands of deaths if we were lucky. They breed quickly, birthing new members in mere days and training them in short order, whereas teaching a wizard to control his powers takes years. A battle against them would be drawn out and gruesome, most likely leaving hundreds of wizards dead. But even so, I believe we could do it. But it would be a Pyrrhic Victory."
"How so?" Annabeth asked and Percy could all but here gears turning in her head as she weighed the options and compared the numbers.
"A part of it would be the casualties of the war, of course. Another part would be all those people that would be left to die while the Council's limited numbers are drawn away from protecting people and monitoring areas of the world to take part in the War—something which, no doubt, many creatures will quickly take advantage of. But the biggest reason is because of what would come after. In my role as the leader of the Council, it is my responsibility to look not only at problems, but beyond them—to not only come up with a solution, but to see how that solution would affect things and if it would create new problems. The Red Court is…massive. It is a nation, unto itself. They all but control South and Central America, with holdings all over the rest of the world. They hold power in the mortal world as well as the supernatural one—property, stocks, entire corporations, and more. More than a few members hold positions of political or economic power. If we successfully destroy them…the consequences would be dire."
"You're talking about a vacuum of power," Annabeth said, realization filling her eyes as the last piece of the puzzle snapped into place. "If the Red Court disappeared, it would be like an open invitation for everyone else. Nature abhors a vacuum and something would try to fill it."
The Merlin nodded.
"The Red Court, for all its horrors, serves at least one use—it defends its territory and fights against any new party that seeks to gain a foothold in the mortal world. Its motivations are purely selfish, but if it suddenly disappeared, there would be an entire continent left reeling in its wake and free for a thousand creatures to come rushing in. Small groups will try to horde power and set the foundations of empires, larger groups would shift their attention to seek out the Red's holdings. The areas they leave behind will be open to yet more newcomers and as the larger groups come in contact, they will fight over power and humans will suffer in the process—as food, slaves, recruits, or what have you. The Council will need to respond to protect them."
Even Percy could see where this was going.
"You mean another War," He said. "As soon as the fights with the Reds end, another one will begin."
"Precisely. More battles, more casualties—the time it takes to train wizards means we won't have time to replenish our ranks and each battle will reduce our numbers more and more. We'll be whittled away, piece by piece, until there is nothing left. The truth is, the White Council is limited. We are powerful, but there are so few of us in the grand scheme of things, whereas our enemies are beyond counting. We can win against one of them, but what does it matter when there are a hundred others waiting in the wings? At the end of the day, what we are, what keeps Mankind safe, is a threat—we're a gun with an unknown number of bullets. Everyone knows that we cannot fight every monster. Everyone knows that if they ganged up against us, we would quickly fall. But we could take at least some of them with us, and so they hesitate to be the one to go first. And as long as no one knows how many bullets are in that gun, we can hold on that threat alone—but once we start firing, everyone knows it's just a matter of time before we click empty."
Percy didn't know what to say to that. He'd never had the entire story spelled out for him quite like that. Was this why their parents had hid them away? Was this why they'd never seen all these monsters before?
"I tell you this, because you and I are in the same situation—leaders of groups that exist to protect Mankind. And yet, the eternal conundrum we face is this: We will protect no one if we are dead. So I will try to resolve things peacefully, if I can, even if I hate vampires with every fiber of my being. Even if it means putting up with them, I must do what I feel will save the most lives in the long run, even if it requires me to do things I once never thought I would have to do."
So spoke the Merlin, leader of the White Council of Wizards.
"Then what is the plan?" Percy asked. He wasn't happy with the knowledge that he might have to stand by and let monsters do as they please—but he didn't think the Merlin was particularly pleased by it either. It didn't really make a difference in the end, he supposed.
"Envoys have already been sent to the Red Court and will be returning to attend the meeting. They will present the Red Court's initial terms and the Council will vote on the matter. If needed, we will send a counteroffer to them and they will likely deliberate over it before sending another one back to us. If possible, we will come to a compromise."
"And if not?" Annabeth asked.
The Merlin sighed.
"And if not…we will fight," He said. "I deeply wish to avoid that, but it may not be possible. If it does happen, we will simply have to try and find a way to survive what is to come. In any case, it is in our best interests to prolong negotiations for as long as possible to give ourselves time to prepare."
"Won't that just give them more time to get ready as well?" Percy asked.
"Yes—but no one benefits from having extra time as much as wizards, I assure you." The wizard replied, nodding towards Simon. "After this meeting, we'll begin Thaumaturgic preparations to counter the vampires. Of course, they know that as well as well do, so I suspect we will only have a short time to try and settle things. Beyond that, we have also sent envoys to the Winter and Summer Courts, in the hopes of securing permission to pass through their territories. If we can gain at least that much, we should be able to counter the Red Courts mobility and convince them a peaceful resolution is in their best interests—and, failing that, it will be of enormous benefit in battle."
"We can aid you with that," Annabeth said, not missing a beat. "Simon can confirm that the Children of Hermes have a knack for finding safe Ways through the Nevernever—it may take some time, but we can find paths for you to, at the very least, any important locations. If nothing else, we were originally searching for a safe Way from our home to Edinburgh, so that we could get Simon back to you; I'll have the Hermes Cabin continue to look for one and then you can use our base as a nexus point to make use of all the Ways we have found. We've primarily searched for Ways to other places in the Country, but we can broaden the search if it would help you."
The Merlin smiled and nodded.
"That would be most helpful indeed." He glanced at Simon again. "If you would be willing to stay nearby for a day or two, I will speak to the rest of Senior Council and the Wardens present and put together a list of major positions we would need Ways to and from. Even if we manage to secure an alliance with the Faerie Courts…well, they wouldn't agree to pact they couldn't worm their way out of if need be and it would be reassuring not to be forced to rely solely on their good will."
"We can probably help with that, too," Percy said. "We haven't managed to contact anyone major in either Court—but if you can arrange for that, we can throw our lot in with yours, though. If your envoys can't convince them, it might help if we spoke to them, too."
The Merlin seemed to muse over that for a moment before nodding.
"If it comes to that, it would be most helpful. Before you meet with any of the Fae, however, I would recommend speaking to several of our resident experts on the subject. The Fae cannot lie, but it hasn't hindered their ability to deceive and I think you would find it helpful to receive some advice on what to look out for before attempting any negotiations, lest you find yourself wrapped up in a bargain you come to regret. If our envoys fail, I'll arrange for several of them to meet with you."
"Travis and Conner are coming back after the meeting, right?" Percy asked Annabeth.
"I'll speak to them about it—I imagine it would help to tell the entire Hermes Cabin about it before they get themselves hurt and we'll take the Twins along on any negotiations, besides." She replied. She turned back to the Merlin before continuing. "Travis and Conner are in charge of the Hermes Cabin, so they'll be the one looking for Ways through the Nevernever."
"Once we arrange for a proper Way between our respective headquarters, we'll both be able to benefit from each other's established Ways. For the time being, we can make due by using the Way you took to bring Simon here and the one I took to travel from Edinburgh, though that Way can be a bit…tricky, at times. When your companions arrive, I shall give them the details." The Merlin returned, one hand stroking his beard as he mulled over the situation. Both his and Annabeth's eyes seemed bright as they considered the possibilities.
"Once we establish a safe Way, we can determine how else we can aid each other. Percy's siblings are the Cyclopes, who are exceptionally skilled at building just about anything, for example, as are Hephaestus's children. The Camp could always use some additional defenses, as well."
"If its wards you need, I would be happy assist you; I happen to have some small measure of skill in the art," The Merlin said with modesty that his expression revealed was probably false. "It shall have to wait until after the meeting, however—at which point I imagine we will have a great deal to discuss. For the time being, let us go; have you arranged for a translator for our guests, Simon?"
"I intended to ask Warden Marcus to do it; he has enough experience at it," Simon replied, smiling at some inside joke. The Merlin inclined his head.
"Very well. I shall show you to your places and Warden Marcus shall be with you shortly." He told them. "Will you be joining us Simon?"
Simon shook his head.
"I'll be along shortly; our mutual friend asked to speak to me."
The edges of the Merlin's lips bobbed downward for just a moment before he nodded.
"Of course." He said coolly. "This way, my friends."