Special Edition Author's Note
GwF: I'm so sorry for being gone so long! Over a month. Inexcusable.
Amy: But we have good reason.
Annabeth: See, GwF threw a Christmas party for us and all her other fictional friends.
Rachel: Octavian kept trying to corner me under the mistletoe, and Fregley from Diary of a Wimpy Kid bit Magnus and got turned into a duck-billed platypus, but other than that it was a lot of fun.
Gollum: We were quite the Ssssecret Ssssanta, weren't we, precious? We got everyone nice juicy fisssssssh.
Jace (with a mock bow): My favorite Christmas gift ever. I shall treasure it always.
Calvin: But I didn't get the armored tank I asked for!
GwF: To make a long story longer, it was at this party that my PJO/MI/MR crossover muse and my Narnia muse (for my other multi-chapter fic) went missing without a trace. But a Jane Austen muse who I'd never met before convinced me to go to Mansfield Park with her—she said it was the only place in the Austen-verse where maybe I could help sort things out. So, I'm still swamped with schoolwork, but now I was spending my free time at Mansfield.
Kitt Kilburn (Narnia OC): After a while we got sick of waiting, so me and the other characters from my universe conspired with the characters from Tartarus Rising to get her and our muses back.
Ron: It was ugly. Most of the girls started fighting over this Crawford dude, Edmund Pevensie got mixed up with some other guy named Edmund, and Jace got bitten by a pug. Actually, that part was pretty funny.
Jace: I. HATE! PUGS.
GwF: Anyway, we've kept you waiting long enough. Here (finally!) is Chapter XXXI.
XXXI. Many Meetings.
Thalia kindly showed me where to find breakfast before disappearing to tend to some pressing business. I chose a mushroom omelet and an English muffin (all food courtesy of Demeter's children) and found a secluded spot in the main lobby to eat and think.
I knew my mom's spirit was telling the truth when she'd said that Amy and Ron were in God's hands now, but that only made me worry more. My poor defenseless cousin. My poor, stupid, reckless little brother.
Help me, Lord. I've hit a wall.
"Hello," said a female voice in front of me.
She looked a little older than me, and she was outstandingly gorgeous even among all these pretty people. Her hair was long, dark and silky, parted on the side. She had flawless skin, red lips, and huge eyes the color of robins' eggs. But unlike many of the others, there wasn't a hint of cruelty or arrogance in her face, voice or posture: indeed she seemed all sweetness.
"Did you just arrive?" she asked.
"Who's your godly parent?"
"I have none. I'm not a demigod."
(Gollum had called me a "legacy" but I wasn't sure if that was safe to mention. Maybe these people didn't get along with "legacies" and I hadn't met any who identified as that anyway. Maybe Gollum was simply wrong—he had misidentified Amy as a vampire at first).
"Oh, and still awake? You must be scared. I'm so sorry." She reached out to shake my hand. "I'm a daughter of Aphrodite. My name is Silena Beauregard. Who are you?"
"I'm Sarah Blackwood. Pleased to meet you." As we shook hands, I looked up. Underneath her makeup, her eyes were red-tinted and swollen. She had cried many tears not long ago.
"After you're done eating come to the armory with me. I'll help you find armor and weapons that will fit. Do you have any previous fighting experience?"
"Nothing worth boasting about." I chuckled.
"That's okay. Given who my godly parent was, I haven't inherited any awesome battle skills either. But I have my role in this, and so do we all." She smiled kindly. "Don't worry—you'll find where you belong."
The hair on the back of my neck tingled, and I turned around to see who was watching us.
The guy was sitting on a couch about a hundred feet away, facing someone with a hobbit hairstyle and what appeared to be horns curling out of their head (either a satyr or a faun). The guy staring at Silena and me was (of course) very good-looking; tanned, black-haired, dark-eyed and dressed in black.
It was exactly who I was afraid it was.
How'd he break out of the Recombinant Storage Room?
Once he saw us return his gaze he smirked and turned his attention back to the goat-like individual he was conversing with.
"That's Fang," Silena whispered.
I know who that is, I thought miserably.
She continued, "He's been engineered to have giant wings and he escaped from the Itex Corporation. He's one of the Bird Kids; surely you've heard of them?"
Trying to act cool, I stammered, "I thought they were a hoax."
"Oh, sweetie, there are lots of crazy things out there that aren't hoaxes. I learned the hard way—you kind of have to when you're a demigod. Anyway, Fang and his friends escaped from Itex and they're here to help us. Isn't that great?"
"Yes, it's…uh, wonderful."
Are his "friends" other mutants?...Did they happen to bring Amy? If they did, how can I steal her?
"Isn't he cute?"
"Not quite as cute as Percy, though."
Did I just admit a boy is cute? I must really be losing it.
"Or as cute as Charlie." Her lip trembled; I decided now was not the time to ask who Charlie was.
By the time Silena and her siblings were ready to fit people for their armor, there was a crowd of us.
Although I suspected she was in mourning, she put on a great show of being happy. If you didn't stand too close, you would never guess her pearly smile was a façade. Also to her credit, she didn't show any fear or revulsion looking upon the genetically mangled individuals Fang had brought with him.
"So, why don't you all tell the group your names and a little about yourselves?" she chirped.
"Why? Are we in kindergarten?" grumbled someone at the back of the crowd. The voice was strange—its tone reminded me of the throaty squawk of a predatory bird. I couldn't tell if it was a boy or girl.
Silena ignored the barb. "I'll start. I'm Silena and my mother is Aphrodite. I like fashion and pegasus flying. Who wants to go next?"
A girl stood in the front who (if you ignored her tank top, short shorts and converse shoes) looked like she could've stepped out of one of those beautiful woodcuts from the last centuries of Imperial Japan. "My name is Kate. I was born normal, and…hmm…I like basketball."
The petite blonde standing next to her spoke with a mouthful of potato chips. "I'm Star and I was born normal too. I like one-upping Ratchet." (Here she pointed with her thumb at the boy on the other side of Kate). "Kate and I are BFFs. We've been through Hell together."
The boy, "Ratchet," wore wraparound sunglasses and noise-cancelling headphones. "I'm Ratchet and I want Kate to go out with me but she can't make up her mind." Kate blushed and Star stomped on Ratchet's foot; decency prevents me from writing down what he said in response.
Next to speak was a lad who I thought at first was ten or eleven, but I learned later was Amy's age. "I'm Holden, but people call me Starfish. Here's why. Silena, may I see your dagger?"
Silena looked understandably concerned.
"I'm not gonna hurt anybody," Holden said earnestly.
Reluctantly the demigod gave him her small blade…and he proceeded to chop off his right pointer finger.
All the non-mutants present were a little shocked at that. Our shock only increased when a new finger grew within seconds out of the bloody stump.
"That's pretty impressive," I managed at last. Holden grinned.
"I'm Sparky and I like Frisbee," panted another boy.
"I'm Hobbes and I'd like a girlfriend," said a handsome redhead, earning chuckles from everyone. The way the sunlight hit him, you could see a translucent stripe pattern on his skin, black on fair.
"I'm Bruce," said a boy with the head of a hammerhead shark.
"Hello, Bruce," Thalia mumbled as she walked past.
The girl next to me seemed a little too cheerful for the circumstances. "My name's Monique but you can call me Nudge and I love fashion and why do emos and preps hate each other because I'm preppy and Fang's emo and we're like family and I miss Max and Ron Blackwood is a jerk and I wish I had a cat and I wish Magnus Bane could teach me how to do makeup and I can't get over how mean Ron is and OMG have you heard Rihanna's latest and—"
Silena pointed to me next.
"I'm Sarah and I wish this war never started."
Nudge looked at me curiously. I returned the stare. "Ron Blackwood is a jerk…I can't get over how mean Ron is." Uh-oh. What's he done? And WHERE IS HE?!
"So do we all," said the same person who'd interrupted at the start, the only one who hadn't introduced themselves.
The person had been hiding behind Kate and Ratchet. Now Star yanked them out into view.
You could see why the poor girl (it was clearly female) wanted to hide. Although her body was emaciated and scarred, it was human—unlike her massive, bald-eagle's head. Giant wings hung off her back uncomfortably; apparently she couldn't retract them like Fang could his. Her skin was covered in short white and brown feathers.
"My name's Aquilla," she growled. "I want to die nobly in battle and take a lot of white-coats and Titans out with me, because that's all I'm good for."
"Sweetie, don't say that!" Silena exclaimed. "I'm sure you're a lovely person."
The daughter of Aphrodite pursed her lips, as if deliberating whether to continue the conversation. "We seem to be missing someone," she said at last.
"Yeah. Rhoda and a few others went missing in the subway tunnels."
"Right here." He materialized from a patch of shadow behind Silena, making her jump. "Just had to schedule a meeting with Percy. You haven't started without me, I trust?" He smiled at her; although her cheeks colored, she looked angry.
"FANG!" Nudge squealed, bounding over to bear-hug him.
"Well, don't just stand there!" Silena cried in a suddenly choked voice. "Drew! Mitchell! Get these people armed." With that she ran out of the room to hide her tears.
The other Aphrodite campers (there were about thirty, as might be expected given their mother's character) made quick work of us; within fifteen minutes, me and all ten mutants had been fitted with a breastplate with an attached kilt of hardened leather strips, crested helmet, greaves, forearm and elbow guards; in addition to a sword, dagger, spear and round shield for everyone.
"Wanna know something cool about the shields?" Mitchell, Silena's half-brother, told me as he gave me mine. "See how there's no device on it? They're magic, built from a design by Hephaestus himself. Each shield customizes itself to the wearer."
I slipped the shield onto my arm. It was heavy, but not as heavy as I expected.
"Watch it now."
Before my eyes colors filled in: a ring of deep blue on the edges, then a ring of purple within it, then a hot pink band within that, then a red band, then orange, then a solid yellow circle at the center. Silver dots materialized across all the colors.
"I'm glad you like it," Mitchell remarked. "You look very happy."
I nodded. "It's an Arizona sunset."
Two shots of color went out from the center, one black, one white. They snaked up, branching off from the shared base thick and straight, before becoming thin and dividing into many tendrils near the top. When the colors stopped moving the image was a black tree and a white tree growing from the same root.
"Never seen that symbol before," he said. "Can you tell me what it means?"
I smiled apologetically. "I was hoping you could tell me."
Shortly thereafter I bumped into Will Solace's sister Cynthia, who told me that Clary had made an unexpectedly quick recovery and was asking for Percy and I.
The poor girl was probably starving—sickness tends to make one hungry—so I ran back to the makeshift cafeteria to get her some food.
On the ground floor I ran into Percy, Grover and Thalia.
"Hi, Percy. Cynthia Solace says Clary's been asking for—"
He held up his hand. "It will have to wait. I've been summoned to meet with Prometheus."
With that they swept by me.
Prometheus is here. The idea thrilled me. I had no idea whose side that legend was on, but he had always been my favorite mythological character. His courage, standing up to the tyranny of Zeus for the sake of weak humanity, even when it cost him his freedom and earned him thousands of years of torment, was truly admirable.
Clary's stomach was probably quite sensitive at the moment. I decided to fetch her some chicken broth; if she could handle solid food, I'd get her toast later.
Weaving between the counters in search of broth and distracted by a thousand thoughts, I crashed into what appeared to be a hole in the fabric of the universe. I guessed it was that because it was pitch-black, had a ragged shape, and seemed to be expanding.
I realized then that my atoms were not pulling apart from each other. Nothing was happening at all. The black hole itself smelled like men's hair product and felt rather…feathery.
"Watch where you're going," Fang grumbled, turning around to see who had walked into his wing.
If a black hole suddenly materialized to swallow me right then, I would have been quite relieved.
The bird boy's eyes widened when he saw me. "Armor suits you, Sarah Blackwood. Perhaps you have demigod ancestors." He'd changed out of his new armor into his usual black clothes.
I nodded, determined to be civil. "Curious that we two should meet again."
"Curious? It's not curious at all. If anything, it's predestined." He spread his hands as if to encompass the whole building. "Look around. Such a crew of demigod warriors hasn't assembled since the fall of Troy. My half of the mutants built to outlast civilization are here. My intelligence tells me that the strongest Nephilim of our time are on their way. Even the fae and the sorcerers know the balance of the world is about to shift." He looked back at me, a purplish glow around the edges of his black eyes. The prospect of leadership clearly set him on fire. "And you are one of us, somehow. You wouldn't be here if you weren't. Maybe we'll find out why."
I cleared my throat. "We both know why. I'm here because, at least at one point in their lives, my parents were evil." Those words stung like a bee on my tongue, but if Mom and Dad were present they probably would have said it first.
"There might be more to it than that."
"I hope not."
He shoved his hands into his pockets. "What brings you to the cafeteria?"
"A friend of mine is sick. I'm bringing her some chicken soup." My eyes drifted to the counter behind him, where seven plates were stacked with pizza, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and lunch meat.
He laughed. "Ah yes, those are all mine. Would you like some?"
"You look kind of grossed out."
I shrugged in agreement. "If you must pig out, at least pig out on good food."
With a toss of his hair, he changed the subject. "Before you visit your friend, come with me. There's something I'd like to show you before Nudge comes back. Seeing it will just get her angry again."
Reluctantly I nodded. "Sure, if it's quick. I don't want to keep Clary waiting."
"These are a lot of plates to carry."
"You don't say."
"Mind if I borrow your shield? I promise not to get any food on it."
"Um…" I was just getting used to the weight of the shield on my arm, but I would rather not part with it, especially not to him.
"Only until we sit down." He turned his dark eyes on me with a pleading expression. "Please, Sarah? I promise to keep it clean. I promise."
Reluctantly I handed it over. He held it with the underside up and fitted his plates on it like a waiter's tray. "Thanks."
He smiled. Fang did have an attractive smile, but something seemed off about it to me. There was a smugness lurking in its corners—or perhaps my bias was coloring my perception. At any rate I liked Percy's better; it seemed more genuine.
Not that any of this matters, of course.
"What did I do now?" Fang asked in a deceptively sweet manner.
"You just rolled your eyes, so I assume I offended you somehow."
I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity. It had nothing to do with you, really—although you do offend me. You offend me because you're sneaky. You offend me because I don't know whether you serve light or dark.
I shrugged and forced a smile. "My mind was elsewhere. Just—maybe next time you should bring your own tray, er, shield."
He placed my shield gingerly on a table, plopped on the neighboring couch, and pulled the laptop that had been idling there onto his knees. "Do sit down."
I took the other end of the couch.
The laptop came awake with a brief flourish of strings music.
"You won't be able to see it from way over there," he remarked. He didn't turn his head, but his eyes glided contemptuously in my direction. Although I'm used to mockery, I had to bite my tongue before something rude slipped out.
Reluctantly I moved down, till I was within a hand's width of him.
He was looking at a page with a photograph of him on it, and a title saying "Fang's Blog." Crafty as he was, you'd think he'd have concocted a more interesting title.
"Remember in January when I told you to read this?" His eyes were still fixed to the screen; his face betrayed no emotion, and his voice bordered on robotic.
"Yes." I stuck to the same monotone.
"Um…life got in the way. It does that."
"'Life got in the way'?" he repeated, the stoicism in his voice cracking. He turned to look at me, his big black eyes wide with incredulity. The purplish hue lingered, reminding me a bit of Merlynthwarte's. Most disconcerting. "It is only by chance—no, it is only by destiny—that you still have a life to get in your way, without consulting me. There are people who want to kill you, Sarah."
"That is why I never corresponded with you. Since everyone treats the internet like a third lung these days, especially teenagers, my enemies would look for me there. So I'm on no social networks. My uncle gave me a cellphone but I never use it. Exactly four people have my email address, and we all live in the same house. Our mutual enemies grilled me yesterday about an alleged alliance with you. Imagine how much worse things would be for both of us if we really had been corresponding."
"That, and the fact that you hate me."
"What makes you say that?"
"Don't bother denying it. You're tense. You look at me with one eye and scout out exits with the other. Getting you to talk is like pulling teeth. Then there was your message to me in the lab yesterday afternoon." He sighed, and scrolled down the webpage. "I honestly have no clue what your brother thought he was doing, but Nudge tells me he's with the shadow-hunters."
Finally! Much as I disliked Fang, I was very grateful to him for relaying this information. "What are shadow-hunters?"
"Nephilim. If you met a demigod with funny tattoos and an even stronger sense of entitlement than usual, that was probably one of them."
I clasped my hands nervously on my lap, palms sweating coldly against each other. A disagreeable truth had been growing on me throughout this conversation, and I could no longer swallow it. "Um…Fang," (I avoided his eyes as I spoke) "I'm sorry for how I acted yesterday. It was selfish and cruel of me. I was scared out of my wits, but that's no excuse. This conflict is far bigger than you and me and my brother."
"Thank you for admitting that. I forgive you. And if our situations were reversed—if Nudge had vanished on me and I thought you had something to do with it—I probably would not have been any kinder." Two of his fingertips touched my wristwatch, before he drew his hand back suddenly.
The uncomfortable feeling had eased, but now came back in full strength.
I'd only apologized because it felt like the right thing to do. Please, Lord, don't let him get the wrong idea.
He cleared his throat, in a businesslike manner that allayed these new fears. "Read this."
My eyes followed his cursor and I read in a library-friendly murmur. "'Hey all—Ah, New York, New York! Long time, no see. Despite getting nearly killed by—'"
"Why is my name on here? Why are you blogging about me?"
"Never mind. Read the comments; specifically, the third comment down."
I would ask about his mentioning me later. "'Ladies and gents, let's talk about this in a civilized manner. We do not mean to offend you. However the fact remains that Fang is a traitor, a liar, a charlatan, and a thief. Visit .com or .com for more information."
"Click on the second link."
Another blog opened up with the title "Jorblack's Thought Emporium." I know nothing about blog design, but I thought the layout of the page was tasteful. The posts were organized by topic: literature, film, music, attractive female celebrities…
"Search my name."
I typed "Fang" into the blog's search engine. Hundreds of results appeared. I opened the top link.
The blogger—Jorblack the Torchbearer, as he styled himself—had written the following in late May.
Surely most of you know about the "Bird Kids"—those media darlings who manage to be photogenic and "freaks of nature" at the same time. I'm not going to repeat their nonsense story here. If you're halfway intelligent, you can find it anywhere—and if you're halfway intelligent, you know the whole thing is a lie.
When my parents died this past January (as described in my first post), my sister and I were met at the funeral reception by a young man of unusual appearance who ate a gargantuan amount of food. He made us both very uncomfortable. My sister left the table for a moment, and he followed her. I saw him again talking to her outside the next day. His demeanor was suspicious, like that of a hunted criminal.
As months went by and my sister refused to tell me who he was or what had transpired, I became worried.
Recently I made the acquaintance of the Icy Blue Hand of Death. The story of his own run-in with this individual can be read in full on his excellent blog, .com
We are now aware that this guy is one of the so-called Bird Kids—which means that either my sister, my friend and I have stumbled into a government conspiracy, or we have been most heartlessly pranked.
I don't know what this is all about, what kind of sicko has the time or the inclination to tack optical-illusion wings onto a modeling-school boy and send him out into the world to prey on the fear and grief of orphans. Either the government is even more vicious than I suspected, or reality television has hit a new low in its never-ending quest to erode our sense of humanity. All I know for sure is that this guy did something bad to me, my sister and my friend. I will not rest until I find out what that is. I will not leave him be until I learn the truth. Like Socrates, I will be a gadfly at his side. I will have justice. I will have my sister back.
Fang (if that is indeed your name): If you're reading this, you haven't seen the last of us.
My stomach was a roiling knot. "I told you I barely use the internet. Do you think I wrote this?"
"We both know who wrote this, and you ought to know him better than anyone."
The truth had been hovering there all along, but now it fell with a sucker punch. For months this person withdrew into himself, alternately reaching out to me or shutting me out. For months he had skulked in his room, blasting Led Zeppelin. Sometimes I'd hear what sounded like computer hum coming from his room into the wee hours, but dismissed it as my imagination. At the beach in June, he had snuck away with Clary and they'd confronted people I could barely see. At the party a few days ago, I spotted him briefly talking to that arrogant blond boy with the strange tatoos, the one who this morning had told me there was something in his building that might interest me...now everything made sense.
There he stood, my little brother, like I'd called him out of the air. His laptop was in his duffle bag slung over one shoulder, and his guitar was strapped to his back in its case. He held a light green crocheted object in his right hand.
He brushed his ragged hair out of his eyes. "Sarah? Is that you?"
In that moment I didn't care what he'd done. My soul was singing, my prayers answered. Later, when we were each caught up with the other's adventures, we would talk about the Fang issue and any others that needed to be addressed.
I also planned to do something nice for Ron. It was through my pride, my stupidity, that things had gotten this bad. In my quest to protect my brother, I had only acted selfishly and hurt us both. I would make up for that.
But I would worry about that later. Right now I only needed to give thanks. He was alive, apparently unhurt, and we were together again.
I jumped up and threw my arms around him. "Little Brother! I was so worried."
Ron hugged me back, and it felt like the world was back in balance. "I was worried too."
AN: Sorry again for the long wait...and this chapter was another one of people sitting around talking. I'm not entirely happy with it, but it is needed to push the story forward. It's named after a chapter from The Fellowship of the Ring (the one where Frodo meets most of the other important characters before the Council of Elrond). The "hello, Bruce," exchange is a shout-out to Finding Nemo.
Thank you Ailat, JamesSonOfAthena, and Percabeth Lorien for subscribing, favoriting and reviewing! I really appreciate your support!
Merry Belated Christmas and Happy Belated New Year to all!
P.S. Usually I note when something bad happens in the news, and boy, there has been a lot of bad stuff happening since I last wrote. We needn't risk fighting about politics, but I think we can all agree to pray that no more children have to die.