A/N: Two updates in two days, Sassy? What is this, Christmas!?
Not quite. I just want to say thank you for the overwhelming outpouring of love and support. I've been struggling in my personal life and each and every one of you have been a ray of sunshine through my rain clouds since I posed the last chapter.
This is my deep felt thank you to all of you, truly. I couldn't do this without your support.
It took a LOT of writing to get back into the voice, but I think I got it. Let me know if it still feels off, would you? Love you all and have a wonderful weekend.
The Agents of Oceanus
OUTSKIRTS OF ATLANTIS
It had been two days since Percy's assassination attempt and the abrupt conclusion of the Harvest Festival. The entire city was on lockdown, which meant they were dealing with thousands of ruffled Atlanteans as well as a dying prince and a security breach the size of Texas.
Needless to say, Triton had had better days. They'd just finished a loop deep into open water past the shark nurseries and he was exhausted but there were three more patrols today.
"Double back," Triton ordered, staring down the ridge at the city far below. Its outline shimmered with the effect of so much water between them and it, the details hard to make out. He felt a surge of affection for the place he'd called home for so long even if the current climate was one of fear and anxiety.
"Yes, sir," Captain Elric said immediately as he did just that, making sure nobody (or anything) had followed them on their patrol.
Triton was not in the mood for battling sea monsters today.
"Sennek," he called, waving the guardsman forward. Normally he served with the king when not on Triton's palace detail, but today he'd been sent out on patrol as an added security measure. If they could go after one son of Poseidon, it stood to reason they'd go after the other. Poseidon had switched everything around to unbalance any possible traitors. He waited until the Merman was directly beside him before murmuring, "Any news on my brother?"
"None so far, sire," Sennek said at equal volume. "Your father is playing a waiting game. None of us are exactly sure what he knows, or what Marshal Stormbrace knows, either."
Triton rubbed his jaw as he thought. His tails swished in agitation. "I think I might know one of the minds behind this but I cannot prove it," he admitted as he stroked his chin. "I lack critical pieces of the puzzle."
"A common problem, as of late," Sennek mused. He crossed his arms behind his back and hummed, thoughtful. "Your father is certain of a few of the players, this I know, and some of them under duress. What he lacks is the larger plot, I think."
All he could do was grunt in response to his guard's answer. "How are the men?" he said after a moment of silence. This was a new patrol of soldiers he'd not taken out before, with the exception of Percy's usual Captain, Nepthys; Captain Elric of the Royal Guard; and Sennek, who he'd known for the better part of fourteen centuries and who had been on his protection deatail for ten of those.
"Green," said Sennek bluntly. "Three are brand new to the army, sire. Hopeless at most things but strong in their specialty areas. General Naphos has hopes for them."
"And the Merman who just joined us from the Aegis," said Triton, "Bastion, yes? How did he fare today?"
Sennek shrugged. "No better or worse than anyone else, sir."
It was uncommon for anybody to leave the Aegis. For one to do so so soon after the attempted assassination of a prince had made waves throughout Atlantis. The Nereids had been in a tizzy about it for two days.
If you asked Triton, Bastion was probably spying for the Aegis. He'd be sure to keep a close eye on him, though he wasn't entirely positive what a possible spy could be in his ranks for. Most likely Orryn was trying to root out traitors. Or just as likely, Orryn was placing another shield at his back just in case someone tried to come at him outside the walls of Atlantis.
There were at least two involved for a plot of this intricacy. With every thread they tugged, four more unraveled in their place. It was maddening.
Triton waved Sennek away and stood there for a moment in deep contemplation. A faint disturbance in the water beside him alerted to a second presence.
He turned his head and beheld Nepthys, the captain of his little brother's guard. Triton studied her for a long moment - greenish skin, dark eyes, pointed teeth, hair wound into a knot at the back of her head. The armor that protected her chest was that of the palace guard and styled with the rough texture of coral with Poseidon's symbol carved in the center, her tail a shade or two darker than her skin. The scales on her tail shimmered faintly in the weak light.
"You must not blame yourself," he said after a lengthy silence. "It was not your fault, Captain Nepthys."
"I disagree, my prince," Nepthys said without looking at him. "My duty was to protect him from any danger that may befall him. I have failed to do so and thus I have tendered my resignation."
Triton's lips twitched into a faint smile at that. He appreciated the gesture even if he disagreed with it. "My father will not accept it," he said. It was true; of all the warriors they had in the Palace Guard, Nepthys was one of the most trusted. "Percy's protection is more important to him than your wounded pride."
Dark eyes snapped to his and they were full of fire. Good. Her spirit had not been crushed with his brother's injury.
"I have failed," she repeated. "I am unfit to serve in this Guard, let alone in protection of the prince."
"And what of the rest of your squad?" he asked, tapping his sword hilt idly. "Are they to be banished? Drawn and quartered? Beaten? Shamed? Blamed and cast aside as failures?"
Nepthys shifted at that and her anger was only just hidden. "Of course not," she argued with forced calm. "The fault is with me and me alone."
"The fault," Triton said calmly, "Lies with all of us, dear Nepthys."
Pure shock met the declaration. Nepthys stared at him as if he'd lost his mind.
"We all failed to protect him," he elaborated after giving her a moment to digest his words. "My guards were there as well and saw nothing. They were unable to prevent it. There were Guards scattered amongst the crowd, multiple members of the Aegis, guards from other families and the other Cities, countless Atlantean warriors, soldiers from our very own regiments. Not one of them saw this coming. Not even my father saw this coming. Why, then, should we blame you?"
"Someone must be blamed, my prince."
"And the blame lies with those responsible, Nepthys," Triton said, settling a hand gently on her armored shoulder. "I intend to blame those who are responsible and no one else. Percy loves you, Nepthys, and his heart would break if we allowed you to resign. Quite simply, madam, I cannot allow that."
With that, he swam down the ridge and back towards his patrol, leaving the disheartened Guard to overlook the city and ponder his words.
Onward they would go again to pick up reinforcements, and then another patrol they would take. Triton did his best not to scowl about it.
Emet son of Thoris was a decent Guard, or at least he'd always considered himself to be so. He'd slowly risen through the ranks as a soldier before being offered a position with the First Regiment (the Palace Guards). It was a position he'd always coveted. Getting assigned to Prince Perseus had been an honor as well as a dream come true even if the boy had a tendency for getting himself into trouble.
And then, the Harvest Festival.
The hours following the attack were a blur. In his nightmares he remembered the rush of the crowd and the screaming, wordless rage of the sea life all around them. Sometimes he could still imagine the taste of the blood in the water. Hear the twisted, snarled words of the man who proclaimed himself an agent of Oceanus. Could see Gar's face twisted in fury, the butt of his spear held tightly on the attacker's windpipe just shy of deadly force.
Always, always, he remembered the young prince laying there. Triton's panicked expression. The bone-white hilt of the blade sticking out of the boy's side. The way Percy's hand had hung limp and swung through the water and Triton half-swam, half-ran his little brother to the nearest healer in the Atlantean sector of the city.
It was like something out of a nightmare.
None of them had slept well in the days since. In the aftermath of the attack, Percy's squad had been broken up and assimilated back into the Palace Guard rotations to help with the increases in duty shifts. Poseidon was beefing his security and was also on a hunt for the perpetrators.
Rumor was Marshal Stormbrace had gotten the attacker to admit he was not acting alone. There was a traitor in the House of Poseidon and while it was a secret, naturally, the entire Palace knew.
Emet hated the new atmosphere in the Palace. Before it had felt like belonging but no longer. Everything he did was suspect, just as he suspected everything his fellow guards did. There was a traitor amongst them and nobody knew who it was. He had no idea if his former squad had been cleared; the Prince was being guarded by the King's men, now, and they'd hardly been able to see the boy since the attack happened.
So far, he'd been on eight patrols with eight different groups of Guards. Sometimes they were with Prince Triton; other times, they were simply with other Guards. He'd served with all three regiments and even with some members of the Aegis since the attack. It had been whirlwind of faces and names.
Nobody knew what exactly they were patrolling for, just that they were to keep the peace and patrol the outskirts of Atlantis in case danger lurked. Or at least, that's what the Captains said the standing orders were, even though Oceanus hadn't posed a real and true threat since the forties and would not likely stoop to murdering an eight year old. He liked to think the old Titan was classier than that. (His father had always told him Oceanus sent monsters out of boredom, not out of malice, and that he didn't generally hold any ill will for Poseidon).
By Poseidon, but he missed Nephthys. She'd always been up front and honest. He wished he could talk to his Captain about all of this.
Emet listened to new orders and shouldered his shield, strapping it against his back so it wouldn't impede his movement while he was swimming. He had no idea what to expect but he was ready for anything. They'd been out patrolling with Delphin most of the morning and from the sounds of it they were due for another loop.
"You were on Prince Perseus' guard detail, yes?"
Startled, Emet looked up and snapped to attention out of long standing habit. "Prince Triton," he greeted the God, only relaxing his shoulders when the prince waved a hand at him in dismissal. He had the look of a Merman today, which likely meant there was a lot of swimming in his immediate future. He then realized he hadn't actually answered the prince's question and stammered, "Uh, yes, your highness. I have been on Prince Perseus' detail since he was four, your highness."
"I know, Emet. Relax," the prince said in a mild tone.
If Emet didn't know any better, he'd have sworn there was amusement in the Prince's dark eyes. He swallowed instead of saying anything further and felt the skin around his neck start to get hot. He'd always hated interrogations and this was starting to feel like one.
Triton studied a vambrace with a casual air and asked, "Do you trust your squad?"
"Um," Emet said, unsure, before plowing ahead. At least that was an easy answer. "Yes, your highness. With my life."
"Hmm. How did you feel when my father first brought Percy to Atlantis?"
Emet blinked, startled yet again. How had he felt? He thought back through the years and placed the timeline in his head. When Perseus first came to the palace, he would have been eleven or so and deep into training at Camp Fish-Blood. It had caused nary a ripple in his training; Aphros and Bythos were hardly ones to make such a big deal out of something so trivial. But then, the Ichthyocentaur trainers had never been particularly political.
"I was at Camp Fish-Blood, your highness," he said, watching the Prince for a reaction that never came. He cleared his throat. "I remember feeling surprised that the King brought a Demigod, given the current rules on Olympus about such matters, but he is the King. What the King does is his own business when it comes to his family."
"I see." Triton was studying the other vambrace now. "And how do you feel about my brother potentially sitting on my father's throne, should my father and I both perish in battle?"
Emet swallowed, hard, and managed to squeak, "How do I feel, your highness?"
"What is your opinion," the prince clarified.
That was worse. Emet resisted the urge to rub his neck and thought about it, confused by this line of questioning. "Prince Perseus has royal blood," he said. "I have no right to feel any different about him on the throne than you. Perseus is as much Poseidon's son as you are, your highness."
The prince idly traced the symbol of Poseidon on the vambrace in question and nodded to himself. "Thank you, Emet," he said after an uncomfortably long silence on Emet's part that left his skin feeling prickly and hot from sweat. "You are dismissed. We will be setting out on our patrol shortly."
Triton swam away and Emet nearly collapsed with relief.
One of the other new members of the temporary squad - a Merman called Elan who was a green recruit fresh out of Camp Fish-Blood - swam over to him with his eyebrows arched upwards. "What was that about?" he asked curiously.
"The Prince was merely asking me questions," said Emet as he strapped on his own vambraces and did his best not to eye the Prince's back in confusion. That had ranked amongst the strangest conversations he'd had in his life, and that included the one time Percy had demanded they explain the better parts of shark mating. By Poseidon, had that been awkward.
"Strange family, that one," the Merman said with a dainty shrug, drawing Emet's attention back to the conversation. "My father says they were tainted when they brought a half-God into the palace."
Emet's eyes snapped to the Merman's, sharp and offended. "That half-God is the son of Poseidon," he said with a warning growl in his tone. Elan threw his hands up in surrender and swam off to join the formation, leaving Emet frowning after his retreating back.
Were there others that felt the same way? He'd always spent time in First; his own father Thoris had been a General, back in the day, and had been an advisor to Poseidon during the Second World War. As such he'd been raised near and in the Palace, trained with them, fought beside them - one of the few Atlanteans to do so, as there were not as many of them in Atlantis as there had been a century ago.
In First, they were fiercely loyal to Poseidon and his family.
It would appear that outside of First, that was not so.
Most interesting. Emet was frowning when they left on his patrol, and he kept frowning for the duration of it, wishing that Nepthys or Anath were there to talk to. Or even Gar, though his solutions tended towards stabbing and not talking. Anything would be better than the icy silence that surrounded their patrol.
With a sigh, he headed out on patrol, sticking close to the prince just in case. He figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
Triton was fast and a skilled warrior but there was no sense in taking chances. He shared a look with Sennek and made a vow to himself to keep this prince safe because he couldn't keep the other one safe. He did not want to fail twice.
It was mostly a quiet patrol filled with nothing but the occasional fish or shark and endless miles of blue sea.
Or at least, it was quiet until it wasn't. Up ahead, Triton had slowed to converse with a large great white male, likely inquiring if the shark had seen anything out of the ordinary, when a solitary figure surged out of their ranks.
It happened so fast Emet reacted purely on instinct and rushed for the prince in an explosion of speed as the figure snarled, "Long Live Oceanus," and swung his blade towards Triton's undefended neck.
Poseidon shoved into his son's bedroom with none of his usual grace. Orryn was already there, as were three healers, his wife, and what felt like half a regiment of guards but was really only half of his own most trusted guards on his protection detail. He hadn't run to Percy's bedchambers but it had been a very near thing. His knuckles were white around the handle of his trident as he took in their grave expressions.
Green eyes snapped to Percy to find that his son was breathing, thank Olympus.
"You have identified the poison?" he demanded, somewhat breathless from his mad rush through the palace. He'd only just returned from patrol to word that Orryn was back.
"Batrachotoxin," said Orryn in a tone that was grave and soft, offering a small creature to Poseidon. "My agent just returned with her source from Florida less than an hour ago."
Confused, the king took the animal and was surprised to find it a frog. And a small one at that, brightly colored and starting up at him with big eyes. It was almost…. cute.
"This poisoned my son?" he said, not understanding.
"That is a poison dart frog, your majesty," Orryn informed hin. "This one was… shall was say, borrowed… from a zoo on the east coast of the United States. In the wilds of South America, they eat poisonous beetles. In captivity, their skin eventually loses its potency due to a different diet."
"This," Poseidon repeated, holding up the frog in question, "is killing my son?"
"Specifically, the toxin it can hold in its skin, and not that frog specifically," Erek confirmed. The healer looked drawn and tired but there was a sparkle in his eye that hadn't been there the last time they'd spoken. "We have removed the blade from the prince's side, thoroughly cleaned the wound, and given him as much ichor as we dare to, your majesty. His color is better and the black lines are receding but his breathing remains labored and he has yet to stir."
"I sense a but," said Poseidon, wary.
Erek took in a deep breath and then released it. "It is likely he survived for his godly blood, and for that alone, your majesty. This poison kills humans nearly instantly and has no known cure aside from scientific assumptions that cannot be proven through data. I do not know what lasting effects this may cause him if he lives. We can only hope he is strong enough."
Hope. When a healer started to speak of hope, one generally knew the outcome was going to go one of two ways and it was a toss up as to which. Poseidon grimaced and went to rub his chin before he remembered the tiny bright yellow creature still sitting on his palm.
A frog. Poseidon stared down at the seemingly innocuous little creature before gently handing it back to Orryn. "I trust you will return it," he said, gruff, and strode over to his boy. Percy was pale and limp, his chest moving rapidly in painful-sounding short breaths. There were two bright spots of color on his cheeks and a splash of red against the bandage on his side.
Poseidon sank to the edge of the bed and reached out to swipe sweaty hair off his son's brow. His fingers lingered there, absorbing the sheer heat that was a mixture of fever and ichor near-overdose. If they gave the boy any more ichor, he would die.
"Do we know anything else about the traitor," he said quietly, sliding his palm to his boy's cheek and cupping it, wishing the boy were small again and this was all just a bad nightmare.
"The knife is interesting, to say the least," Orryn informed him as he came to stand before the king. He held it out and Poseidon did not hesitate to grab it even as disgust curled in his gut.
It was carved from whale bone with celestial bronze along its edge. It was long and wickedly sharp. The end two inches of the blade was serrated, and thicker than it should be. Puzzled, he twisted it around to prod at the edge and felt a slight give.
"It was a spring-loaded tip filled with poison from the wild version of the frog," Orryn explained as Poseidon handed it back to him, unable to touch it any longer.
"Take it to the Cyclops forges and ask if they have seen anything like it before."
Orryn nodded and wrapped the knife in a cloth before sticking it in his belt. He continued his thought with a frown. "Their attack did not work as planned, your majesty. You see, I believe that Percy's own actions of self-defense saved his life."
Amphitrite cleared her throat, sat up straighter, and murmured, "How so?" She reached across Percy's torso to grab Poseidon's hand and squeeze it for all she was worth.
"If that knife had entered his body with a full dose of poison, he would have been dead within hours, godly blood or no," said Erek matter-of-factly. "But see here." He gestured to Percy's arm and grabbed him gently by the wrist, moving the limb into an approximate location for self-defense as if holding a shield.
It left the bloodied part of the bandage on Percy's arm facing upwards.
"He reacted quickly enough to block the strike and sustained a cut on his arm," Erek explained. "As such it was a glancing blow that deflected the blade to his collarbone before the attacker was able to twist it and stab it into his side, missing his heart."
"And he was wearing a suit jacket," Orryn added. He had turned away from them and was staring out one of the windows to the palace grounds below. "The thickness of the sleeve combined with his undershirt and the placement of his cufflinks quite literally saved his life." When he turned back to the king, he was holding a bag in his hands. He wagged it and mimed tossing it before he actually did so, giving the king a warning before throwing it.
Poseidon caught the bag easily and released his trident to lean it against the wall, turning the package over and over in his hands. "This is Percy's suit jacket," he realized, taking in the slice in the sleeve and the pink stains around gash on the white undershirt.
He'd been bleeding heavily enough that even the ocean didn't get all the blood out of the garment. That small detail made Poseidon feel sick.
"I had one of my surface agents study the jacket and shirt," said Orryn. "According to him, the toxin was soaked into the sleeve of the suit jacket and had seeped slightly into the undershirt sleeve. The amount of toxin that actually touched Percy's skin was small in comparison to the entire dose within the blade. When he lost consciousness, what remained was washed off his skin but clung to the thicker fibers of the garment. Some still seeped into his skin, but not enough to be fatal due to the healing factor of a godly parent."
Poseidon took a moment to absorb that information, eyes fixated on the pink stain. "So you're saying my son is alive because of his quick reflexes and the inability of his would-be assassin to stab that blade directly into his side with a dose of poison included. Instead, he merely stabbed him with celestial bronze and splashed a minuscule amount of said poison onto his clothed arm."
They'd gotten lucky. Percy had gotten lucky. If he hadn't raised his arm -
Poseidon banished the thought immediately. It would not do to dwell on "what if"s.
"I want the assassin dead," Poseidon said in a tone colder than a glacier. "Him, and everyone who helped him."
Everyone standing in the room knew it was the would-be assassins fate, tribunal or no. Amphimrocos would not be merciful.
"I would expect nothing less, my lord," Orryn said with a bow. "However, there has been a slight complication. We have determined the mastermind behind the entire attack that has been eight years in the making."
Eight years? Poseidon frowned and stared at Orryn. "This has been planned since I brought him to Atlantis?" he demanded, merely to see the Aegis Marshal nod in confirmation.
Someone had been planning to murder his child for eight years. They had looked at his sweet, innocent baby son and wanted him dead.
"Who?" he snarled, gripping his trident as he stood. Rage curled in his gut, choking his throat and making his head buzz.
Orryn waved his hand at someone in the doorway and three guardsmen appeared, dragging with them two very familiar members of his royal court: Elith, their cook, and Noric, one of Percy's valets. Behind Poseidon, Amphitrite made a noise of shock and distress.
Both the servants were sobbing and shaking, wordlessly babbling nonsense as they looked up to behold Poseidon and the unforgiving, white-hot rage carved into his face. The end of Poseidon's trident began to spark, filling the small room with heat.
"They call themselves the Agents of Oceanus," Orryn said coldly, "And they are led by your daughter, your majesty."