Disclaimer: I apologise, but I do not own the characters, world or concepts presented in the Percy Jackson books, including and not limited to both the 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' and the 'Heroes of Olympus' series. Those belong solely to Rick Riordan, not that I'd turn them down, mind you. The story I write here is solely for enjoyment, both mine and others, and I get nothing from this except the warm fuzzy feelings from a story told well... I hope.
Chapter 3: A Parting of Ways.
Persi's return to the throne-room was far less hasty and emotional than her exit,and she was very nervous. Annabeth had been mostly silent since the sea-eyed girl had blurted out her feelings, but had brushed aside the protests of 'innocent love' by placing two fingers on Persi's mouth. "I saw how you felt, in your eyes," she'd said, "and there was no deception, no hiding what you felt. You meant what you said, Persi. I need to think about this, and I'll give you an answer soon, alright?"
Persi's nod was all she'd needed, apparently, and she had gently led the sea god's daughter back to face the Olympians again. "Persi barely caught the muttered words, "...and if Lord Poseidon ruins it again, you can always join the Hunt, now."
The sea god couldn't believe it. How had he not seen the features of Percy underneath this... curse. Looking at the girl from his throne, he could see it now. That silver streak was from holding up the sky, too long doing that would mark any demi-god. The black hair and sea-green of the eyes, that was his child alright, and he was mentally kicking himself for using those particular words. He approached his son (he insisted on thinking of him that way), and was anguished by the apprehension the 'boy' demonstrated. "I'm sorry, Percy," he said, and everyone present heard the slight difference in inflection that said he still thought of the half-blood as his son. "I should have been clearer with my words. Once Artemis removes this curse, I'll make it up to you."
Artemis stared at him. "Uncle, I can no more remove this 'curse' as you put it than Apollo could stop bad poetry," she said, ignoring her twin's aggrieved "Hey!" in the background. "First, the 'curse' is irreversible. Second, boys are not part of my domain. And third, this was a blessing. Those don't have 'cures'." She knew that she risked setting off his temper again, but she pushed forward. "And even if I could do it, you're forgetting a very important step, one that I am forced to remind you of as the patroness of maidens, one of which your child now is. Does Persi want to have it removed? She asked for it to follow her friend wherever the Hunt would lead her, and I will not devalue that."
Poseidon was brought up short at that, and looked down at the child he'd just apologised to, and then ignored the wishes of. The way... she... was holding Annabeth's arm, she seemed more than happy to remain this way. "But, the Great Prophecy..." he muttered, sure that only the gods could hear him. "It says 'his'."
The Olympians were startled by Persi's voice. "What else does it say?" she asked, her voice now high and clear, the raspy croak from much earlier having finally eased. "What is the exact wording, and how should it be interpreted?"
Zeus looked at the mess of tension before him that his family was generating. This was not going to end well, even he could see that, and he wordlessly waved Hestia to him, her little-girl form often overlooked as the goddess of hearth and family approached. "What do you need of me, my Lord and little brother?"
A spark of inspiration jolted through him, there was something there, but he'd have to chase it down later. "What do you think?" he asked, with a subtle gesture at the argument that was about to explode. "How can we save ourselves from this?"
Hestia sighed. "We can't," she replied. "With events as they are, Olympus will be divided. We can only hope it will be mended at a later point, though hopefully not too much later." She ran her gaze over the family. "Poseidon's anger over Perseus, I mean, Persephone, will not let him settle. The sea doesn't like being constrained, so he will need a strong hand to guide him. Artemis can't back down without destroying herself, so we have two opposing views. Given that her daughter made the choice, Athena will side with her, and the two children will not let others part them. Look at Aphrodite, she sees something there to meddle with, so she'll help them, while Ares and Dionysus will join Poseidon just to oppose the young heroes. Apollo will be on that side as well, Persi being a boy once is not something he'll overlook. He's a little too protective of Artemis. Hermes and Hephaestus can see each side of the conflict and will most likely remain neutral, while Demeter sees no point to taking sides at all. Hades has respect for Persi, and feels honoured by the choice of her new name, so he'll be on the side that supports young Persi. You will stand with Poseidon, sky and sea together, and your wife shall stand with Artemis, as the girls are showing quite a lot of fidelity to each other. So we have three neutrals, five for Poseidon's stance and four for Artemis'. That imbalanced break will never mend. If I have to stand neutral, they need Hephaestus, but he would be a distant second choice, and the rift will be long in healing."
Zeus nodded. In its current crisis, Olympus was going to split, and could ill afford it. The shorter the duration of this rift, the better. "Then you had best side with them. If you can rally some of the lesser gods and goddesses as well, we might keep the Titans' forces from gaining too strong a hand. And on top of that, we have to tell them the Great Prophecy. As if things weren't bad enough..."
The lines had been drawn, and Olympus stood divided. Lord Zeus had managed to talk Poseidon down from all-out war, mostly by reminding him they already had one of those to deal with. He was gruff and reluctant, but he let the others 'badger' him into revealing the words of the Great Prophecy. He felt it was far too early to burden their children with this, but it still had to be done.
"A half-blood of the elder gods," he began, a clear, unambiguous line to work with, he felt. "Shall reach sixteen against all odds, And see the world in cursed sleep, The hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap. A single choice shall end his days, Olympus to preserve or raze." Silence filled the throne-room. Then Persi shook her head and commented.
"Well, that's a real ray of sunshine, there," she muttered, loud enough for everyone to 'overhear' her. "But what does it mean?"
Apollo snorted. "It's actually quite clear, you know. A demi-god born of the big three, reaches sixteen, sees everything fall to a sleeping curse, loses his soul to a cursed blade, and then makes a choice about whether to save Olympus or not before dying." He was promptly glared at by the opposing faction.
Annabeth was working it over in her head. "It's awfully clear for a prophecy," she murmured. "Too clear. The Oracle has never been this straightforward with a prophecy since you blessed the first one with that gift, Lord Apollo." She tapped her chin as she thought.
Persi spoke up as the thought occurred to her. "Lord Zeus, could the term 'elder gods' be better defined? I mean is it talking about the gods of your generation, just the gods, the gods and the goddesses, or just the eldest gods? No offence, Uncle, but aren't you the last-born of the original gods? The whole thing seems as clear as granite to me."
The gods turned a newly critical eye on the wording of the prophecy. Apollo slapped his forehead. "Argh!" he exclaimed. "It's like Xerxes and the Hellespont all over again! Should you cross the Hellespont, a mighty army shall fall, she said. Never mentioned it was his army."
Artemis stared at her twin. "How did you get to be the god of prophecy, again?" she wondered.
Apollo grinned. "Lost a bet."
The worst moments were when it came time for dealing with the Ophiotaurus, Bessie. The creature was an innocent as far as the half-bloods were concerned, and Persi asked that it be spared. "After all," she reasoned with the gods, "if its death will unleash the power to destroy Olympus, shouldn't we try to keep it alive as long as possible?"
Muted agreement, and reluctant nods answered the question, and after an argument about where the beast would be kept, the Ophiotaurus received a new home in the throne-room, the heart of Olympus.
Returning to camp wasn't an easy thing for Persi, and with the gods manipulating the mist, all things in the mortal world that referenced Perseus Jackson now mentioned Persephone, although they did nothing about her grades. That, she was informed, was up to her. She was not exactly looking forward to her Mom's reaction, though. She still didn't understand why such a simple choice had been made such a big deal of. There was a line in the Great Prophecy that might refer to it, but she didn't see how. A single choice had indeed 'ended his days', in that Persi was no longer a he, but she didn't see how it could either preserve or destroy Olympus.
As the trio entered Camp Half-blood, with a nod to the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece and pine tree that marked the border, Thalia brought up the thought of she and Persi formally joining the Hunters. "With the confusion you pointed out about the Prophecy, it could be anyone who reaches sixteen that triggers it. You, me... even Katie Gardner, she turns sixteen in a few days. What more can we do?"
Persi thought carefully. "Just to be on the safe side," she said, "I think I might. But I don't feel right. I have this weird feeling that it's going to hit Nico... and I feel bad enough telling him we lost Bianca. He doesn't deserve that burden. No-one does. I'm not even sure we should give too much of our attention to it. Trying to decipher it could make it turn out against us, and trying to run from them never works... We should take it cautiously, and keep an eye out for events that might fit it, but make our own choices."
The others nodded absently as they arrived at the cabins, where they were promptly the centre of attention. As the other campers poured out of their cabins, and gathered around, they saw Annabeth, Thalia and a stranger. "Hey, where's Prissy?" called Clarisse, a daughter of Ares who gave her personal best to the goal of making Percy's stay miserable. "He finally kick it, and this is all you could get for a trade-in? Hey, new girl, let me introduce you to a tradition we have here..."
As Clarisse reached for the 'new girl', aiming to get her in a headlock and drag her off for a swirlie, Persi met the belligerent brunette's hand with her own, and pushed it back, at the same time hooking her leg behind Clarisse's knee, causing the larger half-blood to fall over and sprawl on her back. "I'll pass, thanks," she said. "I've seen you covered in toilet water once, and that was enough for one lifetime."
The larger girl rose angrily to her feet, ready for a fight, and launched herself at Persi... only to be dragged to a halt by Annabeth.
"Clarisse, stop it," she said as she dug her heels in. "You'll get the news when everyone else does, but for now, back off!" Amazingly, the daughter of Ares did, reluctantly, and very nearly growling, but she did.
As the trio passed everyone, leaving them all wondering who the 'new girl' was, and why she had a camp T-shirt and necklace, they remained quiet, with Persi in the middle. On reaching the Big House, they were met by Chiron, who took one look at Persi and stepped back. "Oh, dear," he said, shocked and showing it. "I can tell this will be a long story, and the three of you look in need of hot chocolate and sandwiches. You'd better come in."
The tale didn't take that long to tell, and Persi and Annabeth left out the detail of what had been said in Artemis' glade on Olympus. That was just too personal to them, and they still hadn't fully come to terms with it themselves. But everything else was laid before Chiron, and the hard thought he obviously put in after hearing their story didn't help their nervousness, especially his reaction to the division of the gods.
"Crows take it," he cursed, something no-one had ever heard him do. "Olympus can't afford to be divided now, not with the Titans on the rise and readying for war." While they agreed with him, the demigoddesses had few ideas on how to help him. Persi's observation about the Prophecy's seeming clarity actually being the worst kind of muddy ambiguity setting Olympus on its ear hadn't helped either. "So what do you plan to do from here?" the centaur asked them.
"Annabeth's already joined the Hunters," Thalia told him, "and I'm going to do the same. I'm not sure if Persi will."
Here the girl in question nodded, having made up her mind. "I will, too," she said as she did. "Where Annabeth goes, I go. Until she tells me different."
Chiron sighed. "Then that might buy us some time. Yes, I say 'might'. With this confusion about the Prophecy that used to be so clear, nothing is set in stone. I just wish that you didn't have to go through with this."
The Hunters had not yet left Camp Half-blood, and Thalia and Annabeth were packing their things to be moving on. Thalia admitted that she didn't have as much to do, not feeling comfortable enough to unpack her stuff in the first place, so she was mostly helping Annabeth with her things. Persi didn't see the point in taking most of her things, as they didn't really fit any more. Her wristwatch/shield would need adjusting before it sat comfortably on her wrist again, and her clothing was both tight and loose in all the wrong places.
Word had quickly spread throughout the camp about who she was, and she was tired of getting stared at. She had one last, self-imposed task to perform, one she was not looking forward to. She had to talk to Nico. She'd been avoiding it for too long.
She found him in the training arena, staring at the small statuette in his hand. When Persi arrived, the boy turned and glared at her. The rumours had even reached him, and the look on his face was produced by a combination of confusion, sorrow and rage. "You promised you'd protect her," he said, his voice flat and dead.
Persi nodded. "I tried," she replied. "I wasn't good enough. There was a point where one of us was going to hve to sacrifice themselves, or we'd all die. She wouldn't... she wouldn't let me do it. We never actually found her body, so she could be alive, the Oracle only said she'd be lost..."
Nico cut her off with a sharp motion of his hand. "She's dead." He bit out the words. "She's in Asphodel now, I can... I can feel it. And you broke your promise." There were tears in his eyes as he lifted the little Mythomagic statue. "I was obsessed with this game, and I wasn't there, bt you were. It should have been you, I know, I heard it. And when I woke up, there it was, this little trinket. It doesn't matter now, you know. I hate you, Persi Jackson. With everything I am, everything I have in me. I'm going to get her back, and then you will answer to us both. You will pay." He turned and walked from the arena, and the camp itself, leaving the sea-eyed girl crying as she watched him go, until Annabeth found her there an hour later, the discarded statue lying before her.
The Hunters had gathered their things, and were on the verge of leaving Camp Half-blood behind them. Thalia had sworn herself to her half-sister's service that morning, and had been immediately placed as the goddess' lieutenant, with Annabeth as her assistant. Persi had not yet sworn herself, however. "There's something I have to do first," she said when Annabeth pressed the issue. "I have to tell Mom what happened to me, and what will happen from here on out. I have to go home, before I can come home, if that makes sense?"
"If it did," the grey-eyed Hunter said, "I'd have to call you something other than Seaweed Brain, wouldn't I? Lady Artemis mentioned something about hunting muggers in Central Park in New York, we won't be that far away, I can visit if you want?" Athena's daughter had made little progress in navigating her own feelings, but she could see Persi's shining through. It was... not awkward, that would imply she didn't like how it made her feel... intimidating. Yes, it was a little scary that someone else would want her happiness to that degree, but it was also appealing... but there was her oath...
Persi saw Annabeth's eyes widen in realisation of some point, and her curiosity was piqued. "What is it?" she asked. "I know that look, you've had an epiphany, and I want to hear it now, young lady." She steadfastly pushed the 'epiphany' sequence from the 'Hook' movie back down inside her memory.
"Lady Artemis' oath..." Annabeth barely breathed, struck by something she thought she'd left behind forever. She swallowed nervously. "I thought, we probably all did, that it meant to leave romantic love behind us forever... but then why does it specifically say 'I turn my back on the company of men'?" Persi's heart fluttered and flip-flopped, or so it felt, and butterflies danced in her belly. She hadn't thought of that. Maybe... just maybe... Lady Artemis hadn't either?