Chapter 18: The Creativity of Nothingness
Thalia woke up, her head throbbing painfully. Groaning, she rolled over and suddenly she thought she was falling out of bed. She stuck out a hand to steady herself, and sat up. She rubbed her forehead, her eyes still closed.
Where did she get this headache? All she remembered was..
The memories of yesterday came back to her. The Hunters. The capture. The torture bite. Luke's name. Luke.
She jumped to her feet, almost losing her footing. Shaking her head to get rid of the dizziness, she looked around and dropped again, her dizziness tripled.
She was in a floating... island, shaped like a teardrop of stone and soil. She dared not to look over the edge. She would probably bury herself under the ground forever if she let herself utter a scream. There was no way she would show them that they succeeded in scaring her. That would give them more ammo, and that would be quite unhelpful. She refrained herself from throwing up. With her body planted firmly on the ground, she looked around once more.
It turned out that she was in a large dungeon-like cell, though she didn't know how it was a dungeon when she was on a floating island. On her little island was a solid-looking mattress, plain and white, a single pillow on top. There was nothing more but a small green tile, lined with gold, right somewhere near the center. Thalia didn't know what the heck it was for, and she wasn't going to want to know anytime soon.
The customary iron bars walled in on the island a few yards away, the gaps too narrow for her to squeeze through; moreover, she wasn't even sure if she could cross the wide abyss before her. Through those bars—she squinted to see from so far; she refused to move from where she was—were a bunch of other prison cells.
Each looked different from the other. One was similar to hers: a small island, but this time, it was surrounded with water, and then the bars. Another looked just like a huge chunk of land that she needed a double take to recognize it. A few had mini zoos in them, the cages full of the same animal in one prison cell, then a different on another; some cells had various animals. There was also this one cell—it was rather nice—one with a flower garden in it. But the occupant looked as if he'd prefer to stay in his small patch of grass than push through the tall flowering plants that were guarding the cell door.
Come to think of it: all of them looked like they didn't want to move from where they were. Thalia understood the ones with lots of weapons and firearms pointed at them, but the ones with flowers, with food, with cheese; gods, she didn't know what was wrong with them.
But she had to get out of here. She was worried about the Hunters. What if they could be around here somewhere? It would be harder to get them out. Hell, it was even hard to get out from where she was.
She gazed across the chasm, out to the waiting cell door wistfully. Barely five yards separated them. It was so close, yet so far. How could she possibly cross to that?
Then from a distance, she heard voices. They sounded like they were coming from the hallway. Guards, she thought. They were patrolling. Their footsteps were loud, sounds created from the clinking of the floor to the metal underneath their boots. Two armored guards came into view, their helmets tucked under their arms. She squinted; she recognized one faintly, with blue feral eyes, furry, ungloved hands, and a husky voice.
A growl originated at the back of her throat. Once a traitor, always a traitor. She thought he had redeemed himself at the end of the Titan War, by killing himself to stop Kronos from fully rising. Looks like she was wrong.
The low growl made both of them turn towards her. The other went rigid, clutching his marble-colored spear dangerously, while Luke approached the cell door, peering through. His eyes met hers.
They were different from she had remembered, but alike at the same time. His eyes were no longer gold, no longer possessed; but his blue eyes were as bright as ever, as the last time they were a family with Annabeth. His eyes held a feral look to them, as if a wild animal was trapped inside of him, ready to be released and cause chaos. She thought it was only her imagination when they became that bright as he saw her.
"Thalia," he rumbled, his eyes widening as though he hadn't expected to see her there. "What.. What are you—"
"Doing here?" She huffed, glaring murderously. "I don't know. Ask yourself. You're the one who brought me here."
Luke pursed his lips, contemplating silently as though he hadn't heard her speak. He turned away and said something to the other guard. The guard grunted, somewhat pleased, and continued on walking, leaving Luke behind at her cell door.
The son of Hermes turned to her again. "Thalia. You need to get out."
She raised her eyebrows and sputtered out a scornful laugh. "Oh, playing the good guy now, aren't we?" She crossed her arms over her chest and looked around for an escape, pointedly ignoring his disbelieving gaze. "I'd rather stay here than go with you. Again."
"Come on, trust me Thalia," he said, then winced. Funny, she thought with little to no amusement, even he seemed to hear how silly that was, because it really was. "Just this once. I'll get you out." Softly, the girl heard the people in the other cells whimper in protest, as if they lost the ability to speak inside their prison. She suppressed a shiver, though the cell was anything but cold. Was that going to happen to her too?
"The last time I did, I got hurt," the daughter of Zeus spat at him. "Disappointed. Practically killed."
"I know you won't believe me, but I'm sorry. This," he paused, making wild gestures with his hands flying, "is all forced. Order revived me because Annabeth had wished, and I had no choice but to serve him because he'll kill us both. I don't know what's gotten into Annabeth."
"Well, if you're not updated, she lost Percy," Thalia informed him, glaring. "She went mad. She hates the gods for not recognizing him. But they do. They do. They celebrate his birthday every year. The Hunters usually don't, since he's a boy, and we only do when we come to camp on that day."
"Then why did she join the Hunters?"
She threw her hands up, exasperated. She fell on her back. "I don't know!"
"Thalia." The girl didn't answer. "Thalia. Thalia!" She remained quiet. She heard the boy release a low, wolfish growl, like the ones the Hunters' wolves make when they were about to pounce on their prey. Crossed, he stalked down the hallway, his footsteps as loud as thunderclaps.
After he was gone, Thalia was alone. For a whole minute, she was like that, still and soundless like a person who had encountered Thanatos. Then she punctuated the silence with a loud sigh. "Should I call for Lady Artemis' help now?" she inquired to no one in particular as she stared at the ceiling. She hadn't really thought that it would have a ceiling.
She sighed again. "They're not doing anything bad or good to me yet. So I guess... wait?" she asked herself, her voice lower this time. "Yeah. Not yet. Maybe I could still get out.." She turned her head and glanced at the ledge. She gulped. "But waiting is a better idea."
So she lay there, shifting and rolling prudently every few seconds due to ADHD, when nothing—no, the air above the green tile glittered, its colorful particles forming a shape.
Arc plucked out a random fruit from the stand. "What's this?"
His companion didn't reply for she was too busy looking around them in wonder. He doubted she would also know, anyway. Two guys passed them, and one—a pale and tall guy with brown eyes—glanced at him like he was crazy, while his friend—a tall blonde boy in a black jacket—smirked knowingly, his eyes never leaving the path.
"That's an apple, sir," the man handling the stand replied dutifully. The man pulled off the stick from his mouth—a cigar, he reckoned—and blew smoke. The boy wrinkled his nose in disgust.
"Uh, we'll take one," he said, giving the man a few coins. He dragged his companion off to the wilderness for some space. She struggled, whining.
"Oh come on, Archie! I was having a good time!"
"Watching people while they do their thing, okay," Arc said, rolling his eyes. "Because they don't feel uncomfortable while you do that." They stopped at the forest, staring each other down.
"What's that?" Enkeli—or Kelli, it's easier to think of her that way; as a normal girl, not a goddess with an extraordinary name—bent down to take the fruit off his grasp. He frowned as she examined it, her eyes lighting up.
He had never really thought about how his cousin looks. They never cared about it. They grew up together, like siblings, who usually didn't care how the other looks as long as they never tease each other about it. But now, he sure was ready to tease her about it.
They had learned from experience and changed into mortal clothes to blend in better; he had changed out of his usual clothing in Khaos (which, of course, looked unusual here on Earth) and into a simple red hoodie and jeans, while she, well, she had changed into a.. Uh... actually, he had no idea what most of it was, but it looked like a sort of a short pale gold dress... or was her top and skirt separated? He had no idea.
But it looked good on her, nonetheless. If anything, it might've been better than what she usually wore at Khaos (a black silk blouse and a skirt that was, of course, black) if he wasn't so used to her wearing that. Either way, both looked nice on her. She was still beautiful.
"An apple. Huh. Thanks, Archie!" The girl gave him a grin and took a bite out of his apple. "Umm. Tastes kinda like smoke."
"Kind of like? What does it taste?"
"Seriously, you haven't eaten one before?" Enkeli asked incredulously, but she offered the gnawed fruit to him. "Here."
He stared at it, before shying away. "Uh, no thanks. Let's just go." He started to trek deeper into the woods.
"Wait a sec," she said in between a mouthful, eventually following him. "Where exactly are we going?"
"Some place where mortals won't see us."
"I'll just teleport us to the camp your dad told us to go to and they'll think it's a flashlight."
"A flashlight that lights up every direction?" Arc queried doubtfully. "No."
"An imploding flashlight."
He stopped at a spot where the trees surrounded them, hiding them both on the side where mortals were more likely to come from. "I think this'll do."
"Great!" Enkeli stepped forward and began to glow.
"Hey!" He jumped on her and abruptly, she stopped glowing. The girl glared at him.
"We don't want any attention," Arc told her firmly. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He remembered all that his father taught him. He visualized a zipper, its metal hook hanging, waiting to be used. He imagined that it was not the zipper of—of something, but the zipper that locks the real world from a world free of time, a world filled full with nothing but space. He imagined himself reaching over and opening it, and imagined that inside it showed..
Nothing. He panicked. What did the camp look like? What did the arena look like? The cabins or whatever they call it? Maybe he'd visualize an empty room. But doing that had extremely high chances of teleporting somewhere else uncalled for. What could he use?
Names have power, his father had said.
The zipper was already closing. He concentrated on it again, widening the gap, and this time, had something in mind. Through the zipper was a demigod training camp, with more than a dozen cabins, a Greek style mess hall, a steaming forge, stables housing winged horses, a volleyball court, and more. He found the woods and looked for a secluded area.
He dipped his head in satisfaction and jumped in without preamble.
Arc stumbled on the way out, having tripped on a large tree root. Much to his disappointment, Kelli just floated on the way out. She landed next to him, her wings retracting back, just as a black truckload of furry mass collided into the both of them, pinning them to the ground.
They struggled in vain to roll out and avoid its incoming jaws. "A hellhound," he managed to groan out before they turned into a slobbery mess.
"Mrs. O'Leary!" A pale fourteen year-old boy in the clothes that Erebus would want to wear emerged from the woods. He herded the hellhound away, off them, and in an instant, both of them had jumped to their feet and had brandished their weapons, pointing them at the monster threateningly. If this boy wasn't killing it, then it must've been an acquaintance, however ridiculous that sounds, but they were still wary.
The massive hellhound yapped, its tail bouncing, making the ground shake. It sniffed at them and the shaking intensified as it started hopping. Arc barely managed to keep his footwork.
"W-why aren't you killing it?" he asked the boy, raising the sword to the level of the hellhound's fiery eyes. It growled at his black sword, but was wise enough not to attack.
"She's my pet," the boy said, pausing. "I mean my cousin's pet. We share her. Who are you? I haven't seen you here before." The boy regarded them coolly, though behind those calm onyx eyes, his suspicion was evident.
Kelli looked impressed that he had a pet hellhound. She lowered her angel dagger. "I'm... uh, Angel Nightshade," she stuttered, probably forgetting her cover name for a second. She and the boy turned to him expectantly.
It only occurred to him then that he hadn't actually thought of one. He racked his brain for something... "Arc Jackson."
His companion gave him a sidelong glance of concealed disbelief, while the boy stared at him blankly, his expression unreadable. Briefly, Arc wondered if he knew something.
Those thoughts were washed away when the boy introduced himself. "Nico di Angelo." Just like that. No offer of handshakes, no friendly smile. The only gesture he made was to beckon as he turned around, his hands firm on the hellhound, and started walking. The grandson of Chaos shared a look with the daughter of Nyx, and followed after him reluctantly.
"I assume you know about demigods already, and that you're one, given that you have weapons with you and are here," the boy called Nico began, his strides not faltering. "And are a little wise not to kill a hellhound at a demigod's care."
Arc could already tell that Kelli was holding back a retort. At least she was cooperating; that was a start. "Yes. We heard about the war."
At that, Nico turned his head slightly, raising an eyebrow. "You look sixteen," he mused, not even looking back to examine them. "It's highly unusual for kids your age to survive knowing about the gods, the monsters. What's even more unusual is for you to hear about the war."
The son of the heir hesitated, not sure how to react about a kid younger than them talking like they're the kids, so his cousin came in. "We were sent by a... god to help in this war. Our training had just finished, and he would like us to help Olympus in the war against Order."
"Hmm." They finally reached the end of the woods, and before them was the Greek demigod training facility called Camp Half-Blood. It would've looked fun, Arc thought, if they weren't training for a war too big for little kids. Or teens. The boy whispered something into the hellhound's ear, and it turned and ran back to the woods, vanishing into shadows. "Her first different reaction in a long time. Notable."
"What do you mean?" his cousin asked, peering over at the boy curiously.
The boy didn't reply but kept walking, much to her annoyance. The silence of the walk was uncomfortable. Arc was almost thankful that they'd reached where there were many people—crowded, but at least it fills the gap of awkwardness between them, keeping them busy. Kids from ten to fifteen were scattered throughout the training areas, battling with swords, spears, and bows. Mostly those weapons, anyway.
"Who is this god you were saying?" the fourteen-year-old inquired suddenly, and Arc almost jumped, startled.
"Hades," Kelli answered before he could open his mouth. So much for his carefulness. The God of the Dead was her favorite god. Arc never understood why, aside from the fact that they were both associated with darkness. He'd understand better if Thanatos was her favorite god, since they were both black angels and all..
"Hades?" Nico asked doubtfully, turning to really look back at them for the first time he led them out of the woods. His expression was calm, but his dark eyes seemed to drill holes of fear into their hearts, however much he was younger. They had stopped in the middle of the camp, much to the displeasure of the campers running to and fro to their training. The campers parted before them like a river to a rock.
The boy Nico stared at them for a long time, judging. He had aged eyes for someone so young, even younger than them, and it was certainly unsettling. Enkeli met his gaze head on, determined to not be proved wrong (even when it was) but Arc settled for looking at his new sneakers, not sure if he was ashamed of his cousin for lying to their allies or if he was encouraging it.
After about forever, the pale boy turned back around and continued walking to the Big House. He said nothing more until they got to the building.
He led them into a little hallway that ran through the infirmary. Shortly after that, he opened two of the nearest doors out of eight, one to the left side and the other to the right. He stepped aside.
"You'll sleep here until Chiron returns from the meeting at the main camp. You may explore this camp, if you so wish to, but you may not leave. Dinner is at seven; breakfast, likewise in the morning."
"Wait!" Arc called after him as Nico turned to leave. He raised an eyebrow, questioning silently. "What will we do after he comes back?"
"After he does.." Nico pursed his thin, pale lips, throwing them an impassive glance. "We'll resolve the creativity we must apply to you, Jackson."
"Their 'creativity' doesn't sound good."
"Trust me, it isn't."
Dinner had gone through, and the two of them skipped it. Strange it was for him to skip dinner—the mere thought of food would water his mouth—but the thought of stares and whispers made it intimidating. Enkeli had joined him only because she thought he'd be lonely. It seemed ironic though, that he'd be scared of these campers when he was a lot more powerful than them; then again, he had always been uncomfortable around crowds.
Sometimes, those things made him think. He was very similar to his adoptive father, emphasis on adoptive. It was possible, since he'd lived with him and trained with him his whole life, but they at least had to have some differences. Their erratic skills in archery could be a major one, and maybe their hair, which his was a shade lighter than his father's, but that was it.
Arc wasn't blessed by any of the primordial gods (as was his father but being the heir and having all those powers affected his looks slightly) but he looked like his adoptive father as well. He also had his powers, or some of them, and he didn't know who his godly parent was. The gods and Zoë seemed to be the only ones to know, if his people-reading skills were giving him the right information. It made him wonder if they were truly related.
"When do you think Chiron's coming back?" Kelli's voice jolted him back to reality. He looked at the inquisitive colorless eyes of his cousin. He supposed it was dull, since it was colorless, but somehow, it was... elegant. Simple. Like the color silver.
"I don't know. Maybe tomorrow." He shrugged, feigning nonchalance. He wasn't really sure what was better: tomorrow or the day after that. The word 'creativity' and 'resolve' wasn't helping. Surely they won't harm guests... right?
"Hey Arc," the young goddess said, plopping down beside him on the floor. They were in what he guessed was a sitting room, and he wasn't sure if what contains the room has somewhat of a connection to what it was called, but there weren't any chairs or couches for that matter. His cousin had been watching at the window, while he was on the wooden floor, Indian-style, making words out of the filthy, poorly dust-maintained floor. "I overheard a conversation of Mom and the others."
Instantly, Arc perked up. Any conversation of theirs that wasn't allowed into their ears had to be the least bit interesting. "Yeah? What about?" he asked eagerly.
She just shook her head. "I'm not sure. But I think they're talking about you."
"Me?" he asked, bewildered. "Why would they talk about me? When was that?"
"A few days ago, before we were told that you'd come down here," she replied. "And I'm pretty sure it wasn't about that. It's about your heritage."
"My... heritage?" It was a sore subject. Even if your surrogate parent loved you and made you feel loved however alone you are, like all adopted kids, it hurt that the parent that cared for you wasn't your real parent. It hurt that they, total strangers that they are when they found you, wanted to take care of you more than your real parents did.
Kelli nodded and leaned forward, lowering her voice into a whisper so as not to be heard by any observer if there any. "I think your dad's, well, your real dad."
Arc frowned at her. "That isn't possible. He didn't know I was on the moon until he found me on his way home from a mission."
"Yeah, that's true too," she agreed, assuming a thinking pose. "I suppose he didn't know that you're his son."
Ouch. That hurt more than anything. The feeling to be unrecognized by your own flesh and blood was terrifying. If it was true. Nonetheless, he felt his eyes sting.
"Arc? Hey.." The girl's face loomed up over him, her concerned expression floating in his vision like a rain cloud. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way."
The son of the heir looked down at his hands, faintly wondering what he'd done wrong for the Fates to give him such a life.
"Just—look, think of it this way," she started again, moving closer to comfort him. "Maybe your mother, your goddess mother, knew who you are. Knew that you're her son. Maybe, she'd find you just as you came here. It's a mother's intuition."
Maybe, Arc thought glumly. All of the possibilities ran through his head in less than a millisecond. Lots of maybe's, lots of what if's, lots of uncertainties. With the war going on and this mistrusted stuff, he doubted that he could even have a little breathing room to think about it. His mother could've come a while ago or now if she knew, couldn't she?
Feeling suddenly tired, his mouth could only help a murmur. "Yeah. Right." He stood from his position. Everything seemed to be a blur around him, as if his problems had decided to face him head on and literally stayed so closely in front of his eyes to be seen and noticed. Ignoring his cousin's futile protests to make him stay, he turned and made his way to the door. "I'll turn in for the night. See if sleep could clear out my doubts of this 'mother's intuition' stuff."
He was closing the door when Enkeli called out one last time, "Tell me if it works!"
The door sealed with a click. He rolled his eyes. He should really teach her about mortals and their new languages and all that hipster jazz. Last time he heard, gods and goddesses used it too. Especially some sadistic gods that he knew. *cough, Tartarus, cough*
It was then that the bed came into his field of view that his knees buckled from exhaustion. Because of what, Arc wasn't sure. He dropped onto the bed, asleep after painfully recalling the talk his cousin had with him. I suppose he didn't know that you're his son.
When he opened his eyes, instantly, he knew this was a demigod dream. Demigod dreams, according to his 'father', were normal. They may seem strange; it's that because they convey some kind of hidden message or meaning, or if you're unlucky enough, a vision that shows something bad—like death, for example. So should he be surprised to find himself in the middle of the sea, standing, and watching weird looking seahorses do dolphin leaps around you?
The waves parted, much like the Red Sea when it parted before Moses. Only, he wasn't raising a staff or anything. Soon, at the very end of the newly cleared pathway, was his father. Or adoptive father. He shook his head. However much of what Kelli was true, Percy was still his father, who had raised and cared for him. Nothing would change that.
"Arc," the heir greeted calmly, approaching him. He smiled and rested his hand on his shoulder. "How are you?"
The boy couldn't help but smile back. "I'm fine. I was with you just a few hours ago."
His father grinned. "Yeah. Well, it felt like forever," he remarked, and Arc, thoughtfully, recalled something about loved ones. When you truly love them, and they distance themselves, the time between you somehow stretches and expands that from the moment they stopped holding your hand, you long for the feeling instantly and feel like it's been days, weeks, when it was only hours.
He loved his father too. But from that conversation with Kelli earlier, for some reason, he needed some space and wanted to get away from his father as far as possible. Then as he looked at him now, he felt a tad bit guilty. He wondered if he ever used that mind-reading power on him.
"Anyway, there's something I need you to do," Percy continued, putting his hand down. "There is a Hunter of Artemis who chose to serve Order, a daughter of Athena, Annabeth."
His voice changed the moment he said her name. Arc thought this name was familiar, then it clicked; Annabeth had been a heroine of Olympus, and more importantly, his dad's ex-girlfriend.
"Her former sisters—the loyal Hunters of Artemis—are hunting her right now. For the past ten years in Earth time, really. They're having difficulty. I want you to help them."
"How?" Arc asked, raising an eyebrow curiously. Should he have not portalled into the camp? Then maybe he wouldn't have to waste energy portalling to wherever this Annabeth was, and they wouldn't have to deal with the camp's 'creativity' too early.
Percy exhaled slowly, pondering. "For now, I would like both you and Enkeli to have a lookout. I'll simply tell you when you should come in."
"Um, actually," he intercepted his father, his lips tightening. "Lookout is the least likely thing we'll be able to do. We're on lockdown. This kid, this Nico guy doesn't trust us."
"Nico..," his father murmured, almost like he knew him. "What excuse did you use?"
"That Hades sent us to help in the war," Arc blurted out, then winced, looking over his father's reaction. His expression was neutral. "It was Kelli's idea," he added quickly, defensively.
"I'll make sure he won't bother you anymore. By the time you wake up, he should loosen up towards you. Or at least, a little. He doesn't really like new people."
The grandson of Chaos raised an eyebrow. "You sound like you've met him before," he noticed, though it was quite obvious and he wondered for a moment why his father phrased it like he was some expert stalker. "Do you know him?"
The heir glanced at him doubtfully, before letting his eyes drift away. "He's a little brother to me," he told him, surprising the boy. "We're nearly the same age. But with all... personal things that's happened to him—as always when you're a demigod—he's become bitter and doesn't trust people. I try to make him feel welcome, while I was there with him, but now.."
Now that you're sort of dead, he was worse than before. I could tell, the adopted son thought, his lips twitching upward guiltily. "How would you make sure he won't bother us?"
His father's lips stretched tentatively into a constricted smile. "I have my ways," he answered vaguely. He waved goodbye to him, and the dream faded.
AN: Thank you for reading, have a nice day! ~SmartzyFan