"Can I get you anything else?" the kind waiter asked.
"No," Thalia told him. "I think we're good. You want anything else Annabeth?" She asked me.
I shook my head dejectedly.
"She wants a big bowl of ice cream." Thalia said. The waiter moved on, checking on some other guests.
"I hope you plan on eating that yourself." I stared absently at my spoon. "I'm stuffed."
She ignored me. "Have you looked at yourself lately? You look like a wreck. A guy who just went swimming through oil would look better than you." Thalia wasn't very good in the cheering up department.
Thalia shook her head. "That's not what I meant. You can't keep going on thinking like that."
"Thinking like what?"
"That he's still alive. That kind of thinking is dangerous for a Hunter of Artemis." Thalia warned me. She looked extremely worried.
"I can't help it Thalia. I miss him. And I know he's out there." I remember the light, the finality of the boom.
"It's been a year since the accident." She reminded me, like I needed that reminder. I wished I could forget all of it ever happened.
"We burned his shroud. We didn't bury his body."
"If he was still alive, he would've called you, found you, something. But he hasn't." Thalia looked down, her eyes watery. The waiter came back with a bowl filled to the brim with ice cream. Whipped cream and a cherry crowned the top. "He was my friend too." She said, barely audible.
The bowl sat on the table between us, neither of us wanting anything to do with it. The ice cream melted, untouched, spilling over the edge of the bowl. I left money on the table, much more than the bill was, but I didn't really mind. It was Artemis' money, and she could make the stuff appear out of thin air.
"Come on," Thalia said as we walked out. "We only got a couple hours to enjoy the Big Easy."
"We could go to a graveyard." I suggested.
"What?" Thalia face twisted into surprise. "You want to go to a graveyard?"
"Yes." I looked at her. "They bury their dead above the ground here. The mausoleums are supposed to be magnificent." I didn't tell her the real reason I wanted to go. Sure the tombs were beautiful, but there was someone I was hoping I would run into. A long shot, but I was willing to take it.
Thalia shook her head. "In the middle of New Orleans, and you want to go to a graveyard. Why am I friends with you again?" And she took off towards the river. I followed.
It was nearly dusk by the time we made it to the wrought iron fence that surrounded the graveyard. It was my fault. I stopped at every building, admiring the facades and architecture. New Orleans was a city built by history. You could see every age of history here, from old Creole huts, to soaring Greek columns, even the modernist view of towering skyscrapers. It wasn't New York, or Gods forbid Athens, but it was close. Thalia was getting annoyed, but she continued to humor me. I took advantage of it.
"Here we are," Thalia said sarcastically. "The awesome graveyard."
I ignored here and walked inside. The sun had just touched the horizon. Bugs swarmed in the muggy air. It had been a hot day and the humidity was killer. It was like trying to breathe in water.
Rows of graves populated the small plot of land. Some were simple, nothing more than a stone coffin. Others were more elaborate, fifteen foot rooms with decorated coffins inside. A stone lion sat atop one of the graves, guarding the dead inside. I looked around the graveyard, not really looking at the coffins. One had a caduceus emblazoned on its lid. The inscription read Will Statham 1994-2009. Below the date it said S.O.H. Mortals could stand here all day and only guess at what it means, but I understood. Here lay a Son of Hermes. It reminded me of Luke, and the thought wrenched my heart.
"So this is what you wanted to do on your day off." Thalia wiped dust off the tomb with her finger. "Come look at dead people."
"I wanted to look at the buildings." I corrected her.
"Which are full of dead people." She continued.
"I like the place," I said sheepishly. I moved on to another grave.
I explored the rest of the graveyard, but never found what I was looking for. Thalia was getting impatient. Despite the punk rock and strange t-shirts she wore, graveyards didn't seem to be her style. To be honest, the place was starting to give me the creeps too. It was time to leave, and I hadn't seen any sign of the person I was looking for. I was sure he would be here.
Thalia came over. It was starting to get dark, and she was getting nervous. Monsters loved the dark, and they would love finding two half-bloods to eat even better. We couldn't stay any longer if we didn't want a fight.
The wind picked up. "We should leave." I looked over my shoulder.
"Ya," Thalia said, glancing back. "I think that might be a good idea."
We were near the exit when I heard something scuffle behind us. I thought something moved in the shadows, but when I looked back, there was nothing there. I thought I heard a surprised yelp, but with the wind blowing, I couldn't be sure.
Thalia looked back at me with concern. "What is it?"
"I thought… I thought I saw something." I looked at the spot more intently, but all I saw was the side of a tree. Its' branches were whipping in the wind. "I guess it was nothing."
Thalia didn't look convinced, but I could tell she didn't see anything either. "Come on," she said. "Artemis will be waiting."
I looked up at the moon, her symbol, before trudging off behind Thalia.
We got to camp around 10 or 11 at night. Most of the hunters were already asleep. A few were up, sitting around the campfire. Our newest member, Kelly, from Washington, milled around the wolves, feeding them scraps. She looked up at me when we came in and smiled. For some reason, she seemed to look up to me.
Kelly smiled. "I still can't get over this. I'm feeding wolves." A pure white timber wolf delicately ate the piece of meat out of her hand. "My dog at home wasn't even this gentle." She said in amazement.
I managed a small smile, though all I really wanted to do was go to bed. "They're pretty tame. Just don't make them mad."
She looked up with concern. "What happens if you do that?"
Thalia spoke up. "Let's just say it can get really messy." She gave Kelly a knowing smile.
Kelly pulled her hand back on instinct. The wolf whimpered until she gave it another slice of meat. "Um, how messy?"
"I don't think you should have anything to worry about." Thalia gave her smile, but it wasn't a friendly one. "Yet."
Thalia walked into camp. I lounged around for a bit more, petting a couple of the wolves. "They like it when you scratch under their chins."
Kelly didn't look like she believed me. "Thalia. She… She was kidding." She looked at me expectantly. "Right?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "Can't really tell with her." I surprised a smile. "She's real mysterious."
She gave me another look but I couldn't keep the smile down. "That wasn't funny." She finally said.
I chuckled a little bit. "Thalia is the coolest person I know." Next to Percy, Thalia was my best friend. I didn't think it was possible to find a better friend. I knew I wouldn't even try.
I looked at Kelly more closely. She had her shoulder length blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore her silver parka, and beneath that was a t-shirt with a band name I had never even heard of. Her blue eyes sparkled, and if I had to guess, I would've said she was a daughter of Aphrodite.
She had been wandering through the woods when she stumbled on our camp. We had been hunting a drakon that had been terrorizing the locals. Artemis took to her almost immediately, and Kelly had hardly hesitated. She recited the oath within minutes of learning about our world. With the look on her face, you could tell she was still getting used to the whole 'monster and gods' thing.
I secretly thought she doubted the legitimacy of Artemis being a goddess. I couldn't blame her. When I met my first monster, I didn't believe it either.
"What's it like?" She asked.
The question caught me off guard. "What?"
"Being a hunter. What is it like?" She gestured around at the silver tents, the wolves, everything about this place. "What's it like to live in a world of Gods and Monsters?"
"It's not fun," I told her. "You have to fight for your life almost everyday. I would like to know what it was like to have a normal life." I trailed off.
"Having a normal life isn't what it was cracked up to be. Back home, there was barely anybody who noticed me, recognized I was alive. I wasn't picked on or yelled at or anything tragic I suppose. But nobody acted like I existed." She looked across the woods. The pain in her voice was clear, like it had happened just last night. I guess a couple weeks weren't much of a difference though. "At least here I feel like I matter. Like I'm apart of something bigger than myself. I'll finally get the chance to change the world." She looked at me helplessly.
I didn't know what to tell her. What she said had sounded eerily close to the second Titan War. I had mattered. I made a choice that changed the world, and for that opportunity my entire world had been ripped apart and set on fire. My heart had been broiled over an open flame, dunked in a freezing river and then rocketed into the sun. I never wanted to go through that again. Fate, of course, took that as a challenge.
"I know how you feel," I promised. "And don't worry; you have all the time in the world now. Immortality does that for you."
She gave me a small smile, which I was relieved about. I wasn't any good with this stuff. Giving life advice wasn't really my specialty.
I stood up, getting ready to walk back. "I'm, uh, going to go to sleep now." It came out awkwardly. "Long day."
"I'm afraid it will get much longer tonight." A voice behind me said. "I have some things to discuss with you."
I turned. Artemis was right behind me. Kelly jumped in surprise and knelt hastily. The Goddess gave her a motherly smile. "There is no need for that. We are a family. Not a kingdom." Artemis gave her another soft smile like she knew what Kelly had just told me. "Come," she turned to me. "We should talk."
She led me inside her tent. Stuffed animals heads hung low from the walls. A bear pelt covered the floor, and the fur was extremely soft on my feet. Thalia stood at the base of Artemis' chair, an annoyed look on her face.
"It's the Gods." Thalia rolled her eyes in disgust. "They are at it again."
"They're fighting again? What is it this time?" They had almost been destroyed by the Titans, and now they were trying to destroy themselves. You'd think after Kronos they would have realized they have bigger problems than each other. Guess not.
"I fear it is worse than just their normal bickering. My family does love to argue for some reason, but this is the brink of war." Artemis sat down heavily on her chair, startling the silver deer resting by it. "If something is not done, I fear they will ignite another World War."
"Please don't tell me Zeus' lightning bolt was stolen. Again." Thalia sighed.
I had to hold back a snicker. Thunder rumbled overhead. "Maybe someone stole his diary," I suggested. Lightning crackled. Close.
"I wouldn't tease the King of the Gods, Annabeth, even if you are under my protection." Artemis glared pointedly at me.
"Sorry," I mumbled, though I wasn't very sorry.
"But it is neither of those things. I do not yet have an idea to what it is. Only the three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades know, and it knowledge they are not sharing. Poseidon has demanded Hades offspring."
"Nico?!" I took a step back. That's why I didn't see him.
"What in Hades does Poseidon want with Nico?" Thalia yelled.
Artemis shook her head sadly. "The Son of Death has knowledge Poseidon wants. Both Zeus and Hades have refused the demand, though I suspect it is not for the same reason. I believe Hades wishes to protect his son. Nico will no doubt be hidden in the Underworld for his own safety. As for Zeus, there is a darker reason, but I do not know what it is."
I must go to Olympus for the meeting. Hopefully while I am there I can uncover whatever it is they are fighting about. And hopefully stop the war before we destroy ourselves." Artemis stood, putting her hand on Thalias' shoulder. "You are in charge of the Hunters while I am gone. Do as I would do."
Thalia bowed. "Yes, milady."
Artemis turned to me. "I want you to investigate this with Thalia. Hopefully we can burn this wick at both ends. I trust you to do your best. Both of you."
"You want us to… to investigate the Gods?" I asked, dumbfounded. "What happens when they find out?"
"I have a feeling they would incinerate you." Artemis said matter-of-factly. "I will do my best to make sure that does not happen. Lead the Hunters to camp. I will let Chiron know you are coming. He will also make sure they stay there, with the exception of you two. You may come and go as you please."
"As… As you wish, milady." I bowed.
Thalia followed my example. "We'll figure it out." She promised.
Artemis gave us a moony smile, bright and full. "Remember, this is centered around Poseidon. He is at the center of this. It is about something that is his, or was. I must leave you now."
Artemis started to glow and Thalia and I turned as she went supernova, leaving behind the smell of winter. It was refreshing in the dead heat of August, at least for a second.
I turned to Thalia, who looked flustered. "You know where we should start." I said.
"Yes," she nodded. "We're going to have to find Nico."
To anyone who can figure out what they were talking about, kudos to you. I dropped a some hints, but didn't make it super obvious.
Also, a small cameo from the End of Time, if you've read that. But oh well.