Chapter 1: This is just the Prologue
If you are reading this I can only hope it means that the world is a safer place now, though logically I'm aware the world will never be safe for our kind. Still, as they say in the Latin, Dum Spiro, Spero – While I breathe, I hope. For my half-brothers and sisters these times can be particularly dangerous. I can only pray that you have no idea what I'm talking about, and the danger I am mentioning sounds as foreign as a conflict in a far away land that you have never visited and have no stake in. If it does not, then I wish you strength for the times ahead.
My name is Abner St. Claire, and I was born in New Orleans. Abner means "My father is a light" in Hebrew, which leads me to believe that my otherwise humorless Protestant mother had a comedic streak to her after all.
I am recording this not to tell my story – my own involvement is only incidental. I am the narrator. Unfortunately, I was also the one that caused the events to occur that may well erase the very existence of a true hero from our recorded history. For that reason I write, because her story deserves to be told.
The year was 1935. I was in New York over the dog days, at my summer camp. As you are no doubt well aware, this summer camp is anything but 'normal'...
Abner yelled as loudly as his voice would allow across the crowded field, duffel bag slung over his shoulder and weighing him down only slightly as he ran. The path was well worn from all those who had come before him, and would still be for all those who came after, but such thoughts were not ones to bother the teenage boy. He had finally returned to the place he thought of as home after nine long months away. Unlike the two girls he was approaching, he wasn't a year-rounder, so he arrived only when summer allowed him leave from school and a 'normal' life.
As normal as a son of Zeus ever got, in any case.
He bypassed Cabin One entirely, giving it only one dirty backwards glance – he'd have to go in eventually but for now he could ignore it in favor of the practice field and the two girls already in armor and practicing their swordplay – both favored the spear, but it never hurt to keep sharp on other weapons as well. You never could know what life had in store for you.
"ABNER!" The larger girl yelled, whipping off her helmet. Her chestnut hair was messy and barely restrained by the ribbon she used to hold it back. "COME ON! You can fight winner!" Which would, of course, be her. She didn't say it, instead greeting her friend with a warm grin.
Every generation has their hero, and Doris was ours.
Doris Fitzroy's entrance to camp halfblood was legendary even when I arrived. She was the youngest to ever make it to camp – though that wasn't what was legendary. Then again, when your godly parent himself shows up to ensure your safe arrival, that makes some proverbial waves.
And literal ones, if your father happened to be Triton, prince of the oceans and son of Poseidon.
Doris arrived in 1923. I didn't arrive until several years after that, but I certainly heard the story.
It was the worst storm that had ever hit the camp. We got some crazy weather from time to time when the shields could not hold it at bay, but nothing like this monsoon. The very cabins threatened to be torn from the earth, and all fires but blessed Hestia's were doused in the rain and squalls coming off of the shore. When the tempest finally died down enough for people to get their doors open, Chrion found at the doorway to the main house the God himself cradling a small girl in his arms. No one knew how old she was. Four, maybe five. Barely more than a baby, sleeping fitfully, like she had tried herself into exhaustion. Triton said nothing at first, no one dared point out that his arrival there was taboo. What do you say to such things? Chiron called for attendants and invited the Sea Prince inside.
The campers that remained with Chiron to attend the meeting told that all the God said was that Doris' mother had been killed, and he asked that Chiron keep her safe and raise her as he had done so many others. Who could refuse such a request? Like so many other heroes, Chiron could only accept the child demigod and promise to raise her as best she could. In an hour, Triton was gone.
From then on, Doris was the mascot of the camp. Our generation's personal Achilles, our Jason, our Theseus. She was raised as a hero all her life, and knew no life outside of camp aside from quests. Doris was something pure in that aspect, something from an ancient time where the world was more amazing and heroics meant more than they did now.
Along with Eunice, the daughter of Nike, Doris was my best friend.
They played a few rounds – Eunice and Abner trading off against Doris. The daughter of Triton always bested he both of them, so it was more a competition between the other two demigods of who could last the longest against her. She was never so crass or egotistical to offer a two against one or similar way of upping the challenge for herself, though she never refused if one of them brought it up first. They fought until the sun started to sink on the horizon, at which point Abner reluctantly looked to Cabin One with the growing trepidation that he would have to go there any minute to re-claim his bunk for this summer. His thoughts were blessedly interrupted by the sound of hooves as Chiron approached.
"Abner!" Chiron called nodding his head to the boy in greeting. "Good to see you made it safely." Something about his tone spoke deeper than that, though Abner couldn't tell exactly what Chiron meant by it. While he was generally good at reading the mood of a room, Chrion had his incredibly age on his side to keep his emotions hidden. 'Gladness' had nothing to do with it, Abner could figure that much. "Before the three of you settle in to your cabins, I'm afraid we must call an early dinner. There is much to discuss this night and I believe everyone that is going to be here this year has made it."
He didn't stay for further conversation after his announcement, instead moving on to the other groups of practicing demigods to alert them to this as well. Looking across the camp, Abner could see Chirons attendants making similar rounds among the stables and archery fields.
"'Much to discuss?'" the boy asked his friends as soon as Chiron was out of earshot, turning to them. They both stayed all year, and he was hoping they had an inlking of what this would be about. Doris shrugged, but she was rarely bothered by what she didn't know.
"It was something that happened yesterday with the Oracle." Eunice chimed in, quickly removing the armor so they could have it all stored before dinner began. "He hasn't told anyone exacts yet, and the Oracle's attendants are even being silent on the matter. They're usually very gossipy, so it must be something dire. ...I think it might have something to do with you, though. He kept checking in on us all day to see if you'd arrived."
"It's like he thinks we're your keepers or something." Doris said with another grin, giving Abner a hard pat on the back which shook him just slightly – Doris was stronger than anyone else her age, boy or girl.
"Well, isn't that true?" Abner asked innocently once he had regained his balance. The three shared a laugh, then went about clean-up discussing all that had happened over the winter so they could be properly caught up. Chiron did hate it when they talked during the council meetings.
Abner looked around the fire – less campers than last year. That was always a depressing thing to see. Admittedly some of them had 'graduated'. He was the youngest in Cabin One, many had been well into adulthood their last year, retiring from camp to go out into the world proper. Cabin Eleven was overflowing with children as usual – the terrible thing was that plenty of them WERE claimed, they just weren't claimed by any gods with cabins. That's where Doris and Eunice sat. Doris had an informal invite to Cabin Three with the children of Poseidon whenever she wished, as they doubted the god would raise any fuss about a grandchild rather than a child within the walls of his own, but she claimed to prefer the overcrowded rabble of the unclaimed and the inglorious. Harold Minami was there as well – he was probably 18, 19 – Japanese-American, another unclaimed year-rounder. Despite not being Hermes' kid, he had still become the councilor of the cabin and had been on many quests. Abner looked up to the young man to be perfectly frank, despite the fact that there was only about three years of age difference between them. He frequently sought Harold's council over that of other children of Zeus, though that hardly made Abner unique. Harold was known for keeping a cool head in all situations and having a sound judgment as good as any child of Pallas Athena's.
While Harold never told the tale himself, another camper that had been on a quest with him had stated that they did in fact meet Hermes on one of their adventures. In the privacy of the three demigods and the Messenger, Harold had asked Hermes point-blank of the God was his father. Hermes reportedly got a sad look in his eyes and said that no, he wasn't – but he was still proud to have the level-headed boy in his cabin just the same, and proud to call Harold one of his own if only by technicality.
"Yesterday, the Oracle has delivered to us another prophecy – not just any prophecy, however. It was a great prophecy, one that will mark generations to come." Chiron announced. He nodded to the small girl at his side, dark-haired and seeming so much older than she actually was. Their Oracle, she stepped forward to recite the words.
shall reach sixteen against all odds
And see the world in endless sleep
The hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap
A single choice shall end his days
Olympus to preserve or raze"
All eyes turned to Abner. He suddenly knew why Chiron kept asking about his appearance at camp.
"Abner St. Claire, I must ask – last we spoke you were fifteen. Are you now...?"
"Sixteen" Abner answered. "-as of the day before yesterday."
Later on people would express their sympathy for my situation. To be so close to being some prophetic hero of legend only to be one day too early to become him... but in the interest of full disclosure... I was relieved. Thrilling heroics was something I did because my options were thrilling heroics or death, it wasn't something I wanted or sought after. To be that hero would require far more faith in my godly parent than I had. Point in fact, it would require any faith at all.
Business dealt with, the rest of the meal passed without much fanfare. As usual, Abner scraped the offering into the fire not with a muttering of his father's name, but that of Basíleia Hera. It got him looks, it always did even after years of it, but he had been doing it since he arrived at camp and he wasn't about to stop now no matter what anyone else thought. The way he saw it, his relationship with his father was professional at best. Zeus spawned him, and that was where their connection ended.
And that was the way Abner liked it.
I suppose I should explain my hatred of my father. Such estrangement isn't that uncommon among demigods. An absent parent, especially in the twenties and thirties, meant social ostracism unless you could claim death of a parent in the war. Mother claimed my father was in the 339th Infantry and was one of the casualties in our intervention during the Russian civil war, but it was clear that a lot of our neighbors believed her only for politeness' sake. She was a nightclub singer, and like many women in that profession had a reputation despite her own faith. It didn't help that we always had to keep moving – monsters were attracted to me, and for several years the beat-up but reliable Ford was my home in between motels attached to the clubs mother found work at. It wasn't much, but it was my life. When I turned eleven, everything changed. Mom had a surprise for me – a summer camp, where I could relax for a change, not have to move and learn new schools almost every month. I wasn't terribly trusting for it, but mom said it was needed and so I listened with my usual obedience. So that's what I did. I was claimed on my first day – the only thing my father ever did for me. I suppose I was supposed to feel something like wonder, maybe joy at finally finding out that part of my past. All I felt was resentment and anger. If he knew I existed all this time, where was he when I needed him? Where was he when mom needed him? What gave him the right?
When they explained that parts of dinner were offered in sacrifice to the gods, I racked my brain trying to think of who to offer to, ANYONE but Zeus. Recalling the mythology my mother let me study I decided on Hera. She seemed to be the other person in the pantheon as bitter and resentful to Zeus as I was. On that day I endeavored to go as far as I could without his patronage.
He hadn't needed me for eleven years, I wasn't about to need him for however many came after that.
Chapter 2: A Quest
Abner awoke before the sunrise next morning, drenched in a cold sweat. The specifics of his dream were already quickly fleeing from his mind leaving him only with the memory of a sensation of sudden fall and that jolted him awake. Rather than stay in bed and fitfully try to sleep once more, he thought he'd dispel some of that nervous energy by a morning walk. Checking the time he saw that even if it was still the darkness of Selene's hour, rosy-fingered Eos was quickly approaching on her journey. It would be light by the time he made a full round at his normal pace, and he knew from experience that the cleaning harpies didn't make a fuss for this time of night. As quietly as he could manage, he threw on his overcoat and crept out into the early morning.
The cold, crisp air woke him better than coffee, and he liked the peace and quiet it provided. Most of the other campers were asleep – the only things he saw out moving at this time were a few dryads and a stray satyr. He nodded in greeting to them all. Abner had not intended to walk anywhere in particular, so his feet found their way to the beach front. The old wooden dock was 'their' spot. Doris had claimed it as such three years ago when she carved their initials into it along with a conch shell, a feather, and a lightning bolt.
Not paying attention to where he was going and wandering by memory alone, Abner didn't notice the figures in the clearing until he had almost stumbled upon the two. Years of battle training meant his instant reaction was to duck behind a tree to not interrupt in case of potential enemies. He couldn't discern out who one of the figures was – it could have just been a trick of the slowly blooming morning light, but Abner could have sworn he was glowing. Trying to look at him was like trying to figure out the exact shape of the sun by staring directly into it. The other figure was unmistakable even with the spot-blindness – the voice could be no one but Harold.
"I'm still not sure." Harold said, his voice hushed. At least, Abner could swear that's what Harold had said, though even his exceptional hearing was having difficulty at that range. "It feels so sudden."
"Sudden? I've been asking you for years. I don't wait that long for everybody." The other figure replied. "You know what's coming. I've given you that much."
"I do know." Harold said, though his voice was laced with doubt. "I just... need some time. There's going to be a new development, and I have to see for myself how it will pan out. After that, I'll give you my answer. I swear it."
"Don't let me down."
There was a flash, and Abner glanced back to see Harold alone in the clearing. His first thought was to simply ask Harold what what was going on – the older camper had never given Abner reason to distrust him before, and had always been as upfront and honest as a situation allowed for. And yet... and yet something was telling Abner this was not the time nor the place for such questions, and he had just witnessed something he was not meant to witness. As silently as possible he turned and ran back to Cabin number One.
At that time, I didn't know what Harold could have been talking about, or to whom. I admit, I assumed the worst. Looking back on it all, however, I can't blame him for what he did. Why he chose what he chose. Knowing what was to come he was between a rock and a hard place with no correct course of action to pursue.
When the day finally arrived proper, Abner was still wired from what he called his 'early morning run'. Everyone was in a tizzy during breakfast, as usual it seemed like Abner was the last to know what was going on and had difficulty figuring it out from the snippets of gossip he caught flying between tables.
"ABNER!" Eunice shouted to him from the table for Cabin Eleven, waving him over as he tried to weave through the mess to get to his own bench. "ABNER ABNER ABNER! Come sit with us!"
"Eunice, we're supposed to stay at our tables-" Abner began, only to be cut off mid-sentence.
"The rules can kiss off." Doris said in her usual air of elegance and refinement. "Sit down, it's just for a second."
Doris was as per standard hard to argue with. Abner bypassed his bench and sat down accordingly, between the two girls who shoved others aside to make room for him.
"Last night a monster got in! Most people agree it was a cyclops and the councilors took care of it before it did any real damage but the barriers are seriously failing." Eunice rattled off quickly, leaning in to whisper to Abner as if the whole table couldn't hear or didn't already know. "No one knows what's wrong, but this isn't the first time it's happened and we had a few lesser break-ins over the winter while you were gone. It's going to be trouble if they keep degrading the way they are. We need to do something so so so rumor says they're gonna send some kids on a quest! After that prophecy days ago, another quest! It seems a little too soon doesn't it?"
"Nothing we can't handle. You worry too much, Uni." Doris said, carving symbols into the years of graffiti on the table. Sometimes it was amazing there was still a table left under it all.
"Hey, do you know if by chance Harold was there fighting the cyclops?" Abner asked after a moment of thought, worrying at the inside of his lip. Harold had been out early, on his own...
Eunice thought about it for a moment, looking across the able to see he was absent – all of the other councilors were talking to Chiron in private before the morning meetings. "No, I don't think so actually. Maybe he was still sleeping? No one saw him anyway. I didn't even check to see if he was in his bunk this morning with all of the commotion."
"Yeah," Abner agreed quickly, running a hand through his hair. "Probably sleeping. Wait, here they come, I gotta get back to my table."
Breakfast proceeded as usual, with offerings thrown into the fire. As usual, Abner's muttered words were "For Hera", before returning to his table. Chiron broke the news to them rather bluntly, having rightfully expected for Eunice to have already made sure everyone knew – if she hadn't been claimed as Nike's own for some time now, one would assume she was a daughter of Iris at times.
"We need a volunteer to speak to the Oracle and mount a quest to restore the camp's barriers. Will anyone accept?"
The asking was merely a courtesy and a tradition at this point. Doris was on her feet in an instant.
"You know I'm good for it. Anyone wanna rock-paper-scissors me for it?" She asked the rest of the camp with a grin.
Doris wasn't just any hero, as I said. She was OUR hero. There was no quest she couldn't complete, no task she couldn't take, no monster she couldn't defeat. If Doris went, victory was not just assured, but assured with minimum losses and maximum rewards. It was always Doris when she claimed it, and with her, it was always Eunice and I. We were the golden trio, and in those days there was nothing that we couldn't do.
To the surprise of no one, not a single person offered to rock-paper-scissors off with Doris for the right to take the quest. She nodded definitively.
"I'll be back in a jiffy." She said with a nod, leaving her place at the cabin table and marching off to the direction of the big house with a purpose in her step. Abner and Eunice shared a look. If Doris went, that meant that they were going too. A quest it would be.
Doris returned half an hour later. Truth be told, Abner wouldn't have been surprised if the quest business took only ten minutes and she spent the next twenty chatting up the Oracle and catching up on lost time. Not that lost time meant much. The Oracle was an orphan from the civil wars in Russia and spent all her time in the camp, a year-rounder like Doris with no other life than the one that the camp provided. Abner wasn't jealous of their closeness, but he had the distinct feeling that sometimes Eunice was. She liked being Doris's favorite and closest friend.
When Triton's daughter returned she looked as confidant and triumphant as ever. As if she had in that thirty minutes actually already left, completed the quest, and came back with enough time to finish breakfast. If Doris ever had any doubts she never showed them.
"Got it." She proclaimed, as everyone went silent at her approach. Bypassing her table, she stood next to Chiron and recited the prophecy of the Oracle.
"Through salted lands of quiet death
The quest begins with a final breath
The birth of fire is the end
And a villain's role with time transcend."
Doris grinned. "Eunice, Abner, you're with me."
"I'll go too."
All eyes turned to Harold, who stood at the head of the Cabin Eleven table. Abner and the others hadn't even noticed when he arrived, all eyes had been on Doris and Chiron.
"'Salted lands of quiet death', that can only mean the underworld, and you need a guide to get there. I know a way into it that should be unguarded and allow you to bypass Cerberus."
"We needed water from Lethe's river in our last quest," the head of Apollo's cabin piped up, a girl – no a woman – about Harold's age, "That's when we found it. It's true, we never once saw the guardian of the gates."
"Traditionally quests are only completed with three, Harold." Chiron said with trepidation. "To break that number is bad luck."
"I'm not going on the quest." Harold stated flatly. "As a matter of fact... as of today I'm entering in my resignation as the head councilor for Cabin Eleven. I thank you all for allowing me to help you for so long, and making my tenure a pleasant one. However, I have other business to take care of that can't wait, and it takes me in the same direction. So, if Miss Fitzroy will allow it, she wouldn't actually be breaking the quest number. Merely taking a hitch-hiker along for the first leg of it. After that I'll be going my separate way."
"I've got no issue with it." Doris said with a devil-may-care grin. "The more the merrier."
She didn't care about the xenophobia of the general populace of the country – it didn't effect her, living at camp so long. As Abner looked across the makeup of their little party, however, he knew they would have problems. Doris was the only person who wasn't obviously mixed-race, and she was a young woman. Not that that often effected Doris. She had her own way of dealing with the misogyny of the times.
They spent between breakfast and lunch preparing to leave. Abner lent Doris some of his clothing – Doris was tall for a girl, and Abner was on the slighter side for most boys. Because of Doris's already boyish appearance and attitude, when it was required for her to leave the camp she simply dressed as one. Eunice and Abner also looked similar enough that they often claimed to be siblings, so there wouldn't be question as to why 'one girl' was traveling with two or three boys unescorted.
The plan was simple. The entrance that Harold knew about was across country, admittedly. At least they didn't have some time limit like "By the next solstice" like quests frequently held. Their time limit was more nebulous. 'If things keep up like this, we won't have much time left, just go as quickly as possible'.
According to Harold, places with high death tolls, especially suicides, were often signs as having entrances to the underworld. A bridge had just been built over a river in Seattle and apparently was attracting jumpers even before it was finished. Farther away than Los Angeles, but with less danger involved. They would take the train as far as they could, then hitch-hike the rest of the way if they had to. Doris was never very good at plans. She described her plan-making as 'Kick in the door and improvise. It's a very simple, two-step plan. You never forget it, and it never fails'.
To the train station the plan was to to just walk. It was a day out, but that was no problem for the four of them. Demigods were after all made of stronger stuff.