Tori didn’t really know what was going on. She’d been enjoying a game of volleyball with several fellow members of the Hermes Cabin when Katie Gardner came over to tell her she was needed at the Big House.
It was a short walk, taking only a couple of minutes. On the porch were Mr. D and a satyr sitting at a small table, along with Chiron in full-centaur mode and a young boy with black hair and tanned skin. He was holding a black horn in his hand. The Minotaur’s horn, Tori realized. The boy barely noticed her. His eyes were wide and kept flicking from one thing to another. Tori didn’t quite understand what was wrong with him until his eyes landed on her shirt. Then it made sense.
She had known already that there was a new demigod at camp, that he’d fought and killed the Minotaur, and had been unconscious for two days since. She even knew that most of camp thought he was a son of one of the Big Three.
But finding out he had a soulmate . . . that was new.
It wasn’t common for people to meet their soulmate at camp. Hell, it wasn’t common for people their age at all. But it did happen. It happened to her.
Tori made her way up to the porch, giving the new kid — Peter? Pierre? — a friendly smile. “Hi.” She turned to Chiron. “Did you need me, sir?”
“Yes, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving Percy here a tour of camp. I had planned to do it before my next archery class, but things took,” he grimaced, “longer than expected. I’m sure you can imagine why.”
Tori nodded, looking at Percy again. He wasn’t paying attention to her anymore, instead staring out across camp. From here, they could see the strawberry fields; a huge expanse of green dotted by vibrant red.
“Sure, Chiron. I don’t mind.” She waved her hand in front of Percy’s face to get his attention, then gestured to the stairs. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”
Percy followed her somewhat reluctantly, but Tori didn’t mind. Coming to camp, learning what you were, finding your soulmate . . . it could take a lot out of a person.
They passed the volleyball pit. A few kids pointed at them, saying things like, “It’s him,” and, “Oh my gods,” but Percy barely seemed to notice. Tori knew why, even though she hadn’t actually been told. Before he woke up, he’d only ever seen in black and white, the way everyone did at first. But now, without warning, he was being bombarded with colors: the blue sky, the green grass, the yellow sand of the volleyball pit. Even the purple of her shirt.
She tried to stay casual as they walked, not wanting to pry, but she was curious. Doesn’t matter, really. The whole camp will know by next week. It was surprisingly difficult to hide a soulmate bond considering most of the campers couldn’t tell the difference between orange and blue.
“What’s up there?” Percy asked suddenly, snapping Tori out of her mini-reverie. She looked to where he was pointing and frowned.
“The attic?” She shrugged. She’d never been up there herself, and from what Luke told her, she didn’t really want to.
“Does somebody live there?”
Tori considered the question, and shook her head. “No. No one lives there.” The kid had enough to worry about without adding weird, zombie-oracles to the list. “Come on. Lot of places to see.”
They walked through the strawberry fields. Scattered groups of campers picked berries while a satyr played on his reed pipe to get rid of bugs. “We use the money from the strawberries to pay for camp,” Tori explained. Because apparently the gods can’t afford a summer camp for their own kids. Go figure. “Mr. D’s presence makes the plants go crazy,” she continued. “He’s best with wine grapes, but he isn’t allowed to make those.” She wondered if they’d already explained Dionysus’s punishment; she certainly wasn’t going to. Just thinking about that guy creeped her out.
Percy, meanwhile, was staring at one of the little fruits. “Are strawberries pink?”
“No, they’re red.” She explained patiently.
“Oh.” He stared at the berry. He seemed to be thinking about eating it, but tossed it on the ground instead. He seemed upset, and it wasn’t hard to see why. His mom was gone, dead, and he’d woken up to see his whole world changed. She wouldn’t be too excited about strawberries either.
“Come on,” she said, trying to keep him from getting too caught up in the situation, “We should check out the woods.”
The forest took up around a quarter of the entire valley, with huge, thick trees. “There are monsters in the forest for practice, so watch where you walk. You should get a good look at some during capture the flag on Friday. I’m guessing you don’t have any armor?”
“My own what?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Don’t worry. We’ll swing by the armory later and get you a set to use before you can get something custom-made.”
They visited the archery range (her personal favorite), the canoes, the lake, the pegasus stables, the javelin range, the amphitheater, and the arena. “We have fights here. Swords, spears, nothing too fancy.”
Tori nodded. “Yeah. Sometimes we have cabin challenges, but for the most part, this place is for training. No one gets too badly injured.” She quietly added, “Usually.” In a louder voice, she said, “And there’s the pavilion. It’s where we eat.”
The pavilion had stone tables and benches, and even some columns for decoration, but no roof or walls. Percy must have noticed that, since he asked, “What do you do if it rains?”
“Oh, the weather just kind of goes around us. You’ll see next time there’s a storm.”
Finally, they made it to the cabins. There were twelve of them, planted close to the lake. They were arranged into the shape of a U, and were incredibly weird-looking, even to her, and this was her fifth year at camp. Percy stared at them with a mixture of shock and disbelief. He pointed to one of them and asked, “What is that?”
Tori looked to where he was pointing and winced. “Yeah, that’s Cabin 7, the Apollo Cabin. It . . . it takes some getting used to.” That was an understatement. The building looked like it was made of solid gold; sunlight made it almost impossible to look at, even for non-bonded people.
They kept walking. Tori answered Percy’s questions whenever she could, but he didn’t know anything, and she didn’t have all the answers.
He looked up at cabins one and two. "Zeus and Hera?”
Tori nodded. “Yeah.”
“They look empty.”
“A few are. Two always is, always has been. Hera’s the goddess of marriage, so she doesn’t go around having illegitimate kids. Eight’s Artemis, and she’s sworn to chastity, but sometimes her hunters stay there. But no one’s ever in one or three anymore.” Tori was ready to move on, but Percy stopped in front of Cabin Three. It was long and low, with walls made of rough grey stone. Tori felt her heart start to race when Percy peeked inside it. “Don’t go in there!”
Percy looked at her. “Why not?”
“Just . . . just come on.” She closed the door and directed him away from the cabin as quickly as she could. She relaxed somewhat when Percy came willingly, but made a note to keep a better eye on him.
Cabin five was bright red and hideous, easily Tori’s least favorite, even without the barbed wire and boar head. Rock music blared from inside, which she usually wouldn’t have minded, but she was tired and the music was way too loud. From the windows they could see Ares campers cheering on arm wrestlers or arguing. One of the campers was Clarisse, a bully about Annabeth’s age. She gave Percy an ugly sneer before she saw Tori and turned away.
“Do you know her?” Percy asked.
“Kind of. No love there.” Clarisse was the one who’d put her in the infirmary a few years ago after Tori grabbed hold of her electric spear. Tori herself was more or less over it, but Luke still held a grudge.
They turned away from the cabin. Tori was glad he didn’t ask anything about number seven. She doubted he’d be able to tell anything about her past with them, but she had no intention of reopening those wounds.
“Are there any other centaurs here? You know, apart from Chiron?”
“No. Most centaurs aren’t as intelligent as Chiron. I mean, they’re not animals exactly , but they’re like. . . like frat-boys. Yeah, technically they have human-level intelligence, but they don’t act like it. They can be pretty dangerous, so Chiron usually doesn’t let them come here.”
Percy thought about that for a moment. “Is he really . . . you know, the Chiron?”
“Yeah. Weird, right?”
“But shouldn’t he be dead?”
“Uhh . . . I don’t really know. I mean, I don’t think he even can die. The gods made it so that as long as heroes need him to train them, he’d still live.” She knew that much from reading the Greek myths. She didn’t think she’d have the nerve to ever ask Chiron himself about it.
They made their way to cabin eleven, the last one on the left. Annabeth was there, reading a book on the steps. As soon as he saw her, Percy slowed down, a blush spreading across his face. A thought occurred to her then. Wait . . . is she . . .
“I’m guessing you two have met?” Tori tried for subtle.
Percy blushed harder.
Annabeth stood as they approached, looking Percy over critically. Oh, this is gonna be a shit show. “Hey, Annabeth,” she said, wanting to see if she’d have any other reaction to Percy’s presence.
She gave Tori a suspicious look. “Hi.”
Oh well, that was fruitful. Tori opened the cabin’s door. Inside, it was packed with people, way more than there was actually room for. Sleeping bags decorated the floor, giving the entire place the air of a homeless shelter. Immediately, everyone looked up at them.
Home sweet home, Tori thought sarcastically. Most of the campers passed over her to size up Percy. He didn’t seem as bothered by it as most newcomers were.
“Well?” Annabeth said. “Go on.”
Percy listened to her, but ended up tripping on the door frame and almost fell. Tori sighed and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Luckily, no one said anything, though a few people snickered.
“Everyone,” Tori called out, “this is Percy Jackson, he’s the new camper.”
“Regular or undetermined?” someone asked.
Percy seemed confused, but Tori just said, “Undetermined.”
Everyone groaned. Tori understood their annoyance, but was still irritated. Come on guys, he just got here.
Just then, someone got up from their bed. Tori smiled when she saw him. Luke. Luke was nineteen, tall, and muscular, with soft blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and a long white scar just under his right eye. But what Percy immediately noticed was his orange shirt.
“Percy,” Tori began, her voice noticeably softer, “this is Luke Castellan. He’s the counselor for cabin eleven—and my soulmate.”
Percy looked between Tori and Luke before quietly saying, “Oh.”
The other campers laughed, but Luke gave them a stern, come on guys, not now, look, before smiling at Percy. “Welcome, Percy, we’re glad to have you. You can have that spot on the floor over there.”
Luke showed him his little section. Percy didn’t have anything with him except for the horn, so he just stood there awkwardly. “Thanks. What does undetermined mean?”
“It means they don’t know where to put you,” Luke explained patiently, “so for now, you’re here. We take all newcomers and visitors since our patron, Hermes, is the god of travelers.”
Percy looked around. Some of the campers looked sullen, some were grinning, and some were eyeing him like they wanted to pick his pockets. Hope he knows to keep his stuff to himself. “How long will I be here?” he asked.
Good question, Tori thought. “Until you’re determined,” Luke said.
“Okay. How long will that take?”
The campers all laughed. Even Tori let out a small snicker.
“Come on,” Annabeth said suddenly, “I’ll show you the volleyball court.”
“I’ve already seen it.”
“Just come on.” She grabbed Percy’s wrist and dragged him outside. The campers laughed at him. A few even woof-whistled. Tori ignored them all, instead taking Luke by the hand and pulling him over to her bed. They lay down side-by side, facing each other. Luke brushed a strand of hair out of her face, his other hand immediately going to trace the scars on her back. “What do you think?”
“About the new kid?”
She shrugged. “Powerful. Has to be, to kill the Minotaur.”
“Yeah, but did you notice what I did?”
Tori nodded slightly. “He has a soulmate.”
Luke smiled. “Exactly. Do you know who it is?”
Luke’s head shot up. “What?!”
Tori laughed. “I think so. I saw the way he looked at her. Do you think he’ll be okay?” Percy seemed pretty shaken after everything that had happened in the past few days. She was worried for him.
Luke shrugged, still stunned by Tori’s revelation. “I don’t know.” He rested his head on the pillow, looking past her. Tori didn’t mind. He’d known Annabeth for a long time. She was practically a sister to him. “Do you think he has something to do with what happened at the solstice?”
“I don’t think so. He seems so . . . innocent. He didn’t even know what most of this stuff is. I doubt he could do something so important as to piss of the king of the gods.” Then again, that’s not a very hard thing to do. . . No one was sure what exactly had happened, but sometime after their visit to Olympus last winter, something had angered Zeus. “I hope he’s okay.”
Luke ‘hmmed’ and wrapped his arms around Tori’s shoulders, pulling her closer to him. He smiled and kissed her nose. “Well, whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Whatever Percy was doing with Annabeth must have ended at some point, since Percy eventually returned to cabin eleven. Tori was pretending she was asleep so she could rest her eyes before dinner. She’d made it to the second half of Chiron’s master archery class and exhausted herself by making up for missing part of it, even if it was Chiron’s idea. Even before that, she’d been tired since she woke up in the middle of the night when Luke started to thrash around from a nightmare. He’d had them ever since he came back from his quest, but they were becoming more and more frequent lately. She didn’t mind waking up with him — he’d done it plenty of times for her — but it was tiring.
Tori looked over to see what Percy was up to. He sat down in his little space, looking lost. She’d heard about what happened with the toilets, but was in no mood to worry about what it meant. She thought about going over to comfort him, but it wasn’t long before Luke, freshly showered and wearing a brown shirt and the Hermes kid smile (trademarked), went over to him. “Found you a sleeping bag,” he said, “And I stole you some toiletries from the camp store.”
Tori smiled and rolled her eyes before turning back over, determined to get some more rest. Still, she couldn’t keep from hearing their conversation.
“Thanks,” Percy said.
“No problem. Tough first day?”
“I don’t belong here,” Percy said, sounding dejected. “I don’t even believe in gods.” Tori winced in sympathy. Been there.
“Yeah. That’s how we all start out. Once you start believing in them? Doesn’t make things easier.” There was bitterness in his voice that Tori found immediately familiar. She wanted to reach out and hug him, but she also didn’t want them to know she was listening to their conversation.
“So your dad’s Hermes?” Percy asked.
Tori heard the sound of a knife being pulled out. Jesus, Luke, don’t gut the kid. He seemed to listen to her since she didn’t hear Percy screaming in pain. Instead, Luke just said, “Yeah. Hermes.”
“The wing-footed messenger guy?”
“That’s him. Messengers, medicine, travelers, merchants, thieves. Everyone who uses the roads, basically. That’s why you’re here, enjoying cabin eleven’s hospitality. Hermes isn’t picky about who he sponsors.” Tori thought he sounded like an ass, but she let it go. Luke had a lot of hatred for his dad, and he didn’t always realize when he let it out on people who didn’t deserve it.
“You ever meet him?” Percy questioned.
There was a brief pause before Percy said, “But aren’t you worried about Tori?”
“What do you mean?” Luke asked, sounding stunned. Yeah, what do you mean, Percy?
“I mean, she’s in cabin eleven.”
“Well yeah,” Luke said, sounding no less confused. “She’s unclaimed.”
“And you’re not worried that her dad might turn out to be Hermes?”
Luke laughed. It was hard to tell if he was angry or not. “No, I know who Tori’s dad is. Everyone does. Trust me, she’s not my sister.”
“Oh. But then—”
“It’s complicated, okay? Basically, even though Tori knows who her dad is, he won’t claim her.”
“Don’t know,” Luke said shortly. Tori could tell he was struggling to keep his patience. “Don’t worry about it. It’s our problem, not yours.”
Tori felt her blood boil with anger at the thought of her father, Apollo. Her twin brother, Dan, was claimed by the god. But he never claimed Tori. She’d never met him. But she could remember when her mom, Diana, died screaming for him to help her. She didn’t want to meet him.
When Luke spoke again, he seemed to have regained his composure. “Really, Percy, don’t worry about it. The campers here are mostly good people. After all, we’re all kind of family, right? We take care of each other.”
Percy didn’t seem too convinced. “Clarisse, from Ares—”
“I know her,” Luke said with disgust. Yep, still nursing that grudge.
“Oh. Well, she was joking about me being ‘Big Three’ material. Then Annabeth . . . she said I might be ‘the one’.”
“Oh?” Luke said. Tori could hear the mischief in his voice.
“Not like that,” Percy muttered. “She said I should talk to the Oracle. What was all that about?”
Tori could just picture the scowl on Luke’s face. “I hate prophecies.”
“What do you mean?”
Luke was trying to stay casual, she could tell, but there was bitterness in his voice when he said, “Let’s just say I messed things up for everybody else. The last two years, ever since my trip to the Gardens of Hesperides went sour, Chiron hasn’t allowed any more quests. Annabeth hates it; she’s been dying to get out into the world. She bothered Chiron about it so much he finally told her he already knew her fate. He’d had a prophecy from the Oracle. He didn’t tell her everything, but he said she wasn’t destined to go on a quest yet. She had to wait until someone special came to camp.”
“Special? And she thinks it’s me?”
“You killed the Minotaur, you’re her soulmate. It fits. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If it’s meant to happen, then it will. And hey, if you need any advice, feel free to come to me or Tori. Especially if it has to do with Annabeth. We’re the oldest soulmates at camp, so we’re pretty good at answering people’s questions about them. Now, come on. It’s time for dinner.”
As soon as he said it, a conch shell blew in the distance, announcing dinner time. Luke yelled, “Eleven, fall in!” Tori heard people shuffling around as they made a line. She stayed where she was, not quite ready to move.
The noise died down. There was a moment of silence before someone stepped next to her bed. “Tori,” Luke said. She ignored him. “You’re not fooling me, Tori. It’s time for dinner.”
Tori twisted around until she was facing her soulmate. Luke was standing over her with a hand resting on the top bunk. One of his eyebrows was raised to form an amused expression.
Tori smiled and reached her hands out to him. “Carry me.”
Luke blushed while their cabin mates laughed and whistled at him. But then he did something she didn’t expect: he leaned down, wrapped his arms around her waist, and picked her up. “LUKE!”
“Yes, dear?” he asked sweetly, settling her over his shoulder.
“Put me down!”
“But I thought you wanted me to carry you?”
Oh, you bastard. The other campers were staring at them, most not even bothering to surpress their giggles, though no one actually said anything. Tori smiled slyly as an idea started to form in her head. “You know what, never mind. You can leave me here. I have a . . . pretty good view.” She didn’t touch his butt because there were kids in the room, but she was pretty sure he got the message. She couldn’t see his face, so instead she asked Connor Stoll, “Is he blushing, Connor?”
Tori grinned. “Thank you, Connor, that’s all I need to know.” She wasn’t sure if it was pride or determination that convinced Luke to keep carrying her, but he did, only setting her down once they were in the commons yard. Tori stumbled when he did. “Whoa, headrush.” She re-oriented herself, standing behind Luke in the Hermes line. There were several people from other cabins staring at them and whispering amongst themselves, but she didn’t care. Everyone already knew that she and Luke were soulmates and together, so there was no point in hiding.
They marched up the hill to the dining pavilion. Satyrs, naiads, and dryads soon joined them from the fields and lake and woods. Torches blazed around the columns of the pavilion. There were twelve tables, four of which were empty, but cabin eleven’s was way overcrowded. It was a tight squeeze even without Percy, who was only half-sitting on the edge of the bench. Everyone chatted as the campers filled the tables until Chiron pounded his hoof against the marble floor. They all stopped talking then. Chiron raised his glass and shouted, “To the gods!”
Everyone followed his example. “To the gods!” The wood nymphs came forward with plates of food. To her left, Tori heard Luke explain to Percy, “Speak to it. Whatever you want—nonalcholic, of course.”
Tori tried to look around him to see what he was talking about. “Would you move back? I can’t see Percy.”
Luke wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. “Would you rather sit in my lap?”
Tori rolled her eyes. “Stop it.” She looked around him to the newest camper, who was staring at them and holding onto a glass of blue soda. “You okay, Percy?”
He nodded, looking only slightly shell-shocked from the day’s events. “Yeah. It’s just been a long day.”
Tori gave him a sympathetic look. “I heard.”
Before he could ask what she meant, Luke passed him a platter of smoked brisket. “Here you go, Percy.”
Percy took it, but then seemed confused when he saw everyone getting up and walking toward the fire pit in the center of the pavilion with their plate. Luke nudged him. “Come on.”
They all stood up and approached the fire. Each camper took a portion of their dinner and dropped it into the fire. Tori dropped some grapes into it and simply said, “To the gods,” refusing to acknowledge her father. She walked back to the table before the boys did, eager to return to her meal. She ate quickly while people around the table spread the day’s gossip. Tori heard small snippets, mostly about Percy, but didn’t pay them much mind.
Once everyone was mostly finished, Chiron pounded his hoof again to get the camp’s attention.
Mr. D sighed in annoyance. “Yes, I suppose I'd better say hello to all you brats. Well, hello. Our activities director, Chiron, says the next capture the flag is Friday. Cabin five presently holds the laurels."
Behind them, cheers arose from the Ares table. Tori and Luke shared a look. Tori silently said, We’re going to beat them into the dust. Luke nodded in agreement.
"Personally," Mr. D continued loudly, "I couldn't care less, but congratulations. Also, I should tell you we have a new camper today. Peter Johnson." Tori resisted the urge to face-palm as Chiron murmured something to the god. “Er, Percy Jackson. That’s right. Harrah, and all that. Now run along to your silly campfire. Go on."
Everyone cheered and jumped up, heading down to the amphitheatre. There, Apollo’s kids lead a sing-along. Tori joined in despite her hatred for her father, grinning as she sang. Luke sat beside her, his arm wrapped around her waist. Tori leaned her head against his arm, genuinely enjoying herself as they sang songs about gods and ate s’mores and just generally acted like teenagers.
Later, when the conch horn blew again, Tori was perfectly content as she walked back to cabin eleven with Luke. She lay down on her bed and pretended to go asleep. Luke did the same in the bed to her right. It wasn’t long before everyone else actually was asleep. Still, she waited a few minutes before getting up. She walked as quietly as she could until she was standing next to Luke’s bed. He smiled up at her and pulled his blanket aside, patting the bed. Tori sat down, trying not to make any noise as she did. Luke settled the blanket over them and kissed her neck, smiling against her. “Goodnight,” he whispered. Tori kissed his cheek and murmured it back, quickly falling asleep.
Percy was kind of useless, as it turned out. Tori tried to help him with archery, but he was so bad that he was deemed a danger to the other students and banned from using the real arrows until he learned how to shoot straight. “Yeah,” Luke said when she brought it up, “he wasn’t good at foot racing or wrestling either.” His face was twisted up the way it always was when he was frustrated. “I just don’t know what to make of him.”
“Think he might be one of Hermes’s?” she suggested, not really believing it. He didn’t look at all like the Hermes campers, who all had a somewhat distinctive look: sharp noses, upturned eyebrows, mischievous smiles. Even Luke fit the bill.
It took three days for them to find something Percy was good at. It was his first sword-fighting lesson, and Tori was already nervous about that. She double checked that they had a first aid kit in the arena, just in case.
Luke was their instructor since he was one of the best sword-fighters in camp (Tori actually liked to think he was the best, but people got upset when she said that). She didn’t really like to train with anyone else, but she thought he might need some help that day, so she joined him in teaching the other campers. It was the beginners class, so they started with basic stuff, stabbing and slashing. The kids had to use stuffed straw dummies so that they wouldn’t hurt each other on accident (hurting each other on purpose was okay). Tori internally sighed in relief when she saw that Percy was actually doing alright for once. The only problem was that none of the practice swords seemed to be the right size for him.
Once everyone seemed to more or less know what they were doing, they moved onto dueling in pairs. Usually she’d be with Luke, but he wanted help Percy today to make sure he got it. And, okay , maybe she was feeling a bit resentful of that, so she told Percy, “Good luck. Luke’s the best swordsman in the last three hundred years.” She smiled proudly.
“Maybe he’ll go easy on me,” Percy said nervously. Tori tried not to laugh.
She was paired with Chris Rodriguez, who was good with a sword, even if he wasn’t Luke. She didn’t want to be tired for her and Luke’s private sparring session later, so she mostly kept to defense. Even then, her long sleeves made it so she was sweating by the end.
Still, it felt like no time at all when Luke called for a break. She joined Luke by the water coolers.
“Chris can barely touch you,” Luke said, practically beaming as he poured water over his head.
Tori shrugged. She’d been at camp for years, and had been training with Luke since her first month. It was difficult for most people to catch up with her. “No one can but you.” It took her a moment (and Luke’s suggestive eyebrow wriggle) to realize the double-meaning in what she said. “Shut up. How's Percy doing?"
Luke thought about it. "Needs a lot work, but okay for his first week here. He needs a better sword, though." Once their break was done, Luke turned back to the class. "Okay, everybody circle up!” They obeyed, Tori going to stand so that his back was to her. “Now, if Percy doesn't mind, I'd like to give you a little demo."
The other campers barely surpressed their smiles. Tori rolled her eyes good naturedly. Go easy on him, bear. ‘Boo bear’ was what Tori half-jokingly called Luke. They had agreed that she could only call him that in private though, so most of the time she just said ‘bear’, which was significantly more manly.
Luke explained that he was going to demonstrate a disarming technique: how to twist your enemy’s blade with the flat of your sword so that they dropped their weapon. “This is difficult,” he told them. “I’ve had it used against me.” Tori smiled. Ah, memories. “No laughing at Percy, now. Most swordsmen have to work years to master this technique.” He showed them how to do it in slow motion the first time. Once Percy picked his sowrd back up, Luke said, “Now in real time. We’ll keep going until one of us pulls it off. Ready, Percy?”
Percy did surprisingly well, managing to hold Luke off. Tori was shocked to see him actually attempt the move. Luke deflected it, but after that, he pushed forward with more force, his eyes narrowing as he did.
Then Percy did something that surprised everyone: he tried the move, and it actually worked . Luke’s sword rattled against the floor as they all stared at Percy in silence. He lowered his sword awkwardly. “Um, sorry.”
Tori watched Luke, worried about his reaction, but finally he smiled. “Sorry? By the gods, Percy, why are you sorry? Show me that again!”
Tori let out a breath of relief; Luke could get very competetive sometimes, and she was glad he wasn’t taking it out on the new kid.
This time, Luke disarmed him almost immediately. The balance of the universe was restored.
They all stared in silence before someone said, “Beginner’s luck?”
Luke wiped the sweat from his brow, looking at Percy with new interest. He shrugged. “Maybe. But I wonder what Percy could do with a balanced sword.”
Class was dismissed shortly afterwards. Luke and Tori went for a walk through the strawberry fields together. “So, what do you think of him?” Tori asked.
Luke shrugged. Tori couldn’t tell if he was genuinely upset or just confused. “I don’t know. I don’t think it was just luck.”
“Yeah, neither did I. I don’t know what it is, though. I mean, he seems like a nice kid, but something about him is just. . . off, somehow. Ever since he got here, I’ve had this feeling that something bad is coming. Like a storm. Or a hurricane.”
She felt stupid for even feeling it in the first place, but Luke seemed to understand. He wrapped an arm around Tori’s shouders and pulled her closer, kissing her temple. “Well, don’t worry. Because anything that comes for you is going to have to get through me first.”
Tori smiled at him. “Promise?”
Luke ran his thumb over her sea glass bracelet. “Promise.”
As dinner ended, Tori fixed her shiny blonde hair into a milkmaid braid with all the seriousness of a priest making a sacrifice. Time to kick some ass.
It was finally time for capture the flag. Campers yelled and cheered as three kids from Athena’s cabin ran into the dining pavilion carrying a silk banner. It was grey like they usually were since most campers couldn’t see color, and had a picture of a barn owl flying over an olive tree. Tori joined her cabinmates in booing as Clarisse and her siblings ran in with another one that was a truly awful shade of red (Seriously, what’s the point of making it color when no one in Ares’s cabin can even see it?), and had a picture of a bloody spear and a boar’s head on it.
Percy shouted at Luke, “Those are the flags?” Tori could barely hear him over the noise, but she was sorely tampted to say ‘No, those are our new swimsuits. Do you want the grey or the red?’
Luke just said, “Yeah.”
“Do Ares and Athena always lead the teams?”
“No. But often, yeah.”
“What happens if someone else captures one? Do we repaint it?”
Luke grinned at the new camper. “You’ll see. But first we have to get it.”
“Whose side are we on?”
“We’ve made a temporary alliance with Athena,” Luke explained, “Tonight, we get the flag from Ares. And you are going to help.”
Tori almost wondered why he bothered explaining since the teams were announced a moment later. It was Athena with Apollo and Hermes (the biggest cabins at camp) versus Ares, Dionysus, Demeter, Aphrodite and Hephaestus. Tori sized up their competition. Ares and Hephaestus were both tough, and Hephaestus might bring some tech to the competetion, but the Ares kids had no mind for strategy and were easily goaded. She didn’t bother planning for Aphrodite’s kids since they never participated unless someone on the opposite team had offended them somehow. Demeter only had a few kids, and they weren’t very aggressive or competetive, but they were good with outdoorsy stuff, so she could see them being a problem. Dionysus only had two kids who were fairly good athletes, but ultimately, Tori decided that with Apollo’s arrows, Athena’s brains, Hermes’s tricks, Luke and Annabeth’s leadership, and sheer numbers, they ought to be good.
Before they could leave, they had to listen to Chiron explain the rules, again. “Heroes! You know the rules. The creek is the boundary line. The entire forest is fair game. All magic items are allowed. The banner must be prominently displayed, and have no more than two guards. Prisoners may be disarmed, but may not be bound or gagged.” Thank gods. “No killing or maiming is allowed. I will serve as a referee and battle field medic. Arm yourselves!” Chiron spread his hands wide, causing the dinner tables to suddenly be covered with helmets, swords, spears, shields, and bow and arrow sets.
Tori only took a helmet from the table; she already had her own sword, bow, and a quiver full of arrows with special colored feathers (you couldn’t really use a shield when you were shooting). Percy, on the other hand, seemed shocked. “We’re really supposed to use these?”
Tori and Luke looked at each other, then at Percy. “Kid,” Tori began, “I know you’re new, but around here, we don’t believe in using toys or props. Remember, when you’re fighting monsters, it’s for real, so you want to know how to actually use this stuff for real.”
Luke nodded and handed Percy a set of equipment. “Here, Chiron thought these would fit. You’re on border patrol.”
Tori didn’t know what exactly Annabeth and Luke were planning for Percy (Probably nothing lethal), but she was with the archers from Cabin 7, as usual. Their team’s helmets all had blue plumes — Tori’s favorite color. Ares and co. had red plumes.
Annabeth yelled, “Blue team, forward!” Tori wondered how she felt, being about to actually see their team’s color now. She shook off the thought and joined the others in following her to the south woods. The red team taunted them as they went north.
Percy and Annabeth spoke together as they marched. Tori absently began humming ‘Can you feel the love tonight?’ until Luke gave her an amused look. Percy was stationed alone alongside a little creek that gurgled happily. Tori joined the Apollo campers, trying to ignore the awkward feeling she got from being around them. One of them, Dan, said, “Hey.” Tori awkwardly returned the greeting. Dan was especially hard to be around, seeing as he was her twin. And claimed. And he hated Luke. Yay.
They forged forward into the woods. Whenever they came across an opponent, they shot, disarmed, and captured them. Tori would dispatch one Apollo camper to take them back to their team’s little prison. The farther they went, the more people they found. Their group grew smaller and smaller, but Tori wasn’t worried. All they had to do was thin the other team’s members so that Luke would be able to get the flag. Her fellow campers didn’t bother to talk to her, either because she was so serious or because they were aware of how awkward the situation was. Either way, she was busy concentrating on the game.
Soon, they found the red flag. Luke’s probably close. Tori ordered her three remaining teammates into the trees so they could shoot for the guards. They had shields, but Tori and Dan were to their backs. At her signal, they both shot at the guards’ weapon-hands. Tori’s guard shouted out in pain and clutched their hand, dropping their shield. Tori smiled triumphantly.
Unfortunately, Dan’s arrow didn’t quite make the mark. The other guard turned and saw them. “Hey!” Tori quickly shimmed down until she was close enough to jump to the ground. The guard, blinded by rage, ran for her, but she ducked out of their way at the last moment and hit the back of their neck with her sword. “Ha ha,” she said with a mocking smile. The Ares camper’s eyes blazed in anger, and they started swinging their sword at her.
Tori returned their swipes and pushed them farther and farther back. Dan and the other two were now furiously battling the other guard, leaving the space around the flag wide open. Just as the person fighting Tori seemed to realize this, Luke sprinted out of the woods. The Ares kid tried to get to him, but Tori tackled them to the ground. She wanted to shout ‘Go Luke!’, but was afraid of drawing the red team’s attention. Luckily, someone else did it for her. “Go Luke!” shouted a Hermes camper.
Luke ran back to the south woods, flanked by a couple of Hermes guys who covered him. Tori used the but of her sword to hit the guard one last time before calling out, “Archers, retreat!” They all ran after Luke, using their bows to fend off some annoyingly persistent Hephaestus campers. Tori was stunned to see Clarisse and several other kids from Cabin 5 alongside the creek fighting Percy, who actually seemed to be holding his own. As soon as they saw Luke, they tried desperately to follow him, but he was too fast, dashing past them with ease until he crossed the border line. Tori barely even noticed the rest of their team joining her in cheering for him. She dropped her bow and ran over to join her soulmate as the flag turned silver and its picture transformed into a caduceus. Tori just barely managed to give him a kiss on the cheek before the blue team picked him up and started carrying him on their shoulders. Distantly, she heard Chiron blow the conch horn.
They were all so caught up in celebrating that it took her a moment to realize Percy and Annabeth weren’t with the others. She looked around and saw them standing next to the creek, arguing about something. Tori rolled her eyes fondly. Aw, their first fight. How romantic. She wondered what it was about, then shrugged. Probably nothing important.
Tori was about to make them put Luke down when she heard. . . something. A growl. No, not just a growl. That sounds like. . . Her heart stopped. In an instant, she was frozen. Her feet felt like lead weights. She started shaking her head back and forth. No, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO—
Around her, Chiron and the campers drew their weapons, but Tori didn’t notice. She tried to move backwards, but ended up falling to the ground. Tears streamed down her face. She whimpered helplessly, like a child. Mom, where’s my mom?
Suddenly, someone wrapped their arms around her, picking her up. She realized with a cry of relief that it was Luke. Luke, Luke will protect me, Luke always protects me. Her hands scrambled for purchase along his chest and shoulders before she wrapped them around his neck. Luke, stay with Luke.
Someone was saying something. It took her a long time to realize it was Luke. “It’s okay, it’s gone, you don’t have to worry about it anymore, it’s dead, it’s in Tartarus—”
Tori shuddered and held him closer. “Promise?”
Luke nodded, squeezing her comfortingly, pressing his fingers into her scars. “Promise.”
Tori slowly nodded and pulled away from Luke, making to stand on her own two feet, though she kept one hand against his chest for support. “What happened?”
Luke looked around, not seeming to know what to think. “It attacked Percy.”
Tori started. “Is he okay?” She didn’t think she could bear to see someone else she knew shredded by one of those things .
“Don’t know. Come on.” They went over to where Percy was standing with Annabeth. His armor was completely shredded, and there was a deep-looking cut on his chest. Tori felt her heartbeat leap when she saw that the monster’s body hadn’t yet dissolved.
Clarisse yelled, “It’s all Percy’s fault! Percy summoned it!” Which was so stupid that even Tori, in her freshly traumatized state, rolled her eyes. Shut up, you dumbass. To her delight, Chiron said, “Be quiet, child.”
Finally, the hellhound melted into shadow, soaking into the dirt and grass until it was gone. Tori breathed in relief, finally able to listen into what Annabeth and Percy were talking about.
“You’re wounded,” Annabeth said, looking genuinely worried. “Quick, get in the water.” Wait, what?
“I’m okay,” Percy insisted, blushing from Annabeth’s attention.
“No, you’re not,” Annabeth said. “Chiron, watch this.” She helped Percy into the creek as the entire camp quickly gathered around him. Tori watched in shock as the wounds began to close. Several people gasped, but not because of that. Floating above Percy was a spinning disk of green light. In the center was a blue trident.
“It is determined,” Chiron announced. Tori and Luke quickly moved to kneel along with the rest of the campers, even Annabeth and the Ares cabin.
“My father?” Percy asked, sounding confused.
“Poseidon,” Chiron said, “Poseidon, Earthshaker, Stormbringer, Father of Horses. Hail, Perseus Jackson, Son of the Sea God."
The nightmares were worse that night than they’d been in years. She could see her mother and their apartment, not in color as she’d become accustomed to, but in the black and white vision of the unbonded. Diana stared up at her daughter with sad, accusing eyes as the hellhound attacked. Why didn’t you save me? she seemed to ask. I saved you. The monster pounced, knocking her mother to the ground. Tori screamed helplessly as it tore into her throat, and the blood was red, red, red—
Someone was shaking her shoulder. “Tori!” Luke whispered as loudly as he dared. “Tori, you’re having a nightmare.”
Tori snapped awake, angrily grabbing for whoever had woken her. Luckily, Luke expected that, and evaded her hand, whispering, “Tori, it’s me.”
Tori slowly calmed down, breathing hard. She whimpered, remembering the dream. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“Shhh,” Luke said, wrapping her up in his arms. He pulled the blanket up around them and gestured to the floor, saying, “Come on.”
Tori moved slowly, following Luke like a machine that didn’t know how to do anything else. He wrapped her up in a fluffy blanket and led her outside. At some point, he’d hidden a ladder behind the Hermes cabin. He went to get it now, leaning it against the walls. She followed him up to the roof, thankful for the blanket. Usually, she enjoyed hanging out with Luke on the roof, not the least because it was the location of some of their risque escapades, so to speak, but tonight she couldn’t seem to feel anything but fear and grief.
She sat beside Luke at first, but he wasn’t satisfied with that, and pulled her into her lap, stroking her back. Tori sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder, resting her hands on his stomach. He kissed her hair and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Tori laughed humorlessly. “What are you sorry for?”
It took a moment for him to say, “I’m sorry I can’t make you feel better.”
She shook her head. “You always make me feel better, Luke.”
He smiled. “Well, I’m glad for that at least.”
They sat in silence for several minutes before Tori said, “Want to know something?” Luke nodded. “When you went on your quest, for that first night I was a complete wreck. I couldn’t fall asleep. I just kept imagining something horrible happening to you. And I realized, if something happened to you, I’d never get the chance to tell you I love you.”
Luke stared at her. Tori kissed his cheek, her fingers running over his arrow necklace. “I’m glad I got that chance.”
Luke didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. He just held her closer, humming until she fell asleep. She didn’t have nightmares this time.
Percy moved to Cabin 3 first thing the next morning. Tori was happy for the extra space, but she was also worried for Percy. He was all alone in there, which on one hand sounded like what Elysium was probably like, but Tori thought he might be lonely. Especially since the rest of the Hermes cabin was too afraid to practice with him. Luke took on the duty of Percy’s sword training himself. And, okay, she was worried about the kid too, but why did it have to cut into their sparring time?
Still, Tori made it a point to seek him out after their first lesson. “Hey, kiddo. How’s your day goin’?”
Percy groaned. “I’m not a kiddo. I’m almost thirteen.”
Tori raised her hands in mock-surrender. “Oh no! Thirteen! Everybody watch out!” That seemed to make him feel worse, but it was still kind of funny. “I’m serious, Percy. Talk to me.”
Percy glowered at the grass. “Everything’s different now. Just when I started to feel like I might actually belong, everyone’s acting like I have some sort of horrible disease.”
“Don’t worry about them. It’s been decades since we’ve had one of the Big Three’s kids here. They’re just not used to it, is all. They’ll come around.” There was a long pause before she asked, “How are things with Annabeth?”
That made Percy’s face even darker. She might even have been scared if he wasn’t so tiny and adorable. “She’s still teaching me ancient Greek.”
“Oh. Well that’s good, I guess. You know, I tried to teach Luke guitar once, but he was so bad at it that I banned him from ever touching my guitar again. Not even to bring it to me. He has to put on these really thick leather gloves if he ever does.” Percy smiled wanly, not seeming to be in the mood to joke. “But you know, I was talking more soulmate-wise.”
The twelve-year-old sighed. “I don’t even know. She seems so different now. And things weren’t going too great before, you know. I don’t even know what’s wrong with her. I mean, aren’t soulmates supposed to accept each other no matter what?”
Tori considered it. “Generally, yeah. I mean, no one expects someone to stay true to their soulmate if they’re, like, a baby-juggler, but that’s usually the idea. But you know Percy, this is all new for her, too. I don’t think meeting her soulmate was even on Annabeth’s radar before you got here.”
“My mom used to say that you shouldn’t put too much stock in soulmates,” Percy admitted miserably.
Tori shrugged. “They don’t always work out, no. But most do. And I think you’re worrying about it too much. Despite what movies tell us, relationships aren’t built in a day. Not even soulmate relationships.” That didn’t seem to comfort him much, so she patted his shoulder and said, “Hey, I’m serious. It was three years before Luke and I even kissed, you know.”
Percy’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really?”
“Gods’ honest truth. For now, I think you should just act normally, try to be her friend, you know. And if you do that with everyone else, I think they’ll come around. You’re a good kid. They liked you before, and they will again once they realize you’re still you.”
Percy finally seemed to be feeling better. Tori was pleased by that until he asked, “Are you okay? You were kind of freaked out when that hellhound attacked.”
Tori felt her cheeks flush with anger and embarrassment. “I don’t like to talk about it.” She sympathized with Percy, and was well aware that he had recently gone through a similar experience with his own mother, but was in no mood to share something so private. “Have you thought about getting Annabeth an acknowledgement gift? You’re supposed to do it soon after you meet your soulmate, and it’s usually the guy’s job when it’s a boy and a girl.” Percy took the hint, and Tori happily listed ideas with him until her archery class.
Rumors saturated the camp like silk that someone had soaked in mud. Tori usually didn’t pay attention to them, but these were. . . worrying. By then, everyone know that something had been stolen from one of the gods. Zeus (or grandpappy as Tori sometimes called him when it was just her and Luke) seemed the most likely candidate from how bad the weather had been. Something had to break. Someone had to give.
It wasn’t long before something no one had thought would happen anytime soon did. A quest was issued.
And to someone who’s only been here a few months, too. Poseidon must be proud. Was she bitter? A little. The last time someone went on a quest, her soulmate came back with a scar and worse daddy issues than ever.
Tori didn’t need anyone to tell her when it happened. She knew. About the same time it started raining.
Luke came to get her, bursting into the Hermes cabin. Tori looked up from her book and frowned. “Luke?”
Without answering her, he pulled her to her feet by her hand. “Come on, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are about to leave! We have to say goodbye to them.” Luke searched his personal chest and took out a shoe box before jogging back to the door. “Come on!”
Tori started to follow him before suddenly freezing. “Wait! Hold on!” She ran back to her bed and rummaged through her chest before she found what she wanted. “Okay, let’s go.”
They ran all the way to Half-Blood Hill, which was something she never wanted to do again, only barely catching them in time. “Hey,” Luke panted. Tori smirked a bit to see that even he wasn’t above the horrors of a steep incline. “Glad we caught you.”
Tori didn’t fail to notice Annabeth blushing and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Come on, your soulmate is literally two feet away from you, woman. Girl. Woman-girl. What was I thinking, again? She was drawn back to the conversation by Luke saying, “We just wanted to wish you good luck. And I thought that maybe you could use these.” He took out a pair of high-tops from the shoe box that Tori recognized with a shock. Percy took them, seeming not to know what to think.
Luke said, “Maia!” White wings sprouted from the heels of the shoes, startling Percy, who dropped them. Tori chuckled as the shoes flapped around for a moment, reminding her of confused baby animals, before the wings folded back into the shoes, gone.
Grover beamed. “Awesome!”
Luke smiled at them. “Those served me well when I was on my quest. Gift from dad. Of course, I don’t use them much these days. . .”
He seemed so suddenly sad that Tori wanted to hug him. But she was sure he wouldn’t want that, so instead she waited as Percy thanked him. Luke seemed uncomfortable as he said, “Listen, Percy. . . there are a lot of hopes riding on you. So just. . . kill some monsters for us, okay?”
Percy promised him he would, blushing bright red. Tori chuckled to break the tension and handed her own gift over to Percy. “Well, I don’t have any magic items, but I noticed you didn’t have a copy of your own, so I thought I could give you mine.” It was a well-loved copy of The Color Thesaurus — the same one she got when she first came to camp.
Percy stared at it, seeming touched. “Thanks, Tori.”
“No problem. I don’t really use it much these days. You’ll probably get more use out of it, since you’ll be in so many new places. Hope you don’t mind, I made some notes in it.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’ll come in handy.”
They said their final good-byes. Tori actually did roll her eyes when Luke gave Annabeth a hug and she looked like she was going to faint. Again, right there! Hell, I’m right here! They finally left. On the way back, Tori asked Luke, “How do you think it’ll go?”
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll die horribly and never come back.” Tori hit his shoulder and laughed with him.
For a moment, Tori wasn’t sure what woke her. She hadn’t had any bad dreams; Luke’s presence was usually enough to keep them away. Then she realized it was Luke that had woken her. He was shaking in his sleep, sweat pouring off him in waves. Tori quickly sat up and began to shake his shoulder gently, sitting as far away as she could in case he panicked when he woke.
She needn’t have worried. Luke started awake, his eyes darting around wildly. “I’m here, Luke,” Tori whispered. “What’s wrong?”
Luke didn’t answer, only pulling Tori closer. She held him, letting his head rest on her chest and she drew her fingers through his soft hair. It was only once he stopped shaking that she asked, “What was the dream about?”
Luke was still. “I don’t want to talk about.”
Tori nodded. “Okay, then don’t talk about it. Just stay with me, yeah? Always stay with me.”
Luke muttered something and somehow managed to move them closer. “I will. I promise.”
They stayed like that for several moments. Tori almost thought Luke had gone back to sleep when he pushed their blankets away and said, “Come on.” He got up and pulled on some sandals, getting Tori a pair from her stuff. She wasn’t sure what he wanted, but she went ahead and got her bow and some arrows, just in case. Luke seemed to be following her line of thought. He took his sword with them, and they left the Hermes cabin.
Luke led her to the infirmary. Tori thought she had a good idea of what he wanted by then, but it was hard to tell with how he was acting.
The infirmary was empty, and filled with two facing rows of beds, each with a privacy curtain around it. Luke opened the curtain of the closest bed and crawled onto it. He faced Tori, giving her an exaggeratedly seductive look. Tori chuckled and rested her hands on the bed, giving Luke a slow, deep kiss. She pulled back, breathing heavily. He was looking at her with those perfect blue eyes, smiling softly. Still, she asked, “You up for this right now?”
Luke scoffed. “Are you doubting my abilities?”
Tori blushed deeply, muttering, “Not that. I just meant. . . after your nightmare—”
Luke cut her off by kissing her suddenly. He wrenched away from her just as suddenly, pressing their foreheads together and whispering, “I need you right now.” He kissed her again, and that was the end of their conversation.
Things didn’t get better. Luke was constantly jumpy. Tori was worried, but didn’t know how to comfort him. Mostly she just stayed with him as much as she could. That seemed to help, but he was never entirely okay.
She wondered sometimes if Luke was thinking about his own quest. Or worse, if he was thinking about when he came to camp with Thalia and Annabeth. That had ended with Thalia being turned into a tree, so she could definitely understand his concern. But he never talked to her about it. He always changed the subject when she tried to bring it up. Eventually, she stopped trying. There was no arguing with Luke about some things.
The situation was reflected in the rest of the camp. Fights began to break out between campers as people began to take sides. She was just thankful that the Hermes and Apollo cabins were more or less on Percy’s side.
She stood with Luke on the porch of the Big House, looking out over camp. It was the only place they could go to get some peace. “You think they’re okay?” she asked. They hadn’t heard from the kids since they left. She was beginning to worry.
Luke was standing behind her with his arms over her shoulders, holding her to him. He shrugged. “I’m sure they’re fine. If nothing else, Annabeth knows what she’s doing. She’ll keep them safe.”
“Yeah. I know. I’m just. . . worried.”
Luke smiled mischievously. “Tori. All this worry over another man. I might start to get jealous.”
Tori rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “That’s right, Luke. I’m gonna leave you for a twelve year old. You’ve figured me out.”
Luke squeezed her tighter and leaned around, kissing her deeply. “No you won’t.” He held her against him. “You’re mine.”
He kissed her again, harder this time. Tori would have been happy to stay like that forever, but then they heard someone clear their throat. Repeatedly.
Tori broke the kiss and made an exasperated noise. “What, what, what do you want?!” She turned around to see Percy and Annabeth staring at her and Luke from a circle in the air. They seemed to be at a. . . car wash?
Percy, who was blushing so hard Tori was half-worried his skin might not go back, said, “Um, hey.”
Luke let go of her and grinned, turning around to face them fully. “Percy! Is that Annabeth?” He gave Tori a smug, told-you-so look. “See, I told you they were fine. How are you guys?”
“We’re. . . uh. . . we’re okay,” Annabeth stammered, trying to subtly straighten her hair and shirt. “We thought that — you know, Chiron would—”
“He’s down at the cabins,” Tori explained to put her out of her misery. “There’s been a lot of fights lately, and he’s having trouble keeping everyone in line.”
Luke’s smile had faded. “Yeah. Don’t worry about that, though. You should stay focused on your quest. By the way, how is that going? Is Grover alright?”
“I’m right here!” Grover called, stepping into their line of vision. “What’s going on over there?”
From wherever they were, loud, booming music started playing. Luke tried to speak, saying, “Chiron had to — what’s that noise?!”
“I’ll take care of it!” Annabeth yelled back, seeming relieved. “Grover, come help me!”
“What?” Grover said. “But—”
“Give Percy the nozzle and come on!” she ordered. Gods, she’s bossy.
Grover muttered something unintelligible and handed Percy the spray gun before leaving with Annabeth. Once Percy was done readjusting the hose, Luke shouted, “Chiron had to break up a fight. Things are pretty tense over here. Word leaked out about the Zeus-Poseidon standoff. We’re not sure how — probably the same scumbag who summoned the hellhound.” Tori shuddered and stood closer to Luke. “Now everyone’s starting to take sides. It’s shaping up to look like Trojan War 2.0. Aphrodite, Ares, and Apollo are backing Poseidon, more or less. Athena wants to back Zeus, but since Annabeth’s your soulmate, none of them feel comfortable siding against you.”
Percy shuddered about something; she couldn’t tell what. A moment passed, and the music’s volume finally decreased.
“How are you guys doing over there?” Tori asked. “Chiron will want to know.”
Percy told them everything that had happened. Or at least, he said it was everything. He spoke rapidly, the stress seeming to drain from his body as he did. After a few minutes, they heard a beeping sound of some sort.
“I wish we could be there,” Luke said, “I’m sorry that we can’t help much from here, but I think it had to be Hades who took the master bolt. He was at Olympus at the winter solstice. We were on a field trip, and we saw him.”
Tori nodded her agreement. “He was really creepy.”
Percy seemed uneasy. “But Chiron said the gods can’t take each other’s magic items directly.”
“That’s true,” Luke admitted, “Still. . . Hades has the helm of darkness. How could anybody else sneak into the throne room and steal the master bolt? You’d have to be invisible.”
Luke and Percy shared a look, and Tori realized with a start what they were both thinking. “Do you think Annabeth could have done it?”
“Hey,” Luke protested. “It couldn’t have been her. She’s just a kid. Besides, why would she?”
Tori was still unsure. “She always wanted a quest. Recognition. Maybe she—”
“It wasn’t her,” Luke snapped, looking at Tori angrily. “She’s like a little sister to me. She could never have done this.”
Tori held up her hands placatingly, immediately deciding to drop the subject. He’s probably right. She’s just a kid. A half-blood kid on a quest to retrieve Zeus’s own lightning bolt.
Finally, the music stopped. A moment later, Tori heard someone scream in terror. “Um, Percy, what was that?”
“Yeah, you should probably handle that,” Luke said. “Hey, are you wearing the flying shoes? I’d feel better to know they’ve helped you.”
“Uh, yeah!” Percy stammered, seeming embarrassed about something. “Yeah, they’ve come in handy.”
“Really?” Luke grinned, his previous anger forgotten. “They fit and everything?”
Before Percy could answer, the mist started to evaporate. Tori could barely see Percy’s orange shirt.
“Well, you guys take care of yourselves,” Luke called as Percy’s image began to fade. “And tell Grover it’ll be better this time!” He tried to say something else, but Percy was completely gone now.
Tori watched the space where Percy had been, twisting her hands. “Do you think they’ll be okay?” I can’t believe we let a bunch of children travel across the country and confront the god of Death! What the hell?
Luke shrugged her concern away. “Don’t worry about it, wildcat. They know what they’re doing.”
Tori stared at him. “Are you kidding? Percy’s only been training for like, a month! We should have gone with them.”
“Well, we didn’t really have a choice. Come on, let’s spar for a little while. It’ll take your mind off of it.”
Tori sincerely doubted that, but went with Luke anyway. They’ll be fine. Probably.
Tori dreamed. She could tell it was a dream because it had already happened, but it wasn’t a lucid dream. She couldn’t control it. Rather, she had to go along with what her body did. For the moment, it was just kind of sitting there.
It took her a moment to realize where she was. Olympus. The visiting demigods had two halls to themselves. One was for the children of the gods, and another for the goddesses. Luke and Tori, along with two other couples, had a room to themselves since they were soulmates. They’d already done the (surreal) tour, and it would be time to go to bed soon. But Luke was gone. He said he was going to explore for a little while, and asked her to cover for him if anyone asked. She agreed, of course. He was her soulmate. She could hardly say no.
He came back while she was in the middle of restringing her bow. She smiled. “Hey, bear. Find anything interesting?”
Luke shrugged. “Nothing much. This whole place is overrated. Although there were some singers I thought you might like.” Tori was sitting cross-legged on one of the two beds in the room. Luke sauntered over and crawled onto the bed, wrapping his arms around Tori’s back and resting his head against her stomach. He yawned tiredly.
Tori laughed. “Ah, boo-bear. You okay?”
“I hate that name. Hate it.”
Tori chuckled and kissed his hair. “I know. Now go lay down.”
Luke yanked the comforter over himself and stayed where he was. “I’m good here.”
“Luke, there are two beds for a reason.”
Tori chuckled and got up to turn off the light.
What? Is this supposed to show me something? If so, she had no idea what. Maybe it’s just my head.
Her day didn’t get much better. It had been too long since Percy and Annabeth IMed them. The air at camp was so thick with tension that you could cut it with a plastic spoon. And Luke. . . Luke was being weird, okay? Just weird. I mean, I know Annabeth’s his friend, but we haven’t actually heard any bad news. Then again, sometimes no news was bad news.
It was only after they were done with Cabin Eleven’s sword training that she brought it up. “You okay, bear?”
“Hmm?” Luke looked up at her. They were still in the arena. Usually they’d already be doing their one-one-one practice, but Luke was moving slower than usual, muttering to himself.
“I said, are you okay? You’ve been so on edge lately. Is it about the quest?”
Luke quickly shook his head. Too quickly. “No, it’s. . . it’s something else.”
“OK. Then what is it?”
Luke sighed. “I need you to promise me something.”
Tori took his hand in hers, rubbing her thumb over his wrist. “Ask me.”
He stared at her with those ice-blue eyes. He was so intense sometimes. Tori felt like she was caught in a whirlwind, constantly thrown around as she tried to keep up. “I want you to promise me that no matter what happens, we’ll stay together. You and me, always.”
Tori chuckled, relieved. “That all?” She took Luke’s face in her hands and kissed him. “Of course we will, Luke. I’ll follow you anywhere.”
Luke let out a relieved breath and leaned his forehead against hers. “Promise?”
“Promise. Now, come on. There’s no fun in kicking your ass if you just stand there.”
Tori walked through camp, feeling her dread grow stronger each second. Why aren’t they back? There was less than a day left until the solstice, and so far they’d had no news from Percy or Olympus. Her nerves were strung as tight as a bow, or a very tightly-wound guitar.
Then, like the sun breaking through a cloud, they returned. Suddenly, the tension broke, immediately replaced with everyone celebrating the fact that WWIII hadn’t happened (yet). Tori cheered with the other campers, surrounding the heroes. They looked tired, but happy, smiling proudly. Percy even gave her a little wave when he saw her.
As the others gave Percy, Annabeth, and Grover their laurels, Tori turned to face Luke. He was smiling, but it was. . . strained, somehow. It didn’t feel right.
Tori bumped Luke’s shoulder to get his attention. “You okay?” She’d thought he would be ecstatic that they’d returned safely.
“Yeah. I’m great.” But he still had that fake smile. Tori doubted anyone else would even notice, but she could always tell when Luke was acting. But it wasn’t the time or place.
“Okay.” He seemed to realize that she actually meant ‘we’ll talk about it later’, since he immediately went to greet Annabeth instead.
There was a huge feast in the heroes’ honor, during which Tori sat in between Percy and Luke for once, though Percy was too busy eating to talk much. Luke was just as bad, paying more attention to his plate than to her. She tried not to be jealous.
Afterwards, Percy and Annabeth led a procession down to the bonfire where they burned the burial shrouds that their cabins had made for them. Annabeth’s was made of gray silk and embroidered with brown owls (Luke had picked out the brown since no one in Annabeth’s cabin could tell what it looked like). It was nice. Percy, on the other hand, didn’t have any siblings to make a shroud for him, so the Ares cabin had made it from an old bedsheet. It had gray smiley faces with x’s for eyes around the border, and the word ‘LOSER’ in the middle. Tori winced when she saw it. She had thought about getting the Hermes cabin to make his shroud, but Cabin Five had volunteered too quickly. Still, Percy seemed to really enjoy burning it.
She took a s’more from Dan’s tray, awkwardly saying, “Thank you.” Dan nodded and moved on. Everyone seemed happy; Percy was with his Hermes friends, Annabeth was with her siblings and Percy, and Grover was showing off his new searcher’s license. So, everyone was happy but her and Luke.
To be fair, she was happy they were safe and home, but she couldn’t celebrate when Luke was so clearly upset. I mean, he only had one cookie for desert! How does no one else see this! Yeah, he was smiling and laughing along with everyone else, but shouldn’t they be able to tell? Maybe it’s a soulmate thing.
July first was one of Tori’s favorite holidays. Soulmates’ Day. She woke up early and shook Luke awake. “Luke! Luke-a-book, wake up!”
Luke groaned and hit her with a pillow. “What?”
She smiled at him. “It’s Soumates’ Day!”
Luke stared at her. “And that requires waking me up early because?” He looked around. “No one else is even up yet!”
Tori rolled her eyes and pulled him out of bed. “Come on. I want to get there early.”
“Ugh. We don’t even have to be there at a certain time.”
“Well, I want to go now.”
After some more pestering, Luke relented. They dressed quickly in the bathroom. Tori wore a blue lace dress with long sleeves and her nicest ankle boots. When she looked at Luke, she saw that he was wearing a brown button-up shirt and beige pants with loafers. Around his neck hung the arrow she’d given him years ago now. She smiled gently and held it up. Luke smiled in return, rubbing her sea glass bracelet with his thumb. He kissed her, bumping her nose with his own. “You look lovely.”
Tori shivered. “You too.” She pushed herself away from him before they could get too off-focus. “Let’s go.”
Just barely in the woods, near the stream that cut the forest in half, was a tall white tree whose leaves were green all year. They walked there, taking their time, but were surprised to see that there were already two other people there. “Percy! Annabeth!”
The kids were standing under the tree, each holding a ribbon. They seemed surprised to hear her, but they recovered quickly. Percy waved at her. “Hey, guys. You here for the thing?”
“The tree? Yeah.” Tori held up her ribbon, then elbowed Luke to get him to do the same. Hers was pale blue, his a dark, earthy brown. “Luke, you wanna help me up? This dress isn’t the best for climbing.”
Luke chuckled. “Got ya, babe.” He gave Tori a lift with his hands, propelling her to one of the lower branches. She reached down to help him up. They sat together for a moment, looking out over the emerald-trees and crystal water. It was a beautiful day, with only a few especially puffy clouds in the sky.
Luke handed her his ribbon, and she twisted the two together until they were one. Once she was done, Luke took them from her and knotted them around the branch above them. He smiled at her. “There. Perfect.”
Tori moved to kiss him, but then she saw his smile wither a bit. She turned to look at whatever it was bothering him. Percy and Annabeth were adding their own ribbons to the tree, pool-blue and orange. Tori frowned. What’s bothering him? She resisted the urge to groan. This is supposed to be a good day.
They returned to camp for breakfast. There was always a mini-feast on Soulmates’ day, arranged into a rainbow. Tori absently filled her plate with berries, grapes, and some eggs. Luke seemed to be back in his good mood, but she didn’t even know what had messed it up in the first place.
After a while, Luke bumped her arm. She jerked awkwardly, turning to face him. “What?”
Luke smiled and held up a grape. It took her a moment to realize what he wanted. She sighed in fake exasperation. “Oh, go ahead.” Luke popped the grape into her mouth. She chewed it, rolling her eyes as their cabinmates woof-called them. It wasn’t long until she forgot about being upset.
The rest of summer was better, but things were still off. Luke never did seem completely at ease with Percy around. Tori didn’t think he’d even talked to the kid since he got back.
Before long, it was the last night at camp, at least for the summer-only campers. She and Luke had already made it known that they were staying year-round, so she wasn’t too worried about it. They had a large dinner before heading to the bonfire. It was there that the end-of-summer beads were handed out. Tori always liked that. Her camp necklace was the only jewelry she wore, apart from her bracelet.
Luke handed her a bead. It was ink-black, with a shiny green trident in the center. She looked up at Luke, who announced, "The choice was unanimous. This bead commemorates the first Son of the Sea God at this camp, and the quest he undertook in the darkest part of the Underworld to stop a war!"
Tori rose to her feet with the others, cheering for Percy and Annabeth. But out of the corner of her eye, she saw Luke. He wasn’t smiling.
The next day, Tori came back from archery practice early. “Hey,” she said to Luke, who was packing a duffel bag. “Connor said you wanted to see me.” She looked at the bag. “What’s that for?”
Luke smiled and gestured for her to come closer. She did so, standing a foot in front of him. “I have to go somewhere for a little while,” Luke explained. “For Chiron.”
Tori stared at him in shock. “What? Why—why you? Why can’t someone else go? Where are you even going?”
“I can’t tell you,” Luke said, looking contrite (which she didn’t believe for a second).
“Well, can I come with you?” I’m going to need a bag, and clothes, and—
“No. At least, not yet.”
“Why not?” Tori demanded.
“I can’t tell you.”
“When will you be back?”
Luke shrugged. “A few weeks, probably. Maybe longer.”
Why is this happening? Tori felt as helpless as she did the first time Luke left on a quest. Luke must have realized that, since he hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry. I’ll come back for you. I promise.”
“You better,” she murmured against his chest. Her hand rose up to trace the arrow point he wore. It was her gift to him from before he left on his quest. She’d hoped it would bring him good luck.
“I will.” They stayed like that for over a minute before Luke pulled away. “I have to go now.”
Tori whined, but let him go, watching as he gathered his stuff. Luke kissed her one last time. “I’ll see you when I come back.” Tori stared after him as he he left.
After she had spent enough time feeling sorry for herself, Tori went back to the archery range. It was empty now, so she didn’t have to worry about one of the more inexperienced campers accidentally hitting her with an arrow. Again.
Time fell away. Tori shot arrow after arrow into the targets, even purposefully arranging them into constellations. She practiced for far longer than she meant to. It was past time for lunch when she finally finished. Good thing I had a big breakfast, she thought as she left the building. It was then that she realized something was wrong.
What’s going on? Camp was so. . . quiet. She checked back at the Hermes cabin. There were less people there than there had been only a day ago, but it was still full. About half of her cabinmates were there, speaking in hushed whispers. Tori tapped one of the Stoll brothers on the shoulder. They both looked up at her. Neither was smiling like they usually did. “Guys, what’s going on?” She was starting to get very worried. Did something happen to Luke? That was too awful to think about.
“It’s Percy,” one of the boys — Travis, I think — said. “He walked out of the woods and passed out.”
“Is he okay?” Tori thought, hating herself for feeling relief. It’s not Luke. He’s okay. “Where is he?”
“They took him to the sickroom in the Big House.”
She thanked them and ran out the cabin, heading for the Big House. The infirmary door was unlocked, so she let herself in. Percy was propped up in one of the beds, his right hand covered in thick bandages. His eyes were open. Thank gods. Annabeth sat next to him, holding a glass full of nectar with a bendy straw up to his mouth, while Argus stood guard in the corner and Chiron sat in his wheelchair at the end of Percy’s bed.
“Percy, you’re alright.” Tori started to move closer, but Percy looked at her with such a death glare that she stopped instantly. Jesus Christ, are we sure he’s twelve? “Percy? You okay?”
“He should be alright,” Annabeth said, frowning. “Chiron got to him quickly, otherwise—”
“Did you know?” Percy demanded, looking straight at her.
Tori stared at him. “What? Percy, what happened?”
“Yes, Percy, I think we all want to know that,” Chiron said.
Slowly, still drinking his nectar, Percy told them. “Today, while I was in the arena, Luke asked me to go with him to the woods. I did, because I didn’t think there was anything too strange about it and I trusted him, but after we got there, he told me the truth. Chiron, he’s the lightning thief. He stole Zeus’s thunderbolt, and he’s working for Kronos. He tried to kill me.”
With every word he said, Tori felt the world grow colder and colder. Before he’d even finished speaking, Tori shook her head. “No. It can’t be true. It can’t. Not Luke, it must have been something else, some monster, or—”
“Tori,” Chiron asked, “when’s the last time you saw Luke?”
“Just this morning, when I had to leave my archery class. Luke wanted to—” Realization hit her like a truck. “He told me that he was leaving for a few weeks. That Chiron needed him to go somewhere.”
Chiron looked at her sadly. “I’m afraid that Luke lied to you.”
“I can’t believe. . .” Annabeth began, then shook her head. “No, I can believe it. He was never the same after his quest, gods curse him.”
Don’t say that! “This isn’t Luke’s fault!” Tori insisted. “He must be under a spell, or brainwashed. This isn’t Luke!” But her objections fell on deaf ears.
“This must be reported to Olympus,” Chiron murmured. “I’ll go at once.”
“Luke is out there right now,” Percy said. “I have to go after him.”
“Hold on a second! Luke’s not a monster, he’s not dangerous—”
“Not dangerous?” Percy demanded. “He almost killed me!”
“All of you, be quiet,” Chiron said. “Tori, I know this is painful for you, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and refuse to see the truth. Percy, you can’t go after Luke. You’re not ready. And the gods—”
“Won’t even talk about Kronos!” Percy snapped. “Zeus declared the matter closed!”
“Percy,” Chiron said sternly, “you’re not ready.”
Percy sighed, but slowly seemed to accept the truth of Chiron’s words. “Chiron. . . your prophecy from the Oracle. . . it was about Kronos, wasn’t it? Was I in it? And Annabeth?”
Tori couldn’t stand it anymore. She ran out of the Big House. She didn’t even look where she was going, instead letting her feet take her where they would. She only stopped when she realized she was at the beach, the salty wind assaulting her face.
Tori looked around. This is where Luke and I first kissed. They danced together on the sand, and it started to rain. Tori closed her eyes and remembered.
“I don’t think I want to be just friends anymore.”
Tori stared at him before saying, “Oh, thank gods.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Luke kissed her back, holding her to him.
At the time, Tori had been able to imagine a world where he never let go. Now she wondered if she’d ever feel warm again.
Percy and Annabeth both left that summer, Percy to the city and Annabeth to her dad. That year, camp felt emptier than ever. It didn’t help that the other campers avoided her. None of them trusted her after they found out about Luke. Only Luke’s siblings in the Hermes cabin didn’t go out of their way to avoid her, but she wasn’t close with any of them. For the most part, she ignored everyone. She was too depressed to care about what they thought of her. The only time she felt anything was when one of her cabinmates moved into the free bunk.
That’s Luke’s bed, Tori thought furiously. You have no right to take it. But she didn’t say anything. None of them wanted to think about Luke, least of all with her.
After two weeks, she still didn’t feel better. He didn’t even leave me a message. Tori pushed the thought away and dug through her chest for the book she was looking for. Instead, she found one of Luke’s shirts.
Her hands stilled immediately when she saw it. What’s this doing here? Granted, their things got mixed up sometimes, but she’d thought Luke took all of his stuff with him when he left — including the stuff from her chest.
Tori picked it up and looked around. The cabin was empty. Everyone else was at activities, but this was the time usually reserved for her and Luke’s sword practice. She hadn’t found a new class.
She closed her chest and held the shirt up. It was brown, with a couple of plain buttons at the neck. Without thinking, she moved it closer, sniffing it. She shuddered. It still smelled faintly like Luke.
Tori got up and went to the bathroom. Slinking into one of the shower stalls, she took off her shirt and put on Luke’s. Almost immediately, she felt better. Comforted.
She didn’t care when the others gave her strange looks. She was warmer just wearing it.
After dinner, while everyone else went down to the bonfire, Tori walked back to the cabin. She hated being there while all the other campers laughed and sang and didn’t see her.
She was just outside the door when suddenly someone grabbed her by the waist, holding a hand over her mouth and pulling her back. Tori screamed and tried to reach for her sword, kicking her captor, but then she head them. “Tori, it’s okay, it’s me.”
Luke. She stopped struggling. Luke loosened his grip and pulled Tori to the back of the cabin, finally letting her go. Tori backed away, staring up at him. She didn’t know what she expected, but he looked fine. Healthy. He had a longsword in a scabbard at his waist that she thought was new, but other than that, looked no different than before.
“Luke, what are you doing here?” Tori whispered as loudly as she could. She knew she should try to get someone, but she wanted to hear him out. She didn’t want anything bad to happen to him.
Luke smiled, commanding her attention as easily a knife to the throat. “Isn’t it obvious? I came to get you.”
Tori stared at him. “What? Are you insane? Where have you even been?”
“I’ll explain when we get there. We have to go now.” He began to draw his sword, but Tori stopped him.
“Go? Luke, what the hell! I don’t even know what’s going on!”
“What, don’t you trust me?”
His smile was staring to falter. Tori gave him a hard look. “You know, I’m starting to question that, too.” Luke was so shocked that he didn’t say anything. Tori continued. “Luke, did you steal the lightning bolt? Are you working for Kronos?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
Tori shuddered as the air around them seemed to grow colder. It’s true. “How could you do this, Luke? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How could I? Tori, I’m doing this for us! For all of us! For every half-blood who’s been neglected or abandoned by the gods! I’m doing what’s right!”
“And that somehow involves killing a thirteen-year-old in cold blood?” Tori asked coldly.
Luke sighed regretfully. “Tori, I had to. It was necessary.”
“Yeah, well it didn’t work, so ha.”
“I know it didn’t work. Believe me, I know.”
Tori looked at him again, more carefully this time. There were shadows under his eyes, barely visible in the moonlight. He seemed. . . tired.
Nightmares. For a moment, she forgot about everything else and took Luke’s face in her hands. “Bear, what’s happening to you?”
“Tori, I promise you, I’ll explain once we’re gone. The bonfire’s going to end soon, people are going to wonder where you are.”
Slowly, Tori shook her head. “No. I can’t go with you, Luke. Not if you won’t even considering staying here.”
“You know I can’t do that. This is too important.”
Tori stared at him. “Then go.”
“No!” She pushed him away, ignoring his stunned expression. He tried to say something, but Tori snapped, “No! If you’re going to go, then just go, Luke.”
“Tori,” Luke said sounding hurt. He took a step towards her, holding out his hand, but Tori smacked it away. She was tired and angry and hurt and she didn’t want empty words.
“If you’re not even going to try—” Her voice caught in her throat. Luke tried again, moving closer, but Tori pushed him away angrily. “GO! I don’t want you here!” She considered taking off her bracelet and throwing it at him, but even in her angry state, she knew she’d regret it.
She turned around and waited for him to leave. He didn’t. Instead, he took her fist and opened it, placing something in it. Tori closed her hand. It felt like a charm of some kind.
“Keep this,” Luke whispered. “You can use it to contact me by speaking to it. If you do, I’ll come get you.”
Luke let go of her hand. Tori looked down at the charm he’d given her. She couldn’t keep herself from chuckling. A lightning bolt? Really, Luke? She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. After a minute, she turned around, but he was gone.
Tori didn’t know if fall went by fast, or if she was just too out of it to notice. Both theories seemed equally plausible. It wasn’t long before the winter solstice, and with it, the traditional field trip to Olympus. Since she was now the oldest person in the Hermes cabin, it was her responsibility to chaperone her cabinmates. Luckily, everyone was well-behaved for once since none of them wanted to get in trouble with the gods. Tori drifted off during the tour and didn’t come back to until they were at the rooms for the campers and she realized she’d have to stay with the others. She shook it off and put her bag away. It was past ten by then, so everyone got ready for bed. Tori tried to go to sleep, but couldn’t. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Luke, felt his hands and lips. . .
Tori waited until she was certain that everyone else was asleep before sneaking out. Luckily, she had years of practice from sneaking into Luke’s bed. Technically, they weren’t allowed to wander around without supervision, but there were no harpies like at camp, and most of Olympus’s residents were off doing something else. All she had to do was slip on some shoes and leave.
Tori wandered outside without any particular destination in mind. It was surprisingly warm outside, but she still felt the urge to wrap her arms around herself. She walked faster, quickly finding the park where the muses played. She sat down on a bench under a streetlamp. The entire place was annoyingly romantic. Not knowing what else to do, she looked upwards, searching for constellations. Olympus didn’t seem to be affected by New York’s light pollution, so there were far more stars than she could hope to count. There they are. Andromeda, Orion, the Scorpion. . . all patterns she’d looked for with Luke. The longer she looked up, the more she felt tears prickle at her eyes. She finally gave up, sighing. What am I going to do? By now it had been months since she’d seen Luke, and she still didn’t know whether or not she wanted to contact him, or what she would say if she did.
Tori jumped at the sudden voice, instinctively reaching for her sword. She didn’t loosen it when she saw who it was. The man was. . . well, man was probably stretching it; he seemed to be about her age (maybe younger). But he was handsome, even reminding her of Luke in a way, with blonde hair, tanned skin, sky-blue eyes, and a band tee. He also had one earbud on, with the other hanging loosely around her neck, making her think of when Luke used the music player she gave him for Christmas one year.
It took her a moment to remember that he’d asked her a question. “I’m fine.”
The man (guy? teen?) gestured to the spot beside her, silently asking if he could sit. Tori shrugged and moved over. They sat together in awkward silence before he said, “So, what are you doing walking around this late?”
“Thinking too much?” the man asked with a knowing look.
Tori hesitated before nodding. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Tori rubbed her arm self-consciously; it wasn’t that she was cold. In fact, the air around her seemed to be getting warmer. . .
No, not the air around me. She looked at the man again. Blonde, blue eyes, earbuds. . . “Apollo?” she asked without thinking. Gods, I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.
The man smiled brilliantly, the picture of godly-confidence. “That’s me. It’s nice to finally meet you, Victoria.”
The feeling isn’t mutual. Then she realized something. Ugh, great. My dad looks like my boyfriend; I do NOT need this. “What do you want?” Should she have been more respectful? Probably. Was she going to be? No.
Apollo shrugged. “Maybe I just want to talk to my daughter.”
“So you admit it.” Tori stared at him, daring him to deny it.
He didn’t, instead saying, “I know you’re probably upset, but I have my reasons—”
“Then now would be a good time to explain them.”
Apollo hesitated before saying, “Well, I actually do have something to talk to you about.”
Tori felt her hands form into fists, and forced herself to calm down. “Fine. How about this: I’ll answer your questions, you answer mine.”
“That sounds fair.” Apollo gave her a stern look, ignoring the fact that he looked like her brother at best. “I need you to answer some questions about Luke.”
Tori groaned. “This again? I already told Chiron and Mr. D, I didn’t know anything about Luke’s plans. I didn’t know he was the lighting thief until Percy told us.”
“Yeah, I know. But Zeus wants to make sure we didn’t miss anything, so he asked me to talk to you.”
“Of course. Fine, ask your questions.”
“Okay. First of all, we have to make sure you’re not helping Luke in any way—”
“You know what, why don’t I just make this easier for everyone? I did not know Luke was the lightning thief, I did not know he was working for Kronos, I do not know anything about his plans, and I have not helped him in any way, I swear it all on the River Styx.” She was glad that she’d thought to hide Luke’s charm at camp. As they listened to the thunder boom in the distance, Tori hoped she’d given him enough that he didn’t think to ask about what she didn’t say.
Thankfully, it seemed to work. Unthankfully, the next thing Apollo said was, “Tori. . . Luke doesn’t love you.”
Her blood seemed to freeze, turning to ice in her veins. “What did you just say?”
“I’m not saying it’s your fault,” Apollo continued, not seeming to notice her anger. “Honestly, I don’t blame you. I’ve known guys like that. They make you think they like you, then as soon as you grant them power and immortality, they run off like it didn’t even matter.”
“Please stop talking.”
“What I mean is, you might think Luke loved you, and hey, maybe he even liked you a bit, but he’s just using you.”
“Using me? How? I haven’t actually helped him with anything!”
“That’s what we don’t know yet, but come on, Tori. The guy’s a con-artist. He’d make Hermes proud if it wasn’t for the whole war-against-Olympus thing. Nothing he does or says is real. You can’t trust him.”
Maybe you can’t, but you’re the worst. “We had an agreement. Now you have to answer my questions.”
Apollo sighed. “Fine. Ask away.”
“Why didn’t you claim me? You clearly know who I am. What’s your excuse?”
Apollo thought about it for a moment before answering, “I don’t know. I thought it would just make it worse if I claimed you. Like I was rubbing it in your face.”
“Didn’t stop you from claiming Dan.”
“Dan didn’t have the same. . . experience as you.”
For a moment, she was confused. Then the realization dawned on her. In that moment, she knew exactly what Luke felt. She wanted to wrap her hands around Apollo’s neck and squeeze , until all the air had left him. “You knew,” Tori whispered, her voice as sharp as a knife. “You heard her.”
Apollo shifted uncomfortably, seeming to finally realize just how angry Tori was. “Tori, I wanted to help her, I did. But there are rules about what the gods can and can’t do. I’m sorry.”
Tori didn’t listen to what he said; she didn’t care. In her head, she could see it all as clear as day. Ink black blood stained the entire room as Diana Williams was torn apart by a hellhound. "Help! Apollo, please! Please!"
I hope Luke kills you all. “I have to go.” She stood up before he could say anything and started to walk away, ignoring his calls. As soon as she was out of his sight, she started running, sprinting until her legs felt like they were on fire. She didn’t stop until she was back at the room. She slowed, not wanting to go inside. Instead, she sat down on the grass outside and thought about what she wanted to do.
Even knowing what she did now, it took her a while to decided. She knew she wanted to go to Luke. She knew that, like she knew the sky was blue, or how to move. It was a part of her, instinctual, in a way. But she didn’t want a war, not with camp. And she knew the Titans were no better then the Gods; how could they be when Kronos was their king?
But, as the day dragged on, she realized it didn’t matter. Camp wasn’t the same without Luke; nothing was.
Camp isn’t my home, she realized. Luke is. She smiled, finally realizing what she had to do.
Tori went inside the little house, grinning. I’ll bring him back. I’ll bring him back to camp, and we’ll fix this. And with that thought, she finally went to sleep.
Tori had to wait until they went back to camp to put her plan in action. Even then, it wasn’t until after dinner that she could actually leave. She sat through the campfire, even joining in he sing-along for once, and went back to her cabin with everyone else.
Tori counted down until she everyone else was asleep. It didn’t take as long as usual; they were still tired out from the trip, and most were sleeping soundly. She’d already packed a bag earlier. Now all she needed was the charm.
Moving quietly, Tori put on a jacket and some running shoes before going outside. A few people snorted when she opened the door, but none woke up. As soon as she was out, she readied her bow for in case any harpies saw her and decided to attack, but she had so much practice in sneaking around that none did.
The woods were most dangerous at night, but Tori wasn’t worried. She couldn’t be; she finally knew what she was doing and was going through with her plan to actually do it. There was no time for worry, only adrenaline.
Tori made her way to the Soulmates tree. There were four sets of intertwined ribbons hanging from the branches. Even in the moonlight, Tori could tell which one was hers and Luke’s. It drifted delicately in the breeze, seeming to almost wave at her. She resisted the urge to wave back.
Under the tree, hidden by the twisting roots and thick grass, was a small mound of dirt. Tori went to her knees and began digging it up. It only took a minute for her to find the charm, safely wrapped in a washcloth that she’d gotten from the showers. As soon as she had it, Tori got back up and made her way out of the trees, quickly finding a path down to the beach. There was no practical reason to do it there — Luke had clearly shown that he could appear anywhere in camp — but she liked it that way. It was. . . poetic.
Tori started and aimed her bow, but relaxed when she saw that it was Dan. “I’m going to come back,” Tori promised. “And Luke will be with me when I do.”
Dan looked at her with large eyes, the same color brown as hers. And as our mom. “If you go, they’ll never forgive you.”
She wasn’t sure if he meant the camp or the gods. Either way, she’d made her choice. “I know. But this is too important. Luke is too important.”
Dan shook his head. “I always knew he’d get you into too much trouble to get out of one day.”
Tori shrugged. “What can I say? It’s a soulmate thing.”
Dan sighed, but seemed resigned to Tori’s choice. “I’ll tell Chiron so he doesn’t think you just abandoned us. Say you left a note, or something.”
“Thank you. And Dan?”
He looked at her hopefully. “Yeah?”
“Take care of my guitar, please. I can’t take it with me.” The guitar had been their mother’s; she knew he would keep it safe for her while she was gone.
Dan nodded solemnly. “I will.”
“Thank you.” Without thinking about it, Tori suddenly ran forward, enveloping her brother in a hug. “I love you, you know?”
Dan hugged her back. “I know. Please, stay safe?”
They released each other. Dan walked away slowly, looking back at his sister periodically. Tori turned her back on him and on camp and held the charm up to her mouth. “Luke,” she whispered against it. “I need you to come get me.”