Chapter 1: ἀρχή
It was late. Much later than usual, even for him.
Something, which caused an aching feeling in his chest, kept him awake, an obstacle to the sleep he desperately craved. A feeling he couldn’t put a name to.
So he continued to stand, hunched over the desk in the cabin of the first-class plane flying him to New York City, re-reading the scroll laid out before him for the umpteenth time. He admired the craftsmanship of the symbols; how delicately, meticulously they’d been inked onto the page. He’d never been good at doing anything as delicate or meticulous.
Thankfully that wouldn't be necessary. He’d practiced the pronunciation of every syllable in the text enough times to be able to recite it as if he’d been speaking the language his entire life, even though he’d been learning it for only a few years. Hopefully that would make up for his shortcomings, and even if they didn't, there was no going back now.
“Nervous?” said a familiar voice from behind him.
He sighed, not bothering to hide how exhausted he was. “A bit.” And turned. She’d just gotten out of the shower, black hair wrapped in a soft towel and wearing what looks like-
“I thought you said you didn’t like the color.”
She grinned, dark eyes twinkling like diamonds from the light of the desk lamp.
“It’s still really comfortable,” she replies with a smile. “The color doesn’t bother me so much since I know you like the way I look in it.”
“True.” His eyes traced the outline of her shapely body, admiring her creamy legs, eventually resting on her rather poorly covered cleavage. He wondered if he should ask if it was intentional or not. “Though I love the way you look without it too.”
She smirked, then slowly removed it, letting it fall to the floor. “Come to bed with me,” she beckoned. “We’ve studied it enough. It works.”
He sighed again, still not feeling relaxed enough to rest, but relented. He removed his boxers, the only article of clothing in the way, and immediately joined her.
Half an hour later, after doing some studying of a different, more intense kind, he let out a sigh of a different sort of exhaustion and turned to stare out the tiny circular windows of the plane, allowing himself to get lost in the splendor of the starry skies before him.
A finger poked into his back. “What are you thinking now?”
He turned behind him to face the dark, intelligent eyes staring intuitively into his own.
“All of that-“ he pointed outside the window at the sea of glitter swimming in black, “-will be in my hands someday. I wonder if it’ll all still be as beautiful when I put it back together.
“It will be even more beautiful,” she assured him. “I’m sure of it. Im no Oracle, but I don't need to know the future to have faith in you.”
With those words, the ache in his chest dissipated. He smiled. “I wish I had your confidence."
She returned it, and it was all he needed. He closed the space between their lips, letting himself get lost in her all over again.
At least he was pretty skilled at that.
The next night...
For the first time ever in her life, Rachel was disappointed with her Oracle powers.
Being one of the few beings in the world that had the ability to see into the future, it was a pity it turned out to be more of an on and off thing that only got into specifics whenever she was asked to do so (if one could call multiple stanza poems specific). Otherwise, she would no longer have to live off her parents and make a fortune off investing in stocks, or hell, she could become the Biff Tannen of New York and go into gambling. That was what real fortune tellers would do. She could move out of the penthouse in the city she’s called home for her whole life. She still lived there, even though she was already in her 2nd year at NYU.
Instead, she was in the first floor of the said penthouse, with her hair done, and wearing...oh, what horror! A dress, and a fancy one at that, while stuck at a Dare Incorporated event hosted by her father, its CEO. She’d been working away at the Sibylline books with Ella back in New Rome when she’d gotten the text from him, informing her that she absolutely had to be back home.
“Can’t I just leave now?” she gave her mother the best puppy-eyed look she could.
Margarette Dare just shook her head. “You know it’s rude for a host to abandon their guests, isn’t it?”
“It’s not my party,” Rachel complained.
She knew the unspoken truth her parents were keeping from her. The invitation was just a way for them to get her to meet other boys, aka late twenty-something to early forty-something business scions that so happened to be single. Obviously, because she was too weird and/or socially incompetent to be able to snag a boyfriend, even though she’d told them about Percy years ago.
She took another sip of lemonade. It's like they think it's still the early twentieth century.
But it wasn’t like she could tell them the truth, could she? She can’t imagine how much lower they’d think of her if she told them that she’d sworn an oath to a Greek god to be an eternal virgin. They definitely wouldn’t just call another psychiatrist.
So, she’d decided to oblige her father, if only to attempt to ease some of the tension that had built up between them since she’d started art school. William Dare and his wife had never understood nor appreciated her love and passion for the arts. But that wasn’t a surprise: no upper-class land development scion would ever want their kid anywhere near the poor starving artist stereotype they’d probably conjured in their heads at the mention of art degree. It would make him the laughingstock of his friends, and of course, his reputation amongst them was far more important than the happiness and joy of his own daughter.
Rachel took out her phone and opened the photo album app. She scrolled past some nude references (NOT PORN, she’d reminded her mortified mother when she accidentally peeked) until she found the photo she was looking for. It had been taken at a Christmas party at Percy’s apartment a few winters ago. Seated on the couch was Percy, stupid adorable Percy, kissing a blushing Annabeth on the cheek. Both were on the far right of the couch, Jason, Frank, Piper and Hazel and Hazel on their left. Leo, alive and well, happily holding hands with his now ex-girlfriend, Calypso on the floor. The only people standing behind the couch were Percy’s mother, with his half-sister in her arms, his stepfather, Ella and Tyson. The photo would’ve been complete had Nico not left early on a movie date with Will. Rachel wonders how many dishes Percy must’ve had to wash that night after they’d finished dinner.
Sometimes, whenever she felt particularly lonely or melancholic, she brought up the photo and counted the days she would see them again. She’d made a few friends during her first semester, but she would probably never be as close as she is with her family at Camps Half-Blood and Jupiter. It was a pity they’d been able to see each other less and less over the years. The Argo II reunion parties had stopped as the Seven started taking up more responsibilities in their respective camps, as well as catch up on other important things; school, family, and well-earned rest.
Sometimes she caught herself wondering what it must be like: to be the child of a God, to have a life filled with excitement and adventure like they had. But that longing would soon morph into shame for doing so. She knew only an inkling of the sacrifices, the blood they’d shed, and the many other horrors they’d endured.
And although they never said so to her face, she knew that deep down, all of them were thankful that she hasn’t given them another Great Prophecy to worry about. In fact, since the end of the Giant and Triumvirate Wars, the Oracle had strangely gone silent in spite of the fact the threat to it had been silenced. Silent enough to the point that Chiron had decided she was no longer needed at Camp Half-Blood full time. Even though she missed the comfy, seclusive cave she called home there, she was still grateful. She and Ella needed as much time as possible together to get to reconstruct the Sibylline books.
Rachel liked Ella a lot, unlike some. She found her manner of speech quite endearing the way random facts from her mouth as if it was all her brain could produce. She tended to appreciate things that aren’t considered “normal”. Some would disagree, but she figured it was just a unique perspective that made her a better artist.
If only Mom and Dad could feel the same way about me.
“You know the phrase, ‘time flies by when you’re having a good time?’” Margarette asked her. “Just try to.”
How on earth are you a social worker? Rachel thought as she rolls her eyes.
“Oh look,” her mother said. “You remember Mr. Gensai, right? Why don’t you talk with his girl over there? I’m sure you’ll find it a lot less boring than talking to me.”
Rachel turned. Mark Gensai, the CEO of Natural Enterprises (which was ironic considering what they did), stood a few feet away from with some of his friends, laughing at something funny one of them had just said.
She considered her options. She could either force a conversation with a stranger she didn’t care to know, or she could continue to torture herself for another four hours until she waved all the attendees goodbye.
“Fine,” she decided.
“Thank you dear,” Margarette replied. “I knew you’d see things my way.”
Yeah, and it’ll be the only time that happens for a while.
“Let’s go introduce ourselves.” Margarette motioned toward the crowd as they navigated their way through the sea of velvet and silk that made up the guests. When they’re only a few feet away from them, she unashamaedly barged into Mr. Gensai’s conversation, clearing her throat.
“Excuse me, Mr. Gensai,” she interupted. “Do you happen to remember my daughter, Rachel? And I don’t think I’ve met your daughter, haven’t I?”
Mark Gensai, a tall and sturdy looking Asian man of about fifty, smiled at Rachel. His brown eyes twinkled in a way that reminded her of an Olympian. Next to him, quietly sipping something that was clearly not juice was a dark-haired girl of around Rachel’s age. She and her father have the same shining eyes, but she was at least a foot taller and was built like a basketball player, judging from the skin she showed in a black, sleeveless V-neck dress.
“Ah, Rachel!” Mark exclaimed. “It’s good to see you again. And my, don’t you look lovely this evening?”
“Thank you, Mr. Gensai,” Rachel replied with a practiced grace. “You look very handsome yourself.”
Mark laughed heartily. “A girl after my own heart! But I’m afraid I can’t chat with you now. You see, I’m in the middle of what could potentially be the deal of my decade! I was just about to send Joel away, so why don’t you two get to know each other? That way you won’t have to bore yourselves with all our grown-up talk?”
“That would be a splendid idea,” Margarette agreed. “Rachel, I need to go find your father to let him know he has ten minutes till he needs to make the announcement. Have fun!”
With that, she walked off to find her husband. Mark returned to his conversation, leaving the two girls alone.
Rachel didn’t like being forced into conversation, but she despised the awkwardness of silence even more. “So…hi. I’m Rachel, Will Dare’s daughter, if you don’t know already.”
“I do,” Joel greeted. “And I’m Joel. Short for Joelle, by the way.”
“I know. Christian name, isn’t it?” Rachel blurted out the fact without much thought. Ella must’ve finally been rubbing off on her.
“Really?” Joel said. “I wouldn’t know. I was raised atheist.” She took one final sip of her goblet of expensive wine. After a moment, she remarked, “You really don’t want to be anywhere near here now, don’t you?”
“Not really,” Rachel admitted. She figured that if it was that obvious, there was no point in hiding it.
“Lemme guess,” Joel paused in thought. “Your snooty, uncaring mother realized that and decided to entertain you by forcing us to talk, even though you’d never speak to me in a thousand years.”
“Well, you’re right about everything but the last part, I guess.”
“You guess?” Joel inquired, raising an eyebrow.
“I’ve got nothing against you,” Rachel began. She tried to choose her next words carefully, to not seem rude. “You seem nice enough. It’s just…I hate being around them. Sleazy middle-aged guys like my Dad with nice ties and cologne sipping their wines while they conspire to destroy the only earth they have while their employees spend their lives slaving under them.”
“Eh, I don’t really think that’s true." Joel gestured to the sea of wealthy people around them. "Do you really think that they’re all here because they enjoy being in the company of their competitors? No, all of this is just an opportunity to have a bragging contest. You don’t make friends in this business; everyone is an enemy to some extent. All you need to worry about is how badly they want your head. Outside of this room, they’re at each other’s throats like starving monkeys scrambling for the ripest fruit in the tree.”
“So you don’t like your father’s work,” Rachel said.
“Hell no,” Joel exclaimed. “Do you?”
Rachel couldn’t help but smile. “What do having period cramps, breaking a bone and getting a hangover all have in common?”
“They’re all less painful than being at this party.”
Joel laughed. “Oh thank god. Finally, someone civilized I can actually tolerate talking to for once.”
Rachel couldn’t keep herself from chuckling too. Maybe the evening wouldn’t be so bad after all.
A few moments later she would be proven wrong.
“-Yes, kids of this generation these all are, aren’t they? Always marching about for social justice this and racism that. Someone should tell them to shut up and stop complaining and remind them how much worse it was back in the old days.”
It turned out that her mother didn’t have to walk very far: her father was only about 8 feet away.
“Useless. That’ll be what your daughter turns up to be once she’s finished going through all of your money,” his secretary remarked.
“Well, I’ll be sure to see that doesn’t happen,” William said. “She’ll come onto us, just you wait.”
“Oh will I?” Rachel called out loudly to her father. Everyone in her vicinity suddenly turn their heads towards her. She didn’t care. “I’ll just sit nicely and play the good, obedient daughter because that’s being a good father, isn’t it?”
“Darling,” William said calmly, “-you are being very rude. I was having a very important conversation about important business matte-“
“Bullshit.” Rachel snarled. How dare he. How stupid does he think I am?
She inhaled deeply. “You know, have you ever bothered to actually look into career fields for artists these days? Instead of just looking at all that bullcrap about the top twenty worst degrees or whatever shit the College Board is putting out these days? There are good paying jobs if you look and work hard enough.”
“Honey,” her father began in a gentler tone, as if it would work now that steam was probably coming out of her ears. “You know you have much better options, especially with what my position is-“
“I don’t care about what you want anymore,” she snarled. “You’ve never bothered to consider what I do. You and Mom never bothered to even have the time to sit down and talk about it. And now, as soon as you tell me to, do you really think I’ll sit down and obey like a pet?”
William’s face hardened into an angry expression. “Rachel,” he began in a tone she’d never heard him use. “That’s enough.”
“Yeah. Yeah it is,” Rachel replied coolly. “I’ve had enough of you and all of this. And you know what?”
She’d been thinking about this moment for years. In fact, she’d considered doing it as soon as she’d graduated from the Academy. But part of her told her not to; to be patient and to give her parents the benefit of the doubt that they would treat her differently now that she was a legal adult.
There wasn’t a lick of doubt anymore.
“I’m taking my things and leaving. For good.”
“Get back here, Rachel!” William yelled in the angriest tone Rachel had ever heard him use. Still, she didn’t care. The crowd parted ways for her as she marched towards the elevator. No one tried to stop her or scold her for embarrassing her father. When she was only a few feet away, her mother too screamed after her.
“Young lady, this is unacceptable!” Margarette cried in half desperation. “Get back here, or you’re grounded for the rest of the summer!”
Gods, can you get any more cliched than that?
She ignored her parents’ continuing cries, the elevator doors opening only seconds after she punches the button. Her mind went full autopilot, with one goal in mind: OUT. And as soon as the doors shut, the feelings boiling inside her found release in the form of a yell of fury as the elevator made its way up up and away, sending her towards an uncertain trek of freedom.
Much to her surprise, no one tried to bring her down.
She took it as a definitive sign that her parents had simply stopped caring. They’d probably talked about her in that way for a long time. But hearing it for herself for the very first time was the final straw.
After a few minutes getting the zipper to close on her suitcase, she decided to call Chiron on her cell, before realizing she’d forgotten to charge it. No matter. She would just get a cab.
When she stuffed the last of her clothes into her suitcase, it hit her that it could probably be the last time she would ever be in this room. There were still dozens of other sketchbooks lying around in her mess of a room that she would be saying goodbye to, probably, forever.
Her heart throbbed madly in her chest. Her body shook as what exactly what it meant finally reached her. For nearly three years, Camp had been her refuge from the chaos of her family life. Now, if things went as planned, it was going to be her home.
No. Camp Half-Blood has always been my home. It’s about time I make it official.
After tearing off her dress and changing into more inconspicuous clothing, she rolls her suitcase to the door. But as soon as she stepped out the door, the wail of many sirens broke out, the howling growing louder and louder until she realized that they've stopped right outside of the penthouse.
She looks out the window and saw that not one, not two, but ten police cars were parked outside the premises. She'd been away from the party for at least half an hour. What on earth could've happened during the time she was away packing?
Then, when she tried to call it, the elevator stopped working.
Rachel waited at least 5 minutes before coming to the conclusion that something was seriously wrong.
“Everyone please remain calm,” a distant, loudspeaker-distorted voice cut through the air from outside. “Everyone step away from the perimeter. I repeat, please step away from the perimeter of the penthouse.”
She ran to another window. A CBS van had arrived, parked behind at least a dozen police cars, sirens flashing in the darkness. She dashed back into her room and turns on her flatscreen, flipping the channels until she finds CBS.
DARE INCORPORATED DINNER HELD HOSTAGE IN CEO’S HOME read the headline on a banner displayed over a live stream of her home surrounded by police cars.
Hostage. Panic flooded her mind. Whatever was happening, she couldn’t risk the possibility that someone else could force their way up to capture her too.
She dashed out of her room, not even bothering going back for her suitcase as she slowly pushed the door to the stairway. She heard nothing. She was safe for now, but for how long?
She made it down two flights of stairs when a door slammed open from one of the floors below. Footsteps echoed throughout the stairwell, followed by a loud hissing. A hissing that sounded alive.
She bolted towards the nearest door. The penthouse also serves as one of the many offices of her father's company, so she's relieved to emerge onto one of the office floors. Her eyes wandered, scanning around her before finally discovering the nearest restroom and locking herself in one of the stalls.
Keep quiet, she thought to herself over and over, trying to keep her mind focused and to not panic. Don't make a noise. Don't move.
As she crouched on the top of her toilet seat, she heard the pattering of footsteps once more. Voices spoke in hushed tones from the hallway, and she was only able to make out a few phrases.
"-Sure she went in here?"
"-case had the name Rachel…Positive. She's either here or somewhere upstairs."
"-got some kind of scent here."
"-ladies room. I'll do it."
A chill ran up her spine. Breathe, Rachel. This is just like back then at the Smithsonian. Keep calm, Keep calm…
The door to the restroom burst open with a bang. From the opening under the stall door, she saw two feet enter, accompanied by something long, black and scaly…
"There's no use in hiding anymore," a young male voice called out.
There was a flash of light, and all the bathroom stall doors flew open with a BANG. Rachel froze in place. Outside her stall stood stern-looking teenage boy wearing a long, black robe, wielding a crooked cane in his hand. On his right, a black snake the size of a German Shepard slithered on the tiled floor menacingly, something straight out of an eighties horror movie, though much scarier.
"Are you Rachel Dare?"
Rachel couldn't say a word. Her body was completely paralyzed in shock, as if she'd just taken an ice cold bath.
"Don't worry." He addressed her as if he were addressing a child, as if he truly believed he could convince her not to. "If you tell us the truth, we won't hurt you, I swear."
"I…I-" Rachel couldn’t find the power in her to speak. All she could do stare and shiver with fear in the darkness as the snake rasps at her, baring its pin sharp fangs.
"She hasn't eaten anything in a while, you know." The boy no longer seemed so calm. "Don't make us wait-"
His warning was cut short by the blade that suddenly burst from his chest. He gasped, then crumpled to the floor as it was pulled from his back. But before his snake companion could even turn to strike, it too was struck down, the blade passing clean through its body like a hot knife through butter.
A Stygian Iron blade she recognized, along with its owner.
"Gods, what a mess," Nico di Angelo grimaced as he wiped his bloody blade onto the dead boy's shirt. "You alright Dare?"
Chapter 2: Win The Battle...
A celebration and a happy moment at Brooklyn House is cut short by the arrival of dangerous new foes. Meanwhile, Percy has a life changing experience.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
1 Hour Earlier…
A bead of sweat ran down Sadie’s brow. She had less than a minute left: not enough time to formulate a strategy, and barely enough time to hold her position long enough.
Hurry up, Carter.
At the moment, Brooklyn House overflowed with chaotic noise. Dozens cheered and screamed, roaring for blood.
Oh, they would get blood alright. And it sure as hell wouldn’t be hers.
She struggled to keep herself focused under the relentless gunfire hammering her shield. She couldn’t hold out for much longer. Her other three comrades hadn’t arrived yet, so she had to keep their hold on the point with the only one other remaining.
“Hold on, Sadie!” Felix screamed at the top of his lungs. He was silenced a second later a bullet right between his eyes.
The only hope she had now was that one of their special abilities is almost ready to be deployed. Not that luck was something one would really want to rely on in a time like this.
“Hurry up, Carter!” yelled a voice Sadie was too occupied mentally to recognize. “Give em’ hell!”
Sure enough, with speed that rivaled any Olympic runner, her brother charged into battle, the sword in his hand slashing and hacking his way to her like a lethal windshield wiper. She decided it was safe to allow her shield to recharge and swung her hammer at the two enemies in front of her in an attempt to drive them back. It worked, but she sacrificed nearly half her remaining energy in the process thanks to the lone Soldier’s rocket launcher.
Carter rushed forward, deflecting the bullets aimed at her with his own special skill. The enemies around them attempted to move out the way, but it was too late: within seconds they became little more than diced meat.
Sadie finally released the breath she’d been holding in when Jaz flew in to join the fight, a beam of healing energy emanating from her staff, replenishing all of Sadie’s energy. The remaining two enemies can’t handle the sudden onslaught and are cut down within seconds. The third…where is the third?
Then an all too familiar cry broke through the air.
RYUU GA WAGA TEKI WO KURAU!
“Watch out!” she shouted, even though everyone knew by then to get out of the way. She tried to dodge the deathly red beam, but she was too slow. She and Carter fell under the heat of the final enemies’ devastating attack.
Jaz was the only one left alive now holding the point, but Sadie knew she was doomed too. Their final foe closed in, arrow slicing through the air, striking Jaz down in only a single arrow…
And fell dead as well a second later, having been so fixated on the victory seemingly right in front of his eyes that he’d completely missed Zia’s arrival. It was her deliberately placed bullet, right in the back of his skull, that carried them through.
Zia jumped down and ran back to the point just as the timer counted down its final seconds.
VICTORY! Flashed the familiar blue banner across Sadie’s laptop as pandemonium erupted throughout the living room. Fireworks and confetti filled the air as their fellow magicians roared in celebration.
And with that, the final round of their week-long Overwatch tournament ended. Everyone had gotten addicted to the game since its release, so organizing the event proved to be quite simple. The prize was simply an excuse from cleaning duties for the winning team, but that hadn’t stopped Sadie from betting five dollars to Walt if their team lost. Sadie’s team included her, Carter, Jaz, Zia (who had only just started playing a week ago), Felix and Julian. While Walt had Alyssa, Cleo, Tucker, Sean, and Big Al, the only adult chaperone who’d participated. Zia’s status as the only newbie, thankfully, had no effect on their chances of winning.
“YES!” Sadie screamed as she jumped from her seat. On the table across from his, Walt rolled his eyes as he and the rest of his team groan. “Pay up, Stone!”
Her boyfriend sighed, reaching into his pocket for the twenty-dollar bill Sadie had been waiting for all night. “I admit, I might’ve underestimated you guys just a bit.”
“Oh, definitely. Did you really think Zia was that bad to miss the only target left in the area?”
“It was the heat of the moment, I guess,” he admitted. “I won’t make the same mistake twice.”
“So, Walt.” Carter walked up to them, a confident grin on his face. “Still not ready to kiss Hanzo goodbye and join the Genji club?”
Walt snorted adorably (because he totally did). “As if. I could’ve easily headshotted you if the other two weren’t in my way.” He turns to Cleo and Alyssa, who both look down at their feet.
“Sorry,” they said at the same time.
Sadie rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t make such a big deal out of it, Carter. He’s still loads better than I am. We just got lucky.”
And in a way, they did. She had been worried about Al’s aptitude with Roadhog. An FPS veteran, he’d gotten to level twenty-five within a week. Still, his skill wasn’t enough to make up for her team’s impenetrable defense.
Carter shrugged his shoulders. “Still got play of the game.”
“Oh, please.” She shook her head. “When I first started learning, weren’t you the one who told me that it doesn’t give you much of an XP boost anyway? It’s just another excuse to boost your ego, as if you needed any more anyway, Pharaoh.”
Carter stuck out his tongue. Looked like it was kindergarten all over again.
Moments later, Zia announced her arrival by flicking her finger on the back of Carter’s head.
“Is he running his mouth off again?” she rolled her amber eyes. “Either way, it looks like it really paid off staying as Widowmaker, even though Carter's clearly too lazy to teach me to teach me how to play anyone else.”
“Don’t you honey me, Carter Kane.”
Sadie smirked. Even though she should’ve been tired of Carter’s antics by then, she couldn’t help but smile. It was times like this she was in awe of how her brother had managed to maintain a relationship for over two years. It wasn’t a surprise to her that she and Walt got along fine, but given that it was her brother’s very first relationship, she’d been shocked that they’d only ever had to make up once.
“Hey,” Walt made a fist. “Good game.”
Carter let out a sigh but bumped it. “Yeah, it was. Guess that’s all that matters.” He turned to look at the clock. “Oh wow, it’s nearly eleven. Way too late for a rebound round?”
“Yup.” Al, who was six foot five and built like a basketball player, walked up to them and peer down with a smile. “That was a hell of a game, and I’d love to play more, but we really need to get everyone to bed. We’ll clean up tomorrow.
“Agreed.” Sadie nodded. “I’ve got my prize already, so I’m gonna hit the sheets.”
Walt got onto the gaming table and shouted loud enough for the entire hall to hear, “Alright everyone, games over! Time for bed!”
Everyone groaned but obeyed. Khufu the monkey screeched at those who continue to complain. Sadie and Walt walked back together, hand in hand until they stopped by his door.
“Did you have fun?” he asked.
“Did you? Because I really don’t need the money”-
“And neither do I. Think of something to buy for next week, alright?
He kissed Sadie on the cheek, a sweet gesture she’d gotten only a bit tired of, but not enough that she didn’t feel like returning it with a smile.
It hit her then that she would be celebrating the third anniversary of their relationship soon. Three years of peace, of having pretty much nothing to worry about but managing Brooklyn House, along with starting High school in the fall. And she didn’t even need to threaten to murder anyone! (Well, maybe she did turn a few poor ignorant souls into frogs, but just for a day! She wasn’t possessive in the least bit).
She made a mental note to stop by the Adidas store to find something for Walt. Something expensive enough to constitute as a worthy offering to the God of Death, lest he punished her with cuddles and kisses.
Not that he would ever make her suffer so.
“Goodnight boys.” Sadie waved.
Walt rolled his eyes and closes his door. Yup, he totally still loves it.
She decided to stay in the hall just to make sure everyone made it back to their rooms. Ever since Carter and Sadie reopened the Path of the Gods, they've gotten dozens of new trainees since then, and while a few of them had left to study at other Nomes, a good chunk of the original gang stayed, since most of them already lived and attended school in the Brooklyn area anyway.
It’s a Golden Age for the House of Life, and everyone had them to thank.
What could possibly ruin all of that?
We shouldn’t get cocky, she thought as she stood under the running water of her bathroom shower a few minutes after. Danger was part of their job description. Even though it felt like eons ago, her mother’s warning from the Land of the Dead had never left her mind. Setne had been defeated and done with, condemned to suffer eternally on her brother’s desk, but she didn’t believe that’s what she was being warned about. Something more serious, more dangerous on the horizon, just waiting for the chance to destroy the world and all that she held dear.
Way to go, Sadie. Way to ruin a great night with bad thoughts.
A loud yawn escaped her throat. She took that, along with the lightheaded feeling in her head, as a cue to finally finish her shower. She was so sleepy she didn’t even bother brushing her teeth. She threw her nightclothes on as quickly as she can and shoved herself under the covers. As far as she knew, Walt wasn’t planning to sneak in that night, so she tried to sleep as soon as possible.
She soothed her earlier dark thoughts with happier, more hopeful ones. Whatever it was they would face, they would be far better prepared than they were last time, with more and more being trained in the path of the Gods. Who knows? It might not even happen during their lifetimes.
But mere moments after she closed her eyes, she felt the familiar sensation of some outside force tugging on her mind, though this time, it was far more forceful. Before she could even make a choice whether to accept it, she found herself swept into what appeared to be a dark, dim hallway. She floated down into some sort of cell lined with bars made of dark steel that reached up to the ceiling. They were etched from top to bottom with lines runes and symbols: some hieroglyphs Sadie can read, but nothing that she can understand.
“Is she here?” a man’s voice asked, one that instantly made Sadie’s ba feathers ruffle.
Right below her was none other than her old friend Set.
“They will notice soon if we do not hurry, woman! He snarled, straining under the weight of the golden chains tied around his wrists. The god of Evil sat on the ground cross-legged along with two other figures that were also seated and in chains. His dark eyes seemed sunken, his position slouched. He looked…weak, an appearance she had a tough time wrapping her head around.
“Calm yourself, Set,” a woman’s voice replied calmly. “It’s ready”. Sadie felt herself float down deeper into the cage as she came face to face with a hooded woman dressed in dark, sleeveless clothing ornate with various symbols and glyphs. She looked to her right, at the-Woah. The gorgeous blonde woman also seated next to her took Sadie’s breath away. The chain jewelry around her neck could make any Pharaoh jealous. She bared a midriff that Sadie could kill for, even if she was admittedly too chicken to diet. The lady’s eyes were scrunched closed in concentration, but their corners glowed with a faint golden energy.
She stopped right in front of the hooded lady’s face. Her face was also beautiful, though much more cunning and deadly looking. Her dark, steely eyes stared right at her.
“We have no idea where we are trapped.” Her tone was urgent, almost fearful. “I wish I could tell you more, but you must find and free us before it’s too late!”
A sudden booming sound cut through the air. Set rushed to the side of their cage. For a moment he stared at something Sadie couldn’t see and then turned. His face blanched with fear.
“They are coming!” he whispered. “Make it short, or else we will be discovered!”
Sadie’s vision began to blur, melting into a swirl of light and darkness.
“When you wake up,” the hooded lady instructed, her voice gradually echoing as if she was gradually getting farther and farther away. “You and your friends must flee before enemies arrive at your home. Protect Setne and the Book of Thoth at all costs. You must find your demigod friends and tell them, Daedalus has the key. Only with them will you be able to find the Torch of Prometheus. Hurry! The fate of our worlds depends on it!”
Another BOOM and her vision faded to black. Before she knew it, she was awake and back in her room in Brooklyn. She noticed that it was only 12:30 am on her alarm clock when there was a harsh knocking on her door.
“Sadie!” She recognized Zia’s voice, though she’d never heard her sound so scared. “Get up!”
“What’s wrong?” Sadie groaned with a yawn as she began to put on her slippers.
The floor suddenly tremored, shaking the books on her shelf. As she recalled her vision, panic filled her mind, and with a fear boosted rush of adrenaline she bolted for the door and yanked it open, revealing an anxious-looking Zia.
“Something’s trying to get in through the front door. Our wards outside aren’t working, it’s like nothing I’ve ever se-“
“Wake everyone up.” She quickly shoved on her combat boots and ran to her closet, grabbing her favorite jacket and backpack on the hanger. “Tell Carter to prepare the griffins for evacuation procedure. We’re about to be attacked.”
“Wait, you know what’s going on?” Zia asked, looking confused. “How?”
“It’s complicated.” Sadie rushed to her drawer and grabbed the first pair of socks she saw, shoving them on so fast she was sure she’d ripped a hole in one. “I don’t know who, or what is coming, but we need to get everyone out before they get here!”
“Just do it!” Sadie ignored Zia and dashed out of her room. As she sprinted down the residential hall of the Big House, more bedroom doors opened as many of the other students made their way up to the roof, some who looked frightened and unsure at what was happening.
“Sadie!” Carter dashed up to her just as something shattered in the distance. “What the hell’s making that racket?”
“I think we’re about to find out. Wake everyone up and get them all onto boats. Get them the portals, tell them to prepare for an attack! We’ve got to-“
The house shook again, forcing Sadie to brace herself against a wall to keep from falling. “C’mon people, move!” Carter ordered, knocking at the doors that haven’t opened. “Grab your weapons and scrolls, and only those, and make your way towards the stairwells!
“Up or down?” Jaz asked, still clad in her pink pajamas.
“Up,” Zia answered. “Khufu told me someone seems to be coming from the front entrance on the first floor.”
“So up, then!” Carter drew his khopesh. “Keep your weapons out. Prepare to fight just in case we have to.”
Everyone obeyed without hesitation, fear driving them forward as they moved towards the stairwells. Many of the older initiates directed them up, counting heads and making sure everyone was awake and moving. Khufu ran all over the floor, barking loudly and knocking on the doors of those who still hadn’t woken up.
Walt met them right at the entrance of the stairway. “What’s going on, Sadie?”
“We don’t have time. We need to get everyone to some portals. Have them scatter, go to any of the other Nomes. Anywhere but here.”
Sadie quickly explained her dream of Set and the other three beings with him. As soon as she told them of the hooded lady’s words, Walt turns pale.
“You’re sure that’s what she said?”
“The Torch of Prometheus?” Carter asked. “Isn’t Prometheus a Greek god or something?”
“Greek Titan,” Walt replied, a starry, faraway look in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, but am I the only one who doesn’t understand what’s going on?” Zia interrupted, looking confused. “What other demigods are you talking about? Are you hiding something from me, Sadie?”
Suddenly, Walt crumpled to his knees. He begins to hold his head, grunting pain.
Sadie rushed to his side. “Walt, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know, it might be-argh!” A surge of warm energy exploded from Walt, his body suddenly glowing so bright that Sadie had to shield her eyes with her arm. When the warmth dissipates, she brought her arm down and reopened them. Standing before her, handsome, shaggy-haired, and clad in an all too familiar leather jacket was, in the flesh, someone she had thought she’d never see again.
“Sadie,” Anubis greeted gravelly, scratching his mane of shaggy hair.
“Anubis?” Carter asked. “Is that really you?”
The room shook again, causing them all to stumble a little. A clay flower vase toppled and shattered next to Anubis’s foot.
He turns to her. “Sadie, listen, I know I’m being super vague now, but right now something is seriously wrong. If my father is gone…and if the Torch of Prometheus is really in danger...I have to go warn the Seventh Nome that they might be attacked.”
“The Seventh Nome?”
He nodded. “You’ll find me there. Get everyone you can…your Greek friends, maybe the Norse too, if the other lady you described really is who I think it is…just go! I’ll explain more there. Make sure neither Setne or the Book of Thoth fall into enemy hands.”
The floor shook again, harder than the last time. “Stay safe, Sadie.” He began to make his way down the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Sadie shouted after him.
Anubis stopped and looked back right at her. “To give you guys some time! Don’t worry, Walt and I’ll be fine. Just get everyone out of here!”
“I’ll help you,” Carter offered, reaching toward his satchel. “I’m Pharaoh of Egypt, I can handle them too-“
Anubis shook his head. “You need to get the Book of Thoth and then help Sadie. She’ll need your help. If they’re too much for me, I can make a portal and escape. My ability allows me to make one only I can enter, so I’ll be fine. The gods…they’re not going to be able to help you much now. If Set himself has been captured, who knows if they’ll be next?”
After a moment, Carter sighed in reluctance. “Alright, if you say so.”
Before Anubis was out of sight, Sadie rushed down the steps and captured his lips into hers. She practically melted into a puddle with the sensation. It was just too bad it couldn’t last.
“Go get em’, tiger.” She tried hard to swallow the knot of fear growing in her chest. “Keep Walt safe.”
Anubis smiled. “Of course, Miss Kane.”
When he and Carter left, Zia put her hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry. They’ll be fine. Right now, we need to focus on making sure everyone is too.”
Sadie nodded, even though it was breaking her heart to do so.
They made their way up the stairs onto the roof. Ever since Carter gained the ability to control griffins, he’d managed to recruit many more of them, besides Freak, to form Brooklyn House’s main means of transportation. Every member of the House of Life, young and old, had been educated on how to control them.
When she and Sadie arrived, however, they were surprised that everyone was still there. No one had conjured up a boat or even moved toward the stable.
“What’s going on guys?” Sadie pushed her way forward towards the front of the crowd. And stopped.
The sight that greeted her nearly stopped her heart. Laid out on the roof were the mangled, burnt corpses of Freak and his fellow griffins. Their one noble, beautiful wings were all but messes of charred flesh and feathers. The smell almost made her vomit.
Standing around them, all around the thirty or so magicians, were a group of other people dressed in dark purple military uniforms with lettering on the breast pocket, in symbols she recognizes as Ancient Greek, along with various runes, symbols and Egyptian wards she recognizes. Some of them were armed with the typical wands and staffs of a magician, but three armed with AK-47s, which were all aimed at the other Brooklyn House members. A few of the magicians each are mounted on dark horses with glowing gold eyes and manes that crackle with static electricity.
Naturally, Sadie and Zia raised their wands.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
One of the uniform-clad riders dismounted her steed; a beautiful girl of around Carter’s age, maybe older, with a tiny mole on the lower left side of her chin and brown skin. She brushed her dark, wavy shoulder length hair to the side and lifted half rim eyeglasses that drooped a little. “Not unless you want someone to get hurt, which, believe me, I don’t want either.
The magicians parted as Carter pushes his way forward, panting, stopping right behind her. “What’s going on, Sadie? Why is nobody leaving-no.“
He froze as soon as he saw the bodies. Sadie’s stomach lurched. Freak, to Carter especially, was the family dog they’d never had.
Carter’s expression of shock quickly morphed into rage. “You’ll pay for this.”
“I’m sorry, Carter Kane,” the girl said with a smile. “I’m afraid I don’t have the money to spare.”
“What are these things?” Zia asked while gripping her wand tight. “They don’t look like any demons I’ve ever seen.”
“These are no demons,” the girl replied. “They’re Venti, or Aeoli, depending on which language you prefer. They’re a bit hard to handle unless you know how to train them well. My old teacher did, though. Medea taught me quite a lot.”
“Medea?” Sadie recognized the name. It had been mentioned once in Literature class when they were studying…Her heart began to race as she realized what exactly they were dealing with.
“I know what it looks like,” the girl continued. “But the truth is I don’t want to kill any of you. I’ve sworn not to.”
“Says the person who’s can set them on us any minute,” Zia snarled.
The girl just chuckled, undeterred by Zia's threat. “Oh, they won’t kill you. Maim you, scar you, maybe take off a limb if you really want to give them trouble, but otherwise, they’ll leave you very much alive.
“What do you want?” Sadie asked.
“We know you have the magician, Setne, and the Book of Thoth.” The girl raised her right hand, and a tiny fireball ignited right above her palm. She walked toward Carter. “Surrender them, and the Nome, and I won’t as much as hurt a fly. Otherwise, well, you know. There’s no way you can all escape. We have people guarding Cleopatra’s Needle, the Met, all the other monuments in the city.”
A wave of more uniform-clad magicians burst through the roof entrance, surrounding the other Brooklyn House members.
“You’re right,” Carter said. “Not all of us.”
Carter pushed his way past Sadie, nudging the side of her backpack. He raised his khopesh, gripping it tightly in a manner she recognized as a sign of nervousness.
“Put that down, please,” the girl said. The flames in her palm swirl like a hurricane of death, growing with her menace. She gestured towards the other Brooklyn House members, some who already had hands in their satchels or weapons drawn. “All of you, too.”
Carter nodded, kneeling and placing his blade down.
“Carter?” Zia looked at her boyfriend, fear clear in her eyes.
Carter smiled at his girlfriend. “It’ll be alright, hon.” His gaze meets Sadie’s, and, she knew instantly, with dread, exactly what he was about to do. It was still difficult not to feel fear even as he assured her, “Give ‘em hell for us, ladies.”
Zia’s eyes widened. “Carter, what are you- “
Carter shouted, and the girl flew several feet back as the Fist of Horus struck her right in her chest. The other uniform-clad magicians were forced to immediately themselves as everyone began their attack.
“Magicians, defend yourselves! Flee if you can!” Carter shouted as the wind picked up.
The earth shook from the pulsating magical energy all around them. Some Brooklyn House magicians fall, magical ribbons flying around their bodies. The enemy storm spirits charged forward, a fearsome sight especially with the electricity sparking around their bodies. While under fire, Sadie was helpless to watch Jaz get struck in the back of the head with a staff, where she crumpled and lay still. Eventually, she found herself back to back with Zia as they fought one of the magicians who was still atop their ghostly steeds. She fired a blast of flames when Carter called out to her.
“You two, when I tell you to, Go!” He quickly formed a magical shield around him right before two spells collided into it.
“No!” Zia cried. “I’m powerful enough. I can still”-
“There’s too many of them!” he shouted back. “They promised they won’t kill them. On my mark, you guys run and don’t look back!”
Sadie noticed one of the armed henchmen aim their weapon at Carter. She quickly fired a spell straight at his face, and in a golden flash, he disappeared. A hamster stood in his place.
Sadie and Zia turned toward the ledge of the roof just as a burst of bright, blinding light erupted from behind them.
“What on earth…” she heard the girl shout. “Someone stop him!”
Pushing away the fear bubbling inside her, Sadie leaped off the building. As she hurled several hundred feet toward the ground, she concentrated. Her arms morphed into feathers, and when her kite form was complete, she flew toward a luxury apartment building surrounded by a dark metal gate below her. Zia followed using a spell of her own design to propel herself up in short bursts, as she fell, allowing her to land safely right next to her.
Sadie stumbled, reeling from the effects of detransformation. “Dammit! That idiot…” She panted hard, then looked back up at Brooklyn House. The skies atop Brooklyn House still flashed with light, but no spirits seemed to be chasing after them.
“That stupid…selfless…shit!” Zia yelled angrily, and kicked the apartment’s fence next to her, causing some passerby to briefly turn their heads.
By Isis...have I ever heard her curse before?
Then her eyes widened.
“The Book of Thoth. Gods no…Carter still had it.”
“No, he didn’t.” Sadie took off her backpack and reached into the tight netting on the side. She pulled out a tiny leather book the size of a matchbox, along with a minuscule snow globe about the same size.
Zia squinted her eyes, trying to make out what it is in the dark. “Is that”-
“Shrinking spell. Carter’s a lot smarter than he acts sometimes.” Sadie unzipped her backpack and placed the items in one of the tiny pockets sewn inside. “We can’t stay long. I don’t want to risk being followed.”
Zia nodded. “At least the Book is safe.”
Then she asked the question Sadie has been dreading. “So, spill it. Who are these demigod friends you haven’t told me about?
And here it begins. “Let’s just try to get away from here first. I’ll tell you as we walk.”
They tried to go as far from Brooklyn House or any of the other Egyptian monuments they could. In spite of the danger around them, it was a beautiful night in the city: perfect weather for a walk, if only they could do just that. Sadie held nothing back to Zia: meeting Annabeth, Percy, the events of what she and Carter really were up to at Governor’s Island (that day, she’d told her they’d gone to visit the Statue of Liberty).
“So,” Zia began as they passed by the local shopping mall. “These…other gods have co-existed with ours for millennia? Without us or any of their children hearing about each other?
“Yeah, apparently.” A lifting feeling washed over her, which she figured was the weight of the secret finally coming off her chest. “Their gods and ours tried to keep to themselves so that people wouldn’t try to combine their magic and possibly destroy the world, like Setne.”
“But if what that girl said true…” Zia paused in thought. “Setne isn’t the only one who has been trying mixing Egyptian and Greek magic. This Torch of Prometheus our enemy wants: it must be Greek too. But should we really be breaking the barriers between worlds again? Your friends are trustworthy, but what about the others? What’s going to happen when the other Greek demigods that they’re not the only ones around?”
She had a point. For a moment, Sadie took some time to think in silence and consider other possibilities. Any other way they could find help without potentially ruining the balance of the universe all over again.
There weren’t any.
“If Anubis believes that asking Percy for help is the right thing to do, then I believe him. We don’t have a choice.”
Zia sighed in reluctance. Sadie looked behind herself for the umpteenth time to check if they’re being followed. The neon glow of Brooklyn nightlife isn't doing much to ease her fear that an enemy could jump out at them from the shadows at any moment. At the hour, the streets were bare of the usual passerby. It made them easy targets for attack, but also made it easier for them to spot any attackers.
“Do you have any idea what could be so special about the Seventh Nome?” she asked. “Where is it anyway?”
“Vatican City,” Zia replied. “Amos told me that there’s always been an unusually high number of experienced magicians there, even though there are almost no marks of Egyptian influence anywhere. But I don’t have a clue about anything that might be there.”
A thought suddenly broke through Sadie’s mind. “We should try to contact Amos. Tell him to try to look for everyone else.”
Zia shook her head. “No. We need to go find your friends first. Maybe once we’re safe, we can, but we have a priority now.”
Sadie had never seen Zia look so horrible. Her amber eyes, which lacked their usual kohl makeup, look tired and baggy. The turmoil and fear brewing within her must’ve been tearing her apart.
She knew that feeling all too well. When Carter had allowed his concern for Zia cloud his judgment, Sadie hadn't been so sympathetic. Then Walt told her about his pharaoh's curse. It’s as if all their love lives have been cursed too.
Still, they had to continue. For Carter, for Walt, Anubis, and everyone else they've abandoned.
No. We haven’t abandoned them. Not yet.
She took out her cell phone from her bag and scrolled through her contacts, stopping when she finally found the one labeled PERCY JACKSON.
“Holy. Fucking. Shit.”
Percy shook his head as the credits played. “What the fuck. That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
“See?” Annabeth grinned as she shoved the last of the popcorn into her mouth. “I told you it was worth the watch.”
He got off the couch and stretched, still reeling from the effects of the incredible, life-changing experience that was The Room. “Wise girl, if someone told me that one of the worst and funniest movies ever made would be the only one that exceeded my expectations this year, I would’ve laughed in their face. Now, I think I’ve laughed enough for a hundred years. Good god…why the hell was he sodomizing that dress?”
“That’s the first thing I’d ask Tommy if I ever meet him.” Annabeth smiled. “Totally worth the three bucks, right?”
“Best purchase I’ve made this year,” Percy agreed. And he’d thought Annabeth only cared about Oscar-winning dramas and documentaries: that was a true masterpiece. “But those sex scenes might’ve killed any libido I might’ve had tonight.”
“How tragic.” Annabeth brushed some spilled popcorn off her shorts: it was a well-kept secret that Annabeth was, in her most personal and vulnerable self, a huge slob when it came to eating. Not that Percy minded, of course.
Still, he dreaded the fact that in merely a few days, Mom, Paul, and Estelle would arrive home from their trip to Disney World (which he was still a bit bitter that he had to miss since he’d been escorting some demigods to Camp. Their Satyr had been eaten by a Dracaena who’d pretended to be a…ballet instructor, somehow. The tutu was not flattering to her legs, to say the least). Then, weeks later, he would be starting his second semester at NRU, where he would be another step closer to graduation…hopefully.
The thing was, even after a year in college, he was still no closer to deciding a major. Schoolwork was even more of a bane than it had ever been, even after having to work extra to catch up on half a year loss of high school. He had Annabeth to help him, of course, but the thought of having to decide what to do with his life so soon after nearly a lifetime of fighting terrified him more than any monster.
Not even a movie date night could distract him for long.
Percy blinked. He must have blanked out again since Annabeth is giving him that I know what you’re thinking look.
He sighed, preparing for another well-meaning but pointless speech but is surprised when she just asked, “Want to head to bed?”
She walked up to him and took his lips in hers, and, gods, would he ever tire of how it felt to have her in his arms?
“I’m here,” she whispered, and the storm of thoughts raging in his head calmed a little. “I hear you. Don't ever forget that, alright?”
Never, he promised and hoped to himself. Not even if it killed him.
His phone buzzed in his pocket.
Chapter 3: Lose the Home
Many thanks to Daziy for taking the time to tear the first drafts of this apart for me! lol
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“How does it taste?”
Alex bite down into the voluptuous burger in her hands. A second later, an expression of awe formed on her face.
“Shit, Halfborn.” Her voice muffled from the meat in her mouth as she said, “This could give Gordon Ramsay a run for his money.”
“Aw, you’re too kind, Alex.” Halfborn’s eyes crinkled with his grin as he flipped another burger on the brand-new grill they’d installed in the kitchen. They’d won the money to buy it in a bet with the hall below them. It didn’t require much effort, except for maybe a foot or two. “I’m just glad that cooking course I took years ago paid off. Don’t get me wrong, Hotel Valhalla food is amazing, but there’s nothing like cooking something you’ve made yourself.”
Two stories above them, about fifteen hungry kids were awaiting the first round of hamburgers dinner they were all preparing at the Chase Space. Their visitors were mostly comprised of kids already staying at the house, but they were hosting about ten new visitors today. It was events like these which increased Magnus’ confidence in their continuing mission to establish the home as a safe place, seeing all the cheerful faces of the kids as they ate to their heart's content, stuffing their faces with carbs that didn't come from a dumpster for once. Today, every resident of Floor nineteen came to help prepare a patty recipe of Halfborn’s design.
Well, almost everyone. TJ was still stuck in bed back at the Hotel, thanks to a son of Thor who’d someone thought it would be funny if he stole his bayonet and shoved it up his-
Magnus immediately wiped the mental image from his mind and concentrated on shaping the meat Mallory had been mixing together. Alex was taking a much-needed break: she’d been managing the kids with Magnus long before the rest of the gang had arrived to help cook as well.
“Geez, Halfborn,” Samirah said as she and Blitzen enter the kitchen. She’d found the time to help since she needed the volunteering work to add to her college resume anyway. “You’re practically a one-man college education.”
“You should come by more often, give the kids some pointers,” Blitzen said as he placed another emptied tray on the counter. “It would really help.”
“That’s if they’re no longer scared of me.” Halfborn flipped another patty, catching it on his spatula with practiced ease. “They stare at me like I’m some sort of animal. Not that it’s not understandable, of course. I must be terrifying.”
Even though Halfborn exchanged his furs for a T-shirt and jeans that night, Magnus had to admit that he still looked very like the intimidating wild man he’d thought he was on first impression. He figured the other homeless kids would still be unsettled by him.
“Oh, you shouldn’t worry darl,” Mallory put a hand on his shoulder. “We all know you’ve got a golden heart under that thick skin of yours.”
Halfborn smiled and kissed her on the cheek. Alex rolled her eyes. “Ugh. Old people love. It’s suffocating.”
“That’ll be us someday though,” Magnus remarked. “I’ll remind you once we hit forty.”
“Only if I haven’t broken up with your annoying ass by then.” Alex grinned mischievously. She walked up to him, placed a hand on his hip, and pulled him close. He could smell the lavender scented shampoo she used that he liked so much. “Scrawny pansexual white guys aren’t the only thing I’m into, you know. Even though we’ll still look sixteen.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” Magnus didn’t care if the others were watching. They were probably already used to it by now, and they would have to if they haven’t. “That’s the Alex I know and love.”
He started to close the distance between them, going straight for his target when suddenly-
“Uh, guys? Am I interrupting anything now?”
Magnus and Alex jumped apart in an instant. From the corner of his eye he caught Samirah’s smirk. He tried hard not to look the slightest bit angry that their moment was interrupted, even though he definitely was.
“Oh hey, Andrew!” Alex greeted. “And nah, it’s alright. What’s up?”
Andrew fiddled with his fingers in the nervous fashion Magnus knew him for.
“Um… Magnus? I was just wondering, I’ve been hearing some squeaking upstairs. You mind if I try to do something about it?”
“A rat?” When they’d first started preparing the mansion for guests, Magnus had been surprised to learn that rats had already started to infest throughout some of the older rooms. They’d set up cleverly hidden wards throughout the house that should’ve taken care of any of the critters, as well as any monsters that could attack. Looked like some of the rats made it through. “Hearth’ll take of it.”
“But Hearth is still at Shop Rite,” Blitz reminded him. “We’re out of ketchup, remember?”
“Oh yeah.” Magnus looked down at his meat covered hands. He still hadn’t made enough patties yet, but he didn’t want Alex to have to interrupt her break. “Um…we’re kind of busy now? If it’s not going anywhere near the other kids, we should be fine. Have you eaten anything yet though?”
“No,” Andrew replied. “But I can take care of it, I’ll eat later.”
“Okay then.” Andrew smiled and then jogged away. A skinny brown-haired kid of sixteen, he’d arrived a little more than a month ago, asking if it really was true and this really was a place he could make at home. Instantly, he’d offered to help with cleaning the mansion whenever Blitz or Hearth were too busy to. Naturally, Blitz had accepted, and Andrew turned out to be the most helpful kid in the mansion. Whatever’s asked of him, he does without question, including not asking anymore questions as to why Hearth needs a tanning bed in his room.
“That kid’s always been super nice, hasn’t he?” Blitz said. “It’s kind of disturbing, really, how insistent he is in helping out.”
“Why are you complaining?” Magnus asked. “Don’t you owe him for the hours of work he’s saved for you?”
“No, of course not!” Blitz raised his hands in an insistent manner. “I just think it’s a little unusual.”
“He probably feels that he needs to repay us for allowing him to live here,” Mallory remarked. “It’s probably something that was drilled into him somehow.”
“Nobody should, though,” Alex said. “This is supposed to be a home where we don’t judge others based on merit or anything. Kids who stay here are expected not to totally trash the place, but he shouldn’t feel like he has to earn the right to stay here, though, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Blitzen sighed in reluctance. “I’ll talk to him sometime after the party.”
Magnus was surprised at how quickly Blitz settled into the role of caretaker and mentor of the home. Since the house usually hosted about fifteen to twenty kids at once, he had to. In the two years since the Chase Space was opened, it had hosted a whooping total of seven hundred individual homeless kids, as well as the occasional weekend volunteer they’d get from the ads they’d posted around town. They’d made the old place look a little less intimidating and made into a home. Magnus felt it reflected the evolution of his own view of the place too.
He looked at the wall above the little table, at the picture of Randolph and his family he’d mounted. They were seated around the dinner table, beaming with happiness as they celebrated what appeared to be his fortieth birthday. Hope I made you proud, old man.
He liked to think that they were smiling back at him.
A chime rang throughout the hall. Someone was at the door.
“I’ll get it.” Magnus volunteered. He quickly rinsed his hands in the sink and checked whether Alex had written anything obscene in oil on the back of his shirt.
(How she performed such magic without him noticing was a question that would haunt him for the rest of his days).
He opened the door. There to greet him was an older looking woman clad in a brown, dusty bomber jacket and indigo skinny jeans. A silver ring hung from a hawkish nose. Under her worn looking bomber jacket she appeared to be wearing a black shirt decorated with various symbols and hieroglyphs in gold ink. Her shining blue eyes carried a mischievous, yet somewhat dangerous, twinkle. The corners of her eyes were creased with strain despite an otherwise beautiful face.
But what caught his attention the most is her hair. Cut into an undercut, worn in a tall ponytail, it was completely white save for the tips, which were dyed a cotton candy blue. Appearance wise, he thought she looked like an older version his own mother if she’d ever decided to go punk.
“Greetings.” She spoke with a warm, chipper tone. “Magnus Chase, is it?”
“Yes, that’s me?” Magnus raised an eyebrow. She didn’t look anything like a homeless person, so he immediately assumed she was probably an volunteer. But they hadn’t asked for anyone to show up today… “Who exactly are you?”
“The name’s May, friend,” she replied. “May I come in?”
“Uh, is it urgent?” Magnus turned around. No one had left the kitchen to greet their guest. “You kind of came at a bad time. We’ve got our hands full with preparing dinner now.”
“Oh, good,” she replied with a gleaming smile. “That means your guests will have good entertainment.”
A shiver ran through Magnus’s spine. “Good entertainment?”
Without warning, May jabbed him right in the nose, sending him falling backward right on his head. Head still spinning, he yelped in pain as he feels her pull him by the hair. Although she didn’t appear to be wearing a sheath of any kind when he’d greeted her, a deadly looking axe had been raised right above his skull.
“Magnus!” Alex ran in and reached for her pocket for her enchanted garrote. Blitz and the others followed seconds later.
They quickly pulled out their weapons from the magical clothing Blitzen had made for all of them. Mallory brandished her deadly twin knives, readying herself for combat. “Get yer filthy hands off him,” she warned as she stared daggers at her enemy.
“None of you move if you do not want your friend to lose his head,” May replied calmly. “Put your weapons down, please.”
Magnus summoned all his strength into a yell, feeling the sudden warmth throughout his body as the Peace of Frey exploded from him.
But May just struck him on the back of his head anyway, knocking him to the ground.
“Magnus!” Alex screamed.
Magnus tried to shake off the pain as he slowly tried to pull himself off the floor. Everybody else’s weapons had fallen to the floor, but how on earth...“W-Wha?” Dazed and shaken, he yelped as he’s pulled by the roots of his hair yet again.
“If you’re wondering,” May began as she pulled him up, “why your Alf Seidr disarming spell didn’t work on mine, it’s because my weapon is charmed against it.”
“T-That’s not…” Magnus sputtered, still dazed. “That’s not po-“
“I don’t have the time to explain how, and I wouldn’t even if I did. So if you want to live, tell your friends to stand down.”
“Like hell we will,” Halfborn threatened. He and the others had picked their weapons back with practiced ease. In the back of his mind, Magnus was grateful for all the time they had spent practicing to respond to his power.
“You guys have a party now, don’t you?” May asked.
“Yeah, so?” Mallory said.
“Then aren’t you wondering why it’s all so quiet now?”
Magnus’s eyes widened. She was right: where the racket of kids eating and talking with each other should be heard, at the moment there was only silence.
“What the hell have you done to them?” he snarled. “I swear, if you lay a hand on them-“
“If any of you don’t want a single hair harmed on his head, I suggest you put down your weapons. Now .”
An uneasy silence fills the room. Alex eyes met Magnus’s, her unnerving stare telling him she was running through various ways she could possibly tear May’s body to bits.
Suddenly, May shouted something, and an enormous BANG erupts into the air.
“What the heck are you waiting for?” she yelled with a surprising fury. “Do you want him to die?”
“Do it,” Magnus ordered. He knew that if he even tried to summon Jack, he would be dead before he could even reach his hand.
Everyone slowly laid their weapons back on the ground.
“Now then, shall we begin? I apologize for the forceful entry despite my politeness, but I thought it would be the best way to catch you off guard.”
She turned behind her to the open door without letting go of Magnus’s hair. “Alright people, we’re in the clear now!”
A group of seven henchmen clad marched into the room, all clad in a similar clothing with May’s; black with golden symbols. Despite the dark sunglasses they all wore, he could tell that they couldn’t have been any more than seventeen or eighteen. Two of them went upstairs, and the other five stay in the living room, positioning themselves behind Alex and the others, wands and staffs in hand, watching carefully for any sudden movement.
Magnus took a closer look at the symbols that mark their clothing and immediately recognized them as a mix of Egyptian hieroglyphs and… Greek lettering.
Demigods? He wondered silently to himself.
“Andrew?” May called.
Magnus’s jaw dropped. Moments later, Andrew, clad in black and carrying a staff just like the other henchmen, no longer so nervous looking, walked down the stairs.
“It’s done,” he said curtly. “All the wards around this place have been deactivated, as is your order. The sleeping spell I’ve put on the others should hold for about half an hour.”
“Thank you, Andrew.” She turned to another henchman next to her. “Where the hell are the bodies?”
At that, three black body bags flew in through the door, which slammed shut behind them. They all landed simultaneously on the ground with a loud thud.
“There’s something I’d like to show you eiherji,” May said. “I’m sure it’ll be quite the surprise.”
She waved her wand, and the body bags unzipped themselves. The covers folded down partway, revealing the faces on them to be none other than-
“T-that’s not possible,” Blitzen stuttered, a bead of sweat running down his neck.
“What bloody sorcery is this?” Halfborn grunted, looking more shocked than Magnus has ever seen him.
Lying lifeless on the ground, still wearing their billowy robes of white, were the Norns. The three goddesses looked strangely peaceful, almost as if they’re sleeping, which Magnus hoped was the truth, because there’s no way you could kill a god…
“These three ladies were quite the trouble,” May spoke as if killing them was no more troublesome than eliminating household pests. “But they were no match for our might.”
Alex and everyone else continued to be frozen in shock. Mallory turned as white as a sheet. “That’s not possible. That’s not possible .”
“And yet, here they are.” May said. “In the flesh. Dead . Now Andrew, the spray bottle, please?”
Andrew nodded, and took out a tiny spray bottle filled with water. May pulled something tiny and shiny from her pocket. She said a word that made Blitz’s nostrils flare.
“You know rune magic.”
She grinned and turned to him. “Surprised, dwarf? I've the urge to gloat and tell you how, but time’s a ticking.”
She said another word Magnus couldn’t decipher, and a bright warm light erupted from the staff’s tip. May sprayed the air near it, creating a little rainbow. She tosses the shiny object into the air, where, much to Magnus’s shock, it vanished.
“Oh Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow,” she said. “Show me Hotel Valhalla.”
The misty air suddenly rippled like a heat wave. Magnus stared in shock as a shimmery image about as big as a plasma TV screen formed of all the einherji sitting at the dining hall. They continued to merrily consume their food, not noticing anything amiss.
That was, until a son of Tyr who’d decapitated once Magnus noticed something. “Bloody hell!” he exclaimed. “Is this a new form of TV screen we haven’t heard of yet? Doesn’t look like any show I’ve ever seen.”
“Greetings, Hotel Valhalla,” May greeted, talking directly to the image. “I hope you are all enjoying your feast.”
Everyone in the hall instantly stopped eating and stared back.
“I’m terribly sorry that I have to interrupt your fine dining experience," May began. "But there’s something I believe you’ll want to know. You see these three?” She pointed her axe at the bodies, which lifted into view for the people on the other side to see. “Yes, these are indeed the Three Norns, and no, this is not some cruel joke. I’ve a feeling your gods will have felt a disturbance in their passing. Ask them, if you don’t believe me. But don’t you realize what this means? If the very incarnation of your Fates have died, that means that the fate you were once bound to is no more! Ragnarok is cancelled, my friends! You all no longer have the apocalypse to fight for. You can go home! Live lives free from all of that. Consider this an early Christmas present to you all. I only ask this, that you do nothing to stop us from slaughtering the beings that built that gilded cage around you.”
The entire hall was silent.
“As of now,” May continued, “the area around you will be surrounded by trucks of magicians that will soon disable your protective wards. To prove that I am to be taken very seriously…I shall also send you the head of your favorite hero straight to your door.”
She raised her axe right above Magnus’s neck.
“Farewell, Magnus Chase.” May raised her axe above her head, and as Alex screamed his name, Magnus closed his eyes, awaiting the final blow.
Suddenly, the front door flew right off its hinge, knocking back two uniformed henchmen and ramming straight into May. She flew right through the image of Hotel Valhalla, and it disappeared back into air.
Every magician turned to the entrance, and there stood none other than-
“Hearthstone?” Magnus exclaimed.
Quick as lightning, Hearthstone threw various spells at the other magicians in the room. Some of them were blocked by shields of energy they’d conjured just in time, while two were immediately encased in ice.
Immediately, Mallory grabbed her knives from the floor and stabbed one of the magicians in the crotch, leaping to another before he can even react. Halfborn also immediately leapt into action, moving with such speed that he knocked down three magicians at once. Blitzen conjured his harpoon from some magical pocket in his clothing.
Magnus crawled up as quickly as he could after nearly being by death’s door, rolling out of the way of a fireball thrown at Hearthstone.
“Stop them!” May shouted as she slowly got up. She fired a spell back at Hearthstone, who immediately blocked it with a protective shield spell of his own. Soon, the two were locked into a duel of rune magic versus rune magic. Each tried to outmatch the other in skill and power.
One of the magicians raised his staff and pointed it straight at Hearth’s head, but was suddenly knocked backward by an enraged Samirah. She jumped into the air, landing a kick to his head, who fell to the floor, unconscious.
“Magnus! He’s getting away!” Samirah pointed towards the stairs. Magnus turned to see Andrew just about to reach the second floor.
“Magnus, we’ve got this!” Mallory yelled as she swung her blade at another magician. Unfortunately, they managed to land a fireball on her arm before dodging one of Halfborn’s fists. She grimaced in pain as she quickly tried to pat them away. “Stop him!”
Reluctantly, Magnus ran up the stairs and quickly pulled off his necklace.
“Damn, boss,” Jack exclaimed after he had fully formed in Magnus’s hands. “What the heck happened to your head?”
Magnus felt around the top of his head. He looked down at his fingers, which were slightly covered with blood. Damn, that lady sure hit hard.
“Not now, Jack.” Magnus panted as he ran up the last few steps. “Less talk, more stabbing.”
“Sure thing, Maggy-o,” replied his trusted friend.
When he reached to the top of the stairs, two other magicians stood in his way. Andrew stood a few feet behind them.
“Andrew!” Magnus shouted. “You’re not going anywhere!”
“Kill him!” Andrew cried to the magicians as he ran toward the outdoor deck.
Suddenly, one of the magicians threw his head against the wall. The other magician was momentarily stunned, and seeing his chance, Magnus threw Jack at him. The magician didn’t even have time to scream when the blade pierced through his neck, pinning him into the wall.
“Good call.” Samirah’s form reappeared as she removed her invisibility hijab.
“What are you doing here?” Magnus asked. “Where’s everyone else?”
“I figured you needed help.” Samirah wiped her forehead, which was covered with sweat. “Alex told me to go, she looked like she was doing fine against the magician she was fighting. Blitz and that lady are still fighting, but Halfborn and Mallory fell taking down the other magicians.”
“Dead?” Magnus asked with dread.
“I don’t think so,” Samirah replied. “But we can’t worry about that now. The kids might still be in danger.
Magnus nodded. They quickly ran toward the deck. When they arrived, Andrew was already there. Samirah lifted up into the air, raising her knife. “Andrew, you don’t want to do this.”
Andrew responded by throwing a purple spell straight at her head, which she dodged easily. She threw her knife straight at his head, just as Magnus threw Jack at his hand. Andrew dodged the knife, but Jack went straight through his forearm. Andrew howled in pain and dropped his staff.
Samirah picked up said staff and used her knee to snap it in two. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Magnus reached out his hand. Andrew screeched in pain as Jack flew out of his arm, and back into Magnus’s hands. Magnus stumbled slightly as he felt some energy left him. He fought it, however, and made his way onto the deck.
All fifteen kids laid motionless on the hardwood planks of the floor, eyes closed and peaceful looking. Samirah touched the neck of one of the younger ones, a sweet girl no older than twelve named Sally.
“Still alive,” she noted. Magnus sighed in relief. She turned toward the sound of one of them snoring. “They really are asleep.”
“But why?” Magnus turned to Andrew. His wounded arm was bleeding profusely, his skin slowly turning pale. He seems to be biting his lips, as if he’s trying not to moan in pain.
“What are you doing here, Andrew?” Magnus asked. “Why the hell are you here?”
Andrew merely smiled. He tossed something small from his unwounded hand into his mouth and bit hard. Before Magnus realized what it was, Andrew was already foaming at the mouth.
“I die in service to the New Order….” His voice started to gargle. “A… free world…no room for the divine. The ideas of the old shall light a path…to the new.”
He slumped to the ground and closed his eyes, never to open them again.
Alex had never felt more helpless.
Sure, she’d been on the receiving end of a death blow at least a million times. During her time on the streets, she’d felt her mind and body waste away as she starved, wondering if she would die there too. But there was something about having control of her own body taken from her, being forced to watch helplessly as an enemy cut you to pieces that gave her chills like no other.
“You’re giving yourselves an awful lot of trouble now.” May raised her axe right above Alex’s outstretched arm, its head now engulfed with purple flames.
The fighting had turned the living room into a war zone. A huge crack ran through the hardwood floor from some earth magic. Alex had made sure to take out its caster as soon as possible: he would’ve made fighting the others harder though he risked harming his own comrades in the process with his power. It was a decision she recognized as one based on instinct, a lack of experience. Was every other magician the same?
“Let her go and you could give yourself a lot less trouble,” Blitz warned as he grasped his harpoon, which had snapped in half from the force of a spell. Blood ran down a cut on his chin from a shard of glass that had flown when one of the magicians smashed it with his magic.
“That’s a lie.” May looked at Mallory’s unconscious body nearby. “You know, seeing you all fight, I’m certain now that my decision not to have any of you killed was the right one. You fight like madmen.”
“We fight to protect our family for as long as we can.” Alex snarled. “Ragnarok only makes that time more meaningful.”
“So what meaning do you have any more?” May asked. “The destiny you once knew is gone. What purpose does your training serve now?”
“I'm not buying it," Alex said. "You can’t possibly expect us to believe that killing the Norns would really stop Ragnarok from ever happening. It couldn’t have been that easy.”
“Oh, but it was,” May said. “Destroying the very embodiment of your fates itself…shouldn't that mean that any prophecies about your kind are vanquished too? That’s the saddest part of it all. The fact that ending this world really isn’t too difficult once the secrets are loose.”
Alex didn’t know what to say. If Ragnarok really was canceled, then there really wasn’t any purpose that she needed to be alive or any of the others. For the first time, the years of fighting, dying, to fight didn’t guarantee much. Killing three of the most powerful goddesses shouldn’t have been easy…so what chance could the others have?
No, she decided. The helplessness, the fear… all of it she’d survived, even thrived. She would survive this too. Somehow.
Hearthstone panted hard as if he had just run a marathon. She had never seen him look so tired, even during their quest for the Ship of the Dead. Blitz looked exhausted. And yet, their opponent didn’t seem to be breaking a sweat.
Hearth slowly raised his hands. Once I get you free, get to the others and go, he signed.
Me and Hearth will delay her for you, Blitz signed as well. Hearth’s going to need the help if you’re going to have a chance.
“Is that sign language?” May asked. “You trying to sneak something by me?”
She would shake her head if she could actually do so. She couldn’t bear the idea of running from a fight! But she knew she couldn’t die fighting either. It was the only option they could consider.
With reluctance, she mouthed back, Do it . Hearth turned to Blitz, who nodded in understanding.
He threw his harpoon right at May’s head. As she blocked it, Hearth tossed a spell right at Alex, who immediately collapsed as she was freed.
“No!” May screamed. She pointed her axe at Blitz, shouting something that caused a streak of red light to erupt from the tip. It hit Blitz square in the chest, and he flew back into the wall and crumpled onto the ground, unmoving.
Alex didn’t even look back as she dashed toward the stairs. She knew that Hearth couldn’t hold out for long. She quickly turned herself into an eagle, flying up towards the room where the deck was. In what felt like moments, she landed on the deck’s floor and transformed back, gasping for air as she’s surrounded by the unmoving bodies of the other kids.
“Are the kids-”
“They’re fine,” Magnus said. "It looks like they're just sleeping."
She noticed Andrew’s unmoving, blood covered form. “Is he-“
“Dead? Yeah.” Magnus sighed. “What about the others?…”
“They told me to run. Mallory and Halfborn managed to take out two, but that lady, May…she’s something else. We have to go, now .”
“We can’t just leave them behind,” Samirah said.
“We can’t take her on.” Alex admitted. “She’s too strong for even all of us. If she can beat Hearthstone in Rune magic, what chance do you think we have?”
A distant bang erupted from somewhere back in the house.
“You can’t hide for long, Magnus Chase!” May yelled from somewhere back in the house. “Your friends are still alive…I’ve only been ordered to kill you, you know!”
Magnus looked down at his sword. “Jack? Distract her for me. Kill her if you can, but once we’re out of sight, come back to me.”
“Right o, sir.”
He instantly flew out the door. Samirah grabbed Magnus’s wrist and lifted off the ground, pulling him up close to her.
“Lead the way, Alex.”
Alex quickly shifted back into her eagle form. Fighting the exhaustion already overwhelming her, she flew off the deck and into the air, knowing they would follow.
Alex chose to head toward Boston Commons. It was far enough that she believed they wouldn’t be easily followed. She landed right on a bench and transformed back. Samirah and Magnus arrived moments later.
“Who the heck are those people?” Alex asked. "That can't have been all legit."
"I doubt it,” Samirah replied as she took the time to catch her breath. “The way everyone reacted…that was real.”
“We need to get to the hotel,” Magnus said. “We need to warn them, tell them what exactly they’re up against. I don’t care how, we can’t just abandon them.”
“Wait a moment.” Alex realized something else was missing. “Where’s Jack?”
Magnus’s eyes widened. He looked up at the trees as if he expected Jack to fly back any second.
“He should be here by now,” he said. “I told him to come…he can’t have been…”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do about your sword now, nephew.” A familiar female voice spoke from behind Alex.
She turned. The familiar, glowing form of the Goddess Freya stood a few feet from her. However, her body looked semi-transparent, like a hologram, and flickered as if she were transmitting her image with a faulty connection.
“You must have many questions," she began. "But my time is limited. I’ll try to keep this brief. Hotel Valhalla is no longer safe to return."
"What do you mean?" Alex asked. "How? Hotel Valhalla is the safest place we can be!"
"Because it is under siege." Freya waved her hand and out of the air a shimmering image appears. Hotel Valhalla had been surrounded by about twenty vans. Among those vans stood dozens of monsters Alex had never seen before; seal like creatures that snarled, women with each a furry leg and one made out of gold... a menagerie of strange creatures Alex could not name.
"What's happening?" Samirah said. "Why are the monsters trying to get in? How can they get in?"
"It appears that your fellow einherji are holding them off for now." The image flickered, as did Freya herself. "My power grows weak, no thanks to my prison."
"Prison?" Magnus said. "Are you asking us to rescue you? What about Hotel Valhalla? What about the other gods?"
Freya suddenly grimaced as if she were overcome by a stomachache. "I will find a way to contact you again somehow. First, you must go find more allies to aid you. As for the gods, this threat is beyond even the extent of our reach, which is why you must journey forth and gather allies at a place no einherji has gone before."
"And that is?"
Freya's form flickered again as she winced, but managed to make out three words Alex never expected to hear.
May let the flour-like ash that was once the legendary Sword of Summer sift through her hands as she scanned the area around her. She’d already searched the upper floors to confirm that of the seven that had accompanied her on the objective, three were dead, and the other four gravely injured…today had been a damned brutal mess.
The sword hadn’t been too difficult to deal with, though she cursed herself for not removing it herself and destroying it earlier. Even a legendary godly weapon was no match for her newly learned powers. She would have to thank the others when they met up again.
However, it was quite pitiful that her magicians turned out to be so unprepared that they would be easily beaten by a bunch of teenagers. Well trained, exceptionally skilled teenagers, but teenagers nonetheless.
She looked at the clock on the wall across from her, one of the few items in the living room that had emerged from the earlier skirmish unscathed. It’s almost nine. Although she had failed in completing the first objective, they could afford to let Chase and the others escape. They wouldn’t have many other places to hide, not with the Hotel surrounded.
She stared down at the peaceful faces of the Norns, their bodies undisturbed from the destruction around them. Why the Sisters had surrendered so easily, had barely even put up much of a fight continued haunted her. Why the others didn’t care so much bothered her even more.
Still, she continued to put her utmost trust in them. They had helped heal her, were there to help when she finally had the chance mourned her son…her sweet, sweet baby boy, with her, and opened her eyes to possibilities and powers that she never knew she had within her. Things that Hermes himself never bothered to tell her.
Fury surged within her when she thought of him, even though she could barely remember his stupidly handsome face.
But it wouldn’t matter. One way or another, nothing was going to stop May Castellan from having her revenge.
And the heat intensifies...
As you may have noticed, I've decided to change this story's tense from present to past, to give it more of a traditional feel, like a Riordan book. Sticking with it unless I end up tearing my hair out over this choice which, well...let's just say I hope I'm too far into this fic to even consider editing the chapters all over again lol
Might start posting snippets of my tumblr, though the next chapter will be completed a little quicker than usual anyway.
In the meantime, in response to the release of the Burning Maze (god have mercy on our souls), I've decided to clear up a few things:
While most of TOA won't be canon in this fic past the Dark Prophecy, as I've stated in the summary, certain locations, and characters might be referenced and even pop up. No character deaths that occur past TDP will apply, however, making this fic mostly semi-au.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy what's to come next!
Chapter 4: A Killing Joke
Special thanks to Daziy & Shiiki as always for making my messes look less messy!
"Nico?" Rachel gasped. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"What does it look like?" Nico reached out with the hand that wasn't covered with blood. Rachel took it and allowed him to slowly pull her off her seat. He held his blood smothered blade at his side, making sure it wasn't too close to her. "Rescuing you. You doing alright? Sorry I had to make a mess," he said as he stared at the boys' body on the floor, blood pooling beneath it.
"Yeah," she replied once she was back on her feet, releasing his hand. She avoided glancing at the body and the pool of blood forming around it and focused on Nico's face instead. He'd grown quite a bit in the years since Gaea's defeat: his face no longer looked so gaunt. His hair, while still bushy and messy, had been trimmed into an undercut. A black JanSport backpack rested on lean, muscled shoulders. There were only slight glimmers of any resemblance to the twelve-year old boy she'd met what felt like eons ago.
"I didn't see you at camp all summer," Rachel said. "You just got back from the escort mission?"
"Yup," Nico said. "She was a feisty one, an Ares kid no doubt, but I'd only just started to crash for the night when Chiron woke me up."
"I can tell." Rachel saw the bags under his eyes, though they were no longer as prominent as she remembered them usually being. "I'm assuming you can't just shadow travel us out?"
Nico shook his head. "Coming here at this hour was draining enough, and I just summoned a few friends to distract the other guards close by. Now c'mon." He grabbed Rachel's hand and pulled her toward the restroom entrance.
"What's happening?" Rachel asked. "Why is my father's party being held hostage?"
"No time to explain," Nico said. He walked to the bathroom door and slowly opened it. "Now we've got to get out as fast as possible."
"You think we can grab my suitcase in the stairway?"
"Suitcase?" Nico asked, looking bewildered. "What on earth do you need a suitcase for?"
"I was planning on moving to camp," Rachel replied. "We're going to the stairs, right? I heard them say they saw it. If it's not there anymore, we move on. You ok with that?"
As they left, she caught a glimpse of the other side of the floor and saw only flashes of scarlet light and heard the clashing of metal. Nico's skeleton warriors were formidable, but they couldn't rely on them for too long. They bolted as quickly as they could, making their way back to the stairwell. Thankfully, the suitcase was still right where she left it, though it was now lying face up, showing the name tag with her name written on it.
Nico removed his backpack and unzipped it after placing it on the ground. "Now put it in here. Hurry."
"Um….I don't think that's going to work."
"It's enchanted," Nico explained. "It's like Chiron's wheelchair."
He took her suitcase from her hands. As he began to stuff it in, Rachel watched in awe as the suitcase suddenly twisted itself to fit the otherwise small opening in the backpack. Even after all these years, the world of gods and magic never ceased to surprise her.
As soon as he finished, they immediately began to make their way down. As they made their way quickly and quietly several floors down towards the back exit, Rachel realized that she still hadn't gotten any answers to her burning questions.
"Hey," she asked as they jogged down the stairs. "What about my parents? Did you hear anything about a William and Margaret Dare?"
"I overheard someone talk about questioning the hosts, but-"
"Then what are we waiting for? C'mon, we need to get my parents away from these people, and anyone else that's in danger!"
"Look," Nico said. "I know that you're worried, but the people who invaded this place aren't out for them…they're here for you. You were going to leave them anyway, weren't you? That's why you were all packed up to-"
"How can you tell me to abandon my own parents?" Rachel shot back angrily.
She was adamant about staying. Sure, they were assholes, and it would be likely they wouldn't even remember what happened once this whole thing blew over. But she knew that even they would do the same thing if they were in her shoes.
"Look," Nico began. "We're not abandoning anyone here. Chiron's sending in backup to help stop these people. I'm here to make sure that you don't do anything stupid like that ."
"How about you tell me what's going on first instead of ordering me around like I don't know how to handle myself?!" Rachel's patience had run out. "Who are these people? What's going on?"
Nico looked up at the higher flights of stairs, listening carefully for any footsteps. After a moment, he began to explain. "Ten minutes ago, some people managed to convince the entire party to leave at gunpoint except your parents. They were interrogating them to find out where you were."
"Why?" Rachel asked. "What are they after me for?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Nico exclaimed. "You're the Oracle . If they've gone this far as to interrupt a public event, risking exposing themselves just to get you, they must really want you bad ."
"And you have no idea for what?"
"We need to do something about my parents."
"Look, I know you're worried, but I'm sorry. We can't!" Nico said. "You of all people can't just throw yourself into danger even if someone's life depends on-"
"They're down there!" a voice cried from above.
Rachel froze. From a few floors above, two boys carrying swords peer down at them.
"Get them!" she heard a girl's voice cry out.
"Run," Nico gritted through his teeth. And they did. But they didn't even make it down two floors when there was a flash red light and he crumpled to the floor, dropping his sword.
"No!" Rachel cried and ran to his side.
Without warning, Nico's arms snapped up around her neck, locking her in a chokehold as strong as iron. Rachel wheezed as she tried to talk to him. "Nico- Stop! What are you-"
"I…It's not me," Nico insisted, his eyes wide in terror. "I can't...I can't control my arms."
"Sarah, let him go," one of the magicians said. "Orders were to not hurt her too badly. You don't want to upset the boss, right?"
Rachel felt the grip around her neck loosen as Nico removed his hands. As soon as she was free, she doubled over, gasping for breath. She turned and saw that their captors comprised of a boy and a girl carrying long, white, hooked shaped blades. The girl, Sarah, carried a hook shaped stick not unlike the one the boy Nico killed earlier had and stared at her with steely brown eyes.
"Right," she replied. "Nathaniel," she said to the other magician, "Go get his sword. I'll bind her. There's no need to waste energy with another spell." She turned to face Nico. "You're going to pay for what you did to Sam, you hear me?"
Nico remained silent. Nathaniel jogged down the stairs and picked up Nico's sword by the hilt, noticing the blood. As Sarah bound Rachel's hands behind her back with a zip tie, she glared at her captors.
"What do you want from me?" she snarled. "What have you done with my parents?"
"You'll see," Sarah replied. "Now get up. We can't keep the boss waiting too long."
They marched them down back to the main dining pavilion where the party was being held. When she walked through the doors, her breath hitched in her throat.
The entire pavilion had been emptied of its guests, save for a lone figure in the very front of the main dining table shaking and kneeling on the floor.
At the sound of their arrival, William Dare turned and meet his daughter's eyes. "R-Rachel?"
"Dad?!" she cried. Rachel tried to run to him but was stopped by a tug to her hair from one of the boys. "Where's Mom? Where's Mom ?"
But instead of answering, William started shaking his head and began muttering to himself. "It's all my fault. I should've…but I couldn't …"
He turned toward what appeared to be a pile of dust on the floor. Wait, no…there was something sticking in it. Something that looked like…a skull? And that red fabric looked familiar…
It didn't take long for Rachel to realize the terrible truth.
"Oh, hey Rachel." greeted a familiar voice. "Told you I was sure we'd be talking again soon. I was worried we might lose you once you left the party: our team hadn't arrived yet."
Rachel turned towards the voice, and who she saw made her jaw drop.
Joel Gensai had shed her dress in favor of stylish joggers and a hoodie both in black. But what drew Rachel's attention the most was a long, menacing looking steel katana that she grasped in her left hand. Her twinkly eyes shone with a mischievous, mocking expression that makes Rachel's blood boil.
"You know her?" Nico's asked. Apparently, the ability to speak and turn his head were the only body movements left in his control.
"W-We'd just met today." Rachel explained. "But I don't understand. All these people…what about your Dad?"
Joel shook her head. "There was never any Mark Gensai, or a Gensai Enterprises. Just a front we created with some, what do you people call it? Glamour? Mist? …Whatever. Doesn't matter. We arranged a meeting with your parents, so we could get an invite to the event. In fact," she motioned towards Rachel's father, "I think it's still working."
At that, William suddenly turned and glares at Joel. "Whatever you think you're doing, you won't get away with it! The police are outside…I'm good friends with the Police Chief, you know!"
"All these upper-class idiots are the same, aren't they?" a cold, airy male voice interrupted.
To her left, the door to the restroom opened, and emerging from it came a tall figure clothed in white, billowing robes. Concealing his face was a gold mask which resembled one of the Mycenaean death masks she had seen once at the Met. The expression on the mask was solemn, quiet, emotionless, yet something about it struck fear into her heart. The fabric of his pure white robes flew around his legs as he walked, making him look as if he was floating on the floor, like one of the wind spirits she'd seen at Camp.
Behind him trailed a small, creature whose scales shone brightly even in the dimmed party lights. As it approached, Rachel realized that it was a Komodo dragon, and that its scales appeared to be made of literal gold from head to toe except for its claws and eyes, which shone a bright ruby red.
The masked figure spoke something in a language she couldn't understand, and, to Rachel's astonishment, he reached into the air and pulled out a long, curved blade. He walked to her father's shivering form and, to Rachel's horror, ran his blade across throat with a swift, sharp motion.
"NO!" Rachel screamed. Her father toppled, blood pooling around him as his blank eyes continue to stare blankly ahead of him. "You fucking bastard!"
"I thought you hated him, didn't you?" the masked man asked. He sounded young, maybe only a few years older than her, but no less menacing. "At least that was what the reports said. You should be relieved. Now you won't have to worry about him ever again."
"I-I didn't mean…I didn't want-" Rachel tried to form some words, but shock had overtaken her completely. "I didn't want this . He was innocent, dammit!"
"Innocent is a pretty strong word to describe a man like him," the masked man replied. "Especially after what he must've done to you."
Then he turned toward Nico and froze. " You," he gasped. "Wow, who would've thought we would've met again here of all places?"
Nico glared at him but didn't look afraid. "Should I know you?"
The masked man walked over to him. "I used to be an unclaimed like you, Nico di Angelo. Then I found a new home with the armies of Kronos. We were going to bring a new age of freedom, free from the Gods. But then…"
Without warning, he punched Nico in the face, who toppled backward. " You and your damn father's army helped take that away from us!"
"No!" Rachel screamed.
Nico glared up at his captor, scowling. The red aura around him suddenly vanished, and he clutched his now bleeding nose.
"I should kill you for that," the masked man said, ignoring Nico's defiant glare. "But I think we can find some better use for you."
"What do you want with me?" Rachel shouted, trying to shift the man's attention away from Nico. "What's the point of all this?"
The masked man walked away from Nico to face her. Towering over her, staring at her through the lifeless expression on the mask he wore, he excreted menace.
"Do you fully understand the capabilities of your gift, Miss Dare?" he asked. "The fact that you are the only one in the world besides the Fates who can glimpse all our destinies? That's a power that even the gods respect. Thing is, I'm not a god, aren't I?"
Rachel snarled at him, giving the best look of loathing she could give. Suddenly, she felt the ever-familiar sensation of her head spinning. She knew exactly what would follow next. Her muscles tensed, her eyelids suddenly grew heavy as the Spirit of Delphi took ahold of her body.
"Wha-What's going on?" she heard Joel ask, confused. "What's happening to her?"
"The spirit of Delphi is speaking now, that's what!" the masked man exclaimed, his voice sounding farther and farther away as Rachel shut her eyes. "But...why now?"
The Spirit had always been forceful with her, as if it was trying to make up for the decades it had spent trapped in a husk of a body. Contrary to widespread belief, she was fully conscious whenever it took ahold of her. And man was it uncomfortable, with the way her body felt as if she were having an incredibly bad hangover.
She didn't even have the strength to shriek in pain when the spirit rasped out its ominous rhyme.
Only with Titan's mortal spawn can the torch be found
The key to what you seek lies with the deathly hound.
The entrance to its realm shall be opened with a saying of peace
The inventor's design can be unlocked with a backwards fleece
A secret unearthed, a future's stake at hand.
Fire's fury shall save friends with a last stand.
The spirit relinquished its hold, darkness eating away at her vision…and then nothing.
Nico had been sleeping for merely two hours when Chiron banged on the door to his cabin to inform him that Apollo had sensed Rachel was in danger. The mission had been organized in a rush, and though Nico had left before he knew who else would be aiding the rescue effort, he knew that Jason and at least three others would be arriving by pegasi to aid him.
But that didn't change the fact that he'd failed.
I'm sorry, Rachel.
Her parents were both dead, and soon she would be too. His death sense was overwhelming, pulsating even more than when he'd realized Bianca was gone.
"W-What the hell was that?" the katana wielding girl, Joel said in fear.
"That," the masked man explained, "was a prophecy. It's honestly the least creepy thing in this world you'll be getting used to. It knew what we were looking for, before we even asked…" He paused in thought. But why tell us now?"
Nico had a hunch on why. But whatever his conclusion was wouldn't matter as long as he was still bound and helpless. He couldn't even reach his sword, which had been placed on a table only a few feet away from him.
"What now then?" the other henchman asked.
"It means we take care of the Sisters after we obtain the Torch," the masked leader decided. "We'll discuss more later. We need to begin the ritual now ." He walked over to Rachel's unmoving form, reached into his robe and took out a scroll, unrolled it and began to read it aloud.
Nico didn't exactly consider himself fluent in ancient Greek, but his brain was hardwired to pick up certain phrases. He recognised a few words: Open and Trap. The rest was all strange chanting in a tongue that he didn't recognize, but which he was sure wasn't Greek. What kind of magic is this?
After a moment, Rachel opened her eyes wide, glassy and blank. Her mouth opened, and bright green smoke funneled out of her mouth, billowing into a thick cloud. The emerald essence gathered into the scroll, which began to brighten a blinding light.
The masked man stopped chanting and the light disappeared. Rachel dropped to the ground, eyes closed, unconscious once more. Though this time, her skin had turned a sickly shade of yellow, like Nico's own had been so long ago. "I'm going to prepare the portal now," the masked man said as he rolled up the scroll. He turned towards Joel.
"Kill the girl," he ordered coldly. "But take di Angelo with us."
"No!" Nico tried to get up but felt his muscles lock up again as he was struck by the paralyzing spell. It made his muscles as heavy as iron, his joints like rusted steel. He could only watch helplessly as Joel advanced towards Rachel, sword drawn.
"Please!" he begged, trying to at least stall him. "M-maybe if I give you something in exchange for her life? Anything…just don't kill her."
His masked captor faced him. Even though his features were hidden under his mask, Nico had feeling that behind the cold, golden face he was smiling.
"Really, son of Hades?" he exclaimed. "You really think you're in a position for negotiating with us? What on earth do you think we'll want from y-"
The doors of the cafeteria flew open.
"GET AWAY FROM MY FRIENDS!" Jason screamed as he charged in, the others following. Nico could barely contain his relief.
"Stop them!" the masked man barked to his henchmen. But before one of them could even raise her wand, a ball of light hit her square in the chest, sending her flying.
"Nico, move dammit!" Calypso shrieked as she flung a spell at a nearby magician. The masked man and Nathaniel rushed towards her but were forced to duck under a blast of electricity aimed at their heads.
"EAT SHIT, SUCKERS!" Clarisse La Rue cried with a fury only a child of Ares could muster as she charged. With a well-timed swing of her shield, she sent a surprised Nathaniel flying back, where he hit a wall.
Joel ran towards Jason and swung her blade in an arch and slashes with resounding speed. Jason barely blocked it. An enormous bronze shield flew out from his wrist, catching her off guard.
"Neat trick," Joel remarked, eyes focusing again on her foe.
"Thanks," Jason said, and then rammed his shield at Joel, causing her to jump back. "And you're gonna lose because of it."
Then Nico remembered that the spell on his body had lifted again, apparently because whoever cast it was lying unconscious on the floor. He scanned around the room for his sword and saw it placed on one of the dining tables a few feet away from him. As he crawled towards it, a flash green light narrowly missed his head.
"Dammit!" the masked man cursed, casting another fireball that Nico managed to dodge with a roll. "Get him, Eustace! Keep him away from the girl!"
The golden reptile sprinted toward him with surprising speed, only to be blasted away by Calypso. She sent one hurtling towards the masked man, igniting a ferocious duel.
Nico didn't look back until he finally got his sword back. A moment later Clarisse ran to him, pulling him up.
"C'mon, pipsqueak!" she urged, motioning towards the kitchen door. "Follow me!"
Nico saw the other two henchmen lying unconscious, one of them having smashed his head straight through the wall. "But what about-"
"Take her!" Calypso commanded, still locked in battle with the masked man. She fires a spell at Rachel's unconscious form, which rose into the air and wisped towards Clarisse and Nico. "Jason and I'll get there later! Just go!"
Even from a distance, Nico could tell that she was becoming exhausted while her opponent shows no sign of it. Still, he ran with Clarisse as fast as his lungs could allow him to, looking back to make sure that Rachel's still form was still following them. Even when Clarisse managed to get them all the way out the back door, they kept running, narrowly avoiding contact with the police that were still in the area.
Somehow, without anyone noticing the unconscious girl that was flying right behind them, they made it to an alleyway two blocks away from the Dare penthouse. By then, Nico's legs felt like jelly, and he ended up throwing up right in front of Clarisse, narrowly missing her shoes.
She jumped in shock, nearly kneeing Nico in the face. "What the fuck? Not cool!" she yelped.
"Sorry," Nico replied as he wiped his face with his forearm. "Should we counter the spell on Rachel now? Check how she's doing?"
"Yeah," Clarisse replied. She walked over to Rachel's levitating form and felt her forehead.
"She's still alive," Clarisse confirmed, as if Nico wasn't already aware of that. "But she's freezing. I can use my jacket to warm her-"
A resounding BOOM in the distance interrupted her, coming from the direction they fled.
"Let's hope it's who I think it is."
Nico does, fear piling up at the thought of having to face the others if Jason didn't make it back.
They continued watching Rachel for a few minutes, making sure her condition didn't worsen, when Jason and Calypso finally arrived. Their faces and clothes were covered in soot. Nico grimaced when he saw that Jason had not one, but three deep slices on his sword arm as well as a nasty gash on his cheek, all which bled profusely.
"The magician I was fighting accidentally set the penthouse on fire," Calypso explained as she reached into her backpack for blocks of ambrosia. Thankfully, she seemed to have escaped without a scratch, though Nico wondered if she'd already healed any wounds she might've gotten. "I managed to summon a wind spirit to distract him so we could flee. I hope Rachel's parents have insurance."
"Honestly, I don't think they would mind," Nico said. "Rachel was planning to move out when I found her. And, well..."
"Huh," Jason remarked as Calypso handed him a bag of ambrosia from the pack. Then his eyes widened as he realized what Nico meant. "Wait, the dead guy on the floor...was that-"
"Her father." Nico finished grimly. "They killed her mom too, even though there's no body."
Jason sighed. Calypso went to Rachel, muttering the counter spell so that the girl slowly floated onto the ground.
"Yeesh, Grace," Clarisse said as she glanced at Jason's wounds. "That bitch sure did a number on you."
"She would've beaten me," Jason muttered as he drank from his water bottle. "I don't know where on earth she learned to fight like that, but she's ridiculously fast and light footed. It's not a Roman or Greek form she's using either. She used the dull edge of her sword to swing at my shield arm, trying to injure me." He grimaced as Calypso wrapped bandages around his bleeding arm, working some magic to aid in the healing. "Where on earth did she get a celestial steel katana ? Who the hell are these people?"
"They wanted the Spirit of Delphi," Nico replied. "And they got it."
Calypso's piercing brown eyes widened. "What do you mean they got it ?"
"I mean exactly what I mean," he said. "Somehow, the guy in the mask used some form of magic to extract the Spirit of Delphi from Rachel's body without killing her."
"That's impossible." Calypso said. "What kind of magic would he use? I've never heard of anyone, not even a god having that kind of power."
"But do you realize what this means?" Jason interjected. "No prophecies…no guidance for demigods…what do we do?"
"Thing is," Nico explained, "before the Oracle was captured, it spewed out a prophecy without being asked anything."
"That's...strange." Clarisse remarked. "Do you have any idea why?"
"I don't know how the Oracle knew what the masked man wanted. But my hunch is the prophecy was meant for both him and for us."
"If only it could've helped only us," Jason remarked. "But what about the attackers? You have any idea who they are? Who their leader is?"
"No." Nico replied. "But the thing is, he said he recognized me from the Battle of Manhattan. He said, I used to be an unclaimed like you."
"You're shitting me." Clarisse said. "I thought all the other enemy demigods were killed after we won?"
"But what about the Doors of Death?" Jason asked. After swallowing a few cubes of ambrosia, his cuts had ceased bleeding and begun to decrease in size. Although they didn't close completely, it lessened the anxiety Nico had for his friend. "He could be another one of the escapees."
"That's true," Nico replied. "He could be."
But something else didn't sit right with him. He remembered the way the energy of the ritual made him feel: his insides turned cold, the symbols he was sure were Egyptian Hieroglyphs that had surrounded Rachel's body. The fact that something existed that was powerful enough to capture the most ancient and most powerful of spirits only stressed him out even more.
But they had more important things to worry about at the moment. Rachel's body temperature had dropped dangerously low. Since she could freeze even more if they took her back by pegasi, Nico decided to summon Jules-Albert. When he arrived in a flash of smoke, they managed to squeeze Rachel into the middle seat, propping her up with the seat belt. Nico took shotgun and stared outside the window as Jules-Albert drove them back to camp.
The years after the Giant War, while being some of the best of his life, caused Nico to wonder how big their world really was. He could barely wrap his mind around the idea of the Roman aspects of the gods when his father had explained them to him, and he had been curious since about the possibility that the Olympians were hiding more information regarding their place in the world. But he'd kept those thoughts to himself, sure that his father would never divulge such secrets without a higher motive.
Now, after witnessing magic more powerful than he'd ever imagined, and facing foes he'd never heard of, that curiosity had returned.
He wished that it hadn't.
Chapter 5: The Moment You've All Been Waiting For...
Guess who's back
It was beginning to be one of the longest nights of Jason's life.
Which was why he was thankful there was barely any traffic tonight, which wasn’t too surprising given that it was almost two in the morning. He was especially thankful none of them had to drive back to Camp; there was no way he could, with the cuts on his arms still stinging feverishly.
His mind wandered, dwelling on what had happened at Dare Enterprises, where he had the privilege (if one could call it that) of fighting some of the deadliest creatures ever known to man, and managed to keep all his limbs intact. Getting over the shock of living another day should’ve been easy by now, given how many battles and wars he'd been through.
But this fight had been the furthest thing from easy. Though it had been over an hour ago since they’d left, he couldn't stop thinking about his formidable foe. He'd fought some strange foes before, but none stuck out quite like she did. Despite her being apparently entirely human her strange, hackneyed but fluid slashes were so fast, he’d never been able to leave a defensive position (he made a mental note to thank Leo for improving his shield).
What gnawed in his head though was how angrily she fought him. As if she had a grudge against him personally. Her furious glare when she pushed her blade against his shield...what was going on in that head of hers? Or was he just over analyzing, still reeling from the stress of it all?
It was times like these that he wished Piper was with him. She would've been able to say something reassuring with her charm speak laden voice. He could always rely on her to have his back. But at the moment she was safe in New Rome where she was preparing for the upcoming semester. Jason would have to deal with it by himself for now.
“Almost there,” Jules Albert said from the driver’s seat, somehow able to focus on the road despite the fact he didn’t have any eyes. He drove past a highway sign that confirmed that they had mere minutes until they reached Camp.
“Good.” Jason turned around in his seat to face Calypso, who was checking a still unconscious Rachel on the right of her. To her left, Clarisse was still staring out the back window, checking if they were being followed. “Are you sure alright?”
“I think so,” Calypso felt her forehead. “Her body temperature is normal, her heart rate is steady, so I think she’ll be alright. But I can’t tell you when exactly she’ll wake u—”
Without warning, Rachel’s eyes snapped open. She gasped, jerking upright as if she’d been pinched. Then she turned over and vomited right onto the carpeted limo floor. Clarisse flinched, but didn’t even do as much as squirm, and patted the Oracle's back. “Relax, relax.”
“Nico!” Rachel gasped as soon as she stopped retching. “Nico’s-“
“I’m right here.” Nico reached behind him and rested his hand on her arm. He wasn’t a healer, but he hoped his presence would help to calm her a little. “You’re safe. We’re heading to camp right now.”
“It…it wasn’t a dream?”
A lump began to form in his throat. “No.”
“Something’s wrong,” Rachel gasped. Her face looked pale and clammy, and she began to hyperventilate. “I feel…empty. Like something’s missing...the Spirit! It’s—”
“Don’t think about that now,” Jason interrupted. It would do her no good if she continued to panic. “All that matters is that you’re safe.”
“We’re here,” Jules Albert announced as he slowly pulled to a stop.
“Guys?” Nico pointed at something outside the window. “Looks like we've got visitors.”
Jason looked to his right. At the top of the hill, in front of the camp gate, three figures were locked in conversation with the two guards on night duty: Will and Mitchell.
He unbuckled his seat belt. “You guys stay in the car with Rachel for now. I’ll check out what’s going on. I’ll wave if it’s safe. If it’s not…you’ll know.”
“I’ll go with you,” Nico quickly grabbed his sword. “They could be trouble.”
Jason nodded, exited the limo and jogged up toward Half Blood Hill, Nico trailing not far behind him. As soon as he was close enough, he quickly unsheathed his sword, and the three strangers immediately turned to face them.
Now that he could see them better in the torchlight, Jason decided to get a look at the strangers. Their leader; a blonde-haired boy whom he swore could’ve been a younger Kurt Cobain, looked at him with wide, fearful eyes. Next to him was a…boy? Girl? He didn’t want to assume, along with a caramel skinned girl clad in a green hijab. Hijab girl wielded a large, menacing looking axe at her side, which immediately caught Jason's attention. So they can fight. But how well?
“Please,” the Kurt Cobain lookalike pleaded. “I swear I’m not here to hurt you.”
“Jason! Nico! You’re back!” Will exclaimed. "Where's everyone else?"
“Drop your weapons then and we’ll talk,” Jason demanded. "The others will come as soon as these people do as I say."
Nico drew his sword as well. “Don’t get any ideas, folks.”
The blonde boy sighed, but the three strangers complied, slowly lowering their weapons to the ground. Jason turned around and signaled at the limo.
“Who are you?” Nico demanded, trying to give the appearance that he was anything but tired. “Do you have a satyr?”
“I don’t even know what— Look, is Chiron still coming? He’ll understand.”
“He’s coming right now,” Mitchell said. “You know, you three came in at a rather inconvenient hour-shit…is that Rachel?”
An awake but still sick looking Rachel staggered toward the gate. Calypso and Clarisse supported by her the shoulders as they slowly made their way up the hill.
“Yeah,” she greeted weakly. “Hey guys.”
The three strangers stared at the girls as they got closer to the entrance. “Don’t even move a muscle, or I’ll run you through.” Will warned as as the girls walked past the gate. “You alright, Jason?” he asked, eyes trailing over his bandages.
“I’ll be fine. Nothing my body can’t take.”
“Good to know. Mitchell, I’ll have to check on how she’s doing. Think you can cover for me?”
With a nod, Will accompanied the girls as they walked to the Big House.
“Now,” Mitchell began once they were out of sight, “Explain what you can now.”
“Listen,” the blonde-haired boy began. “You know Annabeth Chase, right? I’m her cousin, Magnus.”
“I didn’t even know Annabeth had a cousin.” Jason replied. “How on earth do you know where Camp was?”
“I didn't. It’s complicated, and it probably won’t make much sense to you no matter what I say. Just get me Chiron, he’s the Camp Director here, right? We’re not planning any attack.”
“What is going on here?” Chiron galloped over to the gate, still clad in his pink striped pajamas. As soon as he laid his eyes on the three strangers, they widened. “M-Magnus Chase?”
“You know me?” Magnus said, looking shocked.
Chiron gulped. He had never done that before in front of them. “I, Chiron, Camp Activities Director, hereby grant permission for Magnus Chase and his comrades to enter.”
Jason’s jaw dropped. Nico and Mitchell looked equally surprised as Magnus and his friends walked through the gate. Never before had Chiron granted passage to anyone so quickly.
“Thank you,” Magnus said after taking his first steps on camp ground.
“You’re welcome,” Chiron replied. “I’m sorry for the trouble, it is our policy to not allow anyone new here without some questioning. How on earth did you three get here?”
“Freya sent us here,” the hijab clad girl explained. “Some sort of portal she created in Boston that led directly to your camp.”
“I assume she didn’t send you here to tell me she’s cancelled pizza night.”
“Pizza night?” Nico asked. “Chiron, slow down a little. You know these people?”
Chiron’s expression darkened. “Magnus here…is an einherji from Hotel Valhalla.”
“Hotel Valhalla?” Jason exclaimed. “What the hell does a Hotel have to do with any of this?"
“It's the home for our fallen Norse heroes, and it is under siege,” the green haired person explained. “Some magician group attacked our home. And, you're not going to believe this; they killed the Norns.”
Even in the dim torchlight, Jason could see Chiron instantly turn pale. “P-preposterous. You’re absolutely sure about this?”
“Would we be here if we weren’t?” Magnus said grimly.
“What the heck's going on?” asked a familiar female voice. “Why's everyone up so—no way.”
To Jason’s surprise, and, given how loud they gasped, everyone else’s, Percy and Annabeth entered through the gate. Behind them stumbled two younger teenage girls he didn't recognize.
“Woah, guys!” Jason exclaimed. “What are you doing here this late?” He glanced at the two girls, who each looked to be about Nico’s age. One of them, a pretty Arab looking girl with tired, baggy eyes, looked like she’d been crying. “Who are your friends?”
“Long story,” Annabeth said. “Magnus? Alex? How are you here?”
“Longer story.” The hijab clad girl cut in. She extended a hand to Annabeth. “I’m Samirah, by the way. Magnus and Alex have told me a lot about you two.”
“Same,” Annabeth said. “I wish we could’ve met under better circumstances though.”
“Well, well.” Chiron said. “Magnus Chase and Sadie Kane at Camp Half Blood. I thought Ragnarok would arrive sooner than the day something like this happened.”
“You must be Chiron,” the Arab girl greeted. “My name is-”
“Zia Rashid. I’ve heard quite a bit about you too. I’m assuming Anubis directed you here? But I digress. It’s late, and I think it’s time we all get a good night’s sleep before discussing anything.”
“Sir?” Zia interrupted sharply. “With all due respect, I didn’t sit in a taxi for a half an hour just to be told I needed to sleep. The fate of the gods-“
“Everything we know, the balance of the entire world order is at risk, don’t you understand!?” she said
“Zia…” Sadie said in a comforting tone. “I know you want to talk, but—”
“NOT YOU TOO!”
The whole group immediately fell silent. Everyone, including Jason, was aback by Zia’s outburst. For a fleeting moment anger at her boiled in him for being so rude to Chiron even though her was just trying to be nice to her...but, it passed, replaced by pity despite not knowing what she could’ve been through.
Chiron had implied that the girls were like Magnus, strangers who should have never been able to even find Camp Half-Blood, much less step foot in it. Could they have just escaped from dangerous foes, like how he did?
“I’m…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have...” Zia trailed off, looking ashamed. Then she burst into tears.
Sadie walked up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright, it’s been a long night,” she whispered in a gentle tone. She looked up at Chiron, clearly stunned by his appearance. “Um...Sir?” she asked nervously. “Annabeth told me Hermes Cabin is where newcomers stay, right?”
“You can stay in the Big House, actually," Chiron said. "I don’t wish to wake up anyone else at this hour. Magnus, you and your friends too can join them. We shall talk in the morning when we’re all well rested and fed. In fact…Jason, isn’t the Argo III arriving tomorrow?”
“Yeah…” Jason said, realizing what it could mean. “They’ll want to hear about this too, won’t they?”
Chiron sighed gravelly, which gave away exactly how anxious he really was.
“If fate has decreed that all of us meet here, at this very moment…I can't imagine what could be coming on the horizon.”
As if his spirits couldn't get any lower, outside the camp it began to thunder.
Hotel Valhalla under siege was a fearsome sight.
A few dozen military vans were parked throughout the entire street; dozens more magicians firing spells of all kinds at the hotel’s magical barriers. Flashes of orange and green filled the air, turning the normally peaceful Boston street into something akin to a ghastly fireworks show. Monsters of all shapes and sizes, some she recognized, some they didn't, snarled and growled, eager for something to rip and tear. And yet, mortal pedestrians continued about their day, seemingly unaware of what was going on.
“And there’s nothing we can do?”
Freya shook her head. Her form flickered and the image she’d shown them disappeared. “This enemy is beyond any of you alone. Valhalla's walls are not easily broken though; we still have weeks and maybe even months until the enemy finds a way through. But with the help of others, other magic from outside our realm we may stand a chance. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.”
“Camp Half-Blood?” Magnus asked. “How do you know they’ll accept us?”
“I don’t know much about our enemy, who they are, or what they want. But what I do know is that they’ve planned something for them tonight as well. They’ll be wanted as much help as they can get.”
Freya winced once more. Her form began to dim. “I’ve run out of time. I’ve given you refuge and a place to go. The portal will take you straight to the Camp’s gates. Stay safe, demigods. Allfather bless you.”
Those had been the goddess's last words before she had vanished, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Still, they had no choice but to obey her orders, given they themselves had no plan on where to go. She had directed them to the location of a hidden weapons stache at, of all places, the base of the Leif Erickson statue in Boston. There, they had also a hidden portal that would lead them to the Camp's gate, where they had argued with the stubbornly cautious guards until Jason and the others had arrived. Much to her disappointment, what she got in return for her efforts was a direction to head straight to bed.
At first, she was ready to fight. Her friends were in danger, dammit! She was surrounded by some of the most legendary demigods who've ever lived, and they understood the reality of the threat as well. What were they all waiting for?
Then reality hit her. It was almost two in the morning. One of the girls beat her to it and started making demands, and it only ended with her crying. And Alex knew that it would’ve been selfish of her to try to push the subject any further.
Annabeth led them to the Big House, where they found a couch that could open into a queen sized bed. Samirah went to bed in one of the rooms elsewhere.
But while cradled in Magnus’s arms, warmed by his body heat and surrounded by the musky smell of him she loved so much, Alex had trouble falling asleep that night. All that she could think of was the moment Mallory told her to flee. Her boisterous friend had known that there was very little chance she could’ve survived. She would have been certainly going to her death, and it would have been all her fault…
No , she’d made her choice. She couldn’t dwell on what could have been. She had to move forward and go on in their memory to stop this new enemy at all costs.
And with that determination, she found the ability to relax and finally let sleep overtake her.
But it seemed she would find no rest in her dreams either. She found herself in the middle of what first appeared to be a dusty old amphitheater, clearly Greco-Roman in design. The corners of her vision swirled and rippled like ocean waves, showing that she was having, well, a vision. The entire area was covered in a thick, green fog.
Carved in stone on the front of the amphitheater's stage were two sentences written in strange symbols that resembled Roman numerals, though Alex couldn't be sure given she'd never learned Latin. School was a long distant memory among many she didn't care to recall.
“Love art in yourself, and not yourself in art. It seems the Romans are still as cultured as ever. One of the things I always admired about them, even while they desecrated us."
She turned behind her. There stood a woman dressed in a luscious two piece dress of emerald. The woman was blonde, pale and beautiful, but Alex could recognize those piercing, amber eyes anywhere.
“I imagined you would be more surprised to see me.” The God of Mischief sounded slightly disappointed. "I've never used this form in front of you before. Don't you like it?"
“I was expecting it. If it’s true that all the gods have been captured in Valhalla, then it must be easier for you to reach out to me.”
Loki’s form flickered. She winced as if she had gotten an electric shock. “In my case, easier is still miles away from easy.”
“You didn't come here just to show off, didn't you?”
Loki rolled their eyes. “I have planned on some much needed father-child time, but not now. I seriously need your help.”
“To free you?" Alex spat back. "Fat chance. I’d rather throw myself into Muspelheim than trust you.”
Loki's brow wrinkled. “Then your friends will die. The entire pantheon will fall if you don’t allow yourself to trust me. This sacred land as well.”
“What is this place?” Alex asked. Nothing about the location they were in jogged her memory.
“New Rome, the sanctuary for the Roman demigods. Your friend Percy Jackson knows of this place. The Greeks have many allies here."
"You know Percy?"
Loki nodded. "He's quite renowned in our pantheon, amongst others. We're not completely segregated from the other pantheons, you know. But back to the topic. The Greeks may have allies, but trouble is brewing her also. I've heard of the ongoing siege on Valhalla, as well as monsters of all kinds gathering at some unknown location. And little more, because despite the Hotel being under siege the Gods do not officially grant me freedom. But one other thing I know for certain: Ate is at New Rome, helping plot its fall.”
“My Greek counterpart. The other trickster goddess. She reached out me for help, that's how I knew. Offered to help free me if I agreed.”
“And why didn’t you?”
“Because I am no fool. Ate thinks she is clever, but she has no clue she may be merely be playing into the enemies’ hands. You, my child, must help me. Free me and I will lead you to victory.”
Alex resisted the urge to snort. Did her father really think she was going to be tricked that easily?
“And the siege on Hotel Valhalla? What about our friends?”
“Valhalla’s gates will hold, as they always have. It takes more than a hundred magicians to match the will of the gods. Your Greek friends have far more pressing matters. Their goal; to save New Rome, is ultimately yours as well, as their help will be needed to end the siege on Valhalla. It is the only way we can effectively save everyone.”
“And why should I trust you now, after all this time? You care for no one. Our time in the wilds proved that.”
“Please," Loki said, looking surprisingly in genuine despair.
And for the first time in a long time, Alex wanted to believe her, especially given how dire their situation was. But she would not resist her instincts so easily.There was too much bad blood between them. Loki also had the best poker face in the nine realms.
But something told her this time was different. Loki had never been as patient or seemed as honest as she did at the moment. And given everything that was happening at the moment, she needed all the help she can get.
“Fine. What do I need to know?”
Loki’s form flickered like it was being projected from a faulty screen. The trickster god wrinkled her brow. “Something is interfering with my magic. My time runs short. Use my blood, my heritage within you. It’s about time you fully embraced it anyway.”
The edges around Alex’s vision began to blacken and dim, and before she knew it, she was back in her bed and in Magnus’s arms.
“You okay, honey?” Magnus said when she moved out of his arms. He had awakened before her, it seemed.
Alex rubbed her eyes, trying to not let the events of her dream get to her. She hadn’t expected to ever see her father again. She had hoped she wouldn’t. Ever since they’d stopped the Ship of the Dead she had hoped to finally move past every ghost of their memory and everything she’d suffered because of them. And yet… if what they said was true, then somehow she would need to confront those very ghosts somehow, in some form.
Thankfully, this time she wouldn’t be alone.
“Yeah, I think I am.”
“You ready?” Hazel called from the floor above.
“Yup,” Leo replied. “They’re done clearing the area?”
“It’s all done,” Frank said from the hallway leading to the main deck. “They’re ready for you.”
Leo turned to the screen of the ship’s navigational interface, touching a little strip of mapped land. It was one of the biggest updates he’d made to the older design of the Argo II for the Argo III ; the result of his two months slaving away at the intercamp Fyre Engineering Initiative.
The Argo III and the Pandora , which sailed right behind them, were two of the four warships that’ve been commissioned for both demigod camps. All were constructed in four months, thanks to the combined numbers of the children of Vulkan and Hephaestus.
But the prize pieces, his Big Babies, were the twelve mobile cannons that Leo himself designed for both camps.They were each armed with a variety of projectile options including Greek fire, magical netting, animal transformation balls, to name a few.
The Initiative’s goal was to produce a new line of weapons tech upgrades that could be used to aid in the defense of a camp wide attack. He felt incredible pride knowing that he had directly contribution to demigods feeling safer at home. But the joy of working on such incredible projects couldn’t compare to the feeling of New York morning air he relished as he made his way up to the upper deck.
When he caught sight of the Big House for the first time all summer, his excitement levels went off the charts. It was a beautiful morning, with clear skies and a cool breeze rustling his hair. He was excited to see some of his demigod friends especially, given how long he’d been away from camp.
“And here’s Festus’s lunch.” Reyna handed him the enormous jar of chili sauce he’d asked her to get. “That’s fifteen denarii.”
“Aw man, really?” Leo groaned. “That expensive?”
Reyna rolled her eyes. “Oh, quit complaining. With your overblown salary, Valdez? Pay up. Now.”
“Patience, Arellano. I’ll pay you back when we get settled in camp.”
“I should make you swear on the Styx,” she sighed. “Now get going. Your legions of fans await.”
“Ah, of course! How could I forget?” Leo walked over to the door of the cockpit, where a bronze suitcase awaited him. With a push of a button, his mechanical friend reemerged.
“Heya boy!” Leo rubbed Festus’s head, who let out a playful snort of steam. “You hungry?”
Festus immediately opened his jaw, grinding with ear anticipation. He devoured all three-gallons of Tabasco sauce in a single gulp. He burped out a puff of smoke directly into Leo’s face.
“Alright boy,” Leo coughed as he waved away some of the fumes. His clothes didn’t get too dusty thanks to the enchantments woven into them. “Let’s go!”
He’d spent countless hours in airships, having built quite a few as well, but nothing compared to the cautious euphoria of flying something that was very much alive . Taking off, he could feel the hum of Festus’s mechanical heart beneath him. Blood rushed in his ears as they descend towards a little crowd that had formed by the base of the ship. They stared up at him, in absolute awe of his incredible coolness (at least he hoped they were).
Well, most of them.
“Show off!” A familiar girl’s voice cried out.
“Missed you too, Wise Girl,” Leo quipped back as he unsaddled himself from Festus’ back.
Annabeth, Percy and Jason emerged from the crowd and soon Leo found himself crushed in their embrace.
“Woah there, Grace.” Leo wheezed as his life was squeezed out of him. “Annabeth, help .”
“Sorry bud,” Percy replied as they released him.
“Wow…I can’t believe it!” Annabeth stared in awe at the Argo III’s enormity. Pangs of nostalgia overwhelmed her as she took in the ship in its all its glory. “It looks just like the original!”
“Well, not exactly like the original.” Leo said. “Obviously, Festus isn’t a masthead anymore, and I’ve upgraded the cannons with the latest auto aim tech-“
“Yeah, yeah, the ship’s cool,” Jason said with a grin. “But it’s great that you’re here man, given all that’s going on.”
“Hey guys!” Hazel descended the ladder & landed with a gleeful thump . Frank and Reyna followed behind her.
“Oh wow!” Annabeth ran over and gave them each other a bear hug as well. “It feels like it’s been so long!”
“Yeah, it definitely has been,” Frank said, rubbing his arms from the strain they had just been subjected. “But we want to stay for as long as we can.”
“At most a week though— ow ,” Reyna said as she winced in pain from Annabeth's particularly tight hug. “But it’s good to see you guys.
Leo noticed the bandages around Jason’s check and arms. “Jason…man…what happened to you? Did you like, piss Clarisse off during training or something?”
Jason grinned. “Heh. I wish, to be honest.” Then his expression darkened. “It was something worse, if you can believe it.”
“Was there an attack?” Reyna inquired with a look of concern. She reached out and pat his shoulder. “Is anyone else injured?”
“Last night," Annabeth began, “Rachel had to leave Camp Half Blood early to go attend a party for her Dad. But someone attacked them and...her parents didn't make it out. Nico saw them murdered himself.”
Hazel and Frank gasped loudly. Reyna’s eyes widened, her hand covering her mouth. “Oh man.” Leo exclaimed, the news hitting him like lightning. He made a note to himself to check on Rachel to see if she needed some support. He knew the pain of losing a parent all too well. “Who the hell would do such a thing?”
“We don’t know,” Jason said. “But apparently they managed to capture the Spirit of Delphi and suck it out of her.”
Leo's eyes widened.“That’s impossible. But that means… is she—?”
“She’s still alive,” Jason confirmed, much to Leo's relief. “We don’t know how, but they managed to extract it without killing her. We managed to rescue her just in time to save her. It was…intense. One of them gave me these as a souvenir.” He gestured to his unsavory injuries.
“Man…does Chiron know anything? Dionysus?” Frank asked.
“It’s just Chiron," Annabeth replied. "Dionysus was summoned to Olympus a week ago and hasn’t returned. No word from the gods either, looks like old habits die hard. Chiron promised to tell us all what he knew when we were all together. But there's more. We brought some new friends that might have a better idea on what's going on."
"More demigods?" Leo asked.
ugh this took too long and still probably needs editing but hey better than never right? would love to know ur thoughts on this mess