It was supposed to be a simple errand.
"Run down to the market at the corner and pick up some wipes," his mom had asked, leaning against the kitchen counter. Her baby bump was so huge, it looked like it was peering over the edge of the counter to judge the distance for what would be a magnificent high-dive.
Percy sighed to himself as he pictured her, smiling despite the awkwardness of her bulk. His sister was due in just a few weeks, which excited the demigod beyond all measure, but with the baby so close to being due, his mom just couldn't move around like she normally could. So he'd happily agreed. It was just a short walk down the block.
A short walk down the block that just happened to cross paths with a very angry-looking serpent lady.
Annabeth would have been proud of him. Instead of getting caught off-guard by a monster wearing some paper-thin disguise, he noticed the threat before she noticed him. She would have easily passed for just some silly street performer to the unwatchful eye, but Percy's experiences must have finally started to kick into gear, since he spotted the longer-than-usual nails poking out of the slinky dress she was wearing. Of course, just because he spotted her first didn't mean she couldn't see him back. In fact, that's just what happened, since he was still standing on the sidewalk in plain view when the woman turned her head to gaze his way.
Her eyes widened at the sight of him, only making it easier to see that her eyes glowed green with slits like those of a snake's. She dropped all pretenses of standing idle and began marching straight for the son of Poseidon, her nails seeming to grow longer until they poked fully out of her sleeves.
Percy scanned the street as she approached, cursing to himself. The New York neighborhood was a little crowded for his liking, no matter how much work the Mist might put into keeping the mortals ignorant. With the serpent woman only thirty feet away, he would have to settle for somewhere cramped, but private. With a wink at his pursuer, the demigod ducked into a side alley.
The smell that hit his nose immediately made him regret his decision, but there was no time to dash to a new location. He pushed further down the alley, leading him to a more secluded circle behind the apartment buildings he'd been next to when he first noticed the danger. Speaking of her, his newest fan was making her way down the alley now, with her hands extended to the walls next to her. From this point, Percy noticed that her hands were shriveled, and sported claws that would have made Mrs. O'Leary jealous. The hellhound could probably have eaten this snake woman like a cookie, but the alley they were now facing each other in would have been too small for her.
"Percy Jackson," the woman hissed, dragging her tongue along her lower jaw as she pronounced the final syllable. Doing so meant Percy got a good look at her teeth. They were all sharpened, like a crocodile's, which only further solidified her as Snake Lady in his mind. "We meet at last."
"Shame you couldn't wait until later today for it, though. I haven't even showered yet. You're seeing me still in my bed clothes," Percy mouthed off, pulling Riptide from his pocket and uncapping it with a pop of his thumb.
Despite a sword suddenly appearing in his hand, Snake Lady seemed indifferent to his joke. "It's not a big deal. I'll happily kill you, in spite of your shabbiness," she snapped, turning her hands so the palms were facing him. She didn't say anything else, which made it all the more surprising when it felt like Ares just plopped down from Olympus and roundhouse kicked him in the chest.
Percy went flying into a collection of trash cans, one of which ended up spilling old spaghetti all over his shoulders. That would take a lot of time to wash out.
"Guess... that means you're not in the mood for playful banter," he coughed, rising to his feet. Despite the bravado, his chest was throbbing, and Riptide felt shaky in his hand.
Snake Lady smirked. "No. Learned that lesson from my brother. Always kill first; make snarky one-lines later."
Her eyes seemed to shimmer, and Percy rolled forward, as the place where he had just been standing seemed to get body slammed by an invisible force. "You can only dodge for so long against someone like me, son of the sea," she hissed, swiping her claws in front of her.
Two dumpsters at opposite sides of the alley suddenly launched themselves at Percy, and would have crushed him if he hadn't raised his arms in time. He'd been focusing on the water tank positioned on the back of the building they were fighting next to, and with the motion, he ripped the liquid away towards him. The water formed a seal around him, and the dumpsters battered off it harmlessly.
"Talk about dirty fighting," Percy murmured, before sending his water shield spiraling towards his opponent. Snake Lady arched an eyebrow in defiance as the water came at her, and flipped a hand dismissively. The air around the water seemed to grow warm, and Percy's best line of offense evaporated into steam as Snake Lady heated the air around it.
"Clever, boy. But not good enough. I grow tired of this game," she snapped, bringing her clawed hands together into a pose. "Enough of this minor magic. When I'm done, there won't be a shred of you left." With that threat hanging in the air, she began chanting. Percy had been hanging around Camp Jupiter enough to recognize the language as Latin, but the words on their own were a mystery to him.
However, his lack of knowledge about Latin couldn't prevent him from, well, actually just attacking her while she got her spell ready. It was a trick that had worked well, more than it really should have. Hubris wasn't just the fatal flaw of many heroes; it could prove quite fatal to monsters as well. Like Snake Lady, who apparently had assumed that he would just stand there and wait while she cast her little spell of doom.
With strands of cold spaghetti still clinging to his upper torso, Percy launched himself at the sorceress, who seemed to be so wrapped up in her own greatness she had closed her eyes to focus on her spell. Somewhere Clarisse La Rue was shaking with fury at the stupidity of this snake wannabe, Percy thought, as he brought Riptide down in an arch aimed right at his enemy's head.
What Percy had not counted on, however, was that such a sword swing meant Riptide ended up passing right through whatever invisible magic Snake Lady had been using to smack him around the alley. Six inches from her head, a scaly purple light erupted as the sword came to a halt, mid-swing.
"What?" Percy managed to ask as the light came spilling out of the cut he'd made in the air. This got the attention of Snake Lady, who's serpentine eyes shot open at his exclamation.
"Quiet, toad! I'm trying t-.. what in the name of Chaos have you done?" she sputtered, her hands coming unclasped as the light enveloped both her and the son of Poseidon. "You moron! Do you have any idea what you've just done?"
As tempting as it was to mock the snake woman for her carelessness in spellcasting, the spiraling magic now completely surrounding them had Percy a tad too worried to take the bait. It was getting faster, and it took all of his strength to keep Riptide from being wretched away from his grasp. Even though the sword would eventually come back, losing it this close to a monster was a death sentence.
"Any idea what's happening right now?" he asked Snake Lady, who made the universal sign for 'My loathing for you knows no bounds' by narrowing her eyes at him and reaching out to strangle the demigod with her clawed hands.
She never got the chance to do so. A thunderous sound erupted in his ears, and a new force blew both of them back to the very ends of the purple spirals, now reaching Mach speeds. Try as he might, he couldn't keep hold of Riptide, and the sword flew out of his hand, up towards the top of the funnel. Across from him, Snake Lady looked both disgusted and horrified. A fair reaction, given the circumstances.
By now, the magic had seemingly reached its peak, then with one loud, high whistle... it was over.
The spirals vanished, the wind stopped, and the sound threatening his eardrums quieted.
It took a few moments for the son of Poseidon to realize he'd squeezed his eyes shut. That was enough to make him slam them open again. There was no way he'd ever let anyone see him making the same mistake Snake Lady had made during their battle. The same Snake Lady who'd ridden the Tunnel of Magic Death with him. The same Snake Lady... who'd suddenly vanished.
Percy blinked. Then blinked again. It was no illusion. The sorceress was gone. As a matter of fact, New York City was gone. The alley they'd been scrapping in was now replaced by a familiar sight; the strawberry fields of Camp Half-Blood.
Despite the suddenness of the change in scenery, Percy breathed a quiet sigh of relief. The camp's magic border against monsters surely meant that Snake Lady must have gotten ejected from the magic tunnel before it dropped him off here. Why it chose to drop him off here was still a viable question, but one that could wait. His mother would definitely require an explanation for why a shopping trip down the street turned into a detour to camp, which honestly scared the demigod more than any wannabe snake witch ever could.
Still, Snake Lady could end up posing a real threat sometime down the road, and Annabeth had been relentless in her insistence that he familiarize himself with as much knowledge as he could about potential monsters they'd come across. It wasn't hard for the son of Poseidon to imagine her glaring at him with annoyance, letting out a harried breath as she lectured him about the dangers they could face whenever they weren't at either of the camps. Gods, he loved that woman.
So, he turned towards the camp, walking through the fields. If anyone could give him some info about the magic snake who had attacked him, it would probably be someone at the Hecate cabin, with Chiron as a backup plan. He must have ended up landing in the northern part of the fields, since the first thing he saw upon emerging from the treeline was the pegasus stables.
He must not have spent a lot of time riding the Tilt O' Magic of Fun (Despair), since the sun looked to be in the same position it was when he'd gotten accosted back in New York. As such, there didn't seem to be anyone cleaning out the stables. Chiron had mentioned getting a rotation started the last time he had visited camp, which Mr. D had been more than happy to agree to, but Percy recalled all of the cabin counselors wincing at that proclamation. Which, of course, only made Mr. D even more supportive of the idea.
Either said rotation must have been off this time of the afternoon, or Chiron was still asking for volunteers, because there wasn't a single soul at the stables. The pegasi didn't seem to mind being left to their own devices either way, if the amount of pleased neighing was anything to go by.
Things changed as he passed by the armory and the arena. It was still the off-season, so camp was mostly empty, but the few demigods he did see all gave him weird looks. He didn't recognize any of them, and with a start, realized he still had the spaghetti from the dumpster wrapped around him. In fact, thanks to the chaos of the magic twister, most of it was now looped in his hair. No wonder he was getting so many strange looks. Who'd imagine Percy Jackson would stumble into camp looking like the son of the flying spaghetti monster?
The thought was enough to make him pull the noodles out of his hair as he walked, which thankfully wasn't too much of a hassle, but the cold sauce staining his shirt would take a washing machine, at least.
Percy bit his lip at the thought as he approached the Hecate cabin. He could only hope Lou Ellen wouldn't automatically assume the sauce was blood and go screaming for a doctor from the Apollo cabin before he could get a single word in. Or worse, try her own hand at healing him with one of her "experimental" spells. The last time she'd tried one of those, she'd turned Cecil Markowitz into a pair of handcuffs. The son of Hermes returned to normal after the spell wore off, but Percy heard from Will Solace that Cecil had shut himself away in the Hermes cabin for the next two days, refusing to come out until Lou Ellen issued a public apology.
That scandal was enough to bring a smile to Percy's eyes as he knocked on the door. The Hecate cabin seemed to buzz with magic, like someone was pondering on whether or not to answer, before it finally peeked open.
A young man peered at Percy from behind the door, which hid most of his body from sight. All Percy could make out was half of the boy's face, which was visible in the daylight. Like many children of Hecate, his hair was a dark shade of brown/black, and his eyes a similarly dark green. Percy didn't recognize him, which meant he must have been a new addition to the camp.
"Sorry if I disturbed you, friend. Just looking for Lou Ellen," the son of Poseidon said, brushing his hair back to try to keep the smell of old spaghetti from wafting into the cabin.
The boy blinked in confusion, with no answer.
"Lou Ellen. The head counselor of the Hecate cabin," Percy repeated, with more information for emphasis.
The door swung open fully, revealing the young man. He was dressed like most demigods at the camp; the signature orange shirt, plus a pair of dark blue pants. He stepped out of the cabin, an unreadable look in his eyes.
"I hate to break it to you, friend, but there's no one here named Lou Ellen, and she certainly isn't the head counselor of the Hecate cabin," he remarked, crossing his arms in a huff. "That role belongs to me. Name's Louis Blackstone, head counselor of Hecate."
It was kind of a pathetic response to that kind of proclamation, but it was all Percy could muster at this news. How else was he supposed to react, upon being told someone he definitely knew existed wasn't around?
The son of Hecate frowned at Percy's lackluster answer, and shook his head disdainfully. "I don't know what sort of trick Cecelia thinks she's pulling by lying to you, but tell her to put a sock in it. I already apologized for that handcuff incident; no need to send some new guy over in an effort to make me look stupid."
If Percy's brain wasn't already spinning in circles, that last sentence put it on the world's fastest merry-go-round without a seatbelt. Cecelia? Handcuff incident? Apology? New guy? It was a case of having too many questions to ask at once, which sadly never seemed to result in any of them being answered. Which is exactly what happened. Louis turned on his heel, marched back into the cabin, and shut the door, leaving the rattled son of Poseidon alone.
It took several minutes for Percy to realize his jaw was hanging open, and close it. It took another minute for him to remember he had feet, and walk away from the cabins. The Big House. That was where he should go. Chiron would surely have some sort of answer. Or maybe this was a dream...
He felt a sudden weight pop in to his back pocket. Reaching down, he felt the familiar touch of Riptide. The sword's return was both a blessing and a curse. He had his weapon back, but the realness of it appearing like that proved he wasn't dreaming.
The Big House was familiar enough. Everything that was normally there was, and as bonus, Mr. D wasn't lounging on a chair on the porch. Percy wasn't in the mood to trade insults with the wine god. Not after having a shock like the one he'd had at the Hecate cabin.
He didn't even bother to knock, walking right on in. His mom would have been outraged at his lack of manners, but she wasn't here, so there was no need for her to know. Instead, he called out into the house.
"Chiron! It's Percy. Sorry to barge in on you like this, but I need to talk to you about something."
A moment later, the sound of horse hooves on hardwood floors sounded from around the corner near the main staircase. "Percie, as much as I appreciate you and your company, there comes a time to at least knock before you come barging in on someone without any sort of warning," the centaur remarked, before coming around the bend.
He was holding some papers up to his human torso, and upon seeing the demigod, almost dropped them, only catching them at the last moment.
"Oh! My apologies, dear boy. I thought you were someone else," Chiron bumbled, pressing his papers together and smoothing them out before placing them down on a small parlor table in the hallway. That done, he drew himself to his full height, offering a wide smile. "Welcome, my friend. I do apologize for my earlier rudeness, but I must insist that you knock before entering any buildings here. Never know what you may find."
The centaur chuckled at this, which was probably why he didn't seem to register the look of astonishment on the son of Poseidon's face. "No matter, no matter. You're new, so can't blame you for being ignorant of that suggestion. Now, I suppose we'd better get introductions out of the way. I'm-"
"I know exactly who you are, Chiron."
Percy's voice came out a lot harder than he had meant to, and his tone was enough to stop the immortal centaur's diatribe in its tracks..
"You're Chiron the centaur, trainer of several Greek heroes, most of them demigods. This is Camp Half-Blood, one of only two safe places in the world for modern demigods to live and train, the other being Camp Jupiter in San Francisco," Percy rattled off, now thoroughly freaked out.
The centaur's expression became very guarded. "Yes, that is all correct. You are... remarkably well informed for someone I've never met before," he responded, his posture tensing up. "Yet, the very fact you're here proves you're neither a monster nor mortal."
"Because of the barrier around the camp. Only demigods, satyrs, and those invited can enter," Percy finished, his voice losing strength.
Chiron's expression hardened. "Right again. I'm not aware of anyone sent out to look for someone fitting your description, so I'd wager you weren't told all this beforehand. So, allow me to extend an olive branch: Who are you?"
When Percy answered, his voice was barely audible. "Percy Jackson. Son of Poseidon."
The room became very quiet. Almost... tranquil. Chiron didn't show any signs of having heard the demigod, but Percy knew he had. All too well.
"You're... Percy Jackson. A son of Poseidon..." the centaur trailed off, clearly at a loss for words. Percy could relate to that feeling now more than ever.
Before anything else could be said, a vicious pounding erupted on the door to the Big House, causing Percy to jump. Chiron seemed to struggle to rip his eyes away from the demigod long enough to look towards the door. "Who is it?"
"It's Alister," the voice answered, clearly caught between an angry sob and righteous determination.
Chiron furrowed his brow at this, before stepping close to Percy and leaning down to whisper in his ear. "Go into the kitchen. Stay out of sight. Only come out when I call for you," he instructed, but the tone of his voice indicated it was much more of an order.
Percy didn't have the willpower to disobey the command, and stepped into the kitchen, cracking the door behind him so he could follow the conversation. He heard Chiron compose himself before crossing to the door and opening it. Feisty footsteps, those of a demigod's, stormed inside the moment the door opened, and started pacing the parlor.
"She's gone. Vanished. No one's seen any sign of her since she left the mess hall," a new male voice said, the same one that had addressed itself as Alister.
Even though the voice was an unfamiliar one, Percy could swear there was something about that tone. Was it the composure, despite how stressed it was? Maybe the sense of urgency to it? Whatever it was, something about this unknown demigod felt like home to Percy.
Alister, meanwhile, continued to rant. "She was supposed to meet me at the stables. She said she'd cleaned out pegasi stables before, back when we were going through the labyrinth, and it would be easy enough to just wash them out with the water from Long Island Sound."
Chiron's voice was calm in response. "Easy, Mr. Chase. Percie can handle herself; we all know she's capable. Where did she say she was going?"
"She wanted to see Nicola and Willamina on their way to Camp Jupiter, and then would take some time to stop by her mom's place. She was only supposed to be gone for a few hours; it's been too long."
"Was she taking the car?"
"Yes, but you know her! Can't go three feet without running into some sort of monster from gods-know-where! The only place I can think of she'd willfully stop is the strawberry fields, if a craving hit her on the way back. But her car would have still been here if it had!"
A very cold fist began to form in Percy's stomach as he eavesdropped on the conversation. He might not have been a child of Athena, but even he could fit some of these pieces together without help.
Chiron, meanwhile, seemed to come to a resolution. "Alister, you're not alone in thinking something weird is going on with Percie."
The response was short and sweet. "You too?"
"Yes, but I fear the ramifications behind the answer I'm about to give. If it is true, it's something I've never seen before."
Alister sounded like iron when he spoke again. "Then lay it on me. We walked through Tartarus together; nothing could top that."
That fist turned into a volcano when Percy heard that last sentence. His suspicions, ever since running into Louis, were now confirmed. Despite the panic of his situation settling in, he could still hear Chiron's calm demeanor shining through.
"It would perhaps be best if I showed you. Mr. Jackson, would you please introduce yourself?" the centaur called into the kitchen.
Tartarus. It had been the worst experience of his life. He'd only come through it because Annabeth had been by his side. She'd pulled him from the river of sorrows when he'd been ready to give up. He'd slain Arachne before the Mother of Spiders could wreak her vengeance. They'd done it together. And now they were separated. Again. After he'd promised to never leave her; the promise made right before they both plunged into the pit.
The memories racked him, but also filled the son of the oceans with a fervor. He'd get back to her. Hera as his witness, he would. Maybe the Styx would have made for a better promise, but he still hadn't forgiven the queen of the gods completely for ripping him away from Annabeth. If the Fates got crotchety with him, may as well get Hera in trouble too.
His mind and heart now made up, Percy stepped into the parlor. Chiron was in the middle of the room, his arms crossed on top of his equestrian back. His face was serene, despite the direness of the situation. Standing across from him was the person Percy could honestly say he'd never expected to meet. The demigod was about half an inch shorter than Percy, but his stormy gray eyes gave the impression that he towered over the son of Poseidon. A sword and dagger hung from his waist, in a cross-draw fashion. He was thin, but lean with muscle, giving him an aura of authority and compassion.
That Percy was expecting, but what he hadn't expected was the hair. It was a striking blonde, that dangled down and back from Alister's face. There wasn't enough of it to tie into a bun, so he wore it straight. Even so, the resemblance was beyond uncanny. This... in some twisted way, was Annabeth.
You could have heard a pin drop for several seconds as the two boys sized each other up. Alister's face didn't crack, but Percy could tell he was experiencing a version of the same phenomenon he was going through at the moment. Seemingly realizing that neither demigod could muster the words to speak, Chiron took the initiative.
"Mr. Chase, this is Percy Jackson. Mr. Jackson. This is Alister Chase. I believe the two of you... know each other."