The seven demigods stood on the crest of the Acropolis, in the centre of Athens. Behind them was the temple of Annabeth’s mother, Athena. The Parthenon was still empty, but they could feel the magical pull behind them, as if the temple itself was begging its greatest prize, the Athena Parthenos, to come home. Jason knew, however, that it would never happen. The statue was at Half-Blood Hill at this very second, one hoped saving the lives of many Greek demigods at the camp. Suddenly, Leo let out a deep breath behind him.
“Guys… We did it. We actually did it,” Leo said. The other demigods turned around to face him.
“You’re right. She’s finally gone,” Frank added. He still seemed a bit uncomfortable, agreeing with Leo, but Jason could see that Frank had found a new respect for him after Leo gave him a fireproof bag from Calypso. He had finally told the whole crew that he had been shipwrecked on her island, after Hazel had complained about the constant nightly hammering on a bronze astrolabe, trying to get it to accept Calypso’s crystal into its magic circuit. Seeing as the demigods could not possibly have gone even more out of their way to try and retrieve the nymph, Leo had updated Buford the table’s magical godly software to allow the end table to find Calypso, and transport her to Long Island. Leo seemed nervous, however. What if his programming skills had failed him?
Suddenly Percy cried out. The half-bloods all whipped around to see him buckle to the ground. Annabeth rushed to his side.
“I-I’m okay. I think I may have hurt my leg during the fight, though.” Percy coughed haggardly. Piper opened her pack, and fished out some ambrosia.
“Erm, it may be slightly crushed.” She smirked, and passed the plastic bag to Percy, who took out some of the shards.
Colour returned to his face. “That’s okay. It did the job.” Percy frowned, then laughed. “Hey, at least we’re matching now.” He said, gesturing to Annabeth’s ankle, which had been broken about a month ago. Annabeth snorted.
“Oh my gods, Seaweed Brain.” She smiled, pressing a kiss to Percy’s forehead. “Please at least try to keep in one piece.”
When Percy was back on his feet, Jason directed the others into the Parthenon. Even though the giants were gone at last, he did not want to take any chances by staying on the battlefield. He really did not want those cheerleader empousai coming back. Jason really had not appreciated the battle cry of “DEATH TO ALL HALF-BLOODS,” and he figured that it would not do too well at a high school pep rally either. Also, he figured that even though the gods still were on silent mode, they might just take pity and vaporise any monsters that tried to enter into the temple. He cast one last look out over the Acropolis, and into the sprawling suburbs of Athens. It was strange to think how the people in the city were probably not even aware that the world had been hours, perhaps even minutes, away from ending, but the Athenians had not taken any notice and carried on about their usual weekly activities. Jason pivoted on his heel and followed his friends through the colonnade, and into the Parthenon.
The demigods sat down together, tucked in a corner. The Parthenon was usually in open air, but the roof that once encased the cella in ancient times shimmered translucently above their heads. For a while, they sat in silence, taking in the events of the day. Finally Leo piped up.
“Um, I don’t want to be a downer, but how will we get home? Festus is exhausted and running low, and Hazel, I assume that that horse of yours isn’t quite up to carrying seven incredibly tired demigods,” Leo said hesitantly. Hazel rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Of course not. He’s too tired from carrying all those flash-bang grenades, and if I recall correctly someone named Leo Valdez insisted that Gaea totally won’t see these coming, baby and loaded them into the saddlebags,” she said pointedly. Her surprisingly good impression of Leo’s voice elicited a laugh from the group. Leo looked guilty. Piper cut in.
“Let’s not worry about that now. My throat still hurts from yelling charmspeak at those dracaenae.” Piper complained. Jason looked over at her. Even though her hair was peppered with monster dust, she still looked like she could give Aphrodite a run for her money. That said, Piper looked completely drained. Jason hugged her close.
“Hey, go to sleep if you want. I’ll make sure you don’t miss anything.” Jason told her softly. However, as soon as Piper closed her eyes, a tired voice rung out through the Parthenon.
“Ah, yes. Why don’t you all follow Miss McLean’s excellent example? Good night, demigods, and I hope my brothers treat you well.” Annabeth looked alarmed.
“Who-?” But she had no time to finish her sentence, for her eyelids were already drooping. The nutty smell of poppy seed filled the air, and two dark shadows seeped in through the peristyle. Percy and Jason tried to raise their weapons, but they were already asleep.
For one second only, everything was an ocean of murky waters. Then Jason’s vision exploded into colour. Short bursts of life flew into his mind. Some were memories, the day he said farewell to Lupa, his first day at Camp Jupiter, him leading the legion up Mount Tamalpais, falling down the Grand Canyon with Piper. As the images sped up and blurred, he saw stranger things. A university being built, a wedding, wrinkled hands clasping onto each other, things Jason had only seen in short-lived dreams before. The pictures were now moving so fast that he could not even see what was happening in them. All of a sudden, the images stopped. Jason’s vision darkened once more, but before he could fall back into unconsciousness, he felt as if someone had breathed cold air onto his neck. Something shook his shoulder, and he opened his eyes.
Piper was kneeling over him. The group was no longer in the Parthenon’s cella. They were in a woodland clearing, and when Jason sat up, he could see water in the distance, far away through the trees. The other demigods were standing a few metres further on, but when they saw that Jason was awake, they walked over to where he was lying. Jason scratched his neck.
“What was that?” he asked, shaking his head so as to clear the spots in front of his eyes.
“The dreams – Annabeth, what did you call them? Royals?” Percy said, looking to Annabeth for help. She cleared her throat.
“Not quite. The Oneiroi, literally ‘dreams’ in Greek. They’re Hypnos’ brothers, but I’m not sure where we are. At least, it’s not home,” Annabeth admitted. Jason let out a breath. He had not even realised, but he had almost been hoping that they had magically landed on Long Island. Suddenly he remembered something.
“Brothers of Hypnos, you say. Then that voice in the Parthenon was actually Hypnos himself.” Jason said. Annabeth nodded.
“That’s right. But why he would send us here? I have no idea,” she said.
“She’s right. Why should I? But I have been generous. I could have sent my other, ah, gift.” The same husky voice rang out again, causing the dirt to stir. Hazel looked alarmed.
“Oh! That smell, in the Parthenon. It was poppy seeds, and those are one of Hypnos’ symbols. The other is the River Lethe. I think he means that he could have sent us down a Lethe waterslide, if you know what I mean…” Hazel said carefully. She cast a fleeting glance at Percy and Jason. Jason knew why. The Lethe was the Underworld river of forgetfulness, and both of the boys had had their own fair share of amnesia. It had not been pleasant, and Jason did not want to re-experience it. Frank nodded.
“Hazel’s right. We don’t want that guy angry at us.” He looked around. “But where are we?” Frank glared up at the sky. “Any help, Hypnos?”
“Careful, boy. You are on the isle of Scherie. I shall not tell you anything more.” The voice of the slumbering god died down into a soft whisper, and eventually diminished completely. The seven were on their own. Whilst the god was speaking, Annabeth had turned pale. Jason guessed that she did in fact know what or where Scherie was. Percy had noticed, as well.
“Are you okay? What’s up?” Percy asked Annabeth. She shook her head.
“No, I’m fine. It’s just, Scherie is the isle of the Phaeacians, where Odysseus stayed after he left, um…” She glanced at Leo nervously, but the son of Hephaestus nodded encouragingly. “I meant, after he left Calypso’s island. The princess Nausicaa met him by the river.” There was a hint of spite in Annabeth’s voice, and Jason wondered what exactly had caused that to be there. Annabeth’s eyes widened. “In fact, I think she found him… right here.”
The other demigods swivelled round. Floating through the trees was the shimmering shade of a beautiful woman. It almost reminded Jason of the ghost he and Reyna had seen in the Battery in Charleston, but it was not Aphrodite. As she came closer, it looked as if she was walking – no, floating – towards Leo. The girl stopped in front of Leo, and spoke.
“Hello, my weary traveller. I am Nausicaa. If you wish to find my father’s palace, you will need my help.” Her voice was melodious and sweet, like a night-time lullaby. Leo smiled sadly.
“All right. Lead the way.” His voice was delicate, as if he was having a hard time keeping his composure. Suddenly Jason understood. Nausicaa had welcomed Odysseus to Scherie many, many years ago, in this exact same spot, after he had escaped from Ogygia. It was as if the princess could sense that Leo had come back from there, though how, Jason did not know. He shrugged, and followed the shade further into the woods.
The group trudged to the palace gates, where they encountered familiar faces, or rather, snouts. Two metallic dogs stood guarding the trellis. Most of the seven vaguely recognised Reyna’s two dogs, Aurum and Argentum. Jason certainly did. The dogs’ cold, ruby stare had always unnerved him, but he approached the automatons nevertheless, but the rest of the seven stayed back. He had to keep reminding himself that these were not actually Reyna’s dogs, and he did not know these creatures. Still, when he crouched down, the dogs did not pounce. Instead, they whimpered softly and lay down in front of him, the scarlet glow of their eyes dimming slightly. Behind the automatons, the golden trellis slowly rose, the ancient hinges creaking.
Nausicaa’s ghost had stayed in the background, but she slowly drifted to the front of the troupe again. The seven followed the princess through the labyrinth of marble halls. Jason could see Annabeth’s eyes wandering, flickering over the intricate columns and porticoes. Even he could not help marvelling at the architecture of the palace. When the hallway opened up into the main hall, he could hear his friends gasp. In the centre of the room, there was a set of stairs leading up to a higher platform, where the throne stood. On the throne sat another ghost, this time an older man. When he saw the demigods walking towards him, he smiled kindly.
“I am Alcinous, king of the Phaeacians. Welcome, travellers, to my humble home,” he said serenely. Behind Jason, Leo coughed.
“Er, humble?” he asked. Jason shot Leo a look, saying if you don’t shut up now this man will probably kill us all. Funnily enough, Leo was quiet after that.
Alcinous seemed to not have noticed the minor disturbance, and continued.
“Now that you have come to my court, I assume that you require help to return home. At least, that was the request of the last hero to come here. I do pledge that my people will aid you, and I shall let you pass through my kingdom on one condition.” The king paused.
“And that is?” Percy asked hesitantly.
“That you tell me your story. Your whole story,” Alcinous concluded.
The king was adamant on his terms. So, for the next three days and sometimes on into the night, the demigods sat around his throne and told him of their long voyage, everything from the cena at Camp Jupiter, to finally defeating the giants at the Acropolis. Alcinous was a good listener, but Jason did not think that the king realised that for a bunch of teenagers, telling a three day long story was quite a significant amount of time, whereas for a spectral sovereign at the age of approximately three thousand, their narration must have seemed like a blink of an eye. The group were not offered much to eat but, if Alcinous could really transport them back to Camp Half-Blood, he was willing to sacrifice that for a short while.
On one of the rare occasions that the king’s servants prised him away, the crew sat down in one of the many gilded staterooms in the palace. As soon as the door was shut, Frank laid his head on the table and groaned.
“How much more detail does this man want? I feel like I’ve retold my entire life story at least five times by now,” he complained. Hazel nodded in agreement.
“You’re right. Seventy years in the Underworld didn’t take as long as this,” she complained.
“Hopefully he’ll let us go soon, though,” Percy interjected. After what seemed like another eternity, the king entered back into the room. Jason really wished that he would not move quite as leisurely as he was doing now. He could tell that his friends were becoming agitated, sick of being cooped up in Scherie’s palace. King Alcinous sat back down onto his elaborate throne, and sighed.
“Demigods, please excuse my tardiness. My courtiers and I were just discussing this, ah, situation.” The king’s voice sounded edgy and brittle. Jason’s fingers itched for his sword in his scabbard, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Percy’s hand creeping towards his pocket, where he kept his magic hybrid ballpoint pen-sword. Luckily, he did not attack. The king continued his soliloquy. “I do realise that I have kept you here for a long time, and I have decided that the time is right for you to leave Scherie. My naval crew have been busy preparing a ship for you, and the seer has declared that tomorrow would be an auspicious day to sail.” Jason relaxed. He was indeed glad to be able to leave the island, but at the same time, he almost dreaded returning to New York. He was worried that the Athena Parthenos might not have made it, and that Octavian had fired on the camp nonetheless. He forced himself to think straight. He could not afford to dwell on possibilities and burn himself up worrying.
“Sweet!” Leo called, and punched the air. Piper and Hazel supressed a smirk. King Alcinous looked at him disapprovingly, and spoke again.
“Now, demigods. If you want your voyage to succeed, it is vital that you do not sleep tonight.”
Leo’s face dropped. “What? I could sleep for a million years right now!” The ghost nodded sadly.
“We do possess small magic. We can send you home, but you must not sleep. We shall explain more in the morning.” The king vanished, evaporating into a cool breeze, and swept down the marble hallway.
Piper looked at Jason helplessly. He shrugged. “Looks like we have enough time on our hands. Let’s not go to sleep.” The seven trudged after the king.
It turned out that avoiding sleep was a hard feat to master for seven demigods who had just prevented the end of the world. Every time one of them tried to lower their eyelids, even for just one second, an invisible force came up behind them and gave them an electric shock, jarring them and keeping them awake. Even Jason had tried unsuccessfully to nod off numerous times. Though he was not affected by the shocks, they did irritate him. Leo too was having a hard time. Every time Jason looked over at him, his friend was trying to hold his own eyelids up, looking like a zombie. Jason sighed, and leant his head back against the cold walls.
When the first rays of the dawn crept into the palace, the group was ushered out of the palace, and down through the city to the harbour. They had been told that a ship had been prepared, but they did not have any more information. Before they could walk over the crest of the hill that shadowed the harbour, the guards stopped them.
“We must let you on your way from here. Stand in a line, single file,” one of the guards ordered, his tinny voice ringing out over the landscape. Jason awkwardly shuffled into line with the others. He was confused – why could they not just let them walk down to the ship? Hazel looked like she was about to pass out, and Piper was sleepily swaying against Jason at regular intervals. The guards were quietly muttering amongst themselves, and when they turned back, their eyes were glowing a soft orange, boring into Jason’s face. He found himself, once more, losing control of his own body, and sinking slowly to the ground. His face hit the cold wooden deck, which was strange because they were standing in the Greek countryside. That was his last thought before the chthonic shadows pulled him back under the surface.
When he opened his eyes for the umpteenth time that week, Jason was on a ship. Leo was standing by the control panel, grinning like a madman. It was then that Jason realised that it was not just any old ship. He could see Festus glinting at the prow, cutting through the waves like a hot knife through butter. Jason looked over the starboard railing, and his heart sank. All he could see was endless water. They were not at home as he had hoped. He knew that he should not have gotten his hopes up, but it was almost inevitable. It was then that he heard people clomping up the stairs. He sensed Piper walking over and standing next to him. Jason sighed.
“We’re not home yet,” he said dejectedly. Piper’s eyes widened.
“Um, you may want to rethink that theory, Sparky.” She turned him around gently, so that he was now facing port. And he was wrong. They were home, indeed.
The battle had long ended, but its ugly scars were still visible on Camp Half-Blood’s terrain. The green common by the cabins was yellowed and burnt, as if it had been irrigated with drakon poison, and the cabins themselves were all spattered with acid marks and mud. The Athena Parthenos glinted white and gold on Half-Blood Hill, and Jason could see Annabeth standing taller, looking at the statue with pride. After all, it was she who had gone through the perilous passages of underground Rome and retrieved the ancient statue. It was only right that it now stood in her home. Hazel and Frank were both leaning over the railing, gaping in awe at the Greek camp. Annabeth stood with them, carefully pointing out any places of interest, such as the stables, the Big House, and the canoe lake.
There was no one to be seen out and about the camp, but there were smoke and voices coming from the amphitheatre. Percy seemed to have the same idea as Jason as he turned to Leo with a grin on his face.
“Aerial oars, please,” Percy asked, smiling. Leo laughed.
“On it, Captain!” He yelled. “Here we come, peeps! BAM!”
The hull vibrated as the oars interchanged, and the Argo II lifted off the waves, and up into the sky. The magic trireme soared over the beach and the woods, heading steadily towards the amphitheatre. The casual chatter that was rising over the walls soon changed to cries of excitement and joy, seeing the bronze boat descend next to the theatre. The doors burst open and a horde of demigods came streaming out, greeting the heroes back from their quest. Leading the mass were Reyna and Nico. They ran straight up the boarding plank and onto the ship. Reyna ran towards Annabeth, Piper and Hazel and gave them a bear hug. The girls collapsed onto the deck, crying tears of happiness.
“You made it…,” Reyna whispered, her eyes glinting. Annabeth sniffed.
“So did you,” she told the praetor. Jason glanced over to where Nico was standing, next to Percy, and almost choked. Nico was wearing a very Mr. D-esque Hawaiian shirt, which clashed ever so slightly with the whole ‘scary death warrior’ look. He was surprised to see them laughing and joking together, but walked over to join them nevertheless.
“Hey.” Nico said. Jason bumped his shoulder amicably. Another blond boy walked onto the ship and stood protectively behind Nico. Jason glanced questioningly at Percy. He raised his eyebrows and mouthed, I don’t know. Jason shrugged. As long as Nico was happy. That guy deserved some sunshine of his own.
During all the tears and commotion, Leo had ran straight off the ship, and back into the amphitheatre.
“Where is she?” he called. A pretty girl in traditional Greek dress ran out of the shadows and towards Leo. He started off towards her, but she was too fast. They hugged, and the girl even pecked Leo on the cheek. The son of Hephaestus grinned, and led her back towards the Argo II. They walked towards the prow, and looked at Festus. Leo stuck out his hand.
“Festus, meet Calypso. Calypso, meet Festus,” he said proudly. Festus blew a plume of red-hot fire. Calypso had her hands over her mouth, and she looked like she was trying not to cry. She put her hand on Leo’s shoulder, and giggled.
“Seeing as it took you, oh so long, to finally arrive here, I’ve already done some scouting around. And if you approve, I’d think that the gazebo by the strawberry fields would be the perfect place to start up Leo and Calypso’s Auto Garage,” she said. Leo’s jaw dropped, and he ran away to the general direction of the fields, with Calypso in hot pursuit.
The other six demigods finally made it off the ship, but were immediately overwhelmed by the mob. Jason recognised Piper’s siblings, and to his surprise he even saw some of the members of the Fifth Cohort. It made him nostalgic knowing that his childhood home was now united together with the kids that had taken him in like family just the year before. He saw Dakota, son of Bacchus, standing with Dionysus’ kid Pollux, apparently discussing the pros and cons of Kool Aid versus Diet Coke. Percy was being lifted up over the campers by his Cyclops brother, Tyson, and his harpy friend Ella was flitting around his head, muttering sweet things such as, “Percy is friend. Percy is not dead. Ella is happy. Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.”
The group ran to the Big House, and saw Chiron sitting on the patio. He looked up from his Horse of the Year magazine, the crow’s feet by his eyes crinkled up as he smiled knowingly at his trainees. He slowly stood up out of his wheelchair and enveloped Percy and Annabeth in his arms. The ancient teacher patted Jason on the back proudly, as if to say, ‘I knew you could do it.’ Percy pulled Chiron to the side for a while and asked him something softly. Chiron nodded, and passed him a golden drachma. Percy took the coin to a water fountain by the porch and threw it into a rainbow. He spoke the incantation for summoning an Iris-message, but nothing appeared in the shimmering mist. He waved a hand through the connection, and stumbled up the porch steps.
Jason approached him. “What’s up?” he asked.
Percy suddenly looked incredibly tired. “It’s my mom. I can’t reach her.” Annabeth appeared next to him and rubbed his back.
“It’ll be fine. She’ll be fine,” she said soothingly. Percy grimaced, and looked like he was blinking back tears. Jason felt sorry for the guy. He himself had only just lost his own mother for good. He saw a woman with greying hair, and a middle aged man step out of Chiron’s office. The woman gasped as she saw her son on the patio, and spontaneously burst into tears. Percy whipped around at the speed of light, and quickly sped over to his mom. Jason watched as they hugged and cried. He knew that Percy had not seen his mom for almost a year, and was glad for his friend that he could relax after one year of relentless fighting and mysterious prophecies.
Annabeth then also walked over to the Jackson family and hugged them. She beckoned to Piper, who pulled Jason along. Soon Percy also reached out to Frank and Hazel, who were standing at the side, awkwardly. The group was simply euphoric that, even if it was only a few minutes, they were safe. They were home.
After they managed to prise Leo away from his auto garage blueprints, which Annabeth also seemed rather attached to, Sally and Paul shuttled the seven into a minibus. The whole way to New York City, the car was filled with laughter and shock at the second recounting of the seven’s adventures that they had done that week. Paul was still in a dream-like state, hearing about all the mythological perils that his stepson had faced, considering that the previous year, stories like this were merely fiction to him. When they finally made it to the Upper East Side and into the Jackson residence, the demigods all collapsed onto the sofa.
The apartment was a cosy place, and Jason could see that it had been well-loved over the years. He could see small reminders and trinkets from the sea in subtle places, thoughtfully concealed within the décor. Percy had introduced everyone on the road trip back from camp, and Sally had immediately taken a liking to everyone. While his mom was in the kitchen, Percy spread-eagled the sofa.
“Man, it feels so great to be home,” he said, his voice muffled in the pillows. Annabeth nodded.
“Yeah. I haven’t been here for quite a while,” she agreed. After about ten minutes of pottering in the kitchen, Sally emerged with a tray of…
“Blue cookies?” Leo asked in amazement. “Are those natural?” Percy had completely ignored the latter part, had sprung up from the sofa and was standing in front of his mother in no time at all. Jason covered up a laugh. The boy looked as if he wanted to eat all of them in about five seconds flat, and by then he would probably have gobbled up the tray as well.
“Percy, shoo. Ladies first.” Percy pouted, but ceded his position to Hazel, Piper and Annabeth, who had lined up behind him. Paul came out of the kitchen with pitcher of blueberry smoothie, and seven glasses. He set them on the table, and went about his job of filling them up.
When all the girls had taken their fair share of cookies, Sally set the tray on the table.
“There’s another tray in the oven, so in the meantime, attack!” She smiled softly. They all sat down around the table, and tucked in. Jason had to admit that the cookies were top-notch.
After even Percy had eaten enough blue confectionery, the seven went to sit back down on the couch. Blue crumbs still adorned Frank’s face, but he did not seem to mind one bit. They were all extremely tired, but Sally grabbed a camera off the fireplace.
“May I have a picture? Chiron’s orders,” she asked. And though he was weary, Jason could feel a smile starting to form.
A week later, Jason was waiting in Chiron’s office for Argus who was to transport him to San Francisco for his pontifex duties. And there they were, the heroes of the prophecy, in the centre of Chiron’s picture wall. Smiles all around, and covered in blue food colouring. He was on his way to properly uniting the two sides, Greek and Roman. He had two homes. So, though being a demigod was hard, dangerous, and it gets you killed in all sorts of ways, Jason found that he was content, for once, with living in two worlds in unison.