The darkness of the mess hall welcomed Percy as he walked into the large room. To the right was the kitchen area, and to the left was a small stage. The tables in the middle of the room had been cleared and set against the walls, leaving the middle of the room wide open. A single light framed the center, illuminating the wooden floorboards, and the blonde hair of Jason, who stood in the center of the light, his back to Percy.
“Jas-” Percy tried, but he cut himself off as Jason turned to him. There was something off about the way Jason looked at him, almost as if he was looking through him, but he walked forwards anyways.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” He asked, lightly placing a hand on Jason’s arm. He tried to hold eye contact with him, but it was hard when Jason was looking at him like that.
Jason held out his hand in front of him, revealing the silver coin that rested in his palm.
“It’s heads again.” He said. He put the coin into his pocket.
“What?” Percy asked, confused why they were talking about coins again. The creepy kids from before had played that game nonstop, and each time it had seemed to disturb Jason on a level that Percy didn’t have any reasoning for.
“It’s always heads. It’ll always be heads, you can’t stop it no matter how many times you try.”
“I’m not- I’m not sure what you’re talking about here. Who’s trying to stop what?”
Jason shook his head.
“You don’t get it yet, but you will. I’m trying to tell you something here. Can you listen?” He said, and the way he emphasized the last words made Percy pay attention.
“Sure, yeah. Whatever you need to say, you can tell me. I’m listening.” Percy said.
Percy jerked back, pulling himself away from Jason as if he had burned him. He continued walking backwards, back towards the main doors, not sure where he was going on why he was having such a visceral reaction. Jason wanted him to stop? Stop what?
Even without knowing what that something was, Percy’s entire being rebelled against the simple command, and he pushed against the doors, desperate to flee the scene. The doors did not budge. He tried them again, pushing against the bar with all his might but he was stuck. He peered out the small window on the door, trying to see if anyone was around to help him, but the night outside was pitch black, much darker than it had been just a few moments ago when he had walked into the mess hall.
He walked back to the center of the room, and back to Jason.
“The door won’t open. I think something’s wrong.”
“Something has been wrong for a lot longer than you realize. You just didn’t want to pay attention.” Jason said, his tone harsh.
“Then tell me! How am I supposed to know what you’re talking about if you keep being vague about it?” Percy said, and Jason gripped him by the shoulders. Percy braced himself for… something, anything, some kind of answer to his questions, but Jason remained silent. The only thing that changed was the slight crackle of one of the overhead speakers fizzing to life as a quiet song started playing.
It was the song that had played in the song, the song that had played in the club, although Percy didn’t really remember what club that was. He just had a vague memory of green and blue lights, a throng of people pushing against him as the song blared. The sound of waves softly faded in the background as the lead singer tried to reject their feelings for someone.
“Have you heard this song before?” Jason said, his eyes boring into Percy’s.
“I- Yeah, I heard it on the radio with you when we were driving here. You were with me.”
“You know what I’m talking about. Have you heard this song before?”
“I don’t- I don’t like this song. Can you stop it? It’s giving me a headache.” Percy tried, and Jason pulled him in close. He held Percy to his chest, his arms keeping Percy from moving away, and Percy’s heart began to race.
“Hey, could you- Jason, let me go. I don’t want to-”
Jason swayed from side to side, slowly dancing to the beat of the song. The song got louder and louder, and Percy could feel the beat in his bones. Despite the loudness of the song, he still caught the closing of a door from somewhere else in the building.
“Did you hear that? I think someone else is here.” He tried, but Jason didn’t budge. He simply continued dancing, dragging Percy along with him.
“It’s alright. This was bound to happen anyways. You shouldn’t blame yourself for this.” Jason said into Percy’s ear, and Percy shuddered.
“I don’t know what’s happening. I feel like I’m-”
“Trapped?” Jason finished for him, and then laughed.
“You have no idea. Don’t worry, it’ll all be over soon. You just have to ask the right question, and you’ll get your answer.”
“What should I ask you then? What should I say?” Percy tried.
“I’m not the one you need to ask.”
“Then who?” Percy asked again, getting more desperate than ever to get out of Jason’s grip. He could hear the faint sounds of footsteps in the kitchen area, and his stomach clenched.
“The one who has been lying this entire time. You know who?”
“I- I don’t! Jason, I seriously think someone else is in here, shouldn’t we check that out?”
As soon as he said that, Percy saw him. From his position at Jason’s shoulder, he saw as the tall man slinked out of the shadows, an exaggeratedly large knife in his right hand. He strode towards them with all the purpose in the world, and Percy knew they needed to get away from him.
“Jason! Behind you! Let me go, we need to get out of-”
The man was on them faster than Percy realized, and he held the knife up in the air, the silver blade shining in the light of the single ceiling light. Jason looked at Percy, and smiled at him, not even acknowledging Percy’s repeated attempts to free himself from his arms.
At that same moment, the doors to the mess hall opened, and Thalia and Annabeth walked into the room. For a moment, it seemed like they would leap into action and help, but they simply stood near the door, watching as the man plunged his knife deep into the back of Jason’s skull.
Percy screamed, and finally tore himself free from Jason’s grasp, falling onto the floor with a hard thud. The man threw Jason to the side and stood above him, watching as Percy tried to scramble backwards away from him. He knelt down on top of Percy, and Percy finally got a good view of what the man looked like. He had dark hair, and a generally handsome face. It was a face he had seen before, he knew, but he could not remember where exactly from.
The man stared at him, not saying a word, and Percy tried to get out from his grip, but he was stuck again.
“How many times does this need to happen for you to realize that it’s not going to work?” The man asked, his voice hoarse and thin.
Annabeth and Thalia were still by the door, but their heads were lolled to the sides, seemingly asleep despite their standing position. In her hand, Thalia gripped some sort of stun gun, and Annabeth had a canister of pepper spray. “How long do we have to suffer before you realize what is going on here?”
“Do you want to try again, or will you finally run it through that thick skull of yours that this isn’t going to work?”
The man grabbed Percy by the front of his shirt and lifted him partially up, just to slam him back against the ground. His head connected with the solid wood flooring, and his headache flared. Percy gasped out in pain, but for a moment, the light above him looked like the headlight of a car. Suddenly, they weren’t in the mess hall, they were in what looked like the forest all around the camp.
The man held him in place, but Percy wasn’t against the ground any more, he was pushed against the trunk of a tree, the bark digging into his back through his clothes, which was suddenly a white undershirt instead of his orange camping shirt. Jason was still collapsed behind them, now sporting a single hole in the middle of his forehead, almost exactly in the spot where the girl had rubbed her forehead earlier in the day.
The man grabbed him again, and crashed his head against the tree. The headache grew even worse, and Percy screamed. The light behind the man was different once again, and then the entire area was different. This time they were in an office building. The man lifted him again. They were in a movie theater. The man lifted him again. They were in his house. They were in Times Square. They were on a cruise ship. They were-
Percy lost count of how many different places whirled around him, and his headache had reached its peak. With one final slam, he felt cool concrete on his skin, and they were on some sort of rooftop terrace. Large flower pots were all around them, and Percy noticed that there were a lot more familiar faces than usual. He could see his father, his friends, all racing towards them, yet stuck in place like he was looking at a photograph.
“Do you see now? This is always going to happen. You can’t change that, no matter how hard you try. End it. Now.”
The man raised the large knife above his head, and then plunged it straight into Percy’s chest.
The stark whiteness didn’t seem so pristine as Percy opened his eyes. It felt like a façade, something covering up a deep and disturbing hidden truth that was out of his grasp. He stood up, absently rubbing the spot where the knife had plunged into his skin with one hand.
“What the fuck was that?” He asked the abyss, but he received no answer. The voice he had come to know as his Assistant was nowhere to be heard. He didn’t particularly care. He just started walking.
It was impossible to orientate himself when there was nothing to give him some sort of anchor or waypoint, but he just walked forwards anyways. He could have been walking in place for all he knew, but he still had to try.
He walked for he didn’t know how long, but something told him to stop. There was still nothing around him, but on instinct, he turned to the right, and suddenly in front of him was a crack in the floor. The crack started at the base of his feet and then made its way upwards, and he followed it. The more he followed the crack, the more that appeared around it, until eventually the ground began to look like soil that had dried out in the sun.
He lifted his gaze from the floor, and looked up, finding the source of all the cracks. Riptide gleamed as he looked at it, its bronze blade sunken deep into the mahogany wood of the small box that it pinned to the floor. The box was almost entirely shattered, the cracks almost so numerous that it shouldn’t have been able to hold any form at all, and yet it remained upright.
Percy walked forwards, and gripped Riptide with both hands, preparing to plunge it even further into the shattered wood, when the voice returned.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The voice was behind him this time, not all around him, all encompassing as it used to be. He turned around to find nothing there but white space, and yet he knew that he was now addressing someone.
“If you don’t want me to do this, then you better start talking. What the fuck was that?” He asked the empty void.
The voice was silent for a moment, and Percy began to shift his weight to drive the blade in even deeper.
“Are you sure you desire the truth? Or would you like to continue your quest as originally planned? You can not have both, you can have either the answers, or you can have your chance at saving your Jason.”
“That’s bullshit. How does that make any sense? Just tell me what’s really going on here, or I’m stomping this box into a million pieces.” He said.
“The answer is worse than you can imagine. It would be to your preference to turn around and go back right now, and we can start again if you’d like. This was a blip in the system, it will not happen again.”
“You don’t get to tell me what I’d prefer, that’s my choice to make, not yours. Tell me what I need to know.”
There was still nothing in front of him, but Percy knew that something approached. A spot on his forehead tingled, and suddenly there was a light pressure, as if someone was pressing a finger against it. The white space around him faded until all around him was slowly turning black.
“There are others who would like to speak to you before I do, it seems. They seek to steal you from me for the time being.” The voice said, and then that faded too, until he was all alone in the black void.
Behind him, there was the sound of faint tapping, and Percy turned around to find an old woman sitting in a wicker rocking chair, a basket full of yarn to her right, and a sea green scarf beginning to take form in her lap. At the sight of him, she stopped her work for a moment, and Percy felt himself still to a halt. The old lady tusked at herself and then resumed her work, and Percy could move again. The silver knitting needles tapped against each other, the soft sound filling the entire space.
He used that chance to back away, terrified of the old lady. He knew right away who she was, what she represented, and he knew what she held in her hands. Thankfully, the golden shears he had seen her use so long ago were nowhere in sight, so he was reasonably sure that she wasn’t about to end his existence.
“It seems as if our attempt was successful. I assume you have questions?” She whispered, and Percy hesitantly nodded. She shook her head slowly, and beckoned him forward.
“Come, child. We have much to tell you, and it is not pleasant.” She said, and at that last part her voice morphed slightly as did her appearance. Everything around her buzzed, fizzled, and then, like a amoeba splitting into two, a part of her moved to her left and her right. The parts shifted slightly, and then finalized their form, similar looking old ladies in a similar looking chair at her sides, forming the complete trio.
“You come to us as an experiment, far beyond a mere mortal's comprehension. I can not begin to understate how much you intrigue those involved in the movement of fate and destiny.”
“But- Why would I be interesting? Aren’t… you the ones who determine all of that stuff?”
The one on the right chuckled heartily, her own yarn project set aside for now. The golden thread glimmered despite the fact that there was no apparent light source around, just the inky blackness all around.
“Not even we have control over fate, my child. Despite the names you mortals have given us, we merely lend it form. Just as Aphrodite has no complete control over love, fate can not be determined by any being in this or any universe.”
“I didn’t think mortals were the ones to give you your names, I always thought that was what you were always called.” Percy said.
“We are what the mortals believe us to be, as we always have been.” The one on the left spoke up. “The faith of the mortals gives us the power we wield, the same way it gives all higher beings their power in any belief system. Just as Pan fell to forgotten memories, we too can perish if not held in the thoughts of mortals and demigods.”
“But- Aren’t you-”
“Older?” The middle one said, and Percy blushed.
“Yes, I suppose we are old compared to the average mortal, but our history is also subject to change. Once, we were known by different names, in fact some still call us the Moirai, but they are outnumbered, and we are now known as the Fates. Our history can change in a single day if enough mortals are told a story they believe in enough.”
“So your- your past isn’t defined? It can change, even if you've lived past it?”
“Such is the fate of any godly being, child. Despite some of your Olympians thoughts on mortals, we all depend on the strength of mortal worship for any of us to exist, just as the Egyptians, just as the Norse.”
“I think… I think I get it,” Percy said, but he rubbed his head where he had been touched. “But what does that have to do with what’s going on right now? What’s happening to me?”
“A certain… being, shall we say, has taken quite the interest in you, especially concerning you and the boy you wish to save. He has trapped you in an eternal game, unbeknownst to you. You will almost never win, despite what he may say, but he would have you play anyways, just to see your pain. You fascinate him on a level he has never known before, and until you ask him why, we can not say for certain either.” The one on the left said.
“A game? What kind of game? I thought I was just-”
“There is no such thing as choosing, if we must be frank. The entire thing, an elaborate setup to ensnare you in his trap. We have no access to worlds outside our own.”
“So- what have I been doing all this time? I was just trying to save-”
“Save a soul who is trying to move on, yes, you were. You are not the only one caught in this game. The others around you? They too suffer the consequences of your actions, but only you can free them.”
“You mean… Annabeth, Thalia, Nico, Will, Piper, Mom, Dad… Even-”
“Yes, they are all being forced to play as well, despite their wishes, and their souls grow tired. They are strained, the game forces them to use more energy than it should, and it is already at a breaking point. If you continue along this path, they will surely suffer for it.”
“So that’s it then? I never had a shot at saving Jason at all?”
The trio hesitated, and it was the middle one who finally spoke up, clearly the leader amongst them.
“There is no certainty in this existence, young Perseus, you must understand this. There will never be a definitive answer that would satisfy you for your question, but it would be next to impossible for Jason’s soul to be saved at this point.”
“Well, why the- Why not?” Percy asked, stopping himself from cussing at one of the oldest beings in the universe.
“Because-” The one of the right said, holding up the glimmering golden scarf that had rested in the arm of her chair. “His journey is done. It is complete, would you not say?” She said, showing him the final project.
It was a beautiful scarf, he had to admit. It reminded him a little of the Golden Fleece, and she held it out for him to hold. He held the soft fabric lightly, as if he would rip it if he gripped it any harder, and basked in its glory.
“It’s amazing.” He choked out, and gave it back to her so he could wipe the tears forming.
“I agree, and what you want is to add to it. I will not deny that it is possible for more to be added on to it, but doing something like that requires parts to be undone, and it also carries the great risk of what if? What if in the end, it was better like this? What if you add on to it like you want to do, and then you look at it and realize it is ruined beyond repair? Surely you can understand why it would be best to leave it as is?”
“I- I don’t-”
“It is unfair for it to be asked of you, but unfortunately it has forced your hand. When you leave here, you must tell it your choice, and we will have to follow. This is your choice, young Perseus. Do not let anything tell you otherwise. Make your choice, be confident in it. We know whatever you choose, it will be the right one. We believe in you. We always have.”
“Thank you.” Percy said quietly.
“You’ve grown so much since we saw you all those years ago, and you’ve become a fine young man. You must go now, and face it. You are the only one who can.” The middle one said, a fond smile on her face.
“What is it? Who is it? I still don’t know what I’m dealing with here.” Percy said, and he could feel the fading happening around him.
The middle one looked down to think, her hands not pausing on her project.
Percy faded back into the white abyss, but it wasn't the same stark white he had left it. The air around him crackled with phantom images, sounds, and sensations. He could hear a conversation with his mother at the same time he could see the Camp stretched out before him, all while feeling the brush of someone else's lips against his own. He moved forward, brushing off ghostly impressions of things he had experienced and things he had not. His mind was filled trying to process it all, and he felt like he was drowning in sensation. This was… all of this was…