At least the camp's menu hadn't changed.
Sure, Percie may have had numerous pairs of eyes watching her in fascination, but it was going to take more than extra attention to get her to put down the burger Aello the harpy had managed to whip up once the group had moved to the mess hall. Apparently a female Percy Jackson was just another day for Aello and her sisters, since the former hadn't even blinked when Percie had shown up. Or she just hadn't noticed. You could never tell with harpies.
Percie seemed to be the only one with any sort of appetite, however. The rest of the demigods all glumly sat around her, in the only real defiance of the "cabins must sit in accordance with each other" rule Percie had seen herself. Granted, she'd heard about the stunt Willamina pulled so Nicola could sit with her at the Apollo table, but that was just one person. Every head counselor was crowded around the Poseidon table, with their attention squarely focused on the newcomer.
They wouldn't have to wait long. The daughter of Poseidon ravaged her plate in record time. (She was so bragging to Janice about that the next chance she had. Assuming there would be a next time, of course.) Satisfied, Percie turned her focus to the real problem.
"So, guess you guys wanna hear it, huh?"
Thus, the tale was told. The prophecies, the Seven, the strange magic tornado, and everything in between. Except for whatever happened in Albania. Nicola and Rey refused to elaborate when she had asked about it. The daughter of Hades had just about melted into shadow when Percie had brought it up. Fine. They could keep their secrets.
When it was over, no one looked thrilled. A fair reaction. As exciting as it was, Percie couldn't say she appreciated being one of the main players in this story.
Annabeth, who had been just about attached to her hip ever since the judo demonstration on the lawn, spoke up first. "So... it all happened twice. Once for us, and once for you. Just... with the change in chromosomes."
"You got it, Wise Girl," Percie nodded, provoking a curled lip from the daughter of Athena. "What? Does your Percy not call you that?"
Annabeth bit her lip, presumably holding back a curse. "He- he does, but... he's the only one who can get away with it."
The daughter of Poseidon shrugged. "Fair enough. But I'm gonna have to remove Seaweed Brain from your vocabulary if that's your decision."
"Alister calls me that. No one else," Percie said, dropping her voice to abolish any pretense of a joke. "Unless, you're willing to put Wise Girl back on the menu."
If looks could kill, Annabeth's would have made for a decent attempt. But Percie had faced looks that genuinely could kill, and still came out on top. This was child's play.
The two women maintained some serious eye contact for several seconds, before Clovis, counselor of the Hypnos cabin, ended up letting out a snore that could have blown the top off of the Senate building in New Rome. The tense moment shattered into bemused awkwardness, which allowed Chiron to speak.
"Well, Percie, considering how much information you've provided us, I can safely say this is the strangest thing I've seen happen in at least four decades," the centaur noted.
Annabeth and Percie looked at him in unison.
"Just... four decades?" Annabeth asked, fear in her voice.
"Yes. The sixties were... something else."
Images of Apollo in bell-bottom pants flashed through Percie's head, which easily ranked on the top ten list of things she never wanted to think about ever again. Right above her mother being held hostage by Titans, and right below the time Faith had accidentally turned into a mare at the pegasus stables. During mating season.
"Sounds like a tale we don't have time to hear, Chiron," Cecil Markowitz said, moving them back on track.
"Yes, yes. Regardless, we lack the necessary means to go about solving this dilemma on our own. Therefore, it is my assertion that we must reach out to those who can," Chiron finished.
Percie arched an eyebrow. "Okay, but who could hold the answers to something like this? We have no idea who even cast this sort of spell, let alone if it's reversible."
Lou Ellen pulled at her hair. "My mother could probably hazard a guess, but she's just as likely to tell us to figure it out ourselves. She was never fond of doing things the easy way."
Hecate could be a help, but only if she was in the right mood. The goddess of magic did create one of the monsters that had tried to murder Percie just earlier today. Her assistance would be about as reliable as a coin-toss.
Percie was beginning to consider just that, actually, when someone else spoke up: Damien White, the counselor of the Nemesis cabin.
"Why don't we just ask Rachel?" he put forth.
Annabeth's nostrils flared. "Because the last thing we need right now is another prophecy. We just barely made it through the last two!"
"No said anything about a prophecy, Annabeth. Just ask her about it. We have access to the Oracle of Delphi; we'd be morons to not put that connection to use!" he argued.
The last part of the conversation went over Percie's head, until the son of Nemesis mentioned the Oracle.
"Oh... Rachel is your Oracle here. That makes sense," she said without thinking.
That got everyone's attention again. "Wait... she isn't in yours? I thought it was just the demigods that were different," Clovis mumbled in his sleep. How did he do that?
Ignoring the son of Hypnos and his oddities, Percie nodded. "Yeah. Our Oracle of Delphi is River. Red hair, saw through the Mist without a problem, really deadly with a hairbrush... sound familiar?"
Miranda Gardiner of the Demeter cabin's jaw dropped. "That's Rachel, all right. But how on earth could the Oracle be male? The Hunters didn't change."
"Everybody in our world was shocked, too. It was originally Hades' idea. Since he was the one who cursed the last Oracle, he put forth the idea that the next one should be as opposite to the previous one as possible. River jumped at the chance, though I'm certain at least half of his decision was based on the fact that it would finally get Apollo to stop hitting on him."
Everyone else made a face. "Apollo... with Rachel?" Annabeth choked, her face turning green.
"Now I need a bath," Lou Ellen moaned.
"Ditto," Damien seconded.
Chiron looked disturbed as well, but recovered first. "As dangerous as it could be, I fear Damien's suggestion seems like the most effective one. Rachel could shed some light on this without having to involve any of the gods."
Annabeth furrowed her brow at the centaur. "So, we're not telling them?"
"Not telling us what?" an all-too familiar voice asked from across the mess hall.
Percie ground her teeth together as she turned to face Dionysus. The god of wine was leaning up against one of the pillars in the corner of the hall, a look of utter boredom etched on his face. That look was eternal, just like the ghastly leopard-striped pattern on the shirt he was wearing.
Suddenly, most of the demigods at the table found something fascinating about their shoes, or the floor, or under the table. The only ones who didn't bother trying to hide anything were Chiron, Percie, and Annabeth.
"Mr. D. I didn't know you'd be back so soon," the centaur greeted, his face betraying no concern.
The god rolled his eyes. "Neither did I. I know Scrabble usually doesn't last very long when Athena is playing, but Hermes is completely convinced she's rigging the bag in her favor. How else could she spell serendipity with only nine pieces in front of her?"
Annabeth grunted at the accusation, but didn't challenge it vocally. Percie had no such filter.
"Maybe you just miscounted," the daughter of Poseidon said, spinning in her seat so she could face the camp director directly.
Dionysus only narrowed his eyes at her. "That argument might be effective if I was inebriated, madam, but I've been sober longer than you've been alive. Not of my own choice, of course, but the point still stands."
"Oh, right. The whole nypmh fiasco. I forget, what did she have that Ariadne didn't?" Percie asked innocently.
That did it. Mr. D's eye actually twitched at that remark about his wife on Olympus. "A brain, something you are clearly lacking by taking that tone with me," the god sneered, striding into the hall.
The daughter of the sea blinked in an exaggerated tone. "Oh, was that off-limits? Sorry. I'm new, but you really can't blame me, you know. How am I supposed to know the rules if the camp director is too busy losing at board games to be bothered doing his job?"
Her insults weren't as creative as Alister's, but oh boy, were they just as effective. The wine god actually looked like he might just ignore Zeus's rule about not using his powers and turn the demigod into crushed grapes, but even Olympians knew better than to push their luck like that. A fact Percie exploited numerous times.
"You... are quite possibly the most annoying little hero I've ever had the displeasure of meeting," Dionysus hissed, a cup of Diet Coke suddenly appearing in his hand. "What's your name, loose lips?"
She wanted, more than anything, to say Percie Jackson, and watch as Mr. D lost his mind again, but she remembered Chiron's idea to keep the hero-swap a secret for now. At least from the gods. So, she had to improvise.
"Ophelia Castle," she made up on the spot. Nice. No one would ever suspect a daughter of Poseidon would be named after a character famous for drowning.
"Okay, Oria Palace," the god responded, nonchalantly sipping his Diet Coke. Great. Even in this world, the wine god liked messing up people's names for fun. How was she supposed to enjoy her inside joke if he didn't call her Ophelia?
"She hasn't been claimed by anyone yet," Annabeth offered, finally speaking up after watching Percie square off with the camp director in bafflement. "Just got here about an hour ago, actually."
"Would have been two hours, but I got delayed by some reckless empousa suffering from a case of mistaken identity," Percie helpfully added.
Dionysus didn't look impressed by the boast. "Glad to see you made it without being injured," he replied, his tone implying the exact opposite. "I take it you're all here waiting for her to be claimed?"
All the other demigods nodded, without speaking. Mr. D shrugged. "Fine. I'll make myself scarce. The last thing I want to know is who I'll have to apologize to for accidentally turning their daughter into a grapevine in forty years."
The camp director trudged off towards the amphitheater, but no one dared say anything until they were sure he was out of earshot.
Everyone stared at the daughter of Poseidon in wonder as they waited. She'd just openly insulted a god to his face, and even brought up his freaking wife! And she wasn't dead!
"He'll get over it. I'll bring him some Diet Coke, and he'll forget why he was so mad," Percie dismissed, turning back to everyone else. "So, the Oracle?"
Chiron actually smiled, for the first time since she'd arrived. "Yes. She lives here in the New York area, just like your River, I'd imagine. I take it you know the way?"
Percie nodded and went to stand up, but Annabeth put a hand to her shoulder.
"I'm going with you," the daughter of Athena said, and her tone declared she'd accept nothing other than a yes.
That was enough to make Percie want to refuse, but she couldn't. Annabeth clearly missed her own Percy, just like she missed Alister. Besides, she'd only gotten as far as she had because she had her friends behind her. It wasn't in her to reject them like that.
"Fine. But don't get into trouble on my account," Percie acquiesced.
The others wished them luck, and Chiron put a finger to his lips, clearly indicating that they should keep out of sight of Olympus. The two demigods packed, and met back up at Percie's car. Well, Percy's car. Percie's was still stuck in that side alley.
Annabeth climbed into the passenger's seat, and inhaled. "It... still smells like him. Like... an ocean breeze."
"How do you know that's not my scent?" the daughter of Poseidon joked, starting the car.
Annabeth's voice was the exact same as Alister's whenever he was sure about something. It tugged at Percie's heartstrings, but she swallowed it down. If she and Percy had really changed places, then both boys were surely working as hard as they could to reverse this situation. The women couldn't afford to do any less on their end.
As they pulled away from camp, Annabeth turned to her. "What you did back there... standing up to Dionysus? That was pretty cool. And don't think I didn't notice you made him completely forget about the part where we were keeping secrets from the gods."
Percie grinned. "He's a grouchy old fool, but he's my grouchy old fool. I wasn't kidding about buying him off with Diet Coke, you know."
The daughter of Athena actually laughed at that, a middling giggle that sprung up into a higher register. That was Alister's laugh; literally, the exact same.
Annabeth must have noticed Percie reminiscing, because she quieted down quickly. The New York countryside passed by as they drove, and the daughter of Athena seemed to contemplate something as they turned onto the highway. Finally, she spoke again.
"You can call me Wise Girl if you want to."
Percie actually slowed down to look her companion in the eye at that. "In that case, Seaweed Brain will do just fine."
That triggered another round of laughter, and Percie didn't hold back. Just like she never did. This world might have been one she hadn't expected to pass through, but the Fates could be finicky. Let them. Percie Jackson had Annabeth Chase by her side. If anything, it was the Fates who needed to be on high alert.