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A/N: This story begins approximately a month before the events of Sea of Monsters, shortly after Thalia’s tree has been poisoned.

It also begins in 006.M3, during the Age of Terra.

Chapter 1: Everybody Goes Insane

CLARISSE LA RUE

It was a horrible thing to admit, but part of Clarisse was happy that Thalia’s tree had been poisoned. The games and hunts that made up much of life at Camp Half-Blood were thrilling, but there wasn’t supposed to be much risk of dying, or even serious injury. More importantly, the stakes weren’t very high – just bragging rights, really. Like any child of Ares, Clarisse loved fighting for its own sake, but if she hadn’t been that type, she probably would have tired of capture-the-flag by now.

Patrol was different. Here, she was actually doing something. The safety of Camp Half-Blood depended on her and her squad. And there was no guarantee that they would come back alive. Clarisse wasn’t afraid. That was the risk you took when you went into battle.

Behind her, Darryl Hayden’s shield clanked against his sword. One of the disadvantages of using ancient Greek weapons was that you made a lot of noise. Which meant that if there were monsters threatening the camp, they would probably hear the patrol before they saw them. That was definitely a bad thing, but Clarisse was happier to have the armor. Stealth wasn’t her thing, anyway.

The patrol was just reaching Thalia’s tree. Beyond, Clarisse could see the first rays of the dawn creeping over the horizon, illuminating the sickened tree. It was a reminder of how long she had been awake – four hours. No doubt she would crash when she got back to her cabin.

“NOOOOO!” screamed Darryl from the rear. Clarisse’s head snapped around, but she couldn’t see what Darryl was screaming about. Mark started flailing about, swinging his shield wildly. His eyes locked with Clarisse’s for a moment, and she recognized the look he gave her. It was similar to the look she had seen on Luke’s face when he had been caught TPing Mr. D’s house – and Mr. D had driven him insane for a day.

“Peter!” she called out. “What do you see?”

“The lights, the lights, the lights!” he replied. “They will light the way to HELL!”

It was odd to hear a half-blood use the word “hell”. Some campers used “Hades” in a similar fashion. But Peter’s adoptive father was a Bible-thumping preacher, and he was one of the few campers who was genuinely Christian. Clarisse pushed the thought from her mind, and focused on what was important. Namely, that the rest of her patrol had just been driven insane.

Darryl was kneeling on the ground, crying out in despair. Mark was attacking the air. Peter was just staring down the hill at something. Clarisse’s eyes skimmed the forest, looking for something – anything – to explain what was going on.

That’s when she saw him.

A boy was riding up the hill on a dark grey bicycle. He was thin and scrawny, clearly struggling with the climb. He had golden hair, blue jeans, and a black T-shirt on. He seemed perfectly ordinary – which was patently impossible. Clarisse knew that Thalia’s tree could no longer prevent monsters from entering the camp, but mortals should still be kept out.

“Get behind the hill!” he shouted. His voice had an odd resonance to it. Clarisse found herself scrambling down the hill almost before she had time to think about it. To her surprise, the others followed, still screaming and chanting and flailing like before. The boy vanished briefly, then reappeared over the crest. He dismounted his bike, letting it fall to the ground.

“Joseph Regent,” he introduced himself, pre-empting Clarisse’s first question. And the second: “There’s two of them. They look like women, but I don’t think they’re human. They’re carrying these torches – I think that’s what drove your friends insane.”

Clarisse didn’t like it when people acted like they knew everything. “And how exactly did you find that out without going insane yourself?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m already insane. People have been calling me crazy for years.”

“Great.” Clarisse rolled her eyes. Just what she needed – a smartass.

His eyes locked with hers, now devoid of humor. “I looked into the light. I saw… madness… in them. But for whatever reason, I didn’t spaz out. I’m sure there’s an interesting explanation, but judging by what happened to your friends, I have to assume that I’m a special case.”

Clarisse huffed. She didn’t like having big questions like that unanswered, but there wasn’t much she could do. “Any crazy ideas on how to kill those things?”

Joseph’s eyes wandered for a second, then settled on the spear in Clarisse’s hand. “Stab them?”

The idea itself was appealing, but Clarisse understood the subtext. “So I just sit here while you go and save the day?”

To her surprise and relief, he shook his head. “I’m not a fighter. If all they can do is drive people insane, then I could do it, but if they have anything else up their sleeves…”

“Can you describe them?” she asked. Any information would be useful.

“I can do one better.” Joseph drew a cellphone from his pocket. Clarisse recognized it as a camera phone. Joseph flipped it open, pressed a couple of buttons, then handed it to Clarisse. The picture was small, but she could make out two humanoid figures – gaunt, wearing black robes, and carrying torches that shone with a violet light.

“Lampads,” she breathed, recognizing them. “Nymphs of the underworld. Companions of Hecate. And yes, their torches can bring madness. I don’t know about anything else, but as Hecate’s the goddess of witchcraft, I’m not taking any chances.” As much as she wasn’t liking Joseph, he was the only person who could look at them safely. If they realized he was a threat, they could probably turn him into a toad or a statue or any number of things that would render him useless. So whatever he did had to take them out quickly, before they reacted.

“If we could just get put out the torches…” Joseph wondered aloud. That’s when Clarisse had her eureka moment.

“Follow me,” she ordered, grabbing his hand by the wrist and pulling him along. He half-ran, half-dragged his feet trying to keep up with her. “Slow down!” he shouted.

She ignored him.

After about a minute of running, dragging, and some whining, they arrived at the volleyball courts. Coiled up in one corner was a bright green garden hose, normally used to hose unfortunate campers (and, in theory, clean the volleyball courts). Clarisse took cover behind the colonnade surrounding the court. She gripped her spear tightly, and closed her eyes.

“Are they coming this way?” she asked.

“Yep!” Joseph replied.

“When they get close, I want you to spray them with the hose. Try to put their torches out. Once they’re out, yell, and I’ll attack them.”

She heard the sound of water splashing onto ground. So at least the hose was working. She briefly wondered who had left the valve open. Seconds crawled by. Clarisse always hated waiting, but waiting with your eyes closed was worse. She had no idea what was going on out there. And she was putting her trust in some kid she barely knew. Assuming he wasn’t a monster in disguise, he was probably a half-blood – that would explain how he could get past Thalia’s tree. Maybe he was a son of Dionysus – that would explain how he could look into the torchfires and not –

Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a torrent of water, followed seconds later by a pair of decidedly unnatural screams. Joseph’s voice broke through, again with that odd resonance she’d heard earlier: “NOW!”

Clarisse opened her eyes. She could see the Lampads now, standing on the dirt path leading into the camp. They were shorter than she’d realized, barely five feet tall apiece. Most notably, their robes were soaked, and their hands clasped torches that no longer burned. They wore shocked expressions, presumably due to what Joseph had just done to them.

Adrenaline surged, and Clarisse charged. The Lampads seemed not to notice her at first. She closed the distance between them in seconds, and drove her spear through the first one’s heart. She drew back the spear in a quick, practiced move, letting her victim crumple to the ground. The other Lampad seemed to notice, and turned to Clarisse, but she had no intention of giving it a chance to do anything. She whirled around, rotating on the balls of her feet, and thrust upwards. Her spear pierced the creature’s neck, emerging from the back of its head coated in thin grey blood, cutting short its scream in a horrible gurgle. The first corpse disintegrated, followed quickly by the second, leaving only their torches behind.

Joseph stared at the ground where they had been. He looked a little queasy. He took a deep gulp, and turned back to her.

“Okayyy. Now that we’re out of imminent danger, I have a few questions for you. Starting with, who are you, what is this place, and why are you wearing ancient Greek armor?”

JOSEPH REGENT

The most amazing thing of all was how readily Joseph had accepted this.

After killing the Lampads, the warrior girl – her name was Clarisse La Rue – had taken Joseph to go find the camp director, Mr. D. “Mr. D” turned out to be short for “Dionysus”, the Greek god of wine, theater, and madness. The last part had proven to be important, as he had been able to restore the sanity of Clarisse’s comrades.

The revelation that the Greek gods were real had shattered Joseph’s worldview. He considered himself fortunate that mythology was among his interests, so he at least knew quite a few of the stories. He also found it amusing that Mount Olympus was now atop the Empire State Building. And it did fit all the available facts. And if the Greek gods were real, and were anything like they were in the stories, the existence of a large number of demigods made sense. Still, it was a little hard to get his head around the idea that Clarisse was the daughter of Ares.

But then Dionysus had dropped the bomb. His words still rang in Joseph’s head. They had been almost casual, as if it wasn’t a big deal.

“You, Joseph Regent, are a demigod. There is no other way that you could have entered the camp without an invitation.”

It did at least explain the mystery of his own birth. Joseph had known for two years that he was adopted. His adoptive father, Karl Regent, had told him that his biological mother was Gallina Thompson, a patient at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie. She had been there since she was 13, her mind a tragic casualty of the abuse her stepfather had heaped on her. No one knew how she had gotten pregnant, but she had, and Joseph had been put up for adoption after birth.

After that, Clarisse had shown him a short orientation film. It explained a lot – how Camp Half-Blood was a refuge for demigods, how many famous people in history had been demigods, how people were claimed, and so on. By now, most of Joseph’s important questions had been answered.

But one still remained.

Now, Joseph sat in the mess hall. As one of the unclaimed demigods, he sat at the Hermes table. The co-counselors of the Hermes cabin, Travis and Connor Stoll, were very friendly, telling jokes to keep everyone entertained during breakfast. Joseph caught the distinct impression that they were also doing it to keep everyone’s minds off of things like the camp being in danger.

Joseph turned to the camper next to him, a chubby girl with red hair, freckles, and pale grey eyes. The one question burned inside him, and he needed to figure it out.

“So, Hanna, I didn’t catch who your divine parent is,” he said pleasantly. Hanna frowned, and looked down at her plate.

“I don’t know. I’ve been here about a year and a half, and I still haven’t been claimed.” Her voice carried a strong Boston accent.

Joseph felt a tinge of regret for bringing it up. “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you… do you have any idea who it might be?”

“Well…” she looked up at the ceiling, “I’m pretty handy with a bow, so it could be Apollo.” She shrugged. “Part of the problem is that I don’t know who my real human parent is, either. When I found out what I was, it pretty much destroyed my parents’ marriage.”

Travis Stoll turned his head towards Joseph. “You’re wondering who your parent is, Joe?” he asked. Joseph’s nostrils flared – he hated being called Joe. But he took a deep breath, and nodded.

“All that really comes to mind is that I looked into the Lampads’ torches, and I didn’t go crazy.” In fact, Joseph had claimed one of the torches as his spoil. It was currently in the Hermes cabin, marking his bed until he got a chance to move in properly. The other, of course, had gone to Clarisse. “And I know who my mother is.”

“Well, maybe Mr. D’s your dad,” Travis suggested. “He is the god of madness, after all.”

Joseph turned to look at Dionysus. He couldn’t come to think of him as “Mr. D”, especially if he was Joseph’s father. His eyes moved down to the Dionysus table. Only two campers were there.

“If I were Dionysus’ son, wouldn’t he have said something?” Joseph asked. “I mean, it’s not like he has a lot of children, so I rather doubt he just ‘forgot’ about getting an insane woman pregnant.”

Travis looked thoughtful. He spoke more slowly. “Well… the only other one I could think of would be Hecate. The Lampads are her servants.”

Joseph raised an eyebrow. “Could a goddess get a human woman pregnant?”

Travis shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never heard of it happening.”

Joseph sat back, mind running through what he knew about other Greek gods, trying to figure out which one was his parent.

And then it happened.

He noticed his plate taking on a blue cast. He looked up, and saw a blue symbol floating above his head. It was shaped very vaguely like a flame. The entire mess hall went silent.

“Well,” Joseph heard Travis say, “it looks like you’ve been claimed. Although I have no idea which god that is…”

Joseph’s eyes were fixed on the symbol. It looked vaguely familiar. He was certain he’d seen it before.

Then he recognized it.

No, he thought. It’s not possible. I mean, Greek gods are one thing, but no one actually believes in… I mean, it’s from a game for crying out loud! But if so, then where else did that symbol come from…

Oh no. If he exists, then so do the others. And that means… that means that…

He felt the color drain from his face as utter terror came over him. He started shaking. A single tear rolled down his cheek.

“Joseph?” Travis asked, concern shading his voice. “Do you recognize that symbol?”

Joseph lowered his head, and looked him straight in the eye. “I do,” he said slowly, deliberately. “It’s the symbol of my father.”

“And your father is…” Travis pressed.

“My father,” Joseph said with a voice as cold as the void between the stars, “is Tzeentch. The Chaos god of ambition, change, magic, and planning.”

A gasp came over from the Athena table. Travis looked confused.

“Who?”

Next Chapter

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