Smoke on the Horizon

XXIV. Percy

XXIV. PERCY

Percy couldn’t breathe.

Everything was black and he couldn’t breathe.

He kicked out and his foot made contact with something hard and much too organic feeling to be a rock. He recoiled, trying to push himself away, trying not to panic.

He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten here, wherever here was, underwater, clearly, because he was wet.

He was wet. But that couldn’t be -

His lungs burned and he tried to calm himself. This had to be a dream. It had to. But he knew it wasn’t. Now he remembered - flying, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, or, sea-monster, feeling the salt air on the other side, knowing he’d make it out, and then he’d been falling.

Blackjack must have nicked the water too hard, stumbled a little in the air, and Percy lost his grip. He’d hit the ocean hard, no time to straighten out and brace himself for the impact. He’d had just enough time and just enough wherewithal to jet himself out of the way as the great shadow of Cetus came crashing around him.

And then he’d blacked out.

And now he was here. He tried to kick up, but his sneakers seemed too heavy on his feet. He yanked them off impatiently, letting them fall away, and was able to make a little progress, but it was no use. He was too far down. There was no way he’d make it back up before he ran out of air. He kicked a little harder, forcing himself to move.

Gods, if only I could see something, he thought, black spots with white halos dancing in front of his eyes.

Then he remembered Riptide. The trusty pen was still inside his pocket and he rushed to uncap it. The sword glowed dimly, but it was enough to see a few feet in front of him. He immediately regretted the decision.

Staring him in the face was a giant eye. He fought the urge to scream and reminded himself that Cetus was asleep, though somehow that didn’t provide much comfort. He resumed his kicking. The water felt too thick around him, and he couldn’t make it move as usual. It was fighting him, not helping him, and Percy knew he was going to die.

Tyson and Dad aren’t here to save me this time.

The black spots blurred into bright stars, jumping around his eyes as if trying to block his vision. He was swimming blind and it was clear he wasn’t moving anywhere fast.

His feet made contact with something hard again, maybe a rock this time, and he fell to his knees on the sandy floor. Something sharp hit his side but he didn’t feel it. His head hurt too much, his lungs, his eyes - and all he wanted to do was sleep. He was so tired, more so than he realized.

Should’ve gotten more sleep, he thought and his vision turned white.

Percy came to on a cold floor, in air now, not water, flat on his back and bare-footed.

He opened his eyes only to shut them again because of the too bright light, and did his best to sit up.

Pain shot up his spine and he gasped, cringing again as more pain filled his chest which felt like it had been crushed inside a garbage truck. He covered his eyes and blinked, trying to adjust them to the brightness.

He heard a ripple behind him. He wasn’t alone.

He grabbed for Riptide and tried to swing around to face whatever was with him and was met with a burning sensation in his side. Clutching his ribs, the sound grew louder as the being approached. Percy prepared for whatever it was that was about to eat him, too exhausted to even contemplate fighting back.

“Percy?” a husky voice said.

Percy turned his head and watched as his father, in his human form, came closer, bending over, concern etched across his chiseled face. He looked younger than the last time Percy had seen him, war-weary and aged. Now he seemed to have regained some of his immortal youth, even if he still looked a little tired.

“Yeah,” was all Percy could think to say.

“Are you alright?” Poseidon said, pulling something from behind his back and producing the green Nikes’ Percy had discarded earlier.

“Thanks,” he said as the sea god gently handed them over. “What happened?”

“Well I hoped you could tell me. It was chance that I found you. You are one very lucky demigod. That pressure would’ve killed anyone not related to me, but thankfully that’s not a problem for you. I came looking for Cetus, that great beast of mine - unfortunately I was unaware it had returned and, now that I’m here, I find that it is no longer a threat. Can I assume you have something to do with that?” He smiled, clearly wanting Percy to tell him how he’d taken down the monster singlehandedly, saved all his friends, and rescued some dolphins trapped in a fishing net all at the same time, but Percy just stared at his bare feet.

“I couldn’t breath,” he whispered, the words scaring him as he said them aloud. He expected his father to laugh, hoist him up and clap him on the back, say how funny his son was for joking about something so absurd for a child of Poseidon.

Instead, the god of the sea frowned, creased his eyebrows and looked very seriously over his son. “We should change that bandage,” he said, gesturing to Percy’s side, a large splotch of red seeping out through the orange shirt.

It took him a second to actually realize he was bleeding and that that had been the burning he’d felt earlier.

“You hit one of Cetus’ teeth when you fell,” Poseidon continued. “Thankfully it just nicked you, otherwise you - ”

“Yeah, got it, thanks.” Percy didn’t really want a visual. He could imagine clearly enough what would have happened to him. His father nodded and waved to someone else now hovering in the doorway and the nereid with glossy green hair and a flowing silvery dress floated gracefully into the room.

She helped Percy to unwrap the gauzy material (Percy now realized it was seaweed) from the gash and spread a green, goopy substance (probably more seaweed) onto it, smacking away his hand when he tried to poke at it when she was done. Apparently it was some high-class mer-medicine, some kind of undersea ambrosia that was sure to both clean and heal. Unfortunately, it did not sooth, and the burning persisted. The wound did stop bleeding however, which Percy figured was probably a good thing, and soon he was once again patched up with a seaweed compress.

The nereid stood at attention, waiting for further instruction from her king, who bowed his head, dismissing her, sending her flowing back out the door. “Now,” Poseidon said, crossing his arms and regarding Percy sternly. “Would you like to explain what is going on?”

Percy did his best to fill in the god - the quest, the titanic problem they faced (which, as he suspected, Poseidon already knew about), Cetus and how he came practically out of nowhere. He knew he was leaving stuff out, but he didn't really think it was all that necessary, like how Calypso had basically been goddess-napped from her island and how Leo had come back from the dead. He figured the whole "goddess escaping from her punishment" wouldn't be the best thing to mention to a god, even if that god was his father.

“Blackjack and I just barely made it out, but we must have hit the water and I lost my grip on him,” Percy finished.

“And when you said you couldn’t breathe,” Poseidon said, clasping his hands behind his back and watching Percy thoughtfully, “what did you mean? When couldn’t you breathe? In a dream, perhaps?”

Percy wished more than anything he could say yes, only in a dream. It was partly true, after all, he had had that nightmare before.

But he shook his head. “No, not just in a dream - I must have blacked out when I hit, cause when I woke up I had sunk with Cetus. Where you found me,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t move the water like I normally can. I guess I passed out again. And then I woke up here.”

“But you had time to take your shoes off, I noticed,” his father said with a small smile.

Percy shrugged. “Never really liked them anyway.”

Poseidon gave a thunderous laugh which seemed a little excessive to Percy, and wiped a tear from his eye when he was finished. “So, what of this quest?” he finally said, taking Percy a little by surprise.

“What do you mean?”

“Well I imagine you’re leading it, son of the sea and all, an ocean foe, who better?”

Percy shifted his feet before answering. “It’s not only me,” he said, not really keen to take on all the responsibility.

“Well of course not, surely there are others, considering how these quests go, but there is always a leader, isn’t there.”

He’s really not going to drop it.

“It’s me, Annabeth, and Leo,” he clarified. “We’re doing it together. There is no one leader. That usually doesn’t end well.”

Poseidon nodded slowly, cleared his throat. “Well then, that’s good. Teamwork always pays off in the end.” With that he turned away and lingered once more in the doorway. “Come out when you’re ready perhaps. I’ll be down the way in my study,” he said and slipped out the door.

Percy was left standing alone in the cold room, teeshirt damp and hair still wet against his face, wondering if he’d be able to leave the air confines of the room in order to follow his father, or if he’d be forced to remain where he was, unable to breathe.

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