A Heart's Desire
Start spreadin' the news
I'm leavin' today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
Rachel couldn't help but sing along to the horribly cheesy, and yet very catchy Frank Sinatra song as she stood in the elevator, awaiting her fate.
She unconsciously swayed to the music as the lift rose, up and up, into the world-famous tower. She was nervous all over, goosebumps peppering her pale skin like the freckles she was known for. Chills ran up and down her arms, and she shuddered from the feeling. There was a knot of worry in her stomach so tight, she felt like at any moment she was going to hurl.
And yet the soothing tones of Frank Sinatra's voice seemed to calm her down, only if ever so slightly. She supposed that wasn't too surprising though: he was a very well-known singer, after all. In fact, she had often been told that he was one of the (many) sons of Apollo, along with Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and influential artists like that. Another knot rose in Rachel's stomach, smaller than the first, but still existent and different because it was a feeling of jealousy, as silly as she knew it was.
As the gleaming gold elevator doors opened with a cheerful ching onto the 600th floor. Before being introduced to the fantastically absurd world of the Greek gods and goddess and myths, Rachel would have thought it was odd when a 16-year old girl walked up to the security guard of the Empire State Building and asked for the 600th floor. But those days were over, and completely bizarre things like that had become the norm in her life.
Still, even though she had been here about half a year ago for a brief time, she couldn't help being utterly mystified as she stepped out of the fancy elevator and set foot onto the most beautiful place she had ever seen.
She was standing on a narrow stone walkway in the middle of the air. Below her was Manhattan, from the height of an airplane. In front of her, white marble steps wound up the spine of a cloud, into the sky. Her eyes followed the stairway to its end, where her brain just could not accept what she saw.
Look again, her brain said.
We're looking, her eyes insisted. It's really there.
From the top of the clouds rose the decapitated peak of a mountain, its summit covered with snow. Clinging to the mountainside were dozens of multileveled palaces- a city of mansions - all with white-columned porticos, gilded terraces, and bronze braziers glowing with a thousand fires. Roads wound crazily up to the peak, where the largest palace gleamed against the snow. Precariously perched gardens bloomed with olive trees and rosebushes. She could make out an open-air market filled with colorful tents, a stone amphitheater built on one side of the mountain, a hippodrome and a coliseum on the other. It was an Ancient Greek city, except it wasn't in ruins. It was new, and clean, and colorful, the way Athens must've looked twenty-five hundred years ago.
Her trip through Olympus was a daze. She passed some giggling wood nymphs who threw olives at her from their garden. Hawkers in the market offered to sell her ambrosia-on-a-stick, and a new shield, and a genuine glitter-weave replica of the Golden Fleece, as seen on Hephaestus-TV. The nine muses were tuning their instruments for a concert in the park while a small crowd gathered-satyrs and naiads and a bunch of good-looking teenagers who might've been minor gods and goddesses. Everybody seemed in a festive mood. Several of them turned to watch her pass, and whispered to themselves. She climbed the main road, toward the big palace at the peak.
Steps led up to a central courtyard. Past that, the throne room.
Room really wasn't the right word. The place made Grand Central Station look like a broom closet. Massive columns rose to a domed ceiling, which was gilded with moving constellations.
Twelve thrones, were arranged in an inverted U, just like the cabins at Camp Half-Blood. An enormous fire crackled in the central hearth pit. The thrones were all full, with a god or goddess seated elegantly in each. She didn't have to be told who each of the gods were that were sitting there, waiting for her to approach. She came toward them, her legs trembling.
The gods were in giant human form, but she could barely look at them without feeling a tingle, as her my body were starting to burn. Zeus, the Lord of the Gods, wore a dark blue pinstriped suit. He sat on a simple throne of solid platinum. He had a well-trimmed beard, marbled gray and black like a storm cloud. His face was proud and handsome and grim, his eyes rainy gray. As she got nearer to him, the air crackled and smelled of ozone.
Rachel swept her eyes across the room, scanning the faces for any that popped out at her or that she knew personally.
Her eyes stopped on the chair three to the left of Zeus's.
The god sitting near him was his son, without a doubt, but he was dressed very differently. He reminded her of a surfer from Malibu. He wore leather sandals, patterned swim trunks, and a plain Polo t-shirt.. His face and skin was deeply tanned, like he had been out in the sun for a really long time, and his hair was sandy blond, windswept. It was unmistakably the god Apollo, Lord of the Sun.
She momentarily made eye-contact with him, and he flashed her a brief smile.
Rachel thought she was blind, his teeth were so white.
His throne was made of highly polished gold. There was a sun disk above it with twenty-one rays made of arrows. There were magical sayings on the back and sides. He sat on a cushion of python skin.
The gods weren't moving or speaking, but there was tension in the air, as if they'd just finished an argument.
"Rachel Elizabeth Dare," a thunderous voice boomed, "proceed." Normally, Rachel didn't like to take orders from anyone, especially someone so loud (she hated it when people were loud; what was the point?), but she obliged because you didn't just blatantly ignore Zeus's orders. He was the King of Olympus, for gods' sakes!
So instead of protesting, she came forward meekly, not meeting any of their gazes in the fear that they would think she was challenging them. She knelt in a way that she hoped was somewhat graceful, and bowed her head respectfully.
"Lord Zeus, " she called, "how may I help you?"
That was the question she asked. The real question she wanted to ask was "What do you want?" Of course you don't say that to the King of the Gods. But all she knew was that, one moment, she had been grieving in solitude over the recent loss of Percy Jackson, and the next, she was receiving an Iris Message from Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods, telling her that she had "a reception with the gods on Mount Olympus."
"Look, kid," he had said when she'd asked him what it was all about. "I can't tell you what's going to happen. I'm not allowed to." He'd quickly glanced behind him in the IM, as if checking to see if he was alone, then he'd leaned forward as if to conspire, conspicuously whispering. "All I know," he'd said in a hushed tone, "is that it's gonna be big. That's all I can say for now." Leaning back, he'd ended the message by saying, "Just show up tomorrow, okay? The throne room on Olympus, 7 o'clock sharp," he'd stressed, giving her one last pointed look before waving away the rainbow mist that separated them and disappearing into a fine haze.
So, packing her bags quickly and quietly, Rachel had told Chiron where she was going, then hopped onto the nearest pegasus being groomed in the stables. She'd flown all the way here from New York and had only managed to get a few restless hours of sleep before showing up at the Empire State Building and timing herself to arrive exactly at 7 o'clock.
It was now 7:01.
"Rachel," Zeus said, re-addressing her, and she mentally cringed at the use of her full name. "Recently, Lady Artemis pointed out to us that were one of the main mortals in the Second Giant War, alongside Thalia Grace, daughter of me, Zeus" Zeus paused to smile cockily at this point, and Rachel made an effort not to roll her eyes at that. "Tyson, son of Poseidon; Grover Underwood, of the satyrs; Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena; and Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon." The room momentarily took on a solemn tone, as the gods, goddesses, and Rachel all recalled the disappearance that had been plaguing everyone's minds these past few days.
Artemis, surprisingly, the youngest-looking goddess in the room, moved on the quickest by saying, "We have decided that, since you were occupied with other...things at the time of our rewarding each of these heroes, you should also be given the chance to experience what they had the chance too."
Rachel looked at each of the gods and goddesses in turn, a blank look on her face. Her confusion must have been evident, because another god- Poseidon, she realized- stated, "You have been given a rare opportunity here. We the gods, as a Council, have voted, and have decided to grant you any wish that your heart desires."
She gaped at them. "Any wish?"
Athena, a goddess with scary gray eyes like Annabeth's, nodded. "Any wish. We all swore it on the River Styx."
"Yeah, but...any wish?" she asked again, still trying to comprehend the enormity of the situation.
Zeus rolled his eyes, and said again, "YES. ANY WISH." He said it loudly (well, louder than usual), and enunciated clearly, as if Rachel were hard-of-hearing and a little kid.
Rachel closed her eyes, trying to block out the stares of the gods and goddess in the rooms, although she could feel their gazes on the backs of her eyelids like a beaming red light.
What do I want? she thought to herself. It was a surprisingly simple question, with a not-so-simple answer. To ask what someone's greatest wish was was to ask them what they wanted to have happen more than anything else in the world.
But it was more than that. Someone's greatest wish was usually something that seemed borderline impossible.
That thought immediately answered the question Rachel had asked of herself, but she quickly shunned the idea, and shook the silly notion out of her head. It was impossible, after all. It would never happen, no matter how hard she wished it would.
Then again, she was dealing with a bunch of Greek gods, an entire room full of (almost) all-powerful beings. So why shouldn't she ask it? She could challenge them; put their abilities to their test. See how much they could really do.
They swore on the River Styx to give me whatever I want. Let's see how well these gods keep their promises, she thought, before she opened her mouth.
"I want to be a demigod," she blurted out, before quickly clamping it shut.
Immediately she wished she hadn't said that, but it was out. What's done was done. And it wasn't really her fault, after all. She couldn't control her desires. They had asked for her greatest wish, and she had given it to them. Still, the words burned into her ears, seared into her brain, and made her regret them.
The gods' appearances reflected her thoughts. Their faces around the room were blank sheets of paper, devoid of all emotion and response to such a request. She might as well be staring at a telephone pole, she got that much reaction to her answer. But then they began to regain some emotion, and color returned to their face. Specifically, the color red. And that scared her the most.
It's a stupid idea, anyway she told herself. But in her heart of hearts she knew it wasn't. Was it so stupid to want to be loved, cherished, wanted? To be a part of something greater than yourself? To belong?
As long as she had been the Oracle of Apollo, which she supposed was about half a year now, she could not once remember a time when she hadn't been somewhat lonely. Whether it was sitting alone at meal times in the pavilion, painting alone in her cave, or studying ancient prophecies in the attic of the Big House. Even then, the only real company she had was the old hippie skeleton, the woman who had once possessed the power of the prophecy as the Oracle but was now devoid of the spirit since Rachel had taken over the job.
As the new Oracle, she spent most of her time at camp doing Oracle-stuff, so she didn't have much time for making friends. And she already had her work cut out for her channeling the Oracle's spirit of Apollo, so Chiron didn't feel the need to make her do regular training and practice. And, since she wasn't the daughter of a god or goddess, that meant she didn't get to stay in a cabin, experience what it was like to have siblings, and then have some quality bonding time with those brothers and sisters.
During the school year, Rachel still attended Clarion Ladies Academy, the same prestigious private school she had gone to since she struck a deal with her father to go there for 10th grade and on up, although she still really wished she went to Goode High School with Percy and all of his friends. Most of the girls at Clarion were just so stuck-up and snobby, which was saying a lot, coming from Rachel, because usually she didn't consider herself to be a person to make snap-judgements about others. Still, never once at that school had someone made a real effort to reach out and be her friend.
So as if the year-round loneliness at school and at camp weren't enough, her home life was miserable too. Her father and mother, the always seemingly-busy land developer and social worker, never made enough time for her. At this point in her life, she wasn't even bitter about it anymore, but since this was a growing period for her (teenage years are said to be some of the most important), a little extra motherly, and even fatherly, guidance would've been pretty helpful. She would have at least enjoyed the attention, which they never gave to her.
So yeah. Some lovin' would be nice right now.
But from the gods' faces, it didn't appear that that's what she'd be getting.
"Rachel Elizabeth Dare!" thundered Zeus. "You dare- oh, wait, that's funny. Haha." There was an astounding amount of eye-rolling going on in the Olympian throne room at that moment. "You dare to ask such a ridiculous question? First of all, why would you ask us to do something so ridiculous, and-"
"You just said that," Hermes interrupted with a pointed and slightly-annoyed look.
The King of the Gods had a confused look on his face. "I did? Oh. Well, then why would you ask us to do something as silly as that?" He laughed suddenly, a short, loud bark that pierced the heavy silence of the room. "I mean, just the mere idea of it. Can you imagine? A mortal...becoming a demigod! Why, the idea is simply outrageous. And not just any mortal; oh no, the Oracle herself! Oh, this is rich. This is too much. What a silly idea! Did you really expect us to grant you a wish that crazy? Not only is it absolutely preposterous, it's simply impossible!"
For some reason, his words got under Rachel's skin. She knew they shouldn't have. The entire he was speaking, she kept her teeth clenched, and she bit her tongue to refrain from saying anything. But it was hard. After all, this was her deepest desire, her most wanted wish in the world that he was dissing here. She knew he was a god- not just any god; the King of the gods- but that didn't mean he should be able to get away with saying things like that. Eventually, she couldn't help herself. The temptation got to be too much. She wanted to say, Who woke up, decided to be stupid, and appointed you king of the gods, if it's so impossible?
But before she could even open her mouth, Artemis cut her off with a sharp glance, as if to say Don't say anything. I got this covered. She placed a firm but gentle hand on her dad's shoulder, saying "Father, don't you think that's a bit much? The idea really isn't that absurd, if you consider it."
"That's right," added Athena, much to Rachel's surprise. "It really wouldn't take that much. Just unanimous consent from the Olympian Council, a drop of a god's ichor in the girl's bloodstream, a contract at Camp Half-Blood, and a binding oath on the part of the god and the soon-to-be demigod."
Zeus furrowed his brow in obvious surprise. "Is that really all it would take?" he asked, to which Athena nodded in confirmation, and he easily consented. "Oh, well if that's all, then I don't see any reason why not."
Rachel's heart nearly jumped out of her chest. That's it? That's all there is to it? I'm gonna be a demigod, just like that? The idea was so wonderful, so fantastic, that she tried to calm her beating heart and not get her hopes up until after she was a full-blown demigod.
"So," said Hera, speaking for the first time since the meeting had begun. "That brings us to a most pressing matter: which god or goddess will adopt Rachel Elizabeth Dare as his or her daughter? Rachel Dare," she said, turning her piercing gaze onto Rachel, "do you have a preference of which god or goddess you would like as your parent?"
Rachel shook her head, an emphatic no. She didn't care who she got. Well, it would be great if she didn't have to have somebody so scary, like Hades, or someone so intimidating, like Hera, but really she would take whatever she got. She was becoming a demigod. A demigod. This was her greatest wish in the world, so she didn't care one way or the other. This was already going so much better than she imagined.
"Well then, I will ask it of the Council. Which god or goddess among us will adopt Rachel Elizabeth Dare as his or her daughter," she repeated, but this time turning her gaze to individually stare in turn at each immortal being in the room.
Less than a full beat passed before a hand shot up in the room. It was the only one, but Rachel couldn't be happier."I will," said the person.
"Very well," Hera said. Zeus nodded his consent solemnly, before speaking.
"Olympian Council, let us vote. Do we all agree that Rachel Elizabeth Dare shall prepare to undertake the process of becoming a demigod, the daughter of this god?" He asked, pointing to the volunteer. "If anyone objects, speak now or forever hold your peace." Not one god or goddess raised their hand and opened their mouth in protest, and Rachel was enormously grateful when Zeus moved on. She felt as if a crippling weight had been lifted from her chest.
"Next, the drop of ichor. Will you please come forward?" he asked of both Rachel and the volunteer. They approached, and the god shrank down to Rachel's size as they met Zeus, who had also shrunk, at Hestia's hearth in the center of the room. "Are you ready?" He asked both of them, and they nodded. Zeus removed a small needle from his robe, which Rachel didn't even want to know about, before asking the god to hold out his arm. "I will now draw a drop of ichor from your arm," he announced before doing so, "and insert it into Rachel Elizabeth Dare's bloodstream."
"The next step in this process would be to sign a contract with Camp Half-Blood, assuring that it recognizes you as a demigod from here on out, but..." he said impatiently, looking around the room, "that seems like it would take too long. So let's just move on to the next step, and come back to that one later. Like, maybe tomorrow." Rachel saw Hera roll her eyes in annoyance, but the goddess didn't say anything.
"Lastly," said Zeus, "will be a binding oath between this god and Miss Dare. I'm going to have to ask you both to raise your right hand, and place your left hand on the rim of the heart, since it represents the home, hope, and love." They did as he said, and then he moved on to the actual vows. "Rachel Elizabeth Dare," he said, meeting her gaze evenly, "do you take him" he said, pointing to the god standing to her right, "to be your lawfully adoptive father, to be your protector and favored immortal, to cherish him, respect him, and undertake the effects of being his daughter?"
"I do," she said, suddenly having the awkward feeling that she was getting married. To a god. At the age of 16.
"Swear it on the River Styx," commanded Zeus.
"I swear it on the River Styx."
"And do you," said Zeus, turning to face the god in question, "swear to take Rachel Elizabeth Dare to be your lawfully adopted daughter, to protect her and love her, to cherish her, respect her, and undertake the responsibilities of being her father?"
"I do," the god said. "I swear it on the River Styx."
"Well then, said Zeus with a cheery bob of the head, "I guess we're all done here! I'll leave you two alone so you can have some time to talk and work things out. Pleasure doing business with you!" He said gleefully, before disappearing into a puff of smoke. He was followed by the other Olympians in the room, one by one; all except for the god who now stood before Rachel.
Her new father.
"Look," she said nervously, "I just really wanted to say thank you for volunteering to do this. I know you didn't have to, but...yeah. Thank you."
She turned and ran away before he had time to say anything else. But she wasn't worried about not getting to talk to him soon. The way she saw it, he had made a commitment, and so had she. They were in this together. So he didn't really have much of a choice at this point, god or not.
She would make sure she saw him very soon.
As Chiron led her down the stoned walkway of Camp Half-Blood, Rachel couldn't help but feel that things were different now, but in a good way. She knew she had passed that volleyball net, had splashed through that fountain, had walked this route through camp at least a hundred times before, but she was walking down it as a different person. And yet, at the same time, she knew she was still the same Rachel on the inside: she just had cooler powers now.
"Ah," said Chiron with a twinkle in his eye. "Here's your cabin."
Chiron and she had both agreed that Rachel would stay here in the cabin during the summer, where she could spend the time with her new siblings and build new memories with them, but that during the rest of the year, whenever she came to visit or stay for an extended period of time, she would stay in her cabin in the woods, because she hadn't been totally read to abandon her humble abode yet.
The two of them, new demigod and old centaur, sauntered up the gleaming pebble pathway before stopping in front of the building before them. The cabin looked ordinary at first glance, but after a double-take, she could see that it seemed to be made of solid gold when hit by the sunlight. Normally, she might have found it hard to look at, but thanks to her new powers, it wasn't so hard. "
I hope you enjoy your time here," Chiron said, turning to look at her. He met her green eyes with a steadfast gaze. "I really do mean that." And Rachel knew that he was 100% sincere.
Chiron leaned forward and pushed the door of the cabin open. It swung wide to reveal a cabin full of neat comforters, sunlight streaming in through the windows, and two dozen kids for Rachel to begin to befriend.
Gently pushing her ahead as a symbol above Rachel's head began to glow- a golden harp- Chiron swooped down onto one knee, where he was followed by the rest of the kids in the cabin. He bowed his head respectfully and announced:
"All hail Rachel Elizabeth Dare, Daughter of Apollo."