(TL;DR- Aria was homeschooled in California, went on an awesome cross-country road trip when she was 10, got attacked by a few monsters after that, and drove/biked/bus'd/train'd to camp at age 15.)
In the spring of 1999, a recent PhD graduate named Evita Liu began working as a temporary researcher at the University of Washington. Evita had gotten her doctorate in astronomy, which she intended to make her career. Her research position would, ideally, help her to find a specialty and to make connections in the field. After Evita had been employed at UW for two months, another graduate named Aaron Shen joined her research team. She was 29 years old; he was 31... plus a few thousand. The Titan Astraeus would occasionally assume the form of a human and visit the mortal world, watching how human knowledge of the cosmos evolved over the centuries. Evita found in "Aaron" an incredible companion, always willing to listen and comfort and inspire her to reach, then surpass her dreams. Astraeus found in Evita a passionate intellectual, aiming to vastly expand the reaches of mankind's wisdom and harboring a spark that could power a galaxy of stars. At the peak of the 1999 Lyrids meteor shower, April 22, Astraeus asked Evita out to their first date.
Astraeus and Evita's whirlwind romance lasted for exactly four months. While vacationing in Hungary on August 11, 1999, Evita proposed to him during the last total solar eclipse of the millennium. Shocked and distraught, he had to explain everything to her: how "Aaron" was actually an immortal Greek deity, how his return to Olympus was long overdue, and how he could not raise a family and grow old beside her. Evita was heartbroken, but knowing that Aaron/Astraeus loved her truly and would have said "yes" had he been able softened the blow, if only by an infinitesimal amount. They parted amicably on the last night of Leo that year, August 22, Astraeus vowing to remember her to the end of space and time, Evita vowing to love him to the moment the last star should die.
The next day, Evita confirmed her suspicions and found she was three months' pregnant.
Aria Yin-He Shen was born January 21, 2000, at dusk on the first lunar eclipse of the new millennium. By that time Evita had landed a permanent job as an exobiologist for NASA's Astrobiology Program. She had moved to Mountain View, California to shorten her commute to the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center. The first few weeks after Aria was discharged from Stanford Hospital passed by rather uneventfully, though her mother was growing concerned about her sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. When Evita's maternity leave ended she requested to work from home and continued her career from her studio apartment. The first data packet she received began with a special message:
"She's beautiful. Like you."
"Thank you for naming her after me, or rather, Aaron. There are a thousand reasons I would have given for why you couldn't have honored that, yet you did so anyways."
"No words can express my sorrow for not being the father I should be. Because she has godly blood, she will be targeted by multifarious monsters as she grows in experience and power. You, too, are a descendant of Asclepius, though your link is distant enough that none will hunt you. I know you will be able to protect her for now, but when or even before the attacks begin she must be trained. Please warn her about this once she can understand its importance and send her to Camp Half-Blood when the monsters start attacking. It has a plethora of opportunities for demigods to learn, and she will be safe there. The rest of this packet has labeled maps, lists of allies, information on my world, and more that will aid both of you."
"What a horrible person I must seem, asking you to give up your child! But though it is an awful choice, it is the best option I have. Not many demigods can reach adulthood without camp. She won't be gone forever if she goes."
"This bad news leaves me with a loathsome taste, but you must feel it tenfold. I cannot apologize enough for the grief I have caused you and our daughter. Such endless apologies only sound insincere and half-hearted, no matter how genuinely I may speak them. In the end there is only one thing I can say that I hope you will recognize to be absolutely true."
"I love you forever.”
"(P.S.: All babies sleep and wake at the most inconvenient times. If the problem persists bring her outside, under the stars, and I will sing her to sleep. Aria is a marvelous name.)"
Aria enrolled in preschool a year early, in the fall of 2002, when her mother stopped telecommuting. She moved on to kindergarten in 2004 at Mountain View's Stevenson Elementary. An avid reader, Aria had neither dyslexia nor ADHD, though she was often bored in class. By winter break second grade had become completely uninteresting, and at dinner one day Aria proclaimed that she would jump directly to college instead of returning to school. Amused, Evita talked with the school district and arranged for Aria to join the Independent Study Program, a homeschool-like system that allowed students to progress at their own learning rates.
Being part of Independent Study, Aria was not required to visit a school campus every day. Instead, students would work on a flexible curriculum mostly from home. Occasional attendance for standardized tests and progress checks were required, and group meetings with other students in the program were scheduled, but the majority of time Aria spent learning was by herself. A few fellow members of Independent Study could be considered casual acquaintances (teaming up to win the state's Elementary Science Olympiad for three consecutive years was a fun bonding experience) but not close friends (they met once every two months). By 2010 Aria had passed the sixth-grade exams with flying colors and was preparing to go travelling her mother as a "celebration" of sorts.
Ten years of working with NASA meant Evita was entitled to plenty of vacation days for the trip. She planned to explain Aria's demigod status to her, then drive cross-country along the route Aria would take to Camp Half-Blood when the time would come. From what the files said Aria would probably not be of legal driving age by that time, but in case Evita couldn't bring her daughter there, she wanted her to be familiar with the journey. Avoid cities larger than the Mountain View area, stay near allies, maintain communication, spend and stop wisely, use your natural and trained abilities to the fullest, and so on. Though bringing a half-blood around the country was a risk, it was a calculated one that would provide both entertainment and experience. This having been decided, Evita brought Aria to Shoreline Park the cloudless night of January 14, 2010, mother clad in winter clothes, daughter clad in shorts, and told Aria her entire story under the moon and stars.
Aria was astonished and initially skeptical, of course. Her own mother, a NASA exobiologist as against pseudoscience as any other self-respecting researcher, telling her that gods of myth were a) real, b) able to have children with humans, and c) able to pass on their powers to those children? Sure, it supported Aria's fixation with space (she intended to become a cosmologist if being an "intergalactic explorer" wasn't an option yet) and explained the "supplemental" Greek and Roman culture lessons she'd been taking; it just didn't seem ‘’reasonable’’. She trusted her mother was speaking truthfully, though, and it would be the "coolest thing ever, aside from maybe meeting a peaceful extraterrestrial civilization" if it were bona fide. So, like her mother had taught her, Aria asked for proof, any undeniable evidence or observations that would separate this claim from the groundless rest.
The first piece of evidence ‘’did’’, in fact, have to do with observation. Evita asked Aria to give the number of windowpanes on the boat rental building behind them without turning around. "Twelve" was her unfazed reply; Aria had never known being unable to simultaneously see in all directions after the sun had set. She'd assumed it was some facet of human physiology akin to knowing one was being watched, a perplexing ability that most, if not all, people would have. It made more sense that this was not a typical skill, but at the same time it made less sense. Next, Aria was asked to identify Pisces in the night sky, which she did immediately. This was not sufficient authentication; Aria had stargazed enough that it would be unusual, but possible, for her to recognize constellations so rapidly. So Evita upped the ante, asking her daughter to locate HD 24072 and give its stellar type and apparent magnitude. It was slightly below the horizon and would have been invisible amidst the light pollution of Silicon Valley. A bewildered Aria responded after a second of surprise, "To the south in Eridanus, where I'm pointing right now but obviously not in the ground; declination −37 degrees, 37 minutes, and 17.8 seconds; right ascension 3 hours, 48 minutes, and 35.6 seconds; main sequence variable; magnitude 4.86; also known in the Yale Bright Star Catalog as HR 1190... ‘’what’’?" Even pedantic studying of star charts would not have accounted for such detailed knowledge. Aria was becoming more convinced that something extraordinary was at play here. While she was recovering from amazement, Evita lastly asked Aria to demonstrate an application-based power: defying gravity.
The information on demigod abilities at different ages had only mentioned that development varied from person to person. Aria was still a young half-blood who had yet to reach her full powers, but Evita reasoned she should still be capable of a small act of gravity distortion, e.g. lifting a coin. She held out an open hand, quarter in palm, and asked Aria to lift it from her hand to Aria's own by utilizing gravitational manipulation and not physical touch. "Focus on breaking the laws of physics as you know them" and "let the light of the stars empower you" seemed somewhat cheesy to Aria (she'd attempted to use the Force before to no avail), but if what her mother had said about her powers being stronger at night held true, it just ‘’might’’ work. After a tense moment of concentration, Evita's entire left arm extended, not by her own accord, toward Aria's. Blinking, Aria exhaled and focused again, this time lifting the quarter without moving her mother's arm, then hastily placing it on her own left palm before it fell. Evidence having thus been presented, Aria's belief in myth was affirmed, and her gateway to a new realm of exploration was opened.
Early next morning, January 15 (when the longest annular eclipse of the third millennium was happening on the other side of the world), Evita and Aria loaded their bags into the family car, a navy Volkswagen GTI, and set out east for Eureka, Nevada. To get there they would have to drive through San Francisco, Sacramento, and Carson City (big cities = not good), but afterwards they would be on Route 50, the "Loneliest Road in America." The nearest towns along the highway would be over 70 miles away; such sparse population meant that monster spawns would be very unlikely.
The rest of the trip eastward followed a general format: Drive to Town A during night. Explore nearby. Drive to Town B during morning. Explore nearby. Sleep in Town B during afternoon. Wake up. Repeat. In this manner they visited Grand Junction, Colorado; Ulysses, Kansas; Crystal Lakes, Missouri; Hannibal, Missouri; Jasper, Indiana; Alliance, Ohio; Reading, Pennsylvania; and various small towns in-between.
At last Aria and Evita arrived in New York City, the most populated location on their journey and in the nation. It was noontime, January 20. Evita brought Aria to the town closest to Camp Half-Blood on Long Island, repeated the instructions Astraeus had given her to get there, and drove back to Reading to spend the afternoon away from the city. Aria would have liked to actually visit camp, but her mother insisted that camp didn't exactly have "college visits," and she would have a strange time explaining why she walked in only to leave a few minutes later. At midnight Evita shook her daughter from sleep and headed back across the time zones to the West Coast again. It was Aria's tenth birthday.
On the drive back Evita took Aria to Washington for a few days instead of heading directly back to California. Both of Evita's parents had passed away before she had finished grad school, and as their only child living in America (Evita's younger brother lived in Norway) she had inherited their home there in the town of Chelan. The family that had been renting it had moved to Oregon a month back, giving Evita and Aria a place to stay. The condo was located near Lake Chelan, which at that time of year was peacefully underpopulated. The primary reason Evita had wished to revisit her hometown, though, was to show Aria what the stars looked like away from city lights. Her dreams of studying the stars had begun there, and she hoped her daughter's connection to her heritage would be thusly strengthened.
Aria was speechless. She'd known what the sky would look like from pictures and from her birthright, of course, but seeing everything herself was worlds apart. Yin-He, her Chinese name, meant "silver river" or the Milky Way. It was the first time she could see it arcing across the heavens before her own eyes. The remnants of the Quadrantid meteor shower were faintly visible against the galactic backdrop; Mars glowed brightly as it approached Earth. Constellations were packed with stars and nebulae. With the telescope Evita brought out from their home, they were brought into detail even more vivid. With the moon and stars reflected on rippling waters, the serenity of night filled with silent music from the cosmos, and the world made peaceful for a fleeting moment in space and time, Aria's spirit finally took flight towards the realm of myth and miracle.
Aria's remaining days at Chelan were just as incredible, going paragliding and skydiving despite the winter chill. Mother and daughter scouted out stargazing spots throughout town, ironically finding the roof of Starbucks to have the clearest view. The time to leave arrived at last, and on the morning of January 31 Aria said her farewells to the town that had literally become her second home.
The first monster appeared when Aria and her mother had nearly reached the finish line of their road trip. Evita had planned a stop at Klamath Falls, Oregon for the afternoon, but a stretch of heavy traffic meant that they'd have to stay at Bend, Oregon in order to return in time for February. Bend was larger than Klamath Falls, but it was by no means the most populated city in which they'd lodged. Upon arriving Evita booked a room at Pine Ridge Inn, which provided both an isolated location and a scenic view of the Deschutes River. By now Aria slept at 7 P.M. and rose at midnight, which may not have been the recommended sleep schedule for a 10-year-old but sufficed, nonetheless. Putting up her hair after her five hours of sleep, Aria opened the curtains covering the glass doors of the balcony to let in the faint moonlight. A large dog, German Shepherd if Aria had to hazard a guess, was wading across the river. As the dog got closer, it became obvious to Aria that the dog had antennae… and six legs… and compound eyes… It looked rather… formic. She made the connection with a start: Myrmeke.
Aria shook her mother awake and explained, "Monster sighting. Myrmeke. Plan B-3, direct return to home base. Enemy is not actively attacking. Path of exit is unobstructed. Get to the car immediately!" Swiftly dropping a stack of bills onto the nightstand and throwing on a coat and clogs, Evita reacted without batting an eye (all the more impressive given that she had just woken up). In five minutes they packed, checked out, and sprinted to the parking lot. The Myrmeke was almost at the near bank of the river now. Its canine appearance seemed to disappear, undeniably replaced by a gigantic ant. Aria focused on making the creature sink beneath the surface until her mother had driven well out of its line of sight. The rest of the car ride and the remainder of the trip passed in relative silence.
Life in Mountain View continued as it had previously, though Aria dedicated more of her attention to Greco-Roman studies than before. Her developing demigod abilities made her wonder what, exactly, would be new in the half-blood world. So Aria experimented, and observed, and trained and thought and planned. She could see details and colors in the night, but could she see them if they were far enough away so as to be invisible under daylight conditions? What about sensing people or creatures through solid objects in the dark? To what extent could she manipulate gravity, one of the fundamental forces OF THE UNIVERSE? Could she fly high enough that she'd need additional oxygen, or would the "innate adaptation to planetary environments" perk take care of that? And how could she use these in fights against monsters?
Evita warned Aria that greater awareness of her powers brought greater threats from monsters, but she fostered her daughter's learning knowing that the pros of being prepared outweighed the cons. Subsequent monsters appeared from time to time, usually when Aria was away from home. (Evita theorized that the majority of monsters who would’ve been in Mountain View were lurking closer to San Francisco instead; some Roman demigod camp was there, apparently.) Most times they appeared at night, probably expecting someone other than a space-empowered insomniac child as their target. Since Aria tended to be warier when abroad and traveling, the monsters were often spotted from afar. Without a proper demigod weapon, she and her mother enacted the latter option of “fight or flight”; they’d avoid a direct confrontation by leaving the area, Aria using her powers to slow pursuers or leave them in unfortunate situations (crushed under a conveniently fallen wall, tangled in a boat propeller, and the like).
At last, September 2014 brought the end of Aria's twelfth grade and the start of the long-awaited college applications. It had taken eight years longer than second-grade Aria had expected, but she was finally going to a school of higher education. This time Aria spent three wonderful weeks in Chelan away from the rapid pace of the city... but her visibility to monsters was only growing stronger.
Caltech. Princeton. Dartmouth. Columbia. MIT. Harvard. UC Berkeley. Cornell. The esteemed Ivy Leagues. The smaller, specialized colleges hidden throughout the nation. The traditional, the contemporary, and those in between. Aria applied to well over a dozen schools. Her top pick, however, was the one right next door: Stanford. Final results would come out by the start of April 2015. Aria's fifteenth birthday passed while the countdown to April was on; she and her mother alike hoped that she could reach her first year of college before going to Camp Half-Blood. As fate would have it, Aria did not.
It was during one of Aria's college visits to Stanford that the game-changing monster attack happened. 2:06 P.M., March 29, 2015. Her mother would be returning from a business trip in Geneva the next morning. Aria was walking out of the electrical engineering building's Bytes Cafe at the time. A tall student with braided hair walked out of the girls' bathroom and fell in step behind her. She seemed to be exiting the building too, but when Aria turned down a different hallway to throw away her soft drink the student followed. Slightly suspicious, Aria glanced back at her pursuer and promptly dodged a spear to her neck before being thrown into a wall by the student- the dracaena. Sliding along the wall into the next corridor, Aria drew a tactical flashlight (10 times as bright as regular flashlights and with a nasty gouging end) from her backpack. When the dracaena rounded the corner, she was met with 500 lumens of blinding LED light, enough to blind a human and probably a snake-lady for a few seconds. (This was before Aria figured out how to use her powers to create a flare.) Aria took this opportunity to "Force-push" the dracaena into a lab and mash a few dangerous-looking buttons on the equipment from afar. The hum of strong electrical current grew fainter as she ran away from the lab and toward the university bus. Bohannon Line stopped at a library near Aria's apartment and, best of all, was free. It was 2:10 when Aria reached the stop. The next bus would arrive in 5 minutes. The dracaena burst out of the building half a minute later; apparently the electrocution attempt had failed. (Maybe Zeus liked having only his kids weaponize electricity.) Concealed in a palm tree by the bus stop, Aria had come up with a counterattack. The university's storm drains were deep enough to make climbing out tedious, and their openings to the sewer system were small enough to prevent entry by a snake-lady. Aria discreetly lifted the grille of the drain behind the dracaena. When she began to slither towards Aria's hiding spot, she was suddenly yanked back into the open drain. The dracaena managed to grab the edge of the drain while falling. A few vicious wallops with the metal grille later, her grip loosened and she hit the concrete bottom of the drain with a dull thud. Aria replaced the grille and piled an abandoned truck tire on it for good measure. At 2:14, a minute early, the Bohannon bus arrived, and Aria scrambled aboard.
Aria spent the 17-minute drive scrutinizing the other passengers in the bus and peering outside to look for any monsters sneaking up. After running home from the library, she bolted the doors and called her mother, explaining the day's events to her. Grimly Evita responded with long-expected words, "It's time to go to Camp Half-Blood." The plan upon which they decided was A-2, Aria driving herself to camp. (A-1 was Evita driving.) Airports were too densely populated, and security guards didn't take well to fighting or bringing weapons aboard. Though Aria was technically underage and didn't have a license, she'd prepared for this eventuality and had practiced driving under her (totally awesome) mother's supervision. After affirming to keep in touch with her mother and being bid good luck, Aria collapsed onto the couch to rest and think. Her state of high alert, running, and power usage had left her tired but not to the point of mental exhaustion. She'd need to change from her formal suit into practical apparel, then find her bug-out bag full of survival gear (her current backpack was just the "Security-Can't-Stop-Me-from-Bringing-This bag"), then evacuate before the dracaena escaped or summoned backup. Aria would retrace the cross-country route Evita had taken in 2010, minus the stops purely for tourism. The hotels she would stay in would be kept to a minimum and be different from the first time. At 2:58 P.M. Aria started the GTI engine and left her home, not knowing where she could go to college and when, if ever, she could return.
As Aria soon found out, there were a few differences between driving in a neighborhood and driving through the second-most-densely-populated city in America: San Francisco. Without her parents' road maps Aria reckoned she'd still be stuck driving in circles somewhere in SoMa. It was less stressful out on Route 50, where she didn't have to worry about police and collisions as much since there were no other vehicles around. Aria kept to her normal sleep schedule and drove as much as possible, leaving the sunroof open as she drove at night. Everything went smoothly enough until the night of April 2, when Aria arrived in Alliance, Ohio.
Aria stayed at the Super 8 Motel (its front desk wouldn't question a 15-year-old traveling alone). There was a commotion at the mall on the way back; someone had pulled a fire alarm and the entire complex had been evacuated. As 6 P.M. was nearing, the sun was beginning to set. Aria merely crossed to the opposite sidewalk and strolled past the crowd. During her distraction, however, she was attacked again; a passerby threw a punch at Aria's face while she was watching the mall. This passerby was a dracaena like the one from Stanford. Shelanded two more hits on Aria, dazed and dripping blood from her nose, before Aria kicked her in the stomach and she doubled over. Aria staggered back, wiping blood off her face. This dracaena wielded a short xiphos sword instead of a spear and had jabbed it in Aria's general direction. Exhaling angrily, she knocked Aria over with one of her tails. No one had noticed the fight thus far, probably due to the Mist (please stop it already, Hecate, your cabin's one of the largest at camp!) and the fire trucks now swarming the mall. Rolling away from her next swipe, Aria held the dracaena down with her gravity manipulation and sprinted the next 400 yards back to the Super 8.
Aria darted into her motel room for her bug-out bag and then ran to the back parking lot. Determination turned to shock as she saw the scene before her. The dracaena had brought along a team this time: two other dracaenae were completely destroying every car parked there, no doubt to prevent their target from fleeing. Aria's Volkswagen had already been ripped apart. Fortunately, in their gleeful rampage the dracaenae didn't seem to have noticed Aria herself yet. So Aria ducked back inside and planned, once again. What were the facts? The solo dracaena would catch up in around five minutes; the GTI was no longer a getaway option; New York was still 400 miles away; Alliance would have to be left at once. Aria needed a vehicle, and she needed one soon. There were no taxis, no buses, nothing commandeerable- well, there was a bike rack nearby. Aria removed an unlocked bike and helmet that fit from the rack, looked over the maps one more time, and pedaled away from town.
At 10 P.M. it was completely dark, and Aria was a decent distance away from town. Nearly 24 hours had passed since the last time she'd slept, and the adrenaline of escaping was wearing off. Aria had crossed the state border and was near New Castle, Pennsylvania now. There was a safe house in the area; she could sleep there for a few hours and continue the bike journey tomorrow, risking a train if need be. The owner of the safe house was a middle-aged woman whose son used to attend Camp Half-Blood. (Aria didn't ask where he was now.) She was kind enough to provide a late dinner and comfortable couch for the demigod at her door. At 4 A.M. on April 3, Aria informed her mother of the car's unfortunate fate and set off across Pennsylvania once again. It took 6 days to reach Reading by bicycle: "5:22 P.M. 4/9/15" her watch and her intuition said. In Reading Aria took a 7:30 bus to Manhattan, then in Manhattan she took a 1:10 train to Montauk, the nearest stop to camp.
The train arrived at 4 A.M., and amid a light drizzle Aria first set foot on Montauk's soil. Camp Half-Blood was near; she could feel it. Half an hour of pedaling later a certain rain-washed daughter of Astraeus turned onto the 500-yard-long dirt path and crossed the final road of her 3000-mile journey. Aria had finally made it to camp.
Alexander the Great somehow managed to simultaneously look both tired and intimidating, even as an automaton. (Did automatons even need sleep? Somehow, asking didn't seem like a great idea at the time.) After apathetically welcoming Aria and tersely explaining the basics, he marched away grumbling about working during godsforsaken hours, leaving Aria to go crash in the Hermes cabin for a few hours. She slept in until 3-ish and explored the campgrounds until dinnertime, when she followed the flow of campers to the dining pavilion. Apparently half-bloods were claimed faster nowadays; Aria had only been at the Hermes table for a minute before Astraeus' blue-gold star hologram appeared above her. As discreetly as possible she slipped away to her half-siblings' table and exchanged introductions with everyone there.
On the evening of April 10, 2015, with the sky clearing and the stars shining, the next great chapter in Aria's life began at last.