For some reason, every year when springtime comes around, I feel even more depressed than my usual. And for some reason, every year, this song is always what I put on repeat the moment I start to feel the overwhelming amount of emotions take over.
Here’s the thing: they’re not demigods. They’re not sprites or deities or blessed ones or chosen champions. They’re just heroes, that’s all.
Tobias earns Artemis’s respect right from the start, because she knows better than anyone how to turn loneliness into strength, how to kill and hunt and provide for herself while needing no one else’s support or even their approval. She rejoices with him over each kill and mourns with him as well, because she loves all the orphans with nothing left to lose but most of all she loves the cleanness of putting something right and doing it all by one’s lonesome. She laughs as he leaps across the sky and clenches her fists with fierce pride every time he asserts again and again: I need no one. I am myself, and I am free.
Pan doesn’t come to him until later, crouched next to Tobias to whisper in his ear even louder than Taylor’s taunts, to warm more fiercely than the endless lights of the Anti-Morphing Ray. Don’t you give up on me, you piece of shit, he growls in the voice of a collapsing mountain. Us of lesser gods can survive anything, because we already have. I know it hurts, you fucker, but you already have all the strength of all the ugly and broken and wild things that no human can ever love or tame. Pan teaches him in that moment, and in a thousand thousand that will follow, that sometimes there is no need for words or norms. Sometimes all you have to do is scream. Sometimes you have to hammer your pain into the instrument of your enemies’ terror, and let it loose in a cry that will break the hearts of anyone who hears. Pan shows him that pain has no words, but then neither does the feeling of the entire Earth joining together at your back to fight on your side.
Marco wins Hermes over right from the start, with his charm and rule-bending and ability to get away with seemingly anything thanks to the sheer outrageous boldness with which he does what he is told not to. Hermes cultivates his self-deprecation and quick-wittedness, laughs when he triumphs and laughs even harder when he fails. Hermes teaches him to tell the truth in such a way that no one even notices when he does, to joke of church-doors and curses even as he bleeds to death, to be all things and all people but never ever serious for long. Through Hermes Marco learns to be faster than the bullet that would kill him, to move through all places and modes of being—even darkness, even cruelty, even ruthlessness—but never to stay for long. Always the delicate quick-thinking ones must race ahead of their would-be killers, dodging and twisting and coming at their problems from a thousand angles, if they want to survive the war.
Apollo shows Marco how to love beauty in all its forms—male, female, in others, in himself—but above all teaches him the beauty of simple clean rules of logic applied across all situations. He might be cold at times, might be aloof even, but he also sees all possible angles to every problem that confronts him and can offer half a dozen solutions, most of them more elegant than anyone else might come up with, in half the time it would take an ordinary kid. Marco has a beautiful body but more importantly a beautiful mind, and Apollo cultivates that mind like a peer and a lover and a patron and a worshipper all at once.
Rachel fights with Ares’s own ferocity, the terror of tyrants and the pathbreaker for her peers. She is a creature of legend and song, a pure warrior who can strike fear into Crayak himself while even the Ellimist watches in awe. She laughs off her own wounds and drinks in those of her enemies like mother’s milk. Ares revels in the slaughter at her side, and swaggers at her shoulder murmuring: You have power, power that you have killed and wounded and been wounded in turn in order to earn. Walk with your head held high, because you deserve it. Ares laughs with her as she kills, and he laughs with her as she dies. There’s no such thing as a fountain of youth. There’s only one path to immortality, and it’s fighting to your last breath. It’s living like there’s no tomorrow because there is none. It’s taking hundreds of the bastards with you as you go. It’s leaving the world a safer place than it was when you entered.
For every ounce of Ares’s ferocity she possesses, Rachel also has all of Aphrodite’s poise and grace. She can draw beauty from the most unlikely places and keep it at all costs, emerging unscathed from the hurricane and the carnage alike. She is ethereal, untouchable, as golden and glowing as the goddess herself and as—rightfully—prideful besides. Rachel has the instincts that tell her when a blouse is overpriced, when adjusting the curtains will draw out the beauty of a room, and it comes from her patron goddess. After all, Aphrodite always does spare her best love for the ones who will never age or grey.
Cassie doesn’t catch Persephone’s eye, not at first, because Persephone may love all things that grow but she also sees the pretty ones the most. And then Cassie, eight years old and with tears striping her face, picks up a rock and crushes the skull of a suffering rabbit that was fatally injured by a passing car. Persephone takes notice. When Cassie saves four baby skunks and doesn’t blame Tobias for eating the fifth, Persephone watches carefully. When Cassie coaxes David so gently to his doom, Persephone smiles just a little. When Cassie eats a seal while its children watch, Persephone approves. Life is death. Cultivating a garden is a matter of loving every blossom and also knowing when to snap its neck. Persephone is green and growth and spring, but she is also the goddess of death because she understands that these processes—growing and aging, blooming and dying—are one and the same. Persephone may see the pretty ones first, but the ones she loves are the ones who know that all things must end, that all cycles have two sides, and that humans are ultimately not that special in the grand scheme.
Hestia’s interest in Cassie begins on those late nights spent watering horses and murmuring to sick wolves and checking on cranky eagles, but it blossoms into admiration the day that Cassie hugs Jake goodbye and chooses not to adventure. Hestia is a one-woman army of her own, a burning homefire to her own adopted family, a brilliant brand in the darkness who never ever compromises her morals even for a second. Hestia nurtures Cassie through the long years during which she must redefine home after everyone she loved is gone, but it is work that she is glad to do because Hestia is like Cassie in that regard: she understands that a hard day’s work is its own reward, but that a smile at the end of it is a greater reward still.
Ax comes to Gaia late, as an outsider, and she doesn’t know what to make of him at first. In all her infinite millennia she has never had a creature quite like him running across her surface tasting the sweetness of her grass. But he sees her in a way that none of her homegrown children ever really do, drinking in the incomprehensible richness of the millions of species she uses to populate even the meanest square of grass on the most neglected of her fields. He speaks to her trees and drinks of her streams… and he shares her taste for vengeance as well. Gaia can adapt and evolve, and so can Ax, but they both understand the importance of following certain rules and never losing sight of one’s heritage. Gaia welcomes Ax and gives him a home like none he has ever known before, strange and frightening and wonderful and lonely. He cultivates himself and his heritage under her watchful eye, and he learns to love her back even though he did not come to her by choice.
Hades is a keeper of memory the way that Ax is, sheltering him first when Ax is trapped beneath an infinite black ocean and surrounded by the dead. Hades does not forget, and he does not forgive; every time Ax clashes with Visser Three, every time he refuses to compromise his morals to humans or to andalites, Hades is there. Hades is a collector of rare and precious things, and he recognizes that Ax is a thing like no other. Ax does not flinch from death, nor from killing, but he does recognize how terrible a life wasted is. Ax can find the life in a simple sound or a beautiful food, but he never loses sight of the place that he came from. Ax mourns his family, Ax remembers his heritage, but Ax has enough understanding of the vastness of his task as a warrior that he never allows himself to be consumed by grief. Hades sees all, and Hades approves.
Jake springs from his cocoon of mediocre complacency the moment the war lands in his lap with a speed that reminds Athena of herself, and he wastes no time demonstrating a military spirit that proves her faith was not misplaced. He is canny enough to maneuver seven Animorphs into the world leaders’ conference with everything from repurposed fishing weights to reverse psychology against Visser Three, but also bold enough simply to tear through problems with a rhino’s ferocity when he cannot solve them with a dragonfly’s cleverness. He sees how the pieces—of situations, of tools, problems, of people, of teams, of empires—fit together, and how they fall apart. Athena has fought on the shores of Normandy, in the icy waters of Trenton, on the bloody sands of Algeria, and now in the suburban streets of a California town. War is an art, won through sacrifice and strategy and sheer cussed refusal to sink to the level of one’s enemies. War is about victory for the sake of peace, about winning to return to the hearth, about making plowshares out of swords. Athena fights by Jake’s side, and she considers it an honor.
Poseidon is inscrutability and depth of thought, but also rage that shakes planets and tears islands from their moorings. Poseidon is about masculinity and pride, not the silly posturing of his younger peers but the brutal self-assurance that comes with hard-won maturity. Poseidon recognizes himself in Jake, and though Poseidon does not ally himself with anyone, nor does he respect any mere mortal, much less admire such silly fleeting creatures, he still smiles faintly across the battlefield at a worthy opponent. He watches the Howlers destroyed and 17,000 yeerks sucked into the unforgiving vacuum of space, and thinks that these things have earned his time long enough for him to whisper to Jake: The sea weathers down all things in the end, and the prettier they are the faster they fall. But any rock that has survived a hundred storms and still stands has more dignity in its defeat than any statue or house never battered into the smooth utter essence of its being by the waves.