Falling for You - 1967HogwartsGoddess - Percy Jackson and the Olympians & Related Fandoms (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Annabeth I : Leo I Chapter Text Chapter 2: Percy I Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 3: Percy II Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 4: Annabeth II Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 5: Percy III Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 6: Percy IV Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 7: Jason I Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8: Percy V Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 9: Percy VI Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: Hazel I Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 11: Percy VII Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 12: Percy VIII Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13: Frank I Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14: Percy IX Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 15: Percy X Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 16: Annabeth III Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 17: Percy XI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 18: Percy XII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 19: Annabeth IV Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 20: Percy XIII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 21: Percy XIV Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 22: Nico I Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 23: Percy XV Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 24: Percy XVI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 25: Piper I Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 26: Nico II Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 27: Percy XVII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 28: Leo II Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 29: Percy XVIII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 30: Jason II Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 31: Percy XIX Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 32: Percy XX Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 33: Percy XXI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 34: Aphrodite Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 35: Percy XXII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 36: Percy XXIII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 37: Hazel II Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 38: Percy XXIV Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 39: Piper II Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 40: Percy XXV Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 41: Percy XXVI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 42: Percy XXVII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 43: Jason III Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 44: Percy XXVIII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 45: Percy XXIX Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 46: Frank II Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 47: Percy XXX Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 48: Percy XXXI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 49: Annabeth V Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 50: Percy XXXII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 51: Percy XXXIII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 52: Octavian Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 53: Nico III Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 54: Annabeth VI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 55: Percy XXXIV Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 56: Percy XXXV Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 57: Jason IV Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 58: Percy XXXVI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 59: Percy XXXVII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 60: Percy XXXVIII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 61: Reyna Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 62: Percy XXXIX Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 63: Percy XL Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 64: Percy XLI Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 65: Annabeth VII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 66: Percy XLII Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 67: Percy XLIII Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 68: Epilogue Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 69: ALTERNATE UNHAPPY ENDING Summary: Chapter Text FAQs References

Chapter 1: Annabeth I : Leo I

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

Annabeth I

For Annabeth, nothing was more satisfying than watching a giant spider fall down a pit.

Whole chunks of the floor had just caved in around them. The assembled group watched, grimly interested, as the hulk of Arachne flew down into the black and empty space, of Tartarus below. Hazel was dabbing at a wound on her arm, Frank watching closely with worry. But out of all of them, it was Annabeth especially who breathed a sigh of relief.

No more spiders.

Thank the Gods.

And they had the Athena Parthenon, finally in their grasp. They could unite the camps, stop at least one of the brewing wars that threatened them. Annabeth was actually surprised that things had gone so smoothly, excluding her broken ankle, but she just dismissed that.

She had taken some ambrosia, warming her up from the inside with the taste of the Jackson's blue chocolate chip pancakes, but it still twinged, despite her makeshift cast. Turned out bubble wrap didn't work as well as she had hoped for supporting broken bones.

The area around them was a wreck. Cracks crept up the grey walls, parts of the ceiling completely missing, revealing the Argo II hovering above against the blue sky. The brightly coloured tapestries around them were torn and some were quietly burning. Annabeth's gaze wandered amongst them, frowning as she saw Percy in quite a few of them, a tsunami at his back in one, a strange sword in his hand in another, burning green eyes trained on her from every viewpoint. It was slightly unsettling. The remaining floor had spiderweb cracks covering every inch, and Jason seemed to be hovering slightly, the tips of his trainers barely grazing, uneasy of the fragile surface. Percy stood next to her, his calloused hand holding her own. He was also watching the giant spider plummet, glancing back at her occasionally. Each time he did, she fell a little further for him.

She watched the way his cheek creased when he smiled out the corner of his eye at her, which made his irises swirl with humour, and Annabeth couldn't help but reciprocate, squeezing his hand. She'd gone too long without him.

She surveyed the rest of the group as they began to walk to the ship; they seemed fine, just a little tired, only a few of them in their armour. They'd been in a rush. Piper had her cornucopia swung victoriously over one shoulder and Jason's hand tightly in her own. Frank and Hazel were walking closely together too. A spike of pain shot up her ankle, and she shook her head to try and clear her mind. She probably needed medical attention, to actually set the bone right, and she filed it away in her mind under 'Things to Do Later'. She glanced up into the sky, or more importantly, the huge floating blob in the middle of it. The giant doors of the ship closed around the imposing statue; the Athena Parthenon was loaded up and ready to go on the Argo II, courtesy of Nico and Leo.

As much as she wanted to keep watching Arachne fall, Annabeth knew she had to tear her eyes away, and turned to walk back to the ship.

Around her, coils of spider silk span round and round madly in their piles, disappearing down into the pit as if being sucked into a massive hoover.

A sharp pain shot up her bad leg again, and she gasped, stumbling slightly.

"What is it?" Percy glanced around from where he was walking slightly in front of her, his expression concerned.

"Nothing." Annabeth said, but it came out as more of a question.

She tried to stagger toward the ladder, but felt a resistance. Why-?

There was a jolt, and suddenly she was staggering backwards at an alarming rate. Her pace got quicker, almost running. Unable to stay upright any longer, Annabeth's head blared with alarm as her legs yanked out from under her. She yelped as she fell on her front, pausing briefly.

"Her ankle!" Hazel shouted from the ladder. "Cut it! Cut it!"

Annabeth's mind was woolly from the pain. Cut her ankle?

Apparently, Percy didn't realise what Hazel meant either, judging by his twin look of both panic and confusion.

There was another strong tug backwards.

Then something began to drag her toward the pit.

Annabeth scrabbled on the floor for a hand hold, digging in her nails like claws, sliding rapidly backwards, panting in pain and panic. She left scratches in the floorboards, friction burning her fingertips.

It was like it was in slow motion; everyone had turned to watch in terror, frozen at the sight.

Everyone except Percy.

An inch before she would have been dragged off of the edge, Percy had desperately snapped into action and sprinted towards her, diving forwards at the last second.

She saw a flash of bronze, Riptide automatically in his hand and he slashed through the thick webbing. The pulling ceased, and Annabeth clung to the floor, her heart pounding wildly. Next to her, she watched in horror as Percy fell on the ground with a hard thump, Riptide flying out his hand across the ground, and her eyes widened as she saw the arm Percy that had flung out to catch himself seemed to bend in what was decidedly the wrong angle. A crude snap filled her blood with ice.

But his momentum was too difficult to stop.

As Annabeth hung on to the frightening edge, legs close to dangling in the black abyss, Percy tumbled over it.

Annabeth heard distant screaming before realising a second later it was her own.

"Percy!" she screamed, almost involuntarily.

She scrambled wildly to turn around, her head dangling over to see. Everyone had already begun to run forwards to try and help both of them, and they caught up seconds later, hands on Annabeth's shoulders just in time to stop her leaning body from falling in too. Their hearts stopped at the horrifying sight below them.

Percy was far down into the pit, too far away, clinging by his raw fingertips to a small ledge. Annabeth choked a sob as she saw the unnatural way the skin on his arm poked out, clearly broken and causing the heavy pained pants she could hear rising up. She stretched her arms fruitlessly towards him and darted her head about, searching desperately for some way to get to him.

Even from her relatively secure position above, she could feel the unnatural gravity from Tartarus, dust from the stones around them being sucked over the precipice like a black hole. How Percy could hold on, she had no idea.

He was clearly having trouble- his broken arm was locked painfully, his face shadowed, shaking and gasping as he supported his full weight. His legs scrabbled madly against the walls, trying to gain leverage. But the once rugged stone was now smooth, like black glass.

Tartarus wanted Percy.

"Percy!" Annabeth shouted down to him.

"Annabeth." Percy grunted loudly, face purple with pain and exertion.

Annabeth wracked her brain, come on, come on- she was supposed to be smart, wisdom and logic, a daughter of Athena, dammit-

A rumble echoed up from the void making them all flinch. A snarl and a dark laugh mixed together. Percy shuddered with fatigue. And Annabeth's heart broke.

"Percy, just hold on, just please hold on-"

She was begging, hot tears sliding down her cheeks and dripping off her nose into the darkness. Was there any more silk they could use as a ladder? She looked about madly, cursing again and again. It had all fallen down the hole. Next to her, Nico also leaned over the edge of the chasm, thrusting out his hand, but he was much too far away to help.

Her breathing was fast and erratic.

Percy tilted his head upwards with what seemed like a lot of effort, and she realised that it was all he could do not to black out. His face was gaunt, scraped and bloody, his hair dusted with cobwebs, but when he locked eyes with her, she thought he had never looked more handsome.

"Annabeth!" he yelled and painfully redid his shaky hold "Nico."

His voice came out louder and stronger and she gulped down her sobs to listen. Nico leant his head over. His face was filled with a childlike fear Annabeth had never seen before.

"The Doors of Death!" Percy shouted to them.

Nico's eyes widened, and Annabeth began to shake her head from side to side in denial.

"Per-!" Nico started.

"I'll meet you there! I'll cut the chains!" Percy continued, his voice getting weaker, trailing off.

She saw his broken arm start to tremble, and he withdrew it towards himself, tucking it to his torso with a soft groan, as if he was trying to keep it attached to him. But now he was only supported by one stretched and desperately shaking arm, knuckles stark white and sticking out. He didn't have long. She couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"Get them to the Doors, Nico. Promise me!"

"Per-"

"Youhaveto promise me!" Percy yelled determinedly, his voice cracking. Nico nodded, tears of his own also falling, his hand still outstretched as if he had forgotten it was there, hanging in the dead air.

"I promise." he whispered, not that much louder than the hissing from the pit.

Percy nodded jerkily, his face tight.

Annabeth still had a cold hand extended towards him.

"Percy." she stuttered, not fully coherent.

"I love you Annabeth. I'll come back. I'll find you again, no matter what. Ipromise." Percy gasped the last part out, legs still weakly kicking.

Annabeth's breath hitched.

"I love you too, Seaweed Brain." she sobbed. An oath to keep with a final breath- this had to be part of the prophecy.

Percy tried to smile reassuringly, even as he relaxed his wrenched fingers, and they slipped off the ledge. She heard Nico and Hazel still screaming for help. She saw his glinting eyes far, far below, helplessly aware that this could be the last time she would ever see them.

He made no sound as he fell.

Tartarus. Not even the Gods went down there. And Percy was alone.

She couldn't help it. She broke down into heart wrenching sobs as he disappeared into the black, hunching herself over as a howl of rage tore out of her. Part of the floor broke away on the other side of the void, the room starting to shake. A trembling hand entered her blurry vision, and patted her heaving shoulders. She saw blonde hair through her tears. It was Jason.

"Annabeth-" he started, still staring blankly at the abyss. He appeared to be struggling for words, and Annabeth felt like scoffing. Of course he was. What do you say to someone who just saw someone they love fall into literal hell? Annabeth wouldn't know what to say either. She didn't even know what to say now.

She started crying with more vigour, unable and unwilling to hold it in anymore. She heard Jason try again, his voice wobbling.

"Annabeth it, it isn't safe. The floor- we, we need to go."

Annabeth could hear the sense, could hear the logic, but shook her head. She couldn't leave Percy. He could still come back. She couldn't leave him.

"Oh Gods." breathed another voice, Piper.

Annabeth looked up shakily through spiky eyelashes. She followed a pointed finger towards the floor and inhaled sharply.

Riptide.

Percy's sword. It should have reappeared by now. The magic must not work in Tartarus. He would have needed to have fallen with it on him. It couldn't transport over the domains. A tear dropped out of her eye straight onto the dirty floor.

Percy was unarmed.

Alone. Injured. Falling.

Into Tartarus.

Hazel and Jason had to help her to her feet. Normally, she would push them off, do it herself, but Annabeth felt as if she had just reached her breaking point. She'd just got him back, after eight months of searching, she'd had him in her arms. She could still feel the ghost of his hands in hers. And now he'd been taken from her again. She had reached the point that her head hurt from crying, and knew she was dehydrating herself, she knew it and she hated it. She couldn't turn her thoughts off, her brain reminding her of facts and figures, stuff she knew about the place.

She wished she didn't know a goddamn thing.

They practically carried her compliant body to the waiting ship.

Leo I

Leo shifted uncomfortably by the ladder. He darted forward and picked up Riptide. He would keep it safe for Percy, when he got back. If he got back. No, no. He would. Leo shook his head, still not quite comprehending what he had just seen; he couldn't believe it. Percy seemed like the type of guy who was polished, indestructible. He could make it through Tartarus. He was the son of Poseidon, for Hades' sake. Kid of one of the Big Three. That had to mean something.

He tried not to think about it. He couldn't help but feel guilty. Leo knew it was his fault. He should have gotten everyone safely on board the Argo II before he started securing the statue. He should have realised the cavern floor was unstable.

He stood back and watched as Jason used his air powers to support a crumpling Annabeth on the ladder. She looked devastated, and Leo truly felt sorry for her and Percy. Seeing how she was when she was searching for Percy the first time had been bad enough.

Nico followed her, refusing help with a death glare. It would have been effective if he wasn't crying too. Silent tears fell down his face, and he brushed them off roughly with his jacket sleeve. He looked a lot younger than he acted, and Leo felt a little of the animosity he felt for the son of Hades slip away.

Hazel nudged him; her eyes glassy. Leo snapped into action. He bypassed the ladder to reach his own private ladder, summoned by a device on his tool belt. More of the floor was cracking away- it was about to collapse, and the further they got away from a massive hole leading to certain death- Leo winced; notcertain,he amended- the better.

Grabbing a Wii nun chuck, he jerked it upwards, getting the heavy ship away from the floor and away from the whole building. Frank and Piper came to stand by him. Both looked in shock, and sniffed occasionally, but otherwise remained silent, as they flew away. Until:

"Annabeth passed out." mumbled Hazel, stumbling through a doorway. "Nico's with her."

Leo wasn't surprised; she had looked dead on her feet from the moment they had seen her. Coach Hedge looked miserable. He kept pacing the deck with tears in his eyes, pulling at his goatee and slapping the side of his head, muttering, "I should have saved him! I should have blown up more stuff!"

He looked terrified at the thought of Tartarus.

Leo remembered Nico's words about Tartarus and the Doors. He had said that Gaea's minions were at their strongest in Tartarus and could reform extremely quickly after they were killed. He frowned. That would be a big problem, if Percy even survived the fall. Oh Gods, the fall. How would he break his fall? Wouldn't he just…splat? Leo winced. Maybe he'd create some water to guide himself down, landing at the bottom, preferably near the Doors. Nico had told them, that in order to reset the Doors of Death, so that monsters couldn't just come straight back, someone must physically go into Tartarus and cut the chains on that side, as well as their side. It had seemed impossible, and nobody had had any idea of where to even start. They hadn't even considered going down there. Nico said it was practically impossible as even he, a son of Hades, had barely survived Tartarus. None of the Gods, including Thanatos, the God of Death himself, would go there.

But now Percy was down there, facing the task.

Although he had huge respect for the guy, Leo couldn't shake the feeling that they wouldn't see Percy again. It bugged him from a little corner of his brain. It was Tartarus. The hell of hell, the pit of the pit, the deepest and darkest part of the Underworld, et cetera, et cetera. And he was still just a teenager, despite how powerful he was. Nico nearly went insane in Tartarus. He told him that time moved differently- there wasn't really a way to keep track. A day up here could be a week, a month, a year down there. He kept his depressing thoughts to himself though as more people came onto the deck a little while later.

Frank wrapped Hazel up in a bear hug and she burrowed into him. Piper rested her head on Leo's shoulder as he got them flying at a slightly quicker pace.

"Where are we going again?" he asked.

"Back to Camp Half Blood," Annabeth answered from the door. Everyone turned around as she stepped through. Her face was blotchy and her eyes were still wet, but she had that determined look back in her eyes. Leo thought that she could do with going back to sleep. "We need to get as much help as possible for the Doors of Death. And we need the Gods. Now we have the Parthenon, we can unite the camps." she continued.

"Won't we run out of time?" Leo said. "How long until Gaea is supposed to rise?"

"I don't know. Maybe a month? A couple weeks, max?" Annabeth rubbed her temples.

"Otis said Gaia would rise on August first." Jason stated. "So we have a month."

"We just have to form a truce between Romans and Greeks so that the Gods won't have their identity crisis anymore." said Annabeth, "They can help us find Percy and close the Doors of Death."

"Easy, then." Leo said dryly, trying to add some light to the day. No-one laughed. Typical. Though even he didn't feel like laughing. "Anyway," he added hastily "Where are these Doors of Death then?"

"Nico went looking for them, didn't he?" responded Piper. Hazel raised her head in the corner of Leo's eye, looking like large weights were clinging to her eyes.

"I know where they are." Hazel said. "They're chained down in the House of Hades. It's an underground temple in Epirus."

Leo blinked. "And where's that?" he whispered to Piper.

"Greece." Piper told him quietly.

Leo pulled a screen out from nowhere- it was always handy to have a spare screen for whatever use. He typed in the co-ordinates quickly, fingers tapping soothingly against the thick glass, or at least that was what Leo thought. It was probably annoying to the others. It loaded for a few seconds before results flashed up.

"From where we are now, Rome, to New York is about- yikes, seven thousand kilometres. That means, travelling at our current pace..." Leo tapped a few calculations out on the interactive glass. "We should arrive in just over a week."

"But then we've got to come back as well." Piper reminded. She was chewing on her lip.

"Double it- just under three weeks. Then add how long it takes to get from Rome to Epirus…"

More tapping.

"…add another day or so. Overall, it'll take us quite a bit of time to grab soldiers, get the Gods, and then fly back across the ocean to meet Percy at the Doors of Death."

"There's got to be a better way." Frank said, running his hands through his hair. Leo frowned. Why was he suddenly in charge? Gods, he missed Percy already. Annabeth turned to him with a glint in her grey eyes that Leo knew by now meant she wanted something from him.

"Okay," Leo held up his hands in surrender, "Theoretically, wecouldgo faster. But we got some serious hits to the ship. I'll get to fixing it straight away, but I don't think we can suffer too many attacks without parts starting to break."

"We don't know long it will take Percy to reach the Doors." Hazel added sadly, looking like she was trying to remember everything Nico had told her

Annabeth bit her lip, torn. "I mean, I'd like to go straight to the Doors to get him. But logically, we'd better have the Gods on our side before rushing in there. We might get trapped or overrun, and we can't help him like that. The more people the better, even if there's only seven of us in this stupid prophecy."

Leo was slightly confused at everything going on, but threw everything aside to focus purely on the numbers and the mechanics. That's what he was here for, after all. They had to get back to Camp quickly. Okay. He could do that.

With a flick of a button, a side-step of a dance mat and a swish of a Wii remote, they shot back across Italy, heading for Camp Half Blood in silence.

Chapter 2: Percy I

Summary:

He seemed to fall for an age.

Notes:

TW suicideish

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Percy I

Percy kept his eyes open as long as he could, to keep Annabeth in his sight. He could still hear screams, though they grew more distant by the second as he plummeted into the unknown. When she faded from view, he kept his eyes open just so he could see the faintly shrinking square of light above. But eventually the air pushed them shut, drying them out immediately, and he was left to his descent in darkness.

He knew a hard landing was awaiting him, the harshest there could be, but on some level, he was weirdly okay with that; he had saved Annabeth. And right now, that seemed to be the only thing keeping him from absolutely freaking out.

He seemed to fall for an age.

At times, the temperature changed; one minute he was plummeting through hot sauna-like air, clogging his nose and mouth, the next a chilly wind that set his teeth on edge. At other times, he heard noises, clicking and cackling all around him, yet as silent as the dead at others.

He wondered how long he had been falling; he didn't have a good concept on how long it took to free-fall through the earth itself, ten minutes or ten days.

The hurtling pushed his bad arm backwards, and in the worse flipping-head-over-heels moments where he had no control, the sheer force of falling wrenched the bone into painful angles, waving like a broken string puppet. Percy gritted his teeth. At one point during his fall, he had extended his other arm, fumbling in the dark like a blind man, hoping to at least find some way of slowing his shooting descent. He had started to think this out, and he knew he needed to find some traction, or something to catch himself on.

There was nowayhe would survive if he landed normally.

He had hoped that the walls would still be smooth, so he could at least hold on to something, maybe even slide his way down, like some kind of twisted play park. But the surface had shifted again, this time into jagged chunks of rock, and he had hissed as it tore up the palm of his hand upon contact.

Gaia's voice floated in and out of his head, a lonely whisper he couldn't escape. He could always hear her words, despite barely being able to hear his own yells. Sometimes it was crackling laughter, like a lost radio losing signal: "All good things will come to an end, my little pawn." she said to him, "Be what you will become, youwillserve me in the end. I will be ready to use you soon enough."

Then silence.

After a few minutes or hours or days- Percy had no idea- he felt a shift below him. As if there was an actual surface beneath him, and he wasn't going to just keep falling forever. Being the son of Poseidon, he knew it was water. Or some kind of distorted version, he reflected, feeling that it seemed, well, denser than normal water, like the dead sea, only saltier. He gathered his inner strength and pulled it towards himself like an elastic band.

By now, Percy felt like a comet. He wouldn't be surprised if he was on fire. He needed something to catch him or he'd end up making a crater with a demigod pancake inside.

The feeling of the water got closer and closer until the cavern he was shooting like a lightning bolt down in grew lighter. The light was a dark red, like the glow of fire, and Percy couldn't help but be relieved that he could at least see his hand in front of his face.

Then the rest was revealed.

Red clouds hung around in the air like vapourised blood. The landscape was rocky black plains, punctuated by jagged mountains and fiery chasms. Random sections of ground were just ablaze, flickering wildly in the distance. There was a river twisting up to catch him, like a snake being charmed out of its box, the same feeling of water he had been stretching up towards him. It was a ribbon of glittering, black liquid, smelling distinctly of sulphur. Percy held his breath, readying for impact, not knowing if he could breathe in whatever kind of river this was.

He hit the column of water head on.

It caught him with a painful slap across the face. Percy gasped, a little dazed. Then inhaled.

Okay, Percy thought in relief, he could breathe. That was always good. Though the water was so cold, Percy hesitated to breathe it in, could felt it seep into his skin. He lowered himself via the inky stream down to the river surface, teeth chattering. His feet hit the river bed, buffered slightly by the slow current.

He had made it; his feet were on the ground.

Percy shook his head in disbelief. He hadn't expected this at all.

…What would he do now?

The bleak thought hit him out of nowhere, but Percy frowned as he actually thought about it, his head barely breaking the surface of the water. He was stuck down here. Stuck in Tartarus. The place where the bad monsters locked up the worse monsters.

And for the first time, Percy realised he was completely alone. He was the only demigod, Hades, the onlymortaldown there. No Gods could save him this time. No one would come get him, it would be suicide to follow him. Suicide to even be down here in the first place, Percy thought glumly. Things would just get worse if he left the river: Everyone would try to kill him, he was basically public enemy number one down here. He may as well paint a target on his forehead to begin with. Was it even worth getting to the doors? Hades, was it even worth gettingout? Life was just one misery after another, and this was just one in a long line of bad things to happen to him. Death, and suffering, torture and pain. It never seemed to stop in the life of a demigod.

Percy felt himself start to sink, his soul weighing heavily on his chest. He knew that even if he got out, he'd never be happy again. Millions of heartbroken voices echoed in his head, as if the river were made of distilled sadness. Percy wanted to retreat into himself. He didn't want to be a demigod, never had, and he didn't want to be in a prophecy; he just wanted to be anormal kid. A normal kid whose father wasn't a god. Who couldn't stay dry when submerged in a river.

Who couldn't breathe underwater.

He needed to escape, to go home, hide away from the world, from everyone who wanted something from him, who wanted him to do something for them, from everyone he had failed to save, from everyone he still would fail to save. Bodies piled up in his mind, from Camp Half Blood, from Camp Jupiter, his family, his friends, Annabeth.

He couldn't save her. He didn't know why he'd ever tried to convince himself that he could. Demigods didn't live past their late teens. It was obvious what would happen: she'd die and then he'd die.

She didn't deserve to die first.

But he did. It felt like the river turned to ice around his head.

Percy breathed in slowly. A fog descended upon his brain. Life was a long misery and he just didn't want to do it anymore. He was done.

He'd spent years not breathing in water, long before everything, before he knew the truth. He just had to get back to that. He just had to block out what he was. He just had to-

The water around his face seemed to solidify. This was it, he thought, his limbs so heavy that they felt like they were made of stone. His head sank to the bottom of the riverbed, and he gazed up at the darkness through the waves like it was the night sky. End of the line. Last stop. Better luck next time. If he was crying, he didn't feel the tears against his face.

He closed his eyes, and took in a great gulp of water straight into his lungs.

His eyes flew open and he hacked a great cough as his nose burned, spluttering, inhaling more water, choking on it, black blobs starting to creep into his eyes, long dormant adrenaline flooding his veins, something tugging in his gut-

The river exploded as he clawed at his throat. He burst bodily out of the waves, crawling onto the stony river bank, shredding his hands on the glass-like rocks. He threw up the water violently, his chest jerking. As the water drained out of his ears, the world snapped back into clarity.

He had nearly let himself drown. Again. Only a knee-jerk reaction had saved him. All of those thoughts that had been in his head... it was like they were his own, just magnified tenfold. He swallowed and tried to not think about it.

It was a lot warmer out of the river; a lot warmer. Already, he could feel some sweat beads on his upper lip from the muggy air. Percy shakily stood, unwillingly crying out as he put weight on his broken arm. It was loud in the eerie hush of Tartarus. The water seemed to have set it, which was good, but the skin around it was turning a yellowy-green, suggesting a deep bruise forming. Okay. Right. Tartarus. Feeling a little lost, he went through his extensive supplies, which astonishingly consisted of:

Nothing.

That was it.

Well, if that wasn't an emergency, Percy didn't know what was. He automatically checked his pockets as well, frowning when he noticed a lack of a certain pen, doing the 'pocket dance' his mother did sometimes when she couldn't find her keys, a kind of frenzied slapping. It wasn't on him, but he wrote it off. It always returned.

He coughed slightly, feeling a sharp tickle in the back of his throat, and prayed he didn't just get some kind of Tartarus-ish cholera from the river water. Rubbing his throat, he scanned the humongous red and black pit. As much as he could see anyway.

Gods, New York could probably fit in the section he was in about ten times over. It seemed to go on for hundreds of miles in every direction. The sun's absence was more noticeable than he'd imagined, like he was stood in the vast shadow of something huge. He could see okay, but the darkness meant that little things like the lines on his palms were difficult to see in the low light. He blinked and looked around in a wide circle, just coming to terms with where he actually was.

Holy Hera.

He'd never actually thought…well, he wasn't sure what he had thought. Maybe that Tartarus was empty space, a pit with no bottom. Monsters just appeared as gold dust, reformed, and then were thrown back out to go terrorise some mortals. But it was a real place. His feet were walking on solid ground, he was breathing real air. He certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore.

Percy glanced around, the feeling of being watched prickling up his neck like a spider. With so much darkness and shadows, any monsters watching him would be virtually indistinguishable. Great. Justgreat. That was honestly the exact thing that he needed right then. Deciding not to wait for something to inevitably come and try to kill him, Percy took a path that lead away from the icy river, walking down a descending slope of rock. He felt sure that if he was going to find the Doors of Death, they'd be in the deepest part of the pit. He coughed again, his chest tight.

He couldn't shake the bad feeling that flicked his eyes from side to side. Supposed to be monster central and not one monster in sight. He wished he could talk to Annabeth. She'd know what to do. Percy wracked his brains as he walked quickly, hopping over a ridge and weaving around a violent-looking red stalagmite. If he was going to find the exact location of the Doors of Death- well, that was easy enough, he just had to find some monsters and follow them.

Coughing, Percy searched his pockets again, his hands gripping air.

Riptide wasn't there. This time, he frowned for real. The last time he had it, he had cut the web with it. It had been in his hands then. He was falling, his arm had broken- Percy winced- and then he had been hanging on. It hadn't been in his hands then. He must have dropped it. Did it not make it down to Tartarus? Great. Well, that left Percy unarmed and he began thinking of ways to improvise, rubbing his neck slightly as the skin tingled, a little painfully.

A roar caught his attention in the far distance and inspiration struck.

He smiled slightly as he remembered the fight with the Minotaur from when he was younger. What had he used as a weapon back then? The Minotaur's own horn? Yeah, that was it. That story had been told so many times over campfires, Percy had begun to leave whenever they started it. So what nearby had easily snap-able or sharp features? A stalagmite? A sharp rock? Percy briefly pictured him making a shiv out of his shoe. At least he'd have both Nike and Adidas on his side.

Percy snorted to himself, but it quickly turned into a splutter as he choked on something in the back of his throat. He lifted a hand to muffle his coughs. Warm liquid splattered onto the palm of his hand. Percy glanced down and froze in complete confusion.

His hands were dotted with blood. His… abnormally red hands. His gaze followed his arms, and found them a vivid shade of red too, and he watched in horror as blisters began to form in front of his very eyes. He could see the skin reddening with every breath he took. Every inhale seemed to burn his lungs and a tickling sensation told him something had just dribbled out of the corner of his mouth. What the-? What was wrong with him? Was it the river he'd been in? Did he actually have cholera? Percy wiped it away and carried on walking, breaking into a hasty sprint every time he heard a noise.

And there were plenty of noises. It had been uncomfortably quiet when he had pulled himself from the river, but the further he walked, the more he could hear. Roaring from various different places, fire crackling, thunder in the far distance that sounded eerily like laughter, the crunch of the sharp rocks under his tired feet. And, occasionally, a familiar high-pitched giggle from behind him which would make him spin around to find nothing.

Percy inhaled sharply suddenly, as he saw something in the distance

A hundred feet away, a familiar-looking baby-blue Italian car had crashed headfirst into the sand. It looked just like the Fiat that had smashed into Arachne and sent her plummeting into the pit. Percy hoped he was wrong, but how many Italian sports cars could there be in Tartarus? Part of him didn't want to go anywhere near it, but he had to find out. He stumbled toward the wreckage. One of the car's tires had come off, long gone. The Fiat's windows had shattered, sending brighter glass like frosting across the dark ground. Under the crushed hood lay the tattered, glistening remains of a giant silk cocoon—the trap that Annabeth had tricked Arachne into weaving. It was unmistakably empty. Slash marks in the sand made a trail downriver…as if something heavy, with multiple legs, had scuttled into the darkness.

Arachne was alive. Percy scowled angrily in outrage; of course she had made it unharmed; his life wouldn't be at its normal level of unfair if she had died. Or maybe she had, he thought morbidly. Tartarus was monster home court. Down here, maybe they couldn't be killed. Percy blinked. This kind of thinking wouldn't help him. Maybe she was just badly wounded, and had crawled away to die. He liked the sound of that a lot more.

Percy checked the car over carefully before he opened a side door. It grated against the buckled car frame with a metallic whine, and fell off its hinges in his hand, landing on the ground with a loud crash that made him wince. He stuck his head inside to look for anything he could use. But the glove box had been compacted to dust, the leather seats flayed into shreds, and any sharp bits of metal were firmly crushed together; he couldn't get them out without tearing his hands up. Majority of the car and its content was unusable, save for a crumpled but surprisingly solid plastic water bottle crammed under a seat. It crackled as he strapped it to his jeans with the longest piece of leather he could find.

Now at least he had something to fill with his lack of water, he mused, before turning in the opposite direction to the crashed car.

He had been walking for he guessed about an hour by the time he found his first monster.

There had been movement above him, and Percy had barely enough time to duck behind a stalagmite before he could be spotted. He peered around the edge, his hand unconsciously reaching for his missing sword. It was the biggest Stymphalian bird he'd ever seen, preening a metallic feather under its wing with its bronze beak.

Percy held his breath, hoping it would fly off and leave him to his walking, but he cursed under his breath as he saw it sniff the air several times, beady black eyes darting in his direction.

It shrieked, flapping into the air, and Percy rolled to the side as it landed with a mighty sweep of its wings onto the stalagmite he had been crouched behind. With no weapon available, Percy panicked. At the Wolf House, Lupa had trained him to fight without a weapon; it was the first thing he had learned, Riptide held loosely in Lupa's teeth as she watched him using only his speed to avoid the baying pack at his heels, or only his strength, his hands buried wrist deep in fur as he pushed a wolf's snapping jaws away from his face. He could hear her now- 'A wolf who cannot fight without its claws or teeth is a dead wolf.'

Percy tried to remember that as he punched the bird squarely in the face.

It screamed, and he took that as his cue to back off just a little as it slid down the stone. While it was distracted, Percy reached blindly behind him, grabbing the first small rock his fingertips came into contact with, and lobbed it as hard as he could at the bird's metal beak. The clang echoed like a gong. It cawed in indignation and flung a couple lethal feathers like knives in Percy's direction.

But he was already on the move, ducking smoothly under the projectiles, and leaping onto the bird's back.

An avian cry erupted from its beak, trying to shake him off, but Percy had a leg pressing down on its wing, stopping it from taking off with him on its back. His broken arm screamed in agony. He strained, wrapping his good arm around the spindly neck. His blistered skin stung like acid. Keeping it immobile, he jabbed it hard in the eye with his elbow, and the bird hopped around in pain, causing Percy's teeth to clack together like he was on the worst Buckaroo in the world. His butt was beginning to ache. He kept punching the bird, his knuckles clanging against the metal beak, before leaning back with his whole body, pulling the neck back as far as he could. He braced himself, ready to make the final snap, and pressed his bad arm to his ribs to steady it.

With a jerk of his arm, he broke the Stymphalian bird's neck, and the whole monster turned to dust.

Percy landed on his feet, watching with disappointment as the feathers that had been shot as him dissolved; he could have used those. He needed a weapon- fighting with his bare hands was something he could do okay-ish, but not against more than a few monsters, and if the howls and shrieks he could hear in the distance meant anything, he would be way out of his depth soon enough.

The throbbing in his arm kept him alert as he kept walking, losing his step every now and then as he slipped and slid his way down unexpected drops in the decline. His head had been growing foggier and foggier, his skin going from a bright red to a choked purple. He tried to keep his coughs to a minimum. Something was definitely wrong with him. All too soon, he found himself travelling through a valley, feeling on edge at being so exposed, and he quickened his pace. Maybe the sooner he found more monsters, the sooner he could get some food, a weapon, or some kind of cure for whatever was burning his skin. He reckoned if he conserved his energy enough, he could create some water to tide him over, like at Geryon's Ranch. He certainly wouldn't be going back to the first river for a drink.

As he climbed up a small incline, another river loomed menacingly ahead of Percy. It was a river of fire cutting a path through a jagged obsidian crevasse, the glowing red current casting horrible shadows across the cliff faces.

Even from his distance, the heat was intense. The chill of the first river hadn't left quite left his bones, but now his face felt raw and sunburned. Every breath took more effort, as if his chest was filled with marshmallows. The cuts on his hands bled more rather than less.

It wasn't the first river; it was a different one. There were five rivers in Tartarus. That, Percy was one hundred percent sure about. But the names escaped him sometimes.

There was the Styx, the- uh- the Lethe! Something to do with forgetting things. Oh the irony, Percy thought as he tripped over a shard that protruded from the spiky floor, his body getting heavier with each layer of blisters. Yes, the Lethe wiped memories. Another one started with C. Two more- the- Aching- tum? Whatever. And the last river, the one that was rudely unpronounceable... something to do with phlegm.

The river in front of him definitely gave him freaky Tartarus phlegm vibes, severely different from the first river at his back. This river was a golden colour. It flicked like a livelier kind of lava and seemed to be glowing, parts of the glassy ground on the banks melting like toffee on a hot day. A coughing fit overtook Percy and he crumpled to his knees, crawling over to the bank of the river. He couldn't keep walking. Not anymore. His head was fuzzy and light, and when he blinked, it took a while for Percy to see again.

Percy pulled himself into a sitting position, and stared at the water. He hadn't been coughing or blistering when he had been in the first river, he thought dimly. Water healed him, didn't it? Why should this be any different? Just because the water... lookeda lot like fire, it didn't mean it still wasn't water...did it?

But Percy couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. A wave of black rolled over him, and suddenly the ground was turning towards his face, slamming into his cheek. It took him a second or two for his brain to catch up. He was face down, his strength giving out. Percy had been poisoned before by the Chimera; the feeling was familiar. He'd been poisoned somehow, but his mind was too foggy to connect the dots at the moment. Water would heal him. This fire thing moved like water. It was that or choke on his own blood and die. Even in his addled state, Percy could recognise the better option. Giving in, he reached out towards the river, before dipping a hesitant finger into the waves.

HolyHera, it burned!

He jerked his hand back instantly with his hiss, but watched, confused, as the burns disappeared. His skin turned back to normal, and a brief drop of energy spread through his body. Watching the water flowing, Percy warily dipped his broken arm into the stream. Percy groaned out loud, rolling onto his back to get out of the water.

It seared deeply into his skin, agony at first, but then less so. One dip at a time, gritting his teeth until he almost thought they'd shatter, Percy purged whatever airborne poison had seeped into his skin, out of him. The relief was quick. Yet the coughs still plagued him, even after he had splashed his face in the river. He'd coughed up blood enough times to know that whatever was happening to him was internal. His lungs or his throat, he guessed, now more coherent. It had to be the air.

Which meant this was going to suck.

He winced as cinders sprayed from the river, curling around his face. Percy braced himself, taking short but deep breaths. Then he pushed both his hands straight into the river.

On first contact, the fire wasn't painful. It felt cold, which was probably worse than being boiling, like when he had once touched an iron as a kid, and he hadn't realised it was hot until it had burned him. Moving before he lost his nerve, he scooped up enough to roast the palms of his two hands, and raised it to his mouth, hurriedly gulping down the liquid fire. His nose and mouth instantly filled with liquid flame. His tongue felt like it was being deep-fried. His throat was scorched and he retched, gagging on the taste, throwing out his now empty hands to balance himself as he pulled a wretched face, nearly falling in. He panted in the heat; the air was hot enough already, being near the fire river was alike to sitting by the coals in a sauna.

"Spicy, yet disgusting." Percy mumbled hoarsely to himself.

He felt horribly weak and nauseous, but his next breath came more easily. The blisters on his arms were starting to fade.

He stared at his healing skin in shock, before filling up the crinkled plastic bottle with the water, which surprisingly held up. He might need it later. The water may have healed him and given him strength, kept him alive, but it didn't do anything for his hunger or thirst, which meant he'd have to keep looking for food or he'd go insane from his stomach rumbling.

Gods, Tartarus was lethal without even trying. How was he supposed to get around if he couldn't even breathe withoutcombusting from the inside? He took a breath- his lungs felt a lot emptier. Even his arm seemed more not-broken, now developing into the dark black bruise stage. He shuddered to think what the river might have done to him if he wasn't the son of Poseidon.

Curiously, Percy raised a hand and flicked it outwards. The river responded by moving the same way, throwing a flame in the same direction. Okay; that was good. He could still control the rivers down here, control the water, and if he didn't have a weapon, then this was the next best thing. Percy made a small noise of satisfaction and continued to bottle his fire up.

"Damn, and I was sohoping you'd die from the air," whined a chatty voice behind him and he spun around, on his feet instantly.

Oh no.

The empousa Kelli stood before him, in all her cheerleader glory, with her now filthy red and white striped crop top, vividly saying 'Go Team!' and the hairy donkey leg that didn't quite fit the look. She had two more behind her, but they had dented plastic shin pads on instead, looking as if they'd just been playing cricket. His eyes widened a little as he saw a carcass of some monster behind them, nothing left except a few splintered bones and glistening stains drying in the heat of the river. Percy had no doubt the empousai would devour demigods with the same gusto.

"Do we have time for this?" said one of the empousa next to Kelli, with a gravelly and ancient voice, a startling contrast to the Valley Girl voice Kelli seemed to have permanently adopted since Percy had fought her two or three years ago.

"I think I definitely have time for Percy Jackson," Kelli cooed. "How totally awesome is this? Now I don't even have to return to the mortal world to destroy you!"

"How convenient for you." Percy said, wishing for the billionth time that he was armed.

"Just kill this demigod and let's move on." said another empousa behind her.

"I wonder," said the other, "If you are stalling. Perhaps you do not know the way to the Doors, young one."

"Oh, shut your fang hole," said Kelli. "You even know who he is? Or are you that old? When's the last time you escaped to the mortal world, huh? I know what I'm on about, I was there a couple of years ago. Well. Until I met this little hero here, that was."

All eyes turned back to Percy, who could feel his improvisational skills being pushed to their limit.

So…" he started, clapping his sore hands together, "I guess you're wondering what I'm doing in Tartarus."

Kelli glared at him. "Not really. I just want to kill you."

"Uh- you know the Titan War is over right?" Percy asked, "You lost? Ring any bells, or did you miss that while you were down here? Killing me isn't exactly trendy right now, you see, and I kind of need to go-"

"So the Titans lost." Kelli snapped, "Fine! That was part of the plan to wake Gaea anyway! Now the Earth Mother and her giants will destroy the mortal world, and we will totally feast on demigods!"

The other vampires gnashed their teeth in a frenzy of excitement. Percy had been in the middle of a school of sharks when the water was full of blood. That wasn't nearly as scary as empousai ready to feed. He'd seen them devour carcasses in seconds.

He prepared to attack, but how many could he dispatch before they overwhelmed him? It wouldn't be enough. Briefly Percy considered calling for Mrs. O'Leary, his hellhound friend who could shadow-travel. Even if she heard him, could she make it into Tartarus? This was where monsters went when they died. Calling her here might kill her, or turn her back to her natural state as a fierce monster. No…he couldn't do that to his dog.

So, no help. Fighting was a long shot.

"I promise you, attacking me isn't the best idea for you right now." he tried to sound earnest. "You kill me and go up to the surface, you won't make it five minutes before the Greek and Roman army avenges me, and you end up right back here"

The empousai backed up nervously, hissing, "Romani."

Percy raised his eyebrows. He guessed they'd had experience with the Twelfth Legion before, and it hadn't worked out too well for them.

"Yeah, you bet Romani." Percy bared his forearm and showed them the tattoo he'd gotten at Camp Jupiter—the SPQR mark, with the trident of Neptune. "You mix Greek and Roman, and you know what you get? You get BAM!"

He stomped his foot, and the empousai scrambled back. One fell off the boulder where she'd been perched. That made Percy feel good, but they recovered quickly and closed in again.

"Bold talk," Kelli said, "for a demigod lost in Tartarus. Get on your knees, Percy Jackson, and I'll kill you quickly. Believe me, there are worse ways to die down here."

"You know I won't do that." Percy said, eyes flicking as they got closer to him.

"For two years I churned in the void," Kelli said. "Do you know how completely annoying it is to be vapourised, Perseus Jackson? Slowly re-forming, fully conscious, in searing pain for months and years as your body regrows, then finally breaking the crust of this hellish place and clawing your way back to daylight? All because Percy freakin' Jackson's little girlfriend stabbed you in the back?"

"Her name is Annabeth," he interjected.

Her baleful eyes held Percy's. "I wonder what happens if a demigod is killed in Tartarus. I doubt it's ever happened before. Let's find out."

Percy attempted a winning smile, but it fell flat in the face of Kelli's anger.

The empousa bared her fangs at him, her true vampiric form on show. Percy cringed at her dead white skin, pointed teeth, hoof and her other... bronze... prosthetic... leg.

Oh.

Oh.

Despite death being a mere ten feet away, Percy almost laughed in her furious face. Oh, now this was going to be a challenge.

"I thought the Cocytus would get you. Then the monsters. But if even the air won't get you, then I guess we'll have to kill you ourselves!" Kelli snarled, interrupting Percy's crazed inner plan making, her hair aflame with fury.

He held up his index finger to deliberately antagonise her, and to buy him more time to think of a way to carry out his absolutely insane plan.

"Wait, wait, hold on." he said. "I'm thinking."

The empousai stopped stalking forwards and their jaws dropped.

"Howdarey-"

"Uh-uh, shhh." Percy responded, placing a hand on his chin in a thoughtful pose.

He stroked an imaginary beard, trying to imitate Grover twirling his own wispy one. Kelli seemed as if steam could come out her ears at any second. If looks could kill, he'd be six feet underground. Well. He'd be whatever was six feet under the bottom of the underworld.

Kelli'd had enough. She lunged with a shriek, fangs bared, and though she was wicked fast, he was a lot better than he was a couple years ago, and Percy ducked to the side.

With a hook of his foot, he swept her legs out from under her. She screamed in frustration as she was flipped. Percy went to grab her leg, but she retaliated quickly, and kicked him in the chest with her donkey hoof, causing him to wheeze for a second as the others closed in on him. He punched one in the face, dodging as the other tried to bite into his neck, and delivering a strong kick to the back of the monster's knees. Kelli was on her feet again, red eyes flashing, and the trio hissed at him. Percy held his fists up, willing to keep fighting them with his bare hands, but had a flash of inspiration.

With a twist of his wrist, two spurts of water launched out of both the fire river and the Cocytus, two empousai howling as water blasted into them. Kelli clearly didn't care about her sisters, as she didn't even spare them a glance before swinging at Percy. He caught her fist, punching her in the throat, wincing as she lashed out with her donkey leg again, stamping on his foot. Her fangs sank briefly into his bicep, and he sucked in a breath between his teeth, shaking her off.

Around them, the air got hazy, and Percy knew she was trying to manipulate the Mist. He had to end this quickly before she tried to Charmspeak him.

Catching Kelli in a headlock, barely avoiding her sinking her fangs into his chest, he jerked her forwards, flipping her head over heels again. Wasting no time, he leaned forwards and yanked her fake leg off, his arm still jolting in pain. The leg was jagged along one side from her exploits, sharp enough for what he needed.

The empousai all gaped at him, the two he had blasted with water slowly getting up, looking very red and very sad. Kelli was still left on the ground trying to get up.

"This should be good enough." Percy mused out loud, and swung it at the nearest monster, catching it across the chest.

It burst into a golden powder that got carried off in some kind of breeze, probably to go reform somewhere in the burning pit. It made Percy briefly wonder if he'd see it again down in Tartarus.

Kelli screeched, trying to get back up on her one remaining leg, as Percy, now happy to finally have a weapon, destroyed the other empousa, who hadn't even made a move against him.

He turned to her, grinning, holding his new weapon aloft.

"Beware my new weapon!" he said, shaking it above her wide eyes. "All the Gods fear its power!"

"You havegotto be kidding me!" she hissed at him, lunging forward to swipe pathetically with her razor sharp claws, wobbling on her one hoof.

Percy's grin widened as he knocked her back down for the third and final time, hoisting the bronze leg into the air.

He nodded, face going completely serious.

"I'm just pulling your leg." he said, before swinging her own limb back at her.

She too, exploded, and Percy ducked the cloud of gold that grazed his light t-shirt, damp sweat patches congregating around his back and chest. He wished he was wearing his armour, but they'd been in a rush to save Nico. He dusted himself off, and looked around, grinning.

"I can't believe no one elseheardthat." Percy said to himself.

Then, flipping the makeshift weapon over his shoulder with his good arm, he kept walking the way he was going, staying close to the fiery river.

He had some doors to find.

Chapter 3: Percy II

Summary:

Percy growled as anger rose in him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Percy II

He was no child of Hephaestus, but Percy thought his makeshift sword was pretty cool.

He had used the liquid fire from the river to help melt down Kelli's leg into a passable sword shape. It could now be held easily in one hand and the many stones around him had given an effective way to file the sides and top so they were relatively sharp and sword-like, a rudimentary point. Percy was just grateful to have a weapon in his hand again, infinitely more reassured that he wouldn't die instantly if he was jumped by something.

He swung it around in his good hand, testing out the balance. Or lack of it. It was crude and weighted around the middle, but it would do the job, he guessed. The Celestial bronze blade glowed brighter than normal in the gloom of Tartarus. As it passed through the thick hot air, it made a defiant hiss like a riled snake.

He knew he couldn't stay by the fire river forever. He'd been walking alongside it for ages, but the light made him too easy to spot in the darkness. The empousai had found him, the Stymphalian bird too. He knew he reeked of demigod. Of a Big Three demigod as well, and that usually attracted monsters like crazy. He needed to get himself moving, away from the river. Bracing himself, he choked down a little more of the liquid fire to repair his arm and refilled his bottle to the brim. Percy sighed, sitting on his heels; he hated this place already. Everything was so dark and on edge… he just wanted to go home. After being taken away by Hera for so long, all he'd wanted was to be with his friends and family, butno, of course, he had to be in the prophecy. Another Great Prophecy, to boot. Didn't he deserve a break?

His stomach rumbled; he'd been down there for a while now, and he felt like it had shrunk to the size of a gumdrop. If he came across any more monster carcasses, he was afraid he might pull an empousa and try to devour it. Maybe by some miracle it would taste just like fried chicken. He doubted he could find any ketchup though. He wondered if he would die of starvation, or if the firewater would keep him going. He remembered the punishment of Tantalus, who'd been permanently stuck in a pool of water under a fruit tree but couldn't reach either food or drink.

Jeez, Percy hadn't thought about Tantalus in years. That stupid guy had been paroled briefly to serve as director at Camp Half-Blood. Probably he was back in the Fields of Punishment. Percy had never felt sorry for the jerk before, but now he was starting to sympathise. He could imagine what it would be like, getting hungrier and hungrier for eternity but never being able to eat.

Percy's heart crept into his throat as he glanced off the edge of a small nearby cliff, leading to a deeper section of Tartarus. The fire river flowed in torrents down the side, a strange waterfall of fire. If the doors were going to be anywhere, he'd bet that they were down there. But even if he reached the bottom of that descent alive, he knew he didn't have much to look forward to. The landscape below him was a bleak, ash-grey plain bristling with black trees, like insect hair. The ground was pocked with blisters. Every once in a while, a bubble would swell and burst, disgorging a monster like a larva from an egg, a little black mark in the distance.

Suddenly Percy wasn't hungry anymore.

He saw all the newly formed monsters crawling and hobbling in the same direction—toward a bank of black fog that swallowed the horizon like a storm front. The fiery Phlegm river flowed in the same direction until about halfway across the plain, where it met another river of black water—maybe the Cocytus? The two floods combined in a steaming, boiling cataract and flowed on as one toward the black fog. Above him, dark winged shapes spiralled in and out of the blood red clouds.

He gazed across the ashen plains. The other Titans were supposed to be here in Tartarus—maybe bound in chains, or roaming aimlessly, or hiding in some of those dark crevices. Percy and his allies had destroyed the worst Titan, Kronos, but even his remains might be down here somewhere—a billion angry Titan particles floating through the blood-coloured clouds or lurking in that dark fog.

Percy decided not to think about that.

The longer Percy looked into that storm of darkness, the less he wanted to go there. It could be hiding anything—an ocean, a bottomless pit, an army of monsters. But if the Doors of Death were in that direction, it was his only chance to get home. He'd have no choice but to walk into the darkness and pray that the monsters hadn't been eating their carrots lately.

It could be worse, Percy told himself, wracking his brain for a worst case scenario that was actually worse than where he was now. He could have… well, he could have fallen into the Lethe instead of the Cocytus. Percy's skin crawled just thinking about it. He'd had enough trouble with amnesia for one lifetime. A few years before, he'd fought a Titan on the banks of the Lethe, near Hades' palace. He'd blasted the Titan with water from that river and completely wiped his memory clean. What had he told him his new name was?

"Bob." Percy said aloud, snorting slightly, and for a split second, his mood went from terrible to slightly less terrible.

The sound of a stone clattering across the ground sharpened his hearing to the left, and his head whipped round. Percy rolled, ducking behind a huge rock, pulling his bruised arm close, and peered out, ready to strike or flee or whatever came to mind first. It could have been a simple rock fall, but Percy wasn't naïve enough to believe that. His suspicions were confirmed when a dark shadow moved into the flickering light from the fire river.

It was a single dracaena.

It wandered close, looking around. Percy narrowed his eyes; having fought armies of the humanoid females in the Titan war, he had developed a hatred of the foot soldiers of Kronos, from their hissing tongues to their twin serpent trunk-legs. It sniffed the air. Now armed, Percy felt almost eager to kill it, leaning to the side, his head now visible. The monster made eye contact with Percy. Its eyes widened. It span and quickly fled, with a combination of running and slithering like it was walking on living skis, disappearing over a ridge. Percy raised his eyebrows. He didn't think he wasthatintimidating.

However, it quickly became apparent that it was not him that the dracaena had fled from, Percy realised with a sinking feeling, as the large rock he was crouched behind started to twitch.

It began to move.

A long thick leg unfurled, as long as a car. Then seven more. Oh, you have to be kidding me, Percy thought.

He scrambled backwards as a waking Arachne unfolded, a snarling, monstrous blob with spindly barbed legs and glinting eyes. He hadn't seen her the first time, the monster having already fell into Tartarus, and he felt like shuddering as he saw her. Arachne had the body of a giant black widow, with a hairy red hourglass mark on the underside of her abdomen and a pair of oozing spinnerets. Her eight spindly legs were lined with curved barbs as long as Percy's forearm. The most horrible part was her misshapen face.

She might once have been a beautiful woman. Now black pincers protruded from her mouth like tusks. Her other teeth had grown into thin white needles. Fine dark whiskers dotted her cheeks. Her eyes were large, lidless, and pure black, with two smaller eyes sticking out of her temples. Annabeth had foughtthis? Alone? Gods, he loved her strength.

Annabeth had fought this alone.

She had been trapped with her greatest fear, and been forced to battle her, all while he had been stuck in Dionysus' stupid little Colosseum.

Percy growled as anger rose in him.

Whether that anger was at the Gods, himself, or Gaia, it was all firmly channelled into his hatred for the giant spider unfurling before him. It washerfault he was in Tartarus. It washerfault he'd been forced to abandon the quest and his friends. And worse of all, it washerfault Annabeth had been hurt.

Eyes narrowing, Percy gripped his sword tightly, and darted forwards at the same time she registered him, pincers clicking and beady black eyes zeroing in on him. But he moved quicker than he thought possible, ducking under her quivering abdomen. Raising his sword high, he plunged his weapon into the thick skin.

She screeched in pain.

"Wha-AGH!"

She burst into an eruption of gold dust, some of it falling into his hair, and some of it swirling away over his head to go respawn somewhere else. Percy furrowed his brow angrily.

Her death shout had attracted the reluctant dracaena back, its head popping into view over the top of the ridge. It seemed to grin menacingly as it saw the giant spider gone from sight, red eyes glowing like the mist that seemed to cover the entire cavern. It slithered towards him with raised claws, probably thinking he was an easy kill.

"A demigod in Tartarus?" it crowed, laughing throatily at him. "You're making it too easy."

But Percy was still full of the revenge-type fury, kicking the dust on the rocks, his expression grim and dissatisfied. Arachne had died too slowly. What, she ruined his life and hurt people he loved, and she just got to gopoofand reform quick as a flash, as if it hadn't even happened? No. That wasn't fair. She deserved worse. She deserved to feel what he felt.

He swung at the monster, and it ducked and lunged for his chest, ripping a small hole in his t-shirt. Percy parried the next blow, returning with an instinctual jab sequence that he knew well, even if the sword threw his rhythm off slightly. He caught it on the arm and it roared in pain, hunching over.

"You little-!"

Whatever it was about to say was cut off in another poof of dust.

Percy kicked at the dust moodily, sending up a small puff. Still too quick. In fact, as he thought about it, every monster seemed to die too quickly. He was feeling vengeful; he needed a good fight, and he couldn't get that if they couldn't fight through a little stab wound. And they barely even bled, if they did at all. There wasn't anything- Percy didn't want to use the word satisfying, but it fit how he felt. He needed to get his anger out; there was something in the atmosphere of Tartarus that seemed to heighten every negative emotion he felt.

There was a growl to the side, and Percy turned his head, lifting his sword. Out of the darkness, he saw more glowing eyes blink open, more fangs glinting in-between the stones. A large group of monsters, more Scythian dracaena, probably attracted by screams, faded in from out of nowhere, slithering towards him in a stampede of claws and fangs. Percy tried to not let them surround him, but they closed in too quickly, shutting off escape like a theatrical curtain drop. Percy hacked and slashed at the closest ones, but these monsters were quick and worked well together, quite obviously outnumbering him. Their movements were sporadic and unnatural.

Percy was a skilled fighter, but the air was getting to him again, like swallowing a handful of tiny cheese graters, and there were simply too many.

Whenever he killed one, another would just ripple out from the shadows and replace it. It seemed as if he had wandered into Dracaenae central, found their little set-up that they lived in.

"Where's your little blonde princess, hero?" one snarled sad*stically in his ear, as he dodged a potentially lethal swipe across the throat by a millimetre.

A wave of rage cracked against a wall like glass in Percy's mind, and he slashed into the monster that had said it, with a level of vindictive spite that alarmed even him.

But down here, he couldn't seem to shake it off like he could on the surface, and he felt that feeling grow with every slash. There was no one down here to calm him down or to back him up, and Percy hated feeling so weak and exposed. Where did they get off saying that to him, huh? It wasn't his fault he was down here, wasn't his fault that he'd left Annabeth for what seemed like the tenth time in a row- it was Gaia's. This was all Gaia's fault!

Percy lunged again and again, stabbing and hacking. He could feel his blood beating loudly in his ears.

He had something dripping on him, and he shook his arm, trying to get it off. Was there a river nearby? A river above? Some twisted Tartarus version of rain? Percy didn't know, and he didn't care. Whatever it was, he could use it.

So, as Percy slashed and dodged, he searched for the feeling of nearby water with an outstretched hand, his arm twinging in pain, and pulled onto it as hard as he could. It feltweird. Like a thick and warm water, almost pulsating, some kind of live milkshake, but Percy kept pulling. If he didn't kill these monsters, no one else would. It was strangely difficult to summon it, like pulling a branch off a tree, but he just assumed that the water in Tartarus just felt different. As if he could hear the branch snapping off the tree, he felt the feeling give way.

He clenched his fist.

And suddenly, in the middle of the attack, the nearest dracaenae dropped like puppets with their strings cut, writhing on the floor.

A fog of nausea rolled through Percy like a tank.

Whoa.

What wasthat?

The rest took a step back in shock. His hand was shaking in the air.

Was thathim? What water had he used? Percy couldn't see anything in the air, couldn't see any rivers or rain at his disposal. He looked closer at the howling monsters. There was a dark liquid dribbling out of their ears. Did he- Percy almost dismissed the notion entirely- did he have a hold on their blood?

Percy vaguely knew what blood felt like, but he had thought that the water in Tartarus just felt different. But he wasn't holding onto the water, he realised slowly.

It was their blood.

He snatched his hand back towards him from where it was stretched out, and tucked it close to his chest in horror. That- he shouldn't- that wasn't-

He felt weird; his whole body tingled with power, but the anger was subsiding under his shock. The cracked glass inside him was beginning to smooth back to normal.

The traumatised monsters scrambled to their feet and, with blatant fear smeared across their faces, they ran off into the darkness.

The rest stood around, looking unsure what to do. They had given him a wide berth, stood in a circle like Percy was a bomb. He tried to think about what to do, but he had been rendered speechless and thoughtless. He couldn't have just done that- right? That wasn't possible. But he didn't have time to come to terms with his actions, as the pause in action was solved quickly, one of them making a move towards a tired Percy again. They inched forwards, gaining more confidence with each step, and the rest seemed to take it as an example, closing in on him at the same time. Percy raised his sword weakly, ready to fight pedal to the metal, but as it turned out, he didn't need to do anything.

A deep war cry bellowed from somewhere above, echoing across the plains of Tartarus, and a Titan dropped onto the battlefield.

Percy thought he was hallucinating in his addled state. It just wasn't possible that a huge, silvery figure could fall out of the sky and stomp the dracaenae flat, trampling them into a big mound of monster dust.

But that was exactly what happened. Percy shielded his face, staggering backwards before peeking at the being quickly. He almost fell over in shock.

The Titan was ten feet tall, with wild silver Einstein hair, pure silver eyes, and muscular arms protruding from a ripped-up blue janitor's uniform. In his hand was a massive push broom. His name tag, incredibly, read BOB.

It was Iapetus, a Titan that Percy had met before.

He was released from Tartarus by Ethan Nakamura during the last Titan war. He had battled Percy, Nico and Thalia and was almost winning, but Percy had grabbed Iapetus and pulled the both of them in the River Lethe. When Iapetus came out, mind blank as a slate, Percy convinced him that his name was 'Bob' and that they were good friends. Percy's memory was fine, as being the son of Poseidon and everything; he had manipulated the water so he didn't actually touch the river. 'Bob' turned out to be quite a decent guy after forgetting himself and Percy was pretty sure he had been given a job in the Underworld, this time for the good of the Olympians. He'd meant to check in, but Hera had other plans. And now here he was.

"Uh…Bob?" Percy ventured uncertainly.

The guy had just saved his life, right? He couldn't have remembered what Percy had done to him, or he wouldn't have helped.

The ten foot Titan turned around, his silvery hair and eyes shining with the red glow of Tartarus. In his hand, he clutched a broom with a sharp spear head on top. He would have looked very intimidating, if he hadn't been smiling widely.

"Percy!" the Titan exclaimed excitedly. "You came back!"

Percy couldn't speak. He couldn't bring himself to believe that something good had actually happened.

"H-how…?" he stammered.

"Percy called me!" the janitor said happily. "Yes, he did."

"Uh…yeah," Percy managed. "Thanks for the help. It's really good to see you again, Bob."

"Yes!" the janitor agreed. "Bob. That's me. Bob, Bob, Bob." he shuffled around, obviously pleased with his name. "I am helping. I heard my name. Upstairs in Hades' palace, nobody calls for Bob unless there is a mess. Bob, sweep up these bones. Bob, mop up these tortured souls. Bob, a zombie exploded in the dining room."

Percy had no idea what to say.

"Then I heard my friend call!" the Titan beamed. "Percy said, Bob!"

Percy nodded slowly. He was quite definitely Bob. He didn't seem to remember his Iapetus side. That was good, Percy told himself. He could work with that.

"That's awesome," he said. "Seriously. But…" he tried to sound casual and friendly, which wasn't easy with a throat scorched by firewater. "How did you get to Tartarus?"

"I jumped," he said, like it was obvious.

"You jumped into Tartarus," Percy repeated in disbelief, "because I said your name?"

"You needed me." those silver eyes gleamed in the darkness. "It is okay. I was tired of sweeping the palace."

"Why were you even there in the first place?" Percy asked, more to himself; surely Hades hadn't seriously made a Titan into a janitor?

But Bob's smile faded as he answered him. He got a vacant look in his eyes. "Can't remember."

"That's okay," Percy said quickly.

He decided to ask Bob for directions to change the subject, as he probably knew the area well.

"Hey, Bob? Do you know the way to the Doors of Death?" Percy asked cautiously.

The Titan bounced his head up and down.

"It's pretty far from here." he said.

Percy's heart sank. Damn, he'd hoped it would be close. Controlling the blood had tired him more than he thought. He still didn't know how to think about that; he was torn. On one hand, they were just monsters, and he didn't even mean to, he had thought it was water. But on the other, it seemed... wrong? Percy wasn't sure. Normally, he would have asked Annabeth for her opinion, but he wasn't sure what she'd say. Percy decided to remain carefully neutral on it.

"Is there any chance you could take me there?" Percy questioned him, and Bob looked unsure for a couple seconds, so Percy changed tacts. "We're friends, right Bob?" he tried.

"We are friends." the Titan agreed, nodding.

"That's what friends do- they help each other, right?"

Bob looked unsure.

"I'd help you if you needed me, Bob." Percy said. "Would you help me?"

The Titan nodded again, this time with a determined look, and Percy tried not to back away at the similarity between him and all the other Titans.

"Yes, yes! I will take you to the Doors."

"That's great." Percy said, covering his weary expression, should the Titan take it the wrong way; he knew that those silver eyes, though sparkling and lively, could turn piercing at any second. Tartarus regenerated monsters; could that bring Bob's memory back?

He just wanted to sleep. He was bruised and his arm still felt funny, the skin getting darker and darker every second.

"But we need to have a detour." Percy said suddenly, as an idea struck him like a bolt of lightning. "There's something I've gotta do first."

He told Bob where they needed to go and the Titan, though a little reluctant, eventually beamed at him and set off, Percy following loosely behind him.

It was a ridiculous idea, and could quite easily kill him, but he knew it would help, not just down here but with the whole prophecy. Plus, he knew what to do this time. He still had his mother's blessing too. He knew where his mortal point would be, what- who- would tether him to reality. Percy let himself sink into thought. Though Bob could revert back to Iapetus at any point, Percy couldn't help but be relieved that he was no longer alone, no longer had to look over his own shoulder constantly. Now he could let himself think, try to plan without being on guard, and just let Bob guide him without having to pay attention. He would know when they were there. It was made of water, after all.

Percy was going to find the river Styx again, return the Achilles Curse.

Then he would find the Doors of Death and get back to Annabeth.

Nothing was going to stop him.

Nothing.

Chapter 4: Annabeth II

Summary:

"Have you been sleeping?" she asked, "You have bags under your eyes."

Notes:

I woke up in a cold sweat to remember to post this

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Annabeth II

Annabeth groaned and let her head fall into her arms.

They had about five more days until they got back to camp. She had been sat at her desk for a solid two of those days, searching her laptop for something,anythingon Tartarus. She'd thought that she had lost her backpack and dagger, when the floor had collapsed when she was fighting Arachne, but apparently Jason had seen it hooked on a web and picked it up before it could fall. This was good, as only Daedalus' laptop could keep up with her fingers flying about the keyboard in search of answers. She'd researched myths, facts, eyewitness accounts that she could tell were fake but read anyway, until her back creaked with a locked strain that only ADHD hyper fixation could give her.

Therehadto be a way to help Percy.

A knock on her door had her blinking blearily at the outline of Piper as she came into the room. Her eyes burned at the sudden revelation that her lights were on. It must be night time. Piper walked over to where she was sat, worry on her angular face, and she placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Hey, Annabeth. You know, it's getting pretty late. You need to eat." Piper said, firmly yet softly.

"No." Annabeth shook her head insistently, gesturing to the piles and piles of paper strewn across her table. "Not yet. Not until I find at leastonething we can use from all this."

Piper's face creased with concern.

"Have you been sleeping?" she asked, "You have bags under your eyes."

Annabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes, partly because she knew that if her eyes rolled upwards, she might pass out. "I've been sleeping when I need to." she said.

It was half a lie and half a truth.

"Let me guess," said Piper, too intuitive for her own good, "You haven't needed to?"

Annabeth didn't answer.

"I know you want to help him, but…" Piper started, and Annabeth knew exactly what she would say next. "Percy wouldn't want you to do this to yourself."

Annabeth looked at her friend; she knew she cared, and deep down below her desperation, she really appreciated it. She needed a friend like Piper more than she had realised. But just not right now. "Piper," she said, hating the plea in her voice, "If you're not going to help, then just please leave me alone."

She half expected Piper to walk out at that, not come back, maybe get angry at her, or snap at her. But she didn't. The daughter of Aphrodite took Annabeth's hand gently, cold from all the typing on her keyboard, and tugged her out of her seat. Her back was so scrunched and kinked, she couldn't help but sigh out loud as everything aligned back into place.

"No, Annabeth." Piper told her, looking immensely regretful, "Youneedtoeatand thensleep.Remember?"

Annabeth dimly heard a faint melody caressing her eardrums. It whispered Piper's words to her softly, and though Annabeth felt a loud thought trying to burrow into her conscious, a reminder of… something (a warning, perhaps?), she ignored it instead. She found herself obediently nodding. It really hit her how much she needed to eat and then sleep all of a sudden. Why hadn't she done those things before? Quite silly of her not to. Eating and sleeping were essential.

She saw walls moving, felt footsteps under her walking boots.

Eyes turning in her direction.

Quiet, and then low voices, one a little more defensive than the others.

A chair pushed under her, and then eventually, a feeling of warmth in her stomach.

It was only a few minutes later that Annabeth became more aware of what she was doing. Where she was. She blinked and the image of the dining room wafted into view; she was sat at the table in the dining room, at the head of the table. To her left sat Leo, Jason and Piper, to her right, Frank, Hazel and Coach Hedge. They were all tucking into their Chinese food. Her eyes flicked to the windows opposite. It was dark outside, darker than she'd ever seen the night sky, not a star in sight, and the sea shook their boat every now and then, wild torrents of black waves hitting the wooden sides. Her attention refocused to the sudden coldness of the metal cutlery in her hands sinking into her skin, murmurs sharpening into actual words around her. The taste of soy sauce rested in her mouth.

She blinked again.

"You usedcharmspeakon me?" she demanded to a suddenly guilty-looking Piper across the table, slamming her cutlery down with a loud bang.

All conversation fell silent, and they shifted nervously. She saw them glance at each other, exchanging looks of panic, and not one of them directly looked her in the eye.

"Annabeth, we're really sorry, but you needed to-" Jason started.

"So you decided to Charmspeak me, like you would some common monster?" she snapped.

"You weren't eating-" Piper rose to the defence, looking indignant.

"I was-!"

"Those little half-melted cereal bars don't count-"

"They do-"

"You needed to come down and eat a hot meal!"

"And I would have!" Annabeth found herself raising her voice louder than she had in days, "When I'd found something! Somethinguseful, that we could do something with! But until that time, I was going to work!"

"It's been two days since we last saw you, we were worried-" Hazel reasoned, and as much as she tried, Annabeth couldn't calm down.

"What? That I couldn't take care of myself?" she asked them.

"That's not what we-"

"That I'm that helpless withouthimthat I don't have enough common sense to function?"

She could tell that it didn't go unnoticed that she skipped his name, and she saw Frank and Jason exchange a glance across the table. A deep scowl fell onto her face, and she watched Leo go pale.

"We just wanted you to come sit down and-" Piper didn't get far before Annabeth cut her off again, unwilling to listen, and- though she knew deep down she meant no harm- slightly wary of the Charmspeaker.

"Just stop it!" she snapped, "I don't have time to sit down and play happy families! He's in Tartarus.Tartarus! Do you get that? You know, I may not have found a way for him to get out, but I did discover one thing. Did you know that time passes differently down there? One day up here could be a week, a month, ayear?"

She noticed Hazel and Nico look guiltily at each other.

"Did you know this?" she rounded on them angrily.

"Yes," Nico said flatly. "I've been there, remember?"

Annabeth cooled off a bit at that. She dropped her eyes, and sank back into her chair. She just wanted to help, but nothing was telling her anything. It wasn't even that the sources were wrong, it was that the sources in general were far and few between. But Nico had been there, and though she knew it was a delicate subject, she couldn't help but give in to the urge to ask him. She knew it had been bad for a son of Hades, but shadows and monsters were part of his domain. Percy's natural strengths were in the sea and the rain, neither of which she guessed were down there. She leant forwards, almost unconsciously. Nico knew and she had to as well. She needed to know everything she could to help Percy.

She tried to phrase it tactfully but thought it would be better to say it outright than hop around the question and insult his intelligence.

"What was it like? For a demigod?" she asked.

Nico hesitated, and as much as they obviously tried not to, everyone looked at him. His eyes flashed as he crossed his skinny arms.

"It was bad, Annabeth." Nico said simply, "You know it is. It'sliterallyhell. I was in there for a few days, I think, on the surface at least."

Annabeth knew she shouldn't, knew that it was still fresh and vivid in his mind, but she pressed on. "Yes, but what was it like?"

Nico scowled harder.

"Hot. Dark. Endless." he paused between each word, and though the young teenager visibly tried to control himself, he couldn't seem to stop his skin getting whiter with every description he tossed out.

Ignoring the mimed warnings being thrown her way, Annabeth kept on digging at her first credible source; and maybe she hadn't quite forgiven Nico yet, for hiding Percy at Camp Jupiter from her.

"As a son of Hades, how do you think a son of Poseidon would fare?"

Nico didn't answer; he seemed to not want to.

"Like I said, I barely survived." he said eventually, avoiding the question, and his voice grew smaller as he spoke, as if he was falling back into the void of the underworld, "Gaia's forces overwhelmed me instantly. They're so powerful down there… I almost went insane."

He looked up at Annabeth, and she felt such a strong wave of empathy from the boy, she almost didn't recognise him. But to her, the look in his eyes… it looked like pity. Like she was a grieving widow, and he was patting her on the back at Percy's funeral. Annabeth hated pity.

"What does it look like down there?" she asked, a whole stream of questions entering her mind, "Would there be any way to navigate it? Any way to send a message, or to receive a message-"

"Annabeth-" Frank interjected worriedly.

"-Any way at all to help him, to send down supplies, at least?"

"I don't-" Nico was getting annoyed, but that just set off Annabeth in turn, who was sick of him skirting over what she was asking.

"Just give me a straight answer!" she demanded.

"Annabeth, Idon't know!" Nico snapped loudly, shooting up to stand in his seat, "I wasn't exactly down there sketching the architecture! It was just monster after monster after monster, with no end in sight until those Giants kidnapped me. I don't know what can be done to help Percy, probably because there's nothing thatcanbe done!"

With that he pushed away his chair, which fell on its back with a loud bang, and strode out the door. The shadows in the room flickered, and for a second, Annabeth thought she saw ghostly faces in them. Hazel slipped out after him, sending Annabeth a disapproving frown.

There was an awkward silence lingering after, and Annabeth sat down. She hadn't even realised she'd stood up. All the indignation had gone out of her, draining into a tired kind of guilt. These were her friends. She shouldn't fight them. They were just as unhappy as she was, and each of them had cried their fair share in the first few days. She had heard Jason and Frank blame themselves harshly, saying that they both should have flown down to go catch him, even though Nico had assured them that they would have been sucked down too, which would have been even worse.

"It just feels like no one else wants to help." Annabeth mumbled.

"Of course we do Annabeth." Jason told her gently. "We miss him too."

"I just- I don't want him to- to come back like- like-"

The words hung in the air, and she could tell they all heard what she hadn't said, the unspoken end to her sentence.

She didn't want Percy to come back like Nico. All ghostly white and weak and frail, and the opposite of who he was. She didn't want him to forget about her either; if five days could be five years, would he even still remember her face? Remember their plans? Would he come out shredded and sickly, in his early twenties, more monster than mortal?

"Guys, this is Percy." Leo said, "He'll be fine. Dude can do anything."

"There are rivers in Tartarus." Annabeth murmured.

They weren't nice rivers though. Amnesia, depression, pain, more pain, and certain death. She hoped he could control them.

"That could be good, Annabeth. But there isn't really anything we can do until we have the Gods back." Piper placated, still on the subject, unaware of Annabeth's thoughts racing at a million miles an hour.

"I know that!" Annabeth said shortly, but winced after. "Gods, sorry, I-"

But she was cut off by a loud crash that echoed from the deck above them.

Their heads snapped up and weapons were drawn instantly as the boat shook, and the heavy pattering of footsteps swarmed the floorboards above them. Annabeth gripped Riptide tightly, in its pen form in her pocket. She had kept it with her since Percy had left it behind. It was vaguely comforting, like a bit of him was still there with her.

"Monsters." Frank frowned.

They all got out of their chairs, taking out their weapons. At the risk of setting the ship on fire (again), Leo seemed to have foregone his usual flaming hands, and gripped a solid looking hammer in his hand. Taking the lead, Jason gestured for them to wait.

"Let me check first." he said firmly, before taking a breath, and ducking around the corner.

They waited a beat, but Annabeth wasn't having it; she pushed past, and the others followed her as she rushed out onto the deck.

The sky was black outside, the noise of the tempestuous sea roaring in her ears. The only light in the battle came from some solar power lights Leo had strung around the mast, though she could see him hurrying to set ablaze a torch in the corner. Hazel and Nico were already fighting, blurs of black and gold, and a slightly overwhelmed Jason was methodically cutting down a small group trying to bite him. His gladius was wrapped in electricity like barbed wire, flashing light illuminating the snarling monsters. There was quite an assortment, a couple Harpies, some Empousai and a Hellhound. That was quickly dealt with by Nico though, who sent it back to his father with a snap of his fingers. To her left, Annabeth vaguely saw a large sea monster vanish into the water, one that had seemingly brought the crew of monsters to attack their ship. Desperate for any action to take her mind off of Percy, she jumped straight into the fight.

"Fightme, you ugly looking skunk!" Coach Hedge yelled behind her, as he waved his bat around his head, before clocking a Harpy across the jaw.

Piper ran through a Harpy in a satisfying burst of gold as Annabeth drew the last empousa into a fight.

"Think you're missing someone aren't you?" mocked the monster, and there was something in its voice that Annabeth briefly recognised, though she couldn't see it too well in the black of the night.

The remaining monsters howled in laughter.

"Shut up!" Annabeth shouted, lunging at the head.

"Annabeth, behind you!" Frank shouted and the next thing the monster, who had been sneaking up behind her, knew, an eagle dragged it over the side of the ship.

The empousai blocked her jab but Annabeth was already following it up with a skilled disarm, aiming a kick towards the non-goat leg, some kind of wooden peg-leg, which her mind dimly realised was strange, as most empousai usually had celestial bronze legs. "You don't get to speak about him." she spat.

"What, you think we don't know where your boyfriend is?" the empousa cackled, "Every monster knows where he is! And believe me, we've all totally got more than enough grudges against him."

Annabeth saw a couple heads turn at the words, her friends' expressions alarmed.

"You know he's all on his own down there!" the empousai giggled.

"I know!" Annabeth gritted out, swinging violently.

"He's going todiedown there." it hissed.

"No, he'snot!" Annabeth shouted, and jumped the monster, slamming it strongly down to the ground.

The move caught it by surprise, as Annabeth kicked its weapon across the deck. It seemed to forget to fight, and whether it was distracted, or just in shock that a daughter of Athena would do such a reckless thing, it made no difference when Annabeth held her dagger against its throat.

"Tell me where he is!" she shouted, as Leo killed the last one to the right of her, swinging his hammer like a bat.

The others crowded round the pinned empousai, whose torn clothing seemed familiar, and Annabeth felt wary eyes on her, but she ignored them.

"He's in Tartarus, duh!" the vampiric monster laughed beneath her.

"Iknowthat!" Annabeth hissed, digging the tip of her dagger into the paper-white skin, "Whereis he down there? Is heokay? Is he close to the doors?"

The empousai snorted. "He won't make it to the doors!"

"Why?" Annabeth said, digging her knee into where she knew a sensitive point was in empousai, in the torso above the donkey leg. It gasped, and began to splutter.

"Isn't it obvious, Athena spawn? He's a demigod in Tartarus. Monsters can totally smell him from hundreds of miles away, can smell the blood on his clothes and the stench of the sea on his skin. Add that to the fact that he's pretty much unarmed, and well... you'll never see your precious boyfriend again!"

"Pretty much unarmed?" Annabeth tried to tune out the rest and focus on the odd phrase. "Does that mean he is sort of armed?"

"He left his magic sword up here, didn't he?" the empousai smiled sickly. "Can't fight with his bare hands forever."

It nodded towards the pen sticking out of Annabeth's pocket.

"That's it, isn't it? Jackson's sword."

Annabeth readjusted her grip. A wave hit the side of the boat and sent a spray of water droplets over the group. She tried to stop fantasizing about stabbing the arrogant vampire. "That's not what I asked." she said, "Does he or does he not have a weapon?"

"Don't you recognise me?" it replied instead, voice losing all playfulness and dropping into a spiteful tone.

Annabeth knew it was stalling for time but blinked a bit to clear her tunnel vision. Leo held the now lit torch over her head, and their little part of the deck flooded with orange-tinted colour. She only had to glance at the uniform to realise who she had pinned.

She remembered Kelli. Two years ago, at Percy's freshman orientation, he and their friend Rachel Dare had been attacked by empousai disguised as cheerleaders. One of them had been Kelli. Later, the same empousa had attacked them in Daedalus' workshop. Annabeth had stabbed her in the back. She gritted her teeth. She had faced a lot of bad monsters over the years, but she hated empousai more than most.

Men were especially susceptible to their powers. Kelli had almost killed Percy. She had manipulated Annabeth's oldest friend, Luke, urging him to commit darker and darker deeds in the name of Kronos. The empousa's favourite tactic was to make a guy fall in love with her, then drink his blood and devour his flesh. Not a great first date.

"Kelli." she said icily.

"You know her?" asked Nico.

She nodded. "I can't say it's a pleasure. Now answer me: Does Percy have a weapon?"

"Well, you know what? I think my memory is improving. Weapon, weapon…all I can say is that he didn't when we attacked him." Kelli cackled.

"What? You've seen him?" Annabeth shouted, eyes wide.

"How is he?" asked Frank.

"Is he okay?" Hazel rushed to ask.

"Put it this way, he won't be down there for long," Kelli giggled, before squeaking as Annabeth dug her knee in again, "Broken arm, coughing up blood, and I know I totally bit him on the arm…" she trailed off teasingly.

"Wait." Annabeth said, a few things clicking in her head. "You... attacked him. But now you're here. You say you didn't kill him. He killedyou, didn't he?" she smiled for the first time in a few days. "He killed you without a weapon!"

"He had a weapon!" she snapped, all mocking gone, replaced by angry indignation. "He punched me in thefaceand then the little brat stole my metal leg, killed my friends with it and then me! Mother Earth brought me back quickly to kill all of you, but look at what I got for it!"

She waved her wooden leg around as best she could under Annabeth, "A wooden leg! That's so not trendy! He killed me with my own leg! I can't even!"

"He's armed." Leo said, "He can fight."

"If you see him again, tell him I love him." Annabeth said coolly, before plunging her knife into Kelli's chest and getting up.

"Now, we have information.Now, we can have dinner." she said, significantly more relaxed and yet more worried. She had just sent her back to Tartarus- back to Percy. What if she actually attacked him again? Annabeth took a breath and just told herself the facts again.

"He's injured but not enough to fight. That's good. That's good."

"That's great." Hazel said soothingly. "This is Percy, he can fight his way through anything."

"At least we know now that he survived the fall." Jason said.

"I would've known if he had died." Nico reluctantly spoke up.

Annabeth's head snapped up. Her legs wobbled a bit from exhaustion.

"Nico, I need updates, every day, whenever you feel any difference." she told him quickly.

Nico nodded. "It's how I knew he had survived the fall."

"That's good." she said again. "That's good."

Leo raised an eyebrow at her.

"What?" she snapped, the adrenaline of the fight and of finding out more about Percy leaving her a little on edge.

They stared at her, and she swallowed.

"Look, I'msorry, I just- I-"

They looked at her with such understanding that a lump formed in her throat, and she couldn't take it anymore. She turned and walked quickly off, her nose stinging as she held back the urge to cry. Gods, her emotions were a wreck nowadays. She heard a quiet buzz of conversation behind her, before footsteps echoed, catching her up.

"I don't want to talk right now." she said succinctly. "In fact, I need to Iris message Sally. I think she should know where her only son is." she sniffed loudly at the end, not making eye contact.

"That's fine. I'll come with you." Frank offered.

"No! I don't need a chaperone!" Annabeth snapped, but it was in a wobbling voice, turning the corner towards the bedrooms.

"I'm not a chaperone,Godsno. I'm just a friend, here to help you break bad news about someone I care about as well."

"Fine." Annabeth said bluntly, too drained to argue any more.

She walked straight into Percy's room. Frank didn't say anything. Not even a meaningless platitude about how everything was going to be alright, which she was grateful for. A quick root around found a spare drachma under his bed. The duvet still smelt of him.

She threw the coin into the mist created by the small bottle on his bedside drawer. She wished she could I-Message Percy, but the call refused to connect. Iris had no presence down there.

"O Iris, Goddess of the rainbow, show me SALLY JACKSON, UPPER EAST SIDE, MANHATTAN."

The air shimmered a delicate silver, waves of rainbows drifting across as if trying to get signal. Annabeth watched it connect tersely, unsure of whether she actually wanted it to go through. Sally had been through enough already.

But too soon, the image of the Jackson-Blofis apartment swam lazily into view, and Annabeth felt like sobbing. That apartment was like a second home to her; she looked at parts of the living room and her mind was flooded with memories. She looked at the dining table and instantly saw herself having Chinese take-out with Percy and his parents. She saw the television and looked on sadly as she and Sally watched a documentary together, chatting away like the mother and daughter they each never had. Her eyes drifted to the sofa, and she could suddenly feel the warmth of Percy next to her as they fell asleep, his strong arms around her waist making her feel safer than she'd ever felt before…

The apartment door opened, and Paul and Sally walked in, shopping bags in hand.

Sally stopped dead when she saw Annabeth, who offered a weak but wobbly smile. Their eyes met. The shopping bags crashed to the floor.

"Annabeth!" Sally sprinted over to her, Paul not far behind. "Have you found him?"

"I-"

"He left me a voicemail a little while ago!" Sally spoke urgently, and Annabeth winced at the hoarseness of her voice, "He was in Alaska? He said something about a quest? Please tell me you found him!"

A lump formed in Annabeth's throat. Percy's mother clearly wasn't sleeping, judging by the dark shadows and red rims around her eyes. She hadn't seen her son in over eight months. Paul looked worn-out next to her, and he too looked at Annabeth as if she held their lives in her hands.

"We- we did find him-" Annabeth started.

"Oh, thank the Gods!" Sally seemed to visibly deflate, and she leant into Paul, who wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "How is he? Where is he?"

Frank wasn't in view of Percy's parents, but Annabeth saw him send a sympathetic and wincing look in their direction.

"I just want to start by saying that he's alive." Annabeth said, knowing that that was probably the most important thing to tell them.

Sally's eyes snapped up, watery and worried.

Annabeth felt her own prickle with tears.

"Hera." she said, "Hera took his memories."

Paul gasped. "He doesn't- he doesn't remember us?"

Annabeth shook her head quickly. "He got them back, but she kept him in a sort of coma for six months. Then she woke him up and took him to Lupa, a Roman Wolf Goddess who trained him for two more months. He- he went to a camp like Camp Half Blood, but for Roman demigods. But- but then there was another Prophecy, anotherGreatProphecy about the world ending, and- and we're still in it, trying to stop it, stop Gaia, but he-"

She paused. The two mortals had been listening to her story with rapt attention, their faces getting more horrified by the second. Frank gave her an encouraging nod, though he too seemed affected by her words.

"I had to do something to get the Gods back," she told them, "They're gone right now, so I- I had to go on this quest. I was in this- this lair, and Percy and the others got there soon, but- but the floor collapsed, and I was going to fall in too, but- but hesavedme-"

She sobbed into her hands. "But he f-fell instead. He fell."

"Fell where?" Sally had tears streaming down her cheeks in sheer desperation, her hands splayed over her slightly more prominent than usual stomach, Paul next to her looking blank with shock.

"Into- in- in-"

"Into Tartarus." Frank said gently, suddenly next to her as her shoulders shook.

Annabeth didn't look up from her palms, and no one spoke. The silence was full of shock. She sniffed hard, trying to rein herself in; it was harder than she thought it would be, and even Frank's hand on her back was shaking. She looked up.

"We'll get him back." she told a stunned Sally fiercely, "We know he's alive, and we know that he's- he's armed. I swear to you, we'll get him back. I swear on the river Styx that I'll find him even if it kills me."

"Tartarus." Sally whispered, with wide blue eyes, and Annabeth could tell that every myth she'd ever heard and every monster she'd ever seen was flying through her head.

Her bottom lip wobbled, and for a second, Annabeth thought she would turn on her and blame her, curse her for damning her son to hell. Her hands started to shake, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But Sally's face just split into a sob, and she began to cry into her hands.

Paul quickly pulled her into a tight hug.

"Oh Gods. Oh Gods, what are we going t-to do? My- my little boy's in Tartarus, Paul. My- my little boy- ohGods-" she cried into her husband's shoulder, her body wracked with sobs.

"We'll find him." Annabeth whispered, her throat thick with emotion, "I'll find him."

Frank sniffed next to her, hugging his arms around himself. It was horrible to watch Sally cry, to see the despair in Paul's eyes. Annabeth had to look away.

She didn't notice when the message fizzled out, too busy staring at Percy's blue hoodie on his chair with faraway eyes.

Frank held out a hand and though she didn't need to, she took it. He needed comfort after that whole disaster too. Standing up quickly, she brushed away tears from her blotchy face.

"You need to sleep." Frank said gently. "We need you awake and assertive so you can tell us all off tomorrow."

"I'm sorry for yelling earlier." she sniffled.

"Uh, that's fine." Frank said, now a little awkwardly, clearly unsure what to do. "Which one's your room again?"

Annabeth hesitated.

"Here." she decided eventually. She curled up on Percy's bed, letting her exhausted and dehydrated head fall onto his pillow. Frank shifted from foot to foot.

"Okay," he said, "But you're dealing with Coach Hedge. Break his rules and he just goes crazy. You know, he threw a baseball at me last time I..."

Frank's voice drifted off as Annabeth slowly passed out, the smell of sea salt and cold air in her nose.

Notes:

Thank yall sm for all the vibes, great to have people rereading this, and to my new readers- strap in. Love yall xx

Chapter 5: Percy III

Summary:

There wasn't going to be another way of escape, not this time.

Notes:

Chapter summaries are so fun, i just scroll through the chapter and try to find a dramatic enough line lmao

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Percy III

There were some rightuglysuckers in Tartarus, thought Percy, stepping over a sleeping hellhound as carefully as he could.

He was deep in stealth mode; it was still a long way until the river Styx. Bob had told him that the river Phlegethon (not phlegm, as it turned out) flowed throughout the whole pit, especially close to the Doors. Which made it so much harder to keep going in the direction they were going, namely away from said river. In fact, Percy hadn't seen it in what felt like weeks. The Styx was far away in practically the opposite direction. Once he got there, he'd have to double back, assuming he would have any sense of direction in the black and endless void that surrounded him. At least Bob knew a shortcut to Styx.

But what he had failed to mention, however, was where this shortcut went through.

Hand on his sword, Percy stepped over another snoozing hellhound.

They were unnaturally huge, lying around in the small chasm he walked through, their snores like the rumbling of thunder. The fact that their fur was pitch black did not help, as the light was even more limited where he was. The dim glow of his sword would illuminate a claw or a fang here and there, just enough light for him to clench his teeth and veer his foot out of the way. The smell of blood and dirt lay in Percy's nose. Every now and then, one would snort in its sleep, and Percy would freeze, ready to strike at the first sign of those glowing red eyes.

Percy sucked in a low breath as a tail the size of a boa constrictor sleepily flicked in his direction. He felt a pang of loss for Mrs. O'Leary. She'd deal with them far better than he could. So would Bob.

Bob's size had prevented him from walking down the narrow ravine of jutting rocks, so he had to take a different way, and with his enormous strides, would probably beat Percy to their rendezvous point. Wherever that was. Percy had been too busy killing a manticore trying to rip up his face to listen to what Bob had mumbled to himself.

He was sure that he'd turn up at some point. He prayed he would. Percy needed him in order to get to Styx. He wasn't sure what would happen after. This was all about getting back to Annabeth, and Percy wasn't here to make friends. He felt like being alone, while dangerous, was slightly better; he'd learned to watch his own back and having a Titan watching it instead didn't exactly make him feel secure. Sure,Bobwas nice, but Percy couldn't forget how hardIapetushad tried to kill him and his friends. Bob was his friend. For now.

Not picking his feet up the whole way worked well to not cause any loud stomping noises to give him away. But, as Percy winced, it didn't help when there were loose rocks lying around, practically invisible in the black air.

He watched in horror as his foot booted a small stone a few feet, unable to stop it.

The stone hit the ground one, twice, three times before settling, the clattering noise hammering into his head with each bounce.

"Rrrr…"

Out the corner of his wide eyes, Percy saw a hellhound rise from its previous slump. It shook its shaggy head, facing the other way. It hadn't noticed him yet. Others around him were stirring too, the environment coming alive and rippling around him. He had seconds at the most. Scanning desperately, not moving as to not alert the drowsy beasts, Percy quickly mapped out a way to climb up to the top of the ravine in his head. He'd jump onto the low ledge, climb, and then he'd have to pull himself up the rest of the way. He'd follow the cliff edge until the end. The hellhound closest to him sniffed the air audibly, and a giant head started tilting around in his direction.

Sweat running down his back, Percy slid his sword into his trouser loops slowly.

It cracked against his plastic bottle noisily.

Percy was already sprinting as blood-red eyes snapped open.

Practicallythrowinghimself at the steep cliff side, his arms struggled to keep pace with his pushing feet, kicking off the stones to climb higher, faster, the hellhounds barrelling towards him with baying howls. Percy found a ledge, and hoisted himself into the air just as they slammed into the cliff below him, barking and foaming at the mouth.

They were fully awake now, snapping at his ankles with teeth like daggers. Menacing growls echoed down the ravine. They were too close; Percy scrabbled onto the small ledge he had spotted to try and get away. He had to climb up.

Tartarus hated him with a passion.

The solid looking ledge under his feet, once solid, crumbled like sand. Percy dropped a foot, scraping his nails to bloody messes as he dug them into the stone in order to stay up.

Well, this was familiar.

"Argh!" Percy groaned through gritted teeth as sharp, snapping teeth sank into the back of his heel.

HisAchillesheel, just to make it ironic.

He wrenched his limb out of the ravenous mouth with a howl and pressed his other foot against a small jutting rock, pushing his body up in one jerking movement. A couple more pulls up and he could rest his knees on a safe looking stone. Now out of teeth-range, he glanced down. The hellhounds were gathered at the bottom, jumping up and snarling, like crocodiles at the base of a cliff. Percy grimaced at the feeling of blood dribbling out the ring of puncture wounds; it splashed in beads below him, incensing the furious dogs.

They leapt up, but the sounds of their long claws scraping down the stones were drowned out by the pulsing in Percy's ears. The blood in his head was whirling around like a storm. He didn't think he had enough energy to pull himself up. His arm, while pretty much healed up, was still shaky at times, the bruises still a dim green. A hacking cough erupted from him, nearly dislodging his grip.

The air was getting to him again. It happened less nowadays, but when it caught up with him eventually, it was the same cheese-grater-down-the-throat pain he had first felt. A couple drops of blood spattered across the face of rock in front of him. His throat was starting to blister. Praying desperately to…Percy didn't even know (his father maybe?), he let go with one hand.

The full pressure stretching his knuckles, Percy knew he didn't have long until the shaking in his arm would shake him loose. He unhooked his bottle and grimaced in anticipation. He didn't have much of the river water left in his bottle. Percy gulped it down and retched, barely having enough time to pour a capful of the water on his ankle. He jerked on impact, his fingertips inadvertently snatching back and letting go.

Percy grunted as he slid down the cliff a few metres until he landed, his feet slamming into the floor, followed by his knees. His aching arm went to his waist and withdrew… nothing. He glanced down in panic. Then up. Where he had been just a second ago, his sword balanced precariously on a rock.

Of course it did.

The hellhounds seemed to grin as they circled him, pure bloodthirst dripping from their eyes and teeth. They had him pinned and they knew it. Hellhounds weren't just mindless beasts; they liked the hunt and they revelled in the capture. Even more so in the kill. Percy was well and truly captured. Them on one side, the rock cliff on the other. But he wasn't dead, not yet. Percy followed them with his eyes as they padded about in front of him, pack animals of pure muscle and force.

There it was again, the feeling of a body of water. Only it wasliterallya body, or bodies: the hounds in front of him. He didn't know why he was having such a strong reaction to the feeling of blood. It was like… it was like Tartarus wanted him to feel it. Like it had amplified his senses, particularly to things he probably shouldn't feel. It felt… disgusting. He didn't want to know how squirmy blood felt in the body, but it was hard to ignore.

He could feel each hound in the air individually, feel the blood pumping faster around their bodies as they got closer and closer. What looked like the Alpha of the pack came forward first, Percy's blood smeared across the black fur around its snout. He locked eyes with it.

Unsure if it was the right thing to do, Percy hesitated. He considered his options. Turning around to run for his sword would mean sharp claws sinking into his spine. Staying still would mean his head in the Alpha's jaws. He concluded, as the Alpha looked about to pounce, that if he was going to get out of here, he was going to have to.

There wasn't going to be another way of escape, not this time.

Just as it drew back to spring on him, jaws slavering, Percy grabbed the beat of the blood with an outstretched hand. It was like balancing a water balloon aloft in his hand, feeling the liquid swoosh from side to side, the weight and density of it. It felt delicate. Like how he knew that if he squeezed his hand, the water balloon will burst. Percy felt like he could burst the feeling in his hand, and though he didn't know what that meant, he knew there was only one way to find out.

Instead of a sharp headache this time, a strange coolness settled over him, with only a twinge at his temples.

He knew that hehadto do this.

It was him or them.

The beast screeched and rolled over, as if trying to scratch fleas out from under its skin. Digging its head into the ground, it scratched its own paws into its skull, a dreadful whining roar coming out. The other hellhounds snarled in confusion, some backing up, others getting closer. Percy faltered; its whines sounded too similar to Mrs O'Leary's. It felt like he was hurting his own dog.

Sensing a moment of weakness, another one reared. Before it had even left the ground, Percy had it writhing, his other hand outstretched now.

Yeah, not his dog, he thought hard, like he was trying to stamp it onto his brain. This one wanted to eat him.

"Down, boy." Percy panted, wetness trickling out of his nostril, and, clenching his fists tightly, the monsters exploded into dust.

Before the others could attack, he killed them too. It was easier this time. He knew what to do. On the last one, he grabbed the feeling of blood being pumped around the entirety of its body and jerked his hand down. The hell hound collapsed to the floor, pinned by an unseen force. When it whined helplessly, Percy finished it off. It was like it was a puppet, and he could somehow hold its strings.

It was strange; when he held onto blood, he could feel their entire body's movements. It was like if he clenched hard enough, he could pull parts away from each other. Percy grimaced, rubbing his arms. He suddenly found his human body very fragile.

Looking from side to side, Percy could see no more.

At least his energy was rejuvenated from the water. But now there was no more. He'd used it all on repairing as much as he could of his ankle, which had now scabbed over. He'd have to move quickly, maybe ask Bob to go get some for him. With years of lava wall training now remembered, Percy scaled the cliff partially to grab his sword before carrying on through the bottom of the ravine. He felt like nothing would bother him for a while.

As he walked, he reached up and wiped off the smear of blood under his nose. It was as if his head was fighting what he did, though it was probably about the equivalent of controlling a small pond. Maybe it was because it was so concentrated. Percy didn't know.

Eventually, the cliffs widened and flattened.

Percy was once again in a flat expanse of nothing, the eerie red mist blanketing further view from any direction. Like a sandstorm suspended in time. Percy had seen enough horror films when he was younger to resist the urge to shout for the amnesiac Titan. They'd be on him quicker than Grover on a tin can.

Instead, he found a small rock and plonked himself down to wait for Bob, who was taking his time. It wasn't as if he could beattackedat any time or anything.

No, bring it on actually, Percy thought, his mood a little less bleak after the hellhound defeat. Tartarus was just a glorified training ground. He just needed to hit one hundred percent of the targets. Let the monsters come. He had a new trick up his sleeve.

Deciding to wander about in a circle, just to see if Bob was lost nearby maybe, Percy stood up. The ground crunched beneath his feet, disturbing the strange silence that had settled over him and the whole area. In fact, he thought with a frown, he hadn't heard much lately. Tartarus was quiet, but he could always hear something in the background; howls, snarls, screams. Now? A still silence settled over him.

He entered some kind of forest that had materialised out of the mist. It didn't seem like it fitted in the cavern like place: nature didn't seem to touch this place. There was nothing here that could be regarded asnatural, at least. No grass growing through the black stones, no ivy creeping up rocks. Everything was dry and dead.

It certainly played along well with the theme of the place though. Towering black trees soared into the creepy gloom, with bare branches like bony fingers reaching for his face. The wood was mangled and twisted, roots shooting straight down into the ground as if they too were trying to escape the darkness of the pit.

Percy's skin began to crawl and he found himself aware of every little noise or movement, like his hair had been electrocuted and it was sending jolts into his brain. He wasn't sure what had set him off. Eyebrows furrowed and a flat line of a mouth, Percy ceased moving, stopped breathing in. The silence of the surrounding area filled him until it was broken by a twig snapping.

Percy's head whipped around.

It hit him that he was lost. Completely and utterly. Everything looked the same, in every direction. Another twig snapped, and Percy took out his sword, looking around cautiously. The tree next to him quivered, and Percy backed away with a frown.

Nothing looked different but he definitely heard something. But then again, Tartarus did play tricks on the mind-

Again.

A few yards away, a tree shuddered.

Something was moving above him. The only problem was that Percy couldn't see the top of the branches in the black gloominess overhead. He strained his eyes, but nothing moved. He could dismiss it as him being paranoid but…washe?

No.

He wasn't.

For just as he thought that, a monster fell to the ground like a meteor about ten feet away. It looked strongly like a fury, but Percy knew vividly what they looked like. This one looked off. It was a wrinkled hag with brass talons, bat-like wings and red eyes that glowed similarly to those of a hellhound. In a tattered black dress, her face twisted, it resembled a demonic grandmother.

Another fell behind him. Then a few more until around half a dozen were glaring at him like he was a slab of meat. More hissed in the trees above.

"Good morning?" Percy tried. "Or is it night now?" he asked genuinely.

It had been a while since he'd seen sunlight, and he craved the pure weightless warmth it gave out, as opposed to the thick heat in the air of Tartarus.

"Silence!"

Percy tried to locate the speaker, but none of the demons had moved their mouths. Their eyes looked dead; their expressions were frozen. The voice simply floated overhead like a movie narrator's, as if a single mind controlled all the creatures.

"Alright then." he said, "No offence or anything, but who are you?"

"We are Arai, the curses. And we have orders to curse you, of course! To destroy you a thousand times in the name of all that is law down here."

"Only a thousand times?" Percy murmured. "Oh, good…I thought I was in trouble. Why are you destroying me?"

"We have orders."

"From who?" he questioned.

Percy was annoyed. If someone was going to kill him, they usually did it face to face. What was he, a minor annoyance? Percy liked to think he was amajorannoyance, thank you very mu-

The demon ladies all took a step forward in tandem, as if one mind controlled them all like puppets. They smiled sickly as if that answered his question. Well that didn't bode well. Percy took out his sword with that satisfying 'shink' noise, holding it aloft so they could all see he wasn't playing around.

He was relieved when they started to close in on him. Sure, he was terrified. He didn't like the odds of one against however many there were. But at least he understood fighting. Wandering through the darkness, waiting to be attacked—that had been driving him crazy.

Then he got jumped, by a gang of grandmas.

Chapter 6: Percy IV

Summary:

His hand clutched at the wound, putting as much pressure on it as he could, hand shaking with the effort.

Notes:

I was rapping the entire time while posting this

TW for violence and injury for the rest of the fic, honestly yall have been warned

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Percy IV

They were creaky, easy targets, right?

Wrong.

Percy swung his sword casually at the nearest Arai, catching it across the chest with a hard strike. As expected, it settled to the ground in a poof of gold. What Percy didn't expect, however, was the invisible smack to the back of the head.

"Wha-?"

Percy fell to a knee, clapping a hand to the back of his head, which was slightly wet. Gods, where hadthatcome from?

One of the Arai chuckled darkly.

"A gift! From Polybotes!"

Percy spat on floor, slightly bloody from where he had bitten his lip. He stood back up slowly, still pressing a hand to the back of his head.

"Where's the receipt?" Percy said, as he felt a warm stream trickle down his neck.

He glanced at his hand, wrinkling his nose in surprise at the smear of blood on his palm. The firewater in Percy's stomach started crawling up his throat. He kept his head still so as to not irritate the light wound. The world wasn't spinning, so he didn't think he had a concussion or anything. It could have been worse. He pointed the end of his sword at one behind him.

"Didyoudo that?" Percy accused it, seeing that one as the only one who could have got close.

The Arai just stepped forward menacingly, raising its hands. Percy ducked around it, sword raised, this time his back protected, and aimed to lop it's head off. When it hit, pain rippled agonisingly across his chest.

Percy gasped as blood welled up in a strong line along his tattered shirt, and a claw lashed out before he could stop it, tearing through his top. It was basically just hanging around his neck and shoulders at this point, ragged and red, torn and dusty from his exploits. It stung but Percy gritted his teeth. Damn, they must have been fast. He didn't even see them move. The spirits bared their fangs. More Arai leaped from the black trees, flapping their wings.

"You cannot win!" one of the Arai cried gleefully, as they all advanced on him again, forming a leathery line in front of him.

"And why's that?" Percy said, stalling, weighing them up in his mind.

"Do you knownothingof us? For every hit you give us, a worse shall befall you." an Arai started. "One you have caused to another, who has cursed you for such an act."

"You cannot kill us all without killing yourself." another Arai finished, bat wings flapping in a sick glee.

So,anymonster he'deverkilled could come back to haunt him. Great. Percy wondered if a demigod could be reborn in Tartarus. Things worked differently down here; the ground was glassy and pointy, the air poisonous. And he didn't even want to get into the sickening thoughts about what Tartarus really was. Could he theoretically be reborn down here? Percy doubted it, and didn't want to take his chances.

"What if I just killed you all in one go? They've all been minor scratches so far." Percy said, reasoning in his head.

"Fool! We control the curses you get. Like picking from a list. And you, sea scum, have an impressive wealth of curses upon your person. So many rivals defeated, so many denouncing your name to the very darkest corners of the underworld. And many big names. Important names. Titans, Giants, and,of course, theminotaur."

Faster than Percy could react, it leapt onto him, claws slashing across his face, a millimetre from his eyes. Percy had no choice- he kicked it off and, twisting around, he drove his sword up into the thing's ribs. It screeched right into his ear, and Percy jerked his head back at the shrill and piercing noise. Its words caught up to him too late. The minotaur? But that meant-

Sure enough, a shooting pain went under his lung like a partially stuck lance.

Percy staggered.

His hand clutched at the wound, putting as much pressure on it as he could, hand shaking with the effort.

Blood poured this time. It seeped down to the floor. Percy held onto it with his spare arm, and the blood began to trickle out between his fingers, running down his wrists. Somehow he stayed on his feet. The blood stopped spreading, but he still felt like he had a hot metal curtain rod sticking through his ribs. His sword arm was heavy and weak.

"You have spread so much death and suffering, Percy Jackson. Let us repay you!"

The winged hags pressed in, their breath sour, their eyes burning with hatred. They looked like Furies, but Percy decided these things were even worse. At least the three Furies were under the control of Hades. These things were wild, and they just kept multiplying.

If they really embodied the dying curses of every enemy Percy had ever destroyed…then Percy was in serious trouble. He'd faced a lot of enemies. Some had cursed him to his face… he didn't want to know how many had cursed him behind his back. He suspected he'd find out soon.

Percy blew a breath out his nose which resulted in a bloody bubble popping out his nostril.

Dammit, where was Bob? He was a liability and an asset at the same time, and Percy was concerned about just how long his memory would last. He could see aspects of him returning, Tartarus restoring him. As if he didn't have enough to watch out for.

The Arai were watching his every move with leering smiles. Percy placed his sword between his knees and quickly whipped his shirt off, tugging the frayed collar over his head. He got blood on it from his hands and scoffed at the rag. He'd seen trash cans that looked cleaner. More blood was like throwing a bucket of water in the ocean.

Percy twisted his shirt and wrapped it around his ribs tightly, staunching the flow. He hissed between his teeth as it stung his wound, red soaking easily through the light fabric. Then, he retook his sword.

"Right," he said raggedly. "Bring it on, bat faces."

They lunged at the same time; Percy turned on his heel and ran, hearing them collide with various groans. He weaved through the trees, his spare arm wrapped tightly around his chest as painful coughs tried to burst through his lungs. There was serious damage there, and he could feel the energy trickling out of him as quickly as his blood. As he ran past one of the black trees, he slashed his sword across the trunk. He heard it topple, followed by the satisfying crunch of several dozen Arai as they were smashed flat.

If a tree falls in the forest and crushes a demon, does the tree get cursed?

Percy slashed down another trunk, then another. It bought him a few seconds, but not enough. They were in front of him, melting out of the shadows and stepping out from behind trees. He whipped around. They were surrounding him. He backed away slowly, seeing an opening in the trees. As he passed the last one, he found himself in-between a steep drop and at least a dozen Arai advancing on him.

He expected them to attack right away, as any other monster in Tartarus would. But they just circled him, smiling quietly. Percy saw red.

"Come on!" he shouted. "Get it over with!"

Percy had a sort of plan. The cliff a few metres behind him. If he could just kick them down, it might not kill them but it would give him time to run. He didn't think this was a battle he could survive. The eyes of the demons blurred together like their voices. Percy's sides throbbed. The pain in his chest was worse, as if someone were slowly twisting a dagger.

"I've never even heard of you. What kind of monsters are you?" Percy said suddenly, edging backwards.

"We are unbeatable!" one crowed, unknowingly following him.

"If you're unbeatable, then why have I never seen you on the surface?"

They didn't answer him. Percy blinked.

"You're stuck down here, aren't you?" he realised. "You never make it to the doors."

"We could get out any time we wanted." they snarled at him.

"Liars. If you could then why don't you?" Percy glanced down at the edge of the cliff, just as the edge of his feet.

They clicked angrily as their eyes blackened and claws rose up to chest height. Percy snorted, hoping it didn't sound as fake to them as it did to him.

"Oh right, yeah, you're so scary." he sneered, just grateful that his voice came out strong and not wobbly.

Provoked, the ones closest to his left flew into an attack. For the first one, Percy sliced off its wings and sent it spiralling into the chasm, groaning as a burning sensation like he was being blasted by a blowtorch spread over his shoulders. He had no time to breathe though, the next one flying at him. It aimed for his chest, talons just inches from his heart. Percy grabbed it around the waist and, bracing his feet against its midriff, threw it over his shoulder. It bellowed obscenities at him as it fell. Percy braced himself for any pain but none appeared beyond a throbbing in his right ear.

"How dare you!" an Arai screamed. "That was chaos!"

Percy was confused for a second.

It wasn't really chaotic, he thought to himself, it was pretty organised. Then he remembered. Right.Chaos. The big daddy. He was over the cliff? Percy stepped forward a bit, realising his foot was literally right on the edge of death.

The next attack, Percy was just on autopilot. He slashed through the monster as it howled, and dropped to the ground instantly. His head swam in pain.

He clutched his sword. Blood dripped from his nose and ear.

I won't die like this, he thought. The Arai clustered around him, snickering and hissing.

"His head will erupt first." a voice speculated.

"No," an Arai spoke up from another direction. "He will combust all at once."

They were placing bets on how he would die…what sort of scorch mark he would leave on the ground. It took all his remaining effort, but he got to his feet. Steam rose from his whole body. His legs shook. His insides churned like a volcano.

At least Percy could go out fighting.

There were only about four Arai left but any one of them could kill him. This had to be calculated.

"For all your bragging," he said weakly, "Your friend down there was a pretty easy target. Maybe you're not as good as you think you are."

"Be quiet, Jackson!" one bellowed. "Do not anger us! We will curse you with the worst!"

"Bring it on." Percy replied tiredly.

He kinda didn't expect them to all fly at him but he thought it went sort of well.

Yes, he did accidently run one through on instinct, but he couldn't feel anything yet. Maybe it forgot. Two went over the edge immediately, smacking him in the face as they fell, electricity shooting up his back and a gash scraping itself across his knees.

After the last one, Percy was tired and in pain; he wasn't thinking. The last one lunged for him, and Percy, face paling due to blood loss, just levelled his sword to go straight through its head.

He slumped to his knees, relieved to be rid of the whirlwind of monsters around him.

He breathed out heavily.

Crunch.

Percy stifled a shout of agony by biting his lip, which split.

His leg had been absolutely fine about a second ago. Now, he could see his bone in about three places. Percy ran shaking hands over the screaming mangled mess that was his leg. How did-? Who? Why?

Who in the name ofHadeshad cursed him with a crushed leg? Who had he crushed to death? Percy moved away from the edge of Chaos slowly on his elbows, wincing in pain as his leg wept blood to the floor.

Who had he crushed? Some kind of rockslide?- Oh.

He knew.

It was when he blew up Mt St Helens with that earthquake. Telkhines. He had pretty much buried a couple hundred alive. One of those little dog faced douchebags had cursed him? Percy raised his hands and just... huffed out a short confused breath, gesturing palms up. What the Hades was he supposed to do now? He could barely feel anything below his neck, could see the dark red stain spreading further across his improvised bandage and starting to make little streams down his stomach.

He pushed his blood back into his leg without thinking about it and tried to straighten it out. Nope. Nope.Badidea. Bad bad bad nope nope. No move. Move equals bad. Percy lowered himself down with shaky arms. Well. He chewed his lip.

"Percy!"

A shout of his name had Percy raise his sword an inch with a painful-beyond-words pain ricocheting around his leg and chest. He let it fall once he saw who it was.

"Bob." Percy croaked as the Titan finally shuffled forwards.

"Percy, your leg is strange."

"I know." Percy gritted out, hands holding his thigh to stop it from twitching and spasming, which felt like volts of electricity running up and down his leg. "Bob... please… pass me a branch from a tree."

Bob obediently turned around and ripped half a tree off, ripping it down to one reasonable looking branch.

Percy couldn't think. What did he need to do, what did he need to do? Not to mention that there was still a curse left. One that hadn't appeared yet. He'd counted in his head. Nine out of ten so far. Where was the tenth? So he had that to look forward to. Fun. Percy leant forwards, sucking a breath in at his midsection pain (which still needed to be treated, he reminded himself), and eased his shoe off. He peeled off a sock before trying to do the other.

Too much, too much, too much-

Percy's eyes rolled back and he slid bonelessly to the floor.

...

...

"-cy"

"Nggh."

"-ercy!"

"Whaa..."

"Percy!"

"What? What?"

Percy's eyes snapped open, the dim red glow of Tartarus making him squint. For a brief second, he was cool and numb and thinking of Annabeth.

Then it came back.

"Urgh!"

Percy bit his tongue and propped himself up on his elbows.

"You went to sleep." Bob stated simply.

"For how long?" Percy said.

"Time is different." Bob shrugged, "Maybe seconds. Possibly hours. I healed as much as I could."

"Thanks." Percy sucked in sharply as he reached out for the straight beam of wood.

It took longer than he wanted but he eventually got both his socks off. Even his foot was uneven and bloody. Sliding his shoes on was a task in itself.

Percy aligned his destroyed leg with the spiky branch, setting it in place with a cry and a crack before he wound his thankfully stretchy socks around them, securing it with a thick knot. It might not do anything but he needed it to set sort of right. The pain was heavy and white.

"Help me up Bob please." Percy grunted at the hovering Titan, sweat dropping down his face.

Bob sprang into action, tugging Percy to his feet gently. It was a wobbly process. Once upright, Percy leaned his weight onto his right leg.

And almost fell again.

Luckily Bob caught him. Percy's face was now deathly white, making the bruises and cuts stand out dramatically. His chest burned in pain, every breath like inhaling glass particles. Percy crumpled again. While Bob had seemed to have healed the burning on his back and the throbbing in his head, his leg and chest blinded him with pain still.

"I will carry you." Bob decided as Percy's face shook and he curled his hands up into fists to stop them from jerking.

"No, I'm fine, I..." Percy crumpled again, "...yeah, okay."

Percy was too tired to feel embarrassed as Bob swept him up, hooking his large arms under Percy's knees and back. His leg jutted out, strapped tightly to the branch. The rocking motion was soporific; Percy began to feel his eyes close. Or perhaps it was the blood loss. The last thing he heard was:

"I know someone who can help..."

Notes:

Being able to reply to every comment individually is so cool, I feel as if I can finally answer everyone

Chapter 7: Jason I

Summary:

Chiron's head lifted, searching behind them.

"Where's Percy?" he asked.

Notes:

So I haven't edited from chapters 26- like 55, and I've put myself on a mean schedule to update this, and I refuse to post unedited chapters, so,,, catch me grinding to edit

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Jason I

Jason landed on the decking of the ship lightly.

He had been flying ahead on and off for a couple of days now, zooming through the cool air with the wind whipping through his hair. He'd then come back and tell his friends how much further they had to stay in the ship. It was a nice ship, Jason didn't want to be misunderstood, but after nearly a week of solid flying? Cabin fever alert. Cabin fever to the max.

"Jason?" Piper's voice carried over from a little while away.

"Here!" he called, sticking his hand out around the corner and waving it for her to see.

It nearly hit Piper in the face, as she was closer than he realised, and she slapped his arm away, the various braids in her hair swinging.

"Funny. Now how far are we from Camp?"

"Not far at all, a couple more hours max and we'll be there." he told her, smiling at her as the most genuine grin he'd seen on the boat since Rome broke out across her face.

Piper visibly relaxed.

"Oh thank the Gods. I'll iris message Reyna to convince her to get herself over here. Last I heard she was just a few states over. She could get here in a few hours on her Pegasus. I think a little charmspeak will calm her down to be ready for the… well, thenews. You go tell everyone that we're almost home."

Yes ma'am." Jason nodded, enjoying the eye roll his girlfriend gave him.

"We're almost home." he heard her mumble as he turned away.

He started off with Leo; it wasn't as if he was hard to find.

Follow the smoke.

Jason coughed as he stuck his head into the dark torch-lit engine section of the ship, the underbelly of the vessel.

It was hard to see Leo, the room absolutely crammed with metal cannisters, pipes, tools, even a few household boilers dotted about, steam coming out of various holes, making the room intensely hot, droplets of water running down the metal panelled walls. Beneath one that was leaking steam copiously, Jason saw some skinny legs sticking out. He knelt down, patting Leo's knees.

The was a crash that sounded very much like a head hitting metal, and a loud curse. Jason winced. Leo rolled out, the black curls of his hair shooting out wildly in every direction.

"Are you trying to set fire to the ship?" Jason asked, gesturing around him, at the smoke that obscured the ceiling.

"Not anymore," Leo said, wiping his oily brow with what looked like an even oilier rag, "Though it would make a pretty cool defence. What do you want, Sparky?"

"Just going around letting people know that we're almost at Camp Half Blood. Four-ish hours, give or take. Will the ship hold up until we arrive?"

"Should do." Leo rubbed his near black hands on his jeans, and stood up, kicking the rolling board underneath the boiler. "I'll get the rest of my cabin working on it when we land."

"That sounds good. Do you know where Hazel and Frank are?" Jason asked.

"Yeah, they're in the games room, I'll go tell 'em. You get Death Breath and Annabeth." Leo said before adding with wide eyes, "I'm a poet and I didn't know it."

"I've got them, Shakespeare." Jason smiled gently and shook his head, on his way to Annabeth.

She was in- Jason paused a little- Percy's room, and had practically hidden herself away for the entire duration of their trip back. Researching, she said. They had supported her as best they could for the trip, but there was very little reassurance they could give beyond 'Percy can hold his own'. And that in itself always raised the same unspoken question- for how long? He stopped outside the door. If it was Piper down there…he understood how she felt. Or he understood how she would feel. Piper was very capable; her Charmspeak was powerful enough to stop monsters in their tracks and she was getting better and better with her knife every day. But all it would take would be one monster in the right place and the right time and he would lose her. He wouldn't even be able to get her body back. Percy may have been going through literal hell, but Annabeth's mind was right down there with him. He just wanted to help her where he couldn't help Percy.

They all did.

Jason softly rapped his knuckles against the door, and a muffled 'come in' answered him.

He pushed the door open; Annabeth was sat on Percy's still unmade bed, nestled in the blue duvet. Her hair was pulled back in a frizzy ponytail. Red shadows lined her eyes. Surprisingly, Nico sat on a chair in the corner. They seemed to have been talking and he hoped he wasn't interrupting.

Jason took a quick moment to look around Percy's room, having never been in there before. It was exactly the same layout as his, only a little messier. The smell of sea salt was strong, on the little seashells all on the windowsill, on the dirty clothes pushed into a corner, on the picture frames crammed onto Percy's nightstand. He could see Annabeth in a lot of them, along with pictures of a kind-faced woman Jason presumed to be Percy's mum, a bunch of demigods in orange t-shirts waving a flag, and oddly, Percy in-between a grinning cyclops and a satyr munching on a can. He presumed that Annabeth had brought them onto the boat in the first place, holding onto them while she searched for him.

"Nico!" Jason said, refocusing. "I was just looking for you too. We're almost at Camp, four hours, give or take."

His exclamation raised some weary smiles from the two teenagers. Jason tilted his head and leant on the door. He knew that they missed Percy, for Hades' sake, they all did. Though Jason resented the underlying rivalry he felt they always seemed to have, he chose to focus on the good feelings they had, like when they used their combined powers to take down an enemy, lightning coursing through tidal waves. In those moments, it wasn't about who was stronger, but about how strong they were together. He knew being a Big Three kid wasn't easy, for any of them. They always seemed to be in trouble one way or another.

Percy had just drawn the short straw this time.

He thought he'd grown to know Percy pretty well, what with being in a confined space with him for Gods know how long on a potentially- probably fatal quest, and looking at the two withdrawn demigods in front of him, he knew Percy wouldn't want them to be sulking about. He certainly would not want Annabeth locking herself away to study and barely talk to anyone.

"Come up and have a lunch picnic with us." he said to them firmly. "Frank and Hazel made Chinese..." he trailed off temptingly before ducking his head, "…with a little help from Piper's cornucopia, of course. But it's warm, good, and we need to be in the best health when we arrive. Ready?"

Annabeth and Nico exchanged a look, nodded, and stood up, tiredly following a relieved Jason onto the deck. Jason had actually planned this out with the others; Hazel had found a blanket in the one of the cupboards of the ship, and they had laid out all the food on it. Annabeth's eyes brightened when she saw the rest sitting down, waiting. Even better, the sun had just come out. Ideal weather. It was almost perfect.

They laughed through lunch: whenever the conversation dimmed, or someone brought up Percy and the mood went sour, someone would quickly start a new topic, as to never leave any of them alone with their thoughts. It was easier to laugh when they were all together.

"I've got a little surprise for everyone." Leo sat up, grinning brilliantly. "Through my awesome powers of reasoning-"

Jason snorted.

"Hey," Leo protested. "Anyway, we don't use electric stuff or games much, do we? 'Cause monsters are drawn to them. You know, like flies to Frank's pants."

Frank shook his head, arm round Hazel. Jason watched out of the corner of his eye as Coach Hedge turned his head towards them. Frank shrugged his bear like shoulders, and Coach Hedge put his hand on his bat.

Leo carried on. "But, we're in the middle of the sea, right? Not many will be able to find or reach us."

"Kelli found us, with her friends." Annabeth said.

"Yeah, but they werelookingfor us." Leo said, snapping his fingers like he always did when was in his, as Piper put it, 'little boy at show and tell' mode.

"Most monsters are looking for us." Annabeth replied, though a smile was appearing.

"Well, stuff them. I got a video game set up!"

Planting his feet in one place, Leo whipped off a sheet that had been draped over a large object.

It was indeed a TV, albeit a little dented, but it was accompanied with a console and several controllers. The antennae was kinked and bent, half celestial bronze, but it seemed to work. The screen was grainy and jumpy yet visible. Piper whooped and clambered over them, plonking herself down straight in front of the TV. They all ended up playing a war game. The irony was not lost on Jason.

"Alright," he said, his tongue between his teeth as his elbows tilted from side to side, holding on to the controller like a steering wheel, "There's a bomb on my left, watch out-"

"Argh!" shouted Leo, bouncing up and down where he was sat. "I blew up!"

"Leo, careful!" Annabeth said. "You're jogging me, and I'm in the perfect position right now."

"Does anyone have a rocket launcher?" asked Piper.

"I found one in a secret tunnel." replied Frank.

"You did not, I showed you where that was!" Leo sad indignantly.

"Only because you followed me, Leo." Hazel said, her fingers slipping on the unfamiliar buttons.

Nico leant over, helpfully whispering tips to his sister, while simultaneously throwing grenades from out the shadows. More than once, did Jason have to grab Leo by the collar to stop him from pouncing on Nico after he kept killing him.

It was only when Jason had been stealthily blown up by Annabeth for the fifth time, that he looked up with a sigh. The shore of Camp Half Blood loomed in the distance, some tiny figures sword fighting with what looked like matchsticks.

"Oh, guys, we're here, we're here!" Jason put down his controller, slapping Frank on the shoulder.

Most scrambled up straight away. Leo paused for a few seconds to save their place in the game. They all came to stand on the prow, and Jason wrapped his arms around Piper's waist. He couldn't wait to get off the boat. There was cabin fever, and then there was literal cabin fever. They would only be here for a few days maximum then set off again, but he would treasure those days.

He needed to be there right now.

Tightening his hold on Piper, Jason was off the ship before Leo even reached the Wii nunchucks to prepare for their descent.

They landed on all fours on the beach, Jason digging his fingers into the sand. Fiery, soft grainy sand after weeks of creaky wooden boards!

Jason tried to make a sand angel.

Piper smirked as she swept burning sand off of his back a few seconds later, and for a second, Jason felt his age.

"It's your own fault!" she chided, but humour danced in her eyes.

"I didn't expect it to be so hot." Jason explained.

"Don't call your girlfriend'it', Grace." Leo whispered as he walked by, heading towards the Big house.

Jason leant and smacked him on the back of the head.

Campers cheered when they saw them, emerging from the trees and cabins, and followed them, shaking their hands and asking questions loudly. They tried to answer as best they could. Jason noticed Annabeth scowl and cross her arms, and he tried to move the group along faster. They just needed to get to the Big House. He breathed a sigh of relief when Chiron appeared to greet them, as every demigod fell quiet to hear what they had to say.

"Demigods, you have returned!" Chiron greeted them in relief, "Was your quest achieved?"

"Sort of, yeah." Jason said. "We have the Athena Parthenon on the ship, and the Roman Praetor, Reyna, is on the way."

"That is good news!" Chiron exclaimed as the cabins whooped, high fiving and cheering, and Jason smiled a little; Greeks never changed. Always emotional, never restrained.

Chiron's head lifted, searching behind them.

"Where's Percy?" he asked.

Ah. Jason winced.

No-one answered.

The demigods around them got quieter until it was silent, each of them craning to see.

Annabeth bit her lip.

The noise of breaking branches above them saved the hassle of replying, as Reyna descended regally on her Pegasus. She hopped off and, after Jason greeted her (and explained who she was to the other campers) dusted off her armour.

"You have the Parthenon?" she asked, straight down to business.

They all made vague gestures to the ship.

" Good. I will call in our people under the grounds of a truce." she said, nodding in a satisfied way. "You seven will be ambassadors, I presume. Or nine," she added, glancing at Nico and Coach Hedge, before frowning. "No, eight. Who's missing? Where's Percy?"

"Let's go into the meeting room," Jason heard Annabeth speak up quickly from the back, "There's- a lot that's happened."

Along with Reyna, the Cabin Heads and Chiron, they set off to the big house, leaving a crowd of confused and worried demigods behind.

What was going to happen now?

Would the Athena Parthenon unite the Camps and therefore the Gods?

And where exactly was Percy?

Notes:

XX LOVE YALL

Chapter 8: Percy V

Summary:

The Giant surprised him with a wry smile.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Percy V

With a jolt, Percy's eyes snapped open.

His nose was instantly assaulted by the hot stench of meat and blood. Percy scrambled to sit up on the strange flat bed he found himself on, a thick material connecting two poles together about a foot off the ground. Percy hissed, wincing as burning pain tore across his body, and he looked down, preparing himself mentally for the worst, but blinked instead. He couldn't even see the wound; his torso had some ragged brown material wrapped tightly around the Minotaur injury, blocking it off. It smelled like his mother's herb rack. His eyes wandered further, noting his leg was still strapped to the tree branch. It was straightened out, his bones no longer visible, but it still felt like it was on an awkward angle.

Where was he?

He looked around with a brow furrowed in confusion. He was in some kind of-hut?- Percy guessed. It was pretty dark, just a few candle type creations in the corners here and there, burning quietly and providing a soft light. There seemed to be a collection of junk hanging from the brown canvas ceiling, that hung low, supported by odd white beams, like a crowded garage. There were hooks embedded into a few of the off beams. On them, drawstring bags hung, some oozing some kind of liquid that spread across the bottom. An assortment of weapons lay in the corner, some driven through the canvas walls like sewing needles. There was a chair in the corner that looked twice as tall as him.

Was he hallucinating? He ran a hand over his sweaty brow; as nice as it was in there (for Tartarus, anyway), it was in no way cooler. He breathed in the stuffy, meaty air and gave himself a beat or two to try and match up his memories while he had some time to himself. As far as he could tell, he was alone.

Which was why he jumped as a large hand fell on the bed to the left of him.

Percy looked up, tired eyes squinting.

A Giant towered over him.

"Woah!" he exclaimed, pushing himself backwards, his free leg trying to gain traction to propel his body away.

Percy's hand flung itself out to search for his sword, his arms going up defensively. He swore. No part of his sword came into contact with his hands, yet he refused to turn his head to look, not giving the Giant even more of the advantage to attack.

The red-haired Giant observed him, and Percy got the same feeling he got whenever a teacher would cross their arms at the front of the class and say 'I'll wait'.

"Your weapon is on the table by your foot." The Giant told Percy, who blinked. "It is next to some medicine that will dull the pain. If you're done reopening your wounds, that is."

Percy halted his attempts to get away. He made a noise of protest at the whole situation, a very mature and thought-out, "Eghhh?"

The Giant raised a furry eyebrow.

"I'm sorry,what?" Percy asked, genuinely confused.

The Giant sighed, sitting on a wide stool next to the bed, that looked like it could support Percy's entire cohort on it. He was a red-skinned giant with flowers in his rust-coloured braids, a jerkin of green leather around him. Percy had never seen him before.

"I am Damasen." The Giant said evenly. "Iapetus brought you to me, convinced me to treat you, reckless and fallen child of Poseidon."

Percy felt like he'd had the mother of all concussions. And he knew concussions well. "But- but you're agiant!" he pointed out, "Big bad son of Gaia? One of the 'Crush-Demigods-First-Ask-Questions-Later' guys? Why haven't you killed me?"

"Do youwantme to kill you?" Damasen raised his eyebrows at Percy.

"Uh- no?" Percy hastened to answer properly, "No! No, I'd really rather you didn't." Percy glanced around for any sign of the amnesiac titan, hands still clenching the sides of his flat bed just in case it was a trap, ready to shove himself up at the drop of a hat.

"Then I won't." Damasen said simply. "I'm not like my brothers."

"I got that." Percy nodded, gesturing to his dressed wounds. "Thanks?"

"You are welcome."

"So- what- what's your deal?" Percy tried to phrase it tactfully and winced as it definitely did not come out that way. "I mean- why are you... non-homicidal?"

Damasen sighed. "We Giants were made to oppose the Gods, as I'm sure you know. For example, Polybotes is-"

"The anti-Poseidon." Percy finished, nodding slowly. "Then who are you meant to fight?"

"I am the anti-Ares." Damasen told him, and Percy nodded, a dim understanding forming in his head.

"So you're his opposite. So you're not a douche."

The Giant surprised him with a wry smile. "Indeed. Unfortunately, it does not bode well to be this way. While he is anger and war, I am born to oppose all that. For this, I was deemed too soft, too...peacefulby my mother and father. I wasremovedfrom the family lineage. Cast down here. This is my refuge," he said, gesturing around his hut, "and it is also my curse."

"Curse?" Percy asked.

A loud roar outside made Percy's head snap in that direction. Damasen just sighed deeply, placing some dried plant in a bowl above a candle, a thick scent emitting from them. He rummaged in some kind of pouch-like indent in the wall and pulled out two weapons. He handed Percy a sharp pale sword, black cracks curving up the sides that arched to a lethal point.

"A sword made from the bone of a Drakon." he explained, "I cannot leave you unarmed to walk to your death, and that pitiful thing you call a sword wasn't sharp enough to slice bread. I have taken the liberty to sharpen it, so be careful. Now sit still and stay quiet. You cannot fight in your state. I will be back soon."

"Where are you going?" Percy asked, a sudden fatigue flowing over him as his fight or flight impulses waned, his body unconsciously relaxing as Damasen spoke.

Damasen didn't answer his question, he just held the other weapon, a long brown lance, in his hand. "Is there any reason why a Titan is helping you?" he asked instead. "Though I would like to see it, I cannot imagine the world topside has become this progressive."

"The Lethe." Percy explained, his eyes growing heavy, and a yawn broke out of him. Those herbs Damasen had burned- they were making the air all heavy around his head. "Don't call Iapetus 'Iapetus'. You have to call him Bob. You can't let him know... you can't... you..."

The Giant hesitantly nodded before leaving. Percy let his eyes droop, hand grasping the handle of the sword for reassurance, tucking it in beside him in the bed. It was a reasonably comfy bed; the furs behind him felt soft. It was a lot better than sleeping on the ground. The handful of tense naps he'd taken with Bob watching out for him had been anything but snug. The spiky stones had stabbed and burned at his bare skin as he laid curled up on them, one hand on his sword, the other resting on his neck to protect it. He buried his head in the furs contently before he let himself finally drift off.

When he woke again, Bob was back.

He was chatting to the Giant as if nothing was amiss opposite him. Like it was the most normal thing in the world. Percy groaned groggily but did not try to sit up again. That just hurt way too much last time. And yet, he realised with a grin, the pain was somewhat diminished. After glancing down to check, Percy saw that the medicine was gone, his wound re-bandaged with just a plain strip of clean (as clean as anything could be down here) fabric. Was that his shirt? Upon hearing him, Bob rushed to his side, knocking a few things off in his path. Damasen sighed, cleaning up after the excitable Titan.

"Percy, you are feeling all better now?" Bob said, hovering by his bedside.

"Er- sorta. Feeling a lot better." Percy replied, catching Damasen's eye, who nodded in recognition, before frowning.

"Then I regret to inform you that I need to set your leg in the right place. It's still misaligned." Damasen walked over to the other side of the bed. "This may hurt. A lot."

Percy winced at the thought and gripped the underside of the wooden bed frame to brace himself. He hated fixing bones. And that was when he had nectar and ambrosia and Will Solace on hand. Now? He had a giant and very unsanitary living conditions. Damasen gingerly unwrapped his leg, Percy wincing with every brush of his fingers. Once the stick and socks were removed, he placed his cool hands on Percy's ankle and knee.

"Ready?" he asked.

Percy clenched his teeth hard enough to shatter them. Absolutely not. He nodded once.

"On three," Damasen said, "One,two-"

He quickly pulled, and, unprepared, Percy gasped, sucking in air straight to his lungs. Damasen twisted, and, with a quiet crunch, Percy's leg finally went back into place. Percy groaned loudly, drawn out through gritted teeth as his head went light and black fuzzy dots swarmed his vision.

Damasen took the advantage and quickly put back the dressings. Percy barely felt it being strapped and wrapped up again, the jolting of his bones enough to put him out of it for a few minutes, his fingers flexing and jerking under the bed as he held onto the frame with a white-knuckle grip. Damasen talked to him to keep him awake. Percy wasn't sure why, but he was grateful. Though he felt a lot safer there in the hut than outside, he was learning quickly (and painfully) to not let down his guard, to not stop watching his own back, not even for a second.

"The medicine I make can ease the pain and reduce the bleeding, but I fear the leg will not heal right, even after being set." Damasen told him gravely. "The damage is too extensive."

"Bob." Percy blinked, trying to dimly pat the Titan next to him, his fingers feeling strange after holding on so tightly. "I need water from the Ph- the Phl- the fire river. That'll heal me better and the air won't get to me."

"You drank some on the way here, don't you remember? The bottle is full. It's over there." Bob stated proudly.

Percy did in fact not remember, but got handed the bottle regardless. He grimaced as he raised it to his lips. After a few swigs, he could take it no longer and coughed, heaving in wracking breaths. Gods, that was just gross. There was no excuse for that to taste like that. He closed his eyes and concentrated, feeling the hot liquid travelling down his body, branching off into his limbs like it had a mind of its own. Once it melded with his blood, it became a hot mixture, slightly watery, and Percy embraced the feeling, really thinking about how it felt. He focused on the warmth, and drew attention to his leg and it relocated, shooting to his leg until it was swarmed with the water and on the verge of uncomfortably hot.

He breathed out slowly as he felt the muscles in his leg ripple, like they were trying to correct the damage. Damasen was giving him a strange look. Bob was fiddling with some kind of pot hanging from the ceiling.

"How did your leg come to be like this?" Damasen said after a while.

"Loads of Arai cursed me. I didn't know what they could do, so I just killed them, that's how I got this at the start," he said, gesturing to his stained chest, "At the end, there were some others and I just killed them all. One of them gave me the leg, one was my back, my ear, some other stuff and the other..." Percy paused and frowned. "I don't actually know what one of them did, nothing showed up."

"There isanothercurse?" Damasen asked sharply.

"Yeah, but I don't think it worked." Percy said.

"The curse of an Arai is not to be underestimated." Damasen told him seriously, his eyes grave and worried. "If you still have another curse... It doesn't just have to be physical. It could be bad luck, the loss of a loved one, the inability to find something necessary. You must watch yourself, child."

Percy grimaced. He didn't think they could do that. He bit his lip and decided to change the subject.

"Is the river Styx close to here?" Percy asked, too tired to search it out with his powers, still healing his leg from the inside.

"Yes, it isn't too far away." Damasen gestured vaguely with his hand. "I'd say it won't take long to reach, though in your condition, maybe slightly longer."

"I'm leaving now." Percy said, gauging the giant's reaction.

He sighed.

"I thought you would say that, as it is a foolish decision. You can barely walk." The Giant shook his head. "Demigods do make such awful decisions."

"Believe me, I know.'' Percy said with a snort, gesturing around to his current situation. "I'm supposed to be on a quest to save the world right now, and instead I'm in Tartarus, with a broken leg and a stab wound surrounded by giants and titans."

Damasen raised his eyebrows, humour in his eyes. Percy moved a leg off the bed to try to get up. "You coming?" Percy asked, easing his other leg over the side with both hands, careful not to disturb it. It nudged the side of a table and Percy screwed his eyes shut as fire raced through the shattered bone.

"Oh, no. I cannot. I told you once before, it is a curse to stay here. A punishment. Every day, I must fight the Maeonian Drakon. It slew one of my friends many years ago, and I took revenge. Mother did not like that, and my actions cursed me down here. This house," Damasen gestured around him, "is made of it's very skin and bones. If I do not fight it, and kill it, then it could go up to the mortal world and wreak havoc. I cannot allow that. It is my responsibility."

Percy cringed at the thought of the house being made of a Drakon, warily looking at the brown walls. Even more so when Damasen presented several steaks in a bag for Bob to carry. He didn't ask what they were made of. He did not want to know. Before this, Bob had brought random bits of food from places Percy didn't question, an apple, a bag of M&Ms, a jacket potato. Though his mind fought the Drakon steaks, his stomach growled loud enough to rival the strongest Titan.

Damasen nodded grimly to them in support as they walked out the tall doorway, Bob helping Percy limp.

Percy held a weapon in each hand, his poorly sculpted bronze sword in one hand, the Drakon bone sword in the other. Damasen had let him keep it as a gift, along with sharpening Bob's broom spear thing. Ready to hit the town.

A furious howl reverberated to the left of them, just behind a rocky outcrop.

"Hurry!" Damasen urged. "It's back! It might go for you instead. It'smyresponsibility. Go!"

Percy and Bob hurried away as best they could away from the hut, though Percy glanced back a few times. He couldn't help but slow down and watch. A large drakon, larger than he'd ever seen, slithered over the jagged hill. It spread its frilled collar and hissed, shifting its hundred-foot-long body to flick its dappled green tail and smash a large pile of rocks to smithereens. There was an intelligence in its eyes.

Damasen stood, weary yet fearsome. He may have been peaceful, but Percy was forcefully reminded that Damasen was a Giant. He was not to be messed with. Damasen leapt into battle, stabbing and shoving the Drakon with the familiarity of time reflected in their moves against each other. Percy and Bob had come to a stop, and watched.

In a split second, everything changed.

Damasen glanced out the corner of his eye, seeing that they were still there.

Distracted.

The Drakon pounced, pinning Damasen to the floor, snapping at the Giant, who only had one arm available to block. Damasen roared, slamming a thick hand into it again and again, but it wasn't moving.

Percy limped as quickly as he could back towards their new friend, leg tripping and buckling as he ran. He gritted his teeth. Bob thundered alongside him.

"No! Stay back!" Damasen shouted, swiping at the Drakon which was hissing in his face. "I can handle it!"

Percy ignored him and, lifting his sword, slashed the oblivious Drakon in the side. It screeched and turned to fling itself on Percy but it was quickly knocked off it's feet. The Drakon was flung across the ground like a rag doll as Bob sucker-punched it.

"I told you, I had it. I've been doing this since before you were born, sea spawn." Damasen growled as he sat up before he relented. "But thank you."

"No problem." Percy panted. His leg felt like it was trapped in one of those crunching machines that turn cars into cubes. "I'm fine." He said, more to himself, straightening up, secretly resting all his weight on the titan next to him.

"It isn't dead." Damasen said hoarsely, standing up.

He was right; the Drakon was shaking it's head, getting all bearings back, serpentine eyes fixating on them.

"I must kill it again." Damasen said shortly.

"Will you be in this loop forever?" Percy asked.

"It is the fates' plan." The giant stated glumly.

"So break it! What happens if you don't fight the Drakon?" Percy asked with increasing force as the beast staggered towards them.

"It kills me, then you, then Bob, and goes up to the mortal world." Damasen said, placing his foot backwards to prepare for the onslaught.

"Well, yeah, that's not ideal, but there's gotta be another option. Can't you just... I don't know,tameit?" Percy suggested quickly.

"Friends." Bob murmured behind him.

"It will not listen. This is revenge on me for killing it so many times." Damasen said, resigned, "And it will not understand, all it knows is death. I could try, but it may not work."

The Drakon, shaking off the blow, started charging towards them. Percy raised a hand, trying to freeze it in its tracks. It stumbled a little, but it was too large, too fast. Percy pulled harder, stronger than he'd ever tried. If he didn't do this, it would hurt his friends. The Drakon crashed to the ground. Percy felt victory for a split second before it roared, pushing back up instantly. Percy panicked, his grip fading, the Drakon's body pumping with such raw strength. He brought his sword back to swing-

Damasen swept in front of him, arms wide.

"Stop!" he bellowed.

As if surprised by the bold move, the Drakon came to a complete halt.

Damasen stamped his clawed foot to the floor, causing several small landslides of spiky rock nearby.

"You will stop this now!" he bellowed. "He is right! For too long we have fought! Enough is enough!" Damasen reached out a hand, and grabbed the Drakon's frilled head, pulling both it and himself to the ground with an almighty crash. "I am sorry for striking you down! I am sorry we are both here! I lashed out in revenge and was wrong to do so! I am sorry!"

It snapped its jaws upwards, trying to bite him, but Damasen held on, keeping it in a kind of headlock, his other hand now coming up to gently rest on the side of its snout.

"Enough." he repeated in a lower voice, more softly, the way he talked to Percy and Bob.

The Drakon wriggled and screamed for a long time. Percy held his breath, using all of his shaky power to fuse the beast to the floor, just in case it tried anything. Damasen talked to the beast during this time, in quiet tones. He spoke of ancient times, of battles averted by truces, of futures yet unknown. Percy let himself be lulled by the words. There was a magic in the air about them... the dark around them seemed to flicker. Percy felt a little stronger, a bit more hopeful.

Eventually, the Drakon calmed down. It stopped twisting. It even looked a bit confused, eyes clearing and focusing.

"The curse..." Damasen spoke in a quiet voice. "It has broken. I can no longer feel such years of hatred between us. The fates have delivered me a new path."

"What is it now?" Percy asked, hopping a little to hold on tighter to Bob.

Damasen smiled before grabbing the Drakon. He swung round as it reared up. With a little pulling and some help from Percy, he mounted it, whipping a length of leather around the Drakon like the reins of a horse, a new persona taking over his face.

"I will assist you in the war against my mother, fallen child of Poseidon! I will get you through this land! I will take you to the doors, and fight all those in our way!" he exclaimed victoriously, "We will escape Tartarus! Together, we will be free!"

Percy beamed.

Chapter 9: Percy VI

Summary:

"Uh. Damasen, what is-?" Percy gestured, confused, but when he looked back, both of them were firmly fixated on it too.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Percy VI

Percy shifted to lie on his back, easing the pressure off of his chest wound that had accumulated after sitting upright for so long. They'd been on their little march for days now. His leg was still twinging furiously and his trouser leg was a mess of blood, but at least now he could feel it doing some serious healing. They had soaked some bandages in the Phlegthon, and while it burned like Hades, it seemed to heal deep into his skin when left on for extended periods of time. The limb ached with an incessant gnawing he had grown to recognise as the bone slowly fusing back together.

Well, at least he wasn't walking on it.

Percy stared up into the dark abyss, smirking at the blood-red fog.

He absolutely could not wait to tell his friends.

The Maeonian Drakon was surprisingly comfortable- its skin was like a battered leather handbag. Considering what Damasen's bed was made of, Percy could feel the similarities, and that made him wrinkle his nose a little. He put his hands behind his head as the Drakon carried him forward. Bob and Damasen walked steadily on either side. The motion of swaying from side to side was similar to that of a La-Z Boy.

Most monsters kept their distance; not many would be stupid enough to attack a group that consisted of a Giant, a Drakon, a Titan and the infamous son of a 'Big Three' God.

But, Percy reminded himself gently, some really werethatstupid.

Percy's head shot up as a small group of cyclopes, low on the hierarchy, decided to try their chances. They leapt at them from behind rocks, roaring a battle cry, running headlong at them with weapons raised in the air. Because, to be fair to them, their group, though ostensibly intimidating, were slightly easier to take than perceived. The Giant was a pacifist, the Titan an amnesiac, the Drakon newly tamed, and the demigod gravely injured.

Percy pushed himself up on his elbows. Next to him, Bob braced himself and gripped his broom tightly. The look in his silver eyes was a little unnerving.

The first cyclops was instantly vapourised with a bite from the Drakon. But Percy wasn't prepared, and it jolted Percy as it shot forward. Everything shifting out from under him, Percy rolled backwards, head over heels. He fell off, and slammed into the ground with a howl. All the air in his lungs knocked out of him, Percy found he could barely move. He cursed the Arai in his head, then wondered; if an Arai killed another Arai, would it receive his curse? He cursed them again, just to be sure. See how they liked a mangled leg. Bob was too busy fighting the largest cyclops to help but Damasen was by him in a flash, helping him to his feet and standing back to back with him.

Percy unsheathed his swords and let his senses flow out of him, searching for liquid around him. He focused on the two cyclopes barrelling towards them. With a shaky flick of his wrist to focus the direction, he swept their legs out from under them, like they were caught in the backwash of a wave. A small smile made its way onto his pale face.

He was gettinggoodat this.

They were all too big for him to vapourise, but slow and lumbering enough for him to control. He held their thick blood tightly in his fist. Percy kept them pinned until Damasen finished them off, both breathing heavily once they were gone. The Drakon snapped one around the waist with a screech, gold dust glittering through its long fangs. There was only one left, and Bob took a stance for his finishing blow.

The- completely sane, of course- cyclops began to laugh.

Percy limped over as Bob froze, looking bewildered. You and me both, buddy, thought Percy with an uncertain smile.

"You can stop me, and you can stop the others, but you are no match for her!" The cyclops burbled, eye closed. "Oh, you're all gonna die! She wants that demigod dead," It said, nodding at Percy, who gripped his sword tighter as it continued, "And she is down here looking for you! Finally, she is back! We all have orders to capture you, sea scum. You and your little friends will never see the light of day again!Neve- uh!"

Percy stabbed it in the chest.

"Yeah, none of that." he said, shaking gold dust off the blade.

"Who is coming?" asked Bob fearfully.

"Well, I was going to ask untilsomebodygot impatient." Damasen sighed.

"Hey! We already know everyone is trying to kill us, there's nothing new there. I just didn't want to listen to it monologue." Percy said, sounding braver than he felt.

"But a 'she' is looking for us." Damasen hooked his hands under Percy's arms and lifted him gently back onto the Drakon, sweat drenching the demigod's forehead from both the heat of the place and overexertion. He peered at Percy's wounds and bandages, eventually backing off once he had deemed them to be acceptable.

"I know," Percy groaned. "I know." He breathed a shuddering gasp before trying to regulate his panting. "But," he continued. "There are a lot of 'she's out there. Take your pick. I can think of one right off the bat. Gaia?"

But Damasen disagreed. "No." said Damasen. "It said that she's downhere. Gaia is too preoccupied on the surface, and if she needed something, she would most likely just send someone. This 'she', it would seem."

"Who would Gaia send?" Percy asked. "A 'she'." He mused.

His first thought was Kelli, but there was no way a cyclops would big up her like that. And Gaia certainly wouldn't bother with her. No, it had to be someone powerful. Like, Medusa? No, she was still reforming, or at least he thought she was. There was actually a good chance she could have reformed, he thought with a frown, lying backwards again on the Drakon. He winced when he felt the Drakon's knobbly spine dig into the fresh bruises on his back. Medusa coming back was not a good thing. He'd have to keep an eye out for her if she was down here.

Well. Or not.

Percy was about to add some more to the conversation, his mind vaguely cycling through all the monsters that wanted him dead (it was a long list), but the Drakon was just too comfy... And wasn't that just Top Ten Things he thought he'd never say. It helped having the safety of having others around him- when would he have this kind of protection again? If they were attacked, he at least knew he wouldn't die straight away. Percy let his eyes slide shut, his body going weightless and oblivious.

...

"-ake a drink."

A burning flowed over Percy's face and he shouted out in surprise. His hands automatically went for his swords, but a coughing fit took him off guard before he could strike anything in front of him. He turned and slid off the side of the Drakon, falling to his knees to cough and wheeze. He nearly brained himself as he brought up his weapon-filled hands to cover his mouth.

"Bob!" Percy spluttered, catching sight of the Titan walking towards him.

Bob held up their water bottle, the fiery liquid swirling within. The plastic was looking a little blackened, and Percy gently pushed the water away from the edges, so the water was more kind of floating in the bottle. Why was Bob holding it?

Bob gestured to his body. Percy noted the blood and blisters covering his hands.

"Oh." Percy swore. Was it bad he'd forgotten about that?

He took the bottle to drink reluctantly, but he couldn't help gagging, and his eyes watered.

"Maybe we should stop." Bob suggested worriedly.

"No!" Percy gasped, feeling the water flow into his blistered hands "No. We just need to get to the river."

"The river will always be there, be it five minutes or five years from now. Sit. Rest." Damasen insisted.

"Ijustslept!" Percy defended.

"And yet you are still tired, are you not? Child, you may be half God but you are still half human. Your mere essence rejects being down here. Lie back." Damasen told him firmly. "We will watch over you."

Damasen helped him limp over to the Drakon, and he pressed his back onto the side of the beast to catch his breath before he was lifted back on.

"Maybe don't fall off again." Bob mumbled, and Percy glared at him, but couldn't hold back the smile that crept onto his face.

"Shut up." he said without heat.

The Drakon huffed and shifted. Percy furrowed his brow. He glanced behind. There- on the side of the beast's tail was a deep wound, clearly tender to the touch. Percy slowly unhooked the bottle again, and poured a little into the air, holding the churning fire in place. Then he gently eased it onto the wound. The Drakon screeched, stamping its feet, but, as the wound bubbled and healed over, it relaxed. The thin tip of its tail came up and curled around Percy. Percy blinked in surprise. He rested his hand on it and breathed out, giving it a pat.

"Sleep." Damasen said as they began to move again.

He didn't sleep.

Instead, he lay awake on the Drakon's back, and tried to plan out how things were going to go down. If he was honest with himself, the best plan he could come up with was to just get the Curse, then improvise.

Why did all his plans include improvising? Was it technically a plan if it was improvised?

He guessed if something went wrong, it wouldn't do anything to him if he had the Curse of Achilles. Probably. And yet, as Percy glanced up at the titan and the giant, he was caught in mental crossfire. So it wouldn't hurt him. But they could get hurt.

They could just respawn though, he reasoned in his head.

But they would still die.

But they wouldn't.

But-

Percy groaned internally- he didn't get paid enough for this. He didn't paid at all, come to think of it. Though it went against who he was, Percy resolved to just focus on himself for the time being, especially in his state.

Percy sat up, biting his lower lip to stifle a moan. The bandages on his chest were soaked through with so much red that he didn't even know what was old red and what was new red. His leg still hurt pretty bad, not yet quite walkable yet, just vaguely staggerable. He clambered on to the front of Drakon so he could see where he was going, patting it fondly on the back. He would need to introduce it to Mrs O'leary.

"Does it have a name?" he asked Damasen, as they started moving again.

Damasen gave him a strange look. "It's the Maeonian drakon. It doesn't have a name."

"She." Bob mumbled. "It's a she."

"I never knew that." Damasen said thoughtfully.

"Maybe the Drakon is the 'she' we're after." Percy snorted, as Damasen patted the beast on the head.

The Drakon snapped at his hand and Percy instinctually leant forward, pressing his hands against the Drakon's neck.

"Whoa, girl." he said, feeling ridiculous after he said it. Though, Percy reasoned in his head, if he could talk to a Hellhound that way, what difference did a Drakon make? There was just... more scales involved.

"Maia." He snapped his fingers. "Maeonian drakon? Her name's Maia."

"You named the drakon?" Damasen asked dryly.

"My Hellhound is called Mrs O'leary." Percy told him without looking at him. He narrowed his eyes.

There was something in the distance. At first, Percy thought it was a rocky outcrop. A rising cliff, perhaps.

"A puppy-" Bob looked around at the mention of Mrs O'Leary.

"Shhh." Percy hushed, squinting.

Whatwasthat in the distance? It couldn't be part of the terrain. It was- alive.

Some kind of fog? Moving towards them rapidly?

"Uh. Damasen, what is-?" Percy gestured, confused, but when he looked back, both of them were firmly fixated on it too.

Damasen and Bob both unhooked their weapons, which screamed a red flag to Percy.

"A little information...?" Percy trailed off.

Beneath him, he heard Maia hiss and rear back. Damasen glanced over to them and reached for the reins, handing a loop to Percy.

"Hold on." he told him grimly.

Percy took the makeshift reins in bloody hands, eyebrows raised. He stared into the distance, now frowning as a low rumbling began to shake the loose stones on the ground around them. An earthquake? Could he hear roaring? Percy threw up his hands in exasperation. He had absolutely no idea what was going... on.

Ah.

Percy leaned back as more and more came into view.

Now he understood.

It wasn't a fog. It was an army. Hundreds upon hundreds of monsters, all charging.

And they were heading straight for them.

Notes:

Last chapter is like 6k in and nowhere close to being done so that's,,, great

Chapter 10: Hazel I

Summary:

"So where's Prissy?" Clarisse asked immediately, as she sat down on the ping pong table, stringy clumps of hair swinging in her face.

Notes:

I live off cheese sandwiches

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Hazel I

"So where's Prissy?" Clarisse asked immediately, as she sat down on the ping pong table, stringy clumps of hair swinging in her face.

All attention turned to an uncomfortable Jason, as Annabeth had made it clear she was in no mood to talk, eyes burning into the floor in cold resolution. She had Piper's hand in a death grip underneath the chair. Not for the first time, Hazel's heart broke for her.

Jason cleared his throat. Hazel would have thought he would be used to being in the spotlight by now, but he never seemed to relax fully.

"First of all, we have the Parthenon, which is the good news." Jason began relatively calmly considering the whole situation before a frown made it onto his face. "But... it didn't exactly go smoothly. When Annabeth was getting the Parthenon, she had to go into Arachne's lair-"

A girl Hazel had been introduced to as Katie Gardner recoiled. "The giant spider?" she asked in horror.

Annabeth nodded, and Malcolm Pace, interim Counsellor of the Athena cabin and apparently fellow arachnophobic, picked his feet up off the floor, suddenly wary. Hazel had never understood the fear of spiders. She'd never had it, not even in New Orleans. Maybe spending so much time in caves and temples had done that to her. She tuned in again as Jason continued.

"But the floor was a bit- um- unstable." He phrased it delicately. "Parts of it caved in and Arachne fell into the gaps. Which we now know led straight into Tartarus."

The mere mention of the name caused a drop in temperature.

Hazel felt the chill go through her very soul, and Frank wrapped his arm around her in a reassuring bear hug. He was warm, and she found herself burrowing into him. Hazel saw an emotion flash through Annabeth's face as she glanced up at them, and instantly felt guilty that Frank could comfort her, where Percy could not do the same to Annabeth. This wasn't fair. Despite Percy being in the deepest part of the underworld, Hazel felt strongly that he and Annabeth should be together, and knew with absolute certainty that Annabeth shared that sentiment. She couldn't help but feel that if Annabeth could join him, she would.

Jason carried on stoically, delivering the news like a report as best he could, like he was a Praetor again. Hazel wondered when he'd take up the mantle again, or if he even would. From the way he was glancing at Piper every now and then, she suspected he might be a little tentative to go straight back into office.

"But parts of Arachne's web was attached to Annabeth's foot, and none of us noticed until she was almost dragged into Tartarus. She came... too close. Percy cut it just in time."

A few people gasped and Annabeth was suddenly under a lot of visual examinations to see if she was alright. She didn't meet anyone's eyes. She clearly did not want to be there anymore. Chiron gripped the arm of his wheelchair. Hazel had heard that there was a whole centaur body under that blanket, and pondered, vaguely sensing the Mist. Maybe he had done it to fit in the room, she thought, looking around; it wasn't like there was a lot of room, especially not for a whole horse.

"So where is Percy now?" Chiron questioned, his eyes closed as if he already knew the answer, and praying to the Gods he was wrong.

Jason looked lost for words and he ran a hand through his blonde hair. His leg began to bounce where he sat. Leo awkwardly cleared his throat next to him, all the demigods zeroing in on him instead for information on the only son of Poseidon.

"The thing is," he began, "When Percy cut the web, he kind of- dived towards Annabeth? It worked but he- he sort of- fell over the edge." Leo winced apologetically.

The room was deathly silent as Jason carried on where Leo had left it. The tension in the room was so thick, Hazel felt like she could cut it with a knife.

"He broke his arm when he fell, but he was holding on to this ledge, so we at least got to talk to him a bit before he had to let go." Jason said shortly.

Another stunned silence met his words. It was a little unnerving to have a room full of ADHD kids all just staring at them with wide eyes without saying anything.

Piper clearly took that as her cue to continue their morbid retelling. "He told us to meet him at the doors of death, on the other side, where he's going to cut the chains to close the doors. There's going to be a lot of monsters there, maybe even Gaia, so we came to unite the camps. Get the Gods back, then go get Percy. Which is why-" Piper gestured to Reyna as she spoke, her voice clear and straightforward. "We have Camp Jupiter's Praetor here."

The cabin leaders stared at all of them in horror. Chiron had closed his eyes. He clenched his hand into a first then relaxed it a few times. Hazel didn't know much about Chiron, or his relationship with Percy, but from the way Annabeth talked about the centaur, he was essentially the closest thing most campers had as a father figure. Looking at him, she could almost feel the sadness and pain of a parent losing a child. She wondered if her own- Hazel shook her head a little as if to clear her thoughts like an etch-a-sketch. She didn't want to think about her mother right now.

The leader of the Apollo cabin who was stood next to Nico, Will, Hazel guessed, having vaguely heard of him, was holding his bow so tightly she thought it would snap.

"What?" Katie looked stunned.

"We tried to get to him but he couldn't hold on, he had to let go. There was this- this gravity- and it was pulling everything down." Piper added sadly.

"Tartarus..." breathed Travis Stoll. "Gods,Percy."

"Isn't it- like- won't he-?" The Dionysus Head Counsellor spoke up hesitantly, Hazel didn't know his name, his eyes flicking between Chiron and Annabeth.

"Percy's the strongest demigod I've ever met." Nico said quietly. "If anyone can close the doors and get out, it's him." He said it so firmly, so certainly, that Hazel found herself nodding.

She agreed. Percy fought like nobody she'd ever known before. Unpredictable, but dependable. Powerful, but gentle. It was hard to imagine him falling in battle, but... there was something about it that made sense, she thought. She couldn't quite picture him dying of natural causes. Percy would never let anything take him without a fight. He wasn't the Roman God that she'd believed him to be at first sight, but he was as close as a demigod could get.

Clarisse stood up. She waved her hands around, a scowl on her face.

"Okay? So stop standing around! We need todosomething. How do we get the gods back? How do we unite the camps?" She directed the questions to Reyna.

"I presume that we just have to show the camps working together, evidenced through this quest and the Parthenon. I sent word back home, everyone should be on their way. They know to come in peace." Reyna said firmly.

Hazel snorted. Half of the legion didn't know the meaning of peace. Especially not with Octavian lurking within the shadows of their army.

"Even Octavian?" Frank asked, plucking her thoughts from her mind.

Reyna turned to her, chin in the air.

"I'm the Praetor of New Rome." she stated in a tone that brook no argument. "He may have strong views but he does not have the authority to command or overthrow me. I will deal with him if I need to."

"When will they arrive?" Chiron asked, looking up for the first time since he heard of Percy's whereabouts, a greyness in his face and weary gaze; it spoke of this not being the first time he had felt this way, though in no way did it look easier. Hazel wondered how many heroes he had lost over the years, then chided herself automatically; Percy wasn't lost. He was just- taking the long way around.

"Some time tomorrow, late afternoon I'd say." Reyna answered him.

Out of the corner of her eye, Hazel noticed Annabeth quietly telling Piper something. The daughter of Aphrodite nodded as Annabeth slipped out the door. Everyone noticed but she didn't seem to care. Hazel turned her head to see Frank looking in the same direction.

"I'm going to go and find her." she whispered to him.

Frank nodded. Hazel stood up and weaved her way around the back of everybody's chairs to follow her friend. The door shut behind her with a small click.

Hazel could see the fading light of the early evening glinting off of Annabeth's golden hair. The daughter of Athena ducked behind a tree to avoid a group of demigods before setting off at a run towards the beach, weaving around unnoticed, something clearly perfected over years of experience. Hazel glanced around at the unfamiliar camp. The cabins seemed a lot more-homely than the cohort barracks. Yet at the same time, her militaristic mind couldn't help but see flaws too. How would those bean bags outside the Mercury (Hermes, she corrected herself) help in defence? What was the lava wall training them to do? The chaos of the Greeks was not something she was used to. She climbed up a rock and slid down it, going under the tree branches, the ground under her feet slowly merging from dirt to sand. The ocean glinted in the distance.

When Hazel caught up with Annabeth, she was sat on a rock, staring out into the sea.

"I just couldn't take everybodylooking at me like that." The older girl swiped furiously at her eyes, as though their mere presence was an insult.

Hazel started, unaware that she had been seen.

"They were just seeing if you're alright." she said. "They care about you. We all do."

"I know." Annabeth snapped before she apologised. "Sorry."

"It's okay." Hazel said mildly, crossing her legs to sit down next to her. The sand would get everywhere, but Hazel knew it was worth it.

"After we won the war with Kronos, everything was supposed to go back to normal." Annabeth closed her eyes. "Percy and I had just started dating officially, and then- thenHera-"She spat the name with startling venom. "-came along and messed it all up. There was a new prophecy and Percy just went missing. It's just- it's notfair."

Hazel could see that Annabeth was close to sobbing. She could see that she was fighting it.

"What do you mean 'dating officially'?" Hazel distracted her.

Annabeth smiled and sniffed.

"We had known each other for about four years at that point, y'know? We grew up together. I couldn't help it two years ago though in Washington, and I kissed him for the first time. He was about to do something really stupid to save me. We didn't know if it would work, if he would survive. And then he blew up a mountain and we didn't acknowledge it again for about a year."

Hazel blinked. Washington, two years ago, eruption? "Wait," she said, holding up a hand, "Not the whole Mt St Helens explosion?"

Annabeth nodded absently.

Hazel went completely blank. She hadn't been resurrected by Nico at that point, but she'd heard other soldiers talking about it. "Wait,what? But- but that was like a massive thing, wasn't it? Thousands of people had to be evacuated. It was like a whole earthquake situation?"

Annabeth nodded again and shrugged. "People always seem to forget that Poseidon is also called the Earthshaker. Percy doesn't like to use it much, he never did it to that level after St Helens."

Hazel blinked. Wow. This was the same Percy that had given her a piggyback across the plaza as she had shrieked with laughter.

"Anyway, but after that, like I said, we were kind of dancing around the whole thing. Then the war ended, and by then the whole camp knew. Knew before me. For a daughter of Athena, I really was oblivious." She laughed a little to herself, a sad laugh, and Hazel smiled.

"They threw us underwater, but Percy being Percy, he created a bubble. Then we started dating until... All this."

Hazel smiled. "That sounds lovely," she said, making Annabeth smile.

"It was," she said, standing up, before her tone suddenly turned spiteful. "And then Hera wiped his memory and left him to the wolves and the monsters for eight months."

"Annabeth?" Hazel asked, startled.

"What can I do?" Annabeth began to pace, almost talking to herself. "There's got to be something. Maybe I can help Leo on the ship, make some new defences that will hold."

Hazel raised her hands in a placating manner.

"Annabeth-"

"No, Hazel, I need to do something, I can't just sit around thinking about this whole thing anymore, I don't want to think!" Annabeth snapped.

"Fight." The words bubbled over and out of Hazel's mouth. "Practise. Make them pay. Wouldn't Percy want you to be ready for the attack?"

Annabeth nodded.

"You're right. Is Clarisse still in the meeting? I'll go find her."

Hazel opened her mouth.

She had meant for Annabeth to train with her, for them to practise together. She missed Percy too and couldn't stop worrying; it would be nice to take her mind off of it. But she guessed that Annabeth would be better off with the daughter of Ares, if she wanted to actually train to be ready.

"The meeting might be over by now, yes." Hazel agreed.

"I'll go find her." Annabeth turned back and looked at her. "Thanks, Hazel." she said softly.

"My pleasure." Hazel smiled warmly as the girl hurried off with determined strides, knife in hand.

Hazel stared at the sea for a little while, thinking about Percy's powers. A bird landed on the branch next to her, making her jump. She blinked before hesitantly petting it on the head. Wait-

"Frank?"

The bird shifted and the baby-faced boy she knew rippled into view.

"Frank!" she scolded him. "You scared me."

"Sorry." He grinned sheepishly as he sat on the sand next to her. "Where's Annabeth?"

"She went to go practise fighting with Clarisse. She really needs to let out some steam."

"That'll be good for her." Frank agreed. "What about you?"

"What about me?" Hazel asked, confused.

"How are you coping? We all miss Percy too."

"I just can't believe he's gone." Hazel burrowed her head into Frank's shoulder.

Frank hugged her firmly. "He's not gone. He'll come back, absolutely fine. He will."

Hazel really wanted to believe him. But from what her brother had told her... She remembered a phrase her mother had told her once- hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

She thought it fit the current situation quite well.

Chapter 11: Percy VII

Summary:

Closer, closer,closer-!

Notes:

Okay i think i messed up the chapter titles, so lemme go fix that real quick. if you see nothing wrong, then fun fact! it actually never happened then xx

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Percy VII

Thundering into battle atop a speeding Drakonsoundedfreaking awesome, but when a few painful and quite life-threatening injuries were thrown into the mix, it lost some of the flair.

"They're definitely afterus!" Damasen yelled over the roars of the army. "They're all looking this way!"

"Why are there so many?" Percy called back. They'd dealt with big groups before, but never this many.

"'She' must have sent them!" Bob replied.

Percy could feel his leg jolting painfully with every stride; he clenched his bloody hands around the reins tightly, the knuckles turning white. The army of monsters was meeting them in the middle of the stretch of the rugged valley. Damasen and Bob were his pillars on either side, fierce entities flying into battle, brothers in arms. Percy was forcibly reminded of who Bob was before- some of Iapetus was shining through, quite glaringly. This would be a bloodbath if he was on his own, he realised grimly. More monsters poured out of caves underground. Had this been a trap? Had they been waiting here, or actively hunting them down? Percy couldn't tell what the pounding in his ears was, their slamming footsteps or his own heartbeat.

Percy got a good look at the ugly opposition as they came closer, the rocks under their feet trembling; monsters of every shape and size were charging their way, crazed eyes focusing on them. Percy was aware of the bounty on his head, the bounty on all of their heads, but what the prize was to inspire this many?

Nerves sizzling like he was about to go bungee jumping without a cord (and hadn't he done that already?), Percy let go of the reins with one hand, and yanked out his bronze sword.

Closer, closer,closer-!

Percy leant to the side and sliced the head off of a monster as the two sides rushed into battle like two colliding tsunamis.

Gods, there were so many of them! The clash of claws and weapons clanged and crashed like screams rising up in the hubbub. Damasen was effortlessly backhanding monsters into dust, covering him on one side. Percy hacked and slashed, Maia grabbing various monsters with her tail and crushing them to death. Bob covered his right side, clouting monsters over the head with his broom.

"Where did they allcomefrom?" Percy yelled over the din of snarls and clangs.

"I don't know!" Damasen hollered back.

A monster leapt towards Maia, fangs outstretched to take a bite out her side. Percy defended her without a second thought, leaning and slashing it across the chest, panting. He looked up to see an ogre running directly towards them, and Percy panicked, his sword unable to reach it without falling off. Next to him, Bob and Damasen were getting closer, pressed together. They were getting overwhelmed, Despite their bigger size, there were just too many of them.

But to his surprise, Maia had it covered, rearing back. She spread her frilled collar and hissed. Damasen reached over and yanked Bob away from her. Her poison breath filling the battlefield with the smell of pine and ginger, great clouds of green billowing through their ranks.

Oh, nowthiswas a secret weapon.

The ogre face-planted, throwing gold dust around with a mighty tremor. Others gripped their heads, their throats; they howled and burst into poofs of gold. It was like a chain reaction as it spread through them.

The forces were thinning- Percy could see space on the other side. He gripped on tightly as Maia span, her tail flicking out and wiping out a section like an obstacle course sweeper machine. Percy smiled in surprise, reaching down to pat her on the side in thanks. She seemed to toss her head in acknowledgement.

"Iapteus!"

Percy's eyes shot up away from the Drakon. That voice. He knew that voice.

A large shape jumped off a high outcrop of rocks nearby, squishing some spare monsters underfoot. Damasen and Percy were still slashing and stabbing, driving the monsters away from them, but Bob had stopped. He stared up at the other Titan. Percy swore under his breath and then a bit louder for good measure.

It was Hyperion.

Percy looked at them carefully, having never seen them by each other; Hyperion looked so similar to Bob. No wonder the other was transfixed.

"Bob!" Percy yelled, trying to capture his attention.

The Titan glanced at him. The monsters around them weren't even attacking him anymore.

"Bob?" he murmured, looking at his hands. "Iapetus?"

"No, you're not Iapetus, you'reBob!" Percy yelled, flinching as an empousai raked its claws across Percy's arm before it died. "Not Iapetus! Not anymore!"

"Jackson?" Hyperion glared at him with murder in his eyes, evidently remembering their last encounter, which had not ended up so well for the Titan, before turning his attention on his frowning counterpart. "Do not listen to him, brother." Hyperion pressed, wading his way through monsters towards them. "He is demigod scum, and he has tricked you."

Bob looked at him. Percy rushed to defend himself, despite the sick feeling in his stomach thattechnically, Hyperion wasn't wrong.

"No, Bob, I didn't trick you!" Percy yelled. "I- We'refriends.Friends don't turn their back on the other!"

"I am... Iapetus." Bob mumbled. "I am a Titan."

"He took your memories, Iapetus. Stole them. He's not your friend, he's using you. Come back, brother. Mother is reclaiming what is rightfully hers, you have a part in the new world." Hyperion was persuasive and Percy could see his words were having an effect on Bob.

"Yes Bob, you were Iapetus." Percy began desperately, knowing he couldn't fight off two titans, and Bob looked at him with piercing eyes. "But you have to remember exactly who you were! Iapetus did bad things. He killed innocent people. Iapetus was a bad Titan, and a bad person. He didn't have any friends, because he wasn't-"

"Quiet, scum!" Hyperion bellowed. "This doesn't concern you!"

"But Bob is different!" Percy carried on loudly, "Bob is a defender of others, a saver of lives! Agood Titan!He'smy friend!"

Hyperion snarled and reached over, his long arm outstretched in Percy's direction. Percy didn't stop looking into Bob's eyes, as honest an expression as he could form on his face.

"Who are you? Iapetus the Piercer or Bob the Hero?" Percy shouted, rearing back to prepare for Hyperion's assault.

For a split second, Percy saw in his mind Bob turning on him, silver eyes icy and broom raising to strike down the demigod who had stolen his memories. Percy knew he wouldn't blame him. He knew how he felt towards Hera. He knew what he got the urge to do every time she had told him that what she did was for the greater good. Knowing that didn't excuse what she had done. Whathehad done. He tried to convey both his apologies and understanding to Bob in his eyes.

Mercifully, Bob spoke up.

"I am good." Bob said quietly, almost to himself . "I have friends."

"And what do friends do for each other?" Percy grimaced as he slashed at the golden titan's arm that was trying to rip him off Maia.

"Stupid meddling demigod!" Hyperion roared. "Every day I spent reforming in agony, I longed to make you suffer after you imprisoned me in that tree! I don't care if She wants you, I'll kill you myself!"

Hyperion lunged; Percy braced himself as smaller monsters backed away.

A broom handle with the tip of a spear shot through the air like a bullet.

"I am Bob the Hero." Bob said dimly, as his brother dissolved into gold dust on his weapon.

Damasen stared, absently shoving monsters away from him. Percy raised his eyebrows and urged Maia forwards. They approached Bob tentatively, Maia snapping at any monsters who came near.

"Thank you Bob." he said hesitantly.

The silver-haired titan didn't look at him. The monsters around him backed off, fleeing in the opposite directions. A thick layer of powdered monster lined the black spiky ground. They had killed a good three-quarters of the army, the rest ran away. Damasen had ichor bleeding out of his arms, which had taken the brunt of the attack while Bob seemed relatively unharmed.

Maia and Percy both had a few deep scratches, something they fixed with Phlegthon river water, especially with Percy focusing it on hurt areas to heal them quicker. Maia batted his hand with her head which he patted fondly. For a ten ton beast who could rip apart an army in one blow (literally), she was a real sweetheart.

Bob stood still as they healed themselves, all of them sweating deeply.

"Bob?" Percy started.

"Hyperion." Bob said. He didn't move as he stared at the ground where his brother dissolved.

"Hyperion was a bad Titan." Percy carried on uncertainly. "He wasn't like you, Bob. Okay? You saved us. Thank you." Percy raised an arm to- he didn't really know what, pat him?- just dosomethingto reassure the titan.

"Thank you, Bob." he repeated, dropping his arm.

"We are friends." Bob said gruffly, but when he looked up, his eyes were warmer than they had been in the fight.

His eyes, silver, similar to Annabeth's when the sun shone on them, focused on Percy. Percy blinked and turned away; he couldn't look at those eyes any longer. It was too painful.

"Where now?" he said, clearing his throat to avoid it breaking. "You know the way from here."

"Vaguely. I would say..." Damasen scanned around. "That way."

"Yeah." Percy agreed, focusing and sensing nearby water in that direction. "I reckon the Styx is close."

With renewed hope (and mostly healed injuries), the four set off quickly. They came across few monsters, and Percy made use of his newfound powers to take them out. He could feel that it was getting easier and easier, and he wasn't sure what to make of it. The rush he got when he used it was indescribable, like a wave of concentration that, for a kid with ADHD, was quite foreign, especially to Percy, who had only ever felt something similar when sword training with Luke.

Bob was quiet, and the majority of the conversation was left to Damasen and Percy, who hung at the back of their group while Bob walked ahead. They talked in quiet tones as Damasen explained monster families.

"It's not like how humans have family. Your lives are so short, so limited, you hesitate to hold grudges for long. But we are immortal. The odd stabbing now and then is like a- aprank, something temporary." Damasen explained.

Percy nodded. "I get that." he said slowly. "I guess for us, life's too short to hate someone forever. Well," he tacked on the end, thinking of Gabe "Unless they do something really bad."

"We rarely see each other as well," Damasen added. "I think some of the minor Titans actually view these wars as some sort of reunion."

Percy blinked.

"But- it's awar?"

"We have fought in many wars. At the end of the day, we just come back here." Damasen shrugged. "Then another war starts."

They walked in silence for a few minutes, lost in their thoughts.At the end of the day, we just come back here.Percy thought over the words. At the end of the day, demigods just died. There was a reason he had been so surprised to see adult demigods living in New Rome.

"Sometimes," Damasen said, looking down, "I envy you humans. Your lives are so short that every action has meaning. My brothers and sisters tend to act as they know there will be minimal consequences."

Percy contemplated his words.

"There has to be a sort of safety in being a Titan though." he mused. "You make a mistake, and die, or others die, you all just get to come back. Like a video game extra life."

Damasen tilted his head from side to side, red braids swinging. "That's true." he said. "Though I'm not sure what a video game is."

Percy didn't know how to take the conversation further. He wasn't sure he wanted to. While he in no way wanted to be immortal, the idea of getting second chances resounded strongly in his mind, a mind that had seen too many friends fall in fights.

They began to ascend a mild hill, and Percy lifted his head, feeling a river flowing on the other side.

"We're here!" he exclaimed, urging Maia to go faster.

Once they got over the top of the rocky peak, they all stopped. Several rust red stones clattered down the slope.

"There it is." Breathed Percy.

A twisting black river, overly polluted, filled with pretty much anything someone could imagine: broken toys, ripped up diplomas – the scrapheap of human miseries. Lost hopes and dreams, as well as wishes that never came true. Just like it had been last time.

The descent was a bit hairy at times, Maia slipping every now and again, only to be grabbed back by Damasen. Bob hadn't said anything to Percy but had exchanged some small conversations with Damasen. Percy left him to cool off- given time, he'd understand, or at least talk to him again. Useful or not, Bob actually was his friend. He kind of missed the babbling.

They reached the edge of the river.

"Do you know what to do?" Damasen asked, unsure.

"Yeah, I've done this before." Percy answered casually. "Just like riding a bike."

Damasen shook his head wearily.

Percy breathed in, closing his eyes. When he opened them, he found himself face-to-face with a Greek warrior. He was tall and buff, with a cruel scarred face and closely shaved black hair. He wore a white tunic and bronze armour. He held a plumed war helm under his arm. The man looked at him with pale green eyes like a shallow sea—and a bloody arrow stuck out of his left calf, just above the ankle.

"Hello, Achilles."

The ghost glared at him. "Not you again!" he snapped.

"Afraid so."

Percy took off his swords, placing them on the floor, alongside the battered bottle. The bottle in question was even more singed and blackened than last time- Percy didn't think it would last very long. Luckily, he hoped the Styx would take care of that.

"Did I not warn you the last time? The loss of mortality is no mere sacrifice, you foolish,foolishboy!" Achilles sounded furious, but Percy knew that he was genuinely just trying to save him from the same fate he had suffered.

Percy waved him off. "Yeah, yeah, I remember. Good becomes great, bad becomes worse. You got too big for your boots. Or-" Percy glanced down, "-sandals. Really, boots would have stopped that arrow-"

"You cannot do this again!" Achilles pressed with wild eyes. "Did you not learn your lesson last time? Did you not feel the changes?"

Of course he did. He had been stronger, faster, with skin of iron. Nothing hurt him. Nothing could stop him. Feeling pain for the first time in New Rome once he had lost it had been a surreal experience; he had honestly almost forgotten how it was tohurt.He'd also become a little more confident, more solid in who he was, an inner reassurance that he had retained even afterwards. It had also taken time to adapt his fighting style back, bearing in mind his Curse of Achilles fighting style had been to just throw himself into the fray and slash.

"I remember." Percy smiled gently at Achilles. "This is just like last time; I have to do this to save my friends. And me."

Achilles was already shaking his head. "No one has ever had it twice. Many have never had itonce. You are as arrogant as I was if you truly believe you will not be affected. Do you know your fatal flaw?"

Percy frowned. "Yeah, I do. Athena says I'm too loyal."

"If it did not become double the risk last time, it certainly will this time!" The ghost urged. "I beg of you to reconsider. At what point does loyalty to save become obsession to destroy? When will loyalty to others solely become loyalty to self? Are you willing to become someone who will do anything to get what they want?"

Percy had no idea what he meant; that hadn't happened last time, and it wasn't as if he had changed who he was. He was the same old Percy. A little taller, a little stronger, a little angrier. But he knew himself.

He'd be fine.

"I have to." he told Achilles firmly.

He kept his clothes on, or what was left of them. His bloody t-shirt was still tied around the chest wound, his trousers were ripped and frayed along the edges. Percy knew that some girls (especially Aphrodite's kids) wore ripped jeans as a fashion statement. Well, he was absolutely rocking the look this season. His shoes were probably the least damaged- only a few minor stains.

Achilles looked at Percy sadly before he lowered his head. "Let the gods witness I tried. Do you remember how to retain your soul?"

"Yeah. I got this, man." Percy tried to assure him, but Achilles merely shook his head dejectedly, then vanished.

"Percy-" Damasen spoke up, his voice wary.

"Don't worry." Percy said. "I know what I'm doing."

He walked up to the river and tried to remember what he was doing. Right. His anchor was Annabeth. His love for her would certainly keep him stable, just as it did last time. Nothing like your beautiful girlfriend to remind you that you had a soul. And his mortal point- he was taking a leaf out of Luke's book and going under the armpit. The left one. He would have gone for his back, but after last time... he couldn't do that again. If someone was going to stab him, they were going to have to go through him. Literally.

Percy saluted to his friends before picking up a foot to step into the river.

"Jackson!"

Percy rolled his eyes at the sound of a different voice. Who was it now? Some wannabe monster or was Styx going to come out here herself and join the line of people telling him he was making a mistake? He put his foot back down and turned around-

And froze.

He thought she was dead, or at least still respawning.

He remembered her from the last time he had fought her, alongside Annabeth and Briares, and how she had nearly killed them. He slowly picked up his swords to face her. The others held up their weapons warily.

"I presume you're the one who's set a bounty on our heads." he said, trying to keep his tone unwavering.

"Of course." she said, slithering closer. "I heard you fell down here, and an opportunity like that can't go to waste. You will feel my wrath, Perseus Jackson. My full power." She took out her weapon, and stared him directly in the eye with a glare that sent a shiver down Percy's spine.

"This time, youwilldie." hissed Kampê.

Chapter 12: Percy VIII

Summary:

Percy wondered briefly if this is what Jason felt when he flew.

Notes:

HERE TAKE IT

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Percy VIII

Kampê was just as hideous as he remembered. There was no other word for her.

She had a human head, but with snakes for hair, like Medusa. Percy knew, as his horrified eyes ran over her, which one he would rather face. The top half of her body was human, though what her tough hide-like skin was made of was questionable. The black lower dragon half, had white stripes running down her back. Racer stripes, he thought he had once heard Paul call them. Like you get on cars. Huge dark reptilian wings burst out of her back, casting shadows over their little bank side ridge, making the black glass ground somehow even darker. A massive venom-dripping scorpion tail lurked lazily behind her. Her claws were incredibly long and there was a sense of being submerged in thick fog when near her.

She was a definite catch.

Percy could see why the Gods shuddered when they had first seen her.

"Er- Kampê," he tried, with a sinking feeling, "You're pretty powerful, no one's denying that. But you don't wantus. Surely you've got something better to do with your time than chase after one little mortal?" Percy backed away slowly towards the place where he had left his swords.

"And miss out on making you beg for mercy?" she replied, her tail flicking like the whip beside her.

"Uh- what I meant to say was, shouldn't you be on the surface?" Percy tried. "Gaia hasn't left you down here while she tries to take over the world, has she?"

"Oh no," she said, with a wide and nasty grin, "I'm right where I want to be."

Percy winced a little at the absolutely poisonous stare being levelled at him. Okay, that clearly wasn't working. Kampê evidently had her sights set on him and showed no intention of backing down. Percy went for absolute honesty instead.

"Why me?" he asked simply.

"Why not? To kill the demigod responsible for the fall of Kronos is every monsters' dream." she replied, her eyes blinking sideways like a lizard.

She began to slither forwards slowly.

"Every monster?" Percy asked, a distinct feeling of 'yikes' building.

"Every single monster." Kampê confirmed with a smirk of pure spite.

"What about the married ones?" Percy tried with a half-hearted smile, but even Damasen gave him a wide-eyed 'What are you doing?' look. Did everyone already have that perfected or did they learn it just for him? Kampê effectively ignored him.

"Ever since everyone found out that you fell down here, they have all been out after you. I've set a rather impressive bounty on your head. Or should I say," she stretched her talons out and continued forwards, "Foryour head."

Neither Damasen nor Bob had moved until then, but next to him, Bob started to withdraw his weapon.

Yet Kampê only had eyes for Percy.

"They say you're the most powerful demigod in history." She watched him with great interest. Both Damasen and Bob flicked glances at him.

"That's not true." Percy dismissed instantly, thinking of Annabeth.

"They say you destroyed Kronos' army single-handedly-"

"It definitely wasn't single handedly." Percy interjected.

"-that you collapsed the Williamsberg Bridge with one blow-"

"Onlypartof it!" he protested.

"-and that you were the first one to ever kill the Clazmonian Sow."

"The what?" Percy blanked. He frowned, trying to remember. "Oh, you mean that big flying pig? Nah, that wasn't me, that was a bunch of automatons. They were the ones who actually did all the work."

"Well then, this should be easier than I thought." Kampê returned. "It seems your reputation both precedes and outmatches you."

Percy picked up his swords, feeling that in his state, any control of the river Styx he might have would be very limited. Fighting too. Why couldn't she come back in like three to five business days, when he felt like he could actually walk without buckling. He breathed out as they circled each other. His limp was glaringly obvious. Percy knew he would die in seconds in a straight fight, trying to lock on to the feel of water in Kampê's blood, but it was difficult: there was too much of her. He didn't think he could hold any of it.

But she wriggled as if she felt it, and her eyes burned holes through his soul.

"Youdare-" Her voice was low and dangerous; Percy winced. "You- you patheticchild! You think you can pull your new party trick onme?You dare to challengeme?"

"We beat you once before. We can do it again." Percy said, his voice cracking annoyingly, and even he could hear the underlying doubt.

"Briares is not here now!" she shrieked, clearly touchy about losing before as she stamped a slimy foot.

"But my friends and I are." Percy said boldly at her, going for an intimidating approach. "And together we'll put you back where you belong." he said, the courage in his words not quite making it to his heart, yet he could see Bob and Damasen stand up just that little bit taller.

"Fool." Kampê snapped. "I have waited long enough. Mother is rising. And all those opposed shall burn."

She unwound the whip from her arm.

The whip was ten feet long, flickering with fire, capable of cauterizing instantly for maximum torture time, and around his forearm before he had time to react.

"Agh!" Percy shouted as a white-hot ring of pain erupted around his skin.

Kampê yanked him towards her, and he gasped, staggering, using every bit of strength he had to hold on to his weapons and not fall over, the skin on his arm feeling as if it was bubbling.

Her tail swung out, hovering menacingly over Percy, who was leaning back and scrabbling with his legs to avoid being pulled over to her. Damasen ran over towards them. His arm was screaming in pain. Was this the one he broke? Percy almost couldn't remember. He kept track of her tail with agony-filled eyes; he knew it could incapacitate even an immortal Elder Cyclops for hours of excruciating pain.

To his side, he saw Bob snap out of whatever had been keeping him in place at his howl of pain, and charge towards her.

Bob lunged for her arms, swinging his broom down, as Damasen wrapped his arm around Percy's waist and held on, accidentally pressing on his wound. Percy let out a cry. Damasen was using all his Giant strength to keep him in place without ripping his still burning arm off. Percy just felt like the rope in a tug of war game.

Bob's move worked; she loosened her grip with one hand to swipe at the Titan, long enough for Damasen to wrench the whip off the end of Percy's arm, burning his fingers with a hiss. Luckily, his skin was a lot thicker and more leathery than Percy's. His burn marks faded quickly. Percy looked down at the livid red burn winding round his arm; his did not.

Percy staggered then fell backwards, his leg giving out. He scrambled to stand back up. Damasen had let go to assist Bob, who was losing badly as Kampê swiped at him in anger.

Ichor poured out of him in various places. Kampé didn't have her scimitars, thank the Gods, as they had taken them as spoils of war last time. Instead she was fighting with a golden sword and her whip, but it made her no less dangerous.

She raised an arm to plunge her sword into Bob. Reacting quickly, Damasen shoved her over, barrelling into her with such force that it sent her flying. But she landed on her feet, claws crushing stones under her. She screeched and lashed out with her whip again and again, slashing Damasen across the face, Bob across the shoulder, a stroke catching Percy across the whole of his back and sending him stumbling even further.

Percy felt a nudge on his shoulder and he placed a hand on Maia to get a hold of himself, hissing at the burning pain around his arm and across his back. The Drakon had fled initially, staying well out of range. Percy patted her quickly as a show of thanks for her returning and took in the situation for a second just to figure out what the Hades was going on.

Damasen and Bob were attacking Kampê in a way that reminded Percy of how Annabeth and him tried to fight her, very in sync and fluid; as one ducked, the other swung. If he joined, he didn't know whether he'd be a valuable addition or a hindrance.

Well, he'd never know unless he tried.

Percy limped around the back of the trio. It was a good thing his allies were large and powerful immortals; a little mortal like him wasn't high on her current list of threats. He managed to duck around to her back. Would this help? Who knew. Drakon bone sword in hand, he stabbed her tail with all his strength.

It sank a few inches deep and an ear-splitting shriek tore from her throat like a bird of prey, craning her fearsome head around, teeth bared and dripping with ichor from where she had bitten them. Percy stumbled back to get out of her range, but her arm snapped back, and her whip struck him across the stomach. He doubled over and sank to the ground. Bob seemed to take this as an opportunity to attack once more, gripping her wrist and twisting until she dropped her whip.

Then something seemed to snap.

She screamed again, but this time it was guttural and throaty, and Percy resisted the urge to plug up his ears, the other two stumbling back from her. The scream sounded like every car alarm and cat cry in the world.

Spinning around, her bleeding tail sweeping, they all jumped back another foot to avoid her.

"I am the daughter of TartarusandGaia!" Kampê screamed, turning to see them all, and her eyes dancing with a fiery hatred, "I am the jailer and torturer of Tartarus! I have made Gods, and Giants, and Titans alike scream for mercy! By the time I am through with all of you, you will offer me anything to justdie! I am the most feared monster here, you donottry to overpowerme!"

Quicker than Percy had ever seen a monster move, she swung her arm to the left in a wild arc, and slashed her sword across Bob's neck.

The only good Titan didn't even blink.

With a poof of gold that was too beautiful for such a horrific act, he was gone.

"No!" Percy yelled, arm outstretched as if he could somehow pull him back.

He exchanged a look of similar horror with Damasen.

"Bob..." Percy whispered, getting angrier by the second.

A lot angrier than he had been earlier, Percy forced his consciousness of his surroundings to swell, like blowing up an immense balloon. He could feel his lungs straining. He took everything he felt inside of him, felt her entire body in the air, and pushed her.

But not physically.

Everything seemed to slow down. He saw the ichor oozing from her tail, and dribbling from her torso where Damasen and Bob had got lucky hits in.

He saw it run.

He felt it run.

He sensed where it came from and held that, he held it so damn tightly, his own blood came streaming out of his nose, trickling hot over his lips. He held up a hand and shoved her with more force than he'd ever used before.

She shot backwards like a bullet, a blur in the air, tumbling down the glassy black surface to the bottom.

There, her head whipped back up, eyes alight with potent rage.

"Percy." Damasen was in front of him, holding his shoulder and pulling him backwards. "How did you-? That isn't-?"

"Jackson!" Kampê screeched, climbing back up the hill on all fours, like a demented toddler. There were little rock showers from where her hands dug forcefully into the black glassy shards and shattered them. She bared her pointed teeth at them in a twisted parody of a smile. "You thinkthatwas a throw? Here! I'll give you a better demonstration!"

She lunged forwards, beyond fury. Damasen was shoved aside, Maia roaring, and Percy felt her hands wrap around his torso-

And then suddenly he was flying, a black river arching up to meet him, his limbs flailing.

Percy had to think quickly. He imagined the tether connecting his mortal point to the world. He remembered his mother's old but hopefully still valid blessing.

Percy wondered briefly if this is what Jason felt when he flew.

He hit the Styx face-first, a smack that echoed in his ears.

He did not remember the pain. Every nerve in his body burned. He was dissolving in the water. It was like Kampê's whip had flayed the skin off of him, then the skin under that, again and again until his name began to escape him. The pain of the soul being torn from the body was not one he was built to equip. And he couldn't breathe, the water choking him. There was no breathing in the river Styx, just like last time.

Last time. Percy panicked.

What had he done last time?

Time for me to rescue you again, Seaweed Brain,a familiar voice spoke up.The cord?

There was a tug under his armpit, and Percy opened his eyes underwater. He remembered. In the inky black of the Styx, Percy remembered her first and his own name second. The current stopped pulling him. He felt solid, then strong. The thin link from his armpit to the rest of the world turned into a thick rope, and Percy dimly reached up through the water to grab it, to pull himself out-

He was crawling onto the shore when things cleared into focus. His skin was bright red and he felt like every inch of his body had been broiled over a slow flame. Though his injuries were still on him, he couldn't feel them and somehow knew that they weren't going to kill him. Knew that they would calmly heal no matter what he did. It was like looking at his body through bulletproof glass. He breathed out slowly, waiting for his skin to fade back to a normal colour and the pain to vanish. It only took a couple seconds.

A cry from his left had his head shooting up, his eyesight sharpening to his surroundings.

"Damasen!" Percy shouted in horror. Kampê's tail had lodged itself in the Giant's spine, his face frozen in a shout of agony.

Maia hissed, backing up, and she seemed to be glaring daggers at Tartarus' torturer. Damasen slumped. Kampê laughed cruelly and looked over to him as he rose to his feet.

Her smirk fell.

"What- what are you-?" She was cut off as Percy threw her backwards with a shove of his hand, a lot stronger than last time.

Percy stared in awe before shaking himself out of it and running over to the fallen Giant. His gait was firm and powerful; no limping there.

"Damasen?"

The giant groaned an unintelligible word, but at least he was still coherent. Percy patted him strongly on the shoulder once before standing back up.

Kampê.

"I'd heard you were good." she spat, getting to her feet. "Every monster knows you. But I think you may be the first in a while to be a true challenge. And..." She lifted her whip, about to say something witty, but Percy pushed her again, having heard enough.

"Shut up." he said angrily.

Kampê soared through the air. She struck out with her whip, but she was too far away. With a splash, she landed in the Styx. He doubted she had the blessing of her mother.

Sure enough, gold dust floated to the surface a few seconds later.

"She's gone." Percy said grimly, rubbing at the ring mark on his arm. It was glaringly visible, and a nasty dark red colour. The ones across his back and stomach probably were too.

Damasen groaned, the noise fainter than before. Percy sat down on the spiky glass floor by him, not feeling the sharpness that he had before, unsure what to do. It wasn't as if he could give him a piggyback.

"When will it wear off? A couple of hours?" Percy asked, not really expecting an answer, half talking to himself. "We'll wait." he added, Maia settling herself down next to him with a loud thud. The glassy rocks didn't seem to bother her tough hide either. Percy reached forwards and held onto the Giant's hand, providing support like Damasen was giving birth. He certainly squeezed back hard enough to make it believable. If Percy didn't have impenetrable skin, his hand would most likely be a mess of crushed bones, but he just squeezed back reassuringly.

Damasen didn't make any more noises, eyes slammed shut in pain, but he held on to Percy's hand tighter.

Notes:

:)

Chapter 13: Frank I

Summary:

"Grover Underwood, Lord of the Wild." Grover said proudly, taking the offered hand.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

Frank I

Frank stuck his head round the door for the Ares' Cabin, before jerking his head back out, feeling very flustered. The Counsellor for the Apollo Cabin, Will Solace, if Frank remembered correctly, who was passing by, gave him a strange look as he clattered down the steps, a little shaken.

"Frank? Frank Zhang, isn't it? You alright?" he asked.

"Yeah, yeah, I was just looking for Annabeth," Frank said, still feeling alarmed. "Someone told me she was with a girl called Clarisse, a daughter of Ares, so I..." Frank trailed off, gesturing towards Cabin Five.

Will groaned.

"Never go into the Ares Cabin without an invite, man!" he said, shaking his head. "They'll eat you alive."

Frank nodded, blinking a bit. "I only put my head round the door."

He moved aside so Will could see the handle of a knife sticking out of the door frame, cackles fading as the door swung shut.

Will snorted, shaking his head, a light dusting of freckles across his nose.

"Yeah, they're not always the best." Will said. "In a fight? Sure. Scrabble night? Less so. The amount of people I get because of them, it's insane." Right, Frank remembered; he was a medic. "Anyway, have you seen Nico?"

Frank gave him an appraising look. He didn't know much about many of the people here, and didn't want Nico in any danger, but he'd been told that Nico had originally been at Camp Half Blood when he was younger, before he came to Camp Jupiter. That was a weird enough fact as it was. He couldn't imagine a small(er) Nico in one of the bright orange shirts that they all seemed to wear. Frank looked the son of Apollo up and down. Will seemed okay though. Frank jerked his thumb over his shoulder and smiled.

"He was with Jason the last time I saw him." he said. "I think they're by his cabin."

"Cool, cheers." Will clapped Frank on the shoulder before hurrying down across the path by the strawberry fields, sun glinting off his golden hair.

Frank waved in response, but it was too late for Will to see. He hastily dropped his hand, checking around to see if anyone saw. Didn't seem like anyone else was around. Frank wandered over to the nearest strawberry bush. They smelled great. He reached out and plucked one off. A wave of shame rushed over him as he remembered that selling strawberries was how the camp made their money. He popped it in his mouth before anyone could see, and continued his search for the daughter of Athena, chewing guiltily.

It was only after midday that he found her, the sun high and hot in the sky. He tried to stay in the shade, worrying that he'd get sunburned.

She was in the training arena, and Frank joined the small crowd of younger demigods spying on the two figures in the middle, one fighting fast and strong.

"Quicker!" Clarisse yelled at a sweating Annabeth.

Annabeth doubled the speed of her attack on the dummy, her dagger flying like an extension of her body. Light glinted off of it, making Frank wince. She was good; really good. In New Rome, Minerva was a minor goddess at best, but clearly Athena was an important figure in Greek culture. If anyone had told him before the quest that he would one day see a child of Athena fighting like this... he'd say they were mad. Annabeth fought with a skill level he saw only reflected in his fellow Centurion's styles. She switched weapons with ease, handling each with the same level of ability.

"I wanna be that good one day." A little boy with dark hair piped up from the front, on his very tiptoes to watch Annabeth fight. Frank smiled sadly at him.

"It's a skill that children of Athena have. Adaptation and expertise in weapons." said a rather snooty looking girl with clear grey eyes in front of him.

Frank sighed; he'd wanted to find her to help her, but he wasn't stupid. He could see that this was letting her release some steam, anger over losing Percy, and he knew he shouldn't drag her away. He didn't think anyone else could see the tears in her eyes, except Clarisse, who just pushed her harder, faster.

She's better here, Frank thought. She should stay with Clarisse.

Unsure of what to do, he wandered over to the edge of the woods. Camp Half Blood was so different to home. Where at Camp Jupiter there was regime and ordered war games, here... it was a more family atmosphere, matching shirts and- was that alavawall? He couldn't tell whether he preferred it. He didn't think he did, but that wasn't because it was bad, it was just too different to what he had been raised with. Both his mother and grandmother, he knew, would prefer Camp Jupiter vastly over Camp Half Blood. He sat down on a tree stump to look around. Something near him jumped.

Frank shot up and grabbed his weapon.

A faun (satyr, Frank reminded himself) held up his hands in a show of peace frantically.

"Blah-haa-haa! Watch it!" he bleated. "That thing's sharp!"

"Sorry! Sorry." Frank apologised quickly. "You just startled me."

He put his sword away quickly, then hesitantly held out his hand.

"Frank Zhang, Son of Mars." he said, unsure of protocol with Satyrs here.

"Grover Underwood, Lord of the Wild." Grover said proudly, taking the offered hand.

"Lord of the Wild?" Frank said, suddenly nervous. "Am I supposed to- todosomething or-"

"Nah, nah, nah." Grover shook his head. "It's just a name. Got any tin cans?"

Frank blinked from the change in subject and patted his trousers to check. "Uh, no. No cans."

"Damn." The satyr pouted. "There'll be some at the pavilion, it's just after lunch time. Coming?"

Frank shrugged. "Sure. But you can have my share of the tin cans."

"Thanks, man." Grover seemed to take him seriously, slapping him on the back in thanks.

They made an unlikely pair as they walked next to each other. Grover, a satyr, skinny and around five foot nine, his hoofs clopping as he hurried. And him, six three and about twice the size of Grover, walking at a steady pace. Frank had his bow and arrow sheath slung over his shoulder. Grover had reed pipes on his belt.

"In Camp Jupiter," Frank began, "Fauns don't really do much. They're just kinda there. What's the difference? What do Satyrs do here?"

"Too much." Grover shook his head. "It's our job to help any campers reach here in time." He looked down for a few seconds, a complex expression on his face. "We have to find them and guide them."

"In time?" Frank furrowed his brow. "What does that mean?"

The satyr wrung his hands a little, eyes lowering. "You know how monsters get attracted like crazy to demigods, especially big three ones. One whiff andbam! They chase them til the demigod fights back or...stops fighting."

Frank blinked. Crazy. Lupa wasn't exactly nurturing but she was fiercely protective over her own, and before that, he'd never had any problems with monsters. Maybe his mother and grandmother chased them away.

"Wait, wait, so you all just wander around looking for demigods? How young are they when you find them?" Frank asked, intrigued. Most came very young to Camp Jupiter. Jason had been, what, two? Frank was considered quite old, having arrived at fifteen.

"It ranges. Annabeth was seven when she got here, one of our youngest, Percy was twelve, Thalia too, and I think- I think Luke was our eldest, at fourteen. Until your friends arrived, Valdez and McLean." Grover said as they walked through an arch to the pavilion.

"You know Percy?" Frank said.

Grover stopped in his tracks. His eyes watered a little and suddenly Frank was worried he'd offended him.

"Know him? I brought him here! He's my best friend! We went on crazy quests what felt like every year, fight these monsters, free this goddess. We have an empathy link! Of course I know him! Everyone does!" The Satyr bleated, grabbing a can and biting it anxiously.

"I didn't know!" Frank said defensively. "Wait, what empathy link?"

"If we concentrate, what he feels, I can feel and it's the same the other way." Grover explained.

"Can you feel what he's feeling now?" Frank asked suddenly.

"No," Grover said miserably. "Everything just cut off. I didn't know why until Sally messaged me that he had..."

The Satyr lunged for another can.

"Uh- Sally?" Frank asked, sensing a topic Grover wasn't too keen on.

"His mum." Grover said. "Nicest lady you'll meet."

Grover 'ooh-ed' as he found a large thick tin thrown away.

"How do you know Percy?" asked the satyr.

"He's my friend. I'm one of the seven of the prophecy, like him." Frank said, "And technically, we're related." Grover raised his eyebrows. Frank remembered Percy and him shared very little in common when it came to looks. For one, Frank was Chinese. "I'm a legacy of Poseidon as well." Frank explained. "Percy's like my great-great-great-great-Uncle or something."

"Cool." said Grover. He crunched on the can between words. "When are your camp people arriving?"

Frank checked his watch. It was a little cracked and battered but told the time well enough.

"They said today, and around now-ish, but I don't know what time specifically."

"They'll be here in a few minutes," came a loud voice behind him.

Frank straightened his back. "Reyna. Where are they coming from?"

"West." The Praetor said, stepping smoothly down some steps; it seemed she'd been exploring too, but Frank suspected it was more tactical. "You're all needed around the campfire. Apparently that's where we're negotiating."

"Negotiating what?" Frank asked.

"Nothing." Reyna said curtly. "It's just for show, a power play on both sides. The Seven will hand over the Parthenon, the camps will sign a peace treaty and then we go to Epirus."

"Are both camps coming?" Frank raised his eyebrows.

"Most of them from each. A lot of people volunteered. It's not just for Percy, though it's a good reason. It's that Gaia will most likely rise in Athens, and soon. The closer we are, the quicker we can put her back in the ground and stop her from rising at all." Reyna turned, her purple cape flying around theatrically. "Come on."

They followed her to the campfire. Annabeth and Clarisse were right at the front, a sea of orange shirts lounging behind. Jason and Hazel were sat rather stiffly on the other side. Camp Jupiter's side looked pitiful compared to Camp Half Blood.

They joined Jason, sliding onto the tree trunk the others were sat nervously on. Jason looked calm but his twitching foot said otherwise.

"Hey, Frank, Reyna." Jason said, his eyes flying from the cabins to the beach to the Pavilion.

Though he had ADHD like the rest of them (except Frank, who had bypassed ADHD and dyslexia and gone straight to the lactose-intolerance), Jason was usually a level headed dude, not really the type to panic, so to see him look so worried set Frank off a little.

"Hey, Jason, Hazel."

The girl smiled at him softly, and Frank couldn't hold in his question, though kept it as quiet as he could.

"What if Octavian tries something?" Frank confessed his worries to them.

"He won't." Jason said, shaking his head a little too quickly. "He wouldn't dare. Not with Reyna and I here."

Reyna nodded. "We outrank him, and as much as he dislikes Greeks, we're on their ground. They would have a clear advantage. I've looked around and there are too many field benefits they could use against us. They know the terrain better than us."

It was clear she had given this quite some thought. They sat in silence, a contrast to the loud raucous talking from the other camp.

"They're quite different, aren't they?" Jason said suddenly. "Greeks."

"They're disorganised." Reyna said, but relented a little. "Though they're skilled. And they don't have the same procedures we have, but fight as a team regardless."

"It's like a big family." Jason echoed Frank's thoughts from earlier, and they all lapsed into silence again, only now Reyna was frowning.

After five or so minutes of waiting, Frank felt Hazel's hand slip into his. He held onto it tightly, giving it a squeeze as a horn sounded in the distance.

Reyna stood.

The first wave of Romans marched in, each demigod and legacy looking tired but determined. They halted in front of Reyna.

"Stand down." she ordered, the conversational voice replaced with her strong praetor boom. Frank wondered if she even had to shout to command attention. The Romans knelt down, passive but still ready, though some had their legs crossed like they were in elementary school.

"Right, listen up. We're here to unite the camps." Clarisse shouted once everyone had settled. "So let's get it on with already. Basically, three of yours and four of ours went to go get the Athena Parthenon, yadda yadda yadda. Long story short- we got the Parthenon, but Jackson fell into Tartarus. We need the Gods to get him back, that's why we need to unite, so they can help us defeat Gaia who's rising pretty soon, and all of that is happening in Greece, where we're all gonna take off to ASAP. Got it?"

There was a beat before horrified murmurs and shouts erupted on both sides, though the Greeks were a lot more vocal.

"WHAT?"

"-notPercy-"

"TARTARUS?"

"-fall? How can you fall-"

"-Tartarus-"

"-the godsthemselvesdon't go down there and-"

"-already dead-"

Some kids grabbed each other to hold on. Frank understood. Percy was a natural leader, in both camps it seemed. It turned out Percy wasn't just a kid of the big three, but here he was a cabin leader, taught a couple swordfighting classes here and there, a Hero of Olympus. If he was defeated, they would surely lose hope.

There was still fast paced muttering and conspiracies being thrown about. The girl Clarisse, who, in Frank's opinion, looked as tough as an ox and instantly knew they were related, scowled and lifted two fingers to her mouth, letting out an ear piercing whistle.

Silence.

Reyna nodded stiffly.

"We have the Athena Parthenon." Reyna started, indicating upwards to where Leo was floating in the Argo II. Frank couldn't see what he was doing, but after a few seconds, the stable Doors crashed open, and the statue of Athena was slowly winched down.

The glare of the statue made several demigods recoil. Frank knew what they were thinking: it was like the goddess of wisdom was searching through your very soul. He could feel every roman just become that little bit aware of the importance of Athena over Minerva.

"I have here a treaty for peace." Reyna continued. "We Romans will sign first."

Boos and calling burst out of the army, and Reyna dispelled them with a shout. Aurum and Argentum around prowled behind her, metal eyes cold. Frank had never liked those dogs.

"We are on their land," she shouted. "We are guests, and we do not want this war any more than they do. We need the Gods. So we sign. Then the Greeks." Reyna did not look happy about the order of signing, but she seemed too preoccupied to argue.

She pulled out a sturdy pen and wrote her part in loopy handwriting, the bold signature of a Praetor. Jason stood behind her, and, squinting a little bit, scratched his name on it too. Annabeth stepped up, a couple Greeks whooping, and she scribbled her name with Riptide, acting as the official-unofficial camp leader. It went unspoken that another signature should have been next to hers, and that they knew exactly whose. Frank hadn't even known that it could work as a pen.

Camp Half Blood cheered, and after a while, so did Camp Jupiter.

Frank couldn't help but wonder where Octavian was. It was unlikely that he would let this pass without contributing something; ever since the debacle with Leo kinda blowing up some of the camp and Percy becoming Praetor, his hatred for them had increased exponentially. Hazel nudged him and he leant down a bit so she could whisper in his ear.

"Octavian's asleep. Some of Morpheus' children helped out."

Frank leant back and grinned.

"I did think this went too smoothly." He said. "How did they get him?"

"Someone told them where he was sleeping as they came here. They carried him from their last stop, flat out asleep, he's out cold in the cave of their Seer now, Robyn or Rafael, I didn't get the name."

"Who told them?" Frank asked, aware that Octavian liked to keep his sleeping quarters sealed off and hidden, in case his teddies were stolen again.

Near him, Reyna gave a satisfied smile.

Notes:

Yes, I wrote Grover back into HoO. No, I will not apologise as it was the right thing to do. Yes, Uncle Rick, this is directed at you.

Chapter 14: Percy IX

Summary:

Percy hated silence.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

Percy IX

Percy breathed out slowly and ran his hand through his dirty hair for about the hundredth time that minute. He didn't know if he could take it anymore. Kampê was gone, but the sting from her tail haunted both Damasen and Percy long after her death.

Unable to move, the Giant lay slumped on the ground, face down. And it wasn't as if Percy could move him, a whole ten tons of Giant being just a little too above his weight class for him to just flip him over his shoulder and keep them moving. The river flowed unnaturally silently next to them, setting him just a little more on edge, but at least monsters couldn't attack them from that side. It didn't take long for Percy to realise that he hated staying in one place; he felt like a target was painted on his back, and cursed himself for not being able to just pick Damasen up- it wasn'thisfault Damasen was a Giant. He glanced around warily again. Exposed on the river bank, they were too open, too vulnerable. They'd both been sat there for days, weeks perhaps. He listened as Damasen let out another gut-wrenching yell, the poison coursing in a new wave through his veins. The pain was said to be unimaginable but the screams seemed to help Percy's imagination.

"Let it out buddy." Percy mumbled, sending a sympathetic glance from his position atop a rock he had been using as a lookout. "I'll protect us, don't worry."

He didn't know if Damasen could hear him. The Giant was writhing on the floor, seemingly unaware of anything or anyone. After he had been stung, he'd been quiet for a few minutes, and Percy had mistakenly thought that it had just knocked him out.

Turned out Damasen had been holding his breath, teeth clenched together in agony. He'd given in after a while to voice his pain. Loudly. His wails sounded wrong and unnatural, setting Percy's nerves on edge. It was like sitting near a siren call for monsters. He had a thick coat of gold dust on his biceps as a testament to that. Damasen's screams attracted what felt like every ugly sucker from every corner of Tartarus, all looking for a wounded Giant.

Instead they just found an angry demigod.

Percy wasn't worried about himself when they came. The Achilles curse made his skin a rival of some of Hephaestus' greatest metal creations, and he had very little to be concerned about in a fight. But he wasn't omnipresent; he couldn't do a perimeter check and guard over Damasen at the same time. It didn't help that monsters thought travelling in packs was safest. They could swarm him, cutting him off from the paralysed Giant. Slicing through them was like waving his hand through water, but a second was all it could take for them to take away another of his friends.

Good thing they focused on him instead.

Percy craned his neck around, doing his regular scans for monsters. A thick feeling of paranoia plagued him; with his improved Achilles hearing, a stone could be kicked quite some distance away and Percy would have his swords out before it could even land. The silence of Tartarus caused echoes to travel miles sometimes. It was frustrating, and he could feel heavy bags of exhaustion underneath his eyes. It was up to him to stay awake. They'd all die if he didn't.

He blinked as a monster came sniffing round the side of a rock. The empousai froze in its tracks, just a few metres away from him.

Percy twitched the Drakon bone dagger in his hand as a warning. Behind Damasen, a previously sleeping Maia rose her head and let out a low rumble, her acidic eyes burning into the newcomer. The monster hesitated, baring its teeth uncertainly.

"Just go away!" Percy hissed at it defensively. Why couldn't they all just leave them alone?

The empousai took a step back, then paused. Percy narrowed his eyes. Yeah, he wouldn't have left either. The empousai stared him down.

It could be a distraction,Percy's mind whispered,it's a trap!

Before he even realised what he was doing, he was throwing his sword so quickly it was a blur in the air before it buried itself in the empousai's chest. A cloud of gold floated into the air as he stood on his little outpost rock, furiously checking Damasen over. The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end, and he had had enough of being a sitting target.

"Come on!" he yelled, the noise rivalling Damasen's screams. "You wanna attack me? Then attack me! Get it over with already!" He span around, head darting from side to side, hurrying forwards to scoop up his thrown sword. Maia batted him with her head and he jerked, stopping his hand from descending towards her. His chest was thumping.

The attack came quickly, a heavy mass suddenly jumping on his back.

Percy twisted, trying to rip the beast off of him. Three more slithered in from seemingly nowhere.

It scrabbled, avoiding his reaching arms and spinning movements, and Percy's head jerked back, eyes wide, as claws wrapped around his neck, trying to slit his throat. But they just raked over his impenetrable skin like fingernails across porcelain, not even leaving the barest hint of a scratch. Percy caught a flailing ankle, and judo flipped it over his shoulder. The monster slammed into the ground with a howl; Percy slashed to finish it off, but as soon as one was dead, the others took his place, and Percy, exhausted from his lack of sleep, was barrelled into and finally taken down. They knocked him clean onto his back, his sword clattering out of his grip.

All he could see was a wild mass of open jaws, sharp teeth and slashing claws. They snarled and thrashed on top of him, eager to try and hurt him. He managed to get an arm up, throwing it over his eyes as they tried to tear him apart.

He could feel their talons on every part of his body, an overwhelming sense of being pinned rising up in him. All he could hear were their roars, right in his ear and in his face, the ripping of clothing, and, somewhere beyond the writhing mass of monsters like a wall upon him, he could still hear Damasen's weak cries.

He jerked his head from side to side, trying to get away, and managed to get his other hand free. He squinted through the flurry of dark shapes, and shoved away the one that was attempting to visibly see his lungs. It flew off, and Percy used the distraction to knock the others off, scrambling backwards.

The monsters growled, shaking themselves off, but Percy's hand had already curled around the handle of his fallen sword.

Not even bothering to think, Percy flung himself at the nearest one, tackling it to the ground. His sword ran through the leathery skin, and Percy rolled through the cloud of gold, coming up to slash at the surprised beasts. He didn't even recognise what they were.

Kicking one in the knee, he brought the other one down with a powerful strike, before beheading the other one. He'd forgotten how good the Achilles curse could make him. Even after he had lost it when going into Camp Jupiter, he felt he had retained some of the speed, the wild fluid technique that had made him stand out so much against the order of the Roman Legion. Watching the last monster dissipate into the air, Percy finally let himself breathe out.

He strode back over to Damasen, a tension building in his head. A mix of exhaustion and adrenaline fought in his head, and he couldn't shake the constant feeling that something was watching him. He knew it was. He could feel its eyes constantly burning into him. Well, whatever it was, he tried to comfort himself grimly, he'd kill it. He sat down heavily on to the ground next to the Giant, his limbs giving out. He felt lightheaded. His stomach rumbled.

Percy blacked out.

The ogre picked him up before he could even open his eyes, filthy fingers around his waist. He slammed Percy to the ground again and again. Percy let himself be thrown around for a couple seconds longer; it wasn't as if he felt it, he argued in his head. Then, when he had regained his bearings from quite possibly the worst alarm clock wake-up he'd ever encountered, he pulled out his sword and cut the ogre's hand off.

He landed on the ground with a thump.

The ogre's head followed shortly after.

His stomach gnawed at him from the inside.

He glanced at Maia as she stripped the meat off of the bones of a monster he had subdued. It suddenly didn't look like the worst thing in the world. It looked more than edible. Knock-off KFC chicken tenders.

Percy reverted his gaze back to the river and shook his head to try and clear it.

When Maia slept, her snores were comforting to have in the background. When she was awake, she hissed under her breath every now and then.

When she was gone, off hunting for food or for a walk, there was nothing but silence and the churning of the river.

Percy hated silence.

His leg bounced.

Percy sighed, and reached into the leathery bag around Maia's neck for a Drakon steak.

He scowled at the rubbery meat. Damasen had claimed that it was cooked, but the black liquid seeping out of it in places did nothing to reassure him. Percy flattened it on the ground, hoping the hot stones would at least do something to it. After a few minutes (seconds), Percy couldn't stand it anymore. He lifted it up to face-level.

He hoped the Achilles curse protected him from salmonella.

He looked down after he killed the monster, and grimaced as he noticed that one of his jean legs had become jean shorts.

Percy couldn't stop himself from glaring at Damasen as the Giant writhed unconsciously, the same moans and hoarse cries slipping out of him.

"Shut up." Percy hissed, before running a hand through his hair, regretting it immediately, even if no one heard him. "Sorry." he mumbled.

He buried his face in his hand and closed his eyes, dimly aware of the nearby dracaena thinking it was sneaking up on him.

His eyes were beginning to sting again; he needed to sleep. The curse always made him more tired than he should be, and down in Tartarus, by all rights, he should be absolutely dead on his feet. But Maia was gone again, and he needed someone to watch his back. Percy didn't realise how dependent he had become on Damasen and Bob. He ran a hand over his sword to distract himself.

He missed the fine flat sides of Riptide, the lightweight feel of it, effortlessly polished and ready to slice. The sword he'd made had served him well, but it was a mess of gritty bronze metal and sharp points at random places along the blade. Even the handle itself was spiky in some places. He could feel himself forming new callouses on his palms. But it was Riptide's ability to return to him that he missed most, and he rubbed a hand against his forehead as he tried to think about a way to recreate that.

Brainstorming was never a particularly good skill of his. A sudden impulsive plan? Sure. But not meticulously thinking. He guessed he could tie a bit of string to the handle and attach it to his wrist. That could have worked. If he had any string.

What he really wanted was to be able to stretch his hand and just have it fly straight back. Being unarmed down in Tartarus was the worst feeling. Percy wracked his brains, feeling a slightly Annabeth-esque voice in his head encouraging him to think harder. What could he do? He could control water, but unless he put some on the sword somehow... or inside. Percy frowned as he thought. He could melt the handle and put water inside. Percy couldn't stop thinking about the idea. He took out the bottle of Phlegthon water- it was for injuries on Maia or Damasen, but Percy had already decided that they wouldn't get hurt in the first place with him there.

Doing another scan, Percy couldn't see any monsters. In plain sight anyway. He propped the sword up on an angle and slowly started dripping parts of the Phlegthon onto the handle to make it squishy and malleable. While before he had used rocks to bash and smooth everything into place, he just used his bare hands this time. He could feel the heat under his fingertips but none of the pain that would usually come when mixing bare hands with molten metal. Tongue stuck out, he formed a small well in the handle, hollowing it out a little. He put it back on the ground, hurrying over to the Styx to scoop up a handful of the black water. Before the metal could set, he dripped it into the divot. He added a drop or two of the Phlegthon water for good luck, getting flashbacks to himself as a kid mixing all the shampoos and soaps together in the bathroom, claiming to his fondly exasperated mother that he was making a potion. Feeling the water start to react to the colder water, he pushed it all back together, trapping the water firmly inside. Percy raised the sword up, checking it out, feeling proud. The balance was more off than ever, but it would do. He tossed it a few feet in front of him, then tried to summon it back.

Locking on to the water, the sword flew straight back to him. The blade smacked him in the nose, and fell into his waiting hands.

Percy blinked.

"That could have been bad if I didn't have the blessing." he mumbled, rubbing his nose.

He walked back to Damasen, pouring a little of the Phlegthon water onto where he had been stung. The wound on his back was ugly and streaked with black. Damasen groaned loudly, digging his hands into the rock below him.

"I'm sorry." Percy said apologetically. "But it's healing you faster."

Damasen didn't respond, just went back to his low groaning. Percy prayed it would be over soon. He couldn't stay here any longer. Sure, the venom could knock someone out for hours. But down here... he knew it could have been days or weeks since it had happened. He wasn't even sure how long he'd been down here in the first place. Sometimes it felt just like a really long and really bad day, but sometimes it felt like a couple of months. Bob had always been annoyingly vague in his answers about time, but Percy understood now. There was no way to measure time. No rise and fall of the sun and the moon. They didn't exist down here. Percy didn't have a watch, but if he did, he had a strong feeling that it would just be spinning in circles. Or even going backwards. The Ancient Greeks were right; this was hell. Percy sighed.

He sat down next to Maia again and pushed his eyelids open with his fingers to stay awake. He scanned the area for threats again.

Chapter 15: Percy X

Summary:

"If this is an ambush, I swear to you now, I'll kill each and every one of you." Percy warned, eyes flicking from side to side, before adding for a healthy dose of intimidation, "As slowly as I can."

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Percy X

Damasen's shouts of agony had finally broken his voice, the ragged groans flickering like a TV with faulty volume.

Percy was sat down on the ground, leaning his back onto the sleeping Drakon behind him. While they camped out, Maia had opened up to Percy, and he found that he liked the Drakon; she was strangely lovable. She wasn't fluffy or cuddly, but she seemed to treat him like a child. When she wandered off every now and then, often she would bring back anonymous hunks of meat, nudging some in his direction. Percy ate them with a wince, but without question. Shortly after realising that they were in for the long haul, Percy had attempted to build a sort of shelter, but his resources were limited, and he'd just ended up shoving a circle of boulders around them.

He slept in short intervals, and though he had once woken to a pterodactyl type beast trying to jam its long beak into his eyes, the piles of gold dust around him told him that Maia had protected him from others when he was asleep. Since then, they'd set up a kind of rota: he slept, she protected, she slept and he protected.

Monsters came and went, but none survived.

It was his turn to protect now. He was slouched, but there was no mistaking his posture for inattention. If they looked, and looked properly, anyone could see the sea-green eyes flicking around at the slightest noise, the death-grip on the swords, the tapping foot. His legs were outstretched and his remaining jean leg was in ribbons below his knee from the constant monster attacks. Damasen's screams of pain echoed in his head even during the rare moments when the Giant was quiet. He absently flicked the skin-canvas bag that was tied around Maia's neck; it was crammed with meat Maia had brought now, along with the Drakon steaks at the bottom, some smaller weapons Damasen had brought along, and a couple cool looking rocks Percy had put in for Annabeth.

When Damasen finally went silent, and that silence began to stretch out for too long, Percy turned to look at him, back straightening. He clambered to his feet, slowly approaching him.

"Damasen?" Percy said, fearful that the giant had died. He held his breath, hearing nothing but his own heartbeat for several long seconds.

Damasen huffed out a light sigh.

Percy breathed out, grinning in relief. He sank back on his heels, letting his shoulders slump. The giant curled up into himself a bit, and his white eyes blearily fluttered open, so similar to his Giant brothers. Finally, thought Percy. Damasen was moving, and didn't seem to be in pain. That meant they could finally get him up and keep going.

"Maia." Percy gave a long sharp whistle in the direction of the Drakon, and her head came up. They'd 'agreed' on that being a signal that he needed her, whereas her signal for him was usually just to nudge him and send him flying. Honestly, she was lucky he couldn't get hurt anymore.

"Damasen, we're going to move you, okay?" He patted the giant softly. "I'm gonna need you to help do some of the work. We can't do this without you."

"Hgn-mph." Damasen grunted, staring blearily at him.

Percy took that as a yes.

With great difficulty and a frustrating language barrier, Maia and Percy strained and worked together to lift Damasen onto Maia's back. They heaved him into a sitting position, then kneeling, then crouching. The Giant, in his defence, did try. His legs weakly supported his body through his attempt to stand up, hands fumbling to hold himself upright. Trying to avoid hurting him, Percy took a slight hold on Damasen's blood to lift him. Damasen groaned. Eventually they had the Giant sprawled on the Drakon. Percy reached up and wrapped the reins around one of Damasen's large hands to anchor him slightly. He gave the whole scene a once-over appraisingly, putting his hands in his surprisingly intact pockets.

"You okay?" Percy said softly to Maia. She'd supported him no problem, but Percy weighed just a little less than a massive Giant.

The Drakon batted him roughly in the chest, and Percy smiled fondly at her.

They set off at a surprisingly quick pace, Percy leading. He guessed Maia wanted to leave just as much as he did, and felt a wave of gratitude towards her as he realised that she had no real reason to come back to him. He was sure she'd do fine on her own down here. He patted her gently on her side. She hissed at him.

"Love you too." he murmured, the trio reaching the peak of the hill they were walking up.

He had no clue if they were going the right way, but going past the river Styx seemed like a bad idea, so he tried to head away from it. Trusting his gut seemed like the only plan he had. He'd guess he was going east, if he had any idea which direction that was. Similar to a watch, he also felt like a compass would be going haywire down here. Damasen swayed in and out of consciousness, flat out on Maia's back but he otherwise seemed out of the woods pain-wise, even having a couple brief whispered conversations with Percy. They weren't exactly Shakespearean monologues though. More of a shorter 'Water?' 'Yes' 'Here' 'Thanks' style interaction.

As they walked, and walked, and walked, Percy thought dismally of the soles of his shoes; they'd be paper-thin soon.

Heads popped out of caves as they passed. Tentacles leaned over cliffs. Eyes stared unblinkingly from the darkness. Percy watched them out the corner of his eye. He knew their little parade wasn't exactly incognito mode, but he prayed they'd just let them pass unheeded.

His prayers clearly were getting lost in the mail.

Packs of monsters followed them. Granted, most stayed back, prowling in the shadows, waiting for them to slip up. Some were bolder, and jumped them, quickly meeting their demise before even getting within six feet of Maia and Damasen. Percy's grip never faltered on his swords.

The thing about the curse of Achilles was the balancing. Sure, Percy could probably get run over by a tank and live, and then proceed to punch dents in said tank without a care in the world. But the curse required balance. Great spending of energy during a fight meant a lot less energy during downtime. Percy was tiring quickly. He wasn't sure how many days they'd been walking for, but he could feel his knees buckling, his eyes trying to roll back into the comforting darkness of the inside of his skull. This wasn't unfamiliar.

He remembered the intense need to sleep vividly from last time he had the blessing. The amount of times he dozed off on Annabeth, or took a quick nap in-between tasks back at Camp... One minute he'd be telling some kid of Demeter that his sword grip was wrong, the next he'd be yawning and dismissing the class altogether. It hadn't changed after Hera either. His weeks on the run from Euryale and Stheno caught him sleeping in doorways, in trees; he'd actually been sleeping in the cop car he'd borrowed before he'd had to crash it into them. He knew he didn't have long before the Achilles Curse would force him to sleep and he would collapse like last time. Physical exertion made the tiredness increase exponentially.

"We need to stop." Percy said absently.

He didn't really know who he was talking to, but the lack of conversation made him uneasy, so occasionally he talked to himself or to Maia, and just pretended she was replying. When they walked in dead silence, all he could hear was his pulse in his ears, and to him, it always sounded like heavy footfalls following them. He looked around, searching for high ground, or some kind of cave-type shelter. Clearing out a cave full of monsters did not sound like a party, but they just needed somewhere safe to crash.

No such luck.

The ground around them was a long and level plain of black spikes, a few jutting rocks every now and then, but unfortunately, no hills or caves in sight. Just the lazy red mist that hovered above them and in the distance, blocking out any sights. If he didn't keep track of which direction they were heading in, it was likely that they could end up walking back to the Styx without realising. Nothing was identical but everything looked the same. Percy breathed out hard through his nose, frustrated and worn out.

"We'll have to stay here." he mumbled, running a hand through his hair, like Annabeth and his mum used to do to calm him down sometimes.

Though their hands were probably cleaner, Percy reflected, gazing at the blood flecked and grubby hands curled around his weapons. A ground trembled for a beat as Maia slumped down, impervious to the glassy rocks. Percy gave the long stretch they were on one last glare; he hated being so unprotected like this. It made him want to curl up into himself. But they had to rest or they'd never be able to get there. To the doors, he reminded himself angrily. It was getting too easy to forget where he was going, where he was coming from, what the point of it all was. A tight frown on his face, he knelt down to sit against Maia, his head resting on her side.

He needed to get Damasen to safety.

He needed to.

He-

Percy stopped himself. He bit his lip and chewed it for a few minutes, shredding the skin mercilessly with his teeth. The same thought had been bouncing around in his mind ever since Damasen had been stung, drilling into his brain and keeping him awake even when it was his turn to sleep. He hated thinking it. He didn't want to think it.

Leave him.

Percy couldn't. He knew he couldn't.

Damasen had saved his life, had been there for him when, without help, Percy would have died from blood loss. He was peaceful. He was his friend. But Percy couldn't help it. He knew, deep down, that he should just go. Damasen was dead weight like this, and though it looked like he was on the mend, how long would it be before he was fully mobile? The same amount of time, weeks of just sitting around letting his paranoia consume him?Longer? Percy was torn. He had helped Percy when he had no one else (except Bob, and Bob wasn't the most useful). Percy didn't want the guilt on his conscience of leaving him stranded out here to recover. Didn'twantto leave him stranded in the first place. Something would find him, and Percy had seen what happened to the weak down here.

Damasen didn't deserve that.

The hands running through his hair increased in pressure until Percy was tugging on it. Could he be thatcold?That callous? Because if he was to leave, he would take Maia with him, no doubt about it, and Damasen would be alone. She was up and running fine, and could go a hell of a lot faster than him on foot.

Abandon Damasen and make it back to his family as soon as he could? Or stay, and travel slower while Damasen, hisfriend,healed?

Percy didn't want to make a choice. He just didn't. He shook his head. His eyes were fluttering shut, like weights were tied to his was too tired.

If Maia saw anything, Percy was sure she would wake him up. Or at least, that's what he told himself as he tucked his knees under his chin, getting as comfy as he could. He'd always had the ability to sleep wherever, so it didn't matter to him whether he was laying on a mattress, a Drakon or the ground of Tartarus, just as long as he got some shut eye. Percy closed his eyes and let the darkness envelop him.

He jumped headfirst into sleep. There was no drifting, just out like a light switch.

And he found himself dreaming.

He could tell instantly it wasn't a normal, 'naked at school' kind of dream. There was a sense of being awake and lucid. But it didn't seem like a normal demigod dream either. In his dream, he span around, searching for something, anything. But it was all pitch black. A level of darkness similar to the Styx surrounding him; he couldn't see his hand when he waved it an inch from his face, not even the barest outline. It was too dark, Percy thought with a flare of panic at being snuck up on, too dark too dark too dark-

He sunk to his knees and plummeted forwards, the floor disappearing. He was falling again, away from home, from earth, from his family. He flipped in the air uncontrollably, and Percy strained to end the dream, but couldn't. A familiar voice echoed behind his falling body. He craned his neck round with great difficulty as he plummeted.

"Such a shame too. I heard the Gods liked this one." said a huge Hades at the edge of the surface, holding something in his hand, something that glinted gold.

Percy woke up with a start, limbs jolting, like someone had pressed a defibrillator to his chest on full power. Or that time he had high fived a charged up Jason.

He jumped to his feet, pulling out his swords before he even knew what was going on. Maia watched him with one eye lazily cracked open from where she was sprawled. Apart from her and Damasen, there were no monsters in sight. Just black ground, black sky, and a receding red cloud above them. Percy tried to still his frantic heart, recalling his dream instead, going through it in his head.

What was Hades talking about? An object? Aperson? What was the gold?

Gold like the Apollo cabin, like the weapons of the Roman Legion, gold like Annabeth's hair- he shook his head.

He was getting sidetracked.

Gold always linked to something in Percy's memory, and he couldn't help but see the glinting eyes of Kronos. He's gone, Percy thought quietly to himself, he's gone. It would be a while before Kronos would turn up again, hopefully after his lifetime. Long after. But if Bob and Hyperion were down here, fully reformed, was he? In a gold bubble somewhere, waiting, hatching, rising. Ready to take over again. No, Percy shook his head. Hades had made it clear he felt no allegiance to Kronos. The guyhadeaten him as a baby. And it was someone or something that the Gods liked. A weapon? A demigod? Their thrones?

Percy kicked a rock, startling Maia, who let out an indignant snort. Damasen gave a snuffle and Percy lowered his swords reluctantly. He slipped the bronze one onto his belt loops. He observed the giant with a pained expression.

If he killed him now, Damasen wouldn't know it was him, and he could still leave-

No, no,stop! Percy shook his head fiercely at his own thoughts, reaching up to run a hand through his hair again. Damasen was hisfriend, nothing changed that. He'd done nothing to harm him, when he'd had every reason to. Percy had killed a lot of his family members. And besides, he didn't know if he could even kill Damasen on his own, anyway. Not without a God. Though in Tartarus, he wasn't sure of those rules applied anymore. It felt like a massive free-for-all for everyone.

You could at least try,his mind said.

No, Percy replied firmly.

Cut him loose and run, his mind countered.

Shut up, Percy thought angrily.

All the arguments taking place in his head- if this was how the Gods were feeling, Percy might actually come close to sympathising with them.

He could see himself now, looking down at the sleeping giant, an indecipherable expression on his face, before stabbing Damasen in the eyes, one sword for each, then shoving him to the ground. He'd then swing up onto Maia, give her a slap on the back and they'd shoot off, leaving the bleeding giant on the floor.

Percy tried to bring himself back to the present. Tried to escape the scenarios that plagued his mind. Damasen was back to being out cold, but the giant's hands kept twitching. Whether it was a good sign or a bad sign, Percy didn't know. He chose to see it as a good sign. He tightened the knots keeping Damasen in place to take his mind off it all, and did the mandatory scan.

The blood tinted fog had risen slightly, exposing shapes in the not-too-far distance. One dark, almost square structure had lazily wafted into view, along with a rise in the terrain, cliff sides that grew in height. It was about as big as the nail on Percy's smallest finger, so he knew it was far away, but it was also within sight. It was somewhere to aim for, rather than just wandering aimlessly, hoping to find the Phlegthon river again. If it wasn't anything of importance, it could at least be a place to camp out, Percy reasoned.

He patted Maia, who huffed, but stood up. They walked quickly, Percy even wishing that monsters would appear, so at least he'd have something to actively fight, instead of feeling like he was walking towards some convoluted trap. The building got bigger and more defined as they got closer; it almost looked like some kind of temple. Mountain like areas were starting to appear again, dips and curves to go up and down. Cliffs that framed their walk, almost like a path.

Percy didn't like walking in the chasm parts; he felt trapped and herded in one direction, and as they walked cautiously through it, Percy's grips on his swords got tighter and tighter until his knuckles turned white. His footsteps grew deliberately silent and careful.

Percy almost missed the small hooded figure sat down in a little alcove, a gap in the black stone.

He came to a grinding halt, Maia walking straight into his shoulder, knocking him forwards into a stumble. He steadied himself warily. That- that was a person, right? Not a monster? An actual person. An empousa in disguise? Did the Mist even work down in Tartarus?

"Hey?" he called, taking a few steps in the direction of where they were perched, wincing at how loud his voice sounded in the echoing chasm.

The figure visibly straightened, twitching their head round. He couldn't see anything beneath the dark hood, and the cloak covered the rest of their body. Percy rolled his wrists, spinning his swords to try and loosen the stiff joints. This screamed 'trap'. He could be ambushed there; it was a prime location, and if he had to choose anywhere to do it, it would be right there. If they came down the sides, cut him off from every direction; it would be a bloodbath. For everyone but him, that was.

"If this is an ambush, I swear to you now, I'll kill each and every one of you." Percy warned, eyes flicking from side to side, before adding for a healthy dose of intimidation, "As slowly as I can."

He was sick and tired of monsters, and he wanted them to know it. His control over blood had improved more and more with each use, becoming more than just a party trick before he could stab them. In a landscape of chaos and death, it felt good to at least have control over one thing. The rush it gave him was no bad thing either. Percy narrowed his eyes; the cloaked figure hadn't moved. He was about to speak again, still flicking his eyes in every direction, when they suddenly gave out a wailing sob, loud and piercing.

Percy flinched at the sudden noise.

"Shut up!" he hissed, striding over, Maia close behind.

He stood behind whoever it was, their head bowed low as they cried, and Percy's eyebrows knotted into a scowl.

"Stop it! Do you wanna attract more monsters? 'Cause that's what you're gonna do!" Percy snapped desperately, poking the tip of his sword into their back.

They stopped crying. He saw them tense up.

"Just who might you be?" a low voice whispered out from under the hood.

Percy wasn't about to be caught off guard again. "You first." Percy dug the tip of his sword in a bit.

"Oh, woe is me!" they cried out suddenly.

Percy blinked in surprise.

"I am Akhlys, Goddess of misery, depression, all of those sad, sad things that just... make me... so... sad!" She burst into tears, burying her head in her knees, the black cloth around her rippling like a curtain.

Percy was stumped. A Goddess. And an overly-emotional one at that. What exactly was he supposed to do here?

"Uh. That's um-" Percy had no idea what to say,"- that's great." he offered awkwardly. He let his sword down a little bit, no longer digging in and, giving a slight cough, began to back off. Weirdo."Yeah, so- enjoy that, I'm just gonna-"

"Wait!" Akhlys cried, grabbing the torn edges of his trouser leg.

Percy snatched her hand away from him, gripping her wrist tightly; while he wasn't sure if she was a threat, she certainly wasn't going to touch him. He'd had enough of monsters trying to go near him, and sudden contact just made his skin crawl at this point, remembering how they had swarmed him.

"What is it?" Percy said levelly.

"Please, please, take me with you!" she cried, "I can't be out alone here anymore, it's so scary! Please, please!"

Huge ugly sobs wracked her body and the grip he had on her wrist loosened and tightened irregularly as he thought. Percy furrowed his brow.

"The monsters down here will get me, please protect me. I know a place we can go!" She pointed madly at the structure Percy had seen. "Not too far from here, there's an empty temple. It's safe, no monsters can enter. But I can't get there on my own!"

Percy scratched his nose. She looked and seemed harmless. What could a Goddess of misery make him do? Cry himself to death? If they were ambushed, she might be useful. In the very least, he could just leave her behind while they escaped. And, he reasoned in his head, she was someone to talk to as well, and Percy couldn't deny that he missed talking to someone. If only Bob was here...

"Why should I?" he tested her.

"You're a demigod." she said. "I'm a Goddess. We're family. Demigods are meant to help people. They're always kind to those who need help."

While Percy did feel a lingering sense of duty to help her, he didn't trust her as far as he could throw her, and stood there for several long seconds while thinking.

"We're going that way anyway." Percy said eventually, not wanting to be out in the open any longer. "It's close, and it's shelter. I can't say I'll protect you, but you can come with us. I won't hurt you."

"Yes, absolutely, that's fair." She nodded vigorously. "Thank you, thank you!"

Percy nodded, helping her up at arm's length, his sword still very visibly on display.

"No problem." he smiled, trying to cheer her up a little.

The Goddess of misery couldn't be sadallthe time, right? At least she'd stopped crying, now just waiting in front of Percy expectantly. He didn't know whether to give her a weapon or not. She didn't seem too bad, and he felt a little guilty about leaving her defenseless. In the end, his common sense won out, and he didn't give her anything. Maybe he was just being paranoid, he thought. He needed to let go a little, not everyone down here was bad. Just the large majority.

"Let's go." Percy said gently to her.

Chapter 16: Annabeth III

Summary:

Annabeth felt a desperation for answers she'd never know rise up in her, and she clenched her hands again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

Annabeth III

"Wake up!"Annabeth yelled at the top of her lungs.

The Athena cabin filled quickly with swearing and groans, kids either slamming their heads into the tops of their bunks, or onto where pillows had been taped on to the underside in preparation for moments like this. Annabeth gave it no notice as she pulled an unwilling Malcolm out of bed by his ankles.

"For such a bunch of smart people, you're allidiots! We've slept in! Notoneof you set an alarm!" she shouted.

A chorus of 'I thought you were setting one' erupted as sibling turned on sibling accusingly, grey eyes narrowing at grey eyes.

"Why didn'tyouset one?" came an accusing voice from a top bunk towards Annabeth. Her mind ground to a halt. Uh-

"That's not the point and we're wasting time." Annabeth replied smoothly, "Get ready. We leave in ten."

Annabeth had slept in her clothes, not sparing a single thought to if they were crumpled or not. Her bed was too comfy and familiar for her to care anyway. Though she'd packed her bag the night before, she found herself adding things at the last minute, all her 'just in cases'. She flung in an extra knife, deciding to throw in her entire ambrosia supply, and all the nectar in the biggest water bottle she had. She was about to rejoin the fight against Mother Earth herself; she had a feeling that being healed would be more important in this fight than any fight she might have afterwards. Annabeth's hand hovered for a second over her cork pinboard. Pinned right at the top, above all her rosettes and notices, was one of her favourite pictures. It was her and Percy sat on the wooden jetty at camp, legs swinging, bright grins on their faces. They were about fourteen in the photo, pre-war, pre-Hera, pre-whatever-the-Hades-was-even-going-on-now, just asround when Percy began to catch her up in height. Gods, she thought with a shake of her head, she had loved being taller than him then, but now she couldn't imagine feeling safer than when he had his arms around her, his chin resting on her head. Her five foot nine to his six foot something was the perfect ratio. A resolute nod later, she had unpinned it from the wall, and chucked it in her bag. She pulled on her boots and, in her haste, triple knotted one and only single knotted the other, and had to redo them.

Then she swung her backpack on and stepped out, leaving the cabin in their own personal Athena brand of organised chaos.

Annabeth observed the bustling camp as she strode through; in the forest, Hermes' kids were handing out swords like sweets, the green of the trees reflecting off blades polished to perfection. Aphrodite's were setting everyone's armour just right, nattering to each other as they concealed knives and lipsticks alike in hidden pockets. On the beach, Ares' kids just seemed to be yelling. She heard more than a couple Braveheart speeches as she went past. Their Scottish accents were just... terrible.

She accepted her armour with a quick thanks and put it on with self taught expertise. It helped to calm her mind to do all the clasps and buckles just right. After a brief beat, she asked for Percy's armour as well, that had been taken off the boat to be polished. He'd need it when he got back. She still cursed when she remembered how he hadn't been wearing it when he'd fallen. Tucking it under her arm, she headed down to the shore. All of both Vulcan and Hephaestus' kids had been pulling all-nighters for several days.

And it showed.

The shore was absolutely littered with boats and flying machines. There was a long boat pulled up high on the sand, a vivid skull and crossbones painted on the flag fluttering at the top. Next to it floated a kind of wooden speedboat, full to the windows with what seemed like every pillow in camp. She saw more than enough flags with crude slogans scribbled onto the back of orange Camp shirts, stuff like 'Gaia Sux!' or 'Demigods For The Win!' and even a couple 'Bring Home Jackson Squad'. Naturally, the majority were crossed out and spelt wrong, but it was the thought that counted. She noticed that most of the Romans had opted to build flying machines, or simply deigned to ride a pegasus or a chariot, still averse to sailing on the water. And right in the middle of the impromptu fleet, the Argo II stood proudly, smoking and gleaming in various place. A brunette head bobbed about on the deck.

"Pipes!" Annabeth shouted upwards, planting her feet in the hot sand.

Piper stuck her head over the edge and waved her over with a free hand.

"Up here!" she called. "Come on up!"

Her other hand held a basket that glinted in the sun, filled with what Annabeth assumed to be swords.

Annabeth walked over, admiring the ships as she passed. She was always amazed at how during moments like these, everybody's creativity seemed to come out. Everyone gave her distinct looks as she went by; they'd clearly been gossiping about Percy, and the looks varied between respect and pity. A strong girl in a hijab had a wrench in hand and was tightening some bolts on the mast of a very luxurious looking ship. Annabeth smiled at her and the girl saluted her, oil smeared across her face.

Rachel was at the base of the Argo II, chatting with Nico. An unlikely pairing, they seemed to get along well. Annabeth had half expected Nico to have disappeared by now; while he hadn't made any moves to leave, he had never really given her the impression he was comfortable on the Argo II. Maybe this time, he'd stay in camp for good, even if he wore a black skull shirt instead of an orange camp shirt. The closer she got, the more she could hear. Rachel was talking about art.

"-ould come find me sometime, I have the perfect canvas for you, ready to go, whenever you like." she was saying excitedly.

"Maybe, yeah." Nico said awkwardly, nodding.

He glanced at her, and Annabeth was vaguely amused to see a flash of panic in his eyes.

"Annabeth." Nico said, a little in relief. "We're ready to go as soon as you are."

"I'm ready." Annabeth said quickly. "Rachel, are you coming?"

"Me?" she asked, before shaking her head emphatically, "No, no. I'm awful with a sword. A hairbrush, or a paintbrush, maybe. But swords? Nope. Percy- uh-"

She trailed off a little sadly, but after there was no visible reaction from Annabeth or herself, she continued in a stronger voice.

"-he tried to teach me once, I almost stabbed myself in the foot." she chuckled.

"Then you'd better stay. Hold down the fort and keep this place safe." said Annabeth shortly, nodding once.

Rachel gave her a soft smile, and pulled Annabeth down into a hug. Her small hands patted her on the back, and Annabeth took a deep breath to try and relax, the smell of Rachel's wild red hair in her nose, the smell of oil paint and designer perfume.

"You're going to find him." Rachel whispered in her ear, "and you're gonna save the world. I'm insisting."

Annabeth snorted, but a small warm feeling in her heart blossomed slightly, where before it had just been painfully hollow. She gave her friend a grateful squeeze, before drawing back up to her normal height.

She turned to Nico. "Let's go."

They both waved their goodbyes to the few demigods staying, and to Chiron behind them, who she had never seen look so uncertain before. His hooves clopped around on the sand below him, not staying still. It made her stomach get a bad twisty feeling to see him that way. He was clearly affected by the loss of Percy and the knowledge that he was sending the majority of his campers to- well- it wasn't certain death, perse-

Annabeth distracted herself by waving once more, before walking up to the deck to overlook the rest. It looked like everyone was boarding now, some strapping in, some at the helm, a couple holding oars above their heads and making ape noises. The few ships Camp Jupiter had were uniform and neat, no more than three or four to a boat. As she watched, she saw what looked like the last of her siblings stumbling out the forest to grab their armour and find their respective vessels. Good. That would be everyone.

"Alright!" she yelled, an almost instant silence falling. "Is everyone here?"

She waited a few beats as they all looked around.

"Yes!" called out Travis Stoll.

"Then let's go!" Cheers erupted and boats pushed off, flying machines taking to the sky. She spotted Reyna patrolling around on her pegasus Scipio, dismissing her own boats. Annabeth felt a lurch as the Argo moved, before cruising smoothly away from Camp.

"We're coming, Percy." Annabeth whispered. "We're coming for you."

It was several days later when things changed.

They'd just eaten dinner, and Annabeth liked to head out onto the deck after. She liked to breathe in the sea air, resting her hands on the rail and just letting her head hang. She'd form plans in her head for scenarios in her wildest dreams. Plans for if she went after Percy down to Tartarus herself, plans for what should happen if Gaia rose before Percy got out, Styx, she even had a plan for if Percy was to suddenly burst out of the floor. She'd rant to herself about the Gods. And if tears sometimes mixed with sea spray, only the fish would know. Watching the waves clap together, she heard a shuffle behind her and whipped round, fist raised.

"Sorry." Frank winced. "Didn't mean to interrupt, but we're having a meeting downstairs. Reyna's just landed, she says she wants to talk with us."

"I'm coming." Annabeth said, tearing her eyes away from the calm sea.

She followed him into the meeting room, where everyone was already gathered, sitting down in the head chair without preamble.

"What is it?" she said straightaway, and Reyna leaned forwards to speak from the opposite, cape sweeping along the floor, but was cut off.

"Basically, we united the camps, brought back the parthenon, yadda, yadda, yadda. But where are the Gods? And why aren't they here?" Leo asked.

"They're probably taking time to recover." Annabeth guessed as Reyna shot Leo a venomous look, causing the son of Hephaestus to flush, apologising quickly to the Praetor, who accepted it with a stiff nod.

In truth, Annabeth didn't know where the Gods were. And she didn't particularly care. The Gods had rarely cared about them before, so what if they needed help? So what if Percy's life depended on them? Or the world? Hera had started this, selfish bovine Goddess that she was, why should she do anything to help how it ends? If Percy and Jason were her champions, surely she'd want to,oh, Annabeth didn't know,keep them alive?They were all too self-absorbed, unreliable, self-distancing-

"Annabeth?" Hazel questioned from next to her.

She blinked a few times before looking up. A sharp pain was throbbing in her hand, which she unclenched stiffly, frowning at the crescent shaped indents on her palm. Hazel placed her hand over the marks.

"We're on our way. He knows we're coming for him. It's gonna be okay, you'll see." she said quietly, so only the two of them could hear it, though Annabeth spied Nico covertly listening in from his place leaning up against the wall.

"I'm fine, Hazel. Don't worry about me. I know-" Annabeth began.

"Annabeth!" Piper cried suddenly, drawing her dagger from where it was sheathed. "Behind you!"

Annabeth turned around quickly just in time to see a tail slither over the outside of the small, porthole window in the wall.

"How many?" Annabeth asked, annoyed; they'd barely been on the sea a few days and already they were being attacked.

"I saw about six or seven, maybe more, there were quite a few." Frank stood up, twirling his spear.

"We can deal with that with just a few of us." Jason said firmly. "It'll be good practice, you three stay down here. We'll be back in a minute."

He beckoned to Hazel and Frank. Nico peeled himself off the wall as well to join them. Jason smiled at him in surprise, crinkling his little stapler lip scar. They all turned and prepared to charge up the stairs when Annabeth had a thought.

"Jason, wait." she lifted her eyes to meet his lightning blue ones.

He turned round.

"If there are any that can speak..." she said, uncertain of how to phrase it, "Just don't kill them. Bring one down here." she finished.

Jason gave her a strangled look.

"Annabeth-"

"Just. Do it, please." she said.

He nodded quietly, grabbing a section of rope that hung off the wall, and checked the others over before they went up. Reyna came to sit by her. They didn't speak for several minutes, both wanting to join, but both knowing how too many fighters would cause too much getting muddled up. The clashing of weapons above filled the silence. Leo began to fiddle with what looked like nuts and bolts in the corner.

"It's supposed to be a practically infinite place. They may not have seen him at all." Reyna said quietly, knowing where Annabeth was planning.

"Then I'll know at least that." Annabeth answered shortly, but grateful that at least someone else thought the same as her.

They didn't speak again, but Reyna made eye contact with her several times, and each time, Annabeth felt slightly more worried.

A clatter at the stairs drew everyone's attention. Leo ducked in and jerked back out.

"We got a live one!" he grinned, with a terrible Australian accent.

Claws outstretched, it lunged for them. Annabeth didn't move. She didn't have to. She could see the rope around its neck, and knew that it still wouldn't stand a chance even if the rope snapped.

"Careful!" shouted Hazel at Jason. "Its arms have come undone."

She wove in front of it, as Frank and Jason struggled to keep it back. Batting away its arms with ease, she eventually found a loop and hooked its arms in place.

"There you go." she said proudly.

Annabeth touched her on the shoulder to convey her gratitude, but her eyes didn't leave the writhing monster.

"You're all dead," the monster chanted, "I'll kill you all, dead, dead, dead, dead-"

Piper smacked it on the head to shut it up, as Jason attached the other side of the rope to the cabin wall. Annabeth took her dagger in hand, ready to go, despite the wide eyes of several of the others, but a hand on her wrist stopped her.

"No." said Piper. "Let me."

"I need to-" Annabeth started.

"No, you don't. Sit down, relax. Itwilltalk, but I can make it talk a lot more easily. Charmspeak, remember? Sit." Piper hushed her, guiding her over to a chair.

Annabeth sunk into it, a little annoyed and more than a little impatient.

"Fine, fine, just hurry. Please." she ground out through her teeth, leaning on her elbows and glaring at the monster.

Piper stepped up in front of it, Jason instantly behind her with his sword hovering at its neck as a very clear warning.

"You're going to calm down and answer me truthfully." she started, "Have you been to Tartarus recently?" Piper asked, but the rolling warmth of her charmspeak couldn't hide the sudden drop in temperature at the name.

The monster stopped fighting immediately, going slack in its tight bonds, its eyes glazing over. Leo whistled, and Annabeth had to truly appreciate Piper's powers for just a second; they'd be nowhere without her. Annabeth envied her gift, not for the first time.

"Yeah," the monster chatted normally, as if it didn't just try to eat them, "I only got out a couple of days ago."

"How many days ago?" Piper pressed for specifics.

"Two."

It could have seen him. The thought crossed everybody's minds, and they exchanged looks.

"Did you come across any demigods down there?" Piper asked.

The room held their breath.

Annabeth leaned forwards.

The monster opened its teeth-filled mouth.

"No." it confessed.

"Dammit." Leo slapped the side of the boat angrily, and everyone slumped, Annabeth rubbing her temples.

"What else does it know?" Reyna asked wearily.

"We're not done yet." Annabeth said. "A few more questions, Pipes."

"Course." Piper nodded gently.

"Ask it if anything it knows hasmentioneda demigod."

Piper repeated the question, and blinked in surprise when the monster replied affirmatively.

"Yeah." it answered, and the tension rose again instantly.

"Okay, did this demigod have a name?" Piper asked, clasping and reclasping her hands.

"I heard them call him Jackson."

Everyone snapped to attention, a mess of conversations and questions breaking out immediately. Annabeth stood up and elbowed her way right in front of them to face the monster.

"Is he alive?" she asked directly.

"The monster or the demi-?"

"The demigod!" Annabeth yelled. "Is the demigod alive?"

"As far as I know, yes." the monster said, growing suspicious as he seemed to be realising the charmspeak was wearing off, as Piper was no longer asking the questions.

"Is he armed?" Piper asked, ducking to stand next to Annabeth.

"Yes."

"Is he injured?"

"Not that I heard."

Annabeth felt a desperation for answers she'd never know rise up in her, and she clenched her hands again.

"He's healed up then, somehow." Piper guessed, a little puzzled before carrying on. "Is he close to the doors?"

"No. I heard he was pretty far away." The monster spoke so conversationally under Piper's influence; it was quite bizarre.

Piper furrowed her brows. She turned to the room.

"Any more questions?" she directed it especially to Annabeth, who was glaring heavily at the monster.

A thousand ran through her head. She placed them in order of necessity, then personal desires, then alphabetical for the sheer sake of it. What was he wearing? What was he using to fight? Was he... scared? Each question wanted to jump out of her mouth, but she crammed it down; she couldn't lose herself obsessing over things she couldn't change. It wasn't healthy for her. She knew this. Annabeth bit her lip, shook her head, and walked out the room.

"Thanks for your time." she heard Piper say sarcastically, seeing Piper pulling Katoptris out in the corner of her eye, and rearing her arm back.

The door closed behind her.

A few moments later, there was gold dust on the floor, reassurance about Percy in their minds, and the noise of a piercing scream from outside.

Chapter 17: Percy XI

Summary:

Now, as he stood, with the phantom blood of both Titans and Giants alike soaking his hands, Percy thought hard. Maybe... maybe this was just the next level up for him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

Percy XI

"We need to break." Percy said flatly to Akhlys, his voice dragging in exhaustion.

"But we're so close!" Akhlys protested.

Percy didn't like the tone of frustration he heard in the Goddess' voice. She would do it at his pace or she wouldn't do anything at all. It was her fault they'd been walking for so long anyway. And with Damasen strapped to Maia's back, she couldn't fetch food for any of them, and Percy's stomach growls had made him paranoid more than once. He was tired, he was starving, and he was losing his patience with just about everyone, including himself. 'Not too far'she had told him. 'Just a little bit further'.Yeah, right. The temple thing had been further away than any of them had thought. He knew for sure that there were holes in his shoes appearing

"I don't care. Damasen might wake up." Percy said, halting Maia. "And I need a miracle like that right about now." he muttered.

He administered the Phlegthon water on the barely visible injury, splashing it over and focusing the water through Damasen's body. His knowledge of the inner workings of both human and monster bodies by now was more thorough than he had ever thought it would be, but he still wasn't sure why Damasen wasn't waking up. He guessed the poison remained, else he probably would have woken up by now if it was only the stab wound that needed healing.

He'd tried to control the poison and remove it, but it was difficult to weave through Damasen's body without poisoning more of him, like a delicate game of Operation. Percy didn't want to find out what would happen if he touched the sides; he doubted he'd hear a buzzer. So he stuck with the water. Percy tried to do it every few hours or so, but he had no way to know if it was regular. The last administration could have been a week ago, or 5 minutes ago- he didn't have a clue.

When Damasen stopped moaning in his sleep at the burning, Percy fixed the bonds keeping him in place and stepped back, taking several long and deep breaths. He'd need to keep some of that water for Maia as well. The Styx had effectively taken care of him in regards to breathing the air in, though as he cast his mind back, he hadn't needed the water as often the longer he had spent down here. He hated to think he was adapting, but he preferred it over feeling like someone was shredding him from the inside out.

"And now we go?" Akhlys said behind him.

Percy scowled; it was like a kid going 'are we there yet'in the back seat.

"No."he said shortly. "I need to rest or I won't be able to fight."

"If we get to the temple quickly, you won't need to fight. And you could rest there." Akhlys said, and though she had her hood up, he felt as if she was staring him down.

"No." Percy said again, trying to stop his voice from snapping at her. "I don't know what's in there. I can't risk getting caught off guard. I need rest." Percy explained with a hard look on his face.

Akhlys dropped her side of the argument almost instantly.

"Of course, of course. I will keep watch." Akhlys shuffled over to a stone and slumped down, a mournful sigh floating out from under her hood.

Percy frowned uncertainly. Maia was sighing deeply, the Drakon snoozing next to him. She had a lot to carry, she needed sleep too. But this meant she couldn't watch out while he slept. If he was to do this, to trust Akhlys to watch over him, he'd need to go all in. He couldn't sleep with one eye open again; he'd end up not getting enough sleep overall. He tallied up his odds in his head. Akhlys was minor Goddess- she couldn'treallydo him damage, could she? He had almost forgotten about the curse on him- he still felt the same amount of vulnerability. Despite spending about a year with the Achilles Curse on him, he had forgotten how much he obsessed over his mortal point, even when he couldn't remember where it was.

Still, the urge to sleep was pressing down on his eyes, like cotton wool had replaced his brain, and was expanding inside his head. He needed to stop being so paranoid. Percy nodded slowly.

"Okay," he murmured, "You take watch. Wake me if you see anything."

His knees buckled at that point, and he crashed to the floor. He crawled with weak arms to lean against Maia, who subconsciously wrapped her tail around his torso in her sleep. He breathed in. The dense air of Tartarus never ceased in being so suffocatingly hot, and he could feel each bead of sweat that ran down his sides. Yet he still leaned into the Drakon, whose leathery hide would have probably scalded him had it not been for the curse, happy to just have contact with someone.

He breathed out.

He woke up a while later, a little disoriented as his eyes snapped open, and quickly ran his hands along his body.

He didn't seem to be injured. He had all his stuff on him. Nothing seemed amiss. He checked over Maia and Damasen, the former waking up as he did so, staring up at him with sea-green eyes. Standing back up, after patting Maia on the head softly, he walked over to Akhlys. Guess he could trust her after all, even if it was only just a little bit. She still had her cloak over her, obscuring her face.

"So, what's with the cloak?" he asked out of sheer curiosity, unable to stop himself.

She jumped a mile into the air, clearly not hearing him get up. Percy twitched.

"I- uh- what?" Akhlys babbled. "The cloak? Oh, thecloak. It's to cover me, because- because if you look under the cloak, you get very depressed." Akhlys stammered out.

Percy scratched the back of his neck; he knew he didn't scare herthatbadly.

"Okay." he said, shrugging deliberately.

She was definitely hiding something. What, exactly, he didn't know. She was using the cloak to cover something. Maybe she had a face only her mother could love. Maybe she had an extra eye. Maybe she kept a snake under it, hey, he didn't know, but he kept her at a distance as they started moving again. The shaky trust he had with her got a little bit shakier.

The temple in the distance was rapidly getting bigger. Percy started to try and make a plan. He had only gotten as far as leaving Maia, Akhlys and Damasen outside and going in guns blazing, then somehow making it safe for them. Or swords blazing, he corrected. It sounded like a pretty good plan to him. He could handle anyone inside. What were they gonna do, stab him?

As they got closer, Percy started chewing his lip. He swung his bronze sword back and forth, holding on tightly. The temple-type thing was a lot bigger than he thought.

And a lot more terrifying.

It was bigger than the Big House at Camp, like a mansion almost, definitely no longer a temple as he had first thought. Worshipping anything in there would be wrong. The roof spiked high, and was so dark that it was barely noticeable. It was at least three stories high, and had windows along the walls, and despite being in the poor light of Tartarus, Percy had a feeling that he wouldn't be able to see through them even if he was in the bright sunlight from the surface. They were pitch black windows that seemed to flicker as he squinted. The high doors at the front were shut. And though it was dark in Tartarus, it seemed almost unnaturally dark in and around the general area. It was as if light bent around the mansion, too scared to go near it. No monsters either, Percy thought with a frown; in hindsight, he hadn't seen a single monster on the way there. The air felt dead, like it was hung from the ceiling of the great pit, just dangling there for them to breathe in. Even the glassy black ground had lost the sheen to its crystalline rocks.

Percy's brows furrowed as he took the whole place in. Something was wrong. He knew something was wrong, could feel it. It all looked too- too civilised to be down here. An ostentatious mansion, not a speck of dust in sight, the metal gates practically gleaming as if they had been polished. Someone lived here. Not just surviving like the rest of them, no, whoever resided here was living. The thought made Percy's skin crawl.

No one should belivingdown here.

Percy drew their group to a halt. No one was going any nearer until he figured out what it was. As much as he wanted to turn tail and head back, he knew there was nothing back in that direction for them. And any more walking could very possibly kill him. He couldn't take being lost anymore. He hated their lack of direction, aimlessness that he knew was doing nothing to help his friends on the surface. And hey, who knew? Maybe if someone nice lived here, he could ask for directions. The thought almost made him laugh. Almost.

He debated tying up Maia but decided that she should be able to run and take Damasen away should things go wrong. He turned to Akhlys. Upon second thought, he'd rather have her as backup than leave her unsupervised with the other two.

"We'll clear it out and come back for them." he said. "I don't want them in there. Come on."

He drew his sword and edged forwards. Going through the doors seemed like a plan. Should he knock? He was torn between the element of surprise and just being polite. He could smash a window and break in but he highly doubted that that was going to get him in the good books of whoever lived there, if they were home. No one would help him if he just suddenly crashed head first through their window and sprawled right in the middle of their front room, asking if he was going the right way.

Percy's lips twitched.

Movement behind him.

Wait-

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He ducked.

"What are youdoing?" he hissed at Akhlys, sword at her throat in less than a second.

She hadswungat him.

She was facing him, hood still irritatingly obscuring her face, but it didn't detract from the large rock in her hand, ready to bludgeon him in the back of the head. He had barely had enough time to react.

"Enough is enough." Akhlys snapped, what he presumed to be her chin up high above his sword. "I have done my part."

Percy had a sinking feeling in his stomach, but the lower it sank, the more it twisted into anger. What had he been thinking? He shouldn't have given her even the bare minimum of trust. He should have ditched her, wounded her, incapacitated her. They hadn't got this far to be taken down by some- some pathetic minor Goddess. He had bigger fish to fry.

"Whatever you think you're planning to do, I promise you I willdoubleit on you." Percy's eyes burned into her, stepping around slowly so he had both Akhlys and the mansion thing in the same field of vision.

"Iwon't be doing anything." Akhlys said, with a slight quaver in her voice, a voice that had significantly changed in the last few seconds, from low and miserable to cold and cruel.

It all happened in a split second.

Akhlys jerked her head back, away from his sword, turning to scream at the house behind her.

"My Lady, the demigo-!"

His sword was embedded in her back in a heartbeat, thrown with such force that it knocked the Goddess down to her knees with a cry. He could see it protruding from the front of her cloak. She howled in pain again, and he called it back into his hand, this time catching it. The sword dripped with ichor.

Mylady?

A bang like a gunshot made him flinch, his heart pounding out beats like a samba in his chest. His breathing grew faster. The doors of the mansion had been thrown open with such force that they had bounced off the wall. A winged figure emerged, seemingly growing bigger with every step, until she towered above even the mansion, at least forty feet tall, dark dress trailing across the ground smoothly.

Percy took a few steps backwards hastily, as he felt the sheer power oozing off of the figure. The woman was a churning figure of ash and smoke, as big as the Athena Parthenos statue, but very much alive. Her dress was void black, mixed with the colors of a space nebula as if galaxies were being born in her bodice. Her face was hard to see except for the pinpoints of her eyes, which shone like quasars, her shadowy skin occasionally solidifying to a beautiful, almost black, brown. When her huge black wings behind her beat, waves of darkness rolled over the cliffs. Percy had to crane his neck up just to see her, blinking in awe.

Akhlys stumbled forwards, not necessarily wanting to get any closer either. She lifted pale hands to her cloak, throwing down the hood. Percy narrowed his eyes, his attention shifting.

She did not look like how he had pictured. One side of Akhlys' face was curved up into a bright smile, the other half a sinister picture of bared teeth, razor sharp. Comedy and tragedy masks, merged in the Goddess' skin. Both sides moved when 'Akhlys' began to babble.

"My Lady Nyx, Mother, I bring you a demigod. The demigod who got trapped in the pit, with skin of iron, Mother- he has the blessing of the Styx."

Nyx, the primordial, the protogenoi, Goddess of the night, sister of Tartarus and Gaia.

Percy closed his eyes. He was tempted to turn the air blue with swearing, but found his wide vocabulary of curses did not quite cover his situation.

"Silence, Apate." Nyx hushed with a smoothly powerful voice. "Let the boy say his last words before he dies."

Percy felt his hands tremble a little and clenched his weapons tighter. He opened his eyes and glared.

"Apate?" His voice shook with anger, and he directed it all at the minor Goddess in front of him, somehow trying to ignore that Primordial watching him.

Akhlys, no, Apate, smirked, despite the wound going through her, and the way her hands shook as she pressed hard to stop the bleeding.

"Of course I'm not Akhlys, that whining mess isn't this clever." she boasted. "I am Apate, Goddess of deceit. That, however, must be obvious to you now." Apate crowed infuriatingly.

Percy thought of Maia and Damasen, tucked behind a rock barely a few metres away. They'd never make it out of here alive without him.

"You're an idiot." Percy snapped. "Yeah, sure, you lured me here because you knew I wanted shelter, and you did it all under a fake name. But you know that you could have just used your real name, right?" Percy gestured angrily, "Nobody, and I mean,nobody, has ever heard of 'Apate'. I hadn't even heard of Akhlys. Your 'deceit' wasn't all that awe-inspiring. I've met better liars than you in New York alone."

Apate flushed with rage but Nyx observed him. She stepped forwards, and began to shrink. Percy paled, but stood his ground, until the Primordial only stood at around six feet tall, matching his height.

"You claim to know those better at deceit thantheGoddess of deceit? Who would be a better candidate?" Nyx asked him directly, and Percy tried not to let the emptiness in her eyes knock his knees together.

Percy swallowed.

"Iwould." He lifted his chin with fake arrogance. "I am more deceitful than this- thisworthlessGoddess."

Apate spluttered as Percy continued, hoping beyond hope that he could lie his way through the whole situation.

"This Giant?" Percy gestured behind him, praying that Damasen was still unconscious. "I tricked him. I acted like his friend, persuaded him to accompany me across Tartarus." Percy lied. "He was stung by Kampé, a useful distraction which gave me time to kill her. He tamed the Drakon here, which I use at my disposal to carry whatever I please. Bodyguards for hire, only I don't pay a single drachma."

He hated the words that tumbled out of his mouth, but couldn't stop, knowing that just stabbing some things wasn't going to get him out alive. He needed to trick her. And more importantly, he needed to keep talking. Longer he talked, longer he stayed alive. It had worked well for him in his life up until now. So he continued:

"We- I was previously accompanied by a titan as well. Iapetus." Percy said, finding it easier to use the Titan's real name over his given name, "Although after a dip in the Lethe, courtesy of me, he didn't know that. He only knew what I told him. He was nothing but a puppet for me. Killed by Kampé, but I got his worth out of him while I had him, manipulating him to kill his brother Hyperion. I have barely a scratch on me because of my deceit. Can Apate say the same?" He deliberately and visibly eyed her seeping wound.

"All parlour tricks-" mumbled Apate before Percy cut her off as sudden inspiration hit.

"And the final deceitful act that puts me above you? I trickedyou, Apate." Percy lied through his teeth, keeping a knowing smile on his face until it was beginning to hurt, "I lied just now. I lied when I first met you. I knew who you really were. I knew where you were taking me, towhoyou were taking me. Monsters didn't attack us because they knew your plan, yes? I got a free pass to this place, and the greatest honour of all: I get to meet the Lady Nyx." Percy finished, feeling slightly sick at himself.

Nyx regarded him with an indecipherable expression.

"Then perhaps you should be the new God of Deceit." she said. "If my children fail to serve me correctly, maybe their spirit should move on, and find a moreconvincinghost."

Percy struggled to not raise his eyebrows.

"But Mother-!" Apate switched her targets, choosing to growl at Percy instead. "He is lying to us. He did all that with good intentions- I know trickery when I see it. You cannot fool me."

Percy cursed like a sailor in his head. He hated Apate with a passion. If he died here, if he didn't make it back to his family... she would pay.

"Then was that not the biggest deceit of all?" Percy threw caution to the wind, and hated how desperate it came out.

But "Perhaps." was all Nyx said.

"Although I have to respectfully decline the offer of Godhood, my lady Nyx." Percy said, bowing his head to hide his darting eyes, "As to be anything associated with you, would be too much of an honour."

"But now then who would be the Goddess of deceit?" Nyx asked coolly, and Percy hated how much he she was just playing with him, nipping her prey in the water before snapping.

"There are plenty of deceitful people out there, check the governments first, my lady." Percy tried. "But at the end of it all, the only thing I can heavily recommend is that you do not need to burden yourself with such a pitiful Goddess as Apate." he growled in the direction of the minor Goddess.

Percy had no idea what he was aiming for. All he knew was that he wanted Apate to pay and that he wanted to get out ASAP.

"Then kill her." Nyx replied calmly.

Percy blanked.

Apate gasped. "Mother!"

"S-sorry?" Percy asked, finding himself at a complete loss.

"I shall find a replacement.Youwill dispose of her." Nyx's eyes glittered hungrily. "If you are so powerful and she is not, get rid of her. If you cannot...then who do I really have no need for?"

Percy's eyes flickered to Apate, who was practically quivering in indignant fury.

She wanted him...to kill Apate.

To kill a Goddess.

He knew Gods and Goddesses could die, that they could fade if humanity forgot about them enough. He had been there when Pan had died. But...could they be killed? Could he kill a Goddess?

He glanced at Nyx, and he knew in an instant the she didn't think he could do it. He knew that she would-will- kill him if he didn't do it. She was just waiting to kill him. Surely she wouldn't have such a disregard for her own children? But Percy had seen the Gods with their children, up close and unfortunately personal. He knew they would kill them in a second. Her spirit would move on? He guessed that's how it worked with minor Gods and Goddesses. No one really worshipped the minor ones anymore, maybe their spirit just flitted from one body to another. So what if he just killed the host's body?

He turned to face Apate, his heart pounding out of his chest. Could he kill this current body? He'd killed a lot of monsters over the years. When he was twelve, he thought he'd never be able to kill a Titan. When he grew older, he never thought he'd be able to kill a Giant. Now, as he stood, with the phantom blood of both Titans and Giants alike soaking his hands, Percy thought hard. Maybe... maybe this was just the next level up for him. He felt stronger than ever with the Curse of Achilles on him. It wasn't as if he didn'twantto kill her.

And it wasn't like anybody would stop him.

Ichor was like blood, wasn't it?

Apate must have seen his face settle on a resolution, must have seen his eyes turn onto her with an expression he himself didn't know how to describe, for she charged at him, throwing herself off the floor, her wound irrelevant to her and her hands crackling with sparks. Percy ducked as she lunged, slashing at her torso, cutting her deeply. Apate howled, trying to rip at his face.

"You've ruined everything! I'll kill you!" she screamed. "Then your Giant, then your Drakon!"

Her hands glanced off of him, nothing more than an annoyance, and with every failed swipe, the noise of broken glass crunching echoed in Percy's head, stamping down the final internal wall stopping him from doing this. Ichor made an immortal strong. What if he took it away?

"I'll find that Titan too, Iapetus, I'll trick him into fighting with us instead! Gaia was right! You will loseeverything!" she taunted, trying to grab his head and throw him, but Percy just grabbed her wrists in one hand.

Percy angrily flipped her over his shoulder, her breath audibly knocked out of her, and dared a look at Nyx.

She was just stood there, watching, making no visible move to intervene.

Percy went back to his fight, eyes darting to the gold seeping through Apate's cloak, from one growing stain to another. An idea formed in his head.

He raised his hand, and began to pull the ichor out of Apate's wounds.

Her face paled, even the cheerful smile vanishing, but as he increased the pressure throughout her body, he could see her face drop further as she realised he had her pinned down and unable to move. The pool of gold around her got bigger and bigger.

She panicked. She began to plead.

"I didn't mean it!" she cried, "I can give you anything you want! Safe transport out of here! Riches untold, undiscovered by man and God alike!"

Her chest moved up and down faster; Percy watched the ichor weave through the glassy floor beneath her.

"I'm not lying!" she shrieked, "I mean it! For real this time! No tricks! I swear!"

Her limbs began to shake and convulse. Her wide eyes met his.

"You're not lying?" Percy asked, breathing out heavily through his nose, and he gritted his teeth, "Apate, Goddess of deceit, isn't lying to me? Tell me why don't I believe you."

Percy continued, looking her in the eye as lights flickered on and off within them. Ichor was strange, thicker than monster blood, yet thinner at the same time. He felt like it was made of multiple violin strings, each one thrumming with a glow of power, and he could almost hear the pings as he disconnected them, tore them apart. He ripped them off, one by one. Apate's movement slowed down, her begging turning into low indecipherable moans.

Soon, he felt that there was only one string left, only one more tie connecting her to the world. It felt fragile in his hands, and thinner than a hair. He'd never killed a God before. He briefly wondered if his dad would be angry.

If he ever found out.

He broke the last golden strand.

A blinding light erupted in front of him, causing Percy to instinctively throw his arm over his eyes. He could feel the heat against his skin, a slight burning, despite the curse.

When he slowly lowered his arm, his gaze was drawn down. Apate's body was surrounded by a large scorch mark, seared into the ground. Her skin was white, completely white, drained of all colour. Her lifeless eyes gazed into nothing. She looked... human.

Percy looked away. Maybe he had gone too far. Maybe he should have listened to the voices in his head that sounded suspiciously like Annabeth. But he didn't have time to dwell on it as a clapping came from his right. He slowly turned around.

Nyx didn't stop staring at him as she applauded.

"A demigod with the power to kill gods." she said, with a hunger in her eyes, "What an interesting addition you will make."

Chapter 18: Percy XII

Summary:

"Gaia?" Nyx said, suddenly angry. "What does she have to do with this?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

Percy XII

"Addition? My lady?" Percy asked hesitantly, adding the title on to the end.

She seemed the type who enjoyed flattery, and hadn't told him to call her anything different. He made a mental note about it as she smiled in a satisfied way.

"Yes." she nodded. "I can only leave this place at night, free to roam most of the earth. During the day, I am often left here to amuse myself. So I collect things. Most of my children, once they are created, stay down here and fetch things for me. Food, trinkets," She cast her gaze over him. "Demigods. You will stay down here with me now. Kill a couple Gods for me here and there. It will be most entertaining."

"My lady," Percy felt a trickle of panic as he spoke, "Tt sounds an honour, but-"

"Good. Now come." she cut him off regally, and swept away.

Percy breathed out heavily.

"My lady, I can't." he said quickly.

She turned around.

"Can't?" Pure ice crept up his spine.

"I can't- I can't live down here." he tried to explain.

"And why not?" she asked in a low, dangerous tone.

"I have places to- tobe- I don't belong down here." Percy stressed.

"Seems to me like you do." Nyx said, not so subtly glancing at Apate's lifeless body next to them.

Percy opened his mouth in indignation, before slamming it shut into a thin frown. She was the one who made him do it in the first place, he thought defensively, she couldn't criticise him for it now. Percy looked at the dead Goddess on the floor. His eyes flicked from the metallic pool of gold on the ground to the milky white eyes, open but staring into nothing. He had wanted her to pay. He had. He hadn't even known if he could have do it in the first place. It was just like fighting a Titan, Percy told himself. Should he feel bad? Should he feel proud?

Percy just felt... unsure.

"It's not that," he ended up saying, still trying to explain, "Before I had this curse, the air alone was killing me. I really don't belong here. And... I have people I need to get back to on the surface. I promised. And if I don't get back, monsters will continue to not die, Gaia will rise and-"

"Gaia?" Nyx said, suddenly angry. "What does she have to do with this?"

Percy blinked. She didn't know? He'd presumed they all knew what was going on, chatting about it at some weekly primordial wine tasting. It seemed like a pretty hard thing to miss.

"She's rising." he said slowly, causing Nyx to screech and start pacing, black wings beating harder, rolling waves of darkness flowing over Percy, who shivered before carrying on, "She opened the doors of death nearly a year ago, and chained them down. Monsters don't die properly anymore, they can come back as soon as they're killed. They reform in seconds. There was another Great Prophecy, and we thought it would be in a couple centuries, but instead it just decided to come early. It's about seven demigods, we're trying to stop her."

"Good! Gaia must not rise." Nyx snapped. "She will burn the world, I know her. And if the world burns, what does that leave for the rest of us, hm? Wait-"

She looked him dead in the eye and Percy tried not to squirm.

"You are in this prophecy?" she demanded.

"Yeah, unfortunately. Uh- my lady." he tacked on the end.

"Tell me it."

Percy breathed out of his nose. It wasn't that he didn't know it. Oh, he knew it off by heart alright, could hear it in his head when he closed his eyes.

"Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,

To storm or fire the world will fall,

An oath to keep with a final breath-" Percy was cut off.

"-And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death." Nyx finished grimly.

Percy blinked.

"You've heard it?" he asked in surprise.

"Of course," Nyx said, "I wasthereseveral millenia ago when the Oracle of Delphi delivered it for the first time. There have been countless heroes attempting to fulfill it, even Hercules and Theseus attempted it, to no avail. You say yet another group is trying again? And that you are part of it?"

Percy nodded with a grimace.

The glints in Nyx's eyes darted about as she clearly thought. The shadows above them twisted, and Percy glanced up, swearing he saw claws in the darkness, the shine of multiple eyes. He dropped his eyes, trying to ignore it.

"A child of a prophecy was worshipped in my time." Nyx snapped. "How could they let you down here? Is this part of the prophecy?"

"No." Percy said, "Well- I don't know- It's... it's complicated. I fell down here so the girl I love wouldn't. So she'd be safe. But now I have to get back, I need to get to the Doors of Death and get out, to finish the prophecy with the others. I appreciate you letting me live,really,I do, but I'm sorry- I need to leave."

For a second, Percy saw her just reaching forwards and tearing his head off. He found himself slightly leaning his head back, just in case. Instead, Nyx just watched him closely before answering.

"You must love her a lot." said Nyx before composing herself. "Gaia must not rise. I won't let that happen. If you need to go, I won't keep you here. You will be under my protection."

Percy blinked several times more, surprised.

"Thank you, my lady." he said eventually, feeling like he had dodged a Primordial Goddess sized bullet.

"Gaia has to be stopped." Nyx murmured, almost to herself. "Are all seven of you still alive?"

Percy nodded.

"I know you're a child of Poseidon or Neptune, I can smell it underneath that curse of yours. The others?"

"Athena, Jupiter, Aphrodite, Mars, Pluto and Hephaestus." Percy ticked them off on his fingers.

"A mix of RomansandGreeks?" Nyx mused, "Gaia must be causing quite some havoc, then."

"She's brought all the Giants back as well." Percy said.

Nyx glanced at Damasen. "All but one," she said, "The Giant here- how long ago was he poisoned?"

Percy shrugged. "I don't know. Wait, can you tell the time down here?"

Nyx gave him a flash of a serene smile as she walked over to Damasen. "Can'tyou?"

Nyx stood over the Giant. Maia didn't bat an eyelid at her, even seemed to relax as the primordial Goddess ran a hand covered in twinkling diamond rings along Damasen's head, narrowing her eyes. The smoke and ash of her skin darkened, and she looked back up at an awkwardly stood Percy.

"He does not have long left." she said in a very business-like manner.

Percy did a double take.

"To wake up or to live?" he asked, slightly panicked.

"To awaken." Nyx waved her hand. "You may stay here until he wakes, I shall seal off the area."

Huge black gates, twisted into patterns like molten metal, shimmered into view. Towering at around thirty feet, Percy couldn't help but feel slightly trapped. They swung shut with a clang, in between two cliffs. A wash of dark grey ran over everything within, then disappeared, sinking into the shadows of the ground when it was done.

"To get where you need to go, you will need to go through my house. But you must rest first. I am sure your curse demands it." Nyx purred. "Rest, my little Godkiller."

Percy furrowed his brow at the title she gave him. He wasn't a Godkiller. He'd killed someone who had put him and his friends in danger. She just happened to have been a Goddess. It wouldn't have mattered what she was.

But Percy agreed to take a rest break. It wasn't as if he truly had a choice. Helping Damasen down from Maia, who looked relieved to no longer have to carry the giant, he laid him out on the floor. There wasn't really another place to put him. He sat with Damasen on the edge of a rock, listening to his breathing. Percy kept looking up at the dead Goddess a few mere metres away.

He wasn't sure what to think about it all, so he just tried not to think about it. Keyword, tried.

In fact, he was so distracted, he nearly missed Damasen's eyes flickering open.

"Damasen!" Percy cried, leaning over him. "You're awake!"

"I seems I am." Damasen agreed wearily, already pushing himself up shakily.

"Whoa!" Percy jumped up to help him into a sitting position, keeping a hand on his shoulder to hold him steady.

Damasen glanced around.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"...Nyx's house. " Percy said sheepishly.

Damasen's eyes bulged.

"The Mansion of Night?" he said, dumbfounded.

"She's cool with us staying here." Percy added to reassure him.

"You talked to her?" Damasen asked, aghast. "Perseus, not even we Giants go near this place! How are we- did she-?"

"Hey, man, chill, it's okay. I know it seemed all oh-snap-she's-gonna-kill-us for a little while, but it's totally okay now. We're under her protection. Apparently she wants Gaia to rise just as much as we do." Percy responded, shrugging.

Damasen shook his head in disbelief. He didn't seem to know what to say. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Damasen slowly gaining enough strength to sit up properly, starting to stretch his limbs. Percy jogged his legs up and down where he was sat.

"You know what?" Percy said, out of the blue, "You know what one of the first things I'm gonna do when we get out is?"

Damasen looked at him, raising his eyebrows.

"I'm gonna order ten burgers- no, no-" Percy corrected himself as his stomach growled again, "-a hundred burgers. All with fries, throw in some nuggets and a whole fountain of milkshakes. And I'm going to sit there, and eat it all in one single sitting. I don't even care if Gaia is clawing her way out the ground like three feet away from me, I'm eating my damn Happy Meal."

Damasen didn't move from his vaguely slumped position, but Percy could see him smiling.

"Like, the drakon steaks are okay, don't get me wrong, but knowing they're made of Maia is just a little weird." He knew he was rambling, but just the thought of normal food had been making his stomach claw for attention for weeks. Cupcakes were also on his list. With buttercream. Light, sweet, sugary buttercream. Percy's mouth watered.

"What will you do?" He turned to Damasen to distract himself.

"What do you mean?" Damasen replied.

"When we get out." Percy clarified, "What will you do?"

Damasen seemed to think for a few minutes, and Percy waited for him to answer, his eyes wandering through the dark red clouds, searching for shapes, but only seeing pools of blood, and tendrils of mist like arms reaching out for salvation.

"I don't know." The Giant said eventually. "It's been so long. I don't know what it's like up there anymore."

"You could come to camp." Percy said, tearing his eyes away to smile. "It's run by a centaur called Chiron, I bet you'd be friends. And I'm sure we'll need a few more instructors by the time this is all over."

"What would I teach? I'm not one for violence."

Percy had to agree, whenever they fought, he could see the toll it took on Damasen mentally, to have to keep causing harm and creating violence. He just wanted peace, and no one would grant him it; Percy knew the feeling.

"You could teach..." Percy trailed off before an idea hit him, "You could teach demigods how to tell the fates to stuff it. How prophecies and quests don't dictate their lives. How to make their own destinies, like you did. Gods know we need it. And you can tell the Gods that too." he muttered under his breath.

"That sounds good." Damasen said, with a small wistful smile.

He lifted his head, looking at Percy. No, Percy thought as Damasen's pupils wandered over his shoulder, lookingbehindPercy.

"What's over there?" Damasen asked, furrowing his brow weakly, probably still in a little leftover pain from Kampê's sting.

Percy followed his gaze all the way over to Apate's lifeless body.

Ah.

"That was the Goddess of Deceit, Apate." Percy said carefully.

"Was?" Damasen asked, surprised. "Nyx killed her?"

"No." Percy said uncertainly, "I did."

Damasen looked straight at him.

"What?" he asked, as if he thought he had misheard.

"She tricked me." Percy found himself a little desperate to explain himself, but relaxed the more he spoke, the more he thought out loud, "She led us here trying to kill us. She said she was going to kill you, hunt down Bob. I couldn't let that happen, and Nyx would have killed me if I hadn't done anything. So I killed her."

Percy nodded at the end, a little wobbly, but firm. He had killed a Goddess today. And... and he was strangely okay with that. It was kill or be killed down here, he told himself. She had deserved it. Now he had a Primordial on his side, he reasoned. That was good. Was killing her good? Percy didn't know. He'd thought about killing Gods before, coughHeracough, he'd just never thought he'd have the guts to try or the power to actually do it. But now he had. He'd finally done it. Maybe it was just the next level for him, he thought again. He forced himself to look at the body once more before glancing back.

Damasen kept staring him in the eye.

"Back in my day, demigods were not so powerful." was all he said at last. "They did not have the power to evict an immortal spirit from its host."

"Does that mean Apate is still alive out there?" Percy realised with a cold feeling.

Damasen shook his head. "With minor Gods, they will simply be reborn into another host. They will not remember their previous life. As minor Gods have less acknowledgement in the mortal world, their ties to hosts and to life are not as strong. They fade easily. To kill an Olympian would be a much harder task, requiring much more power. Power you seem to wield." He eyed him.

"It's probably just the curse making everything stronger." Percy shook his head dismissively.

Damasen looked doubtful, but didn't elaborate on his thoughts.

"When do we go?" he said instead.

"Nyx wanted us to rest, for me to wait until you woke up. I haven't slept but I'm good anyway, I took a power nap before we got here. Either way, once you're good, I think she said we're supposed to go through her house."

Damasen looked unsure.

"Thathouse?" he hesitated, and Percy understood, not wanting to go into the looming mansion much either.

"It'll be fine." Percy reassured the giant, "We can do it. We haven't come this far to give up now."

Damasen nodded, but paled as his eyes slid over Percy's shoulder.

"Excellent." said the smooth voice of Nyx behind him. "Then it's time."

Chapter 19: Annabeth IV

Summary:

She broke the top of the waves with a gasp, inhaling as much blessed oxygen as she could.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

Annabeth IV

Annabeth walked out the cabin, her hands running through her blonde hair. It was knotted and dry, exposed to the salty air too much. She pulled it back into a tight ponytail, wanting to at least have control over one thing in her life right now and get her hair out her face. Not for the first time, she felt the urge to just cut it all off. Annabeth stared into the water, tinted dark orange from the sunset over it.

Her elbows came up to rest on the metal rail. It was cold. She rubbed a hand over her face. Gods, she was tired. She was tired of all this, she just wanted Percy backright now, wanted him right next to her. She wanted to tell him again that she loved him, that she loved him so much it hurt. She wanted the feeling of his arms round her.

The air was getting cooler, causing her skin to prickle, and she pulled back. She sighed. Deciding to do a quick detour, she wandered through the main corridor, ducking into his room. Still perched on his chair, Percy's hoodie was freshly washed, but she could still smell him when she put it on.

Annabeth wished for the first time that she could fly like Jason.

She could be there already.

How far had they come so far? They'd been sailing for too long, and though she'd initially thought that cabin fever didn't affect her, she was feeling an increasing urge to just get away from the stupid boat, entertaining her daydream fantasy of having dinner in a nice little restaurant with sturdy stone slab flooring. With a frown, Annabeth realised dimly that she hadn't eaten anything today. She wouldn't be able to work to her best ability. She turned to go into the kitchen, whip up a quick snack and go to bed.

But a sudden impact to the side of the boat knocked her off balance.

Annabeth was thrown to the floor. She yelled out involuntarily as her head smacked into the side of the rail, stars bursting behind her eyes, and she scrambled to her knees, unsheathing her dagger. She heard a scream in the distance.

Monsters?

A boat had crashed into theirs?

They'd run ashore?

She'd barely had enough time to regain her senses before a shadow fell on the wall in front of her, tall and thick. She whipped around, slashing.

Annabeth's eyes widened in horror. She cursed.

A large mass was unfurling under the sea, knocking against the boat, dark and writhing. She couldn't identify it beyond 'Angry Octopus'. Boats of demigods around them were crashing, some kind of tentacles wrapping around them, pulling them into a circle around the monster. The black shape under the water got bigger and bigger as it headed towards the surface, and Annabeth's eyes grew wide as the water churned and frothed.

"Annabeth!" Piper cried behind her, the door bouncing off the wall as it was flung open.

Annabeth glanced at her, for one second, to see if she was okay.

One second. That was all it took.

A tentacle shot towards her, closing around her waist like a vice. Her ribs strained under the pressure. Annabeth's hands shot to it, trying to wrench it off of her, find a gap to wriggle out of, but it was too slippery, too tight, too late-

The breath in her lungs vanished as she was yanked off her feet.

She flew through the air. The monster writhed and hurled her about in its cold, unyielding grip. Her trapped arm strained to use her dagger. She saw Clarisse, dripping wet and astride a tentacle, stabbing it repeatedly and violently. People were screaming and leaping into the water, weapons held above their heads. Her body took a turn in the air as the tentacle spasmed, coughing as her ribs felt like they were bending inwards, and suddenly she was looking up at the rapidly shrinking sky, plunging towards the sea-

She fell freely into the ocean with a splash, the tentacle releasing her a few feet above the water. She spluttered as she swallowed what felt like half the sea, the salt leaving her tastebuds cringing. Her face screwed up. She treaded water unsteadily, the crazy waves caused by the thrashing monster threatening to overwhelm her.

Another flailing tentacle shot across the water towards her, and she gripped her wet dagger as tightly as she could.

"Annabeth!"

Jason dropped out the sky, his sword plunging into it before it could get to her. It recoiled in an instant, and Annabeth could see the rest of the beast squirm fiercely, sending a whole row of boats knocking into each other.

"Take my hand!" Jason shouted, hovering above the water, his free arm out.

She kicked herself up as far as she could, and held her hand up. The son of Jupiter grasped her wrist firmly, ready to lift her back. Annabeth held on. She'd seen him fly with other people before, and prayed that he'd be able to lift her up no problem, even though she could feel her sodden waterlogged clothes weighing her down. Percy's hoodie felt like it was made of concrete. The freezing water caused bumps to raise on her arms. They began to rise.

She saw Jason's face change, paling slightly, and craned her neck round.

The head of the beast was emerging from the water, one massive red eye in the centre of its domed head, its skin a dark grey. It opened its mouth and screeched, revealing rows upon rows of razor sharp fangs. If Annabeth had her hands free, she would have clapped them over her ears. Instead, she just grimaced and kicked her feet harder.

Something curled around her leg. Her eyes went wide.

"Jaso-!"

Like a yo-yo snapping backwards, her head went under, Jason's hand ripped from her grasp. All sound cut off with just the gulp of the water engulfing her, then the dim sound of bubbles streaming out of her nose and ears. Her hair swept onto her face, the velocity sending her arms shooting up towards the surface.

Her eyes squeezed shut. She clenched her dagger even harder, determined not to lose it. She tried to pull her leg up, but just succeeded in pulling her body down into a crouching position, the tentacle unwilling to let go. The grip around her ankle was reminiscent to Arachne's web, and the irony was not lost on her. She dragged her dagger down through the water, trying to get power behind it, but she could feel how all her movements were soslow. Her lungs began to strain. Rather than stabbing the tentacle, she made saw-like motions across the slimy skin, fumbling as best she could with her eyes closed.

It darted away like a startled fish, the grip vanishing. She kicked off immediately, pushing as hard as she could to the surface. She felt a hand grip her forearm, pulling her up faster.

She broke the top of the waves with a gasp, inhaling as much blessed oxygen as she could. Jason surfaced beside her.

"Are you okay?" he choked, spitting water out of his mouth.

Children of Zeus weren't always the best swimmers; something about the rivalry just stopped it. Annabeth remembered Thalia avoiding swimming a lot as well. She nodded. She hoped her dagger wasn't going to rust from all of this.

"We're aiming for the eye!" Jason shouted over the din of shouts, explosions, the screeching of the kraken like monster. Waves lapped at their chins, both struggling to tread water.

They swam over to where a whirlpool was forming. Assaulted on every side, the squid-monster span and rolled, lashing out and screeching. They reached the thicker parts of the tentacles, where only the tips were moving, and clambered up onto them, trying to run forwards for the head like the others were doing. Clarisse in particular had gone from swiping at sly tentacles to being sat on its head, lying on her front to stab at it. The skin on its head was thick, and Annabeth could see spears glancing off of the natural armour.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a shark swimming over to them.

"Whoa!" Jason shouted, pointing his sword at it.

"No!" Annabeth said, grabbing his wrist.

A second later, a very wet Frank was being hauled up.

"Thanks." He spat water out his mouth with a grossed-out expression. "That thing'shuge.I got down right to the sea bed and it's as if it's actually like,embeddedin the ocean floor. I can't see anything that looks like a chest, anywhere for its heart to be."

Jason cursed mildly, almost politely compared to what Annabeth could hear the Greeks shouting at it. "Then we'll have to just go for the head."

A series of bangs shattered over her shoulder, as a line of Roman ships fired in a row. Two missed but, eliciting a twisted scream, the rest connected. At least one ship was on fire, and a haze of smoke began to rise. The flying machines above had long lines of rope dangling from them, some hoisting drenched demigods from the sea, the others sending reinforcements, little black shapes descending along the golden horizon with swords clenched between their teeth.

"Wh- Ah!"

They were all swept off the tentacle as the monster writhed in pain, creating dangerously high waves.

Annabeth kept her chin pointing up, spluttering as another wave washed over her face. In the smoke, she couldn't see anyone, and panicked for her friends.

"Frank?" she cried. "Jaso-?"

Down under again, in the inky black of the water. Her legs flipped over her head, water getting up her nose and burning. She tried to kick back up to the surface again, as being caught off guard had left her with very little oxygen. She reached her arms up.

Her hands met wood.

Annabeth's face screwed up in panic.

What? Where was she? Oh no- Annabeth cursed as she realised she was under a boat. That wasn't not good, not at all, quite possibly theworstthing that could happen, because now she was trapped. She needed to get out- she needed to get out- she needed to get out-

Annabeth pressed her hands against the bottom of the ship, trying to find an edge as she kicked her legs. Her nails scraping against the wood was all she could hear in the submerged silence. She gave in and opened her eyes to try and see, no matter how much it was like acid to her eyes, but it was all hopelessly pitch black. Which ship was it? Was it one surrounded by other boats?

Her lungs seared with pain, like someone was trying to rip them out, the strain of holding her breath for too long. She curled her hands into fists and punched the boat uselessly, with the smallest of hopes that someone might hear it. Her stomach rocked up and down, twisting and turning, like she was strapped into a rollercoaster, and all she wanted to do was scream. She kept stretching her mouth wide open over and over again, but no one could hear her.

"Percy!" she screamed, but nothing but bubbles came out.

Annabeth felt her head get light. She had never felt so helpless before. She could feel the muscles in her body were giving up. Howdarethey!

She kicked again desperately, but didn't move an inch.

She! Had! To!Breathe!

The water burned as it flooded her nose, like lava down her throat. She choked, trying to throw it back up, only to take in more water. Her head felt like it was about to explode as her body rejected it, heaving and bucking in the water as she tried to be sick again and again. Everything was going purple.

She couldn't control her body as it jerked around, pain like she'd never felttearingher apart from the inside. Her brain pounded against her skull, her blood beating loudly in her ears as she retched.

She was sinking...

Everything was fading away...

Her arms rose up, floating out in front of her...

Then nothing.

Chapter 20: Percy XIII

Summary:

He picked up the pace a little, feeling that if he stopped, he'd never get out alive.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Percy XIII

Percy helped Damasen shakily stand up. The Giant looked to be able to walk on his own, but Percy doubted he'd be able to for long. Comparing their heights in his head, Percy had a sinking suspicion he'd be used as a crutch for the journey. He looked to Nyx for what to do next.

"You misunderstand me," she said, looking almost apologetically at Damasen, "The Giant cannot come through. He cannot fit."

Percy frowned.

"What?" he said, confused.

Damasen stepped backwards. "I'm too big, Percy. I'm three times your size. I can't fit through the doors."

"You knew? You knew you couldn't come with me?" Percy asked in disbelief.

Damasen nodded with a regretful wince.

"What happened to staying together?" Percy demanded. Damasen was still practically dead on his feet. HeneededPercy there to protect him! He had taken care of him when Percy had needed it most, and it was only right for Percy to repay the favour.

"There is another way across, but only for Giants and Titans." Damasen pressed, "You would not make it. This is the only way foryouto get across. We can meet up somewhere. Once you get out the other side, just keep going and I'll find you."

Percy shook his head, ready to argue further, but Nyx swept forwards, cutting him off.

"This is the only way." she stated, "And it has to happen now. Go." she turned on Damasen, waving him off imperiously. The Giant bowed his head and heeded her order. He started to limp away.

"Wait!" Percy said.

Damasen stopped. He raised an exasperated eyebrow at Percy.

"Take Maia." Percy held the reins out to him. The Giant accepted them quietly.

"I'll see you later. I'll find you." Damasen said with an unspoken promise, before disappearing through the metal gates. Percy watched, a little sadly, as Maia's tail swept out of sight, and turned back, trying to ignore his growing anxiety for both his comrades and his current situation.

"Little harm should come to him." Nyx glanced at Percy. "He is a Giant. And if he is rumoured to be with you, Godkiller, then perhaps the others shall go out of his way to avoid him."

Percy scowled but had to concede the point. Despite his compromised state, Damasenwasa Giant. On the surface, Giants couldn't even be killed without both a God and a demigod, and Percy was quite literally theonlydemigod in the Pit of the Underworld right now. And Percy didn't have any plans to bump Damasen off. Not anymore, a nasty little voice whispered. Percy ignored it. Although, he thought with just a trickle of worry, nothing seemed to abide by the rules in this place. Maybe... maybe he could be hurt. Percy shook his head clear. He'd be fine. And he had Maia. He would be fine.

"Where do I go?" He turned to Nyx, straightening his back in determination.

She smiled at him, not unkindly but not pleasantly. That did not inspire confidence in him.

"Through the doors and keep going. Do not open your eyes- or do. I am not sure if a mortal could take it. It would be interesting to find out."

Percy looked at the mansion again. Some kind of black smoke was coming out the gaps in the doors in whisps.

"Though that would mean Gaia's rise." Nyx contradicted herself. "Better keep them closed then."

"Yeah..." Percy said, still giving the house a once over.

What could actually be inside? Was there furniture, or was it all just like staring into the abyss? Did Nyx actually sleep there? He couldn't imagine cracking open an eye halfway through and just seeing some mundane object like a bookshelf or a wardrobe, couldn't picture feeling floorboards creaking underneath his feet. Did she have electricity? Scratch that- did she have a TV? An Xbox? He snorted softly at the thought of the Primordial Goddess coming home after a long day of what he presumed was murder and settling down on the sofa to play Fifa.

Nyx moved in front of him, effectively drawing his attention back to her. Her hand, elegant and covered in sparkling rings, rose to grasp his upper arm tightly. Percy tensed as she didn't let go and resisted the urge to yank it away from her, getting the feeling that that would be a bad idea.

"This may hurt," she warned casually, "but it will protect you."

"Wha-?"

Percy fell to his knees with a yell as a searing pain erupted across his arm, the skin seemingly trying to tear itself off and burrow deeper at the same time. Holy Hera, she did not hold back. After a few seconds of Percy biting his lip in agony, she let go. He staggered backwards, landing as gracefully as always on his butt.

"W-what was that?" He breathed raggedly, gulping breaths in like a drowning man.

He turned his arm to see. A mark like a tattoo was there, a solid circle with two crescents on each side, facing outwards, burned black into his skin. Percy gripped the skin as hard as he could to try and alleviate the pain, his eyes watering.

"What is it?" he asked, trying to calm his breathing.

"A token of luck. A blessing, if you will." Nyx said simply. "Very, very, few have ever received it. It only hurt you because I had to go through that Styx curse of yours. My offspring shall recognise you and most should avoid you. Children that aren't mine may back off on that alone."

Percy held his arm for a few seconds.

"You are welcome." she said, stressing the last word.

"Thanks." Percy said automatically. "Thank you, my lady." he reiterated, this time meaning it. Or at least, he hoped it sounded like he did.

"Be aware, it won't make Gaia back off so easily, my little Godkiller." Nyx said. "Do you know your role in the Prophecy in regards to her?"

Percy shook his head, then amended it grudgingly. "I don't know about the Prophecy, but- Gaia thinks I'll serve her. In the end. She keeps telling me that."

"And will you?" Nyx's tone was curious, but Percy felt the slight chill in the air for a split second.

"Never." he denied instantly. Nyx looked at him, and he felt like he was being x-rayed. "Or at least, not willingly."

"Mm." Nyx pressed her lips together. "We shall see. I see many things in your future, as does Gaia. But things can be... lost in translation sometimes. What will come to be may not be as clear as it appears."

Percy frowned. He didn't care what Gaia thought she knew, he'dneverjoin her. "What do you see?" he asked, more of a demand than a question, and he winced, ducking his head as Nyx gazed expressionlessly at him, informing him in no such terms that he had overstepped his boundaries. "Sorry." he muttered.

"Your future is something you must see and experience yourself. It is time for you to continue your journey there. Now, go." Nyx strode across to the doors, whirling around in front of them.

Percy, who had been following her, eyed them apprehensively.

"Here." she said, clicking her fingers.

The doors flew open in a whirlpool of darkness, an unearthly howling emerging. Percy scrunched his eyes instantly and outstretched his hands, fumbling his way towards the doors. She could have given him some warning, he thought, annoyed, running his palms along the doors.

He knew instantly when he had fully entered the house. The temperature dropped, and his ears popped like he was on an airplane. Goosebumps prickled his skin. He remembered his lack of a shirt.

"Oh, and watch out for the river at the end." Nyx's voice, despite the roaring in his ears, was calm and audible, as if she was right in front of him. "Closing the doors now."

The doors banged shut behind him.

Percy jumped. He swallowed the lump in his throat and steeled himself. Stepping forwards without knowing what he could be walking into was disconcerting, but Percy shuffled as best he could. The floor was hard. His footsteps were loud, then silent, then loud again.

Percy's arms shrank back a little to his sides. Suddenly he really didn't want them outstretched anymore.

Noise like TV static seemed to hum in the background. Maybe she had a TV after all, Percy tried to joke in his head, but the hairs stood up on the back of his neck the longer he listened to it. It cut out. Then it started up again, lower in pitch and closer. His senses were on overdrive.

Percy felt the first inkling of terror trickle through his body. A noise like someone waving their hand down a theremin echoed around. Whispers crept into the silence, but Percy couldn't understand them, couldn't discern individual words. But he knew with an unnerving certainty that the whispers were about him. He didn't know how he knew.

Percy cringed, his shoulders shooting up around his ears, as a puff of air rolled across his neck. He clenched his eyes shut tighter.

Another one, on his cheek this time. It smelled like meat.

Percy began to breathe a little harder, and it filled the sudden silence like a wailing siren. There was a shuffle to his left. His skin crawled as Percy sensed a presence, like there was someone an inch from his face, just waiting. Another puff of air. A breath. Percy couldn't stop walking forwards, wandering like a blind man.

The darkness felt tangible, like a thick fog in the air.

Was the mansion hollow or something? He hadn't run into any walls or furniture. But the room felt full.

Shivers ran up his spine. It was like everything was moving out of his way, just an inch or two to the side, giving him just enough room to walk by. He could feel something watching him. More than one thing. Percy clenched his teeth together. He felt the ghost of a tickle across his sensitive fingertips, and snatched his hand up, pressing closely to his chest with his other one. Louder whispers followed that, angry, hateful, spiteful. Percy's fingernails would have definitely been drawing blood in his palms by now if he didn't have the curse of Achilles.

A shriek behind him caused him to stumble. He almost opened his eyes, but pushed his sweaty palms to the sockets, trying to keep them shut manually. That scream... it was so familiar, but he couldn't put a finger on it. But he knew it. Someone he knew was in there with him. He could still hear it echoing.

No, he told himself quietly, for even his thoughts felt like a shout in the dead air around him. No-one he knew was here. It was just him. It was just him.

Something grabbed his ankle, then let go a split second later.

Percy yelped, deafening to his ears, jerking his foot up and off the floor. He picked up the pace a little, feeling that if he stopped, he'd never get out alive.

A high-pitched buzzing filtered into the atmosphere, Percy only noticing when it became louder than the other nasty little sounds he could hear. It sounded like a light bulb that had been left on for too long. It seemed to burrow into his ears, raw and piercing. The noise of smashing glass. The buzzing stopped. Percy's spine was stiff and unyielding, and he clutched his hands together tighter to his chest.

A scream to his right erupted into existence then cut off like a flip of a switch. It didn't echo. Percy felt sick with fear.

It took everything in him to not turn around and sprint back to the doors, pound on them and plead for Nyx to let him out. But he couldn't go back. He didn't even know if she would let him out. The thought of stopping was scarier than continuing to move. So he kept going.

His face twitched; he knew his hair wasn't long enough yet to brush against his nose like that. He jerked himself forwards. He prayed it was forwards. There was a horrible feeling in his nerves that he was just walking in a circle while everything around him watched. His eyes ran around the back of his eyelids; there was no tinge of orange-y red that came with the sensation of light against his eyes, everything was just intensely black. He really was walking in pure darkness.

He tried to reach out with his powers, searching for the feeling of blood. He could feel some- dotted around- but they weren't like, in some bodies though. He scrunched his eyes shut in confusion. They felt- flatter. Floating? Like puddles, but halfway in the air-

Like massive blood splatters across the walls.

Percy's hands began to shake. He walked faster, grinding his teeth together and forcing his legs to move. He had to get out. He had to open his eyes. He had to get the hell out and just run- just get out- just-!

Percy slammed into something and, without meaning to, opened his eyes instinctively.

On a backdrop of total darkness, a white face with sunken pits for eyes somehow stared back at him.

Percy screamed. He recoiled, slamming his palms back onto his eyes so hard it hurt, and started sprinting. He was met with no resistance as he ran, as if whatever that- thatthingwas- had never even been there. Its face distorted and twisted. It couldn't see. It didn't have eyes. So why was it looking at him?

A thousand questions howled through his head. What was that? What was it? Where was he? Where the hellwashe?

Percy stumbled, catching himself on his hands and knees, his breaths coming faster and faster. His eyes remained shut, but his shaking hands splayed against the floor to hold himself up. The ground under his hands was wet and leathery. It felt like skin. He pushed himself up, wiping his hands on his jeans as he ran, arms fully outstretched now.

The shrieks increased. Nails were scratched down chalkboards. Forks on plates. Gates and doors slamming shut. Whistling. A clock ticking backwards- and how did he know it was ticking backwards? Percy didn't know. He didn't know. He didn'tknow.He didn'tcareanymore. With the way his heart was slamming against his chest, Percy almost felt like he was about to go into cardiac arrest.

In the distance ahead of him, he began to hear a throbbing sound, like his own disturbed heartbeat echoing back, amplified so powerfully the floor started to vibrate underfoot. The sound filled him with dread, so he figured it must be the right way to go. Anything to get out. He stumbled quicker towards it.

As the beat got louder, he could smell smoke and heard the flickering of torches on either side. There was light, and he could finally see dim colours through his eyelids, but he was still in the mansion. He wasn't opening his eyes. He couldn't seethatagain, or anything else.

The throbbing got louder still, sending jolts straight up his spine. Through his rapid inhaling and exhaling, he noticed that the air smelled fresher – or at least not quite as sulphurous. There was something else, too, closer than the deep pulsing … the feeling of flowing water.

Percy's heart raced even faster. This was the river Nyx had told him about? Then the exit was close?

He began to run faster until he could feel that the river was right in front of him, hurtling at an incredible speed. The noises and presences had faded; they didn't seem to lurk around here. Percy chewed his lip madly, hating the inactivity that came with standing at the edge. As far as he could tell, the opposite side was about twenty feet away.

And there was something-wrongwith the water. He listened carefully.

Within the roaring current, thousands of voices cried out – shrieking in agony, pleading for mercy.

Help! they wailed. The pain! Make it stop!

Percy knew all the other rivers of Tartarus. Had been in enough of them. That meant there was only one left, the Ache-something. Pain. That was all he could guess about it. Because the things, people or souls or whatever they were that were in it, did not seem to want to be.

Join us, a voice whispered. You are no better than we are.

Percy's head was instantly flooded with images of all the monsters he'd killed over the years, taking him by surprise.

That wasn't murder, he protested. I was defending people!

The river changed course through his mind – his mother being taken by Hades, Grover being kidnapped by the cyclops, Annabeth snatched to hold the sky up.

Bianca, dying in the collapse of the metal giant. He had promised to try his best to protect her. And he had failed. Could he not have stopped her? Truly? If he had held her back, done her task instead?

Everyone who had died in the Battle of Manhattan... he'd had the Curse of Achilles then too. Why had they even needed to be there?

The crushing guilt of Luke.

You could have prevented it, the river told him. You're the weakest demigod! The stupidest! The most pathetic!

Percy scrunched his eyes shut tighter.

Their blood is on your hands! the river wailed. There was another way! There was always another way! You weren't smart enough to figure it out!

"No..." Percy murmured. He'd had Gabe tell him that he was stupid every day for years. That,he could ignore.That, he knew how to block out.

He needed to focus on the river.

Your friends are dead! the river cried. You abandoned them!

Percy dug his fingernails into his palms, shaking his head.

"That's not true." he whispered. Why was he talking to a river? "I saved Annabeth."

Or did you? the river cried.

"I know I did." he said, his voice as brittle as ice.

At what cost? the river screamed in the very depths of his mind, causing him to see what wasn't there.

He saw Apate, in her final moments, but from another's perspective.

He saw the goddess, cowering on the floor.

He saw a tall, unrecognisable figure towering menacingly before her, imposing,scary, with eyes like ice, golden ichor splattered across their chest, thoroughly soaked in blood, a drenched sword in their hand, the other outstretched, playing with life and death, grinning coldly as theytorturedan immortal.

Him.

Godkiller, the river hissed. You're supposed to be down here. You wanted to do it. You enjoyed it. Come in. Join us.

Percy felt himself drop to his knees. No. He had to... She had... He needed... It was too... He...

Pulling the last bit of strength he had out of who knows where, he split the river in half and shakily slid down to the riverbed.

The floor was smooth but every step was torture. The urge, the niggling bug in his mind, to let the river fall, let the screams embrace him, just let it all be over- it was too much for just one person to bear, surely? At some point he fell, moisture trickling down his cheeks as he choked, pushing himself forwards. Droplets of the river water sprayed like cinders onto him. Each drop burned.

Eventually, his hands met the other side, finally, and he heaved himself up, crawling and coughing on all fours until he no longer could hear the voices.

Percy braced himself to open his eyes.

He let out a shuddery breath, feeling almost like he was about to curl up and sob.

He was out. He blinked and hesitantly looked around.

After the darkness of the mansion, even the dim red glow of Tartarus seemed blinding.

Before him stretched a valley big enough to hold the San Francisco Bay. The booming noise came from the entire landscape, as if thunder were echoing from beneath the ground. Under poisonous clouds, the rolling terrain glistened purple with dark red and blue scar lines.

It seemed like... It looked like...the heart of Tartarus.

The centre of the valley was covered with a fine black fuzz of peppery dots. They were so far away, it took him a moment to realize he was looking at an army – thousands, maybe tens of thousands of monsters, gathered around a central pinpoint of darkness. It was too far to see any details, but Percy didn't even have to guess what the pinpoint was. Even from the edge of the valley, he could feel its power tugging at his soul.

The Doors of Death.

Chapter 21: Percy XIV

Summary:

He couldn't remember what had actually happened in the dream, but he just remembered Annabeth holding him, her breath on the back of his neck, her curly hair trailing over his shoulder, and shining gold in the sun.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

Percy XIV

Percy ran a grubby hand over his face, and breathed out as slowly as he could, trying to calm down.

It wasn't the best place to mentally recover from an ordeal, but he tried to make it as safe as he could. He had found a little niche between two rocks, and had dragged another small rock onto the top of them, effectively creating a little shelter with only one opening. Percy watched it with hawk-like eyes. It wasn't comfortable, and darker than he now liked, but everything he needed to see was in one place- nothing was creeping up on him, there were no stares on his back, none of it. And after the vast expanses of Tartarus, the same red-tinted depths in every direction, it was nice to be in a smaller, more controlled place.

He just needed to catch his breath.

He was breathing too shallowly, too quickly.

That mansion had done something to him; he felt like he'd had sand poured over him. His skin was gritty, like it was covering him, in his eyes and in his mouth. He scratched at his skin with rough nails.

Percy took one last deep sigh, leaning backwards on to the spiky rocks, wrapping his arm around his leg comfortingly. He refocused. He could feel the Phlegthon nearby, a solid presence, flowing lightly in his mind, and absently gripped it with his other hand. He broke the banks of it and made it trickle across the ground. The closer it got, the louder the thumping in Percy's head got. He hadn't had a nosebleed from using his powers in a while, and he hoped he wouldn't now. He saw fiery water start to weave its way through the rocks down a nearby hill and clenched his fist, halting it instantly, before lifting it, the column wobbling precariously.

With a lot of manoeuvring, he got it all underneath a large boulder and lifted it up. He splayed the water flat under it, like a hand print. Shakily, he carried it over. With a grunt, he dropped it in front of his hiding place, and let the water slink back to the main river.

Now in a space completely under his power, Percy relaxed a little. It was just him in here. There was enough light to see, his eyes were open and there was only one exit/entrance, which was now a difficult way in for anything smaller than a bug. This was good. Damasen might not find him here, but Maia might be able to smell him, and then he'd have his friends watching his back again, which was even better. Every time he was alone in the Pit, he felt like he was losing his mind.

Percy slowly closed his eyes. Though at first they flickered open every few seconds, at the smallest noise or sound, his arms tensing as if he expected to see thatfaceagain, exhaustion would always win out. Percy felt himself sinking deeper into sleep. His hand slid off the handle of his Drakon bone sword.

Percy smashed his hand into the rock in front of him before he even realised he was awake.

He backed up with a jerk of his head, his leg twitching up to kick something. His back pressed against stone, the sides of his arms too, and Percy looked around wildly. Where was he? He was- no, he- he had done this. He was safe here. Percy was tense for a few more seconds before sinking down a bit further. He was safe here. He wrapped his arms around his knees and leant his forehead on them gently.

He had dreamt about Annabeth. He couldn't remember what had actually happened in the dream, but he just remembered Annabeth holding him, her breath on the back of his neck, her curly hair trailing over his shoulder, and shining gold in the sun.

Percy couldn't help the smile that forced its way out. It was impossible not to think of her and cheer up.

He twisted around until he was facing the boulder and pushed it. He felt ready to go back out now. He... He had needed that break. Just to cut it all out and remember what was important, what he was fighting for,whohe was fighting for. He felt a lot more human now.

Percy elbowed his way through the small gap he had created and struggled out. In hindsight, maybe the boulder was a bad idea. He wouldn't have been stuck permanently, the Phlegthon still whispering in his mind a little while away, but it wouldn't have been fun to be trapped again. He got his legs free and pulled himself up to his feet, checking he still had his swords. His knees and palms were tired from all the crawling.

Outside, a nearby hellhound froze in its tracks.

Percy also came to a sudden halt. His hand hovered in the air. In the small passage, it looked like a tank, and the low growling it began to emit didn't help that. Percy struggled to remain calm as it reared back, looking like it was about to pounce on him in the next second. He turned his body to the right, exposing his left shoulder, remembering Nyx's words. A hellhound was the spawn of Nyx, right? Upon seeing the tattoo there, it tilted its head, reminding Percy of Mrs O'Leary.

Percy wasn't stupid; he could feel the power radiating off of his arm. He wasn't sure if it was reassuring or disturbing, but hey, the hellhound sure could feel it too.

Percy walked over to it as it lowered its head. He stopped, cautiously taking a few steps forward.

"Sit?" he offered tenuously.

It complied.

Percy huffed out a snort of disbelief, his mouth dropping open into a grin. It had obeyed him. The blessing was amazing. The hellhound didn't seem too happy with it, its red eyes boring holes through Percy, but it couldn't do anything now. Should have pounced when he had the chance, thought Percy tauntingly.

"Good boy." he murmured, and the hellhound shot daggers at him in its glare.

Suddenly, a brilliant idea struck Percy. He got closer to it, and pointed in the opposite direction. Towards the doors.

"I want you to down there and kill as many monsters as you can." he tried, pushing the words out firmly, making assertive eye contact.

It stood up, growling harshly at Percy, its lips pulled back in a snarl, revealing canines as long as Percy's forearms. But it didn't attack him. Percy decided to push his luck.

"Go on." Percy said with a little shrug, going so far as to give it a shove. It didn't do anything, of course, it was like trying to shove a wall, but it got the message across. "You heard me."

Annabeth had inspired him with newfound confidence. And he had realised just how close he was to the end. His way out was literally in sight- he was going to make it. The mansion had affected him, no doubt, but he had made it through, he had made it out, and it was over.Hehad done that. No one else. He was capable and he was strong. The river was wrong. Gaia was wrong.

He didn't have his swords in his hands; he didn't even have his hands near them. He could feel the hellhound's pulse getting quicker. Should it attack, he would feel when it came to a crescendo, and he was fairly certain he could have it on the ground before it could reach him.

The hellhound took a step back before bounding off, paws thundering. Percy turned and scaled the higher ground next to him. He poked his head between two spikes, peeking his head over the top to watch its process. He saw it bounding down towards the doors, a black streak through the small valley before it slammed into the enormous group of monsters.

It was like a truck ramming through the edge of the crowd.

Puffs of gold trailed in its wake. Roars and shrieks floated up. As individualistic and selfish as all the monsters were, the betrayal of one of their own clearly wasn't something they were expecting, or at least not on this kind of scale. Heads were turning towards the suicide bomber hellhound, giving Percy time to slide down the side and duck behind a rock a little closer to the others. The terrain from him to the doors was practically flat now, a couple boulders here and there. Good for cover. The overwhelming amount of monsters made it a little more complicated though. He couldn't exactly go round, going under was out of the question. Over? He snorted as he pictured himself jumping from monster head to monster head like Mario, little coins popping out as he stepped on them. Yeah. Not over either.

Which unfortunately, left goingthrough.

He poked his head out again, just in time to see a cyclops swing at his rogue hellhound, felling it with one blow. He guessed it had taken out maybe twenty-ish monsters. Not bad, but not a single real dent had been made. He ducked back and chewed his fingernails. He had no idea what he was planning in his head, but as soon as a vague outline formed, he was ready.

He could wait for Damasen, then go through the crowd, sticking close to the edges. He could keep luring hellhounds out to be distractions, then get to the doors and go from there. He didn't know if his tattoo would work on any other monsters. He didn't know the exact lineage of every monster. If he went up to an empousai, he didn't know whether it would bow or just try to clock him one across the jaw and eat him. And he guessed there was always the risk that someone would see his other tattoo underneath, his SPQR one. That quite literally painted a target on him.

Percy dimly thought about his mother's reaction to all the new ink on his skin.

Or he could wait for Damasen, then get on Maia. Damasen was a Giant, surely there would be some kind of respect from other monsters. Would they move for him? If Percy laid out flat on top of Maia, out of sight, they might get out without even causing a fuss. That would be a new one.

Part of Percy wanted to fight though. He wanted to charge into the army, swords flashing and take out as many as he could. These things had killed so many people. The least he could do was stop them killing more; he didn't know if he could excuse himself for not killing them now if somehow they showed up later, in the middle of a fight and hurt someone he cared about. If one of them hurt Annabeth and he could have stopped it... He'd never forgive himself. He couldn't just let this army get to the surface without at least trying to do something first. This amount of monsters would overwhelm them all in a second. Short of caving the ceiling down on them all, Percy struggled to think of a way to take out an entire army; sure, he had the Curse of Achilles, iron skin and all that, but with this many monsters, he thought even he would be a little at risk. All it would take would be a stray claw across his mortal point, and he'd be down. It wouldn't be so much of a problem if he had armour on, but... Percy glanced down in exasperation at his bare chest and ripped trousers. He didn't even have socks on.

He sat there for a long time, planning out paths and tactics, how he could use everything available to help him. He just couldn't believe he was almost there. He was almostthere.

He was almost home.

Chapter 22: Nico I

Summary:

For a few seconds, the water calmed, every demigod underwater, in search of Annabeth.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

Nico I

He felt like he'd been hit with a truck.

Time around him seemed to slow down; he saw Jason and Frank hovering over the water, Frank as a hawk, both frantically searching for something. Someone. He saw Hazel hacking away at the monster, her hair flying around with vigour, Clarisse at her back, wrestling with a tentacle. He saw sprays of water arcing gracefully through the air. The clouds. A hint of the stars fading into the sky.

He barely heard Reyna, who was yelling from beside him, using her sword to fend off any attempted attacks.

Bright flashes to his side told him Leo was fire bombing the creature as much as he could, wherever there was a gap in demigods.

He didn't know where Piper was, but he knew where Annabeth was.

Or where she no longer was.

Whenever he was in battle, he always could feel some souls leaving the battlefield. But if he knew them, the impact was always that much larger. When Bianca had died, he had childishly thought he was having a heart attack. Went to the infirmary. Will Solace had said nothing was wrong with him. Until he was told.

This time, a hammer hit him straight in the chest, shattering him.

He fell to his knees, grabbing his chest. His teeth clenched together, fingers digging into his skin to try and push the feeling out of him. This wasn't happening. This couldn't happen. He dimly felt hands on his shoulders, not his, someone else's.

"-co, Nico,Nico!" Piper was shouting in his face, concerned, holding onto him. "Talk to me! Are you hit?"

No. He wasn't hit. He was fine. Except his throat had a smothering lump in it, and his miserable attempt to speak came out as nothing. He tried to swallow it but couldn't. His eyes burned.

"Nico!"

"...Annabeth." he whispered to her, choked out and barely audible, as tears started to fall out of his eyes, and he couldn't hold them back, didn't know if he should or if he even wanted to because Annabeth was-

His finger rose shakily and he pointed towards the sea. Then he gave in, falling backwards and holding tightly onto his knees. Piper fell with him, an arm wrapped around his shoulder.

Beside them, a horrified Reyna paused, eyes widening, before instantly diving off the side of the boat without hesitation. Piper's tone had become even more panicked. He didn't even think she realised she was shaking him.

"What?" she yelled. "What do you mean? Nico! What do youmean'Annabeth'? I'm Piper, not Annabeth!" she tacked onto the end, probably in hope that that was what he meant.

But Nico shook his head, slowly. She knew what he meant. She just held onto her blissful ignorance longer than he got to.

Piper's lip began to wobble as her eyes welled up. The sea monster let out a howl that floated up over the side of the boat. Piper shook his shoulders slightly harder. They were friends, he knew. Close friends. Nico had known her longer, but Piper knew her better. Had known her better. More than anyone else on the ship with Percy gone.

"Nico!What happened to Annabeth!" she screamed, a sob trying to break through her voice.

Nico heard victory cries rise across the ocean. Saw demigods raise their spears, punching them into the air, grinning their heads off. Saw Clarisse with a gold dust-covered knife in hand. Two demigods raised her onto their shoulders. The monster was dead. They all cheered again.

They didn't know yet. How could they?

They didn't know how much of a kick to the ribs their celebration was, how wrong it sounded and felt, because no one could be happy, no one anywhere, because Annabeth Chase had just-

Piper was shaking beside him. Her head dropped and he heard her sob. Shoulders shaking, their hands scrabbled on the wooden floorboards, clasping tightly together. Nico didn't know her well, she barely knew him. But just for that moment, they clung to each other. Her grip flexed as she cried. Then it ripped away, as she scrambled to her feet, throwing herself onto the rail.

"Hey!" Her voice cracked as she shouted. Every head lifted. "Find Annabeth Chase!" she screamed, the Charmspeak so heavy that Nico found himself standing up, his legs weak and unsteady. She pulled him back, their hands holding on to each other's again.

"Not you." she choked out. "Not you."

Nico felt sick rise in his throat. Did she... did she blame him? He had said he would help them. His father was the God of the Underworld. Did she blame him? Did she think he could have done something? Could he have? His chest ached.

They stood still as every single person dived into the sunset-tinted water in sync, eyes glazed under Piper's total command. Nico could feel the power ripple out from her and he remembered Silena, the former Head Counsellor of the Aphrodite cabin. He knew she had Charmspeak but even she had not had this level of control. No, it was Piper, who stood regally at the edge of the ship with the stance of a queen. The tears told a different story. Her desperation fuelled her.

She had Nico's hand in a tight grip, her other hand holding onto the rail. He knew it was to stop it from shaking.

For a few seconds, the water calmed, every demigod underwater, in search of Annabeth. There were a few ripples now and then, mostly from the boats tapping against each other. The hulk of the monster had vanished, the killing blow struck, reducing it to nothing more than gold dust floating on the top of the waves. It was silent. The sun got lower. Piper breathed fast next to him. Her eyes fixated on the motionless ocean, as if she could see all the way to the sea floor, and he felt bile in his stomach as he realised she still held hope that Annabeth was okay. She still thought she would all be alright. That maybe he was wrong.

Nico focused on nothing but his own breathing. He prayed he was. He prayed to his father for the first time in a long time.

Father, he thought. Please. Talk to Thanatos. If Gaia can have half her army back, we can have this, please. You know her. Please. We can't lose her. She can't be dead, not now.

But Nico knew above anyone else how death worked. Resurrection was one in a trillion and none of them up here had those kinds of odds. It didn't stop him from continuing to pray.

Father.

Father, please-

Roars suddenly erupted below, heads bursting from the water, all looking in one direction.

The Praetor of New Rome emerged from the sea, her cloak and dark hair plastered against her, a smaller body clutched to her chest as she swum towards the rope ladder on the side.

Knees weak, Nico stumbled over, both him and Piper helping Reyna up. Taking Annabeth from her. Laying her down onto the wooden boards. Nico saw Reyna drop Annabeth's dagger, tossing it aside. Jason landed next to them with a bang, stumbling and falling next to where Annabeth was laid on the deck, his hands reaching out.

Her blonde hair was dark from the water, a contrast to her pale waterlogged skin, her lips a deathly blue. Her eyes were shut. Nico took her hand, clammy and cold, and held it loosely. Her body had taken on water already and her lungs had to be full.

Reyna had already leant over her, blowing air into her mouth, Jason thumping at her chest. They worked in time with each other, switching at various places. Annabeth's body kept jerking up and down. He didn't want to tell them it wouldn't work. He couldn't.

"Annabeth, wake up!" Piper shouted at her, grabbing her other hand.

Nico could only imagine how much charmspeak had been forced into her voice.

But Annabeth didn't twitch. She had been gone for too long, taken in too much water. They hadn't got there quick enough and Nico knew her soul had already left her body. Thanatos would keep her from returning, like Gwen had. And that was their fault too, because they were the ones that had freed the God in the first place, allowing him to collect souls again. They couldn't have waited?

Thanatos, you owe us, Nico prayed. He knew that wouldn't work too. He wished he didn't. But he knew the truth.

Annabeth was dead.

They seemed to realise this after a minute or so. There was no miracle resurrection. Not like in the movies. There was no sudden cough and spray of water, no final chest pound that would cause all the life and colour to flood back into her. Reyna began to sway from a lack of oxygen. Jason faltered in his compressions. They both slowed, then stopped. And sat.

"No..." whispered Jason, clearly struggling not to cry as he leant back, biting his lip to stop sobs escaping.

Reyna stood up and took a stiff step away, before barking orders at the confused soldiers to get back to their ships. One look at the hard expression on their Praetor's face had them going back, no questions asked. Reyna turned away and placed a hand over her face, hiding her emotions.

Nico felt like he'd lost Bianca again. It was a different bond, but the same agony was clawing at him, the sheer denial. Repeated over and over again that she couldn't be gone, that she just couldn't.

And yet he knew she was. This was death. They were there, and then they weren't, and there was nothing anyone could do after it was too late. There was no last minute goodbye. There was no explanation worth giving. They were just gone. Sometimes it felt as if they had never even been there in the first place.

Others had joined them, standing around, some sitting, their legs having given up. Frank and Hazel were crying into each others shoulders, Leo had curled up by a wall. Piper was just sobbing next to him, an unrelenting grip on Annabeth's arm. She shook her. Again and again.

But Annabeth could not feel it.

She was dead.

Annabeth's corpse had been carried over to a table, a sheet thankfully draped over her. A cushion had been placed under her head. For comfort? To give the semblance of life? Nico didn't know.

They sat in chairs around her.

Nobody said anything.

At some point, Leo got up and left, and the ship started moving again. No one looked up when he went.

Jason's leg kept bouncing up and down; he stood up once, to say something, but eventually sat back down.

Nico couldn't stop staring at the bump in the sheet. That was Annabeth. She was gone. Suddenly, their mission felt that much more impossible. How could they ever do this without her? What would they gain without her? It didn't feel real. If one of their strongest could be taken down like this, how did any of them stand a chance? This was going to end up a suicide mission.

Without meaning to, Nico kept thinking about Percy. Like always. He didn't know. He might never know. But right now, he was lost in the Pit and he still thought she was alive, that they would be reunited if he escaped. Was that the thing that was keeping him going? And if he did get out- what then? Nico didn't want to be the one to tell him. It might make him a coward, but he didn't care. It wasn't fair for anyone to have to tell him. At least with mortals, they got doctors and nurses to break the news to them, but demigods always had to face it up close and personal. Percy and Annabeth had known each other longer than Nico had known he was a demigod. Their last words to each other had been declarations of love, for Hades' sake!

He ran a hand through his hair as his thoughts got quieter.

Was this how Percy felt when he needed to tell him about Bianca?

Nico wished he had known before running off.

Chapter 23: Percy XV

Summary:

"Liar! Mother Earth has spoken! You have been helping the scum of the sea, the Godkiller Jackson!" bellowed the cyclops .

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

Percy XV

As far as Percy had worked out, only the hellhounds seemed to obey him.

He had tried with a dracaena, but it hadn't gone so well. He had lured one over with a little wave, and the monster had followed. Whether it was hungry or just perplexed, he never found out, because it leapt towards him as soon as they met face to face behind the rock. Percy had been prepared for it however, and it exploded in the air before it so much as scratched him.

He had been sending his kamikaze hellhounds in every few minutes since then, in an attempt to wipe a pathway through, but it was like trying to split up sand: more just moved into the gaps from nowhere. Where had they even got so many monsters from? Had they all been gettingbusyrecently? He snorted.

An idea popped into his head.

Percy caught sight of another hellhound and summoned it, flashing his shoulder from behind the rock provocatively to tempt one that he had been watching for a while. He felt like an exotic dancer taunting the audience from the edge of the stage. He saw a few heads (some on only one body) turn, and ducked quickly, back out of view. The aura he projected was more powerful than he had thought; they seemed to sense his presence before they could see him. He... he had no idea how to stop that. His Nyx tattoo tingled, and Percy frowned as an idea came into his head. Would that work? He tried to imagine himself small and defenseless. When he peeked back round, their heads had dropped. Okay, he thought in surprise. That worked.

The hellhound was dutifully marching forwards, rounding the corner, before stopping in front of him. Percy beckoned it closer. The low growl it emitted would have scared the pants off of Percy before, but now he just clicked his fingers impatiently at it.

"C'mon." he mouthed. "Stop sulking."

The hellhound came further behind the rock, and with a quick hop, Percy clambered on to its back. It bucked a little with a growl as he flattened himself against it, trying to hide. Hunks of thick black fur in each hand, Percy dug in with his elbows. He felt a little bad to hurt a dog, but quickly reminded himself that his specific type of dog could and would bite his head off given the chance. He elbowed it again.

"Go towards the doors." he muttered. "Do not give me away, or draw attention."

The hellhound began to step forwards reluctantly, and then they were moving. The hellhounds body rocked from side to side, and a dim thought in the back of Percy's mind was that it would be a good place to sleep. Percy lifted his head slightly to have a look, and just caught sight of them entering the crowd before he slammed his head back down so as to avoid being seen.

It was when he was halfway through the crowd that Percy began to rethink what he had just planned. In fact, upon second thought, it was one of thestupidestplans he'd ever concocted. What if he messed up? Discard his chances of getting out? The one thing he had been apprehensive to do was to throw himself straight into the thick of it, and- yep- Percy looked around at the rows upon rows of monsters surrounding him in every direction- he had put himself in the worst possible position if he got caught.

So just don't get caught, a voice said in his head, in a casually obvious tone that sounded suspiciously like Annabeth.

Yeah, easy for you to say, he replied, before mentally smacking himself. Rule number one of not going crazy- do not reply to disembodied voices.

Going back to being worried, Percy lifted his head again. The plodding of the hellhound was slow, but its size more than made up for it: they were almost at the other side of the herd of monsters. He could see ahead and caught a glimpse of the doors and a massive shape by them.

Percy groaned as quietly as he could.

A Titan.

It looked like Krios, guarding them. Percy hadn't ever met him in person, only knowing him from a vision of Mount Othrys last year, but he hadn't exactly undergone a wild wardrobe change since then. He still wore his black armour, studded with silver dots like a starry night. His face was covered in a war helm with a ram's horn curling on either side. Next to him, the Doors of Death stood. They looked... familiar.

Framed in Stygian iron, the magical portal was a set of elevator doors – two panels of silver and black etched with art deco designs. Except for the fact that the colours were inverted, they looked exactly like the elevators in the Empire State Building, the entrance to Doors of Death seemed like a personal insult, designed to remind him of everything he couldn't have. Upon seeing them, Percy felt so homesick he couldn't breathe. He didn't just miss Mount Olympus. He missed everything he'd left behind: New York City, Camp Half-Blood, his mother and stepdad. His friends.

Annabeth.

His eyes stung, but he blinked them as much as he could, ignoring it with a desperation that spoke of nowreallynot being the time.

As he got over his initial shock, he noticed other details: the frost spreading from the base of the Doors, the purplish glow in the air around them and the chains that held them fast. Cords of black iron ran down either side of the frame, like rigging lines on a suspension bridge. They were tethered to hooks embedded in the fleshy ground. Krios was stood smack bang in the middle of them, letting small groups go past like a club bouncer. Percy hoped it was okay that he didn't have an ID.

As he watched, the entire frame shuddered. Black lightning flashed into the sky. The chains shook, and Krios planted his feet on one of the hooks to keep it secure. The doors slid open, revealing the gilded interior of an elevator car.

A dozen Cyclopes rushed forward, waving little red tickets and shouting excitedly. They shouldn't have been able to fit inside those human-sized doors, but as the Cyclopes got close, their bodies distorted and shrank, the Doors of Death sucking them inside. At least Maia and Damasen wouldn't crush him, Percy reflected with no small amount of relief.

The Titan Krios jabbed his thumb against the UP button on the elevator's right side, his dark helmet shifting on his head. The doors slid closed.

The frame shuddered again. Dark lightning faded.

Percy furrowed his brow. Krios was still holding down the button. If someone had to hold it in order for it to go up... Percy felt his stomach drop out of his body.

Someone would need to hold that button for him.

If his life didn't depend on it, Percy knew he would have leaned over the hellhound's back and been sick.

He- Percy didn't even get to finish his thought before something else went wrong.

Over the edge of a hill slightly to the left of the sea of monsters, a head popped up. Then another. Maia and Damasen had arrived, both looking a little weary, but Damasen was scanning the crowd for him with a steadily worried expression.

Percy winced as Maia roared as she spotted him. Despite Damasen's quick reflexes to grab her mouth to silence her, heads still turned. A few began to wander over menacingly. Percy cursed and slowly began to reach for his sword. What would he do? He didn't know. That would come later as he did it.

"The Giant traitor!" bellowed a huge cyclops to his left, the unexpected volume making Percy jump. He clenched his hand around his sword tighter.

"Uh-" Percy saw Damasen cringe before poking his head out higher, "-No?" Damasen trotted Maia out from the cliff, standing as tall as he could. His face settled into an angry expression, one that seemed perfectly at home on the face of a Giant, but wildly out of place for Damasen. The monsters shouldn't be able to tell the difference though, thought Percy, who then realised that out of everyone in the world, he might be the person who knew the Giant best. A warm feeling spread in his chest at that. He prayed Damasen knew what he was doing.

Percy eased up onto his elbows a little from where he was lying on the hellhound, hands braced against its back should he need to move quickly, and quickly checked the monsters around him. Their eyes were fixated on Damasen. Good for him, less so for Damasen.

The cyclops that had shouted, who was a good five and a half feet taller than Percy (the equivalent of Annabeth sitting on his shoulders like some kind of deranged centipede), may have been shorter than Damasen, but the blood thirst in his eyes was much more evident. He had a crowd of large monsters behind him, like a gang. He seemed to tower over the rest. The ringleader, then.

"Traitor!" echoed a weaselly-faced monster Percy couldn't identify.

"Me?" Damasen played dumb, and Percy winced. "No. You're wrong. I'm not a traitor."

"Liar! Mother Earth has spoken! You have been helping the scum of the sea, the Godkiller Jackson!" bellowed the cyclops .

The monsters raised their weapons up at Damasen and roared, a good half of the crowd now raising their weapons, fully turned away from the doors to glare at the peaceful Giant.

Percy gripped a handful of the hellhound's fur. He rose a little higher.

"That was all a trick to lead him to his death!" Damasen shouted out towards the crowd.

Some cheered, but the uncertainty in the air was thick. The cyclops clearly didn't listen, suddenly seizing Damasen by his leather jerkin and yanking him forwards. Caught off guard, the Giant stumbled to his knees and they crowded round him, jeering.

"Staydown!" Damasen shouted, as he must have caught Percy trying to sit up, preparing to jump and help.

"What did you say?" hissed the cyclops, digging its long and heavy sword into Damasen's neck.

Behind him, a whole group of large monsters, more cyclopes too, had Maia pinned to the floor, multiple large hands pushing her head cruelly to the floor. She hissed and writhed, but there were just enough of them to keep her still, pressing her jaws shut.

Percy narrowed his eyes, but followed Damasen's advice. His skin crawled uncomfortably. This... didn't feel right, but he trusted Damasen with his life. He must have a plan.

"I saidstanddown." Damasen scowled, not even bothering to bat away the monsters clinging to him, playing the part of the entitled Giant. "I am here under orders from higher powers. The lady Nyx gave me the plan herself, I was chosen aboveall of my kin,above Polybotes, Alcyoneus, Enceladus, Orion, Otis and Ephialtes, above even Porphyrion, to do this mission! It is my duty to deliver the demigod to his doom- and I have! The demigod is dead! He was torn apart, and I for one, can think of no better message to send to the gods!"

"You werebornto be peace-loving-" the cyclops began to sneer, but Damasen cut him off.

"I have seen the errors of my way. Mother has shown me that peace is not the answer, that it will never be, and that the gods have been in charge for too long! Now isourtime! We are promised!"

Percy watched as the monsters around him cheered, amazed at Damasen's speech, and grinned as he saw most of them back away from the Giant. Trust Damasen to make a speech about war while not meaning a single word. Oh and Percy was dead, apparently. He snorted. Well, it would give them the element of surprise in the future, he reasoned. He tried to form a new plan quickly. He could get the hellhound back, somehow slide onto Maia- under Maia?- then get the three of them on that lift ASAP. He grinned. Damasen was going to love seeing the sun again.

The cyclops was still looking at Damasen as if he was assessing him.

"You've changed?" he asked.

"I have." Damasen stated, the pride in his voice not even controlled. "From now, I swear to serve those whodeserveit!"

Percy let his head thunk back onto the hellhound's back as all the adrenaline seeped out of him. The cyclops was even pulling the blade of his sword away from Damasen's neck. Percy lifted his gaze, making eye contact with Damasen, who gave him a quick half-grin while still trying to stay in character. Maia was let go behind them.

The sword swung back.

"Liar." hissed the cyclops through a puff of gold.

Chapter 24: Percy XVI

Summary:

Percy ran a hand through his hair, gripping a handful tightly, monsters sprinting away in his peripheral vision.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

Percy XVI

"NO!"

It was like an atom bomb had gone off.

Hundreds of monsters ten, twenty, thirty meters away from him vanquished instantly, a massive circle of gold dust exploding into the air. Vibrations rocked the very ground itself, cracking rocks and knocking further away monsters over. Screams and roars shouted out and cut off in the same second. Any monsters who had survived the wave of annihilation were either fleeing for their lives, or hovering on the outskirts. Percy felt a deep-seated hatred for each and every one of them.

He landed on his feet, the hellhound left in specks around his face as he stared at the space Damasen had just occupied. He- The cyclops had just-

Damasen was dead.

He was alone again.

A thick layer of red crashed over his vision as he raised an outstretched hand towards the one remaining monster in the blast zone; Percy had never seen a cyclops look so terrified in his life. Percy saw that, recognised it, and felt a warped and unfamiliar feeling light a fire in his eyes.

He found his blood andtwistedit.

The cyclops collapsed to the ground with a howl. It was echoed by several hellhounds in the distance; he could see them start to go wild and savage others around them, screams and shrieks rising up around him. Percy felt the monster's blood pumping faster and faster, in his arms, his legs, through his head. Percy stopped it. Pushed it. Clenched his fist so hard he felt hot blood start to trickle down out his nose.

He had killed Damasen. He had killed his friend.

"Please!" begged the cyclops, his hands clawing at the ground as he writhed in the middle of the chaos, holding onto his head and bucking, contorting his body into impossible positions. Percy could feel its bones strain and crack. It didn't look so tough and in charge anymore.

He felt his lips curl into a nasty smile.

Percy walked towards it, unopposed, unchallenged. None of the remaining monsters could come near him, cross the strange invisible wall that seemed to have appeared. Whenever a few stupid ones tried to run at him, they exploded at a certain point, like Percy had created a circular barrier they couldn't cross.

The cyclops was still begging for mercy on the ground. Percy hated him. Hehatedhim.

"Please, please-!"

Percy cut the words in his throat off with a clench of his fist, a raging anger pulsing through his veins with grief. The cyclops disintegrated slowly before his eyes, the agonised expression collapsing into sandy dust. Percy felt a furious indignation rise up through him. They always died tooquick,,tooeasy!Why didn't monsters have to suffer and demigods did? Why didn't they hurt like they did? Like he did?

Percy turned around, a tear dropping out of his blazing eyes, and threw a nearby group of monsters back with a jerk of his chin.

"Go!" he bellowed. "Go away, get out of here!" His voice broke.

This wasn't fair. This wasn't fair. They'd- he'd comesoclose. He'd nearly had everything. Percy ran a hand through his hair, gripping a handful tightly, monsters sprinting away in his peripheral vision. He'd never wanted to be somewhere else so badly in his life.

A stinging on his arm made him wince as he glanced down, his welled-up eyes blurring. Percy blinked and boiling hot tears spilled out down his cheeks. He sniffed as the pain got hotter. His Nyx tattoo was smoking, black mist seeping out of it. He watched it detachedly. This- this wasn't normal, he thought dimly. He took a step forwards-

Suddenly, with a spreading feeling of going so fast that it felt like his face was peeling off, Percy staggered.

About fifty meters away from where he was just stood.

Unable to hold it in anymore, especially after whatever the Hadesthatwas, Percy dropped his hands to his knees and threw up; he now knew for a fact that Drakon steaks were just as chewy and spicy going up as they were going down, throat burning.

He- he had moved.

Without moving.

His brain trying to kick back into gear, Percy realised that he had done that before, but never on his own. Because he wasn't meant to, he thought, looking down at his tattoo. Not normally. Nyx had mentioned some extra stuff, but he had thought it was just the control over hellhounds. He didn't expect to be able toshadow travel.His vision, no longer tinted red with rage, faded black around the edges. It had taken quite a bit out of him, a wave of dizziness flooding him. He rested a hand on a boulder and tried to ride it out. Now that he was out of the fight (though did anyone actually fight back?), the Achilles curse seemed to demand that he rest, despite how hard he tried to ignore it and block it out.

He looked around; he had reappeared right in front of the doors. It took him a few tired blinks to realise dimly just how many monsters had been killed. There were a few crowds skulking about behind a few rocks, and though he knew they were watching, he just didn't care anymore. But the intimidating army?

Gone. Just piles upon piles of gold dust.

Krios, the Titan who had been guarding the doors was also nowhere to be seen- whether Percy had killed him, or he had fled, he didn't know. He didn't care. Because now the doors were officially empty and unguarded. And Annabeth was right on the other side, with his mother, his friends. He could almost see them all there, waiting and smiling, underneath the bright warm sun, a light breeze in the air, the smell of grass all around.

And a gap where one more person was supposed to be.

Movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He tensed, but quickly relaxed.

It was Maia.

She had a few scratches across her side, gold dust sprinkled across her back, but she was watching Percy with a strong sense of sadness. He gazed right back at her. Percy let her nuzzle into his arm, patting her on the head softly, his nose stinging. He leant his forehead onto her and closed his eyes. His arms wrapped around her neck as best he could. Had Maia ever been shown kindness in her life before him and Damasen? He doubted it.

"He's gone." Percy murmured onto her skin quietly. "He's gone."

They remained that way for quite a while, Drakon and demigod holding onto one another in the pit of Tartarus. The gap in their trio stood out balefully, like an empty eye socket. It felt like the loss of Damasen had changed the tone of everything. It was no longer a bloody adventurous quest to get to the doors, it was just 'getting out, getting away and never looking back'. Percy hadn't realised how much Damasen had meant to him, not really, not until he had been so abruptly removed from his life. They'd had plans for their future, for Gods' sakes; Damasen was supposed to do great things. Become a real idol for the kids at Camp. He'd been smart, kind and he could kick ass if he needed to. He was hisfriend.

Percy realised too late that he had reminded him of Beckendorf.

He sniffed and eased himself out from under Maia's chin, before unsheathing his bronze sword. He raised it high above his head, muscles straining with the fatigue that had been slowly collecting in him, and brought it down, slashing through one of the chains with a massive clang. They split aside like recoiling snakes. Percy kicked them aside. Then kicked them again, harder.

Next to him, Maia had reared back, before snapping her jaws down, and tearing through the chain with her long teeth.

The doors crackled with electricity, and the edges began to flicker, like a flashlight running out of power. They didn't have long before the doors would relocate.

"Good girl." Percy murmured to her.

His tattoo began to smoke again as he raised his voice.

"Oi! Any hellhounds?" he shouted, his voice cracking at the end.

One padded out, its head down submissively. Percy swallowed the lump in his throat and rubbed his hands over his wet cheeks in a vain effort to dry them. He waited until it was right in front of him before speaking.

"You." he began, looking it dead in the eye, "You are going to hold that button there. You are going to hold it until we get out the other side. If-"

It wasn't looking at him. It was sniffing something. Percy felt something crack in him, eye twitching, and his hand shot out. Percy gripped its massive jaw with one hand and squeezed. The hellhound shuffled and blinked a lot in his tight grip. Yeah. He had its attention now.

"-If we do not get out, if you let go, I will come back, and I won't kill you, but you'll wish I had." he said, letting it go.

It was a hellhound, but it wasn't stupid. It knew exactly what Percy was saying. It whined and stepped back. It sank to its stomach, staying low to the ground, avoiding his glare.

Percy ignored it. He didn't bother praying to anyone that it would work- not anymore. It was clearly up to him, and him alone. Before, he'd been desperately thinking in his head how to get him, Damasen and Maia into that elevator without anyone staying behind- as of course, that had been out of the question- and it had taken a while, but the idea had come to him eventually.

It- it would still work with two.

Percy banged the button with his hand, and the doors slid open seamlessly. He ushered Maia in, watching her long and massive body shrink with vague curiousity, before turning to the hellhound.

"Hold that button until we get out at the top." he ordered, trying to keep the plea out of his voice. "Don't let go. Or I'll come back and find you.Understand?"

The hellhound whined and lifted its paw.

Percy stepped back into the lift quickly. A strange ripple ran over him, and he found himself pressed against Maia, their size ratio back to how it should be, despite the size of the elevator not changing in the slightest.

"Hold it." he said again, fear, hope, grief, all churning his stomach into one big mess of panic. "Hold it."

The hellhound sat down by the doors, and lifted a black shaggy paw to the button, and pushed down. Percy dimly reached out and found its blood, holding it firmly, but not painfully, in place.

With a light ding, the doors began to close, eclipsing the blood red clouds of Tartarus that Percy never wanted to see again in his life.

Percy closed his eyes.

The doors shut.

Chapter 25: Piper I

Summary:

"Annabeth is dead." Piper said bluntly, looking directly into Athena's oh-so-familiar eyes.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

Piper I

Every boat was silent as they glided over the now pitch black waters.

The loss of someone so important, right there in front of them had impacted both camps, more than they thought something like this would. It was like Percy all over again, someone lost to them that had been so crucial, a driving force behind the war. Granted, Camp Jupiter were mainly suffering the loss of one of the Seven of the Prophecy and a strategic leader, but for Camp Half Blood- it was personal. There were people there who had known Annabeth since she was seven years old. If she had to guess, Piper reckoned most people were just sat down blankly on their ships.

The crew of the Argo II certainly were.

They were all in the same room they had been in hours ago, none of them speaking, apart from Leo's short announcement that they were a few miles off the shore. Occasionally, someone's stomach would rumble, but no one would make a move to get food. Being hungry wasn't exactly high on their list of priorities.

Piper rested her chin in her hand heavily and closed her eyes; she could feel the heavy bags underneath them, even if she couldn't see them in the mirror on the wall. Some would call it a perk of being a child of Aphrodite, but Piper just felt fake. She didn't want to look polished and flawless, as if- as if this wasn't affecting her. She wanted to look human. Her nose stung again, and she blinked rapidly, glancing around to take her mind off her thoughts.

Jason was right next to her. He had an arm around her waist, the warmth and the weight of it strong and reassuring. She burrowed into him closer and gripped a hand loosely in his shirt. Jason leaned his cheekbone on the top of her head. His other arm was wrapped around Leo's smaller shoulders. He held both of them tightly as if he was afraid to lose them; Piper was thinking the same, her free hand unwilling to let go of Leo. They were in a heap on the floor.

Frank, Hazel and Nico sat along the opposite wall. Hazel too was tightly gripping the hands of both her boyfriend and her brother. Nico's eyes were closed. Piper realised dimly, not for the first time, but for the first time seriously thinking about it, that Hazel was thirteen. When she had been thirteen, she'd been trying to annoy her dad's assistant and stick out from all the stupid rich girls she had gone to school with. It hadn't been a good time for her, but it was much better than watching your friends die and go missing.

None of them wanted to let go of each other.

Piper's tired eyes landed on Reyna for a few minutes.

The Roman Praetor was sat stiffly in her chair, next to the table with the sheet laid over Annabeth's- body. She sat alone. Piper felt bad, but they hadn't meant to exclude her. They had just all gravitated together into threes. It went without saying that several weeks ago, there would have been another pair in the room. Coach Hedge too, her mind added, and she found herself missing the old satyr. Of all the people to miss...

Piper didn't know if she could come to terms with what had happened. She'd nearly lost her friends a dozen times over, but she- she didn't know how to explain it. As a demigod, death was a natural part of life. Expected, even. There was a reason there weren't any demigods with high school diplomas at Camp Half Blood. But to see it up close and personal? To experience it, just out of nowhere and right in front of her. She felt like she'd had the rug ripped out from under her.

Annabeth was there, and then she wasn't. Her body was just suddenly empty on the inside. Was no longerherbody. The fact that she was young, smart, strong- it just didn't matter.

"Nico-" Leo suddenly spoke up next to her, his voice a broken croak, but he was cut off by the son of Hades shaking his head, not even bothering to open his eyes.

"No."

"But-?" She could almost hear Leo's mind racing, a thousand experiments and trial runs failing and succeeding every second.

"No."

"Not ev-?" Leo asked hopefully, and she could see in his eyes that he was so sure he had the answer locked away somewhere, that this was just another problem for them to figure out. But it wasn't.

"No!" Nico said forcefully. "There's nothing I can do!"

Piper felt Jason lay a hand on Leo's chest to stop him asking more. Leo took the hint and pressed the side of his head into Jason's chest. Usually, the blond boy would spare a soft smile at being used as a pillow by his best friends, a regular occurrence for someone of his height and size. Now, he just stared ahead and held them closer.

Piper couldn't take the silence anymore.

She wiggled out from underneath Jason, making him look up in surprise. She clambered to her feet, legs weak from sitting too long and walked slowly over to the table. They all watched her.

"Piper..." Reyna said quietly in warning, but Piper ignored her.

She reached out with both hands, trembling the closer they got, and peeled back the sheet.

Annabeth's hair, once golden and bleached further by the sun, looked thin and lank, the colour of straw. Her skin was the texture of old paper. Piper felt bile rising in her throat at the shade of blue her lips were. The smell hit her nose and a lump rose in her throat; she could only imagine the washed out grey of her eyes.

Piper dropped the sheet as if it had burned her, backing away.

Tears filled her eyes.

"She can't die." Piper whispered, almost too herself. "We need her too much."

Reyna tucked the sheet around Annabeth's shoulders, as if she was merely asleep before answering.

"She's still here with us, Piper. You may not realise it now, but we can and need to go on. She would want us to keep fighting." she said calmly, as if she had given that exact speech before; Piper scoffed to herself- she was a Praetor. Of course she had.

But Piper shook her head regardless. This wasn't what she wanted to hear. And she knew they couldn't do this without her.

"No," she said, "We need her, we can't just-"

A crash from above had them all glancing upwards, instead of watching Piper panic, for which she felt a sliver of gratitude before it was washed away in her rage, her indignation that something else had to happen to them, another bad thing in a long line of bad things that was making her feel as if they were losing this war. And losing badly. What could it be? Ha. What else would it be? Monsters. She felt like tearing her hair out.

"Notnow!" Piper screamed at the ceiling, on the verge of stamping her foot, not even caring how childish she knew it would make her seem. Could they not haveone more minuteto mourn their dead friend?

"Well. Never heard that before." A voice responded from the stairs.

Apollo sauntered down the last few steps before coming to a halt, resting his elbow on the bannister. For such a radiant God, Piper had never seen him look so muted. His usually golden hair was dull and shineless.

Piper heard Nico groan into Hazel's shoulder, muttering something Piper guessed to be a swearword, judging by Frank's raised eyebrows. He'd been spending too much time with Percy. Not that she blamed him. She had half a mind to seize the God by his stupid white robes, drag him to the window and-

"Lord Apollo." Reyna greeted mechanically. "We are honoured to have you here."

"Oh, there's more of us, but after the- uh- welcome message, we decided that it'd better be me coming down first." he winked at the Praetor. "Warm you all up."

Reyna's detached and polite smile didn't drop, but became decidedly frostier. Apollo smiled his own for a few more seconds before it cracked, drumming his fingers on the table in an effort to seemingly distract from the very unwelcome energy building in the room.

Apollo moved aside, twirling a nearby chair around to sit down in. He sat back to front, and grinned at them again. Piper stared. Was he trying to seem cool to them? Did he think that was- appropriate? He either didn't know or didn't care. Piper crossed her arms, not leaving Reyna's side as most of the Olympians descended the stairs and walked into the room.

Unsurprisingly, no one except Reyna bothered to bow, or even greet them. Piper saw Leo scowl at a few of them. Nico hadn't even opened his eyes.

They watched from their places on the floor as the Gods sat, some deigning to settle for one of their chairs, others wrinkling their noses and snapping their own chair into existence. Piper turned her back on their little charade with a scowl that burned her eyes, stomping back over to Jason and Leo. She threw herself back into their pile, Jason's chest against her back, Leo's hand finding hers like a magnet.

"We would like to thank you for retrieving my Parthenon," Athena began once all the Gods were acceptably seated on chairs, Zeus and Hera chatting quietly. The demigods gazed up at them from the ground apathetically. "Without it, we would still be torn between identities, and the outcome of this war would have been uncertain." she finished stiffly.

And that was it. That was the 'thank you'. Piper wondered if she honestly knew that saying that you wanted to thank someone wasn't the same as actually doing it. But this was Athena. Goddess of Wisdom. Of course she knew the difference.

"Annabeth is dead." Piper said bluntly, looking directly into Athena's oh-so-familiar eyes.

Athena looked away and crossed her legs.

"I am aware." she said. "We were still recovering seconds before I felt her leave this plane."

She looked almost sad. Piper almost believed her.

"You don't even care, you-" Piper growled, leaning forwards.

Jason circled her with his arms, pulling her back and muttering in her ear quietly as Athena looked at her coldly. Piper glared at her.

A few seats back, sat by the window, Poseidon rubbed his hand over his head. He peered round the room.

"Where's Percy?" he asked.

No one spoke for a beat. Piper felt the corner of her lip curl at the sight of Poseidon's face growing more worried. Oh, didn't know that, did they?

"Percy?" she spoke up. "Oh, he's not here either. See, there we were, rescuing your precious Parthenon and risking our lives for a statue, when the floor collapses. Annabeth almost falls in, Percy saves her, but then he falls off the edge himself."

Poseidon's face was very worried now, a difference from the rest of the godly faces in the room looking at her in shock at her insolence. Piper didn't care.

"Edge of where?" Poseidon demanded, and she could hear the sea getting rough around them, just like it did with Percy when he got angry.

Piper almost didn't want to tell him. Wanted to shake her head, kick them out, tell them to get off of their thrones and actually pay attention. Percy was Poseidon's only son, and he didn't even know where he was? He'd been missing for weeks!

She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Tartarus." She shrugged.

Poseidon, and all the other Gods in the room froze. Zeus and Hera stopped talking. Apollo looked horrified.

"...What?" Poseidon asked. His face was twitching like he was trying to maintain a blank mask, but Piper could read his emotions underneath. They shifted from disbelief to anger and back as easy as the tide flowing in and out. Just like his son.

"Yeah, he's been down there for quite a while now." Piper continued, a sick feeling in her stomach as she talked, sick that she was talking so casually about Percy in the Underworld just to spite his father.

"Oh-I-" Poseidon seemed lost for words. "How-?"

"He's alive, if that's what you're asking. A few monsters we found were helpful enough to update us on his progress. He's on his way to the Doors of Death, we're meeting him on the other side." she said.

"He's alive?" Poseidon couldn't hide the look of utter relief on his face. "He's okay?"

"Well, his arm was broken when he fell, he left his sword up here and it's not returning to him, and he doesn't know that the love of his life is dead, but other than that-"

"Piper." Jason mumbled in her ear. "Stop."

Piper broke eye contact with the raging Sea God, and regret smeared across her face as she saw Hazel crying into Frank's shoulder. Leo couldn't look at her. She hadn't meant to upset them, she thought guiltily, leaning her head back onto Jason's chest, she'd just wanted him- all of them- to feel even a fraction of what they felt.

"If- if we knew-" Apollo muttered.

"You still wouldn't have helped us." Piper whispered.

Nico opened his mouth as if to say something, but ended up shaking his head. They made eye contact, and she saw the same anger that she felt in her in him. It was probably for the best that the two of them kept their mouths shut. The Gods still looked drained and unsteady, but pushing them further didn't seem like a good plan. Two of them were gone- they didn't need another to be smited for arguing.

Aphrodite was sobbing into Hermes' shoulder; Piper looked at her mother in disgust.

They didn't get to cry. They didn't know her. They didn't know Percy.

And now it seemed like they never would.

Chapter 26: Nico II

Summary:

He nodded to the others. "The House of Hades is open for business." he said gravely.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

Nico II

The gods were anextremelyunwelcome presence.

By the time land had finally appeared in the distance – a hilly island carpeted with low stone building- Nico had been so close to throwing his chair at them, he could feel his pulse throbbing in his head. It wasn't even that they had said anything bad, it was that they acted more like children than the actual children aboard the ship. They were drained from their split-personality merge, so they had commandeered the dining room, arguments breaking out over who should sit at the head of table (Zeus had bellowed his way there), then arguments about who sat on either side (Poseidon and Hera were winning). It was enough to push him to the brink. Unable and unwilling to listen to their volatile bickering anymore, Nico snuck out to the hull to watch the land come closer.

"Can't take them either?" whispered a voice behind him.

Nico turned; he was rarely caught off guard, but had no noticed the girl sat against the mast. Piper had her head leaned on it. In her green tank top, her beige shorts and her hiking boots, she looked like she was ready to climb a mountain – and then fight an army at the top. Her dagger was strapped to her belt, her cornucopia slung over one shoulder.

"No." Nico shook his head.

Piper bit her lip. Nico rested his arm on the side of the boat uncomfortably and tilted his head; she clearly had more to say, and Jason or Leo weren't about. Frank and Hazel were being lectured by Coach Hedge. Reyna was busy. Percy and- and Annabeth were gone. That left him.

"Do you think I went too far?" she asked him quietly.

Nico paused. Piper had been rude and blunt, spitting out harsh reminders of the horrible things that had befallen their friends, but it had been necessary. The Gods needed to get their heads in gear and realise that their kids weren't pawns, and actually matter. Nico didn't know if he could control himself around Zeus. He was the reason his mother was dead, the reason he and his sister had been trapped in time for near on a century. Maybe if they'd been allowed to carry on in their own time, Bianca wouldn't have-

But if he hadn't escaped in time, then he wouldn't have his friends. What was left of them. And he needed to help them, protect them, stop the gods from ignoring them. Which was what Piper had been saying.

If anything, Annabeth and Percy would definitely approve of what she'd said.

Nico shook his head.

"They need to hear it." he said, before frowning across the water. They were still at least half a mile from the island. "Can we speed this up?" he asked, impatient.

"I'll go ask Leo." Piper said, hesitantly touching him on the arm in a clear attempt at comfort.

Nico gave his best approximation of a smile, though by the look in her eye, it was more of a grimace than he had hoped. His skin shivered uncomfortably as she touched him, and as if sensing it- which he didn't think impossible- she withdrew it apologetically. He nodded. She nodded back.

He listened to her footsteps creak across the wooden boards as she left before turning back to the helm. Sure enough, after a few minutes, there was a dramatic shift in speed. The jolt made Nico have to hold on in order to avoid being lurched into the churning sea below. They all knew how dangerous that could be now, he thought morbidly. It wouldn't have mattered if Percy was here. But then again, nothing would matter if they just had Percy here-

He clenched his fists. He wasn't thinking about that. He focused on the tasks ahead.

The closer they got to Greece, the more dread settled in his chest, but... there was also hope dancing at the edges, like Pandora's box was implanted in him. They had lost Annabeth. But hopefully, they could get Percy back and maybe pull some of their disaster quest back on track. He blinked. He'd gone straight back to Percy. Didn't he always, he thought bitterly. No point pushing away your own thoughts.

"Dionysus." Nico whispered, an idea hitting him. "Dionysus."

A beat.

"You know, I'm just below deck. Next time, you walk to get me. Transporting ourselves to this blasted ship took enough out of us in the first place, we're running on the bare minimum of energy." Dionysus warned from behind him.

Nico turned around.

"You helped me when I was rescued from Tartarus."

It wasn't a question.

His nightmares, hallucinations, anxiety; they weren't things to go awaythatquickly- he wasn't the type of person who could suddenly be good at relaxation methods without a little outside help. He'd been a mess, frankly. And to go from regular dissociation to full clarity... something was suspicious.

"It seems both Bacchus and myself are quite similar." Dionysus said slowly. "We had just recovered. Then we found someone at quite their mental limit calling out, and-"

"I didn't-" Nico protested, flushing a dark red.

"Whether you meant to or not, whether we meant to or not, we heard it, we eased it, with the very little power we had left. You'rewelcome." said Dionysus, emphasising his last word.

"Thanks." Nico said, rather stiffly. He had liked Dionysus, once, when he was naïve; time and reality had vanished some of the worship. He lowered his voice as he remembered his original idea. "There's also something-"

"You want me to help Perry Johnson if he gets out." Dionysus drawled, cutting him off.

Nico didn't ask him how he knew.

"I want you to help him, yes." Nico said, praying that the God knew how to keep this a secret. Maybe he owed Percy. Maybe he hated owing him. This could balance it out. "He's been in that pit of hell longer than anyone else has- he's gone where practically no Olympian has ever gone. He went down there injured and unarmed and- and he still doesn't know about Annabeth. He will need your help."

Nico didn't like asking for help. Hated it, in fact. It was slightly easier to ask for help for others, though.

"I'll see what I can do." Dionysus said flatly, as if he was just considering which jam to put on his toast, "Just because Aphrodite's kid started bossing orders to the others doesn't mean that you can do the same to me. Watch yourself."

Nico bit back a response and looked away. It was hard to not snap in some of the Gods' faces sometimes, but he quite liked not being turned into some form of wildlife as punishment. When he glanced back, Dionysus was gone.

After a while, some of the others joined him. No one spoke. Leo's eyes were red around the edges. He knew the ship ran aground when everything came to a very juddery stop. Around him, he heard other boats hit the shore. The waves were steady and even in his ears. Nico stayed sat until everyone was ready to go, his legs dangling off the side in a mockery of childhood innocence. Only when everyone was gathered did he slide down.

It was odd to see Zeus in a full 3 piece suit in the baking heat of the island, but he thought that him wearing the same Bermuda shorts that Poseidon had donned would look even weirder. All the gods, except Apollo, seemed relatively uncomfortable out in the open. He doubted they had enough strength to jump straight to Olympus.

Artemis had broken out her silver shorts, glaring at anyone who looked at her.

"I should be with my hunters." she stated, annoyed. "They will be searching for me."

Zeus waved her off.

"I ordered all of you here for strength." he began.

Suddenly, Nico flinched, and saw his sister do the same.

Hazel gasped. ''Guys …''

She pointed to the northeast horizon. At first, Nico saw nothing but the sea. Then a streak of darkness shot into the air like black lightning – as if pure night had torn through the daytime. He knew instantly that that was what he had felt.

"I don't see anything." Ares grumbled.

"Me neither." Piper said.

Nico scanned his friends' faces. Most of them just looked confused.

"That can't be …" he muttered. "Greece is still hundreds of miles away."

The darkness flashed again, momentarily leaching the colour from the horizon.

"You think it's Epirus?" Jason asked him.

Nico's whole skeleton tingled, like he got hit by a thousand volts. He knew why he could see the dark flashes from this distance.

He nodded to the others. "The House of Hades is open for business." he said gravely.

A few seconds later, a rumbling sound washed over them like distant artillery.

"It's begun." Hazel said.

"What has?" Leo asked.

When the next flash happened, Hazel's gold eyes darkened like foil in fire. "Gaia's final push," she said. "The Doors of Death are working overtime. Her forces are entering the mortal world en masse."

"We'll never make it," Nico said. "By the time we arrive, there'll be too many monsters to fight."

He saw Jason set his jaw. "We'll defeat them." the son of Jupiter said, "The gods are with us.Literally.And we'll make it there fast."

Reyna turned away, beginning to bark instructions at all the other Roman kids gathered at the shore, while still listening in. The Greek kids hopped to it as well.

"We won't make it on foot." Nico started. "And the Gods can't transport us there, they're too tired." he added, trying to keep the mocking tone out his voice.

He could still see Athena narrowing her eyes at him.

Leo looked at him.

"You could shadow travel?" he suggested.

He felt a flash of annoyance. While Nico had been thinking that for a while, he wasn't a pack horse. And he certainly couldn't take everyone.

"I could only take a few with me." he settled on, "Maybe if-"

"We might be able to transport all of us." Apollo cut in. "I mean, yeah, we're shattered, but if we pool our powers, and I mean,allof us, there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to."

"We would be too tired by the time we got there to fight." Athena pointed out, so,sosimilarly to Annabeth that Nico felt his stomach turn.

"Then we arrive close to it, but not there. The kids go in, kill them all, see if Jackson made it- personally I hope he didn't- cut the chains thenbam! Sorted. What's dead stays dead." Ares said impatiently.

Frank stared at his father angrily.

"What do you mean-" he began.

"Guys, there'sno time. It's a good plan, let's try it." Piper said quickly.

Aphrodite smiled at her daughter, who completely ignored her.

The gods were not doing so good with their kids, Nico thought. Piper's speech must have really impacted them.

"You'll get there early, but the rest of us are going to take the boats. We'll put them on full speed." Reyna said, rejoining them.

"Hopefully you'll catch us in time." Jason said.

"At the rate we're planning on travelling, we may even beat you there." Reyna said, indicating for Apollo to continue speaking, before turning back to the legions of demigods.

Apollo put his hand out, which began to glow softly. They stood in a strange circle around him. His sister placed her hand on top of his, followed by the others, Gods and demigods alike.

Nico put his hand on Leo's, as Poseidon put his hand on top. It was weird, all the power radiating off the pile of hands, like putting his hand into a warm bath that had one of those strange new bath bomb things in it; it was hot, but fizzing, with a cold energy at the same time.

"Kids, we're just going to borrow a teeny bit of your power for this." Apollo said, a bead of sweat forming on his upper lip.

Nico winced. It was like someone was pulling a massive splinter out of his arm. It didn't hurt, but it felt unnatural as it traveled down his forearm. He briefly saw his veins turn gold before-

They landed with a thump on some grass, the Gods groaning.

A few hundred metres away, at the top of the nearest hill, stood a cluster of ruins. They didn't look like much – just some crumbling walls encircling the limestone shells of a few buildings – but, from somewhere within the ruins, tendrils of black ether curled into the sky, like a smoky squid peeking from its cave. As Nico watched, a bolt of dark energy ripped through the air, rocking the ground and sending a cold shockwave across the landscape.

"The Necromanteion." he said. "The House of Hades."

Despite the midday heat and the raging storm of death energy, a group of tourists was climbing over the ruins. Fortunately there weren't many and they didn't give the demigods a second look.

After everything, Nico had stopped caring about getting noticed. If they could fly their warship into the Roman Colosseum with ballistae blazing and not even cause a traffic slowdown, he figured they could get away with anything.

He led the way. They left the gods behind without a single thought. At the top of the hill, they climbed over an old retaining wall and down into an excavated trench. Finally they arrived at a stone doorway leading straight into the side of the hill. The death storm seemed to originate right above their heads. Looking up at the swirling tentacles of darkness, Nico felt like he was trapped at the bottom of a flushing toilet bowl. That really didn't calm his nerves.

Nico faced the group. "From here, it gets tough."

"Great." Leo said, but there was no humour in it. "Let's just get Percy, kick ass and leave."

"Just stick close together, and maybe we can avoid getting lost or going insane." Nico said.

On that happy note, Nico led them underground.

The tunnel spiralled gently downwards, the ceiling supported by white stone arches that reminded him of a whale's rib cage.

As they walked, Hazel ran her hands along the masonry. "This wasn't part of a temple." she whispered. "This was … the basem*nt for a manor house, built in later Greek times."

"A manor house?" Frank asked. "Please don't tell me we're in the wrong place."

"The House of Hades is below us," Nico assured him. "But Hazel's right, these upper levels are much newer. When the archaeologists first excavated this site, they thought they'd found the Necromanteion. Then they realized the ruins were too recent, so they decided it was the wrong spot. They were right the first time. They just didn't dig deep enough."

Ironic, really.

They turned a corner and stopped. In front of them, the tunnel ended in a huge block of stone.

"A cave-in?" Jason asked.

"Probably." Nico said. "This place is being hit with lots of tremors from the doors. Hazel, would you do the honours?"

Hazel stepped forward. She placed her hand on the rock, and the entire boulder crumbled to dust.

The tunnel shuddered. Cracks spread across the ceiling. For a moment, Nico imagined they'd all be crushed under tons of earth – a disappointing way to die, really, after all they'd been through. Then the rumbling stopped. The dust settled.

A set of stairs curved deeper into the earth, the barrelled ceiling held up by more repeating arches, closer together and carved from polished black stone. Nico could see that the descending arches were making the others (not Hazel) dizzy, like looking into an endlessly reflecting mirror, and they stumbled here and there on the stairs.

"Careful." Nico whispered. "Hazel, can you feel that?"

His sister paused for a second on the stairs, before she nodded reluctantly.

"What is it?" Piper hissed.

"There's a ton of monsters at the end of this tunnel." Hazel whispered.

Nico could feel it, a raw mass of pulsating power, objects filling the tunnels and rooms. They were still quite a way away from them- they still had some corners and obstacles to take on, but eventually they would reach them, and the fight would begin. They were in the final stretch now.

"Come on." Nico said, and led them all into the pitch blackness once more.

Chapter 27: Percy XVII

Summary:

"I will kill Gaia." he muttered to Maia, banging his hand on the metal, leaving a dent, "I will tear her apart with my bare hands."

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

Percy XVII

Something went wrong immediately.

The doors were trying to open again.

Percy quickly shoved his entire body against the left door, swearing furiously, pressing it towards the centre, arms outstretched to try and hold the other door in place. His fingertips squeaked along the metal. Maia crowed in confusion, smacking her tail into the side of the elevator.

"Maia! Just- nngh- help?" he tried.

The drakon batted the door with her head before looking away.

"Thanks!" Percy spat out in frustration.

There were no handles, or anything else to hold on to. And the metal was getting hot. As the elevator car ascended at no doubt unimaginable speeds, the doors shook and tried to open, threatening to spill them into whatever was between life and death. The rattling set his teeth on edge.

Percy's shoulders ached, and the elevator's easy-listening music didn't help. If all monsters had to hear that song about liking piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, no wonder they were in the mood for carnage when they reached the mortal world; Percy certainly was.

The panels started to slide apart, letting in a whiff of … ozone? Sulphur?

His fingers were slipping into the gap, and he watched in horror as the tips turned black, skin starting to flake away. His fingertips slipped in and vanished from his sight. Panicking, Percy pushed on his side furiously, sweat running down his temples, and the crack finally closed. His hands stopped disintegrating and went back to their normal shape, but his fingertips remained a charred black.

He didn't move, still pushing the doors together, but he stared at his hands. Everything felt as they should, but... he didn't need this. His eyes blazed with anger.

"I will kill Gaia." he muttered to Maia, banging his hand on the metal, leaving a dent, "I will tear her apart with my bare hands."

He stood there for a while, hands straining. The lift shook again, rattling like he was inside a maraca. He wondered what would happen if he jumped. He really didn't want to find out. He hoped against everything he knew that the hellhound would keep a hold of the button. He didn't know what he'd do if it let go- would the lift drop back down? Cease to exist? Kick him out wherever he was at the time? His legs ached with the effort of keeping himself upright.

Percy felt a click beneath his hands and furrowed his brow. Did that mean-? He breathed out a shaky breath before slowly easing his hands off the door.

It stayed shut.

Percy collapsed to the floor instantly, legs sprawling. His head banged off the side of the lift but he didn't even feel it. He was so tired. Fatigue was literally dragging his eyelids down, arms twitching sporadically. He was down and he wasn't getting back up until he had to.

"We're almost there." Percy whispered.

A weight settled onto his ragged knees: Percy had enough energy left to crack open one eye. Maia had curled up in the expanded space and was resting her head on him, her green frilled collar tucked over his knees, watching him with green eyes not unlike his own.

She was like his great-aunt or something if he got technical, but his mind could barely function, he was too swamped. He shuffled until he could lean on her side, and let his head fall back with a groan that he just couldn't hold back. He found himself running his fingertips along her frilled collar like he was petting a dog.

"We're so close, Maia..." Percy mumbled, eyes closed, almost deliriously. "We'll get out, and... and I'll make sure they know about you... you'll be safe... you can come back to camp... you can come home... my cabin's big enough for an extra person... well, Annabeth will be in there too but it'll work... you'll love her... just like I do... and my mum, you gotta meet her too... she'll make you some blue steaks or something...we just gotta hold on..."

Percy passed out.

When he came to, they were still in the elevator, the shaking and grinding metal grating against his ears. He figured he'd only been asleep for a few minutes and groaned. He needed either a battle or a nap. He couldn't function with a mix of exhaustion and adrenaline thrumming through his veins at all times.

"Oh Gods, come on." Percy looked up at the doors impatiently.

His stomach rumbled loudly, bubbling deep within him; the churning was painful. He hadn't eaten in several days- he had been to busy to eat, the main protector of their little group, but the curse had kept him going. He was testing its limits though.

He leaned forwards and grabbed the drakon skin bag, rooting through all the random stuff he had piled into it (including a cool rock he thought Annabeth would be fascinated by), eventually pulling out one of the two remaining steaks. He avoided eye contact with Maia. He wished he could avoid eye contact with the steaks. They were a tinted a sickly black-green, and poorly cooked, almost raw. What looked like moss clung to the greasy surface. It repulsed him in every way possible, but he was hungrier than he'd ever been in his life. He bit into it ravenously, sinking his teeth in as if it was a rubbery ambrosia. It didn't taste as bad as it looked. Or smelled. Or felt.

"Don't look at me like that," Percy mumbled hoarsely to a glare from Maia, "I'm hungry." he added through a chewy mouthful, juices dripping down his chin.

And he didn't want to waste them. They were some of the remaining things Damasen had given him. He'd wanted him fed and happy, and Percy was working on those two things. Fed? He was eating right now. Happy? Well, he was on his way. He smiled for the first time in a while as he chewed, He was on his way back home. To them. To her. Just... with one less person that he had hoped for.

The white lights in the elevator were artificial, a bit too bright for Percy, and the flickering didn't help either. He had to squint a bit, eyes watering.

He wasn't crying.

He wasn't.

But he was.

Damasen was supposed to be here. He was supposed to be right next to him, free from that horrible and terrible place. But instead he was back down there, reforming in pain. By the time he would be fully reformed, Percy could be long dead. He'd never see him again, never get out again, or even have the opportunity, have someone who would help him. Percy felt like he'd abandoned him. There was an empty space in the elevator, made specifically for him. The gap stared at him accusingly.

Percy sniffed hard, choking back the guilt that threatened to bubble over. He was right there. He could have- should have done something. But he had sat on that hellhound, watched that cyclops slice Damasen apart, and he didn't do a damn thing. He had deluded himself into believing that everything would be alright, that monsters were still as stupid as they had always been, that he and his friends were infallible. But he wasn't. And Damasen had paid for his stupid mistake.

Bob too, another moment of hesitation had seen Kampé stab him, like it was nothing. Percy had been resentful to Bob at first, never getting a clear answer to the questions he asked, but Percy knew better now. Bob's amnesia had turned him innocent, almost like a child. No wonder Tartarus had affected him. And now Percy was more informed, he knew that the questions he had asked didn't have clear answers. How could Bob know the time if they were in a place outside of time?

At that... Percy felt fear start to take root in his mind.

How...longhad he been in Tartarus? Weeks? Months? ...Years? Sometimes it had felt like being down there was all he had ever known, that it was all he would ever see forever. Sometimes it had just felt like the most action-packed hour of his life. Percy honestly just did not know. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know/

What if... what if time had moved beyond him? There were monsters in the pit thousands of years old who had only been to the surface once or twice, spending the rest of their time reforming in Tartarus. Time moved different. What if everyone he knew was dead? What if the war was over? When he got out the lift, would he be faced with a barren wasteland, wracked by the war? Would Gaia have taken over the world? Who would be waiting for him at the top? ...Would anyone? What if he'd been forgotten? What if he'd become nothing more than a rumour, some demigod who abandoned their quest and doomed everyone...?

No. He shook his head. No, it couldn't be that long. It couldn't. He couldn't accept that. Wouldn't accept that. There had to be people he knew waiting for him at the top. Annabeth wouldn't give up on him. She'd be there once he got out, and everything could go back to normal again, they'd kiss, they'd win the war, they'd go live their lives in relative peace. There was no other option in his mind.

Percy refused to think about it. He tilted his head back, leaning on Maia's smooth scales, looking at the metal doors and walls that he had grown to hate. Forget Tartarus, how long had he been in here for?

Maia jerked her head up suddenly, rearing back with a growl.

"What is it?" Percy pushed himself to his feet, grabbing his swords in his hands readily. His legs shook with exhaustion. "Maia-"

She just kept hissing. He could see some of her poison gas seeping out of her mouth and he held his breath, shoving her with his elbow. She stopped and looked at him, then back at the doors.

"What?" he said, feeling adrenaline start to wake him up again, like a bolt of lightning in his veins. Had the hellhound let go? Was the lift breaking? Was someone trying to get in? He prepared himself for an attack as the lift started to rattle more than ever.

The doors began to shake roughly, like an earthquake was happening outside; he realised what was going on. The lift wasn't breaking- the hellhound hadn't let go- he was exactly where he needed to be. Percy hooked his foot on the back of Maia's saddle and climbed up. He swung a leg over and gripped the reins tightly, holding on to his bronze sword. He didn't know what he was expecting, but having to fight again seemed likely in his life. He hoped it was all okay.

It had to be okay.

A ding echoed somewhere above him.

He had arrived.

Chapter 28: Leo II

Summary:

Despite the fact that they were literally surrounded by hundreds of monsters and a giant that could only be killed if a God was present, which there wasn't, Leo swore he heard Jasonsnort.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

Leo II

The group was tense and silent as they turned another corner, Hazel confirming that there was nothing potentially lethal coming up. Leo found himself at the back of them.

"Why am I at the back?" Leo muttered to Piper. "Everyone knows the guy at the back of the group gets killed first."

He winced at his tactlessness, briefly forgetting that one of them actually was dead. It seemed an awful and massive thing to forget, but Leo guessed it just hadn't really hit him yet. He still half-expected a bossy order from the front of the group every few seconds, a blonde head turning around to make sure everyone was keeping up, and that they were okay. He was always anticipating a firm 'right, this is what we're going to do!' echoing down the tunnel.

Leo realised how much he missed her. Like, he really missed her. She'd been terrifying when he'd first met her, but Leo now knew that was just her desperation to find Percy. And to have died in such a horrible and painful way... she didn't deserve it. And to die before finding Percy... that was just horrible. He'd do anything to see his mother again, but at least he knew she was dead. Percy didn't even know. And he missed the way that Annabeth, above anyone else, would send a small smile his way at his jokes, no matter how bad they were. Percy would do it often, along with Piper, but Annabeth would always do it. She made him feel appreciated. Leo had always felt like a seventh wheel, an odd one out, but he'd rather have all of his friends with him, happy and safe, than have a girlfriend. That was clear to him now more than ever. The jealousy that had seemingly made itself a permanent home in his stomach had all but disappeared, replaced with guilt.

No one acknowledged his slip, Leo observed thankfully. They carried on walking in the dark, his fire lighting the way, flickering along the ceiling.

Eventually, they turned a corner into a round circular room. The stone floors and ceilings had made the room very cold, uncomfortable for someone like Leo. There were torches lining the walls, and mirrors on every surface, cracked and dusty. Leo could see a couple hundred versions of himself dotted about. It was like being in a hall of mirrors.

He dropped his fire and looked around.

"Can you feel the way out?" He heard Jason ask Hazel behind him.

Leo wandered over to a wall and placed his hand over it.

As he looked in the mirror, his eyebrows knitted together. He looked different. His hair had grown out longer and shaggier, and his face was leaner, so he looked less like an imp and more like one of those willowy elves in the fairy tales. There were thick smears of grease on his neck that he had missed while washing his face, almost as dark as the shadows underneath his eyes, purple like he'd been punched in the face a couple times.

He turned back to see Hazel looking troubled.

"The only way out is through there," she said as she pointed in one direction, at a relatively nondescript wall, "But there's a lot of support there. It's a load bearing wall. I think if we take it out, the whole room could collapse." She bit her lip and looked to the rest.

Frank was staring hard at the wall, as if he was trying to scold it for being so fragile. Jason and Piper were looking at each other, having some silent conversation. Nico watched his sister think. Leo frowned.

"If we all just go near it, we smash it, then we duck in, we'll be fine." Leo said, shrugging. "Is the tunnel behind it strong?"

Hazel glanced at it.

"I think so." she said. "It's a little hard to tell, we're close to all those monsters, it's blurring into each other slightly. And it's thick behind. We won't be able to just hit it and smash it, it feels like it will take a lot of force to go through."

Jason straightened up.

"I'll smash it, you all go stand near-"

"No." Nico cut him off, putting his hand out to halt Jason. "I'll smash it. If this roof falls in, I can just shadow travel away. But it'll just land on you."

Jason blinked.

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right." Leo saw a smile twitch onto his best friend's face for the first time since Annabeth had died. "We'll all stand over there. Whenever you're ready, Nico." He clapped the younger boy softly on the shoulder, who quirked up the corner of his mouth.

Leo followed the rest over by the wall, a few feet away to avoid any glass shards that would fly out.

Nico stood in the middle of the room, a little awkward but seemingly ignoring it. Leo noted how deeply he was breathing, his chest heaving slowly. He wondered what he was about to do.

"Ready?" asked the son of Hades.

Piper nodded, the rest of them pressing flat against the other walls.

Nico stepped closer, his hands flickering with some kind of black mist that darted about in sharp curves. It got blacker and more violent as Nico raised his hands, holding the dark blaze level with his shoulders.

A look of deep concentration in his face, Nico pushed his arms forward.

A bolt of flickering black energy shot out, and struck the mirrors, shattering it and the wall behind, chunks of rock flying out. The noise was deafening, a buzzing in his ears briefly blocking out everything.

Leo covered his eyes to avoid the dust, before being thrown slightly off balance by the sudden shaking of the room. Mirrors fell off walls, exploding across the floor like firecrackers, as spider-web cracks expanded across the ceiling rapidly.

"Leo!" he heard dimly.

He was pulled into the tunnel by his suspenders as a large layer of the ceiling smashed to the floor. It landed with an almighty crash, blocking in their tunnel, plunging them into darkness, and cut off their view of Nico, who had been sprinting towards them.

"No!" shouted Leo and Hazel, Leo's arms erupting in flames without even thinking.

Hazel launched herself at the rock, her hands outstretched as she moved the rock a few inches, dust falling onto their horrified faces.

"Nico!" Frank bellowed.

Leo heard Piper swear violently behind him and agreed with every word.

"Nonononono-" Hazel began shouting as she lifted the heavy rock with sheer strength, a thin beam of light coming in from the bottom. It was quickly extinguished as another crash came, the rest of the ceiling caving in.

"Nico!" she yelled, her eyes blazing gold in the light of Leo's fiery arms.

"No! No more!" Piper kicked the wall of the tunnel furiously, "No more, no more, notanother, notagain-" she shouted, her fingernails digging into the rock so hard Leo saw blood, as she tried to help move it again and again.

Leo couldn't breathe- they couldn't take another death, they just couldn't, it wasn't fair-

"Uh-guys?" came a voice behind them.

They all span around.

Nico stood there, looking curiously at them, a little dusty, a little shaken, but otherwise absolutely fine.

"Nico!"

He was instantly gripped in such a tight bear hug from Frank, that Leo doubted he could breathe. But he joined them anyway, gripping the small, quiet child of Hades that they had all grown to feel protective over on the shoulder. He felt Jason's arms partially close over him, Piper's hand on his shoulder.

Hazel had flown towards her brother and speeds Leo didn't think possible, tears dripping down her nose as she sobbed into Nico's shoulder.

"I thought- we- again- thatyou- the ceiling- that you weredead- we didn't-" Hazel's speaking was interrupted by gasps and hitches, her face obscured by her cinnamon brown hair.

Sometimes, Leo forgot that Hazel was only thirteen.

"I shadow travelled." Nico's voice was muffled and surprised. "I told you I would."

"I didn't think you got there in time." Hazel sniffed wetly.

Leo had completely blanked about Nico's shadow travel, along with everyone else, despite being told minutes ago. They had lost so many members of their crew, they had all just assumed the worst. Of course they had. With everything going wrong, why would they ever assume something was finally going right for them?

Leo buried his head into Jason's shoulder, knowing full well that he didn't want to move from their inadvertent group hug. They were all warm and together; he could feel the love radiating off of each of them. But one by one, they drew away, until it was just Hazel, who was holding Nico's hand in a death grip.

"Don't you- don't you ever do that again." she told him firmly, wiping at her eyes. "Let's just keep going. Go left at the end."

No one questioned her, and they carried on in a strange atmosphere. Leo felt ecstatic that Nico was fine, but he honestly thought that he could cry very easily. Everyone's emotions were at an all time high.

"What was that stuff you used to blow up the wall?" Piper asked Nico.

"Condensed shadow," Nico replied. "It takes a lot to use but it's powerful. I discovered it in Tartarus."

"Oh. Cool." Piper said.

The air temperature somehow dropped even further at the name, and Leo winced at how awkward Piper sounded. He got the impression that Nico hadn't meant to say that.

Nico began to tell them about the doors of death.

"My father said when someone gets in the elevator, it will chime. When the chime sounds again, someone on our side needs to push the UP button, or the Doors won't open and Percy- well he'll be gone. We won't know when he's in, so we'll have to just hope that we let him out and not something else."

They turned left.

Leo could finally let his flames simmer down on his arms, dimly noting how his sleeves had charred at the edges.

Every shirt.

There were torches lighting the way now, and at the end, Leo could see the outline of a door.

"Is that-" he began.

"Yeah." Nico nodded, "The Doors of Death are through there, along with a couple hundred monsters."

"We're going in there." Jason said. "I don't even care anymore, Percy is through those doors, and I want him here, right now. Kill as many as you can, and protect those you can see. Everyone got it?"

Everyone nodded. Leo was ready to torch some monster ass, to just make them feel as angry and hurt as he was.

"Let's go." Nico said.

He counted down from three on his hands, before throwing open the door.

It lead into a massive cavern, crawling with monsters. From where they were stood on a slightly elevated ledge, Leo could get a good view of the entire room. The obsidian walls were carved with scenes of death: plague victims, corpses on the battlefield, torture chambers with skeletons hanging in iron cages – all of it embellished with precious gems that somehow made the scenes even more ghastly.

As in the Pantheon, the domed roof was a waffle pattern of recessed square panels, but here each panel was a stela – a grave marker with Ancient Greek inscriptions. Leo wondered if actual bodies were buried behind them. He couldn't see any other exits. At the apex of the ceiling, where the Pantheon's skylight would've been, a circle of pure black stone gleamed, as if to reinforce the sense that there was no way out of this place – no sky above, only darkness.

Leo's eyes drifted to the centre of the room.

'Yep,' Leo muttered. 'Those are doors, all right.'

Fifty feet away was a set of freestanding elevator doors, their panels etched in silver and iron. A large black figure stood in front. Rows of chains ran down either side, bolting the frame to large hooks in the floor.

The area around the doors was littered with black rubble. Leo narrowed his eyes as he realized that an ancient altar to Hades had once stood there. It had been destroyed to make room for the Doors of Death. Judging by the frown on his son and daughter's faces, Hades wasn't going to like that.

Monsters were crowded about, pressed against walls and shoved into corners, cyclopes and empousai and hellhounds, the room filled with growls and roars and bellows. It was hard to hear himself think. Time to do something about that.

"Hey!" Leo shouted.

Every monster head turned to see the six of them standing at the door, weapons aloft: Jason's sword crackling with electricity, Piper's eyes glinting as she bared her dagger, Frank's hands slowly growing claws, Hazel's spatha pointed upwards, tears now dried on her furious face, and Nico's stygian iron sword swinging dangerously from his hand. Leo let his hammer and hand burst into roaring flames. His mind latched on to the first cool thing he could think of.

"You're all already dead." Leo promised calmly into the silence.

He almost winced, but it got the message across well enough.

He jumped in.

He immediately beheaded a monster, the others flying in behind, screams and clangs of metal thrown up around him. It was like being caught in a tornado. Monsters surrounded him, and for as many as he whacked into dust, more just filled the spaces. But he wasn't alone. Every so often he'd see it- a clawed hand reaching out to him struck down by a flash of lightning, or a snarl somewhere being told to attack someone else by a melodic voice. And similarly, whenever he saw a fin making its way towards some curly hair- well, it was flambé time.

Leo had just stepped back to take a breath when he heard it.

In the centre of the room, the Doors of Death made a pleasant chiming sound that seemed hella out of place in the middle of an all-out brawl. The green UP button on the right side of the frame began to glow. The chains shook. Something was in the elevator. Leo felt a small spark of hope- Percy?

That thought fueled him as he smacked a dracaenae in the face. All he saw for a few minutes was gold. Nothing but gold. His hammer swung out of its own accord, his flames shooting out to vanquish monsters he hadn't even seen yet. He was pretty sure his whole body was on fire.

At some point he pulled back, checking on his friends, who were decimating and holding their own pretty well. He ducked a swing and retaliated, gold entering his vision again.

Suddenly a stomp that rivalled thunder itself bellowed across the chamber, shockwaves knocking a few monsters off balance.

Monsters and demigods alike froze. Leo lifted his head; the figure that Leo had seen in front of the doors let its leg move back to where it was, the twenty-foot-tall shadowy figure looming next to the shaking Doors. Leo knew this guy.

The giant Clytius, the bane of Hecate, was shrouded in black smoke, but Leo could see dragon-like legs with ash-coloured scales; a massive humanoid upper body encased in Stygian armour; long, braided hair that seemed to be made from smoke. How could you braid smoke? His complexion was as dark as Death's. His eyes glinted cold as diamonds. He carried no weapon, but that didn't make him any less terrifying.

He stepped down, hundreds of monsters scuttling away from him.

Leo let himself be scared for a few seconds. Then, he lifted his chin. So he was tall. So was Jason. So was Frank. So was a giraffe. And Leo wasn't scared of any giraffes. Around him, he could see his friends straightening up, not one of them showing fear. So long as they had each other watching their backs, they were beyond being scared. Though he let his eyes linger on his armour.

As Leo side-eyed them, he scanned for Nico; he had just seen him before Clytius had intervened, but now he had vanished.

Where had he-?

There.

Out the corner of his other eye, he saw Nico hidden behind the doors. He blinked meaningfully at him, hoping he got the message. Nico nodded. Great. As soon as the doors chimed, Nico would let whatever or whoever out. There was a good chance it wasn't Percy, that Percy may not be even anywhere near the Doors (or dead, his mind reminded him nastily). They couldn't take any chances.

The monsters around them had backed off. It was clear they didn't want to get in the middle of this, and that they thought they knew who would win, judging by the nasty smirks thrown their way. Leo knew the plan. They would have to fight Clytius until a God showed up, and fight him for a long as it took for the Doors to chime. Well, they couldn't stay in a staring contest the entire time. Leo breathed in and looked up at him.

"Yeah? You're smoky and mute. Oh, we're so scared." Leo said, screwing up his nose.

Despite the fact that they were literally surrounded by hundreds of monsters and a giant that could only be killed if a God was present, which there wasn't, Leo swore he heard Jasonsnort.

Clytius didn't move, but Leo saw his eyes get colder, if that was even possible.

"It's a nice place you got here," Piper joined, pretending to scan the cavern. "Bit of a fixer upper, but not too bad. You've got a bit of an infestation problem though." She gestured to the monsters.

Stall, was all that was going through Leo's brain, stall, stall!

Clytius lifted his sword a fraction.

"I think what we really mean," Leo started quickly, "is that Gaia could've put you anywhere but she puts you in some underground pit on door duty. I mean, let's be real here, that's not the best, is it?"

"I heard her say that Polybotes was her favourite son." Frank said conversationally to Hazel, who nodded convincingly.

"I heard that too." she said.

"I thought it was Alcyoneus?" Jason interjected.

Leo had butterflies in his stomach, he was thoroughly intimidated by the sheer amount of monsters, but he also wanted to laugh at the absurdity of their conversation. This couldn't last.

As Jason and Frank debated over which giant was Gaia's favourite, Leo glanced sideways.

Four things happened in quick succession:

One, the doors chimed for the second time.

Two, Nico slapped the button a millisecond after hearing it.

Three, Clytius snapped, lunging forwards to kill them.

Four, the doors slid open, and something huge came out.

Chapter 29: Percy XVIII

Summary:

"Hey," Percy began, looking around, "Where's Annabeth?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

Percy XVIII

The doors slid open.

Percy squinted at the change in light, which sent bolts of pain to the back of his eyes, but kicked Maia on anyway. She reared back, and together, they blindly charged out of the elevator, the doors adjusting to make room for them.

They emerged into some kind of pit. There were bright torches everywhere, lining the strangely carved walls, made of what looked like precious metals. He didn’t know, having only caught a glimpse. It was hard to focus on anything else other than the swarms of monsters oozing into every available gap, with what looked like a giant in the centre, tall and dark, swiping at-

Percy saw a flash of blonde hair.

"Maia! Sweep!" he bellowed, standing up on her back, wobbling, before jumping into the air as Maia span, her spiked tail cutting a lethal dent into the crowds.

Percy landed back on her, the forward momentum throwing him off balance for a second, but he dropped back down to a sitting position without worrying; it was a move that the two had perfected over time.

A sizeable dent had just been cut into the horde. Well, less a horde, more a crowd- there weren't nearly as many as there were at the doors, barely enough for a small army. He almost felt like relaxing. They could wipe this lot out easily. And then it would be over, then he could find her, then he could just breathe out-

Percy stretched two hands out, one clutching a sword, and swiftly lopped off a head while the other clenched, a couple of nearby monsters squealing before they went poof. He could hear the sound of blood rushing in his ears. He didn’t know whose.

Percy heard the giant roar in anger and snapped his head up, seeing a familiar weapon lodged between the metal plates in his armour: Hazel's spatha. For the first time in a while, Percy let a wide grin crack across his face, the burst of emotion fuelling him as he threw back two small cyclopes into the wall so hard he saw cracks.

He and Maia had a wall to their backs now, a good position for them to defend (and he never thought he would miss solid walls so much), Percy swivelling round every few seconds to clear some monsters off Maia's tail, as she darted forwards, snapping up clouds of gold dust between her mighty jaws.

There was a flicker next to him, darker, like a bit of shoe polish smeared into his peripheral vision. He glanced round just in time to see Nico di Angelo aiming a slice at Maia's underbelly, his face painted with pure determination.

"Nico!" Percy shouted, flinging his sword out, parrying the blow while trying not to disarm him in the group of monsters surrounding them.

A clash of metal on metal didn't seem to faze Nico, who clearly hadn't heard Percy over the din of roars and screeches, as he simply pulled back before lunging for Maia again.

Percy scowled, smacking away his sword again from his- pet? Friend? Great-Aunt?

"Ni- Nic- Di Angelo! Hey!Stop- NICO!" Percy shouted in exasperation.

Percy slid down the side of Maia, his hands clinging on to the ragged reins to stay on, and kicked Nico in the shoulder as lightly as he could.

Nico stumbled back a little, head snapping upwards ready to fight a new enemy. Percy stared at him, eyebrows raised a bit desperately.

Nico blinked.

His dark eyes, that had been burning with the heat of the battle, wiped clean completely, seemingly looking at Percy all over, and then at Maia in disbelief.

His mouth fell open.

His sword lowered instantly, arm looking almost boneless.

Percy saw his mouth move in shock, probably saying his name, but couldn't give him any more time, gesturing behind Nico at the advancing monsters, before turning to run through a monster who had climbed on top of Maia. When he glanced back, he saw Nico wipe out three dracaenae with one wide slicing arc, a victorious aura radiating off the son of Hades. Nico turned back around, clearly shouting something at Percy, still- well, if Percy had to describe it, he would say the younger boy was almost smiling.

Percy watched him make rapid shapes with his hands, confused, before he understood; the Giant could only be killed by a God and a demigod working together, and judging by how Nico pointed at the Giant, then himself and then upwards, he was off to go get one. From Olympus? Percy wondered for a second. He was gone a few seconds later, with the familiar flicker of shadow travel.

Percy turned back to see a deep cut get slashed into Maia's shoulder. Maia roared, bucking as Percy caught the monsters who did it, exploding them quick as a flash. He frowned amongst the havoc. Together, they were too big a target.

Percy could see that he was holding her back, so, leaning forwards, he pushed off, landing on the stone floor in a roll, swinging upwards with his sword as he got to his feet.

Shoving his way into the middle of the crowd, Percy began fighting. A similar feeling filled him to the Battle of New York. He magically dodged every weapon, or the weapons hit him and just glanced off of him. He could feel the fluidity taking over, every move one of an instinctual sequence, ducking, spinning, supple, elegant motions like a flood weaving through buildings; Percy wreaked a similar destruction.

He had missed the Curse of Achilles.

He sliced through armour like it was made of paper. Lumbering monsters just melted. Snake men exploded. Hellhounds that came into contact simply turned away, attacking those nearest each other. Percy slashed and stabbed and whirled, barely keeping a lid on the whirlwind of emotions that bubbled within, a chuckle bursting out every now and then: he was back on earth, all his friends were fighting alongside him, and they were kicking ass.

As Percy decimated the last few that were close to him, the rest sensibly choosing to flee and fight someone else, he saw another flash, this time a blinding white.

Through the dust clouding his vision, Percy let out a raw smile as he saw Hecate appearing, Nico darting out behind her and clearing his path. Her hands crackled with burning red fire.

Several more flashes; the Olympians had arrived.

Percy heaved a heavy breath out, spitting a mouthful of something- what, he didn't even know- out of his mouth. He kicked a pile of gold dust in satisfaction, picking up his sword off the floor. Percy raised his eyebrows: he didn't remember dropping his sword.

From where he was stood, at the back of the hall, leaning against the wall, Percy watched the rest of the monsters flee, and the chaotic fight between his friends, Hecate and the Giant- Percy couldn't remember which one, with some Olympians standing around, weapons brandished should they need to interfere. They hadn't noticed him yet.

He would have intervened, helped with the Giant, but-

With a loud roar and a crash that shook the ceiling, the Giant fell to the floor, a myriad of weapons now in the chinks of its armour. Hecate and Hazel were stood on its torso. Two swords held above their hands, two glints of metal as they plunged, one gigantic poof of gold.

Percy swallowed as the unwelcome memory of Damasen crawled into his thoughts, shoving it deep back in his mind.

The cavern was quiet now, the remaining hordes having scattered back into the tunnels to escape. Percy could hear the heavy breathing of his friends. He searched for blonde hair again, but found only Jason's. One corner of his mouth tugged downwards. Where-?

"Drakon!" he heard Ares cry to his left.

His head snapped sideways, the God of War waving his sword above his head manically as he barrelled towards Maia, who reared back like a threatened cat. Oh, for the love of-

"Stop!" Percy bellowed, darting in front of her.

Ares ground to a halt and his eyes boggled comically, just visible under his shades.

"Jackson?" he said incredulously.

"Percy!" Nico ran towards him.

Nico's body thudded around his middle, pulling him into a hug.

"Percy?"

"Percy!"

"PERCY!"

His friends' heads shot up, and they sprinted as fast as they could towards him. Percy squinted, not seeing Annabeth with them. More bodies crashed into the hug.

"I can't believe it, we- you- and-" Piper seemed to be lost for words as she babbled, smoothing back his sweaty hair in an almost motherly way, a bright smile radiating off her.

"Bro-" Jason choked, grabbing his shoulders and yanking him into a tight hug, one that was replicated instantly by a fiercely tearful Frank, whose face flickered with a thousand animal forms.

Percy let his forehead fall onto Frank's broad shoulder, and clenched his fists as a voice swam into his head, a voice he loathed; "You could have chosen a new life down there," Gaia said, almost pityingly, "Another wasted chance. You would have been safe from me there. You could have come out on top. My plan continues."

Percy gritted his teeth until she stopped talking, trying to control the wave of rage that rose in him at the mere sound of her voice. Meanwhile, below his shoulders, Hazel was surprisingly not crying, instead just burying her head as deep as she could into him, like she was trying to burrow into him. Leo had let go partially, but still had a tight grip on his wrist, his brown eyes shiny. Nico had pulled back too, angling his head away. Percy didn’t know if he was crying. The boy just looked uncomfortable at his own actions.

"Percy..." Jason shook his head, looking him up and down with a dazed expression.

"What is the damn Maeonian drakon doing here?" Ares asked him, levelling a spear at Maia threateningly.

Percy put his hand in-between them and shook his head firmly.

"She's mine and she's friendly. She won't hurt anyone unless I say so." He looked at his friends' wide eyes. "Her name's Maia." he added on the end.

Leo whistled.

"You tamed a drakon. Dude that's metal-"

"It wasn't me." Percy cut him off shaking his head.

He had no intention of going into any detail about Damasen right then, but to claim that he had done something his friend had done felt dirty. Percy couldn't do it. His friends seemed to be waiting for an explanation, but Percy had more on his mind- something- someone- very important.

"Hey," Percy began, looking around, "Where's Annabeth?"

Chapter 30: Jason II

Summary:

“No one’s told him yet, have they?” he asked in a quiet voice that seemed out of place for Leo.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

Jason II

Jason wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, taking a wobbling step back to support Piper, who had taken a nasty blow to her leg. Frank stepped in front of him, hovering beside a victorious Hazel a step away from where the Giant's body was, her spatha clattering to the floor as she flexed her fingers.

"Your hair's still on fire." Jason said absently.

Next to him, Leo patted it out with his hand.

Hecate seemed to be exchanging a word with Hazel, who couldn't keep the satisfaction off her face at bringing down Clytius. Jason had never been prouder of her; when Clytius had lunged at them, Frank had been a blur, first a demigod then a dragon, almost rugby tackling the giant before they had all stepped in. But it was Hazel who had stepped in halfway, the room hazy with magic, and delivered the final blow.

"Drakon!”

He jumped as Mars bellowed behind him, shooting past them and the other Gods with his sword held aloft.

The big three Olympians had seemingly stayed up on the surface; only Hecate, Mars, and Mercury were fighting down in the temple. He watched Mars charge towards a drakon that had somehow survived. It pressed itself up against a wall, rearing back as if to strike. If he didn’t know better, Jason would have said it seemed almost defensive.

"Stop!" someone shouted, a body darting in front of it. Jason stared.

He knew that voice. He knew that face.

Mars ground to a halt and Jason saw his weapon slide out his hand a little. The God seemed surprised. Jason was too.

"Jackson?" he heard Mars say.

He blinked.

"Percy!" Nico was a blur as he shot past him.

"Percy?" Piper gasped next to him.

"Percy!" Leo shouted gleefully.

"PERCY!" Hazel shouted, louder than he'd ever heard her before.

The rest streaking ahead, Jason helped Piper limp as quickly as possible over to their missing friend. Percy was back. And he was just standing there looking at them.

"I can't believe it, we-you- and-" Piper seemed to be lost for words as she babbled, running her hand over Percy's head as if she couldn't believe he was truly there; Jason couldn't either.

He hadn't expected to miss Percy as much as he did.

"Bro-" Jason choked, grabbing his shoulders and yanking him into a tight hug, feeling Percy's shoulder blades on his back, sharper than they had been before.

They all retreated after a few minutes to give the son of Poseidon some space. Jason’s mind rushed at a thousand miles an hour.

When had Percy come out? With the drakon? How had he held off long enough to make it? The more Jason recalled the past events, the more his eyes widened. He had seen a figure fighting in the middle of a horde of monsters, sometimes slashing with a sword and other times just throwing monsters back with his bare hands- at the time, Jason had assumed it was Mars. Maybe Nico. Now he wasn't so sure. But it couldn't have been Percy? Not in the state he was in...

"Percy..." Jason shook his head, not really believing what he was seeing before him.

To put it simply: Percy looked like he'd been put through a meat grinder.

Though Percy was only an inch or two below Jason's 6 foot 2 height, Jason still got a good view of him. He was topless, though Jason suspected the dark red fabric around his ribs was what used to be his t-shirt, now a bloody bandage. His trousers were rags, claw-like rips reducing them to ribbons, barely reaching his knees. Only Percy's shoes had retained their original structure, though they were as battered as they come. His clothes looked like someone had turned a weed whacker on them before dressing him. And that wasn’t even the worst part, Jason thought, grimacing.

Percy was covered.

In blood, in gold dust, grime, dirt, some golden liquid, all was spattered across his chest and arms. Jason instantly picked out any injuries he could see, itching for a field medic pack: there was a red burn in the shape of a ring around Percy's right forearm. Blood stains across Percy's stomach. His left leg was mottled with bruises, a thick fabric winding around the middle of his shin. There were bruises pummelled black into his skin, ones that Jason knew- he knew- that they just hurt by existing. A thick cut bisected the side of his mouth.

As Jason gave him a once-over, Percy seemed to stagger a bit. He looked shattered- like he hadn't slept in all the time he had been down there. His hair was greasy and matted with blood, hanging over his pale face in dirty clumps. Percy clearly hadn't seen the sun in a long time; he looked like a ghost. There were deep purple shadows underneath his eyes, that looked swollen, as if he'd been punched in both of them. Repeatedly. But there was a firm set to his jaw though, and however drained he seemed, Percy's eyes were as alert as ever, as he gripped on some twisted gold thing that resembled a sword.

"What is the damn Maeonian drakon doing here?" Mars was still talking, lifting his spear at the fearsome drakon, snapping Jason out of his cataloguing.

Percy stuck his hand out in-between them, like a ‘back off’, and shook his head.

"She's mine and she’s friendly. She won't hurt anyone unless I say so. Her name's Maia." he tossed in at the end.

Jason felt his eyes go wide. Percy had a freaking drakon? And seemed to be- friends? With it? The drakon- Maia- theMaeoniandrakon, of course it would be calledMaia, this wasPercythey were talking about- crept closer to Percy, who put his hand on her frilled neck in some kind of reassuring act. The drakon purred. Jason closed his open mouth.

Leo whistled. Of course he was impressed. Jason had to admit that he was too. Dude falls into Tartarus with a broken arm, without a sword or any help, and he comes out with- was that two swords Jason could see?- a pet drakon, and (Jason observed a bit curiously) no sign of a broken arm. Had he gone to some kind of Tartarus A&E? Tartarus adoption services? Tartarus blacksmith?

Leo was still talking next to him.

"You tamed a drakon. Dude that's metal-" Leo said, not taking his eyes off of it.

Jason made a mental note to not let Leo get any closer to the drakon, for all their safety.

"It wasn't me." Percy cut him off, shaking his head, his voice low as if someone had punched him in the throat.

Jason narrowed his eyes at the flash of pain that flitted through Percy's eyes. He was hiding something. Someone else had trained the drakon? Who?

But Percy didn't say anything more about 'Maia', instead choosing to ask Jason something he had really wished wouldn't come up so soon.

"Hey," Percy turned to them, "Where's Annabeth?"

There was a beat of silence, where Jason could suddenly hear his heartbeat in his ears, and feel the cold air of the underground temple settle around them all, like it was preserving the scene. Cold adrenaline flooded through his skin.

For a beat or two, no one spoke. Jason took a calming breath and made eye contact with Percy. If no one was going to, he would, no matter how much he didn’t want to-

"Percy-" Piper began next to him, her voice small and almost fearful.

But she was swiftly interrupted by a presence behind them.

"Percy!" Mercury cried happily, a large smile beaming out from him.

Jason watched as Percy slowly wiped at something on his chest, leaving a reddish gap in the grime on his skin. It was something golden, Jason thought, but he couldn't be sure. Gross.

"Hermes?" Percy lifted his chin tiredly but did not smile.

Mercury- though Jason guessed he was in his Greek form now- Hermes didn't seem to notice, too busy giving Percy's battered body concerned glances.

"Your father is up on the surface, along with the rest of your camps. I'm sure they're very curious as to find out whether you made it!" Hermes said cheerfully.

Percy gave a sort of stiff nod.

"Right." He nodded again, this time slower, before shaking his head as if clearing away cobwebs. "They're all up there? Right. Yeah, alright- uh- how do we get out?" Percy turned and addressed Hazel.

"Follow me." Hazel said firmly, her hands in her pockets, no doubt searching for any ambrosia for Percy, as he was sure they had all done in the past minute, but Jason knew they were all out.

A loud clang caught his attention, and Jason glanced to the side to see Percy's drakon biting through one of the chains on the doors of death. Jason blinked- he had completely forgotten. He hurried forwards, flipping out his sword, and sliced down through the chains with a metallic reverberation that shook his teeth.

The doors thundered in a high pitched tone, shaking, like the wail of a dying animal, before freezing, and turning to a dark grey dust along the floor. Gone. No more monsters coming up before their time. He only wished he could make it permanent.

"Maia." Jason heard Percy call as he and Hazel walked through the tunnel doors, the rest joining them.

The drakon flounced forwards, all the demigods backing away warily except Percy, who placed a hand on her scaled shoulder as they walked.

Jason gave the room one last glance; piles of gold dust everywhere, walls smashed, deep slashes embedded into the floor. When he turned into the tunnels, he didn't look back.

The journey back up was tedious, but shorter than the first. Either because they knew the way this time, or because everyone was lost in their thoughts, Jason didn't know. He would just be glad to see the cloudy grey of his father's domain once again. He was starting to feel trapped.

"Hazel says it's not far now." Piper muttered to him, slipping her hand in his for support as she limped.

"That's good." Jason replied, still thinking deeply.

Piper squeezed his hand.

"Jason-" she began, but Jason knew what she was going to say. He didn’t think there was a single person among them except Percy who wasn’t thinking it.

"I know." he said.

"He thinks-"

"Iknow." Jason told her again, quietly. "I know."

"What do we do?" she said, though he could tell she wasn't expecting any answer that would help them. “What even can we do?”

Jason had no answers that could help their situation right now. There wasn’t anything they could undo. There was only one outcome and they were barrelling towards it headfirst.

"We- we have to do something, we can't stall this forever." he muttered.

"I know. But right now, we need to say something, anything-"

"Dowe?" Jason asked, not even sure if he meant it. None of them wanted to do this, but did it have to be the two of them specifically?

Yes, the voice of reason in his head said, sounding suspiciously like Lupa. The time to step up is when no one else wants to do it.

"We have to tell him!" Piper hissed. "He can't just walk out, expecting to see her and not know that she isn't-that she-that he- it's just not fair to him! It's not right!" she said firmly, eyes glittering.

Jason's heart clenched. He agreed with her completely.

But he still didn't want to tell him.

He didn't want to look into the eyes of the demigod who had walked through Tartarus just to get back to his friends and girlfriend, only to find out that she was dead. That the girl he loved to the point ofself-sacrificewas dead. He didn't know if he could.

But was it so selfish of him to hold off on telling Percy for as long as he could? Percy had just got back and they had all just brought down a Giant. He didn't want to ruin it.

But Piper was right. It wasn't fair to him.

"Come with me?" he asked, not trying to keep the pleading tone out his voice.

"We should all do it." Piper agreed. "I'll ask Hazel if she can stop and then we-"

"Pipes?" Jason cut her off, sticking his arm out.

For the last minute or so that they had been talking, Jason hadn't noticed how the others had seemingly sped up- or, as he now realised, gone the other way. The two of them were alone. Normally, Jason was fine with that. Just not right now.

She looked understandably annoyed at being cut off and turned to him.

"What?" she asked.

"We've gone the wrong way." he told her apologetically.

Piper blinked at the dead end in front of them and swore.

"When did we lose them?" she asked, turning around to look down both ends of the tunnel.

"I don't know, let's just retrace our steps?" Jason suggested. Preferably before the way they came and the way they were going started to look the same.

They had been trailing up and down for a few minutes, dimly lit by Jason's crackling hands, before he found a small metal bolt on the floor, leading to the right of them. Shrugging at each other, they followed the tunnel, finding a few more as they went. Like a little trail.

"This is Leo." Jason realised.

"It's very Hansel and Gretel." Piper agreed. "Like he's leaving clues."

"Like who's leaving clues?" A voice round the corner asked.

"Leo!" Piper smiled at the bedraggled boy.

"I turned back and saw you were gone, thought I'd come find you." said Leo.

"We were following your little bolts on the floor." Jason told him. "Thanks for leaving them."

Leo looked slightly confused before his eyes gained understanding.

"Oh, right. I hadn't realised I was doing it. I haven't done it in a while. It's just, y'know, we go into temples and stuff all the time, do you never get worried that we'll get lost? Without Hazel, I mean." Leo explained.

Jason conceded the point. Leo slowed down a little as they walked, and looked at them nervously.

“No one’s told him yet, have they?” he asked in a quiet voice that seemed out of place for Leo.

Jason bit his lip. “No.” he replied.

“That… that’s not going to be good,” Leo said, wincing, but before he could reply, Piper tapped their shoulders.

"Look!" she exclaimed, pointing at a lighter stretch of wall round the corner.

The trio hurried, round corners and corners like some stone helter-skelter, until finally, they came out at the top, the lazy late afternoon sun beaming at them as if it had been there all along, just floating in the grey-blue sky. Jason felt like he could breathe a lot easier just by seeing it.

A huge crowd was outside, the Roman and Greek armies having arrived, Reyna at the front. Judging by the gold dust in the grass, they had caught the stragglers that had fled. To Jason's surprise, the Argo II was parked on the grass, the Gods sat in front of it.

"I programmed it to follow us." Leo mentioned to his side.

In front of them, Percy was stood next to Hazel and Frank. As Jason walked up behind them, he could already hear the mutters from the army, the pointing, the children of Apollo stepping closer like medical vultures.

A lone Greek camper had walked up to Percy, with panic-filled eyes that roamed Percy's body, and a sad expression.

"Percy," Jason heard him say, "Man, I'msosorry..."

Jason didn't hear the rest but he didn't have to, his pulse quickening, as a second later Percy's head snapped around.

"What?" Percy demanded, his voice hoarse and scratchy.

Chapter 31: Percy XIX

Summary:

He was here now. She could wake up. He was here for her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

Percy XIX

Before they stepped out of- where was he? Not America. Rome?- whatever underground maze Percy had come out in, Hazel turned to him. They hadn't spoke on the way up, which Percy was grateful for, but whatever she had been thinking about, she now chose to voice.

"Percy," she began, looking him in the eyes with a soft expression, "I don't know what happened down there, and you don't have to tell us anything, but just know that I'm always here if you wanna talk."

That was it. Short and to the point, and exactly what he needed to hear. Percy's mouth twitched up as he smiled at her.

"I know, Hazel. Thanks." he murmured to her.

"Me too." Frank added from behind them. "Anything, anytime, anywhere."

Percy glanced between the two of them and smiled again. They were great. He felt something warm and calming curl up in his chest, love for his friends, hope that things would get better. He just needed to see Annabeth, and then maybe he could start to put this whole thing behind him. Focus on killing Gaia. His back feeling a little straighter, together they climbed up the few steps out into the light.

The backs of Percy's eyes stung a little, but not for one second did he take his eyes off the sky.

It was so light: a delicate blue, washed with grey, handfuls of clouds lazily drifting across, the sun just- just being there, innocent, not obstructed by anything, not burning anything, just there, lighting up the world. It felt calm. Peaceful. He didn’t have to run or look over his shoulder anymore. He stood there for a while, until his neck started to ache a little. The air was thin and cool. It was like the first dip in a warm swimming pool, refreshing and soothing.

At last, Percy tore his eyes away from the sky, choosing not to think about the glances Hazel and Frank were sending each other (what was that about? Him staring at the sky? Was there something behind him? He casually glanced around. Nothing.), and observed the ground instead. Soft grass pleasantly squidgy beneath his feet. Not hard like rock. Not spiky. He could see some harmless little bugs. A light green, a colour he hadn't seen much of in- Percy noted that he still needed to ask how long he'd been down there. Hazel and Frank both looked the same, a little tired and a little battered, but still the same age.

The strange stone ruins they had come out of were surrounded by people, most sitting down on the soft ground, polishing swords, but Reyna was stood in the middle, spearing one of the remaining monsters with ease. Flags were stuck in the earth, the colours of purple and orange dancing in the gentle breeze that flowed through every now and then. He was surprised to see the Gods sitting in front of the Argo II. Poseidon hadn't seen him yet. Percy’s eyes scanned across the land for Annabeth- didn't Hermes say she was up here?

As they walked forwards, heads shot up and Percy suddenly became very aware of just how filthy he was. Was it… not… normal? To be covered in blood? He’d almost forgotten. The Greeks and Romans alike gawped at him, but Percy kept his head high, a quick look in the corner of his eye confirming Hazel was glaring at the starers.

On his right, a camper wearing an orange t-shirt shot up from the ground, walking quickly over to where Percy had come to a halt. It was Travis. He was looking at him like Percy had punched him.

"Percy...” he trailed off, “You..."

"Hey, Travis." Percy greeted him awkwardly.

Travis scratched the back of his head before his face fell, and he began to bite his lip, a strange expression smeared across his face. Apprehension? Panic?

Percy narrowed his eyes a little.

"Percy," Travis began slowly, not quite meeting his eyes, "Man, I'm so sorry about- about Annabeth. I know how she-"

Percy's eyes snapped up.

Sorry?

Why exactly was Travis sorry?

A disgusting feeling was crawling through his stomach and up his throat.

Something had happened. And Annabeth was involved.

Percy turned his head to look fully at Travis. Their eyes locked, though Travis seemed to be trying to look anywhere than directly at him. His breaths came out deep and measured.

"What?" he asked quietly, not quite sure what he had just heard.

There had to be an explanation coming. What was wrong with Annabeth? He looked around. She wasn’t here. Was she somewhere else? Was she hurt? Where was she? His fingertips pressed into his palms.

Percy dimly noted all the campers had gone silent, watching the two talk. Travis' eyes went wide and flooded with panic.

"Oh Gods, I thought you knew!" Travis exclaimed, starting to turn round to look for help from the other campers.

Percy's hand shot out and curled round his arm, halting him in place firmly.

"Knew what?" Percy hissed.

Travis paled.

"Percy, we all tried but-" Tried what?

"Where is she?" he demanded.

"We didn't know-"

"Where is she?" Percy cut him off louder.

"Percy-" He heard Piper's voice behind him. "Percy, let him go."

Percy didn't move an inch.

"Somebody better tell me where my girlfriend is right now or Iswear-" Percy growled.

"On the ship!" Travis blurted. "She's on the ship!"

Percy let him go, internally wincing at the red marks he had left behind on the other boy's skin, but brushing it aside as he strode towards the Argo II. He felt a sea of eyes following him, his skin crawling. The Hades did Clarisse have that look on her face for? What was he missing?

Multiple sets of running footsteps followed him but Percy ignored them. They weren’t who he wanted right now.

"Percy, there's something you need to know!" Jason called, a desperate tone underlying his words.

Percy shut himself off, a roaring in his ears reminiscent to an incoming tsunami.

He climbed up the side of the ship, hopping the rail, landing on the deck with a bang, before flinging open the door to the main room, hearing the crash as it ricocheted off the wall. He had to find her.

Percy walked in. His heavy breaths filled the room.

The room was empty; no-one was in there. It was just him. No grey eyes met his. No blonde hair brushed his face as he was crushed in a hug. It was silent as he looked around the creaking wooden cabin.

And yet...

Percy's emotions were swirling through him- he was tired, he was in pain, he was angry that Annabeth wasn't with him, numb at the thought of something happening to her. His heart beat loudly in his ears.

Percy stood alone in the middle of the room. The floorboards squeaked under him.

Well, there was no one in here, no reason to stay-

Percy couldn't ignore it anymore. His eyes zeroed in on the sheet covered table, a lump underneath in the shape of-

That isn't her,his mind straight up refused.

Percy took a step in that direction.

She's probably in her room.

Percy reached out, with trembling fingertips. He felt sick. He felt sick. He felt-

She's not under here,his mind bellowed!

Percy grasped the light fabric, so white and clean compared to his blackened fingers from the elevator. It was soft. Cotton, maybe.

Don't do it! His mind screamed at him.

He pulled on it, and it slid down smoothly. It barely made a sound.

Percy felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to his chest.

He dimly remembered sinking to his knees, his girlfriend's pale, almost blue hand clutched in his.

Her hair was dried out, lank and thin on the table, hanging in clumps, once golden and shining, now dirty and brown. Her skin was puffed out, veins close to the surface, coloured grey and empty. Her eyes were closed, eyelids streaked with grey branches of lines. Percy watched, not daring to breathe, no longer touching her, keeping as still as he could, but she didn't move a centimetre. Her chest didn’t rise and fall with breath. Her eyes didn’t flick around behind her eyelids. Was that a smile curling at the corners of her mouth? Did she know he was here?

Percy slid forwards, taking both her (cold they were cold they were so cold) hands in his, eyes roaming her face for any hint of familiarity. He was here now. She could wake up. He was here for her.

Her clothes were damp and stodgy; there was a puddle of water underneath the table, but not even the smell of sea salt could obscure the almost overpowering stench of Annabeth's dead body, time rotting away what remained.

A gasp choked out of him, uncontrollable, like a retch, unable to keep it in any longer. He was going to be sick. He was going to fall apart into little pieces.

Percy leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers tentatively, almost scared that she would move. That he would hurt her. Her skin was ice cold and almost marbled in some places.

Percy choked again, a grunt bubbling up. He moved backwards, no longer wanting to be near that thing, that- thatthing- that cold dead thing that clearly wasn’t Annabeth, was too still, too grey, too empty-

"Percy." came a whisper from behind him.

He didn’t even get to say goodbye.

Percy span round, sword out before he realised his arms had even moved, unshed tears boiling and blurring his vision.

Piper flinched at the sword at her throat, but didn’t step away, and neither did his friends behind her. There were tears streaming down her cheeks.

"There was a- a monster. It was huge. We were all fighting it but- but we lost track of Annabeth, sh-she got trapped and-" Sobs wracked Piper's body. Jason wrapped an arm round her shoulder. He comforted her. He got to help her.

Percy was shaking his head subconsciously.

He wasn't hearing this. It wasn't happening- he was still in Tartarus, it was just messing with his head-

Percy let his sword sink back to his side, and took hesitant steps backwards, before turning back to Annabeth, his hands shaking furiously.

He brushed back a matted lock of hair off her face. Annabeth- there,there, now she was perfect- she- she always got annoyed with her hair in her face. It’s why she had it in a ponytail so often, she had told him once. She was always pushing it back angrily when it fell down while she was writing or sketching out one of her blueprints, a cute look of concentration on her face, that quickly morphed into a sarcastic smile when she saw he was watching her, telling him he was drooling and he wasn't even asleep this time-

Percy felt a noise rip out of his throat, cracking at the end, like a wail and a bellow at the same time, a pathetic noise that made him want to curl up and cry, but instead he just hunched his shoulders so tightly it hurt. His teeth screamed at him as he clenched so hard he felt his jaw jump. He was shaking.

"P-Percy?" Another whisper behind him, one of his friends, but Percy was too blank to register who.

His eyes found Annabeth again; he was unable to draw them away. This wasn't real. This wasn't happening. He wasn’t living this.

He hadn't been there to help.

He had abandoned her.

And now she was dead.

Percy heard the splintering crash, saw the pens and daggers clattering across the floor, and felt the strain in his arms before he realised he had upended one of the desks near him. His chest was heaving. She- she-she-

Percy pulled his fist back and punched it through the nearest window, smashing it into jagged pieces. Yanking his arm back, he threw a handful of glass shards to the floor, his skin still impeccably smooth underneath the Achilles' blessing. He hated that. He wanted to hurt. He wanted to feel some kind of pain, any pain, a different kind to make him stop thinking, just stop thinking just stop thinking just-

Percy ran a hand through his hair agitatedly, stepping in every direction, unable to stand still, backing away from where Annabeth lay.

She was dead. She's dead. She's never coming back. She'd never laugh again. She'd never smile again. She'd never design a building ever again. She'd never go to college. He’d never get to tell her again how much he loved her-

"Justshut up!" Percy shouted at his mind as he kicked a chair into a wall, where it snapped into several pieces. He kicked another one. It felt right to break something when everything in his life had just shattered too.

Percy's breathing had turned erratic, little dots flying about the edges of his vision. He felt like he could pass out. Adrenaline flooded through his veins.

"Percy?"

Percy went for the door, shoving through his friends and climbing down the ship, jumping the last few metres, ignoring the stares of all the demigods gathered. All around him, they stared with sympathy, pity, caution. He felt like shouting at them.

"Percy, please, wait!"

Percy closed his eyes, a thumping headache forming. He could feel his heartbeat pulsing through his body. When he opened his eyes again, Jason was in front of him, a desperate expression smeared across his face.

"Percy, please listen-" he began as the others caught up with them.

"I thought she'd be safe." Percy said bluntly. It wasn’t an attack on them, but Jason recoiled from him as though Percy had swung at him.

"We-we didn't know-!" Jason's eyes began to well up with tears.

Percy suspected his eyes had too, but everything had been a blur since he'd got out of Tartarus. Percy wasn't sure what was going on anymore. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Clarity was the last thing he wanted right now.

"She got trapped underneath a boat, Percy,” Jason said, gesturing desperately “There was a sea monster, it was huge, and we lost track- we couldn't see anyone-!"

Percy felt sick burst up his throat, cutting off his airways for a few seconds.

"Shedrowned?" His voice was barely above a whisper.

Nobody said anything. Jason looked hopelessly at him, words failing him. His hands lowered.

"She drowned." Percy confirmed to himself quietly, nodding slowly.

His head swivelled, very slowly and very shakily, to where Poseidon and the other Gods were stood, all watching him. Percy dimly noted that Aphrodite was crying. He caught his father's eyes.

"She drowned?" he whispered.

Poseidon didn’t move. He watched Percy, and suddenly a rage unlike no other erupted in him. His eyes narrowed.

“She drowned?” he shouted, his voice echoing in the air, fury coursing through his veins as he marched over to them.

Poseidon stepped forwards to meet him in the middle, an apologetic look in his eyes. He rubbed the back of his neck. Something unfamiliar twisted in Percy’s head.

"Percy, my son, I'm relieved you made it out, and I know Annabeth-"

Percy punched him straight across the face.

The God staggered backwards, wincing. Percy didn’t remember making the conscious decision to do that.

"She drowned! In your domain! Our domain! She's dead!" Percy bellowed.

His voice shook with such a ravaging anger that he could feel his blood start pumping faster around his body, almost painfully. His father stared at him, and for a second, Percy thought he was going to burst into his divine form.

"I know." Poseidon nodded instead, infuriatingly sympathetic as he rubbed his jaw.

"Thenwhere were you?" Percy's eyes blazed as he shouted.

"We had just got our identities back, we were all very disorientated." Poseidon explained. "I wasn't in my right mind. If I could have, I would have done something, but-"

"That's not good enough." Percy hissed coldly.

Around them, the air pressure lowered, drops of water beginning to fall from the sky, where thick black clouds had started to form. Was that him? He didn’t know. He didn’t care. He wanted everything around him to feel like he did.

Poseidon stumbled back a little. He looked at him in shock, and a sickening feeling slipped past the mess of his emotions as Percy let go of some of the liquid around him as he realised what he had done. He had accidentally just taken hold of his father’s ichor.

"You dare?" Zeus stepped into the picture, his eyes a piercing blue that Percy met head on. He guessed Zeus was referring to the storm building up above them, not the ichor thing. Poseidon was still staring at him. "You have suffered loss, but you will do well to remember that you are just a child, Jackson, you cannot-!"

"I'll do whatever Idamnwant!" Percy hissed, his anger cranking back up to ten, turning his attention to him instead. "Annabeth isdead."

"Hero or not, you will watch yourself! Do not make me smite you where you stand!" Zeus bellowed as he stepped forwards threateningly.

"Dad!" Jason cried behind them.

Percy stepped forwards too, nearly toe to toe with Zeus.

"Do it," he challenged in a low voice, "Idareyou."

Lightning cracked overhead as Zeus' eyes lit up, the demigods around them falling to their knees in respect. The Olympians around them watched with wide eyes.

"Who do you think you are?" Zeus asked him in disbelief.

"I think I'm the guy with the Blessing of Nyx on his arm!" Percy spat, before rolling his shoulder, exposing his smoking tattoo.

Zeus, and all the Gods gathered behind him froze.

"The… Primordial?" Artemis asked, eyebrows knitted together.

Percy nodded grimly. "Lovely woman. I did her a favour, she took a shine to me. Gave me her blessing."

Zeus now had a look of growing horror on his face.

"You... did a favour... for aPrimordial?" Apollo asked slowly.

"What did you do?" Poseidon asked him, a little desperately, coming to stand next to his brother.

"Doesn't matter." Percy lied. "Nothing matters anymore." he added under his breath, turning his back on the Olympians.

"Of course it matters!" Zeus roared behind him. "What have you done?"

Percy's anger, which had dulled to a cold rage, sparked back up into a full inferno.

"I said, it doesn't matter! You-" Percy cut himself off as a very dangerous idea hit him. A very stupid idea. His odds of failing with intensely fatal results were incredibly high. He didn’t care. "Where's Hades?" he asked, quieter.

His father looked a little confused. "The Underworld?" he answered, before it clicked, and he held out a hand warningly to Percy, eyes wide. "Percy, you can't-"

Percy turned to face his friends, who were still kneeling, all looking at him with panicked faces. He wondered what he looked like to them. He didn’t care.

"I'll be back," Percy told them. "Keep Annabeth here."

Nico was shaking his head.

"Percy, my father won't-" Nico pleaded.

But Percy ignored them. He took one look at his pleading friends, and another at the incredulous Olympians.

His Nyx tattoo began to leak copious amounts of smoke down his arm, before the scenery around him blurred as he shadow travelled.

Chapter 32: Percy XX

Summary:

To his right, the river Styx gushed from the rocks and roared off in a cascade of rapids. To his left, far away in the gloom, fires burned on the ramparts of Erebos, the great black walls of Hades's kingdom.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32

Percy XX

Percy tore out of the shadows cast by a nearby tree, and stumbled out onto the grass.

He ignored the surge of fatigue that he felt well up underneath his blessing, from the sheer distance he had travelled, the smoke from his tattoo extending in tendrils to wrap around his torso like a scarf, easing the edges but not taking the pressure off. He bit his lip hard to stay awake and tasted blood. He shoved it to the back of his mind and shut it off, determined to carry on.

Giggles of laughter around him sliced through the air like knives, echoing up around Central Park, normal conversations smothering him, socasual. They didn't even know what was happening to their world, what was happening to young children, that they were dying, because they were cursed to be half immortal.

Percy took a few seconds to breathe in the New York air, before striding forwards to continue his search. He didn’t exactly know why he was here, having had the LA entrance in mind, but it wasn’t as if he was an expert in shadow travel. It didn’t matter. A way in was a way in.

It took a few minutes, but eventually Percy found the familiar pile of rocks, looking no different to the first time Percy had used it with Nico to go get the Achilles' blessing the first time.

The Door of Orpheus.

One of the two major entrances to the Underworld.

It wasn’t hard to remember the story. Orpheus had wanted the love of his life back; it was ironic that Percy was now using his door for the exact same purpose. Only he would succeed where Orpheus had not. He wouldn’t make the same mistakes he had.

Hades wouldn't know he was coming until Percy wanted him to, and by then, Percy would be right on top of him.

Last time, he had needed Grover to play his reed pipes to open it. Percy didn't have that luxury this time, but what he did have was liquid anger burning fiery streams just underneath his surface of his skin and two ancient blessings burned into his body.

Pulling some water from the lake, which was just north of him, Percy reared his arms back and slammed his fists onto the rocks, the water rushing into cracks and tearing deeper fissures like a thousand tiny pressure washers.

The boulders trembled.

Percy increased the force until his heartbeat blocked out every other sound, like he'd held his breath for too long, and, with a final slam, they cracked open, revealing a triangular crevice. He peered inside. The familiar steps led down into the darkness, the air smelling of mildew and death, just like last time. Percy stomped down the steps.

It led straight to the land of Hades. Percy didn’t slow down for a second.

As he plunged into darkness, Percy was surprised to find that he could see reasonably well after a few seconds. It wasn't full clarity, and he couldn't see colours, but he could see vague outlines, silvery like moonlight was shining on them.

"Thanks Nyx." Percy whispered, striding forwards.

The stairs went on forever-narrow, steep, and slippery. Yet Percy was taking them three at a time. He wasn't playing games now.

He emerged at the base of a cliff, on a plain of black volcanic sand. It was so much lighter than Tartarus. The air felt less dense too, like he could fill his lungs up with oxygen without choking. There was only a vague grey glow, as opposed to the blood red one Percy had become accustomed to. To his right, the river Styx gushed from the rocks and roared off in a cascade of rapids. To his left, far away in the gloom, fires burned on the ramparts of Erebos, the great black walls of Hades's kingdom.

Percy lifted his chin and scowled. Once, he had been scared of Hades' Kingdom. He hadn’t known real fear back then. His biggest worries were the king of the Underworld, his stepfather and losing his mother. Now, he felt like levelling it all down. He wanted to tear the place apart with his bare hands. He clenched his fists.

It isn't his fault! A voice like Annabeth's whispered through his typhoon of thoughts. He’s just doing his job!

"He let you die." Percy mumbled, beginning his walk.

He's the Lord of the Dead. It's what he has to do. And Poseidon couldn't have done anything either-Percy shut the voice off, closing his eyes and shaking his head; he was grieving too much to think about that. He'd deal with it later.

He walked down the beach toward the big black gates, sticking in the shadows. Lines of the dead stood outside waiting to get in. It must've been a heavy day for funerals, because even the EZ-DEATH line was backed up. Percy scanned it furiously from behind a rock. Brown hair, black hair, no hair, red hair. Red hair but it was blood. Blonde hair. But it wasn't the same shade. More blonde hair. But it was straight. Another blonde. But this one had streaks of brown. None of them were Annabeth.

There was no-one like Annabeth.

A loud and rumbling sniff caught him off guard.

Cerberus, the guard dog of Hades, appeared out of the gloom. The middle head watched him closely, and Percy locked eyes with it. He didn’t want to hurt Cerberus.

"Back, boy." Percy said, not breaking eye contact. Please go away, he thought. He didn’t want to hurt him.

Cerberus gave a low growl, but Percy could see his eyes dart towards his shoulder. The three-headed dog breathed out heavily, almost like a huff, and melted back into the dark.

He slipped past the security ghouls with ease and walked into the Fields of Asphodel. He hiked over black fields of grass dotted with black poplar trees, ignoring everything around him, not looking at the wandering people, only having tunnel vision to Hades' Palace. More than once, he felt the magic on the land try to pull him away, to help him forget his pain and fade into nothing. Percy forced himself to continue.

The enormous palace, made of glittering black obsidian, with a black marble portico, loomed closer and closer. Percy knew it was guarded by the skeletons of dead soldiers from different wars, and tried to avoid them all as best he could. Skeletons didn’t have blood. Would bone marrow be the same? He shook his head to clear it, and continued evading them.

As soon as he got through the gates, where there were no more soldier skeletons, a massive shape flew down in front of him.

"Jackson!" hissed the Fury, Alecto.

Percy drew his sword.

"I'm visiting Hades. I've got a favour to ask him." Percy told her. She didn’t move. He scowled. "Go away."

“You dare?” she snapped, hissing, “No appointment, no visit, especially not from you, Jackson-!“

With a jump into the air, and a kick to the face, Percy knocked Alecto back with enough force so that when he span back round, arm outstretched, landing fluidly on his feet, she couldn't move before he sliced through her hand, her claws falling to the ground. She opened her twisting mouth to screech but no sound came out, as Percy ran through her torso with his sword. A cloud of gold dust floated across his face as he walked through it.

He crouched down, and picked up the claws. They were about half a foot long, deadly sharp at the end, smooth at the base.

Turning to the tall black wall that separated the outside from the garden, Percy blew a breath out through his nose. Alecto was part of the security, but luckily she hadn't been too loud, and hadn't attracted attention. No one knew he was here yet. He didn’t know where the other Furies were, but he suspected the front door.

He wanted Annabeth back. While the urge to fight his way through to the throne room pulled at him, he needed Hades to not be on the defensive. He needed to be quiet. He’d really rather avoid the judges of the underworld too; they weren’t very likely to see him as the epitome of a hero right now.

He needed… stealth.

Percy tucked his sword back into his ragged jeans. He looked at Alecto’s claws. He heard the claws of a fury could cut through steel. Taking a firmer hold on each claw, one in each hand, Percy pulled his arm back and slammed one into the stone wall, just above his head. He put pressure on it, and nodded grimly to himself when it stuck. Should be good enough.

Percy raised the other, and, arm straining, lifted himself into the air by one arm, and smashed the other claw into the stone to the hilt. Only when he was secure did he pull the other out, before slamming it in above him.

Percy repeated this, each time climbing a little higher, grunting deeply, his feet pushing against the wall for some kind of support, biceps hard and clenched. Percy feared the tips would snap off.

The wall itself was sixty feet tall. When he got to the top, he tried not to look down. Percy pocketed the claws. As he sat, he tried to think of the best way to get down, observing Persephone's garden.

It was still as strange as he remembered. There were multi-coloured mushrooms, poisonous scrubs, and weird luminous plants that grew without sunlight. There were also precious jewels that seemed to compensate the lack of flowers, such as clumps of raw diamonds and piles of rubies as big as his fist. In the corner was Medusa's garden, statues of petrified children, satyrs, and centaurs, standing here and there, all smiling grotesquely.

In the centre of the garden was an orchard of pomegranate trees, their orange blossoms neon bright in the gloom. The fruit had an overwhelmingly sweet tart smell.

He knew that the longer he was up there, the more chance he had of being seen. Percy scanned one final time.

There. A tree was growing close to the wall, only about three feet away. Percy stood up, wobbling precariously, and sneaked along the wall until he was right behind it.

Without hesitation, Percy leaned back and lunged, jumping as far as he could to reach the tree.

For a second he was airborne, falling smoothly through the air, and then a branch slammed into his chest. His arms hung over it as he grappled to hold on. Tucking it under his armpits for a better angle, Percy swallowed, before letting go again. He fell a few metres then hit another branch, this time only holding on with one hand. The process of dropping and catching himself was arduous, but-

Wait. He literally had the Curse of Achilles.

Rolling his eyes, Percy let go and let himself fall the rest of the way.

The grass got closer and closer to his face until-

He slammed into it, his knees buckling, shovelling the dirt with his face as he fell. He spat soil out his mouth and checked himself over mentally. Nothing hurt. Nothing was broken. He was as invulnerable as ever. Though, he thought, casting a glance at the sizeable dent in the grass, he was lacking on stealth a little bit.

He looked up at Hades’ palace. A pair of thrones, one onyx and one silver, were firmly in his view. They were on top of a balcony jutting out of the stone. As Percy squinted, he could see movement in the room further inside. Good. He was here.

Percy ducked behind a tree and caught his breath. Then, he stepped out, sneaking along the wall then cutting across the grass, trying to stay in the shade of the trees and tall plants, until he reached the side of the palace wall.

He took out the claws again.

About fifty feet up, Percy started going sideways, sweat dripping down his temples. When he glanced round the edge of the wall, the balcony was just in sight. Percy caught a glimpse of the hem of Hades' robes flicking as he walked out of the room.

Percy kept going horizontally, the claws slowly chipping at the sides as he forced them into the black stone.

A shadow crawled over his face as the balcony loomed above him. Percy climbed higher and higher until the edge was just above his head-

Suddenly, the claw in his left handsplit.

Percy gasped as he was forced to let go, the shards still protruding from the stone, but too small to grip on to. He dangled by only one hand, the scene annoyingly familiar, but, letting out a deep groan through gritted teeth, he pulled himself up, the other hand flailing madly in the air until he finally gripped the edges of the balcony.

His chest strained for a few brief seconds, arms taught and bulging, before he had to let go of the last claw, hand snapping to join the other. He grasped the bars of the balcony and hoisted himself up, blood rushing back into his arms as he sat against the wall.

Percy breathed out for a few seconds.

No. He was here for a reason. He didn't have time to rest.

Percy stood up, hands resting on the wall for balance, waiting for either blessing to kick in and ease the fatigue in his arms. He wandered into the middle of the room. Both thrones were empty.

Percy sucked in a breath.

"Hades!" he bellowed. "Get your ass out here!Hades!"

The room flashed black for a second. Percy braced himself.

"Whodares?" spat a cruel voice.

Percy turned around.

On top of both thrones now sat Hades, staring at him with a scowl, and Persephone, who was frowning at him. Around them, several skeletal soldiers had their swords bared, and there were hellhounds dotted among them. A Fury landed on the balcony, not Alecto.

"Jackson?" Hades seemed actually surprised. "You're supposed to be in Tartarus."

"How did you even get in here?" Persephone asked him.

"I-" Percy began to launch into his argument, but Hades held up a hand, cutting him off. He rubbed his temple.

"I know what you're here for." Hades said quietly, effectively silencing the room.

Percy looked him in the eye.

"Then you know what I need," he replied bluntly, but Hades was already shaking his head.

"No."

Percy's eyes burst with a hurricane of rage.

"I need her." The words burst out his mouth.

Persephone put a hand over her face in surprise.

"Athena’s daughter?" she asked her husband, who nodded.

"The girl he was in love with, and wants back." Hades gestured towards Percy.

"She needs to come back! Not just for me, for her!” Percy felt tears brew in his eyes against his will, inwardly horrified that he was almost crying in front of the King and Queen of the Underworld.

"Many believe their loved ones are good enough to come back. That there must have been a mistake, that it is unfair,” Hades explained, watching Percy warily. “But Death is what it is: death. The end of a life. You have to let go."

"You let Orpheus have Eurydice back!” Percy defended, “Or at least you gave him the opportunity!"

"Orpheus?” Persephone asked, before getting a dreamy look in her eyes, “Orpheus sang a beautiful song for us, played his lute with enough skill to rival Apollo himself. It made us cry. It made the Furies cry. The Furies. We know that everybody wants their love back, but what do you two have that differentiates you from the rest? Why should you get the same opportunity as Orpheus?" Persephone leaned forwards.

Percy choked with anger. Why-?

"I- I gave upimmortalityfor her!” he spluttered, “How many other people can say the same? And she turned down both the hunters and Circe to stay mortal! When I had the curse of Achilles the first time, she was theonlyone who knew where my mortal point was, and she took a knife for me because of it. She’s saved my life more times than I can count! Surely that means something?”

Persephone tilted her head and gestured for him to continue. Percy spoke in a lower voice, fearing it would start to crack.

"After Hera wiped my memory, I could still rememberhername. I couldn't remember myownbut I knew hers. I fell into Tartarus forher! And I'd do it over and over again for the rest of my life if it meant that she was safe."

Percy couldn't control his anger as it sparked up again.

"This isn’t fair! She doesn't deserve this! She’s a part of the prophecy, you don’t think we’ll be able to beat Gaia without her, do you? We won’t have a chance in Hades without her!” he said, his hands gesticulating wildly, “Without her, I wouldn’t have made it out of Tartarus. And you- you haveno idea, no idea at all, what it's like down there- the Cocytus alone- I need her. Or so help me I will abandon the prophecy and Gaia can destroy the world for all I care."

Persephone, watching him with sad eyes, turned to face her husband. Hades observed him.

"You got to say, 'I love you' before she died. At least she knew. That's more than most young couples get." Hades reasoned, and Percy resisted the urge to punch him in the face.

"I don't care.” he ground out between his teeth, “I want to tell her that every day. I want her to know that I always loved her, that it was just the first time I said it out loud. I want her to know I mean it. And that I'll always mean it. And I can’t do that if she’s dead. I can’t do any of this without her. I don’t want to."

Persephone sniffled behind her hand. Her pale gold eyes met his.

"You really did remind me of Orpheus the first time we met.” she said, “So brave, so sacrificing. I never expected to be in this position again. Both have walked through the Underworld for those they love. And now you return. Stronger than Orpheus. More powerful than Orpheus. Some would say… more in love than Orpheus."

Percy didn’t know much about old dead Greek guys, but he knew he loved Annabeth more than anyone else. Persephone slid off her throne and walked over to him, sliding a hand over his cheek. Her palm was cool but not cold.

"That kind of love is rare, like a marigold in winter.” she said, her voice soft, “Oppressed and beaten down by the frost, it struggles to grow, but once it blossoms,oh… How beautiful it looks, standing out from the white snow, so resilient and so precious..." Persephone teared up a little, glancing at her husband. "I know how it is to love those who you are not meant to. Orpheus and Eurydice had a love that bloomed like a coveted bonsai, but you and this girl, you possess a love of the largest blossom trees."

As a tear dripped off Percy’s chin, a flower growing up through the cracks in the stone floor caught it.

"Persephone?" Hades said quietly.

Persephone turned around.

"Just this once." she whispered.

"You said that the last time!" Hades protested.

"I mean this, Hades!" Persephone pointed a finger at him. “Are we not Gods? Do we not possess the ability? Did you not allow your own-“ A flash of disgust briefly marred her pretty face. “-creation from another lifetime to return to her life?”

Hades winced, gesturing at Percy, "He is my brother's spawn, I cannot-"

"Please." Percy spoke up, and both immortals snapped to him. "Please. I'll do anything."

He hated begging; but he'd do anything for Annabeth.

Hades watched him for a few seconds.

"Your Achilles blessing." he said eventually. "Get rid of it. It makes you too powerful for someone willing to abandon a prophecy, and frankly, Poseidon gloats far too much."

"And you'll bring back Annabeth?" Percy asked, an anxious hope springing up in him.

"No." replied Hades.

"Thenwhat?" Percy shouted, nerves on edge, as more tears slid down his cheeks, his emotions too much.

"You will get what Orpheus got. You get to the surface without looking back, she lives and breathes again. But Orpheus got this for free. You won't."

"Why?" Persephone asked him, not rebelliously, just curiously.

Hades locked eyes with Percy.

"Do you know how difficult it was to manage things after Orpheus got his chance?” Hades asked, “My PR team blew up on me. Literally, they spit fire. If we start handing these things out for free, the entire system falls into disarray. I’ll end up with not just mortals trying to get their loved ones back, but possibly immortals too. And I’ll have to refuse, possibly inciting a minor civil war. Next thing you know, I’ve been overthrown and the world is reduced to a place where life means nothing and death has no meaning-“

“I get it.” he cut Hades off, before wincing, terrified that Hades would revoke their deal, but the King of the Underworld didn't move a muscle.

"You get the picture,” Hades said, “My demands don't change. You will give up your Achilles blessing. I would add that fancy tattoo in the mix, but I'd rather not have a Primordial knocking down my door looking for her chosen one."

"Deal." Percy said without hesitation.

Hades stepped forwards, closer.

"Your sword too there, the bronze one, but I want that if you get out. Dip it in the Lethe while you're there."

"Okay... " Percy said slowly. "I give up my blessing, and I give you my sword once I get out of the underworld, and if I don't look back, Annabeth is alive." He extended his arm to shake hands with Hades.

Hades reached out for his arm, taking it, but not letting go. He smiled, almost sickly, almost regretfully.

"Not quite."

Percy narrowed his eyes.

"You give up the blessing.” Hades said. “You give me your sword if you get out. But it will not be the Underworld. The Underworld was a challenge for Orpheus, a mortal man. You can do better. Recovering a loved one is something you have to earn, and it has to be something to set the bar high for others- something no one else would do to retrieve a loved one. We shall meet in Epirus if you get out."

Hades shook Percy's hand slowly as he finished.

"We shall meet if you get out ofTartarus."

Chapter 33: Percy XXI

Summary:

Percy took another step back involuntarily, his body working on reflex.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33

Percy XXI

"Are youinsane?" Percy shouted, yanking his arm back from Hades' tight grasp, before shoving the God of Death against a wall. Dust shook loose from the stones.

Hades choked a bit at the impact before he composed himself, and rolled his eyes.

"No." he said, "Contrary to popular belief, I'm not insane. The Underworld is too easy for you. A loved one has to be earned, not gifted." he pressed.

A muscle jumped in Percy’s cheek. "Why-?"

"-am I doing this?" Hades finished for him. "If I'm honest, I want you down there to do a quick errand. When I say, 'go through it', I'm not talking about the whole of it. A fraction. A very small, very specific area. And it has to be you. No one else is stupid enough and good enough with a sword to do it. And at least I now know it's vaguely survivable for your kind."

Percy ran a hand through his hair, letting go, as Hades pushed off the wall, watching him closely. Persephone stood to the side, her eyes darting inbetween them.

"It's... it's not!” Percy spluttered, “You're crazy!" he said again, looking around in disbelief. "I-I just got out! I can't go back in! That's- no- I won’t- you can’t just- you-"

"Oh, relax." Hades told him, walking over to a dresser tucked into an alcove. "You won't be in there for long. I'll ask Thanatos to place the doors close by, not too far away. You get in, you sidetrack to the Lethe, do the job I gave you, you get out. Quick, easy and simple."

Percy was lost for words. Going back seemed like such a foreign concept. He never thought he’d ever have to go back. And to go back now, at the worst time, having to do more than just survive, but actually complete a task? It seemed impossible. A distant idea.

But Annabeth.

It wasn’t fair. None of this was fair and he hated it, but he didn’t know what else to do.

"And I can't look back the entire time?" Percy said, not agreeing, just asking, his head shaking automatically.

Hades paused and tilted his head to the side.

"Perhaps...?"

"No." Persephone cut in. "Darling, you're making him walk into Tartarus, let the boy have spatial awareness at least."

Hades turned around and nodded to his wife. "What she said, then." he told Percy.

Percy felt like he was being pushed into a box. He didn’t want to do this.

"No.” he said. “No, we- we make a different deal-" Percy started firmly, but Hades just shrugged before he could finish.

"This is the only deal I am willing to make.” he said, “Don’t like it? Go home, Jackson. Let your ex-girlfriend enjoy Elysium and get back to the war you’re supposed to be fighting." Hades snapped.

Percy felt rage was starting to bubble back up. The hellhounds in the room started shuffling.

“She is not my ex-girlfriend.” he snarled.

“She is now,” Hades said, brushing dust off his midnight black clothes.

Percy restrained himself, not for the first time. He took several deep breaths.

"I can’t do this. I won’t. Change it. Please." Percy said.

Hades frowned. He waved a hand at him derisively. “Enough of this. You won’t do it. We’re done here now.” he said, turning to leave. Persephone glanced at him sadly.

Panic burst out of him.

"Wait!” Percy cried. Hades and Persephone paused. Percy felt something heavy settle in his chest as his voice came out croaky. “No- I'll... I'll do it. I’ll go back in.”

The corners of Hades’ mouth curled. “Excelle-“

“But!” Percy snapped, straightening his back with resolve, “As soon as I'm in, you bring back Annabeth. I'm going back into Tartarus. Voluntarily. That's enough to bring her back straight away." he demanded.

Hades placed a hand on his chin. He spoke after a few beats of nerve-wracking silence.

"I suppose. Yes. I can make that happen. Your girlfriend will come back, you go down. Yes..." Hades mused out loud. "Yes, it still works for me. If you die, it’s an annoying but reasonable life trade. If you don’t, the war is ours."

Percy's heart pounded through his chest as he nodded. A smile flicked on and off of his face. Annabeth would come back. Annabeth was going to live again. But he...

"Why do you want my sword in the Lethe?” he asked, trying to not think, “Isn't that in the Underworld too?"

Hades nodded.

"It is, but the effects are more watered down, weaker. I need it at full power. You need not concern yourself why, not yet at least. The Lethe in Tartarus is much stronger, a single drop could make you begin to forget your own name. Speaking, of which-"

Hades lifted a finger into the air, effectively pausing their conversation, before turning around and pulling open a drawer. He rummaged for a minute or two, Percy's pulse thrumming in his ears. Eventually Hades whipped back round.

"Got it." He smiled, holding up a small glass vial, containing a transparent liquid. "Pure Tiber water. Please-" Hades gestured to the spot in front of him.

Percy stared at him for a beat. This was for his Achilles’ curse. He stepped forwards.

"Mortal point?" Hades asked, casually, as if he couldn't care less.

Percy narrowed his eyes. He knew differently. "You don't need to know that for this." he told him.

Hades held up his hands in mock defence. "You can’t blame me for curiousity.” he said, “Knowing you, you'll probably get it for a third time- if you live that long- and it would be nice to know where I would have to aim, should ever we fall on different sides."

Percy felt a scowl tug on his face.

"Just get on with it, Hades." he said.

The smile slid right off Hades' face, and he quickly tipped the vial over Percy, the river water trickling over his head and down his back.

Percy felt the curse leave him. It was like taking off his armour after a long battle. He felt lighter, but very vulnerable, his hands coming up to rub at his bare arms. He was suddenly reminded of how little clothes he was wearing, and judging by the way Persephone was watching the water trail down his chest, she was too. He shifted uncomfortably.

Hades lifted his arm as if to shake his hand. Percy frowned, but leaned to meet him.

His instinct screaming at him, he pulled back just as Hades flicked a finger, a blade shooting out his sleeve. Percy smacked his arm away, his sword ending up at Hades' throat.

"So jumpy." Hades said. "I was just checking to see if it was truly gone."

Percy brought the tip of his sword to his finger and pressed down, a bead of blood rippling up. He held it up so Hades could see it, and it began an elegant curve down his finger and bronze blade alike. Hades observed it before nodding his head once, satisfied.

"Good enough for me.” he said, “Ready to go?"

"Wait- how do I know you won't just leave me down there?" Percy stopped him.

"Oh Jackson we both know you'd make it out on your own anyway."

"You didn't answer my question."

"You're in the prophecy to stop the end of the world.” Hades deadpanned, “I happen to live in the world. Just perhaps I'll consider keeping you alive. Let's go."

He clamped a hand around Percy’s wrist, the air rippling around them for a few seconds. Percy vaguely recognised that it was shadow travel before it all came back into focus. He coughed into his shoulder, before glancing up and around. Then down.

He recoiled instantly.

They were at the edge of Tartarus in the Underworld, where Kronos had called to him in his dreams, where Grover's flying shoes had tried to flip him over the edge. It was a huge dark cavern, a chasm the size of a city in the middle. Obsidian gravel crunched underfoot.

Percy swallowed. Hades was watching him closely.

Percy clenched his hands tightly, which did not shake before but seemed to now. It was far darker and colder than Hades’ palace. The hairs on his arms bristled. Just like last time, he could smell the evil in the air, somehow recognising scents in the air without thinking. Blood splatters across stone, a decaying body. The salt of a spelunker’s tears as they realised that they were trapped and were never going to be found.

Percy took another step back involuntarily, his body working on reflex.

"Backing out? That's not the Jackson I know." Hades raised his eyebrows.

"Shut up!"Percy snapped at the God. "I'm going. Just- just give me a minute."

He knew he wouldn't make the jump without help, but luckily knew what to do for once. He knelt to the floor, wincing as his bare knees scraped the sharp floor. Gods, he hadn't missed being able to feel pain.

Palms flat out, he pulled on whatever water source he could find. He groaned through clenched teeth as the yanking sensation jolted his palm straight onto the sharp stones. It felt like he was reaching into a well with an impossibly long arm. The one closest... the feeling was warm. Very warm. The Phlegthon. He sighed; it would do. He breathed out heavily through his mouth, keeping the river a couple hundred metres or so below the surface. It would find him. It would catch him. He'd be okay, it would all be okay.

Well, it wouldn’t, but he just chose to not think about that.

"What are you doing?" came Hades' voice, a genuine look of confusion on his face.

"Making sure I don't go splat." Percy replied grimly. "How will I know where the doors are?"

"Oh, that's simple, it’ll be along the Lethe. You should be naturally drawn to it, as you’re mortal and it leads to the surface. Just try not to draw too much attention, and you should be good."

"The lift button?" Percy confessed a heavy thought on his mind.

"We can bypass that whole charade. You get in the doors, doesn't matter if no one is holding the button, Thanatos will take it from there. He'll take you up."

"Why didn't he before?" Percy asked.

"Identity crisis. What's with all the questions? Stalling for time?" Hades questioned knowingly.

"No." Percy lied. "Not at all."

"Then go."

Percy tore his eyes away from Hades, forced himself to stare deeply into the pit. The black seemed to envelop him, draining all colour from what little there was in the Underworld. He knew he had gone pale. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to do this. He couldn't-

He took a step forwards.

His heart wasn't racing in his chest, it was exploding, taking his stomach with it, a hollowness spreading up his throat. He shook his head without thinking. Then breathed in.

"Tell Annabeth it was worth it." he threw over his shoulder, before stepping over the ledge.

Then he was plummeting down.

Chapter 34: Aphrodite

Summary:

Hey, she always said that she'd make their love life interesting.

Chapter Text

Chapter 34

Aphrodite

Demeter handed her another tissue, which Aphrodite took gratefully, blowing her nose without a sound. Spiky wet eyelashes were pretty; snotty sniffs were not.

She couldn't help her mood; the sheer amount of heartbreak around her was clogging up her Godly sinuses. It was all for that girl Annabeth. It felt like both camps were unanimously grieving, if not because they knew her, but for how young they could all die. She didn't fully understand it, but it felt horrible in her chest. What remained of the Seven was a mess of tears and grief. But it was nothing compared to the lingering shrieks of pain left in Percy Jackson's wake. As soon as he had found out… she had physically felt it. Like she had been struck by Zeus' master bolt. They had cried in sync.

This level of heartbreak was dangerous; she had felt horrible heartbreak before, but rarely this badly. She had felt this same mind-numbing misery with Apollo when Hyacinthus was killed by that stray discus. The same hunger for slaughter that had twisted Achilles upon seeing his lover Patroclus' dead body. The same desperation that had consumed Orpheus completely when Eurydice died. Heartbreak greater than the tallest tower of Olympus and deeper than the darkest abyss of Tartarus.

For the first time in a long time, Aphrodite felt a twinge of envy about how much someone loved their partner.

She leant in closer to the fire Hestia had started for the Gods. There were more dotted about across the dark stretch of land, demigods huddled round, lighter plumes of smoke billowing into the night sky. She warmed her outstretched hands on the fire- well, Gods couldn't really get cold, but it was nice sometimes to act as if they could.

Aphrodite turned her head to watch Poseidon, who was staring deeply into the flames. A dark gold colour was spreading across the bridge of his nose like a bruise.

"That's odd." Aphrodite said, gesturing to it.

Poseidon rubbed it with a calloused hand absently, finally tearing his eyes away from the fire to look at her.

"I will heal it soon." he told her in response to her unasked question.

"But you haven't." Aphrodite co*cked her head to the side, ginger curls swaying over her shoulder.

Poseidon shrugged.

"You feel like you deserve it." Athena said, a little way across from them, sat on a log. She spoke like she knew the answer, thought that wasn't unusual for her, Aphrodite scoffed. Athena's knowledge of psychology had nothing on her simple instincts of feelings.

Most of the Olympians had gone quiet, listening attentively. Hera and Zeus bickered loudly in the corner still.

Poseidon closed his eyes tiredly.

"Well, maybe?" he said, before shaking his head, "Yes. I guess. I just- he was right, I could have done something. But at that moment in time, I simply couldn't. I was getting used to having my mind be my own again." Poseidon tried to explain.

Apollo tilted his head, his eyes the same golden as the sparks of the flames. "We were all… indisposed. There wasn't much we could have done."

"But I would have had enough strength to have saved her life." Poseidon insisted.

Athena regarded him coolly.

"You put yourself on a pedestal. If anyone was to have saved her, it would have been me. She was one of my children, after all." Athena dismissed him.

They sat quietly for another few seconds before-

"He hates me." Poseidon rubbed a hand through his hair. Exactly the same way as the young man who had stood with them mere hours ago.

Aphrodite patted him on the back. They all knew who he was talking about.

"He is upset. Annabeth is dead, and she drowned in not just his father's element, but his own element. Obviously he blames himself, however untrue and irrational that is. It is the way of mortals." Athena said.

"He'll get over it." Hephaestus joined in gruffly.

But Poseidon stood up, stress leaking through the cracks in his demeanor.

"No, he won't. I know Hades. It'll end up with Hades trying to smite Percy, because he won't give up." Poseidon shook his head. "You all know Percy. When has he ever given up?"

There was silence for a few beats. Artemis was nodding slowly, looking slightly concerned.

"He'll demand her back." she said, like she was seeing the future. "He won't take no for an answer. If Hades says no…"

"He'd break into Elysium himself and do it." Poseidon nodded grimly.

Hephaestus snorted. "Kid's got balls, that's for sure." he muttered.

Poseidon seemed torn. Aphrodite tilted her head. They were all right. There were very few outcomes she could see where everyone was happy. And many that left no one satisfied. The fire crackled loudly as Apollo flicked a twig into it.

"What if Jackson does do it?" Dionysus asked, a crease in his forehead. Aphrodite was struck with the realisation that out of them all, even including Poseidon, Dionysus may actually be the one who knew him the best.

"Doubtful." she spoke up. "After Orpheus, the poor heartbroken lad, and the way it got all written down, Hades will probably never give anyone that chance again. It gave him a bad rep."

But Persephone had a big heart. Demeter was frowning. Aphrodite filed both her nails and that little fact away to think about later.

Hera huffed across the fire at Zeus, standing up and going to sit by Hephaestus, who wrinkled his nose. Trouble in paradise, Aphrodite thought, covering her smile. Seems Hera's little hero swap was still under observation, and Zeus wasn't liking what he was seeing. Aphrodite filed her thumb nail into a point, observing how the golden nail varnish brought out the warm undertones in her brown skin. She would not want to be Hera right now. The King of the Gods scowled at his wife before speaking.

"Now that one of the seven is dead, and another one is most likely about to be, how does this affect the prophecy?" he addressed Apollo, ignoring Poseidon's warning growl. Apollo shook his head.

"No idea. The prophecy only had four lines, anything inbetween can be as ambiguous or left-field as the fates want." he said, "Though I won't lie, losing two in a prophecy ain't good. Bad omen. Possibly the worst kind of omen."

"Will there be a funeral?" Poseidon asked Athena.

Hera scoffed before she could speak, something that made the Goddess of wisdom's nostrils flare.

"What's the point?" Hera waved her hand dismissively, "She's been dead for too long, what will a funeral do?"

Aphrodite noticed a frown on Poseidon's face.

"They say we don't care a lot, don't they?" he said, a sudden fierceness in his voice.

Her lover snorted, and she could feel the vibrations through his chest.

"So?" Ares replied.

"They're right." Poseidon said bluntly, "They're all sat out there grieving for their friend, and her mother is sat right there, doing nothing. Feeling nothing." Poseidon gestured towards Athena, who glared.

"Do not ever presume to know how I feel." Athena said coldly, "Just because I am not destroying things like your son does not mean I am emotionless. You forget yourself, Poseidon, and what it is like to have many children. You only have one of your spawn running around. You know him personally. I have many children. Annabeth was my favourite, I will admit that, but there will always be more. They will always try to make me proud and many of them will always fail. There's not much to cry about." Athena said.

Artemis scrunched up her nose.

"You know, it is that kind of attitude that pushes your daughters to join my hunt." she said, "Especially in the last war. I care for them far more than their Godly parents. I may not know them all deeply, but I am willing to fight with them and eat at their table."

"See?" Poseidon pointed out, "Is this not getting closer and closer to the same thing that kicked off the last war?"

Ah. Now she got it.

"You're worried that this will push Perseus to switch sides." It wasn't a question.

Zeus' daughter Thalia had been killed by something a God could prevent. It had caused the young man Luke Castellan to turn against Olympus, seeking out other methods, other beings. Now Annabeth Chase had been killed. And Percy Jackson had more desperation running through his veins than blood.

Every God was silent.

"He wouldn't dare!" Zeus exclaimed.

"That's not Percy." Apollo agreed.

"He's very loyal to those he cares for." Hermes said firmly, "Is it not his fatal flaw?"

"It is. Loyalty to a fault. It is what has him in the Underworld this very minute. But you tell me… loyalty to whom? His friends. His mortal family. Does he truly care for any of us?" Athena asked quietly.

Aphrodite drew her eyebrows together, deep brown eyes the picture of concentration. She tried to figure out the mess of feelings she could sense from Perseus. Love was easy to find. Love was always easy to find.

"He… does not love us." Aphrodite said slowly, "But very few demigods do. For them, it is more loyalty than love that keeps them fighting for us. I cannot sense hatred, but… there is dislike in there. Hard to pinpoint."

"Is it?" Ares snorted, glancing at both Dionysus, who rolled his eyes, and Zeus, whose fingers briefly shot sparks.

"But he does have other loyalties now," Aphrodite frowned, trying to pinpoint little threads surrounding who she knew to be Percy Jackson, hundreds of the little things all different colours, all shooting out in different directions. It was complicated business. She didn't do it all the time for every single person in the universe, but it still made pinpointing quite difficult, especially if they weren't in front of her. One, tinged turquoise with loyalty, stretched deep into the ground and further. "The Primordial," she realised, "Nyx. He has loyalty to her."

That made them all feel uneasy.

"What could he have done?" Apollo stage-whispered, though the drama was in fact quite real.

"I don't know." Poseidon said, and looked a little disturbed by that fact.

"We will find out." Zeus said firmly. "If he does not confess, he will face the Olympian Council."

"For what?" Hermes asked, brow furrowed, "Another vote on his life?"

"If it comes to it," Zeus stated.

"It won't." Poseidon said, glaring at his brother.

"It depends on what he's done," Athena said, ever the annoying voice of reason. "That blessing was burned onto him for a reason."

They carried on debating, but Aphrodite zoned them out. All this fuss over nothing. It was too boring to listen to. She, of course, knew tattoos were attractive on some people, but Perseus' new tattoo was something else...

Suddenly she was cut off. Her sense of Percy Jackson and his strings of feelings vanished into thin air, like it had never even been there.

Aphrodite blinked a few times.

"What is it?" Ares asked her gruffly, probably feeling her jump.

"It's Perseus," she said, "He's- he's gone?"

"Wait, what?" Poseidon sat bolt upright, burrowing green eyes into her.

"I'm not sure," she said honestly, "I was skimming his feelings, then the connection just cut off. Last I felt, he was in the Underworld, as he had said. The connection was weak but it was there. Now, it's just..." she trailed off, before making empty shapes with her hands, "Poof. Gone."

"He's not dead." Poseidon shook his head. "I can feel that he's still alive, I know he is."

He didn't. He couldn't. Not for sure. But there was no way to tell. It was like he wasn't even on this plane of existence anym-

Aphrodite bit her lip. A horrible habit. The only other place he could be... but he wouldn't. Oh. But he would. He was a man consumed with love. Dammit, Hades!

She caught Athena's eyes over the fire. The other Gods had moved on to their other conversations, or to go to sleep and recharge themselves, trying to get back into their full Godly selves. Athena's eyes were wide, and her eyebrows were way up. Eyebrows that needed to be plucked. She had come to the same conclusion, a strange event for the both of them to participate in, but nevertheless, it had to be the truth. As cruel as Hades could be, he would not risk civil war with Poseidon. That left the only other option. Aphrodite shook her head. The others didn't need to know.

Perseus was certainly an enigma. He had walked through Tartarus to save Annabeth, and now again, to bring her back? Aphrodite did not know Tartarus. She had never been, never been close, never seen pictures. There was no geotag for it. But she had heard stories. Stories that made her want to think about other things. Still...she couldn't stop thinking about it. She knew love better than anyone. To find someone who would do something like this… was the rarest of the rare. She felt a brief spark of jealousy again, that she squashed by turning over and burying her head in Ares' thick arms.

He wrapped one round her securely, and she spent a long time just tracing out his tattoos with her finger in the moonlight. Would he do that for her? She almost felt like laughing. Trying to compare her love life to that of two mortals. What was she like? Mortals certainly had a way of keeping them all on their toes, she thought, staring at the tents that still echoed with conversations and crackling fires. She almost felt sad about having to leave soon. But they couldn't wait here for much longer. Everything couldn't be put on hold because two of their leaders were missing/dead, not just for the sake of the world but for their sanity too. They had to move on.

She hoped Perseus would be successful in his mission. There needed to be more love in the world right now. And she had a feeling that the love between those two demigods wasn't over yet… something else had to happen first.

Hey, she always said that she'd make their love life interesting.

Chapter 35: Percy XXII

Summary:

He shook his head and pressed his free hand to his almost concave stomach.

He’d kill for some food.

Chapter Text

Chapter 35

Percy (jeez what are we on now?) XXII

The water caught him before he could even register the sensation of falling.

He’d known as soon as his feet had left the ground in the Underworld that he didn’t want to fall again, that he’d have to catch himself as quick as he could. The first time was bad enough, with that sick feeling as his stomach dropped cleanly out his body… he didn’t want to put himself through that again. Luckily, the Phlegethon water caught him smoothly, submerging him in an instant. All sound cut off with a quiet burble. He formed a quick bubble before the liquid fire could burn him, before beginning to lower the water stack.

Right. He had one goal and one goal only: the Lethe. He had seen it before, technically, ages ago with Nico and Thalia, but that was in the Underworld. He didn’t know how to find it in Tartarus. Gods, where would it be? Oh yeah, sure, he could guess- it was near those spiky black rocks, right? Like those weren't everywhere. Percy wracked his brain. Would it be near other rivers or far away from them? He shook his head, rubbing a hand over his eyes, and reached down to take out his swords.

His hand went into his jeans, and grazed an object that wasn't there before in his pocket.

It was small. Oblong. A type of flimsy plastic that heated up in his hand, a flare of power.

Hurtling at inhumane speeds in an air bubble, in the pitch black darkness of the river Phlegthon, Percy Jackson withdrew a pen from his jeans.

He breathed out shakily, and fumbled to uncap it.

The light of Riptide filled the small space, a burning glow that rivalled fire itself, the bronze singing a melody in Percy's ears. The water around him steamed.

Riptide must have returned to him when he got out. How had he not noticed?

Percy choked out a half-wheeze half-chuckle, weighing it in his hand. Perfectly balanced. Gods, he had been fighting with his other unbalanced swords for so long that he had almost forgotten what it was like to have a sword finally feel like an extension of his own arm.

Light flooded around the outside of his column of water, a dark red he had grown to loathe fiercely permeating through the bubble. Suddenly feeling a pit in his stomach, he slowed his dropping pace as best he could. The fires burning in the distance reflected in his eyes, and he felt sick. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to do this again. Percy turned away and looked through the churning water keeping him aloft for the ground, which was now so close he could count the little spikes.

Calmly, as if he was simply stepping out of a lift, Percy opened the bubble two feet from the ground and hopped out.

His feet slammed into the spikes as the wave of heat enveloped his body yet again.

His skin crawled. He breathed in, despising the warm air filling his lungs, and swallowed. This wasn’t it. He had a job and a purpose down here. He had stuff to do. No point beating about the bush.

Scanning the horizon, the pit in his stomach got deeper, more of an abyss. He… he had no idea where to go from here. He span in a circle to look around. Left meant skipping over the Phlegethon river and heading into the unknown. Right meant pitch black darkness and heading into the unknown. Behind meant going up a mountain into the unknown. Front meant walking down and down further and further into cave territory and into the unknown. He sighed. Any way he put it, it wasn’t looking profitable, but it was better than standing still.

Cave territory it was.

He rolled Riptide between his fingers before capping it, and shoving it back into his pocket. Later. And for once, he couldn’t wait to fight with it.

Percy set out ahead, hopping from one boulder to the next down the descent. Water was liquid and these rivers were liquid. Liquid went down because gravity. Surely they all had to end up in the lowest part of Tartarus?

He could only find out.

So he walked.

And walked.

He wished that he’d taken Maia with him, but was also kinda glad she was on the surface. Maybe he should have changed his shoes though. He was vaguely sure he could see his skin through the sole of his trainer. Maybe could have done with a new shirt.

He slipped slightly on the spikes, and pain, electric brand-new pain, seared across his hand. He startled, turning his palm over. It was just a cut, no serious damage done, but it still made him blink. He’d felt nothing but dull impacts for a while. Right- the curse of Achilles was gone. He remembered. He would have to be more careful now.

As if aware of his sudden revelation, his stomach growled.

He clapped his hands to it and clenched the muscles to try and mute the noise, but it still gurgled loudly. And painfully.

Oh, why hadn’t he got a McDonalds while he was up there?

He pulled a face, rubbing circles onto his stomach, and looked around. Food. So what was a good alternative? What could he eat? There was no food, his bag was on Maia, nothing around him to harvest. No Giant to provide steaks. No Drakon to bring back hunks of meat. He needed food, or he’d never complete his mission.

A monster hissed in the distance, and Percy glanced up at it. It was some kind of beast, alone on a rock stack. It looked at Percy, and he suddenly wished he had some kind of hunting projectile. It even looked like a deer.

He caught himself and frowned as it ran off. Eating Maia was different. And he hadn’t dared to think about the meat she had brought him. But… could he- could he hunt monsters? For food? Could he eat monsters?

He knew it was possible.

He frowned and kept walking.

He was tired, he realised, as he slipped and nearly brained himself on a rock. Tired and hungry. He’d been walking for too long, and was running out of energy.

He pushed himself back up. He had a mission.

His stomach whined loud enough that it snapped his half-closed eyes open as he walked, and he whipped out his sword. He shook his head and pressed his free hand to his almost concave stomach.

He’d kill for some food.

Chatter caught his attention.

He ducked behind a rock and peered round the side, Riptide tightly gripped in his hand. Percy squinted in the low light.

Down the slight rocky dip, he saw a group of monsters chasing one single monster. The valley was long, with nowhere to hide. He almost felt sympathetic for the lone creature. Almost.

He watched as the lead monster of the group, an empousa, shot out a hand and tripped the rogue up. It fell to the floor with a crash, and had to know it was already dead. The group pounced. Percy rose up slightly onto his tip toes as they feasted on the monster. There was a cut off howl, and then it seemed that the flurry of teeth and claws vanished as soon as it had appeared. One stood up.

“He’s done, let’s go!” the empousa whined, wiping her fangs off on the back of her hand.

The others followed her lead. The group carried on. Percy noted down the direction they were walking in, most likely the direction of the Doors of Death, though he knew it didn’t really matter to his mission, and that if he span three hundred and sixty degrees, he’d most likely instantly forget.

Once the group was out of sight, Percy slid slightly down the decline. His stomach whined as he approached the remains of the monster. Stripped down to meaty bones, it was hard to tell what sort it had been. It was just torn apart. He could make out a vague shape from the mangled skeleton but it didn’t help.

Percy crouched slowly. He ran a finger over a rib bone (as far as he could tell) and prodded some of the raw meat clinging to it. Still warm.

Completely against his will, his mouth watered.

He’d eaten a lot of weird things. Some may have been alive. He knew he should feel apprehensive in the very least, but he didn’t. He just felt hungry.

Bracing his foot against the spinal cord of the monster, he snapped a rib off, and held it in his hands. His cuts and bruises screamed at the motion. He sighed.

And brought it up to his mouth, stripping the meat off with his teeth. It was chewier than he'd imagined, he thought, using the back of his hand to push it all the way in. Kinda tasted like… lamb? Chewy lamb. Rubbery. Slightly slimy. Very spicy. Certainly raw.

Did all monsters taste the same? Maia didn’t taste like this. She’d been a lot more peppery.

Eh. Didn’t matter. Soon he’d be home, and be having BBQ in the Pavilion. All Good. All fine. He continued to methodically shear off the meat, tearing the remains into even more pieces. It was good to fill his stomach like this. More energy to walk. More strength. He’d need it, especially in his state.

A frown came over his face. Would it be possible…? He peeled a section of flesh away and held it up. He could feel moisture in it somewhere, as sure as he could feel the sweat clinging to his skin. Was it blood? Water? He couldn’t tell. He turned it over in his hands and concentrated, closing his eyes.

It felt like squeezing a sponge.

He opened his eyes to find the meat exsanguinated, globules of grubby water hovering above it. He split it in half, and let one half splash onto his face, soothing the pain of his bruises, and floated the other half up to his mouth, drinking it down. He retched but kept it down. Gods above, that was disgusting water.

He sat back on his heels and frowned again. He looked at his hands. There were no blisters, no redness. The air… it wasn’t affecting him anymore. It hadn’t in a while. Was it all the monster meat he had been eating? What did that make him?

He stood up, taking a rib with him to go. The end was pointy, he reflected; if he’d found something like this the first time he’d fallen, he could definitely see himself trying to make a weapon out of it. Now he just felt like laughing. Even with nothing in his hands, he would never be unarmed again.

He continued walking.

-

Percy narrowed his eyes.

Below the rock he was stood on, there was a small group of monsters, crowding around each other and pushing. He needed to get through, and couldn’t see any other way out of the little ravine he was in.

He almost smiled. Finally, a fight.

Percy jumped off the rock, catching his weight in his knees, the monsters stumbling in their attempt to back away from him. He supposed he should have been luckily that he had avoided monsters for so long, but fighting his way through them finally just felt like progress, something more than just walking through the dark alone.

Because he needed to get back. Last time, he’d had no idea what was going on above him, no clue if they were safe, or even alive. Rage briefly burned in him, before he pushed it down (no, Hades said he would bring her back). Now he knew everything was going to be fine when he got back. He knew time moved differently- maybe she was already back and waiting for him. No, no, that didn't sound right- this was Annabeth. She was kicking ass and taking names, as well as waiting for him. So he needed to get back even faster this time. She was waiting, and Percy could never disappoint her.

The monsters surrounded him.

He strapped his bronze and his bone sword to what remained of his trouser waistband (he knew he should have picked up some new jeans too while he was up there), not breaking eye contact with the one that seemed to be the leader, and held Riptide out in front of him. He sliced it through the air a couple times. Just to make sure it still worked. And also for the look of fear that Riptide tended to inspire.

"You- you escaped! You're not meant to be here!" said one monster.

"Yeah, I thought that too." Percy said grimly. "Didn’t work out." he added, as they circled him.

He knew when they were about to attack when he saw them lean forwards, and braced himself.

They charged him all at once. Percy let them get close- then slid between the legs of one, spinning round with an upwards slice, using the force to jerk his body to the side, arm outstretched with a slash through the air, gold dust poofing in clouds around him.

Similar to when he had the curse of Achilles, Percy felt a laugh bubble up, but it was nothing to do with the violence- it was the familiarity of Riptide forming his moves. With his other swords, he had worked out a pattern with them individually that suited their weights, but Riptide... It had so many memories with it, that everything came instinctually.

One pattern. Follow through. Slash sequence. It felt like he was lighter than air.

He kicked one of the last two in the chest forcefully, sending it head over heels, while running the other through.

Panting, Percy stepped forwards to tower over the other one on the floor, who was propelling itself back like the thing from the Exorcist. The dracaenae spluttered as Percy drew closer, before pointing wildly in Percy's direction.

"It's- the- I- don't- plea-"

Percy held Riptide high before plunging it down, cutting off the stammering.

Percy stepped back, pushing his hair out his eyes. It really was getting too long. He might need to do a quick sword barber DIY at some point.

"Jackson?" asked a voice behind him, thick and low.

Percy jumped, spinning around with Riptide raised, but it was too late.

Two huge figures loomed close to him, something swinging towards his head, hitting it so hard he saw black stars and-

Chapter 36: Percy XXIII

Summary:

Percy blinked dust out of his eyes, but then there was a hand in his hair, wrenching his head back.

Chapter Text

Chapter 36

Percy XXIII

He registered the throbbing in his head first, thick and spreading across the back of his skull. It filled his eyes, tempting him to fall back under, but Percy let them flutter open heavily, scrunching them up, trying to alleviate the pressure. Even the dimmest light was pain.

He’d… what had happened? He’d been fighting… someone had hit him. It had been a nasty blow to the head, and a cowardly move, to attack from behind. Sure, Percy had done it to others before, but they were nameless monsters. Whoever it was had said his name. They knew who he was. And he could swear he’d heard that voice before...

Percy lifted his head, tilting to the side to get his filthy hair out his face, and looked around. He was in some sort of.. .cave? There was a hot fire burning in the corner, making the cave uncomfortably hot, the flickering light in the dark briefly showing Percy where he was. Dusty red rocks covered the majority of his view. But just round the corner to his right, Percy could see the tell-tale light of outside. To his left was just an uneven rock face and a large boulder.

Percy squinted and attempted to stand up from where he was sprawled on the floor. His wrists tugged him back down instantly.

Percy craned his neck round, swearing under his breath when he caught sight of the thick manacles on his wrists, the other side of the chain embedded into the rock behind him.

"Great. Just great..." Percy continued to curse, slowly turning his body round until he was facing the wall, two feet on either side of the chain.

His head and vision swam sickly before stabilising. He breathed out of his mouth slowly.

He wound his wrists round the chain and, shuffling his back until it was in a place with slightly more traction, before he leant back and pulled as hard as he could, pressing his feet against the wall.

"Hnnnggh!" Percy clamped his teeth down hard as he strained.

His biceps were taut and corded, clouds of dust tumbling down, but Percy could see that they were far too deeply stuck to be removed by him yanking on them. He groaned weakly, rubbing his sweaty forehead with the back of his hands.

Fine, next step: the locks.

He edged his way round again to face the other way. Did he have anything to pick the lock with? Riptide wouldn't fit in it, and he didn't have enough space to slice through the chains. If he was honest, Percy didn't even know if he could reach it. Actually, he didn't know if Riptide was even there. He couldn't feel it in his pocket.

Percy shook his head. He was getting off topic, and he didn't have time for stuff like this. It would always return to him. He just needed to get out of here before anything found him and ate him alive.

Would the things that took him still be around?

He sighed. One way to find out.

"Hey!" Percy shouted. "Oi!"

He wasn't going to wait there and starve to death, they should at least have the decency to actually tell him that they were gonna kill him. Else it was just rude.

"Do you want me to start singing or what?" Percy shouted, wracking his brains for a song annoying enough to drive whoever it was crazy.

He had just settled on a nursery rhyme his mother had sang for him a few times when he was young, when the external light began to dim; something was coming. The heavy footsteps made the tiny stones jump around him.

Percy backed up a little, pressing his back up against the wall, should he need to push himself off for an attack. He frowned slightly- he was either facing a monster with more than two legs, or more than one monster.

A huge black shape rounded the corner.

It was Krios.

Percy glared. He thought that he'd killed him in the blast after- after Damasen was killed. Guess rats always find a way to survive. Behind him was one similar in size; he had to squint to recognise him. It was another Titan... Koios? What was he doing here?

"Evening, fellas." Percy said, as casually as he could, considering that he was chained up.

In a cave. In Tartarus. With two Titans. Who no doubt hated him.

Had he missed anything?

Percy reached out in his mind, searching for any water nearby. He’d flood the place and burst the chains to pieces.

But he hit a block and blinked. There… there was nothing there? He couldn’t feel anything. What was going on?

"How the mighty have fallen..." Krios snarled smugly, coming to stand next to him.

Koios followed, and they both towered over him. Percy tried his best not to look intimidated, but his mind had just taken the annoying liberty to remind him that his skin was no longer impenetrable. As evidenced by the concussion he still had, the cave starting to spin again. He tilted his head until it rested on the stone behind.

"Got any reason for me to be here?" he asked dryly.

"Mother wants you, now more than ever." Koios growled, his voice even lower than Krios's. "Who are we to deny her?"

Koios looked to be about 20 feet tall, his head brushing the top of the cave, with elaborate black stygian iron armour and a single diamond blazing in the breastplate. His eyes were blue-white and as cold as a glacier, the same colour as his hair and beard, with his hair cut in military style. By his side, clutched in a massive hand, was a sword the size of a surfboard, which radiated more cold than Hubbard Glacier.

His once handsome face was covered in scars. Percy had never met Koios before, only recognising him from a vision, but he knew he was the Titan of intelligence. Percy watched him carefully; if anyone was a wild card here, it was Koios. He didn’t know him, had never fought him. Krios, while he looked angry, was merely watching him and his older brother.

"You can't escape." Krios said dryly. "Those chains were built by Hephaestus to contain Titans. It'll block off your powers easily."

Right. That was why he couldn't reach anything. Percy allowed a small trickle of panic to wash over him before shoving the rest down to his stomach, where it churned nervously.

"You know, I heard your name once, a while ago." Koios sat down slowly, opposite Percy. Krios did the same, poking the fire with his finger. Were they cold? Percy was sweating. He swallowed.

"I'm guessing it wasn't in a compliment." Percy replied.

Koios tilted his head. "They said you had defeated my brother. Gave control back to the Gods."

"Kronos had been defeated long before I got there.” Percy said, thoughts of Luke whirling in his mind. “His host didn't want violence, just justice. Kronos was destined to fall eventually."

"You were the one prophesied to defeat him, though." Koios said. It wasn't a question.

"Yeah, I was." Percy replied cautiously. This was old news. What was he getting at?

Koios nodded slowly, running a calloused hand through his beard. He had the same cold eyes as Artemis.

"You are in yet another prophecy too, are you not?" Koios asked him.

"Yeah." Percy answered, hating the interrogation vibe he was getting and deciding to stop it in its tracks. "Look can we get to the point? I got places to be and none of them involve either of you."

Koios snorted under his breath. Percy felt unease. It didn’t sound like he found anything particularly funny. "One more question. Was it you who cut the chains on the doors of death?" he asked, locking gazes.

Percy kept eye contact with him.

"It was-'' Krios interrupted, but Koios waved him off.

"I want him to say it." Koios leaned forwards.

Percy straightened his back. "Yeah, it was me."

A dagger smashed deep into the rock, right by his face, sending chunks of stone over him. Percy blinked dust out of his eyes, but then there was a hand in his hair, wrenching his head back. His already dazed head screamed, but not as loudly as the Titan in front of him.

"Do you know howlongI've been in here?" Koios bellowed, his eyes alight with a mad rage. "Kronos was supposed to get me out of here the first time! Then someboygot the better of him! So mother set up a way for us to get out! Andthat- same- boy- stopped- it!''

He punctuated each word by slamming a fist into the wall, making him jump, but on the last word, he swung at Percy.

Percy took the punch across the face, wincing as he felt his lip split instantly, his head whacked nearly to the ground. Koios grabbed him by his neck and lifted him in the air, manacles stretching until they dug into his wrists, pinning him to the wall.

He pulled back his fist with a snarl.

-

Some time later, Koios let him drop.

Percy crumpled like a sack of potatoes, his hand stopping him from falling on his face completely. He didn't want to imagine how much blood covered him, instead focused as hard as he could on staying conscious. Krios, who had done nothing to stop Koios, was watching him with a very satisfied expression. Koios had a filthy rag in one hand, cleaning his splattered knuckles.

Percy spat out a mouthful of blood, each breath sending a twinge to his bruised stomach. Everything felt wrong. He couldn’t see the edges of his vision.

He blinked, dazed, as a wall of rock came tilting up to his face. Was Koios throwing a stone at him? It hit the side of his face hard. He coughed and looked around. Oh. No, it was just his supporting hand giving out. He’d collapsed.

"N-nothing personal then." he mumbled from his position lying on the ground.

Koios looked at him sharply and Percy felt like recoiling.

"Do you want me to beat youagain, boy?" he hissed.

He spoke kind of like a medieval Lord.

"Not particularly." Percy muttered, chains clinking as he reached up to prod at his now definitely not straight nose.

"Then keep it shut.” Koios spat at him, “We know how you manipulate. You turned Iapetus, turned Damasen- believe me when I say that that won't happen again here."

"Brother, all mother needs is his blood. Perhaps we could-" Krios started, but Koios waved him off.

"I've considered that option, yes,” he said, “Take his blood, then just kill him. As a backup, yes, I think we should, but there's still the question on how to get it to her."

Percy watched closely. Koios wasn't what he expected. He was smarter than your average Titan, (Titan of Intelligence, Seaweed Brain, a small voice reprimanded in his head), but a small plan was forming in Percy's head.

"-off his arms, sew up his mouth, cut out his eyes." Koios said casually.

Percy winced, and began to push his dead body upright.

"I say we take his blood and just kill him now." Krios said. "He deserves death more than any other mortal I have met."

"It could be-"

"Or..." Percy cut him off, causing two angry glares to be sent his way. He held up his hands defensively, which was risky in his state. "Or, you could just let me go."

There was a beat, and then both Titans roared with laughter. The loud noise hurt his head.

"And- and why would we do that?" Krios chuckled, smacking a hand on his knee in mirth. He had the same smile as Apollo.

Percy spat a mouthful of blood to the floor again as more flooded from his nose down his chin.

"Youwilllet me go.” he said, forcing as much strength as he had left into his words, “Unless you fancy a primordial coming after me through you." He angled his shoulder towards them.

Krios stopped laughing but Koios continued a low chortle. Percy didn’t like how he had to bring up the whole Nyx thing to get them to listen to him, but at least it was useful, and a bit more intimidating than a half-conscious concussed demigod. He had already tried to shadow travel several times, but Percy didn't actually know how to. The last times had been fuelled with raw emotion, now... he just couldn't. Percy blamed the chains.

"I'll admit; I didn't see that coming." Koios chuckled, Krios smiling like there was an inside joke between them. Right- he was also the Titan of prophecy. If it wasn't for the throbbing pain in his face, Percy would have joined in with the irony.

"Well now what to do?" Koios squatted by him, curling thick fingers around his arm. His tattoo leaked a small amount of smoke, suppressed by the chains, and Koios snatched his hand back. "Right." The tone of his voice went ugly.

"She can't help you if you're dead." Krios noted, almost absently.

His hand went down to rest on the hilt of his sword. Percy breathed out through his nose, a bubble of blood popping out a nostril. He tensed, ready to move as fast as he could.

"We'll take the blood now then." Koios withdrew his sword with a 'shink', and levelled it directly at his face.

"Whoa- whoa- whoa- wait-wait-!" Percy protested, before inspiration slid into his sluggish head, “I- I can get you out of here!” The sword tip stopped a centimetre from his eye.

"What?" asked Krios.

"How so?" Koios didn't drop his sword.

Percy took a breath.

"I mean, I got out before, right?” he said, vaguely feeling a chip in a tooth with his tongue, “Look- I'm only here again to bring my girlfriend back and to do an errand for Hades. He's got a way for me to get back. He said he'll get me out and I- I can convince him to take you too." he finished, desperately trying to convince them.

"Right. Hades will just let us back up, sure." Koios drawled, but Percy could see a glint in his eye; he was interested.

If Percy had been down here long enough, he'd be climbing the walls to get out too. He had to use that to his advantage.

"The last time I got out, I took the Maeonian drakon with me.” he said, “I could say that I pushed you in the Lethe, that now you're fighting on our side." Percy had no intention of letting that happen, but come on, the guy had a sword to his face. And he needed to get back to Annabeth. He'd work out the rest of the plan later.

Koios stared at him for several seconds. Percy tried to push his luck and not let the swimming darkness in his vision drag him in.

"I can get you to the surface.” he said as earnestly as he could muster, “I won't help you once we're out- you're on your own after that- but there is a way to get out. And it will only work if I'm alive."

Koios huffed in amusem*nt, shaking his head. Percy didn’t know if that was good or bad. He just wanted to sleep.

Koios snorted. "They said you were good,” he said.

Krios observed the two of them closely. "He is telling the truth about the way out, that Drakon definitely escaped with him. But this is Perseus Jackson. He's the Gods' best weapon. There's no way he would help us."

"Maybe I've had enough of the Gods." Percy said, his anger not real, but not entirely fake. "Maybe they were too busy laying around to stop people I love dying. Maybe I'm not as loyal as you think." he said, his scowl twinging his bruised skin.

"Enough." Koios said quietly, as Krios opened his mouth to argue.

He let the point of the sword hover in front of Percy's face for a few more seconds.

"You..."

Koios lowered the sword slowly, cutting a thin red line in Percy's cheek. Percy winced but kept eye contact.

"Now... is not the time to debate loyalties. Only actions. There is more to be discussed. Come, brother. Let us talk alone." Koios turned on his heel and strode out of the cave.

Krios looked at Percy for a few more seconds. One last bolt of electric inspiration lit up his foggy mind.

"I can only takeoneof you." Percy said to him, now that Koios was out of earshot. One Titan would be easier to deal with.

Krios didn't give any indication that he had heard him, choosing instead to kick dust and rocks over the fire until the cave was dark. Percy still had decent visibility thanks to his blessing, moving his legs as Krios followed after his brother silently. At least the cave was cooler now.

Percy breathed out slowly, leaning down to wipe his bloody nose on the skin of his shoulder. He had the worst feeling that he was gonna be here a while.

Chapter 37: Hazel II

Summary:

Nico narrowed his eyes.

"What is Percy doing?"

Hades looked at his son.

Chapter Text

Chapter 37

Hazel II

There was a meeting arranged for the morning: the Gods, all the leaders of the cohorts, the cabin leaders, praetors and the remaining seven. It was supposed to be a closed council, but Hazel knew that everyone else would be lurking and eavesdropping.

Unable to go back to sleep, she opened her eyes; it was just turning dawn, the sun was just filtering under the gaps of the tent. She had barely slept at all. They weren't on the Argo II, as a Greek boy had lent them a few tents, but Hazel didn't think it would make a difference whether she was in her bed or on the floor. She still would be restless.

As soon as Annabeth had- when she had- Hazel rubbed her nose- when she haddied, Hazel knew the fallout would be massive. She knew it would wreck Percy. And he already looked like he couldn't take any more. Hazel shook her head to get rid of the image of Percy, covered head to toe in his blood and gold dust, with black circles under his eyes as if he hadn't slept at all, a Drakon towering behind him. He looked nothing like he used to.

"Hazel?" came a faint whisper to her right, so quiet she barely heard it. "Hazel, is that you awake?"

Hazel shuffled to face the other side, coming face to face with a sleepy Frank.

"Yeah. I'm awake." she whispered back.

Both lifted their heads slightly to see if they'd woken Leo, but the boy was still snoring lightly, clutching some sort of pipe close to his chest. Hazel turned back to Frank.

"What time is it?" she asked, cuddling a purple blanket closer to her shoulders.

They may be in Greece, but the morning was still cooler than the afternoon, and the temperature difference inside and out caused drops of condensation to cling to the sides of the tent. Frank rubbed his hands together to warm them up slightly before snuggling down further into his own sleeping bag until only his head popped out. She smiled fondly.

"I'm not too sure.” he said, “Maybe six? Half six?"

Hazel was used to getting up early, usually saw it as a productive start to the day; it didn’t mean she enjoyed it. She wrinkled her nose.

"When's the meeting?" she asked.

"Eight, I think. Reyna said she wanted everyone to get a good amount of sleep so they can think clearly about what to do next."

Hazel frowned. “Did you get a ‘good amount of sleep’? Because I didn’t.”

He shook his head tightly.

“I just kept thinking about-“ He left the end of his sentence hanging. He could be talking about one of many things. Maybe all of them.

Hazel reached her hands out of her bag, and Frank covered her smaller ones with his own. She looked tiredly at him.

"What are we going to do?" she asked.

Frank furrowed his brow and sighed.

"I don't know. This is a prophecy of seven and we're- we're down to five. We have significantly less power without Percy, and I can't see any battle plans succeeding without Annabeth."

"No." Hazel shook her head. "No, we're down to six. Not five. Percy is alive. I- I don't know how, but he is, and- and every time I remember that I feel like crying, because he actually made it. He'll come back to us- he probably just needs time."

Frank squeezed her hands.

"I know he'll come back. This is Percy. But back from where?"

"He said he was going to talk to Hades. So he's most likely gone to the Underworld."

"He wants to get Annabeth back." It wasn't a question.

"Don't we all?" Hazel felt her nose begin to sting, a sign she was about to cry, and huddled closer to Frank, pressing her forehead into his chest. His hand dropped to the back of her head, holding her close. Hazel breathed in slowly. She wished they could stay this way forever. Also Frank radiated warmth.

"Do you think he'll do it?" Frank asked quietly above her.

Hazel understood in a heartbeat.

"I want to say yes." she replied. "If anyone could do it, it would be him."

Hazel believed what she said. If all the stories she had been told were true, the Gods owed Percy and Annabeth.

Hazel opened her mouth to say something but cut herself off. She wanted to ask Frank why Percy had gone so soon, but of course, he probably wanted to get Annabeth back as soon as possible. But Hazel couldn't help being a little sad. They had just got him back, and then he was gone again. Almost like he was never there in the first place. But she knew it was wrong to think that way. She was being selfish.

"I think it's probably early enough to get some breakfast." Hazel said instead, "There's probably some other people awake out there."

She felt Frank nod, and reluctantly withdrew from his bear hug. She rolled over and sat up, stretching out the muscles in her back, before kicking off the blanket and reaching for her shoes.

When they were both dressed and had their shoes on, Frank pulled back the flap of their tent. They both glanced at Leo, still dead to the world and lightly snoring.

"Let him sleep." Hazel whispered, and stepped outside.

They were right; there were a few kids milling around the field, a street of tents stretching all around them. In the middle were the picnic benches that were there before, and Hazel could see and smell the smoke coming out from an awning.

They wandered over, Frank holding out his hand for her to take at some point. Hazel liked that; they always found a way to be close to each other.

Under the awning, there was indeed breakfast being cooked. At least three barbecues were on the go, and Hazel was very surprised to see Ceres (or Demeter, she supposed) laying out bowls for a couple of demigods that had arrived as well.

"Come, come, breakfast is served! Most important meal of the day, don't you know? Have this bowl of cereal, one of the finest grains! Sets you up completely for the rest of the day." Demeter handed a bowl of cereal to Hazel, almost forcing the bowl into her hands.

"Oh- thank you." Hazel said, surprised, exchanging a look with Frank before he too had a bowl shoved into his hands.

They sat down at a bench, opposite each other. Hazel looked at her bowl, and glanced up at Frank.

"Do you think she knows we don't have spoons?" she whispered, seeing some of the other demigods look around, slightly panicked.

Frank blinked. Then he tentatively reached forwards and took the bowl in both hands. Hazel raised her eyebrows, but mimicked his actions. She was hungry, after all.

They both lifted the bowls to their mouths and drank their cereal.

"Now that's the enthusiasm I want to see in today's cereal eating youth!'' Demeter exclaimed, smiling down at them.

Hazel laughed, wiping the milk away from her upper lip. They continued to drink their cereal, chatting with each other and occasionally with any demigods who sat by them, as more and more were coming out of their tents, the sun getting higher and warmer in the sky.

Eventually, Hazel saw Reyna striding between tents. She looked as if she had been up for a while too.

"Is it time?" she asked Frank.

Frank glanced at the watch of the demigod next to him and nodded.

"It's a few minutes to eight."

They placed their bowls on top of each other and pushed them down the table, before they stood up. There was a circle of fold out chairs in a small stretch of grass just to the left of all their tents. Hazel could see someone who vaguely resembled Apollo sat there, others milling behind him. Opposite, sat Nico, and a few cabin leaders. Reyna came into view as they got closer, resting her elbows on her knees. They sat down next to Nico, who gave his sister a nod.

After a few minutes, Jason, Piper and Leo arrived, which meant everyone was there. The Gods turned their attention to them, each sitting down in their customised camping chairs.

"Demigods, we are here to discuss the matter of the prophecy, and how to further it beyond this situation, with the loss of two of the prophecy." Jupiter- Zeus began, leaning forwards in his solid gold chair.

"One." Poseidon pointed out next to him.

"The whereabouts of Perseus is unknown." Zeus replied.

"No, we know he's gone to go talk to Hades." Poseidon said. "He'll come back."

"Regardless, he is not here now." Athena said. "Back to the matter at hand-''

But now the Gods were arguing between themselves, demigods too. Hazel frowned. She was about to speak up when a flash behind her caught her attention, sparks in her peripheral vision.

Everyone fell quiet instantly, and Hazel had to turn round as a figure walked up to them. He was tall, wearing black clothes, a silver sword at his side-

"Hades?” Poseidon spoke up, “What brings you here?"

Hazel gasped slightly. It was Pluto. Her father was here. Hades stopped behind her, before placing a hand on her shoulder.

"Hello Hazel," he said quietly, "Nico."

Hazel had no idea what to do.

"Hello." she said back faintly.

Hades nodded, almost uncomfortable but slightly happy, before turning back to Zeus.

"Looking for Perseus?" he asked.

Poseidon narrowed his eyes. "Hades, if my son is-"

Hades waved his hand. "I haven't harmed him. If anything, I helped him."

That caught their attention.

"Where is Perseus then?" asked Hera curiously.

Heads went back and forth like a tennis match between the Gods.

"He is... doing me a favour." Hades replied slowly.

Hazel raised her eyebrows. It couldn't possibly mean...

"Whatkindof favour?" Poseidon looked like he was about to flood the whole area.

"Nothing he hasn't done before."

"Hades, if my son is in danger-"

"Of course he's in danger." Hades cut him off. "Frankly it would be him if he wasn't, but-but!" Hades raised his voice as Poseidon rose out of his seat. "But, he accepted it. He knew what he had to do. It was the price to pay."

"What price?" Poseidon snapped, before he froze. "Hedidn't-''

Hades nodded, and clicked his fingers.

Hazel gasped as Thanatos appeared. The God winked at her. Hades turned to the demigods.

"One of you needs to go get her body." he added.

There were gasps from those who hadn't worked it out yet. Jason and Piper, who were nearest in the direction of the ship, jumped out up so quickly their seats fell over, and both sprinted as fast as they could towards the Argo II. Hazel's heart was pounding madly in her chest.

In all the chaos as the Gods began to chatter, Aphrodite crying again, Hazel barely even noticed Hades coming to sit by her. He shuffled slightly.

"I just want you to know, both of you," he said, glancing at Nico, who had turned around to face them, "That I am proud of both of you."

The last part came out slightly fast, but Hazel heard it loud and clear. However, while she was speechless, Nico narrowed his eyes.

"What is Percy doing?"

Hades looked at his son.

"He is helping me bless a sword. When it is bathed in the final blessing, it could possibly be the most powerful sword ever made." Hades answered, but Hazel felt as if his words were a little rehearsed.

Hazel thought on that heavily. How could a sword be that powerful? What blessings were there?

"This is the deal we made." Hades continued. "He knew the risks."

Hades nodded at his children again, before he looked up. Piper and Jason were returning quickly, a long roll of blanket in Jason's arms. Hazel could see Annabeth's waterlogged trainers sticking out the end and winced.

Jason paused at the edge. Thanatos gestured towards the middle of their circle, and Jason stepped forwards, placing her body on the grass gently, before backing up, clutching Piper's hand.

Hades stood, staring down grimly. Thanatos walked over to Annabeth's body.

He stopped above her, then closed his eyes and held out his arms. All the hairs stood up on her arms as the air suddenly got very cold and very still. A glow began to emit from his torso, getting brighter and brighter until Hazel was forced to look away. When it dimmed down, she glanced back and her eyes widened.

In Thanatos's arms, lay Annabeth, like a glowing white ghost. Her eyes were shut, and she was transparent. Thanatos knelt to the ground, lining ghost Annabeth up with Annabeth's corpse.

He lowered her to the ground.

Thanatos stood back up, inclined his head towards Hades, then vanished with a blur of shadows. All eyes zeroed in on the figure on the floor as it twitched.

Grey hair began soaking up with golden colour, as if the sun was shining intensely on it. Hazel watched as pink flooded into Annabeth's skin, the water absorbed into her body draining out into the grass. Her clothes dried, no longer clinging to her. A rose blush climbed into her cheeks. Hazel could see the veins in her arms returning to a delicate blue.

The group watched in tense anticipation as her eyelids twitched.

They snapped open.

Hazel saw beautiful silver staring back at her.

Chapter 38: Percy XXIV

Summary:

Percy blinked, a litany of curses muttered angrily in his head. Oh, he didn’t have the brain speed for this. Half of his temple was black with bruises, and now Koios wanted him to think?

Chapter Text

Chapter 38

Percy XXIV

Koios landed the final blow straight to his nose, and Percy blacked out.

Percy coughed as he lay flat on his back, and all the blood filling his mouth splattered out like a volcano. It landed in his eyes. He didn’t care.

“No! No- no- no- no- no-!” He squirmed violently as if his own skin blistered and burned him.

“I really don’t see why you need two eyes.” Koios grinned, holding a knife up to his face.

Krios said nothing. Koios laughed, and tossed the knife to the floor, just out of his reach. Percy stared at it still as a statue and waited breathlessly for his heartbeats to become individual.

The most delicate noise is a tooth hitting stone.

Inbetween the grunts and yelps and skin violently hitting skin, the light tap of a tooth bouncing across the stone was almost foreign. Curled up in a ball on the floor, Percy pulled his bloodied fingers back to his chest, no longer prodding around his mouth.

His mother was going to kill him. Braces hadn’t been cheap.

Percy stared at Koios as he laughed and genuinely wanted nothing more in life than to kill him with his bare hands. He could feel phantom ichor drenching his skin and a dazed smile crossed his face.

How long had he been in this cave?

He’d measure time by how healed his broken nose was, but the issue there was that it just kept being broken.

He was doing this for Annabeth. He was doing this for Annabeth. He was doing this for Annabeth.

He knew she'd be okay, and the sheer relief was constantly bubbling beneath the surface, a feeling that made him want to either cry or throw up- he didn't know how to explain it. He wasn't a fan of Hades too much but he at least knew he was fair. He’d trust Hades over Zeus. And at least he knew Annabeth would be brought back. But on some level in his head, Percy couldn't really accept it until he saw her, until he saw her smile again. It felt like a far off dream from his place on the bloody stones at the moment.

He really wished they would stop hitting him in the stomach. He didn’t have much food to throw up in the first place, he thought, coughing up a handful of something he had been fed a while ago.

Krios’ laughter echoed off the stone walls.

“There goes your dinner!” he laughed, walking out of the cave.

As far as vomit went, it was relatively intact, Percy thought. Big chunks from where he hadn’t chewed, just inhaled. Looked like a stew. Smelled like food.

Before Krios had even left the cave, Percy scooped it off the stones and crammed it into his mouth. It tasted sour and gone off and slimy and disgusting and he retched and his eyes watered but he didn’t even care. Food was food.

Percy watched Koios’ back retreat out of the cave, a blood bubble welling up and bursting in his nostril.

Percy hated this. Every minute of the whole thing. It was torture.

Literally.

It was the helplessness that got to him, beyond his deformed face, the sheer inability to fight back. He was always lifting his arms a fraction of an inch, constantly checking if the chains were still attached, if they had broken during the beatings.

But of course these wouldn't break. Hand crafted by Ouranos to contain the titans, then reinforced by Hephaestus to doubly make sure. No, he couldn't get out of them using sheer force. And powers were off the table, they were cut off, restricting them to the confines of his body. He could feel it flowing inside of him, and the Nyx blessing still worked within his body, the smoke travelling through him to fix the more major injuries, which he was extremely thankful for.

A roar from outside caught his attention, head moving slowly. The angle he had to sleep on had created a crick in his neck, like he'd stretched a nerve. He didn’t even want to get started on the smell from behind a boulder that he could barely reach. It sounded like Koios and Koios were fighting, first in the Tongue of Old Times, which they liked to yell at him at sometimes and give him 'lessons' in, before switching to English.

"-are? You-!... I...ever!" Koios was bellowing, loud as an avalanche.

Percy strained to hear, leaning forwards.

"I swear-!... Not...! ...Jackson!"

Ah. Percy flinched and screwed up his face. They always found a way to include him, and judging by the heavy footfalls slamming nearer and nearer to him, he was about to be in trouble. They wouldn't kill him, he mused morbidly. That was something he could probably count on most days. And he had the Nyx blessing, which, while he couldn't use its benefits, healed him internally. Without it... Well he'd most likely be dead. On his own, he didn't think he was strong enough to fight through it.

Koios stomped into view furiously.

Percy shifted backwards slightly, getting ready for any blows. His stomach twisted, and he refused to admit it was with fear. Where Krios just generally liked to hit him, Koios liked talking, then lashing out when he least expected it, like if Percy got a word wrong in the Tongue of the Old Times, or if Percy said anything he didn't like, which was most of the time.

Koios came to a stop in front of him, dropping into a crouch, leaning far too close into Percy's personal space. His breath smelled like blood. Or maybe that was all he could ever smell nowadays.

"Tell me the answer quickly, and maybe I'll leave you with all your limbs vaguely attached."

Great start, Percy thought, pushing his body as far away as he could from the furious Titan.

"If you want an answer, you generally have to ask a questio-" His reply was cut off as Koios grabbed his jaw, pulling him forwards. Oh, he thought dimly, so he was really in a bad mood.

"What," Koios began in a low hiss, "Did you tell my brother?"

Percy blinked, a litany of curses muttered angrily in his head. Oh, he didn’t have the brain speed for this. Half of his temple was black with bruises, and now Koios wanted him to think?

"I… told him the same thing I'll tell you." Percy tried carefully, voice slightly muffled in Koios's hold, his stomach twisting with anticipation.

Koios didn't break eye contact, gripping harder on Percy's face, so tight he could feel bruises blossoming underneath his fingertips. Percy winced.

"The way I got out last time, I took a drakon with me. I have Hades' word that he'll get me out this time, so long as I complete a mission for him while I'm here. I said I could get you out. I can.” Percy reaffirmed, before adding quietly, “Just not both of you. I can only take one."

Koios didn't move for a few seconds, and Percy had visions of him just crushing his jaw in his hand. His breathing sped up as Koios didn’t move, getting even paler than usual. He needed his jaw. It was how he spoke. Would it kill him? No, they’d broken his jaw before, and it had killed, but not literally. Unless the bone went into his brain as his face was crushed. Was this it? Was this how he’d die?

He breathed a sigh of relief when Koios let go, blood flowing back into his face, but it quickly turned to ice when the Titan began chuckling darkly.

"Oh, you know, Ilikeyou." he told Percy with a sickly grin. "You remind me of my youngest brother when he was young. I know because you’re godly offspring, I should hate you, but you know- they’re all still sat on their thrones on Olympus pretending they can win this war."

He pointed to Percy.

"You… at least you're down here with the rest of us, killing as many of us as you can. I was a war general and advisor, I respect you from a militaristic point of view," he said, and there, his voice went a little lower, "And don't think I haven't heard how low you've dropped to accomplish what you've done, Godkiller," Percy winced slightly as Koios returned to full volume, "You're brave, I'll give you that. Well, that or you're incredibly stupid. You've taken your beatings like a champion, and yet youstillhave theaudacityto lie to my face?" Koios finished.

Oh no.

Percy didn't have time to move before Koios had him by the neck, feet trailing the floor as he choked. His head went heavy instantly as his legs kicked feebly.

"It's a good manipulation technique." Koios said casually, as if he wasn't cutting off Percy's entire air supply, "It worked on Krios, something that will have to be remedied later. You were to divide and conquer us, no? You would pit us against each other, one makes it out and takes you with them, you overpower them and escape?"

Percy's face was slowly going purple, his blood beating loudly in his ears. He couldn’t even see Koios’ face at this point.

"But you can't fool me.” Koios murmured, an inch from his face, “I’m not stupid. You'll pay for this, Perseus. Don't try to trick us again."

With that, he let him drop, before striding away. Percy inhaled deeply, gasping to fill his lungs again with even just a little oxygen. He breathed evenly until his head no longer hurt. Or just until it hurt the normal amount.

Right. Backup plan.

...

What was the backup plan? He had no idea. Right. Okay. His brain was battered but not missing. He could… get them to the Lethe, kick one in? No, kick both in. Make them like Bob. Use them against Gaia. Ah, he'd refine his plan later. It was a good start. Right now, he was just too tired.

He observed the chains around his wrists for what seemed like the thousandth time. He knew he couldn't get them off by force, or by overpowering them. There was a lock, so there had to be a key somewhere. He guessed that Koios would have the key; he seemed to be a control freak, and he certainly wouldn't trust Krios after this.

Percy let his hands drop to the floor. He was tired. He didn't know how long he'd been here, or how long he was going to be here. He just wanted to go home.

Not New York. Not Camp Half Blood. Not even the Argo II. No, home with his family. His mum and Paul, Annabeth, Grover, the rest of the seven. Wherever they were, so long as they were all together, he was home.

Here, he was just alone.

He thought about what Gaia had told him; that he could have a life down here, away from her and away from the prophecy. Percy scoffed. Some life. Being punched to a bloody pulp by a couple of angry Titans whenever they felt like it wasn't exactly on his to-do list for the next few decades. Or however long he would live.

If this was as far as he would get, or the end of the line... he wouldn't have this as his life. He wouldn't live this way. Even if he had to pull at the chains until they were dripping in his blood, he wouldn’t let himself live like this.

Elysium would be better than this. Or wherever he was going now.

His stomach growled again, a whine like a dying animal. He hadn't eaten in a while, the last bit of meat they had given him had been rationed by Krios to give to him every other day or so, and he had finished it a while ago. He’d never felt such an intense longing for fruit or veg before, why was all he was eating meat? They couldn't let him starve if they wanted him alive. Or bleed out, he noted, being vaguely aware that he was still damp with blood in various places all over his body.

They seemed very determined to break him. But Percy wouldn't give up. He couldn't. He needed to go back and fight. They needed to win.

He didn’t know what he’d do if they didn’t.

Chapter 39: Piper II

Summary:

"I’m fine." she whispered, hugging her knees to her chest. “Where’s Percy?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 39

Piper II

"Where is Perseus then?" asked Hera curiously.

Heads went back and forth like a tennis match between the Gods.

"He is... doing me a favour." Hades replied slowly.

Piper furrowed her brow. Percy and Hades were… working together?

"Whatkindof favour?" Poseidon looked like he was about to flood the whole area.

"Nothing he hasn't done before."

"Hades, if my son is in danger-"

"Of course he's in danger." Hades cut him off. "Frankly it would be him if he wasn't, but-but!" Hades raised his voice as Poseidon rose out of his seat. "But, he accepted it. He knew what he had to do. It was the price to pay."

"What price?" Poseidon snapped, before he froze. "Hedidn't-''

Hades nodded, and clicked his fingers.

Piper grabbed Jason’s wrist as Thanatos appeared. Her boyfriend met her wide eyes with an electric stare. This meant- did this mean-? Was she-?

Hades turned to the rest of them. Piper felt adrenaline flood through her veins.

"One of you needs to go get her body." he added.

There were gasps from those who hadn't worked it out yet, but her and Jason were out of their chairs before he could even finish speaking, knocking over their chairs in their haste. Without even thinking, they were tearing across the grass together towards the Argo II.

Jason was much faster than she was, and half flying, and was through the door of the room before she even reached the ship. Jumping the rail around the top, Piper scrambled after him.

Inside, she skirted around the destruction of Percy’s anger, and headed for the table. Like Jason had appeared to do, she faltered slightly at the sight of her dead friend. Neither of them wanted to touch her cold grey skin.

“We should- we should wrap her up.” Piper said, catching sight of a long blanket rolled up in the corner. “The others shouldn’t have to see her like this.”

The white sheet they had used had been torn in the chaos, and didn’t wrap around her fully.

Jason nodded. “Good idea.” he said, “I can lift if you slide.”

“Got it.” she replied.

A flawless team, Jason gently lifted Annabeth’s body into the air with a controlled wind, while Piper slid the soft blanket under. With one last glance at her limp body, they closed the two ends of the blankets together and tucked them in. Her trainers stuck out the end, making Piper look away.

“Okay,” Jason said, and lifted the blanket wrap into his arms.

They locked eyes. Piper let herself smile, dared to have hope, and she saw the same excitement shining back at her.

“Let’s go get our friend back,” she said.

She held open the door and dropped the walkway for him to walk down. He didn’t seem comfortable flying with such a precious bundle, and Piper didn’t think Annabeth would appreciate it if she woke up with a broken leg.

And there it was. She almost stopped in her tracks. This was it. Annabeth coming back from the dead. Would it truly happen? Was she dreaming? It seemed too good to be true, no one got a chance like this, no matter who they were or what they did. What had Percy given up to make this happen?

They reached the group, and her nerves were officially through the roof. Thanatos gestured towards the middle of their circle, and she watched shakily as Jason set her body down, wincing as he had to remove the blanket. He came back to stand by her, and they both gripped hands tightly.

Thanatos approached her. And then the miracle happened.

"A-Annabeth?" Piper ventured into the completely shocked silence.

The girl in front of them sat up slowly, digging her fingers into the soft earth beneath her. Piper watched in amazement as a look of confusion crossed Annabeth(?)'s face. She stepped forwards towards her. She figured it was like approaching wildlife- look harmless and non-threatening. A mix of trying to not scare her and trying to not be judo-flipped.

"Annabeth?" Piper tried again, sinking to her knees in the grass, a foot away from her.

The girl blinked, then her head snapped up, hair bouncing with life. Her eyes had that sparkle of silver that Piper had thought she'd only ever see again in her dreams.

"I- I was- the- I- Percy- where?How?... Piper?" Annabeth stammered, scanning around frantically.

She had handfuls of grass in her fists, muscles visibly tense.

Piper let a beat go between them, the breeze flowing softly across their faces, before lunging for the girl, wrapping her arms around her so tightly that she never wanted to let go. Annabeth's hand came up to her shoulder hesitantly.

"Piper?" Annabeth asked, confused and slightly muffled in her shoulder. "What the Hades is going on?"

Piper pulled back, still holding the living, breathing, warm and utterly befuddled alive Annabeth by the shoulders, and couldn't help but laugh. Her vision blurred with tears.

"Annabeth. Good to have you back. Do you- uh- what do you remember?" Jason asked softly, as a golden blanket was draped around Annabeth, seemingly conjured by Apollo out of nowhere. Annabeth looked like she was going to overheat, but wasn't complaining about it, all of them gathered round her in the grass.

Piper was holding Annabeth's hand tightly, cross legged next to her, and her smile faded as Annabeth winced grimly.

"I was- we were fighting the monster but I- I got caught underneath-"

Annabeth's grip got tighter and tighter, and she trailed off, breathing quicker.

"We don't need to get into that now." Piper interrupted hastily.

Annabeth twitched up a corner of her mouth gratefully, but it quickly disappeared, the panic not quite gone. She watched her free hand shake before shoving it under her thighs, clamping it between her legs to render it immobile.

Piper felt her head swim as Annabeth gripped her hand. Her mind began to feel very… strange. Like she wasn’t her anymore. Like…she remembered what it felt like to drown. As she heard Annabeth’s breathing quicken, Piper was suddenly faced with emotions that weren’t her own, remembered memories that weren’t hers, all with a mix of horrible clarity and disturbing fuzziness. It was like she was there in flashes, like she knew the feeling of the water on her, in her.

Everything was dark-

water was in her nose, in her head-

her lungs jolting and forcing her to retch-

only to inhale more water-

"-beth! Annabeth!"

Piper blinked slowly, like she'd had a stroke, her head heavy. Her heart was slamming against her ribs, and a feeling like someone had jammed a tennis ball down her throat made breathing difficult. But she hadn’t moved. In her head, she knew those weren’t her memories, weren’t her emotions. She’d never connected with someone she loved like that before.

Annabeth had backed away from them all, cowering in a way that made her heart flip in empathy. Jason was crouched next to her, looking worried.

"I’m fine." she whispered, hugging her knees to her chest. “Where’s Percy?”

Piper was wincing slightly, her hand red from Annabeth's death grip, but she placed her other on Annabeth's shoulder, who seemed grateful for the grounding contact.

"He's- he's not here. He went to bring you back, I'm sorry, we don't know where he is anymore." Leo told her apologetically.

"Anymore? Bring me back?" Annabeth was uncharacteristically slower than usual, but everyone understood, and explained with great patience.

"We got to the doors. There were so many monsters, Annabeth, aGiant, we didn't know if we'd get out. Then the Gods joined us, helped us sort out the Giant, there were stillso manymonsters, and then the doors opened, like a lift. A Drakon came out and-"

"A Drakon?" Annabeth raised her eyebrows in shock.

Piper smiled.

"Don't worry, she's tamed."

Annabeth blinked. And then again. A small smile, full of scepticism, yet full of knowing, slid onto her face. "He didnotbring a Drakon."

Jason snorted and shook his head in defeat.

"We were shocked too. He was on its back, Annabeth. Even named it, Maia, I think, because it's actually the-''

"-Maeonian Drakon?" Annabeth said quietly, a fond smile on her face that twitched slightly in sadness. "So he got out okay? Where is he now?" A line appeared on her forehead now, visibly stressed and concerned.

Everyone breathed in slightly, wincing a bit as they remembered what he looked like. No one seemed to be able to find the words to describe exactly if he was 'okay' or not.

"He- uh- he wasn't exactly okay, he looked pretty banged up to be honest. Like, badly." Piper wasn't going to lie to her, a comforting hand on her shoulder "But he was fighting alright and he could walk. Four limbs, two eyes, two swords- yeah I don't know how he did that either, went in with none came out with two."

"How was he really? Mentally?" Annabeth pressed.

They all looked unsure. Hazel stepped up, resting a hand on Annabeth's shoulder.

"I walked with him on the way out. He was quiet, but he smiled at us. He probably just needs to recover, with friends. And he'll definitely need you."

"You should have seen him when he saw your- um- well, just when he saw you." Leo offered, wincing sympathetically. "Man, he was angry. He actually punched Poseidon in the face. Dared Zeus to do something." Leo dropped his voice slightly towards the end, but some of the Gods shuffled tensely.

Zeus scowled.

Piper couldn't help a snort break out of her nose. Annabeth’s hand rose to cover her mouth as she chuckled weakly.

The anxiety around them drained slightly at that. Piper forced her muscles to relax.

"How did he bring me back?" Annabeth asked.

Good question, thought Piper.

Nico shrugged, and his eyes darkened slightly as he gestured towards Hades.

"You said he was doing a favour for you. We don't know what that entails however." he added to Annabeth at the end.

Annabeth frowned, and switched her stare to Hades, who merely blinked at her.

"Jackson effectively signed a contract with me: he gets it done, you come back- we don't deal with what or why." Hades said, faltering a bit under Annabeth's glare but continued nonetheless. "I don't know when, or if, he'll come back."

"If?"

Piper heard other voices alongside hers, but none contained the low venom that came out Annabeth’s mouth.

Hades held up his hands.

"I told him the risks. He just went for it."

"And the risks are?"

This time Athena spoke. She was closer, and had hesitantly dropped a hand on Annabeth's shoulder. The daughter of Athena looked uncomfortable at first, but didn't seem to want her to take it off. Piper understood. The gods were distant, but... they all couldn't help but crave the feeling of a parent, a role most often filled by each other.

Hades didn't exactly meet their eyes now.

"Bringing a loved one back from the dead doesn't mean you just kill a monster and retrieve some treasure.” he said, “It needs something large. Yes, Jackson could die. Or worse. It is a very unpleasant task. He knew all of this. He went ahead, even demanded that she be brought back first, in case he didn't come back. He knew the risks. He didn’t care." Hades said firmly.

Piper’s brow contracted in worry as Athena's hand tensed slightly on her daughter’s shoulder. Now, she was worried. And angry that Hades wouldn't tell them. She wanted to get up, threaten him, kick him between his legs right in his godly baby maker, but her eyes were twitching. She was no stranger to sleep deprivation, but she knew she was at her limits. They hadn’t been sleeping well, and the spike of adrenaline from Annabeth’s resurrection hadn’t helped, because now she was crashing. Exhaustion was embedded in her body, like cotton wool, to the point that the thought of moving was too tiring. Her mind was slower than usual, with only one thought occupying her, making her chew her lip in worry.

Gods, where was Percynow?

Chapter 40: Percy XXV

Summary:

"Hey, Percy." Annabeth replied softly, her beautiful face inches from his, her hand touching the side of his face with a gentleness he had not known in a long time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 40- ooh

Percy XXV

Something touched the side of his face, and Percy jerked his head back reflexively, blinking off unconsciousness.

He was still in the cave. Dimly lit by the burning torch, cobwebs of shadows lurking in the corners, it was dark enough to conceal many a monster. Dazed for a second, Percy's hands rose up, unhindered by the usual chains. He frowned, confused. His head…felt odd. Maybe that last concussion was one concussion too many. He tensed as he thought about the Titans; he didn’t like it when he didn’t know where they were. He looked up sharply, sending pain through his bruised airways, and-

Blonde hair and grey eyes met his.

Something came to a very sudden and very still stop within his chest.

Annabeth was crouched in front of him. He struggled to even think of the words he needed.

"-nabeth?'' he croaked raspily.

"Hey, Percy." Annabeth replied softly, her beautiful face inches from his, her hand touching the side of his face with a gentleness he had not known in a long time.

He stared at her, unable to form a coherent thought.

"I know you’re hurt, but we need to go. They’ll be back any second and the others can’t distract them for too long. Can you stand?" Annabeth asked, worried eyes scanning his battered form.

Percy dimly felt himself shrug. What- what was going on? Annabeth's strong arms pulled him onto his knees, her hands on his bare back, pressing with whispered apologies onto cuts and bruises. Huh. He really was too injured to get up by himself.

"-nabeth?" Percy questioned again, weakly.

"We need to go, Percy. Come on, work with me, put your weight beneath your feet!" Annabeth commanded him, so beautifully familiar that Percy's eyes welled up, a lump in his throat.

"Why- you shouldn't be down here-" Percy got out, sea green eyes drinking in every detail of her. "H-howdid you-?"

Annabeth was clean, cleaner than anything he'd seen in a while. Her skin was flawless. Her hair curled delicately round her neck in blonde waves. Her dagger hung at her side, her clothes whole and fresh-smelling. Percy lifted his hand to her shirt mesmerised, the fabric soft and smooth.

"We're here to get you? What do you think we’re down here for, a nature walk?" Annabeth snorted, though the humour was slightly offset by her frantic pulling, "But we need to leave, now!"

Percy nodded, trying desperately to kick his mind into gear and get with the program. He didn’t care if he couldn’t walk. With Annabeth's cool hands under his arm, he struggled to his feet, weak knees threatening to buckle.

"You're here." he mumbled, as pain screamed through his body, the edges of his vision tingling with dark dots, swimming across his sight. "You're here." he said again. "Wh-?"

His vision blacked out completely as he moved too quickly. He dropped to all fours, essentially blind, as vomit flooded inbetween his teeth. He swallowed grimly, closing his eyes. Everything hurt.

"Percy?” Annabeth said from somewhere to his left, “Hey, stay with me, alright? What happened to staying together?"

"Never leave me again." Percy murmured, clinging to Annabeth, the smell of her shampoo making his eyes water, remembering a less complicated time when it was just them and Grover against the world, bickering constantly, because they knew if they didn't bicker, they'd have to confront just how head over heels they were for each other.

He opened his eyes again, half-relieved half-sick at the sight of his surroundings. Annabeth mumbled something into the top of his head, not seeming to mind his filthy hair. He pushed a hand flat to the stones below him, desperate to get himself up. He could let go once he got to a medical centre.

But he couldn’t stand up. Not this time.

No matter how hard he pushed, no matter how much sweat ran down his face and into his eyes to sting them, he just couldn’t provide enough sheer strength to lift himself off the floor.

Krios and Koios had really done a number on him. There was just constant pain all over his stomach and face, where he knew a lot of things were out of place, could feel the wrongness in structure. Everything felt wrong and painful. Nothing was right.

Except the presence of the girl next to him.

"Hey, no, no, no, come on, Percy, you got this." Annabeth lifted his arm over her neck, pushing upwards. "We have nectar and ambrosia outside, we just need to get there. It’s not that far, and I know you can do this. I know you can."

Percy tried to move, tried to prove to Annabeth that he was trying, to show how desperate he was to get out of the cave that had held him captive for Gods know how long, but felt as if he was in quicksand, sinking deeper and deeper. His vision kept going blacker, his hearing weaker. He could barely keep his eyes open.

"Percy, please,please, I can't carry you, you're too heavy!" Annabeth began to plead tearfully. "Gods, what have they done to you?"

Annabeth was very strong, but he was taller, weighing more. She was right, she always was- he needed to move. He needed to help her.

But as hard as Percy strained, he couldn't get any further than where he was, the effort causing tears to stream down his cheeks, gasping in effort. The realisation was like a killing blow.

"I can't." he choked.

Annabeth withdrew, also crying, stepping back a few feet. She watched him fall down to his elbows in fear, before turning, almost hesitantly to the exit of the cave.

"No," Percy could barely recognise his own voice as he begged, "No,pleasedon't leave me here."

His voice was raw with emotion, the uncontainable need for human contact. He'd welcome a hug from anyone at this point, just to be held, as if he was a child again, running away from nightmares to his mother.

But Annabeth shook her head. With wide apologetic eyes, she backstepped further, before whipping around, her hair flowing over one shoulder, and running around the corner, out the cave, and away from him.

“Annabeth!” he shouted as loud as he could.

Percy strained again, but couldn't move his arms.

“No…” He scratched his nails against the stone so hard it left red streaks behind. “No, Annnabeth! Annabeth!”

He army crawled an inch forward and immediately dropped his forehead to the ground, wiped with pain and exhaustion. He cried out, one final time.

“Annabeth-“ His voice broke, going into a deep rasp that left his saliva tasting like copper.

He breathed out shakily, involuntarily trembling.

"I gotta say, this is my favourite one yet, really passes the time."

Koios' voice cut through the sound of Percy's rough breathing. Percy's head fell sideways, his eyes widening as he saw the Titan leaning against the cavern wall next to him, sprawled almost lazily.

Percy blinked.

His senses slowly came back to himself. He was exhausted, but not to the point of blacking out- not this time, at least. He pushed himself onto his side and looked down. His wrists were still thickly manacled, rivulets of blood around them from how hard he had pulled, the edges sinking into his flesh.

It hadn't been real.

Again.

Percy swore, crawling backwards until he was back against the wall, before pulling up his knees and letting his head rest on them.

Koios had got him again. Percy could never tell the difference when he did this, the part he hated the most. It was like his mind was different, like he couldn't remember why something wasn't the same. It was too realistic, even down to the damn smells.

Annabeth had come to rescue him over ten times.

He remembered that now.

"If you don’t stay out of my head." Percy murmured from underneath his arms, "Iswearto the Gods I'll kill you."

"Sure you will." Koios drawled, no doubt smirking.

Percy screwed his eyes shut and pushed his palms into the sockets, the pain lancing through his face overriding his thoughts.

"I'm going to kill you," he murmured, "I'm going to do it."

Koios watched him for a few minutes, before he huffed out a breath through his nose and smiled, teeth like daggers. "You'd be so useful on our side."

"Stop telling me that." Percy snapped, glaring between his bloody fingers. "Never going to happen."

Koios opened his mouth to speak again, but footsteps cut him off. Percy strained for any sign that it was someone, anyone else, but the weight of the steps told him enough.

Krios turned the corner, taking in the scene with raised eyebrows.

"Messing with his head again?"

"It's fun." Koios replied. "Come on, try it."

Krios sat down beside his brother. Percy couldn’t imagine ever doing anything like this with Tyson. Is this what consisted of Titan brotherly bonding sessions? Had they never heard of catch?

"I'd love to, but Antaeus has caught wind of our little trophy." Krios said, gesturing to Percy.

That rang a bell. Why did it ring a bell?

"Antaeus?" Percy questioned. "The big dude? Gaia’s son? The 'can only be killed in mid-air' dude?"

"So you've met him.” Koios said, “Why am I not surprised?"

Percy had fought him in the Labyrinth, a difficult fight that he had only won by getting Antaeus caught up in chains. He was his half-brother, sharing Poseidon as a father, only Antaeus' mother was Gaia. Slight advantage, if it wasn’t for the fact he was stupid.

"He wants to see you again." Krios waved him off. "Said something about a rematch and favouritism. Asked us to take you to the Arena."

Percy furrowed his brow. This didn’t sound good.

"The Arena?"

Both titans looked at him.

"You don't know about the Arena?" Krios asked.

Koios grinned.

"We'vegotto take him now." He said.

"And should he die?" Krios remarked.

Koios shrugged as Percy glanced between them like a tennis match. Definitely not good.

"So throw him in the river that heals him." Koios said nonchalantly, before rolling his eyes, "Oh, come on- you've been wanting to settle our gambling debt with him for centuries."

Krios gave Percy a once over.

"Fine.” said the Titan, “Mother needs to get the other demigods as well at the same time. We have a window."

Koios slapped his knees in triumph, and got to his feet, striding over to Percy.

"I want to get there quickly then," Koios said, a hand curling around Percy's neck as he struggled, "We don't have time for slow walkers."

With that, he pulled Percy back, slamming his head back towards the cave wall and-

Chapter 41: Percy XXVI

Summary:

Percy kicked up some sand into the eyes of the monsters closest to him, slicing them through as quick as a flash, not giving the others a second to breathe before jumping in, killing as many as he could see. The crowd began to stamp their feet and whoop.

Chapter Text

Chapter 41

Percy XXVI

Screams erupted around Percy's ears.

His eyes snapped open, rings of green squinting at the sudden awakening. They watered at the light, brighter than any he had seen in a long time. His hands came down instinctively to push himself backwards, scrambling to his feet as the back of his head throbbed-

Percy froze.

What the-?

He was in the middle of a massive arena. Like an amphitheatre.

And there were absolutely thousands of monsters around him, stood in the stands roaring and cheering, a vibrating mass of claws and horns, a deafening echo. The ragged stands were tall; they had to be to fit all the giants, a couple buildings tall, forming a rough circle bigger than the strawberry fields at camp, burning torches glowing gold and alive. In the middle stood Percy, some kind of blood-red sand underneath his feet. Framing the circle were thick walls of blackstone, with barred windows sunk into them at the bottom, possibly leading to some kind of cell block.

Percy turned in a slow circle, restricted by the chains the linked his wrists and ankles together, a stretch of metal links dragging through the sand.

Monsters were quite literally hanging out of their seats to scream at him, writhing with deranged eyes flashing at him, claws curling over the edges of the barriers. He didn’t know what was keeping them in, but he hoped it stuck.

There was a huge barred portcullis gate on the other side of the arena, and above it a sort of platform. Percy could spy a couple large chairs upon it.

"Oh great." he mumbled under his breath, searching his new restraints for any give, but they were the same as the others.

"Jackson!Jackson!"

Percy turned his head, spotting Koios and Krios in the crowd, in the front row. The monsters around them gave them a wide berth.

Percy hesitated. He didn’t want to be anywhere near them. But it was either brave it, or continue to have no clue what was going on. He was tempted to just live in complete confusion; it felt like that was all he did nowadays anyway. He walked over to them, wincing at the wave of dizziness he recognised as a concussion. He reached the high wall, and craned his neck up at them.

Koios and Krios leaned their ugly faces over.

"Right, Jackson, you were out for a while so there's no time to explain. Basically, you're gonna fight Antaeus and kill him and pay off our debt. We don't have to hand you in to mother for a while."

The words, while heard, slipped right in one ear and out the other.

"Antaeus..." Percy muttered, dazed.

"Oh right, right." Krios disappeared for a few seconds, before returning with a basin. "Stay still."

He tipped the basin over the wall, and a gush of dark fiery water poured out.

Percy's hands shot up to protect his eyes, the water splattering onto his head, boiling hot. He gritted his teeth, knowing that it would heal him, but despising it all the same. The monsters' roaring increased, the noise resounding all around him as rejuvenation spread through his head.

Percy tried to rub the water all around his face, keeping his eyes shut as his nose shifted slowly back into place. The burn prickled over his skin as Koios kept talking.

"That'll heal you up so you can fight. You get to go in with one sword- bone or bronze?" Koios held both up.

"Bronze." Percy replied, catching it as it was thrown down. Riptide clearly wasn’t an option then. "I can't fight in chains." he added.

Koios raised an eyebrow, and tossed down a key.

"I doubt that.” he said, “That’s for the chain between your ankles. It won’t work on your wrists, but they'll take away that chain when it starts. Cuffs, however, stay on. Krios said what you did at the doors."

Percy conceded that point, letting drops of the water go down towards his ribs, where the skin was black and lumpy, wincing at the memory of Koios beating the holy hades out of him with one hand, the other around his neck. He couldn't beat Antaeus without his powers- he needed a way to get Antaeus in the air. He continued to talk for several minutes to the Titans, about what he couldn’t exactly remember, unlocking and tossing the ankle chains aside, but the noise grew louder and louder, to the point that he could barely hear Krios.

"You kill Antaeus, we pay off our debt. You have to win." Krios shouted over the noise.

"Why wouldIhelp you?" Percy returned, scowling as he watched his bruises fade into fresh skin.

"Every match is to the death, Jackson. If you don't win, he'll try and kill you, and then we'll have to stop him, and then we'll probably all die. The Owner of the arena doesn't like rule breaking. You can't leave the circle until you've won, so no heroics. Just don't break the rules."

"Right. Kill Antaeus then." Percy yelled. "Who's the Owner?"

"Better you don't know." Koios replied darkly. "Now shut up and get ready. You won't be fighting only Antaeus. He'll probably wait until he's last."

Percy had been slowly devising a plan for Antaeus, but the addition of more could complicate things. He was powerless and still a little sore, but otherwise he was good to fight. He just needed to stay on his feet and keep going.

The bellows of the arena came to a crescendo, twisting into a chant of grunts, hands slamming into the stones. Percy turned round apprehensively, turning his sword in his hands. His heartbeat matched the tempo of the monsters.

The portcullis at the other end of the stadium lifted up slowly, sand sliding off the edges into the pit.

The metallic clanking was all that Percy could hear, drowning the screams of the monsters out.

With an almighty roar, Antaeus burst through the gap, fifteen foot high and wide as a tank. More monsters were scattered around his feet, seemingly irrelevant, but Percy knew from Krios that anyone participating had practically sold their soul to get the chance to fight him; he couldn't underestimate them.

He didn't know whether to be offended or flattered.

He was mostly just exasperated.

"An-tae-US! An-tae-US!"

Reverberations shook the stadium, the half giant in question raising his arms in the air arrogantly, black eyes gleaming as a louder roar erupted.

"Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, demigod! We meet again!" Antaeus bellowed, still the natural entertainer, as the crowd hushed instantly, eager to watch.

"Last time, you defeated me- yes, I admit it! But how many ofyouhavetoo? By this mere half-mortal?" Antaeus yelled, pointing his sword in Percy's direction as the other monsters growled around him.

A loud 'boo' screamed from the stands, and Antaeus seemed to relish in it.

"Exactly!" he continued, his voice booming. "But you see, last time he trapped me in chains to kill me! Where are the chains now, huh?On. His. Wrists!"

More deafening bellows; he was a real showman. Percy wasn't having this. He’d never get a chance to humiliate the half-primordial like this again.

"Antaeus!" he shouted as loudly as he could.

The crowd went dead silent as he walked slowly towards Antaeus, who grinned savagely at him.

"Say,” Percy said, infusing as much confidence into his voice as he could, which was a miracle considering his sore throat that gave a slight low rasp to all his words, “I talked with Poseidon after we fought, y'know. You say you’re his favourite son? How sure are you about that?"

Antaeus narrowed his eyes, the fake smile plastered across his face twitching. The crowd began whooping.

"Ah, you tell such sweet lies brother." Antaeus laughed, but Percy could see how he gripped his sword at his side tighter.

"I'm not your brother." Percy said, still sizing up the other monsters.

"Ah, true, we are only half-brothers. Where my mother is mother nature herself, yours is some fragile patheticmortalout of her league with a God." Antaeus joked, the monsters behind him snickering.

Percy didn't move, eyes flickering in his direction. His eyebrows knitted together.

"What did you just call my mother?" he asked Antaeus.

The stand quietened down in tense anticipation; Antaeus smirked.

"Even this far underground, in her husband's domain, my mother shall heal my wounds. Your mother is absolutely nothing, especially compared to mine," he crowed, inciting uproarious applause.

Percy watched him as he waved his arms in the air victoriously. So it was like that.

"But without further ado, let us begin!" Antaeus walked into the middle of the pit, kicking sand up as he walked. "Jackson, come forth to remove your chains."

Percy frowned. "I think I'll keep them on actually." he said.

Antaeus wavered, a little confused, before roaring.

"Stubborn to the end, huh? I love it! Let us begin!"

At his signal, the monsters behind him leapt into action, barrelling towards him. Percy got into his stance, holding his sword with both hands. He'd fought without his powers plenty of times. He could do this.

The first monster he met snarled, and leapt for his head, an easy target. Percy dropped to one knee, his sword arcing over his head to slice the monster in half.

The gold dust almost made it difficult to see the next attackers, two monsters Percy had never seen before, abnormally long necks, like flamingos.

Percy swung out at one, while sloppily kicking the other in the chest, sending it stumbling back a few feet. His sword cut through the neck as smoothly as if he was cutting through water. The other shook its head and growled, but stayed back warily. The others had begun to circle him as well. Percy spotted Antaeus behind them, leaning against a wall and watching with a gleeful smile.

Percy's eyes flicked around; he turned in a circle slowly, observing every monster. One of the large fanged ones looked as if it was going to pounce any second: he needed to move on his terms, and he couldn't take the waiting.

Catching a few by surprise, Percy swung behind him, jumping backwards until he was in the middle of the arena. He couldn't let them surround him again.

And then they came, also done with waiting, first one at a time, then two at once; Percy swore that there were more than there were in the beginning.

He kicked one in the chest as hard as he could, sending it flying backwards with a screech. The audience booed loudly, and Percy didn't know if it was for him or the failed monster. He guessed both. Percy wiped sweat off his brow, gripping his sword tighter as more beared down on him. His chest was killing him.

It was only when he decapitated the last three or so that he noticed; out of the gold dust piles, the ones with the long necks were coming back. There was a small purple-ish bubble, then a mass of flesh the size of a small cat, before it split into two, back at full size and heading towards him.

"What the-?"

Percy cut himself off with a grunt, spinning around and running the one behind him through. Damn thing had left a nasty looking cut on his arm, with the long claws that sprouted out the end of each arm.

There were at least double the amount there were at the beginning, all the same flamingo-monster.

"The Poli!" Antaeus shouted. "For our friends out of town, you may not recognise them. They are a distant relative of the Hydra! Kill one Pollá, two more shall rise!"

Percy knew absolutely nothing about them. He suspected that they'd never even made it out of Tartarus. Great. Just great.

He kicked them back as best he could while thinking.You kill a Hydra with fire-he slammed one into a wall-no fire here and- Percy slammed the handle of the sword into one's head-no way to summon the Phlegethon without- he ran one through and winced-getting the cuffs off.

Maybe he needed to try a different approach.

Percy kicked up some sand into the eyes of the monsters closest to him, slicing them through as quick as a flash, not giving the others a second to breathe before jumping in, killing as many as he could see. The crowd began to stamp their feet and whoop.

The Poli began to swarm him, but Percy wasn't giving them a single second to get near him, whipping around and burying his sword up to the hilt in one of them, two of them, three-

Every single Pollá turned to dust.

Percy blinked, standing up straight, not letting his sword go down. What? Where had they gone? Percy stood, still on edge.

The crowd began to boo loudly, monsters shouting insults at him. Percy scowled.

"Ah yes." Antaeus shook his head. "The problem with a Pollá, kill the original and they all die. But good for a show, are they not?" His voice projected loudly into the stands, every monster on their feet making noise.

"And now that our young demigod has warmed up, may I present- me!" Antaeus cried with a flourish. "The main event! A fight to the death! The more blood the better!"

The crowd whooped as Percy walked slowly into the middle again, glancing at the freely bleeding cut on his left arm. It would heal, but not anytime soon.

Antaeus withdrew his sword, about five foot long and a rusted red colour. Percy guessed it wasn't paint.

"Ready to die, Jackson?" Antaeus asked him quietly with an evil grin.

"Since I was twelve," Percy replied easily. "But just not today."

They took their stances.

A horn went off somewhere, loud in the silent crowd as they watched with eager and bloodthirsty anticipation.

Antaeus made the first move, bringing his sword down heavily. Percy darted to the left as it smacked into the sand, before jumping over it as Antaeus sliced along the floor in an arc.

Antaeus would heal from anything Percy gave him. He needed to get this done quick.

He tempted Antaeus into duelling with him, their swords flashing as they fought for several long tense minutes, Percy ducking and weaving as they worked their way from one side of the arena and back again, a fierce battle, the clanging of their swords getting faster and faster.

Percy aimed for his wrist, his sword sinking into the flesh a few inches before Antaeus' other hand punched him in the shoulder, sending him staggering away, ripping out his sword.

Antaeus howled, but even from where Percy was standing he could see the skin knit back together lightning fast. He ducked into a roll as Antaeus swung, aiming for the back of Antaeus' knee, trying to incapacitate him for a few seconds, but it was barely even that before Antaeus was fighting again.

"You know," Percy panted as he and Antaeus began to duel, the half giant moving fluidly as if Percy hadn't just slashed open the back of his knee, "I don't even think you're his second favourite son. Or third." he added, as Antaeus growled at him, putting more power behind his swings.

Percy needed to get him more riled,a great plan, his brain cried, but Percy ignored it, trying to steer the duel in the right direction.

"I am his most powerful son!" Antaeus bellowed, as Percy missed a beheading by a fraction of a millimetre.

The crowd 'ohh'edin disappointment and glee.

"Really? How come? What have you even done?" Percy gritted his teeth as his arms shook at the full strength of Antaeus being smashed into his sword.

"I have killed thousands upon thousands of demigods and monsters alike! I am an unbeatable champion!"

"What about Hercules? Or even me? You lost to both of us, and we didn't even have a Primordial as a parent." Percy asked.

"Of course." Antaeus snarled, ignoring his question. "You'rehalf mortal. Halffilth."

Their interlocking swords shook with raw strength, and Percy pushed back with all he had, but Antaeus' sword was slipping off the top and towards him and-

Percy moved.

But he was still injured.

He wasn't quick enough.

The blade swung across his face like a whiplash. It streaked like fire through his eyebrow, going downwards. Percy clenched his eye shut, but he still felt it cut the skin of his eyelid, before it went heavily down his cheek. Antaeus seemed to think it appropriate to follow it up with a swinging punch.

A cracking sound sent blood flooding out his nose as he was flung backwards towards the wall, where he fell heavily in the sand, a hand pressed up hard against his wet face. He blinked, his vision slightly cloudy with dark spots, but he could still see, the left eyeball itself undamaged. He had one Hades of a cut down his face though; he could feel it throbbing all the way down.

Antaeus roared in victory, pumping his fist into the air like some wrestler. He thought he had won.

But Percy, blood almost drowning him as it seeped into his mouth, wasn't done yet.

He grabbed his sword and sprinting forwards, red pouring from his eyebrow into the sand below, turning it a darker, almost black colour.

Antaeus caught sight of him, and laughed, swinging his sword down again. Percy dodged it and it thumped into the sand, the perfect position.

Percy ran up the length of his sword, using it as a ramp, and jumped off Antaeus' shoulder onto his head, catching a glimpse of surprise before he hooked his chains underneath his chin, a hand on each side, and pulled.

Having thrown all his weight into the jump, Percy had to hold on as Antaeus staggered towards the wall, dropping his sword so his hands could try and rip off the chain that was slowly cutting off his breathing.

Antaeus' body slammed into the wall, narrowly avoiding turning Percy into a pancake.

Percy took that as his cue to step onto the wall, chain still hooked around his neck like the reins of a horse.

He leaned backwards as far as he could, pulling with every single bit of strength and weight in his body. His tattoo began to burn fiercely. He felt it give him strength beyond his mortal limits, and in that moment, he had never felt so in tune with his immortal side.

Antaeus' feet kicked as he was pulled off the ground.

Percy smiled with satisfaction as he saw the fear now spread across Antaeus' face as his fingers scrabbled at his neck.

"So, just for the record?" Percy panted with a grin, rotating his hand so the point of his sword was at Antaeus' neck, "My mother could totally beat yours."

He stabbed the sword through Antaeus' neck.

With an almighty burst of gold, Percy suddenly found himself alone on the wall, wobbling slightly at the loss of an anchor. He sat down on the edge of the wall and slid off, landing ungracefully in the sand pit.

The crowd was dead silent.

Percy frowned, dabbing blood away with the base of his palm. It looked like he was back at nursery making red paint flowers with his hands. He won. Why didn't Koios and Krios look happy? They were sat in the stands, looking right at him, but they looked- shocked?

A monster in the stands stood up.

"He left the arena!" it screamed. "He broke the rules!"

Many fervent murmurs of agreement met his claim, and Percy felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He had only left the arena for a few seconds- he was on the wall, did that even count?

The gate at the end opened, and three tall cyclopes walked in, covered in armour holding spears. One of them held up a hook connected to a chain.

"You are to come with us." it said.

"Over your dead body." Percy retorted, but Krios and Koios were nodding desperately for him to comply.

Why was he looking for their advice? Percy didn't know. Maybe because he knew that they wanted to keep him alive.

The cyclops walked up to Percy and gestured towards his chains.

Percy sized them up. He couldn't take this many, not with his eye dripping with blood. Reluctantly, he held up his chains.

"The sword." The cyclops’ voice was flat.

"The sword stays with me." Percy returned coldly.

"Just drop it, Jackson, we've got it." Krios hissed.

Percy rolled his eyes and let it slide out his hand, glaring as the cyclops hooked his chains up to another longer one. They pulled on it, and Percy found himself being tugged along, being escorted out through the gates.

It was darker inside what Percy assumed was the hollow stone wall, one winding corridor lit dimly by torches. Where was he being taken now? Gods,whathad he got into?

Percy was brought back to the memory of him, Annabeth and Grover, before Kronos, before Gaia. Where had it all gone wrong, huh?

He was so lost in thought that he almost walked into the cyclops when they stopped, in front of a thick door covered in deadbolts and a tiny panel window at the top.

"Someone will come for you when your punishment has been decided." The cyclops told him, still the same dull voice, though Percy could swear that he heard fear.

Percy raised his eyebrows in disbelief.

"What, ‘cause I walked on a wall? You're kidding right? I was on there for about three seconds. That doesn't even count. Who's the Owner here?" Percy demanded, but receiving no answer in return.

The cyclops opened the door, revealing an almost pitch black room, and pushed Percy inside, who was too tired to fight back, but still tried.

"Hey? You listening?Hey!" Percy yelled as the door slammed shut, hearing various locks click. "What the Hades is going on?"

But there was no answer. Just a thick meaty hand reaching towards the window, and pulling a grate across.

Percy was plunged into darkness.

Chapter 42: Percy XXVII

Summary:

"Centuries alone? You're remarkably sane."

Chapter Text

Chapter 42

Percy XXVII

Percy kept his hands on the door for a few minutes after the window was cut off, feeling his eyes kick into gear.

The silvery type of outline he had seen before appeared around the door, and Percy, keeping an eye on the floor to make sure there weren't any sudden drops, swivelled around where he stood.

He took in the dim frame of the walls and ceilings, the room much bigger than he had thought. In the pitch black darkness, he could just make out a few arches in the ceiling, stone pillars keeping it up, and the grey whisper of chains sunk into the wall of the cavernous type cell.

Metal clinked from somewhere in the darkness, and Percy's head shot in that direction.

The cell continued to curl around a wall, and out of sight for Percy; the noise must have come from round there. Percy frowned, hands trailing towards his sides. The tension in his chest decreased almost instantly as his hand found Riptide. It had come back to him. He'd never let himself be unarmed again.

He uncapped Riptide, still a little difficult with his chains, and the steady glow of his sword stretched into sight.

There was a deep and dark chuckle, just out of sight.

"What didyou do, then?" a voice asked, out of the darkness.

Percy gripped his sword tightly, and began to sidestep cautiously towards the wall.

"How do you mean?" Percy replied levelly to the unknown threat.

"You have to do something to get put in here, kid."

It had a voice like gravel.

Percy angled his sword sideways to his body, prepared for a counter strike, and continued to take slow and careful steps, not taking his eyes of the wall.

"Is that why you're here? You broke the rules?" Percy kept his footsteps as silent as he could.

The voice laughed.

"I don't even know." It said. "I've been here so long I can barely remember what I did."

"Barely?" Percy caught.

"Ithink I ran away." The voice mused. "A fight to the death is always so dramatic. You?"

"I left the Arena by accident." Percy said, still on guard. "I won the battle but I stood on the wall, and apparently that's not allowed."

"Of course it isn't, you foolish boy. Did no one read you the rules?"

"I was kinda unconscious? I didn't get the chance." Percy replied sarcastically.

"You sound young." The voice said suddenly.

Percy didn't say anything, but he slowed his steps, keeping the wall behind him pressed to his back to avoid being surrounded. It seemed like there was only The Voice in here, but Percy couldn't be too careful.

A loud drawn out sniff filled the silence of the room.

Percy's eyes were darting in every direction, constantly checking for movement. He hated the dark.

"Whatareyou?" The Voice questioned.

"What do you mean?" Percy asked.

"I can smell the mortality on you, but you reek of Olympian too, and there's something else in there too, something more powerful. You haven't got three parents, have you?"

"I'm a demigod." Percy said uncomfortably.

"You don't really smell like one." The Voice replied smoothly before changing the subject. "Do you know what's gonna happen to you?"

Percy shook his head. "No. What happens to the others?"

Drawn into conversation, Percy fumbled his way down the wall and sat on the cool stone floor, letting his tired legs stretch out beneath him. The water poured over him at the start of his fight had healed some of his injuries, but his body still ached, especially his face. He could feel every stinging inch of the long cut that ran down his face.

"Others?" The Voice answered him. "No one else is stupid enough to break the rules, boy. You'll probably suffer the same fate as I did, as I am. Left here for all of eternity to rot alone. Although you're here now. That'll be fun for a while until you die."

"Oh." Percy said. "Great."

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"What are you, then?" Percy asked. "Cyclops? Arai? Dracaenea?"

"I can't remember." The Voice replied tiredly. "I've got a couple arms, some legs, quite a few eyes. Take from that what you will."

"You're not human, are you?" Percy asked, a sudden horror taking over him.

"Gods, of course not." The Voice replied in disgust. "I've done far too much to even be considered human-like. Killing, torturing, the like. I haven't lost myself that much to make myself to think I'm something like that abomination."

"Thanks." Percy replied dryly.

In the dark, he began to poke at his chains with his sword, but it was useless; they couldn't be taken off without the key. He was lost in the glow of Riptide after that. He had missed his sword. He held it up to his face, the glow lighting up his features, and peered into the blade of the sword, catching a brief glance of his reflection.

Yikes, he thought, lowering his sword slightly. He knew his nose was broken, but it looked half smashed, and there was something off about the structure of his right cheekbone. Greasy didn't quite cover the state of his limp and filthy hair. He shuddered when he lifted his hand to touch it. It felt like someone had dipped his head in a deep fat fryer and then left it to cool.

His skin was sticky with sweat and blood, he could feel it in-between his fingers and all over his back and chest. A shower, he thought, was now one of the most beautiful things in the world. He could feel it now, cool and flowing, stripping away the grime and gold dust that layered his body.

He let a finger prod the cut on his cheek, and inhaled sharply as it sent a lance of pain through his eye.

Got it, got it,no touch.

"You're not crying are you?" The Voice spoke up, booming loud in the dead air of the cell.

"No." Percy said before adding, "I'm too tired to cry."

The Voice snorted.

Percy took a long deep breath that squeezed his bruised chest a bit, trying to replace the oxygen in his body that always seemed to be running low. He felt like he hadn't breathed normally in years, he was always catching his breath from a fight or about to run into another.

"They won't just leave us here though, will they?" Percy said it before he could think about it, and it came out in a small voice.

The Voice didn't say anything, but Percy heard a low sigh.

"They wouldn't leave me here though." Percy said, a little stronger as he thought about it more. "They need me."

"Why?"

"Oh, some Titans are planning to drain my blood and sacrifice me to raise Gaia."

Percy ran a hand down his face, trying to sweep the gunk off, but by the feeling of it, he just put on more.

"Somehow that isn't the worst thing anymore." Percy spoke again.

"You have fun with that." The Voice had amusem*nt in his voice. "I gotta say, this is the best conversation I've had in centuries."

Percy tried to stretch out his fatigue infused muscles as the Voice continued.

"I mean, it's theonlyconversation I've had in centuries, but it's still the best."

Percy huffed out an amused breath through his nose.

"Centuries alone? You're remarkably sane."

"Ah, I doubt that." The Voice said. "I've had my crazy phases. You're lucky, you've just caught me at a sane phase. You should have seen me around three hundred years ago. Now that was someone you wouldn't mess with. Wild animal. Nearly tore my jaw off trying to bite through the walls. If you were there then... Oh, I would havedefinitelyeaten you."

"I'll take that as a compliment." Percy replied tiredly.

"Still might."

Percy couldn't help but snort.

There was a comfortable silence before-

"Who's the Owner?" Percy asked.

The Voice didn't answer at first. Then there was a clink of chains, and Percy imagined in his head that the Voice had just turned to face him.

"The Owner..." The Voice was as quiet as a single breath, and seemed to think about the next words very carefully. "He's the most terrifying thing you'll ever meet. Death has always been and will always be a better option."

Percy swallowed. "What's his name?"

There was a rattle of chains. "Don't say the name. Not here, never here and not ever. Or he'll come. The only reason he's not here yet is probably because he's off somewhere else torturing some damned soul. Just don't. I don't think I can- not again-"

"I won't say it," Percy said quickly, "I don't even know the name, how could I say it?"

"Good." The Voice breathed. "Good."

The chains rattled once more as the Voice moved back to where it had been. "Gods, I hate these chains."

"Me too." Percy murmured, looking at his own shackled wrists, before an idea hit him. "Your chains are just standard chains, though, right?"

"As far as I'm aware."

Percy scrambled to sit up, uncapping Riptide. "I have a sword!" He exclaimed. "I can cut through your chains!"

There was a complete dead silence for a few minutes, and Percy felt his smile begin to fade and slide of his face.

"Hello? I said I ha-"

"You can kill me."

The words hit Percy. They were unexpected, but at the same time, exactly what Percy knew he would hear. He knew he would think it too after so long, hades, he'd been thinking about it a few minutes ago.

"I-"

"Do it."

"No, listen. I'm getting out of here. I'll cut your chains, and you can come with me."

Percy felt determined. He had the chance to actually save someone down here.

"No, you don't understand." The Voice was speaking rapidly. "No, you need to kill me. I can't be down here any longer. It's killing me."

"But we can escape and get out of here!"

Percy didn't know what to say to it. He just desperately wanted to help someone. Anyone. He needed to do some good down here. He didn't know why.

Neither of them spoke for a few seconds.

"Okay." The Voice said. "Okay. Come cut my chains off."

Percy blinked into the darkness, before smiling, and slowly walking towards the Voice. "Okay, I can't really see you here though."

"I can see you. Go to the left and then keep walking."

Percy acquiesced, changing direction at the Voice's instruction to get closer and closer. He had missed having someone, who wasn't trying to kill him, alongside him. He wasn't replacing Damasen, or Bob, he told himself. This was a completely new friend. He'd have to find out its name.

"Little bit more to the right." The Voice called out, very close in the area in front of him. "Stop!"

Percy stopped dead, eyes flitting around in the darkness.

"I still can't see you?" Percy said.

The Nyx blessing was muted, but he could see the silvery outlines of the walls and ceilings. But no monster.

"It's okay." The Voice said. "I can see you." The chains clinked and Percy thought he saw brief movement in front of him.

"Okay. My arms are stretched out in front of you. The chains are in-between. You're going to need to do it in one big swing to break them. Got it?"

Percy nodded. "Okay. Are they here?" He held his sword out in front of him, point facing the opposite wall.

There was a bit more movement.

"Perfect." said The Voice. "Hurry now. I've waited a long time for this."

Percy nodded determinedly. Keeping his sword as straight as possible, he lifted it up.

"Ready?"

"Please."

Percy knew something was off when he swung down, but he couldn't stop it.

His sword sank into flesh.

"No-!"

"Thank you." The Voice whispered, right in front of him.

The pressure holding his sword in place vanished. Percy presumed that it had just turned to dust. It had sat right under his sword and told him to swing.

Percy stood perfectly still in the darkness.

He stayed stood up for a time after that, just watching the space in front of him. His grip on his sword loosened and tightened. He wasn't quite sure how to react. He stretched a hand out to the wall, and sat down again, staring into the darkness that seemed to stare back at him for hours it seemed. Days.

He figured he'd been in there for at least a day or two, alone, hungry and silent when there was a great bang at the door and a metallic sliding noise.

Percy forced his head to turn, wincing at the long beam of light that shot into the cell, dust particles dancing through it.

"Jackson!"

Percy made himself move, shakily walking over to the door. Krios' face was in the gap, gesturing madly.

"Right, there's no time to waste, step back." Krios snapped.

Percy side stepped out of the way as a giant dent appeared in the door with a clang, once, twice, then-

With a head spinning boom, the heavy door shot across the cell, slamming against the wall. Krios and Koios stood in the gap, alongside several Guard cyclopes.

"Come on, we've got to go,now!"

Percy blinked. They were breaking him out. He'd told The Voice they were coming. He was right.

The Voice...

"You're just gonna leave the other in there?" Percy gestured behind him, suddenly angry.

The Titans furrowed their brows.

"What? Who? Jackson, there was no one else in there. We don't have time for this."

Percy blanked.

"What?"

A Guard Cyclops eyed him suspiciously. "There's no one else in there." it said. "Only one to a cell. Those are the rules."

"Great, now let's go." Krios said, grabbing the chain between Percy's wrists and tugging him roughly along, forced into a sprint that gnawed at his legs.

Percy let himself be pushed into a run, the Guard Cyclopes seemingly coming with them as they ran out the cell block gates, through the empty arena and out the huge main gates.

"Going mad, Jackson?" Koios panted with a crazy grin, turning to him.

Percy opened his mouth to respond, but then closed it.

He didn't know.

Chapter 43: Jason III

Summary:

Jason caught sight of Leo wielding another jar of Greek fire and grinned.

Chapter Text

Chapter 43

Jason III

It was midnight, the stars shining unnervingly bright over the camp.

Jason rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, not out of paranoia but still on guard. He stood by the burning fire pit on the edge of the camp, smaller fires dotted around the other edges, with the black shadows of his fellow sentries milling around in front of them. He listened to the gentle roar of the waves on the beach, a few feet away. The smell of salt was strong.

Smaller hands snaked over his eyes.

Had it not been for the whispered "Guess who?", Jason would have pulled out his sword on the spot.

Instead, he smiled softly.

"Nothere, Leo,” he said, “Piper could see us."

The hands on his face slid off, and he turned round to see Piper grinning with her hands on her hips.

"That's how it is, is it?" she mocked him.

Jason took her hand. She looked beautiful in the fire light. Every curve in the plaits in her hair was illuminated in bronze, and her eyes took the dancing flames and moulded them into a tango of their own. Jason felt his chest fill up with love for her.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked, still grinning.

"This is how I always look at you." Jason remarked.

"Yeah, but you look like you've got a concussion. Believe me- I know the expression by now."

"I just..." Jason trailed off, catching sight of her dagger, and smiled, remembering how she fought, all sharp spins and stabs. She didn't fight like a Roman, but they would welcome her in an instant. "I love you, you know?"

Piper's gaze turned soft and deep. She stepped into his embrace, tucking her head into his neck, her voice slightly muffled.

"Of course. And I love you more than anything. Why?" She pushed back suddenly, worry lining her face. "What's brought this on?"

"Nothing, nothing." Jason assured her quickly. "It's just... With everything Percy and Annabeth have gone through, what they've lost and how they keep missing each other. They don't get to say things like this. And- and I don't want that to be us. Whatever-"

Piper shook her head instantly in denial, but Jason carried on with emphasis.

"-Whatever happens in the next few days, or weeks, I just want you to know that, just in case."

Jason had been thinking about this for a while, ever since he had seen Percy react to Annabeth's dead body. There had been so much pain, and so much anger, Jason could feel it pulsing through the air in waves, could see it in the raw tears brimming in Percy's haunted eyes. So much loss and grief. He didn't even seem to have felt his hand going through that window. Jason never wanted to feel that way, or for Piper to feel that way.

"No." Piper's voice shook. "I'm stopping you right now. You're not gonna die. And neither am I. You hear me?"

Jason stopped her with a kiss, unable to assure her. He knew too well that nothing was set in stone.

"Why are you here?" he added, not unkindly.

"Just wanted to keep you company, I know how lonely it can get out-" she began, but was cut off before either of them knew what was happening.

A horrific scream tore from the camp.

Both demigods whipped round, weapons in hand in a flash.

"Oh my Gods!" breathed Piper.

Outlined against the sky, Jason saw a horn thicker than his head disturb the suddenly star-less black sky.

Oh no.

"Minotaur!" He heard Reyna bellow, her commanding voice easily distinguishable in the panic.

Jason blinked as Piper pressed a kiss to his lips firmly, before she dashed off to go help. He leapt after her, and together they sprinted into chaos, Piper immediately making a beeline for the ship.

Some tents were aflame, water troughs upended, demigods running about. In these moments it was clear to see the difference in Greeks and Romans, Jason thought, slashing at a smaller monster that the minotaur seemed to have brought along, a whole horde that were neither here nor there. While the Romans held back, delivering conducted strikes that left the beast howling, the Greeks were throwing themselves at it, slashes slowly filling up its tree trunk thick legs with gold. It's movements weren't quite sluggish yet, and it whipped a hand through the air, narrowly avoiding heads.

Jason glanced towards the boat, to where the Gods were sat.

Some were stood, watching. A few looked concerned, or nervous. Others hadn't taken their eyes off the fire. He felt resentment cloud his head.

Hefting his sword into the air, a bolt of lightning sang down into the blade, enveloping it in a crackling blue.

The jolts of light crept over his wrist like vines, and he waited a few seconds before diving into the fray. He was hard to miss, all covered in electricity, and the minotaur followed him with ugly eyes. The other creatures scattered, and they let them go, too focused on the minotaur.

Jason dived, throwing himself towards a leg, driving his sword in satisfyingly deep. The monster roared as the electricity hit him, rapid flashes illuminating the faces of close demigods in flickers.

He tried to keep it in, but the leg writhed, and he was eventually kicked off, but not before a jar of fire hit the brute in the chest. Jason caught sight of Leo wielding another jar of Greek fire and grinned.

"Together!"

"You know it!"

The two best friends ran back, some demigods backing off, several even completely running away to go help put out fires instead. Jason appreciated that level of trust, that they would get the job done. Leo yelled as he threw with all his might, a burning spark in his dark eyes, the second jar of fire knocking the minotaur finally to its knees, as Jason threw his body upwards, the air currents supporting his flight as he drove the sword straight through its chest.

The minotaur went poof.

Enthusiastic cheers surrounded him as he dropped back to the ground, pats landing on his back, Leo looking both in his element and slightly uncomfortable at the same time.

However, Jason frowned.

"Something's not right." he muttered to Leo.

Leo glanced at him with wide eyes, and dropped his voice to a conspiring whisper.

"What do you mean?"

"It was just..." Jason shrugged. "Too easy?"

"Too easy." Leo repeated, disbelieving.

Normally, Jason would have responded but instead, he craned his neck round trying to spot something, anything. He knew he was unnerving Leo, who had begun to look too, trusting Jason's word. Jason couldn't really explain it. There was just a static in the dark air.

They met eyes and the same conclusion at the same time.

"The boat!"

They sprinted off in that direction. Jason's thoughts whirled. Annabeth hadn't been doing too well after Hades left, she got paranoid, had panic attacks at the slightest hint of water that left her furious with herself for being 'irrational'. She'd been grudgingly helped by some Morpheus kids to go to a restful sleep, Hazel keeping her company. She was still asleep on the boat as far as he knew. And Piper and Hazel were there with her.

They rounded the corner of a smoking tent.

"No!" Leo cried.

The Argo II sails were burning fiercely, and the pointy shadows of monsters leapt about like demons on top of it. The Gods were nowhere to be seen. They ran, as fast as they could, the fire siphoning off like raging whirlwinds to shoot into Leo's arms, leaving the hull charred and ashy.

"Leo! Take the top floors and put out fires! I'll look for them!" Jason shouted, a bit of the Praetor he used to be slipping out.

Leo didn't even bother to nod, scrabbling up the side. Jason went the other way, flying onto the main deck and heading below. He coughed, pushing as much smoke as he could out of the air. It was mainly smoke down below, Jason let himself feel a little relief that there didn't seem to be any more fires in this section.

He slammed into a door frame, scanning the room frantically before shoving himself off to look in the others.

A snarl from somewhere in front of him just made him run harder. If there were monsters down here...

He barely had enough time to catch himself as an empousai was forcefully kicked through an open door, slamming into the wall opposite.

A very awake and very angry Annabeth followed, sparing him a glance before finishing it off.

"Annabeth, where's-?"

"Behind me." she quickly confirmed. "She's hurt, but she should be fine."

Jason breathed a sigh of relief and worry, peering round just in time to see his girlfriend decapitate a monster. She instantly went up to hold her shoulder with a wince, the orange fabric dyed darkly under her red fingers.

"Pipes!" Jason cried, embracing her as tightly as he could without hurting her.

"I'm fine." She waved him off. "Nothing that won't heal with a bit of ambrosia."

Jason frowned a little, and tucked her head under his chin. He met Annabeth's eyes as he hugged Piper. She gave him a sad, tight smile, and looked away.

"Is there anyone else on here?" Jason asked.

Annabeth shook her head, still not looking at them. "Hazel went to go find Nico, she should be out there somewhere."

Jason nodded, concerned. "We should go find them too."

Annabeth finally looked up, about to agree. "I- duck!" she shouted instead.

Jason moved on muscle memory, tucking Piper under him as they crouched. Annabeth flung her dagger over his head so quickly it was a blur; he didn't even see her take it out.

"Move!" she cried, eyes wide enough for Jason to believe that whatever it was wasn't dead, and he knew if Annabeth couldn't kill something in one blow, it had to be strong.

Piper scrambled away, and he was on her heels, Annabeth holding the door to make sure they got past safe. It was almost cruel how much her determined expression resembled Percy's.

He slammed into the back of Piper as she stopped dead in her tracks.

"Annabeth!" she screamed behind her.

Jason turned to see Annabeth atop a large hulking shadow, hacking madly. Behind them, Jason paled as he caught sight of Frank's limp body. They turned to fight but it was over quicker than they anticipated, the monster using brute strength to slam his back against the wall several times. Annabeth's head hit the wall, once, twice, then the third time saw the lights out.

Annabeth slumped, laid down next to Frank. Their forms flickered.

Shadow travel, Jason thought, thundering down the corridor towards them, lightning arcing from his fingers to strike the shadow in its chest.

It howled, and collapsed into gold dust, but not before both Frank and Annabeth blurred out of existence.

Piper and Jason froze, her hands on his chest, mouth open in a gasp.

"Where have they gone?" he asked her, panicked.

She didn't answer him. She didn't know. He didn't either.

0o0o0o0

When Annabeth woke, it was to a pounding drum solo in the back of her head. She checked herself over without opening her eyes, twitching and tensing parts of her body. As far as she could work out, she had a wicked headache but was otherwise fine.

She squinted a bit, cracking her eyes open. She blinked a couple times and then sat up.

She was in the woods, or at least on the outskirts. A fine temple was on her right, soaring high, and she marvelled briefly at the design before looking around.

Next to her, slumped Frank. She checked him over, similarly finding little injuries other than the head wound. Strange. They'd clearly been brought here alive for a reason. She knew Gaia wanted her. So what was Frank? An extra? A mistake? Leverage? The answers swirled in her mind as she came to a conclusion. Percy's replacement. He had to be. If Percy wasn't here, then Frank would have to do as a sacrifice. She tried not to think about what that meant for her. She knew Gaia wanted strong demigod blood to raise her, it was why she went for Percy and her in the first place.

Annabeth roused him as fast as she could. She knew where they were now, could smell the sea salt mixed with the woodland atmosphere. Frank growled as he woke, blinking as she did, one of his hands shooting to hold his head.

"Concussion." she whispered. "Just breathe and try to stand with me."

She helped Frank to his feet eventually, trying to balance him even as he flitted between human and bulldog form.

"Good?" she gasped as she hauled him to his feet, a lancing pain shooting through her head as she staggered a little.

''Yeah," he said, clearly lying, "I'll be fine. Where are we?"

Annabeth frowned grimly.

"We're in Athens." she said, recognising the power in the place.

"Athens?"

Annabeth scanned the horizon.

"I think this is where Gaia is supposed to rise."

Frank paled at her words, but a crash in the trees cut any conversation off.

"Frank, go to a bug." she hissed, and he complied, landing as a grasshopper on her shoulder.

She pulled out her sword with a sinking stomach as the heavy crashing in the trees grew closer.

Chapter 44: Percy XXVIII

Summary:

The key was clenched victoriously in his bloody hand.

Chapter Text

Chapter 44

Percy XXVIII

“You ruined everything!” Krios snarled, and Percy flinched as the Titan strode towards him.

“Breathe, brother.” Koios said, scarily calm as he sat on a boulder as they rested. “We will be forgiven. Mother will make him understand. He-“ Koios shot him a venomous glance, “-will be too dead to be a part of it anymore.”

“We told him not to break the rules-“

“With Jackson, it was inevitable. But peace: all it has done is ensure him a most painful death. It was coming for him anyway.”

The remaining Guard Cyclopes that hadn’t fled chuckled darkly around him as he sat on the floor, a low rumble around him. Krios still looked like he wanted to hit him. Percy really hoped he didn’t.

“So, now what?” Krios turned to his brother.

“Simple.” Koios said, “We keep moving. We wait for word from mother. We find the river Lethe. Either that stuck up God Hades unknowingly helps us, or mother will. But until then, we must keep going. Having the Owner after us is… less than desirable.”

Percy opened his mouth to ask, yet again, who the owner was, but the pure hatred in Krios’ eyes kept him quiet. Not the time.

Koios turned to him. His optimistic attitude and simple statements did nothing to hide the simmering anger held tightly in his face. He towered over Percy, who leant away, and yanked him up by the chain on his wrists.

Percy screwed up his face in pain as the metal bit into the scabbed skin for the millionth time. Koios bared his teeth in a smile at his expression.

“Come.” the Titan said. “We must keep moving.”

"Wait- wait- I saw nothing! I don't know you!" The monster pleaded, but it had already laid eyes upon their group. They needed absolute secrecy.

Koios crushed it in his hands.

“Who is the Owner?” Percy asked as the two Titans feasted on some poor monster they had torn apart.

The single bone that he had been given to eat lay on the ground, stripped down to the second layer of enamel and shiningly clean. If his teeth wouldn’t have broken, he would have eaten the bone too.

Krios looked at him in disgust and leaned across the monster remains to swing a fist and-

Percy took the impact clean across his cheek, his head slamming into the ground. Pain clouded through his temples as he closed his eyes, and just lifted his knees to his chest to protect his stomach, despite Krios already having gone back to his food.

Right. Guess he’d just find out at some point.

The Titans slept loudly. Their snores made Percy terrified that they’d attract unwanted attention as they slept in the small cavern.

He stared at Koios. The Titan held his chain as he slept, gripping it tightly in his meaty hand.

A thousand scenarios ran through his suddenly alive head. He could escape if he really tried. If he just yanked his chains free and ran, he could-

He looked down at the swollen mess that was his knee. Krios had stamped on it in anger once the last cyclops had ditched them. He could still hear the crunch. Maybe running was out of the question. At least until it healed.

He crawled forwards, and pulled lightly on the chain.

Koios snorted in his sleep, and Percy jerked back involuntarily, hiding his face in his chest. Once his heart stopped slamming against his chest, he peeked out, scared that he had woken the Titan. It was easier to talk back and to feel strong when they were moving, when things were loud, when both were awake. But to be awake alone in a silent cave with two angry Titans? He didn’t want to be in that position. He couldn’t muster up the courage he needed to in moments like that.

It felt pathetic. He felt pathetic.

He walked. The Titans were ahead of him. Silent. The ravine they were in was tall and empty.

And Percy was lost in his own head.

He was sick of walking. Sick of being a prisoner. Sick of having no one with him. He felt too much and too little at the same time. Like there was a massive hole in him and everything was going crazy trying to fill it, but he was running out of time and energy and it was all just draining into the hole. How long had he been gone from the world above? How was this his life now?

He felt like a dead man walking.

Their moods just kept getting sourer and sourer as they fled across Tartarus.

"Stop-stop, please-!" Percy gasped, ineffectually batted at the Titan's hand that was wrapped around his chains, as Koios dragged him across the ground.

He'd lost his prideweeksago, it felt like. If he had to choose between keeping all his dignity and having one brief respite from pain, he knew which he would choose in a heartbeat. Percy's knees were raw and bloody; apparently he wasn't travelling at a good enough speed. It wasn’t as if he was exhausted and starving or anything.

Koios gave him a filthy look, and dropped him stomach first to the glassy floor, where the breath was knocked out of Percy. He panted and didn’t even care about the sharp points digging into his forehead. Any chance to rest was a chance he would take.

"Your begging meansnothing.'' Krios snapped.

They really weren't in a good mood with him since the last time he’d tried to run away. His face throbbed at the reminder of when they’d caught him.

Percy longed for a McDonald's meal more than he longed to see the sun. Burgers full of healthy untainted meat. Golden, crispy nuggets. Salty chips that he could cram handfuls of into his mouth. A milkshake, ice cold, strawberry flavoured, sweet. Styx, even some apple slices and carrot sticks were more than welcome.

"At least we're here." Krios grunted, leaning over to pick Percy up by the scruff.

Percy groaned, too tired to even fight as Krios dragged him over to the river bank.

"Hold on." Krios smiled nastily, and threw him in, keeping a thick finger hooked on his chains.

Percy half-landed in the river Phlegthon with a splash, and began to writhe under its fiery surface as his lower half sank to the bottom. It burned, searing his deepest wounds, instant cauterisation. Even though his head was not under, Percy reminded himself he could breathe, forcing himself to take a deep breath. He was in the hottest of baths that had not been toe-dipped first to test.

He was yanked out several seconds later, left on the bank to gasp and twitch. The Titans sat a little further away, smirking.

It hit him suddenly that hated them as much as he hated Gabe, if not more.

He had promised to himself, during those long nights in the cave and during these long nights on the run, killing any monsters they came across as to not reveal their location, that if he was gonna do anything down here, killing them would be his number one priority. They had tortured him, used him and nearly blinded him. His eye ached constantly at this point.

Percy had met a lot of gods and monsters he didn't like in his lifetime. Kronos, Phobos, hell, Zeus sometimes. He just didn't like bullies. Percy felt like he had spent most of his life standing up to punks at school, or, Hades, even in his own home, who had tried to frighten him and make him feel weird, or out of place as if he didn't belong there. The way Krios and Koios acted...he wanted desperately to knock them down a peg, or twenty.

He wanted to knock them down,hard.So they wouldn't get back up.

A few hundred scenarios ran through his head, the last one featuring himself, elbow deep in one of their eye sockets. It was just enough to tingle a bit of life remaining in him to the surface of his skin.

"So," he huffed, finally getting his breath back, "What now? More running? A little jogging? Bit of powerwalking?"

"If mother did not want you alive... the things I would do..." Krios told him quietly, hands flexing into fists.

Percy knew he should hold his tongue. Knew what would happen. But he didn’t like where his head was at these days; he had to keep fighting, even if it was verbally. Even if it was only verbally. He’d learned that young too.

"Shame," he said acidly instead, "But mummy called dibs on killing me, so you be a good son and wait."

Krios made to stand, but his brother yanked him back down. Percy curled his lip, strong enough to sit up now. The gashes on his legs were no more than red marks and his knee was fixed, finally- he’d been limping for miles. He missed the Achilles blessing.

He glanced around.

"How come there's no monsters in this bit?" he asked.

"They saw us. Or they saw you. Both. Word must have spread about the killings." Krios answered him.

"Huh." Percy wasn't sure what to make of that.

He slapped his arm suddenly, the hairs raising. Percy winced. He swore there was something on his arm a second ago. He kept feeling things on him, seeing blobs out the corner of his eyes, whispers in his ears. They'd be following him, or sneaking up behind him, or even crawling on his skin. It made him feel sick, especially when he would do a double take, and realise there was nothing. He was just paranoid, he told himself. Tartarus was just making him think things were there.

He refused to think about the Voice, and any implications it may have.

Percy closed his eyes and exhaled, trying to just bring himself back together.

"Move." grunted Krios, who appeared suddenly behind him, hauling him up.

Percy staggered to his feet, flinching away sharply from the cruel titan. "Get off of me." he spat, though his voice wavered.

The Titan's hands curled into fists again (and Percy’s stomach churned with fear) but he did nothing as they walked on (his heartbeat didn’t slow). Percy's head tilted to the left, trudging with care. He listened closely. There was a familiar… whooshing? In the distance?

Sure enough, as the trio rounded the corner of a stalactite as big as a house, a churning darkness came into view in a gorge of volcanic rock. It was wicked fast. The water was black as ink, and even the foam churned black. The far bank was about 20 metres across, far darker and wider than when Percy had seen it in the underworld.

"It's the Lethe." Percy said, something alive stirring in his head. "Finally. Give me my sword."

Koios regarded him with a dry smirk.

"Funny." Koios drew out Percy's mangled bronze sword. "After what you did to Antaeus, you're never getting armed again."

Percy scowled. They'd even taken Riptide from him again, the sword gripped tightly in Krios' hand. So long as he walked close to him, it wouldn't return to his pocket. Percy glared even harder as Koios continued, sickeningly smug.

"I'd even like to take those chains off, after seeing what you did with them, but we're not stupid." Koios said, a protective hand coming down to rest on his belt, where the key was strapped, and Percy snorted derisively. "Those chains block out the Godkiller. I'd rather not meet the same fate as that cyclops you tortured to death." Koios said, eyes burning into him.

Percy dropped his scowl, unable to keep staring him down. He couldn't even deny it. Tartarus... It had just done something to him. Down here... He didn't have to protect anyone but himself, didn't have to worry about hurting people accidentally as he fought. He could do what he wanted to without Gods getting up in his business. Percy hated Tartarus- oh he hated it more than anything, craving fresh air until he could physically feel the ache in his chest- and yet...

He hated what he did, what he haddoneto survive, but he also, though he would never admit it, in the deepest and darkest parts of his soul...he liked it.

He liked how it made him someone to be feared. Avoided. He liked the safety it gave him. Before, the defeat of Kronos had made monsters aware of how far he would go to protect his friends, and his family. Now, down in Tartarus, what he had done had made monsters aware of how far he would go tosurvive,to get back to said friends and family. Monsters knew now that he wasn't the same kid who would simply kill one of them, ready to be regenerated. No, now they knew him as a Godkiller- and they knew he would make ithurt.Who down here would judge him, interfere, or tell him to stop, other than himself?

Percy didn't like to think about it, but there was a certain freedom for him down here.

And wasn't that the mostironicthing.

He looked up to see Krios ambling down to the Lethe, holding both bronze swords in his hands. Percy narrowed his eyes.Hisswords.

As far as he was aware, Koios had his other sword, the drakon bone one.

Krios knelt on the high up edge of the river, leaning down to dip the sword in. It was a tall cliff edge, and Krios had to shuffle further, his arm and upper chest practically dangling off the edge as the leaned, the tip of the sword barely grazing the water. Koios watched, interested, to his side. Distracted.

Percy had no thoughts in his head as he began to run.

Koios yelled, reaching out for Percy, who ducked and slid down the bank, sending a fresh cloud of blood red stones rolling down alongside him, landing in a roll, staggering to a sprint, Koios right on his heels.

Krios had no way to see it coming, still straining to reach the Lethe.

Percy's body jolted with every step, but the sheer adrenaline pumping through his blood swiftly covered it, giving him enough strength to grit his teeth, clench his muscles, and throw himself into a double-footed kick.

He hit Krios in the back with an impact that knocked the breath out of him, and sent Krios head over heels. Percy scrambled to turn over as a blur shot past him, Koios catching his brother by his forearm before he truly fell into the Lethe, chest flat against the edge, Koios' other arm scrabbling on the cliff for traction. Both Percy's swords fell to the edge of the bank as he stood, holding his ribs and wincing, a bubbling cut stretching across his right bicep.

"Hold on, brother!" Koios roared, going purple in the face as Krios flailed below, an inch above the water.

"Pull meup!" Krios bellowed back over the deafening roar of the river.

Koios heaved, both hands now wrapped around his brother's wrist, gaining maybe an inch before his chest slammed back onto the floor, armpits hooked over the edge and shaking at the weight. Titans were heavy, and Krios was far larger than Koios was.

"I cannot!” Koios snarled, “Climb!"

Percy watched from the side as Krios' feet scrabbled on the cliff face to find footholds, but Tyche had not blessed them today; the cliff side was slanting, and smooth, opaque black stones that shone with a malice of claiming another unfortunate victim. He sent a prayer to the Goddess of Luck, praying that she would keep watching out for him when he needed it.

Percy stepped forwards slowly.

Koios' head whipped round, his teeth gritted as he strained to keep his flailing brother out the river.

"Youstaywhere you are, Jackson! This is your fault!" he shouted viciously. "So help me, when I get my hands on you-"

Percy blocked him out; he could see it for what it truly was, as Koios' mad eyes flicked between Percy and the key that swayed on his belt.

Percy had to move quick.

Fast as a flash, Percy darted forwards, his hands reaching out to snatch the key from Koios' belt, pulling until the string attached to it snapped. Koios roared incoherently, thrashing his body around in an effort to kick Percy.

A foot hit Percy in the chest, and he flew back, coughing at the full force hit of an angry titan, his chest feeling shattered. He felt sick instantly, but pushed it away, pushing up to his knees gingerly.

The key was clenched victoriously in his bloody hand.

Percy slid it into the lock on his left hand.

He made eye contact with the grappling titans, stuck on the knife-edge of the cliff, both sets of eyes now wide and fearful, following his every move. Koios had let go of Krios, brotherly love vanishing in an instant, but Krios would not let go of Koios. They were stuck.

The titans shouted at him, curses and threats, straining at each other. Percy smiled at them, a sick glee filling his body. This was it. Finally.

He twisted the key, and the cuff sprang off him.

A coolness shot up his arm, leaving pins and needles in its wake. Percy gasped, falling back onto his haunches, breathing deeply. It was like being plunged into a cold pool; at first, the shock takes the breath away, the body shaking, goose bumps rising. It was like a very concentrated hiss of icy air shooting through his arm, and Percy held it close as the feeling spread through his chest, down his legs, up his neck and into his head, where he closed his eyes, and let the power run through him. And, like a pool, it began to warm up, he began to get used to it. Soon it became a balm of sorts, refreshing. It finally washed up at the fingertips of his other hand, rolling smoothly under and over his skin. Once the power of one cuff was negated, it was clear that the other was nothing more now than a thick and bloody bracelet with a chain trailing behind it.

Percy breathed out deeply, letting his eyes slide open.

Tartarus was pitch black.

What?

Percy blinked a couple more times, exceptionally confused. He raised a hand, waving it in front of his face. Nothing. He couldn't see a thing. It was like there was a blindfold over his vision.

Percy tensed, not daring to move. He could still feel the river (and that feeling alone was a blessing to have back), feel the ichor of the titans too, somewhere close, as if they hadn't moved. As Percy shifted, he felt Riptide finally return to his back pocket, and drew it out, still staring unblinkingly into the void surrounding him.

"Interesting."

It was a hollow voice, that seemed to surround him yet be right in front of him at the same time.

Somehow, the air around him darkened further, before it solidified, sucking the darkness into one focused place, until the hazy redness of Tartarus reappeared, and Percy could see the titans and the river and the mountains again.

Percy didn't dare breathe.

The being that appeared was so massive, radiating such pure malevolence, that if Percy was standing, he knew his knees would have given out.

He forced his eyes to trace the primordial God's form, starting with his black iron boots, each one as large as a coffin. His legs were covered in dark greaves; his flesh all thick purple muscle, like the ground. His armoured skirt was made from thousands of blackened, twisted bones, woven together like chain links and clasped in place by a belt of interlocking monstrous arms.

On the surface of the warrior's breastplate, murky faces appeared and submerged— sunken outlines of giants, Cyclopes, gorgons, and drakons—all pressing against the armour as if it were paper thin, and they were trying to get out, deep dips revealing eyes and mouths all twisting as if they were screaming.

The warrior's arms were bare—muscular, purple, and glistening—his hands as large as crane scoops.

Worst of all was his head: a helmet of twisted rock and metal with no particular shape—just jagged spikes and pulsing patches of magma. His entire face was a whirlpool—an inward spiral of darkness.

Percy swallowed, feeling as if he had lost his voice entirely, as if it had dropped out of his body.

"Tartarus." he said, but sound failed him as he mouthed the word, not taking his eyes off him.

The primordial God inclined his swirling head, and Percy knew instantly this was the Owner.

"The 'Godkiller' my sister has informed me of." he replied, his voice making Percy's stomach churn.

He lowered his arm limply, unable to stop Riptide hitting the glassy floor with a clatter.

The Titans had stopped struggling; they were still straining, but both had frozen on the spots.

"This form is, of course, only a small manifestation of my power," Tartarus said. "But it will suffice for you. I do not interfere for just any reason. It is beneath me to deal with gnats such as demigods. Even the Olympians never warranted such attention. But you... My sister has taken a liking to you-"

Percy let himself feel a flicker of hope, but it quickly twisted away.

"I hate my sister." Tartarus said coldly.

The god of the pit flexed his fingers, examining his own polished black talons. He had no expression, but he straightened his shoulders as if he were pleased.

Then he backhanded Percy across towards the Lethe.

Percy flew through the air, flipping like a gymnast, landing in a heap on the floor with a groan. But he had his power back now- he had water particles in the air to absorb, sweat to absorb. He felt alive for the first time in a long time. He pushed himself back up, a tinge of anger diffusing into his fear.

"Why do you not disintegrate?" Tartarus mused. "You are nothing."

A hand curled around his ankle, and Percy's head shot down, wrenching his foot out of Krios' dead man grip. The Titan was still flailing on the edge. They made eye contact, and Percy's anger hit him all at once with the force of a small truck. It eclipsed everything out.

"-ease," came a whisper from Krios as his feet madly kicked out beneath him. "Please."

Percy looked him dead in the eye.

He reached into his pocket, and withdrew Riptide. Both Koios and Krios recoiled, struggling harder than ever.

"Please!Please!"

Percy shut out Koios, he shut out his surroundings, he even shut out Tartarus, who was watching with a vague interest. All Percy saw were the whites of Krios' eyes as he pleaded.

His hand shot out again, almost as if to drag Percy down with him. Percy stamped on it, lining his sword up with his other arm, where Koios strained desperately, Percy's arms shaking with anger at the Titans, at himself, at the whole damned situation.

If Tartarus was to kill him, right here, and right now, he was damn sure he was gonna take as many of these murderous and vicious Titans as he could.

"Your begging meansnothing.'' Percy hissed coldly, throwing his words back at him.

Krios' eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to bellow.

Percy swung down, his powers already flowing out of his fingertips, to cause a small storm around them, to wake his body back up, to push around the ichor in Krios' veins, almost carelessly, making it easier to-

Percy sliced into Krios' wrist, and severed completely through it, hot ichor spraying up and over his face and body.

Krios bellowed for a mere second before he landed with a splash in the Lethe. He resurfaced a second later, floating as the river took him downstream, a vague and blank look in his once furious and fearful eyes.

He was gone, a fate worse than death.

Percy spat a mouthful of the burning ichor to the floor.

Chapter 45: Percy XXIX

Summary:

He didn't know if he could keep running: he was in so much pain, so much exhaustion, he felt black dots crowding around the edges of his eyes, moulding with the tears that sprung up out of sheer frustration and fear.

Chapter Text

Chapter 45

Percy XXIX

Koios snatched wildly at Percy, who jumped back as the Titan got to his feet, practically vibrating with anger.

"My brother!" Koios roared.

He threw Krios' still severed arm to the side. It turned into dust as soon as it hit the floor, and the Titan started towards Percy, scooping up Percy's drakon bone sword in his hand. The celestial bronze sword lay discarded on the ground, and Koios was momentarily distracted as he stared at the blade, that had darkened considerably since touching the Lethe.

His hesitation seemed to annoy Tartarus, and the Primordial strode forwards, snapping his head up.

"I do believeTitankiller would now be a better name." Tartarus remarked, reaching out a large hand to grab Percy around the waist.

Percy reacted on instinct.

He took a step back, the edge of his foot hanging off the edge of the cliff, the Lethe bubbling furiously beneath, and reached out a hand, that twisted and clenched in the air.

Tartarus stopped.

Percy winced internally.

A litany of curses, each more likely to get soap in his mouth, ran through his head.

While he could feel some vague sense of ichor, he had absolutelynocontrol over it.

Tartarus had not stopped because of him, and even as Percy strained so hard his own blood began to hurt, Tartarus did nothing but stand there.

"My child,” the ancient being spoke, “I assure you, you cannot stop me. You have mighty power for a demigod, and I'm sure my children and grandchildren are well within your grasp to slaughter as you please. But you cannot kill me. Not in my area of expertise, which is," Tartarus gestured around vaguely, "Well- everywhere. You think you have power overme? You do not. You could never defeat me here, I doubt even Chaos themself could put me down."

Tartarus began to advance on him slowly, and Percy found himself teetering on the edge.

"I was there when the first monsters began to crawl. I was there to shape them, craft and twist them into creatures of blood and malice and death. I gave them fangs, claws, poisons and powers. Skin as impenetrable as metal, and ichor in their veins, flowing fast and thick, able to make the flesh of mortals melt off like water."

Percy felt his knees waver as he stared directly into Tartarus' whirling face of death, but stayed standing.

"These monsters kill, and torture, and laugh. They make demigods and gods alike beg in their last moments, on their knees."

Tartarus paused.

"It isalwaysthe gods who beg first." he hissed, with such quiet power that Percy's heart skipped a beat.

"And you stand here, in my domain," Tartarus said, growing larger every second it seemed, "In my own body, the first to lay eyes on my corporeal form in a millennia, and you dare to challenge the one who taught each and every single monster those acts?"

Percy didn't know what to say to that. What was there to even say?

His eyes flickered to the side, where Koios was inching further away, his face pale and sunken in fear. Percy wondered if he looked like that himself.

Tartarus' head moved an inch to the side, seemingly observing the Titan as well. The stare dropped to the sword on the floor.

"Oh, that'sinteresting." Tartarus said, backing off, finally letting Percy breathe out.

Tartarus stepped just before Koios, who recoiled several inches.

"This sword," Tartarus began, "What have youdoneto it?"

Percy blinked, moving away from the Lethe bank ridge. He looked at his twisted bronze sword, once Kelli's leg. His brow furrowed and he looked at it again.

It was no longer the mess it once was. The spikes of warped bronze had flattened and smoothed over, darkening to pitch black, a melted red colour in places. There was an odd glow to it, as if it had shadows all around it. One side of the blade was now longer than the other, resulting in a diagonal tip at the end of the narrower blade, regal yet razor sharp. Percy found himself drawn to it, walking forwards.

"Incredible." Tartarus breathed next to him.

"What's happened to it?" Percy asked, practically forgetting who he was with.

"You tell me." Tartarus replied. "It smells familiar."

Percy frowned thoughtfully. What smelled like Tartarus? Everything smelled like Tartarus down here, the clouds, the rocks, the rivers. Like a cross between the metallic stench of blood and Gabe's breath. Percy pulled a face, slightly unsure, as some pieces connected in his head. He reached out a few fingertips to the sword, feeling familiar sensations somehow imbibed into it.

"I... I think it's been in all five rivers down here. Like, the sword itself." Percy said. "I melted parts of it together in the Phlegethon to make it... I must have still had the water of the Cocytus on me when I took it in the first place... I fell into the Styx with it when I got my blessing... when I crossed the Acheron, I couldn't control it for long, little drops hit me every now and then... and it was just dipped into the Lethe by Krios. Why?" Percy turned to Tartarus, cringing at the sight of the being. "Why has it changed?"

"It has been so long... I thought it would never be fulfilled." Tartarus said, facing away from both Koios and Percy.

"There was once talk among myself and my siblings, before all the nonsense with our children and grandchildren. Of a weapon, forged below the depths of the underworld itself, burnished in the five rivers of death."

"We speculated... We never made it ourselves in case it was used against us... But the things we suspected a weapon like that could do... Soul destruction. Scattering. Energy channelling. As if the mere sight of it could drive away enemies." Tartarus snorted humourlessly, and Percy felt an icy chill run down his spine.

It sounded like something he had heard before, and it was confirmed as Tartarus continued.

"Only one of our children knew of this."

At this, Tartarus unsheathed his sword and slowly turned around.

"And he was given a scythe." he said.

Percy didn't move.

Of course.

Kronos.

Gaia had made it for him, only she could have known how to make a weapon that powerful.

"What Kronos' mortal host described as steel and bronze was actually Adamantine, the unbreakable metal that the gates of Tartarus themselves are forged with. That sword there should not exist." Tartarus pointed to it with disgust. "Adamantine, the Greeks called it,Adamas, meaning 'untameable'. Uncontrollable. Limitless."

"The last weapon like that destroyedOuranos." Tartarus mused.

No one moved for a few seconds.

They were locked in a stare-off, the Adamantine sword in the middle of the triangle. So that was its name, Percy reflected. Adamas, uncontrollable, like Anaklusmos, riptide.

Koios raised his hands slowly in a placating manner. Both Tartarus and Percy looked at him, Percy’s eyes burning with hatred. The Titan’s confidence flickered under both their glares, but carried on regardless, though his voice broke a little.

"Now, now,” he said, “There's no need to do all of this. I've dealt with Kronos before, I'm sure that we can find a way to-"

Both Tartarus and Percy saw it coming, and lunged too.

It was a mad grab of elbows, claws, and shifting terrain.

Koios' fingers curled around it first, snatching it out the air as Percy summoned it with an outstretched hand, and Tartarus pulled back his sword.

Everything ran through his head at once, and he seized the nearest body of water. Literally. Percy held out a fist and clenched.

Koios' arm came up to block the blow, and his wild eyes met Percy's.

"No-" Koios choked, but Percy closed his mouth for him.

Tartarus swung again, and Percy pulled Koios out of the way by his ichor.

He was controlling Koios' body, like a puppet on a string, each movement syncing up to his own.

As Percy parried, Koios parried, mimicking his movement, a sick little dance they did together as the primordial God attacked, the Lethe roaring louder and louder on one side, dust pouring down the glassy black cliffs on the other, and the haze of red smoke growing thicker above.

The strain in Percy's skull was intense, eyes burning, body aching.

Tartarus had not taken a body in so long, he wasn't defeatable, nowhere close, but he was fightable, and fight him Percy did.

He could tell Tartarus thought this would be easy, swinging his heavy sword around, ready to disarm Koios, but he'd be damned if he was going down without a fight, and, Hades, when had he ever made anything easy?

Percy swung an arm out, and Koios mirrored him, slicing Adamas through the air, Tartarus jumping backwards.

Tartarus kicked Koios in the chest, a blow that would have shattered Percy's rib cage but only made the Titan stumble, locked firmly under Percy's control.

It was a spectacle to behold.

Tartarus, face twisting and howling, bringing his thick and dangerous sword down again and again and again, the faces in his armour pressed against it and screaming their throats out, the Primordial moving as fluidly as the torturous rivers that the blood soaked cavern around them contained.

But right next to him was Koios, his frantic eyes rolling in his head as Percy commandeered his body, forcing him to contort and strike, on the defence but never on the run, thick arms leaking ichor from where he was struck rising and falling like the tide, swinging Adamas in a style that echoed how his younger brother Kronos wielded such a weapon of death.

Their swords clashed and sang, flashing with clangs like thunder.

Percy was panting now, sweat dripping out of every pore, duelling with a ferocity that was equally matched. The longer they fought, the more accustomed to his body Tartarus would get; Percy had to end it but controlling Koios was all he could do, every muscle in his body screaming.

He could see the toll it was taking on Koios; liquid gold dripped out of his eyes, his ears, his nose and mouth. He hadn't opened his eyes in several long minutes. Controlling such a large body as Koios felt like Percy was fighting in a suit of armour on stilts.

The two locked blades, pushing with enough force to level a mountain, and Percy was right there with themstraining, clenching his teeth as he yelled.

The two swords shook, and Percy focused on Adamas, feeling every inch of the blade soaked in the rivers, dripping with ichor he had put there, his own blood as well, and a wetness trickled rapidly out his nose as he pushed one layer of water to the surfaced.

Adamas glowed a fiery orange, the Phlegethon crawling for dominance over all the others, and the sword glowed.

A hissing noise filled the cliff edge, shaking the boulders that framed their battle, and it began to slowly sink into the sword of Tartarus, like acid eating away at it.

Tartarus pulled back, ripped his sword away, and Adamas swung down, slitting a tiny line across Tartarus' armour and a feather light cut into the skin beneath, a couple drops of black ichor falling onto the sword.

Howling smoke exploded out his chest like a bullet, and Percy pushed Koios to the side as it manifested around them, taking the familiar forms of the faces Percy had seen imprisoned in Tartarus' armour.

Tartarus lifted his sword, preoccupied with the enemies of his past, roaring as he ripped through them, but they were appearing as quickly as he could kill them, millenniums of rivals waiting to escape and get revenge.

Percy glanced to Koios, whose eyes were now slightly open, but not focusing.

The power had been too much, and Percy had already invaded his body throwing around his ichor carelessly to make him obey his commands. On some level pushed far down, Percy knew he should feel guilty, ashamed, evenhorrifiedat his actions.

But he didn't.

Percy took one look at the broken and soulless titan below him, still choking a little on his own ichor, who had tortured him, dragged him across Tartarus in chains, and forced him to fight for his life, and he just felt satisfied.

No happiness, no remaining bloodthirst, just pure and raw satisfaction.

His eyes swept over the brutalised titan, and he nodded to himself. It was done.

Anyone who ever said that revenge doesn't make someone feel betterlied.

The ichor spreading rapidly below his body probably meant he'd be dead soon anyway. Percy certainly wasn't going to put him out of his misery.

He pulled Adamas out his limp grip, and his drakon bone sword, took one look at the brain dead titan and the slashing primordial still bellowing his name, turned, ran, and leapt off the side of the cliff.

The Lethe caught him, and Percy quickly made it so he wouldn't lose his memories, swimming quickly to the other bank, and he began sprinting.

He made it to the Lethe.

It should be around here.

Thanatos should have put the elevatorhere.

Percy felt sick as he kept running, parts of the rocks shooting out like razor sharp stalagmites, probably Tartarus trying to trap him while he dealt with his demons, but Percy slid under it, just kept running.

It suddenly hit him how stupid this was. He was relying on the gods, yet again. And were they here? No. Would they ever just be reliable for once? He was overly aware that if he couldn't find the elevator, he would most certainly die. Would he come back, in a golden bubble, another monster like the rest of them?

Percy dodged a flying shard of glass, and changed direction, heading right, trying to get out of the direct eyeline of Tartarus. Gods’ sake, wherewasit?

He didn't know if he could keep running: he was in so much pain, so much exhaustion, he felt black dots crowding around the edges of his eyes, moulding with the tears that sprung up out of sheer frustration and fear.

He couldn't die.

Hecouldn't.

Not now.

He could hurt Gaia with this sword. He could make her bleed. And whatever could bleed could die. And then he'd be free. Free to grab Annabeth and his mum and his friends and go to Alaska for a month or two. No Gods, no monsters, no nothing.

Percy cried out in anger as he met a cliff face that seemed to stretch forever. Behind him, stalactites and stalagmites shot out of everywhere, pinning him in, trapping him, like easy prey.

"No!" Percy punched the cliff, "No, no, no, no,no!"

This couldn't be the end, it couldn't. Sweat dripped down his face as pure adrenaline made him feel like he was about to explode. He tucked his drakon bone sword through his belt loop, taking out Riptide, the warm glow making him want to throw up for the first time. He glanced over his shoulder, just as a large red stalagmite erupted from the ground about a foot away, needle sharp.

Percy breathed in.

Then, with a battle cry, he drove Adamas straight into the cliff face.

A cry echoed in the far distance, then very faint but thundering footsteps of something coming, not that Percy could see much through the thorny maze that was still sprouting around him, nearly blocking out the already limited light.

He drove Riptide into the stone too, and pulled himself up, every nerve in his body searing in white hot pain.

He breathed out.

He could do this.

After all, he'd done it before.

Chapter 46: Frank II

Summary:

"Thalia Grace." she replied, and Frank instantly knew she'd have a strong handshake. "Lieutenant of Artemis, daughter of Zeus."

Chapter Text

Chapter 46

Frank II

A furious looking cyclops burst through the trees, and Annabeth's dagger protruded out of its eye before it could even blink.

Or was it wink?

"My eye!" screamed the cyclops, falling to his knees with a crash that shook several branches to the floor.

Annabeth strode forwards, a resolute look on her face. She had thrown her dagger so fast that all Frank had seen was a blur. He popped back into human form, stepping towards the cyclops.

"Are we in Athens?" Annabeth interrogated the cyclops, who was hitting the earth with his hand and sobbing. "Hey!"

"I don't know, I don't know-" the cyclops babbled, "I was just sent here, they wouldn't even let us gosightseeing, oh my eye, myeye!"

Frank saw Annabeth roll her eyes.

He glanced around their surroundings. If Annabeth said it was Athens, he had no choice but to believe her. He hadnoidea where they were. It was a dense jungle-like thicket of trees on one side. Vines dripped down the plants, curling like snakes on the dry floor. Bare streams of golden sunrise light shone in through tiny breaks in the canopy, and despite the cyclops’ heavy panting, it was deathly silent, the lack of birdsong hovering in the air. Frank shifted nervously. It was like each tree was watching him.

To the other side of him, a mighty temple kind of thing stood tall, thick pillars rising in what he guessed was a rectangle shape, cracked stones resting on top with the age of a millennia. Frank gulped a little; this had to be where Gaia would rise, like Annabeth had said. And that meant he and Annabeth were here to be sacrificed.

Frank wasn't stupid; he knew Percy was more powerful than him, that there was a reason Gaia wanted his blood to raise her. But he wasn't here. He was off doing gods know what as his task to bring back Annabeth. So that meant he was the back up.

He was brought back down to earth by the howl of the cyclops.

Annabeth had yanked her dagger out, and the cyclops pitched forwards, clutching his eye and kicking his legs.

"Myeye!"

"Annabeth, what do we do?" Frank asked her, ignoring the cyclops.

Annabeth put on her thinking face.

"We should go incognito." she said eventually, deep in thought. "You be a bug again or something, I'll go invisible, we scope out as much as we can, see if we can prevent Gaia's rise before they even come close to starting."

Frank nodded at her words. If there was a chance they could end this war before it got any worse, they needed to take it.

"What if one of us gets caught?" Frank asked, a little worried.

Annabeth shrugged. "Shout out a word."

"Like what?" Frank asked.

"Like..." Annabeth started, still thinking, "It's gotta be obscure in case a cyclops imitates our voices."

Frank's eyes darted to the left, where the cyclops lay, in pain but clearly listening. Annabeth caught his eye, and frowned.

Frank guessed she was thinking of a way to use a fake word as a distraction, but it looked like they came to the same conclusion, that it was better to carry on completely unnoticed, as she sank to her knees and fluidly stabbed the cyclops in the heart, pushing with all her weight to get past the thick skin.

The cyclops burst into a puff of gold, and Annabeth rose quickly, a glint in her eye.

"Okay, so- safe word." she started.

The corner of Frank's mouth twitched and Annabeth deadpanned, though he could see her mouth twitching. Frank tried to compose himself, and stood a little straighter to convince her he was listening. Annabeth was scarily similar to Reyna sometimes.

"It has to be a completely random word-" Annabeth cut herself off and a devious look spread across her face. "That's it. The word is...word."

"Word?"

"You know, like how people used to set 'password' as their password but then everyone found out about it. Like that. You get in trouble or captured, just shout 'word'."

"Okay.'' Frank said, politely bewildered, but seeing the logic in it.

"Right. We should split up. You take this area and around, I'm going to go straight into the temple. Keep an eye out for any demigods, ones they could sacrifice and anyone coming to help us."

"Got it." Frank said, and Annabeth nodded once before pulling out a Yankees cap and vanishing from sight.

Frank looked around, putting his sword back into the sheath, and wandered out of the woods, until he was on a slight drop, overlooking both the temple and the beach a little further away. Now that he was out of the woods, he could hear waves, and it sounded reassuring.

He needed to get a bird's eye view, so without hesitating he shifted forms, skin melting into feathers.

Shooting high above everything, Frank knew he would have felt awe if it weren't for the threat of impending death.

The whole place was beautiful.

Huge grey-brown mountains surrounded the little temple and beach, dry grass dusting the tops. There were various stones scattered about, warm as the sun got higher in the bright sky. The few clouds that he could see were thin and pale white. The bay itself had fine pale grains of sand, the air dancing in waves above it from the heat.

Frank soared down and dipped his falcon wing into the incredibly blue sea, trying to see any goings on beyond the startlingly white cliffs.

He couldn't see any monsters, and it was unsettling him. Shouldn't this place be crawling with monsters?

Frank landed on a rock on the beach, sharp eyes flicking around uneasily.

It was only thanks to his amazing birdlike sense of hearing that he heard it: a heavy metallic clank, coming from the temple.

He knew Annabeth was checking it out, but his area was clean, and he felt like he should investigate. He flapped his wings hard, pushing himself into the air, and arced his way over to the sandy monument.

As he flew over a corner pillar, Frank almost fell out the air, diving down to hide in a gap, catching sight of a pair of giants in the middle of the courtyard type part of the temple, open air but still surrounded by columns.

It looked like Polybotes, and some other giant, maybe Enceladus, banes of Poseidon and Athena respectively. They were wrapping dark and smoky chains around two car sized hunks of rock in the middle of the rectangle, dust being kicked up under their huge feet, deep in conversation.

"-oon." Enceladus was saying, "We need to get everyone up here by the time all the demigods arrive. Keep an eye out for the daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase. Her intellect is by far off my own, but surpasses that wretch Athena." He spat the Goddess' name with disgust.

"And Jackson?" Frank winced at the hatred in Polybotes voice at his friend. "Mother has promised that if he survives the sacrifice, he is mine to keep."

"Jackson is a loose cannon." Enceladus replied. "He is... annoyingly unpredictable. Kronos should have recruited him at an earlier age, he was a fool."

Polybotes clearly wasn't listening, his hands stroking the chains with a reverence that made Frank's stomach flip.

"I've decided that after we win, I am going to take him down to the very bottom of the Mariana Trench, finally fulfil what I promised him. I will take him prisoner, torture him under the sea. Every day the water will heal him, and every day I will bring him closer to death."

Frank narrowed his eyes, resisting the urge to attack the giant.

"I think I will just kill the Chase girl." Enceladus mused. "Too smart to stay alive. The both of them will be leading the demigods, I'm told they are the leaders. Take them down, the rest will follow."

Polybotes scowled, tightening the chains. "I sent my minion to look around their camp, possibly bringing back any demigods, but he hasn't come back."

"Then we have to presume he's been killed," the other Titan replied.

Frank glanced to the side, his piercing eyes catching sight of a stone shifting by itself. That had to be Annabeth. The stone moved again, to the left again and again. The two giants didn't notice. The stone rolled through two pillars, out of sight, and Frank hopped off his stone ledge, flapping down.

He followed the stone for a little while until it disappeared round a corner. As soon as he went round, Annabeth swam into view, biting her lip, stone in hand. Frank shifted to human.

“Word.” she said, and laughed humourlessly.

"We won't let them do anything." he told her, guessing at what she was worrying about.

"Like Hades they will," Annabeth nodded determinedly. "But that's not what I'm thinking about. Did you find anything around the area?"

Frank shook his head. "Nothing. Really, nothing at all."

But Annabeth just nodded like she expected it. "They said they needed to get everyone up here by the time that we all arrived.Uphere. I reckon they're all underground. Hundreds of Greek buildings had underground passages for sieges or illegal transport. This isn't a temple; it's an Acropolis."

Frank looked at the ground uncomfortably. "You mean they're under us?"

Annabeth nodded. "Probably nearly every monster fresh out of Tartarus. Certainly every Giant. We're going to need a God with each of us if we're to beat them. And most importantly- don't bleed."

Frank frowned a little. They'd have to wear some pretty high intensity battle armour for the final fight. Maybe Leo could work together with some Mars kids and make some skin-tight feather-light armour.

"Come down to the beach with me." she said. "We should Iris Message the others."

They took the gentle slope down towards the beach, and Annabeth fished a drachma out that had been crammed into her self-enlarged pockets. Frank shifted into a bird again, and flapped his wings in the water until a fine mist was in the air, the midday sun shining through it. As soon as a rainbow appeared, Annabeth tossed the coin in.

"O Goddess of the rainbow, show me Piper McLean in Epirus, Greece!" she called.

The image flickered, flashing three of four times, and soon Frank was staring at Piper's face.

The daughter of Aphrodite blinked.

"Annabeth!" she yelled, and the wide eyed face of a punk girl popped into view, hair black as night with startlingly blue eyes that Frank could have sworn he'd seen before.

"Annabeth!" the girl repeated.

"Thalia? What are you doing there?" Annabeth grinned in surprise, seemingly knowing her.

"Lady Artemis finally called us in after she heard you'd been taken and Percy had vanished again." Thalia's silver circlet shifted on her head as she tried to lean in further to see them.

"Did anyone tell you that he-" Annabeth began.

"Fell into Tartarus?" Thalia replied grimly. "Yeah. Absolute kelp head, I'm gonna kick hisasswhen he turns up."

Frank raised his eyebrows. He had no idea who she was, but she seemed very familiar with Percy and Annabeth.

Annabeth snorted. "Me too. Anyway, we're okay, but I reckon we're in Athens. We're next to a massive Acropolis near a beach and some mountains."

Piper nodded in the background. "Everyone's packing up anyway. The attack spurred everyone into action, the tents are all being put down. I'll give Leo your description, we should come find you soon. Just hold tight."

The girl Thalia glanced at Frank as Piper vanished.

"Oh- hi." he said suddenly. "I'm Frank, son of Mars. I'm one of the Seven."

"Thalia Grace." she replied, and Frank instantly knew she'd have a strong handshake. "Lieutenant of Artemis, daughter of Zeus."

If he had to describe her, he'd have no other word to use but impressive; he could absolutely see similarities between her and Annabeth as they continued to chat and fill each other in. He noted that she put her title before her godly parenthood.

He glanced in the background of the Iris Message. In the grassy plain they'd set up in, he could see tents being folded up, demigods sharpening their swords on their boats, and the slightly charred Argo II hovering in the background. Well-armed girls in silver jackets milled about, some helping demigods, others turning their noses up at them, especially the boys.

Piper ran back into the picture. She blew out a breath before lifting her head.

"We've got a general location, and Leo seems pretty sure that you're there, he hacked into a satellite or something. Are there any monsters there?"

Annabeth nodded. "Two giants out in the open, but Pipes... there's an army below us, in the tunnels. We're gonna try to find the opening tunnels, block as many off as we can so they can't surround us."

Thalia nodded. "Sounds good. Stay safe."

Annabeth bid them goodbye, wafting a hand through the message to cut it off.

"Right." she said, lifting her dagger. "Let's go."

The two demigods walked back along the cliff, feeling for any gaps that could conceal passages, but Frank couldn't shake off the feeling that they were being watched.

Chapter 47: Percy XXX

Summary:

Eventually, it hit him with a bleak finality.

He couldn't get out.

Chapter Text

Chapter 47

Percy XXX

Ichor dribbled into Percy's eye, and he shook his head furiously to the side, heaving himself up another foot with a drawn out groan.

Panting heavily, Percy glanced down. OhGods. His head swam at how far up he was.

He was several hundred metres in the air; he couldn't see the black ground anymore. All he could see were the stalagmites sticking out a couple metres down, waiting to break both his fall and his spine. The red clouds that hung over Tartarus were at eye level, pure darkness lurking everywhere else.

Percy gasped as he drove Adamas into the rock again, his legs kicking in the dead air beneath him.

Another cry echoed in the distance.

Percy knew he would be dead by now if it wasn't for his new sword. Every time he stabbed his surroundings, the rock spikes chasing him seemed to hesitate, the red clouds get thicker; he was stabbing the body of Tartarus himself and slowing him down.

His surroundings seemed to flicker inbetween strikes. The sky boiled and the ground blistered.

Percy realized that what he saw of Tartarus was only a watered-down version of its true horror—only what his demigod brain could handle. The worst of it was veiled, the same way the Mist veiled monsters from mortal sight. Now as Tartarus got closer, he began to see the truth.

The air was the breath of Tartarus. All these monsters were just blood cells circulating through his body. Everything Percy saw was a dream in the mind of the dark God of the pit.

This must have been the way Nico had seen Tartarus, and it had almost destroyed his sanity. Percy gritted his teeth, almost wishing he could close his eyes, wishing he could go blind. But he couldn’t stop.

Though the idea of the pit being the body of Tartarus made him physically ill, for once he was grateful, for he knew that Tartarus would kill him in a split second if he stopped moving. He quite literally didn’t have the time to go insane.

Percy scrabbled up another meter or so before heaving a sigh of relief as he looked up. He swung his sword arm and stabbed deeply into one of the few ledges sticking out of the rock face (actual face) he was scaling, like rest breaks; they were a couple meters wide, and had sheer drops on every side but upwards.

He pulled himself up, rolled onto the small platform (chin) and ducked instantly as a scythe swung his way.

He lunged to the side, lashing out with his sword in a defensive arc, a vengeful looking God stood opposite him. He was twirling his silver scythe in the air with a teeth-baring grin.

"Where do you think you're going?" he cackled, "The only way forward from here is up, but there's no way out from there. And there are plenty more of us waiting for you. It is time for your doom, and doom is what I shall bring you."

He swung out at Percy, who slid underneath the weapon, smoothly twisting on his knees to slash into the back of the God's knees.

The God howled, staggering and dropping to the floor, scythe clattering away.

Percy stepped forwards and kicked it off the side, plummeting down below and out of sight. He glanced over the edge of the cliff warily.

"Looking- looking forthat?"the God chuckled weakly from the ground, pointing a finger in the direction of the Lethe Percy had left behind.

Percy looked as quickly as he could, sword still raised, and blinked as the black lift of Hades swam into view like a heat mirage, sitting far down below by the bank of the river he had just left.

Hades hadn't left him to die.

It was right there waiting for him.

The God hacked out a laugh at his expression from where he was sprawled .

"It- it was right by you the entire time! Covered in mist! You-" the God was shaking in laughter, pulling on his black hair maniacally, "-you walked straight by it!"

Percy stared at the lift. His only way out was all the way over there.

He couldn't go back, not now, not without Tartarus getting him, or breaking every bone in his body by climbing and no doubt falling down. The nearest river was too far away to summon; by the time it would reach him, the Primordial God would be on him. Percy's breathing grew quicker.

The God next to him was struggling to his feet, golden ichor weeping from the backs of his knees and down his legs. Percy didn't even know his name, but the smugness in his orange eyes told him everything he needed to know, for what he was going to do.

"You- you're going to die down here." the God said. "If I don't get you, there are a thousand more who will. It is your doom."

He sure talked about doom a lot, he thought, as he watched carefully as the God staggered in pain.

"You have to realise,no oneis coming for you." he continued. "No one will save you at the last minute or pull you out of a difficult situation. There's no rescue mission being sent, or even some help. No one would dare."

"Dude, shutup."

"You know they've left you down here to die, right?"

A deafening roar from below shook several stones loose above them.

Percy needed to get moving. Now.

Reaching forwards, Percy seized the scruff of the jet black robes on the still talking God, who yelped as Percy wrenched him forwards, struggling and limping in his grip, but Percy didn't let go.

He stabbed his sword up, impaling him straight through the stomach with Adamas.

"-andaGH!"

Ichor poured over his hand. The God gave a lurching cry, panicked and wild eyes meeting his own, as his pale hands weakly jerked and gripped Percy's shoulders.

"I- I-" The God's breath came in stutters and stammers.

Lights blinked on and off in his eyes, just like Apate's, and, knowing what was coming, Percy shoved the God roughly backwards, yanking Adamas out with a squelch and throwing his other hand over his eyes.

A blinding light filtered in through his fingers, and without the blessing, this time Percy could feel the intense heat that rolled off the dying God.

When he could no longer feel it, he glanced once at the large scorch mark, seared into the ground, and the body lying atop it, and turned to the cliff side going up. He drove his sword in, hearing a bellow too close for his liking behind him, and continued his climb.

If the God had told him the truth, there were more monsters above him. As Percy pushed up with his feet, he observed the cliff ahead, seeing little ledges scattered here and there like a flight of stairs. Like facial features.

Resting his boiling face against the stone for a second, Percy watched as stalagmites sprouted from the ledge below, spreading across his entire way down like a thorn bush. Like fingers reaching for him. The red rocks of Tartarus were barely visible, just darkness all around, to the point where his Nyx blessing was kicking in, little silver outlines guiding his way-

Percy's foot slipped.

Like a sucker punch to the chest, all the air vanished from his lungs.

His swords slid out from the cliff face, and suddenly the entire terrain was blurring and curving up as he fell, his body twisting and flipped and the stalagmites reached up to him like a mother’s embrace.

The air whipped by him, hissing like Tartarus was crowing victoriously in his ear,headoverheels,headoverheels-

Percy reached out an arm to protect his head, scrunched his eyes shut and-

He landed on a platform a little higher up than he had been before, the shadow travel leaving him retching onto the ground, hands spasming around his swords. He- he- couldn't- couldn't breathe breathe breathe-

Percy propelled himself backwards, back slamming soundly against the cliff, facing out towards the edges of the ledge. He couldn't breathe out, only in, liquid adrenaline in his lungs and what felt like electricity shooting up and down his legs-

"Percy Jackson..." A voice mused to his right.

Still stuck in the horror of nearly falling to his death, all Percy could manage was looking in their direction with frantic eyes, his body still pushing itself against the wall in an effort to be safe.

It was another damn God, or a Goddess this time, a beautiful woman in a white robe-

She crouched down by Percy, who was too tense and locked in panic to do anything besides jerk his hand to where his sword lay, rigid muscles in his arm ready to lash out. The Goddess caught his wrist, holding it loosely, and laid a cool hand across his forehead, worried brown eyes looking him over.

"You've come a long way." she murmured. "And yet such a long way still to go."

Percy made eye contact with her, not moving, the coldness of her hand soothing and cooling his burning body.

"Who a-are-?" he choked out, the salty taste of sweat and the copper of blood in his mouth.

"Philotes." Her voice was like a breeze on a summer day. "Goddess of friendship and affection."

She must have caught his flash of confusion, for she elaborated. "Nyx is my mother. I keep her company down here." She helped him to his shaky feet, his heart pounding inside his chest. "Notallof us down here are bad. There are a few of us who do not wish to see Gaia take over."

Philotes looked around, her light hair flowing over her shoulders, little plaits here and there. Her hands rested on Percy's bare shoulders, and he found himself getting his breath back, his energy, his determination to get back to his friends.

Philotes turned back. Her eyes scanned him, from his disfigured and bleeding face, purple nose and lumpy cheekbone, to the red ring of burns still visible from Kampê's whip.

"You have to be careful, my darling," she told him sympathetically, "Tartarus himself has put a- how to say- a hit out on you."

"He's- what?" Percy raised his eyebrows in shock.

"Why do you think so many of us are around here? We were all drawn to you, like moths to a flame." she told him. "Every monster down here is now aware of where you are. Come see."

She took Percy's filthy hand a little gingerly, probably choosing not to comment on the gold dripping across his body and soaking his hands, and led him to the edge. Her skin felt soft in his calloused and blood-encrusted hands.

"Look." she said, pointing downwards.

Percy followed her eyeline, but could see nothing, tightening his grip on her hand. Although he instinctively felt as though he could trust her, if she tried anything, he'd take her down with him.

"I can't see anything." he told her, his voice hoarser than he remembered.

She smiled calmly as if she could read his mind. "No," she replied, reaching her other hand up to his sweaty temple, "Lookfurther." she said insistently.

Her fingers spread a coolness across his head, and like binoculars, he found himself able to see further, through the lattice of rocky spikes, straight down to the base of the cliff.

What looked like thousands upon thousands of monsters were at the bottom.

They threw themselves at the stone face, scrabbling over and even on each other to get up, sharp claws sending showers of rock tumbling down in grooves like trenches, a mess of snarls and whines, hundreds more pouring in like swarms of ants from every direction from every corner of Tartarus.

Every single one of their eyes were looking straight at him.

And there was Tartarus, far too close for his liking, halfway up the cliff, his car sized feet stomping and stamping on monsters as if they were nothing more than steps. His giant fists were clenched. The half melted sword was back to full sharpness, the cut in his armour repaired and healed. Every time he drove his fist into the cliff, bellowing loudly, it shook the entire pit like an earthquake.

Though Tartarus did not have a face, he radiated a sort of malicious glee in the hunting of Percy. If he wanted, if he really focused, the primordial could probably manipulate the terrain and throw Percy off the cliff, but Percy guessed every time he stabbed him he set him back a little, and Tartarus was still new to his body.

Thinking about that, and not taking his eyes off the swirling face craned up to watch him, Percy dropped to his knees, letting go of Philotes hand. He withdrew his sword, and plunged it into the stone beneath him.

Tartarus roared, misplacing his foot and sliding down a couple inches.

"You can slow him down with this, but not indefinitely." Philotes' voice said somewhere near him, and she let go of his head, his vision springing back to normal like an elastic band.

Percy stood up, and the Goddess regarded him softly.

She was so beautiful, so clean, and so kind that tears sprung to his eyes. Spending so long down here, in the blood, the ash, the fear and the fury... he wanted to go home so badly he could feel it hurt in his chest.

"Are you real?" he asked her quietly, dreading the answer.

If he woke up now, and he was dreaming while still on the run with Damasen and Bob, or stuck in a cave with a sad*stic Koios, or locked in the darkness with The Voice... he wasn't sure what he would do.

"I'm real." she said firmly. "Do not lose sight of reality. I know where we are. I know the truth, as I believe you do too. You can't let it stop you. You have bonds, connections, that stretch high out of this place. Find them."

Percy felt a lonely tear slip down his cheek.

"I'm so tired." he whispered.

She didn't say anything in response, just cupped his bruised and bloodied cheek and stroked it gently with her thumb

"Go." she told him softly. "When they get to this level, I will hold them off as best I can. Youmustcarry on, get back to your mother, and your girlfriend and your friends."

Perhaps before all of this, Percy would have insisted she join him, that someone so nice and so motherly didn't have to die. Instead, he nodded grimly, blinking.

"Thank you." he told her.

"Two of my sisters remain," she added. "Adephagia, goddess of greed and Eucleia, of glory. They will not hesitate to sacrifice you."

She stepped closer to him, before reaching down to the ground, her white robe remaining impossibly clean. She dragged two of her fingers along the floor, collecting the powdered dust of the black glassy floor. She brought them up, and dragged them down Percy's face, painting one thick stripe across each of his eyes from hairline to chin, covering his eye scar and congealing with the ichor already on his face. He felt a little energy return to his body.

"You must not hesitate either." she whispered.

Percy nodded. Just before he started climbing, he had a thought.

"Is there a way out? At the top, I mean?" he asked, slightly desperately.

Philotes gave him a sad smile. "You will have to make one." she said, taking out a long and fine rapier blade of gold and turning away. "There are more of us who are rooting for you than you know." she said without looking at him. "You have survived this far, little demigod. I hadn't thought such a thing possible until now. Go show Gaia how you survived."

Percy swallowed tightly.

He was infinitely more careful as he climbed this time, not letting go and not stopping, his sweaty hands clutched around Riptide and Adamas as tightly as he could. He didn't look back at Philotes.

He drove Adamas into the cliff face with his right hand.

When he got out, he was going to smell the grass, the petrichor, the sea salt.

He heaved himself up and slammed Riptide into the stone with his left hand.

He was going to stare at the sun until the pure light left dots in his vision for minutes after.

Adamas, right hand.

He was going to sit in the strawberry fields at camp and eat the sweet berries until the harpies were forced to chase him off.

Riptide, left hand.

He was going to buy his mother the expensive turquoise typewriter she'd been thinking about buying for the last year.

Adamas, right hand.

He was never doing the lava wall at camp again and he'd have to hand over his title of Most Burned to Clarisse.

Riptide, left hand.

He was going to tell Chiron everything he'd done and hope that he would understand and not throw him out of camp.

Adamas, right hand.

He was going to wade into the lake with Annabeth and cry underwater in her arms, let it all go and get it all out until nothing was left and he could finally relax again.

Riptide, left hand.

He was going to take a shower, and strip off all the layers of blood, ichor and mistakes until he was light and clean.

Another earthquake shook the cliff, and Percy clung on tightly as several hunks of rock fell from the sky. If he squinted, Percy could swear he could see some stalactites coming down, which could possibly mean...he was close to the ceiling.

He felt like he'd been climbing for days by the time the next ledge came into view, his arms shaking with effort and his back aching fiercely. He'd had to fight off several attacks from winged creatures, lashing out with their own blood and exploding them from the inside, clouds of gold falling like raindrops around him.

A scream burst from below, and Percy whipped his head over his shoulder.

Philotes was swarmed with monsters, the massive hand of Tartarus creeping over the edge of the platform a couple hundred feet below him, and they snapped and darted around her, catching her arms, her legs, and she screamed once again, slicing with her rapier.

Percy locked his jaw, and continued climbing.

He didn't look down as the screams continued and he certainly didn't look down when they stopped.

It was only when Percy reached the last, almost square-shaped, platform that he realised: it wasn't a platform.

It was the top.

He stood up (on the head of Tartarus), putting Riptide in his pocket, and looked in a wide circle around him. In three directions, it was nothing but black air and the tips of the red clouds. Below, he followed the long cliff face and saw the absolute tsunami of monsters raging below getting nearer every second. Behind him was a stone wall that connected his huge pillar of rock to the black ceiling only a few feet from his head, stalactites hanging down in arcs like sleeping bats. It was dark, and Percy could almost feel a wind whistling around him, as if he was atop Everest. It certainlyfeltlike it, he thought, rolling his strained shoulders, wary of his sore ribs.

"Adephagia? Eucleia?" he called out, his voice loud in the quiet of the summit, just the faint hum of the monsters below keeping it from a total dead silence. "I know you're up here." he added, turning his head in every direction.

"Do you now?" a voice answered behind him, and Percy jerked forwards, spinning around.

One of the Goddesses was stood behind him, watching him intently with a definitely predatory expression. Her dress was a dark red but Percy didn't think for one second it was meant to be that colour, neckline obscured by the flow of sleek black hair.

" Adephagia or Eucleia?" he asked, still trying to find the other one.

"Adephagia." she replied evenly. "Hello Godkiller."

"Where's your sister?" Percy cut to the chase.

"Which one? Philotes, the one you just left for dead?"

"You know what I'm talking about, Don't try and be smart here." Percy cut her off.

Adephagia smiled. It wasn't a nice smile.

"Oh Eucleia's around." she said. "But let's get down to the real points."

She gestured to Adamas.

"Give me your sword and I'll let you live." she said.

"Absolutely not." Percy refused.

Her eyes flashed with rage.

"I need it." she replied. "Give it to me."

Percy rolled her eyes in exasperation. "You were greed, right?"

"It's not greed!" she whined, stamping her foot, a pendant around her neck swinging. "I just need some things sometimes!"

"Look-" Percy glanced down at the horde of monsters only a couple hundred feet away. "I don't have time for this. Can we just get on with this whole thing? Or you could just leave? Either's good. Really."

"Eucleia!" Adephagia yelled.

Percy yelped as another goddess flickered into view an inch away from his face, dagger shooting towards his stomach. He caught her wrist and, hooking his ankle behind her leg, effectively shoved her to the floor, with what would have been a fatal stab wound reduced to a small cut across his stomach.

"Oof!" Eucleia hit the ground with a solid thump.

She was a rather heavy set Goddess, rubenesque beauty that didn't quite extend to the coldness in her eyes. She had a pendant around her neck too, another thick chunk of polished grey stone. Her frizzy hair stuck out as if she'd been shocked.

"That hurt!" she exclaimed in indignation.

Percy scrunched up his face in confusion. "What?"

"That.Hurt!" She punctuated each word with a jab of her fingers. "How are we supposed to kill the Godkiller if you won't let us?"

Another roar from down below, alarmingly close, had Percy snapping to attention. "Right, shut up," he said, "I need to find a way out."

There was a stalagmite close to a stalactite in the corner, but he didn't know how he could get through the layers of thick rock. Adamas could make a primordial bleed but couldn't exactly cut out an escape hatch for him. He knew he would die if he tried to shadow travel; he simply didn't have enough energy or knowledge to do it.

"Don't ignore us!" Eucleia snapped.

Percy gestured with Adamas in their direction and they both jumped back. His lip curled and he strode forwards.

In one fluid motion, he kicked Eucleia in the chest, sending her flying over the edge of the cliff, and swung to behead Adephagia.

She jerked her head back, the blade missing her neck by a hair, and, as Percy rounded on her, she turned to the cliff edge, and jumped.

Percy blinked. Okay.

He went back to the ceiling problem, pacing slowly, trying hard to ignore the increasing rumble below him, stabbing his swords lightly into the ground every now and then to slow Tartarus down.

He had to get out. How?

Not down.

Not up.

Not left.

Not right.

The army grew closer.

Eventually, it hit him with a bleak finality.

It was like a thought he'd been weaving around had finally stepped into the spotlight.

He couldn't get out.

Percy stopped moving, standing shock still.

He genuinely couldn't get out. He had no options.

This was it. End of the line. Boxed in, an army and a primordial on one side, thick rock on the other. He stared out into the landscape around them, into the body of Tartarus. Was he even real here? What would happen if he died?

He would stand here until the wave of monsters washed over him, fight until he could no longer stand, and then there was no doubt in his mind that Tartarus himself would strike the final blow. Maybe he'd be killed quickly. Maybe it would be drawn out, every monster watching and laughing as he screamed until the blood in his throat muffled his voice. Maybe he'd be left for all eternity in Tartarus' cursed breastplate.

The thought of that made vomit crawl up his throat. He couldn't breathe.

He glanced over the edge. They were closer now. They'd be here soon. He had nothing.

He was really, actually, going to die this time.

No way out. Of the situation, of Tartarus, of the miserable destiny he had been given.

A cackle floated up to the side of him, followed by the sound of a slap, and an 'oof'.

Percy glanced numbly over the cliff, and stared at the two goddesses below, clinging to the side of the rock face. Another blow from Tartarus' fist shook the entire block, sending more showers of rock down, and causing them to look up.

They stared at him.

Déjà vu rolled through him as misery filled his head, but there was no Cocytus this time. Just him.

"If I gave you my sword," Percy found himself saying in a detached tone, "Would you make it quick?"

The goddesses looked at each other in shock for a second before both started nodding and babbling.

"Quick death-"

"Over in a second-"

"Lessthan a second-"

"Lessthanlessof a second-"

"You wouldn't feel it-"

"You wouldn't evenseeit-"

"You wouldn't even seeus, here look-"

Both goddesses touched the pendants around their necks and vanished briefly, before flickering back into view.

"See?" Adephagia exclaimed.

Percy's eyes wandered. He took in the nightmare around him. He didn't want to die.

"Come up." he heard himself say.

Percy wandered into the middle of the platform.

He didn't know what to think, or what to say at this point. Didn't everyone have important last words? For a kid with ADHD, his mind was remarkably blank for once.

Last words.

He had nothing to say to anyone here.

He was so far up, and so far away from home.

He tucked Adamas into his trouser loops and took out Riptide instead. He was going to die, he didn't want his soul to be reaped as well. Riptide killing him seemed... fitting. Like an old friend putting you out of your misery. A friend saying goodbye. It was the end of the line for him. His last stop.

Better luck next time.

The roaring was only metres away, and Adephagia and Eucleia seemed to be in a hurry to get away from it.

"Here." his voice was toneless as he held out Riptide. "Take whatever you want when I'm dead."

Eucleia took the sword from his hands, running her own over it reverently. Adephagia put her hands on Percy's shoulders, just like Philotes had done, and he let himself be pushed to his knees.

Another blow from Tartarus shook them all, so close, and Percy's eyes focused dimly on something in the distance.

"Ready?" Eucleia said, unable to hide her glee.

Percy didn't say anything.

They knew he wasn't.

Eucleia raised his sword, levelling it up with his heart.

His hands were loose at his sides.

The goddesses exchanged a look, no doubt looking for signs it was a trap. Percy wished it was.

Annabeth, he thought, and his internal voice was small and distant, like a note in a bottle being swept away by the endless waves of the sea. Annabeth. I'm sorry.

Eucleia drew back the sword, ready to strike.

I'msorry.

Tartarus struck another blow, a boulder the size of a car falling straight down to the left of him.

He closed his eyes.

I'm so sorry.

Eucleia was swinging.

Claws were appearing over the top of the cliff.

Rocks tumbled around him.

Percy's eyes snapped open.

Wait.

Chapter 48: Percy XXXI

Summary:

A bead of something that could have been sweat rolled down Percy's face, and he panted, his hands burning around Riptide, the black tips of his fingers barely visible in the darkness.

Chapter Text

Chapter 48

Percy XXXI

The answer had been right in front of him all along.

How the hunks of rock plummeted around them like asteroids every time Tartarus hit the cliff. The stalactites snapping and tumbling to the ground, exploding into thousands shards that pelted the trio like hail. How the goddesses in front of him could barely stand as the ground beneath them shook and trembled.

All the pieces connected in Percy's head at the same time to form an absolutely ridiculous idea, and it sent a raw pulse of adrenaline through his body.

Every nerve was alight. His eyes sharpened and flew open.

Percy threw his hands upwards, lurching his body to the side, as he wrenched riptide out of Eucleia's hands. The tip had been a millimetre away from his heart.

"Hey!" Eucleia screamed, and stamped her foot.

"You can't do that!" Adephagia cried, as Percy came out of his roll and staggered to his feet.

"Sure I can!" A kind of manic laugh burst out of him, eyes wild and churning.

All the hopelessness and terror he had felt before seemed to have vanished. His head had cleared. He only had one thought in his mind, a plan Z; his last chance, and Percy knew he would certainly be dead if it didn't work.

Which is why it would have to.

He didn't know what he'd do if it didn't.

"Do you have anyideawho I am?" Percy asked them.

A few monsters scrabbled over the edge of their platform, and Percy kicked them back over the edge, howls sinking into the pitch blackness below.

"Because I'll tell you who I am." Percy said.

He flicked Riptide to the side, clouds of gold dust flying off the end of the blade.

"I'm Percy Jackson," Percy said, beheading an ogre. "I’m the Head Counsellor of Cabin three and Praetor of New Rome. Recoverer of Zeus' lightning bolt, the golden fleece as well. Defeater of Kronos, et cetera, et cetera."

Adephagia and Eucleia yelped as claws came over their side of the ledge, jumping away, but still trying to keep their distance from Percy, eyes widening with impending fear as he continued speaking.

"I've had the Achilles curse twice, the Nyx blessing once. I've been to Alaska and came back. I've had to fight more titans and more giants thananyoneelse I know, and lived to tell the stories." Percy said, stabbing a monster clean through the chest, a sense of satisfaction welling up in him as he recounted what he'd done, something he never really got to do, constantly downplaying himself. Not anymore.

"I’mthe Godkiller." Percy stated simply, and never before had he felt so close to the title he had been given.

Another bellow shook the very stones underneath Percy's feet, and he hurried into the centre of the platform.

Plan Z.

"But the most important thing right now?" he asked the two goddesses rhetorically. "You know whatreallymatters in the end?"

They shook their heads minutely.

The water is within you, Percy recalled the words said to him once.

Plan Z.

Percy reached inside himself and remembered the waves and the currents, the endless power of the ocean. He felt the tug in his gut, and didn't fight it; he let it drag him under, becoming part of the churning backwash, the riptide that drowned surfers pinned to the sea floor, and heavy fifty foot waves that powered through houses, knocking down trees and sweeping those who tried to flee off their feet. It had been so long since he had done something like this. Percy slowly unleashed the strength within him, that he always tried to hold back, to contain and manage. But he knew more than anyone howthe sea does not like to be restrained.

"I'm the son of Poseidon." Percy said, his skin awash with power. "God of the Seas. Father of Horses. Bringer of Storms. And," he said, bringing his sword high up above his head. "TheEarthshaker."

He let it all loose in one powerful bellow and stabbed his sword straight down into the ground.

Around him, the shaking went from chaotic to insane.

There was an explosion, a tidal wave, a whirlwind of power simultaneously catching him up and blasting him downward onto the floor. Magma and water collided, superheated steam, as Percy's dams broke open.

Whole chunks of the ceiling fell down, the entire cliff teetering from side to side, and storm clouds of dust billowed up into the air, as practically all of Percy's surroundings became a frantic blur.

The goddesses were thrown haphazardly to the ground next to him, monsters flung off the cliff, and Percy had to cling to his sword in order to hang on. Power rolled down his arms in waves, sinking into the stone as pulse after pulse of raw energy shook even the air around him.

A rock the size of a car detached from the ceiling with a loud crack, falling slowly and majestically down to the ground.

In the distance, Percy saw magma erupt from a spiky black mountain, bursting out like a smashed fire hydrant. Massive black fissures cracked the ground, huge chasms opening up beneath them, monsters howling as they were pulled into Chaos below.

A bead of something that could have been sweat rolled down Percy's face, and he panted, his hands burning around Riptide, the black tips of his fingers barely visible in the darkness.

He held on as long as he could, his arms and head screaming at him.

And then it finally happened.

A great almighty crack echoed thunderously through the pit, the noise lancing through Percy's pained eardrums, like the biggest bone in the world being snapped right by him. The largest chunk of rock Percy had ever seen dropped from the ceiling, the size of a small ocean liner.

The front of it smashed into the column of rock Percy was on, and it threw him completely off his feet. Riptide was pulled straight out of the ground as he tumbled backwards, just barely managing to stay on.

The rock smashed down the side of the cliff with a waning howl, obliterating monsters and minor gods alike in explosions of gold and bursts of rock. It sailed past Tartarus, who had stopped climbing to bellow as the world around them was torn apart. The rock hit the ground with a boom that threw them all backwards, a tsunami of destruction spreading out in every direction.

Percy shook his head groggily from the floor, a ringing and buzzing in his ears. He could feel vague pain from a gash all down his arm. Every noise around him seemed to be muted.

He blinked slowly once, twice, eyes wandering up to the ceiling.

A small ray of light had appeared, dust dancing gently in the beam.

At the top of it, Percy could see a small opening, a kind of grey light coming through a hole no bigger than a phone booth.

He stood, legs shaking, dimly aware of the sheer destruction around him, patting his hands around his trousers to make sure he had everything.

Percy took a step forwards, and winced as his hearing began to come back into focus, like turning up the volume on the TV, fire crackling and beasts screaming all around him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Adephagia stand up. Her dress was torn, and she looked a mess.

"Eucleia!" she cried, and Percy's glance flicked to two feet sticking out from under a boulder. Ichor seeped out from under it.

"Yikes." Percy whispered, raising his split eyebrow.

The crying goddess whipped around with hate-filled eyes, and she reached up to grab her pendant, disappearing in front of him.

Percy shook his head. He needed to get moving.

He stumbled over to a rock balancing precariously on top of the still swaying cliff, that seemed to be about to give out any second. Percy clambered on top of it, on all fours, like how he used to climb stairs as a child. He climbed onto another one, just a few metres away from the ceiling, the little square escape hatch within reaching distance.

So, naturally, things had to go wrong.

Below him, Percy watched in horror as a too-close Tartarus began to laugh, a noise that sent raw terror through Percy, his hairs standing on edge, breathing out of his mouth heavily. The Primordial God pulled his sword backwards, and slammed it into the cliff.

Percy watched in confusion as the Tartarus bellowed out in pain, but kept stabbing the cliff. It clicked in his head too late, as cracks began to spiderweb across the already precarious cliff. The base began to crumble. The rocks underneath Percy began to sink as the entire cliff started to collapse like a skyscraper, hundreds of monsters getting crushed underneath the hulking rock, scraped off the sides of it like flies.

Percy scrambled up the rest of the rocks, eyes wide and panicked, going as fast as he could, now weaving through stalactites sticking down from the ceiling rapidly.

The little hole was within reaching distance, and as the rocks began to lurch underneath him, Percy threw caution to the wind.

Reaching out with both hands, Percy jumped.

The rocks fell away underneath his feet, arcing down towards the broken and smashed ground.

More magma shot out of the mountains in the distance, cries of monsters easily distinguishable in the chaos.

Percy sailed through the air, stretching his body as far as it could go.

He could feel Tartarus' disbelieving face watching him.

Percy's fingertips scraped the edge.

A hand closed around his ankle, and just that little bit of drag pulled him down a fraction of an inch.

He missed it.

Percy's body slammed into a stalactite, arms wrapping around it, and he found himself clinging on to it in a desperate hug, his breaths coming shorter and quicker as he hung in the air, only murder and destruction waiting thousands of feet below him. He kicked his flailing feet in the dead air, and Adephagia popped into view.

She looked just as scared as he did, but there was spite in her eyes as she spat at him.

"If I die," she hissed, "you're coming with me."

"Get- hgn-off me!" Percy shouted, and with every kick, he slid a little further down the stalactite, his sweaty hands slipping.

"Youaskedme to kill you! Well, here I am!" she screamed.

Percy had never felt so scared before in his life. He dug his bleeding fingernails into the stone in order to gain traction, just to stay alive that little bit longer, scrabbling madly in the air. The chain still dangling from his bloodied wrist swung below him. His face was slowly turning red from the effort of clinging on.

The little opening in the ceiling was mockingly close, and he could feel whispers of the cool air above dancing through his hair.

"Let- ah-go!" he shouted.

"Never!" Adephagia pressed her clawed hands into the bloody skin of his leg, and Percy jerked, pain spreading like he'd had hot sauce thrown on an open wound.

He made eye contact with her, black eyes glinting at stormy green, and tried to slow his breathing, tried to calm himself down as best he could. He imagined Annabeth and Grover on the other side, reaching out hands to catch him, to pull him up and through, patiently waiting.

Percy blew out a breath through his mouth, feeling a panicked tear mixing with the black war paint down his face.

He coughed out a sob, and, with his remaining energy, even though his skin burned, and his throat felt as dry as a desert, found the feeling of ichor below him.

"Last chance." he choked out, desperate to conserve energy. "Let go, or die."

Adephagia just dug her claws in deeper, rivulets of his blood dripping into the raging darkness below them. "This is on Gaia, Godkiller," she hissed venomously. "You were never meant to become this."

Percy closed his eyes, and his eyebrows clenched together. The goddess below him began to jerk, and he heard choking noises rise up. He found the centre, the heat of the ichor, making it warmer and warmer, sinking deeply into it, until he found the raw beginnings of it, the connections of the life it gave. The hooks that connected the ichor to the body, and ripped them away, not one by one, but handful by handful. Like last time, they sprang apart with little pings like piano strings, and Percy didn't hesitate to wrench the last one off.

The weight pulling him down had been getting both lighter and less frantic, and he felt an even hotter air underneath. He knew she was on her way out, and clung even harder to the stone as a burning feeling emblazoned across his leg from where the Goddess had touched him. She hadn't had any open wounds, he thought, how exactly was-?

His question was answered instantly as the life force beneath him exploded, and what felt like a bucket of hot liquid sprayed over his body, ichor covering him from the tips of his greasy hair to the soles of his hole ridden shoes.

Percy opened his eyes, and choked as he saw the familiar liquid gold splattered on him, and falling in huge globs below. It smelled like metal.

She was gone.

Muscles locked and tense, Percy turned his head as best he could, and dragged his exhausted body to the top of the stalactite, practically hearing his third grade gym teacher yelling at him to climb the rope.

He glanced at what remained of the cliff, and his stomach twisted on sight. Tartarus stood there solidly, gaze boring directly into him, and Percy could feel the terror grip his legs and chest, almost unable to look away from the being that radiated pure hatred and anger.

Close to hyperventilating, Percy swallowed, and reached out an arm to the hole. His fingers were slippery on the edge, and Percy shook his head, biting his lip. His hands were dripping with sweat. He'd never make it. He couldn't. Percy could see it in his head, him jumping off, trying to twist around and catch himself on it, fingers sliding easily off, and he saw his body plummeting and flipping down into Tartarus' murderous grasp. No. No, he couldn't.

But nor could he stay here, rocks still falling around him and the terrain below cracking and erupting. Percy had never felt so unsure, and so petrified of moving.

Come on, his mother whispered in his head,you can do this, Percy.

Gonna hang around all day, Seaweed Brain?Annabeth's face swam in front of his eyes, and he huffed a breath out through his nose, lips twitching.

Percy, man, come on. Grover nodded reassuringly.

Percy took one look at the destroyed and burning landscape around him.

His heart was beating in his chest so loud and so hard, he felt sick.

"I can do this." Percy didn't know whether he thought it or whispered it silently, but he clung to the sentiment.

Pulling up his shaking feet to kick off, Percy reached out with one hand, his remaining arm still holding on. The stalactite felt safe, but, as a rock dropped from the roof in front of his eyes, he knew it was just a matter of time before it broke, he couldn't stay there forever.

He needed to go.

He didn't move.

Now.

No, Percy couldn't move; he was too scared, he was too scared, too scared-

Now.

No.

Now?

No.

Now!

Feeling as though his arms were about to drop off, Percy jumped. He even reached out a little with his powers, finding his own blood, and pushed his body high, as hard as he could, refusing to look down at the endless and terrifying drop below.

His hands stretched out from bloody palms to blackened fingertips...

And he caught the ledge firmly in both hands.

Swinging forwards, then backwards, Percy used the momentum to pull himself up further, hooking his body over, armpits over the edge.

A angry bellow echoed below, but Percy just gasped, kicking and pulling until his entire body went through the gap, and he rolled to the side, body laid out on the floor twitching and spasming.

Percy's breathing was erratic, and in a jerky fashion, he turned his head to the side and threw up. There wasn't much to throw up, just the raw meat he'd consumed on the run. His barf was black, green and chunky.

Delicious.

Percy didn't even recognise where he was for the first few minutes, still throwing up and shaking. He made it? He made it. He actuallymadeit. When he could actually breathe, and lift his jittery hands without them blurring, he pulled himself up to sit against the wall behind him, wary of the gap in the floor next to him.

He could feel a cool breeze, like in subway tunnels, only it felt older and familiar. The walls were made of grey cement, and the ceiling was quite low, that Percy knew if he stood, it would knock him on the head. Cobwebs spanned from corner to corner.

"The Labyrinth." Percy murmured, and it was loud in the long and wide corridor.

Percy glanced at the gap in the floor again, feeling the heat coming from it. He glanced down into it, but found he could only see darkness, tinted red, flashing every now and then. Was that how dark it had been? Percy's eyes were still adjusted to the darkness, and he found himself squinting a little even in the grey gloom of the Labyrinth.

It made sense that he would end up in there; the Labyrinth did run under most of the world, he couldn't expect to just pop out on the surface.

A distant growl echoed up from the pit, and Percy looked around. The dusty tunnel he was in looked like it had suffered some damage from his earthquake, cracks and rocks scattered around. Percy would be grateful if he never saw a rock ever again.

He found a big-ish boulder, and shoved it over the opening, ignoring the aching and bloody gashes on his arms, effectively closing it off. It was silly, but Percy instantly felt better. The tunnel too, seemed brighter, less threatening, though it may have been his imagination.

And though he couldn't help it, and felt stupid for even feeling it, Percy felt a little sad that his friends weren't here to greet him, like he'd imagined.

He had been alone for a long,longtime; monsters didn't count.

And his brief resurface to the camps began to feel more and more like a dream, or a nightmare. It troubled him deeply in the back of his mind that he wasn't sure what was real or not, like the first few minutes after a nap where you weren't sure where you were or what was going on.

Percy wrinkled his nose at all the filth on him, and prodded gently at his weeping leg. He frowned as he examined it. What was that? There was a kind of- handprint? On him? Percy's eyes widened. It was where Adephagia had held him, he could see the claw marks leading down to it... she hadburnedhim as she died.

A noise like a stone clattering across the ground snapped Percy's head up, and he whipped his sword out, staggering to his feet.

He didn't say anything, his teeth still clenched.

"Hello?" A distinctly human voice called out, but Percy just held on to his sword tighter, narrowing his eyes to slits.

He'd been tricked by cyclopes before.

Yet a head popped round the corner. Two eyes, two arms, two legs. Andfreckles?

The teenage boy wandered into view, made eye contact with Percy, and stopped dead in his tracks.

"HolyHera." the kid said.

Chapter 49: Annabeth V

Summary:

Thalia looked her over for a few seconds with piercing blue eyes. "We'll find him." she said, and her voice was low and serious. "Wewill."

Chapter Text

Chapter 49

Annabeth V

"Here's one." Annabeth murmured, feeling the loose boulder concealing an entrance to a tunnel.

"Got it.'' Frank replied, smearing a red paste they had made of berries from dry native bushes on the rock.

It was bright and eye-catching, similar markers dotted around the coastline in places so they could find the hidden entrances later, when everyone had arrived.

The sun was setting, the sky just starting to go pink, orange at the edges, and Annabeth breathed in the smell of the sea air deeply. The smell of Percy. She hated that didn't know where the Hades he was, what he was really doing, because if the price for her life was just blessing a sword, she felt almost undervalued. Absolute idiot, she thought angrily, wiping her sweaty hands on her shorts, but there were more emotions than just anger. She was worried. He'd been gone so long, and no one would give her a solid physical description of him besides 'bad'.

She took another breath, but this time it felt wrong. It choked in her throat.

It no longer smelt like Percy. It grew intense, less salt and more saline, acidic and clogging, in her nose, her throat, until she could taste a mix of sea water and blood in her mouth.

The world around her disappeared, and she could feel darkness pressing against her eyes, liquid black, wood underneath her hands, and she recoiled into herself, lungs straining and jerking, pulse pounding in her head like a tribal drum beat, in her ears, her eyes, her temples-

"-beth!Annabeth! Hey! Look at me!"

The darkness retreated so quickly that Annabeth jumped. She was back on the beach, sky orange, someone right in front of her. She saw wide eyes, a hand reaching out tentatively towards her.

Annabeth jumped again, snatching the wrist and flipping a mass of body over her shoulder, judo reflexes finely tuned and tense.

-oof!"

Annabeth blinked.

Frank stared up at her from his place flat on his back on the sand, looking extremely confused.

"Frank." she said, raising her eyebrows jerkily, breath starting to slow and calm. "Oh, Styx, Frank I'm so sorry."

Frank groaned as he sat up. "That was how it felt for Percy? Jeez."

Annabeth helped him up, frowning with knotted together eyebrows.

"What happened?" they both asked each other.

"What?"

"Why?''

They both stopped and stared at each other.

"I'll go first." Annabeth said, raising a hand to stop them from interrupting each other. "What just happened?"

Frank looked just as bewildered as she felt.

"You kind of blacked out?" Frank explained quickly. "I'm not sure. One second you were stood there, the next you- you were breathing really quick and you couldn't hear me, or see me. I was calling your name for ages."

Annabeth's gaze flicked from the sea to the gaps in the trees, now shadowy and dark. Was it Gaia? Had she got into her head somehow? Maybe by being in direct contact with the ground, she could somehow get into their heads, shut them down from the inside-

"I think you had a panic attack." Frank said quietly, taking care to look at her with understanding eyes.

Annabeth stopped. "No." she said instantly. "Of course I didn't. I couldn't. There was nothing to set one off, I-" she stopped again.

Of course the thought had occurred to her. She had all the symptoms. All the signs. The trigger. It made sense.

Except it didn't.

"It didn't feel like a panic attack." she said to Frank in a small voice, a voice she hated, that made her sound weak. "It had to have been something else."

Frank was watching her with uncertain eyes.

"I'm fine." she told him, dismissing the whole situation. "We have more to be preoccupied with right now."

"Okay." Frank seemed eager to push past it, but still had worry in her eyes.

Annabeth hated being pitied, and a quick glare had Frank putting up his hands in surrender, looking away.

"We need to find a place for the night. Away from the Acropolis, away from the entrances." Away from the sea, her mind whispered. "I'd say the jungle would be our best bet, plenty of cover, possible food and water sources until the others arrive."

"Let's go."

They walked pretty deep into the trees, Annabeth taking the lead. They cut their way through the increasingly dense lattice of the vine undergrowth, fighting through the very air, which, though once heavy and moist, as it grew darker, was now cool and still. Trees tall as the cabins back home surrounded them, and glimpses of the faintly appearing stars shimmered through the vast canopy of leaves. They didn't talk. Annabeth was still contemplating what had happened to her, and she could feel Frank's state burning into the back of her head.

Her... death had been a touchy subject. Annabeth didn't actively try to remember it, no one seemed to want to bring it up around her. She had drowned, and no one could say which was worse, the way to go or the irony of her death. On an academical level, she wanted to dissect every second of it, remember her so called resurrection, convert memories to facts she could examine and analyse.

On a traumatic level, she wanted to move on, dismiss it as the equivalent of having CPR done on her, just a little later than usual. But Percy had put himself on the line for her to come back. What did Hades say? He could die, or worse. She knew what was worse than death- torture, insanity, losing those you care about. None of those things could happen to Percy, not on her watch, but her watch hadn't been working for the last week or so.

Dead for a week. She felt a shudder in her chest, and turned around sharply.

Frank jumped back, clearly expecting another flip. Annabeth ignored it. "We should stop here.'' she said. "It's dense enough to cover us. I say we sleep in the trees as well. The further away from the earth the better." she muttered the last part to herself.

They scaled the nearest tree, settling awkwardly in the part where the branches met, legs slightly lying on top of each other. Frank looked a little uncomfortable about it, but Annabeth just let her head fall back onto the branch of the tree, closing her tired eyes. She felt like she'd taken a couple punches to the head.

The air grew cooler and cooler around them, jungle getting darker. Moonlight glinted off the edges of the leaves above her. She wondered if Percy was looking at the moon at the same time. Hades had said that his task was 'nothing he hadn't done before'. He'd done a lot before. What was worth repeating?

Her eyes slowly opened up.

He wouldn't.

She breathed very carefully, and very deliberately, in and out.

There's no way he would.

Her teeth pressed together until her jaw was firmly locked together.

Hades wasn't fond of any of them. He wouldn't make him do that. He wouldn't make him go back. He wouldn't. No one went in once, let alone wentback. Voluntarily.

But then she thought of how he looked at her. When her arms were around his shoulders, his around her waist, as he looked down at her, with a dorky grin, foreheads pressed together, like she'd hung the moon. The gentle smile that wouldn't fade no matter what she said or did. Annabeth closed her eyes, and the branches digging into her arms grew soft, circling her body. She imagined Percy behind her, supporting and holding her, with his steady, muscled arms. She could hear his laugh echoing in and out of the branches. She began to feel her body relax and sink. She could almost feel his breath ghosting on her neck. His heartbeat pulsing through her back. His chin resting on her head.

He would.

She knew he would. For her.

He'd go backthere.

The corners of her eyes welled up a little, and she shoved it from her mind, from her brain, from the whole damn tree. He'd come back. He would. He wouldn't leave her here. Not like this, not now, not ever.

She was unwillingly dragged into a restless and shallow sleep.

When she woke a few hours later, it was to loud snapping branches and a poke on the arm. Frank was crouched in the tree beside her, gripping his sword tightly. Though she felt as if she'd only closed her eyes for a second, Annabeth was up instantly, alert and ready, the jungle light and alive around them.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"No idea." Frank shook his head. "Just woke up. Sounds big."

"It's coming, and from that direction." she gestured with her dagger to where the trees opposite them were swaying.

The rustling grew louder and closer, and both demigods lifted their weapons, free hands curled around branches for support.

Annabeth narrowed her eyes. It sounded big. Bigger than just one cyclops.

With a snarl, a huge great hulking beast burst from the trees. The branches around them shook, and Annabeth jerked her head to the side to avoid falling twigs. What the Hades- adrakon?

The beast was covered in scratches, probably not used to being enclosed by trees, and it snapped at the vines caught on the ridges of its tail. Annabeth bent her knees slightly, ready to jump, as Frank frowned, tilting his head to the side.

"Go for the eyes and throat." Annabeth hissed. "The gaseous poison is stored by the larynx."

"Annabeth, wait-"

As Annabeth jumped, Frank's hand grabbed her arm, and they both lost their balance, tumbling through the branches until they hit the leafy floor with a thud, knocking the wind out of her chest.

She scrambled to her feet, as the drakon loomed over them, terrifying jaws wide and ready to consume them, and she had a bare second to pull her dagger back, aimed towards the throat.

"No! Stop!" Frank jumped in between the two, a large grizzly bear roar emerging from his new form.

The drakon hissed, rearing back, Annabeth copying its movements.

But Frank just popped back to human form, holding his hands out in both their directions as a clear stopping symbol. He looked at the drakon, and put his sword on the ground.

"Frank, what are you-!" Annabeth shouted, but he cut her off.

"Put your dagger down!"

"Are you mad!"

"Just put it down, quickly! Trust me!"

Annabeth felt like she'd missed something, hesitating for a second before letting the dagger slide out of her hands. Frank nodded, whipping his head back around to the drakon, who oddly hadn't moved during their interaction.

"I'm Frank," Frank said to the drakon, and Annabeth couldn't believe what she was seeing, "Remember me?"

A tiny amount of green mist seeped out the drakon's mouth, and Annabeth was about to pick up and throw her dagger when something caught her eye.

Around the drakon's neck, a kind of browny-red rope was tied, some kind of pouch attached, made from a similar material. It clicked in her head, and she nodded slowly.

"This is Maia?" she asked Frank, who blinked at her speed and nodded.

"She came out with Percy in Epirus." he explained.

At the sound of Percy's name, the drakon whined, a mournful howl, and she padded towards them. Annabeth's muscles were locked, and it took all she had to not jump into a fight with it. Orher, she guessed.

The drakon observed them for a very long few seconds, before huffing a breath out her nose. Frank blinked comically, and they both turned bewildered eyes on each other as the beast gave an almost shrug-like gesture, and bounded past them.

"Percy tamed that." Annabeth said faintly as she watched the drakon flatten the foliage on its way out.

"Yeah, we all had that reaction." Frank snorted, and they both reached down to snatch up their weapons.

"Let's follow it." Annabeth decided, now eager to learn more about it.

Monsters were called monsters because they just simply were- monsters. Taming one? Especially a non-talking one? Practically unheard of, bar Mrs O'Leary. And a hellhound was strange enough. A drakon?

"He's really done it this time, hasn't he?" She felt like laughing and crying at the same time, and settled on a shake of the head.

They sped after the drakon, easily tracking it through the cleared and flattened pathway it had created.

"If Percy's drakon is here-" Frank said.

"Then everyone else could be." she finished.

Sure enough, as they reached the edge of the jungle, the armies had arrived. Boats had been pulled up high along the beach or anchored out to sea, flying machines landed, tents put up and fire pits started. Demigods and hunters alike milled around, sharpening weapons and chatting nervously.

"There's Piper." Frank pointed suddenly beside her, and they stumbled down the small but steep hill towards the beach.

"Frank! Annabeth!" Hazel came rushing towards them, others following, all of them keeping a wide berth from the drakon clawing at the sand nearby.

Annabeth was pulled into a hug from Piper in the middle of the crowd.

"Gods, we thought we'd lost both of you!" the daughter of Aphrodite cried, visibly checking them over.

"We're fine, Pipes. We're okay." Annabeth reassured her.

Reyna and Jason appeared, both now in full Praetor armour, though Jason had opted to remove the purple cloak. Reyna had not, and it hung with a regal drape over her imperial gold armour, full sets of gold medals adorning both their chestplates. It looked like everyone was covered in armour, ready for a fight.

Reyna stepped up, clasping forearms with Frank, and several demigods backed away, clearly sensing that it was a 'Seven of the Prophecy type conversation', though Reyna and Nico stayed firmly where they were.

"I see you met our resident drakon." Jason nodded to where Maia was now splashing in the waves.

"Yeah, she nearly killed her." Frank told them seriously.

Reyna turned sharp eyes on Annabeth, looking her up and down for injuries. Frank realised his mistake.

Oh, no, I mean the other way around." he corrected himself, and Annabeth smiled.

Reyna seemed pleased at that, and Annabeth saw a glint of approval in her eyes.

"What's in the bag?" Annabeth asked suddenly.

The demigods looked at the drakon as Nico answered her. "We don't know," he said, "She won't let us close enough to get it."

"Could it be weapons? Food? What would Percy put in it?" Leo wondered aloud.

"Probably his head if it wasn't attached." came a voice behind them, and Thalia strode forwards.

"Thals." Annabeth greeted her with a hug, noticing how she was a little taller than the last time she had hugged the immortal fifteen year old.

"We saw all your markers, nice job with the tunnels. Lady Artemis has put hunters on each entrance to guard them." Thalia said, also in full hunter armour, glinting a violent silver.

"We have also reached out to my sister, for any assistance she can spare." Reyna said.

"So you're the Roman leader, huh?" Thalia stepped in front of Reyna, who visibly straightened and rested her hands on her dagger and spear.

The seven backed up a little, as the two strong demigods stared each other down, practically nose to nose. Jason looked especially nervous, but both Nico and Annabeth just glanced at each other.

Just as the tension reached an unsaid crescendo, Thalia broke out into a big grin, stepped back and held out a hand.

Reyna took her hands off her weapons, and frowned, but gripped her forearm in a handshake.

"Thanks for taking care of my little bro." Thalia said genuinely.

At this, Reyna gave her a small polite smile. "You're welcome."

Frank turned to a blushing Jason. "She's your sister?" Annabeth guessed he knew he'd seen those eyes before.

"Oh yeah," Thalia turned around, "I'm Greek, he's Roman. Not twins, as you can probably tell."

She flung an arm around Jason, causing Leo and Piper to start snigg*ring at how red Jason had gone. In the corner of Annabeth's eye, she caught a glimpse of Hazel slipping her hand into Frank's. Reyna and Nico watched from the sidelines with her.

As they all broke out into separate conversations, Thalia wandered over to her, silver arrows clinking together in her sheath, drawing her into a private conversation.

"How are you doing?" she asked.

Annabeth took a breath and shrugged. "I'm okay."

"There's no book out there called 'So you Died and Came back to Life', trust me, I looked, but if you ever want to talk to someone with shared life experience?" Thalia said, and pointed her thumbs towards herself. "Come find me any time."

Annabeth smiled, and felt a wave of sisterly friendship wash over her. "Thanks, Thals."

Thalia looked her over for a few seconds with piercing blue eyes. "We'll find him." she said, and her voice was low and serious. "Wewill."

Annabeth bit her lip. "I hope so." she settled on, not entirely willing to divulge her theory with anyone.

Thalia frowned a little, and Annabeth knew she could tell she was hiding something, but she was saved at the last moment, as Reyna interrupted all of them.

"Enough." she said loudly and firmly. "It's time we talked battle plans. We need to find a working relationship between all our camps that doesn't put each other at risk. Praetor's tent, now, all of you."

She turned and headed towards a large purple tent set up in the middle of the hastily put up camps, cloak billowing, and the rest followed her.

"Let's go." said Thalia.

Chapter 50: Percy XXXII

Summary:

It wasn't as if he could walk up to them and go 'Oh, hello Mr and Mrs Titan, yes, I'd like your liver please, you can choose whose'.

Chapter Text

Chapter 50

Percy XXXII

Percy didn't move.

The kid blinked at him. As far as Percy could see, he wasn't armed. He looked maybe seventeen, eighteen, ginger hair, wide brown eyes, bit gangly. Percy didn't know him, and kept Riptide aloft as a warning.

"Dude- you-" the kid stammered, looking Percy up and down, his expression almost terrified. "Lord Hades?" he gasped.

Percy's eyebrows drew together, mouth dropping open a little in confusion; he flicked a glance over his shoulder. Nothing was sneaking up on him. He looked back at the kid and sized him up. He had a demigod vibe, clearly knew about the Gods. What did he call him? Hades? Yeah,right.

"Are you a demigod?" he asked warily.

The kid nodded slowly. "Ares is my biological father." He had a strong southern accent.

"What are you doing down here?"

"We fell. Uh- my Lord. We fell, my Lord."

Percy's eyes crinkled at little at the edges; while he wanted nothing to do with being a God, he had a gut feeling that he shouldn't dissuade this kid of his guess. As a God, people wouldn't just try to up and stab him, probably.

"You fell?" Percy questioned, a little apprehensive. "Where? How?"

The kid shrugged, before his eyes went wide and he quickly tried to explain himself. "Uh, Lord Hades, I mean, I'm not sure. We were fighting in the war, a bridge collapsed, and a couple of us fell down here."

Percy frowned. "The War? The Titan War?"

The kid nodded.

Percy felt his chest get very heavy, and his breathing came slowly and deliberately.

"You said a couple of you fell down here?"

The kid nodded again.

Percy took a breath. "Is one of them called Michael Yew?"

But Percy had to look to the side in defeat when the demigod shook his head, closing his eyes briefly. They'd never found the body. It was worth a shot.

"Was he- was he one of your children?"

Percy gave him a dry look out the corner of his eye. "How old do I look to you?"

The demigod seemed to stutter and Percy remembered he thought he was Hades. He changed the subject hastily, a little unsure of how to talk to him. After so long with monsters, the whole conversation felt surreal.

"What's your name?" he started with.

"Zach." the kid, or Zach now, said. "Can I ask- uh, sir- what are you doing here? You look like you were- have you been hunting? Are you hurt? You're covered in- do you know what that shaking was?"

"You could feel that?" Percy asked, ignoring the first part of Zach's ramblings.

Zach nodded. "Knocked the stones loose above us. We barely avoided them."

Yikes. Percy bit his lip. "Where are the rest of you?" he asked. "Have you found a way out?"

Percy saw a flash of something go through Zach's eyes, and realised that if they had found a way out, they wouldn't still be down here. He was too tired to apologise, and the son of Ares just sighed.

"If you follow me," he said, "they're about a minute away from here."

Percy nodded, and put away his sword, a little surprised to find it still pointed at Zach. He made sure he had everything before he walked over to Zach, trying his best to conceal the limp he wanted to fall into, the cuts on his leg slowly dribbling blood.

"What have you been eating down here?" Percy asked. "Do you have one of Demeter's kids with you?"

"No, sir," Zach said, "We had some food when we fell. To be honest, we were just waiting it out until someone came to rescue us."

Percy frowned. "But surely you would have run out by now? How much food did you have?"

"Just a couple tins, some snacks and the like. We haven't got much left though."

Percy caught Zach's arm to stop him, and he flinched, jerking back. He almost looked scared of Percy.

"Zach," Percy said grimly, "how long do you think you've been down here?"

Zach's eyes darted around, and his eyebrows met as realisation seemed to dawn. It wasn't a pretty picture to watch all hope drain out of someone, and Percy pinched the bridge of his nose, looking down at the floor.

"It's- it's been a week or so? Hasn't it?" Zach's voice was small, and shrill.

Percy opened his mouth to answer, but even he didn't know how long he'd been down here.

"You said the Titan War." Zach said suddenly, in a quiet voice. "The Titan War. As if it was over. As in the Titans lost. The fact that you're here alive proves that."

Percy felt sympathy for the kid, he really did. He knew what could be running through someone's head to make them look so hollow and so empty.

"It's been at least a year since you fell." Percy told him, both bluntly and gently.

Zach's head whipped up. "Who won?" he demanded.

"The Gods." Percy said carefully.

Zach didn't say anything, just turned around and kept walking. Percy followed him quietly, until the kid turned, leading him into a dark circular room. Sure enough, there were visible cracks in the ceilings, rocks broken all over the floor. Percy raised his eyebrows. There were about four other demigods there, with their arms wrapped in chains that were tied to the wall. Only they weren't cuffed, weren't prisoners like he had been; they were holding onto the chains as if they were some kind of lifeline. Percy had his own chain wrapped around his wrist, holding the end of it in his hand to keep it from view.

"This is the rest of us. The Labyrinth moves if we don't chain it down." Zach added, in a strange voice, as if all the life in him had been sucked out.

Percy gave him a once over; he looked vaguely in shock, and Percy reached out to clasp his shoulder.

"Hey, man, it'll be okay. We'll all find a way out of here, finally go home. You from Camp Half Blood?"

Zach shook his head. "Not me," he said, "but Lewis and Angus are."

At this, they looked up. In the blankness of the room, their light hair looked almost grey. Percy crouched down carefully, and made eye contact with the younger boy.

He jerked back his head instantly, scrabbling to get away.

It seemed to bring them all alive, bodies stirring. The boy next to him grabbed the small boy's head, bringing it close to himself, hushing him strictly. He seemed to be muttering something. The other two kids behind, a girl and a boy, blinked big brown eyes at him. None of them could be any older than he was.

"Who's this?" the girl with exceptionally dark skin asked Zach.

Zach put his hands in his pockets. "This is- uh- well, this is Hades.TheHades. Lord Hades. The Olympian. You know, God of the dead and- stuff."

Again, Percy didn't feel the urge to correct him. Something was telling him to fly under the radar on this. He rubbed a hand over his forehead to try and cool himself down; he could still feel the heat from Tartarus in his tired bones. The girl looked at him for a long time.

"Jamila." she said eventually. "Kid of Aphrodite."

Percy nodded to the boy next to her. "And you are...?"

The youngest boy, no older than thirteen, just looked at Jamila instead, deadpan.

"He's deaf." she explained. "Hold on."

She signed something to him in rapid succession, a little restricted by the chains. Percy watched in fascination. He knew how to say 'hello' in sign language, and that was about it. He waited until they were done, then signed hello, a little hesitant in case he got it wrong.

But the boy twitched a smile, and Percy returned it instinctually. Gods, it felt good to smile again.

"His name is Ross." Jamila told him. "He's unclaimed, like Lewis and Angus. Only Zach and I are claimed."

"Don't worry. You're all over thirteen." Percy said standing up. "You should be claimed as soon as we get out."

"What?" Angus asked him curiously, Lewis' head still buried in his chest.

"Oh. Right." Percy explained. "After the War, there was a new rule introduced. All the Gods have to claim their kids by the age of thirteen."

Zach raised his eyebrows. "Really?" he asked. "Y'all agreed to that? Sir?"

Percy didn't say anything. He just looked around the room. "Did you say you had some food?" It felt wrong to eat the food of starving kids, but Percywasa starving kid.

Zach nodded, but Jamila shook her head. She held up an empty can.

"Last one got emptied about a minute ago. Looks like help came just in time, huh?"

She fixed Percy with her dark eyes, and he twitched up the side of his mouth, feeling a little uncomfortable about being on the spot, for they were now all looking to him for answers.

"I'm looking for a way out as well." Percy said. "Can you all walk?"

They nodded, getting up, though the smallest boy Lewis looked a little frail. Angus seemed to be practically carrying him.

"Come on y'all, I think I know where to start." Zach said. "And if I'm right, we won't need to keep looking."

Percy shot him a quizzical look. "How do you mean?"

Zach walked to the front of their little group to take the lead, beckoning Percy. They walked side by side for a few seconds before Zach began to talk to him in low tones.

"There's someone who can help us." he whispered. "I've been talking to her a lot, she says she can help, but I can't do what she asks of us. Maybe you can."

The hairs on Percy's arms fought against the tight dry bloodstains to stand on end.

"Who?" Percy asked.

Zach shook his head. "I don't know her name, sir, I swear. I just know that she can help."

Percy gritted his teeth.

"What is she? Titan? Giant? Goddess?"

But Zach just shook his head again. "I- I think she's human."

That threw a bit of a wrench in Percy's thoughts, and he frowned. What would Gaia want with some random demigods? It had to be her.

"Hey, what's with the war paint?" Zach asked him. "If I can ask, sir."

"What? Oh." Percy had forgotten about the stripes on his face, dusty black from chin to hairline, right over his eyes. "Kind of a gift, from a friend. Should help us get out of here."

"Can't you just, like, teleport? Sir?" Zach added.

"I'm not gonna leave you down here." Percy said, too tired and too much of a rookie to shadow travel without needing intense emotion. "Where's this woman?"

"We need to find the wall with the horns engraved on it." Zach said, running his hands over the sides of the corridor, the rest of the group doing the same, though Jamila and Ross stopped occasionally to talk to one another.

"What does she look like?" Percy asked, narrowing his eyes in the gloom to try and focus his sight, looking for the horns.

"Dark hair, usually wears some kind of red necklace? She's really hot." Zach thought aloud.

Percy gave him a look.

"No, no," Zach scrambled to sort himself out, "I mean, she radiates a- a kind of heat, sir. She'swarm. Not hot. I don't find her hot."

"I get it." Percy said, amused.

He wondered if he'd been this bad with the Gods. His twelve year old self hadn't exactly been worshipping, but he was sure he'd been a little respectful, probably. He just couldn't believe Zach thought he was Hades. He was way more tan than him. Though probably not anymore, Percy thought with a grimace, glancing at his chest, where the skin, that could be seen underneath all the ichor and blood, looked as pale as paper.

"Wait, so Zach, what was it that she wants you to do?"

Zach looked a little uncomfortable. "She wants... ingredients."

Now Percy definitely felt off.

"Ingredients." he said sharply.

"I don't know why, I promise." Zach's head whipped up at Percy's tone. "I just know that she wants them."

"Well, ingredients like what?" Percy didn't like the feeling that he was walking into another trap. "Is she a chef? A witch? A healer?"

But Zach just shook his head again, and Percy suppressed the alarming urge to hit something, choosing instead to dig his fingernails into his hand in frustration. He needed to calm down.

"Just, tell me if-"

"Found it!" came a cry behind them, and Percy clicked his jaw tightly, before turning round.

He walked over to where Angus was running a hand over a wall. There were two large horns engraved into a flat grey wall no bigger than a door, intricate designs in the dug out part.

"Alright," Percy said. "We're here. Now what?"

"We go in?" Angus said, but both Zach and Jamila shook their heads.

"We can't go in empty handed." Zach said. "She might not help us. And if she doesn't, then, then I don't know another way out. I don't. And I can't- I can't spend another- anothersecond, downherewhile the rest of the world goes to-"

Percy stepped back warily, seeing anger flash in Zach's eyes, and the muscles in his sore shoulders twitched. The Labyrinth was practically designed to send people insane. Maybe these kids had been down here too long.

Ross stepped up, placing a hand on Zach's back, and the shaking boy straightened, running hands through his hair.

"Let's just get out of here. We'll never be able to get the ingredients anyway."

Zach turned to stomp away, but Percy caught him easily, turning him around.

Zach didn't meet his eye for a few seconds, and when he did, Percy couldn't read the expression within them.

"What ingredients?" he asked him firmly.

Zach shook his head. "We can never get them."

"Zach, listen to me." Percy tried not to snap. "We can at least try."

He'd had a new outlook on what was possible and what was not forced on him a little, and the fact that Zach didn't even seem to want to try got on his nerves a bit. Whywouldn'tyou want to get out? Whywouldn'tyou want to go home to camp?

Zach sighed. "She gave me a list." he said. "Not paper, she made me recite it. She wants either: the Poison of a Gorgon, the Liver of a Titan, Head of a Demigod, or the... Ichor... of an Olympian."

Percy felt himself pale a little under the gunk covering him as Zach's eyes rolled slowly onto him.

"Zach-" he started in a low voice.

"You're an Olympian." Jamila said behind him. "I can feel the power coming off you, Lord Hades, you're definitely an Olympian."

"Look-"

"We just need some of your ichor. You're already covered in it, we can just take a bit-"

"You don't understand-"

"Idounderstand, this is the only way-!"

Zach was getting louder now, and Percy felt an ugly twisting in his mind, telling him to do something about it, as the demigod kept shouting.

"No-"

"We need to get out!" Why won't you help us? Just give us some of your ichor-!"

"I saidno!"

Zach lunged for him, hands outstretched, eyes boring onto the ichor caked on Percy's skin, and Percy had no choice but to react. He punched Zach hard in the chest, pushing the blood, which sent him flying abnormally far away, hitting the wall behind with a loud thump.

Zach slid down like a sack of potatoes, a hand clutching his chest. He coughed on the floor, winded. The demigods around him took a step back.

Percy felt sick.

"Look." he said quietly and steadily. "You're not taking my blood. The other options may sound impossible to you, but they're not impossible overall. I don't want to hurt any of you. I just want to get out of here."

He held out a hand to Zach, who paused in fear. After a beat, and a raised eyebrow from Percy, he took it shakily, and got up, wobbling on his feet.

His breathing got faster when Percy didn't let go of his hand.

"I don't want to hurt you. But if you do something like that again," Percy said in a rough voice, making the blood drain out of Zach's face, "you won't get back up. Do you understand?"

Zach nodded quickly, wriggling his hand in Percy's stone grip. Percy let him go and he took a couple steps backwards. Kids of Ares never thought about their actions. Percy breathed out slowly, hating how they all looked at him, how the gap between him and them seemed to be so much more than just a few feet.

"Poison of a Gorgon, Liver of a Titan. Head of a Demigod is obviously out of the question." Percy said, with forced casualness, "We can do that."

No one spoke.

Percy grinded his teeth together. "Any of you seen either of those down there?"

They didn't answer him, just watched him with the wary eyes of young demigods, eyes that Percy was sure he'd seen in the mirror before, a long time ago.

"I'm gonna need you to answer me, or we'll get nowhere with this." Percy sighed, feeling a sudden bond to Paul as a teacher facing a silent class.

There was more quiet, then Lewis stepped forwards.

"Thank you, Lewis." Percy said, surprised that the quiet kid was now looking him in the eye.

"I've seen a Titan not too far from here, sir." he whispered. "Big. Green. Smelly."

Percy blanked. All titans were big and smelly. Green?

"Like, his skin was green, or...?"

Lewis shook his head, and Percy noticed for the first time a long scar that disappeared under his hair. "Hair. Fishy."

"You don't mean Oceanus, do you?" Percy asked, recalling the Titan.

He'd only seen him a couple times, last time during the Titan war, when Oceanus was finally convinced to try and kill Poseidon. He could be difficult to kill; Percy would have to use Adamas more than he would his control over ichor.

Percy frowned, but nodded. "Yeah. We can get him. Where did you see him?"

"Water." Lewis said. "Lots of water, Lord Hades. Two Titans."

"Wait, what-" Jamila interrupted- "Two titans? We can't kill a titan, let alone two titans at the same time."

"I could." Percy stated, "Right now the most difficult thing is finding them."

He turned to Lewis, who was chewing his lip, blonde hair falling in his eyes. He only came up to Percy's chest. Maybe he was a bit younger than Percy had guessed, and seemed to have taken a few too many hits to the head, he thought, with a hint of worry.

"Lewis." he bent over slightly to see the boy. "Can you please show us where you saw them? Or just give us the general direction?"

"It changes."

"Anything can be useful. You chained down that room, right? If that hasn't moved, not much that's close outside of it should either." Percy's logic was flawed, but he needed what they knew, and a little lie seemed to have Lewis nodding, his hand clenched firmly in Angus'.

"This way." he said, turning around and leading the group down a corridor to the right.

Zach stayed at the back of the group this time, and Percy didn't have to be psychic to know he was having daggers stared at him, and not just by Zach. He kept his head up, and his hand close to the drakon bone sword.

His eyes wandered as Lewis turned a corner, then another, then another. The Labyrinth had seemed a lot scarier last time he was in it. Now? Percy didn't know. It felt like a haunted house that had recently been painted and cleaned. It had lost some of the spook.

The air was cooler than Tartarus, and lighter too, to the point that whenever Percy caught sight of himself, he winced. In any light, he did not look good. He prodded his face as they turned yet another corner. The bump in his nose was so dislodged and prominent, Percy half expected it to be loose and wobbly. Yet when he poked it, it was tight and hard, swollen to a dangerous extent. And it hurt a lot, so he stopped poking it.

Suddenly, Percy walked straight into Angus, who flinched away. Percy averted his eyes, looking to Lewis instead.

"Saw it here." the boy whispered, and a small hand snaked to the back of his head, where he clutched the same place Percy had seen the scar.

He gritted his teeth. Right.

"Gimme a second." he told them.

He needed to focus. Water. That was what Lewis had told him. Lots of water. Percy closed his eyes. Why was he doing this? Why couldn't he just force this woman to help them? Percy breathed out through his nose. Right, either torture an unknown woman to help him, or cut out the liver of a Titan who had sided with Kronos. Neither sounded ideal, but he knew which one he was more on board with. He'd deal with the other Titan when he found out who it was-

There. Water. Not too far away, two rights and a couple more lefts.

Percy opened his eyes, suddenly aware of how exposed he had made himself to a group of demigods who clearly didn't trust him anymore. They were all watching him carefully.

"Yeah, there's something going down not too far from here. You lot stay here, I'll check it out first." he ordered them as clearly as he could, really not needing them to get in the crossfire.

They frowned at that, but didn't contest him on it.

Percy hesitantly nodded, before turning and going down the tunnel on the right. It wouldn't be a long walk, and it was like he had a GPS built into him. The closer he got, the more water he could feel. If it was Oceanus, he'd have to dispel that water, or they'd both be fighting over it. And he wasn't sure about his odds there.

Deep in thought, Percy closed his eyes to focus on the water feeling. Only the twisting face of Tartarus swirled into view, using the black of his eyelids as a canvas, just stood atop the cliff, boring into his soul with a single lone and dead look. His eyes fluttered to get rid of the image, head tilting down, a sick feeling in his stomach at the memory of it. He didn't want to think about that ever again.

Feeling the water get nearer and nearer, he stuck his head round a corner and nodded.

Jackpot.

There was a wide rectangular room, full of water but as if it was in an aquarium, the water a solid wall that didn't spill into the tunnels. Inside, two Titans were sat on chairs talking, one with a huge scaley merman tail that draped elegantly around the chair legs.

"You said we'd go somewhere nice for our anniversary!" the female Titan complained. "Not the Labyrinth!"

"Tethys, think about thehistory of it! This place is a masterpiece!" replied the other Titan.

"Hmm. A dark maze full of dust. Howromantic. I'm just glad you left that silly trident at home." Tethys replied, but smiled at the end, "You're lucky I love you."

"I gave up fighting for you, my love. You at least owe me a couple days vacation."

It was Oceanus and his wife, big Titans, strong and powerful. Percy unsheathed Adamas, putting Riptide away. He stuck close to the corner, peering into the room and mapping as much as he could out. There were a few cracks in the stones in the corner, and Percy tilted his head forwards, focusing on them.

He imagined the water in the room draining through those cracks, and he felt it begin to follow his lead. A gurgling noise bubbled up as the water level began to drop.

Oceanus jumped to his feet, whipping his head around.

"Oceanus?" cried Tethys. "What is it?"

Oceanus dark eyes scanned around. "Someone's controlling the water." he said.

Percy saw Tethys jump up as well. Oceanus took her hand as the water drained to ankle level, drying the both of them off instantly. Where Percy had seen a long merman tail before, he now saw human legs. They both looked alarmed, and Percy took that as his cue.

He stepped out into the room. Both titans zeroed in on him, though Oceanus' gaze flickered towards Adamas briefly.

"Who are you?" Tethys demanded. "Why have you interrupted us?"

"Tethys, wait." Oceanus said, letting go of her hand to instead hold it out in front of her in warning, and his eyes were now firmly fixated upon Adamas.

He glanced up once, and made eye contact with Percy, who had no idea what to say, so remained silent. It wasn't as if he could walk up to them and go 'Oh, hello Mr and Mrs Titan, yes, I'd like your liver please, you can choose whose'.Oceanus stepped forwards, almost hesitantly, and Percy found himself frowning.

"Brother?" Oceanus ventured, quietly in the still dripping room.

Percy tried to keep the confusion off his face.What? As far as he knew, Percy could sense nothing behind him. Oceanus was definitely talking to him, even if he kept glancing at his sword. His sword. Why did he keep looking at his sword? Brother?

Hissword.

Thatwas it.

Oh Gods, Oceanus thought he was possessed by Kronos.

What was it about him that made people think he was other people? His sword must give out the same energy as Kronos' scythe, a vaguely disgusting thought, but not something he could help. But possibly something he could play to his advantage. Percy glanced at Tethys, determined to make this work for him.

"Go home, Tethys." he told her as coldly as he could make his voice, no doubt making Lupa proud with his icy wolf stare.

Tethys paled and glanced at Oceanus, who didn't take his eyes off Percy, but reached a hand out to her, squeezing it gently. "Go, darling." he told her. "I'll meet you there."

Tethys' eyes flicked between the two uncertainly, but acquiesced, the air shimmering around her before she vanished, leaving just Percy and Oceanus in the room.

"Brother, I did not know you were rising. And you reek of ichor, it's all I can smell. How- who have you possessed?" Oceanus looked very tense from where he stood.

Percy paused in an attempt to try to think. He stepped further into the room, into more light.

"Haven't you ever heard of Percy Jackson?" he asked Oceanus, who gasped, and collapsed into his seat.

"Brother, how inTartarusdid you get him?" the titan asked.

"Funnily enough, in Tartarus." Percy said, taking another step forwards, not sure of what angle he was playing, so he was just trying to tell the truth.

"I'd heard he was down there, but I never thought- wait." Oceanus cut himself off, leaning forwards in his chair. "Is he the one that they call Godkiller then? He has to be."

Percy worked hard to not let his surprise show, simply nodding instead. So he was famous.

Oceanus whistled as Percy took another step closer. He was less than ten feet away from him.

"Things I heard about that guy, I wouldn't have guessed that would be Poseidon's kid."

"Didn't you fight Poseidon in the last war?"

Oceanus turned an ugly purple colour, clashing with his long green hair, like seaweed. "He bested me once." he hissed, before composing himself. "He had a lot more reinforcements, I may have law of the land but he has both law and loyalty, I mean, the Atlantic was always neutral, but the Pacific? No way, I mean-"

Oceanus kept talking, perhaps a little nervous in what he thought was his youngest brother's presence. Percy just kept edging his way forward, staring at the lower half of the titan's stomach, where he vaguely knew the liver was.

He could hear Oceanus' talking getting faster as he got closer, and he unconsciously gripped Adamas tightly. He looked up. Oceanus had stopped talking. He was staring at Percy with wide eyes.

"Wait- your eyes-"

Percy didn't give him time to finish, slashing through the air with Adamas, just as Oceanus propelled himself backwards.

He didn't move fast enough, and Percy caught him across the stomach, but not deeply enough to kill. Oceanus backed away from him, leaving the chair where it had crashed to the floor.

"You're not Kronos." Oceanus said, eyes flicking towards the exit. "How did you get that sword?"

"I made it." Percy replied, as they circled each other.

"I don't fight anymore." Oceanus said.

"That's not my problem."

"I just want to be happy with my wife, I don't want trouble. If this is about me fighting your father in the Titan War, Godkiller, he won. Hewon, and it's over."

"This isn't about that."

"Well then what is it about? Money? I can give you five hundred drachma to leave. One hundred sand dollars."

"This isn't about money," Percy said, annoyed, "This isn't even about you."

Oceanus' brows knotted together, his hands twitching. Without a weapon, Percy knew he would have to improvise. Sure enough, Oceanus grabbed Tethys' chair and threw it at him. Percy flung himself to the ground as it exploded into shards, already rolling to slice at Oceanus' ankles.

The titan howled, kicking him backwards like one would do to a rabid dog, pressing his large hands over his wounds. Percy recalled when Kronos had cut his leg with Backbiter; it had felt like his leg was on fire. The damage the scythe could do was unparalleled. Until now.

Oceanus was panting, clutching at his wounds. Percy shook his head as the titan collapsed against the wall.

"Really?" he said. "That's the best you can do?"

"This is no fight," Oceanus said, groaning, "This is my execution, and you know it."

Percy faltered. It didn't feel right.

Hesitiation in Tartarus meant death.

He locked his jaw, and put away Adamas. Through the sheen of sweat, Oceanus gave him a confused look, which quickly turned to horror as he uncapped Riptide instead.

Oceanus whispered a word in the Tongue of the Old Times, and Percy flinched; he knew that word.

Percy swung as Oceanus tried to make a break for it by firing a weak water blast that went wide, Percy catching him again on the stomach, crossing over the previous slash and forcing him back to the ground, breathing heavily in the corner.

"Please don't-" Percy put his shoe on Oceanus' throat; he didn't need to hear that right now.

"X marks the spot." Percy murmured to himself, looking at the vivid cross on Oceanus' stomach, and he lifted his sword, using his powers to keep Oceanus in place, and from struggling.

He saw Oceanus' wide eyes reflected in the blade as he stabbed downwards.

Chapter 51: Percy XXXIII

Summary:

"Come on," she called from the side, "Black hair, green eyes, tattoos, usually covered in blood? Everyone knows Percy Jackson."

Chapter Text

Chapter 51

Percy XXXIII

He walked through the tunnels silently.

A steady drip, drip, drip, followed him in the quiet and dead air around him.

He clenched his hand, feeling warmth dribble through the gaps in his fingers.

Percy's breathing was steady, eyes trained on to whatever was right in front of him. He turned corners automatically, not even bothering to check what was round it.

The face of Tartarus reared up in his head again, the image getting stronger, as if it had never left him, just faded, still watching him with that immortal and unmoving expression. It felt like a hand was gripping his heart in his chest, squeezing it manually, out of his control.

Percy gasped aloud, free hand coming up to grip the side of his head. He stumbled to lean against the nearest wall, letting it support him, and dug his fist onto his forehead. He needed to get that out of his head. He couldn't see it again. The wall was cool, and he pressed his hot face onto it, as if to somehow ease his brain.

"What do you want from me?" he whispered against the stone, eyes scrunched shut.

That face, that damned face- it just stared straight through him, and Percy saw it all around him, even as he opened his eyes, justlookingat him. There were no words, no feelings, just the horrifying swirling whirlpool of magma and stone, the inward spiral of darkness.

It was like he was back there; still dangling from the stalactite by his cracked and torn nails, body and teeth clenched. Black sky, black ground, and that unnerving black face focusing only on him, as if nothing else even existed but the two of them.

The word Oceanus had whispered in the Tongue of the Old Times swam around in his head, sometimes in his voice, sometimes in Koios' voice, but most often in his own; he hated that he knew what that word meant. He'd never wanted to hear any of that language, let aloneunderstandsome of it.

Percy's knees shook. He lifted his eyes, breathing in and out as slowly as he could. He hated it. He hated that face, if it could even be called that. He pictured something, anything, just to get it out of his head.

He pictured the beach at Camp, saw the sand and the waves, could almost hear the sounds of swords clanging behind him. The image prevailed for a few seconds, but Percy clenched his eyes in horror as the scene distorted, noises disappearing and the air growing warmer. Percy looked around. He paled.

Tartarus was just stood there a little way down the beach, and though Percy was not close to him, he knew he was still watching.

"Goaway!" Percy snapped, one hand still outstretched on the wall to keep himself upright.

He staggered forwards. Percy squeezed the liver in his other hand, feeling the ichor, trying to concentrate, shaking his head in an attempt to erase the image, throw the face out of his head.

Okay, no beach, no beach, he thought, and the towering form vanished. He was- he was in his cabin, then. He was lying in his bunk, Tyson in the one next to him, and they were chatting til the early hours of the morning. Percy felt his stomach twisting still, but just kept that image in his head, forcing out all other thoughts. It was hard to try to not think about something, and Percy could feel each time it tried to force its way into his head.

He took a couple steps forwards, glaring at his holey shoes, breathing heavily. So long as he just focused on his shoes and nothing else, he could outlast him. He wasn't here. He wasn't looking at him. He wasn't.

Percy had never felt so relieved to hear a scream in the distance.

His head whipped up, and he sprinted in the direction of where he had left the kids. They were being attacked no doubt, and he grabbed Adamas as he ran, a voice in his head unapologetically thankful for the distraction.

He skidded around a corner and came to a grinding halt.

He saw Jamila and Zach with their daggers brandished, staring up with angry eyes at a large form, Lewis on the floor against the wall, curled up into a ball. Face down on the floor lay Ross and Angus. They weren't moving.

Zach caught his eye. "Help us!" he cried.

Percy hesitated, just for a heartbeat. The beast turned around. It was Tethys, and she had not transported above the labyrinth like he had thought, but had stayed instead. She'd probably thought Oceanus would win. She was a little shorter than your average titan, but her eyes raged in the familiar flame of revenge.

"You!" Tethys cried. "I heard the whole thing! You killed him!You-"

Her mad eyes landed on his hand, and Percy reared back instantly as he followed her eyeline, and he attacked, throwing his sword at her with all his strength.

It hit her directly in the chest, embedded deep.

Jamila and Zach backed off, watching as the female titan dropped to her knees. Her mouth opened and closed, but she made no sound. Percy watched her closely as he slowly moved forwards, ready to strike again. His now free hand hovered around the cap of Riptide; he didn't trust Titans. If he had, he would have forced Oceanus to take him to the surface. Confident that Tethys wouldn't fight back, Percy reached forwards, Tethys' wide and glazed eyes following his blackened fingertips, and he pulled out his sword with a slow and sickening squelch.

Tethys struggled to take in air for the next few seconds before she stopped altogether. Her body slumped, sinking into gold dust. Zach and Jamila glanced at each other, and Percy could feel them watching his every move. He didn't care, choosing instead to focus on Lewis, taking a step over Angus' limp arm with a heavy sigh.

"Lewis." Percy began, crouching next to the huddle of demigod. "Hey, Lewis, can you look at me?"

Lewis glanced up at him with wide, panic fuelled eyes. "I- I- I- I-"

He was stammering almost violently, and Percy nodded understandingly, having been in his position more than once, the type of anxiety that left you stammering, and then angry that you were stammering, which just caused you to stammer more. Though as Percy looked over Lewis, he didn't seem angry, more scared; he flinched away as Percy tried to support his weight and lift him up, and Percy backed off.

Percy glanced at Jamila and Zach, and turned so Lewis couldn't hear him.

"What happened to him?" Percy asked.

"He gets like this sometimes." Zach said, and Percy caught a hint of bitterness in his voice, and frowned, unsure if it was directed at Lewis or him.

He glanced back at Lewis for a couple seconds. "The scar on his head..." Percy started quietly.

"He got it when his parents were killed." Jamila said shortly.

Ah. Percy nodded tightly. He got it now. "Titans got them?"

But Percy was surprised when Zach gave a sharp shake of his head instantly, a dark scowl flashing over his face like a clap of lightning, and Percy knew he was wrong. Jamila crossed her arms and glared fiercely at Percy's chest.

"No." Zach snapped, with an unexpected level of venom in his voice, "They were killed by one of the Gods."

Oh for the love of the- Percy winced; his luck was officially the worst in the world, and he restrained himself from letting out a large sigh.

"I see." he said instead.

Percy glanced back at Lewis, who had stopped his shivering and stuttering, and was now curled up tightly. His eyes were shut. Percy couldn't be bothered to deal with the two angry demigods next to him anymore; Percy wasn't stupid, they'd made it clear whose side they were on. And right now Percy wasn't in any mood to convince them of the good in the Gods. He knelt down by Lewis.

"Hey, Lewis." Percy said, and though he tried to make his voice soft, it came out hard and gritty. "Lewis, man, can you look at me?"

Lewis didn't move, and Percy really did sigh this time. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Zach and Jamila dragging the bodies of Angus and Ross into a pile. They kept their sniffles quiet, but in the ghostly air flowing through the Labyrinth, it was difficult to mute entirely. Percy tried to tune them out. He turned his head to keep them out his peripheral vision. He felt as if he was intruding on their moment, only he wasn't sure if it was because of the God-persona he had adopted, or it was just down to him being... well,him.

He slowly reached out to Lewis, lightly gripping his shoulder. He frowned at the black fingerprints he left on Lewis' grey shirt.

"Lewis." he said, a little shortly. "Lewis, open your eyes."

The kid still didn't move, so Percy pushed him back a little, and that was when Percy zeroed in on it. The huge blood stain on Lewis' stomach.

"Oh." Percy stared at it, sinking back on to his haunches.

The light was better than Tartarus, much better, but it was still kind of dim, like a background light. It made everything look grey. Which was why Percy hadn't picked up on the sickly colour of Lewis' skin. Blood didn't smell until it was dry either.

Percy sat there for a couple beats, unsure of what to do now. Lewis was dead, had been for the last few minutes he'd been talking to him. He frowned.

Footsteps came behind him, followed by a loud gasp and a vehement exclamation.

"OhGods!"

"Is he-is he-?"

"Uh- yeah." Percy said awkwardly. "He's dead."

His arms tensed up when Zach lashed out, smacking the wall with his fists with a loud cry: "Godammit!"

Percy stood up, watching the two demigods warily. Their faces were twisted in emotion, and Percy didn't know what to say to reassure them. In fact, he wasn't sure if hewantedto reassure them. Sure, he felt sympathy, but they all had their own plans to get out of the Labyrinth, and Percy was pretty sure he was going to get the short stick of their plans. Instead, he just stood there and waited.

Jamila came back to life first, sniffing sharply and wiping her eyes. "Let's just get that stupid liver and get the styx out of here." she snapped, pulling Zach up not too gently.

Zach wobbled for a second, hiding his face. "Yeah," he said roughly behind a thick hand, "We gotta go. They would have wanted us to get out."

Percy took that as his cue to make a move, stepping closer. ''Do you remember the way back to that place?" he asked the both of them.

Zach looked at him this time, and Percy was a little unnerved at the hatred he saw briefly in his eyes. Zach breathed very slowly for a couple seconds before he nodded, hesitantly at first, but then more confidently, exchanging a look with Jamila, as if Percy couldn't blatantly see them conspiring. He hoped he was a little smoother when he was lying.

"Come on." Zach said, before turning and stomping away, taking Jamila's hand.

Jamila followed him, and Percy glanced between them before moving as well. He watched their backs as they walked, the pair in deep conversation, and for a split second, he saw Jamila with long blonde curls, Zach with messy black hair. This could have been him and Annabeth if they had sided with Luke, he thought. They both certainly resented the Gods to have at least considered the possibility once or twice. Percy remembered what he had told Koios during his imprisonment in Tartarus. While it was vaguely true, Koios always seemed to have known he was lying; they both knew the Gods were the lesser of two evils. Things will change, Percy thought to himself, especially with the camps coming together, they would have to pay more attention.

He was snapped out of his thoughts when Zach and Jamila began patting the wall in front of them. It had the same horns engraved onto it; they were here.

"How do we get in?" Percy asked.

"Knock." Zach said, staring firmly at the wall.

The son of Ares lifted his hand, and thumped on the stone a couple times. To Percy's surprise, the stone slid smoothly to the side, a cloud of dust and stone spilling out of the narrow passageway revealed.

"Neat." Percy said.

"You first." Zach jerked his head in the direction of the tunnel.

"I don't think so." Percy shut him down immediately, not really wanting to be stabbed in the back. "Off you go."

"For Gods' sake, I'll go." Jamila stamped into the tunnel, Zach shooting Percy a dirty look before going after her.

Honestly, if he truly was Hades, Zach probably would have been smited by now. Smited? Smoted?Smote? Percy didn't know. Zach would have been dropped like a hotcake is what he meant. Percy ducked into the passageway and followed them.

The square cavern it led into looked like a lost and found room.

Huge metal shelves scraped the top of the high arched ceiling. Scattered along them was a whole range of mismatched objects, full of clutter, nearly toppling the shelves over. A foul and thick smell reached his nose, like a combination of a damp loft and a bin full of rotting eggs. Percy recoiled, yet with two hands full, all he could do was breathe out his mouth instead. Percy could see someone in the middle through the tiny gaps inbetween boxes. He craned his neck upwards, but the only thing he could see was a faint pink glow lighting up the shadows.

He wrinkled his nose as they weaved through the maze of shelves. Was that aneyehe could see? Oh.Oh. And a wholeboxof eyes behind that, stacked high. Come to think of it, Percy thought as he looked around, there were piles of body parts everywhere, arms hanging in bags on the shelf poles and wings crammed underneath and into gaps. Explains the smell, he thought grimly, as his hand twitched again in an aborted attempt to cover his nose.

Another turn in the maze of body parts finally led them to the middle. There was a clear gap in all the shelves, revealing a sort of workspace square. The only source of light in the room was a bubbling cauldron resting on the grey flagstones, full of a pink liquid Percy guessed wasn't a strawberry shake.

A figure was stood with her back to them, one finger whirling in the air, a spoon in the cauldron following her movements. She wore an elegant sleeveless dress of woven gold, with her dark hair piled into a cone encircled with diamonds and emeralds. She had bare feet, and the same red necklace Zach had described before, a pendant like a miniature maze around her neck, and the cord was set with rubies that were like crystallized blood drops.

Percy didn't know why he was so surprised that she really existed; he'd been doing all of this for someone he'd only ever been told about. He'd just wanted to get out so desperately that he'd been willing to believe anything, try anything. He'd thought that she would have been Gaia though, which was why he hadn't let go of Adamas yet.

"Zach, darling, I trust you have good reason to return." the woman spoke suddenly without turning around, and Percy winced at the volume of her rich voice, so used to trying to be quiet in Tartarus.

Zach nodded, even though she couldn't see. "I have what you asked for." he said.

At this, the woman's finger slowed, and the spoon clunked to the side of the cauldron as it came to a halt. She turned around. And froze.

"Oh no." said Percy.

"You!" she hissed.

"Oh no." Percy repeated.

"You dare show your face here?" the woman demanded, and a couple jars behind her smashed.

"You know each other?" Jamila piped up hesitantly.

"Notreally-" Percy tried before he was cut off.

"He killed my son!Twice!" the woman stamped her foot.

"It's not like he won't respawn!"

"That doesn't matter!"

"I mean, does it count if it was self defence?"

"No!"

"That's good, 'cause it wasn'treally, but I thought I'd try it-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Zach interrupted their argument. "You killed her son? Who was her son?"

"It's not who was her son, it's whoisher son, he's not even dead." Percy protested.

"Why are you even here? I heard you fell into Tartarus!"

"Yeah, and I got out, and now I'm here! I was told you'd help in exchange for 'ingredients' or whatever, but now? Yeah, I don't think so."

"Both of you, stop!" Jamila shouted, before flinching at the glares she received. "Who are you?" she asked the woman.

She drew herself up to her full height. "I am Pasiphaë." she snapped. " Immortal Sorceress, Mistress of Magical Herbal Arts and Daughter of Helios. Mother of the Minotaur, which your little friend here saw fit to slay not once, but twice! And it was hisfather'sfault that my son was imprisoned to begin with!"

"Kronos?" Jamila asked, confused.

"What?" Pasiphaë replied, looking puzzled.

Percy opened his mouth to explain, but Zach took the lead, reaching down and snatching the liver out of Percy's hand.

"Look, I don't care about your grudge against him! We just want to get out of here. I listened to what you told me before- one ingredient for a potion, two ingredients for a favour, three for a spell and four for you to kill someone!Here!"

Zach thrust out his hand, offering out the liver. Pasiphaë took it with interest.

"The liver of a titan." she said, almost in awe.

She glanced at Percy. "You were the one who got this, weren't you?"

Percy nodded.

"Wait, wait, wait-" Zach said. "Hades may have got it, but I'm giving it to you. You owe us the favour."

Pasiphaë raised an eyebrow at Percy, who made a face. Again, he felt that strange disconnection from the demigods next to him, but he put it down to both him and Pasiphaë knowing something they didn't. The Sorceress didn't give anything away, instead just let Zach finish his speech.

"Ah," she said, once he was done, "but you weren't really listening were you? I saidtwoingredients for a favour."

Percy felt his head begin to ache.

"I know." Zach said, almost proudly. "Wehavetwo. We have the liver of a titan. And," he looked a deadpan Percy up and down, "the ichor of an Olympian."

There was a beat of silence where both Jamila and Zach took out their weapons. Then Pasiphaë burst into laughter.

It visibly rattled the two demigods, but Percy just felt the insane urge to join the witch in her high peals of laughter, letting his mouth twitch instead.

"What's so funny?" Zach demanded, causing her to laugh harder, "We brought you Hades! He's an Olympian and he has ichor!Twoingredients,onefavour, get us thestyxoutta here!"

The witch cackled for a little bit more, wiping at her eyes and snorting. "You- youidiots!"she got out eventually, trying to compose herself but failing. "Fools! All you demigods are the same!"

She straightened up a little, mirth turning spiteful at the two bewildered demigods, that Percy wasn't sure if he should feel sorry for or not. "Well, every demigod except you, of course," she gestured to Percy, ''though let's face it, I hear you're more monster than demigod these days. Whose ichor is splattered across you this time?"

Jamila whipped around. "You're ademigod?" she cried.

"I neversaidI was Hades, you just assumed." Percy shrugged.

Zach looked as if the world had dropped out from below his feet.

"No." he shook his head. "No. When we were attacked by that titan, you- you hesitated, I saw you. A God would never help us. Youhaveto be one of them."

Pasiphaë leant back on her cauldron and watched as the two demigods rounded on him, and Percy knew that if she could summon popcorn, she would.

"We've just been following another demigod this entire time." Zach said, in a numb voice.

"Who are you then?" Jamila snapped. "Some deadbeat kid of Hermes?"

Percy raised his eyebrows. "You really don't recognise me?" he asked.

Though he hated how big headed and arrogant it sounded to him, he really would have thought they would have remembered him. After all, surely he was the number one target for Kronos' army in the titan war.

"Recognise you?" Zach asked. "Why would we?"

"You were working for Kronos, he must have told you who you were fighting against. Don't tell me he didn't?" Percy asked them in mock horror. "Right? That's why you tried to kill the rest of us? Because you thought Kronos would pay more attention to you than the Gods?"

Both demigods paled as he revealed their true allegiance. What, they thought he was stupid enough to not pick up on it?

"The Gods don't care about us!" Jamila said with conviction. "They're too busy sat on their fancy thrones to give a damn about any of us!"

"And you thought that the way to get back at them was to let a mass murdering titan, who hates demigods just as much as he hates gods, take control over the world, just so he could burn it down, kill every mortal in it, including your families and friends, and create a world where monsters roam free." His tone grew more bitter and sarcastic as he spoke and the urge to laugh was gone.

"You'recriticising a mass murderer?You?" Pasiphaë drawled from the side.

"You stay out of this, I'll deal with you in a minute." Percy told her, before facing the pair again, who had begun shifting restlessly since he had called them out.

"Who are you?" Jamila demanded again, eyes burning with anger. "Why should we recognise you?"

"Come on," Pasiphaë called from the side, "Black hair, green eyes, tattoos, usually covered in blood? Everyone knows Percy Jackson."

Zach and Jamila glanced at each other in shock before their faces twisted and they turned furious glares onto him.

"Thanks." Percy told Pasiphaë, who just smugly raised an imaginary glass to him, "No, really, thanks a lot."

"Jackson." Zach growled.

"Don't even try it." Percy warned them, lifting his sword.

"Hey Pasiphaë," Jamila called, and the witch looked over from where she was watching with rapt interest, "One of those ingredients was the head of a demigod, right?"

Pasiphaë nodded, a wide grin on her face.

Jamila lifted her sword and pointed it at Percy, who just sighed.

"Willhishead do?"

"It most certainly could" the witch nodded, flashing Percy a smirk. "What's the favour?"

"Get us out of here." Jamila said, not taking her eyes off Percy. "Can you do that?"

"Of course I can," Pasiphaë snapped, looking affronted. "After that moron Daedalus died, I took over down here. One click of my fingers and the Labyrinth moves to wherever I want it to. You get his head, I'll take you to Barbados."

"Done." Zach said.

And they leapt at him.

Percy didn't even get the chance to take a breath, kicking Zach in the chest where he knew he had left a bruise from before. The boy flew backwards with a yelp, and Percy quickly blocked a stab from Jamila, disarming her the way Luke had taught him, not missing the irony. They had followed in Luke's footsteps, and now, they were going to end up just like him. He caught Jamila's fist in his hand, kicking the backs of her knees, causing her to crash to the floor. She punched at his stomach fruitlessly. Zach groaned behind as he got up.

"My ribs," he moaned, lifting his shirt to look, "You've broken my ribs."

Percy glanced down, and blew a breath out his nose; Zach's chest was bumpy and out of place, almost as purple as his face. The son of Ares growled as he saw the damage, pulling himself up, before shoving one of the shelves over.

Percy dived to the side as the whole thing tilted and fell, boxes and bags sliding off and piling onto a too-slow Jamila, who cried out in pain. Percy watched as one stone head that looked as if Medusa had got to it slowly slid down the shelf directly above Jamila's head.

"No!" Zach cried, leaping forwards as the daughter of Aphrodite strained to lift the heavy frame off of her in panic.

Percy's eyebrows scrunched together. She was just a kid. A kid who had sided with Kronos and had tried to kill him. But she was still a kid. A demigod, not a monster. He could help. Or he couldn't. He could. Or he couldn't. He would or he wouldn't.

He had to try.

Percy joined Zach, grabbing one of Jamila's pinned hands and pulling. They all strained, and for a second, it all began to shift, Jamila almost coming free.

But they hadn't been watching the stone head.

Percy's eyes widened. He gave one last pull, but it was too late.

"No!" Zach yelled again.

The stone head tipped over the edge, and hit Jamila's head with a sickening crunch. Percy blinked at the dent in her skull, seeing pure white for a second before it welled up with dark crimson red. Trickles of blood began to sluggishly make their way down the cracks in the flagstones below. Her eyes, which had moved frantically about the room mere seconds ago, stared straight ahead, dead and empty.

Percy dropped her hand as if it had burned him. What was he thinking? Why had he done that? Percy shook his head, and took a step back, away from Zach, who was staring at his unmoving friend. It could have been that she was a demigod, or maybe Percy just didn't dislike her enough to want her dead. It didn't matter now. He wouldn't try something like that again.

Zach dropped to his knees, his hands hovering over her cooling body. He didn't touch her; he didn't quite seem to know what to do. His mouth was half-open, wide eyes watching a small stream of blood start to leak out her mouth and onto the floor.

"Jamila..." he whispered.

Percy exchanged a look with Pasiphaë, which was disconcerting within itself.

"She's..." Zach couldn't quite seem to finish his sentence.

He reached down, and gently touched the side of her blood-streaked face. His breaths shook in the dead air around them.

"You did this." Zach said suddenly, whipping his head around, and in the dark pink glow of the room, the tears in his eyes glittered with rage.

"You were the one who pushed the shelves over." Percy said tiredly.

"No, all of this, this is all your fault!" he shouted. "We were allfineuntil you showed up!Alive, andhappy and waiting to be rescued! We didn't know how long we'd really been down here and we were better off not knowing!" Zach got to his feet, his blood soaked hands shaking, "And the Titans losing the war- I bet you had something to do with that as well! Or- or you had something to do with us falling, or the ceiling collapsing when you first showed up- that was all you!"

Percy didn't know what to say. Technically, Zach was right.

"You've killed all my friends." Zach said, and there was a lonely sadness about his voice.

"I didn't mean to." Percy told him quietly. "And I didn't want to. You chose to fight me."

"Don't take it personally, demigod," Pasiphaë chimed in, "Death tends to follow him."

"I chose to fight you for my friends, for our freedom!" Zach shouted.

"Look how that turned out," Pasiphaë said, gesturing to Jamila's body. "You and what's-her-face bit off a bit more than you could chew."

Zach swallowed. "Her name was Jamila," he said, "And she... she was my friend. I think... I think I loved her."

"If that's all you have to say about her, then I'm deeply bored," Pasiphaë drawled, "A man is the least interesting thing about a woman."

"You know, you're not helping at all." Percy hissed at her.

"Who says I want to?" she replied. "Can both of you just get on with it so I can make a deal with the other? You've given me a liver, so who's gonna get the reward?"

"Gods, Zach, justdon't-"

But the demigod was already on his feet and charging Percy. Percy dodged to the side with a scowl, grabbing Zach's blood. He wrinkled his nose. Human blood felt different to ichor. It was thinner, more watery and fragile. It felt alive and pulsing in his grip, and Percy frowned, pushing Zach to his knees before letting go.

The demigod thumped to the floor. "What was that?" he demanded in panic. "Howdid you - did youjust-"

Percy sighed. He had killed demigods before in the war. He had killed many, many other things since. It was sadly easy to lump Zach in with every other monster looking to kill him. He wasn't going to let something as irrelevant as species stop him now.

"Try for rebirth, kid." Percy said, holding his sword tightly, ready to strike, "Better luck next time."

"No-!"

Percy swung, and took his head off cleanly. He dodged the spray of blood from the neck, and waited until the body slumped backwards, a pool forming behind.

Wincing, Percy picked up the head by his fingertips, and chucked it to Pasiphaë, who caught it with an exclamation.

"You just got blood on my dress!" she cried, setting the head down beside the liver.

"It looks better now," he said, "Liver of a titan, head of a demigod. You owe me a favour, Pasiphaë."

"Yes, thatwaswhat I said, wasn't it? But that was for them." she gestured to the bodies of Jamila and Zach, "Do Ireallywant to help you?"

Percy was now decidedly in a bad mood. "I canhelpyou make a decision if you want." he threatened, hands wandering across the shelves for anything interesting.

"Oh, torture? You haven't even bought me dinner first." Pasiphaë said, but stopped grinning when she saw his face. "Fine. Conveniently for you, this aligns with my plans better than I could have arranged. Let us make a deal. With... additions."

"If you're adding things, so am I," Percy said, holding up a sword holster that went across his back, "I get this as well."

"Fine."

"Fine."

Pasiphaë drummed her fingers along the side of her cauldron in thought as Percy slipped it over his shoulders, tightening it. He sheathed Adamas inside it, reaching behind to his back to check he could bring it out quickly. It was a good fit, and a lot better than staying in the remaining ragged belt loops on his jeans with the drakon bone sword.

"What favour are you asking for?" Pasiphaë said eventually.

"You said you can control the Labyrinth?" he asked, and continued when she nodded, "I want you to move me to wherever the Greek and Roman armies are on the surface."

"Then what?"

"I don't know, I was probably gonna break the ceiling and climb out. We're not too far from the surface down here. If you feel like busting out a staircase, that would also be fine."

Pasiphaë regarded him carefully as he sat down on one of the low shelves that had less clutter on it than the rest.

"Gaia would give me rewards beyond the imagination if I gave you to her," Pasiphaë told him casually. "And I've essentially trapped you in here with me. I could do anything."

"I'm sure she would." Percy said. "But let's not be stupid here. I'm not stuck in here with you. You're stuck in here with me, and I'm meters from the surface. I'm getting out of here, one way or another, and to be honest, I don't care if I have to use your body as a step in a staircase to get there."

Pasiphaë seemed to think about it.

"How about this- I take you to wherever Gaia is. You fight, then whoever wins, wins. If she wins, I live a life of luxury for all eternity. If you win, you have to promise to never kill me."

"Yeah, no, I don't think so." Percy shook his head. "You take me to my friends and then, maybe, I'll let you live."

"Well, neither of those plans seem to work. I could just kill you now." she offered.

"Trust me," Percy said, "You really couldn't. Feel free to try."

He felt his ADHD impatience well up, starting to jog his leg up and down.

"You take me to my friends," he said, "And then neither of us try to kill each other. Doesn't get much better than that," he settled on.

"Like I'll take your word for it." Pasiphaë scoffed.

"Well, out of the both of us, who's more likely to be more honest?" Percy asked.

Pasiphaë raised her eyebrows. "You tell me, Lord Hades."

"Okay, difficult question." he amended, "But still."

Pasiphaë seemed to think about it for a while.

"Hey," Percy began, "You know I punched my dad in the face a couple weeks, or months ago, I'm not sure. Let's just say that's for what my dad did to you and leave it at that, yeah?"

Pasiphaë regarded him for a few seconds. She pursed her lips before nodding. "Alright, alright. Your friends and Gaia are most likely in the same place anyway. I'll move the Labyrinth. But first, you must swear on the river Styx not to kill me after."

Percy didn't like it. He'd never had to promise to not kill someone before. Bit of a change from the usual. But it was the fastest way to get what he wanted. He'd just get Annabeth to kill her, if needed.

"I'll swear not to kill you after you move the Labyrinth," Percy said carefully, "But if you try to kill me first, I'm allowed to."

"Done."

Percy stood up. "I swear on the river Styx that I will not kill Pasiphaë after she moves the Labyrinth to where my friends are, but only if she doesn't try to kill me first."

Percy thought he heard thunder in the distance, and a cloud of dust fell from the ceiling. Percy met Pasiphaë's eyes.

''Okay," she said, and raised her hands into the air.

The room trembled for a few seconds, then began to spin and lurch to sides. Somehow, none of the shelves or anything on them moved, but Percy was thrown to the side, and had to cling onto a metal frame to stay upright as stone grinded against stone and more dust fell on them. It felt like he was on the inside of a Rubik's cube.

"No warning?" he yelled over the din, and only received a cackle in response.

It was only when Percy thought he was going to barf that the movement stopped. The room shuddered to a halt, and Percy held on even tighter.

"Ding ding!" cried the witch. "Last stop- Athens, Greece. Looks like something's about to go down."

"We're below Athens?" Percy asked.

Pasiphaë nodded. "I can sense giants and many demigods all stood right above us."

Percy stood up. He'd have to cause another earthquake to get out and break the ceiling; he hoped he wouldn't cause too much of a mess on the surface. A hesitant grin flickered onto his face. He was so close, closer than he'd ever been. He breathed out slowly, feeling for that tug in his stomach.

"Jackson. You have to know, that I'm not trying to kill you." Pasiphaë spoke up behind him, and Percy felt a frown go onto his face instantly.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Your oath only said that you could kill me if I tried to kill you." Pasiphaë spoke slowly, not breaking eye contact with him, "Just so you don't break your oath. I'm not trying to kill you. I perhapsjust want to make the job a little easier for the giants."

Percy felt a like a bucket of icy water had been thrown onto him, and he didn't know what she was talking about, only that something bad was about to happen, as usual.

"Wha- MMPH!"

With a controlled swipe of Pasiphaë's outstretched hand, something black shot off one of the shelves, wrapping itself around to cover Percy's nose and mouth, like a mask.

One of his hands went up instantly to claw at it, even as he heard a buckle at the back clink tightly together, and the other hand went up to grab Pasiphaë's blood.

He yanked her body forwards, eyes screwed together as her head banged off the cauldron, but she just pushed back up onto all fours. She focused her eyes on an object to Percy's right, another black thing zooming off the shelf to this time wrap around his eyes. Percy panicked as everything went dark.

She had blindfolded and muzzled him.

He clenched his fist, no longer seeing anything but black. But he could still hear the cauldron bubbling, could still hear her panting, and could still hear the pulsing of her blood through her body.

He grabbed it and squeezed.

He heard her scream.

Then the whole room began to shake.

Chapter 52: Octavian

Summary:

Octavian seethed in his chair, lashing out and knocking off some of the books left out for him, earning another exasperated glance from the girl.

Chapter Text

Chapter 52

Octavian

The Augur banged his fists against the stone for what felt like the millionth time.

"I am the Consul of the Gods!" he screamed, "You are bound by blood to release me this instant!"

The infuriating ginger girl stuck her head round the corner of her canvas again, this time a smudge of blue paint under her tired eyes.

"Octavian." she said, as if she was talking to an idiot, which riled him up even more, "Buddy. I sharezeroblood with the Gods. I don'thaveto do anything."

"I have been here for weeks!" he snapped, "My Roman Legion will have your head for imprisoning me. You and this entire filthy little Graceus camp."

But the girl just nodded.

"Uhuh, okay, sure." she waved him off, a large paintbrush in her hand.

He practically snarled. This was Reyna's doing, or the imposter Jackson's. Those stupid Greeks had bombed their camp and now they had aGreekpraetor? Octavian wouldn't let it happen. Which was why he had appointed himself Pontifex Maximus, above Legionnaires, above Centurions and most certainly above Praetors. He had some loyalty still within the army, and as soon as he got out, he was going to burn this camp to the ground.

He had to.

It was what Gaia wanted.

"It's time." the Primordial Goddess whispered softly from the cave walls, her voice kind and respectful; Octavian couldn't resist.

They'd been talking for quite some time, reluctant at first, but the more she spoke, the more she offered him, the quicker he began to realise just what she could do for him. Respect from both mortals and immortals alike, all around the world. Power beyond his wildest dreams, enough to make Jackson fearhiminstead, to make Reyna kneel athisfeet, to makeJason'sknees knock together in awe. To bring Rome out of the ashes and make it the new epicentre of the world.

Gaia had assured him of this. He just needed to escape first.

He was in the little Oracle's cave-house. His nose wrinkled as he looked around with distaste. Paintings littered the walls, full of monsters and kids in those silly orange shirts. He was in some kind of lurid green armchair, and though it was comfortable, he'd never say it. Children of Morpheus had kept him down for a while, but now it was only his legs that were asleep, to stop him running off.

And they weretorturinghim!

Every five hours or so, on the hour every day, they would bring out food for him. But not normal, Roman food, oh no. It was different. Greek. Every dish under the sun mixed together, chips and samosas and blue cupcakes. They were giving him theirleftovers!And what kind of monsters ateblueicing? Octavian seethed in his chair, lashing out and knocking off some of the books left out for him, earning another exasperated glance from the girl.

She seemed to be alarmed at what she was painting, but Octavian wasn't a master manipulator for nothing.

"Please," he said, making his voice as low as he could, "I'm so bored. Can I at least see what you're painting?"

The girl's eyebrows bounced as she frowned. "I'm not surewhatI'm painting." she said, but obliged, spinning round the easel.

Octavian stared at it in confusion. It was a figure, a person, but their face was obscured, some kind of black mask covering them from nose to chin, a band covering their eyes. They were topless, but their skin was stained red and gold, tattooed with smudged and incomprehensible symbols. A sharp black sword hung in their hand, the rest of the picture a whirl of dark blues.

"Who is it?" he asked.

"I'm not sure." she said again, but this time Octavian had a feeling she was lying; her eyes were worried and trained on the painting.

"Would that centaur man know? Chiron?" Octavian asked casually.

"Maybe." the girl stuck her paintbrush behind her ear, "I think I need to ask him, actually."

She turned to look at him, and smirked. "Don't move, I'll be right back."

"You don't have to say thateverytime you leave!" Octavian shouted after her in frustration, but let it go.

It was time.

Slowly, he slid his uncooperative body out of the armchair, and began to drag himself across the floor, cold stone thankfully covered in an overlapping mess of fluffy rugs. Usually by the time he got to the painting of the spooky mansion, someone would walk in and hoist him back into the chair. But not this time. He had a plan with Gaia.

He groaned as he heaved himself along the floor a couple feet, aiming for the entrance of the cave, where he could see sprouts of grass trailing off towards the strawberry fields, which was overpowering and just plain stinky to his nose.

His elbows started to ache, but luckily, his arduous crawl was nearly over. He reached the edge of the cave, and sank his hands deep into the earth and mud.

"I welcome Mother Earth." he declared, the words repeating over and over in his head as they had done for weeks.

Octavian gasped.

A feeling spread up his arms, like bees going haywire in their hive, bugs crawling under and into his skin. His mouth dropped.

"Don't let go." Gaia whispered in his head, and he jumped as closed eyes protruded from the soil next to him, and he could see the eyeballs twitching and rolling behind the lids. "We're so close."

"This will give me my legs back?" he asked.

"Yes. And then you have several important things to do for me. For the fate of Rome."

Octavian nodded absently, his skinny chest puffing out, and a dark grin spread over his face as his legs began to twitch. Pins and needles filled them, and he slowly pulled himself into a crouch, hands still buried. His brows furrowed as he found himself unable to pull them out.

His wrists began to ache a little, and Octavian turned them over, watching in a flushed fascination as his sickly blue veins filled with a dark brown colour, going hard and pressing outwards on his skin, as if they were pumped with dirt. He gasped as it travelled up the rest of him, feeling thick lines shoot up the length of his neck. It felt... it felt... warmth spread over him, and Octavian forgot the stinging in his body, smiling broadly.

It felt likepower.

He staggered to his feet, hands released.

"Hurry up," Gaia snapped, but to Octavian, her voice was an encouraging caress across his mud streaked face, and his smile bulged wider.

He turned to walk, his movements shaky and stiff at the same time, the mud in his veins like metal poles through his body. He wandered awkwardly through the still forest, eyes that didn't seem to close flicking from demigod to demigod in the distance. Orange shirts, purple shirts; Octavian felt a white hot fury, yet at the same time barely cared; the only thing that mattered anymore was waking up Gaia.

The camp was quieter than when they had arrived, the majority of both armies overseas. Those that remained were children, pacifists or defenders. Whilst the Greeks milled about as they liked, shrieking and laughing with each other, clanging their swords together, the Romans patrolled in groups, or simply sat around the campfires. Octavian's mad eyes tracked two campers as they hurried through the trees nearby, not noticing him as he stood and watched them, neck twisting slowly as they ran. One orange, one purple.

How sweet. Theylikedeach other.

Octavian reached down, and lifted a heavy rock the size of a remote control car.

A Greek and a Roman, together.

It flipped his stomach.

His body turning to catch up with his craned neck, Octavian followed silently, never taking his wide eyes off them. Their loud footsteps made them easy to track, he thought, his smile exposing his bared teeth now.

They disappeared behind a tree, and Octavian crept slowly closer, barely able to hold back an insane laugh choking his throat. He peered around, and saw the two embraced, kissing and giggling against a tree. The clashing of their shirts made his dry eyes hurt, and his smile grew feral, a hyena-like laugh bursting out of him.

The pair sprang apart, and Octavian recognised the Roman as Clara, a daughter of Bacchus. She whipped out an expandable spear, deftly maneuvering it in and out of her fingers.

The Greek boy just laughed, and shook his head, reassuring Clara. "It's probably a Stoll," he said, "Come on out, Connor!" he called, hands on his hips.

Octavian made no move to reveal himself, and trailed a heavy hand over the bark of a tree, feeling the intricacies and patterns in the wood. Oh yes, he thought, this would burn quite nicely.

Clara whipped her head around, gripping her spear tightly. The Greek boy now looked distinctly nervous, reaching for the dagger at his waist, but laid his other hand on Clara's shoulder.

"It's okay." he said softly, "There can't be any monsters within the border. It's probably just a prank, or a startled forest nymph."

Octavian shook his head from side to side. "Wrong, wrong, wrong," he said, and both demigods locked onto him as he stepped out the shadows.

The Greek boy shrieked. His eyes roamed Octavian's body as he stumbled back, his girlfriend stepping in front of him, face shocked but her spear lowered.

"Octavian," she muttered, "What- what'shappenedto you?"

"How do you mean?" Octavian asked, wandering over to them.

"You look sick." she stated. "Awful. Your-your eyes aren't blue anymore. There are doctors here, I really think you should-"

"You were wrong." Octavian cut her off, his eyes trailing away and snapping back to her.

"I- what? Octavian, you really do look terrible. You've got these streaks all over your face and your arms, you need to see a doctor right now?"

"You were wrong." Octavian just repeated. "There are monsters within the border."

The Greek boy shook his head. "That's not possible. Thalia's tree protects us, and Peleus." he gestured over his shoulder, and Octavian spotted a large tree a few meters away from them that seemed to radiate power, a golden blanket of some sort ductaped to one of the branches. A dragon lay beneath, and Octavian could see it watching him. It was large, snake-headed with copper scales.

The demigods continued to talk to him for a while, but a smooth high pitched whistle just buzzed in his ears.

He stared at the dragon, and held back a smirk as he saw the earth reach up to muzzle and envelop the dragon. He couldn't hear it, and even if it tried, an aborted roar could just be mistaken for a wave this near the beach. Soon, all Octavian could see was its eyes glaring at him in a wild anger.

He stared back at the demigods blankly. He saw their mouths move, saw twigs snap underneath their feet, saw the trees creak around them, but he was deaf to it all.

He clenched the stone hard in his hand, and locked eyes with Clara, who still looked as if she was trying to help, poor thing, talking rapid silence.

Octavian nodded to himself.

And he swung the rock into her head.

The area around him erupted back into noise, the sickening crack of Clara's skull smashing, the scream of the Greek boy, the birds fleeing the trees around them. He began to laugh uncontrollably.

"There are monsters within these borders, but it's not me." he told the Greek boy, whose panicked gaze was flicking wildly between the bloody rock in his hand and the unmoving body on the floor, probably wanting to run but unwilling to leave Clara.

"How do you spot a monster?" Octavian asked him suddenly.

This seemed to confuse the other boy, but he didn't hesitate with a quick answer.

"I can spot one right now!" the boy told him, trying to circle him, but Octavian made no attempt to move.

"You look for claws, for fangs, for glowing eyes." he listed, as if the boy wasn't even there.

"And now are you gonna reveal that you have some of those, just tucked away?"

Octavian laughed again; these mortals were so funny. The boy thought he was a monster. He thoughthewas the monster here.

"Of course not." he said. "But do you know howIspot a monster?"

"I really don't care." he said, but Octavian barely heard him over the rushing in his head.

"I just look for one of those stupid orange shirts." he said simply, and lunged.

The boy's dagger clattered off Octavian's rock, though he caught him on the arm, with a desperate slash. But they both watched, the boy in horror, as only thick mud leaked out of the tear in his skin.

"What theHadesare you?" the boy whispered, and his fear was a symphony in Octavian's ears.

Octavian leant forwards.

"I'm the Pontifex Maximus."

Their eyes met.

He turned to sprint, but Octavian was faster, stronger, better, than he had ever been in his entire life, and he caught his wrist as he turned. His other arm came up, and he slammed his rock into the boy's head as well. His fearful eyes glazed over and he crumpled. Octavian watched unblinkingly.

He reached down, and gripped the collars of their shirts, and began to drag the two towards the big tree: 'Thalia's Tree', whoever that was. Their blood had not yet reached the ground, trickling slowly into their eyes and impeded by their hair. It absorbed into their shirt collars, no longer purple and no longer orange, just a dull, thick red.

Blood of two demigods, Octavian thought to himself,check.

He dumped their bodies at the foot of the tree, before looking up, evaluating it for weaknesses. They were silly mortals, Octavian thought, atreecouldn't protect you. Only Gaia could.

He reached up, staring the dragon down as he tore the golden thing from the branches, ripped the segments of ductape off of it, and tied it around his neck like a praetor cloak. The Golden Fleece, his mind told him. The hero Jason had rescued it ages ago. Another artefact that didn't belong to the Greeks. Just like the Sibylline Books. Onlyhecould have it now. He was the only one who deserved it, the only one who could wield such power. He wasn't just a legacy and a failed seer now. He demanded the same respect as a demigod hero. No...Octavian amended. He demanded the same respect as aGod.

The dragon roared from where the very alive earth pinned it to the ground with all the weight and power of a primordial goddess.

"What do I do now?" he asked into the air.

But Gaia did not answer him, and Octavian felt a brief flash of worry. She was probably somewhere else, he thought. In Greece, he imagined, drowning the army in quicksand. The closer she got to awakening, the more power she unlocked, and the more power Octavian knew he would have when she took over. He'd destroy that cave, for one, painter inside and all.

He'd chain the remaining seven up, keep them like pets. The blonde girl was dead, Jackson was in Tartarus, probably dead or insane; for the most powerful demigods of their generation, they didn't know how to stay alive very well, he thought, spluttering out a laugh, spraying a dark black spit across the trunk of the tree.

It began to hiss on the bark, soil enveloping and crushing the wood. Octavian watched with joy, before he flipped over the bodies, searching their pockets for- ah, he knew Clara at least had- yes!

Octavian pulled out a lighter and held it up with reverence. He scooped up the Graceus' dagger, similar to his own before they had robbed him of his possessions. Yes. These would do nicely.

He wandered in a circle around the large tree, setting fire to various leaves and twigs that caught his eye, giggling uncontrollably. 'Graceus scum', he thought madly, rhymes with 'Graceus burn.'

He was a legacy of Apollo, after all; poetry was in his nature.

When the fire began to crackle and drop from above, Octavian pulled back, and his eyes lit up with the reflection of the majestic tree slowly spreading with fire. The blaze spread, sparks drifting to land on nearby trees, until at least a couple branches on every tree around him was ablaze.

He couldn't even feel the heat, and breathed in the thick smoke as if it was as thin as regular oxygen. His pasty skin glowed orange, the dark streaks across his skin jumping out as the fire flickered and grew around him. Flames pulsed in the yellow eyes of the dragon, Peleus, he thought it was called, but Octavian didn't know what it was so worried about; dragons couldn't be burned.

With a loud whoosh, Octavian looked up to see the large tree shake; a translucent barrier of blue appeared, but it was going an asphyxiated purple, and within a minute, Octavian could barely see it at all.

He held out his arms as if he was on a cross, and took a moment to revell in the chaos, beginning to hear the screams in the distance.

Music to his ears.

He was a legacy of Apollo; music came naturally to him too.

He dragged the two bodies to the edge of the forest, where he could see various demigods gathered. They pointed at him, clapping hands over their mouths in shock, and levelling arrows. Chiron stood in the middle, his lower half stamping its hooves, looking both furious and protective.

Octavian chuckled nastily to himself again, taking out the dagger and positioning himself over the bodies, knife high in the air. An arrow sailed into his chest, and he just laughed harder as the arrow was pushed out by a sprouting plant. He'd love to see Reyna disagree with him in front of the centurions now.

The face of Gaia emerged from the dirt next to him.

"The armies are distracted. Now is the time." she said, "They aren't the best sacrifices, but once I wake, and deal with a certain thorn in my side, I can just take the rest by force. Do it. Do it now."

Octavian felt more important than anybody else in the world, and puffed his chest out, as mud began to drip out of his ears, and as arrows flew past his face. He glanced at the bodies underneath him; he could no longer remember which one was Greek and which one was Roman.

All he saw were his stuffed animals and his dagger.

And he was more than willing to make these sacrifices.

Chapter 53: Nico III

Summary:

"I can't hear anything." Nico told her, scrunching his eyes to shut out the slowly declining sun. "They're still up there."

"We have to warn them." Hazel said, and the two legged it up a gentle pathway, the warm air flowing past their faces.

Chapter Text

Chapter 53

Nico III

(One hour before Octavian escaped)

The plan was simple, but in his own personal experience, Nico knew it would never turn out that way.

As the sun tipped over the precipice of mid-afternoon, the army made their move. Half braced themselves at the hidden entrances that weaved through the sandy cliff, sorted into a mix of cohorts and cabins. Nico gripped his Stygian iron sword tightly. On their leaders' signal, they were to flush out the army of monsters they knew was down there. The other half of the demigods had positioned themselves at the top, crouched around the stone ruins, and waiting for the incoming outpour of monsters.

They had agreed that Reyna and the rest of the Seven would actually be inside the ruins, ready to take out the first to run into the acropolis courtyard.

Nico and Hazel, as children of Hades/Pluto, had been put in charge of the two main groups going underground. Nico didn't know anyone in his team. And he didn't particularly want to. The Greeks looked at him apprehensively and warily, the Romans' stare full of distrust and fear. Nico ignored them thoroughly. He closed his eyes in exasperation. He hated working with other people. They always looked at him like they were expecting something bad.

"That's the signal." he said suddenly, catching sight of a glint of white light in the distance, a mirror reflecting off the slowly sinking sun. "Time to go."

He walked into the small passageway, rolling his eyes as the boy behind him hit his head on the low ledge, a low Greek curse fading into the darkness. For a second, Nico felt a tendril of fear slip through his stomach, his father's domain encompassing everything around him, only the cold of the stone walls guiding his way.

He tugged with his free hand at the tight chestplate of his armour.

As a kid of the big three and a powerful demigod, he'd been one of a few ordered to get some better armour from Leo. The result was Leo looking awkwardly at the shiny bronze armour, then back to him, then back to the armour again, and saying 'Wait' before disappearing into the piles of scraps he called his workspace. He'd got it handed back to him several minutes later, spray painted black, with a large white skull on the back. A younger Nico may have grinned at the cool armour, the type a stage 5 Mythomagic God would wear into battle, but Nico was older now, so he had just taken it with a nod. It was a regular style, but Leo had made some strange kind of kevlar material to bridge gaps where they could be cut. Made of a tough and absorbent fabric, it deflected slashes or claws, Leo had warned, but not direct stabs.

At least he could still move the same in it, he thought, his cheek twitching as a passing cobweb brushed his skin.

He found himself at a turn in the dark tunnel, and peered around. Still nothing. He flicked a glance backwards at the vague outlines of the demigods following him.

"Light." he said shortly, resolutely ignoring any panic he may be feeling at the blackness around him.

His little stint with the pomegranate seeds, the jar, and Tartarus had not been good for him, but Nico couldn't throw off the whole mission, not now, not when they were so close to stopping Gaia from rising. He owed it to Hazel to help. Gaia had ruined her life once, and he wouldn't let her do it a second time.

After a minute or so of fumbling, Nico breathed out a heavy sigh as a torch finally caught light to the match held under it. The tunnel expanded with flickers, illuminating shadows and details previously unnoticeable. The demigod opposite him held it aloft, an expression of worry smeared across his face, an expression Nico worked hard to keep off his own.

"Keep your sword up."

He tried not to snap at a demigod trailing behind, but failed, and the dude glared at him.

Nico frowned as they went around the corner. The whole thing felt... off. Something was decidedlywronghere. And he knew that it wasn't just him who could feel it, the silence stretching from demigod to demigod a testament to their nerves. He'd expected these tunnels to be teeming with monsters. Dreams and death were old friends of his. He knew how to navigate their dark borderland. Butsurprises? They were often less well received. He half-expected zombies to start crawling out of the ground, his heart beating unnaturally forcefully.

"Stop breathing soloudly." he muttered snappishly, and the heavy breathing behind him fell silent.

Nico took several more steps forwards, gesturing sharply to lower the torch. The tunnel was plunged into a low light, but the shadows were Nico's element; he would always have an advantage within them.

"Wherearethey?" muttered a tall kid.

Nico whipped round to glare at the speaker, making the group jump, and he channelled all his worry and fear into one black stare through the boy's soul. He paled, and seemed to unconsciously press his lips tightly shut, until they went white, in an effort to show he wouldn't talk. Nico's hands clenched.

Barely feeling the heat of the flaming torch, Nico turned and edged forwards, eyes fixed straight ahead, straining to see something,anything.

But there was nothing anywhere.

His speed picked up, until he held his sword loosely at his side, pacing through the empty tunnels ahead of his group. There was nothing, no one. There was supposed to be an army! How could they lose anarmy?

Images flashed in his head, and he saw the other half of the demigod army being overwhelmed above ground, and worried that he was, not for the first time in his life, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Nico let an ugly scowl slip onto his face, and strode back towards the rest of his team.

"Go back." he hissed to the casually strolling group, who jumped at his sudden appearance. "They could be above."

They looked relieved to be excused from exploring the tunnels, and quickly fled with a loud clanking of armour, that, if there had been monsters down there, would have attracted them instantly. Nico chose to focus on how lucky he was to be rid of them, and not on how they had all sprinted off without a look back at him. A parade of idiots. He told himself he was used to it.

After picking up the torch that had been hastily tossed to the floor, Nico went further into the tunnels. He was trying to get directly underneath the centre of the acropolis, but for every turn inwards, there were two more going outwards. It felt like he was going in a circle, as if there was no middle.

There was a clatter in the distance, and Nico's hand instantly clenched his sword, the Stygian metal just as cold as his skin. He extinguished the torch with a slash of his sword, the shadows suffocating the light. He placed the dead wood on the ground, before attempting to melt into the darkness around him, getting closer to the noise.

Nico crept forwards, shoving his hair out of his eyes. Yeah, there was definitely something there. The fourteen year old tiptoed closer, dark eyes peering out from behind a corner.

Was that a-

"Oof!" Nico slammed into the side of the rock, and watched with a wildly confused expression as the stone seemed to liquify and absorb around his arms, sinking into the stone.

For a second, Nico panicked. Then-

"Hazel!" he accused, glaring into the darkness.

He heard a squeak, and suddenly the tunnel lit back up, Hazel rushing around with a torch and an alarmed expression.

"Nico!" she cried, and the stone released him at once. "Sorry." she added sheepishly.

He landed neatly on his feet, shaking some smaller pebbles off his black shoulder plates. Hazel grinned at him, and he couldn't help but return it. Her new armour was a stunning gold colour, but he saw jewels embedded in the vambraces, seemingly growing out of it, and realised she was just as nervous as he was.

"Didn't find anything either then?" he asked with concern.

Hazel shook her head. "Nothing. It's like they've all suddenly upped sticks and left."

Nico frowned. "Unless..." he trailed off as an idea hit him, one he prayed was wrong.

But Hazel finished for him, in a hushed voice. "They were never here."

Their eyes met, liquid gold and pitch black.

"We've made a terrible mistake." Nico realised.

Hazel whipped around, spatha glinting in the fire light, and bellowed to her own group behind her. "Go up! Go back to camp! They could be under attack!"

Nico watched as emeralds the size of his fist sprouted up around her feet, but Hazel merely kicked them aside, grabbing his hand and running back the way that he had come.

"There's no army down here!" she said as they sprinted, "So where are they?"

"I don't know!" Nico said, having to speak loudly over their pounding footsteps.

"Frank says he saw two giants! They could still be here somewhere!"

"Which ones?" Nico returned.

"Polybotes and Enceladus!"

That made Nico think, tugging on Hazel's elbow to pull her down the right tunnels he'd gone through before. Polybotes and Enceladus? That meant Percy and Annabeth. They were the sacrifices, he had known it before and this just confirmed it-they had to be. But Annabeth had just come back to life- would it still work? And Gods knows where Percy was. The image of Percy, fresh out of Tartarus, faded into his head. Bloody, bruised, with an Achilles blessing and no shirt... Nico snapped back to reality. Either way, Percy wasn't here. It couldn't be him, unless he somehow appeared out of nowhere.

And now he was thinking about Percy. He'd shadow travelled in search of Annabeth, and Nico didn't know what to make of that. It was obviously from his blessing from the primordial Nyx (though Nico didn't even want to delve into that whole topic), but to have him just blur and then disappear... it felt surreal, and he could still see the shocked looks on both the Gods' and demigods' faces alike. Maybe now that Percy could do it, he'd be less looked down on for it.

He and Hazel ran through the tunnel, and she ended up guiding him, her power over the earth being more in touch. Nico had just got the scary parts of their father's powers.

It took a few more turns and corners before they skidded out of the entrance and back into the light. He could see various groups of demigods sat around waiting, but could hear no noises of fighting from where the Seven were within the courtyard.

"I can't hear anything." Nico told her, scrunching his eyes to shut out the slowly declining sun. "They're still up there."

"We have to warn them." Hazel said, and the two legged it up a gentle pathway, the warm air flowing past their faces.

Visions flickered into his mind, the rest of the seven face down with their eyes open. He wouldn't let that happen.

They burst into the courtyard, vaulting over some fallen stone, and Nico looked around. For such loud demigods, they hid themselves well. It was at that point that he remembered the other groups exploring below, but he dismissed them. There was nothing down there, and they'd come up soon enough.

"Jason! Annabeth!" Hazel shouted, her voice loud for someone so small, not that Nico had much to talk about in that regard. "The tunnels are empty! There aren't any monsters!"

Nico jumped as Annabeth appeared a foot in front of them, her Yankees cap in hand.

"Keep your voices down!" she whispered, "Everyone's on edge enough as it is. What do you mean there's no monsters? Is it just empty, or are they all dead? Could there be a sub-level?"

"There's just nothing." Hazel explained, a little desperately, "And I couldn't feel anything below us."

"Above?" asked Jason, who dropped from the sky, having been stationed at the top of a column.

Hazel shook her head. "The only place we didn't check was in the actual acropolis itself," she said, and they all looked over to the large columned building, chunks missing from the elaborate stonework. The entrance was high, fading into an opaque darkness.

"But an army can't fit in there." Jason stated, as if he'd missed something; Nico felt like he had as well.

"No," Annabeth said suddenly, and Nico knew that look; or rather, Nico didn't like that look. "No, an army wouldn't fit."

She took a couple steps outwards, her footsteps echoing around the large pillared rectangle, and Nico saw the rest standing up in various hiding spots: Piper, Leo, Reyna and Frank. They watched as Annabeth got nearer to the dark building, one that they had thought was empty.

"No," Annabeth repeated, her eyes sharp and focused, "An army wouldn't fit in there. But they don't need an army here."

"Annabeth?" Leo asked, the words hanging in the air.

(Twenty minutes before Octavian escaped)

The daughter of Athena turned around, the silver of her new armour as hard as the silver of her eyes.

"It's just the giants." she stated simply.

They all tensed as a low rumbling laugh rolled like a fog out of the acropolis. Nico tightened his grip on his sword, saw the others doing the same. Of course. They were all idiots. What better way to divide and conquer than to get all the most powerful demigods together in one place?

Nico pulled his left vambrace into place, the silver metal having slid slightly down in his hurry. He would have to fight Alcyoneus, the anti-Hades. Well, him or Hazel. But he knew there were twelve giants, and only eight of them there. Gods, they'd never be able to beat Polybotes without Percy, let alone three more.

The group readied for a fight as the first giant strode through the opening to the acropolis, nearly as tall as the columns themsleves. His hair was green, eyes a dead and cold white. He was humanoid from the waist up and had green dragon legs like the other giants, the color of lima beans.

"Porphyrion." Jason said, his father's bane smirking at him from across the stretch of cracked stone slabs.

"Ah, what was your name? John? James? Or are you a new one, and Zeus just knocked up yet another woman." Porphyrion said, before giving him a nasty smile, "I think when I'm done, I'll send you back to her in a box."

Nico felt his hair stand on end, caught sight of controlled crackles of electricity dancing through Jason's fingers, his blue eyes less like a summer sky and more like pure energy. He raised his eyebrows at the giant. Oh, he was ready to fight.

Nico had stared too long; Porphyrion turned on him.

"Oh, yes," the king of the giants said, "Now, you have to be one of Hades' children, am I right?"

"Yeah." Hazel snapped beside him before he could answer, sticking her chin up defiantly, "We both are."

This seemed to greatly amuse him. "Funny." he said, "I thought they had banned having any more. Too destructive, too disaster-causing. Were two world wars not enough? But I would know more than anyone how Gods can make...mistakes." His tone made it clear what he thought, and Nico scowled fiercely.

Tendrils of darkness were now spreading out from his feet, killing all the weeds between the flagstones and weaving through the precious metals that grew in vicious spikes through the gaps. Nico tried to rein in his anger, and could feel Hazel struggling to stop herself from snapping at the giant again. He twisted his skull ring on his finger round and round. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Reyna doing the same thing to a silver ring on her own hand.

"That's two of the 'Big Three'. Where's the third-oh, wait." Porphyrion's smile turned sickly. "No, I know exactly where he is. That's a problem for Polybotes now. But the others? Is that a Praetor I see?"

Reyna's dark eyes met those of the giant's, unflinching and angry. The giant was talking down to her, his smug face roaming over them all condescendingly, and Nico knew that if Jason didn't wipe that look off, she would.

The gap between the acropolis and the demigods just got longer and longer the more he spoke.

"Father? Is it time?" A new voice floated up from the Acropolis, where Nico could hear a significant amount of stirring and movement, like a hydra unfurling its neck after several beheadings.

It was the only female giant Periboia, Bane of Aphrodite, and as soon as she stepped out behind her father, she seemed to zero in on Piper, who Nico saw wrinkle her nose in disgust at the excited giant.

"Demigods!" Periboia cried, and Nico couldn't help but feel a little alarmed at the amount of giants appearing behind her after she said that, all craning to get a glimpse at them.

Two of them would raise their mother from a very long sleep; their eagerness made sense, but Nico hated being stared at. He felt like he was in a zoo.

"Valdez." he heard Enceladus mutter angrily, attracting the attention of a giant Nico presumed to be Mimas, who peered down at the grubby boy.

"Well, I sure feel great now that we all know each other." Leo grinned, "No, really, it'll make it so much easier at the end, when we're sweeping you all up and putting you in little jars with names on them."

"Willhisblood raise mother?" Periboia asked, jabbing a stubby finger in Leo's direction.

"I say we try all of them until we find the right ones." Alcyoneus said quietly from behind, his eyes boring into Nico.

There was a pause, in which the giants seemed to size up their opponents. Alcyoneus had definitely chosen him, the way he was staring made that clear. His skin looked like it was made of a metallic gold-like material, but his legs however, were rust colored dragon legs. In his hand, he wielded an iron staff the size of a totem pole. His body was covered in precious metals and gems, including stones in his red braided hair.

"I think Alcyoneus wants to fight me." Nico whispered to his sister.

He felt a little guilty about that; he wasn't in the prophecy, he felt like he was intruding. This wasn't meant to be his fight.

But Hazel just smiled at him and her eyes glittered. "I've already beaten him once. You have to beat him now." she told him, "Then he's been beaten by both children of Pluto."

Nico smiled back at her. Hazel was always better at revenge than he was.

"Who have you got then? " Nico asked to both Hazel and Frank, already hearing Reyna muttering quite vicious death threats in Spanish to Orion under her breath and knowing she was covered.

"Hippolytos, I think." Hazel whispered back, "Frank's gonna hold off Ephialtes and Otis until someone else is free."

Nico flicked a concerned glance to Frank, but the son of Mars looked too busy trying to not morph his shape yet, scales dancing up and down his muscled arms.

"Stay safe." he mumbled on sudden impulse.

"You'd better." Hazel replied softly, staring dead ahead at the giants.

Nico scanned the line of giants, matching them up to the line of demigods. Damn. They were still outnumbered. Thoon, Bane of Fates, had no match. But he was grey and wise, and Nico prayed he would just stay out of the fight. There was no Polybotes either, which made sense, as Percy wasn't there.

"Look at you!" Porphyrion said suddenly, his voice a cross between a laugh and a snarl, "You're- you'rechildren! How could you have any hope to win without-"

An almighty bolt of white energy shot into the stones behind Jason, who jumped a solid metre into the air, hovering there briefly.

Then another, a cloud of pink appearing in a puff behind Piper.

Another bolt, red as blood and blasting the scream of a wildcat, behind Frank.

Nico didn't turn around when he felt his father appear, seeing the black smoke curl around both him and Hazel. He felt like muttering out the corner of his mouth though, a quiet 'Real dramatic, Dad'.

The Gods had appeared.

He saw most had their respective parent behind them, only Reyna had Artemis beside her, and he swore he saw Poseidon lurking by a ruined wall near Frank. Dionysus glared up at Otis and Ephialtes, Hermes resting a hand on Hazel's shoulder.

For a second, no one said a word.

And then all Hades broke loose.

Nico had never been more glad to have ADHD, knowing that if his mind wasn't wired to work the way it did, he would have never been able to catch up with what was going on.

He had shadow travelled onto the shoulder of Alcyoneus, jamming his sword into the giant's ear, who roared in pain. Instead of ichor, he bled oil. An arm came up to rip him off, but Nico was already gone, no more than a black blur in his peripheral vision, now on the ground, his sword embedded into Alcyoneus' foot.

The giant hopped up and down, swinging a hand to bat at him, nearly disturbing the fight between Reyna, Artemis and Orion, which looked to be painful for the giant, the two warriors physically on him, using the maelstrom of arrows embedded in him as hand and footholds.

Nico's surroundings blurred, and then he was next to his father, out of sight from the still howling giant, just one of the many fighting in the acropolis.

He saw Hermes and Hazel making Hippolytos look like a fool, the giant tripping over one of the biggest rubies Nico had ever seen Hazel produce, the giant shaking the foundations as he toppled like a felled tree.

"Have a plan?" his father asked him grimly, briefly taking off the Helm of Darkness.

"Kill him." Nico panted.

"Alright."

Nico's use of shadow travel was just beginning to be noticeable in his energy levels, but it wasn't really affecting him yet, as he teleported mid air, stabbing his sword into the giant's arm and using his bodyweight to drag it down in a vertical line. With the amount of oil spilling, Nico half expected a kid of Demeter to appear and start telling him off. It splashed off his armour. Alcyoneus slapped his own arm and cried angrily, knocking Nico into the air.

He plummeted for several seconds, before landing with an 'oof' on his side.

Oh, he'd feel that when the adrenaline wore off.

A quick check ensured he wasn't bleeding anywhere- and was thatfearhe had just seen flash in his father's eyes?- so Nico rolled over, cursing as he saw his sword still embedded in the giant. He kind of needed that.

But Tyche clearly did not want Gaia to take over, Nico thought with a curl of his lip: the sun had been steadily sinking for hours, and the dark pink sky had revealed numerous shadows in the acropolis. They were in his element now.

Shadows crept up Alcyoneus' legs, temporarily receding as a flash of lightning left blobs in his vision, thank you Jason, and they rooted him in place, the stone melting around his feet. Nico raised a couple skeletons to distract the giant as he shadow travelled onto his shoulder again, catching sight of the shadows underneath the giant's enormous chin, and forcing them to solidify, causing the giant to wheeze slightly, not choking but not quite breathing either.

"Dad!" Nico yelled, and yet another flash of lightning burst from his right, turning Alcyoneus's eyes lighter, and Nico's stomach dropped out from under him as he saw the pupil mere feet from where he was, looking dead at him. "Dad!"

The shadows flickered for a second.

And then Hades was there, a long black spear going straight through Alcyoneus's chest.

The giant howled, but he wasn't done yet. Nico barely had enough time to vanish before the giant was shaking his shoulders, like someone would to get rid of a mosquito.

"One more blow." his father murmured as they converged in the centre of the courtyard, Helm of Darkness tucked under his arm.

Nico flicked his sword to get the oil off, watching in fascination as dragon-Frank practically cartwheeled behind them all, Otis in his jaws, Ephialtes clinging on to his tail, with Poseidon hacking at the giant with a trident and Ares bellowing in laughter atop dragon-Frank. He honestly couldn't tell who was winning. Nico saw Mr D in the corner, watching with interest as he sipped a can of co*ke.

Every now and then, he could see heads of various demigods from the camps pop up from over the the ruined walls, as if it was a firework show, 'ooh'-ing and 'ahh'-ing. It seemed as if most of the army had abandoned their posts to watch the spectacular showdown. And although he kind of wanted to, Nico couldn't blame them. He noticed all of these things, and a dozen other melees in progress, though a lot of his attention was being diverted to the throbbing along his side.

A wild bellow to his left snapped his head around, and a true smile broke out across his face, just in time to see Annabeth and Athena stabbing Enceladus in tandem, both aiming and hitting arteries with deadly accuracy. Annabeth clearly wasn't taking any chances, and stabbed once more. At her side stood a woman with long dark hair and golden armour over her white robes. The goddess, following her daughter's lead, thrust her spear through the giant again, then brandished her shield with the fearsome bronzed visage of Medusa. The giant swayed for a second before vaporising, mother and daughter landing shakily on their feet, a mirror image of each other in victory. Demigods scattered around the edges broke out in whoops and cheers.

Alcyoneus groaned, on his knees now, the spear still embedded deeply, and Nico remembered he had his own giant he needed to kill.

Shadow travelling for the last time, he landed atop the giant's head, and shuffled forwards until he reached his brow. Taking his sword in both hands, Nico stabbed downwards into his brain. If he even had one, that was.

The giant seized up, twitching as if he'd been tasered, before going the same way as his brother. Namely, down. Nico hit the ground with another groan, sitting up roughly.

It was a bit blurry in his vision, but Nico couldn't stop himself from smiling proudly as Hippolytos was downed again, only this time Hazel didn't even give him the chance to get up. She pulled herself onto his neck, rolling smoothly, and stabbed him straight downwards with her spatha, Hermes mimicking her to the side.

Nico heaved himself up, shaking the fog from his head, and then suddenly there was a hand on his arm, and a rush of energy flowed through him.

He blinked up at Reyna.

"Come on," she urged him, her fight finished, "You're standing in the middle of the battle."

They staggered to the edge of a ruined wall, ducking briefly as a giant fist flew through a pillar to their right, but the monster was enticed back by Piper. Not by charmspeak, no, Periboia was immune. But she wasn't immune to the absolutely brutal insults that Piper was throwing out, ones that made even Jason pause in his static-filled fight, just to admire his girlfriend, before narrowly avoiding a giant kicking his head off. The goddess Aphrodite floated around the fighting pair on a small pink cloud, strewing rose petals in the giantess's eyes and calling encouragement to Piper. 'Lovely, my dear. Yes, good. Hit her again!' Whenever Periboia tried to strike, doves rose up from nowhere and fluttered in the giantess's face.

Nico realised that Reyna was talking, and looked up apologetically, but found her quickly exchanging words with Artemis instead.

"Any time." Artemis said with a grin. "I'll take you in an instant."

"It's a generous offer, my lady, " Reyna declined, "but I'll stick to Praetor, thank you." She quickly took off to run towards the giant Thoon, who was, surprisingly, being attacked by three old ladies wielding metal bats.

Nico almost felt like whooping as he saw his frien-fellow demigods kicking giant butt. The fights with Jason and Leo were too electricity and fire-filled for any non-protected demigod to join. They'd be vaporised instantly. Hazel had joined a now human Frank in fighting Otis and Ephialtes after winning her fight, both Ares and Poseidon backing Frank. Right at the last moment, Dionysus seemed to drain his can, lobbing it over his shoulder, before sauntering over to the fight, and throwing his hand up in the air. Vines shot out of the ground, firmly wrapping around their legs. All it took from there was a finishing blow from both Hazel and Frank.

Leo was now fully ablaze, not that it seemed to bother the burly bearded guy in a mechanic's uniform fighting alongside him, a giant wrench in hand that looked as if it could crack a few skulls. They fought in no particular pattern or method, but they worked well together, not thinking or planning, just burning and beating. Mimas did not last long, and when Leo shook the flames off of his body, Nico was glad that he had made his trousers flame-retardant.

Reyna threw a spear into Thoon behind them, leaving the giant to the clubs of the Fates, who looked too gleeful at the prospect of finishing him off. She came back to stand near Nico, her dark hair plastered to her forehead in sweat.

The dying howl of Mimas was echoed as Periboia was defeated, thoroughly trounced by a victorious Piper who, unbeknownst to her yet, had 'Winner!' written across her forehead in bright red lipstick calligraphy, Aphrodite gazing proudly at her.

Only Jason, Zeus and Porphyrion were fighting now, Zeus uncharacteristically hesitant to use the master bolt.

"He doesn't want to hit Jason." Reyna stated in surprise.

(Ten minutes after Octavian escaped)

The giant used his spear in a whirlwind of swipes, jabs and slashes. But Zeus and Jason just kept pushing him backwards, back towards the acropolis. Up close, Zeus' lightning bolt appeared as a bronze rod a metre long, pointed on both ends, with blades of energy extending from both sides to form a javelin of white electricity. He slashed across the giant's stomach and Porphyrion collapsed.

"You think this is over?" he snarled, and Nico saw Jason falter as the giant began to laugh.

Zeus didn't appear to be fazed, but when he was stood so close to Jason, there were similarities in their facial expressions that showed he was concerned as well. With help from Reyna, Nico limped forwards, Gods and demigods alike getting closer to watch, while still keeping a safe distance. Nico saw Clarisse clambering over some stones, leading a group of campers, her eyes flicking between Ares and Porphyrion. A hand fell on Nico's shoulder, Hades stood behind him and Hazel. His other hand rested on his daughter's shoulder. Neither child mentioned it, and Hades didn't look down, but Nico couldn't help but take comfort from it.

"You- you thought we didn't have a backup plan?" said Porphyrion, chuckling.

Lightning had melted all the weapons in the giant's hair. Molten celestial bronze dripped through his dreadlocks like caramel. His skin steamed and blistered.

A thousand scenarios ran through Nico's head, each getting progressively worse. They hadn't raised Gaia. None of them had bled; or if they had, it had just been absorbed by Leo's armour. A remarkable invention, if Nico was honest.

"He's cornered and trying to waste time, kill him!" Ares waved his sword above his head, Poseidon nodding by him.

"You don't want to hear about your precious son, Poseidon?"

Both Poseidon and Athena held up a hand.

"What do you mean?" Poseidon's voice shook with barely controlled anger.

Porphyrion leaned forwards as best he could with a bad wound, his smile predator-like. And Nico was surprised when he turned it on Hades.

"You sent Jackson back to Tartarus, didn't you?" the giant asked, already knowing the answer.

Nico glanced at Poseidon, who was staring at his brother with wide eyes. Even most of the Gods seemed vaguely surprised.

Hades nodded. "Yes, I did." he said smoothly.

Hazel whipped around, Hades' hand falling off her shoulder. She looked devastated, and in that moment, though he had already suspected what Percy had been asked to do, Nico wanted nothing more than to kick his father. He looked at Annabeth, but she was just glaring at Hades. Of course, he thought, she'd already worked it out.

"He told me to tell you it was worth it." Hades murmured to Annabeth, who visibly locked her jaw. So she had also worked it out.

"Why bring that up?" Zeus snapped back to Porphyrion, though his eyes flickered slightly unsurely towards Hades.

"Oh, I just wanted to get us on the same page here. You see, I sent some scouts ahead to track him down." said the last giant standing-well- sitting. "Let's just say I have one last little trick up my sleeve."

Nico exchanged a look with Jason, whose blonde hair was standing firmly on end.

Zeus' eyes were sparking like a cut electricity line.

The giant let his words hang in the air for a few seconds, before he sang a word, in a low serpentine voice.

"Mother. "

Nico's eyes widened, the whites of his eyes vivid in the setting sun.

He watched with a furrowed brow as a stone clattered across the floor. Then another. And another.

"Earthquake!" Piper yelled.

But it wasn't, it was different, and Nico could see the trees in the distance standing as still as the dead. Only the acropolis was shaking, and Nick dug his fingertips into the stone nearest him.

Their assembled group back pedalled as cracks appeared in the flagstones. Porphyrion rose to his feet, fifty foot high and smirking an evil grin.

"You are too late." Porphyrion said, striking fear into Nico's heart, "The sacrifices have already been made. Mother will rise soon. But first..." he gestured to the floor, speaking loudly over the rumble, "It's time to sort out some priorities."

And then the ground opened up, like a massive hand unfurling, and a black blur was flung across the ground.

Nico squinted.

And then a wave of horror washed over him.

Chapter 54: Annabeth VI

Summary:

He looked beaten up and tortured and hollow and never before had she been so in love with him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 54

Annabeth VI

Annabeth reacted instinctively.

The ground still shaking, she ducked behind a rock in the stone courtyard, yanking down Piper with her. The others followed suit. Reyna's alert and questioning eyes met her own from where she was crouched behind her own rock, the same question that she herself wanted answering reflected within them- what wasthat? The Gods had backpedalled but remained standing, their weapons out warily. Annabeth peered around the top of the stone with narrowed eyes; a lot of dust had been kicked up, making it difficult to see. And with the sun almost down, the shadows softened the outlines of the figures before her. She could see the small ravine in the ground closing, but was unable to see whatever monster Gaia had undoubtedly released, due to Porphyrion's hulking form blocking her view.

"What happened?" Piper hissed, "What was that thing?"

"I don't know," Annabeth replied grimly, her crouch getting slightly taller as she prepared to look round again, the shaking coming to a slow stop, "Stay down."

With a deep breath and her dagger in hand, Annabeth stood up, still staying low, and caught a glance at the… figure?

It wasn't a monster; at least, she couldn't see anything straight away that could give it away as an empousa or a cyclops, though it could be covered in the Mist. She squinted and thought it almost looked as if it was in pain. It had hit one of the columns when it had been released, she guessed. It had a humanoid figure, some ragged shorts and a black mask obscuring most of its face. Over by a crumbled wall, she saw some Hunters of Artemis nock their arrows, half pointing at a smirking Porphyrion, half aimed at the filthy figure. Thalia had a strange frown on her face as she drew her own bow back.

And between the dusty flagstones and deep purple sky, she heard a muffled groan float up.

"About time!" Porphyrion spoke up, and Annabeth saw him gripping his spear tightly, "How nice of you to finally join the fun!"

The figure on the floor pulled itself into a kneeling position, still annoyingly out of Annabeth's view. Going slowly so as to not attract Porphyrion's attention, she slid over the fallen rock they had ducked behind and positioned herself behind a smaller side column. She could see Porphyrion's face now, focused squarely on the figure before him, eyes hungry and full of interest. This was Porphyrion's back-up plan? What could this thing do? It had one hand on the ground and looked as if it was struggling to get up- was this their secret weapon?

"Look at you." Porphyrion's voice took on a tone of spite, and he slowly walked over to the heavily-breathing form. "Somebody finally muzzled you. Like a vicious mutt. Blinded you too. This is just perfect."

He clapped his hands together in satisfaction.

"I told them to cut out your tongue," he continued, "but this will do too, I suppose. Unless it's missing under that mask, though I guess you can't really tell me either way."

Annabeth frowned, her eyes flicking from side to side as ideas peppered about her head. She saw the others climbing over the rocks, following her lead to get closer to the giant. Athena caught her eye from the back of the Acropolis, with a message Annabeth couldn't decipher in her gaze. Clarisse nodded to her from the other side of the quiet courtyard. They had Porphyrion surrounded and injured; so why didn't he seem to care?

There was a brief pause in everyone's positioning as the figure pulled itself up, bent over at the waist as it leaned on a rock. It was only then that Annabeth spotted the strap over its chest, a sword at its back. Oh. And another, at its waist. Two swords-

Annabeth's breathing came to a sudden stop.

The evening air was unusually hot, and a bead of sweat rolled down her neck.

Oh for the love of the Gods,pleasetell her that wasn't-

"I think it would be best if all of you take a step back." Porphyrion said, louder than when he had been talking to- to the figure, clearly addressing them all. "Or I'll skin this little mongrel right here, right now."

It was a person. Annabeth felt tears sting the corners of her eyes and angrily ignored them, refusing to look away.

"And why does that matter?" Leo asked slowly, standing behind Clarisse with his hands on his hips, seemingly oblivious to the- were those panicked?- looks Nico was frantically conveying to him. "Not to be rude, but we don't even know who that is. They're with you." he said, glancing around, hearing muttered assent from everyone watching. "Are-aren't they?" he added, now uncertainly.

Porphyrion laughed, and Annabeth even saw the figure's chest jerk as if they had snorted. The giant reached down, grabbing the surprised figure by the waist and dragging them into the middle. Next to Thalia, a young girl's eyes flashed silver, and moonlight flooded into the dark blue skies. Annabeth saw a tattoo on the figure's arm, and that was the last straw. Before she knew what she was doing, she had stepped out from behind the column. She saw the other members of the Seven do the same.

"P-" Poseidon was cut off by Porphyrion.

"What should I cut off first, huh?" Porphyrion sneered, levelling his spear at the figure, who was on all fours in front of him, "The head? An arm? A leg? How about you all just take a nice step back?"

Porphyrion was panicked; Annabeth could see. Holding a hostage was buying him time until he could escape, which, with many of the Gods present, was unlikely and he knew it. Porphyrion didn't want to die, didn't want to go back to Tartarus, and for all his layered-on composure, hints of his desperation were evident.

"Mother is waking as we speak," Porphyrion said, "Soon your little world will be in ashes, and the truly greatest empire will rise. The Gods have had their turn, the Titans too incapable to overthrow them not just once but twice. You will find no such weakness within Mother Earth's army."

As he spoke, Porphyrion didn't seem to notice the figure reaching up to their face. Their hand ran over the black mask that covered them from chin to nose, tugging in places. It wasn't coming off, and their hand ran higher, to the blindfold. From across the Acropolis, Annabeth saw Jason's pale face standing out as they all watched. She longed to run over and help, but the spear was almost grazing the figure's neck; one slip, and… she couldn't let that happen, especially not now.

The blindfold was strategically tugged until, one side at a time, it inched up and over their forehead, pulled over hair. It dropped to the stones. The figure- he, he- stared at the ground for a few seconds. Then the hand came back up.

And the long, black sword strapped across his back was pulled out.

He moved faster than Annabeth would have thought he could've, on his feet and lunging-lunging, towards the giant. He swept his sword through the shaft of the spear and it snapped in one blow, before stabbing Porphyrion straight through the wrist with a sickening squelch.

"You little-!" Porphyrion yelled, his other hand coming up to grip at his bloody wrist.

But the figure wasn't slowing down.

Now able to see, he avoided every single one of the giant's blows, slicing deeply into Porphyrion's ankles, bringing him to his knees with an impact that shook dust from the Acropolis. The giant howled, and Annabeth watched in awe as the figure winded in and out of gaps with skill, each slash striking true and deep. Whatever that sword was made of certainly seemed to have an abnormal effect. A slice to the stomach had Porphyrion doubled over in pain, huge hands banging down on the stones.

"Stop-!" Porphyrion gasped, but Annabeth didn't think that the figure could hear, because he didn't even pause.

She could see a limp in his step as he walked around to the face of the panting giant, a chain she hadn't seen before trailing across the stones. It seemed to be attached to his wrist. Demigods stumbled backwards out of his path. Porphyrion looked up, pools of ichor spreading in the cracks of the flagstones, and Annabeth was surprised to see… fear? Whatever emotion was spread across the giant's face, she could see nothing of it reflected in the dark eyes opposite him.

"Don't." Porphyrion shook his head, the melted swords in his hair swinging.

He seemed to almost be pleading with the figure stood before him. Annabeth took another step forwards. Though her mind was almost exploding with everything that was going on, she dimly wondered which God would help strike the finishing blow.

"I can't go back there. It took so long to get out this time," Porphyrion said in a low voice, "Don't send me back there. I just- I just want to see my mother again. I know you above anyone can understand all of those things Godk-"

The figure's sword, that had been tilted up with what Annabeth had thought was caution, struck out.

It sank through the skin of the Giant's neck as if it was paper. Straight to the hilt. Porphyrion's eyes bulged and he choked on his words. For a beat, the figure didn't move. Annabeth waited for him to remove his sword, could see Poseidon hurrying forwards to place the last hit.

But the sword stayed in. His other hand came up to grip the handle.

And he lashed out.

With a sickening spray of ichor, the figure yanked the sword clean across to the other side of Porphyrion's neck, leaving a jagged and chasmic slice about a metre long, and a metre deep. Poseidon slowed in his walk. Annabeth felt alarm begin to crawl into her stomach. Porphyrion jerked once, twice, ichor gushing out the gaping slash in his throat like a fountain. And then his eyeballs rolled back in his head, and his massive body sunk into sand, little wisps of it delicately floating through the warm evening air.

Oh, Annabeth thought. Oh.

She took another step forwards.

The figure turned to her.

The green in his eyes was dark, darker than she'd ever seen it, and even though stripes of black ran over them, disappearing into his hairline and under the mask, she'd recognise it anywhere. He stared at her like she was the only thing to exist, seemingly frozen, his sword still gripped in one hand, his other at the back of his head, fingers halted in their attempt to take off the mask.

It looked like it was digging in.

Annabeth walked over to him. His chest rose and fell quicker with every step, and she could hear her own heartbeat thumping in her ears. The mask was buckled at the back; he couldn't get it off on his own, and by extension, couldn't have put it on himself either. They really had muzzled him. And chained him, she thought distantly, glancing at the torn and bloody skin underneath the manacle.

Her hands, so clean in comparison to the filthy stained red of his skin, reached around to the back of his head. He watched her every action, as if he didn't believe she was truly there. She could barely believe he was either. Around them, everyone had gone silent. Her small fingers found the buckle, and slowly pushed the strip of black leather through the square of metal. The prong slid out of the hole, and she winced internally as the mask dug further into his skin, but he didn't even so much as twitch, just stared at her. Ichor dripped from his wrists. Then the mask loosened, and his non-sword hand came up slowly to push the rest of it down to where it hung around his neck.

His nose was smashed and freely bleeding, and the stripes ran all the way down to his chin, a little smudged, but war paint nonetheless. He looked beaten up and tortured and hollow and never before had she been so in love with him.

They both reacted at the same time, coming together like magnets.

He threw his arms around her just as she flung her own around his neck, and she was in Elysium.

"You're here." she whispered into his neck, eyes looking up to the heavens in disbelief, a bitten-off laugh in her throat.

"You're alive." he mumbled hoarsely.

And wasn't his voice, however scratchy and rough, the best damn thing she'd ever heard. A sob came out of her mouth. She pulled him tighter against her, and he returned it, as if they were both trying to absorb the other. She pulled back, their hands going to each other's faces instinctively. Her fingers ran over the cuts on his face, and along his jaw, where she could feel sharp hairs under her touch. His thumbs stroked the soft parts of her cheeks with reverence.

"Annabeth."

"Percy."

Suddenly she didn't care about the grime and blood soaked into his skin or how bad his breath must be. She hooked a hand around the back of his neck, his hands going to her waist and hair, and they kissed for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. Tears welled up in her closed eyes, but she just kissed him harder. She'd forgotten about the demigods around them. She'd forgotten about the Olympians. She'd forgotten all about Gaia and the War. They just… didn't matter anymore. Like the bodies of the Pompeii lovers, if a volcano erupted right now, she'd be right where she wanted to be and not move a single inch. She'd found her home and wrapped her arms around it.

When they parted, she didn't go far, resting her forehead against his. His breaths were shaky, and she frowned as she felt a long mark along the skin of his back with the pads of her fingertips. She nudged his head out of the way, going back for another hug. And when his chin settled onto the top of her hair? Annabeth let out a breath she hadn't even known she was holding. A breath she felt like she'd been holding since Rome.

"I love you." Percy mumbled into her hair in his scratchy voice. "I love you so much."

Annabeth squeezed him tightly.

"I love you too." she said, pressing her cheek onto the warmth of his shoulder.

He smelled like a dead horse, all sweat and blood. Her skin stuck to his, blood flaking off under her touch. She glanced down. She could see shadowed bruises forming along his side from where she presumed he had hit the stone column. The bandages around his stomach looked old, soaked through with a long-dried red. Her hand came up to his bicep, and ghosted across his tattoo.

A thousand questions ran through her head, but she settled on the only one that was important, a question that she knew couldn't be properly answered but she needed to ask it anyway. "Are you okay?"

And Percy, who was still slowly bleeding in some places and looking like he'd been locked in a room with a ravenous lion for a week, had the absolute nerve to kiss the top of her head and mumble: "Yeah. You?"

Annabeth blew a slightly hysterical breath through her nose; she'd been dead less than a week ago. "Yep."

They leant apart slightly, and gripped hands. He slid his sword- an impressively sharp sword that Annabeth didn't quite like the look of- back into the sheath on his back. The black shadows on the lower half of his face stood out against the streaked red of his skin, short hairs creeping along his jaw.

"You have a beard," she told him with a choked laugh.

He rubbed a hand along his face with a frown. "Do I?"

Percy looked away from her for the first time to glance up at the night sky.

"I missed the sun." he said quietly, and Annabeth rubbed a thumb over his hand sympathetically.

It was at that point that she saw the others edging towards them, with wide eyes and cautiously curious expressions. Frank approached the two of them first, eyes flicking like he didn't quite know where to look, and Annabeth very gently nudged Percy, who had been just reaching up to touch a stray curl in her ponytail. Percy looked at Frank. Frank opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again.

"Hi?" he offered.

"Hey." Percy returned, the corner of his mouth briefly twitching up at him, and then the others behind the son of Mars.

It was a far cry from Percy's usual grin, but Annabeth would take whatever she could get. They all exchanged glances to see who would talk next, and Jason took the lead.

"How did Porphyrion die?" he asked hesitantly, "I may have missed it, but I didn't see a God-?"

Several of the present Olympians suddenly seemed exceedingly interested.

"Don't need one." Percy answered shortly, "It's complicated." he added with a raspy sigh.

The conversation seemed to spur the others into action.

"Right, back to camp, the lot of you!" Clarisse yelled suddenly, and Annabeth saw Percy's jaw clench, "Stop gawkin'! Last one here gets a taste of my spear!"

Annabeth smiled at her gratefully, and the daughter of Ares gave her a reassuring nod before ushering the rest of the demigods out, even as her- and there was no way that was worry that Annabeth saw in it-gaze flicked over to Percy, who was now staring firmly at the ground to avoid the openly staring kids being shoved away from the Acropolis. From what Annabeth had been told about the reunion last time; there was a significant decrease in hugs now. She guessed to the others, Percy seemed a little… unstable, perhaps. The last reunion was under even worse circ*mstances than they had now. A loose semi-circle had formed around them of Gods and demigods alike. In the end, it was Thalia who thankfully broke the tension.

"So who bled?" she asked.

People jumped on the opportunity for conversation, avoiding looking at Percy, who had not let go of Annabeth's hand, but had closed his eyes and was breathing in the evening air very slowly and very deliberately. She wondered what was going through his mind. For the first time in a long time, she wouldn't even know where to start.

"What do you mean?" Hazel asked.

"Porphyrion says Gaia's waking, that means someone bled. Wasn't me." Thalia shrugged.

"He said the sacrifices had already been made." argued the young girl Annabeth presumed to be Artemis beside her, "Whoever's blood raised her is most likely already dead."

"Gaia's awake?" Percy spoke up hoarsely beside her, opening his eyes.

"Well, we don't know that for s-" Dionysus spoke up- and Annabeth was surprised he was still here- as Athena cut him off.

"She is waking." Annabeth's mother stated, "The sacrifices must have taken place back at one of the camps, two of the demigods there."

Annabeth felt worry grip her; she had left the camp pretty much undefended, had taken their best fighters with her. Chiron, Rachel, Grover… none were demigods, but all would risk their lives to defend one. Anyone that had been left behind could be dead by now. Two already were. And they were on the wrong side of the Atlantic to do anything about it. She held on to Percy's hand a little tighter, focusing on the callouses and warm heat under his skin. She heard his stomach rumble.

"If she's awake," Percy said, seemingly coming back to himself a little, "Then she could be anywhere?"

"Theoretically. Her body is the earth and vice versa."

"So her face could be right under our feet?"

Annabeth didn't like the sound of that, and she could tell the others didn't either, as many of them shuffled their feet. Jason wrinkled his nose, levitating a few centimetres off the ground. She glanced warily at the stones, from crack to crack as if she expected one to suddenly blink open and stare at her. They could be walking along her nose right now. She felt like shuddering. Next to her, Percy was also staring at the flagstone underneath his feet. He opened his mouth as if to speak.

And he spat on the ground.

"Right then," he said roughly into the surprised silence, meeting their eyes properly for the first time, and Annabeth was a little startled by the hard edge in his voice, "This is great and all, but if I don't have something to eat in the next minute, I'm going to pass out."

He did look skinnier, now that Annabeth looked harder. His biceps seemed a lot thicker than before, but there were shadows underneath his ribs and by his hips that she couldn't see before he fell. She looked at Piper, who spoke up hurriedly.

"I've got my cornucopia back down at camp?" she said, gesturing down towards where the tents were now lit up with torches, demigods milling around in the distance. "I think it's in the Praetor's tent-?"

"Thanks." Percy said quickly, and suddenly they were off, his hand clutched tightly in hers, not dragging her, just not willing to let go yet, which Annabeth could understand far better than anyone else, and matched his pace easily. She couldn't pinpoint his mood, and that unnerved her a little.

They were striding quite quickly down the gentle decline away from the Acropolis, the others scurrying to catch up with them, when a roar echoed across the beach.

Annabeth jerked her head back as Percy's hand let go of hers, and shot up to grip the sword at his back, ready to unsheathe. It froze halfway there. His eyebrows knotted together, and he looked at her with questioning eyes that seemed to already know the answer.

"Is that-?" he asked, but was interrupted by the violent swaying in the trees to their right getting closer and closer.

Percy whipped around and a drakon burst from the foliage.

Human and monster stared at each other for a beat.

Then Maia practically bounded over to them, and she shoved her nose into Percy's hands, who gave a startled laugh that made Annabeth grin in return. It was Mrs O'Leary all over again. Annabeth glanced over to the others and snorted softly at the look on Thalia's face. It looked like she was torn between 'What the Styx' and 'Holy Styx', and she made a mental note to never let her near a domesticated drakon. Her eyes flicked over to Percy as she heard wafts of low murmurs coming from where Percy was running his hand over one of Maia's canine teeth and talking to her. She heard him call her 'girl', and smiled gently; okay, that was adorable.

"Oh," she heard Percy say, "I forgot about this."

He stepped on Maia's front foot for a second, reaching up and untying the canvas knapsack from around her neck. Annabeth frowned when she got a better view of the leathery brown bag; it looked more like it was made of jerky, and was only closed by a smaller strip of leather going through small holes around the edges to tie it all together. Percy snapped the knotted fastening rather than undoing it, and stuck his hand into the bag.

"What's in that?" Annabeth asked him.

"Just everything I had." Percy shrugged a little, before a frown flitted across his face, and he pulled his hand out, a glassy black stone in his palm.

"A rock?" Annabeth said with unrestrained wonder, "From Tartarus?"

Percy's frown twitched, and something dark flickered in his eyes. "Don't say the name." he replied.

Annabeth blinked, and she briefly caught sight of Piper's questioning expression. There was a nervous air behind her; there was something quite visibly 'off' about Percy and everyone from Hermes to Zeus could see it. He'd never had a problem with saying Tartarus before. Well, of course he hadn't, she reprimanded herself, he hadn't exactly spent over a month down there before.

Annabeth caught Percy's eye, and he twitched up the corner of his mouth in one of those half smiles again. She waited for him to remember what she had asked him, unsure of whether to ask again. Normally, she would, but this whole thing was far from normal. She knew how to speak to Percy. This person wasn't exactly Percy.

"Yeah," Percy said, turning it over in his hand with an unrecognisable expression on his face, "I thought you might be interested."

Annabeth smiled gently at him. "I am."

He placed it in her hands softly. "Be careful." he murmured, before going back to the bag.

Annabeth turned the stone over in her hands, pressing a fingertip to a spike in the rock. She winced a little as it drew a tiny bead of blood. She wondered if the ground was made of them, or if they were just scattered about the place. It was deadly sharp, and she held it up with interest, looking through it and watching Percy take more things out of the bag. He scratched his face as he rummaged, fingers scraping hesitantly through the short black hairs on his jaw. He looked good with a beard, Annabeth thought. He hadn't really had to shave before he fell either, and it made it difficult to compare the clean-faced (and emphasis on clean) Percy she had known with the Percy before her.

He seemed to have been building up quite the collection of stuff down there, she thought, raising her eyebrows at the claws and fangs Percy was pulling out. She got closer to look at them, but was hit by a wave of toxic fumes.

"Oh, Gods, what's the smell?" she said, pinching her nose as her eyes watered.

"What?" Percy asked, looking up.

"You can't smell that?"

Percy looked around, and then looked into his knapsack again. His face came alive and he shoved his hand back in.

"No way." he muttered excitedly.

And he pulled out the most disgusting slab of meat Annabeth had ever seen. It was black, with mucus-green veins running through it, and what looked like black moss dotted over it like mini forests. It looked raw and smelt like the worst combination of everything Annabeth had ever smelt.

"Gods, Percy, is that flesh?" Jason clapped a hand over his nose.

"Throw it away." Reyna didn't move away, but her nose wrinkled like she'd like to take it and kick it off the side of the cliff ahead of them.

Annabeth nodded, agreeing, and looked back over to Percy wh- who was chewing. Was eating as he put his stuff back into his back. Her eyes flicked to the steak in his hand, and she felt her stomach flip at the visible bite marks torn out of it.

"You-" Aphrodite didn't seem to be able to speak, the same revulsion on each of the demigods faces reflected on those of the Gods as they watched Percy sink his teeth into it again, black liquid bubbling up, and jerk his head from side to side until the meat split apart.

"What?" he said through his mouthful, scowling a little, "I'm starving."

"What have you been eating?" Annabeth asked, not really wanting to know.

Percy shrugged, black blood weaving through his thin beard. A muscle jumped in his cheek. He shook the steak, and it flopped from side to side. "Just... stuff like this. It's better than it looks."

"I think we're good, dude." Leo said slowly, holding up his hands. "What even is that?"

Percy looked up, and then glanced at Maia, who was sniffing his back. "Well, uh, technically... it's kinda made of-"

He jerked his head minutely towards Maia, who didn't notice. No one spoke.

"-it's... complicated." he finished. "You said you had more food?"

"Praetor's tent." Piper reminded him.

Percy looked over to the camp, glowing orange in the dead of the night sky. The crashing of the waves sounded a lot better with him here, and she saw the way he glanced wistfully at it. They'd kind of been standing around on the sandy hill, halfway to the beach and halfway to the Acropolis. Maia nuzzled her scaly snout into Percy's shoulder one last time before she slithered off, and Percy ducked under her tail to keep on towards the tent. He glanced back at Annabeth, and she caught up with him as he waited, sliding his hand into hers.

Percy walked quickly and quietly, stepping over tent poles and strings and staying out of sight. She didn't blame him.

They pushed into the Praetor's tent, bathed in dim golden light from the lamps within. Aurum and Argentum growled softly from the corner of the tent. Percy payed them no attention, picking up Piper's cornucopia off the table and holding it out. He shook it a little. They met eyes.

"I don't know how to work it." Percy said.

"I can tell."

They smiled at each other.

The front of the tent flapped open like a purple cape, and the others came in. Piper hurried over to help Percy, who stepped back to let her work. Reyna strode over to the collapsible wooden desk and sat down. The others just sat on the chairs around the long table in the middle. They had lost most of the Gods on the way to the tent, but Annabeth didn't doubt that they were still watching, just now from the comfort of their thrones. The ones that remained looked uncomfortable as they settled gingerly onto their own chairs, Zeus taking the head of the table. Athena took the other end. Annabeth left the seat next to her empty for Percy to sit down once he had sorted out his food, and wasn't surprised to see Poseidon sitting in the chair opposite. The table blurred before her eyes, and promptly extended several feet, silver chairs appearing on the left. Artemis sat down, Thalia settling next to her. Thalia winked at Annabeth.

It was like a proper war meeting, Annabeth thought.

Nico and his father sat with one chair between them, one that Jason slid into awkwardly. Hades side-eyed the son of Zeus, but said nothing.

On her other side, Hazel smiled at her.

"It's nice having him back." she said quietly. "Having both of you together."

Annabeth smiled sadly at the younger girl. "It really is."

Piper stuck her head around the divider that separated the two sections of the tent. "Anyone else want any food?"

They all declined with thanks, and Piper set her cornucopia aside, coming back in to sit down on the other side of Hades. Then Percy re-entered, with a plate wobbling full of burgers. They all grinned at him, and he nodded in satisfaction, as if to say, 'Oh yeah'. He sat next to Annabeth, slumping in the chair before pulling himself forwards and attacking the pile.

"If you eat too much too fast-" Annabeth whispered a warning in his ear, to which he nodded at, but then took another bite.

"I'm not sure what else there is to do now." Piper said first, which didn't exactly bode well for the rest of the conversation, "Gaia's awake. We lost. This whole thing was about stopping Gaia. What do we do now?"

"Kill her." Percy said, voice muffled through the pretty much whole hamburger in his mouth, another in his hand.

Eyebrows raised.

"Kill... the Primordial." Poseidon said slowly, trying to catch his son's eye.

But Percy just nodded. With what seemed to be great effort, he put down one of his hamburgers and pulled out his black sword, laying it down in the middle of the table. He looked around.

"Kromos shife.'' he said simply, taking another bite.

Everyone glanced around, looking to see if anyone had understood. Annabeth did: she had heard him talk with his mouth full since they were twelve; she was fluent in Percy-Mumble. What she didn't understand was what he meant by it. No one else had caught on yet. Annabeth sighed.

"Kronos' scythe." she translated to the others, before returning to the statement, "The one that killed Ouranos? Yeah, it could have killed Gaia but it melted, Percy. It's gone."

But he just shook his head, and jerked his burger in the direction of his sword. "Kromos shife."

Annabeth frowned. She looked at his sword and reached out to touch the blade, just to bring it closer. Kronos' Scythe… it couldn't mean what she thought it meant, could it?

But a strong hand wrapped around her wrist before she could touch it, and Annabeth was surprised to see Percy gripping her arm, shaking his head. He had dropped his burger on the table to catch her, but didn't pick it up. Instead, he swallowed.

"Don't touch it." he warned her, " It'll sever your soul."

Annabeth raised her eyebrows, her eyes wide. "You have Backbiter?" she asked, feeling very confused, which in turn annoyed her.

Percy just shook his head again. "Adamas. That's my sword, not his. Same thing though."

"Okay, let's back up a little bit here." Jason said, scratching his chin, "You have a sword like Kronos' Scythe. Can I ask how?"

Percy's head swivelled to Hades. "You wanna take that?"

Hades raised his eyebrows as they all looked at him, but now Annabeth finally understood. "This is the sword." she said, "The sword for me, for my life. The sword you went back to Tartarus for."

Percy screwed up his eyes and scowled. "Annabeth."

Oh, right. "Sorry," she apologised, deeply curious but also a little sad for him. "The blessed sword either way."

"Yes." said Hades, but even he seemed interested in it, "How did it go?" he asked Percy.

Percy opened his mouth to answer, and Annabeth sat up to listen, but he just took another huge bite of a burger, held out his hand, and made a 'so-so' gesture. Judging by the copious stains of dried blood mapping every inch of his skin, Annabeth assumed he had maybe missed just a couple details. Her eyes travelled down his stomach and she frowned. There was ichor on him, and actually, now that he was in more than just moonlight, she could see a lot more dripping off his elbows and trickling down his calves. Her first thought was that he had accepted immortality, but she knew he wouldn't do that to her. Her second was that he had fought an immortal, and it seemed the most likely, but with Zeus in the room, she didn't bring it up. And though she had found the most probable answer, it didn't stop a third from forming; she found herself fixated on the tattoo from Nyx.

She tried to imagine him getting it. She didn't think there would be many tattoo parlours down in Tartarus.

"Did it hurt?" she found herself asking, nodding towards it.

Percy lifted and dropped a shoulder, finishing off his burger without meeting her eyes, which meant yes.

"Why did you get it?"

She knew that was a question they all wanted answering, especially her and Zeus. And she knew he could feel the question hanging in the air. They all wanted to know. Percy's jaw clenched, and she could almost hear him grinding his teeth. Annabeth restrained from frowning; Percy had never really acted this way before, unless she counted when he had told her about when the Olympians had taken a vote on his life at the Winter Solstice several years ago. He'd been angry, to put it simply, and he'd not quite let that go since, like it was always knocking about at the back of his mind.

"I did Nyx a favour." Percy said shortly. "It doesn't matter and I don't regret it."

"Well, that's good to hear." came a new voice from behind them, drowning out the sound of Aurum and Argentum growling softly.

Annabeth shot around in her chair, her arm sticking to the back of Percy's chair to protect him. The others jumped to their feet, swords out, to face this new woman. A beautiful woman, Annabeth thought, with the darkest skin she'd ever seen and a long bla