Actions

Work Header

Reading Percy Jackson: Book 9 - House of Hades

Chapter Text

The next morning, the group woke up in their cuddle pile and it took them a moment to register why they were sleeping like this. And then the memories of the day before came rushing back. None of them wanted to start reading, and yet at the same time they were all desperate to know if Percy and Annabeth got out of the Pit alive. Breakfast was provided to them in the throne room, but nobody felt very hungry. They pushed food around their plates, only taking a few bites before deciding they didn’t want anymore.

 

As soon as Percy had finished eating, Apollo dragged him out of the room to have a talk. They went into the first empty room they found and collapsed onto the couch.

 

“This is all her fault. If she hadn’t been so stupid…” Apollo growled.

 

“No!” Percy glared at him. “This was not Annabeth’s fault. She was down there for hours with her worst nightmare. She’s allowed to be a little shaken and not think straight. We all missed the webs around her legs.”

 

“That’s not what I mean. She had won. And because of her pride she taunted the monster who then hit her with the webs which none of you noticed. Only, her fatal flaw isn’t only fatal to herself, she’s going to get you killed too!”

 

“I fell because I chose to. Loyalty is supposedly my flaw, so we both fell because of them. That was my choice. I could have let her go but I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t let her go alone. I wouldn’t let anyone go there alone,” Percy replied.

 

“Except, you would. Or your future-self would have done. It might have been your flaw of loyalty that made you fall, but it only extended to Annabeth. If that had been Hazel falling into the Tartarus, you really think your future-self would have left Annabeth topside to go with Hazel?” Apollo asked angrily. Percy grimaced. He would like to be able to say yes without any hesitation. Right now, he knew he would go, alone if it was at all possible. But his future-self had been pretty clingy to Annabeth. Which Percy totally understood considering what his future-self had gone through, but he didn’t feel the same now.

 

“My future-self might not have done,” He said slowly. “But that version of me doesn’t exist anymore.”

 

“You chose to fall into Tartarus, with no idea if you would even survive the fall, let alone Tartarus itself.” Percy could detect the hint of jealousy, but there was also something else in Apollo’s tone that he couldn’t identify.

 

“Apollo,” He looked at the god sitting beside him. “You know I would do the same for you. I’d go to Tartarus if it would save your life.” Rather than making Apollo look relieved, he looked even more horrified by this.

 

“Percy, no!”

 

“What?” Percy was confused.

 

“I don’t want you to die for me! Or go through literal Hell to prove you love me. I want you to live. Heck I want you to want to live!" Apollo yelled. Then he sighed and visibly tried to calm himself. “Am I jealous that without this interference you would have loved her enough to do that…yes. But I hate that part of myself. And mostly, I just hate that you feel the need to do something like that to prove yourself. You tell me you love me a thousand times every day just by being here, putting up with my ridiculous jealousy, by cooking pizza for me and planning a date out. Those are ways to show how you feel that don’t include almost killing yourself. Dying for someone is easy. Living for them when life gets hard…that’s the difficult part.”

 

“Apollo,” Percy started and then he trailed off. He had no idea what to say to that. “You know I’ll have to go to Tartarus eventually. If we don’t close the Doors of Death, then we won’t be able to stop the giants, or Gaea. And then she’ll destroy everything, both of us included.”

 

“We’ll see,” Apollo stated grimly. “We have time. And once we finish these books we’ll have, hopefully, enough information. Things will change and who knows how that will affect later events. Maybe the Fates’ intervention will render the prophecies null and void, so more will be given out. Or maybe they won’t and the old one will stand. We have no way of knowing; this hasn’t happened before. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Percy figured that was the best he was going to get for now.

 

“We should get back.”

 

“Yeah,” Apollo agreed reluctantly. He made no effort to actually move though, despite his agreement. Instead, he pulled Percy closer to him for a hug. They clung to each other until the door opened and Poseidon came in, with Triton and Amphitrite right behind. Each of them hugged the couple tightly.

 

“Perseus, you really are trying to give a god a heart attack,” Poseidon glared at his son. “Which is impossible!” Percy hugged his dad again.

 

“I promise it’s not deliberate,” He grinned.

 

“Not all of it, anyway,” Triton corrected. Percy shrugged. “Tartarus, little bro? Stupid. But I get why you did it.”

 

“You are going nowhere near the place,” Poseidon snapped. “Triton, don’t encourage him.”

 

“I’m not encouraging him; I’m saying I understand. He didn’t just fall without thinking. He got Nico to promise to lead the others to the topside site of the Doors of Death. If Percy and Annabeth pull this off, then it swings the war hugely in our favour. Her minions won’t be able to come back so freely. Monsters will actually take time to reform.” Triton glared back at his father.

 

“Both of you stop fighting. None of this will help Percy,” Amphitrite looked at her husband and her son sternly. “This hasn’t happened yet. And the only thing we can do is continue reading so we have all the information possible. Then we can discuss any possible plans.” She didn’t look any happier about it than they did, but she knew someone had to keep their heads.

 

“I don’t like it,” Poseidon grumbled.

 

“None of us do,” Apollo pointed out unhappily. “But Percy and Amphitrite are right. There is nothing we can do about it now.” They all nodded their agreement.

 

“Let us return. The sooner we start reading, the sooner we can find out what we need to know,” Triton said.

 

“This is going to suck,” Percy complained. They all agreed with that too but headed out of the room anyway.

 

***********************************

 

Back in the throne room all of the demigods were gathered around Annabeth. Connor and Thalia were on either side of her while Grover was sitting right behind.

 

Hazel, Leo, Piper, Jason and Frank were all off slightly to one side. All of them felt beyond guilty that their future-selves had not been able to stop Percy and Annabeth falling into Tartarus. None of them knew what to say. Percy and Annabeth had both made it clear they didn’t blame any of them, and yet they all still felt like they should have done more. They had gotten the statue but lost two of their friends.

 

Leo felt more guilty than the rest because he still felt it was at least partly due to the fortune cookie he had broken. He felt like he was at war with himself. Opening that cookie had saved himself, Frank and Hazel. That was something he couldn’t regret. And yet, if sending Percy and Annabeth to Tartarus was the cost…he felt like he had no right to make that choice.

 

“Demigods,” Zeus spoke up. “I know all of you are worried for your friends. I see that you all want to help them, but we shall read the rest of these books before we decide if going to Tartarus is even necessary, let alone who should go.”

 

“It’s going to be necessary,” Thalia told her father. “Gaea has been planning this for years.”

 

“But the Doors of Death were not fixed in place until around the time Hera switched Percy and Jason. That was when the monsters starting reforming immediately,” Chiron reminded her. “And we have no idea how this reading will change things in the future. Therefore, we may be able to prevent Thanatos’ capture and help stop Gaea from controlling the Doors of Death.” They all nodded. Most of them felt like that would be too good to be true, and so was unlikely to happen, but they could hope. Hope of changing things was the only way they were going to get through the readings.

 

Percy, Apollo and the sea crew finally came back into the room. Everyone eyed the next book warily.

 

“Hey, Percy, weren’t you supposed to be dueling Mr. D?” Clarisse asked, trying to delay the reading.

 

“Yes. I was,” Percy recalled, narrowing his eyes at their Camp Director.

 

“Perhaps we should save that for this evening,” Apollo said. He didn’t want any more delays. He wanted to know that Percy survived the initial drop into Tartarus.

 

“I shall read first,” Zeus stated. Reyna quickly went to fetch Octavian. None of them particularly wanted him there, but Reyna didn't trust him to wander around Olympus by himself. WHen she got back, dragging him along, Zeus took the book and opened it.

 

Hazel

 

“What?” Everyone yelped.

 

“No. NO! We need to know what happened to Annabeth and Percy,” Grover bleated in alarm.

 

“Yeah, no offense to the rest of you, but that’s far more important right now,” Connor agreed.

 

“Hey, we agree with you,” Hazel told him.

 

“Well, I’m sure we will find out shortly,” Percy assured them, even though he wasn’t any happier about having to wait for an unknown number of chapters. Zeus began reading.

Chapter Text

Hazel was distinctly unhappy that she had chapters from her point of view for the first time since the one about their quest to Alaska. But she also realised that the last book had only had chapters from the Greek demigod’s points of view. And if this book only had the Roman demigod’s points of view, they wouldn’t hear about Percy or Annabeth. Which would simultaneously be a relief not to hear about Tartarus, but also torture in not knowing what happened to them. She decided not to mention that theory yet, in case it sent everyone into another panic.

 

During the third attack, Hazel almost ate a boulder.

 

“What?” Frank yelped. “That’s not a good start.”

 

“I don’t think anything is going to be great in this book,” Hazel told him gloomily.

 

“Yeah, it was bad enough getting to Rome. Going to Greece is going to be worse. Especially as that’s where the Doors of Death are, and so where all the monsters come up earthside,” Jason agreed.

 

“Way to be positive, Jay,” Thalia glared at her brother. He grimaced and gave her a sheepish expression.

 

She was peering into the fog, wondering how it could be so difficult to fly across one stupid mountain range, when the ship’s alarm bells sounded.

 

“Given that Gaea is getting closer to waking, probably pretty difficult,” Hermes frowned.

 

“Hard to port!” Nico yelled from the foremast of the flying ship…A dark spherical shape hurtled toward her. She thought: Why is the moon coming at us?

 

Everyone chuckled a little at Hazel’s thought.

 

“I’d be pretty worried if they are throwing the moon at us,” Leo laughed.

 

“We’d all be pretty worried I they managed that,” Hephaestus assured him.

 

Then she yelped and hit the deck. The huge rock passed so close overhead…The foremast collapsed—sail, spars, and Nico all crashing to the deck.

 

“Nico!” Will cried out.

 

“I’m sure I’m fine. It can’t be that bad a fall,” Nico shrugged off his worry.

 

“Yeah well, you almost died not long ago. This could be like the day after,” Hades looked at his son in concern. “You’re not in any shape to be taking any falls, small or not.”

 

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Nico stated firmly. He certainly didn’t want to be talking about his tiny fall from the mast when Percy and Annabeth were falling into Tartarus itself.

 

“My poor ship,” Leo moaned, taking the attention off of Nico. Honestly, he still wasn’t sure what to make of the son of Hades, but he could see he was clearly uncomfortable. “Replacing the mast, sail and spars is going to take time we probably don’t have.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll manage,” Beckendorf told him confidently.

 

The boulder, roughly the size of a pickup truck, tumbled off into the fog like it had important business elsewhere.

 

“Better than it staying on the ship to be honest,” Michael pointed out.

 

“True. That would be awkward to get off,” Jason agreed.

 

“Nico!” Hazel scrambled over to him as Leo brought the ship level.

 

“I’m fine,” Nico muttered, kicking folds of canvas off his legs.

 

“See? Fine,” Nico stated.

 

“Forgive me for not taking your word for it. Your version of ‘I’m fine’, is almost as bad as Percy’s,” Will reminded him pointedly. Nico rolled his eyes.

 

She helped him up, and they stumbled to the bow.

 

“I can walk and everything. That’s fine,” Nico smirked. It was Will’s turn to roll his eyes.

 

Hazel peeked over more carefully this time. The clouds parted just long enough to reveal…Or ourae, in Greek. Whatever you called them, they were nasty.

 

“Oh dear,” Ares winced. “Yeah, you don’t want to be flying a ship through their territory.”

 

“You need something to distract them, to hide the ship or simply go around the mountain range,” Artemis told them.

 

“I’m betting we don’t have time to go around the mountain range,” Leo frowned. “So, we need option A or option B.”

 

Like the others they had faced, this one wore a simple white tunic over skin as rough…flowing white beard, scraggly hair, and a wild look in his eyes, like a crazy hermit.

 

Everybody snickered.

 

He bellowed something Hazel didn’t understand, but it obviously wasn’t welcoming. With his bare hands, he pried another chunk of rock from his mountain and began shaping it into a ball.

 

“Not good,” Beckendorf grimaced. “You don’t need them breaking anything else or you won’t have a ship left.”

 

The scene disappeared in the fog, but when the mountain god bellowed again, other numina answered in the distance, their voices echoing through the valleys.

 

“Definitely not good,” Leo groaned. “How many of them are there?”

 

“I don’t think it’s going to matter. If one of them can do that much damage, we’d struggle to get past only one,” Jason pointed out.

 

“Stupid rock gods!” Leo yelled from the helm. “That’s the third time I’ve had to replace that mast! You think they grow on trees?”

 

“Er…Leo?” Piper looked at her friend in amusement. “I hate to tell you this, but they are made from trees.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Leo said as he stuck his tongue out at her.

 

“Three times? I wonder how long you’ve been trying to cross?” Pollux frowned.

 

Nico frowned. “Masts are from trees.”

 

Everyone except Leo snickered.

 

“That’s not the point!” Leo snatched up one of his controls…The spheres grew spikes in midair, like helicopter blades, and hurtled away into the fog.

 

“Wicked,” Clarisse grinned. “Those sound awesome.”

 

“Yeah, they do,” Leo raised his eyebrows. “I’ve never seen anything like that before though.”

 

“Maybe you got it from the Archimedes notes,” Beckendorf said excitedly.

 

“If Leo has had time to read Archimedes’ notes, and make those things, plus repair the mast three times, how long has it been since the end of the last book?” Triton asked worriedly.

 

“Let’s hope Leo is a quick reader,” Percy muttered. “And we won’t find out unless we read.”

 

A moment later, a series of explosions crackled across the mountains, followed by the outraged roars of mountain gods.

 

“I suspect you’ve only annoyed them,” Apollo winced. “They probably won’t do serious damage to mountain gods.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t sound like we have many options,” Jason shrugged.

 

“Ha!” Leo yelled…Leo’s newest weapon had only annoyed the numina.

 

Leo sighed.

 

Another boulder whistled through the air off to their starboard side…The Argo II picked up speed, retreating northwest, as they’d been doing for the past two days.

 

“Great so we’ve been stuck at the mountains for at least two days. Plus, however long it took up to get there,” Frank frowned unhappily.

 

Hazel didn’t relax until they were out of the mountains…But she missed it more than her birthplace of New Orleans, and definitely more than Alaska, where she’d died back in 1942.

 

“If you missed Alaska, I’d say you need your head checked,” Percy told her dryly. Hazel laughed lightly.

 

“Yeah, not much to miss,” She agreed.

 

She missed her bunk in the Fifth Cohort barracks. She missed dinners in the mess hall…She wanted to experience just being a regular girl for once, with an actual sweet, caring boyfriend.

 

Frank blushed.

 

Most of all, she wanted to feel safe. She was tired of being scared and worried all the time.

 

All the demigods agreed with that one.

 

“It’s hard to believe it’s probably been less than two weeks since we left Camp Jupiter on this quest,” Hazel said quietly.

 

“So less than three weeks since I arrived at Camp Jupiter,” Percy mused. “Yeah, it feels a lot longer than that.”

 

She stood on the quarterdeck as Nico picked mast splinters out of his arms…Every few hours, it seemed, some Roman monster had decided the Argo II looked like a tasty treat.

 

“Sadly, that sounds about right for the ancient lands,” Zeus noted.

 

“Especially with the Doors still open and Gaea commanding the monsters,” Hades added.

 

A few weeks ago, Hazel wouldn’t have believed that anyone could sleep through a numina attack, but now she imagined her friends were still snoring away belowdecks.

 

“Yeah, weeks of little sleep will do that to you,” Percy nodded.

 

“Not you, you’re always a light sleeper,” Annabeth said. “Unless you’re having a demigod dream.”

 

“Nico’s a light sleeper too,” Hazel stated. “When he took me to Camp Jupiter, even when it was my turn to take watch, he’d wake up to any little noise.”

 

“Sleeping on the streets, or being constantly attacked by monsters will do that to you,” Percy shrugged.

 

“Don’t tell me you’ve slept on the streets, except when on a quest or something?” Poseidon looked concernedly at his son.

 

“Me? Naa,” Percy waved away the question. “I got my light sleeping from going on so many quests.” Grover frowned at his best friend. He knew that wasn’t true. Even when they were attending Yancy together, Percy had been a light sleeper. He woke up at any slight noise, especially footsteps or similar noises of people moving about. Percy shot him a look quite clearly telling him not to say anything. Grover nodded slightly, but he would be asking about that later.

 

Whenever she got a chance to crash, she slept like a coma patient…he looked like he’d just lost a wrestling match with a locomotive.

 

“That could be fun to watch,” Piper grinned.

 

“No dice, Beauty Queen,” Leo told her. “We got enough monsters to be fighting, without adding more.”

 

Ever since their friends Percy and Annabeth had fallen into Tartarus, Leo had been working almost nonstop. He’d been acting angrier and even more driven than usual.

 

“It wasn’t your fault, Leo,” Percy told him firmly. “There was nothing you could have done. Even Jason and Frank wouldn’t have been able to get us out and they can fly.”

 

“I broke the cookie,” Leo muttered bitterly. “I saved Frank and Hazel, and got you guys tossed into Tartarus.”

 

“You didn’t get us tossed anywhere,” Percy glared at him. “Lots of things happened that lead to me and Annabeth falling. Besides, we’re not dead. Frank and Hazel would have been if you hadn’t used it.” Leo didn’t look wholly convinced, but less upset than he had a moment ago.

 

“Yeah. You did everything you could,” Beckendorf told him, squeezing his shoulder.

 

Hazel worried about him. But part of her was relieved by the change.

 

“What?” Travis glared at Hazel. “You want him to be angry, miserable and guilt-ridden?”

 

“NO!” Hazel protested. “Of course not. It’s just…I suspect it’s because when he’s joking around and happy, he’s more like Sammy. Which is…hard. And I’ve had about as much time to process that here as I have in the future, but without the life-threatening quest going on at the same time. It’s still hard to comprehend.”

 

“I still can’t wrap my head around it either. It’s complicated stuff and I don’t blame her for wanting me to be a little different to the guy she liked,” Leo stated, his expression telling Travis to drop it.

 

Whenever Leo smiled and joked, he looked too much like Sammy, his great-grandfather…Ugh, why did her life have to be so complicated?

 

“Another joy of being a demigod,” Nico told her.

 

“Another way,” Leo muttered. “Do you see one?”…or Pluto, as the Romans called him; or as Hazel liked to think of him: the World’s Worst Absent Father).

 

Hades winced at that.

 

“Hazel, I…” He began.

 

“It’s ok. I understand,” Hazel assured him. He gave her an awkward smile.

 

To reach Epirus, all they had to do was go straight east—over the Apennines and…The numina montanum were sons of Gaea, Hazel’s least favorite goddess.

 

“I think she’s everyone’s least favourite goddess,” Percy muttered.

 

“Technically Gaea is a primordial, which is older than a god and slightly different as well as more powerful. So that honour still goes to Hera,” Annabeth said. Hera scowled while Thalia nodded in agreement.

 

“Aren’t the Olympians, titans and the primordials all different generations of gods?” Connor frowned.

 

“That depends who you ask,” Hades told him before Zeus could start on a rant.

 

That made them very determined enemies. The Argo II couldn’t fly high enough…“It’s our fault,” Hazel said. “Nico’s and mine. The numina can sense us.”

 

“To be honest, they can probably sense the ship anyway,” Reyna stated.

 

She glanced at her half brother. Since they’d rescued him from the giants, he’d started to regain his strength, but he was still painfully thin.

 

“Painfully thin?” Will gaped. “He was already painfully thin!” Nico winced.

 

“Well, he did almost die, and only eat pomegranate seeds for at least a week,” Percy pointed out, although he looked angry about that fact. “It will take time for him to recover.”

 

“I know,” Will sighed. “I just…”

 

“I know,” Nico smiled at him. “But I’ll be ok. Eventually.” Will couldn’t summon up a smile in return, so he settled for Squeezing Nico’s hand.

 

His black shirt and jeans hung off his skeletal frame. Long dark hair framed his sunken eyes. His olive complexion had turned a sickly greenish white, like the color of tree sap.

 

Everyone winced at that. Will’s hand squeezing turned into a death grip.

 

“Er… Will…I’d like to not have a broken hand,” Nico grimaced. Will let go like he’d been burnt.

 

“Sorry.”

 

In human years, he was barely fourteen, just a year older than Hazel, but that didn’t tell the whole story.

 

“Barely fourteen?” Will frowned. “His birthday is at the end of January, which makes him thirteen and a half, at the most.”

 

“Not to mention, your birthday is in December,” Frank frowned. “And you turned thirteen before you died in the summer,” He flinched at that. “But you arrived at camp in September which means you’ve had another birthday so you should be fourteen already. That would make you the older one, in linear time anyway, not counting magical casinos and…well…”

 

“Time in the Underworld,” Hazel finished for him. “I don’t know. Both Nico’s age and mine are complicated.”

 

"Going by the years you were born, Hazel is the eldest by three years and just over a month. So it makes sense that she is physically older anyway," Hades stated.

 

"Hey, don't forget me," Thalia said. "Working out my age is no picnic either."

 

"You're immortal. You don't count," Annabeth rolled her eyes.

 

Like Hazel, Nico di Angelo was a demigod from another era. He radiated a kind of old energy—a melancholy that came from knowing he didn’t belong in the modern world.

 

Nico winced.

 

“You feel like that?” Percy looked at Nico in surprise. He knew Nico felt like he didn’t belong at Camo Half-Blood, he hadn’t realised he was having such trouble adjusting to the new world.

 

“I…not exactly. That is some of it, but I’ve spent almost as much time in this century as I can actually remember from before the casino. I guess I feel like an outcast, no matter what century it is,” He sighed.

 

“Still?” Will asked quietly.

 

“A little,” Nico admitted, not wanting to lie. “But it’s getting better.” Will nodded.

 

Hazel hadn’t known him very long, but she understood, even shared, his sadness. The children of Hades (Pluto—whichever) rarely had happy lives.

 

“To be fair, that’s also a demigod thing, not just an Underworld kid thing,” Thalia said.

 

“Yeah, but it’s more common for us even by demigod standards,” Nico pointed out.

 

And judging from what Nico had told her the night before…challenge he’d implored her to keep secret from the others.

 

“Aww, not more secrets,” Leo groaned.

 

Nico gripped the hilt of his Stygian iron sword. “Earth spirits don’t like children of the Underworld. That’s true. We get under their skin—literally.

 

Everyone snorted at that.

 

But I think the numina could sense this ship anyway. We’re carrying the Athena Parthenos. That thing is like a magical beacon.”

 

“That’s also true. I didn’t think about the statue,” Jason grimaced.

 

“Maybe it’s the statue that’s cursed,” Annabeth muttered. “First I fall into Tartarus with Percy and now it’s attracting all sorts of monsters to you guys.”

 

“My statue is not cursed,” Athena stated, looking affronted.

 

“Well, it has only caused bad luck so far,” Apollo scowled. Athena glared at him, but he glared right back.

 

Hazel shivered, thinking of the massive statue that took up most of the hold. They’d sacrificed so much saving it from the cavern under Rome;

 

You sacrificed so much?” Triton scoffed.

 

“I probably meant us as a group,” Hazel grimaced.

 

“By which you mean Annabeth suffered fetching the stupid thing and then Percy sacrificed himself too,” Poseidon grumbled angrily.

 

“It’s not Hazel’s fault,” Percy reminded his dad. “You can’t get angry at every single mention of it.”

 

“Watch me,” His father scowled. Percy sighed. This was going to be a looooong book.

 

but they had no idea what to do with it. So far the only thing it seemed to be good for was alerting more monsters to their presence.

 

Annabeth grimaced and Athena scowled angrily. These demigods should respect her statue. Of course, she would never have wanted her daughter to fall into Tartarus. And honestly, she was trying to suppress all of her feelings on that matter, because if she dwelt on it, she’d go insane thinking of all the horrors her daughter would face. But they didn’t mean they shouldn’t appreciate her statue and its importance.

 

Leo traced his finger down the map of Italy. “So crossing the mountains is out…His voice cracked. “You know…our sea expert, Percy.”

 

“Some good I was on the sea,” Percy snorted. “It probably won’t make any difference.”

 

“You were the one who defeated Chrysaor,” Annabeth reminded him.

 

“By luck,” Percy shrugged. “I was no use at all with the shrimpzilla. Or the fish-centaurs.”

 

“Still, probably better to avoid the sea in case Kate is still sending more of her babies,” Frank shuddered.

 

“True,” Leo agreed.

 

The name hung in the air like an impending storm.

 

“You’re more likely to have a storm with Percy there,” Rachel joked. Percy grinned at her, appreciating any attempt to keep the mood as light as was possible.

 

Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon…probably the demigod Hazel admired most.

 

Percy looked at Hazel in surprise.

 

“It’s even more true now we’ve heard about all of your earlier adventures,” She told him.

 

“That’s probably true of quite a few campers,” Beckendorf added. Percy raised an eyebrow at that. “Particularly the newer ones.”

 

“So not you then?” Percy smirked.

 

“Oh, definitely not,” He grinned. “I most admire Silena obviously.”

 

“Good answer,” Silena teased.

 

He’d saved her life so many times on their quest to Alaska; but when he had needed Hazel’s help in Rome, she’d failed him.

 

“Hey now,” Percy frowned. “We all saved each other on that quest. I certainly recall you dragging me out of a mud pit which would have killed me otherwise. And you certainly didn’t fail me in Rome.”

 

“Yeah. It definitely sounded like we all helped out on that quest,” Frank agreed. Hazel smiled at both of them.

 

She’d watched, powerless, as he and Annabeth had plunged into that pit.

 

“There was nothing you could have done without falling in yourself,” Nico told her. Hazel couldn’t help shuddering at that.

 

Hazel took a deep breath. Percy and Annabeth were still alive. She knew that in her heart.

 

“Ok, so Hazel is sure they are alive at least a couple of days after they fell,” Rachel said, trying to sound upbeat. “That’s good news, right?”

 

“Yes, that is good news,” Apollo smiled.

 

“Doesn’t it take, like, nine days to fall into Tartarus?” Connor asked. Then he flinched and wished he hadn’t asked that question.

 

“No,” Zeus shook his head. “Time works differently in Tartarus, so it’s impossible to really measure how long it takes, similar to the Labyrinth.”

 

“Now that’s a comparison I could do without,” Percy muttered.

 

She could still help them if she could get to the House of Hades, if she could survive the challenge Nico had warned her about.…

 

“You know something about Epirus?” Will frowned.

 

“It’s probably where they brought me back out of Tartarus,” Nico grimaced. “So, I’d have seen who they had guarding the place. There is no chance it’s undefended.”

 

“Well, it’s good our future selves have that knowledge, but let’s just hope she keeps the same guards this time around,” Jason suggested.

 

“What about continuing north?” she asked. “There has to be a break…accidentally eject them all from the deck, or blow up the ship, or turn the Argo II into a giant toaster.

 

“That shouldn’t be funny,” Percy laughed.

 

“But you guys riding to destroy Gaea on a giant toaster is great,” Travis chuckled.

 

“Turn it into a toaster, then eject them all from the deck,” Chris said.

 

“No ejecting us at all, thank you,” Piper grimaced.

 

Fortunately, they got lucky.

 

“I know exactly what I’m doing,” Leo protested. Everybody just looked at him sceptically. “Ok…mostly.”

 

“Comforting,” Frank muttered, but he grinned at Leo.

 

The sphere grew a camera lens and projected a 3-D image of the Apennine Mountains…But I like that idea better than backtracking south. I’m done with Rome.”

 

Everybody nodded at that.

 

No one argued with that. Rome had not been a good experience…Every day that Annabeth and Percy are in Tartarus…”

 

“But you have to time it right too,” Hermes pointed out. “If you get there too quickly, you’ll have to constantly fight off Gaea’ minions until they come through. Which is going to be a lot.”

 

“But if we don’t get there first, Percy and Annabeth will have to fight those hordes of monsters, and they probably aren’t going to be in the best shape after being in there,” Jason reminded him with a cringe.

 

“Yeah. At least there are six of us,” Piper said. “Seven with Hedge.”

 

He didn’t need to finish. They had to hope Percy and Annabeth could survive long enough…stopping Gaea’s forces from being reincarnated in the mortal world over and over.

 

“Piece of cake,” Leo said.

 

Yes…nothing could go wrong with that plan.

 

“Nothing at all,” Frank nodded.

 

“We will make it work,” Jason promised.

 

Nico scowled at the Italian countryside below them…Percy had been their backbone. He’d given them confidence as they sailed across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean.

 

“Me?” Percy frowned.

 

“Yeah, you,” Annabeth told him.

 

“You do give the people around you plenty of confidence,” Thalia nodded. “Even when you are probably terrified, you don’t show it. And with your ability to get out of even the most unpromising situations, that makes everyone feel better.”

 

“True. If there is anyone that I would trust to beat the odds, it’s you,” Grover agreed. “And Annabeth.”

 

As for Annabeth—she’d been the de facto leader of the quest. She’d recovered the Athena Parthenos single-handedly. She was the smartest of the seven, the one with the answers.

 

“Thanks, Hazel,” Annabeth smiled.

 

If Hazel woke up the rest of the crew every time they had a problem, they’d just start arguing again, feeling more and more hopeless.

 

The five glanced at each other.

 

“You guys will work it out,” Beckendorf said confidently.

 

“Yeah. It takes time to adjust to a new team. Don’t forget half of you never met until the Argo II arrived at Camp Jupiter. Or, even if you did meet, you didn’t exactly know each other,” Clarisse pointed out. “Even on the way to Rome you worked in mostly familiar teams, or where two people knew each other well and the third person was kind of left out.”

 

She had to make Percy and Annabeth proud of her.

 

“Hey, we’re already proud of you,” Percy said.

 

She had to take the initiative. She couldn’t believe her only role in this quest would be what Nico had warned her of—removing the obstacle waiting for them in the House of Hades.

 

“Maybe not your only role, but that does sound kind of important,” Frank pointed out.

 

“Yeah. Obstacles in the House of Hades are not exactly going to be good. If you’re the key to beating one of them, then that’s pretty awesome,” Silena smiled.

 

She pushed the thought aside…And honestly, I’m not sure I have the strength to even transport myself anymore.”

 

“Don’t even think about it,” Will glared at him.

 

“I said I couldn’t do it,” Nico reminded him.

 

“You said you’re not sure. Which means you’d try it if they asked you too.”

 

“We won’t be asking him to do it,” Hazel promised. “I wouldn’t risk Nico.” Will smiled at her. At least someone would be looking out for Nico’s health now that Percy was in Tartarus.

 

“I could maybe rig some kind of camouflage,” Leo said, “like a smoke screen to hide us in the clouds.” He didn’t sound very enthusiastic.

 

“Disguise it as a chicken nugget,” Travis suggested with a smirk.

 

“That would be awesome,” Leo grinned.

 

Hazel stared down at the rolling farmland, thinking about what lay beneath it…If Pluto took notice of her, he might have to return her to the land of the dead.

 

“I mean, I get it, not showing favourites and all that, but you’re not returning all the people Gaea’s brought back,” Chris said.

 

“That is different. Those people will be protected to some extent by Gaea. Plus, Hades is probably having as much trouble as the rest of us with the split. However, there is also the fact that in an effort not to show favouritism, he tends to be even more strict with his own children regarding the rules of the Underworld and of death. So that father has no excuse to accuse him of anything,” Hermes explained. Hades raised an eyebrow at his nephew, curious as to how he knew that.

 

“Is this true?” Zeus looked at his brother. Hades looked away which was answer enough. Zeus frowned. He couldn’t believe how blind he had been in these past centuries. How had he not seen his family almost completely falling apart. Hercules and Apollo both seemed to be incredibly angry with him. He had no idea how the rest of his children felt about it, but he doubted there was much good in there. Both of his brothers hated and clearly feared him, more than he had ever thought. His own wife seemed to be disobeying him at every turn in the future, even if she had good reason. He was supposed to be their leader. For millennia he had feared that one of his siblings, or even one of his children, would seek to overthrow him. For that seemed to be the natural order of things. Yet he seemed to be falling into the same trap his own father had fallen into. He had ruled with fear, due to his own fear of being overthrown. It would seem he needed to try something different. Except he had no idea how else to rule.

 

Which meant calling on Pluto would be a very bad idea. And yet…I have to find a way to your temple in Greece—the House of Hades. If you’re down there, show me what to do.

 

“I will find a way to help,” Hades promised.

 

“We all will this time around,” Poseidon agreed.

 

At the edge of the horizon, a flicker of movement caught her eye—something small and beige racing across the fields at incredible speed, leaving a vapor trail like a plane’s.

 

“Arion!” Triton grinned.

 

“He could take everyone through the mountains without getting caught. The problem would be the ship. I doubt even Arion could pull that quickly enough to get through without being hit by the gods. A chariot is one thing, a two-hundred-foot-long ship is quite another,” Poseidon mused.

 

Hazel couldn’t believe it. She didn’t dare hope, but it had to be…“Arion.”…“It’s her horse, man! You missed that whole part. We haven’t seen him since Kansas!”

 

Hazel smiled.

 

Hazel laughed—the first time she’d laughed in days. It felt so good to see her old friend…the sound carried all the way to the Argo II. Hazel had no doubt—it was Arion.

 

“And I’m sure he was saying nothing polite,” Triton smirked.

 

“But we don’t have Percy to translate,” Rachel groaned. “Arion is hilarious.”

 

“Gleeson could translate,” Grover pointed out.

 

“We have to meet him,” she said. “He’s here to help.”…You know, with Gaea wanting to destroy us and all.”

 

“Good plan,” Michael nodded.

 

“Just get me close, and I’ll use the rope ladder.” Hazel’s heart was pounding. “I think Arion wants to tell me something.”

 

“That chapter is finished,” Zeus declared.

 

“Well, it should have been my turn to read,” Annabeth said. “I’ll do it.” She was fairly confident that the next chapter would be Hazel’s. Beyond that, it was hard to tell, but there had always been at least two for each person. Then she recalled the last book, which had finished with an odd Leo chapter. She immediately began to regret her decision, but Zeus was handing her the book. She peeked and sighed with relief when she saw she had been correct. It was Hazel next.

Chapter Text

Hazel had never felt so happy. Well, except for maybe on the night of the victory feast at Camp Jupiter, when she’d kissed Frank for the first time…but this was a close second.

 

Hazel and Frank both blushed.

 

“Nice to know I beat the horse,” Frank muttered.

 

“Only just,” Hazel laughed. He mock glared at her.

 

As soon as she reached the ground, she ran to Arion and threw her arms around him…which smelled of sea salt and apples. “Where have you been?”

 

“Probably in nicer places that don’t contain mountain gods,” Piper said.

 

“I wish we were in that place,” Leo sighed.

 

Arion nickered. Hazel wished she could speak Horse like Percy could, but she got the general idea. Arion sounded impatient, as if saying, No time for sentiment, girl! Come on!

 

“There a lot less bad language in that suggestion than he probably actually said,” Triton smirked.

 

“Stop sounding so pleased about your brother’s bad habits,” Poseidon scolded.

 

“Hey, as far as sibling bad habits go, Arion isn’t bad,” Percy pointed out. “Most of them try to kill me.” Poseidon sighed.

 

“You want me to go with you?” she guessed…Anything that could make a fearless horse skittish should have terrified Hazel.

 

“It might just be the fact that he’s in the ancient lands with Gaea’s minions everywhere,” Katie suggested. Nobody thought that was the case, but they didn’t argue either.

 

Instead, she felt elated. She was so tired of being seasick and airsick…She was glad to be back on solid ground, even if it was Gaea’s territory. She was ready to ride.

 

“Gaea can’t stop Arion, even on solid ground,” Demeter said smugly. Poseidon nodded his agreement.

 

“Please don’t say things like that,” Frank muttered. “I know this is in the future, but it still sounds like a jinx.”

 

“Hazel!” Nico called down from the ship. “What’s going on?”…maybe the remains of a Roman temple or a fortress. A funnel cloud snaked its way down toward the hill like an inky black finger.

 

“Probably,” Hazel grimaced.

 

“Sounds terrifying, which probably means it is the place to go,” Nico sighed.

 

“Arion wouldn’t lead you into a trap,” Poseidon stated with certainty.

 

“Just because it’s not a trap, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing either,” Percy said.

 

Hazel’s mouth tasted like blood. She looked at Arion. “You want to go there?”…Well…Hazel had asked for help. Was this her dad’s answer?

 

“That was quick if it was,” Will noted.

 

She hoped so, but she sensed something besides Pluto at work in that storm…something dark, powerful, and not necessarily friendly.

 

“Wonderful,” Jason groaned.

 

“As long as it isn’t necessarily unfriendly either, then that’s a start,” Dakota pointed out.

 

Still, this was her chance to help her friends—to lead instead of follow…“Wait for how long?” Nico asked. “What if you don’t come back?”

 

“I will,” Hazel said confidently. “Arion will get me out of there is something goes wrong.”

 

“Don’t worry, I will,” she promised, hoping it was true.

 

She spurred Arion, and they shot across the countryside, heading straight for the growing tornado.

 

“That’s it,” Annabeth looked at the book in surprise.

 

“Well, that was quick,” Hazel said. Annabeth quickly looked at the next chapter and saw who it was.

 

“I might as well keep going,” She said. “As it was so quick.”

 

“Are you sure?” Connor asked in concern.

 

“Yes. It’s Hazel against next, so it’s fine,” She nodded. He smiled and squeezed her hand.

 

“Read away then.”

 

Hazel III

 

The storm swallowed the hill in a swirling cone of black vapor.

 

Arion charged straight into it.

 

“Of course he did,” Frank grimaced.

 

“The places that look the worst are usually the ones we need to head towards,” Percy sighed. “It’s never a nice burger shop or something.”

 

“Knowing your luck you’d find a monster burger shop and they’d poison the burgers,” Rachel said.

 

“Don’t say such a thing,” Thalia yelped, looking horrified. “I’m never going for burgers with you ever again,” She said to Percy.

 

“You still owe me for the last time. It’s your turn to buy,” He protested. She shrugged.

 

“I’m not trusting your luck.”

 

Hazel found herself at the summit, but it felt like a different dimension…as if she were a chunk of iron close to a large magnet. Its pull was irresistible, dragging her forward.

 

Nico, Percy and Annabeth all shuddered, thinking of another irresistible force pulling them in.

 

Yet she hesitated. She reined in Arion, and he clopped impatiently…Rome crumbling to dust, plunging Percy and Annabeth into Tartarus.

 

Everyone cringed.

 

“Sorry,” Hazel winced.

 

“It’s not your fault,” Annabeth said. “This is probably going to happen a lot. I’m sure you guys are going to dwell on what happened in at least some of your thoughts.” Not fun, but none of them could help it. It was a pretty unavoidable thing to think about.

 

She hoped this black-and-white hilltop wouldn’t dissolve under her…Mist hung in the air—hazy shreds of white that coiled and undulated as if they were alive.

 

“Oh,” Aphrodite said as she realised who was there. “That’s interesting.”

 

“Interesting?” Hades asked sharply.

 

“I suspect that’s Hecate, waiting for her. But I thought she had sided with us against the titans, so I’m surprised she’s roaming around without punishment.”

 

“Maybe she’s used the distraction of splitting personalities and Zeus closing Olympus, to escape,” Demeter suggested.

 

“Or father finally learnt his lesson. I’m pretty sure it mentioned a Hecate cabin at Camp Half-Blood. A cabin for her children and possibly no punishment. That’s pretty big incentive to stay on our side in the future,” Apollo said.

 

Not mist, Hazel realized. The Mist.

 

“No wonder the place is so creepy,” Percy muttered. He hated the stuff. He knew it was necessary, to keep mortals from seeing their world, but it almost always went against him. It got him into more trouble than it got him out of.

 

All her life, she’d heard about the Mist—the supernatural veil that obscured the world…the hairs stood up on her arms. Somehow she knew: this white stuff was pure magic.

 

“Definitely Hecate,” Hermes nodded. “Probably explains why the presence isn’t overly friendly or unfriendly.”

 

“Let’s hope she doesn’t stray into unfriendly,” Frank muttered.

 

In the distance, a dog howled. Arion wasn’t usually scared of anything…She slid off Arion’s back. Instantly he turned and ran.

 

“Together, huh?” Nico scoffed.

 

“Now how will Hazel get out if Arion is gone?” Frank asked.

 

“If Hecate didn’t want them getting away, they wouldn’t,” Artemis stated. “She controls the Mist. If she so wanted, they wouldn’t even be able to find the exit, Arion or not.”

 

“Not comforting,” Jason muttered.

 

“Arion, wai—”…Another howl cut through the air—closer this time.

 

“I wish you’d taken one of us with you,” Nico said.

 

“Me too,” Hazel said.

 

Hazel stepped toward the center of the courtyard…She looked no more than twenty, but Hazel knew that meant nothing.

 

“I wonder why she wants to see Hazel,” Katie frowned.

 

“Well, she deals with females mostly anyway, so it’s Piper or Hazel. And Piper was asleep,” Aphrodite said.

 

“Plus, if Hazel’s mom was actually able to use magic, then it’s possible Hazel will have a talent for it too,” Silena added.

 

“I can do magic?” Hazel asked.

 

“Maybe. It would explain why the goddess of magic wants to see you,” Drew shrugged.

 

“Hazel Levesque,” said the woman…as if she were resting, which Hazel had found terrifying.

 

“I don’t blame you,” Travis muttered.

 

This woman reminded Hazel of that girl—except the woman’s eyes were open and completely black.

 

“She sounds creepy,” Percy muttered.

 

“Definitely,” Rachel agreed.

 

When she tilted her head, she seemed to break into three different people again…The other was a long, gray, furry rodent with a white mask around its face. A weasel, maybe?

 

“Polecat if I remember correctly,” Hermes said.

 

“And isn’t the Labrador Hecuba?” Ares asked. Apollo scowled.

 

“I think so,” Aphrodite nodded.

 

“Hecuba?” Piper asked.

 

“Former queen of Troy,” Her mother told her.

 

“She has the former queen of Troy as a pet Labrador?” Gwen blinked. The gods nodded unconcernedly. Apollo wondered why Hecate had Hecuba these days. 

 

"Yes. Apollo turned her into a dog to escape being Odysseus' slave." Aphrodite said.

 

"You turned her?" Percy looked at Apollo. "And why would you do something like that? And why a dog?"

 

"Because, well, she might have been a lover, a very long time ago," Apollo admitted sheepishly.

 

"I swear if you ever turn me into a dog, I will find a way to give you rabies, god or not," Percy vowed.

 

"No dogs. Got it," Apollo nodded.

 

The woman smiled serenely…We have much to discuss if you’re to live through tonight.”

 

“Well, that was fun,” Annabeth muttered.

 

“Done already?” Percy asked.

 

“Yeah, these are really short,” She grimaced.

 

“I’ll read then.” Clarisse sighed. Annabeth happily handed her the book.

Chapter Text

Hazel wanted to run, but her feet seemed stuck to the white-glazed ground…regarding her as if they were partners in some eerie dance.

 

“Wow, you have some creepy descriptions,” Katie looked at Hazel.

 

“Apparently,” Hazel agreed.

 

The black dog and the weasel followed in her wake…She dealt in charms and curses and gris-gris. I am the goddess of magic.”

 

Hazel wondered exactly how well Hecate knew her mother.

 

“Isn’t Hecate technically a titan?” Silena asked.

 

“Like we said, we are all gods and goddesses of different generation. The primordials were first. When Ouranos was overthrown, his children took over and became the titans. When Zeus overthrew Kronos, his generation simply used the term of gods which encompasses all the generations. It is often an indicator of which side an immortal is taking in times of war,” Aphrodite explained. “For example, I came from Ouranos’ blood,” Here she wrinkled her nose. “This means I could make the claim of being from the titan generation. Kronos and his siblings technically are my half-siblings. However, I am happy being an Olympian god instead of taking the title of titaness. Hecate appears to be doing the same. She can call herself a titaness, or a goddess. I assume, her calling herself a goddess is partly to indicate she is now on our side after the Titan war.”

 

All the Aphrodite kids gaped at their mother. They all knew her origins, of course they did, but they had never connected that to Kronos technically being their uncle.

 

Those pure black eyes seemed to pull at Hazel, as if trying to extract her soul…Hazel wondered, what would they make of this goddess?

 

“Well Hecate might not be the devil, but they would still be terrified,” Nico muttered.

 

“Many fear me,” Hecate said, as if reading her thoughts. “But magic is neither good nor evil. It is a tool, like a knife. Is a knife evil? Only if the wielder is evil.”

 

That is true,” Silena nodded. “Magic can do all sorts of incredible things to, not just bad things.”

 

“The Mist seems to hate me,” Percy complained.

 

“That’s just your luck,” Grover told him.

 

“My—my mother…” Hazel stammered. “She didn’t believe in magic…The rodent’s red eyes glared at her balefully, like tiny coals.

 

“That’s a creepy weasel…polecat…thing,” Frank grimaced.

 

“Peace, Gale,” said Hecate. She gave Hazel an apologetic shrug…She really didn’t want to know about the rodent’s intestinal problems.

 

“I don’t blame you,” Gwen wrinkled her nose.

 

“Yeah. I’d want her to get to the point and get out of their as quickly as possible,” Dakota nodded.

 

“At any rate,” Hecate said, “I turned her into a polecat…“Oh, she’s Hecuba, the former queen of Troy,” Hecate said, as if that should be obvious.

 

Percy grimaced and Apollo scowled.

 

The dog grunted…When she searched for a spell to summon the god Pluto, I helped her find it.”

 

“What?” Hazel and Hades asked at the same time.

 

“Why would she do that?” Hazel wanted to know.

 

“Hecate can see glimpses of the future as part of being goddess of crossroads,” Hades stated slowly.

 

“So, what? She saw Hazel needed to be born? I mean, I’m glad she was born but that’s messed up and creepy,” Frank said.

 

“But if Hazel’s mom was magic, and even had help from Hecate, why would she claim it was all fake?” Jason frowned.

 

“Well, after her, erm, wish, went so wrong, maybe she stopped using real magic claiming it was all fake because of the part Hecate played. She blamed Pluto for it all going wrong, maybe she also blamed Hecate and magic,” Silena said with an apologetic glance at Hazel who grimaced. They all shrugged, having no real way to know the answer for sure.

 

“You…?”…Now this goddess was saying that she had made all that happen.

 

“That does suck, but at least you’re alive. And your curse has been broken in the future,” Leo pointed out. Hazel sighed.

 

“My mother suffered because of that magic. My whole life—”…“I have no time for your anger. Neither do you. Without my help, you will die.”

 

“Well, there is that,” Percy muttered. “Sorry I completely screwed you over, but we don’t have time for that, you need our help. But we’ll force you to perform for that help just for our own amusement.” He scowled over at Dionysus. The wine god winced.

 

The black dog snarled. The polecat snapped its teeth and passed gas…armor fought one another on a hillside under a large pine tree. The grass was strewn with the wounded and the dying.

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

“Not a good outcome,” Reyna muttered.


“Definitely want to be avoiding that,” Annabeth agreed.

 

Hazel saw herself riding Arion, charging through the melee and shouting—trying to stop the violence.

 

“Wait, why would you be back at Camp Half-Blood?” Frank wanted to know.

 

“I don’t know,” Hazel frowned.

 

In the gateway to the east, Hazel saw the Argo II plunging through the sky above the Apennines… The ship burst like a rotten pumpkin, and the engine exploded.

 

“My poor ship!” Leo exclaimed.

 

“Want to avoid that outcome too,” Beckendorf stated.

 

The images in the northern doorway were even worse. Hazel saw Leo, unconscious—or dead—falling through the clouds.

 

“Not again,” Leo complained. “I’ve had enough of falling from horrible heights.”

 

“Tell me about it,” Percy said dryly.

 

“Let’s hope that one doesn’t come true either,” Travis said.

 

She saw Frank staggering alone down a dark tunnel, clutching his arm, his shirt soaked in blood. And Hazel saw herself in a vast cavern filled with strands of light like a luminous web.

 

“Urgh,” Annabeth shuddered violently.

 

“Bad choice of words,” Hazel grimaced.

 

She was struggling to break through while, in the distance, Percy and Annabeth lay sprawled and unmoving at the foot of two black-and-silver metal doors.

 

“Those sound like the Doors of Death,” Hades stated.

 

“And if Hazel can see Percy and Annabeth, it means they made it through!” Thalia cried.

 

“Sounds like a horrible vision, but it means there is a way Percy and Annabeth can make it to the Doors of Death alive,” Apollo beamed. “They can survive!”

 

“Course we can,” Percy grinned. “We make an awesome team. Tartarus won’t know what hit it.”

 

“Choices,” said Hecate. “You stand at the crossroads, Hazel Levesque. And I am the goddess of crossroads.”

 

“I thought that was Janus?” Percy frowned.

 

“He’s the god of choices and doorways,” Triton said.

 

The ground rumbled at Hazel’s feet. She looked down and saw the glint of silver coins…she trusted the wisdom of the gods about as much as she trusted a New Orleans slot machine.

 

The demigods all snorted at that. They certainly couldn’t disagree with Hazel’s statement.

 

The goddess of magic made a disgusted hiss. “Janus and his doorways…“All choices have risks,” the goddess corrected. “But what is your goal?”

 

“What, so those are just the worst outcomes? Or the likely ones?” Rachel asked.

 

“Probably both,” Poseidon muttered.

 

“My goal?” Hazel waved helplessly at the doorways. “None of these.”…but Gaea’s forces are expecting that. None of you will survive.”

 

“Well, not that way then,” Jason sighed.

 

“So…what are you saying?”…Greek and Roman, are on the brink of war. Leave now, and you might save many lives.”

 

“Well, we might save many lives in the short term. But if we don’t stop Gaea, none of us will survive so it won’t matter,” Piper put in.

 

“Exactly,” Hazel grimaced. “So that’s not an option either.”

 

“Might,” Hazel repeated. “But Gaea is supposed to wake in Greece…By waking on the Day of Hope, she intends to destroy all hope forever.

 

“Lovely. Mother earth has a sense of humour,” Percy frowned.

 

Even if you reached Greece by then, could you stop her? I do not know.”…I foresee that all of you would survive the explosion.

 

“Well, that’s something,” Beckendorf said.

 

“But without the Argo, we’d never make it to Greece in time,” Frank pointed out. “We’d live, but we’d still fail the quest.”

 

It is possible, though unlikely, you could still reach Epirus and close the Doors of Death…The war with the giants would have to be won or lost without you.”

 

“Ok, none of those options are acceptable,” Reyna said.

 

“She only mentioned three. Which means she has a fourth suggestion. The one that includes her help,” Annabeth stated.

 

Won or lost without us…They’d already been through so much.

 

“That wouldn’t save all of your friends,” Poseidon pointed out darkly. “Percy and Annabeth would still be in Tartarus.”

 

“I know,” Hazel said.

 

She looked behind Hecate at the middle gateway. She saw Percy and Annabeth…Hecate shrugged. “West, east, or south…they die.”

 

“Not going to happen,” Apollo growled.


“And I won’t accept that as an option,” Hazel told him calmly.

 

“At least she still said three options. West, east or south. That leaves north where nobody has to die,” Grover pointed out.

 

Which is probably dependent on Hecate remaining willing to help out,” Percy scowled.

 

“Not an option,” Hazel said…From there, sail the Adriatic to your goal, here: Epirus in Greece.”

 

“That’s a very long way around,” Artemis frowned.

 

“Which is why she’s suggesting it. Gaea would probably never expect it. And if Hecate holds sway, she can cloak them, at least a little. Hopefully, balance out the extra attraction the stupid statue is going to bring them,” Ares stated. Athena glared at it, but he ignored her.

 

Hazel didn’t know much about geography. She had no idea what the Adriatic Sea was like…Hazel Levesque. You must learn to use the Mist.”

 

“And where exactly is she supposed to do that? On the ship with nobody to train her?” Thalia raised an eyebrow.

 

“If she has inherited some magic from her mother, it should come easier to her than most,” Chiron told them.

 

“Piper might be able to help. Using the Mist is similar to charmspeak in many ways,” Drew said.

 

“Me?” Hazel’s heart felt like it was tumbling down her rib cage. “Use the Mist how?”…Other demigods can do this as well. And so must you, Hazel, if you are to help your friends.”

 

Percy began grumbling under his breath about the Mist hating him once more, while Thalia smirked in his direction.

 

“But…” Hazel looked at the cat. She knew it was actually Hecuba, the black Labrador, but she couldn’t convince herself. The cat seemed so real. “I can’t do that.”

 

“Not yet,” Thalia said. “But with some practice I’m sure you can.”

 

“Your mother had the talent,” Hecate said. “You have even more. As a child of Pluto who has returned from the dead, you understand the veil between worlds better than most.

 

Hazel grimaced.

 

“An unpleasant experience, but if you can turn it to your advantage, then we can use any advantage we can get,” Jason told her. She nodded.

 

You can control the Mist. If you do not…well, your brother Nico has already warned you…You alone can defeat her, and you will require magic.”

 

“What if I can’t do it?” Hazel wondered.

 

“Then we find that out now and come up with a new plan,” Frank shrugged. “But I have every faith that you will be able to do it.”


“We all do,” Leo agreed.

 

“I can help you with the Mist while we are here,” Chiron offered.

 

Hazel’s legs felt wobbly. She remembered Nico’s grim expression, his fingers digging into her arm. You can’t tell the others. Not yet. Their courage is already stretched to the limit.

 

“Better to we know what we are facing,” Jason stated.

 

“Who?” Hazel croaked. “Who is this enemy?”…They will lead you to a treasure that may help you survive in the House of Hades.”

 

“Dwarves?” Piper frowned.

 

“A treasure that can help? I’m up for that,” Leo said. “Off to Baloney we go.”

 

“Bologna,” Nico rolled his eyes. Leo smirked.

 

“I don’t understand.”…“From time to time, I will send Gale to check on your progress.”

 

“Oh awesome. The farting rodent,” Frank pulled a face.

 

“At least she’ll be checking in. Gale might be able to at least point us in the right direction, or fetch Hecate if we run into any giants,” Jason said, though he looked a little disturbed by Gale too.

 

The polecat hissed, its beady red eyes full of malice…“If you succeed, then perhaps we will meet again…for the final battle.”

 

“Final battle doesn’t sound good,” Percy said.

 

“No, but her possibly helping us does,” Annabeth pointed out.

 

“I still want to know why she’s helping,” Hermes said suspiciously.

 

A final battle, Hazel thought. Oh, joy…Percy and Annabeth at the mercy of a dark giant.

 

“But also alive and back in the mortal world,” Poseidon said.

 

She hated the gods’ riddles and their unclear advice…I sided with Zeus against Kronos. I was not blind to Kronos’s cruelty. I hoped Zeus would prove a better king.”

 

“He has his moments,” Demeter said.

 

“He’s better than father, I still wouldn’t go as far as good,” Poseidon shrugged. Zeus glared at both of them.

 

She gave a small, bitter laugh. “When Demeter lost her daughter Persephone…I fought my archenemy Clytius, made by Gaea to absorb and defeat all my magic.”

 

“Ah, who wants to bet that’s the giant Hazel saw hovering over Percy and Annabeth?” Triton sighed. “He’s probably guarding the doors.”

 

“Probably. That’s why Hecate will help out in the final battle,” Amphitrite agreed.

 

“Whatever helps us survive,” Percy shrugged.

 

“Clytius.” Hazel had never heard that name—Clai-tee-us—but saying it made her limbs…“But first you must defeat the witch. Unless you manage that…”

 

“A witch that we need to be worried about more than a giant?” Jason asked, looking worried.

 

“That doesn’t sound good,” Frank frowned.

 

She snapped her fingers, and all of the gateways turned dark… my years of faithful service, they mistrusted me, refused me a seat in their hall…”

 

“There are twelve Olympians for a reason,” Zeus stated. “Even Hestia does not have a seat.”

 

“Maybe it’s time to change that,” Poseidon said heavily.

 

“There has always been twelve. How did that work out for our father?” Hades pointed out. “Or even for us, given the state of things is so poor the Fates intervened.”

 

“We will discuss it later,” Zeus declared.

 

The polecat Gale chittered angrily…I will assist you against the giants, if you prove yourself worthy.

 

Dionysus winced and Percy let out a loud growl of fury.

 

“Stupid, bloody, arrogant…” He snarled under his breath. He trailed off. Nobody dared to answer.

 

So now it is your choice, Hazel Levesque. Will you trust me…or will you shun me, as the Olympian gods have done too often?”

 

“It’s not like there is actually a choice,” Hazel scoffed. “We need her help, or we can’t defeat the giant whether we like it or not.”

 

Blood roared in Hazel’s ears. Could she trust this dark goddess…“I’ll go north,” she said. “We’ll take your secret pass through the mountains.”

 

“Aww, thanks Hazel,” Percy grinned at her, all signs of his anger gone.

 

“Anytime,” She smiled at him.

 

Hecate nodded, the slightest hint of satisfaction in her face…“And Hecate? I’m not choosing one of your paths. I’m making my own.”

 

“You tell her Hazel!” Thalia cheered.

 

“Yeah. That’s the best way to go,” Rachel smiled.

 

The goddess arched her eyebrows. Her polecat writhed, and her dog snarled…we’re going to stop Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood from going to war. We’re going to do it all.”

 

“Heck yeah!” Leo cheered.

 

“We can totally do all that,” Jason said. “Easy.”

 

“Yep. We’re just that awesome,” Piper agreed with a giggle.

 

The storm howled, the black walls of the funnel cloud swirling faster…alone in the ruins except for Arion, who paced next to her, nickering impatiently.

 

“At least Arion is still there,” Percy said.

 

“I agree,” Hazel told the horse. “Let’s get out of here.”…but couldn’t blame him for wanting to get away from this place as fast as possible.

 

“I’m sure he will be back if you need him,” Poseidon smiled. “He does seem taken with you.”

 

The countryside sparkled as the summer sun hit the morning dew. On the hill, the old ruins stood white and silent—no sign of ancient paths, or goddesses, or farting weasels.

 

“Good riddance,” Frank muttered.

 

“Definitely,” Hazel agreed.

 

“Hazel?” Nico asked…The memory of those glowing scenes at the crossroads filled her with dread.

 

“I don’t blame you,” Nico said. “That would freak anyone out.”

 

“I met Hecate,” she managed…And the ones who do survive are never the same. Are you sure you’re—”

 

“I’ll be ok,” Hazel told him.

 

“I’m fine,” she insisted…Now her boast seemed ridiculous. Her courage had abandoned her.

 

“Not ridiculous,” Rachel smiled. “You can make your own path. I’m sure the six of you will manage do get everything done. You saved Nico and all of Rome in one afternoon.”

 

“That’s true. We are pretty damn good,” Leo grinned. “Plus we have the Archimedes’ stuff too.”

 

“The stuff Hazel is worried might turn the ship into a toaster?” Frank asked nervously.

 

“It won’t do that,” Leo waved away his concern.

 

“What if Hecate is tricking us?” Leo asked. “This route could be a trap.”…I think Hecate would’ve made the northern route sound tempting. Believe me, she didn’t.”

 

“Not tempting, but she did make it your only option to save all of your friends,” Connor pointed out.

 

“But I don’t think Hecate would lead them into a trap. She doesn’t want Gaea to win any more than the rest of us do,” Hermes told him.

 

Leo pulled a calculator out of his tool belt and punched in some numbers…And you said something about baloney dwarfs?”

 

Everyone sniggered at that.

 

“Dwarfs in Bologna,” Hazel said. “I guess Bologna is a city. But why we have to find dwarfs there…travel as fast as we can. Percy’s and Annabeth’s lives might depend on it.”

 

“But no pressure,” Annabeth said with a slightly strained grin.

 

“Yeah. No pressure at all,” Piper muttered.

 

“Fast?” Leo grinned. “I can do fast.”…Percy and Annabeth helpless at the feet of those black metal doors, the dark giant looming over them,

 

Poseidon and Apollo both shuddered at that. They had been trying to focus on the fact that it meant they were alive, but it was still a horrifying image.

 

Hazel herself trapped in a glowing maze of light, unable to help…They would face an impossible foe. Only one of them would make it to the Doors of Death.

 

“What?” Hades yelped.

 

“That doesn’t sound good,” Nico frowned.

 

“Maybe it just means one of you gets delayed fighting the army Gaea is likely to have waiting for us,” Jason said. “Maybe we split up so someone could help Percy and Annabeth at the Doors.”

 

“Let’s hope so,” Percy said, glancing between Nico and Hazel.

 

Hazel couldn’t meet her brother’s eyes…“Right now, we should rest while we can. Tonight, we cross the Apennines.”

 

“Done,” Clarisse said.

 

“That makes it my turn,” Chris grimaced. He took the book and glanced at the next chapter. Then he went pale. “It’s Annabeth.”

 

Everyone froze and then stared at him intensely, waiting with baited breath. Chris cringed and reluctantly started reading.

Chapter Text

Nine days…She’d lost track of how long she and Percy had been falling—hours? A day? It felt like an eternity.

 

“Wonderful,” Annabeth muttered.

 

They’d been holding hands ever since they dropped into the chasm…Her recently broken ankle throbbed, though she couldn’t tell if it was still wrapped in spiderwebs.

 

“Well, if it’s still throbbing, it’s not completely healed. Which means it can’t have been too long, or the ambrosia would have healed it,” Will said.

 

“True,” Annabeth nodded. “Assuming healing works the same way in Tartarus.”

 

“Which it probably won’t. Tartarus isn’t exactly for health and healing,” Apollo pointed out grimly. “But you consumed the ambrosia outside of Tartarus, so it should still be working while you fall. It’ll be once you hit the bottom; it will probably stop working.”

 

That cursed monster Arachne. Despite having been trapped in her own webbing…Annabeth and Percy would probably be flattened on impact, so giant spiders were the least of their worries.

 

Everyone shuddered at that.

 

“You’ll find a way,” Thalia said. “You have to.” She had one arm wrapped firmly around Annabeth, while Connor pressed close on her other side. Percy could barely be seen between the cuddle pile going on with Apollo and the sea crew.

 

She wrapped her arms around Percy and tried not to sob…Even the gods couldn’t devise a fate so twisted.

 

“I wouldn’t put it past them,” Percy muttered. “They’ve devised plenty of twisted fates before.”

 

“Yeah. If the gods knew that someone had to go to Tartarus to close the doors, I’m sure they wouldn’t be opposed to giving someone a nudge,” Thalia agreed darkly.

 

None of the gods could really argue with that. Even now, they knew that someone had to go, and all of them, except Poseidon and Apollo, accepted that Percy had volunteered. Oh sure, they were willing to help out such as fetching someone who had to be left behind, but they knew the demigods had to do it. They were awed that Percy would volunteer for such a task, but they wouldn’t argue with him either. Not in it meant their children had to go in his stead.

 

But Gaea wasn’t like other gods. The Earth Mother was older, more vicious, more bloodthirsty. Annabeth could imagine her laughing as they fell into the depths.

 

“She knew. She was dropping hints about Percy enjoying Tartarus through the whole quest to Rome,” Michael recalled.

 

“Perseus can be predictable when it comes to his friends,” Athena stated, but there was no real criticism in it. She was too grateful that he had fallen to make sure her daughter didn’t go through the Pit alone.

 

Annabeth pressed her lips to Percy’s ear. “I love you.”…but if they were going to die she wanted those to be her last words.

 

Apollo and the sea crew shuddered again.

 

She tried desperately to think of a plan to save them. She was a daughter of Athena. She’d proven herself in the tunnels under Rome, beaten a whole series of challenges with only her wits.

 

Apollo decided now was not the time to point out it was hardly a ‘series’ of challenges. The only one she had truly beaten with her wits was the Mithras room, and beating Arachne, which she had then ruined by being arrogant and gloating. Which wasn’t wise.

 

But she couldn’t think of any way to reverse or even slow their fall…permeated with a smell like rotten eggs.

 

“Gross,” Silena grimaced.

 

Suddenly, the chute they’d been falling through opened into a vast cavern…like colossal steps leading deeper into the abyss.

 

“Ok, you’re seeing it through the Mist,” Athena sighed in relief.

 

“What?” Annabeth asked.

 

“Tartarus is not just a place, he is a primordial, much like Gaea. Tartarus is both place and god at the same time,” Zeus tried to explain. “Seeing it through the Mist clearly makes it seem more like a place rather than the body of a god which it actually is.”

 

“Ok, never been so glad to have the Mist working,” Percy grimaced. Hades shot a worried look at his son. He wondered if Nico’s connection to the Underworld, meant he had seen Tartarus in it’s true form.

 

The stench of sulfur made it hard to concentrate, but she focused on the ground directly below them and saw a ribbon of glittering black liquid—a river.

 

“Not a good idea,” Poseidon winced.

 

“It’s that or they hit the ground at top speed,” Artemis pointed out.

 

“Well, it’s black which means it's not the Phlegethon,” Hades stated.

 

“That still leaves four other options,” Apollo snapped. “And none of them are good.”

 

“Percy!” she yelled in his ear. “Water!”…They could take away your memories, or burn your body and soul to ashes. But she decided not to think about that.

 

“Too late,” Rachel muttered.

 

This was their only chance…The water erupted in a massive geyser and swallowed them whole.

 

“Ok, so good news is that Percy can control the rivers in Tartarus,” Amphitrite said. “That means his protection should extend as well, like it did when he went into the Lethe.”

 

“But what about Annabeth?” Thalia asked.

 

“No idea. Tartarus has its own set of rules. And mortals aren’t even supposed to be there. It’s designed to imprison immortals. Who knows what you will or won’t be able to do down there,” Her father told her. The eldest six had been to Tartarus once before, but as gods, their experience would be vastly different to demigods.

 

“Well the chapter’s done,” Chris announced.

 

“That was quick,” Percy frowned.

 

“Don’t care, I’m not reading another one,” Chris stated firmly. One had been bad enough, and it hadn’t even technically been that terrible. Everybody glanced around. Nobody wanted to read the next one which would surely be about them being in the river which could kill them instantly or leave them with no memories. “It’s your turn Travis,” Chris told him.

 

“Na, can’t be my turn,” Travis protested.

 

“Somebody read. Now!” Athena snapped nervously. Chris chucked the book at Travis who caught it, glowering at his brother. Reluctantly he turned to the right page.

Chapter Text

The impact didn’t kill her, but the cold nearly did.

 

“Emphasis on nearly,” Grover muttered to himself.

 

Freezing water shocked the air right out of her lungs. Her limbs turned rigid, and she lost her grip on Percy.

 

“Ok, so memories are still intact, and no immediate pain. So, it’s not the Lethe or the Styx,” Hades stated. “That makes it the Cocytus or Acheron.”

 

“Oh great, the rivers of lamentation and pain,” Poseidon scowled.

 

“Well, those are the two that wouldn’t kill them immediately or take away their memories. That’s pretty good going to be fair,” Ares pointed out.

 

“Except the Cocytus in particular is not a good place for Percy,” Apollo snapped.

 

“What do you mean?” Percy frowned.

 

“The Cocytus makes you feel miserable to the extent that you feel no reason to live. Given that you’ve expressed desires to die at least once a year since you found out about being a demigod, it’s going to make all of that worse. Which will probably have lingering effects even if you make it out of there,” Poseidon explained to his son in an undertone, so that only Percy and Apollo could hear him. Percy pulled a face at that.

 

She began to sink. Strange wailing sounds filled her ears—millions of heartbroken voices, as if the river were made of distilled sadness.

 

“Cocytus it is,” Persephone grimaced.

 

The voices were worse than the cold. They weighed her down and made her numb…let the river carry her body away. That would be easier. She could just close her eyes.…

 

“No!” Thalia yelped. “You need to fight it, Annie!”

 

“Hey, I’m right here,” Annabeth squeezed her hand.

 

Percy gripped her hand and jolted her back to reality. She couldn’t see him in the murky water, but suddenly she didn’t want to die. Together they kicked upward and broke the surface.

 

They all let out a sign of relief but remained tense. They had survived the initial shock, but now they had to actually get out of the water. And all of that was the easy part compared to getting through Tartarus and closing the Doors of Death.

 

Annabeth gasped, grateful for the air, no matter how sulfurous. The water swirled around them, and she realized Percy was creating a whirlpool to buoy them up.

 

“Yes,” Apollo grinned proudly. “Nice job.”

 

“I’m so glad you can control all kinds of water, not just the sea,” Connor muttered.

 

“We all are,” Katie agreed.

 

Octavian considered the room. No matter how much he hated Greeks, and the daughter of Athena in particular, he would never wish Tartarus on them. He felt himself being torn. Because he still felt like Greeks were the enemy. They had always been and would always be. Except if Tartarus was too much even for a Greek, did he want them to survive it? Or was it kinder to wish they died quickly down there without suffering too much. He wished he could go back to not knowing for certain that the Greeks existed. It was better than knowing some small part of him felt sympathy for them. He’d been raised his entire life to hate Greeks, that part of himself felt like a betrayal.

 

Though she couldn’t make out their surroundings, she knew this was a river…Controlling it must have taken every bit of his strength. The whirlpool began to dissipate.

 

“No, no. Come on Percy, you can do this,” Rachel encouraged.

 

“Maybe he’s letting it go so they can swim sideways. Creating a whirlpool to keep them from sinking but remaining in one place is less complicated than creating one to keep them from sinking and move them towards shore,” Triton explained. “He’s probably conserving strength.”

 

Annabeth hooked one arm around his waist and struggled across the current…His teeth chattered from the cold. He stopped swimming and began to sink.

 

“Don’t you dare give up,” Apollo instructed, but his voice was soft. Poseidon conjured a blanket and wrapped it tightly around his son.

 

“I’m not actually cold,” Percy protested, but there was no heat in it.

 

“I don’t care, you’re staying wrapped up,” His dad told him, ruffling his hair.

 

Across the room Hera was trying to hide her shivers from the rest of the room. Except Hestia was sitting too close to her not to notice. She also conjured a blanket for her sister, despite knowing it would make no difference. Hera wasn’t actually cold and no heat in this room would help. Hestia glanced over at her brother, hoping he would remove his curse, but he was too busy fussing over Percy. Which she could understand. She would speak with him after this chapter, before any from Percy’s point of view came up.

 

“Percy!” she shrieked. “The river is messing with your mind…Annabeth dies trying to keep her boyfriend, the son of Poseidon, from drowning.

 

“Well, just because he’s sinking doesn’t mean he would drown,” Triton said.

 

“If he’s given up, he might force his powers to stop working, the way he can will himself to become wet,” Apollo said grimly. He tightened his arms around Percy.

 

“Well, whatever’s happening, Annabeth doesn’t know if I can drown or not. So, let’s just be grateful she’s saving my life,” Percy said.

 

“I think we’re both going to be saving each other a lot down there,” Annabeth gave him a half smile. “You’ve already saved us by controlling the river and bringing me back from being overcome by those voices. It’s my turn to save you.”

 

“Let’s not keep count,” Percy agreed. “We’re a great team and we have each other’s backs, like always.” She nodded.

 

Not going to happen, you hag, Annabeth thought.

 

“Yeah, you tell her, Annabeth,” Connor forced a chuckle. She smiled and squeezed his hand.

 

“Even if she can’t hear me?”

 

“Even then,” He agreed. She appreciated his attempt at levity. They were all going to need that for as long as possible.

 

She hugged Percy tighter and kissed him. “Tell me about New Rome,”…“Thought you’d like the houses, the parks. There’s one street with all these cool fountains.”

 

Apollo didn’t have it in him to be jealous about this. If it brought Percy out of wherever the river Cocytus had taken him, he would simply be happy Percy was alive. He dreaded to think about the long-lasting effects this river would have on him. Even once they got out of Tartarus. And Apollo had every faith the two of them would manage it somehow. He had to or it would drive him insane. He could only hope that he could at least help to get Percy in a better mental place so if, Chaos forbid, this happened in the future, he would be better able to shake off the effects.

 

Annabeth started making progress against the current…“College,” she gasped. “Could we go there together?”

 

“You want to go to college?” Rachel asked Percy interestedly, clutching at anything even remotely normal to talk about.

 

“Well, I didn’t before we heard about New Rome. I have been to enough mortal schools to know I would hate every second of it. But a college in a demigod place, that knows about our dyslexia and stuff, that would be kind of cool,” Percy admitted.

 

“What would you study?” Apollo asked excitedly.

 

“I don’t know. Maybe study to become a vet, particularly for sea life,” Percy shrugged. “I haven’t really thought about it a lot. College was never really going to be an option for me until this reading.” He didn’t add that he might not be mortal long enough to go to college. If Zeus was right, he’d turn into a god in a couple of years, if he chose to. Knowing his luck, he’d somehow explode and become a god in the middle of a college lecture or something.

 

“That sounds awesome,” Triton grinned.

 

“Y-yeah,” he agreed, a little more confidently…“Surfing?” he asked.

 

Everyone chuckled at that. Even Percy grinned.

 

“Only you, Perce,” Grover smirked.

 

“At least I know I’d ace it,” Percy shrugged.

 

She laughed, and the sound sent a shock wave through the water…had ever laughed in Tartarus before—just a pure, simple laugh of pleasure.

 

“Unlikely,” Zeus stated.

 

“And even if they have laughed in Tartarus, I very much doubt they did it while swimming in the Cocytus itself,” Hades added dryly.

 

“Trust Percy to be that funny he can make people laugh while literally swimming in misery,” Thalia shook her head in astonishment.

 

“You’re amazing,” Apollo told him, kissing his temple.

 

She doubted it…She and Percy hauled themselves ashore, shivering and gasping, and collapsed on the dark sand.

 

Everyone heaved another sigh of relief. One more issue down, only a billion more to go.

 

Annabeth wanted to curl up next to Percy and go to sleep…she saw they were already covered with an angry rash. She tried to sit up and gasped in pain.

 

“What? A rash?” Connor looked anxious.

 

“The air is toxic,” Poseidon stated grimly.

 

“How exactly are they supposed to survive that?” Beckendorf demanded.

 

“There best bet is to find the river Phlegethon,” Hades stated.

 

“The river of fire?” Nico frowned. “Oh yeah. It should, well, not exactly heal them, but keep them alive at least.”

 

“I’m up for anything that keeps us alive,” Percy nodded.

 

“It won’t be pleasant,” Hades warned.

 

“It’s Tartarus. I wasn’t expecting a nice piece of cake to heal us or something,” Percy rolled his eyes.

 

The beach wasn’t sand. They were sitting on a field of jagged black-glass chips, some of which were now embedded in Annabeth’s palms.

 

“Oh great,” Piper grimaced. “The air is toxic, and the floor is broken glass.”

 

“Pretty much,” Nico nodded. Will squeezed him tightly, grateful he wasn’t able to speak from experience, and hoping he would never be able to.

 

So the air was acid. The water was misery. The ground was broken glass. Everything here was designed to hurt and kill.

 

“Yep,” Hades nodded.

 

“We got it,” Apollo said through gritted teeth.

 

Annabeth took a rattling breath and wondered if the voices in the Cocytus were right. Maybe fighting for survival was pointless. They would be dead within the hour.

 

“Fighting for survival is never pointless,” Connor told her firmly.

 

“Yeah,” She agreed, smiling at him.

 

Next to her, Percy coughed. “This place smells like my ex-stepfather.”

 

“Come on, Percy, nothing can be that bad,” Grover said, trying to help Percy keep the mood as light as it could possibly be.

 

“True,” Percy agreed. “I hoped I’ve never have to smell anything like that again though.”

 

“Well, we’ll have to make sure nose plugs are in everyone’s packs of provisions in the future,” Travis smirked, although it came out looking like a grimace.

 

Annabeth managed a weak smile. She’d never met Smelly Gabe…She would’ve curled up and cried until she became another ghost, melting into the Cocytus.

 

Thalia and Connor gripped Annabeth tighter, while Athena moved over so she was behind her daughter, next to Grover.

 

But she wasn’t alone. She had Percy. And that meant she couldn’t give up…The ambrosia she’d eaten in the tunnels under Rome must have finally mended her bones.

 

“That’s one good thing,” Will stated.

 

Her backpack was gone—lost during the fall, or maybe washed away in the river…the weapon she’d carried since she was seven years old.

 

“Oh Styx,” Thalia swore. “That’s not good.”

 

“My dagger,” Annabeth whispered. Luke had given her that dagger. Although apparently it was also the weapon that would kill him. She didn’t know what she would do without that dagger.

 

“You are in Tartarus with one weapon between the two of you?” Clarisse gaped. “I don’t think ‘not good’ covers it.”

 

“I will put a similar enchantment on it to Perseus’ sword, so that it will always return to you,” Athena promised. She was not having her daughter weaponless in that accursed place. Annabeth shot her mother a weak, grateful smile.

 

The realization almost broke her, but she couldn’t let herself dwell on it…No food, no water…basically no supplies at all.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

“That’s about the worst start ever,” Triton winced.

 

“They are alive,” Poseidon stated. “That’s a win for now.” Nobody wanted to ask the obvious question of ‘for how long’.

 

Yep. Off to a promising start…Most worrisome of all, he was shivering and his lips were blue.

 

Another blanket was piled on top of the first one. Percy rolled his eyes at his father. Then he spotted Hera, who was now unable to contain her shivering.

 

“Er, dad, I think Hera has suffered enough. Making her feel Tartarus too, not fair,” He said quietly. Poseidon glanced over at his sister. He was still angry with her, but that anger was nothing compared to his fear for Percy. Knowing his son, he would have found a way to be involved even if Hera hadn’t kidnapped him. Still, she had deliberately made his life harder, and part of him wondered if his sister had known Percy would fall into Tartarus. That thought alone made him want to leave his curse on her. Gaea had known. And Hera had been interfering left, right and center until she was forced to leave Olympus, it wasn’t impossible she would know what fate was to befall Percy. As Athena had said, he was predictable when it came to his friends, and she had certainly known about Annabeth’s quest. He also didn’t think his sister had truly learnt her lesson.

 

‘Poseidon’, the soft voice of Hestia rang in his mind. It was both scolding and pleading at the same time. He certainly couldn’t refuse his favourite sister and favourite son at the same time. With a reluctant sigh, he waved his hand. Nothing happened. Poseidon frowned. He concentrated once more and realised he could not undo the curse.

 

“Dad?” Percy asked.

 

“I can’t,” Poseidon admitted softly.

 

“Well, when you spoke the curse, you specifically stated it would last for the duration of these books,” Apollo pointed out. “You know that curses with specific durations can’t be removed by anyone.” He had less qualms about this than Poseidon. His stepmother certainly had done nothing to make his life easier, or his sister and mother. Making her feel Tartarus might be a little more than she deserved, but Percy had to feel it. And he still partially blamed her for Percy’s circumstances. Like Poseidon, he knew it wasn’t all Hera’s fault, but he also suspected that she had known what would happen to Percy and pushed him in that direction.

 

“He is right. The curse will fade once the specified conditions are met. In this case, completing the books,” Athena stated.

 

“Wonderful,” Hera hissed angrily, but she was far more afraid than angry. Tartarus was designed to hurt and kill, as Annabeth had correctly stated. How much pain would Percy endure in the Pit? It had been bad enough when she had visited there as a god. Hestia and Zeus looked at their sister worriedly.

 

“We should keep moving or we’ll get hypothermia,” Annabeth said. “Can you stand?”…but the edge flickered with red light as if illuminated by huge fires.

 

“Well, at least it’s close by,” Hades said.

 

A distant memory tugged at her—something about Tartarus and fire. Before she could think too much about it, Percy inhaled sharply.

 

“Oh good. Let’s hope Annabeth remembers what she needs to know,” Connor said hopefully.

 

“She will,” Percy stated confidently. “She always comes through with the important information.”

 

“Look.” He pointed downstream…Annabeth hoped she was wrong, but how many Italian sports cars could there be in Tartarus?

 

“My guess is not a lot,” Leo chuckled nervously.

 

“Probably not,” Beckendorf agreed.

 

“Let’s hope the fall killed her, or she was crushed under the car,” Katie muttered.

 

Part of her didn’t want to go anywhere near it, but she had to find out…as if something heavy, with multiple legs, had scuttled into the darkness.

 

“Styx!” Connor swore.

 

“She’s alive,” Silena grimaced.

 

“And Annabeth doesn’t have a weapon anymore,” Clarisse frowned.

 

“She’s alive.” Annabeth was so horrified, so outraged by the unfairness of it all…“Monster home court. Down here, maybe they can’t be killed.”

 

“Thankfully, you are wrong,” Hades told him. “In fact, you may be better off killing monsters in Tartarus than up on earth. They are clearly reforming so quickly that they aren’t being sent to Tartarus when they die. Even knowing where the doors are, it is impossible for them to reform as quickly as they have been doing. Gaea must be making sure their essence isn’t sent to Tartarus, keeping them on earth instead. If you kill them in Tartarus, they will go somewhere else in the Pit to reform, but Gaea won’t be able to speed the process up.”

 

“Good to know,” Percy said.

 

He gave Annabeth an embarrassed look, as if realizing he wasn’t helping team morale…“Let’s go with that,” Annabeth agreed.

 

“No, you need to assume she is alive. You need to assume she’s out there and be keeping a look out,” Jason stated.

 

“Jason’s right. It sucks, but don’t pretend she’s probably dead and end up being caught by surprise,” Triton agreed.

 

Percy was still shivering. Annabeth wasn’t feeling any warmer either…Normally, she healed fast. Her breathing got more and more labored.

 

“You’re probably not going to be healing at all, let alone quickly,” Poseidon grimaced.

 

“This place is killing us,” she said. “I mean, it’s literally going to kill us, unless…”…It was an absolutely crazy idea. But it might be their only chance.

 

“Oh, my favourite. Ideas that are so insane they really should kill you,” Apollo muttered.

 

“In this case, it is their best chance. Only the Phlegethon will keep them alive in the toxic air,” Hades reminded him gently.

 

“Unless what?” Percy prompted. “You’ve got a brilliant plan, haven’t you?”…“I don’t know about brilliant. We need to find the River of Fire.”

 

“Done!” Travis called quickly. “Your turn.” He threw the book at Will, who only just avoided being hit in the face.

 

“Travis!” He exclaimed. Travis just shot him an innocent look and shrugged. Will glared but tentatively picked up the book.

Chapter Text

When they reached the ledge, Annabeth was sure she’d signed their death warrants.

 

“Oh gods,” Will groaned. “Why do I have to read this?”

 

“Because you do. Shut up and read,” Nico told him.

 

“How am I supposed to shut up and read at the same time?” Will smirked at him. Nico rolled his eyes and smacked his shoulder.

 

The cliff dropped more than eighty feet. At the bottom stretched a nightmarish version…The chill of the River Cocytus hadn’t left Annabeth’s bones, but now her face felt raw and sunburned.

 

“Freezing and burning at the same time?” Michael winced.

 

“And you thought Tartarus couldn’t get any more appealing,” Travis muttered.

 

Every breath took more effort, as if her chest was filled with Styrofoam peanuts…seemed to be reinjuring itself. She’d taken off her makeshift cast, but now she regretted it.

 

“Reinjuring itself?” Connor frowned. “That’s just not fair.”

 

“Tartarus isn’t fair,” Zeus pointed out. “If they get to the Phlegethon, then her foot might well stop reinjuring itself.”

 

“What about healing again?” Thalia asked her father. He shrugged.

 

“It depends if she has any ambrosia left in her system,” He stated.

 

Each step made her wince…“We can try that ledge there. Might be able to climb down.”

 

“Look at you being the optimist,” Apollo smiled slightly.

 

“The realist,” Percy corrected.

 

“Yes. You are good at that,” Rachel nodded.

 

He didn’t say they’d be crazy to try. He managed to sound hopeful. Annabeth was grateful for that, but she also worried that she was leading him to his doom.

 

“I think…” Apollo began with a nasty expression.

 

“That you’ve got the only plan that’s going to keep us alive,” Percy interrupted, elbowing his boyfriend as hard as he could through two layers of blankets.

 

“If Annabeth’s ankle is reinjuring itself, what about Percy’s injuries from the fight with the twins? You know, the one where he got extra injuries thanks to Bacchus forcing them to fight in the stadium,” Chris asked with a scowl toward their camp director. The wine god winced.

 

“I don’t think those injuries even healed in the first place. It didn’t mention Percy having an ambrosia,” Triton said worriedly.

 

“Hopefully he had some on the ship when they went to get Annabeth. As long as nothing was broken it would have been fully healed before Annabeth’s ankle,” Will told them

 

Of course if they stayed here, they would die anyway…whole environment was about as healthy as a nuclear blast zone.

 

Apollo and Will winced.

 

Percy went first. The ledge was barely wide enough to allow a toehold. Their hands clawed for any crack in the glassy rock. Every time Annabeth put pressure on her bad foot, she wanted to yelp.

 

Hera was becoming more and more grateful this was in Annabeth’s point of view.

 

“Come on you guys,” Connor muttered. “You can do it.”

 

She’d ripped off the sleeves of her T-shirt and used the cloth to wrap her bloody palms…They’d made it roughly a third of the way down the cliff—still high enough up to die if they fell.

 

“Thanks for that note,” Beckendorf grimaced.

 

“Sounds like a marathon for hawking spitballs.”

 

Everyone chuckled at that.

 

“I admire your ability to be hilarious, even at a time like this,” Leo told him sincerely. He had used humour all of his life to make the best of bad situations, but he wasn’t sure even he could be cracking jokes at a time like that. Especially ones that were actually funny.

 

“Please don’t make me laugh,” she said…“I’ll have a smile on my face as I plummet to my death.”

 

“Sorry,” Annabeth winced. “You’re trying to help.”

 

“It’s ok. There are plenty of reasons not to be laughing,” Percy assured her.

 

They kept going, one step at a time. Annabeth’s eyes stung with sweat…Red boils had erupted on his face, so he looked like a smallpox victim.

 

Apollo checked Percy over. He was quite warm, so he did remove the second blanket.

 

Her own vision was blurry. Her throat felt blistered…It took him a three-count to respond. “Uh…drink fire?”

 

“Come on, Perce,” Grover muttered anxiously. “Just a few more second.”

 

“No time to question, just drink,” Poseidon encouraged.

 

“The Phlegethon flows from Hades’ realm down into Tartarus.”…I think…it might be the Underworld equivalent of ambrosia and nectar.”

 

“Please stop talking and drink,” Apollo begged.

 

“I’ll get right on that,” Percy joked. Apollo and Poseidon both scowled at him, and he sighed.

 

Percy winced as cinders sprayed from the river, curling around his face…Better to try something foolish and hope it worked.

 

Athena, Thalia, Grover and Connor all held their breath anxiously.

 

On first contact, the fire wasn’t painful. It felt cold, which probably meant it was so hot it was overloading Annabeth’s nerves.

 

“Yup,” Will nodded.

 

Before she could change her mind, she cupped the fiery liquid in her palms…She collapsed, gagging and retching, her whole body shaking violently.

 

“Annabeth!” Thalia cried out.

 

“It’s not supposed to be pleasant,” Hades reminded them. “But it will work.”

 

“Annabeth!” Percy grabbed her arms and just managed to stop her from rolling into the river.

 

“Oh, thank the stars,” Thalia muttered. She had decided to make a conscious effort to say ‘thank the gods’. There was usually very little reason to thank them.

 

“Good catch,” Connor sighed in relief.

 

“Thanks,” Annabeth smiled at Percy.

 

“Any time,” He told her.

 

The convulsions passed. She took a ragged breath and managed to sit up…The blisters on her arms were starting to fade.

 

Now everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“Just Percy to drink,” Poseidon said anxiously.

 

“It worked,” she croaked. “Percy, you’ve got to drink.”

 

“I…” His eyes rolled up in his head, and he slumped against her.

 

“No! Come on Percy!” Apollo cried out.

 

“Just a few more seconds, Prissy,” Clarisse said urgently.

 

“I’m sure Annabeth will give me some spicy fire to drink,” Percy grimaced.

 

Desperately, she cupped more fire in her palm. Ignoring the pain, she dripped the liquid into Percy’s mouth. He didn’t respond.

 

“Come on,” Urged Poseidon. Everyone was watching Percy with bated breath.

 

She tried again, pouring a whole handful down his throat. This time he spluttered and coughed.

 

“Oh, thank us,” Amphitrite breathed.

 

“Well done, Annabeth,” Pollux said. “Just in the nick of time.”

 

“It was teamwork,” Annabeth replied, looking shaken at how close she had come to losing Percy. Right after he’d saved her from falling into the river.

 

Annabeth held him as he trembled, the magical fire coursing through his system…“Ugh,” he said. “Spicy, yet disgusting.”

 

They all gave a slightly hysterical chuckle.

 

Annabeth laughed weakly. She was so relieved, she felt light-headed…“For now,” she said. “The problem is, we’re still in Tartarus.”

 

“Just a minor problem then,” Nico muttered sarcastically.

 

“Hey, they’ve survived. They’ve beaten the Cocytus and found a way to live through the toxic air. That’s a win for now,” Reyna pointed out.

 

“True,” Beckendorf agreed.

 

Percy blinked. He looked around as if just coming to terms with where they were…that Tartarus was empty space, a pit with no bottom. But this is a real place.”

 

“Sadly,” Demeter grimaced.

 

Annabeth recalled the landscape she’d seen while they fell…“The welcome mat,” Percy muttered.

 

“The most unwelcoming welcome mat ever,” Dakota stated.

 

They both gazed up at the blood-colored clouds swirling in the gray haze…They’d barely been able to stumble a hundred yards in this poisonous place without dying.

 

“But you have. You’ve found out the way to survive. Now you just need to stay close to the Phlegethon,” Katie said.

 

“Yay. A diet of fire,” Percy grimaced.

 

“We have to,” Percy said. “Not just for us. For everybody we love. The Doors have to be closed on both sides, or the monsters will just keep coming through. Gaea’s forces will overrun the world.”

 

“No pressure,” Annabeth winced.

 

“More like no choice,” Connor said grimly.

 

“Pretty much. It’s our only way out anyway, even if we didn’t need to find them to stop Gaea,” Percy pointed out.

 

Annabeth knew he was right. Still…when she tried to imagine a plan that could succeed…How could they possibly synchronize a meeting with their friends?

 

“Now that…that will come down to luck, pretty much. Unless one of us is able to let you know how they are progressing,” Aphrodite stated unhappily.

 

“Great. Now we need a slice of Percy’s miracle luck,” Frank sighed.

 

“I think Percy and Annabeth are going to need all of that,” Hazel reminded him.

 

“Yeah. But this affects them too. We need his luck to stretch to us getting there in time to help them at the Doors or Death,” He said.

 

And Nico had mentioned a legion of Gaea’s strongest monsters guarding the Doors…She decided not to mention any of that.

 

“Good choice,” Thalia nodded.

 

They both knew the odds were bad. Besides, after swimming in the River Cocytus…It happened so fast, Annabeth would have been dead if she’d been on her own.

 

“Wait! What?” Athena exclaimed.

 

“Arachne,” Connor guessed angrily.

 

“Or the other millions of monsters down there that can probably smell two demigods,” Silena guessed.

 

Percy’s eyes locked on something behind her. Annabeth spun as a massive dark shape hurtled down at her—a snarling, monstrous blob with spindly barbed legs and glinting eyes.

 

“Nope,” Travis winced. “That’s Arachne.” Athena scowled furiously at the book.

 

She had time to think: Arachne. But she was frozen in terror… as yellow dust—the remains of Arachne—rained around her like tree pollen.

 

“Woah!” Beckendorf whistled. “You killed her in one hit.”

 

“Brilliant,” Apollo praised.

 

“You saved my life again,” Annabeth looked at him in shock.

 

“I thought we weren’t keeping count,” He smiled.

 

“Arachne is a huge and ancient monster, and you killed her in one shot,” Hermes looked impressed.

 

“She probably left herself vulnerable while she attacked Annabeth,” Ares stated. “Not understating his achievement, but that probably helped.”

 

“I’ll take anything,” Percy shrugged.

 

“You okay?” Percy scanned the cliffs and boulders, alert for more monsters, but nothing else appeared. The golden dust of the spider settled on the obsidian rocks.

 

“And there is the other problem with Annabeth not having a single weapon,” Clarisse stated. “Even if she had seen Arachne, she wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.”

 

Annabeth winced. She had always relied on her mind to get her out of tight situations. But she had always had her knife as a backup. And she had trained for over half of her life to use that knife well. To be without it, and to have to rely solely on Percy when wits failed, was terrifying. Not because she didn’t trust Percy, but because he simply couldn’t best every single monster that they would come across in Tartarus by himself. Especially if he had to protect her as well.

 

Annabeth stared at her boyfriend in amazement. Riptide’s Celestial bronze blade…As it passed through the thick hot air, it made a defiant hiss like a riled snake.

 

“No wonder Percy gets on so well with Riptide. It has the same attitude that he does,” Reyna laughed.

 

“She…she would’ve killed me,” Annabeth stammered.

 

“You sound surprised by that? You knew she was alive and that she hates you,” Michael frowned.

 

“I think it’s probably the shock of how easy it would have been. Annabeth said it happened so quickly she would have been dead. That’s a shock to the system, especially given they’ve only just found a way to survive Tartarus in general,” Reyna pointed out.

 

Percy kicked the dust on the rocks, his expression grim and dissatisfied. “She died too easily, considering how much torture she put you through. She deserved worse.”

 

Some of the demigods looked startled at that declaration.

 

“Maybe, but she’s dead and that’s the most important thing. She can’t kill you or Annabeth now,” Apollo reminded him. He didn’t want Percy to dwell on this new, more vengeful, moment he seemed to be having. “In Tartarus, you do what you need to survive and move on. No gloating, no making it last longer than necessary. Just kill them and move before you attract more.” Percy nodded.

 

Annabeth couldn’t argue with that, but the hard edge in Percy’s voice made her unsettled. She’d never seen someone get so angry or vengeful on her behalf.

 

“Really? Percy gets angry on everyone’s behalf,” Grover pointed out. Although, he couldn’t remember seeing Percy so vengeful he wished to drag out killing someone. Still, he suspected Tartarus had something to do with that. It most likely brought out the worst in people.

 

“Yeah, you should have seen him when Thorn took you,” Thalia agreed. “Maybe he wasn’t as vengeful, but he was definitely angry.”

 

Zeus eyed his nephew, wondering how much damage Tartarus would do to his psyche. He had already been thinking that he understood Luke Castellan’s point of view, and now this? The Fates had certainly done them all a favour by intervening.

 

It almost made her glad Arachne had died quickly. “How did you move so fast?”

 

“His reflexes have always been awesome,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

“Yeah, but he was almost dead a minute ago before Annabeth brought him round with the fire,” Dakota frowned.

 

“He’s Percy. His instincts and reflexes are brilliant. And he knew to be alert for Arachne, as they did know she had survived,” Clarisse stated.

 

Percy shrugged. “Gotta watch each other’s backs, right? Now, you were saying…downstream?”

 

“Good. Shrug it off and get moving,” Poseidon nodded proudly. “But well done for those reflexes anyway.”

 

Annabeth nodded, still in a daze. The yellow dust dissipated on the rocky shore, turning to steam. At least now they knew monsters could be killed in Tartarus

 

“Yeah, that’s good knowledge to have,” Travis stated.

 

though she had no idea how long Arachne would remain dead. Annabeth didn’t plan on staying long enough to find out.

 

“Good idea,” Thalia nodded.

 

“She shouldn’t reform right there. She should be sent somewhere else,” Hades stated.

 

“Yeah, downstream,” she managed. “If the river comes from the upper levels…Percy finished. “Which is probably where the Doors are. Lucky us.”

 

“Sounds about right,” Jason muttered.

 

“Done,” Will announced in relief. “Your turn to suffer…I mean read,” He told Hazel. She glared at him but reluctantly accepted the book.

 

“At least this should be the last Annabeth one,” Frank comforted her.

 

“And I get to read it. Yay,” Hazel deadpanned. He grimaced.

Chapter Text

They’d only travelled a few hundred yards when Annabeth heard voices.

 

“Oh seriously?” Connor complained.

 

“A few hundred yards? That’s it?” Triton groaned.

 

Annabeth plodded along, half in a stupor, trying to form a plan…It just kept you going so you could experience more excruciating pain.

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

Her head started to droop with exhaustion. Then she heard them…wedging herself so close against the riverbank that her shoes almost touched the river’s fire.

 

“Please don’t fall into the river while trying to avoid monsters,” Grover grimaced.

 

“I’ll do my best,” Annabeth rolled her eyes at him.

 

On the other side, in the narrow path between the river and the cliffs…The voices sounded vaguely human, but that meant nothing. She assumed anything in Tartarus was their enemy.

 

“Wise,” Hermes nodded.

 

“Plenty of monsters sound vaguely human,” Ares agreed.

 

“The voices are female, so that rules out the main titan and giant fighters, which is good news at least,” Beckendorf pointed out.

 

She didn’t know how the monsters could have failed to spot them already. Besides, monsters could smell demigods—especially powerful ones like Percy, son of Poseidon.

 

“Well, if Tartarus smells as bad as Gabe, then maybe it has the same effect of masking demigod scent,” Travis said hopefully.

 

Annabeth doubted that hiding behind a boulder would do any good when the monsters caught their scent.

 

“True,” Thalia nodded. “But it’s better to be safe, just in case they can’t smell you. There are clearly multiple enemies and only Percy has his sword.” Annabeth grimaced once more.

 

Still, as the monsters got nearer, their voices didn’t change in tone. Their uneven footsteps—scrap, clump, scrap, clump—didn’t get any faster.

 

“Why does that kind of walking sound familiar?” Rachel frowned.

 

“Female monsters with different legs?” Reyna said thoughtfully.

 

“Empousai,” Aphrodite realised.

 

“Oh, I hate those things,” Percy groaned.

 

“Me too,” Rachel agreed.

 

“Soon?” one of them asked in a raspy voice, as if she’d been gargling in the Phlegethon…For some reason, she sounded familiar to Annabeth.

 

“Please tell me that’s not Kelli?” Percy let out another groan of irritation.

 

“If they are Empousai, then it’s probably Kelli. I think she’s the only one I recall Annabeth meeting,” Thalia said.

 

“Annabeth is also the one who killed her,” Nico pointed out. “Which means she’s not going to be happy if they find her.”

 

“Wonderful,” Annabeth sighed. Two monsters so far and both of them really wanted to kill her. Just perfect.

 

“You guys are totally annoying! I told you, it’s like three days from here.”…as if he recognized the mall girl’s voice too.

 

“Definitely Kelli,” Rachel wrinkled her nose.

 

There was a chorus of growling and grumbling. The creatures—maybe half a dozen, Annabeth guessed

 

“Half a dozen?” Grover winced.

 

“That’s definitely not good,” Connor muttered nervously.

 

had paused just on the other side of the boulder, but still they gave no indication that they’d caught the demigods’ scent.

 

“So, either we’re really lucky, or they are waiting to spring a trap,” Percy stated.

 

“My bet is trap,” Annabeth sighed.

 

“That’s the most likely,” Nico said grimly. “Especially as they won’t know Annabeth is unarmed. Annabeth and Percy could probably take out half a dozen together if they were both fighting.”

 

Annabeth wondered if demigods didn’t smell the same in Tartarus, or if the other scents here were so powerful, they masked a demigod’s aura.

 

“Possibly both,” Poseidon said. “Demigods have never been to Tartarus before, with the exception of Nico, so if they don’t know you are there, they might dismiss it as something else.”

 

“I wonder,” said a third voice, gravelly and ancient like the first…“The Earth Mother did not make you boss!” shrieked a fourth voice.

 

“In fighting,” Frank said. “That’s good. Could be useful if you do have to fight.”

 

“Yeah, just hope they kill each other,” Pollux agreed.

 

More hissing, scuffling, and feral moans—like giant alley cats fighting…Just leave one special morsel for me—the one named Percy Jackson.”

 

“Oh good. She wants to kill both of us,” Percy sighed.

 

Annabeth fought down a snarl of her own. She forgot about her fear. She wanted to jump over the boulder and slash the monsters to dust with her knife…except she didn’t have it anymore.

 

Annabeth groaned.

 

“At least you remembered before you gave away your position,” Clarisse said.

 

“Believe me,” said the mall girl. “Gaea has called us, and we’re going to have so much fun…Annabeth had stabbed her in the back and sent her…here. To Tartarus.

 

“I miss the good old days,” Grover muttered.

 

“We all do,” Percy said.

 

“I can’t believe those were the good old days,” Michael pulled a face.

 

The creatures shuffled off, their voices getting fainter…mechanical bronze on the left, shaggy and cloven-hooved on the right.

 

“Five isn’t much better than six, but it’s something,” Leo offered, trying to look on the bright side.

 

Their hair was made of fire, their skin as white as bone…guy fall in love with her, then drink his blood and devour his flesh. Not a great first date.

 

“Had worse,” Apollo said casually, mostly talking to himself.

 

“What?” Percy looked at him oddly.

 

“Never mind,” He said quickly.

 

“No, I’m curious now.”

 

“It was nothing!”

 

“Do you mean the one…” Artemis began.

 

“Nope. Never mind. Nothing more needs to be said on the subject,” Apollo glared at Hazel who began reading quickly.

 

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.

 

“Not sure he needed any help with that,” Travis muttered bitterly to himself.

 

Annabeth really wished she still had her dagger…horror-show women might be the closest thing to good luck they were going to get in Tartarus.

 

“And that’s not even close to good luck,” Beckendorf said.

 

“If they can lead them to the Doors of Death it is. Or at least in the right direction,” Hazel said.

 

“Yeah,” she said. “We need to follow them.”

 

“Done,” Hazel announced brightly. “Another really short one.” Nobody was really sure if this was a good thing or not. On one hand, it was good because they didn't want to hear about Tartarus for too long, it put them all on edge. And despite being short, they had almost died quite a few times already it was horrifying. On the other hand, they really wanted to hear about Percy and Annabeth escaping Tartarus.

 

“My turn then,” Frank sighed. He took the book from Hazel and began reading.

Chapter Text

Leo spent the night wrestling with a forty-foot-tall Athena.

 

“Er, what?” Michael asked in confusion.

 

“I’m guessing he means the statue,” Beckendorf said. “But why are you wrestling a statue?”

 

“Dunno,” Leo shrugged. “But it doesn’t sound like it fitted into the ship very well, so I’m probably trying to make it more secure.”

 

“You should be sleeping. If it hasn’t fallen out with all the mountain god attacks, it’s probably fine,” Travis told him. “You need your rest.”

 

Ever since they’d brought the statue aboard, Leo had been obsessed with figuring…offering the life-sized figure of Nike that stood in her palm, like, Here, have some Victory!

 

“If the ship is two hundred feet long, how come it’s so awkward to fit a forty-foot statue in it?” Michael wanted to know.

 

“Probably because we didn’t expect to be picking up anything quite that huge. But we definitely do need to redesign the ship if it’s going to carry a statue that size this time around,” Leo stated.

 

“I’m sure you’ll find a way. Especially with all of your cabin and the Athena cabin helping,” Connor said confidently.

 

Athena’s serene face took up most of the aft pegasus stables…live in a stall with an oversized goddess of wisdom staring at him.

 

“It’s bad enough in Cabin one,” Thalia grimaced.

 

The statue was wedged tight in the corridor, so Leo had to climb over the top and wriggle under her limbs, searching for levers and buttons.

 

Athena pursed her lips.

 

“I doubt it does anything like that,” Annabeth shook her head. “I think it’s more that it has part of mom’s essence in it that makes it important, not any special powers.” Leo sighed and pouted.

 

As usual, he found nothing…Magic must’ve kept it intact, Leo figured, combined with really good craftsmanship.

 

“At least it’s in good condition,” Annabeth sighed. They were lucky Arachne had only guarded it, not done anything terrible to the statue. Although, she supposed the statue had enough magic to protect against the spider-woman’s attacks.

 

Annabeth had said…well, he tried not to think about Annabeth. He still felt guilty about her and Percy falling into Tartarus. Leo knew it was his fault.

 

“Leo…” Percy began.

 

“It’s ok, man. We’ve been over it in here, but my future-self hasn’t. So, I’m probably going to dwell quite a lot.”

 

“Alright. As long as you know it wasn’t your fault,” Travis looked at him in concern.

 

“Yeah. Course,” Leo nodded, sounding pretty unconvincing. Nobody believed him, but they decided to deal with it during a break rather than in the reading.

 

He should have gotten everyone safely on board the Argo II before he started securing the statue. He should have realized the cavern floor was unstable.

 

“No. I’m glad you got the statue,” Annabeth said. “Percy and I have a chance of getting out of Tartarus, and it sounds like someone had to go anyway. Getting out of there with the Athena Parthenos would be impossible.” That was true, Leo had to admit. Especially if it attracted monsters, that was the last thing demigods in Tartarus needed.

 

Still, moping around wasn’t going to get Percy and Annabeth back. He had to concentrate on fixing the problems he could fix.

 

“Good plan,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

Anyway, Annabeth had said the statue was the key to defeating Gaea…Or maybe the smaller figure of Nike came to life and busted out some ninja moves.

 

The Stolls and Percy all chuckled.

 

“That would be pretty cool,” Will grinned.

 

“It does none of those things,” Athena stated primly.

 

Leo could think of all kinds of fun things the statue might do if he had designed it…wheel to guide them through the secret pass that the magic goddess had told her about.

 

“You really should sleep,” Connor said in concern. “You’re going to need your rest.”

 

“I’m probably feeling too guilty to sleep,” Leo admitted. Hephaestus watched his son worriedly. Demigods weren’t as durable as gods. Leo couldn’t afford to go without too much sleep.

 

Leo hoped Hazel was right about the long detour north. He didn’t trust this Hecate lady. He didn’t see why such a creepy goddess would suddenly decide to be helpful.

 

“I don’t blame you for being suspicious,” Jason muttered.

 

“Maybe not, but sadly trusting Hecate was the only option,” Piper pointed out.

 

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be on the lookout for traps,” Frank said.

 

“Absolutely,” Hazel agreed.

 

Of course, he didn’t trust magic in general. That’s why he was having so much trouble…and Leo didn’t appreciate that. He wanted it to make sense, like a machine.

 

Hephaestus smiled at that. As did Beckendorf. He used to feel that way, and still did to some extent, but dating Silena had finally gotten him used to magic. Not that she could use an awful lot, but she loved to study it, and often used him as a guinea pig in her experiments.

 

Finally he got too exhausted to think straight. He curled up with a blanket…Besides, maybe if he spent more time close to the Athena Parthenos, he would eventually soak in its secrets.

 

Everyone chuckled at that.

 

“It’s you or me, Big Lady,” he murmured as he pulled the blanket up to his chin…where she’d died in a fire when Leo was eight.

 

Leo shuddered and Beckendorf wrapped an arm around his shoulders once more.

 

“Demigod dreams suck,” Leo declared. Every single demigod nodded at that, even Octavian.

 

He wasn’t sure what was chasing him, but he sensed it closing fast…a woman in robes of dry swirling earth, her face covered in a veil of dust.

 

Leo closed his eyes, fighting back another shudder.

 

Where are you going, little hero? Gaea asked. Stay, and meet my favorite son.

 

“Her favourite? I’d have thought that was Alcyoneus, but he’s dead,” Hazel frowned.

 

“She changes favourites all the time,” Zeus shrugged. After all she had favoured his father until he began to eat his own kids. Then she sided with his mother and aided her in tricking Kronos, so he wasn’t eaten. Then the titans had fallen out of favour altogether and the giants were her favourites. It was hard to keep up.

 

Leo darted to the left, but the Earth Goddess’s laughter followed him...But now you have chosen your path. Your death is near, Leo Valdez.

 

“You wish, Dirt Face,” Leo scowled.

 

“Yeah, nobody is going to die,” Frank said. Nobody brought up the prophecy which certainly hinted that at least one person would die.

 

He ran into a drafting table—his mother’s old workstation…He blasted the giant, but the darkness consumed his fire.

 

“What giant is that?” Percy asked, looking horrified.

 

“I assume it is Clytius. The giant Gaea bred to absorb Hecate’s magic,” Aphrodite stated gravely. “It would certainly explain why Hecate has appeared to help you.”

 

“Great,” Leo grimaced. “He sounds awful.”

 

Leo reached for his tool belt. The pockets were sewn shut. He tried to speak—to say anything that would save his life—but he couldn’t make a sound, as if the air had been stolen from his lungs.

 

Everyone grimaced at that, hoping it was just a dream, not a prophetic one.

 

My son will not allow any fires tonight, Gaea said from the depths of the warehouse. He is the void that consumes all magic, the cold that consumes all fire, the silence that consumes all speech.

 

“Sounds lovely,” Silena remarked sarcastically.

 

“So, no fire and no magic, he’ll just have to deal with good old-fashioned bronze or gold then,” Jason stated.

 

Leo wanted to shout: And I’m the dude that’s all out of here!...He wove around the bodies of Greek and Roman demigods. He wanted to check if they were alive.

 

Everyone shuddered at that image.

 

He wanted to help them. But somehow he knew he was running out of time…It was that freak Octavian, the augur from Camp Jupiter, who was always screaming for war.

 

Octavian scowled.

 

Octavian turned to face him, but he seemed to be in a trance. His features were slack, his eyes closed. When he spoke, it was in Gaea’s voice: This cannot be prevented.

 

The former Augur gaped in shock. Then he shuddered. It was incredibly creepy to hear about himself being possessed by Gaea, even in a dream. Then he thought about Luke Castellan and how Kronos had used his anger to control him to his death. Octavian wondered if this dream would come true, or if it already had in the future. Was Gaea already guiding his actions? That made him pause. If he was going to get closure for his family, he would do it on his own terms. Not the Earth goddess’.

 

“Hey, she’s not going to have you,” Reyna’s voice sounded right next to his ear. Octavian jolted in surprise.

 

Reyna watched the emotions flash across Octavian’s face. She meant her promise. No matter what he had done, or will do, they would not leave him to be manipulated and used by Gaea. After a few moments of staring at her distrustfully he gave a short nod.

 

The Romans move east from New York. They advance on your camp…Leo was tempted to punch Octavian in the face. Instead he kept running.

 

“Na, if you’re going to punch him do it in real life, not in a dream,” Frank encouraged. Leo grinned.

 

He climbed Half-Blood Hill. At the summit, lightning had splintered the giant pine tree.

 

Thalia, Zeus and Jason all winced.

 

He faltered to a stop. The back of the hill was shorn away. Beyond it…Her expression radiated pure hatred. Her lip curled. Her nose wrinkled.

 

“You’re appearing to Leo?” Annabeth looked at her mom in surprise. Although, that description didn’t sound like Athena. She wondered if it was Minerva.

 

“Well, he is sleeping next to my statue,” Athena shrugged.

 

“Leave my son alone,” Hephaestus glared. He didn’t trust Athena in the state she was in in the future.

 

“The tinkerer god’s child,” she sneered. “You are no threat, but I suppose my vengeance must start somewhere. Make your choice.”

 

“Don’t you be taking out your ridiculousness on my son,” Hephaestus growled.

 

“I have done nothing,” Athena reminded him, returning his glare with one of her own.

 

Leo tried to speak, but he was about to crawl out of his skin with panic…“My dark friend will not give you the luxury of a choice. It’s the cliff or the cave, boy!”

 

“You’re dark friend?” Ares asked, eyebrow raised.

 

Annabeth was deeply troubled that her mother would refer to a giant as her friend, even if only in a dream.

 

“Maybe Gaea has taken on my form,” Athena suggested.

 

“Na, she’d call him her son in that case,” Hermes pointed out. “This is you. Being ridiculous and punishing demigods for not attacking the Romans.”

 

Suddenly Leo understood what she meant. He was cornered…The cave was the home of the dead. If he went down there, he would never come back.

 

“So…death or death. That’s not much of a choice,” Leo grimaced.

 

“Yes,” the woman said. Around her neck hung a strange bronze-and-emerald pendant…This lady had been driven nuts by hatred.

 

Annabeth grimaced while some of the gods nodded discretely.

 

“The House of Hades awaits. You will be the first puny rodent to die in my maze. You have only one chance to escape, Leo Valdez. Take it.”

 

“Her maze? Maybe it isn’t Athena, or Minerva,” Katie said. “It must be someone else in her form.”

 

“The witch that Hecate mentioned? Explains why she’s hanging out with a giant,” Hazel suggested.

 

“Possible,” Aphrodite nodded.

 

She gestured toward the cliff…the woman asked. “It is possible, at the hands of a sorceress!”

 

“I wonder which one it is,” Connor frowned.

 

“She called the maze hers,” Poseidon said uneasily. He certainly had an idea who this sorceress was, and he hoped that he was wrong.

 

Leo’s arm started to smoke. The woman’s touch was acid…“Leo!” Jason was shaking his shoulder. “Hey, man, why are you hugging Nike?”

 

“Thanks,” Leo said to Jason. “Glad you woke me up then.”

 

“Anytime,” Jason smiled.

 

Leo’s eyes fluttered open. His arms were wrapped around the human-sized…(Man, that had been so embarrassing in the foster homes.)

 

Leo grimaced at that mention.

 

He disentangled himself and sat up, rubbing his face…You should join us in the mess hall. Nico has new information.”

 

“Done,” Frank announced.

 

“My turn,” Jason said eagerly. He was thrilled that he didn’t get a Tartarus chapter. Frank handed him the book.

Chapter Text

Leo had designed the mess hall’s walls to show real-time scenes from Camp Half-Blood. At first he had thought that was a pretty awesome idea. Now he wasn’t so sure.

 

“At least you can keep up to date on what’s going on,” Katie said. “Although it’s a little bit creepy to know you guys could be watching us.”

 

“I don’t think I’ll do that this time around,” Leo admitted. “Maybe something else instead for decoration.”

 

The scenes from back home—the campfire sing-alongs, dinners at the pavilion…annual party at the beach with awesome fireworks prepared by Leo’s siblings in Cabin Nine.

 

“Aww, you’re going to miss your first one,” Beckendorf frowned. “And as Cabin leader too.”

 

“Well, hopefully I’ll be back for next year’s one,” Leo shrugged.

 

“We’d better be, considering Gaea wants to wake up on the first of August,” Percy pointed out.

 

He decided not to mention that to the crew, but he hoped their buddies back home had had a good celebration. They needed something to keep their spirits up, too.

 

“I’m sure it was awesome,” Travis smiled.

 

He remembered the images he’d seen in his dream—the camp in ruins, littered with bodies; Octavian standing at the volleyball pit, casually talking in Gaea’s voice.

 

Octavian shuddered once more.

 

He stared down at his eggs and bacon. He wished he could turn off the wall videos…His blond hair was uncharacteristically messy, like he’d forgotten to comb it.

 

Jason grimaced.

 

“It’s ok, Jay. I’m sure you’ll be an awesome leader,” Thalia told him. Jason looked unconvinced. From what they had heard so far, it wasn’t going well.

 

Leo glanced at the others around the table. Hazel was bleary-eyed, too…Roman tourist T-shirt that said CIAO! (was that even a word?).

 

“Of course it’s a word,” Will rolled his eyes.

 

“It’s Italian,” Nico told Leo in amusement.

 

Frank’s old centurion badge was pinned to his shirt, despite the fact that the demigods…Then there was Hazel’s half brother, Nico di Angelo. Dang, that kid gave Leo the freaky-deakies.

 

Nico frowned while Leo winced.

 

“Sorry man,”

 

“It’s fine,” Nico sighed. He was used to that.

 

“No. It’s not ok,” Leo shook his head. “I guess, my future-self has never met you, and then the first time I see you, you’re not looking too hot. And the whole son of Hades thing. Still, you’re a good guy.” Nico smiled at him.

 

He sat back in his leather aviator jacket, his black T-shirt and jeans…His tufts of black hair stuck up in curls like baby bat wings.

 

Percy, Thalia and Will all snickered at that. Nico scowled at all of them.

 

His eyes were sad and kind of empty, as if he’d stared into the depths of Tartarus—which he had.

 

The smirks dropped off all three faces. Nico sighed.

 

The only absent demigod was Piper, who was taking her turn at the helm…could cause the picturesque Italian villages below them to go BOOM!

 

“It’s really not good that they can’t leave their supposed chaperone, by himself. It sounds like the satyr is the one who needs chaperoning,” Dakota frowned.

 

“Pretty much,” Piper nodded. “But he has had his uses on the trip.”

 

“I think he’s been more of a nuisance than he’s been a help,” Annabeth muttered. She still couldn’t believe he had grounded her and Percy.

 

Leo had zoned out so totally he didn’t realize Jason was still talking…He just tossed that line out there, like he was saying he got a text from a buddy.

 

“That’s pretty much the same thing to Nico,” Percy laughed.

 

“I was able to learn more about what we’ll face,” Nico continued…as if hanging out with dead people were good for his appetite.

 

“Sounds better for them than McDonalds,” Thalia smirked.

 

“Hey, I work with what I have,” Nico complained, glaring at her.

 

Frank grunted. “Chinese have that, too—ancestor worship…Aunt Rosa and some old Chinese woman in wrestlers’ outfits, whaling on each other with spiked clubs.

 

Frank and Leo both looked horrified.

 

“Yeah,” Leo said. “I’m sure they would’ve been best buds.”…Jason flashed him a look like, Dude, enough. “Nico, go on.”

 

“Thanks, Jason,” Nico said.

 

“The pilgrims believed that each level of the temple brought you closer to the Underworld…Most demigods had vivid nightmares about what was going on in the world.

 

“Yeah. They might be informative, but they suck,” Percy complained.

 

“Agreed. Although, I thought mine were bad until I heard about Percy’s,” Pollux muttered. The demigods nearby nodded in agreement.

 

His friends paid close attention as Leo explained. He tried not to look…a witch who couldn’t be defeated except by me, using magic.”

 

“No pressure,” Hazel murmured.

 

“You’ll do great,” Frank said encouragingly. “And this time around, we have time for you to learn how to use your magic.”

 

“I…er, I could help with that,” Reyna offered. “Hylla knows more than I do, but I did pick up some things from Circe.”

 

“That would be great,” Hazel smiled gratefully.

 

“Do you know magic?” Leo asked…Leo got the feeling that the two of them had had private conversations about the House of Hades, and they weren’t sharing all the details.

 

“Guys,” Jason frowned. “Shouldn’t we stop the secret keeping?”

 

“If there is nothing you can do, then it won’t help to dwell,” Nico shrugged.

 

“It’s still best if we know, so we can be aware. What if you or Hazel are incapacitated. We might not be able to use magic to beat her, but we should know what’s going on,” Piper pointed out.

 

“Well, you’ll find out in this book most likely,” Hazel reminded her.

 

“Only that she won’t be easy to defeat.”…Everybody looked at Leo.

 

“But in the dream, he absorbed Leo’s fire,” Gwen pointed out with a frown.

 

“Maybe demigod powers aren’t enough. Maybe it needs to be a goddess,” Annabeth said.

 

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”…He is the void that consumes all magic, the cold that consumes all fire, the silence that consumes all speech.

 

“I can see why that would creep you out and make you worried,” Beckendorf nodded.

 

Leo was pretty sure it would take more than a few matches to set that giant ablaze.

 

“Probably. It’s never that easy,” Silena grimaced.

 

“True, but at least Hecate has said she will help. Maybe,” Piper said.

 

“It’s a good lead,” Jason insisted. “At least we know how to kill the giant. And this sorceress…well, if Hecate believes Hazel can defeat her, then so do I.”

 

“Thanks, Jason,” Hazel smiled.

 

“I do believe that,” Jason assured her.

 

“We all do,” Percy grinned.

 

Hazel dropped her eyes. “Now we just have to reach the House of Hades…“Assuming we can somehow arrive at the same time as Percy and Annabeth and rescue them.”

 

“Easy,” Nico muttered.

 

Frank swallowed a bite of pancake. “We can do it. We have to.”…assuming no delays for, you know, monster attacks and stuff.”

 

“Yeah, we never have delays,” Leo scoffed.

 

“Or attacks. Those never happen,” Drew added sarcastically.

 

“Considering they have literally just had a couple of days’ worth of delays at the mountains,” Connor grimaced.

 

Jason smiled sourly. “Yeah. Those never happen.”…then find the giants’ HQ and stop them from waking Gaea before August first.”

 

“Less than a month to do that,” Travis noted. “That’s going to be close.”

 

“Running on tight deadlines is what we do,” Frank sighed.

 

“Theoretically,” Hazel agreed. “But I’d still like to know how we make our way through the House of Hades without going insane or dying.”

 

“That would be a good start,” Will agreed.

 

Nobody volunteered any ideas…And July is the seventh month.”

 

“I’d call it unlucky,” Poseidon scowled.

 

“But there will only be six of you going into the House of Hades,” Katie reminded Frank who nodded.

 

“I’d rather it was seven,” He sighed. “Or eight,” He added, glancing at Nico.

 

“Yeah, but…” Leo tapped his fingers nervously on the table…Tell me it’s a coincidence we’re searching for the Doors of Death during the ghost month.”

 

“Maybe, maybe not. But it’s not like we can wait until August,” Jason shrugged.

 

No one spoke…She didn’t mean seventh as in ghost, did she?

 

“What?” Beckendorf yelped. “No, she can’t have meant that.”

 

“You’re not a ghost,” Hazel told him with a wan smile.

 

Jason pressed his hands against the arms of his chair…Nico fell backward out of his chair and banged his head against the sideboard.

 

“Nico!” Will cried out.

 

“It’s ok,” Nico assured him. “I’ll survive a little tumble.”

 

“The last thing you need is more injuries, even small ones,” Hades reminded his son. Nico rolled his eyes.

 

He collapsed on the floor, with a dozen magic goblets…He stumbled into the table and went face-first into Leo’s plate of scrambled eggs.

 

“At least that was a soft landing,” Michael chuckled. Frank grimaced.

 

“Look!” Jason pointed at the walls. The images of Camp Half-Blood…The face seemed to be trying to eat its way into the room.

 

“That’ll be the dwarves,” Hermes grinned.

 

“What the heck?” Leo gaped.

 

“They are…special,” Apollo smirked. “You’ll have a great time.”

 

“Why do I doubt that?” Jason muttered.

 

“Because you’re smart,” Thalia told him.

 

The other walls flickered, showing scenes from above deck…her mouth gagged and her legs bound to the control console.

 

“Piper!” Silena called.

 

“At least I’m only tied up, not injured except for my pride,” Piper shrugged.

 

"How are the dwarves doing that? And why would they show the others what's going on?" Connor frowned.

 

"I'm guessing Festus is the one showing them what's going on," Beckendorf said with a smile. He loved that dragon.

 

At the mainmast, Coach Hedge was similarly bound and gagged…danced around him, doing the coach’s hair in tiny pigtails with pink rubber bands.

 

Grover looked horrified while everyone else snickered slightly.

 

On the port-side wall, the huge ugly face receded so that Leo…Then he pried the Archimedes sphere out of the command console.

 

“Not the sphere!” Leo complained. “I’m going to kill those dwarves.”

 

“No!” Leo yelled…“Stealing my stuff!” Leo yelled, and he ran for the stairs.

 

“Done,” Jason grinned. This was much nice to read about than Tartarus. They all could do with some levity.


“My turn,” Silena said.

Chapter Text

Leo was vaguely aware of Hazel shouting, “Go! I’ll take care of Nico!”

 

“Hey, if they need you, you should go,” Nico frowned at his sister.

 

“No. Someone needs to stay. You hit your head. Besides, those three should be enough to get a couple of dwarves, no matter how tricky they are, especially once they free Piper and Hedge,” Hazel told him.

 

As if Leo was going to turn back. Sure, he hoped di Angelo was okay, but he had headaches of his own.

 

“Thanks,” Nico said dryly.

 

“Sorry man,” Leo winced.

 

“It’s fine,” Nico chuckled. “You need to go and help Piper and get the ship controller back.”

 

Leo bounded up the steps, with Jason and Frank behind him…His green-plaid pants were pinned at the cuffs, and held up with bright-red suspenders over a striped pink-and-black woman’s blouse.

 

“That’s…hideous,” Aphrodite looked green. All of her children also looked horrified. The rest of the demigods were busy laughing their heads off.

 

“That is, er…interesting,” Connor said, trying to stop laughing.

 

He wore half a dozen gold watches on each arm, and a zebra-patterned cowboy hat with a price tag dangling from the brim.

 

“And it keeps getting worse,” Silena grimaced.

 

His skin was covered with patches of scraggly red fur, though ninety percent of his body hair seemed to be concentrated in his magnificent eyebrows.

 

“That is pretty hideous,” Travis nodded.

 

“Weren’t there two of them?” Chris asked. “Leo’s only describing one.”

 

Leo was just forming the thought Where’s the other dwarf?...Do not leave boxes of magic grenades where dwarfs can reach them.

 

“Good to know,” Beckendorf chuckled.

 

“Magic grenades?” Clarisse asked eagerly.

 

“Those sound awesome,” Thalia agreed.

 

“Except when dwarves use them against you,” Percy grinned.

 

At least he was alive. Leo had been experimenting with all sorts of weapons…spray acid, fire, shrapnel, or freshly buttered popcorn. (Hey, you never knew when you’d get hungry in battle.)

 

“Leo, you’re a man after my own heart,” Percy declared.

 

“Those all sound awesome,” Connor beamed. “Great job, Leo.”

 

“Those scrolls and the sphere truly are going to be a huge asset,” Frank looked impressed. “Definitely worth a bit of trouble to get them.”

 

“Yeah,” Jason agreed.

 

Judging from the ringing in Leo’s ears, the dwarf had detonated the flash-bang grenade, which Leo had filled with a rare vial of Apollo’s music, pure liquid extract.

 

“Ouch,” The Greek demigods all winced.

 

“And I thought Grover’s music was a lethal weapon,” Percy muttered. Grover glared at him while Thalia and Annabeth both tried to hide their chuckles.

 

“I wonder where you got that from,” Will frowned. “Like you said, it’s rare and I somehow doubt you’ve had time to stop and get supplies like that.”

 

“And I’m sure it would have been mentioned if dad stopped by at any point,” Michael agreed.

 

“Who knows, lets just be glad Leo can make such cool stuff in the future,” Beckendorf shrugged.

 

It didn’t kill, but it left Leo feeling like he’d just done a belly flop off the deep end…No. His friends didn’t smell like heavily perfumed monkey cages.

 

Everyone laughed at that.

 

He managed to turn over. His vision was out of focus and tinted pink…He showed off the prize he’d just stolen—Leo’s tool belt—then danced away.

 

“Not my belt!” Leo exclaimed indignantly.

 

“I love those guys,” Hermes smirked.

 

“You would,” Ares rolled his eyes. “They steal stuff more often than you do.”

 

“Well, Hecate told Hazel to seek the dwarves in Bologna. They must have something useful for you guys,” Connor grinned.

 

“I’m gonna strangle those guys,” Leo scowled.

 

Leo tried to grab him, but his fingers were numb…He bowed to Leo, doffing his zebra cowboy hat, and did a backflip over the side.

 

Everybody except Leo was trying not to laugh even more.

 

Leo managed to get up. Jason was already on his feet…He was sprawled on the deck with his tongue hanging out and his gorilla eyes rolled up in his head.

 

“Frank!” Hazel exclaimed.

 

“I’m sure I’ll be alright. It was only a flashbang and gorillas are tough,” He said, but he looked unhappy.

 

“Piper!” Jason staggered to the helm and carefully pulled the gag out of her mouth…At the mast, Coach Hedge mumbled, “HHHmmmmm-hmmm!”

 

“That sounds about right,” Clarisse chuckled.

 

“Those two words are included in most of his sentences,” Grover sighed.

 

Leo figured that meant: “KILL THEM!” Easy translation, since most of the coach’s sentences involved the word kill.

 

They all nodded, some despairingly, or in Clarisse’s case, in agreement.

 

Leo glanced at the control console. His Archimedes sphere was gone.

 

“That’s not good,” Beckendorf frowned. “Who knows what chaos they could cause with that.”

 

“Pretty awesome chaos,” Travis grinned excitedly.

 

He put his hand to his waist, where his tool belt should have been…Failure wasn’t an option. Neither was waiting for his friends to recover.

 

“They’ve already taken out most of you pretty easily,” Annabeth pointed out with a frown. “It might be best to wait for at least one person to recover and help you.”

 

He turned to Jason. “You feeling good enough to control the winds? I need a lift.”…“Good,” Leo said. “We’ve got some monkey dudes to catch.”

 

“Well, Leo said ‘we’, so I guess Jason is well enough to go with him,” Piper said. “That’s something.”

 

Jason and Leo touched down in a big piazza lined with white marble government…Jason wielding a gold sword, and Leo…well, Leo pretty much empty-handed.

 

Beckendorf, Piper and Percy all looked concerned about that.

 

“I’m not sure weapons are going to be much good against them,” Chris said. “You need to try something else.”

 

“Where to?” Jason asked…Oh, wait! I don’t have a dwarf-tracking GPS—or my tool belt!”

 

“It’s not Jason’s fault,” Thalia frowned at Leo.

 

“Yeah, sorry man,” Leo glanced at Jason.

 

“It’s alright. They stole some pretty important stuff,” Jason waved away the apology.

 

“Fine,” Jason grumbled. He glanced up at the ship as if to get his bearings, then pointed across the piazza. “The ballista fired the first dwarf in that direction, I think. Come on.”

 

“Ho hard can it be to find two awfully dressed, thieving dwarves?” Drew asked.

 

“I don’t know, they seem to be pretty sneaky too,” Katie said.

 

They waded through a lake of pigeons, then maneuvered down a side street of clothing stores…He tried not to freak, but he’d come to depend on that belt for almost everything.

 

“I know it’s super useful but relying on it too heavily is a bad idea. You never know when stuff will get lost on quests,” Beckendorf told him. “Or stolen,” He added.

 

“Yeah,” Leo sighed.

 

He felt like somebody had stolen one of his hands…And now he didn’t even have his tool belt or his Archimedes sphere.

 

“You’ll catch them,” Piper told him confidently. “Between you and Jason, you can do it.”

 

“Thanks, Pipes,” He smiled gratefully at her.

 

“And if not, well, we know what to expect this time around,” Travis added. Leo nodded.

 

He was so absorbed with feeling sorry for himself that he didn’t notice…Looming over them was a huge bronze statue of a buck-naked Neptune.

 

“Seriously?” Percy wrinkled his nose.

 

“A lot of statues from the ancient times were naked,” Annabeth reminded him.

 

“Still, I don’t need to hear about ones of my dad,” Percy complained.

 

“I’m glad I live under the sea,” Triton muttered.

 

“Ah, jeez.” Leo averted his eyes. He really didn’t need to see a godly groin this early in the morning.

 

The demigods were all torn between snickering and looking grossed out.

 

The sea god stood on a big marble column in the middle of a fountain…Neptune himself (avoid the groin) was throwing his hip to one side in an Elvis Presley move.

 

“My eyes!” Percy groaned.

 

“You can’t see the statue now,” Thalia rolled her eyes.

 

“My ears!” He complained dramatically. Everyone except Poseidon chuckled at his antics.

 

He gripped his trident loosely in his right hand and stretched his left hand…I’d just feel better if we ran across Jupiter. Or Minerva. Anybody but Neptune, really.”

 

Poseidon grumbled while Athena muttered angrily about not helping out any Romans.

 

Leo climbed into the dry fountain. He put his hand on the statue’s pedestal…“I want a secret lair!” yelled another voice from above.

 

“I think you found them,” Connor grinned.

 

Jason stepped back, his sword ready. Leo almost got whiplash trying to look…red-furred dwarf lifted his espresso. Judging from his dilated eyes and his maniacal grin, he didn’t need any more caffeine.

 

“They sound like you two,” Katie rolled her eyes at her boyfriend.

 

“I don’t know what you mean,” Travis denied with a smirk.

 

“Yes, you do,” Michael told him. “Thieving, pranking brothers, that’s just like you two.”

 

“Passalos! Singer of songs! Drinker of coffee! Stealer of shiny stuff!”

 

“Please!” shrieked his brother, Akmon. “I steal much better than you.”

 

“They even sound like you two,” Annabeth laughed.

 

Passalos snorted. “Stealing naps, maybe!” He took out a knife…“Hey!” Jason yelled. “That’s my girlfriend’s knife!”

 

“By the sounds of it, they might as well have it,” Piper muttered.

 

“The visions have come in a bit handy,” Jason reminded her. She shrugged.

 

He lunged at Passalos, but the red-furred dwarf was too quick…Passalos did a backward somersault and landed out of reach. Leo’s pants promptly fell around his knees.

 

Everybody, except Leo, sniggered.

 

“I’m gonna strangle those dwarves,” Leo growled.

 

He stared at Passalos, who was now grinning and holding a small…“Okay,” Akmon said. “You don’t have moves.”

 

They all snorted at that.

 

“Bah!” Passalos said. “Give me the tool belt. I want to see.”…he pulled out the Archimedes sphere and began tinkering with the ancient bronze dials.

 

Beckendorf, Leo and Hephaestus all winced.

 

“Stop!” Leo yelled. “That’s a delicate machine.”…He was sure Passalos was going to ruin the Archimedes sphere any second now.

 

“I think they mean Heracles,” Apollo snorted.

 

“Black bottom?” Jason asked.

 

“They like to give people nicknames,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“Yes, you know.” Akmon grinned. “Hercules. We called him Black Bottom…“Oh, very nice! I’m definitely keeping this! Thanks, Blue Bottom!”

 

“Blue bottom?” Will snickered.

 

Blue Bottom?...revealing his blue undershorts. “That’s it!” he shouted. “My stuff. Now. Or I’ll show you how funny a flaming dwarf is.”

 

The demigods made a valiant effort to stop themselves laughing at Leo’s misfortune. They mostly failed.

 

His hands caught fire…Unfortunately, Jason was too busy summoning his storm.

 

“Oh great,” Jason groaned.

 

“Of course it was a trap,” Connor sighed. “How did we not see that?”

 

Leo rolled on his back as five golden cords shot from the Neptune statue’s fingers…him like a rodeo calf and yanking him upside down.

 

Jason grimaced.

 

A bolt of lightning blasted the tines of Neptune’s trident…“Hercules hung us upside down once, you know. Oh, revenge is sweet!”

 

“Always taking it out on other people who aren’t Hercules, or the gods,” Thalia complained.

 

Leo summoned a fireball. He lobbed it at Passalos…“Bye!” Passalos did a backflip and ran after his brother.

 

“Well, that’s the sphere back,” Pollux said.

 

“But they still have Piper’s dagger, Leo’s toolbelt and who knows what else,” Chris pointed out.

 

“I’m not leaving until I get my belt back,” Leo scowled.

 

Leo scooped up the Archimedes sphere and ran over to Jason…Leo left Jason hanging and ran after them.

 

“Done,” Silena said. She was glad she got a nice chapter. Yes they were technically under an attack of sorts, but nobody was dying, or in Tartarus, so it was pretty much a win.

 

"I'll read," Gwen offered. Silena handed her the book with a smile.

Chapter Text

The dwarfs didn’t try very hard to lose him, which made Leo suspicious.

 

“I’d be suspicious too,” Will agreed.

 

“I think we all would. Especially given how easy it would be for them to completely disappear,” Chris nodded.

 

They stayed just at the edge of his vision, scampering over red-tiled rooftops…from Leo’s tool belt—almost as if they wanted Leo to follow.

 

“Another trap?” Clarisse guessed.

 

“Probably,” Travis agreed.

 

He jogged after them, cursing every time his pants fell down.

 

There were some stifled sniggers at that.

 

He turned a corner and saw two ancient stone towers jutting into the sky…A grocery store? Hmm…

 

“That sounds like you have an idea,” Beckendorf grinned.

 

“Well, if I don’t have any tools to make stuff, I might as well go and get some,” Leo said.

 

“But will you have any money? And if you do, will it be euros?” Annabeth wondered.

 

“Let’s hope so,” Leo frowned. He didn’t want to have to steal stuff, but they couldn’t afford not to get the sphere back, or his tool belt.

 

Leo patted his pockets. To his amazement, he still had some euro notes from his time in Rome. Those stupid dwarfs had taken everything except his money.

 

“I wonder why you have euros? Demigods don’t carry much money as a rule,” Percy frowned.

 

“Maybe I stocked up before leaving camp. The store does give out some mortal money, and I knew we were going to Rome,” Leo shrugged.

 

He ran for the store as fast as his zipperless pants allowed…He didn’t want to end up in an Italian jail.

 

“Dangerous chemicals?” Dakota asked warily.

 

“Well, this should be fun,” Percy laughed.

 

“Gotta have some sort of weapon,” Leo shrugged.

 

Fortunately, he didn’t need to read labels. He could tell just from picking up…Pretty much everything he needed, plus a laundry cord he could use as a belt.

 

“Definitely some interesting things you could make with those,” Beckendorf mused.

 

He added some Italian junk food to the basket, just to sort of disguise his more…but he managed to pay, get a bag, and race out.

 

“Nice,” Connor grinned at him.

 

He ducked into the nearest doorway where he could keep an eye on the towers…Probably it was taking them a long time to get all those pink rubber bands out of Coach Hedge’s hair.

 

Everyone snorted at that.

 

“Or it’s taking them a long time to find you, same as Jason,” Reyna said.

 

“I’m sure he’ll be easy to find soon enough,” Beckendorf smirked.

 

That meant Leo had only himself, his bag of junk food, and a few highly improvised weapons made from sugar and toothpaste.

 

“I’m impressed you made more than one weapon out of that stuff,” Piper told him.

 

“I’m that good,” Leo grinned.

 

Oh, and the Archimedes sphere. That was kind of important. He hoped he hadn’t ruined it by filling it with chemical powder.

 

Leo winced.

 

He ran to the tower and found the entrance. He started up the winding stairs inside…which for some reason the Italian didn’t seem to understand.

 

Everyone burst out laughing.

 

“Yeah, how could he not understand that?” Travis guffawed.

 

The guy just held out his palm for money…To his surprise, the caretaker shrugged and took the bag. “Avanti!”

 

“He accepted food instead of money?” Annabeth asked in surprise.

 

“Maybe he’s hungry,” Percy chuckled.

 

Leo kept climbing, but he made a mental note to stock up on Fonzies. Apparently they were better than cash in Italy.

 

“Seems that way,” Connor said.

 

“Good to know,” Jason noted, but he looked slightly confused.

 

“Yeah, we’ll make sure to stock up on snacks for our trip,” Frank nodded.

 

The stairs went on, and on, and on. The whole tower seemed to be nothing…Finally, his legs feeling like overcooked noodles, he reached the summit.

 

“That’s some dedication,” Pollux said.

 

The room was about the size of a broom closet, with barred windows on all four walls…“You win. I didn’t think he was that dumb.”

 

The demigods chuckled at that.

 

“Let’s call it persistent,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

They both dropped to the floor. Akmon was wearing Leo’s tool belt…As Leo had hoped, their curiosity was so strong that they couldn’t resist.

 

“Now who’s the dumb one,” Leo growled.

 

“Look.” Leo brought out his first weapon—a lump of dried chemicals…but they made for a pretty decent flash-bang.

 

“Nothing is as good as my music,” Apollo gloated.

 

“Indeed,” Artemis agreed dryly. “Nothing is as good as you at making someone go blind and deaf.” He glared at his sister and stuck his tongue out at her.

 

The Kerkopes wailed, clawing at their eyes. They stumbled toward the window…calmly summoned some bungee cords, and tied up the dwarfs.

 

“Nice!” Beckendorf grinned.

 

“Good work, Leo,” Piper smiled.

 

“Nice catch, and some good homemade weapons there,” Annabeth nodded approvingly. Leo grinned happily.

 

“My eyes!” Akmon coughed. “My tool belt!”…and a dozen other odds and ends the dwarfs had taken from the Argo II.

 

“Thanks, Leo,” Piper said. She might not like her dagger, but it had been somewhat useful.

 

“Anytime, Beauty Queen.”

 

“Please!” Akmon wailed. “Don’t take our shinies!”…Lightning flashed, and the bars on the nearest window burst into sizzling, melted stubs of iron.

 

“I’m guessing Jason finally caught up,” Thalia grinned.

 

“Nice entrance,” Percy chuckled.

 

“Bit late,” Jason grumbled.

 

“At least Leo made it easy to find so you weren’t searching for too long,” Reyna comforted him while hiding a smile.

 

Jason flew in like Peter Pan, electricity sparking around him and his gold sword steaming…There were coins, gold nuggets, jewelry, paper clips, foil wrappers, cuff links.

 

“The coins, nuggets and jewelry all sound awesome,” Connor said eagerly.

 

“But none of those things sound like they will be useful on the quest, not more so than anything else,” Frank frowned.

 

He kept coming back to a couple of things that didn’t seem to belong. One was an old bronze navigation device, like an astrolabe from a ship.

 

“An astrolabe?” Apollo frowned. “How will that help? You know where you’re going.”

 

“Maybe they end up getting lost somehow?” Silena suggested.

 

“I guess we’ll find out,” Jason shrugged.

 

It was badly damaged and seemed to be missing some pieces…One of his last inventions, and we stole it!”

 

“I wonder why he was making that?” Annabeth frowned. “He was already home by then.”

 

Hermes shifted uncomfortably. He suspected what Odysseus had been trying to find with that. And if they needed that on their quest, did that mean she was still there? Percy was going to go mental if the gods had not fulfilled their promise to free her.

 

“How does it work?” Leo asked…“‘Should’ve taken a crystal.’ That’s what he kept muttering in his sleep, the night we stole it.” Passalos shrugged.

 

“Should’ve taken a crystal? What does that mean?” Connor wondered.

 

“I’m sure Leo will find out eventually,” Travis told him.

 

“Yeah. If that is what they need, then hopefully the book will tell us what they need it for,” Clarisse stated.

 

“No idea what he meant. But the shiny is yours! Can we go now?”…“Minor god,” Passalos said. “In Venice. Really, it’s nothing.”

 

“They stole from a minor god?” Chris whistled. “They are lucky they aren’t toast.”

 

“Unless whoever it was, didn’t know who stole the book,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“Venice.” Jason frowned at Leo. “Isn’t that where we’re supposed to go next?”…the next place Hecate had told them to visit—then this had to be what they were looking for.

 

“Ok, so maybe the astrolabe isn’t important,” Dakota said.

 

“I don’t think it would have been mentioned if it wasn’t important for some reason. But the book might be what they need for the next stage of their quest,” Gwen suggested.

 

“Where exactly can we find this minor god?” Leo asked…Passalos said miserably. “I mean, I really can’t say. I can’t pronounce it! Tr—tri—It’s too hard!”

 

“Awww, I feel bad for those guys,” Travis frowned.

 

“Well, they are thieves. No wonder you have a soft spot for them,” Katie smiled fondly at him.


“They are quite funny,” Connor grinned.

 

“Truh,” Akmon said. “Tru-toh—Too many syllables!”

 

“Oh, Triptolemus,” Demeter smiled.

 

“Who?” Frank asked.

 

“He was a mortal, who helped me find my darling Persephone when she had been kidnapped.” Here Demeter glowered at Hades who rolled his eyes.

 

They both burst into tears…He had to admit he sort of admired these little guys. They played cool pranks and liked shiny things. Leo could relate.

 

The sons of Hermes, plus Percy, all nodded in agreement with that.

 

Besides, Percy and Annabeth were in Tartarus right now, hopefully still alive…monkey boys there to face the same nightmarish problem…well, it didn’t seem right.

 

Everyone winced at that reminder.

 

He imagined Gaea laughing at his weakness—a demigod too softhearted to kill monsters…“Nothing can slow them down,” Leo mused. “I wonder…”

 

“No. Please don’t do that,” Dakota groaned. Leo smirked.

 

“Gotta save my camp.”

 

“That’s playing dirty,” Gwen complained.

 

“It is war,” Connor pointed out with a gleeful grin.

 

“What?” Jason asked…“I knew you were as smart as Hercules! I will call you Black Bottom, the Sequel!”

 

“No, don’t do that,” Leo grimaced.

 

“Yeah, no thanks,” Leo said. “But in return for us sparing your lives…Leo grinned. “Ever heard of New York?”

 

All of the Romans groaned loudly.

 

“Stupid Greeks,” Octavian grumbled.

 

“That’s just mean,” Dakota glared at Leo.

 

“Chapter’s done,” Gwen announced.

 

“That makes it my turn,” Dakota sighed. He took the book from Gwen and glanced at the next page. Then he looked nervously over at Percy.

 

“Oh, please tell me it isn’t my turn!” Percy groaned, catching the glance. That made everyone sit up anxiously.

 

“Sorry,” Dakota grimaced. “It’s your turn.”

 

“Oh great,” Percy sighed. “Just read.”

Chapter Text

Percy had taken his girlfriend on some romantic walks before.

 

Apollo sighed. Yesterday, he would have thought it didn’t get much worse than hearing about Percy fighting for his life right after going on one of those romantic walks with Annabeth. And now he had to admit that he would give anything to be hearing about one of those romantic walks right now, because it had somehow got infinitely worse.

 

This wasn’t one of them.

 

“Somehow, I never thought it would be,” Annabeth gave a grim laugh.

 

“Yeah, the whole location doesn’t lend itself to anything romantic,” Silena grimaced.

 

They followed the River Phlegethon, stumbling over the glassy black terrain, jumping crevices, and hiding behind rocks whenever the vampire girls slowed in front of them.

 

“Yeah, not my idea of fun,” Triton shook his head.

 

“It’s nobody’s idea of fun,” Amphitrite reminded her son with an eye roll.

 

It was tricky to stay far enough back to avoid getting spotted but close enough to keep Kelli…When they needed a drink, the best they could do was sip some refreshing liquid fire.

 

“Marginally better than nothing?” Beckendorf offered uneasily.

 

“Yeah,” Percy nodded. “And it heals, which is good considering we have no supplies of ambrosia or nectar.”

 

“Ture,” Annabeth agreed. “That’s something.”

 

Yep. Percy definitely knew how to show a girl a good time.

 

A few people chuckled.

 

At least Annabeth’s ankle seemed to have healed. She was hardly limping at all…Despite being beat-up, sooty, and dressed like a homeless person, she looked great to Percy.

 

Annabeth smiled at him. “Thanks. It’s probably not true, but thanks.”

 

“Heh.” He shrugged. “You probably do look good considering we’re in Tartarus and what you went through before that.”

 

So what if they were in Tartarus? So what if they stood a slim chance of surviving? He was so glad that they were together, he had the ridiculous urge to smile.

 

Apollo grimaced. Then he sighed once more. After a dip in the Cocytus, he couldn’t really complain about anything that made Percy happy.

 

Physically, Percy felt better too, though his clothes looked like he’d been through…hungry, and scared out of his mind (though he wasn’t going to tell Annabeth that),

 

“I can probably guess, because I’m probably feeling the same way,” Annabeth pointed out.

 

“Yeah. Given where you are, I’d be kind of worried if you weren’t terrified,” Poseidon told his son.

 

but he’d shaken off the hopeless cold of the River Cocytus.

 

“That’s good,” Apollo let out a sigh of relief.

 

And as nasty as the firewater tasted, it seemed to keep him going…An animal of some kind? The empousai attacked it with relish.

 

“Gross,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

“Better the carcass than Percy and Annabeth,” Piper pointed out. Silena nodded in agreement.

 

When the demons moved on, Percy and Annabeth reached the spot…“Come on.” He led Annabeth gently away from the scene. “We don’t want to lose them.”

 

“Good idea,” Connor nodded.

 

As they walked, Percy thought about the first time he’d fought the empousa Kelli…Now, he’d give anything to have a problem that simple.

 

“The good old days,” Rachel gave a wan smile.

 

“Yep,” Percy agreed. “Even fighting Kronos seems simply compared to this.”

 

At least he’d been in the mortal world then. Here, there was nowhere to run…When he started looking back on the war with Kronos as the good old days—that was sad.

 

Poseidon and Apollo both nodded.

 

He kept hoping things would get better for Annabeth and him…instead of thread just to see how much two demigods could tolerate.

 

Everyone winced at that image.

 

After a few more miles, the empousai disappeared over a ridge…Every once in a while, a bubble would swell and burst, disgorging a monster like a larva from an egg.

 

“Oh great, I hadn’t even thought about having to hear about Tartarus from Percy’s point of view, with his disgustingly detailed descriptions,” Nico grimaced.

 

“Yeah, this is going to be disgusting,” Thalia agreed.

 

“I can’t help it. I didn’t ask for my thoughts to be written down,” Percy grumbled.

 

Personally, Hera would take as many disgusting descriptions as possible over hearing about Percy getting injured and having to feel everything.

 

Suddenly Percy wasn’t hungry anymore…toward a bank of black fog that swallowed the horizon like a storm front.

 

“Oh great, a creepy black fog,” Michael grimaced. “I guess that’s where you’re heading.”

 

“Sounds about right,” Annabeth sighed in frustration.

 

The Phlegethon flowed in the same direction until about halfway across the plain...boiling cataract and flowed on as one toward the black fog.

 

“Er, that’s not good. If the Phlegethon has disappeared, how are you going to heal?” Will asked anxiously.

 

“I don’t know but I’m not drinking it once it has mixed with another river,” Percy pulled a face.

 

“A wise idea,” Hades nodded.

 

The longer Percy looked into that storm of darkness, the less he wanted to go there.

 

“Another reason it is definitely where you’re going to have to go,” Triton grimaced.

 

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 their only chance to get home.

 

“Awesome,” Percy sighed.

 

He peered over the edge of the cliff…I wonder if they’re still down here somewhere.”

 

Grover shuddered. “I hate those things,” He grumbled.

 

“They probably are. Unless they’ve been eaten by something,” Travis shrugged.

 

Percy remembered. Those shoes had been cursed to drag their wearer into Tartarus…Above them, dark winged shapes spiraled in and out of the bloodred clouds.

 

“Definitely not a good idea to use a hand glider,” Leo noted.

 

“Furies?” Percy wondered.

 

“Unlikely, I don’t often send them to Tartarus, and they get a fast pass back up if they are killed,” Hades shook his head.

 

“Unless someone killed them and Gaea won’t give them a fast pass back,” Nico pointed out.

 

“Possible,” Hades conceded.

 

“Or some other kind of demon,” Annabeth said. “Tartarus has thousands.”

 

“Including the kind that eats hang gliders,” Percy guessed.

 

Everyone chuckled at that. They hated that Percy was in Tartarus, but it was certainly a place where they could use his sense of humour.

 

“Okay, so we climb.”…It was clear where he and Annabeth needed to go.

 

“Er, it does matter,” Clarisse corrected. “If they notice you and you can’t see them, they can set an ambush up.”

 

“That sounds like out luck,” Percy groaned.

 

Like all the maggot monsters crawling over the plains of Tartarus, they should head toward the dark horizon. Percy was just brimming with enthusiasm for that.

 

“We all are,” Nico commented dryly.

 

“Chapter’s done,” Dakota said, heaving a sigh of relief nothing too terrible had happened.

 

“Simply wonderful,” Dionysus drawled sarcastically. “That means it’s my turn.” Dakota happily handed the book to his dad.

Chapter Text

As they started down the cliff, Percy concentrated on the challenges at hand…and of course making sure he and Annabeth didn’t plummet to their deaths.

 

“All of those are important,” Apollo nodded.

 

“I have a horrible feeling that the empousai already know you’re there,” Beckendorf grimaced.

 

“Don’t say that,” Triton begged.

 

“I’m with Beckendorf,” Reyna frowned. “I think that both of them are already injured and tired. There is no way they aren’t making some noise going down that cliff.”

 

“Or that they’ve gone that long without smelling them,” Nico added.

 

“Percy’s luck isn’t that good,” Grover agreed unhappily. Percy pulled a face, knowing how true that was.

 

About halfway down the precipice, Annabeth said, “Stop, okay? Just a quick break.”…Percy cursed himself for not calling a rest earlier.

 

“You have enough to think about without also worrying about exactly when to call a rest. Annabeth asked for one when she needed one,” Thalia told Percy.

 

“Yeah. You don’t have to do every single thing by yourself. You’re already trying to take responsibility for keeping her spirits up and doing all the fighting because she doesn’t have a weapon,” Poseidon reminded his son. Percy was already doing the majority of the heaving lifting; he didn’t need to add more to his load.

 

They sat together on a ledge next to a roaring fiery waterfall. Percy put his arm around Annabeth, and she leaned against him, shaking from exhaustion.

 

Connor gripped Annabeth’s hand.

 

“You’re doing pretty well for someone who spent hours under Rome with her worst nightmare and a broken ankle,” He said, seeing the concern on her face. “You went from a mental hell to the physical version. You can’t expect to be at the top of your game.”

 

“But I have to be at the top of my game. We both do or we aren’t making it out alive,” Annabeth pointed out. Connor grimaced.

 

He wasn’t much better. His stomach felt like it had shrunk to the size of a gumdrop. If they came across any more monster carcasses, he was afraid he might pull an empousa and try to devour it.

 

“Eww,” Drew wrinkled her nose.

 

“Yeah, don’t do that, that would be more likely to poison you,” Apollo advised.

 

“I have no intention of eating monster carcass,” Percy assured him. “Not raw anyway,” He added. Everyone looked at him with grossed out expressions.

 

At least he had Annabeth. They would find a way out of Tartarus…Annabeth and he were supposed to be together.

 

Apollo and Connor both pulled faces at that.

 

They hadn’t survived so much just to get killed now.

 

“That’s definitely true. If anyone gets to kill you, it’s me, kelphead,” Thalia smirked at him.

 

“Wait in line,” Reyna laughed. “Technically I met him first.”

 

“No, that pleasure was mine,” Grover stated. “I get to kill him for giving me a heart attack.”

 

“Feeling the love here guys,” Percy grumbled good-naturedly. The demigods all chuckled.

 

“Things could be worse,” Annabeth ventured…“We could’ve fallen into the River Lethe,” she said. “Lost all our memories.”

 

“That would be bad,” Poseidon grimaced.

 

“Pretty much all the other river options were bad,” Hades stated dryly.

 

Percy’s skin crawled just thinking about it. He’d had enough trouble with amnesia for one lifetime.

 

Everybody scowled at Hera.

 

Only last month, Hera had erased his memories to put him among the Roman demigods…“Uh…Iapetus. He said it meant the Impaler or something.”

 

“Wow, you actually know what his name means and everything,” Leo joked.

 

“No idea how,” Percy shrugged.

 

“No, the name you gave him after he lost his memory. Steve?”…Annabeth managed a weak laugh. “Bob the Titan.”

 

“I wonder how he’s getting on,” Percy frowned.

 

“I’ve been to check on him a couple of times,” Nico admitted. “We talk sometimes.”

 

“You sit and have chats with a titan?” Will asked cautiously. Hades stared at his son as if he had lost his mind.

 

“He thinks we’re friends,” Nico shrugged. “And it made for some company other than ghosts.”

 

“Well, maybe you can introduce me next time you go,” Will said. Nico smiled and agreed.

 

Percy’s lips were so parched, it hurt to smile. He wondered what had happened to Iapetus…Underworld seemed to bring out the worst in everyone—monsters, heroes, and gods.

 

Hades and Nico both pulled faces at that.

 

He gazed across the ashen plains. The other Titans were supposed to be here in Tartarus…Titan particles floating through the blood-colored clouds or lurking in that dark fog.

 

“Please don’t think about that,” Apollo cringed.

 

“Agreed. Bad thoughts,” Percy nodded.

 

Percy decided not to think about that. He kissed Annabeth’s forehead. “We should keep moving. You want some more fire to drink?”

 

“Not a sentence you hear every day,” Piper commented.

 

“That’s pretty much every sentence in these books,” Silena gave a forced laugh.

 

“Yeah. Each time we think that, the sentences get weirder,” Chris agreed.

 

“Ugh. I’ll pass.”

 

“Better not,” Michael said. “Didn’t Percy note that the river disappears soon?”

 

“Yeah, this might be your last chance for a while,” Travis nodded. “Best have some while you can.”

 

They struggled to their feet. The rest of the cliff looked impossible to descend…His fingers cramped. He felt blisters popping up on his ankles. He got shaky from hunger.

 

Hera flexed her fingers and tried to hide her shakes while glowering angrily at Poseidon.

 

He wondered if they would die of starvation, or if the firewater would keep them going…Jeez, Percy hadn’t thought about Tantalus in years.

 

All of the Greek demigods scowled.

 

That stupid guy had been paroled briefly to serve as director at Camp Half-Blood.

 

The glares all turned towards Dionysus for hiring the guy.

 

Probably he was back in the Fields of Punishment. Percy had never felt sorry for the jerk…getting hungrier and hungrier for eternity but never being able to eat.

 

Poseidon conjured a plate of food and held it out to his son. Percy raised an eyebrow. Poseidon just held the plate closer. Percy shrugged and took it. He began picking at some of the food, offering more of it to Apollo.

 

Keep climbing, he told himself…With fries, his stomach complained.

 

Despite the situation the demigods all chuckled.

 

“Your stomach has good taste,” Thalia grinned. “Nothing better than a cheeseburger.”

 

A billion years later, with a dozen new blisters on his feet, Percy reached the bottom…Phlegethon split into branches that etched the plain, widening into a delta of smoke and fire.

 

“At least if the main bit merges with another river, there is still some of the Phlegethon left to drink if you do get injured,” Will said.

 

“That’s some good news,” Rachel agreed.

 

To the north, along the main route of the river, the ground was riddled with cave entrances…the ground was a single vast membrane…like skin.

 

All the demigods looked disgusted at that.

 

“Please don’t think about it,” Poseidon begged.

 

“If you do, then you might see through the Mist. And that would be bad,” Apollo warned.

 

“Great,” Percy grimaced. “Now that’s all I’m going to be able to think about.”

 

He almost threw up, but forced himself not to. There was nothing in his stomach but fire.

 

“That would be nasty,” Beckendorf winced.

 

He didn’t mention it to Annabeth, but he started to feel like something was watching them…The spires of rock looked like broken ribs. And if the ground was skin…

 

“No, no, please stop,” Poseidon cringed. The last thing Percy needed was to see Tartarus as it really was. The other five elder gods all grimaced.

 

“Hang on,” Dakota frowned. “Percy didn’t mention the empousai in his description of the plain.”

 

“And Percy is pretty observant. He wouldn’t have missed those out,” Thalia stated.

 

“Which means either they’ve gone so far ahead they are out of sight,” Grover began.

 

“Or, they are hiding somewhere waiting to ambush them,” Connor continued.

 

Percy forced those thoughts aside. This place was just freaking him out. That was all…The monster snatched the squealing telkhine in its jaws and dragged it into the darkness.

 

“Avoid the caves,” Leo muttered.

 

“Definitely,” Percy agreed.

 

Reborn in Tartarus for two seconds, only to be eaten. Percy wondered if that telkhine…He would’ve given a thousand golden drachmas to have Frank Zhang with them right now

 

Frank looked surprised but gave Percy a smile.

 

good old Frank, who always seemed to show up when needed and could turn into an eagle or a dragon to fly them across this stupid wasteland.

 

“And go close to whatever is in those clouds? No thanks,” Frank grimaced.

 

“Yeah. That would be bad,” Jason wrinkled his nose.

 

They started walking, trying to avoid the cave entrances…Suddenly he remembered why they’d started following this route, and he froze in his tracks.

 

“Aw, crap,” Annabeth groaned.

 

“It’s an ambush,” Rachel sighed.

 

“And five versus, like, one and a half,” Clarisse grimaced. Annabeth glared at being called a half, but couldn’t deny it either.

 

“The empousai.” He grabbed Annabeth’s arm. “Where are they?”…Too late, Percy drew his sword.

 

“At least you drew it,” Nico offered hopefully.

 

The empousai emerged from the rocks all around them—five of them forming a ring. A perfect trap.

 

Everyone groaned, despite knowing what was coming.

 

Kelli limped forward on her mismatched legs…“How awesome! I don’t even have to return to the mortal world to destroy you!”

 

“I am finished,” Dionysus announced.

 

“Wonderful,” Demeter sighed. She took the book from Dionysus and quickly began reading.

Chapter Text

Percy recalled how dangerous Kelli had been the last time they’d fought in the Labyrinth…dodged his sword strikes and would have eaten his face if Annabeth hadn’t stabbed her from behind.

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

Now she had four friends with her.

 

“Not good,” Pollux winced.

 

“Pretty not good, yeah,” Dakota agreed with his half-brother.

 

“And your friend Annabeth is with you!” Kelli hissed with laughter…Don’t have your weapon? Bummer. I’d use it to kill you.”

 

Annabeth winced at the reminder of her lost weapon. It wasn’t like just losing any old weapon. Luke had given her that. And no matter what he had done, it had been a gift from one of her heroes. And her first crush.

 

She had finally accepted her feelings for Luke as that of a brother. She forgave him for what he had done while under Kronos’ spell. If even Percy, the most loyal demigod she knew, could understand why Luke had done what he had done, she could understand his actions. If he hadn’t sacrificed his life to stop Kronos in the future, then she might feel different, but he had come back to their side, and would probably have done so before that if he had been able to. It allowed her to put him back on the pedestal he had been on for most of her life.

 

Annabeth had also accepted that Percy no longer had a crush on her. Even an idiot could see the easy affection between him and Apollo. She had never known Percy be that relaxed in her presence, and she did regret that. She knew that she had been in some ways testing him, to make sure he wouldn’t leave like everyone else in her life. And that wasn’t fair to Percy. He spent so much time looking after everyone else, he needed someone who could look after him for once and that wasn’t her. No matter how much it hurt to admit.

 

She glanced over at Connor who was still holding her hand. For the first time she could truly see him for who he was, not just Travis’ brother, not a replacement for Luke. Just Connor. Who had been a steady presence throughout the majority of her life. Whether that was playing pranks or making her laugh with his jokes. Connor who was willing to wait for her to make up her mind, who was genuinely interested in things she liked. Something she hadn’t experienced before with any other than her siblings. Even Thalia and Percy zoned out when she talked about most thing involving architecture.

 

She noticed Connor looking at her, half curious, half concerned. Annabeth gave him a soft smile which he returned. She noticed just how different his smile was from the one she associated with most Hermes kids. With Luke. It wasn’t even a smile she associated with Travis, except when they caught him watching Katie out in the strawberry fields.

 

Percy tried to think. He and Annabeth stood shoulder to shoulder as they had many times before…They were hopelessly outnumbered. There was nowhere to run. No help coming.

 

Apollo and the sea crew all grimaced at that.

 

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?

 

“She should be able to,” Hade said, considering. “She is a monster after all.”

 

“But would being in Tartarus turn her back into a vicious monster, rather than the nice one trained by Daedalus?” Annabeth wondered.

 

“Not immediately I would think,” Hades answered, when it became clear everyone was looking at him as he was the being considered the most likely person to know the answer. “Being in Tartarus for a long time might have a similar effect to respawning. But I don’t think anyone has ever actually researched that.”

 

“I wonder why,” Hermes muttered sarcastically.

 

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.

 

“Percy, it might well be a question of your dog or your life,” Apollo looked at him with a frown.

 

“Well, if she turned back into a vicious monster, we would have even more issues which we clearly can’t afford,” Percy pointed out. Apollo gave him a look that quite clearly said he didn’t believe that excuse but didn’t argue further.

 

So, no help. Fighting was a long shot…Kelli snickered. “Not really. I just want to kill you.”

 

“Well, that went well,” Piper muttered sarcastically.

 

“It’s Annabeth’s tactic for a reason,” Percy shrugged. “She’s better at it than I am.”

 

“You can be quite good at stalling,” Amphitrite pointed out. “And you often work better on your feet.”

 

That would’ve been it, but Annabeth chimed in…The last time she was in the mortal world, Kelli was in charge of keeping my friend Luke Castellan faithful to Kronos.

 

Annabeth, Thalia and Hermes all winced.

 

In the end, Luke rejected him. He gave his life to expel Kronos. The Titans lost because Kelli failed. Now Kelli wants to lead you to another disaster.”

 

“I think there was a bit more to it than that,” Poseidon muttered grumpily.

 

“Not important,” Triton reminded his father. “As long as it can help turn the others against Kelli, who seems to be the most dangerous and the leader.” Poseidon couldn’t really argue with that.

 

The other empousai muttered and shifted uneasily…Percy was pretty sure Kelli had had a thing for Luke Castellan.

 

“Well, the guys empousai have a thing for often end up dead, so it’s a good thing she didn’t act on it,” Chris spoke up in Luke’s defense. “If it hadn’t been Luke that Kronos possessed, then the replacement might not have been so willing to sacrifice themselves to defeat him.”

 

Luke had that effect on girls—even donkey-legged vampires—and Percy wasn’t sure bringing up his name was such a good idea.

 

Annabeth pulled a face.

 

“The girl lies,” Kelli said. “So the Titans lost. Fine! That was part of the plan to wake Gaea!

 

“I’m not sure it was,” Thalia muttered.

 

“Probably not. I doubt Gaea wanted the titans to fail,” Demeter said.

 

“She has been preparing for a long time, before Kronos had even risen,” Apollo pointed out.

 

“Maybe she knew they would fail. Or at least had an inkling. The prophecy did give a fifty-fifty chance,” Artemis reminded them. “She would be a fool not to prepare for failure with those odds. And unfortunately, Gaea is no fool.”

 

“But, when she attacked Leo and his mom she said she knew Leo would be part of the fight against her,” Piper frowned, shooting an apologetic look at Leo.

 

“Well, she might have risen anyway if Kronos won,” Hephaestus said, a hint of anger in his tone.

 

Now the Earth Mother and her giants will destroy the mortal world…That wasn’t nearly as scary as empousai ready to feed.

 

“What do you mean in a tank with the water full of blood?” Rachel asked anxiously.

 

“Er,” Percy grimaced. “When I hit the wrong button and sent our school class into the water tank, someone got injured in the fall. Enough to bleed into the water. So, it was before I knew I was a son of Poseidon.” They all nodded in understanding.

 

He prepared to attack, but how many could he dispatch before they overwhelmed him? …The empousai backed up nervously, hissing, “Romani.”

 

“Yeah, you’d better be afraid,” Dakota cheered.

 

Percy guessed they’d had experience with the Twelfth Legion before, and it hadn’t worked out well for them.

 

The Romans all smiled smugly.

 

“Yeah, you bet Romani.” Percy bared his forearm and showed them the brand…“You mix Greek and Roman, and you know what you get? You get BAM!”

 

“You tell them, Percy,” Travis cheered.

 

“I don’t think that will stop them for long, but it gives you an advantage to take the initiative,” Reyna nodded.

 

He stomped his foot, and the empousai scrambled back. One fell off the boulder where she’d been perched.

 

Everyone snickered.

 

That made Percy feel good, but they recovered quickly and closed in again…Some of her demigod children are my friends. If you fight us, she’ll be angry.”

 

“Nice thinking,” Athena praised her daughter. “That should give them pause.”

 

“Hopefully,” Aphrodite muttered, though she didn’t have much hope of that.

 

Annabeth frowned, assuming that she was exaggerating. She didn't make friends easily, and most of the time since Hecate's children had been accepted at Camp Half-Blood had been spent at school or looking for Percy. She probably hadn't made friends with the Hecate kids. At least not close friends.

 

Percy wanted to hug Annabeth, she was so brilliant.

 

“Might want to wait until your safe for that,” Michael muttered. Percy nodded in agreement.

 

One of the other empousai growled. “Is this true, Kelli?...From her claws hung the tattered remains of Serephone’s dress.

 

“Urgh,” Everyone groaned.

 

“It would have been much better if the other one had won,” Beckendorf complained.

 

“Not how Percy’s luck works,” Connor noted.

 

“Don’t blame this on me,” Percy protested.

 

“At least one of them is gone,” Chris said hopefully.

 

“Yeah. One down, four to go,” Clarisse stated darkly.

 

“Any more issues?” Kelli snapped at her sisters. “Hecate is the goddess of the Mist!...I choose the path that will bring us the most demigod blood! I choose Gaea!”

 

“I don’t think the others are going to argue after that,” Jason muttered.

 

Her friends hissed in approval…She’d gotten Kelli to eliminate one of her own.

 

“That’s pretty good,” Connor said encouragingly.

 

“Yeah, but fighting four against two, with one of the two weaponless, still isn’t good,” Reyna pointed out anxiously.

 

Now there was nothing left but to fight…All because some little girl stabbed you in the back?”

 

“Be grateful it was only two years. It could have been centuries,” Nico pointed out.

 

Her baleful eyes held Annabeth’s. “I wonder what happens if a demigod is killed in Tartarus. I doubt it’s ever happened before. Let’s find out.”

 

“Let’s not,” Thalia countered.

 

Percy sprang, slashing Riptide in a huge arc. He cut one of the demons in half, but Kelli dodged and charged Annabeth.

 

“Ok, that’s good. Down to three,” Michael nodded.

 

The other two empousai launched themselves at Percy. One grabbed his sword arm. Her friend jumped on his back.

 

“Less good,” Will winced.

 

“Definitely not good. And that leaves Kelli attacking Annabeth when she has no weapon,” Katie pointed out grimly.

 

Percy tried to ignore them and staggered toward Annabeth,

 

“NO!” Apollo and the sea crew all yelled.

 

“You don’t ignore two monsters who are both attacking you,” Poseidon glared at his son, feeling beyond anxious now.

 

determined to go down defending her if he had to; but Annabeth was doing pretty well…Annabeth scooped up gravel and flung it in the empousa’s eyes.

 

“Nice,” Rachel grinned.

 

Meanwhile Percy thrashed from side to side, trying to throw off his empousa hitchhiker…The second empousa held his arm, preventing him from using Riptide.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

“At least Percy is pretty good at improvising,” Travis reminded them all.

 

“He has to be the given the amount of times he throws his weapon away, or loses it,” Triton grumbled. Percy turned slightly red.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kelli lunge, raking her talons across Annabeth’s arm. Annabeth screamed and fell.

 

“Annabeth!” Connor, Thalia and Athena all cried out.

 

Percy stumbled in her direction. The vampire on his back sank her teeth into his neck. Searing pain coursed through his body. His knees buckled.

 

Hera winced, only just managing to stop herself from putting a hand to her neck to check for a bite.

 

“Focus on yourself!” Apollo yelled.

 

“You’re going to be far more use to Annabeth if you don’t have two empousai hanging off of you,” Clarisse agreed. Percy grimaced.

 

Stay on your feet, he told himself. You have to beat them…The other two empousai circled Percy, their mouths slavering, ready for another taste.

 

“If they have let go, now is your chance,” Grover urged nervously.

 

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

 

“WHAT?” Everyone yelled.

 

“That’s the chapter,” Demeter announced.

 

“Well someone hurry up and read!” Poseidon growled. Hades quickly took the book from his sister and began reading.

Chapter Text

Percy thought he was hallucinating. It just wasn’t possible that a huge, silvery figure could drop out of the sky and stomp Kelli flat, trampling her into a mound of monster dust.

 

“Awesome!” Thalia let out a sigh of relief that at least Kelli was gone.

 

“Wait,” Artemis frowned. “A silver titan? That sounds like Iapetus.”

 

“Who thinks he is Bob and a friend of Percy,” Nico grinned. “Maybe he’s there to help. Percy did mention his name earlier, maybe that counted as calling him.”

 

“Let’s hope so. And let’s hope he remains friendly in Tartarus, and doesn’t regain his memories,” Amphitrite said grimly.

 

But that’s exactly what happened. 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.

 

“Definitely Bob,” Thalia nodded.

 

In his hand was a massive push broom. His name tag, incredibly, read BOB.

 

Everyone let out sighs of relief that he wasn’t an immediate enemy. He might become one if he stayed in Tartarus long enough, but he was unlikely to be one right away.

 

Annabeth yelped and tried to crawl away, but the giant janitor wasn’t interested in her…Bob threw his broom like a massive boomerang (was there such a thing as a broomerang?).

 

Everyone chuckled at Percy’s thoughts.

 

“If not, there is now,” Nico grinned.

 

“I don’t care what it is, as long as they are alive,” Poseidon muttered.

 

It sliced through the vampire and returned to Bob’s hand…The Titan grinned with delight and did a victory dance. “Sweep, sweep, sweep!”

 

They all grinned.

 

Percy couldn’t speak. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that something good…“Percy called me!” the janitor said happily. “Yes, he did.”

 

“I didn’t call?” Percy frowned.

 

“I’m guessing that saying his name was enough,” Thalia said. “Like Nico said a minute ago.”

 

“Yes, it would work similarly to saying a monster’s name on earth,” Hades nodded.

 

“For once Percy’s love of saying random names works in his favour,” Apollo smiled.

 

“It’s a good job it came up in random conversation,” Grover whistled.

 

“A titan to the rescue of two demigods,” Beckendorf stated in shock. “Who would have thought it?”

 

“At this point, I don’t care where the help comes from,” Triton said.

 

Annabeth crawled a little farther away. Her arm was bleeding badly…Sure enough, the janitor tapped Annabeth’s forearm and it mended instantly.

 

Connor, Thalia, Grover and Athena all sighed in relief.

 

"He's definitely handy to have around," Will noted.

 

Bob chuckled, pleased with himself, then bounded over to Percy and healed his bleeding neck and arm. The Titan’s hands were surprisingly warm and gentle.

 

The sea crew and Apollo were now the ones sighing with relief.

 

"And that's probably much more pleasant than drinking fire water to be healed," Percy said.

 

"Agreed," Annabeth nodded.

 

“All better!” Bob declared, his eerie silver eyes crinkling with pleasure. “I am Bob, Percy’s friend!”

 

Percy grimaced. He hadn’t really been a friend to the titan. He had wiped his memories, declared himself a friend and never seen the titan again. Maybe he should try to visit when they got back to their time. Nico had said he sometimes chatted to the titan. Maybe Nico could take him sometime, just so he had an Underworldy escort through his uncle's realm. He would ask Nico later.

 

“Thank us for that,” Apollo muttered.

 

“Uh…yeah,” Percy managed. “Thanks for the help, Bob. It’s really good to see you again.”…“We must go before they find you. They are coming. Yes, indeed.”

 

“Who is ‘they’?” Leo asked nervously.

 

“Probably the titans and giants Percy has killed,” Rachel grimaced.

 

"Or many of the other monsters he has killed over the years," Grover offered with an anxious bleat.

 

“Moving is a good idea,” Thalia nodded.

 

“They?” Annabeth asked…“Yes,” Bob agreed. “But Bob knows a way. Come on, friends! We will have fun!”

 

“Fun is not the word I would use,” Poseidon muttered.

 

“Agreed,” Percy nodded.

 

“Done,” Hades stated, looking at the book in surprise. “That was short.”

 

“Really short,” Annabeth frowned.

 

“Awesome,” Percy grinned.

 

“Let us break for lunch,” Chiron suggested. They all nodded in agreement, especially Hades who smirked at the idea he got away with only reading one very short chapter. The group left the throne room and headed to the dining hall.

 

Nobody wanted to delay the reading for too long, so they ate quite quickly. Apollo and Poseidon were still fussing over Percy, checking him for any injuries. Hestia was doing the same for Hera, though no physical wounds ever showed on her body. It was purely in her mind.

 

The sea crew kept taking turns to make sure Percy’s plate was full, while Percy kept shoving some off his food off to Apollo, knowing there was no way even he could physically eat all the food his family were giving him. Apollo let him, watching this all going on with an amused smile. He kept an eye out for how much Percy was eating, to make sure he wasn’t passing off too much food, but otherwise he easily accepted the offerings. Especially as he knew Percy’s feelings about sharing food most of the time.

 

Artemis, Grover, Rachel and Reyna were all sitting with them. Rachel and Reyna were having an animated discussion, but Rachel kept glancing anxiously over at Percy, as if to check he was still here and hadn’t been whisked off to Tartarus. Artemis was chatting to her brother and Percy.

 

Nico watched the easy affection between Percy and Apollo. His crush on Percy had well and truly faded, but he couldn’t help but be slightly jealous. He was still struggling with the fact that Percy liked guys too, not to mention the fact that nobody in the room seemed to care. The only thing bothering anyone was the fact that Apollo was a god and Percy was a minor. Which had clearly been solved with some boundaries, and an overprotective Poseidon watching their every move. But the fact that not a single person seemed to care that they were together, stunned him, even after several days of seeing it.

 

Nico supposed it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the gods were ok with it, given the fact that in the stories they didn’t seem to care. His shame and self-loathing had lessened over the time spent in this room and seeing such a relationship accepted. But that didn’t stop him from instinctually hiding his own relationship with Will. Sure, they frequently held hands during the reading, but it had only been since they read about him being in danger and could be explained away. Only his dad, Apollo and Percy knew for certain what was going on. Unless Will had told Michael. Part of him hoped not. But he also trusted Michael not to say anything to anyone else, and he couldn’t deny Will be able to talk to his brother.

 

“You ok?” Will asked. He had noticed Nico staring at Percy and felt his own bit of jealousy. He knew Nico had had a crush on Percy. Pretty much everyone at Camp had at one point or another, it wasn’t a surprise. Honestly, the amount of people who got sent to the infirmary because they got distracted watching Percy during swords practice was getting kind of ridiculous. Especially in the last year or so when Percy had finally had a growth spurt, and had put on a bunch of muscle with training so much for the upcoming battle against Kronos. The healers from their cabin had a running bet on the amount of Percy related injuries they would get each week during the summer.

 

“Yeah,” Nico nodded. “Just thinking.”

 

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Will smirked

 

“Well, even if I do, I happen to know a pretty great healer,” Nico smirked back. Will laughed. With that laughter, the slight tension that both of them had been feeling dissipated.

 

As people were slowly making their way back to the throne room, Annabeth drew Connor aside. He didn’t deserve to be waiting longer than necessary. It might have only been a few days since he had declared that he would wait for her, but each day felt like an eternity at the moment.

 

“How are you doing?” Was his first question once they were alone. “I hate hearing about you in Tartarus, I can’t imagine how it must be for you.”

 

“It’s…weird,” She searched for the right word. “It’s horrible and terrifying, but at the same time, it hasn’t happened yet so it’s hard to really comprehend it actually happened in the future,” She tried to explain. It was complicated and weird, but Connor was nodding like he understood.

 

“Well, we will all be here for you if this has to happen, but hopefully we can change it. Nobody wants you or Percy to be stuck down there.”

 

“Yeah,” Annabeth nodded, despite the sneaking suspicion that Percy would be going no matter what. He simply wouldn’t let anyone else take his place. And, despite pushing past her crush on him, she couldn’t imagine letting him go through that without her by his side. Dating or not, they had still been a team for five years. Someone had to go with him, and Annabeth wouldn’t allow someone to go in her place either. Especially if they were much better prepared than they were in the future. “Anyway, I wanted to talk to you.”

 

“Go ahead,” He gave her an easy smile.

 

“I really appreciate the space you’ve given me to sort my head out. Luke made some bad choices, but I will always love him.” She saw his face fall ever so slightly before he plastered on a smile once more. But this time she could tell it was fake. She wasn’t sure when his face had become so easy to read. “But I love him like my brother. For so long he was all I had left. He was my family when everyone else had left, even if they didn’t have a choice like Thalia. Grover wasn’t around all the time because he was out looking for other demigods. Luke was the only one there. But he was like a big brother. But you…it would be so easy to fall in love with you,” She sighed.

 

It had never been easy with Percy. Every step of their relationship had been like a fight. Which she had to acknowledge was mostly her fault. It had taken her a long time to overcome her dislike of him, both for his mask of stupidity, which she now knew was fake, and their parent’s rivalry. Then she had been conflicted between Percy and Luke which had constantly put a wall between them. And even in the future, once they got past Rachel and that obstacle, Percy had been kidnapped after they had only been together for a few months. It was like every time they tried to take a step forward, it was a huge struggle. But with Connor…it was as easy as breathing. It didn’t hurt that the smile on his face at those words was almost as bright as the sun.

 

Connor couldn’t believe this was happening. When he had offered to wait for Annabeth, he had meant it, but he had never really had high hopes. Between Percy and Luke, he hadn’t expected to truly have a chance. He just wanted her to know someone was there who cared about her. That she had someone who supported her and wouldn’t leave. But he could see in her face that she truly did see Luke as a brother now. And that had been his biggest problem.

 

“That’s awesome,” He grinned delightedly. “I mean, I am dashingly handsome and funny,” He added, not wanting to seem too desperate. Annabeth giggled. Which made him smile once more. Then he slowly reached out and took her hand again, suddenly feeling nervous about doing so while not in the reading. Thankfully she let him. Together they headed back into the throne room, both smiling shyly.

 

Everyone resumed their previous seats and Hestia picked up the book. She turned to the correct page.

Chapter Text

Frank woke up as a python, which confused him.

 

“What? Does that happen often?” Leo asked.

 

“No idea,” Frank shrugged. “I didn’t even know about shapeshifting until now, and I still haven’t exactly mastered it.”

 

“And we haven’t had Frank’s point of view since he discovered his powers really,” Hazel frowned.

 

“It could have stayed that way,” Frank grumbled.

 

Changing into an animal wasn’t confusing. He did that all the time.

 

They all chuckled a little at that. It said all the time, but he’d only been doing it for the last month or so compared to the vast majority of his life.

 

“You’ve certainly learnt that ability very well in a short space of time,” Ares complimented his son. Frank turned a little red at the praise.

 

But he had never changed from one animal to another in his sleep before. He was pretty sure he hadn’t dozed off as a snake. Usually, he slept like a dog.

 

“Literally?” Percy asked with a grin. Frank shrugged.

 

He’d discovered that he got through the night much better if he curled up on his bunk…The constant screaming in his head almost disappeared.

 

“Wait. What? Constant screaming? That doesn’t sound good,” Leo frowned.

 

“Don’t tell me Frank’s been possessed unknowingly by something?” Michael groaned.

 

“Probably not,” Hades shook his head.

 

He had no idea why he’d become a reticulated python, but it did explain his dream about slowly swallowing a cow. His jaw was still sore.

 

Frank grimaced as a few people chuckled despite their concern.

 

He braced himself and changed back to human form…The voice of Ares shouted back: Kill the Romans! Blood and death! Large guns!

 

“Oh great,” Frank groaned.

 

“I wonder why you have both of your dad’s personalities in your head?” Hephaestus grunted in surprise.

 

“They are quite different, but Annabeth didn’t have two Athena voices in her head,” Thalia pointed out.

 

“Nobody else on the ship, that we’ve heard from so far, has had their parents in their heads,” Beckendorf said.

 

“I’m just that lucky,” Frank deadpanned.

 

His father’s Roman and Greek personalities screamed back and forth in Frank’s mind…roaring jet engines—all throbbing like a subwoofer behind Frank’s eyes.

 

“That sucks,” Percy winced.

 

“And that has to be pretty distracting,” Clarisse pointed out. “Especially in battle, hearing two different battles going on, one in your head and one in front of you.”

 

He sat up on his berth, dizzy with pain. As he did every morning…As soon as the fighting broke out at Camp Jupiter, the war god’s two voices had started screaming nonstop.

 

“Oh gods,” Hazel gasped. “Since all the way back then?”

 

“Wow man, I’m even more sorry for all the teasing,” Leo winced. He was really impressed Frank hadn’t been way snappier to him given all of his crap if he had to deal with that in his head all the time.

 

“You didn’t know,” Frank shrugged.

 

Ever since, Frank had been stumbling around in a daze, barely able to function. He’d acted like a fool, and he was sure his friends thought he’d lost his marbles.

 

“Hey, you didn’t act like a fool,” Percy frowned. “You did great at the aquarium, and with Chrysaor’s men. And you did all that with two of him,” He gestured at the war god. “Screaming in your head. That’s impressive.”

 

“Very impressive,” Clarisse agreed. She knew what it was like to have their father yelling at you. Even if this wasn’t directed at Frank himself, it had to be terribly distracting.

 

He couldn’t tell them what was wrong. There was nothing they could do…have the same problem with their godly parents yelling in their ears.

 

“Nope,” Annabeth shook her head.

 

“Which begs the question of why Frank does,” Michael frowned.

 

Just Frank’s luck, but he had to pull it together. His friends needed him…While Ares screamed that Athena’s children couldn’t be trusted,

 

“Excuse me?” Athena looked offended.

 

“Shouldn’t Mars be the one saying that?” Reyna wondered.

 

“You’d think so,” Katie nodded.

 

“Well, it sounds like Athena’s kids have started most of the wars between the two groups. Maybe he means in from Frank’s perspective, that as a Roman he can’t trust a child of Athena,” Jason suggested, shooting Annabeth an apologetic look. She scowled at the reminder of how much blood was on the hands of her siblings but waved away Jason’s silent apology. He only spoke the truth after all.

 

and Mars bellowed at him to kill all the Greeks, Frank had grown to respect Annabeth.

 

The two smiled at each other.

 

Now that they were without her, Frank was the next best thing the group had to a military strategist. They would need him for the trip ahead.

 

“I’m sure you’ll do great, even with that setback,” Leo assured him.

 

He rose and got dressed. Fortunately he’d managed to buy some new clothes in Siena a couple of days ago, replacing the laundry that Leo had sent flying away on Buford the table. (Long story.)

 

Leo grimaced at that reminder.

 

He tugged on some Levi’s and an army-green T-shirt, then reached for his favorite pullover…But he trusted Hazel more than he trusted himself.

 

“It’s true,” Frank agreed with his own thoughts.

 

Hazel smiled.

 

Knowing she was safeguarding his big weakness made him feel better…He never would’ve known about the quiver’s camouflage power if Leo hadn’t figured it out for him.

 

“That’s cool,” Frank smiled.

 

“Glad to be of service,” Leo grinned at him. For a change he added in his mind.

 

Leo! Mars raged. He must die!...Throttle everyone! Who are we talking about again?

 

Ares grimaced.

 

“Wow, I feel bad for you,” Percy winced.

 

“I’d take that over your situation,” Frank replied. Percy shrugged like he wasn’t convinced about this. Frank raised an eyebrow but received no further response.

 

The two began shouting at each other again, over the sound of bombs exploding…Leo made things harder by constantly teasing Frank, and Ares demanded that Frank retaliate for every insult.

 

Clarisse was nodding slightly at that. If anyone had spoken to her like Leo had to Frank, she would have pulverized them, same team or not. And she knew she wasn’t always the nicest person, but some of Leo’s comments had crossed a line, especially to a virtual stranger.

 

Leo winced once more. “Thanks, man. I really am sorry,” He said.

 

“It was the eidolons that started the war, not you,” Frank shrugged. He didn’t comment on the insults. For one, this Leo wasn’t like that, but he couldn’t deny them either. It had been irritating to listen to.

 

Frank kept the voices at bay, but it wasn’t easy…Jason or Percy, he’d said, but am I worth, like, two or three Franks?

 

Leo winced yet again, wishing he could slap his future-self in the face for that one. It had been completely uncalled for. And worse, most likely came from his own insecurity and kind of gross crush on Hazel. Since when had he become someone who put other people down to make himself feel better? He’d always hated the people who did that, and usually pranked them in revenge. “Jeez, I’m sorry man,” Leo muttered.

 

“It’s ok,” Frank waved away the apology. “You didn’t say anything like that in here.”

 

Just another one of Leo’s stupid jokes, but the comment hit a little too close to home. On the Argo II, Frank definitely felt like the LVP—Least Valuable Player.

 

“That’s not true. We’ve all helped out on the quest,” Hazel reminded him.

 

“I know,” He smiled.

 

Sure, he could turn into animals. So what? His biggest claim to helpfulness…Frank was better known for the Giant Goldfish Fiasco in Atlanta,

 

“That has become a lot more understandable now we know about having voices in your head,” Percy pointed out. “You’d only known about your powers for a few days by then, and you only had a few seconds to react.”

 

“Yeah. Besides, you still helped out. I doubt it would have gone well if Percy had had to deal with Coach Hedge all by himself,” Piper stated. Percy grimaced at that idea.

 

and, just yesterday, for turning into a two-hundred-kilo gorilla only to get knocked senseless by a flash-bang grenade.

 

Frank winced.

“Considering how good Leo is at making explosions, I’m not surprised his grenade knocked you out,” Piper laughed.

 

“I told you that was an accident!” Leo protested.

 

“What?” Travis asked interestedly.

 

“Nothing,” Leo denied.

 

“Leo was trying to play a prank at school and made our classroom speakers explode, setting the classroom on fire,” Piper smirked. Leo shot her a look that clearly said ‘traitor’, while Percy and the Stolls were rolling around laughing at that. Most of the other demigods were looking amused.

 

“Eh, Percy dumped his entire class into a pool full of sharks,” Apollo said in amusement. “A little explosion is nothing.” Percy pouted at him.

 

“How did you make the speakers explode?” Connor wanted to know.

 

“I was trying to make the speakers in the classroom do the same thing I did to Coach’s megaphone, but I got distracted and got two wires mixed up,” Leo admitted.

 

“It happens to us all at least one,” Travis said in a commiserating tone. “As long as you learn from it, which you clearly did as you got the prank on the megaphone right.” Leo smiled gratefully at him.

 

Leo hadn’t made any gorilla jokes at his expense yet. But it was only a matter of time.

 

“My future-self is getting better,” Leo protested half-heartedly.

 

Kill him!...punching each other inside Frank’s head, using his sinuses as a wrestling mat.

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

Blood! Guns!...annoying screaming mini-gods under control. Maybe today would be a good day.

 

“Well, not now you’ve said that,” Connor shook his head.

 

“I really should know better,” Frank agreed glumly.

 

That hope was shattered as soon as he climbed above deck.

 

Everyone sighed.

 

“I wonder what fresh hell this will bring,” Will grimaced.

 

“The dwarves weren’t so bad,” Travis snickered. The Romans all scowled at that.

 

“What are they?” Hazel asked…stare at the dozens of weird shaggy monsters milling through the crowds.

 

“Well, it doesn’t sound like they are causing any panic,” Katie noted.

 

“Yeah, even if the mortals can’t see they are monsters, they would notice if they were attacking,” Thalia agreed.

 

Each monster was about the size of a cow, with a bowed back like a broken-down horse…Their overgrown gray manes completely covered their eyes.

 

“Those sound like katoblepones,” Artemis noted with a frown of confusion. “They shouldn’t be in Italy.”

 

“I think that’s the least weird thing so far,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“What exactly are the cat…ket…those things?” Leo asked.

 

“Monsters from Africa originally that have poisonous gazes, and poison breath,” Apollo said.

 

“They sound lovely,” Jason muttered sarcastically.

 

Frank watched as one of the creatures lumbered across the promenade…Then the monster’s appearance flickered. For a moment it turned into an old, fat beagle.

 

Everyone snorted in amusement, well used to the Mist and its weird disguises.

 

Jason grunted. “The mortals think they’re stray dogs.”…The last thing they needed on this quest was paparazzi taking pictures of all Frank’s epic fails.

 

Everyone winced at that idea.

 

“That would be the last thing any of us need,” Piper muttered.

 

“But what are they?” he asked, repeating Hazel’s question…“Maybe they’re harmless,” Leo suggested. “They’re ignoring the mortals.”

 

“Certainly not harmless,” Chris shook his head.

 

“Don’t provoke them and you should be alright,” Hermes said.

 

“Harmless!” Gleeson Hedge laughed. The satyr wore his usual gym shorts…We should just aim the ballistae and see what happens!”

 

“No!” Everyone yelled.

 

“Ya know, for a guy who is supposed to be a protector he really doesn’t seem to care about mortals being collateral damage,” Frank pointed out grimly.

 

“And even if you didn’t hurt anyone, that would draw far too much attention to you guys,” Grover agreed, with a despairing head shake.

 

“I think it might be time to retire Gleeson altogether,” Chiron sighed. Clarisse frowned, but she couldn’t deny he had been as much of a hinderance as he had been a help on this trip.

 

“He did protect Jason, Piper and Leo in the first place,” She pointed out.

 

“Yeah, that is true. Maybe we can pull him back and put him in charge of training younger satyrs or something,” Grover suggested. “Just in nature magic, no combat,” He added hurriedly. He didn’t need Gleeson teach a bunch of young satyrs how to be as bloodthirsty as him. Chiron seemed to consider this but gave no verbal response.

 

“Uh, no,” Leo said…Frank said, hating the idea already. “It’s the only way we’re going to track down the owner of that book.”

 

They all nodded. No need to provoke them. Or start a panic.

 

Leo pulled the leather-bound manual from underneath his arm…Hazel might have been the one who came back from the dead, but Nico was way more ghostlike.

 

“He does spend a lot of time with ghosts,” Percy shrugged. “Although I’m sure he practices how to move that quietly to freak people out,” He added with a grin in Nico’s direction. Nico smirked.

 

“Maybe.” He wasn’t going to tell them he’d had to develop the ability to move silently during the last few months where he had spent a lot of time spying on the titans. That would just make Will, Percy and his dad worry unnecessarily.

 

“You speak Italian?” Frank asked…Lots of venti in that storm last night. If they decide to attack the ship again…”

 

“Yeah. Jason is the one who will be able to hit them easily,” Annabeth nodded.

 

“Nico knows Venice better than anyone else. Plus, he knows Italian, so he should go,” Percy said. Nico grimaced.

 

“Well, it’s from Frank’s point of view, so I’m guessing he goes. Which means Hazel is the most likely third person,” Piper said. Hazel nodded.

 

He didn’t need to finish. They’d all had experiences with angry wind spirits…forget it. I don’t like boring expeditions.”

 

“Good luck, Jason,” Reyna muttered. Jason grimaced.

 

“It’s okay, Coach.” Leo grinned. “We still have to repair the foremast. Then I need your help in the engine room. I’ve got an idea for a new installation.”

 

“Hopefully that will keep him busy and away from blowing up tourists,” Beckendorf said.

 

Frank didn’t like the gleam in Leo’s eye. Since Leo had found that Archimedes sphere…Frank figured there was a story behind that comment, but he decided not to ask.

 

“What’s the story?” Silena asked in amusement as Piper turned red.

 

“Nothing,” She denied. Nobody was convinced.

 

“I’ll go,” he said…The war gods’ voices rose to a crescendo in his head: Kill him! Graecus scum!

 

Frank grimaced. So far, none of these books were endearing his father to him.

 

No! I love Graecus scum!...“Lots of death. Restless spirits. If I go, I may be able to keep them at bay. Besides, as you noticed, I speak Italian.”

 

“All good reasons for you to go,” Will nodded approvingly.

 

Leo scratched his head. “Lots of death, huh? Personally, I’m trying to avoid lots of death, but you guys have fun!”

 

“You’ve already said you’re needed for installing something,” Beckendorf pointed out.

 

“Which only leaves Hazel,” Percy smiled.

 

“I’m good with horses, I’m not sure about cows,” Hazel frowned.

 

“I’m sure you’ll do great,” Nico smiled at her.

 

Frank wasn’t sure what scared him more: shaggy-cow monsters, hordes of restless ghosts, or going somewhere alone with Nico di Angelo.

 

Nico frowned unhappily.

 

“I’ll go too.” Hazel slipped her arm through Frank…But he glanced at Hazel and told her with his eyes: Thank you thank you thank you.

 

Now Nico and Hazel were both frowning. Frank grimaced. Having his thoughts read out sucked.

 

“Sorry,” He muttered. Nico just shrugged while Will wrapped an arm around Nico’s shoulders, only just resisting the urge to glare at Frank. It wasn’t his fault what he said in the safety of his own mind, but he still hated how everyone on that ship, except Hazel, seemed to be so disturbed by Nico. Especially considering he’d only just come out of Tartarus and being slowly suffocated to death. Nobody would look too great after that.

 

Nico stared at the canals, as if wondering what new and interesting forms of evil spirits might be lurking there. “All right, then. Let’s go find the owner of that book.”

 

“The chapter is finished,” Hestia announced.

 

“My turn then,” Rachel said. The goddess handed her the book.

Chapter Text

Frank might have liked Venice if it hadn’t been summertime and tourist season…The monster sucked it up happily and shambled along.

 

“Let’s hope they keep it to plants only,” Travis muttered.

 

“Well, they’re plant-eaters,” Frank said. “That’s good news.”…“Unless they supplement their diet with demigods. Let’s hope not.”

 

“No, why would you say that?” Chris groaned at Hazel.

 

“You just jinxed it,” Connor agreed. Hazel flushed but rolled her eyes at their antics.

 

Frank was so pleased to be holding her hand, the crowds and the heat…Frank would gladly turn into a rhinoceros and push them into the canal.

 

Frank blushed, but Hazel smiled at him.

 

Could he do a rhino? Frank had never tried that before.

 

“If you can do a dragon, I’m guessing you can do a rhino,” Michael laughed.

 

“True,” Frank nodded. Still, he would add it to his list of animals to try out.

 

Nico stopped. “There.”…as if the mortals could sense it wasn’t safe.

 

“That’s encouraging,” Leo muttered.

 

“Nothing about any of this is encouraging,” Frank grumbled.

 

“This whole quest isn’t encouraging,” Percy agreed.

 

In the middle of the cobblestone courtyard…one of the town houses was painted black—the only black building Frank had seen so far in Venice.

 

“I don’t think he had better eyesight, he just has a specific radar for all things black,” Will laughed. Nico glared him.

 

“La Casa Nera,” he guessed…most of which were covered with wooden shutters. “You’re right, Hazel. This neighborhood is filled with lemures.”

 

“Lemurs?” Rachel frowned.

 

“No,” Hades shook his head.

 

“Lemures. Angry ghosts,” Nico explained.

 

“Wonderful,” Frank grimaced.

 

“Lemurs?” Frank asked nervously. “I’m guessing you don’t mean the furry little guys from Madagascar?”

 

Rachel and Frank exchanged grins.

 

“Angry ghosts,” Nico said. “Lemures go back to Roman times…He hesitated. “She used to tell me stories about the ghosts of Venice.”

 

Nico frowned at the mention of his mother. He’d been uneasy since he’d heard the group would be going to visit Venice. Just thinking about it made him miss Bianca.

 

Hades sighed and gazed sadly at his son. He missed both Maria and Bianca.

 

Again Frank wondered about Nico’s past, but he was afraid to ask…Nico needs practice talking to people.

 

“No, I don’t,” Nico protested.

 

“Ok, practice talking to live people,” Will chuckled. Nico rolled his eyes. What was he supposed to think, one on hand, Frank was trying? But on the other, he was only trying for Hazel and secretly found Nico to be creepy. Both Leo and Frank had stated in this book they thought him creepy and weird. Maybe it was just some lingering sense of Tartarus on him, but probably not. Frank was only making an effort because of Hazel, not because he liked Nico. “Hey,” Will said in Italian, having guessed where Nico’s thoughts had gone. “When we first had Frank’s point of view a couple of books back, he didn’t mind you. He thought being a child of the Underworld was kind of cool and he wasn’t afraid like most people. He’s only seemed to feel this was since you came back from Tartarus.” He continued, making sure only Michael could understand what they were saying.

 

Maybe, but maybe he’s just spent more time with me now and realises he was wrong,” Nico replied sullenly.

 

I don’t think so,” Will shrugged. He squeezed Nico’s hand. They could discuss this later.

 

The sounds of assault rifles and atom bombs got louder in Frank’s head. Mars and Ares were trying to out sing each other with “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

 

“Oh, you poor thing,” Apollo winced. “Ares’ singing really isn’t any good.”

 

“My singing is perfectly fine,” Ares glared at him.

 

“As the god of music, I tell you it really isn’t,” Apollo shook his head. Ares scowled.

 

“You’re also the god of poetry and we know how that worked out,” He muttered. Now it was Apollo’s turn to scowl.

 

Frank did his best to push that aside…Frank tried to think of a response. Oh, that’s nice didn’t seem to cut it.

 

Nico smirked slightly at that.

 

He was hanging out with not one but two demigods who’d been pulled out of time…He had a hard time imagining Nico di Angelo acting out of love for anybody, except maybe Hazel.

 

Nico frowned.

 

“Er, I don’t now,” Frank said awkwardly. He’d spent quite a bit of time with Nico since they had been here, due to Hazel, as well as his blossoming friendship with Michael, and so Will and Nico by extension. Nico just nodded.

 

But Frank decided he’d gone as far as he dared with the personal questions…Halfway across the piazza, everything went wrong; but it had nothing to do with ghosts.

 

“Of course it did,” Jason groaned.

 

“At least it’s not the angry ghosts?” Dakota offered.

 

They were skirting the well in the middle of the square, trying to give the cow monsters…the way he felt when he ate too much cheese or ice cream.

 

“And that’s the poison gaze,” Apollo muttered.

 

The creatures made deep throbbing sounds in their throats like angry foghorns…spiky plant tendrils were pushing up from the cracks.

 

“Ah, you’re standing on their food,” Katie winced.

 

“Better move quickly,” Rachel advised.

 

Nico stepped back. The roots snaked out in his direction, trying to follow…“Don’t meet their eyes,” Frank warned.

 

“At least you found that out without getting the full blast,” Thalia said.

 

“I’ll distract them. You two back up slowly toward that black house.”…Frank could not turn into a rhino, and he lost valuable time trying.

 

“What? Why not?” Frank frowned.

 

“Well, ewe know you need to concentrate for that, and you’re under a time limit with two war gods yelling in your head,” Clarisse pointed out.

 

Nico and Hazel bolted for the side street. Frank stepped in front of the monsters…but with Ares and Mars screaming in his head, he couldn’t concentrate.

 

“That sucks,” Percy grimaced.

 

“Yeah, why did I have to get stuck with both versions of my dad arguing?” Frank complained. Now he really wished Apollo was his dad.

 

“I do wonder why they are in your head as nobody else seems to struggle,” Reyna frowned. Everyone shrugged.

 

He remained regular-old Frank…The next instant, Frank was a full-grown lion.

 

“Nice,” Percy grinned.

 

He roared in challenge, then sprang from the middle of the monster herd…then sank his fangs into the third one’s throat and tossed it aside.

 

“Go Frank,” Michael cheered.

 

“Good job,” Clarisse nodded.

 

There were seven left, plus the two chasing his friends. Not great odds…He pressed his advantage and leaped off the well, still baring his fangs. The herd backed off.

 

“Let’s hope you gave the other two time to get to safety,” Will muttered.

 

If he could just maneuver around them, then turn and run after his friends…He staggered back, half-blind and dizzy, dimly aware of Nico screaming his name.

 

“Not good,” Apollo grimaced.

 

“Oh gods,” Hazel muttered anxiously. “Frank!”

 

“I’m sure I’ll be ok,” He shrugged, trying to reassure her.

 

“Frank! Frank!”…two puddles of darkness stained the pavement—no doubt the remains of the cow monsters that had chased them.

 

“Nice Nico,” Thalia grinned.

 

And Hazel…she was propped against the wall behind her brother. She wasn’t moving.

 

“Hazel!” Frank cried out.

 

“She must have been blasted too,” Nico said, looking guilty.

 

“I’m sure it wasn’t your fault. I’m the one who tripped and cause all this anyway,” Hazel reminded him gently. “And you killed two coming after us.” Nico didn’t look convinced.

 

Frank ran toward them, forgetting about the monster herd. He rushed past Nico…Nico said miserably. “I—I wasn’t fast enough.”

 

“You did what you could,” Will told him as Nico winced.

 

“I’m sorry,” He glanced at his sister who waved away his apology.

 

Frank couldn’t tell if she was breathing. Rage and despair battled inside him. He’d always been scared of Nico. Now he wanted to drop-kick the son of Hades into the nearest canal.

 

“Hey!” Percy glared at Frank.

 

“It’s probably the war gods influencing him,” Michael defended Frank.

 

Maybe that wasn’t fair, but Frank didn’t care. Neither did the war gods screaming in his head.

 

“Sorry,” Percy apologized.

 

“It’s fine. It was unfair anyway, it wasn’t Nico’s fault,” Frank acknowledged.

 

“We need to get her back to the ship,” Frank said…Don’t worry about me. Get her back to the Argo II!”

 

“No, don’t leave Nico behind,” Will scowled.

 

“Hazel needs a cure,” Gwen pointed out.

 

“Which they probably don’t have on board,” Katie said.

 

“They have Gleeson,” Grover reminded them. “He might be bloodthirsty, but he’s still a satyr who knows healing magic.”

 

With his face burning and the voices screaming in his mind…Probably he wasn’t even human.

 

“If he cures Hazel then who cares,” Nico shrugged.

 

“Besides, you were supposed to be looking for a god weren’t you?” Reyna frowned. “And you were in the right area.”

 

At the moment, Frank didn’t care…I think you’ve angered every katobleps in Venice.”

 

“That sounds about right,” Frank grimaced.

 

“Done,” Rachel announced.

 

“My turn then,” Chiron said. She handed him the book.

Chapter Text

They barely made it inside. As soon as their host threw the bolts, the cow monsters bellowed and slammed into the door, making it shudder on its hinges.

 

“Well, at least you did make it,” Will muttered.

 

“Let’s hope they get bored and leave now,” Leo said.

 

“Oh, they can’t get in,” the man in denim promised. “You’re safe now!”…Her lips had taken on a greenish tinge—or was that just Frank’s blurry vision?

 

“Those are both bad options, because your vision is blurry because of the same poison,” Dakota frowned.

 

“Well, hopefully this guy can cure the poison,” Apollo said.

 

“At what cost?” Hazel asked darkly.

 

“If it saves your life, we’ll work out a way to pay the price,” Frank promised.

 

His eyes still burned from the monster’s breath. His lungs felt like he’d inhaled a flaming cabbage.

 

“That’s…an interesting description,” Gwen laughed.

 

He didn’t know why the gas had affected him less than it had Hazel. Maybe she’d gotten more of it in her lungs. He would have given anything to change places if it meant saving her.

 

“We have no way of knowing how big a hit Hazel got,” Percy frowned. Hazel looked at Frank in surprise. He shrugged self-consciously.

 

“It could also be that you were in animal form when you got hit. That might have helped,” Clarisse suggested.

 

The voices of Mars and Ares yelled in his head, urging him to kill Nico and the man in denim and anyone else he could find, but Frank forced down the noise.

 

“Wow, do I not envy you,” Clarisse winced.

 

“I don’t envy me either,” Frank said gloomily.

 

“I still want to know why Frank is suffering like this and the others aren’t. There must be more people with both Greek and Roman blood. And there are gods that must be suffering more than Ares, like Athena,” Katie frowned.

 

“But Ares is probably being called on by both camps, considering they are at war, and he is the god of war. The Romans wouldn’t call on Athena for war,” Chris reminded her.

 

“But we’d call on other gods, like dad and Apollo. Jason isn’t suffering like Frank,” Thalia pointed out. Everyone shrugged. They still had no more ideas than they did the first time this came up.

 

The house’s front room was some sort of greenhouse…Wrapped around the rim of the left wheel, a spotted python snored loudly.

 

“One python? Normally Trip has two,” Demeter frowned.

 

“Weird that Frank woke up as a python, having probably gone to bed as a dog, and now they have to deal with a guy who has pythons,” Percy frowned. “Or, a python,” He added.

 

“Yeah, maybe some of his dreams were prophetic or something,” Michael suggested.

 

Frank hadn’t known that pythons could snore. He hoped he hadn’t done that himself in python form last night.

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

“Set your friend here,” said the man in denim…Her complexion definitely had a greenish tint.

 

Everyone glanced at Hazel in concern.

 

“What were those cow things?” Frank demanded. “What did they do to her?”…Frank glared at him. “Now you remember?”

 

“Sorry,” Nico winced.

 

“Hey, it probably wouldn’t have helped much,” Will tried to reassure him. “Even knowing they had poison breath and poison gaze doesn’t mean you would have been able to avoid both. You needed to stop in Venice.”

 

“That’s true. It might have helped to avoid the gaze, but not the breath,” Leo nodded.

 

Nico hung his head almost as low as a katobleps. “I, uh…used to play this stupid card game when I was younger. Mythomagic. The katobleps was one of the monster cards.”

 

Nico blushed.

 

Frank blinked. “I played Mythomagic. I never saw that card.”…Their host cleared his throat. “Are you two done, ah, geeking out, as they say?”

 

Nico blushed even deeper, and Frank joined him.

 

“Right, sorry,” Nico muttered. “Anyway, katoblepones have poison breath and a poison gaze…were accidentally imported to Venice hundreds of years ago. You’ve heard of Saint Mark?”

 

“Accidentally imported?” Travis asked bemused. “How did they get Africa and Venice mixed up?” Everyone turned to look at Hermes who now also turned red.

 

“Not ever shipping mistake is my fault.”

 

“No, but it is usually,” Apollo smirked.

 

“Besides, a shipment of monsters? There is no way you didn’t notice,” Artemis rolled her eyes.

 

“It was a busy period,” Hermes defended himself.

 

Frank wanted to scream with frustration. He didn’t see how any of this was relevant…They smuggled out his body in a barrel of pickled pig parts.”

 

“Gross,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

“That’s…disgusting,” Frank said…The Venetians unintentionally smuggled something else out of Egypt—the katoblepones.

 

“See? The Venetians did it. Not my fault,” Hermes pointed out.

 

“You didn’t fix the issue. They were smuggling monsters and you failed to notice,” Zeus reminded his son. Hermes blushed even more.

 

They came here aboard that ship and have been breeding like rats ever since…“Possibly?” Frank had to use all his willpower not to throttle the guy.

 

“What does he mean possibly?” Frank scowled.

 

“He had better heal her,” Hades growled.

 

“He’s certainly capable,” Demeter stated.

 

He put his hand under Hazel’s nose. He couldn’t feel her breath…Her dad is technically Pluto, not Hades, so—”

 

“Possibly. Pluto is still the god of death, although most of Hazel’s powers do seem to be riches related,” Reyna frowned.

 

“Let’s hope we don’t need to find out,” Hazel muttered. Nico and Frank nodded in agreement.

 

“Hades!” cried their host. He backed away, staring at Nico with distaste. “So that’s what I smell. Children of the Underworld? If I’d known that, I would never have let you in!”

 

“Rude!” All the demigods yelled, except Nico, who looked both angry and resigned.

 

“He would let Hazel die just because she’s a child of the Underworld?” Percy growled.

 

“We aren’t exactly liked,” Nico shrugged.

 

“And he got his powers from Demeter,” Hades growled. “So he wouldn’t help any children of mine.”

 

Frank rose. “Hazel’s a good person. You promised you would help her!”…“I don’t know who you are, but if you can cure her, you have to, or so help me by the River Styx—”

 

“You tell him Nico!” Leo cheered. Nico looked at him in surprise.

 

“Oh, blah, blah, blah!” The man waved his hand. Suddenly where Nico di Angelo…tufts of silk, and half a dozen ripe yellow ears of corn.

 

“He turned Nico into corn?” Frank gaped. Nico and Hades both scowled, while Demeter snickered. Hades glowered at her.

 

“There,” the man huffed, wagging his finger at the corn plant. “Children of Hades can’t order me around! You should talk less and listen more. Now at least you have ears.”

 

Nico’s scowl deepened.

 

“I don’t like this guy,” Percy scowled.

 

“But I’m guessing they need his help, and not just for curing Hazel,” Travis scowled. “So Frank can’t kill him.”

 

Frank stumbled against the bed. “What did you—why—?”…something better than a corn plant. Sorghum? Sorghum is very nice.”

 

“No!” Frank yelped. He could recall the book describing the trip to Alaska, and Hazel being kidnapped by all the plants.

 

“No sorghum,” Hazel agreed.

 

“Wait!” Frank pleaded. “We’re here on a friendly mission. We brought a gift.”…So could you maybe, you know, turn Nico back to normal and heal Hazel?”

 

“Oh, you shouldn’t have handed it over until he agreed to that,” Connor shook his head.

 

“Frank might not have had a lot of choice. Trip is a god,” Chris pointed out.

 

“Hmm?” Trip looked up from his book. He’d been happily reciting lines to himself…After all, I owe my godly powers to Demeter!”

 

Hazel, Nico and Frank all glowered at Demeter. Katie winced, looking ashamed.

 

Frank racked his brain, but it was hard with the voices screaming in his head…“Persephone,” Trip corrected. “I prefer the Greek, if you don’t mind.”

 

“You’re about to let Hazel die and Nico stay as a corn plant! I don’t care about your preferences,” Frank snarled.

 

Kill him! Mars screamed.

 

“Do it,” Hades drawled. Demeter glowered at him, he just stared back angrily.

 

I love this guy! Ares yelled back. Kill him anyway!...Later, Demeter rewarded me by making me a god of farming!”

 

“Some reward,” Percy snorted.


“It is a great honour,” Demeter glared at him. Percy looked back, unimpressed.

 

“Wow,” Frank said. “Farming. Congratulations.”…the chariot beating its wings and bouncing up and down like a defective merry-go-round.

 

“Serves him right,” Nico scowled.

 

“You see?” he said as he spun. “No good! Ever since I lost my right python, I haven’t been able to spread the word about farming—at least not in person.

 

“The horror,” Hades rolled his eyes.

 

“It is a true horror,” Demeter looked quite upset by that.

 

Now I have to resort to giving online courses.”…“In just six weeks, you can get your bachelor’s degree in the exciting and vibrant career of the future—farming!”

 

“Six weeks?” Beckendorf raised an eyebrow. “That’s quick.”

 

Frank felt a bead of sweat trickle down his cheek…We can beat swords into plowshares and have so much fun!”

 

“Not going to happen,” Hazel scowled.

 

“If it saves your life…” Frank trailed off.

 

“No. You’ll find another way. I have faith,” Hazel smiled at him.

 

“Actually…” Frank tried frantically to come up with a plan…Frank refused to believe he’d been chosen by the Fates to go on this quest just so he could take online courses in turnip cultivation.

 

Hazel, Percy, Michael and Leo all nodded in agreement.

 

Frank’s eyes wandered to the broken chariot. “I have a better offer,”…He could barely change the batteries in a TV remote. He couldn’t fix a magical chariot!

 

“You don’t need to actually fix it. You need to find another snake,” Beckendorf said thoughtfully.

 

“It couldn’t be a normal snake though,” Leo frowned.

 

“I’m sure he can find a way,” Michael smiled.

 

But something told him it was his only chance. That chariot was the one thing Triptolemus…The color drained from Trip’s face. “Hecate?”

 

“I think ‘one of her favourites’ might be a bit of an overstatement,” Hazel frowned.

 

“She has appeared to you and helped you out,” Aphrodite said. “You might be one of her favourites outside of her own children.”

 

Frank hoped he wasn’t overstating things. He didn’t need Hecate mad at him too…Very well, son of Mars. Go find a way to fix my chariot. If you succeed, I will do all you ask. If not—”

 

“Nicely done,” Piper smiled.

 

“Now I just need to find a snake,” Frank grimaced.

 

“I know,” Frank grumbled. “My friends die.”

 

“Yes,” Trip said cheerfully. “And you’ll make a lovely patch of sorghum!”

 

“Wonderful,” Frank groaned.

 

“The chapter is finished,” Chiron stated.

 

“I’ll read,” Hermes said.

Chapter Text

Frank stumbled out of the Black House. The door shut behind him…He’d left Hazel inside, dying and defenseless, at the mercy of a crazy farmer god.

 

“You had no choice,” Michael assured him. Will fought the urge to point out that he’d also left Nico as a corn plant. He understood why Frank would care more about Hazel as she’s his girlfriend, but he really was getting sick of people’s attitude towards Nico in this book.

 

“Yeah. You need to help the dude or you all die,” Beckendorf said. “Plus, you need his help for something else in your quest.”

 

“Trip isn’t crazy,” Demeter frowned.

 

“He certainly sounds crazy to me,” Percy muttered. “But then, I’m not keen on people who are happy to let two kids die because you don’t like their dad.” He glowered at Demeter who shrugged. She admired Trip’s loyalty to her, and those two children were living proof Hades had cheated on her daughter. He went through all the trouble of kidnapping her, tricking poor Persephone into having to stay with him for half the year, and then doesn’t bother to remain faithful. This reading may have given her a different perspective of demigods, but she would never like Hades’ demigod children.

 

Kill farmers! Ares screamed in his head…They gave Frank a strange look, muttered something in Italian, and kept going.

 

Everyone chuckled slightly.

 

“You know, I wonder if Frank’s issues are to do with him constantly using his shapeshifting power, which comes from Poseidon, a Greek god. It’s a Greek power being used by a Roman demigod. That’s pretty rare, in fact, Frank might well be the only Roman demigod to have such a powerful, active power from a Greek god,” Reyna mused.

 

“That’s possible,” Apollo nodded thoughtfully after a few seconds. “Especially as Mars and Ares will be one of the gods both sides are calling on a lot. And he is quite different in his forms even if his duties aren’t wildly different. It might all add up into one big problem.”

 

“Lucky me,” Frank deadpanned.

 

Frank stared miserably at Hazel’s cavalry sword, lying at his feet next to his backpack. He could run back to the Argo II and get Leo. Maybe Leo could fix the chariot.

 

“I could probably make something to fly it instead of the snake, but it’d take too long,” Leo frowned.

 

“No. It’s something I need to do,” Frank sighed.

 

But Frank somehow knew this wasn’t a problem for Leo…He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life turning the wheel of a farmer’s chariot, but if it meant saving Hazel…

 

“No!” Hazel yelped. “There has to be another way.”

 

“Well, as his dad is yelling in his head all the time, maybe he could make himself useful and conjure a snake for Frank,” Hephaestus grunted.

 

“I doubt he can pull himself together enough for that right now,” Dionysus drawled.

 

“So, Frank does something to get his attention. Killing a bunch of monsters should do it, they want him to kill things after all,” Apollo shrugged.

 

“The only monsters around are the kate…things,” Percy frowned. “And if a single thing goes wrong, Frank will be poisoned too.”

 

“He fought off the poison last time. If anyone can do it, it would probably be Frank,” Reyna said, surprising herself. Even though she had spent several days hearing about Frank coming into his powers and proving himself to be a very worthy demigod, she still couldn’t help but sometimes see him as the clumsy new kid at the Legion.

 

No. There had to be another way…Reluctantly, he opened his mind to the voices of the war god.

 

Frank grimaced.

 

I need a snake, he told them. How?...Like that vile Cadmus, Mars said. We punished him for killing our dragon!

 

Dionysus, Athena and Poseidon all grimaced at the reminder of Cadmus’ fate. Ares and Aphrodite scowled.

 

“Cadmus?” Annabeth frowned. “Oh yeah, I remember, he killed a dragon sacred to Mars and made a to mom. She told him to sow the teeth into the ground and he got those skeleton warriors who helped to build the city of Thebes. Ares turned him into a snake. And then his wife begged to be turned into one too so they could stay together.” Aphrodite smiled. Her lovely Harmonia.

 

“He’s the dude who started those monsters?” Percy grumbled. “I hate those things.”

 

“Technically he’s your nephew. Cadmus was a grandson of Poseidon,” Annabeth told him. Percy pulled a face.

 

“I’ve had worse relations,” Percy sighed.

 

They both started yelling, until Frank thought his brain would split in half…How Ares had ended up with a dragon for a son, Frank didn’t want to know;

 

“It’s always safer not to ask,” Percy told him firmly.

 

“Yeah. Some things are best left unknown,” Beckendorf agreed. Frank nodded.

 

but as punishment for the dragon’s death, Ares turned Cadmus into a snake…You think I would do that for you? Ares roared. You have not proven your worth!

 

“He has killed a giant,” Percy pointed out.

 

“Other than that, I haven’t done a lot. It’s fine,” Frank assured him. He didn’t need Percy getting angry at Ares over something like this. There were enough gods on his bad side already.

 

Only the greatest hero could ask such a boon, Mars said. A hero like Romulus!...I’ll prove I’m as good as Horatius. Uh…what did he do?”

 

“Er, I wouldn’t do the same thing as Horatius,” Reyna winced.

 

“Bad idea,” Dakota agreed.

 

“Why, what did he do?”

 

“Fought a horde of invaders by himself, sacrificing his life so his fellow Romans had time to finish their defenses. He is a true hero, but we can’t afford Frank to be sacrificing his life.” Gwen explained. Thalia shuddered. Annabeth and Jason both moved slightly closer to her.

 

“No, but fighting a horde of monsters single handed, that sounds like he’s going to fight all the monsters in Venice,” Clarisse said.

 

“That should do it,” Ares nodded.

 

“Well, it had better. There aren’t any other options,” Jason stated.

 

Images flooded into Frank’s mind. He saw a lone warrior standing on a stone bridge…sacrificing himself on that bridge to keep the barbarians from crossing the Tiber.

 

Thalia closed her eyes, fighting down another shudder. Annabeth gripped her hand tightly. Thalia’s sacrifice was an image she saw frequently in her nightmares.

 

By giving his fellow Romans time to finish their defenses, he’d saved the Republic…He didn’t know how he would pull it off. The odds of dying were excellent, but he had to try.

 

“Sounds like an average day,” Percy laughed.

 

“Pretty much,” Frank agreed.

 

Hazel’s life depended on him…The plan had three phases: dangerous, really dangerous, and insanely dangerous.

 

“You’ve been spending too much time with Percy,” Annabeth muttered.

 

“Hey, Percy’s plans might be dangerous but at least they work,” Travis pointed out.

 

“Yeah. The most dangerous the more likely to succeed,” Beckendorf agreed. Apollo and Poseidon both winced.

 

“Please don’t encourage him,” Triton muttered.

 

Frank stopped at the old stone well. No katoblepones in sight…through one of his belt loops, trying to ignore the burning and itching in his hands.

 

“You didn’t think to get some gloves?” Leo winced.

 

“Not a lot of time,” Frank shrugged.

 

Soon he had a glowing, stinking lasso of poisonous weeds. Hooray…They were basically grazing animals that happened to be poisonous.

 

Everyone grimaced at that.

 

Hazel is dying because of them, he reminded himself…it roared with outrage and joined the Kill Frank! Parade.

 

“Well, it’s working so far,” Michael nodded.

 

“This is the least dangerous phase,” Nico pointed out.

 

“Let’s just be happy it’s working,” Will said.

 

He turned onto a larger street and pushed through the crowds of tourists. What the mortals saw, he had no idea—a cat being chased by a pack of dogs?

 

“Probably,” Thalia nodded.

 

People cursed at Frank in about twelve different languages…noxious cloud would be enough to melt him into a puddle. The monsters crowded forward and slammed into one another.

 

All the demigods grimaced once more.

 

“Please be careful,” Hazel murmured.

 

Frank yelled, “You want my poison roots? Come and get them!”…The canal was disgusting—smelly and salty and as warm as soup

 

Percy and the sea crew all winced.

 

but Frank forged through it, dodging gondolas and speedboats…yet somehow he found the strength to keep going—which was good. The hardest part was yet to come.

 

“Well, you’re doing awesomely so far,” Connor nodded.

 

“Yeah, go Frank!” Clarisse cheered.

 

He spotted a couple of bridges, but they didn’t look right…the more mortals would get pushed aside, knocked into the water, or trampled.

 

“That would be bad,” Rachel grimaced.

 

Finally Frank saw something that would work. Just ahead, past a big piazza…The bridge was empty of foot traffic. It was perfect.

 

“Good work,” Reyna nodded.

 

Frank dropped like a stone and turned back to human form…He realized he wasn’t just shouting at the monsters. He was venting weeks of fear, rage, and resentment.

 

Frank blushed as everyone eyed him anxiously.

 

“Frank you should talk to one of us about this,” Jason said gently.

 

“Not a lot I can do about it,” Frank shrugged. “And a lot of this won’t be happening the future anyway.”

 

“Still, you shouldn’t let it all bottle up if you do feel this way in the future,” Piper said. Frank shrugged noncommittally.

 

The voices of Mars and Ares screamed right along with him…raking his claws across a katobleps’s snout.

 

“Wow,” Percy whistled.

 

“I’m guessing someone got themselves the blessing of Ares. Or Mars,” Clarisse smiled. Frank stared at her in astonishment.

 

“You think?”

 

“Sounds like it,” She nodded. “It would certainly explain why it sounds like you aren’t taking any damage.”

 

The monsters kicked with their hooves. They breathed noxious gas…But somehow, he stayed on his feet, unharmed, and unleashed a hurricane of violence.

 

“Yep. Definitely under the blessing,” Ares nodded. “You are doing a fine job.” Frank blinked at the praise.

 

He didn’t feel any sort of pleasure in this, but he didn’t hesitate, either…He was actually glowing—surrounded by a rosy aura.

 

Clarisse sighed. It was really rare to get the blessing of their dad. She remembered reading about getting it herself in the Battle of Manhattan, and selfishly hoped that was one thing that didn’t change.

 

He didn’t understand why, but he kept fighting until there was only one monster left...Frank doubted anyone had ever shouted those words before. It was kind of a weird request.

 

“Eh, we get weird requests a lot,” Dionysus shrugged.

 

“Yeah. A snake isn’t that weird,” Apollo agreed.

 

“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked for?” Percy wanted to know.


“Er…tell you later,” Apollo said.

 

He got no answer from the skies. For once, the voices in his head were silent…When Frank’s vision cleared, a mottled brown Burmese python was coiled at his feet.

 

“Thanks,” Frank looked awkwardly at the Greek version of his father.

 

“You earnt it,” Ares smiled at him.

 

“Well done,” said a familiar voice…He felt like sobbing, but he guessed that would not be a good idea in front of Mars.

 

“Nope,” Clarisse winced.

 

“It’s natural to feel fear.” The war god’s voice was surprisingly warm, full of pride...And now you have one. Your bravery has united my forms, Greek and Roman, if only for a moment.

 

“That is one impressive feat,” Aphrodite said.

 

“Great work, Frank,” Michael clapped him on the back.

 

“You were brilliant,” Hazel smiled. Frank grinned proudly.

 

Go. Save your friends. But hear me, Frank. Your greatest test is yet to come…he turned into a giant eagle, snatched up the python in his massive claws, and launched himself into the air.

 

“Oh goodie,” Frank sighed. “Another test ahead.”

 

“I think this whole quest is going to be testing everyone to their limits,” Jason stated grimly. “But your leadership is going to be important apparently. Good to know.” Frank blinked in surprise. His leadership? He still couldn’t get used to the idea of leading anyone, let alone some of the most powerful demigods of their generation.

 

When he glanced back, a miniature mushroom cloud erupted from the middle of the bridge…still alive—green and shivering, barely breathing, but alive. As for Nico, he was still a corn plant.

 

Everyone let out sighs of relief.

 

“Heal them,” Frank said. “Now.”…“Well, thank you for the snake, but I’m not sure I like your tone, demigod. Perhaps I’ll turn you into—”

 

“I really, really don’t like this dude,” Percy scowled.

 

Frank was faster. He lunged at Trip and slammed him into the wall, his fingers locked around the god’s throat.

 

“Go Frank!” All the Greeks cheered.

 

The Romans all looked taken aback. They might be used to Percy’s unique way of dealing with the gods, but for one of their own to do that to a god was a surprise.

 

“Think about your next words,” Frank warned, deadly calm. “Or instead of beating my sword into a plowshare, I will beat it into your head.”

 

“You tell him,” Percy grinned.

 

Triptolemus gulped. “You know…I think I’ll heal your friends.”…“I swear it on the River Styx.”

 

“Nice job,” Jason smiled.

 

“And good work getting him to swear on the Styx,” Nico nodded approvingly.

 

Frank released him. Triptolemus touched his throat, as if making sure it was still there…a pill-sized ball of green goop and jogged to Hazel’s side. He placed the gunk ball under Hazel’s tongue.

 

Hazel grimaced but couldn’t complain if it would save her life.

 

Instantly, she shuddered and sat up, coughing. Her eyes flew open. The greenish tint in her skin disappeared.

 

“Oh, thank goodness,” Frank breathed.

 

“You did it. You got him to save me,” Hazel smiled. “I knew you would manage it.”

 

“I’m glad one of us did,” Frank managed a smile in return.

 

She looked around, bewildered, until she saw Frank. “What—?”…It was as if some of the dragon and lion had stayed with him when he’d turned back to human.

 

Frank looked down at his body in shock.

 

“Er…I’m really glad Hazel is going to be ok, but Nico is still a corn plant,” Will pointed out.

 

“They’ll get round to it. I’ve been turned into stuff before,” Nico shrugged.

 

“Uh…I don’t…Maybe I can fix it.”…Congratulations, blah, blah, blah. Now, if we’re done here…?”

 

“No, you are not done,” Percy scowled.

 

“We wouldn’t let him keep Nico that way,” Hazel assured him.

 

Frank glared at him. “We’re not done. Heal Nico.”…Nico di Angelo appeared in an explosion of corn silk.

 

“Thanks,” Nico said. Frank nodded.

 

Nico looked around in a panic. “I—I had the weirdest nightmare about popcorn.”

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

He frowned at Frank. “Why are you taller?”…The farm god raised his eyes to the ceiling, like, Why me, Demeter?

 

All the demigods glared at the book.

 

“Fine,” Trip said. “When you arrive at Epirus, you will be offered a chalice to drink from.”…“You must drink it, or you’ll never be able to make it through the temple.

 

“Oh wonderful. We have to drink poison,” Piper grimaced.

 

“I’m guessing he knows a cure or something, which is why we needed to see him,” Leo said/

 

The poison connects you to the world of the dead, lets you pass into the lower levels. The secret to surviving is”—his eyes twinkled—“barley.”

 

“Barley?” Hazel frowned.

 

“Not just any old barley,” Demeter shook her head. “To get the best results you should use his barley.”

 

“Which he had better give us,” Nico muttered.

 

Frank stared at him. “Barley.”…“Hecate sent us halfway across Italy so you could tell us to eat barley?”

 

“Well, we know now,” Jason said.

 

“Which is good because I never want to have to deal with that guy,” Frank glowered at the book.

 

“Good luck!” Triptolemus sprinted across the room and hopped in his chariot…I will teach them the glories of tilling, irrigation, fertilizing!”

 

“Urgh,” Hades groaned. “We don’t need two of them.” Demeter glared at him.

 

The chariot lifted off and zipped out of the house, Triptolemus shouting to the sky…or start to laugh. How many monsters had he killed on that bridge—two hundred? Three hundred?

 

“Hey, if you said you did it, we believe you,” Hazel assured him.

 

“Yeah. But it’s still going to be a shock,” Nico pointed out.

 

But he saw in their eyes that they believed him. They were children of the Underworld…“Well,” Nico said, breaking the tension, “does anyone know what barley looks like?”

 

“Done,” Hermes said.

 

“That makes it mu turn,” Connor grimaced. They had already had four chapters of Frank, and he was worried he would get the Tartarus chapters. Hermes gave his son the book. He opened it to the right page and grimaced. “Annabeth again.” Everyone sat up just a tiny bit straighter at this announcement.

Chapter Text

Annabeth decided the monsters wouldn’t kill her…Most likely she would die from an overload of weirdness that would make her brain explode.

 

“Unlikely,” Triton snorted.

 

First, she and Percy had had to drink fire to stay alive. Then they were attacked by a gaggle of vampires, led by a cheerleader Annabeth had killed two years ago.

 

“The drinking fire is weird but being attacked by a monster you already killed is pretty normal for us,” Connor pointed out.

 

“Yeah. That’s probably the most normal thing to happen in a while,” Percy agreed.

 

“I hate how casually you say being attacked by monsters is completely normal,” Apollo sighed. He knew it was true for all demigods, part of what made them heroes. But that didn’t stop it sucking. Percy just shrugged.

 

Finally, they were rescued by a Titan janitor named Bob who had Einstein hair, silver eyes, and wicked broom skills.

 

“That’s definitely weird,” Nico laughed.

 

Sure. Why not?...Her throat felt like she was constantly gargling with battery acid.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

“Lovely,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

Her only comfort was Percy. Every so often he would glance over and smile…“Bob knows what he’s doing,” Percy promised.

 

“I’m not sure that’s actually a good thing. The more he remembers, the more chance he has of remembering he isn’t actually Bob,” Hades frowned.

 

“Careful, Uncle. I might think you care,” Percy teased. Hades gave him an unimpressed look.

 

“I care about you closing the Doors of Death, so Gaea doesn’t take over the world.”

 

“Eh, I’ll take it. That’s more than the rest of the gods seem to care about, given how they seem to be trying to make our jobs harder,” Percy said. Most of the gods winced at that.

 

“You have interesting friends,” Annabeth murmured…“You jumped into Tartarus,” she said, “because Percy said your name?”

 

“Wow. That’s some dedication,” Rachel whistled. Percy looked uneasy that he had that much influence over a guy he’d done absolutely nothing for.

 

“He needed me.” Those silver eyes gleamed in the darkness. “It is okay. I was tired of sweeping the palace. Come along! We are almost at a rest stop.”

 

“Wow. Hades is so annoying he actually jumped in Tartarus to get away from him,” Zeus smirked at his brother.

 

“After several years. Had he been in your palace, he would have jumped immediately, without being summoned,” Hades shot back.

 

“Yes, yes, you’re both annoying enough to drive anyone to Tartarus,” Poseidon drawled. “Now can we get back to the fact he just mentioned a rest stop. In Tartarus.”

 

“Maybe he just means somewhere slightly better to camp than an open plane?” Frank suggested. “You guys are going to need to sleep sometime.”

 

“Sleep? In Tartarus?” Percy grimaced. “With all the nightmares I think we might be better off not sleeping.”

 

“You’ll need some rest eventually,” Thalia told him grimly.

 

“I’ll sleep when we’re out of there,” Percy muttered.

 

A rest stop…She repressed the giggles. Yes, she was definitely losing it.

 

Everyone smiled slightly, just glad they still had something to laugh about.

 

Annabeth hobbled along, trying to ignore the rumble in her stomach…Underworld king and queen thought “looking after” someone meant giving him a broom and having him sweep up their messes.

 

“They probably thought not killing him was all the looking after he needed,” Thalia scowled. Hades shrugged. She wasn’t wrong. But if Bob could help Percy in Tartarus, then maybe he would make an effort with the titan should this come to pass.

 

Annabeth wondered how even Hades could be so callous. She’d never felt sorry for a Titan before, but it didn’t seem right taking a brainwashed immortal and turning him into an unpaid janitor.

 

“Yeah,” Connor nodded. “Does seem wrong.”

 

“Especially as he just saved Percy and Annabeth’s lives,” Grover agreed.

 

“Well, if this happens in the future, we’ll work something different out,” Apollo promised. He didn’t much like the idea of a titan looking out for Percy when his memories could come back at any second, but they couldn’t afford to be picky. And hopefully, if they treated him well, he would be more likely to help, even if some memories came back.

 

He’s not your friend, she reminded herself…Unfortunately, she couldn’t think of a better plan.

 

“Foes bear arms to the Doors of Death,” Michael recalled. “Maybe it doesn’t mean Greeks and Romans, maybe it means demigods and a titan.”

 

“So, Bob is supposed to help you,” Will said slowly.

 

“That’s actually kind of comforting,” Percy stated.

 

“Not really,” Poseidon muttered.

 

They picked their way across the ashen wasteland as red lightning flashed overhead…It burst in a geyser of steaming yellow slime, and the drakon dissolved into nothing.

 

“Definitely don’t want that respawning somewhere behind you,” Clarisse grimaced.

 

Bob kept walking…If that god noticed them walking across his skin, like fleas on a dog…Enough. No more thinking.

 

“Please stop thinking about that,” Drew complained.

 

“Yeah. Bad thoughts,” Annabeth agreed uneasily.

 

“Here,” Bob said…“Hermes’s shrine,” Bob explained.

 

“What?” Everyone gaped.

 

Percy frowned. “A Hermes shrine in Tartarus?”…Maybe mortal world. Maybe Olympus. Anyway, monsters steer clear. Mostly.”

 

“That’s something at least,” Hermes smiled, glad to be able to help in some small way.

 

“How did you know it was here?” Annabeth asked…Of course he knew his way around. If he remembered this shrine, he might start recalling other details of his old prison and his old life.

 

“For now, just be glad he remembered that,” Connor advised.

 

“Yeah,” She agreed.

 

“That would be a good place to catch a tiny bit of sleep,” Reyna stated.

 

“Better than basically anywhere else in Tartarus,” Poseidon nodded.

 

That would not be good…They’d be well hidden here, but if monsters did stumble across them, they would have no warning.

 

“Well, hopefully the aura of the shrine will keep them away like Bob said,” Apollo said.

 

“You said someone was chasing us,” Annabeth said. “Who?”…They know you are here. Giants and Titans. The defeated ones. They know.”

 

Everyone winced.

 

“That’s quite a lot,” Rachel muttered.

 

“Considering Percy alone has helped to kill three giants and at least two titans,” Grover grimaced.

 

“Hey, Hyperion goes to you. You turned him into a tree,” Percy pointed out. “And Luke killed in the end. So, I haven’t actually killed any titans.”

 

“It’s close enough,” Thalia said.

 

The defeated ones…How many titans and giants had she and Percy fought over the years?

 

“Hardly any,” Octavian sneered. “Percy has fought several. You seem to be missing most of the time when he fights titans and giants.”

 

“That’s not…” Thalia began.

 

“He kind of has a point,” Apollo said, looking disgusted at the idea of agreeing with Octavian. “Annabeth was off fighting Luke when Percy briefly fought Atlas. I don’t recall hearing her helping in the fight with Hyperion. She wasn’t there for turning Iapetus into Bob. She was there for Kronos in the throne room, but Percy did way more fighting. And she hasn’t fought any giants,” Apollo summed up.

 

“There was the gross sounding giant dude that stole Hermes’ staff,” Grover piped up.

 

“Oh yeah. I hope we never actually have to meet him,” Percy pulled a face.

 

“So that’s one titan, that won’t be chasing you because his essence has been scattered everywhere throughout Tartarus, and one giant who might be there, but he isn’t one of Gaea and Tartarus’ kids born to directly oppose Olympians,” Octavian summed up with another sneer in Annabeth’s direction.

 

“And it won’t be Atlas because he’s still holding the sky,” Thalia smirked slightly. “Or Iapetus because he’s now Bob and with you.”

 

“That still leaves a lot of options,” Connor grimaced. “Percy’s helped to kill at least three giants in the past few weeks or so, plus Alcyoneus, even if it was Hazel and Frank that actually killed him.”

 

“Please just read,” Poseidon grimaced.

 

Each one had seemed like an impossible challenge…“Why are we stopping, then?” she said. “We should keep moving.”

 

“Because you can’t go on forever,” Athena stated gently.

 

“Soon,” Bob said. “But mortals need rest. Good place here…she didn’t need to be a daughter of Athena to know that was one hundred percent unwise.

 

“So, you two take turns watching with Bob,” Dakota suggested

 

“You sleep,” Percy told her. “I’ll keep the first watch with Bob.”

 

“No,” Poseidon glared at his son. “You should let Annabeth take first watch, because I trust her to actually wake you up. You’ll stay up the whole time and let her sleep.” Almost everyone agreed that Poseidon had a good point.

 

“Don’t even think about it,” Annabeth looked at Percy in concern. “You need to sleep too.” Percy shrugged.

 

“Not much we can do about it now.”

 

Bob rumbled in agreement. “Yes, good. When you wake, food should be here!”…She didn’t see how Bob could summon food in the midst of Tartarus. Maybe he was a caterer as well as a janitor.

 

“If it’s a shrine that was once on Olympus, maybe some of the offerings to Hermes will show up,” Amphitrite suggested.

 

“Wait, those offerings we burn actually turn up somewhere?” Travis frowned.

 

“Yes. They go to our shrines usually,” Hermes nodded.

 

She didn’t want to sleep, but her body betrayed her. Her eyelids turned to lead. “Percy, wake me for second watch. Don’t be a hero.”

 

“Of course he’s going to be a hero,” Apollo groaned. “It’s Percy!”

 

Annabeth grimaced. She really should know what Percy was like by now.

 

He gave her that smirk she’d come to love. “Who, me?”

 

“Yes, you,” Poseidon grumbled.

 

He kissed her, his lips parched and feverishly warm. “Sleep.”…overcome with drowsiness. She curled up on the hard ground and closed her eyes.

 

“Done,” Connor sighed in relief that his had been both short and safe.

 

“My turn,” Poseidon grimaced. Of course, he would get a Tartarus chapter. At least they seemed relatively safe for now.

Chapter Text

Later, she made a resolution: Never EVER sleep in Tartarus.

 

All the demigods winced.

 

Demigod dreams were always bad. Even in the safety of her bunk at camp, she’d had horrible nightmares. In Tartarus, they were a thousand times more vivid.

 

“Oh gods,” Thalia grimaced.

 

“That’s…urgh,” Nico shuddered.

 

“Just more things to look forward too,” Percy grumbled.

 

First, she was a little girl again, struggling to climb Half-Blood Hill…holding back an army of hellhounds with her terror-invoking shield, Aegis.

 

Thalia, Annabeth and Grover all shuddered.

 

From the top of the hill, Annabeth could see the camp in the valley below…“Go!” Thalia yelled. “I’ll hold them off.”

 

Jason gripped his sister’s hand tightly and Zeus eyed his daughter worriedly.

 

She brandished her spear, and forked lightning slashed through the monsters’ ranks…and screaming that they couldn’t leave Thalia alone. But it was too late.

 

Everyone winced.

 

“It all turned out ok,” Thalia reminded them, but her voice was slightly shaky.

 

The scene shifted…You have done well, Reyna said, but the voice was Athena’s. The rest of my journey must be on the wings of Rome.

 

“What?” Reyna frowned.

 

“The rest of Athena’s journey?” Katie wondered.

 

“The Parthenos,” Annabeth realised.

 

“What? You think the Romans are going to agree to come and get the statue from the Ancient lands and bring it back for us?” Piper asked incredulously.

 

“The Romans giving it back to the Greeks makes sense, considering they stole it in the first place,” Hermes said. “It might heal the rift between Minerva and Athena, and possibly between the Greeks and Romans.”

 

“Well, that might be true, but they think we fired on their city. They think we started a war. They probably aren’t exactly going to jump at a chance to come to the ancient lands, which are forbidden, and come and get a statue to give back to us,” Beckendorf frowned. Leo winced.

 

The praetor’s dark eyes turned as gray as storm clouds.

 

I must stand here, Reyna told her. The Roman must bring me.

 

I have to do it?” Reyna asked in disbelief.

 

“You are a Praetor,” Dakota pointed out.

 

“And you know our best chance of surviving Gaea is to unite the camps. You’re probably the most likely to listen,” Jason said. “It’s not like Octavian is going to.” Octavian snorted.

 

“But if I have to leave to come and get the statue, which I have no way of transporting by myself, Octavian will technically be in charge of the Legion as there is no other Praetor,” Reyna pointed out.

 

“That would be bad,” Gwen winced. Octavian scowled.

 

“Really bad,” Frank agreed.

 

The hill shook. The ground rippled as the grass became folds of silk...Hurry, said the voice of Athena. The message must be sent.

 

“You want Annabeth to send the message to Reyna. Maybe you missed the memo, but she’s in Tartarus!” Connor scowled furiously at Athena. “Don’t you think she has enough to do at the moment.”

 

“Yes. I think that message might have been best left with one of your other children,” Apollo agreed. “How can you expect Annabeth to do anything from the Pit?”

 

“The Parthenos is Annabeth’s quest,” Athena said imperiously. “She must find a way.”

 

“She’s succeeded her quest. She recovered the Parthenos,” Thalia pointed out. “Now it’s up to the rest of us. You can’t expect Annabeth to complete another mission while in Tartarus. She and Percy already have the hardest job out of everyone.”

 

“Er, unless Athena is too out of it to know Annabeth is in Tartarus,” Katie pointed out tentatively.

 

“Well, she’s together enough to be giving Annabeth a mission,” Connor scowled.

 

“From this dream, Athena clearly knows the Parthenos is free. And there is no way she wouldn’t have felt it the moment that the Parthenos was freed,” Apollo shook his head. “Even in that state. She’s been waiting for that for millennia. Her attention would have been on her statue, and so what was going on around it. She wouldn’t have missed her daughter falling into Tartarus.”

 

“And even on the very small possibility she didn’t notice, Bacchus would probably have known and informed everyone else,” Ares said.

 

“If you think I’m going to be the one to tell Uncle Poseidon that his favourite son fell into Tartarus, think again. I would have been hoping he was too out of it to notice. I wouldn’t go spreading the news around,” Dionysus shook his head.

 

“Yeah, that’s a good point,” Hermes nodded. “But I still think Athena would have known about Annabeth, simply because of the proximity to the statue.”

 

“Or maybe Athena just doesn’t want Annabeth to find a way. She probably wants the two camps to fight and hopes the Romans lose,” Poseidon scowled in frustration.

 

Annabeth wanted to deny that, to state that the statue was her responsibility, but then she thought about the fact that her siblings had started all the previous wars between the two camps and the denial faded from her lips. Maybe her mother didn’t want the camps to unite. That would certainly fit with her behaviour so far in these books. She glanced at her mother, who was glaring at Poseidon but wasn’t denying his accusations.

 

The ground split at Annabeth’s feet and she fell into darkness…“No, no. We’re good. I let you sleep.”

 

“PERCY!” Apollo, Poseidon and all the demigods yelled in exasperation.

 

“Don’t be such an idiot,” Apollo glared.

 

“Hey!” Percy frowned.

 

“Apollo’s right. It’s stupid not to get any rest,” Poseidon agreed.

 

“Bob might be around now, but if something goes wrong and he does get his memories back, you’re the only one with a weapon. You need to be in fighting shape, not collapsing from exhaustion,” Triton pointed out.

 

“We’re a team. We’re supposed to have each other’s backs. Not just you protecting me,” Annabeth looked at him reproachfully.

 

“Plus, you used a bunch of your energy to save you both from the river when you first landed,” Beckendorf said. “Not to mention the fight with Kelli. Bob might have healed you, but it would have taken energy out of you.”

 

“I’ll manage,” Percy shrugged. Everyone gave exasperated sighs and shook their heads at his stubbornness, and refusal to look after himself.

 

“Percy!”…Bob the Titan sat cross-legged by the altar, happily munching a piece of pizza.

 

“Of course you would be too excited to sleep because of food,” Thalia rolled her eyes.

 

“Pizza? In Tartarus?” Silena asked in astonishment.

 

“The shine,” Hermes smiled. “Offerings must have appeared.”

 

“Awesome,” Percy grinned.

 

Annabeth rubbed her eyes, wondering if she was still dreaming…some grapes, a plate of roast beef, and a package of peanut M&M’s.”

 

“Peanut M&Ms?” Travis raised an eyebrow. “Connor always burns those at Camp.”

 

“You don’t think..? We’ve actually got food from Camp?” Annabeth asked.

 

“If that’s true, then we have a way to send supplies to Tartarus,” Leo said. “If someone really does have to go, we can send fresh supplies through the Hermes shrine.”

 

“That’s brilliant news,” Chris stated.

 

Apollo frowned, deep in thought. If his father forbade him from going to Tartarus with Percy, then maybe he could send one of his shrines to Tartarus. Heck, maybe he could take one down himself, and place it on the route he knew they would take. That way he would be able to personally make sure things got sent to Percy. He was under no illusion; Percy would go to Tartarus. Nothing Apollo said would make him change his mind, knowing someone would have to take his place. This way, they could communicate.

 

“Does this mean all of our offerings end up in Tartarus?” Travis wondered.

 

“No. They usually end up on Olympus, or whatever shrine we are closest too at the time the offerings are burnt,” Hermes explained. “But we can control where they turn up. So, I’m guessing I directed those offerings down to Tartarus, because that shrine of mine has been down there for ages. So, I would know there is a chance Percy and Annabeth would stumble across it,” Hermes explained.

 

“Thank you,” Annabeth said gratefully.

 

“Yeah, thanks,” Percy nodded. He smiled at both of them. Poseidon shot his nephew a grateful look, mentally promising to do something nice for him for looking after his son.

 

“M&M’s for Bob!” Bob said happily. “Uh, that okay?”…with exactly the same spicy sweet glaze as the barbecue at Camp Half-Blood.

 

“If the food is still hot, then it clearly hasn’t been there for that long. Which means you had plenty of time to wake Annabeth and get some sleep before you got distracted,” Apollo gave Percy a stern look.

 

He honestly wondered if Percy would be better off going down there without any other demigods. If they could persuade Bob to go down as soon as Percy went, he would be of much more use than Annabeth. If only because Percy would then have to look after himself, instead of spending all of his energy looking after someone else and neglecting himself. That was probably what was going to get Percy killed. It almost did already, when he tried to get to Annabeth instead of fighting the two monsters that were attacking him. Of course, that would only work if they could be sure Bob would remain Bob, and not get his memories back. That would be bad. But the book should tell them that.

 

“I know,” said Percy, reading her expression. “I think it is from Camp Half-Blood.”…“Peanut M&M’s,” Annabeth said. “Connor Stoll always burned a pack for his dad at dinner.”

 

“You know what food I burn?” Connor asked with a pleased smile.

 

“We’ve been at camp for several years together, of course I’ve noticed that you burn M&Ms. It’s pretty weird,” She grinned at him.

 

“What you mean is, you’ve been secretly watching me for years because you fancy me,” He said quietly, smirking. She smacked his arm.

 

She thought about sitting in the dining pavilion, watching the sunset over Long Island Sound. That was the first place she and Percy had truly kissed. Her eyes smarted.

 

Connor and Apollo both grimaced.

 

Percy put his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, this is good. Actual food from home, right?”…“Should go now. They will be here in a few minutes.”

 

“Minutes?” Everyone yelped.


“They needed the rest, and the food,” Will pointed out reluctantly. “If the food has only just come, then it’s a good job they waited for it.”

 

“A few minutes?” Annabeth reached for her dagger, then remembered she didn’t have it.

 

Annabeth winced.

 

“Yes…well, I think minutes…” Bob scratched his silvery hair…Bob grunted. “Not sure of names. Six, maybe seven. I can sense them.”

 

“Six or seven? Definitely time to go,” Jason said.

 

“Yep. And hope they can’t see us once we get out of that crater,” Percy grimaced.

 

“Six or seven?” Annabeth wasn’t sure her barbecue would stay down. “And can they sense you?”…You two smell very strong. Good strong. Like…hmm. Like buttery bread!”

 

“Not sure I like that analogy,” Silena muttered.

 

“If you smell that strong, then there is no way the vampire girls didn’t smell you. They must have been waiting until there was a good spot to ambush you,” Beckendorf said.

 

“Titans and giants could be different. But either way, we’d best just be cautious and assume everything can smell us,” Annabeth agreed.

 

“Buttery bread,” Annabeth said. “Well, that’s great.”…He looked at Annabeth as if she actually had an answer.

 

“Sorry, Percy, I really don’t know,” Annabeth shrugged helplessly.


“It’s ok. It’s not like it’s ever been tested before,” He smiled.

 

“Percy, I don’t know. Traveling in Tartarus, fighting monsters here…it’s never been done before. Maybe Bob could help us kill a giant? Maybe a Titan would count as a god? I just don’t know.”

 

“Titans are gods. Just a different generation. So yes, Bob should count,” Hades nodded.

 

“Yeah,” Percy said. “Okay.”…Now, when he needed her most, she couldn’t help. She hated being so clueless, but nothing she’d ever learned at camp had prepared her for Tartarus.

 

“There is a reason for that,” Chiron stated.

 

“Pretty much everything we know about Tartarus, is related to gods being there. No demigod has been to Tartarus before. That we know of,” Poseidon said grimly. “Everything we know, is from this book.”

 

There was only one thing she was sure of: they had to keep moving. They couldn’t be caught by six or seven hostile immortals.

 

“Very true,” Thalia nodded.

 

She stood, still disoriented from her nightmares. Bob started cleaning up, collecting their trash in a little pile, using his squirt bottle to wipe off the altar.

 

Hermes smiled a little.

 

“Where to now?” Annabeth asked…“You told him?” Annabeth didn’t mean it to come out so harsh, but Percy winced.

 

“If he’s going to be travelling with you, he’s going to find out at some point,” Apollo pointed out.

 

“Yeah, and he’s your best bet to finding it without needing to follow other monsters,” Triton agreed.

 

“While you were asleep,” he admitted. “Annabeth, Bob can help. We need a guide.”…The Titan frowned. “I think seconds. Time is hard in Tartarus.”

 

“Bob has a point,” Amphitrite admitted unhappily.

 

“Hopefully he has another option,” Leo said.

 

“Right,” Annabeth grumbled. “So is there another way?”

 

“Hiding,” said Bob. “The Death Mist could hide you.”

 

“Death Mist?” Percy asked nervously.

 

“That doesn’t sound good,” Connor muttered.

 

“What is it?” Travis asked.

 

“I’ve only heard rumors. I believe it is kind of like regular Mist,” Hades began. “But rather than hiding monsters from the mortals, it hides mortals from monsters. I’m guessing it would also hide demigods from monsters. But it can only be given by Akhlys, primordial goddess of misery. I don’t ever recall it being given before, because Akhlys never ventures from Tartarus.”

 

“So, Bob wants them to go into the territory of a primordial goddess?” Poseidon croaked.

 

“If it hides them from the monsters, they may not have a choice,” Hades told his brother regretfully. “They will not be able to fight all the monsters at the Doors of Death by themselves. Even with a titan.”

 

“This sounds better and better,” Percy said sarcastically. Apollo hugged him tightly.

 

“Oh…” Annabeth suddenly felt very small in the shadow of the Titan. “Uh, what is Death Mist?”…If we can avoid Night. The lady is very close to Night. That is bad.”

 

“Oh us,” Poseidon breathed.

 

“Night?” Connor frowned. “As in the Night?”

 

“The one that’s older than even Gaea?” Annabeth questioned, her voice a little higher than usual.

 

“That one,” Hades nodded. “Akhlys is her daughter. And her territory is right at the edge of Tartarus, right where it falls away into Night and then to Chaos.”

 

“So, we might end up near not one, but two primordial goddesses?” Percy asked, sounding faint.

 

“Let’s hope Bob is right and you can avoid Nyx,” Apollo muttered. Everyone was looking nervously between Percy and Annabeth. This mission sounded more and more impossible every second. Which they had all thought was not going to happen considering how impossible it was to start with.

 

“The lady,” Percy repeated…“Bob,” she said, “offerings burned in the mortal world appear on this altar, right?”

 

“Are you going to try and reverse it, send a message back to camp?” Connor looked at her is astonishment.

 

“Hopefully,” Annabeth nodded.

 

“Bob said you only had minutes, and you’ve spent some time talking,” Thalia noted worriedly.

 

“But I had that dream for a reason. I need to send that message,” Annabeth said.

 

“If my son gets hurt because you gave that message to Annabeth instead of one of your other children, so help me Athena…” Poseidon threatened, his expression black with fury.

 

Athena shrunk back in her seat slightly, glancing over at Hera. She did not want to end up cursed like that. Or worse. She wasn’t sure what worse would be, but Poseidon was not someone you wanted to truly anger. Sure, they had their spats, but even Athena knew not to cross certain lines when it came to the god of the seas.

 

Bob frowned uncomfortably, like he wasn’t ready for a pop quiz. “Yes?”…“I don’t have an I’m-planning-something look.”

 

“Yes, you do,” All the Greek demigods said in unison. Annabeth flushed.

 

“Yeah, you totally do. Your eyebrows knit and your lips press together and—”…“Yes, but can you actually write with it?”

 

“Apparently I can,” Percy grinned.

 

“I still can’t believe this has never come up before,” Nico laughed.

 

“I—I don’t know,” he admitted. “Never tried.”…But Annabeth didn’t mind making Percy a little uneasy. You had to keep your boyfriend on his toes.

 

Apollo frowned unhappily. The last thing Percy needed was to be kept on his toes, or to be made uneasy. If anything, he needed to be constantly reassured that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

 

“I think his life keeps him on his toes enough as it is,” Amphitrite put in, trying to keep her tone light as this Annabeth hadn’t actually thought this yet. While she did agree to some extent, it always amused her to make Poseidon nervous, especially when he had just cheated on her, but that was after several millennia of marriage. They were secure enough in themselves and each other, for her to occasionally give him a few uncomfortable decades for that sort of thing. But Percy, while so like his father in many ways, was far more insecure due to his upbringing. And, it had to be said, he was also insecure because of Annabeth doing things like that before they had settled into a secure relationship. They hadn’t been dating long before Percy was kidnapped and had his memories wiped.

 

“Yeah, after several months of missing memories, being on the run or in a hostile camp, and then going on another major quest, I think the last thing he needs is to be made more uneasy,” Triton agreed. Not to mention, after all of that, Annabeth’s reaction to reuniting after his disappearance had been to throw him around and threaten him if he left her again. There was already enough uncertainty in their relationship.

 

Annabeth nodded. Rachel grimaced, feeling bad that her crush had only made things worse for Percy. She didn’t want to be used to make her friend’s life any more difficult than it needed to be.

 

Annabeth finished her note and folded the napkin. On the outside, she wrote:

 

Connor,

 

“Me?” Connor grinned, feeling absurdly pleased she’d picked him to entrust an important message to. Sure, it had to be a Hermes kid, but she’d gone for him over Travis, and that made him happy even if it was a small thing.

 

“Yeah. You might be a troublemaker, but you’re a reliable troublemaker,” Annabeth laughed. “Plus, after seeing those M&Ms, you’re probably the first Hermes kid on my mind.”

 

“You mean, I’m always the first Hermes kid on your mind,” He corrected with a smirk. She rolled her eyes.

 

Give this to Rachel. Not a prank. Don’t be a moron.

 

Love,

 

Annabeth

 

“Me? A moron?” He put on a faux wounded expression.

 

“Yes, you,” Travis told him brother. “It’s alright, we know you can’t help being a moron.” Connor stuck his tongue out. Everyone just chuckled, glad for the tension to be lifted, even if it was only momentarily.

 

“Can you imagine all of our reactions when Connor suddenly says he has a napkin message from Annabeth?” Katie giggled.

 

“It would be interesting to see all of our faces. We can hardly believe it now, and we’re hearing it happen,” Pollux said.

 

She took a deep breath. She was asking Rachel Dare to do something ridiculously dangerous…the only way that might avoid bloodshed.

 

“If it can save camp and all of you guys, I’ll do it,” Rachel stated firmly. It actually relieved her to know there was something she could do, no matter how small.

 

“Now I just need to burn it,” she said. “Anybody got a match?”…Could the smoke really make it out of Tartarus?

 

“I’m sure it can,” Grover said. “You and Percy are good at impossible things.”

 

“We should go now,” Bob advised. “Really, really go. Before we are killed.”

 

“Good idea,” Rachel nodded.

 

“Yep. Move very quickly,” Nico agreed.

 

Annabeth stared at the wall of blackness in front of them…Another dose of weirdness to explode her brain.

 

“Yep. That bit is definitely weird too,” Thalia agreed.

 

“Right,” she said. “I’m ready.”

 

“Done,” Poseidon let out a sigh of relief. His turn was done.

 

“That makes it my turn to read,” Thalia grimaced. Poseidon tossed her the book eagerly. She opened it reluctantly. They had had two fairly decent Tartarus chapters in a row. She was not expecting a third.

Chapter Text

Annabeth literally stumbled over the second titan.

 

“What?” Everyone yelped.

 

“I’m guessing it’s one that’s reforming,” Ares said, calming everyone down but not by much.

 

“Burst it, make it go and reform somewhere else,” Clarisse suggested.

 

After entering the storm front, they plodded on for what seemed like hours…the Dark Lands reminded her of San Francisco, where her dad lived

 

All of the Romans looked affronted at having their city compared to Tartarus.

 

on those summer afternoons when the fog bank rolled in like cold…Annabeth had a nasty feeling they were marching straight down his throat.

 

They all shuddered at that idea.

 

“You two need to stop having such vivid imaginations,” Piper muttered.

 

“Yeah,” Percy agreed. “I really wish we could.”

 

She was so preoccupied with that thought, she didn’t notice the ledge until it was too late.

 

“Annabeth!” Thalia cried out anxiously.

 

Percy yelled, “Whoa!” He grabbed for her arm, but she was already falling…She had a soft landing on a warm bouncy surface and was feeling lucky

 

“I would not call falling onto a monster blister lucky,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

“Maybe not, but it’s better than falling a long way onto a beach of glass or something,” Travis said.

 

“Which is a horrifyingly real prospect,” Chris added.

 

until she opened her eyes and found herself staring through a glowing gold membrane…She was a daughter of Athena, not some shrill girlie victim in a horror movie.

 

“Considering I’m guessing you just fell onto a titan blister; I don’t blame you for screaming,” Connor assured her.

 

“Yeah. Don’t worry Annie, you’re literally going through hell, I don’t think anyone is going to consider you a girlie victim in a horror movie because you screamed at something down there,” Thalia stated.

 

“Priorities much,” Octavian rolled his eyes. “You’re worried about sounding like some pathetic horror victim when obviously your boyfriend isn’t going to think that, and when you should be worried about your screaming attracting more attention.”

 

“Dammit, why did it have to be him who made a good point,” Clarisse muttered to Chris in an undertone. He smirked at her in amusement.

 

But gods of Olympus… Curled in the membrane bubble in front of her was a fully formed Titan in golden armor, his skin the color of polished pennies.

 

“Hyperion,” Grover muttered. “Why couldn’t he stay as a tree?”

 

“Because we aren’t that lucky,” Percy sighed.

 

“You mean, you aren’t that lucky,” Apollo corrected.

 

“Oh, for father’s sake! Hyperion is Iapetus’ brother. If he recognizes him…” Artemis trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought. Everyone went still, staring at the book with bated breath. Thalia forced herself to keep reading.

 

His eyes were closed, but he scowled so deeply he appeared to be on the verge…“Yeah,” Percy agreed. “Maybe the maple tree died, and he wound up back here?”

 

Grover frowned. That tree shouldn’t have died unless something happened to it. Had Kronos somehow destroyed it, and sent his brother to reform in Tartarus? Or maybe it had just been destroyed later on in the fight.

 

Annabeth remembered how Hyperion had summoned fiery explosions, and how many satyrs and nymphs he’d destroyed before Percy and Grover stopped him.

 

Grover, Dionysus and Artemis all winced.

 

She was about to suggest that they burst Hyperion’s bubble before he woke up. He looked ready to pop out at any moment and start charbroiling everything in his path.

 

“Definitely a good idea,” Clarisse nodded.

 

“Burst it,” Frank encouraged.

 

“Except, if Iapetus recognizes him, he might turn on them for killing his brother right in front of him,” Katie said anxiously.

 

Then she glanced at Bob. The silvery Titan was studying Hyperion with a frown of concentration…“Gold, not silver,” Bob murmured. “But he looks like me.”

 

“Now would be a good time to leave. Even if you don’t burst the bubble, just get Bob away from there,” Beckendorf suggested.

 

“Bob,” Percy said. “Hey, buddy, over here.”…“Yes.” Bob sounded dangerously uncertain. “We are friends.”

 

“Ok, that’s a kind of good start,” Piper said. “He still thinks you are friends.”

 

“Move before he changes his mind,” Drew urged.

 

“You know that some monsters are good,” Percy said. “And some are bad.”…Exploding zombies are bad.”

 

“Exploding zombies?” Will blinked.

 

“It’s the Underworld,” Nico shrugged.

 

“Right,” Percy said. “And some mortals are good, and some are bad…Annabeth was pretty sure her boyfriend had just made a big mistake.

 

“Don’t be so quick to discount Percy,” Amphitrite said with a sly smile.

 

“Percy is a pretty good judge of people. I think he can handle this,” Thalia agreed.

 

“That’s what you are,” Percy said calmly. “Bob the Titan. You’re good…“Bob is good.” His fingers tightened on his broom handle.

 

“Nice work, Percy,” Rachel grinned. “You’re doing awesome.”

 

“Yes. There is always at least one good one—monsters, Titans, giants.”…“Oh, yes.” Bob nodded earnestly.

 

“There’s a good giant?” Dakota asked.

 

“Damasen isn’t so bad,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“Damasen?” Chris looked confused.

 

“Yeah, he’s the giant born to oppose Ares. But he came out the total opposite. Where Ares is all about war, Damasen is peaceful,” Poseidon explained.

 

“Why is he the opposite? This whole giant opposing Olympians thing is weird,” Percy frowned. “Ephialtes and Otis were like extreme Dionysus, not opposites. Polybotes and the Zeus dude sort of turned their domains into poison or absorbed lightning. They weren’t really opposites. And the anti-Athena was into making plans and traps, like he was trying to be cleverer than Athena. If he was the anti-Athena surely, he would be stupid, if the anti-Ares is peaceful.”

 

“It’s not an exact science,” Apollo shrugged.

 

“Besides, given how Athena has been acting in these books, I think being clever is the anti-Athena,” Poseidon smirked. The wisdom goddess glowered at him but didn’t dare say anything. She could tell he was still angry about sending Annabeth that vision and causing them to lose time.

 

Annabeth sensed they’d already been in this place too long…We could leave him alone, but if he wakes up—”

 

“You’re actually going to let him choose?” Leo looked at him like he was insane.

 

“It’s the best option,” Apollo said. “If they kill Hyperion while Bob is uncertain, Bob may turn on them. If they decide just to leave him, that’s terribly dangerous. If Percy lets Bob choose, hopefully he will destroy the bubble himself which will hopefully make him secure in his own mind that he is a good titan, and the others are bad. It’s risky, but so is everything else in Tartarus, and it has the potential best outcome.”

 

Bob’s broom-spear swept into motion. If he’d been aiming at Annabeth or Percy…which burst in a geyser of hot golden mud.

 

“Yes!” Everyone cheered. “Go Bob!”

 

Annabeth wiped the Titan sludge out of her eyes. Where Hyperion had been…He will have to re-form somewhere else in Tartarus. Hopefully it will take a long time.”

 

“Nice work, Percy,” Clarisse gave him a small smile.

 

The Titan’s eyes seemed brighter than usual, as if he were about to cry quicksilver…If Percy had been serious about leaving the choice to Bob, then she didn’t like how much he trusted the Titan.

 

“He doesn’t have to trust him to let him choose. It was about gaining Bob’s trust, and not potentially making him turn on you by killing his brother right in front of him,” Triton pointed out.

 

“Yeah,” Annabeth nodded, but she looked a little uncertain.

 

If he’d been manipulating Bob into making that choice…well, then, Annabeth was stunned that Percy could be so calculating.

 

Percy frowned. When had he become that manipulative? When being trained by Lupa? When, he spent months on the run? Or maybe he’d always been that way. Maybe he’d picked up more from Gabe than he thought. He shook his head at that thought, but it wouldn’t go away.

 

“Really? Percy’s always been able to charm people, get them to spill their secrets and stuff. Thalia won’t stop complaining about it,” Rachel laughed.

 

“It’s true. I swear he has a superpower,” Thalia nodded. “Being annoyingly charming, but in a way you just can’t resist. No matter how long it takes.”

 

“I mean, getting someone to spill some secrets is a bit different to getting them to kill their own brother,” Annabeth pointed out. Percy flinched. A few of the demigods looked a little disturbed by that but shrugged it off. Hyperion was gone and wouldn’t be reforming right behind them. That was the important thing. Besides, the gods did crueler things to their kids all the time. A titan killing their brother barely ranked on the scale of family issues the immortal family had.

 

“It’s not like he would be killing him permanently. He will reform eventually,” Clarisse shrugged.

 

“He didn’t force Bob to kill Hyperion. He gave him the choice,” Nico stated. “And nothing he said was wrong or untrue. We know plenty of nice monsters, like Tyson and Mrs O’Leary. And I know Bob is very nice as he is at the moment. Percy was mostly just asking Bob to trust him. And I agree with Thalia. Percy is annoyingly trustworthy.”

 

“He gets it from his father,” Amphitrite smiled. Percy looked up at that.

 

“Yeah, dad’s an awesome diplomat, when he’s not in a temper,” Triton nodded. “Always seems to know just the right thing to say. It is kind of annoying really,” He added with a smirk. Poseidon shot his son a look which Triton happily ignored.

 

“You’re just sour you inherited your mother’s diplomatic skills,” Poseidon told him.

 

“Excuse me?” Amphitrite narrowed her eyes at her husband. He grinned at her.

 

“Sorry dear, but you aren’t exactly the most diplomatic person I know.” Her eyes narrowed even further. Mostly she was annoyed because he was right. Whereas he would always say the right thing, she had the uncanny ability to put her foot in her mouth at the most important moment in diplomatic negotiations.

 

“They have a point. I really don’t know why we don’t just send Uncle P round to all the minor gods to have a chat. He’d have them back on our side in no time, probably without them even knowing why they’ve agreed to back us,” Hermes chuckled. Poseidon rolled his eyes.

 

“It’s so annoying,” Thalia scowled. “You just want to be annoyed by how nosy he is, but you can’t help telling him what he wants to know and then you feel better which actually makes you more annoyed. But you can’t be annoyed at him!” Percy grinned cheekily at her.

 

“Love you too, cousin.” Thalia stuck her tongue out at him.

 

Zeus eyed his nephew. They had seen small hints so far that Percy had inherited his father’s charm, and his ability to manipulate. For, all that Poseidon tried to dress it up, he could be manipulative when he wanted to be. But he had always known exactly when to push and when not to, when to be downright manipulative, and when to add the right amount of charm. Something Zeus himself had never managed. It was part of the reason he had always feared Poseidon trying to overthrow him. Because he knew, if it truly came down to a war, Poseidon would be able to sway far more of the gods to his side than Zeus could. It was probably also why their father had kept Poseidon busy for so many years leading up to his main attack. Not just because of the strength his brother had, but also because if he had been the one making rounds to the minor gods, as Dionysus had ended up doing according to the books, far more would have likely sided with them and not their father.

 

And soon there would be two of them. And Percy was proving to be even better at it than his father. He gained allies without even trying. Ares respected him even after Percy had defeated him at the age of twelve. Ares might respect strength, but if anyone else had done that, and spoken to Ares that way, they would have been blacklisted forever. It might have been a fear of Poseidon originally that stopped him from killing Percy, but it had soon become respect. Even Zeus himself had become fond of the boy against his own will. Not that he’d ever admit that to anyone, least of all Poseidon.

 

Even just a few books ago he would have been terrified at the prospect of Percy joining their ranks, with the same charm, and probably a similar level of power to Poseidon. But now he found himself just accepting it. He’d already resigned himself to his nephew becoming a god. And having another one of them that could charm many of the minor gods and goddesses would only be an asset to them.

 

He met her eyes, but she couldn’t read his expression. That bothered her too…Hyperion’s burst bubble glowing on his janitor’s uniform.

 

“Well, that’s done,” Thalia announced.

 

“Oh joy,” Grover wrinkled his nose. Thalia happily handed him the book. He looked at it uneasily. It had been too long since something bad happened and it made him suspicious about how awful his chapter was going to be.

Chapter Text

After a while, Annabeth’s feet felt like Titan mush. She marched along, following Bob…His eyes had a dull sheen—like his spirit was being slowly extinguished.

 

Poseidon and Apollo both tightened their grip on Percy, feeling more and more anxious. They both wondered if the Cocytus was having some lingering effects or if it was simply Tartarus, and not having had any sleep in probably around twenty-four hours, maybe more.

 

He fell into Tartarus to be with you, said a voice in her head. If he dies, it will be your fault.

 

Annabeth flinched. Apollo had to stop himself nodding in agreement. He knew what Percy was like. As soon as he found out it was required to go, he would have volunteered himself, Annabeth or not. Although, she was making it harder because Percy kept looking after her instead of himself. Also, not her fault, he had to remind himself.

 

“It’s not your fault,” Thalia said gently. “Percy chose to go with you. You were the one dragged down by Arachne. You had no choice. Besides, it’s a good job he did, or he wouldn’t have been there to control the river to stop your fall.”

 

“Stop it,” she said aloud…Annabeth fought down her irritation. “But what does that mean? Who is this lady?”

 

“You of all people know using names is a bad idea,” Grover reminded her.

 

“And in Tartarus? Definitely don’t do it,” Beckendorf nodded in agreement.

 

“Naming her?” Bob glanced back. “Not a good idea.”…“Can you at least tell us how far?” she asked.

 

“Probably not. If it’s anything like the maze, time and space don’t really mean much,” Nico pointed out. “And we already know he can’t tell time as it works differently. I’m guessing space does too.”

 

“Great,” Annabeth sighed.

 

“I do not know,” Bob admitted. “I can only feel it. We wait for the darkness to get darker. Then we go sideways.”

 

“Err what? Darkness to get darker?” Connor frowned.

 

“Go sideways?” Leo asked in confusion.

 

“As long as Bob knows where he is going, it’s probably best not to question it too much,” Beckendorf said uneasily. “I mean, even if he turns on them, it’s not like they knew where they were going beforehand.”

 

“Sideways,” Annabeth muttered. “Naturally.”…Even if she finds the Romans, why should Reyna trust you after all that has happened?

 

“Because Reyna doesn’t want war either. She knows defeating Gaea is more important,” Jason shot Reyna a smile.

 

Annabeth was tempted to shout back at the voice, but she resisted…A moment of sunlight. A warm bed. A kind word from her mother.

 

“I definitely wouldn’t hold your breath for that last one,” Poseidon muttered.

 

“Oh yes, and where are you? We haven’t heard you offering Percy and help or support,” Athena shot back. Poseidon grimaced. That had been bothering him too.

 

“He’s probably struggling with the headaches more than most. He’s one of the eldest gods and has a huge difference between his Greek and Roman sides. At least he isn’t being petty and taking out his anger on Percy,” Apollo glared at Athena. “And the Romans suck at worshipping Neptune. You heard the rundown shed he has at their camp,” The Romans all winced. “Yet you don’t see him getting his kids to start civil wars. Or disowning them because he accepts the Romans.” Poseidon and Percy both shot Apollo grateful looks. Athena scowled.

 

Suddenly Bob stopped. He raised his hand: Wait…“Shh,” Bob warned. “Ahead. Something moves.”

 

“Oh gods, it had been going so well,” Silena complained.

 

“Well, Bob said the titans and giants were behind them. And Bob can sense those, so it’s probably not any of them,” Dakota said, trying to be optimistic.

 

Annabeth strained her ears. From somewhere in the fog came a deep thrumming noise, like the idling engine of a large construction vehicle. She could feel the vibrations through her shoes.

 

“I don’t suppose it’s a nice car come to take you all the way to Akhlys?” Grover inquired.

 

“Probably not,” Rachel shook her head.

 

“Or a nice airplane with guns that shoot celestial bronze bullets?” Pollux asked hopefully.

 

“Na, they definitely aren’t that lucky,” Chris shook his head.

 

“I don’t think that’s down to bad luck. More just that airplanes and cars don’t usually end up in Tartarus,” Hermes pointed out.

 

“We will surround it,” Bob whispered. “Each of you, take a flank.”

 

“But Annabeth doesn’t have a weapon?” Connor pointed out.

 

“With Bob and Percy there, they should be able handle it. And if Bob can’t handle it with Percy’s help, then they had better move away very quickly,” Nico said.

 

“Are you saying Annabeth would make no difference?” Thalia glared at him.

 

“I think he’s just pointing out that if Percy and a titan can’t fight whatever it is, then one extra fighter probably isn’t going to make a difference, no matter who it is,” Will stepped in. “That’s when Annabeth can step in with her brilliant escape plan.”

 

For the millionth time, Annabeth wished she had her dagger…A figure appeared in the fog. Bob raised his spear.

 

“Oh gods,” Rachel muttered nervously.

 

“Wait!” Annabeth shrieked…the point of his spear hovering an inch above the head of a tiny calico kitten.

 

“Er…what?” Percy gaped in surprise.

 

“A kitten?” Grover blinked.

 

“It can’t be a regular kitten, or it wouldn’t be in Tartarus,” Jason frowned.

 

“All so worked up about a kitten,” Silena burst out laughing, though it had an edge of hysteria to it.

 

“There is another dose of weirdness to explode your brain. A kitten in Tartarus,” Connor chuckled.

 

“If the kitten was the thing in front of them, what was making that rumbling noise?” Drew wondered.

 

“Well, it’s obviously not a regular kitten, so maybe it was purring really loudly,” Silena suggested.

 

“Considering it apparently sounded like a construction machine and made the floor vibrate, that was one loud purr for an apparently tiny kitten,” Beckendorf whistled.

 

“What kind of monster is a kitten?” Rachel frowned. All the demigods shrugged.

 

“Maybe they are being affected by the Mist?” Reyna suggested.

 

“Rrow?” said the kitten, clearly unimpressed by their attack plan.

 

Everyone laughed, as much for a release of tension as because it was amusing that a kitten was completely unphased by two demigods and a titan planning to attack it.

 

It butted its head against Bob’s foot and purred loudly…The little thing was bony under its fur, but otherwise it seemed perfectly normal.

 

“Oookay…that’s definitely weird,” Hermes raised his eyebrows.

 

“Wait,” Thalia said with a thoughtful expression. “Atlas.”

 

“What?” Jason looked at his sister like she had gone insane. “What does he have to do with this?”

 

“Oh, the museum!” Percy realised. “The teeth for those horrible skeletons. They got the wrong ones and grew a kitten that was supposed to be a sabre-tooth tiger or something.”

 

“That would do it,” Apollo nodded. “Monster kitten.”

 

“It doesn’t sound like it’s undead like the skeletons,” Grover frowned.

 

“Maybe it’s not supposed to be. Maybe it’s something else,” Percy shrugged.

 

“How did…?” She couldn’t even form the question. “What is a kitten doing…?”…“It must be a good monster.” Bob looked up nervously. “Isn’t it?”

 

“It hasn’t attacked yet, so maybe?” Katie said nervously.

 

Annabeth felt a lump in her throat. Seeing the huge Titan and this tiny kitten together…Tartarus swallowed Titans and demigods and kittens indiscriminately.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

Bob knelt down and scooped up the cat. It fit perfectly in Bob’s palm…as if it had stepped behind an X-ray machine. Then it was a regular kitten again.

 

“And there we go. Monster kitten,” Apollo chuckled.

 

“If that’s the worst that happens, I’ll take it,” Percy said.

 

Annabeth blinked. “Did you see—?”…It’s one of the ones from the Smithsonian.”

 

“Nice memory,” Thalia said. “I can’t believe you remember that from so many years ago. I barely remember and we read about it like, just over a week ago.”

 

Annabeth tried to make sense of that. She’d never been to the Smithsonian with Percy

 

“He isn’t attached to your hip. He does go to places without you, and being Percy, I’m sure he gets attacked in those places too,” Rachel pointed out.

 

“Yeah. I’m just used to being with Percy on quests, which is when he’s more likely to go to somewhere like the Smithsonian and run into monsters,” Annabeth shrugged.

 

“Percy runs into monsters wherever he goes,” Poseidon grimaced.

 

Then she recalled several years ago, when the Titan Atlas had captured her…Maybe they destroyed the cats and they were reborn in Tartarus? I don’t know.”

 

“Sounds about right,” Artemis nodded.

 

“It’s cute,” Bob said, as the kitten sniffed his ear.

 

“But is it safe?” Annabeth asked.

 

“Safe is probably relative,” Thalia said.

 

“If it likes Bob, then it might not attack you. But it is a monster, so it is probably still dangerous,” Clarisse nodded.

 

The Titan scratched the kitten’s chin. Annabeth didn’t know if it was a good idea…“I will call him Small Bob,” said Bob. “He is a good monster.”

 

“Aww,” Silena smiled.

 

“And yet more weirdness. Now I actually think a titan is being kind of adorable,” Piper wrinkled her nose.

 

“It’s definitely kind of sweet,” Katie nodded, looking slightly weirded out.

 

End of discussion. The Titan hefted his spear and they continued marching into the gloom…Mount Tamalpais because the Bay Area reminded them of Tartarus.

 

“Seriously? I mean, I know San Francisco might not be the nicest place ever to live, but it’s not Tartarus,” Reyna frowned.


“Hey, if it makes her feel better to try and make Tartarus seem more…human, then whatever helps,” Connor said. Reyna had to agree with that.

 

What a depressing thought. Only Titans would see such a beautiful place as a potential outpost of the abyss—a hellish home away from home.

 

“Sounds like them,” Hermes shrugged.

 

Bob struck off to the left. They followed. The air definitely got colder…With our luck, Annabeth thought, we’re marching through the armpit of Tartarus.

 

“Eewww,” Silena said in disgust.

 

“That’s a disgusting thought,” Piper agreed.

 

“I really hate my imagination,” Annabeth groaned.

 

Suddenly her senses were on high alert, as if somebody had snapped…She wondered momentarily if it was the kitten’s purr; but Small Bob had fallen asleep on Large Bob’s shoulder.

 

“Oh crap. What now?” Rachel asked with nervous anticipation.

 

A few yards away, another tree shuddered…Annabeth’s first thought: The Furies.

 

“Don’t tell me someone killed them again?” Hades complained.

 

“Hey, I’ve been too busy,” Percy grinned.

 

“Alecto still hates you,” Nico smirked.

 

“I know,” Percy laughed.

 

“Maybe Hades sent them to help?” Persephone suggested.

 

“There is no way Alecto would go to Tartarus to help out Percy,” Nico shook his head. “Not even if dad ordered it. She might respect him now, but not that much.”

 

The creature looked almost exactly like one: a wrinkled hag with batlike wings…Soon there were half a dozen surrounding them. More hissed in the trees above.

 

“Not the Furies then,” Beckendorf said.

 

“Demonic grandmothers that look like Furies?” Will frowned.

 

“Oh us, please not them,” Poseidon groaned.

 

“Who?” Percy wanted to know.

 

“The Arai,” Hades stated grimly. “Children of Nyx, they are the spirits of curses. Usually, the ones bestowed by the dead on the person who killed them,” He explained.

 

“And if you kill them, they curse you,” Persephone added.

 

“So, we can’t kill them?” Percy asked in concern.

 

“Well, you can. But you’ll get cursed for every single one that you kill,” Poseidon told him.

 

“They are spirits of curses of the ones you’ve killed? Percy’s killed a lot of monsters,” Hazel pointed out nervously.

 

“So has Annabeth,” Thalia added.

 

“This is so not good,” Nico grimaced.

 

They couldn’t be Furies, then. There were only three of those, and these winged hags didn’t carry whips. That didn’t comfort Annabeth. The monsters’ talons looked plenty dangerous.

 

“So, they can attack us with those nasty talons, and if we kill them, we get cursed? I hate them already,” Percy complained.

 

“What are you?” she demanded…The voice simply floated overhead like a movie narrator’s, as if a single mind controlled all the creatures.

 

“That’s creepy,” Silena muttered.

 

“This whole thing is creepy and kind of terrifying and we aren’t even there,” Beckendorf agreed.

 

“What—what do you want?” Annabeth asked, trying to maintain a tone of confidence…“Only a thousand times?” Percy murmured. “Oh, good…I thought we were in trouble.”

 

“I love your sarcasm, but really not the time,” Apollo said faintly while some of the demigods chuckled at Percy’s attitude.

 

The circle of demon ladies closed in.

 

“That’s it,” Grover said. “And it’s Hazel next.”

 

“No!” Poseidon cried out. “That’s like another four chapters until we find out how they get out of this mess!”

 

“Well, we’d best read quickly then,” Apollo said grimly. Grover tossed the book over to Nico who shot him an irritated look. The satyr tried for an innocent grin, but he was too worried about Percy and Annabeth, so it came out as more of a terrified grimace. Not wanting to waste more time, Nico opened the book to the right place and began reading.

Chapter Text

Everything smelled like poison

 

“What?” Frank yelped.

 

“Oh, good lord, not more poison,” Nico complained. Then he kept reading before anyone could speculate.

 

Two days after leaving Venice, Hazel still couldn’t get the noxious scent of eau de cow monster out of her nose.

 

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“At least it’s not new poison,” Piper sighed.

 

“Give it time,” Silena muttered darkly.

 

The seasickness didn’t help. The Argo II sailed down the Adriatic…She just wished she were on solid ground again.

 

“Sadly, it’s probably even less safe on the ground,” Frank said apologetically.

 

The thing that nauseated her most was the weasel.

 

“The weasel?” Jason frowned.

 

“Hecate said she would send Gale to check up on her,” Apollo said.

 

“Isn’t it a polecat not a weasel?” Gwen asked.

 

“I think so,” Nico nodded.

 

Last night, Hecate’s pet Gale had appeared in her cabin. Hazel woke from a nightmare…and dancing around your cabin while a weasel scampers between your feet, screeching and farting.

 

Everyone chuckled at that.

 

Her friends rushed to her room to see if she was okay. The weasel was difficult to explain. Hazel could tell that Leo was trying hard not to make a joke.

 

“I appreciate the effort,” Hazel told Leo.

 

“You’re welcome,” He grinned.

 

In the morning, once the excitement died down…Hedge was saying. “Yeah, I know, baby. No, it’s great news, but—” His voice broke with emotion. Hazel suddenly felt horrible for eavesdropping.

 

“I’m guessing he’s iris-messaging Mellie,” Piper said with a slight smile.

 

She would’ve backed away, but Gale squeaked at her heels…The coach snorted and opened his door wide. “Kinda question is that?”

 

“A valid one if you look like you’ve been crying,” Frank frowned.

 

“It sounds like it was personal,” Grover shrugged.

 

There was no one else in the room…They had what sounded like a very intense argument.

 

“Sounds about right,” Apollo laughed.

 

“What did she say?” Hazel asked…“How what goes?”

 

“I’m guessing whatever is coming up means you’re going to have to try and use the Mist,” Nico said.

 

“Yeah. That’s what Hecate wants you to learn,” Jason nodded.

 

“Great,” Hazel pulled a face. “I’ve never really used that before.”

 

“I’m sure you can practice here,” Thalia said. “I can help if you like.” She couldn’t remember if she had offered to help when this came up. It might have only been that morning, but it felt like weeks ago after all of the Tartarus stuff.

 

“Thanks,” Hazel smiled.

 

Coach Hedge stomped his hoof. “How am I supposed to know? She’s a polecat!...doubted the coach would ask for help if he needed it. He wasn’t exactly the warm and open type.

 

“He probably won’t ask for any help,” Clarisse shook her head with a frown. She wondered what had upset Gleeson. He had said it was great news. Something about his girlfriend most likely, given that he called her ‘hon’.

 

“Well, maybe he’ll at least tell us at some point so we can give him help whether he asks or not,” Piper said. Coach Hedge may not be her favourite person in the world, but he had helped her dad, and he had saved their lives.

 

She stared at the white cliffs in the distance and thought about why Hecate…She couldn’t manipulate the Mist.

 

“You’re probably overthinking it. Trying to force it won’t work,” Reyna said. “And it’s best if you start out by trying in on someone else anyway, so they can tell you if they see what you want them to see. It’s much harder to deceive yourself.” Hazel nodded.

 

The last few nights, her dreams had gotten worse…where Hazel and her mother had died as the ceiling collapsed and the voice of the Earth Goddess wailed in anger.

 

Hazel and Hades both winced at that.

 

She was on the stairs of her mother’s apartment building in New Orleans…The dead see what they believe they will see. So do the living. That is the secret.

 

“You contacted her?” Nico looked at his father in astonishment. If he hadn’t been acknowledging her because she shouldn’t be alive, then this was a huge rule for him to break. And his father did not break his own rules without a very good reason.

 

“She needed a place to start learning how to use the Mist,” Hades shrugged. Stopping Gaea rising was a good enough reason in his books to ignore the fact that his daughter had come back from death.

 

He’d never said that to her in real life. She had no idea what it meant.

 

“Do you understand now?” Hades asked her.

 

“Not really,” Hazel frowned.

 

“It means it is easier to use the Mist to create the illusion of what someone wants to see, or what they could realistically expect to see, rather than something they know is totally impossible,” Aphrodite explained. “It can be done to make someone see something totally against what they expect, usually things mortals see when the Mist hides monsters from them. It is a lot easier to make them see something they already expect to see.”

 

“I think I understand,” Hazel nodded hesitantly.

 

“I’ll explain it in more detail later,” Reyna promised.

 

The worst nightmares seemed like glimpses of the future…Hazel was tempted to push the stupid rodent into the sea.

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

I can’t even control my own dreams, she wanted to scream. How am I supposed to control the Mist?

 

“Because those are two totally different things,” Nico said.

 

She was so miserable, she didn’t notice Frank until he was standing at her side…solid and strong, with a new center of gravity. His shoulders had broadened. He walked with more confidence.

 

Frank’s eyes widened at that description.

 

“That’s…wow,” Dakota whistled, eyeing Frank speculatively.

 

“Ok if we’re changing things, I think I want that to stay the same,” Frank muttered. “Just without the whole Hazel getting poisoned thing.”

 

“Yeah, let’s avoid that part,” Hazel nodded, smiling at him.

 

What Frank had done on that bridge in Venice…Hazel was still in awe…Even Leo had stopped making jokes at his expense.

 

“About time too,” Leo muttered to himself.

 

“I’m—I’m all right,” Hazel managed. “You?”…She’d been worried that his personality had changed as well.

 

“Nope, no personality changes,” Ares shook his head.

 

Now she was starting to relax about that. Despite all his strength…The top of the mast was one of the few places on board where Nico could be alone.

 

“Off brooding some more?” Will nudge Nico gently. “You’re face might get stuck in a brooding frown if you’re not careful,” He joked. Nico stuck his tongue out.

 

You’ve heard them all. I make them nervous. Best I stay out of the way,” He replied in quiet Italian.

 

It might just be that they can feel Tartarus on you. And it probably doesn’t help that thinking about Tartarus reminds them Percy and Annabeth are down there. But I get it sucks hearing their thoughts. Just try to remember that things are different now. Frank and Leo have hung out with us and not been bothered by you. So don’t get too stuck on what they think in a future that’s never going to happen,” Will told him gently, still in Italian so the others couldn’t listen in. Nico gave a tentative nod.

 

The others had offered him the use of Percy’s cabin, since Percy was…well, absent. Nico adamantly refused.

 

Percy glanced over at Nico. Since Nico had told him he had had a crush on Percy, which he still didn’t really get but hey, he could easily understand why he wouldn’t want to sleep in his room. Especially after Percy had made him promise to lead them to Epirus. Going back to the Doors of Death, where he had been brought back up into the world by Gaea’s forces was probably the last thing Nico had wanted to do. And he was doing it for Percy. Even after everything he’d been through.

 

He spent most of his time up in the rigging, where he didn’t have to talk with the rest of the crew.

 

“Just don’t fall out,” Percy chuckled. Nico shot him a mock glare that made him chuckle more.

 

Since he’d been turned into a corn plant in Venice…“I get the feeling Nico doesn’t play well with others.”

 

“Unless it’s Mythomagic,” Will laughed.

 

“Shut up,” Nico told him. Will just smirked.

 

“What he means is he doesn’t play well with alive people. Just dead ones,” Percy grinned.

 

“Dead ones are less annoying,” Nico deadpanned.

 

“Than Percy? Who isn’t?” Thalia smirked.

 

“Certainly not you,” Percy told her.

 

“You’re both annoying,” Nico stated. They both stuck their tongues out at him, and he chuckled slightly.

 

All of the Romans looked slightly bemused by this. They all knew Nico to behave far more like his book-self than how he was behaving during this reading. It was kind of jarring to listen to and see such opposite behaviour at the same time.

 

Frank stood up straight. He was wearing a beige T-shirt with a picture of a horse…“Nico is my only relative,” she said. “He’s not easy to like, but…thanks for being kind to him.”

 

Nico frowned, feeling hurt. He could accept, and even understand Frank and Leo feeling that way, but Hazel? It felt like Bianca all over again, handing him off for someone else to look after because she didn’t want too anymore. He even sort of got that. Bianca had only been twelve. Looking after a ten-year-old must have been exhausting, but still, to dump him off with the first strangers who said they had a place for him? It had hurt. And now even Hazel didn’t think he was particularly likeable. At least she made an effort he supposed. Still, apparently, Percy was the only person who bothered to look out for him without viewing him as some kind of burden. And now Will.

 

“Hey, Nico is easy to like,” Will protested. “He’s kinda like that kitten Percy and Annabeth found. Sometimes looks kinda ghostly, and can probably do a lot of damage, but looks adorable.”

 

“I am not like a kitten,” Nico deadpanned.

 

“Not just any kitten. A ghostly monster kitten,” Percy grinned. Nico glared at him. “And yeah, it’s hard not to like Nico when you’ve seen him bouncing around as a hyperactive ten-year-old asking how many attack power the monster trying to kill you has.” All the Greek demigods who had been at Camp half-Blood that winter all laughed.

 

“Did you want to strangle him when you first met?” Grover recalled.

 

“To be fair, he did ask how come if Annabeth was a daughter of Athena why didn’t she know better than to fall off a cliff,” Travis chuckled. “Or something like that.” Nico blushed.

 

“Other than that, he was great,” Percy grinned. “And anyone who calls Mr. D ‘the wine dude’ to his face is a good person in my book. Especially if he happens to save me from getting blasted at the same time.” Dionysus grumbled under his breath at the reminder as Nico blushed an even deeper shade of red.

 

Frank smiled. “Hey, you put up with my grandmother in Vancouver. Talk about not easy to like.”

 

Nico wasn’t sure how he felt about being compared to Frank’s grandmother.

 

“I loved your grandmother!”

 

Frank raised his eyebrows in surprise.

 

Gale the polecat scampered up to them, farted, and ran away…Suddenly the boat lurched forward.

 

“Done,” Nico announced.

 

“Oh good. More trouble,” Jason groaned.

 

“I shall read,” Athena declared. Nico gave her the book.

Chapter Text

Hazel and Frank tumbled over each other.

 

“I hope Nico didn’t fall out of the rigging,” Percy snickered.

 

“We don’t need any more head injuries on this trip,” Will grimaced.

 

Hazel accidentally gave herself the Heimlich maneuver with the pommel of her sword and curled on the deck, moaning and coughing up the taste of katobleps poison.

 

“Yuck,” Hazel pulled a face.

 

“That’s grim,” Jason winced in sympathy.

 

“I’m sure it’s about to get worse,” Frank sighed.

 

Through a fog of pain, she heard the ship’s figurehead…“Gahh!” Leo yelled somewhere behind her. “It’s eating the oars!”

 

“Eating the oars?” Leo frowned.

 

“So, some sea monster then,” Percy grimaced. And naturally he wasn’t there. Although, it’s not like he’d been much good against shrimpzilla anyway.

 

What is? Hazel wondered. She tried to stand, but something large and heavy…“Hey! HEY! Eat this, ya stupid turtle!”

 

“A turtle?” Jason blinked in surprise.

 

“A monster turtle?” Piper asked.

 

Poseidon closed his eyes and fought back a groan. Why was it always his children they ran into? Triton sighed. He also suspected who this was, and he was interested to see how Hazel would beat him with the Mist.

 

Turtle?...he had already fired one arrow and was nocking the second.

 

“I should have helped you up,” Frank looked guilty.

 

“It’s fine. Turtle monster is more important than me coughing up the taste of katopleb poison. I’ll be alright soon enough,” Hazel waved away the apology.

 

Leo frantically worked the ship’s controls. “Oars won’t retract…More oars snapped, and Leo yelled, “No, no, no! Dang slimy-shelled son of a mother!”

 

“Son of a mother?” Piper looked over at Leo in amusement. “How insulting. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t go running home after that.” Leo blushed.

 

Hazel reached the stern and couldn’t believe what she saw…Its red, toothless mouth could’ve swallowed the Athena Parthenos in one bite.

 

“That’s one big turtle,” Reyna muttered.

 

“Giant turtle?” Annabeth frowned, trying to think.

 

Hazel watched as it snapped off half a dozen oars…whacking at it uselessly with his baseball bat and yelling, “Take that! And that!”

 

“If you’re going to hit it with a bat, why attack the shell?” Reyna asked in bewilderment.

 

“It’s Gleeson? Who knows why he does what he does,” Grover shrugged. “To be honest, I don’t think a bat is going to do much, no matter where he hits it. But that is a particularly poor choice.”

 

“Just be glad he isn’t going for the ballistae and hitting everyone,” Leo said grimly.

 

Jason flew from the stern and landed on the creature’s head. He stabbed his golden sword straight between its eyes, but the blade slipped sideways, as if the turtle’s skin were greased steel.

 

“Yep. If Jason’s sword won’t do it, a bat definitely won’t,” Rachel said.

 

“If Jason’s sword won’t do it, I’m not sure what will,” Reyna frowned.

 

Frank shot arrows at the monster’s eyes with no success…“Fetch, ya stupid turtle!” But the turtle seemed fixated on eating the Argo II.

 

Piper winced at her effort in aiding the attack. It was only made marginally better by the fact nobody else was having success either.

 

“How did it get so close?” Hazel demanded…It’s a freaking stealth turtle!”

 

“A stealth turtle?” Travis snorted.

 

“Ooh, that gives me an idea,” Connor grinned. Everyone immediately eyed him warily, and he flashed a smirk at the room in general.

 

“We’ll talk later,” Travis smirked back.

 

“Can the ship fly?” Piper asked…“There!” Nico yelled from above. “Can you get us to those straits?”

 

“Straits? A giant turtle? Oooh, I’m guessing Sciron is up there,” Annabeth frowned. Poseidon sighed.

 

“Sciron? Who’s that?” Leo asked.

 

“A son of Poseidon who gets travelers to wash his feet and then kicks them over the cliff to be eaten by his turtle,” Annabeth said.

 

“Another one?” Percy exclaimed in exasperation. “Seriously, do you have any nice kids except me and Tyson?”

 

“What about me?” Triton protested.

 

“Like I said. Any others except me and Tyson?” Percy smirked. Poseidon rolled his eyes.

 

“Well, he sounds lovely, but I want to know how this is a test for Hazel,” Piper said with interest. Athena started reading before anyone could start speculating on that too.

 

Hazel looked where he was pointing. About half a mile to the east, a long strip…he made the only smart choice. He flew away as fast as possible.

 

“I don’t know what you mean?” Leo smirked.

 

“That when you have an idea, things tend to explode,” Piper laughed.

 

“Coach, come on!” Jason said…Unfortunately, the coach struggled so much that Jason’s sword fell out of his hand and splashed into the sea.

 

“Urgh? Really?” Jason groaned. Everyone else rolled their eyes. There was no use getting frustrated at the satyr’s actions anymore. They were well used to him being more of a hinderance than a help, and all of the seven were fully determined not to take him on their quest this time around.

 

“Coach!” Jason complained.

 

“What?” Hedge said. “I was softening him up!”

 

“No. You were doing absolutely nothing,” Leo stated flatly.

 

The turtle head-butted the hull, almost tossing the whole crew off the port side…But then it came right back and rammed them even harder.

 

“A good try,” Silena said with a sigh. Piper shrugged. She hadn’t really expected it to work.

 

Jason and Coach Hedge landed on the deck…“Fine,” Jason muttered. “Without a weapon, but fine.”

 

“At least it didn’t explode,” Thalia muttered.

 

“It really doesn’t happen that often,” Jason laughed, rolling his eyes at his sister.

 

“Fire in the shell!” Leo cried, spinning his Wii controller…The turtle was already a hundred yards behind them, its head charred and smoking.

 

“Nice job, Leo,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

The monster bellowed in frustration and started after them…But instantly, Hazel spotted something on the horizon—a flash of light and steam.

 

Poseidon and Demeter smiled.

 

“Ok, yeah, Arion’s one of the good ones,” Percy said.

 

“Excuse me? You think the horse is a good one but not me?” Triton glared at him.

 

“Yep,” Percy grinned.

 

It streaked across the surface of the Adriatic. In a heartbeat…Arion snorted as if to say, Of course you do. You’re not stupid.

 

Everyone laughed at that.

 

Hazel climbed on his back. “Piper, I could use that charmspeak of yours.”…Each command only worked for a moment, but they were making the turtle very annoyed.

 

“And even a moment is better than nothing,” Annabeth said.

 

“Yeah. You only need to distract it long enough for the Argo to escape,” Silena nodded.

 

Arion whinnied derisively as the turtle snapped at him, only to get a mouthful of horse vapor.

 

“He so has your attitude,” Demeter grumbled. Poseidon rolled his eyes.

 

Soon the monster had completely forgotten the Argo II…bounce coconuts and roasted chickens off the turtle’s eyeballs.

 

Everyone burst out laughing.

 

“That’s a…unique way of fighting a giant turtle,” Reyna smiled.

 

“Well, it’s not like conventional weapons were useful,” Leo shrugged.

 

As soon as the Argo II had passed into the straits, Arion broke off his harassment…Wish I could give you more than a few seconds of burn, but at least it got us out of there.”

 

“Nice!” Beckendorf grinned.

 

“And you charred a turtle with it,” Frank grinned.

 

“All of these good ideas for the ship,” Leo whistled appreciatively. “I hope we have time if we all work on it.”

 

“And roasted the turtle’s head,” Jason said appreciatively…“Hey! I didn’t ask for an evac!”

 

“So, he should have left you there to die?” Piper asked.

 

“He was on the shell; he was out of chomping range. Might have been easier to leave him there,” Michael muttered.

 

“Yeah, but when it dived, he would have been washed off,” Percy pointed out.

 

“Second, I don’t think the ballistae will do any good…with that shrimp monster thing in the Atlantic. Light it up from the inside.”

 

“Possible,” Clarisse nodded. “If it took out something the size of shrimpzilla, it would probably kill the turtle.” Poseidon rolled his eyes yet again as it seemed his son’s nickname for the creature was definitely going to stick.

 

Frank scratched his head. “Might work. But then you’ve got a five-million-kilo…Coach said. “Or just sail the other direction, you big galoot.”

 

“You fix the oars,” Beckendorf said. “You’re going to need to do that anyway.”

 

“But they might not have enough materials to do it there and then. They’ve already had to replace the mast a few times from those stone giants,” Annabeth pointed out.

 

Frank looked confused. “What’s a galoot?”…The channel ended in a narrow V.

 

“It’s a trap,” Jason groaned.

 

“That’ll be where Sciron is waiting,” Triton grimaced.

 

“Oh goodie,” Leo muttered.

 

“We’re not in a strait,” Jason said. “We’re in a dead end.”…“Well…” Piper shrugged. “At least the turtle can’t get us. We’re safe here.”

 

“Oh, no! You don’t say that as a demigod on a quest. Ever!” Thalia winced. Piper grimaced.

 

“Especially when Hazel has just said it’s a trap,” Nico agreed.

 

That was something no demigod should ever say. The words had barely left Piper’s mouth when an arrow sank into the mainmast, six inches from her face.

 

“Piper!” Silena cried.

 

“It said it didn’t hit me,” Piper said, as much to reassure herself as Silena.

 

“I thought he was a son of Poseidon? How come he’s so good with a bow?” Connor asked. Percy glared at him.

 

“Not all sons of Poseidon are as terrible as Percy,” Chiron laughed. “Although most aren’t far off.”

 

The crew scattered for cover, except for Piper, who stood frozen in place…“Guys?” Piper’s voice was thin and watery. “There’s a note.”

 

“That’ll be his demands. Probably one or two of you to go up with all the valuables. Then he’ll get one of you to clean his feet in exchange for going free before trying to kick you off the ledge,” Annabeth said. “At least, that’s how he did it back in olden times.”

 

“Just great. And somehow, I have to trick him with the Mist,” Hazel grimaced.

 

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” Frank smiled at her.

 

Hazel hadn’t seen it before, but a parchment scroll was tied to the arrow shaft…Well, crouching, anyway. And if that guy is expecting a pizza delivery, forget it!”

 

“Somehow I don’t think he was expecting a pizza delivery,” Grover shook his head in amusement.

 

“There’s more,” Hazel said. “This is a robbery. Send two of your party to the top of the cliff with all your valuables. No more than two. Leave the magic horse. No flying. No tricks. Just climb.”

 

“Seriously?” Hazel complained. “I can’t even take Arion to get to the top of the cliff?”

 

“And I can’t just fly people up there?” Jason grimaced.

 

“Well two people can go. If this is Hazel’s test, then obviously she is going. Who would be the second?” Piper wondered.

 

“We’ll find out in a second,” Drew reminded her with a slight smile.

 

“Climb what?” Piper asked…Hazel got the feeling this was not the first time the letter writer had ambushed a ship here.

 

“Definitely not,” Triton shook his head. Percy sighed.

 

She cleared her throat and kept reading aloud: “I do mean all your valuables. Otherwise my turtle and I will destroy you. You have five minutes.”

 

“Five minutes to climb that whole cliff?” Nico frowned.

 

“I doubt we really have that many valuables on board,” Leo shrugged.

 

“No, probably not,” Jason agreed.

 

“Use the catapults!” cried the coach…“Curse it!” said the coach. “This guy is good.”

 

“Given how well he can shoot, he’d probably pick us off before we could even fire the catapults,” Frank pointed out.

 

“Yep,” Michael nodded.

 

“Is the note signed?” Nico asked…it sat annoyingly in the back of her memory, just out of reach.

 

“That’s the way it usually goes,” Nico sighed.

 

The weasel Gale watched her, waiting to see what she would do…I don’t think I could make the shot. That’s hundreds of feet, almost straight up.”

 

“Fighting isn’t the way to beat this guy,” Annabeth shook her head.

 

“No, that’s supposed to be me using a power I’ve never used before,” Hazel grumbled.

 

“Yeah,” Frank grumbled. “My bow is useless too. He’s got a huge advantage…Gale scampered along the railing and jumped on her shoulder, ready to hitch a ride.

 

“Oh good. The farting weasel is actually coming up too,” Hazel grimaced.

 

The others stared at her…“If we pay him off, you think he’ll actually let us go?”

 

“Nope,” Percy shook his head. “Especially not if he finds out Hazel can summon riches.”

 

“Well, I have to go up there anyway,” Hazel shrugged.

 

“Yeah. And maybe Jason as he can fly,” Piper suggested.

 

“Or Frank who can turn into animals. He’s probably already seen Jason fly when he fought the turtle. Frank’s ability would be a surprise,” Clarisse pointed out.

 

“We don’t have much choice,” Nico said. “Between that guy and the turtle…”…If Hazel falls…well, I can use the winds to keep us both from coming down the hard way.”

 

“Thanks,” Hazel smiled.

 

“Anytime,” Jason replied.

 

Arion whinnied in protest, as if to say, You’re going without me? You’re kidding, right?...The name Percy passed over them like a cloud. The mood on deck got even darker.

 

“Wait, can’t Hazel get it?” Nico frowned. “She can summon precious metals like gold.”

 

“I didn’t even think about that,” Hazel gasped. “It might be too far away now. But it’s something to remember in the future, just in case.”

 

“Everyone needs weapons like Percy’s on this trip. First Annabeth and now Jason,” Thalia grumbled.

 

Hazel stretched out her arm. She didn’t think about it…and Jason’s blade flew out of the water and into her hand.

 

“Nice!” Percy grinned.

 

“Thanks, Hazel,” Jason said gratefully.

 

“I’m just glad it worked,” Hazel laughed.

 

“Here,” she said, handing it over…the way she cursed jewels and precious metals.

 

“Your curse is over, isn’t it?” Nico frowned. “I thought Frank broke the curse when he shared your blackout.”

 

“It’s not like I would test it by giving someone a possibly cursed jewel,” Hazel shrugged.

 

Somehow, though, she thought, weapons were different…“Now, if there are no other objections, we have a robber to meet.”

 

“The chapter is finished,” Athena announced.

 

“That makes it my turn,” Hephaestus grunted. She gave him the book.

Chapter Text

Hazel liked the great outdoors —but climbing a two-hundred-foot cliff on a stairway without rails, with a bad-tempered weasel on her shoulder? Not so much.

 

“Yeah. That would suck even without the weasel,” Drew grimaced.

 

Especially when she could have ridden Arion to the top in a matter of seconds.

 

“And that makes it even more annoying,” Jason nodded, knowing he could also just have flown up.

 

Jason walked behind her so he could catch her if she fell. Hazel appreciated that…But still, Hazel couldn’t get a read on Jason Grace.

 

Jason frowned. He was kind of worried about how little he seemed to have bonded with any of the other people on this quest. Piper and Leo had been brainwashed into being his girlfriend/best friend with fake memories. Annabeth didn’t trust him. He and Percy had some sort of tense rivalry going and now Hazel was thinking she would almost rather have the bloodthirsty satyr watching her back over him. It was disheartening to say the least. And even in here, Piper and Leo had their memories fixed, and now Piper didn’t want to be his girlfriend, he didn’t blame her after what Hera had done, and Leo had barely spoken to him since the change. He’d had a couple of bonding moments with Percy, but they certainly weren’t going to be best friends any time soon. And he’d barely interacted with Hazel and Frank either. Jason made a note to fix that at the next break.

 

Ever since she’d arrived at Camp Jupiter, she’d heard stories about him…Even now, after all the events of the past couple of weeks, Jason seemed more like a legend than a person.

 

Jason raised an eyebrow in surprise.

 

She had a hard time warming up to him, with those icy blue eyes and that careful reserve…how he had been ready to write off her brother, Nico, when they’d learned he was a captive in Rome.

 

“I don’t think I was writing him off, I think I just wanted assurances we could trust him considering he’d been to both camps,” Jason defended his future-self.

 

“Which you had the right to do, just the timing was a bit poor. It might have been something to ask Percy or Annabeth in private, rather than saying something like that in front of Nico’s sister when he was dying,” Thalia said. Jason nodded.

 

Jason had thought Nico was bait for a trap. He had been right…and Jason decided that saving Hazel wasn’t in the best interest of the quest?

 

“Woah, I wouldn’t let anything happen to you on purpose,” Jason looked offended.

 

“I know that now, but my future-self doesn’t really know you that well. You disappeared only a few weeks after I got to Camp, and it’s not like we interacted much with you as a Praetor,” Hazel pointed out. He nodded again but still looked unhappy.

 

She glanced up. She couldn’t see the thief from here, but she sensed he was waiting…Anybody who robbed innocent demigods with a giant turtle deserved a few nasty curses.

 

Poseidon and Apollo both winced at the mention of curses.

 

Gale the weasel jumped off her shoulder and scampered ahead…She couldn’t shake the feeling that the weasel was anxious to watch her fail.

 

“They were turned into a polecat for a reason, and not because they were nice,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“This, uh, controlling the Mist,” Jason said. “Have you had any luck?”…She just couldn’t make herself believe any of it was possible.

 

“The hardest person to deceive is yourself,” Aphrodite reassured her. “Other people are much easier, especially when you know what they want to see. It’s similar to charmspeak in that respect.”

 

“You’ll work it out,” Frank said encouragingly. “You’ll find a way somehow.”

 

“You’ll get it,” Jason said…Hecate wouldn’t have picked you if she didn’t believe you had power.”

 

“He does have a point,” Apollo said. “Hecate wouldn’t have chosen to appear to you and send Gale to check on you if you didn’t have the ability.”

 

Maybe that should have made Hazel feel better. It didn’t…Even Nico seemed to follow his lead without question.

 

Nico raised an eyebrow at that news.

 

“I don’t believe the ‘without question’ part,” Percy scoffed, grinning at Nico. “He never stops asking annoying questions when you want him to do something.”

 

“Maybe it’s just you he enjoys irritating,” Grover said.

 

“Nope,” Will shook his head. “He’s very…inquisitive.” Nico stuck his tongue out at both of them.

 

But Hazel couldn’t forget that Jason had been Hera’s first move in the war against the giants…Something told Hazel he was the linchpin. Jason would be the final play, too.

 

Jason grimaced. “I’d prefer not being any kind of play,” He grumbled.

 

To storm or fire the world must fall. That’s what the prophecy said. As much as Hazel feared fire, she feared storms more. Jason Grace could cause some pretty huge storms.

 

“So can Percy and you trust him,” Thalia pointed out. “In fact, the only storm you’ve seen either of them conjure is the one they did together, isn’t it? I don’t remember any other storms in these books that Hazel was around for.”

 

“Didn’t she see Percy conjure a hurricane in Alaska?” Travis recalled.

 

“Maybe,” Frank nodded. “I can’t remember if it said we saw that or not.”

 

She glanced up and saw the rim of the cliff only a few yards above her…anyone could shoot an arrow accurately from this high up, accounting for the wind and the glare of the sun off the water.

 

“He’s had a lot of practice,” Annabeth said. “It’s a trap he did a lot before Theseus defeated him.”

 

“Oh yeah. One other sibling that’s not terrible,” Percy grinned. Dionysus snorted in disgust.

 

At the mouth of the inlet, the massive shape of the turtle’s shell glinted like a burnished coin…The bandit laughed. “Sciron, of course!”

 

Poseidon grimaced. He really wished Gaea would stop bringing back his troublesome kids. First Phineas, now Sciron. He had enough issues with his immortal children.

 

“Chiron?” Jason asked. “Like the centaur?”…But if we give them up, how can we be sure you’ll let us go?”

 

“He won’t,” Percy shook his head.

 

“Of course not,” Will sighed.

 

“Oh, they always ask that,” Sciron said. “I promise you, on the River Styx, that as soon as you surrender what I want, I will not shoot you. I will send you right back down that cliff.”

 

“Nice loophole,” Hades nodded.

 

“No. Not a nice loophole,” Michael rolled his eyes.

 

Hazel gave Jason a wary look. River Styx or no, the way Sciron…“What if we fought you?” Jason asked.

 

“You won’t be able to,” Poseidon stated.

 

“You can’t attack us and hold our ship hostage at the same—”…Just above his left ear, a groove cut through his hair like a racing stripe.

 

“Jason!” Thalia cried. “Oh, I’m going to kill him.”

 

“He’s a scary good shot,” Frank muttered unhappily.

 

“Which is why trickery is the way to go,” Piper grimaced.

 

One of Sciron’s flintlocks was still pointed at his face…you’d see a hole in the deck between the shoes of the big young man, the one with the bow.”

 

Frank grimaced.

 

“More holes in my ship?” Leo complained. “I still need to fix the oars.”

 

“Frank!”…Target practice is so much more fun with live targets running around screaming!”

 

“I hate this guy,” Rachel scowled.

 

Poseidon sighed. He really was going to need to look in on his children at some point soon. It would help is Gaea would stop allowing his children back through the Doors of Death. But maybe it was time to lay down the law that Chrysaor and his other children weren’t allowed to attack demigods.

 

Jason touched the new furrow that the bullet had plowed through his hair…The giant turtle—that’s due to my parentage.

 

Even if he did come back, maybe he could at least take away his turtle.

 

You can’t go around taming giant turtles without being a son of Poseidon! I could overwhelm your ship with a tidal wave, of course, but it’s terribly difficult work.

 

“Difficult work?” Percy frowned. “Moving the sea to create a tidal wave is easy.”

 

“Different powers,” Triton shrugged. “You use your control over water a lot. He prefers to practice archery and control sea animals. Doesn’t control water much.”

 

Not nearly as fun as ambushing and shooting people.”…“So no one recognizes me!” Sciron said.

 

“He introduced himself?” Connor frowned.

 

“Not the smartest, is he?” Chris shook his head. Poseidon face palmed.

 

“But you introduced yourself,” Jason said. “You’re Sciron.”…Sorry. I’m afraid I’m a little rusty. Back from the dead, and all that. Let me try again.”

 

“Send him back to being dead,” Frank muttered.

 

He leveled his pistols. “Stand and deliver! I am an anonymous bandit, and you do not need to know my name!”

 

“It doesn’t actually work like that. They still know your name. And why does it even matter?” Pollux wanted to know.

 

“He’s weird,” Triton shrugged.

 

An anonymous bandit. Something clicked in Hazel’s memory. “Theseus. He killed you once.”…We were getting along so well!”

 

“I wouldn’t call that getting along,” Michael said.

 

“Nobody’s dead yet,” Clarisse shrugged.

 

Jason frowned. “Hazel, you know this guy’s story?”…demigods I wanted, and that’s what I’m going to do! Now…where were we?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Dakota said.

 

“Yeah, Hazel and Jason won’t let that happen,” Leo agreed.

 

“Even if they get rid of him, they still have the turtle problem,” Gwen pointed out.

 

“If Leo can fix the oars, they can fly over the turtle,” Beckendorf said.

 

“You were about to let us go,” Hazel ventured…Ah, right! Money or your life. Where are your valuables? No valuables? Then I’ll have to—”

 

“It was worth a try,” Hazel sighed. It might have worked if Piper was there.

 

“Wait,” Hazel said. “I have our valuables. At least, I can get them.”…glittering diamonds and topaz and rubies—enough to fill several lawn bags.

 

“Woah,” Connor whistled. “If that curse is broken…we need to talk.”

 

“No,” Chiron told him sternly.

 

“But Chiron…” Travis began.

 

“No,” The centaur stated once more. Both Stolls pouted.

 

Sciron laughed with delight. “How in the world did you do that?”…That thought made her feel small and powerless.

 

“You are definitely not powerless,” Percy smiled at her.

 

“Just take the treasure,” she said. “Let us go.”…The sweat started to dry on Hazel’s neck, sending a shiver down her back.

 

“Of course, he would know about that,” Leo groaned.

 

“It’s not like he was going to let them go anyway,” Reyna sighed.

 

Jason stepped forward. Despite the gun pointed at his face…“Maybe. But she told me I could keep it for myself. Hard to pass up that offer!

 

“What exactly are you going to do with a forty-foot statue?” Chris asked.

 

“Sell it probably. Though I’m not sure who would buy it,” Clarisse shrugged.

 

“Or Gaea wouldn’t actually let him keep it and wants to destroy it given it has the potential to be the ‘giant’s bane’,” Annabeth pointed out.

 

I don’t intend to die again, my friends. I intend to live a long life as a very wealthy man!”…The muzzles of Sciron’s pistols wavered. “Pardon?”

 

“Also a good point,” Triton nodded.

 

“Gaea is using you,” Hazel said. “If you take that statue, we won’t be able to defeat her…“All right!” he said. “I’m not unreasonable. Keep the statue.”

 

“What?” Connor frowned.

 

“He’s not going to let them go either way, so he can pretend to let them keep it,” Percy shrugged.

 

Jason blinked. “We can go?”…His jagged toenails were green and yellow, like a tortoise’s shell.

 

“Oh gods, that’s…disgusting doesn’t even cover it,” Silena looked slightly green at that description.

 

Then the smell hit her. Hazel didn’t know if her father’s Underworld palace…“Wash my feet, and we’re done. I’ll send you back down the cliff. I promise on the River Styx.”

 

“Not a comforting promise,” Annabeth muttered.

 

“Hopefully Hazel will remember the rest of the story,” Frank said.

 

He made that promise so easily, alarm bells rang in Hazel’s mind…“Well, it’s a big decision,” she said. “Left foot, right foot. We need to discuss.”

 

“Yes, the most important decision they will make today,” Michael chuckled.

 

She could tell he was smiling under the mask…You’ll fall right into the mouth of his giant turtle.”

 

“Jason can fly,” Thalia pointed out.

 

“And Sciron can shoot him out of the air,” Frank frowned.

 

“No. This is Hazel’s test so using the Mist comes into this somehow,” Percy said.

 

Jason took a moment to digest that, so to speak. He glanced over the cliff…She gnashed her teeth and peered at Hazel as if to say, Well? Do you?

 

“Just what you need to help concentration. A farting weasel,” Dakota wrinkled his nose.

 

Hazel calmed her nerves, trying to avoid pulling more gold from the ground…“Unfortunately, yes,” Hazel said. “We have to let Sciron win.”

 

“What?” Leo gaped.

 

“That doesn’t sound like a good plan,” Will said anxiously.

 

“She didn’t say it was a good plan. Just that it’s the only plan they have,” Nico pointed out.

 

“Oh, I get it,” Thalia smiled.

 

“Well?” Percy demanded.

 

“Read and find out,” She smirked.

 

“What?” Jason demanded.

 

Hazel told him the plan.

 

“Done,” Hephaestus grunted.

 

“My turn then,” Ares said. His brother tossed him the book.

Chapter Text

Hazel XXVIII

 

“Finally!” Sciron cried. “That was much longer than two minutes!”…She couldn’t make Sciron’s reality appear less believable. But if she showed him what he wanted to see

 

Aphrodite nodded. “That’s exactly it.”

 

well, she was a child of Pluto. She’d spent decades with the dead, listening to them…There wasn’t much difference between longing and greed.

 

Hades smiled slightly, though it was a touch bitter. It was a good lesson for his daughter to learn, and crucial to her learning to manipulate the Mist. Except he didn’t want his daughter to have learnt it by dying and spending decades on the underworld.

 

If she could summon gold and diamonds, why not summon another kind of treasure…in which case she and Jason were about to be turtle food.

 

“Definitely not wrong,” Hades told her.

 

“I wonder if Percy would be able to convince the turtle to leave Sciron and not eat them,” Rachel mused.

 

“Percy isn’t there,” Triton scowled.

 

“I know, but the turtle has been with Sciron since ancient times by the sound of it, but Percy is able to win over pretty much anyone. I just wonder who would win,” Rachel shrugged.

 

“Percy,” Grover said.

 

“Definitely Percy,” Thalia nodded.

 

“The giant turtle wasn’t killed when Sciron was. Percy could probably go and make friends with it while Sciron is still in the Underworld once you get back to your time,” Triton mused. Percy nodded, mentally adding it to his ever-growing to-do list.

 

She rested her hand on her jacket pocket, where Frank’s magical firewood seemed heavier…It felt a little squishy inside my boot. But I’m sure you’ll clean it properly.”

 

“Poseidon, your son is disgusting,” Hades told him casually. Poseidon grimaced. He had no idea where Sciron had gotten this idea from.

 

Jason’s ears reddened. From the tension in his neck, Hazel could tell that he was…“It says multi-surface cleanser. My feet definitely qualify as multi-surface.

 

“Somehow, I don’t think that stuff is going to help either,” Leo muttered.

 

“Agreed. He’s beyond help,” Silena nodded.

 

Besides, it’s antibacterial. I need that. Believe me, water won’t do the trick on these babies.”…“You can always choose what’s in my other hand.” He hefted his right flintlock.

 

“I don’t know. That’s becoming a harder choice by the second,” Jason grimaced.

 

“The first choice sucks but does hopefully end up with him being dead. The second option ends up with all of you guys being dead,” Thalia sighed.

 

“Yeah,” Jason agreed reluctantly.

 

“He’ll do it,” Hazel said…at the edge of the cliff, where he was an easy target. One kick, and he’d topple over.

 

Thalia gritted her teeth, anxious even though Jason could fly.

 

Hazel concentrated. She imagined she was Sciron, the lord of bandits…When he was about to hit the water, the turtle rose up and swallowed him in one bite, then sank below the surface.

 

“Oh, please tell me that’s the Mist,” Thalia ground out, gripping Jason’s hand tightly.

 

“I think so,” Hazel nodded. That was the plan she had thought of, but she was still horribly nervous that she would fail. “Jason should be flying safely.”

 

Alarm bells sounded on the Argo II. Hazel’s friends scrambled on deck, manning the catapults. Hazel heard Piper wailing all the way from the ship.

 

“Oh gods, sorry Piper,” Hazel winced.

 

“It’s ok. It’s a trick,” Piper took a shaky breath. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about Jason without the memories, but she didn’t want him eaten by a turtle. “And our reactions probably helped to sell the illusion.”

 

It was so disturbing, Hazel almost lost her focus. She forced her mind to split into two parts…he was hiding a grin under his bandana. “That was an accident, I assure you.”

 

“Accident…sure,” Percy rolled his eyes. “How believable.”

 

“My friends will kill you now!”…You’ll be quite safe, unless you refuse.”

 

“A turtle that big would not be full after one demigod,” Triton muttered.

 

“He’s really not a good liar,” Travis shook his head.

 

“He doesn’t have to be. It’s not like they can attack him,” Chris pointed out. “The illusion is the only way to go. And it sounds like Hazel is doing great.”

 

He leveled the flintlock pistol at her head…or he wouldn’t think she was beaten.

 

Hermes and his kids all nodded in agreement.

 

“Don’t kick me,” she said, half-sobbing…She was broken and helpless. Sciron, the son of Poseidon, had won again.

 

Poseidon sighed. He couldn’t believe his son was being fooled by a girl who hadn’t even known how to use the Mist until five minutes ago. But at the same time, he needed to be fooled or the rest of the crew wouldn’t make it to Epirus to save his other son from Tartarus. Why did all of his wayward children suddenly have to reappear? One thing he absolutely hated was having to choose between his children, hence why he didn’t interfere in their battles. But normally he would seek retribution on any others who hurt his children. Yet he couldn’t now, without putting all of their lives on the line. Maybe it was time to call a family meeting. Speak to all of his immortal children, and in the future, any who Gaea brought back.

 

Hazel could hardly believe this guy had the same father as Percy Jackson…or carried the innocents from shore and let them drown, or smashed ships and killed entire crews without mercy.

 

Poseidon shrugged. She wasn’t wrong.

 

She snatched up the spray bottle Jason had dropped.

 

“Sciron,” she growled, “your feet are the least disgusting thing about you.”

 

“And that’s impressive, because those are ridiculously disgusting,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

His green eyes hardened. “Just clean.”…but he still saw the water in front of him, the rolling countryside at his back.

 

“But how did he not think something was up when he turned around but had exactly the same view?” Rachel frowned.

 

“The Mist,” Katie shrugged. “It’s weird but it works.”

 

She started to clean…She landed on her butt in the grass a few yards away.

 

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“Great work, Hazel,” Frank smiled.

 

Sciron stared at her. “But…”…She reached the cliff’s edge in time to see the turtle lunge and snap Sciron out of the air.

 

Poseidon winced and his hands clenched.

 

“Serves him right,” Frank stated happily.

 

“Let’s hope Leo can fix the ship so you can avoid the turtle. Even without Sciron, it might want to eat you guys,” Beckendorf said.

 

“You were incredible,” Percy told Hazel with a smile.

 

“Yeah. You worked out how to use the Mist so quickly,” Piper looked impressed. Hazel just looked slightly stunned.

 

Jason grinned. “Hazel, that was amazing. Seriously…Hazel? Hey, Hazel?”…but he was moving in slow motion, his outline blurry, his voice nothing but static.

 

“What the heck?” Dakota frowned. “What’s going on?”

 

Frost crept across the rocks and grass around her…“No, Hazel,” said a deep voice behind her. “You have done well.”

 

“Wait, you’re visiting her now?” Zeus narrowed his eyes at his brother.

 

“Considering everything else going on, I don’t think that’s the priority right now,” Hades glared at him.

 

She hardly dared to breathe. She’d only heard that voice once before…She hoped her tone would hurt him—jab him for all the pain he’d caused her. But a faint smile played across his mouth.

 

Hades grimaced.

 

“My daughter,” he said. “I am impressed. You have grown strong.”

 

“You really have,” Nico grinned at her.

 

No thanks to you, she wanted to say. She didn’t want to take any pleasure in his compliment…you invoked me so strongly that you allowed me to appear…if only for a moment.”

 

“I don’t suppose you’re going to be able to tell me anything useful?” Hazel glanced at her father.

 

“I hope so,” He shrugged. “I might be able to tell you who you will be facing at Epirus.”

 

“I didn’t invoke you.”…She’d tried to understand her father’s powers and use them to the fullest.

 

Hades smiled.

 

“When you come to my house in Epirus,” Pluto said, “you must be prepared. The dead will not welcome you. And the sorceress Pasiphaë—”

 

“Pasiphaë?” Annabeth frowned. “That’s not good.”

 

“Who is Pasiphaë again?” Percy asked. “Wait…Pasiphaë’s son, she’s the mother of the Minotaur!” Annabeth nodded.

 

“She’s also the sister of Circe and a powerful sorceress,” Reyna stated. Percy grimaced.

 

“Pacify?” Hazel asked. Then she realized that must be the woman’s name…which will endanger all demigods. Unless you stop her at the House of Hades…”

 

“Her domain?” Clarisse said in a slightly shaky voice. “But how..?”

 

“What is her domain?” Leo asked.

 

“The Labyrinth. Technically it’s Daedalus’ domain,” Annabeth said. “But she must be tied to it as well somehow.”

 

“We cannot let her rebuild that thing,” Percy said firmly.

 

“Well, Hazel and the others have a chance to defeat her. Hopefully that will stop the Labyrinth rebuilding,” Beckendorf stated anxiously.

 

Hazel looked worried. She wondered how she was supposed to defeat some immortal sorceress who had been practicing magic for millennia when she had been learning for maybe a week by the time they got to Epirus.

 

His form flickered. For a moment he was bearded, in Greek robes with a golden laurel…You are right. That is the secret to all magic. But it will not be easy when you are in her maze.”

 

Annabeth, Grover, Percy, Nico, Clarisse and Chris all shuddered at the idea of the maze being brought back to life. It had been bad enough under Daedalus’ control.

 

“What do you mean? What maze?”…Pluto was just another deadbeat godly dad making weak excuses.

 

Hades winced.

 

But her heart pounded as she replayed his words: I am proud of your strength.

 

Hades smiled slightly. “I must agree with myself,” He stated. Hazel smiled back.

 

“Go to your friends,” Pluto said. “They will be worried…“You’re here. Why don’t you take me to the Underworld? Return me to the dead?”

 

“Why would you ask him that?” Frank wanted to know. “Just keep ignoring it.”

 

“Because I don’t want to be surprised later if this has repercussions,” Hazel told him.

 

Pluto’s form started to fade. He smiled, but Hazel couldn’t tell if he was sad or pleased. “Perhaps that is not what I want to see, Hazel. Perhaps I was never here.”

 

Zeus narrowed his eyes at his brother once more.


“Would you begrudge me keeping my daughter safe?” Hades asked him. “Especially when she is part of the seven.”

 

Zeus sighed. A few days ago, he would certainly begrudge him that. He would have raged. It was bad enough that he ignored his daughter and didn’t take her back but that was at least bending the rules. This was snapping them in half. And yet…he couldn’t find the anger.

 

“No,” He said finally, looking at his own children. “Just, let’s not make it a habit.” Hades looked startled. But then he shot his brother a grateful smile.

 

“The chapter is finished.” Ares announced.

 

“That makes it my turn,” Aphrodite said.

 

“It is late. Let us have dinner and get some sleep before we continue,” Chiron cut in.

 

“No!” Poseidon yelped. “It should be Percy next if it follows the same pattern. We need to know what happens with the Arai.”

 

“And if the next set of chapters end similarly. We will want to continue. There is no good place to leave this book, but we cannot finish in one sitting,” Chiron pointed out gently. The sea god gritted his teeth.

 

“Dad, please,” Percy looked up at his father. “I’m starving and we’ve been sitting for ages. Demigods aren’t really good at that.”

 

“Fine,” Poseidon sighed. “Let us eat and sleep.” As he said that, the beanbags from the night before all appeared once more. As did plates full of food. Everyone dug in. The demigods all ate like they hadn’t eaten for days, while the gods watched in bemusement.

 

Once they had finished eating, Frank tried to turn into some animals with limited success. Apollo went off to talk to Hephaestus about something he had in mind for Percy. Hazel was with Chiron, Reyna and Thalia trying to work on using the Mist in one corner of the room. Most of the rest of the demigods were all just chatting to each other. For once, they didn’t split into smaller groups, and other than those working on specific projects, they all sat and talked together. Romans and Greeks.

 

Octavian sat on the fringe, not joining in with any of the conversation. He was very slowly accepting the fact that the Greeks were not going to be considered an enemy of Rome, no matter what he said to Reyna. He could try and convince his people when they got back to their time, but Reyna still had a strong following. It would be too much of an even split. Which meant they were going to have to work with the Greeks to defeat Gaea. But that didn’t mean he had to be friendly. He just had to see it as business with an unfortunate partner. As long as they didn’t want him to deal with that daughter of Athena. He refused to work with her. She shouldn’t exist. And it had been her siblings that orchestrated the war that destroyed most of his family. He would sooner stab her than work with her.

 

But then, with Reyna as the only Praetor back in their time, if she were to befall an unfortunate accident, then he would be in charge until a new Praetor could be elected. And he could manage the relationship with the Greeks on his own terms. Which would be much more favorable to Rome. He would have to consider his next move carefully.

 

None of them had realised quite how late it had gotten, until someone yawned. That started off a chain reaction and suddenly almost everyone was feeling too sleepy to actually do anything.

 

Percy was going to bring up his duel with Mr. D but decided that could wait until the end of the book. His dad and Apollo were already worked up thanks to Tartarus. If he got injured in a fight, even a controlled one against Mr. D, they might freak out even more. Best wait until they knew the outcome of being in the Pit.

 

Once everyone had eaten, they all snuggled into their sleeping bags. Most of the gods retreated to their quarters, but Poseidon, Apollo, Amphitrite and Triton all stayed. Hestia also stayed in the throne room. All the demigods brought their bags into one big cuddle pile and slept like that for the second night in a row. Octavian left to sleep in the quest quarters.

 

The next morning, everyone woke up fairly early. They ate a quick breakfast and then the sleeping bags disappeared to be replaced with a few huge bean bags. The gods that had left, and Octavian, came back into the room and everyone found a seat. Once they were all ready, Aphrodite picked up the book.

Chapter Text

Percy was relieved when the demon grandmothers closed in for the kill.

 

“NO!” Apollo yelped. “That’s not a good thing.”

 

“Or something to be relived about,” Poseidon added.

 

“Future me doesn’t know you get cursed if you kill them,” Percy shrugged.

 

Sure, he was terrified. He didn’t like the odds of three against several dozen…that had been driving him crazy.

 

“You’re already crazy,” Thalia joked nervously, more out of habit than anything else. Percy grinned.

 

“You are the expert on the subject of being crazy,” He stated.

 

Besides, he and Annabeth had fought together many times…like the entire forest was speaking. You cannot destroy us.

 

“That’s just creepy,” Leo muttered.

 

“Really creepy,” Connor agreed.

 

Annabeth pressed against his shoulder. “Don’t touch them,” she warned…“Bob doesn’t like curses,” Bob decided.

 

“I don’t think anybody likes curses,” Katie muttered.

 

“The gods use them often enough. I’m pretty sure they do,” Percy grumbled.

 

“Nope. Definitely not. Hate curses,” Apollo said quickly. Percy rolled his eyes.

 

The skeleton kitten Small Bob disappeared inside his coveralls. Smart cat…“I appreciate the offer,” he said. “But my mom told me not to accept curses from strangers.”

 

Everyone chuckled slightly at Percy’s attitude.

 

The nearest demon lunged. Her claws extended like bony switchblades…He stumbled back, clamping his hand to his rib cage. His fingers came away wet and red.

 

“Of course, you would get a curse that injures you on your first try,” Poseidon groaned.

 

“They are curses from people and monsters we’ve defeated. I figured all of them would be deadly?” Annabeth frowned.

 

“Not necessarily. Some are of bitter thoughts, and some are thought out to cause pain but not death,” Hades stated. “None are good options, but the ones designed to cause suffering instead of death at least allow you a chance to escape.”

 

“Percy, you’re bleeding!” Annabeth cried, which was kind of obvious to him at that point…as if a javelin had run him through.

 

“Geryon,” Apollo growled. He already owed that no good farmer retribution for killing his sacred cows. Now his retribution had just doubled.

 

Or an arrow…“Geryon,” Percy said. “This is how I killed him.…”

 

“Oh gods, that will be a deadly one,” Nico muttered anxiously.

 

“Bob can heal him. Hopefully. He healed them before,” Will said.

 

The spirits bared their fangs. More arai leaped from the black trees…“They’ll kill us anyway,” Percy guessed.

 

“Absolutely brilliant,” Frank said, his tone positively dripping with sarcasm.

 

Choose! the arai cried. Will you be crushed like Kampê? Or disintegrated like the young telkhines you slaughtered under Mount St. Helens?

 

Percy winced at that reminder.

 

“What happens if you kill them indirectly? I don’t know how, but maybe by drowning them if Percy can control a nearby river or something,” Nico wondered. “It would be the river that actually killed them.”

 

“I don’t think that’s really been done before,” Hades mused. “Percy does tend to get creative, so we may find out during the reading.”

 

You have spread so much death and suffering, Percy Jackson. Let us repay you!...She brought her rock down on the old lady’s head and broke her into dust.

 

Annabeth winced.

 

It wasn’t like Annabeth had a choice. Percy would’ve done the same thing…“I can’t see!” She touched her face, looking around wildly. Her eyes were pure white.

 

“Polyphemus,” Clarisse stated.

 

Poseidon raised an eyebrow. His son had cursed Nobody. He wondered if anyone who had gone by that title, such as Odysseus would be affected by that curse, or if it was just Annabeth. Besides, he couldn’t say he was overly upset. Some of his children may be monstrous, and he could not enact revenge due to other factors. But if his son eventually got some revenge, then he couldn’t deny him that. And one curse on the girl really wasn’t going to affect the situation as a whole. One less curse for Percy to content with.

 

Percy ran to her side as the arai cackled…Bob whacked one over the head and speared another, blasting them to dust. The others backed away.

 

Everyone grimaced, glad the two demigods hadn’t been cursed any more, but they were kind of worried for Bob.

 

Percy held his breath, waiting for their Titan friend to be laid low with some terrible curse…“No curses for Bob!” Bob agreed.

 

“Ok, that’s weird,” Katie frowned.

 

“But good weird. It means he can kill them,” Jason said.

 

The arai snarled and circled, eying the broom. The Titan is already cursed. Why should we torture him further? You, Percy Jackson, have already destroyed his memory.

 

“That doesn’t make sense,” Hades narrowed his eyes. “Just because he is already somewhat cursed, doesn’t mean they would stop. It’s more likely that he hasn’t accrued any curses as Bob. He can’t fully remember being Iapetus so maybe the curses don’t affect him. As Bob, it’s a clean slate.”

 

“But Bob now knows Percy is the one who wiped his memory. Hardly the actions of a friend,” Reyna pointed out grimly. “He might not like that news.”

 

“That’s the last thing we need. A bunch of curses and a titan turning on them,” Grover whimpered.

 

Bob’s spearhead dipped…when the shadow of the Titan lord had first passed over him.

 

“Oh, please no,” Poseidon muttered in horror.

 

Bob turned. His wild white hair looked like an exploded halo. “My memory… It was you?”…By stealing your life, the arai said. Leaving you in the palace of Hades to scrub floors!

 

Percy winced.

 

“It’s not like Percy had much choice in the matter. He could hardly take a memory wiped titan home with him,” Rachel frowned.

 

Annabeth gripped Percy’s hand. “Which way?” she whispered. “If we have to run?”…Percy always hated it when the gods used him for their errands. Now Percy was treating Bob the same way.

 

“You haven’t given him a second thought because you were too busy fighting Kronos. And then you got kidnapped and had your own memories taken away before being sent on yet another quest. When exactly were you supposed to go and find the time to wander through the Underworld and check on a titan?” Thalia asked him.

 

“Still, I had seven months between meeting Bob in the Underworld and the main fight against Kronos. I had time,” Percy sighed.

 

“Not really. You spent a few of those months on other, smaller quests. Plus, you had school,” Grover reminded him. “It’s not your fault.”

 

“Besides, you know what happened when you went to the Underworld with Nico. Hades captured you so Nico could be the hero in the prophecy. If you’d gone to visit Bob, then he might have done that sooner and Nico wouldn’t have been there to rescue you,” Beckendorf pointed out. Poseidon shot Hades a nasty look for that.

 

“When we get back to our time you can come with me to chat to him,” Nico promised. Percy nodded.

 

You see his face? the arai growled. The boy cannot even convince himself…“Nico visited. Told me about Percy. Said Percy was good. Said he was a friend. That is why Bob helped.”

 

“Thanks, Nico,” Percy smiled at him. “Even if Bob doesn’t help us any further, he’s already saved our lives once. Which means, you’ve saved our lives.”

 

“I’m just glad I could help,” Nico smiled back.

 

“But…” Percy’s voice disintegrated like someone had hit it with a Celestial bronze blade. He’d never felt so low and dishonorable, so unworthy of having a friend.

 

Apollo hugged Percy tightly. “There is nothing you could have been expected to do differently,” He whispered.

 

The arai attacked, and this time Bob did not stop them.

 

“Oh gods,” Connor muttered.

 

“Done,” Aphrodite stated grimly.

 

“Well, someone hurry up and read,” Poseidon demanded, feeling terrified.

 

“I believe it is your turn,” Aphrodite looked at Reyna. The Roman Praetor grimaced. The love goddess handed her the book and she reluctantly turned to the correct page.

Chapter Text

“Left!” Percy dragged Annabeth, slicing through the arai to clear a path. He probably brought down a dozen curses on himself, but he didn’t feel them right away, so he kept running.

 

Apollo and the sea crew all winced heavily. Apollo and Poseidon both tightened their grip on Percy.

 

The pain in his chest flared with every step. He wove between the trees…Percy realized how much she trusted him to get her out of this.

 

“We’ve had each other’s backs for years. Of course I trust you,” Annabeth said. Percy smiled, even though he didn’t feel like it. She was trusting him to get her out of that situation, and he really wasn’t sure if he could.

 

He couldn’t let her down, yet how could he save her? And if she was permanently blind…

 

Annabeth shuddered at the very idea. Athena, Chiron, Thalia, Grover, Percy and Connor all looked at her in concern.

 

“Would the Phlegethon heal that?” Connor asked.

 

“I am unsure,” Hades shook his head. That wasn’t just any injury. It was inflicted by the Arai.

 

“At the very least it isn’t going to kill her. Which can’t be said for a most curses from the Arai,” Demeter stated.

 

“I feel so lucky,” Annabeth said dryly.

 

No. He suppressed a surge of panic. He would figure out how to cure her later. First they had to escape.

 

“Good,” Poseidon nodded. “Keep your priorities in order.”

 

Leathery wings beat the air above them. Angry hissing and the scuttling of clawed…If a tree falls in the forest and crushes a demon, does the tree get cursed?

 

“Who cares?” Chris frowned.

 

“You have really weird thoughts during life threatening situations,” Rachel stated, looking at Percy as if he had gone insane.

 

“We already knew that,” Grover laughed.

 

Percy slashed down another trunk, then another…He grabbed Annabeth right before they both charged off the side of the cliff.

 

“Oh gods,” Katie breathed.

 

“Good catch,” Triton muttered anxiously.

 

“What?” she cried. “What is it?”…but he doubted “the best” ever happened in Tartarus.

 

“Not usually, no,” Zeus shook his head.

 

“But this is Percy. He does often get weirdly good luck at the most useful times,” Thalia pointed out. “It might be worth the risk, considering what the other options are.”

 

Apollo wanted to scream. He couldn’t believe actually jumping an unknown distance down a cliff had actually become the best option.

 

So, two options: right or left, following the edge…Did you have a nice walk? asked the collective voice, echoing all around them.

 

“I’ve had nicer,” Percy shrugged. Or at least, he tried too. He was currently being held too tightly to actually manage more than a slight shoulder lift.

 

Percy turned. The arai poured out of the woods, making a crescent around them…It was like trying to grab something in a tank of water, with the light shifting the image away.

 

“What? What kind of curse is that?” Clarisse frowned. Nobody had an answer.

 

“Percy!” Annabeth’s voice cracked. “Why did you leave me?”

 

“He’s right there,” Grover said nervously.

 

“It must be part of the curse,” Connor realised.

 

“I didn’t!” He turned on the arai, his arms shaking with anger. “What did you do to her?”…Annabeth feels her despair. She, too, will perish alone and abandoned.

 

“What? Percy doesn’t abandon people!” Beckendorf scoffed. “And if they were so angry with Percy, why curse Annabeth?”

 

“Percy?” Annabeth spread her arms, trying to find him…He remembered an island, a cave lit with soft glowing crystals, a dinner table on the beach tended by invisible air spirits.

 

“What?” Percy’s voice was soft…almost fragile. “She wouldn’t.”

 

“She might not necessarily have done it on purpose,” Poseidon told him gently. “Like the said, it was a bitter thought. A nasty wish that she maybe thought one lonely evening. She might not have truly meant it. We all have thoughts we aren’t exactly proud of.”

 

“But you guys were supposed to free her!” Percy glared up at Zeus.

 

“And we might have done, no real way to tell just yet. I expect this curse was born right after you left her island. Before you asked for her freedom. She doesn’t need to continue wishing for that to come true. She thought it once, that’s enough,” Hades informed him.

 

“She wouldn’t,” he mumbled. “She’d never curse me.”

 

Percy shrunk down in his seat. He’d never checked on Bob. Had he ever checked on Calypso? To see if the gods had kept up their end of the bargain.

 

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.

 

“How are you still alive?” Frank asked. “You took a wound right through the chest. That should have killed you by now.”

 

“A question I ask myself every single day since we started this blasted reading,” Poseidon muttered.

 

“It’s designed as a curse. To cause pain. It’s unlikely it would kill him instantly,” Hades stated grimly.

 

Annabeth wandered among the demons, desperately calling his name…He had to keep these leathery old hags focused on him and protect Annabeth as long as he could.

 

Apollo and Poseidon both gritted their teeth angrily. They really wished Percy would actually have some self-preservation. They knew that there really weren’t any good choices in this situation, but he seemed like he truly didn’t care if he lived or died, just if Annabeth lived. And that bothered them.

 

He yelled in fury and attacked them all.

 

“Oh gods,” All of the demigods winced in unison.

 

“Done,” Reyna announced, looking at the book in disgust and horror.

 

“That makes it Piper’s turn, I think,” Gwen said.

 

“Gee thanks, Gwen,” Piper glowered at her. Her half-sister winced and gave her an apologetic look. Reyna threw the book to Piper. She reluctantly turned to the correct page under urgent glares from the sea crew.

Chapter Text

For one exciting minute, Percy felt like he was winning. Riptide cut through the arai as though they were made of powdered sugar. One panicked and ran face-first into a tree.

 

Despite the situation, a couple of the demigods snickered at that.

 

Another screeched and tried to fly away, but Percy sliced off her wings…Some were harsh and painful: a stabbing in the gut, a burning sensation like he was being blasted by a blowtorch.

 

Everyone cringed. Hera doubled over, gasping in pain. Hestia gripped her sister’s hand, and Zeus moved to his wife’s side. They may be at odds at the moment, but she was still his sister and his wife.

 

“Percy,” Apollo muttered. It sounded like a whimper although he would deny that later.

 

Both he and Poseidon were avoiding looking in Hera’s direction. They didn’t want any visible reminder of what Percy was going through. Poseidon might have felt more guilt for not being able to remove his curse, but he was simply too worried about Percy. The curse wouldn’t kill Hera. But there was a very real possibility of Percy dying.

 

“Oh gods,” Grover bleated nervously.

 

Some were subtle: a chill in the blood, an uncontrollable tic in his right eye.

 

“What?” Will asked.

 

“No idea. That’s a weird curse,” Nico shook his head.

 

“A curse designed to put you off in a fight”? Frank offered uncertainly. Everyone shrugged.

 

Seriously, who curses you with their dying breath and says: I hope your eye twitches!

 

Clarisse snorted.

 

Percy knew that he’d killed a lot of monsters…but she was just out of reach, calling his name as she wandered among the demons.

 

Annabeth grimaced. She had taken a total of two curses, and she was completely out of the game. It was ridiculous. Percy had taken on dozens and dozens by now, and he was still fighting. And some of those curses definitely sounded like they should have killed him. And she was laid low by two, and neither of them were even designed to kill.

 

As Percy blundered toward her, a demon pounced and sank its teeth into his thigh. Percy roared. He sliced the demon to dust, but immediately fell to his knees.

 

Hera winced once more.

 

His mouth burned worse than when he had swallowed the firewater of the Phlegethon.

 

The goddess was desperately trying not to show her discomfort which was growing by the second.

 

“That doesn’t sound good,” Rachel murmured.

 

“None of them sound good,” Triton snapped. Then he shot Rachel an apologetic look. It wasn’t the mortal’s fault.

 

He doubled over, shuddering and retching, as a dozen fiery snakes seemed…You have chosen, said the voice of the arai, the curse of Phineas…an excellent painful death.

 

Poseidon closed his eyes at the sheer horror. He wished he could close his ears and stop listening too. This was simply too much. One of his children had died to the vicious poison, and now his dying wish was killing his other son.

 

“Oh gods, oh gods,” Thalia was muttering. They had all been so utterly relieved when Percy miraculously survived the first time. This felt like the worse do-over ever.

 

Apollo was inwardly reciting every single swear word in he could think of, in every language he knew, to stop himself getting up and screaming. That and having a perfectly healthy Percy in his arms.

 

“Come on Bob,” Nico muttered.

 

“Bob?” Will frowned. “If he was going to help, I think he would have done by now.”

 

“He’s their only hope. He can heal them and kill the Arai without getting curses himself,” Nico shrugged, those his gaze kept flickering to Percy nervously.

 

Percy tried to speak. His tongue felt like it was being microwaved…Percy didn’t remember the old blind man muttering a final curse,

 

“Wouldn’t need too,” Hades said, just for something to say. He didn’t want to hear any more of this either. “They can spawn from thoughts not just curses said out loud.” A poisonous look from Poseidon told him it wasn’t appreciated.

 

but as Phineas dissolved and returned to the Underworld, he probably hadn’t wished…He clutched his sword. His knuckles started to steam. White smoke curled off his forearms.

 

“Ok, you two need to share him,” Thalia snapped. She dragged Percy to the middle of the largest beanbag. Poseidon and Apollo moved with him. But the other Greek demigods all surrounded the little group.

 

A few of them had started to cry silent tears.

 

The Romans, Leo and Piper all watched, unsure if they would be welcome in the pile. None of them knew Percy well. Eventually they moved to join the pile, showing their support.

 

I won’t die like this, he thought.

 

“Yeah. You tell them Percy,” Nico cheered, though his voice was shaky and hollow.

 

Not only because it was painful and insultingly lame, but because Annabeth needed him.

 

“That is not an insultingly lame way to die. You have taken so many curses, any normal person would be dead. You are so strong. So strong,” Poseidon told his son, his own tears streaming down his face.

 

“Your dad is right. You are one tough kid,” Ares stated. Percy peered at him in surprise through the crowd of people. “You may not be my favourite person in the world, but I do respect strength. And even my future-self knows you have that in spades.”

 

“Yeah. That’s probably one of the least lame ways to die. In Tartarus, having taken more curses than we can count. And the first one from Geryon should have killed you,” Hermes said.

 

“Ok, he’s incredibly strong. Not a lame way to die. Can we get to finding out how he miraculously doesn’t die?” Apollo snapped anxiously.

 

Once he was dead, the demons would turn their attention to her. He couldn’t leave her alone…No, the voice answered itself from another direction. He will combust all at once.

 

Everyone gritted their teeth.

 

They were placing bets on how he would die…The worst of it was veiled, the same way the Mist veiled monsters from mortal sight. Now as Percy died, he began to see the truth.

 

“Oh us,” Poseidon moaned. “How can this actually still get worse?”

 

“How can Tartarus actually get worse?” Michael wanted to know. Nico just shook his head. That wasn’t a question for now.

 

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.

 

They all shuddered violently.

 

This must have been the way Nico had seen Tartarus, and it had almost destroyed his sanity.

 

Everyone turned to look at Nico.

 

“You saw that, the whole time?” Will gaped.

 

“One of the perks of being a child of the Underworld I guess,” Nico shrugged, uncomfortable with the sudden attention.

 

Hades heaved a very heavy sigh. He had had a suspicion that this would be the case. But to have it confirmed…that was terrifying. And yet, at least he knew Nico made it out alive. Poseidon certainly did not have that comfort right now.

 

Nico…one of the many people Percy hadn’t treated well enough.

 

“What? You treated Nico pretty well. Aside from that one moment where you attacked him in Hades’ cell, which was extenuating circumstances, you’ve been nicer to him than anyone else,” Thalia pointed out.

 

“You looked out for me, even when I didn’t want you too,” Nico said. “Even when most other people wouldn’t have bothered to give me a second thought.”

 

“You have always given enough for your friends. Heck you’ve treated everyone well, even when we were being crappy to you,” Beckendorf told him. Clarisse shifted uncomfortably, thinking of Percy giving her the Golden Fleece when she had done nothing but be horrible to him. “You have done everything possible to help them. You looked out for them, us, and ignored your own wellbeing. And anyone who says otherwise, will have to go through all of us.”

 

“And that includes you,” Rachel added. “We will repeat it until you believe us too.”

 

He and Annabeth had only made it this far through Tartarus because Nico di Angelo had behaved like Bob’s true friend.

 

“You saved us. Let’s hope your charm last a little longer,” Percy gave Nico a thin smile.

 

You see the horror of the pit? the arai said soothingly. Give up, Percy Jackson…He regrets his failed life, his crimes against the children of Tartarus!

 

“He has not failed,” Travis scoffed.

 

“Yeah. Percy’s succeeded at everything life has thrown at him. Which is one heck of a lot,” Katie agreed.

 

“No,” Percy said. “I’m sorry, Bob. I should’ve been honest with you…Percy should have followed up with Calypso, made sure the gods sprang her from her exile on Ogygia like they’d promised.

 

“That curse doesn’t mean they haven’t freed her,” Nico said. “But it has been less than a year. Maybe they haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

 

“Besides, how were you supposed to do that? You saved the world in the middle of August. You recovered Hermes’ staff a couple of months later, by which time father was already concerned about Gaea. And once he was concerned about Gaea, I don’t think freeing our enemies, who might then side with Gaea out of spite despite their freedom, would be on his priority list,” Artemis stated.

 

“You gave up immortality to make that deal. It’s not your responsibility to follow up,” Apollo agreed with his sister. “What you did is more than basically anyone else would have done.”

 

He hadn’t treated her any better than he’d treated Bob. He hadn’t even thought much about her, though her moonlace plant still bloomed in his mom’s window box.

 

“You’ve had a few other things on your mind. Like Kronos. And losing your memories and then taking on Gaea,” Grover pointed out.

 

It took all his remaining effort, but he got to his feet…But before he could strike, all the arai in front of him exploded into dust.

 

“Yes!” Everyone cheered, although it was tentative. They didn’t want to assume it was good news, when there could be any number of other monsters.

 

“Done,” Piper said.

 

“That makes it me next,” Annabeth grimaced.

 

“I can read if you want me too,” Connor offered. Annabeth was incredibly tempted to take his offer. The last thing she wanted was to read about Percy dying to save her. But there was the possibility that something good was about to happen.

 

“No. It’s ok. I’ll do it,” She stated. She took the book from Piper.

 

Hera sighed in relief as the pain slowly faded now that the chapter had finished. It might well start up again in the next one, but she would take the breather gratefully.

Chapter Text

Bob seriously knew how to use a broom.

 

“Oh, thank goodness. Bob is helping again,” Grover sighed in relief.

 

“Nobody can resist the Percy charm,” Thalia joked.

 

He slashed back and forth, destroying the demons one after the other while Small Bob…The smart ones had flown off into the darkness, shrieking in terror.

 

“Yes!” They all cheered.

 

Percy wanted to thank the Titan, but his voice wouldn’t work. His legs buckled. His ears rang.

 

“Percy!” Apollo grimaced.

 

“Come on Bob. Please heal him,” Nico muttered desperately.

 

Hera was very glad she was sitting down. She was slowly gaining a new respect for Percy Jackson. She thought mortals were weak, but to be feeling this amount of pain, maybe even more that hadn’t been described well enough to transfer to her, and still be able to function? It was rather impressive. She was quite surprised he wasn’t dead, although that seemed to be a common feeling around the boy.

 

Through a red glow of pain, he saw Annabeth a few yards away, wandering blindly toward the edge of the cliff.

 

Connor gripped Annabeth’s hand tightly.

 

“Uh!” Percy grunted…Annabeth stopped fighting. Her eyes cleared. “Where— what—?”

 

“One down,” Rachel muttered.

 

“At least we know Bob can cure the curses,” Frank said. “That’s a good thing to know. Curses are not uncurable.”

 

“Yeah. Handy information,” Will agreed.

 

She saw Percy, and a series of expressions flashed across her face…He couldn’t even feel his body anymore.

 

Hera blinked in surprise. So far, she hadn’t felt any sensation other than pain from the book. But this was a bizarre feeling.

 

His consciousness was like a small helium balloon, loosely tied to the top of his head…He knew that soon it would either burst or the string would break, and his life would float away.

 

“No. Come on Percy. Hold on just a little while longer,” Amphitrite muttered.

 

“That gorgon’s poison should have killed him already, let alone everything else he’s been hit with,” Hades noted. Poseidon shot him another poisonous glare for that.

 

Annabeth took his face in her hands. She kissed him and tried to wipe…“Lots of curses,” Bob said. “Percy has done bad things to monsters.”

 

“And monsters have done bad things to Percy,” Rachel scowled.

 

“Can you fix him?” Annabeth pleaded. “Like you did with my blindness? Fix Percy!”…“Iapetus,” Bob said, his voice a low rumble. “Before Bob. It was Iapetus.”

 

“Come on, Bob. Not now. Have an identity crisis after you fix Percy,” Travis said.

 

The air was absolutely still. Percy felt helpless, barely connected to the world.

 

Everyone who could reach him, tightened their grip on Percy as if they could physically anchor him to the world.

 

“I’m not floating away right now guys,” Percy protested. “I’m currently more likely to be crushed to death.”

 

“I wouldn’t let that actually happen,” His dad assured him.

 

“I like Bob better.” Annabeth’s voice was surprisingly calm. “Which do you like?”…I do not think Iapetus or Bob likes breaking promises.” He touched Percy’s forehead.

 

“Oh gods, Nico you’re the best,” Thalia said with a huge sigh of relief. Nico flushed slightly and smiled.

 

“Hey, it’s nice being the one able to help Percy for a change,” He shrugged.

 

“You should come over again sometime,” Percy told him. “I can get mom to make special cookies.”

 

“You could make special cookies. You made very nice ones the other day,” Amphitrite reminded him.

 

“Yeah. More Percy cookies!” All of the demigods cheered enthusiastically. Percy blinked around at them all in surprise.

 

“Er, yeah. Sure. I’ll make some tonight.”

 

“Owie,” the Titan murmured. “Very big owie.”…He still felt like he had swallowed a deep fryer.

 

Hera grimaced.

 

His insides bubbled. He could sense that the poison had only been slowed, not removed.

 

“That’s not good,” Will frowned. “If Bob can’t cure it, where else can they possibly get a cure for Gorgon’s poison in Tartarus?”

 

“Phlegethon?” Michael suggested. “It’s designed to keep them alive.”

 

“Bob knows the place better than most. Hopefully he knows of something that will help,” Artemis said.

 

But he was alive.

 

They all sighed with relief.

 

He tried to meet Bob’s eyes, to express his gratitude…Bob said. “Too much poison. Too many curses piled up.”

 

Everyone grimaced at that. The gods were shocked by how many curses Percy had taken without dying. Even the poison had not killed him as quickly as it should. They wondered just how strong he was truly becoming.

 

Annabeth hugged Percy’s shoulders. He wanted to say: I can feel that now. Ow. Too tight.

 

“Sorry,” Annabeth winced.

 

“It’s ok,” He smiled. “We’re both alive.”

 

“What can we do, Bob?” Annabeth asked…Even if he blamed Percy for taking his memory, maybe he would help Annabeth if Percy didn’t make it.

 

“Hey, Bob helped you too. He’ll think of something. You’re not dying on me,” Annabeth told him firmly.

 

“I’ll do my best,” He grinned.

 

“Annabeth’s right.” Grover nodded. “You just need to hang on a little while longer.”

 

“No,” Annabeth insisted. “No, there has to be a way. Something to heal him.”…across his sternum, but as soon as Bob lifted his hand, the relief stopped. Percy’s lungs felt as hot as lava again.

 

Hera wheezed. Hestia frowned, wishing she could do something. Her sister might be rash, and cruel, but Hestia still hated to see her suffering. Hera had been kind, and sweet until years of marriage and betrayal had hardened her until there was very little left of the sister Hestia had known growing up.

 

“So, Bob can still help relieve the poison and slow it down more. That’s good,” Will muttered, more to himself than anyone else.

 

“Tartarus kills demigods,” Bob said. “It heals monsters, but you do not belong. Tartarus will not heal Percy. The pit hates your kind.”

 

“Well, the feeling is entirely mutual,” Thalia stated grimly.

 

“I don’t care,” Annabeth said. “Even here, there has to be someplace he can rest, some kind of cure he can take. Maybe back at the altar of Hermes, or—”

 

“You can’t go back. There are titans and giants following you,” Aphrodite pointed out.

 

In the distance, a deep voice bellowed—a voice that Percy recognized, unfortunately…“BEWARE, SON OF POSEIDON! I COME FOR YOU!”

 

“Polybotes?” Triton guessed, anger on his face.

 

“Oh, for the love of Olympus!” Poseidon exclaimed in frustration.

 

“Now would be a very good time to move!” Clarisse said anxiously.

 

“Polybotes,” Bob said. “He hates Poseidon and his children. He is very close now.”…“Bob, I’m going on, with or without you,” she said. “Will you help?”

 

Everyone held their breath.

 

The kitten Small Bob mewed and began to purr, rubbing against Bob’s chin…“There is one place,” Bob said at last. “There is a giant who might know what to do.”

 

“A giant?” Beckendorf gaped.

 

“I’m pretty sure they all want to kill Percy and help Gaea,” Leo said.

 

“The only giant I can think of that would even consider helping is Damasen,” Ares frowned.

 

“The peaceful one?” Frank asked. Ares nodded.

 

“Tartarus and Gaea weren’t overly pleased that one of their children, born to oppose me, turned out being peaceful.”

 

“He started farming,” Demeter smiled slightly. “He was good at it too. He was sent to the Pit for killing a drakon I believe. I think Tartarus and Gaea were quite upset he wouldn’t fight for them but would kill a drakon that was attacking mortals.”

 

“Ok, so has helped mortals before. That’s a good start,” Silena said.

 

Annabeth almost dropped Percy. “A giant. Uh, Bob, giants are bad.”…unless Polybotes and the others catch us first.”

 

“I’d go with the first option,” Piper muttered.

 

“Done,” Annabeth said in relief. “The last few have all been quite short.”

 

“And yet have come the closest to giving a god a heart attack,” Poseidon grumbled.

 

“My turn then,” Clarisse sighed. Annabeth handed her the book.

Chapter Text

Jason fell asleep on the job.

 

“What?” Jason gasped.

 

“That doesn’t sound like Jason,” Reyna frowned.

 

“Maybe something happened,” Dakota suggested.

 

Which was bad, since he was a thousand feet in the air.

 

“How did you fall asleep a thousand feet in the air?” Thalia asked, shuddering at the very idea.

 

He should have known better. It was the morning after their encounter with Sciron the bandit…When he slashed through the last one, he forgot to hold his breath.

 

“Ooh, bad idea,” Jason grimaced.

 

“Yeah. That’s a rookie mistake,” Thalia agreed.

 

A stupid mistake. When a wind spirit disintegrates, it creates a vacuum…The pressure in your inner ears drops so fast, you black out.

 

“Ok, so you didn’t just fall asleep on the job. You blacked out. That’s a little different,” Reyna said.

 

That’s what happened to Jason…In the back of his subconscious, he thought: Really? Now?

 

“That’s an absolutely terrible time for a dream,” Gwen winced.

 

“Please don’t tell me one of the gods is choosing now to send Jason a message?” Piper grimaced.

 

“Let’s find out,” Drew said.

 

He needed to wake up, or he would die; but he wasn’t able to hold on to that thought…They flickered from purple to orange as if the colors were fighting for dominance.

 

All of the demigods grimaced.

 

On the roof of Jason’s building stood his old comrades from Camp Jupiter…Octavian stood to one side, thin and pale, his eyes red-rimmed from sleeplessness or anger,

 

“I’m going with anger,” Dakota stated.

 

“I don’t know why he would be angry. He’s getting everything he’s ever wanted,” Gwen scowled.

 

a string of sacrificial stuffed animals around his waist. His augur’s white robe…and he hadn’t led her on, exactly…but he also hadn’t shut her down.

 

Reyna and Jason both turned slightly red.

 

He’d disappeared, leaving her to run the camp on her own…They’d fired on the Forum and run away, leaving Reyna with a war on her hands.

 

“That wasn’t your fault,” Reyna sighed.

 

“Yeah,” Jason said. “But still. I am sorry.”

 

In his dream she looked tired. Others might not notice…When the door opened, two people emerged. One was a faun—no, Jason thought—a satyr.

 

“Who is insane enough to walk right into the Roman camp?” Connor asked.

 

“Annabeth sent that message to Rachel. We need Reyna to get the statue,” Travis recalled.

 

“Which means one of them is probably Rachel,” Katie said.

 

“And my bet is the satyr is Grover,” Percy smiled at his friend. “He’s the bravest satyr I know.” Grover blushed slightly and smiled.

 

He’d learned the difference at Camp Half-Blood, and Coach Hedge was always correcting him… goatee, curly brown hair tucked into a Rasta-style cap, and a set of reed pipes around his neck.

 

“Definitely Grover,” Thalia smiled.

 

“I don’t know. It said bushy goatee,” Annabeth grinned. “That doesn’t sound like Grover.”

 

“Hey!” The satyr protested, although he wasn’t serious.

 

His hands fidgeted with the hem of his shirt…Jason recognized from Camp Half-Blood—their oracle, Rachel Elizabeth Dare.

 

“You two are definitely brave. I know it needs to be done, but it’s still pretty incredible to walk into their Camp while we’re at war,” Pollux said.

 

She had long frizzy hair, a plain white blouse, and jeans covered with hand-drawn ink designs…but for reasons Jason never understood, the spirit of Delphi had chosen her as its host.

 

“Because she was weird enough to spout annoying nonsense of a regular basis,” Percy chuckled.

 

“If it’s based on who is the weirdest, you would have become the Oracle,” Rachel told him dryly.

 

“It doesn’t choose guys,” Michael grinned. “So, he’s out.”

 

The real question: What was she doing with the Romans?...Graecus. I hope you’ve come to discuss surrender terms.”

 

“You wish,” Clarisse snorted.

 

“Octavian…” Reyna warned…Rachel shrugged. “I hit Kronos in the eye with this hairbrush once. Otherwise, no.”

 

Everyone laughed at that.

 

“I wish I could be there to see the Roman’s faces when Rachel said that,” Connor chuckled.

 

“It was hard enough to believe even reading about it. I can’t imagine hearing that without the whole situation,” Reyna shook her head.

 

The Romans didn’t seem to know what to make of that. The mortal didn’t sound like she was kidding.

 

“Oh, definitely not kidding,” Nico smirked.

 

“Best moment ever,” Percy grinned.

 

“And your friend?” Reyna nodded to the satyr. “I thought you were coming alone.”…was high and reedy, as if he were terrified, but Jason suspected the satyr had more steel than he let on.

 

“Oh yes,” Percy nodded.

 

“The bravest satyr ever,” Thalia agreed.

 

“Seriously, don’t you Romans have nature and trees and stuff?...Reyna looked like she was trying not to smile. “But no weapons?”

 

“It said he has his pipes. Those are pretty dangerous,” Percy grinned.

 

“Just the pipes.” Grover’s expression became wistful. “Percy always said my cover of ‘Born to be Wild’ should count as a dangerous weapon, but I don’t think it’s that bad.”

 

Everyone laughed at that.

 

“Percy’s right,” Thalia said. “And that’s not something I say lightly.” Grover stuck his tongue out.

 

Octavian sneered. “Another friend of Percy Jackson. That’s all I need to hear.”

 

“Yeah. That means he’s trustworthy, brave and loyal. All the things you’re not,” Rachel snapped. Octavian glowered at her.

 

Reyna held up her hand for silence. Her gold and silver dogs sniffed the air…Annabeth was in Tartarus. She couldn’t send anyone a note on a napkin.

 

“And somehow that’s not even the weirdest thing going on down there,” Apollo muttered.

 

Maybe I’ve hit the water and died, his subconscious said. This isn’t a real vision. It’s some sort of after-death hallucination.

 

“Please don’t say that,” Thalia grimaced.

 

“Yeah. Sorry,” Jason winced.

 

But the dream seemed very real. He could feel the wind sweeping across the roof…That’s Annabeth’s handwriting. She asks for you by name.”

 

“I still can’t believe you didn’t give the message to someone who wasn’t in Tartarus,” Poseidon grumbled.

 

“Reyna believes this because she trusts Annabeth,” Athena snapped. “It would not hold as much weight coming from my other children.”

 

“Which might be a valid argument if your future-self was in any state to actually recognize that. You disowned her and were probably too out of it to be keeping track of meetings between Reyna and Annabeth,” Ares pointed out.  

 

Octavian stirred. “Tartarus? What do you mean?”…“A Greek trick! Greeks are infamous for their tricks!”

 

“Why would we lie about that?” Travis stared at Octavian as if he were stupid. Octavian sneered but did not reply.

 

Reyna took back the note. “Why ask this of me?”…She believes you can do this, Reyna Avila Ramírez-Arellano.”

 

Reyna startled. “How do you know that name?”

 

“I don’t,” Rachel shrugged. “Maybe it’s something I know as the Oracle in the future.”

 

Jason felt like he’d been slapped. Nobody ever used Reyna’s full name…“Uh,” Grover Underwood interrupted. “You mean your initials are RA-RA?”

 

Reyna scowled as the Stolls chuckled.

 

“Really, Grover!?” Annabeth asked in exasperation.

 

“He’s been spending too much time with Percy,” Thalia laughed.

 

Reyna’s hand drifted toward her dagger…We’re on the verge of attacking them—destroying the stupid Greeks once and for all

 

“Like you could destroy us,” Clarisse scoffed.

 

“You wouldn’t stand a chance. Percy caused absolute chaos in your war games, taking you out with one blow,” Travis agreed with a sneer in Octavian’s direction who turned red at the reminder. “You couldn’t handle our entire camp.”

 

“Underestimate us all you like. Works better for us,” Dakota shot back. “Not all of us are like Octavian.”

 

and they concoct this stupid errand to divert your attention. They want to send you to your death!”

 

“If we were going to trick anyone into going on a suicide mission it would be you,” Chris muttered.

 

The other Romans muttered, glaring at their visitors…you should take this more seriously. Even Romans respected your father’s Oracle of Delphi.”

 

“Octavian doesn’t respect anyone,” Gwen snorted.

 

“Yeah, you tell him Rachel,” Nico grinned.

 

“Ha!” Octavian said. “You’re the Oracle of Delphi? Right. And I’m the Emperor Nero!”

 

“How does it feel to be utterly wrong?” Percy asked. “Because Rachel definitely is the Oracle in the future. And you are no Emperor.”

 

“At least Nero could play music,” Grover muttered.

 

The Greeks all chuckled. Even the other Romans were struggling to hide their smiles as Octavian balled his fists and glowered at Grover.

 

Octavian balled his fists…Then the wind faded and the aura was gone.

 

“Oh, nice show,” Percy whistled.

 

“That’ll show Octavian,” Michael grinned.

 

The sneer melted from Octavian’s face. The Romans rustled uneasily…“Also, Ella has been murmuring lines from your Sibylline Books—”

 

“May not be a good idea to mention that in front of Octavian,” Will winced.

 

“Yeah. My bad,” Rachel grimaced.

 

“You didn’t know exactly how bad Octavian is,” Grover sighed.

 

“What?” Reyna interrupted. “The Sibylline Books were destroyed centuries ago.”…“They told us the harpy was just muttering gibberish. They stole her!”

 

“We didn’t steal her!” Percy cried.

 

“She never belonged to you,” Hazel agreed, glaring at Octavian.

 

“Ella is her own harpy,” Tyson stated firmly.

 

Grover huffed indignantly. “Ella isn’t your property! She’s a free creature. Besides, she wants to be at Camp Half-Blood. She’s dating one of my friends, Tyson.”

 

Tyson blushed.

 

“The Cyclops,” Reyna remembered. “A harpy dating a Cyclops…”…If the Greeks won’t return her, we should take their Oracle hostage! Guards!”

 

“That would be a very, very bad move, Octavian,” Percy told him darkly. Octavian gulped.

 

“You have absolutely no right to Ella. She wasn’t ever yours. So, you have no right to take hostages. And even if the Greeks persuaded Ella to share some of her knowledge, it certainly wouldn’t be to you,” Frank glared at Octavian.

 

“Reyna won’t let him do something that stupid,” Jason stated confidently.

 

Two centurions advanced, their pila leveled. Grover brought his pipes to his lips, played a quick jig, and their spears turned into Christmas trees. The guards dropped them in surprise.

 

The Greeks all snorted.

 

“Nice one, Grover,” Katie smirked.

 

“Enough!” Reyna shouted…“And why would the Romans want peace,” Reyna asked, “after your ship attacked our city?”

 

“Because you don’t want Gaea destroying everyone,” Pollux muttered.

 

“We know that now,” Reyna rolled her eyes.

 

“You know why,” Rachel said. “To avoid this war. To reconcile the gods’ Greek and Roman sides... In Colorado, a giant stone fist rose out of a mountain and swatted some Party Ponies like flies.”

 

“That’s not good,” Grover frowned.

 

Reyna frowned. “Party Ponies?”

 

“Long story,” Beckendorf laughed.

 

“Yeah. They are a bit difficult to explain,” Connor grinned.

 

“Long story,” Rachel said. “The point is: Gaea will rise everywhere…The Greeks fear our attack. They’re trying to confuse us. It’s the Trojan Horse all over again!”

 

The Greeks all rolled their eyes.

 

Reyna twisted the silver ring she always wore, with the sword and torch symbols…Your ship fired on our city. You declared war—not us. Now, leave.”

 

“Thank you, Reyna,” Annabeth smiled.

 

“I do want peace,” Reyna sighed.

 

“The problem is going to be Octavian,” Dakota grimaced. “He’s in charge with Reyna gone. And he’s not going to follow Reyna’s orders. Especially as she’s going to the ancient lands.”

 

Grover stamped his hoof. “Percy would never—”…How will you even find their ship, assuming you survive the journey?”

 

“As much as I hate to admit it, those are some good questions,” Leo frowned.

 

“Jason is seeing this. Which means he knows Reyna is coming. Maybe he can think of somewhere to leave Reyna a message,” Gwen said.

 

“I can think of a couple of places,” Jason nodded, looking thoughtful.

 

“I will find them,” Reyna said. “If they are sailing for Greece, I know a place Jason will stop…There is only one place where he can find that sort of help.”

 

“The palace of Diocletian,” Jason stated. Reyna nodded.

 

“It’s a good idea,” Nico nodded. “If we can find his scepter that would be a huge asset.”

 

In Jason’s dream, the building seemed to tilt under his feet...Those hairy dwarfs have been stealing our supplies, sabotaging our scouting parties—you know the Greeks sent them.”

 

Leo smirked and the Stolls snickered gleefully.

 

“Perhaps,” Reyna said. “But you will not launch an attack without my orders.

 

“Yeah right,” Frank scoffed. “I bet he doesn’t even last a minute after you’re gone.”

 

Continue scouting the enemy camp. Secure your positions…“While you’re gone, the augur is the senior officer. I will be in charge.”

 

“But you still have orders from your Praetor,” Reyna glared at him.

 

“Who will possibly soon be dead. You’ve heard how difficult their journey has been. You’re going to be travelling alone,” Octavian pointed out.

 

“He’s going to attack Camp-Half Blood as soon as possible,” Dakota nodded grimly.

 

“I know.” Reyna didn’t sound happy about it. “But you have my orders. You all heard them.” She scanned the faces of the centurions, daring them to question her.

 

“And I bet none of them will defy Octavian if he orders differently,” Frank muttered.

 

She stormed off, her purple cloak billowing and her dogs at her heels…There will be a few changes in the legion’s plans.”

 

Everyone turned to glare at Octavian.

 

“Seriously? She hasn’t even left yet.” Gwen shook her head.

 

One of the centurions opened his mouth to respond, but for some reason he spoke in Piper’s voice: “WAKE UP!”

 

“What?” Jason frowned.

 

“I’m guessing your friends have noticed you falling out of the sky and Piper is trying to wake you up,” Thalia smiled.

 

Jason’s eyes snapped open, and he saw the ocean’s surface hurtling toward him.

 

“Thanks, Piper,” Jason said.

 

“You’re welcome,” She smiled at him.

 

“Chapter is finished,” Clarisse stated.

 

“Oh good. My turn,” Chris wrinkled his nose.

Chapter Text

Jason survived barely.

 

“That sounds like it was a bit close,” Thalia grimaced.

 

“It’s a good job Piper noticed and was able to wake him up,” Hazel said.

 

Later, his friends explained that they hadn’t seen him falling from the sky…Only Piper’s quick thinking and charmspeak had saved his life. She’d yelled WAKE UP!

 

“Thanks again, Pipes,” Jason smiled gratefully.

 

“Hey, can’t have you dying on us,” Piper grinned.

 

“Good reactions,” Silena complimented her half-sister.

 

with so much force that Jason felt like he’d been hit with defibrillator paddles…floating patch of demigod grease on the surface of the Adriatic.

 

Everyone winced at that image.

 

Back on board, he had pulled Leo aside and suggested a course correction. Fortunately, Leo trusted him enough not to ask why.

 

“You’re gonna need to explain at some point. I think we’re going to notice a pit stop,” Leo frowned.

 

“I know, but it’s probably best if I explain to the rest of you guys as a group,” Jason said.

 

“Weird vacation spot.” Leo grinned. “But, hey, you’re the boss!”…Jason felt so awake, he doubted he would sleep for a week. His hands were jittery. He couldn’t stop tapping his feet.

 

“Oops,” Piper winced. “Sorry, Jason.”

 

“It’s better than being dead.” He shrugged.

 

He guessed that this was how Leo felt all the time, except that Leo had a sense of humor…Coach Hedge to finish a peanut butter and banana sandwich, along with the ceramic plate.

 

“Peanut butter and banana sandwich?” Beckendorf wrinkled is nose.


“That sounds gross,” Nico grimaced.

 

“It sounds quite nice really,” Grover mused.

 

“Satyrs are weird,” Reyna shook her head.

 

“You’re only just figuring this out?” Percy asked dryly. “How long have we been reading about Grover?”

 

“Hey!” His friend protested as Reyna laughed.

 

The ship creaked as it sailed through the Adriatic, its remaining oars still out of alignment…“She’s alive,” Leo said. “Thank the gods and pass the hot sauce.”

 

Everyone laughed.

 

“That’s Leo,” Piper grinned.

 

Frank frowned. “What does that mean?”

 

“It means he’s glad that Annabeth and Percy are ok and he wants you to pass the hot sauce,” Will told him.

 

Leo wiped the chip crumbs off his face. “It means pass the hot sauce, Zhang. I’m still hungry.”…It’s taboo, coming to the ancient lands. She’ll be stripped of her praetorship.”

 

Reyna grimaced.

 

“It’s really brave of you,” Dakota stated, looking at Reyna.

 

“If she lives,” Hazel said. “It was hard enough for us to make it this far with seven demigods…“Don’t forget, cupcake, you got the satyr advantage.”

 

“With him, I think it’s actually the satyr disadvantage,” Rachel muttered.

 

“It certainly seems that way,” Frank agreed.

 

“Yeah, besides, most of the monsters will probably be focused on us, not Reyna,” Hazel grimaced.

 

“That’s not entirely comforting,” Reyna muttered.

 

Jason had to smile. Coach Hedge could be pretty ridiculous, but Jason was glad he’d come along.

 

“Seriously?” Piper asked Jason in surprise.

 

“Maybe those knocks to the head are finally taking their toll,” Thalia suggested, watching her brother in concern.

 

“Maybe,” Jason agreed. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the coach but given how many times he had been a hinderance rather than some help, he couldn’t imagine being glad he was with them over a satyr like Grover.

 

He thought about the satyr he’d seen in his dream—Grover Underwood. He couldn’t imagine a satyr more different from Coach Hedge, but they both seemed brave in their own way.

 

Grover smiled.

 

It made Jason wonder about the fauns back at Camp Jupiter…They warned him it was the worst unit. So he’d thought, Fine, I’ll make it the best.

 

“Typical Jason,” Reyna smiled.

 

“I thought you did that because you didn’t want to take the spot in the first cohort just because of dad,” Thalia frowned.

 

“That was part of it,” Jason nodded. “I didn’t want the easy way handed to be just because my dad is Jupiter, but I partly chose the fifth cohort in particular because they told me it was the worst. Because of its reputation.” Thalia nodded her understanding.

 

Once he became praetor, he’d campaigned to rename the legion the First Legion rather than the Twelfth Legion, to symbolize a new start for Rome.

 

“You did that?” Piper asked incredulously.

 

“Maybe,” Jason grinned.

 

“Sacrilege,” Octavian scowled. “We are upholding the traditions of our ancestors.”

 

“Damn it,” Dakota muttered under his breath. “I actually agree with him, and I hate it.”

 

The idea had almost caused a mutiny. New Rome was all about tradition and legacies; the rules didn’t change easily. Jason had learned to live with that and even rose to the top.

 

“Heck, we’ve only really changed in the future because of Percy,” Travis said. “He’s the one who gave up immortality to make things fairer for everyone.”

 

“Gods aren’t really good with change, except small gradual changes over a long period of time,” Poseidon sighed. “We adapt to changing where we are, and attitudes changes over millennia, but we don’t do well at change in the short term.”

 

“Until Percy. Our little force of nature came into our world and upended everything,” Apollo grinned.

 

But now that he had seen both camps, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Camp Half-Blood…but still…part of him wanted to go back to Camp Half-Blood with Piper and Leo.

 

“Really?” Reyna asked in astonishment.

 

“He’s spent his entire life at Camp Jupiter, it’s not that weird to want a change of scenery,” Annabeth said. She’d spent five years not leaving Camp Half-Blood and she was dying to get out into the world. Admittedly part of that was to prove herself, but she had also wanted to see the world.

 

He guessed that that made him a pretty terrible leader.

 

“You’ve been a great leader,” Gwen told him.

 

“And by this time in the future, you’ve spent as long at Camp Half-Blood as you did as Praetor,” Reyna sighed. “We can find a new Praetor if that’ truly what you want.”

 

“I don’t know what I want,” Jason admitted. “A lot of this hasn’t happened to me yet, so I don’t have the same feelings.” Obviously, things with Piper had changed, which he was kind of glad for. If it wasn’t going to last, at least it had happened before he made any life-changing decisions.

 

“Jason?” Leo asked. “Argo II to Jason. Come in.”…“Yeah, sorry.” He touched the groove that Sciron the bandit had cut in his hair.

 

Thalia scowled.

 

“Crossing the Atlantic is a hard journey, no doubt. But I’d never bet against Reyna. If anyone can make it, she will.”

 

Reyna smiled.

 

“It’s true,” Dakota nodded.

 

Piper circled her spoon through her soup. Jason was still a little nervous about her getting jealous of Reyna,

 

Piper grimaced. She hated the whole thing with her, Jason and Reyna.

 

but when she looked up, she gave him a dry smile that seemed more teasing than insecure.

 

Jason and Piper smiled at each other. It was hard enough hearing about them together in the future, but at least it was easier if things between them were going smooth.

 

“Well, I’d love to see Reyna again,” she said. “But how is she supposed to find us?”…“Horrible reception. Every night, I swear, I could kick that rainbow goddess.…”

 

“Every night?” Percy raised an eyebrow.

 

“He probably talks to his girlfriend,” Grover said.

 

He faltered. His face turned bright red…Contacting the Romans is even harder. I think they’re shielding themselves.”

 

“It’s possible,” Apollo agreed.

 

“Or Iris is just too messed up to be sending messages,” Hermes frowned.

 

“That’s also possible,” Aphrodite nodded.

 

Jason looked from Hazel to the coach, wondering what was going on with the satyr…Never mind. She’d probably have bad reception on a pegasus flying over the Atlantic.”

 

“Probably,” Leo agreed.

 

Jason thought about the Argo II’s journey across the ocean, the dozens of encounters…he couldn’t decide whether it was terrifying or awe-inspiring.

 

“Both,” Rachel said, with a smile at Reyna. “Definitely both.”

 

“She’ll find us,” he said. “She mentioned something in the dream…every time he mentioned Reyna’s name, she would befuddle him so much he couldn’t think about anything but Piper.

 

Piper grimaced. “I hope not.”

 

“You in here wouldn’t do that, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for your future-self,” Drew pointed out grimly. Piper couldn’t really argue with that.

 

He supposed it wasn’t the worst sort of revenge…you gotta figure it’s a warning to, you know, split. Kind of like naming your city Get Out!”

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

“Wait,” Hazel said. “Why are we going to Croatia?”…He knew that wasn’t fair to Hazel.

 

“Hey, apparently future me doesn’t trust you entirely either,” Hazel shrugged.

 

“I hope that’s not the case now. For either of us,” Jason said.

 

“It’s not,” Hazel assured him.

 

It was hard enough being a child of Pluto, but she’d pulled off some serious magic…was something Romans typically called a bad omen.

 

Nico huffed.

 

Leo pushed his chips and hot sauce aside…Jason wished he could put a bell around Nico di Angelo’s neck to remind him the guy was there.

 

Nico gave him an unimpressed look while Will chuckled.

 

“I will kill anyone who tries,” Nico declared.

 

“Awww, but…” Percy began.

 

“I will murder you,” Nico reiterated dryly. Percy smirked.

 

Nico had this disturbing habit of standing silently in the corner…He reminded Jason a little too much of a flesh-eating ghoul he’d once fought in San Bernardino.

 

Nico looked offended, while Will, Percy, Hazel and Hades all looked concerned.

 

“Croatia used to be Dalmatia,” Nico said. “A major Roman province…And is Dalmatia where those Dalmatian dogs come from? That 101 Dalmatians movie—I still have nightmares.”

 

Grover shuddered.

 

Frank scratched his head. “Why would you have nightmares about that?”…His years at Camp Jupiter seemed made up, like a movie he’d acted in decades before.

 

“What?” Piper asked in concern.

 

“What if Hera messed with his head more than just wiping his memories? Maybe she didn’t give them back properly,” Thalia suggested, glaring at Hera.

 

“If she did that to Jason, she might have done the same to Percy,” Grover realised.

 

“We have no way of knowing either way,” Poseidon scowled at his sister. “But I certainly wouldn’t put it past her.”

 

“Reyna and I used to talk about Diocletian,” he said…Leo rolled his eyes. “Why am I not surprised you know that, Zhang?”

 

“All of us know that,” Dakota stated.

 

“It’s a huge part of Roman history. We all know,” Reyna said.

 

“Why wouldn’t I? He was the last one who worshipped the Olympian gods…She looked askance at Jason. “Why would you idolize him?”

 

“Those nuns also hit you with rulers and did other terrible things,” Frank pointed out.

 

“He wasn’t a total villain,” Jason said. “Yeah, he persecuted Christians…He was also the first emperor ever to retire, like, peacefully, and give up his power.

 

“That’s pretty impressive,” Connor muttered.

 

“Yeah. As both a demigod and a emperor, that’s impressive,” Pollux nodded.

 

He was from Dalmatia, so he moved back there and built a retirement palace…“Go on, Professor Grace!” he said, wide-eyed. “I wanna get an A on the test.”

 

“Really, Leo?” Piper grinned. Leo shrugged.

 

“Shut up, Leo.”…“Supposedly Diocletian’s scepter could summon the ghosts of the Roman legions, any of them who worshipped the old gods.”

 

“Sounds like an army we could use,” Hazel said.

 

“If we could summon an army of ghosts, Nico could control them. That would certainly help at Epirus,” Leo agreed.

 

Leo whistled. “Okay, now I’m interested. Be nice to have a booty-kicking…“Well, I’m not sure. But according to Pluto, she plans to ‘rebuild her domain.’

 

Everyone shuddered.

 

Whatever that means, it’s bad enough that my dad felt like warning me personally.”…I can leave a message for Reyna, letting her know the route we’re taking for Epirus.”

 

“Two birds with one stone,” Percy nodded.

 

Nico nodded. “The scepter of Diocletian could make a huge difference. You’ll need my help.”…but his skin prickled at the thought of going anywhere with Nico di Angelo.

 

Nico sighed.

 

Percy had shared some disturbing stories about Nico.

 

“What?” Percy exclaimed. Nico looked like someone had punched him. “Why would I do that? Especially Jason? I’ve only known the guy a couple of weeks, no offense.”

 

Jason shrugged.

 

His loyalties weren’t always clear. He spent more time with the dead than the living. Once, he’d lured Percy into a trap in the palace of Hades.

 

“Why the Hades would I share that story with Jason?” Percy demanded. “That’s none of his business.”

 

“I mean, I’m guessing you told us a little about Nico while we travelled to save him, but I don’t know why you would tell us that particular story,” Frank frowned.

 

“And Nico made up for that. He was tricked by his father, and he rescued you,” Will stated firmly.

 

“I know that!” Percy defended himself. “I don’t know why my future self-shared that.”

 

Maybe Nico had made up for that by helping the Greeks against the Titans, but still…

 

“At least I mentioned that part,” Percy scowled.

 

Piper squeezed his hand. “Hey, sounds fun. I’ll go, too.”…Frank groaned. “Can we leave Valdez in Croatia?”

 

“Nope,” Leo grinned. “You need me to fly the ship.”

 

“Shame,” Frank sighed dramatically.

 

Jason stood. “Frank, you’re in charge of defending the ship. Leo, you’ve got repairs to do. The rest of you, help out wherever you can. Nico and I…”faced the son of Hades. “We have a ghost to find.”

 

“Done,” Chris said. “Your turn,” He added, looking at Travis.

 

“Gee, thanks,” Travis sighed. Still, it was better than getting a Tartarus chapter.

Chapter Text

Jason first saw the angel at the ice cream cart.

 

“An angel?” Michael frowned.

 

“Those aren’t real, right?” Rachel asked curiously.


“No. They aren’t. But plenty of gods could look like what mortals expect angels to look like,” Hermes shrugged.

 

The Argo II had anchored in the bay along with six or seven cruise ships…Tourists navigated around the angel’s huge wings without a second glance.

 

“Not many gods go around with wings though,” Aphrodite frowned.

 

“Could be a child of one of the winds,” Apollo shrugged.

 

“Oh good. What we need on our quest is more wind gods and their kids,” Leo muttered sarcastically.

 

Jason nudged Nico. “Are you seeing this?”…He had a deep tan and black hair almost as curly as Leo’s.

 

Apollo scowled angrily as he recognized that description. “Oh, not him,” He spat.

 

“You recognize him?” Percy asked.

 

“That’s Zephyros,” Artemis said, shooting her brother a sympathetic look. “God of the west wind.”

 

“Why isn’t he off having splitting headaches?” Percy asked. “Why is he buying ice cream?”

 

“He’s a minor god,” Apollo sneered. “He’s not important enough to be called upon by either side in battle, so he’s probably having minor side effects, but nothing serious.”

 

“Besides, the winds don’t exactly change an awful lot,” Ares shrugged. “Not between Greek and Roman anyway.”

 

“He’s not a returned spirit,” Nico murmured. “Or a creature of the Underworld.”…He smiled, gestured over his shoulder with his ice cream bar, and dissolved into the air.

 

“He’s clearly expecting you,” Hazel frowned. “That’s not usually a good thing.”

 

“Especially considering who he works for,” Apollo glanced at Nico. He and Percy had spoken about Nico’s crush on Percy, and how Percy felt about it. He carried a lot of guilt for what had happened to Nico, in Percy’s past and in these books.

 

“Why, who does he work for?” Katie asked.

 

“Eros. More commonly known by his Roman name of Cupid,” Connor stated. Nico stiffened. The last thing he needed was to be meeting Cupid.

 

“Hopefully he’s there for some other reason,” Jason said. He didn’t see how a love god was going to be of any help to them. And frankly, he was confused enough about his love life, he didn’t want to meet Cupid to make it worse.

 

Jason couldn’t exactly see him, but he’d had enough experience controlling the wind…dwarfing the modern shops and houses that huddled beneath it.

 

“It sounds incredible,” Breathed Annabeth.

 

Jason imagined what the palace must have looked like when it was newly built…Jason grabbed Nico and lifted them both into the air.

 

Nico grimaced. He hated people touching him without any warning.

 

“Sorry,” Jason gave him an apologetic look, having spotted Nico’s discomfort.

 

Nico made a muffled sound of protest as they soared over the walls…He scowled at Jason. “And please, I don’t like being touched. Don’t ever grab me again.”

 

“Noted,” Jason said.

 

Unless it’s Will doing the touching,” Michael teased him quietly in Italian. Nico glared at him, but he simply smirked.

 

Shut up, Michael,” Will told him mildly.

 

Jason’s shoulder blades tensed. He thought he heard the undertone of a threat…“With my mother and Bianca. A weekend trip from Venice. I was maybe…six?”

 

“What? How do you remember that?” Hades asked. “I bathed you both in the Lethe before sending you to the hotel.”

 

“I…I don’t know. I don’t remember that right now,” Nico frowned in confusion.

 

“Bob regained some of his memories,” Chris pointed out.

 

“But that’s because he was in Tartarus, which heals monsters. It wouldn’t heal Nico’s memory, he’s a demigod,” Thalia reminded him.

 

“Maybe it was the Phlegethon. It heals demigods, and we’ve already found that Tartarus seems to have its own rules,” Annabeth suggested.

 

“But Nico was captured straight away and taken back to the surface, wasn’t he? He wouldn’t have needed to drink from it,” Hazel said.

 

“Tartarus’ atmosphere is poisonous to demigods. Even just taking him through Tartarus to the Doors would have taken time, depending where Nico entered Tartarus,” Percy grimaced. “They needed Nico alive as bait, so maybe they gave him some fire water to keep him alive for transport.”

 

“That’s possible,” Apollo nodded.

 

“Can we stop talking about this, please,” Nico grimaced. They all looked apologetic.

 

“That was when…the 1930s?”…“I just…I can’t imagine how weird that must be, coming from another time.”

 

“You mostly get used to it,” Nico shrugged. “It’s probably easier if you stay in Camp, like Hazel did. Because the demigod camps don’t change an awful lot over time. Technology doesn’t mix well with demigods for one thing.”

 

“No, you can’t.” Nico stared at the stone floor. He took a deep breath…“Percy told me about that place,” Jason said. “Seventy years, but it only felt like a month?”

 

“Excuse me?” Percy frowned. “What the heck? Why would I tell Jason any of this? Last I heard, we were fighting over a seat and now I’m telling him personal stories about Nico?”

 

“Maybe you talked about him after Jason implied Nico couldn’t be trusted in that talk about saving him,” Rachel suggested. “You might have meant it in a ‘hey Nico’s had a rough time of it but he’s still a good guy and you can trust him’ kind of way.”

 

“And telling him about being from a different time might have helped to make him seem more like Hazel,” Frank added.

 

“Maybe,” Percy said consideringly. “But still, I don’t like how much my future-self seems to be talking about Nico’s personal stuff. It’s wrong. I know how private he is. And it doesn’t seem like future-me, and future-Jason get along that well. Let alone well enough to sit around and chat about Nico.”

 

“There’s nothing you can do about it now,” Nico told him. “And I don’t hold your future-self’s actions against you.” Percy shot him a grateful smile.

 

Nico clenched his fist until his fingers turned white…He knew that Nico had blamed Percy for getting his sister Bianca killed, but they’d supposedly gotten past that,

 

“And that story has nothing to do with whether Nico is trustworthy or not,” Will scowled.

 

“Maybe Hera messed with my head more than I thought,” Percy muttered.

 

at least according to Percy. Piper had also mentioned a rumor that Nico had a crush on Annabeth. Maybe that was part of it.

 

Nico and Annabeth both grimaced.

 

Still… Jason didn’t get why Nico pushed people away, why he never spent much time at either camp, why he preferred the dead to the living.

 

“The dead are far less nosey,” Nico muttered. Will snorted.

 

He really didn’t get why Nico had promised to lead the Argo II to Epirus if he hated Percy Jackson so much.

 

“I don’t hate Percy,” Nico frowned.

 

“I know that now,” Jason assured him. “But I’ve only heard Percy’s side, and I think we’ve all realised by now how much guilt he holds himself. He probably made it sound like it was all his fault.”

 

“That does sound like Percy. Especially if he was trying to get Jason to trust Nico,” Thalia nodded.

 

Nico’s eyes swept the windows above them. “Roman dead are everywhere here…The Christians changed it to a baptistery. The Roman ghosts don’t like that.”

 

“I don’t blame them,” Dakota frowned.

 

Jason stared at the dark doorway…Romans had walked through, thousands of years ago, to worship his dad. The idea gave Jason a splitting headache.

 

“It’s easier not to think about that,” Thalia told him.

 

“Yeah. It doesn’t get any less weird,” Travis agreed.

 

“And over there…” Nico pointed east to a hexagonal building ringed…His smile was even more unsettling than his scowl. “Underground,” he said. “My favorite place.”

 

“At least someone is happy,” Frank joked.

 

Underground was not Jason’s favorite place.

 

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s favourite place except Nico,” Percy laughed.

 

“Especially not children of Poseidon and Zeus. It’s too close to Hades’ realm,” Thalia nodded.

 

Ever since his trip beneath Rome with Piper and Percy, fighting those twin giants...trapdoors, and large hamster wheels.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

Having Nico along was not reassuring. His Stygian iron blade…None of the tourists had ventured down here. Obviously, they were smarter than demigods.

 

All of the demigods snorted in amusement.

 

Jason drew his gladius. They made their way under the low archways…He slipped the note between the bust and its pedestal, and stepped back.

 

Reyna nodded. That did seem like a good place.

 

“Yeah. The last thing you need is for some mortal to find that note,” Dakota nodded.

 

“That would be…interesting,” Piper winced.

 

Diocletian’s marble eyes made him jumpy. Jason couldn’t help thinking of Terminus, the talking statue-god back at New Rome. He hoped Diocletian didn’t bark at him or suddenly burst into song.

 

“That would definitely be creepy,” Gwen muttered.

 

“Hello!”…“That wasn’t very nice,” said the voice behind them.

 

“Neither is giving me a heart attack,” Jason growled.

 

“I’m guessing it’s the west wind dude. He really should know better than to startle demigods,” Piper frowned.

 

“Or he finds it funny,” Apollo scowled.

 

Jason turned. The winged man from the ice cream stand was leaning against…“Jason Grace, the West Wind has been called many things…warm, gentle, life-giving, and devilishly handsome.

 

Apollo snorted derisively.

 

“Not the words you would use then, I take it,” Percy said lightly. Apollo just shook his head and glared at the book.

 

But I have never been called startling…The to-and-fro battles among you demigods don’t affect me as greatly.”

 

“Leaving him free to come and bother us,” Jason sighed.

 

“So…” Jason wasn’t quite sure whether to sheathe his sword…Favonius spun the bronze hoop on his index finger.

 

Apollo growled.

 

Jason had no idea what a quoit was, but he tried to stay focused…that what you’re looking for isn’t here. My master has taken it.”

 

“Cupid has the sceptre?” Hazel groaned. “That’s not good.”

 

“He won’t give it away easily,” Aphrodite stated, knowing her son.

 

“When do gods ever make our lives easy?” Percy deadpanned.

 

“Your master?” Jason had a flashback to a floating palace above Pikes Peak in Colorado, where he’d visited (and barely survived) the studio of a crazy weatherman who claimed he was the god of all the winds.

 

Piper, Jason and Leo all shuddered.

 

“Please tell me your master isn’t Aeolus.”…I’m glad to see you again, by the way. It’s been a long time.”

 

“I haven’t met him?” Nico frowned.

 

“You haven’t seen him,” Hades corrected. “if you have been to the palace before, there is a good chance he has seen you there.”

 

“Great,” Nico grimaced.

 

Nico knit his eyebrows. “I’ve never met you.”…I knew eventually you would return to look upon my master’s face.”

 

“No thanks,” Nico denied, looking nervous now. He did not want to meet Cupid. And he certainly didn’t want that meeting broadcast to everyone reading. Just Jason being around was bad enough.

 

Nico turned even paler than usual. His eyes darted around the cavernous room…“The one you care for most…plunged into Tartarus, and still you will not allow the truth?”

 

Nico winced and then glared at the book. Will fought to hide his own scowl.

 

“The one you care for most?” Connor looked over at Nico with a considering frown.

 

“Well, there are only two choices,” Silena said.

 

“It’s not important,” Nico snapped.

 

“Just keep reading guys,” Percy said, trying to hide his own surprise. Nico had admitted to having a crush on him, but to be the one Nico cared for the most? That was weird. And he had thought Nico hated him, until these books anyway. At least Nico had Will now. Because Percy really couldn’t imagine liking Nico that way. He saw the guy as a little brother.

 

Suddenly Jason felt like he was eavesdropping…Apparently Nico’s feelings went way deeper than a simple crush.

 

Nico fought to hide a snort. He could only hope they kept believing that.

 

“We’ve only come for Diocletian’s scepter,” Nico said…I’ve dwelt here for eons, bringing those who sought love into the presence of Cupid.”

 

“Except we don’t seek love,” Jason stated. “Just the sceptre.”

 

Jason didn’t like the mention of difficult trials. He didn’t trust this weird god…a reminder of better times. If you want it…” Favonius turned to Nico. “You must face the god of love.”

 

Aphrodite was interested to hear how her son was doing. Love didn’t change much, so he wouldn’t be affected much.

 

“Can’t Jason go on his own?” Nico muttered to himself. Will just nudged him gently with his shoulder, hoping to be comforting.

 

Nico stared at the sunlight coming through the windows…god of love meant forcing Nico into some sort of confession about which girl he liked, that didn’t seem so bad.

 

“Speak for yourself,” Nico snapped.

 

“We need the scepter to beat Gaea’s forces at Epirus,” Hazel said gently.

 

“I know,” Nico scowled at her.

 

“Nico, you can do this,” Jason said. “It might be embarrassing, but it’s for the scepter.”…I keep forgetting my symbol is a basket of unripe fruit.

 

“How do you forget your own symbol?” Hermes shook his head.

 

“Hey, you lost your symbol of power,” Dionysus reminded him.

 

“Once. It was once, and it hasn’t even happened yet,” Hermes glared at him.

 

Why doesn’t the spring wind get more credit? Summer has all the fun.”…Favonius spun the hoop on his finger, and Jason’s body dissolved into air.

 

“Done,” Travis announced.

 

“I’ll read,” Michael offered. It wasn’t strictly his turn, but he had a feeling the next chapter was going to be pretty horrible for his brother’s boyfriend. And he wanted to spare them both as much awkwardness as possible.

Chapter Text

Jason had ridden the winds many times. Being the wind was not the same…felt when they were defeated—bursting into dust, helpless and formless.

 

All of the demigods shuddered.

 

“That sounds horrible,” Drew wrinkled her nose.

 

“I hope I never have to travel that way in the future,” Nico muttered grimly.

 

Jason could sense Nico’s presence nearby. The West Wind carried them…“Honestly, I don’t know how you stand it, day in and day out.”

 

“We’re kind of used to it,” Pollux stated dryly.

 

Jason scanned their surroundings. The town must have been huge once…Birthplace of Diocletian! But before that, long before that, it was the home of Cupid.”

 

Nico scowled.

 

The name echoed, as if voices were whispering it through the ruins…name conjured up an image of a silly winged baby with a toy bow and arrow, flying around in his diapers on Valentine’s Day.

 

Everyone snickered, except Aphrodite and Ares, who both looked affronted.

 

“How did that even become a thing?” Dakota wondered.

 

“Mortals like to come up with crazy things,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“Oh, he’s not like that,” said Favonius…The dead patch spread outward, as if poison were seeping from the soles of his shoes.

 

“What did the grass do to you?” Katie asked jokingly.

 

“It happens when I’m nervous,” Nico answered, looking embarrassed.

 

“Ah…” Favonius nodded sympathetically. “I don’t blame you for being nervous, Nico di Angelo. Do you know how I ended up serving Cupid?”

 

Apollo scowled.

 

“I don’t serve anyone,” Nico muttered. “Especially not Cupid.”…“I fell in love with a mortal named Hyacinthus. He was quite extraordinary.”

 

Apollo scowled even more.

 

“You ok?” Percy asked in concern. He could feel rather than hear his boyfriend growling.

 

“I don’t like Zephyrus.”

 

“Understatement.” Artemis snorted.

 

“He…?” Jason’s brain was still fuzzy from his wind trip…“I fell in love with a dude. Does that shock you?”

 

“It shouldn’t,” Thalia shrugged as Nico tensed further. “There are loads of stories about the gods falling in love with male mortals.”

 

“Yeah. We aren’t really picky,” Hermes shrugged. “Love is love and lust is lust after all.”

 

“To be fair, most of us try not to think about our parent’s love lives,” Percy pointed out.

 

“There is that,” Travis agreed. Nico glanced around. Nobody looked horrified by the prospect, even Octavian seemed to think this was fairly normal. The only other person who looked a little wary was Hazel. He knew nobody had objected to Percy and Apollo being so open, but part of him had just assumed that was because nobody wanted to upset Apollo or Poseidon.

 

“What about goddesses and female lovers?” Piper asked curiously. She didn’t recall any stories about that when researching with her dad.

 

“It happened. But it wasn’t common, and there were far less stories about us anyway,” Aphrodite admitted.

 

Honestly, Jason wasn’t sure. He tried not to think about the details of godly love lives, no matter who they fell in love with. After all, his dad, Jupiter, wasn’t exactly a model of good behavior.

 

“Now that’s an understatement,” Hades snorted.

 

“None of you are models of good behaviour,” Amphitrite smirked.

 

Compared to some of the Olympian love scandals he’d heard about…Alas, love is never simple. You see, the god Apollo also liked Hyacinthus.

 

Percy grimaced. That would be why Apollo didn’t like Zephyrus.

 

He claimed they were just friends. I don’t know…Instead of confronting them and finding out the truth, I shifted the wind and sent a heavy metal ring right at Hyacinthus’s head and…well.”

 

“Instead of simply asking if they were lovers, he killed the guy he supposedly loved?” Percy asked in disgust.

 

“I’m guessing it’s one of those ‘if I can’t have him then no one can’ things,” Silena sighed. “And he couldn’t really do anything against Apollo.”

 

The wind god sighed. “As Hyacinthus died, Apollo turned him into a flower, the hyacinth.

 

“I swear if you ever turn me into any form of vegetation, I will kill you,” Percy told Apollo lightly, wanting to take away the sad look in his eyes.

 

“Duly noted,” Apollo gave him a small smile. “What about animals?”

 

“No!” Percy groaned, rolling his eyes. “You’re not allowed to turn me into anything.”

 

“Spoilsport.”

 

I’m sure Apollo would’ve taken horrible vengeance on me,

 

Apollo nodded. Percy hugged him.

 

but Cupid offered me his protection. I’d done a terrible thing…If you let your anger rule you…well, your fate will be even sadder than mine.”

 

“Maybe Nico should have stayed away from this trip. I doubt Cupid wants anything good with him,” Frank frowned.

 

“But if he’s taken a special interest in Nico, then he probably won’t give the scepter to anyone else,” Drew said.

 

“Besides, there is nothing we can do about it now,” Jason sighed. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Nico having to have a truthful conversation with Cupid, which he was clearly incredibly uncomfortable about, being shown from his point of view.

 

Jason felt like his brain was turning back into wind. He didn’t understand what Favonius…The ground shook, and Jason and Nico drew their swords.

 

“That won’t do you much good,” Aphrodite shook her head. “Eros likes to be invisible.”

 

So…It sounded deep and rich, but also threatening—like a tremor before a major earthquake.

 

“Well, if he’s anything like Percy described Thanatos, definitely not a child,” Hazel muttered.

 

“Yeah, well, so far I think I prefer Thanatos,” Percy said grimly.

 

Where you least expect me, Cupid answered. As Love always is…You’ve found true love, after all. Or do you still doubt yourself?

 

“It wasn’t true love,” Jason sighed. “It was love manufactured by Hera and by my guilt.” Quite a few people glared at Hera.

 

“You’ll find true love,” Piper assured him with a smile.

 

“You will too.” He smiled in return.

 

Nico scrambled down the steps. “You okay?”…The arrow exploded against the nearest wall, peppering them with limestone shrapnel.

 

“Woah,” Percy whistled. “Nice reflexes.”

 

“Thanks for that,” Nico said gratefully. He didn’t want to imagine how horrible it would be if he got hit by one of Cupid’s arrows.

 

“Why is he shooting at Nico? Or either of them really. The only people they could fall in love with is each other, which doesn’t make any sense,” Michael wondered.

 

“That’s not all his arrows do,” Aphrodite warned.

 

They ran up the steps. Jason pulled Nico to one side as another gust of wind toppled…Thanatos. We are not so different. Except Death is sometimes kinder.

 

“And less of a jerk,” Frank scowled.

 

“We just want the scepter!” Nico shouted. “We’re trying to stop Gaea…Love is on every side, Cupid said. And no one’s side. Don’t ask what Love can do for you.

 

“Goodie. Another god who doesn’t seem to care if Gaea rises,” Leo groaned. “Seriously, it’s like they all want the world to be destroyed.”

 

“He sounds even worse than Aphrodite trying to mess with your love life,” Percy muttered, making sure the goddess couldn’t hear him.

 

“Great,” Jason said. “Now he’s spouting greeting card messages.”

 

The demigods all snorted in amusement.

 

Movement behind him: Jason spun, slicing his sword through the air…On the paving stones, a trail of golden ichor shimmered—the blood of the gods.

 

“Go Jason!” Thalia cheered.

 

Ares gripped the bridge on his nose in irritation. Why were all of his immortal children showing him up in these books? Eros might not be the fighter that Phobos and Deimos were, but he had the advantage of being invisible.

 

Very good, Jason, Cupid said. At least you can sense my presence. Even a glancing hit at true love is more than most heroes manage.

 

“Next time, get him in the mouth,” Piper glared.

 

“I’ll do my best,” Jason grinned.

 

“So now I get the scepter?” Jason asked…In New Rome, he’d offered to give up his position to Percy Jackson. Did that make him unworthy to lead a legion of Roman ghosts?

 

“It might. Percy technically still holds the title of Praetor because he was lifted on the field of battle as a replacement for you. So, even though you came back, the title should go to Percy, not you,” Reyna said thoughtfully. “At least that would be my guess. It’s not a situation that has ever happened before as far as I know.”

 

He decided to face that problem when the time came…Nico gasped as it sunk into his sword arm.

 

“Nico!” Will cried out.

 

“What else do his arrows do?” Percy glared at Aphrodite.

 

“It will force him to admit his who he loves the most. He might resist for a while, but not forever,” The goddess answered absently. She was busy frowning at the book. She understood what her son was doing, Nico did need to face this eventually. But she also knew Eros could be a little overzealous at times.

 

“Nico!”…“Were you that ugly?” Jason thought he had zeroed in on Cupid’s voice—at the edge of the amphitheater about twenty yards away—but he wanted to make sure.

 

Everyone laughed.

 

“You tell him Jason,” Leo chuckled.

 

The god laughed. I was too handsome, I’m afraid. A mortal cannot gaze upon the true appearance of a god without suffering consequences.

 

“Which means it has nothing to do with how handsome you are,” Apollo scoffed.

 

My mother, Aphrodite, cursed Psyche for her distrust. My poor lover was tormented…She earned her way back to my side, but she suffered greatly.

 

“I wouldn’t have bothered. He doesn’t exactly seem like a keeper,” Silena scoffed. Aphrodite frowned at her daughter.

 

“I somehow doubt she actually had any choice,” Percy scowled. “Didn’t he take her as a wife because he got cut by his own arrow and fell in love with her?”

 

“Yes,” Annabeth nodded.

 

Now I’ve got you, Jason thought…He didn’t understand why Nico would think of himself as the main target, but Cupid seemed to agree.

 

“You mean apart from the fact that Zephyros said he knew Nico would be back to look upon Cupid, and Nico is the one that Cupid shot? It seems pretty obvious Nico is the target,” Will said through gritted teeth.

 

“Besides, future-you is in love with Piper. You have no need to make a confession to Eros,” Drew pointed out. “You will be of little interest to him.”

 

Poor Nico di Angelo. The god’s voice was tinged with disappointment…“I’ve been to Tartarus and back,” Nico snarled. “You don’t scare me.”

 

“Please don’t remind me,” Will muttered, gripping Nico’s hand. The son of Hades stiffened. He tried to withdraw his hand. His secret was coming out and his instinct was to withdraw into himself. What he really wanted to do was leave. To not face all of the reactions when it came out. Not only that he liked guys, but also that he had a crush on Percy of all people. Percy, who was so awesome, he attracted the attention of a god. Not that that was always a good thing, but nobody could deny that Apollo was kind of good for Percy. So far. But, even if he didn’t have a crush on Percy anymore, at one point he had been the one that Nico cared for the most in the world. The one who had protected him even when Nico did everything that he could to push him away.

 

Will looked at Nico. He could tell he was on the verge of bolting. Whatever progress he had made with his fear of being outed was being undone with every second they read about his interaction with Cupid. And it made him want to strangle the stupid god of love. Still, he let go of Nico’s hand and settled for just making sure their arms were touching. Giving him a bit of space but remaining close enough to offer comfort.

 

I scare you very, very much. Face me. Be honest…Games? Cupid struck, slapping Nico sideways into a granite pedestal.

 

“I’m going to kill him,” Percy growled.

 

“Get in line,” Will said, glaring at the book.

 

“Nico’s my brother. I get the first hit,” Hazel declared. Everyone looked at her in shock. They couldn’t imagine Hazel trying to actually strike a god.

 

Love is no game! It is no flowery softness! It is hard work—a quest that never ends...He liked Piper’s version better—considerate, kind, and beautiful.

 

Piper smiled.

 

Aphrodite he could understand. Cupid seemed more like a thug, an enforcer.

 

“He is a son of Ares, as well as Aphrodite,” Travis pointed out.

 

“Hey!” Clarisse scowled at him.

 

“He’s just pointing out facts,” Connor defended his brother.

 

“Nico,” he called, “what does this guy want from you?”…Nico let loose a guttural scream.

 

Nico cringed.

 

Percy looked over at Thalia. ‘Help him’, he mouthed. He knew, or least could make a very good guess, at what Cupid wanted Nico to reveal. And it would probably make things even more embarrassing for him if Percy was the one to go over and offer comfort, no matter how much he wanted to help. Thalia nodded. She made her way around the giant beanbag and wriggled into the gap between Nico and Hazel. She slung one arm around Nico’s shoulders protectively.

 

“You doing ok?” She whispered.

 

“I’m…not really,” Nico admitted so quietly only she could hear him. Thalia tightened her grip on him and rubbed his arm.

 

“You can leave if you want to. Nobody will judge you.” Nico shook his head. He was tempted to leave, but he knew that if he did it would be worse coming back to face everyone after they found out his secret.

 

The ground at his feet split open and skeletons crawled forth—dead Romans…When they hit Jason, he almost lost consciousness—overwhelmed by hatred and fear and shame…

 

“Woah, that’s some power there,” Rachel whistled.

 

“It’s the littlest ones and the quiet ones you need to watch out for. And Nico is both of those things,” Percy grinned.

 

“I’m not that little!” Nico protested, grateful for anything else to latch onto.

 

“You kind of are,” Will chuckled.

 

“Oh, shut up.” Nico mock glared at him.

 

Images flashed through his mind. He saw Nico and his sister on a snowy cliff in Maine…This is a real hero. He was Nico’s favorite game, Mythomagic, brought to life.

 

Percy blushed while Nico flinched and buried his face in Thalia’s shoulder.

 

“Honestly, I’m insulted. You thought Percy was a real hero and not me. I saved his backside,” Thalia stated. Nico snorted, the sound muffled by her Hunter’s jacket.

 

“I’ve told you I’m more awesome than you are,” Percy said smugly. Thalia stuck her tongue out.

 

Jason saw the moment when Percy returned and told Nico…when the skeleton warriors attacked, he couldn’t let them harm Percy.

 

“Thanks for protecting me. Those things were a pain to defeat,” Percy said.

 

Nico had called on the earth to swallow them up, and then he’d run away…And they left him stunned, unable to move or speak.

 

“Why is Jason seeing this?” Gwen asked suddenly. “Surely Nico isn’t willingly sharing this?”

 

“And even if he was, he doesn’t have the power to share memories does he?” Hazel wondered, glancing over at her brother who was doing his best to disappear into Thalia’s shadow. It was difficult to see him, she guessed he was using his powers to cloak himself.

 

“Cupid is probably manipulating it and showing Jason these things,” Piper said darkly.

 

Aphrodite made a mental note to have words with her son how he went about such things. She knew Nico needed to face his feelings, and that he needed someone else to know to show him that other people wouldn’t be disgusted or hate him, but this was not the right way.

 

Meanwhile, Nico’s Roman skeletons surged forward and grappled with something invisible…Still hiding, Cupid said, smashing another skeleton to pieces. You do not have the strength.

 

Everyone looked between Percy and Nico. It was pretty easy to guess who Nico cared for the most. It wasn’t Annabeth, and only one other person had gone to Tartarus. But they could all see how Nico was shrinking into himself and decided not to say anything just yet.

 

“Nico,” Jason managed to say, “it’s okay. I get it.”…”I left Camp Half-Blood because I don’t belong! I’ll never belong!”

 

“That’s not true,” Pollux said gently. “No matter who you love, you will always belong at Camp.”

 

The skeletons had Cupid pinned now, but the invisible god laughed so cruelly that Jason wanted to summon another bolt of lightning. Unfortunately, he doubted he had the strength.

 

“Strangling him is too nice,” Percy growled. “You are going to help me get revenge,” He looked over at Apollo.

 

“Your wish is my command,” Apollo smiled. He was more than happy to help make Eros get a taste of his own medicine. Besides, he was fond of his son’s boyfriend, and nobody deserved to have their feelings ripped out of them in front of an audience.

 

“Leave him alone, Cupid,” Jason croaked. “This isn’t…”…Cupid was a monster. Love was the most savage monster of all.

 

Percy gestured something to Connor, Travis and Will. They all nodded.

 

Nico’s voice was like broken glass. “I—I wasn’t in love with Annabeth.”…“I had a crush on Percy,” Nico spat. “That’s the truth. That’s the big secret.”

 

Nico curled into a ball, with his head on Thalia’s lap, and surrounded himself with so many shadows that he was almost invisible. Thalia hugged him tightly.

 

“Another one joins the list,” Will let out a dramatic sigh.

 

“That must make it over half of Camp by now,” Beckendorf chuckled.

 

“What?” Percy squeaked. “What list?”

 

“Oh, nothing,” Will grinned.

 

“Just the list of people who have had a crush on you over the years. Most of them don’t anymore,” Michael shrugged. “But I know Will keeps a separate log in the infirmary for ‘Percy related injures’.”

 

“What?” Apollo narrowed his eyes at his son.

 

“The injuries sustained because people got distracted watching Percy train,” Connor chuckled. “We make great money betting how many people will get injured each summer.”

 

“Please tell me that’s not a thing,” Percy begged.

 

“It’s a thing,” Will admitted. “We get at least three every summer. Especially when you train shirtless.”

 

“I want to see this list,” Apollo demanded.

 

“We don’t have it with us,” Michael shrugged.

 

“What’s the record?” Dakota asked.

 

“Thirteen I think,” Will frowned thoughtfully. “That was last summer. Although we’re up to seven already so far this year.”

 

“Are you on that list?” Nico had uncurled himself ever so slightly during this conversation. Now he craned his neck to look over at Will. The son of Apollo blushed.

 

“Maybe. So, you’re in good company,” Will told him. Then he nudged Michael to get him to continue reading.

 

He glared at Cupid. “Happy now?”…“Sometimes it makes you incredibly sad. But at least you’ve faced it now. That’s the only way to conquer me.”

 

“But a good smack in the face is so much more satisfying,” Percy muttered, still angry at the god for forcing Nico to do that.

 

Cupid dissolved into the wind…“you’d have that many more people to back you up, and to unleash the fury of the gods on anybody who gives you trouble.”

 

“He’s not wrong,” Michael said. “None of us are bothered. We still want you to come back to camp. And we’re all willing to line up and punch Cupid for making you do that.”

 

“Yep, Michael’s right,” Hazel agreed.

 

“I think there is a pretty big line for that punch,” Frank stated. Nico refused to look at any of them, but he did stretch his hand out for Will to take, which he did. Will squeezed his hand gently.

 

Nico scowled. Jason still felt the resentment and anger rippling off him…“I mean…I gave up on Percy. I was young and impressionable, and I—I don’t…”

 

“You’re still young and impressionable,” Thalia chuckled.

 

“I am not!” Nico scowled at her.

 

His voice cracked, and Jason could tell the guy was about to get teary-eyed.

 

Nico blushed.

 

Whether Nico had really given up on Percy or not, Jason couldn’t imagine…But what you just did? That was maybe the bravest.”

 

“Jason’s right,” Piper stated confidently.

 

Nico looked up uncertainly. “We should get back to the ship.”…I’ve had enough of the winds for a while.”

 

“I don’t blame you for that,” Apollo said.

 

“The chapter is done,” Michael announced.

 

“I think that’s enough for now. Let’s stop for lunch,” Chiron stated. Most of the gods left. Apollo and Hades were the only ones who stayed. The Roman demigods were the next ones to leave. Jason came over to Nico and squeezed his shoulder before heading out with Reyna.

 

The Greek demigods all huddled around Nico, offering their support. Then Connor and Travis left to get a head start on the pranks they were going to plan for Eros. Most of the other demigods went with them.

 

Only Percy, Will, Michael, Hazel, Thalia and Nico were left, along with the two gods.

Chapter Text

Nico still refused to look at anyone who remained in the room. Will squeezed his hand once more and Thalia tightened her grip around his shoulders.

 

“Honestly, Nico, none of think any differently of you,” Hazel assured him. “I don’t…I mean it’s not…urgh. What I mean to say is that I might not completely understand the way you feel, but you’re my brother and I love you.” She could imagine the sheer horror and disgust that the nuns at her school would feel at Nico’s revelation, but she wouldn’t shun him for it. And honestly, spending a few months at Camp Jupiter, and being exposed to the stories about the gods, had desensitized her to some things.

 

“And like we said, loads of people have crushes on Percy, guys and girls. And they haven’t seen him in action the way you did,” Will pointed out. Percy blushed once more and glared at him for that reminder. “So, if anything, having a crush on Percy makes you more normal, not less.” Nico let out a quiet chuckle.

 

“Can we not talk about this anymore?” He requested.

 

“Sure,” Thalia said before anyone else could answer. “As long as you’re ok, and you’re not going to go off and brood thinking we all think you’re a freak or something.”

 

“I’m fine,” Nico stated.

 

“Fine, like really fine, or like a Percy fine?” Apollo asked with a smirk. Percy glared at his boyfriend.

 

“Really fine,” Nico assured him. “And I’m hungry, so I want to get some lunch.”

 

“Sounds reasonable to me,” Percy stated.

 

“That’s because you’re always hungry,” Apollo pointed out. Percy shrugged. Then he reached out, giving Nico plenty of time to withdraw, before hugging the younger boy. Nico accepted the contact for a few seconds and then pulled away. The group made their way towards the dining hall. Hades clapped his son on the shoulder, briefly searching his face for any signs of distress. Thankfully he seemed ok.

 

Everyone glanced up as the group entered the dining hall, but some glares from Thalia, Percy and Will made them all turn back to their previous conversations. They all at together and made small talk while they ate. Once he had finished eating, Percy grabbed Will and headed over to the Stolls. The four of them began discussing pranks for Eros. The Stolls already had a few ideas which they shared.

 

Slowly, Piper, Silena and a few others drifted over to join them. By the time lunch was drawing to a close almost all of the Greek demigods were assisting in the plotting of revenge on Eros. Just because he hadn’t done it yet, didn’t mean he could get away with that attitude. The fact that he had arrows that could force someone to confess who they loved the most made them all angry. Love may not be fair, and sometimes people might need a nudge in the right direction, but that didn’t mean what he had done to Nico in the future was acceptable.

 

Once the kids were seating and chatting, Apollo headed over to Hephaestus to continue planning his present for Percy. They had a design now; it was just up to Hephaestus to forge it.

 

The rest of the gods sat to one side, watching their children interact and pull together. Hades was astonished at how much they were rallying behind his son. None of his children ever received this much support.

 

It was almost an hour later that Zeus finally called for everyone to head back to the throne room. They had been pushing themselves to get this book done because they all wanted to know what happened to Percy and Annabeth in Tartarus, as well as all the other things going on. He hadn’t wanted to go back to reading too early, they needed a break for something as lighthearted as prank planning. Especially as it wasn’t on anyone in the room.

 

Once everyone had retaken their seats, Will picked up the book reluctantly.

 

Annabeth

 

Immediately everyone tensed up. They all recalled the dire situation in which they had left Percy at the end of his chapters.

 

Losing her sight had been bad enough. Being isolated from Percy had been horrible…being unable to do anything about it—that was the worst curse of all.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

Hera was just glad this wasn’t from Percy’s point of view.

 

Bob slung Percy over his shoulder like a bag of sports equipment while the…Her body was so sore and battered that she’d forgotten what it was like not to be in pain.

 

“So much to look forwards too,” Annabeth grumbled.

 

“How much longer?” she wheezed…Very helpful, Annabeth thought, but she was too winded to say it.

 

“I guess that’s like asking how long it would take to get somewhere in the Labyrinth,” Connor frowned.

 

“Probably. But it’s difficult not to ask considering the condition we are in,” Annabeth said grimly.

 

The landscape changed again. They were still going downhill…she supposed Bob was leading her down the length of Tartarus’s large intestine.

 

“Gross,” Silena muttered.

 

The air got thicker and stank of sewage. The darkness maybe wasn’t quite as intense…That didn’t reassure her.

 

“It is Tartarus. It’s probably a good idea to keep a weapon at the ready,” Clarisse pointed out.

 

“True,” Frank agreed.

 

Percy flopped around, causing the kitten to readjust his nest in the small of Percy’s back. Occasionally Percy would groan in pain, and Annabeth felt like a fist was squeezing her heart.

 

Everyone grimaced at that.

 

“You can hang on just a bit longer,” Apollo urged.

 

“Bob’s got this,” Percy assured him, more confidently than he felt.

 

She flashed back to her tea party with Piper, Hazel, and Aphrodite in Charleston…I once promised to make her love life interesting. And didn’t I?

 

Aphrodite smiled slightly. A fate of this devising was even beyond her. Although it was certainly a testament to love, and she was a little sad that they were not together now. But even she had to admit, Apollo and Percy fit well together.

 

Annabeth had wanted to throttle the goddess of love…There had to be exceptions, right? If suffering led to reward, then Percy and she deserved the grand prize.

 

“Sadly, that is not always the case,” Zeus stated.

 

She thought about Percy’s daydream of New Rome—the two of them settling down there, going to college together. At first, the idea of living among the Romans had appalled her.

 

The Romans looked offended at that.

 

She had resented them for taking Percy away from her.

 

“But the Romans didn’t take Percy away?” Beckendorf frowned. “Hera took him away and Percy made the best of a bad situation. All while thinking of you.”

 

“I know. I can see that now,” Annabeth admitted. With Percy, she would always be waiting for that next crisis. For the next threat to the world that he had to stop. For him to be taken away, either by the gods, or through finally meeting a challenge he couldn’t overcome. They both deserved better than that. And they had both found better than that. She smiled over at Connor who flashed her an impish grin.

 

Now she would accept that offer gladly…If only a million other long shots paid off.

 

“Long shots are our specialty,” Percy grinned.

 

“And we know Reyna got your message and is on her way,” Rachel smiled. “So that’s one long shot done.”

 

Stop it, she chided herself…taking this downhill intestinal hike one giant wart at a time.

 

“That’s…one of the weirdest sentences I’ve ever heard. And with these books, that’s saying something,” Chris shook his head in astonishment.

 

Her knees felt warm and wobbly, like wire hangers bent to the point of snapping…Sadly, Annabeth was pretty sure she knew what had made them. “Drakon?”

 

“You must be close to Damasen then,” Apollo finally perked up.

 

“Oh good. They made it to the giant who may or may not kill them and has a drakon near his house,” Triton grimaced.

 

“Yes.” Bob grinned at her. “That is good!”…She hated forging through a swamp that was obviously the stomping ground of a drakon.

 

“I think we’ve all hated every second of Tartarus,” Katie said.

 

But Bob had Percy. If she hesitated, she would lose them in the dark…who was mumbling deliriously, his forehead dangerously hot.

 

Apollo and Poseidon glanced worriedly at Percy.

 

Several times he muttered Annabeth, and she fought back a sob…two torches made from colossal femur bones burned bright yellow.

 

“Nice decorations,” Dakota muttered.

 

“None of this sounds inviting,” Gwen grimaced.

 

“It’s the house of a giant who is living in Tartarus. I don’t think it’s supposed to be inviting,” Silena pointed out.

 

What really caught Annabeth’s attention was the drakon skull…“Yes,” Bob murmured. “This is very good.”

 

“Not the word I would use,” Will said uneasily.

 

Nothing about this place felt good to Annabeth…She turned and saw the drakon charging toward them.

 

“Done. Well, that was quick,” Will raised his eyebrows.

 

“Not this short chapters ending on cliffhangers nonsense again?” Thalia groaned.

 

“It’s my turn,” Hazel spoke up. Will handed her the book.

Chapter Text

The most insulting part?...beautiful thing Annabeth had seen since she had fallen into Tartarus.

 

“That’s not exactly a high bar,” Connor pointed out.

 

“I’m still not sure I’d call a drakon beautiful,” Clarisse muttered, thinking of the fifth book where she apparently killed one.

 

Its hide was dappled green and yellow, like sunlight through a forest canopy…amazing monster it was that was about to kill her.

 

“It does sound quite nice for a monster,” Silena allowed.

 

“Hopefully Bob won’t let it kill you,” Thalia said anxiously.

 

It was easily as long as a subway train. Its massive talons dug into the mud…filling the air with the scent of fresh pine and ginger. The monster even smelled good.

 

“That’s a bit weird,” Jason frowned.

 

Like most drakons, it was wingless, longer, and more snakelike than a dragon…More helpful information.

 

“Usually that would be helpful to you,” Grover pointed out.

 

Annabeth would’ve smacked Bob upside the head with his own broom if she could lift it…“Get Percy to safety,” Annabeth said. “I’ll distract it.”

 

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Nico stated. “Bob doesn’t seem concerned.”

 

“Yeah, well, I wish he’d hurry up with whatever he’s counting on. Percy’s dying,” Poseidon growled.

 

“I’m guessing he’s waiting on Damasen to kill it,” Hades drawled.

 

She had no idea how she would do that, but it was her only choice. She couldn’t let Percy die—not if she still had the strength to stand.

 

“I’ll be alright,” Percy said reassuringly.

 

“This coming from the guy who would say he’s fine even when dying?” Rachel asked, eyebrows raised. Percy grinned sheepishly.

 

“You don’t have to,” Bob said. “Any minute—”…his beard and hair the color of iron rust, braided with tufts of grass, leaves, and swamp flowers.

 

“He sounds…interesting,” Travis muttered.

 

“No weirder than most of the other giants we’ve heard about.” Chris shrugged.

 

“True.”

 

He shouted in challenge, but thankfully he wasn’t looking at Annabeth…They clashed like some sort of weird Christmas combat scene—the red versus the green.

 

“Your brain works in funny ways,” Connor told Annabeth conversationally. She grinned at him.

 

The drakon spewed poison. The giant lunged to one side…But as soon as the giant was in range, he shoved the tree straight down the monster’s throat.

 

“That’s disgusting,” Frank deadpanned.

 

“Effective though,” Clarisse shrugged.

 

Annabeth hoped she never had to see such a gruesome scene again. The tree pierced the drakon’s gullet and impaled it to the ground.

 

Some of the demigods grimaced at that description.

 

“Kind of glad this isn’t from Percy’s perspective,” Drew muttered. “It would be way too descriptive.”

 

“The downsides to being too observant,” Silena nodded.

 

The roots began to move, digging deeper as they touched the earth…meat, hide, and a new drakon skull whose open jaws ringed the oak tree.

 

“Woah,” Dakota gaped in surprise.

 

Bob grunted. “Good one.”…“I wanted a new walking stick. Hmpf. Some good skin for the outhouse, though.”

 

“A new walking stick? For those nice strolls around Tartarus?” Katie frowned.

 

“Apparently. Must get boring staying in one place all the time,” Travis shrugged.

 

He ripped some soft hide from the drakon’s frills and tucked it in his belt…Annabeth wanted to ask if the giant really used drakon hide for toilet paper, but she decided against it.

 

“I don’t really want to know,” Piper said.

 

“Get Percy to ask him once he’s healed,” Leo suggested at the same time.

 

“I’m alright thanks. I don’t need the answer to that question.” Percy shook his head.

 

“Bob, do you want to introduce us?”

 

“Annabeth…” Bob patted Percy’s legs. “This is Percy.”

 

Everybody snorted.

 

Annabeth hoped the Titan was just messing with her, though Bob’s face revealed nothing…never seen one next to a giant before. Compared to the drakon-killer, Bob looked downright runty.

 

“That’s a bit terrifying,” Thalia muttered, remembering how large Bob was.

 

“Just a bit,” Nico agreed.

 

“And he doesn’t sound overly convinced about being helpful,” Hazel frowned worriedly.

 

“Damasen is a good giant,” Bob said. “He is peaceful. He can cure poisons.”

 

“He still might not want to,” Reyna pointed out grimly.

 

“If anyone can convince him to help, it’s Annabeth,” Connor said proudly.

 

“I really hope so,” She muttered. She couldn’t face failure. Percy couldn’t die, he had taken all of those curses protecting her. Plus, she didn’t really want to find out how Apollo and Poseidon would react if Percy died because she couldn’t persuade the giant to help.

 

Annabeth watched the giant Damasen, who was now ripping chunks of bloody meat from the drakon carcass with his bare hands.

 

“Not comforting,” Jason grimaced.

 

“Peaceful,” she said. “Yes, I can see that.”…Then we will see about this promise.”

 

“No!” Apollo scowled. “Cure him and then have dinner.”

 

“He could die while you’re eating,” Poseidon agreed, glaring at the book.

 

“That’s the end of the chapter,” Hazel announced tentatively.

 

“I’ll read,” Frank sighed reluctantly. She handed him the book. Frank hoped that his chapter was as short as Hazel’s had been.

Chapter Text

Cozy.

 

“Cozy? Really? A giant’s house is cozy?” Connor raised an eyebrow. “Or at least, that’s what I’m guessing you’re talking about.”

 

“Compared to the rest of Tartarus it probably is.” Annabeth shrugged.

 

Annabeth never thought she would describe anything in Tartarus that way…constructed of bones, mud, and drakon skin, it definitely felt cozy.

 

“Sounds lovely,” Drew muttered sarcastically.

 

In the center blazed a bonfire made of pitch and bone…The whole place smelled of stew, smoke, basil, and thyme.

 

“Actually, it does sound kind of nice,” Katie said thoughtfully.

 

“Especially for a place in Tartarus,” Travis agreed.

 

“Let’s hope they can stay and recover for a little bit,” Apollo said.

 

“As long as he actually heals Percy,” Poseidon scowled.

 

The only thing that worried Annabeth was the flock of sheep huddled…who ate demigods and sheep indiscriminately. She wondered if giants had similar tastes.

 

“Unlikely,” Ares shrugged.

 

Part of her was tempted to run, but Bob had already placed Percy…so strongly the bed rattled like a Thousand-Finger Massage.

 

“At least someone is happy,” Grover chuckled.

 

“That kitten seems pretty happy anywhere,” Piper smiled.

 

Damasen plodded to the bonfire. He tossed his drakon meat into a hanging…a sometimes annoying part, sure, but definitely a part she could not live without.

 

“Gee, thanks,” Percy grinned at her.

 

Damasen looked down at her, glowering under his bushy red eyebrows…Can you cure that, or did Bob overstate your talents?”

 

“Annabeth?” Will spoke up tentatively. “Maybe it’s not the best idea to annoy the one guy who can save Percy’s life.”

 

“I guess she’s appealing to his pride. Make him want to prove that he can do it,” Thalia said.

 

“Which works sometimes. But not everyone’s flaw is pride,” Rachel pointed out.

 

Angering a twenty-foot-tall drakon slayer probably wasn’t a wise strategy, but Percy was dying. She didn’t have time for diplomacy.

 

“True, but you won’t do him any favours by upsetting the giant so much he refuses to help and kicks you out,” Frank stated.

 

Damasen scowled at her. “You question my talents?...who dunked the chewed-up gunk ball and stirred it with his finger.

 

“Not the nicest, but it should work,” Apollo nodded.

 

“I wonder why he has the ingredients around to cure gorgon’s poison?” Michael raised an eyebrow.

 

“I don’t care why. I’m just glad he does,” Poseidon shrugged.

 

“Besides, he has a drakon attacking him quite often by the sound of it. It’s not entirely surprising he would have ingredients to cure strong poisons,” Will pointed out. “I’m more curious as to how he makes them grow in Tartarus.”

 

“He had a talent for farming,” Demeter reminded them. “If anyone could, it would be Damasen.”

 

“Gorgon’s blood,” he muttered. “Hardly a challenge for my talents.”

 

“Ok, good. He took the challenge,” Grover sighed in relief.

 

He lumbered to the bedside and propped up Percy with one hand…“You’re going to feed him that?” Annabeth asked.

 

“Really?” Octavian sneered. “You’re still questioning him? Once to appeal to his pride clearly worked, but challenging him again? It’s like you want Jackson to die.”

 

The giant glared at her. “Who is the healer here? You?”

 

Annabeth shut her mouth.

 

“Finally,” Octavian muttered.

 

“Shut up,” Reyna hissed. She didn’t disagree with him, but he was on thin ice already with the group and she didn’t want to deal with him right now.

 

She watched as the giant made Percy sip the broth. Damasen handled him…He looked around with a dazed expression, spotted Annabeth, and gave her a drunken grin. “Feel great.”

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

His eyes rolled up in his head. He fell back in the bed and began to snore.

 

“Typical,” Grover grinned.

 

“Thank us,” Apollo muttered, hugging Percy tightly.

 

“A few hours of sleep,” Damasen pronounced. “He’ll be good as new.”

 

“Awesome. Go Damasen,” Will smiled.

 

“So, a semi-friendly titan led them to an apparently friendly giant who just cured a demigod. I’m beginning to agree with Annabeth that this is weird enough to make your brain explode,” Travis muttered.

 

“I can’t believe you two are still alive,” Thalia shook her head. “You’re incredible.”

 

Annabeth sobbed with relief…You’re still doomed. And I require payment for my services.”

 

“Well, crap,” Connor grimaced.

 

“What sort of payment? I doubt they have any drachma, and they are hardly going to do him any good in Tartarus,” Chris wondered.

 

“I don’t think they have anything to pay him with,” Travis frowned.

 

Annabeth’s mouth went dry. “Uh…what sort of payment?”…You can tell me your story while we eat, eh?”

 

“Well, at least it’s an easy payment,” Gwen sighed.

 

“But is it a good idea to explain their plans to a giant?” Clarisse asked.

 

“Not to mention talk about their plans in Tartarus, where he could hear and report to Gaea,” Frank stated.

 

“I don’t think she has a lot of choice,” Hazel pointed out.

 

Annabeth felt uneasy telling a giant about their plans…His drakon-meat stew was excellent (especially compared to firewater).

 

“I think most things would be excellent compared to firewater,” Dakota said.

 

His hut was warm and comfortable, and for the first time since plunging into Tartarus, Annabeth felt like she could relax. Which was ironic, since she was having dinner with a Titan and a giant.

 

Everyone shook their heads at that statement.

 

“And said titan and giant have saved your lives,” Jason stated in astonishment.

 

She told Damasen about her life and her adventures with Percy…“He didn’t know Hades would be such a creep.”

 

“Excuse me?” Hades raised an eyebrow. “What exactly did you expect me to do with a memory wiped titan?” The only reason he was inclined to be nice to his memory wiped uncle this time around was because he would save Percy in Tartarus, which would lead to the Doors of Death hopefully being closed.

 

Nobody really had an answer for him. Most of them knew they wouldn’t have cared what Hades did with Iapetus except he turned out to help Percy and Annabeth.

 

Even to her, it didn’t sound convincing. Hades was always a creep.

 

Hades and Nico both glared at Annabeth.

 

She thought about what the arai had said—how Nico di Angelo had been…Nico had inadvertently saved their lives. Annabeth wondered if she would ever figure that guy out.

 

Nico grimaced, thinking on the last set of chapters.

 

Bob washed his bowl with his squirt bottle and rag…His face was covered with old poison burns, gouges, and scar tissue, so it looked like the surface of an asteroid.

 

“Lovely,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

“Millennia of fighting a drakon I suppose,” Clarisse guessed.

 

“Yes,” he said. “And Tartarus is my father.” He gestured around the hut…With him opposing you, you have no chance to survive.”

 

“Hopefully he doesn’t really care about two demigods,” Hermes said,

 

“Except Gaea has put out wanted posters and stuff. She would know they are in Tartarus and has probably told him,” Apollo pointed out.

 

“Well, he doesn’t appear to have done anything yet. Let’s hope it stays that way,” Triton muttered. He didn’t even want to consider his little brother coming up against Tartarus himself, being in the Pit was bad enough.

 

Suddenly Annabeth didn’t feel so hungry. She put her bowl on the floor…He tries to thwart your progress at every step.

 

“Does he? I just assumed everything so far was generally how the Pit was,” Thalia frowned.

 

“You mean, Tartarus has been actively trying to stop Percy and Annabeth, and they are both alive?” Connor gaped in shock.

 

“Wonders will never cease,” Amphitrite shook her head. “You two are made of sterner stuff than anyone could have imagined.”

 

My brethren hunt you. It is remarkable you have lived this long, even with the help of Iapetus.”

 

“Remarkable doesn’t cover it,” Hades stated.

 

Bob scowled when he heard his name. “The defeated ones hunt us, yes…“I can obscure your path for a while, long enough for you to rest. I have power in this swamp.

 

“That is incredibly generous of him,” Poseidon raised his eyebrows.

 

“And much needed,” Grover muttered.

 

But eventually, they will catch you.”…The Doors of Death are there. But you cannot make it there alive with only Iapetus.”

 

“They’ve made it that far,” Travis pointed out.

 

“Yeah. If there is one thing we know by now, it’s not to bet against Percy and Annabeth,” Beckendorf agreed.

 

“Then come with us,” Annabeth said. “Help us.”…Percy muttered deliriously in his sleep, “Ha, ha, ha.”

 

A few people snorted in amusement.

 

“Child of Athena,” the giant said, “I am not your friend…“Gaea opened the earth, and I was consumed, exiled here in the belly of my father Tartarus,

 

“That is incredibly sucky,” Connor grimaced.

 

“Gaea and Tartarus make the gods look like pretty good parents,” Chris muttered quietly, so only he and Clarisse could hear.

 

where all the useless flotsam collects—all the bits of creation he does not care for.”…the Maeonian drakon re-forms and attacks me. Killing it is my endless task.”

 

“Every day? That must get boring,” Clarisse grimaced.

 

Annabeth gazed around the hut, trying to imagine how many eons Damasen…Exiling your own son here for centuries—that was beyond cruel.

 

“These primordials we’re talking about. Standards are a little different. It’s cruel, yes, but not exactly the same as sending demigods down there,” Hermes stated.

 

“Break the curse,” she blurted out. “Come with us.”…He had looked so sad and defeated, wishing for something he knew was impossible.

 

Athena smiled sadly.

 

“Bob has a plan to reach the Doors of Death,” she insisted…Damasen scowled at Bob. “You would take them to Akhlys?”

 

“I still think that’s a terrible idea,” Poseidon muttered. “Akhlys has no reason to help two demigods. At least Damasen has a history of helping mortals.”

 

“But it’s the only idea that might get them to the Doors of Death unnoticed,” Hades grimaced.

 

“It’s Tartarus. Every option is awful,” Annabeth agreed.

 

“It is the only way,” Bob said…In darkness. Akhlys trusts no one and helps no one.”

 

“Well, Bob wouldn’t take them if there was absolutely no chance of it working. And I hope Bob wouldn’t take them if there was another option,” Nico stated.

 

Bob looked like he wanted to argue, but he pressed his lips together…“The Death Mist…that is the best plan. Unfortunately, it is a terrible plan.”

 

“This is like every plan Percy has ever had put on steroids,” Grover whimpered.

 

“This one isn’t my plan!” Percy protested.

 

Annabeth felt like she was hanging over the pit again, unable to pull herself up, unable to maintain her grip—left with no good options.

 

Annabeth shuddered.

 

“But isn’t it worth trying?” she asked. “You could return to the mortal world…Damasen was the best giant, kind and helpful…and for that, he’d been cursed to eternal torment.

 

“I resent that,” Ares grumbled, glaring at Annabeth.

 

“Get some sleep,” the giant said. “I will prepare supplies for your journey. I am sorry, but I cannot do more.”

 

“That’s already quite a lot, to be fair,” Connor pointed out.

 

“Yeah, but having a giant on side to help at the Doors of Death would increase their chances by a bit,” Triton said.

 

Annabeth wanted to argue, but as soon as he said sleep, her body betrayed her, despite her resolution never to sleep in Tartarus again.

 

“Well, you were going to have to sleep at some point,” Thalia stated.

 

“I can’t believe this is the first time Percy has slept since you got to Tartarus,” Apollo shook his head.

 

“Let’s hope the dreams aren’t as vivid while we stay with the nice giant,” Percy said, without much hope.

 

Her belly was full. The fire made a pleasant crackling sound…He set her next to Percy on the giant’s bed, and she closed her eyes.

 

“Done,” Frank announced.

 

“I’ll read,” Jason sighed. Frank eagerly gave him the book.

Chapter Text

Annabeth woke staring at the shadows dancing across the hut’s ceiling. She hadn’t had a single dream. That was so unusual, she wasn’t sure if she’d actually woken up.

 

“Oh good,” Annabeth heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“I hope that means it’s something Damasen is doing. Shielding us from monsters and demigod dreams,” Percy said. That would mean maybe he could get a night’s rest too.

 

As she lay there, Percy snoring next to her and Small Bob purring on her belly…“No,” Bob admitted. “She is already scared.”

 

“Well, that’s not a good start to a conversation,” Connor grimaced.

 

The giant grumbled. “She should be. And if you cannot guide them past Night?”

 

“Er, what now?” Poseidon asked, hoping against hope he had misheard.

 

“Do not tell me they need to actually meet Nyx?” Apollo cringed.

 

“Well, Akhlys usually stays near her mother’s domain. Maybe he just means they need to avoid Nyx while dealing with Akhlys,” Hades suggested, but he had a feeling that wasn’t it.

 

Damasen said Night like it was a proper name—an evil name.

 

“It is a proper name,” Athena told her daughter. “Nyx is a daughter of Chaos himself. Older even than Gaea and Tartarus.”

 

“Older than Gaea and Tartarus?” Travis gaped.

 

“Well, they were all formed at a similar period, back before time was really measurable, but Erebus and Nyx were the first children of Chaos,” Zeus stated.

 

“And Percy and Annabeth might have to meet her?” Rachel asked tentatively.

 

“How does this keep getting worse!” Poseidon cried out in frustration. Jason was staring at the book like it might bite him but forced himself to continue reading.

 

“I have to,” Bob said…we are meant to be the foes of the gods and their children. Are we not?”

 

“Says the guy who healed Percy and said he will stop the other titans and giants finding them while they rest,” Beckendorf pointed out.

 

“I guess helping them in his own home is one thing, guiding them across Tartarus is another, especially if Akhlys and Nyx are involved,” Demeter stated.

 

“Then why did you heal the boy?”…That is admirable. Still, how can we help them any further? It is not our fate.”

 

“Then make a new fate,” Thalia said.

 

“It’s not so easy to change your nature after several millennia,” Zeus reminded his daughter gently. This reading had changed many of the gods quite drastically, but this was an extraordinary event. As was Iapetus having his mind wiped in the Lethe.

 

“Perhaps,” Bob said, uncomfortably. “But…do you like our fate?”…“I liked being Bob,” Bob murmured. “Before I started to remember…”

 

Percy grimaced. Bob had probably only got his memories back because he jumped into Tartarus to help save his life.

 

“Huh.” There was a shuffling sound, as if Damasen was stuffing a leather bag…“I miss the sun,” Bob said. “The stars, too. I would like to say hello to the stars again.”

 

All of the demigods shuffled uncomfortably. Bob might have helped out Percy and Annabeth, but it still felt strange feeling sorry for a titan. But he had spent so long reforming in Tartarus, and then stayed in Hades’ palace once his memory had been wiped. He hadn’t been above ground in millennia.

 

“I hope he gets his chance,” Nico stated quietly.

 

“Me too,” Percy agreed. “We should take him out of the Underworld for a bit when we go to visit him.” Nico nodded.

 

“Stars…” Damasen said the word as if he’d forgotten its meaning. “Yes. They made silver patterns in the night sky.”

 

Now even the gods were feeling a little bit of pity for these two. Even Hades got to come up to Olympus once a year and see the world however briefly.

 

He threw something to the floor with a thump. “Bah. This is useless talk. We cannot—”…he looked more confused than ever. “That noise…where are we?”

 

“Given what was going on when he fell unconscious, I’d be pretty surprised too,” Travis grinned.

 

“That’s a surprising situation to wake up in, no matter what,” Chris pointed out. “Sleeping in a giant’s hut with a monster kitten.”

 

“How much do you remember?” she asked…I fear its roar will draw the others—my brethren, hunting you. They will be here within minutes.”

 

“Minutes?” Apollo grimaced.

 

“Let’s hope his time is a little mixed up too. And he actually means hours,” Triton muttered.

 

“Unlikely,” Percy sighed. “My luck isn’t that good.”

 

Annabeth’s pulse quickened. “What will you tell them when they get here?”…Nothing of significance, as long as you are gone.”

 

“I like this guy,” Connor smiled.

 

He tossed them two drakon-leather satchels. “Clothes, food, drink.”

 

“I like him even more now,” Thalia stated.

 

“Damasen and Bob, proving there is at least one good giant and one good titan,” Annabeth smiled slightly.

 

Bob was wearing a similar but larger pack. He leaned on his broom…We are meant to be the foes of the gods and their children.

 

“Hopefully not,” Reyna said grimly.

 

Suddenly Annabeth was struck by a thought so sharp and clear…The line means us—demigods, a Titan, a giant. We need you to close the Doors!”

 

“That…makes far too much sense not to be true. It’s also even worse than we originally thought, so that also fits,” Michael grimaced.

 

The drakon roared outside, closer this time. Damasen gently pulled his hand away…I cannot leave this swamp. It is the only destination I can picture.”

 

“You don’t have time to linger,” Apollo grimaced. “But hopefully you’ve given him enough to think about and he’ll change his mind.”

 

“I hope he changes his mind before they get to avoiding Nyx,” Poseidon muttered.

 

Annabeth’s mind raced. “There is another destination. Look at me!...You can see the sunlight and stars.”

 

“I hope we can make that come true,” Percy said.

 

The ground shook. The drakon was close now, stomping through the marsh…urging his followers forward. “THE SEA GOD’S SON! HE IS CLOSE!”

 

“Ok, time to leave,” Poseidon stated.

 

“Yep. You’ve done all you can for now,” Connor told Annabeth. “Hopefully he’ll listen to you.”

 

“Annabeth,” Percy said urgently, “that’s our cue to leave.”…a blade of dragon bone, honed to a deadly edge, with a simple grip of leather.

 

“Thank the gods,” Connor breathed.

 

“Make that ‘thank Damasen’,” Thalia told him. “Annabeth finally has a weapon again.”

 

“Just in time for it not to be any use against Akhlys,” Poseidon grumbled. “Weapons won’t help much against a primordial.”

 

“Still, better to have a weapon than not,” Ares stated. Poseidon couldn’t really argue with that. Although a weapon hadn’t done his son much good except against Arachne, right back in the beginning.

 

“One last gift for the child of Athena,” rumbled the giant. “I cannot have you walking to your death unarmed. Now, go! Before it is too late.”

 

“That was sweet, I think,” Frank frowned.

 

Annabeth wanted to sob. She took the sword, but she couldn’t even make herself…his voice cracking with despair as he faced his old enemy yet again.

 

“I feel really bad for the poor guy,” Leo said. “I hope you guys can help him.”

 

“I hope he comes to find them eventually. If it’s in the prophecy then there is a good chance he will,” Michael pointed out.

 

“Except the prophecy can still work with just demigods and a titan. They are foes,” Will reminded him.

 

“Chapter’s done,” Jason announced gratefully.

 

“My turn then,” Silena sighed. Jason handed her the book.

Chapter Text

Piper didn’t know much about the Mediterranean, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to freeze in July.

 

“Er, no. It’s not,” Nico stated.

 

“Don’t tell me Khione is back or something?” Leo complained. “I hate her.”

 

“I’m not sure if she’s powerful enough to freeze an ocean. She’s a minor goddess of snow,” Jason stated.

 

“Unless she’s got some help,” Thalia pointed out.

 

Two days out to sea from Split, gray clouds swallowed the sky…Nico murmured, hefting the ancient staff. “It has to be.”

 

“It might be contributing, but I don’t think it would be causing the sea to freeze,” Hades frowned.

 

Piper wondered. Ever since Jason and Nico had returned from Diocletian’s Palace…something Jason wouldn’t share with her.

 

Nico flinched at the reminder of his Cupid encounter. He was grateful that at least Jason wasn’t sharing that with the rest of the crew.

 

Piper sighed. She wondered how upset Jason not telling would make her future-self. She had already been shown to be insecure, with fair reason she supposed considering their relationship was built on fake memories and guilt (not the strongest of foundations), but Jason keeping secrets would likely make things worse. Even though, now, she knew the secret that he was keeping was absolutely none of her business, and not his to share with her anyway. Not for the first time, she wondered if Hera had done than just give her fake memories. Her future-self was just so…different from how she felt now, and it was even more true now her memories had gone. But maybe Hera had done nothing else, and it was just that with the memories gone, she felt more comfortable in her own skin.

 

It made sense that the scepter might have caused this weather change…She feared something else was happening—something even worse.

 

“Oh good,” Hazel sighed sarcastically.

 

“We can’t talk up here,” Jason decided. “Let’s postpone the meeting.”…Wind swept frost across the deck. The sea churned beneath them.

 

“Something is definitely not right,” Hermes frowned.

 

“That’s pretty much the theme for our entire quest,” Jason pointed out flatly.

 

Piper didn’t mind the waves so much. The rocking and pitching reminded her of surfing…The poor girl got seasick even in calm waters. She looked like she was trying to swallow a billiard ball.

 

Hazel grimaced. She really hoped Apollo or Poseidon lived up to their earlier statement of finding something to help with her seasickness.

 

“Need to—” Hazel gagged and pointed below…Kissing Hazel…it was almost like he was saying good-bye.

 

“What?” Will’s head snapped up. “Why would Nico be saying goodbye?”

 

“Maybe Piper is just misreading it,” Nico assured him. “I promised Percy I would lead the others to Epirus. I wouldn’t bail in the middle of that.” Will nodded at that.

 

“I’ll walk you down.” Frank put his arm around Hazel’s waist and helped her to the stairs…They’d shared stories, complained about the guys’ gross habits,

 

Frank and Jason exchanged looks.

 

and shed some tears together about Annabeth.

 

Annabeth was a little surprised by that. Or at least, by the tears. Apparently, her future-self was quite good friends with Piper, but she barely knew Hazel. They hadn’t gone on any side quests together, except for Charleston, as far as she would remember.  

 

Hazel had told her what it was like to control the Mist, and Piper had been surprised…Hazel had promised to coach her in sword fighting—a skill at which Piper epically sucked.

 

“About time,” Piper muttered. She still couldn’t believe that she had somehow spent the entire summer at Camp Half-Blood not training to use her dagger. Or, if she really hated it that much, another weapon entirely.

 

“Better late than never?” Leo offered.

 

“I suppose.” She didn’t really agree with that, but he wasn’t totally wrong either.

 

Piper felt like she had a new friend, which was great…assuming they lived long enough to enjoy the friendship.

 

“We will,” Hazel stated, more confidently than she felt.

 

Nico brushed some ice from his hair. He frowned at the scepter of Diocletian. “I should put this thing away. If it’s really causing the weather, maybe taking it below deck will help…”

 

“Unlikely,” Hades said.

 

“Better than doing nothing. Besides, it’s less likely to get lost or stolen by some flying monster if it’s below deck,” Jason pointed out.

 

“Sure,” Jason said…the way he’d gone into a death trance in that bronze jar.

 

“I wouldn’t tell them,” Jason frowned.

 

“I don’t think my future-self knows you well enough to be sure about that,” Nico shrugged.

 

Once he headed below, Piper studied Jason’s face…when the three of them had landed in Millennial Park on their first quest.

 

“I don’t think any of us will be forgetting that anytime soon,” Leo muttered.

 

Leo hadn’t changed much since then, except he seemed more comfortable in his role as a child of Hephaestus.

 

Leo smiled slightly.

 

He’d always had too much nervous energy. Now he knew how to use it…for a motor-control upgrade with the sphere, whatever the heck that meant.

 

“That sounds like a bad idea,” Thalia shook her head.

 

“Why?” Leo asked. “The upgrades all sound useful so far.”

 

“Because it’s freezing when it shouldn’t be. A fire-breathing dragon figurehead might come in handy,” Beckendorf pointed out.

 

“Oh yeah,” Leo said thoughtfully. He figured if anything was going to make use of the weather and attack them, it would happen while Festus was out of commission.

 

As for Jason, he looked thinner, taller, and more careworn. His hair had gone from close-cropped Roman style to longer and shaggier.

 

Everyone looked at Jason, whose hair was still quite short. It had grown out a little in the time they had been on Olympus, but it was still in a Roman style. He ran a hand over his hair self-consciously.

 

The groove Sciron had shot across the left side of his scalp was interesting too…as if he were becoming a more comfortable version of himself.

 

Jason raised his eyebrows at that description. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it entirely.

 

And Piper? She could only imagine what Leo and Jason thought when they looked at her. She definitely didn’t feel like the same person she’d been last winter.

 

“Six months can be a long time when you’re a demigod,” Silena told her.

 

“Especially when you know you have to save the world,” Percy added dryly. Piper wasn’t sure how Percy had handled the news as well as he had. They had found out they were part of a prophecy to save the world six months before they had to embark on that quest. And that they would share the burden with six other people. Percy had found out the fate of the entire world rested on one choice that he would make for four years.

 

That first quest to rescue Hera seemed like centuries ago…If Piper had lived through three millennia, she would have gone loopy.

 

The gods all sighed.

 

She gazed into the cold rain. She would have given anything to be back at Camp Half-Blood…We’re close to Epirus now. Another day or so, if Nico’s directions are right.”

 

“That close?” Leo asked.

 

“I’m sure something will delay us. Everything about that trip has taken longer than it should,” Frank muttered grumpily.

 

“Besides, Percy and Annabeth aren’t near the Doors of Death yet. Or at least, it doesn’t sound like it,” Rachel pointed out.

 

“But time is different down there. They could take a week to reach the doors and it still only be a day on the surface,” Apollo reminded her.

 

Everyone grimaced at the reminder of how impossible it was going to be to align their schedules so those in Tartarus arrived at a similar time to the above ground lot.

 

“Yep.” Leo tinkered with his sphere, tapping and nudging one of the jewels on its surface…surrounding her and her friends, hopelessly outnumbering them.

 

“I guess that’s where the scepter is going to have to come in,” Nico stated.

 

“Let’s hope it’s enough,” Hazel said grimly.

 

Every time she saw those images, a voice in her head kept repeating one line over and over…“What about it?” he asked. “Like…good stuff, I hope?”

 

“It’s about a prophecy. It’s never good stuff,” Percy grumbled. Apollo pouted at him but had to admit prophecies hadn’t exactly been kind to Percy.

 

She readjusted her cornucopia’s shoulder strap. Sometimes the horn of plenty…“Sounds like Nico,” Leo said. “You think they’re related?”

 

“Hey!” Will glared at Leo as Nico shrank down in his seat.

 

“Sorry,” Leo winced. “You’ve heard some of the other stuff my future-self has said,” He shot a guilty look in Frank’s direction. “Future-me is an ass.”

 

“To be fair, we’re all technically related to the giants distantly,” Thalia put in, trying not to copy Will and glare at Leo herself.


“You do know how to suck the fun out of everything,” Percy told her with a grin. She stuck her tongue out at him.

 

Jason scowled. “Hey, man, cut Nico some slack. So, Piper, what about this giant?...Since when does Jason defend Nico di Angelo? She decided not to comment.

 

“Since Leo’s comment was unnecessary,” Jason put in.

 

“Most of Leo’s comments are unnecessary,” Frank stated, but he shot Leo a grin.

 

“That’s true. You didn’t step in when Leo was being mean to Frank,” Reyna pointed out to Jason. “But we know why you stepped in this time.”

 

Nico glared at the floor. He didn’t want Jason’s pity. Which was the only reason he’d stepped in. Jason’s thoughts about him had hardly been flattering, so the only thing that had changed was Jason finding out his secret.

 

“I keep thinking about fire,” Piper said. “How we expect Leo to beat this giant because he’s…”…“Um, let’s go with flammable.

 

Leo pouted while the rest of the demigods chuckled.

 

Anyway, that line from the prophecy bothers me: To storm or fire the world must fall.”…“You’re gonna say I’m fire. And Jason here is storm.”

 

“Leo’s the only option for fire out of the seven,” Annabeth agreed. “But Percy is an equal candidate for storm.”

 

Piper nodded reluctantly. She knew that none of them liked talking about this…Jason’s eyes gleamed with sudden interest. “You mean, to storm or fire Gaea must fall?”

 

“That is the nicest way of reading it,” Silena smiled.

 

“And it says ‘must’. Which means we definitely win?” Percy said tentatively. “There’s no second option like in my prophecy where it was to preserve or raze. It says the world must fall.”

 

“I definitely like that,” Frank stated.

 

“Oh…” Leo grinned even wider. “You know, I like your version a lot better…either Leo or Jason would defeat Gaea. The other one would die.

 

“Not necessarily,” Michael shook his head. “For one, it could be the same one. Whoever defeats Gaea is going to have to go up against her, which gives a fairly high chance of death. And those two lines might not be connected at all.”

 

“But someone dies,” Annabeth said grimly. “Final breath doesn’t have too many interpretations.”

 

“The chapter’s done,” Silena cut in. “And we probably won’t understand exactly what the prophecy means until we read about it.”

 

“It’s my turn to read,” Gwen put in. Silena gave her the book and she started reading before they could discuss the prophecy any more.

Chapter Text

Leo stared at the dagger. “Okay…so I don’t like your idea as much as I thought. You think one of us defeats Gaea and the other one dies? Or maybe one of us dies while defeating her? Or—”

 

“You’ll drive yourselves crazy trying to decipher it,” Michael shook his head.

 

“You mean, like we keep doing?” Will grinned.

 

“Yeah,” Michael laughed. “Exactly like that.”

 

“Guys,” Jason said, “we’ll drive ourselves crazy overthinking it…“We’d hate to get in trouble. We’ve got it so good right now.”

 

Everyone snorted in amusement.

 

“You know what I mean,” Jason said. “The final breath line might not be connected…the two of us aren’t even storm and fire. Percy can raise hurricanes.”

 

“I hate prophecies,” Percy grumbled.

 

“Hey!” Apollo protested, pouting at him.

 

“To be fair, prophecies aren’t supposed to be likeable. Fate often sucks,” Triton shrugged. He might not be a demigod, but his dad had handled prophecies before Apollo was born, so he knew a little.

 

“And I could always set Coach Hedge on fire,” Leo volunteered. “Then he can be fire.”…as he attacked Gaea was almost enough to make Piper laugh— almost.

 

Everyone chuckled at the image, except Clarisse.

 

“I hope I’m wrong,” she said cautiously. “But the whole quest started with us…I have a feeling the war will end with us too. For better or worse.”

 

“No offense Piper, but I hope you’re wrong,” Leo muttered.

 

“None taken. I hope I’m wrong too,” Piper agreed.

 

“Hey,” Jason said, “personally, I like us.”

 

“Agreed,” Leo said. “Us is my favorite people.”

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

Piper managed a smile. She really did love these guys. She wished she could use her charmspeak on the Fates, describe a happy ending, and force them to make it come true.

 

“It would be nice if it was that easy,” Silena sighed.

 

Unfortunately, it was hard to imagine a happy ending with all the dark thoughts in her head…Without storm or fire, their quest couldn’t succeed.

 

“Well, she won’t succeed,” Thalia stated firmly.

 

“Yeah. Gaea’s destined to fall. If demigods can’t get around Fate, then neither can gods, even primordial ones, right?” Rachel asked.

 

“That’s correct,” Apollo nodded.

 

And this wintry weather bothered her too.… She felt certain it was being caused…The cold wind, the mix of ice and rain seemed actively hostile, and somehow familiar.

 

“I’m definitely guessing Khione then, if Piper thinks it’s familiar,” Drew said.

 

“I wonder if Boreas has lost control of Khione, or if he has joined Gaea’s side too,” Hermes frowned.

 

That smell in the air, the thick smell of…She hadn’t grown up with that smell…the smell of impending snow.

 

“Well, Leo took care of her in Sonoma, hopefully he can this time,” Beckendorf said.

 

Every muscle in her body tensed. “Leo, sound the alarm.”…Leo immediately dropped his screwdriver and punched the alarm button.

 

“For goodness’ sake, I need to get a hold on that,” Piper groaned. “I can’t believe I didn’t even know I was doing it. Using it accidentally is one thing, but to not even know I’m using it?”

 

“It’s not great that you’re still having issues after six months at camp and being on this quest, but it’s a high stress situation,” Silena said.

 

He frowned when nothing happened…“Festus is shut down. Gimme a minute to get the system back online.”

 

“Oh, that’s not good,” Beckendorf groaned.

 

“Of course, she would attack right then,” Leo complained.

 

“Demigod luck,” Hazel sighed, shaking her head.

 

“We don’t have a minute! Fires—we need vials of Greek fire…Under a layer of ice, his eyes were wide with amazement.

 

“Jason!” Thalia cried out.

 

“Urgh!” Jason groaned in frustration. He’d been mostly useless on this entire trip, and he was sick of it. He was supposed to be a leader who had been raised to Praetor for his skills in battle. And yet, the only real thing he had done was fight the twin giants with Percy. He’d spent most of the trip to Rome knocked out with head injuries. And since they’d left Rome, he’d gotten shot while Hazel did all the work against Sciron and then simply been witness to Nico’s encounter with Cupid, unable to help the son of Hades.

 

“Leo! Flames! Now!” Piper yelled…Leo shot skyward, like he’d been launched from a catapult. He disappeared into the clouds.

 

“Oh gods, Leo!” Beckendorf yelped.

 

“Where the heck did she send him?” Piper demanded.

 

“Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen in the future,” Percy said.

 

“Yeah. I’m all for that,” Leo nodded.

 

“No!” Piper raised her knife, but there was nothing to attack. She looked desperately at the stairwell, hoping to see her friends charging to the rescue, but a block of ice had sealed the hatch.

 

“Dang it!” Frank grumbled.

 

“Now Piper’s on her own,” Silena stated anxiously. Piper grimaced at that.

 

The whole lower deck might have been frozen solid…She wondered whether she could make it to the ballista.

 

“Even if you could, you need to be able to see them. And Khione could probably avoid shots from the ballista,” Beckendorf shook his head.

 

Then her enemies appeared, and she realized that no weapon would be enough…two young men with purple-feathered wings, stark white hair, and jagged swords of Celestial bronze.

 

“Definitely not good,” Hermes frowned.

 

“If those two are there as well, Boreas might well have joined Gaea,” Apollo stated. Zeus scowled.

 

“So good to see you again, ma chère,” said Khione, the goddess of snow. “It’s time we had a very cold reunion.”

 

“Done,” Gwen announced.

 

“I believe that makes it my turn,” Dakota said. Gwen handed him the book.

 

Chapter Text

Piper didn’t plan to shoot blueberry muffins.

 

“You should,” Grover told her. “Blueberry muffins are awesome.”

 

“Maybe not when under attack by a goddess,” Rachel told him.

 

The cornucopia must have sensed her distress and thought she and her visitors could use some warm baked goods.

 

“That’s very nice of it,” Percy noted.

 

“I wonder if a cornucopia would work in Tartarus?” Annabeth mused. “It would be pretty useful to have a permanent food source around.”

 

“It’s not been tested, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t,” Apollo said thoughtfully.

 

Half a dozen steamy muffins flew from the horn of plenty like buckshot. It wasn’t the most effective opening attack.

 

“Yet, sadly, probably the most effective shot I have, considering the other option is my dagger,” Piper sighed.

 

Khione simply leaned to one side. Most of the muffins sailed past her over the rail…breastplate. His chartreuse polyester pants were grotesquely tight, and his acne had only gotten worse.

 

Aphrodite, and several other people, all grimaced.

 

“I didn’t think he could look any worse,” Leo complained.

 

Despite that, he wriggled his eyebrows and smiled like he was the demigod of pickup artists…the language of love was hardwired into her, though she didn’t want to speak it with Zethes.

 

“I don’t blame you,” Jason wrinkled his nose.

 

“What are you doing?” Piper demanded. Then, in charmspeak: “Let my friends go.”…“No, you idiots!” Khione snapped. “She is charmspeaking. Use your wits.”

 

“At least it works on those two,” Drew said. “Two out of three is pretty good considering they are all immortals.”

 

“Let’s hope she can convince them to at least free Jason,” Thalia stated.

 

“Wits…” Cal frowned as if he wasn’t sure what wits were. “Muffins are better.”

 

A few people chuckled.

 

He stuffed the whole thing in his mouth and began to chew…We all are working for Gaea now. I fear these orders are from our father, Boreas himself.”

 

Zeus glowered as the rest of the gods grimaced unhappily.


“That’s not good,” Hermes stated.

 

“What?” Piper didn’t want to believe it, but Khione’s smug smile told her it was true…Once the Earth Mother wakes, we shall remake the world as we choose!”

 

“That’s what you think,” Aphrodite shook her head.

 

“With hockey,” Cal said, his mouth still full. “And pizza. And muffins.”…But soon we will go there again, together, and I shall romance you most incredibly.”

 

“I don’t think so,” Piper looked vaguely ill at the thought.

 

“Absolutely not,” Aphrodite stated at the same time.

 

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Piper said. “Now, let Jason go.”…He crumpled to the floor, gasping and steaming; but at least he was alive.

 

“Go Piper!” Leo cheered.

 

“Thanks, Piper,” Jason smiled at her.

 

“I’ll need the help,” She shrugged, but smiled back at him.

 

“You imbecile!” Khione thrust out her hand, and Jason refroze,

 

“Urgh!” Piper groaned in frustration.

 

“You need to take Khione out somehow, and then control the other two,” Clarisse said.

 

now flat on the deck like a bearskin rug. She wheeled on Zethes…“Clever,” Piper muttered. “Take you all day to think up that line?”

 

“Probably,” Travis rolled his eyes.

 

At least she knew Jason was still alive, which made Piper a little less panicky…She wasn’t so good at devising plans on the fly. She needed time to think.

 

“That’s Percy’s forte anyway, not Annabeth’s,” Rachel pointed out.

 

“Yeah, Annabeth makes the plans on advance and Percy makes them one everything goes to Hades,” Grover agreed.

 

“Annabeth’s pretty good at stalling for time though,” Connor pointed out. “While Percy comes up with the crazy plan.”

 

“What about Leo?” she blurted. “Where did you send him?”…“I have sent him to a place from which he can never return.”

 

“Where could she possibly have sent him?” Beckendorf asked in concern.

 

“Not Tartarus?” Piper asked in horror.

 

“No,” Hades shook his head. “Khione would not have the power to open an entrance to the Underworld, let alone Tartarus.” Leo let out a sigh of relief.

 

Piper couldn’t breathe. Poor Leo. The idea of never seeing him again almost destroyed her.

 

“I’m sure you’re not getting rid of me anytime soon, Beauty Queen,” Leo smiled at her fondly.

 

“I’d better not, Repair Boy,” She told him firmly. If her future-self couldn’t imagine not seeing Leo again, it was nothing to how she felt now that she had got real Leo back. Now that she had the version of him, and herself, that Hera stole from both of them. He had been her first ever proper friend. All the other kids who had wanted to be friends with her, were only friends with her because of her dad. Her future-self had clearly been too blinded by her fake feelings for Jason to truly appreciate Leo’s true friendship.

 

Khione must’ve seen it in her face…Leo could not be tolerated, even as an ice statue…not after he insulted me.

 

“You get used to it,” Frank stated dryly. Leo flashed him an impish grin.

 

The fool refused to rule at my side! And his power over fire…”…Greek fire would burn everything, including the ship and all her friends.

 

“No burning my ship!” Leo protested.

 

“Or us,” Hazel put in.

 

“I know that’s not the solution,” Piper giggled.

 

There had to be another way. Her eyes strayed to the prow…if only she could figure out how to convince her captors to let her get close enough…

 

“But you can’t work him. I don’t think even Annabeth can work him,” Connor frowned.

 

“Sometimes the long shots are your only shots,” Percy shrugged.

 

“What’s this about sometimes?” Apollo asked him. “You always take the long shots.”

 

“But not everyone is me,” Percy pointed out.

 

“Thank goodness for that,” Thalia chuckled, grinning at him.

 

“Well!” Khione interrupted her thoughts. “I fear our time together is at a close…and was actively on guard against it. All of the above applied to Khione.

 

“You can still make it work, but you would probably need more practice,” Drew sighed. “And like the Mist, it works better if you tell them things they would be more likely to do themselves. Or ask them to do something they want to do. Asking them to do something completely against their nature is less likely to work as well.”

 

“Sadly, letting us go is completely against what Khione wants,” Piper grimaced.

 

What would Annabeth do?

 

Delay, Piper thought. When in doubt, talk some more.

 

“Now that’s something I definitely do,” Annabeth smiled at her.

 

“You’re afraid of my friends,” she said. “So why not just kill them?”…Why would I want to reward your friends that way? Why…when I can punish them eternally?”

 

“Charming,” Katie muttered sarcastically.

 

“At least that way, people can be saved. They can be unfrozen,” Travis pointed out.

 

“And me?” Piper hated to ask. “Why am I still alive and unfrozen?”…“I kiss magnificently,” Zethes promised. “You will see, beautiful one.”

 

“Yuck,” Piper wrinkled her nose.

 

The idea made Piper’s stomach churn…Deeply and truly. Without you, Jason would have stayed with me in Quebec.”

 

“Pretty sure he didn’t want to do that,” Thalia shook her head.

 

“Without Piper he wouldn’t have had much choice. Piper’s the one who convinced Boreas to let them go,” Silena reminded her.

 

“Delusional, much?”…“You are a meddler, the daughter of a useless goddess.

 

“Excuse me?” Aphrodite raged. “USELESS GODDESS?”

 

“Ut oh,” Hermes winced.

 

“This is going to get ugly,” Apollo muttered.

 

“Duck and cover,” Dionysus grimaced.

 

“Now my love, now might not be the right time…” Ares began.

 

“HOW DARE SHE?” Aphrodite shrieked furiously. She was well used to the other gods holding this view. They always underestimated her and her powers even after a few…reminders. But to hear this minor goddess saying such things to her daughter no less, it was unacceptable. “I will show her exactly how useless love can be!” She continued to rant in blind fury.

 

Despite the apparent danger, Ares tried once more, reaching out to touch her arm. “Come on dear, she’s a meaningless goddess who is just bitter. We all know you’re far from useless. You are magnificent.” Aphrodite turned to him, eyes burning. He didn’t flinch away, well used to his lover’s temper. It wasn’t often she let the other’s opinions of her domain get to her, but the constant wear on her daughter’s abilities must have been wearing on her patience. Finally, one of her children was part of an important quest and most of the time had been spent pointing out all of Piper’s flaws and lack of control over her powers. Not to mention Piper herself had spent quite a while being disgusted by her mother and her domain. He suspected that the children being present was the only reason she hadn’t exploded a little while ago.

 

“Ares,” She said. To anyone else, it might have sounded like a warning. But he knew better. It was a plea for him to understand. Which he did. He was hard on his own children because he knew they had to be the best to get respect. These books had shown him how poorly treated his children were at Camp Half-Blood. Some of it might have been their own doing, a lot of them did inherit his temperament after all, but it was supposed to be a camp for all demigods to feel safe. So, he had to be tougher on them so they could gain respect if not acceptance. He may have pushed too far based on his actions with his daughter, but he certainly understood how Aphrodite felt.

 

“Yes,” He replied simply. It allowed her to know that he understood without giving much away to anyone else. They both hated their weaknesses to be shown amongst others. Relief flitted across her face so quickly he would have missed it if he wasn’t waiting for it.

 

“It’s not right.” He knew she wasn’t referring to what Khione had said now.

 

“I know. But it’s being fixed.” Glancing around, he saw everyone else was staring at the pair of them with a variety of emotions. Mainly surprise, awe and confusion. “Read will you,” He snapped at Dakota who hurried to obey.

 

What can you do alone? Nothing. Of all the seven demigods, you have no purpose, no power.

 

“That’s not true!” Leo spoke up hotly.

 

“Piper has plenty of power. With a little bit more training she will be an incredibly formidable opponent,” Jason agreed.

 

I wish you to stay on this ship, adrift and helpless, while Gaea rises and the world ends…“A bomb,” Zethes explained, “especially for you, my love.”

 

“A bomb is not something to give someone you have feelings for,” Silena huffed.

 

“You’d be surprised,” Aphrodite smiled softly. Ares smirked.

 

“You gave your girlfriend a bomb?” Percy looked at the war god in shock. Ares grinned at him.

 

“Sort of.”

 

“It was full of confetti,” Aphrodite assured them.

 

“Why would you tell them that?” Ares whined. She smiled serenely at him.

 

“Bombs!” Cal laughed. “A good day! Bombs and muffins!”…This ship will be blown very far off course. Very, very far.”

 

“Really? He’s not sure if it will kill you?” Rachel asked.

 

“He isn’t the brightest,” Reyna pointed out.

 

“Indeed.” Khione’s voice prickled with false sympathy…What will you do to stop us, Piper? A hero? Ha! You are a joke.”

 

“Oh, kick her ass good, Piper,” Leo cheered.

 

Her words stung like sleet, mostly because Piper had had the same thoughts herself. What could she do? How could she save her friends with what she had?

 

“You’ve saved my life already,” Jason reminded her. “A couple of times.”

 

She came close to snapping—flying at her enemies in a rage and getting herself killed…She remembered Drew, the cruel head counselor she had replaced in Aphrodite’s cabin;

 

Drew winced.

 

and Medea, who had charmed Jason and Leo in Chicago; and Jessica…Each of them berated you because they feared you and envied you. So does Khione. Use that!

 

“You are right,” Aphrodite smiled at her. “You can beat them.”

 

“Yeah, you’ve got the two guys under your control,” Silena said encouragingly.

 

“Thanks guys,” Piper smiled.

 

Piper didn’t feel like it, but she managed a laugh. She tried it again…Leave me here…useless.” She snorted. “Yeah. Gaea will be really pleased with you.”

 

“Good work, Piper,” Thalia said. “You’ve got them completely confused.”

 

Snow swirled around the goddess. Zethes and Calais glanced at each other nervously…Go ahead, she dared. Call my bluff.

 

“She won’t,” Chris said confidently.

 

“She’ll be too scared of failing Gaea,” Connor agreed.

 

“What secret?” Khione demanded. “Reveal it to us!”…She pointed casually toward the prow. “Follow me, ice people.”

 

“Done,” Dakota announced.

 

“My turn then,” Dionysus sighed. His son handed him the book.

Chapter Text

She pushed between the Boreads, which was like walking through a meat freezer…Piper tried not to look down at Jason’s frozen body as she passed.

 

Thalia, Zeus and Reyna all grimaced at that.

 

She tried not to think about her friends below, or Leo shot into the sky to a place of no return.

 

Now it was Hephaestus and Beckendorf’s turn to grimace.

 

“They will all be ok,” Rachel stated as confidently as she could. She had to believe that Percy could come back from Tartarus, and if that was possible, then anything was.

 

She definitely tried not to think about the Boreads and the snow goddess…But she did have power. And she intended to use it.

 

“Everyone frowned, not sure how her power would help her with Festus.

 

Last night, during her talk with Hazel, Piper had realized that the secret of charmspeak…Aphrodite wasn’t about head-on confrontation. Aphrodite was about subtlety and guile and charm.

 

Aphrodite and Ares both nodded at that.

 

“At least you’re finally working out how to hone your powers,” Silena smiled.

 

Piper decided she shouldn’t focus on making people do what she wanted…she said, filling her voice with pity. “We humiliated you pretty badly in Sonoma.”

 

“Yeah, we did!” Leo cheered.

 

Khione’s eyes glinted like iced espresso. She shot an uneasy look at her brothers…plus an army of wolves and Earthborn, and you still couldn’t beat us.”

 

“Yeah, our biggest threat was actually Hera,” Piper muttered.

 

“I’m pretty sure she’s always one of our biggest threats,” Thalia commented with a glare in the goddess’ direction. She’d been angry at hearing that Hera tried to drop her statue on Annabeth while in the middle of saving Olympus. She’d been even more furious at what Hera had done to Percy, and the situation she had left him in. Nothing compared to her anger at hearing the goddess had killed her brother because she decided to go nuclear instead of stopping to think for even a second. Or giving them more of a warning.

 

“Silence!” the goddess hissed…She said it was a…ah, what is the term? A tactical retreat.”

 

“Ooh, liar, liar, pants on fire,” Rachel said in a sing-song voice.

 

“Leo beat your butt,” Beckendorf put in proudly.

 

“Hopefully Piper can get them to turn on each other. She’s already proven she can charmspeak the two brothers,” Drew said.

 

“Treats?” Cal asked. “Treats are good.”…“What did Hera call you?” Piper mused. “Right—a D-list goddess!”

 

“I’ll call her much worse than that,” Aphrodite growled under her breath. Ares smiled slightly and rubbed his thumb gently over her knuckles.

 

“Once we’re finished with the reading business you can go and give her a reminder of the appropriate way of addressing Olympians,” He promised.

 

She burst out laughing again, and her amusement was so genuine…The threat terrified her, but she didn’t let it show.

 

“Good,” Annabeth nodded. “That’s always the first step. Hiding your fear and looking confident.”

 

“Come on, then.” She led the way to the prow, humming one of her dad’s favorite songs—“Summertime.”

 

A few people chuckled.

 

When she got to the figurehead, she put her hand on Festus’s neck…All she could do was speak her heart and tell the dragon what he most wanted to hear.

 

“What?” Leo frowned. “That might work if he was awake, but he’s off. He can’t hear you.”

 

“Maybe there is an emergency ‘on’ switch,” Michael suggested.

 

“If there isn’t, there will be this time,” Leo said.

 

“But Festus is more than a machine. He’s a living creature.”…“But then you wouldn’t see Khione humiliated. I know you’d like that.”

 

“I think we’d all like to see that again,” Jason stated. He really didn’t like Khione.

 

The Boreads hesitated…“Yes,” Zethes agreed. “The Argo. Much like this, but we did not have a dragon.”

 

“That’s because mine is the best,” Leo bragged proudly.

 

“Don’t listen to her!” Khione snapped…“You—have—no—power,” she insisted.

 

“Oh yes she does,” Silena scowled.

 

“We know,” Beckendorf reminded her gently.

 

“Spoken like a D-list goddess,” Piper said. “One who never gets taken seriously…He grinned and looked very pleased with himself.

 

“I can’t stand Khione, but Cal is growing on me,” Percy chuckled.

 

“He’s definitely the best of the three,” Katie agreed.

 

“Not that that is hard,” Travis muttered.

 

“Exactly,” Piper said. “Just like a hockey team. The whole is greater than the parts.”…Zethes grinned. He crouched and rolled the ice sphere across the deck.

 

“Good work,” Aphrodite smiled at her daughter.

 

“You fool!” Khione yelled…And when his friends are in trouble, especially Leo, he can wake up on his own.”

 

“I’m less certain about that,” Beckendorf frowned.

 

“Unless Hephaestus did something to Festus when he transported him back to Camp,” Will suggested. “He might have known it could be needed, especially if Leo is the only one who can wake him up.”

 

She willed all her confidence into her voice—all her love for the metal dragon…Her power was more ancient than that of Hephaestus, or Athena, or even Zeus.

 

Aphrodite nodded.

 

“While all of that is true, it doesn’t give you all of that power, or the power to do things that are impossible,” Pollux frowned.

 

For a terrible moment, nothing happened. Khione glared at her…Festus turned his head one hundred and eighty degrees and blasted the Boreads, vaporizing them on the spot.

 

“Yeah!” All the demigods cheered.

 

“What just happened?” Leo asked. “Piper actually woke Festus up with charmspeak?”

 

“Like we said, I think the best reasonable explanation is that Hephaestus did something to Festus. Or that either he or Aphrodite were watching and helping in that moment. Both of them have proven they are willing to help out on the quest. And we know Aphrodite isn’t too affected by the two sides fighting,” Annabeth suggested thoughtfully.

 

“Yeah, Zeus might be too distracted by the two sides fighting to keep a close enough eye on everyone. Aphrodite could have gotten away with briefly helping out and switching Festus back on,” Nico nodded.

 

“And Hazel managed to summon Pluto by fully accepting her parentage and using her powers. This is the first time I can recall that Piper seems to have fully worked out how her charmspeak works and accepted Aphrodite as her mom,” Clarisse added. “If anything would catch Aphrodite’s attention, it would be Piper’s thoughts about how she is the oldest goddess and all of that.”

 

“It’s as good a theory as any,” Silena shrugged.

 

For some reason, Zethes’s sword was spared. It clunked to the deck, still steaming.

 

“Spoils of war?” Chris suggested. They all shrugged.

 

Piper scrambled to her feet. She spotted the sphere of winds at the base of the foremast…“You miserable girl,” she hissed. “You think you can defeat me—a goddess?”

 

“Leo did,” Piper pointed out with a smile.

 

“Yeah. And this time Piper has Festus with her,” Leo grinned.

 

At Piper’s back, Festus roared and blew steam…About twenty feet behind the goddess, the ice sphere began to crack and hiss.

 

“That’s not good,” Dakota muttered grimly.

 

Piper was out of time for subtlety. She yelled and raised her dagger…“A child of Aphrodite,” she chided. “You are nothing.”

 

“Get off of her!” Leo scowled angrily.

 

Festus creaked again. Piper could swear he was trying to shout encouragement…The ice melted on her blade. Her arm steamed under Khione’s grip.

 

Everyone looked surprised at that.

 

“Go Piper!” Silena cheered.

 

“Nice one, Beauty Queen,” Leo grinned happily.

 

“How did she do that one?” Reyna wondered.

 

“Blessing from mom?” Gwen suggested.

 

“Still underestimating me,” Piper told the goddess. “You really need to work on that.”…The blade touched Khione’s chest, and the goddess exploded in a miniature blizzard.

 

“Yeah!” Everyone cheered now.

 

“Go Piper!” Jason beamed at her.

 

“Take that snow girl,” Leo smirked.

 

Piper collapsed, dazed from the cold. She heard Festus clacking and whirring…Her fingers closed around the bomb just as the ice shattered and the winds exploded.

 

“Oh crap,” Connor grimaced.

 

“Chapter’s done,” Dionysus announced in relief.

 

“Let’s have some dinner,” Chiron stated.

 

“But it should be Percy next,” Apollo protested.

 

“Yeah. Let’s find out what happens with them,” Triton agreed.

 

“No. Best to eat now before we find out what trouble Percy gets himself into next,” Chiron shook his head. “It is getting closer to the end of the book. We should start again tomorrow.”

 

“It’s still early. Maybe we should eat and read the next set of chapters before retiring for the night,” Poseidon suggested. Chiron sighed. It was quite early, but if Percy’s chapters ended on a cliffhanger then they would all want to continue reading which would be another four chapters before they found out what happened. Still, it would save them some reading tomorrow.

 

“Alright. We’ll have a quick dinner and read Percy’s chapters afterwards,” He agreed finally.

 

Everyone jumped up and headed to the dining hall. It was a quick meal as everyone wanted to know how Percy and Annabeth were doing in Tartarus. They were all terrified, but they wanted to know all the same.

 

Once they were all settled back into their seats, Demeter picked up the book and turned to the correct page.

Chapter Text

Percy was homesick for the swamp.

 

“Normally I’d be really confused, but now I don’t blame you,” Thalia shook her head. “Given where you are, I’d be homesick for Damasen’s place too.”

 

He never thought he’d miss sleeping in a giant’s leather bed in a drakon-bone hut in a festering cesspool, but right now that sounded like Elysium.

 

“Which is worrying,” Nico grimaced.

 

“At least they found somewhere they could get an actual rest. If Percy survived so far with multiple injuries, having no sleep and having fought two giants before falling into Tartarus, think what he can do when healed and well rested,” Amphitrite pointed out.

 

“And with proper food too,” Thalia grinned slightly.

 

He and Annabeth and Bob stumbled along in the darkness, the air thick and cold…Percy could never let his guard down. Even walking ten feet was exhausting.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

“It’s not like I would be letting my guard down anyway, even if the terrain was nice,” Percy pointed out with a frown.

 

“True but having to concentrate on where you are going is a different kind of being on guard to keeping watch for monsters,” Thalia reminded him. “And you’re probably trying to do both at once.”

 

Percy had started out from the giant’s hut feeling strong again, his head clear, his belly full of drakon jerky from their packs of provisions. Now his legs were sore. Every muscle ached.

 

Hera grimaced briefly, before smoothing her expression out as quickly as possible.

 

He pulled a makeshift tunic of drakon leather over his shredded T-shirt, but it did nothing to keep out the chill.

 

Poseidon conjured another blanket to put around Percy, and Apollo as he pretty much had Percy sitting in his lap to keep him close. Triton then decided to join them, flicking Apollo in the face with his tail to get him to move up slightly. He settled down between Percy and his father.

 

While everyone glanced between Percy and Annabeth anxiously, Hestia subtlety wrapped a blanket around her sister, even though she knew it would actually make any difference.

 

His focus narrowed to the ground in front of him…Whenever he felt like giving up, plopping himself down, and dying (which was, like, every ten minutes),

 

Apollo and Triton both gripped Percy tightly. Poseidon then tugged on Percy’s legs, so he was lying across the three of them, with his head in Apollo’s lap and his legs across his father’s with Triton in the middle. Triton then adjusted the blanket. Percy raised his eyebrows but didn’t comment out loud. He’d let them have this for now. It was quite comfortable.

 

he reached over and took her hand, just to remember there was warmth in the world.

 

Poseidon conjured another blanket.

 

“Dad, seriously?” Now Percy did roll his eyes. “I’m not actually cold.” He quickly glanced over at Hera and sighed. The goddess might be seriously annoying, but he felt kind of bad she had to feel everything he did in Tartarus. He got injured quite a lot on a normal basis.

 

After Annabeth’s talk with Damasen, Percy was worried about her.

 

Annabeth smiled.

 

Annabeth didn’t give in to despair easily, but as they walked, she wiped tears from her eyes, trying not to let Percy see.

 

Then she grimaced. She hated people seeing her cry.

 

“Hey, you did your best,” Connor told her quietly. “And hopefully he’ll remember what you said. If it’s in the prophecy, then it will happen one way or another.”

 

“When did you get so wise?” She asked, grinning so he would know she was only teasing. She knew Connor was a lot smarter than he generally let on.

 

“Obviously hanging around with you is rubbing off on me,” He grinned in return.

 

He knew she hated it when her plans didn’t work out. She was convinced…He wasn’t sure he wanted a giant as his wingman,

 

“That’s a pretty good point,” Frank muttered. “I wouldn’t want a titan and a giant around who could both turn on me at any point.”

 

even if that giant could cook a mean bowl of stew.

 

“Naturally that would be your favourite bit of the stay at Damasen’s,” Apollo chuckled.

 

He wondered what had happened after they left Damasen’s hut. He hadn’t heard their pursuers in hours, but he could sense their hatred…especially Polybotes’s.

 

Poseidon scowled angrily.

 

“At least you haven’t heard them for a while. Hopefully that means Damasen has slowed them down a bit,” Travis said.

 

That giant was back there somewhere, following, pushing them deeper into Tartarus…This was the real world—death, darkness, cold, pain. He’d been imagining all the rest.

 

“Even your imagination isn’t that good,” Nico forced a laugh.

 

“I don’t know, some of his dreams are pretty whacky. The ones that aren’t horribly prophetic anyway,” Beckendorf pointed out.

 

“Those whacky dreams are usually caused by something to do with our world though,” Percy pointed out. “Like the barnyard animal dream was because I found out my best friend is half donkey.”

 

“GOAT!” Grover bleated in irritation. Percy smirked at him and he rolled his eyes. Grover decided to let that one go, as anything that helped Percy stay positive while they read about Tartarus was good in his book. But only once. After that, it would be war.

 

He shivered. No. That was the pit speaking to him, sapping his resolve. He wondered how Nico had survived down here alone without going insane.

 

“Easy. He’s already insane,” Thalia said jokingly, just a little too loud to be genuine amusement.

 

“That’s rich coming from you,” Nico snorted.

 

That kid had more strength than Percy had given him credit for.

 

Everyone nodded at that. He had more strength than all of them had really given him credit for.

 

The deeper they traveled, the harder it became to stay focused…Bob called back happily. “Much worse! It means we are close.”

 

“Definitely not good, and definitely not a reason to be happy,” Poseidon muttered anxiously.

 

“I’m guessing he means they are close to Akhlys,” Hades grimaced. “As the goddess of misery and all.”

 

‘Just who Percy needs to be facing right now,’ Apollo thought to himself worriedly. Percy had already stated that it was worse than the river they had first fallen into. And that had almost gotten them to give up. Plus, Percy’s mental state wasn’t exactly…the best even before Tartarus. How much more could he take?

 

Close to what? Percy wondered. But he didn’t have the strength to ask…reinforced Percy’s opinion that the kitten was the smartest one in their group.

 

“And the only one with a choice,” Rachel pointed out grimly.

 

“Strictly, Bob has a choice too. Let’s hope he keeps picking them helpful option,” Reyna stated.

 

Annabeth laced her fingers through his. In the light of his bronze sword…He’d been so worried about lifting her spirits, and here she was reassuring him.

 

“We’re a team,” Annabeth reminded him. “We help each other. It’s not all on you.”

 

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Piece of cake.”…Months ago, before Percy got amnesia, they’d had dinner in Paris one night, compliments of Hermes.

 

“By compliments, you mean it was in exchange for doing a horrible quest because Hermes was careless enough to lose his beloved staff,” Dionysus smirked.

 

“I thought we agreed not to mention that,” Hermes grumbled.

 

“Nobody agreed to that,” Apollo shook his head in amusement.

 

“I could hope,” Hermes sighed.

 

“You know us better than that,” Dionysus stated, still smirking.

 

That seemed like another lifetime…Then the darkness dispersed with a massive sigh, like the last breath of a dying god.

 

“I hate your imagination,” Grover shuddered.

 

“That’s downright creepy,” Dakota agreed.

 

Hermes winced as he recalled that Percy knew exactly what that sounded like.

 

In front of them was a clearing—a barren field of dust and stones…“We’re here,” Bob announced. “Akhlys can help.”

 

“That doesn’t sound like someone helpful,” Katie muttered.

 

“It’s the only chance they’ve got,” Hades stated.

 

“And that’s not comforting at all,” Triton said, pulling a disgusted face.

 

“Done,” Demeter announced.

 

"Makes it my turn," Hades sighed reluctantly.

Chapter Text

If the sobbing ghoul was Bob’s idea of help, Percy was pretty sure he didn’t want it.

 

“I do not blame you,” Silena muttered anxiously.

 

“I want to know how exactly Bob is going to convince her to help,” Connor muttered. “Damasen might have been a good giant, but didn’t you guys say she’s a goddess of misery or something? That doesn’t strike me as a helpful sounding goddess.”

 

“Percy’s good at charming people sometimes,” Apollo suggested, trying to keep the doubt from his voice. For once he would not be complaining about someone liking Percy.

 

Nevertheless, Bob trudged forward. Percy felt obliged to follow. If nothing else, this area was less dark—not exactly light, but with more of a soupy white fog.

 

“Hopefully you can see a bit better, just in case something goes wrong,” Thalia said.

 

“Akhlys is the daughter of Night herself. If something does go wrong, I don’t think being able to see is going to make much difference,” Zeus muttered to himself.

 

“Akhlys!” Bob called.

 

The creature raised her head, and Percy’s stomach screamed, Help me!

 

Despite the situation, a few people chuckled.

 

Her body was bad enough. She looked like the victim of a famine—limbs like sticks…and her cheeks were raked and bleeding as if she’d been clawing herself.

 

“Ewwwww,” Silena cringed.

 

“Definitely not sounding like someone who wants to help demigods,” Hermes grimaced.

 

Percy couldn’t stand to meet her eyes, so he lowered his gaze…holding a shield, so the image seemed to go on forever, smaller and smaller.

 

“Isn’t that…that sounds like the shield of Hercules,” Jason stated.

 

“He had a shield?” Percy frowned.

 

“In some stories, yes,” Annabeth nodded. “I didn’t know it was true.”

 

“I think by now it’s pretty safe to assume almost all of the stories are true,” Connor told her.

 

“That shield,” Annabeth murmured. “That’s his. I thought it was just a story.”…“As if Hercules knew true misery. It’s not even a good likeness!”

 

“As if he knew true misery? The guy was forced to kill his own family, serve some mean cousin for doing something he was cursed to do by a vengeful goddess and then he second wife killed him. I think that’s pretty miserable,” Piper pointed out.

 

“Yeah. If she thinks Hercules didn’t know true misery, I’d hate to see what her idea of misery is,” Katie said.

 

“She is literally the embodiment of misery,” Demeter reminded her daughter.

 

Percy gulped. When he and his friends had encountered Hercules at the Straits of Gibraltar…The exchange had involved a lot of yelling, death threats, and high-velocity pineapples.

 

There was some more snickering at that.

 

“What’s his shield doing here?” Percy asked…In the end, misery overtakes all of you. Even Hercules.”

 

“Lovely,” Rachel muttered sarcastically.

 

“But why did it end up in Tartarus? He might not need it anymore, but his stuff doesn’t end up in Tartarus just because he died right?” Travis wondered. Everyone shrugged.

 

Percy inched closer to Annabeth. He tried to remember why they were here, but the sense of despair made it difficult to think.

 

The three that Percy was lying across all tightened their grip on him.

 

Connor squeezed Annabeth’s hand while Thalia slung an arm around her shoulders.

 

Hearing Akhlys speak, he no longer found it strange that she had…“Akhlys controls the Death Mist,” he insisted. “She can hide you.”

 

“But will she, is the question,” Clarisse noted. “It may be their only option but requires some miserable goddess to help out.”

 

“Hide them?” Akhlys made a gurgling sound. She was either laughing or choking to death.

 

“My vote is for the second option,” Dakota muttered.

 

“Not until she hides them in her mist,” Gwen stated.

 

“Why would I do that?”…which Percy had to admit made her look pretty intimidating and hot in a “Barbarian Princess” kind of way.

 

Annabeth raised an eyebrow in Percy’s direction. He just grinned at her.

 

“So I guess your Death Mist is pretty useless, then,” she said.

 

“Going straight for the pride again, huh?” Reyna hid a wince.

 

“It worked last time,” Connor shrugged.

 

“It won’t work every time. Not every monster’s weakness is pride,” Clarisse pointed out. “But, in this case, she’s unlikely to help them no matter what. Being polite isn’t going to help either I suspect.”

 

The goddess bared her broken yellow teeth. “Useless? Who are you?”…“I didn’t walk halfway across Tartarus to be told what’s impossible by some minor goddess.”

 

Everyone grimaced. While they appreciated there weren’t many options here, the gods were just waiting for Akhlys to smite them for impertinence.

 

The dust quivered at their feet. Fog swirled around them with a sound like agonized wailing…“I was old before the Titans were born, you ignorant girl. I was old when Gaea first woke.

 

“What?” Half of the demigods squeaked in shock. “Old when Gaea first woke up?”

 

“Chronology is pretty fuzzy that far back.” Hades lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. “Not to mention we weren’t born. But it’s not impossible. Nyx and Erebus were the first children of Chaos. Then Akhlys is a daughter of Nyx. But Gaea was born of Chaos too, so is probably at least an equivalent in power to Akhlys even if she’s younger.”

 

“So, they are facing someone of similar power to Gaea? Two demigods and a semi-friendly titan?” Jason asked faintly. His father nodded.

 

“Did I mention this is a really bad idea?” Rachel muttered.

 

Misery is eternal. Existence is misery. I was born of the eldest ones—of Chaos and Night. I was—”

 

“Chaos and Night? I thought you said she was just the daughter of Night?” Nico frowned at his father.

 

“It’s not like I’ve stopped to ask,” Hades told him dryly. “Several of Nyx’s children were born just from her, others were with Erebus or Chaos. It’s hard to keep track.”

 

“Yes, yes,” Annabeth said. “Sadness and misery, blah blah blah. But you still don’t have enough power to hide two demigods with your Death Mist. Like I said: useless.”

 

The demigods all flinched. The idea of Percy and Annabeth facing down someone on the power level of Gaea was freaking them all out. Especially considering their backup was a titan who had already hesitated in defending them once, and they were in the middle of Tartarus.

 

Apollo, Triton and Poseidon were practically hyperventilating.

 

Percy cleared his throat. “Uh, Annabeth—”…I can’t blame you. It looks just like you.”

 

“Percy!” Apollo moaned in terror.

 

“We had to do something,” Percy defended.

 

“We know. But angering a primordial is never not going to terrify us,” Poseidon told him.

 

Akhlys wailed and glared at the Titan. “Why did you inflict these annoying children on me?”…as their souls pass into the Underworld. It is the very breath of Tartarus, of death, of despair!”

 

“How does this actually get more unappealing?” Pollux wanted to know.

 

“Awesome,” Percy said. “Could we get two orders of that to go?”

 

A few half-hysterical chuckles escaped various people around the room.

 

“Oh gods, I don’t want to know how much extra awful this would be without Percy’s humour,” Rachel said.

 

Akhlys hissed. “Ask me for a more sensible gift. I am also the goddess of poisons…ways to die less painful than the one you have chosen by marching into the heart of the pit.”

 

“Er, no thanks,” Annabeth declined, voice shaking a little with anxiety.

 

Around the goddess, flowers bloomed in the dust…I can dissolve your innards, boil your blood.”

 

“Funnily enough, I don’t think they’ll take you up on that,” Beckendorf muttered.

 

“Definitely not,” Percy shook his head.

 

“That’s very nice of you,” Percy said. “But I’ve had enough poison for one trip. Now, can you hide us in your Death Mist, or not?”

 

Apollo let out a tiny sigh of relief. At least Akhlys’ presence alone wasn’t sending Percy isn’t a miserable spiral. He was keeping his head and his snark. It was a good sign.

 

“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” Annabeth said…We intend to seal the Doors of Death. That’s going to cause a lot of wailing and moaning.”

 

“Now that’s a good way to incentivize her,” Athena nodded approvingly.

 

“Yeah. She wins both ways,” Apollo agreed.

 

Akhlys considered. “I enjoy suffering. Wailing is also good.”…comes at the moment you are closest to your end. Your eyes will be clouded only then. The world will fade.”

 

A few whimpers escaped people at that statement.

 

“That doesn’t sound good,” Leo murmured.

 

“Understatement!” Piper hissed. “It almost sounds like they have to die.”

 

“She said it’s for shrouding mortals when they go to the Underworld. Which you do when you die,” Jason said.

 

“Don’t say that,” Thalia pleaded. “I don’t want to think about it.”

 

Percy’s mouth felt dry. “Okay. But…we’ll be shrouded from the monsters?”…you will be able to pass unnoticed among the armies of Tartarus.

 

“Did she just say ‘if’” Grover whimpered. “I don’t like the sound of ‘if they survive’.”

 

“I don’t think the sound of any of this,” Triton muttered.

 

It is hopeless, of course, but if you are determined, then come. I will show you the way.”…How does a ten-foot-tall silver dude with a very loud kitten disappear?

 

“Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap,” Rachel chanted under her breath. She gripped Reyna’s hand as she was sitting next to her.

 

“Now they don’t even have a semi-friendly titan to help out,” Grover complained in horror.

 

“This is so far beyond not good,” Will grimaced.

 

“Hey!” Percy yelled to Akhlys. “Where’s our friend?”…“He is not mortal. Come, little fools. Come experience the Death Mist.”

 

“What does being mortal have to do with it? Why would there be a bit of Tartarus only mortals can go to?” Nico wondered.

 

“Yeah, even if he can’t have a dose of Death Mist, he could come with them as moral support,” Beckendorf said.

 

Annabeth exhaled and grabbed his hand. “Well…how bad can it be?”

 

“WHY? Why would you ask that?” Connor demanded. “That’s just asking for everything to go horribly wrong.”

 

“Percy’s luck means everything is going to go horribly wrong anyway,” Travis pointed out grimly.

 

“Stop talking.” Katie elbowed him.

 

“But the other half of Percy’s luck means they should get out of this miraculously because that’s just how he rolls,” Michael reminded them.

 

The question was so ridiculous Percy laughed, even though it hurt his lungs…goddess’s dusty footprints through the poison flowers, deeper into the fog.

 

“Finished,” Hades announced.

 

“I will read,” Hestia stated. She took the book from her brother.

Chapter Text

Percy missed Bob

 

“We all do right now,” Apollo muttered anxiously.

 

He’d gotten used to having the Titan on his side, lighting their way with his silver hair and his fearsome war broom.

 

“Never thought a broom could be used as a weapon, but Bob sounds pretty good with that thing,” Frank stated in mild surprise.

 

“Tyson uses a big stick,” Percy grinned.

 

Now their only guide was an emaciated corpse lady with serious self-esteem issues.

 

A few of the gods half choked and half snorted in amusement as Percy’s description of a primordial goddess.

 

As they struggled across the dusty plain, the fog became so thick that Percy…a rough, calloused expanse where only the most disgusting plant life grew.

 

“Not a mental image I needed,” Will muttered.

 

Finally they arrived at the end of the big toe. At least that’s what it looked like to Percy…Akhlys said. “Where Night meets the void below Tartarus.”

 

“You’re right next to the realm of Nyx?” Poseidon asked, his voice at least an octave higher than normal.

 

“So, you’re basically surrounded by Nyx, Tartarus and Akhlys all at once?” Hermes sounded faint.

 

“How?” Apollo whispered. “How do you find yourself in these situations?” He asked Percy in horror.

 

“I have no idea.” Percy shrugged.

 

Annabeth inched forward and peered over the cliff…you are closer to nothingness than any mortal has ever been. Can you not feel it?”

 

“Please don’t feel it,” Beckendorf prayed.

 

Percy knew what she meant. The void seemed to be pulling at him…He looked at Annabeth and saw that her lips were tinged blue.

 

“Where’s the Phlegethon when you need it?” Nico demanded.

 

“I don’t think even the river of healing can help here,” Hades told him quietly.

 

“We can’t stay here,” he said…He couldn’t even tell how many fingers he had. Hopefully still ten.

 

“Oh us,” Poseidon breathed. He, Triton and Apollo clutched Percy even more tightly. The demigods all huddled closer together. Connor and Thalia were surrounding Annabeth.

 

He turned to Annabeth and stifled a yelp. “You’re—uh—”…When she turned to look at him, her features momentarily blurred into mist.

 

“Gods, Annabeth,” Thalia whimpered.

 

“You have your Death Mist. Now leave,” Travis urged.

 

“This is horrible,” Drew murmured uneasily.

 

Percy’s blood moved like sap in his veins…You always knew that the next monster you fought could be your last.

 

All of the gods grimaced.

 

But seeing Annabeth like this was too painful. He’d rather stand in the River Phlegethon, or get attacked by arai, or be trampled by giants.

 

“Please don’t say that,” Poseidon begged. “One of them has already happened and the chance of the giant one happening is far higher than anyone would like.”

 

“Oh, gods,” Annabeth sobbed. “Percy, the way you look…”…His body felt insubstantial, like he was made of helium and cotton candy.

 

“That’s not good. The last thing you need now is not to be able to move very well,” Clarisse frowned in concern.

 

“Hopefully it’s a matter of practice,” Frank said.

 

“They don’t exactly have a lot of time to practice,” Hazel pointed out.

 

“I’ve looked better,” he decided. “I can’t move very well. But I’m all right.”…It is a state of being. I could not bring you this gift unless death followed—true death.”

 

“WHAT?” Everyone yelled.

 

“Did Bob know about that part?” Will wanted to know.

 

“Oh gods, you can’t even move properly and a primordial goddess is about to try and kill you,” Nico muttered, looking at Percy as if he might drop dead any second.

“Time to run…or float away,” Leo said.

 

“It’s a trap,” Annabeth said…“Yeah, yeah,” Percy growled. “Let’s get to the fighting.”

 

“No! No!” Apollo shook his head violently. “Don’t encourage the goddess older than Gaea herself to kill you!”

 

He drew Riptide, but the blade was made of smoke. When he slashed at Akhlys, the sword just floated across her like a gentle breeze.

 

“Oh crap,” Chris winced.

 

The goddess’s ruined mouth split into a grin. “Did I forget to mention? You are only mist now—a shadow before death. Perhaps if you had time, you could learn to control your new form.

 

“Wait, if they had time? So, she was lying when she said she could only give the Mist if true death followed, or they wouldn’t have time to learn to control it before they died,” Reyna realised. “The Mist can still work.”

 

“Yeah. They just need to escape from Akhlys first,” Rachel muttered.

 

But you do not have time. Since you cannot touch me…Her jaw unhinged, and her yellow teeth elongated into fangs.

 

“Oh us, oh us,” Apollo muttered under his breath in terror. The demigods huddled even closer around Annabeth and Percy.

 

“That is the end of the chapter,” Hestia frowned.

 

“Someone read!” Poseidon yelled. Hestia decided to keep going. It would probably be easiest for her to read this next part anyway.

 

Percy

 

Akhlys lunged at Percy, and for a split second he thought: Well, hey, I’m just smoke. She can’t touch me, right?

 

“You’re not that lucky,” Beckendorf shook his head.

 

“Akhlys wouldn’t be lunging at you if that was the case,” Hades stated shortly.

 

He imagined the Fates up in Olympus, laughing at his wishful thinking: LOL, NOOB!

 

“Really, Percy?” Nico gave a choked laugh.

 

The goddess’s claws raked across his chest and stung like boiling water.

 

Everyone tensed.

 

Percy stumbled backward, but he wasn’t used to being smoky…Annabeth hadn’t charged and screamed, “HEY!” right in the goddess’s ear.

 

“Thanks,” Percy said shakily.

 

“Anytime,” Annabeth smiled back, but she was so nervous it came out as more of a grimace.

 

Akhlys flinched, turning toward the sound…Percy never got, like How to Fight While Partially Made of Smoke.

 

“Oh yeah, that’s a really common class,” Connor said sarcastically.

 

“We have it all the time,” Travis agreed.

 

“Boys, maybe save it for a bit later,” Hermes suggested quietly. He shot them both a warning look to be quiet. He appreciated their attempts at humour, but Poseidon and Apollo both looked like they were on the verge of a heart attack. Or wrapping Percy up in cotton wool and never letting him out of their sight ever again.

 

Annabeth dove straight between the goddess’s legs and somersaulted to her feet. Akhlys turned and attacked, but Annabeth dodged again, like a matador.

 

“Please be careful,” Connor begged.

 

“I’ll certainly try,” Annabeth promised, despite not actually being able to do anything.

 

Percy was so stunned, he lost a few precious seconds.

 

“PERCY!” Everyone yelled. They weren’t truly angry at him for freezing, all the demigods figured they would do the same in that situation, but they were terrified for both Percy and Annabeth.

 

“Come on, Perc. You can admire Annabeth’s smoke moves once you’re away from the primordial,” Beckendorf told him shakily.

 

Zeus frowned. He briefly wondered why Akhlys was attacking them physically. Not that he’d had much interaction with her, but she was a primordial and could destroy them fairly easily without lifting a finger. Maybe she thought this way would cause the most misery.

 

He stared at corpse Annabeth, shrouded in mist but moving as fast and confidently as ever…to veer aside, but the goddess grabbed Annabeth’s wrist and pulled her hard, sending her sprawling.

 

“Annabeth!” Connor, Thalia, Athena and Grover all cried out.

 

“Get a move on Jackson!” Athena glared at Percy.

 

“Hey!” Poseidon glowered at her furiously. “Percy’s been doing everything down there, and he’s only down there because of your daughter decided to taunt Arachne unnecessarily!”

 

“Dad!” Percy said reproachfully.

 

“Someone just read!” Apollo snapped. He completely agreed with Poseidon, but he cared far more about hearing how Percy got out of this mess.

 

Before the goddess could pounce, Percy advanced, yelling and waving his sword. He still felt about as solid as a Kleenex, but his anger seemed to help him move faster.

 

“Ok, that’s good. Feeling more solid is good,” Frank nodded.

 

“Hey, Happy!” he yelled…He ducked as she swiped at his head. “You’re downright cheerful!”

 

A few of the gods snorted but nobody dared say anything to delay the reading.

 

“Arggh!” She lunged again, but she was off balance…She stumbled after Percy. Each compliment seemed to hit her like sand in the face.

 

Some of the gods snickered.

 

“I will kill you slowly!” she growled, her eyes and nose watering…no doubt looking for something that might help.

 

“I don’t think anything you might have in a pack is going to do anything, even with Damasen’s supplies,” Clarisse said.

 

“Maybe not, but apparently weapons don’t do much either,” Annabeth pointed out grimly.

 

“Your best option is probably just to run and keep distracting her,” Dakota suggested. “Just get out of her territory. You got what you need.”

 

Percy wanted to give her more time. She was the brains. Better for him to get attacked while she came up with a brilliant plan.

 

“No! No! It’s not better for you to get attacked!” Apollo growled.

 

“You’re the best at thinking on your feet,” Rachel encouraged. “You could come up with a plan as easily as Annabeth in the middle of battle.”

 

“Cuddly!” Percy yelled. “Fuzzy, warm, and huggable!”

 

“This is so weird,” Katie muttered to herself. “Fighting a primordial with warm feelings.” A few people snorted at just how bizarre that sounded.

 

Akhlys made a growling, choking noise, like a cat having a seizure…Green-and-white sap trickled out, collecting into pools, and began flowing across the ground toward Percy.

 

“Oh gods,” Silena whimpered. “Get out of there!”

 

“Come on Percy,” Chris cheered, though he sounded strained.

 

“Move! Move!” Yelled Thalia.

 

The sweet-smelling fumes made his head feel wobbly…But the goddess of misery was now fixated on Percy.

 

“Of course, she was!” Poseidon scowled. Apollo hugged Percy tightly, closing his eyes and trying to ignore the stupid book, focusing on the alive, safe Percy in his arms.

 

He tried to retreat again. Unfortunately the poison ichor was flowing all around him now…his backpack smoked and dissolved into a puddle of goo. Percy had nowhere to go.

 

Everyone was close to hyperventilating now. They couldn’t see how Percy was going to get out of this mess.

 

“Come on Bob,” Nico pleaded quietly. “Now would be a great time to show back up.”

 

He fell to one knee. He wanted to tell Annabeth to run, but he couldn’t speak. His throat was as dry as dead leaves.

 

“Gods,” Thalia closed her eyes. It didn’t help. All she could picture was Percy surrounded by poison. Which was also the power of Polybotes, the anti-Poseidon.

 

He wished there were water in Tartarus—some nice pool he could jump into to heal himself…“You will feed the eternal darkness,” Akhlys said. “You will die in the arms of Night!”

 

“Come on Annabeth,” Annabeth begged her future-self. “Just hit her with the sword.” It probably wouldn’t work, but surely her future-self couldn’t just sit around and watch Percy die.

 

He was dimly aware of Annabeth shouting, throwing random pieces of drakon jerky at the goddess.

 

“I don’t think an immortal is going to be too bothered by pieces of jerky,” Octavian rolled his eyes. “Let alone a primordial.”

 

“Nothing is going to bother her that much! Apparently, only cheerful names did that and now even they don’t work,” Thalia snapped at him angrily.

 

The white-green poison kept pooling, little streams trickling from the plants…Poison was liquid. If it moved like water, it must be partially water.

 

“Errr, Percy, I’m not sure that’s how it works,” Hermes frowned. “Poseidon is the god of the sea. Not every single liquid.”

 

“Poseidon isn’t the god of the Underworld rivers, but Percy can control those,” Apollo pointed out flatly.

 

“Besides, it sounds like the rules are a little different in Tartarus,” Will said, just a tiny bit of hope in his voice.

 

He remembered some science lecture about the human body being mostly water. He remembered extracting water from Jason’s lungs back in Rome.… If he could control that, then why not other liquids?

 

“Because the water in Jason’s lungs was seawater. You said so yourself,” Piper reminded him.

 

It was a crazy idea. Poseidon was the god of the sea, not of every liquid everywhere…So why not try? He had nothing left to lose.

 

“Good point. Go for it,” Triton encouraged.

 

“He’s in Akhlys’ domain,” Ares stated. “Poseidon isn’t the god of all liquids, and she is the primordial goddess of poisons. Percy shouldn’t have any control over that, let alone be able to overpower Akhlys.”

 

He glared at the poison flood encroaching from all sides. He concentrated so hard that something inside him cracked—as if a crystal ball had shattered in his stomach.

 

“What?” Thalia frowned.

 

Dionysus raised an eyebrow. It seemed they would be getting another god joining their ranks soon enough. He recalled a similar feeling himself. It was a different situation, he had never strained himself hard enough to force ascension, but it had felt like power inside him being released.

 

“What the heck just happened? How could Percy crack something inside himself?” Beckendorf wanted to know.

 

“Not literally. Perseus is accessing a…deeper reserve of power,” Zeus explained as simply as he could. His nephew clearly hadn’t told his friends about his destiny.

 

“A deeper reserve of power? That didn’t sound healthy,” Nico pointed out.

 

“Can we discuss this once Percy is safe?” Apollo pleaded. They all nodded.

 

Warmth flowed through him. The poison tide stopped.

 

“What?” Now everyone was gaping at Percy in complete shock. Percy glanced around and tried to bury himself deeper in Apollo’s arms, away from all the attention.

 

The fumes blew away from him—back toward the goddess. The lake of poison rolled toward her in tiny waves and rivulets.

 

“You’re actually…” Hades looked at his nephew in awe…and a little concern. There was no way a demigod should be able to overpower a primordial, let alone with her own element. Even with the twisted rules of Tartarus. How would that much power flowing through him affect Percy in the long run.

 

“You can control poison?” Will asked with interest. “That’s pretty cool.”

 

“And it should be impossible,” Zeus said grimly. “Poseidon doesn’t have anything to do with poison. And the link through water is tentative at best. Akhlys is the daughter of Nyx herself…a demigod shouldn’t be able to overpower her. At all!”

 

The Romans all exchanged slightly worried looks.

 

“Hey, if you can control poison, maybe you can extract it from people like you did the water in Jason,” Will said excitedly. “That would be so awesome!”

 

“I think you’re missing the point here, Will,” Michael told him brother in amusement. “Percy is overpowering a primordial goddess, in her own domain. Exactly how powerful is he?”

 

“Well, why does that matter?” Nico asked crossly. “It’s not like Percy is going to do anything to hurt you guys even if he’s powerful.” He was beyond stunned himself, and definitely in awe of Percy, but he didn’t like some of the wary looks some of the other demigods were giving him.

 

“Of course, he wouldn’t hurt us,” Beckendorf said like this was a ridiculous idea. “But it’s still pretty weird to hear just how powerful he is. Even the gods can’t believe it.”

 

He wasn’t wrong. All of the gods looked a mixture of shocked, confused and awed. None of them knew quite how to react to a demigod, however powerful, actually being able to take control of a primordial’s own domain and use it against them.

 

Apollo was glad Percy had buried himself away, so he wouldn’t see some of the concerned and wary looks he was getting. “I have the most awesome boyfriend ever!” He declared. The whole thing was beyond weird, but he didn’t care. If Percy was somehow miraculously powerful enough to get them out of this mess, he would take it. No matter what. Although, he did wonder exactly how powerful Percy would be when…if, he turned into a god. If he could overpower a primordial in just over a year’s time, then as a god he would be unstoppable.

 

Akhlys shrieked. “What is this?”…As the flood of venom rolled toward the goddess, the fumes began to make her cough. Her eyes watered even more.

 

“Hades’ underpants,” Chris muttered. Hades gave him a frown for that comment, but immediately turned back to his nephew.

 

Oh, good, Percy thought. More water.

 

Percy imagined her nose and throat filling with her own tears.

 

“Oh, my gods,” Silena breathed.

 

“At least that’s actually water. And salty,” Beckendorf shrugged. He was way more curious about the poison.

 

“He’s…” Drew whispered. Piper and Leo both looked bewildered at exactly how powerful Percy was. Part of them was pleased he would be on their side against Gaea, and the other part was a little terrified about how a demigod could be that powerful.

 

Akhlys gagged. “I—” The tide of venom reached her feet, sizzling like droplets on a hot iron. She wailed and stumbled back.

 

“But if she’s the goddess of poison, wouldn’t she be like, immune to her own poison?” Katie wondered.

 

“Apparently not,” Connor shrugged. “Which is kind of weird, but Percy and Annabeth are somehow getting out of this alive, so I don’t care.”

 

“Everything about this is unbelievable and beyond weird,” Frank shook his head. He couldn’t wrap his brain around exactly how powerful Percy was.

 

Poseidon looked at his son, huddled up in blankets, hiding his face in Apollo’s chest. A far cry from the angry, vengeful young man the book was describing. It was hard to believe his son had so much power, even if he was destined to become a god. He worried about what unleashing this much power would do to Percy. If his body was already very slowly burning up with immortality, what would this moment to do his future-self? Part of him worried about Zeus’ reaction. Even knowing Percy was to become one of them…having this much power would almost certainly set off his brother’s paranoia. Although, he had been a lot better recently.

 

“Percy!” Annabeth called…She sounded terrified. It took Percy a moment to realize she was terrified of him.

 

“What? Why would you be terrified of Percy?” Rachel asked. “I mean, the whole situation is pretty terrifying, and definitely weird, but he’s saving both of your lives?”

 

“He’s controlling an element he isn’t supposed to control, overpowering a primordial goddess with her own element, and literally drowning her in her own tears!” Annabeth exclaimed. “How is that not terrifying?”

 

“He’s saving both of your lives,” Apollo snapped angrily. Hestia kept reading over the brewing argument.

 

“Stop…” she pleaded, her voice hoarse…He wanted to watch her drown in her own poison. He wanted to see just how much misery Misery could take.

 

Now a few of the demigods reeled back slightly. Where they had been awed, and a little wary before, now they were a tiny bit terrified.

 

“Woah,” Travis gave a low whistle. Leo, Piper, Katie, Drew, Michael, Pollux and the Romans were all looking at Percy like he was a bomb that might explode at any second.

 

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen or heard about Percy being that…vengeful,” Michael whispered to Will nervously.

 

“He’s in Tartarus fighting a primordial after having almost died several times. I think he’s entitled to a break,” Nico hissed, having overheard due to his proximity to Will.

 

A few of the gods were eyeing Percy, not afraid like the demigods, just concerned about what Tartarus was doing him and his psyche.

 

Apollo felt Percy give a little shudder. He realised that Percy had surfaced long enough to see some of the looks his fellow demigods had been giving him. Not all of them, but enough. Apollo shot them all deadly glares. He took a moment to recite curse words in every language he knew inside his head to stop himself attempting to smite them. As he finished his internal recital, he felt Percy trying to squirm away.

 

“Hey, where are you off too? You almost died right there, I need hugs,” Apollo protested, keeping his voice as light as possible.

 

“I just…I was…” Percy didn’t seem able to form coherent sentences.

 

“You just saved yourself and Annabeth,” Poseidon cut in. “And you wanted her to suffer a little for almost killing you both. She almost killed Annabeth, you were desperate, and you’ve always been protective of the people you love. Considering that you’ve been dunked in the Cocytus, almost lost Annabeth to empousai. And you weren’t the one to save her. Bob did that. And then you almost died to the arai, where you had to hear her cursed to think you abandoned her and be able to do nothing about it. You’ve done so much, and yet your focus has been saving Annabeth which has mostly been done by other people. And this time, you can do something. You saved both of you. And broke something inside of yourself to do it. I’d be far more concerned if you weren’t a little out of sorts.”

 

“Being out of sorts doesn’t give me the right to torture someone!” Percy exclaimed in horror, but what his dad said made some kind of sick sense. His future-self’s entire reason for being there was to protect Annabeth. And he’d failed except for their arrival and that instance with Arachne. But the idea that it would make him want to hurt anyone like that, even a god, disturbed him.

 

“Maybe not. But we all do things we aren’t proud of when we’re angry,” Apollo told him in an understanding tone. “And considering the people currently in this room, your little show of temper doesn’t even register on the scale of terrible things.”

 

“We will take a break after this chapter and talk things out,” Poseidon declared. “Let us find out what happened.”

 

The demigods who had originally been scared looked a little happier now. Their initial shock and horror at hearing mild mannered Percy feeling so vengeful was wearing off. Now they were just glad Percy and Annabeth had survived their encounter with a primordial.

 

“Percy, please…” Annabeth’s face was still pale and corpse-like…She scrambled along the path, fell on her face, and got up again, wailing as she sped into the dark.

 

“Thank the gods,” Beckendorf breathed.

 

“I think that should be ‘thank Percy’,” Grover murmured.

 

As soon as she was gone, the pools of poison evaporated. The plants withered to dust and blew away.

 

Everyone let out a sigh of relief.

 

Annabeth stumbled toward him. She looked like a corpse wreathed in smoke…“Some things aren’t meant to be controlled. Please.”

 

“What?” Triton looked at Annabeth in disbelief. “What do you mean some things aren’t meant to be controlled? Poison? That’s hardly that scary on the scale of things. Nico can control the dead, that’s pretty creepy.” He turned and shot Nico an apologetic look. “No offense.” Nico shrugged. He was well used to people’s views on his powers.

 

“Or, if you mean a primordial goddess’ domain isn’t meant to be controlled, well, you might have a point there, but to be honest, you should be damn grateful Percy could control it. He saved both of your hides. And, just in general, you should be glad to have that much power on your side while in Tartarus,” Amphitrite stated, glaring at the daughter of Athena.

 

“No matter what you meant, you have no right to tell Percy what power he can and cannot use to protect himself, and you, in Tartarus,” Apollo growled at Annabeth. “He has almost died several times trying to protect you instead of protecting himself! Don’t you dare tell him he isn’t allowed to protect himself with whatever power he has available.”

 

“Apollo, she’s…” Percy began.

 

“Don’t you say she’s right,” Apollo gave him a stern look. “She isn’t. You are in a place designed to kill mortals. Any power you have at your disposable is acceptable. You do what you have to do to survive. Because if you don’t, you can’t close those doors which means Gaea will win. So, no, her opinion on this is not valid.” Percy wanted to argue, but he couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Annoyingly, Apollo had a point.

 

After a few moments of staring, Percy realised it wasn’t necessarily his job to stick up for Annabeth all the time. It was an ingrained instinct and, before this reading he wouldn’t have even entertained the idea that Annabeth shouldn’t be the one to tell him about his powers. She had, however poorly and begrudgingly, been the one to answer most of his questions about the demigod world. But this reading had him questioning all sorts of things. He decided to think about it later. Or never. He didn’t really want to think about anything that had happened in the last couple of chapters ever again.

 

Seeing the resistance draining out of him, Apollo gently pulled Percy back into a hug. Poseidon and Triton gripped him tightly too.

 

His whole body tingled with power, but the anger was subsiding. The broken glass inside him was beginning to smooth at the edges.

 

Dionysus frowned. He wondered if Percy had somehow been so horrified by his scaring Annabeth or made to feel so afraid of his own power that he actually managed to stop his ascent into godhood. He hadn’t thought it was possible, but there had only ever been one case before, him, and he had never been afraid of his powers. Not really. But Percy was also strong enough to overpower a primordial goddess, who knew what he could do through sheer force of will.

 

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, okay.”…He felt more solid, more like himself. But his mind still felt stuffed with cotton.

 

“Nothing new there then,” Nico teased. Percy gave him a wan smile, tinged with gratefulness, for her attempt at humour.

 

“She said something about feeding us to the night,” he remembered…“that she meant Night, with a capital N. After all, I am the only one.”

 

“HOLY SHIT!” Thalia screamed.

 

“HOW?! HOW DOES THIS EVEN HAPPEN?” Triton yelled in terror and frustration.

 

“Akhlys and now Nyx?” Hades gaped in shock.

 

“How in Hades are you getting out of this mess?” Beckendorf wanted to know.

 

“Run? Very, very quickly,” Reyna suggested weakly.

 

“This is…I don’t even know what this is,” Grover moaned in terror.

 

Apollo and the sea crew had all gone deathly pale, unable to actually form words to express the sheer horror of Percy’s situation.

 

“For the love of all that’s holy.” Will shook his head. “And unholy,” He added.

 

“The chapter is finished,” Hestia announced. Her voice had a small tremor to it as she glanced at Percy. And her brother who was ghostly pale and gaping at his son.

 

“What?” Thalia demanded. “That can’t be it. That was four Percy chapters. That means it’s going to be someone else next.”

 

“No! NO! We need to find out what happens with those two!” Connor yelped.

 

“Well, it will be another few chapters before we do, so let us take a break to process things,” Chiron said quietly. He was staring intently at Percy. Nobody seemed eager to move.

Chapter Text

Apollo was the first one to move. He got up, carrying Percy and left the throne room with Poseidon, Triton and Amphitrite behind him. They walked to Poseidon’s quarters and settled themselves down on the couch. None of them really wanted Percy out of arms reach at the moment.

 

“So, you can control poison huh?” Apollo asked lightly. “Like Will said, that’s pretty cool. If you can pull poison out of people that’s practically healing so you’re part of my realm now too.”

 

“Unlucky Percy,” Triton chuckled.

 

“Oi!” Apollo glared at him.

 

“Enough, you two.” Amphitrite rolled her eyes. “Perseus, what are you feeling about what we read? Right now.” Percy looked at her and frowned.

 

“I…don’t know,” He admitted after a few seconds. “Nothing, but at the same time, everything.”

 

“It was a lot to process,” His dad stated dryly. “I don’t think any of us know how to feel except relieved that you are still alive.”

 

“But aren’t you…I don’t know…I tortured her. I was so angry that I wanted her to suffer.” Percy glanced away in shame.

 

“Yeah. And that’s not like you. But you stopped. However ill-worded your friend’s plea may have been, you were still enough yourself to listen to her and stop,” Amphitrite reminded him.

 

“Plus, in case you hadn’t forgotten, us gods have a slightly different scale for atrocities,” Apollo said. “And I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just saying that we’ve all done plenty of things we shouldn’t have done, that we may or may not regret, so we can understand. If you had been torturing people out of anger outside of Tartarus, we might be a little more concerned. But, the circumstances being what they were, and with how quickly you were horrified by it, I don’t think it’s a big worry.”

 

“Apollo is correct, for once,” Poseidon stated. Apollo stuck his tongue out. “If you had exhibited lots of similar behaviour beforehand, if you hadn’t stopped when Annabeth called to you, then this would be a different conversation.”

 

“Besides, you may have mostly inherited the best parts of your father, but some parts of the sea are uncontrollable, and dangerous,” Amphitrite pointed out. “You need to learn to control it, especially if you are to become a god, but one misstep is not unforgiveable. Especially considering the circumstances. It does not make you a terrible person. Nor does it mean you should not use the powers you have available to you. However good Miss Chase’s intentions may have been, Apollo was correct in that she does not have the right to make you promise not to use your powers. She has every right to express her concern that you are going too far, or to warn you that you may be going losing control. She most certainly has a right to be scared of you being able to torture a primordial goddess, even to save your lives, but not to make you promise never to use them again.” Percy considered this.

 

“Do you think I could control poison now?”

 

“It’s possible but unlikely. The book said something about you shattering something inside of yourself before that happened,” Poseidon shook his head. “I suspect that was you forcing yourself to accept some of your godly powers that were locked inside yourself because your mortal body couldn’t handle it for too long. It’s most likely an indication of at least one of your domains should you accept godhood.”

 

“So will I be forced to ascend more quickly in the future now I shattered something?” Percy asked in alarm.

 

“It said you smoothed it. I don’t know for certain, having been born a god not made one, but I suspect when Annabeth appeared so terrified of you, you forced yourself to lock that part of you down again,” Apollo told him. “Although, it said smoothed over not fixed, so you would probably retain access to any powers you unlocked but slowed down your ascent. It may happen quicker than Zeus’ estimate of twenty, but had you not done that I would bet anything that you would have ascended before you find a way out of Tartarus.”

 

“Honestly, being stubborn enough to halt your own ascension into godhood.” Amphitrite shook her head. “You definitely are your father’s son.”

 

“Your best bet may be to speak with Dionysus,” Poseidon suggested. “As the only one of us who has gone through something even remotely similar. Unless you wish to wait and ask Heracles.”

 

“Mr. D or Hercules?” Percy grimaced. “I don’t supposed there is a third option?” He asked hopefully. Poseidon chuckled.

 

“Not really. There are other immortals who were once mortal, but that is not the same as ascending to a god, especially one of the power that you are likely to wield.” Percy sighed.

 

“I guess I’ll ask Mr. D then.”

 

“Now, no matter how much I wish to find out exactly what happens with Nyx,” Poseidon shuddered at the same. “I think it best we stop reading for the evening and resume tomorrow. We know there will be four more chapters to go before we find out anyway.” Apollo looked like he might protest that but subsided. They could all do with a break from the rollercoaster of emotions. And it had been a pretty tough day for the demigods considering the Percy chapters and all of the things with Nico that felt like years ago.

 

“I have some people I need to talk to,” Percy stated eventually. He glanced up at Apollo who was still hugging tightly enough that Percy couldn’t wiggle free. The god sighed. Then he kissed Percy’s forehead before letting him up.

 

“Are you ok?” Poseidon asked him.

 

“I think I will be,” Percy replied. It wasn’t a complete lie. He certainly felt better than he had an hour ago, but he was still worried. Still, Percy shot them all a smile and then left the room.

 

He wandered to the dining hall where several of the demigods were sitting huddled in little groups, talking quietly to themselves. They all stopped when Percy came in and he had horrible flashbacks to his first summer at Camp Half-Blood. He was saved by Nico waving him over to sit with him and Will. Percy slid gratefully into the seat beside Nico, grabbing a plateful of food.

 

“Wanna talk about it?” Nico asked him quietly. Percy shook his head. Both of them accepted that and went back to talking. Will was currently trying to persuade Nico to have more frequent checkups which the son of Hades was flatly denying.

 

After a few minutes, Beckendorf plopped down next to Percy while Silena took the seat opposite him, next to Will. Neither of them said anything, they just joined in with the conversation. Percy smiled slightly to himself. At least some of them weren’t treating him any differently. Next to join the little group were Clarisse and Chris.

 

“I could still beat your ass, Jackson, kickass powers or not,” Was all Clarisse said. Percy grinned at her.

 

“Go gargle some toilet water,” He retorted. She glared at him, though he could tell it was at least mostly fake. Chris rolled his eyes at the pair and told them to play nicely.

 

Then Katie and Travis walked over. Percy noted that Katie was slightly hesitant, walking half a step behind Travis as they approached. Still, she shot him a friendly enough smile. He saw Travis give her an encouraging look before she nodded. Then she came over to him.

 

“Can I borrow you for a second?” She asked.

 

“Sure,” Percy agreed. They walked to the edge of the dining hall, still in view of the others but far enough away not to be overheard.

 

“I…I wanted to apologise for being so scared of you earlier. I know you saw us,” She added as he opened his mouth to say something.

 

“I don’t blame you.” Percy shrugged. And it was true. He hated that his friends were scared of him at any point, but what he had done was terrifying, so he couldn’t blame them. “I was kinda scared too,” He admitted.

 

“It’s just, we all know how protective you are, of all your friends, but Annabeth in particular. I guess, it’s kind of scary to realise how far you would go. Even in Tartarus.” They often made jokes about how scary Percy’s temper was, although he didn’t get angry often. It was quite different to hear about that temper being used in such a way.

 

“Yeah,” He agreed easily. “I’m with you on that one. I don’t ever want to feel that angry, even in Tartarus.” The thought made him cringe. Katie stepped up and pulled him into a hug. Percy started in surprise before tentatively hugging her back. “Er, thanks Katie. For not being afraid of me anymore.”

 

“You’re still the same old Percy we’ve always known.” She smiled. “And nothing in these books will change that.”

 

“Ah, about that.” Percy sighed. He’d been debating whether or not to tell his friends about possibly becoming a god. Now seemed like as good a time as any. They walked back to the table and retook their seats. Connor had come over, but Thalia and Annabeth were still absent. Percy glanced around and they were all looking at him.

 

“Er…so there is something I should probably tell you all,” He stated awkwardly. “It seems that…I mean I’ve been told that, someday, maybe in a few years, I’m sort of probably going to become a god. It’s my destiny or something. Like my body is a bit more immortal than mortal and I’m going to slowly turn into a god or die.” They all gaped at him.

 

“I suppose that does make sense,” Will was the first one to speak up. "Your blood has always been a bit more goldeny than most peoples.”

 

“What?” Percy stared at him in astonishment. “You noticed that?”

 

“With the amount of times I’ve had to patch you up this summer? Or seen your blood splattered around after a fight? Yeah,” He nodded. “I thought it was a trick of the light the first couple of times. Then I thought it was some ‘child of the prophecy’ thing. Or a ‘child of the big three’ thing. It’s not like we knew any others back then to compare.” Will shrugged.

 

“And you’re only mentioning this now?” Nico raised an eyebrow.

 

“It didn’t seem important,” Will said.

 

“Why have you patched him up so often? Percy can heal himself in the lake at Camp?” Katie wondered.

 

“Er,” Will glanced awkwardly over at Percy who grimaced but shrugged. “His first summer at Camp, Percy got quite a few injuries from being people a bit rough in sword training. And even though water could heal him, he didn’t want to do it because he thought it would freak people out even more. So he went to Eric, who was the head healer before me. When he left for college, he told me about it, and I continued looking after Percy when he didn’t want to heal himself with water. Or on our missions this summer when there wasn’t any water around.”

 

“Oh gods,” Travis winced. “I’m so sorry.” Percy shrugged.

 

“It was a long time ago. And it was mainly the Ares kids.”

 

“That doesn’t make it ok,” Clarisse scowled. She thought she had ordered her cabin to stay away from Percy during the time before his first quest. She’d wanted to pulverize him several times, but didn’t.

 

“Coming from the one who attacked him five on one during capture-the-flag,” Connor glared at her. Clarisse shrugged. She was more upset that her cabin had disobeyed her orders. Although, having heard everything from Percy’s point of view, she did feel a little bit guilty, but she would never, ever say that out loud.

 

“Can we talk about something else?” Percy asked.

 

“Nope. We still need to actually talk about you being destined to become a god,” Nico stated. “Will’s right, it makes sense, but how long have you known? How does it work? Are you going to be ok? Are you going to become a god?”

 

“Wow, flashbacks to ten-year-old Nico right there,” Michael chuckled. Nico glowered at him.


“I’ve known for a couple of days. Zeus saw my blood in our big three fight and knew. He told me some point later and I confirmed with Hestia. I don’t really know how it works. Apparently, I have too much godliness in my blood and it’s slowly burning through my mortal body. And it will kill me if I choose not to let it turn me into a god.”

 

“Wow,” Beckendorf whistled. “Are you ok?”

 

“I don’t know,” Percy admitted. “But I thought you guys should know. I don’t really want to talk about it anymore.” They all nodded. They definitely wanted to know more, but Percy had had his privacy invaded enough over the last few weeks.

 

“Well, just so you know, we think you’d make an awesome god,” Silena smiled at him. “You’d definitely be all of our favourite.” Percy returned her smile. Just as he opened his mouth to reply, a voice came from behind him.

 

“Perseus, I believe you wished for a duel.” It was Dionysus. Percy turned around; eyebrows raised in surprise.

 

“I did,” He agreed.

 

“Well then, now is your chance.” All of the demigods looked excited by this. “Only Percy and myself,” The god declared. They all groaned. Percy stood up and said goodbye to his friends. He walked to the training area with Dionysus. It was an odd silence between them. Not quite awkward, but not quite comfortable either.

 

Once they were in the sparring area of the training room, Dionysus took out his thyrsus. Percy drew riptide. They stared at each other for a moment. Then, in a split second, the god lunged at him with his staff. Percy leapt backwards, only just avoiding the strike. He’d barely even seen Dionysus move. Apparently, the god was much quicker than Percy had ever anticipated. He tried not to underestimate opponents, but it really was hard to see pot-bellied, lazy Mr. D as a proficient melee fighter, but that did seem to be the case. He also had a longer reach with his thyrsus than Percy did with riptide.

 

Percy dodged another swipe, but this time forced himself into a forward’s roll, springing up right in front of his opponent, already slashing at Dionysus’ side as he rose. The god somehow managed to block his strike and forced him backwards once more with a flurry of blows. Percy reassessed. He spent a few moments on defense, getting a sense for the god’s fighting style.

 

“Not a terrible performance so far,” Dionysus drawled after another few minutes of tentative testing out of each other’s abilities. “Though I’m not sure how you stood up to a titan.” Percy would have glared, but he was too busy ducking under a blow aimed at his head. As he straightened back up, he missed the thyrsus coming back and it thudded right into his nose. His eyes immediately welled with tears as he gasped in pain. Instinctively he threw himself backwards and the whistling in his ear told him he had just about avoided another strike.

 

Percy could feel blood dripping down his face and his vision was still blurred from the tears. He took a second to wipe his eyes and saw Dionysus was staring intently at his face. Percy tried to take advantage of his momentary distraction to lurch forwards and feign a swipe to Dionysus’ left. The god went for it. Percy twisted on the spot and struck the god’s right arm, drawing ichor.

 

They continued sparring for a while. It was far from the anger driven fight Percy had originally intended, but having heard what happened in Tartarus with Akhlys, he was glad. The last thing he wanted was to fight for revenge right then. So, it turned into more of a training session. Dionysus was much better than Percy had given him credit for, and it was a fairly even fight in the end. Eventually Dionysus called it to an end.

 

“Not bad. Maybe we aren’t doomed after all.”

 

“Not too bad yourself, for an old man,” Percy shot back. The god arched an eyebrow and then simply rolled his eyes.

 

“I see you are more like me than I had realised,” He stated after a few moments. “Going to annoy me for the rest of eternity, are you?”

 

“What?” Percy blinked in surprise.

 

“I had a suspicion from the chapter, but that blood all over your face confirms it. You’re on the way to becoming a god,” Dionysus stated confidently. “And you probably think that sucks. That Fate has taken away your choice. And whatever other things you brats like to whine about.” He sighed deeply. “You’d be right. It’s terrible. Some days I regret accepting my immortality. But you, Jackson. You are different. You’ve changed things. For the better, I think. But I think that we need you around to keep those changes in place. And honestly, I don’t think even Hades deserves to be stuck with you in his realm for all eternity.” Percy couldn’t help chuckling.

 

“Does it hurt?” He asked. He hadn’t meant to. It was just the first thing out of his mouth.

 

“Physically? Yes. Every part of your body is destroyed and replaced. Emotionally? Also, yes. It takes a lot of adapting to become a god when you’ve been mortal. All of your emotions will be heightened. As mortals, you cannot comprehend the depth to which we feel.” Dionysus looked at him, with something akin to sympathy in his eyes.

 

“Did you feel something cracking? Like my future-self did?”

 

“Not quite,” He admitted slowly. “I never attempted to force an ascension like you did. I accepted godhood from my father before my body made the choice for me. I was made into a god at least a year before it was expected that I would ascend naturally. But when I was granted godhood, I felt something more like a flood being released than something breaking.” Percy sighed.

 

“Do you think I should do it?” He asked quietly.

 

“I think only you can make that choice. Not me, not your father and certainly not Apollo. You have to work out if you can live with being immortal and watching all of your other friends die,” Dionysus told him in the gentlest tone Percy had ever heard him use. “I won’t lie. It will be hard. You will have to learn to control yourself. When you become a god, everything his heightened. Your powers, your emotions, everything. And if you get angry and lose control for even a second, mortals will probably die. And accidents are likely in the first few years, particularly given the power it looks like you’re going to have. Can you live with that? Although, I suppose if anyone could be stubborn enough to control himself through sheer force of will, it would be you. But you’re going to have a problem if you try and do things the way you would as a demigod. In that book, you halted your ascension because you were making Anniebell afraid. When you’re a god you can’t just block your powers like that. You can’t just try not to use them, or it will reach an explosive point, and everything will be worse. I suspect your future-self is going to have some repercussions from stopping the ascension, it would be worse as a god. If you chose to become a god, but become so afraid of causing an accident, it won’t end well, so you need to be prepared.”

 

Percy frowned. He didn’t like the sound of accidents. Or of exploding things if he tried not to use his powers. His friends had said nothing would make them look at him differently. But if he caused hundreds, maybe thousands of mortal deaths as a god, even by accident, would that still stand? Could he live with himself? Well, he would have to if he was immortal. But was he prepared for something like that to happen? Nope. Definitely not. Still, he appreciated Dionysus’ honesty.

 

“Thanks,” He said. “I guess I have a lot to think about.” The god nodded.

 

“Good luck.”

 

Percy watched him walk off, unable to quite wrap his head around the fact that he had just had a very civil conversation with Mr. D who had actually given him advice. Useful advice at that. He had so much to think on, he didn’t even know where to start.

 

“Feeling alright there, punk?” Ares’ voice sounded from behind him. Percy jumped. Reaching for riptide. He hadn’t even heard the god approach. Ares chuckled.

 

“Yeah, fine.” Ares raised a disbelieving eyebrow at that. “I was just talking to Mr. D about becoming a god. He mentioned accidents.” The god winced slightly.

 

“Oh yeah. He had a few when he first joined us. But that was different from your circumstance.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Firstly, it was the first time it had happened. Nobody knew what to expect. None of us exactly sat down and told him what it was like to be a god. And none of us had been born a demigod so we couldn’t tell him what would happen. The first decade or so he had power outbursts. Sent quite a few mortals insane. Made Apollo insane briefly too.”

 

“He did what?”

 

“He was having an outburst and Apollo was trying to find out what was wrong. As soon as he touched Dionysus he was affected by his insanity. As he’s a god it didn’t last long. Nobody really noticed much of a difference really.” Ares smirked. Percy glared at him but there was no heat in it.

 

“But if I’m as powerful as everyone think I will be as a god, how much worse would it be?” Percy wanted to know.

 

“Nobody knows.” Ares shrugged. “We don’t know exactly how powerful you’ll be. What I do know, is that you’re far more prepared than D was. And he got a lot better after he made Ariadne immortal and married her. She grounded him. You already have Apollo to do that. And your dad. And if you just need a good workout to work through some anger rather than using powers, I’m always willing to smack you into the dirt.”

 

“You couldn’t do that when I was twelve,” Percy deadpanned. Ares glowered at the reminder. “What makes you think you could do it when I’m a god.”

 

“I won’t have to hold back,” Ares reminded him. “And I definitely won’t be underestimating you.” They smirked at each other. Then Percy sighed. He still needed to talk to Thalia and Annabeth. They both deserved to know about him becoming a god. And he needed to talk to Annabeth about what they had read. Ares seemed to sense his shift in mood. “Off you go. Do what you need to do.,” The god told him. Percy nodded and set off.

 

*********************************************************

 

As soon as Apollo left the room with Percy, Thalia had dragged Annabeth outside and into one of the free living-rooms down the hallway. Connor had quickly followed. Once they were inside, Thalia pulled her into a tight hug.

 

“I’m so glad you’re alive.”

 

“None of this has happened yet,” Annabeth reminded her, but she returned the hug just as tightly.

 

“And hopefully it’s never going to,” Connor muttered.

 

“Are you ok?” Thalia turned back to Annabeth as they all sat down. Annabeth sighed.

 

“I don’t really know. I just…that was intense. And I’ve never seen, or heard, Percy being so…angry.”

 

“Intense is an understatement,” Connor said. “I still can’t believe Percy overpowered a primordial with her own domain. I mean, controlling poison is cool and all, but that’ just…” He trailed off.

 

“But he broke something inside himself to be able to do that,” Thalia pointed out. “I don’t think our Percy in here could do it.”

 

“Which I’m kind of glad about,” Annabeth admitted quietly. Thalia studied her for a second and sighed.

 

“Connor, can we have a minute?”

 

“Uh, sure?” He frowned. “Just, I don’t blame you for being scared in there. I think we all were, and we didn’t have to actually see what was happening. But I think you should talk to Percy about it. I think we all kinda need to talk about it.”

 

“I will,” Annabeth promised. “And, thanks Connor.”

 

“No problem.” He grinned, hugging her briefly before exiting the room.

 

“Now, I don’t think you were terrified because Percy was overpowering Akhlys, were you?” Thalia looked at her friendly sadly.

 

“I don’t think so. It would have been a shock, but I would probably have left it to talk about later if he had just overpowered her, but he was torturing her! With poison. And Luke…” Annabeth trailed off, despair in her voice. “He tried to kill Percy with a poisonous scorpion. He poisoned your tree. He used a lot of poison when he was working for Kronos.”


“So, you saw someone you love, looking all angry and vengeful while torturing someone with poison and had Luke flashbacks. That’s not surprising,” Thalia said. “Especially considering I know you’ve often compared the two before.” Annabeth looked a little guilty at that.

 

“I know Percy wouldn’t hurt me, or anyone at Camp. This is the same guy who would knock out enemy demigods if he could rather than kill them even if it caused more trouble for himself.”

 

“Hey, you were in Tartarus. After swimming in a river of misery. And being cursed to think Percy abandoned you. You’re allowed to have a bad moment. But normally, if you or Percy have a bad moment, the other one is there to pick you back up again. This time, you both had a bad time at the same time and that’s not great. It leads to misunderstandings. And we know Percy takes things harder than pretty much anyone else. Just talk to him. I’m sure he will understand and won’t hold it against you. As for Apollo and Poseidon, well, we know god can be assholes sometimes.”

 

“It sucks getting yelled at for stuff I haven’t even done yet, but honestly, I kind of wish my mom would be as protective as those two. She told Percy off once and then just…nothing.” Annabeth sighed, trying not to cry. It seemed like everyone else in here was getting closer to their parents. And Percy had already been pretty close to his dad. Although, once upon a time, Annabeth had thought she had her mom were close. But everyone else spent time with their godly parents during breaks and their parents stuck up for them in the readings. Her mom? Her mom sent her on some deadly quest with no help, even taking away her magic item and then constantly tried to defend that decision. There had been that one conversation where Annabeth thought it might get better, but no. Even Zeus had spent more time with Thalia and Jason.

 

Thalia gave her a sympathetic look. “Yeah. That’s pretty rough. I wonder if the powers that be could bring Malcom here, at least give you some sibling support.”

 

“I’ve got you,” Annabeth shrugged. “And Connor now.”

 

“Yeah. We totally need to talk about that,” Thalia raised her eyebrows. Annabeth tried very hard not to blush.

 

“I don’t think we do.”

 

“Definitely do.”

 

“Nope! Not happening.”

 

“Spoilsport,” Thalia pouted. Annabeth rolled her eyes. “Are you doing ok now?”

 

“I think so. I need to talk to Percy.”

 

“Well, I’m starving, so let’s eat first,” Thalia stated.

 

“You’re always hungry,” Annabeth pointed out. But she headed towards the dining room with Thalia. The Greek demigods all seemed to be sitting together, but Percy was nowhere to be seen.

 

“There you guys are,” Connor smiled, shifting up to make room for them both. “Percy left with Mr. D about five minutes ago.”

 

“With Mr. D?” Thalia asked in astonishment.

 

“Yeah. They went to fight but he forbade us from watching.”

 

“And you listened?” Annabeth raised an eyebrow.

 

“Er, yeah. We had a lot to talk about here.” Connor shrugged. “Did you guys know?”

 

“Know what?” Annabeth asked.

 

“About Percy,” Travis said.

 

“What about Percy?” Thalia questioned.

 

“I guess not then,” Chris shook his head. “Well, we’d best let Percy tell them.”

 

“Tell us what?” Thalia asked in annoyance.

 

“Nothing,” Nico denied. She pinned him with a glare, but he seemed unbothered. “It’s Percy’s business. So, he will tell you when he’s ready.”

 

“You doing ok?” Grover asked Annabeth quietly as everyone else resumed their previous conversations about Percy’s poison power. She nodded. He reached over and squeezed her hand before turning to Michael about something.

 

Annabeth waited for another ten minutes or so before heading off to try and find Percy. As she arrived in the training area, she saw him deep in conversation with Dionysus. She couldn’t hear what they were saying and soon the god left. As she was about to head over, she spotted Ares walk up behind Percy. They spoke briefly, still too quiet for her to hear and then Percy started heading in her direction. She stepped into the training area. He froze when he spotted her.

 

“Hi,” She said awkwardly.

 

“Hey,” He replied, just as awkwardly.

 

“Can we talk?”

 

“Sure.” They both just stood there for a moment before heading off to the closest room. Once inside they just stared at each other.

 

“I’m sorry…”

 

“I’m sorry…” They both began in unison. Percy gestured for Annabeth to go first.

 

“Ok. I’m sorry that I might have made you scared of yourself and made you promise not to use your powers. But I think my future-self was worried that you…” She paused, choking on the words. “That you were following in Luke’s path. He used the scorpion to poison you, he poisoned Thalia’s tree. He started using poison once he started following Kronos.”

 

Percy sighed. He really should have expected that, but he hadn’t even thought about Luke using poison. Part of him felt like he should be hurt that Annabeth ever thought he could hurt her like Luke had. But then he thought about what they had read, and he couldn’t find it in him to blame her for that. Especially as his future-self had already thought about how he understood how Luke had turned so bitter. Not that future-Annabeth would have known he thought that, but still.

 

“I’m sorry that I lost control and made you scared,” He replied. “And I don’t know, maybe you being scared is the only reason future-me stopped. We’ll probably never know exactly why either of us did those things, even these books don’t capture every single thought. But I don’t ever want to experience that. We were both right and both wrong at the same time.” Annabeth’s face twitched slightly at that, but she gave a stiff nod.

 

“Still friends?” She asked tentatively.

 

“Always,” He promised.

 

“So, what was everyone in the dining hall talking about? Something you had to tell me and Thalia.”

 

“Oh. That.” He grimaced. “I only want to have to say this once more, so let’s go and get Grover and Thalia.” They walked back to the dining hall in companionable silence. Everyone turned to look at them as they walked in. Percy gestured to Grover and Thalia. The four of them headed to get some privacy.

 

“So, what’s going on?” Grover asked once they got settled.

 

“I, er…I’m sort of destined to either become a god or probably die before I hit twenty.”

 

“WHAT?” All three of them yelped at the same time. Percy tried to explain as best as he could.

 

“Hey, I won’t be the only immortal one,” Thalia smiled happily. “As long as you decide to take it.”

 

“I honestly don’t know what I will decide yet,” Percy told them.

 

“Well, we’ll support whatever you decide,” Annabeth promised.

 

“You could come and be the Camp Director instead of Mr. D,” Grover suggested.

 

“Well, it sounds like you still have some time to decide,” Thalia stated. “And it definitely explains a lot.”

 

They talked for a long while about what it could mean, and the pros and cons of being a god. But they all accepted it without too many difficult questions that Percy didn’t have an answer for. They were obviously surprised and worried, but that worry was for him.

 

Eventually they all decided to head straight off to bed, as it had been announced that they wouldn’t continue reading until the morning.

 

****************************************************

 

The Romans watched as the Greeks slowly huddled together around Percy in the dining hall. None of them knew quite what to make of the whole situation. It was a little terrifying to realise that the Greeks had someone that powerful on their side. Even if they were allies now, there was still a little spark of inherent fear and distrust, especially around something like this. Frank and Hazel were both the most clearly on Percy’s side. They were definitely afraid of how much power Percy had, but they both had heard enough, and spent some time with him here, to be confident he wouldn’t use it against them.

 

Hazel could definitely relate to having powers you were afraid of, powers that could do a terrible amount of damage to innocent people. So, after her initial shock and fear, she mostly just felt sorry for Percy. She hoped that being in Tartarus was the only reason for his actions, but she felt bad that he had been made to feel afraid of himself and his powers.

 

“How could anyone do that?” Dakota wondered quietly. “He overpowered her with her own domain, which he shouldn’t even have power over.”

 

“I think we all know by now that Percy Jackson is…different,” Reyna stated slowly. “But I believe it for the best that we are now allies with the Greeks.”

 

“Are we?” Octavian demanded. “Are we actually allies, or have we all just heard that we are supposed to be allies and be told what to do by a bunch of books?”

 

“We are allies,” Reyna glared at him. “With the threat of Gaea coming, we cannot afford to be anything else. Gaea will try to drive our camps apart. Besides, do you really wish for Percy Jackson to become your enemy, Octavian?” The former augur glared at the floor. “I am not saying they will be our best friends, or that you even have to like them. I am saying that we will work with them to save our world. I work towards the safety of our camp and what is best for Rome. Gaea rising is not good for anyone.”

 

“There is still the matter of Praetorship,” Gwen reminded them. “If Jason wants to join the Greek camp and not retake his place.”

 

“Bah!” Octavian sneered. “He does not deserve to be our Praetor, if he is that willing to give it up to go and chase the daughter of Aphrodite to the Greek camp.” Reyna pursed her lips.

 

“And you think you deserve to be Praetor. After we heard that you would murder a member of your own legion in cold blood,” Frank glared at him angrily. “It might have been in the future, but that’s not very far in the future for us. So, if you’d be willing to do it then, you’d be willing to do it now.”

 

“I have no doubt none of you would accept me as a Praetor,” Octavian scowled. “Despite my unwavering dedication to Rome.”

 

“To yourself you mean,” Dakota spat. “Murdering Gwen did nothing for Rome.”

 

“Anyway,” Hazel cut in. “This development with Percy’s powers changes nothing. It’s just even better for us that he is on our side.”

 

“Changes nothing? How can we be true allies if they have someone who could probably level our camp without even trying?” Octavian demanded. “They could demand anything or send Jackson over to cause an earthquake or something.”

 

“They wouldn’t do that,” Frank snapped.

 

“Just because you’ve spent a couple of days getting all pally with them, doesn’t mean they aren’t faking it.”

 

“Yes, it does. You’re just too blind to see it. The only reason the Greeks would even consider doing something like that is if we attack them for no reason. The same way we responded in the future to an attack on our camp,” Hazel stated. “And even then, I doubt Percy would actually agree to cause an earthquake in our camp. So shut up.”

 

“Well said,” Frank smiled at her. They talked some more, ignoring Octavian, before Chiron came in and announced there would be no more reading that evening. Then they headed to their various rooms to get some sleep.

 

******************************************

 

The next morning, everyone was eagerly anticipating what would happen with the day’s readings. They were desperate to find out what happened to Percy and Annabeth, not to mention where Leo had been blasted off to.

 

They were all up early, eating a quick breakfast before heading to the throne room. The beanbag was still in place, so the demigods all piled on together. Poseidon, Apollo, Triton and Amphitrite joined them. As did Hermes. Octavian and the rest of the gods took the armchairs that had appeared around the beanbag.

 

Everyone stared at the book like it might bite them, and nobody spoke up, volunteering to read. Eventually Rachel grimaced and picked up the book, turning to the correct page.

Chapter Text

The way Leo figured it, he spent more time crashing than he did flying.

 

“Sounds like you,” Piper giggled.

 

“We spent plenty of time flying on Festus,” Leo protested.

 

“And how many times did we crash?” Jason asked dryly. “Even if wasn’t anybody’s fault,” He added quickly. Leo grimaced.

 

If there were a rewards card for frequent crashers, he’d be, like, double-platinum level.

 

“There totally should be a rewards card for that,” Percy grinned.

 

“No,” Annabeth, Thalia and Nico all denied flatly. “You don’t need anymore encouragement to crash,” Nico told him.

 

He regained consciousness as he was free-falling through the clouds…Now he was on his way down, heading for his biggest crash ever.

 

“Oh gods,” Beckendorf winced.

 

“Please tell me you can invent some kind of device to help you land without dying?” Travis asked.

 

“I certainly hope so,” Leo replied nervously.

 

The clouds parted around him. He saw the glittering sea far, far below. No sign of the Argo II. No sign of any coastline, familiar or otherwise, except for one tiny island at the horizon.

 

Hephaestus frowned. Then he glanced at Percy with a bad feeling.

 

Leo couldn’t fly. He had a couple of minutes at most before he’d hit the water and go ker-splat…The sea got closer and closer—a glittering expanse of slap-you-in-the-face death.

 

Most people snorted in amusement at that.

 

“Come on, Leo. You can do this,” Connor urged.

 

He yelled in defiance and punched the sphere’s override switch…At least nobody’s around, he thought bitterly, or I’d be a demigod joke forever.

 

Leo grimaced. Just his luck everyone would be able to hear about it instead.

 

“That’s not true,” Michael frowned. “At least you’re able to build your way out of it. A lot of us would be stuck, I mean, it’s kind of hard to shoot your way out of crashing.”

 

“And kind of hard to charm the sea into not killing you on impact,” Silena added.

 

“Hmm…safety net arrows?” Apollo mused to himself.

 

What was the last thing to go through Leo’s mind? The Mediterranean…The engine coughed, and Leo tilted sideways, slicing through the air.

 

“Yeah!” All the Greek demigods cheered.

 

“Good work,” Beckendorf smiled. Hephaestus breathed a sigh of relief.

 

“YES!” he yelled…sphere turned lava-hot and the helicopter exploded, shooting flames in every direction.

 

“Oh gods!” Piper grimaced.

 

If he hadn’t been immune to fire, Leo would have been charcoal. As it was, the midair explosion probably saved his life.

 

“Huh? Midair explosions don’t sound good or healthy,” Michael frowned.

 

“Maybe it blasted him somewhere softer to land,” Will suggested.

 

The blast flung Leo sideways while the bulk of his flaming contraption smashed into the shore at full speed with a massive KA-BOOM!

 

“Ok, yeah. That would have been bad,” Connor winced.

 

“I have no idea how you made it out of this alive. That’s still one heck of a crash,” Travis grimaced.

 

“His device probably slowed him down enough not to crash at terminal velocity,” Beckendorf guessed. “Plus, the explosion blasted him sideways, probably reducing speed further.”

 

Leo opened his eyes, amazed to be alive. He was sitting in a bathtub-sized crater in the sand…The sphere wasn’t there. His duct tape and rope halter had disintegrated.

 

“Take a moment to be glad you’re alive,” Jason suggested.

 

He struggled to his feet. None of his bones seemed broken, which was good;

 

“That’s very good,” Beckendorf pointed out.

 

“Yeah. Definitely good considering how far you fell,” Piper agreed.

 

but mostly he was worried about his Archimedes sphere…that stupid snow goddess Khione and smack her with a monkey wrench.

 

“I would love to watch that,” Jason chuckled.

 

He staggered across the beach, wondering why there weren’t any tourists or…Maybe Khione had blasted him out of the Mediterranean altogether. For all he knew, he was in Bora Bora.

 

Percy frowned. That island sounded familiar, including the being blown into the sky and crash landing.

 

“I guess you could try and build a ship or something? Maybe someone on the island can tell you where you are?” Beckendorf suggested.

 

The larger crater was about eight feet deep. At the bottom…pretty impressive for a rush job.

 

“A rush job, that was also made in midair while falling hundreds of feet,” Chris pointed out.

 

The helicopter had apparently crashed onto something…It was still in one piece, which meant he could use it.

 

Leo let out a sigh of relief.

 

Now, if he could just figure out where he was, and how to get back to his friends…The girl’s face was milky pale, with dark, almond-shaped eyes and pouty lips.

 

“That sounds like Calypso,” Percy stated grimly. “That sounds like Calypso, still on her island.” He turned to glower at Zeus.

 

“It has been her home for millennia. Maybe she doesn’t know where else to go,” Hermes suggested.

 

“Considering she cursed Annabeth because Percy left her on that island, I’m guessing she wouldn’t still be there if she could leave,” Connor put in.

 

“Surprise, surprise. Once again, the gods failed to keep their promises,” Percy said darkly.

 

“Hopefully the book will explain what’s going on and why she is there,” Apollo said quickly while the other gods exchanged worried looks.

 

She looked maybe fifteen, about Leo’s age, and, sure, she was pretty…But by all means—let’s talk about your dining table!”

 

A few of the demigods snorted.

 

He snatched up a half-melted goblet. “Who puts a dining table on the beach...“You want to make my curse even worse? Zeus! Hephaestus! Hermes! Have you no shame?”

 

“She’s still cursed!?” Percy yelled. “You’ve had almost a year by this time in the books.”

 

“The majority of which Olympus has been closed,” Dionysus pointed out.

 

“Which Zeus did because he’s a stupid idiot who thought Gaea would go away if he stuck his head in the sand and ignored everything. Because it worked so well with Kronos,” Percy snarled derisively. Zeus glared at him, but he completely ignored this. “You swore on the Styx.”

 

“We did not say it would be immediately. And with Gaea rising, it hardly seems prudent to release those we have kept imprisoned for millennia,” Hera pointed out.

 

“Because they might turn against you,” Clarisse realised.

 

“Who could blame them,” Percy snorted.

 

“None of this has happened yet. Let’s talk about this at a later date,” Ares cut in. “I’d like to finish the book at some point.” Percy glared at him, but subsided for now. He would hear all of this before he ripped into Zeus.

 

“Uh…” Leo noticed that she’d just picked three gods to blame…“It’s not bad enough I am exiled? It’s not bad enough you take away the few good heroes I’m allowed to meet?

 

Percy couldn’t stop himself for glaring at Zeus once more.

 

You think it’s funny to send me this—this charbroiled runt of a boy to ruin my tranquility? This is NOT FUNNY! Take him back!”

 

“Hey!” Leo protested.

 

“You are kind of scrawny,” Piper grinned.

 

“And charbroiled considering you were just in an explosion,” Beckendorf chuckled. Leo pouted at them.

 

“Hey, Sunshine,” Leo said. “I’m right here, you know.”…“I should’ve crashed on one of the other islands. Oh, wait—there aren’t any!”

 

There were more snorts of amusement.

 

She snarled and kept walking along the edge of the water…hair swayed down her back in a mesmerizing kind of way, which of course he didn’t care about either.

 

Leo grimaced.

 

He scanned the sea. Just like he’d seen during his fall…The girl pushed him away. “All right. This spot is good. Now tell me you want to leave.”

 

“Pretty sure it doesn’t work like that,” Percy frowned.

 

“Leo wasn’t sent by the Olympians. Maybe it’s different because Khione sent him?” Thalia guessed.

 

“But Calypso wouldn’t know that,” Rachel said.

 

“What?” Leo’s brain was still kind of muddled from the crash landing…“It doesn’t matter. You’ll be gone soon. You’re obviously a mistake.”

 

“Leo is not a mistake,” Beckendorf frowned.

 

“And his trip to that island was pretty deliberate. I’m guessing Khione knew the gods hadn’t lived up to their promise and that’s why she said Leo would never be able to come back,” Will said.

 

“But would she know Percy made them promise that?” Chris wondered. Everyone shrugged.

 

That was harsh, Leo thought…“Maybe it got stuck in traffic,” Leo said.

 

“I don’t think there is an awful lot of traffic it could get stuck in,” Travis laughed.

 

“This is wrong.” She glared at the sky. “This is completely wrong!”…He looked out to sea. Still no magic raft.

 

“Just great,” Leo sighed.

 

“You’ll find someway off,” Piper said confidently. “Even if you have to build one.”

 

“The magic of the island doesn’t work that way. He wouldn’t be able to find his way without the specific raft,” Hermes told her quietly.

 

He could stand here and wait, but he was hungry, thirsty, and tired…He followed her into the hills.

 

“Done,” Rachel announced.

 

“Who is next?” Percy asked. “I’m dying to find out why you people haven’t followed through on your promise.” He added angrily.

 

“That brings us back to the beginning,” Chiron stated. He took the book from Rachel.

Chapter Text

“Holy Hephaestus,” Leo said…The tops were fitted with a bronze rod that held silky white curtains.

 

Percy smiled slightly. Calypso’s island really had been lovely.

 

Leo’s nose was assaulted by good smells—cedar, juniper, jasmine, peaches, and fresh herbs…He didn’t feel like surprising her when she was armed with a sharp gardening implement.

 

“Probably for the best,” Beckendorf nodded.

 

“Especially as she doesn’t like you very much,” Piper agreed.

 

She kept cursing in Ancient Greek and stabbing at the dirt…Leave me alone.” She waved vaguely toward the south. “Go that way, maybe.”

 

“There must be some other way off?” Jason wondered.

 

“Hephaestus might be able to fetch him,” Hermes suggested. “Once he finds out where he is.”

 

“So, gods can fetch people off that island if they want to?” Percy raised an eyebrow.

 

“Probably not before, but we have already sworn on the Styx to free Calypso from her curse, so it wouldn’t make much difference.” Apollo shrugged.

 

“So, no magic raft,” Leo said. “No other way off the island?”…“Except I suppose he can’t die here, can he? Zeus! This is not funny!”

 

“I suppose not being able to die is there is something,” Leo muttered.

 

“I think she means you can’t die of old age,” Connor told him.

 

“Oh.” He grimaced. That sounded less good.

 

Can’t die here?...She laughed bitterly. “You haven’t lived very long, if you still believe that.”

 

All of the gods shifted uneasily at that comment.

 

“That’s a pretty good attitude to have most of the time,” Beckendorf frowned. “Almost any problem can be solved.” He knew some things, like prophecies, simply couldn’t be worked around or ‘fixed’.

 

The way she said it sent a shiver up his back. She looked the same age as him…the gods vowed to forgive their enemies and offer amnesty. Supposedly Percy made them promise—”

 

“How would she know that though?” Rachel wondered. “If she hasn’t been freed, and nobody gets sent to the island, how would she hear about his promise?”

 

“It sounds like she doesn’t know for certain. Maybe one of the gods visited and let something slip?” Travis suggested.

 

“Or can she talk to animals? Sea creatures love to gossip,” Triton put in.

 

“Percy,” Leo said. “Percy Jackson?”…“—I thought I would be released. I dared to hope…but I am still here.”

 

Percy glowered.

 

“It will happen,” Zeus stated. “Maybe not exactly when you want it to happen. But the spirit of your wish will be upheld even if it is not made this time around.”

 

Everyone looked at him in slight surprise. His face gave nothing away as he gestured for the reading to continue.

 

Leo remembered now. The story was supposed to be a secret…Months later, when Percy had gone missing, Annabeth told Piper. Piper told Jason…

 

“You told people about Calypso?” Percy frowned at Annabeth. Considering how she had reacted when he talked about it, he was surprised that she willingly brought that up with anyone.

 

“Apparently we both did a little too much talking about things we shouldn’t,” Annabeth replied. He nodded, looking unhappy.

 

Percy had talked about visiting this island. He had met a goddess who’d gotten a major crush on him and wanted him to stay, but eventually she let him go.

 

Percy blushed while Apollo chuckled.

 

“You’re that lady,” Leo said. “The one who was named after Caribbean music.”…But Percy said you were awesome. He said you were all sweet and helpful, not, um…”

 

“Wait. Percy said?” Percy gaped. “When did I have time to tell you about Calypso?”

 

“He probably means you told Annabeth that and she relayed that to other people,” Rachel told him.

 

She shot to her feet. “Yes?”…Would you be sweet if they laughed at you by sending another hero, but a hero who looked like—like you?”

 

“What does Leo’s appearance have to do with anything?” Piper frowned.

 

“Well, he’s not exactly the…type of hero that normally end up on her island,” Hermes stated slowly. “Calypso usually has a type.”

 

Leo grimaced. Figured he wouldn’t be a goddess’ type. He wasn’t anyone’s type. Although, he couldn’t say much for his taste in girls considering he’d been infatuated with Khione briefly. His mind strayed to the nymph they had read about. Echo. He wondered if he would be able to help her properly this time. Not just leave her to waste away trying to help that stupid dude.

 

“Is that a trick question?”…The scene reminded Leo of the invisible wind spirits that had served him lunch at Camp Jupiter.

 

“Wish we could do that to clean the cabin,” Chris muttered.

 

Calypso stood at a washbasin, cleaning the dirt off her arms…“You fall in love with them,” Leo guessed. “And then they leave you.”

 

“Which isn’t Calypso’s fault. Or the demigods. That would be the god’s fault,” Percy muttered.

 

“We know. Zeus has said she will be freed. Quit going on,” Ares rolled his eyes. Percy glared at him but there was no heat in it.

 

Her chin trembled. “That is my curse. I had hoped to be free of it by now…“And now…the worst insult of all. The gods mock me by sending you.”

 

“Seriously,” Piper scowled. “What does she have against Leo in particular?”

 

“Well, Hephaestus visits her often apparently. Maybe she knows he’s a son of Hephaestus and think its an insult of some sort?” Pollux suggested.

 

Anger bubbled in Leo’s stomach…and he’d leave Calypso brokenhearted. That magic raft would totally arrive for him.

 

“Not necessarily,” Jason disagreed. “I’d probably be just as annoying about trying to get back to you guys.”

 

But Leo? He was the annoying guest she couldn’t get rid of. She’d never fall for him, because she was totally out of his league. Not that he cared. She wasn’t his type anyway.

 

Leo grimaced. Did this really need to be in the book?

 

She was way too annoying, and beautiful, and—well, it didn’t matter…You’re stuck here the same as me. You can never leave.”

 

“If they have closed it, they can just open it again,” Hazel said.

 

“It’s rarely that simple when it comes to the gods,” Percy sighed. “Who knows how long it will even take them to notice Leo is there if Olympus is still closed.”

 

“That’s not comforting,” Leo winced.

 

“The chapter is finished,” Chiron announced.

 

“My turn then,” Beckendorf sighed. He took the book.

Chapter Text

The first few days were the worst…and apparently the goddess Iris wasn’t interested in nuts and bolts.

 

A few people chuckled.

 

“We need to start making sure everyone has a supply of drachmas,” Beckendorf sighed.

 

“I don’t think it would help in this case. For one, time works differently there and secondly, the magic keeping Calypso at the island would probably stop messages going through,” Connor pointed out.

 

He didn’t even dream, which was unusual for him—or for any demigod—so he had no idea what was going on in the outside world.

 

“Enjoy it while you can,” Percy told him.

 

Had his friends gotten rid of Khione? Were they looking for him…In real life, he’d had none. Khione had simply plucked him off his ship and shot him into orbit. Totally unfair.

 

“Maybe it means your choice is to stay there or find a way back,” Travis suggested.

 

“That’s not a choice. It doesn’t sound like it’s up to me whether I go back or not.” Leo frowned. “But if I can, I’ll definitely be finding a way back.”

 

The worst part of being stuck here? He was losing track of the days. He woke up one morning and couldn’t remember if he’d been on Ogygia for three nights or four.

 

“That is kinda scary,” Percy nodded.

 

Calypso wasn’t much help. Leo confronted her in the garden…and the war with Gaea was over for better or worse.

 

“If it was for the worst, you’d notice even on Ogygia,” Hephaestus stated grimly.

 

“I suppose that’s something,” Leo muttered.

 

Or maybe he’d only been on Ogygia for five minutes…Maybe she just used her generic pattern for SCRAWNY MALE.

 

There was another round of laughter.

 

Anyway, he was glad to have new threads, since his old ones were pretty smelly…except for his magic tool belt and a smoking pair of underwear. Kind of embarrassing.

 

Leo blushed while everyone else laughed even harder.

 

“Why is this even in here?” Leo complained. “This is hardly important, except for how I get out of there.”

 

“It must be important somehow or I don’t think we’d be reading about it,” Piper pointed out.

 

Despite the gifts, Calypso obviously didn’t want to see him. One time he poked his head inside the cave and she freaked out, yelling and throwing pots at his head.

 

“Rude!” Beckendorf protested. “Seriously, why do you like this girl?”

 

Leo shrugged. Honestly, so far, he had no idea either.

 

Yeah, she was definitely on Team Leo…This island was designed to be off the charts, impossible to leave.

 

“If anyone could make something, I’m sure you could,” Piper smiled encouragingly.

 

He remembered the old bronze astrolabe he’d picked up in Bologna…Something about a missing crystal…

 

“So, if Leo got the crystal, he could find his way off Ogygia?” Katie frowned.

 

“I think Odysseus wanted to get back to Ogygia, not get off of it,” Chris pointed out.

 

He walked the beach, wondering why Khione had sent him here…That could be why Calypso was still stuck here, and why the magic raft wouldn’t appear for Leo.

 

“No. The magic wouldn’t be broken because of that. We’ve had civil wars before, and it didn’t affect Ogygia. That’s a permanent curse that has to be actively removed,” Aphrodite shook her head.

 

Or maybe the magic of this place was working just fine…So they were stuck in a vicious circle. If that was Khione’s plan…wow. Major-league devious.

 

“She’s certainly cunning enough for that. And she hates Leo enough,” Hermes stated.

 

“Yay me,” Leo said sarcastically.

 

Then one morning he made a discovery, and things got even more complicated…but what were the chances some of it would hit Ogygia?

 

"Calypso likes to build things.” Hephaestus shrugged. “Sometimes, I send her materials.”

 

Leo found a handful of wires, a few bent gears, a piston that might still work…“Dad? If you sent this here for me—thanks. If you didn’t…well, thanks anyway.”

 

Hephaestus smiled.

 

He gathered up his treasure trove and lugged it back to his campsite…At least he was working, trying to solve his problem.

 

“Nice going,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

“I have no idea what I am making,” Leo frowned.

 

“At least you are trying to do something. And given some of the stuff you’ve made in these books, I think you can do it,” Hephaestus told him. Leo raised his eyebrows and tried not to smile at the praise.

 

The first time Calypso came to check on him, it was to complain about the noise…“Oh, no, not the birds!” Leo grumbled.

 

Most people snorted in amusement.

 

“What do you hope to accomplish?”…a basket of grapes and fresh-baked bread tucked under one arm.

 

Leo grimaced.

 

Leo tried to ignore his rumbling stomach…“You haven’t eaten in two days. Take a break and eat.”

 

“Yes. You still need to eat,” Beckendorf nodded.

 

“Yeah. We need you in good shape for when you get back,” Hazel agreed.

 

“Two days?” Leo hadn’t even noticed, which surprised him, since he liked food…That was completely irrelevant. She looked really good in red. Also irrelevant.

 

Leo grimaced once more.

 

“Really?” He asked himself. “Get a grip.”

 

“I wasn’t sneaking,” she said. “I was bringing you these.”…he’d been wearing the first day he’d arrived at Camp Half-Blood—except these looked bigger, resized to fit him better.

 

“How the heck did she know that?” Piper wondered.

 

“That is pretty weird,” Jason agreed.

 

“She’s a goddess, who knows how she knows things,” Katie shrugged.

 

“Because she shouldn’t know. And I want to know how she’s getting her information,” Beckendorf said. The last thing they needed was for Calypso to be working for Gaea too. The island might be magical, but it could probably be reached by Mother Earth herself.

 

“Seeing the past isn’t overly difficult,” Hermes said. “She could use magic to see Leo’s outfit. It’s how she knows about Percy’s promise that bothers me.”

 

“How?” he asked…“They’ll stay clean and expand to fit you, should you ever become less scrawny.”

 

“Oh, that’s awesome,” Leo grinned.

 

“That’s weirdly nice of her, considering how rude and dismissive she has been so far,” Rachel noted in surprise.

 

“Thanks.” He meant it to sound sarcastic, but he was honestly impressed…I have an interest in your not smelling so bad and walking around my island in smoldering rags.”

 

“Maybe so, but she went to the effort of making his clothes similar to his favourite, rather than just any old clothes that were fireproof and the other stuff. It’s weird that she went to the extra effort, and weird she checked up on what Leo’s favourite clothes are,” Beckendorf stated.

 

“Oh, yeah.” Leo grinned. “You’re really warming up to me.”…Cutting vines with a dull blade is dangerous. And the pruners needed to be oiled at the hinge, and—”

 

“Wow, you’ve been trying to impress her. After everything?” Piper shook her head.

 

“Future-me is weird ok,” Leo muttered, grimacing to herself.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Calypso said, in a pretty good imitation of his voice. “You’re really warming up to me.”…if Tarzan came in extra-small Latino. He couldn’t blame Calypso for backing away from him.

 

“You need to take better care of yourself,” Beckendorf scolded gently.

 

“Uh, it’s a seeing device,” he said. “We found one like this in Rome…A flash of fire raced up Leo’s sleeve. He pulled off his shirt, threw it down, and stomped on it.

 

“Watch and learn, huh?” Connor chuckled.

 

“Damn,” Leo grimaced.

 

He could tell Calypso was trying not to laugh, but she was shaking with the effort…“If you want that device to work, perhaps you should try a musical invocation.”

 

“I guarantee music is not my thing.” Leo shook his head.

 

“Right,” he said. “Whenever an engine malfunctions, I like to tap-dance around it…The screen glowed. In the air above it, holographic pictures shimmered to life.

 

“Nice,” Percy commented.

 

“Is this the past, though? I thought she just said seeing the present is hard,” Dakota frowned.

 

Leo recognized the commons at Camp Half-Blood…His usual friendly smile was gone, replaced with a look of grim determination.

 

“Oh gods,” Katie gasped.

 

“It’s getting too close,” Chris said grimly.

 

Reyna glared at Octavian furiously. They had all known he would not follow her orders, but it was still infuriating.

 

In the distance, Greek triremes floated on Long Island Sound, prepped for war…whacking Romans on the head, stealing their weapons, cutting their belts so their pants fell around their ankles.

 

“Go dwarves!” Leo cheered.

 

“That will help slow them down a little, but not for long,” Travis stated, but he was grinning wildly.

 

“Anything that gives us time to fix things is a good thing,” Jason said.

 

Leo couldn’t help grinning. “Those beautiful little troublemakers! They kept their promise.”

 

Calypso leaned in, watching the Kerkopes. “Cousins of yours?”

 

Everyone, except Leo, chuckled.

 

“Ha, ha, ha, no,” Leo said. “Couple of dwarfs I met in Bologna…When he uncovered it, a golden eagle glimmered at the top.

 

Percy, Frank and Hazel all scowled.

 

“We got that back for you, you little scarecrow,” Percy glowered at him. “And you dare to use that on my friends?”

 

“With all of our Praetors gone, I’m in charge of the legion.”

 

“But your Praetor left you strict orders,” Reyna reminded him. “So shut up.”

 

“Oh, that’s not good,” Leo said…It wasn’t just annoyance or jealousy. He was mad at Percy for hurting this girl.

 

“Excuse you?” Triton glared at Leo.

 

“Future-me clearly doesn’t have the entire story,” Leo stated, hands in the air. “I know Percy did everything he could to free her. And that he had no choice but to leave in the first place.”

 

He refocused on the holographic images. Now he saw a single rider…She was bleeding from cuts on her arms and face.

 

“Reyna!” Jason cried out in alarm.

 

“We all knew the journey would be difficult,” Reyna stated calmly. “I’m still alive and that’s something.”

 

Her pegasus’s eyes were wild, his mouth slathering from hard riding…Your Penelope? Your Elizabeth? Your Annabeth?”

 

“It’s not their fault the gods like screwing with people,” Rachel scowled.

 

“What?” Leo couldn’t figure this girl out. Half the stuff she said made no sense…Leo’s least favorite goddess, the Mistress of Mud, the Princess of Potty Sludge, Gaea herself.

 

“Oh gods,” Beckendorf groaned.

 

“We really need to get rid of her,” Piper sighed.

 

Leo threw a pair of pliers at her. Unfortunately she wasn’t solid…monster they’d fought in the Atlantic. For his money, though, Gaea was uglier.

 

A few of the demigods chuckled.

 

You want to live, Gaea said. You want to join your friends. But you do not need this…while his mother was locked inside the burning warehouse, dying from heat and smoke.

 

Leo shuddered. Beckendorf wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

 

“What I don’t need,” he growled, “is more lies from you, Dirt Face…Ah, Calypso. Gaea raised her arms as if for a hug. Still here, I see, despite the gods’ promises.

 

“Ah, I think we found out how Calypso knew about Percy’s promise. Gaea told her, trying to get Calypso on her side,” Apollo realised. “Maybe she even did it once Percy and Annabeth fell into Tartarus, hoping she would curse them, knowing there was a chance they would run into the Arai.”

 

“That’s…not, actually that’s exactly the sort of thing Gaea might have done.” Poseidon nodded.

 

“I really, really hate her,” Percy grumbled.

 

Why do you think that is, my dear grandchild? Are the Olympians being spiteful…“If you are so concerned with my fate, why do you visit me only now?”

 

“At least she’s not being swayed just yet,” Hermes stated.

 

“Let’s keep it that way,” Percy said.

 

Gaea turned up her palms. The earth is slow to wake. War comes in its own time…He will be yours to punish or to love, as you choose. Only kill this trespassing boy. Show your loyalty.

 

“You will do no such thing!” Poseidon growled angrily.

 

Several scenarios went through Leo’s head—none of them good…kill one annoying guy, get a handsome one free!

 

“Calypso wouldn’t do that,” Percy said, though he sounded a little unsure.

 

“No. She would not,” Hephaestus agreed.

 

Calypso thrust her hand toward Gaea in a three-fingered gesture Leo recognized…The wind ripped Gaea’s form into nothingness, scattering the sand into the blue sky.

 

“Nice,” Frank said. “I wish we could do that whenever Gaea turns up.”

 

“It would certainly be nice,” Hazel agreed.

 

Leo swallowed. “Uh, don’t take this the wrong way, but you didn’t kill me. Are you crazy?”…“Then we have work to do,” she said. “We must get you back to your ship.”

 

“Maybe Gaea’s visit actually helped. Calypso is now fully on your side,” Beckendorf smiled. “And the chapter is finished,”

 

“My turn then,” Apollo sighed. Beckendorf handed him the book.

Chapter Text

Leo thought he’d been busy before. When Calypso set her mind to something…“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were anxious to get rid of me.”

 

“She has spent the entire time wanting you to go away,” Drew pointed out.

 

“Yeah.” Leo sighed.

 

“That’s a bonus,” she admitted. She was dressed for work in a pair of jeans…Looking at her, Leo felt a tugging in his stomach that he couldn’t quite explain.

 

Leo grimaced.

 

“So?” she prompted…I should be able to navigate back to the world.”

 

“Made it without exploding?” Beckendorf chuckled.

 

“I knew you could work something out,” Piper cheered.

 

“It will definitely be good to get back to you guys. I hope it hasn’t been too long.”

 

“Now all you need is a boat.”…“About you getting off this island. Would you want to try it?”

 

“I do wonder if she could leave.” Travis frowned. “If she just hasn’t tried yet.”

 

She scowled. “What do you mean?”…glaring at me and stuff. But I suppose I could stand it, if you wanted to try.”

 

A few people chuckled.

 

“It’s good of you to offer, whether it’s possible or not,” Percy smiled gratefully.

 

Her expression softened just a little…The gods have placed ancient magic on this island to keep me here. A hero can leave.

 

“Could still be worth a shot, just in case,” Rachel suggested.

 

“Well, it’s going to be fixed this time around anyway,” Hermes said.

 

I cannot. The most important thing is getting you free so you can stop Gaea…“I mean, after being away from the world for so long?”

 

“Because if Gaea wins it will suck for her too, stuck on an island or not. Gaea did say she planned on destroying the place,” Apollo pointed out.

 

“Where was this logic when all of you guys made my life way more difficult while trying to save the world?” Percy rolled his eyes. Apollo mock glared at him.

 

“I remember reading about me being helpful on your quest when we met,” Apollo protested.

 

“I don’t.” Percy smirked at him. “I must have forgotten about that part.” The god pouted at him.

 

She arched her eyebrows, as if surprised that he’d asked a sensible question…And your father, Hephaestus, has often visited. He is a good person.”

 

Hermes and Hephaestus both smiled.

 

Leo wasn’t sure what to make of her faraway tone…“You know that flameproof cloth? You think you could make me a little bag of that fabric?”

 

“A bag?” Beckendorf frowned.

 

“It’s probably for Frank. For his lifeline,” Leo said.

 

“Wow. Thanks, man.” Frank looked at him in surprise. He wouldn’t have been surprised if current Leo thought of something like that, but future-Leo? Future-Leo seemed to hate him.

 

“No problem,” Leo told him.

 

He described the dimensions. Calypso waved her hand impatiently…But of course, that was just a general comment. Didn’t apply to Calypso. Obviously.

 

“Obviously,” Drew drawled sarcastically.

 

“Well,” he said, “you could twist some more bronze coils…“Leo and Calypso’s Garage: Auto Repair and Mechanical Monsters.”

 

“Now that’s actually a cool idea,” Leo mused.

 

“You’d be good at it,” Beckendorf assured him. “And Calypso sounds pretty good at mechanical stuff.

 

“Fresh fruits and vegetables,” Calypso offered…She managed to kill her smile. “You are not funny.

 

“I’m with Calypso,” Piper chuckled. Leo pouted.

 

Now, get back to work, or no cider and stew.”…“You’ve made a ship before,” Calypso remembered. “Your Argo II.”

 

“This one had better not take six months,” Jason laughed.

 

“It won’t take long to make a small boat for one person,” Beckendorf said.

 

Leo nodded. He thought about all those months he’d spent creating the Argo II…A smile tugged at the edge of her mouth. “Yes, but will it work?”

 

“Let’s hope so,” Leo muttered.

 

“Getting out, no problem,” Leo said. “But to get back I’ll need Festus and—”…Leo grinned nervously. “Well…to get back here, duh. I’m sure I said that.”

 

“Once the curse is lifted, you shouldn’t need a guidance system to get back,” Hermes stated.

 

“It can’t hurt. The island still won’t exist to mortals, Calypso will just be able to leave,” Hephaestus reminded him.

 

“You most definitely did not.”…“Because you can’t. It’s impossible. No man finds Ogygia twice. That is the rule.”

 

“Rules are made to be broken,” Percy grinned.

 

Leo rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, you might’ve noticed I’m not good at following rules…he asked. “I can’t make cider and stew, and I sure can’t sing.”

 

“Definitely can’t sing,” Jason and Piper agreed at the same time.

 

She stared at the sand…Leo watched in disbelief as a large wooden raft floated in on the tide and slid to a stop on the beach.

 

“But that…” Leo trailed off. He guessed that was the raft that came when Calypso fell in love with a demigod. Which meant she had fallen in love with future-him. But was it really love, or did she just think she loved him because he was so adamant about promising her a way out? He wanted to help her, but not to be just another in a long line of demigods.

 

Leo was too dazed to move, but Calypso sprang to her feet…You must rig up your guidance device to navigate.”

 

“At least you finished the guidance system in time,” Chris noted.

 

“Yeah.” Leo nodded.

 

“Perfect timing,” Connor said.

 

She snatched up the console and ran toward the raft, which got Leo moving…She smelled like cinnamon and wood smoke, and he thought he’d never smell anything that good again.

 

Leo really hoped they finished this soon. And that he kept away from all pretty girls for the remainder of the books.

 

“The raft finally got here,” he said…“Don’t push your luck, Leo Valdez,” she said. “I still hate you.”

 

“That’s a terrible lie. He knows it isn’t true.” Travis shook his head in disappointment.

 

“I don’t think its about the lie,” Silena told him quietly.

 

“Okay.”…She grabbed his face and pulled him into a kiss, which effectively shut him up.

 

The Stolls both wolf-whistled while Leo blushed.

 

For all his joking and flirting, Leo had never kissed a girl before…If Leo had had gears and wires in his brain, they would’ve short-circuited.

 

Leo blushed even deeper.

 

Calypso pushed him away. “That didn’t happen.”…She turned, wiping her eyes furiously, and stormed up the beach, the breeze tousling her hair.

 

Percy felt bad for her.

 

Leo wanted to call to her, but the sail caught the full force of the wind…he understood a line from the Prophecy better—an oath to keep with a final breath.

 

“Leo?” Piper asked anxiously. “Please don’t do anything stupid.”

 

“Stupid is kinda my thing,” He reminded her. “And I can’t do anything about it now anyway.”

 

He understood how dangerous oaths could be. But Leo didn’t care…he said to the night wind. “I swear it on the River Styx.”

 

Beckendorf, Hephaestus, Piper and Hazel all looked at Leo worriedly.

 

“That’s the chapter done,” Apollo announced.

 

“Which means that it should be back to Annabeth and Percy,” Triton said eagerly. Everyone sat up just a little bit straighter in anticipation.

 

“Great. It’s my turn,” Hermes complained. Apollo tossed him the book happily.

Chapter Text

Annabeth had never been scared of the dark. But normally the dark wasn’t forty feet tall. It didn’t have black wings, a whip made out of stars, and a shadowy chariot pulled by vampire horses.

 

All of the gods inhaled sharply. None of the demigods knew what to say.

 

Nyx was almost too much to take in. Looming over the chasm…When her wings beat, waves of darkness rolled over the cliffs, making Annabeth feel heavy and sleepy, her eyesight dim.

 

“Not good,” Connor whimpered.

 

“All of this is not good,” Thalia hissed.

 

The goddess’s chariot was made of the same material as Nico di Angelo’s sword…It also must not have been very good camouflage, since Nyx could obviously see them.

 

“That’s not surprising,” Hades stated. “Nyx is Akhlys’ mother and so a generation more powerful. The Death Mist will fool monsters, and most likely any titans or giants. It won’t fool other primordials.”

 

“At least that’s something,” Apollo muttered.

 

“What about Bob?” Percy wondered. “Will it stop Bob from being able to find us?”

 

“That I don’t know.” Hades shook his head. “It should keep you from his sight, but he might be able to sense you because he knows you and knows you’re there. It hasn’t been tested before.”

 

Annabeth couldn’t read the expression on Percy’s ghoulish face very well…any more than I would let Akhlys kill you. Such fine prizes, I will kill myself!”

 

Poseidon and Apollo both let out tiny, high-pitched squeaks of horror.

 

“Such fine prizes the primordial goddess of night wants to kill you personally?” Artemis asked faintly. All of the demigods looked between Percy and Annabeth in terror.

 

“Well, Percy did just overpower Akhlys with her own domain, and then almost ascend right there. If anything was going to get Nyx’s attention so close to her domain, it would be that,” Ares pointed out quietly. Artemis nodded. Aphrodite looked at her boyfriend curiously.

 

Annabeth didn’t feel particularly witty or courageous…The goddess lowered her whip. “What? No, I didn’t mean—”

 

A couple of people let out half-hysterical giggles at that.

 

“Well, I’d hope not!” Annabeth looked at Percy and forced a laugh. “We wouldn’t want to scare her, would we?”

 

“Oh no. Wouldn’t want to scare her,” Triton muttered.

 

“Ha, ha,” Percy said weakly. “No, we wouldn’t.”…“I mean, I can tell because you’re dark and everything, though the brochure didn’t say much about you.”

 

“Brochure?” Chris blinked.

 

“No idea, but this seems to be one of Annabeth’s talk her way out of it plans,” Connor said. Apollo and Poseidon both grimaced. Considering her attempts to talk to basically anyone in Tartarus so far, they feared the worst.

 

“Well, that’s pretty much our only option,” Percy pointed out.

 

Nyx’s eyes winked out for a moment. “What brochure?”…Now she just had to hope she wasn’t making things worse…though honestly, she didn’t see how things could be worse.

 

“You have a point and that’s terrifying,” Grover muttered shakily.

 

“Anyway,” she said, “I guess the brochure didn’t say much…the poison glade of Akhlys, even some random Titans and giants, but Nyx…hmm, no, you weren’t really featured.”

 

“She’s really going to believe there is a tour of Tartarus for demigods?” Demeter raised her eyebrows.

 

“I don’t think Nyx gets out much.” Hades shrugged. “Her and Akhlys usually stay close to their domains as far as I know.”

 

“But still…” Aphrodite trailed off.

 

“As long as she falls for it and they escape I don’t care how ridiculous it is,” Poseidon stated firmly.

 

“Featured? Spotlighted?”…The Underworld is overdone. Mount Olympus is a tourist trap—”

 

“Exotic destinations?” Apollo choked. Percy shrugged.

 

“Gods, totally!” Annabeth agreed. “So we booked the Tartarus excursion, but no one even mentioned we’d run into Nyx.

 

“They would have told you to stay far, far away,” Athena told her daughter.

 

“We didn’t have a choice,” Annabeth replied coolly. “We needed that Death Mist.”

 

Huh. Oh, well. Guess they didn’t think you were important.”

 

All of the gods cringed at that.

 

“Not important!” Nyx cracked her whip. Her horses bucked and snapped their silvery fangs…She couldn’t be defeated by two demigods—at least not two demigods using force.

 

“Akhlys is also all of those things,” Apollo reminded her.

 

“But Nyx is even more powerful than Akhlys,” Artemis stated. “So, Annabeth is correct in this instance.”

 

Annabeth made herself look at the goddess’s massive dark face…Nyx’s hand went slack on the reins. “None. Not one. This is unacceptable!”

 

“She wants to be bothered by demigods?” Hades raised an eyebrow.

 

“I think she is talking about being considered unimportant being unacceptable. It’s not the lack of demigods that’s bothering her,” Persephone pointed out.

 

Annabeth shrugged. “Maybe it’s because you haven’t really done anything…“Eh,” said Annabeth. “I liked the arai, or even Akhlys better.”

 

“What exactly is the aim here, other than annoying her?” Travis wanted to know.

 

“Probably to keep her talking until we can think of a plan,” Annabeth said.

 

“They are my children as well!”…Old Age! Pain! Sleep! Death! And all of the curses! Behold how newsworthy I am!”

 

“That’s it,” Hermes announced.

 

“Someone read. That doesn’t sound good,” Katie said.

 

“It’s my turn.” Connor grimaced. Hermes handed his son the book.