A pro-tip for all you demigods out there: charging an immortal sorceress with no game plan beyond that is probably the least effective thing you could possibly do as an attack strategy. But in Percie's defense, she was riled up. She had no idea what Annabeth's excuse was going to be, though. If Athena ever got wind of this, the goddess of tactics was going to sit both girls down and give them a dressing-down the likes of which they'd never experienced before. Assuming they lived through this fight, of course.
Percie and Annabeth had only closed the distance to Circe by about two feet before the magic-user vanished into mist. Not one to be deterred, Percie swiped through the blue vapors Circe had left in her wake with Riptide, praying to Ares that she managed to hit something. The daughter of Poseidon wanted her enemy not only incapacitated; she wanted her to hurt. Big-time.
Sadly, Ares was not in a sporting mood. Or he was busy canoodling with Aphrodite. Either way, Riptide went right through Circe's mist-form without so much as a sign that Percie had even struck.
Swearing to herself, Percie spun on her heel, Annabeth coming to her side. With the sorceress now in a much less corporeal form, both demigods were forced to play defensive. "Seriously? I thought you wanted to fight; not play keep-away," Percie taunted, earning a hollow laugh from Circe.
"This is fighting, you little whelp," the sorceress whispered through the air, the blue mist coiling together near the ceiling of the room. "I'm simply taking the precautions my sister should have taken if she wanted to avoid exactly this happening."
"More mentions of your sister," Annabeth gleaned. "Assuming this is the same one you mentioned earlier, then she's the one responsible for the switch-up of the Percys?"
Even though she was mist, Percie would have sworn she sensed Circe roll her eyes. "Ten points for putting together the obvious, daughter of wisdom. Your boyfriend might be a doltish buffoon, but even he had the sense to take an opportunity when he saw it. I intend to give you no such advantage."
The mist the goddess was hiding within sizzled with magic, then illuminated. Percie hit the deck, as did Annabeth. A pulse of sparks went soaring over their heads, right into the wall, leaving behind a scorch-mark the size of a door. Circe didn't let up, shifting in the air. The daughter of Poseidon rolled off the makeshift stage as the opposing ends of the structure lifted into the air, flattening together, then coming towards the middle at high speed. Annabeth thankfully followed her lead, escaping the impromptu bear trap right before it snapped them in half.
"You can only dodge for so long, my sweets," Circe mocked from her little bubble of safety. "I admit, your trick with the sunscreen did irritate me, but I don't need fire to squash the likes of you."
"Oh, will you please shut up?" Annabeth snapped, her legs launching her off the ground towards her opponent. The daughter of Athena braced her sword against her arm before chopping at Circe's form, shimmering in the blue light she'd summoned. Her blade just bounced right off once she got within a foot, though, and Annabeth had to tuck into a backwards roll to avoid breaking her neck on the hard concrete floor of the warehouse.
Not a very reassuring sight, but Percie knew the sorceress had a valid point; you couldn't win a battle by dodging. The problem was, how were they supposed to get through Circe's defenses without getting smashed flat by one of her spells?
The daughter of Poseidon briefly considered the sand dollar her dad had given her the night before; he'd promised he'd answer any call for aid she made. All she needed was a water source... oh, by the Twelve! She'd refused Ganymede's offer of a cup of water earlier! Why did she do that?
Making a mental note to kick herself later, Percie had to act. Now. Just as Circe was gearing up for another shot at Annabeth, who'd rolled right into the side of a chicken coop, the daughter of the sea grabbed a piece of the collapsible barn the sorceress had been working on. Slicing the flat piece of wood into a sharpened end with Riptide, she whistled at the sorceress.
Gods bless her, Circe fell for it. The goddess turned an annoyed gaze towards Percie just in time for the demigod to hurl the homemade javelin right at her face. Of course, falling for the oldest trick in the book didn't guarantee automatic success. The wooden weapon boinked harmlessly against an inner ring of Circe's magic, and crumbled into ash. Well, crap. She'd really hoped that would do it.
"Seriously? Did you just throw my set at me?" Circe outraged, tendrils of magic shooting at Percie. The demigod slashed at them with Riptide, striking most of them away, but one managed to get through, smacking her right in the sternum. The blow knocked Percie backwards, right into the orb Will was being kept confined in. When her back hit the magical cell, Percie felt her body seize up in pain, almost as if she'd taken two strikes from Circe back to back.
The daughter of Poseidon slumped down onto her stomach, the pain nearly causing her to fall unconscious. "I did warn you, dear: that spell takes anything you might try to do to it, and returns it twofold," Circe reminded her.
"Percie!" Annabeth cried out at the sight of her companion collapsing. The daughter of Athena once again tried attacking the sorceress, placing her sword strikes at the flashing bits of the spell Circe had crafted for herself. Each hit seemed to spark some sort of reaction, but Circe didn't seem very put off by it.
"This would be funny if it wasn't so sad," the goddess snarked, before lifting her arms into a pushing gesture. The entire spell seemed to lurch forward, right into Annabeth's front. The demigod reacted like she'd just taken a dump-truck to the face at 45 miles per hour. The force from the attack sent her flying backwards as well, this time right into an empty pen. Her momentum carried her further, over an empty water trough and section of fencing, before landing on an exposed section of barbed wire.
The daughter of Athena, quite understandably, screamed as the sharpened material cut into her skin, all over her back. To make matters even worse, some of the wire itself wound around her left arm and shoulder, effectively trapping her.
Percie saw all this from her spot on the floor near the stage, right under the orb Will was trapped in. Looking over, she could see Nico's orb finally clearing as whatever energy he'd expended faded away. The sight of the son of Hades wasn't a good one. His skin was beginning to sag, giving him a zombie-like complexion. His cheeks had hollowed out, and his eyes were unfocused.
Will didn't seem to be doing any better, even though he was out. Percie's unwanted collision with his cell hadn't only affected the daughter of Poseidon, by the looks of it. The son of Apollo was wincing in throes of agony as his orb pounded against his body. Percie tried to push herself up to a standing position, but her arms only managed to get her up to her elbows, which would have been fine for a yoga class. This, however, was a fight.
Circe looked bemused at the scene before her; pain and suffering everywhere. The goddess hovered over the room, basking in her apparent success for a moment, before gliding towards Annabeth, still pinned down by barbed wire.
"A good try, dear. But ultimately a failure, just like everything else you've ever attempted."
The daughter of Athena had murder in her eyes, but her predicament meant she couldn't stand up and face Circe again. The sorceress chuckled before brining her hands together. "I know I said I'd wipe Percie Jackson out as my first goal, but thinking it over, I've reached a different conclusion as to who I'll end first. Consider it payback for your insulting me at our last meeting on my island."
The magic around the sorceress began to pulse with fervor, and Circe smirked as the tendrils appeared again, swaying in the wind and wrapping against one another as the mist returned.
Percie tried to force her muscles to work, but they stubbornly refused to obey. She was stuck in her upwards-facing dog position. Riptide was useless like this, and there was nothing near her she could use as a makeshift weapon.
The daughter of Poseidon turned frantic glances around the room, desperate for some way to save Annabeth from the magic blast that was sure to be coming any minute now. Water seemed like the primary choice, but she couldn't spot any sources. The room was a warehouse underground; dry and acrid. Circe had probably taken precautions to drain the whole place of any potential fluids that Percie might have been able to use against her.
Not that it really mattered. Circe's shield had proven to be indomitable against everything she and Annabeth had thrown at her. Those tendrils made for a fantastic offense and defense, and the mist swirling around the sorceress made gauging her exact location impossible... wait a minute. Mist.
Percie remembered the elevator trap Circe had set for them. Medea's sunscreen had worked; something that seemed likely since Circe was related to Medea. The fires had been magic in nature, but were still based on nature itself, if such a thing had occurred. If Circe's magic worked like that, was it possible that the mist she'd encased herself in...?
There was no time to second guess herself; Circe was already beginning to unclasp her hands. It was now or never.
Percie reached her hand out towards the magic in the air, and concentrated. The mist was technically fog, and all fog was water vapor. And a lot of it. She'd never tried using her hydrokinetics like this before, but it was the only way to save Annabeth. The air around Circe continued on its course, spiraling together, then stopped.
The sorceress paused to glance at her spell, confusion on her face. Percie closed her hand into a fist, thinking hot thoughts. The mist encasing Circe trembled, then began to combust. The daughter of Poseidon made sure to ignite the outer layers of the spell first, so the goddess wouldn't catch on to what was happening before it was too late.
"What in the-?" Circe sputtered as the air around her heated up. The sorceress's clothes began to smoke as the entire spell succumbed to Percie's influence, which must have finally clued her in as to what was going on. "Why, you little miscreant!"
Circe started slapping at her smoking wardrobe, the tendrils flailing in the heated air as she broke the focus of her attack on Annabeth. If she'd caught on sooner, she might have had a chance. But now that the entire spell was being manipulated, she was boxed in. The sorceress's face morphed into a veil of terror as her body ignited, her entire form going up in flames.
The goddess must not have had some of her niece's sunscreen on her, because she was left howling in torture as the scalding atmosphere she'd created around herself seared her to the bone. Percie didn't dare look away, not wanting to give her opponent a chance to escape the trap she'd discovered, but she could see Annabeth staring at her with a withered expression.
Alister's face back in Tartarus flashed to the forefront of her mind, when she'd tried to smother Akhlys. She'd allowed herself to be stopped that time; after all, misery itself could be explained as simply a part of being human, or demigod. But Circe had no such luxury. All she was was a sadistic, hate-filled witch who tortured people for fun. Would have done the very same to three of her closest friends. Percie didn't hold back. Not this time.
It took several minutes for it to end. Circe's screams died around the half-way point, but Percie was going to be sure. Not a charred atom of the sorceress remained by the time the daughter of Poseidon finally dropped her fist, letting the heat dissipate. When she did, she lowered her head to the stage, planting her forehead down onto the wood itself.
She wanted to stay there, and just let the world go on for a bit without her having to do anything, but that was not how this was going to go. Sighing, Percie was able to grab onto the silver throne Circe had first sat in and hoist herself up to a standing position. The death of the goddess must have had some sort of effect on every active spell she'd cast, because the animals that had been in the pens were no longer animals.
Men of all ages glanced uncomfortably at one another as they got up off all fours. Some looked like day laborers, or park guides. A few had a professional look about them, but the most disturbing one was the goat pen, whom Percie had assured she'd fix. The goats were now a class of schoolboys, looking around in shock in their uniforms.
"Did that just happen?" a redheaded kid asked aloud, his mouth agape.
"Yeah; don't hold your breath, I've seen weirder," Percie wheezed, stumbling over to help Annabeth. The daughter of Athena stared pointed daggers at her as she worked at freeing her from her barbed state, not saying anything. Percie returned it for a moment, then broke it off. She was not in the mood to explain herself just yet. Not when they had so much to deal with.
"Can you take these guys upstairs to Ganymede? He'll need to know his boss just got cooked; literally," was all she told Annabeth.
The daughter of Athena gave a terse nod in response, fiddling in her pocket for some ambrosia. She nibbled on it as she hobbled towards the exit, motioning for all the men to follow her. They didn't raise a fuss, though several of them threw grateful yet terrified expressions at Percie. If she had a nickel for every time that happened...
With the mortals now safe, Percie turned her attention back to the reason she'd come here in the first place: Will and Nico. The two demigods had been released from their magical captivity; Will was still crumpled over on the floor, while Nico was crouched down in a seated position, his knees pulled up to his chest. Gods. They both looked dreadful.
Since Nico was at least still semi-aware, Percie tried interacting with him first. "You okay, Nico?" she inquired, stooping down so they'd be on the same level. The son of Hades didn't so much as look at her; his whole body trembled, his eyes glassy and far away. That was all she needed to change tactics.
Cursing her lack of healing abilities, Percie fished around for some ambrosia. She had no idea the lengths Nico had gone to to free himself before she and Annabeth arrived, so she had no clue as to how much he'd tried to counter Circe's magic. With the spell injuring him every time he tried, his wounds could be monumental. The daughter of Poseidon tried in vain to judge how much ambrosia would suffice, but finally just gave in, grabbing a handful.
"Can you at least eat some of this?" she asked, holding it in front of Nico. No answer, again. Percie had only seen Nicola like this once before: after a particularly brutal encounter with a basilisk in Memphis. The daughter of Hades had the misfortune to make eye contact with the monster, and froze in place. Basilisks had the unique ability to force anyone unlucky enough to make eye contact with them see their greatest fears all collide in their heads, and Nicola had reacted the exact same way Nico was doing now. It had taken Willamina days to coax her girlfriend back to reality.
Will. Percie had been so focused on the son of Hades, she'd forgotten the son of Apollo. Taking a moment to gauge the situation, she placed both of her hands over Nico's. The physical touch sent waves of cold surfing up her arms, but Percie held firm. Nico flinched at the touch, then went deathly still. Percie, as gently as she could, palmed the ambrosia into Nico's right hand, closing it. "I need to check on Will; just try to eat some, all right?" she whispered to him, before crossing the room.
Percie was no doctor, but she didn't have to be a child of Apollo to know the blonde demigod's condition wasn't good. His tan complexion had faded to a sickening green, and his breaths came in rattled, shaky gasps. Taking great pains not to move him too forcefully, Percie rolled him onto his back, lifting one of his eyelids. Will's eye was completely rolled up, leaving her staring at just a white orb.
"Apollo, if you want to drop in with some godly healing mojo, I won't complain," Percie murmured aloud, hoping the god would jump at the chance to help his son. No dice. The prayer went unanswered. "Fine, I'll do it myself." Trying to stay conservative with her ambrosia supply, the daughter of Poseidon broke the food into small pieces, tiny enough to swallow without chewing. Once she felt she had enough, she fed them to Will, having to tilt his head to get the unconscious demigod to swallow.
It took a few doses, but Will's pallor finally returned to a shade that was close enough to normal for Percie to relax. The son of Apollo breathed in contentment, rolling over and wrapping his arms around Percie. Oh, great. That was just what she needed now. Not one to let an awkward situation pass without her input, Percie heaved, lifting Will up over her shoulder as she stood to her feet. She'd seen Willamina do the fireman's carry move with Nicola, so at least this was an inspired decision.
To be fair, her body was still aching from the whack she'd taken in the fight mere minutes ago, and the son of Apollo wasn't exactly a lightweight. Curse those surfer-body muscles. But the daughter of Poseidon was tenacious enough to make it work.
After making sure she wouldn't topple over with her new load, Percie brought Will over to Nico. The son of Hades hadn't budged from his crouched position, but Percie noticed that the hand she'd put the ambrosia in was open. And at least a few nibbles had been taken out of it.
If she hadn't been carrying the son of Apollo, Percie would have broken into a celebratory dance. But since she was, she had to compromise for a more demure response. "Thanks, Neeks," she offered, putting a hand down to the son of Hades.
Nico started at Percie's nickname. It was something she had taken to calling Nicola in more private moments, and while the daughter of Hades never openly acknowledged it, Willamina had confided to the daughter of Poseidon that Nicola secretly appreciated the showing of friendship.
She didn't know if Percy had reached that point with Nico yet, but the use of it was enough to get Nico to at least accept her hand. She pulled him to his feet, but found the son of Hades' grip to be ironclad. That was fine with her; as long as he came along.
With one hand leading Nico, and the other keeping Will on her shoulder, Percie limped towards the exit, both boys in tow. Despite the pain flaring up in her body as she walked, Percie found herself flushed with satisfaction. No one she cared about was dead, which was a massive improvement from how a lot of quests she got involved with tended to go. She'd even slain a goddess, if they really could be killed permanently. Circe's agonized screams tried to press into her mind, but the daughter of the sea shook them out. She would not let herself feel guilty about protecting those she loved. The sorceress had made her bed; Percie just forced her to lie in it.
The answer this day had presented to her was clear: Percie Jackson was not going to pull her punches any more. Not with so much on the line.