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Colors III.

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I.

 

Tori didn’t really know what was going on. She’d been enjoying a game of volleyball with several fellow members of the Hermes Cabin when Katie Gardner came over to tell her she was needed at the Big House.

It was a short walk, taking only a couple of minutes. On the porch were Mr. D and a satyr sitting at a small table, along with Chiron in full-centaur mode and a young boy with black hair and tanned skin. He was holding a black horn in his hand. The Minotaur’s horn, Tori realized. The boy barely noticed her. His eyes were wide and kept flicking from one thing to another. Tori didn’t quite understand what was wrong with him until his eyes landed on her shirt. Then it made sense.

She had known already that there was a new demigod at camp, that he’d fought and killed the Minotaur, and had been unconscious for two days since. She even knew that most of camp thought he was a son of one of the Big Three.

But finding out he had a soulmate . . . that was new.

It wasn’t common for people to meet their soulmate at camp. Hell, it wasn’t common for people their age at all. But it did happen. It happened to her.

Tori made her way up to the porch, giving the new kid — Peter? Pierre? — a friendly smile. “Hi.” She turned to Chiron. “Did you need me, sir?”

“Yes, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving Percy here a tour of camp. I had planned to do it before my next archery class, but things took,” he grimaced, “longer than expected. I’m sure you can imagine why.”

Tori nodded, looking at Percy again. He wasn’t paying attention to her anymore, instead staring out across camp. From here, they could see the strawberry fields; a huge expanse of green dotted by vibrant red.

“Sure, Chiron. I don’t mind.” She waved her hand in front of Percy’s face to get his attention, then gestured to the stairs. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”

Percy followed her somewhat reluctantly, but Tori didn’t mind. Coming to camp, learning what you were, finding your soulmate . . . it could take a lot out of a person.

They passed the volleyball pit. A few kids pointed at them, saying things like, “It’s him,” and, “Oh my gods,” but Percy barely seemed to notice. Tori knew why, even though she hadn’t actually been told. Before he woke up, he’d only ever seen in black and white, the way everyone did at first. But now, without warning, he was being bombarded with colors: the blue sky, the green grass, the yellow sand of the volleyball pit. Even the purple of her shirt.

She tried to stay casual as they walked, not wanting to pry, but she was curious. Doesn’t matter, really. The whole camp will know by next week. It was surprisingly difficult to hide a soulmate bond considering most of the campers couldn’t tell the difference between orange and blue.

“What’s up there?” Percy asked suddenly, snapping Tori out of her mini-reverie. She looked to where he was pointing and frowned.

“The attic?” She shrugged. She’d never been up there herself, and from what Luke told her, she didn’t really want to.

“Does somebody live there?”

Tori considered the question, and shook her head. “No. No one lives there.” The kid had enough to worry about without adding weird, zombie-oracles to the list. “Come on. Lot of places to see.”

They walked through the strawberry fields. Scattered groups of campers picked berries while a satyr played on his reed pipe to get rid of bugs. “We use the money from the strawberries to pay for camp,” Tori explained. Because apparently the gods can’t afford a summer camp for their own kids. Go figure. “Mr. D’s presence makes the plants go crazy,” she continued. “He’s best with wine grapes, but he isn’t allowed to make those.” She wondered if they’d already explained Dionysus’s punishment; she certainly wasn’t going to. Just thinking about that guy creeped her out.

Percy, meanwhile, was staring at one of the little fruits. “Are strawberries pink?”

“No, they’re red.” She explained patiently.

“Oh.” He stared at the berry. He seemed to be thinking about eating it, but tossed it on the ground instead. He seemed upset, and it wasn’t hard to see why. His mom was gone, dead, and he’d woken up to see his whole world changed. She wouldn’t be too excited about strawberries either.

“Come on,” she said, trying to keep him from getting too caught up in the situation, “We should check out the woods.”

The forest took up around a quarter of the entire valley, with huge, thick trees. “There are monsters in the forest for practice, so watch where you walk. You should get a good look at some during capture the flag on Friday. I’m guessing you don’t have any armor?”

“My own what?”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Don’t worry. We’ll swing by the armory later and get you a set to use before you can get something custom-made.”

They visited the archery range (her personal favorite), the canoes, the lake, the pegasus stables, the javelin range, the amphitheater, and the arena. “We have fights here. Swords, spears, nothing too fancy.”

“What, really?”

Tori nodded. “Yeah. Sometimes we have cabin challenges, but for the most part, this place is for training. No one gets too badly injured.” She quietly added, “Usually.” In a louder voice, she said, “And there’s the pavilion. It’s where we eat.”

The pavilion had stone tables and benches, and even some columns for decoration, but no roof or walls. Percy must have noticed that, since he asked, “What do you do if it rains?”

“Oh, the weather just kind of goes around us. You’ll see next time there’s a storm.”

Finally, they made it to the cabins. There were twelve of them, planted close to the lake. They were arranged into the shape of a U, and were incredibly weird-looking, even to her, and this was her fifth year at camp. Percy stared at them with a mixture of shock and disbelief. He pointed to one of them and asked, “What is that?”

Tori looked to where he was pointing and winced. “Yeah, that’s Cabin 7, the Apollo Cabin. It . . . it takes some getting used to.” That was an understatement. The building looked like it was made of solid gold; sunlight made it almost impossible to look at, even for non-bonded people.

They kept walking. Tori answered Percy’s questions whenever she could, but he didn’t know anything, and she didn’t have all the answers.

He looked up at cabins one and two. "Zeus and Hera?”

Tori nodded. “Yeah.”

“They look empty.”

“A few are. Two always is, always has been. Hera’s the goddess of marriage, so she doesn’t go around having illegitimate kids. Eight’s Artemis, and she’s sworn to chastity, but sometimes her hunters stay there. But no one’s ever in one or three anymore.” Tori was ready to move on, but Percy stopped in front of Cabin Three. It was long and low, with walls made of rough grey stone. Tori felt her heart start to race when Percy peeked inside it. “Don’t go in there!”

Percy looked at her. “Why not?”

“Just . . . just come on.” She closed the door and directed him away from the cabin as quickly as she could. She relaxed somewhat when Percy came willingly, but made a note to keep a better eye on him.

Cabin five was bright red and hideous, easily Tori’s least favorite, even without the barbed wire and boar head. Rock music blared from inside, which she usually wouldn’t have minded, but she was tired and the music was way too loud. From the windows they could see Ares campers cheering on arm wrestlers or arguing. One of the campers was Clarisse, a bully about Annabeth’s age. She gave Percy an ugly sneer before she saw Tori and turned away.

“Do you know her?” Percy asked.

“Kind of. No love there.” Clarisse was the one who’d put her in the infirmary a few years ago after Tori grabbed hold of her electric spear. Tori herself was more or less over it, but Luke still held a grudge.

They turned away from the cabin. Tori was glad he didn’t ask anything about number seven. She doubted he’d be able to tell anything about her past with them, but she had no intention of reopening those wounds.

“Are there any other centaurs here? You know, apart from Chiron?”

“No. Most centaurs aren’t as intelligent as Chiron. I mean, they’re not animals exactly , but they’re like. . . like frat-boys. Yeah, technically they have human-level intelligence, but they don’t act like it. They can be pretty dangerous, so Chiron usually doesn’t let them come here.”

Percy thought about that for a moment. “Is he really . . . you know, the Chiron?”

“Yeah. Weird, right?”

“But shouldn’t he be dead?”

“Uhh . . . I don’t really know. I mean, I don’t think he even can die. The gods made it so that as long as heroes need him to train them, he’d still live.” She knew that much from reading the Greek myths. She didn’t think she’d have the nerve to ever ask Chiron himself about it.

They made their way to cabin eleven, the last one on the left. Annabeth was there, reading a book on the steps. As soon as he saw her, Percy slowed down, a blush spreading across his face. A thought occurred to her then. Wait . . . is she . . .

“I’m guessing you two have met?” Tori tried for subtle.

Percy blushed harder.

Annabeth stood as they approached, looking Percy over critically. Oh, this is gonna be a shit show. “Hey, Annabeth,” she said, wanting to see if she’d have any other reaction to Percy’s presence.

She gave Tori a suspicious look. “Hi.”

Oh well, that was fruitful. Tori opened the cabin’s door. Inside, it was packed with people, way more than there was actually room for. Sleeping bags decorated the floor, giving the entire place the air of a homeless shelter. Immediately, everyone looked up at them.

Home sweet home, Tori thought sarcastically. Most of the campers passed over her to size up Percy. He didn’t seem as bothered by it as most newcomers were.

“Well?” Annabeth said. “Go on.”

Percy listened to her, but ended up tripping on the door frame and almost fell. Tori sighed and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Luckily, no one said anything, though a few people snickered.

“Everyone,” Tori called out, “this is Percy Jackson, he’s the new camper.”

“Regular or undetermined?” someone asked.

Percy seemed confused, but Tori just said, “Undetermined.”

Everyone groaned. Tori understood their annoyance, but was still irritated. Come on guys, he just got here.

Just then, someone got up from their bed. Tori smiled when she saw him. Luke. Luke was nineteen, tall, and muscular, with soft blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and a long white scar just under his right eye. But what Percy immediately noticed was his orange shirt.

“Percy,” Tori began, her voice noticeably softer, “this is Luke Castellan. He’s the counselor for cabin eleven—and my soulmate.”

Percy looked between Tori and Luke before quietly saying, “Oh.”

The other campers laughed, but Luke gave them a stern, come on guys, not now, look, before smiling at Percy. “Welcome, Percy, we’re glad to have you. You can have that spot on the floor over there.”

Luke showed him his little section. Percy didn’t have anything with him except for the horn, so he just stood there awkwardly. “Thanks. What does undetermined mean?”

“It means they don’t know where to put you,” Luke explained patiently, “so for now, you’re here. We take all newcomers and visitors since our patron, Hermes, is the god of travelers.”

Percy looked around. Some of the campers looked sullen, some were grinning, and some were eyeing him like they wanted to pick his pockets. Hope he knows to keep his stuff to himself. “How long will I be here?” he asked.

Good question, Tori thought. “Until you’re determined,” Luke said.

“Okay. How long will that take?”

The campers all laughed. Even Tori let out a small snicker.

“Come on,” Annabeth said suddenly, “I’ll show you the volleyball court.”

“I’ve already seen it.”

“Just come on.” She grabbed Percy’s wrist and dragged him outside. The campers laughed at him. A few even woof-whistled. Tori ignored them all, instead taking Luke by the hand and pulling him over to her bed. They lay down side-by side, facing each other. Luke brushed a strand of hair out of her face, his other hand immediately going to trace the scars on her back. “What do you think?”

“About the new kid?”

Luke nodded.

She shrugged. “Powerful. Has to be, to kill the Minotaur.”

“Yeah, but did you notice what I did?”

Tori nodded slightly. “He has a soulmate.”

Luke smiled. “Exactly. Do you know who it is?”

“Annabeth.”

Luke’s head shot up. “What?!”

Tori laughed. “I think so. I saw the way he looked at her. Do you think he’ll be okay?” Percy seemed pretty shaken after everything that had happened in the past few days. She was worried for him.

Luke shrugged, still stunned by Tori’s revelation. “I don’t know.” He rested his head on the pillow, looking past her. Tori didn’t mind. He’d known Annabeth for a long time. She was practically a sister to him. “Do you think he has something to do with what happened at the solstice?”

“I don’t think so. He seems so . . . innocent. He didn’t even know what most of this stuff is. I doubt he could do something so important as to piss of the king of the gods.” Then again, that’s not a very hard thing to do. . . No one was sure what exactly had happened, but sometime after their visit to Olympus last winter, something had angered Zeus. “I hope he’s okay.”

Luke ‘hmmed’ and wrapped his arms around Tori’s shoulders, pulling her closer to him. He smiled and kissed her nose. “Well, whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”


II.

 

Whatever Percy was doing with Annabeth must have ended at some point, since Percy eventually returned to cabin eleven. Tori was pretending she was asleep so she could rest her eyes before dinner. She’d made it to the second half of Chiron’s master archery class and exhausted herself by making up for missing part of it, even if it was Chiron’s idea. Even before that, she’d been tired since she woke up in the middle of the night when Luke started to thrash around from a nightmare. He’d had them ever since he came back from his quest, but they were becoming more and more frequent lately. She didn’t mind waking up with him — he’d done it plenty of times for her — but it was tiring.

Tori looked over to see what Percy was up to. He sat down in his little space, looking lost. She’d heard about what happened with the toilets, but was in no mood to worry about what it meant. She thought about going over to comfort him, but it wasn’t long before Luke, freshly showered and wearing a brown shirt and the Hermes kid smile (trademarked), went over to him. “Found you a sleeping bag,” he said, “And I stole you some toiletries from the camp store.”

Tori smiled and rolled her eyes before turning back over, determined to get some more rest. Still, she couldn’t keep from hearing their conversation.

“Thanks,” Percy said.

“No problem. Tough first day?”

“I don’t belong here,” Percy said, sounding dejected. “I don’t even believe in gods.” Tori winced in sympathy. Been there.

“Yeah. That’s how we all start out. Once you start believing in them? Doesn’t make things easier.” There was bitterness in his voice that Tori found immediately familiar. She wanted to reach out and hug him, but she also didn’t want them to know she was listening to their conversation.

“So your dad’s Hermes?” Percy asked.

Tori heard the sound of a knife being pulled out. Jesus, Luke, don’t gut the kid. He seemed to listen to her since she didn’t hear Percy screaming in pain. Instead, Luke just said, “Yeah. Hermes.”

“The wing-footed messenger guy?”

“That’s him. Messengers, medicine, travelers, merchants, thieves. Everyone who uses the roads, basically. That’s why you’re here, enjoying cabin eleven’s hospitality. Hermes isn’t picky about who he sponsors.” Tori thought he sounded like an ass, but she let it go. Luke had a lot of hatred for his dad, and he didn’t always realize when he let it out on people who didn’t deserve it.

“You ever meet him?” Percy questioned.

“Once.”

There was a brief pause before Percy said, “But aren’t you worried about Tori?”

“What do you mean?” Luke asked, sounding stunned. Yeah, what do you mean, Percy?

“I mean, she’s in cabin eleven.”

“Well yeah,” Luke said, sounding no less confused. “She’s unclaimed.”

“And you’re not worried that her dad might turn out to be Hermes?”

Luke laughed. It was hard to tell if he was angry or not. “No, I know who Tori’s dad is. Everyone does. Trust me, she’s not my sister.”

“Oh. But then—”

“It’s complicated, okay? Basically, even though Tori knows who her dad is, he won’t claim her.”

“Why?”

“Don’t know,” Luke said shortly. Tori could tell he was struggling to keep his patience. “Don’t worry about it. It’s our problem, not yours.”

Tori felt her blood boil with anger at the thought of her father, Apollo. Her twin brother, Dan, was claimed by the god. But he never claimed Tori. She’d never met him. But she could remember when her mom, Diana, died screaming for him to help her. She didn’t want to meet him.

When Luke spoke again, he seemed to have regained his composure. “Really, Percy, don’t worry about it. The campers here are mostly good people. After all, we’re all kind of family, right? We take care of each other.”

Percy didn’t seem too convinced. “Clarisse, from Ares—”

“I know her,” Luke said with disgust. Yep, still nursing that grudge.

“Oh. Well, she was joking about me being ‘Big Three’ material. Then Annabeth . . . she said I might be ‘the one’.”

“Oh?” Luke said. Tori could hear the mischief in his voice.

“Not like that,” Percy muttered. “She said I should talk to the Oracle. What was all that about?”

Tori could just picture the scowl on Luke’s face. “I hate prophecies.”

“What do you mean?”

Luke was trying to stay casual, she could tell, but there was bitterness in his voice when he said, “Let’s just say I messed things up for everybody else. The last two years, ever since my trip to the Gardens of Hesperides went sour, Chiron hasn’t allowed any more quests. Annabeth hates it; she’s been dying to get out into the world. She bothered Chiron about it so much he finally told her he already knew her fate. He’d had a prophecy from the Oracle. He didn’t tell her everything, but he said she wasn’t destined to go on a quest yet. She had to wait until someone special came to camp.”

“Special? And she thinks it’s me?”

“You killed the Minotaur, you’re her soulmate. It fits. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If it’s meant to happen, then it will. And hey, if you need any advice, feel free to come to me or Tori. Especially if it has to do with Annabeth. We’re the oldest soulmates at camp, so we’re pretty good at answering people’s questions about them. Now, come on. It’s time for dinner.”

As soon as he said it, a conch shell blew in the distance, announcing dinner time. Luke yelled, “Eleven, fall in!” Tori heard people shuffling around as they made a line. She stayed where she was, not quite ready to move.

The noise died down. There was a moment of silence before someone stepped next to her bed. “Tori,” Luke said. She ignored him. “You’re not fooling me, Tori. It’s time for dinner.”

Tori twisted around until she was facing her soulmate. Luke was standing over her with a hand resting on the top bunk. One of his eyebrows was raised to form an amused expression.

Tori smiled and reached her hands out to him. “Carry me.”

Luke blushed while their cabin mates laughed and whistled at him. But then he did something she didn’t expect: he leaned down, wrapped his arms around her waist, and picked her up. “LUKE!”

“Yes, dear?” he asked sweetly, settling her over his shoulder.

“Put me down!”

“But I thought you wanted me to carry you?”

Oh, you bastard. The other campers were staring at them, most not even bothering to surpress their giggles, though no one actually said anything. Tori smiled slyly as an idea started to form in her head. “You know what, never mind. You can leave me here. I have a . . . pretty good view.” She didn’t touch his butt because there were kids in the room, but she was pretty sure he got the message. She couldn’t see his face, so instead she asked Connor Stoll, “Is he blushing, Connor?”

“Yep.”

Tori grinned. “Thank you, Connor, that’s all I need to know.” She wasn’t sure if it was pride or determination that convinced Luke to keep carrying her, but he did, only setting her down once they were in the commons yard. Tori stumbled when he did. “Whoa, headrush.” She re-oriented herself, standing behind Luke in the Hermes line. There were several people from other cabins staring at them and whispering amongst themselves, but she didn’t care. Everyone already knew that she and Luke were soulmates and together, so there was no point in hiding.

They marched up the hill to the dining pavilion. Satyrs, naiads, and dryads soon joined them from the fields and lake and woods. Torches blazed around the columns of the pavilion. There were twelve tables, four of which were empty, but cabin eleven’s was way overcrowded. It was a tight squeeze even without Percy, who was only half-sitting on the edge of the bench. Everyone chatted as the campers filled the tables until Chiron pounded his hoof against the marble floor. They all stopped talking then. Chiron raised his glass and shouted, “To the gods!”

Everyone followed his example. “To the gods!” The wood nymphs came forward with plates of food. To her left, Tori heard Luke explain to Percy, “Speak to it. Whatever you want—nonalcholic, of course.”

Tori tried to look around him to see what he was talking about. “Would you move back? I can’t see Percy.”

Luke wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. “Would you rather sit in my lap?”

Tori rolled her eyes. “Stop it.” She looked around him to the newest camper, who was staring at them and holding onto a glass of blue soda. “You okay, Percy?”

He nodded, looking only slightly shell-shocked from the day’s events. “Yeah. It’s just been a long day.”

Tori gave him a sympathetic look. “I heard.”

Before he could ask what she meant, Luke passed him a platter of smoked brisket. “Here you go, Percy.”

Percy took it, but then seemed confused when he saw everyone getting up and walking toward the fire pit in the center of the pavilion with their plate. Luke nudged him. “Come on.”

They all stood up and approached the fire. Each camper took a portion of their dinner and dropped it into the fire. Tori dropped some grapes into it and simply said, “To the gods,” refusing to acknowledge her father. She walked back to the table before the boys did, eager to return to her meal. She ate quickly while people around the table spread the day’s gossip. Tori heard small snippets, mostly about Percy, but didn’t pay them much mind.

Once everyone was mostly finished, Chiron pounded his hoof again to get the camp’s attention.

Mr. D sighed in annoyance. “Yes, I suppose I'd better say hello to all you brats. Well, hello. Our activities director, Chiron, says the next capture the flag is Friday. Cabin five presently holds the laurels."

Behind them, cheers arose from the Ares table. Tori and Luke shared a look. Tori silently said, We’re going to beat them into the dust. Luke nodded in agreement.

"Personally," Mr. D continued loudly, "I couldn't care less, but congratulations. Also, I should tell you we have a new camper today. Peter Johnson." Tori resisted the urge to face-palm as Chiron murmured something to the god. “Er, Percy Jackson. That’s right. Harrah, and all that. Now run along to your silly campfire. Go on."

Everyone cheered and jumped up, heading down to the amphitheatre. There, Apollo’s kids lead a sing-along. Tori joined in despite her hatred for her father, grinning as she sang. Luke sat beside her, his arm wrapped around her waist. Tori leaned her head against his arm, genuinely enjoying herself as they sang songs about gods and ate s’mores and just generally acted like teenagers.

Later, when the conch horn blew again, Tori was perfectly content as she walked back to cabin eleven with Luke. She lay down on her bed and pretended to go asleep. Luke did the same in the bed to her right. It wasn’t long before everyone else actually was asleep. Still, she waited a few minutes before getting up. She walked as quietly as she could until she was standing next to Luke’s bed. He smiled up at her and pulled his blanket aside, patting the bed. Tori sat down, trying not to make any noise as she did. Luke settled the blanket over them and kissed her neck, smiling against her. “Goodnight,” he whispered. Tori kissed his cheek and murmured it back, quickly falling asleep.


III.

 

Percy was kind of useless, as it turned out. Tori tried to help him with archery, but he was so bad that he was deemed a danger to the other students and banned from using the real arrows until he learned how to shoot straight. “Yeah,” Luke said when she brought it up, “he wasn’t good at foot racing or wrestling either.” His face was twisted up the way it always was when he was frustrated. “I just don’t know what to make of him.”

“Think he might be one of Hermes’s?” she suggested, not really believing it. He didn’t look at all like the Hermes campers, who all had a somewhat distinctive look: sharp noses, upturned eyebrows, mischievous smiles. Even Luke fit the bill.

It took three days for them to find something Percy was good at. It was his first sword-fighting lesson, and Tori was already nervous about that. She double checked that they had a first aid kit in the arena, just in case.

Luke was their instructor since he was one of the best sword-fighters in camp (Tori actually liked to think he was the best, but people got upset when she said that). She didn’t really like to train with anyone else, but she thought he might need some help that day, so she joined him in teaching the other campers. It was the beginners class, so they started with basic stuff, stabbing and slashing. The kids had to use stuffed straw dummies so that they wouldn’t hurt each other on accident (hurting each other on purpose was okay). Tori internally sighed in relief when she saw that Percy was actually doing alright for once. The only problem was that none of the practice swords seemed to be the right size for him.

Once everyone seemed to more or less know what they were doing, they moved onto dueling in pairs. Usually she’d be with Luke, but he wanted help Percy today to make sure he got it. And, okay , maybe she was feeling a bit resentful of that, so she told Percy, “Good luck. Luke’s the best swordsman in the last three hundred years.” She smiled proudly.

“Maybe he’ll go easy on me,” Percy said nervously. Tori tried not to laugh.

She was paired with Chris Rodriguez, who was good with a sword, even if he wasn’t Luke. She didn’t want to be tired for her and Luke’s private sparring session later, so she mostly kept to defense. Even then, her long sleeves made it so she was sweating by the end.

Still, it felt like no time at all when Luke called for a break. She joined Luke by the water coolers.

“Chris can barely touch you,” Luke said, practically beaming as he poured water over his head.

Tori shrugged. She’d been at camp for years, and had been training with Luke since her first month. It was difficult for most people to catch up with her. “No one can but you.” It took her a moment (and Luke’s suggestive eyebrow wriggle) to realize the double-meaning in what she said. “Shut up. How's Percy doing?"

Luke thought about it. "Needs a lot work, but okay for his first week here. He needs a better sword, though." Once their break was done, Luke turned back to the class. "Okay, everybody circle up!” They obeyed, Tori going to stand so that his back was to her. “Now, if Percy doesn't mind, I'd like to give you a little demo."

The other campers barely surpressed their smiles. Tori rolled her eyes good naturedly. Go easy on him, bear. ‘Boo bear’ was what Tori half-jokingly called Luke. They had agreed that she could only call him that in private though, so most of the time she just said ‘bear’, which was significantly more manly.

Luke explained that he was going to demonstrate a disarming technique: how to twist your enemy’s blade with the flat of your sword so that they dropped their weapon. “This is difficult,” he told them. “I’ve had it used against me.” Tori smiled. Ah, memories. “No laughing at Percy, now. Most swordsmen have to work years to master this technique.” He showed them how to do it in slow motion the first time. Once Percy picked his sowrd back up, Luke said, “Now in real time. We’ll keep going until one of us pulls it off. Ready, Percy?”

Percy did surprisingly well, managing to hold Luke off. Tori was shocked to see him actually attempt the move. Luke deflected it, but after that, he pushed forward with more force, his eyes narrowing as he did.

Then Percy did something that surprised everyone: he tried the move, and it actually worked . Luke’s sword rattled against the floor as they all stared at Percy in silence. He lowered his sword awkwardly. “Um, sorry.”

Tori watched Luke, worried about his reaction, but finally he smiled. “Sorry? By the gods, Percy, why are you sorry? Show me that again!”

Tori let out a breath of relief; Luke could get very competetive sometimes, and she was glad he wasn’t taking it out on the new kid.

This time, Luke disarmed him almost immediately. The balance of the universe was restored.

They all stared in silence before someone said, “Beginner’s luck?”

Luke wiped the sweat from his brow, looking at Percy with new interest. He shrugged. “Maybe. But I wonder what Percy could do with a balanced sword.”

Class was dismissed shortly afterwards. Luke and Tori went for a walk through the strawberry fields together. “So, what do you think of him?” Tori asked.

Luke shrugged. Tori couldn’t tell if he was genuinely upset or just confused. “I don’t know. I don’t think it was just luck.”

“Yeah, neither did I. I don’t know what it is, though. I mean, he seems like a nice kid, but something about him is just. . . off, somehow. Ever since he got here, I’ve had this feeling that something bad is coming. Like a storm. Or a hurricane.”

She felt stupid for even feeling it in the first place, but Luke seemed to understand. He wrapped an arm around Tori’s shouders and pulled her closer, kissing her temple. “Well, don’t worry. Because anything that comes for you is going to have to get through me first.”

Tori smiled at him. “Promise?”

Luke ran his thumb over her sea glass bracelet. “Promise.”


IV.

 

As dinner ended, Tori fixed her shiny blonde hair into a milkmaid braid with all the seriousness of a priest making a sacrifice. Time to kick some ass.

It was finally time for capture the flag. Campers yelled and cheered as three kids from Athena’s cabin ran into the dining pavilion carrying a silk banner. It was grey like they usually were since most campers couldn’t see color, and had a picture of a barn owl flying over an olive tree. Tori joined her cabinmates in booing as Clarisse and her siblings ran in with another one that was a truly awful shade of red (Seriously, what’s the point of making it color when no one in Ares’s cabin can even see it?), and had a picture of a bloody spear and a boar’s head on it.

Percy shouted at Luke, “Those are the flags?” Tori could barely hear him over the noise, but she was sorely tampted to say ‘No, those are our new swimsuits. Do you want the grey or the red?’

Luke just said, “Yeah.”

“Do Ares and Athena always lead the teams?”

“No. But often, yeah.”

“What happens if someone else captures one? Do we repaint it?”

Luke grinned at the new camper. “You’ll see. But first we have to get it.”

“Whose side are we on?”

“We’ve made a temporary alliance with Athena,” Luke explained, “Tonight, we get the flag from Ares. And you are going to help.”

Tori almost wondered why he bothered explaining since the teams were announced a moment later. It was Athena with Apollo and Hermes (the biggest cabins at camp) versus Ares, Dionysus, Demeter, Aphrodite and Hephaestus. Tori sized up their competition. Ares and Hephaestus were both tough, and Hephaestus might bring some tech to the competetion, but the Ares kids had no mind for strategy and were easily goaded. She didn’t bother planning for Aphrodite’s kids since they never participated unless someone on the opposite team had offended them somehow. Demeter only had a few kids, and they weren’t very aggressive or competetive, but they were good with outdoorsy stuff, so she could see them being a problem. Dionysus only had two kids who were fairly good athletes, but ultimately, Tori decided that with Apollo’s arrows, Athena’s brains, Hermes’s tricks, Luke and Annabeth’s leadership, and sheer numbers, they ought to be good.

Before they could leave, they had to listen to Chiron explain the rules, again. “Heroes! You know the rules. The creek is the boundary line. The entire forest is fair game. All magic items are allowed. The banner must be prominently displayed, and have no more than two guards. Prisoners may be disarmed, but may not be bound or gagged.” Thank gods. “No killing or maiming is allowed. I will serve as a referee and battle field medic. Arm yourselves!” Chiron spread his hands wide, causing the dinner tables to suddenly be covered with helmets, swords, spears, shields, and bow and arrow sets.

Tori only took a helmet from the table; she already had her own sword, bow, and a quiver full of arrows with special colored feathers (you couldn’t really use a shield when you were shooting). Percy, on the other hand, seemed shocked. “We’re really supposed to use these?”

Tori and Luke looked at each other, then at Percy. “Kid,” Tori began, “I know you’re new, but around here, we don’t believe in using toys or props. Remember, when you’re fighting monsters, it’s for real, so you want to know how to actually use this stuff for real.”

Luke nodded and handed Percy a set of equipment. “Here, Chiron thought these would fit. You’re on border patrol.”

Tori didn’t know what exactly Annabeth and Luke were planning for Percy (Probably nothing lethal), but she was with the archers from Cabin 7, as usual. Their team’s helmets all had blue plumes — Tori’s favorite color. Ares and co. had red plumes.

Annabeth yelled, “Blue team, forward!” Tori wondered how she felt, being about to actually see their team’s color now. She shook off the thought and joined the others in following her to the south woods. The red team taunted them as they went north.

Percy and Annabeth spoke together as they marched. Tori absently began humming ‘Can you feel the love tonight?’ until Luke gave her an amused look. Percy was stationed alone alongside a little creek that gurgled happily. Tori joined the Apollo campers, trying to ignore the awkward feeling she got from being around them. One of them, Dan, said, “Hey.” Tori awkwardly returned the greeting. Dan was especially hard to be around, seeing as he was her twin. And claimed. And he hated Luke. Yay.

They forged forward into the woods. Whenever they came across an opponent, they shot, disarmed, and captured them. Tori would dispatch one Apollo camper to take them back to their team’s little prison. The farther they went, the more people they found. Their group grew smaller and smaller, but Tori wasn’t worried. All they had to do was thin the other team’s members so that Luke would be able to get the flag. Her fellow campers didn’t bother to talk to her, either because she was so serious or because they were aware of how awkward the situation was. Either way, she was busy concentrating on the game.

Soon, they found the red flag. Luke’s probably close. Tori ordered her three remaining teammates into the trees so they could shoot for the guards. They had shields, but Tori and Dan were to their backs. At her signal, they both shot at the guards’ weapon-hands. Tori’s guard shouted out in pain and clutched their hand, dropping their shield. Tori smiled triumphantly.

Unfortunately, Dan’s arrow didn’t quite make the mark. The other guard turned and saw them. “Hey!” Tori quickly shimmed down until she was close enough to jump to the ground. The guard, blinded by rage, ran for her, but she ducked out of their way at the last moment and hit the back of their neck with her sword. “Ha ha,” she said with a mocking smile. The Ares camper’s eyes blazed in anger, and they started swinging their sword at her.

Tori returned their swipes and pushed them farther and farther back. Dan and the other two were now furiously battling the other guard, leaving the space around the flag wide open. Just as the person fighting Tori seemed to realize this, Luke sprinted out of the woods. The Ares kid tried to get to him, but Tori tackled them to the ground. She wanted to shout ‘Go Luke!’, but was afraid of drawing the red team’s attention. Luckily, someone else did it for her. “Go Luke!” shouted a Hermes camper.

Luke ran back to the south woods, flanked by a couple of Hermes guys who covered him. Tori used the but of her sword to hit the guard one last time before calling out, “Archers, retreat!” They all ran after Luke, using their bows to fend off some annoyingly persistent Hephaestus campers. Tori was stunned to see Clarisse and several other kids from Cabin 5 alongside the creek fighting Percy, who actually seemed to be holding his own. As soon as they saw Luke, they tried desperately to follow him, but he was too fast, dashing past them with ease until he crossed the border line. Tori barely even noticed the rest of their team joining her in cheering for him. She dropped her bow and ran over to join her soulmate as the flag turned silver and its picture transformed into a caduceus. Tori just barely managed to give him a kiss on the cheek before the blue team picked him up and started carrying him on their shoulders. Distantly, she heard Chiron blow the conch horn.

They were all so caught up in celebrating that it took her a moment to realize Percy and Annabeth weren’t with the others. She looked around and saw them standing next to the creek, arguing about something. Tori rolled her eyes fondly. Aw, their first fight. How romantic. She wondered what it was about, then shrugged. Probably nothing important.

Tori was about to make them put Luke down when she heard. . . something. A growl. No, not just a growl. That sounds like. . . Her heart stopped. In an instant, she was frozen. Her feet felt like lead weights. She started shaking her head back and forth. No, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO—

Around her, Chiron and the campers drew their weapons, but Tori didn’t notice. She tried to move backwards, but ended up falling to the ground. Tears streamed down her face. She whimpered helplessly, like a child. Mom, where’s my mom?

Suddenly, someone wrapped their arms around her, picking her up. She realized with a cry of relief that it was Luke. Luke, Luke will protect me, Luke always protects me. Her hands scrambled for purchase along his chest and shoulders before she wrapped them around his neck. Luke, stay with Luke.

Someone was saying something. It took her a long time to realize it was Luke. “It’s okay, it’s gone, you don’t have to worry about it anymore, it’s dead, it’s in Tartarus—”

Tori shuddered and held him closer. “Promise?”

Luke nodded, squeezing her comfortingly, pressing his fingers into her scars. “Promise.”

Tori slowly nodded and pulled away from Luke, making to stand on her own two feet, though she kept one hand against his chest for support. “What happened?”

Luke looked around, not seeming to know what to think. “It attacked Percy.”

Tori started. “Is he okay?” She didn’t think she could bear to see someone else she knew shredded by one of those things .

“Don’t know. Come on.” They went over to where Percy was standing with Annabeth. His armor was completely shredded, and there was a deep-looking cut on his chest. Tori felt her heartbeat leap when she saw that the monster’s body hadn’t yet dissolved.

Clarisse yelled, “It’s all Percy’s fault! Percy summoned it!” Which was so stupid that even Tori, in her freshly traumatized state, rolled her eyes. Shut up, you dumbass. To her delight, Chiron said, “Be quiet, child.”

Finally, the hellhound melted into shadow, soaking into the dirt and grass until it was gone. Tori breathed in relief, finally able to listen into what Annabeth and Percy were talking about.

“You’re wounded,” Annabeth said, looking genuinely worried. “Quick, get in the water.” Wait, what?

“I’m okay,” Percy insisted, blushing from Annabeth’s attention.

“No, you’re not,” Annabeth said. “Chiron, watch this.” She helped Percy into the creek as the entire camp quickly gathered around him. Tori watched in shock as the wounds began to close. Several people gasped, but not because of that. Floating above Percy was a spinning disk of green light. In the center was a blue trident.

“It is determined,” Chiron announced. Tori and Luke quickly moved to kneel along with the rest of the campers, even Annabeth and the Ares cabin.

“My father?” Percy asked, sounding confused.

“Poseidon,” Chiron said, “Poseidon, Earthshaker, Stormbringer, Father of Horses. Hail, Perseus Jackson, Son of the Sea God."

Oh no.


V.


The nightmares were worse that night than they’d been in years. She could see her mother and their apartment, not in color as she’d become accustomed to, but in the black and white vision of the unbonded. Diana stared up at her daughter with sad, accusing eyes as the hellhound attacked. Why didn’t you save me? she seemed to ask. I saved you. The monster pounced, knocking her mother to the ground. Tori screamed helplessly as it tore into her throat, and the blood was red, red, red—

Someone was shaking her shoulder. “Tori!” Luke whispered as loudly as he dared. “Tori, you’re having a nightmare.”

Tori snapped awake, angrily grabbing for whoever had woken her. Luckily, Luke expected that, and evaded her hand, whispering, “Tori, it’s me.”

Tori slowly calmed down, breathing hard. She whimpered, remembering the dream. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“Shhh,” Luke said, wrapping her up in his arms. He pulled the blanket up around them and gestured to the floor, saying, “Come on.”

Tori moved slowly, following Luke like a machine that didn’t know how to do anything else. He wrapped her up in a fluffy blanket and led her outside. At some point, he’d hidden a ladder behind the Hermes cabin. He went to get it now, leaning it against the walls. She followed him up to the roof, thankful for the blanket. Usually, she enjoyed hanging out with Luke on the roof, not the least because it was the location of some of their risque escapades, so to speak, but tonight she couldn’t seem to feel anything but fear and grief.

She sat beside Luke at first, but he wasn’t satisfied with that, and pulled her into her lap, stroking her back. Tori sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder, resting her hands on his stomach. He kissed her hair and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Tori laughed humorlessly. “What are you sorry for?”

It took a moment for him to say, “I’m sorry I can’t make you feel better.”

She shook her head. “You always make me feel better, Luke.”

He smiled. “Well, I’m glad for that at least.”

They sat in silence for several minutes before Tori said, “Want to know something?” Luke nodded. “When you went on your quest, for that first night I was a complete wreck. I couldn’t fall asleep. I just kept imagining something horrible happening to you. And I realized, if something happened to you, I’d never get the chance to tell you I love you.”

Luke stared at her. Tori kissed his cheek, her fingers running over his arrow necklace. “I’m glad I got that chance.”

Luke didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. He just held her closer, humming until she fell asleep. She didn’t have nightmares this time.


VI.

 

Percy moved to Cabin 3 first thing the next morning. Tori was happy for the extra space, but she was also worried for Percy. He was all alone in there, which on one hand sounded like what Elysium was probably like, but Tori thought he might be lonely. Especially since the rest of the Hermes cabin was too afraid to practice with him. Luke took on the duty of Percy’s sword training himself. And, okay, she was worried about the kid too, but why did it have to cut into their sparring time?

Still, Tori made it a point to seek him out after their first lesson. “Hey, kiddo. How’s your day goin’?”

Percy groaned. “I’m not a kiddo. I’m almost thirteen.”

Tori raised her hands in mock-surrender. “Oh no! Thirteen! Everybody watch out!” That seemed to make him feel worse, but it was still kind of funny. “I’m serious, Percy. Talk to me.”

Percy glowered at the grass. “Everything’s different now. Just when I started to feel like I might actually belong, everyone’s acting like I have some sort of horrible disease.”

“Don’t worry about them. It’s been decades since we’ve had one of the Big Three’s kids here. They’re just not used to it, is all. They’ll come around.” There was a long pause before she asked, “How are things with Annabeth?”

That made Percy’s face even darker. She might even have been scared if he wasn’t so tiny and adorable. “She’s still teaching me ancient Greek.”

“Oh. Well that’s good, I guess. You know, I tried to teach Luke guitar once, but he was so bad at it that I banned him from ever touching my guitar again. Not even to bring it to me. He has to put on these really thick leather gloves if he ever does.” Percy smiled wanly, not seeming to be in the mood to joke. “But you know, I was talking more soulmate-wise.”

The twelve-year-old sighed. “I don’t even know. She seems so different now. And things weren’t going too great before, you know. I don’t even know what’s wrong with her. I mean, aren’t soulmates supposed to accept each other no matter what?”

Tori considered it. “Generally, yeah. I mean, no one expects someone to stay true to their soulmate if they’re, like, a baby-juggler, but that’s usually the idea. But you know Percy, this is all new for her, too. I don’t think meeting her soulmate was even on Annabeth’s radar before you got here.”

“My mom used to say that you shouldn’t put too much stock in soulmates,” Percy admitted miserably.

Tori shrugged. “They don’t always work out, no. But most do. And I think you’re worrying about it too much. Despite what movies tell us, relationships aren’t built in a day. Not even soulmate relationships.” That didn’t seem to comfort him much, so she patted his shoulder and said, “Hey, I’m serious. It was three years before Luke and I even kissed, you know.”

Percy’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really?”

“Gods’ honest truth. For now, I think you should just act normally, try to be her friend, you know. And if you do that with everyone else, I think they’ll come around. You’re a good kid. They liked you before, and they will again once they realize you’re still you.”

Percy finally seemed to be feeling better. Tori was pleased by that until he asked, “Are you okay? You were kind of freaked out when that hellhound attacked.”

Tori felt her cheeks flush with anger and embarrassment. “I don’t like to talk about it.” She sympathized with Percy, and was well aware that he had recently gone through a similar experience with his own mother, but was in no mood to share something so private. “Have you thought about getting Annabeth an acknowledgement gift? You’re supposed to do it soon after you meet your soulmate, and it’s usually the guy’s job when it’s a boy and a girl.” Percy took the hint, and Tori happily listed ideas with him until her archery class.


VII.

 

Rumors saturated the camp like silk that someone had soaked in mud. Tori usually didn’t pay attention to them, but these were. . . worrying. By then, everyone know that something had been stolen from one of the gods. Zeus (or grandpappy as Tori sometimes called him when it was just her and Luke) seemed the most likely candidate from how bad the weather had been. Something had to break. Someone had to give.

It wasn’t long before something no one had thought would happen anytime soon did. A quest was issued.

And to someone who’s only been here a few months, too. Poseidon must be proud. Was she bitter? A little. The last time someone went on a quest, her soulmate came back with a scar and worse daddy issues than ever.

Tori didn’t need anyone to tell her when it happened. She knew. About the same time it started raining.

Luke came to get her, bursting into the Hermes cabin. Tori looked up from her book and frowned. “Luke?”

Without answering her, he pulled her to her feet by her hand. “Come on, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are about to leave! We have to say goodbye to them.” Luke searched his personal chest and took out a shoe box before jogging back to the door. “Come on!”

Tori started to follow him before suddenly freezing. “Wait! Hold on!” She ran back to her bed and rummaged through her chest before she found what she wanted. “Okay, let’s go.”

They ran all the way to Half-Blood Hill, which was something she never wanted to do again, only barely catching them in time. “Hey,” Luke panted. Tori smirked a bit to see that even he wasn’t above the horrors of a steep incline. “Glad we caught you.”

Tori didn’t fail to notice Annabeth blushing and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Come on, your soulmate is literally two feet away from you, woman. Girl. Woman-girl. What was I thinking, again? She was drawn back to the conversation by Luke saying, “We just wanted to wish you good luck. And I thought that maybe you could use these.” He took out a pair of high-tops from the shoe box that Tori recognized with a shock. Percy took them, seeming not to know what to think.

Luke said, “Maia!” White wings sprouted from the heels of the shoes, startling Percy, who dropped them. Tori chuckled as the shoes flapped around for a moment, reminding her of confused baby animals, before the wings folded back into the shoes, gone.

Grover beamed. “Awesome!”

Luke smiled at them. “Those served me well when I was on my quest. Gift from dad. Of course, I don’t use them much these days. . .”

He seemed so suddenly sad that Tori wanted to hug him. But she was sure he wouldn’t want that, so instead she waited as Percy thanked him. Luke seemed uncomfortable as he said, “Listen, Percy. . . there are a lot of hopes riding on you. So just. . . kill some monsters for us, okay?”

Percy promised him he would, blushing bright red. Tori chuckled to break the tension and handed her own gift over to Percy. “Well, I don’t have any magic items, but I noticed you didn’t have a copy of your own, so I thought I could give you mine.” It was a well-loved copy of The Color Thesaurus — the same one she got when she first came to camp.

Percy stared at it, seeming touched. “Thanks, Tori.”

“No problem. I don’t really use it much these days. You’ll probably get more use out of it, since you’ll be in so many new places. Hope you don’t mind, I made some notes in it.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’ll come in handy.”

They said their final good-byes. Tori actually did roll her eyes when Luke gave Annabeth a hug and she looked like she was going to faint. Again, right there! Hell, I’m right here! They finally left. On the way back, Tori asked Luke, “How do you think it’ll go?”

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll die horribly and never come back.” Tori hit his shoulder and laughed with him.


VIII.

 

For a moment, Tori wasn’t sure what woke her. She hadn’t had any bad dreams; Luke’s presence was usually enough to keep them away. Then she realized it was Luke that had woken her. He was shaking in his sleep, sweat pouring off him in waves. Tori quickly sat up and began to shake his shoulder gently, sitting as far away as she could in case he panicked when he woke.

She needn’t have worried. Luke started awake, his eyes darting around wildly. “I’m here, Luke,” Tori whispered. “What’s wrong?”

Luke didn’t answer, only pulling Tori closer. She held him, letting his head rest on her chest and she drew her fingers through his soft hair. It was only once he stopped shaking that she asked, “What was the dream about?”

Luke was still. “I don’t want to talk about.”

Tori nodded. “Okay, then don’t talk about it. Just stay with me, yeah? Always stay with me.”

Luke muttered something and somehow managed to move them closer. “I will. I promise.”

They stayed like that for several moments. Tori almost thought Luke had gone back to sleep when he pushed their blankets away and said, “Come on.” He got up and pulled on some sandals, getting Tori a pair from her stuff. She wasn’t sure what he wanted, but she went ahead and got her bow and some arrows, just in case. Luke seemed to be following her line of thought. He took his sword with them, and they left the Hermes cabin.

Luke led her to the infirmary. Tori thought she had a good idea of what he wanted by then, but it was hard to tell with how he was acting.

The infirmary was empty, and filled with two facing rows of beds, each with a privacy curtain around it. Luke opened the curtain of the closest bed and crawled onto it. He faced Tori, giving her an exaggeratedly seductive look. Tori chuckled and rested her hands on the bed, giving Luke a slow, deep kiss. She pulled back, breathing heavily. He was looking at her with those perfect blue eyes, smiling softly. Still, she asked, “You up for this right now?”

Luke scoffed. “Are you doubting my abilities?”

Tori blushed deeply, muttering, “Not that. I just meant. . . after your nightmare—”

Luke cut her off by kissing her suddenly. He wrenched away from her just as suddenly, pressing their foreheads together and whispering, “I need you right now.” He kissed her again, and that was the end of their conversation.


IX.

 

Things didn’t get better. Luke was constantly jumpy. Tori was worried, but didn’t know how to comfort him. Mostly she just stayed with him as much as she could. That seemed to help, but he was never entirely okay.

She wondered sometimes if Luke was thinking about his own quest. Or worse, if he was thinking about when he came to camp with Thalia and Annabeth. That had ended with Thalia being turned into a tree, so she could definitely understand his concern. But he never talked to her about it. He always changed the subject when she tried to bring it up. Eventually, she stopped trying. There was no arguing with Luke about some things.

The situation was reflected in the rest of the camp. Fights began to break out between campers as people began to take sides. She was just thankful that the Hermes and Apollo cabins were more or less on Percy’s side.

She stood with Luke on the porch of the Big House, looking out over camp. It was the only place they could go to get some peace. “You think they’re okay?” she asked. They hadn’t heard from the kids since they left. She was beginning to worry.

Luke was standing behind her with his arms over her shoulders, holding her to him. He shrugged. “I’m sure they’re fine. If nothing else, Annabeth knows what she’s doing. She’ll keep them safe.”

“Yeah. I know. I’m just. . . worried.”

Luke smiled mischievously. “Tori. All this worry over another man. I might start to get jealous.”

Tori rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “That’s right, Luke. I’m gonna leave you for a twelve year old. You’ve figured me out.”

Luke squeezed her tighter and leaned around, kissing her deeply. “No you won’t.” He held her against him. “You’re mine.”

He kissed her again, harder this time. Tori would have been happy to stay like that forever, but then they heard someone clear their throat. Repeatedly.

Tori broke the kiss and made an exasperated noise. “What, what, what do you want?!” She turned around to see Percy and Annabeth staring at her and Luke from a circle in the air. They seemed to be at a. . . car wash?

Percy, who was blushing so hard Tori was half-worried his skin might not go back, said, “Um, hey.”

Luke let go of her and grinned, turning around to face them fully. “Percy! Is that Annabeth?” He gave Tori a smug, told-you-so look. “See, I told you they were fine. How are you guys?”

“We’re. . . uh. . . we’re okay,” Annabeth stammered, trying to subtly straighten her hair and shirt. “We thought that — you know, Chiron would—”

“He’s down at the cabins,” Tori explained to put her out of her misery. “There’s been a lot of fights lately, and he’s having trouble keeping everyone in line.”

Luke’s smile had faded. “Yeah. Don’t worry about that, though. You should stay focused on your quest. By the way, how is that going? Is Grover alright?”

“I’m right here!” Grover called, stepping into their line of vision. “What’s going on over there?”

From wherever they were, loud, booming music started playing. Luke tried to speak, saying, “Chiron had to — what’s that noise?!”

“I’ll take care of it!” Annabeth yelled back, seeming relieved. “Grover, come help me!”

“What?” Grover said. “But—”

“Give Percy the nozzle and come on!” she ordered. Gods, she’s bossy.

Grover muttered something unintelligible and handed Percy the spray gun before leaving with Annabeth. Once Percy was done readjusting the hose, Luke shouted, “Chiron had to break up a fight. Things are pretty tense over here. Word leaked out about the Zeus-Poseidon standoff. We’re not sure how — probably the same scumbag who summoned the hellhound.” Tori shuddered and stood closer to Luke. “Now everyone’s starting to take sides. It’s shaping up to look like Trojan War 2.0. Aphrodite, Ares, and Apollo are backing Poseidon, more or less. Athena wants to back Zeus, but since Annabeth’s your soulmate, none of them feel comfortable siding against you.”

Percy shuddered about something; she couldn’t tell what. A moment passed, and the music’s volume finally decreased.

“How are you guys doing over there?” Tori asked. “Chiron will want to know.”

Percy told them everything that had happened. Or at least, he said it was everything. He spoke rapidly, the stress seeming to drain from his body as he did. After a few minutes, they heard a beeping sound of some sort.

“I wish we could be there,” Luke said, “I’m sorry that we can’t help much from here, but I think it had to be Hades who took the master bolt. He was at Olympus at the winter solstice. We were on a field trip, and we saw him.”

Tori nodded her agreement. “He was really creepy.”

Percy seemed uneasy. “But Chiron said the gods can’t take each other’s magic items directly.”

“That’s true,” Luke admitted, “Still. . . Hades has the helm of darkness. How could anybody else sneak into the throne room and steal the master bolt? You’d have to be invisible.”

Luke and Percy shared a look, and Tori realized with a start what they were both thinking. “Do you think Annabeth could have done it?”

“Hey,” Luke protested. “It couldn’t have been her. She’s just a kid. Besides, why would she?”

Tori was still unsure. “She always wanted a quest. Recognition. Maybe she—”

“It wasn’t her,” Luke snapped, looking at Tori angrily. “She’s like a little sister to me. She could never have done this.”

Tori held up her hands placatingly, immediately deciding to drop the subject. He’s probably right. She’s just a kid. A half-blood kid on a quest to retrieve Zeus’s own lightning bolt.

Finally, the music stopped. A moment later, Tori heard someone scream in terror. “Um, Percy, what was that?”

“Yeah, you should probably handle that,” Luke said. “Hey, are you wearing the flying shoes? I’d feel better to know they’ve helped you.”

“Uh, yeah!” Percy stammered, seeming embarrassed about something. “Yeah, they’ve come in handy.”

“Really?” Luke grinned, his previous anger forgotten. “They fit and everything?”

Before Percy could answer, the mist started to evaporate. Tori could barely see Percy’s orange shirt.

“Well, you guys take care of yourselves,” Luke called as Percy’s image began to fade. “And tell Grover it’ll be better this time!” He tried to say something else, but Percy was completely gone now.

Tori watched the space where Percy had been, twisting her hands. “Do you think they’ll be okay?” I can’t believe we let a bunch of children travel across the country and confront the god of Death! What the hell?

Luke shrugged her concern away. “Don’t worry about it, wildcat. They know what they’re doing.”

Tori stared at him. “Are you kidding? Percy’s only been training for like, a month! We should have gone with them.”

“Well, we didn’t really have a choice. Come on, let’s spar for a little while. It’ll take your mind off of it.”

Tori sincerely doubted that, but went with Luke anyway. They’ll be fine. Probably.


X.

 

Tori dreamed. She could tell it was a dream because it had already happened, but it wasn’t a lucid dream. She couldn’t control it. Rather, she had to go along with what her body did. For the moment, it was just kind of sitting there.

It took her a moment to realize where she was. Olympus. The visiting demigods had two halls to themselves. One was for the children of the gods, and another for the goddesses. Luke and Tori, along with two other couples, had a room to themselves since they were soulmates. They’d already done the (surreal) tour, and it would be time to go to bed soon. But Luke was gone. He said he was going to explore for a little while, and asked her to cover for him if anyone asked. She agreed, of course. He was her soulmate. She could hardly say no.

He came back while she was in the middle of restringing her bow. She smiled. “Hey, bear. Find anything interesting?”

Luke shrugged. “Nothing much. This whole place is overrated. Although there were some singers I thought you might like.” Tori was sitting cross-legged on one of the two beds in the room. Luke sauntered over and crawled onto the bed, wrapping his arms around Tori’s back and resting his head against her stomach. He yawned tiredly.

Tori laughed. “Ah, boo-bear. You okay?”

“I hate that name. Hate it.”

Tori chuckled and kissed his hair. “I know. Now go lay down.”

Luke yanked the comforter over himself and stayed where he was. “I’m good here.”

“Luke, there are two beds for a reason.”

“Aesthetics?”

Tori chuckled and got up to turn off the light.

What? Is this supposed to show me something? If so, she had no idea what. Maybe it’s just my head.

Her day didn’t get much better. It had been too long since Percy and Annabeth IMed them. The air at camp was so thick with tension that you could cut it with a plastic spoon. And Luke. . . Luke was being weird, okay? Just weird. I mean, I know Annabeth’s his friend, but we haven’t actually heard any bad news. Then again, sometimes no news was bad news.

It was only after they were done with Cabin Eleven’s sword training that she brought it up. “You okay, bear?”

“Hmm?” Luke looked up at her. They were still in the arena. Usually they’d already be doing their one-one-one practice, but Luke was moving slower than usual, muttering to himself.

“I said, are you okay? You’ve been so on edge lately. Is it about the quest?”

Luke quickly shook his head. Too quickly. “No, it’s. . . it’s something else.”

“OK. Then what is it?”

Luke sighed. “I need you to promise me something.”

Tori took his hand in hers, rubbing her thumb over his wrist. “Ask me.”

He stared at her with those ice-blue eyes. He was so intense sometimes. Tori felt like she was caught in a whirlwind, constantly thrown around as she tried to keep up. “I want you to promise me that no matter what happens, we’ll stay together. You and me, always.”

Tori chuckled, relieved. “That all?” She took Luke’s face in her hands and kissed him. “Of course we will, Luke. I’ll follow you anywhere.”

Luke let out a relieved breath and leaned his forehead against hers. “Promise?”

“Promise. Now, come on. There’s no fun in kicking your ass if you just stand there.”


XI.

 

Tori walked through camp, feeling her dread grow stronger each second. Why aren’t they back? There was less than a day left until the solstice, and so far they’d had no news from Percy or Olympus. Her nerves were strung as tight as a bow, or a very tightly-wound guitar.

Then, like the sun breaking through a cloud, they returned. Suddenly, the tension broke, immediately replaced with everyone celebrating the fact that WWIII hadn’t happened (yet). Tori cheered with the other campers, surrounding the heroes. They looked tired, but happy, smiling proudly. Percy even gave her a little wave when he saw her.

As the others gave Percy, Annabeth, and Grover their laurels, Tori turned to face Luke. He was smiling, but it was. . . strained, somehow. It didn’t feel right.

Tori bumped Luke’s shoulder to get his attention. “You okay?” She’d thought he would be ecstatic that they’d returned safely.

“Yeah. I’m great.” But he still had that fake smile. Tori doubted anyone else would even notice, but she could always tell when Luke was acting. But it wasn’t the time or place.

“Okay.” He seemed to realize that she actually meant ‘we’ll talk about it later’, since he immediately went to greet Annabeth instead.

There was a huge feast in the heroes’ honor, during which Tori sat in between Percy and Luke for once, though Percy was too busy eating to talk much. Luke was just as bad, paying more attention to his plate than to her. She tried not to be jealous.

Afterwards, Percy and Annabeth led a procession down to the bonfire where they burned the burial shrouds that their cabins had made for them. Annabeth’s was made of gray silk and embroidered with brown owls (Luke had picked out the brown since no one in Annabeth’s cabin could tell what it looked like). It was nice. Percy, on the other hand, didn’t have any siblings to make a shroud for him, so the Ares cabin had made it from an old bedsheet. It had gray smiley faces with x’s for eyes around the border, and the word ‘LOSER’ in the middle. Tori winced when she saw it. She had thought about getting the Hermes cabin to make his shroud, but Cabin Five had volunteered too quickly. Still, Percy seemed to really enjoy burning it.

She took a s’more from Dan’s tray, awkwardly saying, “Thank you.” Dan nodded and moved on. Everyone seemed happy; Percy was with his Hermes friends, Annabeth was with her siblings and Percy, and Grover was showing off his new searcher’s license. So, everyone was happy but her and Luke.

To be fair, she was happy they were safe and home, but she couldn’t celebrate when Luke was so clearly upset. I mean, he only had one cookie for desert! How does no one else see this! Yeah, he was smiling and laughing along with everyone else, but shouldn’t they be able to tell? Maybe it’s a soulmate thing.


XII.

 

July first was one of Tori’s favorite holidays. Soulmates’ Day. She woke up early and shook Luke awake. “Luke! Luke-a-book, wake up!”

Luke groaned and hit her with a pillow. “What?”

She smiled at him. “It’s Soumates’ Day!”

Luke stared at her. “And that requires waking me up early because?” He looked around. “No one else is even up yet!”

Tori rolled her eyes and pulled him out of bed. “Come on. I want to get there early.”

“Ugh. We don’t even have to be there at a certain time.”

“Well, I want to go now.”

After some more pestering, Luke relented. They dressed quickly in the bathroom. Tori wore a blue lace dress with long sleeves and her nicest ankle boots. When she looked at Luke, she saw that he was wearing a brown button-up shirt and beige pants with loafers. Around his neck hung the arrow she’d given him years ago now. She smiled gently and held it up. Luke smiled in return, rubbing her sea glass bracelet with his thumb. He kissed her, bumping her nose with his own. “You look lovely.”

Tori shivered. “You too.” She pushed herself away from him before they could get too off-focus. “Let’s go.”

Just barely in the woods, near the stream that cut the forest in half, was a tall white tree whose leaves were green all year. They walked there, taking their time, but were surprised to see that there were already two other people there. “Percy! Annabeth!”

The kids were standing under the tree, each holding a ribbon. They seemed surprised to hear her, but they recovered quickly. Percy waved at her. “Hey, guys. You here for the thing?”

“The tree? Yeah.” Tori held up her ribbon, then elbowed Luke to get him to do the same. Hers was pale blue, his a dark, earthy brown. “Luke, you wanna help me up? This dress isn’t the best for climbing.”

Luke chuckled. “Got ya, babe.” He gave Tori a lift with his hands, propelling her to one of the lower branches. She reached down to help him up. They sat together for a moment, looking out over the emerald-trees and crystal water. It was a beautiful day, with only a few especially puffy clouds in the sky.

Luke handed her his ribbon, and she twisted the two together until they were one. Once she was done, Luke took them from her and knotted them around the branch above them. He smiled at her. “There. Perfect.”

Tori moved to kiss him, but then she saw his smile wither a bit. She turned to look at whatever it was bothering him. Percy and Annabeth were adding their own ribbons to the tree, pool-blue and orange. Tori frowned. What’s bothering him? She resisted the urge to groan. This is supposed to be a good day.

They returned to camp for breakfast. There was always a mini-feast on Soulmates’ day, arranged into a rainbow. Tori absently filled her plate with berries, grapes, and some eggs. Luke seemed to be back in his good mood, but she didn’t even know what had messed it up in the first place.

After a while, Luke bumped her arm. She jerked awkwardly, turning to face him. “What?”

Luke smiled and held up a grape. It took her a moment to realize what he wanted. She sighed in fake exasperation. “Oh, go ahead.” Luke popped the grape into her mouth. She chewed it, rolling her eyes as their cabinmates woof-called them. It wasn’t long until she forgot about being upset.


XIII.

 

The rest of summer was better, but things were still off. Luke never did seem completely at ease with Percy around. Tori didn’t think he’d even talked to the kid since he got back.

Before long, it was the last night at camp, at least for the summer-only campers. She and Luke had already made it known that they were staying year-round, so she wasn’t too worried about it. They had a large dinner before heading to the bonfire. It was there that the end-of-summer beads were handed out. Tori always liked that. Her camp necklace was the only jewelry she wore, apart from her bracelet.

Luke handed her a bead. It was ink-black, with a shiny green trident in the center. She looked up at Luke, who announced, "The choice was unanimous. This bead commemorates the first Son of the Sea God at this camp, and the quest he undertook in the darkest part of the Underworld to stop a war!"

Tori rose to her feet with the others, cheering for Percy and Annabeth. But out of the corner of her eye, she saw Luke. He wasn’t smiling.


XIV.

 

The next day, Tori came back from archery practice early. “Hey,” she said to Luke, who was packing a duffel bag. “Connor said you wanted to see me.” She looked at the bag. “What’s that for?”

Luke smiled and gestured for her to come closer. She did so, standing a foot in front of him. “I have to go somewhere for a little while,” Luke explained. “For Chiron.”

Tori stared at him in shock. “What? Why—why you? Why can’t someone else go? Where are you even going?”

“I can’t tell you,” Luke said, looking contrite (which she didn’t believe for a second).

“Well, can I come with you?” I’m going to need a bag, and clothes, and—

“No. At least, not yet.”

“Why not?” Tori demanded.

“I can’t tell you.”

“When will you be back?”

Luke shrugged. “A few weeks, probably. Maybe longer.”

Why is this happening? Tori felt as helpless as she did the first time Luke left on a quest. Luke must have realized that, since he hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry. I’ll come back for you. I promise.”

“You better,” she murmured against his chest. Her hand rose up to trace the arrow point he wore. It was her gift to him from before he left on his quest. She’d hoped it would bring him good luck.  

“I will.” They stayed like that for over a minute before Luke pulled away. “I have to go now.”

Tori whined, but let him go, watching as he gathered his stuff. Luke kissed her one last time. “I’ll see you when I come back.” Tori stared after him as he he left.


XV.

 

After she had spent enough time feeling sorry for herself, Tori went back to the archery range. It was empty now, so she didn’t have to worry about one of the more inexperienced campers accidentally hitting her with an arrow. Again.

Time fell away. Tori shot arrow after arrow into the targets, even purposefully arranging them into constellations. She practiced for far longer than she meant to. It was past time for lunch when she finally finished. Good thing I had a big breakfast, she thought as she left the building. It was then that she realized something was wrong.

What’s going on? Camp was so. . . quiet. She checked back at the Hermes cabin. There were less people there than there had been only a day ago, but it was still full. About half of her cabinmates were there, speaking in hushed whispers. Tori tapped one of the Stoll brothers on the shoulder. They both looked up at her. Neither was smiling like they usually did. “Guys, what’s going on?” She was starting to get very worried. Did something happen to Luke? That was too awful to think about.

“It’s Percy,” one of the boys — Travis, I think — said. “He walked out of the woods and passed out.”

“Is he okay?” Tori thought, hating herself for feeling relief. It’s not Luke. He’s okay. “Where is he?”

“They took him to the sickroom in the Big House.”

She thanked them and ran out the cabin, heading for the Big House. The infirmary door was unlocked, so she let herself in. Percy was propped up in one of the beds, his right hand covered in thick bandages. His eyes were open. Thank gods. Annabeth sat next to him, holding a glass full of nectar with a bendy straw up to his mouth, while Argus stood guard in the corner and Chiron sat in his wheelchair at the end of Percy’s bed.

“Percy, you’re alright.” Tori started to move closer, but Percy looked at her with such a death glare that she stopped instantly. Jesus Christ, are we sure he’s twelve? “Percy? You okay?”

“He should be alright,” Annabeth said, frowning. “Chiron got to him quickly, otherwise—”

“Did you know?” Percy demanded, looking straight at her.

Tori stared at him. “What? Percy, what happened?”

“Yes, Percy, I think we all want to know that,” Chiron said.

Slowly, still drinking his nectar, Percy told them. “Today, while I was in the arena, Luke asked me to go with him to the woods. I did, because I didn’t think there was anything too strange about it and I trusted him, but after we got there, he told me the truth. Chiron, he’s the lightning thief. He stole Zeus’s thunderbolt, and he’s working for Kronos. He tried to kill me.”

With every word he said, Tori felt the world grow colder and colder. Before he’d even finished speaking, Tori shook her head. “No. It can’t be true. It can’t. Not Luke, it must have been something else, some monster, or—”

“Tori,” Chiron asked, “when’s the last time you saw Luke?”

“Just this morning, when I had to leave my archery class. Luke wanted to—” Realization hit her like a truck. “He told me that he was leaving for a few weeks. That Chiron needed him to go somewhere.”

Chiron looked at her sadly. “I’m afraid that Luke lied to you.”

“I can’t believe. . .” Annabeth began, then shook her head. “No, I can believe it. He was never the same after his quest, gods curse him.”

Don’t say that! “This isn’t Luke’s fault!” Tori insisted. “He must be under a spell, or brainwashed. This isn’t Luke!” But her objections fell on deaf ears.

“This must be reported to Olympus,” Chiron murmured. “I’ll go at once.”

“Luke is out there right now,” Percy said. “I have to go after him.”

“Hold on a second! Luke’s not a monster, he’s not dangerous—”

“Not dangerous?” Percy demanded. “He almost killed me!

“All of you, be quiet,” Chiron said. “Tori, I know this is painful for you, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and refuse to see the truth. Percy, you can’t go after Luke. You’re not ready. And the gods—”

“Won’t even talk about Kronos!” Percy snapped. “Zeus declared the matter closed!”

“Percy,” Chiron said sternly, “you’re not ready.”

Percy sighed, but slowly seemed to accept the truth of Chiron’s words. “Chiron. . . your prophecy from the Oracle. . . it was about Kronos, wasn’t it? Was I in it? And Annabeth?”

Tori couldn’t stand it anymore. She ran out of the Big House. She didn’t even look where she was going, instead letting her feet take her where they would. She only stopped when she realized she was at the beach, the salty wind assaulting her face.

Tori looked around. This is where Luke and I first kissed. They danced together on the sand, and it started to rain. Tori closed her eyes and remembered.

“Tori?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t think I want to be just friends anymore.”

Tori stared at him before saying, “Oh, thank gods.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Luke kissed her back, holding her to him.

At the time, Tori had been able to imagine a world where he never let go. Now she wondered if she’d ever feel warm again.


XVI.

 

Percy and Annabeth both left that summer, Percy to the city and Annabeth to her dad. That year, camp felt emptier than ever. It didn’t help that the other campers avoided her. None of them trusted her after they found out about Luke. Only Luke’s siblings in the Hermes cabin didn’t go out of their way to avoid her, but she wasn’t close with any of them. For the most part, she ignored everyone. She was too depressed to care about what they thought of her. The only time she felt anything was when one of her cabinmates moved into the free bunk.

That’s Luke’s bed, Tori thought furiously. You have no right to take it. But she didn’t say anything. None of them wanted to think about Luke, least of all with her.

After two weeks, she still didn’t feel better. He didn’t even leave me a message. Tori pushed the thought away and dug through her chest for the book she was looking for. Instead, she found one of Luke’s shirts.

Her hands stilled immediately when she saw it. What’s this doing here? Granted, their things got mixed up sometimes, but she’d thought Luke took all of his stuff with him when he left — including the stuff from her chest.

Tori picked it up and looked around. The cabin was empty. Everyone else was at activities, but this was the time usually reserved for her and Luke’s sword practice. She hadn’t found a new class.

She closed her chest and held the shirt up. It was brown, with a couple of plain buttons at the neck. Without thinking, she moved it closer, sniffing it. She shuddered. It still smelled faintly like Luke.

Tori got up and went to the bathroom. Slinking into one of the shower stalls, she took off her shirt and put on Luke’s. Almost immediately, she felt better. Comforted.

She didn’t care when the others gave her strange looks. She was warmer just wearing it.


XVII.

 

After dinner, while everyone else went down to the bonfire, Tori walked back to the cabin. She hated being there while all the other campers laughed and sang and didn’t see her.

She was just outside the door when suddenly someone grabbed her by the waist, holding a hand over her mouth and pulling her back. Tori screamed and tried to reach for her sword, kicking her captor, but then she head them. “Tori, it’s okay, it’s me.”

Luke. She stopped struggling. Luke loosened his grip and pulled Tori to the back of the cabin, finally letting her go. Tori backed away, staring up at him. She didn’t know what she expected, but he looked fine. Healthy. He had a longsword in a scabbard at his waist that she thought was new, but other than that, looked no different than before.

“Luke, what are you doing here?” Tori whispered as loudly as she could. She knew she should try to get someone, but she wanted to hear him out. She didn’t want anything bad to happen to him.

Luke smiled, commanding her attention as easily a knife to the throat. “Isn’t it obvious? I came to get you.”

Tori stared at him. “What? Are you insane? Where have you even been?”

“I’ll explain when we get there. We have to go now.” He began to draw his sword, but Tori stopped him.

“Go? Luke, what the hell! I don’t even know what’s going on!”

“What, don’t you trust me?”

His smile was staring to falter. Tori gave him a hard look. “You know, I’m starting to question that, too.” Luke was so shocked that he didn’t say anything. Tori continued. “Luke, did you steal the lightning bolt? Are you working for Kronos?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

Tori shuddered as the air around them seemed to grow colder. It’s true. “How could you do this, Luke? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“How could I? Tori, I’m doing this for us! For all of us! For every half-blood who’s been neglected or abandoned by the gods! I’m doing what’s right!”

“And that somehow involves killing a thirteen-year-old in cold blood?” Tori asked coldly.

Luke sighed regretfully. “Tori, I had to. It was necessary.”

“Yeah, well it didn’t work, so ha.”

“I know it didn’t work. Believe me, I know.”

Tori looked at him again, more carefully this time. There were shadows under his eyes, barely visible in the moonlight. He seemed. . . tired.

Nightmares. For a moment, she forgot about everything else and took Luke’s face in her hands. “Bear, what’s happening to you?”

“Tori, I promise you, I’ll explain once we’re gone. The bonfire’s going to end soon, people are going to wonder where you are.”

Slowly, Tori shook her head. “No. I can’t go with you, Luke. Not if you won’t even considering staying here.”

“You know I can’t do that. This is too important.”

Tori stared at him. “Then go.”

“Tori—”

“No!” She pushed him away, ignoring his stunned expression. He tried to say something, but Tori snapped, “No! If you’re going to go, then just go, Luke.”

“Tori,” Luke said sounding hurt. He took a step towards her, holding out his hand, but Tori smacked it away. She was tired and angry and hurt and she didn’t want empty words.

“If you’re not even going to try—” Her voice caught in her throat. Luke tried again, moving closer, but Tori pushed him away angrily. “GO! I don’t want you here!” She considered taking off her bracelet and throwing it at him, but even in her angry state, she knew she’d regret it.

She turned around and waited for him to leave. He didn’t. Instead, he took her fist and opened it, placing something in it. Tori closed her hand. It felt like a charm of some kind.

“Keep this,” Luke whispered. “You can use it to contact me by speaking to it. If you do, I’ll come get you.”

Luke let go of her hand. Tori looked down at the charm he’d given her. She couldn’t keep herself from chuckling. A lightning bolt? Really, Luke? She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. After a minute, she turned around, but he was gone.


XVIII.

 

Tori didn’t know if fall went by fast, or if she was just too out of it to notice. Both theories seemed equally plausible. It wasn’t long before the winter solstice, and with it, the traditional field trip to Olympus. Since she was now the oldest person in the Hermes cabin, it was her responsibility to chaperone her cabinmates. Luckily, everyone was well-behaved for once since none of them wanted to get in trouble with the gods. Tori drifted off during the tour and didn’t come back to until they were at the rooms for the campers and she realized she’d have to stay with the others. She shook it off and put her bag away. It was past ten by then, so everyone got ready for bed. Tori tried to go to sleep, but couldn’t. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Luke, felt his hands and lips. . .

Tori waited until she was certain that everyone else was asleep before sneaking out. Luckily, she had years of practice from sneaking into Luke’s bed. Technically, they weren’t allowed to wander around without supervision, but there were no harpies like at camp, and most of Olympus’s residents were off doing something else. All she had to do was slip on some shoes and leave.

Tori wandered outside without any particular destination in mind. It was surprisingly warm outside, but she still felt the urge to wrap her arms around herself. She walked faster, quickly finding the park where the muses played. She sat down on a bench under a streetlamp. The entire place was annoyingly romantic. Not knowing what else to do, she looked upwards, searching for constellations. Olympus didn’t seem to be affected by New York’s light pollution, so there were far more stars than she could hope to count. There they are. Andromeda, Orion, the Scorpion. . . all patterns she’d looked for with Luke. The longer she looked up, the more she felt tears prickle at her eyes. She finally gave up, sighing. What am I going to do? By now it had been months since she’d seen Luke, and she still didn’t know whether or not she wanted to contact him, or what she would say if she did.

“You alright?”

Tori jumped at the sudden voice, instinctively reaching for her sword. She didn’t loosen it when she saw who it was. The man was. . . well, man was probably stretching it; he seemed to be about her age (maybe younger). But he was handsome, even reminding her of Luke in a way, with blonde hair, tanned skin, sky-blue eyes, and a band tee. He also had one earbud on, with the other hanging loosely around her neck, making her think of when Luke used the music player she gave him for Christmas one year.

It took her a moment to remember that he’d asked her a question. “I’m fine.”

The man (guy? teen?) gestured to the spot beside her, silently asking if he could sit. Tori shrugged and moved over. They sat together in awkward silence before he said, “So, what are you doing walking around this late?”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Thinking too much?” the man asked with a knowing look.

Tori hesitated before nodding. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Tori rubbed her arm self-consciously; it wasn’t that she was cold. In fact, the air around her seemed to be getting warmer. . .

No, not the air around me. She looked at the man again. Blonde, blue eyes, earbuds. . . “Apollo?” she asked without thinking. Gods, I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

The man smiled brilliantly, the picture of godly-confidence. “That’s me. It’s nice to finally meet you, Victoria.”

The feeling isn’t mutual. Then she realized something. Ugh, great. My dad looks like my boyfriend; I do NOT need this. “What do you want?” Should she have been more respectful? Probably. Was she going to be? No.

Apollo shrugged. “Maybe I just want to talk to my daughter.”

“So you admit it.” Tori stared at him, daring him to deny it.

He didn’t, instead saying, “I know you’re probably upset, but I have my reasons—”

“Then now would be a good time to explain them.”

Apollo hesitated before saying, “Well, I actually do have something to talk to you about.”

Tori felt her hands form into fists, and forced herself to calm down. “Fine. How about this: I’ll answer your questions, you answer mine.”

“That sounds fair.” Apollo gave her a stern look, ignoring the fact that he looked like her brother at best. “I need you to answer some questions about Luke.”

Tori groaned. “This again? I already told Chiron and Mr. D, I didn’t know anything about Luke’s plans. I didn’t know he was the lighting thief until Percy told us.”

“Yeah, I know. But Zeus wants to make sure we didn’t miss anything, so he asked me to talk to you.”

“Of course. Fine, ask your questions.”

“Okay. First of all, we have to make sure you’re not helping Luke in any way—”

“You know what, why don’t I just make this easier for everyone? I did not know Luke was the lightning thief, I did not know he was working for Kronos, I do not know anything about his plans, and I have not helped him in any way, I swear it all on the River Styx.” She was glad that she’d thought to hide Luke’s charm at camp. As they listened to the thunder boom in the distance, Tori hoped she’d given him enough that he didn’t think to ask about what she didn’t say.

Thankfully, it seemed to work. Unthankfully, the next thing Apollo said was, “Tori. . . Luke doesn’t love you.”

Her blood seemed to freeze, turning to ice in her veins. “What did you just say?”

“I’m not saying it’s your fault,” Apollo continued, not seeming to notice her anger. “Honestly, I don’t blame you. I’ve known guys like that. They make you think they like you, then as soon as you grant them power and immortality, they run off like it didn’t even matter.”

“Please stop talking.”

“What I mean is, you might think Luke loved you, and hey, maybe he even liked you a bit, but he’s just using you.”

Using me? How? I haven’t actually helped him with anything!”

“That’s what we don’t know yet, but come on, Tori. The guy’s a con-artist. He’d make Hermes proud if it wasn’t for the whole war-against-Olympus thing. Nothing he does or says is real. You can’t trust him.”

Maybe you can’t, but you’re the worst. “We had an agreement. Now you have to answer my questions.”

Apollo sighed. “Fine. Ask away.”

“Why didn’t you claim me? You clearly know who I am. What’s your excuse?”

Apollo thought about it for a moment before answering, “I don’t know. I thought it would just make it worse if I claimed you. Like I was rubbing it in your face.”

“Didn’t stop you from claiming Dan.”

“Dan didn’t have the same. . . experience as you.”

For a moment, she was confused. Then the realization dawned on her. In that moment, she knew exactly what Luke felt. She wanted to wrap her hands around Apollo’s neck and squeeze , until all the air had left him. “You knew,” Tori whispered, her voice as sharp as a knife. “You heard her.

Apollo shifted uncomfortably, seeming to finally realize just how angry Tori was. “Tori, I wanted to help her, I did. But there are rules about what the gods can and can’t do. I’m sorry.”

Tori didn’t listen to what he said; she didn’t care. In her head, she could see it all as clear as day. Ink black blood stained the entire room as Diana Williams was torn apart by a hellhound. "Help! Apollo, please! Please!"

I hope Luke kills you all. “I have to go.” She stood up before he could say anything and started to walk away, ignoring his calls. As soon as she was out of his sight, she started running, sprinting until her legs felt like they were on fire. She didn’t stop until she was back at the room. She slowed, not wanting to go inside. Instead, she sat down on the grass outside and thought about what she wanted to do.

Even knowing what she did now, it took her a while to decided. She knew she wanted to go to Luke. She knew that, like she knew the sky was blue, or how to move. It was a part of her, instinctual, in a way. But she didn’t want a war, not with camp. And she knew the Titans were no better then the Gods; how could they be when Kronos was their king?

But, as the day dragged on, she realized it didn’t matter. Camp wasn’t the same without Luke; nothing was.

Camp isn’t my home, she realized. Luke is. She smiled, finally realizing what she had to do.

Tori went inside the little house, grinning. I’ll bring him back. I’ll bring him back to camp, and we’ll fix this. And with that thought, she finally went to sleep.


 

XIX.

 

Tori had to wait until they went back to camp to put her plan in action. Even then, it wasn’t until after dinner that she could actually leave. She sat through the campfire, even joining in he sing-along for once, and went back to her cabin with everyone else.

Tori counted down until she everyone else was asleep. It didn’t take as long as usual; they were still tired out from the trip, and most were sleeping soundly. She’d already packed a bag earlier. Now all she needed was the charm.

Moving quietly, Tori put on a jacket and some running shoes before going outside. A few people snorted when she opened the door, but none woke up. As soon as she was out, she readied her bow for in case any harpies saw her and decided to attack, but she had so much practice in sneaking around that none did.

The woods were most dangerous at night, but Tori wasn’t worried. She couldn’t be; she finally knew what she was doing and was going through with her plan to actually do it. There was no time for worry, only adrenaline.

Tori made her way to the Soulmates tree. There were four sets of intertwined ribbons hanging from the branches. Even in the moonlight, Tori could tell which one was hers and Luke’s. It drifted delicately in the breeze, seeming to almost wave at her. She resisted the urge to wave back.

Under the tree, hidden by the twisting roots and thick grass, was a small mound of dirt. Tori went to her knees and began digging it up. It only took a minute for her to find the charm, safely wrapped in a washcloth that she’d gotten from the showers. As soon as she had it, Tori got back up and made her way out of the trees, quickly finding a path down to the beach. There was no practical reason to do it there — Luke had clearly shown that he could appear anywhere in camp — but she liked it that way. It was. . . poetic.

“Tori, stop.”

Tori started and aimed her bow, but relaxed when she saw that it was Dan. “I’m going to come back,” Tori promised. “And Luke will be with me when I do.”

Dan looked at her with large eyes, the same color brown as hers. And as our mom. “If you go, they’ll never forgive you.”

She wasn’t sure if he meant the camp or the gods. Either way, she’d made her choice. “I know. But this is too important. Luke is too important.”

Dan shook his head. “I always knew he’d get you into too much trouble to get out of one day.”

Tori shrugged. “What can I say? It’s a soulmate thing.”

Dan sighed, but seemed resigned to Tori’s choice. “I’ll tell Chiron so he doesn’t think you just abandoned us. Say you left a note, or something.”

“Thank you. And Dan?”

He looked at her hopefully. “Yeah?”

“Take care of my guitar, please. I can’t take it with me.” The guitar had been their mother’s; she knew he would keep it safe for her while she was gone.

Dan nodded solemnly. “I will.”

“Thank you.” Without thinking about it, Tori suddenly ran forward, enveloping her brother in a hug. “I love you, you know?”

Dan hugged her back. “I know. Please, stay safe?”

“I’ll try.”

They released each other. Dan walked away slowly, looking back at his sister periodically. Tori turned her back on him and on camp and held the charm up to her mouth. “Luke,” she whispered against it. “I need you to come get me.”

Chapter Text

I.


A few feet away, the air shimmered and turned dark. Tori braced herself to see Luke, but it wasn't him. It took her a moment to recognize the person who appeared out of the hole, but once she did, it seemed obvious.

Chris.

Chris Rodriguez had been one of the unclaimed kids in the Hermes Cabin, a sort-of friend to Luke and Tori, but he'd left camp a couple of months ago with no explanation. He didn't tell anyone where he was going, but everyone assumed he joined Luke. Looks like they were right.

Chris walked towards her, smiling awkwardly. "Hey, Tori."

"Chris." They looked at each other, neither knowing what to do. "How have you been?"

"Oh, good."

"Working for Kronos now?"

He shrugged. "It pays the bills."

Tori smiled at that. "Chris, where's Luke?"

He sighed, glancing awkwardly at the sand. "I'm sorry, Tori."

Tori's felt her heart stop. "Is he okay?" she whispered, clutching her bracelet.

"Oh no, it's not that! Luke's fine, really." Chris reassured her, realizing the mistake in what he said. "He just couldn't come tonight because he was busy. Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."

Tori let out a breath of relief, though it was quickly replaced by a sense of disappointment. Really? All he said about wanting me with him, and he couldn't even show up when I ask?

Chris must have known what she was thinking. "He really wanted to be the one to get you, but he just couldn't be available all the time. I know he'll be happy to see you, though. He's been in such a bad mood since you didn't come back with him."

Tori nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

Chris gestured to the weird air-portal. "Ready to go?"

"Don't see why not." She followed Chris. He went through force, leaving her alone. Tori looked back at camp one last time, not knowing when she'd see it again. Bye, guys. I'll see you when I get back. She turned forward and strode through the air, never looking behind her.


II.


Tori stepped out of the air into a pretty gray and white hallway. "Where are we?" she asked, instinctively reaching for her sword.

Chris smiled and started leading her down the corridor. "This is the Princess Andromeda."

Tori frowned. "Like the Greek princess? The one Perseus rescued?"

"Named for her, yeah."

"OK, but what is it?"

"It's a boat," Chris explained. "A cruise ship, technically."

Cruise ship. Tori looked around, slowly nodding. Now that she thought to look, the walls had a faint seashell pattern, and the ground didn't feel quite right. There were even some doors with numbered plaques, presumably leading to suites. After a while, they stopped in front of one of them, though this one didn't have a number. Instead, the plaque said Lieutenant Castellan. It took her a moment to realize it was in Greek.

Chris opened the door, moving out of the way so she could go in. "You can stay here," Chris told her. "Luke will want to see you as soon as he gets back."

Tori nodded distantly as he left. She walked around the room, exploring. It became increasingly clear that Luke had always expected her to join him. The room was painted dark blue and brown, with some cream mixed in, their agreed upon color scheme for when they eventually left camp. The right side of the closet was empty, as were half the dresser drawers. In the bathroom, there was the sort of way-too-big claw-foot tub that she'd always wanted. The entertainment center was stocked with several movies that she liked, including some that Luke hated. There was even a spot for her bow and quiver on the wall next to where Luke hung his sword.

She set her bag at the foot of the (unnecessarily large) bed and sat down. There wasn't much to do, so she pulled out one of the books she'd brought with her — a book about Greek soulmates that Luke had gotten her for Christmas the first year they were together. He'd even gotten it specially printed so to accommodate her dyslexia; the print size was large, and the letters were white-on-black instead of the other way around. She had no idea where he'd gotten it or how, but it was one of her favorite possessions, and she couldn't bare to leave it behind.

She was through the section on Orpheus and Eurydice when the door opened again. Tori's grabbed her sword hilt out of instinct, only letting go once she saw it was Luke.

Luke. He was as beautiful as she remembered, with tanned skin, blonde hair, and ice-blue eyes, his scar the only thing that marred his appearance. He was panting heavily, his eyes wide, and Tori realized he must have run there. Her heart leapt when she saw that he still had his arrow necklace.

Tori had a whole speech thought out. She’d repeated it over and over again until she had it perfect. She would greet Luke, tell him why she was there, and ask that he come home.

She forgot it all in an instant.

She jumped up from the bed and met Luke in a kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck as he grabbed her by the waist. It reminded her of their first kiss: full of passion, longing, and pent-up emotion. Without thinking, she moaned and wove her fingers through his soft hair, vaguely aware that they were moving backwards. The back of her knees hit the bed, and she fell backwards, Luke quickly following. Neither of them broke the kiss. If anything, they pressed themselves closer to each other, molding their bodies to fit each other. It was only when Luke's hand started to travel up her shirt that she pulled away from him, breathing hard. "Luke, we. . . we have to stop, Luke. We need to talk."

Luke stared at her, not taking it in at first, but soon he nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, you're probably right." He pulled back, sitting beside her instead of covering her. Then he smiled and leaned forwards, kissing her cheek. "I missed you so much. I was starting to think I'd never see you again." She could tell he was resisting the urge to kiss her again, restraining himself to simply petting her hand with his thumb. "There's so much to do, but you should get settled first before you get involved. I'll get someone else to do my stuff tomorrow so I can show you around." He was so excited that Tori couldn't get a single word in. "We already have a plan for next summer: we're going to get the Golden Fleece — you remember how we talked about Europa and Cadmus? — and it'll speed up the healing process for Kronos."

"Kronos?" Tori asked past the lump in her throat as she remembered why she was there.

Luke just nodded, not seeming to notice her discomfort. "Yeah. He's still cut-in pieces from when the gods threw him in Tartarus," Luke smiled proudly, "but with every demigod we recruit, he grows stronger. Once we get that Fleece, not even the gods will be able to stand against us."

He almost kept talking, but Tori finally stopped him, grabbing his hand and saying, "Luke!"

He stared at her, surprised by her outburst. "What?"

Tori caressed his face to calm him, but it didn't seem to work. She sighed. "Luke, I didn't come here to join Kronos. I came to bring you back."

For a moment, they stared at each other in silence. Then Luke wrenched himself away from her, pushing her hands away. He began pacing, his hands forming and un-forming fists like they always did when he was angry. He looked at her again, visibly keeping himself from yelling. "Tori—" He cut off, not knowing what to say. It was only after a minute of them looking at each other that he said, "How could you do this?"

Now it was Tori's turn to keep from getting angry. "How could I? Luke, you do realize that you're the one trying to start a war, right? Or did I just hallucinate that?"

Luke sucked in a breath. It took a few seconds for him to reply. "Tori, if you don't want to be here, then leave."

Tori shook her head. "No. Not until I convince you to come back with me."

"That's not going to happen."

"Then I guess I'm going to be here for a long time," she said calmly, crossing her arms to make it clear that she wasn't going to budge.

Luke's lips twisted up in anger. "Why did you come here now?" he demanded. "I was gone for months!"

Tori felt her heart sink, but she pushed through, knowing she had to tell him the truth. "We went to Olympus for the solstice; you know that. But while I was there, I met my dad."

"Apollo," Luke said quietly, sensing that this wasn't going to go well.

Tori nodded. "And he told me. . . he admitted that. . ." Tears blurred her vision. "That he heard my mom screaming for help. He let her die, Luke!" She couldn't stop it; her tears finally broke through as sobs wracked her body. Before she knew what was happening, Luke was there, holding her, comforting her, wiping away her tears. Tori let him comfort her, not knowing what she'd do if he let go. It took her a long time to calm down; once she did, Luke kissed her hair and gently said, “When I take Olympus, I’ll kill your father and give you his head.”

Tori stared at him. "Luke, I don't want that. I just want us to go home."

Luke sighed, dragging his hands down his face. Tori, ignoring her confusing feelings about Apollo in favor of her love for Luke, wrapped her arms around his waist, and rested her head against his chest. "I'm not going anywhere, Luke," she said quietly. "Not without you. I said I'd follow you anywhere, remember?"

Luke didn't respond, but he did lightly hold Tori to him by her hips. Finally, he smiled. "Anywhere?"

Tori nodded. "And everywhere, in fact. I'm flexible that way."

"Oh, trust me, I know how flexible you are."

Tori laughed, but it morphed into a yawn halfway through. Luke noticed immediately, and took her hand to pull her to the bed. "Come on. You need to get some rest. It's been a long day."

Tori followed him, to sleepy to disagree. She was so exhausted from the day's events that she lay down without taking off her shoes, but Luke noticed and took them off for her, putting them with his own next to the door. Tori watched through half-lidded as he sat next to her own the bed, stroking her hair. After a few minutes, she was asleep.


III.


As it turned out, Luke really couldn't take the next day off, but he did give Tori free rein to travel the ship, as long as she didn't mess with anything important or tell anyone the real reason she was there. Weirdly enough, there wasn't just demigods and monsters, but also all the ordinary cruise passengers that had been there before the ship was taken over. Guess Kronos is too cheap to buy his own boat. They must have been under some kind of spell, since every time she tried to talk to one of them, they sounded like robots, saying things like, "We are on a cruise. We are having fun," or, "We are having a blast. We will swim in the pool." It was very creepy, and it didn't take long for Tori to stop trying speaking to them.

She was able to get some breakfast from a cafeteria, but felt weird eating around all the people that she didn't know. None of them were rude, but she caught more than one of them staring at her when they thought she wasn't paying attention. She had no idea what they thought of her. They all seemed to think that she was here to join them, since no one was aggressive, but none of them tried to talk to her. Maybe they thought she wouldn't like it, or maybe they thought Luke would get upset. Maybe they just didn't know what to think of her. Regardless, it made her uncomfortable, and she left as soon as she was done eating.

Tori explored the ship for a while, curious. The ship was huge, and had a promenade, shops, bars, restaurants, a climbing wall, and even an entire level dedicated to a swimming pool. A pool on the ocean. That's kind of hilarious. The masthead seemed to be a woman, but Tori couldn't see it well from aboard the ship. She didn't feel comfortable doing anything alone, so once she was done looking around, she started to go back to the bedroom.

"Hi!" someone said from behind her. Tori whipped around, gripping the hilt of her sword. It was a woman with curly hair and dark brown skin, dressed in preppy clothes. She seemed fairly normal, but Tori didn't release her sword.

"Hi," Tori said, feeling the urge to either back away or draw her weapon.

"You must be Victoria," she said, smiling. Tori didn't like that smile; it made her look like a predatory sizing up its next meal. "I'm Kelli."

"Nice to meet you," Tori said, not sure what to think. The girl hadn't done anything openly threatening, but that meant nothing as far as she was concerned.

"You know, Tori — can I call you Tori? — my boss isn't too keen on you."

Tori arched an eyebrow, inching further away when Kelli took a step towards her. "Really? And who's your boss?"

Kelli laughed, sounding like one of those stereotypical mean girls from TV. "Kronos, of course."

Oh no. "Well, I'm very sorry about that. I think I'll just be on my way, now." She started to walk away, not daring to turn her back on the girl, but suddenly Kelli stepped forward, now only a few inches away. Still smiling, she said, "In fact, he thinks it might be a good idea if instead of letting you keep trying to mess up his plans for our favorite son of Hermes, you just go back home."

Tori drew her sword, forcing Kelli to back away as she pointed it at her throat. "Well, that's too bad for him, since I have no intention of going back alone."

"Oh, dear. We were afraid that might be the case. Because, you know Tori, if you don't leave, we might have to do something that I don't think any of us would enjoy." She laughed. "Well, maybe I would enjoy it, but I don't think you would."

Tori narrowed her eyes at the girl, who she was now sure wasn't human, and said, "Okay, just go ahead and kill me. I’m sure Luke won’t notice the world suddenly turning black and white. He’s been kind of slow lately, you know." A girlfriend might have one thing, but soulmates were sacred. If Kelli hurt her, Luke could kill her and no one would say a word in her defense.

Kelli finally stopped smiling, her expression turning angry and threatening. "Just stay out of the way, or else I'll take you out of the way." She pushed past Tori, purposefully knocking into her shoulder. Tori watched her leave, never sheathing her sword.


IV.


Some time after she returned to Luke's room, she heard a knock on the door. Upon opening it, she saw a pretty young woman, about her age, with red hair and a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. She smiled cheerfully. "Hi!" she said with a faint southern accent. "I'm Georgia! Mister— Lieutenant— Captain," she sighed and finally settled on, "Your soulmate, noticed you didn't bring a lot of clothes with you, so he asked me to come up here and get you measured so we could have some made."

"Oh," Tori said awkwardly and let her in. Now that she was looking, she could see that the woman was carrying a notepad, some colored pens, and several measuring tapes.

"Thank you, ma'am," Georgia said as she set her stuff down. "I never do know what to call him, you know. He's so intimidating. Of course, you probably don't even notice, you two've been together so long. Do you mind changing?"

"Oh, um, no. I mean, sure, I don't mind." She had on a sports bra under her shirt that she didn't mind being seen in, and she'd packed a pair of shorts that she could wear. It did mean that her scars were exposed, but Georgia didn't mention them, probably assuming that they were from monster fighting rather than the hellhound that killed Diana.

Georgia was nice and easy to talk to, asking her questions about what sort of clothes she'd want while she did her work, but Tori's mind kept trailing off. Luke had probably intended for this to be a nice thing, but she couldn't help but feel that it was also his way of sending her a message: I'm not going back; you're staying here.

To take her mind off of it, Tori started asking Georgia questions. She was amused to learn that she was from Georgia — "My daddy wasn't very original" — but less happy to hear that she was one of Aphrodite's kids, and that she'd been recruited to the Titan's army after being attacked by monsters and unable to get to Camp Half-Blood. "I would've died if some of the other demigods hadn't showed up. Luke was one of them, y'know. I thought he was sweet, but then I found out he had a soulmate." She grinned at Tori, not seeming to notice her newly simmering jealousy and possessiveness. "What's it like having a soulmate? I haven't met mine yet."

Tori could tell; Georgia was wearing a black-and-white dress, with white eye shadow and charcoal lipstick. "It's nice," Tori said, trying to think of what to say. "Very strange at first, but mostly good."

"What about colors? I can't wait to see in colors. I'll be able to make so many new clothes!"

"Now that was weird, especially at first. It doesn't happen slowly, you know, so I just woke up, because I had passed out for a little while because of something else that was going on, and suddenly there were just colors everywhere. Kind of freaked me out, actually, but I'm used to them now."

Georgia started to say something, but then the door opened again. It was Luke this time, wearing one of his many brown shirts along with blue jeans and a pair of boots. He smiled mischievously when he saw them and said, "Georgia, are you done?"

The redhead looked between them, slowly smiling. Tori realized that she was almost completely naked in front of Luke for the first time in months. "Of course, sir. I'll come back to see Mrs. Castellan again when the clothes are ready." She was gone before Tori even thought to correct her.

Luke sauntered up to Tori, setting his hands on her waist and kissing her. Tori's eyes drifted shut and she melted in the kiss, threading her fingers through his soft hair. Tori smiled at him when they broke for air. "How's your day been?"

He shrugged. "It was good. We found a new place to look for recruits, but we still don't know exactly what to do about the Fleece." He tried to kiss her again, but Tori pulled away. Luke frowned. "What's wrong?"

"You've been plotting."

Luke forced a laugh. "You make me sound like a movie villain."

"Yeah. Weird, huh?"

Luke's lips twisted up angrily and he dropped his hands, stepping away from her. "I'm gonna take a shower." He didn't quite slam the bathroom door, but he definitely wanted to.


V.

 

Things didn't get better. Luke was gone most days, leaving them only enough time to eat breakfast and spend part of the night together. And most of that time was spent arguing about Kronos and the gods. She felt very. . . alone. Chris and Georgia came by to see her sometimes, but not often. And they weren't Luke. Luke had always been her person, even at camp. Being apart from him so much, even when he wasn't actively trying to destroy camp, was depressing.

To be fair, Luke did try to make her feel better. One morning in January, he woke her up early, grinning like it was Christmas. "Come on," he said, pulling her up while she yawned. "I have something for you."

Tori hit him with a pillow. "Shoo." She yawned and snuggled into the bed. "It's sleep time."

"No," Luke said, yanking the comforter away. "It's wake up and come see your gift time."

Tori whined some more, but eventually got up and changed. Luke led her through several corridors before stopping in front of a room, quickly using one hand to cover its plaque. Tori watched him suspiciously. "Okay. I'm here. What's the gift?"

Luke opened the door, only taking his hand down once it was out of her sight. He gestured to the room with a flourish. "Ta-da!"

Tori, excited herself now, smiled and entered the room. There were three arrow targets lined alongside one wall, two straw dummies, a new bow and a quiver of arrows on the target wall, a door that presumably led to a bathroom, an entertainment center across from a couch, and a reading nook — including a very plush-looking bed — in the corner with a window.

She looked around, not knowing what to think. Finally, Luke said. "This is your room. I mean, my room is still our room, but this is for when I'm not here, of if you need some privacy. No one else is allowed in here without your permission." His expression turned serious as he softly said, "Including me."

Tori felt her heart melt. "Luke. . ."

He turned around, explaining what everything was. "There's a little practice area, because I know you don't like to train with the others on the ship, and a reading place, and there is a fucking huge bathtub in there—"

Tori stopped him, placing her hands on either side of his face and kissing him lightly. "Thank you, bear," she said, feeling breathless.

They spent the rest of the day together, sparring and watching TV and kissing. She was so happy that she never even brought up the war, not wanting to ruin the mood. But when she woke up the next morning, Luke was already gone, leaving only a note to explain where he was. Tori stared at it, feeling herself sink into a depression that lasted the rest of the day.


VI.

 

Tori cursed under her breath as she looked at the clothes. "Georgia."

It had taken longer than expected for the clothes to be done. Everyone had things that were actually important to do, so no one was particularly concerned about getting it done. But they were there now, and some of the choices Georgia made in regards to the things Tori didn't think to offer an opinion on were . . . interesting. The shirts and pants were nice, but instead of the sports bras and shorts that she'd been thinking of, there was this frilly, lacy lingerie that was clearly not made with fighting in mind. It took her awhile to figure out what exactly Georgia had been thinking when she made that decision. Tori blushed when she did, her cheeks a vivid red. She almost threw the clothes in the back of the closet to be forgotten, but before she could, a new thought occurred to her. Her relationship with Luke was still strained, and she wanted to do something to help fix it.

And Luke’s birthday is next week. . .

Tori smiled as an idea took form.


VII.


Luke stirred, groaning as his eyes opened. “Tori?”

Tori grinned and leaned down to kiss him. “Happy birthday, Boo-Bear.” Tori was straddling his waist, still wearing the shorts and t-shirt from the night before.

Luke, quickly waking up, grinned and grabbed her hips with his hands, sitting up to kiss her fully. “Morning. You know, I wasn’t really expecting such a nice wake-up call.”

“I know. And before we do anything else, I want to make something clear: I don’t want to talk about camp today. I don’t want to talk about camp or Kronos or Percy or the gods or anything even remotely related to any of it. I want it to be just you and me. Okay? Can we do that?”

After a moment of contemplation, Luke nodded. “Of course we can, wildcat.” He seemed as relieved by the idea as she was. They’d been arguing about non-stop every day about whether to stay or go home. It was honestly exhausting. They needed a break.

Tori smiled, threw her legs over the bed, and stood up. “Come on. We have birthday stuff to do.”

Luke had finally managed to get a day away from everything. They spent almost every minute with it together, kissing, sparring, watching movies, and just generally goofing off. It was. . . nice. Relaxing. More than once, Tori found herself wishing it would never end.

They ended the day in their room, watching a movie while eating cookies. Tori had carefully selected the movie to fulfill her purposes for the night. They were watching Titanic, a movie they’d both seen multiple times, so they wouldn’t be bothered by not finishing it, and she’d timed it perfectly so that it would be ten o’clock when it got to the scene she wanted.

As the movie went on, Tori slowly inched closer to her soulmate, eventually leaning her head on his shoulder. Her heart beat faster once they finally made it to the car scene. Tori turned the volume down, not wanting to be distracted. This part — the passion, the love, the excitement — always made her want Luke. She subtly pulled the neck of Luke’s shirt down, placing a soft kiss against the collum of his throat. Luke tensed, sucking in a breath. Tori looked up at him. “You okay, bear?”

Luke nodded shortly, returning his attention to the movie.

Tori thought it was strange, but shrugged it off. They hadn’t sex since before Luke left camp; he was probably just nervous.

She kissed him again, tracing a line down his neck and collarbone. Luke shivered, but didn’t stop her, keeping his eyes trained straight ahead.

“I’m sorry I missed your birthday, Tori,” Luke said suddenly.

Tori looked up at him, laughing after a moment. “It’s okay, Luke.”

“Yeah, I just. . . I wanted to say that.” They looked at each other. “You know, I think maybe we should watch something else. I mean, we’ve already seen this so many times—”

She kissed him, using one hand to hold his chin and the placing the other on his chest. Luke seemed weirdly shocked at first, but it was only a few seconds before he kissed her back, opening his mouth to her tongue and moving one hand to support her back. Tori’s sleeve slid down her arm, partially revealing the lacy purple bra she’d chosen for the occasion.

It was perfect. It couldn’t last.

Tori moaned softly and whispered, “Luke.”

It was like a rug had been pulled out from under them. Luke shot back, breaking away so suddenly that she fell across the bed. Tori scrambled to sit up, staring at her lover. “Luke, are you okay?”

He stared at her, backing up until he was almost to the door. “I’m— I’m sorry, I just. . . I’m sorry.” He left, shutting the door behind him and leaving Tori feeling cold and confused.


VIII.


Luke sighed as he walked back to his room, dreading the conversation he knew he would have to have with Tori. It had been almost a week since his disastrous birthday, and he hadn’t spoken to her since then. He wasn’t looking forward to explaining what had happened to him, but he knew he had to. We’ll work it out. He grimaced, acknowledging how difficult that was going to be, but determined to do it anyway.

On the bright side, he’d been able to direct all his energy to getting the Fleece. They had a concrete plan for it now; Luke even had the poison from Tartarus that he planned to use. Now all he had to worry about was—

No, I can’t think about that now. It was difficult enough knowing what he had to do; if he kept overthinking it, he might lose his nerve. Focus on Tori.

Shaping his face into what he hoped was an apologetic expression, Luke opened the door. Tori was there, sharpening a dagger. She didn’t look up when, though Luke thought she must have heard the door open.

He walked in, feeling more nervous with every second she didn’t acknowledge him. “Hey, Tori,” he said awkwardly.

“Luke,” Tori said, holding her knife up to the light.

The room was silent until Luke, realizing that Tori wasn’t going to say anything else, said, “Tori, I know you’re mad at me, and you have every right to be—”

“Is there someone else?” Tori asked, frighteningly quiet as she looked at him for the first time.

“What?” Luke asked, too confused by the sudden change to do anything else.

Before he knew what was happening, Tori was in front of him, grabbing him by the hair and forcing him to bare his throat. He belatedly realized that she had the dagger pointed directly at his neck, though not his jugular.

“I said," Tori growled, "is there someone else, you—”

“No! Of course there isn’t!” He tried to move, but the knife remained faithfully pointed at his throat. “How could you even think that?”

“You left me,” Tori hissed, her voice cracking almost imperceptibly. “You left me for a week, with no explanation, nothing other than ‘I’m sorry’. And I wasn’t here for months before this. What am I supposed to think?”

“Tori,” Luke said, wincing when her grip on his hair tightened. “Tori, I swear on the River Styx that there isn’t anyone else!”

For a while, Tori just stared at him, never dropping her angry expression or lowering her weapon. Then her face broke, and she released him, allowing the dagger to slip from her hand and fall to the floor. Luke rubbed his neck, ready to argue with Tori. . . until he saw her face.

Tori looked like she was only two seconds away from bursting into tears, her arms wrapped around herself. “Then why did you leave?” she whispered, sounding almost childlike. “If you love me, then why did you leave? Why didn’t you come back?”

“Tori. . .” Luke took a step towards her, but she moved back, shaking her head.

“No! Explain yourself! I deserve that much!” She was still trembling, but her voice was strong and steady.

Luke sighed. This is going worse than I thought. And that’s saying something. “I just. . . I didn’t think it was a good idea. Not because of anything you did, or anyone else,” he explained when he saw her gearing up for another accusation. “But because of our. . . situation.”

Tori was still staring at him, but she didn’t look angry anymore. She looked genuinely confused now. “What are you talking about?”

“Tori. . . you’re not here because you want to be here. Not really. Our situation isn’t normal. And we're just. . . not on equal terms, right now. I mean, I have an army of monsters and demigods, and you. . . Y'know. Don't. And I was worried that, because of that, you might do things that you didn’t want to do.”

As he spoke, Tori’s expression grew softer and softer. Once he finished, she stepped forward and cupped the back of his neck with her hands, kissing him. “Oh, bear.” She nuzzled their cheeks together. “I didn’t know you felt that way. That’s. . . sweet.”

“Sweet?” Luke asked, setting his hands lightly on the small of her back.
Tori nodded. “You know, except for the part where you left for a week.”

Luke winced. “I’m sorry. I was planning to come back sooner, but we finally figured out what to do with the Fleece, and I got caught up in that.”

Tori looked like she was going to ask about that, but decided against it. “Luke, baby, if I have a problem with something we’re doing, I’ll tell you. Okay? I promise.”

Luke hesitated before nodding. “Okay.”

“Good,” Tori said, smiling. “Now, tell me about your plan.”

Luke opened his mouth to speak, but then he heard Kronos speaking. No. You will not tell her.

She can know, Luke insisted. She won’t tell anyone. And it wouldn’t stop them anyway.

She is not trustworthy.

For once, Luke ignored the voice, though he knew he’d end up paying for it it nightmares. He decided to take a third option instead. “I’ll tell you, but only if you swear on the River Styx not to repeat it to anyone.”

Tori bit her lip, seeming conflicted. But she nodded eventually, seeming to decided there was no point in not hearing.

They sat on the bed as they spoke. Tori was practically laying on him, her head tucked into his chest. “We don’t know where the Fleece is. Not exactly. And wherever it is, it’s probably more well-guarded than Olympus.”

“Then how are you going to get it?” Tori asked curiously, her tone carefully neutral. Luke didn’t mind. There was still plenty of time for Tori to change sides. She’d just have to be careful until she did.

Luke grinned. “That’s the beauty of it. We’re not going to get it.”

“Yeah?” Tori said, tracing his arrow point with her finger in a way that was probably more distracting than it should have been. “Then who is?”

“Percy.”

“What?” Tori sat up. Their faces were close enough for him to feel the warmth of her breath. “Why?”

This was the part of the plan he didn’t like. “I’m going to poison Thalia’s tree,” he told her, looking off to the side as though something else had caught his attention. “That will weaken the camp’s bordered. With the venom we’re using, the Fleece will be the only thing that can heal it.”

“Luke, you can’t do that!” Tori said, looking as horrified as she sounded.

Luke sighed. “It’ll be fine, Tori. Really. I plan to give them the Fleece after we’re done with it.”

Tori gave him a don’t-give-me-that-shit look and said, “Really? Luke, forgive me for saying this, but somehow I don’t think you’d be doing that out of the goodness of your heart.”

“Ouch, wildcat. That hurt.” He smiled, but Tori was still unconvinced. Luke rolled his eyes. “It’s part of the plan, okay?”

What plan?”

“The plan to control the prophecy.” At Tori’s confused look, he explained, “There was a prophecy, a long time ago, that said that a child of one of the Big Three would either save or destroy Olympus. That’s why they stopped having kids.”

“Really?” Tori asked, stunned. “I can’t believe it. So Percy—”

“Yes,” Luke cut her off. “But if things go the way we want them to, it won’t be him.”

“Who, then?”

Luke smiled. “Thalia.”

Tori shot up, staring down at him with wide brown eyes. “Thalia? The turned-into-a-tree-by-Zeus Thalia?”

“Exactly.”

After a moment of silence, Tori said, “I’m not sure how helpful a tree would be, Luke. They don’t do much.”

Luke rolled his eyes. “She’s not going to stay a tree. That’s why I’m going to give them the Fleece.”

Tori was silent. Then realization struck her, and her eyes widened. “You think it can turn her back?”

He nodded, practically vibrating with energy. “I know it will.” He pulled Tori to him, wrapping her up in his embrace and kissing her forehead. He smiled. “Everything’s about to change.”


IX.



Tori groaned as the light hit her. It was almost summer, and the sun was rising earlier and earlier each day.

It actually took her a moment to realize that it wasn’t the light that had woken her (though it was really annoying). Luke was standing over her, smiling softly.

Tori sat up and smiled back at him. “Hey.”

Luke leaned forward and kissed her. “Hey.” He pulled back. Tori tried to follow him, but he chuckled and placed a hand against her shoulder to stop her. “I have to go,” he said, laughing at Tori’s pout. “I just wanted to wake you up so you wouldn’t think I abandoned you.”

Last night had been the first time they had sex after fat too long tip-toeing around the subject. But Tori was too tired to think about that, so she just yawned and snuggled back into her pillow. “Okay. Have a nice day, boo-bear.”

Luke sighed, but he was still happy. “I will.” Tori lazily waved at him as he left and went back to sleep.

Later, after she’d woken up and spent the day in her room and with Georgia, Tori was back in the bedroom, absently reading her copy of Romeo and Juliet when Luke came back. Tori smiled when he did. “Hey you.” It was getting easier and easier to forget her goal. She didn’t like arguing with Luke everyday. Sometimes, they made it all the way to bed before she realized she hadn’t brought the subject up. Sometimes, she didn’t even remember.

Today was one of those days. Luke smiled tiredly, and all Tori could think about was how exhausted he looked. Immediately, she put her book to the side and stood up, taking his face in her hands. “Are you okay, Luke?”

Luke nodded, but it was clear that his heart wasn’t in it. “Yeah, it’s just. . . it’s just been a really long day.”

Tori grabbed his hand and pulled him to the bathroom. “Come on. You should take a bath. It’ll help you relax.”

Luke argued weakly, but quickly gave in. Tori ran him a hot bath in the tub, pouring in a mini-bottle of bubbles. Luke groaned as he sank into it, smiling up at her. “You’re not gonna join me?”

Tori chuckled and undressed, lowering herself into the bathtub.

They spent the rest of the night together, splashing around in the bathtub before getting out and eating dinner. Luke seemed to cheer up almost instantly, and Tori didn’t think to ask about what had upset him. It was only once Luke had fallen asleep that Tori realized what it was.

It came to her in a dream. She didn’t realize what it was at first, but then she saw that she was on Halfbood-Hill.

What is this? she thought as she walked around. Why am I here? Then she saw it. On Thalia’s tree, in the center of its trunk, was an ugly puncture mark, about the size of a ring, oozing acid-green liquid.

The tree, Tori realized with a sense of dawning horror. He poisoned the tree.


X.

 

The next few days were. . . awkward. Quiet. Tori didn’t speak to Luke most of the time unless she had to. She knew he was upset, but dammit, so was she. What few conversations they had usually dissolved into shouting as Tori became more and more angry with Luke, and he just got more defensive in turn. Needless to say, she wasn’t making any progress.

Despite having been on the ship for months now, Tori hadn’t seen everything on it. Some things were off-limits for her — areas where the monsters stayed, the more loyal demigods’ rooms, and places where important decisions regarding the Titan’s army. But she was still technically allowed to go wherever she wanted, and some days she liked to explore.

The ship was oddly quiet. Tori figured most of the monsters and half-bloods were busy doing whatever it was they did. Luke had left early that morning, not even stopping to say goodbye, though he did mention that today was ‘important’, whatever that meant.

Tori walked around without any destination in mind. She passed some weird snake women, but they ignored her, and she returned the favor. And there were, of course, the glassy-eyed passengers who just spouted their excitement in a monotone voice whenever they saw her. After a while, she made her way to deck 13. Oddly enough, she’d never been there before.

Since there didn’t seem to be anything interesting about the hallway, she was about to leave. That is, until she saw Kelli.

The girl, who Luke had informed her was an empousa, grabbed Tori’s arm, digging her nails into the skin. She smiled. “I’m afraid you can’t be up here, Victoria.”

Tori narrowed her eyes. “Why not?” She looked around. It seemed like a fairly plain hallway, but she could see the door that Kelli seemed to be guarding. As she looked at it, the air seemed to get colder. “What’s in there?”

Kelli’s grip on her upper arm tightened. “None of your business.”

For a moment, they just stared at each other. Then Tori tore herself out of the monster’s grip, slammed a fist into her throat, and ripped open the door.

From a plush sofa in the middle of the room, Luke stared at her. “Tori,” he said in a carefully controlled voice, “what are you doing?”

She shrugged. “Just, you know, looking around and— What the fuck?” Standing in the room — along with two very hairy men in blue jeans who Tori vaguely recognized as Luke’s guards — were Percy, Annabeth, and a. . . cyclops?

Luke closed his eyes, breathing in. Then he smiled charmingly at the prisoners. “I’ll be right back. Tori, join me outside, please.” Without waiting for an answer, he ordered his guards to stay with the kids and took Tori’s elbow to lead her outside. Once the door was closed, the mask fell, and he looked simultaneously angry, confused, and concerned.

Just as Luke opened his mouth to speak, Kelli — who had been standing behind her, waiting for a moment to speak — said, “I told her not to go in the room, but she—”

“Shut up,” Luke snapped. “Don’t you have more important stuff to do?”

For a moment, Kelli didn’t seem to know what to think. Then she sneered and said, “Of course, Lieutenant.” She mock-bowed to them and left, giving Tori a death stare and rubbing her neck where she’d been hit.

They turned to face each other. “Luke, what the hell is going on? What are they doing here?”

“They must have snuck onto the ship.” Luke smiled. No, he smirked, actually looking like the villain everyone else said he was. Tori couldn’t help but shiver.

She supposed it wasn’t too surprising that Luke hadn’t told her any of the latest news, not when she was practically screaming at him in every conversation they had, but it still hurt that he hadn’t told her anything that was going on. “Luke, don’t hurt them.” She couldn’t bear it if he did something like that. Then he really would be the bad guy.

Luke shook his head. “No. They still need to get the Fleece.”

Tori let out a breath of relief. “And you still want to give it to them, right?”

He nodded. “After we’re done with it, yeah.”

“Okay,” Tori said, feeling like a weight had been lifted from her.

Luke, probably realizing how anxious she’d been, leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “We’ll talk tonight, okay? For now, I have to get back to this.”

Tori nodded and watched him go back in the room. She stared at the door for a minute before slowly walking back to their room.


XI.

 

It wasn’t long afterwards that Tori hear sirens blare. A moment later, and flashing red lights joined them. Tori watched in tired silence. They stopped some ten minutes later, and Tori mentally prepared herself for the argument she knew was coming.

It took long than she thought it would, but eventually Luke came back. She expected him to explain himself, to say something, some justification. Instead, he smiled, kissed her, and said, “I love you.”

It was hard to argue with him after that.


XII.

 

Tori had never been a very social person, at least since she came to camp. There was her brother and the other soulmates, who she’d always felt a special kinship with, but Luke had been her only close friend, and the person she spent most of her time with. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that she felt so lonely in the next few days. Luke was far too busy to spend much time with her. They ate breakfast in the morning, then only saw each other again at night, when Luke came back from whatever it was he did during the day. Sometimes she was already asleep by the time he got there. Even if she was awake, she was usually too tired to start an argument. One night, she wasn’t.

Luke was in a pretty good mood, in complete contrast to his soulmate’s scowl.

“We’re in Miami now,” he said cheerfully as he put his weapons away. “Shouldn’t take much longer.”

“Hm.”

“Hey, what do you want to do for Soulmates’ day?” he asked, joining her on the bed. “There’s a tree in the city, if you want to go there, or we can get one for the ship.”

“I’d like to be on land, again,” Tori said snippily. Luke just smiled and leaned forward, kissing her throat. He started to say something, but Tori pushed him away and scooted over.

Luke frowned at her. “What’s wrong?”

She looked at him. “What’s wrong?” She began to rise up, staring at him. “What’s wrong?” She picked up a pillow and hit him with it. “You’ve started a war and now you’re trying to destroy our homes and friends! That’s what’s wrong, you dumbass!

Tori started to hit him again, but he snatched the pillow from her. “Stop that!” Now he looked angry, too. Tori found that she didn’t really care. “I told you why I’m doing this. I thought you were coming around.”

Tori picked up another pillow and hit him again several times. “You! Were! Wrong!

Luke jumped up off the bed, glaring at her while reflexively closing and opening his fists. He only calmed down once he saw how close to tears she was. “You know, sometimes I wonder if you ever listen to me. If you ever see me. If you still love me. If you ever did.”

Luke’s face softened; he looked pained. “Tori—”

Tori didn’t hear the rest. She bolted past him, out the door, and down the hall. Luke followed her, but she ran into her room slammed the door.

Luke pounded on the door. “Tori!”

She ignored him, slowly making her way to the bed. She lay down, pulling the comforter over her head and listened. After a while, Luke stopped. Maybe he left.

Tori buried her head into a pillow and let herself cry.


XVIII.

 

An hour later, Tori was still in her room. Luke probably should have left, but he couldn’t just give up. He knocked on the door and quietly asked, “Can I come in?”

For a minute, nothing happened. Luke was about to leave and try again in the morning when the door opened.

Tori faced him. Her arms were wrapped around herself, and she was only wearing a pair of shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Her face were pink and puffy. She wouldn’t look him in the eye.

She seemed. . . smaller, this way, stripped of her weapons and confidence. His heart ached to see her this way. Tori shouldn’t be weak; Tori should be standing tall and proud at his side.

He looked at her, careful not to seem too aggressive. “Can I come in?”

Tori nodded and held the door open. He walked past her as she closed it again.

They stood and looked at each other. Finally, Luke said, “Are you okay?”

Tori laughed bitterly. “You’re asking me now?”

Luke winced. “Yes. I’m worried about you, Tori.”

Tori shifted from foot to foot, staring at the floor. He started to think she hadn’t heard him before she said, “I miss it. The way things were before.”

Luke sighed. “Honestly? So do I.”

She looked up at him, hopeful. “Really?”

He nodded. “Really.” He did, too. Things had been so simple before, even when they weren’t. He had Tori, and Tori had him. Now, neither was sure where they stood. “Did you mean what you said earlier? About if I love you?”

Tori stared at the ground. “It feels like that, sometimes. I start to doubt you, and then I doubt myself, and I want you to comfort me, but you’re never there.”

Luke stepped forward, wrapping his arms around her. For a moment, it seemed like she might push him away, but she didn’t, choosing instead to sink into his chest and clutch his shirt. “I do love you,” he whispered. “I always do. I swear.”

Tori sighed. “I know. It’s just hard to remember sometimes.”

“I’ll help you remember. We’ll spend more time together, train together like we used to.” And when you realize I’m right, we’ll always be together. “I promise.”

Tori nodded against his chest. “Luke?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you just . . . hold me? For a little while?”

He kissed her forehead. “As long as you need me.”

They laid down on the bed. Luke had his arms around her shoulders and waist.

They stayed that way for the rest of the night.


XIX.

 

Tori picked her head up off Luke’s chest, lifting her hands and blowing at the bubbles. She smiled as they flew away from her before falling back into the bath. She rested her head against Luke’s chest, sighing happily. “Luke?”

Her soulmate was cupping his hands, picking up water and using it to rinse her soapy hair. “Yes?”

“Do you ever think of what comes next?”

Luke looked down at her. They were both covered in a movie-worthy layer of bubbles that had taken multiple tiny bottles to accomplish. Tori had to look directly up to see his face. “What do you mean?” Luke asked.

“I mean, after the war, or after camp, or after whatever. Do you ever think of settling down? Of just living?” It was something they’d talked about before, but that was at camp. Things were different now. She wanted to know if this was.

Luke drew his hands down her scars the way he did when he was thinking. She was so used to it, she almost didn’t notice. “Sometimes, yeah.”

“Really? What do you think of when you do?”

He looked at her. “What do you mean?”

Tori shrugged. “You know, paint me a picture. Like, does this future-us live in a house or an apartment?”

He considered it. “A house, I think. More private.”

Tori smiled. “I like that. What else?”

After a few seconds, Luke replied, “Well, you. . . spend all your time singing and playing guitar and sparring. And you never have to worry about anything because the gods and monsters have all fucked off.”

“Liking it so far.”

Luke chuckled. “And I . . . am an art thief.”

Tori grinned. “Art thief? Really?”

“Best in the business. We have art from all your favorites.”

“Like Van Gogh?” Van Gogh was her favorite artist, something Luke knew well.

“Oh, several from Van Gogh.” Luke was grinning, clearly having fun as they planned out their imaginary future.

Tori bit her lip, not sure if she should ask her next question. “Do we have kids?” It was something they’d never really talked to each other before, always finding a way to dance around the subject. But she wanted to know what he thought.

For a moment, the entire world was still. Then Luke nodded. “If you want, then yes, we have kids. Two kids.”

“I like two. Two’s a good number.”

Luke smiled at her. He seemed to be about to continue, but then the door suddenly burst open. Kelli stood in the doorway, grinning at them. “Luke! Hurry up, the half-bloods are returning with the Fleece. We need to get them.”

It took all Tori had not to jump out of the water, screaming her head off. As it was, she could only glare at the hell-bitch and be grateful that the bubbles covered everything vital. “I’ll be out in a minute, Kelli,” Luke snapped. “Get out.”

Kelli waved at them, giving Tori a sugar-sweet smile before leaving. Luke sighed as soon as the door was closed. “Sorry about that. I didn’t realize today would be the day.” He smiled and kissed her cheek, standing up. “I’ll see you in a few.” He wrapped a towel around his waist and left to the bedroom. Tori sat in the tub, staring after him before getting up.


XX.

 

Luke ran his fingers through his still-wet hair, looking over at the soldiers he was taking with him. They were ready to leave the ship. He just had to lead them.
He unsheathed his sword. “Everybody ready?” The monsters and demigods nodded. “Alright. Let’s head out.”

“Wait!” One of the monsters said unexpectedly.

Luke stared at her. It was one of Kelli’s sisters, an empousa. The empousai were beautiful women in their human form, but as monsters, they had chalk-white skin, blood-red eyes, and two different legs, one made of bronze and one that resembled that of a donkey. “What?” he said irritably, wanting to hurry up and go.

The monster spread its arms. “Where’s your little friend? None of us have seen her around lately. You don’t think that’s a little odd?”

Luke stared at her. Not now. Not today. “I think it’s none of your business.”

The empousa laughed. “Oh, I think it is.”

“Well I don’t care. Let’s go.” He tried to get them moving, but the monster wouldn’t stop speaking.

“I want to know why she’s not here. Why she’s never here.”

He stared at her. “What are you saying?”

She laughed. “I’m saying we can’t trust her. She needs to leave.”

Luke stared at her. She stared back, smirking. Then, before anyone could stop him, Luke raised his sword and brought it down on her neck. She just looked down to see what he’d done, her face stunned, as she began to turn to dust.

Everyone stared at him in shock. Then Luke smiled and asked, “Anyone else have a problem with Tori?”

They all shook their heads.

“Good. Now let’s go.”


XXI.

 



Tori stood on the aft deck along with several of the army’s soldiers — snake women, Laistrygonian cannibals, demigods — waiting for Luke to come back. She didn’t know what she expected; Luke carrying the Fleece, maybe. She hadn’t thought about it.

What she got was two Luke’s guards carrying Percy, Annabeth, and Grover and throwing them in front of the swimming pool. She stared at them unable to move as Luke looked them over. “And so the Fleece,” he said, using the tip of his sword to poke at them. “Where is it?”

He used Backbiter to poke and prod at the boys while Tori shoved her way forward, making little progress. She was finally able to get to a spot where she could face Luke just as Grover yelled, “Hey! That’s real goat fur under there!”

Luke smiled. Tori didn’t like the look of it. “Sorry, old friend. Just give me the Fleece and you can be on your way.”

Grover made an angry bleating sound. “Some old friend!”

Luke stared at them, his smile becoming sharper. His voice was dangerously calm. “Maybe you didn’t hear me. Where is the Fleece?” He put special emphasis on each word, clearly close to losing his cool.

“Not here,” Percy said, staring Luke straight in the eye. “We sent it on ahead of us. You messed up.”

Tori couldn’t keep the shock from her face, though she was honestly grateful for it. She wasn’t ready to face Kronos. She still hoped she wouldn’t have to.

Then again, Tori thought as Luke’s eyes narrowed, I might not have a choice. “You’re couldn’t have. . .” His face turned red with anger as something occurred to him. “Clarisse?”

Percy nodded. What? Clarisse? Her mood turned from bad to worse as she realized that Luke knew something he hadn’t told her. On one hand, she understood. She still wasn’t trustworthy; he couldn’t tell her everything without some kind of punishment.

But it still hurt.

This is going to be even more work than I thought. And I didn’t think it was gonna be easy.

Luke was staring at Percy in unconcealed rage. “You trusted. . . you gave. . .” Tori shuddered to see him. His hatred of Clarisse could only make the situation worse. And we were having such a good day.

“Yeah,” Percy said, still acting way too confident for his situation.

“Agrius!” Luke snapped.

One of the hairy giants flinched. “Y-yes?”

“Get below and prepare my steed. Bring it to the deck. I need to fly to the Miami Airport, fast!”

“But, boss—”

“Do it!” Luke shouted, losing control by the second. “Or I’ll feed you to the drakon myself!”

Agrius gulped, nodded hastily, and started down the stairs. Tori watched as Luke began to pace in front of the swimming pool, cursing under his breath and gripping his sword so tightly that his knuckles turned white. She wanted to step in, to calm him, but she wasn’t sure what he would do. No, it was more than that. She was scared. She’d never been scared of Luke before. She didn’t like it.

“You’ve been toying with us all along,” Percy said suddenly. Tori’s eyes immediately flicked to him, thankful for the distraction even as she knew it was going to cause them more trouble. “You wanted us to bring you the Fleece and save you the trouble of getting it.”

Luke scowled at him, not bothering to restrain his contempt. “Of course, you idiot! And you’ve messed everything up!” You know, Luke, I don’t think he feels too bad about it.

As though to prove her point, Percy shouted, “Traitor!” and threw a golden drachma at Luke. The coin sailed past him easily. He didn’t even dodge. “You tricked all of us! Even DIONYSUS at CAMP HALF-BLOOD!”

Tori thought she saw something strange, but was distracted by Percy suddenly uncapping his pen, which promptly turned into a sword. Jesus Christ, when did he get that?

Luke sneered at him. “This is no time for heroics, Percy. Drop your puny sword, or I’ll have you killed sooner rather than later.”

Tori flinched, but Percy was undaunted. “Who poisoned Thalia’s tree, Luke?”

Luke rolled his eyes. “I did, of course. I told you that already.”

“What did you use?”

“Why do you care?”

“I want to know.”

Luke rolled his eyes. “Elder python venom.”

“Chiron had nothing to do with it?”

Luke laughed. “Please! He would never do that. He doesn’t have the guts.”

Luke, you really make it hard for me to stay with you when you’re such an asshole.

Percy seemed to agree with her. “You call it guts?” he demanded. “Betraying your friends? Endangering the whole camp?”

What was upsetting was how much she agreed with him. It was easy to love Luke when they were alone. Then he was . . . kind. Funny. Happy. It was when he was like this that she found it difficult to look at him.

Luke raised his sword. “You don’t understand the half of it. I was going to let you take the Fleece . . . once we were done with it.”

Percy hesitated for a moment before pressing on. “You were going to heal Kronos.”

Luke grit his teeth in anger and annoyance. “Yes! The Fleece’s magic would’ve sped his mending by tenfold. But you can’t stop us. You’ve only slowed us down a bit.”

“And so you poisoned the tree, you betrayed Thalia, you set us up — all to help Kronos destroy the gods.”

Luke stared at him, clearly running out of patience. “You know that! Why do you keep asking me?”

“Because I want everybody in the audience to hear you!”

What audience?” Luke’s eyes narrowed. He looked behind him. Tori’s eyes followed his gaze, and she sucked in a breath at what she saw. Oh, shit. Above the pool was an Iris-message of Dionysus and some weird-looking guy in a prison outfit sitting at the dining pavilion at camp. They stared at the scene before them in stunned silence.

“Well,” said the wine god in a bored tone, “some unplanned dinner entertainment.”

Tori resisted the urge to roll her eyes. They’re all so arrogant. “Mr. D,” Percy said, “you heard him. You all heard Luke. The tree wasn’t Chiron’s fault.”

Dionysus sighed. “I suppose not.”

“The Iris-message could be a trick,” said the guy in the uniform, although his attention seemed to be mostly on his hamburger, which kept scooting away from his hands.

“I fear not,” Mr. D said, looking at the man with distaste. Or maybe that was just his face. “It appears I’ll have to reinstate Chiron as activities director. I suppose I do miss the old horse’s pinochle games.”

The prisoner grabbed his cheeseburger. From the look on his face, you’d think he’d achieved Nirvana. “I got it!”

“We are no longer in need of your services, Tantalus,” Mr. D announced, smiling slyly.

Tantalus stared at him. “What? But—”

“You may return to the Underworld. You are dismissed.”

“No! But— Noooooooooooooo!” He dissolved into mist, desperately trying to bring the hamburger to his mouth in time. But he disappeared before he could, the burger falling to his plate. For some reason, all the campers began cheering.
Luke wasn’t cheering. Rather, he screamed in rage, like an animal, and slashed his sword through the Iris-message. It dissolved, but the damage was done. He turned back to the campers, focusing on Percy with the scariest look Tori’d ever seen on his face.

Fuck.

“Kronos was right, Percy,” Luke said, his voice deadly calm. “You’re an unreliable weapon. You need to be replaced.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck—

Before she could think to do anything, one of Luke’s men blew a brass whistle. The deck doors flew open, allowing a wave of warriors to pour out and surround them, pointing their spears at Percy and the others.

Luke smiled. “You’re not leaving this boat alive.”

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck—

Percy gave Luke a hard look and said, “One on one. What are you afraid of?”

Uh, Percy, you should be afraid of dying horribly.

Luke curled his lip, but the soldiers were already hesitating, waiting for his order. Before he could say anything, Agrius burst onto the deck with a pure-black pegasus. Tori had never seen one like it before. Wait a minute. Did Luke specifically seek out a super-rare black pegasus to look cool? That’s adorable. The winged horse bucked and whinnied angrily.

“Sir!” Agrius called, struggling to keep control of the pegasus. “Your steed is ready!”

Tori felt herself start to panic at the sight of the horse’s clear anger. It kept bucking angrily, trying to get away. There was no way it could be safe to wide that thing. And she realized that she was truly scared — and it wasn’t for Percy, or Annabeth, or even camp.

For the first time, she stepped forward, immediately gaining everyone’s attention. “Luke—”

“Not now, Tori,” he said harshly.

Tori bristled, but didn’t think it was a good idea to argue with him just then. She looked back at Percy and his friends, sad that she was no longer be included in that group. Percy must have realized that she didn’t want Luke to get on the horse, and not just for the camp’s sake. He gave her such a disgusted look that she felt herself wither a little inside.

Luke looked back to Percy. “I told you last summer, Percy. You can’t bait me into a fight.”

“And you keep avoiding one,” Percy shot back coolly. “Scared your warriors will see you get whipped?”

Tori was caught between calling Percy an idiot and calling him a dumbass. It was a clever enough plan, true — if Luke backed down, he’d look weak. If he fought Percy, he’d waste the time he needed to get to Clarisse and the Fleece. Of course, there was a downside to Percy’s plan — mainly that he didn’t stand a chance in Hell of actually beating Luke, and that chance was getting steadily smaller as he made him more and more angry.

Luke seemed to realize his dilemma. He growled and raised Backbiter. “I’ll kill you quickly.” Tori shivered unwillingly when she looked at the sword. It was made from ordinary steel melded with celestial bronze: a weapon to kill both mortals and mythics. It had a dark aura around it. Something . . . tragic. Tori didn’t like to think about it.

Luke whistled, and one of his men threw him a round shield. He grinned evilly, which was not an adjective Tori liked to use about him, but she couldn’t deny that it fit sometimes.

“Luke,” Annabeth protested, “at least give him a shield.”

Tori nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Luke; it’s only right.” Maybe if Percy could hold him off long enough, she could think of way to help that wouldn’t just make everything worse.

Luke shook his head. “Sorry, girls. You bring your own toys to this party.”

Tori bristled at being so easily dismissed, but then Luke lunged towards Percy, forcing them all to back up. Backbiter went under Percy’s arm, cutting his shirt and grazing his side. A couple more inches, and he’d have died then.

Percy jumped back and tried a counterattack, but Luke slammed his sword away with ease. “Percy,” he chided. “You’re out of practice. I’m disappointed.” He tried again with a swipe to Percy’s head. Percy parried, and tried a thrust, but Luke sidestepped it, looking bored. Luke lunged again, and Percy was forced to jump backwards into the swimming pool. That alleviated her worry, somewhat. Maybe the water would help Percy. But maybe it would help him too much. I don’t want Percy to get hurt. I definitely don’t want Luke to get hurt. When did my life get so complicated?

Percy sent a water funnel shooting out of the pool, straight at Luke’s face, knocking him down. Tori might have shrieked. If she did, no one noticed, too caught up in the battle to pay much attention to her. She kind of hated herself for the relief she felt when Luke was back on his feet a moment later. But then, she would have hated herself if she wasn’t relieved.

Percy managed to slice off a sliver of Luke’s shield, but he was unfazed. He dropped to a crouch and jabbed at Percy’s legs. Percy looked like he wanted to scream from the pain, but Luke was back a moment later with a downward hack, and he was forced to roll behind a deck chair. Tori realized it was the same one she and Luke had made out on the other night when they came out for a midnight swim. Funnily enough, she realized that at about the same time Luke slashed it in half.

Percy crawled weakly towards the swimming pool. Tori knew he wouldn’t make it, and so did he, and so did Luke. He moved slowly, taking his time. Tori guessed he must have forgotten about Clarisse and the Fleece, too caught up in the battle and his own anger. Luke started to say something, but then he looked up. Tori had been moving around the deck in tune with them, and it was her gaze he caught. For a moment, they stared at each other. Then he looked down at Percy and raised his sword.

Whish!

Tori looked down at her hands, realizing that she’d taken hold of her bow without thinking about it. For a moment, she thought it was her own arrow that had been let loose. Then she realized that didn’t make much sense since her bow was still lowered, and the arrow was still there.

Her next thought was of Luke, but he was fine, though stunned. The arrow had buried itself into Agrius’s twin brother, who’d been holding Annabeth and Grover. He crumpled to the deck before turning to dust and smoke.

“Brother!” Agrius wailed painfully. He let the pegasus’s reins go slack for just long enough for it to kick him in the head, sending him flying off the deck to join his brother in Tartarus.

For a moment, everyone was too shocked to do more than stare. Then there came the sound of wild war cries, more beast than man, and hooves ringing against metal. Before they knew what was happening, a dozen centaurs came charging out of the main stairwell. Someone cried out, “Ponies!”, but Tori was too busy trying to figure out where to aim her bow to think of who. Then she saw that one of the centaurs was Chiron, and she knew she couldn’t attack them. Instead, she wove her way in between the horse-men and the soldiers, trying to get to her soulmate.

It was about that time that Luke rose his sword, preparing to rally his troops, but one of the centaurs shot him. Tori would have screamed if it weren’t for the fact that the arrow had a leather boxing glove instead of a point.

Luke crashed backward into the pool. Tori crouched by its side, reaching out a hand to help him when she saw that one of the snake woman was preparing to kill Annabeth with a javelin in spite of the chaos.

Without thinking, Tori let loose her arrow. It seemed that she hadn’t lost her touch. The arrow went straight for the monster’s eye, through to her brain. It screamed in pain before dissolving into dust.

Annabeth looked at her. She looked back. Then she returned to helping Luke like it had never happened, taking his hand and pulling him out of the water with a huff. He thanked her in between spluttering, and just before shouting, “Attack, you idiots!” But there was no use. The deck was absolute chaos. No one knew what the hell they were doing.

Somewhere, an alarm was had been rung, alerting the rest of the ship to what was happening. Soon, they would be swamped with soldiers. Even now, some of the monsters and half-bloods were attempting (pathetically) to organize, going after the centaurs with swords and spears.

Chiron yelled, “Withdraw, brethren!”

That got Luke’s attention. He shouted, “You won’t get away with this!” He tried to raise his sword, but got smacked in the face with another glove-arrow and fell hard onto a deck chair. Tori sighed and checked his pulse, electing to stay with him for the time being.

At some point, Chiron had lifted Annabeth and Grover to his back. Now, another centaur did the same with Percy. He was shouting something to the cyclops from earlier, but Tori was past the point of caring and kind of just wanted the whole day to be over. Luke’s warriors were arranging themselves into a phalanx, but the centaurs had leapt from the deck onto the dock below before they could advance. They left, shouting taunts as they galloped away.


XXII.

 


Needless to say, Luke wasn’t in a good mood. Tori tried to calm him down, but he just glared at her (and everyone else) before snapping at her to leave. She gave him a dirty look to hide her hurt feelings and left, not looking at him again.

But before she could leave the deck, she noticed something on the floor. Something shiny. She picked it up curiously. It was a necklace with an owl pendant made from bits of colored glass. She vaguely remembered seeing something like it on Annabeth, but hadn’t been paying close enough attention to her for it to register. Tori chuckled. She didn’t know what to do with it, but she knew no one else could be trusted with it, so she slipped it into her pocket and kept walking.

Their room wasn’t far from the aft deck. It should have been easy. She would go there, pass the time with a book, and when Luke came back, he would rant for a few minutes. Tori would comfort him, they’d both apologize for one thing or another, and then they’d have make-up sex. Then she’d get back to work on convincing him to come back, and things would be normalish.

That is not what happened.

Tori was a floor below the chaos deck when someone grabbed her by the shoulder and slammed her against the wall. “I saw what you did,” a voice said. She recognized it as Kelli a moment too late. “With the girl.” Tori tried to pry herself away, but Kelli swung her around, pushing her face into the carpeted floor. “It won’t happen again.”

Unable to defend herself and feeling scarily helpless, Tori did the only thing she could think of. “LUKE! LUKE, HELP ME!” In a normal situation, she would be ashamed that her first instinct was to call for her boyfriend to save her.

Her bow and arrows were gone. She couldn’t reach her sword or dagger. She couldn’t get up. A monster was digging its elbow into her back. This was not a normal situation.

Kelli refocused her attention, going for the neck instead of the back. Tori began to fade from consciousness as the oxygen left her.

The last thing she saw was Luke, throwing Kelli into a wall and wrapping his hands around her neck.


XXIII.


Tori blinked as her eyes opened of their own accord. There was too much light, wherever she was. She didn’t recognize it. She almost panicked when she saw that the room was black and white, but then calmed when she saw her still-brown skin and realized it was just a poor decorating choice and not, in fact, the love of her life’s death.

Speaking of my dumbass soulmate. . . It only took her a second to look for him. He was sitting beside her bed, bent over in a chair, his head resting in his hand.

Tori smiled at him. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” Luke looked at her, his face expressionless except for the slight widening of his eyes. “What will people say?”

He smiled now, clearly relieved. “Oh, let ‘em talk,” he says, finishing the quote from their third-favorite Romeo and Juliet adaptation (the only ones above the seals were the gnomes and the one with Leonardo DiCaprio). Then his expression darkened slightly. Tori was braced herself for an argument, but he only leaned forward, caressing her cheek lightly, like she was something delicate and precious. “I thought I lost you,” he whispered, and she saw that he was near tears. That wasn’t good. Luke never cried; he hated when people saw how vulnerable he was, even her. The last time she could remember him crying was when Clarisse sent her to the infirmary with her electric spear. The soulmate bond had freaked out when she went unconscious, making his vision go from color to gray and back again in seconds. He’d thought she was dying. Tori felt her heart sink when she realized he’d thought she was dying again today.

Tori lifted her hand to him, pushing his hair back. “Hey,” she said quietly. “It’s okay. I’m right here. See?” She pointed to herself to show how not-dead she was. “Perfectly fine.”

Luke chuckled tightly. “Shouldn’t I be comforting you?”

Tori shrugged. “I mean, if you want to, but I think they revised that law a few hundred years back.”

Luke laughed again, his expression relaxing slightly. “I’m serious, you know. I was scared.”

After a moment, Tori nodded. “So was I.”

For a while, they just look at each other, basking in their mutual relief that the other was more or less OK. Then Tori yawned. Being unconscious took a lot out of you, she’d found.

Luke noticed immediately, because when didn’t he? “You should get some rest,” he said. His voice wasn’t hard exactly, but it didn’t leave much room for argument, and she would have been too tired for it anyway. She nodded and rested her head against the pillow, belatedly wondering where exactly they were before she fell back asleep.


XIV.

 

If Luke was being honest, he wanted nothing more in that moment than to lay down and go to sleep. Just hold Tori to him like he’d done so many times before and pretend the rest of the world didn’t exist. To be at peace, if only for a few hours.

But there were things to be done. And one of them was something he wanted almost as much as peace just then.

He left the infirmary room, leaving two half-blood guards that he trusted to watch over Tori. They didn’t acknowledge him. Good. He didn’t feel like being acknowledged.

It was a long walk to where he was going. He found he didn’t mind. Plenty of time to think of what he wanted to do.

The room he wanted was deep in the bowels of the ship. There were no bedrooms down here, only a few guards to keep watch. One of them, Chris Rodriguez, opens a door when he sees him. Luke passed by him wordlessly, closing the door behind him.

Luke stood and looked around the room. It was smaller than most prison cells, and even less comfortable, with no windows or beds. Kelli stood perfectly still against one wall, her hands raised as if in protest. That’s not why they’re raised, of course. They’d been positioned that way to make it easier to fix her hands into the manacles attached to the walls. Luckily, it’s easy to pose someone whose entire body is paralyzed.

Luke stared at her, smiling. She stared back at him unwillingly. Her mouth was shut. “You know . . . this isn’t what I would have picked for you. Unable to move around, affect the world, even defend yourself . . . it’s kind of dull. But I think it will have to be a good enough punishment for now. Oh, it won’t last. Don’t worry about that. I just have to find something . . . interesting enough for you.” Yes, he was gloating. No, he didn’t care. He was angry. Tori could have died, and it would have been her fault. He wasn’t feeling very merciful. “I’m not sure how long that will take, but until then, just stay here. Get comfy. And look on the bright side! The rest of us don’t have to put up with you anymore.” Maybe Kelli wanted to respond. He had no way of knowing. Even if she could have moved, her lips had been sewn shut. She wouldn’t have had much to say. Although, she might have wanted to scream in pain from the nails that had been driven through her palms. Manacles just weren’t reliable enough these days.

Luke tilted his head thoughtfully. “You know, I think you’re much better company when you can’t talk.” He shrugged. “Oh well. I can’t stay any longer. Duty calls, as you know. But don’t worry. I’ll visit. Wouldn’t want you to go mad down here, all on your own. It’s so much more fun to go mad with friends.” Slowly, Luke’s smug smirk transformed into something else. He wasn’t smiling anymore. His eyes were as dark as coal. He leaned in close to Kelli, close enough that they could pretty much only see each other’s eyes. “You should never have hurt her.” Luke pulled away and straightened his back, giving her one last smug look before opening the door. As he left, he realized that he was humming.

Chapter Text

I.

 

Tori sat with her hands over her eyes, waiting for Luke. “What is it?”

“I can’t just tell you,” Luke said. Even though she couldn’t see him, she knew he was smiling. She huffed, hiding her grin, and waited. After another minute or so, Luke said, “Okay, you can open them now.”

Tori opened her eyes and looked down at the bed. She gasped when she saw the gift. “Luke. . .” It was a beautiful blue guitar with a pattern of black roses on it. She almost cried to look at it.

Luke hovered near the foot of the bed. “Do you like it?”

Tori smiled and pulled him down for a kiss. “I love it!” She’d been forced to leave her mother’s guitar behind when she came to the ship, and had never gotten around to getting a new one. Now she wouldn’t have to.

Luke smiled and kissed her again. “Happy birthday, wildcat.” Tori wanted to start tuning it immediately, but then Luke was kissing her, and she was kissing him back, and it was kind of hard to think of anything else.

Now, should she have been more concerned with Luke and her birthday than . . . oh, everything else that was going on? Probably not. There was a war, a prophecy, and Thalia Grace had recently been turned back into a demigod (though Tori had always thought she made a lovely tree). And she still hadn’t convinced Luke to come back to camp. So yes, she definitely had things she should probably be thinking about.

But when Luke was kissing her like that — loving, worshipful even — pressing her back into the bed . . . well, could anyone blame her?


 

II.


Tori sat listening to Luke talk. They were in a room with half a dozen or so members of Kronos’s army, planning. Luke liked to have her around as much as possible ever since Kelli attacked her. She didn’t know what exactly had happened to the hell-bitch, but Luke assured her that it had been taken care of.

It was nice, being with Luke a lot. Though someone else might have felt suffocated by the attention, she found his protective nature endearing, and enjoyed the way he kept a hand on her whenever possible. And their relationship had been so hot-and-cold since that it felt nice just to know he cared.

Luke stood at the head of a rectangular table, looking down at several pictures on the table. Apart from the myriad of minor monsters and demigods that crowded the room, there was Dr. Thorn. He was the one on Luke’s other side; he was a manticore, with a huge scorpion tail that was concealed for the moment. His hair was cut military style, and he had the most irritating French accent. Tori had to resist the urge to roll her eyes every time he opened his mouth.

Luke was explaining the latest plan now. “We suspect that Nico and Bianca di Angelo are children of one of the Big Three. We need to get to them before the gods do.”

Thorn sneered, or maybe that was just his face. “I’ll handle it. The children will be captured within a few weeks.”

Tori’s stomach turned in discomfort. “Captured?”

Luke rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. “Don’t worry. They won’t be hurt; we need them.”

That didn’t make her feel better. “I think I’m going to be sick. . .”

Luke closed his eyes in irritation as Thorn snickered. “Tori—”

“No, I mean I actually think I’m going to be sick.” Her stomach turned again, painfully this time. She shot up towards the door, wrenching it open. There was a bathroom close by. She burst into it and just barely made it to a sink before vomiting. Her entire body shook in pain and nausea. Tori whimpered pitifully and rubbed her stomach. She felt so bad that it took her awhile to realize there was someone behind her, stroking her back and holding her hair away from her face.

“Are you okay, Tori?” Luke asked gently.

After processing the question, Tori nodded. “I think so. At least, I don’t think I’m going to throw up again.” Her stomach still hurt, but not as bad as before. She turned on the faucet and washed out her mouth before standing straight. “Okay, let’s . . . let’s go back and talk about the kids.”

Luke raised an eyebrow almost artfully. “Are you kidding me? Tori, you need to rest.”

She shook her head stubbornly. “No I don’t. I feel fine now.” Well, fine might have been pushing it, but she didn’t think she was going to collapse.

“Did you feel bad before?”

She hesitated.

Did you?”

Tori sighed. “I didn’t feel that bad. Just . . . weird.” If she’d been entirely honest, she might have told him that her skin was too sensitive and that her legs felt so weak that she was surprised they were even holding her up.

Luke lifted her chin up so that they were facing each other. “I want you to be okay, Tori,” he said gently. “Please, just lay down for a little while. I don’t want you to start feeling really bad.”

After a few seconds, she nodded reluctantly. “Fine.” Tori was pleasantly surprised when Luke personally escorted her back to their room. She got undressed, glad that she hadn’t gotten any vomit on the new dress that Georgia had sent her, though it was kind of annoying when Luke offered to help. She wasn’t an invalid; she just wasn’t feeling her best.

Regardless, Luke didn’t leave until she was tucked safely into their bed with a stack of movies for entertainment and a phone to call for help if she needed it. Before leaving, he returned the lightning bolt charm that she’d used to contact him (or rather, Chris) before. “If you need me, don’t hesitate to call, okay?” Once she agreed, he kissed her forehead. “I’ll see you tonight.” He left, turning back to check on her one last time before closing the door.


 

III.

 

Tori sat on the bed in the infirmary. It was the same room she’d woken up in after Kelli attacked her, which made sense, even though she hadn’t known they even had an infirmary, but whatever.

The medic tending to her was a son of Asclepius. Technically that made him her nephew, but if she started saying she was related to people through her father, then technically she’d be Luke’s cousin, so . . .

Really, she wouldn’t have gone at all if Luke hadn’t insisted. It had been over a week since she puked, but she wasn’t feeling much better. At least he wasn’t there to be over-protective in front of other people. She was perfectly capable of handling herself.

She filled out a sheet that the man — Ash — handed her. Some of the information it asked for was weirdly personal, but she filled it out as well as she could and returned it to him. It took him twenty minutes to do . . . whatever he did with it. In the meantime, she sharpened her short sword and tried to ignore the pain that occasionally wracked her body.

When Ash returned, Tori’s first thought was, Oh boy. He was almost twitching with anxiety; nerves poured off of him in waves. It reminded her of radiation with the way it seemed to seep into his every movement and the very room around them.

Tori set her sword down. “Okay, just come out with out.” Tori couldn’t even remember the last time she was sick apart from this; it was one of her gifts as a child of Apollo. So it couldn’t possibly be that bad, could it?

“I think you might be pregnant.”

For a moment, she could only sit there, unable to even process it. Then she thought, Huh. I was wrong. She followed up with, Fuck.

“You can’t tell anyone about this.” She still hadn’t processed it. It didn’t even seem real to her. But she knew that this couldn’t get out. Being on a ship full of monsters — some of whom actively wanted to kill her — was bad enough. Doing that while pregnant seemed like pushing her luck.

Pregnant. Oh Jesus. Oh dear gods.

Ash shifted around nervously, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there. “Ms. Williams . . . if Luke asks me what’s wrong—”

“You won’t tell him anything.”

“I’d have to,” the boy said desperately. “He’s in charge; I could be killed if I lied to him.”

“I won’t let him punish you.” She didn’t want Luke to know, not yet. She barely knew herself. And she definitely didn’t want him to learn it from someone else.

Ash shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t lie to him, not if he asks.”

Tori wasn’t proud of what she did next. All she could say about it was that she was confused and scared and she didn’t want anyone else to tell Luke about this. In an instant, the sword was in her hand, then at his throat. She could see the fear in his eyes, and knew that she could do what she had to. “You will swear to me, on the River Styx, that you will not tell Luke anything about this unless I give you permission to do so. Do you understand?” Ash was too scared to speak. Tori pressed the blade closer, allowing a small nick to appear on his throat and lazily swell with blood. “Do it!

“I swear!” Ash shouted, terrified. “I swear on the River Styx!” Distantly, Tori heard the sound of thunder. She relaxed, lowering her weapon. Later, she would be ashamed of what she’d done. But for now, she was just glad to keep the secret.

“Good,” she said, regaining her control. “Thank you.” She walked to the door, as though she had never raised her weapon, as though Ash did not look as though he would collapse from fear. “I’ll come and talk to you later. I hope that you’ll have helpful information for me then.” And she left.


 

IV.

 

Tori waited anxiously for Luke’s return. She knew that he was handling something with Dr. Thorn and that it involved the di Angelo kids, but that didn’t matter to her just then. She was too busy thinking about what she’d just learned, and what it meant.

How did this happen? Not her best moment, of course. She knew how it happened. But still, it felt so . . . weird. Like a dream, almost. Not something that should happen in reality.

Do I even want a baby? She wasn’t sure. She and Luke had spoken about it in the past, but always as some far-off thing for when they were adults and settled down. Not a couple of barely-twenty-year-olds in a war.

It wasn’t even that she didn’t want children; it was that she knew she wasn’t ready for them. Look at me. I’m barely an adult, I’m away from home, I have no friends, no family, nothing.

Then, as if coming from some god or spirit instead of herself, she said, “But I have Luke.” Somehow, that made her feel better. Because regardless of what she chose, Luke would stand by her. She knew that he would, even if he was shocked or upset at first.

I can do this, she thought, then repeated out loud to give herself strength. “I can do this. We can do this.” It wasn’t the end of the world. Far from it, in fact. This was a cakewalk compared to some of the shit they’d gone through. She could handle this.

Tori had just come to this conclusion when she heard someone storming down the hallway. A few seconds later, the door burst open, and Luke came in, slamming the door behind him. Before she could ask what was going on, he said, “I cannot believe— that incompetent idiot!” He opened the door again, only to slam it shut a second later.  

Tori watched him warily. “What happened?”

Luke growled in anger, his hands forming and unforming fists. “Fucking Thorn.”

Her heart skipped a beat. Yeah, now’s probably not a very good time. “He didn’t get the di Angelo kids?” Thorn had been at the children’s boarding school since that day she was sick, waiting for the best moment to snatch the young demigods.

“Worse! They got picked up by Percy and—” His voice cut off suddenly, like something had hit him.

“Thalia?” Tori asked quietly.

Luke nodded.

Tori looked at him in silence. If she was being honest, then Tori could admit to herself that she didn’t want Thalia there. She was scared; not of her power, but that Thalia might somehow ruin her relationship with Luke. She knew that they’d liked each other once. Granted, that was years ago, before the two soulmates had even met, but she couldn’t seem to forget it. Luke had even admitted to her that Thalia had been his first kiss. If you asked him, Tori had gotten over that years ago; if you just so happened to live in Tori’s head, you’d know that that was a complete lie. But even knowing that couldn’t compare to the fact that Luke and Thalia shared a bond that he and Tori didn’t. They’d lived on the streets together, fought together, protected each other. A part of her felt like she could never live up to that. The only thing that kept her jealousy at bay was the fact that Thalia could never duplicate what Tori and Luke had; they were soulmates, and had spent the last seven years of their lives with each other.

And she can’t duplicate this, either. That made her feel better, in a strange, petty sort of way. And since it was strength she needed, she would take it wherever she could get it. “What exactly happened?”

Luke explained it all to her — Grover, Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia’s unexpected appearance, their attempts to get away, and the goddess Artemis's arrival. Finally, Luke smiled. “But it wasn’t a total loss. We have Annabeth.”

Tori felt her mouth drop in shock. I keep getting surprised today. “How did that happen?”

“She tried to fight Thorn, but they ended up capturing her. Guess he’s good for something.” He smiled, clearly trying to get her to do the same. He was met with a stony mask.

“Luke, doesn’t this feel wrong to you? I mean, you have literally captured the girl you used to think of as a little sister.”

“I still think of her that way,” Luke snapped. “We can win her over. And in the meantime, she can be useful to some of our other plans.”

“Like what?”

Luke started to answer, but then his mouth suddenly snapped shut. He shook his head, groaning. Tori growled. Kronos. Lately, the Titan had been increasing his control over her soulmate’s mind, like tightening a leash on a dog. Tori wanted nothing more than to cut the leash off, but she couldn’t find anything sharp enough.

“I’m sorry,” Luke said. “I can’t tell you.” Before she could counter, he asked, “How did your appointment go?”

She almost forgot about everything else they’d talked about. A part of her wanted to tell Luke what had happened then, but it wasn’t the right time. Not after what they’d just been discussing, not when she barely believed it herself.

“It’s fine,” she muttered. “Just a minor flu. Nothing too bad. I just have to rest.” After a pause, she added, “I probably shouldn’t be training for a while. Wouldn’t want to risk an injury.”

Luke frowned. “I thought you didn’t get sick. Child-of-Apollo thing?”

Tori started to panic, but she knew she had to keep the situation under control, at least until she could find a good time to tell him the truth. “Yeah, I guess Apollo must have taken it away. You know, since I left camp.” She might have felt bad about blaming Apollo, but he was an asshole, so she didn’t.

Immediately, Luke scowled. “I can’t wait to kill him.”

Tori shivered as she was reminded of his promise to her. When I take Olympus, I’ll kill your father and give you his head. “Can we not talk about it right now? I still don’t feel well.” She put her hand on her forehead in a way that seemed pretty fake to her, but that Luke bought.

“Of course, wildcat. Why don’t we watch a movie?”

Tori nodded eagerly and followed Luke to the bed. They were through the first ten or so minutes of The Song of Achilles when Luke said, “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, I’m probably not going to be back tomorrow night.”

For a moment, she was still. Then she paused the movie and very deliberately turned to face him. “Excuse me?”

Luke looked like a dear that had been caught in the headlights. “I, um, kind of have something important to do. It’s going to take some time.”

Tori stared at him, unblinking. “Okay. That’s fine.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, of course.” Without unpausing the movie, she got up, went to the bathroom, and quietly closed the door. A moment later, Luke heard something break, then Tori angrily shouting, “Gods fucking damn it!” Then the door opened, and Tori returned to the bed and picked up the remote. “Where were we again?”


 

V.

 

True to his word (for once), Luke didn’t come back from whatever he was doing the next night. But Tori didn’t have long to be upset. He was there when she woke up on the second morning, curved along her back. At first, she cuddled into his chest, smiling. Then she remembered that she was upset with him, and she sat up, scowling.

Luke looked up at her, apparently less awake than she’d thought. “What’s wrong?”

She was about to tear into him, as per tradition, but then she got a look at his face. “Gods, Luke,” she whispered, setting her hand on his scar. He looked terrible. His skin was pale, and his blonde hair was almost white. But the worst of it was his scar. It was an ugly red color, like it had been reopened recently. “Bear, what happened?”

Luke winced when she touched him. “It’s nothing, really.”

Tori raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Then why do you look like you got into a fight with death and lost?”

“Tori. . .”

“Luke, tell me.” Her eyes went wide, puppy-like. “Please?”

Luke sighed. “I got into a bit of an argument with our new general.”

Tori’s eyes hardened. “What’s their name? Tell me.”

Luke looked away from her. Oh, no you don’t. She took his chin in her hand and made him face her. “Please? I swear I won’t do anything to make it worse.” She wasn’t sure if she could keep that promise, but she could try if it got him to open up.

Luke sighed again, seeming too tired to argue. “It was Atlas.”

Tori blinked. “Atlas? Like, titan-that-holds-up-the-sky Atlas?”

Luke rolled his eyes. “No, Tori, the other Atlas.”

“It’s not like someone couldn’t have just named their kid that.” Tori drew her thumb down his scar, her anger simmering when Luke flinched. In that moment, she understood exactly how he felt when he said he would kill Apollo. She wanted to find Atlas and rip his throat out with her bare hands.

Luke must have sensed her rage. The next thing he said was, “Tori, promise me you won’t do anything to piss him off.”

“Why should I?” she said snappily.

Luke stared into her eyes. “Because I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Tori’s heart softened. She felt like she was going to cry. Stupid fucking hormones. “Fine,” she muttered. “I won’t do anything dumb. But if anything else like this happens, I’m gonna fuck someone up.”

Luke chuckled and kissed her forehead. “I know you will, wildcat.”


 

VI.

 

Tori was used to having strange dreams. She was a demigod. It was part of the job. But this . . . this was kind of random.

She stood in a strange, empty space that was a pale, purplish-gray color that made her uneasy. Facing her was someone she knew only from descriptions, but who she instantly recognized. Thalia. The younger girl looked just like that; a girl. If Tori had to guess, she’d say she was fifteen or sixteen. She was thin, too. The last few months of being in camp had done her well for sure, but it couldn’t undo years of living on the streets and then being a tree. Her hair was short, black, and spiky. Her eyes were blue, like the sky, and she wore black and gray punk-style clothes.

Suddenly, Thalia asked, “Who are you?”

Tori blinked, surprised. “You don’t know me?” She wondered if anyone had told her that she and Luke were soulmates, or even that Luke had a soulmate. “‘Cuz I’ve heard a lot about you.” She was somewhat pleased to see that Thalia still looked like a teenager despite the fact that seven years had passed.

Thalia’s eyes narrowed. “You’re her, aren’t you?”

Tori blinked. “Well, you don’t have to be so aggressive. Jeez.”

Thalia was about to say something else, but then Tori was waking up to the noise of the world’s most annoying alarm. She was usually pretty good at ignoring it, but her body was more sensitive now.

Typically, Tori just growled at the alarm until Luke turned it off, but today was different. Luke still turned the alarm off and got up, but once he was in the shower, Tori forced herself to get up and get dressed, ignoring her body’s many (many) complaints. She was ready to go by the time Luke came out, holding a towel around his waist. He started when he saw her. “What are you up to?”

“I’m coming with you today,” Tori said simply. Luke had told her that he couldn’t bring her along today, but she’d already made up her mind. She was dressed in combat boots and athletic leggings in case there was any fighting to do, and she had already taken her daily dose of the prenatal vitamins that Ash had sent her. The only thing she was worried about was that she might suddenly feel sick, but she’d been feeling better as long as she didn’t tax herself too much.

Of course, none of this mattered to Luke. “No, you’re not.”

“Funny. I don’t remember asking.”

“Tori—”

“Did I forget, perhaps? Or maybe you just imagined it. Let’s think about this.”

Luke took in a breath, clearly trying not to get upset. “Tori, now is not a good day—”

“I don’t care,” she said, careful to meet his eyes. “I’m scared for you. I don’t think you should be alone.” She lowered her eyes, looking small and innocent. “Please, Luke. I want to be with you.” She didn’t know if Atlas would be around, but she wanted to be there if he was. She probably wouldn’t be able to do anything if Atlas tried to hurt Luke, but she could try, damn it. “I swear I won’t do anything dangerous, or upset anyone. I just . . . I need this today.”

For a moment, it seemed like Luke would win. Then he huffed, seeming to deflate. “Okay, but you have to do two things: you have to stay by my side, and you have to follow my lead, okay?”

Tori nodded. “Promise. Cross my heart.” She crossed it twice, in fact, smiling while she did.

Luke sighed, rolling his eyes. “Fine, just let me get dressed.”


 

VII.

 

Tori followed her soulmate through the portal he made with Backbiter. She looked around curiously at the room they were in. “Where are we?” The Princess Andromeda had only recently made its way out of the Panama Canal, but she had no idea what this place even was.

Luke protectively wrapped an arm around her waist, leading her to a balcony. “It’s the Smithsonian,” he explained in a low voice. Tori shivered against her will, then tried to cover it by facing the room. It was a huge chamber filled with ancient animal skeletons, such as dinosaurs and something that looked like a mammoth, but was called a mastodon. Maybe that’s something they teach you in high school. Tori, having spent her teen years learning about Greek myths and sword-fighting, was completely lost about things like that.

There were already several monsters on the balcony. Tori recognized them as Scythian dracaenae — reptilian women with two snake trunks in place of legs. They stood around a man sitting in a gilded chair, cloaked in shadows.

She and Luke moved forward. Atlas looked up at them. Now that he was close, Tori could see that he was huge, both tall and muscular, which served to accentuate his huge hands and shoulders. He had light brown skin and slicked-back hair might have been black or just dark-brown. He was wearing an expensive suit, like a banker might, but his face was brutal. His eyes were stone-black. He smiled creepily when he saw them. “Luke.”

Luke dipped his head in greeting. Tori followed his example. “General,” Luke said respectfully.

Atlas looked each of them over. “Is this your little friend?” he asked, sounding way too amused in that deep voice.

Luke nodded tensely. “Yes. This is Victoria Williams, my soulmate.”

Tori, not knowing what to do, bowed. “I’m afraid we haven’t had occasion to meet before, General. It’s a pleasure.” She wondered if he could tell how much she hated him. If he knew that she would have liked nothing more than to kill him in that moment. But she was a half-blood, not even as strong as a god. She didn’t have the power to hurt him.

The titan smiled. “Strange, that I’ve never seen you before. I would expect you to spend more alongside our favorite lieutenant.”

Before Tori could think of a response, a set of doors at the far end of the chamber opened. In scurried Dr. Thorn. Tori could barely restrain a disgusted look at the manticore.

Atlas turned to face the newcomer. “Well?” he asked.

Thorn removed his glasses, exposing his two-colored eyes. He seemed pleased about something. The manticore bowed stiffly and said, in his stupid accent, “They are here, General.”

“I know that, you fool,” Atlas boomed. His voice was so strong that it filled the room without him even trying. “But where?”

“In the rocket museum.”

“The Air and Space Museum,” Luke corrected irritably. Tori was too busy thinking about what they’d said to contribute anything. Who’s here? Luke had only given her the bare minimum of information lately. She knew that Artemis had been captured, but not who it could be in the museum. She’d have to ask Luke once they were alone.

Dr. Thorn glared at Luke. “As you say, sir.”

Tori bristled at his tone. She didn’t agree with Luke about a lot of things, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t fight someone if she thought they were being an ass to him. Well, I can’t now. Fighting, sadly, was not a recommended activity for pregnant women.

“How many?” Luke asked. Thorn pretended not to hear. Listen hear douchebag, I don’t care if I am pregnant, I will cut you.

Before she could act on her silent threat, Atlas demanded, “How many?

“Four, General. The satyr, Grover Underwood; the girl with the spiky black hair and the — how do you say? — punk clothes and that horrible shield.”

“Thalia,” Luke said automatically. Tori just barely managed to avoid looking at him. I am not jealous. I’m not.

Dr. Thorn continued, “And two other girls — Hunters. One wears a silver circlet.”

That one I know,” Atlas growled. Tori mentally filed the information away. She figured the Hunters were followers of Artemis. They’d been to camp once before while she was there. They . . . didn’t end up getting along.

For a moment, everyone in the room was intensely uncomfortable. Then Luke said, “Let me take them. We have more than enough—”

“Patience,” Atlas said. “They’ll have their hands full enough. I’ve sent a little playmate to keep them occupied.”

“But—”

“We cannot risk you, my boy.” Finally, something we agree on.

Of course, Dr. Thorn ruined it by saying, “Yes, boy.” He had a cruel, arrogant smile that made Tori want to shoot him with her bow. “You are much too fragile to risk.” He turned to Atlas. “General, let me finish them off.”

“No.” The General rose from his chair. He looked even more dangerous in the light. “You have already failed me, Thorn.”

“But, General—”

“No excuses!”

Thorn flinched. A smile fought its way onto Tori’s face, and she had to resist the urge to stick her tongue out at him.

The General continued, saying, “I should throw you into the pits of Tartarus for your incompetence.” Oh, please. Let me. “I send you to capture a child of the three elder gods, and you bring me a scrawny child of Athena.”

She felt Luke tense, though not enough that anyone else noticed. Certainly not Thorn, who said, “But you promised me revenge! A command of my own.”

This time, she couldn’t resist an eyeroll. Gods, you sound like a spoiled toddler.

“I am Lord Kronos’s senior commander,” Atlas said, losing patience. “And I will choose lieutenants who get results! It was only thanks to Luke that we salvaged our plan at all. Now get out of my sight, Thorn, until I find some other menial task for you.”

Thorn’s face turned purple with rage. After a few seconds, he bowed awkwardly and left.

“Now, my boy,” Atlas turned to Luke. “The first thing we must do is isolate the half-blood Thalia. The monster we seek will them come to her.”

Despite everything else, Tori wasn’t scared for Thalia. Kronos still needed her, or at least one of the Big Three’s kids, and she was a more likely candidate than the others right now. “The Hunters will be difficult to dispose of,” Luke said. “Zoe Nightshade—”

“Do not speak her name!”

Luke swallowed. “Sorry, General. I just—”

Atlas silenced him with an irritated wave. “Let me show you, boy, how we will bring the Hunters down.” He pointed to one of the various guards on the ground floor. “Do you have the teeth?”

The man stumbled forward with a ceramic pot. “Yes, General!”

“Plant them,” the titan said.

In the center of the room was a large circle of a dirt. Tori figured there was supposed to be a skeleton there, but it was gone now. The guard reached his hand into the pot and pulled out several sharp white teeth. He planted them in the soil, smoothing over the dirt while they all watched. Once it was done, the guard stepped back and wiped his hands. “Ready, General!”

Atlas smiled. “Excellent! Water them, and we will let them scent their prey.”

The guard picked up a little watering can with daisies painted on it — Seriously, who picked that out? — but what poured out wasn’t water. Rather, it was a dark red liquid that made the soil bubble.

“Soon,” the General said, “I will show you, Luke, soldiers that will make your army from that little boat look insignificant.”

Tori looked over to Luke. He was reflexively clenching his fists. “I’ve spent a year training my forces! When the Princess Andromeda arrives at the mountain, they’ll be the best—”

“Ha! I don’t deny your troops will make a fine honor guard for Lord Kronos. And you, of course, will have a role to play—” Tori tensed when she saw Luke’s face pale — “but under my leadership, the forces of Lord Kronos will increase a hundredfold. We will be unstoppable. Behold, my ultimate killing machines.”

The soil erupted, spraying all over the place. They all watched as, in each spot where a tooth had been planted, a small animal struggled up out of the dirt. The first of them looked at Atlas and said, “Mew?”

It was a kitten. An adorable orange tabby with tiger-stripes. Several more appeared until there were a dozen of them, contentedly rolling around in the dirt.

Tori arched an eyebrow. “Terrifying.”

Luke gave her a look, but in his rage, Atlas didn’t notice her. “What is this? Cute cuddly kittens? Where did you find those teeth?

The guard cowered in fear. “From the exhibit, sir! Just like you said! The saber-toothed tiger—”

No, you idiot! I said the tyrannosaurus! Gather up those . . . those infernal fuzzy little beats and take them outside. And never let me see your face again!”

The guard dropped his watering can, gathered up the kittens (which wasn’t easy since they insisted on crawling all over him and each other), and sprinted from the room.

“You!” Atlas pointed to another guard. “Get me the right teeth. NOW!

The guard nodded quickly and ran out.

“Imbeciles,” muttered the titan.

“This is why I don’t like to use humans,” Luke said in annoyance. “They’re unreliable.”

“They are weak-minded, easily bought, and violent,” Atlas said. “I love them.”

They were all silent until a minute later when the guard returned to the room, his arms filled with large, pointy teeth.

“Excellent,” Atlas said. He rose from his chair and climbed onto the balcony railing before jumping down. When he landed, the marble floor cracked under his feet. Tori stumbled back before regaining her balance. Atlas stood, wincing, and rubbed his shoulders. “Curse my stiff neck.”

Yeah, Tori thought. Thousands of years of holding up the sky will do that to you.

“Another hot pad, sir?” A guard asked. “More Tylenol?”

“No! It will pass.” Atlas brushed off his silk suit and snatched the new teeth from the guard. “I shall do this myself.” He held up one of the teeth, smiling. “Dinosaur teeth — ha! Those foolish mortals don’t even know when they have dragon teeth in their possession. And not just any dragon teeth; these come from the ancient Sybaris herself! They shall do nicely.”

Tori looked to her soulmate when Atlas said “dragon”, but he had no reaction. She turned back to watch as Atlas planted all twelve teeth. He sprinkled the blood over them, threw the can away, and spread his arms out wide. “Rise!”

The dirt trembled. A skeletal hand shout out of the ground, grasping around desperately.

Atlas raised his eyes to the balcony, looking at one of the snake women. “Quickly, do you have the scent?”

“Yesssss, lord,” one of the dracaene said, and took out a sash of silvery fabric. The Hunters.

“Excellent. Once my warriors catch its scent, they will pursue its owner restlessly. Nothing can stop them, no weapons known to half-blood or Hunter. They will tear the Hunters and their allies to shreds. Toss it here!”

As he spoke, the skeletons emerged from the ground, a dozen in all. They slowly grew new flesh, but it was dull grey, and their eyes were a disgusting shade of yellow. They wore gray muscle shorts, camo pants, and black combat boots. If she looked closer, she could see that their flesh was transparent. Their bones shimmered underneath like an X-ray picture. One of them turned and stared in a random direction.

The dracaene released the scarf. Atlas reached out a hand to catch it, but something else snatched it out of the air. Something invisible. Annabeth. No, that didn’t make sense; Annabeth was a captive. . . . Percy?

“What’s this?” Atlas bellowed angrily. One of the skeleton warriors hissed. “An intruder,” Atlas realized. “One cloaked in darkness. Seal the doors!”

“It’s Percy Jackson!” Luke yelled. “It has to be!”

Tori wanted to slap him, but there was no time. In the next instant, Luke was pushing her backwards and drawing his sword. “You have to go back to the ship.”

Tori looked behind them. Her heat skipped from what she saw: one of the skeletons had a piece of ripped orange fabric in its hand. “But—”

No.” Without further discussion, he opened a portal with Backbiter and pushed her through.


 

VIII.

 

Tori drew her arm back and released an arrow into the target. She didn’t stop when she heard the door open. Releasing another arrow, she asked, “Is Percy okay?”

Luke walked over to her side and nodded. “They got away.”

“Good,” Tori said without looking at him

Luke sighed. “Tori—”

“What’s your role?” She faced him.

The blood drained from his face, making him look even more sickly than before. “What?”

“Atlas mentioned it. He said you had a role to play. What is it?”

Luke shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about—”

“I don’t care,” Tori snapped. “I’m tired of this, Luke. Tired of the secrets, and the lies, and just— just everything!” The stress was starting to get to her. Tears gathered in her eyes. Stupid hormones. “Just . . . just tell me.”

For a moment, they stood in silence. Finally, Luke sighed. “When Kronos is strong enough, his body will be reformed. But it can’t be done on his own. He will need a . . . a human form. A vessel.”

For a moment, she didn’t understand. Then realization dawned on her, as horrible as her mother’s death. “No,” she whispered. “No.

“Tori, I’m sorry—”

“You can’t! I won’t let you!” She clasped his wrists, not noticing when her nails dug into his skin. “Luke, you can’t do this.”

Luke closed his eyes, but didn’t move away. “Tori, please—”

“I’m pregnant.” She said it in a sudden rush of desperateness. Before, she had wanted to tell him in the privacy of their room, when they were both calm and she had time to set it up. Safe to say, this didn’t quite fit her vision.

Luke stared at her. If it was at all possible, he was even paler than before. “What?”

No going back now. “I’m pregnant,” she said, fighting to keep her voice calm. “I found out a few days ago. It’s why I was feeling sick. I didn’t want to tell you like this, but. . .” she shrugged, as though that could contain everything she wanted to say, all her regrets and hopes and fears.

Luke turned, running his hands through his hair. “I can’t . . . This is so. . .” He broke off, unable to speak. Tori slowly walked up behind him and set her hands on his back. He tensed, but didn’t try to shake her off. She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him from behind. After a moment, he relaxed slightly. When he spoke again, his voice was so quiet that she almost didn’t hear him. “And you want to keep it?”

After a moment, Tori nodded. “Yes. But I can’t do this without you, Luke. I need your help, your support. I need you.”

She waited for his answer. Without looking at her, he said, “If Thalia joins us, or another one of the Big Three kids . . . then I wouldn’t have to do it. It would be them.”

It was wrong, she knew, to be so willing to throw away another person’s life without a thought. But she was a demigod, and it was in the gods’ nature to be selfish. She buried her face into the space between Luke’s shoulders and hugged him.


 

IX.

 

Luke lay wide-awake in bed, watching Tori sleep. She was more peaceful than she’d been in a week, for once seeming content in her dreams. Maybe she had a happier image of the future than he did.

He turned away from her, staring at the bathroom door instead. He couldn’t sleep. His mind wouldn’t stop racing. For days, he’d been worried about Tori, about how badly she’d been feeling. But he never thought . . .

Luke sucked in a breath. What are we going to do? Between the two of them, they had one loving, not-insane parent, and she died when Tori was 13. They had no idea what they were doing. And that was ignoring the fact that they were in the middle of a war to destroy the gods, which was typically not the best environment for a child.

He started to groan, but then Tori said, “What’s wrong?”

Luke started before turning over over. Tori was awake, looking up at him with tired, drooping eyes. Instead of answering her question, he said, “I thought you were asleep.”

She turned fully onto her side, facing him. “You were thinking too loudly. It woke me up. What’s wrong?”

Luke sighed. “I’m scared, Tori,” he admitted, cheeks flaming. He hated saying it, but Tori would have dragged it out of him sooner or later.

Tori set her hand on his cheek. He nuzzled into it before he even realized it was on his scar. “Why?”

Luke thought about what to tell her. “I’m worried about. . .” He didn’t know how to phrase it. He didn’t have to; Tori nodded to show she understood. “I’m scared for you, in this war. I’m scared for . . . our child.” After a pause, he whispered, “I’m scared of myself.”

Tori moved closer to him, brushing her nose along his throat. “Why?”

He didn’t want to tell her. He didn’t want to acknowledge his own secret fears. But he had to, if only to Tori; they were bonded, in more ways than one. And he was tired of secrets. “I don’t want . . . them, to hate me.” He closed his eyes. There. I said it. It’s in the universe now, and she can think whatever she wants of it.

Tori put one hand on the back of his neck and pulled him closer to her. “You don’t want to be like Hermes. Or Apollo, or any of the gods, really.”

Luke half-scoffed, half-chuckled. “Well, no. Who does?”

Tori saw past his (honestly, weak) humor. “But you’re scared you will be.”

He could have blown it off. Made a joke. He didn’t. “I just . . . I don't want our child to hate me.”

Tori ran her fingers gently through his hair. “They won’t,” she said softly.

He shook his head. “Tori—”

No , Luke. They won’t, and not because of any cookie-cutter, Disney-movies, ‘always love your family’ bullshit, either.” Her hand returned to his scar. She turned his face so that he was looking directly into her eyes. “They will love you, because you are going to be a good father. You’ll love them, and always be there for them, and take care of them. They’ll love you because you’ll love them, and you’ll never stop showing them. That’s why they’ll love you.”

Sometime while she spoke, Luke realized he was trembling. “How do you know I’ll be like that? What if I’m not good enough?”

Tori laughed. “Because you’ll have me. I’ll keep you on the right track. So don’t even worry about it.”

Luke chuckled harshly. “Oh, I’m worrying.” But strangely, he did feel better. “Thank you, wildcat.”

Tori smiled at him and kissed his cheek. “You’re welcome, boo-bear. Now go to sleep.”


X.

 

Tori woke to Luke lightly shaking her shoulder. She grumbled and swatted a hand at him. “Shoo. I’m sleeping.”

“I need to talk to you before I go,” Luke insisted. “You can go back to sleep afterwards.”

Tori gave him a dirty look before sitting up. “What? Don’t you know I need all the sleep I can get?” That might have been playing dirty, but she’d only slept for . . . Ten hours? Jesus, I need to get on a schedule.

Luke nodded. “That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.” He handed her a sheet of paper.

Tori took the paper and looked it over, frowning. “What’s this?”

“Well, I was still having trouble sleeping last night, so I decided to look some stuff up instead.” He sat beside her, his shoulder pressed up against her scarred one. “I got this all from medical websites, so it should be accurate.” He ran his finger down the page. “This is what you should be eating each day, how much sleep you should be getting, exercise, prenatal vitamins—”

“Ash sent me some of those,” Tori said. “Before I told you.”

Luke stared at her for a moment before saying, “Oh. Good.” They returned to the list. “And this is a list of things you shouldn’t be doing.”

Tori looked at it. “Did you add sword-fighting, or did they actually say that?”

He shrugged. “Well, they said no fighting. Same difference.”

She wanted to keep talking, but then Luke checked the clock and said, “I have to go.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you for lunch, okay?” They said their goodbyes, and he left.

Tori looked over the paper again. It was nice that Luke cared, but it felt so . . . real. She didn’t know how to feel about it.

After some time of laying around and doing nothing, she considered ordering something to eat, but the thought of food made her stomach roll. Her body was too sore for archery. Her mind couldn’t focus on anything long enough to read. Being pregnant was great. Really.

Tori couldn’t think of anything interesting to do (well, nothing that she felt like doing, anyway), so she just started randomly looking around the suite. She opened one of the drawers in her night stand, thinking she might find a DVD to watch. Her hand stilled when she saw what was inside. Annabeth’s necklace was there, the light glinting off the colored glass. She picked it up, having almost forgotten about it in the months since the Fleece. She still hadn’t made good on her plan to visit Annabeth.

Tori made up her mind quickly, getting dressed and putting on some light armor. She wasn’t sure what Luke would say about that, but she could hardly help it if she was forced to defend herself.

Tori left her room and tried to find a guard she knew. There were several that she knew Luke considered trustworthy, but she didn’t know if they would report her actions back to him or not. She thought of finding Georgia, but doubted she even knew where Annabeth was. Tori was finally able to find Chris Rodriguez, who was high-ranking enough that he probably knew where prisoners were kept, and close enough to her that she didn’t think he would tell Luke about her every tiny move.

“Hey, Chris,” Tori said, smiling disarmingly. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

He didn’t seem to be on duty, being casually dressed and not guarding anything. Chris shrugged. “Sure. What do you need?”

Tori looked around to see if anyone was close enough to listen to their conversation. No one was. “I was wondering if you could show me where Annabeth is?”

Instantly, Chris’s face shut down, utterly devoid of emotion. “I don’t know if I can—”

“Don’t worry, Luke said it was okay.” That was a lie, but he never actually said it wasn’t. That made it practically true. I think I might be spending too much time with Luke.

Chris shifted nervously. “I still don’t know—”

“Oh. Well okay, I’ll just tell Luke that then. . .” She let her voice trail off. To be fair, she wasn’t actually threatening him; it just sounded like she was.

After a moment, Chris sighed. “Come on.” He led her to Annabeth’s prison. She was surprised to find that it wasn’t on the ship at all. Rather, it was on a cliff on the mountain near where they’d recently docked. Despite the fact that it was winter now, California was only just cool enough for her to wear a sweater.

Whoever had designed Annabeth’s prison had taken no risks. She was in a 12X12 cage made of celestial bronze that was guarded by six dracaena. Inside, there was just the daughter of Athena, curled up on a cot. She didn’t even have any sheets.

On one hand, it made perfect sense for them to not want to give her any chance of escape. Annabeth was brilliant, and well-known for it by now. Anything more, and she’d probably be back at camp by now.

On the other hand . . . Poor girl has nothing. Tori turned to Chris. “You can leave now.”

Chris hesitated. Tori rolled her eyes. “What am I gonna do? There are six fucking snake women right there.” Plus, Luke will probably keep me in a cage for the next eight months if I start a fight while pregnant.

After some convincing, Chris agreed to stand away so that she and Annabeth could speak in semi-privacy. Tori walked to the cage and knelt beside the bars, looking at the back of Annabeth’s head. “Hey.” The younger girl didn’t respond. “I meant to visit sooner, but it’s been kind of a crazy week.” Nothing. Fine. Straight to the point then. “Before, when you were on the ship, you lost this.” She reached through the bars to drop Annabeth’s necklace on the cot. Finally, Annabeth reacted, turning around to look and see what it was. When she saw the necklace, she was still at first. Then she picked it up, holding it close to her.

Tori waited, but there was nothing to say, or at least nothing that either of them wanted to hear. Except for, “I won’t let them hurt you. I promise.” With that, Tori stood and prepared to leave, already tired from her brief sojourn.

Just before she was about to leave the cliff, Annabeth said, “Thank you.” Tori looked back at her. She was already laying back down, her back to the world.


 

XI.

 

Tori poked at her plate without interest. Maybe I won’t have to eat spinach if I just take more iron supplements . . . For the moment, she just drenched the salad in dressing and powered through it.

She was about halfway through her meal when Luke returned. “Luke!” Tori smiled up at him, subtly pushing away the rest of her food. “You’re back!” She jumped off the bed and hugged him, setting her head on his chest.

Luke laughed. “Did you think I wouldn’t come back?”

Her smile dropped. “Nevermind.” She thought about it, sometimes. What would happen if Luke didn’t come back. It was a scary thought, made worse by the fact that it was always possible. They were in a war, even if they couldn’t agree on whose side they were on, and death was an ever-present possibility. “Come on. Lay down with me for a little while.” She took his hand and led him back to the bed. They lay down facing each other . . . at which point Luke noticed her half-full plate.

Luke sighed. “Tori.”

She looked at him in annoyance. “You can’t make me eat, Luke. I’m not hungry.”

“I don’t do it because it’s funny, Tori. I’m worried about your health. About the ba—”

“About the baby, I know. Believe me, I know. But my stomach keeps messing with me. Half the time I can’t decide what I want, the other half I feel too sick to eat anything anyway.”

Luke’s eyes softened. He drew a hand down her cheek. “I’ll get you something for your stomach. And maybe Ash can get you more vitamins, if it helps.”

“It might. Thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t worry about anything. I’ll handle it all.”


 

XII.

 

Normally, Tori liked how protective Luke was. It was sweet. Sexy, even. But this . . . this was too far. “I can’t believe you did this,” she seethed, looking around at the apartment. It was nice. Really. Newly-built, modern design, nice furniture. There was a bedroom with a king-sized bed, a bathtub big enough for four people, an exercise room with archery equipment and a treadmill, a stocked bookcase and entertainment center — everything she needed and more.

She was still angry.

“It has everything you need,” Luke said gently, trying to calm her down. “There’s a phone if you need to call me, and you still have the pendant I gave you. I can be here in an instant, if you need me.”

“What if I want you?” she asked, not looking at him. “What if I just want to talk to you, hold you, see you?”

Luke sighed softly. “I’ll come whenever I can.”

“And how often will that be?” she demanded. He didn’t have an answer. “I’m not staying. I’m going back to the boat with you, and that’s it.”

“Tori, this can’t keep going forever. It’s not safe.”

Safe? Oh, please—”

“I’m serious, Tori,” Luke said, his voice barely an inch from snapping. “What if something like what happened with Kelli happens again? You could be hurt, or — or worse.”

Tori looked away from him, but she was still upset. “You said you handled Kelli.”

“I did. But that doesn’t mean someone else couldn’t try to hurt you.” He took a step closer, grabbing her chin and turning her head so that they were looking at each other. “I can’t lose you, Tori. If anything happens to you, I . . . I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what I’d do. I don’t want to know.”

Tori looked down, gently tracing the arrow point he wore. “I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want to be away from you. I hate the idea of it.”

“I know,” he said softly, caressing her cheek. “I love you. I want to be with you. But I can never be with you if you’re . . . you know.”

Tori considered pulling away from him, but ended up moving closer. “Can’t we wait? Please? No one knows, yet. Another month or two, until we can’t hide it anymore. Then I’ll come here and stay as long as I have to.”

Luke looked over her head, but she nuzzled her head against his chest, moving to kiss his neck. After a few moments, he said, “Fine, we’ll wait.”

Tori smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you.”

Luke kissed her cheek. “This isn’t forever, okay? I swear it won’t be forever. One day we’ll be together permanently, and never have to leave each other.”

“We fucking better,” Tori muttered. “I’m tired of this shit.”

Luke chuckled. “So am I.” He gently pushed her away. “Come on. You haven’t seen the best room yet.” Luke took her hand and led her to the final room in the apartment, the one he hadn’t shown her yet. She followed, laughing. “What is it?” Luke opened the door, moving aside so she could go in.

Silver moons and stars decorated the pale purple walls. There was a rocking chair, a shelf full of kids’ books, and a bright window. Alongside one of the walls was a white crib with a starry mobile. Inside the crib rested a plush blue bunny with a little bow.

Tori looked down into the crib, her heart softening. “Luke. . .”

“I almost didn’t get this room made,” he said. “The apartment was just finished — it was just for emergency then, I wasn’t going to ask you to leave — and then you told me about the baby. We can redecorate if you want, but I thought it would be a nice surprise—”

Tori cut him off with a kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck. They moved slowly against each other, basking in each other’s presence. For a moment, it was like they were an ordinary couple, and not two demigods caught in the middle of a war that she didn’t know how to get out of. It was a nice feeling. She wanted it to last forever.

After a while, they had to part for air. Tori nuzzled into his chest. “It’s perfect.” She smiled. “You’re perfect.” And he was, when they were alone. It was the rest of the time that scared her.

There was silence. Then she said, “You know, if we left, then it could always be like this. Just you, me, and the—”

“I don’t want our child to grow up in a world where the gods have free rein,” Luke said coldly. “It’s not right. They’re evil, Tori. You don’t even know all the things they’ve done. You know the watered-down versions they tell us at camp. You don’t know what it was like when I—” He cut himself off with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to argue, not today. Do you want to go back to the ship?”

Gods, no. She nodded regardless. The apartment was lovely, homey, but it felt as fragile as a bubble. Like all she had to do was poke it, and the fantasy would fall apart. It made her uneasy. “Sure. I’m feeling tired anyway.” She wasn’t — at least not badly — but she knew he wouldn’t be able to get angry with her over anything if he thought she was already feeling badly. Of course, it also meant she stood no chance of having any archery time, but that was a sacrifice she had to bear.


 

XIII.

 

Tori watched Luke walk around the room, picking up his clothes and pulling them on. “Promise you’ll be okay?” she asked.

Luke chuckled. “I’ll be fine, Tori.” Percy and his friends were approaching Mt. Othrys. Luke and his soldiers had to be there to meet him. “As long as you stay here.” One of his conditions for Tori staying on the ship was that she stayed away from anything that could possibly endanger her — like, say, an epic battle on top of a mountain. Her life was so unfair sometimes.

“And you won’t hurt Percy?”

Luke hesitated this time. “I’ll try to capture him, but I can’t control what someone else might do.”

“I know,” Tori said in exasperation. “But if it comes down to it—”

“If it comes down to it, I will capture or disarm Percy. I won’t hurt him. Badly.”

Tori sighed and rolled her eyes. “Just be careful, okay?”

Luke checked Backbiter and sheathed the sword, smiling. He kissed her cheek, resting a hand on her stomach. “I will. I’ll see you when it’s over, okay?”

Tori smiled and pulled him in for a proper kiss before letting him go. “Okay. I love you.”

Luke brushed the hair away from her face, his ice-blue eyes looking into hers. “I love you too.” With that, Luke left, setting his face into a cold mask before he did. Tori watched him go, resting back against her bed. They’d been in her room when someone came to tell them Luke was needed. It had been funny to watch the messenger blush when he saw Luke and Tori laying in bed. At least they had the covers up.

Tori lay in bed as she waited. She wasn’t sure how long it would take the battle to end. Sometimes these things took hours, sometimes minutes. There was no way to know. After a lengthy debate with herself, she decided to read some more of The Song of Achilles. She put on a robe, plucked the book off of her shelf, and sat down to read. Her eyes skipped over some of the lines, but she'd read it so many times by then that it didn't matter. She went to the end, the part she loved and hated most.

He cannot kill me. He must not. Achilles will not let him live if he does. And Hector must live, always . . . He must live, because his life . . . is the final dam before Achilles' own blood will flow.

The last thing I think is: Achilles.

A scream comes, tearing its way out. And then another, and another . . . Patroclus, he says, Patroclus.

“Hector is dead,” he says. “Tomorrow.”

No one calls it cowardice that he runs. He will not live if he is caught.

"Grant me this. Give my body to my family, when you have killed me." . . . "There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw."

"You have killed him and taken your vengeance. It is enough." "It will never be enough."

"That is—your friend?" "Philtatos," Achilles says, sharply. Most beloved.

"When I am dead, I charge you to mingle our ashes and bury us together."

Achilles smiles as his face strikes the earth.

Tori only realized that she was crying when she saw tears fall on the page. It wasn’t the first time it happened, and she doubted it would be the last. But that was normal for her. It wasn't what drew her attention away from the book.

Above her, in the air, was a shimmering sort of light. An Iris-Message. It had been a while since she’d gotten one. “Um, I accept, I guess?” The mist dissipated, forming a clear image. Well, not exactly clear. There was a lot of fog wherever the person was. And trees.

It took her a moment to see who’d called her. “Percy? What’s wrong?” Percy looked at her. He seemed upset. Like, really upset. Tori thought of how worried he must have been since Annabeth was taken captive. “You don’t look too good.”

The other demigod laughed bitterly. “Thanks.” His expression turned serious, his sea-green eyes flashing. “Tori, we need your help.”

Tori blinked. “What? Why me?”

“Please,” Percy said weakly. “I don’t what you can do, but we need all the help we can get. And Annabeth told me how you helped her before.”

Tori considered it. “I don’t know.” She was on the ship for a reason. Now if something happened to her, she wasn’t the only one who got hurt. And Luke would be pissed.

Please, Tori,” Percy pleaded. “I know you’re not evil. We need help.”

Tori looked down at the blanket, her fingers moving to play with her sea glass bracelet. She had left camp to bring Luke back, to fix things, but so far she’d barely done anything. Surely, this was the least she could do to make up for it. She sighed. “I'll do what I can.”

Percy thanked her, and the image dissolved. She stood up, groaning, and got dressed. She slipped a bow and a stocked quiver over her shoulder and pulled on a pair of combat boots. After that, she grabbed her sword and strapped a dagger to her thigh. She thought of wearing armor, but decided against it. She didn’t want anyone to be suspicious of her. She almost left without taking ambrosia, but there was no reason to make Luke angrier than he would already be.

Tori walked out of the room and through the ship, never running or tiptoeing, instead choosing to look perfectly calm and normal. Still, someone might have stopped her, but there were so few people on the ship that it was unlikely.

The boat was docked and ready to be loaded and unloaded, so getting off wasn’t a problem. Even figuring out where to go wasn’t. The snake-women’s trunks had left a clear path up the mountain. All she had to do was follow it.

It wasn’t a particularly steep hike, but it was plenty creepy. There, storm clouds gathered around the top of the mountain. The blood-red sunset looked like a fresh gash in the sky. Tori shivered and walked faster.

There was fog around the mountain. You had to pass through it to get to the top, which didn’t exactly make it seem welcoming. She pressed on regardless, remembering her promise to Dan. I’m going to come back. And Luke will be with me when I do. She hadn’t been very good at keeping her promises lately.

Tori made it through the unnecessarily creepy fog. The path led through the Hesperides’ garden, the same one that Luke had gone to. The dragon that guarded Hera’s tree, Ladon, had given him the scar on his face. She braced herself for the monster, but it wasn’t there. It’s up the mountain. She knew it in the worst possible way. Instinctively.

After a minute of searching, she found a rocky trail that seemed to lead to the mountain’s peak. As she climbed it, she thought, This better not be a dead end, or I am going to fucking lose it.

Soon, she was at the top of the mountain. And, oh boy, she did not like what she saw.

Here, the clouds gathered together and coalesced to form a swirling vortex. It almost touched the mountain, but instead it rested on someone’s back. Atlas. Okay, that she liked. Atlas was awful, and she hated him.

“Noooooo!” Atlas bellowed, shaking the mountain. “Not again!”

Was it wrong that she could only think of laughing at him? Probably not. I wonder who tricked him into taking the sky again, she thought absently. Whoever it is, I should send them a gift basket.

With a start, she saw that Percy was on the ground a feet away from Atlas. He tried to stand, trembled, and fell back down. Tori immediately went to his side, holding him up. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m here.” She wasn’t sure if Percy could hear her, but she took out her baggie of ambrosia pressed a piece against his lips. “Eat this.” After a moment of confusion, Percy opened his mouth, allowing the fruit of the gods to slip in.

A few feet away, Atlas seemed to notice her. "You! Girl! Help me!" he shouted. Tori looked at him. She remembered Luke's reopened scar, how pale and sickly he’d looked lately, how much it pained her to see him like that. "Fuck off."

Atlas roared something at her, but Tori paid him no attention. She would have stayed with Percy, but then she saw something that struck fear into her heart.

Near the edge of a cliff, Luke was fighting Thalia. Come to think of it, several people were fighting several other people, but she couldn’t think of that. She couldn’t think of anything.

There was a fresh gash along Luke’s chest. He was sweating, and his face was even paler than before. He looked like he was on his deathbed. At some point, he’d lost his sword. Thalia’s spear was pointed to his throat.

For a moment, there was only silence.

“Well?” Luke demanded. There was fear in his voice, in his eyes. She could see it, feel it, as surely as her own.

Thalia was trembling with fury. Behind her, Annabeth scrambled towards them, grey streaks in her blonde hair and dirt on her face. “Don’t kill him!”

“He’s a traitor,” Thalia said. “A traitor!

“We’ll bring Luke back,” Annabeth said pleadingly. “To Olympus. He’ll be useful.”

In spite of his fear, Luke sneered. “Is that what you want, Thalia? To go back to Olympus in triumph? To please your dad?”

Thalia hesitated. That was her mistake. The next was Luke’s. He made a desperate grab for her spear. As if seeing the future, Tori knew what would happen.

“NO!” Tori moved instinctively. She didn’t think. She didn’t have to. If she had, she would have made the same choice. She would have made it a thousand times. Perhaps she did.

Without thinking, Thalia tried to kick Luke away. Instead she got Tori. Thalia’s foot connected with her stomach. Tori teetered and shouted out in pain, her arms immediately wrapping around her waist. She could see Luke’s face. She had never seen him look so horrified before.

Tori lost whatever balance she might have had. Before she knew what was happening, the mountain was no longer under her feet. Instead, it was the wind that broke beneath her, wrapping itself around her like a lover, until she struck the ground and darkness encased her.


 

XIV.

 

Luke was screaming, crying out in pain, as though he were the one who’d fallen. Tori watched him. He made his way down the cliff as quickly as he could without killing himself, completely ignoring everything else around him. She saw him the way a fish saw the sun through water — beautiful, but unclear. It was that which made her realize she was dead. That, and the lack of color.

Luke knelt beside her body. She looked at it and winced. Her face was battered and bruised. She was certain the back of her head was a mess. Many of her bones had twisted and broken. Black blood soaked through her clothes from the rocks she’d struck. There was more blood on her jeans. It wasn’t from the rocks.

“Tori,” Luke sobbed, cradling her in his arms. “TORI!


 

XV.

 

He took her back to the ship. At first, people crowded him, wanting to know what had happened, but then they saw her, curled up pathetically in his arms. They fell silent.

There was a room he took her too. Not theirs, or hers. Probably just an empty suite. It didn’t matter. He laid her down on the bed, stroking her cheek. Tear streaks marked his cheeks. She thought his eyes were probably red, but couldn’t tell.

For a while, Luke just sat down on the edge of the bed, not looking at her corpse. She sat behind him and tried to wrap her arms around him, but they passed through his flesh. She tried, and was finally able to press a hand against his shoulder — or at least hold it still enough that it didn’t phase through. She wanted to hold him, comfort him, but couldn’t. This was what she was now. The half-life of a Greek spirit.

Luke cried for a while, his hands pressed against his face. Tori was more concerned with him than herself, honestly. There was something about being dead that made it difficult to care about much of anything. Except for Luke. Luke needed her.

After a while, he stopped crying, drawing his hand down his face and forcing himself to stand. He called for some things to be brought to him. They arrived quickly. She couldn’t tell if the demigods that brought him stuff pitied him or feared him. Maybe both. Either way, they left quickly and didn’t say anything, although they did spare a passing glance at her unmoving body.

Luke set to work. There was a bowl of water, a washcloth, and a white dress. First he undressed her, wincing at the ruin of her body. Then he dipped the washcloth into the water and began to clean her arms, face, and stomach. When he made his way to his legs, he stopped. There it was again — horror, mixed with grief now. It took her a moment to think of why. When she did, she shivered, though she could no longer feel cold. Oh gods. Our baby. She wanted to cry then. He must hate me. If he did, his grief overpowered his anger. He pushed through, eventually cleaning her entirely. It didn’t do much to help, but maybe it brought him a sort of peace.

Luke managed to get the dress on her. It was simple. Grecian. She thought it was probably light. It only went to her ankles, leaving her relatively unharmed feet exposed. Luke seemed to want to do something with her hair, but finally left it alone, unable to get all the blood and bits of bone out of it.

Luke stood, looking down at her. She watched him sadly. What I wouldn’t give to make you smile, bear.

Her soulmate reached out a hand, drawing it down her fac4. “I’m going to fix this, Tori. I promise.”

“Luke,” Tori said, though she knew he couldn’t hear. He opened the door, leaving. She followed. “Luke, what are you doing? Luke!” But it was no use. She couldn’t follow him far past her body, and he couldn’t see or hear her.  Tori retreated back to the room to wait for him. She passed the time by staring at her corpse.

Then something happened. She looked down at her body. It was glowing faintly, in a color she suspected was gold, but looked grey to her. As she watched, the bones forced themselves back into placing, cracking as they did. Her face healed, the bruises disappearing. The hair that had been torn from her scalp regrew, thick and shiny. Her skin stitched itself together, closing her wounds, until finally she was healed completely. Looking at her, you would never realize anything was wrong.

Tori stumbled backwards suddenly before falling to the ground. She was shaking, her body was being pulled in every direction, she was dying again—

And then she was gone.


 

XVI.

 

Tori opened her eyes. Her entire body was sore and aching, like she’d been slammed into a wall. It was an effort to look around, but when she did, she saw Luke, sitting beside her with his hands over his face. It was only when she saw him that she realized something.

No colors.

For a moment, she lay motionless in bed. Then she bolted upright, her hands scrambling frantically for something to hold onto. “Luke! Luke, what—”

Luke was up in an instant, reaching out his hand to hers. As soon as he touched her, the colors returned, flooding the blue-and-green room. Tori relaxed some, resting back against the unfamiliar bed. Luke returned to his position in the chair, his head facing the floor while his hands covered his face. Tori frowned. “Luke? What happened?” Something was wrong. Her body felt wrong. Something had changed. And it wasn’t just the colors.

Slowly, Luke drew his hands from his face. He didn’t look at her. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I was supposed to protect you. But instead. . .” He made a pained sound and turned farther from her, shielding his face. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

Tori forced herself to sit back up. “Why are you sorry, Luke? What happened?”

Luke laughed bitterly. He almost sounded hysterical. “What happened? You died, Tori. That’s what happened.”

Tori stared at him. “I don’t remember being dead,” she said quietly.

Finally, Luke looked at her. There were tear streaks down his face. “It was Thalia.” He said the name through gritted teeth, his eyes burning when he did. “She tried to kick me away, but she got you instead.”

Tori nodded slowly. She vaguely remembered that. “Then, how—”

“There’s something I didn’t tell you.” Luke sat down on the end of the bed, looking at the floor. “I was . . . thinking, about everything you said. About the camp and the titans. And I thought that you might be right. And I was going to tell you, and I thought we might be able to leave and go . . . somewhere. I didn’t have it all thought out. But I wanted to leave with you.”

Tori stared at him. “Why—”

“I know, I’m an idiot and I should have figured this out sooner. But then today happened.” Luke’s voice cracked almost imperceptibly. “Tori, I’m so sorry. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let you go.”

“What did you do, Luke?” Tori whispered.

He looked back at her. “What I had to do to save you.” The room seemed to grow colder. “I made a deal with Kronos. He brought you back, and now I have to do what he wants.”

Luke started to say something else, but Tori sat up, shaking her head. “No. No. You can’t do this, Luke!”

He looked straight into her eyes, his own as hard and sure as stone. “I have to.”

“You would do all of this — endure all this pain and fear, side with people you just admitted were wrong, cause all this suffering, get people killed, maybe even die yourself — and for what?”

Luke’s eyes softened. He leaned towards his soulmate and caressed her cheek.  “I would and will do all of this and more — for you. There are a lot of things I’d do for you.”

Tori sat still, having no idea how to respond to that. Luke moved closer, pulling her into an embrace. “I’m sorry, Tori. But I love you.”

“I know,” Tori said through her tears. “I love you too.” Luke pulled her closer, burying his head in her neck. As Luke wrapped his arms around her, his elbow briefly pressed into her stomach. It was only for a moment, but it was enough. Her hands closed around Luke’s biceps, squeezing. “Luke, what happened to—”

“I’m sorry,” Luke said. He’s said that a lot today. “There was nothing I could. . .”

He kept speaking, but Tori didn’t hear him. She could only bury her face in his chest. Finally, comforted by Luke, she let herself cry.

Chapter Text

I.

 

Tori smiled. She couldn’t remember the last time she was so happy. Luke was standing beside the bed, his hands resting on her shoulders. He was smiling too. Even the baby in her arms — a sweet little girl — was giggling, waving her tiny arms around. Tori held her close, sighing. She was about to place a kiss on her forehead, but stopped short. Something was wrong. The baby wasn’t smiling. She was fussing now. No, now she was screaming.

Tori panicked. “What’s wrong?” She looked up. “Luke—” Her breath caught in her throat. “LUKE!” Her soulmate’s skin was a sickly gray, his hair white. Streams of bright-red blood ran from his black eyes.

The baby was still screaming. Tori looked down at her, and screamed too. Blood seeped through the baby’s skin, starting with her hands, then her arms and chest and face, quickly encompassing her entire body. Before Tori could do anything, someone grabbed her arm. She flinched and turned to look at them.

Thalia stood above her, scowling. “Ugh, that sound is the worst. Here, I’ll fix it.” She moved quickly, snatching the child from Tori’s arms. “No,” Tori said. Thalia ignored her, taking out a knife from her belt. “NO!” She tried to move, but her body refused. “STOP!”

Thalia raised the knife and shoved it through the child’s throat.


II.

 

“Tori! Tori, wake up!

Tori’s eyes snapped opened. Luke hovered above her, shaking her shoulder. A cold sweat covered every inch of her skin. It took her a few seconds to realize what was happening. Then she started to cry, her face scrunching up in misery as she rolled onto her side, unable to face Luke. He didn’t try to stop her, instead wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her close. One hand rubbed the scarred part of her back comfortingly while he pressed his lips against her shoulders.

After a few minutes, Tori finally stopped shuddering, though lone tears still streaked their way down her face. Her hands rested on top of Luke’s. “Was it Thalia, again?” Luke asked quietly.

Tori nodded.

“She won’t get away with it forever,” Luke promised. It was not the first time he’d said it; chances were, it would not be the last. “She’ll die for this.”

“I know,” Tori said, drawing his hand lightly up his arm. So far, that was two people Luke had vowed to kill for her: Apollo and Thalia. She wondered idly if they made punch cards for this sort of thing. Kill six of your soulmate’s enemies, and get a free ice cream! “You should go back to sleep. Busy day tomorrow.”

Luke shook his head, but she could tell he was biting back a yawn. “Goodnight, bear,” Tori said quietly and before laying back down and pretending to sleep. Luke didn’t really fall for it, but he was tired, and it didn’t take long for him to fall back asleep. Tori stayed awake for a long time, staring at the wall and thinking.


III.

 

Deep breath. Tori took her own advice, slowly breathing in and out. I have to do this. I need to do this. All day, she’d been in her room, building up the courage to do what she needed to. Luke had left her alone, probably thinking she was still recovering from what had happened only a couple of months ago. She was, but that wasn’t what she’d been thinking about.

Tori raised her hand and knocked on the door. After a few seconds, Luke opened the door. He smiled tentatively when he saw her. “Hey, wildcat. Do you need me?”

She nodded. “I need to talk to you. Are you busy?”

Luke shook his head. He looked handsome in his Greek clothes, a white-and-gold chiton and himation . Tori was dressed to match, more or less, in a brown peplos with gold trim and sandals up to her knees. “Not right now.”

“Then can we go somewhere private?” There were a few other people in the room, looking at them curiously and trying very badly to hide it.

Luke looked at her for a second before agreeing. He shut the door, though not before Tori saw the piles of maps on the table. She shrugged it off. The Labyrinth could wait.

The couple made their way to their room since it was close by. Tori closed and locked the door behind them. When she turned back to Luke, she saw that he had a brow arched in a combination of confusion, worry, and amusement.

Tori took in another breath before raising her head to face her soulmate. “I can’t do this anymore, Luke. I can’t stay.”

Luke stared at her, but he seemed to understand. He nodded, his eyes hardening as he worked to keep his face clear of emotion. “I understand. I want to—”

“Wait, wait, sorry, I wasn’t clear. I’m not leaving right now.” Luke let out a breath of relief. “But I meant what I said. I can’t stay and watch you become. . .” She closed her eyes, fighting for strength. “I can’t be without you. But I can’t see you like that. It would kill me.” It felt like it already was killing her. The knowledge that through her stupid, un-thought out actions, Luke would soon be a prisoner in his own body made her want to tear down the sky.

Without realizing it at first, Tori started crying again. “Oh, gods damn it,” she muttered. She started to wipe away the tears, but Luke stepped forward and did it for her. They stared at each other. Tori tried for a smile. “You’d think I’d be dehydrated by this point.”

Luke smiled painfully. “Yeah.”

Uncomfortable silence surrounded them.

“How long will you stay?” Luke asked finally.

“Until I can’t anymore.” Anything else would be too much. This probably would be too. “Then I’ll see if they’ll take me back at camp.”

“What if they don’t?”

Tori sighed. “I honestly have no idea. But whatever happens, it’s better than the alternative.”

Luke flinched, but didn’t say anything. Tori reached up and put her arms around him. “I love you. You know that, right?”

“Of course I do. I just wish it wasn’t like this.” There was guilt in his eyes. It was his fault they were in this situation, although Tori blamed herself for not getting them out of it in time.

“You should get back to work,” Tori said, looking away. “I have something I have to do, anyway.”

Luke nodded and stepped back. His hand caressed her cheek. “You’ll be okay without me?”

Tori laughed. “I’ll be fine, Luke. Really. There’s just something I need to get done. Don’t worry about it.”

That didn’t satisfy Luke, but he either knew that he had to get back to work or he just wanted to give Tori some space. He kissed her cheek lightly. “I’ll see you tonight.” Tori watched as he left. It was always hard to watch him go these days, knowing they didn't have much time left.

Tori didn’t need armor for what she was doing, though she took her sword and a dagger anyway. She didn’t want to take a guard with her, but she felt obligated to since she was leaving the ship. Chris Rodriguez was gone, lost in the Labyrinth. The second-best option was an 18-year old girl that Luke knew and trusted, so Tori dragged her along. They were silent as they wove their way through the city to the apartment Luke had gotten for them. Her, really.

Tori looked to her guard as they stood outside the door. “Do you mind waiting out here?” The woman — Dana — nodded. Her face cold and stoic.

Tori opened the door and stepped inside. The apartment was as she remembered it — modern, elegant, simple. Come to think of it, it might be a good place to hide out if they didn’t let her back in at camp. But that wasn’t why she was there.

Someone had already brought over a bunch of cardboard boxes at her request. She grabbed as many as she could carry and walked over to the nursery door, gathering her strength. She went inside.

The room was small and cute, decorated in pale purple and shiny silver. Before the grief could overwhelm her, Tori got to work, filling the boxes with the books and toys that Luke had picked out. She was almost done when she got to the crib. Her eyes fell on the plush toy bunny. She picked it up gently, as though it were precious. She put it to the side.

Suddenly, it was all too much for her. Sobs wracked her body. No, not sobs. Screams. Without thinking, her hands grabbed the cradle, wrenching it apart. The wood bit into her flesh, but she didn’t notice, too caught up in her rage and grief. Before she knew it, she was sitting on the floor, surrounded by splinters, broken pieces of crib, and her own blood.


IV.

 

By the time Luke returned to their room, Tori had already had some nectar for her hands. They were healed well enough that Luke probably wouldn’t notice.

He didn’t. Honestly, he looked so out of it that Tori wasn’t sure he even noticed her. “Bear? Are you alright?”

Luke laughed, sounding close to hysteria. “No, not really.”

Tori stood and walked over to him slowly. She set her hand on his arm. “What happened?”

Luke put his hand over hers, his thumb moving to stroke her bracelet. For the first time since he got there, he looked into her eyes. “We met Daedalus,” he said quietly. “It’s a good thing you weren’t there, really. He had a hellhound with him.”

Tori shivered uneasily. “Okay, but what did he say?”

“What he said doesn’t matter. Not really. What matters is that we’re going into the Labyrinth — soon.”

Tori felt like her heart had stopped, but she made herself nod. I knew this was coming; I can’t pretend I didn’t. “What do you need me to do?”

Without speaking, Luke pulled her hand up, placing a gently kiss on her wrist. “I have something I need to do tomorrow. And I want you to go with me.”

Without thinking, Tori said, “Of course I will.” Almost as an afterthought, she asked, “Where are we going?”

Luke’s eyes seemed darker. More intense. “To . . . my mom’s house.”

Tori blinked. “What?”

Luke sighed and drew her over to the bed. They sat down, Tori gently running her fingers down his arm. “Before I can . . . you know, I need to go to the River Styx to take on the Curse of Achilles. It will make me invincible except for one spot.”

Tori nodded; the story of Achilles was one she knew well. “But why do we need to go—”

“I need my mother’s blessing to take on the curse. But I don’t think I can face her alone.”

Tori pressed her lips against her shoulder. “You won’t have to.”

Luke wrapped an arm around her waist, holding her close to him. “I know.”


V.

 

There are a lot of trees in Connecticut , was Tori’s first, inane, thought. She turned around, looking up at the house. It was two stories tall and designed in a Colonial style. The paint was white, but it had been so long since the walls were refreshed that they looked more like a grimy gray. The roof was soot-black. The lawn was so overgrown and full of weeds that no one would have been surprised to learn that it hadn’t been tended to in years. Tori couldn’t tell if the apple tree in the middle of the yard had been planted intentionally or not. It stood protectively over a rusted old swing-set. Despite the sun, the house was oddly dim, the only light coming from a window in the front.

Even though there was a road with cars nearby, the house felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, as though it existed separately from the rest of the world. It didn’t help that the walkway leading up to it was lined with rows of stuffed monsters from Greek mythology. There were over a dozen glass and metal windchimes hanging from the porch’s roof. The nose they made was so irritating, it made Tori want to scream, though she’d only been there a few moments. The entire place was the most forbidding one she’d ever seen. It was only made worse by the fact that the only color came from what nature had bestowed upon it.

After a minute, Luke tugged on her arm, pulling Tori out of her thoughts. They walked up to the porch. The door was completely black with no glass. The name CASTELLAN was written in English, then again in Greek. Luke raised his hand, but stopped, visibly holding back his emotions. Tori reached up and stroked his hair, resting her head against his arm. “It’s okay, bear. I’m right here.”

Luke sucked in a breath and nodded jerkily. “I know.” He looked down at her, his blue eyes softening for a moment. He kissed her temple softly. “I love you.” With one hand intertwined with hers, Luke turned back to the door and knocked. It was only a few seconds later when the door burst open. A woman stood in the doorway, smiling widely. “Luke!”

May Castellan was pretty much the opposite of what someone would expect from Luke’s mom. She looked decades older than Tori had imagined her. Her hair might have been blonde once, but it was starch-white now, sticking out in tufts. Her dress was covered in black scorch marks and ash. Her green eyes were almost electric in their insane intensity. "Oh, my dear boy!" May cried out, throwing her arms around Luke. He tensed, his hand tightened on so hard that Tori had to hold back a shout.

After a minute, May released her son. Luke smiled, but didn’t relax.

May Castellan smiled happily at Luke. She never seemed to notice Tori. “Come in, sweetheart. Lunch is ready!” Her voice was high-pitched in addition to being weirdly cheery and enthusiastic. The soulmates looked at each other before following May inside.

Somehow, the inside of the house was even creepier than the outside. Mirrors and candles filled every nook and cranny of the living room, making it impossible to look around without seeing yourself. Above the fireplace's mantle, a little bronze Hermes flew around the hands of a wooden clock. It was difficult to imagine the charming messenger god ever falling in love with this woman.

Tori felt felt herself smile gently when she saw the picture resting on the mantle. It was Luke, about nine years old, scarless and smiling. She almost laughed when she saw that he was missing two teeth. He looked so genuinely happy that it was hard to believe it was the same man standing beside her.

Tori started to reach out to the photo, but Luke stopped her, every muscle tensed. May took hold of Luke’s free wrist and started to pull him away. “Come on, dear! It’s time for lunch!” Luke’s grip on her hand tightened, and she walked quickly to keep up with them.

Tori stopped short at the kitchen. The smell was overwhelming. The counter was stacked with hundreds of tupperware boxes, each one with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The ones at the bottom were completely green from mold. The ones at the top were fresh, but no more appetizing. On top of the oven was a stack of cookie sheets, each of them covered in a dozen burnt cookies. In the sink, there was a virtual mountain of plastic pitchers. A beanbag Medusa was guarded the sink. Taped around the window above were dozens of pictures from magazines. Tori realized that they were all of either Hermes or his caduceus.

Luke pulled her to the table, sitting stiffly beside her. May Castellan hummed happily while she made a fresh sandwich. The humming seemed to upset Luke even more, so Tori occupied herself by drawing her fingers up and down his arm comfortingly. I don’t know how he stared here so long. For a long time, Tori hadn’t understood how Luke could have left his home so young. Now she was amazed he didn’t leave sooner.

Finally, Luke stopped Tori’s hand and looked up to May. “Mom?”

May’s head snapped up, her stretched-smile seeming even creepier before. She dropped the sandwich and the butter knife and walked over to Luke, so quickly it was almost inhuman. She put her hand on Luke’s cheek. Her smile dropped as she finally seemed to notice his scar. “What’s wrong, dear boy? Do you need something?”

Luke hissed in a breath, his hands clenching and unclenching. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I need to ask you something.” Seeing that he was near the breaking point, Tori reached out and gripped his hand. He squeezed it gratefully and looked back to his mother, his eyes gaining back some of their strength. “Mom, I need to go to the River Styx for the Curse of Achilles. But I need your blessing.”

“The River Styx?” May asked, the smallest hint of clarity in her voice. “In the Underworld?”

Luke nodded. “Yes.” Seeming to fear her response, he added. “This is really important, mom. Will you give me your blessing?”

For a moment, May stared at him, her face blank. Then she smiled widely again. “Of course, dear. I give you my blessing.”

Luke finally relaxed, though not completely. “Thank you, mom.” He looked to Tori. “We can go now.” He stood up, waiting for Tori. “Mom, I need to go outside. I’ll be back in a little while. Come on, Tori.”

They started for the exit, but before they made it to the living room, May suddenly shot forward, grabbing hold of Tori’s arm. “My son!” May screeched, her eyes glowing an acidic green.

Tori had no idea what to do. She didn’t want to hurt Luke’s mom, but her hold was scarily strong. She tried to pull out of it, but couldn’t. Luke stepped in and tried to pry her hand away, but couldn’t. “Let go of her,” he hissed, but May didn’t seem to hear him. She lurched forward, knocking Tori to the ground. The old woman hovered over the girl, her teeth bared like an animal’s. Her hands reached around Tori’s neck, choking her. “My son!”

Suddenly, May was gone, dragged away by Luke, who’d grabbed her around the waist and pulled her away. “I said let go!

Tori rolled onto her stomach, coughing. She was starting to wonder if she should have worn armor instead of another dress. But strangely, May didn’t seem to see her anymore. She was smiling again, her eyes back to their green color. “Luke? What happened?”

Luke swallowed. “You fell.” He seemed caught between anger and worry. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, of course! You have fun outside, dear. Be back in time for dinner, alright?” She stood up and returned to the kitchen, singing under her breath.

As soon as she was gone, Luke helped Tori to her feet. He pressed his fingers gently to her throat, trying to assess the damage. “Are you—”

“I’m fine,” Tori said, her voice weak. “What did she see?” When Luke was an infant, May had tried to take on the Oracle of Delphi, which had been cursed decades ago. It drove her insane, and led to her sometimes having visions of Luke’s future.

Luke sighed. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t.” Luke began to lead her to the exist, his hand tight on her arm. “Do you want to go back? We can go to the river tomorrow.”

Tori shook her head, slowly regaining her strength. “No. I want to do it today and get it over with.” They were outside now, and it was easier to stand when she saw the blue of the sky and the green of the grass. “I’m fine. Really.”

Luke still wasn’t sure. Tori prepared herself for an argument, but he decided not to draw it out. “Alright.” He put one hand softly on Tori’s back, drawing it down her scars before unsheathing Backbiter. He slashed a hole into the space in front of them, going through first before reaching out a hand for Tori. She took it.

When they were through, Tori could see that they were standing at the base of a cliff on a plain of ink-black sand. The River Styx roared by on their right. On their left, the walls of Hades’s kingdom towered over, stern and dark. Fires were burning, filling the air with an acrid smell that burned her nose.

With Luke’s arm wrapped protectively around her waist, they made their way to the river. It was swirling with all sorts of depressing things — broken toys, ripped-up diplomas and marriage certificates, wilted flowers, damaged soulmates gifts. The lost hopes and dreams of the dead. “What now?” Tori asked.

Luke looked down into the water. “I need to prepare myself, first. Otherwise the water will kill me, body and soul.”

Tori nodded. “How do you—” She stopped suddenly and grabbed Luke’s arm. “Luke!”

Luke whipped around to see what she was staring at. There was a man there. A Greek warrior, he was dressed in a tunic and bronze armor, and he held a war helm under his arm. He was tall and muscular, with black hair and pale green eyes. Just above his left ankle, a bloody arrow was poking out of his calf.

Luke faced the warrior. “Achilles.”


VI.

 

Everyone knew of the Greek hero who died in the Trojan War. And everyone knew that it was not truly the arrow that killed him, but the death of his soulmate, Patroclus. His grief drove him insane, and he smiled when he died.

Luke tried not to think of that as he faced the man himself, but it was hard. Achilles’s eyes were a constant reminder of his bonded nature, and of the pain it brought him. It didn’t help that the demigod stared right at him as he walked towards the couple. “You have come to seek my gift. I have come to warn you that it is a curse.”

Maybe he was just an asshole, but Luke’s first thought was, No shit, it’s in the name. “I know that.”

“Do not do this. It will make you powerful, but your weaknesses will increase as well.” For a moment, Achilles’s eyes went to Tori. Luke moved in front of her protectively. Achilles gave him a slight approving look before saying, “You win well when you win, but what are you unwilling to lose if you lose?”

They all knew the answer.

“I don’t have a choice,” Luke admitted, closer to breaking down then ever before. The fire I started is burning me alive. “I have to do this. Kronos will kill her if I don’t.”

Achilles lowered his head, whether in understanding or disappointment, Luke couldn’t tell. “Let the gods witness I tried. If you must do this, concentrate on your mortal point. Imagine one spot of your body that will be vulnerable. There, your soul will anchor your body to the world. It will be your greatest weakness, but also your only hope. No man may be completely invulnerable. Lose sight of what keeps you mortal, and the River Styx will burn you to ashes. You will cease to exist. Prepare yourself. For whether you survive or not, you have sealed your doom!”

With that, the hero vanished dramatically.

“He was cheerful,” Tori said, deadpan. Luke couldn’t help a chuckle. Then he faced her, and his eyes softened. He raised his hand to caress her cheek and kissed her. “You know I love you more than anything, right?”

“I know,” Tori said quietly. “I love you, too.”

There was nothing else to say after that. Everything else had already been said.

Luke stood beside the river, thinking. There was a spot just under his left arm that would be hard to hit by accident, and protected by armor in battle. He focused all his energy on that spot, the only part of him that would be truly mortal now. With one last look at Tori, he stepped into the river.

He’d like to say that it was all very dignified, like what you’d see in a movie. Instead, he fell in face-first as soon as the water touched his skin. Immediately, it was like being submerged in a pot of the world’s worst acid. Every nerve in his body burned, searching for escape, but there was none. There was only one way out.

He felt himself start to come apart, like there was nothing holding him together anymore, like his body was melting around him, like his mind was collapsing in on itself, forgetting what he was, forgetting who he was—

He heard something. The sound was beautiful, better than music. It only took him a moment to realize that it was Tori. She was laughing, and he could feel her smiling at him, like there was nowhere in the universe she would rather be. He could feel her eyes on him. She smiled playfully. “Don’t forget your lifeline, bear!”

As soon as she said it, he felt the space under his arm tug, like a bungee cord. “Hold on there, bad boy. You’re almost done.” The chord’s hold strengthened. He could see her now, her brown eyes shining, her hand held out towards him. “Come with me.”

He took her hand.

His memories returned to him in a snap. He stopped dissolving. He could remember who he was, and what he was doing, and why. Tori.

He burst out of the river, landing on the black sand. Someone was shouting, resting over him.

“You’re hurt!” As the person looked him over, he realized who it was.

Luke smiled and reached up his hand to the person’s face. “Tori.” My love. My soulmate. Philtatos. For her, he could sacrifice himself. For her, he could sacrifice the world.

Tori took his hand and set it down. “You’re burnt.”

Luke chuckled, though it probably wasn’t funny to her. “Yeah, I guess.” His skin was bright red, like he was a lobster someone had left in the pot for too long.

Tori worried over him, but after a few minutes, his skin color returned to normal. No, better than normal. He looked healthier and more tanned than he had in months. He felt better than he had in months.

Finally appeased, Tori jumped on top of Luke, wrapping her arms around his neck. He laughed in surprise before kissing her neck and holding her too him. “Love you too, wildcat.”

Tori burst into laughter, but it quickly evolved into sobs. Luke sat up and brushed her hair away from her face. “What’s wrong?”

For a minute, she couldn’t answer him, couldn’t speak. Then she said, “It feels real now.”

Luke felt his happiness die as dread took its place. He pulled Tori closer to him again, letting her rest her head on his shoulder. He started to say something, but his voice caught in his throat, so he just rubbed her back.


VII.

 

Tori peered over the map, pretending to care. She didn’t even really need to be there — her role in the Labyrinth was basically to walk next to Luke — but with time running out, every moment with him was precious.

Someone was speaking, basically repeating in increasingly complicated and bloated ways that they didn’t actually know how to navigate the Labyrinth. When the monster paused for breath, Luke asked, “Have any of our scouts returned?”

“No, sir. In fact, our spy at Camp Half-Blood reports that Chris Rodriguez has been found by them. From what she said, he’s lost his mind.”

Luke groaned and resisted the urge to curse. Tori watched him carefully. Despite his dip in the River Styx, her soulmate had barely gotten any sleep in the past few nights, and it was wearing on him. There were very slight bangs under his eyes, and he was holding his head lower than usual. Without thinking about it, Tori snapped, “All right. Everyone out, now.”

Everyone looked at her in surprise, including Luke. “Tori, what—”

“I don’t care. All of you, out!” When no one moved, she started shouting, “Out, out, OUT!

They finally started to leave, giving her weird looks as they did. Luke started to leave the room too, but Tori grabbed his arm. “Not you.”

Soon, they were alone. Luke seemed apprehensive, but Tori smiled softly and drew her fingers through his hair. “How are you feeling, bear?”

Luke sighed. “Stressed.” He rubbed his shoulder absently, seeming irritated.

Tori, getting an idea, said, “Come here.” Luke gave her a confused look, but obeyed, allowing Tori to turn him how she wanted. Once his back was turned to her, Tori set her hands on his shoulders and began to massage them.

Luke was still at first, but after a moment, his body began to relax. Luke moaned happily. “That feels good.”

Tori chuckled and continued, slowly moving her hands down his back and up again. Soon, Luke was resting all his weight on the table and making happy noises as Tori worked his muscles. He looked back over his shoulder to her, smiling like an idiot. “Let’s get married.”

Tori immediately stopped in her tracks. “What?”

“I want to marry you,” Luke said, still smiling.

“Wow, okay, I did not know that a massage would have that effect on you—”

“No, I’m serious.” He took her hand in his and turned to face her. “I want to marry you, Tori.”

Still confused by the sudden change, Tori asked, “Why?”

Luke didn’t miss a beat. “Because I love you. Because I wish I could be with you forever. Because leaving you is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and ever will do. Because you. Is that enough?”

For a moment, Tori could only stand and stare at him. Then she shook her head. “No, that’s not enough.”

Luke’s smile fell. “Tori—”

“All of that and the fact that I love you, need you, want . . . all of that and so much more is enough.”

They stared at each other in silence before Luke asked, “So is that a yes, or—”

“Oh, shut up,” Tori said, pulling him down for a kiss.


VIII.

 

It was surprisingly easy to find a place to elope.

Maybe it was because they were in California. Or maybe Luke already had a place in mind. Either way, they were there that night on what was officially “classified business”. Which was technically true, except for the business part.

Tori was also 90% sure that Luke had either gotten a copy of their bonded certificate or stolen it from the camp records before he left, because the only other option was that he had both of their birth certificates, and she didn’t even know where hers was.

Tori took Luke’s hand in hers. She was wearing a soft blue dress and had a dusty-pink flower in her hair. Luke had on a simple white button-down and light-brown pants, his only adornment the bronze arrowhead she’d given him so long ago. When Tori started to bite her lip nervously, Luke smiled and ran his thumb over her bracelet to reassure her.

The officiant, a red-haired woman in her thirties, began, “We have been invited here today to share with Luke and Victoria a very important moment in their lives. In the years since they first bonded, their love and understanding of each other has grown and matured, and now they have decided to live their lives together, not only as soulmates, but also as husband and wife. Which of you would like to say your vows first?”

Luke raised his hand, a charming smile tugging on his lips. “I’ll go.” His hands tightened around hers. His pale blue eyes were light with happiness. “I don’t think I need to tell you I love you at this point; this love is a part of me, as important as the air I breathe and the water I drink. Better men could love you, I know. But now they’d have to get through me.”

Tori rolled her eyes playfully. “So serious.” Her smile faded slightly, becoming more serious. “I feel like you already said everything I was thinking, so I’ll just say this: I love you, Luke. And I’m here. Until the bitter end, I’m here.”

“The couple will now exchange rings.”

Tori froze. Shit. “Oh, we don’t—”

“Tori,” Luke said, smiling mischievously as he held something up.

Tori rolled her eyes again. “Of course.”

Luke held Tori’s hand and slid a ring onto her finger. It was simple, with a single pale blue stone in the center. “I, Luke, give you, Tori, this ring as an eternal symbol of my love and commitment to you.”

The ring felt heavy on her hand, but not in a bad way. More like it was taking its rightful place. Tori could do little more than stare at it until Luke slipped her the second ring. This one had a more artful style, with a row of small brown stones running through the middle and a laurel wreath design. Tori took Luke’s hand — larger and more calloused than hers, but light in her hold — and carefully placed the ring on it. “I, Tori, give you, Luke, this ring as an eternal symbol of my love and commitment to you.”

The officiant smiled at them. “By the power vested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss your soulmate.”

Luke arched an eyebrow, grinning at her, but Tori barely noticed. Instead, she almost jumped forward, wrapping her arms around Luke and kissing him, pressing her lips to his and drinking him in. Luke stumbled for a moment, but quickly regained his footing, returning the kiss. They only stopped when they remembered that air was something humans needed. Even then, they stayed close, pressing their foreheads together. “I love you,” Tori whispered breathlessly.

Luke smiled softly. “I love you, too.”

For a moment, everything was perfect. Then the officiant said, “I hate to interrupt, but we do have other people coming, so. . .”

Tori blushed, quickly detaching herself from Luke. “Sorry, sorry. We’ll just, uh—”

“We’ll go,” Luke said, taking Tori’s hand and running the tips of his fingers over the ring. “Goodnight!” They made their way to the exit.

The officiant waved awkwardly to them. “Congratulations!”


IX.

 

Later, they lay in bed together, sated and giddy, surrounded by soft candlelight (yes, they had electric lights, but what’s romantic about that?). Tori snuggled into the crook of Luke’s arm, sighing happily. “This is how everyday should be.”

Luke looked down at her, the corner of his mouth held up in a smile. “You think we should get married every day?”

Tori looked up at him, her expression serious. “I think every day should be this happy — this perfect.”

Luke’s expression softened. “I think you’re right.” It was clear that the mood had changed; Luke’s eyes had darkened, and Tori knew that they were both thinking about the war that they would have to deal with the next day.

Well, Tori thought, sitting up, that’s tomorrow. She drew Luke in for a kiss, pushing her fingers through his mussed-up hair and straddling his legs. We still have tonight.


X.

 

Their honeymoon didn’t last long. Luke’s spies reported that the campers had found the entrance to the Labyrinth, and issued a quest to find Daedalus’s workshop in response. They went over the plan as Tori helped Luke put on his armor. “We’ll find Daedalus,” he said absently, looking off in the distance. “We’ll have to pass through the giant Antaeus’s territory. He’ll want a tribute. Entertainment.”

“We’ll figure that out when we get there,” Tori said, making sure the straps of the bronze breastplate were tight. She smiled. “There,” she said, running her hands over it as though to smooth out the metal. “Perfect.” He was wearing a plain white shirt underneath and black-camo pants — a far cry from the Greek chitons he’d been wearing lately, but it was a change she liked.

Luke smiled lightly and cupped her cheek with his hand, leaning down for a kiss. Tori covered his hand with her own, closing her eyes in bliss. She could feel his ring against her cheek. So far, he had only taken it off when he had to bathe. Otherwise, he wore it openly, ignoring the looks he received in return. No one dared question him out loud.

Once Tori was done putting on her own armor and weapons, they left the room. She stood immediately to his left — her place as his soulmate, whether she wanted it or not. Backbiter was gone, so they had to walk to get to Mt. Tamalpais. There was a proper palace on top of the mountain now. Green fires burned in braziers along the walls. The floors were made of shiny black marble. Cool winds were blowing through the open building; there was no roof, exposing the storm-filled sky. With her hair in a milkmaid-braid instead of along her back, Tori had to resist the urge to shudder.

They walked into a courtyard. There, dozens of half-blood warriors and dracaenae were preparing for war. The demigods rose to attention when they saw Luke and beat their swords against their shields.

“Issss it time, my lord?” one of the dracaenae asked.

“Soon,” Luke told her. “Continue your work.”

“My lord,” said another monsters. It only took Tori a moment to recognize her as an empousa. Tori tensed, but this girl seemed more subdued than Kelli had been, avoiding Tori’s eyes. “You have a visitor.” She stepped aside. Tori’s breath caught in her throat.

A monster towered before them, one Tori had only heard rumors of. Kampê. She had a woman’s body from the waist up, but below that was the body of a dragon, over twenty feet long, with black scales, enormous claws, and a barbed tail. Her legs sprouted hundreds of vipers, each of them hissing and looking for something to bite. Kampê’s hair was made of snakes, like Medusa’s, but the weirdest part was her waist. There, the monster’s skin bubbled and morphed into the heads of animals, as if she were wearing a belt of animal heads. She had two swords drawn, each of them shimmering with a sickening green aura.

“You were told to stay on Alcatraz,” Luke said. Tori could tell he was struggling to keep his tone even.

Kampê’s eyelids blinked sideways, like a snake. She spoke in a language that was inhuman, but Tori could understand her, like when she heard someone speaking Ancient Greek. I come to serve. Give me revenge.

“You’re a jailor,” Luke said. “Your job—”

I will have them dead. No one escapes me.

Luke hesitated, his hand inching almost imperceptibly towards his empty scabbard. But he was as scared as he was angry. A line of nervous sweat trickled down the side of his face. “Very well. You will go with us. You may carry Ariadne’s string. It is a position of great honor.”

Kampê hissed. Tori felt sick at the thought that that was how she looked happy. The monster turned, sheathing her swords before pounding down the hallway.

“We should have left that one in Tartarus,” Luke muttered. “She’s too chaotic.”

The empousa looked like she was resisting the urge to snarl. “She’s served you well if you remember, my lord.”

Luke looked like he was a second away from strangling her. “Leave!” The monster bowed hastily and left, not looking back. Luke groaned. “The sooner we leave, the better. I want this over with.”

Tori set her hand on his arm, tracing random circles on his bicep. “It’ll be done soon, bear.” She stopped suddenly, staring at his chest. “Wait.”

Luke paused, looking at her. “What’s wrong?”

Smiling, Tori tucked Luke’s pendant into his shirt. “There,” she said, looking up at him. “Now it won’t get lost.” Luke couldn’t resist a grin. As the seconds passed, Tori’s smile slid from her face. “Is it time?”

Luke nodded, his blue eyes as cold as ice. Tori lowered her gaze and stood back. In an instant, all the emotion was gone from Luke’s face. He raised his head and faced the soldiers. “Warriors!” They all stood at attention. “You know your assignments; get ready to move.”


XI.

 

They moved into the Labyrinth as a group of four. Tori stayed close to Luke’s side, looking over his shoulder at the map. It . . . didn’t seem very accurate. She started to say something, but then Luke shot her a look, and she clamped her mouth shut.

The Labyrinth itself was complicated. It was older than some civilizations, and had used that time to pick up and incorporate dozens of different architecture styles, materials, and environments, from modern steel and glass, to crumbling stone, to woodsy courtyards. It was best not to mention this out loud though, or else the Labyrinth would suddenly change itself just to mess with you.

It took hours of walking before they actually got anywhere. And it wasn’t a place any of them wanted to be.

Luke, Tori, and the others slowed to a halt. They were in a small cement room. One of the walls was crossed with metal bars.

Tori looked around curiously. “What is this place?”

“Nowhere we need to be,” Luke said shortly. “Come on. Let’s go back.”

Tori started to follow him, but then she heard a pitiful whimpering sound. She turned. “What’s that?” Before anyone could stop her, she drew her swortshord and used the pommel to dent the metal bars, forming a hole big enough to get through. The noise was coming from another cell only a few feet away. Tori quickly made her way to it and used her sword to break the lock. The others followed her. Luke was speaking, trying to stop her, but Tori wasn’t paying attention. She took a careful step towards the pitiful creature in the cell. “Hello?” The creature raised its head. Tori almost screamed.

It was Kelli — bloody, broken, and filthy, but Kelli nonetheless. Her lips had been haphazardly stitched together. Every bone in her arm and legs seemed to be broken. Her fingers were all gone, and one eye was so swollen that the empousa couldn’t open it. She was covered from head to toe in grime and blood. Her elegant dresses had been replaced by what might have been a ratty blanket. Her once deadly eyes were now dull and lifeless. It was like seeing someone you’d known years ago as a corpse.

Tori took a few careful steps towards her. Kelli shrinked backwards, but couldn’t do anything else. Tori sat in front of her, her expression revealing nothing. “Where are we, Luke?”

He didn’t try to lie, or shrug off the question. He must have known she would never believe him. “Alcatraz. Kampê was here before, but now. . .”

Tori nodded once in acknowledgement. As they all watched, she lifted her sword once more, placing the tip just where Kellis heart should be. The monster watched her with one, tear-filled eye as Tori finished the job. And though she couldn’t speak, Tori knew that she wanted to say “thank you.”


XII.

 

They walked just a little bit behind of the others, who used torches to light the way. It was a long time before Tori could say anything. When she did, her voice was low and raspy. “Why did you do it? You could have just killed her.”

Luke looked at her the way he usually did when he thought she was overreacting to his actions: love, annoyance, protectiveness. He shook his head. “So she could just reform and come back? She might have killed you the second time, Tori. I couldn’t take that chance.”

“Maybe not, but you didn’t have to . . . to . . . ”

“What, Tori?”

“You didn’t have to do that!” she snapped. “Do you think I like this? Do you think I want you to torture people for me?”

“Well, I actually didn’t do the torturing myself—”

“That’s not the point, Luke! The point is . . .” Tori sighed tiredly. “Gods, I don’t even know what the point is anymore.”

Luke’s eyes softened. “Tori . . .” He started to reach for her wrist.

Tori slapped his hand away. “No, Luke. Just keep walking. I don’t want to talk to you right now.”

Luke was obviously unhappy with this, but he didn’t protest, and they walked on in silence.

The group walked for what seemed to be the rest of the day before they finally stopped. They were in a large chamber made of cold white stones. There were only two doors, the one that they’d come in through, and another that led somewhere else. They settled against the walls to sleep. Tori placed her weapons in between her and Luke without a word.


XIII.

 

Tori awoke later, shivering. What the hell? She moved sluggishly, looking around the room. The walls were covered in a thick layer of ice. To her side, Luke was still asleep, though his body was shivering violently and there were goosebumps all along his flesh. The others were in the same state.

Tori made her way to her hands and knees and crawled over to Luke, shaking his shoulder. “Luke,” she said weakly. “Wake up, bear.” He didn’t move. She shook him harder. “Luke.” No response. “Luke!” Nothing. She checked his pulse. It was there, but weak. Hypothermia, she realized. As a child of Apollo, she could resist extreme temperatures better than most people. The others couldn’t.

Tori made her way shakily to her feet. The exit was still there. If she moved quickly, she could probably get them out before any real damage was done.

She started to move Luke first, then stopped. She could leave him there. He’d be dead soon — or as good as dead, at least. Kronos wouldn’t have a vessel. At the very least, she’d be stalling him. And she would be back at camp, out of the Titan’s immediate reach. And who, apart from herself, would say Luke didn’t deserve it? He was a traitor. A monster.

Tori lifted Luke up under the arms and began to drag him towards the door. He was heavy, but the door was close by, and she was able to get him out with relative ease. She laid him carefully down on the ground before returning for the others. One by one she dragged them out, until she was almost ready to collapse herself, but she still wasn’t done. It was warm enough in the corridor, but they were all still unconscious.

Everyone was still breathing, so at least Tori didn’t have to perform CPR. She had no blankets or anything else warm to give them, so she had to make do. She started with Luke, rubbing her hands over his covered chest and abdomen to warm his trunk. She almost burst into tears when he started to wake up. He groaned, slowly opening his eyes. “Tori?” he asked, blinking in confusion.

Tori let out a half-hysterical laugh. “Hey, bear.”

Luke looked around. “Where are we and why were you just rubbing my chest? I’m not complaining, just curious.”

Tori went over to help one of the others while she explained what happened. Luke frowned. “That shouldn’t have happened. Stupid map is useless.”

Tori rolled her eyes. “Well, what did you expect, Luke? This place has a mind of its own. Literally. Now, go help the other guard.”

It took a while, but they were able to get everyone up and moving again. They hadn’t gotten much sleep, but they all silently agreed not to take the risk of stopping. There were several other places they went through — medieval dungeons, a sort of underground forest that might have had a dinosaur in it, and one that reminded her off a doctor’s office, all in addition to the seemingly endless halls and chambers. They walked for hours, but no one could tell if they were actually making any progress or not.

After a time, they had to stop for a break. One person went slightly ahead to check for threats while the others stayed behind. While the fourth member of their team, a woman Tori had only met in the past few days, stood guard as Luke and Tori studied the map with a flashlight.

Luke cursed under his breath. “This doesn’t make any sense. The giant’s arena should have been the last turn.” Frustrated, he crumpled up the map and threw it to the ground.

“Luke!” Tori exclaimed at the same time that Dana said, “Sir!”

“Maps are useless here,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ll find it.”

Tori was seriously beginning to doubt that, but before she could say anything, their companion asked, “Sir, is it true that the larger the group—”

“The more likely you’ll get lost?” Luke finished. “Yes. That’s why we only sent one person at a time in the beginning. But that didn’t work.” Tori shivered, remembering the reports Luke had gotten about Chris. “Don’t worry. As soon as we get Ariadne’s thread, we’ll be able to lead the vanguard through.” He shared an uncomfortable look with Tori before turning away.

The other demigod persisted. “But how will we get the thread?”

Luke flexed his hand reflexively, staring into the distance. “Quintus will come through. All we have to do is reach the arena. It’s at a juncture, so it’s impossible to get anywhere without passing it. That’s why we need to make a deal with its master. We just have to stay alive until—”

“Sir!” shouted the guard that had gone ahead. He ran back now, his torch through gold light across the hall. “A group of our dracaenae found a half-blood!”

Luke’s brows furrowed. “Alone? Wandering the maze?”

“Yes, sir! You’d better come quick. They’re in the next chamber. They’ve got him cornered.”

“Who is it?”

“No one I’ve ever seen before, sir.”

Luke and Tori looked at each other. “Do you think Kronos sent them?” Tori asked quietly.

Luke nodded. “A blessing of some kind. We might be able to use them. Come on!”

They started down the corridor, quickly coming upon a small steel room. Two dracaenae held a thin half-blood by the arms. He looked young, about sixteen or so. His glossy hair was black, but his most striking feature was the leather patch over his left eye.

Luke strode over to him confidently. He didn’t need a weapon; he had an air of authority and charisma that made the boy shrink back as much as he could. Luke looked him over curiously. “Who are you?”

The boy seemed to gather his strength. “I’m Ethan Nakamura, son of the goddess Nemesis.”

“What are you doing here? The Labyrinth isn’t exactly the ideal place for a vacation.”

“I’ve come to join you,” Ethan said, raising his head. “I want to fight for Kronos.”

Luke didn’t respond immediately, but despite his smile, Tori could see the brief flash of panic in his eyes. He hid it well and said, “You’ll have to prove yourself.”

“I will.”

Luke seemed mildly impressed with the teen’s backbone and looked over him to one of the dracaenae. “Have you found the arena?”

“Yessss, my lord,” the snake woman answered. “It issss nearby.”

Luke nodded. “Excellent.” He turned to Tori and held out his arm. “Shall we?”


XIV.

 

The arena was pretty much the most horrible thing she’d ever seen. Well, maybe not that bad, but top ten, definitely. The dirt floor was shaped as a circle and surrounded by tiers of seats. There were only a few people waiting amongst the stone benches for the moment, but Tori had no doubt that more would arrive. Skulls of all shapes and size ringed the railing that separated the arena ground from the seats. Piles of them decorated the places in between the benches. More still hung from the ceiling like chandeliers. Some of the skulls were so old that they were bleached white. Others still had flesh stuck to them. A few even had their eyes. Straight across from them, hung proudly on the stone wall, was a green banner with the black trident of Poseidon in the center. Higher still was what Tori immediately dubbed the VIP section. And in the middle of it was Antaeus, a fifteen-foot tall giant with dark red skin that was tattooed with blue wave designs. Beside him sat someone Tori knew better — Daedalus.

The giant stood when they entered, his open mouth spread in a creepy smile. Tori resisted the urge to make fun of his loincloth. “Welcome, heroes of Kronos!”

Luke stepped forward. “Lord Antaeus, Son of Gaea and Poseidon, we have come to beg the favor of passing through your territory!”

Antaeus laughed. The sound sent a shiver down Tori’s spine. “And I will be glad to grant you such a favor, Son of Hermes—” anger flickered across Luke’s face before disappearing— “if you provide me with entertainment!”

Antaeus allowed them in. While the others went to find a place to sit, Luke and Tori were taken to a room to meet with the inventor. Luke smiled charmingly. “Daedalus. I can’t even say how pleased we are to see you.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Have you considered Lord Kronos’s offer?”

Daedalus nodded. “I have. And I am inclined to accept.”

Luke smiled so hard Tori thought his face might crack off from the strain. “I’m glad. Kronos will see that you have your freedom, my friend. Where is the string?”

Quintus opened a satchel and pulled out Ariadne’s string, a glittering ball of thread twined around a wooden dowel. Luke smiled. Tori knew that she was the only person who could tell it was fake. “You have served us well, Daedalus. Thank you.”

Daedalus left, where they didn’t know. Now that they had the string, Luke handed it over to one of the empousai to bring back as much of Kronos’s army as she could. In the meantime, the couple joined Antaeus in the arena. Luke was sat in the place of honor, next to the giant. Tori was to the left of her soulmate, as close together as the chairs would allow. Within a couple of hours, the empousa had returned, leading Kronos’s army. The monsters and demigods filled the seats. Once the majority of them were sitting, Antaeus pounded his fist on the railing, quieting them. “It is time for the gladiator fights! Bring out the first prisoner!”

Two people, a demigod and a monster, were forced onto the ground. The giant shouted, “Fight!

Hours passed like this, their soldiers fighting and eventually killing each other for Antaeus’s entertainment. Tori wanted to throw up, but she kept her cool, gripping Luke’s hand. He squeezed it reassuringly from time to time, drawing random shapes and patterns on her palm. She tried to focus on that, but it didn’t work. Nothing could draw her attention from the bloodshed or her own uselessness.

After a while, there was a battle between a centaur and a Laistrygonian giant. It did not take long to see who the winner would be. The centaur kept panicking, trying desperately to use his sword and shield against the giant’s javelin. The crowd cheered louder and louder as they fought.

I feel like I’m gonna be sick.

Luke must have realized something was wrong; he leaned next to her ear and whispered, “Are you alright?”

Tori nodded, knowing it was a lie. She almost wished it would all be over, but then she and Luke . . . she didn’t want to think about it.

Before Luke could say anything else, something happened that made Tori catch her breath. Calm as you please, Percy Flippin’ Jackson walked out of one of the doors that led directly to the arena space and looked up at them. His eyes centered on them. He said something, but the arena was too full of noise for her to hear him.

Luke smiled coldly when he saw the young demigod, dropping the expression when he saw Tori. Suddenly, the centaur crashed to the dirt only a couple of feet away from Percy. Tori heard him yell, “Help!” She stood up instinctively, reaching for her sword, but Luke’s hand clamped down on her arm.

Luke pulled her back down to the chair. “Tori, no.”

She tried to wrench her arm away, but by the time she did, it was too late. One of the centaur’s legs was broken, rendering it completely helpless. The giant put its huge foot on the man’s chest and raised its javelin before looking up to Antaeus. The crowd was cheering, “DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!”

Antaeus rose from his seat, smiling evilly at the centaur, who seemed to be whimpering. The giant held his hand out and pointed his thumb down. The gladiator thrust his javelin.

Tori sat back down, swaying. In seconds, the centaur had disintegrated into dust. All that was left of its body was a single hoof, which the giant took as a trophy, waving it high for the audience. A gate opened, allowing the giant to march out. Antaeus raised his hands for silence. “Good entertainment!” His voice rang throughout the room. “But nothing I haven’t seen before. What else do you have, Luke, Son of Hermes?”

Luke’s jaw tightened. He hated it when people referred to his father. So did Tori, for that matter. Nevertheless, he stood up calmly and said, “Lord Antaeus! You have been an excellent host! We would be happy to amuse you, to repay the favor of passing through your territory.” I’m not, Tori thought sullenly.

“A favor I have not yet granted,” Antaeus reminded him, his voice a growl.

Luke bowed, doing an excellent job of keeping his cool. Tori felt the air around them grow colder, and she realized that Kronos was speaking to Luke. “I believe I have something far better than centaurs to fight in your arena now. I have a brother of yours.” He pointed. “Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon.”

Tori felt her nails dig into her palm. I hope I see you dead, Kronos.

The crowd began to jeer and shout at Percy, throwing stones at him. The giant’s eyes lit up. “A son of Poseidon? Then he should fight well! Or die well!”

Suddenly, Luke’s hand clutched her wrist, squeezing so hard that Tori could hardly feel her hand. “If his death pleases you,” Luke began, “will you let our armies cross your territory?”

Antaeus laughed. “Perhaps!”

Luke shared a look with Tori before turning his eyes to Percy. He was glaring, though Tori couldn’t tell if he was angry with Percy, Antaeus, Kronos, or himself.

“Luke!” Annabeth shouted suddenly, appearing with a guard of dracaenae. “Stop this! Let us go!”

Luke stared at her in shock. “Annabeth?”

“Enough time for the females to fight afterward,” Antaeus boomed. He smiled creepily at Tori. “Perhaps your bride would like to battle her?”

Luke’s jaw tightened. Through gritted teeth, he said, “Perhaps.

Antaeus turned back to the arena, still grinning. “Percy Jackson! What weapons will you choose!”

The dracaenae that surrounded Percy pushed him into the middle of the arena. He stared up at them. “How can you be a son of Poseidon?”

Antaeus and the crowd laughed. Tori sighed inwardly. Oh, Percy. Do you expect anything more of the gods? It took her a moment to realize that he did, or at least from Poseidon. You innocent, naive little child. That was one of the good things about going back. She would be able to protect Percy from those that would use him to their own ends.

“I am his favorite son!” Antaeus shouted. “Behold, my temple to the Earthshaker, built from the skulls of all of those I’ve killed in his name! Your skull shall join them!”

Percy stared in horror at the skulls. Tori pitied him more than ever in that moment. The gods are not good Percy, merely better than their parents. And the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

“Percy!” Annabeth yelled at him. “His mother is Gaea! Gae—”

A Laistrygonian clamped its hand over her mouth. Tori glared at the monster. His grip loosened, but only slightly, and Annabeth was unable to provide any further aid. Tori sighed. Come on, Percy.

Percy raised his head high, sea-green eyes flashing. “You’re crazy, Antaeus. If you think this is a good tribute, you know nothing about Poseidon.”

The crowd screamed insults at him, but Antaeus raised his hand for silence. “Weapons,” he said. “And then we will see how you die. Will you have axes? Shields? Nets? Flamethrowers?”

Wait a minute, flamethrowers are an option? Why don’t I have one? It took her a moment to realize that that was probably something to consider in the future.

“Just my sword,” Percy said. The monsters laughed, but as soon as Percy uncapped his pen, they quieted. The pen transformed into a Greek short sword made of celestial bronze that glowed faintly.

“Round one!” Antaeus announced. A set of gates opened, and a dracaena slithered out. She had a trident in one hand and a gladiator-style weighted net in the other. She jabbed at Percy, testing him, but he sidestepped it easily. She threw her net towards his sword hand, but he moved quickly, like a graceful animal. In seconds, he sliced her spear in half and used Riptide to get through a chink in her armor. The snake-woman wailed in pain before vaporizing into dust. The crowd’s cheers began to quiet.

No!” Antaeus bellowed angrily. “Too fast! You must wait for the kill. Only I give that order!”

Percy glanced over to Annabeth and another girl that Tori didn’t know. She thought he was probably worried for Annabeth and looking for a way to get her out.

“Nice job, Percy,” Luke said, smiling. “You’ve gotten better with the sword. I’ll grant you that.”

“Round two!” Antaeus yelled. “And slower this time!” Could you be any more creepy? I’m asking for a friend. “Wait for my call before killing anybody, OR ELSE!”

The gates opened again. This time, Tori recognized the person that came out. Ethan. Someone had gotten him a set of Greek armor, though he was so thin that it mostly hung on him. Ethan stabbed his sword into the dirt, freeing his hands to adjust his shield straps and pull on his horsehair helmet.

Percy frowned. “Who are you?”

“Ethan Nakamura. I have to kill you.” Well gee, don’t get too broken up about it.

“Why are you doing this?” Percy asked. Tori could tell he didn’t want to fight another half-blood, not if he could help it.

“Hey!” a monster shouted. “Stop talking and fight!” Others began to join in, shouting for the fight to start.

“I have to prove myself,” Ethan said. “Only way to join up.” With that, he charged. Their swords clashed against each other, their sound blocked out by the noise of cheering monsters. Tori dimly realized that her hand was bleeding from her nails.

Ethan pressed forward. He was a good fighter. She wondered who trained him, or if he taught himself. He parried Percy’s strike and tried to slam him with the shield, but Percy jumped back. Ethan slashed, and Percy rolled to one side. They exchanged thrusts and parries, trying to learn each other’s weaknesses. All around them, echoing off the walls, the monsters cried out for blood.

Then, Ethan made a mistake. He looked up to the stands, checking for the crowd’s reaction. He needs to impress them, Tori realized. But Percy doesn’t. She looked to Percy. For a moment, they caught each other’s gaze, and Tori knew that he saw it too.

Ethan let out a battle cry and charged Percy, but he parried the blade and backed away, drawing Ethan after him.

“Booo!” Antaeus shouted. “Stand and fight!”

Ethan pressed forward, but Percy defended himself easily. Ethan’s heavy bronze army was weighing him down, making his each movement more difficult — especially since he was the one playing offense. After five whole minutes had passed (that was a long time when you were fighting for your life), neither had managed to draw blood.

Finally, Ethan made a mistake. He tried to jab at Percy’s stomach, but Percy locked his sword hilt with his own and twisted. Ethan’s sword dropped to the dirt. Tori found herself grinning stupidly. Luke taught him that.

Before Ethan could recover, Percy slammed the butt of his sword into the other boy’s helmet, pushing him down. Between the surprise, exhaustion, and the armor’s weight, Ethan dropped like a stone, dazed. Tori’s heart dropped when Percy put the tip of his sword to Ethan’s chest. Don’t do it, Percy.

Ethan said something, too quiet for her to hear. Percy looked up to Antaeus. His face was creased with displeasure, but he held his hand up and put it thumbs down.

Percy said something, but Tori was too distracted by the fact that he sheathed his sword. After a moment, he offered Ethan a hand. Reluctantly, the halfblood took it.

“No one dishonors the games!” Antaeus shouted angrily. “Your heads shall both be tributes to Poseidon!”

Percy said something quietly to Ethan before turning back to the giant. “Why don’t you fight me yourself? If you’ve got Dad’s favor, come down here and prove it!”

The monsters grumbled, side-eyeing Antaeus. Tori resisted the urge to smirk. The giant couldn’t refuse without being seen as a coward.

Antaeus looked around, and seemed to come to the same conclusion. “I am the greatest warrior in the world, boy! I have been wrestling since the first pankration!”

Tori frowned. “What’s that?”

“Fighting to the death,” Luke explained. “No rules or anything. Now shush.”

Percy looked back to Annabeth (and the other girl). Annabeth was rapidly shaking her head, but the monster was still covering her mouth. Percy looked back to Antaeus and pointed his sword at him. “Winner takes all! I win, we all go free. You win, we die. Swear upon the River Styx.”

The giant laughed. “This won’t take long. I swear to your terms!” He leaped over the railing, into the arena. Get him, Percy. Ethan backed up quickly, leaving Percy and his half-brother alone in the center of the chamber.

Antaeus cracked his knuckles. When he grinned, you could see that even his teeth had wave patterns carved into them. “Weapons?” he asked.

“I’ll stick with my sword,” Percy said. “You?”

Antaeus held up his huge hands. “I don’t need anything else! Master Luke, you will referee this one.”

Tori looked to her soulmate. Luke was resisting the urge to grimace, though no one else would have known it. Except maybe Annabeth. “I will.”

Antaeus lunged towards Percy. Tori leaned forward to watch, clutching the arms of the chair. Come on, Percy.

Percy rolled under the giant’s legs and stabbed him in the back of the leg. For a moment, Tori smiled, but her expression fell in an instant. Instead of blood, a burst of sand poured out from what should have been a nasty wound. It fell to the ground, and the dirt rose up around Antaeus’s leg like a cast. When it fell away a moment later, the wound had healed. There wasn’t even a scar.

Antaeus charged again. Percy dodged sideways and managed to stab him under the arm, burying it up to the hilt. The giant bellowed in pain. He should have died, but instead he pulled the sword out and threw it behind him. Immediately, the earth healed him. Tori vaguely realized that she had bitten her lip so hard that it was bleeding.

“Now you see why I never lose, demigod! Come here and let me crush you. I’ll make it quick!”

Antaeus was standing between Percy and the sword. Tori tried to think of something she could do, but she doubted her arrows would be of any use, and Luke would have stopped her anyway.

Percy tried running around the monster, but Antaeus blocked him, chuckling.

Maybe I can shoot him in the eye, Tori considered. Even if he heals, it might give Percy some time—

Percy was looking up. There was a glint of light in his eyes; a plan.

“Puny boy!” The giant shouted. “Not a worthy son of the sea god!”

Tori looked around in confusion. Something was different, but she couldn’t tell what.

Percy charged forward, crouching low. Antaeus stooped down to grab him, but suddenly Percy jumped up, kicking off his forearm and scrambling up his shoulder, eventually reaching his head. Antaeus straightened, shouting, “HEY!” Percy pushed up, using the force to catapult himself to one of the chains hanging from the ceiling. He grabbed hold of it, hanging on for dear life as he used his sword to saw off the chain next to him. Wait a minute, sword? When did that happen?

“COME DOWN HERE, COWARD!” Antaeus shouted. He tried to grab Percy, but the half-blood was just out of his reach.

Percy yelled down to him, “Come up and get me! Or are you too slow and fat?”

Howling, Antaeus caught hold of one of the chains and struggled to pull himself up. While he did this, Percy lowered his chain, using it to snag Antaeus’s loincloth. The giant was shouting angrily, but Percy moved quickly, slipping the chain though the fastening hook on his own, securing it. Antaeus tried to get back to the ground, but he was left suspended in midair. Percy leaped around, looping the chains together, trapping Antaeus further and further until it was impossible for him to get down on his own.

Percy dropped to the floor, panting. “GET ME DOWN!” Antaeus bellowed angrily.

Luke shrugged. “I can’t interfere with the battle. It would dishonor the games.” Oh, he’s such a little shit.

Percy uncapped his pen-sword. “Don’t worry. I’ll free him.” And he stabbed the giant in the gut. Antaeus cried out in pain, but without a connection to the ground, the earth did not rise to help him. Slowly, their host dissolved into dust, leaving only the swinging chains and smiling skulls.

Luke smirked. “Impressive, Percy. I didn’t think you were smart enough to try something like that.”

Percy raised his furious eyes to them. “Let us go, Luke. We had a sworn agreement with Antaeus. I’m the winner.”

Luke started to say something, but then the air around them grew colder. Tori shivered as Luke spoke. “Antaeus is dead. His oath died with him. But I’m feeling merciful today, so I’ll have you killed quickly.” He pointed to Annabeth. “Spare the girl. I would speak to her before — before our great triumph.” His voice cracked just a little. Tori squeezed his hand comfortingly, dropping it before anyone saw.

Then every monster in the arena drew a weapon, unsheathed their claws, or bared their teeth. Oh, fuck. Tori started to panic. It’s time. She drew her bow and arrow, and aimed for the monster closest to Percy.

Before anyone else could do anything, Percy pulled out a glass-looking whistle and blew it. It made no sound that she could hear, and shattered in Percy’s hand, melting. Ice?

Luke arched his brow. “What was that supposed to do?”

From the gates behind Percy came a high-pitched yelp. The Laistrygonian that had been guarding Annabeth flew through the air, smashing into a wall.

AROOOOF!

Tori screamed and dropped her bow, backing against the wall. A five-hundred-pound hellhound bound into the arena, knocking aside a dozen monsters. Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods—

While she was having a panic attack, Percy, Annabeth, the other girl, and Ethan ran away with the monster.


XV.

 

In the middle of the chaos, Luke picked Tori up and took her away, whispering reassurances to her. He sat down with her in his lap in a grey-stone room, drawing his fingers through her hair. It took her a few minutes to calm down. By then, her eyes were ringed red and pink from tears. She rested her head against his chest, sniffling.

They stayed like that for several minutes. Then Luke started to push her away. Tori shook her head and clung to him harder. “Tori, no,” Luke said quietly. “It’s time. I have to go.”

For a moment, Tori didn’t understand what he meant. Then the reality dawned on her. “No,” Tori said, shaking her head. “No.

“Tori—”

“NO! It can’t— this can’t be— this can’t be the end. It can’t.”

“I’m sorry, Tori. But it’s time to go.” As if to emphasize his point, Luke stood up, forcing Tori to her feet. When she refused to let go him, he pulled his hands away and set them by her side. They stared at each other in heavy silence.

“So it’s over then?” Tori finally said, her voice breaking. “There’s nothing we can do? Nothing I can do?”

Luke shook his head. “I’m sorry, wildcat.”

Tori stared at him. Then, moving too quickly for him to stop her, she grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled him down to meet her in a kiss. Luke refused to participate at first, but slowly, he gave in. The kiss was rough at first, but it didn’t take long to morph into something gentle and loving. A goodbye.

Tori slumped bonelessly against the wall, pulling Luke along so that their foreheads were pressed together. She sank into a sort of peaceful pleasure and held him closer, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. They stopped for air after a while, and Luke’s breath warmed her lips. He seemed to consider pulling away, but instead chose to stay where he was. Unable to hold back, Tori kissed him again, biting his lip and drawing his tongue into her mouth. She gently grabbed a handful of his hair, pulling him closer, molding her body to his, until it was almost impossible to tell them apart.  

Their pleasure didn’t last long. Luke pulled away after a while and straightened himself, turning his back to her. Tori fell back against the wall, staring at him, feeling her blood run cold. A second passed, then two, and Luke started toward the door.

“Wait.” Her voice was so soft that she worried Luke wouldn’t hear her, but he stopped. “Come with me, Luke. Let’s just leave, and find somewhere safe—”

“Where, Tori?” Luke demanded. He wasn’t facing her, but Tori thought she saw the sheen of tears on his cheek.

“I don’t know, somewhere—

“They’ll find us,” Luke said, his voice as cold as ice. “They’ll find us and kill us. They’ll kill you.”

“We can find a place—”

“No we can’t. It’s too late. Stop trying to convince me.”

Tori laughed bitterly. “Do you blame me?” For a moment, Luke was still. Then he whipped around and ran to Tori, taking her in his arms and kissing her with all the love and passion he had. Tori made a surprised sound and kissed him back, weaving her fingers through his hair with one hand and holding his cheek with the other.

The kiss didn’t last long — less than a minute. She supposed it didn’t matter. A thousand years would not have been enough. Luke pulled away, breathing softly. He nudged her nose gently with his own and kissed her once. He whispered, “I love you.” Then he turned and left, striding out of the room and her life.


XVI.

 

It took Tori a long time to feel okay enough to leave the room. Once she did, she felt herself drawn along a certain path through the Labyrinth. She walked down a side tunnel that seemed to be carved from volcanic rock. Soon, she was shivering from the wind that blew down the tunnel. As she walked, she grew increasingly aware of a familiar smell: eucalyptus. Mt. Othrys.

Tori raced for the end of the tunnel. Once she was out, she took stock of her senses. There were monsters there, which she only vaguely recognized as telekhines: sea-demons that looked like a mixture of dogs and seals. They were speaking to each other at first, but they fell silent as Tori approached. Ethan Nakamura was with them, but she found it hard to care in that moment. She passed them by without a word and continued on her way.

A blast of cold air smacked her in the face. She was near the top of Mount Tam, the Pacific Ocean spread out below. Both the water and the sky were grey. A bad sign for a bad day. She walked up the mountain. The fortress at the top was made of black marble. Its walls were fifty feet tall each. It was so completely inhuman that it was hard to look at. Clouds whirled around the top of the mountain. Magic clouded her vision, making it take serious effort to keep her attention on the palace.

Once at the mountain’s peak, Tori opened the door of the fortress and entered the main hall. The floor was shiny, like a bottle filled with black ink. Matching statues of the Titans lined the walls, their faces contorted in rage and hate and power. At the end of the room, between two bronze braziers, was a black dais. Resting on the dais was a golden sarcophagus.

Tori wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen the sarcophagus before, but she felt drawn to it now. There were no guards to stop her, so it was only her own slow-moving limbs that kept her from getting to it immediately. Once she was finally there, she took a minute to observe it. It was ten feet long and carved with horrific scenes of death and destruction, of the gods being killed, and of the world burning. Cold air arose from the sarcophagus, making goosebumps raise along her arms. Carved into the lid, alongside more pictures of death and chaos, were the words, KRONOS, LORD OF TIME, in a language not known to humans.

Tori raised her hand to the lid, but stopped. No, she thought, pulling her hand back. I can’t. She knew what was inside. Instinctively, she knew it.

“Mrs. Castellan,” someone said suddenly. Tori whipped around, drawing her sword. The woman raised her hands. It was the woman they’d traveled through the maze with before; Dana. Tori hadn’t bothered to keep track of what happened to her.

“What do you want?” Tori snapped, angry that her private moment had been interrupted.

“Ma’am, I ask that you be the final person to declare for Kronos. We only need one more. It would be . . . poetic, if it were you.”

“I don’t care. I’m going to leave once this is all done.”

Dana sighed. “At least let some of us get you away safely—”

No. I’m staying until the bitter end. I promised him that. I owe him that.”

Dana started to say something else, but suddenly the sarcophagus lid fell to the floor with a loud BANG

Tori and Dana jumped, turning to stare at the sarcophagus. The blood drained from Tori’s face. “Luke?” She had known it was true, but to see him like this, laid out like a corpse . . .

She immediately went to his side, gripping the coffin. “Luke?!” There was no response. She made a pained, unintelligible sound when she saw the empty hole in his chest.

Tori was still standing there, her knuckles turning white, when the telekhines began to speak.

“What has happened!” one of them asked as they all strut in awkwardly. Ethan Nakamura followed them warily.

“Careful!” another warned. “Perhaps he stirs. We must present the gifts now. Immediately!”

The two telekhines shuffled towards the sarcophagus and knelt. Tori backed away, never taking her eyes from the body. The little monsters held up a shiny new scythe made from celestial bronze and mortal steel — a weapon made to kill mortal and mythical alike. “My lord,” the first telekhine said. “Your symbol of power is remade.”

Silence.

“You fool,” the second telekhine said in annoyance. “He requires the half-blood first.”

Ethan stepped back, holding up his hands. “Whoa, what do you mean he requires me?”

“Don’t be a coward!” one monster hissed. “He does not require your death, only your allegiance. All you need to do is pledge your service and renounce the gods.”

“No!” someone yelled.

Tori jumped back and stared at the new person in the room. “Percy?”

The younger demigod charged into the room, Annabeth’s invisibility-cap in his hand. “Ethan, don’t!”

“Trespasser!” The telekhines bared their tiny teeth. ”The master will deal with you soon enough. Hurry, boy!”

“Ethan,” Percy pleaded desperately, “don’t listen to them! Help me destroy it!”

Almost unwillingly, Tori stood defensively in front of the sarcophagus, though she said nothing. Percy looked at her with disgust. Tori only smiled sadly. This is my curse, I think. I love the wrong person too strongly.

Ethan turned towards Percy. His one eye dark with hate, though his expression was one of pity. “I told you not to spare me, Percy. ‘An eye for an eye’. You ever hear that saying? I learned what it means the hard way — when I discovered my godly parent. I’m the child of Nemesis, Goddess of Revenge. And this is what I was made to do.”

He turned to the coffin. “I renounce the gods! What have they ever done for me? I will see them destroyed! I will serve Kronos!”

The palace shook, like there was an earthquake. Tori stumbled towards a column and held on, staring on in horror at the dais. A wisp of blue light arose from Ethan, drifting towards the sarcophagus as it begin to shimmer. It suddenly dashed down, flowing into Luke’s chest.

Luke sat shot up. As soon as his eyes opened, Tori felt her tears start to gather. The icy blue that she’d loved so much was gone, replaced by harsh, shining gold. After only a few seconds, he leapt up out of the sarcophagus with ease. Where he landed, the marble floor turned to ice. He looked at Ethan and the monsters with pure curisity, as if he were a newborn experiencing the world for the first time. Then he looked at Percy, and a creepy smile crept across his face. It didn’t reach his eyes.

“This body has been prepared well.” His voice was like a disgusting aberration of Luke’s, as though his voice had been mashed together with the sound of metal scratching metal. “Don’t you think so, Percy Jackson?”

Percy stood frozen, staring at Kronos in what might have been horror or disgust or shock. Kronos laughed, Luke’s scar moving with his face. “Luke feared you,” the Titan said. Suddenly, he turned to face Tori, smiling even wider than before. “But not so much as he loved you, Victoria Castellan.” He walked closer to her. Tori tried to back away from him, but Kronos used his arms to close her in. “His love and desperation for you have been as helpful a tool as his hatred for Percy and his anger for the gods. For that, I thank you.” She couldn’t help it. A sob broke free of her throat as tears rolled down her face. Kronos smiled mockingly and wiped one of the tears away, sucking it off his finger.

Behind them, Ethan collapsed in terror and covered his face. The telekhines were trembling as they held up the scythe.

Suddenly, as though he had broken free from a spell, Percy lunged at Kronos. He thrust his sword right at the Titan’s back, but it only bounced away. Kronos turned and looked at him with amusement. He flicked his hand lazily, sending Percy flying against the room and into a pillar. Percy struggled to his feet, but Kronos had already sauntered over to the telekhines to take his weapon.

“Ah . . . much better. Backbiter, Luke called it. Fitting. Now that it is re-forged completely, it shall indeed bite back.”

“What have you done to Luke?” Percy tried to sound commanding, but he was still too dazed.

Kronos raised his scythe. “He serves me with his whole being, as I require. The difference is that he feared you, Percy Jackson. I do not.”

Percy ran. Tori started to go after him, but then Percy stopped. No, he didn’t stop. Rather, his body had slowed down almost to a halt, as though he were running through jello. Kronos, Tori thought, Lord of Time.

“Run little hero!” Kronos shouted, laughing. “RUN!” He was walking leisurely towards the half-blood, as though he had all the time in the world. As he did, Tori started to draw her bow and arrow. She knew where Luke’s weak spot was; he’d told her. Maybe if she shot now, while he was distracted . . .

Tori raised her bow, but her hands trembled and her fingers refused to obey. A hysterical sob burst from her throat. I can’t do it. I’m a coward, and I love him, and I can’t kill him, not even if I wanted to, not even if he wanted me to.

Kronos was only a few feet from Percy when a girl shouted, “PERCY!”

Tori turned to face the new person, a redheaded girl, at the same time that a plastic blue hairbrush flew through the air, smacking Kronos in the eye. “Ow!” For moment, it was Luke’s voice, his ice-blue eyes staring in shock and pain.

As much as Tori wanted it to last, she knew it wouldn’t. Her feet began to pound against the floor, and she ran with Percy to Annabeth, Nico di Angelo, and the girl with the hairbrush, all of whom were standing in the entry hall with wide eyes.

“Luke?” Annabeth called uncertainly. “What—”

Tori grabbed her by the arm and dragged her forward. “Run!”

Annabeth and Percy stared at her. “You’re coming with us?”

“Looks like it, now come on!” They ran as fast as they could to a Labyrinth entrance that Tori hadn’t seen before. Behind them, Kronos shouted, “AFTER THEM!”

“NO!” Nico di Angelo yelled and clapped his hands together. Immediately, a jagged spire of rock tore its way up from the ground in front of the fortress, causing tremors so strong that a few columns were sent crashing down. Monsters screamed as they were crushed underneath before evaporating into dust.

They plunged into the Labyrinth and didn’t look back, not even when the world seemed to fall around them, not even when Tori heard the Titan’s enraged voice screaming.


XVII.

 

They ran until they couldn’t anymore and rested in a room made of completely white rock. Tori leaned against the cavern wall, panting.

“You,” Annabeth said, staring at her. “Why did you come with us?”

Tori looked at her. Her own tiredness seemed to have blunted some of her pain, and she was able to say, “Luke’s gone. Kronos is using his body to be reborn.”

It was as though Annabeth had been holding it all in, waiting for confirmation. Now her face scrunched up in pain. She collapsed and hid her head between her knees as sobs began to wrack her body. After a moment, Tori sat down beside her and reached a hand out to stroke her hair. “It’s okay, Annabeth,” Tori said, trying to remember how her own mother used to comfort her when she was upset. “He’s not dead. I know. I can still see them . . . colors. I wouldn’t be able to see them if he was dead.”

Annabeth sniffled pathetically and looked up at her. “Really?”

Tori nodded. “Really. Trust me, I’d be freaking out much more right now if I couldn’t.”

“Why are you here?” Percy asked suddenly. “Why aren't you with Kronos?”

Tori faced him, wiping the emotion from her face. “I’m not loyal to Kronos; I never have been.”

“No, you just have one loyalty,” Percy spat.

“No,” Tori said, knowing she had to be calm. “I have many loyalties. But I thought I could keep them all." She turned back to Annabeth. "Looks like I was wrong.”

Percy didn’t know what to say about that, so he sat down next to Nico and spoke to him instead. Tori looked at the red-haired girl she didn’t know. The girl looked like she was about Percy and Annabeth’s age, and she was panting for breath, far more than the rest of them. “Who’s that?”

Annabeth curled her lip. “Rachel Elizabeth Dare. She’s a mortal.”

Tori stared at her in shock. “What? Why did you bring a mortal—”

“It wasn’t my idea!” Annabeth snapped. “Percy brought her because she can see through the mist. She’s been leading us through the maze because supposedly she can see where we’re going.” She rolled her gray eyes.

“Oh,” Tori said. Now Percy was talking to Rachel, whispering to her with a soft expression. “Is there . . . something there?”

No.” Annabeth insisted, eyes flashing. Tori waited patiently for her to calm down. After a moment, Annabeth sighed. “Yes? No? Percy says there isn’t, but I don’t know. . .”

“Hm. Well, if you ask me—”

Annabeth held up a hand. “Tori, excuse me if I don’t want to take relationship advice from you.”

Tori stared at her. In an instant, everything that had happened came rushing back — her last moments with Luke, his body, Kronos’s cold yellow eyes . . .

Tori spoke through the lump in her throat. “It’s very hard to leave someone you love. I hope you never have to learn that.” She stood and walked away, brushing away her tears. She stopped in front of Percy. He stared up at her apprehensively. “Luke took on the Curse of Achilles,” Tori said in a rush. “His weak spot is just under his arm. I couldn’t do it, but maybe . . . just make it quick, alright? Don’t let him suffer.”

“I won’t,” Percy promised.

Tori nodded shortly. “Well, what are you guys waiting for? Is there or is there not an army marching on camp?” She looked around at them. Time to be strong. “Let’s go!”


XVIII.

 

They found Grover and Tyson near the lost god Pan’s cavern. Tori stayed near the entrance; she didn’t think she could handle anything else after the day she had, and she needed to save her strength for battle. After a while — Tori tried not to think of how much time was passing outside of the maze — they returned. All of them seemed depressed and tired. Tori stood straight and reached out a hand to Percy. With a start, she realized that he was as tall as her. “Are you alright?”

Percy shook his head.

“What happened?”

Grover looked over to her. She had never paid much attention to the satyr, but even she could see that he looked older and sadder than before. “We have to go back to camp. We have to tell them that the great god Pan is dead.”

Tori stared at him. “Oh, Grover . . . I’m so sorry.” For thousands of years, the satyrs had been searching for the god of the wild, insisting that he wasn’t dead. The truth was a blow that she hadn’t expected.

Grover just shook his head and started to walk. After a moment, they all followed him.

Rachel led the way. Although distance was shorter in the Labyrinth, it took them hours to get to camp. They climbed out of the basement of a clothes store and made their way outside. Tori tilted her head to the sun. The light felt so good after being underground.

Too soon, they were moving again, down an alleyway this time. Percy whistled loudly five times, the sound bouncing off the walls to form an echo. A minute later, a flock of pegasi descended from the sky, swooping gracefully. Tori recognized the leader; it was the same pure-black pegasus that had escaped last summer.

Rachel gasped when she saw them, her green eyes lost in wonder. “They’re beautiful!”

One of the horses must have spoken to Percy, because he said, “Yeah. I’m lucky that way. Listen, we need a ride to camp quick.”

The horses whinnied energetically, which Tori took as a yes. The largest of the animals snorted at having to carry Tyson, but eventually conceded. Since there were only five pegasi, Tori sat behind Annabeth. They both pretended not to pay attention as Percy said goodbye to Rachel, who couldn’t come with them. “You need to talk to him about that,” Tori said.

Annabeth’s mouth curled up. “Don’t remind me.”

Tori shrugged and sat back. Nico was having trouble with his horse, who kept shying away from him. When Percy went to help him, Nico very dramatically said, “Go without me! I don’t want to go back to that camp anyway!”

“Nico,” Percy said, “we need your help.”

Nico folded his arms and scowled, looking exactly like the pouty little twelve-year-old he was. Then Annabeth got off the pegasus and walked over to them, putting her hand on Nico’s shoulder. “Nico,” she said. “Please.”

After a moment, Nico’s expression softened. “All right,” he said reluctantly. “For you. But I’m not staying.”

Tori looked at Percy, silently asking how that happened. Percy just shrugged in confusion.

Finally, everyone managed to get on a pegasus. They shot into the air and headed to Long Island. Tori held onto the horse with one hand and raised the other into the sky, lightly wiggling her fingers. Below them, they left the towering skyscrapers and gray roads behind for green forests and clean blue water.

The trip didn’t last long. They landed in the center of the cabins as campers, satyrs, and nymphs came out to meet them. Tori slid off the pegasus but didn’t go any farther, eyeing the newcomers warily. Home sweet home. She was surprised to see that camp hadn’t changed much; she felt like it should have been a completely different place. Maybe that’s because I’m different now.

Chiron and a potbellied satyr hurried to meet them. As soon as Chiron saw her, Tori lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry, Chiron,” she said quietly. “I couldn’t save him.”

Chiron’s eyes softened and he set a hand on her shoulder. “There now, Victoria. I’m certain it was not your fault.” He looked to Percy. “What happened?”

Percy told him everything — Kronos, Daedalus, Luke, the army that was coming.

Chiron shook his head sadly, seeming unsurprised by the news. “I feared as much. We must hurry. Hopefully you have slowed down the Titan lord, but his vanguard will still be coming through. They will be anxious for blood. Most of our defenders are already in place. Come—”

Suddenly, everyone was staring at her. “What?” Tori said defensively. Then she saw the golden light coming from above her head. Tori looked up. There was a golden disk above her head, with a lyre in the center and two arrows across it.

Before anyone could try to make a big deal out of it, Tori rolled her eyes. “Of course. Fine, I’m in Cabin 7 now, hurrah. Let’s go.”

She pushed past everyone else and went to the see how she could help. Everyone was dressed in full battle armor, reminding her of when they used to play capture the flag. Hephaestus’s kids had set up traps and catapults, the Ares’s cabin was drilling on the front line with Clarisse, the Athena children had a command tent set up, and the Apollo and Hermes campers were in the woods with bows and other weapons. Tori was walking over to them, ready to ask where she could find a full quiver of arrows, when someone grabbed her shoulder. She flinched and started to draw her sword before she saw who it was. “Dan.” Her voice was quiet, a mixture of gried and  onfusionand defensiveness.

Dan just looked at her, only the faintest hint of hope in his eyes. “Are you back? For real?”

After a moment, Tori nodded. “Seems like it.” Her vision wavered. “I tried, Dan. I swear I tried.”

In an instant, her brother was hugging her. It felt so strange, and she realized that no one had hugged her in over a year except for Luke. “I know you did, sis. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.” He looked over to someone else. “Austin, can you get our sister some more arrows? She’s almost out.”

“Sure, Dan. Come on.” Austin, a young dark-skinned boy that she hadn’t met led her to a makeshift armory. “So your name is Victoria, right? Victoria Williams?”

She considered for a moment. “No. Tori Castellan.”


XIX.

 

They prepared for battle. Tori didn’t join the other Apollo campers until she had two swords, a dagger for each leg, a quiver full of arrows, and a helmet. She climbed into a tree, settled down on a branch, and waited, her eyes set on the pile of rocks that hid the Labyrinth entrance. Behind her, a young girl, around eleven or twelve, was shaking. Tori allowed her expression to soften as she set a hand on her arm. “Hey,” she cooed, “it’ll be okay.”

The girl looked at her with wide, scared eyes. “How do you know?”

Tori smiled. “I don’t. But we’re demigods; we fight and we survive. It’s what we do.”

Just as the girl started to calm down, the ground started to tremble. Everyone stopped what they were doing. “LOCK SHIELDS!” Clarisse shouted, leveling her spear. Then the monster army exploded from the Labyrinth.

Tori had never seen anything like it. In an instant, a dozen Laestrygonians burst out, carrying shields made from flattened cars and clubs that were actually just uprooted trees. One of them bellowed at the Ares’s cabins phalanx and tossed all dozen warriors aside with a sweep of its club.

Fire!” Charles Beckendorf ordered. The catapults swung up, each of them launching to the giants. As they flew through the air, Tori herself shouted, “AIM!” As the boulders fell down, one of them catching a giant in the chest, the archers raised their bows. “SHOOT!” Immediately, the air was filled with dozens of arrows. Some of them found chinks in the giants’ armor, turning the monsters to dust.

Just when it was starting to look good for them, the second wave poured out of the Labyrinth. Over thirty dracaenae in battle armor appeared and spread out, attacking half-bloods left and right. Some were killed by traps, arrow, or even Greek fire, but they just kept coming. Argus and the Athena cabin rushed forward to meet them. Every second, Tori shot a new arrow, sometimes two or three at a time, doing her best to keep the monsters out of the trees and away from the ground warriors, but there were too many. She gave up on trying to keep track of the waves and focused on taking down as many monsters as she could, but even that became difficult. The last time she managed to take down something specific was an enemy demigod that was fighting with one of Dionysus's sons. After that, she was just shooting at whatever she could see, not bothering to look for targets.

She saw Nico di Angelo using his powers to raise dead soldiers. She saw Percy battling a hellhound. She saw satyrs using their reeds to raise plants up against the army. Slowly, they were beating the monsters back. It took her awhile to take it in, to think, Maybe we have a chance—

An ungodly shriek burst into the air, followed immediately by Kampê flying into the sky on bat wings.

I jinxed it.

The hell-beast landed on top of Zeus’s fist and surveyed the battle, grinning cheek to cheek. In her hand, she held Ariadne’s string, but she tucked it away into a lion’s mouth and drew her swords. The blades glowed green with poison, which, combined with a second screech, scared a dozen campers into screaming and running back, only to be trampled by more monsters.

Chiron tried to take her down, but she dodged every arrow he sent at her. Tyson, Percy’s cyclops brother, tried to rally the lines against her, but a hellhound leaped at him. Tori aimed arrow after arrow at the monster, but none reached their target. Before she could try anything else, she and the others had to evacuate the trees as Greek fire spread through the forest, hindered only slightly by Percy.

Kampê landed on the Athena cabin's tent, flattening it easily. Tori helped up some campers before she was on the move again, drawing her shortsword and picking up a shield. She didn’t try to spare the lives of any half-bloods she fought; she couldn’t afford to. Anything that fought her went down, either as dust or as flesh, and she was too busy to see which.

Nearby, Annabeth and Percy were fighting Kampê. They shouted for help, but there everyone was either fighting, injured, or terrified beyond belief. Tori tried to get to them, but a dracaena attacked before she could, and by the time she was done with it, the monster had downed the teens, its forelegs on their chests. Tori rushed forward, smacking monsters away with her shield, but before she could get close, a hellhound rushed forward. Tori resisted the urge to scream in terror and pushed on, but soon she saw that it wasn’t necessary. The monster had bowled over Kampê, freeing Percy and Annabeth.

“Good girl!” said a familiar voice. Daedalus. Tori didn’t have time to think about that though, as she lost her sword in the next moment and had to draw her second one. As she cut through the army, boulders rained down from the sky. She looked for their source, and soon found it, a giant with a hundred arms and hands fighting beside the inventor. She decided not to question it.

The boulders landed around Kampê, burying her. She screeched, whether in anger or pain, Tori didn’t know, and was gone in the next moment. Only the mountain of boulders marked where she’d stood.

The campers cheered, but a dracaena yelled, “Ssssslay them! Kill them all or Kronossss will flay you alive!”

They must have found that more frightening than they did the campers, because in the next moment, the giants surged forward. One of them surprised Chiron with a blow to the back legs, and he fell forward. Six of the giant cried out in glee and rushed forward to finish him.

“NO!” Tori shouted and ran. She was too far away, much too far away, but she had to fight, she had to kill the, she had to—

Grover opened his mouth, and out came the most horrible sound Tori had ever heard. She fell to the ground, desperately covering her ears. Although she’d never heard the noise before, she knew instinctively what it was. Fear.

Kronos’s soldiers simultaneously dropped their weapons and ran, trampling each other in their desperation to get back to the Labyrinth. The tunnel shut, shaking the earth once more, then stopped.

For a moment, Tori just knelt on the ground, panting. Then she realized what had happened. We did it. We won.


XX.

 

It took her awhile to stand up. She wasn’t hurt, but she was exhausted. It didn’t matter. There were injured campers to help.

She walked around, handing out ambrosia and nectar. There were broken bones, concussions, lacerations, both internal and external bleeding, but amazingly, only one death. Her heart sank when she heard that it was Lee Fletcher, a brother of hers, but she put it out of her mind and focused on the task as hand.

After a few minutes, she had worked her way to Nico di Angelo. He was barely sitting up, and Will Solace, another son of Apollo, was holding up a canteen of nectar to his mouth.

“I know you probably don’t want to move,” Will said, “but we have to get you to the infirmary.” Her grabbed Nico’s hand to help him up, but suddenly they both stopped moving. They were staring at the place where their skin touched, their expressions a mixture of shock and awe. Tori sucked in a breath as she realized what had happened.

It was the final blow.

Tori forced herself to smile. She knew it looked bitter and fragile, but she couldn’t fix it. Still, she made herself say, “Congratulations.” Then she turned and left, dropping her armor and weapons to the ground.

Cabin 7 was empty. Tori rushed through it anyway, locking herself in the bathroom. She feel to the ground inside an empty shower stall. For the first time, it truly hit her. Kronos, Luke, the labyrinth, the battle, Luke, Will and Nico, Percy and Annabeth, and Luke, Luke, Luke

Tori broke.


 

  Luke and Tori's Wedding

 

Chapter Text

I.

 

There was constant work to be done in the months that followed the battle of the Labyrinth. There was Greek fire to be mixed, weapons to be made, training to be done. Tori threw herself into war preparations, often spending hours a day doing nothing but train. When she was too tired to do that, she joined the Hephaestus cabin in making swords, spears, javelins, knives, and arrows, always arrows. At first, the other campers were wary of the older half-blood and were careful to give her a wide berth. Some of them were curious about her, and stared at her sea glass bracelet and her wedding ring, but no one ever dared to say anything about them (to her face, at least). As the weeks passed, they grew used to her and came to expect her in the arena and the forges. Soon after that, they began to speak to her, to joke and ask her advice and spar with her. After a few months, Chiron allowed her to train the younger camps, putting them through their paces with the bow and the short sword and even hand-to-hand combat. Things were better. Her guilt was not as crushing as it had been. But every morning, Tori woke up expecting to see Luke beside her. And every morning he wasn’t.


II.

 

Sometimes, people asked her what she was thinking. They asked why she went with Luke, why she chose him, why she loved him (they never asked why she still loved him). Usually she could shrug it off, but it just so happened one day that three separate people asked her: Will Solace, Silena Beauregard, and a dryad she didn’t know the name of. She didn’t answer them, but that night she couldn’t get to sleep. Her head was plagued by their questions, by the curious, disgusted look in their eyes. That night, she couldn’t take it anymore. She jumped out of bed, long after everyone else was asleep. She grabbed an empty notebook — Apollo’s cabin kept several caches of art supplies — and she went to the beach, and she wrote.

It was hard at first — she couldn’t think of anything to say — but before long, her hand was moving at lightning speed across the pages. His smile when he is happy. The sound of his laughter. The light in his eye, the fire that burns in him. His ferocity when he fights. The feel of his chest underneath my hand. The shape of his lips against mine. His anger at the gods, at injustice. The look of contentment on his face when the world allows us to be at peace. The pride he felt as I grew stronger. The vulnerability he allows only me to see. The fact that his favorite color is brown, that he always wears the arrowhead I gave him, no matter what. The ice-blue of his eyes, the yellow of his hair, the awe on his face when he sees a new color . . . She wrote and wrote, until her hand couldn’t move anymore, until she almost fell asleep on the sand. The next night she wrote more, and the night after that, again and again, until the book was full and her heart would not stop aching.


III.

 

The days faded together for Tori. A month seemed to pass as quickly as a week. Time had lost much of its meaning. The only way she knew that any had passed was by the changing seasons and the progress made at camp. She knew winter by the small amounts of snow that fell within the camp’s borders. She knew spring was there when the snow melted. And she knew that August was coming because Percy and Charles Beckendorf were making plans to blow up The Princess Andromeda then, and the day was getting closer.

Tori had never been a religious person, and she hated the gods. But the night before Beckendorf was supposed to go get Percy, she shoved half of her dinner into the fire and prayed to Hermes. Please, protect Luke. Please don’t let him die. If you have ever cared about him, then listen to me now, and protect him.


IV.

 

The day of the attack, Tori busied herself with training the campers. “Remember, keep up your shields!” She said, walking around and watching the sparring pairs. “It doesn’t matter how good you are with a sword if you’re killed.” A few of them looked at her in shock, but she moved on. There was no point in coddling them. There was not much time before they went into battle. They needed to know the risks. “Kayla, why aren’t you wearing armor?”

Her green-haired sister looked over to her. “I was running late this morning, so I didn’t have time to put it on—”

“Then you should have been late. You armor is your most important asset in battle. You should wear it even when you’re not training, until its weight is a part of you and you move as quickly and fluidly as if it were another body part that you have always had. Never come in here without your armor again.”

By then, everyone had stopped sparring to look at them. Kayla squirmed uncomfortably under their eyes, but clearly didn’t want to give in. “What does it matter, anyway? I’m an archer. I’m not going to be fighting anyone.”

Tori stared long and hard into her sister’s eyes. “Do you think archers are never attacked in battle? Do you think that they never lose their bow or their arrows and are forced to fight by other means? Do you think archers never die?” Kayla didn’t answer. She knew the truth. It had not been so long ago that the lost Lee. His memory was still burned into them. Still, Tori pressed on. “You will learn whatever is necessary to defend yourself and this camp, and you will not complain.” Tori looked around at the people staring at them. “Back to your places! Don’t stop until time is up, not even for water or to go to the bathroom.”

The campers groaned, but everyone listened, returning to their sparring partner. Her heart ached to think that once she and Luke had been like that, but now they never would.

“You’re very hard on them,” someone said.

“War is harder.” Tori turned to face the newcomer. Silena Beauregard, the oldest daughter of Aphrodite at camp, was standing in the doorway to the arena, playing with the handle of her dagger. It was mostly decorative since Silena wasn’t a fighter by any means, but her soulmate, a son of Hephaestus, had made it for her, so she always had it. Speaking of Silena’s soulmate . . . “How’s Beckendorf?” Charles Beckendorf, who everyone but Silena called by his last name, was the oldest head counselor for the Hephaestus cabin. He was a metalworker and a weaponsmith, and something of a friend to Tori since they’d spent so much time together making weapons in the past few months.

“He just left to get Percy,” Silena explained.

“Ah.” That explained the nervous look in the girl’s eyes. “I’m sorry, I meant to see him off—”

“Don’t worry about it. That’s, uh, actually kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. Can you come outside with me?”

Tori looked around. Everyone was busy training. No one was paying any attention to them. “Sure.” They went outside, standing by the door of the arena. “What do you need?”

Silena looked around them before speaking. “You know where Charlie’s going, right? The ship?”

Tori nodded carefully. “Yes. . .”

“And you’ve been on it? You know your way around it?”

“I lived on it. Of course I do. But what—”

Suddenly, Silena grabbed Tori’s hands and held them up. “Please, I need your help.”

Tori stepped back and tried to pull her hands away. “Let go!

Silena was unmoved. “I need you to go to the ship and protect Charlie.”

Tori stared at her. “What? Why?

Silena looked down. “I’ve been . . . having dreams. About Charlie, and the ship. They scare me. I think . . . I think that if something doesn’t change, then Charlie won’t come back. Please, you have to help me!”

Now that she looked, Tori could see that despite the makeup, Silena’s eyes were veined red. From crying or lack of sleep? Still, she said, “Why can’t you do it if you’re so scared?”

“I don’t know the ship! I’m not a fighter, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’d be useless! Please, it has to be you!”

Tori huffed. “You realize that the reason I’m not on this mission is becaue no one thought I was trustworthy enough to go, right?” That still stung. When they’d been deciding who should go on the mission, Annabeth had brought up Tori, but everyone else immediately shot the idea down.

“I know. I don’t care. I trust you anyway.”

Tori shook her head, finally managing to pull her hands away. “Silena, Beckendorf is smart, and he’s a good fighter. Plus, he’ll have Percy with him. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

Tori turned and started to go back inside, but then Silena shouted, “What if it was Luke?”

Tori froze. “What?”

“What if it was Luke?” Silena pressed on. “What if it was him, and you thought something bad was going to happen, and he could get hurt or— or worse. Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to protect him? Haven’t you?”

“Shut up,” Tori said, clenching her teeth.

Silena ran up behind her and grabbed her fist. “Tori, please, help me, one soulmate to another.” Her voice wavered. “I just . . . I don’t know what I’d do without Charlie. I can’t live without him. Please, please, do this for me?”

For a long time, Tori just stood there, clenching her fist and her teeth. Then, slowly, she relaxed, opening her hand and eyes. “Fine,” she said in annoyance. “I’ll help you. But don't blame me if something goes wrong.”

Silena grinned cheek to cheek and threw her arms around Tori’s neck. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Tori awkwardly hugged her back, wondering how her life ever ended up like this.

Once Tori had dismissed her class, she and Silena made their way to the pegasus stables. One of them, Guido, was ready to go with a saddle and reins. Tori wondered if Silena had been certain she would give in or if she had planned to go herself if she couldn’t convince Tori.

Tori mounted the horse and looked down at Silena. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. If anyone asks, feel free to tell them where I am.”

Silena nodded. “I will. And . . . thank you, Tori. I mean it.”

Tori nodded once and lightly tapped Guido’s side, directing him out of the stables and into the sky.


V.

 

Tori and Guido glided through the air over the Atlantic. She didn’t like it. There was nothing hiding them in the sky, no clouds low enough to obscure them from view. They’d be lucky if no one on Kronos’s ship saw them.

Fortunately, Tyche was still on the gods’ side. They made it to the ship with no problems, and once they were there, no one paid any attention to them. At first, Tori wondered why they hadn’t been attacked. And then she saw what was happening.

Beckendorf was there, injured and in the hold of a giant, but apparently having already hidden the Greek fire (although for some reason, there was a pile of food cans at his feet). Laistrygonian giants, hellhounds, and demigod archers crowded the deck. And standing on a balcony with Percy, his scythe in hand, was Kronos.

Tori’s eyes burned to look at him. If she hadn’t known the truth, she would have never guessed it wasn’t Luke. Although as she got closer, she realized that was wrong. That could never be Luke. Not with that cruel smile, not with those harsh gold eyes. He was holding something that Tori couldn’t see properly, but there was no time for her to try to guess what it was. One of the giants had a hand around Beckendorf’s neck, choking him. She had to do something.

Before anyone could see her, Tori drew her bow and readied it. Aiming for the giant’s head, she released her arrow. It zipped through the air like a bullet before lodging itself in the monster’s skull.

Tori smiled as the giant screamed in agony and dropped the half-blood. In an instant, everyone’s eyes had turned to her, but it didn’t matter. Guido landed hard on the deck, crushing a hellhound beneath his hooves and reducing it to dust. Tori held out her hand to Beckendorf, who was rubbing his neck and staring at her. “Well? What are you waiting for?”

They might not have been able to get away, but as the younger half-blood took her hand, Percy threw his sword like a javelin at Kronos. It bounced harmlessly off of him, but it also startled him just enough that he couldn’t slow down time. Tori pulled Beckendorf onto Guido while Percy ran and jumped over the side of the ship.

The pegasus took off into the air again. Tori looked down at the ship. She ignored the pang in her heart that came with seeing Kronos and said, “Uh, when do the explosions—”

Without saying anything, Beckendorf slammed his hand over his watch. Within a few seconds, Tori could hear a deep rumbling sound from the ship below them. “Guido, faster!” The horse strained against the wind. Soon they were hundreds of feet away.

The explosion came. Tori screamed as heat enveloped her body, the sound causing her to go deaf for a few seconds and the green light consuming her vision. When her hearing returned, she realized that someone screaming in pain. She looked around frantically for the source of the sound, then screamed herself when she saw what had caused it. Beckendorf was slumped against her back, knocked unconscious from pain. Just below his knee, metal from the exploding ship had lodged itself into his calf, destroying the flesh and splattering blood over the horse’s white coat.

“Guido,” Tori said, fighting to maintain control. “Faster!

The horse strained forward as quickly as it could, huffing from exertion with sweat pouring down its body. Still, it felt like ten years by the time they got back. Before Guido had even touched the ground, Tori jumped off, pulling Beckendorf with her. “Help! Will, Michael, Kayla, get out here! And someone clear a place in the infirmary!”

Within seconds, they were surrounded by people. Tori rested Beckendorf on the ground, ripping his pants leg and pulling away the fabric. She cursed. The leg looked even worse now. The blood was almost black, and the burnt metal looked like it would be impossible to get out. Beckendorf was lucky that it had managed to stay in during the flight, or else he probably would have bled out by then.

Soon, a group of Apollo campers pushed their way through with a gurney. “Everybody, out of the way!” shouted Will Solace, the de facto healer. “Tori, help me get him up!”

Tori obliged, holding Beckendorf’s arms while the others got his legs. As soon as he was on the gurney, they took him to the infirmary. She would have stayed to help, but then she heard someone say, “What’s wrong? What happened to him!” Silena tried to get into the room, but Tori stood and stopped her.

“It’s okay, Silena,” she said assuringly. “He’s hurt, but he’s alive.” She took the girl’s arm and directed her out of the infirmary, “Come on, they need space to operate on him.”

Silena stared at her with wide eyes. “Operate? Why does he need surgery?”

Tori’s voice was calm and patient as she explained. “His leg was hurt when someone metal from the ship struck him. He’s unconscious, but he’s breathing.” They sat down on a couch in the rec room. As Tori rubbed Silena’s back, a thought occurred to her. “Can you still see colors?”

Slowly, Silena nodded. “Yes. It was bad earlier — it kept switching between color and gray—”

“When he fell unconscious,” Tori said, remembering when something similar happened to her and Luke once.

Silena shrugged. “I guess. But it’s back to normal now.” She looked up at Tori hopefully. “Does that mean he’s gonna be okay?”

Tori hesitated before responding. “It means that he’s alive. And now that he’s at camp, we can give him nectar and ambrosia and help his leg. So yes, he’ll probably be okay.”

Silena smiled through her tears and hugged her. Tori wrapped an arm around her shoulder and comforted her.

It was a couple of hourse before Michael came out. Silena stood as soon as she saw him, rushing over and asking, “Is he alright? What’s going on?”

Michael, doing his best to look serious and authoritative despite being 4’6”, said, “He’s alive. He’s sleeping, so you can go and sit with him if you want, but we had . . .” He let out a breath. “We had to amputate his lower leg.”

Silena turned pale, but nodded shortly. “As long as he’s alive.”

Michael smiled. “You don’t have to worry about that. And I’m sure the Hephaestus cabin will be happy to make their brother a new leg out of celestial bronze. My siblings and I will help them, if they want. He’ll walk again. Soon, if he adjusts well.”

“Charlie is strong. He will.” Silena looked past Michael to the door. “I can see him now?”

Michael nodded and let her go. He sat down next to Tori tiredly, allowing his body to go limp as he relaxed. “I’m so fucking tired.”

“Michael, language.”

Michael laughed, rolling his head around until he was looking at her. “Yeah, right. Like you’re any better.”

“Hey! I’m an adult! I don’t have to listen to rules.”

They smiled at each other before Michael sighed and stood up. “I should go help Will and the Hephaestus kids with the designs for the leg. They’ll want to get started on it as soon as possible.”

They said their goodbyes and Michael left. After a while, Tori stood and started to leave. She was almost out the door when her eyes fell to the infirmary door. It was just open enough that she could see inside. There, Silena was sitting beside Charles's bed, speaking quietly with him. They were smiling, tears in their eyes. Silena leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek as she began to cry. Beckendorf murmured something to her, caressing her face with his hand.

As Tori watched, her heart panged with a familiar pain. Finally, she closed the door and made her way out of the Big House.


VI.

 

It was only several hours later that Percy finally returned from wherever he’d gone. He appeared on the beach and Connor Stoll blew a conch horn to alert the camp. Tori went down with her siblings (or at least the ones that weren’t still tending to Beckendorf). By the time she got there, Percy was standing on the dining pavilion with a group of people standing around him. As soon as he saw her, he walked over to her. “Tori, is Beckendorf—”

Tori smiled tiredly. “He’s fine. He lost part of his left leg from shrapnel, but he’s alive and awake.” Everyone was so tired and depressed from the war that even something going badly enough for someone to lose part of their limb was considered good news, ‘cuz hey, at least he wasn’t dead.

Percy closed his eyes, letting out a breath in relief. “Thank you.” He looked around. Tori knew what he was seeing. There were far fewer half-bloods then there were even a year ago. Some had left and not come back, some had died fighting, and others still had joined the Titans. The few that remained were more somber than before. Tori could not remember the last time she’d seen them all smile like they did then.

Chiron and Annabeth joined them on the pavilion. “Percy!” Chiron said. “Thank the gods! Where were you?” While he spoke, the other campers dispersed, sensing that Chiron wanted to speak to them privately.

“I was in my father’s kingdom, in the ocean,” Percy explained. “The ship blew up, but Kronos wasn’t destroyed.”

Tori nodded absently. She’d known Kronos was still alive once she registered that she was still seeing colors.

Annabeth stepped forward to hug her soulmate. “I’m glad you’re not dead, Seaweed Brain.”

Percy chuckled. “Thanks. Me too.” Percy told them everything that had happened. He explained everything the happened on the mission, Poseidon’s battle with Oceanus, his dream about the other Titans who were preparing to advance, and the fact that there was a spy at camp.

Chiron gazed over the valley, his eyes far away. “We must call a war council immediately, to discuss this spy, and other matters.”

“Poseidon mentioned another threat,” Percy said. “Something even bigger than the Princess Andromeda. I thought it might be that challenge the Titan had mentioned in my dream.”

Chiron and Annabeth exchanged looks. Then Tori and Percy exchanged looks to ask each other if they knew that the others’ looks were about. They did not.

“We will discuss that also,” Chiron said.

“One more thing.” Percy took a deep breath. “When I talked to my father, he said to tell you it’s time. I need to know the full prophecy.”

Chiron’s shoulders sagged, but he didn’t seem surprised. “I’ve dreaded this day. Very well. Annabeth, we will show Percy the truth — all of it. Let’s go to the attic. Victoria, if you could gather all the counselors for a war council.”

Tori nodded. “Of course, Chiron.” While they left, Tori went around to the different cabins, telling the counselors to adjourn to the rec room. Soon, everyone was at the Big House. They sat around the Ping-Pong table. Jake Mason, one of Beckendorf’s younger siblings, was sitting beside Michael. They both had their heads leaning over a sheet of paper with the designs for Beckendorf’s new leg in front of them. Clarisse was sitting beside Silena, who’d talked her into coming. She had her electric spear at her back, a boar-shaped helmet under her arm, and a knife at her belt.

Tori looked around. Someone wasn’t there. “Silena,” Tori said, “where’s Beckendorf?”

Silena smiled. “He wanted to come to the meeting,” she explained, “but I wouldn’t let him.”

Tori laughed. “Nice to see he’s feeling well.” That at least explained what Jake was doing there. He was the oldest after Beckendorf.

The room returned to silence. It only took about two minutes for Clarisse to start yelling at Michael. Tori rolled her eyes as she listened to them argue. Last week, the Ares and Apollo cabins had gone on a raid together in Philadelphia. The Ares cabin had led the raid, but Tori’s siblings had captured a flying chariot from the enemy demigods. Now both cabins wanted it, and Clarisse was mad that no one was taking her side. It didn’t help that Michael, the new head counselor for Cabin 7 since Lee died, was so antagonistic.

“It’s our loot!” Michael yelled, standing on his toes so that he was higher than Clarisse’s chest. “If you don’t like it, you can kiss my quiver!”

Around the table, everyone — the Stolls, Pollux and Castor, Katie Gardner, and Jake Mason — except for Tori and Silena looked like they were trying not to laugh.

“Would both of you just calm down,” Tori said, exhausted. “Clarisse, there really are more important things to talk about—”

“Oh, shut up, you traitorous whor—”

“STOP IT!” Everyone jumped and stared at Percy, who was standing in the doorway with Annabeth. “What are you guys doing?”

Clarisse glowered self-righteously. “Tell Michael not to be a selfish jerk.”

“Oh, that’s perfect, coming from you,” Michael said.

“The only reason I’m here is because Silena asked me to come!” Clarisse shouted. “Otherwise, I’d be back in my cabin!”

“What are you talking about?” Percy demanded.

Pollux explained, “Clarisse refuses to meet with us until her, um, issue is resolved. Before this, she hadn’t spoken in three days.”

“It was great,” Tori said, glaring at the brutish girl. She was angry over what Clarisse had called her, and was no longer in the mood for reconciliation.

“What issue?” Percy asked.

Clarisse ignored him and turned to Chiron. “You’re in charge, right? Does my cabin get what we want or not?”

Chiron shuffled awkwardly. “My dear, as I’ve already explained, Michael is correct. Apollo’s cabin had the best claim. Besides, we have more important matters—”

“Sure,” Clarisse snapped. “Always more important stuff than what Ares needs. We’re just supposed to show up and fight when you need us, and not complain when we get none of the rewards!”

“That would be nice,” Connor muttered.

Clarisse gripped her knife. Immediately, Tori rose and stood in between her and Connor. “Watch yourself, little girl,” Tori said warningly.

Clarisse just glared at her. “Maybe I should ask Mr. D—”

As you know,” Chiron said, getting angry, “Dionysus is busy with the war. He can’t be bothered with this.”

“I see,” Clarisse said. “And the senior counselors? Are any of you going to side with me?”

Nobody was smiling anymore. None of them looked at Clarisse.

“Fine.” Clarisse said and turned to Silena. Her face softened. “I’ll go and see Beckendorf with you tomorrow, alright?”

Silena nodded, looking like she wanted to go to sleep more than anything else.

Clarisse threw her knife on the Ping-Pong table. “All of you can fight this war without Ares. Until I get satisfaction, no one in my cabin is lifting a finger to help. Have fun dying.”

Clarisse stormed out of the room. Everyone but Silena was too stunned to do anything but watch her go. The daughter of Aphrodite stood, shouting, “Clarisse!” Her friend ignored her.

For a minute after she left, everyone was silent. Then Michael said, “Good riddance.”

“Are you kidding?” Katie demanded as Tori sat down tiredly. “This is a disaster!”

“She can’t be serious,” Travis said. “Can she?”

Chiron sighed. “Her pride has been wounded. She’ll calm down eventually.” He didn’t look so sure. “Now, if you please, counselors. Percy has brought something I think you should hear. Percy — the Great Prophecy.”

Annabeth silently handed Percy a piece of parchment. Percy fumbled to uncurl it. He read, “A half-blood of the eldest dogs—

“Uh, Percy?” Annabeth said. “That says gods.”

“Oh. Yeah, that makes more sense.”

A half-blood of the eldest gods . . . shall reach sixteen against all odds . . .” Percy hesitated, staring at the paper. “And see the world in endless sleep . . . The hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap.

For a minute, Percy just stared at the paper. Tori wasn’t sure if she even wanted him to go on. Finally, Chiron gently said, “Percy, read the rest.”

Swallowing, Percy continued, “A single choice shall . . . shall end his days. Olympus to per— pursue—

"Preserve,” Annabeth said quietly. “It means to save.”

Percy nodded. “Olympus to preserve or raze.

The room was silent. Then Connor asked, “Raise is good, isn’t it?”

“Not raise,” Tori said, her voice quiet. “R-a-z-e. It means destroy.”

The counselors all looked at her. “Did you know about the prophecy?” Percy asked suddenly.

Tori shrugged. “Luke told me about parts of it, but I’ve never heard the whole thing before.” The room lapsed into an uncomfortable silence at the mention of Luke. A few people stared at her ring, but Tori ignored them. “I just knew that one of the kids of the Big Three was important, and that Kronos might be able to . . .”

“To use me,” Percy said, his voice tight. Everyone looked at him, be it with concern, pity, or fear.

Chiron closed his eyes as though he were whispering a prayer. “You see now, Percy, why we thought it best not to tell you the whole prophecy. You’ve had enough on your shoulders—”

“Without realizing I was going to die anyway?” Percy snapped. “Yeah, I get it.”

Chiron gazed at him sadly. He knew it was useless to try and reassure him.

Annabeth was more hopeful. “Percy, you know prophecies always have double meanings. It might not literally mean you die.”

Percy looked at her harshly. “Sure. A single choice shall end his days. That has tons of meanings, right?”

“Maybe we can stop it,” Jake suggested. “Maybe we can find the cursed blade and destroy it. Sounds like Kronos’s scythe, right?”

Percy didn’t respond. He was staring at the paper, as though if he just tried hard enough, he could magically change the words.

“Perhaps we should leave Percy alone to think about this,” Chiron said. “He needs time—”

“No,” Percy said angrily. He shoved the prophecy into his pocket before continuing, “I don’t need time. If I die, I die. I can’t worry about that, right?”

Annabeth’s hands were shaking as she stared down at the table. Tori reached out a hand and set it on the girl’s shoulder. Annabeth didn’t acknowledge her.

“Let’s move on,” Percy said. “We’ve got other problems. There’s a spy in camp.” He told them about how Kronos had known he and Beckendorf were coming, and about the silver scythe pendant that the Titan had used to communicate with someone at camp.

Naturally, it only took about two seconds for everyone to look at her. Tori rolled her eyes. “Okay, I’m only gonna say this once: I am not Kronos’s spy, nor do I know who the spy is. I swear it on the River Styx. Can we move on now?”

Everyone looked away, seeming uncomfortable. Finally, Connor said, “Well, we’ve thought there might be a spy for years, right? Somebody kept passing information to Luke, like where the Golden Fleece was. It must be somebody who knew him well.” His eyes glanced over to Annabeth, but he quickly looked away. “But it could be anyone, really.”

“Yeah,” Katie Gardner said, looking at him and Travis suspiciously. Tori hadn’t known why she disliked them so much until Will told her that they decorated the roof of the Demeter cabin with chocolate Easter bunnies. “Like one of Luke’s siblings?”

Before an argument could break out, Tori slammed her hand on the table. “Now is not the time to turn on each other! We have to keep our heads straight!”

“She’s right,” Castor said. “Accusing each other won’t help. We need to keep our eyes open for a a scythe charm. If Kronos had one, the spy probably does too.”

Michael nodded. “We need to find the spy before we plan our next operation. Blowing up the ship won’t stop Kronos forever.”

“No indeed,” Chiron said. “In fact, his next assault is already on the way.” He and Annabeth looked at each other. “Percy, we didn’t want to tell you until you returned to camp. You needed a break with your . . . mortal friends.”

Annabeth flushed angrily and looked down. Tori looked from her to Percy in confusion. Percy didn’t meet her eyes.

“Tell me what’s happened,” Percy said.

Chiron picked up a goblet from the snack table and tossed its water onto the hot plate that they used to melt nacho cheese. Steam billowed up, combining with the fluorescent light to make a rainbow. Chiron tossed a golden drachma through the mist and said, “O Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, show us the threat.”

The mist from the hot plate shimmered, transforming into the image of a smoldering volcano. As they watched, the side of the mountain exploded, releasing fire, ash, and lava. Tori could hear a newscaster say, “—even larger than last year’s eruption, and geologists warn that the mountain may not be done.” The mountain seemed to tear itself apart, collapsing in on itself. Out of the destruction rose a monster, something bigger and more terrifying than Tori had ever seen. The mountain shook, and Tori realized that it was rumbling from the giant’s laughter.

“It’s him,” Percy said. “Typhon.”

Chiron nodded. “The most horrible monster of all, the biggest single threat the gods ever faced. He has been freed from under the mountain at last. But this scene is from two days ago. Here is what is happening today.” Chiron waved his hand, and the vision changed. Black storm clouds rolled across Midwestern plains. Lightning flickered. Over a dozen tornadoes tore up everything in their path. Distantly, Tori could hear an announcer speaking. “Monumental floods. Five states declared disaster areas as the freak storm system sweeps east, continuing its path of destruction.” The cameras zoomed in on a column of the storm bearing down on a city. From there, they could see bits and pieces of the giant — a smoky arm, a clawed hand the size of a city block. Other, smaller forms that radiated light dashed around the monster. The giant was swatting at them like a human would a fly. Tori squinted, her eyes making out that one of the shapes was a golden chariot.

“Apollo?” Tori said, like snapping herself out of a trance.

Chiron nodded. “Yes, Victoria. The gods have been fighting Typhon for two days now, trying to slow him down. But Typhon is still moving forward — to New York. To Olympus.”

Percy swallowed. “How long until he gets here?”

“Unless the gods can stop him? Perhaps five days. All of the Olympians are there except for Poseidon, who’s fighting a war of his own.”

“But then who’s guarding Olympus?”

Tori shook her head. “If that thing gets to New York, it won’t matter who’s guarding Olympus.”

Percy thought about that, staring into the image of Typhon. The gods seemed so insignificant next to the giant. Maybe that’s why what Percy said was so surprising. “It’s a trick. We have to warn the gods. Something else is going to happen.”

Chiron looked at him with a grave expression. “Something worse than Typhon? I hope not.”

“We have to defend Olympus,” Percy insisted. “Kronos has another attack planned.”

“He did,” Travis said. “But you sunk his ship.”

Everyone else looked at Percy hopefully. They needed some good news. Tori didn’t think they were going to get it.

Percy glanced at Annabeth before saying, “Maybe you’re right.” He didn’t look like he believed it.

Tori wondered what could be worse than Typhon, what Kronos had up his sleeve. She wasn’t looking forward to finding out.

“Well,” Chiron said, “I think that’s enough for one night.” He waved his hand, dissipating the mist. The image of Typhon and the gods disappeared, like it was a bad dream.

I wish.

After the war council adjourned, Tori followed Percy out of the Big House. “Percy,” she said. “Percy!”

He stopped walking and looked back at her. They were alone, everyone else having gone to their cabins. “What?”

Tori jogged over to him. “I just wanted to know if you needed anything.” Everyone else seemed to be too busy thinking of Typhon to remember that Percy was supposed to die soon.

“I’m fine,” he said shortly.

Tori laughed humorlessly. “No you’re not.”

Percy scowled at her. “Well, what’s your advice then? What would you do right if you were going to die?”

It was a rhetorical question, but Tori considered it seriously. “If I thought that I was going to die . . . then I would make sure my family knew I loved them. And I would . . . say goodbye to everyone I cared about. And then I would find Luke, and I’d kiss him and spend as much time as I had with him.”

They looked at each other in silence. Tori could see tears gathering in Percy’s eyes, but she didn’t say anything. Finally Percy said, “Thanks, Tori.” His voice wavered, but before she could do anything else, he turned and left.


VII.

 

Tori was up early the next morning to help clean the cabin for inspection. She was surprised to see that it was Percy and Annabeth doing the inspections. They were silent, and it didn’t take long to see that whenever the other looked at them, they would blush. “Did something happen between you two last night?” Tori asked Percy. His cheeks turned bright red as he said no. She didn’t believe him for a second, but she let it go. There were more important things to think about. Fights kept breaking out around camp, several of them between the Ares kids and her own siblings. She was amused to learn that someone — Austin or Michael, probably — had cursed Cabin 5, so that they could only speak in rhymes and poems.

Tori divided the rest of her morning between the arena, the forges, and the infirmary. Beckendorf’s siblings had worked all night making a prototype leg that worked better than a mortal prosthetic, though they insisted that it was only temporary and that they would have a much better one ready in only a few days.

She had only planned to stay for a few minutes to check on Beckendorf, but she ended up talking to him and Silena for an hour. Almost immediately, they revealed their plan to go to college together. “We were talking about it before,” Beckendorf explained, smiling. “After what happened, we decided to make it official.”

Tori started to congratulate them, but Silena stopped her. “That’s not all.” The soulmates gazed lovingly at each other. “We’re getting married!”

Tori froze, staring. It took her a moment to remember to smile. “That’s wonderful,” she said, her voice almost as mechanical as a robot’s. “I’m so happy for you two.”

“You’ll be there, won’t you?” Silena asked. She seemed to realize there was something off about Tori’s reaction, but she couldn’t quite pin it down.

Tori smiled wider. “Of course. Just name a place and day, and I’ll be there.” She left quickly out of that, making her way down to the beach. There, she fell to her knees in the sand. She stayed there for a long time, staring out at the water as she thought about Luke.


VIII.

 

When she made her way back to camp, people were running around, speaking to each other in hushed, worried tones. Concerned, Tori found Michael and asked him what was going on.

“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging helplessly. “Percy’s been gone since this morning, but nobody knows where he is.”

Tori stared at him. “Are you serious?” Michael nodded. Tori let out a harsh breath, rubbing her eyes with her palms. “Of fucking course. Do you know where he went?”

“No.”

“Right. Okay, just keep an eye out and—”

Before she could finish, a horn sounded throughout the valley. They turned to find the source of the sound. Standing under the pine tree on Half-Blood Hill was Chiron, holding a conch shell to his lips. Annabeth was there with him, dressed in black camo with a laptop bag over her shoulder and a knife strapped to her arm.

Tori didn’t have to tell anyone to run. She didn’t have to be told herself. They moved quickly, racing to the hill. They actually didn’t have to go the whole way. Once they were close enough, they could hear Chiron calling out orders, “Campers, we are making an emergency trip to Olympus! Bring armor, weapons, ambrosia, nectar, and medical supplies! Move quickly!”

Everyone did as he said. Tori and her siblings gathered everything they thought they might need — medicine, bandages, gauze, tape, splints, needles, thread, gel packs, ambrosia, nectar — and dumped it all into several duffel bags. After that, Tori led them in gathering bows, arrows, quivers, swords, knives, and armor. By the time they were done, everyone was carrying a 30 pound duffel bag, except for Tori and Michael, who were both carrying two (though Michael looked like he was going to teeter over any minute).

Tori and the other Apollo campers trudged up the hill to where Chiron was waiting, though now Argus was there with him, along with the three white vans they used to transport strawberries. They threw the duffel bags into the back of one of them as the campers piled inside. Tori stopped short when she saw someone start to get in. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Beckendorf! What the—” she looked at some of the younger campers who were watching them— “heck do you think you’re doing?”

Beckendorf held out his hands innocently. “Getting into the van.”

“Uh, no. You should be in bed! How are you even standing?” It occurred to her a moment too late that she probably shouldn’t have said that, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“We Hephaestus kids work fast,” he said, holding up his prosthetic leg. It was made entirely out of connected pieces of celestial bronze, and didn’t seem to affect his gait at all.

Tori was unsatisfied. “You still shouldn’t go. Your injuries are too fresh—”

“I’m not going to stay behind when our lives are being threatened! I’m going to go and fight, and if I die, I die.”

“Don’t say that!” Silena said. “I swear to gods Charlie, if you start talking like that, I will drag you straight back to the infirmary!”

They briefly argued whilst getting into the van, apparently forgetting Tori entirely. She sighed and finished packing up. She was almost in the van before she realized that Michael wasn’t there anymore. “Michael?” She tapped Will’s shoulder. “Will, have you seen Michael?”

“He went to talk to Clarisse.”

Tori slumped her head against the van’s door. “Greaaaat. That’ll go well.”

It did not, in fact, go well.

Michael returned to the hill after a few minutes, fuming and stomping around. “What happened?” Tori asked.

Michael huffed and climbed into the van. Tori followed him. “Well, I tried to get Clarisse to come with us and I said she could have the chariot, but she refused! Said her cabin’s honor had been offended, or something like that.”

“Oh, well that’s great. Now we’re down an entire cabin.” Their best fighters, at that. Tori laid back against the seat and tried to relax, but the only thing she could think of was why they had been called and what could be waiting for them in the city.


IX.

 

It was late afternoon by the time they got to the Empire State Building. The vans were weighed down by the forty odd campers that had been stuffed inside of them, not to mention their supplies. Tori was especially uncomfortable, but not because of the lack of space. She was just so used to sitting in Luke’s lap that her body kept trying to lean back against him, and was surprised when he wasn’t there.

They moved quickly nonetheless since Argus and the harpies drove like they didn’t know what a speed limit was and didn’t care to learn. As soon as the vans stopped, they all poured out. Some of the campers were a little green from the ride, but no one puked, so that was good at least. Chiron came out last, his horse body compacted into his magic wheelchair, forcing him to use the handicap lift. Everyone looked nervous at being so out in the open. They were probably attracting every monster in their half of the country, but Tori had a feeling it wouldn’t matter.

Percy was there, standing in front of the skyscraper and watching them all. He looked . . . different. Tori couldn’t tell how or why, but something about him had definitely changed.

Annabeth walked up to him. Immediately Percy’s dark gaze softened. They spoke quietly too each other, brushing their hands over each other’s arms. Annabeth turned so that she was facing the half-bloods, and Percy looked out to them. “Thanks for coming, everybody. Chiron, after you.”

Tori watched in shock as Chiron shook his head. “I came to wish you luck, my boy. But I make it a point never to visit Olympus unless I am summoned.”

Percy stared at him, apparently feeling the same way that she was. “But you’re our leader.”

Chiron smiled softly. “I am your trainer, your teacher. That is not the same as being your leader. I will go gather what allies I can. It may not be too late to convince my brother centaurs to help. Meanwhile, you called the campers here, Percy. You are the leader.”

Everyone looked at Percy. Tori tried to give a reassuring smile, but she was afraid it came off as a grimace.

Percy gathered himself, taking a deep breath. “Okay, like I told Annabeth on the phone, something bad is going to happen by tonight. Some kind of trap. We’ve got to get an audience with Zeus and convince him to defend the city. Remember, we can’t take no for an answer.”

Tori bit back the urge to laugh. Zeus, actually listen to someone? Oh, that’ll be the day.

Argus was assigned to watch someone named “Mrs. O’Leary”, and Chiron bid them all farewell. When it was all done, Percy tried to seem confident, but there was sweat on his brow and worry in his eyes. “Let’s go.”

Tori knew the lobby of the Empire State Building well enough from previous trips. Despite everything else that had happened, the room at least remained unchanged. There was a security guard behind the desk, reading a book and not paying them any attention until they filed in in front of him, clanging from the sheer amount of weapons and armor. “School trip? We’re about to close up.”

“No,” Percy said. “Six-hundredth floor.”

The security guard looked them over. His blue eyes were inhumanly pale, almost white, and he was completely bald. Tori could tell from the way he looked at them that he wasn’t fooled by the Mist. Still, he said, “There is no six-hundredth floor, kid.” He said it in a very bored tone, like it was something he’d memorized, but didn’t believe. “Move along.”

Percy leaned across the desk. “Forty demigods attract an awful lot of monsters. You really want us hanging out in your lobby?”

The security guard thought about it for a moment before hitting a buzzer. The security gate swung open. “Make it quick.”

“You don’t want us going through the metal detectors,” Percy said.

“Um, no. Elevator on the right. I guess you know the way.”

Percy gave him a golden drachma and they made their way to the elevator. There way too many people to all go at once, so they had to take two trips. Tori went with the first group. The elevator was playing “Stayin’ Alive”. She knew the song from her mother, and starting humming it mindlessly.

It took a couple of minutes to get to Olympus. The doors dinged open, revealing a path of floating stones leading through the clouds all the way to Mount Olympus. Tori stared up at it. She wanted to go straight back down, but she knew that wasn’t an option. But the last time I was here, everything went wrong.

It took everyone else moving to get her to go. They had to stay and wait for the next elevator full of kids. Everyone stood in awkward silence. Tori refused to look at the city, but after a moment, she realized that something was wrong. There was no talking, no laughter, no music. Olympus was completely abandoned.

After a few minutes, the second group joined them and they started to walk up the stone staircase. Tori almost didn’t see the city, too busy concentrating on not falling to her death. She only caught glimpses of the towering mountain and shining mansions. It almost seemed normal, until they actually got there. The shops were all closed. The parks were devoid of life. Only two of the Muses were playing music, and even they seemed almost ready to give up. They saw a single cyclops on the street and a minor god in one of the mansions, but no one else. The others talked amongst themselves, but Tori didn’t hear them. She was remembering the times when she had been here with Luke. It was so long ago now — years — but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like she was back then, with Luke’s arm around her waist, making jokes and pointing out random things to make her smile.

“Look!” Pollux cried out suddenly, pointing to the horizon. “What is that?”

Everyone stopped to look. Blue lights streaked across the sky towards Olympus, like comets. There were dozens of them at any moment, but they fizzled out as they got close. They watched them for a few minutes to see if they did anything, but nothing seemed to happen.

“Like infrared scopes,” Michael muttered. “We’re being targeted.”

“Let’s get to the palace,” Percy said before they could start panicking.

There were no guards, no security of any kind. They just walked right in. The great hall had twelve giant thrones arranged in a U around the hearth. In one corner, a ball of water hovered uncertainly in the air. Inside it was the Ophiotaurus, a half-cow half-serpent creature. Above them, the ceiling was deep blue with silver constellations.

“That’s Andromeda.”

“Oh! I remember her! She was chained to a rock to be killed after someone bragged about something. Probably.”

Luke laughed. “Basically, yeah. And there’s the Scorpion, right behind Orion.”

“Right, right, because Apollo put the scorpion in the sky to chase Orion after he died because he didn’t like that Orion was into Artemis. Are any of these stories happy?”

“I’ll get back to you on that.”

Tori shook her head to clear it of memories. She couldn’t think of that. There was no time.

The demigods walked towards the thrones, but then they heard a woman say, “Hello again, Percy Jackson. You and your friends are welcome.”

There was a woman by the hearth, tending to the flames with a stick. Her hair was a plain brown color to match her dress. Her eyes were the orange-red of fire, but not like a house or forest fire. More like a campfire. Warm and welcoming.

Percy bowed. “Lady Hestia.” Everyone else bowed like Percy did. Tori found she didn’t mind as much as she might have. Hestia was never much like the other gods. She was far more compassionate and welcoming. Tori didn’t have to grit her teeth with her.

They stood. Hestia was looking at Percy. “I see you went through with you plan. You bear the curse of Achilles.”

Tori stared at Percy. “What?

Percy flushed. “I had to. There was no other choice.”

“You must be careful,” Hestia warned. “You gained much on your journey. But you are still blind to the most important truth. Perhaps a glimpse is in order.”

Annabeth stood protectively next to Percy. “What is she talking about?”

Hestia and Percy stared at each other. In a second, Percy’s started to fall to the floor, but Annabeth caught him. “Percy! What happened?”

“Did . . . did you see that?” he asked, looking up at her with wet eyes.

Annabeth frowned. “See what?”

Percy looked at Hestia, but she was expressionless. Meanwhile, Tori was holding back the urge to throttle Percy. “Percy, what were you thinking? Don’t you know how dangerous that is!” The curse didn’t just make one invincible: it also amplified their flaws and concentrated all of the mortality into one spot. Didn’t matter if it was your pinky; if you were struck there, you were dead.

“I did what I had to,” Percy said quietly. He was still half-lying on the ground from whatever Hestia had shown him. “How long was I out?”

Annabeth’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Percy, you weren’t out at all. You just looked at Hestia for a second and collapsed.”

Percy looked around at the other campers, forcing himself to stand. “Um, Lady Hestia, we’ve come on urgent business. We need to see—”

“We know what you need,” a man’s voice said. A god shimmered into view next to Hestia, reminding her of an Iris Message. He was handsome enough. About mid-twenties, with curly dark hair and impish features. He was dressed like a military pilot, and his helmet and boots both had small bird wings on either side. Tori’s throat tightened when she saw the long staff he was holding, saw the snakes on it. Hermes.

“I will leave you now,” Hestia said. She bowed to her nephew and turned into smoke, leaving. Tori kind of wanted to go with her; Hermes did not look happy.

“Hello, Percy.” His annoyed expression faded when he looked at Tori. “Victoria.” Tori gulped.

Percy bowed awkwardly. “Lord Hermes.” Tori did not follow his lead. After a moment, Percy continued. “Hello, George. Hey Martha.” It took her a moment to realize he was talking to the snakes. “Um, Hermes, we need to talk to Zeus. It’s important.”

Hermes gray eyes were cold. “I am his messenger. May I take a message?”

The campers shifted nervously. Percy looked at them and said, “You guys, why don’t you do a sweep of the city? Check the defenses. See who’s left in Olympus. Meet Annabeth and me back here in thirty minutes.”

A few people started to protest, but Annabeth said, “That’s a good idea. Connor and Travis, you two lead.”

The Stolls seemed to like be given an important task in front of their dad. “We’re on it!” Travis said. They quickly herded everyone out, shouting, “Keep it moving!”

Tori started to go with them, but then Hermes said, “Not you, Victoria. I want to talk to you.”

Tori cursed under her breath and stood awkwardly beside Percy. Annabeth started them off, saying, “My lord, Kronos is going to attack New York. You must suspect that. My mother must have foreseen it.”

Hermes growled in annoyance. “Your mother. Don’t get me started on her, young lady. She’s the reason I’m here at all. Zeus didn’t want any of us to leave the front line. But your mother kept pestering him nonstop, ‘It’s a trap, it’s a diversion, blah, blah, blah.’ She wanted to come back herself, but Zeus was not going to let his number one strategist leave his side while we’re battling Typhon. So naturally he sent me to talk to you.”

“But is is a trap!” Annabeth insisted, gesturing wildly with her hands. “Is Zeus blind?”

Outside, angry thunder rolled. “I’d watch the comments, girl,” Hermes said warningly. “Zeus is not blind or deaf. He has not left Olympus completely undefended.”

“But there are these blue lights—”

“Yes, yes, I saw them. Some mischief by that insufferable Hecate probably, but you may have noticed that they aren’t doing any damage. Olympus has strong magical wards. And Aeolus, the King of the Winds, has sent his most powerful minions to guard the citadel. No one save the gods can approach Olympus from the air. They would be knocked out of the sky.”

Percy raised his hand. Tori almost smiled. “Um . . . what about that materializing/teleporting thing you guys do?”

Hermes shook his head. “That’s a form of air travel too, Jackson. Very fast, but the wind gods are faster. No, if Kronos wants Olympus, he’ll have to march through the entire city with his army and take the elevators! Can you see him doing this?”

Tori thought about it. “Well now that you’ve said it out loud, yeah .”

Hermes started to say something, but Percy interrupted him. “Maybe just a few of you can come back.”

Hermes shook his head again, more impatient than ever. “Percy Jackson, you don’t understand. Typhon is our greatest enemy.”

“I thought that was Kronos.”

Hermes’s silver eyes glowed. “No, Percy. In the old days, Olympus was almost overthrown by Typhon. He is husband to Echidna—”

“Met her,” Percy muttered. “Not a fan.”

“—and the father of all monsters.” Tori arched an eyebrow. Really? So I suppose Zeus and Poseidon’s monster kids just sort of STOPPED EXISTING then? “We can never forget how close he came to destroying us, how he humiliated us! We were more powerful then. Now we can expect no help from Poseidon because he’s fighting his own war. Hades sits in his realm and does nothing, and Demeter and Persephone follow his lead.”

Tori frowned. “Didn’t most of you just run away last time—”

“That’s not what we’re talking about! My point is that it’s going to take all the power we have just to stop the giant. We can’t divide his forces, we can’t wait until he gets to New York, and we can’t help you. We have to battle him now. And we’re making progress.”

“Progress?” Percy said incredulously. “He nearly destroyed St. Louis!”

“Yes,” Hermes admitted. “But he only destroyed half of Kentucky. He’s slowing down, losing power.” Hermes sounded as though he were trying to convince himself as much as them.

Please, Hermes,” Annabeth said. “You said my mother wanted to come. Did she give you any messages for us?”

“Messages,” the god muttered. “‘It’ll be a great job’, they told me. ‘Not much work. Lots of worshippers.’ Hmph. Nobody cares what I have to say. It’s always about other people’s messages.” He looked back at Annabeth and sighed. “Your mother said to warn you that you’re on your own. You must hold Manhattan without the help of the gods. As if I didn’t know that. Why they pay her to be the wisdom goddess, I’m not sure.”

“Anything else?”

“She said you should try plan twenty-three and that you would know what that meant.”

Annabeth’s face paled, but she nodded. “Go on.”

Hermes looked at Percy. “Last thing she said was ‘Remember the rivers’. And, um, something about being careful with her daughter.”

Tori didn’t know who blushed harder, Percy or Annabeth. “Thank you, Hermes,” Annabeth said. “And, I wanted to say—”

“No. Whatever it is, don’t say it. Just go.” He looked at Tori. “Besides. I still have to talk to my daughter-in-law.”

Tori didn’t know what to do. She stood stone-still as Percy and Annabeth reluctantly left. For a moment, she and Hermes just looked at each other. Then Hermes said: “How dare you?”

Tori almost jumped back. “What?”

Hermes looked both angry and sad, like he couldn’t decide if he wanted to yell or cry. “How can you ask me to protect him? Do you have any idea of what’s going on? Who are you to ask that of me?”

Tori stared him down, a fire building in her blood. “I’m his wife. His soulmate. I have every right.”

Hermes laughed harshly. "You're a fool. Do you think Luke would have loved you if you weren't soulmates? Do you think he would have ever given you a second glance?"

She thought about it for a moment. "Honestly, I don't know. I can't. I don't live in that world. But I know this: the love Luke and I share is real. Not because we're soulmates, but because we made it real. I will do whatever it takes to have him safe and with me again."

“Right, because you tried so hard before!”

Tears swelled her eyes, making her voice crack, but she kept speaking. “You think I don’t know that this is my fault? That if I had tried harder, been better, done something right, that maybe I could have averted this? God or not, I’m telling you right now that no one understands that better than me.” She drew a breath. “But what’s done is done. All I can do now is move forward. That’s all any of us can do.”

Hermes didn’t have an answer to that. After a minute of neither of them speaking, Tori left. He didn’t try to stop her.


X.

 

Outside the great hall, Percy and Annabeth were speaking animatedly to each other. “What are you two talking about?” Tori asked.

Annabeth looked at her soulmate angrily. “Percy went to the River Styx! He has the curse of Achilles now!”

“Yeah, got that part. And I get why you’re angry with him, but we have to—” she swallowed past her disgust— “defend Olympus.”

Annabeth gave Percy a look, but nodded reluctantly. “I guess you’re right. My mom mentioned plan twenty-three . . .” She rummaged about in her pack and pulled out a laptop. There was a glowing blue Delta symbol on the lid.

“What’s that?” Tori asked.

“From Daedalus,” Annabeth explained, opening it. “I got it after he died last summer. There are all sorts of plans and inventions. It’s fascinating really, I’ll never have enough time to get through it all—”

“Wise girl,” Percy said with an amused smile, “the plan?”

She shook her head. “Right, right.” She opened a few files that were in Ancient Greek and started to read. “Here it is. Gods, we have a lot to do.”

“One of Daedalus’s inventions?” Percy asked.

“A lot of inventions — dangerous ones. If my mother wants me to use this plan, she must think things are very bad.” She looked up at Percy. “What about what she said to you: ‘Remember the rivers’? What does that mean?”

Percy shook his head. Before anyone could say anything, the Stolls ran in. “You need to see this,” Connor said. “ Now.


XI.


Outside, the blue lights had stopped. The campers were all gathered at a park on the edge of the mountain, looking down on the city through tourist binoculars. Even without them, Tori could make out the East River, the Hudson, the shape of Manhattan island, the grid that formed the streets, even Central Park. Everything looked normal, but something was off. It wasn’t until she closed her eyes to try to think that she realized what it was.

“There’s . . . there’s nothing,” Tori said. “I can’t hear anything.” Earlier, they’d been able to hear the buzz of the city: cars, trains, buses, machines, the millions of people. Even in the dead of night, the city was always moving, bustling, making noise. Now it was just . . . gone.

“What did they do?” Percy demanded. “What did they do to my city?” He pushed Michael away from a pair of binoculars and looked through them.

Tori squeezed in beside him, trying to figure out what was going on. “What do you see?”

“Are they dead?” Silena asked.

Percy stared down at Manhattan. “Not dead. Morpheus put Manhattan to sleep. The invasion has started.”


XII.

 

They got back down to the city as quickly as they could. They found Argus with a giant hellhound that made Tori stop dead in her tracks. Her siblings had to pull her forward. Even then, she didn’t think she could fight if she wanted to. I wish Luke was here. She almost laughed. Well, he’ll be here soon, won’t he?

She forced herself to stand still next to Argus, one of her siblings on either side. Still, she was shaking. Luckily, no one was paying attention to her. They might have thought she was unfit for battle.

Percy explained what happened to Argus. “You’d better get back to camp. Guard it as best you can.”

Before Argus left, he opened the back of his van and looked around it for a minute before pulling something out. It was a standard-looking bronze shield that he gave to Annabeth. When she put it down, its reflection changed from the sky and buildings around them to the Statue of Liberty. “One of Daedalus’s ideas,” Annabeth explained. “Beckendorf helped me make it.” She smiled at the son of Hephaestus before continuing. “The shield bends sun or moonlight from anywhere in the world to create a reflection.” Annabeth concentrated, making the image change again and again. Finally, FDR Drive popped up, looking out across a river. “This should let us see what’s going on across the city.”

Argus left. Seconds later, Percy whistled, and the hellhound went bounding over to him. Tori bit her lip to keep from screaming, falling back against her siblings. “Tori,” Will said, “are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she bit out. “I just need to focus.”

Thankfully, Percy sent the monster off to find Grover, and she was able to relax a bit.

Castor looked around in confusion at all the sleeping humans. “Why didn’t we fall asleep too?”

“This is a huge spell,” Silena said. “The bigger the spell, the easier it is to resist. If you want to millions of mortals to sleep, you’ve got to cast a very thin layer of magic. Sleeping demigods is harder.”

Everyone stared at her. She blushed furiously. “I don’t spend all my time on clothes.”

“Percy,” Annabeth called out. “Come look at this.”

The shield showed Long Island Sound. There, a dozen speed boats were racing through the water to Manhattan. Each boat was packed with enemy half-bloods. At the head of the lead boat stood a royal-purple banner with a black scythe. Kronos. “They’re coming,” Tori breathed.

“Scan the perimeter of the island,” Percy said. “Quick.” The scene shifted to a harbor. A ferry broke through the waves, loaded with dracaenae and hellhounds. Tori sucked in a breath, but kept watching. Swimming ahead of the boat was a pod of telkhines, little dog-faced sea demons.

The image changed again, now at the Jersey shore, right at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Giants, cyclops, dragons, a gods-damned tank were all marching past the stopped traffic and sleeping mortals. “What’s happening outside of Manhattan?” Percy asked. “Is the whole state asleep?”

Annabeth frowned. “I don’t think so, but there’s an area around Manhattan where time is running really, really slow. The closer you get to the island, the worse it gets.” From the shield, Tori could see a highway in New Jersey. The cars were moving at about a mile per hour. Birds flew in slow motion.

“Kronos,” Tori said. “He’s doing this.”

“Hecate might be helping,” Katie Gardner said. “The cars are all veering away from Manhattan, even if that’s where they were heading.” She was right. No one could get into the island. Even if there were any humans or demigods they could call on for help, it would be almost impossible for them to get there.

Tori looked around. Everyone looked scared, and for good reason. There were only forty or so campers. There were hundreds of enemies coming for them. They’re just kids, Tori thought. Even Percy was only sixteen, if that. They can’t handle this. But no one else was going to. Tori sighed, straightened her back, and listened to Percy.

“All right,” he said, trying to look and sound like a commander. “We’re going to hold Manhattan.”

The other campers looked around uncertainly. “Uh, Percy,” Silena said, “Manhattan is huge.”

“We are going to hold it,” he said. “We have to.”

“Well, he’s right about that,” Tori said.

Annabeth nodded. “The wind gods and spirits can keep Kronos away from Olympus by air. His only chance is a ground assault. We have to cut off all the entrances to the island.”

“They have boats,” Michael pointed out.

As soon as he finished speaking, Percy got a new light in his eyes. “I’ll take care of the boats. We  need to guard the bridges and tunnels.” He started to assign them their positions, giving the Williamsburg bridge to the Apollo cabin. “The 59th Street Bridge,” Percy said after going through everything else, “Clarisse—” He faltered. The Ares Cabin was still at camp because of that stupid chariot.

“We’ll take that,” Annabeth said, turning to her siblings. “Malcolm, take the Athena cabin and activate plan twenty-three along the way, like I showed you.”

Malcolm nodded. “You got it.”

After that, they decided that Annabeth and Percy would go together (there was some giggling, but only the absolute minimum). Beckendorf would go with the Aphrodite cabin since Silena didn’t want him to be too far away with his new leg.

“Hold up, Percy,” Beckendorf said. “You forgot the Lincoln Tunnel.”

Percy sucked in a breath, immediately realizing his mistake. There was a tank and over a hundred monsters coming that way, but everyone was already positioned elsewhere.

A girl’s voice called to them: “How about you leave that to us?”

Tori looked at the newcomers. It was a group of about thirty girls dressed in white and silver camouflage with swords, bows, and arrows, along with hunting falcons and a pack of white wolves.

Leading the girls was Thalia Grace.

Immediately, Tori’s vision went red. She couldn’t hear anything but white noise. She didn’t even know what was happening until her eyes cleared and she could see Thalia beneath her, her hands wrapped around the hunter’s pale white throat. There was blood under her nails that had come from the red lines across Thalia’s neck. Even when Tori realized what she was doing, she couldn’t stop. She didn’t want to. This girl took everything from her, Luke, her child, even her life for a few moments . . . She wanted to kill her. She wanted to crush her throat underneath her hands. She wanted to end her.

It took half a dozen hunters and campers to pull her away. Even that might not have worked if the campers hadn’t been her own siblings, which stopped her from fighting them too hard.

“Let go of me!” Tori yelled as four of her siblings pulled her back. “Let go of me!

“Tori, calm down!” Percy shouted.

“She attacked our Lieutenant!” one of the other hunters said.

“I know, I know,” Percy said. “Hunters, we need you at the Lincoln Tunnel. Tori, you’re coming with me and Annabeth so we can keep an eye on you.”

It was only after the hunters had moved out that Tori calmed down. Or maybe calm wasn’t the right word. She broke down crying, her head pressed against her knees as she tried to block out the world. It didn’t work for long. There was still stuff to be done, and Annabeth coaxed her to stand up and follow her. They walked through the cars. They couldn’t drive any of them since they were al wedged together, but they were able to find a couple of scooters that could get them through the logged traffic well enough. They had to stop a few times to help people who had fallen asleep in front of a car, or a food cart that had caught fire, or even a baby carriage (though that turned out to be a poodle).

They made it to Madison Square Park when Annabeth said to stop. She ran up to a bronze statue of a man named William H. Seward. “He was a New York governor,” Annabeth explained. “Minor demigod, but it’s the statue that’s important.”

“Don’t tell me his an automaton,” Percy said.

Annabeth smiled. “Most of the statues in New York are automatons. Or at least in the city. Daedalus planted them here in case he needed an army. That’s plan twenty-three. He could activate one statue, and they would start activating the others until there was an army. It’s dangerous, though. These things are unpredictable.” But they didn’t have many other options. Annabeth pressed the tip of Seward’s boot, and the statue stood up, brandishing its quill and paper like weapons. “Hello, Williams,” Annabeth said. The statue tilted its head, staring at them with blank metal eyes. Annabeth cleared her throat. “Hello, Governor Seward. Command sequence: Daedalus Twenty-three. Defend Manhattan. Begin activation.”

The automaton jumped off his pedestal and marched off to the east to get the others. Before they could relax, a ball of green light exploded in the darkening sky. Greek fire.

“We have to hurry.”


XIII.

 

They stopped outside Battery Park, right where the Hudson and East Rivers met and emptied into the bay.

“Wait here,” Percy said.

“Percy,” Annabeth said, “you shouldn’t go alone.”

Percy shrugged. “Well, unless you can breathe underwater . . .” Annabeth huffed. “Trust me, I’ll be fine. I’ve got the curse of Achilles now. I’m all invincible and stuff.” Annabeth still looked worried, but she just nodded and told him to be safe. They both seemed to want to say something else, but they kept looking at Tori, who was standing away to try and let them have their little goodbye. Once they were done, Percy made his way down the shoreline and into the water.

Annabeth and Tori looked at each other.

“You probably want an explanation,” Tori said.

“I know why,” Annabeth said. “I was there. I know that she . . . that she killed you.”

Tori nodded. “Yeah, she did that. But that’s not why I did it.”

Annabeth frowned. “Then why?”

Tori sat down in the grass, looking up at the sky. It was night now, getting late. The stars were out. She almost wanted to get lost in them, but she doubted she’d ever be able to lose herself so fully in something again. “I haven’t told anyone else, actually. It’s so weird how few people actually know. Just me, Luke, and Ash.”

“Ash?”

“A medic. From the Andromeda. He was the one who told me, actually. I only ever told Luke.”

“Told him what?” Annabeth asked, sitting next to her. “What happened?”

The words came pouring out, like a river breaking past a dam. “I was pregnant that day. Not heavily. You couldn’t tell. Only reason I was still there, actually; Luke wanted me safe somewhere in California, but I refused to leave until I had to. When Thalia kicked me, I . . . I . . .” She was crying again, the hot tears streaking down her cheeks.

Annabeth held her hand. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Tori sucked in a breath, having to remember to breathe. “Just don’t tell anyone. Especially not Percy. It would just make things harder for him. If you have to tell people something, tell them I attacked her because she killed me. They’ll believe that.”

“What if Percy doesn’t?”

Tori shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t care. Not anymore. Caring is just . . . it’s too much, sometimes. Like you feel something so much that it just fills you up completely, until there’s no room for anything else, not even yourself. And then it just keeps on going, until you can’t hold it in anymore, and it just bursts out of you, like a wave. Like a tsunami. Maybe that’s why the gods don’t care. It’s just . . . too much for them.”

They sat in silence. After a while, Annabeth got a call on her phone. “I have to get this,” she said apologetically. Tori nodded and let her stand, keeping her gaze straight ahead.

Annabeth was still talking on the phone when Tori saw something happen across the bay. The small, almost imperceptible black dots that had been there disappeared under the water. A couple of minutes later, Percy returned to the park, completely dry. Annabeth hung up as soon as she saw him. Tori didn’t know what had happened, but Annabeth was clearly shaken.

“It worked,” Percy said as Tori stood up. “The rivers are safe.”

“Good,” Annabeth said. “‘Cuz we’ve got other problems. Michael Yew just called. Another army is marching over the Williamsburg Bridge. The Apollo cabin needs help. And Percy, the monster leading them . . . it’s the Minotaur.”


XIV.

 

Percy whistled, calling upon his pegasi friends. Soon, three of them landed in the park. They boarded quickly and flew to the Williamsburg bridge. Tori kept urging her horse to go faster. “Come on! My brothers and sisters are there. We have to hurry!”

“We’re going as fast as we can, Tori!” Percy shouted over the wind.

Tori huffed and leaned forward so that her head was next to the horse’s neck.

Luckily, they were close by. Unluckily, the battle was not going well. Even though the sky was completely black and there were none of the lights you’d usually expect from New York, the bridge was blazing with light from burning cars and arrows. Weapons, blood, and golden dust flew through the sky. When Tori looked down, she saw that her siblings were retreating from the monsters that had advanced on them. They still managed to take out a few with explosive arrows and caltrops, but they weren’t even making a dent. A phalanx of snake-women were in the lead with their shields locked together, making it almost impossible to hit them. There were a hundred more monsters following those.

There were hellhounds, too. Tori was shaking on top of the pegasus, but then she saw one of them trying to drag away Cressida. “NO!” In seconds, the bow was in her hand. For once, she didn’t falter. Two arrows went through the beast’s head, and three through its back. It didn’t stand a chance.

Someone called out, “There!” Tori looked around and saw that Annabeth was pointing to the middle of the legion. The Minotaur.

Tori had never seen it in person, and she would have been perfectly happy to keep that record. The monster was wearing Greek armor from the waist down, but the top half was all bull, with a head so large it looked almost ridiculous. There was a double-bladed axe strapped to its back, but its preferred weapon seemed to be cars. Sensing them, it bellowed angrily and picked up a white limousine. Tori and Annabeth swerved to the side, pressing themselves forward while Percy dove down. The limo sailed past them all and landed in the East River. Monsters cheered and shouted taunts as the Minotaur picked up another car.

Before it could take aim, the pegasi swooped down behind an overturned school bus where the Apollo campers were hiding. They leapt off the horses, who left as soon as they could. Well, there goes our ride.

Michael ran up to them. His arm was bandaged, and his face was covered in soot, but he was grinning wildly. “Hey sis! Glad you guys could join us. Where are the other reinforcements?”

“We’re kind of it,” Tori said.

“Oh, then we’re dead.”

“You still have the flying chariot?” Percy asked.

Michael shook his head. “We told Clarisse she could have it. Didn’t seem worth fighting about anymore in the grand scheme of things. But she said it was too late.”

“Least you tried,” Annabeth offered.

Her brother shrugged. “Yeah, well, I called her a bunch of names when she said she still wouldn’t fight. Probably didn’t help.” He looked past them. “Here come some uglies!” They all whipped around. A herd of monsters was making its way to them.

Tori readied her sword, but Michael was faster than the rest of them. He drew an arrow and launched it. When it landed, it unleashed a blast of noise so high-pitched it could make your ears bleed. Cars exploded. Monsters dropped their weapons, screamed, ran, or even disintegrated.

“That was my last sonic arrow,” Michael said.

“Oh, great,” Tori muttered, sheathing her sword and readying her bow. Already the monsters were regrouping.

“We have to fall back,” Michael said while Tori picked off stragglers. “I’ve got Kayla and Austin setting traps further down the bridge.”

“No,” Percy said. There was a dark look in his eyes. Tori would not want to be on the receiving end of that look. “Bring your campers forward to this position and wait for my signal. We’re going to drive the enemy back to Brooklyn.”

Tori stared at him. “Uh, how exactly?”

Percy drew his sword. He looked wild and dangerous, like the Greek heroes in the stories. Unreal.

“Percy,” Annabeth said, placing her hand on his arm, “let me come with you.”

Percy shook his head. “Too dangerous. Besides, I need you to help Michael coordinate the defensive line. I’ll distract the monsters. You group up here. Move any mortals out of the way. Then you can start picking off monsters while I keep them focused on me. If anybody can do all that, you can.”

Annabeth and Percy looked at each other. Then Annabeth reached forward and pulled Percy to her, kissing him. Tori and Michael stared at them in shock before sharing a look that asked ‘did you know wbout this?’

It was a short kiss. Annabeth released him, saying, “Stay safe.” She turned and grabbed Tori and Michael by the arm, dragging them to backwards.

“So,” Tori began.

No,” Annabeth said.

They made it to the rest of the Apollo campers. “Everyone, to the front line!” Michael shouted. The campers reluctantly followed them. They were covered in blood, soot, dirt, and bandages. None of them looked like they should be fighting, but they did their duty, helping to pull any sleeping humans they found out of the way. Annabeth and Michael arranged the kids into a defensive line across the width of the bridge.

Percy had made it to the monsters. When the dracaenae threw javelins at him, he knocked them aside. When hellhounds pounced, he cut them to pieces with Riptide. In no time at all, he made it to the minotaur. The monster grunted angrily and drew its axe. Each of its blades were shaped like a Greek omega. Percy raised his sword. The monsters were cheering, but they stopped when Percy dodged the minotaur’s first swing and sliced its axe in half. The minotaur grunted in confusion, staring at the axe as though to say ‘how did that happen?’

Not waiting, Percy spun and kicked the Minotaur in its snout. The monster staggered backward and lowered its head to charge, but Percy moved forward, slicing off both of its horns. He tried to grab Percy, who rolled away, picking up half of the ruined axe. The Minotaur bellowed in rage as Percy ran for the edge of the bridge, breaking through a line of dracaenae. The Minotaur charged forward as the other monsters cheered for it, certain that Percy was running away.

At the edge of the bridge, Percy turned and braced the axe against the railing. The Minotaur didn’t slow down.

Seconds later, the monster looked down at the handle sticking out from its chest. Percy said something to it before lifting it up and over the side of the bridge.

Percy turned back to the army. There were about two-hundred monsters left, each of them armed and ready to fight. So naturally, he charged at them.

The campers stared in amazement and horror. “Oh my gods,” Tori whispered. Percy sliced through the monsters like they were paper, his sword a flash of bronze moving through the night. There was a crazed look on his face. He laughed a few times, a sound that belonged more to an animal than to him. He didn’u look human. He didn’y look like anything Tori had ever seen.

It was an effort to shoot. It was an effort to do anything other than stare. But they remembered their orders, and did what they could to pick off the monsters at the edges. In less than half an hour, the remaining monsters turned and fled — all twenty of them.

Percy and the campers followed after them, Percy with his sword and his curse, and them with their bows. They drove the enemy straight back to the Brooklyn side of the bridge. In the east, the sky was turning a pale gray.

“Percy!” Annabeth shouted. “We’ve routed them! Pull back! We’re overextended!”

For a moment, Percy didn’t even seem to hear her, too busy cutting down enemies. Hell, the rest of them didn’t want to stop either. They were drunk on victory and adrenaline. Then they saw reinforcements at the base of the bridge.

It was a small group, only thirty or forty demigods on skeletal horses. One of them held the purple banner of Kronos. As they got closer, the lead horseman moved forward and took off his helmet.

Kronos.

Tori froze, staring. He was a quarter mile away, but she was certain she could make out every feature of his, every bit of his cruel smile.

Other stuff was happening — attacking half-bloods, arrows flying through the sky, the clash of swords on armor — but Tori didn’t see any of it. She couldn’t pull her eyes away. That was her mistake.

The enemy half-bloods charged. Tori tried to move, but she was slow and clumsy, her face still looking forward. She managed to get her sword out and raise it, slashing at the advancing enemy, but it was hard to strike them. Kronos was moving slowly. No, leisurely, like he was out for a stroll.

Tori tried. She did. But there was blood rushing through her head so loudly that she couldn’t hear anything else, and there were spots in her vision, and her movements were too slow—

Tori cried out in pain and shock. Her hand went to her stomach. The tip of a blade was there, covered in blood. Her blood. She turned around. There was a demigod there, his sword in her back. Completely emotionless, he wrenched it out.

Tori fell to the ground, gasping. Her vision was blurring, turning the world pale and ugly. She stared up at the dawning sky as she heard a voice screaming. There was someone leaning over her — someone with blue eyes. Then the world turned black.


XV.

 

Tori groaned. She didn’t want to open her eyes, but she was uncomfortable. Something was hurting her wrists, her back ached, and her mouth felt like it was being forced open. After a moment, she started to blink tiredly, opening her eyes.

Immediately, she saw the cause of her discomfort. Or rather, cause s . She was sitting upright in an awkward position with her hands behind her back. Feeling for her wrists, she realized that there were manacles around them, holding her to the wall behind her. There was a gag in her mouth, preventing her from either speaking or closing her mouth properly. Her weapons — bow, arrows, sword, knives, armor, everything — were gone, leaving her completely defenseless.

Tori tried not to panic, reminding herself every few seconds to take in a breath. Soon, there was sweat running down her back. She tried to pull her hands away, but she couldn’t. Her mind kept flashing back to when she was thirteen and tied down in a hospital. She had to fight to stay in the present, had to think of Percy and the battle and her siblings and Kronos—

Kronos. He was there. She could see him now, sitting on a throne made of gold with his scythe laid out across his lap. He looked at her suddenly, smiling. Tori jerked her head away.

Scattered around the room were life-sized stone statues of terrified people, including a few satyrs, monsters, and nature spirits. Detracting from the aura of fear and oppression were the picnic tables, pretzel warmer, and soda dispenser. There were a few random demigods along with giants, dracaenae, and empousai. The monsters were talking amongst themselves with the half-bloods ate burgers and french fries. No one was really paying attention to her. No one except for one person.

Kronos rose, setting his scythe aside. Everyone stopped to stare at him, a few of them looking genuinely scared. The Titan didn’t do anything to them, however. He just said, “Leave us,” in a calm tone. For a moment, his minions simply stared at him in confusion. Then they to leave, careful to stay silent as they trudged through the doors, looking back at their master in curiosity. They shut the doors behind them, leaving Tori and Kronos completely alone.

Kronos faced her. “Luke is very fond of you,” he said casually. “He would not stop screaming when you were hurt. It was very irritating.”

Tori flinched at the knowledge that Luke was still conscious, trapped in his own body, unable to move or affect anything.

Kronos started walking towards her. Tori tried to just look away from him, but that made it worse. Like being in the darkness and forced to hold still and listen as your enemies came for you. She looked back. She flinched when she saw that Kronos was there, right in front of her. He knelt down, smiling coldly. His gold eyes watched her without seeing.

The Titan drew a lock of hair out of her braid, watching with something like fascination as it curled against her throat. Tori shivered and tried to back up, but there was nowhere to go. Kronos laughed before setting his eyes back on her. His hand caressed the side of her face in an almost loving gesture before grabbing a handful of her hair and pulling her towards him. His mouth landed on hers, rough and harsh.

Tori jerked, trying to wrench herself away from him, but he only strengthened his grip. His other hand rose, gripping and tearing at the fabric of her shirt. Tori tried thrashing, but she could barely move from the combination of restraints and Kronos’s oppressive strength. She couldn’t even raise her hands.

Suddenly, Kronos fell backwards. Tori gasped for air, feeling for the first time the tears streaming down her face. Kronos was a few feet away, staring at the floor on his hands and knees. He looked up at her. His dazed eyes were blue.

“Luke?” Tori said hopefully.

Luke stared at her, seeming shocked. Then he stood and ran back to Kronos’s throne, picking up the scythe. Tori scrambled backwards as he approached her. She closed her eyes, waiting for the blow, but it didn’t come. She looked and saw that her hands were free, the manacles having been sliced in half.

Luke started to reach for her arm, but stopped and drew back a little. He reached his hand out instead, glancing nervously at the doors. “Come on,” he said when she took his hand. “We have to move quickly.” Tori stood, following him. They didn’t go out the same door that the monsters had. Instead, they left through a secret exit behind Kronos’s throne that led into a small wooded area. Luke winced once they were outside.

“He’s coming back,” Luke said. “I can’t hold him back much longer.”

Tori grabbed his hands, staring up at him. “Luke, please—”

“There’s no time!” Luke snapped, clutching at his skull. “You have to go.” He stared at her. “Go!

As much as Tori hated it, she knew he was right. There was nothing she could do but escape. Still, she leaned up and kissed his cheek softly. “I love you,” she whispered. Then she turned and ran.


XVI.

 

It took a couple of minutes to figure out where exactly she was. She didn’t know how they’d gotten from the Williamsburg Bridge to the west side of the Hudson, but she did know that the closest way to Manhattan was the Lincoln Tunnel. That was where Artemis’s hunters were unfortunately, but she’d just have to deal with it.

As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem. Kronos’s forced had already taken the tunnel and moved on, leaving destruction in their wake. Tori walked through it uneasily, managing to scrounge together a sword, shield, and helmet from what earlier fighters had lost. It felt like hours until she made her way into Manhattan. She didn’t know where to go from there, but she kept moving. Even if she didn’t know what she was doing, her feet seemed to. It was like something was guiding her along, telling her how to avoid danger. She was all the way to 33rd street when she saw someone.

“Dan!” Tori shouted, removing her helmet.

Her brother looked at her in shock and relief. “TORI!” He looked behind himself. “She’s here, guys!” Dan rushed forward with Kayla and Cressida. They were most uninjured, but they definitely looked worse for wear.

“Tori, what happened . . .” Dan trailed off, staring at her.

Tori looked down. The front of her shirt was ripped down the middle, exposing her bra and stomach. She hadn’t thought about, being too focused on keeping her sword and shield up. “I . . . my shirt got ripped on some metal. I need a new one.” She didn’t have Luke’s skill for lying, but her siblings seemed to buy it. They found a nearby store and left an I.O.U. for her new shirt, a plain black tee.

While she was gone, their remaining forces had set up camp at the Plaza Hotel, close to the Empire State Building. It was certainly an impressive hotel, but Tori didn’t pay much attention to it. Half-bloods and hunters had completely taken over the top few floors, resting in empty suites, cleaning themselves in the bathrooms, repairing weapons and armor, taking down the drapes to use as bandages, and helping themselves to any food they found.

Tori looked around. “Where’s Michael?” She’d expected him to be tending to the wounded, but she couldn’t see him anywhere.

The others fell silent. “They’re looking for him,” Will said.

Tori’s mouth went dry. She almost asked what happened, but she couldn’t. Everyone else was already tired and depressed; she couldn’t make it worse. Instead she said, “I’m gonna see what I can do to help . . .” Her voice trailed off as everyone nodded numbly and went their own ways. She didn’t have the healing abilities of some of her siblings, but there was simple stuff that she could do.

Tori hunkered down in a lounge that had been converted into an infirmary of sorts. Tori helped how she could, bandaging wounds, administering ambrosia and nectar, and trying to reassure people. It was oddly comforting. She liked helping people, when she got the chance. It took her mind off her own troubles, including . . .

Tori shook off the memory and went back to work. After a while, there wasn’t much that she could to do. Everyone was as bandaged, splinted, and stitched as they needed to be, and no one could risk taking anymore of the food of the gods. She wanted to talk to Percy after she was done, but he’d fallen asleep just as she arrived at the hotel. Still, she decided to check on him.

Percy was sleeping alone in one of the hotel’s rooms. He hadn’t taken off his armor, and instead had just fallen flat onto the bed. Tori smiled softly and went about removing his armor for him so he wouldn’t be uncomfortable when he woke up.

She was just getting to the straps of his breastplate when a voice demanded, “What are you doing?”

Tori looked behind her, her face twisting with hatred and disgust. “Helping Percy.”

Thalia unsheathed a hunting knife, standing warily at the door. “Looks more like you’re trying to get rid of him in his sleep.”

Tori rolled her eyes. “Gods, you’re dumb. He fell asleep in his armor. He doesn’t need that discomfort.” She returned to what she was doing. “Besides, he has the curse of Achilles. He’ll be more than fine without it.” That was true; she could easily remember the look of absolute glee on his face as he cut down monsters left and right, not seeming to care or even notice when they struck him.

“I don’t want you around him.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t want you around at all. We can’t always get what we want.” She removed the breastplate completely, setting it aside.

Thalia’s electric-blue eyes hardened. “I don’t care what happened before—”

In seconds, Tori was only inches away from her, staring the girl down. “You don’t care?” She demanded, moving closer so that Thalia was forced to back up. “You don’t even know what you did.”

Thalia rose her knife, but Tori ignored it, pressing closer still, until their noses were only a hair’s breadth away. “You need to back up,” Thalia said through gritted teeth.

“Why? Gonna finish what you started?” Tori laughed harshly. “Well, you already finished something, I’ll give you that.”

Thalia’s eyebrows knitted together. “What are you even talking about?”

“Oh, you don’t know. You never realized. Do you know why I hate you?” While Thalia was distracted, Tori snatched the knife from her hand and threw it into a wall behind her.   

Thalia stared at her. Although she was clearly nervous from losing her weapon, now she looked more concerned that Tori had completely lost her marbles than anything else. “Uh, I killed you?”

Tori looked at the wall and nodded with a slight shrug. “Yeah, you did that. Which, really means it’s your fault that Luke is a prisoner in his own body. He only agreed to save me. So, that’s three reasons to hate you.”

Thalia stared at her. “What’s the third one?”

There was blood rushing through her eyes, making more noise than river rapids. Her vision was red-tinted, but not completely gone. “I was pregnant,” Tori breathed, her voice barely above a whisper. “You didn’t just kill me.”

Thalia stared at her, a mixture of shock and horror dawning on her pale face. “I . . . I didn’t . . .”

Tori finally backed up, releasing the hunter. “Well, now you know.” She stared at her. “Get out. I don’t care if we’re on the same side. I never want to see your face again.”

Thalia looked at her for a few moments before leaving. Tori looked back to Percy. He still had some armor, but she was too tired to do anything about it. She left the suite and found a small room of her own, stripping off her clothes before getting in the shower. The hot water felt heavenly against her filthy skin.  

Tori didn’t waste any time, getting out as soon as she was clean. Her clothes were still dirty, but there was nothing to be done for them. She re-dressed, only thinking to set her weapons on the nightstand before laying down. Before she could fall asleep, she felt something in her pocket crinkle. Her eyes snapped open, and her hand fell to her jeans’ pocket. She pulled out a piece of soft, creamy paper and held it up.

It was a charcoal drawing, an olfer one with frayed edges. She wasn’t the best artist in the world, but she was proud of this one. Her fingers moved across the paper reverently. Luke. He was sleeping, his face uncreased by anger or worry or hatred. Tori had woken up early that morning, and been so awed by her soulmate that she couldn’t resist drawing him. The light was falling softly across his face, only a hint of a shadow. He looked peaceful — he always looked so peaceful in his sleep. Like he didn’t have a care in the world.

Tori spent a few moments simply looking at the paper, taking in the image of Luke until it was what she saw in her head when she thought of him, not Kronos. Then she held it to her chest, breathing harshly.

A few minutes passed with only the sound of her breathing. Then she carefully folded the picture back up and returned it to her pocket before going to sleep.


XVII.

 

“Tori,” someone said, shaking her shoulder. “Tori, get up.”

Tori blinked up at the person. It was Will, seeming mildly concerned. She was too tired to notice that, so she just tossed her pillow at him, rolled over, and tried to go back to sleep.

“Tori, come on. There’s a Titan here.”

For a moment, Tori stayed where she was. Then she shot up with eyes as wide as saucers. “What?!” She jumped up and started getting together her makeshift weapons, but Will had brought her some newly repaired ones.

“What’s happening?” Tori asked once she was in the elevator with all of the Apollo kids who could come.

Austin explained, “There’s a Titan with a message from Kronos. He came under a truce flag, but I don’t know how much we trust them.”

“Not at all,” Tori said. “Did he bring anyone else?”

Kayla shrugged. “Some monsters, a half-blood. Not sure if it’s someone we know.” The elevator opened. They streamed outside, joining the small group of demigods who had pulled themselves away to see. Percy, Thalia, and Grover were standing at the front, warily watching the newcomers. There was a demigod in armor, an empousa in a fancy dress, a bright blue giant, and a tall man wearing a tux. The giant was the one carrying the flag, which itself was tall enough to see a half-mile away (which in New York City, was saying something).

The group leisurely made their way to the Plaza. Once there, the man stepped forward. He had normal proportions, but he was at least seven feet tall, with dark glasses and a bunch of small scratches over his face. “Percy Jackson,” he said, his voice smooth and cheery. “It is a great honor.”

The empousa hissed upon seeing them before going over to sit on a park bench. The half-blood was one Tori recognized: Ethan Nakamura. He glared at Percy, but was silent.

“To business,” the Titan said. “I am Prometheus.”

Percy stared at him. “The fire-stealer guy?”

Prometheus smiled. “Yes, I stole fire from the gods for humanity. In return, ever-merciful Zeus chained me to a rock and tortured me for millenia. But Hercules freed me, eons ago now. So you see, I have a soft spot for heroes. Some of you can be quite civilized.”

“Unlike the company you keep,” Percy said, looking at Ethan.

“Oh, they’re not so bad. Really. Now, Percy Jackson, let us parley.”

They walked over to a picnic table and sat down. Thalia and Grover stood behind Percy, trying to look intimidating. Tori grit her teeth to look at Thalia, but she bore it. They could only hear snippets of the conversation. It was enough to get a general outline, though: Prometheus wanted them to stand down in exchange for safety. Then, when the gods lost their seat of power, they would fade away and could be more easily killed. Tori almost ran forward when the Titan suddenly reached out to Percy, but he withdrew his hand a moment later. Still, Percy looked shaky, breathing in harsh breaths.

As Prometheus talked, a vase appeared on the table, about three feet tall with black-and-white geometric designs. The ceramic lid was fastened using a leather harness.

Tori listened carefully. Pandora’s box. The box — jar, really — had been given to Pandora from the gods, and had all the demons of mankind in it. Pandora opened it, not knowing it was a trap, not knowing the horrors that the gods had tricked her into unleashing.

“Only one spirit remains inside,” Prometheus said. And though Tori couldn’t hear Percy’s answer, she knew what it was: Elpis. Hope. As long as humanity had hope, they could endure the demons, thinking that one day, things would be better. “Keep Elpis, if you wish. But if you decide that you have seen enough destruction, enough futile suffering, then open the jar. Give up Hope, and I will know that you surrender.”

Percy stared at the jar. He tried to give it back, but the Titan refused. “The gift is given. It cannot be returned.” Prometheus stood and gestured to the empousa and giant. “We will see you soon, Percy Jackson. One way or another.” Prometheus gave Percy one last look. Then the party turned and left through Central Park.


XVIII.

 

There wasn’t much they could do after that. Percy only spoke to Thalia before going back to sleep, exhausted from the strain of the curse. Tori focused on resting and helping out until Annabeth woke up. She’d been recovering from a wound herself, but was soon good enough to fight. Tori was walking around to check on people when she saw Annabeth staring at that shield of hers.

Tori smiled and sat down next to her. “Hey. What are you looking at?”

Annabeth looked up, seeming startled that someone was talking to her. “Checking to see if anyone’s coming our way. So far, nothing.”

“Good.”

They sat in silence for a few moments. Then set the shield against her legs, looking at Tori. “Can I ask you something?”

Tori held her hands up, palms-front. “Anything. Within reason.”

Annabeth fidgeted awkwardly before asking, “How do you know you’re in love?”

Tori looked at her, then away. “Why do you ask?”

Annabeth huffed. “I keep feeling . . . things, but I don’t understand them. They don’t make sense.”

Tori laughed. “Did you think it would? Word of advice: love is never rational. Love is . . . love is a lot of things. It’s wild, it's calm, it's loud, it’s quiet, it’s freeing, it’s soft, it's passionate, it's cool, it’s warm. But it’s never rational. Does that answer your question?”

Annabeth thought about it before nodding. “Yeah. It does. Thanks, Tori.” She started to say something else, but then she looked at the shield. Her eyes widened. “Oh, shit.” Annabeth stood up and walked to the center of the room. “Everyone!” She shouted. The other demigods all looked at her. “There’s an army headed south into Central Park! Prepare for battle!”


XIX.

 

Tori stayed with Percy and Annabeth in Central Park. The army came from the northern end of the reservoir. The position worked to their advantage; Kronos’s army was forced to walk in lines along either side of the water, making them easy to pick off. About halfway along either trail were traps that started going off as soon as the monsters hit them, erupting in Greek fire. The Athena campers used grappling hooks to pull down giants while Tori and the hunters sent a volley of arrows towards them. Dryads and satyrs used their nature powers to the best of their abilities, trapping monsters with grass, strangling them with vines, and smashing them with trees and rocks, all while charging forward with clubs and cudgels.

None of it stopped them. The army pushed forward determinedly, returning strike for strike. Their leader, the golden Titan Hyperion, simply charged through the water, unbothered by their arrows and fire. Tori did a double take when she saw Percy run across the water towards him, but there was nothing she could do but keep firing.

Tori screamed in pain when an arrow suddenly lodged itself in her arm, but she grit her teeth and pushed through. Percy was fighting Hyperion, but her vision started to blur, and she couldn’t focus on them. But even she noticed when Percy started to make his own hurricane in the center of the water, obscuring him and the Titan both. Above the city, dark clouds swirled, mixing with Thalia Grace’s lightning. Percy managed to force Hyperion back to dry land. Tori started to wonder if she was hallucinating when she heard music. No , she thought. The satyrs. They were playing their hearts out using reed pipes, all of them together, pulling the roots from the ground and wrapping them around Hyperion’s legs. They curled around him, encasing him in a wooden coffin as he struggled. “YOU CANNOT IMPRISON ME,” the Titan bellowed. His arms were branches, his face the only part of his body still visible. “I AM HYPERION! I AM—

The tree closed over his face. The monsters started to retreat as the campers cheered. Tori found a hollow and fell into it, using a knife to cut away the arrow when everything went right back to hell.

REEEEEEET!” The squeal echoed throughout Manhattan. Tori looked up. A huge pink thing was flying over the reservoir.

“A sow!” Annabeth cried out. “Take cover!”

Tori stayed where she was, staring in disbelief as the giant pig slammed into the ground, only narrowly avoiding one of the Athena campers. It stomped around angrily before tearing down half an acre’s worth of trees. Then it took off again and started circling around the area.

“I do not have time for this,” Tori muttered. She had to bite down on her lip to pull the arrow shaft out, almost dizzy at the sight of her own blood. She didn’t have any bandages with her, so instead she tore off part of her shirt and bound it using that. She did have a few squares of ambrosia, so she ate that, using her good arm to hold up her sword in case of attack.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t rest long. The monsters were charging forward again now that the sow had returned their confidence. She had to stand and fight with the others, using a sword now and keeping her shield on her injured arm. She felt like she was going to pass out. Her body was running on pure instinct, fighting just to stay alive.

Before long, they were forced to fall back, abandoning Central Park in favor of a stronger defense. Midtown became a war zone filled with over a dozen little battles, with no rhyme or reason to any of it. Tori became a part of a defensive line on 37th street, only three blocks away from the Empire State Building. She knew it wouldn’t be long until they were completely surrounded. She was able to break away a couple of times for ambrosia and nectar. They gave her fresh bursts of energy, but that didn’t last long, and soon she wasn’t able to take anymore for fear of burning alive.

As the night wore on, everyone was forced back until they were only a block from Olympus. She lost her sword, and just started banging monsters over the head with her shield. Then she lost that, and it was a fight to find openings in their armor for her knives to get through.

The moon was high above them in the sky, and Olympus was only twenty feet away. Her ears rang. Her vision was tinted red. Whenever she killed one monster, another took its place. When she saw a bright light coming from the east, she thought it was the sun rising. Then she realized that it was Kronos riding towards them in his chariot, along with a dozen giants carrying torches and two Hyperboreans.

Tori couldn’t help it. She snapped, “Oh, come on!” The Titan lord was taking his time, allowing them to wear themselves down before he took them out. His smile was so evil, his eyes so burningly-bright, that Tori had no problem separating him from Luke.

Tori was preparing for the inevitable when she heard the noise.

A booming horn cut through the battle. Immediately, dozens others answered it, their noise echoing off the buildings. They grew louder and louder, seeming to come from all around. She was terrified that it would be Kronos’s reinforcements, but the Titan’s army seemed just as confused as them. Then a hundred monsters cried out in shock and fear.

Kronos’s northern flank surged forward, moving so quickly that they went right past the campers and crashed into their own southern flank. A fresh round of horns erupted as a calvary crashed in front of them.

“Yeah, baby!” one of them shouted. “PARTY!”

Centaurs. Tori had never been so happy to see hundreds of horse-legged men in her life. They simply exploded into the city, a whirl of bright colors and arrows, led by a grinning Chiron.

The centaurs shot arrows and paint balls at the monsters, sending the ones that didn’t die running. Even Kronos was forced to flee, but they didn’t get away easily. With a fresh burst of energy, demigods, hunters, dryads, satyrs, and centaurs pushed them back several blocks before Chiron yelled, “HOLD! On your promise, HOLD!”

They stopped, panting, and looked around. We did it, Tori thought, grinning. They’d be back soon, but for the moment, they had earned a respite.

Tori found herself standing next to Annabeth as the aches and tiredness returned to her muscles. “Chiron’s right,” she said, wiping the sweat from her face. “If we pursue, we’ll be too spread out. We need to regroup.”

“Sounds good to me,” Tori said with a yawn. She felt like she was going to pass out. She was lucky she hadn’t already. Tori started to make her way back to the Empire State Building.

On the way, a centaur looked at her in confusion. “Aren’t you an enemy?”

Tori shook her head. “Not anymore.”

The centaur seemed to accept this, nodding easily before turning away. Tori went to the building, making it all the way to the lobby before collapsing on a couch and passing out.


XX.

 

Tori had not gotten anywhere near enough sleep when she was woken up by the sounds of people preparing for battle. “I really wish people would stop waking me up like this,” she muttered. She stood up and got ready.

Sadly, there wasn’t much to get ready. The Hephaestus campers were out of Greek fire, she and her siblings were forced to scrounge outside for battered arrows, and everyone had already had too much ambrosia and nectar to consider taking more. Altogether, there were seventeen campers, fifteen Hunters, and half a dozen satyrs who were still in fighting shape — and that was really bending the phrase ‘fighting shape’. The Party Ponies tried to form ranks, but they were all giggly and smelled like root beer, for some reason.

Tori sighed and went outside. Percy, Annabeth, Thalia, and Chiron were all there talking, along with the mortal Rachel Elizabeth Dare. Tori was halfway through asking, “What’s she doing here?” when the world turned dark.

They looked up. There was a monster flying in front of the sun, blocking out its light. Tori’s heart almost stopped when she realized it was. A drakon. When it roared, a thousand windows shattered.

“On second thought,” the mortal said, “I’ll be inside.”

“Then go,” Tori said, but even her voice was weak. The monster was giant in a way her brain almost couldn’t comprehend. She’d never seen one in real life before, but she already knew that she’d be lucky to get out alive. Drakons couldn’t breathe fire, but they were poisonous, with scales stronger than titanium and eyes so terrifying they could paralyze you with a look as you internally begged it not to kill you. It slithered down a skyscraper, thick as a school bus, its teeth big enough to eat elephants.

At the same time, an enemy army was advancing down Fifth Avenue. Even the centaurs looked scared.

“I’ll take the drakon,” someone said in a quiet, high-pitched voice. Then, louder and more powerful, they yelled, “I’LL TAKE THE DRAKON!” It was only then that Tori realized it was Percy, except he didn’t seem like a sixteen-year old anymore. Not to her. To her, he looked like the little twelve-year old child she’d met so long ago. “Everyone else, hold the line against the army!”

Tori unsheathed her sword and shuddered, hiding it as a sigh. “Back into the fray.”

Tori was getting really tired of fighting. Rather than spreading out, they formed a defensive line in front of the Empire State Building’s doors. Dracaenae, half-bloods, giants, Tori fought them all, her not entirely healed arm screaming at her in protest.

Most of the others weren’t even doing that well. The centaurs, still scared from the drakon and dizzy from root beer, panicked under the onslaught of giants and telekhines. No one had enough arrows. Their weapons and shields were dented and weak. Half of their armor was lost or useless. And every now and then the drakon roared, scaring everyone again.

Tori shot her arm out, grabbing hold of a snake-woman and pulling her forward to slit her throat. She sliced off telekhines’ heads with ease, and spared no thought to taking down her demigod cousins. Her sword found its way from chests to guts to necks to heads to legs. She moved so quickly, she surprised herself. But even she knew that it wasn’t enough. Even fighting as well as she did, she took hits. Cuts and bruises formed along her skin, but the monsters just kept coming, more persistent than the waves that broke stone into sand. Soon, the demigods were completely surrounded.

Through the din of battle, Tori could hear a rumbling sound from the south. It wasn’t the sort of thing you usually heard in a city, but she recognized it immediately. Chariots. A girl’s voice yelled, “ARES!”

A dozen war chariots broke into the battle, pulled by skeletal horses with manes of fire. Each of them had a red banner with a wild boar’s head on it. Thirty fresh warriors in bronze armor lowered their lances. And leading them was a girl in armor the color of fresh blood.

Six of the chariots charged the monster army, but Clarisse led the other half to the drakon, her spear crackling with electricity.

Tori was too distracted to pay much attention to the drakon. The Party Ponies, inspired by the newcomers, rallied at the doors, throwing the monsters into confusion as they charged through. And no one could say the Ares campers weren’t brave. They were almost contemptuous as they cut down monsters. The monster army tried to regroup, but they didn’t stand a chance. Tori and the other campers attacked with new vigor, almost joyful as they did what they were born to do: fight.

Tori had just finished cutting a telekhine in half when she heard someone scream. Her head jerked in the sound’s direction. Clarisse lay on the ground, her helmet partially-melted. Cursing, Tori ran to her, forgetting her personal hatred for the moment. She fell to the ground beside her. Nearby, Percy was doing his best to kill the drakon, but with no luck.

Tori tried to remove the helmet, but just touching it made the girl scream. Tori’s stomach revolted when she realized that part of it had melted into her skin.

Annabeth and the other Ares campers that had been with Clarisse joined them. But they weren’t the only ones.

Charles Beckendorf ran over to them. Tori realized he was crying. “No,” he said, falling to his knees with the others. “NO!

For a moment, Tori didn’t understand his panic. Then she looked at Clarisse, really looked at her. Her face was hidden by the helmet, but she could see her blue eyes. The blue eyes that Clarisse didn’t have.

“Silena,” she whispered, staring at the girl in shock.

Only a dozen feet away, a flying chariot landed. Two people jumped out of it: Chris Rodriguez and Clarisse La Rue.

The real Clarisse ran towards them, screaming, her voice laden with grief. “NO!” She knelt next to Silena, her face puffy with tears. She tried to grab her, but Beckendorf shoved her hands away.

“Silena,” he said, almost as though he didn’t know what it meant. “Silena, please.” He cradled her in his arms, his brown eyes wet with tears. “Baby, please.”

Tori started to stand up, intending to get Silena somewhere, anywhere else, but Chris shouted, “Look out!”

The drakon whirled around, baring its fangs at them.

While everyone else was frozen in terror, Clarisse looked straight at the drakon with a face full of pure hate . “YOU WANT DEATH?!” She screamed. “WELL, COME ON!” She grabbed the spear that Silena had dropped. With no armor and no fear, Clarisse charged the drakon. It struck at her, but she leaped aside and jumped onto its head. It only had one eye left from its earlier fight, and Clarisse drove her electric spear into the remaining eye with so much force that it shattered the spear’s shaft, releasing all of its power. Electricity flowed through the drakon’s head as its entire two-hundred-foot body shuddered. Clarisse jumped off, rolling to the sidewalk as smoke broke free of the monster’s mouth. Its flesh dissolved, and it collapsed into nothing but its titanium skin.

Even as they stared at her in awe, Clarisse ran back. They all gathered around Silena. Annabeth had used her knife to remove most of the helm, but there were still bits of bronze stuck to her skin. Once one of the most beautiful people at camp, Silena’s features were now burned almost beyond recognition.

Her head was resting in Beckendorf’s lap as he stared down at her, his tears falling freely. “Why’d you do that, Silena? Why?” His voice was so grief-stricken that it was completely different from before.

Silena tried to swallow. “Wouldn’t . . . listen. Would only . . . follow Clarisse.”

“You waited until Chris and I were on patrol,” Clarisse said, stunned. “You stole my armor and pretended to be me.” She glared at her siblings. “And none of you noticed?

The Ares campers stared at the ground.

Silena shook her head. It looked like she was twitching. “They wanted to . . . to believe . . . they wanted to fight.”

Clarisse was fighting back a sob. “You stupid Aphrodite girl! You charged a drakon? Why?” Tori thought that she should be crying too, but she was fresh out of tears.

“My fault,” Silena said weakly. “The draoin . . . camp in danger . . .”

Beckendorf shook his head wildly. “That’s not true!”

Silena twitched again, opening her hand. In her palm was a silver bracelet with a scythe charm.

Tori stared at her in shock. “You’re the spy?”

Silena tried to nod. “Luke . . . he convinced me. He said I was . . . saving lives. Less people would . . . be hurt, if I helped. I thought . . . I was helping.”

Tori stared at the charm, not really seeing it. Oh, Luke . . . She hated this. She hated all of it. She hated that Silena would die. She hated that so many already had. She hated the war, and the monsters, and Kronos most of all. But for a moment — for a single second — she hated Luke. Even as she loved him, loved him more than she loved life and earth and everything and everyone else, she hated him. But the second passed, and it was gone. And that scared her like nothing else.

Clarisse looked up angrily at her cabinmates. “Go help the centaurs defend the doors.” They stared at her, shocked. “GO!”

Finally, they ran back to fight.

Silena breathed painfully. “Forgive me.”

Beckendorf shook his head. “No! You’re not dying! You’re not!” He was gripping her arm so tightly, Tori thought he was probably cutting off circulation.

“Charlie,” Silena said, staring up at him with tearful blue eyes. “Charlie . . .”

She stilled.

For a moment, Beckendorf sat frozen, staring at Silena’s body. Then he yelled — a deep, painful sound, more animal than human. He clutched Silena to him, burying his face in her neck.

Not knowing what else to do, Tori reached a hand forward, setting it on his shoulder. "Hey, it's okay."

Beckendorf shook his head. "No it's not."   

Tori looked at him, then at Silena. She tried to imagine her completely devoid of color. Pale gray skin and eyes, black hair, deep gray wounds. "No,” she said quietly. “It’s not."

Sobs were shaking Beckendorf’s body, but they couldn’t stay where they were any longer. Percy and Annabeth had to pull him off of her, restraining his arms when he tried to strike at them. “We have to fight,” Annabeth said. “She gave up her life for this. We have to honor her.”

Beckendorf sobbed harder, but Clarisse just sniffled. “She was a hero, understand? A hero.”

They nodded. Clarisse picked up a sword from one of her fallen siblings. “Kronos is going to pay.”


XXI.

 

It fell to Tori to move Silena’s body. She carefully carried her out of the way so that she wouldn’t be trampled on in battle. There would be time to come back for her and any others when the battle had calmed.

But she doesn’t even have a shroud.

Tori shook her head, forcing the thought out of her head as she returned to battle.

Clarisse seemed to have the right idea, channeling her grief into sheer rage. She used a grappling hook to drag the drakon behind her chariot, charging after the enemy, forcing them all back. An aura of red fire encased her. “I AM CLARISSE, DRAKON-SLAYER!” she yelled. “I will kill you ALL! Where is Kronos? Bring him out! Is he a coward?!”

“Clarisse!” Percy yelled. The enemy had been driven back to 35th street by Clarisse and the re-energized fighters. Percy must have realized that. “Withdraw!”

“What’s the matter, Titan lord? BRING IT ON!”

The enemy fell back behind the dracaenae’s shield wall as Clarisse drove in circles around Fifth venue, destroying anything that got close enough. Tori, seeing that there was little she could do to help, returned to the Empire State Building. Along with a few others, she went back out, leading them to Silena’s body. They gently lifted her up and brought her back to the lobby. There, the wounded were being tended to, and the dead had shrouds over them.

Clarisse stayed out long after the enemy had retreated, demanding that Kronos come out and fight her. Tori shook her head and set to helping out. Beckendorf was crouched over Silena’s body, sobs wracking through his body. Tori couldn’t bear to watch. She walked away, trying to focus on the injured campers, but her mind kept trailing off to dark places. Surprisingly, she had never thought of what would happen if Luke died before her. In truth, she never had to. She would die too.

It wasn't something she planned. She had no wish to commit suicide. But it was obvious, instinctive, even. To say it out loud was to say that people needed air to breath, or that water was wet. It was so incredibly simple that it was almost insulting to say it out loud. She and Luke could not, would not, live without each other. They would be together, even if it had to be in death. Tragedies were happy in that sense, at least.

As she finished bandaging the arm of a satyr, someone set their hand on her shoulder. She flinched, looking up.

“We’re going to Olympus,” Percy explained. “You want to come?”

Tori started to say no, that she was needed where she was, but in truth, she wasn’t. There was little that could be done for anyone else. And there were better medics than her. She was always a better fighter than a healer.

She nodded and stood up. “Let’s go.”


XXII.

 

The first thing that struck Tori about the immortal city was how gray it looked. There were no fires, no lights lit at all. The streets were completely deserted. The only people were in the parks, and those were the other medics who had come up before with even more injured when they ran out of space.

Annabeth, Grover, Percy, and Tori walked to the palace, making only short stops to check on campers. Tori gave her brother Will a hug, relieved to see that at least one person she cared about was okay. “You stay safe, okay?” Will nodded, hugging her so tight that she thought she might suffocate if he hadn’t let go.

They made it to the palace. It, too, was abandoned. The hearth’s fire was down to a dull glow that was barely even red. Hestia, hunched beside it, shivering in her robes. Even the Ophiotaurus only let out a half-hearted moo.

Standing at the base of Zeus’s stone, holding a Greek vase, was Rachel Dare.

“Seriously, when did she get here?” Tori asked.

“You were asleep,” Annabeth explained, looking incredibly annoyed.

“Uh, Rachel,” Percy said, “what are you doing with that?”

The human tore her attention away from the constellations, focusing on Percy. “I found it. It’s Pandora’s jar, isn’t it?” She ran her fingers over the designs. Her green eyes had a far-off, trance-like quality to them. “I can see Hope inside. It’s so fragile.”

Rachel,” Percy snapped.

The mortal seemed to break out a trance. She looked around at them before handing the jar to Percy.

“Grover,” Annabeth muttered, “Tori. Let’s scout around the palace. Maybe we can find some extra Greek fire or traps.”

“But—” Grover protested until Annabeth elbowed him. “Right! I love traps!”

Tori shook her head and followed them out of the throne room, looking back at Percy once before closing the door.


XXIII.

 

“Jackpot,” Tori said. They’d started opening doors at random, looking for anything that could be used in battle. The first few rooms had been busts, but this was an armory, filled with swords, bows, arrows, spears, shields, and helms. Tori looked back at the satyr. “Grover, can you do me a favor and get some of the Hermes kids up here to help us get this stuff?”

Grover nodded and hopped off, moving quickly. Tori and Annabeth started to sort the weapons into piles. “I don’t know if this is enough arrows. We barely have any, and they’re all messed up from use. Apollo might have a stash around here . . .”

“Can I ask you something, Tori?”

Tori nodded absently. “Sure, go ahead.” The arrows were in mint condition, but that might not mean much if there weren’t any more

“Do you still love Luke?”

Tori froze, her fingers on an arrowhead. For a moment, she couldn’t say anything. She could just stare at the bronze, remembering Luke’s pendant.

“I’m sorry,” Annabeth said. “I shouldn’t have said anything—”

“You know, sometimes I get so mad at him. I lie awake and think of every bad thing he’s done, all the pain he’s brought, and I wish he was in front of me just so I could hit him. But I love him. I love him so much it makes me cry. I never stop crying these days. It’s actually kind of annoying.” She looked at Annabeth. “Does that answer your question?”

Annabeth nodded slowly.

“Good.” They returned to their work in silence. Eventually the Stoll brothers and a few of their still-standing siblings arrived with Grover in lead.

“Woah,” Connor said, looking around.

“This stuff must be worth a fortune,” Travis said, picking up a knife.

Tori took the dagger from him and tossed it back into its pile. “Not what we’re here for, guys. Just help us get it down to the others.”

Even with all of them carrying everything they could, it took three trips to clear out the armory. Tori oversaw the distribution of weapons, making sure that even those who couldn’t fight had something to defend themselves with.

When it was done, Tori looked to Annabeth. “You think they’ve had enough time to talk?”

Annabeth scowled. “Probably.”

Tori laughed. “You two are adorable.” She ignored Annabeth’s indignant huff and led her and Grover back to the palace. The bronze doors opened easily. Percy and Rachel were facing each other, but neither was talking. Percy had a strange look on his face: intense, in a way. Sad, or angry maybe.

“Percy?” Annabeth said, sounding concerned. “Should we leave?”

Percy looked at her for a moment. Something about him changed. In an instant, he seemed more determined than ever. He turned back to Rachel and said, “You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you? I mean . . . you talked to Chiron, right?”

Rachel smiled faintly. “You’re worried about me doing something stupid?”

“But will you . . . be okay?”

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know. That kind of depends on whether or not you save the world, hero.”

Percy nodded and looked down. He picked up Pandora’s jar. Even from where she was, Tori could feel Hope fluttering around inside. “Hestia,” Percy said, “I give this to you as an offering.”

The goddess looked at Percy in surprise. “I am the least of the gods. Why would you trust me with this?”

“You’re the last Olympian. And the most important.”

“How is that, Percy Jackson?”

“Because Hope survives best at the hearth. Guard it for me, and I won’t be tempted to give up again.”

Hestia smiled. She was so warm and kind that it reminded Tori of her mother. She took the jar. It glowed softly in her hands. Even the hearth’s fire seemed to burn a little bit brighter. “Well done, Percy Jackson. May the gods bless you.”

“We’re about to find out.” He looked at them again. “Come on guys.” Percy turned and started walking forward.

Tori, Annabeth, and Grover followed him. Tori started to jog when she realized he was walking towards Poseidon’s throne. It was made for a being twenty-feet tall in its natural state, so Percy could just reach the edge with his arms.

“Help me up,” Percy said.

Tori grabbed his arm, looking at him like he was crazy. “Percy, what the hell are you thinking? He’ll kill you!”

Percy shook his head. “No he won’t. Besides, I need his attention.”

“You have a lot of faith in him,” Tori said. Her voice came out more bitter than she’d meant, but she didn’t look away.

Percy shrugged. “Right now, faith’s all we really have. Might as well use it.”

Tori tried staring him down, but gave in. He was right. They were desperate, and time was running out. “Come on,” she said, forming a step with her hands.

Annabeth and Grover supported Percy’s back, and together, they boosted him into the throne. He looked more like a child playing in his father’s office chair than an invincible demigod, but Tori didn’t say that. Percy looked around for a moment before shaking his head and closing his eyes. A few seconds later, his head blasted back, like a hurricane had suddenly knocked right into him. Tori jumped and started to climb up the chair, but then he blinked warily and sat back up.

“I’m sorry, Father,” Percy said. “I needed to get your attention.”

Tori watched, growing more worried with every second. She couldn’t hear Poseidon, but Percy’s side of the conversation didn’t seem to be going too well. His skin grew pale shortly before he started burning, steam rolling off his skin. Finally, he said, “I am praying. I’m talking to you, right?” After the god’s response, Percy slipped down from the throne.

Grover looked at his friend nervously “Are you okay? You’re . . . smoking.”

Percy frowned and looked down at his arms. The steam was just starting to dissipate, but Tori could see that the hairs on his arms were singed.

Tori huffed worriedly before straightening out his hair. “I hope that was worth it, Percy.”

Before he could respond, the doors open and Thalia Grace came in. Tori gave her a hard look, but didn’t say anything, although she did grip her sword handle. She loosened it when she saw that Thalia’s bow was snapped in half.

“You’ve got to get down there,” the Hunter said. “The enemy is advancing. And Kronos is leading them.”


XXIV.

 

They rushed down to the street, Tori leading them with her bow in hand. By the time they got down, disaster had struck. All of the campers and Hunters were either injured, unconscious, or dead. Clarisse and her chariot were frozen in a block of ice. The centaurs were gone. The monster army ringed the building, only twenty feet from the doors with Kronos standing in the lead, scythe in hand. The only thing holding him back?

“Chiron,” Annabeth said.

Their teacher was standing at the front of the building, aiming an arrow right at Kronos.

The Titan looked at them, his gold eyes flaring. He smirked at Tori in a way that made her want to run, but she only held her bow higher. He chuckled before returning his attention to Chiron. “Step aside, little son.” There was contempt in his voice, as though that were the worst thing he could think to call him. Maybe think about who you’re really insulting with that one, asshole.

“I’m afraid not,” Chiron said. His voice was calm, but it was a sort of tranquil fury.

Before any of them could move forward, the dracaena queen that stood behind Kronos charged. Chiron’s arrow struck right between her eyes and she vaporized, her green armor falling to the ground.

Chiron started to reach for another arrow, but he was out. Unperturbed, he dropped his bow and drew a sword. That’s when Tori really started to panic; Chiron hated to fight with a sword.

Chuckling, Kronos stepped forward. Chiron still kept his cool, but his horse-half skittered, its tailing flicking around. “You’re a teacher,” Kronos said, sneering. “Not a hero.”

“Luke was a hero,” Chiron said. “A good one, until you corrupted him.”

“FOOL!” Kronos shouted, his voice shaking the ground itself. “You filled his head with empty promises! You said the gods cared about me!”

“Me,” Tori said, staring at the Titan. “You said me.”

For a moment, Kronos looked confused. In that moment, Chiron struck. “NO!” Tori shouted, but she couldn’t move. Her feet felt like lead blocks.

It didn’t matter. Kronos was too fast. Tori recognized Luke’s fighting style — the skill, the speed, the refusal to give even an inch to his opponent. He knocked Chiron’s blade aside and shouted, “BACK!

A blinding light exploded between them, sending Chiron flying into the side of a building so hard that part of the wall crumbled and collapsed on top of him.

“NO!” Annabeth screamed. They ran to the pile of bricks, but couldn’t find him. The monsters laughed at them. Annabeth snapped towards Kronos. “YOU!” She drew her knife.

STOP!” Tori shouted, trying to grab Annabeth, but she elbowed her, sending Tori falling backwards to the ground. Annabeth ran forward, plunging her knife between the straps of his armor. It should have killed him. It should have struck straight to his heart.

The blade bounced off, but not before cutting something loose: a leather cord. Kronos grabbed it with thinking, pulling it from around his neck and closing it in his fist. Tori couldn’t see the arrow, but she knew it was there. She stared at his hand. I didn’t think he had it . . .

Annabeth doubled over, clutching her arm. Percy yanked her back to them just as Kronos swung his scythe. Annabeth was fighting Percy, screaming, “I HATE you!” Tori wasn’t sure who she was talking to.

Kronos laughed. “So much spirit. I can see why Luke wanted to spare you. Sadly, that won’t do.” He raised his scythe, but before he could attack, a howl pierced the air behind the Titan army.

Arroooooooo!

The monsters looked around uneasily before their lines began to part, forming a path right down the middle. And standing at the end of it was a small figure in black armor, standing beside a hellhound.

Scared, stressed, and tired, Tori screamed, dropping her bow. The hellhound bounded forward alongside Nico di Angelo. The enemy army fell back, repelled by the aura of death he radiated. To Percy, he said, “Got your message. Is it too late to join the party?”

“Son of Hades,” Kronos spat. “Do you love death so much you wish to experience it?”

“Your death would be great for me.” Nico drew his sword — three straight feet of Stygian iron, black as death. The ground rumbled, shaking. Cracks appeared in the road, the sidewalks, the buildings. Thousands of skeletal hands clawed their way out, forcing the monsters to back up.

“HOLD YOUR GROUND!” Kronos ordered. “The dead are no match for us!” But even as he spoke, the air grew colder, and the sky turned dark with shadows. A war horn sounded, and the dead formed ranks as an enormous black-and-gold chariot roared down Fifth Avenue, coming to a stop next to Nico. Hades looked over them with disdain, his wife and mother-in-law behind him. His helm radiated pure terror, constantly changing shape to become even more terrifying. Tori wanted to cower and die, but she was just starting to get her senses back since the hellhound hadn’t attacked her, and she could see that the monsters were just as scared as her.

Hades smiled. “Hello, Father. You look . . . young.”

“Hades,” Kronos growled, probably really irritated by all the people that kept saving their asses. “I hope you have come to pledge your allegiance.”

Hades sighed sadly. “I’m afraid not. My son has convinced me that perhaps I should . . . prioritize my list of enemies. It would simply not do for Olympus to fall. I would miss bickering with my siblings. And if there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that you are a terrible father.”

“That’s true,” Demeter said. “No appreciation of agriculture.”

Hades drew his sword, made of the same black metal as Nico’s, but etched with silver. “Now fight me! For today, the House of Hades will be called the saviors of Olympus.”

“I don’t have time for this,” Kronos growled. He struck the ground with the butt of his scythe. A crack in the asphalt encircled the Empire State Building, a wall of force shimmering along it. The wall separated Kronos’s vanguard, Tori, and the others from the bulk of Kronos and Hades’s armies. Outside the barrier, the mortals began to wake up and stare at the monsters and skeletons around them. Tori didn’t know what they were seeing, but whatever it was, it must have been weird.

Hades charged at the wall, but his chariot just crashed against it. Angry, he roared, “ATTACK!”

The monsters and the dead crashed together. Humans screamed, some of them getting caught in the crossfire. Demeter turned a column of giants into wheat. Persephone changed the dracaenae’s spears into flowers. Kronos ignored them all. “Nakarmura, attend me. Giants — deal with them.” He pointed at Percy and the others before running into the lobby.

Tori blinked, stunned. Then she drew her sword and started to run after him.

Of course, the Hyperboreans didn’t like that. One of them ran towards her, swinging its club, but Tori ducked, slitting its belly and stabbing it in the back in two swift movements. The giant collapsed into a pile of ice. Annabeth, Percy, Thalia, and Grover were fighting the others. Tori started to make her way to help them, but by the time she got there, the remaining giants were dead. Percy was talking to a brown-haired woman on the other side of the barrier, but she shouted at him, “GO!”

“She’s right,” Nico said. “We’ll handle the army! You get Kronos!”

Annabeth nodded and grabbed her soulmate’s arm. “Come on, Seaweed Brain!” Together, Annabeth, Tori, Thalia, Grover, and Percy raced inside.


XXV.

 

The elevator ride up felt like the longest one she’d ever been on. When the doors opened, they saw that the bridge to Olympus was dissolving. As soon as they stepped on the marble, cracks appeared at their feet.

“Jump!” Grover shouted, springing to the next slab of stone. Theirs tilted to the side, forcing them to move quickly, but Annabeth was still hurt and in no shape to be jumping.

Annabeth stumbled. “PERCY!”

Percy jerked forward and caught her hand just as the stone crumbled completely, falling as dust to the earth. Tori shouted and grabbed Percy by the waist as Thalia and Grover got his legs, keeping them from going over. They pulled them up, and the couple lay shaking on the marble, their arms around each other.

Before either of them could do anything, Tori said, “Come on, we’ve got to go.” Blushing, Percy and Annabeth stood up. They sprinted across the bridge, Percy holding onto Annabeth’s good arm, as more stones disintegrated. They landed on the mountain just as the final one collapsed.

Tori looked back at the elevator. It was impossible to get back now. The doors were just hanging in space, anchored by nothing.

Tori sighed, brushing dust off of her shirt. “Well guys, we are now officially on our own.”

“The connection between Olympus and America is fading,” Grover said, sounding terrified. “If it ends—”

“It will be the end of Olympus,” Thalia said. “The gods won’t be able to move on.”

Tori reminded herself that Kronos was worse than the gods. “Let’s move.”

They ran through the streets. Buildings were burning. Statues were lying on the ground in pieces. Entire parks had been reduced to ash. A few minor gods and nature spirits had tried to stop Kronos, but now all that was left of them was clothing, weapons, and armor. The entire mountaintop was in ruin. Ahead of them, Kronos roared, “Brick by brick! That was my promise! Tear it down BRICK BY BRICK!”

Tori’s heart pounded. “LUKE!” She ran forward, faster than the others.

They were running under a marble archway with huge statues of Zeus and Hera when the mountain suddenly rocked. The archway broke into huge chunks, sending the stone Hera toppling down. It would have crushed Percy and Annabeth, but Thalia shoved them away.

“Thalia!” Grover cried out. Groaning, Tori walked back to see what had happened to her. The Hunter was alive, but her legs were pinned by the statue, and probably broken beyond belief. The others tried to push it off, but to no avail. When they tried to pull her out, she screamed in pain.

“I’ll be fine,” Thalia said, gritting her teeth. “Go!”

“Okay,” Tori said and walked away. The others gawked at her for a moment before reassuring Thalia that they’d come back for her.

“I know you don’t like her, Tori,” Percy said, “but still.”

Tori shrugged and kept walking. Annabeth said nothing.

Fire erupted on the side of the mountain, right next to the palace gates. They ran towards it. The giant bronze doors had been ripped off their hinges and tossed aside. Kronos stood in the center of the throne room, laughing. “Finally! The Olympian Council — so proud and mighty! Which seat of power shall I destroy first?”

Ethan Nakamura stood to the side, trying to keep away from Kronos’s scythe. The hearth was almost dead. Hestia and Rachel were gone. Kronos hadn’t noticed the Ophiotaurus yet, but he was bound to soon.

Ethan saw them first. “My lord,” he warned.

Kronos turned and smiled. Except for his golden eyes, it was Luke’s smile. Tori sucked in a breath.

“Shall I destroy you first, Jackson?” Kronos asked. “Is that the choice you will make — to fight me and die instead of bowing down? Prophecies never end well, you know.”

“Luke would fight with a sword,” Percy said. “But I suppose you don’t have his skill.”

Kronos sneered. His scythe began to change form, turning back into Backbiter.

Annabeth gasped. “Percy, the blade!” She unsheathed the dagger Luke had given her. “The hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap.

Before anyone could do anything about that, Kronos raised his sword and came at Percy. Percy moved as quickly as he could, but the half-blood could only hold him off. Tori charged forward to help him, passing Annabeth fighting Ethan and Grover playing his reed pipes. She tried to help, but she was hampered by the fact that she didn’t want to hurt Luke.

Kronos laughed at her as she ineffectually slashed at his arm. “Hello again, Victoria. Did you miss me?” He pushed back at her. “I think I’ll finish killing your friends and family before I have you.”

Tori bared her teeth hatefully. “You won’t have me at all, you asshole.”

Kronos laughed. “What? You don’t miss your lover?”

YOU ARE NOT LUKE!” Tori screamed, bring her sword down hard. It was useless. The blade bounced back with so much force that she fell backwards, her sword spiraling away.

While she got herself up, Kronos backed Percy up against. The Titan slashed, and Percy somehow managed to jump straight up, landing on the seat. It whirred and hummed angrily. Defense mode. Defense mode.

Percy jumped right over Kronos’s head as the throne shot tendrils of electricity around in a circle. One ray hit Kronos in the face, arcing through him and Backbiter. “ARGH!” He fell to his knees, dropping the sword.

Annabeth kicked Ethan out of the way and charged over to Kronos. “Luke, listen!”

Kronos’s head rose, his gold eyes glowing hatefully. He flicked his hand, sending Annabeth flying backwards into her mother’s throne and keeping Tori down in one move.

Ethan got back to his feet, standing between Percy and Annabeth. Percy couldn’t get to him without turning his back on Kronos, and Tori still couldn’t get up. Grover played more urgently, making grass grow and roots shoot up between the cracks in the floor, but to no avail.

Kronos rose to one knee, his hair smoldering. There were burns across his face. He reached for his sword, but was too weak to make it come to him. “Nakamura! Time to prove yourself. You know Jackson’s secret weakness. Kill him, and you will have rewards beyond measure.”

Ethan’s eyes dropped to Percy’s midsection.

Before he could attack, Percy said, “Look around you, Ethan. The end of the world. Is this the reward you want? Do you really want everything destroyed — the good and the bad? Everything?

“There’s no throne for Nemesis,” Ethan muttered. “Nothing for my mother.”

“That’s right!” Kronos tried to get up, but stumbled. “Strike them down! They deserve to suffer.”

“You said your mom is the goddess of balance,” Percy said. “The minor gods deserve better, but total destruction isn’t balance. Kronos doesn’t build. He just destroys.”

Ethan looked at Hephaestus’s throne, swaying slightly to the sound of Grover’s music. It was a beautiful song, one that reminded Tori of better days, when she and Luke would lay together on the ground and make each other laugh. Ethan’s single eye blinked. He charged . . .

. . . at Kronos. Ethan brought his sword down on the Titan’s neck in a move that should have killed him, but the blade shattered. Ethan cried out, falling to the ground. A shard of metal had ricocheted, piercing his armor.

Kronos rose unsteadily, his eyes glowing. “Treason,” he snarled.

“Deserve better—” Ethan gasped, his face contorted by pain.

Kronos stomped his foot, and the floor fell through the earth around Ethan. The demigod went straight through the ground, through the mountain, through the air itself.

“So much for him,” Kronos said, picking up Backbiter. “And now for the rest of you.”

Tori finally managed to move, crawling over to her sword. Grover was with Annabeth, feeding her ambrosia. Percy fought Kronos through the hearth as Tori struggled over to Annabeth.

“It’s too late, Percy Jackson,” Kronos said as Tori made it to the girl. “Behold.” He pointed to the hearth. White smoke rose from the coals, forming images: Nico and Hades, fighting what seemed like an infinite number of monsters; mortals running in terror; Typhon approaching the Hudson River from New Jersey. The gods were still fighting him, but there were fewer than before, and they were as tired as everyone else. Tori could see the monster clearly now, from his talons to his scaly legs to his mottled green skin and black patches.

“The Olympians are giving their final effort.” Kronos laughed. “How pathetic.”

Typhon moved forward, stepping into the Hudson.

Like a miracle from heaven, a conch horn sounded from the image. All around Typhon, the Hudson erupted. A new chariot burst from the water, pulled by massive hippocampi.

Poseidon.

The god of the sea rode in a circle around Typhon’s legs, forming a funnel cloud around him.

“No!” Kronos shouted. “NO!”

“NOW, MY BRETHREN!” Poseidon ordered. “STRIKE FOR OLYMPUS!”

Cyclops ran out from the water on huge sharks, dragons, and seahorses. Each of them held a huge length of black chains with grappling hooks at each end. They swung them around, ensnaring Typhon’s legs and arms, driven forward by Poseidon’s power. Typhon fought them, but there were too many. The chains began to weigh him down. That’s when Poseidon struck, throwing his trident straight through Typhon’s throat.

The other gods rallied to Poseidon, striking with new energy. As they fought, the water rose, encompassing the giant, and he began to sink down from the weight of his chains. Typhon bellowed, thrashing, but still, he went down. Poseidon used his powers to create a funnel to take him down farther than should have been possible.

Kronos screamed in rage, slashing the smoke with Luke’s sword.

“They’re on their way,” Percy said. “You’ve lost.”

“I haven’t even started,” Kronos snarled, advancing on Percy. Grover tried to protect his friend, but Kronos tossed him aside. Annabeth and Tori got up, running over to them. Percy tried to fight back, but Kronos disarmed him, sending Riptide across the floor and into a fissure.

“STOP!” Annabeth shouted.

Kronos whirled around, slashing at Annabeth with Backbiter, but Tori caught the blade. The metal cut through her hands. She could feel her soul start to leak away, but she refused to let go.

“Luke,” Tori said, her voice trembling, “I’m here. I’m here for you. I always am.”

“Luke Castellan is dead!”

“No he’s not,” Tori said. “Or did you forget?” She managed a smile. “We’re soulmates.”

Kronos pushed her back, cutting deeper into her hands. Tori whimpered in pain, trying desperately to hold him back.

“Your mother!” Annabeth said. “She saw your fate.”

“Service to Kronos!” The Titan bellowed. “This is my fate!”

“No! That’s not the end, Luke. The prophecy: she saw what you would do!”

“I will crush you, child!”

“You won’t. You promised. Look at you: you’re holding back Kronos even now, or else Tori would be dead.”

“LIES!” Kronos ripped his sword away. Tori fell to the floor, holding her hands to her stomach. With his free hand, Kronos struck Annabeth crossing the face, sending her to the ground. The Titan stood over Annabeth, his sword raised.

Blood trickled from Annabeth’s mouth. “Family, Luke,” she said painfully. “You promised.”

Percy and Grover was struggling to get to them, but before either of them could, Kronos staggered, staring at Annabeth’s knife, at the blood on her face. “Promise.” He gasped painfully, like a drowning man coming up for air. “Annabeth . . .” But it wasn’t Kronos’s voice.

“Luke,” Tori said. Her voice was quiet, barely audible even to her, but he heard her.

Luke looked at her, dazed. “My love . . .” He looked at her hands. “You’re hurt.”

“My knife,” Annabeth said. She tried to raise it, but her arm was bent too badly. “Percy, please . . .”

Percy moved forward quickly, taking the knife. He knocked Backbiter out of Luke’s hand, sending it flying into the hearth. Still seeming dazed, Luke tried to take a step towards Annabeth, but Percy stood in between them, a protective look on his face. “Don’t touch her.

Anger rippled across Luke’s face. Kronos growled, “Jackson . . .” His body was glowing bright gold.

Luke gasped again. “He’s changing. Help. He’s . . . he’s almost ready. He won’t need me anymore. Please—”

“NO!” Kronos bellowed. He stumbled towards his sword. Percy tried to stop him, but the Titan pushed him away with so much force that he landed next to Annabeth, an audible crack coming from his head.

“The knife,” Annabeth muttered, her voice low and shallow. “Cursed blade . . .”

Kronos grasped his sword, but dropped it a moment later, bellowing in pain. His hands were burnt, the hearth fire suddenly red-hot.

Luke fell to the floor, clutching his burnt hands. “Please, Percy . . .” Percy moved towards him with the knife, but Luke shook his head. “You can’t . . . can’t do it yourself. He’ll break my control. He’ll defend himself. I know where. I can . . . can keep him controlled.”

“NO!” Tori shouted, struggling to her feet. It was hard to move without hurting herself further, but she did it, collapsing besides Luke.

Luke shook his head. “There’s no time, Tori.”

For a moment, Percy looked like he didn’t know what to do. Then he moved forward and gave the knife to Luke.

Luke grasped the hilt and used his free hand to unlatch part of his armor, exposing the spot under his arm. He started to position the knife, but Tori gripped it.

“No!” she shouted. Hot tears fell from her eyes and landed on his chest. “I won’t let you!”

“Tori . . .” Luke said, staring at her eyes. “The necklace . . . in my pocket. Take it.”

Tori wanted to argue more, to stop him, but he wasn’t trying to do anything just yet. She did as he asked, carefully maneuvering her hands to remove the cord from a pocket in his pants.

She’d been wrong before. There was more than just the arrowhead on his necklace. His wedding ring was beside it, glinting white and brown.

The tears fell harder. “I can’t let you do this,” she said, her voice trembling. “I won’t.”

Luke caressed her cheek with his free hand. “I know. I know how you feel. But I need to do this. If I don’t, he’ll never stop.”

Tori shook her head. “No! I don’t care! You can’t do this to me, Luke! Please, baby, I love you, I love you so much.” She started kissing him, his forehead, his cheeks, his nose, his lips. “Please don’t leave me. Please.

Suddenly, someone was holding her arms to her side, restraining her. She looked over her shoulder. Grover. NO!

Before she could break free, Luke stabbed himself.

It wasn’t a deep cut, but he still screamed in pain, his eyes glowing. The entire building shook as an aura of energy surrounded him, growing brighter by the second. Tori slammed her eyes shut as the heat burned her skin before dying suddenly. She opened her eyes.

The scythe had liquefied into molten metal in the glowing hearth. Luke was sprawled along the floor, a ring of ash around him. His entire left side was bloody, but his eyes were open. They were ice-blue, the way they were supposed to be, the way they should always have been. “Good . . . blade,” he said, his voice a deep death rattle.

Tori knelt next to him, clutching his face with her ruined hands. His skin was hot to the touch. “Why did you . . .”

“I had to. I . . . I had to.” He looked at Annabeth, who had limped over with Grover’s support. “You knew. I almost killed you, but you knew . . .”

“Shhh,” Annabeth said. “You were a hero at the end, Luke. You’ll go to Elysium.”

“NO!” Tori shouted. “SHUT UP!” She looked back to Luke. “You can’t die, Luke. Please, don’t leave me here alone. I . . . I need you.”

“We can get ambrosia,” Grover said. “We can—”

“Grover,” Luke gasped. “You’re a brave satyr . . . but there’s no healing this.” He looked up at Tori. “I love you, wildcat. I swear I do.” He raised his hand and drew it down her face, staring into her eyes. “I’m going to miss you so much.”

“I—”

Before Tori could finish, the gods stormed in, dressed in full war regalia with their weapons ready. They all stopped awkwardly when they saw what was happening.

“Percy,” Poseidon called. “What—”

Tori jumped up and ran over to the gods. They raised their weapons, but Tori ignored them, immediately falling to her knees before one of them. “Apollo, please! Save him!”

Her father stared at her. “Uh, what?”

Tori looked up at the god. He flickered between yellow and grey. “Please! You’re the god of healing, you’re the only one who can help him! He killed Kronos! He did it himself, he stopped him before he could become more powerful! Please!”

Still seeming confused, Apollo looked at Luke uncertainly, but Tori clutched his pants leg, sending a shot of searing pain through her hand. “You owe me a life!” Tori shouted before lowering her voice. “Dad, please, if you never do another thing for anyone else for the rest of eternity, then do this for me!”

Apollo looked at her, then at Luke. Then he said, “Well, let’s see what we can do.”

Apollo walked over to Luke. The other gods gaped at him. Ares sputtered, “You can’t be serious—”

“Shut up, Ares!” Hermes said, whacking him over the head with his caduceus. He joined Apollo by Luke’s side, looking down at his son with a mixture of love, sadness, and regret.

Tori knelt behind Luke’s head, holding him. Apollo moved his hands over Luke’s wound. “Hand me the blade. The cursed one. Quickly!”

Annabeth picked up the knife and handed it to him. Focusing, Apollo laid one hand on the blade and the other over Luke’s wound. “Hold still . . .” His hands glowed a soft yellow, then his whole body, his eyes becoming like miniature suns.

Luke gasped in pain. Tori had to hold his arms down to keep him from moving, biting her lip until it bled. Luke started to scream, but she refused to let go. The light grew brighter, turning completely white, blindingly white—

The light was gone. Tori stared at the spotless place on Luke’s side while Apollo rested back on his feet, seeming pleased with himself. “There you go!” He said. “You’re welcome.”


XXVI.

 

Zeus frowned, looking at her with an odd expression. “You’re certain of this, Miss Williams—”

“Please,” Tori said politely, “Mrs. Castellan.” She felt stronger than she had in weeks. She had bathed and changed into fresh clothes, and her hair was down for the first time since the battle began. Her sea glass bracelet rested warmly on her wrist, an excellent complement to her aquamarine ring and pale blue shirt.

Zeus frowned, but continued. “You’re certain of this, Mrs. Castellan? We have not yet decided the prisoner’s fate. You may well regret your choice.”

“I thank you for your wisdom, my king, but choosing Luke is something I will never regret.”

Zeus looked around at the other gods. “What do you think of the girl’s request?”

For once in her life, Tori was grateful towards the gods. Apollo and Hermes were on her side immediately, although Hermes seemed mildly concerned; Aphrodite thought it was all very romantic, and she convinced Ares to side with her; Artemis was persuaded by her twin; Hera sided with her since she was the goddess of marriage; and the others didn’t care enough to say no.

“Very well then. I grant you your request, Victoria Castellan.”

“I thank you, Lord Zeus.” Tori looked around at the gods. “All of you.”

“You’re welcome, of course. Hermes, guide her to the prisoner.”

“I will.” Hermes stood and walked over to Tori, shrinking back down to human size. “Let’s go.”

They walked in a sort of awkward silence until Hermes said, “Thank you. For saving Luke.”

“Thank Apollo,” Tori said, smiling at the thought of her father, for once. “He saved him.”

“But you convinced him. And you loved Luke.”

Tori nodded. “Yes, I do.”

Hermes smiled and patted her shoulder. “I’m glad I protected you, Victoria. You’re a good girl.”

Tori looked at him with her eyebrows scrunched together. “When did you protect me?”

“What, you didn’t realize? I led you back to your siblings in New York. You’re welcome.”

Tori laughed. “Thank you, Hermes.”

They stopped in front of a door. “Well, this is it. And don’t worry. I won’t let them do anything too bad to you guys.”

“I know.”

They looked at each other awkwardly. Then Hermes moved forward, wrapping his arms around Tori in a hug. “Welcome to the family.” He only stayed long enough to unlock the door before vaporizing.

Tori shook her head and cracked the door open. “Luke?”

He was there, sitting on the bed that took up half of the small room. As far as prisons go, it wasn’t that bad. The bed was nice enough. There was a bathroom. Not a single instrument of torture that she could see. Good lighting.

Luke stood when he saw her. “Tori,” he breathed.

She smiled, feeling almost shy. “Hey, bear.”

Luke didn’t seem to know what to say. He just looked at her, like he was drinking in her presence. After a moment, his eyes landed on her hands. “Your hands—”

“Apollo healed them,” she said. “Good as new.” And a good thing too, since so much damage had been done to her hands that she probably wouldn’t have been able to use them for anything if it weren’t for the god’s healing.

“Oh,” Luke said. “Well that’s . . . good. That’s very good.”

Tori smiled. She started to walk over to him, but he shied away, seeming nervous. There was love in his eyes, but guilt too. Tori frowned before realizing what was wrong. “It’s okay, Luke. You can touch me.”

Luke flinched. “But I—”

“That wasn’t you. You’re not Kronos. You wouldn’t hurt me.”

Luke laughed harshly. “Not on purpose.”

“Well.” She moved closer, rubbing her thumbs over his hands. “We’ll just have to be more careful about accidents in the future.” Without waiting for a response, she took his face in her hands and kissed him, closing her eyes.

Luke was still at first, but then he relaxed, setting his hands on Tori’s shoulders and sinking into the kiss. They moaned in unison, moving backwards until they fell until the bed. Tori nuzzled into Luke’s neck, holding him by the shoulders.

“I don’t know how you can still love me after everything I’ve done,” Luke said quietly.

Tori looked up at him. “But I do.”

They stayed like that for a while, simply basking in each other’s presence, before Tori told him what happened. “I’ve chosen to stay with you,” she said, drawing patterns on his chest with her fingers. “Whatever your fate, I’ll share it.”

Luke jerked up, staring at her. “Tori, how could you—”

“Do you need to ask? I can’t bear to be without you. I don’t want to.”

He pushed her away, sitting up. “What if they kill me? Torture me? Send me to the Fields of Punishment, or Tartarus?”

“Then I’ll suffer with you, and gladly. I would rather go to hell with you than heaven without you.”

“And what makes you think I want that?”

“Nothing. But I want it. I want you.” She pulled him back down, kissing him soundly. “Besides,” she said, resting her head on his chest, “it probably won’t be that bad. Hermes and Apollo will vouch for you. The gods are in a very rewarding mood. It’ll be fine.”

Luke smiled wryly. “That reminds me.”

“What?”

He sighed heavily. “Well, I know your dad saved my life and all, but I can still kill him if you want. Might take some time now, but—”

“Oh, just shut up and hold me.”

Luke laughed and did as she said.


XXVII.

 

Tori and Luke stood in the center of the throne room, close enough to touch, both looking at the ground. Tori’s hand itched to reach out and take his, but she stopped herself.

“We have made our decision,” boomed Zeus. The gods were back in their thrones, as though nothing had even happened. The room had been the first thing to be repaired, of course, even though most of Olympus was still in ruins.

The god continued. “You have done us a great service by killing Kronos. For that, you deserve a reward.

“However, you were a traitor, and the Titan Lord could not have gotten so far without you.” Luke flinched. “We cannot trust that you will not turn against us in the future. So, we have decided upon a compromise. We will not kill you, nor will we truly punish you. Instead, you will go to the River Lethe. You will lose your memories, as well as your godly blood. You will become human, with new memories and a new life, together, as Victoria has requested.”

Tori and Luke stared at Zeus. He looked back at them with hard eyes. “I trust that will not be a problem?”

Tori quickly shook her head. “It won’t, my lord.” She took Luke’s hand in hers. “Not a problem at all.” She looked at Luke. “Are you alright?” she whispered, aware that there was no real privacy for them.

Luke nodded. He looked shaken, but his eyes had taken on a determined Luke that she loved. “Of course I am.” He smiled shakily. “I have you.”

“Very well than,” Zeus said. “Hermes will escort you to the River Lethe. You will say your goodbyes and then leave immediately.”

Hermes stood and walked over to them. “Are you ready?”

Tori squeezed Luke’s hand. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

I. Tori is twelve. She loves her mother and her twin, and her days are filled with music, art, school, books, and dreams.


II. Tori is thirteen when she meets Luke. It’s a chance encounter at a museum. Tori is on a fieldtrip with her classmates, and Luke is visiting New York with his mother. Tori is lost in her music and the art, and Luke is trying to find May, and neither of them are paying attention. They walk into each other and fall to the ground. Luke holds out his hand to help her up. She takes it. The first color she sees is blue.


III. Tori is fourteen and she talks to Luke constantly on the phone and over email. They’re hesitant at first, but over time they tell each other everything. Luke tells her about his mother, that he loves her but she’s unstable and getting worse. She can’t hold a job, and they survive off of money from his absent father. Tori sympathizes and tells him about her own family, that her father is gone and they struggle with making ends meet, but they love each other and they’re happy. She sends him charcoal sketches she’s made, keeping the fact that she is redoing them oil with colored oil paints.


IV. Tori is fifteen when her mother dies. It’s a car accident. Sudden. She didn’t even see it coming. She died instantly. Dan and Tori have no other family, but they manage to come to an agreement with Luke’s dad, and he moves May and Luke to New York. They live together and spend almost every day together. There is a new bond between them. A new understanding. When she sees him, he doesn’t even say anything. He just holds her and lets her cry.


V. Tori is sixteen and she throws herself into her art. She spends hours a day drawing, sketching, singing, and composing music. She only slows down when Luke convinces her to take a sword-fighting class with him. He’s better with a sword, but then they find out that she’s better at archery, and they’re even.


VI. Tori is seventeen and she’s in love.


Interlude: He loves her too.


VII. Tori is eighteen and graduating and she has no idea what kind of job she wants or what to study, but there is one thing in her life that she’s certain of, and it’s him. They go to college together, but only for a year before deciding it’s not for them.


VIII. Tori is nineteen and engaged. She’s an artist, and it’s taking a while for her to gain momentum, but they stay afloat by making realistic recreations of paintings. They have their own apartment, and their own thanksgiving, and their own Christmas, and a single bed that they never want to leave.


IX. Tori is twenty and married. May dies that year, just weeks after the wedding. Luke manages to hold himself together for almost a full day before he breaks down crying. She holds him and comforts him and lets him cry.


X. Tori is twenty-one. Her life is quiet. Simple. Her days are filled with art and love. Sometimes her brother visits, and there is a sad, angry look in his eyes, but he never explains what it is. She and Luke argue sometimes, but never for long, and they always make up. They might have children one day, but they’re in no rush. They have strange dreams, but they can never remember them, and they don’t know what they mean. They decide it doesn’t matter. They’re happy. They’re in love.