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Reading Percy Jackson: Book 9 - House of Hades

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Percy, no!”

 

“What?” Percy was confused.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“We should get back.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I don’t like it,” Poseidon grumbled.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hazel

 

“What?” Everyone yelped.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

During the third attack, Hazel almost ate a boulder.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone chuckled a little at Hazel’s thought.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Nico!” Will cried out.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“See? Fine,” Nico stated.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everybody snickered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nico frowned. “Masts are from trees.”

 

Everyone except Leo snickered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Leo sighed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Yeah, not much to miss,” She agreed.

 

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

 

Frank blushed.

 

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

 

All the demigods agreed with that one.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hades winced at that.

 

“Hazel, I…” He began.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I know,” Will sighed. “I just…”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Sorry.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nico winced.

 

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

 

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

 

“Still?” Will asked quietly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Aww, not more secrets,” Leo groaned.

 

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

 

Everyone snorted at that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You sacrificed so much?” Triton scoffed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“True,” Leo agreed.

 

The name hung in the air like an impending storm.

 

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

 

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

 

Percy looked at Hazel in surprise.

 

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

 

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

 

“So not you then?” Percy smirked.

 

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

 

“Good answer,” Silena teased.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“You know something about Epirus?” Will frowned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fortunately, they got lucky.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everybody nodded at that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Piece of cake,” Leo said.

 

Yes…nothing could go wrong with that plan.

 

“Nothing at all,” Frank nodded.

 

“We will make it work,” Jason promised.

 

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

 

“Me?” Percy frowned.

 

“Yeah, you,” Annabeth told him.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Thanks, Hazel,” Annabeth smiled.

 

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

 

The five glanced at each other.

 

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

 

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

 

She had to make Percy and Annabeth proud of her.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“That would be awesome,” Leo grinned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Arion!” Triton grinned.

 

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

 

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

 

Hazel smiled.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Gleeson could translate,” Grover pointed out.

 

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

 

“Good plan,” Michael nodded.

 

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

 

“That chapter is finished,” Zeus declared.

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

Hazel and Frank both blushed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Probably,” Hazel grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Wonderful,” Jason groaned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Are you sure?” Connor asked in concern.

 

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

 

“Read away then.”

 

Hazel III

 

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

 

Arion charged straight into it.

 

“Of course he did,” Frank grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I’m not trusting your luck.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone cringed.

 

“Sorry,” Hazel winced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Interesting?” Hades asked sharply.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Not mist, Hazel realized. The Mist.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Together, huh?” Nico scoffed.

 

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

 

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

 

“Not comforting,” Jason muttered.

 

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

 

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

 

“Me too,” Hazel said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I can do magic?” Hazel asked.

 

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

 

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

 

“I don’t blame you,” Travis muttered.

 

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

 

“She sounds creepy,” Percy muttered.

 

“Definitely,” Rachel agreed.

 

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

 

“Polecat if I remember correctly,” Hermes said.

 

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

 

“I think so,” Aphrodite nodded.

 

“Hecuba?” Piper asked.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"No dogs. Got it," Apollo nodded.

 

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

 

“Well, that was fun,” Annabeth muttered.

 

“Done already?” Percy asked.

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

“Apparently,” Hazel agreed.

 

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

 

Hazel wondered exactly how well Hecate knew her mother.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Percy grimaced and Apollo scowled.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

“Not a good outcome,” Reyna muttered.


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

 

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

 

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

 

“I don’t know,” Hazel frowned.

 

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

 

“My poor ship!” Leo exclaimed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Tell me about it,” Percy said dryly.

 

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

 

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

 

“Urgh,” Annabeth shuddered violently.

 

“Bad choice of words,” Hazel grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I thought that was Janus?” Percy frowned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Probably both,” Poseidon muttered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I know,” Hazel said.

 

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

 

“Not going to happen,” Apollo growled.


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hazel grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


“We all do,” Leo agreed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Dwarves?” Piper frowned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“He has his moments,” Demeter said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Whatever helps us survive,” Percy shrugged.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“We will discuss it later,” Zeus declared.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Anytime,” She smiled at him.

 

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

 

“You tell her Hazel!” Thalia cheered.

 

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

 

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

 

“Heck yeah!” Leo cheered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Good riddance,” Frank muttered.

 

“Definitely,” Hazel agreed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I’ll be ok,” Hazel told him.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone sniggered at that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“What?” Hades yelped.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Done,” Clarisse said.

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

“Wonderful,” Annabeth muttered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone shuddered at that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Apollo and the sea crew shuddered again.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Gross,” Silena grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

“What?” Annabeth asked.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Not a good idea,” Poseidon winced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Too late,” Rachel muttered.

 

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

 

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

 

“But what about Annabeth?” Thalia asked.

 

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

 

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

 

“That was quick,” Percy frowned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

“Emphasis on nearly,” Grover muttered to himself.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“What do you mean?” Percy frowned.

 

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

 

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

 

“Cocytus it is,” Persephone grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“We all are,” Katie agreed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Not going to happen, you hag, Annabeth thought.

 

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

 

“Even if she can’t hear me?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“What would you study?” Apollo asked excitedly.

 

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

 

“That sounds awesome,” Triton grinned.

 

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

 

Everyone chuckled at that. Even Percy grinned.

 

“Only you, Perce,” Grover smirked.

 

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

 

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

 

“Unlikely,” Zeus stated.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“What? A rash?” Connor looked anxious.

 

“The air is toxic,” Poseidon stated grimly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“It won’t be pleasant,” Hades warned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Yep,” Hades nodded.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Yeah,” She agreed, smiling at him.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“That’s one good thing,” Will stated.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Dad?” Percy asked.

 

“I can’t,” Poseidon admitted softly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Probably not,” Beckendorf agreed.

 

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

 

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

 

“Styx!” Connor swore.

 

“She’s alive,” Silena grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Good to know,” Percy said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“The realist,” Percy corrected.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Apollo and Will winced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Thanks for that note,” Beckendorf grimaced.

 

“Sounds like a marathon for hawking spitballs.”

 

Everyone chuckled at that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Please stop talking and drink,” Apollo begged.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Yup,” Will nodded.

 

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

 

“Annabeth!” Thalia cried out.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Good catch,” Connor sighed in relief.

 

“Thanks,” Annabeth smiled at Percy.

 

“Any time,” He told her.

 

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

 

Now everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“Just Percy to drink,” Poseidon said anxiously.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Oh, thank us,” Amphitrite breathed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

They all gave a slightly hysterical chuckle.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“True,” Beckendorf agreed.

 

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

 

“Sadly,” Demeter grimaced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“No pressure,” Annabeth winced.

 

“More like no choice,” Connor said grimly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Good choice,” Thalia nodded.

 

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

 

“Wait! What?” Athena exclaimed.

 

“Arachne,” Connor guessed angrily.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Brilliant,” Apollo praised.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I’ll take anything,” Percy shrugged.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Some of the demigods looked startled at that declaration.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Good idea,” Thalia nodded.

 

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

 

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

 

“Sounds about right,” Jason muttered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

“Oh seriously?” Connor complained.

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Wise,” Hermes nodded.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Empousai,” Aphrodite realised.

 

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

 

“Me too,” Rachel agreed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Definitely Kelli,” Rachel wrinkled her nose.

 

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

 

“Half a dozen?” Grover winced.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“My bet is trap,” Annabeth sighed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Annabeth groaned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“We all do,” Percy said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“What?” Percy looked at him oddly.

 

“Never mind,” He said quickly.

 

“No, I’m curious now.”

 

“It was nothing!”

 

“Do you mean the one…” Artemis began.

 

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

 

Kelli had almost killed Percy. She had manipulated Annabeth’s oldest friend, Luke, urging him to commit darker and darker deeds in the name of Kronos.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

“Er, what?” Michael asked in confusion.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Athena pursed her lips.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Leo…” Percy began.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Good plan,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

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

 

The Stolls and Percy all chuckled.

 

“That would be pretty cool,” Will grinned.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Absolutely,” Hazel agreed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone chuckled at that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Leo closed his eyes, fighting back another shudder.

 

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

 

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

 

“She changes favourites all the time,” Zeus shrugged. After all she had favoured his father until he began to eat his own kids. Then she sided with his mother and aided her in tricking Kronos, so he wasn’t eaten. Then the titans had fallen out of favour altogether and the giants were her favourites. It was hard to keep up.

 

Leo darted to the left, but the Earth Goddess’s laughter followed him...But now you have chosen your path. Your death is near, Leo Valdez.

 

“You wish, Dirt Face,” Leo scowled.

 

“Yeah, nobody is going to die,” Frank said. Nobody brought up the prophecy which certainly hinted that at least one person would die.

 

He ran into a drafting table—his mother’s old workstation…He blasted the giant, but the darkness consumed his fire.

 

“What giant is that?” Percy asked, looking horrified.

 

“I assume it is Clytius. The giant Gaea bred to absorb Hecate’s magic,” Aphrodite stated gravely. “It would certainly explain why Hecate has appeared to help you.”

 

“Great,” Leo grimaced. “He sounds awful.”

 

Leo reached for his tool belt. The pockets were sewn shut. He tried to speak—to say anything that would save his life—but he couldn’t make a sound, as if the air had been stolen from his lungs.

 

Everyone grimaced at that, hoping it was just a dream, not a prophetic one.

 

My son will not allow any fires tonight, Gaea said from the depths of the warehouse. He is the void that consumes all magic, the cold that consumes all fire, the silence that consumes all speech.

 

“Sounds lovely,” Silena remarked sarcastically.

 

“So, no fire and no magic, he’ll just have to deal with good old-fashioned bronze or gold then,” Jason stated.

 

Leo wanted to shout: And I’m the dude that’s all out of here!...He wove around the bodies of Greek and Roman demigods. He wanted to check if they were alive.

 

Everyone shuddered at that image.

 

He wanted to help them. But somehow he knew he was running out of time…It was that freak Octavian, the augur from Camp Jupiter, who was always screaming for war.

 

Octavian scowled.

 

Octavian turned to face him, but he seemed to be in a trance. His features were slack, his eyes closed. When he spoke, it was in Gaea’s voice: This cannot be prevented.

 

The former Augur gaped in shock. Then he shuddered. It was incredibly creepy to hear about himself being possessed by Gaea, even in a dream. Then he thought about Luke Castellan and how Kronos had used his anger to control him to his death. Octavian wondered if this dream would come true, or if it already had in the future. Was Gaea already guiding his actions? That made him pause. If he was going to get closure for his family, he would do it on his own terms. Not the Earth goddess’.

 

“Hey, she’s not going to have you,” Reyna’s voice sounded right next to his ear. Octavian jolted in surprise.

 

Reyna watched the emotions flash across Octavian’s face. She meant her promise. No matter what he had done, or will do, they would not leave him to be manipulated and used by Gaea. After a few moments of staring at her distrustfully he gave a short nod.

 

The Romans move east from New York. They advance on your camp…Leo was tempted to punch Octavian in the face. Instead he kept running.

 

“Na, if you’re going to punch him do it in real life, not in a dream,” Frank encouraged. Leo grinned.

 

He climbed Half-Blood Hill. At the summit, lightning had splintered the giant pine tree.

 

Thalia, Zeus and Jason all winced.

 

He faltered to a stop. The back of the hill was shorn away. Beyond it…Her expression radiated pure hatred. Her lip curled. Her nose wrinkled.

 

“You’re appearing to Leo?” Annabeth looked at her mom in surprise. Although, that description didn’t sound like Athena. She wondered if it was Minerva.

 

“Well, he is sleeping next to my statue,” Athena shrugged.

 

“Leave my son alone,” Hephaestus glared. He didn’t trust Athena in the state she was in in the future.

 

“The tinkerer god’s child,” she sneered. “You are no threat, but I suppose my vengeance must start somewhere. Make your choice.”

 

“Don’t you be taking out your ridiculousness on my son,” Hephaestus growled.

 

“I have done nothing,” Athena reminded him, returning his glare with one of her own.

 

Leo tried to speak, but he was about to crawl out of his skin with panic…“My dark friend will not give you the luxury of a choice. It’s the cliff or the cave, boy!”

 

“You’re dark friend?” Ares asked, eyebrow raised.

 

Annabeth was deeply troubled that her mother would refer to a giant as her friend, even if only in a dream.

 

“Maybe Gaea has taken on my form,” Athena suggested.

 

“Na, she’d call him her son in that case,” Hermes pointed out. “This is you. Being ridiculous and punishing demigods for not attacking the Romans.”

 

Suddenly Leo understood what she meant. He was cornered…The cave was the home of the dead. If he went down there, he would never come back.

 

“So…death or death. That’s not much of a choice,” Leo grimaced.

 

“Yes,” the woman said. Around her neck hung a strange bronze-and-emerald pendant…This lady had been driven nuts by hatred.

 

Annabeth grimaced while some of the gods nodded discretely.

 

“The House of Hades awaits. You will be the first puny rodent to die in my maze. You have only one chance to escape, Leo Valdez. Take it.”

 

“Her maze? Maybe it isn’t Athena, or Minerva,” Katie said. “It must be someone else in her form.”

 

“The witch that Hecate mentioned? Explains why she’s hanging out with a giant,” Hazel suggested.

 

“Possible,” Aphrodite nodded.

 

She gestured toward the cliff…the woman asked. “It is possible, at the hands of a sorceress!”

 

“I wonder which one it is,” Connor frowned.

 

“She called the maze hers,” Poseidon said uneasily. He certainly had an idea who this sorceress was, and he hoped that he was wrong.

 

Leo’s arm started to smoke. The woman’s touch was acid…“Leo!” Jason was shaking his shoulder. “Hey, man, why are you hugging Nike?”

 

“Thanks,” Leo said to Jason. “Glad you woke me up then.”

 

“Anytime,” Jason smiled.

 

Leo’s eyes fluttered open. His arms were wrapped around the human-sized…(Man, that had been so embarrassing in the foster homes.)

 

Leo grimaced at that mention.

 

He disentangled himself and sat up, rubbing his face…You should join us in the mess hall. Nico has new information.”

 

“Done,” Frank announced.

 

“My turn,” Jason said eagerly. He was thrilled that he didn’t get a Tartarus chapter. Frank handed him the book.

Chapter Text

Leo had designed the mess hall’s walls to show real-time scenes from Camp Half-Blood. At first he had thought that was a pretty awesome idea. Now he wasn’t so sure.

 

“At least you can keep up to date on what’s going on,” Katie said. “Although it’s a little bit creepy to know you guys could be watching us.”

 

“I don’t think I’ll do that this time around,” Leo admitted. “Maybe something else instead for decoration.”

 

The scenes from back home—the campfire sing-alongs, dinners at the pavilion…annual party at the beach with awesome fireworks prepared by Leo’s siblings in Cabin Nine.

 

“Aww, you’re going to miss your first one,” Beckendorf frowned. “And as Cabin leader too.”

 

“Well, hopefully I’ll be back for next year’s one,” Leo shrugged.

 

“We’d better be, considering Gaea wants to wake up on the first of August,” Percy pointed out.

 

He decided not to mention that to the crew, but he hoped their buddies back home had had a good celebration. They needed something to keep their spirits up, too.

 

“I’m sure it was awesome,” Travis smiled.

 

He remembered the images he’d seen in his dream—the camp in ruins, littered with bodies; Octavian standing at the volleyball pit, casually talking in Gaea’s voice.

 

Octavian shuddered once more.

 

He stared down at his eggs and bacon. He wished he could turn off the wall videos…His blond hair was uncharacteristically messy, like he’d forgotten to comb it.

 

Jason grimaced.

 

“It’s ok, Jay. I’m sure you’ll be an awesome leader,” Thalia told him. Jason looked unconvinced. From what they had heard so far, it wasn’t going well.

 

Leo glanced at the others around the table. Hazel was bleary-eyed, too…Roman tourist T-shirt that said CIAO! (was that even a word?).

 

“Of course it’s a word,” Will rolled his eyes.

 

“It’s Italian,” Nico told Leo in amusement.

 

Frank’s old centurion badge was pinned to his shirt, despite the fact that the demigods…Then there was Hazel’s half brother, Nico di Angelo. Dang, that kid gave Leo the freaky-deakies.

 

Nico frowned while Leo winced.

 

“Sorry man,”

 

“It’s fine,” Nico sighed. He was used to that.

 

“No. It’s not ok,” Leo shook his head. “I guess, my future-self has never met you, and then the first time I see you, you’re not looking too hot. And the whole son of Hades thing. Still, you’re a good guy.” Nico smiled at him.

 

He sat back in his leather aviator jacket, his black T-shirt and jeans…His tufts of black hair stuck up in curls like baby bat wings.

 

Percy, Thalia and Will all snickered at that. Nico scowled at all of them.

 

His eyes were sad and kind of empty, as if he’d stared into the depths of Tartarus—which he had.

 

The smirks dropped off all three faces. Nico sighed.

 

The only absent demigod was Piper, who was taking her turn at the helm…could cause the picturesque Italian villages below them to go BOOM!

 

“It’s really not good that they can’t leave their supposed chaperone, by himself. It sounds like the satyr is the one who needs chaperoning,” Dakota frowned.

 

“Pretty much,” Piper nodded. “But he has had his uses on the trip.”

 

“I think he’s been more of a nuisance than he’s been a help,” Annabeth muttered. She still couldn’t believe he had grounded her and Percy.

 

Leo had zoned out so totally he didn’t realize Jason was still talking…He just tossed that line out there, like he was saying he got a text from a buddy.

 

“That’s pretty much the same thing to Nico,” Percy laughed.

 

“I was able to learn more about what we’ll face,” Nico continued…as if hanging out with dead people were good for his appetite.

 

“Sounds better for them than McDonalds,” Thalia smirked.

 

“Hey, I work with what I have,” Nico complained, glaring at her.

 

Frank grunted. “Chinese have that, too—ancestor worship…Aunt Rosa and some old Chinese woman in wrestlers’ outfits, whaling on each other with spiked clubs.

 

Frank and Leo both looked horrified.

 

“Yeah,” Leo said. “I’m sure they would’ve been best buds.”…Jason flashed him a look like, Dude, enough. “Nico, go on.”

 

“Thanks, Jason,” Nico said.

 

“The pilgrims believed that each level of the temple brought you closer to the Underworld…Most demigods had vivid nightmares about what was going on in the world.

 

“Yeah. They might be informative, but they suck,” Percy complained.

 

“Agreed. Although, I thought mine were bad until I heard about Percy’s,” Pollux muttered. The demigods nearby nodded in agreement.

 

His friends paid close attention as Leo explained. He tried not to look…a witch who couldn’t be defeated except by me, using magic.”

 

“No pressure,” Hazel murmured.

 

“You’ll do great,” Frank said encouragingly. “And this time around, we have time for you to learn how to use your magic.”

 

“I…er, I could help with that,” Reyna offered. “Hylla knows more than I do, but I did pick up some things from Circe.”

 

“That would be great,” Hazel smiled gratefully.

 

“Do you know magic?” Leo asked…Leo got the feeling that the two of them had had private conversations about the House of Hades, and they weren’t sharing all the details.

 

“Guys,” Jason frowned. “Shouldn’t we stop the secret keeping?”

 

“If there is nothing you can do, then it won’t help to dwell,” Nico shrugged.

 

“It’s still best if we know, so we can be aware. What if you or Hazel are incapacitated. We might not be able to use magic to beat her, but we should know what’s going on,” Piper pointed out.

 

“Well, you’ll find out in this book most likely,” Hazel reminded her.

 

“Only that she won’t be easy to defeat.”…Everybody looked at Leo.

 

“But in the dream, he absorbed Leo’s fire,” Gwen pointed out with a frown.

 

“Maybe demigod powers aren’t enough. Maybe it needs to be a goddess,” Annabeth said.

 

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”…He is the void that consumes all magic, the cold that consumes all fire, the silence that consumes all speech.

 

“I can see why that would creep you out and make you worried,” Beckendorf nodded.

 

Leo was pretty sure it would take more than a few matches to set that giant ablaze.

 

“Probably. It’s never that easy,” Silena grimaced.

 

“True, but at least Hecate has said she will help. Maybe,” Piper said.

 

“It’s a good lead,” Jason insisted. “At least we know how to kill the giant. And this sorceress…well, if Hecate believes Hazel can defeat her, then so do I.”

 

“Thanks, Jason,” Hazel smiled.

 

“I do believe that,” Jason assured her.

 

“We all do,” Percy grinned.

 

Hazel dropped her eyes. “Now we just have to reach the House of Hades…“Assuming we can somehow arrive at the same time as Percy and Annabeth and rescue them.”

 

“Easy,” Nico muttered.

 

Frank swallowed a bite of pancake. “We can do it. We have to.”…assuming no delays for, you know, monster attacks and stuff.”

 

“Yeah, we never have delays,” Leo scoffed.

 

“Or attacks. Those never happen,” Drew added sarcastically.

 

“Considering they have literally just had a couple of days’ worth of delays at the mountains,” Connor grimaced.

 

Jason smiled sourly. “Yeah. Those never happen.”…then find the giants’ HQ and stop them from waking Gaea before August first.”

 

“Less than a month to do that,” Travis noted. “That’s going to be close.”

 

“Running on tight deadlines is what we do,” Frank sighed.

 

“Theoretically,” Hazel agreed. “But I’d still like to know how we make our way through the House of Hades without going insane or dying.”

 

“That would be a good start,” Will agreed.

 

Nobody volunteered any ideas…And July is the seventh month.”

 

“I’d call it unlucky,” Poseidon scowled.

 

“But there will only be six of you going into the House of Hades,” Katie reminded Frank who nodded.

 

“I’d rather it was seven,” He sighed. “Or eight,” He added, glancing at Nico.

 

“Yeah, but…” Leo tapped his fingers nervously on the table…Tell me it’s a coincidence we’re searching for the Doors of Death during the ghost month.”

 

“Maybe, maybe not. But it’s not like we can wait until August,” Jason shrugged.

 

No one spoke…She didn’t mean seventh as in ghost, did she?

 

“What?” Beckendorf yelped. “No, she can’t have meant that.”

 

“You’re not a ghost,” Hazel told him with a wan smile.

 

Jason pressed his hands against the arms of his chair…Nico fell backward out of his chair and banged his head against the sideboard.

 

“Nico!” Will cried out.

 

“It’s ok,” Nico assured him. “I’ll survive a little tumble.”

 

“The last thing you need is more injuries, even small ones,” Hades reminded his son. Nico rolled his eyes.

 

He collapsed on the floor, with a dozen magic goblets…He stumbled into the table and went face-first into Leo’s plate of scrambled eggs.

 

“At least that was a soft landing,” Michael chuckled. Frank grimaced.

 

“Look!” Jason pointed at the walls. The images of Camp Half-Blood…The face seemed to be trying to eat its way into the room.

 

“That’ll be the dwarves,” Hermes grinned.

 

“What the heck?” Leo gaped.

 

“They are…special,” Apollo smirked. “You’ll have a great time.”

 

“Why do I doubt that?” Jason muttered.

 

“Because you’re smart,” Thalia told him.

 

The other walls flickered, showing scenes from above deck…her mouth gagged and her legs bound to the control console.

 

“Piper!” Silena called.

 

“At least I’m only tied up, not injured except for my pride,” Piper shrugged.

 

"How are the dwarves doing that? And why would they show the others what's going on?" Connor frowned.

 

"I'm guessing Festus is the one showing them what's going on," Beckendorf said with a smile. He loved that dragon.

 

At the mainmast, Coach Hedge was similarly bound and gagged…danced around him, doing the coach’s hair in tiny pigtails with pink rubber bands.

 

Grover looked horrified while everyone else snickered slightly.

 

On the port-side wall, the huge ugly face receded so that Leo…Then he pried the Archimedes sphere out of the command console.

 

“Not the sphere!” Leo complained. “I’m going to kill those dwarves.”

 

“No!” Leo yelled…“Stealing my stuff!” Leo yelled, and he ran for the stairs.

 

“Done,” Jason grinned. This was much nice to read about than Tartarus. They all could do with some levity.


“My turn,” Silena said.

Chapter Text

Leo was vaguely aware of Hazel shouting, “Go! I’ll take care of Nico!”

 

“Hey, if they need you, you should go,” Nico frowned at his sister.

 

“No. Someone needs to stay. You hit your head. Besides, those three should be enough to get a couple of dwarves, no matter how tricky they are, especially once they free Piper and Hedge,” Hazel told him.

 

As if Leo was going to turn back. Sure, he hoped di Angelo was okay, but he had headaches of his own.

 

“Thanks,” Nico said dryly.

 

“Sorry man,” Leo winced.

 

“It’s fine,” Nico chuckled. “You need to go and help Piper and get the ship controller back.”

 

Leo bounded up the steps, with Jason and Frank behind him…His green-plaid pants were pinned at the cuffs, and held up with bright-red suspenders over a striped pink-and-black woman’s blouse.

 

“That’s…hideous,” Aphrodite looked green. All of her children also looked horrified. The rest of the demigods were busy laughing their heads off.

 

“That is, er…interesting,” Connor said, trying to stop laughing.

 

He wore half a dozen gold watches on each arm, and a zebra-patterned cowboy hat with a price tag dangling from the brim.

 

“And it keeps getting worse,” Silena grimaced.

 

His skin was covered with patches of scraggly red fur, though ninety percent of his body hair seemed to be concentrated in his magnificent eyebrows.

 

“That is pretty hideous,” Travis nodded.

 

“Weren’t there two of them?” Chris asked. “Leo’s only describing one.”

 

Leo was just forming the thought Where’s the other dwarf?...Do not leave boxes of magic grenades where dwarfs can reach them.

 

“Good to know,” Beckendorf chuckled.

 

“Magic grenades?” Clarisse asked eagerly.

 

“Those sound awesome,” Thalia agreed.

 

“Except when dwarves use them against you,” Percy grinned.

 

At least he was alive. Leo had been experimenting with all sorts of weapons…spray acid, fire, shrapnel, or freshly buttered popcorn. (Hey, you never knew when you’d get hungry in battle.)

 

“Leo, you’re a man after my own heart,” Percy declared.

 

“Those all sound awesome,” Connor beamed. “Great job, Leo.”

 

“Those scrolls and the sphere truly are going to be a huge asset,” Frank looked impressed. “Definitely worth a bit of trouble to get them.”

 

“Yeah,” Jason agreed.

 

Judging from the ringing in Leo’s ears, the dwarf had detonated the flash-bang grenade, which Leo had filled with a rare vial of Apollo’s music, pure liquid extract.

 

“Ouch,” The Greek demigods all winced.

 

“And I thought Grover’s music was a lethal weapon,” Percy muttered. Grover glared at him while Thalia and Annabeth both tried to hide their chuckles.

 

“I wonder where you got that from,” Will frowned. “Like you said, it’s rare and I somehow doubt you’ve had time to stop and get supplies like that.”

 

“And I’m sure it would have been mentioned if dad stopped by at any point,” Michael agreed.

 

“Who knows, lets just be glad Leo can make such cool stuff in the future,” Beckendorf shrugged.

 

It didn’t kill, but it left Leo feeling like he’d just done a belly flop off the deep end…No. His friends didn’t smell like heavily perfumed monkey cages.

 

Everyone laughed at that.

 

He managed to turn over. His vision was out of focus and tinted pink…He showed off the prize he’d just stolen—Leo’s tool belt—then danced away.

 

“Not my belt!” Leo exclaimed indignantly.

 

“I love those guys,” Hermes smirked.

 

“You would,” Ares rolled his eyes. “They steal stuff more often than you do.”

 

“Well, Hecate told Hazel to seek the dwarves in Bologna. They must have something useful for you guys,” Connor grinned.

 

“I’m gonna strangle those guys,” Leo scowled.

 

Leo tried to grab him, but his fingers were numb…He bowed to Leo, doffing his zebra cowboy hat, and did a backflip over the side.

 

Everybody except Leo was trying not to laugh even more.

 

Leo managed to get up. Jason was already on his feet…He was sprawled on the deck with his tongue hanging out and his gorilla eyes rolled up in his head.

 

“Frank!” Hazel exclaimed.

 

“I’m sure I’ll be alright. It was only a flashbang and gorillas are tough,” He said, but he looked unhappy.

 

“Piper!” Jason staggered to the helm and carefully pulled the gag out of her mouth…At the mast, Coach Hedge mumbled, “HHHmmmmm-hmmm!”

 

“That sounds about right,” Clarisse chuckled.

 

“Those two words are included in most of his sentences,” Grover sighed.

 

Leo figured that meant: “KILL THEM!” Easy translation, since most of the coach’s sentences involved the word kill.

 

They all nodded, some despairingly, or in Clarisse’s case, in agreement.

 

Leo glanced at the control console. His Archimedes sphere was gone.

 

“That’s not good,” Beckendorf frowned. “Who knows what chaos they could cause with that.”

 

“Pretty awesome chaos,” Travis grinned excitedly.

 

He put his hand to his waist, where his tool belt should have been…Failure wasn’t an option. Neither was waiting for his friends to recover.

 

“They’ve already taken out most of you pretty easily,” Annabeth pointed out with a frown. “It might be best to wait for at least one person to recover and help you.”

 

He turned to Jason. “You feeling good enough to control the winds? I need a lift.”…“Good,” Leo said. “We’ve got some monkey dudes to catch.”

 

“Well, Leo said ‘we’, so I guess Jason is well enough to go with him,” Piper said. “That’s something.”

 

Jason and Leo touched down in a big piazza lined with white marble government…Jason wielding a gold sword, and Leo…well, Leo pretty much empty-handed.

 

Beckendorf, Piper and Percy all looked concerned about that.

 

“I’m not sure weapons are going to be much good against them,” Chris said. “You need to try something else.”

 

“Where to?” Jason asked…Oh, wait! I don’t have a dwarf-tracking GPS—or my tool belt!”

 

“It’s not Jason’s fault,” Thalia frowned at Leo.

 

“Yeah, sorry man,” Leo glanced at Jason.

 

“It’s alright. They stole some pretty important stuff,” Jason waved away the apology.

 

“Fine,” Jason grumbled. He glanced up at the ship as if to get his bearings, then pointed across the piazza. “The ballista fired the first dwarf in that direction, I think. Come on.”

 

“Ho hard can it be to find two awfully dressed, thieving dwarves?” Drew asked.

 

“I don’t know, they seem to be pretty sneaky too,” Katie said.

 

They waded through a lake of pigeons, then maneuvered down a side street of clothing stores…He tried not to freak, but he’d come to depend on that belt for almost everything.

 

“I know it’s super useful but relying on it too heavily is a bad idea. You never know when stuff will get lost on quests,” Beckendorf told him. “Or stolen,” He added.

 

“Yeah,” Leo sighed.

 

He felt like somebody had stolen one of his hands…And now he didn’t even have his tool belt or his Archimedes sphere.

 

“You’ll catch them,” Piper told him confidently. “Between you and Jason, you can do it.”

 

“Thanks, Pipes,” He smiled gratefully at her.

 

“And if not, well, we know what to expect this time around,” Travis added. Leo nodded.

 

He was so absorbed with feeling sorry for himself that he didn’t notice…Looming over them was a huge bronze statue of a buck-naked Neptune.

 

“Seriously?” Percy wrinkled his nose.

 

“A lot of statues from the ancient times were naked,” Annabeth reminded him.

 

“Still, I don’t need to hear about ones of my dad,” Percy complained.

 

“I’m glad I live under the sea,” Triton muttered.

 

“Ah, jeez.” Leo averted his eyes. He really didn’t need to see a godly groin this early in the morning.

 

The demigods were all torn between snickering and looking grossed out.

 

The sea god stood on a big marble column in the middle of a fountain…Neptune himself (avoid the groin) was throwing his hip to one side in an Elvis Presley move.

 

“My eyes!” Percy groaned.

 

“You can’t see the statue now,” Thalia rolled her eyes.

 

“My ears!” He complained dramatically. Everyone except Poseidon chuckled at his antics.

 

He gripped his trident loosely in his right hand and stretched his left hand…I’d just feel better if we ran across Jupiter. Or Minerva. Anybody but Neptune, really.”

 

Poseidon grumbled while Athena muttered angrily about not helping out any Romans.

 

Leo climbed into the dry fountain. He put his hand on the statue’s pedestal…“I want a secret lair!” yelled another voice from above.

 

“I think you found them,” Connor grinned.

 

Jason stepped back, his sword ready. Leo almost got whiplash trying to look…red-furred dwarf lifted his espresso. Judging from his dilated eyes and his maniacal grin, he didn’t need any more caffeine.

 

“They sound like you two,” Katie rolled her eyes at her boyfriend.

 

“I don’t know what you mean,” Travis denied with a smirk.

 

“Yes, you do,” Michael told him. “Thieving, pranking brothers, that’s just like you two.”

 

“Passalos! Singer of songs! Drinker of coffee! Stealer of shiny stuff!”

 

“Please!” shrieked his brother, Akmon. “I steal much better than you.”

 

“They even sound like you two,” Annabeth laughed.

 

Passalos snorted. “Stealing naps, maybe!” He took out a knife…“Hey!” Jason yelled. “That’s my girlfriend’s knife!”

 

“By the sounds of it, they might as well have it,” Piper muttered.

 

“The visions have come in a bit handy,” Jason reminded her. She shrugged.

 

He lunged at Passalos, but the red-furred dwarf was too quick…Passalos did a backward somersault and landed out of reach. Leo’s pants promptly fell around his knees.

 

Everybody, except Leo, sniggered.

 

“I’m gonna strangle those dwarves,” Leo growled.

 

He stared at Passalos, who was now grinning and holding a small…“Okay,” Akmon said. “You don’t have moves.”

 

They all snorted at that.

 

“Bah!” Passalos said. “Give me the tool belt. I want to see.”…he pulled out the Archimedes sphere and began tinkering with the ancient bronze dials.

 

Beckendorf, Leo and Hephaestus all winced.

 

“Stop!” Leo yelled. “That’s a delicate machine.”…He was sure Passalos was going to ruin the Archimedes sphere any second now.

 

“I think they mean Heracles,” Apollo snorted.

 

“Black bottom?” Jason asked.

 

“They like to give people nicknames,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“Yes, you know.” Akmon grinned. “Hercules. We called him Black Bottom…“Oh, very nice! I’m definitely keeping this! Thanks, Blue Bottom!”

 

“Blue bottom?” Will snickered.

 

Blue Bottom?...revealing his blue undershorts. “That’s it!” he shouted. “My stuff. Now. Or I’ll show you how funny a flaming dwarf is.”

 

The demigods made a valiant effort to stop themselves laughing at Leo’s misfortune. They mostly failed.

 

His hands caught fire…Unfortunately, Jason was too busy summoning his storm.

 

“Oh great,” Jason groaned.

 

“Of course it was a trap,” Connor sighed. “How did we not see that?”

 

Leo rolled on his back as five golden cords shot from the Neptune statue’s fingers…him like a rodeo calf and yanking him upside down.

 

Jason grimaced.

 

A bolt of lightning blasted the tines of Neptune’s trident…“Hercules hung us upside down once, you know. Oh, revenge is sweet!”

 

“Always taking it out on other people who aren’t Hercules, or the gods,” Thalia complained.

 

Leo summoned a fireball. He lobbed it at Passalos…“Bye!” Passalos did a backflip and ran after his brother.

 

“Well, that’s the sphere back,” Pollux said.

 

“But they still have Piper’s dagger, Leo’s toolbelt and who knows what else,” Chris pointed out.

 

“I’m not leaving until I get my belt back,” Leo scowled.

 

Leo scooped up the Archimedes sphere and ran over to Jason…Leo left Jason hanging and ran after them.

 

“Done,” Silena said. She was glad she got a nice chapter. Yes they were technically under an attack of sorts, but nobody was dying, or in Tartarus, so it was pretty much a win.

 

"I'll read," Gwen offered. Silena handed her the book with a smile.

Chapter Text

The dwarfs didn’t try very hard to lose him, which made Leo suspicious.

 

“I’d be suspicious too,” Will agreed.

 

“I think we all would. Especially given how easy it would be for them to completely disappear,” Chris nodded.

 

They stayed just at the edge of his vision, scampering over red-tiled rooftops…from Leo’s tool belt—almost as if they wanted Leo to follow.

 

“Another trap?” Clarisse guessed.

 

“Probably,” Travis agreed.

 

He jogged after them, cursing every time his pants fell down.

 

There were some stifled sniggers at that.

 

He turned a corner and saw two ancient stone towers jutting into the sky…A grocery store? Hmm…

 

“That sounds like you have an idea,” Beckendorf grinned.

 

“Well, if I don’t have any tools to make stuff, I might as well go and get some,” Leo said.

 

“But will you have any money? And if you do, will it be euros?” Annabeth wondered.

 

“Let’s hope so,” Leo frowned. He didn’t want to have to steal stuff, but they couldn’t afford not to get the sphere back, or his tool belt.

 

Leo patted his pockets. To his amazement, he still had some euro notes from his time in Rome. Those stupid dwarfs had taken everything except his money.

 

“I wonder why you have euros? Demigods don’t carry much money as a rule,” Percy frowned.

 

“Maybe I stocked up before leaving camp. The store does give out some mortal money, and I knew we were going to Rome,” Leo shrugged.

 

He ran for the store as fast as his zipperless pants allowed…He didn’t want to end up in an Italian jail.

 

“Dangerous chemicals?” Dakota asked warily.

 

“Well, this should be fun,” Percy laughed.

 

“Gotta have some sort of weapon,” Leo shrugged.

 

Fortunately, he didn’t need to read labels. He could tell just from picking up…Pretty much everything he needed, plus a laundry cord he could use as a belt.

 

“Definitely some interesting things you could make with those,” Beckendorf mused.

 

He added some Italian junk food to the basket, just to sort of disguise his more…but he managed to pay, get a bag, and race out.

 

“Nice,” Connor grinned at him.

 

He ducked into the nearest doorway where he could keep an eye on the towers…Probably it was taking them a long time to get all those pink rubber bands out of Coach Hedge’s hair.

 

Everyone snorted at that.

 

“Or it’s taking them a long time to find you, same as Jason,” Reyna said.

 

“I’m sure he’ll be easy to find soon enough,” Beckendorf smirked.

 

That meant Leo had only himself, his bag of junk food, and a few highly improvised weapons made from sugar and toothpaste.

 

“I’m impressed you made more than one weapon out of that stuff,” Piper told him.

 

“I’m that good,” Leo grinned.

 

Oh, and the Archimedes sphere. That was kind of important. He hoped he hadn’t ruined it by filling it with chemical powder.

 

Leo winced.

 

He ran to the tower and found the entrance. He started up the winding stairs inside…which for some reason the Italian didn’t seem to understand.

 

Everyone burst out laughing.

 

“Yeah, how could he not understand that?” Travis guffawed.

 

The guy just held out his palm for money…To his surprise, the caretaker shrugged and took the bag. “Avanti!”

 

“He accepted food instead of money?” Annabeth asked in surprise.

 

“Maybe he’s hungry,” Percy chuckled.

 

Leo kept climbing, but he made a mental note to stock up on Fonzies. Apparently they were better than cash in Italy.

 

“Seems that way,” Connor said.

 

“Good to know,” Jason noted, but he looked slightly confused.

 

“Yeah, we’ll make sure to stock up on snacks for our trip,” Frank nodded.

 

The stairs went on, and on, and on. The whole tower seemed to be nothing…Finally, his legs feeling like overcooked noodles, he reached the summit.

 

“That’s some dedication,” Pollux said.

 

The room was about the size of a broom closet, with barred windows on all four walls…“You win. I didn’t think he was that dumb.”

 

The demigods chuckled at that.

 

“Let’s call it persistent,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

They both dropped to the floor. Akmon was wearing Leo’s tool belt…As Leo had hoped, their curiosity was so strong that they couldn’t resist.

 

“Now who’s the dumb one,” Leo growled.

 

“Look.” Leo brought out his first weapon—a lump of dried chemicals…but they made for a pretty decent flash-bang.

 

“Nothing is as good as my music,” Apollo gloated.

 

“Indeed,” Artemis agreed dryly. “Nothing is as good as you at making someone go blind and deaf.” He glared at his sister and stuck his tongue out at her.

 

The Kerkopes wailed, clawing at their eyes. They stumbled toward the window…calmly summoned some bungee cords, and tied up the dwarfs.

 

“Nice!” Beckendorf grinned.

 

“Good work, Leo,” Piper smiled.

 

“Nice catch, and some good homemade weapons there,” Annabeth nodded approvingly. Leo grinned happily.

 

“My eyes!” Akmon coughed. “My tool belt!”…and a dozen other odds and ends the dwarfs had taken from the Argo II.

 

“Thanks, Leo,” Piper said. She might not like her dagger, but it had been somewhat useful.

 

“Anytime, Beauty Queen.”

 

“Please!” Akmon wailed. “Don’t take our shinies!”…Lightning flashed, and the bars on the nearest window burst into sizzling, melted stubs of iron.

 

“I’m guessing Jason finally caught up,” Thalia grinned.

 

“Nice entrance,” Percy chuckled.

 

“Bit late,” Jason grumbled.

 

“At least Leo made it easy to find so you weren’t searching for too long,” Reyna comforted him while hiding a smile.

 

Jason flew in like Peter Pan, electricity sparking around him and his gold sword steaming…There were coins, gold nuggets, jewelry, paper clips, foil wrappers, cuff links.

 

“The coins, nuggets and jewelry all sound awesome,” Connor said eagerly.

 

“But none of those things sound like they will be useful on the quest, not more so than anything else,” Frank frowned.

 

He kept coming back to a couple of things that didn’t seem to belong. One was an old bronze navigation device, like an astrolabe from a ship.

 

“An astrolabe?” Apollo frowned. “How will that help? You know where you’re going.”

 

“Maybe they end up getting lost somehow?” Silena suggested.

 

“I guess we’ll find out,” Jason shrugged.

 

It was badly damaged and seemed to be missing some pieces…One of his last inventions, and we stole it!”

 

“I wonder why he was making that?” Annabeth frowned. “He was already home by then.”

 

Hermes shifted uncomfortably. He suspected what Odysseus had been trying to find with that. And if they needed that on their quest, did that mean she was still there? Percy was going to go mental if the gods had not fulfilled their promise to free her.

 

“How does it work?” Leo asked…“‘Should’ve taken a crystal.’ That’s what he kept muttering in his sleep, the night we stole it.” Passalos shrugged.

 

“Should’ve taken a crystal? What does that mean?” Connor wondered.

 

“I’m sure Leo will find out eventually,” Travis told him.

 

“Yeah. If that is what they need, then hopefully the book will tell us what they need it for,” Clarisse stated.

 

“No idea what he meant. But the shiny is yours! Can we go now?”…“Minor god,” Passalos said. “In Venice. Really, it’s nothing.”

 

“They stole from a minor god?” Chris whistled. “They are lucky they aren’t toast.”

 

“Unless whoever it was, didn’t know who stole the book,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“Venice.” Jason frowned at Leo. “Isn’t that where we’re supposed to go next?”…the next place Hecate had told them to visit—then this had to be what they were looking for.

 

“Ok, so maybe the astrolabe isn’t important,” Dakota said.

 

“I don’t think it would have been mentioned if it wasn’t important for some reason. But the book might be what they need for the next stage of their quest,” Gwen suggested.

 

“Where exactly can we find this minor god?” Leo asked…Passalos said miserably. “I mean, I really can’t say. I can’t pronounce it! Tr—tri—It’s too hard!”

 

“Awww, I feel bad for those guys,” Travis frowned.

 

“Well, they are thieves. No wonder you have a soft spot for them,” Katie smiled fondly at him.


“They are quite funny,” Connor grinned.

 

“Truh,” Akmon said. “Tru-toh—Too many syllables!”

 

“Oh, Triptolemus,” Demeter smiled.

 

“Who?” Frank asked.

 

“He was a mortal, who helped me find my darling Persephone when she had been kidnapped.” Here Demeter glowered at Hades who rolled his eyes.

 

They both burst into tears…He had to admit he sort of admired these little guys. They played cool pranks and liked shiny things. Leo could relate.

 

The sons of Hermes, plus Percy, all nodded in agreement with that.

 

Besides, Percy and Annabeth were in Tartarus right now, hopefully still alive…monkey boys there to face the same nightmarish problem…well, it didn’t seem right.

 

Everyone winced at that reminder.

 

He imagined Gaea laughing at his weakness—a demigod too softhearted to kill monsters…“Nothing can slow them down,” Leo mused. “I wonder…”

 

“No. Please don’t do that,” Dakota groaned. Leo smirked.

 

“Gotta save my camp.”

 

“That’s playing dirty,” Gwen complained.

 

“It is war,” Connor pointed out with a gleeful grin.

 

“What?” Jason asked…“I knew you were as smart as Hercules! I will call you Black Bottom, the Sequel!”

 

“No, don’t do that,” Leo grimaced.

 

“Yeah, no thanks,” Leo said. “But in return for us sparing your lives…Leo grinned. “Ever heard of New York?”

 

All of the Romans groaned loudly.

 

“Stupid Greeks,” Octavian grumbled.

 

“That’s just mean,” Dakota glared at Leo.

 

“Chapter’s done,” Gwen announced.

 

“That makes it my turn,” Dakota sighed. He took the book from Gwen and glanced at the next page. Then he looked nervously over at Percy.

 

“Oh, please tell me it isn’t my turn!” Percy groaned, catching the glance. That made everyone sit up anxiously.

 

“Sorry,” Dakota grimaced. “It’s your turn.”

 

“Oh great,” Percy sighed. “Just read.”

Chapter Text

Percy had taken his girlfriend on some romantic walks before.

 

Apollo sighed. Yesterday, he would have thought it didn’t get much worse than hearing about Percy fighting for his life right after going on one of those romantic walks with Annabeth. And now he had to admit that he would give anything to be hearing about one of those romantic walks right now, because it had somehow got infinitely worse.

 

This wasn’t one of them.

 

“Somehow, I never thought it would be,” Annabeth gave a grim laugh.

 

“Yeah, the whole location doesn’t lend itself to anything romantic,” Silena grimaced.

 

They followed the River Phlegethon, stumbling over the glassy black terrain, jumping crevices, and hiding behind rocks whenever the vampire girls slowed in front of them.

 

“Yeah, not my idea of fun,” Triton shook his head.

 

“It’s nobody’s idea of fun,” Amphitrite reminded her son with an eye roll.

 

It was tricky to stay far enough back to avoid getting spotted but close enough to keep Kelli…When they needed a drink, the best they could do was sip some refreshing liquid fire.

 

“Marginally better than nothing?” Beckendorf offered uneasily.

 

“Yeah,” Percy nodded. “And it heals, which is good considering we have no supplies of ambrosia or nectar.”

 

“Ture,” Annabeth agreed. “That’s something.”

 

Yep. Percy definitely knew how to show a girl a good time.

 

A few people chuckled.

 

At least Annabeth’s ankle seemed to have healed. She was hardly limping at all…Despite being beat-up, sooty, and dressed like a homeless person, she looked great to Percy.

 

Annabeth smiled at him. “Thanks. It’s probably not true, but thanks.”

 

“Heh.” He shrugged. “You probably do look good considering we’re in Tartarus and what you went through before that.”

 

So what if they were in Tartarus? So what if they stood a slim chance of surviving? He was so glad that they were together, he had the ridiculous urge to smile.

 

Apollo grimaced. Then he sighed once more. After a dip in the Cocytus, he couldn’t really complain about anything that made Percy happy.

 

Physically, Percy felt better too, though his clothes looked like he’d been through…hungry, and scared out of his mind (though he wasn’t going to tell Annabeth that),

 

“I can probably guess, because I’m probably feeling the same way,” Annabeth pointed out.

 

“Yeah. Given where you are, I’d be kind of worried if you weren’t terrified,” Poseidon told his son.

 

but he’d shaken off the hopeless cold of the River Cocytus.

 

“That’s good,” Apollo let out a sigh of relief.

 

And as nasty as the firewater tasted, it seemed to keep him going…An animal of some kind? The empousai attacked it with relish.

 

“Gross,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

“Better the carcass than Percy and Annabeth,” Piper pointed out. Silena nodded in agreement.

 

When the demons moved on, Percy and Annabeth reached the spot…“Come on.” He led Annabeth gently away from the scene. “We don’t want to lose them.”

 

“Good idea,” Connor nodded.

 

As they walked, Percy thought about the first time he’d fought the empousa Kelli…Now, he’d give anything to have a problem that simple.

 

“The good old days,” Rachel gave a wan smile.

 

“Yep,” Percy agreed. “Even fighting Kronos seems simply compared to this.”

 

At least he’d been in the mortal world then. Here, there was nowhere to run…When he started looking back on the war with Kronos as the good old days—that was sad.

 

Poseidon and Apollo both nodded.

 

He kept hoping things would get better for Annabeth and him…instead of thread just to see how much two demigods could tolerate.

 

Everyone winced at that image.

 

After a few more miles, the empousai disappeared over a ridge…Every once in a while, a bubble would swell and burst, disgorging a monster like a larva from an egg.

 

“Oh great, I hadn’t even thought about having to hear about Tartarus from Percy’s point of view, with his disgustingly detailed descriptions,” Nico grimaced.

 

“Yeah, this is going to be disgusting,” Thalia agreed.

 

“I can’t help it. I didn’t ask for my thoughts to be written down,” Percy grumbled.

 

Personally, Hera would take as many disgusting descriptions as possible over hearing about Percy getting injured and having to feel everything.

 

Suddenly Percy wasn’t hungry anymore…toward a bank of black fog that swallowed the horizon like a storm front.

 

“Oh great, a creepy black fog,” Michael grimaced. “I guess that’s where you’re heading.”

 

“Sounds about right,” Annabeth sighed in frustration.

 

The Phlegethon flowed in the same direction until about halfway across the plain...boiling cataract and flowed on as one toward the black fog.

 

“Er, that’s not good. If the Phlegethon has disappeared, how are you going to heal?” Will asked anxiously.

 

“I don’t know but I’m not drinking it once it has mixed with another river,” Percy pulled a face.

 

“A wise idea,” Hades nodded.

 

The longer Percy looked into that storm of darkness, the less he wanted to go there.

 

“Another reason it is definitely where you’re going to have to go,” Triton grimaced.

 

It could be hiding anything—an ocean, a bottomless pit, an army of monsters. But if the Doors of Death were in that direction, it was their only chance to get home.

 

“Awesome,” Percy sighed.

 

He peered over the edge of the cliff…I wonder if they’re still down here somewhere.”

 

Grover shuddered. “I hate those things,” He grumbled.

 

“They probably are. Unless they’ve been eaten by something,” Travis shrugged.

 

Percy remembered. Those shoes had been cursed to drag their wearer into Tartarus…Above them, dark winged shapes spiraled in and out of the bloodred clouds.

 

“Definitely not a good idea to use a hand glider,” Leo noted.

 

“Furies?” Percy wondered.

 

“Unlikely, I don’t often send them to Tartarus, and they get a fast pass back up if they are killed,” Hades shook his head.

 

“Unless someone killed them and Gaea won’t give them a fast pass back,” Nico pointed out.

 

“Possible,” Hades conceded.

 

“Or some other kind of demon,” Annabeth said. “Tartarus has thousands.”

 

“Including the kind that eats hang gliders,” Percy guessed.

 

Everyone chuckled at that. They hated that Percy was in Tartarus, but it was certainly a place where they could use his sense of humour.

 

“Okay, so we climb.”…It was clear where he and Annabeth needed to go.

 

“Er, it does matter,” Clarisse corrected. “If they notice you and you can’t see them, they can set an ambush up.”

 

“That sounds like out luck,” Percy groaned.

 

Like all the maggot monsters crawling over the plains of Tartarus, they should head toward the dark horizon. Percy was just brimming with enthusiasm for that.

 

“We all are,” Nico commented dryly.

 

“Chapter’s done,” Dakota said, heaving a sigh of relief nothing too terrible had happened.

 

“Simply wonderful,” Dionysus drawled sarcastically. “That means it’s my turn.” Dakota happily handed the book to his dad.

Chapter Text

As they started down the cliff, Percy concentrated on the challenges at hand…and of course making sure he and Annabeth didn’t plummet to their deaths.

 

“All of those are important,” Apollo nodded.

 

“I have a horrible feeling that the empousai already know you’re there,” Beckendorf grimaced.

 

“Don’t say that,” Triton begged.

 

“I’m with Beckendorf,” Reyna frowned. “I think that both of them are already injured and tired. There is no way they aren’t making some noise going down that cliff.”

 

“Or that they’ve gone that long without smelling them,” Nico added.

 

“Percy’s luck isn’t that good,” Grover agreed unhappily. Percy pulled a face, knowing how true that was.

 

About halfway down the precipice, Annabeth said, “Stop, okay? Just a quick break.”…Percy cursed himself for not calling a rest earlier.

 

“You have enough to think about without also worrying about exactly when to call a rest. Annabeth asked for one when she needed one,” Thalia told Percy.

 

“Yeah. You don’t have to do every single thing by yourself. You’re already trying to take responsibility for keeping her spirits up and doing all the fighting because she doesn’t have a weapon,” Poseidon reminded his son. Percy was already doing the majority of the heaving lifting; he didn’t need to add more to his load.

 

They sat together on a ledge next to a roaring fiery waterfall. Percy put his arm around Annabeth, and she leaned against him, shaking from exhaustion.

 

Connor gripped Annabeth’s hand.

 

“You’re doing pretty well for someone who spent hours under Rome with her worst nightmare and a broken ankle,” He said, seeing the concern on her face. “You went from a mental hell to the physical version. You can’t expect to be at the top of your game.”

 

“But I have to be at the top of my game. We both do or we aren’t making it out alive,” Annabeth pointed out. Connor grimaced.

 

He wasn’t much better. His stomach felt like it had shrunk to the size of a gumdrop. If they came across any more monster carcasses, he was afraid he might pull an empousa and try to devour it.

 

“Eww,” Drew wrinkled her nose.

 

“Yeah, don’t do that, that would be more likely to poison you,” Apollo advised.

 

“I have no intention of eating monster carcass,” Percy assured him. “Not raw anyway,” He added. Everyone looked at him with grossed out expressions.

 

At least he had Annabeth. They would find a way out of Tartarus…Annabeth and he were supposed to be together.

 

Apollo and Connor both pulled faces at that.

 

They hadn’t survived so much just to get killed now.

 

“That’s definitely true. If anyone gets to kill you, it’s me, kelphead,” Thalia smirked at him.

 

“Wait in line,” Reyna laughed. “Technically I met him first.”

 

“No, that pleasure was mine,” Grover stated. “I get to kill him for giving me a heart attack.”

 

“Feeling the love here guys,” Percy grumbled good-naturedly. The demigods all chuckled.

 

“Things could be worse,” Annabeth ventured…“We could’ve fallen into the River Lethe,” she said. “Lost all our memories.”

 

“That would be bad,” Poseidon grimaced.

 

“Pretty much all the other river options were bad,” Hades stated dryly.

 

Percy’s skin crawled just thinking about it. He’d had enough trouble with amnesia for one lifetime.

 

Everybody scowled at Hera.

 

Only last month, Hera had erased his memories to put him among the Roman demigods…“Uh…Iapetus. He said it meant the Impaler or something.”

 

“Wow, you actually know what his name means and everything,” Leo joked.

 

“No idea how,” Percy shrugged.

 

“No, the name you gave him after he lost his memory. Steve?”…Annabeth managed a weak laugh. “Bob the Titan.”

 

“I wonder how he’s getting on,” Percy frowned.

 

“I’ve been to check on him a couple of times,” Nico admitted. “We talk sometimes.”

 

“You sit and have chats with a titan?” Will asked cautiously. Hades stared at his son as if he had lost his mind.

 

“He thinks we’re friends,” Nico shrugged. “And it made for some company other than ghosts.”

 

“Well, maybe you can introduce me next time you go,” Will said. Nico smiled and agreed.

 

Percy’s lips were so parched, it hurt to smile. He wondered what had happened to Iapetus…Underworld seemed to bring out the worst in everyone—monsters, heroes, and gods.

 

Hades and Nico both pulled faces at that.

 

He gazed across the ashen plains. The other Titans were supposed to be here in Tartarus…Titan particles floating through the blood-colored clouds or lurking in that dark fog.

 

“Please don’t think about that,” Apollo cringed.

 

“Agreed. Bad thoughts,” Percy nodded.

 

Percy decided not to think about that. He kissed Annabeth’s forehead. “We should keep moving. You want some more fire to drink?”

 

“Not a sentence you hear every day,” Piper commented.

 

“That’s pretty much every sentence in these books,” Silena gave a forced laugh.

 

“Yeah. Each time we think that, the sentences get weirder,” Chris agreed.

 

“Ugh. I’ll pass.”

 

“Better not,” Michael said. “Didn’t Percy note that the river disappears soon?”

 

“Yeah, this might be your last chance for a while,” Travis nodded. “Best have some while you can.”

 

They struggled to their feet. The rest of the cliff looked impossible to descend…His fingers cramped. He felt blisters popping up on his ankles. He got shaky from hunger.

 

Hera flexed her fingers and tried to hide her shakes while glowering angrily at Poseidon.

 

He wondered if they would die of starvation, or if the firewater would keep them going…Jeez, Percy hadn’t thought about Tantalus in years.

 

All of the Greek demigods scowled.

 

That stupid guy had been paroled briefly to serve as director at Camp Half-Blood.

 

The glares all turned towards Dionysus for hiring the guy.

 

Probably he was back in the Fields of Punishment. Percy had never felt sorry for the jerk…getting hungrier and hungrier for eternity but never being able to eat.

 

Poseidon conjured a plate of food and held it out to his son. Percy raised an eyebrow. Poseidon just held the plate closer. Percy shrugged and took it. He began picking at some of the food, offering more of it to Apollo.

 

Keep climbing, he told himself…With fries, his stomach complained.

 

Despite the situation the demigods all chuckled.

 

“Your stomach has good taste,” Thalia grinned. “Nothing better than a cheeseburger.”

 

A billion years later, with a dozen new blisters on his feet, Percy reached the bottom…Phlegethon split into branches that etched the plain, widening into a delta of smoke and fire.

 

“At least if the main bit merges with another river, there is still some of the Phlegethon left to drink if you do get injured,” Will said.

 

“That’s some good news,” Rachel agreed.

 

To the north, along the main route of the river, the ground was riddled with cave entrances…the ground was a single vast membrane…like skin.

 

All the demigods looked disgusted at that.

 

“Please don’t think about it,” Poseidon begged.

 

“If you do, then you might see through the Mist. And that would be bad,” Apollo warned.

 

“Great,” Percy grimaced. “Now that’s all I’m going to be able to think about.”

 

He almost threw up, but forced himself not to. There was nothing in his stomach but fire.

 

“That would be nasty,” Beckendorf winced.

 

He didn’t mention it to Annabeth, but he started to feel like something was watching them…The spires of rock looked like broken ribs. And if the ground was skin…

 

“No, no, please stop,” Poseidon cringed. The last thing Percy needed was to see Tartarus as it really was. The other five elder gods all grimaced.

 

“Hang on,” Dakota frowned. “Percy didn’t mention the empousai in his description of the plain.”

 

“And Percy is pretty observant. He wouldn’t have missed those out,” Thalia stated.

 

“Which means either they’ve gone so far ahead they are out of sight,” Grover began.

 

“Or, they are hiding somewhere waiting to ambush them,” Connor continued.

 

Percy forced those thoughts aside. This place was just freaking him out. That was all…The monster snatched the squealing telkhine in its jaws and dragged it into the darkness.

 

“Avoid the caves,” Leo muttered.

 

“Definitely,” Percy agreed.

 

Reborn in Tartarus for two seconds, only to be eaten. Percy wondered if that telkhine…He would’ve given a thousand golden drachmas to have Frank Zhang with them right now

 

Frank looked surprised but gave Percy a smile.

 

good old Frank, who always seemed to show up when needed and could turn into an eagle or a dragon to fly them across this stupid wasteland.

 

“And go close to whatever is in those clouds? No thanks,” Frank grimaced.

 

“Yeah. That would be bad,” Jason wrinkled his nose.

 

They started walking, trying to avoid the cave entrances…Suddenly he remembered why they’d started following this route, and he froze in his tracks.

 

“Aw, crap,” Annabeth groaned.

 

“It’s an ambush,” Rachel sighed.

 

“And five versus, like, one and a half,” Clarisse grimaced. Annabeth glared at being called a half, but couldn’t deny it either.

 

“The empousai.” He grabbed Annabeth’s arm. “Where are they?”…Too late, Percy drew his sword.

 

“At least you drew it,” Nico offered hopefully.

 

The empousai emerged from the rocks all around them—five of them forming a ring. A perfect trap.

 

Everyone groaned, despite knowing what was coming.

 

Kelli limped forward on her mismatched legs…“How awesome! I don’t even have to return to the mortal world to destroy you!”

 

“I am finished,” Dionysus announced.

 

“Wonderful,” Demeter sighed. She took the book from Dionysus and quickly began reading.

Chapter Text

Percy recalled how dangerous Kelli had been the last time they’d fought in the Labyrinth…dodged his sword strikes and would have eaten his face if Annabeth hadn’t stabbed her from behind.

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

Now she had four friends with her.

 

“Not good,” Pollux winced.

 

“Pretty not good, yeah,” Dakota agreed with his half-brother.

 

“And your friend Annabeth is with you!” Kelli hissed with laughter…Don’t have your weapon? Bummer. I’d use it to kill you.”

 

Annabeth winced at the reminder of her lost weapon. It wasn’t like just losing any old weapon. Luke had given her that. And no matter what he had done, it had been a gift from one of her heroes. And her first crush.

 

She had finally accepted her feelings for Luke as that of a brother. She forgave him for what he had done while under Kronos’ spell. If even Percy, the most loyal demigod she knew, could understand why Luke had done what he had done, she could understand his actions. If he hadn’t sacrificed his life to stop Kronos in the future, then she might feel different, but he had come back to their side, and would probably have done so before that if he had been able to. It allowed her to put him back on the pedestal he had been on for most of her life.

 

Annabeth had also accepted that Percy no longer had a crush on her. Even an idiot could see the easy affection between him and Apollo. She had never known Percy be that relaxed in her presence, and she did regret that. She knew that she had been in some ways testing him, to make sure he wouldn’t leave like everyone else in her life. And that wasn’t fair to Percy. He spent so much time looking after everyone else, he needed someone who could look after him for once and that wasn’t her. No matter how much it hurt to admit.

 

She glanced over at Connor who was still holding her hand. For the first time she could truly see him for who he was, not just Travis’ brother, not a replacement for Luke. Just Connor. Who had been a steady presence throughout the majority of her life. Whether that was playing pranks or making her laugh with his jokes. Connor who was willing to wait for her to make up her mind, who was genuinely interested in things she liked. Something she hadn’t experienced before with any other than her siblings. Even Thalia and Percy zoned out when she talked about most thing involving architecture.

 

She noticed Connor looking at her, half curious, half concerned. Annabeth gave him a soft smile which he returned. She noticed just how different his smile was from the one she associated with most Hermes kids. With Luke. It wasn’t even a smile she associated with Travis, except when they caught him watching Katie out in the strawberry fields.

 

Percy tried to think. He and Annabeth stood shoulder to shoulder as they had many times before…They were hopelessly outnumbered. There was nowhere to run. No help coming.

 

Apollo and the sea crew all grimaced at that.

 

Briefly Percy considered calling for Mrs. O’Leary, his hellhound friend who could shadow-travel. Even if she heard him, could she make it into Tartarus?

 

“She should be able to,” Hade said, considering. “She is a monster after all.”

 

“But would being in Tartarus turn her back into a vicious monster, rather than the nice one trained by Daedalus?” Annabeth wondered.

 

“Not immediately I would think,” Hades answered, when it became clear everyone was looking at him as he was the being considered the most likely person to know the answer. “Being in Tartarus for a long time might have a similar effect to respawning. But I don’t think anyone has ever actually researched that.”

 

“I wonder why,” Hermes muttered sarcastically.

 

This was where monsters went when they died. Calling her here might kill her, or turn her back to her natural state as a fierce monster. No…he couldn’t do that to his dog.

 

“Percy, it might well be a question of your dog or your life,” Apollo looked at him with a frown.

 

“Well, if she turned back into a vicious monster, we would have even more issues which we clearly can’t afford,” Percy pointed out. Apollo gave him a look that quite clearly said he didn’t believe that excuse but didn’t argue further.

 

So, no help. Fighting was a long shot…Kelli snickered. “Not really. I just want to kill you.”

 

“Well, that went well,” Piper muttered sarcastically.

 

“It’s Annabeth’s tactic for a reason,” Percy shrugged. “She’s better at it than I am.”

 

“You can be quite good at stalling,” Amphitrite pointed out. “And you often work better on your feet.”

 

That would’ve been it, but Annabeth chimed in…The last time she was in the mortal world, Kelli was in charge of keeping my friend Luke Castellan faithful to Kronos.

 

Annabeth, Thalia and Hermes all winced.

 

In the end, Luke rejected him. He gave his life to expel Kronos. The Titans lost because Kelli failed. Now Kelli wants to lead you to another disaster.”

 

“I think there was a bit more to it than that,” Poseidon muttered grumpily.

 

“Not important,” Triton reminded his father. “As long as it can help turn the others against Kelli, who seems to be the most dangerous and the leader.” Poseidon couldn’t really argue with that.

 

The other empousai muttered and shifted uneasily…Percy was pretty sure Kelli had had a thing for Luke Castellan.

 

“Well, the guys empousai have a thing for often end up dead, so it’s a good thing she didn’t act on it,” Chris spoke up in Luke’s defense. “If it hadn’t been Luke that Kronos possessed, then the replacement might not have been so willing to sacrifice themselves to defeat him.”

 

Luke had that effect on girls—even donkey-legged vampires—and Percy wasn’t sure bringing up his name was such a good idea.

 

Annabeth pulled a face.

 

“The girl lies,” Kelli said. “So the Titans lost. Fine! That was part of the plan to wake Gaea!

 

“I’m not sure it was,” Thalia muttered.

 

“Probably not. I doubt Gaea wanted the titans to fail,” Demeter said.

 

“She has been preparing for a long time, before Kronos had even risen,” Apollo pointed out.

 

“Maybe she knew they would fail. Or at least had an inkling. The prophecy did give a fifty-fifty chance,” Artemis reminded them. “She would be a fool not to prepare for failure with those odds. And unfortunately, Gaea is no fool.”

 

“But, when she attacked Leo and his mom she said she knew Leo would be part of the fight against her,” Piper frowned, shooting an apologetic look at Leo.

 

“Well, she might have risen anyway if Kronos won,” Hephaestus said, a hint of anger in his tone.

 

Now the Earth Mother and her giants will destroy the mortal world…That wasn’t nearly as scary as empousai ready to feed.

 

“What do you mean in a tank with the water full of blood?” Rachel asked anxiously.

 

“Er,” Percy grimaced. “When I hit the wrong button and sent our school class into the water tank, someone got injured in the fall. Enough to bleed into the water. So, it was before I knew I was a son of Poseidon.” They all nodded in understanding.

 

He prepared to attack, but how many could he dispatch before they overwhelmed him? …The empousai backed up nervously, hissing, “Romani.”

 

“Yeah, you’d better be afraid,” Dakota cheered.

 

Percy guessed they’d had experience with the Twelfth Legion before, and it hadn’t worked out well for them.

 

The Romans all smiled smugly.

 

“Yeah, you bet Romani.” Percy bared his forearm and showed them the brand…“You mix Greek and Roman, and you know what you get? You get BAM!”

 

“You tell them, Percy,” Travis cheered.

 

“I don’t think that will stop them for long, but it gives you an advantage to take the initiative,” Reyna nodded.

 

He stomped his foot, and the empousai scrambled back. One fell off the boulder where she’d been perched.

 

Everyone snickered.

 

That made Percy feel good, but they recovered quickly and closed in again…Some of her demigod children are my friends. If you fight us, she’ll be angry.”

 

“Nice thinking,” Athena praised her daughter. “That should give them pause.”

 

“Hopefully,” Aphrodite muttered, though she didn’t have much hope of that.

 

Annabeth frowned, assuming that she was exaggerating. She didn't make friends easily, and most of the time since Hecate's children had been accepted at Camp Half-Blood had been spent at school or looking for Percy. She probably hadn't made friends with the Hecate kids. At least not close friends.

 

Percy wanted to hug Annabeth, she was so brilliant.

 

“Might want to wait until your safe for that,” Michael muttered. Percy nodded in agreement.

 

One of the other empousai growled. “Is this true, Kelli?...From her claws hung the tattered remains of Serephone’s dress.

 

“Urgh,” Everyone groaned.

 

“It would have been much better if the other one had won,” Beckendorf complained.

 

“Not how Percy’s luck works,” Connor noted.

 

“Don’t blame this on me,” Percy protested.

 

“At least one of them is gone,” Chris said hopefully.

 

“Yeah. One down, four to go,” Clarisse stated darkly.

 

“Any more issues?” Kelli snapped at her sisters. “Hecate is the goddess of the Mist!...I choose the path that will bring us the most demigod blood! I choose Gaea!”

 

“I don’t think the others are going to argue after that,” Jason muttered.

 

Her friends hissed in approval…She’d gotten Kelli to eliminate one of her own.

 

“That’s pretty good,” Connor said encouragingly.

 

“Yeah, but fighting four against two, with one of the two weaponless, still isn’t good,” Reyna pointed out anxiously.

 

Now there was nothing left but to fight…All because some little girl stabbed you in the back?”

 

“Be grateful it was only two years. It could have been centuries,” Nico pointed out.

 

Her baleful eyes held Annabeth’s. “I wonder what happens if a demigod is killed in Tartarus. I doubt it’s ever happened before. Let’s find out.”

 

“Let’s not,” Thalia countered.

 

Percy sprang, slashing Riptide in a huge arc. He cut one of the demons in half, but Kelli dodged and charged Annabeth.

 

“Ok, that’s good. Down to three,” Michael nodded.

 

The other two empousai launched themselves at Percy. One grabbed his sword arm. Her friend jumped on his back.

 

“Less good,” Will winced.

 

“Definitely not good. And that leaves Kelli attacking Annabeth when she has no weapon,” Katie pointed out grimly.

 

Percy tried to ignore them and staggered toward Annabeth,

 

“NO!” Apollo and the sea crew all yelled.

 

“You don’t ignore two monsters who are both attacking you,” Poseidon glared at his son, feeling beyond anxious now.

 

determined to go down defending her if he had to; but Annabeth was doing pretty well…Annabeth scooped up gravel and flung it in the empousa’s eyes.

 

“Nice,” Rachel grinned.

 

Meanwhile Percy thrashed from side to side, trying to throw off his empousa hitchhiker…The second empousa held his arm, preventing him from using Riptide.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

“At least Percy is pretty good at improvising,” Travis reminded them all.

 

“He has to be the given the amount of times he throws his weapon away, or loses it,” Triton grumbled. Percy turned slightly red.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kelli lunge, raking her talons across Annabeth’s arm. Annabeth screamed and fell.

 

“Annabeth!” Connor, Thalia and Athena all cried out.

 

Percy stumbled in her direction. The vampire on his back sank her teeth into his neck. Searing pain coursed through his body. His knees buckled.

 

Hera winced, only just managing to stop herself from putting a hand to her neck to check for a bite.

 

“Focus on yourself!” Apollo yelled.

 

“You’re going to be far more use to Annabeth if you don’t have two empousai hanging off of you,” Clarisse agreed. Percy grimaced.

 

Stay on your feet, he told himself. You have to beat them…The other two empousai circled Percy, their mouths slavering, ready for another taste.

 

“If they have let go, now is your chance,” Grover urged nervously.

 

Then a shadow fell across Percy. A deep war cry bellowed from somewhere above, echoing across the plains of Tartarus, and a Titan dropped onto the battlefield.

 

“WHAT?” Everyone yelled.

 

“That’s the chapter,” Demeter announced.

 

“Well someone hurry up and read!” Poseidon growled. Hades quickly took the book from his sister and began reading.

Chapter Text

Percy thought he was hallucinating. It just wasn’t possible that a huge, silvery figure could drop out of the sky and stomp Kelli flat, trampling her into a mound of monster dust.

 

“Awesome!” Thalia let out a sigh of relief that at least Kelli was gone.

 

“Wait,” Artemis frowned. “A silver titan? That sounds like Iapetus.”

 

“Who thinks he is Bob and a friend of Percy,” Nico grinned. “Maybe he’s there to help. Percy did mention his name earlier, maybe that counted as calling him.”

 

“Let’s hope so. And let’s hope he remains friendly in Tartarus, and doesn’t regain his memories,” Amphitrite said grimly.

 

But that’s exactly what happened. The Titan was ten feet tall, with wild silver Einstein hair, pure silver eyes, and muscular arms protruding from a ripped-up blue janitor’s uniform.

 

“Definitely Bob,” Thalia nodded.

 

In his hand was a massive push broom. His name tag, incredibly, read BOB.

 

Everyone let out sighs of relief that he wasn’t an immediate enemy. He might become one if he stayed in Tartarus long enough, but he was unlikely to be one right away.

 

Annabeth yelped and tried to crawl away, but the giant janitor wasn’t interested in her…Bob threw his broom like a massive boomerang (was there such a thing as a broomerang?).

 

Everyone chuckled at Percy’s thoughts.

 

“If not, there is now,” Nico grinned.

 

“I don’t care what it is, as long as they are alive,” Poseidon muttered.

 

It sliced through the vampire and returned to Bob’s hand…The Titan grinned with delight and did a victory dance. “Sweep, sweep, sweep!”

 

They all grinned.

 

Percy couldn’t speak. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that something good…“Percy called me!” the janitor said happily. “Yes, he did.”

 

“I didn’t call?” Percy frowned.

 

“I’m guessing that saying his name was enough,” Thalia said. “Like Nico said a minute ago.”

 

“Yes, it would work similarly to saying a monster’s name on earth,” Hades nodded.

 

“For once Percy’s love of saying random names works in his favour,” Apollo smiled.

 

“It’s a good job it came up in random conversation,” Grover whistled.

 

“A titan to the rescue of two demigods,” Beckendorf stated in shock. “Who would have thought it?”

 

“At this point, I don’t care where the help comes from,” Triton said.

 

Annabeth crawled a little farther away. Her arm was bleeding badly…Sure enough, the janitor tapped Annabeth’s forearm and it mended instantly.

 

Connor, Thalia, Grover and Athena all sighed in relief.

 

"He's definitely handy to have around," Will noted.

 

Bob chuckled, pleased with himself, then bounded over to Percy and healed his bleeding neck and arm. The Titan’s hands were surprisingly warm and gentle.

 

The sea crew and Apollo were now the ones sighing with relief.

 

"And that's probably much more pleasant than drinking fire water to be healed," Percy said.

 

"Agreed," Annabeth nodded.

 

“All better!” Bob declared, his eerie silver eyes crinkling with pleasure. “I am Bob, Percy’s friend!”

 

Percy grimaced. He hadn’t really been a friend to the titan. He had wiped his memories, declared himself a friend and never seen the titan again. Maybe he should try to visit when they got back to their time. Nico had said he sometimes chatted to the titan. Maybe Nico could take him sometime, just so he had an Underworldy escort through his uncle's realm. He would ask Nico later.

 

“Thank us for that,” Apollo muttered.

 

“Uh…yeah,” Percy managed. “Thanks for the help, Bob. It’s really good to see you again.”…“We must go before they find you. They are coming. Yes, indeed.”

 

“Who is ‘they’?” Leo asked nervously.

 

“Probably the titans and giants Percy has killed,” Rachel grimaced.

 

"Or many of the other monsters he has killed over the years," Grover offered with an anxious bleat.

 

“Moving is a good idea,” Thalia nodded.

 

“They?” Annabeth asked…“Yes,” Bob agreed. “But Bob knows a way. Come on, friends! We will have fun!”

 

“Fun is not the word I would use,” Poseidon muttered.

 

“Agreed,” Percy nodded.

 

“Done,” Hades stated, looking at the book in surprise. “That was short.”

 

“Really short,” Annabeth frowned.

 

“Awesome,” Percy grinned.

 

“Let us break for lunch,” Chiron suggested. They all nodded in agreement, especially Hades who smirked at the idea he got away with only reading one very short chapter. The group left the throne room and headed to the dining hall.

 

Nobody wanted to delay the reading for too long, so they ate quite quickly. Apollo and Poseidon were still fussing over Percy, checking him for any injuries. Hestia was doing the same for Hera, though no physical wounds ever showed on her body. It was purely in her mind.

 

The sea crew kept taking turns to make sure Percy’s plate was full, while Percy kept shoving some off his food off to Apollo, knowing there was no way even he could physically eat all the food his family were giving him. Apollo let him, watching this all going on with an amused smile. He kept an eye out for how much Percy was eating, to make sure he wasn’t passing off too much food, but otherwise he easily accepted the offerings. Especially as he knew Percy’s feelings about sharing food most of the time.

 

Artemis, Grover, Rachel and Reyna were all sitting with them. Rachel and Reyna were having an animated discussion, but Rachel kept glancing anxiously over at Percy, as if to check he was still here and hadn’t been whisked off to Tartarus. Artemis was chatting to her brother and Percy.

 

Nico watched the easy affection between Percy and Apollo. His crush on Percy had well and truly faded, but he couldn’t help but be slightly jealous. He was still struggling with the fact that Percy liked guys too, not to mention the fact that nobody in the room seemed to care. The only thing bothering anyone was the fact that Apollo was a god and Percy was a minor. Which had clearly been solved with some boundaries, and an overprotective Poseidon watching their every move. But the fact that not a single person seemed to care that they were together, stunned him, even after several days of seeing it.

 

Nico supposed it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the gods were ok with it, given the fact that in the stories they didn’t seem to care. His shame and self-loathing had lessened over the time spent in this room and seeing such a relationship accepted. But that didn’t stop him from instinctually hiding his own relationship with Will. Sure, they frequently held hands during the reading, but it had only been since they read about him being in danger and could be explained away. Only his dad, Apollo and Percy knew for certain what was going on. Unless Will had told Michael. Part of him hoped not. But he also trusted Michael not to say anything to anyone else, and he couldn’t deny Will be able to talk to his brother.

 

“You ok?” Will asked. He had noticed Nico staring at Percy and felt his own bit of jealousy. He knew Nico had had a crush on Percy. Pretty much everyone at Camp had at one point or another, it wasn’t a surprise. Honestly, the amount of people who got sent to the infirmary because they got distracted watching Percy during swords practice was getting kind of ridiculous. Especially in the last year or so when Percy had finally had a growth spurt, and had put on a bunch of muscle with training so much for the upcoming battle against Kronos. The healers from their cabin had a running bet on the amount of Percy related injuries they would get each week during the summer.

 

“Yeah,” Nico nodded. “Just thinking.”

 

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Will smirked

 

“Well, even if I do, I happen to know a pretty great healer,” Nico smirked back. Will laughed. With that laughter, the slight tension that both of them had been feeling dissipated.

 

As people were slowly making their way back to the throne room, Annabeth drew Connor aside. He didn’t deserve to be waiting longer than necessary. It might have only been a few days since he had declared that he would wait for her, but each day felt like an eternity at the moment.

 

“How are you doing?” Was his first question once they were alone. “I hate hearing about you in Tartarus, I can’t imagine how it must be for you.”

 

“It’s…weird,” She searched for the right word. “It’s horrible and terrifying, but at the same time, it hasn’t happened yet so it’s hard to really comprehend it actually happened in the future,” She tried to explain. It was complicated and weird, but Connor was nodding like he understood.

 

“Well, we will all be here for you if this has to happen, but hopefully we can change it. Nobody wants you or Percy to be stuck down there.”

 

“Yeah,” Annabeth nodded, despite the sneaking suspicion that Percy would be going no matter what. He simply wouldn’t let anyone else take his place. And, despite pushing past her crush on him, she couldn’t imagine letting him go through that without her by his side. Dating or not, they had still been a team for five years. Someone had to go with him, and Annabeth wouldn’t allow someone to go in her place either. Especially if they were much better prepared than they were in the future. “Anyway, I wanted to talk to you.”

 

“Go ahead,” He gave her an easy smile.

 

“I really appreciate the space you’ve given me to sort my head out. Luke made some bad choices, but I will always love him.” She saw his face fall ever so slightly before he plastered on a smile once more. But this time she could tell it was fake. She wasn’t sure when his face had become so easy to read. “But I love him like my brother. For so long he was all I had left. He was my family when everyone else had left, even if they didn’t have a choice like Thalia. Grover wasn’t around all the time because he was out looking for other demigods. Luke was the only one there. But he was like a big brother. But you…it would be so easy to fall in love with you,” She sighed.

 

It had never been easy with Percy. Every step of their relationship had been like a fight. Which she had to acknowledge was mostly her fault. It had taken her a long time to overcome her dislike of him, both for his mask of stupidity, which she now knew was fake, and their parent’s rivalry. Then she had been conflicted between Percy and Luke which had constantly put a wall between them. And even in the future, once they got past Rachel and that obstacle, Percy had been kidnapped after they had only been together for a few months. It was like every time they tried to take a step forward, it was a huge struggle. But with Connor…it was as easy as breathing. It didn’t hurt that the smile on his face at those words was almost as bright as the sun.

 

Connor couldn’t believe this was happening. When he had offered to wait for Annabeth, he had meant it, but he had never really had high hopes. Between Percy and Luke, he hadn’t expected to truly have a chance. He just wanted her to know someone was there who cared about her. That she had someone who supported her and wouldn’t leave. But he could see in her face that she truly did see Luke as a brother now. And that had been his biggest problem.

 

“That’s awesome,” He grinned delightedly. “I mean, I am dashingly handsome and funny,” He added, not wanting to seem too desperate. Annabeth giggled. Which made him smile once more. Then he slowly reached out and took her hand again, suddenly feeling nervous about doing so while not in the reading. Thankfully she let him. Together they headed back into the throne room, both smiling shyly.

 

Everyone resumed their previous seats and Hestia picked up the book. She turned to the correct page.

Chapter Text

Frank woke up as a python, which confused him.

 

“What? Does that happen often?” Leo asked.

 

“No idea,” Frank shrugged. “I didn’t even know about shapeshifting until now, and I still haven’t exactly mastered it.”

 

“And we haven’t had Frank’s point of view since he discovered his powers really,” Hazel frowned.

 

“It could have stayed that way,” Frank grumbled.

 

Changing into an animal wasn’t confusing. He did that all the time.

 

They all chuckled a little at that. It said all the time, but he’d only been doing it for the last month or so compared to the vast majority of his life.

 

“You’ve certainly learnt that ability very well in a short space of time,” Ares complimented his son. Frank turned a little red at the praise.

 

But he had never changed from one animal to another in his sleep before. He was pretty sure he hadn’t dozed off as a snake. Usually, he slept like a dog.

 

“Literally?” Percy asked with a grin. Frank shrugged.

 

He’d discovered that he got through the night much better if he curled up on his bunk…The constant screaming in his head almost disappeared.

 

“Wait. What? Constant screaming? That doesn’t sound good,” Leo frowned.

 

“Don’t tell me Frank’s been possessed unknowingly by something?” Michael groaned.

 

“Probably not,” Hades shook his head.

 

He had no idea why he’d become a reticulated python, but it did explain his dream about slowly swallowing a cow. His jaw was still sore.

 

Frank grimaced as a few people chuckled despite their concern.

 

He braced himself and changed back to human form…The voice of Ares shouted back: Kill the Romans! Blood and death! Large guns!

 

“Oh great,” Frank groaned.

 

“I wonder why you have both of your dad’s personalities in your head?” Hephaestus grunted in surprise.

 

“They are quite different, but Annabeth didn’t have two Athena voices in her head,” Thalia pointed out.

 

“Nobody else on the ship, that we’ve heard from so far, has had their parents in their heads,” Beckendorf said.

 

“I’m just that lucky,” Frank deadpanned.

 

His father’s Roman and Greek personalities screamed back and forth in Frank’s mind…roaring jet engines—all throbbing like a subwoofer behind Frank’s eyes.

 

“That sucks,” Percy winced.

 

“And that has to be pretty distracting,” Clarisse pointed out. “Especially in battle, hearing two different battles going on, one in your head and one in front of you.”

 

He sat up on his berth, dizzy with pain. As he did every morning…As soon as the fighting broke out at Camp Jupiter, the war god’s two voices had started screaming nonstop.

 

“Oh gods,” Hazel gasped. “Since all the way back then?”

 

“Wow man, I’m even more sorry for all the teasing,” Leo winced. He was really impressed Frank hadn’t been way snappier to him given all of his crap if he had to deal with that in his head all the time.

 

“You didn’t know,” Frank shrugged.

 

Ever since, Frank had been stumbling around in a daze, barely able to function. He’d acted like a fool, and he was sure his friends thought he’d lost his marbles.

 

“Hey, you didn’t act like a fool,” Percy frowned. “You did great at the aquarium, and with Chrysaor’s men. And you did all that with two of him,” He gestured at the war god. “Screaming in your head. That’s impressive.”

 

“Very impressive,” Clarisse agreed. She knew what it was like to have their father yelling at you. Even if this wasn’t directed at Frank himself, it had to be terribly distracting.

 

He couldn’t tell them what was wrong. There was nothing they could do…have the same problem with their godly parents yelling in their ears.

 

“Nope,” Annabeth shook her head.

 

“Which begs the question of why Frank does,” Michael frowned.

 

Just Frank’s luck, but he had to pull it together. His friends needed him…While Ares screamed that Athena’s children couldn’t be trusted,

 

“Excuse me?” Athena looked offended.

 

“Shouldn’t Mars be the one saying that?” Reyna wondered.

 

“You’d think so,” Katie nodded.

 

“Well, it sounds like Athena’s kids have started most of the wars between the two groups. Maybe he means in from Frank’s perspective, that as a Roman he can’t trust a child of Athena,” Jason suggested, shooting Annabeth an apologetic look. She scowled at the reminder of how much blood was on the hands of her siblings but waved away Jason’s silent apology. He only spoke the truth after all.

 

and Mars bellowed at him to kill all the Greeks, Frank had grown to respect Annabeth.

 

The two smiled at each other.

 

Now that they were without her, Frank was the next best thing the group had to a military strategist. They would need him for the trip ahead.

 

“I’m sure you’ll do great, even with that setback,” Leo assured him.

 

He rose and got dressed. Fortunately he’d managed to buy some new clothes in Siena a couple of days ago, replacing the laundry that Leo had sent flying away on Buford the table. (Long story.)

 

Leo grimaced at that reminder.

 

He tugged on some Levi’s and an army-green T-shirt, then reached for his favorite pullover…But he trusted Hazel more than he trusted himself.

 

“It’s true,” Frank agreed with his own thoughts.

 

Hazel smiled.

 

Knowing she was safeguarding his big weakness made him feel better…He never would’ve known about the quiver’s camouflage power if Leo hadn’t figured it out for him.

 

“That’s cool,” Frank smiled.

 

“Glad to be of service,” Leo grinned at him. For a change he added in his mind.

 

Leo! Mars raged. He must die!...Throttle everyone! Who are we talking about again?

 

Ares grimaced.

 

“Wow, I feel bad for you,” Percy winced.

 

“I’d take that over your situation,” Frank replied. Percy shrugged like he wasn’t convinced about this. Frank raised an eyebrow but received no further response.

 

The two began shouting at each other again, over the sound of bombs exploding…Leo made things harder by constantly teasing Frank, and Ares demanded that Frank retaliate for every insult.

 

Clarisse was nodding slightly at that. If anyone had spoken to her like Leo had to Frank, she would have pulverized them, same team or not. And she knew she wasn’t always the nicest person, but some of Leo’s comments had crossed a line, especially to a virtual stranger.

 

Leo winced once more. “Thanks, man. I really am sorry,” He said.

 

“It was the eidolons that started the war, not you,” Frank shrugged. He didn’t comment on the insults. For one, this Leo wasn’t like that, but he couldn’t deny them either. It had been irritating to listen to.

 

Frank kept the voices at bay, but it wasn’t easy…Jason or Percy, he’d said, but am I worth, like, two or three Franks?

 

Leo winced yet again, wishing he could slap his future-self in the face for that one. It had been completely uncalled for. And worse, most likely came from his own insecurity and kind of gross crush on Hazel. Since when had he become someone who put other people down to make himself feel better? He’d always hated the people who did that, and usually pranked them in revenge. “Jeez, I’m sorry man,” Leo muttered.

 

“It’s ok,” Frank waved away the apology. “You didn’t say anything like that in here.”

 

Just another one of Leo’s stupid jokes, but the comment hit a little too close to home. On the Argo II, Frank definitely felt like the LVP—Least Valuable Player.

 

“That’s not true. We’ve all helped out on the quest,” Hazel reminded him.

 

“I know,” He smiled.

 

Sure, he could turn into animals. So what? His biggest claim to helpfulness…Frank was better known for the Giant Goldfish Fiasco in Atlanta,

 

“That has become a lot more understandable now we know about having voices in your head,” Percy pointed out. “You’d only known about your powers for a few days by then, and you only had a few seconds to react.”

 

“Yeah. Besides, you still helped out. I doubt it would have gone well if Percy had had to deal with Coach Hedge all by himself,” Piper stated. Percy grimaced at that idea.

 

and, just yesterday, for turning into a two-hundred-kilo gorilla only to get knocked senseless by a flash-bang grenade.

 

Frank winced.

“Considering how good Leo is at making explosions, I’m not surprised his grenade knocked you out,” Piper laughed.

 

“I told you that was an accident!” Leo protested.

 

“What?” Travis asked interestedly.

 

“Nothing,” Leo denied.

 

“Leo was trying to play a prank at school and made our classroom speakers explode, setting the classroom on fire,” Piper smirked. Leo shot her a look that clearly said ‘traitor’, while Percy and the Stolls were rolling around laughing at that. Most of the other demigods were looking amused.

 

“Eh, Percy dumped his entire class into a pool full of sharks,” Apollo said in amusement. “A little explosion is nothing.” Percy pouted at him.

 

“How did you make the speakers explode?” Connor wanted to know.

 

“I was trying to make the speakers in the classroom do the same thing I did to Coach’s megaphone, but I got distracted and got two wires mixed up,” Leo admitted.

 

“It happens to us all at least one,” Travis said in a commiserating tone. “As long as you learn from it, which you clearly did as you got the prank on the megaphone right.” Leo smiled gratefully at him.

 

Leo hadn’t made any gorilla jokes at his expense yet. But it was only a matter of time.

 

“My future-self is getting better,” Leo protested half-heartedly.

 

Kill him!...punching each other inside Frank’s head, using his sinuses as a wrestling mat.

 

Everyone winced at that.

 

Blood! Guns!...annoying screaming mini-gods under control. Maybe today would be a good day.

 

“Well, not now you’ve said that,” Connor shook his head.

 

“I really should know better,” Frank agreed glumly.

 

That hope was shattered as soon as he climbed above deck.

 

Everyone sighed.

 

“I wonder what fresh hell this will bring,” Will grimaced.

 

“The dwarves weren’t so bad,” Travis snickered. The Romans all scowled at that.

 

“What are they?” Hazel asked…stare at the dozens of weird shaggy monsters milling through the crowds.

 

“Well, it doesn’t sound like they are causing any panic,” Katie noted.

 

“Yeah, even if the mortals can’t see they are monsters, they would notice if they were attacking,” Thalia agreed.

 

Each monster was about the size of a cow, with a bowed back like a broken-down horse…Their overgrown gray manes completely covered their eyes.

 

“Those sound like katoblepones,” Artemis noted with a frown of confusion. “They shouldn’t be in Italy.”

 

“I think that’s the least weird thing so far,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“What exactly are the cat…ket…those things?” Leo asked.

 

“Monsters from Africa originally that have poisonous gazes, and poison breath,” Apollo said.

 

“They sound lovely,” Jason muttered sarcastically.

 

Frank watched as one of the creatures lumbered across the promenade…Then the monster’s appearance flickered. For a moment it turned into an old, fat beagle.

 

Everyone snorted in amusement, well used to the Mist and its weird disguises.

 

Jason grunted. “The mortals think they’re stray dogs.”…The last thing they needed on this quest was paparazzi taking pictures of all Frank’s epic fails.

 

Everyone winced at that idea.

 

“That would be the last thing any of us need,” Piper muttered.

 

“But what are they?” he asked, repeating Hazel’s question…“Maybe they’re harmless,” Leo suggested. “They’re ignoring the mortals.”

 

“Certainly not harmless,” Chris shook his head.

 

“Don’t provoke them and you should be alright,” Hermes said.

 

“Harmless!” Gleeson Hedge laughed. The satyr wore his usual gym shorts…We should just aim the ballistae and see what happens!”

 

“No!” Everyone yelled.

 

“Ya know, for a guy who is supposed to be a protector he really doesn’t seem to care about mortals being collateral damage,” Frank pointed out grimly.

 

“And even if you didn’t hurt anyone, that would draw far too much attention to you guys,” Grover agreed, with a despairing head shake.

 

“I think it might be time to retire Gleeson altogether,” Chiron sighed. Clarisse frowned, but she couldn’t deny he had been as much of a hinderance as he had been a help on this trip.

 

“He did protect Jason, Piper and Leo in the first place,” She pointed out.

 

“Yeah, that is true. Maybe we can pull him back and put him in charge of training younger satyrs or something,” Grover suggested. “Just in nature magic, no combat,” He added hurriedly. He didn’t need Gleeson teach a bunch of young satyrs how to be as bloodthirsty as him. Chiron seemed to consider this but gave no verbal response.

 

“Uh, no,” Leo said…Frank said, hating the idea already. “It’s the only way we’re going to track down the owner of that book.”

 

They all nodded. No need to provoke them. Or start a panic.

 

Leo pulled the leather-bound manual from underneath his arm…Hazel might have been the one who came back from the dead, but Nico was way more ghostlike.

 

“He does spend a lot of time with ghosts,” Percy shrugged. “Although I’m sure he practices how to move that quietly to freak people out,” He added with a grin in Nico’s direction. Nico smirked.

 

“Maybe.” He wasn’t going to tell them he’d had to develop the ability to move silently during the last few months where he had spent a lot of time spying on the titans. That would just make Will, Percy and his dad worry unnecessarily.

 

“You speak Italian?” Frank asked…Lots of venti in that storm last night. If they decide to attack the ship again…”

 

“Yeah. Jason is the one who will be able to hit them easily,” Annabeth nodded.

 

“Nico knows Venice better than anyone else. Plus, he knows Italian, so he should go,” Percy said. Nico grimaced.

 

“Well, it’s from Frank’s point of view, so I’m guessing he goes. Which means Hazel is the most likely third person,” Piper said. Hazel nodded.

 

He didn’t need to finish. They’d all had experiences with angry wind spirits…forget it. I don’t like boring expeditions.”

 

“Good luck, Jason,” Reyna muttered. Jason grimaced.

 

“It’s okay, Coach.” Leo grinned. “We still have to repair the foremast. Then I need your help in the engine room. I’ve got an idea for a new installation.”

 

“Hopefully that will keep him busy and away from blowing up tourists,” Beckendorf said.

 

Frank didn’t like the gleam in Leo’s eye. Since Leo had found that Archimedes sphere…Frank figured there was a story behind that comment, but he decided not to ask.

 

“What’s the story?” Silena asked in amusement as Piper turned red.

 

“Nothing,” She denied. Nobody was convinced.

 

“I’ll go,” he said…The war gods’ voices rose to a crescendo in his head: Kill him! Graecus scum!

 

Frank grimaced. So far, none of these books were endearing his father to him.

 

No! I love Graecus scum!...“Lots of death. Restless spirits. If I go, I may be able to keep them at bay. Besides, as you noticed, I speak Italian.”

 

“All good reasons for you to go,” Will nodded approvingly.

 

Leo scratched his head. “Lots of death, huh? Personally, I’m trying to avoid lots of death, but you guys have fun!”

 

“You’ve already said you’re needed for installing something,” Beckendorf pointed out.

 

“Which only leaves Hazel,” Percy smiled.

 

“I’m good with horses, I’m not sure about cows,” Hazel frowned.

 

“I’m sure you’ll do great,” Nico smiled at her.

 

Frank wasn’t sure what scared him more: shaggy-cow monsters, hordes of restless ghosts, or going somewhere alone with Nico di Angelo.

 

Nico frowned unhappily.

 

“I’ll go too.” Hazel slipped her arm through Frank…But he glanced at Hazel and told her with his eyes: Thank you thank you thank you.

 

Now Nico and Hazel were both frowning. Frank grimaced. Having his thoughts read out sucked.

 

“Sorry,” He muttered. Nico just shrugged while Will wrapped an arm around Nico’s shoulders, only just resisting the urge to glare at Frank. It wasn’t his fault what he said in the safety of his own mind, but he still hated how everyone on that ship, except Hazel, seemed to be so disturbed by Nico. Especially considering he’d only just come out of Tartarus and being slowly suffocated to death. Nobody would look too great after that.

 

Nico stared at the canals, as if wondering what new and interesting forms of evil spirits might be lurking there. “All right, then. Let’s go find the owner of that book.”

 

“The chapter is finished,” Hestia announced.

 

“My turn then,” Rachel said. The goddess handed her the book.

Chapter Text

Frank might have liked Venice if it hadn’t been summertime and tourist season…The monster sucked it up happily and shambled along.

 

“Let’s hope they keep it to plants only,” Travis muttered.

 

“Well, they’re plant-eaters,” Frank said. “That’s good news.”…“Unless they supplement their diet with demigods. Let’s hope not.”

 

“No, why would you say that?” Chris groaned at Hazel.

 

“You just jinxed it,” Connor agreed. Hazel flushed but rolled her eyes at their antics.

 

Frank was so pleased to be holding her hand, the crowds and the heat…Frank would gladly turn into a rhinoceros and push them into the canal.

 

Frank blushed, but Hazel smiled at him.

 

Could he do a rhino? Frank had never tried that before.

 

“If you can do a dragon, I’m guessing you can do a rhino,” Michael laughed.

 

“True,” Frank nodded. Still, he would add it to his list of animals to try out.

 

Nico stopped. “There.”…as if the mortals could sense it wasn’t safe.

 

“That’s encouraging,” Leo muttered.

 

“Nothing about any of this is encouraging,” Frank grumbled.

 

“This whole quest isn’t encouraging,” Percy agreed.

 

In the middle of the cobblestone courtyard…one of the town houses was painted black—the only black building Frank had seen so far in Venice.

 

“I don’t think he had better eyesight, he just has a specific radar for all things black,” Will laughed. Nico glared him.

 

“La Casa Nera,” he guessed…most of which were covered with wooden shutters. “You’re right, Hazel. This neighborhood is filled with lemures.”

 

“Lemurs?” Rachel frowned.

 

“No,” Hades shook his head.

 

“Lemures. Angry ghosts,” Nico explained.

 

“Wonderful,” Frank grimaced.

 

“Lemurs?” Frank asked nervously. “I’m guessing you don’t mean the furry little guys from Madagascar?”

 

Rachel and Frank exchanged grins.

 

“Angry ghosts,” Nico said. “Lemures go back to Roman times…He hesitated. “She used to tell me stories about the ghosts of Venice.”

 

Nico frowned at the mention of his mother. He’d been uneasy since he’d heard the group would be going to visit Venice. Just thinking about it made him miss Bianca.

 

Hades sighed and gazed sadly at his son. He missed both Maria and Bianca.

 

Again Frank wondered about Nico’s past, but he was afraid to ask…Nico needs practice talking to people.

 

“No, I don’t,” Nico protested.

 

“Ok, practice talking to live people,” Will chuckled. Nico rolled his eyes. What was he supposed to think, one on hand, Frank was trying? But on the other, he was only trying for Hazel and secretly found Nico to be creepy. Both Leo and Frank had stated in this book they thought him creepy and weird. Maybe it was just some lingering sense of Tartarus on him, but probably not. Frank was only making an effort because of Hazel, not because he liked Nico. “Hey,” Will said in Italian, having guessed where Nico’s thoughts had gone. “When we first had Frank’s point of view a couple of books back, he didn’t mind you. He thought being a child of the Underworld was kind of cool and he wasn’t afraid like most people. He’s only seemed to feel this was since you came back from Tartarus.” He continued, making sure only Michael could understand what they were saying.

 

Maybe, but maybe he’s just spent more time with me now and realises he was wrong,” Nico replied sullenly.

 

I don’t think so,” Will shrugged. He squeezed Nico’s hand. They could discuss this later.

 

The sounds of assault rifles and atom bombs got louder in Frank’s head. Mars and Ares were trying to out sing each other with “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

 

“Oh, you poor thing,” Apollo winced. “Ares’ singing really isn’t any good.”

 

“My singing is perfectly fine,” Ares glared at him.

 

“As the god of music, I tell you it really isn’t,” Apollo shook his head. Ares scowled.

 

“You’re also the god of poetry and we know how that worked out,” He muttered. Now it was Apollo’s turn to scowl.

 

Frank did his best to push that aside…Frank tried to think of a response. Oh, that’s nice didn’t seem to cut it.

 

Nico smirked slightly at that.

 

He was hanging out with not one but two demigods who’d been pulled out of time…He had a hard time imagining Nico di Angelo acting out of love for anybody, except maybe Hazel.

 

Nico frowned.

 

“Er, I don’t now,” Frank said awkwardly. He’d spent quite a bit of time with Nico since they had been here, due to Hazel, as well as his blossoming friendship with Michael, and so Will and Nico by extension. Nico just nodded.

 

But Frank decided he’d gone as far as he dared with the personal questions…Halfway across the piazza, everything went wrong; but it had nothing to do with ghosts.

 

“Of course it did,” Jason groaned.

 

“At least it’s not the angry ghosts?” Dakota offered.

 

They were skirting the well in the middle of the square, trying to give the cow monsters…the way he felt when he ate too much cheese or ice cream.

 

“And that’s the poison gaze,” Apollo muttered.

 

The creatures made deep throbbing sounds in their throats like angry foghorns…spiky plant tendrils were pushing up from the cracks.

 

“Ah, you’re standing on their food,” Katie winced.

 

“Better move quickly,” Rachel advised.

 

Nico stepped back. The roots snaked out in his direction, trying to follow…“Don’t meet their eyes,” Frank warned.

 

“At least you found that out without getting the full blast,” Thalia said.

 

“I’ll distract them. You two back up slowly toward that black house.”…Frank could not turn into a rhino, and he lost valuable time trying.

 

“What? Why not?” Frank frowned.

 

“Well, ewe know you need to concentrate for that, and you’re under a time limit with two war gods yelling in your head,” Clarisse pointed out.

 

Nico and Hazel bolted for the side street. Frank stepped in front of the monsters…but with Ares and Mars screaming in his head, he couldn’t concentrate.

 

“That sucks,” Percy grimaced.

 

“Yeah, why did I have to get stuck with both versions of my dad arguing?” Frank complained. Now he really wished Apollo was his dad.

 

“I do wonder why they are in your head as nobody else seems to struggle,” Reyna frowned. Everyone shrugged.

 

He remained regular-old Frank…The next instant, Frank was a full-grown lion.

 

“Nice,” Percy grinned.

 

He roared in challenge, then sprang from the middle of the monster herd…then sank his fangs into the third one’s throat and tossed it aside.

 

“Go Frank,” Michael cheered.

 

“Good job,” Clarisse nodded.

 

There were seven left, plus the two chasing his friends. Not great odds…He pressed his advantage and leaped off the well, still baring his fangs. The herd backed off.

 

“Let’s hope you gave the other two time to get to safety,” Will muttered.

 

If he could just maneuver around them, then turn and run after his friends…He staggered back, half-blind and dizzy, dimly aware of Nico screaming his name.

 

“Not good,” Apollo grimaced.

 

“Oh gods,” Hazel muttered anxiously. “Frank!”

 

“I’m sure I’ll be ok,” He shrugged, trying to reassure her.

 

“Frank! Frank!”…two puddles of darkness stained the pavement—no doubt the remains of the cow monsters that had chased them.

 

“Nice Nico,” Thalia grinned.

 

And Hazel…she was propped against the wall behind her brother. She wasn’t moving.

 

“Hazel!” Frank cried out.

 

“She must have been blasted too,” Nico said, looking guilty.

 

“I’m sure it wasn’t your fault. I’m the one who tripped and cause all this anyway,” Hazel reminded him gently. “And you killed two coming after us.” Nico didn’t look convinced.

 

Frank ran toward them, forgetting about the monster herd. He rushed past Nico…Nico said miserably. “I—I wasn’t fast enough.”

 

“You did what you could,” Will told him as Nico winced.

 

“I’m sorry,” He glanced at his sister who waved away his apology.

 

Frank couldn’t tell if she was breathing. Rage and despair battled inside him. He’d always been scared of Nico. Now he wanted to drop-kick the son of Hades into the nearest canal.

 

“Hey!” Percy glared at Frank.

 

“It’s probably the war gods influencing him,” Michael defended Frank.

 

Maybe that wasn’t fair, but Frank didn’t care. Neither did the war gods screaming in his head.

 

“Sorry,” Percy apologized.

 

“It’s fine. It was unfair anyway, it wasn’t Nico’s fault,” Frank acknowledged.

 

“We need to get her back to the ship,” Frank said…Don’t worry about me. Get her back to the Argo II!”

 

“No, don’t leave Nico behind,” Will scowled.

 

“Hazel needs a cure,” Gwen pointed out.

 

“Which they probably don’t have on board,” Katie said.

 

“They have Gleeson,” Grover reminded them. “He might be bloodthirsty, but he’s still a satyr who knows healing magic.”

 

With his face burning and the voices screaming in his mind…Probably he wasn’t even human.

 

“If he cures Hazel then who cares,” Nico shrugged.

 

“Besides, you were supposed to be looking for a god weren’t you?” Reyna frowned. “And you were in the right area.”

 

At the moment, Frank didn’t care…I think you’ve angered every katobleps in Venice.”

 

“That sounds about right,” Frank grimaced.

 

“Done,” Rachel announced.

 

“My turn then,” Chiron said. She handed him the book.

Chapter Text

They barely made it inside. As soon as their host threw the bolts, the cow monsters bellowed and slammed into the door, making it shudder on its hinges.

 

“Well, at least you did make it,” Will muttered.

 

“Let’s hope they get bored and leave now,” Leo said.

 

“Oh, they can’t get in,” the man in denim promised. “You’re safe now!”…Her lips had taken on a greenish tinge—or was that just Frank’s blurry vision?

 

“Those are both bad options, because your vision is blurry because of the same poison,” Dakota frowned.

 

“Well, hopefully this guy can cure the poison,” Apollo said.

 

“At what cost?” Hazel asked darkly.

 

“If it saves your life, we’ll work out a way to pay the price,” Frank promised.

 

His eyes still burned from the monster’s breath. His lungs felt like he’d inhaled a flaming cabbage.

 

“That’s…an interesting description,” Gwen laughed.

 

He didn’t know why the gas had affected him less than it had Hazel. Maybe she’d gotten more of it in her lungs. He would have given anything to change places if it meant saving her.

 

“We have no way of knowing how big a hit Hazel got,” Percy frowned. Hazel looked at Frank in surprise. He shrugged self-consciously.

 

“It could also be that you were in animal form when you got hit. That might have helped,” Clarisse suggested.

 

The voices of Mars and Ares yelled in his head, urging him to kill Nico and the man in denim and anyone else he could find, but Frank forced down the noise.

 

“Wow, do I not envy you,” Clarisse winced.

 

“I don’t envy me either,” Frank said gloomily.

 

“I still want to know why Frank is suffering like this and the others aren’t. There must be more people with both Greek and Roman blood. And there are gods that must be suffering more than Ares, like Athena,” Katie frowned.

 

“But Ares is probably being called on by both camps, considering they are at war, and he is the god of war. The Romans wouldn’t call on Athena for war,” Chris reminded her.

 

“But we’d call on other gods, like dad and Apollo. Jason isn’t suffering like Frank,” Thalia pointed out. Everyone shrugged. They still had no more ideas than they did the first time this came up.

 

The house’s front room was some sort of greenhouse…Wrapped around the rim of the left wheel, a spotted python snored loudly.

 

“One python? Normally Trip has two,” Demeter frowned.

 

“Weird that Frank woke up as a python, having probably gone to bed as a dog, and now they have to deal with a guy who has pythons,” Percy frowned. “Or, a python,” He added.

 

“Yeah, maybe some of his dreams were prophetic or something,” Michael suggested.

 

Frank hadn’t known that pythons could snore. He hoped he hadn’t done that himself in python form last night.

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

“Set your friend here,” said the man in denim…Her complexion definitely had a greenish tint.

 

Everyone glanced at Hazel in concern.

 

“What were those cow things?” Frank demanded. “What did they do to her?”…Frank glared at him. “Now you remember?”

 

“Sorry,” Nico winced.

 

“Hey, it probably wouldn’t have helped much,” Will tried to reassure him. “Even knowing they had poison breath and poison gaze doesn’t mean you would have been able to avoid both. You needed to stop in Venice.”

 

“That’s true. It might have helped to avoid the gaze, but not the breath,” Leo nodded.

 

Nico hung his head almost as low as a katobleps. “I, uh…used to play this stupid card game when I was younger. Mythomagic. The katobleps was one of the monster cards.”

 

Nico blushed.

 

Frank blinked. “I played Mythomagic. I never saw that card.”…Their host cleared his throat. “Are you two done, ah, geeking out, as they say?”

 

Nico blushed even deeper, and Frank joined him.

 

“Right, sorry,” Nico muttered. “Anyway, katoblepones have poison breath and a poison gaze…were accidentally imported to Venice hundreds of years ago. You’ve heard of Saint Mark?”

 

“Accidentally imported?” Travis asked bemused. “How did they get Africa and Venice mixed up?” Everyone turned to look at Hermes who now also turned red.

 

“Not ever shipping mistake is my fault.”

 

“No, but it is usually,” Apollo smirked.

 

“Besides, a shipment of monsters? There is no way you didn’t notice,” Artemis rolled her eyes.

 

“It was a busy period,” Hermes defended himself.

 

Frank wanted to scream with frustration. He didn’t see how any of this was relevant…They smuggled out his body in a barrel of pickled pig parts.”

 

“Gross,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

“That’s…disgusting,” Frank said…The Venetians unintentionally smuggled something else out of Egypt—the katoblepones.

 

“See? The Venetians did it. Not my fault,” Hermes pointed out.

 

“You didn’t fix the issue. They were smuggling monsters and you failed to notice,” Zeus reminded his son. Hermes blushed even more.

 

They came here aboard that ship and have been breeding like rats ever since…“Possibly?” Frank had to use all his willpower not to throttle the guy.

 

“What does he mean possibly?” Frank scowled.

 

“He had better heal her,” Hades growled.

 

“He’s certainly capable,” Demeter stated.

 

He put his hand under Hazel’s nose. He couldn’t feel her breath…Her dad is technically Pluto, not Hades, so—”

 

“Possibly. Pluto is still the god of death, although most of Hazel’s powers do seem to be riches related,” Reyna frowned.

 

“Let’s hope we don’t need to find out,” Hazel muttered. Nico and Frank nodded in agreement.

 

“Hades!” cried their host. He backed away, staring at Nico with distaste. “So that’s what I smell. Children of the Underworld? If I’d known that, I would never have let you in!”

 

“Rude!” All the demigods yelled, except Nico, who looked both angry and resigned.

 

“He would let Hazel die just because she’s a child of the Underworld?” Percy growled.

 

“We aren’t exactly liked,” Nico shrugged.

 

“And he got his powers from Demeter,” Hades growled. “So he wouldn’t help any children of mine.”

 

Frank rose. “Hazel’s a good person. You promised you would help her!”…“I don’t know who you are, but if you can cure her, you have to, or so help me by the River Styx—”

 

“You tell him Nico!” Leo cheered. Nico looked at him in surprise.

 

“Oh, blah, blah, blah!” The man waved his hand. Suddenly where Nico di Angelo…tufts of silk, and half a dozen ripe yellow ears of corn.

 

“He turned Nico into corn?” Frank gaped. Nico and Hades both scowled, while Demeter snickered. Hades glowered at her.

 

“There,” the man huffed, wagging his finger at the corn plant. “Children of Hades can’t order me around! You should talk less and listen more. Now at least you have ears.”

 

Nico’s scowl deepened.

 

“I don’t like this guy,” Percy scowled.

 

“But I’m guessing they need his help, and not just for curing Hazel,” Travis scowled. “So Frank can’t kill him.”

 

Frank stumbled against the bed. “What did you—why—?”…something better than a corn plant. Sorghum? Sorghum is very nice.”

 

“No!” Frank yelped. He could recall the book describing the trip to Alaska, and Hazel being kidnapped by all the plants.

 

“No sorghum,” Hazel agreed.

 

“Wait!” Frank pleaded. “We’re here on a friendly mission. We brought a gift.”…So could you maybe, you know, turn Nico back to normal and heal Hazel?”

 

“Oh, you shouldn’t have handed it over until he agreed to that,” Connor shook his head.

 

“Frank might not have had a lot of choice. Trip is a god,” Chris pointed out.

 

“Hmm?” Trip looked up from his book. He’d been happily reciting lines to himself…After all, I owe my godly powers to Demeter!”

 

Hazel, Nico and Frank all glowered at Demeter. Katie winced, looking ashamed.

 

Frank racked his brain, but it was hard with the voices screaming in his head…“Persephone,” Trip corrected. “I prefer the Greek, if you don’t mind.”

 

“You’re about to let Hazel die and Nico stay as a corn plant! I don’t care about your preferences,” Frank snarled.

 

Kill him! Mars screamed.

 

“Do it,” Hades drawled. Demeter glowered at him, he just stared back angrily.

 

I love this guy! Ares yelled back. Kill him anyway!...Later, Demeter rewarded me by making me a god of farming!”

 

“Some reward,” Percy snorted.


“It is a great honour,” Demeter glared at him. Percy looked back, unimpressed.

 

“Wow,” Frank said. “Farming. Congratulations.”…the chariot beating its wings and bouncing up and down like a defective merry-go-round.

 

“Serves him right,” Nico scowled.

 

“You see?” he said as he spun. “No good! Ever since I lost my right python, I haven’t been able to spread the word about farming—at least not in person.

 

“The horror,” Hades rolled his eyes.

 

“It is a true horror,” Demeter looked quite upset by that.

 

Now I have to resort to giving online courses.”…“In just six weeks, you can get your bachelor’s degree in the exciting and vibrant career of the future—farming!”

 

“Six weeks?” Beckendorf raised an eyebrow. “That’s quick.”

 

Frank felt a bead of sweat trickle down his cheek…We can beat swords into plowshares and have so much fun!”

 

“Not going to happen,” Hazel scowled.

 

“If it saves your life…” Frank trailed off.

 

“No. You’ll find another way. I have faith,” Hazel smiled at him.

 

“Actually…” Frank tried frantically to come up with a plan…Frank refused to believe he’d been chosen by the Fates to go on this quest just so he could take online courses in turnip cultivation.

 

Hazel, Percy, Michael and Leo all nodded in agreement.

 

Frank’s eyes wandered to the broken chariot. “I have a better offer,”…He could barely change the batteries in a TV remote. He couldn’t fix a magical chariot!

 

“You don’t need to actually fix it. You need to find another snake,” Beckendorf said thoughtfully.

 

“It couldn’t be a normal snake though,” Leo frowned.

 

“I’m sure he can find a way,” Michael smiled.

 

But something told him it was his only chance. That chariot was the one thing Triptolemus…The color drained from Trip’s face. “Hecate?”

 

“I think ‘one of her favourites’ might be a bit of an overstatement,” Hazel frowned.

 

“She has appeared to you and helped you out,” Aphrodite said. “You might be one of her favourites outside of her own children.”

 

Frank hoped he wasn’t overstating things. He didn’t need Hecate mad at him too…Very well, son of Mars. Go find a way to fix my chariot. If you succeed, I will do all you ask. If not—”

 

“Nicely done,” Piper smiled.

 

“Now I just need to find a snake,” Frank grimaced.

 

“I know,” Frank grumbled. “My friends die.”

 

“Yes,” Trip said cheerfully. “And you’ll make a lovely patch of sorghum!”

 

“Wonderful,” Frank groaned.

 

“The chapter is finished,” Chiron stated.

 

“I’ll read,” Hermes said.

Chapter Text

Frank stumbled out of the Black House. The door shut behind him…He’d left Hazel inside, dying and defenseless, at the mercy of a crazy farmer god.

 

“You had no choice,” Michael assured him. Will fought the urge to point out that he’d also left Nico as a corn plant. He understood why Frank would care more about Hazel as she’s his girlfriend, but he really was getting sick of people’s attitude towards Nico in this book.

 

“Yeah. You need to help the dude or you all die,” Beckendorf said. “Plus, you need his help for something else in your quest.”

 

“Trip isn’t crazy,” Demeter frowned.

 

“He certainly sounds crazy to me,” Percy muttered. “But then, I’m not keen on people who are happy to let two kids die because you don’t like their dad.” He glowered at Demeter who shrugged. She admired Trip’s loyalty to her, and those two children were living proof Hades had cheated on her daughter. He went through all the trouble of kidnapping her, tricking poor Persephone into having to stay with him for half the year, and then doesn’t bother to remain faithful. This reading may have given her a different perspective of demigods, but she would never like Hades’ demigod children.

 

Kill farmers! Ares screamed in his head…They gave Frank a strange look, muttered something in Italian, and kept going.

 

Everyone chuckled slightly.

 

“You know, I wonder if Frank’s issues are to do with him constantly using his shapeshifting power, which comes from Poseidon, a Greek god. It’s a Greek power being used by a Roman demigod. That’s pretty rare, in fact, Frank might well be the only Roman demigod to have such a powerful, active power from a Greek god,” Reyna mused.

 

“That’s possible,” Apollo nodded thoughtfully after a few seconds. “Especially as Mars and Ares will be one of the gods both sides are calling on a lot. And he is quite different in his forms even if his duties aren’t wildly different. It might all add up into one big problem.”

 

“Lucky me,” Frank deadpanned.

 

Frank stared miserably at Hazel’s cavalry sword, lying at his feet next to his backpack. He could run back to the Argo II and get Leo. Maybe Leo could fix the chariot.

 

“I could probably make something to fly it instead of the snake, but it’d take too long,” Leo frowned.

 

“No. It’s something I need to do,” Frank sighed.

 

But Frank somehow knew this wasn’t a problem for Leo…He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life turning the wheel of a farmer’s chariot, but if it meant saving Hazel…

 

“No!” Hazel yelped. “There has to be another way.”

 

“Well, as his dad is yelling in his head all the time, maybe he could make himself useful and conjure a snake for Frank,” Hephaestus grunted.

 

“I doubt he can pull himself together enough for that right now,” Dionysus drawled.

 

“So, Frank does something to get his attention. Killing a bunch of monsters should do it, they want him to kill things after all,” Apollo shrugged.

 

“The only monsters around are the kate…things,” Percy frowned. “And if a single thing goes wrong, Frank will be poisoned too.”

 

“He fought off the poison last time. If anyone can do it, it would probably be Frank,” Reyna said, surprising herself. Even though she had spent several days hearing about Frank coming into his powers and proving himself to be a very worthy demigod, she still couldn’t help but sometimes see him as the clumsy new kid at the Legion.

 

No. There had to be another way…Reluctantly, he opened his mind to the voices of the war god.

 

Frank grimaced.

 

I need a snake, he told them. How?...Like that vile Cadmus, Mars said. We punished him for killing our dragon!

 

Dionysus, Athena and Poseidon all grimaced at the reminder of Cadmus’ fate. Ares and Aphrodite scowled.

 

“Cadmus?” Annabeth frowned. “Oh yeah, I remember, he killed a dragon sacred to Mars and made a to mom. She told him to sow the teeth into the ground and he got those skeleton warriors who helped to build the city of Thebes. Ares turned him into a snake. And then his wife begged to be turned into one too so they could stay together.” Aphrodite smiled. Her lovely Harmonia.

 

“He’s the dude who started those monsters?” Percy grumbled. “I hate those things.”

 

“Technically he’s your nephew. Cadmus was a grandson of Poseidon,” Annabeth told him. Percy pulled a face.

 

“I’ve had worse relations,” Percy sighed.

 

They both started yelling, until Frank thought his brain would split in half…How Ares had ended up with a dragon for a son, Frank didn’t want to know;

 

“It’s always safer not to ask,” Percy told him firmly.

 

“Yeah. Some things are best left unknown,” Beckendorf agreed. Frank nodded.

 

but as punishment for the dragon’s death, Ares turned Cadmus into a snake…You think I would do that for you? Ares roared. You have not proven your worth!

 

“He has killed a giant,” Percy pointed out.

 

“Other than that, I haven’t done a lot. It’s fine,” Frank assured him. He didn’t need Percy getting angry at Ares over something like this. There were enough gods on his bad side already.

 

Only the greatest hero could ask such a boon, Mars said. A hero like Romulus!...I’ll prove I’m as good as Horatius. Uh…what did he do?”

 

“Er, I wouldn’t do the same thing as Horatius,” Reyna winced.

 

“Bad idea,” Dakota agreed.

 

“Why, what did he do?”

 

“Fought a horde of invaders by himself, sacrificing his life so his fellow Romans had time to finish their defenses. He is a true hero, but we can’t afford Frank to be sacrificing his life.” Gwen explained. Thalia shuddered. Annabeth and Jason both moved slightly closer to her.

 

“No, but fighting a horde of monsters single handed, that sounds like he’s going to fight all the monsters in Venice,” Clarisse said.

 

“That should do it,” Ares nodded.

 

“Well, it had better. There aren’t any other options,” Jason stated.

 

Images flooded into Frank’s mind. He saw a lone warrior standing on a stone bridge…sacrificing himself on that bridge to keep the barbarians from crossing the Tiber.

 

Thalia closed her eyes, fighting down another shudder. Annabeth gripped her hand tightly. Thalia’s sacrifice was an image she saw frequently in her nightmares.

 

By giving his fellow Romans time to finish their defenses, he’d saved the Republic…He didn’t know how he would pull it off. The odds of dying were excellent, but he had to try.

 

“Sounds like an average day,” Percy laughed.

 

“Pretty much,” Frank agreed.

 

Hazel’s life depended on him…The plan had three phases: dangerous, really dangerous, and insanely dangerous.

 

“You’ve been spending too much time with Percy,” Annabeth muttered.

 

“Hey, Percy’s plans might be dangerous but at least they work,” Travis pointed out.

 

“Yeah. The most dangerous the more likely to succeed,” Beckendorf agreed. Apollo and Poseidon both winced.

 

“Please don’t encourage him,” Triton muttered.

 

Frank stopped at the old stone well. No katoblepones in sight…through one of his belt loops, trying to ignore the burning and itching in his hands.

 

“You didn’t think to get some gloves?” Leo winced.

 

“Not a lot of time,” Frank shrugged.

 

Soon he had a glowing, stinking lasso of poisonous weeds. Hooray…They were basically grazing animals that happened to be poisonous.

 

Everyone grimaced at that.

 

Hazel is dying because of them, he reminded himself…it roared with outrage and joined the Kill Frank! Parade.

 

“Well, it’s working so far,” Michael nodded.

 

“This is the least dangerous phase,” Nico pointed out.

 

“Let’s just be happy it’s working,” Will said.

 

He turned onto a larger street and pushed through the crowds of tourists. What the mortals saw, he had no idea—a cat being chased by a pack of dogs?

 

“Probably,” Thalia nodded.

 

People cursed at Frank in about twelve different languages…noxious cloud would be enough to melt him into a puddle. The monsters crowded forward and slammed into one another.

 

All the demigods grimaced once more.

 

“Please be careful,” Hazel murmured.

 

Frank yelled, “You want my poison roots? Come and get them!”…The canal was disgusting—smelly and salty and as warm as soup

 

Percy and the sea crew all winced.

 

but Frank forged through it, dodging gondolas and speedboats…yet somehow he found the strength to keep going—which was good. The hardest part was yet to come.

 

“Well, you’re doing awesomely so far,” Connor nodded.

 

“Yeah, go Frank!” Clarisse cheered.

 

He spotted a couple of bridges, but they didn’t look right…the more mortals would get pushed aside, knocked into the water, or trampled.

 

“That would be bad,” Rachel grimaced.

 

Finally Frank saw something that would work. Just ahead, past a big piazza…The bridge was empty of foot traffic. It was perfect.

 

“Good work,” Reyna nodded.

 

Frank dropped like a stone and turned back to human form…He realized he wasn’t just shouting at the monsters. He was venting weeks of fear, rage, and resentment.

 

Frank blushed as everyone eyed him anxiously.

 

“Frank you should talk to one of us about this,” Jason said gently.

 

“Not a lot I can do about it,” Frank shrugged. “And a lot of this won’t be happening the future anyway.”

 

“Still, you shouldn’t let it all bottle up if you do feel this way in the future,” Piper said. Frank shrugged noncommittally.

 

The voices of Mars and Ares screamed right along with him…raking his claws across a katobleps’s snout.

 

“Wow,” Percy whistled.

 

“I’m guessing someone got themselves the blessing of Ares. Or Mars,” Clarisse smiled. Frank stared at her in astonishment.

 

“You think?”

 

“Sounds like it,” She nodded. “It would certainly explain why it sounds like you aren’t taking any damage.”

 

The monsters kicked with their hooves. They breathed noxious gas…But somehow, he stayed on his feet, unharmed, and unleashed a hurricane of violence.

 

“Yep. Definitely under the blessing,” Ares nodded. “You are doing a fine job.” Frank blinked at the praise.

 

He didn’t feel any sort of pleasure in this, but he didn’t hesitate, either…He was actually glowing—surrounded by a rosy aura.

 

Clarisse sighed. It was really rare to get the blessing of their dad. She remembered reading about getting it herself in the Battle of Manhattan, and selfishly hoped that was one thing that didn’t change.

 

He didn’t understand why, but he kept fighting until there was only one monster left...Frank doubted anyone had ever shouted those words before. It was kind of a weird request.

 

“Eh, we get weird requests a lot,” Dionysus shrugged.

 

“Yeah. A snake isn’t that weird,” Apollo agreed.

 

“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked for?” Percy wanted to know.


“Er…tell you later,” Apollo said.

 

He got no answer from the skies. For once, the voices in his head were silent…When Frank’s vision cleared, a mottled brown Burmese python was coiled at his feet.

 

“Thanks,” Frank looked awkwardly at the Greek version of his father.

 

“You earnt it,” Ares smiled at him.

 

“Well done,” said a familiar voice…He felt like sobbing, but he guessed that would not be a good idea in front of Mars.

 

“Nope,” Clarisse winced.

 

“It’s natural to feel fear.” The war god’s voice was surprisingly warm, full of pride...And now you have one. Your bravery has united my forms, Greek and Roman, if only for a moment.

 

“That is one impressive feat,” Aphrodite said.

 

“Great work, Frank,” Michael clapped him on the back.

 

“You were brilliant,” Hazel smiled. Frank grinned proudly.

 

Go. Save your friends. But hear me, Frank. Your greatest test is yet to come…he turned into a giant eagle, snatched up the python in his massive claws, and launched himself into the air.

 

“Oh goodie,” Frank sighed. “Another test ahead.”

 

“I think this whole quest is going to be testing everyone to their limits,” Jason stated grimly. “But your leadership is going to be important apparently. Good to know.” Frank blinked in surprise. His leadership? He still couldn’t get used to the idea of leading anyone, let alone some of the most powerful demigods of their generation.

 

When he glanced back, a miniature mushroom cloud erupted from the middle of the bridge…still alive—green and shivering, barely breathing, but alive. As for Nico, he was still a corn plant.

 

Everyone let out sighs of relief.

 

“Heal them,” Frank said. “Now.”…“Well, thank you for the snake, but I’m not sure I like your tone, demigod. Perhaps I’ll turn you into—”

 

“I really, really don’t like this dude,” Percy scowled.

 

Frank was faster. He lunged at Trip and slammed him into the wall, his fingers locked around the god’s throat.

 

“Go Frank!” All the Greeks cheered.

 

The Romans all looked taken aback. They might be used to Percy’s unique way of dealing with the gods, but for one of their own to do that to a god was a surprise.

 

“Think about your next words,” Frank warned, deadly calm. “Or instead of beating my sword into a plowshare, I will beat it into your head.”

 

“You tell him,” Percy grinned.

 

Triptolemus gulped. “You know…I think I’ll heal your friends.”…“I swear it on the River Styx.”

 

“Nice job,” Jason smiled.

 

“And good work getting him to swear on the Styx,” Nico nodded approvingly.

 

Frank released him. Triptolemus touched his throat, as if making sure it was still there…a pill-sized ball of green goop and jogged to Hazel’s side. He placed the gunk ball under Hazel’s tongue.

 

Hazel grimaced but couldn’t complain if it would save her life.

 

Instantly, she shuddered and sat up, coughing. Her eyes flew open. The greenish tint in her skin disappeared.

 

“Oh, thank goodness,” Frank breathed.

 

“You did it. You got him to save me,” Hazel smiled. “I knew you would manage it.”

 

“I’m glad one of us did,” Frank managed a smile in return.

 

She looked around, bewildered, until she saw Frank. “What—?”…It was as if some of the dragon and lion had stayed with him when he’d turned back to human.

 

Frank looked down at his body in shock.

 

“Er…I’m really glad Hazel is going to be ok, but Nico is still a corn plant,” Will pointed out.

 

“They’ll get round to it. I’ve been turned into stuff before,” Nico shrugged.

 

“Uh…I don’t…Maybe I can fix it.”…Congratulations, blah, blah, blah. Now, if we’re done here…?”

 

“No, you are not done,” Percy scowled.

 

“We wouldn’t let him keep Nico that way,” Hazel assured him.

 

Frank glared at him. “We’re not done. Heal Nico.”…Nico di Angelo appeared in an explosion of corn silk.

 

“Thanks,” Nico said. Frank nodded.

 

Nico looked around in a panic. “I—I had the weirdest nightmare about popcorn.”

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

He frowned at Frank. “Why are you taller?”…The farm god raised his eyes to the ceiling, like, Why me, Demeter?

 

All the demigods glared at the book.

 

“Fine,” Trip said. “When you arrive at Epirus, you will be offered a chalice to drink from.”…“You must drink it, or you’ll never be able to make it through the temple.

 

“Oh wonderful. We have to drink poison,” Piper grimaced.

 

“I’m guessing he knows a cure or something, which is why we needed to see him,” Leo said/

 

The poison connects you to the world of the dead, lets you pass into the lower levels. The secret to surviving is”—his eyes twinkled—“barley.”

 

“Barley?” Hazel frowned.

 

“Not just any old barley,” Demeter shook her head. “To get the best results you should use his barley.”

 

“Which he had better give us,” Nico muttered.

 

Frank stared at him. “Barley.”…“Hecate sent us halfway across Italy so you could tell us to eat barley?”

 

“Well, we know now,” Jason said.

 

“Which is good because I never want to have to deal with that guy,” Frank glowered at the book.

 

“Good luck!” Triptolemus sprinted across the room and hopped in his chariot…I will teach them the glories of tilling, irrigation, fertilizing!”

 

“Urgh,” Hades groaned. “We don’t need two of them.” Demeter glared at him.

 

The chariot lifted off and zipped out of the house, Triptolemus shouting to the sky…or start to laugh. How many monsters had he killed on that bridge—two hundred? Three hundred?

 

“Hey, if you said you did it, we believe you,” Hazel assured him.

 

“Yeah. But it’s still going to be a shock,” Nico pointed out.

 

But he saw in their eyes that they believed him. They were children of the Underworld…“Well,” Nico said, breaking the tension, “does anyone know what barley looks like?”

 

“Done,” Hermes said.

 

“That makes it mu turn,” Connor grimaced. They had already had four chapters of Frank, and he was worried he would get the Tartarus chapters. Hermes gave his son the book. He opened it to the right page and grimaced. “Annabeth again.” Everyone sat up just a tiny bit straighter at this announcement.

Chapter Text

Annabeth decided the monsters wouldn’t kill her…Most likely she would die from an overload of weirdness that would make her brain explode.

 

“Unlikely,” Triton snorted.

 

First, she and Percy had had to drink fire to stay alive. Then they were attacked by a gaggle of vampires, led by a cheerleader Annabeth had killed two years ago.

 

“The drinking fire is weird but being attacked by a monster you already killed is pretty normal for us,” Connor pointed out.

 

“Yeah. That’s probably the most normal thing to happen in a while,” Percy agreed.

 

“I hate how casually you say being attacked by monsters is completely normal,” Apollo sighed. He knew it was true for all demigods, part of what made them heroes. But that didn’t stop it sucking. Percy just shrugged.

 

Finally, they were rescued by a Titan janitor named Bob who had Einstein hair, silver eyes, and wicked broom skills.

 

“That’s definitely weird,” Nico laughed.

 

Sure. Why not?...Her throat felt like she was constantly gargling with battery acid.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

“Lovely,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

Her only comfort was Percy. Every so often he would glance over and smile…“Bob knows what he’s doing,” Percy promised.

 

“I’m not sure that’s actually a good thing. The more he remembers, the more chance he has of remembering he isn’t actually Bob,” Hades frowned.

 

“Careful, Uncle. I might think you care,” Percy teased. Hades gave him an unimpressed look.

 

“I care about you closing the Doors of Death, so Gaea doesn’t take over the world.”

 

“Eh, I’ll take it. That’s more than the rest of the gods seem to care about, given how they seem to be trying to make our jobs harder,” Percy said. Most of the gods winced at that.

 

“You have interesting friends,” Annabeth murmured…“You jumped into Tartarus,” she said, “because Percy said your name?”

 

“Wow. That’s some dedication,” Rachel whistled. Percy looked uneasy that he had that much influence over a guy he’d done absolutely nothing for.

 

“He needed me.” Those silver eyes gleamed in the darkness. “It is okay. I was tired of sweeping the palace. Come along! We are almost at a rest stop.”

 

“Wow. Hades is so annoying he actually jumped in Tartarus to get away from him,” Zeus smirked at his brother.

 

“After several years. Had he been in your palace, he would have jumped immediately, without being summoned,” Hades shot back.

 

“Yes, yes, you’re both annoying enough to drive anyone to Tartarus,” Poseidon drawled. “Now can we get back to the fact he just mentioned a rest stop. In Tartarus.”

 

“Maybe he just means somewhere slightly better to camp than an open plane?” Frank suggested. “You guys are going to need to sleep sometime.”

 

“Sleep? In Tartarus?” Percy grimaced. “With all the nightmares I think we might be better off not sleeping.”

 

“You’ll need some rest eventually,” Thalia told him grimly.

 

“I’ll sleep when we’re out of there,” Percy muttered.

 

A rest stop…She repressed the giggles. Yes, she was definitely losing it.

 

Everyone smiled slightly, just glad they still had something to laugh about.

 

Annabeth hobbled along, trying to ignore the rumble in her stomach…Underworld king and queen thought “looking after” someone meant giving him a broom and having him sweep up their messes.

 

“They probably thought not killing him was all the looking after he needed,” Thalia scowled. Hades shrugged. She wasn’t wrong. But if Bob could help Percy in Tartarus, then maybe he would make an effort with the titan should this come to pass.

 

Annabeth wondered how even Hades could be so callous. She’d never felt sorry for a Titan before, but it didn’t seem right taking a brainwashed immortal and turning him into an unpaid janitor.

 

“Yeah,” Connor nodded. “Does seem wrong.”

 

“Especially as he just saved Percy and Annabeth’s lives,” Grover agreed.

 

“Well, if this happens in the future, we’ll work something different out,” Apollo promised. He didn’t much like the idea of a titan looking out for Percy when his memories could come back at any second, but they couldn’t afford to be picky. And hopefully, if they treated him well, he would be more likely to help, even if some memories came back.

 

He’s not your friend, she reminded herself…Unfortunately, she couldn’t think of a better plan.

 

“Foes bear arms to the Doors of Death,” Michael recalled. “Maybe it doesn’t mean Greeks and Romans, maybe it means demigods and a titan.”

 

“So, Bob is supposed to help you,” Will said slowly.

 

“That’s actually kind of comforting,” Percy stated.

 

“Not really,” Poseidon muttered.

 

They picked their way across the ashen wasteland as red lightning flashed overhead…It burst in a geyser of steaming yellow slime, and the drakon dissolved into nothing.

 

“Definitely don’t want that respawning somewhere behind you,” Clarisse grimaced.

 

Bob kept walking…If that god noticed them walking across his skin, like fleas on a dog…Enough. No more thinking.

 

“Please stop thinking about that,” Drew complained.

 

“Yeah. Bad thoughts,” Annabeth agreed uneasily.

 

“Here,” Bob said…“Hermes’s shrine,” Bob explained.

 

“What?” Everyone gaped.

 

Percy frowned. “A Hermes shrine in Tartarus?”…Maybe mortal world. Maybe Olympus. Anyway, monsters steer clear. Mostly.”

 

“That’s something at least,” Hermes smiled, glad to be able to help in some small way.

 

“How did you know it was here?” Annabeth asked…Of course he knew his way around. If he remembered this shrine, he might start recalling other details of his old prison and his old life.

 

“For now, just be glad he remembered that,” Connor advised.

 

“Yeah,” She agreed.

 

“That would be a good place to catch a tiny bit of sleep,” Reyna stated.

 

“Better than basically anywhere else in Tartarus,” Poseidon nodded.

 

That would not be good…They’d be well hidden here, but if monsters did stumble across them, they would have no warning.

 

“Well, hopefully the aura of the shrine will keep them away like Bob said,” Apollo said.

 

“You said someone was chasing us,” Annabeth said. “Who?”…They know you are here. Giants and Titans. The defeated ones. They know.”

 

Everyone winced.

 

“That’s quite a lot,” Rachel muttered.

 

“Considering Percy alone has helped to kill three giants and at least two titans,” Grover grimaced.

 

“Hey, Hyperion goes to you. You turned him into a tree,” Percy pointed out. “And Luke killed in the end. So, I haven’t actually killed any titans.”

 

“It’s close enough,” Thalia said.

 

The defeated ones…How many titans and giants had she and Percy fought over the years?

 

“Hardly any,” Octavian sneered. “Percy has fought several. You seem to be missing most of the time when he fights titans and giants.”

 

“That’s not…” Thalia began.

 

“He kind of has a point,” Apollo said, looking disgusted at the idea of agreeing with Octavian. “Annabeth was off fighting Luke when Percy briefly fought Atlas. I don’t recall hearing her helping in the fight with Hyperion. She wasn’t there for turning Iapetus into Bob. She was there for Kronos in the throne room, but Percy did way more fighting. And she hasn’t fought any giants,” Apollo summed up.

 

“There was the gross sounding giant dude that stole Hermes’ staff,” Grover piped up.

 

“Oh yeah. I hope we never actually have to meet him,” Percy pulled a face.

 

“So that’s one titan, that won’t be chasing you because his essence has been scattered everywhere throughout Tartarus, and one giant who might be there, but he isn’t one of Gaea and Tartarus’ kids born to directly oppose Olympians,” Octavian summed up with another sneer in Annabeth’s direction.

 

“And it won’t be Atlas because he’s still holding the sky,” Thalia smirked slightly. “Or Iapetus because he’s now Bob and with you.”

 

“That still leaves a lot of options,” Connor grimaced. “Percy’s helped to kill at least three giants in the past few weeks or so, plus Alcyoneus, even if it was Hazel and Frank that actually killed him.”

 

“Please just read,” Poseidon grimaced.

 

Each one had seemed like an impossible challenge…“Why are we stopping, then?” she said. “We should keep moving.”

 

“Because you can’t go on forever,” Athena stated gently.

 

“Soon,” Bob said. “But mortals need rest. Good place here…she didn’t need to be a daughter of Athena to know that was one hundred percent unwise.

 

“So, you two take turns watching with Bob,” Dakota suggested

 

“You sleep,” Percy told her. “I’ll keep the first watch with Bob.”

 

“No,” Poseidon glared at his son. “You should let Annabeth take first watch, because I trust her to actually wake you up. You’ll stay up the whole time and let her sleep.” Almost everyone agreed that Poseidon had a good point.

 

“Don’t even think about it,” Annabeth looked at Percy in concern. “You need to sleep too.” Percy shrugged.

 

“Not much we can do about it now.”

 

Bob rumbled in agreement. “Yes, good. When you wake, food should be here!”…She didn’t see how Bob could summon food in the midst of Tartarus. Maybe he was a caterer as well as a janitor.

 

“If it’s a shrine that was once on Olympus, maybe some of the offerings to Hermes will show up,” Amphitrite suggested.

 

“Wait, those offerings we burn actually turn up somewhere?” Travis frowned.

 

“Yes. They go to our shrines usually,” Hermes nodded.

 

She didn’t want to sleep, but her body betrayed her. Her eyelids turned to lead. “Percy, wake me for second watch. Don’t be a hero.”

 

“Of course he’s going to be a hero,” Apollo groaned. “It’s Percy!”

 

Annabeth grimaced. She really should know what Percy was like by now.

 

He gave her that smirk she’d come to love. “Who, me?”

 

“Yes, you,” Poseidon grumbled.

 

He kissed her, his lips parched and feverishly warm. “Sleep.”…overcome with drowsiness. She curled up on the hard ground and closed her eyes.

 

“Done,” Connor sighed in relief that his had been both short and safe.

 

“My turn,” Poseidon grimaced. Of course, he would get a Tartarus chapter. At least they seemed relatively safe for now.

Chapter Text

Later, she made a resolution: Never EVER sleep in Tartarus.

 

All the demigods winced.

 

Demigod dreams were always bad. Even in the safety of her bunk at camp, she’d had horrible nightmares. In Tartarus, they were a thousand times more vivid.

 

“Oh gods,” Thalia grimaced.

 

“That’s…urgh,” Nico shuddered.

 

“Just more things to look forward too,” Percy grumbled.

 

First, she was a little girl again, struggling to climb Half-Blood Hill…holding back an army of hellhounds with her terror-invoking shield, Aegis.

 

Thalia, Annabeth and Grover all shuddered.

 

From the top of the hill, Annabeth could see the camp in the valley below…“Go!” Thalia yelled. “I’ll hold them off.”

 

Jason gripped his sister’s hand tightly and Zeus eyed his daughter worriedly.

 

She brandished her spear, and forked lightning slashed through the monsters’ ranks…and screaming that they couldn’t leave Thalia alone. But it was too late.

 

Everyone winced.

 

“It all turned out ok,” Thalia reminded them, but her voice was slightly shaky.

 

The scene shifted…You have done well, Reyna said, but the voice was Athena’s. The rest of my journey must be on the wings of Rome.

 

“What?” Reyna frowned.

 

“The rest of Athena’s journey?” Katie wondered.

 

“The Parthenos,” Annabeth realised.

 

“What? You think the Romans are going to agree to come and get the statue from the Ancient lands and bring it back for us?” Piper asked incredulously.

 

“The Romans giving it back to the Greeks makes sense, considering they stole it in the first place,” Hermes said. “It might heal the rift between Minerva and Athena, and possibly between the Greeks and Romans.”

 

“Well, that might be true, but they think we fired on their city. They think we started a war. They probably aren’t exactly going to jump at a chance to come to the ancient lands, which are forbidden, and come and get a statue to give back to us,” Beckendorf frowned. Leo winced.

 

The praetor’s dark eyes turned as gray as storm clouds.

 

I must stand here, Reyna told her. The Roman must bring me.

 

I have to do it?” Reyna asked in disbelief.

 

“You are a Praetor,” Dakota pointed out.

 

“And you know our best chance of surviving Gaea is to unite the camps. You’re probably the most likely to listen,” Jason said. “It’s not like Octavian is going to.” Octavian snorted.

 

“But if I have to leave to come and get the statue, which I have no way of transporting by myself, Octavian will technically be in charge of the Legion as there is no other Praetor,” Reyna pointed out.

 

“That would be bad,” Gwen winced. Octavian scowled.

 

“Really bad,” Frank agreed.

 

The hill shook. The ground rippled as the grass became folds of silk...Hurry, said the voice of Athena. The message must be sent.

 

“You want Annabeth to send the message to Reyna. Maybe you missed the memo, but she’s in Tartarus!” Connor scowled furiously at Athena. “Don’t you think she has enough to do at the moment.”

 

“Yes. I think that message might have been best left with one of your other children,” Apollo agreed. “How can you expect Annabeth to do anything from the Pit?”

 

“The Parthenos is Annabeth’s quest,” Athena said imperiously. “She must find a way.”

 

“She’s succeeded her quest. She recovered the Parthenos,” Thalia pointed out. “Now it’s up to the rest of us. You can’t expect Annabeth to complete another mission while in Tartarus. She and Percy already have the hardest job out of everyone.”

 

“Er, unless Athena is too out of it to know Annabeth is in Tartarus,” Katie pointed out tentatively.

 

“Well, she’s together enough to be giving Annabeth a mission,” Connor scowled.

 

“From this dream, Athena clearly knows the Parthenos is free. And there is no way she wouldn’t have felt it the moment that the Parthenos was freed,” Apollo shook his head. “Even in that state. She’s been waiting for that for millennia. Her attention would have been on her statue, and so what was going on around it. She wouldn’t have missed her daughter falling into Tartarus.”

 

“And even on the very small possibility she didn’t notice, Bacchus would probably have known and informed everyone else,” Ares said.

 

“If you think I’m going to be the one to tell Uncle Poseidon that his favourite son fell into Tartarus, think again. I would have been hoping he was too out of it to notice. I wouldn’t go spreading the news around,” Dionysus shook his head.

 

“Yeah, that’s a good point,” Hermes nodded. “But I still think Athena would have known about Annabeth, simply because of the proximity to the statue.”

 

“Or maybe Athena just doesn’t want Annabeth to find a way. She probably wants the two camps to fight and hopes the Romans lose,” Poseidon scowled in frustration.

 

Annabeth wanted to deny that, to state that the statue was her responsibility, but then she thought about the fact that her siblings had started all the previous wars between the two camps and the denial faded from her lips. Maybe her mother didn’t want the camps to unite. That would certainly fit with her behaviour so far in these books. She glanced at her mother, who was glaring at Poseidon but wasn’t denying his accusations.

 

The ground split at Annabeth’s feet and she fell into darkness…“No, no. We’re good. I let you sleep.”

 

“PERCY!” Apollo, Poseidon and all the demigods yelled in exasperation.

 

“Don’t be such an idiot,” Apollo glared.

 

“Hey!” Percy frowned.

 

“Apollo’s right. It’s stupid not to get any rest,” Poseidon agreed.

 

“Bob might be around now, but if something goes wrong and he does get his memories back, you’re the only one with a weapon. You need to be in fighting shape, not collapsing from exhaustion,” Triton pointed out.

 

“We’re a team. We’re supposed to have each other’s backs. Not just you protecting me,” Annabeth looked at him reproachfully.

 

“Plus, you used a bunch of your energy to save you both from the river when you first landed,” Beckendorf said. “Not to mention the fight with Kelli. Bob might have healed you, but it would have taken energy out of you.”

 

“I’ll manage,” Percy shrugged. Everyone gave exasperated sighs and shook their heads at his stubbornness, and refusal to look after himself.

 

“Percy!”…Bob the Titan sat cross-legged by the altar, happily munching a piece of pizza.

 

“Of course you would be too excited to sleep because of food,” Thalia rolled her eyes.

 

“Pizza? In Tartarus?” Silena asked in astonishment.

 

“The shine,” Hermes smiled. “Offerings must have appeared.”

 

“Awesome,” Percy grinned.

 

Annabeth rubbed her eyes, wondering if she was still dreaming…some grapes, a plate of roast beef, and a package of peanut M&M’s.”

 

“Peanut M&Ms?” Travis raised an eyebrow. “Connor always burns those at Camp.”

 

“You don’t think..? We’ve actually got food from Camp?” Annabeth asked.

 

“If that’s true, then we have a way to send supplies to Tartarus,” Leo said. “If someone really does have to go, we can send fresh supplies through the Hermes shrine.”

 

“That’s brilliant news,” Chris stated.

 

Apollo frowned, deep in thought. If his father forbade him from going to Tartarus with Percy, then maybe he could send one of his shrines to Tartarus. Heck, maybe he could take one down himself, and place it on the route he knew they would take. That way he would be able to personally make sure things got sent to Percy. He was under no illusion; Percy would go to Tartarus. Nothing Apollo said would make him change his mind, knowing someone would have to take his place. This way, they could communicate.

 

“Does this mean all of our offerings end up in Tartarus?” Travis wondered.

 

“No. They usually end up on Olympus, or whatever shrine we are closest too at the time the offerings are burnt,” Hermes explained. “But we can control where they turn up. So, I’m guessing I directed those offerings down to Tartarus, because that shrine of mine has been down there for ages. So, I would know there is a chance Percy and Annabeth would stumble across it,” Hermes explained.

 

“Thank you,” Annabeth said gratefully.

 

“Yeah, thanks,” Percy nodded. He smiled at both of them. Poseidon shot his nephew a grateful look, mentally promising to do something nice for him for looking after his son.

 

“M&M’s for Bob!” Bob said happily. “Uh, that okay?”…with exactly the same spicy sweet glaze as the barbecue at Camp Half-Blood.

 

“If the food is still hot, then it clearly hasn’t been there for that long. Which means you had plenty of time to wake Annabeth and get some sleep before you got distracted,” Apollo gave Percy a stern look.

 

He honestly wondered if Percy would be better off going down there without any other demigods. If they could persuade Bob to go down as soon as Percy went, he would be of much more use than Annabeth. If only because Percy would then have to look after himself, instead of spending all of his energy looking after someone else and neglecting himself. That was probably what was going to get Percy killed. It almost did already, when he tried to get to Annabeth instead of fighting the two monsters that were attacking him. Of course, that would only work if they could be sure Bob would remain Bob, and not get his memories back. That would be bad. But the book should tell them that.

 

“I know,” said Percy, reading her expression. “I think it is from Camp Half-Blood.”…“Peanut M&M’s,” Annabeth said. “Connor Stoll always burned a pack for his dad at dinner.”

 

“You know what food I burn?” Connor asked with a pleased smile.

 

“We’ve been at camp for several years together, of course I’ve noticed that you burn M&Ms. It’s pretty weird,” She grinned at him.

 

“What you mean is, you’ve been secretly watching me for years because you fancy me,” He said quietly, smirking. She smacked his arm.

 

She thought about sitting in the dining pavilion, watching the sunset over Long Island Sound. That was the first place she and Percy had truly kissed. Her eyes smarted.

 

Connor and Apollo both grimaced.

 

Percy put his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, this is good. Actual food from home, right?”…“Should go now. They will be here in a few minutes.”

 

“Minutes?” Everyone yelped.


“They needed the rest, and the food,” Will pointed out reluctantly. “If the food has only just come, then it’s a good job they waited for it.”

 

“A few minutes?” Annabeth reached for her dagger, then remembered she didn’t have it.

 

Annabeth winced.

 

“Yes…well, I think minutes…” Bob scratched his silvery hair…Bob grunted. “Not sure of names. Six, maybe seven. I can sense them.”

 

“Six or seven? Definitely time to go,” Jason said.

 

“Yep. And hope they can’t see us once we get out of that crater,” Percy grimaced.

 

“Six or seven?” Annabeth wasn’t sure her barbecue would stay down. “And can they sense you?”…You two smell very strong. Good strong. Like…hmm. Like buttery bread!”

 

“Not sure I like that analogy,” Silena muttered.

 

“If you smell that strong, then there is no way the vampire girls didn’t smell you. They must have been waiting until there was a good spot to ambush you,” Beckendorf said.

 

“Titans and giants could be different. But either way, we’d best just be cautious and assume everything can smell us,” Annabeth agreed.

 

“Buttery bread,” Annabeth said. “Well, that’s great.”…He looked at Annabeth as if she actually had an answer.

 

“Sorry, Percy, I really don’t know,” Annabeth shrugged helplessly.


“It’s ok. It’s not like it’s ever been tested before,” He smiled.

 

“Percy, I don’t know. Traveling in Tartarus, fighting monsters here…it’s never been done before. Maybe Bob could help us kill a giant? Maybe a Titan would count as a god? I just don’t know.”

 

“Titans are gods. Just a different generation. So yes, Bob should count,” Hades nodded.

 

“Yeah,” Percy said. “Okay.”…Now, when he needed her most, she couldn’t help. She hated being so clueless, but nothing she’d ever learned at camp had prepared her for Tartarus.

 

“There is a reason for that,” Chiron stated.

 

“Pretty much everything we know about Tartarus, is related to gods being there. No demigod has been to Tartarus before. That we know of,” Poseidon said grimly. “Everything we know, is from this book.”

 

There was only one thing she was sure of: they had to keep moving. They couldn’t be caught by six or seven hostile immortals.

 

“Very true,” Thalia nodded.

 

She stood, still disoriented from her nightmares. Bob started cleaning up, collecting their trash in a little pile, using his squirt bottle to wipe off the altar.

 

Hermes smiled a little.

 

“Where to now?” Annabeth asked…“You told him?” Annabeth didn’t mean it to come out so harsh, but Percy winced.

 

“If he’s going to be travelling with you, he’s going to find out at some point,” Apollo pointed out.

 

“Yeah, and he’s your best bet to finding it without needing to follow other monsters,” Triton agreed.

 

“While you were asleep,” he admitted. “Annabeth, Bob can help. We need a guide.”…The Titan frowned. “I think seconds. Time is hard in Tartarus.”

 

“Bob has a point,” Amphitrite admitted unhappily.

 

“Hopefully he has another option,” Leo said.

 

“Right,” Annabeth grumbled. “So is there another way?”

 

“Hiding,” said Bob. “The Death Mist could hide you.”

 

“Death Mist?” Percy asked nervously.

 

“That doesn’t sound good,” Connor muttered.

 

“What is it?” Travis asked.

 

“I’ve only heard rumors. I believe it is kind of like regular Mist,” Hades began. “But rather than hiding monsters from the mortals, it hides mortals from monsters. I’m guessing it would also hide demigods from monsters. But it can only be given by Akhlys, primordial goddess of misery. I don’t ever recall it being given before, because Akhlys never ventures from Tartarus.”

 

“So, Bob wants them to go into the territory of a primordial goddess?” Poseidon croaked.

 

“If it hides them from the monsters, they may not have a choice,” Hades told his brother regretfully. “They will not be able to fight all the monsters at the Doors of Death by themselves. Even with a titan.”

 

“This sounds better and better,” Percy said sarcastically. Apollo hugged him tightly.

 

“Oh…” Annabeth suddenly felt very small in the shadow of the Titan. “Uh, what is Death Mist?”…If we can avoid Night. The lady is very close to Night. That is bad.”

 

“Oh us,” Poseidon breathed.

 

“Night?” Connor frowned. “As in the Night?”

 

“The one that’s older than even Gaea?” Annabeth questioned, her voice a little higher than usual.

 

“That one,” Hades nodded. “Akhlys is her daughter. And her territory is right at the edge of Tartarus, right where it falls away into Night and then to Chaos.”

 

“So, we might end up near not one, but two primordial goddesses?” Percy asked, sounding faint.

 

“Let’s hope Bob is right and you can avoid Nyx,” Apollo muttered. Everyone was looking nervously between Percy and Annabeth. This mission sounded more and more impossible every second. Which they had all thought was not going to happen considering how impossible it was to start with.

 

“The lady,” Percy repeated…“Bob,” she said, “offerings burned in the mortal world appear on this altar, right?”

 

“Are you going to try and reverse it, send a message back to camp?” Connor looked at her is astonishment.

 

“Hopefully,” Annabeth nodded.

 

“Bob said you only had minutes, and you’ve spent some time talking,” Thalia noted worriedly.

 

“But I had that dream for a reason. I need to send that message,” Annabeth said.

 

“If my son gets hurt because you gave that message to Annabeth instead of one of your other children, so help me Athena…” Poseidon threatened, his expression black with fury.

 

Athena shrunk back in her seat slightly, glancing over at Hera. She did not want to end up cursed like that. Or worse. She wasn’t sure what worse would be, but Poseidon was not someone you wanted to truly anger. Sure, they had their spats, but even Athena knew not to cross certain lines when it came to the god of the seas.

 

Bob frowned uncomfortably, like he wasn’t ready for a pop quiz. “Yes?”…“I don’t have an I’m-planning-something look.”

 

“Yes, you do,” All the Greek demigods said in unison. Annabeth flushed.

 

“Yeah, you totally do. Your eyebrows knit and your lips press together and—”…“Yes, but can you actually write with it?”

 

“Apparently I can,” Percy grinned.

 

“I still can’t believe this has never come up before,” Nico laughed.

 

“I—I don’t know,” he admitted. “Never tried.”…But Annabeth didn’t mind making Percy a little uneasy. You had to keep your boyfriend on his toes.

 

Apollo frowned unhappily. The last thing Percy needed was to be kept on his toes, or to be made uneasy. If anything, he needed to be constantly reassured that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

 

“I think his life keeps him on his toes enough as it is,” Amphitrite put in, trying to keep her tone light as this Annabeth hadn’t actually thought this yet. While she did agree to some extent, it always amused her to make Poseidon nervous, especially when he had just cheated on her, but that was after several millennia of marriage. They were secure enough in themselves and each other, for her to occasionally give him a few uncomfortable decades for that sort of thing. But Percy, while so like his father in many ways, was far more insecure due to his upbringing. And, it had to be said, he was also insecure because of Annabeth doing things like that before they had settled into a secure relationship. They hadn’t been dating long before Percy was kidnapped and had his memories wiped.

 

“Yeah, after several months of missing memories, being on the run or in a hostile camp, and then going on another major quest, I think the last thing he needs is to be made more uneasy,” Triton agreed. Not to mention, after all of that, Annabeth’s reaction to reuniting after his disappearance had been to throw him around and threaten him if he left her again. There was already enough uncertainty in their relationship.

 

Annabeth nodded. Rachel grimaced, feeling bad that her crush had only made things worse for Percy. She didn’t want to be used to make her friend’s life any more difficult than it needed to be.

 

Annabeth finished her note and folded the napkin. On the outside, she wrote:

 

Connor,

 

“Me?” Connor grinned, feeling absurdly pleased she’d picked him to entrust an important message to. Sure, it had to be a Hermes kid, but she’d gone for him over Travis, and that made him happy even if it was a small thing.

 

“Yeah. You might be a troublemaker, but you’re a reliable troublemaker,” Annabeth laughed. “Plus, after seeing those M&Ms, you’re probably the first Hermes kid on my mind.”

 

“You mean, I’m always the first Hermes kid on your mind,” He corrected with a smirk. She rolled her eyes.

 

Give this to Rachel. Not a prank. Don’t be a moron.

 

Love,

 

Annabeth

 

“Me? A moron?” He put on a faux wounded expression.

 

“Yes, you,” Travis told him brother. “It’s alright, we know you can’t help being a moron.” Connor stuck his tongue out. Everyone just chuckled, glad for the tension to be lifted, even if it was only momentarily.

 

“Can you imagine all of our reactions when Connor suddenly says he has a napkin message from Annabeth?” Katie giggled.

 

“It would be interesting to see all of our faces. We can hardly believe it now, and we’re hearing it happen,” Pollux said.

 

She took a deep breath. She was asking Rachel Dare to do something ridiculously dangerous…the only way that might avoid bloodshed.

 

“If it can save camp and all of you guys, I’ll do it,” Rachel stated firmly. It actually relieved her to know there was something she could do, no matter how small.

 

“Now I just need to burn it,” she said. “Anybody got a match?”…Could the smoke really make it out of Tartarus?

 

“I’m sure it can,” Grover said. “You and Percy are good at impossible things.”

 

“We should go now,” Bob advised. “Really, really go. Before we are killed.”

 

“Good idea,” Rachel nodded.

 

“Yep. Move very quickly,” Nico agreed.

 

Annabeth stared at the wall of blackness in front of them…Another dose of weirdness to explode her brain.

 

“Yep. That bit is definitely weird too,” Thalia agreed.

 

“Right,” she said. “I’m ready.”

 

“Done,” Poseidon let out a sigh of relief. His turn was done.

 

“That makes it my turn to read,” Thalia grimaced. Poseidon tossed her the book eagerly. She opened it reluctantly. They had had two fairly decent Tartarus chapters in a row. She was not expecting a third.

Chapter Text

Annabeth literally stumbled over the second titan.

 

“What?” Everyone yelped.

 

“I’m guessing it’s one that’s reforming,” Ares said, calming everyone down but not by much.

 

“Burst it, make it go and reform somewhere else,” Clarisse suggested.

 

After entering the storm front, they plodded on for what seemed like hours…the Dark Lands reminded her of San Francisco, where her dad lived

 

All of the Romans looked affronted at having their city compared to Tartarus.

 

on those summer afternoons when the fog bank rolled in like cold…Annabeth had a nasty feeling they were marching straight down his throat.

 

They all shuddered at that idea.

 

“You two need to stop having such vivid imaginations,” Piper muttered.

 

“Yeah,” Percy agreed. “I really wish we could.”

 

She was so preoccupied with that thought, she didn’t notice the ledge until it was too late.

 

“Annabeth!” Thalia cried out anxiously.

 

Percy yelled, “Whoa!” He grabbed for her arm, but she was already falling…She had a soft landing on a warm bouncy surface and was feeling lucky

 

“I would not call falling onto a monster blister lucky,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

“Maybe not, but it’s better than falling a long way onto a beach of glass or something,” Travis said.

 

“Which is a horrifyingly real prospect,” Chris added.

 

until she opened her eyes and found herself staring through a glowing gold membrane…She was a daughter of Athena, not some shrill girlie victim in a horror movie.

 

“Considering I’m guessing you just fell onto a titan blister; I don’t blame you for screaming,” Connor assured her.

 

“Yeah. Don’t worry Annie, you’re literally going through hell, I don’t think anyone is going to consider you a girlie victim in a horror movie because you screamed at something down there,” Thalia stated.

 

“Priorities much,” Octavian rolled his eyes. “You’re worried about sounding like some pathetic horror victim when obviously your boyfriend isn’t going to think that, and when you should be worried about your screaming attracting more attention.”

 

“Dammit, why did it have to be him who made a good point,” Clarisse muttered to Chris in an undertone. He smirked at her in amusement.

 

But gods of Olympus… Curled in the membrane bubble in front of her was a fully formed Titan in golden armor, his skin the color of polished pennies.

 

“Hyperion,” Grover muttered. “Why couldn’t he stay as a tree?”

 

“Because we aren’t that lucky,” Percy sighed.

 

“You mean, you aren’t that lucky,” Apollo corrected.

 

“Oh, for father’s sake! Hyperion is Iapetus’ brother. If he recognizes him…” Artemis trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought. Everyone went still, staring at the book with bated breath. Thalia forced herself to keep reading.

 

His eyes were closed, but he scowled so deeply he appeared to be on the verge…“Yeah,” Percy agreed. “Maybe the maple tree died, and he wound up back here?”

 

Grover frowned. That tree shouldn’t have died unless something happened to it. Had Kronos somehow destroyed it, and sent his brother to reform in Tartarus? Or maybe it had just been destroyed later on in the fight.

 

Annabeth remembered how Hyperion had summoned fiery explosions, and how many satyrs and nymphs he’d destroyed before Percy and Grover stopped him.

 

Grover, Dionysus and Artemis all winced.

 

She was about to suggest that they burst Hyperion’s bubble before he woke up. He looked ready to pop out at any moment and start charbroiling everything in his path.

 

“Definitely a good idea,” Clarisse nodded.

 

“Burst it,” Frank encouraged.

 

“Except, if Iapetus recognizes him, he might turn on them for killing his brother right in front of him,” Katie said anxiously.

 

Then she glanced at Bob. The silvery Titan was studying Hyperion with a frown of concentration…“Gold, not silver,” Bob murmured. “But he looks like me.”

 

“Now would be a good time to leave. Even if you don’t burst the bubble, just get Bob away from there,” Beckendorf suggested.

 

“Bob,” Percy said. “Hey, buddy, over here.”…“Yes.” Bob sounded dangerously uncertain. “We are friends.”

 

“Ok, that’s a kind of good start,” Piper said. “He still thinks you are friends.”

 

“Move before he changes his mind,” Drew urged.

 

“You know that some monsters are good,” Percy said. “And some are bad.”…Exploding zombies are bad.”

 

“Exploding zombies?” Will blinked.

 

“It’s the Underworld,” Nico shrugged.

 

“Right,” Percy said. “And some mortals are good, and some are bad…Annabeth was pretty sure her boyfriend had just made a big mistake.

 

“Don’t be so quick to discount Percy,” Amphitrite said with a sly smile.

 

“Percy is a pretty good judge of people. I think he can handle this,” Thalia agreed.

 

“That’s what you are,” Percy said calmly. “Bob the Titan. You’re good…“Bob is good.” His fingers tightened on his broom handle.

 

“Nice work, Percy,” Rachel grinned. “You’re doing awesome.”

 

“Yes. There is always at least one good one—monsters, Titans, giants.”…“Oh, yes.” Bob nodded earnestly.

 

“There’s a good giant?” Dakota asked.

 

“Damasen isn’t so bad,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“Damasen?” Chris looked confused.

 

“Yeah, he’s the giant born to oppose Ares. But he came out the total opposite. Where Ares is all about war, Damasen is peaceful,” Poseidon explained.

 

“Why is he the opposite? This whole giant opposing Olympians thing is weird,” Percy frowned. “Ephialtes and Otis were like extreme Dionysus, not opposites. Polybotes and the Zeus dude sort of turned their domains into poison or absorbed lightning. They weren’t really opposites. And the anti-Athena was into making plans and traps, like he was trying to be cleverer than Athena. If he was the anti-Athena surely, he would be stupid, if the anti-Ares is peaceful.”

 

“It’s not an exact science,” Apollo shrugged.

 

“Besides, given how Athena has been acting in these books, I think being clever is the anti-Athena,” Poseidon smirked. The wisdom goddess glowered at him but didn’t dare say anything. She could tell he was still angry about sending Annabeth that vision and causing them to lose time.

 

Annabeth sensed they’d already been in this place too long…We could leave him alone, but if he wakes up—”

 

“You’re actually going to let him choose?” Leo looked at him like he was insane.

 

“It’s the best option,” Apollo said. “If they kill Hyperion while Bob is uncertain, Bob may turn on them. If they decide just to leave him, that’s terribly dangerous. If Percy lets Bob choose, hopefully he will destroy the bubble himself which will hopefully make him secure in his own mind that he is a good titan, and the others are bad. It’s risky, but so is everything else in Tartarus, and it has the potential best outcome.”

 

Bob’s broom-spear swept into motion. If he’d been aiming at Annabeth or Percy…which burst in a geyser of hot golden mud.

 

“Yes!” Everyone cheered. “Go Bob!”

 

Annabeth wiped the Titan sludge out of her eyes. Where Hyperion had been…He will have to re-form somewhere else in Tartarus. Hopefully it will take a long time.”

 

“Nice work, Percy,” Clarisse gave him a small smile.

 

The Titan’s eyes seemed brighter than usual, as if he were about to cry quicksilver…If Percy had been serious about leaving the choice to Bob, then she didn’t like how much he trusted the Titan.

 

“He doesn’t have to trust him to let him choose. It was about gaining Bob’s trust, and not potentially making him turn on you by killing his brother right in front of him,” Triton pointed out.

 

“Yeah,” Annabeth nodded, but she looked a little uncertain.

 

If he’d been manipulating Bob into making that choice…well, then, Annabeth was stunned that Percy could be so calculating.

 

Percy frowned. When had he become that manipulative? When being trained by Lupa? When, he spent months on the run? Or maybe he’d always been that way. Maybe he’d picked up more from Gabe than he thought. He shook his head at that thought, but it wouldn’t go away.

 

“Really? Percy’s always been able to charm people, get them to spill their secrets and stuff. Thalia won’t stop complaining about it,” Rachel laughed.

 

“It’s true. I swear he has a superpower,” Thalia nodded. “Being annoyingly charming, but in a way you just can’t resist. No matter how long it takes.”

 

“I mean, getting someone to spill some secrets is a bit different to getting them to kill their own brother,” Annabeth pointed out. Percy flinched. A few of the demigods looked a little disturbed by that but shrugged it off. Hyperion was gone and wouldn’t be reforming right behind them. That was the important thing. Besides, the gods did crueler things to their kids all the time. A titan killing their brother barely ranked on the scale of family issues the immortal family had.

 

“It’s not like he would be killing him permanently. He will reform eventually,” Clarisse shrugged.

 

“He didn’t force Bob to kill Hyperion. He gave him the choice,” Nico stated. “And nothing he said was wrong or untrue. We know plenty of nice monsters, like Tyson and Mrs O’Leary. And I know Bob is very nice as he is at the moment. Percy was mostly just asking Bob to trust him. And I agree with Thalia. Percy is annoyingly trustworthy.”

 

“He gets it from his father,” Amphitrite smiled. Percy looked up at that.

 

“Yeah, dad’s an awesome diplomat, when he’s not in a temper,” Triton nodded. “Always seems to know just the right thing to say. It is kind of annoying really,” He added with a smirk. Poseidon shot his son a look which Triton happily ignored.

 

“You’re just sour you inherited your mother’s diplomatic skills,” Poseidon told him.

 

“Excuse me?” Amphitrite narrowed her eyes at her husband. He grinned at her.

 

“Sorry dear, but you aren’t exactly the most diplomatic person I know.” Her eyes narrowed even further. Mostly she was annoyed because he was right. Whereas he would always say the right thing, she had the uncanny ability to put her foot in her mouth at the most important moment in diplomatic negotiations.

 

“They have a point. I really don’t know why we don’t just send Uncle P round to all the minor gods to have a chat. He’d have them back on our side in no time, probably without them even knowing why they’ve agreed to back us,” Hermes chuckled. Poseidon rolled his eyes.

 

“It’s so annoying,” Thalia scowled. “You just want to be annoyed by how nosy he is, but you can’t help telling him what he wants to know and then you feel better which actually makes you more annoyed. But you can’t be annoyed at him!” Percy grinned cheekily at her.

 

“Love you too, cousin.” Thalia stuck her tongue out at him.

 

Zeus eyed his nephew. They had seen small hints so far that Percy had inherited his father’s charm, and his ability to manipulate. For, all that Poseidon tried to dress it up, he could be manipulative when he wanted to be. But he had always known exactly when to push and when not to, when to be downright manipulative, and when to add the right amount of charm. Something Zeus himself had never managed. It was part of the reason he had always feared Poseidon trying to overthrow him. Because he knew, if it truly came down to a war, Poseidon would be able to sway far more of the gods to his side than Zeus could. It was probably also why their father had kept Poseidon busy for so many years leading up to his main attack. Not just because of the strength his brother had, but also because if he had been the one making rounds to the minor gods, as Dionysus had ended up doing according to the books, far more would have likely sided with them and not their father.

 

And soon there would be two of them. And Percy was proving to be even better at it than his father. He gained allies without even trying. Ares respected him even after Percy had defeated him at the age of twelve. Ares might respect strength, but if anyone else had done that, and spoken to Ares that way, they would have been blacklisted forever. It might have been a fear of Poseidon originally that stopped him from killing Percy, but it had soon become respect. Even Zeus himself had become fond of the boy against his own will. Not that he’d ever admit that to anyone, least of all Poseidon.

 

Even just a few books ago he would have been terrified at the prospect of Percy joining their ranks, with the same charm, and probably a similar level of power to Poseidon. But now he found himself just accepting it. He’d already resigned himself to his nephew becoming a god. And having another one of them that could charm many of the minor gods and goddesses would only be an asset to them.

 

He met her eyes, but she couldn’t read his expression. That bothered her too…Hyperion’s burst bubble glowing on his janitor’s uniform.

 

“Well, that’s done,” Thalia announced.

 

“Oh joy,” Grover wrinkled his nose. Thalia happily handed him the book. He looked at it uneasily. It had been too long since something bad happened and it made him suspicious about how awful his chapter was going to be.

Chapter Text

After a while, Annabeth’s feet felt like Titan mush. She marched along, following Bob…His eyes had a dull sheen—like his spirit was being slowly extinguished.

 

Poseidon and Apollo both tightened their grip on Percy, feeling more and more anxious. They both wondered if the Cocytus was having some lingering effects or if it was simply Tartarus, and not having had any sleep in probably around twenty-four hours, maybe more.

 

He fell into Tartarus to be with you, said a voice in her head. If he dies, it will be your fault.

 

Annabeth flinched. Apollo had to stop himself nodding in agreement. He knew what Percy was like. As soon as he found out it was required to go, he would have volunteered himself, Annabeth or not. Although, she was making it harder because Percy kept looking after her instead of himself. Also, not her fault, he had to remind himself.

 

“It’s not your fault,” Thalia said gently. “Percy chose to go with you. You were the one dragged down by Arachne. You had no choice. Besides, it’s a good job he did, or he wouldn’t have been there to control the river to stop your fall.”

 

“Stop it,” she said aloud…Annabeth fought down her irritation. “But what does that mean? Who is this lady?”

 

“You of all people know using names is a bad idea,” Grover reminded her.

 

“And in Tartarus? Definitely don’t do it,” Beckendorf nodded in agreement.

 

“Naming her?” Bob glanced back. “Not a good idea.”…“Can you at least tell us how far?” she asked.

 

“Probably not. If it’s anything like the maze, time and space don’t really mean much,” Nico pointed out. “And we already know he can’t tell time as it works differently. I’m guessing space does too.”

 

“Great,” Annabeth sighed.

 

“I do not know,” Bob admitted. “I can only feel it. We wait for the darkness to get darker. Then we go sideways.”

 

“Err what? Darkness to get darker?” Connor frowned.

 

“Go sideways?” Leo asked in confusion.

 

“As long as Bob knows where he is going, it’s probably best not to question it too much,” Beckendorf said uneasily. “I mean, even if he turns on them, it’s not like they knew where they were going beforehand.”

 

“Sideways,” Annabeth muttered. “Naturally.”…Even if she finds the Romans, why should Reyna trust you after all that has happened?

 

“Because Reyna doesn’t want war either. She knows defeating Gaea is more important,” Jason shot Reyna a smile.

 

Annabeth was tempted to shout back at the voice, but she resisted…A moment of sunlight. A warm bed. A kind word from her mother.

 

“I definitely wouldn’t hold your breath for that last one,” Poseidon muttered.

 

“Oh yes, and where are you? We haven’t heard you offering Percy and help or support,” Athena shot back. Poseidon grimaced. That had been bothering him too.

 

“He’s probably struggling with the headaches more than most. He’s one of the eldest gods and has a huge difference between his Greek and Roman sides. At least he isn’t being petty and taking out his anger on Percy,” Apollo glared at Athena. “And the Romans suck at worshipping Neptune. You heard the rundown shed he has at their camp,” The Romans all winced. “Yet you don’t see him getting his kids to start civil wars. Or disowning them because he accepts the Romans.” Poseidon and Percy both shot Apollo grateful looks. Athena scowled.

 

Suddenly Bob stopped. He raised his hand: Wait…“Shh,” Bob warned. “Ahead. Something moves.”

 

“Oh gods, it had been going so well,” Silena complained.

 

“Well, Bob said the titans and giants were behind them. And Bob can sense those, so it’s probably not any of them,” Dakota said, trying to be optimistic.

 

Annabeth strained her ears. From somewhere in the fog came a deep thrumming noise, like the idling engine of a large construction vehicle. She could feel the vibrations through her shoes.

 

“I don’t suppose it’s a nice car come to take you all the way to Akhlys?” Grover inquired.

 

“Probably not,” Rachel shook her head.

 

“Or a nice airplane with guns that shoot celestial bronze bullets?” Pollux asked hopefully.

 

“Na, they definitely aren’t that lucky,” Chris shook his head.

 

“I don’t think that’s down to bad luck. More just that airplanes and cars don’t usually end up in Tartarus,” Hermes pointed out.

 

“We will surround it,” Bob whispered. “Each of you, take a flank.”

 

“But Annabeth doesn’t have a weapon?” Connor pointed out.

 

“With Bob and Percy there, they should be able handle it. And if Bob can’t handle it with Percy’s help, then they had better move away very quickly,” Nico said.

 

“Are you saying Annabeth would make no difference?” Thalia glared at him.

 

“I think he’s just pointing out that if Percy and a titan can’t fight whatever it is, then one extra fighter probably isn’t going to make a difference, no matter who it is,” Will stepped in. “That’s when Annabeth can step in with her brilliant escape plan.”

 

For the millionth time, Annabeth wished she had her dagger…A figure appeared in the fog. Bob raised his spear.

 

“Oh gods,” Rachel muttered nervously.

 

“Wait!” Annabeth shrieked…the point of his spear hovering an inch above the head of a tiny calico kitten.

 

“Er…what?” Percy gaped in surprise.

 

“A kitten?” Grover blinked.

 

“It can’t be a regular kitten, or it wouldn’t be in Tartarus,” Jason frowned.

 

“All so worked up about a kitten,” Silena burst out laughing, though it had an edge of hysteria to it.

 

“There is another dose of weirdness to explode your brain. A kitten in Tartarus,” Connor chuckled.

 

“If the kitten was the thing in front of them, what was making that rumbling noise?” Drew wondered.

 

“Well, it’s obviously not a regular kitten, so maybe it was purring really loudly,” Silena suggested.

 

“Considering it apparently sounded like a construction machine and made the floor vibrate, that was one loud purr for an apparently tiny kitten,” Beckendorf whistled.

 

“What kind of monster is a kitten?” Rachel frowned. All the demigods shrugged.

 

“Maybe they are being affected by the Mist?” Reyna suggested.

 

“Rrow?” said the kitten, clearly unimpressed by their attack plan.

 

Everyone laughed, as much for a release of tension as because it was amusing that a kitten was completely unphased by two demigods and a titan planning to attack it.

 

It butted its head against Bob’s foot and purred loudly…The little thing was bony under its fur, but otherwise it seemed perfectly normal.

 

“Oookay…that’s definitely weird,” Hermes raised his eyebrows.

 

“Wait,” Thalia said with a thoughtful expression. “Atlas.”

 

“What?” Jason looked at his sister like she had gone insane. “What does he have to do with this?”

 

“Oh, the museum!” Percy realised. “The teeth for those horrible skeletons. They got the wrong ones and grew a kitten that was supposed to be a sabre-tooth tiger or something.”

 

“That would do it,” Apollo nodded. “Monster kitten.”

 

“It doesn’t sound like it’s undead like the skeletons,” Grover frowned.

 

“Maybe it’s not supposed to be. Maybe it’s something else,” Percy shrugged.

 

“How did…?” She couldn’t even form the question. “What is a kitten doing…?”…“It must be a good monster.” Bob looked up nervously. “Isn’t it?”

 

“It hasn’t attacked yet, so maybe?” Katie said nervously.

 

Annabeth felt a lump in her throat. Seeing the huge Titan and this tiny kitten together…Tartarus swallowed Titans and demigods and kittens indiscriminately.

 

Everyone grimaced.

 

Bob knelt down and scooped up the cat. It fit perfectly in Bob’s palm…as if it had stepped behind an X-ray machine. Then it was a regular kitten again.

 

“And there we go. Monster kitten,” Apollo chuckled.

 

“If that’s the worst that happens, I’ll take it,” Percy said.

 

Annabeth blinked. “Did you see—?”…It’s one of the ones from the Smithsonian.”

 

“Nice memory,” Thalia said. “I can’t believe you remember that from so many years ago. I barely remember and we read about it like, just over a week ago.”

 

Annabeth tried to make sense of that. She’d never been to the Smithsonian with Percy

 

“He isn’t attached to your hip. He does go to places without you, and being Percy, I’m sure he gets attacked in those places too,” Rachel pointed out.

 

“Yeah. I’m just used to being with Percy on quests, which is when he’s more likely to go to somewhere like the Smithsonian and run into monsters,” Annabeth shrugged.

 

“Percy runs into monsters wherever he goes,” Poseidon grimaced.

 

Then she recalled several years ago, when the Titan Atlas had captured her…Maybe they destroyed the cats and they were reborn in Tartarus? I don’t know.”

 

“Sounds about right,” Artemis nodded.

 

“It’s cute,” Bob said, as the kitten sniffed his ear.

 

“But is it safe?” Annabeth asked.

 

“Safe is probably relative,” Thalia said.

 

“If it likes Bob, then it might not attack you. But it is a monster, so it is probably still dangerous,” Clarisse nodded.

 

The Titan scratched the kitten’s chin. Annabeth didn’t know if it was a good idea…“I will call him Small Bob,” said Bob. “He is a good monster.”

 

“Aww,” Silena smiled.

 

“And yet more weirdness. Now I actually think a titan is being kind of adorable,” Piper wrinkled her nose.

 

“It’s definitely kind of sweet,” Katie nodded, looking slightly weirded out.

 

End of discussion. The Titan hefted his spear and they continued marching into the gloom…Mount Tamalpais because the Bay Area reminded them of Tartarus.

 

“Seriously? I mean, I know San Francisco might not be the nicest place ever to live, but it’s not Tartarus,” Reyna frowned.


“Hey, if it makes her feel better to try and make Tartarus seem more…human, then whatever helps,” Connor said. Reyna had to agree with that.

 

What a depressing thought. Only Titans would see such a beautiful place as a potential outpost of the abyss—a hellish home away from home.

 

“Sounds like them,” Hermes shrugged.

 

Bob struck off to the left. They followed. The air definitely got colder…With our luck, Annabeth thought, we’re marching through the armpit of Tartarus.

 

“Eewww,” Silena said in disgust.

 

“That’s a disgusting thought,” Piper agreed.

 

“I really hate my imagination,” Annabeth groaned.

 

Suddenly her senses were on high alert, as if somebody had snapped…She wondered momentarily if it was the kitten’s purr; but Small Bob had fallen asleep on Large Bob’s shoulder.

 

“Oh crap. What now?” Rachel asked with nervous anticipation.

 

A few yards away, another tree shuddered…Annabeth’s first thought: The Furies.

 

“Don’t tell me someone killed them again?” Hades complained.

 

“Hey, I’ve been too busy,” Percy grinned.

 

“Alecto still hates you,” Nico smirked.

 

“I know,” Percy laughed.

 

“Maybe Hades sent them to help?” Persephone suggested.

 

“There is no way Alecto would go to Tartarus to help out Percy,” Nico shook his head. “Not even if dad ordered it. She might respect him now, but not that much.”

 

The creature looked almost exactly like one: a wrinkled hag with batlike wings…Soon there were half a dozen surrounding them. More hissed in the trees above.

 

“Not the Furies then,” Beckendorf said.

 

“Demonic grandmothers that look like Furies?” Will frowned.

 

“Oh us, please not them,” Poseidon groaned.

 

“Who?” Percy wanted to know.

 

“The Arai,” Hades stated grimly. “Children of Nyx, they are the spirits of curses. Usually, the ones bestowed by the dead on the person who killed them,” He explained.

 

“And if you kill them, they curse you,” Persephone added.

 

“So, we can’t kill them?” Percy asked in concern.

 

“Well, you can. But you’ll get cursed for every single one that you kill,” Poseidon told him.

 

“They are spirits of curses of the ones you’ve killed? Percy’s killed a lot of monsters,” Hazel pointed out nervously.

 

“So has Annabeth,” Thalia added.

 

“This is so not good,” Nico grimaced.

 

They couldn’t be Furies, then. There were only three of those, and these winged hags didn’t carry whips. That didn’t comfort Annabeth. The monsters’ talons looked plenty dangerous.

 

“So, they can attack us with those nasty talons, and if we kill them, we get cursed? I hate them already,” Percy complained.

 

“What are you?” she demanded…The voice simply floated overhead like a movie narrator’s, as if a single mind controlled all the creatures.

 

“That’s creepy,” Silena muttered.

 

“This whole thing is creepy and kind of terrifying and we aren’t even there,” Beckendorf agreed.

 

“What—what do you want?” Annabeth asked, trying to maintain a tone of confidence…“Only a thousand times?” Percy murmured. “Oh, good…I thought we were in trouble.”

 

“I love your sarcasm, but really not the time,” Apollo said faintly while some of the demigods chuckled at Percy’s attitude.

 

The circle of demon ladies closed in.

 

“That’s it,” Grover said. “And it’s Hazel next.”

 

“No!” Poseidon cried out. “That’s like another four chapters until we find out how they get out of this mess!”

 

“Well, we’d best read quickly then,” Apollo said grimly. Grover tossed the book over to Nico who shot him an irritated look. The satyr tried for an innocent grin, but he was too worried about Percy and Annabeth, so it came out as more of a terrified grimace. Not wanting to waste more time, Nico opened the book to the right place and began reading.

Chapter Text

Everything smelled like poison

 

“What?” Frank yelped.

 

“Oh, good lord, not more poison,” Nico complained. Then he kept reading before anyone could speculate.

 

Two days after leaving Venice, Hazel still couldn’t get the noxious scent of eau de cow monster out of her nose.

 

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“At least it’s not new poison,” Piper sighed.

 

“Give it time,” Silena muttered darkly.

 

The seasickness didn’t help. The Argo II sailed down the Adriatic…She just wished she were on solid ground again.

 

“Sadly, it’s probably even less safe on the ground,” Frank said apologetically.

 

The thing that nauseated her most was the weasel.

 

“The weasel?” Jason frowned.

 

“Hecate said she would send Gale to check up on her,” Apollo said.

 

“Isn’t it a polecat not a weasel?” Gwen asked.

 

“I think so,” Nico nodded.

 

Last night, Hecate’s pet Gale had appeared in her cabin. Hazel woke from a nightmare…and dancing around your cabin while a weasel scampers between your feet, screeching and farting.

 

Everyone chuckled at that.

 

Her friends rushed to her room to see if she was okay. The weasel was difficult to explain. Hazel could tell that Leo was trying hard not to make a joke.

 

“I appreciate the effort,” Hazel told Leo.

 

“You’re welcome,” He grinned.

 

In the morning, once the excitement died down…Hedge was saying. “Yeah, I know, baby. No, it’s great news, but—” His voice broke with emotion. Hazel suddenly felt horrible for eavesdropping.

 

“I’m guessing he’s iris-messaging Mellie,” Piper said with a slight smile.

 

She would’ve backed away, but Gale squeaked at her heels…The coach snorted and opened his door wide. “Kinda question is that?”

 

“A valid one if you look like you’ve been crying,” Frank frowned.

 

“It sounds like it was personal,” Grover shrugged.

 

There was no one else in the room…They had what sounded like a very intense argument.

 

“Sounds about right,” Apollo laughed.

 

“What did she say?” Hazel asked…“How what goes?”

 

“I’m guessing whatever is coming up means you’re going to have to try and use the Mist,” Nico said.

 

“Yeah. That’s what Hecate wants you to learn,” Jason nodded.

 

“Great,” Hazel pulled a face. “I’ve never really used that before.”

 

“I’m sure you can practice here,” Thalia said. “I can help if you like.” She couldn’t remember if she had offered to help when this came up. It might have only been that morning, but it felt like weeks ago after all of the Tartarus stuff.

 

“Thanks,” Hazel smiled.

 

Coach Hedge stomped his hoof. “How am I supposed to know? She’s a polecat!...doubted the coach would ask for help if he needed it. He wasn’t exactly the warm and open type.

 

“He probably won’t ask for any help,” Clarisse shook her head with a frown. She wondered what had upset Gleeson. He had said it was great news. Something about his girlfriend most likely, given that he called her ‘hon’.

 

“Well, maybe he’ll at least tell us at some point so we can give him help whether he asks or not,” Piper said. Coach Hedge may not be her favourite person in the world, but he had helped her dad, and he had saved their lives.

 

She stared at the white cliffs in the distance and thought about why Hecate…She couldn’t manipulate the Mist.

 

“You’re probably overthinking it. Trying to force it won’t work,” Reyna said. “And it’s best if you start out by trying in on someone else anyway, so they can tell you if they see what you want them to see. It’s much harder to deceive yourself.” Hazel nodded.

 

The last few nights, her dreams had gotten worse…where Hazel and her mother had died as the ceiling collapsed and the voice of the Earth Goddess wailed in anger.

 

Hazel and Hades both winced at that.

 

She was on the stairs of her mother’s apartment building in New Orleans…The dead see what they believe they will see. So do the living. That is the secret.

 

“You contacted her?” Nico looked at his father in astonishment. If he hadn’t been acknowledging her because she shouldn’t be alive, then this was a huge rule for him to break. And his father did not break his own rules without a very good reason.

 

“She needed a place to start learning how to use the Mist,” Hades shrugged. Stopping Gaea rising was a good enough reason in his books to ignore the fact that his daughter had come back from death.

 

He’d never said that to her in real life. She had no idea what it meant.

 

“Do you understand now?” Hades asked her.

 

“Not really,” Hazel frowned.

 

“It means it is easier to use the Mist to create the illusion of what someone wants to see, or what they could realistically expect to see, rather than something they know is totally impossible,” Aphrodite explained. “It can be done to make someone see something totally against what they expect, usually things mortals see when the Mist hides monsters from them. It is a lot easier to make them see something they already expect to see.”

 

“I think I understand,” Hazel nodded hesitantly.

 

“I’ll explain it in more detail later,” Reyna promised.

 

The worst nightmares seemed like glimpses of the future…Hazel was tempted to push the stupid rodent into the sea.

 

Everyone chuckled.

 

I can’t even control my own dreams, she wanted to scream. How am I supposed to control the Mist?

 

“Because those are two totally different things,” Nico said.

 

She was so miserable, she didn’t notice Frank until he was standing at her side…solid and strong, with a new center of gravity. His shoulders had broadened. He walked with more confidence.

 

Frank’s eyes widened at that description.

 

“That’s…wow,” Dakota whistled, eyeing Frank speculatively.

 

“Ok if we’re changing things, I think I want that to stay the same,” Frank muttered. “Just without the whole Hazel getting poisoned thing.”

 

“Yeah, let’s avoid that part,” Hazel nodded, smiling at him.

 

What Frank had done on that bridge in Venice…Hazel was still in awe…Even Leo had stopped making jokes at his expense.

 

“About time too,” Leo muttered to himself.

 

“I’m—I’m all right,” Hazel managed. “You?”…She’d been worried that his personality had changed as well.

 

“Nope, no personality changes,” Ares shook his head.

 

Now she was starting to relax about that. Despite all his strength…The top of the mast was one of the few places on board where Nico could be alone.

 

“Off brooding some more?” Will nudge Nico gently. “You’re face might get stuck in a brooding frown if you’re not careful,” He joked. Nico stuck his tongue out.

 

You’ve heard them all. I make them nervous. Best I stay out of the way,” He replied in quiet Italian.

 

It might just be that they can feel Tartarus on you. And it probably doesn’t help that thinking about Tartarus reminds them Percy and Annabeth are down there. But I get it sucks hearing their thoughts. Just try to remember that things are different now. Frank and Leo have hung out with us and not been bothered by you. So don’t get too stuck on what they think in a future that’s never going to happen,” Will told him gently, still in Italian so the others couldn’t listen in. Nico gave a tentative nod.

 

The others had offered him the use of Percy’s cabin, since Percy was…well, absent. Nico adamantly refused.

 

Percy glanced over at Nico. Since Nico had told him he had had a crush on Percy, which he still didn’t really get but hey, he could easily understand why he wouldn’t want to sleep in his room. Especially after Percy had made him promise to lead them to Epirus. Going back to the Doors of Death, where he had been brought back up into the world by Gaea’s forces was probably the last thing Nico had wanted to do. And he was doing it for Percy. Even after everything he’d been through.

 

He spent most of his time up in the rigging, where he didn’t have to talk with the rest of the crew.

 

“Just don’t fall out,” Percy chuckled. Nico shot him a mock glare that made him chuckle more.

 

Since he’d been turned into a corn plant in Venice…“I get the feeling Nico doesn’t play well with others.”

 

“Unless it’s Mythomagic,” Will laughed.

 

“Shut up,” Nico told him. Will just smirked.

 

“What he means is he doesn’t play well with alive people. Just dead ones,” Percy grinned.

 

“Dead ones are less annoying,” Nico deadpanned.

 

“Than Percy? Who isn’t?” Thalia smirked.

 

“Certainly not you,” Percy told her.

 

“You’re both annoying,” Nico stated. They both stuck their tongues out at him, and he chuckled slightly.

 

All of the Romans looked slightly bemused by this. They all knew Nico to behave far more like his book-self than how he was behaving during this reading. It was kind of jarring to listen to and see such opposite behaviour at the same time.

 

Frank stood up straight. He was wearing a beige T-shirt with a picture of a horse…“Nico is my only relative,” she said. “He’s not easy to like, but…thanks for being kind to him.”

 

Nico frowned, feeling hurt. He could accept, and even understand Frank and Leo feeling that way, but Hazel? It felt like Bianca all over again, handing him off for someone else to look after because she didn’t want too anymore. He even sort of got that. Bianca had only been twelve. Looking after a ten-year-old must have been exhausting, but still, to dump him off with the first strangers who said they had a place for him? It had hurt. And now even Hazel didn’t think he was particularly likeable. At least she made an effort he supposed. Still, apparently, Percy was the only person who bothered to look out for him without viewing him as some kind of burden. And now Will.

 

“Hey, Nico is easy to like,” Will protested. “He’s kinda like that kitten Percy and Annabeth found. Sometimes looks kinda ghostly, and can probably do a lot of damage, but looks adorable.”

 

“I am not like a kitten,” Nico deadpanned.

 

“Not just any kitten. A ghostly monster kitten,” Percy grinned. Nico glared at him. “And yeah, it’s hard not to like Nico when you’ve seen him bouncing around as a hyperactive ten-year-old asking how many attack power the monster trying to kill you has.” All the Greek demigods who had been at Camp half-Blood that winter all laughed.

 

“Did you want to strangle him when you first met?” Grover recalled.

 

“To be fair, he did ask how come if Annabeth was a daughter of Athena why didn’t she know better than to fall off a cliff,” Travis chuckled. “Or something like that.” Nico blushed.

 

“Other than that, he was great,” Percy grinned. “And anyone who calls Mr. D ‘the wine dude’ to his face is a good person in my book. Especially if he happens to save me from getting blasted at the same time.” Dionysus grumbled under his breath at the reminder as Nico blushed an even deeper shade of red.

 

Frank smiled. “Hey, you put up with my grandmother in Vancouver. Talk about not easy to like.”

 

Nico wasn’t sure how he felt about being compared to Frank’s grandmother.

 

“I loved your grandmother!”

 

Frank raised his eyebrows in surprise.

 

Gale the polecat scampered up to them, farted, and ran away…Suddenly the boat lurched forward.

 

“Done,” Nico announced.

 

“Oh good. More trouble,” Jason groaned.

 

“I shall read,” Athena declared. Nico gave her the book.

Chapter Text

Hazel and Frank tumbled over each other.

 

“I hope Nico didn’t fall out of the rigging,” Percy snickered.

 

“We don’t need any more head injuries on this trip,” Will grimaced.

 

Hazel accidentally gave herself the Heimlich maneuver with the pommel of her sword and curled on the deck, moaning and coughing up the taste of katobleps poison.

 

“Yuck,” Hazel pulled a face.

 

“That’s grim,” Jason winced in sympathy.

 

“I’m sure it’s about to get worse,” Frank sighed.

 

Through a fog of pain, she heard the ship’s figurehead…“Gahh!” Leo yelled somewhere behind her. “It’s eating the oars!”

 

“Eating the oars?” Leo frowned.

 

“So, some sea monster then,” Percy grimaced. And naturally he wasn’t there. Although, it’s not like he’d been much good against shrimpzilla anyway.

 

What is? Hazel wondered. She tried to stand, but something large and heavy…“Hey! HEY! Eat this, ya stupid turtle!”

 

“A turtle?” Jason blinked in surprise.

 

“A monster turtle?” Piper asked.

 

Poseidon closed his eyes and fought back a groan. Why was it always his children they ran into? Triton sighed. He also suspected who this was, and he was interested to see how Hazel would beat him with the Mist.

 

Turtle?...he had already fired one arrow and was nocking the second.

 

“I should have helped you up,” Frank looked guilty.

 

“It’s fine. Turtle monster is more important than me coughing up the taste of katopleb poison. I’ll be alright soon enough,” Hazel waved away the apology.

 

Leo frantically worked the ship’s controls. “Oars won’t retract…More oars snapped, and Leo yelled, “No, no, no! Dang slimy-shelled son of a mother!”

 

“Son of a mother?” Piper looked over at Leo in amusement. “How insulting. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t go running home after that.” Leo blushed.

 

Hazel reached the stern and couldn’t believe what she saw…Its red, toothless mouth could’ve swallowed the Athena Parthenos in one bite.

 

“That’s one big turtle,” Reyna muttered.

 

“Giant turtle?” Annabeth frowned, trying to think.

 

Hazel watched as it snapped off half a dozen oars…whacking at it uselessly with his baseball bat and yelling, “Take that! And that!”

 

“If you’re going to hit it with a bat, why attack the shell?” Reyna asked in bewilderment.

 

“It’s Gleeson? Who knows why he does what he does,” Grover shrugged. “To be honest, I don’t think a bat is going to do much, no matter where he hits it. But that is a particularly poor choice.”

 

“Just be glad he isn’t going for the ballistae and hitting everyone,” Leo said grimly.

 

Jason flew from the stern and landed on the creature’s head. He stabbed his golden sword straight between its eyes, but the blade slipped sideways, as if the turtle’s skin were greased steel.

 

“Yep. If Jason’s sword won’t do it, a bat definitely won’t,” Rachel said.

 

“If Jason’s sword won’t do it, I’m not sure what will,” Reyna frowned.

 

Frank shot arrows at the monster’s eyes with no success…“Fetch, ya stupid turtle!” But the turtle seemed fixated on eating the Argo II.

 

Piper winced at her effort in aiding the attack. It was only made marginally better by the fact nobody else was having success either.

 

“How did it get so close?” Hazel demanded…It’s a freaking stealth turtle!”

 

“A stealth turtle?” Travis snorted.

 

“Ooh, that gives me an idea,” Connor grinned. Everyone immediately eyed him warily, and he flashed a smirk at the room in general.

 

“We’ll talk later,” Travis smirked back.

 

“Can the ship fly?” Piper asked…“There!” Nico yelled from above. “Can you get us to those straits?”

 

“Straits? A giant turtle? Oooh, I’m guessing Sciron is up there,” Annabeth frowned. Poseidon sighed.

 

“Sciron? Who’s that?” Leo asked.

 

“A son of Poseidon who gets travelers to wash his feet and then kicks them over the cliff to be eaten by his turtle,” Annabeth said.

 

“Another one?” Percy exclaimed in exasperation. “Seriously, do you have any nice kids except me and Tyson?”

 

“What about me?” Triton protested.

 

“Like I said. Any others except me and Tyson?” Percy smirked. Poseidon rolled his eyes.

 

“Well, he sounds lovely, but I want to know how this is a test for Hazel,” Piper said with interest. Athena started reading before anyone could start speculating on that too.

 

Hazel looked where he was pointing. About half a mile to the east, a long strip…he made the only smart choice. He flew away as fast as possible.

 

“I don’t know what you mean?” Leo smirked.

 

“That when you have an idea, things tend to explode,” Piper laughed.

 

“Coach, come on!” Jason said…Unfortunately, the coach struggled so much that Jason’s sword fell out of his hand and splashed into the sea.

 

“Urgh? Really?” Jason groaned. Everyone else rolled their eyes. There was no use getting frustrated at the satyr’s actions anymore. They were well used to him being more of a hinderance than a help, and all of the seven were fully determined not to take him on their quest this time around.

 

“Coach!” Jason complained.

 

“What?” Hedge said. “I was softening him up!”

 

“No. You were doing absolutely nothing,” Leo stated flatly.

 

The turtle head-butted the hull, almost tossing the whole crew off the port side…But then it came right back and rammed them even harder.

 

“A good try,” Silena said with a sigh. Piper shrugged. She hadn’t really expected it to work.

 

Jason and Coach Hedge landed on the deck…“Fine,” Jason muttered. “Without a weapon, but fine.”

 

“At least it didn’t explode,” Thalia muttered.

 

“It really doesn’t happen that often,” Jason laughed, rolling his eyes at his sister.

 

“Fire in the shell!” Leo cried, spinning his Wii controller…The turtle was already a hundred yards behind them, its head charred and smoking.

 

“Nice job, Leo,” Beckendorf smiled.

 

The monster bellowed in frustration and started after them…But instantly, Hazel spotted something on the horizon—a flash of light and steam.

 

Poseidon and Demeter smiled.

 

“Ok, yeah, Arion’s one of the good ones,” Percy said.

 

“Excuse me? You think the horse is a good one but not me?” Triton glared at him.

 

“Yep,” Percy grinned.

 

It streaked across the surface of the Adriatic. In a heartbeat…Arion snorted as if to say, Of course you do. You’re not stupid.

 

Everyone laughed at that.

 

Hazel climbed on his back. “Piper, I could use that charmspeak of yours.”…Each command only worked for a moment, but they were making the turtle very annoyed.

 

“And even a moment is better than nothing,” Annabeth said.

 

“Yeah. You only need to distract it long enough for the Argo to escape,” Silena nodded.

 

Arion whinnied derisively as the turtle snapped at him, only to get a mouthful of horse vapor.

 

“He so has your attitude,” Demeter grumbled. Poseidon rolled his eyes.

 

Soon the monster had completely forgotten the Argo II…bounce coconuts and roasted chickens off the turtle’s eyeballs.

 

Everyone burst out laughing.

 

“That’s a…unique way of fighting a giant turtle,” Reyna smiled.

 

“Well, it’s not like conventional weapons were useful,” Leo shrugged.

 

As soon as the Argo II had passed into the straits, Arion broke off his harassment…Wish I could give you more than a few seconds of burn, but at least it got us out of there.”

 

“Nice!” Beckendorf grinned.

 

“And you charred a turtle with it,” Frank grinned.

 

“All of these good ideas for the ship,” Leo whistled appreciatively. “I hope we have time if we all work on it.”

 

“And roasted the turtle’s head,” Jason said appreciatively…“Hey! I didn’t ask for an evac!”

 

“So, he should have left you there to die?” Piper asked.

 

“He was on the shell; he was out of chomping range. Might have been easier to leave him there,” Michael muttered.

 

“Yeah, but when it dived, he would have been washed off,” Percy pointed out.

 

“Second, I don’t think the ballistae will do any good…with that shrimp monster thing in the Atlantic. Light it up from the inside.”

 

“Possible,” Clarisse nodded. “If it took out something the size of shrimpzilla, it would probably kill the turtle.” Poseidon rolled his eyes yet again as it seemed his son’s nickname for the creature was definitely going to stick.

 

Frank scratched his head. “Might work. But then you’ve got a five-million-kilo…Coach said. “Or just sail the other direction, you big galoot.”

 

“You fix the oars,” Beckendorf said. “You’re going to need to do that anyway.”

 

“But they might not have enough materials to do it there and then. They’ve already had to replace the mast a few times from those stone giants,” Annabeth pointed out.

 

Frank looked confused. “What’s a galoot?”…The channel ended in a narrow V.

 

“It’s a trap,” Jason groaned.

 

“That’ll be where Sciron is waiting,” Triton grimaced.

 

“Oh goodie,” Leo muttered.

 

“We’re not in a strait,” Jason said. “We’re in a dead end.”…“Well…” Piper shrugged. “At least the turtle can’t get us. We’re safe here.”

 

“Oh, no! You don’t say that as a demigod on a quest. Ever!” Thalia winced. Piper grimaced.

 

“Especially when Hazel has just said it’s a trap,” Nico agreed.

 

That was something no demigod should ever say. The words had barely left Piper’s mouth when an arrow sank into the mainmast, six inches from her face.

 

“Piper!” Silena cried.

 

“It said it didn’t hit me,” Piper said, as much to reassure herself as Silena.

 

“I thought he was a son of Poseidon? How come he’s so good with a bow?” Connor asked. Percy glared at him.

 

“Not all sons of Poseidon are as terrible as Percy,” Chiron laughed. “Although most aren’t far off.”

 

The crew scattered for cover, except for Piper, who stood frozen in place…“Guys?” Piper’s voice was thin and watery. “There’s a note.”

 

“That’ll be his demands. Probably one or two of you to go up with all the valuables. Then he’ll get one of you to clean his feet in exchange for going free before trying to kick you off the ledge,” Annabeth said. “At least, that’s how he did it back in olden times.”

 

“Just great. And somehow, I have to trick him with the Mist,” Hazel grimaced.

 

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” Frank smiled at her.

 

Hazel hadn’t seen it before, but a parchment scroll was tied to the arrow shaft…Well, crouching, anyway. And if that guy is expecting a pizza delivery, forget it!”

 

“Somehow I don’t think he was expecting a pizza delivery,” Grover shook his head in amusement.

 

“There’s more,” Hazel said. “This is a robbery. Send two of your party to the top of the cliff with all your valuables. No more than two. Leave the magic horse. No flying. No tricks. Just climb.”

 

“Seriously?” Hazel complained. “I can’t even take Arion to get to the top of the cliff?”

 

“And I can’t just fly people up there?” Jason grimaced.

 

“Well two people can go. If this is Hazel’s test, then obviously she is going. Who would be the second?” Piper wondered.

 

“We’ll find out in a second,” Drew reminded her with a slight smile.

 

“Climb what?” Piper asked…Hazel got the feeling this was not the first time the letter writer had ambushed a ship here.

 

“Definitely not,” Triton shook his head. Percy sighed.

 

She cleared her throat and kept reading aloud: “I do mean all your valuables. Otherwise my turtle and I will destroy you. You have five minutes.”

 

“Five minutes to climb that whole cliff?” Nico frowned.

 

“I doubt we really have that many valuables on board,” Leo shrugged.

 

“No, probably not,” Jason agreed.

 

“Use the catapults!” cried the coach…“Curse it!” said the coach. “This guy is good.”

 

“Given how well he can shoot, he’d probably pick us off before we could even fire the catapults,” Frank pointed out.

 

“Yep,” Michael nodded.

 

“Is the note signed?” Nico asked…it sat annoyingly in the back of her memory, just out of reach.

 

“That’s the way it usually goes,” Nico sighed.

 

The weasel Gale watched her, waiting to see what she would do…I don’t think I could make the shot. That’s hundreds of feet, almost straight up.”

 

“Fighting isn’t the way to beat this guy,” Annabeth shook her head.

 

“No, that’s supposed to be me using a power I’ve never used before,” Hazel grumbled.

 

“Yeah,” Frank grumbled. “My bow is useless too. He’s got a huge advantage…Gale scampered along the railing and jumped on her shoulder, ready to hitch a ride.

 

“Oh good. The farting weasel is actually coming up too,” Hazel grimaced.

 

The others stared at her…“If we pay him off, you think he’ll actually let us go?”

 

“Nope,” Percy shook his head. “Especially not if he finds out Hazel can summon riches.”

 

“Well, I have to go up there anyway,” Hazel shrugged.

 

“Yeah. And maybe Jason as he can fly,” Piper suggested.

 

“Or Frank who can turn into animals. He’s probably already seen Jason fly when he fought the turtle. Frank’s ability would be a surprise,” Clarisse pointed out.

 

“We don’t have much choice,” Nico said. “Between that guy and the turtle…”…If Hazel falls…well, I can use the winds to keep us both from coming down the hard way.”

 

“Thanks,” Hazel smiled.

 

“Anytime,” Jason replied.

 

Arion whinnied in protest, as if to say, You’re going without me? You’re kidding, right?...The name Percy passed over them like a cloud. The mood on deck got even darker.

 

“Wait, can’t Hazel get it?” Nico frowned. “She can summon precious metals like gold.”

 

“I didn’t even think about that,” Hazel gasped. “It might be too far away now. But it’s something to remember in the future, just in case.”

 

“Everyone needs weapons like Percy’s on this trip. First Annabeth and now Jason,” Thalia grumbled.

 

Hazel stretched out her arm. She didn’t think about it…and Jason’s blade flew out of the water and into her hand.

 

“Nice!” Percy grinned.

 

“Thanks, Hazel,” Jason said gratefully.

 

“I’m just glad it worked,” Hazel laughed.

 

“Here,” she said, handing it over…the way she cursed jewels and precious metals.

 

“Your curse is over, isn’t it?” Nico frowned. “I thought Frank broke the curse when he shared your blackout.”

 

“It’s not like I would test it by giving someone a possibly cursed jewel,” Hazel shrugged.

 

Somehow, though, she thought, weapons were different…“Now, if there are no other objections, we have a robber to meet.”

 

“The chapter is finished,” Athena announced.

 

“That makes it my turn,” Hephaestus grunted. She gave him the book.

Chapter Text

Hazel liked the great outdoors —but climbing a two-hundred-foot cliff on a stairway without rails, with a bad-tempered weasel on her shoulder? Not so much.

 

“Yeah. That would suck even without the weasel,” Drew grimaced.

 

Especially when she could have ridden Arion to the top in a matter of seconds.

 

“And that makes it even more annoying,” Jason nodded, knowing he could also just have flown up.

 

Jason walked behind her so he could catch her if she fell. Hazel appreciated that…But still, Hazel couldn’t get a read on Jason Grace.

 

Jason frowned. He was kind of worried about how little he seemed to have bonded with any of the other people on this quest. Piper and Leo had been brainwashed into being his girlfriend/best friend with fake memories. Annabeth didn’t trust him. He and Percy had some sort of tense rivalry going and now Hazel was thinking she would almost rather have the bloodthirsty satyr watching her back over him. It was disheartening to say the least. And even in here, Piper and Leo had their memories fixed, and now Piper didn’t want to be his girlfriend, he didn’t blame her after what Hera had done, and Leo had barely spoken to him since the change. He’d had a couple of bonding moments with Percy, but they certainly weren’t going to be best friends any time soon. And he’d barely interacted with Hazel and Frank either. Jason made a note to fix that at the next break.

 

Ever since she’d arrived at Camp Jupiter, she’d heard stories about him…Even now, after all the events of the past couple of weeks, Jason seemed more like a legend than a person.

 

Jason raised an eyebrow in surprise.

 

She had a hard time warming up to him, with those icy blue eyes and that careful reserve…how he had been ready to write off her brother, Nico, when they’d learned he was a captive in Rome.

 

“I don’t think I was writing him off, I think I just wanted assurances we could trust him considering he’d been to both camps,” Jason defended his future-self.

 

“Which you had the right to do, just the timing was a bit poor. It might have been something to ask Percy or Annabeth in private, rather than saying something like that in front of Nico’s sister when he was dying,” Thalia said. Jason nodded.

 

Jason had thought Nico was bait for a trap. He had been right…and Jason decided that saving Hazel wasn’t in the best interest of the quest?

 

“Woah, I wouldn’t let anything happen to you on purpose,” Jason looked offended.

 

“I know that now, but my future-self doesn’t really know you that well. You disappeared only a few weeks after I got to Camp, and it’s not like we interacted much with you as a Praetor,” Hazel pointed out. He nodded again but still looked unhappy.

 

She glanced up. She couldn’t see the thief from here, but she sensed he was waiting…Anybody who robbed innocent demigods with a giant turtle deserved a few nasty curses.

 

Poseidon and Apollo both winced at the mention of curses.

 

Gale the weasel jumped off her shoulder and scampered ahead…She couldn’t shake the feeling that the weasel was anxious to watch her fail.

 

“They were turned into a polecat for a reason, and not because they were nice,” Hermes shrugged.

 

“This, uh, controlling the Mist,” Jason said. “Have you had any luck?”…She just couldn’t make herself believe any of it was possible.

 

“The hardest person to deceive is yourself,” Aphrodite reassured her. “Other people are much easier, especially when you know what they want to see. It’s similar to charmspeak in that respect.”

 

“You’ll work it out,” Frank said encouragingly. “You’ll find a way somehow.”

 

“You’ll get it,” Jason said…Hecate wouldn’t have picked you if she didn’t believe you had power.”

 

“He does have a point,” Apollo said. “Hecate wouldn’t have chosen to appear to you and send Gale to check on you if you didn’t have the ability.”

 

Maybe that should have made Hazel feel better. It didn’t…Even Nico seemed to follow his lead without question.

 

Nico raised an eyebrow at that news.

 

“I don’t believe the ‘without question’ part,” Percy scoffed, grinning at Nico. “He never stops asking annoying questions when you want him to do something.”

 

“Maybe it’s just you he enjoys irritating,” Grover said.

 

“Nope,” Will shook his head. “He’s very…inquisitive.” Nico stuck his tongue out at both of them.

 

But Hazel couldn’t forget that Jason had been Hera’s first move in the war against the giants…Something told Hazel he was the linchpin. Jason would be the final play, too.

 

Jason grimaced. “I’d prefer not being any kind of play,” He grumbled.

 

To storm or fire the world must fall. That’s what the prophecy said. As much as Hazel feared fire, she feared storms more. Jason Grace could cause some pretty huge storms.

 

“So can Percy and you trust him,” Thalia pointed out. “In fact, the only storm you’ve seen either of them conjure is the one they did together, isn’t it? I don’t remember any other storms in these books that Hazel was around for.”

 

“Didn’t she see Percy conjure a hurricane in Alaska?” Travis recalled.

 

“Maybe,” Frank nodded. “I can’t remember if it said we saw that or not.”

 

She glanced up and saw the rim of the cliff only a few yards above her…anyone could shoot an arrow accurately from this high up, accounting for the wind and the glare of the sun off the water.

 

“He’s had a lot of practice,” Annabeth said. “It’s a trap he did a lot before Theseus defeated him.”

 

“Oh yeah. One other sibling that’s not terrible,” Percy grinned. Dionysus snorted in disgust.

 

At the mouth of the inlet, the massive shape of the turtle’s shell glinted like a burnished coin…The bandit laughed. “Sciron, of course!”

 

Poseidon grimaced. He really wished Gaea would stop bringing back his troublesome kids. First Phineas, now Sciron. He had enough issues with his immortal children.

 

“Chiron?” Jason asked. “Like the centaur?”…But if we give them up, how can we be sure you’ll let us go?”

 

“He won’t,” Percy shook his head.

 

“Of course not,” Will sighed.

 

“Oh, they always ask that,” Sciron said. “I promise you, on the River Styx, that as soon as you surrender what I want, I will not shoot you. I will send you right back down that cliff.”

 

“Nice loophole,” Hades nodded.

 

“No. Not a nice loophole,” Michael rolled his eyes.

 

Hazel gave Jason a wary look. River Styx or no, the way Sciron…“What if we fought you?” Jason asked.

 

“You won’t be able to,” Poseidon stated.

 

“You can’t attack us and hold our ship hostage at the same—”…Just above his left ear, a groove cut through his hair like a racing stripe.

 

“Jason!” Thalia cried. “Oh, I’m going to kill him.”

 

“He’s a scary good shot,” Frank muttered unhappily.

 

“Which is why trickery is the way to go,” Piper grimaced.

 

One of Sciron’s flintlocks was still pointed at his face…you’d see a hole in the deck between the shoes of the big young man, the one with the bow.”

 

Frank grimaced.

 

“More holes in my ship?” Leo complained. “I still need to fix the oars.”

 

“Frank!”…Target practice is so much more fun with live targets running around screaming!”

 

“I hate this guy,” Rachel scowled.

 

Poseidon sighed. He really was going to need to look in on his children at some point soon. It would help is Gaea would stop allowing his children back through the Doors of Death. But maybe it was time to lay down the law that Chrysaor and his other children weren’t allowed to attack demigods.

 

Jason touched the new furrow that the bullet had plowed through his hair…The giant turtle—that’s due to my parentage.

 

Even if he did come back, maybe he could at least take away his turtle.

 

You can’t go around taming giant turtles without being a son of Poseidon! I could overwhelm your ship with a tidal wave, of course, but it’s terribly difficult work.

 

“Difficult work?” Percy frowned. “Moving the sea to create a tidal wave is easy.”

 

“Different powers,” Triton shrugged. “You use your control over water a lot. He prefers to practice archery and control sea animals. Doesn’t control water much.”

 

Not nearly as fun as ambushing and shooting people.”…“So no one recognizes me!” Sciron said.

 

“He introduced himself?” Connor frowned.

 

“Not the smartest, is he?” Chris shook his head. Poseidon face palmed.

 

“But you introduced yourself,” Jason said. “You’re Sciron.”…Sorry. I’m afraid I’m a little rusty. Back from the dead, and all that. Let me try again.”

 

“Send him back to being dead,” Frank muttered.

 

He leveled his pistols. “Stand and deliver! I am an anonymous bandit, and you do not need to know my name!”

 

“It doesn’t actually work like that. They still know your name. And why does it even matter?” Pollux wanted to know.

 

“He’s weird,” Triton shrugged.

 

An anonymous bandit. Something clicked in Hazel’s memory. “Theseus. He killed you once.”…We were getting along so well!”

 

“I wouldn’t call that getting along,” Michael said.

 

“Nobody’s dead yet,” Clarisse shrugged.

 

Jason frowned. “Hazel, you know this guy’s story?”…demigods I wanted, and that’s what I’m going to do! Now…where were we?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Dakota said.

 

“Yeah, Hazel and Jason won’t let that happen,” Leo agreed.

 

“Even if they get rid of him, they still have the turtle problem,” Gwen pointed out.

 

“If Leo can fix the oars, they can fly over the turtle,” Beckendorf said.

 

“You were about to let us go,” Hazel ventured…Ah, right! Money or your life. Where are your valuables? No valuables? Then I’ll have to—”

 

“It was worth a try,” Hazel sighed. It might have worked if Piper was there.

 

“Wait,” Hazel said. “I have our valuables. At least, I can get them.”…glittering diamonds and topaz and rubies—enough to fill several lawn bags.

 

“Woah,” Connor whistled. “If that curse is broken…we need to talk.”

 

“No,” Chiron told him sternly.

 

“But Chiron…” Travis began.

 

“No,” The centaur stated once more. Both Stolls pouted.

 

Sciron laughed with delight. “How in the world did you do that?”…That thought made her feel small and powerless.

 

“You are definitely not powerless,” Percy smiled at her.

 

“Just take the treasure,” she said. “Let us go.”…The sweat started to dry on Hazel’s neck, sending a shiver down her back.

 

“Of course, he would know about that,” Leo groaned.

 

“It’s not like he was going to let them go anyway,” Reyna sighed.

 

Jason stepped forward. Despite the gun pointed at his face…“Maybe. But she told me I could keep it for myself. Hard to pass up that offer!

 

“What exactly are you going to do with a forty-foot statue?” Chris asked.

 

“Sell it probably. Though I’m not sure who would buy it,” Clarisse shrugged.

 

“Or Gaea wouldn’t actually let him keep it and wants to destroy it given it has the potential to be the ‘giant’s bane’,” Annabeth pointed out.

 

I don’t intend to die again, my friends. I intend to live a long life as a very wealthy man!”…The muzzles of Sciron’s pistols wavered. “Pardon?”

 

“Also a good point,” Triton nodded.

 

“Gaea is using you,” Hazel said. “If you take that statue, we won’t be able to defeat her…“All right!” he said. “I’m not unreasonable. Keep the statue.”

 

“What?” Connor frowned.

 

“He’s not going to let them go either way, so he can pretend to let them keep it,” Percy shrugged.

 

Jason blinked. “We can go?”…His jagged toenails were green and yellow, like a tortoise’s shell.

 

“Oh gods, that’s…disgusting doesn’t even cover it,” Silena looked slightly green at that description.

 

Then the smell hit her. Hazel didn’t know if her father’s Underworld palace…“Wash my feet, and we’re done. I’ll send you back down the cliff. I promise on the River Styx.”

 

“Not a comforting promise,” Annabeth muttered.

 

“Hopefully Hazel will remember the rest of the story,” Frank said.

 

He made that promise so easily, alarm bells rang in Hazel’s mind…“Well, it’s a big decision,” she said. “Left foot, right foot. We need to discuss.”

 

“Yes, the most important decision they will make today,” Michael chuckled.

 

She could tell he was smiling under the mask…You’ll fall right into the mouth of his giant turtle.”

 

“Jason can fly,” Thalia pointed out.

 

“And Sciron can shoot him out of the air,” Frank frowned.

 

“No. This is Hazel’s test so using the Mist comes into this somehow,” Percy said.

 

Jason took a moment to digest that, so to speak. He glanced over the cliff…She gnashed her teeth and peered at Hazel as if to say, Well? Do you?

 

“Just what you need to help concentration. A farting weasel,” Dakota wrinkled his nose.

 

Hazel calmed her nerves, trying to avoid pulling more gold from the ground…“Unfortunately, yes,” Hazel said. “We have to let Sciron win.”

 

“What?” Leo gaped.

 

“That doesn’t sound like a good plan,” Will said anxiously.

 

“She didn’t say it was a good plan. Just that it’s the only plan they have,” Nico pointed out.

 

“Oh, I get it,” Thalia smiled.

 

“Well?” Percy demanded.

 

“Read and find out,” She smirked.

 

“What?” Jason demanded.

 

Hazel told him the plan.

 

“Done,” Hephaestus grunted.

 

“My turn then,” Ares said. His brother tossed him the book.

Chapter Text

Hazel XXVIII

 

“Finally!” Sciron cried. “That was much longer than two minutes!”…She couldn’t make Sciron’s reality appear less believable. But if she showed him what he wanted to see

 

Aphrodite nodded. “That’s exactly it.”

 

well, she was a child of Pluto. She’d spent decades with the dead, listening to them…There wasn’t much difference between longing and greed.

 

Hades smiled slightly, though it was a touch bitter. It was a good lesson for his daughter to learn, and crucial to her learning to manipulate the Mist. Except he didn’t want his daughter to have learnt it by dying and spending decades on the underworld.

 

If she could summon gold and diamonds, why not summon another kind of treasure…in which case she and Jason were about to be turtle food.

 

“Definitely not wrong,” Hades told her.

 

“I wonder if Percy would be able to convince the turtle to leave Sciron and not eat them,” Rachel mused.

 

“Percy isn’t there,” Triton scowled.

 

“I know, but the turtle has been with Sciron since ancient times by the sound of it, but Percy is able to win over pretty much anyone. I just wonder who would win,” Rachel shrugged.

 

“Percy,” Grover said.

 

“Definitely Percy,” Thalia nodded.

 

“The giant turtle wasn’t killed when Sciron was. Percy could probably go and make friends with it while Sciron is still in the Underworld once you get back to your time,” Triton mused. Percy nodded, mentally adding it to his ever-growing to-do list.

 

She rested her hand on her jacket pocket, where Frank’s magical firewood seemed heavier…It felt a little squishy inside my boot. But I’m sure you’ll clean it properly.”

 

“Poseidon, your son is disgusting,” Hades told him casually. Poseidon grimaced. He had no idea where Sciron had gotten this idea from.

 

Jason’s ears reddened. From the tension in his neck, Hazel could tell that he was…“It says multi-surface cleanser. My feet definitely qualify as multi-surface.

 

“Somehow, I don’t think that stuff is going to help either,” Leo muttered.

 

“Agreed. He’s beyond help,” Silena nodded.

 

Besides, it’s antibacterial. I need that. Believe me, water won’t do the trick on these babies.”…“You can always choose what’s in my other hand.” He hefted his right flintlock.

 

“I don’t know. That’s becoming a harder choice by the second,” Jason grimaced.

 

“The first choice sucks but does hopefully end up with him being dead. The second option ends up with all of you guys being dead,” Thalia sighed.

 

“Yeah,” Jason agreed reluctantly.

 

“He’ll do it,” Hazel said…at the edge of the cliff, where he was an easy target. One kick, and he’d topple over.

 

Thalia gritted her teeth, anxious even though Jason could fly.

 

Hazel concentrated. She imagined she was Sciron, the lord of bandits…When he was about to hit the water, the turtle rose up and swallowed him in one bite, then sank below the surface.

 

“Oh, please tell me that’s the Mist,” Thalia ground out, gripping Jason’s hand tightly.

 

“I think so,” Hazel nodded. That was the plan she had thought of, but she was still horribly nervous that she would fail. “Jason should be flying safely.”

 

Alarm bells sounded on the Argo II. Hazel’s friends scrambled on deck, manning the catapults. Hazel heard Piper wailing all the way from the ship.

 

“Oh gods, sorry Piper,” Hazel winced.

 

“It’s ok. It’s a trick,” Piper took a shaky breath. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about Jason without the memories, but she didn’t want him eaten by a turtle. “And our reactions probably helped to sell the illusion.”

 

It was so disturbing, Hazel almost lost her focus. She forced her mind to split into two parts…he was hiding a grin under his bandana. “That was an accident, I assure you.”

 

“Accident…sure,” Percy rolled his eyes. “How believable.”

 

“My friends will kill you now!”…You’ll be quite safe, unless you refuse.”

 

“A turtle that big would not be full after one demigod,” Triton muttered.

 

“He’s really not a good liar,” Travis shook his head.

 

“He doesn’t have to be. It’s not like they can attack him,” Chris pointed out. “The illusion is the only way to go. And it sounds like Hazel is doing great.”

 

He leveled the flintlock pistol at her head…or he wouldn’t think she was beaten.

 

Hermes and his kids all nodded in agreement.

 

“Don’t kick me,” she said, half-sobbing…She was broken and helpless. Sciron, the son of Poseidon, had won again.

 

Poseidon sighed. He couldn’t believe his son was being fooled by a girl who hadn’t even known how to use the Mist until five minutes ago. But at the same time, he needed to be fooled or the rest of the crew wouldn’t make it to Epirus to save his other son from Tartarus. Why did all of his wayward children suddenly have to reappear? One thing he absolutely hated was having to choose between his children, hence why he didn’t interfere in their battles. But normally he would seek retribution on any others who hurt his children. Yet he couldn’t now, without putting all of their lives on the line. Maybe it was time to call a family meeting. Speak to all of his immortal children, and in the future, any who Gaea brought back.

 

Hazel could hardly believe this guy had the same father as Percy Jackson…or carried the innocents from shore and let them drown, or smashed ships and killed entire crews without mercy.

 

Poseidon shrugged. She wasn’t wrong.

 

She snatched up the spray bottle Jason had dropped.

 

“Sciron,” she growled, “your feet are the least disgusting thing about you.”

 

“And that’s impressive, because those are ridiculously disgusting,” Silena wrinkled her nose.

 

His green eyes hardened. “Just clean.”…but he still saw the water in front of him, the rolling countryside at his back.

 

“But how did he not think something was up when he turned around but had exactly the same view?” Rachel frowned.

 

“The Mist,” Katie shrugged. “It’s weird but it works.”

 

She started to clean…She landed on her butt in the grass a few yards away.

 

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“Great work, Hazel,” Frank smiled.

 

Sciron stared at her. “But…”…She reached the cliff’s edge in time to see the turtle lunge and snap Sciron out of the air.

 

Poseidon winced and his hands clenched.

 

“Serves him right,” Frank stated happily.

 

“Let’s hope Leo can fix the ship so you can avoid the turtle. Even without Sciron, it might want to eat you guys,” Beckendorf said.

 

“You were incredible,” Percy told Hazel with a smile.

 

“Yeah. You worked out how to use the Mist so quickly,” Piper looked impressed. Hazel just looked slightly stunned.

 

Jason grinned. “Hazel, that was amazing. Seriously…Hazel? Hey, Hazel?”…but he was moving in slow motion, his outline blurry, his voice nothing but static.

 

“What the heck?” Dakota frowned. “What’s going on?”

 

Frost crept across the rocks and grass around her…“No, Hazel,” said a deep voice behind her. “You have done well.”

 

“Wait, you’re visiting her now?” Zeus narrowed his eyes at his brother.

 

“Considering everything else going on, I don’t think that’s the priority right now,” Hades glared at him.

 

She hardly dared to breathe. She’d only heard that voice once before…She hoped her tone would hurt him—jab him for all the pain he’d caused her. But a faint smile played across his mouth.

 

Hades grimaced.

 

“My daughter,” he said. “I am impressed. You have grown strong.”

 

“You really have,” Nico grinned at her.

 

No thanks to you, she wanted to say. She didn’t want to take any pleasure in his compliment…you invoked me so strongly that you allowed me to appear…if only for a moment.”

 

“I don’t suppose you’re going to be able to tell me anything useful?” Hazel glanced at her father.

 

“I hope so,” He shrugged. “I might be able to tell you who you will be facing at Epirus.”

 

“I didn’t invoke you.”…She’d tried to understand her father’s powers and use them to the fullest.

 

Hades smiled.

 

“When you come to my house in Epirus,” Pluto said, “you must be prepared. The dead will not welcome you. And the sorceress Pasiphaë—”

 

“Pasiphaë?” Annabeth frowned. “That’s not good.”

 

“Who is Pasiphaë again?” Percy asked. “Wait…Pasiphaë’s son, she’s the mother of the Minotaur!” Annabeth nodded.

 

“She’s also the sister of Circe and a powerful sorceress,” Reyna stated. Percy grimaced.

 

“Pacify?” Hazel asked. Then she realized that must be the woman’s name…which will endanger all demigods. Unless you stop her at the House of Hades…”

 

“Her domain?” Clarisse said in a slightly shaky voice. “But how..?”

 

“What is her domain?” Leo asked.

 

“The Labyrinth. Technically it’s Daedalus’ domain,” Annabeth said. “But she must be tied to it as well somehow.”

 

“We cannot let her rebuild that thing,” Percy said firmly.

 

“Well, Hazel and the others have a chance to defeat her. Hopefully that will stop the Labyrinth rebuilding,” Beckendorf stated anxiously.

 

Hazel looked worried. She wondered how she was supposed to defeat some immortal sorceress who had been practicing magic for millennia when she had been learning for maybe a week by the time they got to Epirus.

 

His form flickered. For a moment he was bearded, in Greek robes with a golden laurel…You are right. That is the secret to all magic. But it will not be easy when you are in her maze.”

 

Annabeth, Grover, Percy, Nico, Clarisse and Chris all shuddered at the idea of the maze being brought back to life. It had been bad enough under Daedalus’ control.

 

“What do you mean? What maze?”…Pluto was just another deadbeat godly dad making weak excuses.

 

Hades winced.

 

But her heart pounded as she replayed his words: I am proud of your strength.

 

Hades smiled slightly. “I must agree with myself,” He stated. Hazel smiled back.

 

“Go to your friends,” Pluto said. “They will be worried…“You’re here. Why don’t you take me to the Underworld? Return me to the dead?”

 

“Why would you ask him that?” Frank wanted to know. “Just keep ignoring it.”

 

“Because I don’t want to be surprised later if this has repercussions,” Hazel told him.

 

Pluto’s form started to fade. He smiled, but Hazel couldn’t tell if he was sad or pleased. “Perhaps that is not what I want to see, Hazel. Perhaps I was never here.”

 

Zeus narrowed his eyes at his brother once more.


“Would you begrudge me keeping my daughter safe?” Hades asked him. “Especially when she is part of the seven.”

 

Zeus sighed. A few days ago, he would certainly begrudge him that. He would have raged. It was bad enough that he ignored his daughter and didn’t take her back but that was at least bending the rules. This was snapping them in half. And yet…he couldn’t find the anger.

 

“No,” He said finally, looking at his own children. “Just, let’s not make it a habit.” Hades looked startled. But then he shot his brother a grateful smile.

 

“The chapter is finished.” Ares announced.

 

“That makes it my turn,” Aphrodite said.

 

“It is late. Let us have dinner and get some sleep before we continue,” Chiron cut in.

 

“No!” Poseidon yelped. “It should be Percy next if it follows the same pattern. We need to know what happens with the Arai.”

 

“And if the next set of chapters end similarly. We will want to continue. There is no good place to leave this book, but we cannot finish in one sitting,” Chiron pointed out gently. The sea god gritted his teeth.

 

“Dad, please,” Percy looked up at his father. “I’m starving and we’ve been sitting for ages. Demigods aren’t really good at that.”

 

“Fine,” Poseidon sighed. “Let us eat and sleep.” As he said that, the beanbags from the night before all appeared once more. As did plates full of food. Everyone dug in. The demigods all ate like they hadn’t eaten for days, while the gods watched in bemusement.

 

Once they had finished eating, Frank tried to turn into some animals with limited success. Apollo went off to talk to Hephaestus about something he had in mind for Percy. Hazel was with Chiron, Reyna and Thalia trying to work on using the Mist in one corner of the room. Most of the rest of the demigods were all just chatting to each other. For once, they didn’t split into smaller groups, and other than those working on specific projects, they all sat and talked together. Romans and Greeks.

 

Octavian sat on the fringe, not joining in with any of the conversation. He was very slowly accepting the fact that the Greeks were not going to be considered an enemy of Rome, no matter what he said to Reyna. He could try and convince his people when they got back to their time, but Reyna still had a strong following. It would be too much of an even split. Which meant they were going to have to work with the Greeks to defeat Gaea. But that didn’t mean he had to be friendly. He just had to see it as business with an unfortunate partner. As long as they didn’t want him to deal with that daughter of Athena. He refused to work with her. She shouldn’t exist. And it had been her siblings that orchestrated the war that destroyed most of his family. He would sooner stab her than work with her.

 

But then, with Reyna as the only Praetor back in their time, if she were to befall an unfortunate accident, then he would be in charge until a new Praetor could be elected. And he could manage the relationship with the Greeks on his own terms. Which would be much more favorable to Rome. He would have to consider his next move carefully.

 

None of them had realised quite how late it had gotten, until someone yawned. That started off a chain reaction and suddenly almost everyone was feeling too sleepy to actually do anything.

 

Percy was going to bring up his duel with Mr. D but decided that could wait until the end of the book. His dad and Apollo were already worked up thanks to Tartarus. If he got injured in a fight, even a controlled one against Mr. D, they might freak out even more. Best wait until they knew the outcome of being in the Pit.

 

Once everyone had eaten, they all snuggled into their sleeping bags. Most of the gods retreated to their quarters, but Poseidon, Apollo, Amphitrite and Triton all stayed. Hestia also stayed in the throne room. All the demigods brought their bags into one big cuddle pile and slept like that for the second night in a row. Octavian left to sleep in the quest quarters.

 

The next morning, everyone woke up fairly early. They ate a quick breakfast and then the sleeping bags disappeared to be replaced with a few huge bean bags. The gods that had left, and Octavian, came back into the room and everyone found a seat. Once they were all ready, Aphrodite picked up the book.

Chapter Text

Percy was relieved when the demon grandmothers closed in for the kill.

 

“NO!” Apollo yelped. “That’s not a good thing.”

 

“Or something to be relived about,” Poseidon added.

 

“Future me doesn’t know you get cursed if you kill them,” Percy shrugged.

 

Sure, he was terrified. He didn’t like the odds of three against several dozen…that had been driving him crazy.

 

“You’re already crazy,” Thalia joked nervously, more out of habit than anything else. Percy grinned.

 

“You are the expert on the subject of being crazy,” He stated.

 

Besides, he and Annabeth had fought together many times…like the entire forest was speaking. You cannot destroy us.

 

“That’s just creepy,” Leo muttered.

 

“Really creepy,” Connor agreed.

 

Annabeth pressed against his shoulder. “Don’t touch them,” she warned…“Bob doesn’t like curses,” Bob decided.

 

“I don’t think anybody likes curses,” Katie muttered.

 

“The gods use them often enough. I’m pretty sure they do,” Percy grumbled.

 

“Nope. Definitely not. Hate curses,” Apollo said quickly. Percy rolled his eyes.

 

The skeleton kitten Small Bob disappeared inside his coveralls. Smart cat…“I appreciate the offer,” he said. “But my mom told me not to accept curses from strangers.”

 

Everyone chuckled slightly at Percy’s attitude.

 

The nearest demon lunged. Her claws extended like bony switchblades…He stumbled back, clamping his hand to his rib cage. His fingers came away wet and red.

 

“Of course, you would get a curse that injures you on your first try,” Poseidon groaned.

 

“They are curses from people and monsters we’ve defeated. I figured all of them would be deadly?” Annabeth frowned.

 

“Not necessarily. Some are of bitter thoughts, and some are thought out to cause pain but not death,” Hades stated. “None are good options, but the ones designed to cause suffering instead of death at least allow you a chance to escape.”

 

“Percy, you’re bleeding!” Annabeth cried, which was kind of obvious to him at that point…as if a javelin had run him through.

 

“Geryon,” Apollo growled. He already owed that no good farmer retribution for killing his sacred cows. Now his retribution had just doubled.

 

Or an arrow…“Geryon,” Percy said. “This is how I killed him.…”

 

“Oh gods, that will be a deadly one,” Nico muttered anxiously.

 

“Bob can heal him. Hopefully. He healed them before,” Will said.

 

The spirits bared their fangs. More arai leaped from the black trees…“They’ll kill us anyway,” Percy guessed.

 

“Absolutely brilliant,” Frank said, his tone positively dripping with sarcasm.

 

Choose! the arai cried. Will you be crushed like Kampê? Or disintegrated like the young telkhines you slaughtered under Mount St. Helens?

 

Percy winced at that reminder.

 

“What happens if you kill them indirectly? I don’t know how, but maybe by drowning them if Percy can control a nearby river or something,” Nico wondered. “It would be the river that actually killed them.”

 

“I don’t think that’s really been done before,” Hades mused. “Percy does tend to get creative, so we may find out during the reading.”

 

You have spread so much death and suffering, Percy Jackson. Let us repay you!...She brought her rock down on the old lady’s head and broke her into dust.

 

Annabeth winced.

 

It wasn’t like Annabeth had a choice. Percy would’ve done the same thing…“I can’t see!” She touched her face, looking around wildly. Her eyes were pure white.

 

“Polyphemus,” Clarisse stated.

 

Poseidon raised an eyebrow. His son had cursed Nobody. He wondered if anyone who had gone by that title, such as Odysseus would be affected by that curse, or if it was just Annabeth. Besides, he couldn’t say he was overly upset. Some of his children may be monstrous, and he could not enact revenge due to other factors. But if his son eventually got some revenge, then he couldn’t deny him that. And one curse on the girl really wasn’t going to affect the situation as a whole. One less curse for Percy to content with.

 

Percy ran to her side as the arai cackled…Bob whacked one over the head and speared another, blasting them to dust. The others backed away.

 

Everyone grimaced, glad the two demigods hadn’t been cursed any more, but they were kind of worried for Bob.

 

Percy held his breath, waiting for their Titan friend to be laid low with some terrible curse…“No curses for Bob!” Bob agreed.

 

“Ok, that’s weird,” Katie frowned.

 

“But good weird. It means he can kill them,” Jason said.

 

The arai snarled and circled, eying the broom. The Titan is already cursed. Why should we torture him further? You, Percy Jackson, have already destroyed his memory.

 

“That doesn’t make sense,” Hades narrowed his eyes. “Just because he is already somewhat cursed, doesn’t mean they would stop. It’s more likely that he hasn’t accrued any curses as Bob. He can’t fully remember being Iapetus so maybe the curses don’t affect him. As Bob, it’s a clean slate.”

 

“But Bob now knows Percy is the one who wiped his memory. Hardly the actions of a friend,” Reyna pointed out grimly. “He might not like that news.”

 

“That’s the last thing we need. A bunch of curses and a titan turning on them,” Grover whimpered.

 

Bob’s spearhead dipped…when the shadow of the Titan lord had first passed over him.

 

“Oh, please no,” Poseidon muttered in horror.

 

Bob turned. His wild white hair looked like an exploded halo. “My memory… It was you?”…By stealing your life, the arai said. Leaving you in the palace of Hades to scrub floors!

 

Percy winced.

 

“It’s not like Percy had much choice in the matter. He could hardly take a memory wiped titan home with him,” Rachel frowned.

 

Annabeth gripped Percy’s hand. “Which way?” she whispered. “If we have to run?”…Percy always hated it when the gods used him for their errands. Now Percy was treating Bob the same way.

 

“You haven’t given him a second thought because you were too busy fighting Kronos. And then you got kidnapped and had your own memories taken away before being sent on yet another quest. When exactly were you supposed to go and find the time to wander through the Underworld and check on a titan?” Thalia asked him.

 

“Still, I had seven months between meeting Bob in the Underworld and the main fight against Kronos. I had time,” Percy sighed.

 

“Not really. You spent a few of those months on other, smaller quests. Plus, you had school,” Grover reminded him. “It’s not your fault.”

 

“Besides, you know what happened when you went to the Underworld with Nico. Hades captured you so Nico could be the hero in the prophecy. If you’d gone to visit Bob, then he might have done that sooner and Nico wouldn’t have been there to rescue you,” Beckendorf pointed out. Poseidon shot Hades a nasty look for that.

 

“When we get back to our time you can come with me to chat to him,” Nico promised. Percy nodded.

 

You see his face? the arai growled. The boy cannot even convince himself…“Nico visited. Told me about Percy. Said Percy was good. Said he was a friend. That is why Bob helped.”

 

“Thanks, Nico,” Percy smiled at him. “Even if Bob doesn’t help us any further, he’s already saved our lives once. Which means, you’ve saved our lives.”

 

“I’m just glad I could help,” Nico smiled back.

 

“But…” Percy’s voice disintegrated like someone had hit it with a Celestial bronze blade. He’d never felt so low and dishonorable, so unworthy of having a friend.

 

Apollo hugged Percy tightly. “There is nothing you could have been expected to do differently,” He whispered.

 

The arai attacked, and this time Bob did not stop them.

 

“Oh gods,” Connor muttered.

 

“Done,” Aphrodite stated grimly.

 

“Well, someone hurry up and read,” Poseidon demanded, feeling terrified.

 

“I believe it is your turn,” Aphrodite looked at Reyna. The Roman Praetor grimaced. The love goddess handed her the book and she reluctantly turned to the correct page.

Chapter Text

“Left!” Percy dragged Annabeth, slicing through the arai to clear a path. He probably brought down a dozen curses on himself, but he didn’t feel them right away, so he kept running.

 

Apollo and the sea crew all winced heavily. Apollo and Poseidon both tightened their grip on Percy.

 

The pain in his chest flared with every step. He wove between the trees…Percy realized how much she trusted him to get her out of this.

 

“We’ve had each other’s backs for years. Of course I trust you,” Annabeth said. Percy smiled, even though he didn’t feel like it. She was trusting him to get her out of that situation, and he really wasn’t sure if he could.

 

He couldn’t let her down, yet how could he save her? And if she was permanently blind…

 

Annabeth shuddered at the very idea. Athena, Chiron, Thalia, Grover, Percy and Connor all looked at her in concern.

 

“Would the Phlegethon heal that?” Connor asked.

 

“I am unsure,” Hades shook his head. That wasn’t just any injury. It was inflicted by the Arai.

 

“At the very least it isn’t going to kill her. Which can’t be said for a most curses from the Arai,” Demeter stated.

 

“I feel so lucky,” Annabeth said dryly.

 

No. He suppressed a surge of panic. He would figure out how to cure her later. First they had to escape.

 

“Good,” Poseidon nodded. “Keep your priorities in order.”

 

Leathery wings beat the air above them. Angry hissing and the scuttling of clawed…If a tree falls in the forest and crushes a demon, does the tree get cursed?

 

“Who cares?” Chris frowned.

 

“You have really weird thoughts during life threatening situations,” Rachel stated, looking at Percy as if he had gone insane.

 

“We already knew that,” Grover laughed.

 

Percy slashed down another trunk, then another…He grabbed Annabeth right before they both charged off the side of the cliff.

 

“Oh gods,” Katie breathed.

 

“Good catch,” Triton muttered anxiously.

 

“What?” she cried. “What is it?”…but he doubted “the best” ever happened in Tartarus.

 

“Not usually, no,” Zeus shook his head.

 

“But this is Percy. He does often get weirdly good luck at the most useful times,” Thalia pointed out. “It might be worth the risk, considering what the other options are.”

 

Apollo wanted to scream. He couldn’t believe actually jumping an unknown distance down a cliff had actually become the best option.

 

So, two options: right or left, following the edge…Did you have a nice walk? asked the collective voice, echoing all around them.

 

“I’ve had nicer,” Percy shrugged. Or at least, he tried too. He was currently being held too tightly to actually manage more than a slight shoulder lift.

 

Percy turned. The arai poured out of the woods, making a crescent around them…It was like trying to grab something in a tank of water, with the light shifting the image away.

 

“What? What kind of curse is that?” Clarisse frowned. Nobody had an answer.

 

“Percy!” Annabeth’s voice cracked. “Why did you leave me?”

 

“He’s right there,” Grover said nervously.

 

“It must be part of the curse,” Connor realised.

 

“I didn’t!” He turned on the arai, his arms shaking with anger. “What did you do to her?”…Annabeth feels her despair. She, too, will perish alone and abandoned.

 

“What? Percy doesn’t abandon people!” Beckendorf scoffed. “And if they were so angry with Percy, why curse Annabeth?”

 

“Percy?” Annabeth spread her arms, trying to find him…He remembered an island, a cave lit with soft glowing crystals, a dinner table on the beach tended by invisible air spirits.

 

“What?” Percy’s voice was soft…almost fragile. “She wouldn’t.”

 

“She might not necessarily have done it on purpose,” Poseidon told him gently. “Like the said, it was a bitter thought. A nasty wish that she maybe thought one lonely evening. She might not have truly meant it. We all have thoughts we aren’t exactly proud of.”

 

“But you guys were supposed to free her!” Percy glared up at Zeus.

 

“And we might have done, no real way to tell just yet. I expect this curse was born right after you left her island. Before you asked for her freedom. She doesn’t need to continue wishing for that to come true. She thought it once, that’s enough,” Hades informed him.

 

“She wouldn’t,” he mumbled. “She’d never curse me.”

 

Percy shrunk down in his seat. He’d never checked on Bob. Had he ever checked on Calypso? To see if the gods had kept up their end of the bargain.

 

The eyes of the demons blurred together like their voices. Percy’s sides throbbed. The pain in his chest was worse, as if someone were slowly twisting a dagger.

 

“How are you still alive?” Frank asked. “You took a wound right through the chest. That should have killed you by now.”

 

“A question I ask myself every single day since we started this blasted reading,” Poseidon muttered.

 

“It’s designed as a curse. To cause pain. It’s unlikely it would kill him instantly,” Hades stated grimly.

 

Annabeth wandered among the demons, desperately calling his name…He had to keep these leathery old hags focused on him and protect Annabeth as long as he could.

 

Apollo and Poseidon both gritted their teeth angrily. They really wished Percy would actually have some self-preservation. They knew that there really weren’t any good choices in this situation, but he seemed like he truly didn’t care if he lived or died, just if Annabeth lived. And that bothered them.

 

He yelled in fury and attacked them all.

 

“Oh gods,” All of the demigods winced in unison.

 

“Done,” Reyna announced, looking at the book in disgust and horror.

 

“That makes it Piper’s turn, I think,” Gwen said.

 

“Gee thanks, Gwen,” Piper glowered at her. Her half-sister winced and gave her an apologetic look. Reyna threw the book to Piper. She reluctantly turned to the correct page under urgent glares from the sea crew.

Chapter Text

For one exciting minute, Percy felt like he was winning. Riptide cut through the arai as though they were made of powdered sugar. One panicked and ran face-first into a tree.

 

Despite the situation, a couple of the demigods snickered at that.

 

Another screeched and tried to fly away, but Percy sliced off her wings…Some were harsh and painful: a stabbing in the gut, a burning sensation like he was being blasted by a blowtorch.

 

Everyone cringed. Hera doubled over, gasping in pain. Hestia gripped her sister’s hand, and Zeus moved to his wife’s side. They may be at odds at the moment, but she was still his sister and his wife.

 

“Percy,” Apollo muttered. It sounded like a whimper although he would deny that later.

 

Both he and Poseidon were avoiding looking in Hera’s direction. They didn’t want any visible reminder of what Percy was going through. Poseidon might have felt more guilt for not being able to remove his curse, but he was simply too worried about Percy. The curse wouldn’t kill Hera. But there was a very real possibility of Percy dying.

 

“Oh gods,” Grover bleated nervously.

 

Some were subtle: a chill in the blood, an uncontrollable tic in his right eye.

 

“What?” Will asked.

 

“No idea. That’s a weird curse,” Nico shook his head.

 

“A curse designed to put you off in a fight”? Frank offered uncertainly. Everyone shrugged.

 

Seriously, who curses you with their dying breath and says: I hope your eye twitches!

 

Clarisse snorted.

 

Percy knew that he’d killed a lot of monsters…but she was just out of reach, calling his name as she wandered among the demons.

 

Annabeth grimaced. She had taken a total of two curses, and she was completely out of the game. It was ridiculous. Percy had taken on dozens and dozens by now, and he was still fighting. And some of those curses definitely sounded like they should have killed him. And she was laid low by two, and neither of them were even designed to kill.

 

As Percy blundered toward her, a demon pounced and sank its teeth into his thigh. Percy roared. He sliced the demon to dust, but immediately fell to his knees.

 

Hera winced once more.

 

His mouth burned worse than when he had swallowed the firewater of the Phlegethon.

 

The goddess was desperately trying not to show her discomfort which was growing by the second.

 

“That doesn’t sound good,” Rachel murmured.

 

“None of them sound good,” Triton snapped. Then he shot Rachel an apologetic look. It wasn’t the mortal’s fault.

 

He doubled over, shuddering and retching, as a dozen fiery snakes seemed…You have chosen, said the voice of the arai, the curse of Phineas…an excellent painful death.

 

Poseidon closed his eyes at the sheer horror. He wished he could close his ears and stop listening too. This was simply too much. One of his children had died to the vicious poison, and now his dying wish was killing his other son.

 

“Oh gods, oh gods,” Thalia was muttering. They had all been so utterly relieved when Percy miraculously survived the first time. This felt like the worse do-over ever.

 

Apollo was inwardly reciting every single swear word in he could think of, in every language he knew, to stop himself getting up and screaming. That and having a perfectly healthy Percy in his arms.

 

“Come on Bob,” Nico muttered.

 

“Bob?” Will frowned. “If he was going to help, I think he would have done by now.”

 

“He’s their only hope. He can heal them and kill the Arai without getting curses himself,” Nico shrugged, those his gaze kept flickering to Percy nervously.

 

Percy tried to speak. His tongue felt like it was being microwaved…Percy didn’t remember the old blind man muttering a final curse,

 

“Wouldn’t need too,” Hades said, just for something to say. He didn’t want to hear any more of this either. “They can spawn from thoughts not just curses said out loud.” A poisonous look from Poseidon told him it wasn’t appreciated.

 

but as Phineas dissolved and returned to the Underworld, he probably hadn’t wished…He clutched his sword. His knuckles started to steam. White smoke curled off his forearms.

 

“Ok, you two need to share him,” Thalia snapped. She dragged Percy to the middle of the largest beanbag. Poseidon and Apollo moved with him. But the other Greek demigods all surrounded the little group.

 

A few of them had started to cry silent tears.

 

The Romans, Leo and Piper all watched, unsure if they would be welcome in the pile. None of them knew Percy well. Eventually they moved to join the pile, showing their support.

 

I won’t die like this, he thought.

 

“Yeah. You tell them Percy,” Nico cheered, though his voice was shaky and hollow.

 

Not only because it was painful and insultingly lame, but because Annabeth needed him.

 

“That is not an insultingly lame way to die. You have taken so many curses, any normal person would be dead. You are so strong. So strong,” Poseidon told his son, his own tears streaming down his face.

 

“Your dad is right. You are one tough kid,” Ares stated. Percy peered at him in surprise through the crowd of people. “You may not be my favourite person in the world, but I do respect strength. And even my future-self knows you have that in spades.”

 

“Yeah. That’s probably one of the least lame ways to die. In Tartarus, having taken more curses than we can count. And the first one from Geryon should have killed you,” Hermes said.

 

“Ok, he’s incredibly strong. Not a lame way to die. Can we get to finding out how he miraculously doesn’t die?” Apollo snapped anxiously.

 

Once he was dead, the demons would turn their attention to her. He couldn’t leave her alone…No, the voice answered itself from another direction. He will combust all at once.

 

Everyone gritted their teeth.

 

They were placing bets on how he would die…The worst of it was veiled, the same way the Mist veiled monsters from mortal sight. Now as Percy died, he began to see the truth.

 

“Oh us,” Poseidon moaned. “How can this actually still get worse?”

 

“How can Tartarus actually get worse?” Michael wanted to know. Nico just shook his head. That wasn’t a question for now.

 

The air was the breath of Tartarus. All these monsters were just blood cells circulating through his body. Everything Percy saw was a dream in the mind of the dark god of the pit.

 

They all shuddered violently.

 

This must have been the way Nico had seen Tartarus, and it had almost destroyed his sanity.

 

Everyone turned to look at Nico.

 

“You saw that, the whole time?” Will gaped.

 

“One of the perks of being a child of the Underworld I guess,” Nico shrugged, uncomfortable with the sudden attention.

 

Hades heaved a very heavy sigh. He had had a suspicion that this would be the case. But to have it confirmed…that was terrifying. And yet, at least he knew Nico made it out alive. Poseidon certainly did not have that comfort right now.

 

Nico…one of the many people Percy hadn’t treated well enough.

 

“What? You treated Nico pretty well. Aside from that one moment where you attacked him in Hades’ cell, which was extenuating circumstances, you’ve been nicer to him than anyone else,” Thalia pointed out.

 

“You looked out for me, even when I didn’t want you too,” Nico said. “Even when most other people wouldn’t have bothered to give me a second thought.”

 

“You have always given enough for your friends. Heck you’ve treated everyone well, even when we were being crappy to you,” Beckendorf told him. Clarisse shifted uncomfortably, thinking of Percy giving her the Golden Fleece when she had done nothing but be horrible to him. “You have done everything possible to help them. You looked out for them, us, and ignored your own wellbeing. And anyone who says otherwise, will have to go through all of us.”

 

“And that includes you,” Rachel added. “We will repeat it until you believe us too.”

 

He and Annabeth had only made it this far through Tartarus because Nico di Angelo had behaved like Bob’s true friend.

 

“You saved us. Let’s hope your charm last a little longer,” Percy gave Nico a thin smile.

 

You see the horror of the pit? the arai said soothingly. Give up, Percy Jackson…He regrets his failed life, his crimes against the children of Tartarus!

 

“He has not failed,” Travis scoffed.

 

“Yeah. Percy’s succeeded at everything life has thrown at him. Which is one heck of a lot,” Katie agreed.

 

“No,” Percy said. “I’m sorry, Bob. I should’ve been honest with you…Percy should have followed up with Calypso, made sure the gods sprang her from her exile on Ogygia like they’d promised.

 

“That curse doesn’t mean they haven’t freed her,” Nico said. “But it has been less than a year. Maybe they haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

 

“Besides, how were you supposed to do that? You saved the world in the middle of August. You recovered Hermes’ staff a couple of months later, by which time father was already concerned about Gaea. And once he was concerned about Gaea, I don’t think freeing our enemies, who might then side with Gaea out of spite despite their freedom, would be on his priority list,” Artemis stated.

 

“You gave up immortality to make that deal. It’s not your responsibility to follow up,” Apollo agreed with his sister. “What you did is more than basically anyone else would have done.”

 

He hadn’t treated her any better than he’d treated Bob. He hadn’t even thought much about her, though her moonlace plant still bloomed in his mom’s window box.

 

“You’ve had a few other things on your mind. Like Kronos. And losing your memories and then taking on Gaea,” Grover pointed out.

 

It took all his remaining effort, but he got to his feet…But before he could strike, all the arai in front of him exploded into dust.

 

“Yes!” Everyone cheered, although it was tentative. They didn’t want to assume it was good news, when there could be any number of other monsters.

 

“Done,” Piper said.

 

“That makes it me next,” Annabeth grimaced.

 

“I can read if you want me too,” Connor offered. Annabeth was incredibly tempted to take his offer. The last thing she wanted was to read about Percy dying to save her. But there was the possibility that something good was about to happen.

 

“No. It’s ok. I’ll do it,” She stated. She took the book from Piper.

 

Hera sighed in relief as the pain slowly faded now that the chapter had finished. It might well start up again in the next one, but she would take the breather gratefully.