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Defiance

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defiance

[dih-fahy-uhns]

1. a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force.

2. open disregard; contempt

3. a challenge to meet in combat or in a contest.


As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;

They kill us for sport.

-William Shakespeare



It's warmer today than it has been all week, and the children of Ms. Erad's seventh grade class know it. Paper airplanes zip over heads, nestling themselves into the arms of sleeping students. Someone sings Summertime Sadness noisily and off-key. Someone else tells the first person to can it.

Ms. Erad sits at the front of her kingdom of chaos. Someday, these children would learn obedience, if not from her, then from someone less charismatic. Once upon a time, she might have let them learn the hard way.

"Settle down, kids," the teacher says. "This is Titan History and Civilization, Jessie, not lunch. Put those chips away and pay attention. This will be on your unit test next Monday."

The children groan. The last paper airplane falters as it passes over the first row and crash-lands into Ms. Erad's cup of writing utensils. She tries not to sigh when a few pens clatter to the floor.

The teacher adjusts her broad-rimmed glasses. "So, raise your hand if you've seen the news?"

Six kids raise their hands.

"Really?" Ms. Erad rolls her eyes. This late in the semester, she stopped caring how many students found this frustrating. "Are you kidding me? Raise your hand if you want to fail this class?"

Not even an airplane elevates above the slumped heads of the middle-schoolers.

"Heather, what did you see on the news today?" Ms. Erad ushers to a blonde, freckled-face girl in a pink cashmere sweater. Class pet, to be spotted from miles away and usually a safe choice when attempting to get the ball rolling.

"Well," Heather begins, her nasal voice that's the equivalent of nails on chalkboard. "The evil rebels are at it again."

Ethan raises his hand but shouts before the teacher can call upon him. "I heard they captured Thalia Grace!"

Whispers erupt from the students.

Ms. Erad studies a lock of her muddy brown hair, attitude bordering disdain. In a dull voice she tells them of the helicopter crash in Washington, the explosion at the White House - nothing but an elaborate safe housing the weapons of the seven lesser Olympians that had been thrown into Tartarus. Several minor Titans and Lord Prometheus injured. Hera's lotus staff, Hestia's eternal flame, Apollo's bow, now gone.

But Thalia Grace captured - despite all the carnage that ensued trying to do so - and now being carted off to Othrys.

"Good riddance," Heather murmurs as Ms. Erad reaches the end of her new recap.

The class goes silent save for the absent-minded children scratching doodles in their notebooks.

Ms. Erad chews her thumbnail. Finally, she says," Turn your textbooks to page 532. Let's review the Battle of Manhattan."

The kids let out a collective groan.

Their lesson continues on at a snail's pace.

"Tell me about the siege of Olympus," she tells them, and they do.

The Olympian forces cornered and cut off from the Empire State Building. Kronos escaping to destroy Olympus, pursued by Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Thalia. Thalia never makes it but the three that do fail. Ethan Nakamura, renowned regime traitor, is dealt with accordingly. Annabeth escapes. Grover submits. But Percy...

"I don't think Jackson is dead," says a mousy girl close to the back of the class. Lydia.

Ms. Erad's eyes narrow. Again the class goes silent. "And why do you think that?" she drawls.

Lydia's face flushes, finally realizing the treacherous words she's spoken. Too late to take them back now. "Lord Kronos says he's dead. He never told anyone how, so everyone just assumes. Either he was hit in his Achilles spot or our Lord revealed his true form and incinerated him."

Ms. Erad humors her. "And what alternatives are there?"

"Well, Kronos could have imprisoned him on Othrys. Give him his due." Certainly an option the Titan Lord would never shy away from. "Or... some people say he escaped. That he's secretly leading the Rebellion."

She crosses her arms over her chest and takes three menacing steps towards the students. No one breathes. "Who says this?"

"I... don't know." A beat of sweat drips down the side fo Lydia's face. "We just don't know for sure, is all."

"The Titans work in mysterious ways. We do not decide what they tell us." Her posture relaxes. "Perseus Jackson is dead."

They move onto far less contentious topics: Grover Underwood and the Green Reserves. How, in exchange for his allegiance, the Lord of the Wild would be given the chance to live in peace. The states of Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Nebraska were quickly yielded over to the nature spirits and, while mortals were still allowed to exist in these spaces, the strict laws passed to keep the Wild thriving clashed with many ways of life. The mortals had been forced to move away and Grover Underwood and his veterans had disappeared, never to be seen again.

"My brother told my parents he was moving to the Green Reserves. Dad called him a good for nothing hippie," one student chimes in.

Ms. Erad can't help but agree.

For the last ten minutes of class, she decides to let the students rest. With their unit test coming up, it makes no sense to push the kids now.

Through the projector, she pulls up the Titan Army Rebel Dispatchment Unit's List of Most Wanted. The kids still engaged in these last few minutes of class stand up a bit straighter in their seats, craning their necks to see. Perhaps hoping to find some of their fellow classmates

"No Percy Jackson," Ms. Erad murmurs, earning a laugh from the class and a flush from Lydia. "No more Thalia Grace it seems either."

Annabeth Chase, Clarisse La Rue, Nico Di Angelo...

She keeps scrolling, the children keep talking.

"Wait!" Lydia shouts from the back. "What about her?"

Ms. Erad's mouse hovers over the picture of Rachel Elizabeth Dare.

Ethan, up front, lets out a hearty laugh. "LOL, wanted for hitting Kronos with a hairbrush."

Lydia frowns. "She looks familiar."

Ice water rushes through the teacher's veins.

"Maybe you've seen her. We could always turn her in and get a reward!" says Ethan.

"And I could pay for my college," Heather grumbles in agreement. More jokes fly around the classroom, faster than the paper airplanes.

Ms. Erad purses her lips. "Funny, kids. She's still a rebel. Probably a dangerous one at that. You'd best just go to your nearest T.A.R.D. unit officer."

"I don't know," Ethan drawls. "She looks a little weak and spineless to me."

The bell rings. The children make a mad dash for the exist.

Ms. Erad turns off the projector and slumps back in her chair, relieved. She exhales, not realizing she'd been holding her breath until now. A tear leaks down her face.

I don't know. She looks a little weak and spineless to me.

He's right of course.

"Rachel Elizabeth Dare."

Ms. Erad rips out the dagger taped under her desk and flings it. Not exactly useful, considering it gets swallowed up by a shadow immediately. The tension leaves her in one fell sweep when she recognizes the intruder's face.

"Nico," she leans over, putting her head in her hands. "Gods, what are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"I've known your location for a while now. I always know where to find you, no matter where you hide." He shrugs. "And I was escaping from the T.A.R.D. unit anyway. Figured I'd say hello."

An awkward silence settles in between them.

"How much did you here?" she asks finally.

A shadow erupts in his open palm. He fingers Rachel's knife. "You're not weak or spineless."

"You're right. Being weak and spinless is forgivable. Cowardice - running away from a battle and abandoning your friends - isn't."

To that Nico says nothing.

"You shouldn't be here," she says, standing from her seat and collecting the papers on her desk.

"I'm nineteen, Rachel. And relatively short at that," Nico sighs as if talking to an overbearing mother. "When you look like an emo high-schooler, you'd be surprised how many people tend to ignore you."

She slings her work bag over her shoulder. "Why are you here?"

He doesn't say anything at first, only stepping forward to grab her hand and place the knife in her open palm. She quietly pulls out a drawer and hides it in there.

"You've got new drawings, Rachel. I can tell by the callouses on your fingers and your unusually snippy attitude. I need you to show me them if the Rebellion is to have any chance against the Titans."

She grits her teeth.

Nico doesn't catch the hint. Or perhaps he does and decides he doesn't care. "We don't have time to waste."

"You could be a little nicer about it," she murmurs, pulling out another desk drawer.

Nico rolls his eyes. "Anything nice about me dried up a long time ago, Red. Sorry to disappoint but it's nothing but dark humor and sarcasm now."


The blood in Thalia's mouth runs stale. It seems to bother her more than her fractured knee, still blue and swollen. Though after all the T.A.R.D. unit officers she'd taken down with her, it's only right that they keep the nectar and ambrosia out of her reach. Besides, no need to waste supplies on a rebel marked for death.

Still, her knee throbs. But at least that pain keeps her from focusing on the other aches in her worn body. All from overexertion after the insane amount of running she'd done the day before in trying to escape.

Or at least, Thalia assumes it was yesterday. Being slapped upside the head with a sword left her memory a little blurry. Being tossed in the back of an armored vehicle - the same she'd woken up in earlier today - wasn't exactly conducive to time-telling either.

Thalia is wide awake now.

They drag her through dark hall after dark hall. The officers, she thinks, purposefully let her fucked up leg bounce upon the marble floors. They'd much rather bring her crying and screaming to Kronos but she refuses to give them that satisfaction.

The pain, at least, keeps her from addressing the swarm of emotions ready to break through. Fear bubbles inside of her like water in the caldera of a volcano, threatening to explode. And with it, a sense of failure.

Her failure to the Rebellion doesn't bother her nearly as much as her failure to Artemis. To the goddess that had blessed her with her last drops of power just so Thalia could lead her friends to safety. It had been an oath to continue saving her friends, continue fighting against Kronos and still keep her immortality, her superhuman powers in exchange. A valuable asset the Rebellion couldn't afford to lose and all she had to do was keep from getting captured.

Falling off a building and shattering her knee on the sidewalk had put an end to that.

And she'd awoken to a morning of hell, now sixteen years old. No longer fifteen.

Happy Birthday, idiot.

It's been nine years, she realizes, since she fought Luke on that cliff overlooking the bay. Seven years running from the Titans. Her enemies, certainly, had not wasted those seven years either. Compared to her last time here, she finds the Titan's palace fully rebuilt, emanating vibes strong enough to give Tartarus pause.

Alcatraz ought to look nice this time of year, Thalia thinks wistfully as they reach a pair of massive gold doors. Maybe if she survives (if she survives) Thalia could go there. She doubts it though, knowing they'd probably lock her somewhere below Mount Othrys, deprive her of food and fresh water, record the very moment both the neglect and the shadows drive her mad.

Or maybe they'll just spare themselves the trouble and have her executed.

They throw her down on the cold marble floor, again paying no mind to her knee. She loathes the small whimpers she lets out, loathes how it echoes across the throne room.

The guards retreat, shutting the doors behind her. She takes a deep breath, resting her forehead on the cold surface and relishing the chill, not a care in the world for all the eyes boring holes into her. It'll probably be that last thing sensation she'll ever feel and, after spending a good few hours trapped in the back of a smelly and humid van, fuck Kronos and his precious time.

Finally, Thalia lifts her head and a familiar wave of defiance shuttering any weakness, any pain, from infiltrating her face. Thalia is no ordinary prisoner; she knows this and they know this. Groveling is beyond her.

Five enormous thrones are displayed before her - not the twelve as had been on Mount Othrys. Four out of the five are mostly uniform, not at all unique, yet they still seem forged from so much gold that she wouldn't be surprised if Olympus had been melted down to craft them all. The center throne is slightly larger, constructed of pure obsidian and inlaid with an assortment of jewels, as if the architect had discovered an entire trove and hadn't known what to do with it.

And seated upon it...

Luke.

Not Luke. That body has long burned away. His features have mostly faded but she can still see his prominent jaw, the now almost invisible scar, blond hair browning and giving way to black. Different for sure, but enough to keep her confused and conflicted.

But there are some things irrevocably his own: a body large enough to crush her with a snap, as if carved from the same mountain beneath her feet, and his eyes. Gold like the ichor running through his veins.

"Thalia Grace," he says in a voice that is surprisingly calm. It reminds her of Chiron when he would get so angry with them that yelling was beyond him. She closes her eyes for a moment, wishing to shake the thought from her head. Chiron's dead, leave it at that.

"You know you kneel before us accused of treason and terrorism. Need I even mention your charges?"

"Please do," she says almost in a purr.

Kronos doesn't seem at all fazed. "Stealing my spoils of war, leading the Rebellion in guerrilla warfare against the Titan regime, freeing Athena from Tartarus, threatening the life of Lord Hyperion, my brother. Only to name a few."

Hyperion sneers down at her.

Thalia only rolls her eyes. "I'm sure the list is far longer."

"It is," Kronos agrees. "I suppose we could also add insolence."

"Ah yes." Her tongue clicks against the roof of her mouth. "The worst offense of them all, I suppose."

He rests back in his throne, dissecting her with his eyes alone. It makes her skin crawl.

"So many crimes," he continues, though it seems like a pondering statement rather than any sort of legal proceeding. "But, be that as it may, I have seen it fit not to have you incinerated."

"What?" Hyperion's outburst and her own come at the same time.

Kronos smiles. "In fact, I have a better punishment in store."

Atlas scoffs from his own throne. "What could be better than spending eternity in the Fields of Punishment?"

He waves his nephew off. "A week from now, daughter of Zeus, you will acquire the honored title of wife. My wife."

Several heads turn to him; cracks in their otherwise perfect resolve.

Thalia's jaw drops. Mount Othrys's walls seem to lean in closer, as if caving in to crush her flat.

"No." Thalia attempts to hold back the bile rising in her throat. "Never."

Kronos only laughs, the sound positively grating on the ears. Though a bit uneasy, the other Titans laugh with him. She doesn't get the joke, doesn't want to.

"Five years, I've been trying to capture you," he says, his face displaying some sort of emotion that she can't really recognize. "And all this time I thought of numerous ways to torture you but nothing seemed quite so... effective as this. Five years, Thalia Grace. I am a patient man, even by set standards. But, in the form of your suffering, I will have those five years back one way or another."

She picks herself off the ground, though not trusting her shaky legs - her shattered knee - to hold her weight. Rage, pain, sadness - it swirls inside of her like a tornado. Refusing to settle, refusing to accept, her intense glare meets his head on. "History repeats itself, Kronos. You'll burn in Tartarus again, one way or another. But now I won't be content until I send you there myself."

"Blasphemy!" Hyperion booms, whipping his head towards Kronos. "Strike her dead brother! She is far more trouble than she is worth."

Thalia shoots the Titan of Light a perfect shit-eating grin. "I'm flattered. Really."

Kronos ignores them both. "Guards, do take this wild little beast into her cage. Perhaps she'll learn respect before I parade her across Othrys."

"Yes," says Koios, his voice frigid. "Let the world know of your new prize. Shall we send for Artemis as well? I want to see the look on our little goddess's face when she is told the news."

Her heart seizes up. "Artemis?" she whispers. Rough hands haul her up by the arms. Thalia struggles in their embrace. "I want to see Artemis!"

Atlas sneers. "Oh dear, you are in no position to be making demands."

Kronos ignores him, leaning back into his throne. She wants to scream, fry the smirk off of his godsforsaken face. "In due time, Miss Grace. In due time. Until then, your punishment begins now."

Chapter Text

My family is my strength and my weakness.

--Aishwarya Rai Bachchan



"So you are quitting your job as a teacher right?" Nico smirks, as he pulls the grate off of the manhole behind the middle school. He tries to rush; it's midnight. New York's 11 pm curfew calls for tighter security than this demigod is used to and it's not like he has a lot of time anyway. The war council should be starting soon.

"You bet your ass. Since I started teaching, I realized something: I don't like children." Both of them slip in the sewers unnoticed.

"Neither do I," he smirks, watching as she touches the surprisingly clean tunnel walls. "You can thank the fleece for that," Nico tells her, as if reading Rachel's mind. If there's one thing they snatched up before Camp Half-Blood was blown to rubble, it's that.

She nods, staring at the wall. Rachel licks her thumb, rubbing the dust off of a small symbol etched in the stone: a ruined Delta.

"This is part of the Labyrinth?"

Nico ushers her to keep moving. "It used to be. When Daedalus was killed this part wasn't destroyed. The entire foundation of New York City would have crumbled if it did. And what little we couldn't restore, the Fleece fixed it up for us."

She purses her lips. "Is there any reason the Rebellion chose this hideout to hold a war council near a middle school?"

"There's a forty percent chance the Titans won't wanna blow up a high school full of innocent mortal children. What happened with Lydia? That's proof they haven't entirely won the mortals' trust. No trust equals no burnt offerings. The offerings and sacrifices and festivals are what keeps the Titan's strong."

They stop talking for a while, listening to the creaks of the sewer. A golden light leads them to the end of the tunnel, straight towards a metal door. Nico puts a finger to his lips, warning Rachel to stay quiet. He bangs on the door.

The door is all but ripped off its hinges and they find two mean-looking guns pointed at their foreheads. Rachel pales.

Nico rolls his eyes. "It's us, Clarisse."

She shrugs. "You can never be too cautious."

"You're just looking for an excuse to kill someone with those things," he tells her.

Clarisse steps aside, allowing them to enter.

Rachel expects a little hole in the wall, maybe a handful of demigods looking worse for wear. But the word room doesn't even seem to cover this place, which is larger than her parents' condo in SoHo (and that's saying something). At least a hundred television screens dominate the walls. Athena kids tap wildly on keyboards, speaking in hushed voices to their headsets, eyes glued onto their laptops. And this is only the second floor. From here Rachel can spot the metal stairs, leading gods only know where.

For a moment she feels guilty, buying into the Titans' propaganda of the Rebellion as lecherous little rats of little means attempting to destroy the wondrous new world order.

"Nico!" Malcolm calls from his own seat alongside his brothers and sisters. His expression is grim. "It's Connor and Travis."

Nico rushes over and Malcolm hands over his station to the son of Hades without complaint.

"Get back to work!" the son of Athena orders at the others who've stopped to watch Nico yelling into the headset.

"What's going on?" Rachel asks him.

"Connor and Travis Stoll," he says. "They went with this Iris kid Butch to free Iris from her prison; some dark, heavily secured cave in Death Valley. Normally we would've sent Thalia for a mission like this, with her immortal Artemis curse or whatever, but…" He dismisses the thought with a wave of his hand. "Anyway, Travis and Connor insisted on accompanying Butch to free his mom. Now it's not going too well."

Rachel doesn't ask for further explanation. "Do you think they'll make it out okay?" she says quietly.

Malcolm snorts. "They're the Stolls. I'm sure they—"

"We've lost contact," Nico interjects, removing the headset. "See if you can get in touch with them. Has the meeting started?"

"Not yet," Malcolm tells him. "They're waiting for you and Annabeth…"

"I'm here!" they hear someone call, as a girl Rachel's age barges in and brushes past Clarisse. It takes Rachel a moment to realize its Annabeth. She's different now, stronger and taller, obviously, with helluva lot more scars. And her eyes, they're distant somehow, darker. No longer warm.

"What are you waiting for Nico?" she says sharply. "We're already late as it is."

Annabeth's cold gray eyes wander towards Rachel. There's no surprise at all, only dull acceptance. "Bring her too."

The three of them descend down the stairwell. They run through a smaller room crowded with Hephaestus kids (working away, crafting weapons of different shapes and sizes) and out into a narrow hall. On the right is a regular wooden door with a silver plaque inscribed with Greek words. Rachel's not sure how she knows this but she's pretty sure the plaque reads Meeting Room.

Annabeth throws open the door, marching in like she owns the place, quickly taking her seat at the full circular table. Nico takes the seat beside her, leaving Rachel to stand behind them.

Athena glares at the newcomers from across the table, hands clasped together. "Where are the Stolls?"

"Not here," Nico answers. "They haven't returned from their mission. We'll have to continue without them."

The goddess nods, continuing. "What about Katie Gardner?"

"Infirmary," Annabeth says in the same calm yet angry voice as her mother. "I just came from there. She has a fractured femur. Will Solace told me she won't be back on her feet until tomorrow at the earliest."

Athena exhales. "Exactly how many are in the infirmary?"

"Twenty."

"Casualties?"

"From the last three days?" Annabeth bites her lip. "Twelve."

The council is awfully silent. Rachel looks around the table, taking in some of the familiar faces from the Battle of Manhattan: Chris Rodriguez, Jake Mason, Castor, Phoebe, and Drew. Others she doesn't seem to recognize. They've probably done some recruiting over the past seven years.

Athena clears her throat. "I'm not going to lie to you. Things are looking bad. Very bad. Ever since Thalia's capture the odds haven't been in our favor."

"She was one of our best warriors," Annabeth murmurs. "And a decent strategist. Of course things are going downhill."

"Our numbers have been dwindling for a while regardless. This was just the last straw," Athena continues, ignoring her daughter. "We have one last solution. It's dangerous plan, but if executed correctly, it may work."

"I don't like the sound of this," Annabeth admits, twirling her knife. It's amazing she's managed to keep it in one peace after all these years.

"Can you let your mother finish?" Castor retorts.

Annabeth glares at him, throwing a glance at her knife. The son of Dionysus gets the message, shrinking back in his seat.

"Thank you Castor," the goddess says. "I don't exactly have time to waste and there's no easy way to say this, so I'll just come out with it then. We've been keeping a secret from you... Greeks for a very long time."

"Greeks?" They all say with a hint of confusion, like it should be obvious.

Athena nods and it's the most nervous they've ever seen the goddess. "There are... Greeks. There is also... an entirely different group of demigods as well. On the other side of the country, so you would never be aware of each other's existence…until now. I speak of Romans."

The room goes still.

"Romans." Annabeth clenches her fists. "We're supposed to believe that there's been another group of demigods this whole entire time? How?"

She lays her hands flat on the table, taking an unusual amount of time to study them. "You all understand a god or Titan can be in many places as one, correct?"

They nod.

"This is much of the same. When the fire of Western Civilization moved to Rome we, the gods, resided there almost as long as we ruled Greece. They worshiped us in different ways and for different uses - from there split personality developed, a Roman aspect we can slip into from time to time. We become more warlike, more united, more about expansion, conquest and discipline."

She pauses for a moment, letting everyone register this.

"Children conceived in our Roman aspect aren't much different from you. While you children are very much skilled in the Modern and Ancient Greek language, these demigods naturally speak and read Latin. Instead of training in Greek warfare, they study the fighting style of the Roman legions. So on and so forth."

Chris Rodriguez runs a hand through his hair. "So if these Romans do exist, why have we never come across each other before, like on quests?"

"You have, many times actually," Athena says uncomfortably. "It always ends in bloodshed, unfortunately, and always the gods do their best to wipe clean the memories of those involved. During the American Civil War, times were especially bad. While the North and South fought each other on slavery, Romans and Greeks also fought amongst one another. The gods were horrified on the toll it'd taken on their children so they wove the Mist so thick it'd be nearly impossible for your two groups to meet.

"Of course, your rivalry goes all the way back to the Trojan War. The Greeks invaded Troy, burning it to the ground. The Trojan hero Aeneus escaped, and eventually made his way to Italy where he founded the race that would someday become Rome."

"And the Romans hated the Greeks," Annabeth says anxiously, twirling her knife on the table again. "They took revenge by conquering the Greek isles, making them part of the Roman Empire."

"They didn't hate them, per say," Nico speaks up. "Romans admired Greek culture and were envious. In return, the Greeks considered Romans barbarians but they respected the nation's military power."

"Yes," Athena agrees. "So during the times of Ancient Rome, demigods began to divide. You had to choose: Roman or Greek. "

"And it's been that way ever since," Annabeth guesses. "But if this is all true regardless, where were the Romans during the Titan War? Didn't they do anything?"

"They tried their best, just as we did," the goddess says with a somber edge. There's a brief moment of silence before she continues. "While you and Percy were leading the battle to save Manhattan, they attempted a sudden strike against Mount Othrys. They almost succeeded too… but then we failed. A warning was sent out to have them flee the Titan's palace. With the arrival of Kronos at full strength, none would have lasted. They escaped before capture and went into hiding."

Annabeth's eyes seem to flare, as if trying to put the pieces together. "The Bay Area. We demigods were always told to stay from it because Mount Othrys and the entrance to the Underworld were there. But that's not the only reason. The Roman camp. It's there too, isn't it? Probably somewhere near San Francisco? I bet it was put there to keep watch on the Titan's territory. Where is it?"

Everyone gives her an exasperated look. "In due time, Annabeth," says Athena, placing her hand over her daughter's. "Believe me, I will tell you the location of Camp Jupiter…but there is more. A part of I have failed to tell you."

They all wait in anxious silence. What more could there be?

Annabeth rips her hand away, searching her mother's gaze for an inkling of what she's about to say. But no one, no one, can predict the next words to come out of Athena's mouth.

"When Perseus lost to Kronos… many thought he was dead. A select few believed him to be alive, imprisoned on Mount Othrys. Both accounts are wrong."

Silence settles. Some glance at Annabeth who leans over the table, scowl deepening into something truly horrifying. "What are you talking about?"

Athena glares back, unflinching. "Percy is alive. Confused, but alive."

Her mind races attempting to solve this last piece of the puzzle. "He's there isn't he?" Annabeth says finally. "At the Roman camp?"

Athena hesitates for a moment. "Yes."

Annabeth smiles in disbelief, a grin on the verge of insanity. She makes a move to say something, but just shakes her head instead. She gets up from her seat, making a beeline for the door.

"Annabeth…" She trails off at the sound of the door slamming. The goddess stands too, also heading quickly for the exit. "Di Angelo, conclude this meeting."

The son of Hades blinks, "I-um…" She doesn't give him much of an option before she's also out of the room.

Annabeth doesn't get far. She only rounds the corner before coming face to face with her mother and already she has her arms crossed over her chest. "When where you planning to tell me? Tell us?"

Athena only stares, her face settling into that of a statue. Something distant and inhuman. "I didn't know how to tell you. Up until a few months ago I didn't even—"

"A few months ago," Annabeth murmurs.

She blinks. "What do you want me to say, Annabeth?"

"Nothing...just please leave me alone."


A week in a cell and Thalia drives herself insane. Some part of her wonders if this is some insane nightmare, that if she pinches herself hard enough the dark walls of Mount Othrys's prison will melt back into reality. That she'll be back with Annabeth and Nico, fighting against the impossible.

Nothing but a childish dream, of course.

Thalia tucks herself away in the corner, an absent stare on the dull, cement-colored walls.

happybirthdayhappybirthdayhappybirthday

Thalia Grace is sixteen - feels like a hundred - and she can't bring herself to plot or move. Most would - Annabeth would. But Annabeth was never given immortality, only to lose it through an idiotic mistake. Annabeth would never make it Othrys in the first place.

Locks click open and Thalia panics, afraid they've finally come for her. The Celestial Bronze door opens and she cringes at the blinding light that fills the room. Her hands fly over the floor of the prison, trying to find some sort of sharp rock to stab the intruder with. Marriage to Kronos? Over my dead body.

"Thalia?"

Arms pull her to her feet. The light, she realizes, is nothing but a small torch.

Thalia tries to speak but she's too stunned; she knows the voice all too well.

"Thalia, answer me," the voice pleads, a familiar face coming into view. "I need to know if you're all right.

"Artemis," she breathes, immediately gripping onto her goddess. Thalia's nose attempts to take in her scent; the wild. Thalia can smell it so clearly now, the woods, the fresh air. "I'm dreaming, aren't I?"

Silver eyes sadden. "This anything but a dream, my dear. A nightmare come to life perhaps."

And not just for Thalia.

Not that it registers. She's waited so long, seven goddamn years to hold Artemis in her hands again.

Pain flickers across his face. "Kronos… why does he keep you here? Has he…" Thalia trails off, unsure what to say. Has he done the same to you that he plans on doing to me.

"No," Artemis says quickly. "Gods are hard to change and Kronos still fears prophecies too much to lay a hand on me. He keeps me close though; I am rarely able to leave his sight."

"You're a decoration then." It comes out more bitter than she intends. Things can be worse though, she tells herself. Much, much worse.

"I suppose you could say that. But I am not the one you need to worry about, Thalia Grace." She studies the lines of her lieutenant's face. "There are rumors circling on Mount Othrys that... he refuses to confirm them. I know he wants me to suffer and that I'll be punished for trekking this far into the dungeons. But I had to know for myself, what was truth and what was falsehood."

Artemis doesn't need to say anything else. Thalia already knows what she's referring to.

A week from now, daughter of Zeus, you will acquire the honored title of wifeMy wife.

"It's true." Thalia starts to shake. In truth, she hasn't thought about it much until, not really. Still doesn't want to. "I don't have a choice," she whispers in a raspy voice. "I don't know what to do, my Lady. I can't-I can't escape him. Not this time."

For a moment they don't say anything to each other. Artemis just holds her tight and it's all Thalia could ever ask for. "There is nothing you can do," she tells her finally. "I will come for you tomorrow. Let us hope the Fates are in your favor."

The goddess leaves, the door locking behind her and Thalia has to tell herself over and over again, Not a dream. She only believes it when she falls asleep and the real dreams come to her.

Thalia stands on a cliff face, watching the final moments of a sunset. It's a peaceful setting, one that seems to calm the fluttering emotions inside of her.

"They'll be here by dawn."

The voice makes her jump. Two people in armor stand off to the side, watching the sunset as well. For a moment, Thalia's confused on how she didn't notice them before. Of course, they don't spare a glance in her direction.

"I know."

She freezes, staring intently at the two newcomers. Both of them are familiar… too familiar. The one to the left is older than the other, a man, garbed in gleaming gold armor. His eyes are blue, clear like the sky itself. Yet they're cold, distant, disciplined. In his hand is a long staff, two snakes entwined around it.

Hermes.

"Are you ready to face them?" the god says, his voice much harsher than she remembers.

The other man is much younger, in his early-twenties. His face is familiar, that much is clear. Thalia tries to make the connection but it's hard as she finds herself staring at his strange purple shirt, covered with a bronze breastplate. Then there are the marks on his arm, five lines like a bar code etched into his skin. Above is the image of stallion along with the words: SPQR. It feels so wrong to Thalia. As if none of it belongs. She fights the strange urge to rip off his shirt and hurl it over the cliff.

"I can't remember their faces," he says almost strained. "I know their names, I can hear their voices constantly…but I can't see them."

His face. Thalia tries to concentration on his face. Then she sees them; his eyes. Sea green, just like the ocean.

"Percy?" she says aloud, testing her voice.

No one hears her.

"Hermes, what if they don't remember me?" Percy asks, his eyebrows scrunching together. It's a valid worry, considering it's been seven years and Thalia could hardly recognize him.

"I go by Mercury here," the god corrects. "Never forget that, Jackson."

He sighs. "I apologize, my Lord."

Hermes, Mercury, nods. "Don't worry. You aren't that forgettable. Chances are, they have missed you more than you have missed them. Trust me."

The scene changes.

This time, Thalia's walking. Redwoods stretch out before her, towering above like skyscrapers. But she isn't alone. She walks with a small group of no more than ten people, all of them garbed in armor. Most of them are familiar.

The Rebellion.

Annabeth leads the party through the forest, a determined look in her gray eyes and bruise-like shadows beneath them. She hasn't slept at all and Thalia has the urge to scream at her for being such an idiot. Thalia might be gone but the last thing Annabeth needs is to overwork herself. To take on this burden alone.

"Rachel," she says, "How much farther?"

"Another eight hundred meters," the brown-haired girl at Annabeth's side murmurs. "They'll be waiting for us in the clearing ahead."

"Thanks, Rachel," she murmurs.

"Be on your guard," Annabeth tells the others. Nobody argues with her.

They come through a break in the trees and it's eerily silent. No noises, no movement. They've become wary of quiet surroundings. Annabeth walks slowly ahead, giving them a silent warning to stay back.

"Annabeth!" Rachel suddenly warns. An arrow out from the underbrush, whistling straight past Annabeth's face. It embeds itself into the bark of one of the taller trees with a thunk.

Annabeth's eyes flare as she grips the hilt of her knife. Warriors in gold armor slip out of the woods, weapons drawn and ready. The Greeks automatically reach for their own but a girl's voice echoes across the clearing.

"I wouldn't do that."

A girl, slightly younger than Annabeth, steps out from behind a Redwood. She adjusts the golden bow slung over her shoulders. Dark, expressionless eyes survey the remnants of the Rebellion, not in the least impressed.

"You're early Greeks," she sighs, as if wishing she could be somewhere else.

"Who are you?" Annabeth questions firmly.

A shadow of a smile paints her lips. "You don't remember me…?"

Annabeth's eye twitches. She tries to put the pieces together, to fight against the fog in her brain… trying to remember the face… "Hylla?" she says finally.

"You were close. Reyna," the dark-haired girl answers coldly. "Praetor of the Twelfth Legion. I am your escort to Camp Jupiter."

"Well then do your job and escort us, Roman," Annabeth replies with equal malice. "Instead of wasting your time pointing weapons at my men."

Reyna smirks. "I've been warned to take extra precautions with your kind. Lord Mercury tells us you're… temperamental."

She scowls.

Rachel cuts in before the tension can multiply. "We should hurry. Many demigods attract an awful lot of monsters."

"I couldn't agree more," Annabeth says curtly.

Thalia doesn't get to see what happens next: she only hears a voice hissing her name, beckoning her back to the realm of the living.

"Thalia!"

She lunges out blindly, instinct taking over. Before she's even fully awake, Thalia has the intruder pinned to the floor, trying to crush their windpipe. The person pushes her off with as much strength as they can muster.

"What the fuck, Thalia!"

She scrambles back, her mind grasping for a quick analysis of whatever's going on. Thalia blinks a couple of times. "Nico?"

"No, it's the fucking tooth fairy!" he snaps. "Gods, maybe you should check to see who you're choking before you're fully conscious. If I was a Titan you would be dead already."

She almost laughs at that. She doesn't really have the courage to tell him the truth, that there are some punishments worse than death. "What are you doing here?" Thalia demands. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"Maybe," he retorts. "So are you coming or what?"

Thalia gapes at him. "How did you get here?"

Nico rolls his eyes, running a hand through his hair. "It wasn't easy, you know. I had to go to Triple G Ranch, steal one of Apollo's cows, and lug it to California. Hellhounds were guarding the servant's entrance. They saw the cow, started chasing it and what do you know? Here I am."

Obviously, it wasn't that simple. But Thalia doesn't make it a point to pry. Angrily, she shakes her head. "You shouldn't have come for me. You shouldn't be here."

He raises an eyebrow. "If you don't want to leave, that's okay with me. I'll just shut the door and—"

"Nico?" she interjects.

"Yeah?"

"Shut up."

Chapter Text

All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.

-Francois Fenelon


Annabeth isn't sure what to expect when being shown the entrance to the Roman camp.

Before her, a tunnel cuts straight through solid rock. At first, it resembles a regular maintenance tunnel, nothing too fancy. It is at that point she begins to question Reyna's state of mind before the cement floor soon changes to mosaic tiles and the lights become reed torches. A few hundred yards ahead, a square of daylight appears. As they approach, the flow at the end up the tunnel becomes brighter until finally they burst into sunlight.

Many jaws drop, gazing down at the bowl-shaped valley below. The basin floor ripples with smaller hills, golden plains, and stretches of forest. Rising in the distance, Mount Diablo stands broad, casting a small foreboding shadow.

A small clear river cuts a winding course from a lake in the center, around the perimeter like a capital G. In the center of the valley is a small city of white marble buildings with red-tiled roofs. Some buildings resemble national monuments or palaces. There's an open plaza as well with freestanding columns, fountains, and statues. Across the lake to the south are more buildings; temples. Several stone bridges cross the river as it winds through the valley and to the north, an aqueduct.

It's enough to make the many demigods miss Camp Half-Blood. Some can't help but shed a tear or two before being forced to move on.

Reyna and her party of Romans lead the way to the part of the valley just below them. Two hundred yards away, just across the river, lay a military encampment. It isn't large, a quarter mile square, with earthen ramparts on all four sides and roofs lined with sharpened spikes. Outside the walls runs a dry moat, again studded with spikes. Wooden watchtowers rise at each corner, manned by armed sentries. Purple banners hang from the towers, displayed for all to see. A wide gateway opens at the far side of camp, leading towards the city.

Inside the fortress dozens of soldiers go to and from the barracks, carrying weapons and polishing armor. Annabeth can hear the clank of the forges and the smell of meat cooking over a fire. At the sight of Camp Jupiter, the daughter of Athena longs for her own camp. The one that had been ram sacked, pillaged and burned seven years ago.

"Keep moving," Reyna orders, shooting Annabeth a glare. The girl narrows her eyes, soon following. As the forge ahead, up on the watchtowers, horns blow. The camp's gates open. Another Roman comes forward to stand by Reyna's side.

"So these are the graecus!"

At first glance, he doesn't appear like much to Annabeth. Only a thin, tall guy with straw-colored hair and a crooked smile. But as he turns to look at her, Annabeth instantly jumps back. His blue eyes are intense, baring a slightly crazed look. But his facial features and jaw structure are almost identical to…

"Luke?" she says slightly fearful, her other soldiers looking just as startled. From the corner of her eye, Annabeth can make out Rachel's face turning slightly green.

The Roman raises an eyebrow. "Octavian." He looks at Reyna as if to say, Where did you find them? He soon narrows his eyes back at Annabeth. "You seem nervous."

"You remind me of someone," Annabeth says firmly, regaining her composure.

"Possibly my namesake," he says smugly. "Octavian—Augustus Caesar. Everyone says I bear a remarkable resemblance."

"That's not it," she says flatly, closing the matter. "So, are you going to let us in or what?"

Reyna glares at Octavian, as if to say, Kill me now.

Upon entering Camp Jupiter, Annabeth knows Nico would love this place. After all, half the people in camp are dead. Everywhere, shimmering purple warriors stand about, watching as the Greeks march through the barracks. For the most part, she ignores them and keeps walking.

Reyna and Octavian lead the procession of demigods out of camp. Ghosts and more demigods trail behind, curious. The road is long, and as tired as Annabeth is, she doesn't plan to the let the Romans know this.

"How you holding up, Dare?" she smiles slightly, staring to her left at Rachel.

"I'm good," Rachel admits, though it's hard for Annabeth to tell if she's being truthful or not.

"Just remember," Annabeth says. "It's not too late to go back to Goode."

"You could have told me that earlier, you know," Rachel jokes half-heartedly. "Looks like New Rome up ahead."

"New Rome?"

"It's called reading signs, Annabeth."

"Hey, I'm not sure we've met but I'm Annabeth Chase and I'm dyslexic."


The graecus find their seats in the upper level of semi-circle of tiered seats, all of them facing a dais with a podium and four chairs. Seated in one of them is Percy, arms crossed over a golden breastplate. He looks at no one in particular, finding more comfort in chewing on the inside of his cheek.

As soon as Annabeth takes her seat on the left side of the semicircle, she watches the senators enter. Some pay no mind to the graecus but others glare daggers. Several dozen ghost and older demigods squeeze their way in, sitting in the upper rows while the senators occupy the front. It is only then that she notice most of them are in formal togas. She'd punch someone if they tried to make her wear a toga.

The Luke-look-alike, Octavian, stands in the front near the podium, holding two things that make absolutely no sense. A knife (something she's pretty sure should've started back with the talking statue) and Beanie Baby lion. Could the Romans get any weirder?

The crowd silences as Reyna enters the Senate House, followed by another blond guy. Thankfully, he is nothing like Luke, holding himself in a very serious and professional manner. Reyna walks straight to the podium, getting straight into business.

"This isn't exactly what I would call a normal meeting," she says, grimacing. "So we won't stand for formalities."

"I love formalities!" a ghost complains.

Reyna grits her teeth, closing her eyes for a moment before beginning. "So, meet our new allies. Graecus. As demanded by our Lord Mercury, you will…uh… get to know them. If you have any problems, you may take it up with him."

She steps aside, allowing the other Roman to take the floor. He narrows his eyes, staring intently at the ranks of the Greeks. He isn't much older than Annabeth, in his early-twenties.

"I'm Jason, son of Jupiter and praetor of the Twelfth Legion," he tells them, arms crossed over his gleaming gold breastplate. Annabeth can shake off the feeling that there's something about this Jason, something that just screams Thalia. She feels a twinge of sadness, longing for her witty and snappy friend who would, no doubt, put these Romans in their place. "Who is your leader?"

Annabeth steps forward as Reyna rolls her eyes. "Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena…or Minerva, I hear she's called here." For a moment her eyes flicker towards Percy seated on Jason's right. This doesn't escape the praetor's notice.

Jason nods coldly, ushering her forward. She moves quickly and quietly but her stance demands authority. Annabeth may have been quiet thus far but the Romans should make no mistake; this girl was not to be fucked with.

Percy gives Annabeth a painful glance, longing to just speak to her. But he can't, as Reyna had pointed out when they had arrived, that Senator Jackson is forbidden from speaking out. Only to observe and intervene if things get out of hand. The son of Jupiter continues, "Let's cut right to the chase, shall we? You need our help and we need yours."

"Yes," Annabeth smirks with the same chilly demeanor. "Athena informed us of your militaristic advantages. An actual camp just to name a few."

Jason manages a small smile. "And Mercury informed us you Greeks have balls. And your plans are very…"

"Spontaneous?" Annabeth offers.

"Random," Clarisse murmurs.

"Crazy," Percy whispers sadly, almost wistfully.

The Romans don't crack a smile. In fact, it seems to make them even wearier.

"That," says Jason, "and we're running low on weapons. Imperial gold is hard to come by these days. Celestial Bronze would make a more than fair substitute."

"We also need more soldiers. It's an equal trade really," Annabeth points out. "I'm sure we can benefit from each other. And we want Percy back, obviously."

Jason's jaw clenches, as if the decision is hard, but nods in agreement. "But in return, we don't take orders from any of you. When war does come, the Fifth Cohort will lead us."

"Fine," Annabeth sneers. "But in the final battle, we lead the charge on Mount Othrys. We're the ones who need to redeem ourselves.

"And we don't?" Reyna snaps on impulse.

"We started the war," Rachel tells Reyna calmly. "It was our prophecy; our fault the world was lost to Kronos."

"We're not proud of it," Percy sighs, ignoring the withering glares. "But if anyone is going to change this world for the better, it has to be done by the ones who fucked it up in the first place."

A moment of silence fills the room. Greeks are silent, staring at their leaders in shame. The Romans are a mix of emotions—anger, pity, sadness—but soon it fades under an expressionless, unified mask.

Jason looks to his other praetor and the senators. They all nod in unison.

"We have a deal then."


"You're gonna get us fucking killed!" Thalia hisses.

"No, I'm not! Now shut up!"

For Nico, hiding in the shadows is hard enough. It's even worse with a loud, annoying daughter of Zeus following him.

They currently find themselves in monster capital of the world: downtown Los Angeles. It's also, unfortunately, the only way to reach the Underworld. Kronos isn't oblivious to this, of course. On every street corner they can find a T.A.R.D officer or a monster. If a demigod wants to commit suicide, it's here.

"You just shadow travel us to the Underworld anyway?" Thalia complains.

Nico pinches the bridge of his nose. "I explained this already. Iapetus powers reflect my own which means I can only travel from inside the Underworld. I can't travel from the mortal world to the Underworld. I have to take the main entrance like everyone else. Or the Doors of Orpheus but I don't think you wanna risk getting into it with a hellhound."

A dark look comes across her face. "Why are we going to the Underworld again?"

"I explained the whole Roman, Greek demigods to you right?" Nico grumbles. Thalia only nods, suddenly distracted. She's been like this lately, not paying attention to a word he's said, stuck in her own little world. Not that he can quite blame her. He knows what that feels like.

Nico gives her shoulder a comforting squeeze. "We're meeting them in the Elysium," he says in an attempt to keep her attention. "Athena and Hermes are going to rally the citizens of Elysium and try to get them to join our cause. Camp Jupiter and the Rebellion are heading out tonight. My sister Hazel—"

"You have another sister?" Thalia interjects.

"I'll tell you later. But she'll lead them to the Underworld."

Thalia shakes her head. "You're funny if you think I'll spend my night in Tartarus."

"You spent your nights in a dungeon cell on Othrys! How is that any different?" It's a lot different, but Nico isn't about to tell her that anytime soon.

"We head to Bunker 32. It's two miles away from here."

"We should keep going," Nico stresses.

But the stubborn Thalia refuses. "There are more monsters at night. And they'll be a lot stronger. They'll sniff us out sooner or later. We go to Bunker 32."

"Is it too late to return you to Kronos?"

Bunker 32 is located in under a rusty sewer grate in an alleyway between two buildings. They haven't used Bunker 32 for nearly three years, and the grate is nearly impossible to remove. Fifteen minutes straight of tugging and pulling, it gives way, opening up to the secret tunnels below. Thalia slides in first, then Nico. They plunge straight into a mass of cobwebs, kicking up a mound of dust into the already humid air.

"Ladies first," Nico smiles. Thalia rolls her eyes, taking the lead. A hundred meters in she stops, searching the dirty walls for a small indentation. Eventually her finger finds the latch.

The whole wall moves out of the way, leading into another hall. Nico grabs a string rope from the pitch blackness, tugging hard. Lights illuminate the small enclosure. Unlike the rest of the tunnel, the bunker has been closed off, leaving it surprisingly clean. A bunk is pushed against the right wall; making room for a planning table sprawled with old blueprints and dented knives. To the left is small trapdoor, no doubt loaded with non-perishable food.

"Bunker 51 is way better," Nico grumbles.

Thalia grimaces. "Not all bunkers can be in Miami."

A moment of silence settles in between them. Soundlessly, Thalia claims the top bunk, resting her head on the stiff, odd-smelling pillow. Nico, on the other hand, rummages through the trapdoor compartment in search of something edible.

They go on without speaking for a good hour before Thalia's eyes begin to grow heavy.

"Nico?" she murmurs.

He stops his snacking. "Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

He stares at her in confusion. "What for?"

Thalia frowns, "For… you know… being such a bitch. Complaining since you've sprung me from Mount Othrys. I… I've just had a long week. And if you wouldn't have saved me and all… I don't know. I should be thankful. But I wasn't. So, I'm sorry for that."

"It's okay Thalia," Nico says uncomfortably. "I don't mind. Really. Besides, it's not every day you get forced into marriage."

She sighs. "I… I saw Artemis, you know. She's there on Mount Othrys."

Nico shrinks back wearily. "I thought she was locked away in Tartarus."

"I thought so too. I… some part of me didn't want to leave. I want to go back, I want to help her more than anything."

He locks eyes with her. "You know she wouldn't approve of you risking your life to do that."

"That's what makes us alike I guess."

Nico breaks eye contact, exhaling. "Go to sleep, Thals."

For the first time in the past few hours, Thalia nods obediently, closing her eyes. "What about you?" she murmurs. "You should get some sleep too."

"Shut up, I'm nocturnal."

It turns out, of course, Nico isn't nocturnal at all. He passes out cold, allowing his dreams to flow without interruption. That's good, considering Nico hasn't slept properly in days. He finds himself in a replica of the Coliseum in Rome. Demigods run around, stocking up on weapons and supplies. What especially catches his eye is Annabeth, her face red as a tomato, glaring daggers at a dark-haired girl. He catches a few words from Annabeth; one he assumes is the dark-haired girl's name. Reyna.

"Hey!" a blonde-haired guy snaps at them, pulling the two girls away from each other before they come to blows about whatever it is they're arguing about. "I need you both to stop acting like children."

Annabeth glares at him. "But the plan—"

"We don't take orders from you," Reyna hisses.

"No buts," Jason says finally. "That was the deal."

"Our deal was not to sit back and follow you around blindly! If you would just l—"

"No," Reyna shoots her down yet again and Annabeth gives her the ugliest look known to man. A look Nico is exceptionally familiar with and makes him worry. If Annabeth doesn't punch someone soon it'll be a miracle.

Note to self: don't put children of different war gods together.

"Talk to Percy about it," Jason dismisses. "I don't have time for this."

A hand jostles Nico awake.

He jumps up from the bunk bed. "What? What happened?"

"Nothing," Thalia says sternly. "Come on. It's morning. We've gotta move."


"I told you." Annabeth's fist connects with Jason's face. Perhaps he's not the person she truly wanted to punch - hell, who is she kidding? - but it's safe to say that certainly gets the message across. "It may have been ages since I've traveled the Underworld but even idiots know the Acheron leads many heroes to jump into their deaths. We just lost soldiers we couldn't afford to lose."

It's only what she's hated about Romans since studying them back in her early days of high school. They figured everything was a numbers game. The same numbers game they've been playing for years now, that kept them from getting into the Titan War until the very last second and kept the survival of Percy Jackson a secret from the entire world.

Outside Elysium's city hall, the crowd—Romans and Greeks alike—stand in stunned silence. Athena and Mercury aren't with them, of course, actually inside attempting to persuade the citizens of Elysium and obvious to the tension unfolding outside. Annabeth has stepped over the line and everyone knows it. But none of the Greeks, also angry at the Romans' blatant mistake, make a move to reel her in.

"Jackson," Jason warns, a pissed Reyna helping him up. "Keep you girlfriend in line or I will."

"Don't talk to Percy talk to me," Annabeth snaps. "He's not my keeper. No one is."

Jason shakes his head, wiping the blood off his face with the back of his hand. "I suppose that's all you Greeks know how to do, talk shit."

"Easy Jason," Percy warns, anger rising in him as well like a pot of hot water coming to a steady boil. "You're sister's Greek."

His face darkens. "And where is she now, Percy?"

"Jason—"

"Where is she now?" he growls, taking a step forward.

Protectively, Annabeth comes to stand beside her long lost friend. "Watch it."

Jason grits his teeth. "Why don't you stay out of this, scortum? You've already done enough."

"Don't ever call her that," Percy snaps, shoving Jason back. He's probably broken a dozen laws just by doing that but he doesn't too much care. "You know better."

"Oh, so the great Child of the Prophecy, Hero of Olympus, is going to lecture me on being better?"

That's how it starts: Percy's uppercut bashing the right side of Jason's face with the son of Jupiter immediately countering. Chaos erupts, Greeks and Romans rushing in to defend their respective leaders. Reyna and Annabeth are the first at each other's throats. Jason and Percy fight each other, releasing the tension that's been building up over the past few years.

Smaller fights break out: Travis Stoll exchanging punches with Bobby, Katie Gardner trying to choke the living daylights out of Hazel, Butch with Dakota in a headlock, Gwen kicking Pollux in the groin, and Frank tackling that Ares girl, Clarisse.

Apollo kids, the only ones from both sides who've managed to actually get along, run around trying to break up the brawls, only to find themselves being dragged into it. No one's sure how long this goes on until they hear a faint yell.

"HEY!"

The Apollo kids catch this but the others keep trying to beat each other to death. What does get their attention is the very loud sound of thunder echoing off the buildings of Elysium, like hearing two trucks colliding together; impossible to miss.

Everyone lets go of their opponent, startled. They turn towards two demigods running up the main street towards city hall.

Percy's eyes widen. "Nico? Thalia?"

Thalia stops in her tracks, gaping at her long-lost friend. "Percy fucking Jackson?" But she doesn't get to go into the string of insults forming in her head. She stares at the praetor of the Twelfth Legion, her face running pale.

"Jason?" she says loudly, her voice breaking.

Recognition dawns on his face. "Thalia?"

She surges forward, hardly containing her emotions. Quickly, she collects him in a bone-crunching hug. Getting over his initial shock, he wraps his arms around Thalia without hesitation, despite the intense throbbing of his face.

Percy turns towards the others, masking a perfect shit-eating grin with relative ease. "I guess I'll make it official then. Romans, Thalia Grace. Greeks, Jason Grace."

Chapter Text

Every parting is a form of death, as every reunion is a type of heaven.

-Tryon Edwards


Thalia hugs her brother for a long time despite her friends' backward glances (because honestly, who knew she was a hugger?). Her brother. She loves saying that after years of believing she'd never be a sister again.

"But I'm older than you," Jason says, pulling away to get a better look at his sister's face, grasping on tighter as if she were but an illusion ready to disappear at any moment. "How are you so…"

"…young? I spent some years as a tree," she says nonchalantly, earning a dozen more strange looks. "Then I joined the Hunters of—"

"Diana? My friend Ella joined when she was ten. I never saw her again after that." He doesn't linger on the thought.

Romans and Greeks alike crowd around, bruises and cuts and all, listening eagerly. Even Reyna and Annabeth stand beside each other, curiosity filling their eyes.

"I thought you were dead!"

Thalia snorts. "I thought you were dead."

"But Juno… Hera… she told me—"

"You can't trust Hera," Thalia says sharply, her eyes flaring at the name of her least favorite goddess. "Especially if you're a child of Zeus. She hates all children of Zeus."

His eyebrows furrow. "When I was younger… she told me something about Zeus giving her my life as a peace offering. That was the day she became my patron. Does that make any sense to you?"

Thalia shakes her head. "Mom… she wouldn't have… You don't remember—No, of course you don't. You were so young… I doubt…"

"What?"

"Our mom was a complete bimbo, Jason," she blurts out, anger tinging her pale cheeks. "The only reason she caught Zeus's eye because she was a television actress and she was beautiful. But she drank, pulled stupid stunts. She was always in the tabloids. She could never get enough attention. Even before you were born, she and I argued all the time. She… she knew Dad was Zeus, and I think that was too much for her to take. It was like the ultimate achievement for her to attract the lord of the sky, and she couldn't accept it when he left."

Jason frowns. "But gods don't hang around."

"Yeah, well when I was about seven," she says, "Zeus started visiting Mom again. I think he felt bad about wrecking her life, and he seemed—different somehow. A little older and sterner, more fatherly toward me. For a while, everything was great. Mom loved having Zeus around, bringing her presents, causing the sky to rumble. She always wanted more attention. That's the year you were born. Mom… well, I never got along with her, but you gave me a reason to hang around. I just didn't trust her to look after you. Of course, Zeus eventually stopped coming by was about the time the monsters started attacking me. And then the crazy bitch started blaming Hera. She claimed the goddess was coming after you too—that Hera had barely tolerated my birth, but two demigod children from the same family was too big an insult. Mom even said she didn't even want to name you Jason, but Zeus insisted, as a way to appease Hera because the goddess liked that name. I didn't know what to believe."

Annabeth wipes the blood off of her lip. "So…how did you guys get separated anyway?"

Thalia's nails dig into the palm of her hand. "When Jason was two, Mom packed us in the car for a family vacation. We drove up north to this park she wanted to show us. I remember thinking it was strange because Mom never took us anywhere, and she was acting super nervous. I was holding his hand, walking him towards this big building in the middle of the park, and…"

She takes a shaky breath, staring at Jason's confused face.

"Mom told me to go back to the car and get the picnic basket. I didn't want to leave you alone with her, but it was only for a few minutes. When I came back… Mom was kneeling on the stone steps, hugging herself and crying. She said—she said you were gone. She said Hera claimed you and you were as good as dead. I didn't know what she'd done. I was afraid she'd completely lost her mind. I ran all over the place looking for you, but you'd just vanished. She had to drag me away, kicking and screaming. For the next few days I was hysterical. I don't remember everything, but I called the police on Mom and they questioned her for a long time. Afterward, we fought. She told me I'd betrayed her, that instead I should be supporting her, like she was the only one who mattered. Finally I couldn't stand it. Your disappearance was the last straw. I ran away from home, and I never went back. I thought you were gone forever. I never told anyone about you—not Annabeth or… Luke. It was just too painful."

"But I tried looking for you," Jason protests. "On my first quest, searching for the Trojan Sea Monster. But Juno stopped me. She told me that if I tried to dig up my past there would disastrous consequences. When I wouldn't listen to her, she told me you were dead. That you died in the same car crash as our Mom."

"That's bullshit," Thalia murmurs finally. "I'm standing in front of you, aren't I?"

Her eyes fix on his upper lip.

"What?" he demands.

"That scar," she smiles wryly. "You tried to eat a stapler when you were two."

He raises an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

Percy clears his throat. "Sorry to interrupt this family reunion but um…" he points his finger back towards the entrance to Elysium's city hall. Standing there, Athena and Mercury glare daggers at them, no doubt seeing the blood and bruises.

"Get in here," Mercury barks, ushering all of them inside.

No one says a word. Thalia and Nico are the last to filter in, taking their seats in the front row of stands. To be honest, they're not even supposed to be in trouble since they just got here but Thalia can't help but feel guilty anyway. At least, if they had arrived an hour prior, this whole fist fight could have been avoided.

"Well did you get it out of your system?" Mercury snarls finally, his voice bouncing around in the enclosed space of Elysium's town hall. It's much like the Senate House back in Camp Jupiter, only much larger. "Someone better answer me or Chaos help me..."

Thalia narrows her eyes. Never has he looked so much like Luke in that very moment and she wants to punch him for it.

"We need to know if something like this will happen again," Athena says more calmly, yet her voice still bares the slightest traces of fury.

Annabeth opens her mouth but the goddess cut her off with a harsh glare. "You, do not speak. I will share words with you later."

"A new war is approaching demigods," Mercury tells them, crossing his arms behind his back. "We don't have time to behave like children, especially now that we have to persuade the citizens of Elysium to rally with us. You all are the ones that need to persuade the heroes of old that our cause is serious. That we will do all that we can to take down Kronos. Is that understood?"

There's a collective sigh of agreement.

His anger melts away. "Then that leaves us one final task."

"I have a plan," Athena says thoughtfully. "And if executed correctly, it can and will succeed. But this is no simple mission, only requiring the best. Jason, Percy, Annabeth and Reyna please come forward."

Wearily, they move from their seats towards the gods. They look pitiful: their faces are scratched and bruised, dried blood sticking to their hair. But nevertheless, Athena continues.

"If we are to win this war we must free the six sons and daughters of Kronos, as well as the other Olympians. Heroes, it is this task that will be assigned to you. Annabeth and Reyna, you will go to the ruins of Olympus and find Hera. Percy and Jason, you will seek out Hestia in the land beyond the gods. Alaska."

Annabeth and Reyna raise an eyebrow as Percy stares at the two Olympians in disbelief. Jason remains cold and impassive.

"Is that a problem?" Mercury asks.

"No, my Lord," they all murmur quickly, knowing better than to make him upset again.

He smiles wickedly. "Good."

"Thalia and Nico," Athena says. "You two will head to Tartarus. A select few will be given the task of distracting the Titan forces. The rest will launch a surprise attack on a freight train heading towards Southern Nevada. It harbors the weapons of the gods and is headed straight for Area 51. Romans and Greek must work together in order to retrieve them, for we are nothing without our symbols of power. In order for this all to unfold, each of these assignments must be carried out at exactly the same moment. Until the time comes we stay in Elysium." The goddess of wisdom turns away. "It is Reyna's job to start everyone on a new training regimen."

No one protests. With their determined look, the demigods smirk in acceptance. This is a challenge too great to pass up.


It feels like only a couple days pass before their orders are doled out. But time is a tricky thing here in the Underworld and, for all they know, months could've gone by.

Nico wanders towards the outer gates of Elysium. As far as training goes, it's never quite held his attention. His powers are more defensive than they are offensive, requiring enormous amounts of energy. Being forced into close quarters with his friends for so long only proves to be taxing.

He surveys the landscape beyond the gold barrier, cutting through chaos of monsters attempting to knock the golden gates down, and straight in the heart of the Underworld. The first time, he and Thalia were lucky. They managed to squeeze themselves into the Fields of Asphodel and avoid the headache. This time, it's different. Soon enough they'll have to take on demons, gods, and ghosts hell-bent on stopping them from reaching Tartarus.

He lets out a sigh.

"Why the long face little brother?"

Figures.

Nico rolls his eyes, his mouth forming a small smile. "It's about time, Bianca."

He turns around slowly, looking at the shade of his deceased sister. When Nico sees her smile it feels like someone punching him in the gut.

"Sorry for being late," she tells him. "Honestly, I planned to see you sooner but they needed my help down at the infirmary. Your friends are particularly skilled at beating themselves to death."

"So I heard," he smirks. "Did Clarisse really dislocate her shoulder?"

Bianca laughs. "Yeah. It was hilarious. She kept trying to punch Michael Yew every time he tried to set it back in place. She doesn't get the whole 'you can't beat up a ghost' thing."

The word ghost makes his grimace. He doesn't want to think of Bianca like that, being dead. Even with him being nineteen and her still being fourteen, Nico likes to think she's still alive, that she's still his big sister.

Bianca catches his expression. "Nico…"

"I miss you, Bianca," Nico says hoarsely. "I miss you a lot. And now we're going our separate ways again."

She sighs, wrapping her arms around him. Apart of her starts to wonder when he'd gotten so tall. "I know, Nico. I know."

They stay like that for a moment before Nico starts to shake. He's laughing. Bianca looks at her brother, questioning his sanity. "What?"

"It's stupid. You can hug a ghost but you can't punch one."

She wants to tell him that there's a little something called consent but shrugs instead. "Hey, I didn't make the rules." Bianca pats the top of his head. "Be careful out there, yeah? If you end up in the Fields of Punishment I will be incredibly pissed."

"Have a little faith, will you?" He grins. "We both know this isn't a goodbye."

Chapter Text

If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

- John Wooden


 10:59pm

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

They stand right at the outer gates of Elysium. Thalia looks at her watch, tapping her foot on the black grass ever so impatiently. She can't stand it, being the last ones to leave. By now her friends are gone, off getting into position. Thalia hopes Athena's plan will work, it has to work. That, or a lot of people will end up dead.

One minute, she tells herself. Just one.

Her thoughts whirl.

Will their mission be successful? Or will they both fail?

Will Kronos find Thalia, kill Nico, and do unspeakable things to her? Has he already taken his anger out on Artemis? Does he know of Athena's plan? Does he know Thalia is in the Underworld? Does he plan to overrun Thalia and Nico with monsters as soon as they step out of those gates?

Her head throbs for the endless supply of worry.

She feels a hand on her shoulder, "You okay?"

Thalia nods, "Fine. Really, I'm fine."

Nico grimaces, obviously not convinced. He glances at his watch, his frown deepening. "Time to go."

Jason and Percy—Somewhere Over Canada

It's been two hours since they left. The tension between the two of them is thick enough to cut with the Minotaur's axe. They haven't spoken to each other since yesterday.

Percy's the first to break the silence. After all, in the Roman camp before the Greeks came, Jason had been his friend. One of the bests. He was patient (somewhat) and understanding (somewhat). "I'm sorry."

Jason glances over, eyebrows knit together in confusion. "For what?"

"You know," Percy mumbles. "For… everything. For turning your life upside down, getting Hannibal to sit on you, accidentally short-circuiting Argentum, freaking out the Lares, insulting your hair those bunch of times, getting you in trouble with Mercury, running in the Praetor elections… being a Greek. I'm sorry."

Jason pauses for a moment. "Well, you're a better person than me Percy."

"I don't—"

"You had the guts to apologize," he interjects. "That is something you won't normally see a Roman do. But, for what it's worth, I'm sorry too. You know, for embarrassing you that first day you came to camp and for killing you all those bunch of times, and for cheating the praetor elections, and for giving Octavian your panda pillow pet, and for making fun of your weird obsession with Annabeth."

Percy laughs, "You cheated in praetor elections?"

Jason smirks, "Sadly, I did. I was jealous, if you must know. And I felt horrible afterwards."

"Well damn," he muses. "I actually had a chance. That's good to know."

The son of Jupiter shakes his head, "Greeks."

11:20pm

Distraction Team—Pasadena, California

"Taco Bell," Frank growls. "We're seriously stopping at Taco Bell!"

Travis Stoll rolls his eyes, from the front of the line. "Well duh! I'm fucking hungry man."

The cashier looks at the group of demigods, taking in their pointy weapons and bulky bags (which are most likely filled with explosives). "Uh… c-can I…help you?"

"Um yeah," Travis says, setting his sword down beside the register. "Can I get a Volcano Taco with sour cream and a large diet Pepsi?"

"Ew, you drink diet Pepsi?" Bobby, son of Mercury, snickers behind him.

"It's good!" Travis protests.

Connor Stoll grins, "Whatever you say, Travis…"

Everyone erupts into laughter, except for Frank. "This is ridiculous," the son of Mars protests. "We're wasting time!"

"Dude, Connor and I are messing with powerful explosives," the older Stoll brother says. "On empty stomachs, we won't be able to think straight. So unless you want a one-way ticket to the Fields of Punishment, let me eat my damn taco!"

Frank groans, "How did I get stuck with you guys?"

Connor grimaces, "If I buy you a 7-Layer Burrito, will you shut up?"

Chris Rodriguez steps up to the frightened cashier, "Can I get seven Soft Taco Supremes, a Crunch Wrap Supreme, and an Enchirito? Oh, and a side of Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes."

"Are you kidding me!" Frank exclaims, staring at Chris in disbelief. "We have to blow up that building"—he points to the glass dome across the street— "in forty minutes and you plant to eat all that? You're insane!"

He narrows his eyes, "I'm Latino, man. Don't judge my taco eating skills."

"Besides," Connor says. "We sent the girl's on it. They're scouting out the building, looking for weak spots. Kelsey from Athena's trying to map out the best places to set the explosives. We've got it all under control."

Frank fumes for a moment, "Fine but when you're done placing orders, make sure to knockout the cashier. We don't need anyone calling the T.A.R.D unit or anything."

"Yes sir, Mr. Zhang, sir," Chris mocks.

"Mars kids," Travis muses. "It's like they think they're commanding the military or something."

Connor smirks. "You're not really gonna get someone to knockout the cashier, are you?"

He spares at glance at the kitchen, "Nope. Frank wants a distraction, right? Well our little friend in the back is gonna help us out with that."

11:30pm

Apollo Kids—Southern Nevada

"It's 11:30, where are you?" Malcolm demands.

"Half a mile from Point B," Will Solace says, speaking into his headset. "No sign of the freight train yet."

"Good, you're early. According to my coordinates, it's twenty miles away from you're area. Send Phoebe, Leo and Octavian to scout the tunnel. We need them to jump on that train in ten minutes. Understood?"

"Got it." Will smirks, "Tell Aria I said hello."

"Dude, I'm serious. Stay away from my sister."

"What? Mal…colm c-can you hear me? I'm sorry, I-I-I think we're brea… breaking up."

"You're an idiot."

Will rips the head set away, "Anyone wants this shit?"

Austin smirks, "No thanks Will, you're in charge. Malcolm's your headache now."

"I couldn't agree more," Kayla laughs. "So what are we doing?"

"That's a very good question," Solace tells them, glancing at the moon behind him. "Phoebe, Leo, Octavian, where are they?"

"They just left," she tells him, stringing her bow. "They went to check out the train tunnel."

"Good, good. That's exactly what we need them to do," he says, turning back towards the train tracks. "Leslie, I'm gonna need those binoculars. Get Hazel on the two-way, ask her how far behind she is from the train. Ryan, see if you can get in contact with Phoebe through the headset."

Distraction Team—Pasadena, California

"Where's Chris?" Frank hisses, ducked behind a bush.

"He had to use the bathroom," Connor replies. "You know him and beans."

The Greeks laugh. The Romans don't understand the joke.

"Anyway," Kelsey says, rolling her eyes. "We've scouted the—"

"I'm here!" Chris hollers, bursting in through the bushes. Everyone shushes him. "Jeeze, you think I stumbled into a library—"

"As I was saying," Kelsey interrupts. "We've scouted out the weak points of the building." She pulls out a crudely drawn map of the five story building. "Here, here, here, here, and here is where we'll set the charges." She points to the first, second, third and fifth floors and finally the basement.

Travis frowns, "Aw, poor fourth floor. Don't you think it'd like to get blown up too?"

Kelsey continues, ignoring him. "Frank, you take the second floor. Plant your charge in the boiler room. Katie G. you're taking the kitchen, third floor. Miranda and Chris, you get the basement. Be careful though. From our time in Vegas I've learned not to trust basements." The Greeks shudder in unison. "Lacy, you get the hard one. The chandelier in the lobby. First floor. But I think you'll be able to manage. Connor, Travis and Bobby you guys take the woman's bathroom on the fifth floor. The rest of us we'll set them down here around the building. Is that clear?"

Bobby gapes at her, "I'm sorry, what?"

"Are you trying to destroy our manhood?" Travis grunts.

"What manhood?" Drew scoffs, checking her nails.

Kelsey shakes her head, "I swear if you guys interrupt me one more time…" she shakes her head. "Anyway, everyone else is with me. We'll be standing guard to make sure no one gets in or out. It's important for all of you to realize that we have the hardest mission. We can't screw up or it'll kill us all. Is that understood?"

"Such the pessimist," Bobby sighs.

Percy and Jason—Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

The land beyond the gods. Alaska.

Why couldn't Hestia be trapped in fucking Hawaii?

It's not like Percy couldn't handle the frigid snow. After all, he was from New York. But, unlike the other demigods, Percy and Jason were on their own. No headsets. No radios. No monitoring at all. If they died, no one would know. If something went wrong on another mission, if the other demigods were being massacred or imprisoned, they wouldn't know either.

On the plus side, being with Scipio and Blackjack, Percy was getting "hip" (as Blackjack would put it) with everything going on in the stables.

"It's not my fault!" Blackjack protests. "She was all over me!"

"Right…" Scipio tells him sarcastically, beating the ice off of his wings. "So you just so happen to magically appear in Arion's stable and started messing around with his mate? That's bullshit, Blackjack."

"She invited me in!"

He rolls his eyes, "Yeah, I guess that explains the broken door."

"She's a hot unicorn, GOSH!" Blackjack exclaims. Sue me!"

"I won't need to sue you. Arion will rip out your throat before I get the chance," Scipio grumbles.

Blackjack whinnies, "Skippy, you're my friend right?"

"No," the Pegasus says flatly.

The graceus horse pays no mind to that, "And your friends with Arion too! Please don't let him hurt my gorgeous face. It was an accident—

"Not." Scipio interjects.

and I shouldn't be harmed because of an accident!"

"Accidents," Jason's horse muses. "Like what happened three days ago with you ate all of Arion's apples?"

"I'm detecting biased here." Blackjack accuses. "Besides, it's not like they were labeled!"

"You my, friend, are an epic fail."

"Besides," Blackjack continues. "Arion's girlfriend probably wants a real horse. One that can satisfy all her needs."

Scipio shakes his head, "He's the fastest horse alive. I'm sure he has no trouble in 'satisfying' his girlfriend's needs."

"But can he fly?" Scipio doesn't respond to this. "Yeah, I didn't think so."

Romans and Greeks—Southern Nevada

"Hazel, pick up! Over."

"Talk to me Solace. Over."

"How far are you behind? Over."

"Quarter of a mile. Why? Over."

"Okay. I need you to tell Arion to slow down. And stay out of sight. We don't need the monsters to see you yet. Over."

"I'm getting tired of saying over. Over."

"You're not the only one. Over."

The freight train rumbles a distance away. Kronos must be in a hurry; freight trains never travel at such a speed. Immediately, Hazel's reminded of Will's request. She orders the cavalry to slow their pace, allowing for the demigods on the backs of Pegasus to continue on, just in case. From the short time Hazel had met Will Solace, she knew he was smart. But his plans weren't as full proofed as a Minerva kid's.

But still, she follows his orders. With a simple hand motion, the others fallback. The unicorns breathe a sigh of relief. Hazel pats Arion's neck, signaling him to slow to a trot. The horse whinnies in disdain.

She glances at her watch.

11:40pm

Katie Gardner—Kitchen (third floor)—Pasadena, California

The lights are off. Good.

Katie slips in unnoticed, staring at her surroundings despite the lack of light. Where could she put the charge without it being seen?

She opens the refrigerator. Instantly, she regrets her decision. "Who the fuck keeps an arm in their refrigerator?" Katie whispers to herself, shutting the door.

Katie glances at the sink. Perfect.

She opens the cabinet filled with soaps and sponges. It smells horribly of mold. Katie reaches into her small travelling bag, pulling out a complicated piece of equipment and a roll of duct tape. She attaches the charge underneath the sink quickly and quietly, putting the roll of duct tape back in her bag and shutting the cabinet slowly. Unfortunately it makes a loud motherfucking creak.

The lights flick on.

Katie grabs her knife, throwing it with near perfect precision. The Empousa doesn't even have time to scream. She falls with a thud, disintegrating. Katie wipes the sweat off her eyebrow, letting out a breath she didn't realize she was holding.

"Katie." The voice through her headset nearly scares the shit out of her.

"What?" she hisses back, holding a hand over her racing heart.

"It's Lacy," the voice whispers back. "I need your help."

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

The good thing about being a son of Hades, Nico comes to realize, is you have a lot of connections. By some twisted turn of fate, it turns out Daedalus still works as the Underworld's architect. It's not like Nico planned to run into him, but when being chased by Keres, he'd pee his pants at chance of seeing a friendly face (not literally, that's just gross).

"The entrance to Tartarus in the Fields of Asphodel was closed off years ago," Daedalus tells them, stroking his beard thoughtfully as they hide behind a newly constructed overpass. "There is another way though."

"Um… yeah about that Daedalus?" Nico says. "We don't have Medea's sunscreen so taking a swim in the Phlegethon won't work."

"Not that way, fool," Daedalus scowls, earning a smile from Thalia. "There is a different entrance, one in Persephone's garden. If you can get past Hecate's hound Sirius this tunnel will lead you straight into hell."

"Sirius?" Thalia asks, eyebrows furrowed.

The old son of Athena nods warily. "Sirius. A fearsome two-headed dog, the height of Cerberus. He may seem like just another mutated hellhound at first but do not underestimate him. He's large but quick on his feet with the tail of a rattlesnake and the roar of a lion. And whatever you do, do not let him bite you. He'll be marked with your scent forever and follow you to the ends of earth until he sees you destroyed. Or, until Hecate calls him off. But I wouldn't count on that."

"No pressure," she snorts. "So how do we kill it?"

"Killing it wouldn't fix a thing," Daedalus grumbles. "He'll reform in a matter of minutes. But, if you can put him to sleep, you can survive."

"Then how do we put it to sleep?" Nico questions.

Daedalus rolls his eyes, "This is a creature of the night, boy. And you travel with a spawn of Zeus. Think, Di Angelo!"

Percy and Jason—Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

"There!" Percy points just as the hooves of the horses touch the ice.

"Damn, that's cold!" Blackjack shudders, coming to a graceful stop. Scipio doesn't have as much luck. He slips and slides, trying to regain his balance in this odd frozen wasteland.

"Californians," Percy and Blackjack snort in unison.

Ahead of them sits a frozen Roman camp, a ghastly supersized replica of Camp Jupiter. But unlike their home back in America this place is dead. There is no sign of life. The gates are wide open with no sentries walking the walls.

Blackjack skitters nervously. Percy and Jason dismount their horses, testing their feet on the ground. Everything seems stable. They look around, trying to detect any sort of traps. But nothing. Only icy gates and frozen banners being whipped by the wind.

"Come on, don't be a chicken horse," Scipio sniffles, taking tentative steps towards the Roman camp. Percy and Jason shrug, following him.

Blackjack huffs, "You're gonna get us killed, just watch!"

Walking through the gates towards the snow-bricked principa, Percy can see straight down the Via Praetoria and right at the crossroads is a blue little girl in a simple brown dress. She's frozen on her knees right in front of the Praetorian Gate, palms open as if she's a faun begging for a coin.

"Hestia," Percy whispers sadly.

Jason looks around uneasily, "It could be a trap Percy."

"I don't care." The son of Poseidon moves forward, leaving Jason and the horses no option but to follow. The layout is too familiar. It's like an exact replica of Camp Jupiter only much, much bigger. But soon they find themselves stopping five feet away from the little goddess. Here, Percy can see the frost on her lips, clinging to her brown hair. Her eyes look like their glued shut. She looks like a statue, as if she's been trapped in ice since the Stone Age. Both Pegasus canter back and forth, warily.

"Hestia?" Percy says.

Her eyes snap open, making Scipio jump. "P-P-Percy Ja…ack-kson?"

The whole camp springs to life. Figures in Roman armor burst from the barracks, the principa, the armory and the canteen. But they're not human. Ghosts, they're bodies nothing but wisps of black vapor. And yet they manage to hold onto frost-covered armor, helmets, swords, shields and pila. It's more Imperial gold than Jason's ever seen in his life-time.

"I told you so," Jason mutters.

From the stables emerges a ghost-like horse the color of night. On his back is a girl in a silk white dress. Her skin is pale, like the color of the glacier, contrasting with her dark hair. Her deep set browns eyes glared daggers at them, conflicting greatly with the cold smile on her lips.

"Heroes," she muses. "Just—exactly—what do you think you are doing?"

Phoebe, Leo, Octavian—Southern Nevada

"Do you know those odd twins, the…Snatch brothers, I believe?" Octavian asks Leo as Phoebe keeps her eyes glued on the horizon.

Leo's eyes brighten a tad, "You mean the Stolls?"

Phoebe whips around hissing, "Those little bastards, yes, one of these days I'll—"

"Um, yeah," Leo interrupts, giving Phoebe a strange look. "They're a riot. Why?"

"They tried to sell me a raccoon, yesterday…" Octavian ponders the idea. What on earth could he do with a raccoon?

The Greek raises an eyebrow, "They haven't got rid of Chad yet?"

"Chad?"

"Long story," Leo admits. "Has to do with a bearded lady from one of those sleazy circuses. Actually, I think Chad is—"

"Will you shut up?" Phoebe snaps, turning on the both of them. "I am trying to concentrate and your annoying babbling is driving me crazy. Sit and there and be quiet and we shall have no further problems."

"Looks like someone's got centaur blood in their shirt, eh?"

Before Phoebe can pummel him, Will voice comes through the headset. "Phob, ya there?"

She pinches the bridge of her nose, "I'm going to crush this little legacy into—"

"You can kill him later," Will interrupts. "Or better yet, send him through the air ducts. He's skinny enough Tell him to set the explosives. Over."

"Can I lock him in air vent when he's done?"

"Sadly, no. You'll just have to hope he gets stuck."

She growls, "That does nothing to help me. Besides, Octavian's an idiot. I rather have Leo in there than him."

"HEY!" Octavian protests.

"QUIET fool."

"Um… okay. Anyway, you have to say over. Over."

This confuses her. "Over? What's over?"

Will sighs, "Nothing. That's how your supposed to talk over radio. Over."

She shakes her head, "I remember back in the old days my kind were less idiotic."

"I didn't make the rules. Over."

"Shut up with your damn over!"

"….over?"

Connor, Travis and Bobby—Woman's Bathroom (fifth floor)—Pasadena, California

Bobby slips out of the bathroom. The door swings back into place, Women engraved on its center. "It's all clear."

Travis shudders, "Connor, if you love me, don't make me go in there."

"We all have to make sacrifices," Connor grimaces, grabbing his brother's arm. "It's gonna be okay. We'll make it through this together."

Bobby grabs Travis's other arm, "It's okay, man. Trust me, it's not that bad. It's way cleaner than any bathroom in the Fifth Cohort."

Travis glares at him, "They've brainwashed you. Oh my gods, I think I'm gonna be sick."

"Oh, brother," Connor murmurs, hauling Travis forth. "You think we were going into hell."

"We are going into hell!" he hisses back.

Frank—Boiler Room (second floor)—Pasadena, California

Frank finds himself in a room with a bunch of loud machines and weird doohickeys. He was never a big technology guy before but even an idiot can read the sign on the door that says Boiler Room. So he gets inside, pulls the charge out of his backpack and a roll of duct tape. Boy, did he love duct tape. Last year he'd taped Octavian to a bus and shipped him halfway to Arkansas. Yup, him and duct tape go a long way.

Frank tapes the charge to the biggest and loudest machine. That's a problem, considering he can't really hear what's behind him. It's his instincts that keep him alive.

He whirls around, slamming the butt of his spear into a Telekhine's face. The thing screeches and jumps at him. He stabs it in the neck, not waiting to watch it turn into gold dust. In the doorway, a thin hellhound with piercing red eyes growls. He picks up his backpack from the ground, watching the monster carefully. He's careful to keep his spear up.

The monster disappears with a loud bark.

"Ah shit," Frank shouts, following the hellhound. The little bitch could ruin the whole operation.

"Frank!" Shit. Kelsey. She'd kill him if she knew about the hellhound.

Uh…. Yeah?" he answers, trying to sound as unsuspicious as he can.

It's silent on the other side for a while as she shouts orders. "We need you outside. Are you finished?

"Uh, yeah."

"Good. Come out and don't alert anyone."

"Uh, yeah."

...Are you okay?

"Uh, yeah."

11:45pm

Reyna and Annabeth—Manhattan, New York

For seven years Manhattan had been left unchanged. Wandering through the city, Annabeth can feel herself being lost in the memories, as if the war never happened. But as both she and Reyna stop at the intersection of W 34th Street and 5th Avenue, the memories are gone in the blink of an eye.

"Come on," Annabeth says coldly, walking down that abandoned part of 5th Avenue. The buildings surrounding them are boarded up, the sidewalk lined with weeds and trash. A cat hisses at them from the front of mini mart. Rusty trash cans and broken pipes litter the street. And then there's the Empire State Building. It's empty, cold and alone. Most of the windows are broken accompanied with smoking craters and the bodies of dead birds lining the broken doors to the lobby. Really, that's all Annabeth really processes before looking away. The building's too horrible for her to just stare at without bursting into tears.

Even Reyna cringes at the sight of the Empire State building's deplorable appearance. "This place appears much better in photographs."

"It used to be amazing," Annabeth tells her numbly. "Now, not so much."

"I wouldn't have known," Reyna says stiffly.

Annabeth stares at her, "You've never been to Olympus before?"

"No Roman has," her tone bares the slightest hint of jealousy. "Coming here was forbidden."

Annabeth nods, unsure what to say. She glances at her watch awkwardly, fidgeting with the strap of her backpack.

"Annabeth?"

She looks up with a mixture of uncertainty. Reyna fidgets, "I…I'm, you know… I—"

"Apology accepted."

Distraction Team (Kelsey's group)—Pasadena, California

Kelsey taps her headset, "Kevin, Mitchell, report."

No answer.

"Kevin, Mitchell. Report."

Nothing.

"KELSEY!" Mitchell. She runs, whistling for backup. Only to realize, she doesn't need it. Kevin's dead, lying head first in the grass with blood dripping out of his ear. Mitchell clutches his leg, trying to stop the blood from leaking out of the wound on his thigh.

Kelsey bends down to help him, pulling a medical kit out of her pack. "What happened?"

He grits his teeth, "Two Empousai coming out of the building. They sniffed us out and attacked. Kevin killed one. The other jumped up and him and…" Mitchell shakes his head in shame. "She bit me and I killed her."

The daughter of Athena wraps a bandage around his leg, "You're gonna be fine Mitchell." She taps her headset, "Drew, Calvin. Barricade the doors. Those bitches are gonna burn alive in there."

"What about the others?"

Kelsey grimaces, "Warn them what your about to do. Tell them they'll have to be creative in planning their escape routes."

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

Multicolored mushrooms, poisonous shrubs, and luminous plants surround them. Sprouting from the black grass, diamonds and rubies appeared randomly like a millionaire's fantasy.

"Don't touch anything," Nico warns Thalia, stepping over silver flowers with little remorse.

"Don't tell me what to do," she grumbles back.

But instead of touching things (something she'd normally do because, hey, Nico told her not to), Thalia thinks back to her first quest with Nico, retrieving Hades' sword. Funny how different things we're back then, how she would have never considered Nico as a friend. Odd how things turn out.

In the center of the garden, tall trees with orange blossoms and sweet-smelling fruit surround a crystal clear lake. Nico pauses here.

"What?" she asks him.

"I can feel it," he answers.

Thalia rolls her eyes, "I'm not psychic, Nico. You'll have to be a little more specific than that."

"The entrance to Tartarus, Thalia. It's here somewhere just… help me find it."

Thalia weaves around tree trunks, unsure of what to look for. With Nico's attention elsewhere, she plucks a pomegranate from a nearby branch. As soon as the fruit occupies her hand, the tart smell floods her nose. It's overwhelming, to say the least. But one thing about Thalia? She hates pomegranates. The fruit slips from her hand, rolling away.

As soon as that happens, something like a hiss sounds from nearby.

"Did you hear that?" Nico says suddenly.

Thalia crosses her arms over her chest. "Hear what?"

"That…never mind."

Apollo's Archers—Southern Nevada

Waiting for a train to pass by and, you know, having ADHD? It's like putting together a recipe for disaster. The Apollo kids aren't sure what to do with themselves, at first. They sit around in the sand, stringing their bows, tapping their fingers, anything just to pass the time.

John, a Roman kid, starts humming a tune. Instantly, everyone's ears pitch in to the sound.

Victoria smiles knowingly, "Revolution?"

He nods, winking at her before starting the melody over again.

Will rolls his eyes, "You say you want a revolution

Well, you know

We all want to change the world

You tell me that it's evolution

Well, you know."

"We all want to change the world," Victoria sings.

But when you talk about destruction

Don't you know that you can count me out."

Leslie stands, bow slung over her back, "Don't you know it's gonna be all right."

"All right, all right," all the Apollo kids chant together, clapping their hands to the beat.

Austin laughs, "You say you got a real solution

Well, you know

We'd all love to see the plan

You ask me for a contribution

Well, you know."

Will jabs Maya in the shoulder, ushering her to sing. "We're doing what we can

But when you want money

For people with minds that hate

All I can tell is brother you have to wait."

"Don't you know it's gonna be all right," Leslie belts again.

"All right, all right," they sing in unison. "Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah..."

Will starts snapping his fingers, "You say you'll change the constitution

Well, you know

We all want to change your head

You tell me it's the institution

Well, you know. You better free your mind instead."

Maya jumps to her feet, "But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao

You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow."

"Don't you know it's gonna be all right," Leslie sings one last time.

"All right, all right," they chant. "All right, all right, all right

All right, all right, all right."

Kayla sighs when the song ends, twirling an arrow between her finger. "We haven't done one of those since Michael Yew died."

Austin nods glumly, "Yeah, well, who could blame us? He knew how to do a badass Mark whenever we sang La Vie Boehme."

"What song did we sing anyway?" twelve year old Jessica, a newbie, asks.

Will's eye twitches, "Haven't you ever heard of the Beatles?"

"No."

Will and the other older Apollo kids gasp in horror. "So what, do you listen to Justin Beaver or some shit?" he sneers.

"Yes."

Will turns away from Jessica, shaking his head in bewilderment. "Get…get out, just—get her out my sight before I do something I'm going to regret."

"Oh you did it now," Leslie scolds the young Apollo girl. "He's gonna nag about this for the rest of the night."

Will tries to come up with a witty retort but his train of thought gets off track when he hears an angry, muffled shout. He grabs the headset that's been sitting in the dirt, putting it to his ear, only to be mauled by the sound of a very irritated Malcolm.

"Where the fuck have you been? Do you realize the target is right in front of you travelling at 120 miles per hour?"

"Wait, what?" Will looks over the rock barrier and sure enough the train is there, right in front of them, heading straight towards the tunnel.

"Shit, GET INTO POSITION!"

"Oh, now you're worried."

Will ignores the voice in his ear, grabbing his bow. He rips a sonic arrow from his sheath, notching it in less than a second, sending it flying straight towards the first monster he sees. A burst of color and noise bounces off of the train, disintegrating some and knocking off others who are then impaled by the cavalry trailing behind. The other Apollo kids fire.

"Spread out, fast," Will orders, just as a wave of flaming javelins illuminate the night. The Apollo kids duck and roll in different directions. Like a well-oiled machine, they get on their knees in sync and let loose another round.

Train cars open their doors. Dracaenas in armor pour out. Will tries to concentrate. "Jacob, start the Jeep. Leslie, Ryan, Kayla and Jessica. When I give the signal, we go in the vehicle the rest of you will stay here."

"Sir, yes, sir." Cheesy, but he likes it. Will smiles proudly, firing three explosive projectiles in rapid succession while humming to the instrumental Know Your Enemy by Green Day. The others pick up the tune quickly, their voices resonating against the chilly desert.

Travis, Connor and Bobby—Women's bathroom (fifth floor)—Pasadena, California

"Come on! How hard it is to strap down a stupid bomb?" Travis shouts, keeping watch for the door. "If I have to suffer the smell of flowers any minute longer, I'll blow your fucking head off."

"It's not my fault Bobby dropped the duct tape in the toilet!" Connor retorts, his torso obscured from view as he tries to tape the charge inside the vent above the toilet.

Bobby grunts, doing his best to keep Connor from falling off of his shoulders. "Are you guys always this stupid?"

Travis rolls his eyes, mumbling under his breath. "Says the one you can't hold on to tape."

Connor's grip on the bomb slips. "Bobby, grab it!"

"I'm holding onto you, dumbass!"

A splash echoes.

"Shit," Bobby curses. "Travis we need your help."

The Stoll pinches the bridge of his nose, "Please tell me you didn't drop the charge in the toilet."

Connor pauses, "…We didn't drop the bomb in the toilet."

Travis stalks into the stall, wrinkling his nose in disgust. He reaches into the toilet bowl, fishing around for the stupid piece of equipment. With his sleeve dripping wet, he hands the electronic to Bobby who in turn hands it to Connor who dries it off with his shirt. "Thanks bro."

"If we die, I hope your punishment is having your head shoved in a toilet bowl."

"I love you too."

Finally, Connor rips off a piece of tape (that's actually sticky this time). He presses the button on the explosive.

"Is it working?" Bobby asks, his face red from the strain of holding Connor up.

The younger Stoll hesitates, "Travis, what's the time on your watch."

"11:45. Why?"

"Um… the bomb says 11:59. It's gonna blow in fifty seconds."

"What?" Bobby and Travis squeak in unison.

"It's okay," Connor says quickly. "I've watched a lot of spy movies. I pretty sure I can reroute it."

Travis scowls. "I hate you."

11:50pm

Reyna and Annabeth—Manhattan, New York

An eternal city, once the center of the universe, slowly fades from memory as Reyna and Annabeth trot up the broken cobblestone steps towards the palace of the gods. The place where minor gods frolicked, where the muses once sang, where nymphs once planted their lush gardens, is now a ghost town; rotting, decaying. Empty, deserted.

Fires no longer illuminate the golden braziers. Thick silver dust clings to columns and windows. Vines and fungus climb up rusty doors and walls, turning once magnificent homes dull shades of green, gray and brown. And this place, this place is far too quiet. Once, the sounds coming from Olympus were loud enough to rival those echoing from New York City. Not anymore.

Reyna pauses for moment, snapping Annabeth out of her daze. "Did you hear that?"

The daughter of Athena tears her eyes off of their grim surroundings. "Hear what?"

"I…hissing. I heard hissing." Annabeth makes a move to grab her knife but Reyna stops her. "No, it… it was probably just my imagination. Let's keep going."

Katie and Lacy—The Lobby (first floor)—Pasadena, California

Katie glances at the crowded lobby. "We need a distraction, Lace. That or we'll never be able to pull this off."

"Like what?"

Katie sighs, trying to think. She could grab a chair and knock out the lady at the front desk. Though the last thing she needs is people pointing weapons at her.

Something barrels down the hallway, interrupting her train of thought. When Katie turns around a black figure comes running straight towards her. Katie grabs her knife, ready for a fight. But the hellhound sprints right past her into the lobby.

She watches as everyone remains calm, as if this is nothing new to them. The hellhound trots over to the front desk. He sets his paws on the hard surface, whining something under his breath. The woman at the front desk nods, as if listening. Something changes in her expression. Her eyes turn red.

Empousa.

"Lacy?" Katie whispers into her headset. "Are you near the vent close to the chandelier?"

"Yes."

"Good, stay there. I'm gonna cause some trouble. If I do something stupid, don't try to save me. Just set the charge and get out of here, okay?"

"What are you going to do?"

"Nothing… too bad."

Katie jumps out from behind the wall, barreling into the lobby. She clutches her knife, flinging it towards the front desk. It stabs the wall a few inches from the hellhound's muzzle.

"Hey uglies!" she whistles, smiling. "Wanna tango?"

The hellhound growls. The woman's hair erupts into flames.

Yup. I'm screwed.

Phoebe, Octavian, and Leo—Southern Nevada

"Dear Apollo. Nope, I can't do it. I refuse to. No, no, no."

"Octavian just jump," Malcolm tells him calmly over the radio.

"But it'll kill me!"

"Like setting up explosives on a freight train over the speed limit won't."

Phoebe's nostrils flare, glaring at Octavian with intense hatred, "Listen to me legacy. You jump and die or I skewer and you die. Which is it?"

Leo shuffles uneasily, "Hey, Phob, maybe you should take it easy and—"

"Try to calm me again, Valdez, and you will be the first to jump off. I will not tolerate spineless fools, is that clear?"

He takes a cautious step back, "Hey Octavian, maybe you should jump. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? You… don't die and lie in agony with a broken body before the buzzards eat your remains? Doesn't sound like such a horrible way to go."

Malcolm's voice rings out from the two-way, "You have thirty seconds, guys."

Phoebe grabs Leo's backpack, pulling out a bundle of rope. "We solve this now."

She wraps rope around his midsection, tying it in a firm knot, before doing the same with Leo. He's doesn't protest, having known Phoebe long enough to know the girl doesn't take bullshit. When she steps towards Octavian, he moves away from her. "Oh no, I know what you're going to do, and it's going to get us killed."

"Listen you scrawny weakling, wrap this around yourself or I will pitch you down to tracks below and let the train squish your head like a grape. DO NOT piss me off, child."

Octavian doesn't argue.

Phoebe places her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes at the incoming train.

10, 9, 8, 7…

Leo smacks Octavian's arm to stop him from shivering.

5, 4, 3…

Phoebe crouches, waiting to spring. Two, long hunting knives are positioned in her hands.

1…

She jumps, her weight and momentum pulling the other two guys behind her. Octavian screams. A peal of laughter escapes Phoebe's lips just before she slams onto the roof of the train, knocking the air out of her. Leo and Octavian hit their face on the metal. Phoebe uses her knives to keep from falling off. Leo and Octavian, their weapons away, scramble to stay on.

"This is fun!" she shouts over the roar of the train.

Chris and Miranda—the Basement—Pasadena, California

Chris and Miranda hate basements. Vegas was… disgusting to say the least. They had met this chick there, Asteria, who happened to be the mother of Hecate. She was supposed to give them information. And apparently she had this weird obsession with pig erotica. Bring in gloomy basement that smelled like a horse's ass and you have a trip that'd probably scar your life forever.

"It smells like a morgue down here," Miranda murmurs, pulling a flashlight from her backpack.

"Better than a horse," Chris points out as they descend down the stairs. As they reach the bottom, he's able to find a light switch. Not that it makes things better.

The basement resembles a medieval hospital. The stone walls seem to hold in the choking stench of death. There are hospital beds close to the walls. Human-like bodies are covered in stained shrouds. There are at least a dozen refrigerators. And there's blood everywhere.

Miranda pales, "What is this place?"

"This building is the Empousa HQ," Chris tells her. "Five bucks they keep their snacks down here."

The sound of can being knocked over makes them freeze. Something quick scurries from the corner, dashing under a cot. It's too fast for them to really make out. Probably a rat.

"Hurry up and set the charge!" Miranda growls, keeping her voice low.

"Uh, right." Chris grabs the charge from his bag. Miranda throws him a roll of duct tape. The son of Hermes moves a small machine out of the way, taping the electronic to the wall. He presses a button and instantly the time appears on the screen.

He smiles at his handiwork. "Well, that was easy. Now let's get out of here. This place gives me the—"

A swarm of little bodies jump him. Mouths clamp down on his arms, ears, legs. Chris tries to swat them off but there are so many

Miranda screams, fumbling for her radio. "Come in, Travis, Katie, anyone. We need help. Code red. I repeat, code red. Protocol Sigma Minor!"

11:55pm

Reyna and Annabeth—Manhattan, New York

They attack when Annabeth and Reyna are least expecting it.

Annabeth knows where to go. With the thrones destroyed there's only one other place Hera's presence can be. The statue. The statue that tried to kill her in the final battle against Kronos on Mount Olympus. Sure, it fell on Thalia instead, but it was meant for Annabeth. She could feel it back then.

Nevertheless, Reyna follows Annabeth without question. She's trying hard, a little too hard, to make this whole partnership work. That in turn, leaves an unsettling awkward silence between them.

Then they burst from behind the rocks. Reyna and Annabeth stab instinctively. Reyna's knife disintegrates. A monster falls. The girls run.

Snakes. Little snakes. One rears back, spitting at the two sprinting demigods. A broken column ignites, catching fire.

Basilisks.

"Do you have any weasels?" Reyna shouts.

"No, fresh out," Annabeth retorts. "We have to get to the ruins of the palace. Hera can help us."

Reyna rips the small pack off of her shoulders, ripping open the zipper. She snatches a plastic bottle halfway filled with water. "Keep going, I'll stall them."

Annabeth's eyes widen, "Are you insane? Water won't help! They'll kill you!"

"Well we knew the odds," Reyna snaps. "No matter what happens, we need to free Hera. She maybe a manipulative bitch who rather see me eaten alive by a Cyclops than together with Jason but we need her."

Leo, Phoebe and Octavian—Southern Nevada

The army catches up to the train, charging the hellhounds. Monsters from inside the freight train break through the windows, come up through the emergency exits to join the battle only to find the three rebels holding on for dear life. The Apollo kids keep them from getting close.

"Over here!" Leo's managed to grab on to one of the emergency exits. Phoebe, with her knives, makes her way to him. Leo pulls Octavian closer, keeping him from falling. Phoebe's the first to go in dragging the two others behind her. Just as she regains her balance, a pod of dracaenas pounce on her.

"I AM A TITAN, FOOLS!" she bellows, slashing them into dust while at the same time slicing the rope.

Octavian looks at her with wide eyes, "Whatt?"

Leo rolls his eyes, "Well… yeah. Doesn't the name give you a clue?"

"But… then she's…"

"It's a long story," she cuts in, scowling. "One we needn't delve into at the moment."

"Right," Leo adds. He digs into his backpack, throwing a charge at Octavian. "I'm heading to the other cars to set the others. Octavian, I need you to set the one on the connecting rail to the car carrying the gods' weapons. Wrap it real good in duct tape so it doesn't fall off. Can you do that?"

"What about Phoebe?" the legacy demands.

She twirls a knife in her hand, "I protect Valdez."

"What about me!"

"No one cares about you," she grumbles, stalking towards the door leading to the other cars. Leo shrugs, following her. "Sorry man."

"You can't leave me alone!" Octavian protests.

Phoebe sneers, "We can and we will."

As they leave, Octavian grabs for his two-way. "Will, can you hear me? I think this hunter is trying to kill me."

It takes a moment for Will to respond, but he does, gritting his teeth. "Not my problem. Over."

Katie and Lacy—The Lobby (first floor)—Pasadena, California

"Don't look down, don't look down," Lacy squeals to herself, refusing to look at whatever Katie is doing. There's a series of crashes and angry screams but Lacy can't afford to glance at them being so high up. Besides she's almost done, taping the charge to the base of the pretty glass chandelier. She presses the little red button and the time pops up. She's so happy to be on time.

Lacy spares a glance downwards and her stomach curls. She slips back in the air vent quickly, dry heaving. Oh how she loathed heights. Lacy presses a finger to her headset, "It's all good now Katie, no one saw me. We can leave now."

Lacy waits a minute. There's silence below. Taking that as a good sign, hopefully, Lacy continues through the vent. Praying, she hopes to see Katie on the other side.

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

Thalia curses stumbles on a clump of weeds, thorns snagging to her pant leg. "Fuck this place, fuck Persephone, fuck the Underworld!"

She slices the weeds with her knife. They hobble, giving of a small whimper as they turn to ash. Thalia wipes the sweat off of her forehead, glancing behind her to see Nico fighting some kind of giant Venus Fly Trap.

"Stop playing with that thing and come on!" Thalia snaps.

Nico gives her the are-you-fucking-kidding me glare. He slices off the flower's stem without even glancing its way. Like the weeds, it whines and goes limp, turning an ugly shade of gray. "Playing? It was trying to fucking eat me!"

She stares at him, apathetic. "Nico, those bombs are going off in five minutes. We need to be in Tartarus by then. So work those odd super-Nico senses of yours and find that damn entrance."

"I'm not your slave!" He protests.

"I know," she smirks. "If you were you'd be a lot smarter."

Nico shakes his head in defeat, using his sword like a machete to cut through walls of silver vines.

"Don't you think it's odd?" he says suddenly, a thoughtful frown on his face.

"What?" she asks, keeping a distance away from his swinging sword.

"Don't you think it's odd we haven't seen Sirius yet?" Nico tells her. "After all, he's supposed to be guarding this place."

"Well let's try not the jinx it now."

"This way," Nico orders, pointing his sword in the direction of a bright red hedge. They wander into a field of dandelions when Nico breaks into run. "I can sense it!"

"Go, Lassie, go!" Thalia cheers sarcastically.

"Not funny!"

But both of them soon scowl as they stop abruptly. Before them is the same lake they'd seen five minutes ago, surrounded by orange pomegranate trees.

"You've gotta be kidding me!" Thalia exclaims.

"No, wait," Nico murmurs. "It's here. The entrance is here. I can't believe I didn't find it before."

"I'm not going to comment on that."

"Shut up, Thalia. You just did."

Cautiously, Nico circles the pond, earning a sideways glance from Thalia.

"The lake," he states. "It's in the lake."

"Excuse me?" she retorts.

"The lake," Nico repeats. "The entrance is in the lake."

"Are you—"

He cuts her off. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" she growls in frustration. "Nico, I think you're going c—"

Nico tackles her to the floor just as a giant gray blur flies over their heads. It's ugly. Well, truth be told, a lot of monsters are. But Daedalus description of Sirius had been a major understatement.

"See?" he exclaims. "I told you I'm not crazy!"

"No," the monster chuckles darkly. "But you are dead."

"Oh it talks," Thalia muses bitterly. "Can this trip get any better?"

The Distraction Team (Kelsey's group)—Pasadena, California

Kelsey hears the sirens before the actual police cars. She curses under her breath before ordering everyone to huddle around.

"I don't know how they got here," she tells them. "But the one thing about rebels? We don't go down without a fight. Use whatever you have: knives, arrows, guns, I'm not picky. But we have the element of surprise. So stay hidden until I give the order, got it?"

They nod in agreement.

T.A.R. D unit vehicles ram into the parking lot, their tires skidding on pavement. Police offers screech in after them. Voices shout, dogs bark and growl. Officers load their guns, fire ready.

Kelsey stays beside Rafe; he's their best sniper at the moment. He rips open his bulky bag, tossing her a hand gun and taking a much larger one for himself. The others grab whatever else is in Rafe's backpack of wonders, passing each other a weapon as if it's Thanksgiving dinner.

"You know we might not get out of this alive," he points out, staring down into the barrel of his gun.

She smiles, "What's life without couple of risks, huh?"

Connor and Bobby—Women's Bathroom—Pasadena, California

Bobby's shoulders are numb now. Not that it bothers him very much. "It's so quiet without your brother here."

Connor shrugs, crossing a blue and yellow wire, "Eh, he's just been stressing ever since our mission to Death Valley. I accidentally almost got our friend Butch killed. He's still in the infirmary trying to learn how to walk again."

"That bad?"

"Yup." Connor wipes away a drop of sweat from his forehead, dusting off his hands. "There, it's off."

Bobby's expression changes, "Off?"

The Stoll nods, "Yes sir. When the other bombs go off they should be powerful enough to shake this one up a bit and make it go kaboom."

"Nice to know," Bobby mutters. "Can you get off my shoulders now?"

"Aw, it's so comfortable up here."

Nevertheless, Connor does get down. "Well that was quick. And we still have five minutes. Just enough time to—"

The door to the bathroom swings open. A woman enters, screaming at the intruders. Her hand forms into claws and the lady lunges at them.

"Must you always jinx everything!" Bobby hollers at Connor, swinging one of the stall doors in the monster's face.

"Funny, that's what Travis says."

The Roman kid grabs Connor, hauling him out, "Jeeze, I wonder why?"

The Empousa screeches again and the two demigods break into a run.

Miranda, Chris and Travis—Basement—Pasadena, California

Travis strolls into the basement, whistling show tunes. Apparently he didn't understand the whole Sigma Minor debacle aka, the code word for Teumessian foxes. But then again, they're small monsters. How many could there be?

He stops whistling when he catches sight of the swarm.

The little red demons, able to fit in Travis's hand, scurry across the floor like a sea of red. They scream like little banshees, jumping on Chris and Miranda, dog piling them like angry bees.

"So… is the bomb in place?"

"Dammit, YES!" Chris roars. "GET THESE FUCKERS OFF ME!"

Travis crosses his arms, "Well there is no need to be rude about it. Besides, have you tried barking?"

Miranda smacks a pod of them off of her face, "What?"

"Foxes don't like dogs," Travis says all smart-like. "Simply mythology Miss Gardiner."

"But we don't have any dogs!"

"Then bark, women. Bark as if your life depends on it! Bark like you've never barked before!"

11:57pm

Distraction Team (Kelsey's group)—Pasadena, California

"Heyyy, Kelse." Travis sings through the headset as Kelsey dodges a round of bullets.

"WHAT TRAVIS?" she screams at him. "WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT NOW?"

"Someone's cranky. Just to let you know, I've got Chris and Miranda. We're in the sewer right now and gonna try to meet up with Mercury. If my hunches are correct, we're not too far from his location."

"THAT'S FUCKING WONDERFUL." Kelsey shoots, ducks, rolls and reloads. "IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I CAN HELP YOU WITH?"

"I'm not deaf you know," he grunts. "Is Connor with you?"

"HASN'T SHOWED UP. NOW IF YOU EXCUSE ME, I'M TRYING NOT TO DIE RIGHT NOW."

Reyna and Annabeth—Manhattan, New York

Annabeth finds the statue two minutes later. She can hear the Basilisks squealing, getting a mouth full of Aquafina. Annabeth would laugh under different circumstances.

The statue of Hera is different.

One, she isn't scowling. Her eyes are closed, her face the perfect mask of horror. Two, the statue isn't made of marble anymore. From the looks of it, the statue is solid gold. The only thing hear intact and beautiful. It's all wrong. And Annabeth has no idea how to free her.

She glances in backpack. There isn't much to help her: water bottle, $300, a map of the subway and three disposable cell phones. Athena said she would need these things. Well she needed something now. Where was it?

Annabeth looks back at Hera. The goddess looks the same as she always did before. A perfect replica, her face, her hair, her clothes. It's as if she'd been touched by Midas.

Midas.

That's it.

Annabeth grabs the water bottle, dropping the backpack on the floor. She unscrews the camp, aiming the bottle at Hera like a gun. She squeezes hard.

A giant wave of energy knocks her back. The light is blinding. Annabeth closes her eyes.

Phoebe, Leo, and Octavian—Southern Nevada

Octavian does his best to balance on the rail while at the same time while trying to tape down the damn bomb. He succeeds for the most part, spraining his ankle.

He dashes back into the train, breathing heavily. I'm alive!

Octavian grabs the two-way, calling Leo. "Are you done? Over."

"…almost." Leo grunts. "That's a lot of monsters surrounding us. Phoebe's keeping them busy but we're almost out. Give us two minutes."

"We have to be out of here in three minutes!" he hisses.

"Which leaves a minute to spare. Call Malcolm. Tell him it's time."

Octavian grumbles, fumbling with the radio to change the damn channel. "Malcolm, come in. The charge has been set on the connecting rail. Over."

Apollo's Archers—Southern Nevada

"The charge has been set on the connecting rail," Malcolm tells them. "Hold your fire and fall back."

"Copy that, smart one," Will replies, notching his lost sonic arrow. "Hold fire!"

Jacob keeps the Jeep going. Will orders Leslie to watch the time.

"You know what to do Will."

He nods to no one in particular. "Let me know when it's 11 till 12."

Romans and Greeks—Southern Nevada

Hazel hears Malcolm's voice over the two-way. "The charge has been set on the connecting rail. Hold your fire and fall back."

"Copy that, smart one."

"Fall back!" she tells the cavalry, making a piece sign to the riders above. There horses stop their assault and turn in the other direction. "We read you loud and clear Malcolm."

The train roars ahead, putting great distance between it and Hazel's army.

11:58pm

Connor and Bobby—Fifth Floor—Pasadena, California

Run, run, run, jump, duck, push, push, run, run… It's a constant cycle as both demigods try to fight their way to the exit.

"It's two minutes Connor," Bobby pants. "We won't make it in time."

He grits his teeth, "Yes we will."

11:59pm

Apollo's Archers—Southern Nevada

Three figures jump in the nick of time.

15, 14, 13, 12…

"GO!" Leslie shouts.

The arrow flies.

Phoebe, Leo, and Octavian—Southern Nevada

They jump.

Phoebe hits the ground on all fours, sweat dripping from her face. Leo hits the ground on his stomach, his face taking most of the impact. He groans, cursing in Spanish. Octavian, sadly, lands on a cactus. But at least he's made it in time. They watch as the train continues on, ignorant to that fact it will never reach its destination.

Bobby and Connor—Fifth Floor—Pasadena, California

They're cornered.

Two sides surrounded by large glass windows leading to their deaths. The other two sides by monsters.

"We have to jump," Bobby whispers. "It's the only way."

Connor's throat chokes up, "I-I can't. I can't jump, Bobby. I can't do it."

The Empousai creep forward, licking their limps.

"It can save your life, Connor. We can have a chance."

"Jump," he tells him. "Leave me behind."

"No." Bobby refuses. "I won't. We're in this together."

Connor clenches his fist, "No we're not."

Bobby's jaw tightens, "I'm not giving you a choice." He charges Connor and both of them plunge out the window.

12:00am

Distraction Team—Pasadena, California

The explosion is deafening. Connor's left ear is shot out. His right, he isn't too sure about. But one thing he can hear for certain? His screams as he plummets five stories to the ground. Bobby's still holding unto him.

In a flash, Bobby is on his back, Connor above him, just as they hit the pavement of the parking lot. Everything goes black.

The Main Group—Southern Nevada

The arrow hits its mark. The last train car breaks off in a roar of rainbow. Soon the rest of the train joins in, exploding into flames.

Will sits back in the Jeep, watching the show. "We did good guys. We did good."

"Leslie, open the compartment," Jacob orders. She does so, pulling out a blank CD. He snatches it from her, putting it in the player.

David Glen Eisley's Sweet Victory begins to play over the speakers.

"The winner takes all," they sing along, turning the vehicle back towards the way they came.

"It's the thrill of one more kill

The last one to fall

Will never sacrifice their will

Don't ever look back

On the wind closing in

The only attack

Were their wings on the wind

Oh the daydream begins

And it's sweet, sweet, sweet victory, yeah!

And it's ours for the taking

It's ours for the fight

In the sweet, sweet, sweet victory, yeah!

And the world is last to fall."

12:01am

Distraction Team—Pasadena, California

The vehicles are their officers in disarray. The force of the blast has cars turned over. Officers try to find their guns and keep order at the same time. The dogs are barking, creating more havoc than originally intended. It's too much for them to keep track of the rebels.

Thalia and Nico—The Underworld

Her arms are tired. Thalia keeps slashing, missing; slashing, hitting thick flesh. Over and over again. It's annoying to say the least. Nico slices off one of the dog's heads.

She tries to remember what Daedalus said, about shocking Sirius. But she can't get a hold of him. He's too fast.

Come child, the monster taunts, towering over her. The stub where is head was is bleeding profusely but he treats it as a little scratch Hit me with, as you children say, "Your best shot."

Thalia doesn't pay attention to Nico, telling her to keep her cool. She attacks without warning, jumping on the fucking dog. The monster isn't expecting her to be so bold. She's able to slice of his nose before he shakes her off, and she has to roll to avoid his paws.

He howls at her, red eyes glaring daggers. His tail rattles dangerously.

Nico steps forward but Thalia stops him. "Put your sword away. He's mine."

"You'll kill yourself," he protests.

"We'll see."

Sirius snarls in compliance, charging. Thalia tense waiting for the perfect moment to strike…

She sprints, meeting him head on. When Sirius is hardly a foot away from her, she ducks, sliding on her knees, just as his paws swipe over her head, his jaws bending down to reach her. To Thalia it seems to happen in slow motion. Her hand flicks up and the opportunity presents itself; the beast's belly. Her knife comes up just as Sirius's teeth sink into her shoulder. Suddenly, time seems to speed up and her knife hits soft flesh. But Thalia screams, her shoulder burning like acid. A tremor goes through her body: pain, fear and anger rushing through her muscles, transforming into energy until finally it reaches her hand and explodes through the blade.

Sirius howls and it feels like she's going death.

He collapses, eyes closed. Thalia's breathing hard, focusing on the air swooping in and out of her lungs. Nico helps her to her feet but she flinches from the pain in her shoulder. "Why'd you let me do that?" she groans.

Nico scoffs, "Your kidding right?"

Percy and Jason—Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

Two minutes. Two minutes it'd taken them to meet the goddess of snow, Khinoe. Three minutes it'd taken them to piss her off immensely (Jason blames Percy for that). Four minutes it'd taken them to pick a nasty fight with her ghosts.

Sixteen minutes they'd been battling it out against them. And in these last two minutes, Jason had come up with a plan, thank the gods.

"PERCY!" Jason shouts over the icy wind that had coincidentally picked up eighteen minutes ago. "Can you hold these ghosts by yourself?"

"Against a small army? No problem!" Jason doesn't sound convinced but he nods anyway, slashing his sword through a row of legionnaires.

"One more thing, I need you to give me the lighter!"

Reyna and Annabeth—Manhattan, New York

Reyna wakes up to stormy gray eyes. She turns away from the daughter of Athena, coughing violently. She remembers her water bottle disintegrating as it touched the skin of snake and then nothing. A giant light.

"Are you okay?" Annabeth asks.

Reyna ignores this, wiping the soot off her face. "Did you get her?"

"I am no object," a voice flares, appalled. "I am a goddess, child."

Reyna offers a crooked smile, "Great to have you back, my Lady."

Hera waves her off with a simple hand gesture, "I don't have time for you incompetence, Reyna. You've just set off the sensor and the Titan's forces will be upon us quickly if you continue to run your mouth. Come, come, let us not suffer from your stupidity."

12:02am

Percy and Jason—Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

It's cold, painfully cold. Up until today, Jason's never seen snow in his entire life. Now, he never plans to see it again.

Jason's kneeling at the feet of Hestia, her form still frozen. Her eyes dart wildly, moving back from him to Percy. Trembling, Jason pulls out the silver cylinder from his coat pocket. He looks behind him, back at the black horse with Khinoe. She doesn't notice him at all. Her eyes are focused only Percy as her arms lift towards the sky. The wind grows in strength, bringing another icy hell along with it.

Now Jason isn't a stranger to Greek Mythology. He'd been learning it since he was two and every bit of it had just fascinated him. And of course, he'd heard about Khinoe and her hatred for her father. Neither the Greeks nor Romans cared from the snow goddess much, sharing a deep loathing for the blistering cold. And then there was the time she'd thrown her son Eumolpus into the sea. Who happened to be a son of Poseidon. The sea god didn't take this very well. And now it seems old grudges die hard.

Without hesitation, Jason presses down with a click. He cups his hand over the little flame but unexpectedly, two frigid hands snatch it away from him. Jason watches the goddess's palms catch fire and a warm glow spreads across Hestia's arms, into her face and legs.

"NO!" he hears Khinoe scream from across the ice as Hestia falls to her knees. The small girl looks in Khione's direction, her eyes murderous. Instantly, Jason backs away, leaving the goddesses to their own devices.

Percy fights like a whirlwind…literally. A miniature hurricane of water and ice vapor circles around him, making him untouchable as he runs through army lines, deflecting arrows and spears.

"Percy, look!" Jason yells.

At first, Percy only sees nothing but a ghost, wearing the typical bearer, holding a pole with a golden eagle on it. Then, Percy double takes. "Is that…?"

"Yes!"

The Twelfth Legion's standard. The same one that'd been lost during the 1980's expedition to Alaska led by Michael Varus. The same one that'd brought shame upon the Fifth Cohort for almost over twenty years before Jason and Reyna came along.

They make a mad dash for the eagle, slicing at the ghosts half-heartedly. But just as they're ready to tackle the bearer, the Twelfth Legion's standard flies from the spirits hands, straight into the open arms of Hestia.

The goddess gets to her feet, red eyes resembling the fiery pits of Tartarus. It's at that moment when the good Hestia disappears and Percy sees an entirely different goddess. Vesta.

She slams the butt of the pole into the ground, screaming at the top of her lungs, "BE GONE!"

12:05am

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

Being shoved into a lake with a bad arm, Thalia thinks she'll swim back to the surface, cold and sticky, ready to strangle the living daylights out of Nico. That doesn't happen. She passes through the water's surface as if it's a mirage (which it might as well be), falling hard on jagged concrete. She curses as her now writhing knees.

"You really sticked the landing there," Nico smiles innocently, standing calmly in front of her.

Thalia glares at him, "I hate you."

"No you don't," he says cheerfully, grabbing a lighter from his pocket.

Click.

An endless dark corridor stretches before them. Its walls flex in and out, like living entities of themselves (well, considering Tartarus is really a primordial god, the image isn't very hard to imagine). And somewhere, Nico hears something. Almost like the strong beating of a heart, perfectly timed with the moving of the walls.

"This way," he tells Thalia, sure of himself. Personally, Nico's never been to Tartarus before. But still, he's sure he knows the place like the back of his hand. Now, Nico isn't one to be afraid of things in the Underworld. After all, this place is practically his sanctuary. But as the dim light of his lighter illuminates the strange, animate corridors, he sees something that makes him lose his cool for a split second.

There, written in blood, they receive one last warning.

Turn back.

Growling. Screaming. That's all they seems to here as they wander through the maze-like halls, watching as the darkness seems to lighten into a bright orange light. They don't talk, watching their surrounding carefully.

As they near the center of it all it feels as if their walking straight into a volcano. Immediately, sweat clings to their clothes.

"You could've told me to dress more appropriately," Thalia remarks.

"Shut up, Thalia."

She sticks her tongue out at him just as the tunnels open up into a cavern. Though the word "cavern" is more of an understatement. Really it's like a giant pit a mile wide surrounded by a rock fortress, walls another two miles high. The flaming river of blood, the Phlegethon, and the river of eternal wailing, Cocytus, drop down into the abyss like malevolent waterfalls.

"This way," Thalia says, pointing to shoddy Stygian iron steps falling down into hell.

Percy and Jason—Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

"I never seen so much gold in my life," Jason says in awe, grasping a good-looking pilum. "Vesta, do you think you can take this back to the legion?"

Percy elbows him in the ribs.

"You ask for much, praetor," Vesta scowls, but her expression eventually softens (well… not by much). "But, for assisting me, I will do you this one favor."

"Thank you," the two demigods tell her in unison.

She gives them a stern, but mischievous smile. "Don't thank me yet, half-bloods."

Distraction Team—Pasadena, California

An SUV rams through cars, its tires screeching as it barrels its way into the parking lot. Officers dodge out of the way.

At the same moment the doors of the vehicle bust open, Kelsey finds Connor and Bobby. She sees Bobby's face, his whole left side singed. He's dead. She can tell by the gruesome way his leg is twisted, how his spine isn't exactly straight.

Connor isn't much better. His leg is black like charcoal. She tries to tell herself that the white surface poking out of the charred skin isn't bone. But unlike Bobby, he's still breathing. But the rise and fall of his chest is almost unnoticeable, so very slow and insignificant.

She hears someone crying, pushing their way past the others. She turns and sees Travis. There's tears in his eyes, "Connor. CONNOR!"

Kelsey finds her voice, "Travis. Travis, listen to me."

"NO!" he's crying harder. He caresses Connor's head in his lap. "Brother, please. Connor, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have left you."

"Travis," Kelsey tries again. "We need to leave. We need to get in the van."

He doesn't move.

Mercury shoves rebels out of his way, grabbing Connor in an instant. His eyes are furious, indicating he is not to be fucked with at the moment. "Move it!" He glances angrily at Bobby's body. Something wild changes in his eyes; Bobby was his son. "Gather the dead. Take them with us. We give them a proper burial."

Everyone mumbles a yes sir, and works quickly, nearly running into the SUV. The bodies are piled in the trunk.

Mercury slides into the driver's seat, clutching the steering wheel tightly. His vision is red. He starts the vehicle and slams down on the gas pedal. The car lurches forward and everyone does their best to hold on.

The god runs over a T.A.R.D. unit officer before peeling out of the parking lot.

12:10am

Reyna and Annabeth—Manhattan, New York

There in Times Square.

Annabeth had broken into someone's apartment, taking three new pairs of clothes. Reyna had written the note, leaving $150. Hera only glared at them, tapping her foot impatiently. She was even angrier when she saw what she was being forced to wear: skin tight jeans and a baggie hoodie with a stain on the shoulder. Being a piece of artwork for seven years makes you cranky apparently.

Anyway, there in Times Square, ready to ease their way past the crowds to get to the subway when the news report appears on the screen. Pasadena, California. On TV, firefighters rush around the burning building, trying to douse the flames with water. But Greek fire isn't so easily quenched. Police officers and T.A.R.D unit vehicles crowd around behind the red trucks. Annabeth can watch people shouting orders, grabbing hoses. She doesn't know if she's supposed to be happy or just plain sick.

12:20am

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

The depths of Tartarus aren't exactly welcoming. To Thalia and Nico, it's like a prison, a medieval dungeon, and hell wrapped into one. The monsters here don't put up much of fight. Some of them are still reforming, legs and arms crawling back to their bodies. Thalia just kicks them away, laughing as they struggle like roly-polies that have been turned over. The other monsters, the ones that have finished reforming, aren't hard to destroy either. Their too disoriented to pay much attention to a blade slicing them in half.

The prison block is huge with hallways that seem to stretch on forever, crisscrossing and intersecting every once and a while. So it's a good thing they come across a sign.

Gods—Hall Θ with an arrow pointing left. They follow.

These hallways are darker and grimier. Teumessian foxes hiss at them from crevices in the walls. Some bronze doors are broken, their cells empty, smelling of cow shit.

A reptilian laugh startles them. Nico signals Thalia to stop. "She's here."

Thalia shoots him a confused glance.

"Kampe," he hisses. "She's been assigned her old post."

Another laugh echoes in the halls, followed by the sound of whip and a gurgled scream. The demigods flinch in disgust. The she-demon is too busy to pay attention to them.

Thalia grabs the silver bracelet from her wrist. Instantly it transforms into a bow and a sheath of arrows. Or rather, one arrow. She'd used the others one fighting her way through the Underworld. Which means, now, she only has one shoot. Nico stands back warily, allowing Thalia to do what she does best.

She creeps forward, cautious in rounding the corner. Thalia nearly falters when she witnesses the entire scene. A little boy, no more than ten years old, is curled in a ball on the floor, hugging his knees. His back is covered in blood. The shirt that used to be there is nearly in shreds. His skin just like the shirt. Kampe glowers over him with a whip. She growls something in her ancient tongue before striking the boy again. He takes it there, hardly crying out, biting his lips. Kampe screams at him, hitting him harder, faster. Finally he screams, his tears heavy. And she keeps laughing, that horrible laugh of hers.

Thalia takes aim, anger coursing through her veins. She channels it into her bow. Her arms are straight, perfect. As an offensive soldier, she hadn't used a bow in years. It had set in her compartment, gathering dust.

Her eyes narrow, locking in on their target. She releases.

When Kampe does sense something, it's too late. The arrow shoots straight through the back of her forehead and the monster disappears. Thalia's bow reforms into a bracelet again.

She shakes her head, "Isn't she supposed to be hard to kill or something?"

Nico shrugs, appearing beside her, "Apparently she stopped worrying about threats from demigods. After all, no one is stupid enough to go into Tartarus."

"Are you calling me stupid?"

12:27am

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

"Hey, are you okay?" Thalia asks, helping up the slave. She does her best not to stare at the wounds bleeding from his back.

He nods, eyes downcast.

She touches his shoulder, "What's your name?"

The slave looks up at her but says nothing. He points to his closed mouth, trying his best to do something with his hand. Thalia cocks her head to side, unable to comprehend. The boy opens his mouth wide and she flinches back immediately. Where his tongue is supposed to be, there is close to nothing.

Nico looks at them both, concern etched in his features, "They cut out your tongue?"

The slave nods.

"Are you demigod?"

Again, he nods.

Thalia's eyes are filled with pity, "You can come with us. We'll keep you safe."

The boy manages a smile and Thalia's heart leaps just a little. "What's your name?"

The little slave ponders this for a moment. He holds up four fingers. She raises an eyebrow, "Four? Your name is Four?"

Four nods, puffing up his chest with pride. They can't help but smile at him.

"Four, are you a son of Hermes?" Nico asks out of the blue. The boy nods, a little surprised. Thalia glances at him questioningly. "Ever since Luke's betrayal, it's bad to be a child of Hermes. They tend to get the worst treatments."

Four flinches, as if remembering something. Thalia glances at the bronze door, "Four, can you pick a lock?"

Four looks at her, this time with his own eyebrow raised, as if to say, Do you have to ask? He holds his hand out. Thalia slips him a small knife, watching as he walks stiff-legged to the entrance to the gods' prison. In a matter of moments, the prison opens with a click.

Thalia gives Four an affectionate pat on the head, staring into darkness. She hesitates in the doorway, "…hello…?"

Thalia nearly screams when a pair of icy blue eyes stares back.

"I thought I heard my name."

12:30am

Thalia and Nico—Underworld

At first, Nico doesn't recognize the gods even as he helps them up the stairs from their prison. They're old looking people dressed in potato sacks. It's almost hilarious, really. Almost.

Thalia helps too, but her lips are pursued and her eyes are angry. She's helping Persephone out when he's there at the top of the steps, offering a hand. Persephone, the withered goddess, grabs him gratefully. He picks her up gently over the last few stairs, handing her to Nico. She blinks even through the dim light, that's how black their hole is.

When he turns back to Thalia, she has her arms crossed. "What are you doing here, Luke?"

He gives her a rueful smile, "Paying my dues, Thals."

"What dues?" she growls. "Aren't you supposed to be on Mount Orthrys like Kronos's lieutenant or something?"

"You'd think that, wouldn't you?" Luke muses, running a hand through his hair. "I struggled against Kronos on Olympus in the final battle. I tried to take my body back from him. You'd know that if Annabeth had told you the truth."

Her angry expression doesn't falter.

"Kronos saw it as an act of treason. Sent me to the Fields of Punishment, immediately. I was waiting in line with some other deceased campers for entrance when they pushed the gods through the lines. Everyone stopped and stared. Hermes looked at me. Now let me tell you something, Thals. Monsters are very stupid. When they weren't looking, I switched places with Hermes. At first, he refused, saying Tartarus was no better than where I was headed but he didn't have a choice. I took his place and the monsters couldn't tell the difference. I—"

Thalia scoffs, "If that's supposed to make me forgive you from all the horrible things you've done, you can save your breath."

Luke shakes his head, "I'm not asking for your forgiveness, Thalia. I don't need it, I don't want it."

"Good," she confirms. "Because I don't ever plan to give it to you."

Luke just stares at her for a while, his eyes dull. Something's changed in her, he's not surprised, but it's something he can't put his finger on…

A howl echoes through the chambers. Luke and Four give the other questioning looks. Thalia's face turns pale as she opens her mouth. "Nico. It's time to go."

Chapter Text

Courage! I have shown it for years; think you I shall lose it at the moment when my sufferings are to end?

-Marie Antionette


Mount Othrys—San Francisco, California

"You're rather calm," Artemis says quietly. Normally, she is forbidden from the option of voicing her opinion. But, in this rare moment, Kronos doesn't seem to care. He's sitting on his throne, brushing through images formed from mist - screams echo from the depths of Tartarus, monsters roaming throughout Los Angeles, the ruins of Olympus in Manhattan, nature spirits in the Green Reserves and more - searching in the same manner as someone would for an app on an iPad. She finds humor in the idea, Kronos being the definition of old-fashion. She herself would never touch a phone, nevertheless a strange machine made by Apple.

His lips twitch slightly but the passive expression never leaves his face. "I have my moments, Artemis."

Still, she tries to coax more information from him. "She will be difficult to capture." She remembers the words she shared with Zeus the morning before. Thalia is a true huntress. She will not fail us. "This first time wasn't easy. The second time will be even harder."

"So you think," Kronos smirks. "But I have learned much concerning Miss Grace. I know her strengths. Her weaknesses. The Fates will make sure she plays right into my hands."

The goddess scoffs. "And what of your strengths? Your weaknesses?"

His smile grows hollow and he once again resumes his search. "I believe that is none of your concern, my dear."

Camp Jupiter—San Francisco, California

"Move!" Frank growls, pushing through the crowd of people in the infirmary. Hermes' kids follow close behind, carrying in Connor Stoll on a makeshift stretcher.

Leslie shoves a soldier out of the way. "If you can walk on two legs and you haven't been shot, stabbed, or suffering from anything worse than a second-degree burn, I am kindly asking you to leave."

"Ambrosia and nectar will be given out at the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus," Jessica adds, rushing out of the tent with two others. Some rebels follow quickly behind.

Will and Leslie clear the operating table. Frank sets Connor down on the hard surface while Travis rushes in, gripping his brother's hand. "It's gonna be okay Connor, I promise, it's gonna be okay."

"What's… happening? Travis, please—"

"Shh…" Travis brushes away a few extra strands of hair. "Dad was able to fix some of your wounds in the van. But…Connor. The burns on your leg are really bad."

"Burns? What burns?"

He can't feel them. "Connor, listen to me. Connor, they have to amputate your leg."

"My…" his voice falters, so very weak. "Travis…"

"We need you to leave," Will interrupts. "Travis, the less bodies in here, the better."

"I'll be right back," Travis tells Connor. "I need you to stay strong. Whatever you do, don't fall asleep. Stay awake."

"Okay," the other Stoll murmurs, his voice slurred.

On the other side of the tent, Jason watches the scene unfolding like it's a soap opera, like it's not real. Frank had told him the news of Bobby's death and Jason hadn't taken it lightly either. Now here he is, watching another soldier on the verge of death. Maybe if he'd been with them, this wouldn't have happened. Maybe.

Annabeth comes to stand beside him. She had just arrived at Camp Jupiter, immediately hearing of Connor Stoll and Bobby and the explosion at Pasadena, and how the charges had done their job a little too well.

She clears her throat, getting Jason's attention. "Did everyone else make it back okay?"

His fist clenches. "For the most part. We haven't heard from Thalia or Nico. But word around Elysium, they succeeded and escaped with gods. Where they are, we have no idea. Mercury's expecting an Iris message in the morning."

"Casualties?"

"Not very many, surprisingly. The main group suffered the most, obviously. A couple from the Distraction team."

Annabeth bites her lip. "And… Percy?"

Jason fails at hiding back a smile. "Oh, he's fine. A little cold but… he'll deal."

She shuffles uncomfortably, more than aware of the awkward silence she's just created between them.

"You know, your name was the only one he could remember," Jason admits finally.

Annabeth stares at him warily. "What are you talking about?"

"Percy. When he came to the Camp Jupiter. He could only remember this girl named Annabeth. It drove us insane. He just couldn't stop talking about you. Everyday he'd just remember something about Annabeth. 'She likes architecture. Annabeth's mom once erupted in column of flames. Annabeth's afraid of spiders. Annabeth's a Yankees fan or Annabeth doesn't like it when people touch her stuff.'"

She frowns. "No one… ever told me that."

Jason shrugs. "Well, Percy would tell you himself. You know, if you weren't avoiding him."

"I'm not avoiding him!" she retorts defensively.

His face doesn't change. "If only you could fool me, Annabeth. If only."

"Why are you doing this?"

"I'm his wingman when I'm not his sworn enemy," Jason chuckles. "It's my job. If you wanna have a little chat with him he's at the temple of Neptune."

Aptos Creek Falls—Santa Cruz, California

They're in the woods of the Nisene Marks State Park, near a small cave wedged into the rocks of the Aptos Creek Falls when they finally pass out. The gods, tired and drained of life, stumble into the cave, immediately huddling together. Many of them pass out instantly. The few left stare at the running water, as if awed by the sight of it, before dozing off.

Luke, Four, Thalia and Nico sit themselves just outside the cave, allowing the soft spray of the waterfall to hit their burning faces. It's never felt so nice to rest.

By the time they escaped the Underworld through one of its secret exits, it was 1am. Thalia hotwired a van and the party drove some several hundred miles to safety before getting stuck on one of the toll roads. Then they quickly sprinted for their lives. At that point, Thalia and Nico realized adrenaline could do a lot of crazy to their demigod bodies. Like make them run a dozen miles to the nearest heavily wooded area available. Even worse for Nico, considering he had to carry Four a good half the time. No one can fathom how they'd been able to do it.

Luke stands and Thalia flinches. The boys pretend not to notice. She's been given said Destroyer of Olympus the cold shoulder the whole trip here and Nico knows that, with one wrong move, she won't hesitate to leave him if push comes to shove. Of course, it doesn't make them the ideal people to sleep next to.

Luke slings an exhausted Four over his shoulder, who's practically fallen asleep already, before heading into the hideaway.

"A good place to start a bunker," Thalia murmurs, her voice dry and tired. "You know, in case this happens again."

Nico shakes his head wearily. "They're too many people who visit this park in the daytime."

"That's why it'd been an unexpected location," she muses. "Special K would never think to look here." She'd curse his name if she could but the fear of discovery keeps them from doing so. There are no magical defenses here to keep the Titan Lord from spotting them, especially at a time when all he's doing is search for her.
And it's certainly the last thing they need, especially when Mercury will be expecting an Iris message at first light.

Nico stares at her. "That's the first time you've mentioned him since being here."

"I don't make it a habit of talking about my enemies." She casts an ominous glare at the mouth of the cave.

He shrugs, quickly deciding not to broach the subject again.

Camp Jupiter—San Francisco, California

The said Temple of Neptune isn't impressive. She isn't going to call a tool shed painted an ugly shade of blue a temple anytime soon. Cobwebs cover the itty bitty trident nailed above the door. Annabeth would laugh if it didn't look so pitiful. For a moment, she doubts Percy would even come to a morbid place like this but Jason isn't the type that'd lie to her for no reason.

She opens the door, hinges creaking ominously. It isn't hard to spot Percy kneeling in front of a bronze statue of his father. He's murmuring, praying, she assumes. The good it'll do.

Annabeth clears her throat and he goes silent, glancing at her over his shoulder. He's confused. And, at first, she is too when the words become stuck in her throat. What could she possibly say to him?

I'm glad your back but I kind of wanna push you off a ledge for abandoning me? Sorry for ignoring you but you've been dead for seven years and I figured a little while longer wouldn't hurt?

Annabeth just takes a breath. "You know, I never really understood your fatal flaw before. I mean… I knew about it but knowing and understanding are too entirely different things. But when you disappeared… I completely got it. I felt like I'd do anything to have you back. It scared me. Once I even thought of just going straight to Kronos, demanding you back. If the rumors ended up being true... yeah, I would've done it."

Percy just stares, trying to keep the smile off of his face. Finally, she's talking to him. Not ignoring him, like she did on their way to the Underworld. Or avoiding him, like she's been doing the whole time they've been in Elysium.

"It scares the shit out of me," she continues, her voice a low whisper. "I'm afraid of what I'll do… if I lose you again."

"You won't," he promises, getting to his feet.

"How do I know that?"

"Because I promise, Annabeth. I'm not going anywhere. You know me, I don't break my promises."

In the end, she knows he's right. All her life, Annabeth's been let down by those she's cared about: her father, Luke, Thalia, Athena. They had abandoned her, betrayed her, or just died. But not Percy. He would always come back. He'd always keep his word.

"You know I'm gonna hold that over your head for a long time," she points out.

"I don't mind," Percy jokes. "Looking forward to it actually."

Annabeth shakes her head, eyes brightening just a tad. "I missed you Seaweed Brain. A lot."

Caldecott Tunnel—Oakland, California

Thalia stops the car on the side of the highway, ordering the gods and Luke out. Nico goes over the directions to the service tunnel quickly. "When you find it, tell the guards, who at first will probably look like homeless kids but don't worry it's just a disguise, tell them Aut vincere aut mori and that Thalia and Nico sent you."

"It'd also help if you told them you were the gods," Thalia adds. "And if you guys wanna act Roman. Now is the time."

"Take care of yourselves," Luke tells them, as he helps Four out of the car. Thalia stares at him for moment, her face blank.

And finally, she says, "You too."

Her acknowledgment brings a smile to his face. Luke nods to himself before grabbing Four's hand and following the gods. The vehicle seems so silent now. Nico shuts the doors, Thalia presses the locks and they swerve back on the road. Other cars honk at them. A few people give them the finger. Thalia aims the gesture right back at them.

"So…" Nico draws out. "You and Luke…"

"I don't want to talk about this right now," Thalia tells him firmly. "He's dead to me."

"Funny," her friend muses. "I'm supposed to be the one who talks to dead people."

Camp Jupiter—San Francisco, California

Their singing makes him particularly morbid.

Will I lose my dignity?

Will someone care?

Will I wake tomorrow,

From this nightmare?

They would be singing Rent, Travis muses, while his brother is dying. They say it's supposed to help him, that it just might keep him alive. Might. He needs reassurance. He needs to know if Connor will live. But they can promise him nothing. Apollo isn't here and they aren't miracle workers.

Travis thinks back to all those times before the war. Life used to be so easy then. Even for a demigod. Sure their mom and their mortal dad were getting a divorce but then you spent nine months of the year at camp, forgetting your life at home was like second nature. Travis wishes though, that they could have spent more time with their mom, before she was sold into slavery for mothering half-bloods. Connor would have liked that; she was an awesome prankster. She told them about her senior prank: filling the hallways with fog and releasing a crate of spiders. They could have pulled off all kinds of jokes in the neighborhood. Some that'd even earn the attention of Hermes.

Travis brushes away his tears. He hates thinking about his mom, especially at a time like this. Mrs. Stoll always knew what to do in tough situations. And here Travis is, lost and confused.

Then the singing stops in mid-sentence.

Travis, who's been slumped against a wall this whole time, gets to his feet and runs for the door. It's already open. Will's there, staring at him with this horrible look on his face. "Travis, I'm—"

"He's dead isn't he?" His voice comes out empty.

The medic's expression confirms it. Travis grabs him by the collar of his shirt, slamming Solace against the door frame. "YOU TOLD ME YOU'D SAVE HIM! HE WAS SUPPOSED TO LIVE, DAMMIT!"

Will shoves him off. "There was nothing we could do about the infection, Travis. The bacteria was already in his blood stream. There was nothing we could do. We might be illegitimate doctors but were not fucking magical. We're not gods - hell, the gods aren't even gods." Will Solace shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Travis. But Connor is gone. There's nothing else I can do for you or him."

Golden Gate Bridge—San Francisco, California

Her muscles burn. Thalia slides over the hood of a car and keeps running, refusing to look back. But she's done this hundreds of times before. It's nothing to her now. Surprisingly, Nico seems to keep pace with her.

Four hellhounds barrel straight through a McDonald's. Mortals scream and duck, others running in the opposite direction. They jump on cars and off the sides of buildings, anxious to keep up with the two resourceful demigods. Behind the pack is Sirius, his muzzle still stained with Thalia's blood. He stops, sniffing the air for a moment before taking off like a rocket.

"You still have time to back out of this Nico," Thalia growls, just as they pass the San Francisco Fire Department.

"I'm good," he says, smiling slightly.

Thalia grits her teeth, trying to control her temper. "Do you have that extra grenade in your bag?"

"The one I stole from Chris? Yeah, w—"

"Shut up and give it here." He tosses it to her without hesitation. She bites off the pin, chucking the thing over her shoulder like a football, muttering "Haul ass!" under hear breath.

They kick it into high gear. A millisecond later, an explosion erupts from behind. The force sends them flying, with their ears numb. Hellhounds in the distance whimper and growl but they can still hear the roars of Sirius, followed by the sounds of helicopter blades.

"You have a good arm," Nico comments before jumping to his feet. His right ear is bleeding and it makes the sound of broken radio. But that isn't important at the moment. He'd get it fixed later, hopefully.

They run through the Fort Scott parking lot, singling out a random Toyota Corolla. As Thalia nears it the doors unlock automatically. Nico opens the door, jumping into the driver's seat. Thalia takes the passenger's side. Thanks to her, the engine sparks to life and Nico peels out, the trunk of the car slamming in the face of a hellhound.

They sit in silence, watching their rearview mirrors before they hit Merchant Road. Nico makes a sharp right, pushing the car to thirty miles above the speed limit. Thalia glances up, still seeing the T.A.R.D unit helicopter circling overhead.

"You're not obliged to still be here, Nico."

Nico shakes his head. "You're not getting rid of me that easily, Thalia."

She takes on the implied challenge. "We'll see." Thalia purses her lips, "When we hit Route 1 shadow travel us out of here."

"And leave a running car in the middle of a toll road?" he asks. "Are you insane?"

"Just trust me. The toll road is closed," Thalia says. "As for the insane part, I hang out with you don't I?"

"Good point," he muses.

Thalia shushes him, trying to listen to her surroundings. She rolls down the window, focusing hard. "They're trying to corner us. They'll be coming from Route 1 and Lincoln Boulevard, adding to the ones already following us up Merchant Road. How fast can you get us out of here?"

"Are you judging my skills?" Nico jokes, his lips twitching into a smile. "What you should be worried about is how far away we can get from this train wreck."

"And how far away can we get?" Thalia questions.

"Not far," he says wearily and Thalia can finally see the bags under his eyes. Nico's tired, very tried. Granted, she is too from Sirius's bite and considering they've been running since 4 a.m. this morning. Their only rest stop was shoving the gods out of the car and sending them on their way to Camp Jupiter.

It's almost noon now. Eight hours. "I can shadow travel us as far as the Northern half of the Golden Gate Bridge, any farther and I'll probably pass out. From there we can hike three miles to Bunker Road and take the tunnel network there to reach Bunker 78. We can contact Herm—Mercury from there and see if we can do something about the whole Sirius thing."

"And if Mercury can't do anything?"

Nico doesn't say anything. This annoys Thalia but she keeps her thoughts to herself. They're nearing Route 1 and now is not the time for her to bitch about his faulty logic. Later, maybe.

Thalia counts backwards from 150 in anticipation. Shadow traveling isn't exactly her ideal form of transportation but it tends to come in handy for emergencies. Like the one they're in right now.

Nico grips the steering wheel. 49, 48, 47, 46, 45…

Thalia glances in the rearview mirror, half-singed hellhounds hobbling over rooftops of nearby buildings. 37, 36, 35, 34, 33…

She plays with the camp necklace around her neck, biting her lip. Like Nico she only has one bead, the pine tree, the year Thalia was resurrected.

10, 9, 8, 7…

"Are you sure about this?" Nico asks one last time, making a slight right onto Route 1.

"Positive," she says, her eyes focusing on the police lights coming straight towards them. "Now."

The blackness swallows her whole.

Then the light is blinding.

They're on the bridge, on the sidewalk very close to the edge. There are no cars on the highway and they only see the aftermath of the explosion that could've killed them. Nico stumbles and Thalia barely catches him before he hits the ground face-first.

"Can you still run?" she asks him, eyebrows titled with faintest traces of worry.

Nico opens his mouth to speak but the speeding helicopter and resounding howl interrupt him. They aren't out of the woods yet and there's no choice at this pint. It doesn't matter whether or not his head is aching and he's ready to pass out. This is, quite frankly, life or death.

Or maybe not.

"Keep running," he says finally. "I'll find my own way."

"What?" it comes out as a statement but in her head it sounds like a shriek. "Are you insane?"

"I can stall," Nico continues. "Give you time to get to Bunker Road. You can contact Mercury, get your arm fixed and—"

"No. They're not looking for you," she fumes. "And if you think you're gonna walk out there and—"

"I'm not afraid to die, Thalia."

The words are painful to hear, the fact Nico would so readily give his life away to protect her. But she's not surprised by his words. They make her angry, she wants to call him so many ugly things but she says none of them.

Their enemies begin to gain on them. Government cars that have somehow managed to survive the accident are just getting on the bridge now and all this arguing is wasting time.

They're so close to their destination Thalia can practically taste. But, in the end, will coming all this way even do them any good? Is hiding in the woods supposed to make them safe?

The doors of the helicopter open. Its passengers take aim. Some lower themselves down to the suspension cables of the bridge. T.A.R.D officers. Of course, they're specifically trained for these types of things.

She clenches her fist, blue sparks flitting around her hand. "Good," she says, staring at the enemies readying their arrows from the bridge's suspension cables. "Then this shouldn't be a problem for you."

Thalia takes him off guard, her electrified hands shoving him hard. Shouts echo across the bridge. The helicopters close in. Thalia watches silently as he plummets straight towards the water. At the last minute, before he can hit the water's surface, a giant shadow comes out of nowhere. In the next second, Nico's gone.

She takes off running towards the other end of the bridge. Her legs throb and Thalia gets this weird sense of déjà vu. An arrow whistles behind her but she doesn't dodge it, allowing the weapon to pierce her shoulder. Thalia pauses, ripping the arrow out. It's small and doesn't hurt much. She stares back at the bay one last time before making another run for it.

Please be okay.

Chapter Text

Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald


October

Thalia wakes up confused.

Sounds ring in her ears: gunshots, growls, the whizzing of arrows. But when she tries to search her memory, anything following Nico's fall off the Golden Gate Bridge, there's nothing.

She only finds herself in a cavernous, circular room. It's large, nearly the size of the sword arena in what used to be Camp Half-Blood. Small candles line the wall, only increasing the mystery of this place.

Mouth Othrys.

Deep down she knows she is in Othrys. She knows that she's been captured once again. She just doesn't know how.

Thalia tosses off the silk sheets wrapped around her body, sliding off the round bed. She does her best to ignore the dull pain that ignites on the right side of her face. Her bare feet touch the cool marble floor.

A little self-conscious, she looks down, mildly shocked to see her raggedy jeans and shirt replaced with a white chiton. It's rather short in length, similar to what they might see Artemis wearing from time to time on the hunt. The length of the hem - which the goddess was fond of - was similar to what active Spartan women would wear, earning them the nickname of the thigh-bearers.

Yes, women have thighs. Yes, their legs are also capable of a full range of motion.

Sexist assholes.

Her eyes adjust to the dim lighting and immediately drift towards the room's only an exit. Her mind whirls. An anxious Thalia moves as if the door seems to be calling her name. But, when she grasps the handle, the lock doesn't give way.

Angrily, she punches the door. Great. Though Thalia knows she shouldn't be surprised.

Her hungry glare sweeps across her surroundings again. She knows it could be worse - shit at least there's a comfortable bed to her disposal - but, for some reason, Thalia's old cell far below the palace seems much more inviting with its promise of a simple execution.

Thalia pinches the bridge of her nose and takes to pacing the length of the room. There are no other exits, no windows, no doors. She could be a caged animal for what it's worth.

Time drones on. Thalia isn't sure what to do with herself and nerves gets the better of her. She paces the room again and finally notices the several vases positioned on the ledge beside the multitude of candles, ancient pieces that seem straight out of a world history textbook.

Thalia can make out many of her favorite stories: The Rape of Callisto, The Calydonian Boar Hunt, The Trojan Horse… her thoughts run cold as she makes out the others. Two are from before the First Titanomachy: Kronos castrating his father Uranus, the other of him swallowing his children. The other five are from the Second Titan War.

A fist closes around her heart.

She sees the Battle of the Williamsburg Bridge, Michael Yew in midair falling through an enormous hole in the pavement. Then there's one of the Scythian drakon spitting in the face of Silena Beauregard. The Clazmonian Sow terrorizing Central Park.

The last three make her want to crawl under a rock.

There's the scene of Luke, his body burning away to reveal Kronos's true form. The other is of Percy's final stand. And the last one is of Thalia, hiding in a street corner of Manhattan, faceless people following her. The survivors of the war spent a little over a year like that, on the run while their world had changed before their eyes.

Thalia sits down at the edge of the bed, eyes glued to the vase. Careful fingers trace the intricate patterns.

She frowns but feels nothing. Those memories... the war floats through her thoughts like one big blur, a little thing of the past, even though she knows it means so much more to her.

The door handle moves and the vase slips from her startled fingers, crashing to the floor. The door creaks open and fear creeps into her limbs, threatening paralysis.

Kronos.

He steps in slowly, and she can feel herself trying to swallow through the tightness in her throat. He shuts the door behind him, his golden eyes never leaving her face. He moves forward with power and purpose.

A panicked Thalia inches back, but he's Kronos quicker than she expected. In her attempt to flee, he grabs her by the ankle and yanks her back, a yelp caught in her throat. Thalia aims to hit him, to wriggle out of his grip, but his weight pins her down, brutally dashing any hopes of escape.

His fingers caress her face, only briefly, but enough to make her shut her eyes. The gesture seems worse than a slap and she's left to wonder: How did I get here? Why is this happening?

"How far you have fallen, Thalia Grace." She can hear the smile inflected in his velvet-smooth voice. His fingers trickle down into the valley between her breasts and her heart rate escalates even further. "It is a great tragedy, is it not?"

Her eyes snap open. "Tragedies always end in a hero's death," she spits. "So why not kill me? Fates know you had the chance. You still have the chance."

"But tell me, love, where is the fun in that?" The sound of delicate fabric ripping fills the room. She feels a slight chill on her bare chest and she lets out an involuntarily shudder. But Thalia refuses to look down, at anything other than his face. She only sees his grin widen. "Besides, you're no hero. You never were."

Rage consumes her. Her balled fist aims for his face but Kronos catches her strike easily. His hand tightens around hers and Thalia hears the small crunches her knuckles make under the strain. Thalia tries - and fails - to hold in her cries of pain.

"You are mine now, Thalia," he sneers. "And if you think I will let you go so easily, you are in for a rude awakening."

Kronos misses her other hand. It slams into his chest, sending a shock through his body. It doesn't hurt Kronos - how could it - but it's enough distraction for Thalia to slip from out under him. She bolts, still thinking she has a chance.

She is sorely mistaken.

Kronos grabs a fistful of her hair and her skull explodes with pain. Any remnants of the chiton quickly slip from her body as Kronos grasps her arm and tosses her back on the bed like a rag doll. Despite her aching head and the irked expression that flashes across his face, Thalia keeps moving. She scrambles all the way back to the metal bed frame, aware of Kronos scrutinizing her every move.

She curls into a ball, arms hugging her curled legs so tightly that her biceps go numb. The cool bars press into her back, stark against the smoke still curling off her fingers and warming the flesh on her shins.

Kronos sighs in irritation. "The lot of you, so, so difficult." His fingers reach for the straps of his armor.

Thalia can't hold it in this time. She takes a shaky breath and her eyes begin to tear up. She finds she can't look at him as moves to undress; she rests her forehead on her knees, trying to sort out the chaos running loose in her mind.

Thalia hears the clang of a breastplate hitting the floor and more straps of armor being undone. Her pulse quickens and Thalia prays. To anyone, anything.

Thalia wants to see Artemis one last time, tell her how sorry she is. She wants to see Nico, to make sure he's alive. She wants to see her friends again and give them a proper goodbye. She wants to see Luke; Thalia wants to tell him that despite everything she forgives him, that no matter what she said in Tartarus, she forgives him. Because, in this very moment, Thalia knows she will never leave this place alive. He will see to that.

Thalia senses Kronos coming towards her. Before she can move away, prepare herself for another fight, he grabs her in one swift move, prying her legs apart with his free hand. She kicks and thrashes and a sound echoes from her throat, something halfway between an indignant growl and a gut-wrenching scream.

Kronos grabs her neck, forcing Thalia to look at him.

"Do you think I am still playing games with you dear?" Kronos shoves two fingers into her unwilling sex, hard, eager to make it hurt. Thalia cries out in pure terror and shock. "Does this seem like a game?"

Her muscles tense and small whimper escapes her lips. "Please."

"Please?" he laughs. "Please what?"

"You can't do this."

"I can't? We're married, dear. I can do whatever I want to you now."

She had gotten the warning before, of course. Had understood what would happen if she returned to Othrys - even if there had been no announcement, no ceremony to indicate otherwise. None had been needed, nothing but the will of the Titan Lord himself.

His fingers feel so foreign inside her, and the motions he makes with them are strange and completely unbearable. "Stop," she whispers, voice thick with desperation.

His face hardens and his hand around her throat tightens. Thalia gasps. "No. I don't think I will."

An inferno ignites between her thighs as if signaling her loss of control. Not that it was hers to begin with. Blood rushes to her face when she feels the space between her thighs grow slick. Her breathing becomes haggard, her voice a hoarse whisper and she continues begging him to stop. He has to.

And he finally does, but it's to silence her with wet fingers. His thumb brushes over her swollen mouth. She tries not to think about the substance he smears on her bottom lip. She refuses to acknowledge that it belongs to her but, all the same, she feels terribly disgusted. Her tears start to fall and Kronos can only chuckle.

He moves over her, straddling Thalia's hips. His lips crash against hers but that's nothing gentle about it. Kronos forces her mouth to open, yet another violation she can tack onto the list. Yet another sign that nothing is her own, not even her own mouth. It's a mess of teeth and tongue; Kronos breaking down barrier after barrier with no chance of letting her recover.

Finally, he relents in search of other territories. A nip at the edge of her jaw, his hand releasing her throat, and then both moving south. Kronos bites at the vein her throat, again at her clavicle before finding her breast. And, in the same way all roads lead to Rome, she knows where all of this ends, especially as she finds his hand attempting to reposition her hips.

In a last ditch effort to save herself, Thalia tries to pull her legs back together but he denies her the chance. He places his own leg just between hers. "No," he affirms. "At this point, it is too late for modesty, wife."

His erection pressed against her thigh, Thalia feels positively sick.

"Look at me."

She does. She regrets it.

He enters her. Thalia struggles still, pounding a fist against the bed, slamming it into his arm. It does nothing. Her chest heaves, filling itself with grief. Kronos seems more than pleased with her reaction.

He withdraws, coming down again, harder than before. She feels pain, she feels nauseous as he rocks into her. He breathes harder but she can still find traces of his cruel laughter. He's won.

But she can't accept that. Her hands are on his chest, trying to push him off. It only proves to infuriate him, these futile attempts to have him listen to her blubbering. Kronos pins her arms to her side, both of her arms. He presses his lips against her ear, voice soft yet powerful and hypnotic almost. "It'll only be over once you give up, Thalia."

She doesn't have the energy to say no.

"Give up," Kronos repeats, kissing her lobe. An almost harmless gesture. "Do so, and I will allow you to see Artemis. Isn't this what you want?"

Her tears thicken. More than anything. She simply nods.

"It cannot be so unless you let me have what want. Isn't that right?"

She doesn't answer even though he has made it so incredibly simple. Her body goes limp, finally giving into his demands. She feels so tired, so numb and a good soldier knows when battles cannot be won.

And yet, why does giving up make her feel so horrible?

Because I'm a hero. Heroes should never give up.

But she does. Maybe Kronos was right; she was never a hero to begin with.

Her entire body flushes - so unbelievably hot as if she might burn a hole through her body cavity - and her tears come out harder, blurring her vision. She simply waits for it to be over, trying to find herself in another place far from here. But even then, as her gaze wanders, Kronos makes sure she comes back to him; he won't allow her to escape so easily.

Time passes and Thalia sees the end when his thrusts grow faster and more chaotic. It isn't long before Kronos reaches a release and can no longer continue. He exhales through his nose but, besides that, he is very well composed.

Thalia hates him for it. She feels defeated and disgusted and utterly drained. Sore, she feels very sore and something drips down her thighs. Whether its semen or blood or both, she can't bring herself to care. Thalia simply closes her eyes, wishing for the pain to disappear. But most of all she just wants Kronos to disappear, taking the smug look on his face along with him. Because this is what he wants. To see her weak.

But even then, this has yet to be over. Kronos has yet to gloat. He's smiling at her, laughing even, and she finds herself meeting his gaze.

"What was it the puny Roman said?" he muses. "Veni, Vedi, Vici."

In the immortal words of Julius Caesar, I came, I saw, I conquered.

And that he did.

And Thalia's never felt more ashamed.


She's been awake since dawn. Thalia's always awake at dawn. But she desperately wishes she could have slept longer. Much longer.

She wants to break down, cry her hearts out to the heavens, let the world know her pain. But Thalia can't. She can't let Kronos know badly he's hurt her. So she allows it to fester into self-hatred.

He promised to let her see Artemis if she gave in. She can't tell if it was a lie or not. But it's more than clear she can never face them after this, not her Hunters, not Artemis, not any of her friends. She feels like a disgrace to them, a joke. She cannot, will not live feeling this way. She never wants to see that shame permeating her goddess's face.

She wants to die. How is Thalia's problem.

She could break one of the vases, use a shard to slash her wrists or slit her throat. But it would make too much noise and it would take a solid minute to enact her plan. Anything could happen in a minute, especially in this fresh hell of monstrous proportions. She rather rot in Fields of Punishment than remain on Mount Othrys another moment longer.

Thalia slides off the bed effortlessly, her feet making no noise as they touch cool marble. She walks toward the door, making her movements quiet and graceful. She's almost there. Almost.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Thalia curses herself in silence. She whips around, forcing herself to remain as stoic - even pitiful - as possible. "Bathroom."

Kronos raises an eyebrow, sparing a glance over his shoulder. The left wall rumbles and a stone door materializes before her eyes. "There," he says and she can only shake her head in utter disbelief.

Thalia doesn't move, clenching her fists in agitation.

He stares at her, smiling that fucking little smug smile of his. He waits for another reaction. And she is a wolf, glowering, hating every aspect of him. How dare he, the bastard, sit there and mock her with those gilded eyes of his, the hints of Luke still in his face, while she can only stand there probably looking like shit, feeling like shit, wanting to be shit.

Finally, he speaks again. But this time, it sounds like he's addressing Thalia as a child. "I never said you could leave just yet."

She snorts. "I never asked for your permission." Thalia holds onto the rage, let's it bubble inside of her. It's still nice, to feel something while she still can.

He sighs, resting back with his left arm behind his head. "Come here."

Thalia's tongue clicks against her teeth, jaw tightening in blatant refusal. Kronos's eyes darken a degree. "Come. Here."

She bites the inside of her cheek, walking forth with very little enthusiasm. A voice inside her head is screaming, refusing to take those tentative steps forward. But what choice does she have? There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and, most importantly, nowhere to die.

When Kronos stands, she hesitates. He towers over her. The muscles in his arms may very well be thicker than the size of her head and such hesitation is only rational for someone with even half the amount of self-preservation.

Without warning, his hand reaches the side of her face. She flinches back violently as if his touch is poison. "Don't."

"You are in my home, Thalia, here for my own pleasures. I will do what I please and you will stand there and accept it." So he touches her. Thalia's face reddens from both anger and embarrassment. His eyes are amused, drinking her in, somewhere between curiosity and recalling distant memories."Do you remember how we first met? Officially?"

Not she could really forget.

His eyes narrow, still expecting her answer.

"Kronia."

Thalia had snuck in as a minor god, passing the tight security guarding the United Nations building. With her being half-divine, the task wasn't exceptionally difficult. She was to serve as a decoy while the others, led by Nico, would break into Iapetus's office there and steal his map of the Underworld. Easier said than done. But Thalia had complied, expecting to be caught. Though the last thing she had expected was to run into Kronos.

But instead of incinerating her or calling for the guards, the Titan simply cocked his head to the side with a wide smile on his face. "Thalia Grace. Five years and you've haven't changed a bit."

She was confused at first. Not that she went outright and told him. No, Thalia had flashed him the sweetest of smiles, going along with his little game. "A blessing, I suppose. And you yourself look very much… alive."

Thalia had chosen her words carefully. A compliment nor insult. Really, she'd never met Kronos in person. Not really. Only once on a reforming Mount Othrys in a thousand pieces, and then again in Manhattan as Luke.

As far as Titans went, they certainly weren't ugly. She'd just been too preoccupied with the fact they were constantly trying to kill her to notice their physical appearance and, grudgingly, she would admit that there were worse things to look at.

But then her mouth had gone dry when she noticed the resemblance.

Luke.

Cropped blonde hair that was darkening to a color akin to black, impish features broadening, pale skin browning, a rugged shadow of a beard on his face, even Luke's facial scar still fading. But there were some things that remained the same still, at least in that moment in time: his height, his build, and of course the mischievous smile.

He had taken advantage of her pause, pulling her into a dance. Thalia knew nothing of dancing, at least, not to the classical music being played here. But in a few seconds, she'd learned to waltz like an expert because of him.

They had danced as if nothing was wrong. His doing, of course, to stall off mass panic.

And Thalia was sure to keep a smirk on her face and to never avert her eyes from him. During the Hunt, losing sight of a wolf could very well mean a swift death. Titans could be very much the same.

If Kronos was surprised by her boldness, he had never let on. He had twirled her once, with beautiful ease, before speaking. "So how did you, clever creature, find yourself here?"

"What can I say?" she shrugged. "I got lost. Thought I'd crash a party."

Kronos chuckled, not believing her one bit. "Where are the bodies, Thalia?"

"The guards?" she asked almost too innocently, pouting her lips before curling them into a devious grin. "Now where's the fun in that? Though, for treating me like a lady, I will tell you they're in one of the cars at the parking garage across the street."

He raised an eyebrow. "Impressive. Did you try the wine?"

"Yes," Thalia admits.

She'd answered most of his questions truthfully with confidence and pride. In a way, she was blunt, arrogant in the same fashion he was. And all, just before she'd taken a shot at his head too, before getting Hyperion in the shoulder.

"There you came as if the sun, planets revolved around you. Then you acted as if you were perfect, untouchable - just like the godsforsaken father who sired you. But now you stand, like a cornered animal, trembling yet still bearing your teeth."

She slaps him and in, his surprise Kronos, release her. Thalia turns on her heels and sprints for the door. But Kronos grabs Thalia's arm, throwing her halfway across the room. Her hands barely catch her fall. The air rushes out of her lungs in one painful whoosh.

"And like an animal," Kronos continues hotly. "You have yet to learn obedience. There are rules here, love. I make them and you follow them like any other slave."

Slave.

"You will obey me, Thalia. And you will do so with a pretty smile on your face. Is that understood?"

She's silent, trembling with what can only be rage. Obey.

Kronos grits his teeth, frustrated. Good. "Is that understood?"

Is that understood? she muses internally, wishing to say it out loud so she could mock him. Instead, she says, "No." It's soft at first. But it doesn't satisfy her. Not one bit. The power comes, raging. And soon she's screaming it. "NO!"

And she runs again because it's what Thalia's good at. By a miracle, Thalia manages to open the door, not that she gets far. His hand grabs the back of their throat, slamming her into stone. The right side of her face throbs from the impact. He grits his teeth. Thalia can feel him everywhere, his presence surrounding her, choking her essence.

His voice is low, angry. "I will break you, girl. I will kill them all and make you watch." Her eyes are wide; it's not hard to guess who he's referring to. "I will crush your spirit in the same manner I will crush their bones. And you will stay here; never to leave, never to die, never to grow old. You will suffer and I will enjoy every ounce of pain you have to offer me."

She can't fight him. She can't ever fight him. Thalia can feel it, the cracks in everything that defines who she is.

Kronos lets her go but not before dragging her back to the room. Their room now. Her new cell.

Chapter Text

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
-Winston Churchill


When Nico first shadow-travelled, he was eleven. And he ended up in China. It took him two months to find his way back to the Underworld. Six months later, he ended up in Germany. And then again in Alabama. Nowadays, those occurrences just didn't happen. Nine years and Nico had mastered the art of shadow-travelling. Or at least, that's what he assumed.

He wakes up on a sandy beach. The one thing about Nico? He doesn't like sand. Don't ask why, he just doesn't like sand. So naturally, he's already in a bad mood. And then, he remembers Thalia shoving him off the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, Nico is hella pissed off.

He sits up; trying to find out where on Earth is he, half-hoping he'd end up on Hawaii again. The son of Hades was in desperate need of a vacation.

But nothing looks familiar.

Palm trees tower over him, casting shadows on the beach. In the distance he sees a cave, a garden and a lake. It seems like a nice place but he's learned to be wary of nice places. Ninety-nine percent of the time there's always a nasty surprise waiting for him.

"You're awake," a sweet voice murmurs.

Nico whips around. A young girl, maybe Thalia's age, smiles at him. But the smile is cautious, as if she's unsure what to expect of him. She cradles a basket in her arms, filled to the brim with spicy smelling herbs.

He coughs, swearing there's sand stuck in his throat. "I was… asleep?"

The girl nods.

Nico's mind races. "Do you know how long?"

"Time," she muses. "Time is always difficult here. I do not know."

"Here?" he asks. "Where am I?"

"Ogygia," the girl answers simply, turning on her heels and walking away. Nico tilts his head in confusion. He watches her go, feeling a twinge of sadness as she does. Unexpectedly, Nico gets to his feet, trying to follow her.

He finds her in the flower garden, planting. When Nico nears her, she looks up from her work, staring at him as if he'd grown a second head.

"I thought you'd leave by now," she murmurs averting her eyes.

Nico frowns at this; her eyes are beautiful. A warm shade of brown. "Why would you think that?"

"I don't know," she sighs truthfully.

"Who are you?" he finds himself asking, almost intrigued by this girl he'd just met.

"Have you not guessed? I am Calypso, the sole inhabitant of Ogygia," her voice is bitter.

"You're… you're the daughter of Atlas? The one who'd sided in the first war with the Titans, right?"

"And you're a friend of Percy Jackson?" Calypso questions, staring at his neck. Nico looks down to find his camp necklace. Only two things hang from it: the camp bead from the year Daedalus died. The one with a labyrinth on it. And his silver ring, the one shaped like a skull that he used to have on his middle finger when he was twelve. After his growth spurt at fifteen, the ring had gotten too small for him to actually wear.

Nico's eyebrows furrow. "How do you know Percy?"

She tucks a strand of caramel-colored hair behind her ear. "He visited once. It is not important."

Calypso dusts the dirt off of her fingers. Much to her surprise, Nico offers her a hand to help her up. She takes it hesitantly.

"Thank you, Nico," she says shyly.

"How do you know my name?"

"You talk in your sleep." Her lips form a sad smile, as if remembering. "Who is Thalia?"

His thoughts whirl, deciding what he should tell her. "A friend," Nico says finally. "Someone I'll have to strangle when I get home."

Calypso laughs, a genuine laugh. It warms Nico's insides.

The girl soon catches herself, her laugh soon turning into a grimace, as if she's just been reminded of a sad thought. "A raft will be waiting for you on the beach. Goodbye."

Calypso leaves him there, dumbstruck.

It turns out; a raft does appear on the beach. Right in the same place he'd woken up. Nico doesn't touch it though, only staring at it. Nico remembers the myth of Calypso, how she'd be forced to fall in love with the heroes who had landed on her island. When she'd mentioned Percy's name, Calypso had sounded almost depressed. Right away, Nico knew his old friend had journeyed here before too. Maybe during his quest through the Sea of Monsters or that time he'd blown up Mount Saint Helens. After all, where hasn't Percy been? What hasn't Percy done?

One thing's for sure, Percy had broken Calypso's heart. Now, will Nico have to do the same? And after Nico, how many more heroes will come to Ogygia, torturing Calypso over and over again? But then, why does he care so much? Nico's never really cared about much before…

Nico finds himself running back. He sprints through the flower garden, pass the lake, straight towards the mouth of the cave he'd seen earlier. The smell of food sucker punches him in the face but Nico's determination leaves him to ignore the growls of his stomach.

The goddess sits by a fireplace built into the wall of the cave, humming a lullaby as she stirs a small pot. Nico steps towards her. "You're coming with me."

Calypso raises an eyebrow at him. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not going to leave you here," says Nico. "That's not what friends do."

She shakes her head.

It's his turn to raise an eyebrow. "You don't want to be friends?"

"It is my punishment. I cannot—"

"Yes you can!" he tells her. "The Olympians aren't in control anymore, Calypso. The Titans are ruling again. You're not bounded to Ogygia anymore – gods, I can't believe you've never tried! You can do whatever you want, go wherever you want."

"There is nowhere for me to go," she urges. "If my family wanted me home, they would have sought me out. My sister Zoe would have come for me. But even she did not come."

"We'll be your family," Nico says. "I'll be your family."

Calypso shakes her head again. "Why do you insist on helping me? Why must you heroes all be the same, trying to help those you simply cannot help?"

Nico exhales, "I don't have to help you Calypso. I'm not asking to save you or anything. I hardly even know you. I'm just asking that you save yourself. Are you really going to sit here while the Fates keep torturing you? Sending hero after hero for you to fall in love with and then take them away? Think about it. Aren't you tired of that?"

The goddess remains silent, his words sinking in. Nico's struck a chord, he knows that much.

"I will go," Calypso whispers. "But I must know… did Percy—did he plant the moon lace for me in Manhattan?"

Nico frowns, trying to think back to the times he'd been over Percy's house. He thinks back to Percy's fifteenth birthday with blue birthday cake (holy shit did Ms. Jackson know how to bake). The time Nico had scared Percy by appearing on the fire escape.

Nice plant, Nico had said.

"Yeah, it's in the planter box right outside Percy's window," he says without hesitation. "He planted it when he first got home, on the night of his fifteenth birthday."

Calypso's eyes brighten and she gives Nico a breathtaking smile. A smile that seems to warm his heart (or whatever other organ that pumped blood through his body).

Unexpectedly, she gives him a small hug. "Thank you."

As the raft edges away from the shore, Calypso stares back at her island as if unsure. And Nico can sympathize. This is a girl, going off to a strange new land. A land she's heard stories about, but never been to. And she's leaving, with a stranger she's just met.

"It'll be okay," he tells her reassuringly.

In the hours that take them to reach San Francisco, they don't talk about Ogygia or Percy. Only memories, happy ones. It makes the trip much easier. And Nico learns things about Calypso, a lot of things.

"Hermes?" he exclaims, unable to contain his surprise. "You lost your virginity to Hermes?

"Oh, hush!" she snaps, shoving his shoulder.

The raft shakes. "I just… wow, Hermes?"

"He's a god," she murmurs, her face flushing. "He's very persuasive. And he's the only man that ever came back to the island."

Nico gives her a mischievous smile. "Why am I not surprised?"

Calypso crosses her arms. "You are insufferable."

"I get that a lot."

Their surroundings begin to change. The familiar coast of California comes into view. Passing Drakes bay, they edge closer and closer to the Tamalpais-Homestead Valley.

"Percy and Annabeth," Calypso says suddenly with gloomy overtone. She gets that distant glint again, as if trying to remember. "They… love each other, correct? They are… together?"

"Love each other? Most likely," Nico tells her truthfully. "Together? I'm not sure. See, Percy… he disappeared for seven years. He lost his memory. I guess Annabeth's afraid he'll leave her again especially nowadays when all of our friends are starting to disappear. If she can push him away, she can minimize the pain. Not that I recommend it."

"But why?" Calypso frowns.

Nico shrugs, "We all have our way in dealing with things. Annabeth, well… she just locks herself up in the hard shell. Sometimes, it's like talking to a robot. But it's because she doesn't want anyone to see the pain behind it all, the pain of loss. Me, well, I guess I try not to let anything get to me. Our days are numbered – trust me, I'm a son of Hades so I know what the hell I'm talking about – and what's the use wallowing in all that angst? I've done that for most of my life already and I'm not going to continue with it."

He pauses for a moment, before continuing it again. "Thalia well… she hasn't changed much. She curses a lot more though, and sometimes starts fights for no reason. The violence, the chaos, she loves it. She won't admit it, but she loves it. I can always tell."

Calypso nods, saying nothing.

"Why do you care anyway?"

She shrugs.

Nico grimaces. "How do you even know Annabeth?"

"He would talk about her often," Calypso admits. "The same way you speak of Thalia."

"But the difference is I'm not in love with Thalia."

She smirks to herself.

The blood rises in his face. "I'm not lying!"

"Whatever floats your raft," Calypso murmurs with that mischievous glint in her eyes. But Nico scowls, refusing to let the subject go.

No one gets it do they?

"She's a friend," he tells her. "Maybe even my best friend. She understands me and I understand her. Sometimes Thalia's even like my big sister. But there's nothing between us. I just want to see her safe."

"So you're protective of her?"

"I didn't say that."

"It was implied."

"No it wasn't!"

"….it was."


November

The walls of Mount Othrys towering over Thalia makes her feel empty, dull, as if they're draining the very essence out of her. Thalia does her best not to sleep, finding her dreams plagued with nightmares. Nightmares she can't find the strength to face anymore.

Artemis does her best to comfort Thalia. Especially on those day (like today) where it all just becomes too much and she sees her strong soldier breaking like a piece of glass.

Artemis holds her tight, listening as the sobs die down. She doesn't have to look at Thalia's to face to know she's fallen asleep. But the guilt eats the goddess up in the inside, knowing that she's instilling false hope into her, dare she say it, former lieutenant. Because here in Kronos's domain, nothing gets better. It all eventually becomes worse.

The days march on, Artemis finding herself frustrated, tired. By mid-day she's already ran up and down the mountain performing chores. Ten years ago if someone would've called her a slave they'd be rotting in Tartarus as a jackalope.

But nevertheless, Artemis finishes her work (oh, how she loathes the word) and hurries up the winding staircase of the north tower. The only thing on her mind now: Thalia Grace.

Though she'd be lying if she said Thalia wasn't on her mind often.

She isn't eating. She's lost weight. And Artemis can't help but think this is Thalia's last chance at defiance.

But they all know Kronos won't have it. He'll begin to shove food down her throat if Thalia thinks she can escape him through death.

The enslaved goddess steps onto the hall and realizes something is wrong. Something is very wrong.

Silence.

It is far too silent.

Then a crash erupts from nowhere, followed by an indignant scream.

Artemis bolts, chasing after the noise as if chasing a deer. She barrels straight through the door, all of the Titan Lord's rules be damned. She does not fear his punishments.

The goddess finds her huntress in the center of the floor, the many horrible pithos lining the walls now lying strewn about. If only she knew they would just reform. Kronos is anything if not sadistic.

She steps forward, the shards cutting into her feet, but Artemis cares not. Thalia flinches away, curling into a ball, hair hanging over her face.

"Thalia?"

No response, just a swarm of emotions with shame the chief amongst them.

"Look at me?"

Grudgingly, the girl does as she is asked. Artemis steels herself against the cuts and bruises. Their fading, she muses with great relief. It still changes nothing.

The goddess notices Thalia's sunken in eyes, red from crying and baring this angry half-crazed look.

"What is the meaning of this?" Artemis sighs.

"It's late," she utters somewhere between a whimper and a growl.

The ichor running through her veins seizes up. No. Not this. "How many days?"

"I don't know. But it's been too long," Thalia whispers.

"There is still hope," Artemis says desperately. "Maybe—"

Thalia raises a finger to cut her off, the other hand placed over her mouth. She runs to the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her. Artemis stands there patiently, listening to the sounds of Thalia vomiting. When the noise stops, a moment of silence ensures. Until Artemis is welcomed by the sound of a mirror shattering.

"Thalia!" Artemis growls, pounding her fist on the door. She heaves a sigh as the door flutters open.

Thalia's shakes with pent up sobs, cradling her fist – a mound of shredded flesh bleeding profusely - to her chest as the very world seems to crash around her.

Artemis can't help it. She embraces Thalia. Gravity itself seems to pull them down, the girl's knees giving out, but Artemis will not let go.

"Aren't you disappointed with me?" Thalia whispers, her voice thick with tears. But it's not what she wants to say.

The hopeful question shimmers in her blue eyes. Will you kill me?

A long time ago Artemis would have. But she simply shakes her head.

The girl's whole body clenches with the beginnings of a childish tantrum. "I've failed you, I—"

But then the sudden anger dissipates.

Thalia sees it. The woods. Artemis sees it too.

Smells it. The air sharp with the must and pine. Huntresses in silver weaving through the trees like streams of moonlight. Girls laughing, dogs barking. A dream – once reality – Thalia still holds so dear. Her one hope that if they won, if they finally defeated the dreaded Titans, everything could return to what it once was.

But the dream is over for Thalia. The proof is growing within the girl's stomach and Kronos has finally pierced the last of Artemis's does with his own arrows.

He's won.

The goddess breathes in and breathes out.

I will not be overcome with sadness.

It is the killer of all hope.

She addresses her huntress, her friend, her half-sister, with a new found ferocity. "The only way you can fail me, Thalia? Is if you give up. Never admit defeat. Even then, when everything seems hopeless, I will always be proud of you but only if you fight to the bitter end."

That is their way.

Chapter Text

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.


December

She wanders.

"He's trying to break the defenses in Elysium," Artemis tells Thalia one day when the girl is curious for answers. The last person she wants to see is Kronos but his absence is just as nerve-wracking as his presence. "For all that it's worth, let us hope the ghosts keep him occupied for much longer." Thalia can't agree anymore.

She eats.

She eats even though it brings her no pleasure to do so. She has been devoid of pleasure for a while. But at least she stops crying. Thalia hates to cry.

It's another thing to go on her mental list to keep her from going insane.

I don't cry anymore, is one.

At least I have Artemis for company, is another. Though that also brings on its own sadness.

A lot of things make her sad.

The isolation. Her past times now include eating, sleeping, and breaking the vases that never stay broken. They used to be pranking Nico, drawing out war plans, killing monsters, and training to kill monsters. And Titans, let her not forget the nasty Titans.

But now she has none of that. She is in the dark, unsure of how her friends are faring. If any of them are even alive still. Even islands in the middle of ocean know more than Thalia does.

But the isolation is also comforting in a way. It means that Kronos is far away, unable to fill the air with her screams. Another thing on her list that she is thankful for.

She showers.

The water burns to the touch but Thalia hardly notices, busying herself by scrubbing endlessly. Long scratches appear on her arms, her legs, but she doesn't feel clean. Worse, actually. She's disgusted with herself.

Thalia sits in shower, letting the scalding water maul her wounds. She watches a streak of blood drip down from her knee to her thigh. She can't feel a thing.

Sighing, Thalia shuts the water off. She grabs a towel, only to have her raw skin protest in vengeance. She stares in the mirror only to see the shell of a girl that once was. Her eyes no longer hold power; they're dim, no longer harboring light, as if the bulb has been broken. And her face is thinner from previous weeks of starving herself.

But Thalia figures she has looked worse. At least now, the bruises that used to be on her face and arms and legs have yellowed and disappeared. Progress, for her now, can only come one step at a time.

Her stomach lurches. Thalia vomits again, a prayer on the back of her mind that she may be rescued yet. But it's wishful thinking. No one can truly help her.

"Thalia?"

She sighs, cracking open the door a smidge. "I'm here."

"I have something to show you," says Artemis, her voice a little more worn than usual.

That garners some interest.

Thalia steps out, steam fleeing from the bathroom as soon as she opens the door wide. Artemis sits on the bed, her fingers brushing over a Grecian-styled dress of green silk.

The air chills and Thalia clenches her fist. "What's this?"

"A dress," says the goddess, as if it should be obvious.

Her eyes narrow. "And what is it for?"

"Saturnalia."

A Roman holiday, celebrated to honor the most gracious Saturn – their Lord Kronos. And for Thalia it means the bird gets to come out of her cage; all the slaves get to be released from their shackles tonight, joining their masters in the adultery, drunkenness, and gambling to come.

The words stick in her throat like bubble gum. "It's been that long?"

No one is coming to rescue me.

Slowly, Thalia shakes her head, pushing down the bile rising in her throat. "I don't want to go."

"I know you don't." Artemis sighs too, as if she predicted this would happen. "But it's not up to me. Or you."

Her fist trembles. "I don't want to see him… I…" Can't.

Artemis stands, crossing the room and taking Thalia's hands into her own. "Please?" Or I'll be punished, is the look in her eyes. Both daughters of Zeus have it exceptionally hard.

And we have to look out for each other, the former huntress reminds herself. Thalia nods.

Artemis dresses her, eyes flickering to the girl's stomach and then Thalia's face. She wants to say something, the girl can tell. But no words seem to flow between them, even as the goddess then takes to braiding Thalia's hair.

And then nothing.

Artemis just pauses, staring at Thalia.

"You look like…" she trails off, the thought floating into the void as if it never existed. "You're beautiful," Artemis corrects. "You always were."

There's a mirror tucked away in the corner but neither of them make a move towards it.

"Look where that got me," Thalia can't help but say aloud. She wants to chop her hair off, dress in black and silver camo with a bow slung across her back, paint her face with brown-gray mud, and sharpen her arrows and drive them through a stag's belly. Just like how she used to be when no one cared if she was pretty and she could maim any boy that so much as looked at her the wrong way.

"Have you told him? About—"

"Yes."

That surprises her. She wonders how long then, until Kronos kills her.

"Was he angry?"

"No," Artemis murmurs, eyes downcast. "He was… satisfied."

Thalia purses her lips. "Kronos, the devourer of children? Satisfied?"

A familiar defiant looks sparkles in her silver eyes. "He thinks you can be… controlled."

"He's an idiot." And I'll make him regret those words.

Artemis allows herself a small smile. Perhaps the infamous Thalia Grace yet lives.


Saturnalia.

The throne room must have undergone extensive preparation the day before, hence Artemis's disheveled appearance.

Marble floors shine terribly in the light of a thousand blinking candles. The polished gold thrones still command the center of the room, malevolently presiding over long mahogany tables overflowing with food: the ripest of fruits, the hardiest of meats, the richest of wine, all for demigods and demi-titans in attendance. And then nectar and ambrosia for the immortals.

Thalia feels out of place with it all. For starters, she's the only one wearing green. The rest find themselves in some sort of gold tunics or armor and, as soon as she walks in, all eyes are on her.

A prize to be flaunted.

She lingers near the walls, attempting to keep her head down. But it still doesn't stop the whispers.

Thalia shoves food into her mouth next, hoping it'll calm her nerves. But it doesn't. Instead, she can feel the back of her neck flushing. She feels too plain compared to the goddess's here, too fat as her belly begins to protrude with a growing… something. The spawn of a Titan.

"Thalia."

She tries not to flinch. Tries not look in his direction. But Kronos is not one to be ignored.

Her eyes vaguely skim over his intricately engraved gilded armor and Thalia attempts to hold back a sneer. It hurts to even look at him, shining like Apollo himself.

Bastard. Murder. Sadist. Monster. Dick.

He raises an eyebrow, sensing her thoughts or not, she can never be sure. "You came."

Thalia snorts, lips pursed in a thin line. "Did I have a choice?"

"No," Kronos muses, taking a sip from the nectar-filled goblet in his hand. "All the same, I expected to drag you here kicking and screaming. Like your father, you seem to have a flare for the dramatics."

"I have my reasons." And those same reasons will help me plunge a knife through your eye.

Kronos sets the goblet down and holds out a hand to her. "I'm bored. Dance with me."

He doesn't wait for her to refuse. Kronos pulls her along anyway, a vicious grin stuck on his face. She, of all people, knows how dangerous a bored immortal can be.

"I will be visiting again tonight," he says as if in response to her thoughts. "Your… friends have kept me rather busy since taking up residence in Elysium."

And you intend to punish me for their insolence.

"I'm sure they have," is all Thalia says, not trusting herself any further.

"You make for a terrible dancing partner," he comments, a scorching hand dropping to the small of her back, forcing her steps to become in tune with his. Thalia doesn't even try to hide her gritted teeth, fitted to match an animal's snarl.

"A pity too," he continues on the subjects of her friends, "considering Saturnalia is not without its gladiators. Unfortunately for us, last Kronia left the dungeons a little too empty."

She know what he's talking about all too well. Thalia has seen those matches firsthand; they're always televised and many a good friend or two has died from such a fate. But she refuses to believe that any of them – Jason, Percy, Annabeth, or Nico – could suffer the same untimely end. Such an insinuation lets the little fire of hate in her heart burn bright.

Thalia tilts her head in a motion of fake curiosity. "Do the other Titans force their captives into an empty marriage? I can imagine why the cells would be just a little bit vacant."

Kronos snorts. "Please, the other captives are worth as much as a clump of insects." His smile doesn't waver. He twirls her but stops mid-motion, slamming his chest against Thalia's back. She's jolted by his warm breath at the edge of her ear. In that moment, time seems to stand still. "Except the Aphrodite girls, of course. They provide a good deal of entertainment before being promptly disposed of."

Thalia turns back to back him, trying to hide her shaking hands. "I count the days until you dispose of me. Just hearing you talk is torture enough."

He laughs at her. "In addition to the other things I do to you? Worse than the Fields of Punishment, I bet. And considering it is Saturnalia, I am willing to bet a lot." Kronos takes her into his embrace again and the dance resumes. "No, Thalia. I will keep you around for a very long time. Especially if you prove yourself useful."

"How can I be of any use to you?" Her eyes narrow into slits. "As you made perfectly clear, you can fuck any girl you'd like with no one to stop you."

Kronos ignores that. "I want to know what they're planning. You're friends."

"How am I supposed to know? I've been away for months now."

He shrugs. "I had a feeling you would say that."

"It's the truth," she insists. Or a half-truth at the very least.

"Is it now?" says Kronos. "You see, the Thalia Grace I know can be very evasive."

Thalia doesn't miss the story etched behind those words. There's something he's expecting her to know, something Kronos doesn't plan to tell her anytime soon.

"I don't know anything that you don't." She casts him a rueful side glance. "I don't even know which of my friends are alive."

He chuckles. Of course he picks up on the ever present question lingering at the back of her mind. "Yes. You would like to know wouldn't you?"

More than anything, she almost blurts out. But Thalia will not do this. She will not become putty in his hands, not when she needs to hold onto whatever dignity she has left.

But much to her surprise, he responds regardless.

"Because it's Saturnalia I will tell you this: we haven't found Nico Di Angelo's body. Can't say that doesn't mean he isn't dead. After all, thanks to my urging, everyone thought Percy Jackson was dead. But the truth always has a way of finding the light, doesn't it?"

They stop dancing completely, irritating the immortals around them. "Where's the Roman camp?" he asks.

Why would it matter? They've moved on by now.

She bows her head a little, this time with a forced smile of her own. "It's Saturnalia, my lord."

"You're suggesting I relax." He laughs at that. "You will find the ways in which I relieve myself are wholly uncomfortable for others involved."

Like fucking me.

"I don't know anything," she spits. "Now if you excuse me, I'm feeling rather sick."

"No, you're not," he affirms. "But, just this once, I will indulge you. As the mother of my child."

She flees the throne room as soon as he turns his head, a string of pent up curses and an irate scream stuck in her throat.

Thalia raises her hand against a statue of Kronos and it explodes into pieces with one conveniently placed lightning bolt.

"You shouldn't haven't done that."

Thalia whirls around. "What else can he do—" Her jaw drops open. "Piper?"

Piper let's out a little puff of air, blowing aside her dark uneven bangs. She adjusts the heavy load in her hands: a case of at least six unopened wine bottles.

A daughter of Aphrodite. One of the first demigods she and Nico saved before the T.A.R.D. unit snuffed them out. That is, until a year ago when they'd lost her all the same.

But before Thalia can tell Piper that she should be dead, she's cut off.

"I figured it was only a matter of time until we ran into each other," Piper sighs, giving the broken state a reproachful look. "Gods, I'm running late. Well, if you're done throwing a tantrum I suggest you follow me."

Thalia doesn't even argue.

"How are you here?" says the daughter of Zeus as she struggles to keep up, forcing down her morning sickness. Thalia can vomit as much as she wants to later.

"How the rest of us are here." She lets out a bitter chuckle as they round a corner and come straight to a dead end. "The Titans need slaves, don't they?"

Half-hidden in the shadows are a dozen other demigod slaves, dressed in the finest clothes they could procure, chatting with each other animatedly about a load of things Thalia might never comprehend.

The newcomers' discussion catches the eye of a brown-skinned boy with a blond afro. He approaches them, a boom box slung over his shoulder.

"If you ask me, our friends that died were the lucky ones." The boy appraises her with mischievous hazel eyes. He holds out his hand. "Reggie, son of Dionysus. Never made it to Camp Half-Blood, I'm afraid. Practically grew up here."

They shake on it. "Thalia."

He whistles. "The infamous Thalia Grace." Reggie sets the boom box down, bending over it to turn it on and fiddle with the buttons. "You're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be fighting for us."

"I know," Thalia murmurs. "I failed."

"We all failed," Piper corrects. "And that's okay. It's Saturnalia and we shouldn't worrying about these kinds of things."

"Ditto. Here." He rushes up behind her, grabbing her stiff braid and quickly undoing it. "This holiday is for us to let our hair down and drink until there's no tomorrow. Think you're up for it?"

She regards him carefully. "Of course."

Reggie beams at her.

"You're not actually letting her stay," says one of the other demigods as they come to notice just who exactly has decided to join them.

A pretty Asian girl in a dirt brown tunic sneers at the three of them.

Piper purses her lips. "Of course we are, Drew."

Her eyes narrow. "She's no slave. She's Kronos's wife."

"Which means she's a slave like the rest of us," Reggie comments.

"She doesn't work as hard as we do. She just gets to be locked up in a room all day."

"Permanently entertaining Kronos," he emphasizes. "The job description seems bad enough. You of all people know what it's like to have that position."

Drew opens her mouth to protest but nothing comes out.

The boom box turns on, blasting out anonymous dance music. Reggie grabs one of Piper's wine bottles, cracking it open and taking a sip before placing it Thalia's own hand.

"As one of Hyperion's favorite whores, here is to our shared struggle. You're always welcomed here, Thalia Grace."

He turns the music up.

Thalia figures the wine must be spiked with something when she finds herself a little too drunk a little too fast, intoxicated by music she can't even hear properly, rubbing up against a son of Dionysus she doesn't even know.

But let it not be said that Thalia Grace, daughter of Zeus, doesn't know how to party.

Let it also not be said that Thalia Grace, pregnant or otherwise, doesn't know how to drink. She finishes one entire wine bottle with rapid precision and quickly reaches for another. And much to her relief, as ignorant as her newfound friends are to her condition, no one stops her. She's relieved for that.

And for the first time in ages, Thalia finds an escape. For the first time in ages she doesn't think about her friends, doesn't think about Nico.

The moment is fine while it lasts, this taste of freedom.

In the middle of their circle, dancing to some pagan tune Thalia can't even name, Piper stops completely. At first, Reggie shoves her playfully, urging her to keep moving, be he also halts in his tracks. And before Thalia knows it, someone shuts the music off.

"Please, don't stop on my accord."

No one moves. The slaves stand frozen in their spots, some glaring at the very girl who has ruined all their fun.

Slowly, Thalia turns to face him.

Luke.

But not Luke, she reminds herself. Never Luke. But she can't help but match Kronos's disapproving look to her long lost friend. Her long lost dead friend that had betrayed her.

He simply stands there, smirking, arms crossed over his gilded breastplate. Perhaps he notices the flush in her cheeks, the wine stain on the neckline of her dress, the dark green bottle in her hands. But Thalia hardly cares.

Instead her eyes are on Artemis half-hidden in the shadows, her eyes on her feet. Thalia finds disappointment there too.

"Terribly dreadful," says Kronos once he realizes the festivities won't commence with their lord occupying the hallway. He crosses the space, grabbing Thalia's arm. "Let's say you let go of that drink and turn in for the night."

"And if I don't?"

Artemis silver eyes glare at her.

He only smiles, taking the bottle of wine from her hands anyway. "Careful, Thalia. Just because you're drunk doesn't mean I will excuse your insolence."

Again, she feels eyes on her. The eyes of her fellow demigod slaves.

She clenches her fists, forcing herself to swallow down the embarrassment. "It's not my fault the parties you throw suck."

Kronos's eyes seem to burn. "Come." Knowing his strength, Thalia doesn't even refuse when he begins to tug. Still, he addresses the others with a pleasant smile. "Please resume. It is Saturnalia, after all."

Still, no one derives comfort from those words.

She leaves unwillingly. But not before shooting Piper one last glance, a simple plead for help. But the daughter of Aphrodite's blank stare mirrors the very void growing within Thalia as well.

What help?

Thalia doesn't fight when Kronos forces his way into her bed later that night. She doesn't even feel pain when he thrusts into her this time. But she is grateful he doesn't mock her with kisses that sting just as much as the blade of a knife.

No, Thalia only feels numb. She tells herself that it could be worse, that this is her place now. And with every thrust she counts, Thalia starts to believe it.

Not even Saturnalia – her one taste of freedom – can change that.

Chapter Text

Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.

-Friedrich Nietzsche


February

"How many times do I have to say it? Coffee makes Thalia sick." Artemis pinches the bridge of her nose. "Send it back and give her hot chocolate instead."

Piper rolls her eyes, taking the tray. "Yes, Lady Artemis."

She nearly runs all the way back to the kitchens, taking a little peak at the napkin beneath the white porcelain cup. Blue ink.

How the goddess managed to get hold of a pen this time, Piper has no idea. And she doesn't plan to ask.

"Can I help you, Piper?" the chef says, wildly stirring the nearest pot.

"Artemis says hot chocolate for the girl. Make it quick."

He drops the wooden spoon immediately, hurriedly taking the tray from Piper's hands. "That goddess knows how to grind my nerves."

As soon as she disappears, the chef dumps the coffee down the sink and pulls out a red plastic bag hidden away in a drawer. He drops the note inside it, throws it in the trash. Of course, he ends up burning his meal. But he'll take the punishment gladly.

The red bag itself passes many more hands that day before ending up in a garbage heap not too far from the Titans' base. That's where it is found by Ella.

The blonde-haired girl – eleven years old from anyone's guess – nearly faints when she holds it in her hands. She's a legacy, with some of Hermes' blood in her veins but too diluted to make her anything dangerous. But enough to leave her without a home and shoes, dressed in rags and in desperate need of a shower.

She drops everything and takes to walking along the highway, red bag clutched firmly in hand.

Walking all night, Ella makes it to Mel's Diner by morning. As soon as she opens the door, hearing the bell chime and getting a whiff of freshly cooked eggs and bacon, she almost dies right there and then.

A black woman behind the counter spots her and sighs. "Ella…"

She jumps on one of the barstools. "I'll take two biscuits and a hundred gallons of orange juice."

"You know you can't afford it, dear"

The girl grins, snatching the red bag from her pocket and smacking it down on the counter. "I think I can."

"Alright," she says. "I'll throw in a link of sausages but make sure you actually save some leftovers this time. Who knows when you'll find payment again?"

Her tongue clicks. "Yes, Miss Lucy."

Lucy places Ella's order but not before running to the kitchen, reading the coded message to herself, and transcribing it on a different napkin. She promptly hands the old note to Marty – the chef – who quickly throws it in the fire.

She comes back out, unfazed, and goes towards one of her other customers: a middle-aged white man in a suit.

"Forgot your napkin, sugar."

He smiles and says, "Thanks Lucy," before dabbing his mouth, shoving the napkin in his pocket, and rushing out the door. As he reaches his car, the anonymous man pulls out his cellphone. The man shoves his keys into the ignition just as he gets voicemail.

"Hey honey, just wanted to let you know that the darn cat got out again. Make sure you call Beth down at the shelter to see if he's been picked up."

His day resumes as normal. It's on his smoke break that the note is once again transferred word for word, this time from the napkin to a piece of stationery. He quickly crumples up the now useless napkin, dumping it in the trash and dousing the contents with his favorite black coffee.

Five on the dot he departs, humming a Coldplay tune to himself on the way home. Before heading to sleep that night, he leaves a can of tuna on the patio with the folded piece of stationery tucked beneath it.

It's only hours later that a black cat find its way on the porch. It grabs the stationery – leaves the tuna – and once again heads out on his merry way. Half past three in the morning the cat ends up at the Caldecott tunnel.

In the blink of an eye, said cat turns into an exhausted Frank Zhang who finally makes his way down the maintenance tunnel towards Camp Jupiter.


Her day begins bright and early, mundane like the rest of her existence. Artemis grabs the laundry first, checking on breakfast, of course, before barging into Thalia's room to get her started with day. Not that there's much for her to do.

But much to Artemis's surprise, Thalia's already awake, sitting in the middle of her messy blankets, fingers combing through her while humming to herself.

"You're… happy," Artemis comments. Odd.

"I suppose I am." Her eyes brighten a tad and she sits up a little straighter. "I felt the baby kick last night. Kronos felt it too."

Artemis wants to be happy – really – but there are too many things wrong with her statement. First off, Thalia never gushes. Never. Nor has she ever referred to the thing growing inside her as a baby. Usually, in Thalia's mind, if she doesn't acknowledge it, it doesn't exist and that is typically enough for her.

Still, it isn't the worse thing she's said.

"Did he?" Artemis manages, dropping the clean sheets atop the bed. "And you… let him? Touch you there?"

Thalia rolls her eyes. "I knew you would give me that look."

The goddess sighs. "I'm just trying to understand the situation, Thalia."

She stands, pursing her lips. "I don't see why it matters to you," the girl retorts.

Artemis scowls. "After everything he's done—"

"Stop, alright?" Thalia sits down on the cool marble floor. "Just leave it alone, Artemis. Please?"

"Something is very wrong—"

"Nothing is wrong!"

Silence settles in between them.

Artemis looks away, throwing the clean sheets at Thalia and ripping off the dirty ones. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"Well you did," she replies and that is the end of that.

There's a sharp rap at the door.

"Thalia?" It opens tepidly and the daughter of Aphrodite, Piper, strolls in, completely oblivious. "I've got your tea."

"Thanks Piper," she murmurs.

Artemis finishes off the bed with Piper's help and they leave together too. But before the girl can take off, the goddess stops her dead in her tracks with a steely glare.

"Since when does Thalia drink tea?"

She frowns. "It's supposed to help with morning sickness."

Artemis almost laughs. "It doesn't matter. Thalia hates tea, she rather vomit on everyone and everything than drink that."

"I don't know, my lady," Piper whispers. "I was just asked to bring it to her."

The distance closes in between them. "By whom?"


"We have to hurry," Percy grumbles under his breath as they board the subway. "You know Annabeth's going to kill us if the Titans get there first." He flexes his freezing fingers. "She's already panicking about the Eros incident. She's sent some of the Apollo kids to slash and burn –" information that is "– and you know how dangerous that is. She hasn't slept in days."

"Trust me, I know." Nico pulls down the hood over his head, careful to keep it positioned away from the cameras. "Though I'm pretty sure she'll take it easy on us. She's got bigger fish to fry and this is your mission. We don't need to worry about you."

The son of Poseidon drops into the closest seat. "It's your mission too."

"Please," he snorts. "I'm tagging along for the hell of it. No one lets me do the exciting stuff anymore."

The doors close and the train trembles as it starts up once again.

"I'm surprised they even let you tag along," says Percy. "I thought you and Jason were still on bad terms."

"I kind of didn't ask for his permission but we'll see how this all blows over with when we come back home." With Theia's special lens, he adds on silently. But those words are enough to warrant the Titan Lord's attention. No one outside of Mount Othrys knows of Theia's location and they're not about to rat out Artemis anytime soon. Especially now with the Eros incident putting the Titans on high alert. "Besides, he's just mad I came home with the wrong girl."

Not that Nico needs Jason to feel like shit. Of course he doesn't regret recruiting Calypso to their cause – not one fucking bit and he won't hesitate to skewer anyone that says otherwise – but not a day goes by where he doesn't think about Thalia, what they must be doing to her inside Mount Othrys, how he abandoned her. Even if he didn't abandon her intentionally – that it was her goddamn fault for pushing him off the bridge in the first place, knowing he would react the only way he knew how – it still feels that way and he can't forgive himself for that.

But at least Nico isn't dead. At least he can do something to bring her back home.

They end up in Times Square, huddled together for warmth after becoming so used to California's temperate climate. Even so, their close proximity makes Nico just a little uncomfortable.

Soon enough, however, Nico forgets all about that. He stops dead in his tracks, teeth still chattering, but eyes burning holes into the multitude of big screens flashing against the buildings.

Percy follows his stare and the surprise leaves his face.

Kronos.

It's a replay of a few days before, Eros' compound being raided by T.A.R.D. unit officers and the Titan Lord himself strolling into the place to do an investigation of his own. Eros was useful to their cause, serving as a well-trained Titan spy. Still, it was only a matter of time before Kronos caught on. Eros knew the risks.

"We're going to get her back." He clasps Nico's shoulder, pushing him forwards. "We're going to beat them."

"That's what you said the first time around. Before the Battle of Manhattan." He grimaces, anger flashing briefly across his face before being replaced with resignation. "We're heroes, Percy. We don't get to have happily ever after's."

Percy doesn't even answer. They continue on, silent for a moment.

"Did you have a thing for her? Thalia, I mean?"

Nico rolls his eyes. "Why does everyone seem to think that?"

He shrugs. "You seem to care about her a lot." And you're totally emo together.

"I do," the son of Hades responds. "Just not in that way."

"I see." But, much to Nico's surprise, his friend actually means it. "Well, you've been spending a lot of time with Calypso."

His head snaps towards him. "Open your fucking mouth again and I'm going to kill you."

Percy chuckles. "Hey, we just want to see you happy, man."

Nico doesn't smile. "We're in the middle of a war, Percy."

"That doesn't mean there isn't time for, you know…" He makes a lewd slapping sound with his cracked palms.

"Shut up."

They walk another two blocks, thoughts of Thalia moved away from the forefront of their minds.

"There," says Percy, pointing to a red door wedged between two department stores.

Theia's Optical says the sign in doodled letters, as if a five year old had made it.

Nico knocks but no one answers. He's ready to try again but the door magically opens by itself. It's musty in the store, tables crowded with lamps from what appears to be every age in history. Between them, boxes of jewels and mason jars of what appears to be fairy dust, all of it sparkling in the dim light.

"Isn't it shiny?"

She practically bursts from the shadows: a tiny, frail woman with white-blonde hair pulled back in a messy bun. Thrown of her shoulder are at least three wool blankets like a grandmother that simply can't stand the cold. On the bridge of her nose, glasses within gold wire-rimmed frame and lenses the size of saucers, making her pupils so incredibly large the boys could probably trace every line and minuscule color on her irises.

This woman seems so warm and comforting, very much unlike the Titans they know all too well. This can't possibly be her.

Percy frowns. "Are you Theia?"

She squints her eyes. "Hyperion! How I've missed you!" Her hand cracks across his face. "That's for fucking that nymph on top of the Empire State building yesterday."

I take that back. "Ow?"

She huffs, "Great Gaia, I know we're divorced but do you really have to be so unfaithful?" Theia rests her delicate hands on her hips. "I can see everything you know."

Nico tries not to laugh. Except the people right in front of you. Who knew Theia would be so far-sighted? "Lady Theia." The son of Hades bows his head. "I'm sure Hyperion is very sorry."

"Very sorry," Percy echoes dryly.

"But we would greatly desire your help."

"Of course pretty boy." She comes to stand right in from of him, slapping Nico playfully on the cheek. "Just as long as you promise to keep your hands off my ex here."

Percy's eyes widen. "What?"

"Oh never mind!" she flutters to the other side of the room, snatching up what looks like an old pickle jar and shaking it. "Look! This is Kronos's eye."

True and said a blank eye, shining like liquid gold, stares back at them.

They jump back. "But how…?"

"I replaced it! Oh a long time ago. Back when he was paranoid looking for Zeus." She grins, taking a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. "I made him a state-of-the art all-seeing eye. But, if you ask me, the prescription on his is a little outdated as of now. It's the only reason the Rebellion's managed to hide from him all this time. If his eye was good as new like it once was there'd be no hiding from him."

"Then why hasn't he come to you for a new prescription?" says Percy.

She rolls her eyes. "Well first off it's a lengthy process that Kronos doesn't have time for. But most importantly, in exchange for the eye, I made him swear never to come to me for anything ever again."

Nico frowns. "Why?"

It's the wrong question to ask.

Theia's face darkens and she starts fiddling with her knickknacks in a more obsessive manner, like an extreme hoarder trying to get their shit together.

"Sweet mother Earth, that despicable psychopath…" She curses to herself. "I loved Rhea. He loved Rhea too. But even love isn't enough to keep us from doing terrible things. After Zeus was born she shut him out of their marital bed, Hyperion has never been loyal to me either, so we…" Her face falls a little as she shrugs. "That devastated Rhea. More than she let on. I swore I wouldn't do that again. Not to her."

The boys share a look. "That's… good of you."

"Well, let's not worry your pretty little head about that." A small black kettle materializes in her hands. "Do you want the lens or not?"

"Thought you'd never ask," Nico muses. "What do we need to do?"

She grabs a ragged towel to wipe the kettle down. "An all-seeing lens allows to you to transcend personal barriers. You can spy on anyone virtually anywhere in the world, using their secrets against them." Theia throws the dirty rag in Percy's face. "In return, I must take one of your secrets."

"No," says the son of Hades, eyes flashing like a wild animal's. "There has to be another way."

"There isn't, boy. Either I take a secret from the both of you or I close my doors to the Rebellion forever. Honestly, it's a good deal! I'm not even charging you extra for contact lenses instead of glasses!" She grabs one of her jars of pixie dust next, along with a water bottle. "Besides, I'm the Titaness of clarity, Nico Di Angelo. Secrets dirty the water, make it hard to see. It's time to let go."

He says nothing as she dumps her ingredients, along with a pinch of a thick golden liquid that strongly resembles ichor. Theia clears her throat, dropping down to the floor and placing the kettle between her legs. "Well?"

Percy kneels. He looks up at his motionless friend. "Do you want to get Thalia back or not?"

Nico sighs one last time before joining them.

"Great!" the Titaness claps. With a few magic words, the kettle starts bubbling with purple foam. She glares at the boys. "Now think very hard. A secret. And it better be a good one because I won't be cheated! Think it and it shall appear in little Alabaster here."

The younger boy narrows his eyes. "You name your kettles?"

"You know what I call people who don't name their kettles, Di Angelo?" Theia sneers. "Cunts!"

Percy closes his eyes.

She smiles, placing the kettle in front of her for all to see. "Let's see it then."

At first they see nothing in the foam, only hear a disembodied voice.

"A half-blood of the eldest gods

Shall reach sixteen against all odds

And see the world in endless sleep

The hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap

A single choice shall end his days

Olympus to preserve or raze"

But then an image appears, of a throne room that is very familiar to them.

Ethan Nakamura dies first.

Annabeth flies, her head cracking against a crumbled throne. And Luke – Kronos – wastes no time attempting to attack Percy Jackson to pieces. He only defends, the Titan attacking him with an inhuman strength that no demigod can muster. Even the curse of Achilles can't help him defeat a Titan.

Grover appears at the corner of Percy's eye, force feeding Annabeth with spare ambrosia.

"Get her out of here," he grits through clench teeth. "Now. Find Thalia and go."

"But—"

With that distraction, it's nearly a miracle Kronos doesn't take off his head.

"NOW!"

Grover doesn't argue. He stumbles out of the throne room with Annabeth in toe, the girl still clutching her dagger tightly to her chest.

They fight for hours. Or what seems like hours, he can't tell with Kronos's time warping abilities. He can only measure the pure exhaustion coming to overwhelm him.

The blade of Backbiter – true to its namesake – crashes against the back of his neck. It doesn't deliver a killing blow, thanks to his curse, but it still feels like someone ramming him with a steel baseball bat.

Percy drops to the ground before the Titan Lord, spine crackling with pain. He's now painfully aware of the giant crack in the floor, the same that had swallowed up a dying son of Nemesis.

A window of opportunity, but as what cost?

Kronos only laughs. "You've lasted this long, Perseus. A feat in itself, is it not?" His fear is permeable in the air. "Come, face your death like a man."

But he doesn't.

Percy pushes himself off the ledge, dropping into blackness.

He opens his eyes, staring at no one in particular, his shame sitting there for all to see.

Theia whistles. "Deep." She turns to Nico. "Your turn, pretty boy."

Gritting his teeth, the son of Hades does as he is asked. The foam turns blue and the first thing they spot is Percy's face.

Only Percy's face as him and Bianca being rescued by Dr. Thorn the hideous manticore. The Hunters of Artemis save them eventually but Percy never leaves his main center of focus.

Hestia's voice comes from nowhere. "You're secret is safe with me."

Nico sitting at her hearth, the only demigod who's talked to her in years. She likes Nico already and she reminds him of Bianca. And, considering his sister has joined the Hunters, he welcomes a new friend more than anything.

The scene changes. He's eavesdropping. Bianca is leaving him, after all that talk of protecting Nico, being by his side forever and always.

Percy catches him in the act. He touches Nico's shoulder, a touch that seems to last forever. He promises to protect Bianca.

A smile, a hopeful look.

When he feels Bianca's death, Nico screams so loud it wakes the whole camp. Only Hestia is brave enough to find and comfort him. Over and over again, as they try to make sense of his fit, Nico only says Percy's name and thinks about the deal struck between them.

Percy wouldn't break his promise, would he?

The present Percy looks away, ashamed once more. He's failed so many people over the years.

The scene changes again, faster this time.

Nico screaming at Percy.

"I hate you. Bianca is dead because of you." And this his anger manifests into a tangible form. The skeletons rush the son of Poseidon and Nico finds that anger replaced by fear.

Please don't hurt him.

"Stop," Nico blurts out. "I can't do it."

Theia's eyes flare and for once she does resemble Kronos. "Stop now and this deal is over. I want the truth, I want clarity."

The Labyrinth is cold and lonely, even with Minos by his side.

"You'll see Percy again," the ghost king tells him. But he thinks it's for revenge that Nico craves this reunion. Of course, the son of Hades doesn't bother to correct him.

They stand outside the same fire escape – Percy and Nico – beneath a full moon. In the pocket of his aviator jacket Nico holds the tiny statue of his father, a gift from Bianca given to him by Percy. He watches the moonlace being planted and, not too long after, proposes the solution that might help them win.

He doesn't expect to be invited over for cake. And Nico can't help but think that it would be easier to hate him.

"You want it?" Nico retorts. "Then take it. Take all of it!"

Percy helps him fetch the Sword of Hades and he can't help but love every minute of their quest. Just the two of them, no matter how wrong it feels.

When they journey again to the Underworld – just before the Battle of Manhattan – he wants that again. But then Nico betrays Percy. He makes up for it, of course. But there's a special pain in his heart when Percy tries to kill him.

He apologizes regardless.

Nico isn't sure why that's supposed to make it better. He's lost Percy's trust.

The battle rages on in the city and Nico does all he can to help. But it's not enough, never enough. There's too many monsters. But with each monster they face, each battle they fight, it doesn't stop him from asking anyone with ears and mouth if Percy Jackson is still alive.

Their retreat is the most terrifying thing.

"What about Percy?" Nico asks but no one answers, not when they're too busy fighting for their lives. As far as they know, Percy is gone. Kronos has won.

Nico and the rest of the Rebellion spend their years like cockroaches running from the exterminators. He becomes a senior member, the son of Hades, and everyone starts to look up to him. But every time they do he can't help but think Percy should be here instead of him. Thalia disagrees but Thalia always disagrees.

And finally, when Athena tells them the biggest plot twist of the century: Percy Jackson is alive and well, Nico feels both intense disgust and relief. And then all of it quickly fades to hope. But hope for what?

With a poof, Alabaster shuts off, completely satisfied. The purple foam disappears and in its place, at the bottom of the kettle, a contact lens case.

"Are we free to go?" he sneers.

Theia nods, handing the product to him. "You'll thank me one day, son of Hades."

Nico springs to his feet. "I doubt that."

"Nico…" Percy groans.

The door swings open, hitting the wall with a frightening crack, ice wind circulating in. "Hey Nico! Wait up!" The son of Poseidon bids Theia a haphazard goodbye, following his friend back out on the frigid sidewalk.

His hand latches onto Nico's shoulder but the son of Hades flinches so hard Percy jumps back a little. "Why didn't you just tell me?"

"It's not exactly something you can just slip into a random conversation." He crosses his arms over his chest. "And I'm over it anyway so it doesn't even matter. We're fighting a war at the moment, just in case you forgot."

Still, Percy can't let it go. "In Times Square…"

Nico stops walking. "What was I supposed to say? Was I supposed to mention that I had a crush on you years ago? That I couldn't stop crying when they told me you were dead? That all this time I've been hiding a part of myself because I'm afraid of what my friends will think of me? Yeah, because it's a fucking bomb that can just be dropped off at any fucking time, Percy."

"Point taken," he finally agrees, silent for a moment. Percy sighs, heavy breath forming a grim cloud of mist hanging over his head. "You don't need to hide from us, Nico. We're your family and we love you no matter what." Percy touches Nico's shoulder again and is relieved to find that he doesn't flinch away like before. "Besides, I'm pretty sure most of the gods are pansexual if we're being honest. Zeus was known for fucking anything that moved. You couldn't have found a better family to fit in with."

Truthfully, Nico isn't sure what makes him feel better: Percy's support or the fact he knows what the hell a pansexual is.

"Yeah, a fucked up family that equates a years' long war to a heated family dispute." Nico smiles hesitantly. "But thanks anyway, for what it's worth."


"What did you do?" she practically screams, storming into the throne room.

Unsurprisingly, Artemis finds Kronos lounging atop his seat of power, eyes moving back and forth between a thousand flickering images from all over the world.

"Must you always come to ruin my fun, Artemis?" He stands up a little straighter. "I'm beginning to think you eternal virgins are a little too depressing for me."

But the goddess herself isn't in the mood for one of his games.

"What did you do to her?"

He snaps his fingers and the images disappear. "The T.A.R.D. unit raided Eros's compound a few days ago. I hear he was an archer friend of yours."

"No, not particularly," she says rather hastily. "We don't exactly see eye to eye."

Not a lie but not the truth. They weren't friends but coworkers. No one expects someone like the god of love to transfer useful information to the Rebellion. She's sent a multitude of coded messages to him before, including the location of a few bunkers. Now it's only a matter of time before they beat it out of him.

Nevertheless, Kronos waves his hand dismissively. "Regardless, we're beginning to think he has some sort of connection to the Rebellion. Atlas will be questioning him tonight before Hyperion will have his way with him." He plasters a vicious grin on his face. "Of course, I personally went to investigate the god's hideout and I couldn't help but take a nice look at his collection of love potions."

Quicksilver threads itself in her veins. "You gave her a love potion?" she bites out, attempting to hold back her hysterics. "What would possess you to do such a thing?"

He narrows his eyes. "It's just a game, Artemis."

Her fists clench at her sides. "You can't torment her like this."

He stands suddenly, the humor disappearing from his face and morphing into a terrifying snarl. "I am Kronos, your lord, and you will not tell me what I can and cannot do." Artemis simply stares at him, willing herself not to flinch before him. Finally, he resumes his seated position once more, grumbling, "If I want to flay her alive for my own enjoyment I will. She's my lovely wife, not yours."

"You can't be doing this just to punish Zeus," the goddess blurts out, unable to contain her rage. "It's too much, even for the likes of you."

"Even if you are right, dear Artemis, I don't have to explain myself to you, do I?"

With an indignant growl, the goddess flees before she can curse him to the high heavens, bound to lose her tongue in the process.

The days pass rapidly and Thalia grows worse, with Artemis nearly ripping her hair out. She tries tampering with the potion every chance she gets, only to find that even half a dose is still enough to keep Thalia under his spell.

She wakes up at the crack of dawn, menial chores honing her thoughts on to the tasks at hand instead of whatever the hell Kronos is plotting. At least, until she walks into Thalia's room and finds the Titan Lord standing over said daughter of Zeus, half naked and smiling.

Thalia's eyes flicker towards Artemis – sensing the intrusion – only to be distracted by a tantalizing peck on the side of her mouth.

The goddess tries not to outwardly display her disgust; the most difficult thing she has ever done. Nevertheless, her suspicion is one thing that cannot be subdued. If she knows one thing it is that Kronos never spends the night. Not since that first night.

They peel away from each other and Kronos gives her a curt nod. "Artemis."

I'll kill him with my own bare hands, she promises herself, all the while giving a subservient bow in response. Perhaps Kronos senses her thoughts too as his eyes flash her a wicked gleam upon his departure.

Still, Artemis swears that she won't take out her frustration on Thalia. She won't even mention it.

"I came to the room yesterday," says the goddess as she tries to make small talk with her former lieutenant. "You weren't here."

Thalia beams. "Kronos lets me wander around Mount Othrys now. Well, he takes me with him but soon enough I'll be able to walk around myself. Gods know I need the exercise." She jumps off the bed and Artemis finds the spring in her step positively disturbing. "He's starting to trust me now, he says. Isn't that nice?"

And simple 'mhm' is all the goddess can manage.

But Thalia doesn't seem to notice. "He says he has a surprise for me tomorrow."

Artemis raises an eyebrow. "That sounds… interesting."

Dangerous, she wants to say. Very dangerous.

"Doesn't it? He won't tell me of course. Says he wants to see the look on my face."

Her heart jumps. She doesn't know what Kronos is planning but nothing good can come from whatever he has in store. No doubt, Thalia is bound to be his next victim.

"Thalia…" Artemis hesitates. "I love you, do you know that?"

The half-blood smiles and Artemis smiles too because such a sight warms her heart and she faintly never wants such a thing to disappear, even if it is a potion's doing. "I love you too."

They're up early the next morning. Artemis barges in again, a dark peplos bundled up in her arms, with Piper in toe. She thanks every primordial god that Kronos isn't here, though Thalia's messy hair and the dirty sheet wrapped around her body, in place of her crumpled night clothes lying on the floor, is enough evidence that he was here in the night.

Piper chuckles. "Alright, well we have a surprise for you. Close your eyes and no peaking."

Thalia rolls her eyes but closes them all the same, holding her hand out. The gift itself is small but, when Thalia opens her eyes, she nearly drops dead, as if they've handed a lollipop to a starving baby.

Ultra-black eyeliner.

She begins to tear up. "You have no idea how much this means to me."

Piper smirks. "I think we do."

"Don't put too much," Artemis warns. "You're not supposed to have this and Kronos will murder us if he notices."

It's a mistake mentioning his name because suddenly that is all Thalia can talk about. Piper sighs, rolling her eyes in Artemis's direction. It's another miracle they manage to get her ready in time and walking towards the other side of Mount Othrys by noon. Piper leaves them halfway through to join the other slaves.

Soon enough, they hear hundreds of voices chattering all at once.

"We're going to the arena," Thalia says, her eyes staring straight ahead.

Artemis nods.

Most of the county knows what the arena looks like: a circular monster of black granite, enough to hold a least a thousand people, built into the edge of Mount Othrys. It's used for special events like the horrid gladiator matches Kronos enjoys so much. Televised, of course. For all to see.

"We're sitting in the imperial box above the pulvinus," Artemis murmurs as they climb a set of rounded circular steps that seems to stretch to the very heavens themselves. "They say you can see the entire world from there."

"You've never been in the box?" Thalia asks.

I've been in the arena, she wants to say. Before Kronos punished her with eternal servitude he had let every monster that she killed over eons of time chase her nearly to death. Every time she slowed they would cut into her back with talons, beaks, teeth, barbs, whatever was at their disposal. Artemis still has the scars to prove it.

But Artemis keeps this to herself and only shakes her head.

They follow the sounds of cheering before being enveloped in a blinding bright light. A million senses hit them all at once: echoing voices, the smell of sweat and blood, crisp fresh air acrid with sand dust, and Kronos.

Kronos.

"Thalia," he muses, eyes skipping over Artemis as if she were nothing but a ghost. He leans over the edge of the balcony, once again donning his shining gold armor.

"Kronos," Thalia whispers, voice thick with an emotion that goddess cannot name.

Artemis feels the urge to scream at him. Mostly because he deserves nothing, certainly not this girl's affection.

He holds out his arm to her and Artemis doesn't miss the mischievous look on his face. "Come. It's about to start."

"What is?"

"You'll see."

Thalia hesitates and for a moment the goddess thinks her huntress has come to her senses. That even under his spell she knows something isn't right here. But she only says, "We're a little high up."

Artemis does all she can to not connect both face and palm. Of all the things to be worried about.

"Not that high," Kronos assures her. Still, even taking a few steps forward to occupy the space beside him, Thalia keeps a respectable distance from the balcony. Not even he can erase such irrational fears.

Trumpets blare out from across the arena, hushing the crowd. Kronos raises his hand, to silence them once all has gone quiet, and Artemis soon feels the weight of a million eyes on them. The whole country is seeing this.

Kronos wastes no time with formalities. "Not long ago I discovered that our own Lord Eros had connections to the Rebellion." Whispers, gasps. "They tell me he was a spy, a very grave offense under my reign. That being said, Eros – with a little bit of prodding – was able to provide us with some very useful information, including the location of few certain demigods."

The grates creak, lifted by unseen mechanisms. Lord Hyperion marches out in his flaming armor that could outshine the sun itself, his normally glowering face making out the faint traces of what Artemis can only presume is joy. It's hard to tell when the Titan's demeanor matches that of a bull.

Besides him, an equally severe woman in a navy blue suit, ash blonde hair pulled back in a strict bun.

To Artemis's disgust, the crowd – full of traitor demigods, demi-Titans, gods, and countless monsters – cheers. Behind Hyperion, a line of sluggish rebels stumble out from beneath the menacing gate – the same gate Artemis had once struggled out of – towards the very center of the arena for all to see. Rusty chains bind them all together.

The goddess's frown deepens.

She recognizes them: her brother's children.

Leslie Ramos. Austin Heilbronner. Kayla Marshall. Lee Fletcher. Maia Washington. Samuel Khan.

Some look nothing alike – nothing like their father – but Artemis can tell they are his all the same. Even in chains, their eyes shine with hope still, a light that cannot be extinguished, and they sport his rueful smile. His smile that graces their faces even when they aren't smiling.

It is then she realizes how terribly she misses him. Apollo, the sun to her moon, the gold to her silver, the flame to her frost.

Kronos refers to the woman as Themis – Titaness of law. Godly law, specifically the laws Kronos has deemed righteous to his cause. After all, any lawyer can be bought. She quickly pulls out a scroll from the pocket of her waistcoat. Unravelling it, she quickly reads its contents in the dullest voice known to man: the crimes of the prisoners behind her.

Artemis glances at Thalia but the girl's face isn't turned in her direction. Nevertheless, the goddess expects some kind of reaction from the former huntress, as it was not too long ago that her own list of crimes had been read. Crimes greater in severity, more numerous, and Kronos had punished her all the same. A punishment she must remember, a punishment she continues to meet out.

Do not forget what he has done to you, Artemis forces Thalia's way. What he will do.

Themis finishes her spiel.

"I thought about hanging them per usual," Kronos answers in response. The crowd lies silent; a penny could drop and all would hear it. "But somehow that seems… trite. Brother, would you care to do the honors?"

She stiffens. Artemis knows what those words mean.

Hyperion's fiery eyes flicker towards Kronos. "I thought you would never ask."

He turns around to face the prisoners.

One of them – Leslie – sings a faint note. Kayla follows suit. And Lee. Then all of them. Artemis doesn't realize she's crying until the tear falls from her chin and she can name the song: an ancient Delphian hymn she hasn't heard for centuries. A hymn to Apollo. Not a prayer, as one might think, just a simple song of remembrance. To never be forgotten.

"For those who intend to oppose me," booms Kronos, his cold face baring not hint of emotion like a marble bust, "especially mixed-blooded mongrels who think they can match a Titan's power – know that I will show no mercy."

Without thinking, Artemis reaches for Thalia right when everyone hears the screams. She pulls the girl towards her and then sees it: her broken expression, and in her eyes the illusion Kronos force-fed her shattering.

The sounds of their dying screams fill the air, to live with Artemis and Thalia forever. Never to be forgotten. And if they thought Kronos was finished with his production, both daughters of Zeus are sorely mistaken.

"Now let me be clear, god or mere human no one will escape punishment for their treacherous actions."

At spear point, giants bring in Eros next, throwing him down beside the burning husks. He hardly looks as attractive as he once was, not with the bruises are over his face and down his arms. They had cut off his silky hair, broken his rose-colored wings. But even worse are the cuts. A hundred – no, a thousand – of them, streaming across every inch of his tan flesh, as if he'd been whipped for days.

The Titan Lord continues. "Though it is a little early, it only seems fit that Eros' punishment fit the regime of the festival Lupercalia. His own festival that the Romans thought to grant him."

"A thousand lashes to promote fertility," Hyperion calls out and Artemis knows Eros's wounds to be his handiwork.

"Yes. I too found that rather appropriate," Kronos agrees. "But then I thought: what is Lupercalia without a few wolves?"

Traps beneath the sand spring to life, releasing the spitting and growling shadows she knows to be Lycaon's.

Thalia snaps towards Kronos. "I need to go," she murmurs.

"Where to, dear?" He cocks his head. "Don't you love your surprise?"

The goddess can measure out the exact moment a wolf sinks his teeth into Eros's flesh. He shrieks so loud it shakes the heavens, the sound far more frantic and agonizing than anything the dying Apollo children managed to produce, and causing both daughters of Zeus to visibly panic.

"Thalia?" Artemis reaches out to touch her but the girl flinches back, shame and dismay flashing across her face along with ever-present confusion. It only reads, What have I done?

Consider the spell broken.

"Don't you love me?" Kronos pushes still, not finished with her yet. He draws himself closer, smile sharp like a predator's. "You said as much the night before when you started undressing for me. You do remember, of course? Spreading your legs open like a perfect little whore?"

Thalia shakes her head slowly, but out of denial or disbelief no one can be sure. She presses her fist against her temple, head suddenly splitting.

Artemis comes between them and she feels Thalia leaning against her, pressing into her back. Trembling. "She's sick, Kronos. She needs rest. Let me take her back to her room."

"Of course, Artemis." He turns his head away, ocher eyes staring at the expense of the arena, watching as they take away the bodies. "The game is over now and my wife here will have to decide her next move."

Chapter Text

Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don't find out 'til too late that he's been playing with two queens all along.

-Terry Pratchett


She materializes from nothing, right in the middle of a silent Camp Jupiter. Nearly everyone – half their forces that don't occupy Elysium – is fast asleep by now, unable to notice the intruder. Almost everyone.

The gods sense her long before they see her.

Crowded in the Senate House, recovering from their wounds suffered in Tartarus or their other various prisons and allowing the power to leech back into their ichor blood, they pause amidst a heated conversation.

Apollo stands suddenly while the rest are frozen in their seats. "What?"

The doors to the Senate House open on their own accord, making a deep and horrible creak that seems oddly in tune with their dread.

When they catch sight of the woman, many of them try not faint. Dionysus himself let's out a string of muttered curses. She only smiles.

She is tall and willowy beneath a cloak of animated black dirt, endlessly churning and shifting around her. The hood covers most of her beautiful face, blending in with hair the color of tilled soil. But they can still see her eyes framed by perfectly brown skin: alien green, like a microscopic jungle.

Athena gets to her feet, pushing Apollo behind her. "What are you doing here?"

"Your fear is wise," the woman comments. "Truthfully, it's a mystery as to why Kronos cannot find this place. Such weak defenses."

Mercury's lips press into a thin line. "I doubt anything could keep you out for very long."

Silence.

The gods, truth be told, aren't sure what to do before this woman. Whether they should muster up the strength they can and fight her – though that would surely end in disaster – or kneel at her feet.

The woman opens her mouth to speak, only to double over. The Olympians jump but no one dares to approach, not as a flash of anger and pain becomes visible on her face, a face that could very much destroy cities without so much as a look.

"I want your help." Quickly, the woman regains herself and forces a smile. A smile vaguely resembling that of the Titan Lord they loathe so much. "In return, I will help with your little insurrection."


March

"Rhea."

That's the name on his lips when he finishes fucking her for the night but Thalia is too tired to think about it. And quite frankly, she doesn't really care.

But apparently that isn't the truth when a dream comes to her in the twilight hours and the name is tossed around like a leaf in the wind.

She sees nothing at first. Thalia hears only a woman's voice say, "You know what you want me to do. You need only say it – only to ask – and it shall be done."

Echoes of "Rhea" sound in the background amidst undecipherable words. And so whispers a voice that unmistakably belongs to her father. "You know I do. You know I want this and you know I can't do it myself."

The image of a familiar hill appears out of the gloom. Standing at it's very top, a little lightning girl frying monsters left and right. Of course there's too many to fry them all and the burns appear along her arms, claws dig into her back, and her red blood splatters everywhere.

Thunder sounds overhead. She reaches up, a prayer stuck on her lips and blue eyes flashing green just as a hellhound's jaws aim for her face.

Thalia wakes with a start, heart threatening to burst out of her chest.

Just a dream, she has to remind herself. Only a dream. But nothing in Thalia's world is every just a dream. She remembers what it's like to die.

She hears soft footsteps on the cold marble. Her nose wrinkles, as if smelling something foul. "You're still here."

Briefly, he turns to look at her. "I fell asleep."

Thalia glares. "Gods and Titans don't sleep."

"As humans daydream so do we. It is akin to sleeping." He smirks. "I wouldn't concern yourself with it."

She scoffs. "I would never be concerned about you."

"Nor would I be for you." He bends over, grabbing the remains of his clothing. "It's exactly why I haven't asked you about your dream. Because I don't care."

She eases back into the bed but eyes never wavering. "Then hurry up and leave."

"If I want to take my sweet time I will." He finishes dressing anyway. "It is the middle of the night after all. Why don't you do what mortals do and go back to sleep? I'm sure the child will thank you for it."

She doesn't respond. Thalia only closes her eyes but sleep isn't on her mind just yet. Behind closed eyelids, the girl replays the woman's voice from her dreams and it sounds like a lullaby. And before she knows it, Kronos is gone, but his absence doesn't really make her feel any better.

Thalia tosses and turns the rest of the night in a fit of dreamless sleep. It's no surprise that she wakes up earlier than usual – before Artemis can arrive to strip the bed of its sheets – brushing her teeth and tying up her hair before she's off.

Even after godsawful Lupercalia, Kronos still trusts her enough to wander the palace. Slowly, Thalia comes to recognize Mount Othrys. In some ways, it is like the Labyrinth, hallways moving back and forth and changing like puzzle pieces to make new pathways altogether. To confuse her. But she does start to notice little things: her chipped bedroom door, the kitchens that always reek of garlic, an abundance of lit green torches leading straight to the rooms of the Titans (a hall she carefully avoids), and a hall absent of light altogether, leading to the cells she spent a brief few nights in. Thalia quickly figures out her corridor is in the west tower, located on the very top floor. Whenever she begins her wanderings, she's forced to climb down hundreds of obsidian steps.

Every day she learns more, carefully tucking the information away in a special part of her brain for future reference. Though Kronos has been smart enough to stomp on her fires of hope, the embers still linger in her heart. Should the rebels show any signs of winning – should they storm Mount Othrys – Thalia will make quick use of herself. She'll fight and die with her friends if that's what it takes.

Until then, her mission now is to gain intel and survive. She's been successful thus far.

When the air starts to chill it isn't long until Thalia gets a vague sense of where she is headed. She feels a kick in her left side as if her little parasite senses it as well.

"Yeah, this place gives me the creeps too," she mutters, not sure if it can hear her or otherwise. But talking to it helps, she realized long ago, when Artemis and Piper are off with chores. Acknowledging it doesn't make her feel so alone.

She hears the arguing before even entering the throne room. She catches him right in the middle of stepping off his obsidian throne, golden eyes burning bright like a furnace.

"That is not my concern, mother," Kronos hisses, his glare on a woman before him. Physically, she looked no older than he, her form lithe and strong. Her hair, thick and black, is pulled back, complimenting her simplistic beauty. Yet it is her eyes that set her apart. Archaic green, so old, perhaps even older than Kronos himself, filled to the brim with secrets, tales the gods will never know, framed by coffee-colored skin.

"They bring me pain," she growls, matching his same cold tone. "You flood Tartarus with your enemies – with my own children – once you finish with them in the Fields of Punishment. I can no longer weather it. You will release them, find them a new prison."

"I will not allow it," Kronos says with finality. "I cannot risk it now. Not with the blasted rebels thwarting me every chance they get, Gaia."

"Your throne," the elderly goddess muses. "That is all you care about. That is why Rhea betrayed you. You are turning into your father."

His nostrils flare. Kronos grabs his mother by the throat, closing the distance between them. His voice is low and dangerous. "Don't you ever compare to my father. And never mention her name again, not here. Do you understand?"

Gaia sneers. The sound of her hand connecting with Kronos's face echoes off the throne room's walls. "I brought you into this world, boy. Lay a hand on me again and I can just as easily reverse the process."

His irises darken at the implied challenge. Gaia glowers at him with equal intensity and for once, Thalia is afraid that both immortals just might explode and catch the entire world in the crossfire.

"The answer is no," he repeats.

She opens her mouth to make another vicious remark but soon finds herself staring in Thalia's direction. The gaze of the primordial goddess makes her freeze in place.

"Rhea?" Gaia says in disbelief.

She shakes her head slowly in confusion. "Thalia."

Gaia looks back at her son. "That is why you chose her then?"

He offers no response.

"I should have figured as much," the goddess says stiffly before rushing past the girl without another glance back.

Thalia blinks and Kronos only glowers at her, his message more than clear: Get out.


She stares at it for what seems like hours. In her hand, a rusted key. Thalia had found it slipped under her door (after Drew had come to change the bedsheets considering Artemis is busy doing gods knows what and the obnoxious Aphrodite girl isn't exactly on speaking terms with Thalia) for a reason she can't seem to fathom. The girl surveyed every door in the entire room: no keyhole to be found.

But no matter.

Thalia grabs her dark cloak, ties her up, and leaves out the door once more, almost forgetting the key is firmly in hand. But as she makes her way towards the stairwell leading to levels below and, subsequently, the rest of the palace, something catches her eye. Another anonymous passageway.

She can't truthfully decipher why she goes down that way; a feeling, a hunch. Thalia does a double take when she runs towards another set of winding stairs, its direction only leading up. She's never encountered this passage before.

But with nothing to lose, driven by only a nagging sensation, Thalia goes up, and up, and up. She loses track of how much time it takes her; she has to stop every now and then to catch her breath, rubbing her pregnant stomach.

Up, and up, and up, and up.

And then she sees it: a rotted wooden door that has probably been through Armageddon and back. Right in front of her she spots the rusty key hole that might match her rusty key.

Thalia hesitates. What do I have to lose?

But she almost laughs. My head. Nothing too important.

Then again, what fun would she have if she spent most of the day cooped up in her room?

Just as she places the key inside the lock she notices the natural light emitting from the hole. There's hardly any light on Othrys.

The tumblers click into place and the door opens with a heavy groan.

For a moment, Thalia's blinded, unsure of what she's looking at. And then it hits her all at once: the light, the sounds. It steams like rainforest and the humidity slaps her in the face. Thalia becomes focused on her nose and the stream of blood that soon trickles down her lips and chin. Reflexively, she wipes it away with the hem of her dress. But then she realizes she'll have explain it to Piper and Artemis later.

A rush of movement in front of her. Thalia's head snaps to attention and her breath catches.

The room is the size of a coliseum. An array of tropical trees and plants spring from the center, reaching up to touch the high ceiling where golden light streams in from a windowed skylight.

Small birds zip around, soaring past Thalia's face and fluttering in the high trees, singing their lungs out and dancing on branches – almost as if they had expected her arrival. Truthfully, she's not sure how they've survived here all this time, inside the Titan fortress that knows only of darkness.

The bushes across the pond rustle and Thalia almost faints. Lions, she finally realizes, recognizing the sand colored fur and amber eyes she's seen on half a dozen nature documentaries. Never up close (the monstrous Nemean Lion she faced years ago most certainly does not count).

Much to her relief, they let her be, eyes reflecting what appears to be familiarity. The lions slink back into the trees, disappearing altogether.

Thalia releases her pent up sigh, dragging her feet across the grass towards the pond. With her swollen belly a minor nuisance, she kneels by the waterside. It won't be long until this daughter of Zeus will have to abandon such a motion altogether, not long until she'd hardly be able to touch her toes or have a good look at her thighs without the help of a mirror.

Thalia rests her hands on her stomach. "You're such a pain in the ass, do you know what?"

A little flutter of movement. She can't help but smile. "I mean, if you're causing me this much trouble now, who the hell knows what'll happen when you're born." The smile fades.

It's all too real too soon. It was easier the weeks before, pretending she was indifferent to it. Out of sight, out of mind. But no longer, not with frequent movement reminding her that she isn't alone anymore. It's simultaneously comforting and frightening.

"I wonder what I'll do when the time comes."

Thalia will have to dedicate her life to it soon, her little creature. It's a fate her mother never failed to complain about and it is with a new determination that the daughter of Zeus swears she will not follow in Beryl Grace's footsteps.

I hope you never hate me, she struggles to say out loud because Artemis once told her that some things are better left unsaid.

She glances at the pond and nearly jumps. The reflection is not her own. But Thalia soon realizes that it is her – it must be – when she recognizes her own heart shaped face, upturned nose, and golden freckles splashed across their cheeks. The girl's hair is longer, curlier. She's been in the sun too and it's browned her skin considerably. But the eyes set them apart the most: Thalia's eyes aren't green as a meadow.

Her reflection stands, tilting her head to stare at Thalia, before taking off. No longer by the side of a pond, the girl dash through a field of poppies like a gazelle. The wind rips through her hair.

At the edge of a clearing she sees a miniature castle made of vines, little brown birds – the same kind running around the sanctuary Thalia finds herself in – nesting on the roof.

A crash comes from inside. The girl runs again, throwing open the wooden door. But she goes no farther than that, a man blocking her entrance. A man with skin the color of pitch, dressed in flaming robes and armor made of human bones. His eyes are molted silver that seem to burn holes in the girl's skull, bringing her wailing to her knees.

Emotionless, briefly peering down at the girl at his feet, the man steps over her and leaves just as another woman enter. A woman she recognizes as Gaia.

"Rhea! I told you not to look at him." She gathers the girl in her arms as any mother would but the primordial's face darkens in a manner that is very unmotherly. "But you never do listen, you defiant little girl. I told you to stay by the pond."

"He always comes after you fight with father," she musters out through gritted teeth, ignoring her mother's words. "He leeches onto your pain. Stop opening your legs for him. Stop feeding him."

"Stop questioning me." Gaia gets the girl to her feet but she quickly rips herself out of her mother's embrace, much to the primordial's chagrin. "You're only a baby. What do you know of Chaos, the abyss? Of darkness and loneliness, of tireless work in bringing everything into Creation? You know nothing little girl. Absolutely nothing." She shakes her head, staring out the open door. "Neither does your father. He wasn't there either, you lot of fools. But Tartarus was. And so Tartarus will forever remain, by my side whether or I want him there or not."

"Then if I am so foolish why do you keep me here?" Two pairs of narrowed green eyes meet each other head on. "You do it because you never want to be lonely again. Know that I can so easily choose to leave. Know that I can leave you here to rot."

Gaia slaps her so hard that the very earth around them seems to shake. Rhea stares up at her mother, eyes widened with shock and brimming with tears. But the earth goddess hasn't even delivered her final blow. "A baby's words. Just what I expect from you."

The girl turns on her heels, bolting through the door once more just as her mother shouts, "You're bound to come back! You always do."

She doesn't get very far. Rhea passes the pond just as a black reptile slithers before her feet, tripping her in one fluid motion. She crashes into a bed of rocks, skinning her knees. The girl doesn't even bother to wipe away the ichor leaking out. Grabbing clumps of broken stones, she flings it in its direction. But the basilisk is long gone by then.

The girl groans, face towards the sky. Perhaps she imagines her lofty sire up there, hair black like the night and sky blue eyes radiating a frigidness Rhea has never quite known. Perhaps he's watching her now, laughing at her.

"You can try praying to him but he'll never answer."

She snaps her head the sound of a man's voice, stumbling back in her haste. The voice is more than familiar to Thalia: a deep timbre that was naturally quiet and inquisitive but could easily rise to frightening levels.

Kronos.

A younger version of the Titan Lord, he sits back in knee high grass, dressed in a dark tunic that leaves very little to be imagined.

"I never knew I had another sister." But with the look in his eyes, if she didn't know any better, Thalia would think him Hades and Rhea Persephone, an unlikely victim ready to be snatched at any moment. Sister or otherwise, immortals aren't above bride kidnapping.

"Nor I." Her voice trembles. "A brother that is. But it is rare that Gaia allows me to leave."

"A shame. For I would never forget a pretty face like yours."

She stands, hiding her clammy hands behind her back. "I must head back. Before mother worries."

Kronos makes no move to get up. "Do you really want to go back there?" says he, flashing a lazy smile that seems relatively unnatural to Thalia. It can be told from the look on her face that Rhea is instantly curious as to how much he knows about her and her mother's estranged relationship. "Stay a little longer, let me drink in your radiance just a bit more. This is an opportunity I will not waste."

A lion's growl snaps her out of her trance and the world comes to her suddenly. Beneath her knees, the bright green grass fades to a mute gray. No more birds fly in the air above her head or poke their heads out of tree trunks. The trees themselves wither away, bark shriveling up and rotting.

The pond's water turns the color of feces, obscuring Thalia's reflection and any vision on its surface becoming obsolete. A cold wind blows her hair back and she glances back at the entrance, her heart stopping cold.

Gaia stands by the worn door, lips formed into a tight line and face so blank she might as well be a statue. She finds gods and Titans often are, more statue than human that is.

Thalia stands, brushing the dead grass from her dress. "I'm sorry for the intrusion. This is your place, I—"

"This is not my place," Gaia interjects. Then there it is: a spark. "If anything, I am the one intruding. Haven't you noticed?"

Thalia glances around once more, the once bustling surroundings so deathly silent. Even the lions are nowhere to be seen.

"Why does it do that?" she whispers finally.

"The beauty of this place is for its owner's eyes only." The primordial shrugs. "My son made it that way. But then I wonder why it so eagerly opens up for you? Such a curiosity."

Thalia narrows her eyes. "You. You slipped the key under my door."

Gaia only laughs, ringing like bell chimes that should bring life to this place again. They don't. "Oh, was I not being clear? Apologies."

Thalia wants to ask why in the hell would she do such a thing but another thing dawns on her eventually and she loses that train of thought. "This is her place. The girl in the water."

She's silent for a moment as she walks forward, taking a seat by the pond's edge. She pats the ground, bidding Thalia to join her. "Yes. My daughter."

"Rhea." Thalia sits, eyebrows furrowed. "Mother of Zeus, daughter of Gaia, wife of—"

"Yes."

And just like that, Thalia's very presence seems like a violation. She stands suddenly, her mind racing. "I shouldn't be here. I should go."

But with just one look, Gaia stops her instantly. The goddess doesn't even have to move. "You look so much like her. Haven't you noticed?" Thalia only stares. "That's why he chose you."

"How unfortunate," the girl muses. "I must have the worst luck."

"Do you think it the only reason he chose you?"

Silence again. Thalia purses her lips. "I'm a daughter of Zeus."

"You are," says Gaia, green eyes flickering to the skylight. "But Zeus has many daughters."

Her head starts to hurt. "What do you want me to say?" Thalia sneers. "Why are you here? Why are we even speaking?"

Again, a glare stops Thalia. She shuts her mouth quickly as the very personification of Mother Earth silently warns her not to push her luck.

But Gaia soon relaxes again. "Do you ever wondered why you turned into a tree?" The goddess continues on before Thalia can shake her head. "Because I do. Zeus could have done many things. He could've turned you into a bird, made you fly away. He could transported you to some remote island, safe from his vengeful brother and never to be found." She smiles sharply. "He could have let you die, to join the heroes in the Isles of the Blessed. You could have had a chance at rebirth, a better life – then again Hades might still have held that grudge. A fate as a constellation would suffice as well. He is Zeus, king of the skies, master of lightning. But why condemn you to life as a simple pine tree?"

Thalia grits her teeth. "I don't know."

Gaia smiles. Surely it must be fun for her, always speaking in riddles. "Maybe Zeus didn't actually save you that day," she says. "Maybe it was someone else."

"Who could possibly have that power?"

"A very good question." She chuckles to herself, and Thalia realizes it's an inside joke she could never hope to understand. "She was rather powerful, even if she didn't know it herself."

The last straw. Thalia forces her legs to move, despite the goddess's effect that screams at her not to move one more inch. "I'm leaving."

"Shame. I have so many stories to tell."

She stops suddenly. "You're insane." Thalia whips around, eyes blazing. "You're all insane."

"Maybe," she concedes. "But let it be known I'm not here to antagonize you. I need your help, Thalia Grace."

The girl crosses her arms over her chest. "I don't like the sound of that."

"Many don't." She ponders that for a moment. "Not that I blame them."

"Are you going to tell me what you want?"

Gaia only chuckles. "You're not ready yet." But before she leaves, the goddess has just one last thing to say. "You want truth, Thalia Grace. I can see it in your eyes. So look inside yourself, find it if you do not wish to hear it from me. And by all means, you should ask you lord husband. He knows the truth as well as I do."

Let it be known, of course, that Thalia has no intention of talking to Kronos about Rhea. Maybe it's just her, but she thinks it common courtesy – as Kronos's current wife – to keep herself from bringing up the subject of his first wife. And by courtesy, she means it in the form of not having her face melted off.

Though her Greek mythology might be a bit rusty, she knows of Rhea. Of the part she played in the Titanomachy. Rhea started the war, by hiding away baby Zeus until the day he could overthrow that tyrant that was his father. She isn't stupid. Mentioning her just might set him off and she could easily become collateral damage.

It's with relief that Kronos doesn't visit her that night and she has time to fumble over Gaia's words in her head.

Again, by the next morning, she's up early and back at the place she started: the little sanctuary behind the old wooden door. It's no surprise Thalia still finds Gaia sitting in the grass, as if she'd never left at all. That wouldn't surprise Thalia in the least.

"It's not possible," she says when she approaches the goddess. "It can't be."

"I'm rarely wrong, Thalia Grace." Gaia turns her startling green eyes on her. "You'd be wise to agree."

She rolls her eyes. "Oh, your Kronos's mother alright."

Gaia ignores that. "You said it was impossible. Would you like me to explain?"

"Yes," she says, though it sounds like a no.

Gaia purses her lips. "Kronos possessed Luke."

"Yes." She doesn't bother to sit down; it's more than clear they are not on such terms.

"So you know it's possible for two souls to share a body, for a demigod to become a vessel." The earth goddess closes her eyes. "But Kronos went wrong somewhere. It was only a matter of time before Luke's body was bound to burn up: no two souls, dominant in their own right – a mortal and an immortal – can coexist inside one."

"And the only reason he lasted so long was because he suppressed Luke," Thalia murmurs.

"Yes," says Gaia. "But Kronos stretches time; very rarely can he stop it. A god's true form reflects their soul. It is not something that can be contained in a mortal body. Unless the god's soul is weakened, as long as it remains in a passive state."

"That's why I say it's impossible." Thalia stands a little straighter. "I am only me and no one else. I'd know if there was another. I wouldn't be… me."

Gaia asks her a very strange question then. "Do you know where Rhea is?"

That throws her off. "What?"

"Do you know where Rhea is, Thalia?" She elaborates. "Do you know what happened to her?"

"She's not suffering in Tartarus," guesses Thalia. "That would be the first place Kronos would send her."

Gaia nods. "She faded." Her lips form a tight line. "Not that I blame her either. She wouldn't have wanted to be around when Kronos was rising again."

"Why?" She begins to grow lightheaded. "When?"

"Rhea was only the Titaness of Motherhood. But soon, everything she stood for was slowly going towards other Olympians. Marriage to Hera. Home and hearth to Hestia. She granted Demeter most of the nature powers I had gifted her long ago. What use did Rhea serve? She was but another relic from a lost generation, no longer needed."

"She's your daughter," Thalia says accusingly.

"She was my daughter," Gaia corrects, leveling an accusation of her own, "and she conveniently faded the day you died on Half-Blood Hill."

She pauses. "That has to be a coincidence."

"Maybe," Gaia concedes. "Though, when Percy Jackson saw you come out of the tree, I wondered why he figured you would have green eyes."

He had said that only once but Thalia isn't sure of the relevance of that detail or why, of all the gods, Gaia knows about that. "Because he's an idiot."

But the goddess continues anyway. "I wonder how you magically manipulated the Mist at Westover Hall." She smirks. "And I wonder why you quickly lied about it, claiming Chiron had taught you. Manipulating the Mist was beyond your abilities then."

Thalia stiffens. "You—"

"I wonder why you almost killed Luke beneath the sky." She turns her merciless eyes on the daughter of Zeus and she quickly realizes just the kind of monster Rhea had to face nearly every day for a good chunk of her immortal life. Where Kronos's ruthlessness comes from. "When the Thalia Grace we all know would have never dreamed of such a thing."

The hairs on her arms stand up. "He betrayed me!" she snaps. "He deserved to die."

Gaia cocks her head. "You could've taken him prisoner. You're old friends."

She feels the shocks beneath her skin, ready to burst any second. "He would've escaped; he would've hurt my other friends."

"But you're a daughter of Zeus. It wouldn't be too hard for you to subdue him, with your friends at your side."

It's more than true but Thalia just shakes her head. "He was trying to kill me."

"You had him cornered Thalia. Defenseless," she retorts. A wild wind blows from behind them, whipping through their hair.

The girl grits her teeth. "He was going to resurrect Kronos. I had to stop that, no matter the cost."

"Why?"

Thalia mentally stumbles. "Because I'm a hero," she replies weakly.

"Because you didn't want to face Kronos."

"Does anyone?"

"I say their reasons are different from yours."

She fumbles and there's another gust of wind. Out of the corner of her eyes, amber eyes stare at them from the bushes. "Shut up."

Gaia doesn't even pause. "I say you were going to kill Luke Castellan in cold blood just to stop Kronos from rising." Again Thalia shakes her head. "I also say you let Hera's statue crush you on Olympus. Just so you didn't have to be there for that final battle agains—"

She slaps her hands over her ears and lightning bursts from her flesh. "Shut up!"

The lionesses lunge from the trees, growling and spitting at the two women. Gaia doesn't even pay them any mind. "You certainly know how to prove my point, little girl."


She rips the door open, ready to slam it in her wake, but freezes when ocher irises meet her gaze. Fuckfuckfuckfuck.

He crosses his arms over his chest, face hard except for the humor lines crinkled around his eyes. "Now, now, where did you run off to little bird?"

"You gave me permission to wander Othrys," she points out as if it should be obvious. Carefully, Thalia shuts the door behind her.

She watches as he weighs his words carefully. "I couldn't find you."

"That sounds like a personal problem, don't you think?" Thalia replies, brushing past him with as much nonchalance as she can muster, as if nothing is wrong. "Maybe you're not as perceptive as you used to be."

"So everyone tells me," he says finally and Thalia releases a pent up sigh, hoping he won't ask any more questions. It's very wrong of her to assume these things.

Without warning he grabs her from behind, slamming her down on her bed. She sneers, an indignant growl on her lips as she tries to push him off but his hand wraps around her throat, the other snatching her wrists and pinning them to her side. "I will ask again and you're going to answer this time, is that understood?"

She nods, blushing from head to toe as he tilts his head slightly, teeth brushing the vein in her neck. Stop, stop, stop.

He releases her wrist and snakes his hand down to her waist instead. "Where were you, Thalia?" Kronos says, softer this time. His eyes become mesmerized by the pulse in her neck. "You know how dangerous it is to keep me waiting."

But Thalia knows better. He wouldn't be pushing her so hard for something so trivial.

"Sorry," she murmurs, a half-assed attempt to appease him. It doesn't work.

A finger runs a line down her chest in the valley between her breasts. His other hand around her throat still doesn't budge. "Are you going to tell me or do I have to rip it out of you?"

Thalia knows why and when her husband makes these pompous displays of power. He's scared, she realizes, knowing he can't even keep track of his wife in his own palace. And perhaps her holding back such information practically terrifies him.

The little power she has almost makes her drunk. But this girl knows when to let all that go, as hunters skilled in art of self-preservation often do. "Your mother keeps pestering me."

That doesn't ease him one bit. It has the opposite effect: his grasp around her throat tightens. "Why?"

A sudden wave of heat floods her body and Thalia knows she could start sweating any minute. Something pricks the back of her eyes: a headache forming.

"How should I know?" she spits.

He takes that into consideration, relaxing only slightly. "What did she tell you?"

Don't tell.

The voice isn't Thalia's. Well, it is Thalia's but more melodic, soothing to the ear despite the urgency of the words spoken.

She blinks, trying to make the pain subside. Instead, the room rises in temperature. Thalia shoves Kronos away. "Gods, is it hot in here?" She fans her burning cheeks. "I don't know, nonsense."

The Titan Lord narrows his eyes, momentarily forgetting the transgression of her hands on him a second ago. On a good day, he would've pondered killing her for such a thing. "What kind of nonsense?"

Don't tell.

"I have no idea!" she blurts out. "Can you just shut up for second?" Thalia should stop now before she suddenly finds her tongue cut off from the rest of her body but the pain practically splits through any rational thought. She finds herself seething, "You're such an asshole and I just – ow."

It's worse now. The pain is worse.

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees something dawn on his face: a realization.

He glowers at her, silent as a statue. The pain seems to double. The headache is one of the worse Thalia's had in a long time. She rises off of the bed and goes to rest her forehead on a marble column, breathing in and out. Nothing works.

Run. Get away.

Why? Thalia responds, feeling stupid.

Now.

From the corner of her eye, Thalia can make out the faint traces of a smile on Kronos's lips. He cocks his head and the pain doubles again, this time focused in a single shot aimed right between her eyes.

Hurt. He hurts.

Thalia tries to bite back a cry. The more words the voice speaks, the more her head screeches in intensity, like a banshee yelling in her ear.

Run.

Finally, Kronos chuckles beside her. Thalia glares at him in disbelief, wondering if he's doing this. Whatever is going on, he knows something that she doesn't.

He smiles, whispering in a deep rumbling language. A language of magic; the oldest tongue in the world she has only heard from a handful of Titans or ancient monsters.

But it is an even bigger mystery when Thalia understands exactly what he's saying, as if she has been fluent in this language her entire life.

"Have you come to play, my queen?"

Imagine standing next to a fire engine on full volume. Magnify that five times. Imagine nails scratching against chalkboard. Magnify that by twenty. Add the two together. Magnify the sound they make by ten. The wave of pure pain that hits Thalia's ears is worse. She screams for bloody murder, collapsing to her knees before him. Thalia can feel her mind, her soul, splitting open, as if being pried apart by a crowbar.

"Come out, Rhea. I've been waiting for this moment for a very long time."

"No." The voice that leaves Thalia's mouth isn't hers. It's the one that's supposed to be inside her head. Thalia fights for control. The voice is supposed to stay in her head where it belongs. "Stop." Their voices blend together, speaking as one. She feels like a fucking oracle.

"Go away." Thalia isn't sure if that's her speaking to the voice or the voice speaking to Kronos.

He smirks. "But the game has only just begun, my love."

This time it's just the other voice again. "One thing I've learned about your games, my love, is that you always cheat."

And then there's nothing. The horrifying sound is gone. The pain is gone. The voice is gone. Thalia begins to fall but Kronos catches her, slamming her into the wall.

Thalia stares at him dully, numb to his hand around her throat. He looks into her eyes forcefully, as if searching for something, trying to pry out information by sheer force of will.

"Shit!" he hisses finally, his grasp on her loosening. The blackness comes almost immediately as she falls to the ground and Thalia prays that she's dead.

Chapter Text

Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground

-Theodore Roosevelt


"Oh, Thalia. You know very well I can break down this little door and incinerate you with one finger."

But he never does and she's not quite sure what that signifies. Thalia refuses to let him in, knowing that she is playing a dangerous game here. Still, she isn't quite ready to face him either. Not after what he did. Not after Rhea took over.

She hasn't reappeared since. Thalia hasn't felt her either, lying on the fridges of her mind in the form of an annoying migraine. Nothing. It's as if it had been a dream and nothing more. But knowing there's someone there – lurking – frightens her to no end.

Thalia cradles her belly; once upon a time it used to frighten her too, even though she would never admit she was scared of something as trivial as the unknown.

Hours later of manning her post, zoning in and out with thoughts both here and on the other side of the world, the next knock at her door makes her jump.

"Thalia? For the love of Chaos, open this door!" Only grudgingly does she open, a protective hand still on her stomach. It doesn't go unnoticed by Artemis, of course, but she lets it slide. "What in the hell is wrong with you? It's been a week of you locking your door and Kronos laughing like a mangy psychopath!"

"He is a psychopath," she seethes, stalking back towards her bed.

"I mean more than usual," Artemis retorts. "What is going on, Thalia?"

For a moment, Thalia in relishes her clueless expression. Let her know what it feels like to be in the dark. She looks away, momentarily debating whether she should sit or stand. But the girl only scowls.

"Did you know?"

Artemis stiffens and, for a moment, Thalia begins to suspect that there are many things the goddess hasn't told her. "About what?"

The half-blood studies her but it seems as though immortals are formed of ice and stone, their faces impregnable to any emotion. But Thalia is more than certain she can make their walls crack.

"Rhea."

As expected, her face falls, replaced by a look of panic. "Thalia—"

"So you did know?" she whispers. "You knew all this time?"

A wave of anger replaces the panic. Artemis turns away, as if unable to handle the scrutiny, whipping her auburn hair. Hands clench and unclench at her sides.

"At first it was a coincidence," she says, her voice more controlled then Thalia expected. "When I first met you – when you were running with Luke and Annabeth – I knew there was no way you could be her. Rhea is your grandmother, after all. It is not entirely outlandish that you would look like her. Still, I knew your face would warrant a bit of trouble." Artemis turns her head, only slightly, staring at Thalia from the corner of her eye. "But things changed when we met again. After the Golden Fleece brought you back, you were different. You were…" she sighs. "…not alone. It was one of the reasons I wanted to recruit you into the Hunters. To keep you safe."

You were not alone. But Artemis is wrong about that. Thalia Grace has always been alone and always will be alone.

Thalia takes a step forward, back stiff like a rod. "What about Kronos?"

"He wouldn't have chosen you if he didn't suspect it." Artemis rolls her eyes. "Zeus has hundreds of daughters. Many of them immortal. Granted, only a select few of us are our father's favorites. Me, you, Athena, Helen of Troy, Amelia Earheart, maybe Persephone depending who you ask… But why marry you? A defiant, little half-blood when he can have any goddess in the world with no strings attached."

So everyone came to that conclusion but me, she muses.

"He saw Rhea in me," Thalia responds aloud, "even if he wasn't sure."

"But he is sure now." Artemis finally turns to her, silver eyes burning like the flaming god from Rhea's memory. "Isn't he?"

Thalia sneers. "Are you trying to accuse me of something? I didn't do anything wrong."

"You were supposed to hide it, suppress it."

"No shit, considering an awakening Rhea almost ripped me apart from the inside out."

Artemis shakes her head. "I – Zeus – wanted you to join the Hunters because we were afraid, Thalia. Of what you can do if given the chance, of what others will try to do in their pursuit to take advantage of you."

"I'm no one's tool!"

"A weapon," the goddess corrects, "if wielded properly. Gods, though powerful, are bound to rules of the cosmic order. Half-bloods aren't."

A hero can go anywhere, challenge anyone if he has the nerve.

Artemis purses her lips, following Thalia's line of thought. "You're a mixture of both now and more powerful than you realize. You're a danger to us all."

"Someone should've told me this sooner," she growls. "Someone should've warned me. You should've warned me."

But no one did. Because gods were stupid with all their fucking rules and scheming. It's no mystery to Thalia why they lost the godsforsaken war, why some of their children and the minor gods turned on them.

The goddess only looks at her, the anger subsiding until all that remains now is pity. "Thalia…"

The girl bristles like a porcupine. "Get out."

Artemis's jaw clenches. "No."

"Fine." She snatches up the cloak draped across the bed. "Then I will."

Thalia storms out the door before the goddess can get another word in.

"Where do you think you're going?" Artemis calls out, rushing to see her leave down the hall. But by then, Thalia's already disappeared into the secret passageway. She runs up the steps with newfound ferocity, pregnant or otherwise. She doesn't even crack a sweat, not a single breath out of place. She is a Hunter of Artemis – the goddamn lieutenant – and her eye is on the prize.

Thalia shoves the key into the lock but finds the door already ajar.

"Have you made up your mind?" a stoic Thalia hears as she walks into the sanctuary, recognizing it to be Gaia's voice.

The primordial lies on the dead grass, eyes closed with her face turned towards the darkened sky, a grin matching that of the madman she birthed. She already knows the girl's answer.

Thalia steps forward with clenched fists. Her stomach jolts with her baby's kick; a warning she promptly ignores. "What do I need to do?"


Theia's red door bursts open but the Titaness doesn't even flinch, her golden eyes focused on a new shining trinket. "Don't forget to shut it. You're letting in the cold, Phoebe."

The door shuts.

The huntress lowers the hood of her silver parka, obnoxiously clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "What are you looking at this time?" she asks finally.

Theia grins, holding up a set of sparkling crystals. "You can tell Gaia's been running around New York. Mother always leaves behind some beautiful quartz when she's scheming."

"We used to collect them when we were younger." Cold black eyes suddenly fill with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and sadness. But it's gone in an instant. "You know why I'm here then."

"Your hair used to be so shiny," says Theia, completely ignoring both statements as she points to the mop of ginger hair on the other woman's head and adjusting her saucer-sized lenses. "But it dulled as soon as you started frolicking with your little granddaughter."

Phoebe doesn't smile. "Artemis taught me that there are more important things in life."

"The Hunters of Artemis were supposed to be your probation," Theia snaps. "Zeus didn't mean for you to waste the rest of your natural life in servitude to her."

Phoebe is silent for a moment. "You know what happened to Koios."

Embarrassed, Theia looks away. Of course she knows. "He faded in Tartarus."

She nods. "I don't blame him, really. It was an escape from the pain. So is this." Phoebe readjusts her stance, puffing out her chest. She had come to terms with her husband's disappearance long ago and, as far as she knows, it's a thing of the past. "I need your help, Theia."

The tiny Titaness nearly falls out of her chair. "My help?" She slaps a hand over her chest, flabbergasted. "I'm perfectly content in this little workshop of mine. I think I'll be fine."

Phoebe steps forward, reaching out to grab one of Theia's trinkets, much to her sister's displeasure. "You can see everything with that those glasses, can't you?"

"Of course!" she retorts just as quickly. "Do you doubt my abilities?"

Her dark eyes gleam strangely. "If you can see everything, surely you can see all the suffering happening around you."

Silence envelopes them for a moment.

Theia's shoulders hunch in on themselves. "Of course," she repeats again, quieter this time.

"Don't you want to do something about it? Don't you wish to stop our brothers? The first war, we did absolutely nothing. And look where that got us? I serve my granddaughter, you're just a crazy old bat hiding out in a lens shop with your trove of horded shiny things." She sets Theia's trinket down with a wrinkled nose.

Her sister rolls her eyes. "I wouldn't need these things if…"

"…if you had Hyperion again." Hyperion had been Theia's ultimate shiny thing. Losing him felt like losing her entire life. Her children had never been as shiny as him. "You know what he is, Theia."

She throws her hands up, defeated. "I know. That doesn't mean I don't miss him." Theia purses her lips, gaze suddenly far away, farther than it's ever been before. "I'm just tired of being alone, Phoebe."

The former Titaness finally approaches. "You don't have to be." Theia feels a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Help me, Theia. Let us set things right. Together."

"I'm… scared, Phoebe. Our brothers are winning and I'm scared."

Phoebe gives a light squeeze. "I know. I am too."


April

"Have you thought of a name?" Gaia grimaces, flicking Thalia's knee. "No, not like that dear. Just… imagine a lake in the back of your mind. All you have to do is tap into it, let its power flow though you."

"I'm trying!" Thalia says, attempting to imagine it. But it's not so easily done, exploiting that part of herself. The very same part, or – dare she say the name – Rhea, that could easily drive her to lunacy or, worse, death. "And it's too early."

"It's never too early," Gaia chastises.

She purses her lips. "I don't even know if it's a boy or a girl. Or something in between." With eyes still shut, Thalia grins when she feels as though she's hit something. "I think I've got it."

It materializes in front of her, a golden pond much like the one beside the two of them. It churns like thick ichor, reeking of pure magic.

"Now sink your hands into it. Unlock that power," says the goddess, but still not trailing off from their other topic of discussion. "Stop avoiding the question. Have you thought of a name?"

Thalia sighs just as she dips her hand into the shimmering pond within her unconscious. "Yes," the girl whispers. She jumps as if stung but keeps her hand in the pond. It seems to sizzle on her hands, drawing out sparks of lightning. A tingling sensation creeps up her arms, straight into the rest of her body.

Gaia doesn't ask her to share it, the name, and for that Thalia is thankful. "Let it flow through you but don't let it take over. Then you can use it to you advantage."

Determined, the half-blood nods. Taking a deep breath, she tries to focus the power into her hands. It moves much like an electrical current, something Thalia can say she is exceptionally familiar with. She presses her fingers into the ground, thinking in shapes as she tries to even out her breathing.

"Open your eyes," Gaia orders.

She does.

And she sees it: a multitude of quartz crystals sprouting from between the blades of grass.

"Now break it."

Thalia releases all her pent up anger in one swoop, picturing Kronos's face. It explodes into glass-like shards.

"I did it," she gasps, a genuine smile stretching across her face for once. "Oh gods, I did it."

Gaia's eyes seem to spark. "You know what to do now."

Thalia nods solemnly, her initial excitement quickly fading. She'll have to do it again, keep practicing. One slip up and it just might doom the entire plan.

It's only natural she doesn't manage to get a bit of sleep that night. She only tosses and turns, rubbing circles on her belly, thinking about what Gaia said.

Elpis.

The pond in the sanctuary calls to her in the late night hours like a siren's chant, wanting so terribly to tell her the exact story Thalia doesn't want to hear.

In the past month, perhaps she's seen it a handful of times: the earth-shattering arguments between Rhea and Gaia, Kronos – a completely different person – unabashedly flirting by the pond, glimpses of Ouranos - the sky god who loathes everyone and everything - ruling this seemingly simple and carefree world with an iron fist, all of it centered around the little sanctuary hidden behind that archaic wooden door.

Those dreams begin relatively the same: brown-skinned Rhea fuming by the shimmering water, always wishing for something. To be away from her manipulative mother, to have some sort of change in pace from flower picking and birdwatching.

But they always say to be careful what you wish for.

She lingers near the pond on her mother's request, namely because of Ouranos. When he visits, Rhea scatters, knowing very well her presence alone may spark his short temper. But truthfully she doesn't mind; she would hate to be in the same house as when her father lusted for her mother.

An indignant scream – no, roar – tears her away from her thoughts. Rhea jumps to her feet when she senses something wrong. The birds sense it too and they take flight, beating their wings furiously as they flee. She turns towards the direction of Gaia's home and three things happen in that moment: deafening thunder crackles across the cloudless sky, the horizon turns a frightening shade of red, and a sudden, terrible gust of wind makes her fall.

"Mother?!" she screams over the chaos. Rhea claws her way back to her feet, eyes barely open as the dirt and leaves whip through the air. It feels like her skin is ready to peel off at any moment.

And then nothing.

The wind stops, as does the thunder. Only the sky does not change.

Panicked, knowing something terrible has happened, Rhea runs. But she doesn't get far, hitting what seems like a statue.

Not a statue.

Kronos stands before her, black garments painted with ichor. Ichor that does not belong to him. From behind – straight from Gaia's abode – wild cheering erupts.

"What did you do?" she retorts. "What did you do!?"

"What I had to," Kronos responds, picking her off the ground. But much to her surprise, he doesn't let go, not even as she attempts to peel away.

Blinking rapidly, she says, rather sharply, "What are you doing?"

Kronos begins to walk, practically dragging her with him. "I struck a deal with Gaia," he says with the utmost calm, unnerved by her attempts to pull away and dig her feet into the ground. "Kill Ouranos in exchange for our sire's crown… and you."

"What?" Rhea is hardly able to process it. Her father? Gone just like that? She never cared for Ouranos, no, but the idea of him falling to Kronos's blade is frightening in and of itself. She shrieks, "No! I would never marry a kinslayer."

Kronos shrugs. "Suit yourself." Before she knows it, he picks her up like a doll, throwing her over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?!" The scream becomes stuck in her throat. "For the love of Chaos, I am no toy!"

"No, you are not," he agrees simply. "You will be a queen."

"Queen of what? Your bed?"

"Amongst other things," he remarks. Kronos, of course, doesn't expect Rhea to bite him.

He throws her down quickly and the young Titaness lands firmly on her ass. "Gods be good, you truly are a wild creature."

"And you a brute," she spits as he comes to kneel before her. "But how could I expect anything else after what you've done?"

Kronos only laughs, outstretching his hand to brush against her burning cheek. But in that moment Rhea most certainly does not expect him to kiss her. Anger burns through her, boiling her blood. Even more so when Rhea finds his hand prodding her breast through her silk tunic.

She slaps his face, hard, of course, but it only makes him laugh harder. It's a laugh Thalia would never hear for the rest of her days.


Thalia wakes before the dawn, tying her hair neatly above her head and putting on the most comfortable tunic she owns – plain white, hanging above her knees, lightweight and made for quick escapes – before throwing the customary black tunic – worn from her continuous use – over her shoulders.

Thalia sighs once last time before heading out the door. But, before she shuts it, she can't help but give her messy bed one last glance. She'll be leaving before Artemis comes to take the sheets.

Truthfully, it feels like a betrayal keeping Artemis in the dark and in the cold. They haven't spoken since their argument weeks ago. And the girl has the desire to tell Artemis everything: about her dreams of Kronos and Rhea, about the newfound powers she's managed to tap into, about Gaia's plan.

But she just can't. When Thalia Grace has made up her mind there's no changing it. And Artemis is safer not knowing. And perhaps the goddess had had a similar thought process when deciding whether or not to keep the secret of Rhea from Thalia. Maybe, just maybe, that's enough justification for this daughter of Zeus.

With a sound mind she climbs down the winding staircase with ease. And, as soon as Thalia touches down on the main level connecting her to the rest of Mount Othrys, she closes her eyes and pictures that golden pond.

Overwhelming heat rushes through her veins and her eyes snap open. She knows where to go.

Othrys, for once, seems to respond to her. For the first time in her stay here, she doesn't come across a dead end or run into a single unwarranted soul. Thalia barrels straight ahead, her envisioned destination set.

Cracks begin to appear on the walls and the shadows begin to lighten. She doesn't know how, but she simply knows she's nearing the edge of the monstrosity that is this palace. A cold wind blows down the hall, making her shiver. Thalia continues on still, unsure of how much time has passed.

The passage opens up to an open roofed, open walled cavern overlooking a cliff. Beyond, on the pink horizon framed by red clouds, a rolling gray mist covers hills and smaller mountains. And, beyond it still, a view of the dark waters of Bolinos Bay that seems to steal her very breath away.

"Thalia?"

Only grudgingly does she turn away from such a sight to stare at him.

Zeus stands atop a spire of black rock, arms outstretched to hold up the swirling vortex: the wrath of Ouranos. His hair and beard are covered with grays, blotting out any and all dark hair. He looks so skinny, a far cry from his bulky and imposing figure from seven years ago.

It hits her then: she hasn't seen her father in seven years.

"Yeah, it's me," Thalia breathes, her voice cracking only slightly as she climbs her way up the jagged stone steps leading to his ledge. For a moment she has the urge to take on Zeus's burden herself, that is, if such a task wasn't sure to kill her and her baby.

She reaches the top, dusting her fingers as she tries to control her breathing once more. It's with shock she realizes Zeus looks even worse up close, reflecting his real age. Her father looks absolutely ancient, drained of power and hope.

"I didn't want to believe him," he manages through gritted teeth, casting her a pitiful side glance. "I didn't want to imagine you here, suffering in this place by his hand."

She stiffens. "No," Thalia growls, doing all she can not to raise her voice. "You… you don't get to be angry about that. You have no fucking right. It's one thing to see it, Zeus. One thing to turn a blind eye to it. But you have no idea how much I have to go through on a daily basis. Because of you, for the simple fact that I am your daughter."

Mournfully, he lowers his head. "I am sorry for the pain I have caused you."

"I don't want you to be sorry for me. I don't want you to be sorry for yourself either," Thalia snaps. "I want you to fight."

"How on earth can I do that?" he retorts, but the edge in his voice is almost nonexistent. It sounds of misery, through and through. "From here, nonetheless? I am no use to anyone."

Thalia hears a loud snarl, followed by the sound of footsteps echoing from the hall in which she entered. "…absolutely worthless."

Gaia.

"Be vigilante," Thalia tells him. "Stop moping and focus. You never know when you'll get an opportunity."

"It's not my fault!" a man grumbles, louder and therefore closer. "I hold no sway with Kronos. His mind is set on this."

Thalia scrambles back down the steps just as Gaia and fair-haired Krios – with his polished black armor that glitters with a dozen moving constellations – step into the cavern. She's seen him a handful of times: on the television, at Kronia and Saturnalia, in the throne room when Kronos had first captured her. But he isn't the most handsome of Titans, nor the tallest nor the most powerful, and it's easy for him to blend in with the background.

Gaia's eyes flicker toward Thalia and nothing more. "Oh, don't give the credit to Kronos. Kronos refuses to listen to you because you're just as empty headed as your father." Krios, of course, doesn't pay much attention to his mother's wandering gaze. He probably assumes she's glaring at Zeus holding the weight of the sky, the very embodiment of her ex-husband. "But I suppose this is my fault. I dropped you a little too much as a baby. I'm sure you've been a little soft in the head ever since. No wonder they delegated you to watching over insignificant stars."

Fists clench at his side as his face burns furiously with embarrassment. "Mother—"

Gaia doubles over, cutting him off instantly. "Ack!"

For Thalia, it's hard to tell if the pain Gaia feels in real or false. Krios can't tell the difference either as he instantly leans over to grab his mother, only to have her furiously slap his hands away.

"For the love of Chaos," she sneers, "don't touch me you little ingrate!" Gaia stands with renewed force, eyes no longer green but blackened by unspeakable hate. "You love your brother so much? Tell him he will most certainly feel my wrath. You all will."

Emerald skirts whirling, Gaia storms away back the way they came.

Krios runs his hands through his hair, muttering a string of profanities to himself. Upon her descent, Thalia skirts around a few loose rocks that tumble down the steps anyway, alerting the Titan of her presence.

His glare meets hers and Thalia stops cold. "What are you doing here?"

"Nothing," she answers a little too quickly. "Kronos lets me wander."

Of course, Krios catches her bait. "But surely he doesn't let you wander this far. Not where you can whisper secrets into the ears of Zeus." He grabs her by the arm as soon as she makes it off the spire of rock, leaning over to whisper in her ear, "Perhaps I should tell him."

Faux panic flashes across her face. "Don't. Please." She clasps her nervous hands behind her back. "I'll do anything. Just don't tell Kronos."

Another bait. Another catch. He tilts his head inquisitively. "Anything?"

Thalia grabs his wrist as a warning, eyes narrowing playfully. "Don't make me laugh. You think your… worthy of someone like me? Please, you're a second-rate Titan at best. Even Atlas is more popular than you are."

Krios bristles, color rising in his cheeks. "I could snap your neck like a twig, little girl." His hands wrap around her neck but it's nothing compared to what Kronos does on a daily. Grabbing her that way often makes her husband feel like he could control her and Thalia isn't surprised to find Krios thinking along the same lines. "You would be quick not to forget that, half-blood whore."

She rolls her eyes, looking away. "Yes, my lord. I'm sorry." They both know it to be an empty apology. He still doesn't let go of her throat.

"Sweet Chaos, what does he even see in you?" Annoyance ripples across his pale, flawless face. "What makes you so special?"

She glances at him again, electric blue staring him down. The Titan, of course, doesn't miss the mischievous spark. "Attitude, Lord Krios. Kronos says I'm very bad. That I need to be punished often."

It's with satisfaction she finds his eyes clouding over. He lowers his voice. "How often?"

This is too easy. Thalia smiles coquettishly, delaying the response by a second. "Not as often as you'd think."

"Really?" Krios murmurs, pulling her closer and dangerously so. Nails press into Thalia's thigh and her breath hitches. "That should be remedied." Though they both know Thalia isn't the one in need of remedying. Her pride hasn't been bruised.

When his lips crash against hers, she reminds herself that she must play her part for Gaia, for Zeus, for Percy and Annabeth and Nico and Jason, for the entire Rebellion. For the world. That this is the only chance she'll ever get.

She tries to sound as convincing as she can, when really the only sound Thalia should be making is that of dry heaving. Her hand flutters to the side of his starry armor, fingers feeling for her intended target. Thalia rips them out one by one, careful not to let any one star drop. Each one, the size of a marble, burns in her hand like a supernova but she wills herself not to cry out, not to alert Krios. Instead, her tongue darts inside his mouth, once again diverting attention.

She thinks of the pond again, of the power lurking just beneath the surface. She focuses it in the palm of her hand, letting the power flow though her into the little stars. Just like Gaia taught her.

Beneath her dress, the Titan's hand edges higher between her legs and it almost breaks Thalia's concentration. But she will not, cannot, be deterred.

A wave of energy forces her hands to let go. She pulls her mouth away from Krios, weakly pushing him away. Red blotches stain her face and Thalia, honest to Gaia, doesn't have the stomach to look at him.

His eyes spark with a mixture of lust and rage. "Be sure to finish what you started, half-blood," he sneers, sealing the gap between them again. "Did Kronos not teach you that?"

Thalia gives him a vicious smirk. "What Kronos did teach me was to fortify my mind from his nasty little tricks." Someone shuffles behind him but the Titan hardly notices, especially with his cock doing most of the thinking for him. "You might even say I picked up on a few of his habits."

Krios only understands when a knife plunges through his back, poking out at the other end of his chest and narrowly missing Thalia's own flesh.

"You little bitch," Krios coughs out, ichor sputtering in her face. Thalia doesn't even flinch from it. She rips his hands off of her and shoves him to the ground, to which he falls with a heavy clunk.

Thalia stares at her creation in awe, thinking about the words Artemis said to her those many nights ago. You're a mixture of both and more powerful than you realize.

Zoe Nightshade looks absolutely the same, as if she'd never been poisoned nine years ago by the dragon Ladon, as if Atlas had never broken her from the inside out. With her pin straight black hair, cheekbones sharper than her knives, and imposing height, the Huntress is still as beautiful and deadly as ever.

She wants to embrace her, tell the daughter of Atlas how much she's missed her despite their rocky beginnings. But Zoe has yet to put down the bloodstained knife.

Black eyes bore into her face. Glittering black eyes that could murder an entire nation but Thalia most of all. It's no surprise when she finds that same silver knife pressed to her cheek and its wielder uttering a most terrifying word. "Whore."

Seducing a Titan. That's one way not to reintroduce herself to one of Artemis's most devout followers.

The words fly from her mouth. "Zoe, I can explain."

The blade digs into her flesh. "Please explain, Thalia Grace," she hisses, "as to why Artemis has not smote you for this transgression."

"I know you're disoriented but I – Artemis and I – need your help." Doubt flashes in her eyes and Zoe's grip falters. "Please, I have to free Zeus and I can't do it without you."

She cocks her head like a bird of prey, studying Thalia, the desire for knowledge and revenge conflicting with the need for action.

"We don't have much time," Thalia tries again. "We need to free Zeus."

Her words finally hit home. The girl lowers her knife, eyes glinting warily. Woe be upon Thalia Grace if she is lying.

Zoe sighs. "For what you intend it will require more than myself." She kicks Krios over, glaring at him as if he were a measly cockroach. "Rip off his armor. Today we will be tearing apart the heavens it seems."


They kill the giants posted outside Mount Othrys' main entrance without so much as blinking an eye. Just like old times. Phoebe sheathes her silver knives, looking to her sister.

Theia adjusts the size of her lenses. Her eyes glaze over. "It's sleeping."

"Why should he awaken?" Phoebe mutters. "What does the Python need to fear from a Titan? That is why Gaia sent us."

Her sister nods. "Well, we knew getting in would be easy."

"Getting out," Phoebe adds, "remains to be seen."

"Those are odds I'm willing to bet on." Theia shoves her hands in her pockets, strolling inside without a care. But soon enough, an overwhelming sense of nostalgia hits her. With the mouth of Othrys gaping before them, the memories come in waves.

Her sparkling children – Helios and Selene – running with Phoebe's own daughter Leto – sweet, graceful Leto that shined just as bright – filling the terrible black halls with their inner light, childish laughter echoing across a thousand rooms and corridors. In the years to follow, rosy Eos and mysterious Asteria would join them.

Theia stops suddenly, a hand outstretched to stop Phoebe as well.

Her sister looks to her with concern. Her fingers linger on the arrows within the quiver strapped to her back. "What is wrong?"

Leisurely footsteps can be heard suddenly, nearing them.

"No," Theia whispers, hardly noticing the frost the climbs up her feet and legs. She shivers. "It's impossible."

"Impossible?" says a man's voice, the footsteps slowing. "I beg to differ, sister."

Shards of ice explode from the shadows. With a growl, Theia raises the temperature, glowing light shooting out of her hands and melting the icicles instantly. But she regrets illuminating the hallway.

The bow slips from Phoebe's fingers. "Koios?"

The butt of the Titan's frozen spear pounds against the ground, the impact once again chilling the air. A carefully sculpted eyebrow, raised, regards them with an equally chilling demeanor.

Theia doesn't look him in his icy blue eyes, as if afraid to become frozen in place for an eternity. "This can't be," she grits her teeth. "You—"

"Faded?" A callous voice to match his callous face. He steps forward, muscles tense like a cat stalking its prey. His blue armor shimmers like a thousand snowflakes when he steps into the light, blending with bleach white hair and equally pale skin. "A lie from the Olympians themselves."

"I would have seen it," she snaps.

He grins from ear to ear. "I am the Titan of far-sight, Theia. I always know how to keep one step ahead of you."

In the past, Koios has only done it to her a handful of times, not that she would be quick to admit it. She points an angry finger in his direction. "You're a dirty trickster is what you are!"

"As the creatures lacking in intelligence are apt to tell me every so often." His icy eyes bore into Phoebe's. "I escaped such a long time ago, love. Did you really think Tartarus could hold me for very long?"

She hesitates. "But—"

"I bided my time for centuries," he continues without pause. "And I did try searching for you, no matter what you might think. But that was until I heard you were a full blown traitor to your own kind."

"Artemis is Leto's daughter." Phoebe scowls. "Our Leto." And family this former Titaness isn't apt to betray.

He looks at her with the utmost disgust and it makes her want to curl into herself and crawl under a rock. "Please, I have no love for the spawn of Zeus. Especially after the way he treated our Leto."

Theia adjusts her glasses, raising her fists in a customary fighting stance. It's almost laughable. Almost. "Move aside, brother. Or we won't hesitate to barrel right through you."

He regards Theia with even more disdain but he continues to hold his former wife with his piercing gaze. "Oh, Phoebe. Do put down those weapons. It is very unbecoming of you."

She pulls her knives free from their sheathes. "Yes, you always did prefer a demure housewife to tend to your daughters."

"Daughters." He sighs, brandishing his icy spear once more. "Could have been sons."

The Hunter of Artemis glares. "Go, Theia. I will deal with him."

"Phoebe—"

Koios lunges.

She shoves Theia out the way, narrowly missing the edge of her former husband's spear. "Go!"

Her sister doesn't have time to argue. At blinding speeds the lance aims for Theia's head but pierces Phoebe's shoulder instead.

She swings her knives just as quickly, drawing blood from his retreating arm. Koios spins his weapon in a beautiful frigid halo above his head before pointing it at Phoebe. She juts her chin out, unafraid. His eye twitches.

Koios lunges, blade arcing towards the Hunter's face but she bends over backwards, dropping to the ground, and rolling. She hears the cold whoosh of his spear behind her head, narrowly missing her several times before she finds her footing. Phoebe flips her blades in an underhanded position and strikes out blindly.

It's with surprise she manages to punch him square in the face. Koios staggers back, eyes blazing. How hurt he must be, on the inside that is.

She can only grin. "Don't think I've forgotten, Koios." Phoebe twirls her knives again, ready for him. "I am shrouded in mystery. I am the one thing you cannot predict."

"Of course," the Titan chuckles forcefully, wiping the trail of ichor away from his split lips. "It's what made sex with you so interesting. Maybe we'll have one more go at it before Kronos imprisons you in Tartarus. Traitor."

He lunges again but his form is sloppier than before. She redirects his strikes with ease, turning and sidestepping with all the grace of a ballerina and the ferocity of a wild cat. A stream of silver sweat appears on his forehead.

With a growl bursting from his lips, Koios attempts to sweep her feet right out from under her. He overextends himself.

With an easy leap over his intended blow and his back suddenly facing her, Phoebe takes the chance. Her knives sink into his back.

She rips her weapons free just as quickly, dancing out of his reach. "You made a mistake," she says finally.

Koios seethes, rolling his shoulders in an attempt to shake off the pain. "I don't make mistakes," he insists, ignoring his bleeding wounds.

"I thought you were gone forever. I have been alone for eons ever since." He presses forward with heavy steps and the circling begins. Phoebe continues. "Who has betrayed whom first, my love? I suppose we will never know." She breaks the tune of their dance this time, shearing off the tip of his lance before he can blink. It shatters into a million pieces of ice before she kicks his gut and pins him to the ground.

She crosses her knives in an 'X' around his neck. Leto's blue eyes stare back at her, filling the Titanness with overwhelming sadness. But she is angry too, so unbelievably angry. "But you will know that whoever betrays me will not live to tell the tale."

Phoebe slashes open his throat with a flick of both wrists. Godly blood sprays her face and she has the urge to bathe in it. If only Phoebe could actually kill him; what a downside to having a family composed primarily of immortals. Letting him bleed out won't even hold him down for an hour.

She spits in his face and runs. It doesn't take her long to catch up to Theia, who regards her with the widest grin.

"I saw everything."

They speak no longer, rushing through the overlapping halls before someone comes across the injured Koios. It's only a matter of time.

"There!" Theia exclaims, pointing down a sunny corridor lined with cracks. Here comes the hard part.

They barrel into the cavern but least of all expecting a blind man to hold them at sword point.

"Titans!" he booms, his curved sword angled precisely enough to take both the women's heads off in one fell swoop.

Conversations come to a halt. Behind him, three girls crowd around the bloody armor that can only be mistaken as Krios's. Thalia's eyebrows furrow. "Phoebe?"

"Thalia Grace," she beams, despite the blade pointed at them. The two girls beside Thalia stand. Phoebe recognizes them both, not only from her many years roaming the earth, but they are both former Hunters: Atalanta – a wiry girl with black hair cropped short, and fearsome amber eyes that resemble a lion's – and broad-shouldered Callisto – built like a bear with wavy brown hair that falls past her waist. Though they are without their silver weapons and Hunter's garb, they still appear as menacing as ever.

"Orion!" snaps a familiar voice. "Release, mongrel. Do you not recognize a fellow huntress?"

Phoebe nearly sobs when she sees her bounding up the black spire of rock, lugging the Titaness's beaten little brother Koios, beside the withered figure of Zeus. Two fair-haired men flank her on either side, concern etched in their identical features. Knowing her old friend, Phoebe wouldn't be surprised if she denied their help to carry the fallen Titan.

Zoe Nightshade, her former lieutenant.

Orion blows aside the dark hair hanging in his face, allowing them a glimpse of his pale irises and the scars on his eyelids. He smiles up at Zoe, though it appears more like an animal bearing its teeth. "I can recognize Phoebe's manly steps from a mile away. But better safe the sorry, no?"

She only shoots him another glare and he lowers his weapon. Neither Titaness moves.

Positioned before Thalia are tiny white marbles that glitter even in the shadows, some stained with Koios's blood. Thalia closes her eyes. She spreads her hands over them and they begin to glow like microscopic suns, emanating large waves of heat that reach even Phoebe and Theia.

The marbles rolls towards each other, sticking to one another upon contact before tripling in size. Thalia's hands move and the shape distorts, as if being pressed and prodded like clay on a potter's wheel.

Slowly, the heat and light subside until nothing remains but a sorrowful man clutching a lyre to his chest. "Hello," he murmurs rather sadly.

Did they really have to bring back Orpheus? Phoebe only remembers him as a depressing lout.

He stands, brushing aside his black, chin-length hair. "Where am I?"

Theia whistles. "Gods, I knew Gaia planned for you to steal a star or two from the heavens but this is ridiculous." Lustful eyes settle on Zoe's companions. "You even nabbed Castor and Pollux? I've always wanted to meet the Dioscuri."

"Phoebe," Thalia repeats, sounding like a sigh of relief. Callisto has to help her get to her feet and Phoebe's gaze glues itself to her swollen stomach.

"The one and only, Lieutenant Grace," she bows respectfully. "It's nice to see that Kronos hasn't had you incinerated yet."

Thalia notices the lingering stare regardless. "But there are worse things than incineration," the girl can't help but point out. Her eyes fall on Phoebe's diminutive companion. "Who the hell are you?"

"Theia," she grabs Thalia's hand, sniffing it. The Titaness cocks her head. "Sweet Gaia, you smell an awful lot like a ghost from my past."

"You probably don't know the half of it," the daughter of Zeus remarks.

"Try me."

Thalia doesn't. She looks but to her fellow Hunter instead. "What are you doing here, Phoebe?"

"We were sent by Gaia to see you and your companions out," she explains. "Did you truly believe you could do this without the help of a Titan or two?"

She shrugs. "I was hoping."

Their pleasantries are cut short. "Thalia, he awakens!" Zoe shouts, as her and the Gemini lift the injured Krios over the last of the jagged steps.

"We need to go," says the wife of Kronos.

They drop him at Zeus's feet, just as Krios's eyes flutter open. "What… Who are—?"

"Now!" Zoe shouts, grabbing Zeus by his arm and pulling him out swiftly. The sky falls, slamming into Krios's shoulders. Instinctively, he throws his hands up to catch it.

"You." Blazing eyes burn holes into Thalia's skull. He struggles to stand, the weight of the sky suddenly pushing most of the air out of his lungs. "Treacherous little half-blood," he coughs out, "you'll pay for this!"

Old man Zeus struggles to hold his weight. The twins quickly scoop him up, balancing the once almighty King of the gods between them as Zoe shouts, "Come on, come on!"

They stubble down the steps and Krios's voice rises again, shriller this time despite the strain of the sky. "You do not leave here with him!"

Thalia grabs both Atalanta and Callisto, ushering them towards the exit. "Hurry—"

"THALIA GRACE!" He thunders finally, striking them with dread. The cavern – and subsequently the palace itself – shakes. All of them, Titanesses, constellations, and Thalia bolt as fast as their legs can take them but the voice of Krios still resonates behind them, clear as day to all on Mount Othrys. "I AWAIT THE SECONDS UNTIL KRONOS COMES TO RIP OUT YOUR LECHEROUS LITTLE HEART!"

"He is right!" Zoe Nightshade musters out. "It will not be long until Kronos shows his face. Surely he must know we are here on Othrys by now."

Phoebe can only think of the injured Koios and whether or not he has been discovered.

"True," Theia adjusts her glasses. "But it isn't Kronos you should be worried right about now."

Thalia practically gasps for air. Only Phoebe's hand gripping her underarm keeps her from tripping over her own two feet. "How many monsters?"

But her eyes glaze over, far away now. There's a crash from down the hall and echoing growls shortly follow. "Left, turn left here." They do. More growls. Theia grits her teeth. "Now make a right, quickly!"

"This isn't the same way we came!" Phoebe shouts.

"It doesn't matter!" Theia kicks a brazier and it skitters down the hall, green fire whirling. "This is a better way out. With Krios screaming like a toddler, who knows how many foul creatures are guarding the main entrance by now?"

They veer towards a circular passageway. Zeus sags uselessly between the Discouri but they are resumed to hold onto him until their dying breaths.

Zoe Nightshade trails at the end of the train. She glances behind, eyes narrowing, and peels off the silver bow from her back along with an arrow.

The howls of hellhounds erupt from all over Mount Othrys, leaving no doubt in any of their minds that the Titans have been alerted of their presence.

Atalanta and Callisto break away from Thalia's side, her and Phoebe resuming the lead behind all-knowing Theia. The former Hunters join Zoe instead, eyes staring down the darkness.

At the first sign of red eyes, the daughter of Atlas let's an arrow fly. The hellhound falls quickly but, before they know it, a dozen come to take its place.

With simultaneous growls, Atalanta and Callisto's flesh rips straight open. Now a bear, Callisto charges. Atalanta – a lion – leaps over the giant mass of fur and directly into the fray. Both shapeshifters dodge Zoe's carefully placed arrows.

Thalia and the rest don't stop.

Cracks appear on the passage walls again, letting in forbidden light, and Thalia almost thinks they're back at the same place where they started.

Theia stops suddenly, and the party nearly rams into her. She points to an enormous crack in the wall.

"This isn't an exit!" says Thalia over the sound of monsters closing in on them.

"Of course it is," says Theia, sharing a knowing glance with her sister. "Together now, just like mother taught us! You too, Rh...uh, Thalia!"

Phoebe nods. The three of them point their outstretched hands at the crack. Phoebe counts to three. A combined force of yellow light shoots out from all three of them, blowing a giant hole in the passageway.

"You may be full of mysteries, Phoebe dearest, but I think Thalia Grace has surpassed you even on that front," Orion mutters, arms crossed over his chest. Even without eyes he may be the most observant out of all of them. "Kronos is not at full strength. If he was, these weak points would not exist."

"No time to worry about that now," Phoebe dismisses, despite his very valid point. "So who's ready to jump?"

Thalia pales when she catches sight of the drop. "Can we not?"

"Please move aside," whispers the quiet voice of Orpheus. He pushes past Thalia and the Titanesses.

"Oh wow, I almost forgot you were here," Theia mutters.

The strange hero ignores her, experimentally strumming his lyre. "I'm exceptionally good at making my own entrances and exits."

"Well I'd stop wasting time and get to it," she says. "You die this time, I doubt you'll get put in the stars again."

He begins to sing before Theia even finishes her sentence, a wordless tune that somehow brings tears to her eyes. The ground beneath them rumbles and Orpheus sings louder. A peak outside and they see the exterior stones of the palace cracking and lengthening, creating a makeshift pair of steps leading down, down, down.

Zoe, Callisto, and Atalanta burst from nowhere, out of arrows and looking a little worse for wear.

Orpheus soon stops, muttering a small, "You're welcome," before stepping aside.

"We need to hurry," Callisto grumbles in a gruff voice, "we hardly made a dent in their numbers."

They eye the path Orpheus has created for them. "Is it sturdy?" says Atalanta.

The morbid hero only shrugs. As far as he knows, one wrong move and they might all tumble off the edge. But it's better than nothing.

Wordlessly, Atalanta and Callisto brave the steps first. Nothing shakes or gives way. Careless Orpheus quickly follows.

Theia turns her head, glaring down at the darkened hallway. They've all but tuned out the growling monsters but even they know what the Titaness is about to say. "They're getting closer."

"Let Zeus go next. Zoe, Orion, and I will trail behind," Phoebe orders. "Let's go, let's go!"

The Gemini lug Zeus out of the crack and into the light. The thunder god flinches violently, as if he hasn't seen the sun in years. Though it wouldn't be too surprising if such a thing were true.

Theia steps out onto a step, holding her hand out to Thalia. "Come on, little lady."

The daughter of Zeus holds her hand out to the light but quickly draws back, as if the beams of light sting.

"Thalia?" says Zoe Nightshade, her eyebrows furrowing. "We do not have time to be afraid!"

She grabs her old friend by the arm but, as soon as an inch of Thalia's flesh finds its way outside of the threshold – outside of Othrys – a tremor goes through her body. She shoves Zoe away, still remaining firmly inside the hallway.

The group pauses. "What are you waiting for?" Phoebe shouts at her. "Come on!"

"I can't. I can't leave the palace." Her voice breaks. She glances at her feet. "He won't let me leave."

Like a snake wrapped around her ankle, a patch of glowing runes gleam gold even from the shadows. In that moment, Phoebe finally understand. The wife of Kronos physically cannot leave.

"FIND THEM AND KILL THEM!"

Koios.

"Come here!" she snarls, a wild glint in her eyes. "Theia and I will break it."

Thalia shakes her head, eyes filling with tears. "There's no time." So close but so far.

"She's right," Theia frowns. "We'll never be able to get it off by the time the monsters surround us."

Phoebe ignores her sister. "We're Titans, Thalia. Don't be stupid, let us break it."

"I… I can buy you time."

"No. You won't be a martyr. Not anymore."

"I can't, I—" Thalia bites her lip. "I can't leave Artemis here." Even if they did fight, that changes nothing. Artemis is her everything and to abandon her now – to leave her with Kronos of all people – is beyond cruel.

"Artemis would understand," Phoebe whispers, still in denial.

"No," Thalia retorts. "You know what he would do to her if I was gone."

Zeus stirs from between the Gemini, attempting to lift his weary head off of Castor's shoulder. "Thalia…"

But the girl's mind is made up. "Go. I can take care of myself."

"Here." Zoe Nightshade grabs her hand, wrapping Thalia's fingers around her silver knife. "You said you can take care of yourself, right? Prove it to us. Kill as many monsters as you can. Stab Kronos in his eye if you get the chance."

She stares at it warily. It feels so foreign now that she's been away from the Hunt so long and it almost makes her sob. "I'm pregnant, Zoe."

Zoe narrows her eyes. "Does having a child somehow make you disabled? You are huntress at heart, Thalia Grace. The wilderness lives in you. That is what truly matters, not an empty vow of chastity."

She envelopes Zoe Nightshade into a bone crushing hug. "I never got to tell you but you were right. About Luke."

The daughter of Atlas only shushes her.

Orion's gruff voice snaps them out of it. "We have to go."

"Don't die," Phoebe chokes out, saddened by yet another parting with their lieutenant. There's no telling when they will meet again, if they meet again.

Thalia's grip on the knife tightens. "The monsters won't hurt me."

Theia purses her lips, unable to meet her eyes. She, of all people, knows what happens behind closed doors. She knows what her brother is capable of. "It's not the monsters we're worried about."


She manages to kill a few before they knock the knife away. The drakanae drag her through Othrys' black halls and Thalia can't help but think back to the first time she was dragged across the mountain, a different girl then. Kronos had forced her into marriage but, at the time, even she didn't quite know the horror of such a thing. How could she?

Thalia grits her teeth to keep from crying out. On her ankle, Kronos's brand flashes gold across her flesh, burning her down to the very bone; a sign of her transgression.

They pass a multitude of braziers lit with green fire, marble busts of the Titan family, and she knows this is it.

"My lord," the snake women hiss as soon as they enter the throne room, slinging Thalia between them. They throw her down at the foot of his obsidian throne. She presses her forehead against the cool floor, overwhelmed by the sense of déjà vu.

"Leave us."

She looks up, both relieved and absolutely terrified that is it just the two of them here. They only stare at each other, Thalia recognizing the fury barely hidden under his calm mask.

Gaze never wavering, she gathers herself off the floor, first to her knees before finally making a move to stand. But it's a mistake. She barely even gets to her feet.

Her temple makes a sickening crack as it collides with the nearest marble wall and Thalia can't help the whimper that escapes through her lips. She hears footsteps nearing her, heavy ones, and winces. A hand reaches out, gripping a fistful over her hair. Thalia's vision comes back into focus. Kronos is there, golden eyes blazing, ready to kill.

"Do you feel proud of yourself Thalia?" His smile is a terrifying one. "You freed Zeus! You trapped a Titan under the sky! And you did it all by yourself…" Kronos laughs again and Thalia begins to question his sanity. But she's cut off guard by his fist that bashes the right side of her face and the aching sensation in her bones that follows.

Thalia touches her cheek, feeling the tenderness. Wetness touches back; the blood dripping from the corner of her mouth.

Kronos grits his teeth. "Do you. Feel. Accomplished now?"

Thalia remains silent, only staring at him.

"ANSWER ME DAMMIT!" he roars, his skin growing brighter as if illuminated by an inner light. Any moment he could reveal his true form and obliterate her. Yet, somehow, Thalia can't bring herself to care.

The familiar wave of defiance flashes through her veins. "Of course." Her voice turns into a sneer. "It gets me closer to seeing you burn in Tartarus again."

"Wrong. Answer," he snarls. "It appears I will have to spell it out for you."

She tries to reign in her fear but there's no time for that now.

"You try to escape from me again, I will kill you." Kronos slams her against the wall and her feet give way, unable to support her. "If I catch you aiding the Rebellion, in anyway, I will kill you." He comes around with a backhand that sends her flying across the throne room. Thalia's lower back slams against the base of Kronos's throne, taking the blunt of the force. His hand soon wraps around her throat, this time pinning her to the floor, choking the life out of her. "And if you ever, ever, touch another man again? I will kill you."

She finds herself across the room again, shards of broken marble slicing through her flesh. Blood gushes from the wounds on her hands and legs, caking onto Thalia's skin. Her skull throbs as if ready to come apart at the seams.

Then suddenly, something pools from between her thighs. She tries to get up, to take a look at it, but a sharp sensation cuts through her belly. She screams.

She moves her hand – it weighs like lead – to touch her thigh. Blood. A lot of blood.

A sensation bites at her belly, as if a parasite is chewing her from the inside out in hopes of escaping. Another comes more rapidly, again and again, just endless strikes. Her arms wrap around her stomach, attempting to keep herself together, to stop time it seems, but pain seems to explode with every contraction. She starts to cry, the tears mixing with her blood.

You should have left when you had the chance. Even if she had to cut her ankle off to do so.

Thalia glances at Kronos, knowing he must see what is happening. Surely he must understand what is happening, even if she does not. But his face is only cold and angry, and surely he must still be seeing red. A Titan's rage simply can't fade in sheer moments.

But when he glances at the blood dripping down from the center of her legs, his mouth morphs into a cruel smile, albeit a faint one.

The message is immediate.

Thalia will receive no help from him.

Chapter Text

I must become a lion-hearted girl
Ready for a fight
Before I make the final sacrifice

-Florence + The Machine, "Rabbit Heart"


Blackness. Blur. In and out, shifting. Moving fast, moving slow. It feels like Thalia's on drugs. She hears voices, but can't make out words. She sees people, but can't make out their faces. She feels pain but she's so used to touching her wounds, seeing the cut or break, smelling or tasting the blood… but she can do neither.

Someone says a word. It might be from Thalia's own mouth but she can't be sure.

"Elpis?"


She runs for her life. Not that it matters to Thalia, the thought of death. As far as she's concerned, everyone is safe: Annabeth, Percy, the gods, Nico… well she isn't sure about the last one. Not everyone gets pushed off the Golden Gate Bridge lives to tell the tale.

But its Nico, Thalia tells herself, banishing all worry. He's harder to kill than a fucking cockroach.

At the first sign of trees, Thalia almost cries. She ducks in between rows of cypress and pine, spreading her arms out behind her. Sparks fly from between her fingers, bouncing off targets at random: a tree, the road, window shields, and car doors.

One last chance. One last offense.

Engines shut down instantly. Tires come to a rigid halt. Car doors slam behind her. But Thalia throws her arms up, ripping the very lightning out of the sky.

"…surround…perimeter!"

"don't let…escape…Kronos!"

"….call in reinf—"

Thalia grits her teeth, trying to fight the paralyzing pain, and jerks her body to the ground. The current leaves her body, running along the grass and leaves. Static runs up the leg of the first officer to step foot off the road, instantly shocking him to the ground.

Thalia gets up and takes off running again despite her aching limbs. There aren't many people who can run a mile or two after taking an arrow to the thigh let alone summoning a shit ton of lightning. She's one lucky bitch if she finds herself still breathing by sundown. She only thanks whatever inept archer that shot the arrow hadn't struck an artery. But the blood still seeps through her jeans, also laden with sweat, that stick viciously to her flesh.

As her lungs squeeze in what little oxygen they can, she quickly realizes that heading to the Bunker is no longer an option. On the other side of this forest, the hilly Marin highlands stretch for several more miles, sparsely covered in grass – no trees – and leaving her out in the open. Even then, by the time she even manages to stumble up Hawk Hill, they'll already have her cornered.

No, her hope now is to wait it out, look for chinks in their defenses…and then what? Would she go back to being hunted down by Sirius? Even if he was called off, where would she go, where would she recover without Kronos trailing her every move?

Frustration setting in, Thalia turns her thoughts towards Compartment 72.

It's been ages since she wandered the Marin highlands. Her very first time here, running in the same manner, she was with Annabeth and the Hunters in the first chaotic year just after the Battle of Manhattan, only days after the annihilation of Camp Half-Blood and Grover Underwood had turned on them. They bided their time in this very same forest after being chased relentlessly by Lykaion's wolves. But with only a mile of cypress and eucalyptus to hide in, it wasn't long until the T.A.R.D. unit sniffed them out. The Hunters had been on the run then, having lost the pack of wolves – Lykaion's wolves – chasing them. A good half of Thalia's sisters had been slaughtered, a handful imprisoned, leaving eight not including herself.

Then again, two years later, Malcolm had given Thalia a different assignment to fill. For a month and half she would get in touch with spies within the Titan ranks and on Mount Othrys, creating coordinates for setting up new Bunkers and bases, destroying important enemy headquarters, and decoding hundreds of other messages. But gods was she terrible at that job. She finally had to call it quits when one of her information suppliers was found out and got sentenced to death. She couldn't help but feel responsible for their inevitable demise.

Nevertheless, in those 49 days, she lived out of Compartment 72. Inside, it harbored an emergency food and water supply, extra weapons, new clothes, whole sets of complicated equipment and duct tape. Lots of duct tape. She had never revealed its location other Rebellion members and with some luck it just might still be intact.

Just getting away from the T.A.R.D. unit is a miracle in itself. She finds the stream and breathes a sigh of relief, following it north to a man-made bridge. From there on, she uses the trail – careful not to leave any tracks – before veering off at a fork in the road.

It takes her the rest of the afternoon to find Compartment 72, only blocks away from the edge of the treeline touching the Battery Kirby. While it's grown considerably in the past four years, the forest that is, nothing has changed too drastically that it's impossible to find her way around it.

A rusty silver arrow stuck in the bark of an oak tree marks her intended destination. It isn't much either: a 4x4 rusty metal door leading into a hole in the ground about nine feet deep. She brushes aside the pile of dead leaves on top and coughs violently at the dust that billows upwards once she cracks it open.

Much to her disappointment, most of the musty shelves on the steel-enforced walls are empty save a few expired cans of beans. She curses herself. Thalia would be one to clear out all her food supplies instead of leaving it behind as an extra precaution.

But another thing catches her eye: three worn pill bottles tucked away in the corner.

Thalia grins. "Haven't seen these in a long time." Of course, not since Annabeth had them banned.

In the Rebellion's earlier years, when ambrosia and nectar supplies dwindled, Annabeth had contracted Apollo's immortal son Asclepius to create some sort of alternative. In every compact blue pill is not only chock-full of concentrated ambrosia but also a shit ton of other chemicals that could probably kill an elephant. Rumor has it that whoever took too much, and subsequently died of overdose, would have the blood in their veins change from bright mortal red to liquid gold. Ichor.

Of course, Annabeth meant to ask Asclepius what the hell was in those drugs but it wasn't long before the god of medicine was also captured by the Titans. But, whether they banished him to Tartarus or not, Thalia can't really say.

She brushes dust aside from the worn label, her eyes squinting from the dim light overhead.

May cause hallucinations, inability to sleep, drowsiness, a decrease or loss in vision and hearing, major organ failure, and spontaneous combustion. Do not take with other medications in fear of grabbing a one way ticket to Hades.

"Beautiful," she muses, unscrewing the cap and popping one in her mouth. Truth be told, Thalia could probably list all the times these pills have save her life from monster attacks, fatigue, and hunger; all the things a full-time hero and revolutionary just doesn't have the time to worry about.

It hits her like a shot of extra-strong espresso. But it does its job, easing her cramping muscles and her aching stomach, as well as numbing her sustained injuries.

Thalia rummages through the rest of her supplies. She finds a wooden bow and quiver full of arrows, some of which are broken but it shouldn't take her too long to reuse them for a new supply. There's also a bag full of knives and a clay jar of Greek fire wrapped in a holey blanket, all of which should also come in handy.

Thalia pops another pill and gets to work on mending her leg.

She snatches up the bow and an arrow, climbing her way out of the compartment. It's almost as easy as breathing, notching the arrow in one swift movement. The string is still taut after all these years and she smiles to herself.

A twig snaps behind her and Thalia whirls around, letting it fly.

"Nice shot." The arrow hits a cypress tree with a thunk. "But we both know you're a little out of practice."

Thalia stares at the girl dressed in the same clothes, with the same long black hair, even sporting the same sheen of sweat on Thalia's forehead, and lest she forget the bloody leg.

"Who the hell are you?"

She plucks the arrow free, knowing – like Thalia – very well not to waste any. "Isn't it obvious? I'm you… sort of."

Sort of. Stormy green eyes stare back, not blue, and her skin is several degrees darker, hair curlier. But still the same, right down to the freckles.

"Shit." Thalia shakes her head, letting the bow hang at her side. "I should've known better than to take two."

Her clone shrugs. "You should really throw those out. Obviously the T.A.R.D. officers will be cutting off your food and water supplies as we speak. You'll be tempted to take more of those buggers."

Thalia bristles. "I'm a big girl, I think I can handle myself, Miss…"

"Hera." She flashes a sharp smile. "Call me Hera."

"Oh gods, you can't be serious. Please, for the love of even fucking Kronos, that you're not my stepmother trying to play some sort of cruel joke on me."

"Of course not. I'm here to help, not hinder." Hera hands her the silver arrow. "It's only a name, after all. What power is there in names?"

Grudgingly, Thalia takes it. "Something tells me I'm going to hate you."

"How can you hate me when I am you?" She clicks her tongue obnoxiously. "That doesn't make much sense, Thalia Grace."

"Yeah, a lot of things don't. You're a fucking hallucination and I'm talking to you. It really doesn't get any weirder than that."

Hera holds up a hand to silence her and she almost punches her clone right there and then. "They've already made a perimeter around the forest."

Thalia stiffens. "How do you know that?"

"Does it matter?" she scowls. "You know what they're going to do. First they'll surround you, then they'll encroach on your territory and corner you into a smaller hole."

"So what do you suggest I do?"

She drops to her feet, picking up a nearby stick. "Like an animal, mark your territory." Hera draws a circle in the sand, drawing landmarks like the trails, the cove, the road, and the battery. She also marks their given location with a small 'x'. "Strike at them before they strike at you. Draw a line in the sand and whoever crosses it, kill them."

"That's a little harsh," Thalia retorts.

Hera's eyes narrow. "You've killed T.A.R.D. officers before."

"When I had to!"

"This is about survival, Thalia. We have to look after ourselves."

"We already?" She raises an eyebrow. "Jeez Hera, at least buy me dinner first."

"You have a least one jar of Greek fire stashed away in the compartment," her doppelganger continues. "Artemis taught you how to make incendiary arrows. So what are you waiting for?"

For you to go away.

"A line in the sand," Thalia murmurs. "If they're smart they've already sealed off the cove. They wouldn't want any chance of me escaping."

"You're right," the hallucination agrees, drawing a circle around what Thalia assumes the woods. "They've most likely followed the road as well and plan to use it to outline their perimeter on you."

She purses her lips. "Kirby Cove road stops right at the front of Battery Kirby."

"Yes." Hera smiles again. "That would be the best place to make a show of strength. And if you hurry now, it's very unlikely that they have established it as their base of operations. I wouldn't wait a moment longer."

"So I take the Battery. Then what?"

"You wait and see how the T.A.R.D. unit deals with a threat like Thalia Grace."

Even Thalia knows a good plan when she sees one. "Maybe we can be friends after all."

"It's not like you have a choice. It'll take a while for Asclepius's drug to leave your system." Hera squeezes her shoulders and it almost feels real. "Until then, let's get to work."


Thalia wakes up with a start. She squints under a harsh light, trying to gasp for air.

"She's awake," a woman's voice says.

"What?" a sharp voice growls, one belonging to a man. "I haven't finished! Did you give her the proper dosage?"

"I do natural birth, Asclepius," the nurse snaps. "Not caesarian. And yes, as much as you asked."

"This is not the time to discuss it. Just put her to sleep, Illythia!"

"Wait," Thalia murmurs, her voice but a hoarse whisper. The lower half of her body feels so numb. "Where am I? Where's Elpis?"

Something small and cold is stabbed into her arm. Thalia yelps in surprise as hands keep her down. Her vision blurs quickly, immediately fading back into the darkness.


She crawls in and out of the shadows, stopping at nearly every sound. Shouting echoes from just outside the campgrounds and she remembers what Hera had told her, about them surrounding the forest to trap her in. Though she doesn't want to admit it, her doppelganger is more than right. If they take the Battery, her final stand will be over in the blink of an eye.

Thalia pulls three arrows from her quiver, the heads wrapped with giant green leaves. She peels them back carefully, gently placing them on the ground to reveal the sticky sulfur-smelling liquid on the arrowhead.

She takes aim.

Handheld radios crackle obnoxiously, higher ranking officers milling about as the rest of T.A.R.D. unit unloads supplies from the back of five jeeps.

"What do…he's coming?" an officer yells.

Thalia aims her arrow at him but the string remains taut. She strains her hearing, trying to catch out their muffled words. Another T.A.R.D. officer responds but she has no idea what he's saying.

"…bitch. I don't… he'll…" Thalia only hears her name thrown around and tightens the grip. But the next part she hears perfectly clear. "You know how Kronos gets."

She exhales and the arrow flies. It pierces his chest in a spray of blood. He falls, shaking hands gripping the shaft. An exhale later and the ground beneath him explodes. Thalia doesn't stick around to watch the chaos. She runs, slick and quiet as a cat, diving between the trees before anyone can spot her.

Thalia aims again, releases, the arrowhead shattering straight into a car's engine. This second explosion is larger than the one before it and she feels the heat all the way from her hiding place.

More shouting, screaming, this time. She feels a little sick but she refuses to feel guilt just yet.

One last arrow.

By this time, the remaining officers pile into the last two cars, slugging wounded men over their shoulders. Car doors slam shut.

She aims again, ready to fire.

"I know you're there, Thalia Grace!" one of the men screams, lifting himself off the ground. "And if I know where you are, so does Kronos. He'll come for you, do you hear me? You can't hide forever!"

She misses him by what feels like a mile. It explodes against one of the battery walls behind him. The officer stumbles from the blast, nearly crawling back into the last vehicle.

"It worked." Thalia jumps, scrambling back a few feet before she realizes it is Hera who's returned, huddled next to Thalia in the underbrush. Her doppelganger doesn't even look shaken.

The cars speed away, back down the road.

"No," Thalia whispers. "This is even worse. Kronos is on his way."

"Is he?" Hera murmurs, completely disinterested. "What did you expect to happen, Thalia? Did you expect them to let you go, to leave you alone? Did you expect Kronos to simply forget about you?"

No, he wouldn't.

Thalia remembers her brief imprisonment on Mount Othrys very clearly. The way he looked at her with such intense loathing, such sick want, still makes her skin crawl. It was the gaze of a man that would never ever let her go.

"I thought…" She shakes her head. "I don't know. Anything but this."

"Kronos wants his bride, does he not?" Her eyes glint cruelly in the shade. "Then he will have to come here and claim her."


"Do you think what Ouranos said was true?"

Even the candles dim at the mention of his name.

Kronos lifts his head from the crook of her neck, shooting a glance that is somewhere between mildly amused and worried. "Father, even in death, enjoys bluffing." The grip around her waist tightens. "You should know that better than anyone. How many times did he threaten to throw us in Tartarus with our other siblings?"

She only sighs, pressing her naked body closer to his.

"It's our wedding night, Rhea," he whispers against her jaw, teeth aching to scrape against her skin, devour her whole. "Banish the thought, my queen."

The Titaness grins, murmuring something along the lines of, "I like the sound of that."

Green eyes meet gold. "You never did tell me what made you say yes."

"Well, you're a stubborn oaf, first and foremost." Rhea lifts her head, balancing it on a propped elbow "But I was tired too, I suppose."

"Tired of Gaia?"

"Yes, but... Theia or Phoebe would visit mother often. And wherever they go, their children follow. I love them all and they love me, little Leto and the twins Helios and Selene. Even baby Asteria smiled at me and she rarely smiles for anyone, or so Phoebe tells me. I want that in my life, Kronos. A child of my own." She sits up finally, crossing her legs. Something she often does when she's nervous sharing a thought she rather kept hidden. "I want to be a mother better than what Gaia could ever be."

His hand latches onto hers. "Is that why Ouranos' prophecy frightens you so much?"

Curse, he should say. His father's prophecy was a curse, his curse. Kronos had first heard it when he cut Ouranos to pieces, straight from the god's own mouth and that was the end of that. Or so Kronos assumed. The words had been repeated again by the Oracle of Delphi at his own godsforsaken wedding for all to hear. For Rhea to hear.

"Yes," she admits.

"You needn't be afraid." He kisses her fingers and her face flushes. "Not when you have me. Whatever your heart desires, you shall have it."

Not even Ouranos's curse would have him break such a promise.

"And speaking of," he continues, thoroughly changing the subject. "I asked a favor from the Cyclopes who are building our palace. We will spend most of our time on Mount Othrys and godsforbid we keep a wild beast from its natural habitat." Rhea climbs off their bed but she is careful not let her stare break away from his. "A sanctuary is being constructed for your eyes only, should you ever wish to return to your days of frolicking and flower picking."

Rhea bites her lip. "And there's a pond?"

"The exact same one," he muses. "They will get the details just right."

"Will they?" She lifts herself from the bed, flashing a coy smile. Still, he doesn't miss the spring in her step. "What kind of flowers?"

Kronos raises an eyebrow. "If I told you that would spoil the surprise."

Rhea huffs, pouring herself a goblet of nectar. Kronos naturally gravitates towards her with an impish grin that reflects his age: so young, unable to anticipate what the Fates have in store for him and his new wife.

She takes a sip and Kronos takes his chance, pressing his fingers to the bottom of the chalice and tilting it up. Rhea flinches when the nectar flows past her lips and down her chin. Her hand covers her mouth immediately and they both stare at the drops that hit her bare chest.

She looks to him incredulously, wiping the golden liquid from her lips. "You're such an ass."

Kronos gathers her in his arms, unable to hide his amusement. Experimentally, he kisses the valley between her breasts, smearing the nectar.

Rhea only sighs. She adjusts herself, straddling his waist, and Kronos's hands once again find their way to her thighs. Around them, between them.

He smiles again, though deviously. "There's only one ass that concerns me at the moment and it is yours, my love."


"Thalia." She doesn't respond. "Thalia."

She huddles closer to the ground, curling into the thin blanket. She tries to rub away her tears before Hera can notice. "Leave me alone."

Hera rolls her eyes, plopping on the ground beside her. "You don't need to be afraid."

"I'm not!" But honestly, Thalia's picked the wrong person to lie to. She only sighs. "I wish he was here."

"Who?" asks her hallucination. There are ton of faces floating around in Thalia's head: Percy, Nico, Jason, all of them.

Thalia's eyebrows knit together and her lips purse. "Luke," she says. "I wish he was here so I could punch him in his stupid face."

"Just like old times," Hera murmurs and Thalia visibly cringes. "Am I wrong?"

"No, you're right," she whispers. "None of this would have happened if he wasn't such an idiot. But it's my fault. I died on Half-Blood Hill. I wasn't there to keep him in line, I…"

"Kronos would have risen anyway," she scowls. "He would have found another pawn. For all we know, he might have used you."

Thalia prickles. Such insinuation is more than insulting. Luke had betrayed them all and she can't picture herself doing something like that. "I would never—"

"Power," says Hera, her eyes focused on the flames, "is hard to refuse. We know that better than anyone."


Her eyes glow like coals on a burning hearth. She smiles up at him and his frown only deepens.

She is no Titan.

He knew it in his heart from the very moment he laid eyes on Hestia, even if Rhea was too blind to notice. He has always known.

Hestia coos, her chubby reaching up to touch him. Kronos recoils. She is beautiful, far more beautiful that any Titan babe he's ever had the privilege of meeting. But that is not what disturbs him. Beneath the surface he feels it stirring: power beyond his wildest beliefs. Its potent smell burns the hairs along his nostrils.

She laughs at his expression, a laugh just like his wife's. Her presence is the same, like a gentle hand stroking away his paranoia. Kronos wants to let her live. But he can't and, for the first time in his immortal life, he wants to cry out to the heavens, curse the ghost of his vengeful sire. He wants to pound his feet into the earth, curse his mother too for not warning him of such a fate.

But he can do neither.

Instead Kronos coddles little Hestia, forcing a smile while telling her that this won't hurt. But his daughter frowns anyway, sensing something wrong. So very perceptive, just like her mother.

His form ripples and frays. Hestia's eyes widen in terror; a face to haunt him for eternity. Golden tendrils wrap around her, comforting at first, and then constricting, pulling her inwards toward a special kind of oblivion.

Kronos swallows her whole.

His energy comes together, once more forming the solid entity that is flesh. Kronos look at his arms, Hestia nowhere to be found. She's gone, gone, gone, wriggling inside of him like a little worm. Kronos prays she will die and fade away. But Hestia is immortal and his prayers have never once been answered.

He cradles his face in his hands, unmoving atop his great obsidian throne. His daughter's face brands itself into his memory.

Rhea will kill me.

For that he speaks too soon. "Kronos?" says a tepid voice from the shadows. Footsteps coming towards him. "Something is wrong. Hestia, where… where is—


They settle into an easy routine: Thalia prepares herself by making wooden arrow after arrow, touching up her remaining jar of Greek fire, gathering wood to light their nightly campfires. Hera, without pause, keeps watching on the horizon. Thalia isn't sure how that works and she doesn't seem to care.

She adds another arrow to her pile. Fifty are usable – most structured out of wood and stone, a few leftover silver arrows from her previous stay in the compartment – and she knows she'll have to keep track of each and every one of them. None can be spared, not even for something as basic as food. She relies on the blue pills instead.

Just as Thalia reaches for another arrow – her last arrow to sharpen before the sun sets and Thalia will have to get to setting up a fire – both girls freeze.

A purple bolt of lightning zips across the sky over the Marin highlands. No clouds, no rain, no thunder.

"Here," Thalia whispers in horror. "He's here."

"He's not the only one," Hera says.

Yellow lights wave across the Golden Gate Bridge, the first in days. She figures the T.A.R.D. unit must have shut the bridge down but now a barrage of cars peddle through into the Marin highlands, no doubt to reinforce a very tight perimeter. No escape now.

"What is he planning?" Hera sneers, teeth glinting in the moonlight, ever the predator.

Thalia only shrugs, her mind once again focusing at the task at hand. But her doppelganger doesn't miss the shiver in their hands.

They abandon the fire altogether and move all their supplies into the Battery. Hera orders her to pick up a few of the abandoned radios from the explosion sight which still work, much to their surprise. Just maybe they can get some sort of information from the channels, find out what's going on. Knowledge. It's the only way they'll stand a chance against a Titan like Kronos, or so Hera tells her. But Thalia can't help but think the effort hopeless and all for not.

She pauses on the beach just below the Battery Kirby when everything is finally all settled. Hera with the determined green eyes just fades away again but Thalia knows she'll be back.

Her eyes drift over the blue water of the bay and she faintly wishes she had died on Half-Blood Hill.


Kronos hears the call of the ocean from hundreds of miles away. A domain he often did not pay much attention to, not since he had granted those dominions to Oceanus, soon to take over from their aging uncle Pontus. Yet it calls to him anyway, lulling him away from his safe abode deep within Mount Othrys.

He daydreams of a pale maiden dressed in sea form, long hair that changes color beneath Helios's insufferable rays, wide eyes sparkling like a rainbow. Kronos soon realizes her smile – breathtaking at first glance – is just as cruel as his.

Love will be your undoing, she whispers between perfect teeth and plush pink lips. Her voice is sharper than he had ever imagined. With ease she climbs wave after wave, never sinking below the surface. Your father sends his regards. A hidden joke he can't possibly understand. As does your new son.

Son.

Kronos sees a forest now, trees so tall with canopies so full that it blots out the very sky, away from Helios' pressing gaze.

A cry rings out and the birds take to flight. The insufferable whine drones on and Kronos is frantic to find the source, to end such hideous wailing.

Eventually he does find it, hiding beneath a fallen log: A babe red in the face, lungs straining as he forces the world to pay attention to him.

His bottom half belongs to that of a horse.

A voice snaps him out his visions. "He's ugly."

Kronos sits up a little straighter. "Perhaps you are the child Ouranos after all," he remarks.

Rhea doesn't smile. She bears his teeth, ever his wild beast. "He's not mine."

"No, he's not," Kronos confirms in the dullest voice known to man, knowing very well that she's referring to his misshapen son hiding in the woods. "He belongs to—"

"Kill it," she seethes, the tears springing to her eyes. Kronos wills himself not to leave his throne, to gather her in his arms and apologize, and carry out the very horrendous command. Anything to make the pain go away and, once upon a time, Kronos promised her everything this world had to offer. But this he cannot do so he only stares at her.

"No," he dismisses.

Rhea whips around, stalking back down the corridor from whence she came, not another glance back.

Kronos only sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. At least he now finds that the image of Hestia no longer bothers him.


She jumps awake when one of the handheld radios crackles to life, screeching as if possessed. Thalia kicks it aside, cursing. What the hell?

"Thalia Grace."

The daughter of Zeus freezes. "No."

She doesn't want to know why Kronos's voice echoes from the other side of that signal. She most certainly doesn't want to think he's found her.

"Pick it up, love. I don't have time for games." Yes, because that's all her life is: just a game. "Allow me to hear your lovely voice lest impatience get the better of me and I go to fetch you now."

Fetch.

Gritting her teeth, she snatches the radio off the ground. "What do you want?"

"I want to give you a chance," he says rather predictably. "Surrender to me and no harm will befall you."

"I'm supposed to believe in a Titan's word?" Thalia scoffs. "That's rich."

"You don't have a choice, do you? You're surrounded on all sides. You cannot win this."

The blood in her veins comes to a boil. "You can go fuck yourself."

He chuckles, which resonates only as static. "Don't be a child, Thalia Grace. Have a little dignity."

"If I'm a child, what does that make you, grandpa? A pedophile?" His pause brings a shit-eating grin to her face. "You want me Kronos? You'll have to come and get my your goddamn self."

"You are a wild little beast, aren't you? If it is a game you want it is a game you will get." Kronos laughs again and she recoils from the sound. His threat is all too real. "Yes, I will enjoy hunting you on the morrow. Very rarely am I given an opportunity like this. Do prepare yourself, Thalia Grace. For I will come at nightfall and I will hold nothing back."

In that, Thalia believes him. She quickly takes to burning the handheld radios; her own little offering to her gracious Titan Lord.

Come and get me asshole.

Paranoia (along with Asclepius's pills) keep her up the whole night and lack of sleep makes her snap by midday. Her fists ram into the bark of tree, over and over again. Her knuckles smell like smoke, electrical charges that seem to fry her shredded skin. Blood seeps between her fingers, sizzling.

She takes another two pills and continues her onslaught.

"You'll tire out eventually," Hera calls out from behind her, amused.

Thalia whips around, crazed and frustrated. "This is all you fault! Kronos is going to fucking kill me and all you can do is stand there and laugh?"

"I am not laughing," the clone smiles. "On the inside perhaps but listen, Thalia. He won't kill you. Scare you, beat you to a pulp, torture you… maybe. But he won't kill you."

Thalia laughs sardonically, "That sounds so much better! Let's throw us a goddamn party."

"I see," Hera crosses her arms. "You are afraid."

She raises an eyebrow. "Afraid? You're joking, right?"

"You tremble at the thought of facing him," the other Thalia counters. "You. Are. Afraid."

The real Thalia's fists begin to sizzle again. "You know nothing about me."

"I know everything about you, Thalia," Hera scowls. "I am you. But fine. Prove me wrong, dear. Face Kronos and show me the brilliant hunter you claim to be."


It is with disdain he realizes that she hasn't tried to run. He pushes the doors aside and Theia and Phoebe immediately flutter out; they are smart to do so. The last thing he needs are their disapproving glares.

"The child, Rhea," he prompts. "Hand it over."

She doesn't cry; the time for tears has passed. "It has a name," the Titaness whispers, having lost the edge in her voice to a weariness that Kronos could never imagine.

"Which I never care to know," he murmurs. "I've warned you not to name them."

"Hera," she spits in stark defiance. "Her name is Hera."

Kronos crosses the distance between them. "You named a daughter after yourself."

Rhea clutches the baby to her bosom. "Did you expect me to name one after you?" It is quip after quip with her, no love to be had. There hasn't been love for a while now, not even when they came together to create the little goddess in her arms.

"Don't make this harder than it needs to be." His voice grows quieter. "Give her here." But the command is all the same. Rhea knows this and she must obey her king.

Rhea sits up, pushing aside the blankets covering her legs.

His reaction is immediate. "Don't get—"

"Be quiet, Kronos." She manages to lift herself off the bed, the girl in her arms hardly stirring. "Do not open your mouth lest our other children crawl their way back out."

His jaw clenches. "Rhea—"

She holds her head up high, arms stretching out to hand him the bundle in her arms. Kronos catches a glimpse of warm brown eyes before glancing up at his wife once more. Green eyes, rimmed red from previous tears, narrow. "I hope you choke."

He waits for her to leave, as he always does. But Rhea does not move an inch. She wants to see it this time, she wants to see Kronos for what he really is.

It's to his surprise that little Hera doesn't even cry when his essence swallows her whole. Rhea is the one who sobs instead.


Purple lightning flashes once. Twice. A final warning Thalia chooses to ignore.

By nightfall she feels like an entirely new person, crouched on the roof of the Battery Kirby. Hera's gone and she seems less on edge; a blessing at first glance. Perhaps, in this moment, she should feel on edge.

Thalia holds tightly onto her bow, turning her knuckles a ghastly shade of white in the moonlight. This is it, she can sense it.

The forest goes silent. All she can hear is her heavy breathes as she promptly exits the battery and dives into the woods once more. Thalia pulls the taunt bowstring back, fingering an arrow.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The silence hovers over her like a fog and she forces herself not to lose her cool. Do it for Nico, she chastises. Do it for Percy. Do it for Annabeth. Do it for Jason, and Travis, and Four, and Katie, and Clarisse, and Malcolm, and Phoebe, and Zoe…

Do it for Luke.

A twig snaps and the arrow flies from her fingers. It thunks uselessly against a pine tree and she sneers. A familiar sensation causes the hairs on the back of her neck to stand on edge. She remembers three half-bloods on the run, careful eyes surveying their surroundings 24/7, skeptical eyes tracking whatever suspicious person they came across. It seems like a lifetime ago. Sleepless nights, hard battles, the terrifying silence. It's something Thalia hardly wants to relive. And yet here she is, prey playing pretend as a predator. But this girl knows better.

Leaves crunch underfoot.

Thalia glances behind her. Her heart stops.

"Hello, Thalia."

His voice has no physical form. It's whispered in her ear, sending chills down her spine, as a tremendous black wolf bears down on her. Now, don't get Thalia wrong. She loves animals, she finds herself particularly good with them. But she knows those familiar golden eyes, in the same way the prey knows the predator.

Kronos.

She runs without another look back.


Kronos struggles to his feet, wiping the sheening silver sweat from his unnaturally pale face. He unleashes curse, after curse, stumbling again and again. Kronos dry heaves on the marble floor and clutches his stomach. But it matters not: they are already free, no doubt setting ablaze the utopia he has wrought with his own blood and tears. The blood of others as well, his bastard father's blood the foundation of it all.

He looks up, meeting the cold eyes surveying him from across the room. "You," he sneers. "You betrayed me."

His Titan brothers begin to stir but no one awakens from the ruins of their dinner.

Hire a cupbearer, she had said. Since her return from Crete she had seemed so happy. Too happy. I'm growing bored, she said. And Kronos had listened to her without pause, thinking treachery far beyond his wife's grasp. He was oh so wrong. And perhaps he would have noticed the deceit if the godlings that used to wriggle inside him did not sap most of his strength.

Rhea crosses her arms over her chest. "I did."

"WHY?!" he roars, Zeus's concoction burning in the back of his throat. Godsforsaken Zeus, his own godsforsaken son. Sons, now, daughters, now, all of them free thanks to him. Thanks to her. His teeth clench as he finally manages to stand upright despite his horrendous pain. "We were happy—"

"You were happy!" she screams at him, storming closer. "You only dragged me along with you, thinking you could make me forget about them. The happiness you imagine, it is only a childish dream. A lie!" He stumbles back, as if physically struck. But he stands again, fists shaking, much to her displeasure. Rhea's voice lowers into a growl. "I have never been so lonely in my entire life. But now I am satisfied knowing I have dragged you into the depths of my despair."

That is the first time he hits her.

Kronos doesn't even remember making the decision or the act itself. He only remembers the spot of ichor on his knuckles, Rhea's blood pooling at the corner of her mouth.

whathaveidonewhathaveidonewhathaveidone

She cradles her face in her hands, eyes mirroring his shock. Then she changes in an instant.

A cloud passes over her face and Kronos has never seen his wife appear so menacing, so filled with hate. This is not the Rhea he knows. What has made her this way?

Me. He quickly realizes. I have done this to her.

She pushes him away, storms out of the room and darkness feasts upon his very soul. He knows there is no coming back from this.

At first light, when they tell him Rhea has disappeared, he isn't in the least bit surprised. It's a lonely journey, the descent into madness.


Claws the length of kitchen knives slam into her side and send her sprawling. Her own blood, red as the dawn, splatters against the trees as the silver bow slips from her fingers.

Thunder booms overhead. A heartbeat later she feels the first drops of water hit her cheek before a torrent of rain crashes over her.

Thalia struggles to her feet, holding a hand to her bleeding side.

The giant wolf snickers as she draws her long hunting knives. "Thalia Grace," he greets with a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. Kronos sits patiently, head cocked to the side like a dopey dog. Thalia suppresses the urge to carve open his snout. "Are you enjoying yourself?"

She lunges and he dances out of her way, surprisingly nimble for a creature so large.

"You forced me to court you, Thalia," he says, "I figured this method was rather appropriate, considering the number of animals your father turned into, just to weasel his way into another's bed."

Thalia grits her teeth. "Shut up."

"No," he smiles, blurring as he charges at inhuman speeds. "I don't think I will."

Thalia ducks but he's expecting that. Strategically placed paws hook into her shirt – her skin – and she's swung through the air, crashing against a tree trunk that knocks all the breath out of her. Thalia releases her hold on both knives, sending them flying.

Lightning bolts shoot out from the palm of her hands but Kronos bats them aside easily. Claws sink into her back again and press downward. Thalia tries not to scream. She squirms beneath his weight, desperately reaching for one of the silver knives gleaming in a bed of rotten leaves just a few feet away from her.

"I should take you here and now," He growls in her ear, forcing her deeper into the pool of mud, staining her clothes and face. Thalia let's out a cross between a groan and a hiss. "I should fuck you into the ground like the animal you are."

Her body tingles with hard pressed adrenaline. She finally wraps her fingers around the hilt. With a screech, Thalia drives the blade straight into his temple. Kronos bursts into a beam of golden light, showering her in a spray of ichor.

Gone, Thalia tells herself, he's gone. The rain stops, as if he's taken the storm with him and there's nothing but silence. But then laughter erupts from the forest. A cackle growing louder in intensity, coming from simultaneously all directions and no direction at all – just in her head.

She screams her frustration as the sun that used to belong to Apollo rises from the east. He'll come back when it sets, Thalia knows. Kronos will always come back.


"Any last words?"

Kronos cracks open his swollen eye, regarding his son with utter disgust. The Titan's own golden scythe brushes against his neck, sharper than any substance known to man. Faintly, Kronos wonders how it will cut into his skin. It tore apart Ouranos like butter as he recalls. The blade will, more than likely, do the same.

With pursed lips he studies Zeus. Kronos had been a fool not to recognize him when he first presented himself as a minor Titanic cupbearer, for in the light he looks like Kronos from hundreds of years ago, the young Kronos who castrated his own father.

Behind this world's new king stand the other children of Kronos, somber faces darkened by their time spent in the pit that was their father's belly.

Craven little bastards, he muses, they would not last a day against Ouranos.

"Only a few, but not for any of you," Kronos chuckles but the motion itself becomes stale. He wants to curl his lips into a snarl, rip the very flesh of his own son's face with sharpened teeth.

But instead Kronos tears his eyes away from Zeus, turning his fury on the uninterested Titaness cowering at the edge of the gathered gods, almost unnoticeable. "Look at me, Rhea."

Her eyes snap to attention, alien green like a spitting image of Gaia, narrowing in a way that could kill a thousand creatures with a single stroke. She lowers the hood of her cloak, steeling herself against him. But the gaze of Kronos is nothing to be taken lately either. Pain and rage swirl together in pools the color of ichor and she flinches at the sight of it.

"I want you to look at what you've done. I want my blood haunt you throughout the eons."

He wants her full attention.

Her bottom lip trembles slightly, for only a second. But it is enough for him, to see that knife twist in her gut: the guilt of betrayal. Her face hardens once more and she comes to stand beside her youngest son. "May Tartarus welcome you with open arms."

Kronos only smiles. Her words hurt but his words have hurt her too and that is enough for creatures like him.

"Do it now," says a small voice from behind Rhea. A small goddess in a hooded brown robe, blazing eyes like a fire. Sweet Hestia, the eldest of his children. "Let it be done."

Kronos bursts into a fit of laughter just as the scythe lops off his head.


A border of her last containers of Greek fire keeps Kronos at bay for two more nights as she tries to recover from her wounds. The gash in her side takes much, much longer to heal than anything that's ever been inflicted on her.

Thalia doesn't sleep, can't sleep. She vomits three times in an hour before she takes the pills but it doesn't ease her anxiety this time. It hardly even takes care of the pain. The whole day she lies on a bed of wet leaves, shivering, but not from the cold.

Hera only stares at her from the treetops. By high noon her doppelganger finally crawls down, reaching for the bottle of Asclepius's pills.

"Snap out of it."

Another blue pills slips between Thalia's teeth and the other girl helps her to her feet. This time the pain doesn't cause instant paralysis, much to her relief.

"What's the point?" she whispers, her voice cracking. "He'll find me anyway. He'll always find me."

"Dignity, Thalia." Hera narrows her eyes. "Do you happen to own any?"

She only shakes her head.

It makes her angrier. "Stupid girl. Don't you see this is what he wants? He expects you to crumble. He wants to crush everyone ounce of hope in your body. By nightfall it will be easy to collect you, wouldn't it? You, just a weak half-blood girl that can't possibly stand against a Titan."

She stares at Hera incredulously, as if she's just been slapped by her shadow. But no, Thalia realizes, words can – and often do – hurt just as much.

"Defy him, Thalia." Hera squeezes Thalia's shoulders and it almost, almost, feels real. "Show him he is wrong to underestimate you."

They get to bandaging her midriff and sharpening arrows and knives. Thalia longs for Aegis, for her polished spear too, but she lost those ages ago. She's been using the Hunter's weapons for so long that it probably wouldn't do her any good.

"We don't have time to lose," says Hera, throwing the worn pill bottle at Thalia. "No time to find anything to eat either. Preparations must be made."

Automatically, she unscrews the cap and dumps the last three pills in her hand. But Thalia only stares at them, her frown deepening.

Hera's fists clench. "What is wrong with you? Hurry!"

She looks up. "What good will this do me?" As far as Thalia's concerned, she's taken four in the past few hours already and these three will make it seven.

"You need me in this final battle." The doppelganger purses her lips. "You need my power to face Kronos."

Power. If anyone could use a little bit of that, it's this daughter of Zeus. "It'll kill me," Thalia begins to argue. She almost wants to ask why Hera feels she needs to do this – to face Kronos – but thinks against it.

Despite any initial protests, Hera forces the girl's hand, much to Thalia's surprise. Her strange hallucination is getting stronger, feels so much more real, and she has no idea why. "No, it won't."

Thalia isn't sure why she believes her.

More hours pass and she figures she's learned from her mistake last night; she won't engage Kronos in the woods again. She knows know that it's best to stick to a place she knows – the Battery – where he can't necessarily hide from or creep up on her. But waiting for him to come is both terrifying and absolutely dull.

"Give me the bow."

She jumps at the sound of Hera's voice. "That's not possible," says Thalia. "You can't—"

"Now."

The daughter of Zeus gives it up without question, which is very much unlike her. It's with surprise that Hera is able to grasp the weapon, notch an arrow with extreme precision.

"What's wrong?" Thalia whispers.

Her doppelganger shushes her, eyes narrowed in on the treeline. Only now does Thalia notice the crushing silence.

He's here.

Something rips through the treeline directly in front of them and Thalia points. "Over—"

Hera shoots in the opposite direction. Thalia nearly punches her then and there – because how dare she waste the arrows Thalia worked so goddamn hard on – until a shadow materializes in the light of the moon. The wolf pauses, golden eyes glaring at the arrow stuck in his hind leg. He melts into the woods again before Thalia can blink.

Thalia tries to scrutinize every inch of forest she can but never manages to spot him in time. Hera, she realizes, operates on gut feeling. She fires three warning shots sequentially, each time stopping one of Kronos's advances despite his mind games. But this daughter of Zeus knows they won't be able to keep this up. He'd more than likely starve them out of arrows by the time sunrise rolls around.

There's a flash of light in Hera's peripheral vision and the arrow flies before Thalia can tell her to stop. From the opposite direction, the large shadow of a wolf moves, flying midair. He crashes against the roof of the battery a moment later, his paws serving like heavy duty grappling hooks as he pulls himself up in one swift movement.

Thalia stumbles back, reaching for Hera. "We need to go!"

"Interesting," Kronos musters out when he sees the two of them (though she is more than sure he isn't supposed to – can't possibly – see Thalia's double) before Hera shoots him again, the arrowhead shattering his collarbone. He growls, claws swiping again at their unprotected backs as they flee inside the battery.

Thalia crashes into a wall but Hera grabs her, struggling to keep them both on their feet. Never fading is the thunder of Kronos's pursuit. It's the opposite, in fact; he's gaining on them.

A split second pause to round a corner and run down the stairwell nearly kills her. Thalia feels his breath on her neck before finding her head dashed into the stone wall, a claw almost taking out her eye but dragging down her fleshy cheek instead.

And then he's gone in a flash of yellow light.

Hera pulls her up to her feet, hands unnaturally warm and smoking. But Thalia realizes her hands are smoking as well and the wounds on her face have appeared on Hera too.

"We have to go," Hera says, breathing hard. "He'll be right behind us soon and he'll be very angry."

Thalia wants to ask what on earth did Hera do to make him disappear like that, why it'll make him angrier than he already is, but the time for that is past. An irate howl shakes the Battery and they take off running again.

They nearly dash out the entrance of the Battery, back to the woods, only to greet Kronos's wordless roar. Reflexively, Hera shoots and subsequently misses. Its Thalia's turn to pull Hera out of harm's way as the Titan wolf's jaws snap Thalia's silver bow in half, thoroughly irretrievable now.

She pulls out the last silver knife in her boot and stabs it into his fleshy neck.

"This way!" they both say, taking off deeper inside the battery.


She waddles through the course gray sand, ripping off her worn shoes and flinging them behind her. Heavy fog wraps around her, chilling her down to the bone. Thalia almost throws the knife too but thinks against it. Hera continues to push her forward.

nowheretorunnowheretorunnowheretorun

Thalia's head aches with a vengeance, as if someone's forcing her skull to crack right down the middle. She hides her screams when the gentle waves bite at her open wounds and finds her blood mixing with the bay water. Gold, not red. She's bleeding ichor.

Hera stands behind her suddenly, her hand also grasping Thalia's stained knife. Blue eyes meet green. "There's only one way out of this," she says.

Thalia nods. "I know." Her teeth chatter and she presses the blade against her neck.

They hear heavy steps on the beach and whirl around to face him despite their fear permeating the air.

"Thalia." The black wolf flashes his vicious grin, sitting back on bleeding haunches, piercing eyes the color of her affected blood. "Such a pretty name, Thalia. Thalia Grace, a pretty name that's also a joke."

"And here's the biggest joke of all," she spits, the waves lapping at her back. "You're not taking us alive."

Light and heat emanate from the sand and Kronos the man stares back at her. "We have all taken a joke a little too far." His eyes narrow. "You won't go through with it."

Instinctively, Hera presses the knife closer and Thalia swears it nicks her. "Try me," they say simultaneously.

"Think about it, love." Kronos crouches in the sand, burying his hand in it to rub the dried blood off his knuckles. "You'll have the Fields of Punishment to answer to. And I will tell you now, under my regime, they don't take too kindly to defiant little heroes who've committed suicide."

"Don't care," they retort.

"But you do care, Thalia Grace." He cocks his head to the side, as if still a wolf, ever so curious. "You care about saving your friends. What ever would they do without you?"

"The Rebellion isn't a one man army," she manages through the biting cold. "They can afford to lose me."

His eyes glance over hers, staring behind her, as if he can also see Hera. But Thalia knows better; her clone is just an illusion and it's really Thalia the one holding the knife to her own throat. "You'd be breaking your promise, Rhea," he says. "Did you not swear to our son to keep this one alive?"

She stiffens. "Hera? What is he talking about?"

"Shut up, Thalia," growls the other girl.

"You call her Hera," his eyes narrow playfully. "How very interesting."

Thalia stares at him, suddenly unsure what's happening between them.

Hera breaks the tension. "Kronos—"

"Do you remember your last words to me?" he snarls, the humor gone in an instant. "Kill her now, and may Tartarus welcome you both with open arms."

Thalia glares. "Don't listen to him."

"Shut up!" she screams, digging the knife into her doppelganger's throat.

"Oh what will you do now, Hera?" Kronos taunts. "Now that you're caught between a rock and a hard place?" He stands, taking one step in the frigid water. She does nothing and he takes another step, testing her. "Come now, my love. Put that knife down and I will take you home."

Hera flinches back, almost stumbling.

Thalia turns her head to look at her, seeing the desperation, the want. "He's lying," she whispers again. "He'll torture us both. You know that."

"I…I swore to protect you," Hera stutters.

Thalia has no idea what she's talking about but plays along anyway. "You wouldn't be doing me any favors by handing me over to him." Her trembling hand touches Hera's trembling hand. "It's okay. I'll be fine."

"But she isn't thinking about you, Thalia," Kronos counters with a smirk, shattering their moment. "A part of Hera wants to come along for the ride. And since you two appear to be a packaged deal…"

Thalia looks at her again but this time the other girl can't bear to meet her gaze. A tear leaks out from both their eyes. "Stop, please stop."

"The knife, Rhea," he says sternly. Thalia's throat closes up. "Put it down. We all know you're too weak to actually go through with it."

The silver knife falls from her grasp, crashing into the water. Thalia can't help but stare at in utter shock, watching her last hope shimmer beneath the gentle waves.

"That's my wife."

Chapter Text

A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.

-Stendhal


May

She awakens to the steady beep of a heart rate monitor, her eyes focused on a tiny black speck on an otherwise colorless ceiling.

The white is everywhere on everything. The bed is white, the wall is white, the sheets are white, her gown is white, her skin is so white she might as well be dead and Thalia's ready to throw up on something to give this place some goddamn color.

Thalia sits up and her belly aches in response, eliciting a small hiss from between her teeth. Angry now, she throws aside the blankets, stretching muscles that have been lax for far too long.

But how long? She wonders. And where in hell is she?

Her stare wanders to the IV drip set up at her bedside. What on earth is going on?

She rips the IV out of her forearm and does the same for heart rate monitor and assortment of other tubes and wires. The machine flat lines and she finds the sound positively grating.

Thalia swings her legs over the bed but a sharp pain from such a motion makes her hand fly to her abdomen.

No.

Her belly is flat.

She presses on it, trying to be sure. There's only a dull aching pain but nothing else. No movement. No life.

Thalia climbs off the bed this time despite her body's protest. In the corner of her eye she spots a bathroom. She nearly rips the door open, eyes immediately landing on a mirror.

The stitches surprise her the most: black thread laced neatly at the top of her forehead like an extended part of her hairline. She notices the yellowing bruises next but, despite the great many of them around her throat and down her chest and back, those aren't terribly uncommon when it comes to life with Kronos. They hardly manage to keep her attention.

Thalia's lifts up her hospital gown, finding more old bruises across her thighs. But that's not what concerns her. She doesn't expect to see an ugly red scar on her pelvis, the source of most of her pain. A reminder that she is missing something.

She scowls when leaving the bathroom. They have Elpis.

There's a commotion outside of her room. Thalia's attention snaps towards the door. Heavy steps clamor up the hall, getting closer; whoever it is they're in a rush but so is she.

Ignoring her pain, Thalia grabs the nearest makeshift weapon: a chair. The door swings open and she lunges.

The legs of the chair crack against a woman's face, knocking her out almost instantly. Guilt almost eats Thalia alive as she takes note of the distinct nurse's garb. This woman was only trying to do her job, no doubt in response to Thalia's sudden drop in vitals.

But then ichor drips across the nurse's forehead and, suddenly, Thalia doesn't feel all that bad. After all, immortals can bounce back from an attack almost instantly and this wonderful goddess has just unlocked the door for her. On the downside, it won't be long until this one starts walking around again and Thalia needs to disappear by then.

She sticks her head out the door: no one to be seen for miles.

The nurse groans and Thalia runs.

But halfway down a long white hall, followed by several odd glances from the worn faces of a few stressed out nurses and doctors, she thinks it a good idea to somehow obtain shoes and a set of clothes.

When the staff has either lost interest or gone about their merry way, Thalia ducks inside the nearest room. She's mildly pleased to find its occupant – a young man in his mid-20's – thoroughly knocked out. She turns positively ecstatic when she spots his clothes sitting on a nearby chair, carefully tucked away in a sterile bag.

His sweatshirt is somewhat loose around her shoulders but that's to be expected, considering he's about a good seventy pounds heavier than she is. Getting on the pants is her real struggle. Thalia can't even bend over without feeling like her stitches are going to burst open, her organs soon to slide out. Pulling them up as well, slipping into and lacing up the "borrowed" sneaks almost makes her pass out but she stubbornly fights through it.

Thalia leaves the room with spots in her vision but otherwise breathing and in one peace. She pushes back her messy hair – absolutely livid that it's so long now – pulling the hood of the sweatshirt over her head.

She passes more hospital personnel, none of whom spare her a second glance. There's even a few civilians wandering about so Thalia isn't entirely out of place.

Elevator, she tells herself, trying to focus on the task at hand. They should have a directory there and a sense of direction couldn't hurt. Especially since all Thalia has to go off of is a hunch.

Assuming the staff might be inclined to recognize her, she asks the closest person dressed in normal clothes where the elevators are. He doesn't suspect a thing and points her down another hall to the right. Thalia only prays the rest of her excursion goes just as smoothly.

Of course, gods just love laughing in her face.

She finally finds the elevator without another hiccup. The directory is rather easy to read: nursery and neo-natal unit on the 6th floor. Thalia presses the up button, determined for answers.

A terrifying thought comes to her then: What if Elpis is dead?

She quickly banishes the thought – which doesn't seem very outlandish the more she thinks about it. Thalia isn't sure how but she would know if something terrible like that happened.

Rhea would tell her.

"I'm going to strangle the little mutt!"

Thalia freezes.

Out of the corner of her eye, she recognizes the nurse holding a hand to her bruised forehead and sporting a severely ticked off expression. It's the same woman she'd hit with the chair. "Someone alert Asc—"

"He said he wouldn't be bothered," the gruff voice of the security guard cuts in. But a double take and Thalia quickly realizes he isn't security at all; he's a T.A.R.D. officer.

Rapidly, she pushes the button several more times in the hopes it'll arrive here sooner. It might be luck; the elevator dings and the doors push open.

She gets in but finds herself horrified when she sees them coming this way. She presses the close button in an almost neurotic fashion.

"I don't care what he said!" the nurse sneers, her eyes turning completely black. "Do it now or I'll have you incinerated!"

The man stops dead in his track and laughs at her even though any senseless mortal would be pissing their pants by now. "Considering you're the one who let Thalia Grace escape I have a feeling it's Kronos who'll be doing the incinerating, Illythia."

She lets out a frustrated scream just as the elevator doors shut. Thalia can only breathe a sigh of relief as she presses the button to the sixth floor.


Rebels crowd on either side of them, careful to leave an aisle for them to walk, looking on with surprised stares and gaping mouths. The constellations made flesh, Castor and Pollux, drag the limp god behind them, undeniable proof of victory. Truly, no one expected this mission to be so successful. To head straight into the heart of Titan territory and free Zeus, of all gods? Unthinkable.

"Where's Thalia?" Phoebe hears a few rebels say – the brave ones anyway. But even those intending to keep such concern to themselves still have the question etched into their hopeful faces. Surely, they must be overlooking her. Thalia has to be with them… right?

The worn Titanesses and constellations come to a stop before none other than Gaia herself, who stands at the center of the crowd with hands clasped behind her bronze skirts. The Olympians beside her, in awe like the rest, surely think this must be some strange sort of daydream.

Gaia smiles at them and, with her long black hair plaited in an intricate pattern and paired with a crown of rose quartz atop her head, looks every bit a queen admiring her subjects. "I knew I could count on you."

No, both Theia and Phoebe want to growl. You never count on anyone but yourself.

"Not all is won," Phoebe murmurs. "We were unable to free Thalia Grace."

She watches on with shame as a distraught Annabeth breaks away from their ranks and promptly runs off, a worried Percy Jackson hot on her heels.

"And what of Artemis?" Apollo muscles his way through the crowd, stealing any attention Percy and Annabeth's disappearance might have garnered, face marred by an uncontrolled rage – despite his relatively haggard appearance – Phoebe has come to roll her eyes at. "Did any of you think to grab her on the way out?"

"Of course we did, Phoebus." He flinches when she calls him this. "But Artemis was nowhere in sight. Not that Kronos would allow her to be far from his side."

He casts his dark look upon Orion standing behind her. "And yet you bring this scum with you."

Sweet Chaos, she curses to herself.

The Hunter forces a vicious smile. "The young godling begs for a fight, I see?"

"Please. As if you could see anything," the sun god snorts. "I made sure you wouldn't see another thing for the rest of your life."

She snatches the bow away from Orion before he even has a chance to grab hold of it, jabbing it in her grandson's direction.

"Phoebus Apollo! You will quiet down this instant," she snaps like a wild boar and everyone simultaneously takes a large step back. "If you weren't Leto's son, I'd have kicked you off the nearest cliff by now."

Gaia's faint tittering stops his retort.

"What's so funny?" Apollo seethes.

"Don't take my laughter to heart, little Apollo. Frankly, I find you all rather amusing." She steps forward, her dress fluttering like a whirlwind of autumn leaves. "You thought you would be successful in such an endeavor as fetching Thalia – or Artemis, for that matter – from Mount Othrys?" She laughs again. "How utterly foolish. I expected better, especially from you, Phoebe."

She takes a step towards her mother, still clenching Orion's bow in her fist. "So you never intended for Thalia Grace to be retrieved?"

"Are you surprised? You could leave with Zeus or Thalia but not both," says Gaia. "It is to our benefit that we have the king of the heavens fight on our side. Her power is but a pale comparison to her father's. As for Thalia Grace, she is exactly where she needs to be. She is of more use to you all on Mount Othrys."

Phoebe sniffs. "I refuse to believe such a thing."

"Believe what you may, daughter." Gaia turns away from all of them with one last smirk, now heading in the direction of the little Tiber. "My job here is done."

Theia puts her hands on her hips. "That's it?"

Gaia's eyes narrow. She glares at Theia from over her shoulder, the smile on her face growing awfully cold. "I told you the location of Zeus's prison. I added much needed warriors to your army. I went against the will of Kronos and I am even willing to offer up assistance in mending Zeus back to health. But that is all that is required of me." She finally scowls. Ancient magic radiates out of her, a truly menacing substance none of them have quite felt in their years of living. "And in return I expect you to hold up your end of the bargain. My services are not free."

Phoebe grips Theia's shoulder. "We understand perfectly, mother."


She looks on with wonder, like a kid staring into the window of a toy shop. But Thalia's eyes are set on something – someone – specific. It's with a crushing reality she realizes none of the infants belong to her. Thalia isn't sure how she knows, but she does. And yet, the same feeling had led her here to this place.

Thalia grabs hold of the key code lock, frying its circuits instantly. The heavy door swings open automatically and she quickly walks in, shutting it behind her so as not to arouse suspicion.

"I figured you would turn up here eventually." She flinches so hard she nearly throws herself at the wall. But it's only a doctor, she quickly realizes, standing next to a functioning incubator half-hidden in the corner. "Poor Illythia. You've really gotten her worked up now, haven't you?"

That doesn't surprise her. If they're talking about the same Illythia that nearly stopped the birth of Hercules, she's bound to have a temper.

But that isn't her concern at all right now.

Only his dazzling smile – so much like Apollo's, as she recalls – eases her nerves. "Asclepius?" Thalia says. Her head starts to hurt. "What are you doing here?"

Because something is wrong here.

"Good question but I have a better one." He cocks his head, inquisitive blue eyes boring into hers. He looks a little too much like Apollo with the same golden tan and corn-yellow curls. But his eyes make the difference, revealing a cold, calculating intelligence that resembled some sort of robot. "Do you want to see your daughter or not?"

Then Thalia sees it. The blanketed bundle in his arms.

That's the one.

She doesn't even have to voice a response. She moves towards him without thinking, arms already reaching. Asclepius hands it to her without pause, the gears in his head still turning, still recording every movement she makes and every expression that flits across her face.

"She's…tiny," is the first thing that comes out of Thalia's mouth. Tinier than the others, she wants to say. Practically a doll. A perfect doll with a tiny button nose and chubby pink hands. Thalia brushes aside the wisp of black hair splayed out across the baby's tiny forehead, marveling at the little creature's unbelievably soft skin.

"Premature is the correct term," he is quick to reprimand, shoving his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. "You suffered a class 2 placental abruption thanks to Kronos. The placental lining separated from your uterus. Moderate vaginal bleeding and premature contractions put your daughter at… grade 2 fetal distress? We had to perform an emergency caesarian to save her life. That said, she suffers from no injuries or disabilities." He shrugs, as if everything he's just said should really have any particular weight at all. "Some call it luck but this actually leads me to believe this little girl is a fighter. Just like her mother."

"I…" Thalia isn't quite sure what to say. She wants to curl up in the corner, daughter cradled against her chest, and never move from that spot for the rest of her life. "Her name's Elpis."

Then she sees it. A mischievous spark beneath his exterior and Thalia quickly remembers. He had been a rebel too, he fought for them countless times before being captured by Kronos. His lack of emotion, she realizes, is the only thing saving him from writhing in the flames of Tartarus.

"Hope," he translates. "How very fitting," Asclepius muses but the smile fails to reach his eyes. The mechanical side of him returns. "Why are you awake, Thalia?"

That takes her off guard. Her eyebrows furrow. "What do you mean?"

Suddenly, the hand in his pocket is all too menacing. "I gave you enough sedatives to put you in an induced coma. You should be sleeping." She sees a flash of silver and feels a pinch on her throat. Thalia yelps, not noticing the now empty syringe until it's too late.

"Asclepius?" she whispers but he ignores her, taking Elpis from her shaking arms. Thalia stumbles back, still mildly shocked. Certainly not able to comprehend what's just happened. Anger rises in her but it soon gives way to nothingness. "No, give her… give her back."

"The tranquilizer I just gave you is enough to put down a full-grown lion. That said, I know better than to underestimate you now. I'm hoping we won't have another mishap like this again." He shoves the needle into his pocket and places Elpis back inside her incubator. "Don't worry, Thalia Grace. Elpis will be there when you wake up."

"No…" She stumbles again, reaching for a wall to prop herself up but it's as if they move away from her every time she gets close.

She feels a calming hand on her shoulder and turns to look at her godly doctor with wide eyes, pupils even wider.

He smiles sadly. "Relax, Thalia. Everything is going to be alright."


Angry green eyes are the first things he sees when he wakes up.

"You fucking idiot." Gods, can he recognize that voice anywhere.

Nico covers his face with his hands, trying to ease the pain the shoots out from behind his eyes. "Where's Solace?"

"Occupied," Rachel snaps. There's a commotion – her throwing something no doubt – and Nico just sighs.

"Last time I check you were a teacher, Dare. Not a doctor." Though, as he is apt to forget, neither is the son of Apollo. Nico groans, "Go get me Will."

"The best teachers are also the best students," she says. "I'm learning. So lie there and shut up."

"You're getting spunkier," he comments, though spunky might be an understatement. It's as if her attitude had grown back with her clown red hair. "I don't like it. Besides, it's just a concussion. If he isn't here soon, I'm leaving."

"If it was just a concussion, you wouldn't still be here." She hands him two pills for his headache. "You've been going out on missions like crazy and not once do you come back to check in with Will. It's starting to add up, Nico. You need to take break."

"I can't!" He sits up suddenly, feeling as if he's just taken a dive off a ten story building. "I'm the only one who can get our forces in and out of Elysium, you know that."

With a sour expression she hands him a cup of water. "Of course I know that. But you don't have to work yourself to death."

Nico's quiet for a moment as he swallows the medication. "It's almost time, Rachel. I won't have the luxury of a break."

None of us will, he wants to tell her. Not when all hell is about to break loose.

He means that in the literal sense, of course. Elysium's warriors are more than ready and it won't be long till they open the gates, officially kicking off yet another Titanomachy with the Rebellion at their side and Nico the unfortunate bridge between them.

"I know," Rachel says a little quieter. "Which is why you should take advantage of it now." She sits down on the cot beside him. "I know you want to help Thalia, Nico. We all do. But you're no use to her lying face down in a ditch or being tortured in the Fields of Punishment."

Before Nico can answer her, Will Solace bursts in like a whirlwind, throwing down his clipboard and grabbing gloves out of a drawer. "Time, Dare."

Instead of giving him the time, as asked, Rachel just rolls her eyes. "Look, another asshole who can't seem to take a break."

"Every minute could save someone's life," he replies rather dully, as if this is a customary back and forth with Rachel. Which it might as well be.

"Have you two considering getting married?" She starts to massage her temples, contemplating knocking herself unconscious as well. "I'm getting serious hero complex overtones."

They stare at each other for a moment, the blood rushing to their faces. At least Nico has the excuse of being mentally impaired.

"Solace."

They all visibly cringe.

Nico rolls his eyes but that brings on a new pain he can't even describe.

Will plasters on a content smile, facing the two newcomers. "…Castellan. It's, um, nice to… see you?"

Luke isn't at all fazed. "Whatever floats your boat."

He turns his attention towards the mute boy grasping Luke's hand. "Hey Four. You ready for your treatment?" Four nods his head, flashing Nico a small, tepid smile, before taking a seat right next to Rachel.

Without getting up, she grabs the closest red jar with a 4 written neatly on the lid. Will snatches the jar, shooing Rachel off the cot, before taking a seat beside the boy.

Luke helps lift Four's shirt up, revealing the large, continuously fading scars on the boy's back.

He unscrews the lid, swiping a handful of pale yellow jelly. "You know the drill. This'll sting a little but I'll try to work as quickly as I can."

Will massages the jelly on Four's back, who grits his teeth in an attempt to hold in his whimpers.

Luke pats the boy's head. "I'm not going anywhere, buddy."

"How unfortunate," Nico mutters under his breathe. He tries to sit up but the world starts spinning again. Rachel is quick to shove him back down. He glares at her.

She opens her mouth, as if she's about to say something, but quickly decides against it.

Of course he notices. "You want to tell me something. Spit it out."

"No, I don't!" Rachel shoots back.

Will removes the sticky gloves. Luke still holds onto Four's shirt and the boy looks a little worse for wear, still breathing heavily.

The son of Apollo grabs a flashlight out of a nearby drawer and sits down on Nico's cot. "Phoebe came back yesterday," he answers for Rachel.

That gets Nico's attention. "And?"

Will doesn't answer at first. He gets Nico to sit up and shines the flashlight back and forth between his eyes. The son of Apollo snaps his fingers at Rachel who brings him his abandoned clipboard. He jots something down in his messy scrawl before tossing it in the corner again, much to Rachel's annoyance.

Will sets down his flashlight, grabbing Nico's shoulders and squeezing them lightly. "I'm sorry." Will could tell him multiple things: how they managed to resurrect the constellations – the good ones anyway – and how Zeus is finally here with them, that they just might have a chance at winning now. But he knows Nico wouldn't want to hear any of it. That's not what he cares about right this moment. "They couldn't get her out."

He brushes Solace aside. "I have to go."

"Getting yourself killed isn't going to bring her back, Nico," Rachel snaps. "You know that."

"Rest," Will agrees. "Take it easy for a while and I'll do my best to get you back out there."

She stamps her foot. "You are no help!"

Nico ignores her. "Thanks." Luke snorts at that, unable to hide the nasty smirk growing on his face, warping the long scar on his cheek. Nico decides he doesn't like it one bit. "What's funny?"

Luke shrugs, gently pulling Four's shirt down back over his sticky back. "I just can't really fathom why you were so close to her." His eyes narrow. "A son of Hades and a daughter of Zeus? It's like the start of a bad joke."

Nico just might be mildly incapacitated but he isn't blind. "You're jealous." It's not something he'd ever find himself saying, especially to someone like Luke Castellan.

"Is there a reason to be?" he muses.

"Other than your intense paranoia and narcissistic tendencies? Not really," he says rather candidly. "Trust me, it's a mystery to me too. But I figured Thalia could use a couple friends considering you turned on her and killed the rest."

Luke's fists clench at his sides.

"Nico!" Rachel reprimands. "We don't say things like that to our…"

"Allies?" Will suggests when her words fail her, not that it helps the situation.

Four grabs Luke's hand, forcibly uncurling the stiff fingers. It manages to calm Luke, if only by a fraction.

Still, Nico glowers. "No one asked you to come here."

"I didn't want to come here. But I figured it was better than Tartarus," Luke spits. "Looks like I was wrong."

"Anytime you're itching to go back, I'll be the first one to take you."

She flicks Nico's forehead and he falls back down on the count less than ceremoniously, gripping his temples. "Will you just stop? The both of you?" she anxiously twirls a strand of her red hair. "Gods, we're going to war soon and you're bickering like children. Frankly, I find it all a little triggering. You know I hate to be reminded of Goode."

Will rolls his eyes. "What Rachel means to say, Luke, is that you have done, awful terrible things—"

"And we all kind of hate you for it," Nico quips, blinking the stars out of his eyes.

Will glares. "—and you have no right to question anyone's intentions. I don't think any of us will ever be able to forgive you for what you did but we still allowed you to join the cause anyway."

"Which was stupid," Luke and Nico utter at the exact same time. At least it's something they can agree on.

Rachel nearly rips out her hair. "Listen, we all want Thalia back, right? Well, frankly, I found her a little annoying, but that's beside the point. The only way we're going to get her back is if we're a team. It doesn't matter if we're Roman or Greek, traitor or… non-traitor, we have to work together or those Titans will crush us. We have to trust each other. At least on a superficial level. Can you guys do that? Please?"

Luke and Nico share a measured look.

"Fine."


To Thalia it seems like the blackness fades as quickly as it came.

She jumps from the bed with the urge to punch something, namely a fair-haired asshole with an Olympian medical degree. But then her surroundings quickly come into focus: she's in her hospital room again. Thalia instantly deflates a little, knowing Asclepius is gone and the door is most certainly locked and guarded this time.

Thalia rubs her stomach; at least it no longer aches as it once did.

It is by chance she lifts her head, gaze landing on the insignificant bassinet placed in the corner of the room beside her bed.

Don't worry, Thalia Grace. Elpis will be there when you wake up.

She has trouble swallowing as she makes her way over to it. Twice, Thalia almost turns back to crawl in bed and resume sleeping, as if she'd never seen it in the first place. But curiosity gets the better of her.

The baby makes a vexing grunt when she finds herself lifted up by Thalia and the girl, once again, almost loses her cool. Sighing, Thalia sits back down on the bed, her mind buzzing but abnormally silent all the same.

Elpis opens her eyes, fixing them on her mother's face, as if studying her. Thalia can only stare back with the same intensity. For a moment, it's just the both of them wondering, What happens now?

Thalia Grace has a daughter named Elpis Grace. This is bound to go over well.

She hunches over, lips against Elpis's warm forehead. Something floods inside her; a calming sensation she can't quite place that somehow shuts down any worry she's ever had. Suddenly, Thalia fights the urge to fall back asleep, daughter still firmly settled in her arms. But then there's an oddly place shiver up her spine.

A warning.

Thalia throws a casual glance over her shoulder. Their eyes meet instantly.

He sits casually on a chair – the same she'd hit Illythia over the head with – in the opposite corner, arms crossed over his chest.

His clothing is far too normal: jeans and a plain white shirt. She thinks it wrong, Kronos blending in amongst mortals. It reminds her of Luke being possessed all over again and that's the last thing she wants to be reminded of. But what frightens her more is his serious expression. Has he come to finish her off?

She glances back at Elpis, the baby's eyes now closed and oblivious to Thalia's distress. "How long have you been here?"

Normally time is insignificant to Titans and gods. But she knows better when it comes to him, master of time. Kronos is so acutely aware of time; time in slow, time sped up, he takes note of it all. It what makes his grudges dangerous things because he forgets nothing, not even something so relative.

There's a moment of continued silence. "Two hours," he answers finally.

She tries to hide the flash of loathing in her eyes. It is a failed attempt, of course, and she is more than sure Kronos notices.

They'd left him here. Alone. For two hours, just the three of them. He could have killed them both and no one would have batted an eye. After all, who are they to deny the Titan Lord?

Thalia glares. Who is she to deny him?

When he speaks, his voice is flat. "They said you named her," he states.

"Elpis," Thalia tells him with no hesitation, daring him to disagree.

He doesn't, flashing a partial smile instead. "Hope," Kronos muses. "Exactly, what are you hoping for, Thalia?"

To be free of you, she almost answers. To find you burning in Tartarus. Just maybe we'll be able to form a better world from your pitiful ashes. But Thalia only snorts. She is no longer the impulsive girl she once was. She knows better than to take his bait.

"I'm hoping she won't be a complete psychopath like her father."

Chapter Text

There is only one hell: the one we live in now

-Melisandre, Game of Thrones


July

Her nose wrinkles. "Sweet Chaos, it's pooping."

"Gods, Artemis, you're such a wimp." A tired Thalia grabs a grunting Elpis from the goddess's outstretched arms. The smell hardly bothers her anymore. "You can rip out a bear's heart without even blinking but a pooping baby gives you pause? Fucking hilarious, honestly."

"Language! She can hear you!" Artemis fumes, handing Thalia a fresh diaper. "And, at the rate you're going, her first word is going to be shit."

And, when that moment comes, let it be known that Thalia Grace will be the proudest mother in the whole wide world. Not that she isn't already.

It's hard to describe the past two months in a nutshell, but the word tiring certainly comes to mind. Even though Elpis is a quiet baby by set standards, Thalia's certainly had her multitude of sleepless nights, even with Artemis and Piper's help. Where would she even be without their support?

The next word that comes to mind: joyful.

Her life on Mount Othrys could also be described in one word: hell.

Months she'd spent here, tortured and abused, ultimately biding her time until full war would break out. Honestly, not a night went by where she didn't question why she was still breathing, why she kept suffering here under Kronos's hand. Not a night went by where she didn't humor the thought of ending it all.

Until Elpis. Thalia's quiet little hope, who spent most of her time lying on the bed with her mother, gurgling anonymous syllables at the ceiling when no one was looking. Who turned red in the face and screamed so terribly it could probably wake Typhon himself. Who always flashed a special smile Thalia's way – and only at Thalia.

If the Fates allowed the daughter of Zeus this small joy, even with the monstrous palace she found herself locked away in, Thalia would live to fight another day for the rest of eternity, if only to spend it with her baby. Titan spawn or no. And someday they would spend it in the world outside Othrys' walls.

She'd kill to achieve this goal.

Thalia finishes changing Elpis just as there's a sharp rap on the door.

"Coming!" calls Artemis, giving the baby's diaper a wide berth. Thalia rolls her eyes, feigning a lunge at the disgusted goddess.

Artemis opens the door with a smile but it soon freezes on her face. Her eyes go wide.

Thalia cranes her head inquisitively when she catches sight of her friend's nervous glance back. She snatches Elpis up, taking a few steps to look out into the hallway.

It's only Piper, she thinks instantly, softening at the sight of her other friend. But Thalia relaxes too soon. She spots the many guards lingering in the hallway and she also resembles a deer caught in the headlights.

"Piper," Artemis says in a guarded voice, "who are your friends?"

The girl stiffens. "Kronos needs to see the both of you immediately. They'll be escorting you to the throne room while I keep a close eye on Elpis."

Thalia takes an anxious step back. "Why can't we take her with us? What's going on?"

"It's best if Lord Kronos tells you," Piper sighs, sharing a strange look with Artemis.

Thalia wants to be in on the secret too, wants to know what's happening right there and then with Elpis in her arms. But she can't possibly know; she's not a mind reader and it frustrates her to no end.

Artemis frowns. "Let's go then," says the goddess. "We know better than to keep him waiting."

Of course we do.

Without further complaint, Thalia hands Elpis to Piper and follows Artemis out into the hall. They begin the painful march to the throne room and Thalia's thoughts run rampant. What kind of summons would warrant so many guards? What could possibly cause that nervous look on Piper's face? Artemis's too?

Two months. Two months Thalia operated without further incident with Kronos, if it was even possible for someone to get along with Kronos for so long. And truthfully she did it for Elpis. She desperately needed the tiny baby to grow out of such a fragile state, an endless reminder that Kronos was the catalyst for all of Elpis's problems. And Thalia had been quick to remind herself that things could be worse. A snap of his fingers and tiny fragile Elpis could be as good as dead. If being a quiet, meek, and docile wife was the price to pay for Elpis's safety, then she would suffer in complete and utter silence with an enormous smile on her face.

She sees the light at the end of the hall and her grimace deepens. The guards stop as soon as the room opens up but continue to usher Thalia and Artemis forward.

Kronos sits above them in his obsidian throne. He most certainly does not look happy.

No one says anything. They don't need to.

A volley of images spread wide across the room. Thalia only stares at the moving apparitions in mute horror.

It's the Underworld, she realizes. And all shit has gone to hell since her last time being there: golden gates thrown wide open, gray shades marching out. Monsters collapsing into dust and flame. Unnatural screeches intermingled with war cries. Two armies clashing.

No.

They've done it.

"You think I'm stupid, don't you?"

Grudgingly, she tears her eyes away from the chaos, away from the hope that she might catch a glance of Nico or Jason or Percy or someone.

"What's going on?" says Thalia, feigning ignorance.

Fingers tap the armrest impatiently. "Isn't it obvious? Elysium's opened its gates. And at precisely the right moment I withdrew a great portion of my forces to other points of defense."

This daughter of Zeus catches on immediately.

He wants to blame us.

She bristles. "We couldn't possibly know that," Thalia says. "You never talk about any sort of strategy around me. This is your fault and no one else's."

He ignores her last statement. "No, I am apt to keep you away from any talk of strategy. You are the expensive centerpiece to be locked away. But I am apt to keep another possession of mine very close by, a mistake I realize now." His gaze moves away from hers. "Come here, Artemis."

"No," Thalia says immediately, latching onto Artemis's pale arm.

Blank-faced, the goddess stares down at the hand holding onto her for dear life. "Thalia, release me."

She stiffens. "But—"

"Do it," Artemis whispers. Thalia can't argue. She withdraws, crossing her arms over her chest and trying to hold back her shivers.

Artemis approaches his throne without hesitation, kneeling into a customary bow before him. Thalia has never seen her so low, so compliant.

Kronos stills. She has learned to tell his smiles apart – from amusing to sadistic, it matters not – but the lack of one never signifies anything good. "Have you or have you not been contacting the Rebellion behind my back?"

"You already know the answer to that," she says rather quietly, avoiding his piercing gaze.

"Still," he hisses. "I want to hear your response all the same."

"Yes."

Artemis doesn't scream when the magic seizes her; she should be applauded. Beneath the goddess's chiton, Thalia catches a glimpse of the rune – now white hot and burning like starlight – wrapped around her ankle. Of course it matches Thalia's. And this girl has felt a similar pain, back when she succeeded in freeing Zeus from beneath the sky and nearly paid the ultimate price: Elpis's life.

The room rumbles under the weight of Kronos's voice. "You should have known better, Artemis. You should have feared me more than you loved them."

The pain seems to double and Artemis collapses, hands unable to stick a landing as she writhes on the cold floor. It punches Thalia in the gut. She can't just sit back and say nothing, do nothing.

"Stop hurting her!" she blurts out, forgetting who she is, who she is standing before.

His eyes snap to her, the torture subsiding only a little. "Trust me, Thalia. I assure you, Artemis is a lot tougher than you are. I can throw her through a wall now and she won't break as easily as you did." She stiffens at his words. She recalls, of course, being thrown across the room, her head splitting open, blood coating pieces of broken obsidian. She remembers the pain eating away at her from the inside out, Elpis dying.

Thalia wants to join Artemis on the ground as that memory returns, curl into a ball and just die. It's a miracle she keeps herself standing.

His attention on Thalia wanes. Instead, Kronos glares at one of the guards that brought them in, dawdling obediently by the entrance. "You there," he says to one in particular. "I want you to find Atlas. Tell him he's been a great help in restoring this world to order and I wish to give him something for his troubles. I'm sure Artemis here won't mind at all."

The guards nod dutifully. He says, "Yes, my lord," before scurrying down the hallway.

"You wouldn't," Thalia snaps as a whimper escapes Artemis's mouth. She faintly wishes for her old bow and arrow to shoot the messenger down before he can take even another step.

"Wouldn't I?" Kronos challenges, shifting his arms and allowing Thalia to catch sight of the new dents in his golden armrests. "The Fates said I couldn't touch Olympus's favorite little virgin but made no statements about giving her away to another."

"He'll kill her."

"An exaggeration, surely. Immortals can't die if mortals continue to worship them and you place an unusually large amount of faith in this sly fox." He peers down at the fallen goddess at his feet, still shaking with those painful tremors. "Though there are something's worse than death, are there not, Artemis?"

The runes glow brighter and Artemis finally screams.

Kronos seethes, his face cold and absolutely merciless. "I've broken in many a horse or two, little goddess. I know how to crush rebellion as soon as I see it. You best tell your friends that the next time they ask you for information."

"Please, stop." Thalia says forcefully, her voice cracking only slightly. "I'll beg if you want me to. Just stop."

He smiles and Thalia recognizes it for what it is: absolutely vicious, the smile of a predator that's drawn blood. "See what I mean? Thalia Grace is a tame little philly isn't she? I've never been so proud." With a finger he beckons her closer. "Let's make a deal then, wife," says Kronos from his precarious perch. "You can leave here and go back to your room with Artemis in one piece. If you tell me the location of Camp Jupiter so I can obliterate it from the face of the earth. Or, Atlas comes to collect his prize, which I assume is rather unfavorable due to their very interesting history together. And my nephew is not known for his mercy, I can assure you. The decision rests in your hands, love. But I wouldn't dally for long. Once my messenger reaches him the promise is sealed."

Her fists clench. There's no hesitation of course; Thalia's already made her choice. "The Caldecott tunnel," she spits. "That's where you'll find the entrance to Camp Jupiter."

His smile widens into absolute joy. Kronos snaps his fingers at another guard. "Go find your colleague. Tell him I've changed my mind."

She barely hears the, "yes, milord," that follows and the guard's subsequent footsteps. A numbing sensation fills her heart. Once again, the urge to curl up into a ball and die is overwhelming. She pushes it aside.

The goddess stops shaking and Thalia rushes to her side. "Artemis?"

She gathers Artemis into her arms. But she only shakes her head at her foolish ex-follower, eyes dull and speaking with a hoarse voice. "Oh Chaos, you sweet little idiot."

Thalia grimaces. "Come on, we need to go."

She is vaguely aware of Kronos watching their every move. She slings Artemis's arm over her shoulders and pulls the limp goddess to her feet, hand wrapped around Artemis's hip. No more sound, no more talking. She tries to make their retreat as quiet as she can.

"Thalia," he says finally, once they are halfway across the room. Thalia stops instantly, staring longingly towards the exit. "There's a war coming."

"There is," she says rather quietly, not trusting her voice any further.

"And I'm afraid we all have to do our part."

Thalia glances at him through narrowed eyes. Her grasp on Artemis tightens. "What do you mean?"

Kronos smiles again, much to her chagrin. Some part of her already knows what he's going to say before he says it. "As of today you will be enlisted into the war effort. You're training regimen will begin… tomorrow." She closes her eyes, mind strangely blank to his statement. "And that is, of course, assuming you wish to secure Elpis's safety."

Her eyes snap open, darkening to a degree that it would strike fear into the hearts of a thousand mortals. "What did you say?" She doesn't even notice the blue sparks flitting across her fists.

The arrogant lift of his eyebrow is her breaking point. "You heard me."

Red clouds her vision.

Thalia screams – no, roars. Lighting crackles from her fingers, shooting across throne room and aimed right at Kronos's forehead.

Lazily, his hand flicks up at the last second and the lightning disperses before reaching its intended target. It ricochets off the nearest column instead, piercing straight through the granite walls.

Smoke curls off her trembling fingers. Faintly, Thalia can feel Artemis's abysmal stare on the back of her head and is also somewhat thankful that Artemis – also a daughter of Zeus – wasn't fried in her anger. Anger that had risen up seemingly out of nowhere.

Kronos only leans back deeper into his throne, neither terribly angry nor very amused. "Perhaps the wild beast hasn't lost its spirit yet."


Out of fear, Thalia keeps Elpis close that night. She also begs Piper to keep a close watch on Artemis, just in case Kronos goes back on his word. It most certainly wouldn't be the first time he's done such a thing and she knows better than to trust anything that comes from his mouth.

Thalia goes to sleep that night worrying about her friends at Camp Jupiter. She prays they're off fighting, prays that they've moved their base back underground, inside remnants of the Labyrinth. It's safer there, if any place can be considered safe at all.

"Mother."

His voice.

She sees it then, the throne room again and ultimately the last place she wants to be. The broken column and shattered walls are still painfully visible. Though Thalia wonders why on earth it hasn't been repaired yet.

Kronos still lounges on his obsidian throne and it wouldn't surprise Thalia if he hadn't left its side all day, stroking his arm rest possessively, muttering my precious.

This time, of course, he isn't alone. Hyperion and Koios occupy the smaller thrones on either side of the Titan Lord, with the other two – belonging to Atlas and Krios – strangely empty. Though it doesn't surprise her that Krios is still missing – no doubt still trapped under the sky – it's strange that they hadn't replaced him with another Titan yet. She also finds Atlas's absence positively disturbing, considering he usually makes it a point to dote on his master. Her thoughts quickly wander towards Artemis, whether she's safe.

Maybe he's leading the attack on Camp Jupiter, she thinks instead, though such a thought isn't a comfortable alternative whatsoever. All thanks to me.

Gaia stands before them in a simple green shift, a cloak of swirling dirt wrapped around her shoulders. Even in regular, minuscule size before the Titan's gigantic human forms she looks every bit the superior, evident by the arrogant tilt of her jaw.

Absolutely unyielding.

"What do you want now?" says the Earth mother in a dull, yet soothing voice that rings of water trickling over stones. "The messenger said your summons was rather urgent."

"Not necessarily urgent, at least not on my part. It's only a matter I think you would consider of the utmost importance." He smiles rather gently, an expression strangely alien on his face. "I have reconsidered your proposal."

Even Gaia looks taken aback. "Reconsidered?" she scoffs.

Kronos shrugs, relaxing into his throne. "Tartarus rumbles with screams of my enemies and they bring you much unnecessary pain," he states. "I have seen the error of my ways and now I only wish to help you sleep."

Silence envelopes them for a moment. Koios and Hyperion seem frozen in time with their stoic faces, as if far away from this conversation.

Gaia's fists clench. "That is rather unusual for you. You never help me with anything unless you know your benefits outweigh mine."

They're valid suspicions. If anyone knows Kronos at all, it is his mother.

The smile disappears from his face. "Well, you're not wrong."

He snaps his fingers.

And Gaia screams.

Thalia blinks and a spear of yellow fire pierces the goddess's right side. A heartbeat later and there's another spear – forged from solid ice – that hits her left. Too late, Gaia realizes both spears are attached to chains. She's heaved up into the air and where Thalia expects ichor is only a growing pile of sand in her wake.

The giant forms of Hyperion and Koios fade; illusions only. They appear before their thrones smaller in size, heavy fists clasped tightly onto the ends of either chain.

"Kronos…" she chokes out, eyes blazing like the Greek fire goblets lining the room. When she speaks this time it's with the voice of a volcano ready to burst. "What is the meaning of this?"

"It is as I said." He stands, his gilded scythe appearing in his outstretched hand. "I wish to help you sleep. Forever."

"Impudent children." Gaia roars. "I am your mother and you will release me!"

"As Ouranos was our father," Kronos responds. "Yet we murdered him all the same at your insistence. Even though you knew the curse that would befall us shortly afterwards." Befall him.

"I sat you on that throne," she hisses. "I brought you into power!"

"A mistake now, you must surely realize." Kronos tilts his head to the side, sadistic smile still firmly in place. "I know you, mother, wicked being that you are. Perhaps even as wicked as I? If you have not aided the Rebellion yet, you plan to do so very soon, and you do understand I cannot have that."

"Kronos…" her voice falters.

"Hmm?" he murmurs, now studying his reflection in the gilded blade, running a finger over the length of its honed edge. Ichor quickly drips down his hand.

Fear mars her face and with good cause. She's seen firsthand what Kronos can do with a scythe, had encouraged such rigorous training so that he might take down Ouranos, a task he had most certainly succeeded at. Though Thalia thought she never see the day that one of the most powerful primordial deities would bow down to a Titan like him.

"I will tell you what you want to know. Whatever it is. Whatever information you require I can procure it."

"An interesting suggestion, Gaia." He lazily twirls the weapon in his hands. "But I was never much of a gambler."

She screams her frustration, solid walls shattering like glass but the room remains standing – despite the abuse it's suffered in one day – and none of the Titans seem to budge an inch.

"You're more paranoid now then you were eons ago," she spits. "It'll make your fall all the more sweet."

He grips his weapon in both hands and Thalia knows this is it. "I will be counting on it. Fall I may but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that you will never retain physical form again." Kronos arcs the sickle backwards. "Pleasant dreams, mother. May we never meet again."

Thalia doesn't see the swing; it blurs, too quick for mortal eyes. But Thalia screams soundlessly all the same, expecting that sound of a blade slicing into wet flesh. Sand, instead. Piles of sand flying everywhere, Gaia's hate-filled eyes the last thing any of them see as her body, her face, harden and then crumbles into dust.

Gone.

The Titan brothers release the chains, rolling their strained muscular shoulders.

The scythe disappears from Kronos's fingers and Thalia swears she sees a bead of sweat dripping down from his temple. She isn't the only one.

Koios raises an eyebrow. "You're not as strong as you once were."

"Silence," Kronos sneers, gaze wandering towards the corridor. "I care not for you observations. I—" His head snaps towards the hall, nostrils flaring like a beast that's caught onto Thalia's scent.

She freezes when his eyes lock onto hers and some part Thalia knows she won't escape this disaster unharmed.


Thalia wakes with a start, immediately sensing that nothing is as it should be even though everything is as it should be: Elpis on the bed snoring softly by her side, the room neither terribly warm nor terribly hot, Kronos nowhere in sight.

She places a hand on her sleeping daughter's belly, trying to focus on pleasant memories and hopefully calm her frayed nerves. It doesn't work.

Gaia is dead. At least, as close to dead as an immortal goddess can be. It was a dream but Thalia's dreams have never been wrong before.

Thalia's breathing stops. Pain strikes her, dead in the chest before she realizes it, the scream trapped in her throat.

Something's wrong, something's wrong.

Elpis forgotten, Thalia finds her way to the door and rips it open, stumbling out into the hall. She catches herself before the fall and out of the corner of her eye, she spots Rhea's lonely passageway.

No, no, no.

She runs, down that hall and up the winding staircase without pause, the descent no longer tiring her as it once did. Thalia sobs - where that even comes from she can't be sure - before she even reaches the top, knowing this isn't right, something is wrong. It's hard to tell who is truly in pain: her or Rhea.

The heat hits Thalia next. Not the humidity she had grown accustomed to nor the breathtaking light fluttering in from tempered windows.

Fire.

Thalia bursts into the sanctuary and screams, feeling her heart tearing itself apart. The pain everywhere, killing her from the inside out. The inferno swallows everything and he stands at the center of it, smiling.

So many memories gone, fading into the dreaded Chaos.

Gone, gone, gone.

Kronos steps over the trees torn to pieces, the burnt out husk of little brown birds, past pile after pile of ash. He's practically burning alive her very soul and without a care in the world.

"Did you think I wouldn't find out, Thalia?" he whispers, standing right before her. "It was only a matter of time."

Time. Everything is a matter of time with him.

She expects him to hit her. He doesn't.

When Kronos grabs her, Thalia flinches harder than she should. She expects the beating, the throttling, the screaming. But there is absolutely nothing and it's probably the most terrifying thing of all.

Under his weight they both sink to their knees, Kronos gripping her so tight the skin on her arms pale and ache. Flames burning low now, ash sticking to their flesh.

A haunted look passes over his face. Can he feel it, she wonders? The part of Rhea's pain, the ancient soul that has faded just a little bit more? Would he even care now that he's past the point of no return? Now that they're all past the point of no return, with Elysium opening its gates and the Rebellion officially declaring war?

She can't ever know; he'll never tell her and his emotions have always been hard to place, especially now. There is too much feeling and so very little at the same time. Her own face goes blank as Kronos finally regains his voice, pressing himself closer.

Her heart jumps.

"There will be no more secrets between us, Thalia Grace," he feverishly murmurs against her skin. "You're going to repeat this for me."

She shivers, can hardly bring herself to speak at all. "I—I need to go back to my room…" As soon as Thalia says that the realization dawns on her. Her daughter. Her small, weak daughter all alone. Elpis—"

"You're not going anywhere," he cuts in. "Not until you learn because you never learn, Rhea, you evil, impudent little girl."

She pulls away, knowing she shouldn't. Knowing it will make him angry. "I'm not her, Kronos."

His golden eyes flare and she knows it's the wrong thing to say. But she can't take it back. "You are her. You are so much like her that I have no idea why I bother to keep you around when my better instincts tell me to rip out your heart and eat it so that this unfortunate mistake does not happen again." Any possible retort sticks in her throat like bubble gum, his golden eyes still probing her of answers. "And yet I seem to dwell on your suffering just as you dwell on mine."

"That's the last thing I want," she says even though it is such a horrendous lie that he laughs in her face.

"See what I mean?" he sneers. Kronos pushes her and the air in her lungs leaves her in one swoop as her back hits the ashen ground. "You lie. You keep your secrets. But that's not going to happen anymore. Rhea used to do that to me so many times and I wanted to believe her every. Last. Time. But I am no longer so naïve."

Luke once told her she was a pathetic, ugly-looking crier. Thalia agreed. She would cry, look at herself in the mirror, and spit at the weak and hideous thing that stared back. She sees the creature now, reflected in Kronos's eyes. She hopes, prays, that he will be her reflection in the mirror. He will deride her with such utter contempt, cast her aside in her hideousness and tell her to go back to Elpis, that they are finished here.

But he doesn't. He fiddles with the hem of her thin nightgown and she wants to scream.

"I left her, Kronos. Please, I left Elpis," Thalia says, eliciting no response. He stares at her with the mask of a godsforsaken statue, adjusting himself, focused on the layers between them and not on the words coming from her mouth.

"Can't you see?" he whispers finally. "Can't you see what you do to me? I don't think I've ever hated someone so much."

Kronos kisses her and it's as meaningless at it has always been. Thalia only turns her head aside, feeling the familiar heat emanating from him, his erection pressed up against her thigh. But he's too angry to be lustful, too saddened to be truly angry, too empty on the inside to be anywhere near sad. Emotions do not exist for him. They feel one in the same, fleeting and ever changing. "Elpis, I… please let me go, please—"

A growl bursts from between his teeth and Thalia winces. "I haven't heard you say it." And there it is. The anger she's been waiting for. "I want to hear you say it." She covers her mouth, a failed attempt to hold back her sobs. She can only think of little Elpis, alone on the bed without her mother by her side.

"No more secrets," Thalia hiccups. "No more… lies. I won't lie to you again."

Kronos narrows his eyes into almost reptilian-like slits. "Why should I believe you? Liar." She almost asks him what he wants from her, what he expects from someone like her, but doesn't get the chance. "Mark my words, love, if you ever betray me like she betrayed me, I won't stop here."

He enters her then and she cries harder, trying to hide her face behind her ash-ridden arms. Kronos grabs them, pins them to her sides. "Look at me," he snaps, breathless as he thrusts into her. Thalia refuses and he grabs her jaw, forcibly turning her head to look at him. "I will burn everyone and everything you've ever cared about, including precious little Elpis. Do you understand?"

Tears blur Thalia's vision.

"DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" he roars finally and she nods quickly, eagerly. His thrusts begin to lose their rhythm and she shuts her eyes tight.

"Elpis," she still pleads with him. "I left Elpis."

But Kronos doesn't care. Kronos will never care. He only bites her throat, as if attempting to rip out her vocal chords to silence her. Then he comes undone, gasping, his seed sputtering inside her.

"Let me go, let me go," she whimpers, hoping he'll comply now that he's finished. She is wrong. He will never let her go, not now.

Not ever.

Chapter Text

 

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?

-Edgar Allen Poe


"Good."

His voice of approval, his slight pause, startles the hell out of her as she draws her blade back defensively.

"Good?" Thalia murmurs. Their swords lock together in a clang of steel. A stalemate, an onlooker might figure. But she knows better. This'll only last a moment; he's stronger than her and Kronos will easily disarm her and push her into a retreat.

Thalia breaks away before he has the chance, twirling as she does with her gaze never wavering from his. "You've never complimented me before."

"I wouldn't make a habit out of it." A line appears across his cheek, a drop of ichor leaking out. Thalia has never seen him bleed. Ever. Kronos sneers somewhat playfully. "You'll pay for that, girl."

Thalia barely misses his following overhead strike. She sidesteps, parries to regain herself but escape is relatively futile. His sword moves like an extension of his arm, pursuing her relentlessly to land some kind of blow. It's a miracle he doesn't.

"I did say you were bound to get better," he comments, golden eyes calmly calculating her every move.

"I hate swords." Spear and shield? Bow and arrow? She mastered them easily amidst her two hellish years of training. Knives had taken her a little longer, along with hand-to-hand combat. But nothing she couldn't accomplish. And yet this exercise continues to elude her for reasons she just can't fathom. Swords just aren't her thing.

Kronos smirks. "We could always improvise with curved blades."

"No thanks." With a scythe, he'd absolutely demolish her. "You're just looking for an excuse to gut me."

"I am rather curious as to what your intestines look like," he says, lunging forward. Swiftly, the dance begins anew, Kronos attacking and Thalia desperately trying to avoid him. Sweat clings to her clothes and she pants like a dog boiling on the sun.

"You'll have to come at me eventually," Kronos taunts. She ignores him.

That's typically how most of their practices continue on, some more brutal than others, Kronos always leading and rarely Thalia getting the better of him. Always endless circles around the training arena he had fashioned out of Rhea's old sanctuary, the sand beneath their feet suspiciously gray like the ash of all the living things that once frolicked here. Sometimes she could still hear screaming in her dreams, Rhea's screams.

"Mommy!"

Thalia freezes.

She almost thinks it a daydream, something she could easily blame on fatigue and dehydration. But it's not. From her peripheral vision Thalia sees the raven-haired toddler bouncing towards her and she can't help but utter every foul curse known to man.

If Kronos notices her, his face doesn't show, concentrated on other things. The butt of his sword jams Thalia in the ribs. She hears something crunch as she dances out of the way – barely feeling the pain that registers throughout her core – but still can't take her eyes off Elpis stepping foot inside the terrible arena.

"Don't come any closer!" she snaps at her daughter. But that simple turn of her head nearly costs Thalia her life.

Before she can blink the blade slices into her fleshy cheek. That does it.

The bolt flies from her fingers like a well-placed arrow, practically searing his shoulder off down to the bone. Even if he had armor, Thalia is more than sure it would've cut through that too.

Kronos pauses, brushing it off like a minor burn. "That was a dirty trick."

She says nothing, trying to catch her breath. Blood pours heavily down the side of her face and she swears she can taste it in her mouth.

"That's alright. I have dirty tricks of my own," Kronos says, eyes finally shifting behind her. "New game."

It's with a horrifying realization that she realizes he's staring at Elpis. He moves before she can fully process that, Backbiter gleaming wickedly at his side.

No.

Thalia doesn't even scream, doesn't even take a step forward as her hands shoot up instinctively. No lightning this time, just a blinding light she hasn't summoned in ages. Not since Gaia was still breathing.

It snaps against his shoulder like a rubber band but this time she can tell it hurts by the way he flinches. Backbiter flies from his hands, melting away in the gray sand. Thalia's done it now but at least she has his full attention once more.

Kronos laughs, like it's supposed to be funny as he rolls his inflamed shoulder that looks as though it's been dipped in fresh ichor. "That's what I wanted to see."

But there's a reason she keeps Rhea caged away. Powers like those are draining to a mortal body and she finds that she can hardly even swing her weapon anymore.

He disarms a weak Thalia easily, kicking her into the dirt and pointing her own practice sword at her chin. "I take it this fight is over?"

"Bastard," she spits. "You cheated."

"Did I?" He cocks his head. "There's no honor to be had on the battlefield. You win no matter the cost. That's your lesson for today."

A lesson to most likely be repeated for the next week. He'll call them back, the other traitor demigods enlisting in his ragtag special ops team that he simply refuses to give her more details about. And then it'll begin again: the relentless fighting, beating every recruit to a bloody pulp until Kronos once again makes time in his busy schedule to fight with her, only in that hope that she would finally come to a draw with him for at least several seconds before he took to pummeling her into the dirt. Beating him outright proved to be impossible but at least Thalia is getting better.

She sits up on her arms, blowing the long tendrils of hair away from her face. "Of course, what would you know about honor?"

"That it will get you killed." He offers her a hand. She stares at it. "As will love."

Thalia sucks in a little breath. "And what could you possibly know about love?"

Kronos doesn't answer, pulling her to her feet. Angrily, she shoves him away, brushing the dirt off her clothes and retrieving her practice sword.

"Good," he comments again.

Thalia gives him a rueful smile. "Does this mean I pass?"

Coldly, the Titan appraises her. "Passing does not mean acing. Your form is still horrible," he says. "And I told you. To pass, no blood must be drawn."

"I wasn't meant to swordfight and you know it." She instantly regrets that retort, knowing it won't get her anywhere, and attempts to reel back her anger. "Please, no more training. I've learned enough." For two long years she learned enough. And she'll absolutely die if she remains here another day in his horrible boot camp, worse than anything Camp Half-Blood ever concocted in her short time there as a camper.

"I'll think on it."

"Please? You know I almost never say that word." At least not to Kronos.

"I'll think on it," he says again, sterner this time. "In case you misunderstand, my answer remains as a maybe. We'll see how I feel on the matter tomorrow."

Her eyes narrow. "Anything I can do that will make you say yes?"

Kronos dismisses her with a smile. "Tomorrow, Thalia." He disappears just like that, right before her eyes, taking his horrendous sword with him.

"Elpis!" she hears someone snap behind her and Thalia quickly remembers that other problem.

Grudgingly she turns around, sees Piper scolding a straight-faced Elpis who remains at the edge of the arena, half-hidden in the shadows.

Now being observed, Piper shoots her a wary look. "I'm so sorry, Thalia! I shouldn't have let her trick me. She wanted to come see you fight and I told her no—"

"It's okay. I'm fine. It doesn't hurt much." A lie, of course, as she approaches them and half of her face throbs with a vengeance. Instinctively, she collects Elpis up in her arms. "What did I tell you?"

No, is what Thalia had told her earlier when Elpis begged to see her mother in action. But Thalia had refused her all the same, mainly because having her daughter introduced to something so bloody and brutal would mentally scar Thalia. Her worst fear is having the war drag on so long that Kronos enlists Elpis in the war effort, something that would rip this daughter of Zeus into very small, bite-sized pieces.

Elpis only touches Thalia's face, oddly intelligent blue eyes staring her head on. "Ouchie."

Thalia sighs.

Her daughter is fairly silent on their way back to the room, eyes downcast in what can only be described as guilt. Thalia attempts a smile, ruffling Elpis's hair despite the weariness that overwhelms her.

She sits her daughter down on the bed once they enter the room. "I'll be right back and then we're going to have a little talk, alright?"

Elpis nods. Despite being two and a half, she's relatively smarter than most girls her age though her use of the spoken language is minimal. Elpis is simply the type to remain quiet unless there's something incredibly important to say.

Leaving Elpis to her own devices, Thalia finds that peeling off her clothes is disgusting to say the least. She doesn't even remember the last time she's had a good shower. But as soon as Thalia steps into it, the feeling of absolute euphoria is overwhelming. It feels so delicious on her skin… it almost reminds her of…

Her wedding day.

No, Rhea's wedding day.

Until her arrival to Othrys, baths took place in the cold lake that she often spent her time lingering around. That's if she wanted to waste her time with such a tedious, boring task. As a Titaness, if Rhea didn't want dirt on her skin she could just make it up and disappear without a second thought.

But then the nymphs bathed her and she half decided she would never leave the filled marble tub. Kronos be damned.

Of course, Theia and Phoebe had to ruin it. Loud and boisterous they barged into the room, nearly dragging her out and forcing her to dress. Her clothing she hardly paid any mind, only knew her chiton was made of the finest silk the nymphs could procure and as gold as the ichor in her veins.

Careful fingers had wrapped her hair into a braided chignon and she instantly became despondent at the sight of it: no longer would she be a free maiden that could loosen her hair to the wind.

Only the clicking and shutting of a wooden box snapped her out of her daze.

" This is for you," Phoebe said matter-of-fact, revealing a golden diadem inlaid with sparkling emeralds.

" Looks heavy," Rhea murmured.

Theia shrugged. "Get used to it now. By the time Gaia pronounces you wife , they'll have it replaced by one that's even heavier." Of course, she meant this from experience.

To that she only sighed as both sisters made it a point to shoo the nymphs from the room to give Rhea the much needed space she so desired.

But when the room fell silent and Rhea began to study her new appearance in the polished bronze mirror at her side, she said the one thing that had been her mind throughout the day. "Kronos scares you."

Theia seemed to jump at the sound of his name while Phoebe just froze in place. "Of course he does. And if you were smart he would scare you too," she retorted. "You can never forget what he is, what he's done. Never."

Rhea stiffened. She could still see it clear as day: Ouranos's blood on her brother's tunic, her father's cock being thrown into the ocean for the fish to feast on, her mother's evil and hungry gaze. They had all been there to witness it. "I haven't."

Her older sister shuttered, as if the memories flooded her as well. "Then why did you say yes to his proposal?"

" Was there any other option besides yes?" Her fists clenched.

For so long Kronos had asked her why every time she refused him time and time again, each time coming up with a different response. But in truth , he frightened her with just his presence alone, his sin forever weighing heavy on her mind. His presence both frightening yet somehow exhilarating; it was for this very reason that she never had her lions chase him away, not that it would've done her any good.

Rhea sighed. "I could only stall his proposal for so long. Gaia promised me to him and I'd truly be an idiot if I came between such a thing."

" Still, the choice is always there," Theia grumbled to herself. Strong-will and unconventional disregard ran deep in their generation. "Kronos can be absolutely terrifying when—"

" I know, Theia, and I can handle myself." She glanced at her other sister when she said this. "I will be his queen after all."

Queen. No one would baby her again, tell her what to do. Gaia could no longer seclude her from the rest of the world nor scream at her as if she were deaf or dumb. No Tartarus either, to torture her whenever he came to visit Gaia and give her those monsters she referred to as her children. Never again.

The Titaness of mystery only flashed her an unreadable smile. "Do you love him?" Phoebe said in a rather quiet voice.

Rhea only shrugged. The idea of marriage didn't quite frighten her as much. In truth, she would lose much of the freedom Gaia had granted her. But at the same time, she was free to join her sisters as a full-fledged Titaness and birth beautiful Titanic children. Admittedly, she had wanted such a thing for so long. She envisioned them, children of her own, Rhea's hand molding them into far greater versions of herself. They would be perfect, absolutely perfect. She would love them, of course.

But Kronos?

Phoebe didn't press her. Love was relatively irrelevant when it came to their marriages; only a convenience. "But it's more than clear that he loves you more," she muses.

" He loves a pretty face," she whispered. Nothing more. He cannot see the Celestial Bronze underneath, the hardness in her veins that was given to all the sons and daughters of Gaia and Ouranos. But if she was forced to play the role of the blushing bride, so be it.

" You're playing a dangerous game, young one. But you know our brother. I heard he's a sucker for those."

Theia sighed. "Please be careful."

She closed her eyes, attempting to harden herself against them both. "I may be Gaia's youngest daughter but I don't need coddling. I have been coddled my entire life and that ends today. Whatever mistakes befall me, they are my own, borne from my own decisions. I've accepted this and so will the both of you."

Phoebe gave a slight bow of her head. "Of course."

" There just might be a queen in you yet," Theia snorted. "If anyone can temper Kronos's cruelty, it's you."

Thalia wants to laugh. They were all wrong, so terribly wrong.

She stands suddenly, being bombarded with a mild whiplash as she shuts the scalding water off and reaches for the nearest towel. Thalia bites her lip, mulling over the vision instead of removing herself from the steamy shower.

She hated them with a passion, Rhea's memories. They remind her of Gaia's death, of Rhea's sanctuary burning to the ground, her soul fracturing, Thalia's endless pain and screaming.

But most of all, she hates Kronos. He had fooled them, her and Rhea both.

Thalia forces a smile as she leaves the bathroom, knowing that she can't be scowling in front of Elpis. Sweet little Elpis whom she doesn't particularly want as a witness to every hardship that Thalia has to face.

But her smile turns practically frigid. She remains dripping wet in front of the bathroom door, clutching her towel, particularly surprised to see Kronos lounging on her bed.

How long was I in there? Thalia wonders. How long has he been here?

She frankly wants to know if he has an idea of what she's seen, wants to know if he's come to punish her. Because how dare you have memories from a parasitic soul fragment of his ex-wife you can't control!

"Good," he murmurs. Surprisingly, Elpis continues to sit in the exact same spot Thalia had left her in. "We were starting to think you had drowned in there."

"If only," she mutters under her breath, gripping the towel tighter.

Kronos brushes those words off, as if she had said nothing at all. "I would have joined you if not for…" His eyes narrow in Elpis's direction. A nuisance, he had called her once. Though she didn't really expect any other response from him.

Kronos the devourer, the Crooked One, is kind to no one. Elpis, though his flesh and blood, is no exception. She's not sure why that bothers her on some deep, unconscious level. Thalia hadn't lied to him in the arena.

And what could you possibly know about love?

Elpis wrings her little hands together. "Do you feel better?"

"It's nothing I can't handle," Thalia tells her. Nervously, she studies the proximity between Kronos and her daughter. "Come here, Elpis," she says finally unable to put a lid on her paranoia.

Kronos raises an eyebrow. "Isn't there something you should say to your mother?"

She scratches her cheek as she crosses the room towards Thalia, a sign tears are sure to appear on the horizon at any moment. "I'm sorry."

Thalia embraces her daughter without a second thought. "It's not your fault," she says with a little too much venom in her voice as she glares at Kronos. Her new scar is all his doing and she'll be damned if he blames any of this on Elpis.

He continues to lie back in his air of nonchalance. "Go find Piper, Elpis." It's a surprise he even knows the servant's name. "You'll be needing to make amends to her as well."

The door creaks shut with Elpis's departure and Thalia's heart aches terribly.

She strolls across the room to procure some clothing, leaving wet footprints in her wake while well aware of Kronos watching her every move. "Why are you here?" Thalia asks him finally. "Don't you have a war to wage?"

Kronos doesn't move an inch. "Am I not free to travel within my own palace?" he muses. "There are many reasons. Many of which can wait."

That catches her attention. "Wait? For?"

He tilts his head inquisitively. "Didn't you want to persuade me?" Kronos questions. "I'm in a very optimistic mood. Perhaps I will actually say yes to a passing grade, provided I am well satisfied."

Optimistic? More like opportunistic. "You're unbelievable."

"Perhaps." He smiles wickedly. "Take that towel off, dear. You know my time is precious."


Now, why would the god of Death take time out of his extremely busy schedule to stop by here? A very good question Nico Di Angelo has intended to solve since this month began.

Day after day, he put up with Theia's insufferable contacts, rubbing his eyes so neurotically they were destined to pop out at some point. Yes, it wasn't hard for Nico imagine why Theia was half bonkers. Her contact – because fuck having both of them in is practically suicide – itched like it had been marinating in some kind of Chimera brand hot sauce. That's not even the worst part.

Seeing straight became nearly impossible. Nearly a thousand images flash in his peripheral vision: images from all seven continents, four realms, and five layers of the atmosphere. It'd be enough to make any mortal go insane. But desperate times called for desperate measures.

Well, specifically, Elysium was the desperate one.

Two years later and they're forces were still trapped in the Underworld, bouncing off between hordes of monsters and Iapteus's royal army. Once cornered, the war would be over before it even began. Nico's new mission from Annabeth? Find a way to get them out. Easier said than done, of course.

Day after day, he trailed the shadow of death all across the world – unbeknownst that He had his own shadow – looking for some kind of pattern. Thanatos being the only god with unlimited access to the realm of the dead, he was the only god capable of helping the Rebellion, not that he would. Somehow, Nico would have to capture him and such an inevitable prospect wasn't at all exciting. Pointers from a summoned Sisyphus weren't exactly helpful either and Nico had quickly reduced himself to the world's most terrible spy.

And yet, day after day in keeping with his mission, Nico noticed that Thanatos always made it a point to stop on Aeolia, home to the castle of the wind god Aeolus.

Why?

It didn't take too long for the theory to formulate in his head.

Nico stands now on the ice bridge floating in the wind, pursed lips staring at the open doors. Truthfully, he's not sure why it surprises him that a god living high up in the sky doesn't really bother to lock up. At the same time, it just might be a trap.

Nevertheless, it took Nico ages to make it up the peak and his hard-pressed knowledge of some basic physics (he may or may not have taken to stealing one of Annabeth's old high school textbooks) to grab onto the ice bridge. If he could survive those two things, any set trap couldn't possibly be that bad.

He shoves his hands into his pockets and strolls in. Don't mind if I do.

The castle is unusually quiet. Truthfully, Nico isn't sure what he expected. Storm spirits, harpies, cloud nymphs, anything. They have to live somewhere and where might they be if not here? And for someone with such a fleeting personality as Aeolus, he figures this domain should be anything but silent. Where's the random tornadoes?

Nico passes a nondescript hall but quickly back tracks once hearing a steady stream of beeps. It's nice to know that someone is still living here.

He sees a single brass door cracked open. The room is completely dark inside, save a strange light and the insufferable beeping. Nico slips inside, quickly realizing it's a television that's the source of the strange light. And that noise…

His throat wells up. Shit, Nico always has a lot of theories but never considers them to actually be right.

"Hey…Dad."

At least, it looks like his dad, seated on the floor in front of a red couch and just a breath away from the giant screen. Only, he's strangely younger, a boy that hasn't even hit puberty yet. He has the same black hair as Nico, the same onyx eyes. He's lanky, dressed in all black, and there's no way Nico can mistake that scowl.

Hades's eyes brush over him as he briefly looks up from the television set. "Oh, it's you." His thumb pounds down furiously on a blue controller's red button. "Took you long enough."

"Any particular reason you're in the form of a ten year old?" Nico raises an eyebrow. "And playing Galaga?"

"Short attention span. Easier for Kronos to control." Hades sends a blue bowl skittering his son's way. "Popcorn?"

"No, thank you." Nico comes closer, crossing his arms over his chest. He kicks the popcorn bowl back to him. Un-fucking-believeable. "So all this time you've been living the good life on Aeolia, huh?"

His father shrugs. "Besides Hestia, I spent the longest in imprisonment within Kronos's stomach. I know how to make do." The game makes a series of more beeps as Hades passes onto the next level. "It's also nice. No responsibilities or annoying family to wear me down."

"Well don't I feel loved."

"Die alien scum!" He screams, jamming the red button and swerving the bright yellow joystick. "You were saying?"

Nico huffs. "Are you ready to leave or not?"

"That's going to be rather difficult," says Hades, eyes practically glued to the screen. He quickly snatches up a wad of popcorn and jams it in his mouth.

Nico grimaces. "Why?"

He chews painfully slow. "Because Thanatos is right behind you."

The son of Hades ducks and rolls as soon as the little voice in his head screams, Danger! Danger! Nico hears the familiar whoosh of a scythe's curved blade swooping over his head.

His father doesn't even flinch. "HAHA! LEVEL 56!" he booms.

Nico whips out his Stygian iron sword, blocking the scythe's next blow but wishing he hadn't. Not when he sees its wielder: a red-eyed skeleton in a black robe practically oozing malice.

"Nico Di Angelo," the god hisses, ringing like a snake that's spent the better part of its life on cigarettes. "Did you honestly think I wouldn't notice your terrible spy work?"

"Dad!"

"Thanatos is just doing his job, son. Don't worry about it."

The scythe comes to slice around again. It nearly loops around Nico's neck and that's the end of that, but he drops down just in time that it only shaves off a few inches of hair.

"How do I not worry about my head being taken off?" Nico shouts back.

Hades sighs. "Thannie, stop messing around."

The god stops in his tracks. The black cloak melting into dark feathered wings that span out behind him like an angel of pure death. He's no longer just bones; he grows skin the color of tilled soil, adopts a new regal face complimented by amber eyes and wood brown hair set into waist length braids. Muscles continue to fill him out like a sketch growing more detailed by the second, then long eyelashes and plump lips. One may say he puts Eros to shame (or perhaps Nico's flirted too much with idea of Death).

His voice has changed too, not a raspy whisper but a deep, monotonous voice that for some reason reminds him of church bells at a funeral. "If Lord Kronos discovers he is here—"

"SHIT!" Hades interrupts, throwing the controller aside as his last spaceship gets blown up by an alien dragonfly. "You worthless little shits."

If Maria Di Angelo were still alive she would wash his little mouth out with the harshest soap known to mortal children.

Thanatos pauses. "Hades…?"

"Do not speak!" he growls, turning his death evoking glare on them. "You cost me the game!"

Nico snorts. Carefully, he lowers his sword. "With all due respect, dad, I think that was all on you."

Hades practically glares daggers at him. "Thanatos, I would like a moment with my son as I discipline him for speaking to his father in such a tone. Don't you have any souls to lead to the afterlife?"

The god of death hesitates, eyes rapidly moving back and forth between Nico and Hades. "Yes, but—"

The boy dismisses him. "Go. You'll be back before my son can concoct whatever kind of an escape. We'll be here when you get back."

Thanatos opens his mouth to argue once more but Hades shoots him another scary look that quickly silences him. It's impossible, imagining a small boy addicted to video games scaring the Grim Reaper himself.

With a huff, the god's own shadow swallows him, transporting Thanatos to whatever destination needs souls to be disposed of.

Hades turns to his son, rolling his eyes as he does. "I know why you're here, Nico. You really couldn't have come up with a more thought out plan?"

Nico shrugs. "If I'm being honest, I didn't think I was going to get this far."

"Of course." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "Thanatos means no harm. He truly has my best interests at heart but that does not change the fact he is loyal to the Underworld. If I leave now, help you open the Doors of Death to free Elysium's army, and oppose Iapetus's rule, it will surely bring chaos down below. In his mind, that is quite frankly the end of the world."

Nico cracks his knuckles. "We'll have to get rid of him then?"

From the couch, a pale figure seems to practically rise from the dead, stretching his arms as he does so. "Are you both looking to incapacitate my brother?"

White wings unfurl, also being stretched. Callously, the man cranes his head around the back of couch in their direction, blowing aside a loose blond curl hanging in front of his face. He has the same golden eyes as Thanatos, the same timeless beauty. They look like complete opposites – Thanatos and this man – but also one in the same.

"Who the hell are you?!" Nico yells. "Have you been there the whole time?"

Hades reaches for the blue bowl as the stranger laughs on wordlessly.

His father groans loudly. "For the love of Tartarus!" A fistful of popcorn bounces off Nico's forehead. "We can't just get rid of Thanatos! Not only will the world actually end, you'll never be able to open the Doors of Death without him."

The fair-haired god grins lazily. "Seems as though you have a dilemma."

"For reasons even I cannot fathom, I enjoy Hypnos's company." Hades guards his popcorn jealously from his friend's probing hand. "Though there are times I want to shove a blade into his chest."

Nico stares at the two of them. Faintly, he wishes he could bang his head against the wall several times but that's to be saved for another day. "So what do we do about Thanatos, dad?"

Hypnos reclines back on the couch, amusement evident in his permanently lazy, half-lidded eyes. "He's coming back now so I suggest you think fast."

Before Nico can get another word in, the shadows get sucked from their various hiding spots towards the center of the room and the air chills considerably.

He pulls out his Stygian iron sword once again.

Thanatos melts from out of the shadows, silver plated scythe scraping across the floor. "Our duel commences, son of Hades. I will enjoy dragging your soul to the depths of Erebus."

Thanatos abruptly jerks backward before Nico even moves an inch. His weapon clatters to the floor, forgotten.

"Gods, you're all so dramatic." From the shadow of the larger god, Hades rips his knife free.

Hypnos frowns. "So that's what happened to my knife. You must have been planning an escape for a very long time."

"Sire…" Thanatos drops to his knees. Ichor pours from his back, down the back of his black wings. "Yo-you, I only wished to protect you and you—"

Hades rolls his eyes. "Oh, don't give me that! You will take us to the Underworld immediately considering you've already ruined my undefeated record of Galaga." He snaps his fingers at Hypnos who throws a newly materialized black rotary phone at Nico. He barely catches it, looking at them incredulously. "Nico, make yourself useful and order a pizza. We will need it for our sacrificial offering to contact your sister."

Hypnos only laughs from the couch, white wings thrumming. "I knew there was a reason I stuck around here. Perhaps I'll join you in your little adventure."


Nico tries not breathe in case he swallows a feather. The Doors of Death – conveniently a Twilight Zone version of the elevator back on Olympus – while rather large, becomes short of space when stuffed with two gods and their six foot wingspans. Thankfully, they had left the intimidating ten-year-old Hades on the surface world, bony fingers smashing the elevator buttons like his abandoned Galaga game, to keep the Doors of Death rooted to one spot.

Hypnos taps his foot impatiently as they descend hundreds of stories, bobbing his head to Stayin' Alive playing through the speakers. "Excellent choice in music, brother," he remarks.

Thanatos scowls at him. "Shut up."

The elevator dings.

An unnaturally green-tipped javelin flies through as the doors slide open, impaling the space above Nico's head.

"Nice of you to drop us here," he scoffs.

Thanatos shrugs. "You did wish to be as close to Elysium's forces as possible."

An armored ghost is thrown down in front of him. When the soldier looks up, he recognizes the fallen Michael Yew.

The dead son of Apollo rolls his eyes. "Well shit, took you long enough."

"Michael!" Bianca dashes out from a fray of warriors, pulling Yew to his feet in one swift movement. She glances over her brother relatively briefly. "Nico, I got your message! Are we set to go?"

The chaos is rather overwhelming. The army of Elysium – at least 500 souls strong – clash against a thousand of the Underworld's most horrid beasts, birthed straight from Tartarus himself. And if that isn't enough, they just had to pick the River Acheron – also known as the river of lamentation, aka endless screaming – as their new battleground.

Things could be worse, of course. Another arrow whizzes harmlessly through Michael Yew's shade; it's hard to kill heroes who are already dead and have no other afterlife to which to return.

Simultaneously, Michael and Bianca peel the worn bows from their back, returning fire on their enemies.

She grits her teeth. "If we're leaving this place, Nico, now is the time."

Thanatos nods in agreement, fingers still holding onto the elevators' button while jamming his body between the Doors of Death to keep them from shutting.

Hypnos brushes past Nico and the dead demigods, straight into the fray. Like the ghosts, arrows and javelins pass through him harmlessly as if he isn't actually there. With a rueful smile, he lifts his hands and every monster within a hundred foot radius collapses on its heels, instantly snoring.

"That should buy you some time, I suppose." He glances back at Nico, raising a pale eyebrow. "Well?"

It takes Nico a moment to realize he had frozen completely in the midst of stepping off the elevator, the chaos overwhelming and the fear of failure rather paralyzing. How the hell am I supposed to get 500 soldiers to the surface?

But the thing is, he'll never know if he doesn't try.

With clenched fists, he steels himself.

"Spirits of Elysium!" Nico booms, even over the faint wailing of Acheron. "Retreat!"

That catches their attention. Retreat they will, but not back to the safe haven behind the solid golden gates. They make a break for it, all 500 soldiers, barreling straight towards the small elevator.

Michael, Bianca, and a couple more archers are the only ones rooted in place, shooting down any monsters that dare to get close.

But then a war horn sounds from across the field and everyone knows they're in deep trouble.

Iapetus.

"We can't all fit!" Nico yells.

Thanatos shakes his head. "They are ghosts. They will fit."

But that's not what Nico is getting at. "We can't all fit with them."

"You're right," Bianca murmurs, her face as blank as a sheet of paper. "He's not planning to come with us."

"Wait, what?"

"Hypnos!" Thanatos growls. "Mind the doors."

The white-winged god cracks his fingers, looking a lot sleepier than he did a few minutes ago. "As you wish."

They switch places and with a roar, the god of death charges, silver scythe materializing in his hand as he barrels straight towards the biggest monsters.

All the while, soldier after soldier piles in through the elevators. The few archers keep shooting as they make their hasty retreat, bumping into Nico's shoulders as they pass behind him.

"Your turn," says Hypnos. "Get in."

"The doors—"

His eyes flare. "I said get in."

A stubborn Nico tries to shove against him. "Thanatos! Hold on!"

"No," Hypnos says sternly, shoving Nico back. "I will stay with my brother. You continue on."

"Kronos will destroy you both if you remain here."

"Let him try to catch us." The god of sleep smiles at him. "I have children in your little Rebellion, Di Angelo. In exchange for this small sacrifice – which is sapping a lot of my precious energy, mind you – promise me you will see them through this war. Promise on the great Lady Styx."

Nico can't exactly argue. "I promise."

"And don't ever doubt yourself again. It'll cost you your life the next time." He raises his hand and another wave of monsters fall beneath his spell. "Also, when you see Luke Castellan, tell him I have heard his prayers. This" – Hypnos rips a white feather off of his back – "will grant him his wish. Though he must beware of my son. Morpheus of the many dreams will jealously guard his domain."

"Sure," Nico says despite his confusion, shoving the shimmering feather into his pocket.

Hypnos salutes him as the Doors of Death shut with an anti-climactic beep. He tries not to think of what Kronos will do to the two winged twins if they're caught.

Chapter Text

And all these sorrows I have seen
They lead me to believe
That everything's a mess
But I wanna dream
I wanna dream
Leave me to dream

- Imagine Dragons, "Dream"



Kronos decides that killing hydras would be easier. Cut one head off, two are bound to grow back in the same place. Though obliterate it all at once – with one simple snap of his fingers – and regrowth is virtually impossible.

It's his mistake to assume the Rebellion to be like a hydra.

Obliterating Camp Jupiter, an easy solution. It had also given him exceptional satisfaction at the moment. Hit the Rebellion quick and hard and call the war over. But he should have known some would survive, like bacteria immune to the next up-and-coming antibiotic. The cockroaches had survived the Battle of Manhattan and the destruction of Camp Half-Blood and it was almost certain that they were to survive the attack on the Roman camp. But hindsight is always 20/20.

Unlike the hydra, total obliteration seems virtually inefficient. He had destroyed their known base of operations, forcing them now to move to an unknown location. Had he stayed his hand, he could have already won. Now they might be lurking under his nose for all he knows.

Kronos flickers angrily through thousands – millions – of images at a time, processing anything and everything that might be of use. Absolutely nothing, of course. There are too many holes in his vision and they've no doubt planted yet another set of wards to keep away his watching eyes.

"My Lord."

He clenches his fists. The images disappear and he feels no relief.

"What?" Kronos snaps.

With a dull gaze, Atlas stares up at the ill-tempered, unmoving king atop his throne. He raises an eyebrow. "Daydreaming again?"

Kronos only snorts in response.

"Someone is here to see you."

"I didn't summon anyone." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "If it's Thalia Grace she's going to find herself skewered—"

"It's not."

Kronos narrows his eyes. He nods.

Atlas disappears in a wisp of smoke, the doors to throne room opening with a creak. Then the sound of careful, delicate steps.

He doesn't expect to see the small, immortal woman that pops into view, dressed in a blue floor-length peplos that bears creamy white thighs to the world. Pin straight black hair is pulled back in a severe braid in an attempt to be serious. But a few loose hairs have escaped, curling at the nape of her elegant, pale neck, hinting at a wild streak. Too wild for Kronos. He has enough willfulness in Thalia to last him a millennia.

"You."

Her piercing gray eyes are careful to avoid his gaze.

She bows her head respectfully, the ghost of a smile playing on her lips. "Hello, uncle. You're looking… tired."

Kronos already knows what she sees: paling skin, bags under his eyes, armor that hangs a little loser on him than it did weeks ago. "Tired doesn't even begin to cover it," he responds briskly. "Why are you here?"

"Isn't it obvious?" she says with a raised eyebrow. "I wish to assist you."

"And why on earth would you want that?"

"We're family, of course."

Silence.

Kronos taps his finger against the obsidian armrest of his throne - a careful, mistrusting rhythm.

"Metis, dear," he purrs finally, "I fell for your girlish charms once before when you created the emetic Zeus used to incapacitate me. How has your life been since then?" The Titaness stiffens and the answer is clear. Not very well. His smile curves inward, feline in nature. "Don't presume to lie to me. What do you really want?"

Metis quickly regains herself. "You need help. I am offering it to you, it's no lie." She smiles too. "Though you are wise enough to assume I have other motives."

"Revenge?" Kronos says in a tone completely lacking interest. "It was heinous what Zeus did to you."

"No more heinous then what you did to your own children, uncle," she quips, silencing him. "Though, I would be a liar if I said I didn't have vengeance in mind." Metis purses her lips. "I am also… curious."

"Elaborate."

She takes a deep breath.

"Athena," Metis says simply. "I wish to meet my daughter in the only I way I know how: a battle of wills. I also hear her daughter is a leader of the Rebellion and another force to be reckoned with."

"A filthy half-blood, no more and no less."

"And yet, you've taken one of these filthy half-bloods into your bed and given her a child. So they say." Her grin widens, bearing teeth shinier than pearls. Both Titans look like dogs bearing their teeth at one another. "But enough bickering. Let me join you, let me offer my counsel to you. There is nothing for you to lose."

"Except the war," he muses. Kronos sighs, waving his hand dismissively. "Fine."

Metis blinks once. "Fine? I expected more convincing on my part."

"I made up my mind as soon as you strolled in here," he answers truthfully.

She stares at him. "Which makes me wonder what sort of game you're playing at."

"Another thing to entertain your curiosity," says her king. "As you will serve to entertain mine."

The light in the throne room seems to dim as a breeze whips in, blowing the stay hairs around the Titaness's neck.

Metis's smile thins. "I already told you my end game."

"No, you haven't," he dismisses. "But I do enjoy this banter of ours so I will give you a place here on Othrys, to be a commander at my side. But please understand Metis, for your sake, do not make it a habit of disappointing me."


Their skiff rolls into the rocky beach at dawn. Hades lets out a little sigh, stretching his small arms above his head.

A whistle sounds from the trees beyond the shoreline. Before Nico can blink, grim-faced rebels line up on the beach. He throws a rope at them, which they quickly catch, reeling the skiff in. The small boat groans with a stop.

"Hurry up, Di Angelo. I have training at 8."

The other rebel soldiers melt back between the trees. He turns his head, icy blue eyes meeting his stare. "Shut it, Castellan."

Luke only nods.

Beside him, Four gives Nico a mischievous smile. The boy signs what he can only make out to be, You need a break. Nico's not sure. His sign language is a little rusty, though he's doing his best to learn.

He sighs. "You're not wrong."

Behind him, someone obnoxiously clears their throat. Hades, of course.

"Don't think we can return him at this point." Nico squints eyes at the fog hanging over the island. He knows it won't be long before Bianca and Michael ferry Elysium's other five hundred souls across the bay. Hopefully, the other rebels that left a moment ago are off to get reinforcements and alert Jason of their arrival. "Where's Athena?"

One by one, Luke and Four help them off the skiff. "Training with the other gods, like always," he says rather blandly, mind clearly preoccupied with other matters. Though that's not entirely surprising since Annabeth has every single Rebellion soldier on a relatively tight schedule. "I could take you there. I have to run a couple things by Solace so it's on my way." He glances at Hades. "I'm sure there's someone that's rather excited to see this little squirt."

The godling crosses his arms over his chest. "That's Lord Hades to you, little thief."

Thief. That certainly rings a couple bells, memories from so long ago it might as well be ancient history. Back when Kronos was nothing more than a scary bedtime story.

Luke doesn't look amused or reproachful. "When Lord Hades has his powers back and doesn't look like he belongs in grade school, we'll chat."

They walk on towards the trees, Hades trailing behind as he sticks his tongue out at Luke's back.

It doesn't take too long to reach the campgrounds (and Hades starts whistling the chorus to Battle Hymn of the Republic). Or, at least, what used to be a campground. It's practically a small city now: at least a hundred tents fashioned in a semi-circle in front of a few makeshift buildings, including two training arenas, the infirmary, two-star Olympian housing, and a base of operations.

Roughly 500 soldiers call Angel Island – or New Delos, as Apollo so fondly refers to it – home and about 500 more have arrived with Nico to share it. At least Elysium's spirits don't need beds or food. That's something the Rebellion can't really afford to dole out.

As they weave in between the tents – the soldiers they pass are too focused on other things to even pay them any mind – Nico's mouth dries when he catches sight of the infirmary.

His tongue clicks against the roof of this mouth. "So… how is Solace?"

Luke manages to stare straight ahead, easily masking the smile creeping up on his face. "Just ask him out already and leave me out of it."

The son of Hades pales. He opens his mouth to speak only be cut off.

"Shut up, Nico. I'm not an idiot."

Former traitor? Yes. But Luke is far from blind. A son of Hades spending an unusual amount of time in the infirmary and fawning over a high-strung Apollo boy isn't exactly something that goes unnoticed, especially when a head injury or broken bone isn't uncommon amongst the ranks. Rumors definitely begin to circulate and Luke is a slut for gossip.

Besides, if you miss another check-in with him he'll skewer the living daylights out of you. You know how he gets, doctor's orders and everything."

Hades stops his whistling. "Will Solace? Interesting."

Nico's face reddens. "Don't act like you know him."

"Oh, I've gotten relatively acquainted with everyone." He huffs, as if bored. "Aeolus's castle is still fitted with Olympian cable. It's all a matter of rerouting it to the bootlegged channels. You honestly have to have a lot of time on your hands and convince a couple harpies to hold up the antennas. I've been watching over the Rebellion for quite some time; treating your lives as reality television definitely helped to pass the time." Hades shrugs. "Besides, you are my only child now since Hazel died during the attack of Camp Jupiter. What kind of father would if I didn't check in on you every now and then?"

The humor seems to drain from the atmosphere before Hades even finishes his sentence. Nico says nothing at all, grimly so, walking a little faster than usual. Hades, though not particularly well versed in the social arts, quickly notices his son's quick change in disposition.

He turns to Luke. "Was it something I said?"

Luke's lips settle into a thin line. "We don't talk about Camp Jupiter."

It's an unspoken rule. No one wants to relive that memory.

They'd been taken completely unawares, had no knowledge that the Titans even knew the location of Camp Jupiter, let alone that they were planning to have it destroyed. It was also the last day they'd ever hear from the imprisoned message had only informed them of the perfect opportunity for Elysium to finally open its gates without being faced with a giant Titan army. Nothing in her last message had hinted at the destruction to come.

Atlas and his army had leveled New Rome to pure ruin. In attempting to get everyone out, key figures perished in the fiasco, including the well-loved and well-respected Hazel and Frank. It's easy to say that such a subject was still pretty touchy for someone like Nico, any Roman soldiers even more so.

Luke catches up to Nico's steady pace, leaving the sullen Hades in the dust. They walk side by side for a few moments in utter silence before Nico finally decides that this sort of tension won't help matters here.

"How are the recruits doing?" he asks.

Luke looks relieved at the change of subject. "Good enough, I guess," he says. "After being in Alcatraz for so long they definitely have the stomach for war. They're looking to kill as many Titans as possible but… they haven't been fighting as long as we have."

An understatement, of course. But Four's been pushing Luke to think about things a little more optimistically. A failed attempt, though, since it doesn't change the fact most of the new recruits hadn't even held a sword until their arrival on Angel Island. Despite being sent to Alcatraz – the largest and most severe of the T.A.R.D. unit prisons – they're as helpless as newborn babies as far as Luke is concerned. Seasoned rebels had at least one year of camp under their belt, and another several years of war to hone at least some of their skills. On the other hand, not a lot of training happens in a Titan prison; trying not to starve to death or get beaten every other day doesn't count.

"Well against immortal Hitler we're going to need all the help we can get."

"Still won't be enough," Luke mumbles as they near a circular red brick building, the largest out of all of them. Before they can even find the door, a wall the size of a pickup truck get blown in the side of it.

A body easily climbs its way out of the rubble, glowing with a dim red aura around his skin. Ares. With a roar he charges back in, only to be knocked back outside.

Nico lets out a low whistle. "Talk about collateral damage."

"At least you're not the one that has to clean it up." Luke sighs, giving the hole a wide berth. "He's probably fighting Athena. Think he'd give up at this point but I guess that's just wishful thinking."

He can't help but crack a smile. "They have you on janitorial duty too? Gods, Castellan. Your life is pretty shitty."

"Thanks for telling me something I didn't already know."

Before they go in, Nico digs around in the pocket of his sweatshirt. "Well, hopefully, this will make it slightly better." He pulls out a long white feather, still in pristine condition despite the long journey. "Hypnos told me to give you this. Didn't tell me why but I'm hoping it's not for homicidal purposes."

Luke stares at it, mouth slightly agape. "You're not nearly as funny as you think you are."

Still not a complete answer, Nico notices. But he decides not to press. "No thank you?"

"Thank you… Nico." And just this once, it actually sounds genuine. Luke takes his leave shortly afterwards, just as Hades finally rushes in to catch up with Nico.

It's a decent sized arena. Not exactly Citi Field but good enough to contain a dozen – more or less – Olympians and friends. On the lower tiers of the stands, the gods gather around hooting like a pack of wild fans. In the center of the arena, Athena looks rather bored as Ares charges her again, only to find himself flying through yet another wall.

He continues to look on at Ares and Athena's fight, vaguely aware of his father already halfway across the arena, rushing towards Persephone sitting in the stands. When she catches his eye, she doesn't even look shocked to see him in child form. They embrace; it's sort of cheesy, like one of those dramatic reunions in a Lifetime movie. But it's right then Nico realizes the inevitable:

We're all weak.

And he knows that, despite Hades's arrival, they aren't enough to face off against Kronos. Not at this rate.

At the corner of his eye, he catches a flash of gray and spots her seated in one of the tiers higher up. Smart, considering the Olympians' destructive tendencies.

Nico begins his slow ascent towards her. Maybe it's then he notices how old she looks, and not in the elderly kind of sense. Not a teenager anymore, which is how most of them started off almost ten years ago. She should have the semblance of a career by now as some talented, up-and-coming architect, going to monthly cocktail parties, hanging out in coffee shops on the weekends, sharing her bed with a fluffy cat full of hate, maybe eternally engaged to a kind-hearted idiot (probably Percy) that could put up with her shit. She shouldn't be here.

None of them should be here.

When he approaches, Annabeth doesn't even turn her head to look at him.

"Nice view," Nico offers.

She only nods - still entirely preoccupied with Athena and Ares - and he knows that Annabeth is thinking along the same lines: Kronos will absolutely demolish them.

"Where's Percy?" he asks. "Aren't you two joined at the hip or something?"

Annabeth doesn't even blush as he might expect her too. Other thoughts have consumed her. "Packing. Preparing."

"For?" She doesn't answer right away and neither does he call Annabeth out on it, not when the seats beneath them shake thanks to their Olympian friends. Ares wails indignantly and Nico mutters mostly to himself, "They're going especially hard at it today."

"We finally figured out where they're keeping Poseidon. Percy will be headed out in a few weeks," says Annabeth. Gray eyes go blank, focused on nothing but also everything at the same time. "Soon…"

"Everything's going to go from 0 to 100," Nico says. The grimace on his face feels rather familiar. It's the same one he sported before the Battle of Manhattan. "Wonderful. And here I thought I'd get to lay low for a while."


By nightfall, Luke crawls into his cot, a firm mask in place to hide his nerves. Regardless, he knows Four can sense something different about Olympus's favorite traitor tonight. But, before Luke knows it, the tongue-less boy is out like a light. He pretends that asking Will to be a little heavy-handed with the meds today has nothing to do with it.

From under his pillow (though rock would probably be a better word for the case stuffed with cardboard) he takes out Hypnos's feather, clutching it tightly to his chest.

To be honest, Luke isn't terribly sure how it's supposed to work. Yesterday, he would have never guessed that the god of sleep would have answered his half-hearted prayers, but gods seem to be full of surprises, don't they? Nevertheless, Luke just chalks it up to boredom. Boredom is easier to rationalize than empathy or pity.

Luke closes his eyes, willing himself to sleep. With his nervous energy, of course, it takes a good while for sleep to come.

And when it does, it isn't good.

He gets dropped in the middle of a plane of green grass, stretching far beyond the yellow horizon. The sun beats down hard on his brow. Luke has to be sweating back in his tent but here, in this place, not even a glimmer of sweat shows. He struggles to see past the tall, swaying grass but he is more than sure he can hear her voice from far off.

Luke sprints towards the sound without thinking.

Never mind that she's speaking in a language he can't possibly understand. Never mind there's another voice too; deep and chilling and awfully familiar. Because it's the same voice that spent years poking around inside his head.

He spots the edge of a shimmering pond, with water so blue it hurts to look at. Then he sees her.

She's not really as he remembers. Her skin is darker, raven hair so long it falls in waves past her waist, dressed in a golden peplos. Somehow, she seems softer and have her eyes always been that color? Jade green, forest green, fungus green… nothing about Thalia ever screamed green.

Luke sees him next – the immortal parasite that haunted him for years, and pushed him to betray everyone and everything Luke ever loved or valued. But he's so incredibly relieved that he hasn't spotted Luke. But despite his better instincts that tell him to vacate the area, this son of Hermes takes a hesitant step forward. "Thalia…?"

Nothing. She doesn't even turn her head. Why can't she hear me?

"You're wrong."

He whips around.

"Though that's not really surprising."

He spots her. The real her, crouched in the grass, as if she's been studying him from that location for ages now. Blue eyes tilted with malice. It's her alright.

He gives the other Thalia a reproachful look. "Then who's…?"

"Why are you here?" She interrupts. If Luke needed any sort of confirmation beforehand, he has it now. "It's some kind of joke, isn't it? You've finally found a way inside my head." Thalia stands, placing her hands on her hips. "Don't you ever get tired of these games?"

Confused, he hesitates. "Thalia, I—"

"Can't I ever get some peace from you?" she groans. Thalia stands, dusting the freshly ground dirt off her fingers. "Go ahead then, punish me."

He lets a crisp, surprised laugh. "What?"

"Sorry for snooping into your personal life," Thalia continues. "But it's not like I can get your parasitic ex-wife out of my head. So go on. Hurt me."

Finally, it clicks.

He spares a quick glance at Kronos by the pond, still ignoring them. "I'm not him, Thalia."

Her eyes darken. "You're a liar," she hisses. Her hand flies to her side where a sword remains sheathed. Figures she'd be armed in her own dream. "You're just trying to mess with me. Again. I'm getting awfully tired of it."

Thalia pulls the sword free from its scabbard. "So I'll tell you again: get out of my head, Kronos."

"I didn't come to fight you!" he throws his hands up. It doesn't matter.

She swings with the fury of a thousand men, quicker than he expects

Luke ducks as he hears the hum of the blade above of him, swearing she's just shaved a few inches off his hairline. "Please, stop."

"Fight me!" Thalia screams at him, smoking curling off her blade. "Isn't this what you want to see?"

Out of fear, he stumbles back, fear of striking her, hurting her like he did oh so many years ago. A memory he wishes he could take back every waking moment.

He stares at the point of the sword only a breath away from the tip of his nose. "It's me. Luke. I'm here to help you. You have to believe me."

She doesn't have to. Thalia doesn't owe him anything but he owes her so much, too much.

"I know." Her voice is flat. "Kronos never lets me win. Not even in my dreams." She doesn't offer to help him up, sneering instead. "You were better as a sick joke."

She snaps the sword back into her scabbard and stalks off back towards her hiding place in the grass.

Luke finds his voice, though it doesn't sound like much when he hears it out loud. "He's hurting you?"

"What did you expect?" Thalia drops to ground less than gracefully, legs crossed very unladylike – as Kronos might put it. "Sunshine and rainbows? Give me a fucking break, Castellan."

"I'm sorry."

Thalia snorts. "I'm getting really tired of hearing that."

Silence ensues. Truthfully, he's not sure what to say to that. Two years with Kronos, and it's not the million-pieces-Kronos that slowly sapped Luke's energy for a number of years. This is fully-formed-asshole-Kronos that roasted his body like a shish kebob in a matter of minutes. How can anyone survive him?

Luke follows her gaze, glancing at the image of Kronos by the pond. He looks so carefree that Luke just has the urge to strangle him. But it's then he also realizes they – Kronos and the other Thalia – are in a much more intimate embrace then he had initially assumed.

Kronos is pressed unusually close to her, his hand between her legs and scrawling swirly patterns on the upper part of her thigh. A little too close for comfort. She snaps something back, in a hard, rapid-fire language Luke still can't make out.

"What did she just say?"

Thalia glances at him hard. "She told him to stop." Her eyes narrow. "You really don't know what they're saying?"

Luke shakes his head.

"Here." Cautiously, she presses her hand into his. "Since it seems as though I'm stuck with you until I wake up."

A little shock runs up his arm and his ears seem to buzz slightly. "Who is she?" he asks when everything seems back to normal.

A strange look passes over her face. "Rhea."

"But she looks—"

"Shut up."

He does. Just in time to catch his least favorite Titan's first words.

"Marry me."

Rhea looks about as amused as Luke does. "No."

"Gaia—"

"Promised me to you," she sighs, bored. "But I am not Gaia and, even if I was, we both know her promises can take ages to fulfill."

His hand curls around her thigh. "I would have you sooner rather than later."

Rhea sits up suddenly, disquieting him as her face nears his own, only a breath away. "Then what's stopping you?" she whispers. A teasing hand presses against his thigh as well.

"Nothing whatsoever," Kronos replies back nonchalantly, using his grip on her leg to haul her forward even more, her chest to his. Another tease. "Except curiosity."

They stare at each other for a small moment before he taps his nose against Rhea's, leaning in… But she turns her head, his lips grazing the side of her face instead. Disappointing to say the least.

Rhea lies back in the bed of grass with the grace of a lioness; creatures she loved far more dearly than she might ever love him. "Go on."

He breathes out of his nose, taking a moment to regain himself. "Why say no?" Kronos asks, voice baring the slightest hints of frustration. "You could be a queen, which no Titaness in their right mind would refuse."

"Point taken," she admits. "Are you asking if I loathe you, hence my refusal?"

"You don't," he chuckles. "I can make anyone love me."

Thalia snorts from afar, startling Luke by her side. Spoken like the arrogant king they all know and love.

Rhea's face goes blank. She gets up again, but fully this time, attempting to stand. "If it does not offend you, my lord, I must go."

Kronos snatches Rhea by the wrist, jerking her a little. "It does offend." A dark look clouds over his regal features. "You will stay."

"I will not." Rhea carefully pries his fingers away. "Ask me again tomorrow."

With his permission or otherwise, the Titaness begins to walk away without another look back. "You will say no," he groans after her with a roll of his eyes.

Rhea peers at him from over her shoulder. "Maybe. Maybe not."

And then that's it. Both figures fade from sight, as if they were never there in the first place. Just a mirage.

"She should have known." How despicable he was, how awful; could have saved them all the trouble.

Thalia doesn't even look at Luke. "Oh, she knew."

He shakes his head. "She still married him anyway."

She purses her lips, as if he's said the wrong thing. "The day after this, actually," Thalia admits eventually. "I just can't figure out why."

"She was afraid of him."

"That's what I thought."

"She couldn't have loved him."

"Maybe, maybe not," Thalia echoes like Rhea herself. "Immortals seem to be full of surprises."

Again Luke thinks of Hypnos's gift. "I think they're pretty predictable. We're just too stupid to notice."

She ignores him and rightfully so. "I keep coming here, trying to figure out what she was like, what was going through her head. If she was… an idiot, a selfish user, a scared little girl, or an adrenaline junkie that bit off more than she could chew. Maybe all of the above? I just… don't know and it's driving me insane. Who is she?"

As cliché as it sounds, Luke has a hunch about the real question Thalia's been asking all this time: who am I?

"Sometimes we can't all fit into one box."

"I don't know," she smirks. "Traitor suits you rather well."

"Sometimes," Luke continues, "all of the above is the only answer that makes sense."

"Well I wouldn't know, would I?" Thalia looks so much like Rhea in that moment: not bored, as Luke had guessed initially, but terribly conflicted. "I considered you my friend then you went and sold me out to Olympus, so I guess I've always been a bad judge of character."

He takes that in, mulls it over in his head for a while, then lets it go. Luke could be angry but it's not like he doesn't deserve the grumbling, the snide remarks, the bitterness. He was a fool and he'll deserve this until the day he dies. "It was so quiet on your end. We were worried and… I'm glad you're okay."

Thalia looks at him, finally looks at him, dead in the eye for several moments, with a stare so blank it's as if she's stared into the void of Chaos. "Do I seem okay to you, Luke?"

"You're alive," he corrects.

She says, "Sometimes death is better. Easier."

"If life were easy we wouldn't be in this war," he growls. The ferocious look in his eyes makes her cringe slightly. "You're alive, Thalia. And I want to keep it that way."

Thalia jerks her head away, focusing her glare on the endless horizon. "I wish I was as strong as everyone thinks I am." They settle into a small silence again before curiosity gets the better of her. "Why are you really here, Luke?"

Now that he had almost forgotten. It seems as though Luke seems to forget everything around her, especially here, in this place, so far away from the nightmares that plague their everyday lives.

He runs a hand through his hair. "We freed Demeter last year. Hades not too long ago."

"I know," she interjects. "Kronos won't stop bitching about it."

"Percy's going to free Poseidon sooner or later," Luke continues. "The ranks in the Rebellion are swelling too and we might actually have a chance at this thing." He shrugs. "Or not."

Thalia frowns. "Or not?"

"The thrones on Olympus. They were the Olympians' sources of power. But now they've been obliterated and all the gods' have left are their weapons."

"Which we got a hold of when we attacked the freight train headed to Area 51." A sad smile pulls at her lips. "Before my permanent vacation to Othrys."

"Not all of them," Luke corrects. "The Master Bolt, the Trident, the Helm of Darkness? We don't have them."

Thalia sighs. "Of course you don't."

"They're hidden on Othrys."

She rolls her eyes but there's a mischievous glint that can't be ignored. "Of course they are. And I'm assuming you'll be needing my help?"

"As if you aren't dying to stick it to him."

The glint gutters – as if she's just remembered something – replaced by what Luke can only describe as fear. "I'll… see what I can do." She laughs, albeit shakily. "It couldn't hurt for you to give me some hints as to where he might be hiding them. After all, you're the one who's shared a body with him. You should know how he thinks."

Purple lightning crackles in the distance. She stares at it, a little confused.

Luke jumps to his feet. "Shit."

Thalia stands slowly. "What is it?"

He says nothing at first, watching as black clouds roll in to blot out the sky. The pond beside them turns red – the color of blood – and the once long grass begins to wither and crumble into ash as a strong wind blows in behind them.

"He's found me." Thunder rumbles in the distance. "I've been here too long."

She grabs his arm, her gaze far more murderous then it was before. Luke is almost relieved such anger isn't directed at him. "Who?"

"Morpheus." God of dreams and a well-known Titan loyalist.

The wind blows harder – nearly knocking him over – and he almost holds onto Thalia for dear life. But, despite the wisps of hair the flap wildly around her face, the wind doesn't seem to affect her nearly as much.

"You have to listen to me. He's going to be planning something, Thalia. He isn't called the Crooked One for nothing; he always has a backup plan up his sleeve. You need to figure out what that is." Truthfully, Thalia doesn't owe him anything but he keeps talking anyway. "Promise me you will."

She stares at him, eyes strangely watery. The fear he glimpsed before is a full-blown panic now. "If he finds out… he won't hurt just me—"

"Please, Thalia. You're the only hope we have if shit goes to hell. Which it will, despite the Rebellion's optimism." Luke gives her a light squeeze. And he wishes he wasn't such an idiot, that he had more time to tell her everything. But he wasted so much time just sitting there next to her, soaking her in…"Don't forget. Thrones."

In the next second, he finds himself ripped out of Thalia's arms, absorbed into some sort of invisible tornado like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Luke awakens to find himself breathing hard, Hypnos's feather burning against his chest. A minuscule clench of his fist and it practically dissolves into ash, floating away in the light breeze. He curses himself to the high heavens.

Elsewhere, Thalia is up with a start, a half-formed no on her lips, attempting to remember where she is and who she is. But all she can think about is him. That godsforsaken traitor she so desperately wants snip away from her life, her memories.

Something moves in her peripheral vision; a flash of gold. Thalia finally remembers: she's not alone. Obvious with the eyes suddenly boring holes into her.

Thalia takes deep breaths, quickly trying to still her racing heart. But Kronos staring at her, waiting for an explanation, doesn't help. "I… had a bad dream," she musters out eventually.

His eyes narrow. The bags under them seem more prominent, far more menacing. "About?"

Suspicious as always.

For a quick moment, she ponders lying to him. Telling him it's nothing. In fact, that's exactly what it is. Nothing whatsoever. But then Thalia remembers. No more lies. No more lies.

"Luke."

A flash of anger ripples across his face but Thalia can't tell if it's directed at her or elsewhere. She only waits, hoping that, by not hiding this seemingly minor detail from him, it has to count for something. Thalia prays he doesn't ask any more questions, specifically about the contents of their rather treacherous conversation.

"Don't let it happen again."

She tries not to breathe a sigh of relief. "It's not exactly something I can control." She once again settles back down into bed, albeit cautiously.

Possessive hands grab onto her but Thalia doesn't even flinch. Not anymore.

"I'm sorry," Thalia whispers. But her words are rather empty. They always are.

His nails rake against her bare thighs and her movements still even further. "I mean it."

Her lips purse together. "You're jealous." Thalia means it as a question but it most certainly echoes as a bland statement.

Kronos smiles. "Of course not." A thumb brushes along the tip of her chin as he continues to observe her expression for any hint of a lie, any hint of betrayal. "Because at the end of the day, you're here with me. Always and forever."

Always and forever.

Hope – which had bloomed with such fervor after seeing Luke – withers away in an instant.

Chapter Text

Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.
-Christopher Morley


Awkward doesn't even begin to cover it. It takes a while for Kronos to notice the trembling satyr in the corner of his throne room, and when he does, confusion strikes. "Oh." He frowns. "Who let you in here unannounced?"

"I was announced." Grover Underwood steps forward hesitantly, biting his lip. "Ten minutes ago."

His frown deepens, as if it's the most profound thing he's heard all day. "Metis brought you in?"

"Yes, my lord."

Daydreaming again, of course. "That's why. Her voice buzzes like a little fly, doesn't it?"

He opens his mouth to speak but the words freeze in his throat.

Kronos rolls his eyes. "That was meant to be a joke, Underwood."

Grover recovers as quickly as he can. "It was a very good one, Lord Kronos."

"Yes, of course," Kronos dismisses quickly. "You have traveled quite a long way. Will you be staying?"

Again, the satyr freezes. Sleeping over at Mount Othrys? Not exactly on his bucket list. "No, but not because I don't what to! I… uh, have to deal with a centaur problem. An emergency."

"Yes, of course," the Titan repeats, his head tilting slightly. "I suppose you will also be the bearer of bad news."

Grover gulps. Instantly, his head swarms in a million directions, preparing itself for every possible, horrific thing that Kronos might tell him. "Bad news?"

"A conscription." The satyr deflates a little, but only a little. Not the worst possible thing he could hear but nothing good. Kronos wouldn't have summoned him here if it was. "The Rebellion is amassing new recruits. I, of course, seek to outnumber them. But to do that, I need more soldiers in my regiment."

"You want to pull from the Green Reserves," he says flatly.

His eyes narrow. "Is that a problem, Mr. Underwood?"

"For me, of course not," Grover says all too quickly. "But the other nature spirits—"

"Are you or are you not Lord of the Wild?"

Grover pauses. "Yes…but we run more of a representative democr—"

"But I do not." Kronos voice doesn't even boom. His tone is intimidating enough. "I am your king. I want my army."

Grover only nods.

"You will deliver the message to your people and I expect 600 able-bodied nature spirits at my door as soon as possible."

"I'll do what I can, my lord."

"You will do what I command," Kronos corrects with a smile. "Do not fret, Mr. Underwood. You have been a very valuable asset. But I ask you to remember who gave you the Green Reserves in the first place. And, should I be displeased, remember that I may easily burn it all to the ground with a simple snap of my fingers."

With that being said, Grover barely registers the footsteps nearing the throne room. "Yes, Lord Kronos."

The Titan Lord, of course, looks more than satisfied with his response. "Good. Now that that's settled, I thought you may wish to pay a visit to an old friend."

The steps grow closer and Grover freezes when he hears a familiar voice. "Is there a reason you dragged me out of bed three hours earlier than usual?" He whips his head around and the breath seizes in his throat. "You—" She stops. She spots him.

"Thalia?" he whispers.

He doesn't miss the rage simmering beneath her expressionless mask, so firmly in place as it always is on Mount Othrys. "Grover." Far more controlled than anything she could've mustered up years ago.

"I-I heard rumors… but I didn't think…"

Thalia ignores him and Grover can't really say that's he surprised by that. "You called me here, my… lord?"

Obedience. Never Thalia's strong suit; at least that hasn't changed.

"I did." Kronos taps his finger against the armrest, slowly, deliberately. "Truthfully, I figured you've been rather bored. I know you and Underwood have not seen each other since the fall of Olympus. Were you not dying to reunite with an old friend?"

Thalia, of course, doesn't miss the mischievous gleam in her husband's eyes. He knows exactly what he's doing and having her catch up with her friend is not his intention.

"Friend?" She snorts. Kronos wants a response out of her but this time she just isn't going to give it to him. "You're mistaken. I have nothing to say to him."

"Now, now, don't be like that, wife." His essence curls around them, ever resembling a serpent choking the life out of its prey. "We're all on the same side now."

Thalia finally glances Grover's way, studies him. He looks thinner, wearier. She swears there are grays dotting his hairline even though he shouldn't look a day over fifteen. "I wonder what that says about the both of us."

"It says that you chose rightly."

Her expressionless eyes flicker towards him. "You act as if I was given a choice."

"Oh, there's always a choice, Thalia. You most certainly made yours. And now, like Mr. Underwood, I expect your utmost loyalty."

She doesn't respond.

"You have it, my Lord," Grover says quickly, bowing down before Kronos on one knee. It doesn't look comfortable at all. "I will… speak with the nature spirits. I will make them see reason."

"That is exactly what I want to hear." Though certainly not from the satyr's mouth. "Thank you, Mr. Underwood. The both of you may leave."

While Grover all but flees, Thalia holds her composure until the bitter end. He will not get to her, he just won't.

She doesn't even breathe a sigh of relief when the large doors to the throne room shut behind them.

"Thalia—"

"Don't, Grover." Her eyes darken just a little and he knows her rage – fiery as it maybe – has frozen over. He'd be a fool to break through the ice, to press her any further. "Just don't say another word. Head on home. I'm not in the mood for his games today."


He becomes very good at acting.

Percy plays his part particularly well. He laughs in the right places, cracks jokes when appropriate. He knows how to pick up the reigns from Annabeth and Jason when things start to get tense or a little out of hand, but he's never overbearing or controlling; you could even say some prefer him in the lead. He helps the new recruits, reminding them that they're not alone in this war, when it's all far from the truth. They're all alone, not that Percy can tell them that. He's the model hero, after all, despite his failures.

Failures.

No, hardly anyone sees him for what he really is. Hardly anyone notices the anger and pain simmering beneath, as total war looms ever closer.

He's a nervous fucking wreck.

Sleep is most certainly a trial when there are too many nightmares to count. The daytime isn't much better. He has a mini heart attack every time someone sneaks up on him. He can never spend too much time in the infirmary; any blood, even a little, makes him want to curl up in a corner and die. Any sound remotely like a scream and he nearly ends it all right there because it sounds too much like Silena getting spat in the face by a drakon, too much like Ethan falling through a hole in the ground with shrapnel in his throat, too much like Michael Yew going off the bridge, too much too much too much—

The cliff helps him think. The spot on the cliff, overlooking the bay. The clouds are heavy here but, on good days, he might be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Today is not one of those days.

The sea seems especially moody, dark and churning like a witch's brew. What he wouldn't give to throw himself in, that is, if Poseidon still ruled it.

Footsteps coming up the trail is enough warning for Percy to pull himself together. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe, breathe—

He turns his head, seeing a twig with a mop of curls heading right this way. Maybe Percy looks a little more than intimidating right now, considering Leo stops for a moment when he's spotted. A small moment, with one emotion flitting across his face: fear.

"Hey…Percy." Leo's typical smile wanes a little. "You alright?"

No. I'm a son of Poseidon and I'm drowning. He forces a smile of his own. "Yeah, what's up?"

For a moment, Leo looks suspicious. But it's only a moment. "Annabeth wanted me to give you this. It's a sort of an… anti-taser, I guess. Just in case."

"In case of what?"

Leo takes a step back, studying him. The smile slowly disappears from his face, as if expecting a joke only to be sorely disappointed. "Ooh, they didn't tell you."

"Tell me what?"

That's his first regret of the day.

Next thing he knows, he finds himself standing in front of the Senate House – in front of Annabeth – shaking his head incessantly.

"No."

Annabeth isn't fazed by his refusal. "It'll be good for him to get out."

"No," he repeats.

"Hera will take care of him. And she promises to behave on the trip. You literally just have to bring them along."

Percy musters up the ugliest glare he can manage. "She's coming too? Hell no."

Annabeth sighs. She takes a step closer, placing a hand on his shoulder and giving it a light squeeze. "Please? I'm asking for a personal favor here."

He notices her pale parlor, the bags under her eyes. She seems thinner too and it's harder for her to smile but she attempts one. Just for him, of course. Guilt gnaws away at his chest. "Annabeth—"

"Listen, I know. It's not my ideal plan either. I, personally, think it's dangerous sending two valuable Olympians in the field. One who's a nervous fucking wreck at the moment and capable of leveling half a state without even blinking and therefore attracting a lot of attention. The wrong kind of attention."

"Then you agree with me."

"Athena's in charge," Annabeth says. "And she has a point: we need Zeus. We need a god that can level half the country. He can't do that in his state right now. Besides, the trip's been sanctioned by Theia. It's out of my hands."

Percy might hate to admit it, but Annabeth makes a very valid point. "So going on some life-changing field trip with me is going to fix him?"

"He won't get better if he stays here." She squeezes his shoulder again and this argument is over before he can blink. "Please, Percy? Can you trust me on this?"

"Fine."


He can't speak, can't think. The sun scorches anything living across the desert. It seems as though their brain cells practically fry with every step they take. Though Percy isn't sure what gets to him first: the heat or Zeus's babbling.

"The stars are out, the stars are out," the god whispers over and over again, eyes whizzing back and forth across the landscape, despite there not being much to see. Plenty of cacti and rushing lizards – maybe the rattle of a serpent nearby – but nothing of note.

Ignoring the very obvious fact that it's the middle of the afternoon, Percy just continues nodding until his neck begins to creak. "Sounds nice."

Zeus grabs him by the shoulder. "Why would she let them out? He'll notice! He'll smite her!"

Percy flinches at the fingers tightening around his bicep. While Zeus still looks like a frail old man – with the hunched back and stomach-length beard to prove it, hell even the fucking liver spots! – his strength has been increasing like the rest of them, much to everyone's dismay. For a split second, Percy vaguely considers using Leo's anti-taser.

But before he can snap, Zeus lets go and frolics away out of arm's reach. Percy just groans, blinking the sweat from his eyes, attempting to air out the sweat pooling beneath his shirt. Nothing works. He's hot and thirsty and annoyed. Because whichever he finds more irritating – Zeus or the heat – both are relatively inescapable. And when they cross paths – such as when old man Zeus stumbles upon a cactus (literally every few feet) and wants to touch it – Percy nearly loses his goddamn mind.

Finally, when he can't really take it anymore, he turns his head to glare at the dusty, silent goddess by his side. "How do you stand him?"

Hera looks at him as if he's grown a second head. She reaches for her ear, pulling out a bright green piece of plastic.

Percy snorts. "Earplugs? You certainly get wife of the year."

Her eyes narrow. "Emphasis on wife, not babysitter." She rolls her eyes. "Also a simple thank you will do."

Percy isn't exactly what he should be thanking Hera for. Her silence, maybe, up until now at least? "I could have come alone."

"It wasn't exactly my idea to come either but Theia insisted, saying we would be of use." As if finally noticing her toga is a lot more orange than it was hours ago, she tries to fan the dust from the fabric but to no avail. "I could have said no and I would be reclining on a cushion somewhere along that dreaded island but I decided to free my brother instead." She casts her glare on bat-shit Zeus. "A shame, your father would've made a better husband than this one."

"Theia's half insane," he stubbornly insists, holding down his vomit at the mention of Hera ever being remotely attracted to Poseidon.

"Respect your elders, child," she sniffs. "Besides, what Theia wants Theia gets. You should've gathered that by now."

"Like a true Titaness, right?" he says with too much of an edge to his voice.

Her eyes narrow. "Are you alright?"

Internally, he curses himself. She's too observant for her own good. "Peachy."

"You're a liar," Hera says rather boldly.

"And you're nosy," Percy counters.

"I am the queen mother. It is my job to be nosy."

"Were the queen mother," he corrects with a sneer. "Olympus has been decimated to ruin and we're in the middle of a war. You're not exactly a tremendous help."

Her face reddens. "Neither is your attitude!" she explodes and for half a second Percy's sure she's getting ready to throttle him. "If you were my child, Gaia help me, I'd—"

"Yeah," he cuts in, "because your children turned out so great."

She takes a step back, breathing slowly through her nose. "Sweet Chaos, I thought I was bitter."

Percy, however, is still fuming. Too angry to notice that Hera – and even oblivious Zeus – have stopped dead in their tracks. "Forgive me for not being the poster child of happiness—"

He slams into something hard. Very hard.

Percy falls to the ground, perhaps seeing those stars Zeus mentioned only moments ago.

Hera titters. "Well, you most certainly deserved that."

He stares directly in front of him and sees absolutely nothing. Percy kicks out his leg out to find that it connects with something solid. He gathers himself up, patting the invisible object like a mime-in-training.

"It's a wall," he says at last, when he realizes that the object stretches on almost indefinitely.

"You don't say?" Hera snorts. She fingers a ringlet hanging on her shoulder, completely uninterested in Percy's discovery. "This is sun magic."

"Sun magic?"

She raises an eyebrow at him, as if he's the biggest idiot she's ever come across. "Mirages, illusions… it's a type of magic that requires an intense power source, that being the sun."

"Well, it doesn't get any more intense than the Mojave desert."

"Precisely." Hera steps forward with hands straightened. Effortlessly, the tips of her fingers slice through the air and slam straight into the invisible wall. It makes the sound of breaking glass, as if she's broken through in one simple move. For all intents and purposes, she might as well have.

At the sign of his surprised expression, it's hard to overcome the smug smile that appears on her face. And gods, does he loathe that look. "Not so useless, am I, Perseus Jackson? But, if you're still as stubborn as your father, you're welcome to swoop in there alone with this crazy ass."

Resigned, he says, "I have never encountered a goddess more annoying than you."

"I'll consider that as an apology." Hera bows mockingly before him. "After you, great hero."

They do more walking with complete silence this time, cautiously watching for any sign of movement. Whoever built the wall is bound to notice its destruction sooner or later.

It isn't long until Percy spots a colored speck in the distance and he fingers Riptide as an extra precaution. But as they approach there's really no use for it.

His skin is wrinkly, and dark from what must apparently be years under a sweltering sun. He wears nothing but a ragged loincloth, not even shoes to shield his blistering feet from the coarse sand. But Percy can recognize those piercing green eyes – his eyes – from a mile away.

Without thinking, Percy runs forward and it's like breathing in a wildfire. Lungs scream for moisture and staring at Poseidon in the distance – lacking water, having spent years suffering in this godsforsaken weather – makes him all the more aware.

He stops a short distance away from his godly father, finally realizing what his old man is doing hunched on the ground: building up clay bricks into some sort of structure. Funny way to kill the time. "Dad?"

Poseidon's eyes snap towards Percy. He lunges, calloused fingers immediately latching onto Percy's arm. Thin, cracked nails dig into his fleshy bicep in the same place the crazed Zeus had grabbed onto him as well.

"Apollo, you must hurry," he croaks out. Never has Percy heard his father so panicked. "Please, help me before they come. Please—"

The ground begins to rumble. Percy looks to Zeus and Hera but they pay no mind to really anything; the goddess is screaming at her insane husband for something or another and the former king of the gods is huddled in the dirt, bawling and spewing out more nonsense.

A horse nickers in the distance. Then it becomes two horses. Then a thousand and he realizes the rumbling is their hooves. Atop them, riders in bronze. And as they catch sight of Percy and Poseidon they bellow a mighty cry.

It's an illusion, he tells himself.

That's now headed straight towards them. But before he can stop his father, Poseidon jumps right in front of the horde, hands outstretched, screeching, "No, no, NO!"

And they disappear.

But Poseidon still screams. With eyes shut, he pounces on his own creation, punching and kicking through the mud bricks he had apparently worked so hard to make. Percy really isn't sure what to make of it.

"Dad?" The god makes no intimation of hearing him. He only kicks at the structure harder until it's toppled. "Poseidon, stop! What are you doing?"

He opens his eyes and the devastation on his face is absolutely crushing. Poseidon shuffles through the rubble trying to salvage any large pieces but sand just slips through his long fingers. "The walls of Troy will never be done at this rate!" he screams at the sky, with skinny, wrinkly arms outstretched. "Stupid, stupid Greeks! I'll curse them all if I have to!"

Percy shakes his head slowly. "They're not real. You destroyed it yourself."

A soft hand grabs his arm with surprising strength. "Jackson," says a stone-faced Hera. "You know there's no point in arguing with a loon. Let us grab him and go."

Easier said than done.

Resolved, the both of them walk forward to gather up Poseidon and take him home. That is, until their faces connect with yet another solid surface.

They collapse from the impact. "Shit!" Percy retorts as Hera rubs her own head. "What the hell?"

An expert now, he pats the solid entity, realizing – to his horror – that they're both trapped in an invisible box. Angrily, he bangs on it over and over again.

At this point, Percy doesn't think the desert can get any brighter. He's wrong.

In front of them, there's a flash of light that momentarily blinds him and Hera makes a little noise in the back of her throat.

Like another mirage, she appears, a beautiful woman in a white gossamer gown. Her hair is piled into some kind of funky beehive shape which he would've laughed at if she didn't look so deadly serious. Her eyes, practically liquid amber, seem to freeze him in place. Though not perfect like a Titaness, something about her timeless appearance and regal stature reminds him of Phoebe or Theia back on Angel Island. Alright, well maybe not Theia.

"Did you really think you could walk in here unannounced?" She stares directly at Percy. He notices a faint gold shimmer around the outline of her body, radiating a heat far greater than anything the Mojave might procure. "Did you think you could tamper with my wall and get away with it?"

He spares a quick glance at Hera. "Who is she?"

"You're your father's spawn, aren't you?" The woman narrows her eyes. "Yes, you do look a lot like him—" She chortles. "Well, back in his better days."

"You're boring me, Pasiphae." Hera snaps her fingers and the glass box shatters again. "Hand over my brother and we will be on our way."

Pasiphae doesn't look terribly surprised by Hera's abilities, if a little irked. "No, I think I'll hang onto Poseidon for a bit longer. He's provided me with a great deal of entertainment over the years." Her eyes narrow further and the aura around her skin grows more intense. "I have Kronos to thank for that, considering this one turned me into a spectacle for you dirty Olympians to laugh at."

Hera pushes Percy behind her. "Oh no, the Titans were laughing all the way from Tartarus too, I assure you."

Pasiphae explodes and Percy hits the dirt, thanks to Hera. He finds the goddess's arms crossed over her chest and someway, somehow it's enough to shield him from the terrible blast.

"Go!" She snaps as soon as she catches the half-blood ogling her. "Grab Poseidon. I will deal with the witch."

He doesn't argue, especially as Pasiphae punches through Hera's shield. Percy scrambles to his feet, only for another blast of light and heat to knock him down again. By the time he huddles a good distance away from collateral damage, his head collides with – you guessed it! – Zeus.

Eyes wide, he grabs onto Percy's shoulders. "We're being attacked!"

"I can see that!" he yells back, yanking Zeus by the collar of his toga and away from the fight towards where Poseidon lies, completely worn from his initial outburst.

Percy's head spins in search of an idea. Pasiphae, daughter of Helios, wife of Minos, commissioned the Labyrinth's construction…

The ground behind them explodes. Percy and Zeus go flying and he abandons the thought. They land face first in the dirt, acutely aware that if Hera wasn't here they'd both be dead already.

Pasiphae spots them from the corner of her eye and smirks. "Kronos will reward me handsomely for turning in his sworn enemy and Olympus's forgotten little queen. As well as the stubborn hero that's alluded him for so long."

Hera jumps back to her feet, magic like blue flames licking the tips of her fingers. "Touch my husband and even Chaos himself won't be able to help you."

The goddess punches in Pasiphae's direction. Waves of energy burst like fireworks in the air.

"Please, how many times has that bumbling buffoon cheated on you? Made you into a laughing stock?" The witch absorbs each and every one of Hera's attacks. "Gaia be great, he's practically senile at this rate! How can you stand to be anywhere near him?"

Hera doesn't even crack a smile. "We have separate beds. Separate rooms. Separate palaces. Separate courts sometimes, depending on the season."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know what you meant," she retorts. "And if your goal is to turn me against my husband, my brother, and this pitiful excuse of a hero, then you have come to the wrong place."

"So be it." The wave of magic Hera had sent the witch's way soon finds itself flying back towards her. With a cry, the goddess shields again with her arms, and green rays of light expand outwards to create a wall of her own.

But Pasiphae charges forward, purple lines of magic winding together into an arrow shape. Her eyes narrow into slits and with a flick of both wrists the tip of her arrow rams into Hera's shield. Cracks appear up and down the goddess's makeshift wall.

Percy regains himself. He knows that this is it, that if Pasiphae breaks through then they're all doomed.

His mind scrambles once again. He recalls a memory so old it's practically ancient, of him sitting in his Latin class staring up at a mortal-looking Chiron. A memory from before everything. And what had the old centaur said? What was in the stupid textbook that Percy couldn't even read?

Pasiphae…a sorceress…queen of Crete and wife of Minos… also the mother of Ariadne…commissioned Daedalus to build the Labyrinth…birthed the Minotaur…

It hits him: one of the craziest ideas he's ever had.

"Turn into a cow!" Percy shouts over the crackling of Pasiphae's magic ebbing away at Hera's energy and patience.

Hera turns her head towards him, anger immediately rising. "What? How dare—"

"Turn into a cow! I know you can! It's the only way."

She gives him a typical I don't see how this will help look. But at this point, anything is better than nothing. Hera takes a deep breath and her flesh burns into a supernova.

Pasiphae, on the other hand, growls indefinitely and with a final push, glows like the very sun itself. The cracks in Hera's defenses finally make its way to the center and they all know it can no longer stand. But it doesn't really matter anymore.

She cackles, "Hera—!" The shield shatters, revealing… "Oh. Oh."

Both light and magic subside and he opens his eyes. In Hera's place, stands a roan cow: dark reddish brown like the goddess's original flowing locks and covered in white spots like her previous gown. By bovine standards, Percy guesses Hera would be considered attractive. As far as consumption goes, she isn't fat enough to make for some nice steak or a glass of milk but that's not to say she's skin and bones either. Can a cow be curvy?

Whatever it is, it must be attractive to Pasiphae because Percy's plan works like a charm. She reels back her magical powers even more, eyes darkening with lust – gross – and cheeks reddening.

Hera's tail flickers nervously. "I don't feel comfortable with this."

Neither do I, is also Percy's immediate thought, but if this is perhaps their only usable distraction...

With Pasiphae paying the son of Poseidon no mind, he shakes the frightened Zeus to attention. "Hey, I need you to get your shit together."

"Stop," Zeus grumbles, blinking the tears from his eyes. "You… you can't speak to me that way."

"I can and I will."

He hands his head, defeated. "Okay."

"Dammit!" Percy does the classic facepalm. "What is wrong with you?"

"I don't deserve anything from you. Not fear, not respect, nor reverence. I'm nothing. Olympus is gone, Kronos has practically won already. What else is there for me?"

Angrily, he points his fingers in Hera's direction. "Why don't you try telling her that? You godsforsaken idiot, you have a wife that loves you. She believes in you, even if she won't admit it. She always has, even when you all were puny little godlings that had the impossible dream of taking over the cosmos. You did it once and you can do it again." And maybe his rousing speech hits a little too close to home because a thought of Annabeth appears in his head and he doesn't have the strength to push it away. "And if you can't, they're going to take her away and then who are you going to have left?"

If any of what Percy said registered with Zeus at all, it's most certainly the last part. Even half insane, the former king of the gods isn't exactly fond of losing anything else. "No one touches my wife," he grumbles.

"What was that? I couldn't quite hear you."

Scowling, he stands a little straighter and says a little louder, "No one touches my wife!" Something remarkable happens then: a cloud comes to block the sun. Percy almost cries tears of joy.

And yet, he can't exactly let all this momentum go to waste. "Really? I'm not exactly convinced." His eyes flicker up again towards the sky, watching as more clouds gather and the air suddenly doesn't seem so dry. "If Pasiphae doesn't hurry up, I might just run off with Hera myself."

Zeus jumps to his feet, clenching his fists. "NO ONE TOUCHES MY WIFE!"

It seems as though Pasiphae, of course, doesn't get the memo. She's too busy circling around Hera – gross – eyeing the goddess like a piece of meat (no pun intended). Ignoring Zeus's newfound confidence, she purrs, "You really should reconsider."

The goddess snorts, clearly amused by all of this. One thing is clear: Pasiphae, though beautiful, could never be more than a statute, to be admired but never loved, cow or otherwise.

And yet Hera humors her still. "Joining Kronos?"

"Fuck Kronos," Pasiphae says. "Fuck Zeus too. Haven't you ever wanted to do something crazy like run off into the sunset and never look back?"

"Not exactly on my to-do list." She points her snout towards the darkening sky. "I do have a family to take care of, mind you."

Slowly, sense leaches back into Pasiphae's thoughts. "The sun." But by the time it starts to rain, it's all too late.

The clouds start by unleashing a drizzle. And then a hurricane, battering down on Pasiphae with brute force and drenching Hera from head to tail. It soaks into the bone-dry landscape, flooding the plain almost instantly.

The goddess turns back into her regular form with little ceremony, dragging her feet a little as she walks towards her husband. "Zeus…"

He collapses and she grabs onto him immediately, lowering the both of them to the muddy ground as he says, "I'm tired, Hera. Very tired."

"I know," the goddess whispers. Just this once, she's not even paying attention to the grime soaking into her white dress. "I thought I would never say this but it is nice to have you back to your old, jealous, hypocritical self. Next time you think about having a mental breakdown, don't."

Pasiphae struggles to her feet, eyes blazing. "You honestly think a little rain will stop me? I can still obliterate you all with a snap of my fingers." Her voice, of course, wobbles on the last word. Deep down Pasiphae knows that a week ago she might have been right. But not in this moment. She's already lost.

Hera shoots the witch yet another dirty look. "I'd think again."

All of them glance at the spot where Poseidon was lying a moment ago. He's completely disappeared, only sludge to be found in his wake. "Where…?"

From a brown puddle, a hand emerges, snatching the witch by the ankle. She screams as she falls. The sea god, covered in mud, pins Pasiphae to the ground. The look in his eyes resembles that of a wild animal.

With mild horror, she whispers, "Poseidon?" His brute hands encircle her neck. There's no reasoning with the monster now.

Hera's voice tears Percy's gaze away from the two just as they hear a sickening crack, followed by a prolonged rip. "Careful how you proceed from here, Jackson. As things continue on, that just might become you."


Two hours of sleep. Thalia needs at least four to function properly. Six so she won't strangle the first living soul that she sees. But sometimes, even four is a stretch.

Before Elpis even turned a year old, that proved rather difficult in itself, with a hungry baby and Thalia's tits that wouldn't stop leaking. After Elpis learned to actually sleep through the night, Thalia considered those restless nights behind her. She doesn't, of course, expect the nightmares.

It's a string of them. One night after another. But it's not like Thalia can blame Elpis.

They're nuzzled together under the covers. Elpis's room is half the size of Thalia's, given to the girl almost as soon as she'd been weaned off breastmilk. Kronos often enjoyed dropping in unannounced and could only stomach a mortal infant for so long.

And though Mount Othrys isn't exactly the ideal place to raise children, they – being Artemis and Piper who arguably loved the girl as much as Thalia – had filled the room with a menagerie of toys: stuffed animals, wooden cars, coloring books, practically anything they could get their hands on without Kronos's knowledge. Anything to take away from the mountain's dreary atmosphere.

But tonight none of it helped Thalia one bit.

"Monsters," Elpis hiccups into her mother's chest.

Thalia only nods, rubbing small circles on her daughter's shoulders. Thalia had woken to screaming, initially thinking the worst. But she'd found Elpis whole, if a little shaken.

"I know." Too many had been invited to Mount Othrys to join Kronos in his main fighting force. Hordes of them, each more terrifying than the last. Giants, hellhounds, drakanae, empousa, any and all. "Don't worry. I won't let them touch you."

Elpis scratches the tears from her face, mumbling an "I'm sorry."

She frowns. "Why?"

"Kronos doesn't like when I cry."

"I don't care." Thalia smooths Elpis's hair beneath her shaking palms. "You're my baby and Kronos can shove it."

"He says he's going to send me away when I do." It takes all of Thalia's willpower not to make a fist. "I don't want to leave you."

"Never." She should know better than to make these kinds of promises. Thalia should know that nothing is certain here but says anyway, "Kronos will never do that."

But Elpis is a lot wiser than she looks. Her face immediately tells Thalia that Elpis doesn't believe her at all.

The headache is what ends up putting Elpis to sleep, to which Thalia is somewhat grateful. She wants to sleep too but she still longs for the days where she could rest with Elpis at her side, always assured that her daughter would remain forever safe as long as Thalia was still breathing.

She slips out the door, shutting it behind her with a sigh. She's never wanted to sleep more than she does now. But then her gaze wanders to the angry eyes surveying her every move but a short distance away.

Thalia sighs. Kronos says nothing at first. She takes a step back, studies him. "You look tired."

"So everyone tells me."

Because it's true? He's just too stubborn to admit it. Nevertheless, this is a different kind of tired. Something far more dangerous.

"Frustrated?"

"Always." He won't tell her then, not that she finds that particularly surprising. Kronos approaches her, arms crossed over his chest. "Especially when you're not awaiting me in bed as you should be."

"I have things to take care of, you know."

He snatches her elbow in his hand, jerking her a little. She knows very well by now that she'll be finding a bruise in the morning. "Not when I'm around."

Thalia shoves him away, piercing eyes glowering in the shadows. "Even when you're around," she hisses. She turns away on her heels, quickly – albeit calmly – making her way back to her chamber without another look back. If they're going to fight, for the love of Chaos let it not be outside of Elpis's room.

Of course, he follows her. She tries not to let that frighten her.

Elpis's room isn't far from her own.

She makes her way inside. They don't speak anymore, in spite of Kronos's obvious annoyance.

Thalia hardly has enough time to close the door before he grabs her. She lets it happen, of course, regardless of the better part of her mind that insists she deck him. But he's in a bad mood, she's already mouthed off, and Thalia has a daughter to look after.

But even then she can't help but whisper, "I hate you."

Kronos's fingers worm their way through her hair. "How much?" He forms a first and yanks. Thalia's head snaps back and she holds in her cry. His other hand finds its way to her breast, roughly prodding it through the thin fabric. "How much do you hate me?"

It comes back to her, everything he's done in the time she's been with him. "Too much," she whispers, unwavering eyes staring him down, defiant as ever. "I kill you every night in my dreams."

Oh gods, is he going to hurt her. She almost laughs at the thought, those gleaming ocher eyes the last thing she ever sees.

His arm snakes around Thalia's waist. Her back slams into his chest and she releases a short, pent-up breath. He kisses the edge of her jaw, down her exposed neck, along her jutting vein. But then Kronos stops, smiles against her skin.

"It must be nice to dream about the things you cannot have."

She can't really form a quick enough response before her garments fall away and he's biting, licking, sucking his way across her bare shoulders.

"Not tonight," she tries. "I'm tired."

Kronos snorts. "I'm not." He gives her a light shove towards the bed.

For the hundredth time that week, as Kronos undresses, Thalia once again accepts her fate. No screaming, no crying as she would've done years ago. Such complacency sickens her but that's life. Her life.

Kronos doesn't look at her; doesn't need to nor does he want to.

He enters her briskly, impatiently. Thalia's only sign of distress a tired sigh.

She internally sings her usual mantra to try and block out the sound of her flesh slapping against his: Hurry up. Hurry up. Hurry up.

Only by chance does her hand brush up against his side. A shock runs down her arm. She recoils instantly; Thalia's never been shocked before in her life and the feeling is entirely foreign.

What the hell?

Kronos doesn't notice and Thalia doesn't intend to alert him. Let him finish and put this all to rest. Curiosity, of course, gets the better of her. She brushes her fingers up against his side. The shock returns but she doesn't flinch away this time. Thalia holds still, hand pressed against his feverish skin, and it works like circuit, a strange sensation flowing into her veins like electricity.

But how? Why?

It feels so strange, so odd… reminiscent of only one being. Her father. Not that she particularly wants to think about Zeus in moments like this.

Still, she knows that, without a doubt, this has never happened before. Something has changed, Kronos has done something she can't quite think of.

Tensing muscles and a groan snap the thought away. His hand reaches out, grabs her by the jaw. Kronos glowers down at her. "You're awfully distracted," he hisses in her ear, though still breathing hard from his release that it isn't quite so menacing.

Thalia shivers. "No more than usual."

They leave it at that and he departs shortly afterwards, not that it's displeasing. But still strange. She passes out to the thought of Luke, warning her again that Kronos always has something up his sleeve.

The next morning she wakes up to the sound of her door creaking open – and promptly shutting – followed by pacing footsteps and a few nervous curses muttered under someone's breath.

As Thalia struggles to peak her head out from under the sheets, she feels a crick in her neck – a sure sign she's overslept. She catches sight of a high strung Artemis making laps around the room, eyes shut incredibly tight.

It seems, of course, the more she stares at the goddess, the more high strung seems like a gross understatement. Artemis looks like a wreck, her eyes swollen and her voice unusually sore that it seems like she's been crying for the past few hours.

Thalia addresses her finally, voice still awfully groggy. "Artemis? What are you doing here?" Not that Thalia isn't grateful, but truthfully she hasn't seen the goddess in weeks. Kronos makes it a point to keep Artemis busy, which means less time for both daughters of Zeus to conspire against him. But under these circumstances, whatever they may be, something isn't right. "What's wrong?"

Her eyes snap open. The goddess takes a shaky breath. "Please, please don't be angry. Not now. Please."

"Where's Piper?" Thalia murmurs, sitting up and tossing aside the sheets. "She was going to wake me up. She's supposed to be here with Elpis."

At the mention of Elpis, the goddess grows pale. "Thalia, please—"

It's enough for Thalia to jump to her feet, grab her by the arms. "Tell me what's wrong. Where's Piper? Where…" Anxiety blooms in her chest like wildfire. "Where's my baby, Artemis?"

They sink slowly, Artemis trying to sit her down in bed again. As she speaks, Artemis unclasps the cloak from her shoulders to wrap it around Thalia. Only then does the girl realize her body is still completely bare from last night's encounter.

"Please, I-I don't know… he won't tell me." The chilling sensation creeps up Thalia slowly. Before she knows it, she can't speak, can't focus, can't breathe. Only faintly does she hear Artemis wheezing, "Thalia? Thalia, I'm sorry."

Motion snaps back into her like a rubber band. Air enters her lungs, feeding the panic. She bolts from the bed, throwing open the door with a slam.

Someone screams her daughter's name. It takes Thalia several minutes to realize said scream is coming from her own mouth. She expects Piper to round a corner and ease her suspicions, her worries. Nothing.

Sudden anger courses through her veins. The first marble bust she sees – of some Titaness she doesn't care to know about at the moment – Thalia blows to smithereens. She punches a column next, then fries two giants who have the unfortunate pleasure of crossing paths with her.

It's so much rage that she falls to her knees, hands pressed against the black marble floors. Thalia swears – on Gaia herself – the ground beneath her shakes, but nothing compares to Thalia's entire world crashing in on itself.

She takes off running again.

The atmosphere is unusually silent when she approaches the throne room, its heavy bronze door completely shut though there remains no guard in sight to stop her from entering. She presses her hands on the door and pushes them open.

She's not surprised to see Kronos on his throne, still less than radiant – just how he looked the night before – though somehow not as severe or noticeable. Something has brightened his mood considerably and doubt flickers on her face.

Kronos looks less than surprised to see her as well, in fact, it looks as though he's been waiting the better part of the morning for her to show up.

"Where is she?" Her voice echoes with pure venom, her glare hinting at the deaths of thousands.

"I figured you would turn up eventually," he says rather calmly, though the look of disgust Kronos gives Thalia makes it more than clear he does not appreciate her tone in the slightest. "You practically shook the other side of the mountain. Such an overreaction, is it not?"

Not an illusion then, she realizes. "Where is Elpis?"

"I have her," he says as if it should be obvious.

Her fists clench. "Give her back."

"No."

"Why?" The single word rings out like a beam of lightning through unnaturally still air; chaos ready to rip through the calm at any moment. Still, Kronos doesn't answer and Thalia finally breaks. "Why?"

What happens next she doesn't expect: a beam of light flashing across the throne room, coming straight out of the palm of her hand. It burns like an inferno, though nothing holding even a candle next to her inner turmoil.

The light doesn't even get a chance to hit anything. Suddenly, he stands before Thalia, hand clasped tightly around her own to shield this power from destroying anything of importance, namely his obsidian throne looming behind them.

Though the task doesn't seem easy, evident by Kronos gritting his teeth. He finally points their hands at the floor and his fingers falter slightly. Marble shatters as the light pierces straight through, a clean hole no doubt reaching the levels below it.

Kronos let's out a hearty laugh. "Chaos above, it's about time you put Rhea's gifts to good use." His teeth seem to sharpen. "I would've taken Elpis long ago if I knew it would warrant this response out of you."

Without thinking, Thalia slaps him. A mistake.

His face darkens. With his free hand, Kronos slaps her too, much harder than any blow she's felt in a while. Thalia licks the splatter of blood from her teeth.

"Think of it as a much-needed safety measure," Kronos retorts. The biting sarcasm in his voice makes her flinch. "The war is practically at our gates and you know very well that Elpis should be out of harm's way. Besides, what kind of father would I be if I didn't keep her away from the monsters?"

Whatever was left of Thalia's composure crumbles in an instant. "No, instead you would have her shipped off to a secret location that only you know of. Away from me and easily accessible, in case I fall so much as an inch out of line." Her heart aches from just saying such a thing. "You're the real monster here."

"Now you're catching on." Once again, their hands crackle together but this time it isn't Thalia's doing. Pain shoots up her forearm and Thalia falls to her knees, unable to catch a breath between her soundless screams. "Elpis will remain under my care for now and in return I expect you to grovel at my feet, carry out whatever mission I give you without hesitance." His grip tightens and painstakingly so. Bloods runs down from the palm of her hand, flowing along with the magical current running up her forearm. Turning black, it traces her veins and creates intricate swirling patterns she doesn't have the attention span to keep track of. "Is that understood, Miss Grace?"

Thalia levels her steely glare. "Yes."

He doesn't relent. Another wave pulses up her arm and she wants to black out from the pain of it all. "Yes, what?"

"Yes, Lord Kronos." Audibly, she grits her teeth and says in a sugary voice that reeks of malice, "Anything you want.

His smile widens. "I like the sound of that." Kronos releases her hand and lets out a little breath, clenching and unclenching sore and smoking fingers. "It is the sound of loyalty and I expect you to memorize the tune."

Thalia stares at the pattern on her arm. It's an eye. His eye, etched into her skin, forever watching. She rubs at it but it seems as though the blood has thoroughly dried into ink.

"I've heard whispers that the Rebellion is to begin their march any moment now."

Kronos turns his back on Thalia and storms once again towards his seat of power. She can't take her glare off her hideous brand even as he says one of the worst things she's heard in all her time being here.

"You will leave tomorrow."

Chapter Text

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!

-William Shakespeare


The fighting doesn't take too long to get started.

Within a few weeks, war plans are drawn, more declarations sent, and in the middle of one random night, they alert Rachel to get moving. All the personnel on Angel Island – combative or otherwise – to ship out. She hardly complains.

Thirty-two hours later, she finds herself holed up in a skyscraper. Ironically, she has the perfect view, trapped in a room that's glass windows on three sides. Must have been some millionaire's swanky penthouse office from what she can tell by the designer furniture, expensive wine topping the coffee table, and bank statements scattered across a solid wood desk detailing accounts her father's net worth probably couldn't even put a dent in.

Dawn. The sun rises on the horizon. She hasn't taken her eyes off the windows all night long and neither has Will Solace, sitting on the couch in somewhat of a tense crouch as if he's ready to get up at any moment and make himself useful.

Finally, he points. "Look," is all he says.

She knows what that means.

They start off as a spec in the distance. Then the dark mass approaches, along with the sound of hundreds of feet marching in tune across the city's sidewalks. The Battle of San Francisco is now quickly underway, not much ceremony needed.

Rachel finally tears her eyes away from the approaching monsters and enemy demigods. "Are you going out there?"

Are you going to leave me alone is what she really means to ask.

Will stares at her, a small, sad smile tugging at his lips. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that Red."

It's a selfish thing, but Rachel hopes. She prays to anyone that'll hear, lowercase or capital she doesn't too much care. And as soon as the battle cries start, she doesn't dare look out the windows again.

An hour passes and they get swamped with injured combatants. She can hear screams from outside the building, hellhounds baying, and so many explosions but again and again she tells herself Don't. Look. Out.

"I need anaesthetics now, Rachel."

She snaps out of her daze. "Yeah, right." She rushes over to the entrance where Will's frowning down at a heavily bleeding daughter of Demeter. "I got it."

She snatches a case off the desk, filled with an assortment of different syringes.

"Took you long enough!" Apollo retorts when she comes near. "Mortals."

God or no, she'd snap on him if it was one of her regular days. But it isn't. Not one bit.

Will, of course, notices. "Hey, you okay?"

She grimaces and tries not to think about the battle unfolding outside. If Rachel even catches a glimpse of the people she cares about getting slaughtered, she would lose her mind. If they're defeated, it's best not to see it coming. But she can feel her resolve slipping, especially with so much blood. Oh gods, so much red—

"Yeah. Don't worry about me."

Of course, Will doesn't completely believe her. "This isn't even the thick of it, Rachel. I'm counting on you. Apollo's counting on you. Are you sure you can handle this?"

Something in her veins seems to harden. Maybe it's the courage she's kept cooped up all this time. Maybe not. "I want to be useful," Rachel asserts with a little nod. "I'll be fine, Will."

He nods, looking relatively convinced. If only Rachel could convince herself. She needs to hold her shit together. But Will is right in that this is nothing compared to the bloodbath that greets them by the afternoon.

By the time they drag in Jason Grace, the makeshift infirmary is already at max capacity. Rachel's run half a million errands, she's covered in dried blood and her hands are tinted a strange color of gold from handing out so much ambrosia. At this point, she's just hoping for no ill side effects.

They set Jason down on a bloodied mat before the soldiers run back out into the fray again. She stands over him, hands on her hips. Rachel just sighs, "Really? A head wound?"

He hardly hears her over the painful groans, the heartbreaking cries, and Apollo's soothing singing voice. "Giant," Jason grumbles. "Big club. Nasty swing."

She could chide him about being more careful but ultimately decides against it. They're in a war, after all. She kneels by his side, titling his head up and giving him a small dose of nectar.

"What's that look for Dare?" he chortles. "We're winning!"

"Really?" she glances at all the injured and dying around them. "It's kind of hard to tell from back here."

It's not long before Jason is up on his feet again and running back out there. Finally, curiosity gets the better of her and she wanders over to the window, pressing her nose against the glass. At first she sees the sky, tinted an assortment of reds and golds. But then again, the same can be said for the streets below.

Red is the color of Laistrygonian giants' armor. Red, of course, is the color of mortal blood, spilling with San Francisco's red Golden Gate Bridge shimmering in the background. The embers of demolished buildings just float away in the breeze. So much, too much, red.

Gold is the color ichor, from minor gods sporting a thousand cuts. Titan armor is golden plated. Gold is the color of the snake women's eyes. Jason's hair is gold too in the sunlight, as he dashes up the side of buildings and on the backs of monster's several times his size.

But there's also black too. Blackjack soaring above the army as Reyna throws Greek fire bombs from his back. Nico's shadows are black, summoned back and forth, unleashing skeleton army after skeleton army while he slowly deteriorates away from the front lines. Black the color of hellhound fur and drakon scales. They snap skulls between their jaws, spite fire in a few familiar faces, rendering the final moments of some of Rachel's comrades short yet agonizing.

She spots other black shapes fanned out across the tops of buildings still standing. Faces covered save their eyes, they point their elegant iron bows and silver arrows at her friends down below. One archer stands out particularly from the rest, shooting multiple arrows with a practiced precision Rachel wishes she could master, if only to take them down.

In the reflection of the windows, she can see a certain son of Apollo walking towards her, once again to check on her state of mind. As the resident fragile-mortal-friend it seems as though everyone has a habit on making sure she's not in the midst of a panic attack.

"The sun's setting," Rachel whispers with a little lilt of confusion, and rightly so. They've been at it all day and yet it's felt like only an hour has passed.

A tired Will Solace stares at her, though in complete understanding, trying to muster a smile. He just can't anymore. "I know."

But even with night upon them once more, the fighting doesn't die down one bit. It intensifies.

More people rotate in and out of the infirmary. Apollo disappears but she does catch glimpses of Annabeth and Luke arguing in the hallway, covered in scratches and looking a little worse for wear (a complete understatement, of course; they look fucking terrible.) She hears a few whispers about those black archers she had spotted on rooftops earlier but they stop the conversation completely once they find Rachel staring. Though, as soon as she drifts away from earshot, the flow of words commences once more.

Eventually, when it's midnight, Nico's the one who finally clasps her on the shoulder. She jumps in surprise, much to her shame. "Get some sleep, Dare." She opens her mouth to argue but he gives her that look. "I mean it."

Grumbling, Rachel stalks over to the nearest couch – completely missing its cushions, which are no doubt accommodating a few unconscious half-bloods – and plops down. He just rolls his eyes at her.

Honestly, Rachel does try her best to sleep but she's too restless from all the adrenaline still working its way around her veins. She only tosses and turns, trying to keep her eyes closed in case she gets lucky. Nothing.

"It's nice," she hears someone say from across the room, "to see you smiling. You never smiled much before."

"There wasn't ever much to smile about, Bianca." That voice most certainly belongs to an exhausted Nico.

Rachel can almost feel Bianca's grimace. "And there still isn't."

It's silent for a moment. "Does it make me a bad person? Actually… liking things how they are now?"

"You'll have to be more specific than that if you want advice from me, little brother."

His voice lowers so much that Rachel can hardly hear him. "I have friends, Bianca. People that care about me. In the earlier days of the Rebellion it's because no one had a choice. I was just another tool and Athena needed all the help she could get. And that was okay. I was okay with that because I'm a son of Hades and that's just how things are. But things are different now. They actually like having me around but… what if that changes when the war's all over? What if it was never real in the first place, I—"

He can't finish his sentence really and Rachel can't blame him. Often times, she too wondered what would be left for her after this. For some strange reason (note her intense sarcasm), integrating back into regular mortal life just doesn't seem plausible.

Nico continues, his voice more ragged. "What's going to happen when they don't need me anymore, Bianca? I don't want be alone again. Thalia's the only one whoever understood any of this. She's the only ever real friend I've ever had."

"You know that's not true," his sister sighs. There's a shuffling noise, maybe the Di Angelo kids embracing? She can't be sure. "I'm your friend. Percy's your friend. Annabeth's your friend. Will's your friend. Rachel's your friend." Rachel feels a little jolt at the sound of her name. "And we're all in this together. For better or for worse. And we'll never abandon you. Not now, not ever."

All this thinking finally gets to her.

Sleep comes at last. Not that it brings on the relief she's been seeking for weeks now. No, it brings the exact opposite.

A sulfur-like fog burns her nostrils, filling her lungs with glass. Unable to breathe, Rachel stands completely frozen at the base of Mount Tam – or better known as America's Mount Othrys. There's no sun from what she can see, as if it's been swallowed up.

Something moves up ahead of her. Rachel tries to run, tries to get away from the horrid place but none of her limbs give way.

"There you are…" a deep, slithering voice rumbles. Ice water rushes through her veins and from the fog appear two large red eyes, black pupils narrowed into tiny slits. "Oh yes, I have been watching you for a long time now."

She can't talk either and curse this monster into the deepest part of Tartarus.

"Oh yes, I see! You will be on Mount Othrys sooner or later." Something coils around her, constricting her already limited airflow. "Oh, happy day, happy day. You will make a delicious treat, precious mortal. I must count the days, yes, yes, yes…"

If she could just scream…

"Come to me, girl. For when the bane of Delphi calls, mortals with the Sight must follow. What are you waiting for?"

She does just that, bolting from her slumber and sitting up just in time to hear, "Wake up." Her shrieks die down. Rachel breathes hard, peeling away the red curls from her sweaty forehead. "It's just a dream."

Rachel turns her head, mildly surprised to see fair-haired Apollo staring down at her with the most serene expression on his face. "A dream," she manages when she regains her breath. "Right."

"Will's passed out and I need your help getting some arrows out of a few demigods." He offers her a hand and Rachel hesitantly accepts it. "I have no idea who these black archers are, the ones everyone keeps talking about, but I'd shoot them out of the damn sky if my powers were at full strength again."

"Okay, yeah. Let me… let me just get myself together and…" Something wet touches her face. Rachel rubs her cheek and it's with devastation she realizes she's crying. A bad dream has her crying and, of all people, in front of the sun god himself.

But soon enough she feels a warm, comforting hand on her shoulder. "Hey. You don't need to be scared of him."

Startled, Rachel looks up at Apollo. "Scared of who?"

"Python," he says and the room seems to darken at the mention of such a name. "I can hear him calling to you in your sleep. I'm here to tell you to stop worrying about him. He guards Mount Othrys now and he won't be able to touch you whatsoever. Not while I'm around."

And yet, this very same Python had told her she would find her way to Othrys sooner or later. If they are winning, as Jason claims, that isn't an entirely outlandish notion.

Nevertheless, Rachel can't help but say, "Thank you, Apollo."

"Yeah, don't mention it. If he comes slithering back like the conniving serpent he is, let me know and I'll protect you."

She's stunned for a moment. "You don't have to do that, sir."

"Lord," he corrects with a dazzling smile. "And yes, I do. You're very special Miss Dare. And something tells me that, when this mess is all over, we'll need your help in restoring Olympus and the camps. Just tough it through."

"Okay." Rachel steels herself. Forget the dream, focus on reality, focus on the present. She musters up Will-Solace-worthy determination."Let's see if we can rip out some arrows without making anyone bleed to death."


"You look sick."

Elpis takes a deep, exaggerated breath as she fingers yet another page in her picture book. "I'm not."

From their position on the expensive Persian rug occupying Elpis's room, Piper shuffles closer. "Are you sure?" She fiddles over her, pressing her hand against Elpis's forehead while commenting, "You do feel a little warm…"

Elpis only stares.

Piper sighs in frustration. "Then tell me what's wrong, Elpis." Still, the girl only stares and her caretaker is practically at her wit's end. "Please? You won't eat and I'm trying—"

Elpis flings the book across the room, nearly knocking the lamp off the nightstand. "You know," she cuts off mercilessly. Piper flinches and in that moment it's very clear how much Elpis can resemble her father. Guilty, the girl shrinks back a little, her pride ebbing away just a little. "I want mommy."

"I know." Piper averts her eyes, voice drifting even softer. "I know."

Elpis frowns. "I'm sorry." Though it seems the girl's been saying those two words for ages now. What's there to be sorry for? She should have the right to be angry, taken away from her home and her mother and to be forced into this strange mansion.

Piper tries to offer her a smile. "Let's get out of here, yeah?"

That doesn't exactly sound promising either, especially since Piper adheres to a strict schedule and as of now they're right on time for a playdate.

Her dress is a fine thing today, soft like one of her teddy bears and a pale yellow that matches the home's walls. The same sprawling home that seems so completely foreign from Mount Othrys. It's cheerful in a regal sense, its only resemblance to the Titan stronghold the rounded columns, though these are the color of eggshells. It's always a reasonable temperature, never freezing like the old dark hallways – especially the ones her uncle Koios had recently passed through – in which her breath was visible.

And yet here, despite the comfortable heat, they offer her more clothes as if she's preparing for a blizzard. On Othrys, dresses for her were rare, only worn when her presence at certain events was expected, like the celebrations of Kronia or Saturnalia. Otherwise, she ran around her previous room and her mother's quarters with only a pair of underwear (diapers before, when she was convinced a nymph would pop out from the toilet and drown her). Whenever she needed to make a quick run to the kitchens, another rarity, there were overgrown shirts and linen for a toga to wear if need be.

But here they drown her in fabrics: fuzzy cashmere sweaters, white bows to hold her messy hair from her face, actual shoes that make strange clicks on the marble floors, and thick dresses that need to be unbuttoned or unzipped – not wrapped or pinned and easy to be free of. And she's expected to wear it all the time less the maids chide her for gross indecency.

These same maids tell her to smile more, to smooth the wrinkles from her dress, and to always say how are you doing? to every insignificant stranger that passes by, to sit like a lady, and stop yelling when they everyone just makes her so angry..

Just another pretty, proper girl to match the pretty, proper house. How incredibly fake.

Just as they stop at the door leading to the playroom, one of those said maids rounds the corner. "There you are Piper!" she drawls.

Elpis scowls.

The woman tsks are her. "In a bad mood again, little lady?" Always. "We're going to have to fix that right off of you real quick."

Piper opens the door with a sigh, "What do you need, Meredith?"

"Sam needs help with kitchens. It'll only take a minute!" The maid, of course, turns on her heels before Piper can even confirm.

Elpis glances inside the room, her scowl somehow deepening. Two boys are sprawled across the floor with their toy cars and action figures – they had screamed and cried at her when she insisted they were dolls – seemingly paying them no mind.

The older one, Arion, makes little engine sounds as he trails his truck along the carpet. Helias, on the other hand - the pale, blond boy approximately her age – hums a little song to himself. Almost like twins in their matching button-down shirts and dress pants, they nod simultaneously in Elpis and Piper's direction but continue on with their little games.

"Go play with your cousins," her caretaker encourages, giving Elpis a little shove inside the room. "Have fun and I'll come back later."

Though it seems Piper has a skewed sense of fun.

As soon as she disappears, the boys drop their toys. Arion stands, stretching his arms above his heads. "She's so annoying."

"No, she's not." Elpis sniffs, as if smelling something rotten. "You are."

He ignores her, slinking over with a strange smile on his face. "Wanna see something cool?"

"No."

Again, the boy ignores her wishes. "Go get it, Helias."

Helias, closer in age to Elpis, claps his hand together. "Okay!" He toddles over to the loveseat, shoving aside the piece of furniture away from the wall and pulling out an object resembling a mid-size silver box.

But when Elpis gets a closer look, her face pales. "You can't have that."

A television, they called it, the only one in the house. It's not much either, hardly heavy at all, with a little antenna on the top and a lever on the side to power it up. She's seen it stuffed away in the kitchens, always hidden out of sight of the guards who seem even more strict that the maids. All outside contact had been banned by Kronos himself and they take it extremely seriously.

Arion smirks as Helias sets it down on the polished coffee table. "I took it when they weren't looking."

"Why'd you do that?" She stamps her foot. "That's wrong."

He crosses his arms over his chest. "Because I can do whatever I want!"

"Yeah!" Helias chimes in, clapping his hands.

Elpis glares. "We're going to get in trouble."

"You're not going to tell anyone," the older boy assures her, so overly confident of her ability to keep silent. "Don't you want to know what's happening?"

Let it now be said that her cousin doesn't know how to play his cards right. She breathes in, breathes out. "Yes." Because honestly, how can she lie about something she's been thinking about every day for all the time she's been here?

Together, they rip the cushions off the couch and throw them down in front of the coffee table. Helias sings again as he climbs on said table, cranking the lever to begin the show. Arion adjusts the antenna and at first the television makes such a horrific sound that they have to lower the volume all the way down. But soon enough, a black-and-white picture breaks through.

At first they see a city, San Francisco (or at least that's the name that appears on the television). Elpis herself has never been more than two places – Mount Othrys and this mansion – so she can't be sure if that's where the Titan stronghold is located. She also can't make sense of the most of the words, especially with the volume turned all the way down, but the live broadcast is more than clear.

War.

Parts of the city have been decimated to rubble. Monsters – the same that had frightened her on Othrys – are everywhere: on the tops of buildings, in the streets, standing over the ruins, and in the sky, all doing what they do best. Destroying and terrorizing. Fighting their opponents who appear much more human but, at the very least, equally matched.

But not all of the Titan's forces are monsters.

A small regiment of half-bloods are also on the ground fighting beside the hellhounds and giants. They spot on aerial of black archers at the highest vantage points, shooting down upon the invading army. And there's the Titans and minor gods, of course. Not many, but enough to do considerable damage, one especially whose armor seems fashioned from the sun itself.

Her uncle Hyperion.

An excited Helias cranks the lever even faster. "That's my father right there!" the boy beams with pride. She feels relatively sick when his flaming sword bashes against someone's head but the camera cuts away before they can witness anything gruesome.

Arion also cheers when he catches sight of his own father, Atlas, spearing at least half a dozen of his enemies in one go like a shish-kabob.

Truthfully, it's sad how much they idolize their fathers, fathers who could care less about the little bastards born from their most favorite concubines. Born of a lesser woman and they would've been dead before even leaving the womb. And while it's sometimes nice for Elpis to be aware of her unimportant status and the estranged relationship Kronos has with her, sometimes she wishes she could be just as oblivious. Just as ignorant. Perhaps then she wouldn't be longing for her mother as much if she falsely assured Kronos has her best interests in mind.

As many minutes go by, the children boggled down by all this horror unfolding, Elpis quickly realizes she won't be seeing her mother for a very, very long time.

"What are you doing?"

The boys freeze. Helias let's go of the lever quickly, as if it's suddenly made of lava.

In the boys' excitement – and Elpis's perpetual horror – they had forgotten to keep tabs on the entrance.

Piper storms towards them, though it's not the boys she's after. "You know you're not supposed to have this!" She tucks the television under her arm, her paranoid gaze on the door as if someone else is bound to walk in at any moment. "Come on Elpis."

Elpis quickly follows Piper out, thank the gods.

"Their nannies are absolutely the worst!" Piper complains, stopping her feet as they tread towards Elpis's room. "They're always on break and never watching those boys. I can't wait until something bad happens to them and… oh gods, I shouldn't say that. Oh, that's awful. Kronos is going to murder me if he hears me finish that thought."

The daughter of Kronos isn't exactly interested in Piper's rambling. There are bigger things on her mind, namely the giant army that's made its way into San Francisco.

Elpis's hand tightens around her caretaker's. "Do you know what's gonna happen?" Piper shoots her a questioning look. "If they win?"

She doesn't elaborate on the they she's referring to.

Her face falls. "You shouldn't worry about that Elpis. Please don't mention it again."

The girl sighs but decides to respect Piper's wishes.

More days pass and Elpis stops eating altogether. Rage fills her instead and she takes a day to go around smashing things. Antique vases, ticking wooden clocks, paintings of old men she doesn't – and probably never will – care about. But none of it makes her feel better so she just cries until a mildly horrified Piper finds her and takes her to her room. And though her room is lovely – the walls are yellow, the bed is soft, and there's just so much light – all she wants is her mother.

Eventually she gets so weak that most of her time is spent in bed. Piper, dutifully, returns every morning – this morning especially – with a plate of food in hand. And of course its food Elpis has never tried before, constantly stroking the flames of her curiosity. But she continues to abstain. Because no matter how hungry she gets, she won't eat until Thalia is the one that's feeding her.

Piper doesn't even sigh anymore. She usually sets the tray down on the nightstand and goes off to do chores now. But this time is different. She holds out her hand to Elpis. "Come on."

The daughter of Kronos narrows her eyes. Piper never ever deviates from their routine. Ever. Cautiously, she grabs onto Piper's rough yet gentle fingers.

And they walk.

It hurts to do so, of course. But it's a relief that they don't go very far. They stop in front of the study in which Elpis and the boys were first warned upon their arrival to never ever enter. They had made stories about it, claiming there was a hellhound that hadn't eaten for a thousand years, holed up in the there until the unfortunate day they would become its next tasty targets.

But Piper doesn't seem to adhere to any of those scary stories. She opens the door and leads the girl in, though somehow careful not to step entirely through the threshold.

She soon hears a familiar voice. "Elpis."

Elpis suddenly wishes for the starving hellhound. The girl freezes, her eyes shifting to her feet almost immediately. Her face reddens. "Kronos."

He waves his hand dismissively and Piper is quick to leave their sight, to leave Elpis all alone with him. She's hardly ever been alone with her father twice and the girl finally understands why. It's entirely too nerve-wracking for her to handle by herself.

Kronos leans forward on the desk, hands clasped together. "You know why I'm here." He raises an eyebrow. "We can't exactly have you starving yourself, now can we?"

She says nothing. She can't even look at him without her heart leaping into her throat. And truthfully, Elpis isn't too sure why she's so frightened of him. Why, he isn't even standing. And from what she can see he's dressed in a regular button down shirt, the cuffs loose around his wrists, and the top button undone. Nothing like the golden armor she was so used to seeing him in on Othrys. Nothing that would typically evoke immediate fear and obedience.

More silence.

"Come."

Elpis doesn't move.

Kronos sighs noisily, clearly irritated with her already. "Come here. Tell me what's wrong before I lose my temper."

She doesn't dare make him ask again. Dragging her feet, Elpis rounds the polished mahogany desk, half-sulking and half-terrified.

Once again, her father prompts her to speak. "You know," is all she says with a grimace. The very same words she said to Piper days ago.

"I don't know unless you tell me," he retorts.

Elpis stares at him head on, her blood practically boiling now. "I wanna go home," she growls.

His expression doesn't change. "You want to see your mother, you mean."

Her face softens a little. She nods.

"Thalia is very busy nowadays," he responds with complete detachment in his voice. "You wouldn't get to see her very much."

She grits her teeth. "I don't care."

Kronos crosses his arms over his chest. "Mount Othrys is empty. You'd be alone. At least there are friends your age here."

Wrong thing to mention. "They're not my friends," Elpis spits mercilessly and without care. "I hate them."

Smile lines crinkle around his eyes as if he's amused by her. "They're your cousins."

"They're stupid and I don't care. I want to see my mommy." Her voice breaks on the last word but Elpis doesn't dare cry, of course. If she does then the game is already over before it's even begun.

Too say Kronos is mildly impressed is an understatement. "You're a bright one, aren't you?" Bright? Perhaps. Though it's most certainly a change from his first opinion of her: a stupid little girl that could hardly talk. But in reality, Elpis had been resting her voice for something of more importance than proving to her father that she wasn't an idiot. "You orchestrated all this – knowing I'd come – just to see your mother again?"

In part, she'd done it out of anger. But she had considered garnering his attention, getting him to come here, in hopes…"Yes."

It's silent while he thinks. Her fingers – though clasped together – squirm nervously under her father's intense scrutiny. Especially when she knows he's debating what to do with her. And what should Kronos do with her? Elpis is lucky enough that Kronos as yet to tire of her insolence, that he hasn't quite disposed of her just yet. She should be grateful that he gives her all the things he does while promptly ignoring her. That is how things should be between them, even if it's no way for a child to live.

"I do appreciate your cleverness, girl," he says finally, "but I can't have you dying here on my watch. I'll never get to hear the end of it from her."

Elpis purses her lips, wringing the hem of her dress in her little hands. "Will I see her again?"

"Perhaps." He snaps his fingers and there appears another seat accommodating her tiny stature and the same silver platter she'd left behind in her room. "That's the best answer you will receive today. Eat."

Chapter Text

I'm a traitor, but I don't consider myself a traitor.
-Aldrich Ames Read


Days ago, Annabeth had no intention of wasting her time wandering a green, alien world. But, then again, she hadn't exactly anticipated the Rebellion's victory in San Francisco either.

After two and half days of fighting, when the sun that used to belong to Apollo reached its highest point in the sky, it stopped. The half-bloods, the army of Elysium, and their godly allies marched across the city unchallenged. Though many losses were sustained, the Titan Army finally retreated before them.

And while a pleasant sight, Annabeth smiled through none of it. Because after so many years she's learned that in victory there is no rest of be had. To do so is to grow into complacency and Annabeth is anything but.

In the aftermath, her mind whirls once more, picking apart the short-lived relief in winning their first battle. It had been a close stalemate. At the rate they're going now, Kronos is bound to dispatch more soldiers and crush them like insects. And while they're allies had come through for them, they need more. More bodies, more weapons, more medicine, more everything, less they kiss their momentum goodbye.

That isn't, of course, to say that any demigod died in vain. Not that she bothered to look at the roster of who had gone down in the fighting prior to leaving. And some considered it callous of her, disappearing right before the commencement of the funeral rites. Why, she hadn't even seen them light the pyres.

But Annabeth has her reasons. Sensitive diplomatic missions require a clear head, something she can't be expected to have if she recognized the faces of the dead they're to burn in the days to come. Best to stall her emotions for a more appropriate time, if that's even possible in this day and age.

"You look tired."

The statement, though, rings like more of a critique than anything hinting at concern for Annabeth's well-being.

Let it be known that Annabeth Chase is constantly tired but walking many miles through a wild forest doesn't exactly help matters either.

"Do I?" she answers humorlessly. She shrugs. "Someone has to be up while the rest of you sleep."

It's a mystery that Calypso can even move in her long chiton that wraps at her ankles. Where the Titaness even procured the clean white fabric to tailor one – considering Will Solace secured most of the available linens in his attempts to patch up any deep wounds that didn't immediately heal from doses of nectar – is beyond her. And yet she moves gracefully through the gnarly trees, not a leaf or speck of dirt caught in her clothes, let alone her shiny brown hair.

"I don't sleep," she says, as if it should be obvious. And as a former Titaness and current immortal, perhaps it should.

"That's unfortunate," Annabeth murmurs. "Neither do I." And honestly, how can anyone expect her to? Paranoia transformed into terrible insomnia has kept her up for the better part of a decade now.

"It's around here somewhere!" Theia exclaims up ahead, having charged through the wilderness full steam ahead since their arrival.

Annabeth and Calypso share a measured look. It's the closest to synchronization they'll ever get to. Why they've followed Theia for this long, they'll never know.

"We've been walking around in circles," Calypso snorts. "We've passed the same heart shaped rock at least twice now."

Her eyebrow furrows. "There's some strange magic at work here then."

"Or maybe you're just lost," Annabeth suggests.

"Do you have a better way of finding nature spirits?"

"Actually I do." Calypso glances at Annabeth's knife, holding her hand out expectantly. Cue exasperated sigh but she eventually relinquish her weapon.

A thin smile graces Calypso's face as she saunters over towards the nearest tree. Placing a tanned hand on the bark, she stabs. Annabeth can't help but flinch.

"Stop!" A face appears from the tree shrieking. "If you leave any permanent scarring, I swear to Ouranos himself—"

Calypso tilts her head curiously. "We're lost little tree nymph. Help us find the way."

The nymph spits, "And why would I do that?"

She removes the knife and stabs it in the bark again, earning yet another scream. "Because I'll intend for the permanent scarring."

"She's a little mental…" Theia mutters under her breath.

Though Annabeth agrees, she can't help but point out, "Pot's calling the kettle black."

"Don't you bring Alabaster into this!" the Titaness hisses, crossing her arms over her chest. "Though I think I'd be a little crazy behind the eyes too if the Olympians cursed me to live out my days alone on an island in the middle of nowhere."

They miss most of the brief conversation between Calypso and the nymph. The Titaness simply moseys on back to them, a hollow smile on her face. "There. We cross the river and we should come upon the city soon enough. You're welcome."

Annabeth says nothing at all.

"I could've told you that," Theia grumbles, whipping around and stalking back along the path.

"You didn't have to do that," Annabeth murmurs finally.

Calypso doesn't even bother looking in her direction. "For the greater good, anything goes."

They walk for another hour in search of the river; it's precisely the reason Annabeth doesn't find torture and intimidation tactics all that effective.

"Stop!" Theia screams suddenly when they land in the middle of a green pasture dotted by yellow wildflower. "Right here. Found them."

They once again give her a backwards stare. "What are you talking about?"

Theia points, just as there's a rustling in the forest.

"Who's there?" Annabeth says, making a preemptive move for the knife sheathed at her waist.

Theia only smiles and Calypso holds out her arm to keep them from moving any further. "Don't. Say. A word."

Too late.

Black arrows, shaped like the spiny barbs on a manticore's tail, shoot out from the treeline. Theia's hand flicks up and they disintegrate. From the forest, three centaurs burst forth, their hooves echoing with ferocity on entire herd of horse. It's quite obvious these aren't the Party Ponies; they're nothing like Chiron either.

Purple fleshed monsters circle the women, churning up a cloud of pollen and top soil. Annabeth doesn't dare draw her knife, not when she catches sight of the monstrous black horns on top of their heads, ready gorge into her at any moment.

Cyprian centaurs.

The largest rears up, as if ready to stop them flat, but a retort from Calypso quickly stops him in his tracks.

With the speed of a lunging snakes she lets loose a string of rapid sentences spoken in that deep rumbling language Annabeth hasn't heard for years. A language that predates anything humans might have mustered up.

The centaur's nostrils flare but the three of them take a measure step back, tails flickering angrily from side to side.

Calypso finishes with a single word.

"What did you say to them?" Annabeth murmurs when silence show no hope of evaporating.

Right then, the ground beneath her erupts.

Tree roots burst forth, wrapping around Annabeth and Theia's wrists. Theia snorts, as if amused. Anyone here knows nothing so mundane can keep a crazy bat like her down.

"That you're my prisoners and I'm taking you to the Council of Cloven Elders." Calypso finally turns to look at her and Annabeth's stomach drops to an astonishing depth. "And with that, they will surely turn you in to our most gracious Lord Kronos."


The river of dreams catches Luke yet again. No surprise there. Since his intrusion into Thalia's dream and Morpheus's domain, the god has made it his personal mission to send every horrible nightmare Luke's way.

But this time is different.

Luke finds himself in a bedroom open towards the ocean. No blood, no dying, no monsters, no memories of Kronos, no end of the world. The walls are lined by sheer curtains the color of dawn that sway gently as a salty breeze trickles in. White candles – scented with world's most heavenly scents: vanilla, roses, unicorn farts and newborn puppies for all he knows – make him want to pass out in the middle of the floor and sleep for a hundred years.

On a huge iron bed pressed against the far wall, he sees a mess of blankets and pillows at first – and holy shit what he wouldn't give to steal them – but on a second glance he notices a man and a woman.

The man himself looks broken beyond repair. He writhes atop the sheets, bruised cheek pressed against the mattress. From his golden back, covered in hundreds of lashes, pink feathers poke out from vertical slits between his muscular shoulders, drawing out streams of ichor along with their growth.

Luke can't particularly make out the man's eyes; they're covered by the sweaty black hair stuck to his forehead. But it's more than clearly his face is turned in direction of the woman by his side, adorned in a red tunic embroidered with gold trimming (real gold).

She brushes a lock of shiny brown hair behind her ear. "No matter how much time passes, it seems we always find ourselves in the same situation." Her eyes gleam like the goblet of nectar on the small chest beside the bed, which she immediately reaches for.

"I love you," he murmurs weakly, before she dribbles the godly drink down his throat. His breathing slows and the muscle spasms cease.

"You came," the woman sighs, gazing in Luke's direction.

He steps forward. "You were expecting me?"

"Of course," she sets the goblet back down, smoothing the wrinkles from her dress. "My husband tells me your search has gotten desperate."

"My search," he says flatly, still bearing the slightest traces of confusion.

"In contacting Thalia Grace," she clarifies with a sly smile.

"How could you know about that?"

She glances back to god on the bed. "It seems my Cupid won't be on his feet for a good decade thanks to Hyperion. I have taken it upon myself to act on his behalf."

As he stares on, Luke realizes that his eyes must practically be popping out of his skull. "You're Psyche."

"I am."

Not like he needs her confirmation. It's relatively easy to see just how beautiful Psyche is, more so even then the likes of Aphrodite, a simple fact that had caused her untold amounts of suffering in mortal years. But Psyche's beauty isn't her physicality, no, but the kindness flickering behind those cat-like eyes and not the sort to be foraged. It becomes remarkably clear why someone like Cupid would fall in love with her at first glance (minus being accidentally stabbed with his own arrow).

"I was like you once, willing to cross a thousand miles into multiple worlds for the man that I loved. Whilst pregnant, mind you. There's just a special place in my heart for lovesick saps."

Luke snorts. "Let me guess: I'm the lovesick sap." Guess there's no denying it now.

"You are," she laughs. "Here." In her hands, an ancient wooden box materializes. The goddess holds it out to him. Suspicious as always, Luke aims to open the lid but Psyche slaps his hands away. "Don't open it, fool. Do you have any idea what's in it?"

Grumbling, he takes the box from her hands. Etched on to the top is the carving of an open pomegranate, its many seeds having billowed forth. "This is from Persephone."

"Proserpina," she corrects. Once a Roman always a Roman.

He rubs his hand over the edge of the box, unsurprised by the numbing sensation that bleeds into his fingertips. Luke's eyes narrow. "It holds a sleeping curse."

"It does." Psyche finally stands, long hair fanning out around her waist. She smiles again, in that beautiful ethereal way, though this time there's a thinly veiled warning. He finally remembers that she's a goddess too, just like rest of them. "I will come to wake you up, Luke Castellan, and I risk the wrath of Kronos in doing so, should he discover this treachery. You have one shot at this so think carefully and only open it when necessary. One chance to get a hold of Thalia Grace and that is all. Do you understand?"

"Once is all I need." And without even thinking he blurts out, "I'm just hoping she's worth it."

Psyche gets that mischievous sparkle in her eyes. Luke isn't sure how to feel about it. "Why hope? You've gone through all this trouble. You should know the answer by now."


Turns out that they do come across the river eventually, though not in the state Annabeth had originally imagined: that is to say, not bound by tree roots and forced to run behind a trio of galloping centaurs. (Calypso, of course, gets to ride on horseback.)

On the other side of the ancient bridge, a flurry of noise seems to lie beyond the trees. The path continues after the river, marked by a stone arch flanked by torches, and, if not mistaken, she can count a dozen of rainbow prisms and bronze charms swinging from high branches; all sure signs this forest is most certainly inhabited.

Forced down the path, noises grow louder. She can hear women talking, children laughing, the clangs of steel and heavy pipe music. Nothing she's heard for a while, not since Camp Half-Blood was still standing.

The trail opens up into a clearing, lines with perfect stone cottage growing moss on the bricks, flower pots on the windowsill, and cheerful, brightly colored doors. Practically some sort of fae suburbia.

A few nature spirits stop what they're doing and stare, others turn to whisper in their neighbors' ear. Wordlessly, the party of centaurs passes right on ahead.

The trail comes to end at the front of a wood-thatched hut. And by hut, Annabeth means something the size of the Senate House that had burned down in New Rome (not the poor imitation that the rebels had erected on Angel Island).

Just outside there's a line waiting to get in. From a desk at the entrance, one nymph ushers in the next recipient as if operating a nature spirit DMV. The daughter of Athena forces herself to do a double take.

"Juniper?" Annabeth whispers but it must have been louder, considering the nymph at the desk turns her head in their direction.

As soon as the other nature spirits catch sight of Cyprian centaurs they all make a hasty exist.

The nymph gapes at Annabeth, a little disbelieving as the party approaches. Graceful, as always, Calypso slides off the centaurs back, landing perfectly on the tips of her feet. Her golden face remains completely unreadable.

"Prisoners!" the largest centaur booms proudly, beating his chest.

Finally, Juniper comes to her senses. "No!" she tells him, rushing out from behind the desk. Almost instantly, it becomes too difficult to miss her heavily pregnant physique. "Not prisoners!"

The centaur peers down at her, a frown on his face. "But…enemies of Kronos…"

"No just—" Annabeth can see the cogs in her brain turning, trying to come up with something. But the nymph has never been good at thinking on the spot. Finally, a frustrated Juniper dismisses them with a wave of her hand. "I'll deal with it. I'll take them to Lord Underwood."

"But—"

"Just go!" she snaps and the bottom horse-half of the centaur shudders. Note to self: do not piss off pregnant Jupiter. Murmuring a few choice words under his breath, the centaur snaps at his companions and they turn back in the direction of the river.

Juniper turns towards them, ripping off their wooden handcuffs. "I'm so sorry for their rough handling of you. They're not exactly the sharpest cacti in the desert."

Without thinking, Annabeth hugs her, much to the nymph's surprise. "Gods, I didn't think you were still alive."

She lets out a breathless laugh. "Of course, I am! Thanks to Grov—" Juniper stops mid-sentence, the warm gleam in her brown eyes slowly bleeding out. "I should take you to the council." She sighs. "We're old friends, Annabeth. But you are our enemy as it currently stands. I don't exactly know how they're going to react to you being here."

Their arms melt away, as do their smiles.

Calypso's voice feathers in behind them. "Nevertheless, Juniper the tree nymph, it's the only reason we came here. We planned for risks."

Remembering, Annabeth whips around. "You!"

The Titaness crosses her arms over her chest. "What?"

"You were going to sell us to Kronos! I should—"

"Was I?" She holds out Annabeth's knife, offering it handle first. How she'd forgotten Calypso had it in the first place, Annabeth doesn't know. "Did it ever occur to you, just perhaps, that to get out of our little centaur problem alive I was required to lie? Or, in fact, that I needed you to believe said lie so your convincing performance would grant us an audience with the Council?"

The words stick in her throat.

But she isn't done. Mercilessly, Calypso's dark eyes bore into her own. "No, but like the Olympians, you are apt to distrust me. I am a daughter of Atlas, of course. Then again, you would never assume the same of Zoe Nightshade."

Fists clenched, the daughter of Athena musters out, "You could have told me."

"Yes, because the Rebellion's precious commander just hates being out of the loop, doesn't she?"

"Calypso…" Theia says in a tone reminiscent to you've done it now.

Annabeth's face reddens, as if ready to explode any minute. "It's my job to know these things."

"No one asked you to take on said job, Annabeth Chase. Quite frankly, you do as the kids say, the most."

"Sorry if I actually want to get through this war in one piece! I'm sorry I don't want to lose anyone else!"

Juniper flinches.

Slowly, Calypso just shakes her head. "But that's always inevitable, isn't it? It may not be today, or tomorrow, but someday." The look she gives Annabeth is one of pity. "I cursed your name when Percy left me on Ogygia. I practically cursed you to the moon and back for taking him away from me. But they all leave sooner or later, for one reason or another.

"It seems to be quite a common theme in war as well; take this from someone who has gotten quite use to abandonment, Annabeth Chase. Don't let your last memories be of you sitting alone overlooking war plans with your focus on the battle to come. You never know when that battle will be your last."

Theia offers a slow clap, much to their chagrin.

Juniper's green hand presses on Annabeth's shoulder. "I'd hate to interrupt, but if you want to catch the Elders…"

Annabeth finds her voice. "Let's just get this over with." She prompts Juniper to lead the way.

From the other side of the door, they can hear voices arguing amongst themselves. Juniper sighs and with a well-placed snap the doors swing open.

They're seated well-above the riff-raff in stone chairs behind a semi-circular grass woven table. Like the nine justices on the Supreme Court – tree-hugger edition – they appear almost god-like in their boundless wisdom, completely untouchable.

But that's until a certain satyr – seated right at the head of the council – stops talking completely. The others quickly follow suit, they're doe-wide eyes settling on the group of women that have come to interrupt their proceedings.

Grover Underwood's face goes white.

Awkward doesn't even begin to cover it.

Juniper shoots him hard look. "Grover…"

He breathes in, breathes out. A pinecone could drop, resonating like a nuclear bomb.

"Annabeth," he finally says after much difficulty.

She hardly tilts her head – some might call it half-hearted greeting but it reeks of condescension. "Grover."

The unfound tension in her voice could be multiple things; weary, at best, or boundless disappointment at its worst.

His face attempts to harden. "What are you all doing here?"

Calypso senses Annabeth's rising anger and immediately steps forward, a smile on her lips as her innate charms go to work. "Forgive us for trespassing, Lord Underwood. If we have offended you, know it was not our intent."

"I'm not offended, Miss…"

She bows her head slightly. "Calypso."

"Lady Calypso." Grover still doesn't smile. "If we're being honest, I know you walked through the Green Reserves unannounced just to gain my attention."

Theia shrugs from behind them. "Guilty as charged."

"And I want to know why," he whispers. Though, that's not right at all. His voice should be harsher, angrier, but Grover can't muster up that kind of energy. He's no Kronos. "We're not a violent people, we don't want any trouble. But each and every one of you knows where our loyalties lie."

"Which is why we came," Annabeth announces, earning an annoyed side glance from Calypso.

His face softens a little. "Annabeth—"

"If we're being honest, Grover, I really do want to hate you for that." That. More specifically, the day he decided to give up his friends in their hour of need. When nature spirits quickly lay down their arms to the new king of the cosmos. A betrayal that still stings nearly a decade later. "And I never got to ask you… I…how could you?"

Grover jumps to his feet. "I saved your life, Annabeth. I did what I had to do to save all of them."

"At the price of turning your back on your friends," she sneers.

He shuts his mouth, sitting down once more.

"Lord Underwood," Calypso presses, clawing for his attention and shoving Annabeth back. "Please, forgive Miss Chase's outbursts." She casts her dark eyes into a vicious glare. "She shouldn't have come."

"It's alright," he says rather glumly.

Nervously, she glances back at Theia and Annabeth. "We only ask that you please reconsider joining forces with us."

"Why would we even consider your proposal, my lady?" Grover sighs. "What can you offer us that Kronos cannot?"

A good question.

But one that Theia has an answer to. "Freedom," she says softly at first, disguising her usual eccentricity, much to her companions' surprise. "And don't you dare, for one second, tell me that you live here free from Kronos's rule."

Grover opens his mouth to speak but the words quickly die in his throat.

"It's pitiful, really. It's never fair to trade something so important for a false sense of security."

He looks away. "You're point has been noted, Lady Theia."

The other, older satyr sitting at Grover's side stands up so suddenly that it topples his chair over. "Please, you cannot be seriously considering this proposal!" he snaps. "We speak of treason. Kronos will slaughter us."

The other nature spirits on the council nod with agreement.

Grover stares at him with the utmost calm. "Kronos is free to slaughter at us any time and for whatever reason he feels like it. When you go to Othrys yourself, Leneus, believe me, the feeling is awfully acute."

Leneus sneers, "A feeling your rebel friend doesn't feel so acutely. Especially if Kronos gets wind of this meeting—!"

"We're not friends," Annabeth interjects.

Grover shakes his head sadly. "First, Thalia. Now you?"

He stomach starts to toss and turn at the mention of that name. "You saw… Thalia?"

"Yeah, not too long ago." He watches intensely as Leneus reclaims his discarded chair. "I didn't like what I saw either."

"You should help us," Annabeth pleads. "Help her. It's the right thing to do."

"But is it the right thing for them? For us?" Grover stresses. "I can't just think about me here, Annabeth. What I want."

"I can tell you a conscription won't do them any good," she scowls, casting the other council members with a nasty side eye.

"I know, I know." He closes his eyes for a moment, trying to make sense of all the paranoid thoughts running through his head. "Let us… think about it, alright? We have to talk to the other nature spirits before the council here can move forward on any decision. I can't promise you anything, all I can do is try."

"That's all I ask," she says, despite the nasty glare Leneus sends her way. "That's all I've ever wanted from you."

Grover only nods.


"Healthy volunteers only," Jason announced the night before, casting an unusual glare on his own legion. "If there's even a hint of limp, so help me…"

In truth, Luke joins out of boredom. Without Annabeth to keep him in the loop of the comings and goings of the war, he typically gets reduced to a typical foot soldier, a position that has never quite suited him. He's too skeptical, too disobedient. The rest already know this.

He hadn't gone first, of course. He waited for the others to raise their hands: Will Solace, Rafael from Ares, Wu Huie from Janus, Shae Abrams from Fortuna, Percy and then Nico. It was when said son of Hades stood, flashing Luke a playful glare, he knew right there and then he'd never hear the end of it from Nico if he remained in the crowd.

Besides, it's not as if Luke had anything else too.

But after joining the rest of the group he quickly remembered why he'd never volunteered before. When he neared Shae, she had taken an automatic step away from him. The other volunteers, Percy included, had made it a point to give Luke the coldest looks known to man, their message extremely clear: you're not welcomed here.

Of course, it's not anything he hasn't heard before.

They move out by first light.

Luke isn't exactly used to the early wakeup call but he's never gotten much sleep to begin with, especially with Morpheus on the prowl. His meeting with Psyche hadn't eased matters either, especially when he finds himself tossing and turning at the wee hours of dawn, eyes honed in on the wooden box sitting in the corner of his tent, Thalia always being the only thought on his mind.

Not that he would have it any other way.

Honestly, there are many times Luke feels as if he is the only one that still thinks about her regularly, even if his dreams of her – either being tortured or in process of killing him – aren't exactly ideal. Jason especially had grown up for the better part of his life without his sister and it wouldn't surprise Luke if the Roman commander often found the fact that he wasn't an only child relatively hard to remember. Sometimes Nico mentions her, since they were unsually close before her capture, but he has more important things to deal with. The rest, Luke can't really say. Maybe it's better for most to think her dead and gone, simpler. But the truth isn't always so simple; it never has been.

Since their strange encounter under Hypnos's intervention, Luke made it a point to scourer any and all sources in attempts to contact her again. The way they'd parted: suddenly, with fear in her eyes and jumping at the mention of her immortal husband's name… he needed to know if she was safe, even though the realistic answer would almost always be a resounding no.

Psyche had provided him with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He had the power to find her now – maybe even free her, much in the same way she had freed him from Tartarus, had given him a second chance to make things right again. He would do it for her, no matter the cost.

But only one thing, of course, stays his hand.

As he prepares to join up with the other volunteers, a terrifying thought comes to mind. Should he be successful in getting Thalia away from Othrys, and Kronos, and all this business of Rebellion and war… then what?

The soon-to-be scouting party meets at the front of the fire department a few blocks away from the solders' encampment. It seems like Percy is the only one fazed by the ungodly hour Jason has them gathering together.

The son of Jupiter bends down on the sidewalk, unfurling a large map already marked with an assortment of highlighter colors, as if there's an impending do-or-die geography exam he's dying to pass. Though when Luke makes it a point to stand right beside him, Jason's hands twitch as if with the urge to roll it up and keep Olympus's old traitor from looking at it.

"Our front lines stop here," Jason says, his voice capturing everyone's attention as he points to the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. "The only problem is that we don't know how far the monsters have retreated."

All they know now, of course, is that they can no longer see the army. Though they have lookouts posted all up and down the bridge, none had spotted even a glimpse of the giant Titan host which seemed to have vanished completely after being chased out of San Francisco. Had they marched back to Mount Tam? Highly unlikely.

Rafael rubs his hands together, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "This'll be exciting then."

"Yeah, like holding onto San Francisco after spending two and a half days fighting for it wasn't exciting enough," Will murmurs.

"We should get to it then," says Shae, and that's the end of that. Jason finally rolls up the map and orders them to get moving.

They cross the bridge into northern territory, coming across absolutely no one. No monsters but no humans either; none of them really know what kind of strange magic the Titans used to evacuate the Bay Area, but it's with relief that Kronos gave them a thought at all. Having a human shield isn't exactly above someone like him.

As the sun grows higher in the sky, the scouting party sticks to the Bridgeway, encountering more emptiness. It's not long until the city of Sausalito comes into view.

It's the sort of picturesque place one was bound to find as the backdrop for a 90210 episode. Along the road that seems to stretch on endlessly, either side is completely covered with little shops: clothing stores, restaurants, ice cream places, even a pet store.

But before that, a little further up and on the left hand side of the Bridgeway, they come across a small cliff and the churning blue ocean. Luke notices Percy's eyes lingering a little too long on the waves, as if he'd give up everything just take a quick dive, all the while praying Oceanus would be too focused on other matters to muster up the effort to drown him.

It's not long till they lag a little behind. Luke snaps his finger's in Percy's direction, knocking him out of his daze. Percy's frown deepens, but, with a nod, they join the others.

"Village Fair," Jason murmurs though it seems to echo in the complete silence of the shopping center. "Used to come here back when everything was…"

"Normal?" Luke offers without much enthusiasm. They all know the feeling.

"It's a ghost town now," he continues. "Everything is."

"Not sure how much longer Athena expects us to walk," Nico replies. "There's no armies here. The further north we keep going, we'll get to Mount Tam in no time."

"Marin City's just another mile from here," says Jason. "Mount Tam's another fifteen after that."

His statement leaves them feeling rather queasy. This whole situation just gets stranger with every passing moment.

Will's hand tightens on his quiver. "Something's not right here. I can feel it."

"You're right," says Jason. He stops in the middle of the road, taking another frustrated glance around. "There's no plausible reason we've made it so far without spotting even one Titan legion. Where the hell are they?"

"Taking cover back at home base?" Wu offers, despite the answer being a relatively exhausted one.

"Then what's to stop our army from just marching in and taking all the land north of the Golden Gate Bridge?" the son of Jupiter fingers his golden sword. "It's bad maneuvering."

"As soon as we cross, they'd spot a thousand soldiers in no time," Percy says. "They'd dispatch forces instantly. It's not that unbelievable."

And truthfully, it isn't. Guarding the palace is a no-brainer. Yet a skeptical Will continues to shake his head. He walks away from the group, nearing the small cliff. Behind the white clouds, he can barely catch an outline of the bridge. "But wouldn't they spot a group of demigods too? The Golden Gate doesn't exactly have enough cover for us to snoop past Kronos's watching eyes."

A brisk chill envelops them. The son of Apollo looks back towards the shopping center.

"You're right, of course," says Jason.

Will squints his eyes at the roof on a jewelry shop just as Percy sighs, "Should we turn back?"

A black figure moves in his peripheral vision. Will Solace doesn't even have time to yell a warning. An arrowhead pierces the chink in his armor, right at the collarbone. His carved wooden bow flies from his hands and all he can scream is "Fuck!"

"Will!" Nico shouts and nearly dropping his sword as he rushes to the son of Apollo's side. "Are you okay?"

He can't even answer. He only points up and yells, "Incoming!"

A wave of arrows rains down upon them. They run, Nico dragging Will with all his strength. Rafael goes down when he's hit in the back of the leg but Jason grabs him and they keep going. Percy and Shae get grazed several times but nothing severe. The scouts dive into the nearest store: an ice cream shop.

"Fucking archers!" Wu retorts, a Trojan shield forming in his hand and a lanky spear in the other. Jason pulls out his sword and places a hand on the door just as they hear the plop of footsteps outside.

"I'm really starting to hate those assholes." Will hisses through gritted teeth. He directs Rafael to rummage through the son of Apollo's supply bag for ambrosia. And all the while, Nico's shaking hand won't let go of Will's.

Jason and Wu open the door, with Percy, Luke, and Shae trailing behind. They burst out from the shop, war cries hanging on their lips. And still the son of Hades doesn't budge.

Finally, Will snaps. "Gods, go Nico! Go help them. I'll be okay."

Rafael rolls his eyes as Nico hesitates. "I don't want to leave you—"

Will shoves him. "Goddammit, go!"

By the time Nico finally makes it outside, the sun is gone. Heavy clouds that weren't there a minute go suddenly roll in, blotting out any and all light. Thunder booms overhead.

They're everywhere. Spread out atop story high buildings in San Francisco a week ago, they didn't seem incredibly numerous. But now, packed together in this little shopping district, the scouting party realizes just exactly how outnumbered they really are.

A crack of lightning rips across the sky. Arrows let loose.

Luke is quick to shove Nico out of the way a couple of times. That quickly ends when he finds a sword aiming for his throat and the real battle begins.

They don't even feel the rain until it pours over them.

Percy, the only one dry, huffs from somewhere for off, "Apollo said it was going to be sunny!"

And being the former god of prophecies and the sun, he's the one they'd trust with that sort of information.

Luke gets an arrow to the shoulder and its Nico turn to get him out of the harm's way. Even then, the son of Hermes grits his teeth, mumbling, "The storm, Nico. The storm."

"It's getting pretty bad, I know," Nico replies. "You have to get out of the way."

"No, you don't underst—"

Something explosive hits the ground behind them.

He unceremoniously dumps Luke behind the nearest alley way, jumping into the fray again despite Luke screaming, "The storm, you idiot—!"

Jason flutters around like shiny Peter Pan in his armor, jumping from enemy on the ground to enemy on the roof and back again without breaking a sweat. A few of the archers go out of their way to avoid him, and right fully so.

Maybe, just maybe they have a chance.

It's a premature thought.

Jason feels it in his heart, first and foremost: white hot fire burning his soul alive.

He doesn't see what the others see: a bolt ripping through his body and making it flash like a spotlight, the slight convulsions, the smoke on the tip of his hairline.

For the longest time, he figured he could never be struck by lightning. Not exactly the first time Jason Grace had been proven wrong.

He collapses to his feet.

The storm rages harder, faster but screams for "Jason" can still be heard all over.

No normal demigod could have survived something so horrendous, something that appeared like a thousand bolts of lightning wrapped into one, that practically shook the very ground, frying off eyebrows and peeling paint from the shop signs.

But when Percy and Nico rush over to their fallen commander's aid, they're relieved to find him still breathing. Anyone else – namely people that aren't descended from Zeus – and they wouldn't be so lucky.

One thing is more than clear: no natural phenomenon – assuming such large power output can even be considered natural – would have struck someone like Jason so precisely.

There's no time to focus on the thought.

The air suddenly stills.

It's going to happen again.

Nico tackles Percy to the ground. Wu grabs onto an unconscious Jason and hauls ass.

A wave of heat snaps over their heads, making the airs on the back of their necks stand on edge. The lightning strike makes a hole through three separate shops. The rain beats down harder.

Nico's gaze turns towards the direction of the attack.

"There." He points towards the archer that hasn't moved, bow strung over their back and smoking hands spread out over the streets below. "That's whose controlling the storm."

"And they'll need to be stopped." Percy's eyebrows furrow, struggling to his feet. "I don't see what we're waiting for."

Something troubles Nico but now just isn't the time to deal with. Still, he says, "Something's not right. No one could…"

"Come on!" Percy interjects, rushing towards the strange archer's vantage point.

It's not a mystery the son of Poseidon doesn't get very far.

With one hand they make a diagonal slice through the air. Another strike of lightning stops Percy dead in his tracks before the archer turns their attention on the fleeing Wu carrying an incapacitated Jason.

Unsurprisingly, the Titan Army soldiers use the attack to their advantage. One rushes at Percy, immediately aiming his spear at a chink in Percy's armor. He, however, recovers quickly. The soldier becomes disarmed and finds the flat side of Riptide ramming against his face.

As Percy tries to regain his breath, Nico nearly slams into him.

"Think about it, Percy!" he retorts with a crazed look in his eyes, a look that could only be described as eureka. "There's only one person that could make a storm like that and take out, of all people, Jason. One person."

The revelation dawns on him, leaving him horrified instead and not in the least bit channeling his friend's desperate excitement. "No."

This time, Nico takes off running leaving Percy dumbfounded in the rain.

It just might be suicidal: he dodges arrows and even more lightning strikes just to get closer. He needs to get closer. He has to be sure…

And, when Nico finally does, he lets all of his frustration and desperation out in one swoop. "THALIA!"

She whips around to face him. Electric blue eyes glower at him. She removes the cloth covering her mouth, covering the top of her head. And she looks so different – how could she not – but it's more than clear. It's her; it could never be anyone else.

For a moment there's peace. Two old friends staring at each, frozen in their spots with a strange mix of every emotion under the pouring rain: awe, anger, sadness, desperation… It's a moment, of course, that can't last.

Thalia bolts.

She jumps on the roof of the nearest building – a restaurant – kicking in the glass ceiling and making a dive for it.

The son of Hades hardly waits to be left in the dust. "Let's go!" Nico shouts with renewed vigor.

"Wait!" Percy calls after him but he's almost out of sight before he even gets his legs moving. Nico decides he can't wait for him. He can't let this opportunity pass him by.

Without thinking, Nico calls upon the nearest shadow and steps into it.

Then steps out…

Into a darkened restaurant. He glances up, seeing a hole in the collapsed glass ceiling. His boots crunch on the spray of red glass on the floor. She must have cut herself.

He catches a flash of movement towards the back of the restaurant.

Partially obscured, her back towards him, her hand is pressed on kitchen doors. It's an easy escape, since there'll be a backdoor leading towards the outside. Yet she makes no move to run.

Strange.

Still, Nico says her name. "Thalia!" She stiffens, the fist around her bow tightening. "Stop."

"You're an idiot." Thalia whips around, bow up and arrow notched before he can blink, pointed right at his head. "You should know better."

There's not much for him to say. "Nice to see you too?"

Thalia grits her teeth. She's always had a fearsome scowl but, three years later, it's somehow far more menacing. Slowly, she steps forward. "It shouldn't have been this easy."

He realizes then the cuts on her hands beginning to disappear, the strange glowing runes on her wrist no doubt the cause of it.

Footsteps rush in behind him but he knows he absolutely can't take his eyes off of her. A familiar voice says, "Nico—"

"Step any closer, Jackson, and you'll regret it."

Percy raises his hands in a non-threatening gesture. She doesn't ease one bit. "We're your friends, Thalia. Don't do this."

She cocks her head to the side, as if curious about his sheer stupidity. "It's been almost three years and I'm pointing an arrow at Nico's face. I highly doubt that."

"Three years changes nothing," Nico blurts out.

"Nothing?" Thalia laughs, and he instantly regrets those words, especially with the ferocity in which she says, "Not to me."

But perhaps the worst insult of all is that he can't bear to look into her clouded eyes. He can only stare at the tip of her arrow, the fine movements in her fingers. "We can help you. Please, Thalia—"

There's nothing in her face now. Nothing but a black void, most certainly lacking in any and all remorse. He hears the bland words in his head before they even leave her lips. "I'm sorry."

Nico's shoulder explodes in agony. All he knows is his back hitting the ground, Percy yelling, and his hand around a black shaft embedded in his flesh.

A heartbeat later and the windows explode. A rush of water slams into Thalia at an alarming speed and she flies across the room, landing in a mess of tables and chairs.

Percy grabs him. "Hey, stop it right now. Look at me, Nico!"

But he can't. There's something warm pooling beneath his armor like syrup… So much red and so much pain…

"Something's not right," Nico whispers, just as his eyes roll back into his head.

Percy shakes him but nothing happens. His hand grasps around the arrow shaft, retching it free. And somehow, despite all the blood, he can barely make out the tip shining an unnatural shade of green.

He hears the sound of coughing. He watches as Thalia tucks the wet tendrils of hair behind her ears and gets to feet, despite being soaked from head to toe. Her bow and quiver have disappeared.

He unsheathes Riptide. "You poisoned it."

Thalia smiles but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Don't thank me yet."

He steps forward cautiously, sword raised. "You're going to come with me, Thalia," Percy says. "I don't know what's happened to you but we're going to fix it. We can…save you from them. From him."

"Am I now? Coming with you that is?" she laughs bitterly. It's too late by the time he notices the ring on her right hand. With the fingers from her left, she turns it. Once. Twice. "A shame. You should've saved me when I really needed you."

The broadsword appears in her hand and his eyes narrow. Percy can recognize the sheen of that kind of blade anywhere. Half Celestial Bronze, half tempered steel.

"You don't have to do this," he tries again.

Her smile remains, though it seems so hollow he's not sure he can even call it a smile. "Yes I do."

She lunges at him with surprising speed. Percy barely stops her overhead strike and their blades clash against one another in a series of sparks. It's hard to contain his surprise.

Thalia kicks his legs out from under him. He feels the whoosh of her blade over his head but the nice thing is that Percy knows how to move fast. He rolls and sends a puddle flying her way, to which Thalia responds with an indignant growl.

He shrugs. "You're the one who wanted to play dirty." Percy takes another stance, twirling his sword expertly. "Ready when you are."

"Oh Percy," she sighs, accompanied by a dry laugh. Thalia takes a step back, sword completely relaxed at her side as she looks him up and down. "It's that kind of arrogance that made you lose to Kronos in the first place."

He charges.

Thalia sidesteps, graceful like a gazelle, and he misses her by a mile. Her blade strikes out, scraping through his breastplate. Percy stops, staring at her, wondering where in the hell she learned to swing a sword like that.

But it's been so long since these demigods have fought. It's wrong of him to underestimate her.

She fights furiously but somehow with a certain perfection that could only be achieved through intense repetition. But when it comes to swordplay, Percy's always excelled. Thalia knows that. And with every cut she lands, he returns it all the same, despite all this power she suddenly has.

Sparks fly from the pommel of her sword, smoke forms between her fingers. He knows what Thalia's about to do and he only has a second to react.

Lightning strikes.

Without thinking, Percy forms a wall of water to shield him but he forgets one crucial detail: water conducts.

He flies back. His back slams first into the wall and he shakes with small tremors as soon as his body hits the floor. He gets a particularly good whiff of the singed hairs along his arms.

Percy attempts to pick himself up but collapses all the same.

Thalia surveys him from afar. Her sword is gone, back into the form of a ring. A matrimonial ring, now that he glares at it. How ironic.

"Why?" Percy snaps. He rests his forehead on the damp floor, arms wrapping around his abdomen as if to keep from falling apart. "Why, of all people—"

"A lot's changed, Percy. Too many things you couldn't possibly wrap your seaweed-filled head around."

He spits, finding that there's blood in his mouth. "Nothing excuses betraying your friends."

"Maybe you're right." Slowly, Thalia steps forward, taking her time, of course. Because at this point, having already won, she practically has all the time in the world. "Maybe we were never friends to begin with. Because friends don't leave friends on Mount Othrys with Kronos." She twirls the menacing green-tipped arrow in her hand. "Friends don't leave friends rotting under a statue of Hera."

It's a low blow and Thalia knows it. "You told me to go," he whimpers.

"Because I thought you could save the world," she hisses, speaking to a pain that he can't fathom. Because there's no doubt that Percy continues to suffer from the mistake he committed so many years ago. But this pain has expanded and exploded exponentially in the people around him, her most of all. Everything she's suffered through, everything she's lost is because of him. "Turns out you destroyed it instead. But no hard feelings. Right, Jackson?"

She punches him square in the face and Percy finally remembers just how hard those punches are. But maybe if she hadn't punched him, he would've realized about the strangeness of the whole situation: most of why her lightning strike hadn't struck him to the same degree as it struck Jason, and namely why he's still breathing at all.

"Thalia..." he groans out, his head spinning and his body enflamed. As if it isn't enough, she bends down, stabbing the arrow into his shoulder just like she did to Nico. Hitting nothing vital, of course, but that has never been her aim. He realizes that now.

None of this brings her any joy, of course, and that's his only relief. The last thing Percy sees is Thalia's frown. And the last thing he hears from her is an "I'm sorry."

Percy wants to say I'm sorry too but some things just can't be forgiven.

Chapter Text

All warfare is based on deception.

-Sun Tzu


"This is the third time and you've failed to convince me," Kronos replies mercilessly, his fists slamming down on the table. "Why do you continue on?"

Metis doesn't even flinch. She stares intently at the pieces on the map of San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais, and their surrounding areas, toppled now, thanks to him.

"It is a good backup to have, my lord," she sighs. Her blue-gray eyes flicker towards his. "Would I ever lie to you?"

"Yes," Kronos sneers. He draws his arms back, crossing them over his chest. "How do you know they didn't just destroy it? That's what I would have done."

She taps her finger against the edge of the table, slow, methodic. He finds it jarring. "Zeus tried. He failed."

"Because of your meddling."

She rolls her eyes. "Kronos—"

"New subject, Metis. I am for more dangerous when bored." His eyes narrow. "And let me be clear, you are boring me now."

New subject then. The Titaness turns her attention back to the map, once again adjusting one marker – a representative of the rebel forces – for good measure. Crookedness won't do; not on her watch. "The Rebellion is one their way to Fort Baker."

"Which I already know," he interrupts.

"I don't presume to tell you what you already know," Metis snaps. "I am only here to help you think around your current predicaments, that is all. That way we won't have a repeat of Zeus scaling Mount Othrys and taking you unawares."

He flinches at that memory, for which Metis is pleased.

Of course, Kronos regains himself. "Let them hold the fort."

Her mouth nearly drops open. Color rises in her face. "If we allow them to remain—" She's cut off by pounding at the door. And Metis can't help it. She explodes. "Who would dare to disturb us?"

Kronos only snaps his fingers in the door's direction. It swings open and Metis shouldn't be terribly surprised to see the face that walks in.

His eyes find their way to the map once more as he says, "Is it done?"

Thalia moseys around the circular table with a little spring in her step, while Metis's eyes carefully trace her movements. Only faintly does the girl's gaze settle briefly on the maps before them, the markers tracking the position of their monster legions. "Yes."

Metis's lips form a tight line.

"Lull them into a sense of false security, dear Metis." Kronos chuckles. "Athena is as arrogant as you are. My plan would have been impossible if I split blood trying to hold them on the other side of the bridge. And now I have the one hero that has alluded me for so long."

Not the only hero to allude him, Metis wants to correct. But Percy Jackson's disappearance from Olympus was the only thing to truly unsettle the Titan Lord for the better part of a decade.

Instead, she rolls her eyes. "Yes, Lord Kronos. It is wrong for me to assume I can outsmart you."

"I'm glad you've come to realize this, dear niece," he says, completely oblivious to her apparent sarcasm. Finally, he looks up, his eyes immediately connecting with Thalia's.

She purses her lips, leaning against the table, wind-blown hair draped over one shoulder. Her gaze remains firmly on his, no hesitation. Thalia smiles even, and an unspoken message passes between them. Metis, of course, isn't at all fooled. She was young once, as ambitious and sly as her namesake suggested.

Thalia finally speaks. "What's next for me then?"

Kronos voice lowers a little, as if somehow Metis – still in the same room – won't be able to hear him. "A little eager, aren't we?"

He shoots Metis a hard glare as the Titaness opens her mouth. "We wait. They'll be reeling in the chaos of their hero's disappearance," Metis says with a glare of her own. "Soon enough we will have the soldiers scout the area for an appropriate vantage point. I want to demolish these rebels once and for all."

Thalia sighs, her bored voice cutting through the tension. "And here I was hoping for a small break."

"Did you have anything specific in mind?" Kronos asks, rather absentmindedly.

She only laughs. "Well, it's too late now, apparently. I assume the soldiers scouting Fort Baker will be my contingent. I came here for my new orders. Looks like I have them now. Such a shame but I really must get going."

"Metis, ready the archers," Kronos demands without even sparing the Titaness a glance. "And do make sure Alabaster is well-rested. We will be needing his… expertise in this mission to come."

Her fists clench. "Thalia is an archer."

"She will join them later. I must share words with her." Kronos finally turns to her, unamused to find her still standing in the same spot. "Go."

Metis doesn't fight him. It's a lost battle anyway, especially when her opponent is a Titan who had proclaimed himself king of the cosmos. And if she knows anything, it's how to pick her battles.

With a crisp, minor bow of her head, she ducks out the door, slamming it behind her.

Thalia sighs but her eyes tilt with playfulness, hinting at anything other than annoyance. "You didn't have to send her away. I would have gone."

"No, you wouldn't have." He smirks, rather confident in his hypothesis. "You want something."

"You don't know that." Smoothly, Thalia hops up on the edge of the table, feet dangling above the cool marble floor.

"Oh, I do. We wouldn't be in this predicament if I didn't." Naturally, he gravitates closer towards her, especially now with no onlookers snapping at him to pay mind to the war at hand. Even someone like the Titan Lord needed breaks from time to time.

"Point taken." Nonchalantly, she kicks her shoes off. "Though I don't see you refusing me, now do I?"

Kronos crosses his arm over his chest. "I am attempting to keep an open mind."

"Are you?" She strips herself of her shirt, and the motion seems as easy as breathing. So careless. She slips off her belt just as easily.

"We need to talk."

Thalia raises an eyebrow. "Isn't that what we're doing?"

His face doesn't lighten. Instead, he holds out his arm to her, revealing the giant jagged scar stretching from his wrist to the inner part of his elbow. "Your previous expedition came at a very great expense to me."

Thalia sighs, glancing at the runes running along the surface of her own forearm.

They had glowed vigorously as she kept the storm pulsing and raging through Sausalito, as she jumped through the glass ceiling in the restaurant and immediately healed any wounds associated with such a fall. But that should have been the end of that. She should have shut it off but couldn't bring herself to do so, not when her daughter's life depended on Thalia succeeding in any and every mission assigned to her. "It's not my fault. You're the one who opened the link."

"But not for you to take advantage of," he retorts.

Her eyes darken. "If it's a two way street, Kronos, do you really expect me to walk on one side?"

Oh it truly was sickening, the way she had shocked her brother into unconsciousness. Then came pride, when she had been quick enough to dodge Percy's blows (maybe she hadn't exactly defeated him fair and square with a sword in hand but beggars can't be choosers). None of it would have been possible without the addictive rush in her veins that was more than adrenaline. It had been pure power and by all the gods she might give anything to feel that way again. Powerful and deadly, not the helpless little girl she had been cowering in the hallways of Othrys.

At least, that was until she had realized most of this power she sapped straight from the Titan Lord that had tormented in her in the first place.

"Besides," Thalia continues, "I thwarted the rebel scouts in Sausalito. It's exactly what you wanted. So why does it matter if I do it again or not?"

Oh, but she knows the answer to that already. Something else is draining his power but she just doesn't know what.

His jaw clenches. "Don't let it happen again, Thalia Grace."

She tries to hide the smile on her face, relieved that he's let the issue drop and that it may or may not have to do with her lack of a shirt. Thalia changes the subject. "I will never understand why you enjoy saying my last name so much."

"Because it bothers you," he admits, the smallest of smiles tugging at the corner of his lips. Out of the clear.

"Then consider us even."

His eyes narrow. "Well," Kronos prompts, "aren't you going to tell me what you want?"

"No. There'd be no fun in that, now would there?" She holds out her leg to him. Thalia pouts. "Grab the cuff?"

"Do you want me to guess?" he muses – just this once – doing as she asks.

"You can do whatever you want. You're the Titan Lord, my king, aren't you?" She draws her leg back and the jeans come off in less trouble than he had initially expected. She unsheathes her other leg, and the clothes drop to the floor, immediately forgotten.

"You're playing a very fine line here, Thalia Grace." Though his words ring hollow, void of any warning that they should evoke.

"Perhaps," Thalia concedes. She cocks her head, still amused. "But we both know you're enjoying this, so why pretend?

He ignores her. "You want Elpis back?"

She rolls her eyes, clearly annoyed that he's decided to guess anyway. "Not what I had in mind. But if you're offering…"

"You want me to take you off the front lines?"

"Not necessarily." Thalia reaches for the clasp of her bra but Kronos stops her. It doesn't escape her notice that his eyes linger a little too long on her breasts. Though he hates mortal clothes, Kronos will never admit that he likes this, a bra's ability to give off the illusion of breasts that are rounder than they actually are. A mundane illusion Thalia doesn't mind taking advantage of every now and then.

"You want to cut your hair?" he tries again, his tone bearing the slightest hints of frustration.

Thalia almost giggles. "You'd never humor the idea. We both know it would be a wasted thought."

He exhales swiftly through his nose. "You've certainly made things interesting, haven't you?"

"Let's cut straight to it then: you know I'm trying to manipulate you…"

"Keyword: trying," he interjects.

"…And I know the only reason you're entertaining any of this is because it might fit into your agenda, whatever that may be. So, should we make a wager?"

"We should," Kronos agrees, his voice dropping lower. "Finish this game, Thalia Grace. Should I be pleased with the results, I will consider your request… whatever it may be."

She finally remembers, as Kronos fingers brush against her collarbone, what he had said on the beach at the Battery so many years ago: Thalia Grace, a pretty name that's also a joke.

She only smiles and says nothing. Thalia feels his grip on her shoulder and she's pulled closer, into a kiss perhaps, but Thalia turns her head at the last minute. A wicked little beast, she comes to whisper in his ear instead, "You'll grant it to me."

Kronos doesn't turn to look at her. "I'll consider it," he repeats, sterner this time. His hand slips beneath the waistband of her underwear. "After all, you said it yourself. I need to see if it fits into my agenda."

And at the moment his agenda calls for a distraction. One Thalia is more than happy to provide, assuming she gets what she wants in the end.

The wife of Kronos lets out a sharp laugh as his fingers nestle in between her thighs. "Fair enough."


"He's gone."

The only two words Reyna has to utter. The first words Annabeth hears when she returns. Annabeth doesn't even have to say a word; the Roman girl – strange as she's always been – embraces her. Then it's straight to battle plans.

She vomits twice that night. Anxiety doesn't let her get an ounce of sleep the first night. The second day, she hardly wakes up at all, not when the nightmares practically have her paralyzed.

The screams are deafening.

Monsters overrun a rocky shore, stepping all over the broken bodies of her comrades – her friends. All their blood paints the bay a horrifying shade of red. Even still she finds more of her soldiers in the water, their fear permeable in the air as they struggle to escape, struggle to stay afloat with all the armor weighing them down. They'll meet their demise soon enough.

She feels a hand slam down on her shoulder. Annabeth whirls, ready to scream, ready to cut, only to come face-to-face with a three headed goddess. She knows her.

Hecate.

The knife slips from Annabeth's grip as the goddess cups her face. The cold sensation slithering in her gut is the same Annabeth might get if an angry bear was sniffing her face, deciding whether or not to maul the living daylights out of her.

"Choose wisely," Hecate says with a sharp smile. "Many a hero has made a wrong turn at the crossroads. You don't want to be responsible for all this, do you?"

No. No I don't.

But it's out of her hands. The army moves full steam ahead at Athena's insistence.

"We can't stop moving because two demigods have gone missing," she tells her daughter when Annabeth attempts to convince her to stay just a little bit longer. "We have a war to win!"

But it's not just about two missing demigods. This is a sign.

It's Annabeth's idea to stage a council meeting before moving forward, not just her and Athena, but Reyna, Bianca Di Angelo, Michael Yew, Will Solace, Theia, Zoe Nightshade and Clarisse. She would have invited Luke too if they hadn't given her funny looks at the suggestion. She can't forget what he's done – no one ever ceases to remind her – but he was her friend and confidant long before Kronos was even a whisper on her lips.

She should have invited him anyway. At least then they could have all been unified in their hatred of him rather than their hatred for each other, which becomes extremely apparent when Annabeth breeches the subject of Percy and Nico and the decisive decision of whether to send more scouts after them.

It's a brief war council, considering it ends with a tearful Bianca storming out in a fit of rage. To that, Reyna and Clarisse – who almost never see eye-to-eye even in times of peace – say simultaneously, "Good riddance."

The vote commences. The move to march wins, 5 to 4, despite a nervous Theia whose only words are "his army is marching too" and nothing more. The Titaness doesn't know what they're planning, thanks to Koios and another unidentified immortal whose careful enough to always remain a step ahead of her.

A week of panic comes and goes. Things keep moving at a steady, breakneck pace and she just wants it all to stop. She wants to collect herself, to fucking breathe and come to terms with all that's happened. But time waits for no man. Kronos has seen to that.

The army itself splits in half; after the meeting, Bianca's cooperation becomes as strained as it's ever been and she refuses to cross the forces of Elysium over the Golden Gate Bridge. Giving up, knowing that Nico is no longer here to help out in these diplomatic issues, Annabeth leaves them to guard San Francisco.

The rest continue their march to Fort Baker, just east of the bridge's north end. From there, as a compromise to keep Annabeth sane, they send search parties. It's too late, of course. The trail has gone cold and the volunteers they dispatch return just as empty-handed as when they had left. Enough time has passed that it's more than clear Percy and Nico aren't coming back.

Another week passes before the messenger arrives.

Ironically, bright and early, it's the ghost of the runner Pheidippides that greets them by the early morning – the same guy who had ran all the way to Athens after their soldiers had won the Battle of Marathon against the Persians to tell the city of the good news, only to die shortly afterwards from the pure exhaustion of running 26 miles.

Despite the wide smile on his face, the news is most certainly terrible: the Titan Army has seized the Golden Gate Bridge.

"So you mean to say we've been cut off from each other?" Annabeth retorts with gritted teeth.

His smile doesn't falter. "That is exactly right."

Cue yet another panic attack.

Annabeth pours over more battle plans. Very rarely is she seen without a cup of black coffee in hand, always mixed with just a drop of nectar to keep pure exhaustion from straight up killing her (just as it had done to Pheidippides). Meals also become far and few in between.

It's not long before she divides up the troops. By the following morning, half of their soldiers – Romans led by Reyna and the Greeks by Clarisse – have their orders to march back to San Francisco and maybe catch the enemy right on their ass.

The rest, mostly their injured counterparts but Annabeth also, are forced to stay.

Jason, of course, complains bitterly. "I should be leading them," he tells her, despite his arm in a sling and the slight static in his blond hair that doesn't seem like it will let up anytime soon.

Annabeth glowers at him, and simply just turns Jason back in the direction of the infirmary. "You're not going anywhere until the side effects wear off. At this point, you're only good for attracting magnets."

And at this point, the only thing her half of the army is good for is monster fodder. Her dream – featuring Hecate and more dead soldiers – tell her the same thing as soon as the Reyna and Clarisse's legions depart for San Francisco. Only this time the soldiers have faces: Will Solace, Jason, Wu Huie, Rafael, Clarisse, Reyna, Calypso, Rachel Dare, Luke… all of them.

"You don't want to be responsible for all this do you?"

Finally, something clicks.

It's a trap.

The sun isn't even up when Annabeth dashes out of her tent, fuck sleep, fuck pants, fuck anything that doesn't have to do with her frantic journey to a big white building inscribed with a number one.

She bursts into Athena's temporary office, undeterred by the sight of Dionysus and Mercury lounging on comfortable leather couches.

"We're leaving."

Athena, seated behind a long desk befitting some sort of high-ranking general, raises an eyebrow. "We're doing what?"

Proudly, Annabeth lifts her chin up a little more, straightening her arms at her side. "You heard me."

The goddess glowers. "Annabeth—"

"No. You're going to listen to me this time." That's enough to earn anyone else instant disintegration but Annabeth just isn't like anyone else.

It's a little difficult connecting her wily thought process into words, but somehow she manages it, going at great lengths to describe all the intersecting pieces: Percy and Nico gone, their ability to make it to Fort Baker unchallenged, the surprise attack on the Golden Gate Bridge to occupy the attention of the Elysians while also drawing back soldiers to hold the city and its only point of exit. Those left behind – Annabeth and the quarter of the army composed of mostly injured combatants – to be sitting ducks for a separate Titan attack. In fact, she wouldn't even find it surprising if the Titans had begun to corner them off in this very moment, ready to eliminate her and her soldiers at Kronos's command.

"No one is in any condition to fight off whatever is coming our way," Annabeth finishes. "We have to retreat back to Angel Island."

Mercury snorts. "We're miles away by sea. How do you propose the army learns to walk on water back to New Delos?"

Dionysus raises his hand but Annabeth cuts him off, having anticipated this question as soon as she walked in here. "We've had Leo Valdez testing out the supply ships. Oceanus hasn't destroyed any yet" – whether he's adopted yet another neutral standpoint in this war, no one is entirely sure – "and we've been successful in supplying our forces in San Francisco with fresh weapons from the forges on Angel Island. We send Leo an Iris message to reroute them and, instead of bringing us supplies, he gets us the hell out of here."

That doesn't settle to well with Mercury, whose grip tightens on the pommel of the sword strapped to his waist. "We didn't come all the way out here to retreat."

"Then think of it as the army regrouping," Annabeth says immediately, completely undeterred. "You arguably have more children in the demigod ranks than anyone else here. Think about Connor and Bobby. Do you really want to lose any more?"

He can't exactly meet her eyes and she isn't pleased by it in the slightest. It's a low blow but desperate times call for desperate measures.

"Are you sure about this?" says Athena.

"No, I'm not," Annabeth admits. Haven't been sure since Percy's disappeared. She turns away from them, stalking back down the corridor. "But I'm done trying to please everyone."

She continues through the motions to get her plan enacted. Leo gets their message and it takes two days for the ships to return to Angel Island from San Francisco and get promptly shipped to Fort Baker. By midday they arrive in Caballo Harbor and the weary soldiers – Annabeth as well – rejoice.

She spends the rest of the day with Leo Valdez and Will Solace, plotting how many boats can hold their injured comrades while making the journey as smooth as possible. No hiccups. Estimated departure is set for the morning, bright an early.

Thank the gods.

By nightfall, Annabeth skips dinner in the fort's mess hall. There's too many thoughts buzzing around in her head, too much tension in her shoulders to possibly ignore.

She grabs a spare sword. It feels strange in her hand; now that Annabeth recalls, she hasn't wielded one in ages.

Annabeth performs her first strike on a skinny tree to serve as her practice dummy. Vaguely, she can hear an imaginary Luke brutally criticizing her form. She doesn't need him here physically; ever the perfectionist, Annabeth is her own worst critic.

After several tries, she establishes a sort of rhythm and she actually slashes the tree hard enough to cut through the bark's tough outer layer. Annabeth channels all her pent up rage into it.

An hour soon turns into three.

And now, with no witness around to see, the tears slip down her cheeks. First a drop and then a waterfall. Once alone, Annabeth finally, finally, grieves for her stupid Seaweed Brain that's gone and left her all alone to deal with the fallout, the fiasco. Again.

Eventually, the sword feels heavy in her hand and she collapses to her knees.

You promised not to leave, she mouths wordlessly, the sobs trapped in her throat even though she wants to scream. But I should know better.

Because they all abandon her eventually: her father, Percy, Thalia…

"You should be asleep."

She whips around.

Luke. Of course Luke. She tries to wipe the tears from her face as quickly as she can before she turns around to face him, but he notices anyway and sighs. "Oh, Annabeth."

The words come from tumbling from her mouth, less refined than anything she's managed to utter in weeks of back to back meetings. "He left me. I… I never even got to say—"

Luke cups her shoulder, his face entirely serious as he says, "I know."

"Do you?" she retorts.

Luke smiles sadly. With little thought, he embraces her. "More than you'll ever know."

The hug is a little awkward to say the least. She's never been the hugging kind and neither has he but Annabeth appreciates the effort.

She takes a deep breathe, trying to calm herself. "The worst part is that Calypso warned me it would happen. I didn't want to believe her. I—" Annabeth closes her eyes and when she speaks again her voice cracks. "I don't know what to do anymore, Luke. Everyone always thinks I have the answer to… everything. Percy and Nico's disappearance. The stupid siege on the bridge. Their army's erratic movements. But I don't. And they're starting to notice. I don't think I can keep this together, especially not after this. Not after Percy—"

Luke looks at her, disbelieving. "He's not dead yet, Annabeth. We can hope—"

"Hope? You're joking." It sounds a lot more cruel when spoken aloud but Annabeth's basic worldview has been reduced to unadulterated cynicism and she hates herself every day for it.

A pained expression flits across his face. "Thalia…"

"Is the one that took him in the first place, or so you've reported. Whatever the case, you know she wouldn't be able to help Percy and Nico once Kronos has them in his grasp."

He averts his eyes. "I have faith in her."

"Which makes you a fool."

"Maybe," he says, shoving his hands in his pocket. Luke appears relatively defeated now, much to Annabeth's dismay, and she almost thinks that's the end of that. But she's wrong.

Luke doesn't look at her. His gaze turns towards the sky above, as if Thalia herself would drop down from it at any moment. "Do you know what is was like being there? There was that terrible storm that just… appeared out of nowhere and I just knew. She was so close to me, Annabeth, that I could practically taste the ozone in my mouth."

His tone reeks of utter self-loathing. She wants to reach out, to comfort him this time, but then he's smiling again and she hesitates.

"Please get some sleep, Annabeth. I know it's hard but just do it for a poor fool like me, yeah?"

It's true that everyone does leave Annabeth behind. But she supposes they do – as much as they can – try to come back.

When she tucks in for bed that night she feels as if a minor weight has been moved off her shoulders. Her other stressors are still there, ready to collapse on her body any moment now but at least it's a start. At least she can hope for the chance of a good night's sleep.

But that's wishful thinking.

In the middle of the night, someone bursts into her tent. At the intrusion, she fingers her knife immediately, ready to kill, only to realize it's just Wu Huie from Janus.

"What happened?" she asks over his series of pants.

"The tents are on fire!" he gasps out.

She bolts up from her mat, knife still firmly in her grasp. Annabeth storms out, Wu running right behind her. "For Zeus's sake you guys can't even get yourselves together while I—"

Annabeth hears the screams and Wu points up at the sky. "I don't think this was exactly an accident."

It's a volley of pure light that shoots out from the forested hills surrounding the fort. But as soon as it bears down on them, she sees them for what they actually are: lit arrows.

They don't do much damage. Only a handful of people are actually hurt, only a dozen tents actually catch fire. But Annabeth knows the true intention behind this: a perfect tactic to cause mass panic. The perfect signal just before a devastating attack.

A calm settles over her. "Okay." For the love of Chaos, why did I expect anything different? "Find Will Solace. We need to move."

"Move where?" Wu retorts. "If you haven't noticed, there's a giant gaping ocean right behind us and we can't exactly swim in heavy armor if you catch my drift."

Annabeth understands quite clearly but her expressionless face doesn't change. She's made the necessary preparations, and now she has to believe that she can see them through. "We need to get on the boats. We need to get out of here or they're going to slaughter us."


They illuminate the night sky in a shower of bright orange. At first, she watches the panicked rebel soldiers spread out across Fort Baker like ants at the initial wave of arrows. But the panic doesn't last as long as Thalia would have liked it to.

From her vantage point on the hills, she can clearly witness the organization trumping the chaos. Predetermined groups flee to the boats on the shore, others roll out large barrels, while a few break off to put out the stray fires.

Thalia rolls her eyes. Of course they're prepared. Annabeth is always prepared.

"Greek fire is always their first line of defense." It had been her first line of defense too, she remembers, when Thalia was forced to face Kronos at the Battery Kirby. True and said, the barrels detonate. Green flames lick over the fort's east end, a sure deterrent for any sort of linear formations that could attempt to march forward and storm the battlements.

She turns to the comrade by her side. "They may be weak now but they will hold us out any moment they get. Drop the veil and get us inside the lines."

Alabaster, son of Hecate, tilts his head inquisitively. "Wouldn't it be more efficient to keep up with the invisibility rune?"

"I don't want efficiency." She twists the run on her finger, once, twice. A black bow springs to life in her hands. "I want chaos."

Alabaster nods as she slings a newly appeared quiver over her back. "As you wish." He holds out his hand to her, a smirk on his face. "After you, my lady."

She regards him carefully, eyes specifically lingering on the green runes scattered all across his black armor. "Nothing will fry me?"

"You? Never."

"Fine." Thalia grabs his hand. "There, physical contact. Now don't go falling in love with me."

His hands are warmer than she expected, but not unbearable. Mortal, so entirely mortal. He's no god, but just like her, only he willingly sided with the Titans. He's not vindictive, or sadistic, or entitled. Alabaster, like many other demigod soldiers in both the Titan and Rebellion regimes, believe they're good guys. To them Kronos is a godsend compared to the dreaded Olympians, his wrongdoings to conveniently be shoved under the rug.

Thalia sighs.

And when Alabaster laughs at her, it makes him even seem more normal.

They melt out of the shadows, and there's a nostalgic pain in her chest for a certain son of Hades currently rotting under Mount Othrys.

Alabaster confuses this for hesitance. "You know what you have to do," he murmurs, all emotion leeching out of his face. "Kronos will be watching tonight."

"You're mistaken, Mr. Torrington." Her eyes harden and she can tell the son of Hecate finds her glare completely unnerving. She releases his hand, but her middle finger brushes the palm of his painfully slow. "Kronos is always watching."

He leaves her there on the roof and Thalia glances up towards the night sky. It isn't long before swirling thunder clouds blanket the sky, blotting out all traces of the graceful full moon.

I'm sorry Artemis.

Thalia doesn't remain alone for too long. Other children of Hecate land on the roof, bringing with them a few more archers from the hill and the rest to keep up their offensive line in the trees.

Thalia joins them quickly but remains relatively aloof instead of striking up conversation. Her eyes drift over the characteristics of their vantage point: the red-tiled roofs of the fort's five or six white buildings. The spaces between them aren't so drastic as to prevent jumping back and forth between the slanted roofs, which could provide them with much needed cover. But the actual jump itself, sticking the landing without losing balance and falling off, might prove difficult.

Nothing, of course, that she can't handle.

The ground beneath them shakes a bit when more barrels of Greek fire are lit, thoroughly encasing the fort and Caballo Bay in a protective bubble. Thalia isn't in the least bit surprised.

The enemy archers take up their positions.

"LOOSE!" one shouts and they target the rebel soldiers attempting to retreat after having placed the barrier up.

Outside the ring of fire, the invisible veil disintegrates, just as Alabaster had promised. Dark shapes appear out of the shadowy trees and charge down the hill: baying hellhounds, spitting drakanae and empousa, stomping fire giants. Far too many for the weak Rebellion contingent to challenge.

Though, to Thalia's great disappointment, none of her monsters can fly. She had warned Atlas not to hog all of the drakons to himself in his attack on the bridge but if there's anyone he's apt to listen to, it isn't her. Not that it matters.

Her hand flicks up towards the sky, cuing a ripple of lightning, the sound of thunder quick to follow. Only a matter of time before the rain and wind hits, disrupting the rings of fire, and soon to make this victory an easy one.

"Rain, rain, go away, come again another day."

Her eyes snap to the ground below. She sees nothing.

"Rain, rain, go away, come again another day."

Thalia whirls around, her gaze honing in on an open second floor window of the building just behind her. Lingering in the shadows, she spots the gangly figure of the unmistakable Orpheus.

His eyes appear to be smiling as he strums another note on his lyre, one that seems to drain the very energy out of her being. Her desire to sleep becomes overwhelming.

"Rain, rain, go away, come again another day."

Thalia glances back at the sky. As if he'd pressed a rewind button, her storm clouds slowly dissipate off the horizon. She wills them to return only to be blatantly ignored.

Thalia turns back to the open second floor window, only to realize that Orpheus has disappeared. Though gone, she can still hear his obnoxious singing from somewhere far off: "Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day."

There will be no storm cover this night. Damn him. For all she knows, he could sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm and Thalia would be convinced that she was a fucking cow for crying out loud.

Outside the ring of fire, the front lines stop in their tracks. A few brave monsters test the defenses but it holds true, leaving them with no way in. The archers left on the hill shoot another wave of arrows across the fort but, once again, they don't hit a tremendous amount of targets. It's now up to Thalia and her archers that have made it inside the barrier.

She orders them to keep firing.

At the docks, the injured continue scramble onto Leo's ships at Annabeth's insistence. Luke, at her bidding, takes to rounding up any abled body soldiers should the barrier fail. Really, only time will tell if they make it out of here alive. And one thing is most certainly clear: time is not on their side.

In this, Zoe Nightshade's brief boredom comes to an end. At the behest of Annabeth, Zoe and her fellow Constellations – minus the Dioscuri who had been left on Angel Island to guard the gods – had remained at Fort Baker precisely for this moment, as opposed to running off with Reyna and Clarisse's soldiers to reclaim the Golden Gate Bridge. Thank Gaia for that.

The Apollo children gather up. From behind the line of ruined tents they begin their onslaught, returning volley after volley of arrows back at the Titan archers, thoroughly drawing away their attention. The demigods press forward.

The Constellations, on the other hand, scurry through the parking lot-turned-battlefield riddled with bodies. From the corner of the white building, Orpheus ushers them forward. With their focus elsewhere, the Titan archers atop the roof fail to notice them.

They slip inside, undetected for the most part. That is, until Thalia senses something isn't quite right.

"Wait!" Thalia shouts. Despite being cut off from the bulk of the Titan army and having much of her energy sapped by Orpheus's incessant singing, the Titan archers are far from losing. But she also knows better than to assume that they will win. She also most certainly knows that the Apollo children's obvious, head-on attack could be just a ruse.

From the corner of her eye she spots a shadow on the ground but it disappears upon second glance. However, as an ex-Hunter, Thalia is as mistrusting as ever.

She once again turns to the building behind her, staring at the open window she had seen Orpheus through. Half of her archers follow her gaze, the rest still focused on the approaching demigod archers.

It remains a waiting game until she sees a flash of silver.

"Aim for the windows!"

They do, but the Hunters beat them to the punchline.

The rest of the windows shatter open and a stream of silver arrows fly at the Titan archers. Thalia panics and ducks but three of her own comrades aren't so lucky.

"Don't let them get to the roof!" she shouts, but no one knows exactly who they should be firing at with enemies both in front of them and behind.

By the time Thalia once again has her bow in hand and her archers have processed her words, it's too late. A familiar, camo-clad figure joins them atop the building.

Zoe Nightshade.

Thalia practically screams at them to do something but they're better at hitting tiles than anything else. Zoe reaches into her boot and Thalia already knows what she's about to do.

"Get clear!"

Thank fucking Chaos himself they actually listen to her this time. Gleaming knives fly from the huntress's hands but they whip through the air harmlessly.

Of course, Zoe is joined by more of her comrades. More archers have found their way to the roof: Orion, Callisto, Atalanta, Will Solace and a handful of other Apollo children.

She curses herself, realizing she's forgotten to cover her face but at this point she can't bring herself to care.

And as expected, the Apollo children hesitate. They know her. The Constellations also seem a little shaken but that doesn't halt their nimble fingers. One Hunter, especially, isn't at all fazed.

Orion locks his blank stare on her.

Thalia's eyes narrow.

She looses two arrows in quick succession but he deflects them with his own just as easily, a third already nocked before she reaches for hers. The arrow whirls through the air, aimed for the space between her eyes, and it's hard not to take this all personally, considering she's the one that brought him to life.

Thalia dives backward as the arrowhead cuts the side of her face. Her allies come to her defense, pushing the Hunter back.

"Move!" she barks at them, absolutely furious. Their attention turns to the other rebel soldiers.

She snatches the silver arrows embedded in the red-tiled roof. Thalia takes a knee, bowstring to the edge of her eye, and releases.

Nothing sticks to him and by all the gods she swears Orion smiles.

No more games.

But before she can continue on with the rivalry, a heavy wave of arrows – as the rebels regain themselves – draws her back once more. Sweat sticking to her face, she conjures up only enough lightning to shoot them down despite Orpheus's continuous singing from whatever unknown destination. It takes a considerable amount of energy – which she isn't used to expending – and Thalia knows she won't be able to do it again.

None of her comrades thank her.

Help me, Thalia snaps wordlessly, eyes lingering on the runes on her forearm that are black as the night. Thalia knows he won't hear her command, even though she's always expected to hear his.

From her quiver she pulls out an arrow marked with a yellow band, deciding that she is no longer in the mood for games.

The arrowhead explodes on impact, sheering off a portion of the roof. In light of the roof's smoldering remains, her former silver-footed friends disappear from view.

Thalia's frown deepens and she knows it couldn't have been that easy. And it isn't, rightfully so.

Five arrows rush out of the smoke. She deflects one with her bow, dodges two, and another finds its way into a comrade's throat.

Rage swells in her veins. She holds another yellow banded arrow to her bow, past allegiances fading from the forefront of her thoughts. None of it matters anymore.

She releases.

Zoe Nightshade, this time, has the honor of shooting the dreaded thing down but a little too close to the barrier. A heartbeat later the sizable explosion makes a nice dent in the ground, thoroughly ruining Annabeth's defensive line.

Fight fire with fire. Thalia grins.

Orion seems mildly disappointed in Zoe. He releases yet another arrow Thalia's way but it skids across the roof.

Chaos does erupt this time. The hellhounds swarm through the gap in the wall of fire, drakanae legions following close behind them. Seeing this, Luke's gathered soldiers on the ground rush in to further stall the horde. But their efforts seem like a lost cause; there's too many rebels that haven't even made it on the boats yet.

Momentarily, the skirmish on the building tops seems forgotten, as both teams of archers focus on assisting their perspective armies.

Atalanta wastes no time in deploying herself on the ground to help the desperate soldiers, leaving her fellow Constellations to man the roofs with the abled children of Apollo.

"On your right," Callisto says to no one in particular.

"Done." No one turns their head and Zoe's arrow finds its way into a hellhound's throat. The victory is short-lived, her eyes already locked onto multiple targets flooding in through the barrier.

"You're left," she tells Callisto in return. A Titan archer falls at the she-bear's behest.

Soon Orion takes part and they work like a well-oiled machine, all of them having spent centuries under Artemis's command.

"Right."

"Done."

"Left."

"Done."

"Nock—"

"Loosened."

"Straight ahead."

"Done."

"Cover Atalanta."

"Understood."

The nearby Apollo children stare at the ex-Hunters as if they're absolutely insane but, considering they've spent the better part of their lives trapped in the stars, they might as well be.

Whatever their strange organization, it works: their marks hit true. Swarms of monsters fall by their hands but it's not enough. Number of arrows is what wins wars, not the talented archers themselves. And it's arrows they're soon to run out of.

Both sides know this, and it's perhaps why they decide to turn on each once again, deciding they might as well use the last of their supply on the threat coming from above.

"Empty," Callisto growls.

Zoe shoots her a look, for when the first person runs out the rest are soon to follow.

"Same here!" Will Solace shouts over yet another explosive arrow that shakes the ground beneath their feet. His siblings mumble their agreements, snatching a few of the enemy's arrows pinned to the rooftop but it's not nearly enough to subsist on.

Zoe Nightshade herself fingers the final arrow from her quiver.

"There." She jumps at the sound of Orion's voice from behind her. She knows exactly who he's staring at: Thalia Grace, the top of her head barely visible from the other side of the slanted roof. For even the visually impaired Orion, tracking the source of the explosive arrows is far from impossible.

Zoe's teeth grit together. "I know."

She becomes acutely aware of the silver sweat piling beneath her underarms, the slight tremor in her tired arms, the twitch in her dried and cracked fingers. Zoe doesn't want this but she understands she has no choice in the matter.

She releases.

But, with the slight turn of Thalia's head, Zoe's shot misses. The daughter of Zeus returns fire and both Hunters duck.

Orion makes a disapproving growl. "You're better than this."

Zoe only sighs.

He purses his lips, staring across at the expanse separating the opposing lines of warriors. Thalia is no longer occupying the same space, directing her full attention on the Apollo children not too far from them. "She moves quickly."

"She's one of us," Zoe murmurs.

"Was one of us," he corrects, pulling two arrows out from his quiver and placing it in Zoe's waiting hands.

"You saw her on Mount Othrys. She bore us no ill will; she was the one to resurrect us."

He laughs, the sound dark and jarring. "And how many times do you think Thalia's gracious husband beat her to rid said defiance from her veins? Her kindness bears a high cost, I assure you."

"You truly are cruel at times."

"I thank you for being an excellent teacher," Orion laughs before they rejoin the battle.

Like Callisto, and Atalanta before her, some of the Apollo children also begin to remove themselves from the rooftops as the arrows whizzing through the air begin to drop in number. Now is the time to join the fray below or make for a swift retreat.

"I am out of arrows," Zoe finds herself uttering. Though it is with a great satisfaction that she notices the Titan archers facing the same difficulty. Only Thalia appears to have no such qualms, her supply seemingly endless.

"And you are surprised, Zoe?" Orion continues when he catches Zoe staring at her old friend across the battlefield. "For it seems when Thalia Grace is on the prowl you cannot hit straight."

The storm of arrows thins even further, until all that remains to the rebels is one, firmly in Orion's grip.

Zoe raises an eyebrow. "Your proposal then?"

He smirks. "Leave it to me."

They dodge more projectiles from Titan archers, Orion waiting for the precise moment Thalia returns to the battle below to continue her onslaught there.

And when she does, there is no hesitation on his part. "Move," he orders. "We must get closer."

"Where?" Zoe asks, even though she should know the answer. Will – who has decided to remain with them – wastes no time, plowing on ahead across the rooftop and jumping to the next.

"Solace!" she snaps as the graceful Orion trails just behind him, final arrow and metal bow still firm in his grip.

They dodge more arrows in their path, finally stepping foot on the enemy's vantage point. Once spotted, the enemy archers are quick to pull out their knives. But Zoe Nightshade is also quick on the draw and she slices into two traitor demigods before her gaze once again turns to Orion.

"Find whatever spare arrows you can," he commands. He takes a knee, carefully nocking his last arrow. "Keep them on hand; do not fire them unless necessary or until I tell you to."

An exasperated Will Solace blows blond hairs away from his face. "I'll never understand your ability to shoot. I thought you were blind!"

"Partially," Orion corrects. "For what it is worth, I used to be much better."

Zoe nods in agreement. Though Orion relies on touch and sound more than ever, the Hunter rarely misses his target once whatever little sight remains to him is set. And at this moment, she is fully aware of the person to which he is aiming at.

"We can't let her get away!" Will growls. "Not after she took Nico and Percy."

Zoe stands still by their side, completely silent, yet dark eyes transfixed on her comrade's face. He makes no intimation of noticing her gaze.

"You trained her well, my goddess," Orion murmurs to himself, ignoring them both. He draws the string back to the tip of his chin. "But not well enough."

He smiles.

It flashes like starlight.

Thalia senses it, twisting her body to dodge Orion's trajectory, but the arrow still cuts deep in the side of her abdomen. She loses balance and her fall is a hard one onto a lower roof.

Could be worse.

She forces herself to her feet, feeling the vibrations of something landing not too far away from her. Blindly, she lashes out, slamming straight into Orion's chest.

Clearly, with more upper body strength, he flings Thalia aside easily. She skitters on the roof and the tiles scrape into her forearms as she attempts to steady herself. On the bright side, she notices her abandoned bow just as Orion lunges for her again.

There's no time to scramble for her ring and will another weapon into being. She simply reaches and prays.

Her bow crashes against his temple and Thalia thanks every deity in existence that she doesn't have to worry about the tightly wrought string exploding on her. Kronos has made sure that it never undergoes wear and tear and it's currently her only saving grace.

Expertly, Orion rolls with the blow. He shakes off the pain, a little peeved but all the more determined now. A look she thoroughly hates on him.

She rips an arrow from her quiver, nocks and releases before Orion can make his next move. But unexpectedly, her shot goes wide, sliding right past him, skipping off the roof, and bounding into the night. She nocks another one, misses again, and Orion takes his chance. She sees the flash of silver in the palm of his hand.

Knife.

Her bow once again taking its second round of abuse, she hits it in midair. Thalia, of course, doesn't pay attention to the second knife, and namely the Hunter wielding it.

A fist smashes across her face and her vision goes white. She collapses. Her hand moves instinctively, narrowly catching Orion's wrist and the blade just short of tearing her throat in two.

Grunting, Orion's weight pressed on top of her, Thalia takes the only option available to her: her forehead cracks against the Hunter's nose. Blood sprays across her cheeks and the Hunter's grip loosens. Ripping the knife from his grasp, Thalia slashes at his bloody face.

Orion jumps back to his feet, dodging each and every blow with nothing but pure instinct. And Thalia roars as if possessed – not by a demon, no – but fresh, immeasurable rage.

"I don't want to hurt you, Thalia," he says through gritted teeth. "But let it be known, the Rebellion is my first priority and I will have no qualms splitting open your skull."

She almost laughs.

A silver knife blurs out from the darkness. It sticks nicely in the palm of her hand and Thalia screams. She rips the blade out despite the unbearable pain and brandishes it again. Two hands, two knives; in theory, she should thank him.

Orion smiles. Slicked back with drying blood, his long hair no longer hides those pale irses and can seem them clearly now – mischievous as they always are – glinting in the moonlight. With the scars around his eyes, he seems positively alien.

Two more knives slip into the palm of Orion's hands. "You almost look like a Hunter again," he comments.

She doesn't respond to that. She can't. The old Thalia is worlds away and she isn't coming back. "Ready when you are," she sneers.

"Oh dear, haven't you noticed by now?" He twirls the knives in his hands, as if preparing for a fun sparing match. "Eyes are deceiving, Thalia Grace. I'm not the one you should be worried about."

There's no time to ask him what he means by that. One after the other, three arrows pierce her. One in her shoulder, one in her abdomen, and one in her thigh. A knife slips her grasp.

Thalia hisses as she snaps the shaft of the arrow in her thigh. Don't take it out, don't take it out. Gripping the arrow implanted in her abdomen, she teeters dangerously to one side.

Time slows as Orion charges her for the last time. One part of her braces for impact but, at the same time, she refuses to simply roll over and admit defeat. Not while Elpis still lives and not while she still has a weapon in hand.

Needless to say, it goes as expected. She manages to shove the blade between Orion's ribs. He pushes her in response.

Thalia flies backwards, the back of her head cracking against the roof, and she slides towards the precarious edge. Her fingers scramble to gain hold but she loses by a split second. Her bloody hands slip.

Thalia hangs in open air for what seems like an eternity.

Her body slams into the ground right side first, her shoulder bearing the brunt of the impact. She can't even scream.

Up and down the inside of her arm, the runes finally glow a brilliant shade of gold.

Fucking bastard.

Thalia tries to get up, her wounds easing with every moment that passes. But, Kronos's magic doesn't work as quickly as she would like it to. She reaches for her fallen bow, that is, until she feels the vibration of heavy footsteps barreling towards her. A pure force of nature slams into her and sends her flying once more.

Thalia lands, sprawled on her back, eyes up and honed in on the moon. In her peripheral vision she spots Callisto's hulking figure.

Oh, Artemis.

Claws cut into her arm. Any and all healing properties immediately cease, but worst of all, pain sears into her, like flames licking at her skin.

Sweaty hands grab her by the arms, and haul her to her feet. At this point, Thalia can hardly see as she realizes blood drips down into her eyes from a cut on her forehead. All she knows is that she's in pain and the people that have her do not belong to the Titan Army.

In the background, she can still hear Orpheus's beautiful singing, nullifying any and all last ditch efforts to electrify them all to hell. Instead of a current, she feels a stream, specifically the blood leaving her body at an alarming rate.

"No!" Thalia screams and trashes. She finally manages to rotate the ring on her finger and it forms a short sword in her hand. But someone – Callisto, she's more than sure – crushes her wrist and the weapon slips from her grasp.

Too late.

Someone else knees her in the face. Black spots dance across Thalia's vision and she knows this is it. This is the end.

Chapter Text

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.

- John Steinbeck


 "Metis is here, my lord."

Kronos glances down at her with a blank expression. The sight of his hollowed out eyes – almost one with the shadows of Othrys now – makes Artemis's veins seize up.

"Is she now?" he murmurs, voice hoarse, as if he's swallowed a mountain. Briefly, Kronos shuts his eyes. "If she isn't carrying any nectar or ambrosia with her, I do say it is best to leave her outside."

Artemis hesitates. The last thing she wants to do is tell someone like Metis that the Titan Lord has refused her a visit. "My lord, she says it is important, something you may find of… interest."

Kronos's fists clench. She expects an explosion – whether it be a column or her head – out of frustration, but he simply grits his teeth. "Fine, send her—"

Something unexpected happens then. Kronos belches.

Artemis can only look on with mild horror. The silence that ensues between them is paramount. Her eyebrows knit together in confusion. She swears by all the gods, those ancient and young, a waft of smoke erupts from between his lips.

Of all the things that have never happened before.

Kronos sneers. "Are you deaf, Artemis? I said send her in."

She nods, turns away swiftly, and rushes back towards the doors.

Artemis opens them, all but surprised to see that Metis has refused to wait in the foyer as is proper. She strolls past the goddess at a quickened pace, an unusual spring in her step.

"My lord," Metis smiles when she nears him, though her tone hints that – for whatever she has to get off her chest – the pleasantries are all but annoying.

"Lady Metis," he mocks, most clearly not amused. "You have news, I hear?"

They motion towards Artemis to close the doors and, as soon as she does, the Titaness produces a strange object in her hands: a pithos of carefully crafted obsidian.

"Your team has proven successful," she laughs. "They found it. I told you they would."

"So you did," he says, a slow smirk tugging at his lips. "I never doubted you."

"A lie if there ever was one," Metis snorts, approaching him. Kronos stands, and only Artemis has been around him enough to notice the slight wobble he tries to mask. But the king promptly regains himself, meeting Metis halfway and shrinking to a more proper size with every step.

She bows before him, bestowing the strange gift.

Kronos takes it from her and removes the lid, eyes widening in absolute delight. The contents remain perfectly shielded from Artemis's view, but, she most certainly gets a glimpse of the pithos's design: crafted with designs the color of blood, the image of a snake devouring its own tail.

Ouroboros.

Artemis stiffens.

A sound fills the room, a low steady beat that seems positively alive. But then the lid shuts and the sound disappears, with Artemis wondering if it'd ever existed at all.

A wicked smile graces the Titan Lord's face. He appraises the pithos, studying the snake rune intently. "I did not think this still in existence."

"As I said," Metis straightens. "The attack at Fort Baker did not go as planned but at least I have brought you some good news."

At the mention of Fort Baker, it is then that Artemis takes her chance. "What word have you of Thalia Grace?" she whispers, stepping forward.

Kronos glares at her as if finally realizing she hasn't left yet. "That does not concern you," he dismisses; an expected reaction.

But, like a dog with a bone, Artemis refuses to let go. "But it may concern you that she has not returned to Mount Othrys yet."

A weighted glare flickers between the two Titans. "I have given her an extension for her mission," he finally answers.

Her eyes narrow. "Her missions have never been overnight."

"They are now."

"You don't trust her enough—"

"Artemis!" Kronos booms, thoroughly silencing her. "Need I remind you who is in charge?"

She looks away. "No, my lord."

A beat passes. She feels Metis's scowl boring holes into the side of her face.

"Do you know what is in here, dear Artemis?" Kronos retorts, ushering in the direction of Metis and the mysterious pithos.

She bows her head. "I have an idea, my lord. And, if it does not offend, I would rather not speak of that evil."

"A great evil indeed." Kronos smiles. "Hopefully, I will have no need of this, assuming those rebels decide not push their luck."

"If they are wise, my lord," Metis adds.

He simply waves his commander away. "I rather this beauty's existence is kept a secret. If you know what's good for you, Artemis, understand that you shouldn't breathe a word of this. Unless you want a repeat of the last time you refused to keep your pretty lips sealed."

"Yes, Lord Kronos." Artemis clenches her teeth but says no more. She knows the look on his face better than she knows herself: should the goddess step even an inch out of line he will take great pleasure in beating her into the ground. "May I go now?" she says rather quietly.

He inclines his head towards the direction of the door. "You may."

She all but stomps her way out, the doors to throne room shutting behind her.

"Oh, the pets you entertain yourself with," Metis sighs. "I did not understand when I first arrived but I have a grasp on why you find such defiance amusing."

"Amusing indeed, though nowadays I rarely have the patience for it." Though truthfully, it's been rather lacking since Thalia's disappearance.

Kronos reclaims his seat on the throne, the pithos cradled in his lumbering arms like a sleeping child.

Metis remains standing before him, gaze distant now to match her pursed lips. "My lord, if I may speak freely on the subject of your wife."

Kronos raises an eyebrow. "Go on, but do tread carefully."

"She is with the rebels as we speak." Her musings cease, gray eyes alighting with sparks. Metis has an argument to be made now and woe upon the fool that tries to silence her now.

"She was captured," he corrects, "and if you are worried for Thalia Grace, don't be. She knows to come back and it's only a matter of when, to be assured. My wife is aptly resourceful."

"High praise for a half-blood, my lord," Metis snorts as politely as she can. "But she is not to be trusted."

He laughs, reclining further back in his throne. "I trust her? Oh Metis, you must mistake me for another Titan. A foolish one at that."

"You are lenient with her, uncle. Far more lenient than you should be. She is as conniving and wicked as her predecessor."

"And here I thought you loved your aunt." Kronos sneers. "If my memory serves well, it was her silver tongue that entranced you to Zeus's side." And, subsequently, his bed, though that remains unspoken between the two.

"And the good it did me," Metis muses, the thought a somber one. "Do you remember your wedding, uncle?"

"It was a long time ago" – practically eons at this point – "and a memory I can do without."

"But you have not forgotten, careful being that you are, so rooted in time." His eyes narrow but Metis ignores Kronos, pacing back and forth before him. "Every Titan in the cosmos watched the bedding ceremony, my lord. Oh yes, all the men lamented the loss of beautiful Rhea. Wife of their lord now and forever out of reach should they wish to keep their limbs intact. The women, not so. Who was this young being who had entranced their king with her wily ways?"

"Jealousy in its purest form," Kronos chuckles.

"Yes and no," she responds. "You brought her to your bed, my lord, and when you laid her down there was a wicked gleam in the new queen's eyes, like that of a hungry beast. Ambition, greed, the absence of reverence at its finest. You were her king and yet she did not think so. Not anymore."

"You were a giggling girl at the time as I recall," he offers as an amicable rebuttal. "Such things were beyond your note."

"And yet I still had eyes all the same!" she snaps. "And I saw as she flipped you over, as she climbed atop you – only a husband's right at the time – and took you between her legs. I saw as she flashed that smug smile of hers at the onlookers. You did not reprimand her, of course! How could you when the wanton girl fucked you into oblivion? Oh, but we all knew – and from the look on your face, it was clear to her as well – that you would do anything for her. A whisper from great Rhea and you wouldn't hesitate to destroy continents at her whim."

Kronos stills and for a moment he takes the form of a statue, drinking her in. "You exaggerate, niece."

Metis snorts. "Do I? Forgive me, my lord, but your intentions lead me to believe otherwise." He rolls his eyes at her but she continues still. "Lady Rhea did not know her place. She was too ambitious, she got away with many things and it led to your downfall. I beg you, my lord. Do not let this reincarnated whore ruin you once more."


 "You've been sitting by her side all night."

"And are you coming to relieve me of my duty?" A snort. "Anyone could hurt her out of retribution."

"Can you blame them? Camp Jupiter was destroyed because of her. Fort Baker—"

"You think I don't realize this? I've been obsessing over the casualties for days, I've had to assess every little detail. I warned the gods about the distraction and the imminent attack. I'm the one who had to take care of everyone while you were sitting in the infirmary for the better part of a week."

"I would have helped if I could."

"But you couldn't."

"All because she nearly killed me."

"What do you want me to do? Hate her?"

"No—"

"Well, I can't. She was my sister longer than she was yours. That won't be erased with the snap of your fingers."

Silence.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"All that time you two were together… she never mentioned me? Not once?"

"No."

Silence again.

"Reyna is putting together a trial. I'm helping her do it. It's my duty as praetor and our laws are very clear on what to do with traitors."

"I know. And I forgive you."


 Her dull eyes focus in on a seagull flying overhead. His ugly caws ring in her ears.

Boards creak beneath Thalia's back. She can hear waves lapping against a hard surface, salt filling her nostrils. She wants to move, she wants to snatch the bird from the air and snap its neck. But her fingers don't even twitch.

"Thalia."

She tries to turn her head but that world spins. She knows that voice. She can recognize it from anywhere. But before she can place the voice to the name, the gull disappears and the pale gray sky fades from view.

Thalia bolts up, no longer on the hull of a boat, no longer paralyzed. She's standing now, in Olympus's old throne room. She finds her hand clenched around… Riptide's hilt?

"Thalia."

The same voice.

She looks up. She freezes.

Luke.

"I told you by sundown," he says.

Not Luke, not Luke, not Luke. And most certainly not his voice. In his hands, he raises his menacing scythe and Thalia shrinks away. "It's not my fault. The rebels—"

His golden eyes flare. He'll cut her in two, she just knows it. "I told you—" Kronos's voice breaks off before she can burst into tears. Luke's eyes cool to a familiar solid blue.

"Thalia," he says again, confused. "I don't have much time. They're taking you to—"

The throne room melts away, giving way to another – darker, more twisted. And she still isn't alone.

Her back slams against a column. She feels blood between her thighs.

"If you ever touch another man again—"

Her hands fly to her stomach. Elpis. Please don't hurt Elpis.

But Kronos jerks suddenly, and his body trembles as if possessed. When he speaks his eyes are blue and it's Luke's voice that slips between his lips. "I'm working out an escape. The cuffs—"

She can't process the words fully. Thalia only begins to cry, hoping – in the rare moment – for anything other than death. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please."

"Focus, Thalia," he snaps, as the throne room of Othrys also fades away. And when she lies back on the dark marble floor, unable to take the pounding sensation at the back of her skull, it turns to a familiar bed. Her chambers back on the mountain. Kronos – Luke? – hovers over her. "Leo owes me a favor. They're not Celestial Bronze. Iron. You can melt them."

"Melt what?"

"Please, Thalia. You need help—"

"I can't, I can't!" she screams and Mount Othrys' walls disappear entirely.

Greeted by a dark blue ocean instead – again – and an unbearable pain shooting up her spine. Spreading to her limbs. Thalia whimpers, "Everything hurts."

Blackness again and then it clears… to the background of a familiar rocky shore, a worn out battery barely standing in the background.

She wades in the water. But Hera – Rhea – isn't with her this time. She's so utterly alone, pressing the knife to her throat as Kronos materializes on the bank.

"…need to get to the shore," he says in Luke's voice. But it's a trick. It has to be a trick. I can't. Then it's over. He'll take me to Mount Othrys and I'll never escape. "There'll be a raft waiting. You need to listen. Please—"

I'm never going back.

"Luke—" she tries to say but there's salt water in her mouth. And Hera – no, Rhea – is suddenly there, dragging her down beneath the waves.

And on the shore, another woman is dragging Luke away too. "It's time to wake up, Castellan," Thalia hears her say, despite plunging beneath the dark waves, sputtering for air. "I can help you no further."

"What did I tell you?" Kronos laughs, having returned, voice perfectly clear to her underwater. "Forever and always."


 "She's awake," a familiar voice drawls.

Thalia jumps, slamming the back of her head against a railing. Metal rattles. She tries to touch her face with her left hand, only to find it completely immobile, cuffed to the railing.

Laughter ensues.

She glares at Orion in the bed beside her, grinning ear to ear. He stares blankly up at the ceiling. Bare-chested, a hand grips his heavily bandaged side. Even then, blood the color of a swirling night seeps through all the layers. It seems rather painful but he can't bring himself to stop.

With a crisp sigh, she turns her head in the opposite direction, ignoring him.

Thalia is in an infirmary; that much is obvious. She figures it could be worse.

In the opposite corner of the room, a young man in a lab coat fiddles over a running sink. Steam rises up from the basin. His hand glows a bright gold, and the water shimmers.

"Will?" she murmurs, not quite finding her voice yet.

His eyes flicker in her direction but he says nothing at all and hardly even turns his head.

Voices filter in the room via the sink. She hardly hears anything over all the shouting, vaguely making out the words "status report."

"Tell Reyna to commence the trial proceedings. Sleeping Beauty's finally ready."

Something tells Thalia that the Sleeping Beauty in this equation is herself.

"Roger," replies the recipient of Will's message.

The voices cut away and Will turns from the sink – his back towards her – and resumes his duties.

"If you keep laughing like that, Orion," the son of Apollo grumbles, "you're going to go through all my bandages."

"Apologies, doctor," the Hunter smirks, casting another side-eye Thalia's way. "Apparently a stab through my ribcage is the quickest way to my heart. Do you not agree, Thalia Grace?"

Angrily, she lunges at him, only to be stopped short by her chained wrist.

"Don't bother," Will's quiet voice warns. He still doesn't look at her. "Even if you do get free of those – which is unlikely since they're Celestial bronze – you won't get very far."

Finally, he turns around.

Thalia notices quickly that this isn't the same, perky Will Solace she had interacted with three years ago. All the humor has leached out of his face, turning him into an almost spitting image of Asclepius back at the hospital Elpis had been born in. Stoic, unfeeling, meticulous.

Faintly, she wonders how many people have died in his arms. She wonders how many of those casualties were her own doing.

He walks towards the cots with a red cup in hand that smells like hot chocolate on a cold winter's day. He sits at the edge of Orion's bed, handing it off to the Hunter. With difficulty, Orion sits up and gladly takes the nectar.

Then Will turns his merciless eyes on her.

"You might have almost done Orion in but I'd also say he gave you a few good licks."

She says nothing.

The corners of Orion's mouth curl, making him look positively feline as he continues to sip.

"But," Will continues, "I did find one scar particularly interesting. An old one, below your navel."

Ice water rushes up her spine. She knows the exact one he's referring to. "I have a lot of scars."

"But none so severe," the son of Apollo counters. Though previously carefree, he had never been subject to tricks or deceit. He's too perceptive for his own good. "I've been meaning to ask you about it."

Thalia snorts, a very clear sign she doesn't intend to tell him anything.

He looks at her again and she can see Will changing tactics. His eyes narrow slightly. "Your hair's curlier."

"What do you want me to say, doctor?" She raises an eyebrow. "Hormones?"

"You know, I was thinking the same thing," he muses. At his smug tone – like a cat that's just cornered his prey – Thalia wants to scream. "But then again, there's only really two points in your life that could change hair growth pattern so dramatically. Puberty or p—"

"Do you ever get tired of being such a smartass, Solace?"

That derails his train of thought. "Can't exactly help it."

"You're right. Let me rephrase the question," Thalia says before he can regain himself. "Is there a reason you're being such a colossal dick? Or, specifically, do you have a problem with me?"

Orion gives a slight nod of approval but she refuses to acknowledge him. And though he angers her, she's a bit surprised he's kept quiet on the validity of Will's assumptions. Though why he – or any of the other Constellations – have kept the existence of Elpis to themselves is beyond her.

"Isn't it obvious?" Will shoots back. "You're a prisoner of war, Thalia."

In essence, his enemy. "Isn't that obvious?" she mocks, rattling her cuffs against the railing. "No fucking shit. It was bad enough I got taken down by a blind man. I don't need you playing Twenty Questions with me. So, kindly, fuck off."

Orion sputters on the last bit of nectar, once again trying to hold in his laughs. Thalia finds it positively grating. She finds everything grating now that she thinks about it. There's a slight ring in her ears, her face is red, she reeks, she hurts, and every nerve in her body is standing on edge.

But most importantly, she shouldn't be here.

I shouldn't be here.

Neurotically, her chained hand flies to her covered forearm.

"Leave it on," Will orders.

Her nails dig into her flesh. Thalia grits her teeth. "It's sweaty."

"Doesn't matter."

She takes a deep breath. "He can't track me with it." Thalia averts her eyes. "It's only supposed to heal. Sometimes he can send me messages with it but I can't send them back."

"It's ugly and either way we rather not risk it. You're not exactly trustworthy."

Thalia can't argue with him. The eye of Kronos imprinted on her skin for the rest of eternity…it is hideous.

She turns her gaze to the ceiling, trying to hold back the tears pricking at the back of her eyes. The last thing she needs to do is show him any signs of weakness – she made that mistake before with her own godly doctor and he had injected her with a horse tranquilizer – especially when she can still feel the weight of his glare.

Thalia once again finds her voice. "You're awfully good at babysitting, Solace, but do I really have to remain here all day with you watching me?"

"They're coming to get you soon," he answers simply.

"So we are going somewhere?" She turns to look at him again, smiling this time. She sees the hands in his lap clench. "What? I'm sure you could let a few more things slip your tongue."

Will purses his lips. Silence again.

"Fine." She turns her gaze to Orion. "Please tell me they're taking me to my execution."

He shakes his head as if he's also disappointed. "A trial," Orion responds, though this tone remains hopeful as if an execution might quickly follow. Though when it comes to the Romans, he might not be all that wrong.

Nevertheless, Thalia rolls her eyes. "That's no fun."

"Do you think this is some kind of joke?" Will rises from the bed, color blooming across his cheeks. "All that's happened and it's somehow funny? You've raided us, you've killed us, you took Nico, you—"

Something in her brain clicks. Thalia tilts her head and finally sports her own cruel grin. "Unusually attached to him, are you?"

He bristles. "Stop doing that." She can see herself in the reflection of his pale blue eyes. She looks sick, no, she looks evil. But worst of all – clear as day – she can see the damage Kronos has left on her psyche.

By all means, she should stop while she's ahead. But Thalia can't. Instead, she just laughs and it's like the equivalent of twisting a knife in a wound.

"Stop!" Will growls. His skin begins to glow and there's no mistaking him for anything other than Apollo's son. But Thalia reminds herself she's faced glowing deities before. She's faced Kronos. Hell, she's faced herself.

"And if I do, then what?" Thalia snaps. She forces another dry laugh through bared teeth. "What's the point of any of this if you can't laugh at it, right Orion?"

Of course, Will doesn't crack a smile. The shimmer on his skin dissolves, giving way to disappointment. "Are you really that far gone?"

She doesn't know how to answer that. She's lucky she doesn't have to.

There's a sharp rap at the door.

Will only shakes his head. "You've changed, Thalia." He turns away from her – towards the door – but not before those words slip between his teeth. "But you've been away for nearly three years. I think you'll find that we've changed too."

The door swings open.

"Luke?" is the first thing out her mouth. After all, he's the first one she notices. Always.

He steps towards her, though she is very aware of the two soldiers that remain in the doorway. Rafael and another demigod whose name she can't place. Probably Roman.

Under everyone's watchful eyes, he unlocks the cuffs trapping her to the railing. But, taking advantage of her initial surprise, he pins her wrists to her back before she even realizes what's happening.

"Remember what I said," he murmurs, too low for anyone but her to hear.

"What?" she whispers back.

New cuffs close around her wrists, surprisingly lighter than the ones that had chained her to the bed. Less constricting. Or perhaps it's only her wishful thinking, now that any hope of escape has been dashed just like that.

Once subdued, the two soldiers in the hallway visibly relax once it's clear the hard part is over.

"Move," Luke says louder, voice blank.

She has no choice but to do as he says. She rises from the bed on shaky legs and he pushes her forward. Though she is more than aware of his hand on her wrist, his thumb rubbing light circles on her flesh and Luke's intentions more than clear.

Keep calm. Trust me.

"Good luck, Thalia Grace," says Orion from the cot. He raises his mug in her direction. "You'll need it."


 They march her towards a white-domed structure set on a high hill, it's backdrop an overcast sky and churning ocean. Ocean on all sides, now that she notices. An island. Great. And coupled with the heavy fog, it's nearly impossible to gather her location, particularly how far the mainland is and whether it's in swimming distance.

Talk about stranded.

No one speaks as they near the Senate House and she finds the crushing silence particularly unusual. Though Thalia stops herself from asking where the others are. A hunch tells her she'll see them all soon enough.

Rafael breaks off from the party, stepping in front of her to open the doorway. She swears she hears him mutter under his breath, "Get ready."

Alarmingly, both Luke and the anonymous Roman grab onto her shoulders just as the doors part.

Individual shouts they find practically booming under amplification by the dome's glass ceiling. With everyone shouting at once, it's enough to drown out the heavens themselves. Parted on either side of her, two semicircles of tiered seats are filled to the brim with red-faced rebels screaming at one another but, once they notice Thalia, it's all downhill from there.

At a quickened pace, Luke and the Roman push her forward against her will, brushing aside the ferocious hands reaching down from the stands to seize her. She's relieved to find that no one seems to be carrying any weapons besides her guards themselves. That isn't to say, of course, that she's safe from the mob. A riled up crowd could kill her just as easily.

Despite the volume, she can make out the insults and chants they throw her way: everything in the book from Titan-lover to flat-out bitch, but the word traitor most of all, which she admits has a particularly nasty ring to it.

"Enough!" Eyes – Thalia's included – turn towards the dais to the left of the stands. Atop it, a thin-faced Reyna, decked in the decorated bronze armor and purple cape befitting a praetor, rises from her seat. "I call this session to order at once."

Thalia's attention wanders to the other praetor still seated at Reyna's side. Also in his proper Roman attire, Jason Grace stares blankly at his hand.

Look at me, she wants to shout. Acknowledge me.

Pushing himself to the very front of the stands, no more than a mop of straw-blond hair tucked in a breastplate too large for his chest, Octavian appears amidst the crowd. Certainly close enough to hiss in Reyna's face, "We want justice!"

Her nose crinkles as if smelling something foul. "And you'll have it, Octavian."

As if her walk of shame isn't bad enough, the aurar's glare seems to bore literal holes in the back of Thalia's head. She half expects Luke to lead her out onto a lit pyre and for Octavian to run out and denounce her as a witch.

Instead, they seat her on a metal chair practically center stage to the onlookers. She figures it's just as bad as they hook her cuffs to it and back up, leaving her stranded on the Senate floor, at the mercy of every rebel she's ever had a hand in pissing off.

Except for two, ironically, standing just by Octavian's side. Annabeth, she recognizes easily, despite her looking like a complete wreck. Nothing new there, especially now with Percy gone and the person responsible – Thalia – sitting only a few feet away.

The second demigod, Thalia struggles to place, though he seems awfully familiar. He catches her staring and he winks at her with the icy blue eyes that are spitting image of Luke's. He holds up four fingers.

Four.

Now that she thinks about it, he must be eleven years old now; it's been roughly three since they stole him away from Tartarus.

With a great satisfaction, she notices that Luke doesn't situate himself too far away. While most certainly out of arms reach, he's still the closest to her out of any of the other guards and that has to count for something.

"Thalia Grace," Reyna declares and the voices fall into a whisper. Her fingers tighten around the hilt of her sword and for a moment Thalia thinks this is it. The trial will end before it's even begun and Reyna will cut her head off without even uttering a word. "Daughter of Zeus, former general of the Rebellion and first lieutenant of the Hunters of Artemis—"

"Now a traitor!" Octavian cries out unexpectedly, turning to his fellow rebels who cheer him on. "The wife of Saturn!"

Reyna's glare flashes their way and it silences the rebels into submission once more. "If you cannot keep quiet, Octavian, I will personally escort you out."

Her intention is more than clear: woe to those who challenge this daughter of Bellona. Some rebels, their expressions heavy with judgment, face him. They too, want to continue on.

"Continue, praetor," he spits.

"You are accused of treason," Reyna states, stepping down from the dais. "Primarily for revealing the location of Camp Jupiter, therefore having a hand in its destruction. You are accused of aiding Saturn – Kronos – by leading Titan forces, participating in the capture of Percy Jackson and Nico Di Angelo, and conspiring to destroy your fellow soldiers – our own Praetor Grace one of your latest victims."

Finally, Jason lifts his head.

Their gazes connect in a shower of sparks as he rises from his chair. The tension between them is practically palpable.

He moves forward, purple cape rippling slightly with every step he takes towards her. Thalia wills herself to remain composed, to give nothing away. She's so used to that but staring into her brother's sky blue eyes, so filled with pain and abandonment, almost makes her break.

You know what you are, she chastises herself. Don't try to hide it.

Jason comes to a halt, an arm's length away. "Do you deny these accusations?" he whispers.

You know what you've done. Don't try to hide it.

"Thalia Grace, do you deny these accusations?" Reyna repeats.

"No," she admits with little hesitation now. Her stare cools to a frightening degree. "He made me tell him about Camp Jupiter."

No one asks for an elaboration. No one wants one. The mob cries out for blood. Her blood, in exchange for those that died in the massacre.

Jason leans towards her slightly. "And the rest?" he presses.

"Of course. I thought that was a given." Her smile is pained. "Did you think I struck you by accident?

He gapes at her for a moment, disbelieving. Sensitive Jason. As a toddler, he never liked hearing the truth. In that regard, not much has changed.

The cries turn to full blown shouts, their horror more apparent than even their praetor's. The words come tumbling from Jason's mouth and he falters backward. "You really did try to kill me. I wanted to think—"

"Praetor—" Reyna interrupts from behind him, and to no avail.

"I knew there was a chance you wouldn't" – die, that is – "but yes," Thalia continues, knowing very well this is no time to air their dirty laundry. But at least, she thinks, Jason is owed an answer. "I most certainly tried."

A hush falls over the crowd now and even Reyna seems a little shaken to the point she says nothing at all.

The scar on his lip quivers. "I'm your brother." His voice breaks a little.

A brother I barely know, she wants to tell him. You're not my daughter. But it's unfair, in a way. She had held a baby Jason in her arms, had loved him in a similar way to how she loved Elpis. The distinction is minimal and the comparison hard but Thalia can't turn back now.

She shakes her head. "You already knew the truth. You didn't have to ask."

"Jason!" Reyna snaps finally as she regains her voice. Though her outburst, this time, almost seems to be in his defense. "That's enough."

Jason withdraws as if Thalia's struck the ultimate blow. He clasps his shaking hands behind his back. "I had to hear it from your own mouth."

"Praetor." Octavian stands again, though this time his outburst meets little to no resistance. "If Jason Grace is unwilling to continue, allow me to speak on his behalf. This trial must continue swiftly and, not only are we wasting time, I find you are asking the wrong questions."

"No—"

"Let him. I have nothing left to say." Jason nods Octavian's way. "Proceed."

Silence fills the room again as the Roman leaves the stands to join Reyna and Jason on the Senate floor. Only then does Thalia brave a glance in Luke's direction. She doesn't expect to meet his pleading stare.

A shock runs through her.

Remember what I said.

She turns her head again before suspicions can arise, at precisely the same moment Octavian settles before her. Now, his stare, Thalia finds completely unnerving.

No… annoying.

"Thalia Grace." He crosses his arms over his chest. "You've certainly made things difficult for us, haven't you?"

She says nothing.

The edge of his mouth curls. "What does he do for you?"

Her eyes darken. A little spark and I could set every neuron in your brain on fire.

At that thought, she swears she feels a flicker of energy erupting between her fingers. Though it should be impossible. Her chains should be Celestial Bronze—

Iron. You can melt them.

"What does Saturn do for you, Thalia?" he repeats, edging closer and his smirk widening, perhaps mistaking her silence for intimidation. "Why do this? Surely he must be providing you with something?"

My daughter's life. Thalia rolls her eyes. "Does it matter? You've already made up your mind about me. No amount of pleading, no excuse is going to change anything."

"You're right. It doesn't. But we were curious as to why you'd betray us." Octavian circles her like a vulture eyeing a carcass, though he's nothing compared to the wolf with ocher eyes stalking her, the sensation of knife-like claws slicing into her gut. "Perhaps it's just a common thread amongst Saturn's whores."

"Was that supposed to get a rise out of me?"

He shrugs as if the opportunity to take a jab at her was too great to pass up. "Perhaps not, as a shameless Greek."

"Octavian!" Jason warns. At his words, a few of the other Greek demigods in the audience begin to stir, setting their antagonistic sights on him. Three years and the tension haven't faded quite yet. Interesting.

"You think you know something about shame, Octavian?" Thalia sighs with a hint of breathy laughter at the back of her throat. "Then you still have a lot to learn."

"You're right," he admits, initially surprising her. Her expression sours as he leans in closer to her, sporting a shit-eating grin Thalia would slap off his face in a heartbeat. "You were the one on Othrys, not I. You know Kronos as intimately as the rest of." She doesn't miss the jibe, the insinuation behind those words. "Perhaps you hate him as we do. Perhaps you're afraid of him – it's not unfounded. We may seem brave but every person in this room is terrified of the Titan Lord. Perhaps, by killing us all yourself, it is your way of sparing us from his wrath."

Octavian whirls around to face the crowd once more. "Then again I could be wrong in that as well. We may just have a bad case of Stockholm syndrome on our hands and I am not in the mood to deal with Titan sympathizers." Shouts of approval echo from the top of the stands. "Though I can excuse a mentally-ill comrade, I cannot excuse a turncloak. Especially not after the atrocities that have been committed."

Everyone rushes to their feet, this time to join in the deafening applause, the overwhelming support. Annabeth and Four remain firmly rooted in their spots, unwilling to join the ramble. Nevertheless, they don't exactly meet Thalia's pressing gaze either.

"I say we put the Graecus to death and be done with it," he says, though his words lose their hostility and ring with pity instead. Thalia thinks it's even worse; she seems like nothing more than an old dog that needs to be put out of her misery.

Octavian moves away from her, his steely glare finally seeking other targets. "Though I know your praetors are too weak to do what needs to be done."

Reyna bristles. "Enough of this."

Jason only stares at Thalia, making no move to intervene.

Octavian peers at Thalia from over his shoulder. Somehow, she already knows what he's going to say: a statement that just might finally hurt her. "She isn't one of us, not anymore." He sneers. "She's no hero."

You're no hero, Kronos had said to her on the first night of what would be a thousand nights. You never were.

Thunder roars in her ears. For a quick moment, she wants them all gone, wiped from the face of the earth, minus the fact that some of those faces had once been her friends. And yet they had turned on her all the same.

Could she blame them?

Bitter voices rise in volume again, oblivious to her distress. She faintly wonders why she's here at all to sit through these deliberations. They could have easily left her out, considering the way in which they speak now it's as if she isn't here at all. For a quick moment, she swears she hears Annabeth rising to her defense. Perhaps a few others.

Not that it matters.

Thalia throws her head back, eyes honed in on the glass ceiling above. Storm clouds blot out the sky, gray and moody. Thunder rumbles closer and closer.

Remember what I said.

Her hands itch with that familiar spark, and the guiltless urge returns. Make them pay. But the words in themselves are terrifying. She had never been so vengeful, so eager to cause harm to others and – by extension – herself. Has he made her this way?

How did you stand it?

It's a simple question, a lonely question. Meant for someone that is only a part of her and hidden oh so deep that she doesn't expect an answer in return.

I didn't.

A frightening power seeps into her veins and the roof above shatters. Her eyes settle on Luke just as her vision turns white.

He smiles.


 Gnarled bushes and tangled tree roots part easily in the midst of her trek and they are smart to do so. When Rhea has a vision in place there's no turning her away, no keeping her out. The nymph hardly ever had a chance at hiding.

And Rhea finds her, seated on a long with a swaddled bundle in her arms. At the sight of the Titan Queen, she doesn't quiver. She's, no doubt, been expecting this for a while now.

"My Lady," the nymph murmurs. She cranes a perfectly sculpted eyebrow, clearly unimpressed and unintimidated. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

The Titaness clasps her hands behind her back. "It is rude to lie to your queen, Philyra."

She steps forward into a spot illuminated by a trickle of sunlight filtering in through the canopy. Her finely woven dress immediately catches the light, shimmering with a thousand shades of gold. Though it is pale in comparison to the crown that adorns Rhea's head: a large, circular diadem braided into her midnight black hair, inlaid with topaz she herself must have pulled straight from the blackened earth.

"This encounter brings no one pleasure and you know it."

Philyra simply purses her lips and says nothing.

"Will you let me see him?"

The nymph cringes, her nose crinkling in a way Rhea might find adorable in any other situation, on any other person. "I-I fail to see why it matt—"

"I want to see him." Her skin flashes as gold as her dress. "Must I command you, in the name of the Titan Lord to whom you claim sired your bastard?"

The last word especially stings. Philyra all about throws the baby into the Titaness's waiting embrace before reclaiming her seat on the log, arms crossed tight over her chest.

The Titaness calms.

He looks like his mother.

That alone, gives her such tremendous relief… at first. Plain brown eyes the color of tilled soil to match the few brown hairs sprouting from the top of his round head. And no beauty, no spark, no smile, to suggest profound divinity. Just a normal babe that wouldn't even pass for regular Titan-spawn.

Then he clenches a fist full of her hair and she sees it. Or rather, sees him, in the sharpness of the child's nose, the tilt of his jaw, the degree in which his eyes narrow as he smiles and yanks at the ends of her hair.

A son of Kronos.

Though not a god, she reminds herself as she pushes his blankets aside and four equine legs sprout free. The realization is enough to ease her discomfort. "It could be worse," Rhea says finally with the ghost of a smile on her lips. "He could have one eye and 98 more arms."

The joke's intended effect fails to please Philyra. The nymph rushes over, snatching the centaur from Rhea's arms.

"I know why you're here," she hisses, as she tightens the blankets around her son again, though whether it is to hide his shame or hers, no one knows. "You have nothing better to do than tease the prettier woman that caught your husband's eye." Unwilling to look at him, Philyra sets her babe down behind the log, despite his refusal. Her reasoning, once again, Rhea can't say. Out of sight, out of mind cannot really apply in this situation. "I do not blame you, not really. I might stoop to a similar level in your place. Mother says it is a special irony that the Titaness of Motherhood will never be able to have a child of her own. A pity."

Rhea's temper returns. "Your mother" – ironically, Rhea's older sister Tethys who would do well to mind her own business – "should have taught you to mind your tongue, little girl. I am your queen and I do not need your pity."

"What good is a queen that can even produce a viable heir? Titaness of Motherhood," she snorts as if it's a curse. "Well, even this little girl has surpassed you in that endeavor. Maybe Lord Kronos ought to make me queen."

Raising a hand in her direction, Rhea makes sure the unruly nymph chokes on that last word. Queen. With her anger flaring out, potent and deadly, a cold wind whips through the trees and the forest runs silent.

"You are an ambitious little slut aren't you?" Rhea spits and her hand tightens into a fist, cutting off the nymph's airways completely. "Do you not think, girl, that there is only so much I can take before I snap?" Philyra slams to the ground with a partially concealed shriek. "And by snap, I mean your neck that is.

But that, in itself, is too easy. With a tilt of her head, vines wrap around Philyra's body. The nymph's dark skin cracks and blisters, turning into something more earthly than anything close to immortal flesh. Her brown hair bursts into an array of dead leaves.

Rhea continues on. "I am not your everyday nature spirit that you can cross to your delight. I am the blood of Gaia and Ouranos. You are simply another subject I can gleefully crush under my heels with no repercussions. Contrary to popular belief, little Philyra, I am no longer merciful." The vines plunge into every crevice: nostrils, ears, eyes, mouth. The sounds of pain becoming practically alien at that point. "And you can thank precious Kronos for that."

The nymph's face solidifies into bark and her screams fade out in a dying whisper. Panic flashes across Rhea's face and she stares at her hands. Vaguely, she wonders if she is ready to laugh or cry.

A sharp cry draws Rhea out of her trail of thought. She turns around to face Philyra's bastard. He's kicked aside his blankets and, despite his hideousness, she has the urge to pick him up, readjust them to shield him from the cold. As if sensing her thoughts the babe even reaches out, fists clenching and unclenching in her direction as if to grasp her like he would his mother.

But I am not his mother, she tells herself with utmost finality. My children are locked away in a prison of their own flesh and blood. To them, the light of this world is but a dream.

And with that, Rhea hardens into a Titaness almost unrecognizable; dark eyes and a solemn face as she turns away from the mewling babe.

He has a made a monster of me.

She smiles but her silence speaks volumes. Do not fret. He will make a monster of you yet.


 He will make a monster of you yet.

Lightning ripples and ricochets off a wall of rushing air. Hands up, Jason falls to his knees and the barrier sparks, the scent of ozone prominent, though it holds firm.

"I'll admit," Luke murmurs. He spits the blood out of his mouth. "You're a better improviser than I am."

Thalia blinks the daze from her eyes. She isn't sure why she's surprised to see her hand wound in Luke's hair, his sword in her other hand and aimed to cleave open his throat.

Annabeth vaults over two rows of people, barely landing with both feet on the Senate floor and her knife in hand. Certainly not as defenseless as Thalia had originally assumed. "Thalia, please—!"

"Don't!" she hisses, internally cringing at the sound of her own feral voice. "It would be too easy, Annabeth." Thalia inches back, scanning back and forth between Greek and Roman soldiers alike.

She spots the burnt husk of what must be left of Octavian to her right. Reyna, a newly formed enchanted shield in her hand, checks his pulse. No response, though the praetor doesn't seem terribly saddened by this prospect.

Thalia tries not to let that sink in. Her attention is solely on Annabeth. "If you care about Luke at all, you're going to make sure no one follows me."

"You're not leaving, Thalia." Jason grits his teeth and pulls the wind inward – towards himself – taking her lightning strike and spreading its charges along his fingertips. She, most certainly, will not catch him unawares again. "Not this time."

"Is that a challenge, Jason?" Her smile widens, sharp, like a dog bearing its teeth. She takes a few daring steps forward, forcing Luke's own movements become in tune with hers. "Are you the one who's going to stop me?"

He stands his ground. "It doesn't have to be this way."

"Then you still have a lot to learn, little brother." She presses the blade harder against Luke's throat and he curses aloud when she nicks a patch of flesh beneath his jaw. "If anyone follows me out, I'll butcher Luke like a chicken at the slaughterhouse. Don't make the mistake of thinking I won't."

"Dramatic," Luke mutters under his breath, though she feels a wave of doubt hidden beneath the façade. She had killed him once before, had flung him from that cliff overlooking the bay...

Perhaps Annabeth, in that moment, remembers too. She throws down her knife and glares. "Go then."

Jason whips his head around in her direction. "No—"

"So you want another one of your soldiers to die, this time over a blood feud?" Annabeth snaps back. She turns away from him and her eyes seem as charged as the storm raging outside. "Go ahead then, Thalia. But run far. Because if we catch you…"

If I catch you, is what Annabeth means to say. Thalia knows a person can only take so much heartache and betrayal and Annabeth is no exception. Her statement remains ambiguous but they both know what'll happen the next time should they ever cross paths again.

Nevertheless, it's a good as a confirmation as any to get on her merry way. Thalia does.

"You won't be able to get far enough," Jason growls as she approaches him. Her focus remains on the exit. The hand clutching her sword turns bone-white. "Don't make things worse for yourself."

"I won't get far enough?" Thalia's eyes narrow. She stops just in front of him and their height difference doesn't faze her in the least. "We'll see about that. Now, stand. Down."

He clenches his fists and the sparks dissipate.

"And open the doors," she adds.

With a growl this time, the Senate doors fly open with a crack, letting in a frightening chill that makes her teeth clench. She wills herself not to shiver.

"Thank you," she says curtly.

With ease, Thalia shows her back to him, self-assured that any attack from him would surely kill Luke. If anything, Annabeth would never forgive him for that and it's the only thing keeping up Thalia's nerve.

Rebels spit at her when she passes the stands though no one ventures forward. For all the talk of Luke still being a traitor, it seems no one is willing to put his life on the line for revenge. He must be awfully popular in an annoying way.

"The cuffs," Thalia murmurs just as she and Luke slide out the doors thrown off their hinges. "Lightning doesn't melt. It vaporizes."

"Clearly," he snorts once they are out of ear-shot. "You had me worried there. I wasn't sure if you got my message."

Thalia only nods.

She doesn't hold him for long.

They break into a sprint, running at full speed down the hill. It won't be long until the rebels do, in fact, follow. Luke heads straight for the camp behind the Senate building and Thalia has no choice but to trust that he has a plan in place.

What is essentially an assortment of multi-colored tents of varying sizes lies almost entirely abandoned, Thalia under the assumption that most of the soldiers on the island had opted in to attend her trial. But she really shouldn't be the one assuming these things.

Luke approaches a swath of silver camouflage tents and Thalia nearly cries then and there.

Too soon.

He dives into the nearest one, pulling the reluctant Thalia along. Seated on a bed of furs, sharpening a silver short sword, a familiar former-Titaness glances up at them. Nothing registers in Phoebe's gaze. She only snorts and her eyes are downcast once more, unusually focused on the blade in her hands.

Without a word, both demigods pass on through the tent and out the other flap. But Thalia does a double take when she realizes the exit is not the other side of the campsite but a beach instead.

She glances behind her and – as she suspected – Phoebe's tent is nowhere in sight.

"You definitely thought this through," she comments as Luke pushes them towards the shore.

"What can I say? I had help," he says, narrowing his eyes at a girl on the beach.

Not a girl, Thalia decides once they get closer. A goddess. Though one she hasn't had the pleasure of meeting before.

Luke catches on to her silence. "Calypso," he says. She shrugs. While not really an answer, they don't exactly have the time for those anymore.

"Took you long enough," Calypso huffs at their approach. "Do you know how much energy it takes to conceal this thing?" With a wave of her hand, a wall of glamor drops to reveal a rickety raft – charmed, no doubt, by the way the fog curls around it.

The wind blowing in from the ocean picks up, as if drawn to the center of the island where she can barely spot the Senate House in the distance. Lightning shoots out across the sky and it isn't Thalia's doing.

Jason.

"There isn't much time," Calypso grumbles. "She needs to get in the water."

"Tell her how to operate the raft," Luke orders, already moving away from the both of them. "I need to send a message to Phoebe or Four and get an idea of what's happening."

Calypso nods once.

"It'll float?" Thalia asks once Luke is out of earshot.

"Of course it'll float. How do you think Nico and I got here?" At the mention of Nico, Calypso's face darkens and she finally looks Thalia in the eye. "For your sake, they better be alive."

"He is." That is, if Kronos has decided to uphold his end of the bargain. Finish this game, Thalia Grace. Should I be pleased with the results, I will consider your request… whatever it may be. And he had considered it, Thalia's petition to keep Percy Jackson and Nico Di Angelo intact and breathing for the time being, though only for whatever plan he has concocted in that sick head of his.

Whether Kronos has gone back on their deal since her disappearance, she can't be sure. But she isn't about to tell Calypso her troubles anytime soon.

"Why are you helping me?"

The question clearly catches Calypso off guard. "The traitor asked me to. Luke is usually one to make friends when he isn't pissing everyone off. I can assure you, anyone on this island owes him a favor or two." An understatement, of course. It's easy enough for anyone to see why Luke was the one Kronos chose. Who better than a charming son of Hermes that could win over legions of demigods with just a smile? Who could make them do anything with a few well-place manipulations? "And then there's characters like Phoebe who actually still like you so they aren't particularly hard to convince."

And you are most certainly not one of those characters. Though Thalia isn't surprised. Most of the rebels – her own brother included – must hate her by now. "You shouldn't call him that anymore. The rebels think there's a new traitor in town."

For a fleeting moment, the goddess smiles and Thalia can't help but think it suits her. "And once upon a time, I used to be one too. Try not take it to heart, Thalia Grace. Words are nothing." From anyone else without the same life history, it might sound like a lie. Calypso glances behind Thalia and her stare holds firm, a clear indication that Luke is no longer distracted. "Think long and hard about where you want it to take you. Once the course is set there's no changing it."

Thalia turns to face him, knowing very well it's time for her and Luke to part ways once again. At this point, it seems like a never ending cycle. And, if it holds true to the past, the next time they see each other they'll be enemies.

Apparently, Luke is thinking along the same lines because he quickly says, "You don't have to go back to him."

If only it were so simple. "I do." She gives him a wry smile, hoping it's enough to mask the unease she feels in the pit of her stomach. If she really did have a choice, she would never come within a thousand miles of Mount Othrys ever again. "Besides, where else would I go? San Francisco?" A raging Clarisse would kill her long before Kronos ever could.

Luke doesn't argue, doesn't ask for an explanation. She's always liked that about him. "Be careful then," he whispers. His hand slips around hers and Thalia tries her best not to flinch. "I'm going to get you out. I won't ever give up on you."

Though Thalia would never admit it, she's glad someone still has hope for her.

Without thinking, her chest crashes against his and she pulls him tight. Getting over his initial shock, Luke finally wraps his arms around her and she's glad. Thalia doesn't know when she'll see him again.

Please don't let go.

He doesn't. Thalia is the one that finally breaks away and she can most certainly spot the pain in his eyes. She climbs aboard the raft. Together, Calypso and Luke push and the tide takes her in immediately. The raft wobbles beneath, though holds firm. Potential seasickness; that's what really has Thalia worried.

Calypso turns to face Luke. "Are you ready?"

He doesn't break eye contact with Thalia, despite wading out further and further from the island with every passing second. "Ready? More than I'll ever be."

She snaps her fingers an inch away from his bloody nose. Almost instantly, Luke falls to the ground, which he hits exceptionally hard since Calypso makes no move at all to break his fall, let alone catch him.

The raft quickly speeds away from the shore – whether it's the low tide or Calypso's doing, it doesn't quite matter. It isn't long before Angel Island is out of sight but, of course, never out of mind.


 Her head bangs against a wooden beam. Thalia's eyes fly open and she thinks it sad to have fallen asleep on her journey. Sad that it's been the most peaceful sleep she's had in years.

With a grunt, she picks herself up from the raft. It groans beneath her but doesn't jolt as she might expect it to and send her flying into the sea. Instead, the bottom of the raft brushes up against something solid.

Thalia blinks, using her hand to shield the sunlight from her eyes. She has to mentally stop, process where she is.

Then the gasp becomes strangled in her throat.

Thalia scrambles off the raft. Her boots stick to the wet white sand and she stumbles. But she can't tear her eyes away.

Mount Othrys.

She scrambles forward.

Thalia isn't sure how she manages to get inside. She only remembers hearing the faint hissing of Python slithering somewhere around the mountain, the foreboding doors to Othrys parting before her in recognition.

She runs, her surroundings still a blur. She knows where she must go first, of all places. She passes monsters and Titans alike and they are not afraid to stop and stare.

The wife of Kronos has returned.

Thalia pushes through the throne room, a gut-wrenching pain in her knees that finally makes her collapse in the center of the room. But she can't help but think she's here, she's finally made it.

She only hears the sound of her strangled breaths. But she can sense the eyes on her.

Thalia finally glances up.

Of course, he is the first she notices.

You look like shit, she wants to tell him out loud. His disheveled appearance hasn't improved in the slightest since her disappearance.

However, Kronos isn't alone and she knows better than to interrogate him in front of company.

Koios and Atlas still occupy their thrones to her husband's right, their faces as indifferent as always. Neither has ever cared for her presence. But what they lack in indifference, Hyperion to Kronos's left makes up. His golden eyes shimmer with unbridled hatred but it has been that way since her arrival, since her attempt on his person many years ago, and simply for his dislike of rebellious demigods like her. And finally, occupying the throne that was once Krios's, she finds Metis, who wears her disapproval like a shield. Her dislike for Thalia, like a milder version of Hyperion's, is fairly obvious. But why, and what the Titaness intends to do about such intense feelings is a complete and utter mystery.

But it is not something Thalia can occupy her mind with. Not when all these gathered Titans are staring at her. But not simply staring. Waiting for him to say something.

"Thalia."

And she shakes, not from the cold – her damp clothes, the seawater soaking into the cuffs of her jeans and into her shoes – but fear.

"I knew you would come back." Thalia almost faints at the sight of his weak smile. He isn't going to hurt me, she thinks wistfully. Hurt Elpis. "I believe you owe me an apology, Metis."

The Titaness closes her eyes in what they can only guess is sheer annoyance, yet she gives him a minor bow of her head. "My Lord." She seems less than amused.

"You've made me very proud, Thalia." He motions her to rise from her feet and for a moment Thalia doesn't think she can. Her knees are the equivalent of jelly.

"Kronos—"

"You've been gone a long time," he interjects and she quiets immediately, unwilling to ruin this moment of temporary peace, which is practically the only thing she's been craving for days now. "And I can tell your journey back to me has been a difficult one. Go. Rest. And I will seek you out later once we are finished here."

Thalia departs quickly, though she doesn't remember telling her feet to move.

Her first act of being back isn't face-planting on her bed as she had hoped. In her room Thalia finds a handmaiden waiting, a young Aphrodite slave girl perhaps no older than thirteen, with a folded silk robe in her hands.

"Lord Kronos would like your clothes burned."

Thalia raises an eyebrow. "Isn't that a little dramatic?"

The girl purses her lips. "He doesn't seem to think so."

Of course he doesn't.

She peels the dirty, sweat-laden clothes from her skin, a little happier than expected to finally be rid of them, before taking the robe from the girl's hands.

"You smell," the slave girl says rather candidly, grabbing a hold of Thalia's hand once her arms slip into the robe. "Come on."

Thalia's too drained to even argue her defense.

The girl leads her down the hall lined with green torches, the air heavy with incense. Thalia almost stops and shoves the girl to the ground. But instead, she only clenches her fists. "The Titans' rooms are this way."

"They are," the girl responds and Thalia finally realizes she never even once asked for her name. Perhaps it's too late for those pleasantries now. "But Lord Kronos has them in a meeting at the moment. That's the only time this place is safe."

Thalia hides her crazed laughter. This place is never safe, least of all for people like us.

They pass more slaves, faces she can actually recognize: Reggie, Drew. She hasn't interacted with any of them in ages. Their eyes flicker with recognition too as they brush on past Thalia, several decent-sized pithos in their arms. Scented oil jars from what she can tell.

The end of the hallway opens up into a domed atrium with a teal mosaic floor that sparkles like an ocean. It's the equivalent of being transported back to Pompeii in its heyday. She almost laughs at the stucco artwork on the arched ceiling; unsurprisingly, it's a rather flattering image of the original Titan brothers holding onto their father Ouranos in the four cardinal directions, allowing for Kronos to slice him into pieces. The details, she finds tremendously excessive, particularly the beads of golden paint meant to represent Ouranos' blood dripping down from the heavens, to create an illusion of dripping down the walls instead.

She hopes that whoever was commissioned to make the ceiling is long dead.

The slave girl pulls her through the atrium. Of the three separate doorways, Thalia is pulled through the right, into a steamy and far less adorned room. Instead of a fake ocean, she finds an actual pool.

The only word she can think of is bathhouse. But it most certainly isn't its own house, yet the term bathroom seems a little too mundane.

"What do they call this place in Latin?" she asks.

"A caldarium. If there were more time we would have started off in the frigidarium first and then the tepidarium. Together they are all known as the thermae."

"Caldarium," Thalia repeats, feeling like a child learning their first big word. "Thermae."

For a quick second, she wonders if the girl isn't a daughter of Aphrodite but Venus instead. How would she even know? What behavior would she be on the lookout for, if any?

"Don't just stand there," the slave chides, holding out her hand to take the robe from Thalia's shoulders. "Aren't you going to get in?"

Thalia only stares at the mosaics encircling the pool, counting the number of swastikas she can find. Vaguely, in the days she was on the run with Annabeth and Luke and the times they'd hide out in local libraries upon Annabeth's request, she remembers an old history book referring it to as a gammadion – an old Roman symbol that stood in for the labyrinth, highlighting its never-ending and everlasting nature. Now it stands for Nazis. Then again, she can't think of better place for swastikas than Mount Othrys. Kronos might have had a not-so-unusual appreciation for Hitler had the Titan Lord arisen during World War II instead of the twenty-first century.

She turns to her again. "Has this place always been here?"

"Of course," the slave girl responds. Her eyes narrow. "Do you think he had it built just for you? You're not that special."

Thalia can't help but smirk. "I know."

The sensation of steaming bathwater against her skin is better than any orgasm she might have ever imagined. She quickly makes a resolution to never leave.

Her slave girl takes a seat by the edge of the pool, combing out Thalia's wet, tangled hair in her lap. She nearly purrs, even when the comb hits a snag and yanks at her roots. She's hadn't had a good brushing in days.

Fuck Nico and Percy, she muses. I should've taken Kronos up on his offer to chop it all off.

Who knows? They might be dead already. She couldn't really predict what her husband would have done following the news of her capture. And truthfully – as long as her daughter is alive and after her rather inhospitable visit to the rebel encampment – Thalia could care less.

She wants to care less about a lot of things at the moment, being surrounded by steam and herbal scents of perfumed oil the slave lathers into her hair. But at the mention of Elpis, the prospect of a reunion keeps her far warmer than any heated bathwater might.

She gets lost in her thoughts.

Time seems nonexistent here. At least, until heavy footsteps echo in the hall outside, sounding almost like stomps. The door to the caldarium flings open and rush of cold air billows in.

"Out."

The slave girl flees in no time, the door shutting with a slam behind her.

If Kronos had seemed rough-looking in the throne room, his appearance is a thousand times harsher in the dim light. At least, she thinks, his frustration isn't directed at me. Though she knows very well that could change in an instant.

Thalia simply looks away, biting at the inside of her cheek while gently padding the shimmering water. "I've never been here before. Why is that?"

"The water is deep," he responds in a gruff voice, as if he rather not share a conversation at all.

"No, it's not."

Carefully, he removes his dark tunic, starting first with the fibulae at his shoulder then the thin belt of gold around his waist. The silk slips, more liquid than solid.

It seems almost like an eternity before Kronos provides her with an answer. "It is for suicidal demigods."

Thalia pauses. She can see it so clearly now, a Thalia from three years ago reveling at the chance of finding this place, a smile on her lips as her head would slip precariously below the water's surface.

"Are you really so sure of my mental state now?" she snorts. "Because I'm not."

Kronos doesn't respond to her. He slips into the pool, shooting up a billow of steam that arcs around his body, almost repulsed.

I know the feeling.

He slithers over to her like the slickest of water serpents, always gravitating towards her for reasons she can't explain.

Kronos reach out to her, cupping her face. Thalia closes her eyes and she feels exceptionally numb. She'd killed Octavian, taken Luke as a hostage, and practically burned the last bridges with her friends for this.

"You came back," he says finally. "Against all odds, you came back. To me."

Not to you, she wants to tell him. Never to you. Artemis, yes. Elpis, most certainly. Thalia had to remain on Mount Othrys for them. They were her family, the only ones she could depend on now that it was more than clear she could no longer return to her old friends. With careful precision, he had seen to the virtual destruction of her old life so that even at the chance of leaving she had no choice but to come back. No one would have her this way – so afraid, so insane – not even herself.

But Thalia knows better than to play with fire. She only sighs, staring deeply into those hollowed out eyes of his. Growing dark towards amber, irises no longer ocher like they once were.

You imbecile, what the hell have you planned? What part of your soul have you sold off now? she wants to ask. Whatever it is, it's never good for her survival.

Kronos kisses her and Thalia isn't terribly surprised. She never is anymore. She tries to end the embrace as quick as she can but there's a sort of desperation behind him that she dare not deny. Like always, her passive lips part to give him what he wants. But his nails dig into the flesh of her hips, demanding a reaction. She refuses to comply but he makes no moves to reprimand her.

Perhaps it should give her some pride that he's missed her presence. But perhaps she shouldn't give it too much thought. Twisted beings like him can't feel that type of longing.

His lips brush over hers and she feels that mysterious, abnormal shock on her cheek. Thalia could confront him about it now, give voice to the hunch that's been lingering the tip of her tongue for ages now.

I will find out what you're hiding from me.

But her curling stomach is all she can think about. She wants to feel that prickling, electrifying sensation again, despite the minor pain it brings her. She wants to be closer to him, her chest against his, joined at the hips, inseparable out of fear of parting again. Of what he might do to her should she be away from his side.

Thalia almost laughs.

Oh gods, I'm twisted too.

And she hates it, hates it, hates it…

But before she can reach for his groin, put an end to the thick atmosphere between them, he grabs her wrist. "You have a visitor," he whispers into her ear and she shivers when he kisses her earlobe.

Thalia draws away from him. "A visitor?"

Kronos disentangles from her, a knowing smile gracing his lips. "Get dressed. You wouldn't want her to see you like this."

Her?

Kronos makes no move to elaborate and Thalia doesn't get a chance to press further. He simply disappears into the steam.

She snatches up the nearby robe to cover herself with hopes of blaming her flushed face on the steam. Thalia jumps out of the pool, putting it on and wringing the water from her hair. All the while unable to keep the question off of her mind.

What visitor?

The door creaks open. "Thalia?"

"Yes?" she responds to the sound of Artemis's voice, her heart leaping in her chest. "I'm here."

"Mommy!"

She almost collapses.

Small arms encircle her waist and Thalia bends over, disbelieving. She hugs back instantly, burying her nose in black tresses.

Thalia breathes in.

It's her alright.

"Oh, Elpis," she sighs, growing weak in the knees. Thalia sinks to the floor, finding that Elpis doesn't let go.

This is real.

Thalia isn't sure how long they remain there, gripping each other, breathing each other in. She only hears the quiet pitter patter of Artemis's footsteps as the goddess grows nearer.

"I'm glad you're alright," says Artemis. "I wasn't sure you would come back."

Her fierce gaze turns in Artemis's direction. "I would do anything for her; you know that."

"I do." She purses her lips. "I think…Piper is here. With Elpis, but only temporarily. They leave tomorrow morning."

So not permanent. But, in a way, Thalia had expected that from Kronos. The bastard will always give her a taste but never give her exactly what she wants. The pretense of this reunion as her reward can't change that.

Nevertheless, Thalia won't scream and cry. She knows by now how this all works.

"I don't wanna go," Elpis cuts in. She looks up at her mother's face and Thalia notices her eyes are rimmed red. "Lemme stay here with you."

She nearly tells Elpis that Kronos won't allow it but decides against it, not when she could sense a childish meltdown so close. Besides, there's no need to ruin a moment like this.

"I know," Thalia rubs says instead, rubbing small circles on her daughter's back. "We'll be together again. Don't worry."

"I might know where they're keeping her," Artemis whispers. Her gaze flickers briefly towards the door. "If we play our cards right—"

"It's dangerous."

"But worth a shot," the goddess counters. Her pale hand brushes through Elpis's hair. "You want her back. I want you back."

And you're not the only one.

Thalia only sighs. It's not the time or place for such a conversation, particularly when Elpis's visit is so short and Artemis is bound to remain on Othrys for as long as Thalia is. But to turn down such information is also insane.

Eventually, she nods. "We'll talk later."

Chapter Text

Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.

― Homer, The Iliad


By first light, a car pulls out in front of Mount Othrys. Certainly an uncommon sight. The doors to the palace open with a groan and Piper walks out with a gloomy Elpis at her side.

The driver nods when he spots them. Right on time. Kronos had only given them the night here, much to Piper’s relief but the little girl’s dismay.

“Elpis!”

They stop walking, turning back towards the mountain. Unable to contain herself, Elpis bounces a little on the balls of her feet. Her face lightens and she glances up at Piper with a fluttering heart. “Is she—?”

“No,” Piper answers without hesitation, though still with a tinge of sadness. Thalia isn’t coming with us, remains unspoken. The girl should know that well enough by now.

 Elpis face falls and Piper gives her a little squeeze of reassurance. Though it’s hard to ease that sinking feeling of disappointment.

While she is unsurprised to see Thalia – it is only natural for a mother to say goodbye to her only child, particularly when neither of them know when they’ll be seeing each other again – Piper becomes engrossed with a stiff Alabaster by Thalia’s side. Piper’s rage, while usually kept in check, comes boiling to the surface. She was never fond of sorcerers. But Alabaster, in particular, she remembers him as the demigod that had brought her here, had sold her as a slave to Kronos. What she still wouldn’t give to stab a knife through his heart.

And perhaps he remembers her too because he pointedly refuses to meet her withering glare.

 “Hey,” Thalia croons when she approaches them, kneeling to adjust Elpis’s jacket. She hardly needs a second to gauge the expression on her daughter’s face. “Don’t worry. I’ll be okay.”

The girl only nods, scratching her cheeks. “Where are you going?”

Her mother’s small smile remains but now it somehow seems forced. “I have a few errands to run for Kronos.”

“I can come with you,” she mutters under her breath.

“You can’t. You know that.” Thalia kisses her forehead. “Be good, please. For Piper’s sake. Be safe.”

Elpis nods again, her eyes following Alabaster as he comes up behind them. “My lady,” he says with a clipped voice, still looking towards the horizon as he holds out his elbow.

Thalia only stares at her, hesitant to release her grip on Elpis.

“Miss Grace,” Alabaster tries again, his cool façade dwindling.

Thalia,” she chides, rolling her eyes. She stands finally and grabs onto him. But, before they slink into the shadows, Thalia smiles at Elpis. A gut-wrenching smile that seems to rip at Piper’s insides as she grabs Elpis a little tighter, who looks almost on the verge of tears.

I love you, the girl sees her mother mouth before Piper is pulling her away towards the waiting car.

Elpis cries the entire way back to the Yellow Mansion. Not in the perpetual tantrum she is usually prone to but simply listless tears streaming down her cheeks as she stares dejectedly out the window. Piper’s attempts to get her to talk, to focus on practically anything else, are met with silence and perhaps the occasional sniffle. It’s more than clear to Piper that going back to Othrys had been a mistake. It was impossible the fill the void in Elpis’s heart reserved for Thalia Grace, nulling any progress Piper might have made in the past few months in terms of getting the daughter of Kronos to actually enjoy life as a normal child, despite it being virtually impossible. All of her efforts, down the toilet.

They arrive at midday, though it makes no difference to Elpis. The first thing she heads for is her bedroom, despite Piper’s insistence that she wait for the daughter of Aphrodite to catch up. Elpis simply crawls into bed, not even bothering to snatch up the teddy bear she’d left behind.

Though Elpis doesn’t get to rest for long. Not ten minutes later, a small hand is already trying to jostle her from under the blankets. “Wake up.”

She barely opens an eye to spot Helias bouncing on her bed. “Go away.”

Her sticks out his bottom lip. “Please?”

Elpis snaps. “Go away!”

Piper pokes her head in the doorway, heaving a great sigh. “Helias stop. I know Arion isn’t here right now but leave her alone. She’ll play with you later.”

“No,” Elpis growls, wedging herself under the covers again, muffling her voice, “I won’t.”

Her cousin finally relents. She drifts back to sleep.

Helias doesn’t stay away for long. Hours later, the door opens again and she knows exactly who it is. Though a little groggy, she’s surprised he doesn’t jump on her bed again. Elpis huffs as he mills around, mumbling to himself.

Her eyes follow him across the room. “Where’s Arion?”

“I don’t know,” Helias growls, hinting at frustration. As if he’s turned over the same question in his mind for days now. He snatches something from a low shelf and finally bolts to her bedside. He plasters a smile on his face. “Play with me! Here. We can play dolls.” Helias throws it at her. She makes no move to catch it and the toy lands unceremoniously beside her. “You like dolls?”

Slowly, she shakes her head, throwing it back at him.

His eyebrows knit together. “That’s stupid.” Helias stomps back over to her shelves, rummaging through her toys.

“You’re stupid,” Elpis bristles. “Stop touching that.”

Curiously, he pulls out another doll. But unlike the other one, it’s a man… without a head. “You broke it.”

“I didn’t,” she snaps back. Her cheeks burn. “That’s the father. He’s always like that.”

Helias only stares at it, pursing his lips. Finally, he says, “That’s weird.”

“You’re weird and you’re ruining everything.”

He throws the doll down in frustration. “Just play with me!”

“I said no! Go away!”

“No.”

She screams, practically bursting at the seams. His voice is what drives her, grating like nails on chalkboard. She can’t exactly process what happens next.

There’s only Helias standing at the center of her room, wide-eyed and clearly scared, as he holds his hands to his chest. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move.

Elpis spends almost a minute staring at him. The boy doesn’t even blink.

She hops off the bed, approaching cautiously. Her horror grows more palpable by the second. “Helias?” she whispers, her voice breaking. She touches him, and Helias doesn’t even flinch. Nothing moves besides his eyes tracking her in horrendous slow motion.

And Elpis, clearly, has no idea what to do.

“Interesting.”

She whips around so hard she nearly she trips over herself. A woman is seated comfortably on her bed; Elpis knows for sure she hadn’t been there a second ago. “Who are you?”

“Unimportant.” Her pale fingers comb through dark, slicked hair pulled away from her face. With that, the girl has a clear view of her eyes: glittering like molten silver. She seems vaguely familiar, a face from Othrys, but she hasn’t interacted with any immortals other than Kronos and Artemis. She faintly wishes for it stay that way.

Elpis.” The woman says her name like a curse. “Coincidentally, I have heard next to nothing about you either. Not that Kronos and Thalia are apt to mention their mixed-breed around me.”

 Helias still remains frozen in place and, at the mention of her father, Elpis starts to cry. “Don’t tell Kronos.”

The woman’s eyes flicker to the inanimate boy. “It’s rare that half-bloods display their powers this early in development.”

The girl has no idea what any of that means and doesn’t intend to ask questions. She just scratches the tears from her face and it leaves her cheeks stinging. “Please. Fix him.”

For a while, the Titaness only stares at her. “Come here. Let me see you.” Elpis thinks it a stupid statement considering she’s been stared at for the past few minutes now but if this strange woman is willing to fix Helias in return there will be no complaints. Elpis rushes over, though stops a good distance away. She doesn’t know this woman – doesn’t want to know this woman – and coming too close just might be dangerous. It seems good enough for the Titaness though; from the shorter distance, she practically dissects Elpis with the intensity of her gaze.  “You’re a perfect little specimen, aren’t you?”

The girl shakes her head, unsure of what to say. She can only think about her cousin, the horrible thing that she’s done to him. “Please? Don’t tell Kronos. Or Piper.” Fear bubbles up in her lungs. “Don’t tell mommy.”

The Titaness smiles. “Just as long as you don’t tell a soul about me being here.” She tilts her head, a motion the girl has seen on her father practically a dozen times. “Can you do that Elpis?”

She nods vigorously, once again, no questions asked.

“Good.” The Titaness snaps her fingers. She disappears in an instant.

“Elpis?” says a voice from behind her.

“Helias?” she whispers, the Titaness all but forgotten. She rushes over to her cousin and pulls him into a bone-crushing hug. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, we can go play. Please, please don’t tell.”

Of course, he agrees, but she doesn’t miss the frightened gleam that still lingers in his eyes.


 Truthfully, the first few weeks of torture aren’t as terrible as Nico had anticipated.

His days are spent in a wide room with mirrored walls. After multiple occasions with the sensation of eyes on him, he knows one of the walls must be a one-way glass, though which one remains a mystery to him. Rather than actual lights – because the Titans just seemed to be trapped in the Silver Age – natural light emanates from what appears to be a glass ceiling. Though something tells him, if he gathered up both the strength and courage to even attempt to break through it, Nico would quickly find himself in the darkness of Mount Othrys as opposed to the outside world.

Go figure.

Nico is fed twice a day: a chunky gruel that was far from appetizing in the initial week of his imprisonment. But as the days pass, his anger and desperation grow and it somehow becomes the highlight of his existence. Though, as result, he loses weight rapidly.

There’s no bed for him to rest on. Only two chairs and a desk in the center of the room as the only pieces of furniture, used for his interrogations by morning, and a makeshift cot by night. At least they had the decency to provide him a chamber pot, that way he won’t have to shit or piss on the pristine marble floor, but Nico thinks it’s more for their benefit as opposed to his.

Nevertheless, Nico knows it could be worse. He had seen the Titan’s prisoners from Alcatraz first hand, had been a witness to their thin bodies and the hungry glint in their eyes as they fought tooth and nail to escape their tiny, dirty, overstocked cells. His imprisonment should seem like a luxury in comparison.

But imprisonment is still imprisonment. Mount Othrys is still Mount Othrys, no matter how it looks or what part he might happen to find himself in.

Nico sits cross-armed, cross-legged, staring up at the ceiling. He hums the instrumental of an infectious Coldplay song, hoping for any sort of distraction that keeps him from focusing on the Titan Army soldier in front of him. 

“Mr. Di Angelo.”

Nico forgets the rhythm. “Alabaster,” he sneers with mild irritation. He hadn’t even gotten to the refrain of Viva La Vida. It’s with sadness that he recalls it to be Will Solace’s favorite song.

The son of Hecate glances up at him but quickly focuses his attention on a deck of cards in his hands. He shuffles them methodically. “We’ve been over this, friend. It’s Mr. Torrington to you.”

His jaw clenches. “I have nothing to report and you’re not my friend. This is a waste of time.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” The smirk on Alabaster’s face never signals anything good. “We’re going to play a game, Mr. Di Angelo.”

“I don’t like your games.”

“I’m afraid that’s the point. It’s for my enjoyment, not yours.”

Silence settles in between them, save for the sound of cards being slapped down on the table.

“How long have I been in this hell?” Nico tries.

Alabaster, of course, doesn’t indulge him. “I ask the questions. Not you.” He waves a hand over the spread out deck. “Pick a card.”

Nico snorts, biting his tongue to keep a crude remark about magicians from slipping out. “And if I don’t?”

“Then nothing will happen to you.” He shrugs. “But I’m afraid that’s another kick in the teeth for your friend Percy Jackson.”

Nico’s insides clench. With revulsion clear on his face, he grudgingly pulls from Alabaster’s deck of cards. “See? That wasn’t so hard.” Nico snorts, thoroughly under the impression that Alabaster has no intentions of playing poker with his prisoner. Nico flips the card over, allowing Alabaster to see it. He’s not sure what the hand painted snake symbol means. And, as Alabaster comments, “That’s a nice one,” Nico is more than sure he doesn’t want to find out.

“This is a stupid game,” he declares.

“Why, it hasn’t even started.” Alabaster shoots him a pointed glare. “The Rebel base, where is it?”

“You’ve asked that before,” Nico sighs.

“And I expect an answer every time.”

His mouth sets into a firm line. “And, just like every other time, I’m not telling you.”

“Predictable,” Alabaster scoffs, just as Nico feels a pain in his gut. Hot liquid metal seems to rush up his spine and his forehead almost smacks against the table. What the fuck? Nico tries to stand, only to feel his entire back explode with sudden pain. Nico crashes to his knees, fists clench and eyes wrought shut. All the while, he can still hear Alabaster’s smug voice. “Something the matter?”

He doesn’t say anything, afraid that, if he does, he’ll resort to screaming.

“Unfortunate. I’d help you up but my knees are a little sore today.”

Nico can’t help it. He opens his mouth and, rather, it’s a peal of laughter that comes out instead. How appropriate.

Alabaster’s eyebrows knit together, far more furious than concerned. “Something funny?”

“I’m surprised Alabaster. It should be obvious to you.”

“Really,” he says flatly.

Nico forces the pain to subside. He forces himself to get back in that chair and look the son of Hecate head on. He refuses to give the smug bastard that satisfaction of seeing Nico on his knees any longer, convulsing from whatever spell Alabaster’s wrought on him.

It’s isn’t easy but he manages. His head spins like he’s swallowed an entire bottle of Benadryl. “You can torture me all you want, gods know you’ve tried a hundred different ways already. But there’s a reason I’m still alive. Otherwise, there’d be no point in giving me nectar and ambrosia after every playdate.” His eyes narrow. “And I know she’s behind it.” Well, he knows it can’t be all her doing; Kronos has some part in this as well. But the reasons are beyond him.

“Why is that, Nico?” he says, not Mr. Di Angelo this time and Nico thinks he might actually be making progress in getting under the son of Hecate’s skin. “Are you under the impression you’re still friends?”

He doesn’t answer. His head is beating too loud.

“Well that’s where you’re wrong,” Alabaster continues regardless and without mercy. “I’m afraid Thalia doesn’t have friends. She has comrades and her lord husband. It would be in your best interest to put her out of your mind lest Kronos catches wind. I can assure you, his visits are a lot less pleasant than mine. The son of Poseidon can attest to that.”

He vomits up blood. It doesn’t stop him. “WHERE’S PERCY?” he roars.

Alabaster stands, his eyes narrowed into slits. “You still haven’t learned, have you?” Nico gets thrown back in his chair, gasping for air. “You will eventually. They all do.”

And with a snap of his fingers, the son of Hecate is swallowed up by the shadows and gone in an instant. Alone once again.

It takes longer for the nectar and ambrosia to come this time – almost five whole hours, though inflamed lungs make it feel like an eternity – and Nico is quite positive it has to do with his spiteful torturer.

The rest of the day proves uneventful as always. Nico is simply left alone with his thoughts, trying to understand what’s happening outside of these dark, closed in walls. Sometimes he hopes Alabaster will let some information slip but the son of Hecate holds himself like a dam. Nothing can get past those floodgates.

Or at least, that’s what Nico has been led to assume. That all changes when Alabaster comes to Nico again the next morning, bright and early. Earlier than their usual time.

He seems on edge.

Alabaster crosses his arms and stares at him. Nico matches him glare-for-glare, no hesitation.

“You have a visitor,” Alabaster says finally without breaking eye contact. His tone suggests disinterest but Nico knows better.

“I don’t exactly have the option of refusing their visit, now do I?”

He only sighs. “I tried to dissuade her.”

Her.

The door opens.

Alabaster stands immediately, already bowing. “My lady.”

Nico refuses to turn around.

“Alabaster, we talked about this.”

The son of Hecate only nods, though his face clearly suggests that he’ll never refrain from using titles even if her life depended on it. “Five minutes, Miss Grace. Make it work. You won’t be getting another chance.”

Thalia grabs his arm before he dashes out the door. “I’ll know if you’re listening in, Alabaster. So don’t.”

His eyes narrow with distrust. But, for whatever reason Nico can’t understand, he owes Thalia a favor. And unless Nico’s character analysis on his captor is mistaken, Alabaster isn’t the type to remain indebted to another.

The door shuts.

“I’ve never seen him so cold.” The chair screeches on the floor as its dragged back. Nico hears her take a seat. “He must really not like you. Not that I find it surprising. You seem to be an acquired taste.”

Nico is supposed to take the bait, reply to the joke: An acquired taste is Stockholm syndrome for the mouth. He doesn’t respond to her though. He only stares at his clenched fists.

Still, Thalia waits, even as a charged silence settles between them, a test more than anything.

“Don’t tell me you plan on ignoring me forever.” Always the impatient one.

Nico finally lifts his head. “I’m just trying to piece together why you would even bother coming all the way down here.”

Thalia frowns. “To see you. I assumed that would be obvious.” Even after all these years, she hasn’t lost the snark.

He wants to tell her how he relieved he is to see her face. To know that, after almost three years of hearing absolutely nothing, he’s glad to see she’s okay. Well… in the loosest sense anyway. The hollowness in her cheeks, the way her eyes skitter like those of a wary animal, it makes him just as anxious. Still, he manages to keep talking. “If you had something to say, you would have come weeks ago. You would have kept him away from me.”

He swears guilt flashes in her eyes but it’s gone in an instant. She snorts. “Please, Alabaster isn’t even the worse.” It might have been a joke if not for the sharp edge in her voice.

“Kronos,” Nico says flatly, guessing at her train of thought. A thought that must always be in the back of her mind, haunting her every waking moment of every day. “Kronos is the worst.”

She puts a finger to her lips, the warning clear in her eyes. Always be careful with names.

But Nico only rolls his eyes. He’s already on Mount Othrys, in the Titan Lord’s custody. Saying Kronos’s name a thousand times won’t change that fact. Unless…

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

She taps the table. “Bingo.”

“If you’re under such a tight watch, how do I know this isn’t a trick to get me to talk?”

Emotion drains from her face. “The only reason I can be here right now is because he’s having too much fun torturing Percy.” Nico squirms under the weight of her glare. “Like I said, be lucky you have Alabaster.”

“I don’t think having one torturer over another is supposed to make me feel lucky,” he shoots back. In that moment he contemplates leaving it there, shutting the conversation down. But he’s already torn open the wound. Might as well rub salt in it. “And if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t exactly be here.”

A muscle in her cheek twitches. “Touché,” Thalia concedes. She exhales slowly, processing her options, evidently conflicted. “I want to tell you everything, honestly. I do. But I don’t have the time. “

Nico’s already over the excuses. “Yeah, well that’s your choice.”

“A choice I don’t exactly get to make,” she retorts, clearly under the impression they're alluding to something more than a busy schedule.

“We all have a choice,” Nico seethes.

“Not when someone’s life depends on my success,” she snaps, stunning him into silence. Her electric blue eyes seem to search his face. “I’d never ask you to trade Bianca’s life for a thousand. So don’t ask me to.”

He looks away quickly, his anger melting away with a slight tilt of his head. “Touché.”

“If I actually wanted you dead, you would be dead,” she says, voice heavy with swarming emotions. “Unfortunately, the same goes for you-know-who.”

His stare probes her for answers. “So Kronos wants us alive?”

“I suggested it to him,” she whispers. “But he never does anything I want without having an ulterior motive.”

“What a nice relationship you have,” he snorts, sarcasm more than evident.

She ignores him. “I don’t know what he intends to use the two of you for but I need to find out.”

“And then what?” He looks her dead in the eye. “What are you going to do with the information once you have it?”

Thalia opens and closes her mouth several times, grasping at the right words. She finally gives up. “I don’t know,” she bites out.

“You don’t know?” He laughs bitterly and he can most certainly tell it rubs her the wrong way. “Of course you don’t.”

You don’t know.” The chair flips over when she stands suddenly, fists clenched at her side with sparks flitting across her knuckles. Perhaps she hasn’t changed all that much. “You don’t know what it’s like here on Othrys, here with him. You haven’t had that pleasure and I pray you never do. You’ve been here weeks I’ve been here years. Every time I even had a thought of rebellion or defiance, it was crushed brutally right before my very eyes.  I’ve been manipulated and destroyed too many times to count. You don’t think I’ve thought about escape before, you don’t think I didn’t think about it when I saw your face in Sausalito? When I saw you, or Percy, or even my own brother?”

Her hateful eyes become glued to the wall, as if sparing Nico the full force of her rage and self-loathing. Certainly pieces of the Thalia he once knew. “I tried to escape once and I paid for it. He only lets me out of Othrys now, to run around doing his dirty working, with the knowledge that I’ll always come back. He knows I’m too afraid to ever leave this dreadful place because he’ll never stop looking for me, and he’ll destroy everything and everyone I’ve ever loved in the process.” Her voice quiets, harsh. “So excuse me, Nico, if I’m just a little hesitant. I’m sorry I don’t have the answers you want to hear.”

Well fuck. His anger subsides despite the hateful part of him that wants to hold this grudge, to blame Thalia for all this. He has that right… and yet… “I’m so—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Thalia snaps. “I didn’t come here to apologize to you, and I certainly didn’t come here to hear your apologies.”

Nico narrows his eyes. “Then why are you here?”

She leans forward, hands pressing into the table. If it were wood it just might be up in flames right about now. “I need to send a message.”


 

Thalia senses it before even heading down the block and rounding the corner. A cool wisp envelopes her like a hug. Her mouth curls into a smile. 

The mortals must feel it too. Some wink when she passes them on the street, others pause and say “Nice morning isn't it?” She agrees. It’s a little too nice.

The chatter amongst other pedestrians confirms her suspicions.

“Didn't you hear?” A woman in a red pea coat whispers to a man walking at her side, their hands intertwined. “They're rebuilding out on Fifth Avenue. It's been so long after the attack.”

“The attack,” he responds, eyebrows knit together as if he can't quite remember an attack but goes along anyway. “Who's doing the construction?”

“Oh, you know,” she says dismissively and he nods in agreement, as if it's a suitable answer. They keep on with conversation, completely unfazed.

Thalia stops in the middle of the street. No one minds in the slightest. 

She can almost see the tendrils now, as if the magic is a tangible thing, picking up rubble at an easy, lethargic place, and dragging it to what should have been the ruins of the Empire State Building. This must have been going on for days, even weeks – half of the building is standing now. 

She pushes forward, despite the tendrils trying to push her away, get her to turn back like they've done for the other mortals. 

Thalia's hand slithers across the barrier. She grits her teeth and Kronos’s mark on her forearm begins to glow. “Let me in—”

“No.”

Her powers shut off immediately.

She whips around, coming face to face with a stoic Phoebe, bow clutched in her fist while fingering an arrow.

“You’re early,” Thalia comments.

“So are you,” says Phoebe, her voice guarded. “The wards are tight. You have the mark of Kronos on you. If you think you'll be entering you're sorely mistaken. "

“I told you I needed to do reconnaissance,” Thalia shoots back, rolling her eyes. Phoebe only raises an eyebrow. “It was just a test. Just to see how strong they’ve become.” The ghost of a smile flickers across her face. “A shame if the wrong person were to end up somewhere they shouldn’t."

“Strong enough,” Phoebe grumbles, ignoring her last statement. “You'll see for yourself in time. Won’t be much longer now.”

That shouldn’t really make Thalia feel better. Particularly since the first place they’ll hit is Mount Othrys and she’ll – no doubt – be caught in that crossfire. Still, she can’t help the little gleam shining in her eyes. “There's hope?”

“There's always hope.” Phoebe’s eyes soften. “Always.”

She only nods, a little sullen. Hope is the one thing she cannot afford right now. Thalia looks back at the reforming ruins though with slightly less enthusiasm. It’s finally happening. She’s wanted this for months now. Like a loaded gun, there’s only matter of time before everything explodes and, faced with that reality, she doesn’t know if she’s ready to deal with the fallout. To put her plans into motion.

“Take a walk with me,” her friend requests, seemingly out of the blue.

Thalia puts her hands on her hips. “And leave your post undefended?” she mocks.

Of course, Phoebe takes her at face value. “The Dioscuri are running around somewhere. It's hard to tell where their loyalties lie and it might be best if they didn't see you snooping around here.”

Thalia almost argues with her until she remembers that passionate fight between her and Orion. He had no qualms about harming her for the sake of the cause despite their tentative…friendship, if it could even be called that. The only thing she had done was bring him back from an eternity doomed as a constellation. While she felt all that time and effort meant he owed her, Orion clearly did not feel the same way. She doubts the Dioscuri will either.

Thalia takes another reproachful look back at the reforming Empire State Building. Kronos had wanted information on its reconstruction, though she hadn’t taken on the mission to please him. It was solely for her own curiosity while getting the chance to tie up other loose ends without his knowledge.

Phoebe gives her a playful push, back in the direction from whence Thalia came. “Come along. I'll let you know what you can tell Kronos,” she says, as if reading her mind.

“It better be good,” she warns.

They blend back into the crowd easily – just two more teenage girls with death glares walking along the streets of Manhattan. Mentally, however, they are years, worlds away. Though sometimes it’s nice to pretend.

Thalia quickly decides to cut to the chase. “You got my message,” she says, matter-of-fact.

Phoebe purses her lips. “Well, you weren’t exactly discreet.”

“Though I’m assuming you weren’t caught.”

“Not exactly. Though Annabeth did ask a few hard-pressed questions on my decision to do god-sitting with Castor and Pollux.” Phoebe lets out a pent up breath. “She’s been extremely suspicious these days. Luke claims she’s being paranoid but, then again, you left on extremely bad and rather questionable terms.”

Thalia stiffens. “You don’t have to remind me.” The last thing she wants is to be reminded of the shit-fest that occurred on Angel Island.

“Apparently I do if you think things are peachy between us.” Phoebe stops walking, donning her usual hardened mask. “You’ll have to make amends eventually. To Annabeth especially.”

The daughter of Zeus rolls her eyes again. “She’ll be the first on my list.”

“I hope Jason is a close second.”

Her fists clench. She’s still reeling from the tongue lashing Nico had given her and the last thing she needs is a lecture from Phoebe. “I need to know if you’re going to help me or not?” She needs a clear head right now and the last thing she needs to hear about are bridges she’s burned along the way. “I’m on a tight schedule, Phoebe.”

The Titaness shrugs. “I’m not the one you need to convince and you know that.”

“That’s not an answer,” Thalia growls.

“But it’s the best one I can give you at the moment,” Phoebe quips. They continue walking and, with a dull voice, the Titaness gives her a few snippets of what to tell the Titan Lord waiting back on Othrys: the Empire State Building undergoing rapid construction as the gods consolidate their seats of power, the return of enough magic to keep the human populations ignorant and at bay (nothing to replace the Mist, of course – baby steps).  “Take the day, do more reconnaissance for Kronos to avoid suspicion. At nine, we will meet at the Irish Pub on 7th, see what I can tell you then.”

“A crowded bar where you can’t easily kill me,” Thalia muses. She doesn’t mention about getting into the pub; though eighteen years old now and clearly underage, being the wife of a neurotic Titan overlord might be as good as any fake ID. “I hope you’re not planning to poison my drink.”

“Oh, dear.” The corners of Phoebe’s lips curl into a smirk. “Poison was Rhea’s tactic. It most certainly is not mine. Besides, if I had wanted you dead, lieutenant, then I would have never allowed you to leave Angel Island.”

Touché.

Thalia does exactly as she’s asked, spending several more hours walking up and down Fifth Avenue to get an idea of the scale of the reconstruction. It’s rather impressive, sending sparks of adrenaline running up her veins. She travels to other places too – Times Square, Central Park – to assess if there’s any other sort of Rebel presence in the area. The results: nothing obvious, leading her to assume their forces must be concentrated in the west.

She tells as much to Alabaster when he checks in on her by sundown, and by then gray clouds roll in on the black sky. It doesn’t rain, but lightning flashes.

It’s not her doing. 

She vaguely wonders if her father can sense her close by, whether he cares enough to know why, what she’s planning, whose side she’s on. She doesn’t intend to ask him. The less contact she makes with the Rebellion from here on out, the better.

Just to be sure, she tells Alabaster she will be staying in New York City overnight, to see just how reliable her information is. He doesn’t argue with her, though it’s clear he won’t be happy to relay the request over to Kronos. Alabaster tells her he’ll be back by first light.

Nine on the dot, Thalia slips into the Irish pub. There’s a soccer game playing, Great Britain versus Spain and everyone is so engrossed with it that it’s easy to slip in unnoticed. She finds an empty table towards the back and waits.

Her nervous fingers drum along the tabletop. Five minutes quickly turns into an hour and, when the wait just becomes unbearable, Thalia glides out of her chair. The bartender shoots her a puzzled look – perhaps just noticing her presence for the first time – as she dives towards the back of the establishment, straight for the woman’s bathroom.

Thalia is more than relieved to find it empty. She groans.

The worst she can do is say no. Though a devastating feat itself, considering Thalia has thoroughly run out of options at this point.

Her heart rate quickens and the light above her pulse. Thalia splashes cool water on her face; if she can make it out of here without destroying the wiring she’d call this night a success.

Maybe it’s for the best, she thinks, for Phoebe not to show up. Though it’s certainly not ideal, not if Thalia wishes to enact her plans in a successful manner.

She shuts off the faucet, reaching for a paper towel. Her gaze flickers up at the mirror and she notices someone behind her: a curly-haired blonde lingering by the door, familiar gray eyes glaring daggers at Thalia even via reflection.

She hardly has enough time to whisper, “Annabeth?” before instinct tells her to duck.

Glass shatters on impact. She feels the shards dig into the hand that attempts to protect her face from the ricocheting shards. Immediately, Thalia spins the ring on her finger as hands shove her to the ground.

Annabeth rips her knife from the wall just as Thalia jumps to her feet, long knives in hand. A well-placed kick in her gut, however, sends her flying again, this time into a stall. She scrambles to her feet. Thalia slams the door shut just as blade whooshes and becomes embedded.

The door is kicked open but Thalia is ready for Annabeth this time. Her long knives are perfect conductors.

Perhaps Annabeth feels it in the air when she throws herself back, preparing for the blast of rage Thalia wants to send her way. Thalia should bring herself to care. She tells herself to pull back at the last minute, stun not kill. But once shot out, lightning is difficult to reel back in. And once threatened, it’s hard to keep Thalia from lashing out. 

But the bolt ricochets off something hard, a shield Annabeth throws out at the last minute, exploding against the sink and turning it to straight up rubble. Jets of water gush out from a broken pipe, intermingling with the broken glass littered across the floor.  

Thalia gapes at her. “Where…where did you get that?” She should be cringing away in the corner at the sight of Medusa’s head shining terribly on the golden shield in her friend’s hands. Instead, she refuses to look away.

Possessive rage, entwined with overwhelming nostalgia, coils around her heart. That’s mine.

Annabeth’s doesn’t answer. “Weak shot,” she comments, Aegis shrinking instantly back into its bracelet form, hidden beneath her sleeve.

Questions hit Thalia full force. But Annabeth slamming into her full speed, unsurprisingly, serves a greater impact. They fall to the ground, glass crunching under their weight. Annabeth punches her in the jaw. Thalia bucks and they flip over; the back of Annabeth’s head cracks against the wet bathroom tiles, which soon come away stained with blood. Water from the broken pipe quickly sloshes along the floor.

Thalia pulls a spare knife from her boot and presses it to Annabeth’s throat. “It’s over.”

“No,” she spits. Something sharp pokes into her ribs and Thalia doesn’t dare move, less she comes away with a skewered lung. She shouldn’t laugh but she can’t help but think this a product of Orion’s revenge. “It’s a draw.”

Her smile is weak. “You think so?” Thalia tosses her knife aside as easily as someone might toss their phone on the couch. “Go ahead.” She whispers in the face of Annabeth’s confusion. “I deserve this.”

Annabeth shakes and Thalia knows it isn’t from her soaked clothes. “You always… you always know what to say, don’t you? You always know what to do to get your way.”

“It isn’t like that.”

“It is.” Annabeth’s arm relaxes, and she too throws her knife to the side, though with increasing difficulty. Thalia doesn’t need a knife to kill Annabeth; then again she hadn’t been the one to attack first so they can both breathe a little easier. For now. “It’s always been that way.”

Still, the daughter of Zeus doesn’t move at first. “Where’s Phoebe?”

“She told me where to find you.” And, as Thalia quickly realizes, Phoebe hadn’t been the only one to rush to New York after getting her message.  “She lent me some of her knives and told me to go work things out with you.”

Of course she did. Thalia isn’t sure why she had envisioned events playing out differently. Phoebe has always been loyal; though to whom has always been the question. “You have every right to be angry with me.”

“He helped you escape, didn’t he?” Annabeth retorts, thoroughly ignoring her. “Luke? It had to be. I just can’t figure out how he did it.”

Thalia says absolutely nothing, but it’s just as damning as a response. She disentangles herself from Annabeth instead, sitting down in the large puddle overtaking the floor; Thalia’s already wet and hurting so she might as well take a seat.

Annabeth makes a face. “Luke still has faith in you.”

“And I’m guessing you don’t?”

“Can you blame me?”

“No,” Thalia answers truthfully. She only sighs, considering the words she has planned for next. There’s no easy way to say it. “I need a favor, Annabeth.”

She almost laughs. “After…everything, you want a favor?”

“In my defense, I did ask Phoebe to be here. Not you.”

“Fair enough,” Annabeth concedes. “Then again, enemies don’t ask for favors.”

“I’m not your friend, but I’m not your enemy.”

“I don’t know that,” she counters.

“You do,” Thalia says without wavering, meeting that unspoken challenge. Their physical fight may be over but, with Annabeth, it’s always a battle of wills. She should know this better than anyone. “If you think I’m doing any of this willingly you’re not as smart as I think you are.”

“Insulting my intelligence will get you nowhere, Thalia.”

Her fists clench. “If you want information in return, I’ll give it to you. But this is important, Annabeth.”

She mulls that over. “Phoebe wouldn’t tell me what you wanted,” Annabeth bites out. Her eyes narrow, suspicious but what Thalia senses is due to entirely different reasons. “She said… she said I needed to hear it from your own mouth. That it was your story to tell.”

“I wish it wasn’t,” Thalia whispers without thinking.

She recounts as many relevant details as she can from the past three years living on Mount Othrys, though trying to censor as much as she can. There’s too much physical and psychological torture to make sense of, as far as Thalia’s concerned, and that’s another headache she shouldn’t really introduce Annabeth’s way. But she does tell her about Elpis, the only light and joy of Thalia’s life. The only thing that made any of it bearable. And then she describes what it felt like, having her only daughter ripped away. 

“I don’t want her back,” Thalia says finally, quietly, as if it’s a truth she herself has just come to acknowledge. A truth she wouldn’t ever repeat, not to a single soul. “I just want her safe. Most of the time I think I’ll be able to protect her if she’s with me again, that somehow everything will just be alright. But I know that’s not true.” A twinge of adrenaline forces her to look Annabeth in the eye, to have her friend see not only her inner turmoil but outright determination. “Elpis needs to be far away from him, especially if you want any hope of getting the Rebellion through Othrys’ fortified gates. You can’t do it without help from the inside, and the only way you can get that is through me.”

Annabeth crosses her arms over her chest. “Are you sure of that?”

“I’m sure.” No matter how strong the gods got, one thing is for sure: this isn’t the Silver Age and Mount Othrys is prepared to survive with a siege for several more decades, precious time and resources a half-blood army most certainly does not have.

For a long while, Annabeth says nothing. And surely it must be a lot to process. But at the end of the day, Thalia is right. Not that her old friend is apt to admit it. “What information do you have for me?”

It shouldn’t surprise Thalia either. When in doubt, Annabeth has always been known to fall back on logic. That’s just how she operates. “A stumbling block,” she replies, reluctantly letting go the subject of her daughter. Annabeth will come to a decision eventually and no amount of pushing is going to sway her. “Kronos. He’s acquired something. I can’t figure out what it is but maybe it’d make sense to you… It’s a pithos with the symbol of the ouroboros on it.”

Her eyes spark. “The symbol of rebirth.” Though from Annabeth’s tone, that seems about the extent of her knowledge without doing more research.

Thalia closes her eyes for a moment, trying to picture it in her head. “Something is in there. Something… dangerous. Maybe you can tell Athena, she’ll be able to figure out what is.”

“That’s it?” she says somewhat dismissively, as if not realizing the threat. To Thalia, it seems ridiculous as well, to be scared of something so trivial. But the aura that pithos gives off…

“No.” Thalia purses her lips. “Speaking of Athena, she might be pleased to hear her mother is back in on the game.”

Annabeth instantly shuts down, though a natural reaction from the child of a virgin goddess. A goddess whose birth is of such dispute. “Athena is motherless. She sprung from Zeus’s head.”

“The last part is true,” Thalia throws back. Annabeth maybe a walking mythological Wikipedia but Thalia knows just as much too, all the conflicting stories included. “Before Hera, Zeus’s first wife was Metis. But then he received a prophecy from Gaia: she’d give him a daughter – Athena – and then a son that would eventually overthrow him.”

Realization dawns on her face. “And he turned her into a fly and swallowed her.”

Thalia nods. “Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Between Titans and gods.” Only now does it bother her, all those jokes and snide comments made about her father. He deserves them, of course. But the extension on herself is something she could live without. She has so many enemies because of his misdeeds and despite his position as her father, sometimes she can’t help but think that all of this is his fault.

“Stop.” Annabeth’s voice snaps her out of the self-incriminating loop. “If you think like that, you’re letting him win.”

She’s right. “Metis is back, Annabeth,” says Thalia with a great deal of caution. “I don’t know why. But she’s determined to beat Athena at her own game and get revenge on Zeus. How she intends to do it, I don’t know. But you’ll need to be prepared.”

“Yes, because my personality just screams reckless.”

“Other than Kronos being unusually weak nowadays,” – you can win, she wants to say out loud, but decides against it, knowing Annabeth has already caught on – “that’s all I have.” She cranes her head a little, meeting Annabeth’s stare head on, probing for any sign of compliance or, otherwise, disagreement. “I need to know if you’re going to find Elpis for me.”

A muscle in her cheek ripples. “I can’t make any promises, Thalia. I don’t even know if it’s possible, I don’t even know if I can find her for you.” Annabeth softens, only by a fraction. “I’ll do my best.”

Thalia sighs. “Thank you. It just… at least it’s a start. At least there’s…”

Hope. The same word Phoebe had used earlier in the day. A word that seemed so foreign to Thalia now, even though she’d named her very daughter after it. After all this time, could it really exist? She doesn’t know, but without it, Thalia doesn’t know where she would be. How she could still survive without it.

 “I’m sorry things have to be like this. I’m sorry about… Percy and Nico.” Her throat tightens. “I’m sorry I took them.”

“And I’m sorry we didn’t protect you from...” Annabeth trails off and Thalia just nods, not needing her to continue the train of thought. They both have regrets.

Annabeth stands, offering Thalia her hand. “We should go before Phoebe starts to think we actually did kill each other.”

“Well, we did come awfully close,” – barely a thread of a joke. Thalia is helped to her feet, acutely aware of how dripping wet the both of them are. It’s sure to draw some looks from the staff. “Take care of yourself, Annabeth.” It sounds friendly enough, but they both know exactly what those words mean.

Don’t get in my way.

Annabeth smiles but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “You too.”


 Othrys is unusually dark when she returns but, in these past two years, it seems as though Thalia seems to blend in with the shadows. She chalks the atmosphere up to the presence of monsters. Hellhounds especially seem to carry pieces of the Underworld with them and there are an unusual amount of them now.

Quiet as a mouse, Thalia scurries to her chambers without a glance back. She tries to mask the shimmering rune on her forearm. The last thing she needs right now is someone to wonder why she looks like she’s been hit by a truck or – most importantly – what she’s been doing for the past few hours. Alabaster hadn’t broached the subject – though she could tell he wanted to. Her only consolation now is Kronos has been swamped with war councils all week. The chances of him finding her like this are slim.

But when she approaches her room, she notices the door slightly ajar. It never is. Not even when Kronos visits.

Thalia pauses in the hallway. “Hello?”

A peal of laughter is the response she receives. Cautiously, she pushes the door aside with a sigh. “What do you want?”

“Interesting you should ask,” Metis purrs from her position atop Thalia’s bed, bare feet curled inward like a mischievous toddler. “I’ve been waiting quite a while for you to show up. I am rather curious as to where you disappeared off to.”

Thalia doesn’t answer. She steps inside, kicking offer her shoes and shrugging out of her jacket, baring her sustained injuries to the Titaness like a dare. Daring her to push the issue further. But Thalia speaks before even giving Metis the chance. “Who gave you permission to be here?”

Metis shrugs. “I wasn’t aware of any special permissions.”

No, of course not. Finally, Thalia notices the small pithos in the Titaness’s hands. Her eyes skim over the sign of the ouroboros and she remembers how it never leaves her husband’s sight. “And how exactly did you get your hands on that?”

“My, my, you’re asking a lot of questions, love.” Finally, Metis stands, smoothing out her gossamer gown. “And I have a few of my own.”

And just what I was afraid of. “Like?”

“How on earth you managed to become the vessel to a Titaness?” She grins as Thalia stiffens. “It’s not usually common for gods. But mortal bodies are so fragile! Yet here you are, the living embodiment of Rhea, for all intents and purposes.”

Thalia manages to recover quickly, letting out a cryptic laugh. “I suppose it isn’t a secret anymore, is it?”

“Not that it was ever one to begin with.”

More than true. That cat had been let out of the bag ages ago, thanks to Gaia. Though at the thought of the earth goddess’s brutal “death” at the Titan Lord’s hands, it’s not a subject Thalia intends to linger on. But it once again fuels Thalia’s own inquiry. “Kronos has been carrying that thing around for the better part of a month,” she presses again. “How’d you manage to get it off of him?”

“Good question,” Metis answers vaguely all the same. To never be revealed. Though she isn’t the Titaness of crafty counsel for nothing.

And, after all, it leaves room for Thalia’s most probing question of all. “What’s in it?”

Her grin widens like that of a Cheshire cat. “Why, let me show you.”

Regret strikes her veins. Please don’t.

Metis removes the lid anyway.

At first, there is nothing but the sound of Thalia’s shallow breathing. What kind of monster she expects to jump out, she isn’t sure. Tenderly, the Titaness reaches inside.

“I don’t understand.”

It isn’t a monster, or, at least, Thalia doesn’t think it is.

A heart. Not the geometric shape, no, but the heart of a living thing. At least, it had belonged to a living thing. It is gray with age, cut through with the golden veins of an immortal long dead.

“It’s the heart of Zagreus,” Metis murmurs, holding onto it tenderly, in a way Thalia finds incredibly disturbing. “My son.”

Her blood chills. “Zagreus is a myth.” But Thalia supposes that’s the story of her life: myths not actually being myths.

“Zagreus is the future, silly girl,” she chuckles. “He will be Kronos’s key to destroying your pathetic little friends once and for all.”

“He never existed,” Thalia argues. “He was never born.”

“We both know that isn’t true.” Her silver eyes are truly haunting in the dim light. “He was born and he was destroyed, ripped away from me.”

“Not anymore. The heart is clearly in your possession now.”

“It is,” Metis muses, a failed attempt to lighten the mood. “Though it’ll be in yours soon enough.”

“I don’t understand,” she repeats, stumbling backward out of fear. Where these sudden feelings have come from, why she’s so frightened of an immortal’s gray heart, she can’t be sure.

“Oh, it’s simple,” the Titaness says rather nonchalantly. “You just have to swallow it.”

For a second, she pretends she hasn’t quite heard Metis right. Thalia pales, with the feeling that she just might turn green. “You’re insane.”

“Oh, I’ve been hearing that for a good two thousand years now, love. But you’ll find I’m being very serious.” Gently, Metis sets down the pithos. She feels frozen in place, with no choice but to watch as the Titaness takes slow, deliberate steps towards her. “You’re Rhea, after all. A literal walking, talking womb. A maker of perfect children. Who better than to bring my darling son into existence?”

“No.” Thalia recoils. “Never.”

Her head cracks against the far wall before she can even comprehend. She hears heavy footsteps, so strange for feet that seem so delicate. An invisible force compels Thalia to stand. Metis circles her, molten eyes cooling with an animalistic hunger.

“Now, now, Thalia Grace. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The heart in Metis’s hand convulses, as if impatient at the prospect of a new home within Thalia. One thing is clear, of course: it is most certainly alive. “Please, open wide before I split open your jaw.”

She thrusts Zagreus into her face but Thalia turns her head, crying out, “No, you can’t!”

“I can’t?” Her face darkens. “Thalia, I’ve been planning this for a very long time.” Thalia, of course, believes her. The look in Metis’s eyes is that of a mother half-starved, and she knows the feeling better than anyone. Metis grits her teeth. “I can and I will! Now, open. Your. Mouth!

“Except,” a calm voice cuts in, causing both Titaness and demigod to whip their heads in its direction. “Thalia should never open her mouth unless I give the order for her to do so. Though she can be stubborn from time to time when it comes to that little rule.” He leans against the shut door, a serene smile on his face as if this is the most entertaining thing he’s seen in ages. “The heart. What exactly do you intend to do with it, Metis? Must be a grand scheme if you’re willing to steal from me.”

She gapes at him like a fish out of water. “Kronos? But you—”

He chokes her off, his magical grip reaching out towards the startled Titaness and thrusting her into his outstretched hand. “So much disappointment once again. I was so hopeful.” Kronos’s grasp tightens and her throat turns white. With his other hand, he wrenches the heart away from her. “Do you really think me so dense, Metis, that I would not guess your intentions from the very beginning? Or at least until you started inquiring about the Underworld?”

“You want to destroy the Olympian as much as I do!” she claws at her throat with her free hand. From beneath his skin, his veins glow bright gold, creating a current that seems to run up his arm. The dark circles under his eyes seem to lighten as if sapping energy directly from her. Though if he were, that wouldn't surprise Thalia in the slightest.  Still, Metis gasps out, though clearly weaker from whatever magic Kronos is forcing upon her, “Why go after the heart then if you do not intend to use it?”

 “My dear, you confuse my lack of action for lack of intent.” With the heart in his grasp, Kronos throws Metis down at his feet. “I’ve had enough of screaming toddlers on Mount Othrys. Another godling would drive me mad, surely. More so than my wife being pregnant yet again, a time – as Thalia will tell you – she caused me much anguish. The heart alone is a much better option and with no strings attached.” Hungrily, he peers down at Zagreus’s heart in his hands. “Shall I demonstrate?”

“Please… please,” the Titaness mouths, the air quite not rushing through her windpipe quite yet. She’s too weak to stand. “It needs…a body. Or… it’s useless…

In that moment, all eyes are on the graying heart of a dead immortal in Kronos’s hands. Thalia, especially, finds that she can’t tear her eyes away, and for reasons she herself can’t understand, though every nerve in her body is screaming at her to run very far from this place.

“Do you really believe that?” he says finally. “Do you really think Hades and Persephone went through all that trouble to guard a dead heart for nothing?”

Metis opens her mouth to speak but is unable to answer him this time. By the giddy look on his face, it’s an appropriate response, as if Kronos is about to deliver a most devastating punchline.

“Thalia,” he says, once again with the utmost calm. The heart begins to squirm and he steps away from Metis, turning his attention towards his wife instead. “Bring me her head.”

The ring on her fingers melts like liquid mercury into the palm of her hand. It forms a sword before she realizes.

No, Thalia screams at herself. Wait!

But she moves without protest.

A deadlier swing than what she can manage on a good day. Metis doesn’t even have time to scream. And neither does Thalia. She physically can’t.

The ichor sprays in an arch across the room, splattering across Kronos’s face and beyond, drops landing even far above the doorframe.

She looks to her shaking hands, not to Metis’s head that rolls towards her husband’s feet, and not to Zagreus’s heart, whose beat seems to roar in her ears. The stained blade slips from between her fingers, clattering on the floor.

“What did you do to me?” she chokes out, throat heavy with tears. “What did you make me do?”

“Oh, Thalia,” Kronos chuckles as he comes forward. She flinches so violently it’s as if she struck her, unable to glance away from those golden eyes, the same color as the splatter of ichor – Metis’s ichor – cut diagonally across his face. His cold fingers brush the edge of her jaw. “You’ve made me so happy.”

Revulsion fills in waves. She wants to vomit. “Please—!”

Kronos shushes her. He slams the door shut behind them and walks a struggling Thalia to the bed. “Stop worrying. If she’s lucky, she’ll reform in Tartarus eventually.”

“That’s not the point!” He forces her to sit when it’s the last thing she wants to do. She wants to run. “You know it isn’t.”

“This is important, Thalia. I need you to listen,” he whispers firmly, as if disciplining a child.

“Why? Or you'll get rid of me just like her?” She trembles out of anger, out of fear. “Just grab Percy or Nico and have them slit my thr—”

His hand cracks against her face, stunning her into silence. She holds a hand to her burning cheek, gaping at him, unsure what to do or say.

“If anyone asks, Metis was banished,” he says in that same stern voice, low and soothing as if whatever caused the sting on her face wasn’t of his doing. “Repeat it.”

“Metis was banished,” she stutters, swallowing the sobs stuck in her throat.

“Good.” He even kisses her forehead, like it can erase the past ten minutes from her mind. “You see the progress that occurs when we work together?”

The body, the head disintegrate quickly. Kronos disappears just as quick. Only the ichor remains – gold like his eyes – staining her hands as she rips the sheets off her bed to mop up the splatter. But the more Thalia cleans, the more it spreads and the more she cries.

She repeats his last words to her like a mantra. “If anyone asks, Metis was banished.” Thalia tries to smother the cries attempting to erupt from out her mouth, from out her very soul. “If anyone asks Metis was banished.” She repeats it, over and over again. “If anyone asks—”

Thalia hardly hears the door open. She only finds pale hands ripping the stained sheet away from her. “Stop, Thalia.”

“That’s what I want,” she whispers, afraid to brush the tears away from her face in case she smears the ichor on her face. Thalia stares up at Artemis, teeth chattering. “I just want it all to stop, Artemis.”

The goddess doesn’t seem surprised to hear those words. She also doesn’t seem surprised to see Thalia huddled on the floor, mopping up ichor from an immortal that had been up and walking these halls just hours ago. Kronos must have told her then. He always does.

“I know,” says Artemis as she pulls Thalia to her feet. “I know by now that he’s always going to break you and I have to find some way to put you back together again. I want that to stop too.”

And Thalia whispers, afraid someone will overhear, that he’ll hear, “We have to win.”

“We won’t,” Artemis murmurs, “not with you like this.”

She’s right.

Thalia forces herself to push it all down again: her grief, her horror. Always keeping it in but she knows there will come a day she can’t and it grows closer and closer with every moment she spends on Mount Othrys.

Thalia nods and lets Artemis usher her towards the bathroom. The water she puts on scalding hot to erase any evidence of Metis staining into her hands. But even the sound of the shower running, the pain of Thalia’s nail practically ripping at her skin, can’t stop Kronos’s words echoing in her head.

If anyone asks, Metis was banished. Of course. Kronos willfully killing Titans left and right with his secret weapon wouldn't be looked upon favorably by even his most loyal subjects. Oceanus, in particular – whose stance in this renewed war is once again unknown – would clearly take his daughter's beheading rather personally.

The other consequences, Thalia can’t imagine. Not in this state. Metis had served an essential role within the Titan Army and the war council, filling the empty seat that once belonged to Krios. Paired with Koios, they were nearly unstoppable in making sure Theia could not track the army’s movements. Just as well, her sound advice and constant presence by Kronos’s side – at least, until he could no longer stand her – had made it easier on Atlas who could focus on leading the legions and on Hyperion who could go off and secure the loyalty of their Titan and minor god allies (simultaneously giving them a much needed dose of intimidation should there be hints of them turning against Kronos).

And if her husband had no qualms about destroying such a valued advisor… it most certainly did not bode well for Thalia either, or most importantly, her daughter.

So much disappointment again. I was so hopeful.

It’s only a matter of time before they become dead weight. Before he disposes of them.

The shower shuts off and she dresses as fast as she can, unable to muster the strength to say a word to Artemis, who only sits on the bed and stares, as if waiting for another breakdown.

Artemis stands when she ready, halfway out the door before Thalia can croak out a response. “You’ve come up with a plan.” More of a statement than a question.

Artemis nods. “And I’m assuming you’ve had one forming for days now.” Her eyes skim over the blows Annabeth had landed back in New York. “Did your… meeting go well?”

With the circumstances they’re facing now, Thalia is glad for the change in topic. “As well as it could have gone.”

“Come on,” she says finally. “We will trade stories on the way.”

It’s a long journey to the other side of Othrys, enough time for Thalia to go over her interesting meetings with Annabeth and Metis, the latter of which she can barely utter without her voice breaking.

Artemis, on the other hand, hasn’t stalled with her scheming either.

She leads them on an hour long journey into the depths of Othrys, towards a cavern Thalia herself is exceptionally familiar with and place on Othrys she is no longer welcome: the chamber from which Krios now holds up the sky.

Though the chamber itself is not on their list of places to visit today, much to Thalia’s relief.

“It must be around here somewhere,” Artemis grumbles.

Thalia frowns deepens. “I thought Kronos would have confiscated the armor once Krios… fell.” If by fall, she means Thalia pushing him headfirst down a flight of metaphorical steps.

“He doesn’t even know it’s missing,” is the goddess’s gruff reply as she continues her search, scoping the crumbling halls for a particularly set of ruins. “To him, there are more important things than discovering what happened to his brother’s lost armor.”

“If he ever found you with—”

“He won’t. I hid it after I heard they had taken you away to him. It hasn’t been discovered since.” Artemis pauses in her search, fists clench. She turns her steely eyes on Thalia, though the goddess’s rage isn’t at all meant for her. “I should have gone to the throne room, to stop him from hurting you, but I knew you would have never forgiven me if I let this opportunity pass.”

Thalia stiffens. It never gets easier, thinking about that day. The pain, the blood, the fear. “It wouldn’t have changed anything,” Thalia manages to say. “You would’ve just been collateral damage.”

“But I am an immortal, Thalia. You could have died; you almost did. But that didn’t stop you from intervening the day he discovered my treachery.”

She makes a desperate, pleading grasp for Artemis’s hands. “But you know I would do anything for you.”

“That’s what I afraid of,” the goddess answers candidly. “Come. Krios’s armor first and then we’ll see how this little plot unfolds.”

It takes another hour of circling and backtracking amongst the ruins before Artemis’s hiding place is finally discovered. With each other’s help, they dislodge the loose obsidian bricks – Thalia’s hands scarring in the process – to finally reveal Krios’s forgotten armor.

“Are you able to do it again?” Artemis whispers, her eyes every once and a while flickering up and down the hall for any sign of movement. But if this place is as truly neglected as it seems, thanks to Kronos’s attention and power diverted towards other things, then the chance of them being discovered is slim.

“I don’t know. I haven’t tried, not since Gaia…” Thalia trails off. Only intense emotion could summon any of Rhea’s powers now – thanks to Kronos’s attempt with his burning down of the sanctuary to sever Thalia and Rhea completely – and after the ordeal with Metis, she felt truly and utterly drained. Not a bad thing, of course. She rather feel numb then hysteric, mopping up ichor from the ground.

She sighs. The new scars on her heart are still fresh, enough so for Thalia reevaluate those feelings of dread. “Let me see it.”

Artemis plucks a few of the remaining constellations from the armor. She passes them onto Thalia. They burn.

Thalia takes a deep breath… and then let’s all of it float back up to the surface: the difficulty she had letting her daughter go back to whatever hiding spot Kronos had put her in, the sadness she felt when confronting Nico, the confusion she felt over her and Annabeth’s estranged relationship, the horror of beheading Metis against Thalia’s will, her unbridled fear from Zagreus’s heart that could control demigods with but a word from Kronos’s silver tongue. Hate. For Kronos. There was always hate reserved in her heart for him. But when combined with everything else, it nearly tears her apart and she almost stops it all then and there.

But then her hands begin to glow.

Once again, she works the stars like clay in her hands, giving form to the images that appear in her head. Though it is harder this time, far more than it was before, as if she’s wrestling with mud instead.

Slowly, she forms the images in her head: the first, a silver arrow tipped with Stygian iron. A bead of sweat drips down the side of her face but it isn't long before she holds the real thing in her hands. As she works on the next set of constellations – considerably more angry and alive than an inanimate object – Thalia quickly grabs the arrow and hides it behind her back, of which Artemis approves of.

Just as Thalia works the stars into physical matter, she loses control. Her hands explode.

For a moment, she fears she’s ruined it, both by not summoning the constellation properly and making the stars so unusable to even dare another attempt. Thalia is wrong.

“Watch out!” is Artemis’s only warning.

With a screech, a monstrous bird stoops down low to swipe at Thalia’s head. She bats him away, all the while trying to conceal the arrow in her hand. His razor sharp claws – daggers of Celestial Bronze – aim to remove an eye. Thalia barely dodges him.

“Aquila!” Artemis shouts. “Listen to us!”

Another screech. He reminds her of Zoe’s homicidal attitude while also being awakened by Thalia for the first time.

Stop.” Thalia snaps, holding out her hand that ripples with waves of blue energy. “We are daughters of Zeus, your master, and you will obey us.”

He lands on the top of a broken column and rears his head back as if offended.

Artemis crosses her arms over her chest. “I don’t think that’s the way you will persuade the eagle to do your bidding.”

Thalia’s head snaps in her direction. “So I should reason with it?”

“Animals have feelings too.”

“And yet we intend to sla—”

“Aquila,” Artemis cuts her off with a look.  She turns her attention back to the eagle flapping his wing from atop his perch, clearly agitated. “Sweet Aquila. There’s a nice and tasty heart with your name on it. If you bestow us your cooperation it will be free for your consumption.”

That gets his attention. The eagle cocks his head of gleaming gold feathers. There's no mistake: he understands Artemis perfectly.

“Exactly. Fresh organs, no stipulations whatsoever,” Thalia adds with a smile once she realizes just the kind of bird she’s dealing with. The same that had taken to munching on Prometheus’s liver for a millennia.

Thalia twirls the deadly Sagitta behind her back.

Artemis continues crooning, ushering the eagle towards them and promising no harm will befall him. At least, not yet, not for what they have planned these next coming weeks.

Oh Kronos, let the games begin.

Chapter Text

What is there more kindly than the feeling between host and guest?

-Aeschylus


She feels the loneliness in the hours before dawn when sleep proves troublesome. It becomes most acute when she finds Kronos' face pressed against her breast, his limbs curled around hers. He doesn't sleep and he knows Thalia is awake, though it must be easier to pretend that she isn't.

She isn't fond of this moment of weakness and, with Kronos, the feeling must be mutual. For she knows he feels the loneliness too and it has created a smoking crater where his heart should be. Common belief says that he should feel nothing, that somehow this numbing sensation is equivalent to relief. Thalia knows better; the edges of that crater still corrode and burn through his very being. She only hopes it isn't contagious.

She sighs and he doesn't move, more a corpse than anything.

Thalia closes her eyes.


His throne room itself has seen better days. There are smoking craters in the wall, letting in the natural light during the day, making the stars visible to him at night. His throne is safe, perfectly intact just as he had planned for. But everything else is turning to ruin around him, soon to crumble away at the mention of strong wind.

Othrys will fall.

"Kronos."

The Titan Lord is catapulted from his seat of power and words can barely contain his anger. "How did you get in here?"

"This was my home once. It's not particularly hard to find a way in." She slinks from the shadows, ever the serpent coiling around its prey. "You had to have seen me coming, of course? I know you traded your eye for one of Theia's contraptions."

Kronos doesn't respond.

Her eyes gleam strangely. "You did not call on Hyperion or Atlas to stop me," she whispers. She grows nearer to him, those proud footsteps echoing in her wake. "Any particular reason why?"

The Titan Lord sneers. "Why are you here, Rhea?"

Rhea stops dead in her tracks. "This place has become bleaker upon my departure." She bends down to scoop up a piece of the rubble, crushing it in her hands, allowing the pulverized marble to slide past her fingers. "Everything is collapsing in on itself like a tomb. Are you growing weaker, husband?"

He twitches, as if she has finally gotten under his skin. "Enough of your games, woman."

Her smile sharpens like a knife. "The same games you played with me."

Kronos almost laughs. He shakes his head vigorously, hands clenching in his hair as if to tear it out by the roots. "Not with you." Gritting his teeth, he points in her direction. "Never with you. I loved you and you destroyed me."

"You destroy yourself."

Kronos regains himself and steps closer to her. "Why are you here?" Still, he cannot bring himself to close the gap, stand directly before Rhea and confront her like he should.

Rhea, of course, doesn't have the same qualms. "Isn't it obvious?" She approaches him with the bravery of a lioness, seemingly oblivious to his choking rage. "I longed to see you. To see the beast that you'd become."

He takes a short breath. "Rhea."

"Surrender." The word rolls off her tongue, her face now too close for comfort. "The war has gone on long enough. It ends soon and I wish to see you through it."

"A lie, if there ever was one."

It does not escape his notice that she still smells of freshly tilled soil and blooming flowers; mothers' milk and a smoky hearth. What he wouldn't give to run his fingers through her long black hair, to caress her warm skin and then promptly crush her skull in his hands.

She sees this in his eyes and only smiles again, though it seems remarkably sadder. "Hard as it may seem, I still love you."

Not once does he relax his stiffened muscles. "A shame considering I now loathe you with every fiber of my being."

"A lie, if there ever was one," she mocks. Her soft hand comes to rest on his arm. He flinches. "And you will find that hate and love are two sides of the same coin. That was the only way I could stay here all these years as you devoured child after child that left my body."

Kronos brushes her hand aside. "Yet here you are, choosing them over me."

"Think what you wish." Rhea turns her back on him, and he does not miss the clear message behind such a motion: she is most certainly unafraid of him. "Surrender, Kronos. Make it end and our son will pardon you. You'll be able to live out an eternal retirement over the fields of Italy. Your worship will continue undisturbed. It is far more than you deserve."

There is silence at first, so much silence that neither of them knows what to do with it initially. She has said what she came here to say and now it is up to him.

"Would you come with me?"

Rhea is taken off guard. She peers at him from over shoulder, genuine surprise blooming over her features. In that moment, she seems like the girl of her youth. "What?"

His face remains impassive. "If I say yes to you now, if lay down my arms, bow my head to our sons and daughters, would you spend the rest of eternity with me?"

Her façade melts and she takes a hesitant step back. "I—"

"How it was before we were married," he interrupts. "You remember the pond, the grass that touched the sky. But this time there is no Gaia to bother us, no Ouranos to crowd overhead and sneer at every breath we take. No blasphemous children, no brothers or sisters to draw us away." Kronos pauses, perhaps thinking on the words he has just uttered, envisioning the future he's just created that strongly resembles their shared past. "It will be just the two of us. Forever."

"You… changed." Her face crumbles, modeling the pain of their surroundings. "The young Titan that courted me all those years ago… whatever potential I saw in him dried up long ago."

He smiles gently. "Or maybe there was never anything to begin with."

"You cannot reverse time," she snaps and Kronos knows it bothers her, can feel it in the rage coursing through her veins. "How do you expect me to go with you after everything you've done?" Rhea whispers harshly, though they both know she wishes it be a carnal scream. "Zeus is generous but I am not. You deserve to suffer in some small way, to feel what I have felt all this time. The loneliness, the isolation. The pain."

"Then why come here?" he counters hotly. "Knowing we both will not have what we want?"

She opens her mouth to speak but hesitates. "I… did not lie. I wanted to see you one last time. I thought…"

His face grows hard and Rhea winces. "You thought I was weak? You thought I would cave to you, the one woman I have ever loved, is that it?"

Her fists clench. "I thought you were still capable of change. I thought you might see reason, I thought… I thought you loved me as much as you claimed but I am not surprised to see that I am wrong. I know what to expect from you after all these centuries."

Kronos tilts his head inquisitively. A mocking gesture that leads her blood to boil. "Yet you came anyway, which I find truly baffling."

"I can hope, can I not?" she laughs. "It is baffling, of course. This hope. I know you, Kronos. I know you cannot love, not truly and not completely, twisted being that you are and always have been. You have and always will treat me as an extension of yourself, a possession, an object to cater to your happiness. But I am more than that, Kronos. And, as foolish as I am, I still hope that you will see that."

Hope. How very foolish indeed.

"Go to Zeus," he says finally, though completely void of feeling. "Tell him you have failed in your mission to pacify me. I await the day I stab my scythe into his chest and dispatch him and the rest of his siblings into the Pit."

"As you wish, husband," she spits. "Though let it be known: you shall be the one rotting in Tartarus. But Chaos knows I've tried."

She whirls away from him, rage stiffening her back as she turns away from the ruins, away from this man who she hates with every fiber of her being, though painfully aware it was not always this way.

Rhea most certainly does not expect him to speak. But Kronos, she knows, must always have the last word. "I will have you back, Rhea. One way or another." She pauses at the onslaught of that declaration, spoken softly and thus making it all the more frightening. "And know that I will not be the weak-willed husband I once was. I will bring you to heel, as I should have done long ago."

She turns her burning gaze towards him once more, for the last time. "I will not suffer at the hands of your cruelty any longer. I will have you in Tartarus even if I must drag you there myself."

"Cruelty? Don't make me laugh." Kronos turns away and stalks back towards his throne. "Prepare yourself, Rhea. You have yet to witness the depths of my cruelty."


She remembers the exact moment in time the world seems to end.

Thalia stands on a balcony overlooking the bay, bow in hand and eyes on the horizon. Aquila sits on the ledge, hissing at her in irritation for some perceived slight she doesn't particularly give a shit about.

She pulls an arrow from her quiver in one slick motion and notches it in Aquila's direction. The eagle puffs out his chest, a rumbling sound emanating from his throat as if to say, Do it. I dare you. The look in his beady black eyes reads very much the same.

Thalia aims for a passing crow instead. Aquila seems rather pleased – he attacks the fallen crow in midair, sharpened talons spearing into his prey – with the full knowledge that he isn't expendable to her. Not yet, at least; if her and Artemis's plan comes to fruition, Aquila's death at her hands will be inevitable. Whether he knows this or not is beyond her.

She retrieves her arrows from him as he plucks feathers from his new meal.

Then the sky cracks.

Both Thalia and Aquila whip their heads around towards the sound – like an atomic bomb going off in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Then she spots them: what seems like a dozen or so stars falling from the heavens.

Her mouth curves into a slow smile. She doesn't know how long she stands there, staring until she hears a rush of footsteps behind her. She throws Artemis a quick glance before focusing once more on the approaching lights, the fracturing sky.

"It's starting," Thalia says, dull voice bordering on wistful.

Artemis grabs her by the shoulder and proceeds to pull her back inside the mountain, hardly leaving time for a nervous Aquila to swoop in after them, his meal forgotten. "Come. It isn't safe out here."

The eagle screeches in agreement.

"And," Artemis adds, "it is only a matter of time before Kronos will want to see you."

Yes, Thalia wants to say, but she feels stunned into silence by the booms resonating from outside. Faintly, she swears she hears thunder on the horizon. It's time.

Thalia remembers the hordes of monsters that pass through the doors of Othrys, those that have managed to make it back, though not entirely unscathed. Heads have been bashed, teeth are missing, dust pours from thousands of wounds, creating a trail inside the mountain. Demigod blood mixes with it as well, from the Titan Army soldiers that seem even worse than their counterparts. They're the lucky ones, of course.

She hears whispers of the Olympians descending into battle, Ares with his spear in hand running through entire legions, Apollo sending wave after wave of arrows with only a flick of his hand, Demeter and her golden sickle slicing through soldiers like wheat. It had brought life back into the Rebellion and, against the new onslaught, the Titan Army had turned away. They ran, not knowing what they should have feared more: Kronos's anger.

She's jolted by the sound of her husband's chilling voice, but, just this once, it isn't aimed her way.

Thalia lies on her stomach, conveniently tucked away in the crook of his arm and wrapped in a swath of blankets. Pressed against his heaving chest, Kronos's resonating fury is what coaxes her awake. She cracks an eye open, unsurprised to see Atlas from beneath her eyelashes. Neither Titan seems to pay her any mind.

"I should have carved a hole in your face the minute your cowardice graced my halls."

The general's face reddens and he takes uneven breaths. "My lord, we were suffering heavy casualties. I had no choice but to usher a retreat." His jaw clenches. "Perhaps if you yourself would lead our legions into battle—"

"Tread carefully or do shut up, nephew," Kronos warns, but it does nothing to placate Atlas.

The room's temperature rises. "Then, perhaps if you would actually sit your throne and instill confidence in your soldiers instead of locking yourself away and frolicking with your whore—"

"I said ENOUGH!" Kronos snarls, and the bed sinks beneath her as he sits up. He rests a clenched fist on her bare back and Thalia can't help but stiffen. "I would think that, on the bitch that bore you, you would thank me for allowing you the opportunity to lead my armies, thank your king for not throwing you into Tartarus for abandoning the battlefield."

Though it was a matter of time before Atlas returned with legions. In the past month they had lost considerable ground to the rebels as their army encroached ever closer to Othrys and, following Metis's disappearance, they had since begun making preparations for a siege, to go on the defensive. But fleeing in front of their enemies, particularly in the face of the arriving Olympians…

Atlas quickly changes his tune, recognizing his mistake. "I simply think that with our forces growing weary and you no longer showing your face, the other Titans, the minor gods, they are beginning to think you weak—"

"Should I take out my frustrations on you and prove to them that they are wrong?"

"With respect—"

"Respect be damned," he seethes and the general is wise to keep his mouth shut. For a moment, they – half-asleep Thalia included – wait for Kronos's rage to subside. It does eventually but the atmosphere remains as charged as a sky blotted by thunderclouds. "What is done is done, nephew, and I am a merciless being." His tone, however, suggests anything but. "You must understand, of course, there is no Metis to help us now." The rest remains unsaid: Do not lose faith in me now…or else. "Go find Koios, fortify the battlements. And for the love of Chaos, tell Grover Underwood that I want his army here soon or he will face the consequences."

Atlas gives him a stiff nod, though the loathing in his eyes is more than clear. Thalia notices and, of course, so does Kronos.

"As a warning, do not approach me again with this folly. You are my general, not my advisor – those, of which, I have had enough of, seeing as how my last one served me. Your position requires obedience and a stomach for slaughter. Nowhere in this description have I asked you to think on my behalf."

"As you wish, my lord."

The fist against Thalia's back is smoothed into an open palm. She can feel Kronos's eyes on her now. "Leave. Preparations must be made. If the Olympians show their faces again we must soon challenge them to battle."

Or hide behind the tall walls. After all, Constantinople had survived a millennia on that tactic alone. Mount Othrys might very well do the same.

The general's jaw clenches. "I am not concerned for myself, lord."

"Fool, everyone seems to be testing my patience these coming days." Kronos glowers at him. "Get out, Atlas. Come back with good news and when I no longer wish to wipe you from the face of the Earth."

He nods once again, making a quiet retreat – this one received with far less controversy. The door clicks shut. Silence at last.

Thalia has half a mind to sleep again while she can but that's wishful thinking.

"I know you're awake."

She doesn't need to see his smirk to know it is there. Thalia shifts around, throwing him a tired glare. "He isn't completely wrong and you know it."

Kronos has his head propped up on one elbow, eyes narrowed. "How so?"

Tread carefully, he had told Atlas, and now the warning might as well be aimed her way. Thalia rests a hand on his tense bicep. "I'm surprised you haven't sat on your throne for this long," she muses. "It must be cold by now."

He deigns to pull her closer. "A warm bed is better than a cold throne, wouldn't you agree?"

Thalia slips his grasp. She sits up, looking down at him. "One is your source of power." Her nose wrinkles with irritation. "The other is a self-created trap to avoid your problems. Tell me, is it time for me to clean up yet another mess of yours?"

Naturally, he brushes off her insult. "You're noticing my quirks? How sweet."

"Quirks? Sweet?" she snorts. "You've chained me to the hull of this ship, Kronos. I, for one, rather not see it sink." A blatant lie, of course. After all, she was the little ship rat poking holes in the barge.

Thalia no longer looks at him, unusually focused on finger-combing the knots from her hair. A heartbeat later, strong arms slip around her waist. No escaping this time. "A dutiful girl, aren't you? Though you complain so much. Perhaps I should work you to death, then you wouldn't have to open that pretty mouth of yours."

She throws her head back and it comes to rest against his breast. "Then you wouldn't have anyone to warm that bed you speak so fondly of."

"True," he murmurs, "though for all your talk of restraints – and pirates, was it? – I rather see you chained to something else for the remainder of today. That would certainly be a more fitting punishment."

She raises an eyebrow when his nose taps the ridge of her cheek. "Would it?" Her knuckles brush against the vein in his neck. "For who?"

Kronos smiles, though she sees a twinge of seriousness in his eyes, and she knows he's mulling over what she's said to him, how it is not much different from Atlas's hostile outburst. After all, here Kronos is, frolicking with his whore. "Don't be like them. Don't underestimate me, love."

"I would never make that mistake," Thalia whispers, attempting to hold onto her air of playfulness despite the truth she's uttered. For what she has planned, underestimating Kronos would very well kill her and anyone she's ever cared about.

"Good." He kisses her on the shoulder. "Consider the feeling mutual."

She's taken aback by his words and the surprise shows on her face. "I have no idea what you're insinuating."

"You don't?" He chuckles. "I've heard reports you've paid the dungeons a visit as of late."

To see Nico. Or at least, she had seen him that one time. Any other visits had been mere attempts to try and see him again, though remaining outside the door as she lost the nerve, wondering if Nico would even want such a thing. He had been her last lifeline and their previous meeting hadn't been on the best of terms.

"I could say the same for you." Thalia peers at him from over her shoulder. Two can play at that game. "Percy's cell seems like a second home when you aren't killing time here." It seems a rather nice deflection on her part, if Thalia does say so herself. "Should I be worried?"

Kronos takes a little longer to respond than she would like. "Envy is not a nice color on you, wife. No, you were a special case. A new toy to tickle my fancy." Thalia makes a dissatisfied sound as his head once again finds its way in the crook of her neck. Against her back, she feels him hardening. "But you would like that, wouldn't you? Bringing another pet into our bed. The two of you were quite close before Artemis swooped in and stole you away."

"He's family." My friend. Though nowadays the sentiment must surely be one-sided, and considering how she had treated her full-blooded brother… "Just the idea—"

"That's never stopped any of us before," Kronos interjects.

"—makes me sick."

"Hmm." He takes her breast in his hand and she sucks in a breath of air. "You could fool me. I would think you someone very receptive to the idea of two males lavishing you with attention."

Thalia isn't stupid. This is no invitation. She forces a smile and places her hand over his own, the one holding her breast, and they move together in slow circular motions. "You're already more than I can handle, my lord," Thalia utters, breathless. Of course, not a complete lie. Closer to the truth than anything she's said to him these past few weeks.

Kronos sees right through it. "Good answer." He kisses her temple. "But you're full of those aren't you?"

She grins, blue eyes flashing with lust, deviance. Kronos continues kneading her breast as Thalia reaches behind to stroke his erection. "Would you rather me be filled with something else?"

"Crude, Miss Grace," he chastises, shuddering ever so slightly. "Very crude."


Annabeth climbs the slope out of breath, the whipping wind threatening to blow her over. Below her, Rebellion troops march to fill the Tamalpais-Homestead Valley. It must be a dream. After all, the march up from their landing point in Marin City she had spent in a daze, even as she fought and bled alongside her troops to arrive here.

Mount Othrys.

Someone clasps her on the shoulder. "We made it."

"Ten years it's taken us to get here," she responds, sending no glance Jason's way. For some reason, she can't take her eyes off the Titan stronghold now, perhaps afraid it'll disappear as soon as she turns her head. "It feels so…"

"Surreal?" says a voice from behind them. From the corner of her eye, Annabeth watches Reyna shuffling in behind them, sheathing her broadsword. "No arguments there." For the first time, her eyes are alight like liquid amber, as if someone has stoked an invisible flame within her. Though, as the daughter of a war goddess, Reyna's spike in adrenaline now that they've gotten this far is no surprise to anyone. Annabeth has found Clarisse – and herself really – in the same boat. This is an act of defiance long overdue.

"There's been many of those along the way," Annabeth muses.

Briefly, Reyna stands right beside her. Their shoulders brush together in a moment that seems destined not to last. "I couldn't help myself. You were a worthy opponent unlike Praetor Grace here." Her hardened gaze dissects through the landscape, honed in on the menacing palace in the distance. Their final challenge, and one she seems more than eager to face head-on. A strength Annabeth wishes she still had. "I'll have the troops make camp."

Jason and Annabeth both watch her go.

He shakes his head, a wry smile on his face that warps the scar on his lips. "If Kronos should be worried about anyone, it's her."

For a while, she only stares at him. In the light of the setting sun, Annabeth can't help but notice how much he looks like Thalia. "Couldn't agree more," she manages eventually.

The surreal reality continues.

As promised, the legions settle in comfortably (well as much comfort can be expected when parked out in front of an enemy castle). The gods make their appearances when able. Unrest near a restored Olympus forces them away, but Hephaestus is able to gift the rebels with trebuchets and siege towers. An unusually silent Poseidon mulls about, continuing correspondence with Leo Valdez regarding oversea supply routes. Apollo makes his rounds caring for the injured with Will Solace by day and rendezvousing with a distraught Rachel by night.

It isn't long before Hades himself sweeps into the valley with the Elysian army at his back. Athena herself continues leading all Rebel efforts: the new task before her scaling Othrys' high walls.

Of the several initial attempts made to breach Mount Othrys, all fall short. Even getting to the walls proves difficult with the monster Python guarding the southern perimeter by night, a cherry on top of the heavy security detail patrolling every end of the palace by day and with classic anti-siege maneuvers at their disposal: a shit ton of arrows and gallons of hot oil to pour on incoming invaders.

Unfortunately, sieges are almost never that exciting. Much of it involves sitting around and waiting for the enemy to strike the first move, none of which Annabeth has the patience for. Hours into surveying guard rotations, Annabeth nearly loses it, begging Wu to take her shift.

She starts off in the direction of her tent, determined to take a break, maybe get in an hour or two of sleep before the war effort pulls her in again. Where Annabeth ends up, of course, is outside of Athena's command tent.

She enters without being invited in. Her mother looms over a replica of Mount Othrys and the surrounding valley, eyes shut as she rubs viciously at her temples.

"Troubles?" As Annabeth slips into the nearest chair, she notices the half empty flagon of wine perched at the edge of the table and a half-filled wine glass beside it.

"Olympus is having a minor siege of its own." Athena's expression sours. "Emphasis on minor; minor gods, minor Titans testing out our defenses. Nothing to worry about – we've driven away most of their attacks – but… it does take our fair share of attention to deal with."

"Though I'm assuming they've gotten the message." She snatches an empty wine glass from a nearby dresser and helps herself. "We're here to stay."

"They did," Athena affirms. "Though I'm still worried. It's one thing to hold Olympus. Storming Othrys, another situation entirely." She takes a gulp of wine. Then another. "Without their weapons, Zeus, my uncles…"

"I know." A stalemate to last centuries. "I've exhausted all options."

"Luke—?"

"Has no idea what Kronos might have done with them." They had shared a body once ten years ago; that didn't exactly make him an expert on everything related to the Titan Lord, despite commonly held opinions within their ranks.

Athena waves her hand dismissively. "Not that we'd be able to get to the weapon anyway. Unless he has someone on the inside."

He thinks he has someone on the inside. He thinks that Thalia is still on our side. But Luke has always been confident in ways Annabeth isn't. He can afford the risk of trusting Thalia. She can't.

Annabeth shakes her head. They sit together in complete silence, Athena swirling the wine in her hand.

"I don't think I've ever seen you drink before."

"Well I never imagined we would have to reclaim Olympus from the Titans but there's always a first time for everything." Athena tops off the rest of the wine and Annabeth isn't the least bit surprised to see the flagon refill itself. "At least the wine here is fresh, courtesy of Dionysus. Nothing like the cheap, tasteless swill they must have on Othrys."

"That's what happens when you imprison the god of wine in Tartarus."

"Yes, with him at our side we just may last this yet," the goddess muses.

"Maybe," Annabeth murmurs, with nothing really left to say. She resorts to drinking the wine set before her instead, vaguely aware of her mother watching her every move. Awkward to say the least.

"It must be easy for you to lose faith, Annabeth," Athena says virtually out-of-the blue. "It's been so long…"

"But we're closer than we've ever been," she interjects. "I can't falter now."

"Or it all would have been for naught." Athena sighs. "I understand."

"Do you?" Annabeth fires back, albeit half-heartedly, as the alcohol begins to creep up on her. Call her a lightweight.

She shrugs. "I was not there for the first Titanomachy. The second hasn't been kind to me thus far and it's not as if we have Victory locked in a cage in our camp."

The light, airy sensation around her mind draws forth a laugh. "We could always track her down, pull off her wings Athenian-style so she can't leave us."

"I love Nike's wings," Athena responds, still smiling though with a twinge of sadness. "Apparently they didn't understand that when they built her temple next to mine on the Acropolis." They'd practically covered the whole of Nike's temple with wingless images of the goddess, and for the specific message of proving to their enemies that victory was with them always. "Then again the only reason they made any of the structures so grand was to show off to Sparta. It never really mattered what wanted; mortals are apt at manipulation in those kinds of ways, I suppose."

"Are you always this philosophical while drunk?" Though Annabeth would be a liar if she said she wasn't somewhat enjoying herself. It beats watching enemy guards piss off the walls.

"Why do you think I have so many children?"

At the mention of children, Annabeth stiffens. I need to know if you're going to find Elpis for me. Her hands clench into fists; she's not sure why it's come to her now. Why all of a sudden she feels the need to mention that fateful meeting in New York. "I saw Thalia," she bites out.

"I know." Athena shrugs at her daughter's initial surprise. "Phoebe informed me."

She rolls her eyes. "Of course she did."

"She advised me to wait on broaching the subject, that you would come to me of your own accord," the goddess puts gently. Her eyebrows furrow. "I know you have a special place in your heart for her."

"She's a traitor." The words themselves are hollow, said without conviction.

"That's what the Romans have dubbed her, yes…" Athena drawls. She purses her lips. "I think you're harder to persuade. But I could be wrong?"

"I don't know," Annabeth admits.

As always, Athena can clearly see through her attempts at stalling their pressing conversation. "What did she tell you?"

For once, Annabeth's mind is unusually silent, not buzzing like a beehive. Enough for her to concentrate on the new task at hand. "The ouroboros." The goddess drops her glass. "I need to know what it stands for."

"Why?"

"Tell me and I'll answer."

Her eyes narrow into slits. For a moment, nothing happens except several moments of Athena clenching and unclenching her jaw, debating what to start with. "It is an archaic symbol, known to other Pantheons besides ours. A universal icon, if you will." She waves Annabeth off. "It signifies rebirth, the cyclic nature of life – the snake that consumes its own tail."

"There has to be more than that," she presses. "What does it mean for you? For us?"

Athena doesn't answer at first. She picks her glass from the floor, wiping the rim and pouring herself another drink. She takes a sip of the wine, staring at Annabeth with unusually dark eyes; not quick to divulge anything anytime soon.

Annabeth hesitates, grasping for the right words, trying to think back on the tense conversation she and Thalia had shared. "Does it have to do with… your mother—"

"I have no mother," Athena snaps, not that it's a surprise to anyone.

"You know what I mean," she responds in return, her voice softening. "Metis."

"That woman is hardly related to me. She didn't even birth me so it's not like she can lord that over me for the rest of eternity." Agitated, her finger encircles the tip of the wine-filled cup over and over again. "Clearly, she never came back to raise me either. I only had Zeus and we both know how great of a father he is."

Tense. Annabeth quickly realizes just how monumental the can of worms she's just unleashed is. "Mommy issues aside, I know it's related."

For a moment all Annabeth can see is resentment from her mother, not at Metis, no, but at Annabeth herself. No one, not even the goddess of wisdom, likes a child too bright for their own good. But eventually, Athena's glare fades with silent defeat. "Metis was Zeus' first wife. A proposal borne out of debt – she created the emetic that Rhea used to dislodge the sons and daughters of Kronos from his gut and naturally she wanted something in return. Rhea convinced Zeus of the union, of the benefits. A match with a Titaness would persuade other Titans and their children to halt any thoughts of revolt after Kronos's deposition. Whether Metis loved him, I cannot say. But she took a great risk in defying Kronos for this young god proposing revolution."

Annabeth snorts. "Though clearly, it didn't work out, seeing as how Hera is Zeus's wife now."

"Yes, well, as the ouroboros hints at, the universe has a funny, cyclic way of seeking vengeance." She snorts. "Like Kronos and his father before him, from the bowels of Mother Earth herself, came the prophecy that would practically destroy any chances of Zeus and Metis at a happy union: she would first give birth to a daughter of great renown."

"Naturally," Annabeth interjects.

"Then a son, who would sit upon the throne of Olympus after deposing his father," Athena continues. "Of course Zeus did not wish to give up his throne, so like Kronos, though he will vehemently deny this. But whereas dear old grandpa thought he could simply swallow his children, imprison them and still have Rhea's love, Zeus knew that was far from a solution. Kronos bred enmity with his actions that would bring about his destruction. Zeus said, 'Why not go for the source?' So he turned Metis into a fly and swallowed her."

"But she was already pregnant with you," Annabeth adds, following the logical thought process. "A nice way to file for divorce."

"Quite." Again, Athena waves a dismissive hand around. The goddess's birth is a well-documented affair that they needn't get into. "When I sprouted from Zeus's head – my thanks to Hephaestus – Metis took that as her chance to escape. She's been lurking around in the shadows ever since then, away from the gods' watchful eyes."

"But not anymore now that she's taken up with Kronos."

Athena only nods, sullen. Her escape, of course, had occurred several millennia prior. And clearly, with all this resentment the goddess has harbored, neither mother nor daughter had made any attempts to contact each other. It was something Annabeth herself could empathize with, considering Athena had done the very same to her in her childhood.

"My intended brother… his name was Zagreus." Suddenly, the atmosphere seems entirely too sober. "The Fates prophesized that he would be the worthiest god of them all, pure of heart, true, so that mortals would fall to his feet and perform his every whim. A terrible image I and the rest of Zeus's spawn would never be able to contend with, not in our wildest dreams.

"Metis wanted revenge, of course. And rightly so. She had been discarded without forewarning, made an outcast for something that wasn't her fault, totally beyond her control. You know how men are."

"No," Annabeth admits, "but I do know Zeus."

"Regardless, the best way to hide from your archenemy who rules the skies is to go below ground. She spent much time in the Underworld and often became acquainted with the visage of Persephone. Here she must have thought, why fight against the Fates? Why not let Gaia's prophecy ring true and thoroughly destroy the king of the heavens while we're at it?"

Sounds more like a sure fire way to get killed.

"After much time practicing, she disguised herself as a Persephone and roamed the earth. One thing led to another, considering Zeus has a weakness for pretty things. Never mind that Persephone never spent any time away from Demeter or Hades prior to this. A coincidence, surely." Athena rolls her eyes vehemently, as if she still can't come to terms with Zeus's sheer stupidity. "To avoid Hera's wrath once again, he changed into the form of a serpent." And there it is, the connection. But Annabeth doesn't have time to dwell on it. "They both got what they wanted from that union with Metis receiving Zagreus. Oh, Zeus was filled with such rage when he realized the woman he had lain with was actually his old flame. She had tricked him so terribly, and of course, word spread. Oh, Hades was angry without a doubt, even if the Persephone Zeus fucked had actually been an illusion. Yet, now having drawing attention to herself, Metis had nowhere to hide. She gave birth to Zagreus as quickly as she could – I don't know if my brother even saw the light before Metis was thrown into Tartarus with the rest of her Titan brethren. They still remembered what had occurred in the Titanomachy and did not take too kindly to a turncloak. They quickly tore her, and subsequently Zagreus, apart. It was a miracle she managed to save his heart.

"Oh, she would escape Tartarus many years later. It is hard to contain wily, intelligent beings like her in prison. Koios as well. But she lost the heart in her escape. As leverage over Zeus, Hades and Persephone saved it in a pithos marked with the ouroboros and guarded it jealously. Zeus has tried to send many a hero to retrieve it from behind the walls of Erebus and have it destroyed, promising riches and immortality, but to no avail."

Annabeth sighs. "And of course, such a valuable object was lost following the Battle of Manhattan."

"Of course," Athena fumes.

Once again, she isn't in the least bit surprised. "What does it do?"

"No one really knows." The goddess hums to herself. "There have been theories…"

"What are your theories?" Annabeth fires away.

"Not good."

And just like that, the prospect of getting any clear answer from Athena now null and void. Her thumbnail digs into the palm of her hand in an attempt to keep herself from screaming not fair, not fair. "Thalia tells me that Kronos has it."

"With Iapetus ruling the Underworld in Kronos's stead, I don't doubt it."

"Then what do we do?" she demands to know.

"What we can do," Athena retorts. "Absolutely nothing. We keep moving forward and trust that Thalia truly is on our side."

"And if she isn't?"

"We need to hold strong and pray that history does, in fact, repeat itself." Athena shakes her head slowly. "That is the only way we'll win."

"I don't like our chances."

"Then keep drinking until you do."


The nature spirits arrive by dawn.

Since the hour of the wolf, Thalia had been atop the northside of Othrys', surveying weak points, fending off attacks when they came. The Rebellion had their army concentrated on the southside – in the direction of San Francisco – but a few soldiers had tried testing their luck and scaling the walls where the defenses were weaker, only to be felled by Thalia's arrows. Had Aquila not spotted their emblem, a gold laurel tree on a green background, accompanied with a white flag of truce, Thalia would have pelted Grover's legions with artillery as well.

She had been quick to abandon the battlements; her presence is expected with the arrival of new guests, even if she greets them in leather armor, knotted hair haphazardly pulled back from a red face gleaming with sweat.

By the time she shows her face in Kronos's throne room, Thalia already recognizes the forced smile plastered on her husband's face.

Grover offers his honeyed excuses – difficulty in procuring the best soldiers, unforeseen attacks by the Rebellion, having to take alternate routes to avoid the siege encroaching upon the Tamalpais-Homestead Valley. Desperation forces him to accept this as truth, even though they both know Grover would have been more than happy to let the rebels wear them down.

The pleasantries are a rather boring affair, to the point Thalia pulls out a knife and resorts to picking at the dirt beneath her nail beds.

"Have your forces set upon the battlements," Kronos orders, when all is well and done. He steps down from his throne, shrinking with every step. He clasps Thalia on the shoulder but she doesn't look at him, doesn't make any move to acknowledge his presence. "They will help to monitor the siege, push the rebels back when necessary. By the end of this weekend, we will hold a celebration in your honor."

The satyr regards him cautiously. "You shouldn't go through all those lengths to honor us, my lord. We have done nothing to deserve your gratitude."

"We are allies, Grover Underwood. I like to treat my allies well."

Thalia tries to hide her snort.

"My thanks."

"No, it is I who should be thanking you." The warmth in the Titan Lord's voice is downright frightening, but Thalia remains quiet, even as the Lord of the Wild retreats through the bronze doors to rejoin the rest of his soldiers.

Kronos is the one who breaks the silence. "Well?"

She looks up, sporting a somber expression. "He's playing you."

"Clearly," he agrees, face clouded with suspicion towards the satyr that had broken bread beneath the Titan Lord's roof. "But, as they say, friends close and enemies closer."

"Not that you can discern one from the other as far as Grover is concerned."

He casts her dark side-glance. "Precisely why I want you to watch him."

"You want me to be a spy now?" She smirks. "Grover Underwood has done everything that you've asked, he's brought you 500 soldiers that could potentially lift the entire siege and you're doubting him?"

"You're the one who decided he wasn't here of entirely wholesome circumstances."

But, as Thalia wishes to point out, neither is she. After all, here she is, taking advantage of his weakness. Before the nature spirits, he had seemed the picture of health. But to Thalia, who has spent nearly every waking moment with him, she can tell how far he has deteriorated, physically and mentally.

"Besides," Kronos continues, "it is the perfect cover, is it not?

"True, but I have a tendency towards paranoia thanks to you," Thalia laughs. "I wouldn't trust my judgment."

Too late to change his mind now, stubborn as he is. "I want him watched all the same."

The knife in her hand returns as a ring on her finger. "Wise." She gives Kronos a curt nod on her way out with the assurance her mission here has been completed: sowing those seeds of doubt, driving home the wedge between Kronos and Grover. An issue to occupy his attention for the time being while she gets to the real task at hand. "My Lord."

The nature spirits join the Titan Army soldiers upon the walls bright and early the following morning. She takes Grover around the battlements. It takes an entire day to circumvent the walls, a nearly impossible feat with the low numbers the Titan Army had been reduced to. The nature spirits as reinforcements are well-received.

And – just as a surprise attack hits the eastside, spurning all available troops to action – they also prove nearly indispensable.

Though her impromptu tour of Othrys' battlements resumes, she still sends correspondence to Kronos's way. An easy solution to their problems: unchain Python from the main entrance to guard the entire mountain. Sent back and forth via a series of word-of mouth messages – complete with some choice words – the orders to release the behemoth from bondage are received and relayed.

And through it all, Grover passively soaks it all in, not uttering a word.

They return to the southside of Othrys when Thalia finally stops in her tracks. "This is me," she says with a dull voice. "I've made room to have you stationed at the southeast watchtower."

She focuses her gaze on the setting sun, knowing very well the rebels will become bolder under the cover of night. "Assuming this all makes sense to you, relay it to your troops. Set overlapping shifts; as you can see, Annabeth has a knack for catching onto rotations. Otherwise, we aren't likely to see each other until the celebration."

It's a clear invitation to make himself scarce, but the satyr doesn't move an inch. He only stares at Thalia as she makes her way to her post.

"Goodbye, Grover," she tries again with a haphazard wave of her hand, hoping he'll come to his senses and get a move on.

"Thalia," he says simply. She turns to face him, not exactly sure what to expect next. "I heard about your daughter."

Thalia's turn to remain silent.

Her expression hardens. "She's around. You're about two and half years late." Longer, she chides herself. Elpis most certainly be a few months older now.

"Word travels slowly when you're in the middle of nowhere," he utters weakly. His face pinches up and she knows exactly what he's trying to imagine: Thalia as a mother. Though, granted, sometimes she doesn't quite believe it herself. Especially now that Elpis has been gone for so long.

"And when you're locked in a tyrant's castle for three years," she quips. "Your point?"

Thalia decides she hates the look in his eyes, as if he can see right through her façade. She may have a tough, flashy exterior, but inside Thalia feels completely raw. "You don't have to do anything. We'll take care of the rest." He sighs. "The problem is, we don't know Mount Othrys as well as you do."

"And what exactly are you looking for?" Her eyes narrow. "Intel? I've already given you enough to work off of. Guard rotations, numbers, points most vulnerable to attack. I don't know what else to tell you."

He shuffles a little before answering. "The weapons of the Big Three—"

"No," Thalia snaps, immediately regretting it, realizing how suspicious she looks. "I don't know."

His eyebrows furrow. He steps closer, nostrils flaring as if smelling her lies on the wind. "I think you do."

Thalia inches away, suddenly more than eager to leave. "Whatever you're planning, Underwood, leave me out of it." She turns away from him, no longer looking back. Doing that the first time had been a mistake. She knows better now. "I won't stop you but I'm not going to die in the attempt to clear your conscience."

Grover sighs again, more defeated this time. "If you change your mind, you know where to find me."

Fat chance of that.

Though it doesn't serve to deter him.

Every day he looks to her expectantly – when he can catch a glimpse of her, that is, as Thalia does her best avoid him – no doubt waiting for her to send him sort of message, any sign at all that she is either with him or against him. (Though if she were entirely against him, she would have had Kronos behead him by now.) And every day she simply ignores his pressing stare, because her answer hasn't changed, especially as she finds herself skirting through Mount Othrys at midnight, Aquila soaring on her heels.

Thalia feels on the verge of a panic attack.

She runs into Artemis, half-hidden in the shadows of an alcove. And though they had established this as a rendezvous point the night before, Thalia still doubted, always expecting the worst.

"I'm fine," Artemis assures her, grasping her face in a way the girl finds all too reassuring. "I had a few close calls but I've gotten just about all the ingredients together."

Tears spring to her eyes and she's hyperventilating. "This is dangerous. This is so dangerous."

"I'm fine, Thalia," the goddess has to say again, but she can tell it still isn't hitting home. Not completely. "It's all coming together."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Thalia whispers. "We so close but so far. We can't make any mistakes from here on out. I can't lose you."

By early morning, rumors of Alabaster missing a certain venomous tooth taken from the drakon Ladon had come to Thalia's attention. What the goddess had done… dangerous for certain.

Artemis grimaces. "You can't think like that. There's too much to be done."

But asking Thalia to suddenly abandon the mindset she's had for years now is too much. For so long she had to think about survival. To leave that behind in favor of a cause that stood on shaky foundation? Well, that takes some time.

"There are rumors amongst the nature spirits," Artemis continues once Thalia finally settles down. She averts her eyes, still aware of Thalia's distress but no longer a witness to it. "Some bordering dissent, others full-on treason—"

"We will not involve them," Thalia snaps. She'd thought long and hard about Grover's offer. "I've already made up mind. This stays between the two of us."

Artemis looks taken aback, not doubt expecting a far different response. "When… it happens… you know they'll take up arms regardless. A revolt is in plan as we speak."

"If it helps us in the long run, fine," Thalia affirms. She crosses her arms over her chest. "But as of now, Grover Underwood is in my way. You don't speak to him."

It's hard to avoid her dissecting glare. "Something tells me it's more than secrecy that has you shunning Mr. Underwood."

Thalia's scowl deepens. "I trusted him once." Twice if you include Half-Blood Hill. She turns away, stalking back in the direction of her lonely tower. "I won't make that mistake again."

A week comes and goes.

The walls hold out against further Rebel attacks.

Any rumors regarding a nature spirit revolt cease, replaced by talk of celebration. It's a chance for Thalia to relax, spend time practically anywhere else besides her isolated watchtower.

Instead, the night of the event, Thalia is left to pace the length of her room.

She weaves her hair into a haphazard braid, before combing her fingers through it and then starting all over again. In the middle of what must be the hundredth time, Artemis kicks the door open, carrying a mess of red silk in her arms.

"Took you long enough," Thalia grumbles, though with a hint of anxiety. Of which the goddess promptly ignores, deciding not to bring attention to it.

"Please," she snorts, "you've never been excited to get dressed up before."

"And you've never been excited to do the dressing."

"I just want this night to go accordingly." The goddess supplies her with a small, knowing smile. An inside joke for a fraction of a second before she continues. "As such, I put a lot of thought into what you should wear and—" Artemis stops mid-sentence, a chortle erupting from her lips. "I feel like your pimp."

Thalia gives her a mock curtsey. "Aphrodite would be so proud of you."

"Don't get ahead of yourself." Artemis unfurls the silk. "We still have to get this wrapped around you."

Thalia puts on a gold breast band first before standing absolutely still as the goddess folds and pins the fabric into shape. She notices the hem of the silk lined with gold. "Roman?" Thalia murmurs.

Artemis nods. "If it helps he's feeling very… Saturn-like today." She purposely leaves Thalia's right breast uncovered, pinning a golden fibulae on her left shoulder.

She jumps in front of Thalia, taking the girl's face in her hands and surveying her face with intense scrutiny. "You put too much eyeliner. He'll notice."

Thalia snorts. "I had to say goodbye to it somehow." Her only piece of makeup had served her well in its long tenure on Othrys. It had been her first act of defiance; a fitting gesture for what might very well be Thalia's last. "And it's not like he'll notice."

Artemis rolls her eyes. She takes a portion of Thalia's hair at the front of her face, twisting it and then pinning it back. She runs her fingers once through the black waves cascading down the girl's back; not much fussing to do otherwise.

She pushes Thalia into a 180-degree turn. "You wanted to be a distraction for Kronos. I tried my best."

Once again, Thalia stares at herself in the mirror reflection and can't recognize herself. Good. "It's great," she says with the utmost sincerity this time. "Thank you."

The goddess rests her chin on Thalia's shoulder. "If they put the two of us together, why, they may start to wonder who's the goddess and who's the half-blood."

A lie; even in white – which Kronos had deemed appropriate both for a virgin goddess and a simple house slave – it was hard to smother Artemis's ethereal beauty, her wild aura. Thalia opens her mouth with the intention of making a witty retort, only to have her eyes drawn to the engraved silver plates coiled around Artemis's neck.

Property of Kronos.

Must be a special warning for the nature spirits still yearning for the Olympian's former glory as goddess of the hunt. A shiny collar, to prove that even the untamable could not escape the Titan Lord.

"One day," is all Thalia says in response. One day I'll have you out of here. Whether that day is today remains to be seen.

Artemis touches her face, slowly nodding in agreement, as if to say I shall free you as well. She stands by Thalia's side and they lock arms. "Time to go."

Their brief march to the festivities is spent in almost absolute silence. They've been planning this for ages and yet Thalia can't help but think everything will go horribly wrong. That she is wrong to deceive Kronos like this, placing her daughter and Artemis in danger, and for what? To have the epitaph of hero written on her gravestone?

Had the rebels denouncing her as a traitor really hurt her so much?

They spot the guards posted outside the dining hall and a bead of sweat breaks out on Thalia's face. "Do you… have everything?"

"Subtle," Artemis chides beneath her breath. "The potion is tucked away, ready to go. Don't worry. I'll take care of everything."

"I know you will." Her heart is hammering inside her chest. She grips Artemis tighter as the music grows louder, as they can make out a flood of voices. "Like you said, sit there and look pretty."

"Precisely." Artemis waves to the stoic guards as they approach, her mouth curling at the edges. "Don't forget to smile."

Smile. Easier said than done. Not much can make that happen these days, at least, not genuinely. Not since Kronos had taken away her daughter.

"Do you remember Elpis's first Kronia?" Thalia says out of nowhere, not entirely sure why it is the first memory to come to mind.

Artemis raises an eyebrow. "After she'd first learned to walk?"

"Yeah," she whispers. Thalia chortles. "Walking might not be the right word, though. Running more like it."

"And she ran straight into the table." Artemis has her own reminiscent smirk. "Gods, the lungs on that girl."

"She tipped over the wine," she recalls. "It spilled everywhere. Kronos was absolutely furious."

"I remember. You were so terrified that he would hurt her." Briefly, the humor fades from Artemis's face.

The thought passes quickly through Thalia's head. I'm still terrified of that. Absolutely nothing has changed since then.

Artemis continues,"Then Mnemosyne picked her up, gushing about how adorable Elpis was." It had been a blessing in disguise, of course. Of all his Titan sisters, Kronos found Mnemosyne's company the least appealing. At the reunions during Kronia and Saturnalia, he was always sure to give her a wide berth, in case she had remembered yet another slight he committed against her person.

"The only time I ever liked her," Thalia laughs again, albeit with a hint of sadness. The Titaness of Memory, someone whose unbearableness could even surpass that of Thalia's husband. She fights the urge to look down, to hope to see Elpis wrapped around her leg, clenching to her skirts. "I miss her so much."

"I do too."

Immortals and demigods alike stare as Artemis and Thalia pass, some even providing curt nods. No whispers this time around, as they had for her first Saturnalia years ago. Many of them are familiar faces at this point and her presence here on Othrys is no longer the subject of controversy. But Thalia also knows better; she is still ever the stranger. She doesn't belong here, no matter the lengths Kronos goes to convince her or anyone else otherwise.

Unsurprisingly, she finds Kronos seated at the head of the room, his table set upon a raised dais. Clearly the rest of the seating – consisting of L-shaped tables – is centered around his own so that all subjects have a clear view of their overlord.

Thalia nearly snorts aloud. Should anyone forget.

Kronos himself doesn't notice when Thalia and Artemis enter, too busy chatting with Hyperion at his side, which is much to their benefit. It allows Thalia time to build up her nerve; on her way to the dais she greets a few nature spirits. Alabaster bows when Thalia passes him and they share a trivial conversation about changing up guard rotations before Mnemosyne drops into say hello, while Themis by her side says absolutely nothing. But the Titaness of godly law doesn't need to say anything at all. Her glare is more than clear: Themis's hatred for Zeus – as his second wife – is no secret and Thalia is hated by association. No rocket science there.

By the time Thalia reaches the dais, her veins turn to steel. Surrounded by Titans, monsters, and traitors, she reminds herself of the importance of tonight. Of what she and Artemis must do.

"Husband."

His head snaps to her in an instant, much to the chagrin of Hyperion who glares at her with the fury of a thousand suns.

"Wife." Immediately Thalia decides that she doesn't like the look in his eyes, glazed over with a smile that reeks of nostalgia.

I'm not her.

Head held high, she joins him upon the dais. Wordlessly, Artemis tiptoes just behind her, briefly clasping Thalia's shoulder. Her touch lingers. It's going to be okay.

"Sometimes, I think the both of you half in love." His eyes narrow. "Those secret side glances, lingering touches."

She raises an eyebrow. "A sight I don't think would bother you as much as you let on."

"Ah, I see," he laughs. Artemis ignores them both throughout, resuming her duties as cupbearer. All according to plan. "This is payback for the comment I made about Percy Jackson?"

Never mind I was this close to forgetting that whole ordeal. "Only a little," she admits, slipping into the cushion at his side. "Shall we call a truce?"

Kronos humors Thalia by raising his gold cup to her like a new ally. "Very well."

"Well, you were the one that I suggested I arrive fashionably late," she says, as Artemis hands a silver goblet to Thalia before refilling Kronos's gilded one. "Anything I've missed?"

"Grover bestowed a most agreeable gift upon his liege lord." He takes the newly refilled goblet Artemis set before him. "Wine."

"A most agreeable gift indeed." Compared to the terrible vintage we have on Othrys. "How can you still distrust him now?" she mocks, her eyes flickering to the contents cupped in Kronos's hand. It hasn't been watered down. Hers, noticeably, has.

Smart of her.

"You're a firestorm today," Kronos comments, his hand pressing against the small of her back and juggling his goblet in the other. "Must be the dress."

"Or, it could be that I've spent so much time with you I know good moods are a sign of trouble."

"You're one to talk." Kronos leans in closer, casually resting his hand on her thigh. "Sometimes you're more trouble than you're worth."

"Well, I'm still here." She swirls her own wine. Sneaky little goddess, you. "Either our gracious lord has a few screws loose or I'm doing something right."

"Precisely," he says, the word rumbling low in his chest.

Thalia smiles and places the wine to her lips. Sit there and look pretty.

Out of curiosity, she glances around the room but, at the same time, catches the eyes of the particular pest that's been occupying her thoughts all week.

Thalia turns to Kronos, resting her hand on his shoulder. "Someone should let Grover Underwood know," she whispers, purposefully allowing her lips to touch his ear, "it's very impolite to stare."

"Everyone is staring, love. But don't fret. I've made one thing quite clear." His hand curls into the inner part of her thigh. "You're mine."

Thalia edges his fingers up higher, allowing him a taste of the heat between her legs.

She casts a glance towards the end of the hall again, relatively unsurprised to see Grover standing from his seat. Their eyes connect again almost instantaneously. "You've made it clear? Why, here he comes now."

Thalia flicks his hand away.

"My Lord." He bows to Kronos first before nodding his head towards Thalia. "Miss Grace."

Tipsy or otherwise, Kronos's knack for picking up cues is as sharp as ever. That, or he's butt hurt from not being able to finger his wife beneath the table. "You have a request, Mr. Underwood?"

"A dance, my lord." He sways a little. Nervous fool. "With your wife."

Kronos pauses, drawing out the moment with a painfully slow inhale and exhale. "I suppose," he says, as if it's an afterthought. It's anything but. He casts a glare at Thalia. Her arm with his mark upon it burns. I want him watched. "Thalia?"

Her smile doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Of course." She picks herself up from her seat and takes Grover's hand. By the way he recoils, Thalia knows he can feel the shock she's sent zipping down his spine.

He won't ruin this for me.

The satyr leads her to the center of the room, still under the Titan Lord's watchful eye. Despite her blood boiling, she winks in Kronos's direction.

"You've made your point clear, Grover," she hisses between her teeth, keeping her smile in place, her gaze on Kronos should he suspect any treachery.

They don't do much dancing besides gentle sways and turns, not that Thalia is surprised. She's never taken him for a dancer. "I want to help you," Grover says finally.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

He sighs. "I know you, Thalia. I know you're not going to sit by while your friends are out there. You're family." She notices how careful he is to refrain from mentioning Elpis again. How the last time had quickly made her volatile. In the least, he's a quick learner. "I know you're planning something."

"You don't think Kronos doesn't know you're not on his side?" Finally, she looks at him head-on, more than pleased when he flinches. The Romans can keep their wolf stare; Thalia Grace has her own. "You fight him directly, you'll lose. It's as simple as that." That lesson she had learned during the Battle of Manhattan and it's a lesson she hasn't forgotten since.

"If this is your way of throwing me off your scent, you're doing a bad job." Grover purses his lips. "All I'm saying, Thalia, is that my eyes are open."

He's waiting for a signal.

The rumors Artemis had heard were true then. When it happens they'll join us regardless.

Thalia wrestles with the idea over and over again. "I'm not the leader you want to have, Grover," she says with the utmost finality. Thalia backs away from him, signifying the end of their dance and, subsequently, their conservation. "But if that can't deter you, have fun getting yourself killed."

She can see the disappointment in his eyes. But, if he's serious about a revolt, he can and will do it without her. And perhaps it's best that way.

One thing is painfully clear to Thalia, of course, as she leaves Grover to his own devices. She crosses her arms over her chest and briefly catches Artemis's eye. It has to be now.

She returns to the dais and, subsequently, to a waiting Kronos.

"Well?" he says as she retakes the seat at his side.

"He said nothing of importance," Thalia murmurs, her eyes on the hands in her lap. "But you're right to be suspicious of him."

"Nothing of importance," he repeats, voice flat. Not quite believing her and, rightfully so, he shouldn't.

Thalia lifts her head, pursing her lips. "You're becoming paranoid again." Her eyes narrow, albeit playfully. "Maybe the wine?"

"Nonsense," he snaps. "My head is clearer than it ever has been."

Touchy. Thalia smiles, slipping an arm around his waist. "Well, we can't have that."

Her hand cradles the edge of his jaw, and she realizes how small she really is in comparison. A child playing in a world she'd never be a part of by choice, a mortal dancing amongst Titans, painfully aware that she can never stop pretending. Not even for a moment.

Thalia kisses him despite how wrong it feels; she doesn't recall initiating it before. But she doesn't care as long as this becomes the last time. Her tongue slips into his mouth without hesitation and she can taste the wine on his breath.

His hands rest on either side of her throat and he pulls Thalia closer. If he so wished, Kronos could throttle her, yet he deepens the kiss. His overwhelming need makes her more than lightheaded. But one thought is still clear.

It has to be now.

Nonchalantly, Thalia forces her elbow to knock over his cup.

Kronos pulls away from her, startled at the sound.

"See?" she laughs, watching the wine drip off the table and spill to the floor. Thalia rubs a thumb over her bruised lips. "Better."

Kronos gazes at her hungrily. His fingers clench, and she can see his desire clear as day: the urge to have her breasts, her thighs in his hands and be done with it. Impatience at its finest. "Artemis," he says haughtily, a growl of frustration trapped in his throat. "Have you forgotten your duties so soon?"

"No, my lord," the goddess replies. She fetches his goblet from beneath the table. "I will have you a new cup immediately."

He waves his hand dismissively at her before turning his attention back to Thalia. "You have something up your sleeve."

"Sleeve?" Thalia pouts. "Oh dear, I'm not wearing any sleeves." In actuality, half her tit was hanging out, not that it's what he's actually referring to.

"No, no, you're playing with me," Kronos utters like a petulant child. "And you do not play without ulterior motives."

"Neither do you," she muses, rubbing at his thigh. Thalia briefly wonders what those around them must think. The two of them are anything but subtle.

"And it seems I've taught you well, though not well enough." He takes her hand into his own and holds it, as if testing her. "All this good behavior…what is it you want?"

"Why do you assume I always want something?"

"Because that is how women of your caliber are," Kronos sneers, his bitterness more than evident. "Tell me I'm wrong."

You're not wrong. Because I want you to suffer.

Artemis's return keeps Thalia from having to give a reply. "My Lord," she bows her head, presenting a silver chalice inlaid with rubies, nearly as grand as his last one, filled to the brim.

He nods. "Artemis."

The goddess averts her eyes as he takes it from her; proof enough to Thalia that the contents of his wine aren't entirely wholesome.

Kronos swirls the goblet, sniffing at it. Thalia doesn't even realize she's holding a breath until his attention is on her again. He puts on a rueful smile and holds it out towards her. "Have some."

Her heart sinks into her stomach. Thalia blinks, trying to force some sort of smile. "I think I've had enough. You remember the last time I had too much?" Her first Saturnalia, barely pregnant, she had spent defiant as all hell. Though a weak excuse, surely he isn't looking for a repeat.

"Don't refuse me, love." His eyes narrow playfully. "You should know by now that doing so never ends well."

I know all too well. "Fine." Thalia snatches the cup with a sigh. She brings it to her lips but, for a moment, she just can't bring herself to do it. Not when she knows what's fated to happen.

Kronos cocks an eyebrow at her hesitation. "Something wrong?"

"No," Thalia affirms. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. The wine slips past her lips and she tells herself not to drink too little, not that she is eager to take too much either. Two, three gulps and she passes the wine off to him with a steely glare. "Of course not."

Her stomach lurches when he smiles at her again.

What have I done?

Kronos relaxes and quickly finishes the rest of the cup. He doesn't ask for more but Thalia knows he doesn't need to; even a sip is enough to enact the reaction.

Thalia tries to keep herself from going into hysterics. Perhaps it's best that she doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, and therefore she can do neither.

She spares a glance at Artemis, who appears to be as equally nervous. This was not part of the plan.

An hour comes and goes. More drinking, more dancing. Outwardly, nothing appears to be wrong with Thalia, per say. She laughs when it's appropriate, lets her hands roam beneath Kronos's robes, allows him to kiss her and play with her hair and make his lewd remarks. But the thought of what she's done continues to linger at the back of her mind.

Halfway through the festivities, Thalia notices a guard enter the hall at a clipped pace. Headed in Kronos's direction, Thalia's interest is piqued immediately. Drawing her away from her deadly problem at hand, if only for a moment.

"My Lord. We have the prisoner you requested." Prisoner?

Kronos pops a piece of ambrosia in his mouth. "Bring him in."

Four guards enter, followed by the sound of chains clanging together. Conversations in the boisterous hall quiet down, replaced by fervent whispers.

Thalia cranes her neck to get even the smallest glance. But she doesn't have to wait long. The crowd parts before them, spitting out a skinny young man with a mop of black hair. Someone she hasn't seen in months but here he stands, fettered with Celestial Bronze down to his ankles.

She bolts to her feet, speaking without thinking. "Percy?"

Naturally, he turns his head towards the sound of his name. But immediately, Thalia regrets seeing his face. Seeing the hate plain as day, reflected in eyes the color of radiation, not sea-green as they used to be.

Her desperate gaze devours him in an instant: the yellowing patch of flesh across his jaw, dried blood streaked down the middle of his frayed shirt, previously infected gashes across his arms, pants holding loose on his hips, bruises so large she can only catch glimpses of them before they disappear beneath his tattered clothing. And Thalia can't help but think she knows what it's like.

I'm sorry, she wants to scream at him. I'm so sorry. But Thalia isn't as brave as everyone she thinks she is. Not anymore. It's the only reason she stands frozen, her mouth parted slightly as if she wants to say something to him but can't find the strength to.

The Titan Lord doesn't even deign to look at her. "Sit down, Thalia."

"Kronos—"

He glowers. "Do not start something you know you will not win."

Fists form at her sides. "You can't—"

"Need I remind you who is in charge?" he growls.

Of course. Thalia in a pretty dress and playing him at his own game won't change anything.

Nevertheless, she looks ready to spit on him. Thalia has half a mind to do exactly that, summon her weapon, and free Percy while she's at it, but that's until Kronos takes her forearm into his crushing grip and pulls her in close.

She catches Percy's eye again, only this time something has changed.

Thalia recoils when Kronos's lips touch her ear. "I could easily take you here on this table, Thalia. Chaos knows I've been wanting to for the past hour. And let me be the first to tell you, no one would care. No one would bat an eye. So save yourself the embarrassment and do not tempt me. Instead, do what you always do: sit back and let me have my way, hmm?"

She gapes at him. She wants to believe that he has never brought her this low before, but it isn't true. It cannot be so unless you let me have what want. Isn't that right? She'd be a fool to expect anything less from the very man who'd tortured and raped her for years.

Thalia steels herself, forcing back the tears, the memories waiting to break through and drown her. She will not give him the satisfaction, not tonight of all nights.

Despite the pain, she snatches her arm away, cradling it to her chest. "As you wish," Thalia hisses, but it sounds more like what she really wants to say: Just you wait.

She sits back down just as he vaults up from his seat. He jumps down from the dais with the energy of a schoolboy, clasping his hands together. "The hero of Olympus!" Kronos holds out his arms, a broad grin on his face as if welcoming an old acquaintance. "Do not be shy, friends. Mr. Jackson is owed a standing ovation, is he not?"

Tentative claps echo across the room. No one, not even the Titan Lord's brothers, seems to know what he has planned.

"After all, this is the hero that alluded me for nearly a decade. An impressive feat," Kronos continues. "Even more impressive, how he managed to elude my grasp that day on Olympus. My subjects have begged me to tell them for years. Everyone wants to know." He steps closer towards Percy and grabs him by the chin. They stare at each other for a heartbeat, the room dead silent now, and the moment feels almost intimate. "They are owed an answer, Percy Jackson, are they not?"

The half-blood jerks away from Kronos's grasp, breaking the tension. Kronos seems strangely unoffended and once again adopts his playful expression.

"Here, let us say we reenact it. That should tell the story properly." His eyes scan the room. "Underwood. You were there, no? Come. You can help jog my memory." His stare flits to a certain son of Hecate sitting directly across from Grover with folded arms. "Torrington, yes, I have the perfect role for you as well."

Alabaster stands immediately. "As my Lord commands."

Grover follows him with less enthusiasm.

Kronos turns back to Percy as the two make their way over. "Unshackle his feet," he orders from the guards.

One hesitates. "My L—"

"Need I repeat myself?"

The soldier is quick to shake his head. He unchains Percy's feet. Regardless, the son of Poseidon doesn't move. His hands, after all, are still fettered with Celestial Bronze.

"Truly," chuckles Kronos, "I'm not sure what made you lot think you could challenge me atop Olympus. A satyr and two half-bloods. Why, I was expecting an entire army."

The whole room – minus Thalia, Grover, and Artemis – laughs.

Kronos flexes his hand and Backbiter appears. He swings it gleefully as he positions Grover by Percy's side and delegates the role of Ethan Nakamura to Alabaster. Thalia would have to be dense to not notice the significance of that little move; a warning to all of Kronos's demigods than any turncloaks may very well meet the same fate as the son of Nemesis.

"As I recall, Mr. Underwood," Kronos says, "you were playing music. No?"

Hanging his head low, Grover pulls out the spare set of reed pipes from his waistcoat. Thalia almost snorts.

"Good. Shall I set the scene?"

The story itself Thalia has relieved a thousand times, before, in those first painful conversations with Annabeth as they fled with the remnants of Camp Half-Blood's army as far away from Manhattan as possible, Thalia's leg was still recovering, and again in her nightmares. Thalia never beat around the bush; if there was bad news she wanted to be the first to know. But even to this day, she regrets asking about what had happened on Olympus. What had become of Percy, who they figured had been obliterated from the face of the earth.

Grover plays his music and Alabaster gives the narrating Titan Lord a wide berth. Kronos speaks in glee of how he destroyed Olympus, "brick by brick" as he had promised long ago.

"And then he had questioned my skill with a sword," he laughs, ushering a hand to his sullen wife. "Thalia, remind me again how I fare with a sword?"

She touches the scar on her cheek. "Exceptional, my lord," she bites out.

"Exceptional indeed," he agrees, before pouncing.

Instinctively, Percy throws up his arms to protect his face. Kronos's sword cuts deep into the half-blood's forearm. He wraps the chains around Backbiter, aiming to disarm Kronos, but the Titan Lord is quick enough to pull the blade free.

Cradling his bleeding arm, he dances away from the Titan Lord, shuddering with rage.

"Come on now!" Kronos shouts at him. "You gave me much more than that."

The flat side of Backbiter's blade slams into Percy's midsection and he goes down on his knees with the air knocked out of his lungs.

"Pathetic," Hyperion sneers.

The Titan brings down the sword in a terrifying arc. Percy rolls out of the way at the last second, and Backbiter splits the marble tiles that were once beneath him in half.

Clearly, Percy's performance isn't up to Kronos's liking. "And to think, Nakamura sacrificed himself to protect you," he sneers.

Kronos re-enacts his "killing" of Ethan Nakamura but, as Thalia recalls, the Titan Lord hadn't sliced the demigod across the throat; Ethan attempting to stab Kronos and having his own sword backfire on him had led to the son of Nemesis's untimely end. But no one bothers to correct Kronos. History is written by the victors after all.

He banishes Ethan – Alabaster – through an imaginary portal, a pretend crack in the floor the audience is made to pay special attention to for its importance as a plot device later on.

"Line, Mr. Underwood?" Kronos says to Grover as he continues with the farce.

The nature spirits at the back of the room, seated by the main entrance, seem unusually quiet.

"I'll… I'll get Annabeth to safety," Grover murmurs weakly, not even looking at Percy. He exits the scene as quickly as he can, standing off to one side.

Kronos chuckles. "'Go!' Percy told him. 'Find Thalia.'" Her face reddens as the wife of the Titan Lord once again finds herself dragged into this debacle. "Well, she's here now. She's the one that brought you to Othrys. Anything you'd like to say to her?"

Percy's eyes flash towards Thalia but he seems to ignore Kronos's bait. He isn't filled with hate to see her, not anymore. And Thalia isn't sure why.

The butt of Backbiter's hilt slams into his cheekbone. More blood sprays to the floor. Thalia can see herself slipping in the mess.

"I never said look at her, did I?" Kronos hisses. "Focus on the task at hand, Jackson."

For some reason, she's reminded of what she had overheard Alabaster telling Nico once, not too long ago. I'm afraid Thalia doesn't have friends. She has comrades and her lord husband. There was no room for anyone else.

Percy tries to stand. A mistake. The blade spins, slicing him across the back.

Thalia covers her eyes, trying to forget the blood-curdling scream he makes. Forget, forget, forget.

The Son of Poseidon plunges face first into the floor. Defeated. Not that it was a contest.

Kronos cackles. "You've lasted this long, Perseus! A feat in itself, is it not?"

He still tries to get away, propping himself up on his elbows and shuffling away from Kronos. By the looks of the gash on his back, it's a miracle he doesn't manage to scream several more times.

"This, my friends," Kronos continues, "is how the great and noble Percy Jackson escaped. He crawled through a crack in the floor that, for all I know, may have ended in open-ocean. Not that it matters anymore."

Percy winces and with that, it's enough for Thalia to realize that his failure still haunts him every hour of every day. Just like her own.

With his foot, Kronos flips Percy onto his back. The half-blood groans.

"On Olympus, I told you to face your death like a man, but you refused." Kronos raises Backbiter and poses for a fatal strike. "Now you're going to die here on Othrys a coward."

Thalia jumps to her feet again, ready to scream at Kronos to stop, to tell him to remember the promise that he made to her – as if it would even matter to him at this point – only to clutch her stomach.

This doesn't feel right.

Something pricks at Thalia from behind the eyes. "Oh." She sways a little.

Artemis takes a step forward, holding out a shaking hand. "Are you alright?" she asks, even though she knows the answer.

Thalia moans. "No, no." Panic ripples across her face. It's happening.

Artemis understands immediately. "Can you walk?"

Thalia tries, only to collapse on her own two feet, the world spinning around her. Kronos lowers his sword, his eyes narrowing in their direction.

"Thalia!" Grover shouts, rushing over to the dais.

"It's happen—" Her own dry heaves cut her off.

Grover turns to Artemis. "What is?"

The goddess's lips form a tight line.

"I never took your wife for a faint-hearted little girl," Iapetus grumbles from the center of the room. "Only a little blood, right brother?"

But Kronos says nothing at all. He's paused all of a sudden, his eyes glued to a spot on the floor, forgetting about the bleeding son of Poseidon who struggles to his feet. Slowly, Kronos hunches over and then they notice the light tremors coursing through his body.

Alabaster is the first to approach. "My Lord?"

Thalia vomits first, ushering a collective jolt from the crowd. Making it very clear to them this is anything but a brief fainting spell. Liquid fire erupts from her mouth, never ending, and Artemis is quick to pull back her hair, just like she had done during Thalia's pregnancy with Elpis.

Thalia's vision blurs, everything else practically fading from existence. "Artem—" Thalia tries to speak in between her breaths, but to no avail.

Kronos himself collapses to his knees, cueing shouts of alarm. Backbiter slips his grasp.

"I'm so sorry," the goddess cries. "Please, please stay with me."

Grover rings his hands together. "I don't understand, Artemis. Wh—"

The goddess grabs him by the throat, a hair away from strangling the satyr. "Whatever it is you plan to do, it has to be now."

In a panic, T