Her feet pounded against the cold ground, her arms pumping furiously at her sides. Her lungs burned with each inhale and her eyes stung with unshed tears. Her arms and legs were littered with scratches and bruises from the trees and bushes, but she ignored it. It didn't matter how much it hurt; she had to get away. She didn't have the slightest clue how far she'd have to run, but the farther away she was from Camp Half-blood the better. She couldn't hurt her friends anymore than she already had.
Piper's stricken face swam before her eyes and she stumbled. She hadn't meant to hurt her, but she couldn't risk the girl getting dragged into this anymore than she already was. Piper was too sweet, too trusting, too innocent. She was Annabeth's best friend and she would be damned if she got killed because Annabeth had been too weak to protect her. She was going to set things right. She was going to protect everyone if it killed her.
She stopped moving and leaned against a tree, sucking in gulps of air. The tears pricking at the corner of her eyes threatened to break free and she wiped impatiently at her eyes. There wasn't much time for that. If she survived this she'd cry her eyes out day and night, but for now she had to be a warrior. Warriors didn't shed tears. She was on her own; no one could help her if she broke down.
"How foolish of you, daughter of Athena."
Annabeth reeled back as if slapped. She looked around wildly even though she already knew there was no one there. It was all inside her head. Still, she instinctively pulled her small knife from the waistband of her jeans and pressed her back firmly against the trunk, prepared to ward off an attack that wouldn't come.
The sky overhead darkened, shadows twisting and reaching for her. A shiver raced up Annabeth's spine and she pressed closer to the tree. "You can't have me," she whispered defiantly to the empty trees around her. The wind whipped at her then, its icy chill biting into her skin. Her head began to pound considerably, but she swallowed down the nausea rolling through her stomach. "I'm through being your puppet."
A voice hissed in her ear, causing her to shriek and spin around in alarm. There was nothing there but shadow as black as the night. Annabeth shuddered and swallowed thickly. "Do not worry my little pawn; your role is almost complete. The son of Hades will soon be within my grasp."
Annabeth took a step back, her hands shaking. "You'll never get your hands on Nico; Percy won't let you have him. He'll destroy you."
The trees echoed with a low, menacing laugh. "He can only save one, my little pawn. The Ghost King will be mine."
Before Annabeth could open her mouth to respond a sharp pain stabbed through her chest and her knees buckled. She retched onto the ground, clutching at her abdomen. Her body was on fire; her blood was boiling. Her vision was blurring and her ears were ringing. She tried to crawl away, but her limbs refused to cooperate. She could feel the last of her strength zapping away completely as she lay there in the dirt.
The air before her wavered and a figure appeared before her, their image flickering. They wore a simple white dress tied at the waist with a golden chord that brushed their knees, plain sandals, and a golden wreath. The girl's green eyes were wide with worry as they landed on her. She started running towards Annabeth, her red hair whipping out behind her.
Annabeth reached out weakly for her as the darkness successfully pulled her under, but not before she heard the girl call out, "I'm on my way Annabeth; just hold on for me."
Something is seriously wrong here, Nico thought, his hands tightening on his sword. Contrary to popular belief, the dead were seldom silent. Many believed that once one died, they ceased to exist, but Nico knew otherwise. While ones' body could wither or decay, the soul and consciousness lives on in the afterlife. Ghosts still had the ability to love, hate, and fear just as much as any living person. He'd spent countless days surrounded by restless souls that craved mortal company and affection, and as the son of Hades he could fulfill that role. In other words, complete silence, even in Tartarus, was unheard of. That was the first red flag.
The second was the overall presence itself. The last time Nico has set foot in Tartarus, he'd felt chilled to his bone marrow, the air had been sucked out of his lungs, and his control of the shadows weakened considerably. He'd felt the presence of unprecedented evil hovering, could smell as well as taste the death and decay the deeper he'd gone into the pit. It had changed since then. The air was insufferably hot, so much so that he felt slightly dizzy. Despite the heat, however, he had goose bumps and his hair was standing on end. He felt as if he were being watched, like Tartarus himself was standing over them. The stench of the rotting corpses of monsters and demons made his eyes stung.
To top it all off, his powers were fading quickly. He could hardly feel any shadows around them; they weren't yielding to him easily. It made him feel vulnerable, naked even, to not have at least that. He wasn't too proud to admit that he'd grown dependent on his abilities, that they'd become a security blanket for him of sorts. Without them, what was he? It was ironic that now, when he needed them most, they failed him. He could sense his father's presence growing fainter with every step he took. The gods did not dare venture into Tartarus; apparently only their stupid children did so.
The crystal around his neck began to faintly glow, a warm heat pulsating through his chest. Nico reached up unconsciously and gripped it between his fingers. "We're getting close," he whispered, "be on your guard." He tightened his grip on his sword.
Percy, who'd been walking silently beside him for the most part, nudged him gently in his side. Nico raised a questioning eyebrow at him. He jerked his head behind them, barely whispering "Jason", before walking on ahead. Nico cast a glance back at Jason, worry evident on his face. He was the only one of the three that had never set place in the evil place before.
The boy's skin was unnaturally pale. His body trembled despite the sweat pooling on his brow. His eyes swiveled around them uncertainly, the fire that normally burned within them muted. It was unnerving to see the son of Jupiter in such a state, but it was to be expected. While Nico was having a hard time, he was better equipped to handle it because of his father. Jason on the other hand was definitely out of his element. His father was the king of the heavens, meaning places underground were not the safest place for him.
Nico paused and waited for him to catch up. He wasn't the best for comforting people, but his relationship with Jason was different. He was honestly the first male demigod that Nico trusted apart from Percy. The boy had stood by him and trusted him even when Nico had been more than hostile. For him, Nico would give it an honest shot.
"Jason, are you alright?"
Jason tried to offer a small, but it came out more like a grimace. "You and Jackson weren't kidding about this place. I feel like I just battled one hundred Porphyrions at once. And it smells like Death in here."
"He'd take great offense to that you know." Nico chuckled at Jason's unimpressed scowl. "I'm just saying. Thanatos is a good friend of mine, and I swear the guy smells like he never has to shower."
Jason rolled his eyes. "I don't know if I should be concerned or unsurprised that you're friends with the god of Death."
"Well, he is my father's most loyal servant. He treats me like his younger brother, including the teasing and hazing." He could barely contain his smirk as they tried to catch up to Percy.
Jason punched him lightly on the shoulder, pouting lightly. "And here I thought I was your honorary brother. The boyfriend role was already taken, sadly." He winked at Nico jokingly.
Nico felt heat rush to his cheeks. "Shut up Grace. Don't make me tell Percy you're trying to take advantage of me."
He snorted and rolled his eyes. "As if Jackson stood a chance. He couldn't beat me if I was blind, deaf, and dumb."
He opened his mouth to retort, but Percy suddenly appeared, his face ashen. Nico immediately went on the defensive, the light atmosphere around quickly dissipating. Jason went into combat mode just as quickly. His nervousness seemed to melt away, replaced by a calculating mask. He'd become a soldier right before Nico's eyes.
"What happened Percy? What did you see?" he asked sharply. He drew his weapon as well, but he seemed in no rush to go into battle. He was calm and focused, a trait he undoubtedly picked up from his time in the Roman camp.
"There's a group of monsters up ahead. From what I can tell, they have about ten dracones, Echidna herself, empusa, a hydra, our dear old friend the manticore, and a few more monsters I couldn't really make out." He grimaced and rubbed his shoulder, no doubt remembering when the creature had poisoned him years before.
Nico's frown deepened. Hecate hadn't warned him about this, even though they expected an ambush of some sort. But that wasn't what worried him. Looking at Percy, it was as the boy had seen his life flash before his eyes. He wasn't a fan of the manticore either, considering it'd been sent to kidnap him and his sister, but there was more. He looked at Percy and saw the raw desperation, hurt, uncertainty, and pain in his eyes. "Percy, what else is down there?"
The air deflated from him, and the boy looked on the verge of collapse. He took a shuddering breath and met Nico's eyes. "Annabeth."
Nico bowed his head. It's time, he thought grimly. He reached out and grabbed Percy's hand tightly. "Then there's something you need to know. Hecate has a plan."
The first thing Annabeth registered as she came to was a sharp throbbing in her head. Her throat was dry and rough, her tongue thick in her mouth. Her limbs were heavy and numb; she could barely raise her head. Her skin felt cold as ice, yet she could feel sweat on her forehead. There was a weight on her chest pressing down harder with each breath she took.
Annabeth groaned and peeled her eye lids back. She winced, the dim light stinging her eyes. After a moment, she hesitantly opened them again to take in her surroundings. Although her vision was still fuzzy, she could somewhat make out what appeared to be a field just below her. The fluorescent reds, blues, and oranges stood out against the black surrounding it. There was a single path snaking its way through the center, small torches casting ghostly light across it. The path lead up to the small altar she was currently perched on.
This isn't good, Annabeth thought as she attempted to push herself to her feet. She leaned against a pillar, the world coming in and out of focus.
"So you are finally awake, daughter of Athena?" whispered a rough voice. Annabeth whipped around, a startled scream caught in her throat. Brown and blue eyes glinted hungrily as they zeroed in on her face. "Are you frightened child? Do you not remember me?"
She stumbled backwards, her eyes widening in fear. The oddly colored eyes followed her movements, malice glinting in the irises. In the dim light, Annabeth could just make out iron gray mane peppered with black, and razor like teeth. His scorpion tail whipped back and forth behind him lazily as he watched her edge away. He advanced leisurely, the light reflecting off of his black and gray fur. She would never forget the creature as long as she lived.
The manticore, aka Dr. Thorn, had kidnapped her years ago and turned her over to Luke Castellan. Not only that, but it had almost killed Percy, Grover, and Thalia when they'd come to rescue her. It had taken everything, including help from Mr. D, to finally bring him down. He was seriously a threat, and had no qualms about killing her, of that she was certain. But what was he doing here?
Dr. Thorn grinned wickedly, as if reading her mind. "I am here for the same reason the others are, daughter of Athena: Vengeance. Today, the debt that is owed to me will be repaid."
"Others?" Annabeth murmured weakly. The manticore's sneer widened and he gestured with a paw down below them. She gulped and peered over the edge of the altar hesitantly. This time, she did scream, earning the attention of the monsters below. She gulped as they all glared at her, each face unforgettable for she knew most if not all of them.
Kelli's glare was perhaps the most venomous. Her flaming hair was burning brighter than the last time Annabeth had seen her, her eyes redder, and teeth sharper as well. Her sisters Tammi and Serephone stood at her side, their faces contorted in rage. A group of empousa standing just behind them licked their lips as they eyed her. Annabeth resisted the urge to cower under their gaze. She'd killed them before, and she was more than prepared to do so again, despite her weakened state.
Beside them stood a beautiful young woman, who at first glance appeared mortal. She was tall and slender, with silky black hair that fell to the middle of her back. Upon closer inspection, however, Annabeth noticed her red eyes, and gleaming fangs. The woman didn't have legs, instead her lower body was that of a serpents'. She hissed up at Annabeth, her forked tongue darting out to taste the air. The woman had to be the beast Echidna.
"You!" hissed an enraged voice. Moments later, a woman with scaly green skin slithered up beside Echidna, her fangs bared. Her hair, made of hundreds of snakes, coiled and hissed angrily. Her wings were tucked neatly around her monstrous frame, obscuring her scorpion tail. Her midsection bubbled furiously, the mutated heads of lions and bears occasionally popping out and snarling. The vipers that made up her legs writhed in irritably. Kampe looked as horrible as the last time they'd unfortunately met.
Everywhere she looked, Annabeth saw monsters that she and Percy had personally killed. Through the years she'd done her best to forget them; they'd obviously not forgotten her. This really isn't good. She turned back to Dr. Thorn, who was still leering at her. He'd said they all wanted vengeance, all monsters did eventually, but it didn't explain why they were all gathered together. As evil as they were, Annabeth couldn't see Dr. Thorn and Kampe sitting down for tea and discussing world domination together. Someone had gone and picked these monsters specifically; someone really wanted them to suffer.
"Achlys is your master isn't she?" Annabeth whispered. The temperature dropped lower at the mention of the primordial goddess. Her legs trembled, because that meant she was back in Tartarus, back in Hell.
"She is not our master," rattled a voice as smooth as silk. The blood in Annabeth's veins froze. Her eyes widened in fear and her pulse quickened; her heart was threatening to jump out of her chest. She took an involuntary step back until her back was pressed against one of the pillars. Arachne scuttled closer, her brown hair flopping into her coal black eyes. "She has simply offered us vengeance in exchange for our service."
"Service?" Annabeth squeaked when the immortal reached out and grabbed her chin tightly.
Arachne leaned in, her foul breath burning her eyes and nose. "If we bring her the son of Hades, we can destroy the rest of you brats. You were promised to me specifically, daughter of Athena." Her cruel eyes swept the length of her body before narrowing. "Your end will not come quickly. I will break you, piece by piece."
"That's enough Arachne," said Dr. Thorn sharply. The immortal weaver growled at him, but released Annabeth.
"How dare you use that tone with me? I am the best weaver that has ever lived! My name has thrived the generations-."
"You are no more than a cocky mortal that was turned into a hideous monster." Dr. Thorn drawled exasperatedly, as if he'd heard the rant before. He rolled his eyes at the spider's outraged howl. "Make yourself useful and bind the girl; the other brats are drawing near."
"Percy?" she gasped. No, he can't be here! It's a trap! Why would he be here? Her heart fell into her stomach. She couldn't fathom why the idiot would voluntarily venture into Tartarus again, not after what they'd been through. And to make matters worse, he was walking right into a horde of monsters ready to kill him. She had to warn him somehow; she had to escape.
As if reading her mind, Dr. Thorn flicked his tail, sending a poisonous spike flying at her. Before she could react she was slammed back, the weapon lodged in her gut. She couldn't hold back the pained scream as fire engulfed her. Black spots danced in front of her eyes, but she refused to pass out, not now. Despite her resolve however, she was helpless to stop Arachne from binding her wrists above her head to the pillar.
"I am going to enjoy your suffering. Now you can watch as the others destroy your boyfriend and Jason Grace." Arachne cackled wickedly before disappearing into the crowd below. Dr. Thorn shot her one last smirk before following his comrade.
Annabeth couldn't help but chuckle sadly. Now you can watch as the others destroy your boyfriend and Jason Grace. Achlys had certainly gathered a strong force to fight Percy and the others, but they obviously had no idea what they were in for. They had no idea they'd never touch a hair on Percy's head. They didn't know he belonged to the son of Hades.
You have to do this Nico, he reminded himself. It's the only way to save them.
I will never let you fall
I'll stand up with you forever
I'll be there for you through it all
Even if saving you sends me to Heaven
Green eyes stared at him, pleading with him. "Nico, don't do this." His voice cracked at the end.
It's okay, it's okay, it's okay
'Cause you're my, you're my
My true love, my whole heart
Please don't throw that away
He blinked back tears and pulled Percy in close, and pressed his lips against his. He allowed the son of Poseidon to cling to him, if only for a moment.
'Cause I'm here for you
Please don't walk away
And please tell me, you'll stay
"I have to. You need to save Annabeth. Please Percy; trust me." Nico stepped out of the boy's arms.
He called to the shadows, the last of his energy ebbing out of him. They contorted just the right way, forming a veil around Percy and Jason. They were both white as a sheet, glaring at him. They were furious. They didn't like the plan at all. At least it would allow them to sneak in and get Annabeth undetected.
Use me as you will
Pull my strings just for a thrill
And I know, I'll be okay
Though my skies are turning gray
He opened his mouth to reassure them at least one last time, when he found himself being hoisted in the air by strong hands.
I will never let you fall
I'll stand up with you forever
I'll be there for you through it all
Even if saving you sends me to Heaven
Author's Notes: okay, so I apologize for the extra-long wait between updates. I swear I'll finish this story before February! Ok, so I'm sure everyone wants to know what's going on with Rachel and the other demigods at the moment. Well, I've decided that after this story is complete I'm going to release a smaller story that explains everything that happens while the trio is in Tartarus. I may even add in a few things from the gods' point of views. Also, I'm going to go ahead and tell you that there will be an official sequel to this fanfiction, but I'm not sure when I'll start posting it. Anyway, I hope you all have a good holiday season! Please review
P.S. The lyrics are from the song 'Your Guardian Angel' by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. This is one of the songs that this fanfiction is based around. The other is 'Safe' by Westlife.