Disclaimer: standard thing. I don't own PJO or HP. Blah.
So. It's been about a year. Awkward. Okay. We're just gonna get on with it.
Chapter 7 – The End of an Era
They were running. Well, not running per say, more like...jogging. At a slow pace. Yeah, this wasn't running at all, they were speed walking. And it was because of the Ophiotaurus. Logically, Zari knew that even if they saved Lady Artemis and the Ophiotaurus was captured, it would still mean the end of them, but that didn't prevent her frustration. Tomorrow was the Winter Solstice, which meant that the Olympian Council would be held then as well. But if Lady Artemis wasn't there to mediate, it would mean all-out war, with little to no chance of stopping Kronos before he'd even properly risen. And not to mention the other war...that was something she didn't want to touch just yet with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole.
"We will never get there in time," Zoё cried, frustrated. "We are moving far too slowly, but we cannot leave the Ophiotaurus."
Zari noted, with not a small amount of barely concealed panic, that she was right. The Golden Gate Bridge was far too distant for them to reach on foot before the sun had completely set, let alone the Garden of the Hesperides, and it was already dipping down towards the horizon.
"I don't get it," Percy said, obviously confused. "Why do we need to get there at sunset?"
"The Hesperides are the nymphs of sunset," Zoё replied. "We can only enter the Garden as day changes into night."
"And if we miss it?" he asked cautiously.
"Then we have to wait until tomorrow evening, but tomorrow is the Solstice. By sunset tomorrow, the Council will have adjourned, and the meeting will be over."
Percy suddenly looked very pale as the implications of that hit him.
"We need a car," Thalia broke in.
"But what about Bessie?"
"Hang on!" Grover stopped suddenly. "I've got an idea. The Ophiotaurus can appear in different bodies of water, right?" he looked at Percy for confirmation.
"Well, yeah," Percy said, and Zari realised where this might be leading. "He appeared at Camp, the Hoover Dam, and now he's here."
"So, maybe we can coax him back to Long Island Sound? Contact Olympus and go from there?"
"But he was following me," Percy pointed out the flaw in that plan. "How would he know where he's going?"
Grover took a deep breath and plunged on determinedly. "I'll go with him." He spoke the words that had almost undoubtedly sealed his fate, and judging by the look on his face, and his uneasy glances towards the water, Zari concluded that he wasn't very much a fan his own plan, and didn't really have a particular liking to swimming. Well, with the hooves, she shouldn't be surprised. She felt a sudden rush of admiration towards the satyr as she realised that he would do nearly anything for the son of Poseidon and maybe the blonde girl, Annabeth, too.
"I'm the only one who can talk to him," Grover added as if that justified his selflessness. "It makes sense."
She watched as Grover bent down to whisper something the bull serpent's ear, and shivered as the rush of Magic washed over her. Zari wondered idly if he knew how powerful that Blessing was. She could only sense extremely powerful Magic, or extremely complicated Magic, though, generally, they came in packaged deals.
"A blessing of the Wild," Grover explained. "Percy, could you pray to your dad to see if he'll grant us a safe passage through the seas?" He had obviously thought this out, and Zari wondered if she'd perhaps underestimated the quirky satyr.
Percy still looked slightly nonplussed, but did as requested, "Dad. Help us. Get the Ophiotaurus and Grover safely to protect them at sea."
"Wanna add a 'please' in your demands to the dangerous god that can incinerate us in less than a second?" Zari murmured, but no-one heard, as Thalia spoke at the same time. She'd always had slightly more fear of angering the gods than their children, but she was mortal that had stumbled upon this world by a mere accident. Then again, she hadn't liked angering her teachers at Hogwarts either.
"Percy, a request that big needs a sacrifice," Thalia warned. "Something big."
Percy considered for a moment and Zari sucked in a harsh breath as he began peeling off his lion fur coat. His extremely bullet-proof fur coat.
"Percy, are you sure?" Grover asked nervously. "That's really helpful. Hercules used it."
Zari suddenly started rummaging through her Hunter's pack that had appeared over her shoulder.
"Here," she said when she had found what she was looking for, and thrust a cloggy, navy blue potion at Grover. "This will increase your eyesight in the water, and your, um, hooves should be a lot easier to swim with. It'll also offer some protection, but hopefully, you shouldn't need that with Lord Poseidon's safe passage."
"Thanks," Grover said, looking oddly touched.
Percy took the opportunity to throw the lion's coat into the water. "If I'm going to survive, it won't be because of a coat. I don't need it. I'm not Hercules." He looked straight at Zoё when he said that and Zari realised with a jolt that he had figured out why her lieutenant had joined the Hunt.
Grover downed the potion, gagging, after having a few words with the Ophiotaurus. As her eyes joined with Percy's accidentally, she understood. Anything for Grover.
Grover took another deep breath, and with the words "Well, no time to lose," he leapt forwards and into the water – he began to sink immediately. But with a quick kick of his improved hooves and a little support from Bessie, he managed to tread water with his head above.
"Be careful," Percy said. Grover nodded.
"We will," he said, though Zari thought Percy was referring more to Grover than Bessie. "Okay, um ... Bessie? We're going to Long Island. It's east. Over that way."
Bessie moooed, and he continued. "Yes, it's an island ... and it's long ... oh, never mind, let's just start."
They started to sink, and Grover let out a panicked shout. "I can't breathe underwater! Just thought I'd mention –" they disappeared under with a glug, and an air bubble rose to the surface, then popped.
"Well, that is one problem addressed," Zoё announced. "Now how do we reach my sister's Garden?"
"Well, Thalia's right," Zari stated diplomatically. "We need transport, and a car would be preferable, but we don't exactly have one. So maybe if we borrowed another one?"
Percy looked reluctant, but the other the three females weren't so hesitant, having all been in positions similar to this before.
"Wait," Thalia cried suddenly. "I forgot. I do know someone who lives in San Francisco. I think I have his address here somewhere..."
Zari furrowed her brow. "Who?"
"Professor Chase," seeing the blank look upon Zoё and Zari's faces, she elaborated. "Annabeth's dad."
Zari took a step back, along with Thalia, Zoё and Percy. The man that she thought was most likely Professor Chase was a normal looking man, she supposed, if it wasn't for the aviator's hat and goggles that made him remind her creepily of a male Trelawney with a plane obsession.
"Hello. Are you delivering my airplanes?" the man asked cheerfully.
"Ah, no, sir," Percy said, taken aback.
"Drat," he sighed. "I need three more Sopwith Camels."
"Right," Percy said, looking just as bewildered as Zari felt. "We're actually friends of Annabeth, sir."
"Annabeth?" the man straightened suddenly, looking much more focused. "Why are you here? Is she alright? Has something happened?"
"You could say that," Zari muttered. "She's in trouble, sir. We all are."
Professor Chase considered them carefully. He took off his goggles and hat to reveal warm brown eyes and sandy blond hair. He was a good looking man, for his age especially, she supposed.
"I think you'd better come in," he said finally.
As he turned and strode through the door, Zari exchanged a hesitant look with Zoё, who eventually nodded reluctantly.
They followed him in and were immediately ambushed by the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip biscuits, jazz music, and LEGO covering every flat surface.
"Dad!" a small boy screamed, making them jump. "He's taking apart my robots!"
"Bobby, don't take apart your brother's robots," Prof. Chase replied distractedly, his expression worried.
"I'm Bobby!" he argued. "He's Matthew!"
"Matthew, don't take apart your brother's robots." He amended.
"Okay, dad," the second boy replied, rushing off after his brother, who was attempting to reconstruct his robots.
"We'd better go upstairs to my study," Annabeth's father said.
"Honey?" the term of endearment called out across the room, and the speaker soon followed, a pretty-looking Asian woman with red highlights in her hair. She was wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "Who are our guests?" she asked, catching sight of them and smiling kindly.
"Oh," her husband said blankly. "These are..."
The woman rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Frederick. "You forgot to ask them their names?" she chided fondly.
"Uh, I'm Percy. Percy Jackson." He introduced himself. Both Mr And Mrs Chase's eyes widened, and Mrs Chase smiled.
"Thalia," said girl muttered shortly. Mrs Chase smiled wider.
"I am Zoё Nightshade."
"Dear," Mr Chase interrupted. "They came about Annabeth."
His wife said nothing, only pursing her lips, and looking concerned. As far as Zari could tell, she was genuinely worried about her step-daughter.
"You go on up to the study and I'll bring some soda, sandwiches, and cookies." She smiled at Percy, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "It's nice to meet you, Percy. We've heard a lot about you."
Zari examined the study. She had to admit, it was pretty cool. It was covered in toy soldiers, maps, model airplanes, and so much more.
"The German lines were further from the river," Zoё stated, looking at a model battlefield with Percy and Professor Chase.
"How do you know that?" the latter demanded.
"I was there." Her voice was matter-of-fact and reminded Zari somewhat of Hermione Granger, one of Michael's friends. She didn't often seem to be pleased with her two friends, Ron Weasley being the other one. In fact, she often looked downright disgusted with their arrogance – not that they noticed. She and Granger had been on civil enough terms before she was disowned. She didn't judge her on the way the Potter's had described her, preferring to come up with her own assumptions and conclusions. Zoё continued. "Lady Artemis wanted to show us how horrible war was, the way mortal men fight with each other. And how foolish, too. The battle was a complete waste."
"You – you were –" Professor Chase stammered.
"She's a Hunter, sir," Thalia cut him off. His eyes flew to Zari, who was wearing the same silver uniform. She shook her head, wondering how he knew what a Hunter was.
"I was only born in 1980, sir," she said ruefully. "I only joined the Hunters ten years ago."
He nodded, his expression dazed, and he started firing questions about the planes. Thalia broke in again. "Sir, Annabeth is in danger."
That caught his attention. His eyes widened and he set down the model airplane, sitting down in his seat. "Tell me everything."
So they did. The tale was long and complicated, with all four glancing out the window every few seconds, watching the sun sink lower and lower in the sky, as their anxiousness rose higher and higher.
"Oh, my poor, brave, Annabeth," he groaned as they finished. "We must hurry."
"Sir, we need transportation to Mount Tamalpais," Zoё agreed. "And we need it immediately."
"I'll drive you," he said instantly. "Hmm. It would be quicker to go in my Camel, but it only seats two."
"Whoa," Percy interrupted. "You have an actual biplane?"
"Never mind that," Zari broke in. "Sir, a car would be great, but it would be better if you didn't come with us. It's far too dangerous, and I don't think Annabeth would appreciate it if we got her father killed because an angry titan tried to strike us down."
"Now listen here, young lady," Mr Chase frowned, his eyes stormy. "Annabeth is my daughter. Dangerous or not, I can't just ... just –"
"Snacks!" Mrs Chase announced, pushing the door open with her hip, as her arms were laden with Coke, sandwiches and hot chocolate chip biscuits. Percy and Thalia started eating and Zari grabbed a cookie and a Coke, knowing she was going to need the caffeine hit.
"I'm technically twenty-six years old, Mr Chase. I'm older than I look, and Zoё is far older than all of us in this house put together. I promise not to destroy your car." Probably shouldn't have said that, she winced. She knew there were no guarantees.
"What's this about then?" Mrs Chase asked. Her husband answered.
"Annabeth is in danger," he said. "On Mount Tam. I would drive them, but ... apparently, it's no place for mortals." He looked like it was the hardest thing he'd ever done, trying to force those words out of his mouth.
Mrs Chase frowned in thought, and Zari felt her heart sink. But when she said, "Well, they'd better get going then," everyone's relief was palpable.
"Right!" Mr Chase jumped up from his slumped position on the chair. "My keys..." he frowned as he patted his pockets.
"Honestly, Frederick. You'd lose your head if it weren't wrapped in that hat. Your keys are on the peg by the front door."
"Right!" he exclaimed again.
"Thank you," Percy and Zari murmured to Mrs Chase on their way past her, Zoё hustling them along. She only nodded in reply, a worried frown on her face.
"Percy," she called as they were walking through the front door. "When you find Annabeth ... tell her that she still has a home here. "Remind her of that, please." Percy stared at the for a second, then nodded jerkily, spinning around and striding out the door, as much as any thirteen-year-old can.
They didn't have long left.
Zoё had reluctantly handed over the keys of Professor Chase's VW canary yellow convertible to Zari, admitting grudgingly that she would get them there faster. However, they hadn't counted on the hundreds of other cars clogging the roads on their way home from work.
"Can't you go any faster, Zari?" Thalia complained.
The Hunter gritted her teeth. "I can't control traffic," she snapped. "Don't you think if I could get around this, I would have?"
"You both sound like my mother," Percy informed them.
"Shut up!" they screamed.
Zari started twisting and winding her way through the other cars, ignoring the multiple horns being honked or the abuse shouted at them. Eventually, they got off the highway, and onto steep, narrow, winding roads that went up and around large hills.
"Why does it smell like cough drops?" Percy asked.
"Eucalyptus," Zoё answered.
"The stuff koala bears eat?"
"Koalas are not bears," Zari corrected automatically.
"What?" Percy asked, but his question went widely ignored when Zoё continued as if Zari had never spoken.
"Not just koalas, but monsters too. They love chewing the leaves. Especially dragons."
"Dragons chew eucalyptus leaves?" Percy looked completely thrown.
Zari was the one that replied, her eyes not leaving the road. "Only the kind related to the gods. In the magical world, dragons are more animal-like than monster-like. I mean, they're still ferocious beasts, but they're not like these ones. They're more like the stories for little kids, as in they breathe fire, which, by the way, you do not want to get close to. The ones on the god-like end of the spectrum are more sentient, so to speak. They understand human languages (some of them), and can be tamed enough to protect something or attack someone."
"Which one is Peleus?" Percy asked curiously, referring to the dragon that wrapped around the base of Thalia's pine tree, his purpose to guard the Golden Fleece.
"Peleus is a magical dragon, and I suspect the gods had something to do with taming him. He's a Peruvian Vipertooth, if you didn't know. You can tell by his small size, he'll grow to about fifteen feet, and his copper coloured scales."
Thalia whistled. "Anything else we should know?"
"He's the most poisonous type of magical dragon?" Zari offered, pushing the car as fast as it would go. "His horns and fangs. They also have a special liking for humans."
"Great," Percy snorted.
"You asked," she countered.
"What other types of magical creatures are there?" Thalia asked curiously, and Zari obliged her. It felt nice, she mused, to talk about the wonders of the magical world, rather than the horrors of it, like the war that had surely broken out, or the past.
Eventually, Percy broke in. "Look!"
"What?" Thalia asked, irritated at being interrupted.
"A big white ship. Docked near the beach. It looked like a cruise ship."
"You don't think...?" Thalia breathed, her eyes widening. "Luke –"
"It seems we will be having some more company on the mountain," Zoё said grimly. "Kronos' army."
Percy opened his mouth to reply when Thalia cut him off, her eyes widening in alarm. "Everyone get out of the car! Now!"
Startled into action by her urgent tone, they scrambled out of the car. Zari barely had time to cover them with a dome-shaped shield before lightning bolted down, and hitting the car. It exploded in a flash of white and yellow, shrapnel flying everywhere, the smell of ozone making her shiver.
Unbidden, the words she had spoken less than half-an-hour before came to the front of her mind.
"I'm technically twenty-six years old, Mr Chase. I'm older than I look, and Zoё is far older than all of us in this house put together. I promise not to destroy your car."
I promise not destroy your car.
"Curse you!" Thalia was shaking her fist at the sky as she shouted. "One shall perish by a parents' hand," she quoted. "He would destroy me? Me?"
"Wha – oh, hey, no, that couldn't have been Zeus' lightning bolt," Percy reassured.
"Whose then?" she demanded, her face flushed with anger and exertion.
"Maybe it was Kronos," Percy suggested, "Zoё said his name, maybe –"
"No," she shook her head. "That's not – wait, where are they? Where are Zari and Zoё?"
Frantically, they began searching the rubble that used to be the road, shouting.
"Shh!" a voice hissed, clamping a hand over Percy's mouth. "Silence, fool. Do you wish to wake Ladon?"
It was Zoё. Relief filled him as he watched Zari quiet Thalia.
"Follow me," Zoё murmured loud enough for the others to hear. "It is close."
She walked through the thick fog that Zari recalled was a mix of normal mist and the magical kind of Mist. She tried to concentrate on the figure ahead of her as she followed Zoё, willing the Mist not to distract her mind. Soon, they stopped.
"We are here," said the older Hunter quietly. "The Garden of the Hesperides."
The Garden was one of the most beautiful things she'd ever seen. Lush green grass, bright flowers, delicious looking fruit trees. And in the centre of them all, it stood. The tree that bore golden Apples of Immortality – it was a perfect sight, if not for the dragon. It was curled around the base of the tree, it's hundreds of heads snoozing.
And then the singing started. It was the most beautiful thing Zari had heard in her life, and she watched in awe as four shimmering figures appeared in the Mist.
"Sisters," Zoё acknowledged quietly.
"We do not see any sister," one of the girls said, her voice cold. "We see two half-bloods and two Hunters. All of whom shall soon die."
"You've got it wrong," Percy stepped forward. "No-one is going to die."
"Perseus Jackson," another Hesperid breathed.
"Yes," another murmured thoughtfully. "I do not see why he is a threat."
"Who said I was a threat?" the boy asked.
"They fear thee," she said unhappily, glancing at the mountain looming behind her. "They are displeased that this one has not yet killed thee." She indicated Thalia.
"It's tempting sometimes, but no thanks," Thalia said, "he's my friend."
The Hesperides regarded her coldly. "There are no friends here, daughter of Zeus. Only enemies. Go back."
"Not without Annabeth," Thalia refused.
"And Artemis," Zoë added. "We must approach the mountain."
"He will kill thee," one said, seemingly uncaring about her sister's demise. "You are no match for him."
"Artemis must be freed," Zoё declared steadfastly. "Let us pass." Zari wondered how she could so calm in the face of almost certain death. She was almost positive that, had it been her, she would be shaking at the knees.
"You have no rights here anymore," the third girl refused. "We need only raise our voices slightly and Ladon will awaken."
"He will not harm me," Zoё said confidently.
One girl raised an elegant eyebrow. "No? And what of thy friends? Will he let them pass unscathed?"
"Ladon! Wake!" Zoё shouted, and Zari felt her stomach drop. The Hesperides were right, maybe Ladon would let Zoё pass, but it would not be so kind towards them. The girls had scattered at Zoё's shout, eyes wide with horror and fear.
"Zoё," Zari hissed. "What are you doing?"
"Trust me," she whispered before stepping forward. The dragon's many eyes opened sleepily, focusing on them with a glint in its eyes that a bird gets when it hunts down its prey. This time, they were the hunted, not the hunters.
"He'll kill you," Thalia whispered. "You aren't a Hesperid anymore."
"He is trained to protect the tree," she murmured back. "Skirt around him, along the edges of the garden. Get to the mountain. I will follow. As long as I am the biggest threat, he should not pay thee any mind."
"Should," Percy quoted. "Not exactly reassuring."
"Just move," Zari hissed, pushing him forward slightly, but stumbling as the dragon opened its mouths. It stank like the sewers had taken up residence in its throats, along with a couple hundred eucalyptus trees – it was so bad, she had to hold back her gagging so as to not draw attention to herself.
"Hello, Ladon," Zoё crooned as she stepped forward and approached the guardian. "It's me, my little dragon. I have come home."
"Fool," the eldest Hesperid whispered as they melted into shadows as the sun set.
The dragon seemed confused. Some of its heads were angry and hissing. Others shut their mouths, and some of their eyes glinted satisfactorily.
"I used to feed thee by hand," Zoё continued soothingly. "Do you still like lamb's meat?"
The dragon tensed. Thalia, Percy and Zari were halfway around the garden, Thalia on the right side of the dragon, and Percy and Zari on the left.
Zoё kept crooning at Ladon until they had nearly reached the path to the mountain. For whatever reason, the dragon had decided on an emotion and lunged. Maybe it was hungry, or angry, but on two millennia of training and hunting kept Zoё alive. She dodged the many heads attacking her, gagging, and ran around the side, following Thalia. One of the heads got lucky, nipping her side and Zoё cried out. She recovered quickly, stumbling towards them. "Go! He will not leave his post!"
Thalia uncovered Aegis, and the dragon reared back. Zoё took advantage of its distraction and sprinted past them up the path of the mountain. They followed, the Hesperides continuing their song mournfully behind them.
The top of the mountain was nothing like Zari had expected. There were broken columns, and statues half melted. Cracked slabs of marble and granite.
"The ruins of Mount Othrys," Thalia whispered in awe.
"This is bad," Zoё murmured. "If it is here, it means the titans are getting stronger."
"What's Mount Othrys?" Percy asked, looking slightly embarrassed.
"The Mount Olympus of the titans," Zari answered. "The two were rivals, but Mount Othrys was blasted to rubble in the first titan war."
Beside her, Zoё let out a sharp gasp of pain, her hand flying to the side Ladon had bitten. "You're hurt," Percy frowned. "Let me see."
"No," she shook her head. "It is nothing."
"But how is it here, then?" Percy asked, letting it go.
"It moves the same way Mount Olympus does," Zoё answered as they clambered through the wreckage. "It follows civilisation. But the fact that it is here on this mountain, is a very bad sign."
"What's wrong with this mountain?" he asked.
"This is Atlas' mountain. Where he holds the sky."
"But…" Percy frowned. "If Atlas' mountain is here, how did he get here? I mean, the sky is, like, really heavy, right? How did he move?"
"With the mountain. The same way Olympus moves," Zoё replied distractedly. "It follows civilisation."
Frowning, Zari followed her gaze. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight before her, and she was suddenly overcome with the need to retch.
"Oh, gods," she breathed. There, shackled to a rock in celestial bronze chains, was Lady Artemis.
The goddess' silvery dressed was torn and speckled with the golden blood of the gods, ichor. Above her a miniature hurricane swirled, funnelling down until the eye was right above Artemis' head. She stirred, seemingly sensing the eyes on her, though Zari doubted she was out of it as she looked.
Her eyes widened as she saw them, though she smiled slightly ruefully. "Go," the goddess whispered weakly. "You must leave before he finds you!"
Zari nearly snorted. Fat chance. Echoing her thoughts, Zoё shook her head determinedly, eyes welling up.
"No. We are not leaving you." Even if it means we have to face Atlas, Zari added silently.
"Ah," a voice sneered behind them, reminding Zari eerily of Draco Malfoy, "how touching."
The General had arrived, silk suit unruffled, and with him came an entourage. To his right stood Luke Castellan, blue eyes flicking between Thalia and the Annabeth, who stood beside him, cuffed, gagged, and being held at sword point. Behind them was a small legion of dracaena, about six in total, bearing the weight of a large golden sarcophagus.
"Luke," Thalia pleaded, her eyes on Annabeth, "let her go."
The boy smiled, albeit rather weakly, and shook his head. "Sorry, Thals. That's the General's decision. But it was nice to see you again."
"So much for old friends. And Zoё," the man (well, Titan) himself cooed. "How nice to see you again. I will enjoy killing you, my little traitor."
"Do not respond," Lady Artemis groaned, clearly in pain, "do not challenge him."
Beside her, Percy looked started, "Wait, you're Atlas?"
Atlas glanced at him irritably. "So, it seems even the stupidest of heroes can figure it out eventually. Yes, I am Atlas, General of the Titans and a general terror of the gods. Congratulations. I'll kill you in a moment, just as soon as I deal with this wretched girl."
"Hang on," Percy protested. "I'm not gonna let you hurt Zoё."
"As if you would be able to stop me, puny demigod. Your turn will come, but you will wait. This is a family matter."
"Family matter?" Percy asked blankly.
"Yes," Zoё said. "Atlas is my father."
Zari could see it, the dawning comprehension in his eyes, the confusion as he wondered how he didn't see it before. But Zoё had no time to let him process.
"Let Lady Artemis go," she snarled. Atlas smiled and walked towards the goddess.
"Perhaps you'd like to take her burden from her?" he suggested, eyes glinting cruelly. Zoё strode forward, Zari barely half a step behind her, but Lady Artemis groaned.
"No," she rasped, "I forbid it, Zoё. You will not take this burden."
"Then I will," Zari announced. At this pronouncement, the goddess's eyes hardened and shone like the moon.
She faltered. "My lady-"
"No, Azari. I shall bear this alone."
"You see?" Atlas broke in, interrupting what Zari was sure could have been one of the longest stare downs Artemis had ever given her. "The Lady Artemis likes her new job, don't you?" He made as if to brush a hand over her cheek, drawing it back quickly as the goddess snapped her teeth at his fingers. "I think I'll give each of the Olympians a turn. Maybe it'll teach them some humility."
"I don't understand," Percy spoke up, his eyes fixed on Annabeth. "Why can't she just let go of the sky?"
Atlas let out a booming laugh. "How little you understand, son of Poseidon. This is the point where the earth met the sky for the first time, where Ouranos and Gaia brought forth their mightiest children, the Titans. Since then, they have yearned to be reunited once more. Someone must hold the sky at bay, for otherwise, he would crash down upon the world, flattening the mountain and everything within a hundred leagues."
"Oh," Percy said intelligently.
"The only way to be rid of the burden is for another to take it from you," Zari explained. "It can't be forced on anyone." Except a Titan, she thought but wisely didn't mention this for fear of angering the rather massive one in front of her.
The Titan regarded her carefully, much more than the passing glance he had given her on their arrival. "Another Hunter," he snorted in contempt. "So, these are supposed to be the finest heroes of the age? I must admit, I'm certainly underwhelmed. A runaway, an idiot, and a former tree. Not really much of a challenge." Zari caught Zoё's eye and flicked her eyes towards the goddess meaningfully, the gesture barely noticeable. Zoё nodded and edged nearer, trying to stay out of Atlas's line of sight.
"Fight us," Percy dared, and Zari nearly groaned, "and we'll see."
Again, Atlas laughed so hard it shook the mountain, dust raining down on them. "Have you learned nothing, young demigod? An immortal does not challenge a mortal directly. No," he decided, "I will have Luke crush you instead."
Percy snorted. "Right. So you're a coward too."
"Not a good idea," murmured Zari, slightly marvelling at his recklessness.
Atlas's nostrils flared. With what seemed like great difficulty, he turned towards Thalia. This put Zoё directly behind him and she started shifting a bit faster, almost at the rock.
"As for you, daughter of Zeus, it seems Luke was wrong about you."
"I wasn't wrong," the blond spoke up, his voice weak. Still, it held a surprising amount of conviction. He looked on the verge of fainting and if Zari hadn't hated him so much, she might have cared. "Thalia, please. You can still join us. Call the Ophiotaurus. It will come."
"Let Annabeth go," Thalia said.
"I will," Luke promised, a hint of desperation rising in his voice. "When you call the Ophiotaurus. It'll be the three of us again, just like old times. You just need to call." He waved his hand, and a pool of water appeared off to the side, surrounded by black marble.
"No, Luke," Thalia shook her head, "I can't. Gods, what happened to you? To think that you –" She broke off, her voice ragged with grief.
A flash of irritation appeared in Luke's eyes. "Don't you remember all those times we talked?" he persisted. "When we would curse the gods for the life they gave us? They have done nothing but dragged us into a cursed existence! They don't deserve to rule the world."
"Let Annabeth go, Luke," said Thalia, "please."
"If you join me, Thalia," Luke begged, "everything can go back to the way it was. You, me, and Annabeth. A family. Fighting for a better world, a world we can be happy in. Please, Thalia. This – it's my last chance. If you don't agree, he will use the other way." The raw desperation – and was that fear? – in Luke's eyes was hard to ignore.
Zari wondered what the other way was.
"Thalia, don't listen to him," she murmured, adding a little bit of magical compulsion into her voice. Thalia's eyes cleared slightly.
But Luke waved his hand again, smiling invitingly, if not a little weakly, at the demigod. A few feet away from the pond appeared a bronze brazier, not unlike the one at Camp Half-Blood. Zari's heart dropped into her stomach as she realised what it was – a sacrificial flame.
"Thalia, no,' Percy muttered from her left. In the smoke of the flame, hazy images formed. The ruins of the mountain they were standing on, completed and standing tall. Mount Othrys at the height of its power once more. It was made of darkness and shadows, of fear and despair, and an unwilling shiver went down Zari's spine.
"We will raise Mount Othrys right here," Luke promised. "We are not weak, Thalia. We will be greater than Mount Olympus once more. Look," he gestured down at the jetty below, where the Princess Andromeda was docked. The ship was empty, but marching up the sides of the mountain were countless amounts of monsters and demigods. There were hellhounds and dracaena, giants and harpies, and so many other species that Zari's feeling of dread grew much more immense. They only had minutes before the army would arrive.
"This is only a taste of what is to come, Thalia," Luke gloated. "Soon, we will take Camp Half-Blood, and after that, Olympus itself. Join us, Thalia."
For a fleeting moment, Thalia looked like she would consider it. Then her resolve and eyes hardened simultaneously, as she hissed, "You're not my Luke. I don't know you."
She levelled her spear at him.
Behind Atlas, Zoё reached the rock and chains that bound Artemis to it. Stealthily, she drew a dagger from a hidden sheath – one imbued with godly magic. There was only a slight chance that it could break the chains, but metal on metal would make a large screeching noise and would alert Atlas to their plan, reducing their chances of freeing the goddess even more.
Before lowering the blade, Zoё looked at Zari, who hesitated. If she silenced the blade, then Atlas would almost certainly feel the rush of magic. Hopefully, the all the different magic rebuilding Mount Othrys would disguise hers. Sending a rush of silencing and strengthening magic towards Zoё, Zari willed it to curve around Atlas. A faint glow lit the blade and chains as it was silenced and the blade was reinforced with more power.
Atlas frowned, his head cocking to the side, he began to turn towards the rock from where he had previously been watching Thalia and Luke with a kind of disinterested amusement. Heart in her throat, Zari then did something very foolishthat would most likely get her killed. Sorry, Voldie, she thought, slightly hysterical. Guess you missed your chance.
"Atlas," she yelled, thrusting her hands forward and sending a pulse of pure power at the Titan. At the same time, Percy and Thalia rushed towards Luke, whose eyes widened slightly at the surprise attack.
Atlas flew backwards, roaring in rage. He landed on the edge of the mountain with a thump, but he immediately got to his feet, positively snarling in fury. He stalked towards Zari, who tensed. Her hair crackled as she drew on her power.
She thrust her hands forward again. A bolt of electricity arced towards the Titan who swept it aside carelessly. He swept his javelin at her and it hit her in the side, causing her to go flying and crash into a stone brick wall that most certainly hadn't been there a few minutes ago. Mount Othrys was getting taller and stronger by the second. Zari held in a groan, and clutched her side. Even despite his formidable bulk, the Titan was stronger than he looked.
Percy looked over at the sound, and spotted Zari struggling to her feet in the face of Atlas' gloating sneer.
"You'll not beat me, you foolish mortal," he scorned derisively. "You are puny and insignificant."
Atlas' back was turned towards Percy, so he took the opportunity, and swung Riptide with all his might. It made a whistling noise as it sped through the air and the Titan whirled around, his javelin coming up to block the blow. The sword didn't slice through the weapon as it might have if it hadn't been reinforced with the power of the Titan. Atlas' eyes narrowed in annoyance.
"You're a pest, Jackson," he hissed in mild annoyance, and batted the sword away like a bothersome fly. Percy held onto it, barely, and his face was a mask of panic and dread. He tried to lift the sword again, but his movements were slow and sluggish, and the blade looked like it was weighed down. Atlas laughed again, the sound booming and chilling, as his javelin swept the sword off the side of the mountain. The impact sent Percy reeling, and he landed at the base of the rock, where Zoё was having little success in freeing the goddess.
Several feet away, Zari struggled to her feet. An immense feeling of rage overpowered her common sense, clouding her vision red, as she watched Atlas stalk forward to finish Percy off. She could feel her power simmering beneath the surface, ready to be unleashed in ways it hadn't been for years. Zari's hands grew almost painfully warm as a bright, hissing ball of flame appeared in each hand, writhing and curling and smoking. Fiendfyre was not an easy element to control and almost impossible wandlessly. Dimly, in the back of her mind, she could feel a vague sense of panic – the only other time she had attempted to control the flame had been disastrous. But right now, Zari didn't care.
She let loose an earth-shattering scream as she forced her hands forwards, magic reverberating through her voice and making the rocks of Mount Othrys tremble. The fiendfyre streamed towards Atlas, whose eyes widened slightly as he turned at the sound of her shriek. He barely raised his javelin in time to block the flames, which immediately began licking and spitting at the shield he conjured.
However, in that time, two things happened. The first was that Zari felt her magic rear up in defiance of the Titan, as adrenaline made her senses go hyper-alert, and start pushing through with more strength than she thought she had left. It almost made her dizzy with the unexpected rush of power as she struggled to maintain control over her conjured flame.
The second was just as surprising, if not a little more uplifting. In a shower of golden sparks the chains binding Artemis shattered as she broke free of her burden. She glowed with a terrible, furious power than shone like the moonlight. Beside her, Percy dropped to his knees in pain, and Zari suddenly realised what had happened at the same time Atlas let out a roar of fury. Percy had taken the sky from the goddess – no, she had given it to him.
And despite herself, a little bit of hope rose in Zari's chest. With Artemis fighting by their side, they may escape this unscathed.
The majority of Atlas' concentration was still directed at blocking her flames, which only grew stronger as her magic rose up in anger against him. Her newfound strength really didn't harm the titan, only distracted him.
But it was enough. Artemis lunged at him, her lithe silver form flickering as she lunged and twirled, hunting knives slicing through the air and making contact with the titan's unguarded back. He roared in pain each time a blade carved at his skin, but the additional pain didn't seem to bother him as much as he let on.
Zari's vision blurred as the magic sapped her physical strength to power the fiendfyre. She gasped for air, pushing forward the last of her strength and a jet of flames curled into existence, far stronger than the last, and shot towards Atlas. Then she collapsed, vision swimming, as the adrenaline and final pieces of strength ebbed from her body. A few feet away, Thalia and Luke battled near the edge of the cliff, both of them determined to defeat the other.
Atlas's shield sizzled and crackled and seemed to shatter mid-air. The remaining half of the fire slammed into him, pushing him backwards with a mighty roar. He landed on his back, smoke curling from his face, the left side of which was dripping with ichor and flesh. He snarled as Zoё and Artemis lunged towards him, swinging his hand at Zoё forcefully, and she flew backwards, hitting the rocks and falling into a crumpled heap.
No, Zari thought dimly, barely able to process what was happening around her.
Artemis surged towards Atlas again, her knives already swinging. The blade slashed at his injured face, and he gave a deafening bellow as he thrusted his javelin at her, and she dodged – but it was the wrong move. Atlas swung the weapon around and under her legs, causing her to fall to the ground. The titan immediately pinned her down, his smelted face grinning maliciously in triumph.
Atlas raised the spear, preparing to go for the kill. "The first blood in a new war," he gloated.
"No!" Zari's voice was weak and feeble, but it carried, and the titan let out a booming laugh.
"Oh, yes, little witch," he said, his smile vindictive, "although I rather think you'll be second. You can't fulfil a destiny if you're dead! Two worlds in chaos, both of them fighting a war they cannot win. When Kronos kills the rest of your bothersome gods, we'll move on to the Wizarding World. Don't worry," he grinned, "I'll send them your regards."
One thing about villains is that they always seem to like a good monologue, right before their crowning moment – and it's always their downfall. Yet somehow, they hadn't figured this out. So while Atlas was offering his slightly worrying but mostly annoying speech, Artemis grabbed his javelin and flung with all her might.
For the third time that night, Atlas went flying. He crashed into Percy, who immediately relaxed and rolled several feet away. His shoulders loosened, and he lay sprawled on the ground for a moment, taking large, deep breaths. He tried to stand, but fell back down instantly, his face paling in pain.
Zari, clutching her wounded side, tried to crawl over to him. Artemis had raced for Zoё, and as much as she wished she could be at her sister's side, Percy needed help too. When she reached the boy, they used each other for support as they rose from the ground. Both limping and mindful of injuries, they hobbled over to Zoё, careful to avoid Thalia and Luke.
Thalia had Luke on the edge of the cliff. He was pale, bloody, and sweating.
"Well?" he said, voice wavering, as he faced the tip of Thalia's spear and her fearsome shield.
"Don't kill him!" came Annabeth's terror-filled shriek as she finally broke free of her bonds and scrambled over. Thalia snarled.
"He's a traitor! A traitor! Not only to the gods, but to us, Annabeth!"
"Please," the blonde girl begged, "we can take him back! He'll be useful!" At her words, Luke's face hardened.
"Is that what you want, Thalia? To go back to Olympus victorious and please your dad?"
Thalia hesitated, but it was all he needed. He surged forward, grasping for her spear and instinctively, Thalia kicked out.
"No! Luke!" Annabeth screamed.
Luke fell backwards, terror written on every inch of his face, as he tumbled over the cliff side. His fall was abruptly cut short as, fifty feet down, he landed with a sickening sound on one of the jagged cliff ledges. Down in the bay, the monsters on the Princess Andromeda became enraged.
"Kill them!" one snarled. A flurry of javelins came flying at the girls, and they rushed away, tears streaming down Thalia's face. There was no way Luke could have survived that fall.
Zoё's breaths were coming out in short and painful gasps.
"Her wound is poisoned," Artemis said, her voice hollow.
"Atlas?" Percy asked.
"No," the goddess replied, "not Atlas."
"Ladon," Zari breathed. The wound was much worse than she'd realised.
"The stars," Zoё said softly, her voice tinged with a sad sort of knowledge. "I cannot see them."
This seemed to shock Percy into action, and he cried, "Nectar and ambrosia! Come on! We have to get her some!"
But Zari stood as still as a marble statue. This wound would not heal. Zoё's soul was too far gone, half in the realm of Hades already. There was no saving her. The sudden onslaught of grief didn't take her by surprise, but the tears did. It had been a long time since she'd wept.
Down below, Kronos' army made their way up the mountain, and yet none of them made any movement. A buzzing noise filled the night air as the most unexpected of things happened.
Dr Chase swooped and swerved above them, machine guns firing rapidly, in his Sopwith Camel. "Get away from my daughter," he ordered.
"Dad?" Annabeth shouted in disbelief.
"Run!" he replied.
"A brave man," Artemis murmured reluctantly, coming to her senses, "Come, we must get Zoё away from here."
"That's my dad," Annabeth said in shock as celestial bronze bullets dissolved monsters at rapid rates.
Zari felt a tingling sense, similar to that of when a wand chooses their witch for the first time, and the moonlight brightened. Beside her, Artemis opened her eyes, and a glowing silver chariot pulled by reindeer landed softly next to them.
"Get in," the goddess said.
The wrapped Zoё in a blanket and manoeuvred her carefully into the sleigh. The rest of them clambered in behind her, and they took off into the night sky, leaving chaos in their wake.
By the time they landed in Crissy Field, Zoё's condition had worsened drastically. Zari could hear Percy and Annabeth talking to Dr Chase, but she wasn't focussed on that. She and Thalia began binding the other huntress' wounds as Lady Artemis wove healing magic into the dressings and the wound, though it had little effect.
And one shall perish by a parent's hand – the words came unbidden to Zari's head, but she forcefully pushed them away.
"Annabeth, Percy," Thalia snapped, obviously fed up with trivial discussion while they tried to save the dying huntress, though there wasn't much either teen could do.
"Can't you save her with magic or something?" Percy asked Artemis desperately. "I mean, you're a goddess."
"Life is a fragile thing, Percy," she said, looking disturbed. "If the Fates will a string to be cut, then there is very little I can do. But I can try."
She moved her hand to place it over Zoё's wound, but the injured girl caught her hand before she could reach it.
"Have…have I served thee well?" Zoё asked weakly.
"With great honour," Artemis said softly. "The finest of my attendants."
The huntress smiled. "Rest. At last."
"I'm sorry," Thalia said suddenly. "You were right about all of it – Luke, heroes, men –,"
"Perhaps not all men," Zoё interrupted her, smiling wanly, her eyes flickering to Percy. "And I am sorry too – sorry we argued. We could have been sisters." This time, her eyes flicked to Zari and she held in a sob. Her attention returned to Percy. "You spoke the truth, Percy Jackson. You are nothing like… like Hercules. I am honoured that you carry this sword."
Percy looked honoured himself, and opened his mouth to speak, but Zari cut him off desperately.
"Zoё," she whispered, "sister." To her horror, her eyes welled up again.
"Do not weep for me, sister," Zoё said. "It is time for me to rest. Thy time is far away now, but thou need not worry. Fight for me, sister. Fight for our sisters and our Lady."
"I will," Zari whispered, "I'll make you proud Zoё, I promise."
"You already have, sister." Zoё smiled weakly, and exhaled shakily. "I can see the stars again, my lady," she breathed.
"Yes, my brave one," Artemis murmured. "They are beautiful tonight."
"Stars," Zoё said softly, and was still.