Author's Note— welcome to to new and improved version of Forgotten Promises, now re-named Vengeful Heart. A big, lovely thank you to all those who have stuck with me through my period of inactivity. I hope this chapter can make it up to you.
I find it odd how it took me six chapters to type 11k words before, but now I can surpass it easily in one.
I'm not able to respond to reviews today; truly, I am sorry. I'm leaving to visit my relatives and am at the airport, posting this right before my scheduled boarding. If I left it any later, you would've gotten this about a month later. I promise I'll answer when I get back.
A big thank you to all those who voted: SpartanWarrior117, Experimental Agent 1123, Intellectually, Clefspear, starwarsfan2296, Akarshit Dawra, foreshadowingsecrets, Personas, 93, NightsPoison, TheHarbringerofDeath, prince of the seas, Lmb111514, Kitiara Woodbane, Sol and G'syr, sniperjun889, ndndtsplz, and all of those who have stuck with me before the re-write came out. Thank you :)
P.S. Well, I've decided to entered this in the Cup of Tea challenge by Fanmortals. Wish me luck!
- by Solaerius
"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
The early morning had dawned bright and clear, but by mid-day, storm clouds roiled in from the North, shrouding the world in darkness, sending torrents of rain clashing down upon the ruins of New York City.
There were seven thousand mortals gathered around the Empire State Building. Some were wearing expensive suits while others looked like they'd just rolled out of bed— though in a twisted sort of logic, it was the truth. Sleek fingers of rain combed the ashes from their hair, slipping down their faces and dripping off their chins in staccato beats that were lost in the rumbling of thunder. Sparse blares of lightning illuminated their expressions and cast grotesque shadows under their eyes—fearful, confused, horrified.
For this wasn't the Manhattan they were accustomed to seeing.
There was no city—not any longer. Buildings lay smashed to bits and pieces, and broken glass glinted darkly in the storm's light, distorting the miniature rivers cutting thick furrows into the pavement and streets. Vines, easily as thick as a grown man's leg, curled possessively over cars and people alike, slowly reeling them in until they resembled overgrown plants than humans. Venus flytrap-like maws with spiny, needling teeth lay half-closed and tilted up to the rain, their once bright colors a muted gray.
Claws of fire-twisted glass and half melted rebars jutted out of the pavement and walls, ready to snare the unwary in their grasps. Slick pools of oil seeped from the pores of destroyed cars, diffusing with the water until the rivers had become alight with noxious swirls of colors, swirling paper-thin over the surface.
Boots crunched through the remains of what was once an expensive law firm or bank, but it was hard to tell under the multitude of rushing tides and crashing roars. The storm drains had long overflowed, and Manhattan had become a veritable river.
The Empire State Building, once a proud manifestation of the city's spirit, lay in ruins, just like the rest of them. The lightning rod affixed to the very top of the building was jutting stubbornly out of the ground; more than half was threaded into the pavement, a good two hundred feet of jagged steel.
The sides of the building was scorched, and the pavement around had crumpled like an aluminum can, protruding out in systematic ridges and peaks—reminiscent to that of a mountain. Grooves were scraped into the detritus at certain places, almost like chariot wheels had run across the ground, which was absurd.
The front lobby was blasted open and exposed to the open sky. They could see where a large marble block and what seemed to be a very large cage was set in the center of the polished linoleum floors. The marble could have come from an old fashioned movie set for an execution; it would not have looked out-of-place. A black cloth had been thrown haphazardly around the cage, obscuring it from view. The edges were frayed and it was sagging in certain places, rain coalescing off in cold ropes of water.
The mortals took in the scene before them, confusion spreading like a plague over the crowd. They took comfort in their sheer numbers alone.
"What are we doing here?" one of the mortals whispered to another, who only shrugged helplessly.
"Beats me. We can't get out of here; there's some sort of invisible force that stops us from leaving. I really don't know what's going on anymore."
Soon, more voices began to join in on their conversation, some quiet, some loud, all of their words mixing into a murmuring tide of unfulfilled questions. Only three figures, hidden deep into the heart of the restless crowd, remained silent. The only girl of the three was shaking, caught between anger and fear. Her hand clenched and unclenched around the green-eyed boy's wrist, and judging by his slight wince, she was slowly crushing his bones into powder.
"We need to do it now," she said through gritted teeth, careful to keep her voice low and their conversation hidden. "Now's our only chance."
The other boy, the dark eyed one that reeked of shadows and death, put a restraining hand on the girl's shoulder. A telltale flash of metal strapped to his forearm warned that they were no ordinary civilians.
"No, Thalia. We'll get caught."
"Nico's right," the first boy added, wincing as she tightened her grip on his arm, "and really, you're strangling me, Thals. I don't think I'll be able to fight if you take off my arm."
Thalia only patted Percy's cheek with her other hand, a wry smirk curling her lips up.
"You're a big boy, you can handle it."
Despite himself, Percy grinned back. Nico hid his smile behind one gloved hand. But whatever he was going to say was cut off when metal hinges rasped open. The threadbare cloth covering the top of the cage slipped off like liquid mercury. There was a sudden sharp intake of breath.
There were children.
The demigods' bloodstained fingers curled around the cold, unyielding bars, leaving crimson fingerprints in the condensation before it was washed away by the lashing rain.
An outraged cry tore from the throats of the mortals.
"…what the hell is going on?"
"Someone, call the—"
And then, Percy's blood ran cold and he felt himself flinching backwards, his fingers digging deep into his palms, hard enough to draw blood. Revulsion twisted his features. Beside him, Nico hissed like a cat, his hand twitching towards the sword hidden in the folds of his cloak.
The voice wasn't particularly loud, but there was a freezing quality of it that was low and savage yet somehow regal. As if someone had turned the dial on the volume switch, the mortals became deathly silent.
The heavy thunk of boot steps. Disbelieving murmurs.
Kronos stood on top of the water, his feet leaving slight ripples when he walked. If Percy looked closely, he could feel how the rain fell slower around the Titan and sometimes seemed to avoid him altogether.
Spreading his arms grandly, he gave his spectators a charming smile.
"This is the beginning of a new history; a new legend—the beginning of the Sixth Age."
Outraged mutterings. A braver soul, somewhere in the back of the crowd, shouted out:
"Who the hell are you and what are you doing with those children? I'll call the—arrggh!"
A long, feathered arrow stuck out of his eye socket, the butt end still quivering with unexpended force. It punched through one side of his head and embedded itself through the other in a spatter of gore.
Hot blood wept from the wound, curving down one side of his nose and trailing down his cheek. The mortals watched in muted horror as he staggered back, remaining eye wide with stunned disbelief and pain. Then, with a dull wheeze, his body arched gracelessly through the air, flopping to the ground in a spread eagled pose of agony, a trail of blood marking his path.
The mortals huddled closer to each other, the women grasping the hands of their children, turning them away protectively from the scene, as if to protect their innocence for a while longer.
The blonde archer remained impassive. Slowly, he lowered his bow, moonlight stippling up and down the quivering bowstring. A second arrow notched before they could blink, but the man with the golden eyes put a restraining hand on the archer's arm and turned the arrow away.
"That's enough, Luke."
Beside Percy, Thalia hissed in a breath that sounded suspiciously like 'traitor.' Though some naive part of him still stubbornly wanted to believe that Luke had good hidden deep in his heart, the bloodshed he'd seen in the last few days was enough to shred what remained of his innocence.
But he had known, from the moment Annabeth had given him that tiny little scroll, that they were doomed to fall. It wasn't that he didn't believe in himself; it was far from that. But what exactly could be do that a whole pantheon of gods —inexorable in might—could not accomplish?
It had only been a matter of time before Olympus fell.
He remembered it too well. The memories had haunted his dreams day in and day out.
They had held up surprisingly well. It had been going downhill, but he had been able to convince his father to move his forces to Typhon. Hades had come out of the Underworld, and Zeus had his ass handed to him enough times to deflate his ego and accept their help.
Then he and Luke were fighting in Olympus' throne room. Luke was using Backbiter and not Kronos' scythe, which he wielded with deceptive ease.
But however good the son of Hermes was, Percy was not a son of the Big Three for no reason. He started attacking faster, drawing strength in reserves he didn't know he had, and for a while, the possibility that he would defeat Luke was growing exponentially.
Then there had been a scream of pain. Percy faltered, and if it wasn't for the Achilles' Curse, he would've been impaled through the heart. He whirled around to see Grover sliding off a scythe, his blood staining the metal a dark red, his arms still outstretched as though trying to shield Percy from the blow.
It had been aimed for the small of his back.
Golden eyes met his and smiled.
The world exploded.
He wasn't sure what happened; his vision had become a haze of red—Grover's blood, the blood of his best and first friend, splattered across his chest. The satyr's whiskery chin trembled, but he still managed to smile shakily at Percy before his soul was torn away.
They were too late.
Kronos had already risen. Luke was somehow alive after the extraction. Somewhere by the base of Athena's throne, Annabeth screamed in denial. Her arm was bent at a funny angle, but she scrabbled for a hold of her knife and lunged at Luke.
Luke knocked it aside easily, and his hand wrapped around her neck. There was a tear in his eye.
(as if he'd really cared)
"I'm sorry, Annabeth," he whispered.
He flung her into the wall with a sickening crack. She slid down the side limply, smearing the length in her blood. Percy yelled in anger. The ground shook, but before he could charge blindly after Luke, he saw Kronos ignoring him completely and striding purposefully towards… the corner of the room?
Bessie mooed in despair. The ophiotaurus swum in agitation around his small sphere of water as it was stained golden from the light reflecting off of Kronos' scythe.
Those large, sad eyes fixed on Percy, and in that moment, he understood the stark truth.
Grover wasn't the only innocent life to be lost today.
"Help me, Lady Hestia," he had whispered to the empty, dead hearth. The goddess wasn't anywhere near Olympus, but he swore he could see flame-filled eyes smiling down at him.
'I give you my blessing, Percy,' she murmured, one of her fingers gently stroking the ornate designs of Pandora's pithos.
Fire filled him, consuming him from the inside, but it wasn't painful. There was warmth to the flames that enveloped his heart and renewed his will. Bessie mooed in encouragement.
"The last line of defence…" he murmured, drawing Riptide backwards, the golden tip brushing against the side of his cheek as he took meticulous aim.
Luke's eyes widened. He shouted something that was lost in the roar of adrenaline rushing through Percy's ears.
"… is the hearth."
Riptide embedded itself in Bessie's head, killing him instantly. The blade burst into warm red flames that licked up the ophiotaurus' corpse with surprising speed, leaving nothing but a sprinkle of ashes that were blown away by a strong sea breeze.
Kronos roared. His scythe cleaved the water sphere in two, but it was too late.
Percy smiled vindictively, but it immediately faded when Kronos hauled up Annabeth by the hair, who was still unconscious. He put the tip under her chin and glared at Percy.
Percy and Luke both shouted, "No!" though Luke's was more forceful.
"Kronos…" Percy growled.
"My Lord," Luke begged. "Please… spare the girl."
Kronos sneered. "You've gone soft, Luke."
Percy seized Kronos' distraction and began to sprint towards Annabeth, but before he could, one gloved hand slid over his mouth, silencing him and pulling him into the shadows in the same graceful motion. He had only time to widen his eyes and struggle before he was pulled away.
The nauseating feeling of shadow travel tugged at his gut. Sounds roared past his ears, the darkness screeching words he couldn't understand.
As soon as it had started, it was over.
Then gravity took control.
Percy used the momentum to tear himself out of his captor's grip, executing a perfect front roll, coming up crouched and in a defensive stance. Riptide had re-appeared in his pocket, and he uncapped it, the shining bronze alight with hearth fire.
"Who are you and…" he suddenly recognized the figure. "Nico? What the hell was that?"
Dark eyes met his. The son of Hades was still lying where he had fallen, all twisted limbs and shredded clothing. His Stygian Ice sword was sheathed by his side, but Percy noticed how a long strip of it was broken off and ragged at the edges.
"Percy," he mumbled tiredly, rubbing his eyes and scrunching up his face as though trying to push the exhaustion away.
"Why did you bring me here?" he growled. "Kronos was going to kill Annabeth… I need to—send me back!"
Nico shook his head. "Can't," he muttered. "Sleepy. Bed now." His eyes rolled back in his head and his entire body slumped backwards, hitting the ground with a soft thump.
Percy was prepared to slap Nico back into consciousness, but a bucket of water suddenly emptied itself over his head, drenching him thoroughly. Spluttering, he faltered, spinning around to see Thalia with her leg wrapped in splints and a bucket still upended in her hands.
"Thalia… what are you doing?"
"You needed to cool off before you killed Nico," she said bluntly. Percy scowled at the prone form of Nico before turning away.
"Annabeth's hurt. I need to get her."
Thalia shook her head and sat down with a heavy thump. Her spiky hair was flattened on one side and covered liberally in stone dust. She patted the ground next to her, and Percy reluctantly lowered his guard and sat down.
"We lost the battle," she had told him, with a world-weariness that should not exist on someone so young. "Kronos had back-up. He revived several of the oldest Titans, and… we just couldn't handle them all, Percy. We were already short on numbers… most of the remaining campers were either killed or captured. The Hunters, too. I don't know how Nico escaped. He shadow travelled me out of Hera's statue. We're at one of our old safe houses, one me and Luke and Annabeth built. It's safe for now, but we need to move as soon as Nico wakes up. He went back to help you, but monsters were already on Olympus and were marching towards the Throne Room, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to do much in time, so he got you out—"
"Annabeth was still there!" he said hotly, but there was no more fire in his voice, only numb acceptance.
"Luke will vouch for her. I hate the traitor, but we know each other too well. After being on the run together for years, we can predict each other's next moves without thinking."
"What's our next move, then?" said Percy, absently fiddling with Riptide's lid. There was a thin hairline fracture down one end. "We still have hope—so long as we live, we can revive the gods, we can… we can…"
He trailed off bitterly.
(for it was hopeless—what exactly could they do?)
Thalia picked up on his silence.
"We free the other demigods. We will fight the Titans to our last breath."
"To our last breath," he echoed.
They watched the sun rise, sending streaks of blood reds and golds and silvers across the skies, melting away the velveteen blanket of night.
(hope is where the hearth is)
Percy jerked out of the memory with a sudden gasp, breaking through the flashback and blinking his eyes to clear his thoughts. He had completely missed a good portion of Kronos' speech, but judging by the rapidly paling features of the mortals, it had been nothing good.
"— listening to me?"
Percy blinked innocently. Thalia sighed in exasperation, despite the situation. Her eyes never left Kronos', and it was a miracle that her gaze hadn't already burned a hole through him.
"Kronos is going to reveal the existence of the gods to the mortals. He wants to execute the demigods that won't turn to his side. Annabeth won't, I'm sure her pride wouldn't allow it, but Luke would have vouched for her."
"We act then," he finished.
"Not the best of plans, but we don't have much to work with."
Percy was about to respond when Kronos' voice cut him off, echoing over the silent city and the assembled mortals. It was full of vindictive pride.
"We are here today to decide the fates of traitors to my cause," he said in a sedate but carrying voice. "They are accused of—"
"They're children!" someone in the crowd yelled in anger. Kronos carried on as though he'd never spoken.
"—plotting against the Titan army and working with the treacherous gods—"
"—oh, I assure you, the gods are quite real. Or were, I should say. With their thrones destroyed, they have faded into nothing but a memory. Perhaps a demonstration is in order…" he mused. "…yes, that would be most helpful. Ethan, if you don't mind—"
Without any more prompting, Ethan Nakamura opened the cage doors and hauled out a little daughter of Hephaestus, her siblings' hands reaching for her still with cries of protest. Percy growled and started to stalk forward, but Nico's hand closed around his arm, tight and unforgiving.
"Not yet. You'll blow our cover," he said through gritted teeth. Percy snarled, but he knew the son of Hades was right.
Kronos put a deceptively gentle hand on the girl's shoulder, and he chuckled when she tried to bite him. Snapping his hand out of reach, he grasped the demigod's hair with one hand and pulled, forcing her head up and for her neck to remain painfully exposed. Despite her efforts to keep silent, a whimper escaped.
"Now…" he growled.
Her form was surrounded in golden light. She grew taller, her form filling out, beautiful in a rough kind of way. Gradually, though, she began to shrink again, becoming hunched over and frail, hair turning a lustrous white, face become old and wrinkled.
The only thing that never changed were her eyes. A dark amber, they burned with hatred, undiminished by Time.
She turned to ash and was gone.
Her siblings, still in the cage, howled in anger and reached their arms through the bars as though they could strange Kronos.
"Mutant," was whispered through the crowd of mortals, murmuring like a restless tide. Kronos threw back his head and laughed.
"I am Kronos, Titan King and Ruler of Time. Bow before me, mortals, for you should be honored to be my subjects. But I am not here to initiate your loyalty. I have gathered you here today as witnesses to the first trial of the Sixth Age… bring her forth!"
Percy's heart nearly stopped.
Half of Annabeth's face was a horrible mix of black and blue and green, and her lip was split. The momentum of being thrown at the marble block made her hands shoot out and brace herself against the corners of the stone, gasping heavily. Her blonde hair formed a curtain in front of her face, and her shoulders shook when she breathed.
Krios, the Titan with the stupid ram horns on his head, jerked her arms behind her back, heedless of her hiss of pain. Luke flinched.
Some of the closer —and braver— mortals started to move forward, but the people beside them pulled them back. As unable to see through the Mist as they were, even they could sense something distinctly evil about the Titan.
"Annabeth Chase," Kronos intoned, watching impassively as she snarled breathlessly at him. "Daughter of Athena. You are lucky, extremely so, that Luke has vouched for you. He has convinced me that you may be useful."
Krios slowly turned towards Kronos. "What is to be done with her, my Lord?"
Kronos smiled at the frozen crowd. Percy held his breath and prayed to all the gods he could think of that their gamble would pay off.
"It has been suggested that she be put under Luke's charge, and when she has proven her loyalty, to be transferred to a division in which her talents can be used accordingly."
Percy sagged in relief, and for the first time, he was grateful for Annabeth and Luke's past history together. But Kronos' face hardened as he turned back to the crowd, and suddenly, cold dread bubbled in his throat.
"But they have the lily-livered hearts of cowards," he hissed. "Let this be a warning to you all; there will be no place for the black marked. And no treachery in my kingdom shall go unpunished!" Pausing for a second, his vindictive gaze met Annabeth's defiant one.
"Any last words, half-blood?"
Annabeth smiled a bloody smile. She spat in his face.
"You won't… win. You might kill me, you might kill us all, but we'll come back one day and… haunt you for the rest of your miserable existence. You can't… destroy Hope."
Kronos snarled. It seemed as though her words had struck a nerve.
The caged demigods were beginning to shout in alarm, reaching through the bars, but Annabeth herself remained quietly angelic and wise beyond her years. The rain framed her face in soft curls, and even as she shivered, her stormy eyes were piercing.
Percy knew what was going to happen exactly one second before it did. Cursing, he shoved Thalia to Nico, who, by unspoken agreement, fastened his arms around her as she struggled and screamed silently. He pushed his way through the crowd roughly, trying not to draw attention to himself while going as fast as he could.
"Krios, I want her head!"
Pandemonium erupted. Thalia shrieked and renewed her efforts to break free, forcibly elbowing Nico in the face. One of her blows connected and his nose cracked. A stream of hot blood began to gush down, but he paid it no attention and only tightened his grip.
Percy had abandoned all pretenses of stealth and was running full tilt towards the front, using the water on the ground to push others aside and fuel his own strength. Oddly enough, Kronos still hadn't noticed him yet. He got the feeling Luke did —he'd always been more perceptive than he'd let on— but had said nothing.
"My Lord…!" Luke implored desperately.
Krios had chained Annabeth's hands behind her back and she was bent at an unnatural angle over the marble block. Her hair straggled in front of her face, blonde locks streaked with blood.
Scanning the crowd, her gray eyes met Percy's, who was still desperately trying to get to her, pushing and punching his way through the swath of bodies. But there were too many people blocking his way, and as he lashed out in one last desperate attempt to save Annabeth, her grey eyes swerved to meet his.
There was some semblance of surprise and relief on her features, but it wasn't for herself.
"For sentimental reasons…" Kronos mused, flipping a sickeningly familiar knife up and down in his hand. He tossed it to Krios, who caught it with one hand, the other slipping up the black cloak —like an executioner's—that hid his face in deep shadow. "You get to end your life the way it began."
Percy watched with muted horror as Annabeth's knife began its upwards ascent, singing a melancholy melody as it cut through the air. Annabeth smiled gently at Percy, and in those eyes, he read a million different thoughts, before…
Before her head was severed from her body.
For a moment, something inside of Percy lurched. He froze where he stood, the sight of Annabeth's headless body searing into his memory. Blood —thick, viscous— dripped slowly as it diffused into the rain with swirls of pink mist.
He was going to be sick. There was a swelling pressure building in his chest, suffocating his breath. He heard some of the mortals shouting in outrage, but it was dimmed under the roar of blood rushing through his ears.
But he could still hear Thalia's agonized cry, cutting across the din. She had broken free of Nico's hold and was bolting towards the front, electricity crackling off of her skin. Her eyes had a wild sheen to them, and he knew, at that moment, that she was beyond help.
Something inside of him shattered. The mortals parted before him in silent agreement.
He threw back his head and roared, but no sound passed through his lips. The pressure forced its way up, and if Percy had his eyes open, he would have seen a colossal tower of fire surge from his mouth.
Kronos was so caught off guard that he allowed himself to be hit.
For the first few meters, the fire was completely invisible, save for the heat waves distorting the images around it and the water that rose up in a thick mist upon contact. From there, it turned the deep blue of superheated fire, eviscerating anything it touched to ashes.
Hearth fire could create. It could heal and nurture.
But it could also burn. It could hurt and destroy. It was a two sided blade, for when comfort failed, only violence and carnage remained.
Krios was instantly incinerated, a hole punched clean through his chest.
Krios had taken the brunt of the damage, but Kronos did not escape unscathed. His right arm was burned off at the elbow, the heat instantly cauterizing the wound. His scythe melted in the heat, liquefying into a thin pool of metal that dissolved into fire.
Thalia seized their momentary distraction to slam her knives into the chest of an enemy demigod. There were ten in total, and they were beginning to close in around her. A flash of shadows; Nico was picking the lock to the demigods' cage.
Percy darted forward, something inside of him—what remained of his humanity— warped irrevocably. Kronos was still in a shocked catatonic sort of state, staring incredulously at his stump of an arm and the pool of molten metal beginning to be carried away by the downpour of rain.
But he was not a Titan for no reason, for even so, he managed to dodge Riptide's slash at his chest. He knocked the weapon aside with enough force for Percy to feel as though something in his arm had snapped from the torsion.
Undeterred, Percy pressed forward. From the corner of his eye, he saw Thalia eviscerate a demigod and electrocute him until he was nothing more than a flesh lump. The others stopped, seemingly shocked at her blunt violence.
(as if they hadn't done the same thing countless times)
In frustration, Nico had melted the lock with hellfire, giving up his attempts at opening it subtly. It tired him, but as he ushered the half-bloods out of the cage, there was nothing but grim resolve on his face. He caught Percy's eye and made a face; even without speaking, Percy knew he was saying, 'if I die here, it's all your fault.'
Percy smirked at him, and focused his attention back to Kronos, who was still nimbly sweeping aside his strikes like they were nothing more than flies.
By now, the rest of the mortals had fled. Some of the braver ones stayed far out of range but still within sight, hidden beneath hastily stacked barricades. At least there wouldn't be any collateral damage.
Kronos kicked him in the chest. It knocked the wind out of him, and he staggered back several steps, wheezing, but was able to maintain his hold on Riptide.
"Did you really think we came here without back-up, Jackson?" Kronos asked softly, and that tone was somehow more dangerous than any screaming could ever be.
A howl pierced the air.
Thalia froze and her head shot up. She had time to scream, "Behind you!" before she was pulled back into her fight, narrowly missing decapitation by an axe. As it was, it just barely brushed the tips of her hair when she ducked; she tackled the monster, sending them both crashing to the ground, lost to sight.
Percy cursed. He turned to see white fangs and a snarling pink maw, too close for comfort. He thrust Riptide between its eyes, but it bounced off without leaving a scratch. His eyes widened and his breath caught in surprise; he was barely able to dodge the thing's claws.
But it was a hollow victory, for he'd backed himself right into the lightning rod and tripped over it when it'd slammed against his knees.
In the last second, he ripped a piece of the metal rod off and shoved through the roof of the monster's mouth, impaling its brain in a soft spatter of grey matter, killing it instantly.
"They're werewolves! Don't let it touch you!" Thalia shouted, and loosed another silver arrow. Nico cursed, and Percy was still wide eyed and panting, holding a jagged piece of mortal metal in his hands.
Then there was the wet slurp of metal sliding through flesh and back out again, blood spraying the back of Percy's head.
He turned to see Luke pulling Backbiter out of a demigod's back.
Ethan. His eye patch was stained with blood, and his good eye would forever be fixed in an expression of excruciating pain and surprise.
Percy got into a ready stance, but Luke batted it aside.
"I'm on your side!" he yelled.
"What?" Percy hissed.
There was no more time for talk, however, for both of them were suddenly soaked as gallons of water poured onto their heads.
Unimaginable pain. For a few disorienting seconds, he thought he had fallen back into the Styx.
He was dissolving…
A part of him trickled away. He dropped to his knees, Riptide rolling away with a tinny ring. Dimly, he could hear Luke screaming and writhing on the ground, clawing at his throat and ripping at the ground with his fingers.
Percy was suddenly left staring at the sky as a spasm of heat brought him down. Kronos' leering face appeared in his circle of vision.
"Water from the Little Tiber. Purifying, isn't it? Can't you feel yourself growing weaker by the second?"
Beside him, Luke gasped, "Achilles…"
The Achilles' curse was dissolving, trickling out with the water that had drenched them so thoroughly. Cursing, Percy forced himself to his knees, lurching sickeningly as the world pressed in and throbbed in an irregular beat. Kronos watched him with amusement.
"My, how the mighty have fallen… how does it feel to kneel by my feet, demigod?"
Percy didn't dignify that with a response. Drawing strength in the rain and water flowing around him and caressing his skin soothingly, he rasped out, "Luke… get the others and run. I'll find you. Tell Thalia Delta N-6. She'll know what it means."
They exchanged a look. Percy didn't trust him, but he was the lesser of two evils. Luke grimaced and tossed Percy a sword of silver, which he deftly caught. The balance was off, but it would suffice. Kronos clicked his tongue.
"Running away so soon, Luke? I always knew you were a coward…"
Luke gritted his teeth, but did as Percy asked of him and began to fight his way towards Thalia. Kronos made to follow, but Percy drew his sword.
"Your fight is with me."
The Titan chuckled lightly.
"And that is your delusion. I do have better things to be doing. Until next time, then, Perseus."
He was gone in a flash of bright light. For a second, Percy was bemused, fully alert in case there was some trick. It wasn't like Kronos to run away when he could easily kill him—that was not his style.
And then, he heard the howls.
Luke had already restrained Thalia and had flung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, while she was screaming Percy's name and beating her bound hands against his back. Nico was herding the demigods away, but he looked back and caught Percy's eye; Percy gave him a shaky smile and a firm nod.
Nico's glare brought back a clear message; you'd better survive, or I'll resurrect you and kill you myself.
He turned and ran.
Percy was alone and surrounded, the predators closing in.
Kronos planned ahead, he thought grimly, spinning Riptide around one finger and getting into a ready stance.
The first werewolf leaped.
"Luke, you bastard! Let go of me, or I swear I'm going to castrate you with a rusty spoon and force-feed it to you! I need to—Percy, he's—"
Luke shivered at her curses, but only tightened his grip over her legs and plodded forward, Nico eyeing his back distrustfully. It had been a sign of trust to offer to take point, and he knew that Nico —or any of the other demigods, in fact— could stick him with a blade and he'd die. The Achilles Curse was gone.
He'd gave them no reason to trust them, after all, and he'd freely admit it. He'd always had his doubts about joining Kronos—it had been a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision, and once he was in there was no way out.
Annabeth's death had been the last straw. He'd always cared for her; she was the little sister he'd never had, the family he'd always dreamed of having.
(the family he destroyed)
"He'll be fine, Thalia," Nico said with forced confidence. The girl only glared at him, her silvery clothes rumpled. Luke had managed to snag her bow when they ran for it, but the quiver was empty and if they ran into any werewolves, it wouldn't do them any good.
Then, there was an alarmed shout coming from far behind them, followed by a heavy thud, as though someone had fallen. Cursing, Luke clapped his hand over Thalia's mouth, stifling her desperate scream before they were heard. His exhaustion momentarily forgotten, he began to run, stumbling through the underbrush, praying that Percy's sacrifice was not in vain.
A second screech broke through the air, chilling and eerie in sound.
"It's closer than before," one of the demigods gasped, shivering in fear. His sibling hushed him gently, though she looked frightened herself.
"It'll be okay," she soothed. "We're out, we'll be safe."
Then Luke was knocked down in a blur of gray, hitting the ground with an alarmed shout. Thalia tumbled off of him, catching herself in a textbook flip before getting into a ready stance.
Backbiter was the only thing between Luke and the werewolf that was pinning him to the ground. Fish-belly gray fur shone silkily in the dimming light of the moon.
A dark chuckle, rasping like a wolf's howl. A ripple of shadows.
"I think not, demigods."
Yellow lupine eyes opened in the darkness, revealing slitted pupils and long, curving canines that showed through his bottom lip. His hair was long and shaggy, and there was something about his presence that screamed inhuman.
"Lycaon," Thalia spat. She reached for an arrow, but seemed to realize that she was out of them and reluctantly drew a wickedly sharp hunting dagger.
Lycaon only looked amused. "My dear Thalia. Tell me, Huntress, why do you run when it is futile?" he purred. "Soon, all of you will meet the same end as that of your foolish friend." He stalked closer, tapping one long nail against a young demigod's cheek, carving a thin red furrow into the soft skin. "Hmm…" he mused vindictively. "Yes… you do not know how he screamed when I tore him apart slowly. He has such a magical voice."
A blur of darkness; an icy blade. Lycaon caught it between two fingers.
"That was foolish of you, son of Hades."
"Percy's not dead," Nico insisted through narrowed eyes. "I don't know what you're playing at, but…"
"Ahh…" Lycaon chuckled, a sound that sent shivers down their spines. "There are worse things than death, scion of darkness. I thought you, of all people, should know this."
Luke yelled something incomprehensible, and with a horrible crunch, Backbiter was flung away by the werewolf. Its claws dug into his shoulders, keeping him still. Fangs gleamed.
Thalia shouted, "No!"
Then there was an enraged howl, and the gray wolf was bowled off its paws, rolling helplessly as a streak of black thrashed and bit its soft belly, tearing it apart gruesomely in sprays of blood.
Lycaon watched the whole thing with an interested air, not at all caring that one of his werewolves was currently killing another. With a horrible whimper, it went limp, its monstrous head flopping lifelessly to the ground.
The black wolf stared at it for a moment longer, blood dripping from its fangs, before backing away and facing the demigods and Lycaon.
It bared its teeth, and some of the younger demigods backed away in fear, the older ones eyeing it warily. Still, there was something sickeningly familiar about those dark, dark eyes.
"What's this?" Lycaon asked softly, and despite the mild demeanor, it was laced with an edge of poison. "Strife in my legions? It's always the young ones that cause the most trouble."
There was a snarl and the wolf's lips curled backwards.
"You tried… to break… me. You'll have to… try harder."
It spoke with a rasping, awkward accent. A wolf's vocal cords were not accustomed to much more than growls or grunts, but its words were clear enough. Lycaon's eyebrows rose.
"Impressive…" he murmured. "Most of my werewolves never have enough resolve to speak in a human tongue. But no matter. I am your leader, your sire. You will obey me."
Lycaon paused, musing.
"Yes… I think that would be a suitable enough punishment. Kill the demigods you've tried so desperately to defend. I command you."
The black wolf's eyes glazed over, and its muscles loosened in preparation to stalk forward. Glittering bronze claws slowly unsheathed and sunk into the rich loam of the forest floor.
Then, in a burst of speed Thalia didn't even see coming, it had her pinned to the ground, teeth barely an inch away. She could feel its growls reverberating in her chest like a bass drum. Murky, glassy eyes stared into her own, and she was struck at how intelligent they were.
Pushing down the icy fingers of fear clawing down her spine, she swallowed her fear and whispered softly, "Percy?"
The wolf blinked. Some of the hostility writ in the set of his shoulders retreated, and he backed away several paces, still staring unblinkingly at her. Slowly getting to her feet, cautious that she was talking to a wild animal, she soothed, "It's alright, Percy. You're safe now. He can't hurt you here. Come back to us."
"Well?" Lycaon demanded harshly. "What are you waiting for? Attack!"
The wolf made a half snarl, half moaning sound, keeping his head bowed. He was trembling, as though he was being pulled in two different directions at once.
His eyes were beseeching, pleading with her. She could tell from the strain on his face that he was close to losing control, but as her hand twitched to her knife, she knew she couldn't. She couldn't lose another, not so close after the first, when the loss was still fresh.
Luke didn't have such qualms. He came up from behind and swung the hilt of Backbiter into his head, hard.
Percy swayed slightly, and Luke took that chance to give him a couple more whacks —though Thalia swore that some of the hits were a lot harsher than they needed to be— before he finally collapsed in a heap of tangled limbs.
The whole time, Lycaon stood unmoving.
"It would be nice to kill you all… my pack is hungry, but alas, I've been given strict orders to leave you alive and unharmed… mostly. Lord Kronos is merciful. It is a waste to spill godly blood, however tainted it may be. You have two days… two days to mourn your deaths, cut your losses, and join our army. Otherwise…"
He snapped his fingers—a sharp click. The werewolves began to retreat into the shadows until the only thing that remained to sight were their glowing eyes.
"… I will show you what things are worse than death."
The second he was gone, Thalia rushed towards Percy, falling to her knees and gently cradling his head between her slender hands. Nico got down next to her, a permanent line of tension between his eyebrows. Luke was on her other side, and while she glared at him for interrupting their moment, she did not herd him away.
"Come on, Percy, you're safe now. You can turn back."
There was no answer. The day's events wore down on Thalia —Annabeth's death, Luke's defection from Kronos, Percy getting bit… everything was too much, and now Percy wasn't waking up— she was overwhelmed in a cascade of red. With an angry cry, she hit him across the face.
Predator's eyes snapped open. For a moment, it seemed as though Percy didn't recognize her and would attack, but he blinked several times, his lips falling back over gleaming teeth.
"Tha…lia. Nico. Lu…ke."
It sounded difficult to talk in his wolf form, but Thalia nodded gently, her anger draining, furious and fast.
"Yeah, we're here now. Change back. We need to go."
Nico elbowed her, scowling at her brusque tone.
"What she means is, 'yes, sorry about that, we need to go before Lycaon changes his mind and eats us all. Are you feeling up to it?'"
It was hard to tell, but Percy looked like he'd rather crawl into a deep hole somewhere and die.
"I don't… know how," he admitted wearily.
"Is there some kind of code word you have to yell?" Nico muttered doubtfully, wiping the mud from his hands in smears of sullen brown. "Me and Bianca, we used to watch cartoons in the Lotus Casino. The superheroes always had to yell something to change form."
Percy's non-existent eyebrows shot into his non-existent hairline.
It was Luke who spoke next, still looking amused despite his near death experience. Backbiter now bore a ring of teeth marks.
"Think of being human, having arms and legs and toes. I think a lot of the difficulty comes with the mental part. You're starting to think more like an animal than a human… that's not an insult, but the way," he added.
Percy's black tinted eyes fixed on him in an uncanny glower. Added to the fact that he now had very point teeth and claws…
"I don't trust… you," he said bluntly.
"I'm not asking you to," said Luke defensively, crossing his arms. "Look, this isn't my first encounter with Lycaon and all of them, alright? Just trust me on this one."
Percy looked like he wanted to say more, but it was too difficult. He concentrated intently, his tongue poking out of his mouth, and Thalia couldn't help but think how adorable it made him look, like one of the ruffled wolf cubs Artemis would sometimes bring to their camp. The goddess always had an unexplained fondness for the creatures, and she would look down at them with bitter nostalgia when she thought the others weren't looking.
And then that moment of serenity was broken was Percy began to thrash, convulsing and shaking uncontrollably.
"What's going on?"
"He's changing!" Luke yelled, dragging the two of them back before they got hit with one of Percy's flailing claws.
Percy's blood burned with an icy fire, and it felt like claws were ripping him apart, piece by piece. His muscles contracted painfully and an aura of raw energy exploded from his body, but that didn't stop the agonizing pain that moved like liquid lightning underneath his skin.
Percy screamed in pure anguish.
His body was being stretched in all directions. The golden glow around him intensified until they averted their gaze. Nico stared at him in fascinated horror and even Luke seemed taken aback slightly as they watched the boy whose body was literally tearing itself apart.
Percy gasped in surprise and shock at the abruptness that the pain ended. His clouded vision cleared over, and while it wasn't as sharp as before, it was familiar and largely welcome. He got to his feet shakily, stumbling slightly when his senses decided that walking on two legs was just wrong.
After a few wobbling steps, he became aware of an uncomfortable prickling of his neck. Turning back to the others, he realized that they were still staring at him.
He blinked and held up a hand to his throat. His voice was deeper than usual, slightly raspy from all the screaming he had done. It didn't sound like his. Frowning, he looked down at the thin sheet of water pooling around his feet, disrupted by the pattering of rain around them.
The reflection was foreign.
He was supposed to see a boy of average height, ripped armor, messy black hair and bright green eyes. Instead, he got a tall warrior with hair blacker than a raven's wing and eyes that had taken on a blackened hue. His nails were sharp and looked like he could easily kill with them or rip through someone's throat. The tips of his canine teeth were visible when he smiled or talked, though he highly doubted he would be doing much of the former any time soon.
Thalia came forward and shakily put a hand on his arm. With a start, he realized that he towered over her. She used to be the tallest in their little group, and now her head only came up to his shoulder.
"It's alright…" she said hesitantly, fighting between what she had been taught and what she knew to be right. "We can live with this. We'll learn to. Let's go find the others."
Percy smiled thinly at her over his shoulder. He staggered away from them —away from humanity— occasionally tripping over his feet, trying to get used to his new form while moving as fast as he could.
"Where are you going?"
Percy turned to see that it was Nico who spoke. The boy's arms were crossed, and there was a frown tugging the corners of his mouth down.
"The others are this way, Percy."
Percy finally scowled; it was frightening with his elongated teeth and feral expression.
"I cannot. You smell like…" he trailed off, teeth gritted in anguish. "I might bite you by accident. I might kill you by accident. Lycaon can control… werewolves. I can't…"
They were silent for a moment longer. Then Luke spoke.
"But that's exactly what Kronos wants you to think. You're the leader of the camp. And the more time you spend with Lycaon's pack, or even in isolation, his bond over you strengthens since you have no motivation to fight him off. Divide and conquer."
Luke paused to give Percy some time to digest his information, before continuing. "And do you really think any of us could kill you in battle like that?"
"Or," said Percy, his words harsh, "that's exactly what Kronos wants me to do. But you would know, wouldn't you, Luke?"
Thalia opened her mouth to protest, but Luke shushed her gently. "That's fair enough," he replied calmly. "You do have no reason to trust me, other than my word. But I swear to you—"
Percy held up his hand, palm facing them. His fingers were curled inwards, casting it into shadow.
At first, Thalia thought he was telling Luke to shut up, but on closer examination, there was something silvery white against his hand, like a long forgotten brand or scar. Luke winced at the sight of it and turned his head away, radiating shame.
"What is it?"
Dark green eyes flickered up to hers, before dropping back down. He tucked his hand close and examined it in a careless fashion.
"Pit scorpion. It was the first time I trusted Luke, and he tried to kill me." At Thalia's slightly wide-eyed look, he tapped his finger against his chin thoughtfully, amending, "Actually, no, that wasn't the first time. The first was the hellhound during Capture the Flag. That was you, wasn't it? Then it was the flying shoes that were supposed to drag me into Tartarus and almost got Grover instead." Smiling a gruesome smile, he continued, "Then the Pit Scorpion. When that didn't kill me, you poisoned Thalia's Tree and we had to get the Golden Fleece before she died."
Thalia already knew of this, but it still hurt to see that one of the people she had sacrificed her life for was fully prepared to kill her to achieve his goals.
"You continue to say that you care for Annabeth. But you were the one that tricked her into holding up the sky. Maybe in Kronos' army, that's a sign of love, but among us lowly humans, it's not. You hosted Kronos. I don't know how you survived, but through you, he killed the innocent and corrupted countless others—"
"Enough!" Luke snapped, his temper finally breaking. "I know what I did, alright? I'm not proud of it, but unless you can go back in time and change the past, then—"
"So now you're innocent?" Percy's voice trembled with barely suppressed rage. His eyes were beginning to darken again, and Thalia could swear that his canines were becoming sharper. "You could kill the entire world—Hades, for all we know, you already have— and after a plea of innocence, you expect to be treated like a victim and to sweep the entire thing under the carpet? How many other have to die by your actions?"
"What's happened to you?" Luke demanded. "You're usually not so—"
"—you guys, calm down—"
"Realistic? I'm not a little child anymore, Luke. You'll find that it's harder to manipulate me now."
"Getting bitten by Lycaon changes your view on things, wouldn't you think? Now, I'm the thing —not even good enough to be human— the Hunters of Artemis kill, the nightmare story adults tell to their children to keep them in line." A short, stiff pause. "What if I told you, Luke Castellan, that one day, you'll be nothing more than a story told around a campfire, a traitor to both sides, a spy, a vessel?"
Something about Percy's words struck a deep chord within Luke, for he roared wordlessly and charged, Thalia's yell for them to stop fighting blown away by the wind.
Luke lashed out at Percy with his fist, but faster than the eye could comprehend, Percy had brought his left hand up and stopped his strike cold, not even straining a muscle.
Leaning in close, he whispered softly, but with a hint of venom in his voice, "You ask me why I'm bitter, Luke Castellan. I'm bitter because all of this destruction is your fault. I'm bitter because even after overthrowing the gods, the casualties kept rising. Innocent lives lost. And… you're the reason why Annabeth is dead.
"We cannot co-exist together. My fatal flaw is loyalty, but you'll find that I can hold grudges almost as well as children of Hades."
"I cared for her!" Luke bellowed.
"A fat lot of good that did!" he shouted back. "Do you know that every single moment we weren't fighting, she was pleading with me not to kill you, that there was still good in your heart, buried somewhere deep within? And then she would have dreams where you tortured your victims, killing them slowly, not even bothering to grant them a merciless death. Do you know how she screamed, how many nightmares that gave her, how many sleepless nights we both had?"
Luke's eyes widened. "You… loved her…" he realized softly, his previous rage draining away. Percy's expression turned downcast, and the shadows licked icy fingers down his face. Something in his eyes flashed for a fraction of a second, too fast for Luke to tell what it was. Percy pushed him away, taking a few steps back.
"Yes," he admitted quietly, almost too quiet to hear. It was a tiny sound, a bitter, cruel smile of loss. "I did.
"You see now why I must leave. I was prophesied to kill Kronos—some see it as a failure, as me shirking my duty if I don't. If I defected to the enemy and came back, all of you… you wouldn't trust me—oh, don't give me that look, Nico, you know it's true. But you, Luke… it a way, they never stopped seeing you as their leader. You could do every atrocious act in the world and they would still welcome you back with opened arms."
"Percy, you're deluding yourself," Thalia said, scowling darkly. Percy raised an eyebrow.
"I can smell their fear, even from here. It would be a constant battle of trying to prove my worth to them, and it's just… I have to leave, Thalia. Because even after all I've done…"
I'm still a replacement.
Thalia made to protest, but Nico restrained her. Whenever Percy got that glint in his eye, it was useless trying to talk him out of an idea, and now, he seemed fixated on damaging his self worth.
"Just… try not to get yourself killed and at least come visit us sometime," he said firmly, glaring at Percy, daring him to say no.
"I will," Percy said with a thin, close lipped smile. Fixing his heavy gaze on Luke, he pierced him with a venomous, yet sad look. "Keep them alive. You can do that much, at least. And if you do anything to them…"
He left the threat hanging, but its meaning was clear in the air. Luke swallowed thickly and nodded.
"I swear on the Styx."
"The Styx is dead, Luke," said Nico, scowling and playing with the cuff of his sleeve. "It's gone with the Underworld—at least, it's under Kronos' control now. It does no good to swear on it."
Luke sighed in defeat. "Then, on whatever honor or dignity I have left, I swear that I'll protect them with my life."
"You can't do this to yourself," Thalia snapped, blinking furiously.
Percy smiled at her, coming closer to wrap his arms around her in a tight hug.
"I'll miss you," he said thickly. "All of you. But I can't endanger everyone like this. Annabeth... she always said that we'd either be best friends or worst enemies. I'd like to think that we're the former."
Thalia wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, slapping Percy's shoulder for making her cry.
"Well, I don't know about that…"
Percy just smiled and shook his head, moving to Nico.
"Take care of yourself. When we get Kronos, we'll all go out for blue birthday cake. I remember you liked it."
"It's my birthday, can't I pick the color?"
A ghost of the old Percy shadowed over his face, and for a moment, they could still see the lighthearted son of Poseidon within.
"No, emo child. You'll probably get it all black with little bats and coffins all over it, and where's the fun in that? Maybe you'll even get the faces of the damned done up in icing, like your father's underwear."
Thalia snickered behind her hand. Nico looked mortified.
Sighing, he ruffled Nico's hair with one hand, ignoring the son of Hades' muffled protests, and patted his back.
"Stay safe, all of you."
Thalia gave him her best glare, the one she learned from Zeus.
"I expect to hear from you every week."
He was already in the shadows and had paused when she spoke, but despite the darkness, she thought she could see him give a curt nod.
It was the last time they would see him for a long, long time.
Almost one year had passed.
It was hard going, and it was a constant struggle to see the next sunrise. Their numbers had dwindled, and it was a strain to remain inconspicuous while being able to get enough food. The children of Demeter were invaluable.
Occasionally, new demigods would arrive, disoriented and completely confused. They were a blessing, and a fragile reminder of the childhood they never had.
Some were young, eight or nine and still innocent. They would babble about a guardian angel that swept them away from "the big bad monsters" and saved the day. The older, more coherent ones told of a boy with black hair and green eyes that fought off the attackers and took them here, where he promised they would be safe.
But he never stayed.
Indeed, they were welcomed, and any news of the mortal world was gladly accepted.
The nations had gone to war against Kronos. All of the countries, even ones with bad blood against each other, had taken up arms to fight a common enemy.
But Kronos had taken Olympus, and the other eleven seats were filled by his fellow Titans, like it had been before the gods had taken control. The mortals, by now, had long forgotten who Kronos was and had become complacent in the Fifth Age of the gods.
Many were easily defeated.
The rest were still fighting, but it had been hopeless from the start. It was only a matter of time. Kronos did seem to be trying to negotiate with the mortals and goad them onto his side, because if he killed them all, he wouldn't have anyone to rule over.
The mortals, in answer, pulled out nuclear weapons. Atomic bombs, machine guns, everything was used and worse weapons were coming out every day. Civilians were constantly caught in the crossfire, but there wasn't anything anyone could do. Peace was just an illusion of war, one that had recently been shattered.
Even from Bunker 9, they could feel the rumbles of the earth tearing itself apart.
They had taken refuge in the hidden bunker after one of the demigods brought to them by Percy was a son of Hephaestus—a fire user. He was able to activate the door, and the Hephaestus cabin had built a device that allowed them to transfer the bunker to preprogrammed places in case their location was compromised.
Percy himself hadn't been sighted in three weeks. No more demigods had arrived since then, and it was becoming doubtful that there would.
On the fifth day of the first month, Nico woke up to see Percy casually strolling out of the bathroom, tying a white gauze bandage over his right arm with his left hand and teeth. It was rapidly becoming stained through, but he didn't seem to care.
The son of Hades just stared at him incredulously for a few minutes, before finding his voice and asking, slightly faint, "What happened?"
Percy's eyes shot up to meet his, slightly surprised.
"Oh, hey Nico. What's up?"
He had been struck speechless from the casual answer, staring at him in utter bemusement.
"The sky," he replied sarcastically, before becoming serious. "No, really, what did you do to yourself?"
Percy's innocent expression put Nico immediately on edge. "Why do you automatically assume it was something I did?" When Nico glared back at him, he sighed and finally said, "But if you must know, it was Kronos. He came after me with his scythe. I guess silver isn't the only thing I'm susceptible to."
Nico hissed in a breath through his teeth.
Percy gave a short, barking laugh. "I don't even know if it's still valid. The gods are gone, after all. I doubt the Oracle could've seen that ahead of time. Kind of complicates matters. No choice of any kind will be able to defeat Kronos, not unless you can turn back time."
"Without Kronos, their hierarchy will fall," Nico said cryptically.
"The only thing we're doing now is stalling. This isn't some kind of miracle situation, Nico, and demigods are dying every day while more monsters are spawned from the Pit. It doesn't end. The gods are gone. Sooner or later, humanity will fall with it."
He was gone before Nico could answer.
The second time they saw Percy again, it was Thalia who had spotted him. He looked worse for the wear, but still greeted them with a half-hearted smile and a wave, acting as though being covered in blood and ichor was a perfectly normal thing. For all they knew, maybe it was.
Yanking Riptide out of an enemy body with a sick squelch, he finished off the last of the invaders with an effortless grace, almost as if it was as easy as breathing. Efficiency and brutality came hand in hand with his new style of fighting; not an easy combination to accomplish.
Eventually, when they were the only ones still breathing on the frozen battlefield, Percy walked up to them, boots sloshing through the rivers of blood flowing downhill, seeping through the pores of the earth.
"Hey. How's war been treating you?"
There was genuine concern in his eyes, and while they were darker and more haunted towards the things he had seen and done, they were much more alive, in the way that a fire ravaging an entire town to ashes was alive. He seemed to have come to terms with what he was now and did not hesitate to reap the benefits. Even now, with Riptide casually slung over one shoulder and standing in a relaxed position, Thalia knew that at the slightest provocation, he would strike.
"You're horrible at small talk," she said bluntly. His lips twitched upwards.
"And you're still horrible at sparing my feelings," he retorted, as blithe as ever.
"It's the truth," Thalia smirked back.
Percy's smile slipped off his face.
"Yeah, well, the rest of us aren't holding up so well," he admitted with a dark scowl. "I hope the camp is doing good, because there aren't any more demigods left in the world—none that I can reach, anyways."
"The Romans are still refusing to cooperate. Last I heard, they were still somewhere in San Francisco," Nico muttered.
Percy grimaced. "Still stubborn as ever, I see."
Luke came up from behind them, though Percy didn't seem surprised. He probably heard him coming miles away. Giving him a curt nod, he turned his gaze back to Nico, making him feel as though he was being passed through an x-ray scanner.
"Anything short of complete annihilation won't get the Romans to join us."
"It's coming to that," said Percy shortly. "Another month, at best; the mortals have come up with a new weapon that's able to do some damage to the Titans. It's a magnetically powered gun—two same magnetic poles press down on an opposite poled bullet. When it's released, it can tear through armor."
Luke raised his eyebrows. "That's impressive."
They were beginning to head back towards Bunker 9, the invisibility cloaking dropping away as they approached, before fizzling back into place behind them. "It's almost completely deserted out there. There aren't many people left."
The younger demigods crowded around Percy's legs, reaching as high as they could. Smiling softly, he knelt down, allowing them to clamber around him. They didn't seem to mind his blood-stained state.
"Percy's back!" they cheered.
"We still have one hope left," Luke said adamantly, acting as the devil's advocate.
Percy's eyes flicked up to him, wincing patiently as a seven-year old's foot hit him in the face. "And that is?"
"The Prophecy. Percy, it's got to be you. You're already sixteen—"
"Not for much longer," Percy interrupted. "Olympus has already fallen, Luke. The Prophecy is void—and besides, I'm turning seventeen in less than a week."
"Then we're in luck." Luke pulled out a map, unfurling it and smoothing out the wrinkles with his palms. "Kronos has been sighted not too far from here. We think he's coming after the remaining demigods now."
Percy's posture stiffened and an icy wind chilled their bones. His eyes were flat. One of the children —a daughter of Apollo, judging by her bright eyes and sun-spun hair— whimpered slightly, and when Percy's eyes turned on her, they softened slightly.
"Sophie, why don't you take the others to go play for a while? I'm sure the others will enjoy your company."
The girl smiled, showing the place where a tooth was missing.
"Okay, Percy," she chirped, grabbing the hands of one of her friends. "Come on, clumsy. Let's go. They're gonna talk adult stuff. It's boring."
She led the rest away, skipping and singing snatches of old lauds. Percy was suddenly reminded of the Pied Piper, playing his flute and leading the children away from the city to their deaths.
Revenge was sweeter than any other flavor.
Shaking his head to clear the thoughts, he rose to his feet, brushing the dirt off of his clothing. It left smears of drying blood against his hands, standing out brilliantly on his pale skin.
"And you think I'll be able to deal with Kronos?" It was impossible to read his tone. Thalia nodded slowly, hesitating.
"It's our last chance, Percy. Like you said, the mortals are only a distraction for the Titans. Kronos is going to come after us soon, and we won't survive an encounter."
There was a long moment of silence.
"Did you really think we stood a chance? Then, you are more of a fool than I thought."
Thalia reeled back as if struck, her eyes wide. "You don't know what you're saying, Percy! Surely, you don't mean that? You're destroying yourself. No one wants… Annabeth wouldn't have wanted…"
Percy gave her a long, steely look, the warmth drained from his expression. Thalia's voice faltered and trailed off.
"Annabeth's gone, Thalia," he answered roughly, jerking her hand off his shoulder with a rough snap. "She's not coming back. None of the dead are."
"But we aren't," she insisted, almost desperately. "We still live, and as long as we do, there will be hope."
"Hope for what?" he asked mockingly, spinning Riptide's pen around his fingers in an impressive show of dexterity. "A better day? There are no more days. Open your eyes. Werewolves are roaming the streets, and if I hadn't been bitten already, I would've been dead thrice over."
"You owe it to the gods to at least try."
Dark green eyes fixed on Luke with a sneer. "Oh, that's rich, coming from you. Who are you to preach to me about duty? As I recall, I've sacrificed everything for them, and only shrouds to burn in return. Mom, Paul…"
"Look, I don't like this any more than you do," Luke said heavily, dragging a calloused hand over his eyes. "But this isn't a war we can afford to lose. At least try, alright? You've faced Kronos countless times, far more than anyone else here has. The Prophecy is the only thing we can hope will work, even if the circumstances have changed. If you don't act soon, then it'll be Nico, and we can't afford to stall any longer."
There was a heavy, pregnant silence.
"I really didn't want to say this, but I know Annabeth would've wanted you to do it. So would Chiron and Grover."
Percy flinched as though Luke had slapped him across the face. Before Luke could blink, Percy's arm was lashed around his neck, cutting off his breath. The tip of Riptide was cold underneath his chin, tickling uncomfortably.
Thalia shouted in alarm, and she and Nico tried to pry them apart.
"You shouldn't have mentioned them," he hissed in Luke's ear, sickly sweet.
He finally allowed them to drag them apart when Luke began to turn blue from lack of oxygen. Luke reeled backwards, clutching his throat and breathing heavily, his chest rising with every rapid rise and fall.
"What… the Hades was that for…!"
"You've grown soft, Luke," said Percy roughly, flipping the cap over Riptide. He didn't put it into his pocket. In war, an unarmed soldier was a dead soldier, and it was a bad way to die.
"—my Lord, please, spare the girl—"
"I'll go," he continued. "but I'm telling you that it will do no good. I… just have a feeling about this."
"Then tell me, does the end really justify the means?" said Nico, his arms crossed, dark eyes unreadable.
Percy paused, his hand still on the door's handle.
"No," he said softly. "It really doesn't."
Then, with a twist of the handle, he was swallowed by darkness and lost to sight.
It had gone straight to hell. Percy couldn't quite put his finger on an exact moment when things had began to go wrong.
He supposed it could be traced back to his birth—no, actually, seventy years before he was even born.
But it didn't matter now. It was ending; his journey, his struggles, it was nothing more than a whisper in the foggiest space of his memories.
It was raining hard; he could feel the icy pellets splashing against the curve of his nose, trailing thickly down one side of his face, pooling by his head. He was on his back, legs having collapsed and arms numb from trying to hold himself up. If he tilted his head up, he could see the clouds overhead, forming a thick blanket of blackened storm clouds.
He couldn't breathe. There was a wound the shape of Kronos' fist on his chest, punching through the useless armor, and no matter how much he wheezed, it was useless, he couldn't draw breath.
The water swirled around him, pink and mist-like, trickling away, dripping through his chest.
His eyes fluttered; his surroundings blurred around the edges, mixing with the rain. The soft patters of rain splashing harmlessly against the ground was drowned out by the weak throbs of his heart, pumping out his blood in thin rivulets.
The stars twinkled down at him, larger and closer than they'd ever been, shining with an ethereal brilliance. Were they bidding him farewell?
But it didn't hurt, not any longer. Everything was numb, and he felt oddly detached. It was continually becoming hard to breathe; why he persisted, he wasn't sure. Maybe he should just stop…
(it's not like they'll miss him)
Footsteps disrupted the flow of water. Hasty. Slipping. The sounds were distant, almost like he was trying to listen to a conversation with his head submerged underneath the surface.
Their voices thrashed against him. He couldn't summon the energy to flinch. He's tired—gods, he was so tired, he'd rather just die…
Trembling fingers prodded his neck, searching for his jugular vein, trying to find a pulse. They were cold, and wet, and were shaking badly.
His eyes flickered open, dazed and blank. There were figures —dark shadows— silhouetted against the backdrop of sky. Their hair was plastered to their heads, and he couldn't tell if they were crying or if it was just the rain.
Everything was just a blur, a blob on the devastation of life.
His mouth twisting in a cynical expression, he whispered out, in a cracked voice, "The stars are bright tonight, Thalia…"
His mouth tasted of the rust that trickled through his lips, down his face until it dissipated in the swirling waters. Still, he tried to speak, to tell them what he'd finally understood about humanity and Death. It was useless to fight against it, and in the final seconds of his life, the truths that had so long evaded him became clear.
"Gods, no. Percy…" Someone had fallen to his knees, carefully slipping his arms underneath his back and knees, trying not to aggravate the gaping wound.
The movement tore at his insides; he couldn't hold back the rasping coughs that only made the blood flow faster, staining everything before it was washed away. Water splashed against his cheek. "I'm so sorry. This wasn't supposed to happen. Percy. Stay with me, don't go to sleep, come on, look at me…"
"…are you happy now?" he rasped back, pale eyes fixing vaguely on the shaking figure. He got the impression that they were running, because every jolt hurt and there were leaves hitting him in the face, the wind chilling him to the bone. "This is… your fault… isn't it…?"
Then there was a change of scene. The beeping became shrill and loud. He must have blacked out at some point.
They weren't running anymore. There were people everywhere, some horrified, others shielding the younger ones from the sights—as if there would be any innocence left in them after such a war.
He heard one scream his name.
"—the prophecy, what are we supposed to do—"
He choked on a cough.
A voice was babbling something to him. Or maybe it was to the people now surrounding him, some trying staunch the bleeding by wrapping bandages around his chest—as if it was just a paper cut or a bruise. Someone was holding his hand, squeezing the circulation out of his arm. He could feel them shaking, hysterical, bitter.
"…godsdamnit, get the nectar! Heart rate's going down, someone staunch the bleeding!"
The world spinning around him in tumultuous circles. With a soft, slow sigh, he let his exhaustion drain away, finally at peace. His hand unclenched around Thalia's, who panicked and had grasped his shoulders tightly, shaking him back and forth, screaming his name.
They were shouting, but it was so distant, like he was drowning and there was someone trying to throw him a lifeline that was too far away…
"…stay with me, Percy, damn it, keep breathing, don't you dare give up on me… no, someone get more ambrosia, we're losing him…! We'r-"
(the last thing he saw was the Moon)