Author's Note— I've tried out a more simplistic writing style of writing in the first half of the chapter. I'm not quite secure with it, so tell me what you think. I'm also messing with the Ancient Greek timeline to suit this story. It's nothing major, I assure you.
To those of you waiting for Blackened Dawn, it's coming soon—as long as my cousin doesn't delete my chapter again. Sometimes, I really cannot fathom how we are related.
Review replies — MushyTheMush - thank you! I'm glad you liked it :) Guest - fear not, here it is. Guest - thank you! Blackwolfspirit1 - thanks :) SpartanWarrior117 - hi! How's your story coming along? I'm glad you liked the last chapter, and I hope this will be alright as well! Xuan Tian Shang Di - oh come on, I hated my writing for the first half of my life and I still do sometimes. It's getting better, I'd like to think. Why don't you try? ;) Intellectually - thank you :) first off, sorry about the long wait for Blackened Dawn. I'll try to get the chapter out soon. For this story, I was thinking of slowly building on Percy's power, and let some of the characters assume things about him before it is revealed. Lycaon will eventually be a bigger antagonist in the story, and Hestia's blessing adds a bit of depth to Percy's character later on. I am quite fond of Thalia as well, but I'm still not quite sure if there will be a pairing yet. At this point in time, I'll keep options open, just in case! Guest - *smiles mirthfully* Clefspear - I agree with you there! It's rather disconcerting to wait ages for a chapter, and find some with 1 k words. Aegis is still in the woris, don't worry! Most of it is saved elsewhere, and I have yet to be able to access it. authorwannabe101 - I'm glad you liked it! Hope this chapter does not disappoint. Twigon Halolover - thank you :)
"Only the dead have seen the end of war."
and the dead will rise
Today was the day that the first bombs dropped.
The earth itself bled, thin veins of red drying over the cracked surface, seeping in to taint the soil an angry, soupy color. Broken weapons littered the ground; driftwood after the sea's rage had diminished.
Sounds of swords clashing. Swords breaking.
Blue-black clouds streaked across crimson.
Laughter turned to screams.
It's funny, almost ironically so. None of the so-called experts truly predicted how the apocalypse was to come.
The world did not end in fire and brimstone. No snake swallowed the earth. No calendar foretold the humans of how everything they had taken as "normal" was so quickly snatched away.
When all else failed, when books could no longer produce a satisfactory answer, only war remained to comfort mankind.
They prayed. But who was there to answer?
The skies wept blood for eleven days and eleven nights. And when the heavens cleared once more, there was no sun and no moon. Only desolation remained.
The Sixth Age had lasted for only six years.
(for there was nothing left but ashes)
• • •
When he opened his eyes, it was to Ragnarok. It took a while for his vision to focus, but when it did, he sorely wished it hadn't.
The end of the world tasted of rotting corpses and bitter resentment. The earth was cracked and slaked together at places, stacked amongst slabs of raw concrete and stone. He could see a hand lying limply between two of them, a steady trickle of blood wetting the wrist, staining the stones black.
He prodded a dead body with his foot. It was a young child's, just barely past the toddler stage, too early and too young to die like this. But death had no such qualms. The body was marred beyond recognition. The fingers were fused together, and the mouth forever open in a soundless scream.
A melted glass doll lay on the ground beside her, still smiling. A cheap, painted on smile, but the only smiles that could last were the fake ones.
Not too far away, he caught sight of a strip of plaid, peeking at him through the charred remains. The only remains of a boy's trousers, lovingly sewn by hand by long dead parents, who were buried somewhere amidst the rubble. Or maybe they'd been one of the many that had been incinerated in the initial blast.
He averted his gaze.
What did it matter? They were dead anyways.
He walked through what was once a field. No more grass will grow. It would be many, many years before nature finally reclaimed its own, and even then, maybe never.
Maybe the grass would grow back red.
The wind howled over a graveyard. In the heat waves, still smoldering with distortion, he heard the echoes. He saw the images, flickering on and off like there was a bad connection between him and the dead.
Earlier, children had been playing there, in the deathtrap, hands linked, forming an oil-slickened circle. Laughter bubbled from their lips—a rare delicacy, and their last.
(ring around a rosy)
It was their own funeral dirge. They died in a field of flowers and screams. How sadistically ironic.
The gods would have loved it.
(pockets full of posies)
Did it hurt, in the end? Was it quick, or was it slow and drawn out, because the Fates loved it when people suffered?
To see the world in endless sleep… in a twisted way, it was the final truth.
The oracles must be laughing.
(we all fall down)
• • •
"Gruesome, isn't it?"
Electric blue eyes opened. Piercing, even in death. They met green ones. Cold ones, full of fire that did not warm his heart.
There was no escaping the truth, and the words came, unbidden, to his mouth.
She smiled thinly at him. It was a mocking smile. Bitter, and full of hate, but it was not for the green eyed one. For him, there was only resignation.
"This is what happens when you deny a prophecy, Percy. We die. All of us."
Eyes narrowed. The barest embers of anger rose, stoked by her words.
"It was never mine to begin with."
She conceded the point with a slight dip of her head. "It was over before it began. Everything came too late for salvation." She looked at him, fully expecting his astonishment or outrage, emotions that did not come.
But why should he care? Too little, too late.
The eerie light of the Styx —overflowing its banks— cast dim shadows over his face, pulling it into sharp angles.
"Perhaps it is for the best. Now, leave me alone."
He made to brush her aside. She blocked him with one corporeal hand, shoving him back into place. The effort made her shimmer, and for a moment, disappear.
"Let me pass." An undercurrent of warning edged his words. "My time is over, Thalia. It is not up to you to decide. Look where playing God left us."
"It left us Hope," she insisted stubbornly, her image faintly flickering.
"It left us dead, Thalia. Get it through your head. Nothing will change that."
The words were cutting and sharp. There was no sugar coating to ease the impact, and the full weight of his admission drew her aback.
"Surely, you don't mean—"
"I'm dead. So are you. So are all of us. Being here… It's given me time to think. All along, us thinking that we were living… it was a pretty lie crafted for us by the gods. We lived only on borrowed time.
"I cannot cross the Styx. The Curse is gone, but I cannot journey into the Underworld. I'm dead, yet I'm not. A wonderful mix, isn't it?"
A third figure, dressed in black, floated from the wailing mass of souls. There was recognition in his eyes.
"Because it's not your time. You are the last of us. You are to be our salvation."
"Percy," he nodded back in greeting.
"Did you know this would happen?"
A slight shrug.
"And you forgot to mention it."
There was no accusation in his voice. He understood, however much he wished he didn't. They had been in a time of war, and everyone kept secrets from the other.
"I might've," he admitted, apologetic.
"When will I pass?"
He wanted to rest. To close his eyes and never wake up. Was this to be denied of him, too? This final right most took for granted?
"Not for a long time yet."
Apparently, it was.
He shouldn't be surprised. He really shouldn't. He'd been expecting this answer, after all.
"What exactly do the Fates think I can accomplish?" he bit out scathingly. "The world is over. The mortals are dead, and soon, the Titans will follow. There is nothing left to be done."
A ripple of shadow; blonde hair.
"But this was never meant to happen. The world wasn't supposed to end."
A wolf-like growl.
"Because the gods died, Luke? Is that it? They would be so selfish as to doom the entire world, just because they didn't want to die? Well, you know what? I didn't want to die. Not much, anyways. None of us did. They aren't so special here, among the dead."
"Yes!" Luke snapped back, his scar rippling white in the illumination cast by the Styx. "Yes, the gods are selfish! They aren't the ideal rulers, and maybe the Titans would've be better. Maybe all of this would have been different if we made another choice. Maybe it would have. I don't know. And I have no way of knowing."
He eyed them warily.
"Then what is this all about? Why the sudden interest? It's been three years, guys, three years since I died and two since you followed. Not once have you come to visit me and my eternal prison, so don't spin some sort of tale about how much you've missed my company. It's obvious you haven't."
For a few moments, there was silence. It was only interrupted by the screams of the damned. Finally:
"Are you so egotistical to think that the war ended when you did?"
He frowned, but was not given a chance to speak, because the blonde swordsman plowed on, his rageful-passionate speech fuelled by his own frustration and helplessness.
"You know what happened? The Camp lost hope. They saw life snuff you out, and to many of them, you were the epitome of invincible."
An incredulous, startled laugh burst from his lips.
"Invincible? What a joke. I'm not the gods' martyr anymore, Luke, and you can't make me be one. They expected me to be a hero. I'm not. They wanted someone to save them from something they should've done themselves. And, sorry," he added sarcastically, "you didn't get the hero. The mail order ran out. Everyone wanted one, and there wasn't enough to go around. You got me instead. Hope you weren't too disappointed."
"Percy, as long as you were alive, Hope always burned brighter. Do you know what it was like to carry your dead body out of there and try to tell the younger campers that you weren't coming back? Do you know how they cried? How they begged?"
By the end, her voice had become choked, and she had to take a minute to compose herself. His eyes softened, and he reached out. She buried her face into her hands and cried.
He rubbed his hand over her back awkwardly, but it only went through the apparition. He couldn't touch them, and it brought an echo of distance to his heart.
Even though they were so close, they were so far away.
"The mortals fell first, didn't they?"
He gazed upon the millions of souls crowded around the archway, calling out in fright but was never to be answered. They didn't see the Underworld as it was. Maybe it was better that way.
"Yeah. Really, it was only a matter of time. Kronos began to hunt for us— we were all that was left. We held out better than the mortals, but… some of the younger ones got careless and led the Titans right to our doorstep. We took out a good chunk of their forces, but they just kept coming… and now it's over. We lost."
"Lost…" he echoed dryly, green eyes flickering, reflecting the three milky white spirits in front of him. "It's over, then."
They didn't reply, only shifted guiltily.
"Not quite," Nico finally said. "The Fates… they don't know we're here. They wouldn't agree with our meddling. We're supposed to have passed already."
"Then what are you doing here?" he finally snapped, patience wearing thin. "What more do you want of me? I'm not a miracle worker; I can't make this all better."
Nico huffed softly, eyes glowing obsidian.
"Lucky for us, you don't have a choice."
"Luke, restrain him!"
He struggled in Luke's sudden grip, which was hard and unyielding.
"It was my fault you died the first time," he muttered into Percy's ear, wrenching his hands behind his back. "I'm not about to do it again."
Thalia smiled faintly at him, one last time. She joined hands with Nico, and laid her other hand on Percy's shoulder.
"Save the world for us, alright? Make sure this doesn't happen again. I don't want to know what it feels like to have my soul consumed for a second time."
"Wait, don't do this, you'll have to—!"
"Good luck, Perce," Nico whispered softly, his hand glowing a furious, soupy crimson. The color of blood. "Remember us always. We'll be there with you, in your heart."
His hand hovered over his eyes, and touched Percy's forehead.
Sudden, seizing pain slipped through him like lightning, fast and furious and unrelenting. He might've screamed. He could hear only the rush of blood in his ears.
"—too much, there's too much…!"
"This wasn't supposed to happen! Godsdamnit, Luke, you said that Annabeth calculated this!"
"—she did! He's going too far—"
"—hope for the best—"
A pause. Their voices became faint.
"…goodbye, Percy. Godspeed."
Behind them, he heard the sudden screeches of the Fates. Clawed talon-like hands grappled for his arm, tearing at his clothes.
"No!" they shouted. Wailed. "You'll doom us all!"
Their nails scritch-scratched.
Boiling pain; a soundless roar.
He jerked blindly away, the motion causing white hot stars in to tremble in and out of his vision. His hand closed around something soft and fuzzy, and it burned in his his grip, searing into flesh.
Then there was the distant pop of displaced air, and the last thing Percy heard was the roar of the wind, thousands of feet below.
"You aren't supposed to exist.
Who are you exactly, Perseus Jackson?"
When he woke, it was to a horse chewing on his hair.
Of all the ways to wake up, it certainly counted as the strangest.
"'Gerrof," he moaned, trying in vain to push the blasted creature away, but the thing wouldn't leave him or his hair alone. "Leave me be. Go away."
"Master speaks!" the horse said in awe, stumbling over its too-large hooves. It was a tiny, shrill sound that reminded Percy of a young boy that hadn't yet hit puberty.
"Yes, yes, I speak. Now heed the words of this wise master, and for gods' sake, leave me alone!"
The last part came out as a roar, which was cut off with a gurgle as he spat out blood, filling his mouth with the taste of rust.
The horse whimpered like a kicked puppy. Its tail curled shamefully under its hind legs, and its ears flattened against its skull. But its shame soon turned to alarm when Percy continued to hack his lungs out.
"Is Master not feeling well? Please, Master, don't leave me! I don't want to be alone again! Master? Master!"
Percy was on one knee, the other having folded underneath him. His left hand clutched his throat, his right supporting him to keep his balance.
"Shut… up…" he rasped in between coughs, seizing lungfuls of air. Immediately, the horse's demeanour changed into one of ecstasy.
"Master speaks! Master is okay! I like Master. Master is strong!"
Gods, he could practically hear the exclamation marks punctuating each sentence. It was beginning to give him a headache.
Dragging the back of his hand over his mouth, he grimaced as it came away streaked with red. He pushed himself up, joints cracking from exertion.
It was odd having a corporeal body. He almost fell over. Being stranded by the Styx, he'd never truly been a spirit, but he hadn't exactly had a form, either, and suddenly being thrown into his old body was disorienting, to say the least.
Then, he became aware of something clammy and wet nudging at his shoe. He looked down to see a tiny snake's head trying to sink its little needle-like fangs into his toes, and promptly crushed it underfoot with a slurping squish.
"…what the Hades."
He followed the now-headless wriggling little thing and came across an even uglier sight: more wriggling little snake things. They were attached to a lump the approximate size and shape of a basketball, and—wait.
He flipped the head over, keeping his gaze lowered in case this was what he thought it was. Sure enough, he'd seen that ugly face too many times than he'd like.
Scowling lips, really ugly features, snake hair… yep. That was Medusa, most definitely. Most unfortunately. Then again, with his luck, what exactly had he been expecting? Surely, it would be nothing good.
Beside him, the black foal cowered at the sight of the head, hiding its face comically between its two front legs, whimpering in pathetic fright.
"Mommy bad!" it wailed. "Bad Mommy! Master, save me!"
"She's dead," Percy said bluntly, one eye on the little horse and the other on Medusa's head. He drew his finger out of reach as one of the snakes tried to bite him.
One large eye peeked out from a knobbly leg.
"Master killed bad Mommy?" it inquired.
Percy shot a look at the adamantium sword that was embedded in Medusa's chest, still oozing green blood. Oddly enough, he didn't remember how it got there.
Sketching his gaze to the pile of loot huddled in the corner, Percy could make out countless swords, shields, precious gems and metals alike. Medusa must have been very arrogant —or very stupid— to sleep in plain sight of such weapons.
He picked up the sword. It wasn't Riptide, and the balance was wrong. He felt a surge of nostalgia for his old sword.
Riptide had been lost, long, long ago, back when he was still comparatively young and naiive. He'd been trying a trying out a tricky and utterly useless manoeuvre, and one badly parried blow later, his faithful bronze sword shattered.
"Er, yeah. I guess I did."
Percy had to dodge a furry black ball of grateful horse.
"Thankyouthankyouthankyou," it babbled.
Percy ignored its tinny voice and continued to pull the adamantium sword out, the sick squelch of flesh sucking the shining edges down.
The body exploded into yellow dust.
He stuffed the head into a burlap bag that he'd found while foraging around the Gorgons' cave. Perhaps it'd be useful. He wasn't going to be receiving any help, and he sure as Hades wasn't going to go down so easily.
Nico, Thalia, and Luke had sacrificed their eternal souls to send him back. Percy wasn't sure what they'd meant by 'we'll always be with you,' but there seemed to be some meaning beyond sentimentality, or at least he hoped. He was truly alone now, in this world.
Then he remembered the Fates, and the cynical humor drained from his face.
They'd tried to stop him from leaving by any means necessary. On hindsight, he remembered the flash of scissors, shining ominously against dull, frayed yarn.
Then why wasn't he dead? He wasn't sure. Looking down at the traveller's cloak he'd somehow been supplied with, he patted the pockets until he came across a suspicious lump. Unfastening the clasp, he reached in and pulled out…
A ball of blue-green string.
The end was frayed and was barely holding together. One side was fuzzy with broken strands, and the other showed the clear impression of straight cut strings—no doubt by scissors.
He touched his throat and remembered the pain.
One little tug… that was all it would take.
If that string broke, he'd be dead, and then where would he be? In the Underworld? He shouldn't even exist. He might cause a paradox and they'd all end up dying after all.
But where could he hide it? There really was no safe place on earth. A single pull… no. He wouldn't risk it. Not when so much was at stake.
Hades, maybe the horse would eat it. Knowing his luck, the thing probably would.
Sighing, he pocketed the yarn carefully. This would take some getting used to. He'd have to be careful until he could find a safe place to keep it.
Rummaging through his other pockets, Percy became aware of a dog-eared piece of paper. He smiled with bitter nostalgia when it appeared to be an old photograph. The one he'd always carried into battle with him. A little spatter of blood, long dried, marred the bottom half, but Percy didn't mind. They'd all been touched by death, anyways, and it was a fitting testament.
"Annabeth…" he whispered, holding the picture close, as if he could still feel her embrace through the age-old paper.
Percy was in the centre, a huge grin splitting his face open. One of his arms was slung around Thalia's neck, while the other was pulling a reluctant and scowling Nico in the picture. Annabeth had her arms around his neck and was piggy-back riding him, laughing. He could make out Chiron accidentally photo-bombing their picture, and the poor centaur looked rather confused.
In the background, faded with age even though he could visualize it perfectly, there was destruction. The picture had been taken a split second before the Camp was first attacked and the borders fell to the monsters.
He shoved it away, back into a pocket. It brought back both good and bad memories.
Wiping his palms flat against the odd trousers he'd been equipped with, he stole one last glance at Medusa's head.
Still ugly as ever. Some things never changed.
Odd, though, because while Percy expected to have landed in the Garden Gnome Emporium, or maybe even when he'd first been born, he didn't think that Medusa had had a change of scene back then. They were currently in a cave, and not like Calypso's or Rachel's. It was dim, musty, and Percy could imagine Dracula coming out at any moment, or maybe a couple hundred vampire bats. The place certainly reeked enough to prove that theory.
"Lovely decorating," Percy muttered under his breath, eyeing the exit cautiously.
The only light came from a small hole in one of the walls, all but hidden behind a large statue of a centaur—he hoped it wasn't Chiron. Thinking about his old instructor made his heart twinge in pain, so he pushed the thought out of his mind for the time being.
Straightening his knees, he used the sword as a crutch to push himself to a rough standing position.
"Well…" he murmured to himself, eyeing the light streaking from the hole in the ceiling. "Time to face the music, I guess."
And stepped into the sunlight.
• • •
"Master! Master, wait for me, wait u–whooooooaaaaaa—!"
Exasperated, Percy turned in time to see the little horse barrelling towards him, sliding on its haunches as it tried to slow down.
Silently lamenting his luck, he reached down and effortlessly plucked the foal up by the scruff of its neck. It made a comical sight, dangling by its neck with all four spindly little legs splayed upwards, kicking at the air.
"I'm not your master," Percy said impatiently, the horse's long muzzle not an inch from his face. "Go bug someone else."
"Maaaster," it whined, dragging out the word, petulant.
Percy dropped the horse and kept walking, staring straight ahead. It skittered to a halt, tumbling end over end before rolling to a stop, peeking out from behind its legs in clouds of dust.
"Master?" it chirped, sounding so heartbroken that even Percy sighed and turned around.
His voice came out harsher than he'd intended, but the horse perked up immediately.
"Master!" The foal neighed happily, kicking up its little hooves in small puffs of dust. "I'm coming too!"
Gods, there was no reasoning with it. Percy resigned himself to his fate with a long, drawn out sigh. He ran a hand through his hair tiredly, making it stick up on end.
"What's your name, anyways? I can't just keep calling you horse."
The foal faltered, and its ears plastered against its skull.
"I don't have a name. No one wants me," it said in a small voice. As though it'd rather the earth open up and be gobbled whole. "I have… I have…"
It took a deep breath, trembling from its very bones. It leaned forward, as though confiding in Percy a deep secret that would decide the fate of the entire world. Unconsciously, he found himself leaning forward in anticipation.
"I… have… wings…"
Percy blinked. He didn't see any wings. Maybe the horse hid them, somehow, or used the Mist to manipulate his form?
"Uh. Okay. I can turn into a wolf. So?"
The horse gaped.
"Master doesn't mind?"
There was blatant awe in his voice. Percy shrugged his shoulders, still confused. Exactly what was going on?
… on that note, where was he, anyways?
"What's the big deal? You have wings, right? So you're not a horse, you're a pegasus."
The horse's eyes glowed.
"My name is Pegasus! Master named me! I like my name!"
Percy raised an eyebrow incredulously. "Uh, if you say so. Now, if you'll excuse me…"
He tried to sidle away. Of course, no such luck. The newly named Pegasus immediately followed.
"So where're we going, Master? Is it someplace cool? Oh, I told them, Syltion most of all, that I way going to travel the world someday! He didn't think I could do it. And now I'm right! Ha!"
They trotted underneath a large overhang of rock, which served as shade from the blistering sun. Pegasus could keep up surprisingly well with Percy's pace, his hooves clip-clopping gaily and his tail swishing like a happy puppy.
"So, how come you're not with the other—"
He was interrupted by a shrill whinny, echoing from across the hill, along with the sound of hoof-beats,
"Hey, no name!"
Immediately, Pegasus' ears flattened and he flinched backwards into Percy, as though the insult was a physical blow. Percy stumbled and his back hit the wall. His breath left in a sudden 'whoosh.'
"Syltion," Pegasus muttered angrily, his eyes fixed on the ground. There was no humor in his tone, not like before. "What do you want?"
If possible, Percy would swear that the other horse —Syltion— swaggered up to them, chest puffed up with hot air.
"Who's this loser freak with you? Another one of your strays?"
Pegasus bared his teeth angrily.
"Master is not a stray! Insult me if you wish, but Master is mine!" he retorted indignantly. "Master is kind, and wonderful, and—"
"I get it, thanks," Percy interrupted, slightly amused, and slightly creeped out by the puppy dog devotion.
Syltion's eyes turned to him in surprise. They were large, brown ones flecked with gold.
"So I do," Percy said blithely. "Not a stray, anymore, I presume?"
The horse sneered.
"Oh, no name over there is desperate for a master, and his standards keep getting lower. No one will buy him. His coat is dull, he has knobbly knees, too-large hooves, and is so clumsy that I doubt you'll ever be able to ride him. Who would want a freak like that?"
Syltion bubbled with laughter at his own joke. Percy remained silent, his eyes narrowed. Pegasus wilted visibly with each insult. "You'll do well to choose your company wisely, stranger," Syltion warned, once he calmed enough to speak.
"Like yours?" Pegasus stomped his hooves. "Is that what you mean, Syltion?"
"Be quiet, no name!" Syltion barked. Pegasus reared up, his usually meek demeanour fading.
"My name is Pegasus! Master named me so! I—"
"Poseidon help me, no name, if you won't shut up right now, I swear your children will feel the marks I'll give you—that is, if you can ever get a mare to actually notice you in the first place!"
Pegasus' mouth closed mid-snap.
Triumphantly, Syltion turned back to Percy, who couldn't help but feel as though he'd just watched the equestrian version of kindergarteners fighting over a shiny new toy.
"So, what will it be, stranger?"
Pegasus was resigned, his entire body drooped. Percy felt a stab of pity for the creature.
"I think I know how to think for myself, thanks. Hurry up, Pegasus. I want to be in a town by dusk."
Pegasus looked up, startled, at Percy with barely suppressed hope. His eyes shone, and he looked as though fervently wishing that this wasn't just a dream, and if it was one, to never wake up again.
"You would dare to turn your back on me? I, Syltion?!"
The last part came out as a roar.
"Someone has an overinflated ego," Percy muttered under his breath.
There was the sound of pounding hooves, slashing apart the grass underfoot. Pegasus shouted, an agonizing cry of alarm.
The instant Syltion's hoof touched Percy's back, several things happened at once.
First, there was the crackle of ozone, suddenly permeating the air.
Second, was the sizzle of electricity.
Third, Syltion screamed.
There was the smell of singed hair. Percy looked down to see flickers of hot white lightning erupting from his skin and melding seamlessly back into it. The tendrils were thin looking and absolutely pathetic, nothing like the kind Thalia could summon up.
He thought he could hear a feminine voice echo through the air, angrily hissing words he could not hear. It sounded a bit like Thalia—or maybe that was just wishful thinking. The prickling feeling returned, stronger than ever, so much that it began to burn underneath his skin.
Syltion was twitching on the ground spasmodically.
"Huh…" Percy said slowly, his eyebrows raised. Inside, he was shaking, but he wore a calm facade, more for his own sanity than for Pegasus.' "I didn't know I could do that."
'But Thalia could,' a tiny voice in the back of his head whispered. Percy pushed it away. It must have been a fluke accident. That was all.
"Come on. I want to find out where I am, and I'd really rather not be out here after dark."
• • •
They must have made a very rag-tag looking group; a tired looking colt that nodded his head sleepily as he walked; and the rider, who walked calmly beside the horse with a calm hunter's cadence to his step, the moon reflecting the most uncanny green eyes most had ever had the displeasure of seeing.
They fit the stereotype that mothers warned their children to stay away from.
Not that Percy cared.
It was easy for him to figure out which road to take. There were deep chariot rut marks cut sharply into the mud. The thin furrows were beginning to condense with dew, clear, crystalline droplets clinging to the mud before being sucked in.
Percy could see his reflection wavering in a thin puddle congealed by the base of an olive tree, outlined in a dull shade of grey, before his foot made contact with the surface and sent droplets scattering underneath.
They met very few people on their journey, and even then they were merchant caravans. When asked for directions, most just gave him a dark look and hurried off, throwing backwards glances over their shoulders when they thought Percy didn't notice.
Pegasus muttered something unflattering under his breath. Percy made a mental note to watch his language around the horse, before he'd have to wash out both of their mouths with saddle soap.
Dusk fell soon after. If there was little traffic before, it was practically deserted at night. Trees snaked their shadowed fingers across the road, cast by the pale silver light of the moon.
Percy eyed it warily. Two more weeks until it would be full. He restrained a shudder.
The others didn't know what it was like. He'd always made sure to be far, far away from any form of civilization before giving in to his instincts. In the morning he would wake up, confused and disoriented, feeling as though his bones had burst from his skin in a magnificent spray of gore.
Percy's eyes focused on the stars, and he frowned. The constellations… Annabeth (oh, how he missed her) had taught him… they weren't in the correct positions. It was as though someone had reached out a hand and messed up the constellations.
Exactly what was going on? Nico had said, "we're taking you back to where it all began."
… what if that was farther than they expected?
A sickening feeling lodged in Percy's stomach.
"Pegasus?" he asked slowly. The pegasus' ears, which were drooping in exhaustion, perked up at the sound of his master's voice.
"… who won the Titan war?"
Pegasus' eyes brightened.
"The gods did! Well, the Titans have been scattered far and wide, and it'll be eons before they can reform!"
Percy stumbled to a halt, tripping over his own feet in shock. No… no, that wasn't right. That did not happen.
The gods… won?
Impossible. He'd seen the end of the world, felt it, tasted the ashes on his tongue, drank the bitter sweat and blood and turmoil of strife. He'd saw the apocalypse happen, all while he was trapped by the Styx to forever wander the borders of the Underworld.
Either he'd been thrown into another dimension altogether, or he'd travelled back in time. Neither seemed likely—but then again, this was Percy they were talking about. Nothing about him was ever normal.
Whatever the reason, he was over his head, and sinking fast.
"Change of destination. We're going to see the Grey Sisters."
• • •
"Wasp, give me the eye!"
"I don't have the blasted eye! Anger, give me the tooth!"
Three crawling old ladies, bony knuckled hands groping desperately for their precious eye.
A hand clamped down on Anger's wrist. She screeched and flailed around, but the grip around her arm only tightened, leaving purple bruises on liver-pocked skin.
"I have the eye, and I won't hesitate to destroy it."
"Give it to me!" one cried, crawling towards the sound of the voice, one hand reached pathetically out, groping empty air.
"No, me!" the other shoved aside her sister, hollow mouth open, rotting lips parted. A single molar gleamed yellow in the very back of her gums.
"Tell me where the Hesperides are, or I'll chop it up and give it to the pigs to eat!"
A snickering whinny. The clopping of hooves, quiet.
"Noooo!" all three graeae shrieked as one. "Give us the eye!"
"Tell me the truth!" Percy shouted back.
The eye was slimy in his grip, and he snapped it out of range when Anger's clawed hand made a grab for it. Fingernails grazed his skin, scoring thin, red furrows onto the back of his hand.
"We can't! We mustn't!" they moaned. Percy moved to the mouth of the cave.
"Tell me now, or I'll drop it into the fire," he threatened.
"No fire!" Wasp shrieked triumphantly. The Grey Sisters laughed spitefully at him, momentarily forgetting their distress. Percy gritted his teeth. "We don't have a fire!" they cackled, over and over.
Anger's hand, still caught firmly in his grip, burst into flame. The Sister screamed in fright, but more startled than in pain.
"Accursed one! Fallen! Free us, spare us, your unworthy servants! We will tell you, alas, spare us!"
Percy wrinkled his nose in confusion. Fallen? Was that some sort of cult? If so, it was a scary one for the Grey Sisters to change their minds so quickly. Not that he was complaining.
He extinguished the fire, feeling exhaustion set in immediately.
"I shall… er, spare your unworthy lives… if you tell me now!"
"The West, the West!" Wasp groaned out. "In the west, through the Gates, at Dusk—"
"Not good enough," Percy growled.
"We'll take you there!" Tempest finally wailed. "Spare us, Fallen! We have wronged you, mercy, have mercy!"
Percy looked to Pegasus.
"Think you will be able to fly me there? I don't trust them enough to go like they say."
Pegasus looked hesitant, but nodded slowly. He looked slightly fearful, as though Percy would scream and run for the woods the second he saw his wings.
"Excellent!" Percy said brightly, slightly scaring the others at his sudden mood swing. "We shall follow by air. Lead on, Sisters."
Anger reached for the eye, but Percy slapped her hand away.
"Oh no, not yet. You'll get your precious eye back when we are at the Garden. Otherwise…"
He let the threat hang in the air, but by their paling faces, he knew they understood. Pegasus spread his wings, glossy feathers catching the light. The Sisters cowered.
"Doomed steed! The downfall of the Fallen!"
Pegasus looked anxiously at Percy, and the demigod knew that if he made one wrong move now, it would be a heavy blow of Pegasus' trust, and he'd most likely run away, sobbing.
Percy smiled reassuringly at him and ran a hand through the black feathers. They were soft, lighter than silk and twice as durable.
"You remind me of Blackjack," he said, his voice grave and quiet. Blackjack, his faithful pegasus, had taken a blow meant for him and had died instantly, an arrow through the brain. It was painless, Percy knew, but that didnt make him feel any better.
Pegasus cocked his head inquisitively. Percy sucked in a harsh breath and shook his head.
"It's nothing," he muttered, and swung himself onto Pegasus' back. It was thin, and gaunter than Blackjack's had ever been, and the coat was nowhere near as glossy, but there was a certain balance to his muscles and bone structure that was almost impossible to achieve.
Pegasus tossed his head with a short whinny, and Percy leaned closer, whispering into the sensitive ear, "Follow the Grey Sisters to the Garden of the Hesperides."
Raven-like wings unfurled, and beat—first once, then twice, until it was only a hum of displaced air that blew back the leaves and debris around them in a ten-yard radius.
Wind blew in his face, but it did not feel as hostile as it had in his time. Now, it felt almost… welcoming.
Below, the three Sisters were mere specks on brown-laced terrain. Trees dotted the area, but they were sparse and few in between, offering little to no shade. Medusa's head was dripping through the burlap bag, seeping through the bottom and beading up on one edge, green blood dripping into the vast valleys below.
The eye pulsed in his hand, as though trying to get back to its owners. He wasn't sure how they could see where they were going without the eye, but figured that if Tempest could drive without sight, they could walk around just fine.
The sun began to set from its zenith, streaking in a blaze of heavenly glory from the skies. Percy remembered, vaguely, that Apollo wasn't the sun god yet. It had been Helios, and it would be a while before he would take over for his predecessor.
Then, from amidst the glitterings of the sun, he could make out an arch of gold, unfolding from the edge of the horizon.
"Dive!" he told Pegasus, who tucked in his wings and plummeted like a rock. Wind rushed past his ears, and Percy felt a hysterical laugh escape from his mouth.
One meter before impact, Percy threw the eye at Wasp—or was it Anger? Whoever it was caught it and popped the eye immediately into her socket. It spun around several times before getting stuck, to which she pulled it out with a taloned hand and squelched it into her other socket.
She caught a sight of vivid green eyes, luminescent, burning with archaic fires, and shivered.
"I shall be going," he said, and wheeled his horse —who had wings!— to face the setting sun. Within a few seconds, they were nothing but specks of black in a backdrop of crimsons and golds.
"'S not going to be the last time we'll see him," Tempest muttered.
"He'll be great one day. I foresee it," Anger agreed.
Still, it was Wasp who snorted and muttered the truth, as they set back in the direction of their cave with their precious eye back in their possession. She was uncommonly grave.
"The greater they are, the harder they fall. If the Cursed One is really as great as you two idiots think he is, then he'd better be prepared.
"Not even the Fallen can escape Death."
• • •
On hindsight, Percy really should have known better. Of course there were other defences implemented by the Hesperides other than Ladon. Ladon wouldn't attack unless you came too close to his apples.
"Hang a left!" Percy shouted, just as Pegasus' wing clipped him in the shoulder, almost sending him free-falling. The wind barrier howled, intent on slicing them to ribbons.
"I can't, Master!" the pegasus sounded panicked. "I—"
A sudden gust knocked Pegasus over, throwing Percy off. His scream of "MASTER!" went unheard against the howl of the wind roaring in his ears.
The ground rose up to meet him.
He threw out a hand in front of his face, not for the first time wishing that he could fly.
Then there was something warm yet cold, sharp yet gentle, cocooning against his body, softening the impact of falling from the sky. Still, he felt as though he'd been pummelled to death and was sure that his ribs were broken.
He might've blacked out for a few moments, for when he woke, it was to a warm, wet tongue licking his cheek, whimpering cries of "Master," against his ear, and what felt like soft fingers, gently trying to pry his clenched hand from its locked position around his chest.
"He is dead, of that I am certain," a strangely familiar feminine voice said gravely. "There is no pulse."
"Well, yeah, he fell from the sky. Not even I could survive that." The second voice was masculine and deep, and very much foreign. "Odd, though. He kinda feels like family. I don't think Father sired any children my age for a while, but one never knows with him."
Pegasus whimpered, pushing his muzzle deep into Percy's cheek.
"I'm sorry, Master!" he begged desperately, thick, fat tears rolling off of his cheek. "Please, don't leave me, don't leave me, don't—"
"The borders have never failed before," the feminine voice —he couldn't remember, too many voices, why couldn't he remember?— said softly. "Thy should not have triggered them. They only react to gods, or offspring of them… or if he is a Fallen."
The girl seemed reluctant to answer.
"A Fallen, fallen gods. They are thrown from Olympus at a young age because they should not exist, or if they have offended Zeus in some way. There are many, but none survive past the first year of their descention. For one to have lived this long… either he has a very strong will, or is very powerful. Neither bodes well for the gods."
There was the sound of rummaging.
"If he's a demigod, nectar might help. If he's a Fallen, I figure it wouldn't hurt anyways."
Someone unscrewed the snakeskin pouch and held it to Percy's lips. He felt the cold rim touch his mouth, and as soon as the first drop of nectar spilled from the inside of the bottle, Percy's eyes flew open and he spewed out the contents, wiping his mouth.
"No need for that," he rasped, handing the snakeskin back to a stunned looking demigod. Immediately, he was assaulted by a sobbing horse, who shoved his head into Percy's lap, crying. It took several minutes of coaxing and reassurances to get Pegasus to calm down somewhat.
Then he turned his attention to the girl, and decided that maybe fainting again would be a good idea.
He wasn't in another dimension. Even if the gods won, she would still be dead. He was truly and wholly in the past.
Of course, logically, he knew that she was still alive at this time period, but seeing her flushed with life, instead of that cold and grey corpse, sent a lightning shock through his body.
"Thy now resembles an overgrown fish," Zoë quipped dryly. Ah, her good old pick-on-Percy sense of humor. He'd missed it.
"It's not your beauty, I assure you," he threw back. Zoë flushed with anger, but the man beside her threw back his head and roared with laughter. She looked at her companion and sulked silently.
"'Tis not funny, Hercules," she protested.
Hercules wiped the tears from his eyes. "If you say so, my dear," he chuckled.
Percy got his first look at the legendary demigod, but didn't feel any particular awe.
"—you're my greatest student, Percy. Even better that Hercules—"
He had brown hair and deep, grey eyes, a flatter shade than Annabeth's had been. There were laugh lines around his eyes and corners of his mouth, and they were crinkled.
"What's your name, Fallen?"
There was that term again; Fallen.
Zoë wrinkled her nose in distaste.
"A filthy, common name," she sneered.
"It's short for Perseus, Zoë," Percy said, irritated.
She jerked in surprise, her silvery shift catching the during rays of the moon. Percy's hands clenched surreptitiously.
"How dost thou know my name?" she demanded. Percy sneered. It was alarmingly easy to detest this version of Zoë.
"I know more than the gods ever wished me to," he said, trying to play on the mysterious act, if only to avoid the questions. Still, it was the truth, and carried a very real edge of rancour in his voice.
"You feel very familiar," Hercules said, his eyes narrowed, no longer laughing. Now, they were cold and harsh. "Who are you, exactly? Are you friend, or foe?"
"I am neither." Percy pushed himself to his feet, using Pegasus as a crutch. His ribs gave an almighty twinge of pain, but it was rapidly healing underneath his skin, the bones knitting back together. One of the only perks of being a werewolf.
"Then what are you?" Hercules persisted. Zoë was eyeing his chest in half-astonishment and half-confusion.
"How art thou alive?" Her tone was more curious than hostile. "And thy art healing faster than I would have thought possible, on par with the speed of gods or Titans."
Guess they've never met werewolves, Percy thought dryly. Out loud, he replied, "It is a curse, as well as a blessing. The gods… they turned a blind eye. They let us suffer. They let us die."
"They?" Zoë inquired. "There art more of you?"
Percy shook his head. "There were. The rest are dead now. I am the last."
He looked down and fingered his photograph, and missed Zoë whispering to Hercules, "He is the last Fallen. He is not faking it."
"You're not sounding very pro-god right now," Hercules said, with narrowed eyes. "You know that as a son of Zeus, I'll have to uphold my duty to kill you."
If he thought that intimidation would scare Percy, he'd never been more wrong. Suddenly, those thoughtful green eyes turned cold and deadly; the eyes of a wolf, like Lupa's. His stance, while still seemingly relaxed, held a hint of aggressiveness to his loose posture.
"Oh," he chuckled darkly, ignoring Zoë's protests for them not to fight, or at least not to do it in the garden, "you're certainly welcome to try."
Hercules lunged at him, muscles rippling under his white tunic. Percy sidestepped easily, and blocked an overhead fist with one palm. His arm screamed under the crushing force, but his expression did not change and Hercules seemed stunned for a second, which was a second more than Percy needed to retaliate.
Percy kicked him between the legs (hey, the end of the whole damn world taught you to fight dirty) and when the demigod doubled forward in pain, he kneed him in the chin, slapped him in the face, and promptly knocked him out with a well-timed hit to the back of his neck.
Hercules' head snapped forwards; his entire body sagged and slumped to the ground.
Zoë watched them with wide eyes.
"What hast thine done to him?" she snarled, like a protective lioness.
Percy raised an indignant eyebrow.
"Me? You saw it all already!"
"Thy resorted to petty tricks! None have been able to defeat Hercules, none!"
"Well, I guess I'm not like the others," he shot back, his frustration beginning to peak to a dangerous level. "And sometimes I wish I was, but I'm not, so you can stop moaning about it and just suck it up! Your pretty boy over there isn't the only one that's been forced to fight against Hydras and the Furies and the gods themselves."
Zoë's mouth opened like a fish's. Then closed again. And opened, but there was nothing she could say. Percy exhaled slowly, through his mouth, and ran a hand through his hair, squeezing his eyes shut.
"I'm sorry," he finally said. "I lost my temper. I shouldn't have said that. I came here for answers, and I've found them, though they aren't the ones I've hoped to find. Goodbye, Zoë Nightshade, and may we meet again under better circumstances. Pegasus, we're going now, and—"
There was an enraged shout from behind him. Percy spun around to see Hercules charging at him, a rather noticeable limp in his gait. He hoped it bruised. There was a familiar bronze sword clutched in his hand, the edge rippling with sad light, as if the blade knew that it was going to be used against its true owner.
Anaklusmos was inscribed on the worn handle in Ancient Greek.
Sudden fury coursed through his veins, burning hotly. Percy drew the adamantium sword. The balance was passable, but it was not perfect as Riptide had been.
"You… dare to humiliate… a son of Zeus?!" Hercules bellowed. Percy growled, swinging the sword around his index finger and gripping it to point forwards, his entire body crouched, the sword tip extending only an inch past his body. His right arm was drawn back, low and coiled, like a snake that was ready to strike.
"My lineage granted me no favors, and everything I've accomplished had to be through blood and sweat and tears. I've seen my world end, everyone that I've loved die before my eyes. Your name does not scare me, son of Zeus, and it would not matter to me if you were a son of Chaos himself!"
Hercules charged. Percy parried away his first blow, grimacing at the strength. He was only able to keep up because of his enhanced senses giving him a fraction of a seconds' warning before the strike landed. He twisted out of the way, flipping backwards to land in a crouch, the sword completing its smooth arc downwards.
"Is that the best you can do?" he asked mockingly. It probably wasn't a good idea to provoke Hercules further, but he couldn't help himself.
Zoë shouted, "Stop!" but neither of them listened. The flowers were getting trampled, bright smears of color against the ground.
Hercules clenched his hand and concentrated, his teeth gritting together. All signs of his previous amiability was gone, replaced with cold hate.
A slow, miniature tornado formed on his palm, swirling currents churning into a funnel that grew bigger and bigger. Lightning flickered, stippling up the sides before being swept to a new location.
Soon, it was easily ten stories high, cutting up flowers and tearing out great chunks of earth. Percy cursed under his breath. Water would only fuel the lightning, and hearth fire by the wind. Throwing out his hand, he concentrated on the feeling of being wrapped within layers upon layers of power, praying that whatever being had helped him before would do so now.
Then, there was the feeling of being stabbed, over and over, by thousands of sharp needles. He gritted his teeth, gasping in breaths that never came, and pushed what remaining energy to his extended arm, the prickling feeling going with it.
A short wedge of condensed wind and lightning, streaked with blue and black, wrapped around Percy's fist, forming a sharp point that enveloped him in its embrace.
The tornado swept him up, so close that he could see the grains of dirt churning within the belly of the storm.
Seconds passed in darkness.
Abruptly, the tornado fell away in chunks to reveal an exhausted and cut-up Hercules in the centre, hands on his knees, panting hard. Percy let the almost-solid sphere of wind and darkness drop away, perfectly unharmed underneath.
Landing lightly on his feet, he stalked soundlessly towards Hercules.
He threw his sword.
The tip cut through his tunic and pinned his shoulder to the wall. Hercules let out an almighty yell of pain, and lightning bellowed in the sky, but the Hesperides' borders deflected Zeus' bolt to land somewhere amongst the vast expanse of forest, far away.
Little cheat. "Hiding behind your daddy's legs, still?" Percy sneered.
Hot blood gushed. Percy drew closer. Hercules huddled back, like a frightened animal.
"I am not human," he hissed in his ear, ever so softly, so deceivingly gentle. "I do not care for your petty squabbles. If you wish to keep your life, stay out of my way."
Hercules made to snarl a defiant answer, but Percy struck him in the temple (a little harder than was necessary, but hey, it felt good) and he crumpled like a puppet with strings cut.
Picking up Riptide from where it was dropped into the dirt, he ran a finger down the inscription with a loving air, wiping away the blood and dirt.
"Mine," he breathed possessively, savoring in the little bit of home he had left. The last reminder of the 'good old days,' back when they were all alive and happy. He closed his eyes against the torrent of bittersweet memories.
The sword hummed in his hand, warm and glowing, as if it knew that it belonged there. Something inside of him that had so long been empty since Riptide's demise, filled.
Zoë was staring at him, a bit angry, a bit scared, and altogether very creeped out, though she was too proud to say so. Her eyes cut between Riptide and him, and he was still gripping the sword like there was no tomorrow.
Percy almost snarled at her, but swallowed it down in time. He cleared his throat in embarrassment, and after a moment's regretful pause, he flipped over Riptide to offer the hilt to her.
"It's yours," he said dully.
She hesitated, almost as if she would give the sword to him.
It was wishful thinking, and they both knew it. Why would she give her prized possession to a total stranger, one who had also just pummelled her possibly-boyfriend into the dirt?
Her hand closed on the hilt and as soon as their contact ended, the yawning void opened and he felt more tired than ever. The adrenaline rush Anaklusmos had provided seeped away. He wanted to fall on his face, then and there.
Percy eyed the destruction that had been the garden, and a little childish part of his brain whined sulkily that it was mostly Hercules' fault, really.
"Ah… sorry about your garden." He gestured vaguely at what might've been a rose, once upon a time, slightly sheepish. Zoë's lips twitched ever-so-slightly.
"It is alright. Gardens can be re-planted. Of course, Hercules will be helping me in that endeavour." Her smile was slightly wicked, and Percy felt bad for the demigod… before he decided that who was he kidding, he enjoyed every second of it.
"It was nice to meet you, Zoë Nightshade. I hope we meet again one day. Call on me, should you require any assistance."
With her slight smile and lightened eyes, she looked so much like the Zoë he knew that his breath seized. Hastily hiding his expression in Pegasus' mane, he mounted and sat upright, letting his face come alive under the light of the moon.
"The offer goes both ways. Fare thee well, Perseus, Destroyer of Worlds."
Percy sighed and stretched his arms over his head. He grimaced as several joints popped back into place. Turning his stiff neck to the side, he tried to work the kinks out of his muscles, but to his chagrin, it did not work.
"Pegasus, what time is it?"
"Six notches before the sun's zenith, Master!"
Six hours before noon. It was six o'clock in the morning. Percy grumbled under his breath.
So early. How did he wake up so early? They'd left the Garden at around midnight, and he could've easily slept a couple more hours. There was an insistent prickling at the base of his skull, a deep, low throb of pain.
Percy tried to massage the feeling out with his fingertips, but it only made the situation worse.
"I feel like my head's going to explode," he groaned out loud. Pegasus' head swivelled in alarm, and they almost flew into a flock of birds. For his sake, Percy quickly added, "Not literally, Pegasus, but it's close. It's like I'm trying to go upriver on a waterfall."
"Go with the flow?" Pegasus suggested.
Percy nodded slowly.
"Yeah, I think I will. Headache's getting worse. Stay alert in case anything happens. I'll probably be out of it for a while."
"Okay, Master!" Pegasus chirped brightly.
Percy closed his eyes and let go. Imagined that there was a great barrier withholding the flow of information. And thought of it breaking.
It was as though someone had stabbed a railroad spike through his eyes and was rubbing salt in the wounds. Percy's body arched backwards, and he vaguely felt Pegasus shifting in alarm. His hands came up to up his bleeding eyes, and he became well aware that he was bleeding from his nose, mouth, and ears as well.
Then he was pulled under in a shipwreck of sound.
It was like someone had put him into a brightly lit tunnel with content turns, zig-zagging deeper into the subconscious. He caught snatches of images, fragments of voices that could not be pieced into a whole.
"—please, anyone, anyone who's listening, save my child, please, please, I'll do anything—"
The world was red. Red like soup.
Skin was boiling, too, melting off to reveal charred white bone.
A crescendo of voices, hollow and ringing. It was meaningless babble.
"I'm poor, but I have ten sheep still, I'll slaughter them all, just spare my family and I! Oh wide-ruling Olympians, what have we done to anger you so? My family… we have done nothing but honor you!"
Houses, stacked like tinder boxes. Caving in, the roof falling in a shower of sparks. Sizzling flesh. Screams cut short.
"—anyone who's listening, save us—"
Like the gods listened.
Like they cared.
What a joke.
Far in the house of the sheep-owner, a rag doll caught fire. Its owner was long dead. The little girl. Four, five years old. Her parents cried her name, but they wouldn't have long, either. Soon, they would be together again for all of eternity.
In endless sleep.
Percy didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Fire skirted around a white marble temple and went around, leaving the building unsinged.
"He doesn't have a pulse, but he's still bleeding so quickly… how is that possible?"
Charred black ash. Pepper flakes.
Someone caught in fallen mortars begged for life. He was ignored. Utterly helpless.
The Fates loomed closer. One cut the string.
Snip-snip went the scissors.
The body went limp, leaving nothing but a puddle of blood that was rapidly evaporating in the heat. His mouth was open in a grotesque smile, baring bloody teeth.
As if there was something morbidly funny about the entire situation.
"—oh gods, he's breathing, quickly, someone staunch the bleeding! Get the bandages!"
Ground cracked. Forks of hot white rained down from the heavens.
"I'm sorry for everything I've done, please let me go to Elysium, I want to see her again, I need to…"
There were no more screams. Only the quiet crackle of consuming fire.
Snowflakes of ash.
Oil-like pages of books. Calligraphy. Age old knowledge. Gone in a brilliant torrent of fire, ascending to the heavens.
A burnt fragment fluttered from the sky.
'And I hope—' it read.
The rest was gone. Crumbled to ashes.
He felt like laughing at the poet. How foolish. How utterly, stupidly naiive. Just like he'd been, once upon a time. Hope did nothing at all. It brought nothing but sorrow and disappointment.
(he knew from experience)
They died. He saw the souls, wailing, lamenting the loss of life. Milky white spirits rose in a thick haze, reflecting in the light of the liquid sun, dying in its blanket across the horizon.
All the while, the moon burned bright. The stars came out. Nothing was amiss for inexorable nature. Life went on, as usual.
Witnesses to the violence.
Percy closed his eyes.
Multi-colored light against a backdrop of sky.
There was someone gripping his shoulders so tightly that it hurt, shaking him back and forth. The imprints of her palms seared against his shoulder blades.
Abstract colors painted the backs of his eyelids.
He opened his eyes.
Ethereal light glinted off of dark blonde hair. For a moment, he thought he'd died with the fire and went to Elysium. He almost wished he did.
But the eyes were wrong. They were silver. A beautiful silver, yes, but in that moment, they could've been the ugliest shade of puce and he wouldn't even have cared.
"Who…?" he croaked.
The woman smiled. Light flickered off of her body, and for the first time, he noticed how her belly bulged. It must've been an awkward balance of finess and flexibility to be in her position right now.
"Five months pregnant," she smiled, positively glowing at the thought. One hand came to cup her stomach in a tender gesture. "My youngest of three, soon to come to this world."
Percy swiped the heel of his hand over his mouth, and grimaced with it only served to make him look worse. Like he'd just stepped out of a chainsaw massacre movie.
"Thank you for healing me. I must go."
Percy pushed himself to his feet, just as the woman raised a fine eyebrow.
"Heal you? Oh, no, I did no such thing, you healed yourself. It's a marvellous regeneration ability you have there."
Percy tensed, but relaxed when she didnt seem to know any more. There was a sudden prickling at the base of his spine, but when he turned around, there was nothing there except for the woman, stowing something securely into a pocket of her clothes. She didn't look up at him until she was finished with her task.
"Well," she smiled again, this time like the sun, "I ought to be going before my children begin to wonder where I am. It was nice to meet you…?"
"Percy," he supplied.
"It was nice to meet you, Percy. Take care."
For a pregnant woman, she could disappear pretty fast. Pegasus came and butted his muzzle into Percy's side, hard, almost knocking him off balance.
"Don't scare me like that, Master," he sighed in relief. Percy stroked his silky mane quietly.
"Think you're up for one more stop tonight?"
• • •
He slid off of Pegasus' back and patted the horse's snout.
"Wait for me by the thicket of trees over there. I won't be long. This isn't something you'd want to see."
Pegasus looked uncertain, but nodded his head and trotted towards their meeting point. Percy took a deep breath, step forward, and parted the trees.
Immediately, the sick smell of burning flesh filled his nose, choking in intensity. He covered his nose with his hand, eyes watering. He tried to squint through the smoke.
There was nothing but charcoal lumps and half-burned bones.
A giant crematorium.
In the distance, like a warden looming over its prisoners, the temples gleamed, unharmed, over the horizon. Percy walked towards them, passing rows upon rows of burned houses. Some still had a semblance of a roof, while others had only one beam remaining, trying to straddle the walls.
The temple of Zeus stood in the centre, all gleaming white marble and precious stones. A depiction of him defeating Kronos stood in bas relief to the side, and Percy felt his lip curl into a sneer. No one ever remembered the demigods that fought for them, that had a hand in taking down the gods' foes. They only fought out of loyalty, and look where that got them.
Because to the gods, their children were nothing more than numbers. Cannon fodder.
To the left side of the pillar, there was a bloodstained handprint. It smeared down one side, twisting over to the other, as though the owner had slipped and fell. A half-burnt skeleton laid there, one hand outstretched to reach for something that was too far away. As if even in death, it could feel that the temple would be safe from harm.
A smiling teddy bear laid in the temple.
It had been thrown there by the skeleton. A child's last selfless act.
Percy picked it up.
The back was slightly singed, but otherwise it was fine. He turned it around and around in his hands, still as a statue. If anyone were to look at that moment, they would see a motionless figure carved out of stone, head dropped to his chin, staring silently at something in his hands.
Percy heard a far whinny from the distance. He looked up, squinting his eyes against the light of the rising dawn.
Funny. Dawn symbolized hope. Percy saw nothing but ashes.
He took one last look back at Zeus' temple, before turning away stiffly and leaving it behind.
All that was left of the entire village was a puddle of blood dried on white marble, the stench of acrid smoke, and the smiling teddy bear.