XXXIII

Percy

PERCY IS IN A TOWERING hall of shelves and stacks and piles of books.

He couldn't see a single soul around. Just books and books and books. Ancient and modern and hardbacks and paperbacks. Annabeth will love these, he thought. And then the idea itself struck him: Where is she?

"Annabeth," he starts to call out her name. Soft and wondering at first. Then this feeling of unease just blooms inside him, making him anxious.

"Annabeth!" he walks faster along the rows of shelves, realizing that this place is a maze. Where is she?

A few minutes tick by, still no sign of a blonde girl. Then, suddenly, the lights coming from the candles surrounding him dim. And there was a figure nearby. Just a silhouette.

"Annabeth?" Percy asks. She was just standing there, leaning by a shelf. There was a dusty book in her hand.

"Why are we here? What is this place..?"

Instead of answering, Annabeth pauses and looks up at Percy. She smiles, cocks her head sideways then ducks at the next shelf, hiding from Percy.

"Wait - !" Percy says, exasperated. "Annabeth!"

He keeps looking, but every damn time she becomes near, she walks away and hide, smiling sadly.

"Wait for me, Wise Girl!" He says. "Why are you running away. . . "

He was awoken by a series of loud knocks on his cabin door.

He snaps his eyes open.

Annabeth.

But even before he opens his eyes, Percy is sure that she wouldn't be there. His dream tells him that much.

"Peeercy!" Grover bleated at the other side of the door.

After swiftly pulling some black boxers on, he opens the door. "Hey, G-Man - "

"Annabeth's gone," Grover says without preamble.

A cold feeling settles Percy's heart. "What?"

"Annabeth. She's gone."

Percy can't move. "But.. she's.. we - "

"Rachel won't stop crying in her cave. When we asked her what's the problem, she just said 'She's gone' and I figured.."

Gods. He is so stupid.

The feeling of something wrong. His dream. Her eyes.

It was so obvious. And he let himself be distracted.

In a record time, Percy pulls some fresh Camp Half Blood shirt on and his discarded jeans on the floor. He is out his cabin door under five minutes.

"Where is Rachel?" He asks Grover calmly, already knowing the answer.

"Still at her cave. But - Percy - Rachel is distraught - "

Without further ado, he almost runs towards the Oracle's cave.

He doesn't knock. He comes barging towards the room like a canon ball.

"Rachel," Percy says. Grover is right behind him, panting at the effort of keeping up with him.

They found the oracle sitting at the floor, still sobbing. In front of her is some kind of burning incense. It emits a different kind of smell. Like rosewood and metal.

"Rachel," Percy tries again, willing the other girl to focus. "I need you to do something. I need you to find Annabeth,"

But Rachel just. Sits there. Silently crying.

Percy cannot lose it as well. They have to help him. He feels his knuckles tightened, turning white. "Rachel. I need you to do this. You have to find Annabeth now - "

"You don't understand, Percy." Rachel whispers. "Annabeth's gone,"

He doesn't know everything, he knows that. But he knows that much, and that includes the fact that he cannot surrender. Not now, not ever. Not for Annabeth. Not again.

Percy, shaking with controlled panic, quickly goes towards where Rachel was kneeling. He crouches down to tilt her head up and he looks directly in her eyes. They have almost the same shade of emerald irises. But right now, the Oracle's eyes were hollowed, and Percy's were overflowing with power and energy.

"What did you see?" Percy presses.

Rachel shakes her head. "That's just it, Percy." She sobs. "I can't. I can't see Annabeth anymore. She has decided. She chose this over the other thing. You know she can't be restrained. And even if she stayed, she will never get justice for everything,"

Percy was shaking. "What are you saying?" He asks. "Rachel. What goddamned choice is it again?! Why didn't you tell me - ! "

"I didn't know!" Rachel wails. "I swear to all the gods listening right now, I didn't know!" She sobs. "It was too late when I figured it all out. It was too late to warn her. To warn you,"

Percy can't feel a thing.

"Annabeth had two choices. To stay or to go look for him. You know her well enough, Percy. Before anything was decided, you should've thought that she will look for him. She had sacrificed herself before. Of course she will do it again,"

Percy is so stupid. He could taste blood in his mouth. He could feel his rage inside him, unfurling.

"That John. He has power. Power coming from the depths of Tartarus. He used it to manipulate the situation. He threatened the camp. And he can very well destroy it that easily. Annabeth knows it. That's why even if she has the choice to stay.. she.. she didn't." Rachel buries her face in her palms. "Oh, Annabeth,"

No. Percy can't lose it. "Now, what do you see?" He asks. "What will happen now that she chose not to stay?"

Rachel looks up. She stares at him vacantly, with tears silently falling down her cheeks. Then she slowly shakes her head. "She's not ours anymore." She whispers. "The moment she comes back to him, her memories will be locked away permanently. And she won't be coming back anymore. The Annabeth Chase living within her will die. What's going to be left is the remnants of her feigned soul. Whom we don't know. And whom John Owens made up,"

Percy stares. Not moving.

"I'm sorry, Percy," Rachel breathes.

Slowly, Percy shakes his head. "Don't be. Because I'm going to get her,"

Rachel whimpers. "You will die - "

"I'm dying!" He shouted, his voice cracking. That moment, Percy wants to just.. explode. To give up. But he can't. He won't. Never for Wise Girl. "I'm already dying, Rachel. Ever since Annabeth closed the doors, half of me died along with her,"

Everything is still. Silence. No rhythm.

"Then when she came back, I was.. alive again.. The Fates offered me a chance to save her. And.. I can't just.. give up.." His voice broke again at the last words. But he is strong. He has to pull himself together. For Annabeth.

"I'm in," a voice calmly says from the entrance door of the cave. Percy doesn't have to look to recognize the voice.

"Lou and I are going to help in saving Annabeth. As well as the other campers." Nico di Angelo says as hard as steel.

Percy stands up. "Let's not waste our time then. Rachel. We still need your help. Can we count on you?" He asks coldly.

Rachel sniffs. "Of course. Anything for Annabeth." Then she lets Percy hauls her up from the floor.

"Percy!" Nico shouts. "Wait up,"

They are hiking down the Oracle's cave towards the cabins. They left Rachel to do her summoning and rituals to strengthen the camp's protection borders. Grover is already alerting all the nymphs and dryads all across the forest for a possible attack - if they failed in this suicide / rescue mission.

"Where is your girlfriend?" Percy asks Nico, a bit panting from running and all the panic.

"Er, what d'you - "

"Where is Lou - ?"

"In the cabins, she's back at her cabin, geez,"

"Right I need to ask for the pendant,"

"The - the pendant? The thing that John gave to Annabeth for him to control her?"

"Exactly that thing, yeah."

Nico's eyebrows furrowed. He doesn't trust the guy, John. Much for his artifacts meant for controlling and destroying. "Then why are you - "

"There's no time to explain,"

Before they knock down the door to Hecate's cabin, Percy turns to Nico. "I need you to stay here."

"What? No, man, I'm coming with you - "

"You can't. I have a feeling the charm won't be as effective when two demigods are tracking him. I'll take Mrs. O'Leary instead."

Nico reluctantly nods. "If that's what you think the best way, then I have no choice, Hades." He grumbles. "But how the hell will you hunt them down, Percy?"

Percy looks away, then he comes barging at the Hecate's cabin door. "With the help of his siblings, of course."