Sweat trickled down Annabeth’s forehead, dripping from her chin. Tears glistened in her grey eyes and her soaked golden curls clung to the trembling, twitching muscle in her clenched jaw.
‘She’s not going to last much longer.’ A familiar voice drifted from behind him.
Luke! Percy twisted around.
Luke sat upon a bare boulder overlooking the grotto, his bare blade on his lap. ‘You’re faster than I am. Faster than Atlas. If you want to, you can leave her here. After all, you’re a goddess. You’re far more powerful and important than any mortal. And what does it matter if they’re family.’
A slim, lithe figure slipped from the trees ringing the glade’s summit.
Artemis. Anxiety knotted in Percy’s guy. You gave me your word you’d help her.
A silver bow strung with pale moonlight shone in Artemis’ hand as she drifted to the edge. ‘Where is Atlas?’
Luke grinned. ‘We are the only three here. It took some time to persuade him to leave, but in the end, he listened and accepted that if he remained, you’d only try to force him back beneath his old burden.’ He stood up and sheathed his blade. ‘I think poor Annie only has a couple of minutes before she gives in, you know.’
‘Will you let her die? If the sky falls, everything ends,’ Artemis said. ‘All demigods die. All mortals die. Everything.’
If the sky falls, does Olympus remain? Horror rose in Percy, a hot, raw, bile-edged rush of it. Will she let it drop and kill us all to stop Luke and Kronos?
‘Death is already our fate.’ Luke’s grin twisted into bitterness. ‘You could stop the sky from falling by making the sacrifice yourself, but you won’t. Like my father, like Zeus, like all the rest of you, you don’t care about us at all. We sacrifice for you, over and over, and you give nothing in return.’
Percy’s heart sank, guilt chewed at it in the pit of his stomach with cold, blunt teeth. I should have made her swear an oath.
‘Kronos will be crueler than my father.‘ Artemis’s bow faded away to nothing and her gaze rose to meet Percy’s. ‘But I will save her. I promised I would.’ A soft, sadness rose in her silver irises. ‘And, in time, I may well be saved, too.’
The bottom dropped out of Percy’s stomach. Does she mean me?
‘Nobody will save you,’ Luke said. ‘You’ll be trapped there forever. I won’t let any of us die to save one of you.’
‘Fate offers choice to all mortals, Luke, son of Hermes, not just you.’ Artemis drew in a deep breath. ‘It’s not so kind to us.’
A flash of silver seared at Percy’s eyes.
He flinched back. Pain burst across the back of his head as he smacked into the corner of the bedside table. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for it to fade.
‘Percy…’ Annabeth’s whisper drifted through the dark. ‘Are you there?’
His eyes snapped open.
She slumped against the wall, pale-faced and drenched in sweat, limbs trembling and shaking. ‘She said she promised you. That she was sending me somewhere I’d feel safe.’
Percy jumped out of bed and darted to her side. ‘Are you, okay?’
Annabeth shook her head. ‘I felt like I was dying. They had me under the sky for less than a minute and I could feel all of it crushing down on me. I can still feel it.’
He slid an arm around her shoulders. ‘Can you walk?’
‘I can’t move,’ she whispered. ‘I’m so tired.’
Percy slipped an arm under her legs and heaved her into his arms, staggering to the bed and setting her down. ‘You’re safe here. Rest.’
Annabeth clung to his arm as her eyelids fluttered closed. Her breathing turned even and deep, her grip loosening. Percy eased her fingers free from the sleeve of his pyjamas.
I may be saved, too. His heart wrenched. I can’t leave her there. She gave everything up for one of us.
Percy tugged a blanket from the cupboard and lay it over Annabeth, snatching riptide from the bedside table and storming out into the dark.
Harpy cries echoed through the night as he stumbled through the dark toward the big house.
If Chiron won’t listen, then I’ll break into the attic and hear what the oracle says myself.
He stepped around the side of the house and smacked into a shadow, pain flashing through his face. Percy unleashed Anaklusmos and levelled it at the dark figure.
A silver tiara clattered to the ground at his feet.
‘Zoe?’ Percy poked his finger against his stinging lip and lowered his blade. ‘What are you doing?’
‘What art thou doing?’ she retorted. ‘Sneaking around in the dark.’
He glanced around. ‘Night-time stroll. I — er — really like them?’
She picked her tiara up from the ground, polishing the dust and dirt off, and set it back upon her brows. ‘In those clothes? I doubt it.’ Her nose wrinkled. ‘They are hideous. Didst thou make them thyself?’
‘I’m fairly sure my Dad did, so you may want to go easy on the criticism… Besides, you’re wearing a tiara.’ He stared into her dark eyes, resisting the urge to blink. ‘I need to speak to Chiron.’
She pursed her lips. ‘I need to speak to Chiron first.’
Percy sighed. ‘How about we go together, I’m fairly sure you’re going to want to know what I dreamt.’
Zoe stiffened. ‘What didst thou dream?’ she hissed. ‘Who didst thou dream of?’
‘Artemis,’ he whispered. ‘I dreamt of Artemis.’
A soft leather whisper caught his ear and cold steel grazed his throat. ‘Tell me,’ Zoe demanded, a fierce glint in her eye. ‘Where didst thou dream of her?’
‘Beneath the sky,’ Percy said, ignoring the sting of the blade against his neck. ‘She saved Annabeth, like she said she would.’
Zoe’s blade vanished. ‘Of course she did. Lady Artemis gave her word.’
‘I’ve been given the word of gods before,’ he muttered. ‘But she knew I was there, she asked me to save her.’
‘Thou?’ Zoe grimaced and turned away. ‘Thou art helpless, hopeless, an angry kitten mewling at wolves.’
‘’I should be a sea creature, at least.’ Percy glanced at her empty hands and turned back to the door, twisting the knob. ‘Locked.’
‘Break it,’ Zoe hissed. ‘We need to go. If Lady Artemis is beneath the sky, we must leave immediately.’
‘You break it,’ he said. ‘I’m one more misdemeanour from eternal harpy duty after the whole golden fleece deal.’
Zoe glowered at him with obsidian dark eyes, then smashed her elbow through the glass pane, sticking an arm through to unlatch it from inside. ‘Useless boy.’
‘Vandalous girl.’ Percy shoved the door open and stepped in.
The lights flickered on.
‘I told you I locked the attic, Perseus.’ Chiron’s silhouette approached down the corridor, his hooves ringing on the floorboards. ‘I’m disappointed.’
‘We need to speak with thou, Chiron.’ Zoe barged past him. ‘Lady Artemis needs our help. She is trapped beneath the sky.’
‘You know this?’ Chiron paused beside the stairs. ‘How?’
She glanced at Percy. ‘The son of Poseidon dreamt it. He told me.’
‘Dreams are not always—’
‘She sent Annabeth back,’ Percy said. ‘She’s in my bed, exhausted.’
Zoe stiffened. ‘In your bed?’
He smothered a flash of irritation. ‘Artemis saved Annabeth. She kept her word. I — I can’t leave Artemis beneath the sky. It’s not right.’
Chiron sighed and pulled a thick, bronze key from his pocket. ‘Go on up, Perseus.’
‘I will go with him,’ Zoe said.
Percy snatched the key from Chiron’s hands and bounded up the stairs three steps at a time. He stabbed the key into the lock and wrenched it, shoving the door open with his shoulder.
The oracle’s half-bandaged, withered face snapped up. ‘Son of the sea. Lost girl from the garden.’
Zoe flinched. ‘I’m Lieutenant of the Hunt.’
The oracle rose to her feet, bandages fluttering about her arms and legs, her veiled eyes fixing themselves on Zoe. ‘You will chase fate to the place you once loved most, with Agamemnon’s penance and Hades’s boast. Grief waits for two as they flee the hate of old bones and a hero will die, forsworn amongst thrones.’ Her gaze snapped to Percy, burning through him. ‘Lost girl from the garden will be followed by three, one you saved, one you helped, and one she’ll set free. Pure hearts will learn a truth to leave scars, and a hero’s choice will build a spire to the stars.’
Zoe stared at the bandaged figure as it sank back into its chair. ‘Come, Perseus,’ she whispered. ‘We need to leave.’
‘I don’t know who we’re meant to take,’ he admitted. ‘Most of that made no sense to me.’
She tore her eyes from the oracle. ‘I am going. Iphigena and Bianca are the two who are coming with me. The three that will follow me, I’m less sure of. The oracle looked to thee, so one thou saved, one thou helped, and one I’ll set free.’
‘I haven’t really saved anyone,’ Percy muttered. ‘Except possibly Annabeth, but she can’t come, not after what she’s been through.’
‘The last of those three must be thee, if Lady Artemis asked for thy aid.’ Zoe balled her fists. ‘Choose the other two quickly.’
‘I don’t know!’ He stared at her, biting at his lip. ‘I don’t know…’
Her expression softened. ‘Fate is made by our choices, Perseus. Whoever thou doth choose, it will always have been, so choose whoever thou believe best.’
‘Thalia…’ Percy grimaced. ‘She’s strong and skilled. I brought the fleece back that saved her from being a tree.’
‘But she’s not that smart.’
‘I’m not all that smart,’ he said. ‘Annabeth would know who to choose, Annabeth—’ Clarity struck in a flash of blonde hair and grey eyes. ‘Malcom. Annabeth’s sibling.’
‘Find them.’ Zoe grabbed his shoulder. ‘We leave in an hour. I know where we need to go.’
‘The place you once loved most.’ Percy winced as the words slipped through his lips.
‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘Home.’