The fire crackled at the heart of camp, the small ring of campers chatting around it dwindled in twos and threes as the night darkened. Percy breathed in the smoke-flavoured air in slow, steady washes, letting the calm of the tide flow through him.
‘Why are you lurking over here?’ Annabeth dropped down onto the ground beside him. ‘I was banging on your cabin door for nearly ten minutes.’
‘Sorry, I can’t hear you knocking from all the way over here.’ Percy tugged his eyes away from the flames, the sea slipping from his grasp. ‘Did you really just try banging louder for ten minutes, daughter of wisdom?’
Annabeth’s grey eyes bored into the side of his head. ‘Did… Did Luke say something to you last summer, Percy?’ she whispered. ‘You’ve been really quiet since you came back to camp. I don’t think I’ve seen you speak to anyone.’
‘I don’t want to be sitting around here waiting. Luke has to be stopped. And we’re here toasting marshmallows.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t even like marshmallows.’
‘Do you hate him?’ Annabeth chewed the tip of one of her blonde curls. ‘Luke, I mean.’
A soft rage swelled in Percy’s chest, a low, dark ripple across a smooth, black sea. ‘A little bit, yes. He’s making the wrong choice and we will all suffer for it.’
‘He loves us like family,’ she whispered. ‘He’s doing it for that.’
‘It’s still the wrong choice.’
Annabeth wound her curls around her finger. ‘Yes, but… can you blame him? He loved Thalia and the Gods took her away, he loved his mother, his siblings, and one by one…’
‘Yes.’ Percy stared her in the eyes. ‘He’s being selfish.’
‘Don’t start that again.’ Annabeth scowled. ‘Love is the most important thing, if we didn’t care about each other, where would we be, Seaweed Brain?’
‘And what about when you do something wrong for love?’ he asked. ‘Like bringing back Kronos to kill half of the people you call family? It’s a good thing right up until you do something selfish. And we’re not just ordinary people, Annabeth, we have further to fly, and further to fall.’
‘Zoë really got to you, didn’t she?’ Annabeth muttered. ‘What did she do to make your stubborn kelp-head listen to all that romantic love is bad nonsense? You don’t listen to me.’
‘She was brave.’ Percy swallowed a hot lump, blinking back tears. ‘She was so so brave.’
Annabeth turned away toward the fire as the last few campers slipped back to their cabins. ‘If you were a girl, would you have said yes like Thalia?’
‘And follow Artemis forever?’ Percy glanced up at the crescent moon hanging above the trees. ‘No. I promised Zoë I’d make her proud. If I ran away from Fate, she’d be ashamed of me.’
Annabeth’s lips thinned and she sighed. ‘We can go talk to the oracle again tomorrow if you like?’
‘I would.’ He balled his fists. ‘I don’t want to watch anyone else dying for Olympus.’
‘Luke probably thought the same thing,’ she murmured.
Percy narrowed his eyes, a faint ripple of rage sweeping through him. ‘And then he chose to do something that would lead to exactly that happening.’
Annabeth twitched. ‘I don’t agree with him. I’m here, not there. I just… don’t think too harshly of him, Percy. He was my friend. He’s not a monster.’
But heroes who fall from grace often end up that way if they don’t die fast enough. He smothered a dull ache before it rose to swallow him. Zoë’s right. She was right about everything.
She huffed. ‘I’m going to bed, Percy. You should, too. Curfew starts in a few minutes.’
‘I will.’ He pushed himself up against the cabin wall and stared up at the stars, imagining Zoë’s small smile and the bright sparkle in her eyes. ‘In a minute.’
‘Good night, Percy,’ Annabeth whispered, drifting away through the camp.
Percy wandered past the fire toward Zeus’s fist, his eyes on the sky until the moon and the Zoë’s constellation shone side by side through the gap in the trees. Thank you, Artemis, for everything you did for Zoë. Thank you for being so important to her.
A quiet rumble echoed through the woods and a dark crevice opened in the rocks. Percy held his breath, slipping Anaklusmos from his pocket.
A shadow slipped out, stepping into the moonlight. Bright green eyes flashed beneath dark curls.
‘Hey Silena,’ Percy called. ‘What’s in there? Some secret Aphrodite girl clothes grotto?’
Silena gasped and fumbled something dark into the grass.
A slim, black scythe charm lay on the dew-soaked green.
Kronos. Ice flashed through Percy’s veins.
She snatched the charm up and darted down the hill.
‘Silena!’ Percy sprinted after her, batting branches away and stumbling through the brambles, wincing as they whipped against his skin. ‘Silena!’
He burst out of the trees onto the headland. The sea stretched away on either side of the narrow spit of land, its waves sparkling in the moonlight.
Silena twisted and turned on the spot, her dress fluttering around her legs. ‘Hey Percy.’ She glanced at the large rock between her and the beach, sidling toward it. ‘You’re out late. You’re going to be in trouble for breaking curfew.’
‘Not as much trouble as you,’ Percy replied, cutting her off. ‘Why, Silena? What did Luke promise you? What could he possibly have said to make you do this?’
Silena’s shoulders slumped. ‘He has Charlie,’ she whispered. ‘And if I don’t do what he asks…’
‘Charlie wouldn’t want you to do this.’ He met her green eyes. ‘He’d rather die than betray his friends. If he knew what you’d done—’
‘He’ll forgive me. He loves me. He asked me to leave him, but he knew I wouldn’t. I saw it in his eyes.’ She tugged a slim knife from her waist and peered down the steep drop to the waves. ‘I can’t let him go. I can’t. I need him back. I love him.’
‘For love.’ Percy grimaced. ‘What did they ask you to do, Silena?’
She balled her fist around the small, bronze dagger. ‘Find out what’s happening. Tell them. I’m not a fighter.’ Silena’s lip quivered. ‘I have no choice. If I don’t do it, they’ll kill him.’
‘If you tell them something, someone else could die,’ Percy said.
‘I know!’ Tears sprang up in her eyes. ‘I know,’ she whispered. ‘Of course I know. But I can’t let him die. I love him. How can I live without him?’
The ruin of heroes. Percy’s heart sank. But no choice, no unavoidable consequences.
‘Put the knife down,’ he said. ‘If you get caught, you can’t choose.’
Silena stared at the knife in hand. ‘No,’ she murmured. ‘No, they’ll know I let myself get caught. Luke said he’d kill Charlie if I got caught easily.’ She straightened up. ‘I’m sorry, Percy.’
‘You’re not a fighter, Silena…’ Percy rested the ball of his thumb on the top of Anaklusmos’s pen. ‘A nice dress and lip gloss aren’t exactly armour.’
Silena brushed the tears from her eyes and drew herself up. ‘Oh, Percy, don’t you know how many boys die for love?’ She offered him a gentle smile. ‘Come—’ her words slipped into his ear like the whisper of red silk beneath soft fingers ‘—come kiss me.’
The wind tugged Silena’s dress tight about her, clinging to her skin, her dark hair fluttering across her face. Pink lip gloss glistened on her lips, smooth and bright and sweet as candy.
She’s so pretty. A soft heat traced through his veins and his heart quickened. Does she really want me to kiss her?
‘Kiss me, Percy.’ Silena slipped a step through the rustling grass toward him. ‘I know you yearn to.’ A shy, hopeful light shone in her green eyes. ‘I would really like you to, I promise.’
His breath caught. Her words sang in his blood, a hot little whisper caressing away everything but her full, pink lips and the gleam of sparkling lip gloss.
Moonlight flashed on the knife in her hand.
Zoë. Percy shook his head clear, reaching for the slow, measured wash of the waves up the beach and letting it wipe his thoughts clear. Don’t disappoint her.
‘Don’t be shy, Percy,’ Silena murmured, biting her lip. ‘Come kiss me already.’
The tide washed her words from his mind like they were names drawn in the sand of the beach.
He smiled. ‘You can’t charmspeak the sea, Silena,’ Percy said. ‘If you try and command the tide to stop, you’re just going to get your shoes wet. And then all your sisters will be horrified.’
She took a deep shaky breath. ‘Percy—’
Anaklusmos sprang into a xiphos.
Silena paled. ‘I have to do it, Percy. Just — just pretend you didn’t see me. Nobody will know.’
He glanced up at the stars. Zoë will know.
She lunged. Percy caught the knife on the edge of Anaklusmos, twisted her arms over their heads and smashed the knife free from her grip against the rock.
Percy levelled Anaklusmos at her chest. ‘Come back with me.’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘No I can’t, Percy.’ Silena squeezed her eyes shut. ‘I might not be able to charmspeak you, but I’ve been here a while. They trust me. I just have to beat you back to camp.’ She threw a look over the edge. ‘You won’t be the first boy your age who’s got into trouble over me or my sisters at camp. Nobody will believe you.’
‘This isn’t some prank,’ Percy replied. ‘You’re helping Kronos. That pendant is all the proof I’d need.’
‘Luke said I’d be saving lives,’ she whispered, staring at the pendant in her hand. ‘And then he captured Charlie…’ Silena hurled the pendant at him.
Percy flinched behind his arm and it bounced off his elbow, vanishing into the grass.
Silena leapt from the edge.
A loud crack and a shrill scream echoed up from the waves. She floundered in a cloud of dark water as the tide tugged her out, flailing her arms in the surf.
Percy reached for the sea.
No. His dad’s voice rang in his ears, echoing like the crash of waves. She chose. Now she must face the consequences.
‘But I get to choose too,’ he whispered. ‘And I want to save her.’
He seized hold of the waves and swept Silena onto the beach amidst the driftwood and seaweed, scrambling down onto the sand.
It doesn’t work like that, Percy. His dad tugged the sea from his gasp.
The waters rushed back down the white sand into the rolling waves. Silena dragged herself to her feet with a moan, hobbling toward camp as shouts rang out from between the silhouetted cabins. Moonlight glinted on the bone poking through her left shin and flashed on the waves.
‘Silena stop!’ Percy shouted, grabbing her arm. ‘You have to stop.’
She shook her head with a sad smile and stumbled another step. ‘Can’t stop, Percy. One day, you’ll understand why.’
‘If you don’t—’
‘You’ll kill me?’ Silena grabbed Anaklusmos’s blade and pressed the tip to her breast. ‘Will you, Percy?’
He stared into her green eyes. ‘No. No, I’ll just tie you up somewhere. And gag you. Then you can’t do anything. And I’ll go save Charlie.’ Percy let go of the hilt of the blade and stepped back. ‘Will you kill me, Silena? It won’t change where Charlie is. Luke will just keep asking for more and more, and Charlie will still be captured.’
She snatched the blade, clasping it in both hands. ‘I have to.’
‘That’s Percy!’ Someone shouted from the camp.
‘Silena…’ Percy spread his hands, ignoring the cold bronze point digging into his collarbone. ‘You have to stop.’
‘I said I can’t, Percy,’ she whispered, throwing a glance at the camp. ‘But I am sorry.’ Silena stared at the blade. ‘You’re a sweet boy, but I love Charlie.’ She took a deep breath. ‘You shouldn’t have given me the sword.’
Anaklusmos flashed in the moonlight as she tightened her grip.
I may have misjudged this. Percy gulped. So much for a great destiny.
A dark blur whistled through the corner of his eye, thunking into Silena’s neck. Bronze burst out the far side in a splatter of blood and Anaklusmos thudded into the sand.
‘Percy save Charlie…’ she whispered, spluttering blood down her dress and crumpling to her knees. ‘Please… save… Charlie…’ Silena toppled onto her side and fell still.
Footsteps pounded across the beach.
‘Immortal Gods,’ someone gasped. ‘Is that Silena?’
‘Percy, what happened?’ Annabeth yelled. ‘Percy!’
Percy bent and picked Anaklusmos up, brushing grains of sand from the bronze back onto the beach. They bounced across to where a pool of crimson crept out from beneath Silena’s dark hair and trickled toward the water.
See, Percy. His dad’s voice came in a whisper with the wash of the tide, cold as deep dark water. Choice. And Fate.
‘The sea is unforgiving,’ he muttered, drifting down to the foaming waves. ‘Is she in Elysium, or…?’
What mortals choose in life, they find in Hades. All the weight of the ocean hung in his dad’s words, bottomless black and bleak rocks.
‘She’s not, is she?’ Percy squeezed his eyes shut and slipped Anaklusmos back into his pocket. ‘Is this what we die for, dad? To be just another grain of sand swept out to sea?’
The waves broke on the beach, rushing up to his toes.
‘Percy!’ Annabeth grabbed his shoulder and yanked him ‘round. ‘What happened?’
‘Luke has Charlie Beckendorf,’ he said. ‘And for Charlie…’
For selfish love… He knelt and cupped his hand in the cool sea, the faint sting on his neck fading. And now that’s all she’ll have. For eternity.
‘She betrayed us,’ Annabeth whispered. ‘But she was a counsellor. Everyone loved her…’
‘She loved Charlie more.’ Percy straightened up and stepped into the edge of the tide, letting its cool sweep over his feet. ‘She came out of some kind of cave, we need to make sure nothing else comes out of there. And there’s some kind of charm on the headland that we should destroy.’
She scowled. ‘Right. I’m on it.’
‘Good night, Annabeth.’ He strode into the cool of the surf.
‘Your cabin is that way, seaweed brain.’ She pointed down the beach. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Nowhere.’ Percy flopped onto his back in the waves and stared up at the stars, letting the tide pull him away from the shore. Melancholy swallowed him, like cold water closing over his head. ‘I miss you, Zoë. You would have stopped her somehow, made her understand. And Nico.’
I don’t think I can do this like you did.