To Flee to Echoes

‘We have been walking for days,’ Grover moaned, peering into the depths of his tube of pringles. ‘If we’d not come out near that broken vending machine, I’d be starving.’

‘It’s not been days.’ Annabeth checked her watch. ‘Or… I don’t think it has.’ She glanced at Percy, motioning him over with her head.

‘What, Wise-girl?’ He scratched the back of his head.

‘My watch is broken,’ she whispered, holding up her wrist. ‘Look, the second hand is just ticking back and forth in the same spot.’

‘Did you forget to change the battery…?’

‘Obviously not. It’s this place.’ Annabeth glowered at the doors opening and closing like eyes in the walls. ‘Nothing you can rely on works in here.’

‘It’s meant to be a test.’

But only half the test. Percy’s dream came back in a flash of sunlight and floating white feathers. Daedalus made it. And he failed the rest.

‘A test of what?’

‘I don’t know,’ Percy grumbled. ‘Not leaving girls behind because you think you’re super important and worried about a prophecy…’

Except I left Bianca in the Underworld. A chill prickled down his spine. Did I fail already?

The corridor unfurled into two passages like the pages of a book falling open before them. 

‘Right or left?’ Percy asked. ‘Grover?’

‘I don’t know—’ he sniffed the air and bleated ‘—something smells nice though, like – like…’ Grover’s jaw dropped. ‘We have to go left, Percy. That’s Pan! That’s what I thought I smelt before when it was the fleece!’

‘We’re not here to find Pan, Grover,’ Percy said.

‘This is my last chance,’ Grover twisted his hoof on the ground. ‘I have to go, Percy. I have to. Or I’ll never get my licence.’

‘Last time you nearly got eaten by a cyclops.’

Grover gulped. ‘Right. That’s kind of why I was hoping you would come too.’

‘We can’t go off to find your lost god. Stopping Luke is more important than your licence, Grover,’ Percy said. ‘Who cares about something like that when Luke is trying to bring back Kronos?

‘I’ll go, Percy.’ Tyson pointed left down the passages. ‘We go that way to find Pan. You two go that way and stop Luke.’

‘Two!’ Annabeth threw her hands up in the air and groaned. ‘It’s two not to. Two flee to echoes.’

But then it’s just Annabeth. Percy’s heart sank beneath the endless weight of the sky; all the waters of the oceans and their crushing cold drove it deep down into a hollow dark little place in the pit of his stomach. And now I have to lose one most dear.

‘Go,’ Annabeth said, ushering them down the left passage and grabbing Percy’s arm. ‘Fish-breath and I can do it. We’ll meet up later.’ She hauled him right. ‘There,’ she whispered as the labyrinth folded closed behind them. ‘Now Tyson isn’t the one who’s going to get hurt.’

Because it’s going to be you now. You chose. 

Percy tugged his arm out of her hand and strode ‘round the corner. He smacked into something hard and reeled back, pain flashing through his nose.

‘Well, this is awkward, Percy,’ Luke said, rubbing his chin.

Percy pinched his nose until the pain faded. ‘Luke. I actually quite wanted to find you.’

 ‘Hi Annie,’ Luke muttered. ‘Sorry.’

‘Hi Luke.’ Annabeth folded her arms. ‘Going to murder everyone at camp, were you?’

He flinched. ‘If you’d just join us and stop letting the gods use us as toys, none of us would have to die, Annie.’

‘You tried to kill Thalia,’ she whispered. ‘Thalia!’ 

Luke glanced away. ‘I thought she was already dead. It was just a tree.’

‘It was still her tree!’ Annabeth kicked him in the groin, grabbing her knife as he staggered back with a groan. 

Percy snatched Anaklusmos from his pocket and clicked the top, slashing at Luke’s head. Another xiphos cut his aside and a dark-haired, dark-eyed boy stepped forward. 

‘I don’t know you,’ Percy said. ‘But Luke has to be stopped. You think Kronos is going to be any better?’

‘No. You have to be stopped. Kronos can’t be any worse than things already are.’ The boy raised his blade. ‘I’m Ethan. Ethan Nakamura. Son of Nemesis.’

‘Percy, but I guess you already know that.’

‘Son of Poseidon,’ Ethan said, his lip curling. ‘And more important than all the rest of us, just because your dad is one of the big three. Yeah, I know who you are.’ He lunged.

Percy side-stepped and Ethan jumped back. 

Luke caught Annabeth’s wrist, twisting her arm behind her back and shoving her into Percy. ‘You’re going to get yourself killed, Annie. You can’t stop me. This has to happen. Just… just help me. I don’t want to have to kill you.’

‘We can stop you. We stopped you before.’ Percy levelled Anaklusmos at him. ‘Remember?’

‘I do.’ Luke rolled his eyes and drew his blade. ‘Ares had one job…’

‘But this time it’s not just the one of me, Percy.’ He poked the toes of his trainer through the dust. ‘And there’s not a drop of water in here to help you.’

The sea is part of me wherever I go.

Red eyes glowed in the gloom beyond Luke’s shoulder and a low rumbling growl echoed down the passage.

But I wish I was stronger, then I could just stop all of this.

Annabeth wrenched the door open in the wall behind them and dragged Percy through. He stumbled to his knees in wet sand. A white-patched bull snout nudged his cheek, blowing hot air across cheek. 

‘Not you again.’ He pulled himself up on its serpentine coils. ‘I thought I told you to go somewhere safe. Why do you keep appearing?’

It bumped its warm damp nose into his face and huffed warm breath in his ear.

‘Don’t you even know what that is?’ Ethan stepped from a narrow crevice in the rocks at the beach’s edge. ‘That’s the Ophiotaurus. Whoever slays it will have the power to defeat the gods.’

‘Oh.’ Percy glanced between Ethan and its big brown eyes. ‘Are you sure? I’m not really getting a powerful vibe from it.’

Annabeth span her knife around in her hand. ‘You’re not getting to it either way.’

Hellhounds prowled out from behind Ethan’s legs, slinking from the gloom with soft snarls. 

‘I think I am,’ he said. ‘I want to change things. To make it fair. And this is how I do it.’

Percy brushed sand off his front and shook his head. ‘You’re doing it all wrong, Ethan. This isn’t changing things, you’re just making it worse.’

‘It has to get worse before it will get better.’ Ethan clasped his xiphos in both hands. ‘That’s how it works.’ He leapt forward, slashing at Percy. 

Percy caught his blade on Anaklusmos’s edge and twisted his wrists, sweeping Ethan’s blade over their heads and thrusting at his hip. A hellhound smacked into his side and Ethan dived to safety across the sand. 

‘Annabeth.’ Percy glanced at where she stood over a patch of gold dust, her blonde curls hanging over her face. ‘If you don’t mind, Feather-brain?’ He pointed to the three hellhounds circling on the sand behind Ethan.

‘I know. I’ll deal with them.’ She flexed her fingers on the hilt of her knife and inched forward.

Ethan charged, cutting at Percy from over his head in a flurry of two-handed strikes. Percy deflected them away, back-stepping across the sand as he tried to get out from under Ethan’s blade.

The Ophiotaurus watched with wide brown eyes, lowing softly as it slithered back from the fight.

Percy span to one side and hooked an ankle around Ethan’s legs, but Ethan dropped to one knee and bounced back up to his feet.

‘You can’t unbalance me.’ He sneered. ‘But of course you didn’t bother to learn anything about my mother, did you? So you wouldn’t know that.’

A low ripple of fury swept through Percy. ‘I’ve been busy trying not to die more or less from the moment I found out about our world. No thanks to you and Luke or anyone else.’ 

He took a deep breath and let the slow rush of the tide wash away his anger. I am the sea. His temper faded back down the beach and out into the blue. And the sea is unpredictable.

Percy stepped forward, leaning his weight one way and twisting the other as Ethan’s blade flashed up. Anaklusmos rang against the xiphos, ripping the sword from Ethan’s fingers and sending it bouncing across the sand.

‘Go on then.’ Ethan raised his chin. ‘One more demi-god dying for Olympus. And not even a child of any of the major gods, so who’ll even notice?’

Percy stared into the bronze blade in his hand. ‘Go back into the labyrinth, Ethan. Just remember, the next choice you make to kill or hurt one of us, that choice is your choice. You can’t blame Olympus for it. And what we do in life… we echo for eternity in Hades.’

Ethan edged across the beach and grabbed his sword, darting back into the crevice in the rocks. 

Dad. Percy turned to the sea. I don’t think the Ophiotaurus should just be roaming around on this beach.

The war already rages within the waves. His dad’s voice held all the sombre regret of grey days on the seashore. I can’t keep it safe beneath the sea.

Annabeth shook gold dust off her shoes. ‘We need to ask Athena for a way to stop it being a threat.’

‘Athena?’

‘Who better to ask for the solution to a problem than the Goddess of Wisdom?’ She stuck her knife back into its leather sheath. ‘It’s a wild creature, we can’t exactly bring it with us.’

‘A wild beast,’ Percy murmured. 

Lady Artemis. He glanced up into the clouds. I don’t suppose you’d help us save this creature? I don’t really want to kill it.

‘But would you slay it regardless, Perseus? If it would guarantee victory.’ Artemis dropped down from the rocks onto the sand and stalked across the sand. The silver blade in her hand gleamed like the winter moon high above the sea. ‘Is it not worth it, for all that power? For all the things you could do with it?’

Percy stared into its brown eyes and let Anaklusmos change back into a pen, tucking it into his pocket. ‘No. It’s never tried to hurt me. Why should I hurt it?’

A soft gleam flickered through her silver eyes. ‘You’re not worried you might regret your choice, Perseus?’ The silver blade flashed in her fingers and vanished. ‘Think of all the good you could do with that strength…’

‘No. It’s innocent.’ He struggled for words. ‘We should look after it, not – not kill it. I’m not going to regret looking after it.’

Zoë would look after it. 

A flash of light seared at him and a small, dark-haired guinea pig crawled across the sand where the Ophiotaurus had slithered.

Percy frowned. ‘A guinea pig…’

The corner of Artemis’s mouth twitched. ‘Yes, Perseus. A guinea pig.’

I think she’s laughing at me. 

A glimmer of humour flickered through her silver irises as she scooped the guinea pig up off the sand with one hand.

Percy flushed. And she can read my thoughts. 

‘Remember, Perseus,’ she murmured. ‘Zoë’s legacy and pride is in your hands. Everything she was.’

‘In my pocket, actually.’ His brief grin faded. ‘I know…’

I won’t disappoint her. I gave my word. Percy saw Zoë smile up into Artemis’s tearful pride once more, burnt into the eye of his mind as if it had been branded. And I do not break it.

‘Close your eyes, Perseus,’ Artemis said. ‘You too, daughter of Athena.’

A flash of silver seared through his eyelids.

‘You prayed to her?’ Annabeth glanced around and folded her arms. ‘Instead of Athena?’

She stepped under the sky for you. She saved Zoë and Iphigenia and Thalia and probably thousands of girls like them. Percy swallowed a hot lump. Who better to ask for help?

‘It worked.’ Percy shrugged. ‘Maybe Athena would have just suggested we do that and I saved us some time.’

She glowered. ‘Just once I wish you would take the time to think about things before you do them!’

He laughed. ‘I thought you were worried I’d changed, Column-hugger?’

Annabeth’s glower curved into a smile and she poked him in the shin with her heel. ‘Well at least you’re back to yourself. I was starting to worry. You were trying to use that kelp-brain.’ She let out a long sigh. ‘Come on. Let’s get back in there. We need to figure out the rest of that prophecy.’

Then lose one most dear. Percy’s cheer drained away and his heart sank down into deep dark, cold water, settling like a grain of sand on the seafloor, crushed beneath all the weight of the world. I know what happens next.

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