The walls of the labyrinth twisted and turned, cast in frozen obsidian, the blinking doorways pale as ash. Stumbling feet and trembling hands led him through, up slim, worn stone steps to a great arch and past the sprawling black coils to the shimmer of the sky.
It loomed above his head, an endless flood of black pouring down upon his shoulders, crushing as all the weight of the sea upon a single grain of sand, swelling up to the soft, distant lights and the bright, full glow of the moon.
Their light lifted his heart high into the heavens and a soft hand rested between his shoulder blades, easing him from the dark.
Percy blinked awake, squinting at a plain marble wall. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and rolled over.
Familiar dark eyes stared back.
‘Zoë,’ he whispered, shoving himself up. ‘Am I…? With you?’ Relief flooded through him. ‘Did I make you proud?’
The dark eyes blinked and a cool hand cupped his forehead. ‘Rest, brave one,’ a gentle voice murmured. ‘You didn’t come to me easily.’
A bitter pain twisted in Percy’s ribs. ‘You’re not Zoë.’ He breathed the tide in and out in one long go, taking in the modest white chiton and waist-length dark hair. ‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Calypso.’ She offered him a small, kind smile and drew her hand back. ‘You are a guest on my island. You have been for several days since you washed up on my shores.’
‘Ogygia. My home.’
It rang a distant bell in the back of Percy’s mind, pulling a quiet murmur of Gabe’s up from some half-remembered myth.
‘Rest, hero,’ Calypso said, easing him back down onto the bed with one hand. ‘You must recover your strength.’
Sleep tugged at him.
Percy fought it back. ‘I have to go back.’ He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. ‘If I’m not dead, then I have to go back.’
‘You were exhausted,’ she said. ‘It’s too early for you to leave me.’
‘If you will not sleep, you are free to wander the gardens of my home,’ Calypso said. ‘But you have to rest, brave one. If it is your fate to leave here, you will.’
He stood and the strength drained from his legs, sending him tottering across the smooth marble floor.
She slipped an arm around his waist and took his weight. ‘See, hero? You’re not ready to be going very far yet.’
Percy flushed and hobbled toward the door, grimacing at the dull ache settling into his bones. ‘My name’s Percy. I’m not a hero.’
‘Only heroes ever come to me,’ Calypso said. ‘And they all tell me they’re not heroes.’
The faint bell in the back of his head tolled and Gabe’s murmur rose into words. Calypso. Right. He shook the fog of fatigue away.
‘I remember who you are, now.’
‘Do they still tell stories of me?’ she whispered, leading him out into the warmth of the sun. ‘How sad.’
A neat scatter of flowers and bushes rose from the dark earth and small fruit trees spread their slim boughs, shading them from the sun.
‘My step dad told me about Odysseus,’ Percy said. ‘He came here, didn’t he?’
‘For a short time he was also my guest, yes.’ A faint smile graced Calypso’s lips. ‘He came to me like you did, washed up with the tide. Though you slept for longer than he did.’
‘How many days have I been asleep?’
‘Eleven?’ Fear rose like a stream of cold bubbles from the pit of his stomach, bursting in icy flashes. ‘I hope Annabeth’s alright. I left her behind.’
She lost one most dear.
‘I know nothing of what happens beyond these shores,’ Calypso whispered. ‘Forgive me, but I cannot tell you what you wish to know.’
He stared through the leaves of the fruit tree and out to sea, grimacing as his numb legs trembled. ‘I was pretty sure I was going to die. It was a really long way down. I wonder why I didn’t?’
The sea will never harm you, Percy. His father’s words drifted up the white sand and through the trees on the faint warm salt breeze. You are its prince.
‘Sit.’ Calypso led him to a stone bench and eased him down as he sagged on her arm. ‘We can talk while I tend to my flowers, but you must rest. Your weariness will not vanish without rest.’
Percy’s eyes strayed to the soft glow of the white blooms fluttering before the spears of deep red blossoms. Their small, pale crescent-shaped petals clustered into swaying orb-shaped flowers.
‘The red ones are amaranth, but the white ones are my favourites. Do you like them?’ She stepped past the bench and tossed a bucket on a rope over a knee-high stone wall. ‘They were a gift to me. A long long time ago.’
‘They’re beautiful,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen flowers like them before.’
‘They’re moonlace flowers. My father gifted them to my mother and she gave them to me. I brought them here with me.’
Zoë would probably like them. He frowned. I think. Girls like flowers. And they’re moon flowers, so Zoë would like them even more.
Calypso reeled the bucket back up and tipped water into each pot a little at a time. ‘My garden is my only company. I look after it, and in its own way, it looks after me.’
‘It must be peaceful.’
‘It’s paradise,’ she murmured. ‘For a little while every now and again.’
Percy watched her water the flowers, wiggling his toes and stretching his calves until the ache twinged and bit deep into his muscles.
‘When you woke, you said a girl’s name. Zoë.’ Calypso set her bucket beside the wall and stared down into the well. ‘Who is she? A wife? A lover?’
Lover or wife. He laughed. She’d not like that. That would mean cooties.
‘A friend,’ he said, watching the soft white moonlace petals flutter in the sea breeze. ‘The bravest person I knew.’
‘Do you miss her?’
Percy swallowed a dull ache. ‘I do,’ he whispered. ‘She made me feel like I knew what to do. Like so long as she was there, I’d get it right in the end.’
‘Do you think she is missing you?’ Calypso murmured.
‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘She isn’t missing anyone. Zoë has no regrets.’ He mustered a grin. ‘And if she’d heard you suggest she was my wife, she would have been very mad with you. She was a companion of Artemis.’
‘Ah. So she was more of a sister to you.’ A gentle smile touched Calypso’s face. ‘I too have a sister of sorts called Zoë. One of my father’s many daughters. She is a nymph and lives far from here in her own garden. I have never met her, but sometimes I think of her and her sisters, and how they must be happy together with each other.’
Percy’s heart sank like a stone into the still winter sea. ‘The Hesperides?’
‘You know of them.’ Her smile brightened. ‘Would you tell me what you know? I only recall their names and that they are my kin, but I feel a bond of more than just distant kinship, for they live in their garden just as far from the world as I am in mine.’
He stared out to sea. ‘I’ve met them,’ he whispered. ‘Zoë was a hesperide before she became Artemis’s companion.’
Calypso’s smile faded. ‘Was?’
‘She helped a hero and Atlas cast her out. Artemis helped her. Taught her everything that she then taught me.’
‘You said she was the bravest person you knew.’
‘She died on Mount Othrys last year.’
Forsworn amongst thrones. Zoë’s smile hovered amongst his thoughts, stirring a bittersweet storm beneath his ribs. And now forever in the stars.
Calypso bowed her head. ‘And her sisters?’
‘She had many among Artemis’s companions, but none in that garden deserved to call her sister.’ Percy bit back a swell of anger. ‘They told Atlas what she did and got her banished to begin with. But Zoë wasn’t some lost girl from that garden. She was Artemis’s closest companion. She would have gladly died a hundred times to make Artemis proud. And she made Artemis more proud than anyone.’ His breath caught on the hot lump in his throat. ‘I saw it. She put Zoë in the stars.’
Calypso took a seat beside him and rested her hand on his shoulder. ‘You speak of her very highly. I’m glad my distant sister meant so much to you. To be placed among the stars for all those who follow after to admire is no small honour.’
‘I don’t know if I can do this without her,’ Percy muttered. ‘She always knew what the right thing to do was. She showed me what things mean. What to do. Why to do it. I feel like I’m just guessing without her beside me, like it’s just a matter of time until I get things wrong.’
And the other person whom you spoke of? Annabeth? Can she not help you? Is she not also your friend?’
‘Annabeth will try.’ He sighed and buried his face in his hands. ‘I hope she’s okay. I should be with her. I left her behind.’
Like Ariadne. He clenched his fists and tried to rise, but his legs crumpled and he thudded back onto the bench. And I’m stuck here.
‘It’s too early for you to leave me, Percy,’ Calypso murmured. ‘Come. Let me make you something to eat. To regain your strength.’
‘Not seafood?’ Percy flushed. ‘I’m sorry. I just… I can’t… My father’s Poseidon and all the fish talk to me. It makes me feel kind of sick to think about eating them.’
She smiled and slipped an arm under his shoulders, lifting him to his feet. ‘Don’t worry, I will not force you to eat fish, Percy. I grow fruit, vegetables and keep my own animals.’
‘You have animals?’ he asked. ‘Like cows? How did you get them here?’
‘Chickens. A gift from Hermes.’ Calypso tucked his arm over her shoulders. ‘They’re on the other side of the house, but you will hear from them tomorrow morning. I don’t think you should be walking around too much while you’re still so tired.’
‘My legs agree,’ Percy muttered, stumbling alongside her as she took his weight across her back and led him back into the plain marble halls of the house. ‘Strongly.’
‘You will recover soon,’ she murmured, seating him at a plain wooden table. ‘I will make sfakianopita, Percy. Have you tried it?’
‘I haven’t,’ he admitted, watching her gather bottles. ‘I have absolutely no idea what it is.’
‘Try it.’ Calypso gave him a gentle smile. ‘Perhaps you will like it.’
‘What’s in it?’ Percy asked.
She lifted a large, plain jar from the side and pulled off the lid, scooping out a large ball of dough. ‘It is fairly simple. Flour, water, olive oil, salt and raki.’
‘A little like wine, but more than a little bit stronger.’
‘My mom made me promise not to drink until I was old enough.’
‘You’re not drinking it, brave one,’ Calypso said, flicking her long dark hair back over her shoulders and washing her hands in the sink. ‘There’s just a little in the food. You’ll like sfakianopita, I think, Percy. It’s both salty and sweet.’
He watched her knead the dough, working the heels of her palms through it. ‘Can I help?’
‘No, brave one.’ She flashed him a smile and brushed a stray lock of hair away from her nose. ‘Not today. You need to rest and I enjoy cooking for my guests.’
Percy squirmed in his chair. ‘I’m not that brave. I know much braver people.’
‘Annabeth?’ Calypso asked.
‘Annabeth is definitely brave,’ he said. ‘She’s done loads of quests.’
‘What about you? Have you also done lots of quests?’
‘Only a few, really. And most of the time I just mess things up and get people hurt.’
‘I’m sure that’s not true.’ Calypso reached across and rested her hand over his. ‘What have you done?’
‘You really want to know?’ Percy glanced up into her soft, dark eyes. ‘I guess I’ve got time, I’m not exactly running off anywhere.’
‘Not yet,’ she murmured, hooking her hair off her face and over her ear with her other hand.
A small smudge of flour sat on the tip of her nose.
‘You have flour on you,’ he said.
‘I do?’ She laughed. ‘Can you get it for me, brave one? My hands have more flour on them.’
Percy swallowed and reached out, brushing the white streak off the tip of her nose with the side of his thumb. Calypso’s breath hitched and pink blossomed across her cheeks.
Heat rushed to his face. ‘So – er – right. My quests.’
She smiled and drew her hand back, working the dough into two circles and patting it down with her palms. ‘What was the first one?’
‘My mom,’ Percy said. ‘The Gods thought I’d stolen their symbols of power, so Hades kidnapped my Mom. I went to get her back.’
He nodded. ‘And I found the real thief and their symbols of power and got them back to Olympus before they started fighting each other.’
‘Who did you face?’
‘Well, one of the Furies was my math teacher for a bit. And Chiron taught me history. And there was Medusa. And the minotaur, but that was before Medusa, and then we got to the Underworld and got caught by Hades, but we escaped. And then there was Ares.’
‘You fought the God of War?’
‘Not really,’ Percy said. ‘I gave him a scratch. It wasn’t very heroic.’
Calypso tilted her head back and laughed. ‘Anyone brave enough to fight Ares is very heroic, Percy. He is the God of War. In times past, he wore the skins of slain champions as a cloak.’
He shuddered. ‘That’s really horrible.’
‘So is war, though I have never known it,’ she murmured. ‘What happened after you fought Ares?’
‘He had the symbols of power, so I took them back to Olympus, but Luke…’
‘Luke?’ Her hands paused over the dough. ‘Another friend of yours?’
‘He was the thief. He betrayed us. All of us. He’s trying to bring back Kronos. He needs to be stopped.’
‘But you stopped him already.’
‘I stopped him from starting a war on Olympus, but mostly by accident.’ Percy studied the grain in the wood between his hands. ‘I just did what I had to do to get my Mom back. I should’ve gone after the symbols and not been selfish.’
‘You saved Olympus.’ Calypso’s dark eyes shone with a soft familiar light and Percy’s heart lurched. ‘You did well.’
Percy wrestled with the lump swelling in his throat; the heat of tears stung, brimming at his lashes. ‘It turned out okay,’ he muttered. ‘Better than last year.’
She slipped around the table and wrapped her arms around him. ‘Would you tell me about it? I would like to hear your story and that of Zoë. And I think—’ she brushed a tear from his eyelash with the tip of her finger ‘—I think it will help you, too.’
‘I guess.’ Sharp, cold waves broke against each other in the pit of Percy’s stomach. ‘I suppose it starts with Thalia, Zeus’s daughter. Luke poisoned her tree, which protects the demi-god camp, so I went to get the Golden Fleece. And it healed the tree.’
‘You found the Golden Fleece?’ Calypso asked. ‘The quest of Iason?’
‘Yeah, but that was the year before. It’d been on the tree all year by now. And it healed the tree, but it healed Thalia too, and so Zeus turned her back into a girl a few days after I got back to camp.’ He snorted. ‘On top of me, actually.’
Her arms tightened around his shoulders and her cheek brushed his ear. ‘Thalia is another friend?’
‘She’s a companion of Artemis now,’ Percy whispered. ‘But she wasn’t then. We got sent together to find a pair of demigods, Nico and… and Bianca. And we found them. Only, there was a manticore with them. Artemis found us with her companions, including Zoë, and the manticore grabbed Annabeth and fled. I wanted to go after her, but Artemis stopped me. I would’ve probably died if she hadn’t. And then… then I dreamt of Artemis, saving Annabeth like she promised by stepping under the sky.’
‘Is Annabeth also a companion of Artemis?’ Calypso asked.
‘No. She’s not.’ He took a deep breath and got a mouthful of sweet flower-scented air.
She smells really nice. Heat rushed to his cheeks.
‘You went to save Artemis,’ Calypso murmured. ‘Didn’t you, brave one?’
‘We went. Me, Iphigenia, Thalia, Malcolm, Bianca and Zoë—’ her name stuck in his throat ‘—and the manticore killed Malcolm, and the spartoi killed Bianca, and Zoë died after Ladon bit her.’
‘I took the sky for her and she defeated Atlas and put him back where he is meant to be.’
And then Zoë died.
‘You held up the sky?’ Calypso whispered in his ear. ‘That is impossible, Percy. No mortal can withstand Atlas’s curse.’
‘It wasn’t for very long. It felt like it though.’ He shuddered. ‘Sometimes… sometimes I can still feel it. Like it’s crushing me into that dreadful abyss all over again.’
‘It will not trouble you here, I promise,’ she said, tightening her embrace. ‘So long as you are with me, you will not feel it.’ Calypso released him and stepped back, shaking her long dark tresses out and brushing flour off his front with the back of her hand. ‘Forgive me, Percy, I’ve got flour all over you.’
‘It’s okay.’ A little heat rose on his face. ‘I’ve had worse.’
‘Let me finish making us something to eat,’ she murmured. ‘You can tell me the rest then. I’d like to hear more about Zoë. Annabeth, Thalia, Bianca, they all sound like good friends to you, but you speak about my distant sister with such admiration…’
‘I’ve never met anyone I’ve admired more.’ Percy shuffled in his seat, the heat on his face rising. ‘She was just… special. And now she’s gone. I wish she wasn’t, but she is. I sound really stupid, don’t I?’
‘No.’ Calypso shook her head, her small gentle smile brightened into a familiar flash of teeth and the bottom dropped out of Percy’s stomach. ‘No I know exactly what you mean, Percy. Don’t give up hope.’