Through Hell and Back - Chapter 14 - hopefulguy - Percy Jackson and the Olympians & Related Fandoms (2024)

Chapter Text

Getting killed by Tartarus didn’t seem like much of an honour.

As Annabeth stared up at his dark whirlpool face, she decided she’d rather die in some less memorable way—maybe falling down the stairs, or going peacefully in her sleep at age eighty, after a nice quiet life with Percy. Yes, that sounded good.

It wasn’t the first time Annabeth had faced an enemy she couldn’t defeat by force. It wasn’t even the first time today, she thought, remembering how easily Koios would have beaten her without her cap and a little help from Bob. Normally, this would’ve been her cue to stall for time with some clever Athena-like chitchat, or come up with some ruse to divert their attention.

Except her voice wouldn’t work. She couldn’t even close her mouth. For all she knew, she was drooling as badly as Percy did when he slept.

She was dimly aware of the army of monsters swirling around her, but after their initial roar of triumph, the horde had fallen silent. Annabeth and Percy should have been ripped to pieces by now. Instead, the monsters kept their distance, waiting for Tartarus to act. They were just as scared of him as she was, clearly, not that it was much consolation to her.

The god of the pit flexed his fingers, examining his own polished black talons. He had no expression, but he straightened his shoulders as if he were pleased.

It is good to have form, he intoned. With these hands, I can eviscerate you.

His voice sounded like a backward recording—as if the words were being sucked into the vortex of his face rather than projected. In fact, everything seemed to be drawn toward the face of this god—the dim light, the poisonous clouds, the essence of the monsters, even Annabeth’s own fragile life force. She looked around and realized that every object on this vast plain had grown a vaporous comet’s tail—all pointing toward Tartarus.

Annabeth knew she should say something, but her instincts told her to hide, to avoid doing anything that would draw the god’s attention.

She and Percy had only survived this long because Tartarus was savoring his new form. He wanted the pleasure of physically ripping them to pieces. If Tartarus wished, Annabeth had no doubt he could devour her existence with a single thought, just as he had poor Phoebe. Would there be any rebirth from that? Annabeth didn’t want to find out.

No, there was no hope of beating this particular enemy. This was so far from fair it was almost funny. And maybe that was the key…

Suddenly, Annabeth had an idea. With an almighty effort, she managed to open her mouth, despite every muscle in her body wanting to just give up and melt into the ground.

“This isn’t fair,” she said to Tartarus. Percy looked over at her, his face still paralyzed by fear but also with a bit of hope in his eyes. She knew he was depending on her to come up with a clever plan. She wasn't sure aboutclever, but she had something, at least.

Of course it is not, came the reply, accompanied by a laugh that was equal parts horrifying and surreal. Do mosquitoes complain about fairness when you humans squash them?

Annabeth shook her head. “What I mean is… it can’t be fun for you, surely? It’s a total mismatch. We don’t even have a chance. You devoured a Titan a few minutes ago, what could two demigods possibly do?”

Stand and await their demise, Tartarus boomed. You shall be reunited with the Titaness soon enough.

He was showing no signs of taking the bait so far. Annabeth had hoped Tartarus’ ego might be his only weakness, but thus far it hadn’t worked. She decided to give it one last desperate shot.

“For someone so immensely powerful, you’re a massive coward, Tartarus,” Annabeth said, her voice far more confident than she felt. She knew there was a decent chance these words would be her last. “I mean, to use the full extent of your primordial power on two exhausted demigods and a Titan… you must be worried. What is it that you fear?”

Tartarus growled with rage. He swiped his hand, and instantly half the army of monsters in front of them exploded, in an enormous shower of dust. The chaos unfolding all around them was unlike anything Annabeth had ever seen. Cyclopes, Laistrygonians, empousai, telkhines, all scrambling desperately away from Tartarus, as he took a step forward that made the entire world around them seem to shake. Still, she forced herself to look back at the horrifying void that was Tartarus’ face, where somehow, that sickening vortex of a mouth had contorted into a smile.

You think this is the full extent of my power? he snorted. As you humans would say, it is barely the tip of the iceberg. My true form is all around you.

Annabeth looked around as the meaning of Tartarus’ words sunk in. He wasn’t just the god of the Pit, she realized in horror. He was the Pit. The rivers were his blood, the ground his warty, disgusting, veiny skin, the stale, rotten air his breath. The heart of Tartarus really was the heart of Tartarus.

The implication was almost too sinister for her to process. This was a being to whom they were the literal equivalent of fleas, walking on his body. Annihilating hundreds of thousands of monsters had barely taken an effort from him. At best, they were a nuisance to Tartarus. It was a miracle he’d even noticed them.

She forced herself to speak, even though her intestines were currently doing their best impression of a snake, trying to wriggle their way out of her body.

“It might not be your full power,” Annabeth said, her whole body shaking. “I see that now. But don’t you think it’s still rather overkill for you to take such a powerful physical form to deal with two demigods? Surely there’s no sport in destroying us without at least giving us a chance?”

Tartarus paused, and Annabeth held her breath in a mix of disbelief and hope. Was he actually considering it?

I will admit that you are clever, girl, Tartarus said, a hint of admiration in his voice. If Annabeth wasn’t so utterly terrified, she might have felt a bit of pride at getting praise from a literal Primordial. Persuading me to take a less powerful form is not a bad plan at all. If you were more than a demigod, you might actually make a formidable foe. The vortex on his face curled again, into what could only be described as a smirk. But as it is, you are but a gnat, and one thousandth of my power is ten thousand times yours. So I shall grant your wish, since it will make no difference.

He shrunk down, till he was only slightly taller than Bob. He still looked ominous, wearing that breastplate with the tortured souls trapped within, but no longer had that same soul-sapping aura that he had had before. Annabeth couldn’t help but feel massively relieved to no longer feel her soul being slowly sucked away from her. As she scanned their surroundings, she realized the gap left by the fallen monsters was enormous, like a gigantic football field. No, an arena.

This form should be more than adequate to deal with you, Tartarus said, raising his sword high above their heads. Shall we begin?

Annabeth and Percy drew their weapons, but Bob put out an arm and held them back.

“Stay behind me,” he said, stonily. “I will deal with him.”

Deal with me? Tartarus said, his tone mocking. Did you not witness the fate of your sister, Iapetus?

“I am not Iapetus,” Bob growled. “And you will pay for what you did to Phoebe.”

Tartarus threw his head back, laughing. Really, Titan? If you are not Iapetus, who might you be?

“Something much more than Iapetus ever was,” came the reply, confident and defiant. “I am Bob.”

He charged at Tartarus, spear aloft, and the fight began.

The speed of the blows being traded was almost mesmerizing. Annabeth’s eyes could barely keep up. And yet, it seemed like Tartarus was just toying with Bob, enjoying the rhythm of the fight. Annabeth suspected that he could easily turn things up a notch and end Bob quickly, but so far he seemed content to just hold off Bob’s attacks.

I had forgotten how good fighting like this felt, Tartarus said, staring at Annabeth as he effortlessly deflected Iapetus’ attempted strike. Thank you, girl. It is much more fun this way.

Percy gripped her hand. “We need to go, Annabeth,” he said. “All Bob can do is buy us time. He won’t be able to last long.”

Annabeth’s eyes widened as she realised the implication behind his words, but before she could respond, Bob landed a blow on Tartarus’ chest, squeezing the point of his spear through a gap in that monstrous armour. Tartarus’ roar of pain was quite possibly the most spine-chilling sound she had ever heard, as a black gooey substance issued forth from the wound.

He was vulnerable, then, she thought hopefully. There was a chance Bob could beat him. That was what she would choose to believe, even if in her heart of hearts she knew that all Bob had likely achieved was to make Tartarus angry. Percy was probably right to think Bob was living on borrowed time.

Not bad, ‘Bob’, Tartarus said, nodding his head in acknowledgement, as the wound slowly closed itself. Perhaps it’s time to make things a little harder.

As Tartarus stepped forward and unleashed a volley of blows, Annabeth and Percy slowly backed away, hoping to creep towards the Doors without the Primordial noticing. The daughter of Athena took one last glance at Bob, whose face was strained with effort as he fought to contain Tartarus’ ferocious attacks. He looked back at her for a split-second, and barely had the time to form the word “Leave” before Tartarus landed a heavy blow to Bob’s head with his sword.

Bob crumpled to the ground, and did not get up.

In a hurry, demigods? Tartarus mocked. Don’t want to enjoy the show?

“You killed him,” Percy murmured, echoing Annabeth’s disbelief at the sight of Bob’s still body. “He’s gone.”

Bob would never get to tell the world who he was, Annabeth thought sadly. Everyone would forever tell the story of Iapetus the cruel Titan, and the only two people who knew the true Bob were almost certainly going to die with him. He wouldn’t get the chance to write a happier ending.

Tartarus laughed. Oh, he is not dead, boy. Annabeth felt a momentary uplift, only to have it crushed by his next words. A quick end like that would be much too easy. For a traitor like him, I have plenty of fun in store.

“Leave him be!” Annabeth screamed desperately, her heart sinking as she realized death might well have been the kinder option. Bob was the kindest, gentlest soul she’d ever met. She couldn’t think of a less deserving individual to suffer torture at the hands of this cruel Primordial, who was no doubt capable of inflicting a fate far worse than death on the poor Titan. “He did nothing wrong. He just wanted to help us. Don’t punish him for that more than you already have!”

Tartarus pondered the point. And what would you have me do with him?

“Just kill him,” Annabeth responded. “And kill us. You’ve already achieved your goal of stopping us. What do you have to gain from being sad*stic about it?”

Tartarus paused, nodding his head appreciatively. I am impressed, girl. Not only did you prove your wisdom, but you have also shown yourself to be remarkably bold. Tartarus’ voice carried that same condescending admiration that she’d heard before, not that it made Annabeth feel much better. And your friend ‘Bob’ here was brave, too. For a Titan, he proved to be a surprisingly interesting challenge.

“So you’ll spare him the torture?” Annabeth asked, a hint of hope in her voice.

Oh, no. He will still have to suffer. Tartarus responded, with what looked like a grin across his monstrous face. He remains a Titan, after all. They are rather irritating creatures, the lesser children of Gaea, and deserve nothing more or less than a painful end.

“Do you prefer giants, then?” a voice called.

Annabeth looked to her left, from where the voice had come. The Maeonian drakon spread its frilled collar and hissed, its poison breath filling the battlefield with the smell of pine and ginger. It shifted its hundred-foot-long body, flicking its dappled green tail and wiping out a battalion of ogres.

Riding on its back was a very familiar looking red-skinned giant with flowers in his rust-colored braids, a jerkin of green leather, and a drakon-rib lance in his hand.

“Damasen!” Annabeth cried.

The giant inclined his head. “Annabeth Chase, I took your advice. I chose myself a new fate.”

Tartarus laughed. Welcome back, son. It has been a while, he hissed.

“It has,” Damasen replied, his face etched with a mix of hatred and determination. “I cannot say I missed you, though. You were a terrible father.”

And you, a disappointment of a son, Tartarus said, tutting. I suppose now that you’ve freed yourself of your curse, you think you can stand against me?

“That is my plan,” Damasen said. He glanced at Annabeth, with the same look that Bob had had before Tartarus had struck him, and Annabeth knew what it meant. Go. Now. “And I must confess, I have longed for this reunion for a while. It’s been long overdue.”

Silently, Annabeth crept away, Percy’s hand in hers, as Damasen raised his lance and charged.

The fight was even more intense than the first. Annabeth could barely blink faster than the blows being traded. This time, it seemed like the fight was rather more evenly matched, and Damasen was holding his own, the drakon breathing tongues of toxic flame at Tartarus, who still seemed barely perturbed. Damasen was definitely coping better than Bob had, but it still didn’t look like he had much chance.

Percy looked at her. “We can’t watch, Annabeth. We have to go. He’ll win this fight, too.”

He looked pained as he said it, but Annabeth knew he was right. Damasen and Bob were as good as dead. They owed it to them to survive to make their sacrifice worth it, as hard as it was to leave them to suffer at the hands of Tartarus. If they didn’t escape, Bob and Damasen would have died for nothing. And with no guarantees Damasen would last much longer than Bob, their only remaining chance was to go for broke.

“Run?” she asked, and Percy nodded.

“Run,” he replied.

They sprinted at full tilt, bolting towards the enormous metal elevators of the Doors of Death. Annabeth hadn’t covered ground with such speed in her life. She knew every second was precious, and she didn’t know how many Damasen’s life would buy.

Upon seeing them run, Tartarus growled in anger. You think you’ll get away like that? he said, turning his malevolent, glowing eyes to the scattered remnants of the monster army, who looked generally terrified. Damasen took the opportunity to land a few blows on Tartarus, who brushed them off like they were nothing, even though he was bleeding from where the lance had made its mark. Effortlessly, he stamped his foot with such force that the entire world seemed to shake, sending Damasen and his drakon flying back.

Well? What are you waiting for? he asked the monstrous army, as he stood tall in the middle of the open field, his presence imposing and chilling. DESTROY THEM!

DESTROY THEM. Annabeth had never heard anything quite so terrifying. It felt like the temperature of her blood had just dropped several degrees. Her heart thumped so hard it seemed as though it would explode any minute. She thought it was impossible for her to go much faster than she was already moving, but somehow she found another gear. Within seconds, she had covered the ground between where she had been and the Doors. Thanks to Tartarus’ show of power which had destroyed all the monsters close to them, the rest of the monster army was still some distance away, though she knew that at best, they had a couple of minutes.

She raised her dagger, slicing through the chains on the left hand side of the Doors, which popped with a satisfying ding. Percy slashed with Riptide, freeing the other side, and Annabeth felt a grim sense of satisfaction. If they were to die here, at least they’d accomplished their half of the quest. At least they’d given their friends a chance.

“The Doors,” she asked urgently. “You know how to work them?”

“You have to press the button from the outside,” Percy said. “Phoebe told us, remember?”

Annabeth did vaguely recall the Titaness saying something of the sort, but with all that had happened in the interim, it was easy to- hang on, had Percy said…?

Outside?” she half-screamed, half-whispered. The first of the monsters were closing in, maybe a minute and a half away now. “But that means…”

“…that only one of us can get out of here. I know,” Percy said, grimly finishing her sentence. How long had he known, Annabeth wondered? “I’ll stay and press the button. You need to go.”

No. No! Not like this!

“It should be me,” Annabeth said beseechingly. “You’ll be of much more use against Gaea. The others need you.”

Even as she said it, she knew she was fighting a losing battle. Percy was too stubborn, too loyal, to ever let her sacrifice herself.

“We don’t have time to argue,” Percy said, shaking his head. Indeed, she could see the faces of the approaching enemies now, baying for blood, their blood. They were closing in with every second, ready to tear her and Percy to shreds.

She looked over to where Damasen had been fighting Tartarus a minute ago. To her dismay, she saw him on the ground, flat on his back, trying desperately to fend off his father in vain. The Maeonian drakon was nowhere in sight, and Annabeth guessed that Tartarus had killed it already. A drakon was hardly much of an enemy for a Primordial, even an ancient, enormous drakon like the Maeonian one.

As she watched, Tartarus knocked Damasen’s lance from his hands, and Annabeth felt a sickening sense of despair as she saw Damasen helpless and unarmed on the floor. She knew what was about to happen before it did, and though she could hardly bear to watch, she couldn’t bring herself to look away either. So instead, she stared in horror as Tartarus swung his sword, brutally decapitating Damasen, whose head rolled away, leaving a trail of ichor which she could see even from here.

She wanted to be sick, but she didn’t even have time for that. At most, they had a minute left before the first lines of the army reached them, as Tartarus’ booming laugh echoed in her ears. She knew that now that Damasen was out of the way, Tartarus was free to come after them too. Frankly, having seen what he had done to poor Phoebe and Damasen, she would much rather take her chances with the monsters than face off against the Primordial of the Pit, but it wasn’t like she had the luxury of choosing. She needed to talk Percy out of his suicide mission, and quickly.

“You can’t,” she pleaded, desperately hoping to talk Percy, stupid, noble Percy, out of doing what he was about to do. “You swore you’d never let me go. Not again. Not like-”

Percy silenced her with a kiss. They still had a little bit of time, she wanted to scream. They could still find another way, one that could get both of them out of this Pit together. Nyx had promised there was always another way.

But somehow, she knew it was hopeless. Akhlys, that miserable bitch, had shown her vision after vision, all ending with Percy leaving her. She’d denied it to herself for a long time, telling herself that Percy would never leave her, that he was too loyal to hurt her like that. Never would she have imagined that this was the way it would come true, with him leaving her to save her.

“It’s just for a short while. Nothing, not even Tartarus, will ever keep us apart for long again,” Percy promised, looking pained.

Annabeth desperately racked her brain for a way to convince him not to do this. She’d rather die alongside Percy than leave him to a fate worse than death just to save herself. But when she opened her mouth, all she could do was close it again, having run out of words to say.

“I’ll find a way out. This won’t be the last time we see each other,” Percy vowed, voice breaking. Annabeth could see a tear in his eye. “I swear it on the Styx.”

An oath to keep with a final breath.

That was the last thought on Annabeth’s mind, before she felt all the blood rush away from her head, and she collapsed in a heap, out cold.

Had she been awake, she would have heard Percy whisper “I’m sorry, Annabeth.” She would have felt his kiss on her forehead once more, and heard him murmur “I love you,” with more than a hint of fear in his voice.

She would have felt her prone form be loaded unceremoniously into the elevator, as Percy pushed the button with all the force he could muster. She would have felt herself zooming away as the monsters approached him, and he stood there, sword raised, ready to accept his fate.

If she had been able to speak, she would have been able to rebuke him once more for another broken promise. He had promised her he would never use his blood powers on her again, and yet he’d used them to betray her in the worst way possible, by knocking her out, and saving her life. That was classic Percy. He hated breaking promises, and yet he had just broken two without even hesitating, because his love for her outweighed all else.

If she had had the chance, she might also have asked him about the third promise he had just made. Annabeth had no idea how he could possibly fulfil it. Even if - no, when, Annabeth told herself, holding on to hope - he escaped Tartarus and the monsters, was there even another way out?

And if her eyes had been open, she would have been able to see the boy she loved one last time, before he gave up possibly his only chance to return to the world for her.

She doubted she could possibly have had the strength to say goodbye, conscious or not.

As it was, when she woke up again, Annabeth had twelve minutes alone with the cheerful sounds of elevator muzak the only thing interrupting her sobs.

Through Hell and Back - Chapter 14 - hopefulguy - Percy Jackson and the Olympians & Related Fandoms (2024)
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