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The Mark of Athena: Chapter 51


Annabeth had seen some strange things before, but she’d never seen it rain cars.

As the roof of the cavern collapsed, sunlight blinded her. She got the briefest glimpse of the Argo II hovering above. It must have used its ballistae to blast a hole straight through the ground.

Chunks of asphalt as big as garage doors tumbled down, along with six or seven Italian cars. One would’ve crushed the Athena Parthenos, but the statue’s glowing aura acted like a force field, and the car bounced off. Unfortunately, it fell straight toward Annabeth.

She jumped to one side, twisting her bad foot. A wave of agony almost made her pass out, but she flipped on her back in time to see a bright red Fiat 500 slam into Arachne’s silk trap, punching through the cavern floor and disappearing with the Chinese Spidercuffs.

As Arachne fell, she screamed like a freight train on a collision course; but her wailing rapidly faded. All around Annabeth, more chunks of debris slammed through the floor, riddling it with holes.

The Athena Parthenos remained undamaged, though the marble under its pedestal was a starburst of fractures. Annabeth was covered in cobwebs. She trailed strands of leftover spider silk from her arms and legs like the strings of a marionette, but somehow, amazingly, none of the debris had hit her. She wanted to believe that the statue had protected her, though she suspected it might’ve been nothing but luck.

The army of spiders had disappeared. Either they had fled back into the darkness, or they’d fallen into the chasm. As daylight flooded the cavern, Arachne’s tapestries along the walls crumbled to dust, which Annabeth could hardly bear to watch—especially the tapestry depicting her and Percy.

But none of that mattered when she heard Percy’s voice from above: “Annabeth!”

“Here!” she sobbed.

All the terror seemed to leave her in one massive yelp. As the Argo II descended, she saw Percy leaning over the rail. His smile was better than any tapestry she’d ever seen.

The room kept shaking, but Annabeth managed to stand. The floor at her feet seemed stable for the moment. Her backpack was missing, along with Daedalus’s laptop. Her bronze knife, which she’d had since she was seven, was also gone—probably fallen into the pit. But Annabeth didn’t care. She was alive.

She edged closer to the gaping hole made by the Fiat 500. Jagged rock walls plunged into the darkness as far as Annabeth could see. A few small ledges jutted out here and there, but Annabeth saw nothing on them—just strands of spider silk dripping over the sides like Christmas tinsel.

Annabeth wondered if Arachne had told the truth about the chasm. Had the spider fallen all the way to Tartarus? She tried to feel satisfied with that idea, but it made her sad. Arachne had made some beautiful things. She’d already suffered for eons. Now her last tapestries had crumbled. After all that, falling into Tartarus seemed like too harsh an end.

Annabeth was dimly aware of the Argo II hovering to a stop about forty feet from the floor. It lowered a rope ladder, but Annabeth stood in a daze, staring into the darkness. Then suddenly Percy was next to her, lacing his fingers in hers.

He turned her gently away from the pit and wrapped his arms around her. She buried her face in his chest and broke down in tears.

“It’s okay,” he said. “We’re together.”

He didn’t say you’re okay, or we’re alive. After all they’d been through over the last year, he knew the most important thing was that they were together. She loved him for saying that.

Their friends gathered around them. Nico di Angelo was there, but Annabeth’s thoughts were so fuzzy, this didn’t seem surprising to her. It seemed only right that he would be with them.

“Your leg.” Piper knelt next to her and examined the Bubble Wrap cast. “Oh, Annabeth, what happened?”

She started to explain. Talking was difficult, but as she went along, her words came more easily. Percy didn’t let go of her hand, which also made her feel more confident. When she finished, her friends’ faces were slack with amazement.

“Gods of Olympus,” Jason said. “You did all that alone. With a broken ankle.”

“Well…some of it with a broken ankle.”

Percy grinned. “You made Arachne weave her own trap? I knew you were good, but Holy Hera—Annabeth, you did it. Generations of Athena kids tried and failed. You found the Athena Parthenos!”

Everyone gazed at the statue.

“What do we do with her?” Frank asked. “She’s huge.”

“We’ll have to take her with us to Greece,” Annabeth said. “The statue is powerful. Something about it will help us stop the giants.”

“The giants’ bane stands gold and pale,” Hazel quoted. “Won with pain from a woven jail.” She looked at Annabeth with admiration. “It was Arachne’s jail. You tricked her into weaving it.”

With a lot of pain, Annabeth thought.

Leo raised his hands. He made a finger picture frame around the Athena Parthenos like he was taking measurements. “Well, it might take some rearranging, but I think we can fit her through the bay doors in the stable. If she sticks out the end, I might have to wrap a flag around her feet or something.”

Annabeth shuddered. She imagined the Athena Parthenos jutting from their trireme with a sign across her pedestal that read: WIDE LOAD.

Then she thought about the other lines of the prophecy: The twins snuff out the angel’s breath, who holds the keys to endless death.

“What about you guys?” she asked. “What happened with the giants?”

Percy told her about rescuing Nico, the appearance of Bacchus, and the fight with the twins in the Colosseum. Nico didn’t say much. The poor guy looked like he’d been wandering through a wasteland for six weeks. Percy explained what Nico had found out about the Doors of Death, and how they had to be closed on both sides. Even with sunlight streaming in from above, Percy’s news made the cavern seem dark again.

“So the mortal side is in Epirus,” she said. “At least that’s somewhere we can reach.”

Nico grimaced. “But the other side is the problem. Tartarus.”

The word seemed to echo through the chamber. The pit behind them exhaled a cold blast of air. That’s when Annabeth knew with certainty. The chasm did go straight to the Underworld.

Percy must have felt it too. He guided her a little farther from the edge. Her arms and legs trailed spider silk like a bridal train. She wished she had her dagger to cut that junk off. She almost asked Percy to do the honors with Riptide, but before she could, he said, “Bacchus mentioned something about my voyage being harder than I expected. Not sure why—”

The chamber groaned. The Athena Parthenos tilted to one side. Its head caught on one of Arachne’s support cables, but the marble foundation under the pedestal was crumbling.

Nausea swelled in Annabeth’s chest. If the statue fell into the chasm, all her work would be for nothing. Their quest would fail.

“Secure it!” Annabeth cried.

Her friends understood immediately.

“Zhang!” Leo cried. “Get me to the helm, quick! The coach is up there alone.”

Frank transformed into a giant eagle, and the two of them soared toward the ship.

Jason wrapped his arm around Piper. He turned to Percy. “Back for you guys in a sec.” He summoned the wind and shot into the air.

“This floor won’t last!” Hazel warned. “The rest of us should get to the ladder.”

Plumes of dust and cobwebs blasted from holes in the floor. The spider’s silk support cables trembled like massive guitar strings and began to snap. Hazel lunged for the bottom of the rope ladder and gestured for Nico to follow, but Nico was in no condition to sprint.

Percy gripped Annabeth’s hand tighter. “It’ll be fine,” he muttered.

Looking up, she saw grappling lines shoot from the Argo II and wrap around the statue. One lassoed Athena’s neck like a noose. Leo shouted orders from the helm as Jason and Frank flew frantically from line to line, trying to secure them.

Nico had just reached the ladder when a sharp pain shot up Annabeth’s bad leg. She gasped and stumbled.

“What is it?” Percy asked.

She tried to stagger toward the ladder. Why was she moving backward instead? Her legs swept out from under her and she fell on her face.

“Her ankle!” Hazel shouted from the ladder. “Cut it! Cut it!”

Annabeth’s mind was woolly from the pain. Cut her ankle?

Apparently Percy didn’t realize what Hazel meant either. Then something yanked Annabeth backward and dragged her toward the pit. Percy lunged. He grabbed her arm, but the momentum carried him along as well.

“Help them!” Hazel yelled.

Annabeth glimpsed Nico hobbling in their direction, Hazel trying to disentangle her cavalry sword from the rope ladder. Their other friends were still focused on the statue, and Hazel’s cry was lost in the general shouting and the rumbling of the cavern.

Annabeth sobbed as she hit the edge of the pit. Her legs went over the side. Too late, she realized what was happening: she was tangled in the spider silk. She should have cut it away immediately. She had thought it was just loose line, but with the entire floor covered in cobwebs, she hadn’t noticed that one of the strands was wrapped around her foot—and the other end went straight into the pit. It was attached to something heavy down in the darkness, something that was pulling her in.

“No,” Percy muttered, light dawning in his eyes. “My sword…”

But he couldn’t reach Riptide without letting go of Annabeth’s arm, and Annabeth’s strength was gone. She slipped over the edge. Percy fell with her.

Her body slammed into something. She must have blacked out briefly from the pain. When she could see again, she realized that she’d fallen partway into the pit and was dangling over the void. Percy had managed to grab a ledge about fifteen feet below the top of the chasm. He was holding on with one hand, gripping Annabeth’s wrist with the other, but the pull on her leg was much too strong.

No escape, said a voice in the darkness below. I go to Tartarus, and you will come too.

Annabeth wasn’t sure if she actually heard Arachne’s voice or if it was just in her mind.

The pit shook. Percy was the only thing keeping her from falling. He was barely holding on to a ledge the size of a bookshelf.

Nico leaned over the edge of the chasm, thrusting out his hand, but he was much too far away to help. Hazel was yelling for the others, but even if they heard her over all the chaos, they’d never make it in time.

Annabeth’s leg felt like it was pulling free of her body. Pain washed everything in red. The force of the Underworld tugged at her like dark gravity. She didn’t have the strength to fight. She knew she was too far down to be saved.

“Percy, let me go,” she croaked. “You can’t pull me up.”

His face was white with effort. She could see in his eyes that he knew it was hopeless.

“Never,” he said. He looked up at Nico, fifteen feet above. “The other side, Nico! We’ll see you there. Understand?”

Nico’s eyes widened. “But—”

“Lead them there!” Percy shouted. “Promise me!”

“I—I will.”

Below them, the voice laughed in the darkness. Sacrifices. Beautiful sacrifices to wake the goddess.

Percy tightened his grip on Annabeth’s wrist. His face was gaunt, scraped and bloody, his hair dusted with cobwebs, but when he locked eyes with her, she thought he had never looked more handsome.

“We’re staying together,” he promised. “You’re not getting away from me. Never again.”

Only then did she understand what would happen. A one-way trip. A very hard fall.

“As long as we’re together,” she said.

She heard Nico and Hazel still screaming for help. She saw the sunlight far, far above—maybe the last sunlight she would ever see.

Then Percy let go of his tiny ledge, and together, holding hands, he and Annabeth fell into the endless darkness.


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