Thanks to Thobeobo for beta-reading this chapter.
I do NOT own Percy Jackson or its universe. Those rights belong to Rick Riordan and his publisher.
A Deal With the Devil
Black marble walls loomed like shadows made solid. Torches with flickering green flames were reflected on the floor of solid bronze. In the center of the room a horrid throne of human bones fused together, created entirely of nightmarish obsidian. Sitting on it was a figure that haunted the living.
Hades, the Lord of the Dead.
He looked exactly as he had a month ago when Percy had been on his quest. His oily hair and silk robes were as black as the throne he sat on, making his albino skin seem even paler. He wore a crown of woven gold, looking every bit the king of the Underworld he was.
He opened his mouth, but Percy spoke first.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"I shall forgive your disrespect this once, nephew," Hades said silkily. "Do not interrupt me again, or I will personally ensure you regret it."
Percy glared at him.
"Look, I don't know if you've heard," he said angrily, "but I was just bitten by a pit scorpion a few minutes ago. I'm either already dead—and if so, then I really hope this isn't my afterlife—or I'm passed out and you're invading my dreams like some crazy stalker."
Hades didn't look amused.
"I am well aware of your current predicament," he drawled. "It is becauseof your situation that I have summoned you here in the first place, Percy Jackson." His eyes glinted. "I have an offer for you."
"What could I possibly do for you, now?" Percy asked incredulously. "It wasn't enough to save your precious helmet, but now you have another quest for me?"
"Not a quest, no," Hades said softly. "An offer—one I am sure you will accept."
"Well, you already said you couldn't give me my mother back." Percy clenched his fists and ignored the phantom pain of the lightning strike, the echo of thunder ringing in his ears. "I don't see why I should accept any offer you give me."
"No, I cannot give you back your mother." Hades sounded genuinely regretful, which confused Percy. "What I can do is something far more important."
Percy was still furious, considering everything that had happened, but he was willing to hear Hades out—it wasn't as if he had a choice, really. "And what's that?"
"I can give you the power and tools you need to get your revenge on the one who has caused all of your troubles, the one who caused all of this to happen." Hades's eyes gleamed. "Luke Castellan."
Fury raged through Percy like a hurricane. That traitor had pretended to be his friend—the only demigod at Camp Half-Blood to do so until the quest with Annabeth, but even she had been a bit distant with him because of the Athena-Poseidon rivalry. It had taken them nearly dying half a dozen times before she was willing to attempt to be friendly with him.
Overall, things had only gotten worse since their return from the quest. With his mother dead, Percy had nowhere to go, unwilling to be alone with Smelly Gabe, so he had thrown himself into training. He ate and slept, but other than that, he could almost always be found in the sword arena, slashing dummies to pieces.
But Percy knew better than to trust Hades so implicitly.
"What do you get out of this?" he asked. "Why should I trust you when you tried to kill me?"
"I am afraid that you are incorrect once again, nephew," Hades said, looking amused. "I have never once tried to kill you. Ah-ah!" He raised a hand when Percy went to interrupt. "I swear that I have not. Yes, I sent Alecto to your school, but she was only meant to observe you and report back to me. She showed you her true self in an attempt to intimidate you, not realizing you knew nothing."
Percy gaped at him. "You expect me to believe that? She tried to rip my face off!"
"Irrelevant," Hades dismissed with a wave of his hand. "Regardless of what happened, she was under orders not to kill you. I had no desire to start a war with Poseidon for killing his only child."
"What about the Minotaur?" Percy demanded, ignoring the mention of his father.
Hades's eyes softened.
"Asterion was only meant to kidnap your mother," he explained. "I do not know why he decided to attempt to kill you, as well, but I suspect that my father has something to do with it. Had I truly wished you dead, you would have been pursued by my legions as Thalia Grace was."
At least that made sense.
"Unlike my youngest brother," Hades continued, "Iam not so deluded as to ignore the signs that the Titan Lord is returning to power, especially not when recent events are taken into account. While I do not care for the continued rule of the Olympians—"
"I can't blame you," Percy muttered. He didn't care much for Olympus either, when Zeus had murdered his mother and his father had barely acknowledged him the one time they had met in person. The only other Olympian he had met was Dionysus, and the fat drunk had hardly made a good impression on Percy, reminding him far too much of Smelly Gabe.
"—I have no desire to see my father returned to power," Hades finished. "It would mean even more troubles for the Underworld. We're still judging souls from the two world wars because mortals don't seem to know how to stop killing each other!"
Hades sounded so exhausted that Percy couldn't help but pity him. He easily recalled how crowded the Fields of Asphodel were; the lines of souls awaiting judgement, the lobby up in DOA Recording Studios, all filled to the brim with the dead.
"So what do you get out of this deal?" Percy asked.
"In exchange for my helping you achieve your desires to the best of my ability," Hades said, "you will become my champion and bring respect to the House of Hades. You will represent and act in my name in the mortal world."
It sounded like a pretty good deal, if Percy was honest with himself. But he didn't like the idea of being someone else's puppet.
That was when Hades brought out the deal-cincher.
"And… you will be able to see your mother."
Percy's gaze snapped back to Hades. He was positive he hadn't heard correctly.
"I cannot allow you to see her often," Hades admitted, "but once each month shall be infrequent enough as to avoid drawing the attention of higher powers who would put a stop to it."
Percy was silent for a while, contemplating the offer.
"How do I know you're being honest?"
Hades didn't look surprised. If anything, he looked impressed and approving.
"I swear upon the River Styx that my offer is genuine and every word I have spoken has been the truth."
Even countless miles beneath the surface, they could hear the clap of thunder that sealed the oath and proved the validity of Hades's offer.
Percy smiled, "I agree to your terms."
Hades's eyes flashed triumphantly.
"I shall send Alecto to retrieve you from your cabin after you have finished packing," he said. "We will begin your training in the morning."
"What about the Ancient Laws?" Percy asked. "Aren't you forbidden from helping mortals?"
Hades rolled his eyes. "Zeus created that law to prove his power and authority over Olympus. I am no Olympian, thus it does not apply to me. Besides," he added, smirking, "how will Zeus know if he cannot enter my realm without permission that I will never grant, even if he stuffed his ego and begged for it?"
That was a fair point.
Percy wasn't too happy to learn that, technically,Poseidon could have been a bigger part of his life as he grew up, but the hope of seeing his mother again pushed it aside.
"You are waking," Hades said. "Good luck, my champion."
Percy had a drinking straw in his mouth. Whatever he was drinking tasted like chocolate-chip cookies turned into a liquid.
He opened his eyes.
He was propped up in bed in the sickroom of the Big House. His right hand was bandaged, swollen where the scorpion had stung him. Argus, the hundred-eyed security, stood guard in the corner. Annabeth sat next to Percy, holding his nectar glass and dabbing a washcloth at his forehead.
"Here we are again," he said.
"You idiot," Annabeth said, which was how Percy knew she was relieved. "You were green and turning grey when we found you. If it weren't for Chiron's healing…"
"Now, now," Chiron's voice said. "Percy's constitution deserves some of the credit."
He was sitting near the foot of the bed in human form, his horse half compacted into his magical wheelchair, his upper half dressed in a coat and tie. He smiled, but his face looked weary and pale.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Like my insides have been frozen, then microwaved."
"Apt, considering that was pit scorpion venom. Now you must tell me, if you can, exactly what happened."
Between sips of nectar, Percy told them the story of Luke's betrayal.
The room was quiet for a long time.
"I can't believe that Luke…" Annabeth's voice faltered. "I mean, he was never the same after his quest… But this?"
"This must be reported to Olympus," Chiron murmured. "I will go at once."
If Percy hadn't made that deal with Hades, he knew he would be trying to get out of bed as soon as possible. However, knowing that he was going to be starting his new training with an immortal god in the morning, he was quite content to rest as much as possible.
"Chiron…" he said, "your prophecy from the Oracle… it was about Kronos, wasn't it?"
Chiron glanced nervously at the ceiling. "Percy, it isn't my place—"
"You've been ordered not to talk to me about it, haven't you?"
His sympathetic, sad eyes were answer enough. Percy was starting to get sick of Zeus bossing everyone around, keeping secrets and ignoring very real problems for no reason.
"You will be a great hero, child," Chiron said. "I will do my best to prepare you. But if I'm right about the path ahead of you…"
Thunder boomed overhead, rattling the windows.
"All right! Fine!" Chiron shouted. Then he sighed, "The gods have their reasons, Percy. Knowing too much of your future is never a good thing." He looked intently at Percy. "You must be careful. Kronos wants you to come unraveled. He wants your life disrupted, your thoughts clouded with fear and anger. Do not give him what he wants—train patiently, your time will come."
Sooner than you think, Percy thought.
Chiron put his hand on Percy's ankle. "You must decide your path for the coming year. I cannot tell you the right choice…"
Percy got the feeling that he had a very definite opinion, and it was taking all of his power not to give his advice.
"But you must decide whether to stay at Camp Half-Blood year-round, or return to the mortal world for seventh grade and be a summer camper. The camp can provide if you choose to leave. Think on that. When I get back from Olympus, you must tell me your decision."
Percy had already made his choice, but Chiron wouldn't know until he was already gone.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," Chiron promised. "Argus will watch over you. Oh," he added, looking at Annabeth, "whenever you're ready, they're here."
"Who's here?" Percy asked.
Nobody answered, just like almost every other time Percy had asked a question since arriving here.
Chiron rolled himself out of the room. Percy could hear the wheels of his chair clunk carefully down the front steps, two at a time.
Annabeth studied the ice in Percy's drink.
"What's wrong?" he asked her.
"Nothing." She set the glass on the table. "I… just took your advice about something. You… um… need anything?"
"Yeah. Help me up. I want to go outside."
"Percy, that isn't a good idea."
He slid his legs out of bed and a wave of nausea rolled over him.
Annabeth caught him before he could crumple to the floor.
"I told you…" she said.
Percy ignored her. He really needed to make his way back to Cabin Three to pack what few belongings he had before Hades's Fury arrived to take him down to the Underworld.
A sentence Percy would never in his wildest dreams believe in any other circumstance.
He managed a step forward, then another, still leaning heavily on Annabeth. Argus followed them outside, but kept his distance.
By the time they reached the porch, Percy's face was beaded with sweat. His stomach had twisted into knots, but he managed to make it all the way to the railing.
It was dusk, and the camp looked completely deserted. The cabins were dark and the volleyball pit silent. No canoes cut the surface of the lake. Beyond the woods and the strawberry fields, the Long Island Sound glittered in the last light of the sun.
"What are you going to do?" Annabeth asked.
"I don't know," Percy lied.
Annabeth pursed her lips, then quietly said, "I'm going home for the year, Percy."
"You mean to your dad's?"
She pointed towards the crest of Half-Blood Hill. Next to Thalia's pine tree, at the very edge of the camp's magical boundaries, a family stood silhouetted—two little children, a woman, and a tall man with blond hair. The man was holding the backpack Annabeth had gotten from Waterland in Denver.
"I wrote him a letter when we got back," Annabeth said. "Just like you suggested. I told him… I was sorry. I'd come home for the school year if he still wanted me. He wrote back immediately. We decided… we'd give it another try."
Percy was happy for her, but he was also annoyed she'd waited so long to tell him. Other than Chiron, she was really all he had left, now that Grover was out on his search for Pan.
"You won't try anything stupid during the school year, will you?" she asked. "At least… not without sending me an Iris-message?"
He managed a weak smile. "I won't go looking for trouble."
It would likely find him.
"When I get back next summer, we'll hunt down Luke," Annabeth said. "We'll ask for a quest, but if we don't get approval, we'll sneak off and do it anyway. Agreed?"
Percy wasn't sure that was a good idea, but he was too tired to talk about it, so he just nodded.
"Take care, Seaweed Brain," Annabeth told him. "Keep your eyes open."
Percy watched her walk up the hill and join her family. She gave her father an awkward hug and looked back at the valley one last time. She touched Thalia's pine tree, then allowed herself to be led over the crest and into the mortal world.
Percy felt truly alone for the first time in his life. His only two friends were both gone, and he was about to take a path they wouldn't be able to follow, even if they were still here with him.
He looked out at Long Island Sound, wondering if his father cared about him. Poseidon hadn't said a word to him when he had returned Zeus's master bolt a month ago—at least, none after Zeus left to 'cleanse the mortal taint' from it—and Percy had left after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, waiting for a dismissal that had never come.
Brushing those thoughts aside, Percy asked Argus to take him down to Cabin Three so he could get some rest.
Once Argus was gone, comfortable with the knowledge that he was in bed, Percy shakily got to his feet and began to pack his bags, taking all of his few remaining belongings with him. He quickly wrote a note to Chiron explaining that he just needed to be on his own for a while and figure some things out, but not to worry.
Percy doubted it would work, and he expected to receive an Iris-message before too long.
He had just finished when the Fury who had once been his sixth-grade algebra teacher emerged from the shadows in one corner.
"Hey Mrs. Dodds," Percy said.
She snarled. "You are fortunate that Lord Hades has forbidden me from harming you, Percy Jackson, or you would not still be standing."
Percy rolled his eyes and hefted his backpack onto his shoulder with a wince.
"Yeah, whatever, let's go, already."
She grinned nastily and latched onto him tightly. They melted into the shadows, and Percy felt colder than he ever had in his life, unable to see anything around him. The only ways he knew he was alive was the touch of Alecto's claws, the cold shivers running up his spine, the wind making his face feel like it was peeling off, and the strange noises in his ears.
Then it all vanished and he collapsed.
Alecto cackled before disappearing.
"I suppose a gentle landing was too much to ask for," Percy grumbled.
"She is not your biggest fan, at the moment."
Hades was standing in the doorway of the bedroom Percy had been brought to. A king-sized bed was against the wall, a bookshelf on one side and a desk on the other. Against another wall was a door that led to a bathroom, and the other led to a walk-in closet filled with clothes. Like the throne room, the only lighting came from torches with green flames.
"This will be your bedroom while you're here," Hades told him. "You will rest tonight, and I will have a healer tend to your injuries. They are much more acquainted with pit scorpion venom than Chiron, and so will be able to remedy it sooner."
"Thank you," Percy said sincerely.
"Get some rest," Hades suggested. "Tomorrow will be a long day."
He left the room, closing the door behind him.
Uncaring that he was in his filthy camp clothes, Percy crawled over to the bed and hauled himself up onto the very soft mattress, struggling his way under the comfortable covers. He sighed, satisfied, having never been in a more perfect bed in his life.
He fell asleep before his eyes had even closed.
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