CHAPTER ONE: WHAT ABOUT BIANCA?
Percy POV

"What about Bianca?"

This simple question had been yelled at me in a moment of chaotic fury and grief. Yet I knew Nico had meant them. The words sent a stab of guilt through my chest, bringing back the urges I thought had disappeared. I should have known better. I am never free. Not from the gods. Not from the prophecies. Not from the death. Not from the regret. Not from the pain and guilt and suffering.

A voice in my head screams at me. It is vicious and drowns out all other thoughts. The volume of its hateful words causes confessions to tumble from my lips.

"You think I don't know her death is my fault?"

Tears roll down my cheeks and my vision becomes blurred. My words were shouted back. Even when my voice broke, I couldn't keep the words from escaping. I was releasing all my emotions because I knew it was my fault. I don't pause for breath.

"I know it should have been me, alright? I shouldn't have told her my plan. I should have remembered we were in the land without rain mentioned in the bloody prophecy. But I remembered too late. I searched for hours. The others knew she was gone but I couldn't accept it. If I accepted it, that would mean she paid for my mistake. It was my mistake, not hers. My plan, not hers."

The son of Hades seemed lost. Lost for words? Perhaps. He stood there as I shouted at him. If I had been thinking, I would have stopped. I would have panicked at revealing my secret vulnerability. I would have realised I had no right to be taking this out on him. Instead, I was peeling back a section of my armour, letting him see part of my pain. An action I was sure to regret later.

"I couldn't stop to mourn. The quest must go on."

I laughed bitterly at that. Nico had lost a sister. Artemis had lost her newest Huntress and her Lieutenant. Two lives had been lost and the least deserving person had been rewarded. I got Annabeth in return for failing to save Bianca and Zöe.

"It was a quest I wasn't even meant to be on in the first place. That quest claimed two lives. At least one of them should have been mine."

My whole body trembled with the emotions crashing through my body. It was reflecting the pain I hid every day to keep the campers hopeful and safe. The pain I deserved.

"I, a male, gained the respect of Artemis. I didn't deserve that. I kept thinking of the promise I made to you. The promise I made to myself. That I would bring Bianca back. When I saw the hope in your face? It crushed me. You had believed in me. You trusted me. It was misguided trust."

I let out a shaky breath. A lump had formed in my throat.

"I didn't bring your sister back. I promised, but I didn't. And when you blamed me? I knew you were right. But I also made another promise. I promised your sister I would keep you safe. You ran, and you had every right to. But it terrified me that, already, I was failing that promise too."

Nico seemed paler than usual. His mouth was opening and closing. I knew he was remembering my failures and broken promises. That he was shocked that I, the one who had failed him so badly, felt I had a right to shout at him. He was right. I didn't have a single right. The next words that left were quiet and broken.

"Every time I go to sleep I dream of her. I watch as I tell Bianca the plan that will be her death. I watch myself stand by as she sacrifices her life in the place of mine. I watch as I fail her. As I fail you. Every. Single. Time."