Chpater 7: Trust
"I think I see something light ahead of us coming from that passage!"
Annabeth squinted to the Labyrinth passage Rachel's finger pointed towards. She didn't see a single fragment of light, though, just an endless black hall of uncertainty and unpredictability.
Then again, Annabeth was slowly beginning to trust the mortal girl more, particularly after one incident only a half hour ago. They had been walking around a sharp right corner when the girl screamed for Annabeth to duck, even going as far to tackle her onto the dusty ground. All Annabeth had heard was a swoosh! cutting through the air from the hidden crevices of darkness. She had caught a glance of spinning silver fly over her head just in time to see an ax thud into the Labyrinth wall right where she had been standing.
"Are you sure?" Annabeth asked in spite of the fact that she already believed in the red-haired mortal. It's not like she would know the way through the Labyrinth either, anyways.
"Positive," Rachel confirmed, her bright green eyes caught on something in the shadows that Annabeth couldn't find, "it's almost a… warm glow. Like a candlelight."
It wasn't as descriptive as Annabeth would have liked to entertain, but she can stick to following a warm glow as long as it led to Daedalus's Workshop and not another volcano.
"So, Rachel," Annabeth began to speak as they continued through the passage, "where are you from?"
"Brooklyn," the redhead replied, "I've lived there my whole life."
"And your parents? They won't worry when you don't come home tonight?"
"Nah," the mortal avoided her eyes, playing with a bracelet on her wrist instead, "I once spent a whole week at a friend's house before without telling them and they didn't even seem to notice when I came back."
"Oh," Annabeth's voice was smaller. She knew how it felt to be neglected by your parents.
Annabeth found her whole view of Rachel beginning to shift. At first, she had been jealous of the girl, not just for gaining Percy's interest, but for simply being mortal. She had thought that Rachel likely had it all: a warm home, safety, and caring parents. Now she knew that was not the case, that maybe she had more in common with the other girl than she originally thought.
"You know," the daughter of Athena said hesitantly, "I ran away from my home when I was seven."
"Seven?!" Rachel turned to her with wide eyes, "What happened?"
She wasn't much for talking about her insecurities. Her moments of weakness. She didn't like to talk about her dad with most people, and it should have been the same with Rachel too. It took several near-death experiences with Percy to open up to him, but she had only just met Rachel a few hours ago and could already somehow sense a kindred spirit. It didn't make sense, and it wasn't logical, but Annabeth found herself wanting to tell Rachel more.
Maybe it was the redhead's completely open-book personality and how Annabeth knew that for every emotion she shed Rachel would shed with her. Never in her life had Annabeth felt so open, so vulnerable before, as she spoke of her father and her nightmares of spiders, but never in her life had Annabeth felt so lost and lonely.
When she lost Percy over two weeks ago, something inside Annabeth had broken, leaving her falling, desperately grabbing for someone—anyone—to save her from her own monsters. And here was Rachel, unknowingly pulling her back from the edge and saving Annabeth from her own inner demons.
Annabeth didn't even realize how much she needed to talk until Rachel began to disclose her own story and she felt a strange lightness in her chest.
"Wait," Annabeth interrupted Rachel as she spoke of what her father did to the environment to make money, "You're rich?"
Rachel shrunk a bit. "Yeah," she said, "but I hate it. My dad does horrible things and destroys the world, but he expects me to be happy just because he can buy me whatever I want."
"Is that why you like helping charities?" Annabeth asked, hopping over a random vine that sprawled the Labyrinth's floor, "Because you feel like you have to make up for all of the destruction your father has caused?"
She nodded, "It's just… all this stuff he does, what if some of it was because of me too? I could be the reason someone is without a home or that sea turtle has a straw in its nose, and I have to fix all of that before I'm just like my father too."
"It's not your fault," Annabeth disagreed, shaking her head fervently. "Your father's actions are on his own account, and not now or ever will they be because of you."
Rachel smiled slightly, "You think so?"
A strange feeling stirred deep in Annabeth's stomach at the realization that she had caused that smile. Was this how Percy had felt when he had helped her grow the courage to talk with her dad again? If so, Annabeth suddenly began to see how often he would talk to her just to chase the chance of seeing her smile.
"I know so." Annabeth told Rachel, and that feeling of helping someone was simply intoxicating.
She had missed out, Annabeth realized, on not trying to make Percy smile more.
It was when Annabeth began to see the light at the end of the tunnel Rachel spoke of that she knew something was wrong.
There was rumbling, almost, echoing through the walls, and she could feel the dirt floor beneath her feet vibrate. She heightened her senses as they peered down the hallway.
There was a sound of loud creaking metal, like an old rusty door being opened, but that only made the rumbling grow greater.
"What is that?" Rachel asked, voice slightly higher pitched than normal.
Annabeth frowned. "I'm not sure," she said as they began to hear loud, pounding footsteps echoing towards them, the vibrations becoming more and more violent.
"Run?" Rachel asked.
"Run." Annabeth confirmed, grabbing Rachel by the arm and taking her down the corridor of the Labyrinth in the opposite direction.
Their getaway didn't last long, though. As they rounded a corner and Annabeth tugged Rachel to the left with her, they were confronted by three dracaenae and a Laistrygonian giant.
"Two tasty treats," the giant smiled with his crooked sharp teeth at them, his bright red eyes gleaming.
"Massssster will be pleasssed." the snake woman in the middle agreed, hefting her spear at them. "Sssurender now or face death."
Annabeth glared at the ground as they were forced to march in front of three dracaenae and follow the Laistrygonian giant. Spears were pointed at both of their backs and there was no getting away. They were led back to the hallway that they raced from earlier and taken to two large bronze doors. Light pooled through the cracks along with loud, muffled cheering.
"Our hosssst will be happy to have ssssome new demigod entertainment." The dracaenae beside Annabeth smiled at her, its forked tongue sliding in between its teeth.
"Why," Annabeth snapped her neck to attention, "Who's the host?"
She received a sharp-fanged grin, "You'll sssee."
"And if I refuse to entertain?" Annabeth already guessed they were going to have her fight something in whatever arena laid behind those doors, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to be difficult about it.
The red eyed giant behind them answered eagerly, "Then I eat your tasty mortal friend."
He pointed at a wide-eyed Rachel. The mortal looked as if she were in between wanting to throw up in disgust and kick the large giant all at the same time.
Annabeth swallowed thickly. They were in a sticky situation, but it was still something she could make a plan to get out of; she just needed to know what they were up against first.
She turned to Rachel, seeing the redhead's whitened face as she had a spear prodding against her back by a dracaenae. "I'll get us out of this," she told the girl confidently.
Rachel gave her a shaky nod, "Please don't die."
The bronze doors creaked open and Annabeth caught her first sight of the arena.
The place was huge—nowhere near the size of the Olympian throne room, but Annabeth could respect the difficulty that comes with building something to the extent of this magnitude all underground. The arena was surrounded on all sides by stacked stone benches and as Annabeth began to walk into the light, every single monster that covered the stands began to grow louder with their jeers and cheers.
She studied the arena, noting the Corinthian style pillars supporting the stands of seating. It was her favorite pillar design from her Ancient Greek Architecture book, but the beauty of the cracked and weathered columns had no place in this arena.
Above her head, hanging disgustingly from rusty chains like some sort of chandelier, were skulls surely to be from the defeated. Most were old and rotted, but some… Annabeth had to look away in order to ignore the details.
She'd rather not have her and Rachel's heads added to the collection.
Monsters continued to jeer at her as she continued to walk further into the arena, leaving Rachel to be guarded by the dracaenae. Annabeth had studied different types of greek monsters her whole life, but there were just so many of them filling the stands. How could she possibly get them out of this alive?
She looked to their "host." He wasn't hard to find, sitting elevated above the stands with a green banner of Posiedon's Trident fluttering beneath him.
A pang hit her deep in the chest and Annabeth wondered if everywhere she went from now on would just remind her of Percy. But it was such a disgusting and hideous place for his father's banner to be displayed that Annabeth felt personally offended for him. If she was furious about the Corinthian columns owning a place in this arena, then she wasn't sure there was a word for how angry she felt seeing that trident displayed here.
The host let out a deep bellow at the intensity of his audience's noise. It was loud, echoing through the cavernous room. He was a giant, at least fifteen feet tall, looking almost like a sumo wrestler with the loin cloth he wore against his dirt-colored skin.
"Now, what do we have here?" the giant let out another loud chuckle as Annabeth evaluated him, trying to decide if she had ever read about him before at camp. "What is your name, demigod?"
She spoke with confidence and pride, "Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena."
The giant's face seemed to grow darker, "Then your violent death will do well to please my father. A daughter of the wisdom goddess deserves no place in this world—only the crimson taste of blood she will surely leave behind on the earthen soil of my mother."
"I do not die well, but I can entertain." Annabeth decided to make a more diplomatic approach, clearly realizing her parentage was not going to gain her any points if the giant was a son of Posiedon. She wasn't very interested in a violent death, either. "My companion and I only wish for passage through your arena, but I believe I can honor you with a fight worthy enough to compensate."
"So the daughter of Athena believes she can wield her blade well?" the giant loosed another bellow, the audience following in turn. Annabeth dodged a rain of rocks that was sent her direction by the crowd. "Perhaps I deserve a demonstration before I, Lord Antaeus, decide if your entertainment is worth the value of your life."
Annabeth narrowed her eyes. He was playing her like she was his food, letting her fight for her freedom and giving the audience a show, only to kill her after. Let her give him the entertainment without argument, only to double cross their agreement later.
But with nothing else to do, she decided to play along. For now.
"I require my knife." she told Antaeus coldly.
The giant gave her a sharp grin back, and Annabeth considered what she had read of the giant during her lessons at camp. His father was Poseidon and his mother Gaea, the Earth goddess. Heracles was sent to defeat Antaeus during his Labors, but if Annabeth recalled correctly, the giant had power over the earth, making him difficult to kill. If she fought him here in this arena on the soil, no maim or injury she may make would stop the earth from healing the giant. It would be an impossible task.
Antaeus nodded to the dracaenae guarding Rachel by the heavy bronze doors. "You heard the demigod," he told them, "She wants her knife."
One of the snake women tossed Annabeth's knife to the center of the arena floor, forcing the daughter of Athena to walk further into the space in order to pick up her glittering bronze weapon.
"Well, Annabeth Chase," Antaeus leered down at her from his podium, "Let us see you entertain."
Opposite to the doors Annabeth and Rachel entered through was another set of bronze doors. The rumbled as they were thrown open, revealing an armored dracaenae.
The snake woman carried a spear and shield, leveling her glare at Annabeth as she slithered her way further into the arena.
Annabeth remained relatively despondent, however, still holding her knife loosely at her side as the dracaenae hefted their spear. But Annabeth had been trained for years at camp in the best tactics to use against spear wielders and was unbothered. She decided to develop a calm persona as she looked for chinks of weakness in the snake woman's armor.
Tensions in the crowd grew at seeing the dracaenae slither nearer and nearer without Annabeth making a single to defend herself. The daughter of Athena was very conscious of the suspense she was creating, though, and knew Antaeus likely appreciated it.
Annabeth finally moved from her position as the snake woman thrusted her spear towards her heart. She dodged the spearhead and ducked under its shaft, slashing her knife at the seam of armor between the dracaenae's shoulder and arm.
The blade ripped through the seam and the dracaenae hissed in pain as the knife caught its shoulder on the arm carrying the spear.
The snake woman flicked her forked tongue at the daughter of Athena in annoyance and thrusted her shield into the demigoddess's stomach in retaliation.
Annabeth allowed herself to be thrown into the ground by the force of shield, only slightly regretting the need for spectacle as the rough hit to the ground took her breath away from her for a moment. She blinked through her blackened vision.
The crowd roared in approval as the dracaenae lifted their spear over Annabeth, taking advantage of the time it took the demigod to recover.
The monster struck down and Annabeth desperately rolled over in the dirt to avoid the blow. A sharp seething pain in her back told her the spearhead had still glanced a hit off of her, though.
Hissing as blood trickled down her spine, Annabeth clambered to her feet again, focusing her attention on the snake woman's already weakened shoulder. She moved to slice the weakened seam of armor once more, causing the monster to drop its spear with the shock of pain Annabeth's blade sent through its arm.
The demigod quickly kicked the spear out of their way and to the side of the arena, now focusing on disarming the monster of its shield.
She received several more bruises from the dracaenae's rough thrusts against her own fluid motions, but as Annabeth forcibly removed the shield from the monster's grasp, she retaliated greatly. She hefted the heavy bronze shield above her head with some effort before slamming it against the monster's skull.
It was inevitable who the winner of the fight would be as the snake woman fell to the ground.
The crowd cheered for blood as the daughter of Athena raised her knife over the dracaenae and the stands they sat on quite literally shook with their anticipation. From the corner of her eye, Annabeth saw one of the old Corithian pillars shutter with the effort of carrying the weight of the arena.
It was unstable.
With that thought in mind, Annabeth turned to Antaeus, raising an eyebrow at him in question.
The wrestler answered with a thumbs-up, so Annabeth proceeded to stab down into the snake woman's side, turning the monster into golden dust.
The arena roared with approval as the demigoddess spread out her arms and turned towards Antaeus.
"You wield your blade well, daughter of Athena." he admitted, "And your entertainment skills cannot be denied."
Annabeth smiled at him. A plan was already forming in her mind from when she had realized that the arena was unstable. "You have only seen a fraction of my skills, Lord Antaeus." she told him, "If you would like to truly see the expanse of my wielding, then I shall require a stronger and much larger opponent."
The great wrestler grinned, clearly thinking Annabeth was playing right into his hands, "If you wish for a greater opponent then you shall have it. Perhaps afterwards I will consider giving you passage through my temple."
"You are a gracious host, Lord Antaeus."
The son of Poseidon and Gaea looked across the arena. "You," he nodded his head towards the giant that had helped capture Annabeth and Rachel, "Give Miss Chase here the honor of a worthy battle."
The red eyed giant gave a toothy grin, showing off a collection of very sharp canines, "Can I eat her?"
"Only if you win."
For the first time since Annabeth entered the arena, she looked to her mortal friend.
Rachel, unsurprisingly, had gotten whiter and whiter in the face throughout Annabeth's battles. The demigoddess had always struggled before with the jealousy of seeing the normal lives mortals led, but now as Annabeth took note of Rachel's white face, she felt an ounce of pity swirl in her gut.
The redhead glanced from the large giant gearing for battle to the daughter of Athena, still unable to move due to the spear poked into her back.
Green eyes met gray.
Get ready, Annabeth mouthed to the mortal, trying to keep their communication as inconspicuous as possible. She hoped the intensity of her eyes was enough to tell Rachel that she had a plan.
Rachel swallowed before giving Annabeth the tiniest of nods, unnoticed by the dracaenae guard behind her.
Annabeth turned away.
The giant now wore a ginormous celestial bronze chest plate, so big that it would've taken the children of Hephaestus a whole week in the forges just to complete. But what concerned Annabeth the most was likely the weapon that the monster carried.
There was a long stick in his humongous hand. Connected to stick by a looping steel chain was a large ball of iron, covered in viciously sharp golden spikes. The gold danced in warning with the light of the arena as the giant spun the ball dangerously in circles. Annabeth couldn't quite place what the golden metal was though; she had never seen anything like it in the camp's forges before.
"You will taste good after I cook you," the giant promised, swinging his spiked ball around while he stomped closer to her.
Annabeth struggled to remain as calm as possible. While she had extensive training at camp in spear fighting, that didn't extend to a chain mace. She knew that they were difficult to control and imprecise, but even if they weren't suggested in close-combat situations, Annabeth doubted the weapon's imperfections would affect the giant's destruction capabilities. In fact, Annabeth was beginning to enjoy the idea of a ruthless spiked metal ball being swung around aimlessly in an arc of destruction (oh gods, she was starting to sound like Percy).
The daughter of Athena began to edge towards the side of the arena as the giant stomped towards her. The giant came at her faster with more confidence at seeing her back away from him. But when he swung his flail at her, the demigoddess was gone.
The chain mace smashed into the beautiful Corinthian column that was behind where Annabeth was standing.
Meanwhile, Annabeth rolled between the giant's legs, swiping her knife across his calf as she scampered to the opposite side of the arena.
The giant howled in pain as a gash appeared across his leg, but he was difficult to hear above the audience's loud roars of approval. The first blood was shed.
"Don't be a baby about it!" Annabeth shouted from across the arena, "Get your foot out of your mouth you giant stinkhead!"
The red eyed monster growled as he pulled out his spike ball from the column, shattering the beautiful, chiseled architecture with now fractured stone. Annabeth half regretted using her Percy-level insults as the giant began to stomp over to her with greater fury.
She repeated the process three more times, ducking and dodging the flail as it continued to smash into the Corinthian pillars holding up the arena. The giant's rage level continuously grew as he missed the demigoddess with each swing and Annabeth continued to use horrible insults on him.
"I will smash your head open!" he roared, slamming his flail into yet another column and causing the arena stands to shake.
Annabeth smiled, knowing the arena was now dangerously unstable.
"You have to catch me first, you dummy!" she yelled at the giant, racing to her next pillar.
The giant stampeded after the daughter of Athena, sending shockwaves through the arena. His eyes leaked crimson with the promise of blood and this time he was ready to put his whole body into his swing.
"Hit me with your best shot, you butthead!"
The giant roared, lifting his flail.
"WAIT STOP—" Anteaus's eyes widened as he realized too late what was about to happen.
Annabeth dove out of the chain mace's arc at the last moment, landing hard in the dusty arena ground. The flail just barely missed her head before crashing into the poor Corinthian pillar, effectively crumbling the entire thing.
The entire arena began to shake and tremble. More columns began to crack and crumble and now even sending the arena's stands into the rubble. It was complete chaos as monsters were shouting and falling into the destruction.
"Rachel!" Annabeth yelled desperately through the chaos.
The redhead ran towards her, having separated from her dracaenae guards during the mayhem. "Annabeth!" she shouted back, before shrieking as a slab of ceiling fell next to her.
The demigoddess latched arms with the mortal and pulled her through the disarray. She took them to the gateway of the arena opposite to those which they had entered, pushing the heavy bronze doors open.
"Get us out of here!" Annabeth told the clear-sighted mortal as they reentered the Labyrinth, still running.
Rachel nodded, hardening her emerald green eyes to the passageway ahead of them, "Follow me."
And so Annabeth did.
They kept running and running through the maze as the shockwaves continued, leaving Antaeus to die under thousands of pounds of his ruined temple.
Author's Note: Haha... long time no see, eh? I think between my entire track season and my struggle to decide how I wanted this chapter to go, I might've procrastinated just a bit. Don't worry, though, I'm still alive.
I don't have much experience with writing action scenes, so I hope the arena fights didn't sound too lame. Half of me just wanted Annabeth to defeat Antaeus the same way Percy did in the book, but I couldn't do my girl wrong like that. Annabeth and Percy are two very different tactical fighters and both of them were bound to treat the arena situation differently. Annabeth was quicker to catch on than Percy with her knowledge, but Percy was bolder on how he addressed Antaeus.
If you also couldn't tell, I'm trying to build a better relationship between Annabeth and Rachel than there was in the book. I mean, they both have a lot in common with how they were neglected as children and they both are not about to let the boys do all the work for them. I think with Percy out of the way, Annabeth might be more open to seeing Rachel's view.
ALSO... I really want to thank you all for your great reviews and even respond to some.
FrostGlaive: Thank you for all of your reviews! I'd say the suspense is also killing me, but I already know what will happen next... Don't worry, the next chapter will be at the Styx.
thompmil000: Your words warm my heart! I haven't even fully decided how Annabeth will react, but it will certainly be emotional.
iNeptune: Thank you for continuing to review!
And to a guest that asked me a quest regarding a possible plot hole: Grover and Tyson will be addressed later in the story, but right now they have no idea what happened to Percy and Annabeth. As in the book, they split up from the pair to look for Pan in Labyrinth. And as one of my earlier chapters mentioned, Percy describes his empathy link with Grover as a "shattered connection" after the eruption.
Until next chapter...