The Titan's Curse

By Artie Gallezi

Adventure

Every Hour, But The Last

"So this mortal?" Zoë asked. "She could see through the Mist?"

"I think so." Artie said. "She saw Percy's duster as a lion pelt and my cloak and armor. How is that possible?"

"I am not sure." Zoë admitted. "But it is not as rare as thee would think. I have many mortals that could see through the Mist to varying degrees, but I never learned how exactly how they could."

Artie gaze around and enjoyed the view.

It was pure dumb luck that the golden statues at the Hoover Dam had sprung to life when Thalia prayed to her father. One had scooped up Thalia and Percy while the other did the same Grover and Zoë. Artie felt perfectly comfortable sitting on the statue's shoulder. Hopefully they had seen the last of the skeletal warriors, for a while at least. The last they saw them, they were shrinking specks in the distance with the fading sounds of gunfire as the statues carried them up and over mountains. Artie wondered why Thalia was clutching the statue's arm so tightly. She could be afraid of heights, but that would be too strange for a child of Zeus, lord of the sky. Then again, he was the child of Artemis which was supposed to be an impossibility.

"Where are we?" Artie asked.

"We are in the Sierras." Zoë said. "I've hunted here before. We should reach San Fransisco in a few hours."

"San Fransisco?" Artie racked his brain for a quote and settled on one from Lonesome Dove. "Darlin', life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life."

Artie felt the statues sped up as mountains became hills, and then they were zipping over farmland, towns, and highways. Grover played his reed pipes to pass the time while Thalia and Percy talked. Artie entertained himself watching Zoë shoot at Target department store billboard, there quite a few of them, as they passed them at over a hundred miles an hour. But he was only visually occupied. Mentally, he was considering his own quest to save Annabeth and the prophesy's lines.

Begin as you have and the daughter will be saved.

That seemed straightforward enough. Like his journey to Camp Half Blood and his quest to learn his Olympian parent, he was to attempt the quest alone. At least, that what he first thought. He knew now that there was no hidden meaning behind it. He had start the quest alone, but that didn't mean he would accomplish it alone. He was fairly sure that, though they're quest was to save Artemis, his friends were key to saving Annabeth as well. At least he hoped so. He was tired of going at things alone.

Control of the beast within regained

The second line had been misleading. While only a handful of people knew the true result of his time as a silver jaguar, the prophecy was not referring Lutar. The line had been completed when Artie had erased the presence of Leonidas from his mind. Leonidas had been a mad beast that finally snapped when Artie chose to rescue Annabeth over hunting down Thorn and killing for the death of his mother and brother. While Artie still felt Lutar's influence, he somehow found himself much calmer without a crazy spartan subconsciously controlling him.

Vengeance taken and guardian freed

While he had no idea what or which guardian he was supposed to free, Artie knew he would meet and fight Thorn again. Though this time, only one of them would be walking away from it. The problem was even he killed Thorn, he would just come back. The words of tour guide at the Hoover Dam echoed in his head. She may have spoken Portuguese, but Artie understood every word. Every hour wounds, the last one kills, she had said. But Artie was drawing a blank to the meaning. At best, she might be hinting that was away that he could kill Thorn and he would never reform, not in a thousand years or even a million, but he wasn't sure. He knew that monsters eventually do fade, but had no idea how or why. And didn't have the time to find out and develop a plan to use that on Thorn.

The king of hunt the mother's world shall heed

He was sure that the mother in question was Artemis, but he could only guess what the rest meant. Artie flashed to Orion. As much as he didn't want to admit it, Orion was the greatest hunter in the world and second only to Artemis, the goddess of hunting. As the second best, it could make him a king in the her world, among the animals at least, but it was pure speculation. Just like the second possibility of Artie becoming King of the hunt. It made sense in way. He was the son of Artemis. And, however unlikely, there was the infinitesimal chance that Athena might be so grateful that he had rescued her daughter that she might grant him immortality, something even Orion could not boast. As the immortal son of Artemis, King of the hunt could simply be a name rather than an actual title. Artie was certain that Artemis would have another child before she granted such a title to a boy even he was her first and only child.

Tobias fluttered down onto Artie's shoulder, speaking Portuguese in his mind. "You seem to be feeling better."

Artie smiled. "I guess the nectar and ambrosia finally finished healing me."

"And Zoë seems treating you with some decency." Tobias picked at something under his wing. "Which is just as well. I thought I might have to claw that pretty face."

"Tell me something?" Artie asked.

"Yes?"

"Don't you ever get tired of looking out for me?" Artie looked at his friend with curiosity. "I mean, I haven't exactly made it the easiest job in the world and I'm sure Thorn didn't exactly help."

"I'll admit, I was severely tempted for the first year or so," Tobias rolled his shoulders. "but Lady Artemis appointed me as you watcher and I was duty bound to care for you as best as I could, despite the useless tears and tiring talk of wanting to go home, "

"What eight year old wouldn't cry and want to go home after his family was killed?" Artie sighed. "But I guess I was a bit of a whiner at first."

"That is putting it mildly." Tobias's eyes seemed to soften. "But you quickly grew."

"After you nearly ripped my throat out and left me alone for a week." Artie remarked. "Just because you wouldn't let me go into town just to buy some ice cream." Artie still felt a bit bitter. "Something cold and refreshing after nearly baking in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile during the summer and you say no without giving me a reason."

"Those five hundred pesos, a mere twenty dollars here, was the only money you had seen in weeks." Tobias reminded. "Money that could be used to buy much needed supplies or clothes, and you wanted food. Something you learned long before to acquire with hardly a knife and some patience."

"I must have missed the hiagen das herds in the mountains." Artie muttered. "You have any idea how scared I was? I thought Thorn found you or you just left me."

"I never left." Tobias said, "I merely kept my distance for a while."

"All this time, and you never told me?"

"You never asked." Tobias actually shrugged. "And it was necessary."

"Necessary?"

"For me to cool off and not peck your eyes out."

Artie laughed and tied himself to the statue with some rope from his belt, asking permission first, before falling asleep against the statue's neck. To his surprise, he did not dream of his past, but that wasn't to say it was uneventful.

Artie found himself standing in a large room with long tables that held science equipment like microscopes, beakers, and Bunsen burners. The floor was tiled with linoleum tiles and florescent bulb bussed over head. He saw the walls had see through cabinets and shelves holding more microscopes , empty beakers and test tubes, and thick textbooks. While Artie had been in one since he was eight, he knew he was standing in an empty classroom. And judging by the equipment and the scents of chemicals, it was a science classroom. But it wasn't empty. At the far end of room was a table, far longer than the others, and filled with lots of more advanced science equipment. And sitting at the table, gazing into a microscope while she jotted down notes, was a woman.

Artie slowly made his way to her, ready to run or fight at moment's notice, but the women seemed to know he was already there. "Long time no see, Artie." Then she corrected herself. "Then again it has only been a few hours."

"Do I know you?" Artie asked.

"I should say you do." she turned around to face him. "But you weren't exactly collected that first time we met."

This women was beautiful with long black hair tied back into bun and intense grey eyes behind a pair of reading glasses. She wore a long white lab coat over a plain black blouse with plain blue jeans and sneakers. While she may have looked like any science college professor or teacher, Artie knew better. This woman had the same intense grey eye that Annabeth had.

This woman was Athena, Annabeth's mother and goddess of wisdom and battle strategy.

"Yes, I am Athena." she said, confirming Artie's mental guess. "I want to thank you, Artie."

"Not that I'm grateful." Artie said carefully so not insult her. "But what for exactly?"

"For risking your life to save Annabeth." Athena said. "While I try not play favorites with my children, I am particularity attached her."

"So am I." Artie said.

"But not like Appolonia?" Athena asked.

"I'm sorry, but no." Artie shook his head. "She's more like a sister to me." Artie risked a question. "Why do you ask?"

"I do not approve of my daughter's association with that child of Poseidon," The goddess said. "However, your mother and I tend get along quite well over the centuries."

"You want me to date Annabeth?" Artie asked in what he hoped was not an insulting tone.

"I'd prefer it. In my opinion, you are a much better match, mentally anyway." Athena sighed. "But sadly, that is Aphrodite's department and she doesn't share my views on matchmaking."

"I'm sorry, Lady Athena." Artie asked. "But what am I doing here? Unless you just wanted to thank me and tell me that you think Annabeth would be better off with me."

"What do you plan on doing once you face Thorn again?" Athena leaned forward to catch his answer. "Surely, you have a strategy or two in mind?"

"None that I like." Artie admitted. "And don't call me Shirley."

"Clever word play" Athena remarked.

"That was a line from Airplane."

"Airplane?"

"The movie."

"Oh, yes. Your mother mentioned your taste for movies." Athena regarded him for a moment. "But what do you mean, none that you like?"

"If I do kill Thorn, he'll just come back." Artie said. "I don't want that."

"Why not?" Athena asked. "He might not reform in your lifetime."

"And if by some miracle I managed to live long enough and have a family?" Artie pointed out. "I don't want him going after anyone else just to hurt me."

"And I assume you don't simply wish to keep him locked away." Athena guessed. "After what he did, I would guess you want the monster to suffer."

"For every second of everyday." Artie told her.

"I might have just the thing for that." She reached into a pocket of her lab coat and tossed two small stoppered test tubes. "Here."

Artie caught a tube in each hand, one was red and the other blue. "Please tell me if I take the red one I get to see how far the rabbit hole goes?"

"Excuse me?" Athena looked confused.

"Never mind." Artie said. "Just a line from the Matrix, forget I said anything."

"I kind of enjoyed that one, but the bit about learning dozen upon dozen of fighting styles by simply inserting a disc rubbed me the wrong way. " Athena frowned. "My children devoted their entire lives to developing those techniques. If they wanted the full benefit, they should have done it the old fashioned way."

"Um, Lady Athena?" Artie held up the tubes. "What are these for?"

"Oh yes, my mistake." Athena paused a moment to gather her thoughts. "While I'm sure you know this, but drakons have very thick hides. Even thicker than the dragons you used to make that armor of yours." Athena motioned to him. "When their shed their skin, drakons secrete a fluid into their blood so that when the new skin is ready, it is already rock hard."

Artie held up the tubes again. "So one of these . . ."

Athena motioned to the blue one. "That one contains that very fluid. Once it enters the blood, anyone or anything will have impenetrable skin."

"Like Achilles?" Artie asked.

"Achilles received a similar gift from bathing in the River Styx,but it is not the same." Athena warned. "Unlike bathing in the River Styx, this will not make the host stronger or faster."

"Oh." Artie felt a bit disappointed.

"But even bathing the Styx dose not leave one completely untouchable." Athena said. "That it where that fluid is different. Once it enters the blood, every inch of skin will become diamond hard. Nothing can penetrate it."

"That's still sound pretty cool."

"But remember," Athena's voice grew serious. "The skin become so solid that the host cannot even sweat."

"So if I use it, I can overheat?"

"Like a car in the Sahara."

Artie held up the red tube, "And what's in this one?"

"Nectar." Athena said. "I believe you used the last of yours when the others found you after that Talos prototype fell apart."

Artie pocketed the vials, wondering how exactly he would use them. "Lady Athena?"

"Yes?"

"Was that you at the Hoover Dam?" he asked. "The tour guide?"

"It might have been." Athena smiled. "Why do you ask?"

"She said something." Artie told her. "Something only I could have understood."

"How can you be sure?"

"It was in Portuguese." Artie repeated. "Cada hora feridas, mas mata um última."

"What dose it mean?"

Artie translated. "Every hour wounds, the last one kills."

"A little dark, isn't it?" asked the goddess with a bit of amusement.

Artie shrugged. "That wasn't you?"

"I do not speak Portuguese I'm afraid."

"What now?" Artie asked.

"You wake up." She said simply. "I have given you all the help I can."

"Thank you, Lady Athena." Artie seemed unsure. "But can I ask you something?"

"You just did, but I understand what you meant to say." Athena said. "Go on."

"If the gods aren't allowed direct interference, are the Titans?"

"Sadly, no ." Athena looked annoyed. "We must reley and act through heroes, our children, but they are not restricted by such rules or rules at all for that matter."

"But there aren't any demigods out there." Artie told her. "Chiron has all of the satyrs looking in every school in the country and we only just found two after almost a year."

"Tell me, Artie." Athena's eyes gleamed cleverly as she spoke. "A common hunting practice is to wait by a source of water and wait, correct?"

"Yes," Artie was confused. "But what dose — "

"Then what would you do if you found all the water had dried up?"

"But — "

"What would you do?" Athena asked again, a little more demanding this time. "If the nearest source has been exhausted?"

"Look somewhere else." Artie answered. "There's always water somewhere else."

Athena smiled brightly, "Não poderia ter dito melhor!"

Artie was jolted awake as he felt Diego nip his finger. "Mew!"

"We are here," Zoë pointed to the horizon. "Look!"

Artie gazed down at the city he saw in countless films.

San Fransisco.

It reminded him of Rio in a way. Big and loud like Manhattan, but more calmer and in tune with nature. It was surrounded by rolling green hills and fog. There was a huge bay with ships, islands, and sailboats. And with the Golden Gate Bridge sticking out of the fog the way it did, Artie wished he had a camera. He'd just have to settle with a postcard that said, Greetings from San Fransisco, Still alive and wish you were here.

After landing, and scaring a homeless man away, the statues dropped off thier half blood cargo and bid them farewell. They were all somewhat relieved. They had reached the west coast. Artemis was here and Annabeth, Percy and Artie hoped, but they had no idea what to do next. And the winter solstice was tomorrow, to say nothing of the monster that Artemis was hunting that was supposed to show the way, according to the prophecy anyway. Now they were stuck on a ferry dock with little money, no friends, and no luck. They had a quick discussion and agreed that they should try to figure out what the mystery monster was.

"How?" Artie asked. "Unless this monster smells different from others, me and Grover won't be able to tell it apart from any other. And we don't have time to search the entire city."

"Nereus." Grover said.

"What's near us?" Artie looked around."I don't see any monsters."

"Nereus." Grover looked to Percy. "Isn't that what Apollo told you to do? Find Nereus?"

"The old man of the sea." Percy remembered. "I'm suppose to find him and make him tell us where the monster is. But how do I find him?"

Zoë made a face. "Old Nereus, eh?"

"You know him?" Thalia asked.

"An old boyfriend?" Artie winked.

Zoë scowled before answering. My mother was a sea goddess. Yes, I know him. Unfortunately, he is never hard to find. Just follow the smell."

"What do you mean?" Percy asked.

"Yeah," Artie asked. "Why do I have the feeling me and Grover are gonna be regretting havign such sensetive noses?"

"Come," Zoë said without enthusiasm. "I will show thee."

Artie began to follow when the wind blew past him. It was a gentle gust, hardly noticeable to anyone. But it carried a strong scent. Artie slipped his hand into his belt and brought out the stoppered red and blue test tubes Athena had given him. Part of him wished it was just a dream, but he knew better.

"Nectar and drakon fluid." Artie stared at the containers and repeated in Portuguese the words of the tour guide, sure it was none other than Athena. "Cada hora feridas, mas mata um última." Artie pocketed the gifts. "What did you mean, Athena?"

As it turned out, Nereus would have proved near impossible to catch had anyone attempted it, but Percy prevailed once he tricked Nereus into diving off the dock into the water. It also turned out that the monster Artemis had been hunting, Percy had rescued of the coast of Camp Half Blood the same morning the group embarked on their quest to save the goddess. Bessie, who happened not be named Bessie and was also male, was the Ophiotaurus. Zoë explained that the Ophiotaurus was an ancient monster that could bring down the gods if it was slain and its entrails were burned. It had nearly happened during the first Titan war, but Zeus sent an eagle to snatch the entrails before it could be burned.

"We have to protect him." said Percy. "If Luke gets ahold of him . . ."

"He wouldn't hesitate." Thalia muttered as she scratched behind Bessie's ear. "The power to overthrow Olympus . . . That's . . . that's huge."

"Yes, it is, my dear." said a man's voice in a heavy french accent. "A power you shall unleash."

They all looked up and saw they were too busy to notice they had been ambushed. Standing behind them, his two colored eyes gleaming wickedly, was Dr. Thorn, the manticore himself.

"This is just pairrr-fect." the manticore gloated.

He was still wearing his ratty black trench coat over his Westover Hall uniform, which was stained and torn from his fight with Artie and the Hunters in Maine. His military haircut had grown spiky and greasy. He also hadn't shaved recently so his face was covered in silver stubble. In short, he didn't look much better than the homeless people Nereus was hanging around. On either side of him stood those mortal mercenaries that Percy had seen in D. C. Two more stood on the next boat dock over, just in case the demigods tried to escape that way. There were tourist walking up and down the pier over them as well as the waterfront, but they knew the mortal would not stop Thorn from acting,

"Where . . . where are your skeleton warriors?" Percy asked the monster.

Thorn sneered. "I do not need those foolish undead! The General thinks I am useless, but I will prove my worth by defeating you myself."

Percy and his friends needed time to think of a plan. Percy had to save Bessie and he could have dived into the water, but he had no idea how to make a quick getaway with a five hundred pound cow serpent. And then there were his friends and the manticore's armed goons.

Thorn cocked his head. "Where is the boy?"

Thalia, Zoë, and Grover all looked to Percy, sure he had used Annabeth's invisibility cap.

"I was told he was traveling with your lot. Where is the boy?!" Thorn snapped. "Where is that antagonizing son of Artemis?!"

"He's right . . ." Percy looked around and saw Artie was nowhere to be seen. " . . . here."

Percy and Zoë knew from experience that Artie could slip away unnoticed whenever he wanted. When Percy first arrived at camp half blood, the other campers told how Artie could appear and reappear at whim in the forest, like a ghost. But once they became friends, Artie explained it was one of the many things he had been forced to learn in order to survive in the wild. It was a skill anyone could learn, provided they put in the time and effort like he had. In fact, Artie had spent so much time doing so, it had become second nature to him. During his first week, Artie had nearly given Percy three heart attacks in as many hours. Not wanting to see his friend constantly looking over his shoulder, Artie stopped approaching Percy, or anyone else, from a direction they weren't facing.

"No matter!" Thorn snarled. "I will deal with him in my own time."

Then three things happened in a matter of seconds.

First, both of the mercenaries on either side of Thorn went rigid and shook like electricity coursed painfully through their bodies. Second, the men in the boat were suddenly thrown into the water as a large net propelled them overboard, their weapons following them into the water only moments later. Third and finally, Thorn roared in pain as he staggered forward. The monster snarled as he turned his back to the demigods, two arrow shafts protruding from his back. They all followed his gaze and saw, perfectly balanced on the safety railing like the screeching hawk next to him, Artie with his bow.

"Tell me where Annabeth is and I'll finish you quick!" Artie snarled, paraphrasing Payback

"We shall see." Thorn growled.

Artie hopped down and collapsed his bow. "No, you will."

Thorn sneered, "Do you really think you can kill me? Bah! Last time you had a goddess to protect you and she preoccupied at the moment. There will no help for you this time."

Artie took Diego from his belt and Tobias swooped down to take him to safety. "The same goes for you." Artie opened his bow. "You guys take a minute to figure out what do with Bessie. This won't take long."

"I'm going to enjoy watching you die." Thorn threw off his coat and morphed into his true form.

Artie drew an arrow, "I won't."

Thorn charged with a roar and Artie fired an arrow.

Percy tried to step in, but Zoë held him back. "No, do not interfere."

Percy tried to protest, "But — "

"It is not our place." Zoë said firmly. "It is part of his quest. Vengeance taken, he must defeat Thorn alone for it to mean anything."

Thalia tightened her grip on her spear, "She's right, Percy."

"You're kidding!" Percy couldn't believe his ears.

"I don't like it anymore than you, but he has to beat Thorn by himself for it count."

So Percy forced himself to watch at Thorn and Artie fight to the death.

Or so he thought.

It seemed only Thorn was trying to kill while Artie went out of his way to use still very painful, but strangely, non lethal arrows. He fired bolas at Thorn's limbs, like he had with the Nemian lion, which wrapped around and tripped the monster. Or he would fire a solar arrow right in Thorn's face to blind him, forcing him to stomp around on a bed of caltrops he had laid down a moment before. He even went as far douse him in sea water, the salt no doubt stinging the little wounds, and electrocute Thorn with a couple of arrows that sparking tube for heads instead of sharp ones. Yet, all it did was just make Thorn angry. Percy couldn't understand why Artie was drawing out the fight. Sure, he wanted to see Thorn suffer, but it went both ways. Thorn's tail fired spine after spine, each counted with venom, at the young demigod. Artie avoided most of them, but not all of them. Even with his armor protecting him, Artie winced and grunted in pain as fought as a few spines managed to scratch him in the few places unprotected by his armor. Percy was also sure a good portion of the spines Artie's armor had stopped managed to prick his skin underneath, injecting him with more pain inducing venom. Artie breathing became labored as his limbs trembled, but not from exhaustion.

Artie went down on a knee, his arms wrapped around himself to control his trembling, and snarling in pain. "Last chance, Thorn." He coughed and sucked in a deep breath through his teeth. "Where is Annabeth?"

"Last chance?" Thorn gave a weary and slightly pained chuckle. "You are in no positions to be making demands." Thorn's tail flicked like a cat waiting to pounce on a dying mouse. "Look at yourself, you can't even stand!"

"Then come get me." Artie said defiantly.

Thorn paused for a moment, sensing a trap. "Seeing as I'm feeling a bit merciful, I'll give you a moment to gather yourself."

"If you insist." Artie closed his eyes and actually looked a bit peaceful. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

But it seemed the venom was too much for Artie. He fell to the side, his limbs trembling from the burning sensation caused by the monster's venom. Thorn smiled and walked slowly to the fallen demigod, savoring the victory. He stood over him, enjoying as the hero struggled against the pain.

"You can withstand much pain. I will give you that." Thorn pinned him to the ground. "But I'd imagine there is enough of my venom in your blood that even breathing should be excruciating."

Artie coughed as he reached into his belt and pulled out a corked red tube, "And yet you still lost."

"Mhmm . . . what is this?" Thorn took the tube from the demigod's weak grip.

"Mouthwash!" Artie barked. "You need it more than me."

Thorn slashed the tip of his tail across Artie's left eye, leaving a gash that ended just below it. "It would in your best interest not anger me more than you have." Thorn turned his head to see Thalia, Percy, Zoë, and Grover had begun advancing slowly. "Any closer and he dies." Once they stopped, Thorn turned his attention back the demigod under his foot. "Now, what is this?"

"It's nectar." Artie grunted.

"Ah, I could use a , what do you kids call it?, a pick me up." Thorn popped open and poured the golden liquid down his throat. "Mmm . . . tastes like half bloods."

Then Artie smiled. "You should have told me where Annabeth was."

Thorn would have asked what this demigod was asking, but the second he swallowed the nectar, he felt a burning sensation in his gut. It was slow at first, feeling warm and even somewhat pleasant, but then it began to increase until it felt as if was being burned alive from the inside out as it spread all over his body. He roared in pain and stumbled back, the slightest twitch increasing the mind obliterating pain tenfold. He knew he had been tricked and began to step forward, but the pain was too great and he fell to his knees.

Artie pushed himself to his feet and threw his head back with content smile spread across his face as he quoted Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, "For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble."

"What did you do to me?!" Thorn demanded, each word causing more and more pain. "What was in that nectar?!"

Artie ignored him and his friends rushed to him. He allowed Zoë to support him as weariness overtook him. The pain was intense, but he would gladly endure it the rest of his life for what he had done to Thorn. He had finally won, and exactly the way he dreamed of.

Thalia held a spear to Thorn throat. "You want the honors?"

"You can't kill him." Artie smiled. "I gave him diamond hard skin."

"You what?!" Thorn winced, the very words causing insufferable agony.

Artie held up a blue test tube. "Athena gave me some drakon fluid. Once its gets into the blood, anyone or anything will have skin as hard as diamond. Even sweat can't get through."

"Why would you do that?" Thalia demanded. "Now not even celestial bronze can kill him."

"Exactly!" Artie motioned to the arrows still protruding from Thorn's back. "Those were tipped with high grade manticore venom." Artie took a deep breath. "If a snake bites itself it can die from its own venom, so I did the same."

Grover asked. "How — "

"How didn't he feel it?" Artie finished for him. "He wouldn't. He'd feel a slight single at best. Unless he drank nectar."

"Nectar!" Thorn hissed, both at word and the pain.

"If thee drinks nectar after being poisoned with manticore venom, it increases its potency a hundred fold." Zoë explained. "Only in the fields of punishment could someone feel the same kind of agony."

"And the more you move, the more the pain increases." Artie finished.

"You forget, boy!" Thorn wailed in agony. "I have the cure."

"He dose?" Percy asked.

Artie nodded. "But he can't use it. All he needs to do is inject more venom, but he can't with diamond skin."

"You mean . . ." Thalia looked at Thorn in amazement.

"He is stuck like that." Zoë said. "In agony and unable to be killed by anything. No weapon will pierce his skin and, as a monster, unable to starve or die by lack of water."

Artie grew cold as he face Thorn. "That's why I'm not going to kill you. When you were chasing me all those years, its all I wanted. For it to end. No more running, no more pain, no more living with the fact my brother and mother were dead because of me, no more anything.." Artie pulled Thorn closer. "Now its your turn to feel that. Unable to end the pain and unable to die." Artie bared his teeth and his voice became that thick growl they had heard when he nearly slipped into his feral state at camp. "And when you gaze back at the smoke wreckage that was once your life, cursing the day you ever decided to come into my life, suffering for every second you stole from me and my family, then and only then, do you have my permission to die."

"Come," said Zoë. "We are finished here."

"Yeah," Thalia took Artie's weight from Zoë. "We don't have much time."

Artie threw Thorn to floor, watching him writhe in mind shattering agony. "I'm done here anyway."

So together, they walked away to leave Thorn to his punishment.

"Hey, Artie?" Percy asked after a moment.

"Yeah, Percy?" Artie sounded exhausted.

"Will Thorn really stay like that forever?" Percy wasn't sure if Thorn's condition would eventually wear off. "Even a hundred million years from now?"

Artie slowly nodded and settled on a quote from the 1958 version of The Blob. " Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold." Artie then silently prayed to Athena. Every hour wounds, the last one kills . . . Thanks Athena and don't worry about Annabeth. I'll save her if it's the last thing I do.

A/N - I'm going to be taking a slight break since Mark Of Athena is coming out in, literally, a couple of days. Plus, I doubt anyone will mind since I know I won't be the only one taking some time off.

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