Artie, silently and without shaking even thinnest branch, kept Percy and the other two children in sight as he leaped from tree to tree. Luckily for him, the forest outside of Westover Hall was thick enough to do this with relative ease. And should he find himself needed, or grew tired of waiting, he had the perfect ambush point. As he followed, Artie wondered about the two other children that were at Percy's right and left. The girl had a floppy green hat that hid her face, so Artie could not get an accurate picture of her. He could catch small details like her olive skin and silky dark hair. Judging from her lean and her about average height, Artie guessed her to be close to twelve, possibly a year older or younger. The boy, her brother he guessed, looked similar. He had the same olive skin as the girl, though his hair was much more messy and shaggy, but was dark brown-black rather than pure black like his sister. He assumed the boy was the younger of the two, roughly ten years old. Both of them had a scent he found odd, a mixture of fear and rotting meat. Though he didn't knoq their names, they were Bianca and Nico Di Angelo. The very demigods that caused Grover to send the distress signal.
"There is a clearing up ahead." IT said. "We will summon your ride."
Artie's ears piked up that word 'clearing'. It was perfect, he may not be as defenseless as he once was, but this still required some planning and a large amount of space. He didn't have his moonsilver bolo knives anymore, they had broken during his trip to the Underworld to help Percy retrieve Zeus's masterbolt, and he couldn't use his bow in close combat. He also didn't want the other two to get hurt. He picked up the pace and headed for the clearing. As he did, Artie left a few things behind along the path they walked. Things he wouldn't need, like his an empty coffee thermos and his coonskin cap. To anyone else, it would like trash someone had left behind, but Artie hoped Percy would notice and get the message that he was nearby and ready to strike. But Percy was too busy using his empathy link to call Grover for help as IT herded them forward to the clearing.
Grover!, Percy concentrated. Apples! Tin cans! Get your furry behind out here and bring some heavily armed friends.
"Halt!" IT called.
The forest had finally opened up. They had reached a cliff overlooking the sea, though Percy could only sense the sea. He could hear the waves crashing below and smell the salt in the air, but all he could see was mist and darkness. IT edged the demigods to the edge. Percy stumbled and the girl caught him.
"Thanks." Percy murmured.
"What is he?" she whispered. "How do we fight him?"
"I'm . . . I'm working on it."
"I'm scared." said the boy, fiddling with a metal figurine of some kind.
"Enough talking!" IT took out a walkie talkie. "The package is ready to deliver." There was a garble response, "Good. Make sure that — "
Suddenly an arrow struck the radio, taking it out of the monster's hand and sending it far over the cliff side.
IT, and the demigods looked where the arrow had flown from. There was Artie, another arrow already aimed, standing in the middle of the clearing.
"Sido um longo tempo", said Artie.
IT took a slight step back, "You . . ."
"Percy, take those two and get out of here." ordered Artie. "I'll handle this myself."
"They will st— " IT began to say.
Artie loosed the arrow. The second the arrow left the bow Artie collapsed his bow and readied himself to run. He watched the arrow fly toward the monster, only for him to snatch it out of the air.
IT twirled the arrow like a baton, "Playing with toys, boy? You've grown soft."
Then the arrow began to beep rapidly before IT was engulfed in ball of smoke and fire. Percy had the presence of mind to drive the Di Angelos to floor. He pulled them to their feet as a blur flew past him. Though he wanted to help, Percy's first priority was to get the Di Angelos to safety, and surprisingly it was Artie's as well. The monster coughed as it cleared the smoke. No sooner than he could see, he was blinded again. This time by a slash across the face by Artie's claws. The monster roared in pain, stomping around and holding his face. Artie drew another arrow as he gave himself room. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Percy and the Di Angelos race to edge of the clearing where the forest began. He frowned at their progress and fired an arrow at the monster's feet, a large net exploding the arrow's head and entangling its legs. He collapsed his bow and readied his claws. After an arrow like that, his quiver needed time to cool down. He glanced back Percy who drew Riptide, the Di Angelos poorly hid by some snow covered bushes, and turn around.
"Disse a você para tirá-los daqui!" He shouted at him. "This is my fight."
Artie glanced back and saw something long and sharp speeding towards his head. Instinctively, he brought up his arms to ward off the projectile. The spike buried itself in his left forearm with such force, it flipped him head over heals before he landed on the ground. Percy ran to him, praying that one of his friends wasn't dead because he distracted him.
"Artie!" he kneeled by as Artie came to shaking his head. "Are you alright."
"Peachy." Artie pulled out the thorn from his bracer and got to his feet.
The monster just gaped. "Impossible! That should have killed you."
Artie rolled up his sleeves, revealing his moonsilver enforced bracers and gauntlets. "Not as soft as you think."
"We need a plan." said Percy.
Artie drew an arrow,"Here's mine."
"Artie, we don't even know what Thorn i — "
The words were lost in the wind as Artie fired and charged. Thorn responded with a volley of thorns, one of which collided with Artie's arrow. The sudden impact detonated the explosive, scattering the rest of the thorns and creating a thick black cloud of smoke. Thorn watched for any sign of movement in the cloud. Then suddenly something flew out to the left, carrying some of the smoke with it. Thorn instantly fired a volley, only to see his thorns pin a leather jacket to the floor. Thorn saw through the trick, adjusting his aim to the right, or so he thought. No sooner than his sight went right, two arrows emerged from the cloud to his left. One buried itself in Thorn's knee, sending down on it, and the other found his elbow. Thorn bellowed in pain and rage, as he changed. Percy saw Thorn grow larger and fiercer. His hand morphed into giant paws, like those of a lion, with claws he was eager to use. A long and wicked looking tail came into view, the source of his deadly projectiles. His growling became deeper and more menacing as his teeth grew longer and sharper, reminding Percy of shark teeth. Thorn roared he pulled the arrows from his limbs. He began firing madly into the cloud, hoping to hit Artie by chance. Percy opened his shield, a gift from his brother Tyson, just as Artie rolled backward out of the cloud. Artie narrowly avoid the volley, nocked another arrow, and fired.
"Let me help!" Percy demanded. "You're just making him mad."
Artie was about to tell Percy off, when he shoved him out of the way. Percy saw Thorn strike with his spiked tail so fast that even Artie could not dodge it in time. All Artie could do from being skewered was catch it, the force driving him onto the cold snow on the floor. Artie dug in his claws and held the spike only inches from face, the muscles in his arms screaming in unified protest as Thorn continued to apply more force.
Percy stood up and readied to charge when Thorn warned him, "One step and this boy dies sooner and slower rather than later and far quicker."
"Don't listen to him, Percy." said Artie with a grim a smile. "If he could kill me, he would have done it eight years ago."
Thorn responded by loading a fresh thorn which was an inch from Artie's throat. "My apologies, I had no idea you were so eager."
Percy was having a hard time thinking of an attack strategy. He was too far to use Riptide and Thorn would have all the time in the world to kill Artie by the time he got in range. He might have a chance if he had some sort of ranged weapon and the talent to use it or at very least have Thorn attack him instead, but he suspect even Annabeth would have trouble coming up with a viable plan. Artie was having a difficult time thinking as well, mostly because he was occupied trying to ignore the massive burning in his arms trying keep Thorn's tail from skewering him like a kabob. The other part of his brain was busy cursing his lack of strength. He was sure even the weakest child of Ares could easily find the power to escape.
"You're not wrong, you know." said a rough voice to his right. "I'm even willing to bet they could do it with a broken arm."
Artie was so surprised he momentarily forgot what he was doing and let Thorn's tail gain a few centimeters. To his right, laying next to him in the snow with his arms behind his head, was Leonidas the Hero King of Sparta. Artie knew this was not the real Leonidas. Everything from his scarred bearded face to his bronze armor and weapons, was simply a product of Artie's subconscious. Artie hadn't seen or heard from Leonidas since he revealed his true identity earlier that year, when he and his friends landed on Circe's Isle.
"I'm not distracting you, am I?" he asked innocently.
Artie rolled his eyes.
"You do remember I know what your thinking?" Leonidas raised an eyebrow. "I'm still you. Only more . . . what's the word? . . . ah, better."
Artie through his head back, his arms trembling and becoming nonresponsive.
"As much as I'm enjoying this, no, I did not come here to mock you." he said in response to Artie's unasked question. "I'm here to remind you that sometimes it takes an animal to defeat another animal."
Artie shot him a look.
Leonidas shrugged, "The reason I'm being cryptic is because you want me to."
Artie bared his teeth, trying not scream as he begun to reach his limit.
Leonidas scratched his chin, "What I mean is this, you can't win this fight in your current state, but Lutar can."
Artie glanced at Percy.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about him." said Leonidas. "He can take care of himself. He is a child of Poesiden after all." he scratched his chin as he thought. "Worst case scenario, he gets in the way again and you give him a few scars which might help his chances with the ladies, we both know your girl likes yours even if she won't admit it."
Artie shot him another look.
"We can debate that later." Leonidas said. "Now, I suggest you make up your mind. Either take my advice or spend the rest of eternity in the Underworld."
Artie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Percy, run."
Leonidas clapped. "About time."
Percy shook his head, "I'm not leaving you here to die."
Artie breathed out calmly and took another breath. "I have plan and I need to you to get away from me."
Thorn laughed, "And what is your plan? Regale me, boy"
"Since I know you can't resist, I suggest you quote Poltergeist if you have the chance." chuckled Leonidas as he faded from sight.
Artie released his breath and smiled, the burning in his muscles beginning to lessen. "Since you won't take 'Go to hell' for an answer, I have one thing left to do."
"Which is?" sneered Thorn, responding how Artie knew he would.
Artie's eyes flew open, glowing red. "I'm gonna give you directions."
Percy saw Artie not only begin to push Thorn's tail away, but snapped it loudly like a fraile branch where he held it. Thorn roared as he fired a thorn. In the blink of an eye, Artie moved so the thorn missed, adjusted his grip, and slammed down hard with his wrist and broke Thorn's tail even further. Thorn snarled and slashed his paw, only to catch air as Artie rolled backward. Not a second after his feet touched the ground, Artie pounced forward with a feral snarl. He missed as well as Thorn reared back on his hind legs. From there they continued trading blows, nether side willing to give the slightest inch despite any and all wounds. Artie snarled and growled like a wild animal, often dropping to all fours to pounce and dodge. But throughout all of the chaos, it was a rough stalemate. Thorn was far to large and slow to deliver anything but the occasional strike. Artie was of the opposite end. He might be able to give four injuries for everyone one of Thorn's, but his claws and teeth only left small shallow wounds compared the deep gashes he received on his chest, arms, and back. All which bled profusely, staining the tattered remains of his clothes and snow at his feet.
"A manticore!" shouted Annabeth, forgetting to remove her invisibility cap.
Percy jumped, "Jeez, don't do that."
"Where were you?" Annabeth shimmered into view just as Thalia and Grover arrived. "We couldn't find you."
"Oh no, oh dear." Grover began to shake in terror. "Not good. This is not good."
"Di immortales." Annabeth gulped. "I always thought you made it sound worse than it was."
Grover made a claws hand over his heart, "Mr.D isn't here to stop him this time.
Thalia brandished her spear, "Percy? whats going on?"
"I have no idea." Percy admitted. "One second Thorn was about to push us off a cliff and the next Artie saves us. He kept Thorn busy while I got the Di Angelos away."
"Where are they?" asked Grover.
Percy pointed with Riptide. "They're hiding in some bushes over there."
Thalia looked, "Alright. Atleast you did something right. Come on, Artie needs help."
"NO!" Annabeth and Grover said together.
"What?" Thalia demanded. "Look at him, he can't beat that thing on his own."
"Thalia, Artie isn't Artie right now." said Grover.
"You lost me." said Percy.
"Ditto." agreed Thalia.
"Percy, remember the reason why Artie doesn't participate in Capture the flag?" Annabeth asked him.
"Sure," Percy answered. "Because he nearly killed . . . oh. Yeah, Grover's right. This is not good."
"Did I miss something?" Thalia growled.
Annabeth glanced at the fight, "Short version, like a mad animal Artie can't distinguish between friend and foe right now."
"You're kidding me."
Grover shook his head, "The last time this happened, he nearly killed three Ares campers."
"Alright, so how do we snap him out of it?"
"I don't know," said Grover. "If we can restrain him, we can keep him that way until he calms down."
Percy looked at Artie, "And how exactly do we do that? You see how fast he is? He can run laps around us in his sleep."
"We could knock him out." Annabeth suggested. "Though I'm not sure how."
"We might not have to." Thalia glanced at Artie's wounds, "He's lost a lot of blood."
"Yeah, its perfect. We just need to time it right" agreed Annabeth. "Artie's tired him out. All we have to do is jump in once the blood loss takes it toll."
"Are you sure?" asked Percy."I'm not a doctor, but I'm sure you want to keep as much blood in you as much you can."
Grover pulled a plastic bag, "I have some ambrosia. Once he's out, I can feed it to him. That should be enough to heal him, blood and all."
Thalia looked uneasy, "I don't like it, but if Artie is dangerous as you say he is then I guess we don't have much of choice. Still, be ready. By the looks of it, he's about ready to drop."
"Artie or Thorn?" asked Percy.
"Both of them." said Annabeth.
It was true. Thorn and Artie locked eyes, each knowing the other did not have much left in him. Thorn's tail was bent a strange angles, broken in several places, and was bleeding so heavily it ran down and dripped onto the floor. The rest of his body was covered in dozens upon dozens small gashes and punctures, courtesy of Artie's teeth and claws. His knee and elbow twitched whenever he moved them, Artie had not given him the chance to remove them. Artie fared no better, worse if anything. His breathing was severely labored, only stopping when he paused to spit out a globule of blood. His clothes clung to him in blood soaked tatters. The only parts of his body that had remain unscathed were his forearms, protected by his moonsilver bracers and gauntlets. The rest of his body were covered in either deep gashes from Thorn's claws and from narrowly missed projectile thorns, many of which littered the floor or were embedding in the tree surrounding the clearing.
Suddenly, a horn blew from deep within the forest, a clear piercing sound followed by the howling of wolves.
This was enough to distract Artie and it was all Thorn needed. He turned around and whipped his tail as hard as he could. Artie heard it whistle through the air just as he felt it crash into his chest. He felt his body go weightless and lift off the ground. His friends watched him bounce twice on the ground before a tree, suddenly and brutally, stop him from going further. The tree shook from the force and emptied its branches of ice and snow onto Artie as he collapsed at the base of the trunk.
"Not what we planned on, but I'll take it." Thalia opened her shield. "For Zeus!"
They all followed Thalia as she charged. Grover took out a pair of reed pipes as Annabeth shimmered from view. And Percy brought up the rear armed with Riptide. Thalia jabbed and jabbed at Thorn's head with her spear, but Thorn snarled and swatted it aside. His claws sparked as they collided with her shield when slashed with them. As it was, she managed to roll backward and and on her feet. Thorn launched a volley which also bounced of Aegis, but it was enough to knock Thalia down. Grover sprang forward, putting his reed pipes to his lips. He began to play a frantic jig as his fingers danced over the holes and grass broke through the snow, tangling around Thron's feet and rooting him in place. Thorn roared in annoyance and tore the magic weeds to shred with his claws. He then snarled as he let loose another volley at the demigods. Percy ducked behind his shield in the nick of time, the thorns impacting with enough force to dent the shield and destroying the delicate picture Tyson had painted on it. Then, with a thwack and a yelp, Grover landed in the snow next to Percy.
"Yield!" roared Thorn.
"Never!" Thalia yelled as she charged.
She probably would have ran Thorn through, but suddenly there was thunderous noise and a blinding blaze of light from the cliff side. It was a military grade helicopter, hovering just beyond the cliffs, and armed with the latest military grade weaponry. This included the standard machines mounted on either wing and laser guided missles. But it was the searchlight that blinded Thalia, allowing Thorn to swat her away with his broken tail. Her shield flew off into the snow and her spear in the other direction. Percy ran to her and parried a spike that would have hit her chest. He brought up his shield to protect them both, but he knew it would not be enough.
Thorn laughed, blood running down his chin from one his wounds. "You see how hopeless it is? Yield!"
"I could not have said it better myself," said a voice.
"No!" Thorn said. "It cannot be — "
Thorns words were cut short as something shot past Percy like a streak of moonlight. A silver arrow sprouted from Thorn's shoulder as he stepped back and wailed in agony. He let loose a massive volley into the woods where the arrow came from, but just as fast, silvery arrows shot back in reply. It was almost as if the arrows had intercepted the thorns midair and sliced them in half, but Percy was sure that no one, not even the children of Apollo, could be so accurate. Percy was sure it was Artie, back in control, with his magic quiver. Then archers emerged from the woods. They were all girls, about a dozen of them. The youngest roughly ten and the eldest lookign close to fourteen. They wore silvery ski parkas and were all armed with bows. Bows, that Percy could helped but notice, that resembled Artie's in color and sheen. They advanced on Thorn with determined expressions.
"The Hunters!" cried Annabeth.
Thalia muttered to herself, "Oh, wonderful."
One of the elder archers stepped forward with her bow drawn. She was tall and graceful with coppery colored skin. Unlike the other girls, she had a circelet of silver braided into the the top of her long dark hair, so she looked like a princess. And with the she carried herself, it would have surprised Percy if she was or came from royalty.
"Permission to kill my lady?" she asked, though she kept her eyes on Thorn.
Thorn wailed like a spoiled child. "This is not fair! Direct interference is against the ancient laws."
A younger girl, possibly twelve or thirteen, stepped forward. If Percy didn't know better, he would have sworn he had met her before, or met a close relative of hers. She had silver streaked auburn hair gathered back in a pony tail. Her eyes were strange and familiar to Percy. Like one of his friends, they glowed a bright silver in the moonlight. Her face was so beautiful it made Percy catch his breath, but her expression was stern and dangerous.
"Not so." she answered. "The hunting of all wild beasts is within my sphere. And you, foul creature, are a wild beast." She looked at the one with the circlet. "Zoë, permission granted."
Thorn growled, "If I cannot have these demigods alive, then I shall have them dead."
He lunged for Percy and Thalia since he knew they were still dazed and Artie was too far away.
"No!" yelled Annabeth, and she charged the monster.
"Get back, Half Blood," shouted the girl with the circlet. "Get out of the line of fire."
But Annabeth leaped onto Thorn's back sinking her knife to hilt into his mane. Thorn howled, spinning in circles as he flailed his broken tail and Annabeth hanging on for dear life. For a moment, part of Percy remembered when he did something similair with the Minotuar. It was not a pleasant memory.
"Fire!" Zoë ordered.
"No!" screamed Percy.
But the Hunter let their arrows fly. The first caught him in the neck, the next in the chest. He stepped back wailing in agony. Then, with Annabeth still on his back and before anyone could react and stop him, he jumped off the cliff and tumbled into darkness.
"ANNABETH!" Percy shouted.
He ran to the cliff side, but their enemies were not down with them. The helicopter unleashed a hail of gunfire causing the Hunters to retreat into the woods again as tiny holes peppered the ground. The girl was the only who stood her ground and calmly looked up at the helicopter, with a hint of slight annoyance. She thrust out her hand and the helicopter dissolved into dust. but upon closer observation Percy saw they were actually a flock of birds, ravens, that flew off and dissipated into the night sky.
"Mortals." said the girl. "Are not allowed to witness my hunt,"
The Huntera reemerged from the forest and advanced on the demigods.
"Zoë Nighshade." said Thalia, her hands trembling in anger. "Perfect timing as usual."
Zoë scanned the rest of the group, "Four half blood and a satyr my lady."
Thalia walked over to a pile of snow, "Make that five."
Grover went over to her and helped Thalia scrape away the snow off of Artie. He did not look well. All the snow and blood loss made Artie look like a bruised corpse. The only signs he was still alive were the slight shivering from the cold and his shallow breathing. His body was covered in bloody gashes, most of them still bleeding severely. Where the skin was still somewhat intact, was severely bruised from his collision with the tree. And any part that wasn't, was incredibly pale from blood loss and hypothermia.
"You still have that ambrosia?" Thalia asked.
"Yeah," said Grover, taking a few pieces. "But I don't think its gonna be enough. He's gotta be hypothermic and I have no idea how we're gonna get him to swallow it."
"Check his boot." said the young girl. "The left one."
Thalia slipped off Artie's boot and a small hip flask fell out. She screwed off the cap and sniffed it. "Grover, prop his head up."
Grover propped up Artie's head and tilted against his foreleg, "Alright, but isn't he underage?
Thalia poured liquid into Artie's mouth,"Its nectar."
Artie coughed and sputtered as he opened his eyes. He grasped the flask and drank deeply from it. As he did, his wounds began to close and heal. When the last drop disappeared down his throat, he pushed himself to his feet. He silently accepted an ambrosia and his sunglasses from Grover as he leaned against a tree for support and ate it in two large bites, welcoming the warmth that came with it.
"Annabeth!" Percy yelled."We have to go after her!"
The auburn haired girl turned to him, "I'm sorry, Percy Jackson but your friend is beyond help." Percy struggled to his feet, but two girls held him down, "You are in no condition to be hurling yourself off of cliffs."
"Let me go." said Percy. "Who do you think you are?"
Zoë stepped forward to smack him, But Artie seemed to materialize behind her and catch her hand. "You!"
Artie said nothing until he noticed Zoë's free hand drift toward her belt, "Whatever you're reaching for better be a sandwich, cause you're gonna have to eat it."
"Artie, release my lieutenant." commanded the auburn hair. She locked eyes with Artie. "Now."
Artie let go of Zoë's forearm and positioned himself between her and Percy. Percy wasn't sure what made Artie obey a girl that was clearly younger than him, then he noticed something he hadn't before. The little auburn hair girl and Artie shared the same long silver streaked hair and silver eyes, though Artie had hid his behind his sunglasses. And unless he wasn't seeing clearly, he could see some sort of resemblance between them.
Zoë walked back to the younger girl's side, muttering to herself so quietly Percy almost couldn't hear her, "Of all the demigods in world, it had to be him and her."
"I sense no disrespect, Zoë. He is simply distraught." The little girl then looked at Percy, her eyes just like Artie's. Bright as the full winter moon, but much colder and commanding. "I am Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt."