“Thank you, my dear,” Tiberinus said with a wry smile. “And, yes, Annabeth Chase, I’ve helped many of your siblings…to at least begin their journey safely. A shame all of them died painfully later on. Well, your documents seem in order. We should get going. The Mark of Athena awaits!”

Percy gripped Annabeth’s hand—probably a little too tight. “Tiberinus, let me go with her. Just a
little farther.”

Rhea Silvia laughed sweetly. “But you can’t, silly boy. You must return to your ship and gather your other friends. Confront the giants! The way will appear in your friend Piper’s knife. Annabeth has a different path. She must walk alone.”

“Indeed,” Tiberinus said. “Annabeth must face the guardian of the shrine by herself. It is the only way. And Percy Jackson, you have less time than you realized to rescue your friend in the jar. You must hurry.”

Percy’s pizza felt like a cement lump in his stomach. “But—”

“It’s all right, Percy.” Annabeth squeezed his hand. “I need to do this.”
He started to protest. Her expression stopped him. She was terrified but doing her best to hide it—for his sake. If he tried to argue, he would only make things harder for her. Or worse, he might convince her to stay. Then she would have to live with the knowledge that she’d backed down from her biggest challenge…assuming that they survived at all, with Rome about to get leveled and Gaea about to rise and destroy the world. The Athena statue held the key to defeating the giants. Percy didn’t know why or how, but Annabeth was the only one who could find it.

“You’re right,” he said, forcing out the words. “Be safe.”

Rhea Silvia giggled like it was a ridiculous comment. “Safe? Not at all! But necessary. Come, Annabeth, my dear. We will show you where your path starts. After that, you’re on your own.”

Annabeth kissed Percy. She hesitated, like she was wondering what else to say. Then she shouldered her backpack and climbed on the back of the scooter.

Percy hated it. He would’ve preferred to fight any monster in the world. He would’ve preferred a rematch with Chrysaor. But he forced himself to stay in his chair and watch as Annabeth motored off through the streets of Rome with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.

Art: viria

Excerpt from, “The Mark of Athena”