He stumbled toward it. I tried to stop him, but he pushed me out of the way with such force I landed next to Annabeth and cracked my head on the base of Athena's throne.
"The knife, Percy," Annabeth muttered. Her breath was shallow. "Hero . . . cursed blade . . ."
When my vision came back into focus, I saw Kronos grasping his sword. Then he bellowed in pain and dropped it. His hands were smoking and seared. The hearth fire had grown red-hot, like the scythe wasn't compatible with it. I saw an image of Hestia flickering in the ashes, frowning at Kronos with disapproval.
Luke turned and collapsed, clutching his ruined hands. "Please, Percy . . ."
I struggled to my feet. I moved toward him with the knife. I should kill him. That was the plan.
Luke seemed to know what I was thinking. He moistened his lips. "You can't . . . can't do it yourself. He'll break my control. He'll defend himself. Only my hand. I know where. I can . . . can keep him controlled."
He was definitely glowing now, his skin starting to smoke.
I raised the knife to strike. Then I looked at Annabeth, at Grover cradling her in his arms, trying to shield her. And I finally understood what she'd been trying to tell me.
You are not the hero, Rachel had said. It will affect what you do.
"Please," Luke groaned. "No time."
If Kronos evolved into his true form, there would be no stopping him. He would make Typhon look like a playground bully.
The line from the great prophecy echoed in my head: A hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap. My whole world tipped upside down, and I gave the knife to Luke.
Grover yelped. "Percy? Are you . . . um . . ."
Crazy. Insane. Off my rocker. Probably.
But I watched as Luke grasped the hilt.
I stood before him—defenseless.
He unlatched the side straps of his armor, exposing a small bit of his skin just under his left arm, a place that would be very hard to hit. With difficulty, he stabbed himself.
It wasn't a deep cut, but Luke howled. His eyes glowed like lava. The throne room shook, throwing me off my feet. An aura of energy surrounded Luke, growing brighter and brighter. I shut my eyes and felt a force like a nuclear explosion blister my skin and crack my lips.
It was silent for a long time.
When I opened my eyes, I saw Luke sprawled at the hearth. On the floor around him was a blackened circle of ash. Kronos's scythe had liquefied into molten metal and was trickling into the coals of the hearth, which now glowed like a blacksmith's furnace.
Luke's left side was bloody. His eyes were open—blue eyes, the way they used to be. His breath was a deep rattle.
"Good . . . blade," he croaked.
I knelt next to him. Annabeth limped over with Grover's support. They both had tears in their eyes.
Luke gazed at Annabeth. "You knew. I almost killed you, but you knew . . ."
"Shhh." Her voice trembled. "You were a hero at the end, Luke. You'll go to Elysium."
He shook his head weakly. "Think . . . rebirth. Try for three times. Isles of the Blest."
Annabeth sniffled. "You always pushed yourself too hard."
He held up his charred hand. Annabeth touched his fingertips.
"Did you . . ." Luke coughed and his lips glistened red. "Did you love me?"
Annabeth wiped her tears away. "There was a time I thought . . . well, I thought . . ." She looked at me, like she was drinking in the fact that I was still here. And I realized I was doing the same thing. The world was collapsing, and the only thing that really mattered to me was that she was alive.
"You were like a brother to me, Luke," she said softly. "But I didn't love you."
He nodded, as if he'd expected it. He winced in pain.
"We can get ambrosia," Grover said. "We can—"
"Grover," Luke gulped. "You're the bravest satyr I ever knew. But no. There's no healing. . . ." Another cough.
He gripped my sleeve, and I could feel the heat of his skin like a fire. "Ethan. Me. All the unclaimed. Don't let it . . . Don't let it happen again."
His eyes were angry, but pleading too.
"I won't," I said. "I promise."
Luke nodded, and his hand went slack.
The gods arrived a few minutes later in their full war regalia, thundering into the throne room and expecting a battle.
What they found were Annabeth, Grover, and me standing over the body of a broken half-blood, in the dim warm light of the hearth.
"Percy," my father called, awe in his voice. "What . . . what is this?"
I turned and faced the Olympians.
"We need a shroud," I announced, my voice cracking. "A shroud for the son of Hermes."
WE WIN FABULOUS
The Three Fates themselves took Luke's body.
I hadn't seen the old ladies in years, since I'd witnessed them snip a life thread at a roadside fruit stand when I was twelve. They'd scared me then, and they scared me now—three ghoulish grandmothers with bags of knitting needles and yarn.
One of them looked at me, and even though she didn't say anything, my life literally flashed before my eyes. Suddenly I was twenty. Then I was a middle-aged man. Then I turned old and withered. All the strength left my body, and I saw my own tombstone and an open grave, a coffin being lowered into the ground. All this happened in less than a second.
It is done, she said.
The Fate held up the snippet of blue yarn—and I knew it was the same one I'd seen four years ago, the lifeline I'd watched them snip. I had thought it was my life. Now I realized it was Luke's. They'd been showing me the life that would have to be sacrificed to set things right.
They gathered up Luke's body, now wrapped in a white-and-green shroud, and began carrying it out of the throne room.
"Wait," Hermes said.
The messenger god was dressed in his classic outfit of white Greek robes, sandals, and helmet. The wings of his helm fluttered as he walked. The snakes George and Martha curled around his caduceus, murmuring, Luke, poor Luke.
I thought about May Castellan, alone in her kitchen, baking cookies and making sandwiches for a son who would never come home.
Hermes unwrapped Luke's face and kissed his forehead. He murmured some words in Ancient Greek—a final blessing.
"Farewell," he whispered. Then he nodded and allowed the Fates to carry away his son's body.
As they left, I thought about the Great Prophecy. The lines now made sense to me. The hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap. The hero was Luke. The cursed blade was the knife he'd given Annabeth long ago—cursed because Luke had broken his promise and betrayed his friends. A single choice shall end his days. My choice, to give him the knife, and to believe, as Annabeth had, that he was still capable of setting things right. Olympus to preserve or raze. By sacrificing himself, he had saved Olympus. Rachel was right. In the end, I wasn't really the hero. Luke was.
And I understood something else: When Luke had descended into the River Styx, he would've had to focus on something important that would hold him to his mortal life. Otherwise he would've dissolved. I had seen Annabeth, and I had a feeling he had too. He had pictured that scene Hestia showed me—of himself in the good old days with Thalia and Annabeth, when he promised they would be a family. Hurting Annabeth in battle had shocked him into remembering that promise. It had allowed his mortal conscience to take over again, and defeat Kronos. His weak spot—his Achilles heel—had saved us all.
Next to me, Annabeth's knees buckled. I caught her, but she cried out in pain, and I realized I'd grabbed her broken arm.
"Oh gods," I said. "Annabeth, I'm sorry."
"It's all right," she said as she passed out in my arms.
"She needs help!" I yelled.
"I've got this." Apollo stepped forward. His fiery armor was so bright it was hard to look at, and his matching Ray-Bans and perfect smile made him look like a male model for battle gear. "God of medicine, at your service."
He passed his hand over Annabeth's face and spoke an incantation. Immediately the bruises faded. Her cuts and scars disappeared. Her arm straightened, and she sighed in her sleep.
Apollo grinned. "She'll be fine in a few minutes. Just enough time for me to compose a poem about our victory: 'Apollo and his friends save Olympus.' Good, eh?"
"Thanks, Apollo," I said. "I'll, um, let you handle the poetry."
The next few hours were a blur. I remembered my promise to my mother. Zeus didn't even blink an eye when I told him my strange request. He snapped his fingers and informed me that the top of the Empire State Building was now lit up blue. Most mortals would just have to wonder what it meant, but my mom would know: I had survived, Olympus was saved.
The gods set about repairing the throne room, which went surprisingly fast with twelve superpowerful beings at work. Grover and I cared for the wounded, and once the sky bridge re-formed, we greeted our friends who had survived. The Cyclopes had saved Thalia from the fallen statue. She was on crutches, but otherwise she was okay. Connor and Travis Stoll had made it through with only minor injuries. They promised me they hadn't even looted the city much. They told me my parents were fine, though they weren't allowed into Mount Olympus. Mrs. O'Leary had dug Chiron out of the rubble and rushed him off to camp. The Stolls looked kind of worried about the old centaur, but at least he was alive. Katie Gardner reported that she'd seen Rachel Elizabeth Dare run out of the Empire State Building at the end of the battle. Rachel had looked unharmed, but nobody knew where she'd gone, which also troubled me.
Nico di Angelo came into Olympus to a hero's welcome, his father right behind him, despite the fact that Hades was only supposed to visit Olympus on winter solstice. The god of the dead looked stunned when his relatives clapped him on the back. I doubt he'd ever gotten such an enthusiastic welcome before.
Clarisse marched in, still shivering from her time in the ice block, and Ares bellowed, "There's my girl!"
The god of war ruffled her hair and pounded her on the back, calling her the best warrior he'd ever seen. "That drakon-slaying? THAT'S what I'm talking about!"
She looked pretty overwhelmed. All she could do was nod and blink, like she was afraid he'd start hitting her, but eventually she began to smile.
Hera and Hephaestus passed me, and while Hephaestus was a little grumpy about my jumping on his throne, he thought I'd done "a pretty bang-up job, mostly."
Hera sniffed in disdain. "I suppose I won't destroy you and that little girl now."
"Annabeth saved Olympus," I told her. "She convinced Luke to stop Kronos."
"Hmm," Hera whirled away in a huff, but I figured our lives would be safe, at least for a little while.
Dionysus's head was still wrapped in a bandage. He looked me up and down and said, "Well, Percy Jackson. I see Pollux made it through, so I suppose you aren't completely inept. It's all thanks to my training, I suppose."
"Urn, yes, sir," I said.
Mr. D nodded. "As thanks for my bravery, Zeus has cut my probation at that miserable camp in half. I now have only fifty years left instead of one hundred."
"Fifty years, huh?" I tried to imagine putting up with Dionysus until I was an old man, assuming I lived that long.