The Trial of the Rivers

All is going well for Lea as she finishes her time as a god, but when Nico goes mysteriously missing things take a turn for the worse. No longer welcome at camp, and with new power on the rise, Lea is doubting her decisions to stay mortal. Then when news from the gods comes, saying that Lord Hades has been overthrown, Lea and some other experienced demi-gods must travel west to take back the underworld.

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12. 12-Percy Rides the Pine-Launcher 3000

12-Percy Rides the Pine-Launcher 3000
Annabeth and Percy came back to find me sitting in the dirt next to large pile of dust and a pair of jeggings. 
Annabeth caught on immediately, rushing to my side to and putting her arm around me. Percy stood, confused for a minute, wondering why I was weeping over ashes and some pants. When he saw that Norman was gone and that my eyes were rimmed with red he drew the connection.
Annabeth offered me some water which I gulped down gratefully, some of it splashed out onto the dirt sizzling in the heat. I watched the steam rise from the ground where the water had fallen, something shimmered like a mirage in the white curls. 
I poured the rest of the water on the ground.
Annabeth protested wordlessly, shrieking about how hard it was to finda source of fresh water, how many restaurants they’d been chased out of, but then she went quiet. 
The steam collected in front of us, into a mirror sized oval. 
Thalia was staring back at us. 
“Finally,” she said, “It was almost impossible to get a connection with you guys, you must be in a really dry area.”
Behind her I could see Camp and some sort of commotion breaking out.
“Piper, Jason and I were able to solve the whole fox-dog paradox, but that’s a long story,” she said, racing her voice over the shouts in the background, “Things are pretty bad here at camp, creatures are rising up from the earth, appearing from shadows. We are gonna need some extra help.”
Behind her there were screams and something large a black snarled, a hellhound, much bigger than Mrs. O’ Leary was surrounded by a few demigods with spears. 
Without looking Thalia drew an arrow and fired it at the beast. She got him directly in the forehead, but he seemed unfazed, the arrow not piercing his thick skull. 
Thalia looked directly at Annabeth, “We need a plan and someone to keep everything under control.”
Annabeth nodded, “I’ll be there soon.”
She swiped her hand through the steam causing the image to fade, then abruptly turned and threw her arms around me.
“I’m sorry Lea,” she whispered, “But you’re going to have to deal with this one without me,” she put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes, “You’ve got this.”
I bit my lip and nodded, too exhausted to say anything.
She stood up and walked over to Percy. 
They looked into each other’s eyes for a few minutes before tightly embracing. He slightly lifted her off her feet, just so that her toes barely left the dirt. I looked away whilst they kissed, giving them as much privacy as I could. I stood up and stuck my hands in my pockets. 
She and Percy talked for a few minutes, she showed him on the map which route to take, which I’m pretty sure he just nodded and said ‘mhmm’ so that she’d stop talking, and they discussed plans for when the quest was complete. 
Percy called down the pegasi, who had been circling over head for a while.
“Yeah, Blackjack, I know it’s hot,” said Percy as soon as they landed. 
Blackjack snorted something that as close as I could figure meant, “I want sugar cubes.”
Bonnie, came up to my and nuzzled my neck, braying softly. I stroked her mane with gratitude, and climbed up onto her back, with my duffel bag. 
Annabeth hopped onto Guido and gave me one last apologetic look, I nodded to her saying that it was okay, and she and Percy held each other’s gaze for a second. Then she took of flying back east, the way we had come. 
“You okay?” I asked Percy.
“I don’t want to loose her, not again,” he said softly. 
“You won’t,” I assured him. 
Without saying another word, he and Blackjack took off, Bonnie and I following him. 
The silence draped over us as we flew over the dry landscape, over time forests began to appears and I could feel California getting closer. Every once and a while Percy would have Blackjack hang back and he would check up on me, mostly to see that I hadn’t fallen without him noticing. My thighs had turned to a state of utter numbness, someone could cut off my leg and I wouldn’t notice until somebody told me. 
At about three in the afternoon, Blackjack suddenly came to a halt in mid-air and then began to circle aimlessly until Bonnie and I caught up. 
Percy nodded at me and then at a thin stretch of highway curving through the mountains, surrounded by dry pine forest. 
Standing by the side of the empty road was a very confused looking man. As we swooped closer I identified him as an Arizona Park Ranger. He was standing, scratching his head and awkwardly switching feet as if he were waiting for someone. 
“Should we check it out?” asked Percy. 
“I don’t think it could hurt,” I replied, “not badly at least.”
Oh how I wish that was the case. 
We swooped down, landing the pegasi around the curve of the road, out of sight and then walked up to the ranger. 
The second he spotted us (which took quite a while, he was very focused on the ants crawling over his shoe) a grin broke out on his face, “Well, what are you two doing so far out into the wild?”
“Umm,” replied Percy intelligently. 
“We were just going on a walk and we got a little lost,” I cut in, taking it as my responsibility to speak for the both of us, myself being the better liar. 
“I’d say more than a little! We’re out in the middle of nowhere!” he said enthusiastically, his voice fluxuating so much it borderlined clown speak. He had a slight hillbilly/Australian accent which added to it, and did it match his looks. He was in his mid-thirties with skin so tan he it reminded me of burnt toast and he had skater style dusty brunette hair, very average looking for someone with such a big personality. He remarkably resembled that Alligator guy. 
“Uh where’s your truck?” I asked, trying to shift the attention of out story by changing the subject. 
“It’s down on a service road, faster was to get here, besides the walk up the hill.”
I tried to read his name tag, squinting my eyes as the letters played hopscotch across the white label, as far as I could tell it said: Siris.”
My first thought was: Isn’t that some dead guy from Harry Potter?
Oh well, it might not have been his name anyways. 
Siris, looked over our head scanning the road. 
“Are you waiting for someone?” asked Percy.
“Ah yeah,” replied Siris, “Another ranger, I’ve got a sapling that needs tying and I’m not strong enough to do it myself.”
“Maybe we could help,” suggest Percy.
“That would be swell!” exclaimed Siris, his smile stretching wider then I thought possible, “Follow me!”
He headed off down the hill, tromping over the dry pine needles that covered the ground. 
Percy trailed behind him and nodded for me to follow. 
I paused for a minute hesitant, all of this seemed a bit off.
But of course I decided not to follow my gut, intern leading Percy and I into very, very odd danger.  
Siris led us to a small pine tree in the middle of a clearing, it was about ten feet tall and about as wide around as your average coffee mug. 
“Alllll-righty!” said Siris, he gestured for Percy to come forward, “Here, just help me pull down this end.”
Siris, jumped up and grabbed the pine tree a few feet from the top and began to pull down on it, as if trying to bend it in half. 
But I trusted that he knew what he was doing being a park ranger and all. 
Percy walked over and began pulling down as hard as he could, his face reddening with effort. 
This pine tree was clearly the strongest opponent Percy had ever faced, including Kronos. While Percy gripped tightly to the tree, Siris, also holding on, pulled and elastic lash from the ground and began to tie it to the tree. 
I was expecting him to ask me to put a metal stake in the ground but he just grunted and continued tying the lash, struggling against the extremely stubborn tree. The tree itself looked like it was fighting to stand upright again, and it was almost winning. 
Suddenly, before I could even take a step, Siris let go of the pine tree. 
And I watched as Percy was flung out of sight. 
He must have soared at least a hundred yards due to the extreme velocity at which he was launched. 
Percy flew through the air, off the ground, out of the clearing and then out of sight. 
For a moment I stood shocked.
What in Hades had just happened?
Did my friend really just get catapulted by a park ranger using a pine tree?
Then my mind flashed with images, pages written in Greek about a bandit Theseus fought on his journey to Athens, Sinis the Pine Bender. 
“You’re next!” exclaimed Sinis, a sickly sweet evil in his tone. 
And then I said something really clever like, “But-what-how…you-you. You’re supposed to be old. I mean dead.”
He looked surprised for a minute, “You know who I am?”
I had regained my senses at this point, well sort of, it’s hard to cope quickly when your friend’s just been flinged into the horizon by a tree. 
I pulled my sword and shield disk from my pocket and converted both of them. 
Sinis looked positively baffled. 
“Gaea promised me that as long as I gave her sacrifices to rise no demigods would disturb me.”
“Guess what buddy,” I smirked, “Gaea is long dead, that’s old news bro.”
He gasped and scrambled backwards through the pine needles, horrified. 
“Wimp,” I said.
I was actually just really happy I didn’t have to deal with another cocky, stuck-up immortal(or dragon) taking my friends from me.
I was considering not killing this guy and then I remembered how easily this guy had convinced Percy to help him and I thought of all the tourists that probably traveled through here going to or from the Grand Canyon. 
Without thinking I  dropped my weapons, sprinted towards him, flung myself onto the pine tree swing around it, like I used to do in Elementary school on the tetherball poles, and kicked Sinis in the face.
He fell the side with the impact, the contact of my converse sole to his face knocking him back. 
Then I jumped up grabbing the elastic tether from the top of the tree and pulled down , I got it about halfway bent, just enough, and lunged towards Sinis. 
He was still slightly unconscious from the kick, so I had enough time to hastily tie the lash around his middle. 
Just before I could to anything else he regained his senses. 
His eyes widened, he knew what was coming. 
“No.no.no,” he stammered. 
“Taste of your own catapult,” I whispered.
Then I let go.
Watching him hurled through the air was strangely satisfying, but afterwards I cursed myself for feeling pleasure. 
I stood with my hands on my hips for a second and sighed happily. 
Now to find Percy, I slowly glided over to my sword and shield brushing the golden needles off of the. The sunlight caught the divine metal reflecting back at me. 
I saw my face shining back in the bronze, tried and cut, but relieved. Like someone who’d walked out of a hospital after a long time of being kept in confinement. 
The late afternoon sunlight, caught my hair, causing it to glow a beautiful caramel with the fading pink of my streaks, which had not been redone in so long they no longer started at my roots. 
Late afternoon, it had almost been five full days since the quest began, I had lost a lot of friends on the way, but at least I had survived the past four days of complete chaos. Hopefully I’d catch a break soon. Hopefully, but not likely. 
I hiked in the direction which Percy had been flung for a while, there was no service road to be found and everything looked the same to me. 
Eventually I past a pile of dust with an arrow with the head and feathers mad to look like a pine tree. I guessed these were the remains of Sinis. 
I decided to keep the arrow, you never know, being a demigod, when your gonna need something as random as that. 
I guess it was kind of untold rule of being a demigod: #17-Never leave a weapon/or ally behind.
Well, so much for the ally part. 
After successfully getting terribly lost I decided it would be best not to continue searching this way. 
I  did a taxi whistle, the way Henry had taught me, and within a few minutes Blackjack and Bonnie appeared with Percy and I’s duffel bags on their backs. 
Blackjack landed directly and Bonnie to my side, I climbed on Bonnie’s back immediately, “and addressed Blackjack, “I need to find Percy.”
Blackjack snorted and took off, Bonnie after him. 
It took about three minutes to find Percy. 
He was sprawled on his back on a large pile of pine-needles, which had luckily cushioned his fall, but he was still pretty bruised. 
I helped him get to his feet and up onto Blackjack’s back. 
He chuckled a thanks, “I can believe I didn’t see that coming.”
“Hey, crazy three-thousand years old pine bender isn’t exactly in the manual is it?” I joked. 
Yeah,” he replied, but it sounded more like he was saying ‘Yeah, it is.’
“We’ll find a motel to stay at soon,” said Percy, wheezing mid sentence, “I’ll make sure it’s safe first.”
He tried for a smile but only one side of his mouth lilted. 
Gods, he sure must’ve missed Annabeth because he simply wasn’t himself when she wasn’t around. Maybe he was just worried.
It sure was a drag having him act like that, I though to myself, and then I realized that’s how I had been acting the entire first half of the trip, missing Nico. 
Not anymore, only optimism from here on out. 
I disabled my weapons tucking them back into my pocket , not realizing that the arrow had disappeared. 
As Bonnie took off into the sunset, I didn’t notice the shimmering iridescent dust beginning to collect on my skin.

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