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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15. 15- We Play Capture the Flag: Level 2

15- We Play Capture the Flag: Level 2
I stood there for a few minutes going: What? No. Nope. Wrong. What?
There is no way in the gods good names that I could get into Hades by myself, let alone, fight monsters, get past Cerberus, break into the castle of Hades, break out Nico from the dungeon, and then kill or at least put to sleep the crazy powerful and unknown being/beings that took over the underworld from the freaking lord of the dead. 
No.
So instead I began to hyperventilate.
I put my hands on my knees and tried to regulate my breathing. 
Octavian looked very pleased and amused by this; he stood for a minute, reveling in his victory and then swept back into the temple to, inevitably, cut up more innocent beanie babies. 
Percy put his hands on my shoulders and said something to me, I couldn’t hear him over my heart pounding in my head, but he was probably saying something like, “Lea, are you alright? Lea?”
Not alright. 
I think I might’ve been having a panic attack. 
This is what my dad had told me about, I thought I couldn’t do it on my own. He said I could, but I still wasn’t convinced. 
As of right then I was having trouble standing on my own. 
I remember thinking: Well, I’m screwed. 
And then everything went black. 
***
I woke up in what I expected was the barracks, it was a lot like the infirmary, but it had walls instead of canvas, it was dark and dismal in there, but through the few windows I could see daylight breaking through. That was odd, I had passed out at sunset. Had I slept all the way through the night?
Yes I had. 
Percy was sitting on a bunk across from me, his head down and his folded hands resting on his knees. I could tell he had been trying to keep vigil over me all night, so that he would be there to comfort me when I woke. But of course he didn’t make it, nodding off before he could get the chance. 
I let myself lay for a few minutes, observing the room, lots of bunks, all of them empty. That meant either it must have been late in the morning or they had an early start to their day. I unwrapped the gauze from my hands, checked the damage, it was bad now that the gravel was out and the blood was cleared. I took the non-bloody bandages and wrapped them back up. I was still in all of my clothes and above the sheets, lying like Snow White, a display almost. 
I sat up and turned to face Percy, I didn’t want to wake him, but I had to, we needed to set off. 
So instead I backed my bags silently, then his, and when I was all ready to go, I pulled some of my energy essence from my chest, which there was a lot of, due to my heavy sleep,  and place my glowing fingers to his forehead. His eyes fluttered open, and he looked up at me helplessly. I drew my hands away. 
“You didn’t have to do that,” he said, the tiredness in his voice apparent. 
“Clearly,” I said.
“You alright?” he asked, his eyes were watery, he looked worried for me.
“Yeah,” I assured him, “I overreacted a bit. I just wasn’t prepared for such a wrench in our plans.”
“I’m sorry, I really do want to be there for you,” he said.
“Don’t risk coming along with, prophecies always come true, and lets try to let this one unfold in the safest way possible.”
He nodded, “You know that you really can do it, think of all the things you’ve done by yourself just on this past quest, you tamed a Ceta, killed three Laestrygonians, and killed Sinis the pine-bender.”
I sat looking at him for a few minutes, both of us looking into the others eyes, pleadingly. We were both on the verge of tears from pure exhaustion. Mental, physical, but mostly emotional exhaustion, this quest was stripping us to the bones. 
“We have to get going,” I said, quietly.
He nodded.
I handed him his bag and we walked out of the barracks. 
As was to be expected Hazel and Frank were waiting outside to escort us. 
They must have noticed our expressions, because they didn’t speak but simply led us up the hill, back across the small bridge over a river, and up Temple Hill. 
Reyna, Octavian, Jared and multiple other campers were waiting there, including the healer girl. 
Reyna spoke first, “I hope you slept well, I heard your night was quite…emotionally depriving.”
I nodded thankfully at her, glad she spared the details. 
“We have prepared a meal, and transportation for you. Chelsea, has stocked the van with medical supplies that she thought would be appropriate,” said Reyna, gesturing nonchalantly at the blonde girl, “We have gone to the liberty of repairing and sharpening your weapons, which were returned to you this morning.”
I felt ashamed, I should have noticed my sword was missing after I elf the infirmary, but I guess it was a good thing in the long run. 
“Finally,” said Reyna, “Frank and Hazel, valued members of the fifth cohort will be joining you on your quest if you manage to procure the Senate’s Flag.” 
Octavian stepped forward, and so did I, trying my best to establish dominance. He would not win this petty little fight and last night was a low blow. 
He began to speak, in that stupid nasally voice of his, “I order to prove your allegiance to the Roman forces, you Lea Reclin, leader of this quest,” he said quest like it was more of child’s play than the excruciating journey that was going to save his sorry butt from getting eaten by a hellhound, “Must retrieve the Senate’s Flag, from the location where we have successfully hidden and kept it, Six Flags: Animal Kingdom. It is hidden from mortal eyes, but you will know it when you see it. You have till sunset to retrieve it and present it to the gods. We have already bought you tickets for your entrance to Six Flags. You escorts will be there to monitor and may not assist you. The flag may not be harmed in any way or else you will have failed. Finally, when you fail, excuse me, if you fail,” he coughed as if to correct himself, but you could tell his words were completely intentional, “The Romans will come back and offer you no further assistance.”
“What?” I demanded.
“If you can’t get the flag, Frank and Hazel can’t come with you,” he said slowly annunciating every word, speaking to me like I was so stupid that I couldn’t understand English. 
“The prophecy said ‘all who have gone before,’ not some,” I protested.
“Yeah, well now it says something different,” he spat. 
I walked up to him, “Prophecies don’t just change.”
“Well guess what, Graceus, it did. And since you such ‘great friends’  with the gods you can take it up with them,” he sniveled. 
I screamed internally,  THIS GUY WAS SUCH A FREAKING  ‘WORD THAT I AM NOT ALLOWED TO SAY’!
And then I punch him in the face. 
I don’t remember seeing my fist collide with his nose, but I remember hearing everyone gasp, seeing him fall backwards, and looking at the small amount of blood on my fist. 
He looked up at me with such awe, hatred and surprised as I glared down at him, breathing heavily. 
“Beat it,” I growled. 
He looked desperately at everyone else, mostly Reyna. 
“Did you not see that!” he exploded, “She just acted hostily against the only augur of this camp. She should be put to death, or exiled at least. Don’t just stand there!”
She stumbled to his feet, clutching his nose, which was now gushing blood all over his pure white toga. His pale eyes flickered to every face, ending on mine, I raised my chin, and stood defiantly.
He sprinted away into the temple of Jupiter. 
I waited for everyone to attack or for Reyna to declare my banishment. 
Then everyone began cheering and clapping. 
They were applauding.
I tuned to look at Reyna, she smirked with admiration and then swept off disappearing in the crowd. 
Percy flung his arm over my shoulder and squeezed me to his side, I just stood for a minute in awe. 
“We’ve all been waiting ages for someone to do that, honestly I thought it would be me,” and then he steered me down the hill. 
The next few minutes were a blur, I vaguely recall getting into the white cargo van, and eating some super delicious omelets, but not much more was clear, I think I might’ve still been in shock from the past 24 hours’ events. 
It only took about a half-an-hour to get to Six Flags, and by that time I had regained my senses. Percy, Frank and Hazel were discussing plans, but since Frank and Hazel couldn’t help us in any way, it wasn’t much help. 
It didn’t take long to find Six Flags, it kind of stood out, probably because of the hundred foot tall bright green and red rollercoasters. There was hardly any line getting in, but there was a good amount of people there. From the entrance I kept my eyes peeled for any sort of flag, nothing yet, but I doubted it would be at the entrance anyway, too easy. We started out by searching the ‘Sea’ section, every once in a while Percy would stop and ask a seal or dolphin if they knew anything, most replied with “Fish?” or “I don’t know, it not like I can go exploring or anything,” (the seals were very sarcastic). 
We stopped at the dining court and ate Panda Express, Frank complained that it wasn’t very authentic, but I liked it. 
It was sunny and cold and I had left my bag back at the van, so Percy lent me his blue hoodie, claiming he didn’t need it. It fit me pretty well, a little big, but who doesn’t love loose sweatshirts? It smelled like him, that lovely ocean breeze scent. I rolled my hands up in the sleeves, twirling the stray pieces of thread in between my fingers as we walked. 
By two in the afternoon, I was beginning to loose hope. Percy tried to lighten my spirits by offering we go on rides, to take advantage of our free entry. I agreed, maybe I could see better from up high. We went of Vertical Velocity a few times. It was my favorite ride; I loved the launch, that feeling of sudden acceleration. 
Percy and I loved the rides, but Hazel and Frank weren’t such big fans. Hazel didn’t trust them and Frank got motion sickness pretty easily. So we ditched them and went on V2 one last time. 
When we were at the top of the spiral, I noticed something, over at the only section we hadn’t visited, the ride Medusa, there hung a triangular flag, six fleet long and bight scarlet, flapping in the wind. 
I didn’t say anything but when the ride finished, I got off and began to sprint the way to Medusa. When I finally made it, after shoving through many angry pedestrians, I looked up at the ride. 
I could’ve sworn there was a flag there before. But now, it was gone. 
I stood for a few minutes, staring in awe, two minutes ago there had been a huge maroon flag hanging above the ride’s entrance. 
Percy caught up to me, breathless. 
“What is it?” he asked between pants. 
“It was there,” I said, pointing. 
“Maybe you just imagined it,” he said, “Man, I am still hungry.”
“No,” I said quietly, “It was there.”
Percy seemed to distracted by his hunger, he turned to me patting me on the back, “I’m gonna go get a pretzel and a churro for you, you ride and I’ll meet you in a few minutes for the second round, kay?”
“Alright,” I muttered, and then walked to go get in line. 
I latched myself in and waited for take off. 
The ride lurched into action, a small dip, and then a large climb to the first, and biggest drop. Because I was sitting in back I went over the hump last, the cart was pulled down the steep slope, I tried to scream but the air caught in my lungs, and I scrambled for a better grip on my seat. I was familiar with that dropping feeling, due to lots of experience, falling from the statue of liberty, dividing of a Pegasus, being flung from a giant’s face, being dropped by Khoine, usually I had a Jason there to catch me. This was different, I wasn’t falling, I was being pulled. 
At this point allot of people on the ride were screaming, then there was a loud thunk, and then everyone was screaming. 
“Son of Posssseideon!” hissed someone from the front of the cart. 
Well, once again: I’m screwed. 
Half-crawling, half flying up the small aisle between the seats was a woman, scaly skin, with snakes for hair. She wasn’t Medusa, that was for sure, or else everyone, including myself would be stone right now, but she certainly was of some relation. 
“Where are you, Percccy Jackson?” she asked, crooking her head to the side, “I can sssmell you!”
How she was managing to stay on the ride, whilst we did loops was beyond me, but even more amazing was how she managed to not notice the fact that a good 30% of this time we were upside down, clearly her hair and clothes didn’t understand gravity either, because they didn’t even shift. 
She whipped her head to look at me and her forked tongue flickered out of her mouth, “You! You smell of Poseidon! Are you a daughter?” 
“Oh well, this is awkward,” I said, “I’m actually wearing his jacket, so that explains the whole, scent thing.”
The gorgons eyes widened.
“What?” she spat.
“Yeeeaahhh,” I replied, “I’m just borrowing it.”
“B-but,” she protested, “We were told he would be here, we were going to eat him!”
“Oh don’t worry he’s here, but unfortunately he’s a little busty at the moment,” I said, the ride screeched to halt, we had come to a small flat area, a ridge just before a few more loops, the operators probably stopped us because of the random demon woman who wasn’t strapped in properly. 
I quickly grabbed my necklace, activated my sword, and popped off one of the bolts that kept me in my seat with my newly sharpened blade. I threw the harness off me and rolled onto the small catwalk next to the track. I tried to slice at her, but also had to avoid chopping off the mortal passengers head in the process. 
“Another demigod?” she shrieked, stepping out onto the cat walk with me. 
“Daughter of Morpheus,” I said and then slammed the hilt of my sword into her temple causing her to fall back. She stumbled almost to the end of the catwalk. 
I glanced over at the ride operator, who was watching us, absolutely horrified. I’m guessing their wasn’t anything in the job training about sword fights on the coaster tracks, or maybe he had just slept through it. 
I yelled to him, “Start it back up!” 
He scrambled for a minute and then pressed a button. 
I took my chance, as the gorgon was charging back toward me, I feinted to the side, faking a jab, and then kicked her in the chest, sending her flying. It was perfect timing, the coaster cart reactivated, launching forward to meet her, causing her body to collide with it’s nose. She exploded all over the front, coating many passengers in sulfuric dust. It would take a few panic blankets and therapy sessions to get through that one. 
I jumped down from the catwalk and over the fence, grabbing Percy’s hand as I went. 
I wanted to get out of there, but we couldn’t exactly leave the park without finding the flag, so I decided it would be best to run to the other side of the park. 
Percy tried to ask questions, but he never finished his sentences, the only part I could full understand was,  “…but, my pretzel,” which I inconsiderately had not given him the time to buy. 
First off, I needed a place to hide, to escape from security or the police, who ever was going to come after me for whatever charge they wanted; terrorizing the public, homicide of a demon woman, etc. 
Percy and I rounded the corner and I saw the perfect place, there was a roped off stadium entrance leading to Dolphin Harbor. I leaped over the rope and sprinted up the pathway to the stadium, with Percy following behind me. The stadium was essentially empty, that is except for one more gorgon, but that didn’t count. Luckily, there was no cast, crew or audience to get in the way. 
Percy and I stumbled into the bleachers, the stadium was so blue, that if I sat down, wearing Percy’s blue sweatshirt with the hood up, you wouldn’t be able to see me. The stage was small, most of it taken up by a small pool, but had jettisons and small platforms everywhere, there was also rigging above our heads, hinting that they did some flying acrobatics in whatever performance was showcased here. Hung from the rigging was the flag, hanging in bright contrast against the rest of the stage. 
In front of the flag stood the gorgons, she was looking up at it proudly, she was saying to herself, “Yeah, that’s nice. I looks good there, no demigod will ever find it,” and then she turned around to see Percy and I standing there with both of our swords drawn, staring at her, “oh.”
“Beano,” said Percy, “I mean Stheno.”
Percy and I looked at each other, and nodded. 
Suddenly, as if the pipes had burst, spurts of waters shot at the gorgon pummeling her back to the floral stage background. It was Percy, he was controlling the water, using up his concentration and power. I ran trough the small stadium and to the stage side, jumping from platform to platform, trying to get to the gorgon as efficiently as possible, without falling into the water. 
Stheno was about to meet a very headless end as I drew my sword, but she had anticipated me. Against the force of the water, she flung her clawed hand out, knocking my sword back just as it was beginning to unfold, the blade ricocheted back and sliced through my face, just at the jaw line. 
I fell backward, landing hard on the plastic stage, my head hitting on of the raised platforms. A flaming pain shot up in my skull, and closed my eyes or a second, grimacing trying to regain to thoughts and composure. 
I heard Percy yelled, “Lea,” and whilst he was so concerned about me, he lost his concentration on the water Stheno, so that she had a minute to escape. 
I opened my eyes to see her grabbing the flag, and beginning to fly away, I scrambled, towards her, fumbling for the flag, my vision when in and out of blackness, but I still managed to get a grip on the red cloth. 
I clung to the soft material, but perhaps a bit too hard, just as my vision fully came back, I saw the fabric tear, cut straight through by the tension on both ends. Tearing my hopes with it. 
Octavian voice echoed in my head, “The flag may not be harmed in any way or else you will have failed.”
Stheno grinned seeing my face, she knew what this meant to me. 
“No!” I cried, watching the magical fabric dissolve, turning into ash and then disappearing. 
I was angry, she had gotten in my way, she had ruined this side quest, she had wasted my time, now it was time she returned to Tuataras. 
She landed, with no need of her dimpy little wings anymore. From her belt she pulled a whip, the leather cracked through the air with skill and precision. 
“First off,” she said, “for revenge.”
She flicked the whip, it slapped Percy across the face, knocking him to the ground and leaving a bright red mark down his face and neck. 
I winced for his sake, that looked more than painful. 
“That was for killing me and my sisters,” she said, “and for not accepting any of my Crispy Cheese and Weiners, didn’t even try a bite!”
“My sisters and I,” I corrected her. 
“Oh thank you,” she replied, “Haven’t gotten the chance to fully learn English yet, Google translate doesn’t work very well in Tuataras.”
“Yeah, probably don’t get much wifi down there do ya?” I asked.
“Not at all, sometimes we can hack into Hades’ server, his password is always super easy, like ‘hadesforthewin’, ‘godofthedead’ or ‘zeusisstupid’,” explained Stheno. 
I watched out of the corner of my eye as Percy cautiously got up, making his way to the stage.
“Good to know,” I replied, “Since were both going to be in the underworld soon. I’ll make sure I send you a text or something when I get there, maybe we could have coffee or something.”
“Ah yeah, that sounds nice,” said Stheno, “Wait...”
“What?” I asked, trying to keep her distracted from Percy, who was now directly behind her.
“I’m not going to the underworld anytime soon,” she stated, tilting her head, as if she was confused. 
“Don’t be so sure about that,” I said confidently, and I was about to lunge at her, then I realized I didn’t have my sword, I must have dropped it when I hit my head. 
I looked around desperately, on the bottom of the pool, glittering gold it laid, too far out of reach. 
I prayed that Percy knew what he was doing. 
I blinked and the next thing I knew, Stheno was up in the riggings, a harness strapped around her ankle. She thrashed, trying to free herself from the bonds, but she was secured up there. 
I turned to Percy, “What now?”
“We could just leave her there,” he suggested. 
“And leave some mortal to find a crazy lady hanging from the ceiling,” I protested.
“I’m not crazy!” screamed Stheno, “Just misunderstood.”
“Good point,” he agreed with me, “No Beano, your just crazy.”
We stood for a minute thinking, how were we to get rid of her without causing much trouble.
“Those cords are fairly elastic,” said Percy.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” I asked.
It was time to use some of the skills Sinis had taught us. 
Within minutes, Stheno, her wings tied, was flying across the Vallejo skyline.
I just hoped, wherever she landed, would be away from people, several haunting images flashed into my head, maybe it wasn’t the best decision but no going back now. 
“Fantastic,” I said, placing my hands on my hips, turning t Percy. 
“Just marvelous,” he replied, he kicked up the ash that coated the ground. The charred remains of our mission. 
“Well,” I sighed, “better go tell Frank and Hazel.”
I looked into the pool, my sword rest on the bottom.
It was a bit chilly for swimming but oh well, I’d live.
Then the sword began to rise as if lifted by some invisible hand, it rose from the surface, enveloped in a sphere of water. 
I looked over at Percy, hoping for an explanation, but seeing his waterbending stance, I understood. 
I reached out grabbed my sword and contracted it, nodding a thank you to Percy. 
We trekked outside, jumping back over the rope barrier. I’d like to say I did this gracefully, but I was tired and hungry, so my feet didn’t go all of the way over and I ended up kissing the pavement. I ended up biting my lip, so there was a small stream of blood coming down from the corner of my mouth.
I’m only graceful during battle. 
Frank and Hazel were waiting over by the tigers, Frank was eating a funnel cake (without ice cream, which I thought, was absolutely absurd) and when he saw us, he nearly dropped it. 
“What happened to you two?” piped Hazel, rushing up to me, pulling a lacey handkerchief out of her pocket. 
She began to dab at my face, which made it very hard to talk. 
“Gorgons,” I explained, my voice muffled.
“Where’s the flag?” she asked. 
“Destroyed.”
She gasped, “Oh no.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “I’m just glad you guys got to come along for the short while that you did.”
She looked at me sympathetically, and then began to tend to Percy wounds, the whip mark being the worst of them.
We headed back to the van, Percy adjusted the mist so that mortals couldn’t see our wounds, we didn’t want them to freak. 
Saying goodbye to Frank and Hazel was hard, I didn’t no them well, but they were my hope. With them getting to L.A. would be easy. 
Hazel hugged me tightly and I promised he rI’d get Nico back safely.
When I mentioned her brother she sniffled and looked up at me with dewy eyes, “He talked so much about you last time he visited, I could hardly get him to shut up, I know he’s going to kill me for saying this but he said, ‘She’s confident and independent, and beautiful’.”
I stood for a minute gawking, then replied, “Um, thank you.”
She grinned and then hugged me again. 
I shook hands with Frank and he promised that they’d get back to Camp safely and wished Percy and I luck. 
At that point I wasn’t really listening, Hazel words repeated in my head.
Nico thought I was beautiful. 
Me beautiful?
My skin’s almost the same shade as my hair, I’m a dull shade of tan, I’m lanky and flat-chested, I’m way to broad shouldered and I haven’t gotten a haircut for almost two years now. I’m nothing compared to the Aphrodite chicks. The only thing pretty about me is my eyes and I get insecure about those too sometimes. 
Thinking about this I didn’t even realize Percy and I were all ready driving south. 
From here Octavian had promised our journey would be uninterrupted. 
I hoped for once, that he was right.

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