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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8. 8- We Go Fox Hunting

8- We Go Fox Hunting
I woke to the bright raw light coming in through the bus’ uncovered windows. It looked to be about midday, and we were still speeding along the highway. Shielding my eyes, I looked to the row across me, Percy sat peacefully, Annabeth resting her head on his shoulder. In a moment of panic, I jumped up. Who was driving the bus?
But then I saw Jason up front with Piper, they we chatting happily as they navigated the highway. Piper was trying to decipher the humungous map, with the help of Thalia. Leo was in the back messing with the air-conditioning unit, which clearly wasn’t working because the bus was at least eighty degrees and humid. 
Percy looked over at me and smiled a “Good morning”. I returned the smile then went to fiddling with the small golden disk that was clenched in my fist. I don’t know how I didn’t realize it earlier, they were like two components of one device. The sword piece clicked in and out easily, nesting in the ridge of the shield piece. I stuck the little device back into my pocket. Percy got up and sat down next to me, he handed me a granola bar, which I ravenously devoured. 
He pushed my bangs out of my eyes, and said “How’d you sleep?”
“Surprisingly well, especially for someone that was unconscious for half the day,” I replied sarcastically cheerful. 
He laughed lightly, “We did have quite an exciting day yesterday, with Venti, Keres, Palioxis and Laestrygonians within eight hours. But we kind of did have in coming with so many powerful demigods together.”
“Laestrygonions? Is that what those things were?” I asked, “You met them before right?”
Percy nodded, “Multiple times, the driver Joe Bob, attacked my seventh grade school with flaming dodgeballs.”
“Hah! I remember you telling me about that!” I replied, recalling the absurd story filled with fire, gym shorts and exploding locker rooms.  
He looked out the window his eyes filled with nostalgia for simpler times. 
“You must have really upset that one. He seemed pretty intent on tearing you limb from limb. Even had a tattoo for it.”
“Really?” asked Percy grinning, “I’m honored. All I did was kill him, but you know how monsters are.”
I giggled, the way Percy shrugged off death threats from eight foot tall cannibals was admirable, along with reckless. 
The air-conditioner clicked on in the back, and a sudden gust of freezing air blasted the back of my head making my ponytail whip around whapping Percy in the face.
“Whoa, sorry guys, shouldn’t have set it to high,” said Leo, as he struggled to turn the adjustment knob. 
The gust died down, and Leo walked up to join us, his hair blown completely back. 
Piper and Thalia walked up to join the group.
They set the map on the ground, flattening out the crinkles. 
Piper pointed to a thick black line, with the number 79, on it. 
“That’s the Highway were on,” she said, “We’ll be out of Kentucky and into Missouri by the end of the day. Jason, Annabeth, Percy, Thalia, Leo and I are all going to take five hour driving shifts. Annabeth, you’re up next then you Thalia. We’ll stop for lunch in about an hour and a half once we find a restaurant.”
I looked over the map, it appeared as if we were coming up on two thick rivers and that we’d be going across a bridge soon, which made me wary. I don’t like bridges, they make me feel stranded. 
We rode down the highway in silence for a little while longer. Percy and I made a fort out of bed-rolls in the back, which was quite comfy. I watched out of the window as landscape tore past, as we cross the bridge, I could see nereids jump out of the water, waving at us. Percy smiled and waved back, I just sat and watched as they rocketed through the waters, spiraling like ballerinas. I longed to be as graceful as them, not the girl who passes out after ever battle. 
Percy must have picked up on my thoughts, because he rested his hand on my shoulder comfortingly. 
“You’re doing great so far. It’s not easy to keep so many people safe, especially us,” he said softly. 
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just feel weird being in charge of people who are older than me. All of you are at least a year older than me and Thalia looks like she’s sixteen but I can tell she’s not.”
“Yeah, we still haven’t really determined what age she is. I’m not sure if she even knows.”
I frowned, that would be so odd, not even knowing your own age. Life gets pretty screwed up when you’re a demigod. 
“You’re turning fifteen, soon, right?” asked Percy, inquisitively. 
“At the end of the month,” I replied, “Although I was immortal for six months so I’m not sure.”
“Wow, that’s so weird,” he said, “I’ve always thought of us as being the same age, I can’t believe were more than three years apart.”
We both sat and thought about it for a while. 
I always felt like Percy was older than me, he was like my mentor, what Chiron was to him. It was weird that he thought of me as his equal. Hearing that made me feel a little bit honored. 
We sped down the highway, without a disturbance for the next hour, then pulled up to a small diner. It must have looked kind of weird, seven kids loading out of a New York City bus. 
We all order cheeseburgers and paid with cash. It was good to finally get a full meal. Percy devoured the fries within seconds and Leo got so excited his burger spontaneously caught fire, scorching it, much to our waitresses horror and confusion. She apologized profusely, saying that the burgers had never caught on fire like that before. She got him a new one with extra bacon, which he gave to me. 
Our meal was peaceful and delicious, Jason and Piper went to go find a gas station, Thalia went to go order some food for us to take with us and Percy and Annabeth debated on how much we should tip. Percy wanted to give our waitress extra because of the near heart-attack Leo gave her, but Annabeth wanted to save as much money as possible. 
The small Mel’s-Like diner was pretty much empty except an old man sitting at the counter drinking coffee and reading the paper. 
Leo was explaining to me how he could balance the salt shaker on it’s side by pouring a small amount of salt on the table and propping it up when the bells on the door chimed noisily. 
I turned around hoping to see that Piper and Jason had returned but instead I saw an unexpected familiar face. 
“Eros,” I muttered.
His beautiful face turned, to look directly and he smiled brightly. 
My heart fluttered uncontrollably. 
I bit my lip trying to stop myself from hyperventilating. Now that I was back to being mortal his affect on my emotions was uncontrollable. 
Eros walked up to me, now that his legs were blocked by the booth in front of me I could see that he had something knew with him. On a leash was a seeing eye dog. It was a small brown greyhound, its small sleek body was beautiful but it looked very upset to be in a harness. 
As he walked past one of the waitresses fainted and the other one standing next to her was too busy checking Eros out to catch her friend. 
Eros laughed, his beautiful light chuckle that made him so dreamy and the waitress swooned.
He walked up to our table and said “Hey guys.”
“Hey, Eros,” I squeaked, glancing at him, then at Annabeth who seemed to be just as taken as I was. 
Eros slid into the both next to me, squishing Leo against the window, much to Leo’s silent objection. 
“My,” said Eros, “you got a little scratched up didn’t you?” he reached forward and stroked my cheek, as he did I could feel the tiny cuts close, “That’s better.”
Behind me, Leo scoffed, but I didn’t turn to see his facial expression, I was too transfixed on Eros. 
“So, I’ve got a little quest for you and your friends,” began Eros. 
“Great, just what we need,” said Leo.
Eros pursed his lips testily, but continued to ignore Leo.
“You see this dog I have here, this is Laelaps, the hound destined to catch it’s prey, no matter what. Unfortunately, you have been assigned to catch the Teusmissian fox.”
“Unfortunately?” I asked. 
“It’s a paradox,” explained Annabeth, “The Teusmissian fox has been destined to never be caught. Didn’t Zeus turn them into a constellation?”
“Well, you see, whenever Western civilization changes, everything resets, everything that is, except the titans.”
“But I don’t have time to catch a fox, let alone one that can’t be caught. I have to go save Nico,” I pleaded to Eros.
“You mean ’take back the underworld’,” he said, then winked playfully.
“Yeah, yeah that’s what I meant. Priorities,” I sputtered quickly, embarrassed. 
“I’m sorry, not my orders I’m just the messenger.”
“Why did Hermes tell us, he’s the messenger god, after all,” asked Percy.
“I volunteered,” he said grinning at me, “I wanted to check up on you guys,”  he said, although I got the wonderful feeling he was only talking to me. 
At that moment Jason and Piper walked  in. Jason drew his sword, wary of the stranger, but then put it away as soon as he saw who it was. 
Eros and Piper seemed very uncomfortable upon seeing each other, perhaps because they were step-brother and sister. 
“I must go,” said Eros. 
I was about to object and asked him to stay, but then realized how desperate that sounded and kept my mouth shut. 
There was a small flare of white light and suddenly he was gone, Laelap’s leash fell and clacked against the tile floor. 
Piper picked it up, Laelaps looked up at her expectantly with eyes almost too expressive. I could tell he was old and tired of his job, the endless chasing and never catching. 
“We can’t  all go hunting,” said Annabeth, “I guess we’ll have to split up.”
“We’ll go,”  said Piper and Jason in unison.
Thalia walked through the door then, in her arms she held a large bag of Panda Express take out.
“What did I miss?” she asked. 
“Eros,”  I replied. 
“Really?  Again. Dam,” she said, “Whose dog?”
“That’s Laelaps, Jason and Piper are going to go hunt he Tuemissian fox,” explained Annabeth. 
“I’ll go with them,” said Thalia, “I’m the most experienced hunter out of all of us.” 
“But,” protested Annabeth. She didn’t continue her argument, silently agreeing that it was best that Thalia accompany Piper and Jason. 
It was decided that Piper would “ask” for a car at the nearby dealership and they would follow Laelaps to find the fox. 
We all took a few minutes to hug and say goodbye. I mostly stood and watched. I hadn’t fully registered, in my head, how close all of these people were, but watching them say goodbye reminded me how new I was to the group. I longed for that kind of dependence. To feel like I had a place. 
Leo came over and put his arm around my shoulder, “So, where to next?”

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