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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9. 9-There’s Snow Place Like Home

9-There’s Snow Place Like Home
We traveled without disturbance for the next twelve hours and the silence was beginning to get on my nerves. I spent all of the time being taught battle plans and formations from Annabeth, she displayed them to me on her extremely high tech laptop, projecting holographic 3D battlefield models in the dim light. Percy and I spent a lot of time in the bedroll fort talking about past adventures and laughing at all of the crazy mishaps. Every once and a while he’d get this distant look in his eyes and I knew to let him be for a minute. Some of his battle scars were a bit too deep. He would always mention Tuataras, but whenever he did, he wasn’t willing to explain any further. At one point Bohemian Rhapsody came on the radio, and of course we all sang along, horribly, that is. None of us were “The Voice” material, but it was fun anyways. I didn’t talk to Leo much, he was always sitting with his feet up on the seat fiddling with some tiny bronze contraption. Whenever I walked up the aisle by him, to go visit with whoever was driving, he would look up and smile, but never say a word. 
Eventually after Leo had finished his driving shift, which was somewhat chaotic, I sat down next to him. 
I searched my subconscious for an icebreaker, the usual didn’t really work. I was used to gods and I couldn’t exactly ask Leo, “So, how long have you been immortal,” or “What deity do you consider yourself to be a part of?” 
This desperate search for words led to a few minutes of awkward silence. Eventually I found words, “So, you’re pretty close friends with Piper and Jason, right?”
He looked up at me, graciously, “Yeah, we’ve been through a lot together, sometimes I can’t remember what’s real and what Hera implanted into my head, but ya know, good times anyways.”
I laughed cautiously. 
“But they’re cool. It’s great to seem them working it out, although I get left behind. You know what it’s like, being the third wheel, or sometimes seventh wheel.”
I looked up, seeing Percy and Annabeth, pointing at the map chatting happily and smiling. It reminded me of the time I’d spent on Olympus with them; always standing behind or in front if the sidewalk was too small and having to wait to talk, so that I wouldn’t interrupt. It was so nice seeing them together, I loved how happy they were, but there was still that dull pain of being one-step behind, always. 
“Yeah, I do,” I said finally. 
I looked at the little bronze mechanism in his hand. It was a tiny little dragon, only about six inches long. It didn’t have wings yet, but the bronze plating making up it’s body, defined it. It had two curious little ruby eyes, that peered up at me, unblinking. Tiny wisps of smoke curled from it’s nostrils. With a  few clicks and whirs, it moved, slowly at first then with the speed and agility of a live creature. It scuttled from his palm, up his arm and perched on his shoulder. 
Then it sneezed, whipping it’s head from side to side, making a small squeaking noise, and spraying a tiny amount of oil on Leo’s camp shirt. It was probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, except the fact that after it sneezed, it tensed up and died. 
Leo picked him up daintily, and began messing with the wires in the automaton’s neck, “I’m still working out the kinks,” said Leo, the dragon sprang back to life, cough up a small flame and then skittered noisily from Leo hand, and onto my knee, it stared up at me confused, I Almost expected it to say ‘mama?’. 
“Lea,” continued Leo, “Meet Festus Jr.”
“Pleased to meet Festus Jr.” I said, my voice higher than usual, the abnormal mechanical cuteness getting to me. 
Festus Jr. yawned the curled up in the sunlight that was shine on my leg and feel asleep. 
“Awww, that is the cutest metallic dragon I’ve ever seen,” I said. 
“I’m honored,” joked Leo, “Because I’m sure you’ve seen lots of metallic dragons.”
“Peleus,” I said. 
“True dat,” said Leo, nodding. 
I sighed, happily, gazing out the window and stroking the tiny dragon. It’s scales clinked together as I ran my forefinger down his back. 
After a while, it was Leo’s turn to drive so I hung out with Percy and Annabeth, we brainstormed together. 
“Who do you think over took the underworld?” I asked.
“They’d have to be pretty freakin powerful,” said Percy.
“The prophecy says ‘promises, pain, forgetfulness and fire’ so that leaves a lot of different godly options, but none of the ones I know who be will to team up with one another”
“It also said ‘a final quest to restore’ and I don’t like the ring to that,” I said. 
“Maybe it just means this is the last official quest you’ll go on, maybe it’s the end of the Great Stirring,” said Annabeth hopefully. 
We all knew that was a long shot. 
“Not to mention the entire beginning of the prophecy,” I said. 
Annabeth bit her lip and nodded, “I’m sure it’s not as bad as it seems, prophecy’s always sound ominous.”
I recalled the old prophecy, 
Travel to the land where Apollo’s ride ends- California
Leave with two but arrive with one of your friends- Percy had to go help Annabeth 
Trust scales of blue- Mea
But not eyes of gold- the angry possessed medieval guys
To defeat the night
And titan of old- Nyx
If only things were that cut-and-dry now. 
Percy and I spent the next few hours challenging each other at Fruit Ninja on his itouch as Annabeth read. She would stop occasionally to critique our strategy, using a bunch of big words, but we didn’t really listen. Percy and I were both convinced that randomly swishing our fingers back and forth was the best way to go about it, even though we hit a like a billion bombs. 
I was about to hit the high score when the bus swerved dramatically left, throwing me to the side causing me to cut through a bomb taking out my last life. 
“Noooooooo!” Percy and I both yelled at the screen. 
Leo screeched to a stop, pulling over to the side of the highway, “Holy Hephaestus, what happened?”
“We should be asking you that!” I exclaimed. 
“Hit a small patch of ice,” he explained. 
“Ice patch?” asked Annabeth, pulling her book off of her face and getting back into her seat from her tangled position on the floor, “It’s mid-June, and were in Kansas.”
Leo furrowed his eyebrows, confused. 
Suddenly, the air grew cold, as if the air conditioner had just come back on. 
I turned and looked around, there was nothing there, no windows open and the air conditioner was completely off, yet it still felt like a winter gust was blowing through. 
I could see a lake off in the distance, Annabeth had said a name like “Watson” or something similar. 
I turned to Percy and said, “Get the freaking salt!”
I was actually making a TV show reference, but in retrospect it would have been a good idea. 
“I don’t like this,” said Annabeth. She grabbed her knife and stood up walking up the aisle, “I’m going to go check it out.”
“We might as well come with,” said Percy. 
We grabbed our weapons and bags (just in case) and filed out the little door. 
I’m glad we got out when we did. 
Something, like a white meteor hit the top of the bus, causing it to crumple in on itself. 
“Just when I was getting to like it,” said Percy bitterly. 
Then, the meteor stood up. 
Her thick black hair whipped in the now strongly gusting wind. She wore a white kimono, and her eyes were the iciest blue I’ve ever seen. 
“Khione,” growled Leo. 
“Now is the time for revenge, Leo Valdez,” she yelled her voice like ice water on her skin, “We are both stronger.”
“And this time he has back up,” I said. 
I didn’t really know what happened the first time between these two, but I had a feeling it was pretty one-on-one. The hatred was evident in their eyes. 
I turned to Percy for some advice, but he looked just about as confused as me, Annabeth too. 
“I took you down once,” taunted Leo, “I can do it again.” 
I turned to look at him, expecting his face to be determined and feirce, but when I saw him I had to cover my mouth to keep from screaming. 
He was completely ablaze. 
The flames licked at his entire body. 
He looked at me, “It’s okay Lea, this is normal, somewhat.”
I nodded, but didn’t say a word. 
“What’s this?” crooned Khione, “the little loners not so alone any more, well I can fix that.” 
A torrent of icy air lifted me off my feet wrapping around my body, strangling me in cold. 
I really wished I had worn more than a pair of jeans and a camp shirt. 
“Lea!” Called all three of my friends in unison.
“Oooh,” said Khione, “a popular one!”
I rose ever higher over the road, I had to be a least sixty feet up. I could see the lake from my view, there was no one around for miles. 
This chick was seriously rude, not only because of the fact she threw of my Fruit Ninja game but because she was really enjoying watching me struggle in her whirlwind of snow. 
“Hey listen here, you little b-“ I yelled but was cut off as she dropped me a few feet in freefall then caught me again. 
I should have kept my mouth shut. 
Of , course I didn’t. 
I screamed and cursed at her, both in Latin and English.
At one point I said something like, “Ego frui gustus vestro sanguine,” which I think translates to “I hope the vultures like the taste of you,” but I’m not sure. My Latin isn’t very good, and I didn’t know where the violence came from. 
My friends didn’t know quite what to do, if they attacked her, she’d drop me and I’d end up a mark on the pavement, but they couldn’t just stand there. Especially not with Leo so close to the grass, he was wild-fire hazard. 
Percy whistled, I didn’t know why, but he probably had a reason. Either that or he could see up my shirt because of the wind. 
An image of a very angry Smokey the bear entered me head. 
I laughed involuntarily. 
“What is so funny?” Demanded Khione.
I didn’t know what to do, so I just improvised. 
“A kimono, seriously? Those are so forty centuries ago,” I snarled. Doing my best impersonation of the Aphrodite cabin. 
“What do you mean?” she questioned, angrily. 
“I mean, like, get with the times, girl,” I said, almost choking on my own words they were so unbelievably not-me. I have no knowledge of fashion, but I kept going, “What you really need is a new look, I mean, you’re gorgeous, but you shouldn’t cover yourself up like that. What you need is a makeover.”
I was beginning to resort to quoting well-known chick-flicks, hopefully she wouldn’t catch on. 
“Yeah,” I said, tumbling upside down in the whirlwind, but ignoring it, “we could get hair cuts, and go to the mall, you would look amazing in a crop top-with skinny jeans and a pair of  Louis Vouitton boots.”
By this time I was just naming off whatever fashion terms, I knew, I nearly recommended cargo pants. 
“Louis Voutton, is a purse company!” Screeched Khione. 
“It sells shoes too. Right?” I asked desperately.  
She had caught me. 
At the moment I wasn't sure what was worse, landing on the pavement or going on a shopping trip with this chick. 
“You were trying to trick me!” She screamed, he eyes ablaze, almost all white. 
“No!” I pleaded, “Well, yeah.”
Luckily I had bought the others some time. Leo had climbed up on the bus and was now quite close to the snow goddess. 
“Hey Khione,” Called Leo. 
A flaming wrench twirled through the air, hitting her directly on her forehead. She screamed and dropped me. 
I heard a faint whistle, which at first I thought was the wind rushing by my ears, but then I collided with something, to close and soft the be the ground. 
I had landed sprawled and slightly off-kilter on a black Pegasus. 
He snorted loudly, clearly apposed to my harsh collision. 
He really shouldn’t be complaining, I was the one who landed on my back. 
I looked over his wings to see Percy and Annabeth fighting with a few evil snowmen and Leo taking on Khione. I had to help him.
“Take me down there,” I said to the Pegasus, pointing to the top of the bus. 
He swooped low over the bus and I dive-rolled onto the slick white metal shell. 
Leo was blasting fire out of his hands, but Khione seemed unfazed. She simply made a thick shield of ice that hardly melted under his flames. 
I tried to sneak up on her from behind, but she had been expecting me. 
She whipped around, and a volley of ice shards flew directly at my face. 
I dodged them as best as I could but a few of the small ones pierced my skin. 
Then I heard Annabeth scream, one of the snowmen was engulfing her, only her face and shoulders were left, the Pegasus was having the same problem. He tried to kick at the then sheet of snow, but the more he struggled and whinnied, the more it grew. 
“Wait,” yelled Leo, everything froze, figuratively. Khione turned to him glaring.
“What?” she spat, “have you chosen to except your defeat?”
“What are you even doing here?” asked Leo. 
“I’m here to exact my revenge,” replied Khione, as if the answer should have been obvious, “just as I was promised.”
“Promised?” questioned Leo. 
“Yes, of course,” she said, “Didn’t you hear, you all have a high price on your head, and usual I wouldn’t have taken the offer but it was revenge and a reward all wrapped in one. Everyone any of you has ever met, and should I say, ‘upset’ is now on your tail. This is the age of sacrifice.”
“Who promised you this?” asked Percy. 
She just smirked.
“Now unless you have something you can give that’s better than killing all of you, let’s get back to it.”
“I do,” said Leo. 
“What is that?” asked Khione. 
Leo looked at me sadly, the flames adorning him dying, “ You said this is the age of sacrifice, then, I’ll make you a deal, since it’s me you want, you can have me as prisoner. You can escape unscathed, with the extremely valuable, son of Hephaestus, without risking losing the fight. But you have to promise to let my friends continue on their way.”
The entire time his eyes never left mine. 
“No, Leo, you can’t,” I begged, “I don’t want to be the third wheel again.”
“You never were, you don’t need anyone to be important, you are a team in yourself,” he smiled at me hopefully. 
“Fine,” agreed Khione, breaking the heartfelt moment before I could say thank you. 
Snow swirled around Leo and Khione and they shot up into the sky. 
I jumped down from the bus. The snow had melted but it was still freezing, or maybe it was just me. 
There was only the three of us left. 
I felt something on the leg, I almost freaked and kicked it off, but then I saw Festus Jr. crawling up my jeans. I picked him up and set him on my shoulder, whispering “Don’t worry, he’ll be back soon,” although I knew it was a false promise, and that I was also talking to inanimate object, but I mostly just wanted to hear it for myself.
Leo had left his bag on the ground, and I found in the side pocket, two tiny little golden wings, still waiting to be attached. I borrowed a screwdriver, and tucked it into my pocket. Attaching the wings wouldn’t be too hard, hopefully and I was determined to do it for Leo’s sake. 
I looked up at Percy who was stroking the Pegasus and saying “Ease up man, it was just a bit of snow, I promise I’ll get you some apples later. And I’m sorry your back hurts, she didn’t mean to land on you like that.” 
Annabeth was putting on an extra coat, shivering. 
I turned to Percy and said, “So, what now?” as a tear flowed down my cheek, hitting the pavement. 
Even with both of them, I was alone again.

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