Leo and I walked quietly back to camp, every once in a while I had to stop and lean against a tree to stop the coughing fits, but other than that I was physically unharmed.
“So, are you excited for the tournament tomorrow?” asked Leo, making small talk.
“Hardly,” I replied, “I was until about thirty minutes ago.”
“I don’t think Ate will bother you again, she made her point,” said Leo.
“Couldn’t she have just talked to me?” I said, “Or at least had an elaborate light show performance.”
Leo snickered, “Yeah, she could have sang Born to Slay, and Just Do as your Told.”
We laughed for a little while, until I started to wheeze and cough up blood.
“I’m going to need some water,” I sighed.
When we made it back to Bunker Nine, Leo gave me a coffee mug full of lukewarm water and I changed out of the armor. I kept the jumpsuit on, since it was light and comfortable and I didn’t want to deal with putting my jeans back on. So instead I pulled my large sweatshirt over. I didn’t want to bother with lacing back up my combat boots either so I just stayed sitting on the insulation material and watched Leo tinker. He bustled around, making minor adjustments to the armor and other objects strewn across the tables.
After about five minutes there was a familiar clicking and whirring noise, and Festus Jr. flew down from the rafters, landing on my shoulder.
He sneezed, spraying black oil all over my sweatshirt.
I laughed thinking of when I first met Festus Jr, sitting on the bus next to Leo.
Leo looked over at me and words spilled out of his, “I’m so sorry I haven’t worked out that kink yet. I can get you a new sweatshirt.”
“Nah, its fine,” I said, “Just clothes. Actually I think it’s kinda cute that e does that, I mean nothings perfect and if you’re gonna have a fault it might as well be an adorable sneeze.”
I played with Festus, letting my crawl over my body, climbing through my fingers, occasionally falling and gripping for dear life off of my forefinger. He reminded me of a little gold kitten.
Leo stared at me, smiling and blushing; I pretend not to notice him and stayed with my focus on Festus. Eventually I started to feel a bit squirmy knowing that I was being looked at, and I looked back.
Leo jumped back into action, talking quickly again, his accent growing stronger like it usually does when he gets nervous, “I’m sorry that he ditched out on you during the quest. He’s hardwired to come and find me if I am out of a 100 mile range. Luckily, what that meant is that I knew you were a safe distance away for me to escape from Khione without her coming after you.”
“How’d you get out?” I asked, curiously.
“Never leave a boy with his belt, especially not a magic tool belt,” mused Leo, “And even more so in a prison full of ice.”
Leo reached into his tool belt and pulled out a humongous hammer. By humongous I mean the head of it was like twelve inches.
“Dude!” I exclaimed, “You’re like a Latino Mary Poppins.”
We both laughed and I layed back down on the insulation.
He and I stayed up past midnight, talking, laughing and sighing. Every few minutes he’d toss me a puzzle or and device he made, that I’d try to figure out, with of course no result, then he’d come explain it’s genius to me.
I fell asleep barefoot, nestled in the insulation material with weird gadgets scattered around me, the dim yellow light and sound of Leo working lulling me to sleep.
When I woke, there was thick wool blanket over me and Leo was still working, sitting perched on stool, exactly how he’d been when I fell asleep.
I rubbed my eyes, and yawned, “Leo, do you ever sleep? Like ever?”
“Ah,” he said, grinning at me, “Sleep is for mortals,” and then he chugged down some coffee and went back to the metallic pair of wings he was working on. He had blue prints laid out next to him, all with the same triangle symbol that was on Annabeth’s laptop.
“What time is it?” I groaned.
“11:30,” replied Leo quickly.
“What?” I gasped, slamming my hand down on the table making Leo jump, “The Tournament starts in a half an hour.”
“I was about to wake you up,” said Leo, “but I didn’t cause your breathing sounds really nice when you sleep,” he added quietly.
“Thanks,” I replied slightly annoyed and slightly embarrassed, “I take a lot of pride in my sleep breathing.”
Leo didn’t look up at me, he just pointed to a platter on the table.
It was stacked with donuts and bacon.
“Are you trying to fatten me?” I said through a full mouth as I stuffed the food into my mouth, “If you are than thank you, this stuff tastes amazing. I haven’t had bacon in weeks!”
He laughed and I rushed over to the dressing room, whipping my stained sweatshirt off on the way there. I strapped on the leg armor, synching it tight, and pulled on the boots, falling over backwards into some scrap wood. I danced around the workshop trying to pull on the armor as quickly as I could, it would take at least ten minutes to get to the arena, and I didn’t want to be late.
Leo helped me pull on the chest armor, “I’m turning off the sensitivity,” he said, spinning down a dial on a matching gold remote, so it going to be all you out there in the arena.”
I nodded and I placed the crown/face armor thing as I looked in the mirror. I pulled my hair up and couldn’t help but smile at myself; I looked awesome, just fantastic. I had finally grown out of my awkward tween years and now I actually looked like a hero, shining in gold.
I spun around on my heel and threw my arms around Leo, “Thank you, you’re the best,” and I kissed him on the cheek.
I sprinted out of the Bunker hoping that Leo, didn’t take the kiss to seriously, it was a heat of the moment, pre-battle adrenaline rush kiss, totally platonic.
At least I think it was.
I stopped by my cabin dropped off my clothes from yesterday, throwing them in the corner of the room, just in time to hear the conch be blown.
I activated my sword and shield, making myself fully battle ready, tightened my ponytail which wasn’t really necessary but it calmed me down.
Festus Jr. met me halfway to the arena, perching on my shoulder I noticed he had a small scroll of paper tied to his left paw so I untied it and in messy pencil scrawl it read:
Good luck. Stomp some faces in for me- Leo
I laughed to myself, and said to Festus Jr. “A messenger now, are you?”
He made a satisfied whirring noise and I continued my jog to the arena.
There was already a large crowd gathered when I entered the arena.
I felt like Cinderella walking into the ball, every head turned and all eyes were on me.
I managed to keep a serious face and only blush a little as the crowd parted for me.
I heard Connor whistle from the crowd, and I gave him a half-appreciative, half- ‘shut up I hate you,’ smile.
The other competitors were already in the arena, in casual armor. Percy and Jason were at Camp Jupiter and Nico was gone so I wouldn’t have to fight them, which was fortunate, since they were all extremely skilled and I’d feel a bit weird attacking my friends.
There was Will Solace from the Apollo cabin, a ginger boy from the Dionysus cabin, a skinny Asian girl from the Demeter cabin, and a blonde boy from Aphrodite; those should all be easy takedowns.
There was also the tall brunette boy from the Athena cabin, Clarisse, Lance, Travis and few others from the other minor gods. Chiron had said that if you were from a cabin that only had one child, you are allowed to forfeit one event, and it looked like a lot of people had backed out of this one.
Lance looked at me disapprovingly, also somewhat confused by my new outfit.
“Nice outfit,” said the blonde Aphrodite boy suavely, “I’m guessing it’s not for purchase.”
“No,” I replied, “Plus I think it’d be a bit small on you anyways,” I said as I observed his very nice muscular build.
He chuckled, and spun his bronze short-sword lazily.
Before we cold converse anymore, Chiron walked into the arena, and stomped his hoof. The sound echoed of the marble and everyone quieted immediately.
“We will begin with two fights at once, as you can see the arena has been sectored off into equal portions. There is no penalty for stepping over the line but it is recommended you stay on your side in order to avoid gaining more enemies. The basic rule is attack who ever is on your side of the line, if you get them into a position where you could end there life easily, you win. We will begin with the four cabins who’s lineage is known for battle skills, Kevin Trave fighting for the Athena cabin vs. Clarisse la Rue from the Ares cabin in sector one. In sector two we will have Carter Bent, son of Enyo and Cassy Hilger daughter of the Titaness Themis.
I sat in the stands next to Travis and Will as we all watched intensely, our attention being drawn to the fight between Clarisse and the Athena boy. After few minutes of parrying he took her down, it was obvious that her cabin had ignored the fact that Clarisse was best with a spear and sent her out anyways. The Ares cabin nearly exploded with anger, cursing out Clarisse for being a bad champion, the Athena boy for ‘cheating’ and everyone else for being stupid.
There was bit more competition between Carter and Cassy. Carter appeared to be about thirteen and was thin and light with pale blue eyes and soft ginger hair, Cassy on the other hand was about sixteen, short and muscular with wavy brunette hair. She won the match by feinting to the right, ducking under his swing and slamming him in the back with the hilt of her sword. As he lay on the ground groaning, she put the tip of her sword to his neck, notifying his of her victory.
Chiron announced the winners and then said, “The victors will take a break as new champions battle, thus determining the future rounds.”
He looked down at us cautiously, “Next up we have Travis Stoll from the Hermes cabin vs. Kyle Felner from the Aphrodite cabin.”
“Go get em” I said to Travis slapping him on the back and he stood up, “Take down that pretty boy.”
“In sector two Marc Jovei of the Dionysus cabin vs. Lea Reclin from the Morpheus cabin.”
Travis winked and pointed at me, his was of saying “Back at ya.”
I strided down the steps, my armor gleaming in the mid-day sun.
Marc looked at me nervously, sweating from under curly dark red hair.
“Don’t worry bro,” I said, “I’ll go easy.”
“Thanks,” he replied quietly.
“Would you rather I make it look like you put up a fight or get it over quickly,” I asked, under my breath, so as not to embarrass him.
“Quickly please,” he sighed.
“Let the match begin,” said Chiron, and I sprung into action.
Marc and I’s swords clashed instantly. He swung shakily, all of the people watching him made him nervous. We parried for a few seconds, then he lunged and I feinted right, sliding behind him and carefully placing my blade to his neck, so as not to hurt him.
Chiron announced me as the winner and Marc slumped back into the crowd full of booing Dionysus children.
I went and took my place in the stands and watch Travis. He was doing well; having practiced a lot but Kyle was also very skilled.
When Travis accidentally tripped over Kyle’s outstretched foot (a dirty move in my opinion) Kyle slammed down on Travis’ back taking him fully to the ground, groaning in pain, Kyle used his foot to roll Travis onto his back and then held the tip of his sword at Travis’ throat.
Chiron announced Kyle the winner and Travis stayed on the ground as Kyle walked back grinning to his cabin.
I got up and walked into the arena, helping Travis up, it looked like he had landed on his arm wrong and sprained it.
“Kick his butt for me,” groaned Travis as we sat down.
“Trust me, I will,” and then I let the Apollo cabin tend to Travis’ arm.
“Up next we have Kimberly Doubt for the Demeter cabin and Maria Martinez for the Hecate cabin. Remember special abilities are not allowed, swords only,” I had feeling Chiron was talking specifically to Maria, “In section two we have Lance Beckett representing the Hephaestus Cabin and Will Solace Representing the Apollo cabin.”
Lance sauntered out onto the court adjusting his armor straps carelessly. He looked so smug I just wanted to punch right then and there.
He was tall, with deep tan skin and black hair combed back like a greaser. He had shiny black eyes and thick full lashes. Just like all other Hephaestus kids his hands were calloused and strong. He carried huge bronze sword and even larger bronze shield. Together the metal must’ve weighed at least fifty pounds but he carried it like someone might carry a stuffed animal.
The entire crowd feel silent, this would be a good match. Two seventeen year old strong guys-going one on one.
“Begin,” said Chiron.
Immediately, Lance swung his sword, whacking Will in the face with the side of the blade. Will fell to the ground and Lance grabbed his left arm, pulling it back making will scream.
From the crowd I heard Cloe, yell, “Will!”
She scrambled through the crowd shoving people out of the way, which was extremely out of character for her.
She dived into the arena, only to meet Lance’s sword.
He had the tip placed under her chin, and she stood perfectly still until Chiron said, “Lance, you have won,” and Lance lowered his blade.
Cloe flung herself down next to Will, brushing his hair out of his face and whispering softly to him, it looked as if his arm was badly hurt. Lance had bended it back pretty far.
Will’s cabin mates rushed in to help him, as he groaned and rubbed his shoulder.
My face grew hot with anger, it was one thing to fight dirty, but it was another thing to threaten my friends.
I tried to distract myself by watching the other team.
Kim and Maria on the other hand were more evenly matched; they circled each other, waiting for the other to make a move.
Kim dove forward and Maria used the trick I had taught her, she spun to the side, knocking the blade past her body with her forearm. Kim caught on quicker than I expected and swung low at Maria’s ankles. Maria dodged just in time to avoid loosing her feet.
They went on for a while longer tiring themselves out until, Maria ducked under Kim blade and swung her sword up to Kim’s throat.
Maria was declared the winner of the round and I gave her an encouraging thumbs up.
“Alright,” said Chiron, “We are now moving onto the next round, the arena in no longer divided into two, and once again we have Cassy Hilger vs. Kevin Trave.”
“Ohh,” said Kyle from behind me, “A demi-Titaness and the son of Athena.”
Since I didn’t know anyone personally for this round I got up and got myself some water from one of the huge Giantade tubs. By the time I turned around Cassy already had Kevin on the ground.
That chick was five feet of pure brutality. I hoped I wouldn’t have to fight her.
Even Chiron seemed a little unsettled, “Right,” he began, “Cassy wins. Up next we have Lea Reclin vs. Kyle Felner.”
I took another sip of water, crumpled the plastic cup and tossed into the trash bin.
Kyle stood up and grinned at me from the stands.
We both took our time making our way down to the arena.
“Let’s see if you’re as good as your armor,” cooed Kyle.
“Let’s see how easily nice face like yours can get smashed in, we can do a little experiment,” I hissed, “You know, for science.”
“Begin,” announced Chiron.
Kyle immediately jabbed at me with his longsword; I jumped out of the way rolling through the dirt. I crouched like a cat for a second, and then sprang, tackling him. He threw me off easily, and I skidded through the dust.
“Get em’!” yelled Travis from the crowd.
“Break his face,” added Connor.
I stood up.
We were staring each other down, him not wanting to work too hard and myself not wanting to make a stupid rash move because of my anger.
“You’re going down, pretty boy,” I growled at him. Our swords met and I glared into his hazel eyes for a second, it was his strength against mine, his sword slid slowly down my blade, my I didn’t loose eye contact with him, I just needed one second of distraction.
Suddenly there was a ‘chink’ noise; his blade had slid down to one of the half-circle cutout in my blade. I used this brief lull in the action and the grip and spun my sword full 360, wrenching his sword out of his hands, I then slammed the hilt of my sword into his forehead, “That’s for Travis. Next time wear a helmet, your face isn’t that great.”
The entire Aphrodite cabin booed, except Piper who I could barely see in the crowd, but I could tell she was grinning. I knew she and I both had a thing for taking down pompous drama-queens.
“Lea Reclin wins,” announced Chiron, he sounded a bit like he was happy too, but trying to hide it for the sake of neutrality.
I sat down next to Travis and Connor and was enveloped into their arms.
They tousled my hair and congratulated me.
My breath was running short and refused to come back, I laid back on the stone step, letting the coolness of the marble sink into my skin.
Chiron said something, but I couldn’t hear him over my heartbeat in my ears.
From the crowd there was eruption of boos, I sat up to see Maria shakily getting to her feet, blood dripping from the corner of her mouth.
With him back turned to the crowd was Lance, looming over Maria.
“I surrender,” she spat at him, wiping the blood away with her wrist.
“Lance has won the round for Hephaestus, and will participate in the final round,” confirmed Chiron, Lea Reclin vs. Cassy Hilger.”
I gulped; Cassy whipped her head around and smiled at me. There was a bloodthirsty shine in her eyes, like in her head she was saying, “I’m going to rip you apart, isn’t that just great?”
I hesitantly picked up my sword and walked into the middle of the arena.
Instantly Cassy sprung from her spot on the stairs, hurling at me for a panther-like tackle.
I stop-drop- and rolled, using the technique that I was required to perfect on ‘Fire Safety Day’ back in elementary school.
Cassy flew over me, and I jumped back to my feet.
She rolled into a landing, turning it into a back-walkover so that she too was on her feet again.
I felt a bit shown up, like I need to do some acrobatics to prove myself or something.
Cassy lunged at me, swinging wide, instantly a flashback shot through my head. It was of a counselor named Randy teaching me battle tactics as practice for Battle Royale, when I was eight. I was his ‘secret weapon’ I trained for weeks with him perfecting my sword fighting for the next five years. Henry had convinced Randy to give me special classes. In retrospect I think Randy and Henry might have been step brothers, because Randy was way too good at archery to not be a son of Apollo. I feel like Henry was preparing me for the demigod life long before I had discovered my lineage.
As Cassy swung at me, I remembered the move that Randy had shown me, ‘the duck and slice’ he called it. Which wasn’t a great name, but it worked.
I slid forward on my knees, letting Cassy’s blade pass over my head, and with my sword I slashed through her side. Not deep enough to badly wound her, just to distract her for a minute.
Then I stepped up behind her, using the trick I’d used on Percy so many times and put my sword to her throat.
“Lea Reclin will be going on to the final round!” announced Chiron looking relived that I hadn’t gotten destroyed by Cassy but a little worried that Cassy might not take her loss well.
I lowered my sword and offered Cassy and handshakes, which she took graciously and said, “Good fight, sorry about your side.”
She shrugged, grinning, “No big deal, just a nick,” she said as the blood poured down her side.
“Yeah you might want to let the Apollo cabin tend to that,” I offered and she walked away still smiling dazedly.
I was way too tired, I was about to vomit up my lungs.
What I really needed was some ambrosia; unfortunately I didn’t feel like getting up or spontaneously combusting at the moment.
Chiron stamped his hoof for quiet, “We’ll have a short intermission and then Lea Reclin and Lance Beckett will fight for the title of Champion.”
I nearly choked on my saliva; the final round would be between Lance and I?
Gods, that is exactly what I DIDN’T want to happen.
Lance grinned at me from across the arena and my heart stopped, he was looking really confident while I felt like a sack of potatoes.
I got some more water, choked on it a little and basically established myself as an idiot.
The five minutes flew by, Travis and Connor gave me the best pep-talk they could and then slapped me on the back and shoved me into the arena.
Lance sauntered out into the arena, grinning.
“Begin,” said Chiron ominously, I looked up at him nervously and he nodded reassurance; as if to say, “I won’t let him kill you…much.”
Something very large, metal, and heavy slammed into my forehead.
The metal headpiece prevented a dent in my skull but cut deep into my skin.
I flew back, landing hard on my back and head, blood trickling into my eyes, destroying my vision.
I began to roll to the side to get up but I was too slow, my combat boot collided into my stomach, knocking the wind even further out of me.
“Nice armor,” sneered Lance.
I tried to say something witty and sarcastic but all that came out was a cough, and then a groan because I was sad that I couldn’t say anything witty and sarcastic.
I was tired to get up, to do anything really. I didn’t have to win this, the Hephaestus cabin would be really happy if they did. Plus, I wasn’t even here enough to do chores anyways.
Suddenly, Lance swung at me. My arm flew up and I blocked automatically.
Well, I didn’t, it wasn’t my instinct that saved me, it was the suit.
Lance suddenly looked confused as armor propped me upright.
I was practically a puppet, the armor moving for me.
I glanced up in the stands to see Leo with what looked like a golden X-box controller matching to my armor; he cranked up a dial and then gave me a thumbs up.
I shook my head at him, a silent “No, no stop, I really don’t-“
Lance swung at me again, angry this time.
I auto-blocked spinning his blade out, and doing a quick Chennai turn into a roundhouse kick to the side of his head.
The crowd cheered so loud I didn’t even hear Lance hit the ground.
My arm swung locking into place with my sword at his throat.
“Cheater,” he muttered, then he said it again, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Cheater. She cheated.”
The crowd erupted into gasps and boos.
“Lair!” defended Connor.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Chiron, staring at Lance.
“That’s automated armor, she wasn’t doing the fighting it was!” he yelled.
The crowd screamed in anger and disbelief.
I felt the armor, power down, losing it rigidity.
I was nice to have my limbs back.
I raised my hands to the crowd, “It’s true. I’m sorry I didn’t want it to do that! I really didn’t.”
The crowd scoffed at me, even my friends looked a little miffed. Especially Travis, who felt a little embarrassed about defending me.
Suddenly from the crowd, Leo stood up and yelled, “It was me! I turned the auto-fight on! She had no control of her actions!”
I sighed in relief.
I wouldn’t be in this alone.
Chiron thought for a minute, and then he stamped his hoof three times, in an attempt to silence the audience.
“Lea Reclin will not be disqualified. The match will be announced a tie, since neither champions are in a state to fight,” he proclaimed.
“Yes I am!” yelled Lance, but he was shushed by Chiron disapproving glare.
“Leo Valdez, however, will be disqualified from the entire tournament, because after all he was the one doing the cheating.”
I don’t think he was planning on competing anyways.
“That concludes this round of the Olympics, up next is Chariot Racing,” said Chiron, and campers began to file out.
I went over got some water and layed on the marble steps.
After a while it was silent.
Just as I was beginning to feel peace somebody cleared their throat.
My eyes shot open only to find Henry.
He looked down and me and said seriously, “We need to talk.”