Gathering her cards

Disclaimer: I do not own Percy Jackson (or The Scorpio Races)

The new girl is a demon.

Not in the sense of "mean popular rich chick" though she's all that, but a literal demon. With fangs.

At first look, anyone could recognize her type; tiny miniskirt, tight shirt, and a pound of makeup stuck to her face. She's like a real-life, brunette, version of Regina George from Mean Girls. Or, if a Disney princess became a high school student.

The weirdest thing about her? Despite her never being on the attendance lists ever before, she acts and is treated like she's always been here.

She's only been here a week. Just one. Monday to Friday. Definitely not enough time to become queen of the popular crowd, get top marks on a test I know she didn't have the time to study for, and steal my best friend.

So how did it happen?

She walked into my first class Monday morning, sat in what I thought was Anna Brown's desk-except Anna later came in and sat just behind her so I couldn't be sure-and began to take notes like everyone else as soon as the teacher started the lesson. No introductions, no catch-up work, no questions on exactly what we were learning; nothing.

I remember looking to see if Hanna McCarthy, my best and only friend at Lady Josephine's Girls Catholic Secondary School-hereby referred to as Lady Jo's-, noticed anything odd.

At first I thought maybe she was late or something; she wasn't in her spot. When I looked more carefully, I found her. I couldn't be more startled. She wasn't where I thought she'd be; She wasn't where I thought she'd even dream of being; she was smack dab in the middle of the "in" crowd, right next to her majesty, Lady New Girl, herself.

I watched her passing notes and giggling with the girl periodically during the lesson as if they had been best friends since the beginning of forever. Hanna wasn't the only girl giving the-new-girl-from-Hell her attention. In fact, during that first lesson, she managed to hook in almost my entire class, even the video-gaming-under-the-desk nerdy girls, even the teacher himself. And nobody noticed.

As the week went by, the-new-girl-from-Hell got worse.

The only part of my day that hadn't changed was study block, but only because the new girl, whose name is Juli, and her loyal followers weren't there. Juli was in all my classes, even Strings (I play Cello)-despite the fact that she clearly had never learned to play- my lunches were eaten in the quiet room at the library instead of at the cafeteria, and I swear she stalked me home from school.

Of course, like any terrible Young Adult (YA) fiction heroine, my only friend was my dog. My dog, a chihuahua hereby referred to as Poppet, is not as good a listener as he is a talker. Needless to say, even during the daily loooooong walks in the forest-not that I didn't enjoy them-there were no heartfelt tearful confessions that made everything better.

Maybe inspired with my other stupid YA heroine idea, I planned to confront Juli and ask—demand, who the heck she thinks she is. Of course, things didn't go exactly to plan. Mostly because I really really didn't expect the she-demon to have fangs.

"Aaaaaggghhhh!" Here are my current circumstances: Juli and her fangs have backed me into a stall in the girls' washroom, someone pulled the fire alarm and we are the only people in the school, I'm screaming my head off, and my phone is in my locker. Oh! And on top of fangs, Juli as red eyes and flaming hair. Flaming. Hair. How the heck did she manage to hide that?

Taking advantage to my distraction, my classmate presses closer. Like my old cat, the hair on the back of my neck rises and goosebumps dot my bare arms. Her presence makes me realize something: she reeks, like someone put rose scent and dog poo on a skunk carcass at the side of the road, ran over it with a dump truck a few times, then left it to rot. Why kind of perfume does she use? Odour de la mort?

"-" She purrs. She's speaking too quietly for me to hear so I cut off my scream to hear her better. I wait, watching her. The way her fangs glint against the bathroom lights is distracting. She reaches out with one of her-is that metal?-hands and cups my chin tightly, almost uncomfortably. I stare right back her and realize something; she's not really that scary, just unique. How could I have found her so terrifying moments earlier? Her touch is warm. She isn't being mean. I must've been wrong about her all along. I'm captivated by her pretty ruby eyes; they're more shades of red than you could find in an art store; mahogany, burgundy, auburn, cherry, and a million different shades I could only dream about naming. Then I notice something; the colours don't stay, they shift around her irises and faded in and out, like a fir-

Then Juli disappears in a puff of sand and I'm staring at... Hanna? Holding a sword? What exactly was in my lunch today?

Fortunately, Hanna doesn't leave me enough time to contemplate my likelihood of being drugged. In a practiced motion, she sheathes her blade into an umbrella-what the heck?-and pulls forcefully me out of the toilet stall.

"What were you doing?" She seethes angrily. "You nearly got yourself killed!"

All I can do is goggle at her. What did I do?

"You killed Juli! A classmate! And that's highly illegal, I'm sure." At least, I think that's what happened. I feel quite strange, maybe there was something in my lunch. "All I did was go to the bathroom!"

Hanna's moment of badassery is ruined by her giggles. It takes her another five minutes to stop the hysterical laughter. Where did all her anger go?

When Hanna is composed enough to look in my face without smothering a giggle, she takes my hand with the one not occupied with the umbrella/sword and leads me out of the bathroom.

We slip out the back entrance to the school, on the opposite side to where everyone's evacuated to.

"Was it you who pulled the fire alarm?" I ask her.

She denies it instantly. I don't believe her. She keeps pulling me along in silence.

Her destination is a small clearing in a forest just off school grounds. We sit on a log. For a moment, we just stare at each other, both lost in thought.

"Listen," Hanna says, unnecessarily, I'm already giving her my full attention, "you're in danger. I'm part of a group that helps people like y-"

"Like me?" I cut off. I'm honestly confused, as far as I can tell, I'm not part of any category she doesn't fall in. We're about the same height, we have British lineage, we live in the same country, we go to the same school, and we even have the same natural hair colour, though I dyed mine turquoise.

"A demigod."

I'm sorry, what?

"A demigod." She repeated. Did I say that aloud? "Half human, half Greek god or goddess, to be precise."

A demigod. Clearly, I'm not the only one who's been drugged.

The following argument/explanation is long. There are many clarifications and pauses to digest information. It's hard to concentrate on her for such long periods of time so those pauses serve a double purpose. I wonder how many demigods Hanna's spoken to before.

She starts the conversation by telling me about that monster she just ki-sent back to Tartarus-, Juli was-is an Empousa apparently. Hanna had been charmed by Juli, it was true, and she congratulated me for my restraint. She then told me about demigods and their place on the food chain, suggesting I take up fencing or archery to protect myself. After that, she talks about herself; she tells me she's a tree nymph who joined the Hunters of Artemis, an all-girls, man-hating, group of semi-immortals who fight evil-it sounds so cliché, I know-she would offer me a place in their ranks, but due to inter-group circumstances, needs a year to sort things out before the Hunters will start recruiting again. Finally, she gives me an address for a demigod training camp called Camp HalfBlood that I can go to in the meantime.

Her information is far too creative to be bullshit. That much I can tell. Believing her will take more than that, it still sounds like a YA cliché, and the other evidence to support her case is now sand-anyone creative enough could put a sword in an umbrella.

Despite her cover being broken, Hanna claims she will stay the last few months of the school year, unless she's summoned by the Hunters. I'm glad for this as it means I'll get extra monster-killing lessons before the summer.

I've done it; I'm now an official Camp HalfBlood-ian. I even have the T-shirt.

Getting here was an absolute nightmare, though; a 10 hour, five hundred dollar flight alone to Long Island, then a few nights in a really sketchy motel while I tried to figure out exactly where I was supposed to go. Being a secret training camp, there are no signs pointing there, and they have a giant illusion that makes it look like a strawberry farm. Thank goodness there was a border patrol the third time I passed it or I probably would still be in a state of panic. I didn't exactly tell my father what I was doing on the other side of the country and if I couldn't find the camp, I would spend the next two months working so I could live in the motel until my flight home.

Chiron, the camp director has put me in Cabin 11, with Hermes's kids, until I'm claimed. He believes that Athena is my biological mother, but I still have to wait until she-or any other god-claims me before I can move out. Unless, of course, Hermes is my father.

Gods, I really hope not. I don't have anything against Hermes really, but that Cabin is far too cramped to be comfortable.

I can see myself being happy here. I've already agreed to join the Hunters as soon as they get back to me, but for a summer, this place is great.

The only reason I prefer the Hunters, other than immortality and its strength and speed boost, is that they're everywhere, not just in one settlement on the other side of the country from where I live. Only about twenty hunters stay with Artemis at a time and they rotate who hunts with her every few months. Those that aren't hunting can lead fairly normal lives, but stay vigilant so they can be ready to move at any time.

I've only been here a week, but I can feel the tension in Camp HalfBlood. A few students are on a dangerous quest and haven't checked back with Chiron for too many days so everyone's worried. I'm not privy to who they are or what they're doing, but from the constant border patrols and heavy training, whatever's going on really isn't good.

Apart from all that, CHB isn't really a bad place. There are obstacle courses, training arenas, arts'n'crafts centres, a lake, and-my personal favourite-a forest. Camp activities include sword-fighting, hand to hand sparring, campfires, capture the flag, canoeing and so much more. It's definitely the best camp I've ever been to.

Soft footsteps patter around the cramped cabin. They sound along the inside walls and between the bunks; thump thump thump...

The cause of these sounds come from the only huma- demigod I mean, in the room; a teenaged girl with short, green-dyed hair, thick black eyebrows, and freckles. Me.

I'm pacing Hermes' cabin. Usually, it's packed with people, but they're out picking strawberries (more like throwing them at each other). I'd join them, but I'm seeking peace and quiet.

I've been put here, in this crazy cabin, because my mother isn't popular enough to have her own. I should be grateful for having a cabin at all-fifty years ago, even Hermes didn't give up space for someone else's kid-I just really don't enjoy having my favourite pair of binoculars stolen because my cabinmates are kleptomaniacs.

Gods above, I really don't belong here.

All the camp rejects are here. Hermes is the only god tolerant of the other gods' kids so the minor god children and the Unclaimed -those whose parents don't care enough to even tell their children who they are- are all squeezed in with the semi-sane, freakishly street smart, usually ADHD, crazy pranksters Hermes sires.

The result isn't pretty.

Normal kids don't like sharing a room. Normal kids can't fall asleep in constant noise. Normal kids can't laugh off having paint balloons launched at them at three in the morning. Normal kids really really don't want to clean up the paint covering their sleeping bag at three in the morning.

I am normal. When the Hunters come for me, I won't hesitate.

The forest is stained red. Arrows stick out of practically everything and the bits of the underbrush are charred.

We've won. This battle is over. Yet I feel everything but victorious.

I've been claimed, finally. I was marked in the heat of the battle, and when the demigod standing next to me turned to point it out, he was shot down by enemy fire. What a great time to be claimed. And no, my immortal parent isn't Ares or Athena. In fact, until Chiron was healed enough to speak with me, nobody could figure out what the symbol meant.

It was a lion. A strong-looking one in green light. It floated above my head for a few hours before disappearing and I was glad someone brought me a mirror before it disappeared or I still wouldn't know what it meant.

According to Chiron, I'm a daughter of Cybele, a minor goddess of caverns, mountains, nature, and wild animals. One of the gods associated with Gaea, the earth mother.

I'm still stuck in Hermes cabin, to my distaste, because Cybele isn't one of the twelve Olympians.

I'm working with my cabin, cleaning up the battlefield as best we can during our shift. For once, everyone is uncharacteristically serious. Sometimes, someone sobs and we all stop to comfort them.

It makes me feel good, all this unity. I've never experienced it before.

"Elle!" A familiar voice shouts. I sit bolt upright, awake and in my pjs, and wait, blinking in the near-darkness, for my eyes to clear.

When they do, I gasp, and blink some more; Hanna McCarthy, my best friend and Hunter contact, is sitting in my window frame. In my window frame!

I'm not sure I want to know why she thought that would be a good, socially acceptable, way to wake me up. Scratch that, I really, really don't want to know.

She jumps off and lands lightly on my carpeted floor. I'm convinced she's a weird dream up until she grabs my arm and pulls me off my bed.

"Get dressed. Lady Artemis will see you in an hour." Then she turns and jumps out the window, back into the darkness.

I scramble to my closet and pick out a pair of jeans and my only T-shirt without a slogan on it. After a moment's thought, I grab my backpack and fill it with a change of clothes, a thermal water bottle, and my wallet. The monster-attracting phone my father insisted I have is regretfully left behind along with my half-finished copy of The Scorpio Races. Finally, I put in a flashlight and a photograph of my family. I'm not sure I could sneak to the bathroom to get my toiletries, so I promise myself to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste as soon I can.

When Hanna returns, I've got my backpack on, along with a fleece jacket and rain-pants, and I'm scribbling a note as fast as my brain can come up with a reasonable explanation for leaving. One I finish my note and set it lovingly on my bed, Hanna's on me again.

She gestures outside. "I'll catch you, I promise," and leaps out the window for the second time.

A cold wind is blowing outside and I can't see anything. After the battle of the labyrinth, I'm not afraid of much, but jumping out of a two storey window seems a little iffy to me. I can see the contours of Hanna's white coat moving in the darkness, then a light shines in my face.

"I'm ready when you are!" She calls.

I gulp. This is it. This is my big moment, my one to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life. This choice is pivotal.

I jump.

"I pledge myself to the Goddess Artemis. I turn my back on the company of men, accept eternal maidenhood, and join the hunt."

The hellhounds attacked at dawn, on my sixth day of being a hunter.

New huntresses must stay with Artemis for six months to ensure they can survive when not on call. Hanna left for Camp HalfBlood as soon as she dropped me off, so I'm without friends here. It's kind of lonely, but I'm training too hard to really think about it.

I'm feeling ridiculously proud of myself. Before last year, I had never even seen a fistfight in real life, much less participated. But now, I'm able to fight against monsters and survive. Compared to the average demigod, I suck, but compared to a human...

As a hunter, I fight with celestial bronze knives. I cannot wield a bow in a way that could not accidentally hurt my allies, so I'm stabbing the hellhounds instead. While my knives are cool, the girl next to me is slinging nuggets at them. Slinging. I wonder when she was recruited.

When we win, it's the best feeling ever. I've never been in a fight where we didn't lose half our group to the enemy before, so this is a definite step up from the battle of the labyrinth. All around me, hunters cheer and I couldn't be happier. This is where I belong.

"Can I call you Lizzie?"

I almost tumble off the tree branch I'm sitting in, completely blindsided. I look down. The girl speaking to me is Anika, one of the huntresses who had helped me kill the hellhound. "Say what?"

She asks again. "Can I call y-"

"Lizzie," I interrupted. "You want to call me Lizzie"

"Yes! Exactly!" Anika leans forward slightly, her smiles excited and seemingly friendly, if I hadn't seen her masterfully sling small celestial bronze nuggets at an attacking hellhound less than an hour ago, I'd have thought she was harmless. Is she secretly a wacko-crazy person or something? How the heck do I respond to that?

Bluntly apparently, "What the heck do you mean? Is this come kind of test? An inside joke? A code phrase I'm supposed to pick up on?

"Gods no, why would it be?" Well, how should I know the social customs l of huntresses that live in the wilderness and fight monsters with a maiden goddess? Styx, I'm too defensive! Can she tell? Does she care? Should I do s- "Elle is short Elizabeth, and so is Lizzie!"

Say whaaaaaat?

"But I'm not Elizabeth, I'm just Elle!" I inform her ashamedly. It's the unfortunate truth. I've always wanted a more complicated name; one with more than one syllable, one that doesn't sound like 'El' from Spanish or mean 'she' in French After third grade, the novelty of having a name that can be spelt forwards and backwards wore off completely, leaving behind the endless list of classmates, peers and school teachers all confusing 'Elle' with 'Ella'.

"Doesn't mean you're not a Lizzie; you're definitely a Lizzie." She's smiling even bigger now. She doesn't have dimples or twinkling eyes, but it's become the nicest, most genuine smile directed at me since I left camp. I feel better about my choice; I'll have allies, friends even, who can smile like that. She's also just analyzed my personality enough to give me a nickname I won't hate (how did she know?) from an encounter when fighting and a five minute conversation. I don't know whether I should respect her or run screaming from her stalker-like tendencies.

Choosing the former, I scoot over on my tree branch. "Okay then. Sure. Do you want to sit here?"

And no, it won't be sunshine and rainbows from here on out. Kronos is still out there, monsters still spawn from Tartarus, and heroes still die. I need to figure out how I can balance school with my "extra-curricular activities", and I need to get a summer job so I can pay for more five-hundred dollar plane tickets should I ever need them.

Additional Notes:

The cost for plane tickets from to fly from Portland to Long Island, and the amount of time it would take are approximations from various travel agencies.

I don't think the hunters of Artemis actually do rotations, but I read on Wiki that in mythology Artemis only had twenty or so hunters with her at a time and went from there. It's my personal headcanon.

Lady Jo's doesn't exist, but is loosely based on a private school I once went to on an exchange trip

As it isn't really clear in the story, this takes place between The Titan's Curse and The Last Olympian. Elle starts out thirteen.

This fic was written for my best friend's birthday; Elle is (loosely) based on her. Have a great day A!