Thanks to Lord Revan; ColcytusRising, Noname, Delirios de un sonador, Hexamon, Emiya Archer, sain, 3loc, Calvert K Hose, Lustful-Angel96, CanSerBero_1,

Also, read the AN, there are two/three important things.

Chapter 13: To test the steel

Annabeth's POV

Heroes shouldn't kill.

We were already so low of a number that killing would just make sure mortals would just make our living harder, and the stories of those demigods who used their own powers for themselves, not living soon after due to many angry mortals overwhelming them.

"The tally we have right now on the massacre in Westville, near Chicago, is of three dead, while six are still critically injured in the Sacred Heart hospital. The police still haven't been able to find any clue, but the Procurator-"

The murderer turned down the radio while we went through provincial roads, trying to find a smaller, and this time not infested with people, gas station.

And I needed to get down, to retake control of myself and the expedition in front of this different monster.

We would have to change our route slightly, going to southern Indiana and Illinois before returning to the I-80, and that meant also going into the more wooded areas.

And I was beside a murderer.

Who was driving like he didn't care, his eyes on the road and silent as the grave.

Jackson, instead, was drifting her eyes around, restless and somewhat guilty, but not for the right reasons, I knew that.

It was like I was the only one who understood the gravity of what happened, of what monstrosity the fake child who now was driving had done.

I inhaled, and exhaled, and kept my eyes planted on the map, not wanting to look beside me for more than quick glances, and made my mind keep continuous study on the map, and the notes done by other questers before us about what laid in this state.

"After we reach a good enough stop, after we get in a calmer position, I will start to look at our belongings. After what happened, I am sure the traitor, be it the lord of the Underworld or someone else, has helped, and they may have planted something inside our belongings. After that, we rest. I am getting sloppy, and it's better I rest a bit before we go on."

Sloppy? What was he when he wasn't sloppy, then?

A murder machine? He was able to fight Medusa down, maybe he was able to do more?!

And he killed without thinking, that's not normal!

Inwardly that's what I thought, but outwardly I only nodded, and let the trees around, and the far owls of the wind, lull me into a false sense of calmness, not wanting to really think about what happened.

The only reassurance I had, that I could really have, is that probably nothing we would encounter would hurt us, if the monster in human skin who was driving this car was that strong and brutal.

The only saving grace for this quest was that the person he cared about was the one who would be killed first if the Thunderer didn't find his lightning again.

It was a very small silver lining.

A sign, slightly rusted and with some bullet holes in it, said that in a few miles, there would be a service station, near somewhere called "Battleground".

Better than nothing.

It also was a Shell one, the irony was not lost to me.

Maybe, as some kind of contrapass law, we would find some kind of help this time, instead of a monster justly turned by Mother or a massacre scene.

Maybe this quest could return to some kind of normalcy, just enough to avoid dying and get Luke proud of me, and back to how he was.

After a few more minutes of driving, we reached a small, almost destitute, gas station, with two old men beside it sleeping, using straw hats despite the cloudy weather, while analogical pumps stayed beside it, with a yellowed "self-service" sign beside them.

On the external walls of the gas station itself, there were several photos, that I could barely see from where I was while in the rusty car, whose engine stopped with almost a deathly groan, full of pain, and just in a place where we would not be seen by the two men while refueling, a few boars in the forest near there.

Too good of a place to be a coincidence.

The monster got down and took with him a small bag, making sure to not be seen well, and moved towards the pump itself.

Only to stop in front of it, and truly look at it. Something I did as well.

There was Greek just under the English, and another, a bit bigger, hole for another currency.

With its name written in ancient Greek.

There was a curse from the monster in human skin, who immediately turned and power walked for the door, only for one of the two old men to shout, loud enough that I could hear them through the window:

"Boy, you don't need to run away in that rust bucket. We know you have something to do, just take your fill and let the lasses clean themselves."

The monster stopped, his shoulders tense, and then he looked at me.

His steel grey eyes made me almost not nod, but I did want a bit of freedom, and to clean up.

I nodded very, very fast, and put on my cap.

This time he closed his eyes, and he opened the door, letting the wet air around me into the rusty pick-up, and I jumped down.

I had been cramped there for hours, and the fear I was feeling didn't help.

The two men, both having rifles beside them, raised their hands and waved at us, or maybe at the monster some kind of military march on their radio, while I went to the bathroom.

It was…nicely cleaned. I expected worse, to be honest.

It also had many photos in it, for some reason. All of them were of different soldiers.

I didn't quite care, I needed to find my center again.

I washed my face, just under the smiling face of some soldier named Mark, and took a deep breath.

"Come on, Annabeth, you are the daughter of Athena. Thinking is your thing, along with remaining calm. Having people willing to go to all length is a good thing, if you can control them." I whispered to myself, my voice was low enough, I thought.

I hoped.

I remained there for minutes. I went to the WC. I tapped my feet, and my fingers, while making the breath exercise Luke had taught to me and Thalia.

I hear the sound of the rain starting to fall again, of the birds, of loud engines and tires stopping, and of far owls of animals and wind.

I Inhaled.

I wanted to smash things at my own impotence, but I couldn't do that.

I exhaled.

I would have to move soon. I had the cap, at least, and I would use it to go to the car.

I got out of the stall, only to hear several steps of people, heavy people, and a cocky laugh.

I had been in the bathroom for three minutes.

So now there were three big, black cars, those that I had seen in several photos were used by the secret services, with many glass-wearing men and women, pistols beside their hips, just in front of them, while the two old men were up and their backs ramrod straight.

The sensation they knew about me even while I was hidden under the cap was palpable.

And, leaning on the rusty pickup, there was a tall man, with his own sunglasses, a short beard, many small scars on his face that didn't make him less handsome in a roughish way, dressed in a biker get-up, a black shoulder bag strapped at his side.

And he had a big sword on his shoulder, almost as big as him, while he was speaking amicably with the two old men.

It wasn't Greek, but I was sure that this man, or more probably something more, was connected to us.

"So." His voice was as deep as war drums, and made me go ramrod straight, despite him not turning towards me, and me knowing I was: "The daughter of the hypocrite is finally here. Now, how about we start talking, son of the Blacksmith? You don't have much time, after all, don't you, so skulking around with a rat and a greenhorn shouldn't be something who I know has fought much would want."

His eyes were against the white-haired, darker-skinned, monster, who had the hand of one of the two old men, on his shoulder.

"Well, he is my littlest brother from what I heard." The wizened voice of the old man, an African American now that I looked more closely, with his grey hair, just slightly seeable under the hat, cut short and no beard on sight: "We always do fight more, and win more. Somewhat thanks to you, lord Ares."

I froze at that, surprised at the situation.

The god of War was here? How?

And why?

I took off my hat, after all the fool god had given away my position, and walked towards them.

I kept my head high, due to this god being one disliked by mother, but not too high to be seen as outward hubris, and walked quickly to not cause offense, but not too quickly to give away my fright.

This was a sensible, and annoying, charade that Chiron and the older children had to play, and was evaluated by Mister D.

If he turned you into an animal for an hour, that meant you had insulted him.

If he didn't look at you, that meant that you hadn't done enough and would probably be turned for longer for his amusement.

And this charade could be the line between life and death on a quest, if the god gave you a blessing.

"Lord Ares," make a small bow, and talk before the monster or Jackson can say or do anything, and don't use epithets, it's not the moment: "I am surprised to find you here, due to the situation ongoing that made us go on a quest."

The god didn't turn towards me, but grunted somewhat.

At least I had been acknowledged.

Keeping a courteous, but somewhat brief, tone I asked, my eyes not going to his to avoid any kind of confrontation:

"May I ask what you are doing here, lord Ares?"

He didn't turn towards me, but his smile became more cutting, showing all his teeth, while some kind of red light came from his eyes for but a moment: "Ah, finally you reached the good part."

He still doesn't turn, and I can see from my position that the smaller monster of the two didn't move, and that he had his stance open wide and ready to strike.

"I wanted to see something for myself, and see I did. Now I can understand how Medusa and a whole group of Slavs were massacred. They were weaklings, true, but the words of it are already going around, and it's oh so glorious to see in person."

The god of violent war's smile remained, and his eyes continued to remain firmly on the smaller monster in human skin, and continued to speak non-sense:

"I am sure that my sister wouldn't be able to see it. She isn't a soldier, after all, not truly, but I? You are something of an anomaly, so much of that."

There was a deep feeling of bloodlust around. Jackson was behind them both, her backpack open before her and her hands were in almost a guard position, same for her legs, while three of the sunglassed guards were watching her with their hands at the ready.

And the little monster wanted to fight him. I could see it.

I gulped, feeling lots and lots of sweat build up behind my back, and inside my hands, while the god continued:

"Now, just for that? I would give you my blessing for this little quest of yours, so it would be easier, maybe even some little sword or two, like what my little niece asked oh so nicely."

Then his sword came down, piercing the ground without a sound almost but the hair being cleaved, and he leaned on it:

"But now, now I don't think you really need it, do you? After all, blood clings to you like an old friend, and so does battle. It would be an insult, after all, wrought iron hero, wouldn't it?"

Two swords appeared in the hands of the little monster, for just a moment, but then he exhaled and didn't move.

The god barked a laugh, short, and then continued:

"Good self-control. Don't worry, I see why you would want to do what you want, and your own actions make you deserving of wanting to finally rest. But I want to see if you have passed a bit of that experience to your own…student, let's say."

Then he turned towards Jackson, his sword still at his side, his cryptic word something I couldn't understand, and asked, his tone almost jovial: "You are his student, aren't you, little forbidden child? Do you think you are good at that?"

Jackson just glared at him harder, and then with but a word her shield and her spear went out, and formed around her arms.

She twirled the spear a big and then glowered at the god, who was instead giving an appraising look at the weapons:

"Truly your father son, aren't you, hero? Or maybe it was before that, it could as well be with you." He nodded, his tone with a small bit of respect in his tone.

Heavily drowned by the savage smile, and the owls of the birds and the boars and the other animals around, like they were themselves in a frenzy, and the sound of the wind on the leaves and the branches.

It was the same respect of a killer grazed by his victim, before he plunged the knife.

"For you, instead, I see someone with so much potential, that squanders it because she is weak, Jackson." His tone is mocking, this time, openly, while he walks towards Jackson, his sword left near the little monster, who glares away from it: "I see a brat who is helpless in a big fight." He walked beside her, almost taunting her to hit him, while I could see her weapon hand becoming white for how much she was gripping the staff: "I see a weakling hiding behind someone strong." He then moved behind her, a whisper barely audible, while Jackson didn't turn towards him:

"And I see someone who will likely fail her own goal, right?"

"I will not!" She shouted, turning and moving the spear to pierce him through his chest, only for the god to bat aside the spear with the back of his left hand and then punch Jackson in the face, making her fly back ten feet.

Jackson landed painfully, but in a quick move she was able to get up and take a guard position.

Only for the god to laugh at her face, and then he widened his arms and shouted, his voice like many war drums beating all together, his smile almost maniacal, while taking up the bag he had beside him:

"Penelope Atalanta Jackson! Annabeth Chase! I formally beseech you to do a quest! Upon competition, I will know that you are worthy of my blessing, and I will give my own aid to this little quest! Go to the East, and never stop! You will encounter what is now insulting me, and destroy them!"

Shit.

Jackson was just standing there, almost growling at the god, while I was starting to reconsider my own chances of success.

Okay, it shouldn't have been something impossible, the monster was at least good, from what I had seen, at killing, sooo…

"I take you don't want me to be there." The voice was dry, and cold at the same time, and the god of slaughter and war smile widened even more, a red light almost coming from his eyes and around him:

"Absolutely not, hero." He answered back: "You are a known quantity. Now I want to see if your student and the daughter of the hypocrite are able to fight as well, and not just be a weight dragging down the only one useful."

In a moment he stopped smiling, the bloodlust around us, around me, became a far thought, and the sounds of birds and animals stopped being a thing.

An unnatural silence came down, the mortals standing at the ready, while the two old demigods looked somber.

The only sounds being the rain coming down around us, and afar some owls that I couldn't piece, and that I had heard since this morning, with the wind and the drops of water.

"If you aren't ready, then I need to find those who are."

It was barely a whisper, a lamentation, and for but a moment, the god of war seemed so weak for a moment.

Then that aura came back, that red mist I could see, and the sounds of nature against nature, and of far owls now being hidden, covered by them, while the god rose his hand and a Lambda appeared on Jackson's shield, its red light low and feeble.

"Now go! The hero will remain here, and will not be able to follow you to where you are! My symbol will show you the way!"

I sighed.

"Do we at least know who we are fighting against, Lord Ares?" Hopefully, hopefully, I would have an answer for that at the very least.

"Then it would not be a trial, no? Now go!" His tone was switching from maliciously amused to simply malicious, his smile now going down and the red mist around him becoming thicker.

I quickly marched beside Jackson, and, going towards the direction the god pointed, I physically dragged her, something that took a lot of strength due to the girl growling and dragging her feet and being, in summary, like an enormous German Shepherd who really wanted to protect, her face twisted into an angry mask, her teeth showing and her breath quick, while the red light on the shield became stronger.

And with "protect" I mean "biting your jugular off".

It took much silent prodding, and a lot of power, to make sure the powerhouse did move towards the direction, and then she started sprinting through the trees.

Fast at that.

"Damn it, Jackson! Slow down!" I had my hand beside me, ready over my knife, while I could feel my throat becoming tighter and tighter while the second coming of Atalanta ran between the trees, avoiding them or using them to run even faster, the rain around her ankles solidifying, while the mist around her started to become thicker and thicker.

Was she losing control?

I didn't know, at the time, exactly how Mist worked. Hecate's children usually didn't stay around the camp, due to our own shortcomings, and so my own education on magic came from Chiron.

Now imagine my own surprise when Jackson came back to me, and got behind my back, spear at the ready and shield rose, the silver used to make them glowing like the moon, while the red light became like a lighthouse.

And then many owls, like wolves and other beasts, were heard.

Oh, this is where the "quest" was, wasn't it?

Well, at least it wasn't far.

Then, from the mist, we could hear those owls, and strange upright figures from which those owls came from.

It was also too close to where we shouldn't be.

This wasn't wise, at all.

When the first one of the humanoid came forward, looking more like a corpse with the head of a dog, full of vermins crawling as well, I hit instinctively Jackson's back with my own, raising my knife, the only thing I said before the fight was:

"This isn't wise at all."

AN

All right, as I said at the start three things:

I started a poll on pa tre on for any member, be it free or paying, to add another layer of donors lower than the others, please do check it out if you are interested

I will start the exam session for university, meaning that while I am 75% sure I will be able to give out a chapter a week of my two fics, I cannot be as sure (due to also having some problems before outside of study). I will try, though, don't worry.

I asked a friend of mine, who also write fanfiction, HoJ Roxas (please do visit him), if I could put an invite for his Discord server so you could join. I did so because I prefer larger communities, and he has a more sociable hand than me. He accepted.

discord.

gg/invite/AP6xKzZXgU (join the two parts of the link)

The above is the link for the server. Hopefully it works, if not, or if you prefer copy paste, I will put it both in the profile and on Pa Tre On.

P a treon . com (slash) Manram

Ko-fi . com (slash) manram

Here are the links for the two sites for donations, and please review, follow and favourite.

Have a good week and (hopefully) we will see again with Sword of the Imperium next week.