Challenge: CHB: Capture the Flag Tournament

Round: Three - Line By Line

Cabin and Team: Apollo - Team Blue

Prompt: You shall rise or fall by the Ghost King's hand

Bonus Prompts: [emotion] temptation, [emotion] exhaustion, [colour] lilac purple

Summary: His Mythomagic cards all went up in flames — he didn't need those cards mocking him, whispering his faults and his past transgressions in his face. But in the end, he would much rather starve alone in the Labyrinth than return to Camp Half-Blood or any of their denizens again to face the music.

Word Count: 2785

No Way Out (of This Dark Place)

Rather than focusing on "rise and fall", I decided to take a closer look at the subject of the prophecy line instead.

This fanfiction is a continuation of Arrivederci and If Today Was Your Last Day, but it is not necessary to read those before this fic. All recognizable text and all characters belong to Rick Riordan - I own absolutely nothing, why would I? Also, I'm probably going to cry writing this.

CW: Mentions of death, suicidal thoughts, child abuse/manipulation, grief/loss, angst galore, misplaced blame, internalized homophobia… basically all the cards I can pull, plus one (1) non-English slur I have decided not to translate. Also, to some of my readers — you might cry reading this too.

It started with a dream — no, a nightmare.

Muffled screams and frantic mental apologies and searing bronze and suffocating darkness haunted his dreams for nights — each time, he would awaken to pounding heartbeat and sweat in the Hermes Cabin, curled up in a lilac purple sleeping bag. Every day, he tried to focus on the daytime activities, like Pegasus riding (it was a bit off-putting when they shied away from him every time he approached them) and sword-fighting (his bronze sword was standard issue — not as cool as Percy's but still pretty cool now that he could now fight the monsters in his Mythomagic cards); but by the time the lights had dimmed and the Campers had all gone to bed, horrifying visions appeared in front of his closed eyes — a bit like those fancy 'screens' in the Lotus Hotel and Casino, except… more muted.

Friday night was the Winter Solstice. He played Capture the Flag with the rest of the Hermes Cabin, and managed to barrel down his sunny friend (who did quite resemble his father) from behind (they just said no maiming, not no ambushing) and drag him to their team prison (since the Hermes and Apollo Cabins were playing on different sides this time).

This time in his sleep, instead of replaying those haunting scenes at the forefront of his mind, was a different… vision?

"This way, Princess. This way to Judgement."

"What do you mean, Judgement?"

"You're Lord Hades' daughter, honey. Some call it nepotism, but you can get your sentencing early Boss's privileges." Then came the strange sensation of being lifted into the air and… flying?

Once again, he woke up before the sun even peeked over the horizon — or should he say, Apollo flew over Camp in his crazy car? He didn't even know anymore. The Stoll brothers had already left the Cabin, which was strange, because they never woke up early often, unless they were planning a prank… which they already had, two days ago, when they put lumps of torn-up brown toilet paper rolls in the camp bathrooms as though someone had taken a dump outside the potty, and covered all the Ares soap bars in clear nail polish which they had borrowed from the Aphrodite Cabin.

Then Percy returned to Camp, and confirmed his worst fears. "Where's my sister?" he had asked, looking around the pool of questers. Where's Bianca? She came back from the quest… didn't she? She promised she'd be back… Percy promised she would be back…

The boy with the pretty sea-green eyes (which somehow evoked the feeling of home) told them that they needed to talk, and he did, and the only thing he could take from the conversation was Bianca is dead, she broke her promise, Percy broke his promise, where am I going to go and what am I going to do after this… then Percy brought out exactly what had prompted his sister to pull such a… stupid move.

The last Mythomagic figurine. Of Hades.

"Lord Hades' daughter…"

Dear gods.

She died… getting him the last figurine to complete his collection.

My fault.

His fault — he didn't stop her.

I don't even know anymore.

"You promised you would protect her."

His anchor was gone.

The one who would comfort him in the storm and speak encouraging words every time he wanted to cry.

The only one he could trust… after Bianca… was the one who facilitated her death.

He couldn't—

"Nico, I tried. But Bianca gave herself up to save the rest of us. I told her not to. But she—"

"You promised!" He looked at Percy dead in the eyes — those (pretty) eyes (reminding him of a home he hadn't returned to in months? Years?) that looked at his sister and let her go into that giant automaton, to fizz and pop and crash and burn and he could smell the stench of sizzling flesh and he was screaming—

"I shouldn't have trusted you. You lied to me. My nightmares were right!"

"Wait, what nightmares?"

The metal figurine landed on the marble floor with a clatter. It's because of this thing, it's because my dreams came true and the world turned out to be more sinister than I initially thought and I paid the price for being so stupid

"She might be alive. I don't know for sure—"

"I hate you!"

Then it all became a blur from there — the clicking of bones, shouting, flames, the roar of power, the crashing of metal blades meeting, the rumbling in the earth — but the only thing on his mind was (Ƚàsime in paxe! (leave me alone)) to run, run far away from Camp Half-Blood, where he didn't have to look at Percy again and didn't have to be constantly reminded of how his own ignorance and obsession had got his sister killed—

By the time he had come to his senses again, he was in a dark, underground room held up by pillars. He had no idea where he was. He had no food. He even left his sword back at the Hermes Cabin, when he ventured out without bringing a weapon, and so was his pretty lilac sleeping bag. But the only thing he knew was that he couldn't go back to Camp Half-Blood, as long as he could help it.



Condemned to be an outcast.

Just like his father before him.

His dreams that night was haunted by memories and mocking voices, and the next morning, or later that afternoon or evening or night (he didn't know for sure, this maze had no exposure to sunlight or calendar), he woke up, once again, curled into a ball on the cold, hard floor. And when a giant black-feathered owl with a shiny golden beak flapped down the corridor and nearly tried to rip his head off (are owls supposed to have tongues?), he swore to never cry again.

I should have gone on that quest instead.

If I went, then Bianca wouldn't have to go.

And if I didn't come back, she would have… all those new sistersto help get over it. And she'd forget me.

Also, really, why would anyone want to remember a defective little… cułatonlike me?

He had changed out of the bright orange shirt for a black one — after the last time he had to crush stalactites over the empousa that he encountered in the hallways and tried to kiss him (eww!), he thought it was probably a better idea to wear dark clothes that allowed him to blend into the darkness rather than stand out like a beacon.

She chose to join the Hunt… because she didn't want me around anymore.

My fault.

Always my—

"Khaíre." (Hello — Ancient Greek)

He raised his hands into a defensive position, head spinning around so quickly that he was dizzy for a moment. There was a man in front of him, with a spear-like beard, cold eyes and circlet around his head. Un spirito (a ghost).

"My name is King Minos. What happened to you, young son of Hades?"

He was the first person (kind of, at least) to reach out to him in… what was it? Hours? Days? Months? Years? So he couldn't resist. He spilled his heart out.

"I see… I can help bring your sister back, in exchange for helping me do one simple task."

What would he do to get Bianca back? Anything. Maybe then his life wouldn't be so turbulent and everything could go back to normal and maybe this dream that turned into a nightmare would end—

"What task?"

"Tracking down Daedalus, the old inventor. It has been thousands of years since he was born, yet he still walks this Labyrinth, this Earth, by unnatural means."

An inkling in his mind knew that he was similar to the old inventor in some way (but to a less drastic extent), but he quickly forgot what it was, though the word unnatural lingered at the back of his mind.

"The system works as such — a soul for a soul. If you help me track down the soul of the old inventor, you can use his soul to exchange for your sister's — Bianca's, am I correct?"

The offer was far too tempting to turn down. Anything.

", I accept this offer."

There were some days where he ventured to the surface world.

Sometimes, he would sneak into a McDonald's and purchase Happy Meals, seeking the dead for advice. Minos kept on ranting about how he used to use animal blood and guts back in his day, but he refused on the account of that being incredibly disrespectful… and that a homeless gremlin wandering around a butcher's shop and buying animal innards would probably mean he'd get the police called on him. (A strange gut feeling kept him from ever trusting a government-mandated law-enforcer… the phrase Camicia Nera popped up in his mind for a moment, but slipped away before he could recall it again.)

During the nights, he would wander to the nearest graveyard and dump about 90% of the purchased food and drink into a hole (Minos insisted — very forcefully at that — he use his powers to make the hole, which he supposed was the quicker and more efficient way of doing so, instead of digging into the soil with his bare hands), then call the ghosts and spirits to guide him. There were a few times when he collapsed into the pit with the Coke and chicken nuggets and ended up sleeping there for gods-know-how-long, but it wasn't like he had much of a choice in the matter — summoning the dead tired him out so much.

Those nights were the worst. Being buried deep in still-warm fast food was barely comfortable, but what made it so bad was that he would fall back into the desert or the snowy dining pavilion of Camp Half-Blood in his sleep and every time he collapsed into the bubbling sodas, the only thing he could remember was drowning in his obsessions which only lead to a heart shattering too many times over just the course of a week.

There were nights where he tried to summon Bianca. Too many nights. But not once did she appear — he was starting to forget what her voice sounded like.

On the days when he wasn't wandering the hallowed hallways deep underground or summoning spirits from the Underworld for advice, he wandered the streets of New York or Los Angeles or Phoenix or wherever the mysterious maze took him. Most people turned a blind eye, as though no one noticed a tiny, malnourished child biting back from the cold and slumbering in alleyways and on closed doorsteps. Several times, monsters tried to drag him from where he was staying (for lack of a better word) and teenagers in mismatched armour pieces confronted him about joining the Titan side of the war (well, if Percy was fighting against the Titans… and seriously, why did they want him anyway?). Then there were the 'lucky' days when he stumbled across an adult demigod living in the mortal world, or the household of a non-year-round Camper, but after the times he was chased out of cafes and off porches with assorted celestial bronze weapons when he revealed his parentage — to children of not just 'weaker' minor gods but a few major Olympians as well, he learnt better than to trust anyone.

It was just not worth it.

Why bother hanging around with them when they didn't even want you around?

As the days and nights blurred away, he ventured into the mortal side of the world fewer and fewer times, and started spending more of his time in the Underworld.

He found the Door of Orpheus while roaming Central Park one warm night — he assumed it might be April, give or take a month. He was humming a strange march song that he didn't know he knew (probably from the childhood years he never knew), when an opening creaked between the rocks and Minos directed him, "That is the Door of Orpheus. It is an entrance to the Underworld. It is your birthright. Go in, young master."

The tunnel created from the tune was cramped and steep and slippery, as though someone was trying to create an slip-and-slide along a mountain-side but lacked the materials to do so. He nearly lost his footing a few times, but after perhaps an hour or two or how would I know, the tunnel opened up to a bed of black sand at the base of a cliff, with a dark, murky river rushing to the right of the tunnel. The waters of the Styx were littered with ripped-up diplomas, broken toys and notebooks of ideas that never came into fruition, and as he approached and gazed into the darkness, the rippling images of a familiar girl with a green hat appeared on the surface of the water. Bianca? Is that… really… you?

He was mere millimetres away from touching river surface — like seeing her image more clearly would put him back together and fix all of life's problems — when a cold voice whispered, "Don't do that."

He jerked backwards and fell over on his backside.

The obsidian-coloured gown of the woman (goddess?) billowed from behind her as she rose from the depths of the river. "You'll dissolve into the waters. Unless, of course, you have the blessing of your mother and a focal point to recall you back to humanity. You do know the story of Achilles and his heel, don't you, young demigod?"

The Ancient Heroes expansion pack swam to the forefront of his mind, but he pushed it away. ", I do. My apologies, I… wasn't thinking clearly." Nor was he thinking clearly now, as the Curse of Achilles required the blessing of the mother — Thetis, in Achilles' case, but… well, he didn't even know who his mother was. No mother, lost sister, and an estranged father who he knew he wasn't going go near anytime soon.

The goddess gave him a sharp look. "A legacy of my most prominent daughter, I see, and tethered to her by name too. Just remember to think carefully before venturing so close to my river again, whether you are swearing an oath in my name or approaching in person, as you just did." Then she disappeared into the rapids of the Styx, leaving him to question what a legacy even was, and what he was doing here… and whether or not throwing himself into the Styx was a good option.

After the timely encounter with Styx, Minos convinced him to forge his own sword, especially after the many encounters with monsters and demigods alike. A Stygian iron kopis about 90cm long (once again, Minos complained that he should have made a xiphos instead, but he was feeling like distancing himself from Percy freaking Jackson when he made the thing) was now strapped to his side as he moved from town to town, curling up in graveyards and corners of Labyrinth corridors whenever he tired out, which was surprisingly often, or using his powers really was that draining.

Occasionally, he managed to summon the odd demigod to talk to. Once, a boy with a strange tattoo of eight lines and a pile of something with three squiggly lines on his left arm appeared and talked about being ostracized by his peers because of his body odour, courtesy of his godly parent. Another time, it was a girl called Letitia with a tragic mask necklace and a xiphos strapped across the back of her 1880s gown, who told him to watch out for his fatal flaw, for it would lead to his doom. (Real cheery stuff, that was.)

There was also once when he summoned the skeleton of a kitten which nestled into his hair and purred like it felt comfortable in that mess. On some days, he swore that cat was what kept him sane — but by the time the skeletal kitten disappeared back into the earth, he had no more tears left to cry.

His Mythomagic cards all went up in flames — he didn't need those cards mocking him, whispering his faults and his past transgressions in his face. But in the end, he would much rather starve alone in the Labyrinth than return to Camp Half-Blood or any of their denizens again to face the music.

Then he stumbled into the Triple G Ranch for advice, and after months of avoidance, his past had finally caught up with him.

How can anyone make a literal child endure all of this… and more? Anyway, I hope this evoked feels in you… because it broke my heart writing this. In fact, I copied and pasted part of this because I hated to type some of this schist myself.

The giants owls are in fact, strixes, as in those from the beginning chapters of The Burning Maze (not necessarily the same birds but you know, same species). They are a part of Roman mythology (and if you've read my other fic Undesirables, you can see that I headcanon this family to have Roman divine blood somewhere up the family tree).

The first demigod mentioned would be a son of Sterquilinus, god of fertilizer/manure, and I call him George. Letitia would be a daughter of Melpomene, Muse of tragedy… maybe I'll write a historical fic about her one day.

Main Dates of Writing: 26 & 30 June, 1-2 July 2020 (I wrote this instead of studying)

Editing: 4 July 2020

Date of Posting: 4 July 2020