Challenge: CHB: Capture the Flag Tournament

Round: Six - Spinning and Spinning

Cabin and Team: Apollo - Team Blue

Prompt: The Kane Chronicles - write about siblings.

Bonus Prompts: [object] hairpin, [platonic pairing] Nico and Bianca di Angelo, [word] everything

Summary: A misaimed shadow travelling incident led to a conversation Nico did not expect to have with a goddess from halfway across the world. Ft. Chinese mythology.

Word Count: 1192

I Loved and I Loved and I Lost You

I got the go-to from the mods that I can use Chinese mythology, which makes my life a whole lot easier and gives more freedom for writing, so thanks for the looser restrictions - as I mentioned in Ask the Mods, I haven't read TKC or MCGA yet, but that's a discussion for another day.

Ironically enough, I wrote all three big prompts - siblings, losing a parent, and regaining something one used to have. Ha.

CW: Self-deprecation, past character death, mentioned emotional abuse and suicidal thoughts, and inaccurate versions of myths (I can't use the accurate version because this is supposed to be canon-complaint). Oh, and internalized homophobia, how could I forget that? And note that all choppy English is intentional, so please do not come at me.

The place where Nico woke up appeared to be some crowded street corner, just under the shade of a store's awning. The last thing he remembered was plunging out of the shadows and into some pond, and a few teenagers halting a conversation complaining about hypocrites to glance in the direction of his collapsing into a lily pad. And now, instead of his usual all-black ensemble, he was wearing a dark blue shirt with some sort of white and red emblem on it.

He had snuck into his father's office in search for knowledge about his past. He had just found a drawer labelled 'MdA' on the bottom of his desk, as he heard footsteps approach the room, he took the first token he could get his hands on from the drawer and then disappeared into the shadow of the desk chair. Said token happened to be… a golden hairpin shaped like a laurel wreath. He pointed it at the first humanoid figure he could see in his peripheral vision, who happened to be a blonde girl with a black streak in her hair and earbuds in her, well, ears. She just stared, blinking, then sidestepped him, muttering about a "Crazy McCrazy kid pointing hairpins at random people in the street".

"Ah, you have woken up," an old woman greeted. "You came out of the shadows. Because your shirt was wet, I changed it."

"Thank you. Children of Hades like me can do that. Shadow travelling, I mean," he clarified.

"Mm, Hades." She pronounced the name like it was foreign on her tongue. "I have not heard from your Underworld in many years. I am called Grandmother Meng. You are a Westerner, are you not?" She pronounced 'Meng' like 'mung'.

"Yeah. I shadow-travelled from the US, but… I don't know where exactly I was born." He stowed the hairpin into the pocket of his aviator jacket.

The old woman scrutinized him for a moment - yeah, it wasn't very normal for people to not even know where they were from. Just one of many things that set him apart from everyone else. Then she nodded. He wondered if she was plotting something sinister.

"I feel that there is something… troubling you. What is it?"

He looked around. They were standing in a pedestrian walkway by a bridge, with old Chinese(?) buildings lining both sides of the street, but what made the situation so different was that instead of an asphalt road for cars in between, it was a canal with willow trees on the side. Nico's mind jolted to… a city similar yet different (the architecture was definitely different), familiar but the memory seemed blurred, as though he had only passed by the place on a high-speed train.

"I… I think I remember something now. A city… we? They… had canals too…"

"You do not remember," Grandmother Meng said. Her hand drifted to the thermos hanging at her side like a tiny messenger bag, then shifted it backwards. She muttered something under her breath in Chinese. "And yet your mind is clouded with grief and regret."

"What? How did you…"

"I lost my husband to a tyrant, and have grieved for over two thousand years. I know how to recognize mortal sorrows. You too lost loved ones, haven't you?"

It isn't possible for anyone to live two thousand years, unless… two options. One, that strange hotel in Las Vegas. Two… she mentioned 'mortal' sorrows… "You're a goddess. Which card is it… Old Lady Meng, 400 attack power, forces all players to discard a card on hand."

Grandmother Meng smiled. "Clever boy."

Nico didn't tell her everything. Of course he didn't, there were parts of him that he swore to never tell a soul again, mortal or otherwise. But he did tell… more than he thought he would. So much about Bianca, her courage, her intelligence, her protectiveness when the kids at that school threw mocking jabs and sometimes worse at him. Even if he did bid her farewell after the Battle of the Labyrinth, he often thought whether or not turning down the chance to bring her back to life was a bad idea. (After all, if their father kept on saying that he'd rather she lived instead, maybe it was a mistake not to exchange his own soul for hers…) And then there was his mother, who he remembered next to nothing about. Hell, he hadn't even remembered what she looked like until that time they went on a quest for Persephone and encountered Melinoe. The only things he knew about her was what she looked like, her name started with the letter M, and that she used to own the hairpin he had in his pocket. All the other times he even saw the goddess of ghosts (bringer of nightmares and madness), she… looked like Bianca.

"That is… all of your family, isn't it? Other than your father with his not-very-good reputation." He nodded.

"Your sister's death is not your fault. You did not raise the automaton against her - it was beyond your control. It's okay to still be sad - our children are supposed to mourn for three years when their parents… pass away, and your sister clearly took good care of you." He gave a tentative nod - he wasn't sure how much he believed it, since he was the one who harped about Mythomagic so much that it drove her to leave - both times.

"Also, your mother. I think you are very admirable to seek out the truth - normally, I am not happy that people sneak past me when they are reborn, but you lost your memory before it was your time to go. You deserve it." At this rate, he didn't even know what he should say.

"You know, there is a species of bird called jian that has one eye and one wing. But when they find their other half, they are inseparable. Dependent on each other. This is why we use them to represent married couples," Grandmother Meng casually mentioned.

"Plato said something like that too," Nico said miserably. "Two-headed humans separated into man and woman halves and they spend their lives searching for their other half."

Grandmother Meng smiled as though she knew something he didn't, which he didn't like.

"I know that you'll find your other half one day. But maybe I am not the best god or goddess for you to consult this with," Grandmother Meng replied. "I would suggest that you visit the Rabbit God in his shrine across the strait, but I hear you now have a war to fight in the West - the rumours travel fast between the many pantheons of this world. I wish you good luck. You Westerners have a lot of influence in the world now, so even our Eastern fates hang in the balance. So please, do not lose this war - the world cannot handle it if you lose."

And with that on his mind, he slipped into the shadows under the awning again, knowing that he had to convince Percy to agree to his plan, if the fate of the entire world rested on his shoulders.

Involved Myths

Meng Po (孟婆, lit. Grandmother Meng): Chinese Underworld goddess of forgetfulness who collects herbs from streams and ponds on Earth to make a Soup of Oblivion, which is served to reincarnating souls so that they do not remember their previous lives. Chosen because of in-universe foreshadowing and parallels. Her true identity is suggested by some to be Lady Meng Jiang, a woman whose husband died building the Great Wall and whom she grieved so much that she was unable to reincarnate and even caused a section of the Wall to collapse from her weeping. Suggested by my friend Arrows, so thanks for that. I also modernized her a bit, for the purposes of this fic and the urban setting.

Jiān (鶼): a mythical one-eyed bird with one wing; Jianjian (鶼鶼): a pair of such birds dependent on each other, inseparable, hence "representing husband and wife". Some interpretations specify that the birds are a male-female pair, but the original in classical Chinese only state that they are a pair of birds, with gender going unmentioned. Their appearance signifies the coming of a great flood, but you know, most people aren't as concerned about this part.

The Rabbit God (Tu'er Shen / 兔兒神): The god of same-gender romance, who takes the form of a rabbit, mainly worshipped in Fujian and Taiwan (i.e. across the Taiwan Strait).

So, this fic is another rushed one, and it also happens to feature some of my friends from the ToA discord, though we barely show up here. And the random girl is an OC of star_madilo on Discord, so this part is just giving her credit.

For anyone wondering about the golden hairpin, its backstory can be found in my first fic for this tournament - Undesirables. It seemed fitting to have the motif appear in both the first and last fic I write for the contest.

Anyway, this fic is supposed to take place in Suzhou. The landing spot was in one of the Classical Gardens and the main conversation was supposed to take place on/near Pingjiang Road. The new T-shirt is also modelled on the former flag of Suzhou. Suzhou's first sister city was Venice (1980), which makes for some great comparison, and both cities have rich histories too. (It took me a while to decide on the location, but I ultimately decided on some parallels.) Sadly, I have personally never been to Suzhou, so everything I'm writing here might be a tad inaccurate and I'm relying on Google as well.

I didn't know what I was doing half the time I was writing this, because writing the bulk of this was the most difficult thing I have done all week, I swear. But I still hope you enjoyed this!