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What Was Once the Kingdom of Fire

Chapter Text

Leo Valdez walked into the ballroom, his mothers hand on his shoulder.

The cavernous room was extravagant, with white polished floors, creme walls, and gold and dark red fixtures and designs. In the middle of the wide expanse of the ceiling hung a gold chandelier that held little candles, sending the light playing around the slightly dim room. It had a warm feeling to it. Regal, but warm.

People wearing swooping dresses waltzed around the room with men in embroided tuxedos. Piano was being played in the background, and the light sound of chatter drifted across the space. Guards in imperial uniforms were stationed around the perimeter of the room, not out of place and blending in easily.

Leo knew a number of the guards personally, and he actually had one walking beside him right now. His personal bodyguard, who usually accompanied him to events of such nature, Beckendorf. They were close enough to be family, and it seemed like he was always there. He was tall but muscular, and did his job fairly well if Leo could say himself. Once they were attending a charity event when a guy had grabbed Leo's arm from behind them and yanked him back. The prince barely had time to yelp before Beckendorf had the man pinned to the ground. He was that good.

As soon as they entered, the chatter picked up a bit, and then dwindled. He saw eyes on him, and raised his chin.

He looked up at his mom when she squeezed his shoulder. She was beautiful. Queen Esperanza. Her curls were half up, pulled out of her face and cascading down her back. She was wearing a crimson gown, which billowed and flowed out of her corset. It complemented the Latina's skin tone perfectly. A delicate, gleaming gold crown rested on her curls, and she smiled down at him before turning forwards the king. His dad.

Hephaestus was a burly man, with a thick brown beard. He was like man meets lumberjack meets king. His thick, calloused hand gently went to the the small of Esperanza's back, and they made their way towards a throng of nobles, the little prince trailing.

He wished the Family of Caelum was here. Jason came enough were they were beginning to become close acquaintances, and he was bored. It was common for royals from other kingdoms to travel to and from, dealing with foreign relations. Especially those from Caelum, as they were taking part in a vital business deal. But, he was on his own for tonight. He drifted around the edge of the room, Beckendorf''s hand on his shoulder, being bowed and curtsied to by nobles that he's never met before.

His mouth was starting to hurt by the time his mother met him, indicating that they could go. "You're Father's just going to finish up some things here, but we can go."

Nodding, Leo followed her out of the ball room, leaving the crowd of people behind and entering empty, echoing hallways. Esperanza's dress trailed behind her as she ruffled Leo's curls, smiling. "It's late. What about we finish that book, my lion?"

The prince looked up at her, smiling. "Please. My face hurts”. She laughed, shaking her head and staring down at him, her eyes gleaming.

They make their way to the royal wing of the palace/castle, and go through big, wooden French doors, and step into a large, cozy library. It had maroon walls lined in wood, wooden bookshelves, and a big fireplace. It was one of the few places of this whole castle that wasn't technically advanced. And they loved it.

Every night, Leo and his mom came here and read, going through book after book. Beckendorf stationed himself outside in the hallway, nodding, and they closed the doors behind them, Leo making his way to the couches. Esperanza grabbed the book and settled down next to Leo, pulling the little boy close. He sunk into her dress and leaned into her, closing his eyes as she opened the worn book. It was always around now that he seemed to crash, his mass amounts of energy suddenly dwindling. He listened as his mother read, starting to drift off.

And then there was a loud clang. And the screaming of guards. Leo felt his mom stiffen, and then blinked blearily, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

Esperanza was alert, standing up and grabbing Leo, pushing him behind her. They could hear screaming coming from outside the doors, and the princes heart sped up, unsettled. The door opened, and Leo jumped-he couldn't help it. "What's going on?" Esperanza demanded, stepping forward.

"We need to go. Now, My Lady”. Beckendorf said urgently, striding into the room. The queen's grip tightened on her sons hand. "What. Is going on”. She went to continue, but faltered when she saw smoke starting to collect outside of the hallway.

Letting go of Leo's hand, she sped walked to the door and peered into the hallway. She stiffened and froze, her back straightening. "Your Majesty-"

"Hephaestus. I need to get Hephaestus”.

"You can't-"

"Take Leo. Get him out of here”. Said boy was freaking out. He quickly ran out the door before either could protest, and stopped dead once he got in the hallway. A fire was billowing from the end of the hallway, leading out of the royal suite.

It was growing, eating and devouring at anything it could get a hold of. His heart stopped. His mom mentioned Hephaestus-his dad. His dad was that way. He made a move to run forward, to find his dad, do something, when his mom caught his arm.

Firmly, she took him and turned him towards her. "I need you," she started, "to go with Beckendorf”.

“But-" Both her son and the guard protested.

"I need," she said shakily, "to find your dad. I can't leave him”.

"Momma," Leo was about to cry, realizing what she was saying.

"I need you to be brave, my little lion. I need you to go with Beckendorf, and be safe. I love you. Te amo, mijo. So so much”. A tear ran down her face, and she bent down, hugged him, and then kissed his forehead. Leo was shaking, being rocked by sobs.

"No, you can't-" He wouldn't let go of her. She looked Beckendorf in the eyes.

"Take him. Go”.

He bowed his head, and complied. He had to tear the little boy away, who was now kicking and screaming and bawling.

Esperanza gave one last long look, and then turned towards the flames.

"NO!!!!" Leo was hysterical. Beckendorf hitched him over his shoulder and ran down the hallway in the opposite direction, his arm on Leo's back.

That was the last time that Leo Valdez saw his mother.

Chapter Text

Leo walked across the stone bridge, Beckendorf's hand on his shoulder.

It was a bright, cloudless day, and the blue water beneath them churned. He could hear people talking, the chatter from the lively market place they left behind them. This always has been a happy domain.

However, the prince was not paying any heed to the birds flying past him. He focused on taking deep breathes, keeping his chin high and shaking out his arms.

It felt like the butterflies in his stomach worked their way through his chest and were about to force their way out of his throat, and his nerves were causing pent up energy. He had to focus on long strides, denying himself the want to take off running.

They neared the gate, and slowed to a halt. Beckendorf squeezed his shoulder and continued looking forward. Shortly the gates swung open, and they were greeted by two guards. One nodded at them, and they were escorted through an open courtyard surrounded by a cobblestone wall.

The grass was trimmed, and there were people bustling around. Hay was being loaded into the back of a topless wooden wagon, loaves of bread were being carried, horses were being led, people were playfully sparring. A lot was happening.

They walked through it all, and approached the giant wooden doors that led into the castle. The doors are opened, and they step through into the spacious area. It's an open hall, with rugs and torches. Blue and grey tapestries depicting oceans, with whales and and fish and waves, were hung on stone walls.

Leo starts to unconsciously fidget, forgetting his image. The two boys are led into the throne room, and his breath catches when he enters. There, sitting on the throne, is Poseidon. King of Mare. The Kingdom of the Sea. Blue green eyes popped against freckled, tanned skin, and he held his own air of regality.

Holding his hand beside him, on a throne of equal size, sat the queen. She had light brown hair that cascaded down her back, and was wearing a long, light green dress.

Off to the side, a child not much older then Leo stood idly, messing with a the cuffs of the navy shirt that sat under a silver vest. He had wild black hair that curled behind his ears, eyes that sparkled, and sun kissed cheeks.

Upon entering, Leo noticed that all of their eyes were on him. He paused, and took a deep, shaky breath that he was all to well aware of being noticeable. He straightened up. They all held kindness in their eyes, with the boy looking mostly curious.

Beckendorf kneeled, and Leo did the same, putting his hand across his chest and dropping his head. His curls fell in front of his eyes, and he waited to be relieved. However, he heard heels echoing on marble, and looked up to a gentle hand on his cheek. "You need not kneel".

The queen stood before him, looking down. And so he bowed his head once again, and stood. The king was watching him more intently now.

Beckendorf spoke. "We are forever greatful for for your kindness, and will do what is necessary to repay you". The king nodded, mirth in his eyes. Hair stuck out of his crown.

"That will not be necessary”. He looked at Leo, and stood from his throne. He strode next to his wife and stopped, putting out his hand. Leo took it with a strong grip like his father had taught him, and shook it. "A pleasure to make this aquataince, Leonadas Valdez". The king bowed his head slightly.

"Likewise," the boy replied doing the same. They stood there for a second, staring at each other, and then the man laughed, pulling Leo into a hug. Leo froze, stiff, expecting anything but that.

"Welcome," he said warmly, and pulled away, holding Leo by the shoulders. His grin dimmed. "My deepest condolences". Leo nodded stiffly, and looked to the side.

After a solemn moment, he turned to Beckendorf, stuck out his hand and smiled. "I hope that you find your position here satisfactory". Beckendorf laughed. "I'm sure it will be, sir". The king nodded, and turned to his wife. She stepped forward, and squatted down with all the elegance of a queen. "It's nice to see you again, dear," she said, taking his hand gently a squeezing it. He forced a small smile at her.

She smiled back knowingly and stood, brushing her dress off. "And this is Percy. I believe you've met". "A few times," Leo replies, taking a shaky step forward. The older boy stepped forward as well and stuck out his hand, giving him a lopsided grin.

Leo caught the caution in his eyes.

"What's up?" He asked, shaking Leo's hand. Leo shrugged and gave him a small smile that probably looked more like a grimace. He took a step back after Percy released his hand. Beckendorf put a hand back on his shoulder.

"Would you like to be shown to your quarters?" They looked at the queen, and Leo nodded. He tried to control his shaky breathing and pushed past the water that was threatening to spill from his eyes. He. Will. Not. Cry. The king smiled at him, and turned and said something to his son. They followed the queen out of the room, through halls, and into his room. "I'll leave you to get settled. As soon as your ready, there's a guard outside that can show you your way to the dining hall”. They both nodded, and she smiled and exited the room.

As soon as they were alone, Leo turned towards Beckendorf and buried his face in his stomach. Beckendorf rapped his arms around the boy's shoulders and squeezed, holding him tightly as he started to shake.

Chapter Text

Leo strolled into the throne room, his sword swinging lazily in his hand. Outside, it was bright, and hot, and chaotic, and the atmosphere carried on into the castle. Cooks were rushing around, banners were being strung, and rugs were being unrolled as the royal staff prepared for the summer solstice.

Leo loved this time of year.

The chaos was muffled by the big doors closing behind him as Leo stepped in, and he was met with quiet conversation. A group of familiar faces surrounded a wooden table unfolded in front of the thrones, and Leo started towards them. Sunlight streamed in, and with the windows swung open, a cross breeze ruffled the papers on the wood.

His dad was mid conversation, leaned over the table and pointing at something that Leo couldn’t make out. Percy was umong the group as well, easily now the same height as the taller parties and looking at whatever the king was pointing to. He had both his hands braced in the table, and was worrying his lip between his teeth. Leo saddled up beside him and bumped him with his shoulder. “Something wrong?”

His brother looked down at him, and shook his head. There was a crease between his sea green eyes. “The increase in creature activity spiked yesterday. All across the board”.

“Every kingdom?”

Percy nodded, eyes sharp.

Leo hummed, and turned the paper to face him. His father glanced at him and sent him a small smile, and then turned to their general. While examining the paper in front of him, Leo spoke without looking up. “I’m assuming the planning for tonight has been taken care of?”

“It has been, sir,” spoke the man next to him. Leo glanced up, and nodded.

He returned to the parchment, and furrowed his eyebrows. “This is...odd. And slightly concerning”.

Percy nodded, and shuffled through more sighting reported. “Yeah. If you’re wondering if it’s safe to celebrate Solstice tonight, you’re not the only one”.

He glanced towards his father, and sighed.

“Mom took Es to get breakfast a while ago, they should be back sometime soon”.

“Ok,” he paused, hands stilling for a moment as he thought. Distantly, he took in the light bouncing off of the golden ringlet fit snuggly on Percy’s head, similar to the one both he and Estelle bore. After staring intently into the distance for longer than he should have needed, he finally found the thought he wanted, and snapped towards Percy.

“Has the mail been delivered yet?”

Percy shook his head, and a corner of his mouth lifted. “Why, are you expecting something from your boooyfr-oof”.

He stumbled back from where his brother had shoved him, and shot him a grin.

“Along with twenty other people, shut up”.

Percy stuck his tongue out.

The people in the room didn’t even give a second glance to the interaction.

They continued to bicker, with occasional lulls of paperwork, until the carved doors opened, and two women walked in.

Well, a women, and a four year old.

Sally and a giggling Estelle entered, hand in hand.

The little girl had flushed cheeks and freckled, sunkissed skin. A flower was tucked into her ear, adorning her untamable light brown hair which she enherited from her mother. She had a slight skip to her step, and leather sandles on her feet.

His sister smiled at him, and the whole room brightened.

•••

They walked down the stone brick road, Estelle between Percy and Leo and holding their hands. She had an embroidered white dress on, and her hair was all over the place as she threw her head back and laughed.

Leo’s eyes crinkled, and he glanced over at his brother. They locked gazes, and Percy’s eyes were sparkling. Colorful flags were strung above them, and lanterns spotted the dusk. Music was playing, and the people around them spun and danced and enjoyed themselves.

It was a beautiful evening.

Leo laughed, and bent down to say something to his sister, when-

A scream. It broke through the sounds of the festival, and Leo immediately had Estelle off the ground and in his arms. People paused, and the music trickled to a stop as there was a beat of silence.

And then-

Another scream, and they were all jerked back to reality. Percy took a step towards to noise, putting out one hand in front of his younger siblings and the other reaching for his dagger.

A murmur went through the crowd, and guards began moving through the crowd from where they’d joined in the dancing and festivities.

A hand was placed on his shoulder, and he whipped around, his eyes sharp and his grip tightening on his sister.

One of their personal guards. “You should probably get-”

Another scream, and then more than one. Something shoots across the sky, and the whole area tenses. Leo shifts his hold on Estelle and reaches for his dagger. More shapes follow, and between one blink and the next they’re being attacked.

Metal rained from the sky, and Leo’s instincts were the only thing that kept him from being peirced. “Fu-”

Leo’s first thought was his little sister. Grey was streaking down around him, and he turned his head to see Percy mid ark, taking out a ... Styphalian Bird. Great.

Estelle was shrinking into him, but her eyes were wide as she took in everything around her.

People were on the ground, and the guard was talking to him intently. He locked eyes with her, and she sighed. “Go help people who need it”.

“Your majesty,-”

“That’s an order”.

She held his gaze, and then stiffly nodded before ducking down to someone who fell.

He turned, and saw that Percy was standing facing away from him, his back two inches from him. His arms were splayed, and he had somehow gotten another weapen.

Leo raised his voice to talk to him quickly. “I’m getting her to the castle, and then I’ll be back to help”. Percy turned to look at him, and then at Estelle.

“Be careful”.

Leo was already turned, and looked back.

“I got her”.

He could feel Percy’s gaze on his back as he stepped away.

The way to the castle was not easy.

At all.

He ducked, and weaved, and when he wasn’t killing things, his hand was over his sisters head, protecting her.

He briefly debated dropping her off in a house nearby, but quickly decided against it as soon as he saw the broken windows. There were a few calls to close for comfort, where he would see the birds out of the corner of his vision headed straight for him and spin, lashing out at them with one hand.

Finally they made it to the castle, and he weaved his way inside. It was chaos, and injured people were poring in while guards were trying to keep the birds out. He had a minimal of four feather sticking out of him, and they stung. He barely noticed them.

Estelle has her head tucked into his shoulder, and he gently set her down, before squeezing her hand. “I need you to go to your room and lock your door, ok?” He handed her his dagger. “Keep this pointed away from you at all times, and if someone who you don’t know grabs you, use it”. She looks at him with big eyes. “You’ve worked with a knife before, haven’t you?” She nodded jerkily after a moment. “Ok. I have to go, but you’ve got this, Princess”. Her face crumpled, but she took a deep breath, and it smoothed out.

He kissed her forehead, and he gave her hand one last squeeze before she turned and ran.

Leo was out until no more birds could be found, and it was past pitch black at this point. He helped people to the stations that medics were starting to set up now that they were no longer under attack, and head back to the castle, not entirely absorbing the destruction done by birds.

His home was filled to the brim with his people, sitting on floors and sleeping on cots and milling around, helping others.

He strode past then, raising heads and attracting whispers. Someone pointed him the way of his father, and he turned a corner to see the king helping someone sit down. The person said something, and his father lifted his head and locked eyes with him.

His shoulders lost noticible tension.

Minutes later they were walking into the throne room, Posiedon close to him as he hissed while pulling a feather out.

Everyone inside looked...disgruntled. Estelle was curled up on her father’s throne, and Percy was sitting on the ground in front of it. His mother was beside him, wiping at the cuts on his arms. Her lilac dress was torn to shreds.

They both looked up as he entered, and Percy met him midway through the room.

The taller boy put his hand on his shoulder and pulled him towards him, engulfing him in his arms. Leo silently hissed but took it, closing his eyes for a moment and sagging into his brother.

The doors opened, and sound filtered in. Leo blinked and pushed off of Percy slightly, his brother instead shifting to put his arm over his shoulder while keeping his gaze on the woman who entered. Their general. She sighed, and walked over to brace both her hands on the table.

“...what the fuck was that”.