SO Sorry for the delay, I forgot it was Thursday, lol

Interlude II

Lysander was the one assigned to welcome Prince Perseus back to Atlantis, and he found it to be a great honour. The prince's tour of the surface world had been a roaring success, and tales were already filtering back through their newly established embassies and consulates of the goodwill the prince had fostered with the nations he had visited. Even those nobles and advisors who had thought the whole plan to be ill-advised had to admit that Perseus had done a fantastic job of representing them. Lysander knew that the prince was already popular on the surface, but it seemed that his time spent as an ambassador had only reinforced that. He had read an article in a surface paper that stated polling had shown that Prince Perseus had replaced the queen of a surface country in popularity, even though he wasn't even a member of their royal family. He was impressed, certainly, and he was a little proud. He still remembered when the young prince first arrived in Atlantis, unsure of his station and himself. And now, he was an ambassador for all Atlanteans.

The prince's flagship finished its docking procedure, and against all protocol, he came swimming out with a bag slung of his shoulder and the Trident of Neptune strapped to his back. A wide smile crossed his face as he saw his welcoming committee, and he set down in front of Lysander.

"Commander!" He greeted. "You're looking far too calm for this to be an execution squad, so I assume this is a welcoming party?"

"It is indeed, your highness." Lysander nodded. "The King apologises for not being able to greet you himself, but King Zeus, Queen Hestia, and Queen Demeter arrived two days ago for negotiations regarding the situation with Nysia and Aphaea."

"Understandable." Perseus said. "It's good to see you, Lysander. Tell me, has there been any trouble in the Fifth Tride since I was last here?"

"No direct action has been taken, but the rhetoric in the upper Trides is more aggressive than we'd like." He had been expecting this. Captain Galene—who was just now joining them—had started requesting intelligence reports on the Fifth Tride not long into the prince's tour, and neither he nor Acheran doubted that the prince himself hadn't asked for them. "After what happened to Helphon Iaxis, no one is willing to risk the Royal Guard coming down on them, so they're sticking to speeches and propaganda."

"And the Fifth itself?"

"They're more comfortable around your personal guard than the rest of the Royal Guard, but they've allowed us to make arrests as necessary." He reported. "We think we've eliminated the three largest cartels, but there's no way to be certain. We've definitely arrested their top leadership, but whether or not they crumble or someone else takes control is unknown at the moment."

"I'll head down there when I have the chance and see what I can find out." The prince promised. "You say my guards are better received?"

"Yes, highness."

"Then I'll place those who are here under your command while I am away from Atlantis. You can permanently assign them to the Fifth Tride, if you want." Perseus told him. "The better relations we have with them, the easier all our jobs will be."

When the last of the prince's retinue joined them, they set off towards the palace. Lysander's aide forwarded the prince's schedule to Lord Chiron, who then forwarded it to the Prince. He scanned it as they swam before slowly coming to a halt.

"Why am I attending the trial of Orion Iaxis?"

"We're unclear on that at the moment." Lysander said. "Per his rights, he has requested you be in attendance. We believe he may try to cut a deal in exchange for clemency for his son, but otherwise we've no idea of what he's planning."

"Iaxis wouldn't cut a deal." Lord Chiron shook his head. "He has something else in mind. It's possible he'll attempt to discredit the prince in the eyes of the court, and while that would be incredibly foolish, it would also be in character. He's always been quite belligerent."

"Awesome." The Prince grinned. "This'll be the most fun I've had in months."

"If he plans on insulting you—" Chiron began, but the prince had already moved on.

"It's not something I'm worried about." He said as he continued on towards the palace. "He can't say anything I've not already thought of myself."

There were a few different ways to interpret those words, and Lysander decided not doing so was probably in his best interest.

By the time they reached the palace, the prince had gone through his schedule, made some adjustments, and sent it back to the Master of the Palace for approval. And just as Lysander had been waiting for the Prince at the docks, Princess Rhode was waiting for her brother in the courtyard. She launched herself at him, wrapping him in a tight hug. The prince swung her around in his arms before releasing her. Before Lysander could react, the two vanished inside the palace. Lord Chiron chuckled softly before following after them, while the prince's retinue each went their own way, as if they had expected it.

XXX

After the reunion between the royal siblings, Lysander didn't see Prince Perseus for nearly three days. His duties kept him busy, naturally, but the prince also seemed determined not to be where anyone expected him to, and from the whispers Lysander had heard, the Master of the Palace was planning to resign if he had to deal with any more deviations from the schedule. But there was no avoiding him now—it was time for Orion Iaxis' trial, and they were both required to be there. Of course, where Lysander sat and where Prince Perseus sat were two very different places.

He was placed with all the other military officers present—those serving as the military court—near the presiding judge, which was King Triton, in this case. It had been so long since a member of the Elder Council had committed a crime against the Royal Family no one had quite known what to do at first, but careful study of the histories showed that the king was needed to preside over a case of this magnitude. It was notable, however, that he issued no verdict on the trial. That was left in the hands of the military court.

The cameras were new, though. Lesser trials had been recorded since Atlantis was able to record them, but never had anything involving any royal magistrates been open for viewing by the common people. Lysander had heard that it had to do with surface relations, and that the footage would be broadcast on surface news networks for their first glimpse at Atlantean law at work. Personally, he thought doing so with a treason trial was a bit much, but it was out of his hands.

The trial began without much fanfare. The prosecution made a good case, and they had security footage from the palace showing Iaxis trying to attack Prince Perseus, and intelligence reports from agents showing that the former Shipmaster had been revealing details of the arguments the Prince and King had been having for some months to friends, family, and unknowingly, spies from other kingdoms. There was no reasonable defence that Iaxis could have, and that should have been when Lysander realised what was going to happen. Rather than allowing his lawyer to speak for him, Iaxis himself opened his defence.

"I am a loyal servant of the king." He declared. "I have served him for these eight years of his reign, and I served his father for fifteen years before that! I commanded fleets in the name of King Poseidon, I commanded ships in the name of King Pontos. Aye, I spoke of the relationship between the king and his brother—that is no crime—and when my son was unjustly arrested, I reacted with my heart, not my mind. And yet here I stand, accused of treason. I stand accused of treason by a mongrel half-breed bastard who thinks himself better than his fellow Atlanteans, and it is because of this injustice that I challenge Perseus Jackson to a trial by combat, under the right of defence!"

Immediately, the crowd erupted into noise, and Lysander's fellow officers began whispering to each other fervently. He kept his eyes on the king, whose own gaze had drifted up towards the royal booth where his brother was located. Whatever he was thinking, Lysander was unable to tell. King Triton had developed a fierce ability to conceal his true emotions over the years. After a few moments, he raised a hand, and the Royal Guard restored order to the room.

"Legally speaking, we recognise no Perseus Jackson, only Crown Prince Perseus of Atlantis." Triton declared. "However, the principle of the matter remains, and the challenge is acknowledged. As custom dictates, the challenged may issue a response. Brother, if you would join us on the floor?"

Prince Perseus floated downwards from the royal booth, touching down directly in front of Iaxis, who leapt backwards in surprise. The glare he levelled at the prince was impressive, but the fact that the prince himself only seemed bored was arguably more so. He was the first royal in nearly five hundred years to be challenged to a trial by combat, and he couldn't seem to care less.

"Crown Prince Perseus, you have three minutes for a response." Triton prompted. Perseus nodded at his brother and then turned back to Iaxis.

"The next two minutes are going to be really important for you." Perseus began. "You have some very critical decisions to make, and the first one you should consider is conceding prior to the match, because I'm not going to hold back."

The response from the crowd was automatic, and after a moment of pure silence where a whale on the other side of the city could have been heard, they erupted into low murmurs again.

"You don't frighten me, boy." Iaxis snarled. Perseus glanced up to the clock on the wall.

"You have about ninety seconds to concede, and you should really think hard about it, because what's going to happen is this—" He took a deep breath, pressing his hands together and pointed them towards the disgraced Shipmaster. "I can't promise what's going to happen to you. I've had a pretty bad year so far, and I haven't really been able to get all the feelings that come with that out of my system. Out of everyone I've come across, I have about the least sympathy for you, and I definitely won't consider taking it easy."

"I won't be intimidated by you, bastard." Iaxis declared. "Your attempts to threaten me won't work."

"Oh, I'm not threatening you." The prince said. "I'm doing the kindest thing I've ever done in my life. About sixty seconds left, you really should concede. If you're not going to concede…. what do you want me to tell your family?"

"You mongrel bastard son of a whore!" Iaxis exploded, and Lysander was able to see the moment that Prince Perseus made his decision. His face tightened, and his eyes flared with power unlike anything he had seen before.

"I retract my previous offer." The prince said coldly. "Make sure plans are in place for your funeral."

And then he swam off, without a care in the world. The King sat in silence for a moment longer.

"The challenge has been accepted and the response issued. The duel will take place two days from now, at mid-day. There will be no footage of the match, but as always, it will be open to any viewers who wish to witness it, with the exception of children under the age of fourteen cycles." He declared. "This court is adjourned."

XXXVXXX

The Arena of Atlantis was a post-collapse creation. In the anarchy following the transition from air-breathing to water-breathing, the city—the kingdoms—had seen massive amounts of death as people settled scores, defended themselves, or just killed for fun. The Priesthood of Neptune was the first to use trials by combat as a legal defence in a trial, and the tradition had just stuck. It was rarely used anymore, but Percy wasn't surprised that Iaxis had claimed his right to it. This was the first treason trial by a member of the King's Council in nearly half a millennium, and there was, admittedly, some wiggle room as to whether or not he had actually committed treason.

Now, if Iaxis had been smart and kept his mouth shut, Percy would have advocated for house arrest, and no forfeitures. But then, the moron just had to go and insult Percy's mom. He hadn't cared when he was called a bastard, hadn't cared when he was called a mongrel—those things were technically true—but Sally Jackson had never done anything except love his father, and he would never allow anyone to make a statement to the contrary and get away with it. Triton had—indirectly through Chiron—asked Percy to show mercy, to be the bigger man.

But the thing was, Percy had been the bigger man time and time again. He hadn't responded to the whispered insults, hadn't responded to the direct insults. He hadn't done anything to defend himself because of the trouble it would cause his brother. And the funny thing about that was, he didn't care anymore. He was so sick and tired of putting his trust in people who didn't return it. Every time he felt like he had reached the point where all the pain from what Fredrick had done to him was starting to go away, something else happened to bring it back in full force. So no, Percy wasn't going to be the bigger man. He was going to be the angry man. The bitter man. And he'd make sure that all of Atlantis knew what happened when he was pushed too far, because he wasn't going to let anything like it happen again.

And so, he had committed a tiny crime and had his guards take custody of Helphon Iaxis and bring him to the arena so he could watch his father die for the crime of raising an idiot son and insulting Percy's mom. That was just how these things went.

"My prince," Galene caught his attention. "It is time. Are you certain you do not wish for a weapon? If the Trident is not to your liking, we can find another."

"It's a statement." Percy explained. "I don't need the Trident to be powerful, and it's time that everyone understood that."

"Elephus Iaxis will be armed, sire."

"And it won't do him any good, Galene." He told her. "Iaxis is a soldier, true enough, but he hasn't been a warrior for a long time. I'll be fine."

The thing he liked about Galene was that she was so professional her disbelief in his words didn't come in any facial expression, but in the way she bowed deeper than was necessary. She fell back on palace protocol, because she wasn't sure what else to do.

"See you soon." He told her with a wink and a grin, before swimming out to the Arena floor.

Iaxis Senior was already present, and the screen behind him showed an impressive list of accolades. This was probably going to be Percy's second favourite part of the encounter. As was his right, he had been asked to prepare a list of his achievements and traits. No doubt, they expected all of his titles, accomplishments, and the fact that he wielded the Trident of Neptune. So Percy had gone and done the exact opposite.

When the screen behind him lit up with what he had provided, a quiet hush fell across the arena.

Below his name, beside a photo of him wielding the trident, were two bullet points.

Bastard

Mongrel

He made a show of glancing, looking at the screen, and then snapping his fingers. A third point showed up.

Possessed by Neptune once (nearly died in the process)

A nervous chuckle rang through the audience as Percy motioned for the bout to begin. The Herald cleared his throat three times before he was finally able to speak. Percy tuned out the pointless words, nodding when prompted to, and waited, waited, waited to put an end to the whole debacle. When the Herald announced the start of the match, he made sure to make direct eye contact with Helphon who, while muzzled, was glaring at him with hateful eyes.

This is for you, he mouthed, before turning back to Elephus, who was charging towards him with reckless speed. Percy just waited patiently, and when the tip of his sword was a foot and a half away from him, he waved his hand, a jet of water knocking the blow off course, and throwing Elephus' throat directly into Percy waiting hand. The former shipmaster struggled in his grip, trying to bring the blade back across, but Percy caught his wrist with his free hand and squeezed until he felt it pop and then break, the sword floating uselessly to the floor. Elephus' eyes widened, and he tried to speak, tried to yield.

"No, no." Percy chided quietly. "Not this time, I'm afraid. See, all you had to do was keep your mouth shut. I tried to give you a way out. But instead, you called my mother a whore. Because of that, your son is going to watch you die, and then he's going to spend the rest of his life locked in a cell, knowing that his actions brought your death."

Elephus struggled some more, his face starting to turn purple. Percy spun him around and put him in a chokehold, twisting him so that he was facing Helphon's position. He was struggling in the grip of two of Percy's biggest guards, eyes blown just as wide as his father's, and he waited until they finally made eye contact with each other.

For you, he mouthed again.

With a wrench, he snapped Elephus neck. And with a loud crack, the man who had served Percy's brother, father, and grandfather went limp. His armour stopped him from floating upwards, but nor did he float downwards. He just…remained in place.

He didn't wait for the heralds or the priests to announce the end of the match. He returned to the locker room, where Galene and a squad of guardsmen were waiting.

"The king has asked to speak with you, sire." Galene told him solemnly.

"Okay, I'll deal with it. Go prepare my ship, we're leaving as soon as we can."

"Sire?"

"I'm sick of Atlantis right now. I need a break." He explained. "I'll expand once we're underway."

"Yes, sire." Galene nodded, immediately beginning to issue orders. "Would you like a moment alone, sir?"

"Please."

The guards streamed out of the room, and Percy counted another thirty seconds.

"You can come out now," he said. "I know you're there."

A panel in the wall opened, and Triton swum through.

"I asked for one thing, Percy." His brother sighed. "One thing. I've tolerated the disrespect because I can understand how—"

"What if it was your mother, he had called a whore?" Percy cut him off. "The man openly attacked me in the palace. For that alone, he should have been put to death. But I decided to grant him a trial, because I didn't want him dead. I was planning on giving him an out all the way until he insulted my mother. The only person in my life who was one-hundred percent behind me. She never lied to me. She never kept things from me. I knew what I was from the moment I was old enough to understand it because she trusted me to make the right decisions. All she ever was, and all she ever will be, was a woman who loved those around her. That includes our father. So excuse me for not tolerating a man who committed treason calling her a whore."

"The situation is delicate, and there are those who will see this as you clearing the old guard away as a way of accumulating power."

"Well they can choke on a sea-cucumber for all I care." He shrugged. "I don't plan on sticking around to attempt a coup, so that should make them breathe easier."

"And placing Helphon Iaxis in the crowd, despite the fact he should have been in prison?"

"That was because I'm a vindictive mongrel bastard." Percy replied. "And because I can be remarkably cruel when I have to be."

"…so I've discovered." Triton said softly. "I thought Operation Safeguard was a one-off calculation, but I suppose if you were able to make the decision to order assassinations, acceptance of other kinds of death would follow."

"Please tell me this isn't going to turn into a lecture about saving lives, because between the two of us, your body-count is much higher."

"Of course I'm not going to lecture you about that. I'm well aware that some decisions require death." Triton shook his head. "You have a reputation as a fair but brutal opponent, Percy. The military respects you immensely because you've shown you're a warrior, first and foremost. But the court? The people outside of the Fifth Tride? They're not sure what to think of you. One day, you're a dutiful prince. The next, you're summoning storms to rival the gods, denouncing groups who have existed for decades if not centuries. You seem…inconsistent to them."

"I am inconsistent." He laughed. "It's by choice. Makes me hard to predict, and therefore, ambush."

"You are not impossible to ambush, however." Triton noted. "I am doing it right now."

"I knew you were there."

"That was not the ambush. This is." He said. "We need to talk about Artemis."

"Yeah, no we don't." Percy shook his head. "There's not a discussion to be had."

"Yes, there is. And we're going to have it." His brother swam closer, placing a hand on his shoulder. "It is going to be awkward, and painful, and may genuinely end in blows, but we need to talk about this."

"I'd rather not, thanks." Percy insisted. "Much safer that way."

"Believe me, I don't want to have this conversation anymore than you do." Triton told him. "But we both know it can't be avoided forever."

"…not here." He said after a moment. Triton had made it clear that the conversation was going to happen, and Percy just knew this was one of those things that if he tried to avoid, it wouldn't end well for him. "The Wreck."

"The Wreck it is."

XXXVXXX

When Galene had first been assigned to Prince Perseus' personal guard, it was understood that while it was a great honour, it was also an empty job—the Prince was famously keeping the surface-world away from Atlantis, and only rarely showed up in the city itself, and seemingly only when he absolutely had to. Her first meeting with him had been to secure a ship of Red Current terrorists who had been stalking him, and it was then that he had told her his absence from the city wasn't entirely his decision, before suggesting she ask more questions when she returned to the palace. So she had. Carefully, of course, but she had phrased her question to Captain Acheran in a way to imply that she was merely repeating what she had been told, and the look of genuine surprise on his face had told her that whatever had happened, it had been kept even from the King's closest advisors. Speculation was rampant, of course, but generally muted. No one wished to upset the king, and after the display when the invaders attacked the city, no one wanted to upset Prince Perseus especially. A man who could do what he did and keep fighting for hours was not the sort of man one made an enemy of lightly.

Unless, of course, they were Elephus Iaxis. Galene still wasn't sure what inspired the man to act so stupidly, but he was dead now, and there was no point dwelling on it. In the aftermath of the duel, however, the Prince and the King had taken off to the old wreck on the outskirts of Atlantis' borders. Galene and the Prince's Own had joined Acheran and the King's Guard to form a loose perimeter a respectable distance away, and Neptune's beard, it certainly was awkward. Acheran was still upset with her for keeping her Prince's secrets from him, which was the job he had given her to do. It was astounding that he thought her previous loyalty to him would mean she would forget the oath he had her swear when she took up her new role. But she was Prince Perseus' now, and her oath would hold until she was released from it or died.

Even from where they waited, some three hundred meters away, raised voices could be heard from the wreckage, but nothing specific could be made out. The yelling continued between the brothers for some time, decreasing and increasing in an almost cyclical nature. Their discussion—argument—ran for hours. But eventually, the king swam out, a blossoming black eye marring his features, and left with his guard. Perhaps ten minutes later, Prince Perseus emerged with a broken nose still leaking blood. He didn't say anything, and Galene didn't offer any conversation as they swam back to the Royal Dockyard, where the prince's ship and staff were waiting for him. Lord Chiron let out a sigh as he saw Prince Perseus but remained silent as they left for the medical bay.

Galene simply prepared the ship for departure, issuing orders to the guards who would remain in the city and letting her second develop the duty roster for those who would accompany them on this leg of the journey, whatever it may be and wherever they may go.

She was on the bridge when the Prince returned, his nose set in place and already half-way healed. The captain of the vessel stood, prepared to offer his command throne to him, but he waved him off. "No need for that, Captain. I'm just here to pass a location on—we're going to visit Queen Hestia."

"What?" Lord Chiron blinked. "We are?"

"Memo," he held up a tablet. "The queen has extended an official invitation to me. It'd be rude not to go, and she was nice when I met her, so we're going to Eremone to meet with her. Maybe a week or two, and then we'll go back to the surface."

"Very well, your highness," the captain nodded. "It will take approximately two days to reach Eremone. I'm sorry we can't make it there sooner."

"Don't worry about it." The prince assured him. "We can all do with a little down time. I'll be in my study if I'm needed. Galene, join me for a moment?"

"Of course, sire." She swam after him, into the room that served as his private study on-board the ship. "How may I be of assistance?"

"Lady Kym seems to be of the belief that Queen Hestia's nobles are going to present me their daughters as potential wives." He told her. "Now, I can't be seen as rude and turning them all away, so we need to come up with a system that allows us to get me out of these awkward meetings without offending anyone too bad, and without Chiron figuring it out too soon."

Despite herself, Galene felt a twitch of a smile cross her features. The Prince was…well known for his distaste of the aristocratic culture, which was one of the reasons the members of the Royal Guard liked him so much. Asking her to help him plan a way out of it was entirely in character for him. And…she didn't mind helping. She had come from a family known for it's ties to the Royal Palace, and she had grown up interacting with other children of importance. Once one knew how to interact, they also knew how to avoid. Not only was she able to help, but she was also willing to. She nodded her affirmation, and the Prince graced her with a thankful smile.

"Fantastic." He sighed in relief. "I am not looking forward to having young women throw themselves at me."

"That makes you rather unique for royalty, sire." She said diplomatically.

"Oh yes, because having some common sense and not trusting the intentions of people who only desire more power for themselves is truly a trait to be proud of." He drawled. "Honestly, the stories I was told about Prince Apollo make me wonder how he's still alive."

"You are not the only one, sire." She told him. "From what I've heard, his guards are amongst the best trained in all of Olympia solely for how many enemies he makes with his dalliances."

"I am completely unsurprised by that." The Prince chuckled. "Well, regardless, I have no desire to flirt with socialites or be subjected to their flirting, so let's buckle down and get to work."

An hour and a half later, She and Prince Perseus had worked out a system to get him out of conversations that wouldn't make anyone suspicious. Not at first, at least. She estimated they'd be able to use it perhaps a dozen times before Lord Chiron caught on, but at that point, the system would be entrenched enough that he wouldn't be able to do much but complain. By the time they came to the end of their planning, however, she did have one question for him.

"My prince," she began carefully. "How do you want us to proceed if you do wish to engage in conversation with whomever you are meeting with?"

He blinked, as if he hadn't considered the possibility.

"I suppose…I'll tell you that I need my steward to handle whatever issue you come up with." He settled on. "That seems like an appropriate response."

"As you command, sire."

"Thank you, Galene, that will be all." He told her with a tip of his head. She nodded and retreated from the room.

Her last view of her prince was him leaning back into his seat, resting his chin in his palm as he stared at the screen in front of him. He was every inch royalty. And quietly, in the back of her mind was a little voice telling her that he didn't look like a prince—he looked like a king.

MMXXI

And thus, we finish Book Two: A Brave New World.

I have absolutely no idea where I'm going in the future right now. I have college, which isn't majorly intensive, but still requires time and attention. I have other projects, some of which I need to work on more than I have, and then I have the big one—an original story that I am working on, which may or may not begin taking up more and more of my time as I divert my focus to it. I honestly can't say. What I can say is that immediately, Imperator: Interbellum is my main priority. I wouldn't be surprised if I took a hiatus from posting as I write that story, and then start posting again once it's finished. I honestly don't know right now.

Let me know what you thought of this chapter, this story, anything at all. I really dig writing this one. It's an easy story for me to do, I don't feel as pressured as I did for Filii Deorum or as I do for Interbellum. And, although I don't know when exactly I intend to write it, I can tell you know that Book Three is titled Children of Othrys. So yeah.

Cheers, CombatTombat