All's Fair in Love and War

Chapter One: Capture the Flag Goes Wrong

Hi again. A few notes for this chapter: This chapter is mostly setting up the main storyline, but that really doesn't come until the end. The rated-T-for-swears thing kind of takes effect here, especially near the end as well. Also, thanks as always to my wonderful and patient beta, Theia 47.

Anyway, hope you enjoy.

By nightfall, the entire Ares cabin was ready for Capture the Flag.

Clarisse had gone to lengths to make sure we were all ready, including yelling so many curses at our siblings that I was surprised no one retaliated, and obsessively cleaning our weapons and armor for every single dust speck. It was an overzealous behavior that one of my siblings had told me happened every time when we had Capture the Flag. Of course, they never told Clarisse that. But even this couldn't dampen my spirits as we approached my second ever Capture the Flag, and the first ever where I probably wouldn't be stuck on border patrol.

Not to say I wasn't anxious, though. We were only doing some last-minute preparation before dinner, but my heart was already beating wildly with nervous anticipation of what was to come.

"Cabin Five, outside!" Clarisse barked. It was almost time for dinner, and I had the feeling she was going to give us one last talk before we got to eat. I nearly cut myself on the sword I had been so carefully examining for flaws in surprise. I quickly regained balance, though, and I got myself in order and scrambled outside.

It was a pleasantly cool summer evening. We arranged ourselves in a clump outside the cabin. Clarisse stood in front of us.

"Okay, here's our plan," Clarisse said. "You guys split into four bands of three each, and I'll assign each of you a job. We have twelve Ares kids, right? Here, you guys are one group—" Clarisse roughly shoved a group of three kids to the side, and then continued talking. "I'll be with this group, and . . . hey, wait, Noelle's left."

I felt myself get hot with embarrassment as everyone stared at me.

"Okay. Change of plans. You guys—" She pointed to the group she was in, "will be a team of only two. Noelle and I will get the flag. Is that okay with you?"

I nodded quickly. I wouldn't have dared to refuse, anyway.

"Great, then," Clarisse numbered each group off. "Okay, Team One will be border patrol." There was some grumbling from Team One. Clarisse looked at them, her eyes glinting. "You are all right with that, right?" The grumbles quickly ceased.

"Anyway. Team Two, you get the northeastern part of the woods, up to Zephyros Creek. Team Three gets southeastern, up to the edge. Team Four, you two will guard our flag. The Athena and Hephaestus kids will cover the border up to enemy territory, and Demeter will be around the other borders. Me, Noelle, Chase, Gardner, and Pollux will get the flag. Got it?"

We all nodded in understanding. There was only one Dionysus kid at camp, Pollux. His twin brother, Castor, had died last summer before I had come here. Annabeth Chase and Katie Gardner were the Athena and Demeter counselors, respectively. This was one of the rare times when Athena and Ares weren't pitted against each other in Capture the Flag. Maybe it was because the cabins' numbers had diminished significantly over the last few years. The rise of Kronos was something no one enjoyed talking about, despite how the Titans grew stronger every day. We all knew the where the disappearing half-bloods had gone; either to Kronos or killed in a skirmish with his forces.

"Now, we're up against Hermes, Aphrodite, and Apollo," Clarisse continued. "Hermes has the advantage of numbers. Apollo is a pretty big cabin too, and they're good with archery. Aphrodite, well . . ." She paused, looking for something to say. "Well, I can't think of any of their particular advantages, but we can't count them out."

We nodded, but I knew what everyone else was thinking. Aphrodite kids didn't really do much. The other cabins would probably just station them at the borders and have them alert everyone else if they saw us coming.

"We have Hephaestus, Demeter, and Athena on our side, though," Clarisse said. "Athena kids are okay tacticians, I have to admit, and the Hephaestus cabin is pretty strong and hardy. Demeter kids don't have a lot of physical prowess, but they have plants on their side, which can be useful." We all knew of the dislike between Athena and Ares, but we tried not to acknowledge it now as they were now our allies, and even in the big picture we had to work together against Kronos.

"Okay then. If everyone understands, it's time for dinner, and then Capture the Flag," Clarisse said shortly and then nodded. The rest of the cabin quickly made a run for the mess hall.

Finally, after dinner, it was time for Capture the Flag. We all knew what to do, and we acknowledged our allies with a curt nod as we took our helmets and weapons. I wore a red-plumed bronze helmet and a standard set of armor. I was tall and skinny, with a body that resembled a thirteen-year-old runner whose body had been stretched out in a rather unflattering way. So, unlike my cabin-mates, I wore a size seven set of armor that hung off parts of my body and clanged against itself as I walked.

Clarisse joined me. "Okay, here's the plan, Redmond. Enemy territory is the strip of beach by Zephyros Creek. We can't afford to split apart, or else we can all be easily taken out. We have guards posted around every edge of the forest, so our enemies will have hell to go through if they want our flag. Since they have a longer area, though, it'll be harder for them to cover it all. We just need to eliminate guards one by one and not try and take it on all at once, okay?"

I nodded. "Do we have any strategy for finding the flag?"

"Don't draw attention to yourself. Stealth and silence are key here. We can take out the guards one by one without everyone else noticing if we can pull that off, and then taking the flag will be a piece of cake."

"Got it. So, where are Annabeth, Katie, and Pollux?"

Clarisse pointed behind us. "Right there." Two girls and a boy in armor waved as they jogged up to us.

"Hey. Clarisse . . . Noelle," Annabeth said shortly. She obviously wasn't crazy about having us for allies, but I wasn't interested in showing open hostility. That would just be an inconvenience for our entire team.

Clarisse and I acknowledged the daughter of Athena with a short greeting. Katie and Pollux said hello in return, and Clarisse told them the plan. We all agreed.

As soon as we got into enemy territory, Clarisse put a finger to her lips. We heard the rustling of leaves from a bush and saw a flash of armor. Katie and I crept around the edge of the tree we were hiding in to get a better look. Soon we were on the exact opposite side of our opponent.

Katie peeked around the edge as soon as she heard the sound of more movement, hoping that his own action would distract him from noticing her.

It was a second too late. The boy was an Apollo child with blonde curls and blue eyes that widened in surprise. Before he got up and drew his weapon, however, Katie used the powers inherited from her mother Demeter on the surrounding plants, causing them to rise up and pin him to the forest floor so he couldn't move. "He's not in any danger, someone'll get him eventually," Katie assured. I honestly didn't really care for the guy, as long as he was out of our way.

We continued on in this way for a while until we reached the edge of the woods. I could hear the waves from the creek lapping softly onto the beach, and spotted at least five sentries from the opposing team standing along the coastline, some standing on rocks and surveying the area.

"There," Annabeth hissed quietly, nudging all of us. "The flag." She pointed to the left. A golden banner with a crown of laurels in the center was planted in a mound of sand. A Hermes kid I vaguely recognized was guarding it, along with . . . Taryn. Huh. I would try and avoid coming into physical contact with her as much as possible when we battled for the flag.

"Not so fast. What about them?" Pollux whispered. He gestured toward the guards on the beach. If we attacked one, all of them would jump on us.

We all shrugged. We had no idea how we would fight them all off and manage to get the flag.

"Wait," I tried to speak as quietly as possible. Everyone looked at me. "I think I might have an idea, but it will be risky, and I don't know if you'll like it, Clarisse."

"I don't care. Just tell us," Clarisse replied impatiently.

"Well, Annabeth and I could go around and surprise them from behind. While they were preoccupied fighting us, you could jump in from the opposite direction, trapping them, and we could concentrate them in one spot where we could take them out." I pointed toward the guards on the beach as I outlined my idea. There were at least six or seven along the whole creek, not counting the Hermes kid and Taryn, who were guarding the flag itself.

There were some uneasy looks at first, but Clarisse slowly nodded. "I can't think of anything else, and we have to act fast. Let's go with Noelle's plan."

Annabeth still looked a little wary, but everyone else seemed to be okay with it. "If it fails, at least we'll be taking some of them down with us," Pollux said, trying to convince her. "And we have allies in the forest right there. Surely they'll notice or hear us if we go down."

"Oh . . . well, all right then," Annabeth said. She looked frustrated that she couldn't come up with anything better (The phrase "Athena always has a plan" came to mind), but everyone else looked at her expectantly. "Oh . . ." She bit her lip in concentration. Finally she spoke. "All right, fine. Let's go, Noelle." She still looked upset.

We crept out of the forest and stepped into the light of the moon. We treaded lightly, and the soft sand absorbed the sound of our footsteps as soon as our feet sank into it.

We finally reached the opposite edge of the beach from where we had been with Pollux, Katie, and Clarisse a while ago. Our adversaries, seven armed teenagers, stood in the immediate vicinity, and Annabeth and I and had no idea how we were going to attack.

I knew Annabeth was trying to analyze the situation in front of us and figure something out. She seemed to be muttering to herself.

"So, what now? 'Athena always has a plan,' remember?" I prompted her after a few minutes. It took her a while to answer.

"Well . . ." she started slowly. "How about we just creep up on the one at the end?" she suggested. I understood her reasoning; we could easily surprise the last guard by sneaking up, but then it would be us against six teenagers. But I supposed if we factored in Katie, Pollux, and Clarisse we would be roughly even. But what about Taryn and the Hermes kid? What would they do?

But I couldn't think of anything better, so I agreed. "All right, Annabeth. Let's do this." She sprung from our hiding spot and drew a glinting celestial bronze knife. I drew my sword as well.

A tall boy who looked around sixteen was the last guard. I guessed he was from the Hermes cabin. He was awkwardly holding his sword point-down at his side. His neck was vulnerable and wouldn't make as much noise if I hit it. It would probably leave a good-sized bruise, but it wouldn't be anything serious, and we needed him out of the way.

I quickly rapped his neck with the broad part of my sword, and he fell face down in the sand. Not quietly enough, though. His body made a slight thump as it made contact with the ground, and it was enough to get the guard in front of him to turn around.

"Oh, crap," I muttered under my breath, holding my sword in the defensive position to protect myself.

The person who had noticed us was an Apollo girl who had the same blonde curls as the guy we had knocked out earlier, but she had brown eyes. She made a quick hand motion that I couldn't make out, and suddenly five more armor-clad kids burst from the bushes, not far from where me and Annabeth had hidden a minute before.

"Damn it, you're going to kill us, Noelle," Annabeth muttered angrily.

"Yeah, well, sorry about that, but there's nothing we can do now." I now noticed that most of the five campers who burst from the bushes were Aphrodite kids, and felt a slight spark of hope. "Annabeth. You handle the other kids; I can take care of this lot. They're mostly Aphrodites." The surprise attackers were getting close, and the girl who had noticed us was running toward Clarisse, Katie, and Pollux, who had chosen now to come out and attack.

Annabeth looked at me worriedly. "You sure?"

I nodded. "Yeah. Now GO!" She ran off, and I prepared to face off against five people. It was four girls and a guy, all from the Aphrodite cabin. They still looked perfect, no mud or dirt on their faces or anything. But they were armed, and I knew they weren't helpless.

"Well, well. Five against one, Noelle Redmond. This really isn't fair." A pretty girl who looked about seventeen walked up to me with a vicious smile.

"Oh yeah?" I spat. "Well, then, why don't you fight me one on one?"

They all laughed like I had made the hilarious joke ever. "Tempting as that might be, we're not taking our chances tonight." The girl deliberately took her time. She tucked her shining black hair to one side before drawing a polished sword.

I got closer to them. "Oh, well, then, if that's how you prefer it. I have no issue against fighting a bunch of cowardly bitches." I pronounced the last word clearly and spat it in the pretty black-haired girl's face. She stepped back with a disbelieving expression on her face.

"Oh, so I'm a bitch now? Well, that's better than being a crude, animalistic Neanderthal." Her amber eyes were ice. "Remember, five against one, Noelle. How do you want to go? I swear on our mother Aphrodite that any of the ways won't be painless. At least not now." She made a sudden move as if to stab me, but I sidestepped her easily.

"Like I'm scared of five dumb twits who can't even hold a sword right," I scoffed. Two others started toward me with weapons drawn, but I glared at them threateningly and pointed my own sword at their chests. They stumbled back, already looking frightened, and I smirked. Sometimes being a child of Ares had its advantages with Aphrodite kids; they were rather soft anyway, and despite all of their haughtiness, they were still scared of us.

I looked directly at the daughter of Aphrodite who had started talking to me in the first place. "Your mother will do nothing for you, by the way. I mean, what good can a stupid, whore bitch of an excuse for a goddess do for you, anyway?" I meant to say something that would just make the stupid Aphrodite kids shut up, but I immediately knew I had gone too far as soon as the words left my mouth.

As soon as I caught the looks on their faces, I did what only a coward would do. I ran, aware of five armed and furious teenagers chasing me.

This wasn't Capture the Flag anymore. I had ruined the fun competition of that. Now I had probably seriously offended Aphrodite and her children, and they weren't going to forget about that or wave it off easily.


I ran toward friendly territory, now aware that I probably seemed like a despicable coward to my own team and our enemies.

My armor was still awkwardly clanging against itself as I ran; my sword was clutched at my side in my sweaty palm.

I only heard the faint, chortling laugh of an Aphrodite girl before I foolishly tripped on my own blade. My head hit something hard, and I blacked out.

Thanks for reading. Reviews are appreciated, and criticism is welcomed!