a lot of this chapter is lions ahaha


Lions.

Jason would be fighting lions.

He wouldn't care, honestly, they'd made him fight lions when he was starting out and it was a lot easier than killing people, but something had been bothering him lately.

Percy Jackson had been bothering him, lately.

Percy wasn't angry even a little bit. He didn't cause a hassle, he didn't try and fight against his guards or make a single jug of water move. He smiled at Jason whenever he saw him. He thanked his guards when they successfully chained him up.

That bothered Jason greatly. He couldn't focus on his match, even as the gates were lifting and Jason held his golden spatha loosely in his hand. He walked out into the arena with his head down, absently shielding his eyes from the blaring sun. People cheered, but his mind was a million miles away.

Piper was still in his room. Percy Jackson was a happy prisoner. He was fighting lions. What had happened to the world?

Jason turned as the first lion's cage creaked open, rusty metal clanging through the arena and sparking Jason's nerves. Electricity crackled in the palm of his hand and he forced it to go away.

The first lion to emerge was pitiful. An undernourished, sad thing with protruding ribs and a patchy hide. It roared meekly, teeth missing from its mouth and hardly a growl even coming out. Jason felt bad for the thing. Once a great beautiful beast with an incredible mane and a roar like an earthquake, now reduced to a tabby cat living on the streets. He felt like he could relate.

The second lion, however, was not any of those things. It had a powerful jaw, a full mane, and all its teeth. Jason gulped.

Dodging a halfhearted swipe from the sickly lion he decided he would go for the big one first. It required more attention then the other, so he charged at it and watched with muted horror as it ran at him at equal pace, it's muscular legs pushing it along at an incredible pace.

A lion was everything a gladiator was meant to be, powerful, large, frightening. So before Jason thrust his sword into the lion's neck, he sent it a small prayer.

gratias tibi: I thank you.

Jason felt the warm blood of the lion gush onto his arms and hands from the point of his blade, but also the claws of the lion sink into his side and then rip his skin off. He must have miscalculated the length he'd kept the lion at, and he staggered back as the lion tried, still, to advance on him.

It's breathing was heavy and laboured, it's golden chest sticky with blood pouring from its neck and he knew it wasn't going to live much longer. Jason, blinded by pain, approached the lion as it collapsed and wrapped his arms around its middle. To the crowd of screaming people he was strangling it, but that was not what he was doing.

Jason listened for a second to its escalating heart, trying desperately to get more blood circulating but finding that job impossible when the it's body had already lost so much. He let some lightning snap through his arms and into his fingertips, and with a final squeeze he electrocuted the lion and put it out of its misery.

All Jason wanted to do now was collapse, his stomach demanding attention and the pain making his head feel like it was empty. His vision was red, it made him want to gag.

He limped over to the skinny lion, holding his side with one hand. It seemed like every time Jason took a step a knife stabbed him in the kidneys, and he felt the hot blood on his fingers, spilling onto his leg. He moaned and with a final burst of energy jumped away from a bite, ducked a swipe, and drove his sword through its stomach.

Jason and the lion collapsed onto the ground at the same time. Their blood mingled on the sand, creating a pool of crimson and making the crowd go wild. Red, red, red. That's all there was. All they wanted was bloodshed and that's what they got. The audience started throwing flowers as Jason tossed his head and groaned, squeezing his eyes shut so he blocked out the dazzling light from the sun completely.

He was so stupid, he'd never been hurt like this in combat before because he'd always been focused. That was all his life was. But ever since Percy Jackson had shown up Jason had been distracted and confused, his old life tugging and nagging at him. He wasn't just a gladiator fighting and surviving anymore, he was Jason Grace, who grew up hearing Greek stories and was the son of Jupiter, God of the sky. Jason Grace, who had left his family behind but protected them at the same time, Jason Grace who no longer was disconnected. All of it hurt more than the wound on his side.

Kill me, he thought, opening his eyes to the blinding sunlight, just do it. I don't deserve to live.

He couldn't tell if he was delirious or not when a voice in his head screamed no.

Finally someone came to get him when he stopped feeling the pain. It took awhile, he wasn't going to lie. He had gone very very pale and despite the situation he thought about what his mother used to say to him and Thalia.

Hurting doesn't have to last forever unless you let it do so.

He wondered if that was true. Could someone just let go of their pain?

Maybe it was something she said so that Jason wouldn't feel so bad about how sad she was. She'd say it and Jason would believe that really his mother had let go of the pain his father had caused.

"Jason," a soft voice said.

He looked to his right as medics ran along with him on a stretcher, and squinted his eyes. No one was there.

"Jason" the voice said again, closer to his ear this time.

"Jason I need your help" the voice was definitely female, but he knew he was confused and unfocused. There was no one speaking to him.

He slipped in and out of consciousness for what seemed like an eternity, but was really only a few minutes. Medics pressed cloths and oils to his wounds as prayers were distributed throughout the ward.

Please let him live.

Heal him.

Make sure he makes it out alive.

Jason found it a bit twisted that they would pray to his father, but if they found out that it was his son they were trying to save, he would be killed. Slaughtered publicly for being insane. A monster. Wrong. A halfbreed.

Jason tried to sit up but was pushed back down onto the bed.

"STAY DOWN" someone yelled in his ear and he closed his eyes.

This had happened so quickly. One moment he was walking out into the arena like any other day, the next he was fighting for his life underground somewhere.

"What's going on?" Jason asked, his voice sounding strange to himself. Like he was talking underwater.

"You're dying" said a disembodied voice, before a girl stepped out of the shadows at the other end of the chamber, no older than him and striking. "But I'm going to help you, Jason Grace."

Jason leaned over to throw up, before sitting up and reaching for her. Surely she was Thantos in the form of a woman, come to take him away. He almost fell out of the bed, his blood staining the floor and the white linen he sat on. Jason was spilled everywhere around the room.

He blacked out when the girl pressed her hands to his shoulders, no one else seeming to have noticed her.

[][][]

"Well well, look who finally decide to open his eyes"

Jason's immediate thought, despite his previous events of wildly hallucinating, passing out, and being mauled by a lion, thought that statement was strange because he hadn't opened his eyes.

"I haven't opened my eyes" Jason mumbled, frowning as he felt the wound on his side. He was acutely aware of the cold feeling surrounding the warm injury.

"Yes you have" Piper said.

Jason recognised her voice. It was strange to hear her not angry.

"I can't see" Jason said. He waited and realised his eyes were open, but all he saw was black. Perhaps he'd gone blind. The thought didn't actually scare him. As he contemplated the ideas of being the first and probably last blind gladiator that Rome had ever seen, his vision had started to blur back in.

Colours were smudged together and it was very dark in his cell except for a single, very bright, candle.

"What's going on?" Jason asked, leaning his head back again and sighing.

"Do you want the long version or the short version?"

"Short, please"

"Okay, well, you fought a lion, got clawed, and then they rushed you into the medical ward and you passed out, lost a lot of blood then died. Then you came back to life and they rushed you back to your room to wait to see if you were going to die again. I have very specific instructions from the medics to take care of you" Piper explained, dabbing a wet cloth to Jason's side.

"What! I died?" Jason exclaimed, jumping up.

"Your heart stopped beating. Then it started again. It's a miracle" Piper said, wringing out the cloth over a pail.

Jason's thoughts went to the girl from earlier. Her dark brown hair was in braids, eyes dark blue like the twilight sky. She wore a circlet of silver and a hunting bow was slung over her shoulder.

Diana, Jason thought. Surely, it couldn't have been. Even if somehow the Gods were watching him at that very moment, why would Diana, the patron of young girls - which he was certainly not - help him?

"I can't believe it" Jason said.

Piper pressed harder against his side making his bare stomach muscles and jaw clench at the same time. It hurt very much, and by the looks of the cloths Piper was putting on him and pulling off, he was still bleeding.

She looked very pretty in the low light, her hair hanging in thick waves on either side of her face. Every time the candle flickered he saw a new colour in her eyes.

"Why are you helping me?" Jason asked.

Oh, Piper was very beautiful, he had never denied it. But she gave off an aura of touch me and die, so he said nothing of her appearance to her. Jason shifted on his elbows so that their faces were level.

"Because you are my only chance of escape, Mister Grace" she glared, pressing down harder than necessary on his side.

"Ow, no" Jason said, gently taking her wrists and pulling them away from the sore area. She shook off his hand and scrunched up her nose. That made Jason laugh.

"Will you ever trust me?" He asked, his smile failing when she shook her head with disgust.

"Never"

[][][]

The catacombs under the barracks were absolutely disgusting.

They reeked of decaying flesh and sewage, as well as the strong, musky sent of lions that clung to just about everything. Percy thought maybe there might be a way out down there, but it seemed like it was just as sealed off as the rest of the place. He couldn't even remember how he'd really gotten down there.

He kept the horrible water from touching him by concentrating, but every now and then a rat would startle him and he'd lose his focus. His senses were on high-alert down here, the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck standing up and tingling. Percy felt the feeling he got when was forced to jump off the side of the pirate boat. A foul, nervous feeling.

He followed the water flow, holding his nose and grimacing at how strong the smell of lion was becoming. It overpowered all the other odours, which was saying something, because every scent down in the catacombs was very strong.

Finally, Percy squeezed through a tiny gap in the stone walls, taking a deep breath and pushing into the space on the other side. He immediately jumped back, gagging on the air.

It opened up onto a large room with high ceilings, every inch of the walls mosaicked with images of rolling fields, blue skies, and tall jagged mountains that Percy thought could be Sparta, or Nemea, in Greece. The mosaics would have been beautiful if it weren't for the splattered blood and grime on them.

The bodies of lions and men alike lay in the piles in the thigh deep water, some face down and rotting. Skeletons also littered the place, skulls smiling at Percy eerily. He recoiled and pressed his back to the crack he came in through. The only light came from under the water, casting strange reflections on the ceiling. What was this?

"I have killed many..." a voice echoed around the chamber, deep, low, and gravelly.

The sensation of being startled tingled through Percy's skin and he became aware of his lack of weaponry, not expecting to face anyone down under the barracks. He had promised himself he wouldn't use the sword from his father, but it might be necessary down here.

"My claws are like swords, no armour can withstand them" the voice said, moving around the room and chilling Percy down to the bone.

"My hide is impenetrable. Not even you can stop me, son of Poseidon. That's right - I know who you are, I can smell the ocean on you down in this filth from a mile away"

Finally the thing behind the voice decided to show itself, although now Percy saw it, he wished it had stayed just a voice.

A lion, eight times bigger than it should have been, erupted from a pile of bones and carcasses, its mane braided with bones of dead men and its muzzle clumpy with dried blood.

"I am the Nemean Lion, you poor fool, and you are about to die"


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