Uhh, what am I supposed to say about this? I tried to write "Spongebob Headphones" and it just wasn't working so I came up w/ this one-shot. It's supposed to be part of a series (don't get your hopes up, the next part won't be anytime soon). It's also pre-slash if you squint but you can ignore if you want.
Beta: Liliths. She's been wonderful, any mistakes in here are my own.
1: August 18th, 1999
There are at least a bajillion black dots on the ceiling square above; he's sure of it because he counts twenty black specks then stutters on the number after twenty, so, his mind comes up with bajillion as an appropriate guess of how many dots are on the single square.
If he tilts his head just so there looks to be a bajillion minus one and a big brown stain or two on the square wall, which kind of looks like con-con-stella- stars that make funny shapes. He raises his hand as if to trace it like connect-the-dots and he's connecting the dots to make his favorite racecar painted in shades of blue and shiny gold —vroom vroom!— one tire at a time—
His hand drops to his side, like a domino falling down, and he can't help if his lips dig down into a frown or if his eyes go all squinty. No one calls him 'Perseus' except mean crabby ladies and gents.
"Perseus," there she goes again using that name-that-no-one-calls-him. "It's important that you focus, okay, sweetie? Can you tell me anything about what happened in the apartment, can you tell me what happened to your mom, or do you remember who did—"
funny chalk shapes on the ground, loud growls like monsters under the bed, blue birthday cake — SPLAT!, bended white like a boomerang, and sprayed golden sand like Tinkerbell's, kind eyes blank and whispered words, soft singing
There are at least a bajillion black dots on the ceiling square above and he reaches up to trace them.
"… call the social worker…"
and he's left alone.
He doesn't mind. He prefers to be all alone with the ceiling and its dots and the pristine-white around him, the quiet buzz of a vibrant hive cocoons him, and the squishy plastic chair ripped under his legs.
So, he traces and traces and tries to count past twenty, and maybe draws a couple more racecars in-between.
"Percy," this time his hand doesn't drop like a domino but slows, grasping at notches in the air until it comes to his side. His eyes are wide. "You look so much like her," says the person in a white karate suit. There are other people dressed like him. A golden chain hangs around one's neck, knotted and looped, he recognizes it.
"Per Ankh," he responds, those words are words he practices everyday. House of Life.
"You know who we are?"
He gets up from the squishy chair, the rip scratches the soft underbelly of his thigh and forgets the star-pictures above him. "Momma said if anything happened I was to go to you, you'll take care of me."
There are shared glances. The person to the left smiles, so wide, it must hurt. The group moves as one to the white-board, the left man person is again the one that does something. He picks up a marker and draws a large blue pyramid. There are muttered words, and then, they're disappearing in a swirl of sand.
2: August 19th, 1999
Heliopolis, they call it.
It's underground and it smells of nutmeg, spices, vanilla, cinnamon and bunch of sweet smelling scents he has yet to put a name too. It's hard to keep the awe down, he hasn't the vocabulary to describe the place he's in. Like. It's a Barbie Mansion or maybe a treasure chest, huge and wide with lots of little-big things snug inside. Large columns painted with pretty pictures built so high, and the fitted community of mud houses and shops (stalls) cushioned on either side of him, the rainbow of people, seemingly larger than life, exotic with the black that surrounds their eyes like a raccoon's mask, and the glimmering jewelry —amulets— dotted and spotted on everyone. There are statues everywhere, carved or crafted, animal-heads and human bodies.
There's even a blue, snaking river that cuts through this place with lots of big fishes and other animals swimming.
He's shuffled to another place deeper into his new home, more isolated, located at a crossroad, called the Hall of Ages. This is where he parts from the people who picked him up.
Momma has always told to be brave; brave he is, he squares his shoulders and follows the shimmering blue carpet down, down, down. It's not like it's dark, no, there are floating balls of fire on either side of him and moving pictures like movies. A strange gut feeling him tells him off if he dares to stare for too long.
He has arrived before he knows it. He's in a room, a throne-room, the type to see in the fairy tales, except the wizened old king with skin like a lunch bag, so frail and tooth-picky, isn't sitting on the throne. He sits in a lesser chair draped in leopard skin glued to a staff covered in thousands of teeny-tiny pictures. A girl looks just about his age, is on the right side of the tooth-picky man. She's darker than him by several shades with hard golden eyes and short, shiny black hair. She catches his stare, giving him the stink-eye. He returns it, he also sticks his tongue.
He won't be bested by a girl.
"Be nice, Zia," says the man, it's not all raspy and weak, doesn't sound as if he's seconds away from Death. He has the urge to mimic him: Yeah Zia, be nice. "You as well, Percy Jackson."
(He hates the smile on Zia's lips, like she's won!)
He doesn't ask how he knows him, he really doesn't care.
"You have made quite a journey, Percy Jackson," says the man, fitting his milky stare on him. Guess what? A stare can weigh anything, this man's weighs a ton. "We will miss your mother greatly, her trip through the Duat will be kind."
He nods jerkily.
"Zia, show Percy where he will be staying," the man orders. Zia sucks in her bottom lip. She's there in a flash, grabbing his wrist and pulling him along. He notes that she gives off heat, like an oven or the iron, it's uncomfortable.
"Who was that?" he asks when they are near the entrance.
Zia gives him a look like he's stupid and doesn't know anything about anything. He can tell this will become a habit. "Master Iskander, Chief Lector, the head of the House of Life."
His lips are glued shut while Zia tugs him along in this new place, his home; he's back to staring at most everything, wondering how such a place is underground in Egypt. He thinks it deserves to be dug up for everyone to see and marvel at. It's just that pretty.
There are more decorative buildings. More columns with even prettier pictures. Stalls overflowed with lots and lots of hidden treasures, and foods of all kind (is any of it blue?). People with their things. Zia wrenches him out of his fervent ooh'ing with a sharp corner turn, they're in front of another structure impressive like the Hall of Ages.
It's made entirely of black rock with fancy designs and seated people with huge crowns on their heads pressed onto the building. The mouth of the building is like a snake. It's a little scary, but Zia pulls him right in.
"This is the home of the initiates, like me and you," she explains in her too-grown-up voice. "This is where we learn the basics of becoming a great magician." They pass empty classrooms filled with cushions and bowls and sticks and clay soldiers and scrolls and lots of other tools and things.
There are a lot of things.
"Where is everybody?"
Zia scoffs. Another stupid question.
"Sleeping," she says. He thinks she wants to add a 'duh' to the end.
She takes him to the rooms, or well, they pass by two rooms filled with beds, one is for boys, the other for girls. Then to another room, bigger than the one at his house with Momma. There are two beds. She lets him go only when they're inside.
"We will room and take lessons together, Master Iskander's rules."
He nods. Zia frowns and crosses her arms. He shrugs, it's not his fault if he doesn't get the full meaning behind her words. He takes the right bed, empty except for a weird pillow, shaped like long canoe, and a thin cotton blanket. Zia climbs into the left. He takes the right.
… if she hears crying she doesn't say anything, for that he is grateful.
3: November 1st, 2000
Ms. Whatsherface is speaking. He can't be bothered.
He's at his flat desk, valiantly trying to keep his head from slumping. He is tiiiiiired. The pencil droops in his hand just as his eyelids drop another tantalizing inch. It's a losing battle.
Hey! Don't blame him! It's not exactly his fault, Ms. Whatsherface has the most pleasant voice in the world, droning and monotone, devoid of any human emotion. It's a lullaby!
Plus, he was up all night, playing a retro switchboard operator. All the initiates were. A SOS had come out of the 25th Nome in Berlin, Germany; they had been overrun with an infestation of cheese and fire demons.
The clean-up crew promised fondue for their efforts.
"… the Ptolemaic dynasty…"
Up and at 'em. Time to smell the sahlab.
His pencil rights itself in his hand, he finds that he leans forward in anticipation, Master Iskander mentioned something about him being from the Ptolemy line. His lineage to the Egyptians.
"…turbulent reign… the last of the pharaoh's…"
Hold the phone. His eyebrows raise. He has the overwhelming urge to reach into his ears for clumps of earwax.
"Pharaoh's, that's a lie! Why do we even bother talking about them?" asks Ryan…Robbie…Raquel… in the corner, his black eyes shine bright with hate, his bushy eyebrows drawn together. "A long-line of weak, failed Greek foreigner godlings whose actions eventually led to the destruction of the Per Ankh with that stupid slut Cleopatra!"
There are nods of agreements from his fellow classmates. Ms. Whatsherface is silent, she doesn't offer a rebuttal. Why doesn't she offer a rebuttal? They weren't all bad. There has to be shining beacon in his family tree somewhere, he's part of an Egyptian dynasty, his blood is worth something.
"We should learn about the Kane's and Faust's, hailed from the first pharaoh, Narmer and Ramses the Great, they weren't foreigner dogs—"
They're looking at him.
"Have something to say?"
"You heard me," he says, his voice box set on low, his fingers curl around his pencil as tries to control his breathing. "Shut up about the Ptolemies!" Shut up about my family.
RyanRobbieRaquel sneers. "Figures, you'd be a sympathizer; you even resemble one of those wretches. Do you get off on marrying your siblings—"
The best way to describe it is like a distant bubble popping. Then, comes the whispered command of "Heqat," to summon his long staff forged by his hand. He stabs his staff on the limestone floor, three lines of ripples blinks in front of him. It means water, lots of it.
EnemyEnemyEnemy lights up in blaring red, he wants to destroy his classmate, render him useless, bring him to his knees, and so he does. The water laps at his skin, push and pull, until he commands it to drag RyanRobbieRaquel down under. His stupid hands reach out, grasping at nothing, gasping for needed breath.
Air bubbles escape.
Dark eyes closing.
He sucks in. Another distant air bubble pops. The water breaks, evaporates, and his classmate is left on the ground, like a one of those fish that have been landed. Pathetic. Small. Fighting for air—life.
His body feels like jelly, he leans on his long staff.
"I—I… they were good people," he says, willing his classmates to understand. "They made Egypt a powerful state. They adopted the native's customs… they… I… " He falters.
He gathers his supplies and pencils, heading to the door. He hesitates at the door frame. "M'sorry," he throws over his shoulder.
Then, he's gone.
4: May 20th, 2001
He kneels in front of Master Iskander. His cotton clothes stained. His hair frazzled, and his nails thick with dirt. (They found him at Naucratis, or well, Zia found him with her 'you're-pathetic' eyes) His cheeks are ruddy and his eyes are rimmed, they're going to kick me out, this is it… he wanted… wants…so badly to be part of this world, to be Egyptian, like Momma.
"Percy," he flinches with his name, it's feels like a slap.
He kneels further. His forehead touches the silk of the carpet. He won't say anything. He'll only make it worse. This is his sorry. This is his plea. Please don't kick me out. Please I'll try harder. I didn't mean too. It was an accident. I just— "Percy, why do you not look up?"
'cuz your eyes carry the weight of the world.
There is shuffling. And then, a warm hand on his back.
"Master Iskander," he says. He still keeps his eyes to the floor. "I have to ask forgiv—"
"There is nothing to forgive, if you wish, I will accept your misplaced apologies."
"You are kidding!" His face snaps up to look at Master Iskander, his hand falling off his back, only to move to his head. "I—I—I flooded the classrooms not by elemental magic or magic, I willed it; I nearly gutted the instructor when he tried to show me how to use khopesh, and whenever I do manage a khopesh it burns worse than Zia's flame, then, it becomes…copper, bronze— I can't even scribe— everything is wrong!"
His vision blurs.
A dry cough escapes Master Iskander. Belatedly, he realizes Master Iskander is laughing. His numerous crow feet crinkle around his eyes and he clutches his stomach. His cheeks redden, Master Iskander is laughing at me. I must be the worst magician in history.
"Percy," Master Iskander ruffles his hair. "You are of the Ptolemaic dynasty."
"You misunderstand, young Percy; you are descended from the Ptolemy line only in Egypt by Alexander's conquest. Further, you are a demigod of Greek descent. I cannot tell you who your father is, but I guess, it's a very strong Sea God… Poseidon or Triton."
"I'm not…" his shoulders slump. "Why am I here? Why did you come to the hospital that day, if I wasn't one of you, why didn't you drop me off with Greeks!" There is a sudden blistering hatred of these Greeks that bubbles in the pit of his belly. Their bad blood prevents him from normalcy.
"Sally expressed if anything were to happen to her, we would take you into our care."
Why did she do that? Surely, she knew that he wouldn't fit in amongst the Egyptians.
"Can I be excused?" he's already up on his feet, his eyes cast down.
He rushes out of the Hall of Ages, he pushes passed the crowd of people to his sanctuary, located in the oldest parts of Heliopolis, It's a secret room on the side of an abandoned adobe house, covered with charms to distract and hide to the normal bystander. Master Iskander showed him this, Zia also has one.
It's like a large-ish space with copper braziers situated in all four corners crackling with blue fire to light upon his entry into the room. The walls painted with classical Egyptian pictures, the Palm trees, the fellahin, cows, and the Nile. His favorite is Nut, her starry body stretched above him. He takes off his shoes at the door. His place is the center of the room where a couple cushions are.
There are multiple pictures stuck to the wall, some show him and Momma, and some are with Momma (young and grown-up), Master Iskander, and a beautiful woman with twinkling blue eyes, long blond hair, always the golden symbol of Isis; life, on her. These are given to by Master Iskander as is the funerary tablet chiseled with hieroglyphics he can barely make out, all of which, is for Momma's ka and her comfort in the life. She can have eternal food and drink, and always be safe no matter where she is in the Duat.
Lastly, there is a small statue of Anubis, not given to him by Master Iskander. It's shiny and black, no more than three inches tall, depicting Anubis in the usual Egyptian style, feet placed apart and hands at side. One of his first lessons learned in the House of Life is the Gods are bad, they are part of the reason why the House of Life is reduced to a fraction of what it is, why steadily magic is dwindling and people have forgotten the old ways in place of Western heretic pantheons (the Greeks and Romans).
"I'm not one of you," he tells Anubis, the words are bitter and hard to swallow. He fists his cotton shirt. "I…I…" the words do not come forth; they are lodged in his throat, jagged-edged. He thinks though that out of everyone he knows, Anubis understands the most. Anubis was an orphan too, and perhaps isolated because of his heritage as child of the evil God, Set.
Because today is a day for rule breaking, he falls asleep in his sanctuary away from the amulets and pillows that protect him and his ba. His fingers curl around the statue.
This is the first time he dreams of Anubis.
5: December 10th, 2001
There are maybe fifteen to twenty initiates in a given year, a new magician joins the classes, every four years if they're lucky. Often, these initiates split their time between the scrying bowls and trying to find the magic that feels just right, and when they inevitably do find a type of magic they're adept in, usually around the age of nine, initiates are expected to hone this skill, do research to find a proper master to guide them, and at thirteen they're fully fledged shesh, and are assigned to a nome by the acting Chief Lector (Master Iskander).
This is typical.
He and Zia are anything but.
As Zia puts it: "A good magician is adept in everything."
For once, he agrees.
Their normal week as an initiate: early mornings and late nights are devoted to scrying. Monday's and Wednesday's are Master Iskander days. These days are filled with language's (he is learning Alexandrian Greek with sprinkles of Latin, Zia learns something else— Divine Words, most likely), shabti-building, paths of magic (Storm Magic is the easiest, as is Animal Charming, he has a strange affinity for horses), and whatever else Master Iskander's supposedly muddled mind can think of. Tuesday is the day, he goes to class with the other initiates, to learn history. History is very important to Egyptians. Thursday is homework day, for him at least, Zia scoffs at him doing his homework. He suspects she already has a shabti for that, how unfair! (Alright, if his shabti weren't so Ra-damned misshapen he'd do the same in a heartbeat). Friday and Saturday are duel days. Sunday, he is put on patrol duty with Zia because Heliopolis is a helpless damsel under its beautiful facade.
It's fair to say because of all this —the unusual schedule among other things— he and Zia are isolated from the others. He can see it in the other initiates. Children are easily read in the face and eyes, they're envious of Zia and him. When he's among them, they don't talk, they whisper and glide around him, like ghostly specters.
He's trying to say Zia is his only friend, as lonely-sounding as that is.
She's not all bad. She's either a spark or a roaring fire depending on the day. Glowing amber eyes ready to ignite. Fearsome, bright, and burning in all that she undertakes. It's terrifying in a way, but like a fire, he's drawn in.
Not to say they don't butt heads, because, they do. A lot. Every. Single. Day.
… she understands too… she is an orphan without memory, her parents and village decimated, she has the same fierce drive to prove herself worthy.
Zia snaps her fingers in front of his face.
He must be wearing the dazed I-wasn't-listening-to-anything-you-were-saying face because she's wearing Annoyed #3.
His eyes dart around for clues. They're right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Heliopolis, seated outside a diner, a favorite of Zia's. From their allowance they manage a platter of kofta and kibda with two small drinks of soda.
He's absently nibbles on the meat of kofta, it's wonder he hasn't cut his mouth with his sharp-sided skewer.
"How you've learned any magic is an accomplishment. Your attention span is that of a dung beetle," she says, her brows furrow.
"Aren't dung beetles, um, scarabs, sacred? Maybe I'm renewing my thoughts as the great Khepri renews as the rising sun!" he smiles now, sticking out his tongue.
He guesses he deserves the fireball thrown at him.
6: July 31st, 2002
Godlings are dangerous. Gods, more so.
He's not the sharpest khopesh on this side of the Nile, he freely admits such. He forgoes his headrest covered in protective hieroglyphs, the type that keep his Ba from being loss in the Duat, or eaten by horrific spirits who like the tasty living and their kooky dreams. In place, he sleeps on a feathered-pillow, a typical amulet, the eye of Horus, sewed on both sides of the pillowcase.
Why does he do something so incredibly stupid?
So, he can visit Anubis, a god, a relatively major one; one that is his friend… right?
He throws another glance at Anubis. The God is trying to fix the scales of Ma'at, they're tilting and covered in rust, and the ostrich feather normally weighed against a person's soul isn't quite as ostrich-y as it should be. Ammit the Devourer, she gobbles the hearts of the unworthy, is pawing at the god's heels like a fat, lazy old dog.
All in all it isn't a scary scene. He can't imagine Anubis being anything more than the kindly old fart he knows.
But… he shivers.
He was on stand-by yesterday. He witnessed the true strength of magicians back in the old days and was given a glimpse into the machinations of the Egyptian Gods. They played humans like marionette's. They didn't care how it affected the human world, their agenda pushed to the front.
The House of Life cites Isis and Cleopatra as the example.
Ruby Kane and Amos Faust were at Cleopatra's Needle in England… it was a disaster… Master Iskander was both furious and oddly sad.
Zia and him caught the tale-end of his conversation with Desjardins. They were talking of more possible godlings; children of the combined Faust and Kane bloodline, how much of a hazard they posed.
Should they be kept alive?
Master Iskander hesitated on his answer…
He groans, scowling at the advancing God (Anubis has given up on the scales for the day). "Don't call me that!" he says, he doesn't doubt that he sounds like a broken record as he repeats these lines everyday. "My name is Percy!"
Anubis sits across from him on a pillow of linen. Ammit comes to his side. Her beady eyes watch him as she nuzzles under Anubis' hand. As usual, the God smiles at him, sharp-toothed and patronizing. "Sally gave you a perfectly good name, I will use it."
Ugh. "You wouldn't like it if I called you Hermanubis!" he blurts the name out. He's only just learned about it. "Why can't I have the same courtesy!"
For a second there, Anubis pauses, and Ammit growls at him, not one of those, cute-ish I-tolerate-you-and-will-not-eat-your-heart-for-breakfast-as-a-gift. It's a legitimate spine-tingling growl.
"Hermanubis," Anubis repeats, voice soft, like a question. The form he presents to him abruptly ripples, as if Anubis is a lake and he's thrown a stone in his waters.
Anubis is not Anubis. This Anubis before him is still jackal-headed. That is normal. The rest of him isn't normal. In his natural form, he is bare-chested, black-skinned as the color of death or fertile soil, and covered only by a white kilt. His arm bands golden and shiny. This Anubis is completely covered in toga, more man than animal. His arm bands are gone, the blackness of skin without a trace, and he carries with him a caduceus and wears fluttering sandals.
Like the blues of the Mediterranean Sea, this form of Anubis calls on him, in a way his original form doesn't. It's a subconscious knowledge, a part of him that is intimately familiar with this Anubis. It almost feels like… home, which makes zero sort of sense to him.
"You look weird," he announces, shuddering. "Go back."
Anubis does, as a teenage boy. This is Anubis' casual form… the one he silently dubs as 'Hot-Topic Goth.'
"Names have power, Perseus," Anubis says, he uses that know-it-all lilt.
His face heats up, he glances away, crossing his arms, a small 'tch' escapes him.
Anubis laughs at him, loud and airy, the sound bouncing off the walls.
"It isn't funny," he says totally not-pouting. Anubis' laughter only amplifies, even Ammit's grumbling in tune with Anubis. Traitor.
While he waits for Anubis to quiet down, he cannot help his reassessment. Maybe the Gods weren't all bad.
At least, not this one…
7: August 12th, 2003
"What is that?" Zia asks.
The crowd explodes into cheers just as he looks at Zia. Master Iskander is racing against an Apis Bull, you'd think he'd be skewered in half by, but he's pleasantly surprised. Master Iskander runs like a spring-chicken.
She has her hip cocked to the side. Her eyes are lined with black kohl, her shiny black hair normally tied in a bun or braid is hidden by an elaborate Egyptian headdress with dangly beads of every of kind, mostly small rubies and turquoise. Her arms and ankles covered in gold. Her dress is undeniably elaborate, probably silk with more beads and jewels. How she manages to move without sound is a feat of magic.
"Oh hi, Zia, I didn't see you there. It's nice to see you too. I'm doing fine, really enjoying the festivities. Thanks for asking."
She's not impressed.
Frankly, he isn't either. It isn't his best streamline tactic.
He twists his fingers around the white cord, the headphone jack is tucked into his boxers underneath the linen kilt, while the obnoxiously flashy yellow headphones hang around his neck. "It's a gift," he admits. "I like Spongebob. It's no big deal."
Liar, liar pants on fire.
Zia isn't convinced, why should she be, she takes personal pleasure in telling him what a horrible liar he is.
"Your face is like the Rosetta Stone to your thoughts and feelings," she told to him once.
"A gift from who? All gifts are supposed to go to Master Iskander for his continued health and…
"—dedication and wisdom to the Per Ankh," he rolls his eyes. "Yes, Yes, Zia I know. Desjardins has only said it about a gazillion times!"
"Perhaps, you need to hear it a gazillion times more. It goes against the rules—"
"What rules?" he says, irritation seeping into his words. "This is a twist on the Sed Festival. They're hasn't been a true festival in over two thousand years since Egypt fell; we lost our pharaoh and we were forced down here— and, it's not like I'm taking anything from Master Iskander. This is my own gift since we don't celebrate Christmas, and my birthday's coming up! And he didn't know the date when he gave it to me, otherwise, I bet he would've said the exact same thing as you. He's such an old man sometimes, a real stickler for tradition, and it wasn't like he wasn't safe, he put protective amulets and such on it…"
"You still avoided the question, who gave it to you," she says matter-of-factly, as if he hasn't spoken a word.
"I can't tell you!"
Her dark eyebrows raise. "Can't or won't?"
"Is there a difference?" he chews on his bottom lip, ripping off pieces of skin. His fists curls up. Her eyes light up.
"There is!" she says sharply. "You say he is an 'old man', if he is like those people Master Iskander warned us about—"
"He's nothing like that!" His ears redden, rearing back. "I-I- why would you even—Zia!"
The crowd goes wild again, the thunderous cheers and claps surround him. Then, the tell-tell 'crack', Master Iskander has undoubtedly destroyed the Apis Bull into a billion smithereens. He sighs, he was hoping for a piece of the clay bull. He searches Zia, her posture stiff, her amber gaze is unrelenting.
"You aren't going to let it go?"
Zia scoffs: why even ask such a stupid question?
He rolls his eyes to the high ceiling, somehow covered in colorful streamers flicked with confetti. He weighs his options, get heckled for days or months by Zia, or keep his secret. After all, she has to let up sometime.
"I will tell Master Iskander you're having improper relations, or maybe," her tone of voice becomes thoughtful. "I'll use a truth spell."
"Swearby the River Styx," the words slip out. He doesn't have time to figure out where they have come from. He means them, this is the type of promise that can't be broken. How he knows that he isn't sure. He's happy for the tip nonetheless.
"What is the River Styx?"
He shrugs. "Do you swear by it or not. You can go tell Master Iskander right now if you decide not to, my lips are sealed are otherwise."
"I swear by the River Styx…" she rolls her hand, gesturing for the rest of the promise.
"What Percy Jackson shows me today I will not tell anyone about ever," he says, thinking carefully. Zia's swear upon the River Styx is binding as anything, but a smart person could find holes. He doesn't doubt Zia's smarts.
Zia repeats it word for word. It's his time to uphold his end of the bargain.
He disappears into the crowd, Zia at his heels. They navigate the crowded streets. His stomach grumbles at the stalls they pass, they're filled with hot sahlab, meatballs, and yummy vegetarian dishes. It's more than that though, he has the desire to stop to bid time. His stomach is in knots.
They cross an invisible line. Here the Festivities aren't so loud, they're alone in the older parts of Heliopolis. The streets are cracked. The adobe houses are crumbling, the lights are dulled. This state of dilapidation is comfort to him. He manages a few more feet, then turns left—west, where a single house is secluded in the dark.
"There is nothing, you're leading me—"
He's forgotten about the charms Master Iskander has placed. He shakes his head, grabbing Zia's hand. "Just come on."
The blue lights flicker on, welcoming him back home. Zia sucks in a breath as he leads her further in. "This is… This is…" he feels her eyes rest on his back, heavy. He lets go off her hand, his sticky with sweat.
"Is that your Mother?" she asks.
He goes to sit on the lone cushion while Zia's attention is led by the wall. Her brown fingers are nimble as they trace over the Polaroid's, her face drawn in a weird expression, it's open, almost tender. "She's beautiful, you have her same eyes."
He nods, his throat curiously tight.
He points to his shrine dedicated to Anubis. The black jackal-headed God is shiny, its' jewel eyes set on Zia and him. There is evidence of him being there earlier: glazed green apples, small fresh cakes, and a cup of light beer.
"My headphones," he touches them. "Anubis got them."
Zia's lips pursue. He can read her face, or at least, can guess what she thinks.
This is beyond stupid. It's act of betrayal. When Egypt fell, Master Iskander banned the melding between gods and humans. The Gods were official enemies of the House of Life; their mission to destroy any Gods that attempt to reconnect with the human world, to send them back into the depths of Duat. And if they are especially black-listed, like Osiris, Seth, Sekhmet seal them up… maybe, even execration.
"Anubis isn't bad, Zia, really. He's an old fart most of time. He's harmless. He's never attempted to merge with me, or has ever brought it up, and you know how those stupid headrests, the ones I never sleep on them…"
She sends him a particularly piercing glare.
"Yeah Yeah, The Ba is a precious part of you, can't allow it to go off willy-nilly, the Duat is a deep, dark, hazardous, dangerous, demon-infested trench— I know, Anubis keeps it safe for me. We never go anywhere besides the Hall of Two Truths and no one is ever in there besides lil' Ammit, whose very cute by the way…"
A black eyebrow goes up, her lips are still tugged into a frown.
"And you're probably wondering how I met Anubis, well, it's after I had that incident in the classroom and I came here and I dreamed of Anubis. I mean I was without that stupid headrest and I thought he was like part of my dreams for awhile until he started telling me about my mother, he told me she had the purest heart he had seen in like a century, and I was like whoa, freaky dream, but I was talking aloud and he said he wasn't a dream and told me some more cool stuff, so, I believed him," Ra! Did he ever breathe? Did it make any sense? "And it's not like I'm completely stupid, Zia; I researched him. Did you know he's also the patron God of Orphans, and I'm an orphan, so he sorta has to be kind, and aren't there like a few exceptions to the Gods are all evil rule? Master Iskander always makes sure to check on Thoth every couple of months and sacrifice those hot wings, electric guitars, and other nifty toys in his honor.
"Jackson… Percy, you haven't given me the chance to speak," Zia says, she sits down beside him.
He prepares for the worst.
"You care a lot for Anubis?"
"You're sure he is good."
He nods again.
"It's an incredibly stupid gamble," she blows out. "But I believe you. The minute a toe is out of line…"
He nods once more. "Understood."
They leave it at that.
8: September 1st, 2004
Never let it be said that magicians aren't hands-on-learners.
As he gets older, at least fifty percent of his lessons involve dueling. His dueling partners are varied, they range from the newest of initiates to seasoned magicians from nomes around the world. He loves dueling, his most memorable one involves lots of cheese and hippos.
His favorite partner to duel with is Zia. Their overseer, Desjardins, also suites him because anything goes with him until someone is one on the verge of dying… trust him on that.
He may not have Zia stores in magic or her prodigal control (his personal reserves are that of six-year-old and dangerously chaotic to boot), he is flexible with what he does have; amulets, water, and a way with horses.
His staff is his right hand in all duels. Wands simply do not work for him, so, he has to compensate.
Water, he thinks, aiming his staff at Zia like a fancy water gun. Condensed balls of water go flying at Zia. She dodges, sending back her own fireballs. He uses the micro-seconds of relapse time to will the water into a sweeping wave, hoping to catch her off-guard.
He smiles. It does.
She whips around in his personal wave pool before her staffs cuts it apart, like she's freaking Moses and has parted the Red Sea. She flings her wand at him—come on, that's the oldest trick in the book, he won't fall for it— he raises his staff barely touching it when it crumbles and he's blinded by a bright flash.
Since this is his story, he only covers his eyes, and a high-pitched screech of terror doesn't come from his lips.
Zia is a beast. She doesn't give him a moment to recover. She's summoned Uraei, he's lucky in way. At least he isn't afraid of snakes because her counterattack would be the stuff of nightmares.
Scratch that, it is the stuff of nightmares, Uraei are flaming snakes (read: cobras) that Zia can apparently will to fly. His response is a black stallion with huge, flapping wings. Pegasus, he wants to say, but bites his tongue.
Its black eyes briefly flicker over to him, he imagines that the Peg—horse does a half-bow, which is completely ridiculous, before its attention zeroes back on Zia. It's just about to bar—
"STOP!" Desjardins screams, his forked beard bristling like a startled cat. He storms into the middle of their dueling field, and crushes his creation with storm magic, its essence becoming part of the wind.
"Why did you do that?" it bubbles up before he can stop it. "How dare you!"
Desjardins turns to him, his black eyes the darkest he's ever seen them, like storm clouds on the horizon. His face just the same. "Perseus," the Frenchman spits his name like it's a curse. "What was that—that— abomination!"
"Last I checked it was called a horse, I can't be too sure, I'd have to check with the locals!" he uses the same accusatory tone as Desjardins.
"Insolent foreigner brat, remember your place!"
"That's rich coming from you!" he has to remember to breathe. His anger is explosive, volatile, he can hear the Mediterranean waters violently crashing against the sandy shore, the waves reaching further up. He only has to see Desjardins wet, and the water will respond.
He shakes his head and grits his teeth. He spins on his heel, his staff hand shaking. He ignores Desjardins yelling at him to come back.
He'll be spending a few nights in his sanctuary. Anubis will be there.
9: April 11th, 2006
It's Zia thirteenth birthday!
He can't fathom why he's also in the Hall of Ages next to her. His thirteenth birthday is four months and a week away, and yet here he is.
A magician's thirteenth birthday is special. It's the day the Chief Lector, Master Iskander, assigned an initiate a nome. Then, they are considered full-fledged, capable magicians.
Zia's back is ramrod straight. She's dressed in her best, her face betrays nothing. As usual, she's a stark contrast to him. He's sweating bullets in clothes from yesterday, trying to stay in the same spot.
Master Iskander is in front of them, leopard skin in all, Desjardins at his side. Master Iskander addresses Zia first in her original tongue, Arabic. He can only understand bits and pieces. The gist of it is what he expects from Master Iskander. Zia is his star pupil, he cannot be anything but proud of her, and he knows she'll be awesome…r in the future.
For the big reveal, her assigned nome is here, in Egypt, the first. Only the most powerful, the most special of magicians, are assigned here at thirteen. You have to be elite. Again, he expects this. Zia's really the best.
"T-Thank you," Zia sputters out, a crack in her otherwise stony facade.
Master Iskander smiles, says some more. Blah, Blah. All is merry.
His stomach is beginning to feel like a nest of worms, all squirmy and wriggly. He bounces on his heels. What could they possible want with him? He racks his mind, trying to come up with anything he's done in the past few days… months. He comes up empty.
Unless this is about Anubis!
The headphones he wears suddenly weighs two tons. They cannot have found out. He swore Zia to secrecy. Master Iskander has never given him any indication that he knows of his altar in his sanctuary, or where his Ba goes every time he closes his eyes.
He sucks in his bottom lip, stealing a glance at Desjardins. They hadn't been on the best of terms since the incident a couple of years ago. Is he the one that will call him out?
"Percy?" Master Iskander says.
He squeaks, thrust back into the moment. He looks around. Zia is gone. "Uh, yes?"
"You're being assigned a nome."
Oh, well, this is a bit of news is welcomed. The next question is: why he is being assigned a nome early?
"The 21st Nome in Brooklyn, New York under Amos Kane."
"Are you insane?!" he's never spoken up again against Master Iskander, he's never had a reason too, but maybe old age has finally kicked in. Everybody knows the 21st Nome is divided territory. "You would send me there? Where those…those… usurpers are!"
"How dare you question—"
"I wasn't talking to you, shut your stinky pie-hole!" he takes a half-step forward. His headphones clack against his heated skin. "Is this my punishment, did I do something wrong?"
Master Iskander leans against his seat. If possible he's gained more wrinkly lines. "You have done nothing wrong, Percy," the tiny hieroglyphics lines that shine above, glow bright, smashing against each other in speeds that are too fast for him to see. "It's… you will understand in time why I'm sending you there."
"I'm one of you, I'm not Greek! I'm Egyptian!"
Master Iskander milky eyes are tired, his staff is his support.
IbelonghereDon'tsendmeawayThis my homeDon'tdothisPlease
"You leave tonight, Percy."
10: May 18th, 2006
Here he is in Manhattan. Greek territory. Drenched in Monster Guts… err, glittering golden dust(it's going to take him weeks to rid the dust specks stuck to his headphones), standing in a corner with a paraplegic history teacher and a rasta-dressed student (he looks like a person that's failed the seventh grade about eleven times) strangely agile in metal crutches, sniffing at him.
The old lady, the one that has followed him since he stepped foot in New York, is to his left. Her leather jacket is the only thing that remains.
"He smells strong, Chiron," the over-aged kid says taking another whiff of him.
He jerks back. Personal space, much?
"He shouldn't have been able to survive this long without someone noticing!"
"There are ways, Mr. Underwood," the teacher-dude—Chiron, rocking Professor X says, eyeing him. "If I may inquire, who are you?"
He crosses his arms. "I was told to never talk to strangers."
A hint of a smile. "You didn't seem to be afraid of the monster you just took down."
He snorts. When you've faced off against cheese demons, there is very little to be frightened of.
"You have your mother's eyes," says Chiron, jumping topics so fast it gives him whiplash.
"You knew my mom."
It isn't a question. His fingers twitch against his jeans, his heartbeat thuds in his ears. Run.
"We were looking for you for quite awhile, Mr. Jackson," the guy leans forward. "Sally named you after one of the greatest demigods I've ever had the pleasure of training."
Training? Demigods. He takes a step back. What were the odds, he'd end up here? With Greeks.
"No. It can—"
"The world isn't as black as white as you expect, Mr. Jackson," Chiron says, in what he assumes is a soothing manner. Chiron undoubtedly takes his half-choked denial like he's a regular kid and has been told the cake was a lie. "Sally was mortal. Your Father was a powerful, Greek God; you're a demigod."