Title: Camp Gladius - Part I
Characters/Pairing: Percy Jackson and the Roman demigods.
Warning/Spoilers: Contains The Lost Hero spoilers. Happens during the events of said book. May or may not be some minor swearing . . . I didn't see any, but then again I don't necessarily care about cussing so. Just wanted to point it out in case there is some foul language. Another warning: There will be lots and lots and lots of italics.
A/N: Yeh, I was not kidding about the size of this. *dies* It originally started out as an oneshot and was 12,000+ words before I decided to actually split this in half as a twoshot-ish kind of thing. Still, the longest piece of FF-related stuff that I've ever written. It went through rigorous editing because I still don't exactly like it, and it's still probably going to suck. :D
This was posted because I have ROO chapter 3 unbeta'd and thus it is not suitable for posting, so don't expect an update until ROO is completely finished. Also, don't trust the Latin. I used Google translate. Anyone who does speak it are welcome to tell me the correct equivalent! XD Written for Lola Sveroski's Original Cliche Challenge. *nod*
I am semi-proud of it. Kind of. Yeah. This was beta'd by Ariadne's Twine. As for you, reader, you get a cookie if you read it all the way. Of course, there'll be a part two containing the real action. Reviews are loved but not needed for my survival. Stay with me, people. I love you for it. ;D
Oh. And every dragon/Head Monster featured in here was made up. I don't know if it exists in Roman mythology or not. Hah. Enough of my rambling.
Dedication: For Trevor and Cody. Hope you enjoy it, boys.
· Part I ·
Something warm and furry brushed against his face when he stirred. His eyes snapped open and he started to sit up, but an animal growled and he was pushed back down on the ground by a paw, making him close his eyes briefly.
The growling continued, and he opened his eyes to see a dark brown, almost reddish, underbelly of an animal standing over him protectively, snarling at something in front of it. He turned his head, the rest of his body immobile, to see what the animal was looking at and stifled a gasp.
The thing that his protector was snarling at was a five-headed dragon, taller than all the redwoods in the forest. I summoned you here, but he is not part of the Challenge, monster, the thing growled—well, it didn't actually speak, but he could hear it in his mind nonetheless. Go back into the woods where your Challengers await you. Now.
The dragon whined and snorted, backing up and then crashing through the woods again. The animal's hackles dropped and it stepped off of him, nosing around his bare chest and sniffing—wait, what? Where was his shirt?
He sat up and saw that the remainders of it were in tatters, scattered around the ground. Then he looked at the animal and backpedalled when he saw that it was a wolf. A very large wolf that was probably very hungry.
The wolf looked up and made a deep, throaty sound. If he didn't know better, he would've said that it was laughing. You have potential, pup. Come. I will take you to Gladius and wait until the Challenge is completed.
"What—what challenge?" he asked breathlessly, his vision spinning when he managed to stand up. Black spots danced across the forest. He figured that the wolf that could talk could be trusted. It had saved him from that monster, after all.
The Challenge is something you can do to prove your worth. You are not ready for it, pup. The wolf hardly glanced back at him as it said this. He tried not to feel angry at its implications.
"Of course I'm ready! I just need a weapon, some armor and healing supplies," he retorted sharply, still wondering if the animal was going to decide that it was hungry and eat him.
The wolf barked a laugh. Your arrogance will be your downfall. You can barely walk straight, you are dehydrated, and you have no idea where you are. I should kill you where you stand. You have no idea who I am or what I'm capable of. The whole point of the Challenge is to fight in the wilderness to survive with the clothes on your back and magic item of your choice, pup. Then—if you survive—you are exempt from defeat.
He blinked. "Exempt from defeat? What's that supposed to mean?"
Again, the wolf barked a laugh and continued walking. You will see what I mean, pup, when we reach Gladius. As Jason is missing and Reyna is participating in the Challenge, the fauns will make sure that you do not die of sickness until the Challenge is complete. I would hate it if you succumbed to death. Such a small thing as disease is trivial for one with such potential as you.
"Jason? Reyna? Who are they?" He took the liberty to glance around. He was surrounded by forestry, with the one exception of the huge ravine to his right. He couldn't help wondering what that was for.
Jason is a missing camper of Gladius. Reyna, you will see when the Challenge is over. The wolf abruptly leapt over a fallen redwood bark and stared at him critically, waiting for him to do something. Follow me. He frowned at the log and noticed the hole beneath it seemed just big enough for him to squeeze through.
The wolf gazed at him when he reached its side and nodded. Not the way you should've done it, but it works. For now. Never take the easy way out, pup. It makes you lax, soft and easy to conquer. Aut vincere aut mori—conquer or die. This is your way.
He nodded, still confused. "Right, whatever. What—what was that thing back there? The one that wanted to have me for lunch? Where am I?"
That was Quinque Capita, the head monster that all Challengers must defeat together in order to win the Challenge. I summon him from his location in the world to the forest. Every two months it is a different head monster.
The animal led him to a cliff overlooking a valley and nudged his hand. Come. This is Aventine Cliff. We approach Gladius. It turned to the side and began hopping down the rocks that had fallen down the cliff, forming a sliding ramp to reach the ground.
He followed it and lost his balance, slipping and falling onto the rocks, his upper body leaning precariously over the edge. His eyes widened, fear totally encompassing him. I'm going to die. Crapcrapcrap. "Uh, whoa, whoa—talking wolf, could you help me out here?"
There was a growl. Prove your worth, pup. Save yourself, it sneered. I do not help the weak, especially if they address me as 'Talking Wolf'. He flailed at its words and grabbed the edge of the sharp rocks, pushing himself backwards. Oddly, he didn't feel any pain at getting scratched by rocks at all. As quickly as it had happened, he was back on solid ground with no danger of falling off. Almost as fast, the wolf was in his face, its teeth exposed in a vicious snarl.
You are acting like a blind weakling, not knowing where to go or what to do. Slowly but surely you're convincing me to eat you like I do to the weaklings after being tested at the House. Now, do as I do and keep your support on the solid wall. Roma is expecting me to keep you alive, providing that you do not infuriate me, and I will not fail the Protectress, it snarled, silver eyes flashing.
He got up, his legs weak and jelly-like, and brushed off his jeans. He kept a hand on the cliff's wall of stone for balance like the wolf said. After five minutes, they were safely on the grass. The wolf nodded, satisfied. Now come. We must find your parent and sort you to your tent as well as get you a new set of clothes.
He nodded, blinking at the sky. "Wait, where are we? I already asked this but you didn't answer."
I've told you, pup. You are in Gladius. Though how, I am still unsure of. I did not bring you here of my own accord. Listen, and stop annoying me with your redundancy.
He ran a hand through his hair, still unsure of why he was in this place and why he was following a talking wolf that was having second thoughts about not eating him. "No, I meant like . . . what country? State? Et cetera?"
Camp Gladius, California, United States of America. Near San Francisco. Does that answer your question?
"Yes. Kind of. I'm not sure. Thank you?" Under his breath, he mumbled, "I'm still confused . . ."
The wolf stopped. We are here. He eagerly looked around, only seeing a circular maze of many tents with various symbols on them—waves, lightning, a fireball, the sun and a door were just a few examples—and a large circle filled with sand, outlined in smooth pebbles, to the right of the tents.
By the stone circle was a dirt path leading back to another forest, branching off to go into two different low circular stone walls, each roughly the size of a pasture. A lake was behind the tents with a wooden dock. Behind the tents were two hills, and he could make out a dirt path going between them—to what, he didn't know.
He was confused at the sight of the grounds; feeling like something . . . different should've been in its place. I'm not supposed to be here, he thought to himself. What is this place?
The wolf interrupted his mangled thoughts by a small growl. Then it lifted up a chocolate red paw, threw back its head, and howled. He winced at the sound and straightened when it was over. "What do we do now?"
We enter Gladius. I have announced my arrival. Fauns will be here to care for you soon.
The wolf glanced at him in annoyance. Did you not learn anything in your education? Did your mortal parent not tell you anything about Roman beliefs?
His mind was bombarded by images of an older woman wearing a red, white and blue apron that said Sweet on America. She had brown hair and blue eyes and she was running her hand through his hair.
"I've tried to keep you as close to me as I could. They told me that it was a mistake. But there's only one other option—the place your father wanted you to go. And I just . . . I can't stand to do it."
He blinked and shook his head, breathing hard. The wolf stopped and gazed at him. Does something trouble you?
"No." He looked up and saw three animal-like things coming towards them, all wearing purple shirts . . . and nothing else. The lower halves of their bodies were covered in curly but shaggy fur of varying colors. He blinked in surprise, sure that he had seen these things before, but he just . . . couldn't . . . remember.
They bowed. "Mother Lupa," the one with the white hindquarters greeted, stepping forward after rising, "have you brought us a new arrival? He's older than the toddlers you usually bring to us."
The wolf nudged him forward. Yes, he is. I was watching the Challengers in the forest when I somehow stepped on him. I do not know how he got here, but he is dehydrated and weak. Nurse him back to health.
The faun nodded. "Namque mater Roma? Ita vero." They took him by the arms and brought him to a tent with a large red cross on the sides of it. Inside, it had three rooms, too big to actually fit inside of one tent. The floor was wood and the walls were brick. He had a feeling that tents weren't supposed to have brick walls or wooden floors. "This is the infirmary. Has Mother Lupa determined you?"
He blinked. "Lupa? Who's Lupa?"
The white-haired satyr frowned. "Mother Lupa is the wolf that you saw outside. She saved your life, boy. Be grateful. My name is Kozel. Now, eat this and rest." He handed the boy an apple and led him to a thick mattress on the ground. He took a bite of the apple and blanched at its taste.
"What is this sh—" He never got to finish the question. He dropped the apple and fell back onto the mattress, unconscious.
When he woke up from his deep sleep, a girl with straight brown hair and hazel eyes was wiping his face with a wet cloth. "Don't worry, you're safe now," she whispered. "The Challenge is over and you'll be sorted soon. Let's hope you survive this, newbie."
"What?" he asked groggily, trying to sit up again. She pushed him back on the mattress sternly.
"Stay still, you idiot. You're no use to the Mater Roma when you're weak. You need to rest to get your strength back."
"Mater Roma? What? What's going on—?"
Someone knocked at the door and she turned around, cutting him off by shoving a piece of the apple he'd eaten earlier back into his mouth forcefully. He swallowed it accidentally and went limp once more.
The curly-haired blonde girl looked around then looked back at him when she saw no one was around. "What's going on? What was stolen? We only have a few weeks!"
"I'm sorry," he mumbled through mouthfuls of spoon-fed pudding, "I don't . . ."
She looked at the door with a gasp and shut him up by putting another spoonful of pudding in his mouth.
The next time he woke up, the girl was gone and so were all the fauns. He was feeling an odd sense of déjà vu as he sat up, looking around the large room. Then he realized that he was wearing a plain, deep purple shirt, and a new pair of jeans was on the edge of the bed.
. . . What?
He ignored the jeans and got up from the cot, rubbing his face in exasperation, trying to remember what had happened before he met the wolf—Lupa, he corrected mentally. Except, I have no idea who Lupa's supposed to be.
He pushed through the thick burlap tent flap and squinted at the light. "Hey, the sleeper awakens!" a jovial voice joked from beside him. He looked around to find the voice belonging to a blonde girl with green eyes, accompanied by another girl and two boys. "Hello, new camper, and welcome to Gladius. We hope that you enjoy your stay here, however long that may be." The boys snickered at Blondie's words and elbowed each other as if it was an inside joke.
He grinned uncertainly. "Um, who are you?"
Blondie winked and smiled at him. "I'm Gwendolyn Morrison, daughter of Apollo. These two boys are Bobby and James Garcia, twin sons of Mars, and this lovely lady right here is Dakota Wright, daughter of Ceres. The girl that nursed you back to health is Hazel Scott, daughter of Trivia. Has Mother Lupa sorted you yet?"
She talked too fast. He had no idea who those people Gwendolyn had rattled off about were, except for Mars, because that was a planet, and Apollo because he was a Greek god and he faintly remembered something about him. "Um, who are Ceres and Trivia?"
Dakota narrowed her eyes. "So much for him being a new camper. Mother Lupa quizzes everyone on our parents," she said, raising her hands. Vines shot out of the ground and wrapped around his legs. They all laughed when he fell. Dakota stepped on his chest, leaning over and studying him. "So how'd you get past the border, kid?"
A vine wrapped around his arms, binding him. He scowled at her. "I don't know. Lupa brought me here. I was in a forest and she was protecting me from a five-headed dragon."
Dakota's eyes became mere slits. "You will address her as Mother Lupa, weakling. Am I understood?"
There was a snarl and a reddish-brown blur appeared in front of him. Do not touch him, Dakota, Lupa snarled. Roma gave me a vision about this pup, and I will not fail her. If you endanger him again, I will see to it that your writing hand is cut off.
Dakota's eyes widened and she kneeled immediately once she got off of him and gathered her wits. The vines shriveled and disappeared back into the dirt and he breathed a sigh of relief. She whispered almost reverently, "Mother Lupa. It is an honor." The others soon followed her example and the she-wolf turned to him expectantly.
He stared at her, unsure of what to do. "Fool," whispered Bobby gleefully. "You better bow down to the Mater or she might kill you where you are."
He nodded quickly, feeling stupid, and turned over onto his stomach, bending down on one knee and looking at the ground. Lupa started to make that low rumbling sound that he'd heard earlier, almost like she was laughing. Rise, proud children of Rome. You, boy, stay. I must sort you eventually and I suppose I should do it now.
He looked up at her in surprise. "Sort?" he whispered. His question was unanswered.
Lupa threw her head back and howled twice, raking her claws in the dirt. Then she sat up and waited, until a crowd of about fifty or so kids plus ten fauns were gathered around.
Next, the she-wolf rose to her feet and started sniffing his body. Her hot, wet nose pressed to his arm many times, making him feel uncomfortable. Once, she ran over to the tents, sniffing their entrances, and she would go back to him and press her nose against his cheek.
After what seemed like forever, Lupa stepped back and sat in the dirt. I have determined him. Ave Neptunius—hail, son of Neptune! Lupa barked. Rise, my pup. The crowd went up in a standing ovation when he stood and looked around in wonder. After a few minutes of being congratulated, the girl who had appeared in the infirmary appeared by his side.
"What happened?" he asked her. She didn't seem to hear him.
"Congratulations!" she shouted over the crowd's noise. "My name's Hazel. Mother Lupa told me to be your guide to Gladius for the week. Once you get the proper training and you're assigned to your Legion, you'll fit right in, I'm sure. What's your name again?"
"What just happened?" he yelled, louder.
She looked confused. "Mother Lupa just determined who your godly parent was, stupid. She can tell by smelling your scent, because your smell is masked by your parent's distinct scent. That's what attracts the monsters that, no doubt, chased you here. She told me just now that I'm officially assigned to be your guide in this place. But in order to do that, I need to know what your name is."
He closed his eyes and told her—that much, he knew for certain. She leaned back and put her hands on her hips, smirking.
"Welcome to Camp Gladius, Percy Jackson."
The next day, when everyone was back in order, Hazel was horrified to know that Percy knew next to nothing about the Roman gods. "Well, do you know anything about the Greek gods? Because the Romans are basically a much better and more organized version of the Greeks with different names. Although I hate to look at them that way," she muttered.
He blinked, wondering why he was so calm—it was as if he'd known that the Roman gods existed in life and roamed the earth, having kids every few years or so. "Percy?" Hazel pressed. "You do know who the Greek gods are, right?"
Greek gods, Greek gods . . .
Twelve thrones, built for beings the size of giants were arranged in an inverted U, just like the cabins at camp. An enormous fire crackled in the central hearth pit. The thrones were empty except for two.
He approached the fisherman's net throne and knelt at his feet. "Father."
"Should you not address the master of this house, boy?" demanded the man in the dark pinstripe suit. He was sitting on a solid platinum throne and had a neatly trimmed black beard with spots of silver, like a storm cloud.
He shook his head, clearing his thoughts. Hazel eyed him warily. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he said, his voice trembling. "I don't know. I'm not supposed to be here." She raised an eyebrow.
"Of course you are. This is the only safe place for people like us. You may be disoriented from wherever you came from, but if Mother Lupa's accepted you, then you're welcome here." He shook his head in response. She shrugged and leaned forward, pointing to the textbook in a language that he could only read snippets of.
"This was printed out in Latin, for easier reading on our dyslexia. Our brains are hard-wired for Latin, you see, because our immortal parents are the Roman gods. I'm guessing you also have ADHD, which all of us have too. It keeps us alive in battle. Have you ever seen monsters in your life, Percy?"
He bit his lip and closed his eyes, ransacking his mind for anything that would count as being horrific and monstrous. Suddenly, a vision flashed before his eyes again.
The monster lunged at the girl with the dark hair in a braid and silver circlet. Miraculously, she dodged the slashing fangs and weaved through the monster's heads as she ran in their direction, practically gagging from the terrible smell of its breath. Percy pulled out a sword to help. "No!" the girl panted. "Run!"
The dragon snapped at her side and she cried out.
He blinked, biting his lip, and looked up to meet her gaze. "Yeah," he said, confused by all these visions that kept plaguing him. "I saw a dragon once."
Hazel laughed. "I get it. The head monster of the Challenge, right? That was a hard one. Well, for a kid of such a powerful god, I'm surprised you even lived to your age. How old are you? Sixteen?"
"Seventeen," he responded. Hazel nodded.
"Cool. I'm sixteen. But for a son of Neptune, it's very rare for a monster not to attack you, especially considering your age. Russell was brought at age four to Lupa because a monster sent by Jupiter tried to kill him. Jason was brought to Mother Lupa at two because Jupiter made his mom do it for fear of Juno. He and Jason didn't really get along and he's more than happy that Jason went missing. However, most get attacked at the age of eleven. That's when I was attacked." Her face darkened. "My dad sacrificed himself to the monster in my place when I promised to reach this camp."
"I'm sorry for your loss," he said sincerely. He didn't know who Russell or Jason was, and he was still unsure of why he was here instead of somewhere else, but he wasn't going to question it yet. It was doubtful Hazel had the answers anyway.
She shook her head. "Enough with that. I don't need your sympathy." She scowled at him. He blinked, frustrated by her sudden hostility. Was it his fault that he was trying to be nice? "I need to teach you about the Roman gods and their Greek counterparts. But we don't call them by their Greek names, okay? It's all about Mater Rome. So, I'll start with the main twelve gods. First, there's Jupiter and Juno, or Zeus and Hera, who are the king and queen of the gods. Then there's Pluto and Neptune, Hades and Poseidon, who are Jupiter's brothers. Jupiter's kids were the rest of the Dii Consentes—Diana, Apollo, Mars, Minerva . . ."
At the end of the day, she showed him where the Neptune tent was—the one with the green trident outlined in blue on the sides, branching off from the one in the eagle to start the circular maze. "These tents were enchanted by my mother Trivia," explained Hazel. "So they may seem small on the outside, but on the inside there's a room for every camper plus an outhouse near the back of the fauces."
"Fauces? What are those?"
"Entry hall, living room, main room, whatever you want to call it."
He was just about to go inside when she grabbed his arm. "I forgot to tell you the schedule," she explained, taking a step back. "Tomorrow, we wake up from Mother Lupa's howls at promptly seven o' clock. We're expected to be out and ready for breakfast in ten minutes, and breakfast lasts for forty-five minutes.
"Then we have five minutes to get to our training sessions, which usually last for an hour. After that, if it's a Friday, we go to that stone circle over there," she jerked her thumb at the sandy place he'd seen earlier, "to watch the weekly gladiator fights. The fighters of that are chosen by Mother Lupa on Saturday and given a week to train. After that, we have two more training sessions and a half-hour study of Roman history and their gods. Then we have the rest of the day off as free time, but we must be in our parent's tent by 8:30."
"Or else what?" he asked.
She smiled sadly. "Mother Lupa eats you. It's happened before."
His eyes widened. "Well, then. Thanks for the memento, I guess. I'll take care to not roam the camp after 8:30."
"Laundry day's always on Wednesday, during free time." He pursed his lips and nodded, putting that in his mind for something to remember. She smiled and waved a goodbye.
"Goodnight, Percy. See you in the morning." She turned and walked away. He stared after her for a minute, until she disappeared into the tent with the fireball symbol on the sides. Muttering to himself, he lifted up his tent's own burlap flap and went inside. At the sight of what was inside, he stopped in his tracks.
There was literally nothing except a crude wooden thing that he figured would be a dresser, and a mattress with a moth-eaten blanket. In the corner of the tent was a boxed-off section, which he figured was the indoor outhouse that Hazel had talked about.
"You've got to be kidding me," he muttered angrily under his breath. However, he accepted it as a Roman thing that he'd eventually get used to. When he opened the thing that was supposed to be a dresser, he saw two pairs of plain purple shirts with jeans, and a jacket. No pajamas. He'd have to sleep in the clothes on his back.
He frowned in disappointment and fingered the leather band necklace. In a swift decision, he tugged it over his head and examined the beads for the first time. One was pitch-black, with a sea-green trident in the center. The next was a pine tree on white background.
Another was of a maze, black lines painted on an orange bead. And the last was of a tall building on a dark green background. All these symbols were screwing with his head. Percy felt that he should've known what they meant. However, all he could come up with, no matter how hard he tried, was blankness.
He set the bead necklace on the surface of the pseudo-dresser and sat down on the hard mattress, trying not to feel too frustrated. Eventually, he lay back on the uncomfortable mattress, wrapping the moth-eaten blanket around his feet.
The warm air of California didn't really make him feel cold, so he went without it, moving around and switching positions to find the most comfortable pose on the bumpy cot. Something uncomfortable poked into his side and he sat up, finding that it was in his jeans' back pocket.
Percy stood up from the unpleasant cot and pulled the thing out of his back pocket, lifting it up to his line of vision to examine it. He couldn't really make it out very well in the darkness, but the thing looked like a pen.
"This . . . is a pen. Why do I have a pen?" he asked himself irritably. After examining it and finding it of no use to him, he set it down on the dresser's surface, next to the bead necklace.
Later, he closed his eyes and was claimed by sleep.
"Put you cap back on," he said to a blonde girl—the same one who had been feeding him pudding, except she was much older. "Get out!"
She gave him an incredulous look. "What? I'm not leaving you!"
"I've got a plan. I'll distract them. Use the metal spider and get back to his workshop. You need to tell him what's going on."
"But—Percy, you'll be killed!"
"I'll be fine. Besides, we've got no choice. You deserve to live."
She glared at him fiercely. "So do you, stupid! Come with me—we can escape together." At his stubborn shake of his head, she stood up on her tiptoes and grabbed a fistful of his hair in her hand, bringing his lips down to hers. When she pulled away, she grabbed a blue New York Yankees' cap out of her pocket, gripping it so hard her knuckles were white.
"Be careful, Seaweed Brain," she whispered before putting on the cap and disappearing.
He awoke with a start, sitting up and whispering "No!" involuntarily. He rubbed his face with a low groan. "Gods, stop terrorizing me with these visions. I want to be left in peace. Please."
Something troubles you, pup?
He looked up quickly and met the silvery eyes of Lupa. The she-wolf was standing at the entrance to his tent, looking at him critically. "Mother Lupa, it is an honor," he said, mimicking the actions of the other campers whenever Lupa had been around.
She barked a laugh and climbed onto his mattress, pushing his legs away with her nose for room. You are learning who your superiors are. Good. Now what are these visions that you speak of?
"You . . . care?"
She sneered, but didn't answer. Tell me what these visions that haunt you are.
"I—I don't know what you're talking about."
Lupa growled and stood on his mattress, her nose touching his menacingly. Do not lie to me, pup! I can smell your fear, your honesty and untruth, and the scent of your parent. My nose is more powerful than you know. Now, tell me what these things that have bothered you the entire day are.
He leaned away from her, fear gripping him again. "I've been getting visions and all of them include me. They're all so real, too, like they actually occurred some point in my life. It frustrates me, because I get these from a single word or phrase or something and I don't know what happened before I woke up to see you protecting me from that dragon thing—thanks for that, by the way."
She nodded and lay down, resting her head on her paws and staring at him expectantly. He felt pretty stupid spilling his guts to a wolf, but something about her gaze made him think that he would regret it if he didn't. To be honest, she intimidated him greatly.
"They appear out of nowhere and I'm in a daze during it, apparently. It's aggravating and wearisome—they're unable to be reached by my mind. I mean, everything about this camp confuses me. I was expecting something different when you showed me Gladius, to be honest, and it confused me on why I was expecting something different, since I've never been here before in my life."
Lupa cocked her head to the side. You are suffering from amnesia?
"I—I don't know. Anything. That's the problem."
You are suffering from amnesia. It seems to me that your memories are showing themselves to you, trying to give you insight on your past, Percy Jackson. You are strong enough to deal with it. I felt that when I saw you lying unconscious among the forestry. If it hadn't been for my promise to Roma I would've chosen to protect you anyway. Providing you didn't irritate me, of course.
He laughed softly. "Let me guess—you would eat me if I did?"
I've done worse. She stood up again and licked his cheek. Be strong, pup. For the trials that you are about to face will require everything that Gladius will teach you.
He nodded uncertainly and she walked off the mattress, onto the dirt floor. "Wait—Mother Lupa. Are all the tents this, um, unfurnished?"
Lupa looked around and barked a laugh. Prove your worth to Gladius, pup, and your living conditions will gradually increase in quality. This is the state of every room for all campers when they first arrive.
"Right. How do I, um, fix the quality?"
Win battles. Survive Challenges. Conquer and show your usefulness to me. Weakness is not an option here, nor is it tolerated. She paused at the tent flap and looked back at him. This conversation never happened.
He nodded. "Of course."
She looked back at the burlap flap and disappeared back into the night. He stared after her before lying back down on the mattress. Thirty minutes later, he was claimed by a deep, dreamless sleep.
Percy woke up with a start, rolling over and falling out of the mattress thing, listening to the second piercing howl that followed the one that had awakened him. Remembering Hazel's words, he changed into the fresh set of clothes and emerged from the tent, his eyes drawn to the cliff, where Lupa was standing, watching him.
He looked away from the wolf and glanced around, wondering where he should go for breakfast. "Looking for the dining hall?" an amused voice asked. He turned around to see a guy watching him carefully. He nodded, sheepish, and the boy nodded as if he was expecting it. "I figured. You're the new guy, right? Mm. I'm Russell Murphy, son of Pluto. Follow me."
So this is the Russell that Hazel was talking about, he thought. Russell led Percy down a path that cut through the circle of tents to a large stone building that he hadn't seen when he first arrived to Gladius. "There's breakfast inside. You know the schedule?"
Percy nodded and looked at the top of the building. "That has a roof, right?"
"Yeah. It's flat stone though, so you can't see it."
"But it isn't supposed to rain here, is it?"
He looked at Percy and raised an eyebrow. "We have magical boundaries to prevent monsters from getting inside, unless Mother Lupa summons them for the Challenge or the weekly battles, but it doesn't stop the weather. She thinks it'll help us with our endurance and stamina." He smiled. "What, you don't like getting wet every once and a while?"
Percy looked up at the cloudless sky and then back at his feet. "No, that's not it," he muttered. "I don't know why I was thinking that the weather would be stopped here. Sorry."
Russell narrowed his eyes and shrugged. "Whatever. Eat up, 'cause you'll need it. The new kids are always pushed to their limits the first day." He grinned at the inside joke and turned around, walking away and leaving Percy alone.
"You're not eating?" he called after Russell.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder. "No. Breakfast isn't my thing."
Percy swallowed and nodded. When he entered the building, there were three rows of tables, all occupied. He looked to his left, where another line of tables was placed, filled with food. Hazel appeared at his side, beaming.
"Decided to join us for breakfast, I see! I'm sorry I didn't show you where the dining hall was, but I'm glad that Russell showed you the place. Grab a plate and eat as much as you want, but not too much. It gives you energy, after all. Oh, and for the drinks, just grab an empty cup and tell it what you want. Mother Lupa and my mom are on very good terms." She winked.
When their plates were full, she led him over to a brazier. "This is where we sacrifice the food that looks the tastiest," she whispered, nodding at a nine-year-old girl wearing a gold-trimmed chiton and matching headscarf.
"Why?" he whispered back.
"To give our thanks to our parents for leading us here, bestowing their gifts to us, the like. Apparently, the gods enjoy the smell the burning food gives off. Follow my example."
She picked up a fat orange slice and tossed it into the fire, murmuring, "For Mother Lupa and the goddess Trivia." She stepped back and waited for him expectantly. He stepped forward and picked up a ripe banana, tossing it into the fire.
"To all of the gods and Mother Lupa," he said. His brow furrowed as the flames got a little brighter and he could smell it—fresh cookies, peppermint and cinnamon. Now he didn't really blame the gods for wanting a portion of the meal, just so that they could smell the burnt offerings.
The girl in the gold-trimmed chiton smiled and nodded at Percy, and Hazel led him back to a table. "Wait, don't we have our own tables for our respective tents or something?"
Everyone else at the table snickered. "No, not at all. Why?" Dakota replied, staring at him frostily.
"Dunno," he mumbled under his breath, looking at the cup. "Um, blue Coke, please. Hazel, who was that girl in the dress?"
"A Vestal Virgin, a follower of Vesta. That's my guess, because Mother Lupa—" she stopped mid-sentence. Percy stopped eating his scrambled eggs and looked up in bewilderment.
Lupa had entered the building. Everyone went quiet, their eyes on her. She bared her teeth in a sadistic smile. Eat up, sons and daughters of Rome! For today is the first day at Gladius for the Son of Neptune.
Everyone laughed and dug into their meal. Some clapped his back and wished him luck. Percy followed their example, feeling like he should've been somewhere else the whole time and wondering just what was in store for him.
His first training session was with the mysterious girl known as Reyna Green, daughter of Bacchus. The session was to take place in the second low stone circle that he had seen yesterday, and across from it was a similar place filled with targets. The one that he was training in, according to Reyna, was the Melee Arena. The one across from the Melee Arena was the Archery Arena.
The Melee Arena had straw dummies scattered everywhere as obstacles. Reyna was grinning at him. "So?" she pressed, unsheathing a dagger. "Where's your sword?"
"I—I, uh, didn't bring one?"
She laughed, violet eyes glittering. "You're supposed to bring your own, Percy. What, did you think we'd provide them for you like a pampered child?"
He gaped at the dagger. "You're not seriously going to attack an unarmed person, are you?"
Reyna rolled her eyes. "I can't let you go get your sword, Percy; you're supposed to know better. Did the Vulcan tent even make you one yet?"
She slashed and he ran behind a dummy, wincing as the poor thing's head got cut off. "Well . . . no. I didn't know I had to ask."
She sighed. "You're an idiot. Well, it'll be great practice. Now, man up and fight me!"
She rounded the dummy and struck again. He made an odd noise in the back of his throat and darted away. Abruptly, there was a light weight in his front pocket that hadn't been there a minute ago. He looked down to see the pen that he'd placed on the dresser's sitting there, attached to the hem of his jeans' pocket by its cap.
He picked the pen up in confusion and stared at it. "I thought I put this on the dresser?" he asked himself, too quietly to be heard. Reyna shouted to get his attention and he ducked just in time. She grabbed the pen out of his hands and laughed.
"It's weak and desperate, Jackson, but it's a start. Too bad I can slice it in half. Watch." She placed the dagger's blade against the surface of the pen and pressed it, expecting the blade to cut through the pen's plastic easily.
Instead, the blade slipped upwards and peeled the cap off of the pen. Immediately, the ballpoint morphed into a large bronze sword. Reyna shrieked. She was so surprised by this that she actually dropped it. Percy saw his chance and lunged for the weapon, grabbing it quickly before she could. He grinned and got to his feet, facing her with the sword in his hand. "Can we start over?"
Reyna blinked in shock. "Where—how—what?"
He shrugged and glanced at the sword with new respect. Inscribed on the hilt was the name Anaklusmos—Riptide, he translated easily. Then he looked back up at Reyna. "Are you going to fight me now or can I just walk away?"
She narrowed her mauve eyes and raised her hand. Vines with purple grapes shot out of the ground and wrapped around Percy's legs, keeping him still for all of five seconds. He swung Riptide at the vines just as she lunged. He stepped aside as soon as the vines melted away, leaving his feet wet, and ducked away from her blade.
Percy brought his arm up and kept her sword arm away from his face. His other hand curled up into a fist and punched her in the gut. She staggered back with a smile on her face. "That's the spirit!" she cheered, catching her breath and going after him again.
He parried her strike and they circled. Finally, he feinted to the left and went for a strike to the face, hitting her with the hilt of his blade. She fell to the ground and he held Riptide's tip to her throat.
"I yield," she said before he could demand it of her. "You're quite the talented swordsman, Percy. In the fights, I won't be so lax to you. Mother Lupa probably wouldn't like me even trying to be soft on you. However, I'm sure we've got time for one more battle. You feel up to it?"
He helped her up and nodded. "Sure. Now that I won't be running away, bring it on."
It was in the middle of their fight that Percy first heard the voice.
Perrrrrrcy! it bleated. I finally found you! Except, you know, I can't really track you but I found that you're alive nonetheless. This is good. This is very good.
He stopped pressing Reyna and blinked. Oh my gods. I'm going crazy. There's a voice in my head!
But, Perrrcy! You don't remember? We made an empathy link when you rescued me from the Sea of Monsters with Annabeth and Tyson.
Annabeth and Tyson—? Who are they? he couldn't help asking. The voice was annoyingly familiar, but he just couldn't place his finger on who it belonged to. The feeling was something that was pissing him off more and more often. When the voice spoke again, its tone was depressed.
Oh, gods. This was worse than I thought. Tell me where you are, Percy. We're all so worried about you.
Look, stop playing with my mind. I don't know who you are, but get out of my head. I'm in the middle of a fight here.
A fight? Are they your enemies?
What? No. I'm training with Reyna. Get out of my head!
Training with Reyna? Who's Reyna? Oh, man. I've gotta tell Chiron. . . . The voice faded and didn't speak again. Percy just noticed what was happening when Reyna beat his sword away and lifted up her foot, kicking him violently in the chest. He fell to the ground, landing on his back, and swallowed as the golden blade's tip touched his throat.
"I loved that movie and couldn't resist. I'd say I was sorry, but I'm not too keen on lying. Anyway. You yield?" Her voice was smug, and she brushed black bangs out of her eyes.
"No." His grip tightened on Riptide and he knocked the knife away, tripping her in the process. He used this to his advantage by rolling aside and getting up. She rolled her eyes and picked up her knife, attacking him again and keeping him on the defense.
Finally, his blade hit the hilt of Reyna's dagger and he got an idea. He twisted, throwing all of his weight in a downward thrust. The dagger was wrenched from her hand and fell into the grass, far away. He pointed his sword at her neck. Both of them were breathing hard. "Yield."
"I yield," she said, eyes shining. When he lowered the sword, she gushed, "My gods, Percy, where did you learn to do that? That's awesome! I've never seen it before! You have to tell me so that I can teach the other campers."
He scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "I—I don't really know?"
"Show me that again!" She retrieved her dagger and held it up. "In slow motion."
Before he could, however, there was a rough, warning bark. Both campers met the silver eyes of Lupa. Reyna's shoulders slumped when she checked her digital watch. "Yeah, it's time for the next training block anyway. Good fight, Percy."
"Agreed. You're pretty strong for a fifteen-year-old."
She smiled and shook his hand. "Thanks."
When Percy retired to his tent for the night, exhausted by all the determination and pressure that Lupa and the trainers had put on him earlier, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the mattress had changed from a gray, lumpy thing to a white, comfortable bed. The two single objects in his tent were no longer in the main room—it was separate. His blanket was a comforter, not a moth-eaten piece of cloth that was only held together by a few stitches. He had two extra pairs of clothes in his drawer.
"Sweet," he muttered to himself.
I can get used to this, he thought, falling asleep as soon as he hit the mattress.
Close to two months later, Percy had grown in ranks, tent luxury and his friendship with Hazel, Reyna, Russell and the other campers. He knew almost everything there was to know about Camp Gladius—except for what the Challenge was—and his memories were appearing less and less. He was enjoying camp life and the year was almost over.
On Thursday, in August, he and Hazel had decided to use their free time by playing twenty questions on the wooden dock that went above the lake. She got to go first after a fierce game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
"Okay, first of all, what's your favorite part about camp?"
"Uh, probably coming to my tent every two weeks to find it upgraded in quality. I remember the first mattress . . . ugh, it felt like it was made of rocks and the blanket was terrible." She snickered at his grimace. "Okay, my turn now. What's that thing on your arm? It looks like a bar code or something."
"What, this?" She turned her arm over to expose five black inked markings. Above the barcode were the letters SPQR and above that was an eagle. "Oh, these are tattoos to show how many years we've survived Gladius. How old we are when we're presented to the Wolf House depends—like I said before, I was eleven. Then she takes us to the fauns to be raised, but only if we're really really young like Russell was. When she thinks we're ready, she tests us to see if we're pups or food. After the Challenge this month, we all get the next line of our tattoos to mark our survival. Then we go home with our mortal parent or stay here for the rest of the year. I'm a full-round camper."
"So am I." Percy looked at the dock, wondering just how many demigods hadn't passed Lupa's test. "Okay, your turn."
She frowned and leaned forward, taking off her shoes and socks to dip her feet in the lake. "Will you come see my gladiator fight on Friday?"
"Excuse me?" He glanced at her, pursing his lips. "Gladiator fights?"
She nodded and smiled. "That's what I've been training so hard for, you see. I'm facing Bobby. And then the Challenge is on Saturday . . ."
"Where is it? The gladiator fight, I mean?"
"Oh, it's that low circle outlined by pebbles in the valley. I think you saw it when Mother Lupa first brought you here in June. You've never attended one, but the fights are always optional to see. If you don't fight your own battle because you're scared, Mother Lupa brings you outside Gladius' borders and summons monsters to eat you."
He narrowed his eyes. "Mother Lupa doesn't seem to have any qualms about killing people, does she?"
She shrugged. "It's in her nature. We're not supposed to be weak, remember? We're the Romans, the mightiest of all the ancient civilizations. We conquered the known world of the time, and the envy of the universe. We were—are—the greatest warriors, the best lovers, the most prosperous people; trained to never feel pain and definitely not show weakness. So . . . I guess I can forgive her for being a little harsh. Anyway, can you go see my gladiator fight or not?"
He nodded slowly, remembering Hazel's words: After that, if it's a Friday, we go to that stone circle over there to watch the weekly gladiator fights.
"Thanks. It'll mean a lot to me. Alright, you answered my main question, so it's your turn, Jackson." She nudged him playfully and he smirked.
"What's this Challenge thing that everyone's been talking about lately?" he asked, recalling the gleeful chats during dinner and Hazel's dismissive comment about it.
"Oh, the Challenge? It's this bimonthly thing that Mother Lupa has us do. It's entirely optional, and incredibly dangerous, but if you survive the Challenge then you're exempted during the gladiator fights—meaning if you lose and fought badly, she can't tell the winner to kill you. There's a ton of monsters that she summons the day before, and you have to tell her at breakfast the next day that you're participating.
"And the head monster is always a dragon of some sort with weaknesses and strengths. Everyone must help kill it in order to get out of the forest alive. Once all the participators are in there, Mom seals the borders of the forest so that you can't get out. It's really fun, I swear, as long as you don't get killed."
Her enthusiasm was contagious. He found himself grinning. "Great. Do the campers have to kill each other?" Gods, he hoped not.
"No! The monsters try to do that. I swear, sometimes you're such an idiot. We have to work together to live. Of course, we all start out alone, but once the Challenge begins we can search out alliances. No more than three people per group, though. We're only allowed one weapon and any powers we inherited from our godly parents. My question is—will you participate in the Challenge?"
Percy raised an eyebrow. "I think I will. My turn. As a daughter of Trivia, what is the extent of your magical powers?"
Hazel smiled. "I can produce fire out of thin air and do a very weak arcane shield for my defense, as fire is an offensive element. I have two sisters and three brothers in the Trivia tent—Carla and Dwayne, who are twins, can control water and earth respectively, and use those for their spells. They can't possess arcane defenses, because earth and water are the two defensive elements.
"The others use arcane for their magic. We're all restricted to those boundaries that Mom sets out for us while she's pregnant with us. Of course, she sometimes chooses not to gift her child with the use of magic and they can only enchant things with a spell. That's useful, though, because enchanted weapons have greater use for things. I don't know much about that type of magic because I've never seen a kid of Trivia's that doesn't have use of arcane or elementary magic. Does that answer your question?"
He nodded. She bit her lip. "Here, I'll show you what an arcane shield looks like." She spread her hands and muttered something unintelligible. After a few seconds, a transparent purple circle appeared between her hands and widened until it was covering the whole front of her body. Then she muttered something else and it vanished.
"That was awesome. You don't use, like, wands or anything?"
She gave him an incredulous look that clearly said, You're an idiot. "Does it look like I just used a wand, Percy? We don't need to channel our power through a stick, contrary to popular belief. Our hands are perfectly suitable. But thank you. What's your favorite type of food?"
"Anything that tastes good and is blue," he blurted automatically. She snickered at his response, tucking a loose strand of brown hair behind her ear.
"Why blue?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I don't know." He shrugged. "I probably liked it before my amnesia."
"Well, I'm sure you had a good reason."
"Yeah. What's your favorite color?"
She grinned shyly and looked at him before staring at the surface of the lake. "Green." There was a pause before she kicked the water and spoke again. "Okay, my turn. Have you ever taken anyone underwater, son of Neptune?"
Percy paused. "No, not that I can remember. Why?"
There was a few tense seconds of silence before Hazel said, "I was wondering. If you don't have any problems with it . . . could you take me underwater? I mean, I've always wanted to see what went down underneath there."
He nodded slowly. "Sure, Hazel." He eased into the lake, expecting to be drenched immediately. Instead, he felt a cool tingling, but remained dry. He craned his head back to grin at her. "This is sweet. Come on." When he was fully in the water, he reached out his hand.
There was a small, hitched gasp behind them. Hazel apparently didn't seem to hear it and stayed silent. Percy looked around Hazel to see who had made the noise and saw the blonde girl who'd starred in many of his dreams. She was watching him with a hand covering her mouth, her eyes glazed. Her other hand held a limp, dripping green hose. She was wearing an orange shirt and seemed to be behind a building.
He refocused on Hazel, who closed her eyes and jumped in. Dry Hazel is dry, Dad, please. She came up from the lakeside, hair still dry, and smiled brightly. "Ready?" he asked her teasingly.
She nodded. "It's unusual, since I use fire for everything, so . . . don't blame me if I get a little squeamish, okay?" He nodded. "Thanks. Let's go!"
He glanced at the girl from the corner of his eye, who was watching this all in horror. She made a choking sob-like sound again and waved her hand at him, breaking the mist and instantly disappearing. Percy shook his head and looked back at Hazel, who had her eyebrow raised.
He grabbed her hand and proceeded her to show her everything underwater in the lake, surrounding them in a small air bubble. The hug she gave him after was worth it.
He didn't know who the blonde girl that kept showing up everywhere was, and he didn't want to know. He was fine here with Hazel and Gladius.
So why did it bother him so much?
Holy crap, are you done with Part I? You read it all the way? I LOVE YOU. REALLY. :D This was completed for Bookaholic711's Project PULL challenge; check out her profile for more information.