Title: Camp Gladius: Part III
Characters/Pairing: Percy/Hazel if you squint.
Warning/Spoilers: Uhm, I deleted the dream scene where he found out about Annabeth/Rachel/Piper etc because I thought it didn't add anything to the story. Just letting you know.
A/N: In which Percy kicks ass and gets his ass kicked. In the words of Musafreen. ;) Sorry for such the long wait. XD There will be a part four, and that will be the last chapter. Beta'd by Lord Jace. Enjoy!
Dedication: To Tenages, who was supposed to be my beta for this but never replied to my PM. :(
· Part III ·
It was raining when he went outside the tent, holding the necklace with an iron grip. He looked around, hoping that Lupa wasn't around, and back at the tent. Was he really going to do this?
He almost went back. He almost gave in to fear. Then he scolded his cowardice and pushed the tent flap back, walking into the prisoner's tent.
The girl who'd screamed his name looked up. She was tied to a wooden pole in the center of the tent. Her clothes were torn and her feet were bare, brown from the messy dirt floor. It reminded him of his room when he had first arrived.
"Percy Jackson," she mumbled under her breath. "'Sup? This reminds me of Pocahontas. Except you're not Pocahontas, I'm not John Smith, and we're not going to passionately kiss as I await my death."
He crouched down next to her. "What happened to you?" he asked, making out a bruise-like circle around her eye.
She shrugged. "That purple-eyed girl doesn't have a sense of humor. Or a good right hook. No worries, though. I've had worse."
"What's your name, girl?" he asked, tightening his grip on the necklace. Was it true that she knew about his past? Maybe Mae was playing with his head. She didn't seem to like him that much—it'd make sense if he was just being Rick Rolled.
"I would shake your hand, but your friends here tied me up real tight. I'm Lou Ellen Turner." She paused, as if waiting for a reaction for him. "Of course you don't recognize my name. Do you remember anything?"
"Nothing. Well, I've gotten some flashbacks, but I didn't know anyone I saw."
"But Jason remembers everything," she remarked, furrowing her brow. He bristled.
"I don't know who Jason is, nor do I give a damn about him," he snapped. "Now, the reason I came here was to ask you something."
Her eyes darted down and her mouth curved into a smile. "You still have your camp necklace?" she whispered, delighted.
"You still have your camp necklace?"
"The thing in your hand."
"Oh." He glanced down at the bead necklace in his hand. "I was going to ask you about that."
"What do you want to know?" she said, her voice never getting louder than a whisper. "I was there when you arrived at Camp Half-Blood when you were twelve. Only got claimed after you made the gods swear to claim their children, but I still loved it there. I'll tell you anything you want to know. Scout's honor."
"Tell me everything you know," he said. "Please."
So she did. She told him every fact she knew about him—apparently, he had fought several major Greek monsters in just a few years of his new life, such as the Minotaur, the Chimera, the Fury Alecto, and Medusa.
He also had a girlfriend named Annabeth. He took on Kronos—Saturn, his mind mentally translated—at sixteen, seemed invincible during the battle, and won. He had a pet pegasus named Blackjack. He had also battled several gods and saved Olympus single-handedly, which was kind of hard to believe.
That was great and all, but he still didn't remember anything she told him.
They reached a moment of comfortable silence. Then Lou Ellen sighed. "By the way," she said. "That Mae girl—does she know?"
"Know what?" he asked, looking up from the bead necklace, his eyes narrowed.
"That you're—well, you know, a Greek."
"No. Why would she?"
Lou Ellen shrugged, and he could see the bright green of her hair bob in the darkness. "I don't know. She came in here and started talking to me about my necklace. When I told her that I was Greek, she nodded and walked out. Weird girl."
He jumped to his feet, alarmed at the news. "What?" Before she could respond, he said, "Sorry, but I have to go. Thank you—for everything."
He walked away from the prisoner's tent until he reached a bare spot of dirt. Percy dropped to his knees and dug up the mud, stopping when he figured it to be a decently sized hole.
Next, he picked up the clay bead necklace. He fingered each of the four beads, examining it when he could from the lightning. He dropped the necklace in the hole and covered it up, the rain making the mud slick and stick to his fingers. When it was finally covered up, he straightened and wiped his hands on his jeans.
Percy spun on his heel, walked towards his tent, and turned his back on his past.
He decided to change into dry clothes before confronting her. "Mae, I need to talk to you," he said loudly, walking across the fauce and barging into her room. "Now."
She was in bed, reading a book. Her hair was in a braid instead of the messy ponytail from earlier. She shut the book and stared at him, crossing her arms. "I thought I told you never to enter my room without my permission."
"I don't care," he hissed. "You knew I was Greek."
A shadow of a smirk played on her features before disappearing. "Is that so?"
"Why else would you be in my room, Mae? When I told you my name, you didn't look surprised at all. You were smug, actually. And you talked to Lou Ellen. Why didn't you tell me that you knew? Did you tell Mother Lupa about me?"
She was silent. Then, she said, "You are a cocky bastard, aren't you?"
He didn't know how that related to anything, but he shrugged. "It runs in the family."
Her lips curled up into a smile. "Touché."
He glared at her. "I want answers, Mae. Stop stalling."
"All right. Yes, I knew you were Greek. Are you happy, cousin dear?"
"Why didn't you tell me? And how did you know I was Greek?"
"Why would I tell you?"
He rocked back and forth on his feet, not sure which question she was answering. "You could've sought me out, told me personally or something."
She wrinkled her nose. "Why would I?"
He shook his head. "You're—you're not going to tell Mother Lupa, are you?"
"Why would I?"
"Stop that! I want to tell her myself. Soon. I'll tell her the truth, and hopefully she'll let me leave in peace."
"Good luck with that, cousin. If I know anything about Mother Lupa, it's that she despises traitors." She picked up her book again. "Goodnight, Percy. Don't let the bed bugs bite."
He sighed and backed out of her room, sliding underneath the covers of his own bed.
He was awoken by his own screaming. "No, Zoë!" he cried, sitting up straight.
His scream was met with a shouted "For God's sake, Jackson," from Mae across the tent, but otherwise everything was silent. He knew who Zoë was—or had been. She was the one who had weaved out of the ten-headed dragon in the garden of . . . of the Hesperides. Was that it? Yes, he decided, it was. Nymphs of the sunset.
He glanced around the room, and stopped. A pair of golden eyes was staring out at him. Their lips curled into a half-smirk. Someone was in the room with him, but he didn't know who. Before he could call out to the figure, the golden eyes disappeared.
He heard rustling outside, and braced himself.
"Rise and shine, Jackson!" a cheerful voice said outside of his room. Reyna opened the door and smiled at him, flicking on the lights. "Great, you're already awake!" He groaned, and something soft hit him in the face. "It's time for your Legion determination. Up, up, up!"
He groaned again and sat up, rubbing his eyes. Reyna was walking around his room cheerfully, pawing through his dresser. She pulled out a pair of jeans and nodded, folding them in half and tossing them at him.
"Reyna?" he asked, still half asleep. "What are you doing in my room?"
"Like I said, Jackson, it's time for your Legion training," she said, picking up Riptide's scabbard and tossing it at him.
"Uh . . . what time is it?" he asked, looking out of the window. It was still dark.
"It's five o' clock in the morning," she sang. He made a face.
"Don't I have, like, an hour before Mother Lupa calls us?" he asked, rubbing his eyes and standing up.
"Two, actually. I'm giving you five minutes to get dressed and then I'm coming in there," she said. She was bubbly. Way too bubbly.
"Reyna . . . are you all right?" he asked cautiously.
She turned around and smiled at him. "Oh, yeah," she said, bouncing on her heels. "I just had, like, ten cups of coffee, is all. All of your teachers are at the dining hall." At his expression, her grin broadened, and she exclaimed, "Look at it this way! At least you can skip the training sessions and the gladiator fight."
"How's it Friday already?" he mumbled, but she was already out the door.
"This," Gwendolyn said proudly, "is Maggie. She's a gryphus."
Archery and horseback was his first test, given by Gwendolyn. Apparently, all of his teachers were in the First Legion: Gwendolyn would teach archery and horseback, Reyna did the long and high jumps, Russell did fighting with the spear and sword, Carla tested swimming, and Bobby did hiking and running.
There were three legions in Gladius. The First Legion consisted of the "Big Three" children, (Russell) element controllers (Carla, Dakota, Hazel and Reyna) or the soldiers best in their field (Gwendolyn for archery, Bobby for sword fighting).
The Second Legion were the backup soldiers—they weren't awful, but they weren't fantastic, either. Lupa's pack was in this Legion.
And the Third Legion was the worst of the worst soldiers—cripples or the children Lupa placed in the fauns' care. They were those shoved to the back, the ones that the other soldiers needed to protect. Bobby had told him that if a battle ever came along, the Third Legion would hide in the tomb in Quirinal Hill.
Now, his day had started, and he was expected to ride the ugly mutant Gwendolyn had presented to him and shoot targets from the air.
If that wasn't suicidal, he didn't know what was.
He stared at the thing called Maggie. Maggie had an eagle's head and wings, with the golden body of the lion, and she was slightly taller than him. Every single one of her four feet looked like scaly hands, but with razor-sharp talons. Her beady black eyes stared down at him, and then she opened her beak and let out a nails-on-chalkboard kind of screech. He tried very hard not to flinch at the noise.
"She likes you!" Gwendolyn said. She didn't seem fazed by the thing's shriek at all. He was starting to think that every teacher of his for this "Legion test" had had seven cups of coffee. She smiled and patted Maggie's side, leading her by a silver bridle.
"I have to ride that?" he asked dubiously. "And you expect me to shoot arrows, try not to fall off, and fly around—at the same time?"
"Yes! But first, I want you to ride. Not fly. Ride."
"I am not riding this thing."
Gwendolyn's smile grew bigger. "If you don't like it," she said sweetly, "You can talk to Mother Lupa." He was silent. "That's what I thought."
Maggie screeched again and folded her wings, giving Percy a death glare. "Are you sure this is safe?" he asked again.
Gwendolyn smiled, as if what he said was a joke. "Not entirely, but I know CPR if you fall off, so we're all good. Now get on!"
"That's reassuring," he said dryly. An idea occurred to him. "Is it kind of like riding a pegasus?" he asked slowly, walking around the creature, inspecting it from all angles.
"I guess. I've never ridden one before," she answered. He glanced at her quickly, only to see that her smile was gone. "Now get on Maggie before I start deducting points."
He gulped and stared at her fur. Maggie's head was swiveled around, glaring at him. He could easily imagine this thing eating human flesh for breakfast. Percy took a deep breath and seized two fistfuls of her fur, pulling down and hoisting himself up. He swung his leg around her body and grabbed the bridle from Gwendolyn, gripping the leather so tightly his knuckles were white.
Maggie screeched even more loudly and she flapped her wings, landing on the ground and breaking out into a sprint, bucking to get him off. He pressed his knees tighter around her body in response.
When that failed to break him, she squawked and reared up on her hind rooster-hands, falling backwards. Her weight knocked the breath out of him, but he refused to be a failure. She rolled off of him and took off towards Gwendolyn. The openmouthed blonde managed to step out of the way, but he couldn't resist waving at her as they passed.
She did everything she could to shake him off, even flying upside down, but he held on. It faintly reminded him of trying to hold on to that seal somewhere in San Francisco.
He shook his head. Whoa. Where did that come from? he thought. I've never tried to hold on to a seal in San Francisco before.
Maggie cawed again, and then stopped trying to shake him. Her body shuddered with every panting breath she took. He leaned forward and patted her shoulder, urging her forward towards Gwendolyn. She was holding a heavy-looking wooden bow and quiver.
"Did I pass?" he asked, leaning against Maggie's bird head.
She smirked. "You managed to break a new gryphus. I'm impressed. Now you get to shoot arrows with her."
"Break a new griffin? Is that allowed?"
She raised an eyebrow at his term, but didn't answer. Instead, she shoved the bow and arrows into his hand and pointed to the Archery Arena in the distance. "You see those targets? There are three. You have three arrows. Aim and shoot. You only get one chance."
"Wait, you didn't answer—"
She slapped Maggie's rear. The gryphus reared and took off running. He dug his heels back into her sides, and she extended her wings. He could see Maggie's claws digging into the dirt, and then she pushed up—and suddenly, they were flying.
He slung the bow over his shoulder—man, these were heavy—and directed her towards the archery arena. He pulled it over his head again and grabbed an arrow, pulling it back and letting it fly at the first one. It missed entirely and embedded itself within the walls outlining the arena. He could see Gwendolyn marking something down on her clipboard, way below on the ground.
He sighed and grabbed another arrow, making Maggie fly in circles before he was comfortable enough to shoot.
Suddenly, Maggie cawed in delight and spun upside-down. Percy lost his balance in surprise and fell. Gwendolyn was walking slowly underneath him, focused on the clipboard in her hands. She even stopped at some point, which wasn't good as he was plummeting to the ground—right above her.
"Look out!" he yelled.
Gwendolyn looked up and dropped her clipboard, staring up at him in astonishment. She didn't move from that spot. He covered his face with his arms, and Gwendolyn broke his fall. He rolled off of her as soon as he realized he was on the ground and shook his fist at the squawking gryphus. "I hate that thing," he muttered, turning to the blonde. "Thanks for breaking my fall. Uh, are you alright?"
She blinked in shock and started coughing. When the fit was over, she looked at him with a steely gaze.
"What is it with you and surviving impossible heights?" she wheezed.
Reyna crossed her arms when Percy trudged towards her. Gwendolyn had sent him off to Russell, who had witnessed the whole gryphus thing and was hysterical with laughter.
When Russell had calmed down, he fought Percy with the most ferocity that he'd ever faced, and then made him impale dummies with spears from far away. He had half-expected the son of Pluto to make him fight undead soldiers, but he didn't, which was a little confusing.
In short, it was almost seven A.M. and he wanted to go back to sleep. "Where were you?" Reyna demanded, scribbling something on her clipboard.
"At the other tests," he replied. Her early coffee buzz seemed to have disappeared. "Where's your bubbly morning person personality?"
"I was watching your spectacular fail with the archery." She cracked a smile. He felt himself go pink.
"Did everyone see that?"
"Only anyone who was up. Don't worry, you're better in swordfighting anyway. So, guess what you get to do here." She took a step back, revealing the huge ravine behind her. His training knowledge kicked in.
"Is this the long jump?"
"Yes." She sounded pleased.
"So where's the high jump?" he asked. She pointed to the fallen redwood tree that he remembered scrambling under when Lupa had first found him in Gladius. "Um. Isn't that too high?"
"Not to those who know what they're doing. Unless you want to be placed in the Third Legion," she deadpanned. "You have to do the high jump first, then come around to the other side of the ravine. If you miss on either, you have to go back to where you started and try again. In the ravine's case, you have to climb up the opposite wall and try to jump over it again."
He glanced at the redwood. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Nope. I have a bed with my name on it, Jackson, so you'd better hurry." He hesitated, and she snapped at him. "C'mon! Go, go, go!"
Carla was his next stop. He'd gotten the redwood tree on his first try, but he had to climb up the rocks three times before he finally made it. Not counting the second time he made it, but then lost his balance and fell backwards.
Reyna laughed at him a lot for that. He was just thankful that there was a rope net tied to the sides of the ravine.
Carla was floating on her back when he reached her.
Carla Anderson was a petite Vietnamese girl who possessed formidable talents in controlling the element of water. She beat him during one of their training sessions three times in a row before he managed to use her own weapon against her. Her eyes were closed, but she still was able to tell that he was there, apparently, as she spoke only moments later. "I saw that fall off of the gryphus," she said, grinning. "It was pretty hysterical."
He scratched the back of his head. "So I've heard," he muttered. "Gwendolyn didn't seem to think so, though."
"Why?" she asked, slowly sitting up and making her way towards him, perfectly dry.
"I kind of . . . landed on her?"
She almost smiled, and then her face went blank. "And you're okay?"
"Yeah. I seem to have a talent of surviving the most challenging situations." Not liking the way she was looking at him, he hurried on. "So what do I have to do?"
She gestured to the lake. "What do you think, Jackson?"
It clicked in his mind, and he rolled his eyes. "I'm a son of Neptune, and you're making me swim? Seriously?"
She grinned at his tone. "Well, technically I'm testing your endurance. You just keep swimming from here to the end of the lake, and back and forth. I'll make it harder as you complete each lap. And you cannot manipulate the water save for keeping you dry, because I'll be able if you tell. Keep going 'till you die."
He rubbed his hands together. "This sounds like the easiest thing so far."
She winked at him and gestured to the lake. "Don't be so sure. Whenever you're ready."
He plunged into the water just as Lupa's howls pierced the air.
Bobby grinned, clapping when he saw Percy. "Hey, man," he greeted, scratching absently at his arm. He was different from the others, Percy noticed; there wasn't a clipboard in his hands, he had a stopwatch with him, and there were gray bags stuffed full at his feet.
Percy was a little worn out from his swim. Carla had added stronger and stronger currents to the lake and even waves with each lap, until he was basically fighting a miniature hurricane. When he was done, she had smiled and told him to wait. Then, still smiling, she told him that she would castrate him with a carrot peeler if he broke Hazel's heart.
It was an unnerving experience, to say the least.
"Bobby," he murmured in return.
Bobby grinned and clapped him on the back. "You see how Aventine Cliff surrounds more than half of Camp Gladius?" he said. Percy nodded. "You get to run a mile. Lucky for you, Gladius is only a mile wide and a mile long, so basically run the next to the cliffs, past Capitoline and Palatine Hill, and next to the forest and lake until you lap me. Then I'll let you rest for a few minutes before we go on a hike. All those bags you see there? You're carrying them."
He glanced at the gray bags, then back at the son of Mars. "You've got to be kidding."
He raised an eyebrow in return. "Surely you know the answer to that."
Percy sighed in response and got down in the ready position to run. Bobby stared at his stopwatch. "Ready. Set. Go!"
He finished the mile in seven minutes and twenty-three seconds, with several tears in his shirt. Gwendolyn had decided to use him for target practice when he passed the Archery Arena. She didn't actually hit him, which he considered nothing short of a miracle, but it was still somewhat annoying.
After the down time of one minute that Bobby had given them passed, the son of Mars pointed to the gray bags on his left. "Right, so now it's hiking time."
"Why is this necessary again?" Percy asked, catching his breath.
"To test your stamina and strength, mainly. Plays a bigger part in the Legion determination then you'd think."
"Naturally. Let's get this hike over with."
"Percy?" a voice whispered. He bolted up, blinking to clear the haze in his vision. Hazel stood in his doorway, looking awkward. She held a manila folder in her hands. "Oh, sorry, you were sleeping. It's free time now, and I was just—"
"No, you're fine," he said, waving it off and sitting up. "What's that you got there?"
She went over and sat on his bed, handing the folder to him. "Your Legion results. I didn't look at them, but I heard some good things when they were finalizing the results."
He opened the folder and pulled out the paper inside. Hazel scooted closer to read over his shoulder. "Perseus Jackson, we are pleased to announce that you have been chosen for the First Legion. . . ." he whispered aloud. Below, the paper showed him his rankings in the various skills he was tested in. Hazel grinned.
"Gwendolyn gave me a zero for archery skills," he muttered. "I'm not surprised."
"Oh, yeah, she was complaining about that. What happened?"
"An untrained gryphus kind of threw me off and she broke my fall."
Hazel's grin got bigger. "You're kidding. That's unreal!"
"Dead serious." A thought occurred to him, and he said, "Hey, it's Friday, isn't it?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Russell beat the poor kid to the ground. No one can compete with dead skeletons."
"So here's what I'm confused about. If the Challenge was a Saturday, and now it's Friday, how did a week pass so quickly? It was only, like, two days."
Hazel pursed her lips. "The Challenge's time is much, much slower than normal time. It's kind of hard to explain, but basically a day is two and a half days in Gladius. And we spent three days in the Challenge, not two, so that would result in six days passing here. Make sense?"
"Yeah. A little. At least the weekend's tomorrow, yeah?"
She grinned at him and nodded. "Mhm. Have your fun sleeping, sea boy. I'll see you again. Want me to turn out the lights?"
When she was gone and he was alone in the dark room, he stared up at the ceiling, smiling absently. Suddenly, the room got a colder air, and he sat up. The golden eyes were there again, laughing at him. The same smirk was in place. He reached over and his fingers closed over Riptide's hilt. He sat up and pointed the blade in the eyes' direction. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The smirking mouth opened, and a soft laugh came out. He got out of bed and reached for the light switch, but the figure was already gone by the time light flooded the room.
Dinner, Saturday night. It was the event most of the campers here were waiting for, because next Friday would be the last gladiator fight, and on Monday some of the campers would go home for the school year.
Lupa stood up at the front of the hall. The whole room fell silent, with only the crackle of flames from the obligatory bonfire.
Pups of Gladius. I have decided who will fight for the last gladiator fight of the summer, as you are all going home in two weeks. It is then that you will all get your tattoo. I offer my congratulations to the survivors of Gladius. As for the fights, my first choice is Reyna Greene, daughter of Bacchus.
A series of scattered applause followed, while others exchanged nervous glances. Reyna was a formidable opponent, as proven during their training sessions together. Bobby snickered and high-fived his twin brother.
Reyna's opponent shall be Drake Willis, son of Venus. Now that you know the contestants, I shall give you time to finish your meal and start preparing—
A voice interrupted her. "Mother Lupa?"
A hush fell over the crowd and Percy craned his neck to see who had dared interrupt the Mother Wolf. It was an Asian kid, who looked very, very nervous. He was surrounded by beautiful girls and Sasha sat on his right. Percy could only guess that he was Drake Willis. "Can I . . . not participate in the gladiator fight?"
Someone gasped, and whispered conversations filled the air. Lupa barked, getting the attention of all the campers once again. Are you refusing this honor, Willis? she asked. The tone of her voice made Percy want to warn Drake to consider his answer carefully.
"Um, well, you see," the boy answered, taking several deep breaths. "I kind of arrived, like, a month ago? And I don't really have much experience, much less the skill needed to take on Reyna Greene. I mean, she's amazing."
Is that your final decision?
He nodded. "Yeah. I'm not against fighting in the gladiator fights, I just think I need more time to hone and develop my skills. Also, I really don't want to face Reyna." He sent an apologetic smile in the daughter of Bacchus' direction. "Sorry, but it's true. You're like a freak of nature."
Reyna didn't get a chance to answer. Lupa went down to the ground floor and looked around at the silent campers. Her gaze landed on Percy, and he suddenly got a very, very bad feeling about all this.
Jackson! She barked. Kindly show Drake Willis the way out of Gladius and leave him there. I will summon the monsters later.
He didn't move. Instead, he settled for glaring at Lupa. Well? Get going! You're interrupting the campers' dinnertime.
He glanced around at the terrified faces, and finalized his decision. "No," he said.
What did you say? she growled, stalking forward until they were nose-to-nose.
"I won't willingly participate in a murder," he said. Her lips pulled back to show sharp teeth as she glared at him, but he didn't budge. "Why bother? Just find a replacement that'll be up to par with Reyna. It's not that hard, Mother Lupa."
Someone sought out his hand and clasped it. "Percy," Hazel whispered beside him. Lupa sat back on her haunches, her silver eyes narrowed in thought.
Very well, Jackson. I shall choose another opponent for Reyna. I hope you realize how grave your mistake is. She prowled around the room some more, before stopping behind Reyna. Reyna, she growled. A substitute for Drake Willis has been chosen. It shall be Carmen Webster.
Everyone present gasped or showed some other sign of horror. Then the room burst into hushed conversations again. Gwendolyn stood up from her seat, her face ashen. "But Mother Lupa, you promised she wouldn't fight! You promised me."
Lupa didn't answer her.
"Who's Carmen?" Percy asked.
"I am," a voice said. They stood up, and he saw that it was the cripple that he had seen at breakfast last week, before they started the Challenge. She turned to Reyna and nodded. "I accept my fate."
Gwendolyn had her face buried in her hands. Lupa gazed at Percy with calculating silver eyes, her teeth bared in what seemed to be a smile.
Her blood is on your hands, pup. This is what happens when you defy my authority.
His eyes narrowed, and the Mother Wolf stalked out of the building. Gwendolyn looked up briefly from her hands to send him a hate-filled glare.
"Percy, what have you done?" she hissed.
He couldn't get past the week without having at least one person glare at him a day. Even Hazel had disappeared and he couldn't find her, like she was avoiding him. It was almost like it was his fault Lupa chose Carmen to be Reyna's opponent.
Well. Maybe it was. But that wasn't the point.
While the stares and whispers were starting to get on his nerves, he refused to regret his decision to stand up to Lupa. He hated bullies, and that was that. Why have doubts over doing the right thing?
So on Thursday night, he was a more than a little surprised to hear little sobs on his way to his tent. He traced the sound and found Reyna sitting on the ground, her face buried in her knees.
He blinked. Reyna Greene was not the kind of girl to cry—over anything. Not sure what to do, he sat down next to her and touched her shoulder. "Reyna?"
She looked up and her tearful expression hardened into one of contempt. "Jackson. Go away."
"Hey, what's with the attitude?" he defended. "What are you crying about?"
"It's just—nothing." And she looked away, frowning slightly and wiping any remaining tears away with her thumbs.
"C'mon, you can tell me what's wrong," he said. "Reyna, I know you, and you don't cry over nothing. So . . . it's gotta something important, or else you wouldn't give it the time of day."
She swallowed and gave a small laugh. "It's . . . I feel so helpless. Jason would know what to do in this situation, and I don't, and it's just ugh."
He had heard that name a total of five times—once from Lupa, back when he first arrived at Gladius, twice from whispers around camp, once from Lou Ellen, and now from Reyna. He had ignored it at first, but now it was starting to get on his nerves. "Who's Jason?"
"Jason was—well. He was kind of my boyfriend, I guess." She laughed. "He disappeared around the same time you showed up. Crazy coincidence, right? He was the praetor of the First Legion, which is basically the leader of the Legion."
"I know what praetor means," he said sourly. At least she'd stopped crying, but he didn't really want to sit through a lecture on her missing boyfriend. According to Lou Ellen, he had a missing girlfriend, and the problems that posed were enough for him.
"I know. But anyway, that's what he was. Role model for all the little kids," she said, smiling fondly. Then her expression sobered. "Now I have that weight on my shoulders, and I can't help but think that he was better for the job."
"Is that why you were crying?" he asked, suddenly uncomfortable. He was not the kind of guy who was a natural at comforting heartbroken girls. "Because you missed Jason?"
She scoffed. "No. I don't cry over boys. It was Carmen."
"Why were you crying over Carmen?"
She sighed. "Percy, I don't know if you've been here long enough to realize, but despite all that bullshit about purging the weak from our ranks, we're pretty protective of those not able to defend themselves. And Carmen, if you haven't noticed, definitely falls into that category."
"So?" he asked.
"You don't get it, Percy. Mother Lupa despises the weak. If . . . when I beat her, Mother Lupa will make me kill her," she whispered. "And I don't know what to do."
He stiffened, realization dawning on him. "I'm sorry, Reyna, but I have to go," he said, standing up.
"Bye," she said. "And, Percy?"
He stopped, looking over his shoulder at her expectantly. She smiled. "Thank you."
He smiled at her. "No problem." Then he turned on his heel and walked away, intent on finding a certain Mother Wolf.
He finally found her alone on top of Aventine Cliff, staring out over Gladius. "Mother Lupa," he shouted, climbing up the ramp until he was at her side. "I need to talk to you."
The moon was hidden by clouds, and he had a feeling that it was going to rain soon. Lupa dipped her head, giving him permission to speak. "About the gladiator fight. You can't kill Carmen. I know that it's against your nature or it's our freaking duty to wipe out the weak or whatever, but she has done nothing to be killed. She's that way because of an accident. And if I recall, you promised Gwendolyn something regarding her, so—"
Lupa cut him off with a deep rumble, and he could've sworn the seven-foot-tall wolf was laughing at him. Jackson, she said, lifting her head to gaze at the sky, I do not harm my pups.
Relief filled him, but he couldn't help doubting her words. "But what about how you wanted to kick Willis out because he wouldn't fight Reyna, and the rumors about you eating anyone who's out past curfew—"
They are just what you called them, she snapped, looking up at the moon. Rumors. I have a reputation to uphold, pup.
I would've let him back into Gladius. She looked at him, silver eyes glowing. I do not harm my pups—
"So . . . you're not going to kill Carmen?" he asked, reassured. "Okay, good. That's what I wanted to find out. Thank you." He made a move to leave, but was stopped by a warning whine from the wolf.
You interrupted me, Jackson. I do not harm my pups, she said, brushing past him, unless it is to teach a lesson.
Time sped up, and suddenly it was Friday again. The entire camp had gathered for the outcome of this gladiator fight despite the fact that it was sprinkling. Even the Seekers were here to watch the event. Lupa was lounging on her stone block, and Carmen and Reyna were staring at each other across the circle, tense. Reyna looked like she hadn't slept in days, while Carmen looked relatively at ease.
Both girls had daggers, and nothing else. Lupa stood up when two Gladius campers lit the bonfires, her red fur and silver eyes flickering eerily in the orange light.
Pups of Gladius! She called, looking around at the gathered crowd. This is, as you know, the last gladiator fight of the season. Neither contestant is exempt from losing because of participation in the Challenge. Tonight, our contestants are Reyna Greene, daughter of Bacchus—and Carmen Webster, daughter of Juventas.
Any magical item gifted to you by your godly parent is tolerated. You can play dirty, you can maim as long as it is not fatal. You can only call for one five-minute break. Carla will act as medic afterwards. You know the rules—do not step past the boundaries, do not kill unless I give the command, fight well, and make me proud to be your Mother Wolf. Begin at my howl.
She threw her russet head back and let out a blood-chilling howl, and the two girls stepped into the circle. Percy muscled his way to the front of the crowd to see them better. At first, they did nothing but circle each other, and then Reyna shot out in a stab. For her part, Carmen blocked the attack, but she looked like she was in extreme pain.
The battle consisted of little parries until Reyna closed her eyes, mouthed something, and did the disarming technique Percy had showed her so many months ago.
Carmen's sword went flying, and Reyna pointed her dagger tip at the girl's throat. "I yield," said Carmen without hesitation or bitterness. About half of the kids in the crowd covered their face with their hands. Percy didn't, though. He couldn't. The rain grew heavier, and the water made him more tense and restless with every raindrop hitting his skin.
Reyna looked at Lupa. After a moment of dead silence, the she-wolf looked directly at Percy and shook her head. Someone in the crowd let out a choked cry, and Percy's hands clenched into fists.
Reyna took a deep breath and turned around, heading for the pole at the edge of the sand circle. When she pulled it out, the pole was attached to a mean-looking spearhead, blackened by dirt. Carmen got down on her knees, looking down at the ground.
Percy couldn't believe it. Why were they going along with this? Who in their right minds would allow a murder to happen right in front of them, without doing anything?
Well, one thing was for sure.
He certainly wouldn't.
"Carmen Webster," said Reyna. Her voice cracked, and her eyes were closed. "You have been deemed by the—the Mater Roma t-to be unworthy for th-the life of Gladius. And so, it—it is my duty to purge your w-weakness from Gladius."
Now, his brain told him. Reyna raised the spear, her eyes closed, and Percy darted across the circle, lunging desperately for Carmen and twisting so that his body was covering hers.
The spear broke in half the moment it stabbed his chest, where Carmen's back was supposed to be. Reyna's eyes flew open and she took a step back, holding the broken weapon in her hands. A hushed gasp fell across the crowd, and for a moment the only sound was the rain and the flickering fires.
Percy sat up, still shielding Carmen, and examined himself. The spearhead had hit him directly where his heart was, and yet, he was unharmed. He should've been dead, but he wasn't.
Not that he was ungrateful or anything, but . . . how the hell was he alive?
"That—that's impossible," Carmen said behind him. He turned around, too stunned to think of something to say.
Then he choked out, "Are you okay?"
She nodded, scrambling away from him. Jackson? Lupa asked as her silver eyes bored into him. Her lips pulled back to reveal sharp yellow teeth, and she slowly climbed off the podium. How dare you?
"How dare I?" he repeated, scrambling to his feet. "What, did you think I was going to stand by and watch while Carmen was murdered?"
Learn your place, Jackson, she said, staring him down. Well, screw her. He wasn't afraid of her anymore. Insolence is punished in Gladius. We are merely weeding out the weak from our ranks. Do you disagree with our methods?
"Hell, yes. You make us call you a mother!" Percy yelled. "But in reality you are a tyrant. You're a wolf, Lupa. We are supposed to be your pack—and yet, you sentence the weak ones to death! Did you do this to Romulus and Remus, who were mere babies when you found them?
"Did you threaten them to do what you wanted or else you'd eat them? Did you sentence them to death after they had an accident and became disfigured when they couldn't help it? I want an answer, wolf. And what about Aeneas? I'm sure you knew him, too. He did contribute to the founding of Rome, after all."
There was a shocked silence. No one had dared to be so disrespectful to Lupa. All eyes were on the russet wolf, who regarded Percy with unmoved eyes. Then, slowly, she stood up and walked towards him. I never met Aeneas. As for the twins . . . I did not. At the time, I had no idea what they would achieve.
"Then why do it now?" He gestured to Carmen, who was curled up in a ball. Her shoulders were shaking, but he wasn't sure if she was crying or not. "This is no way to preserve their legacy. We are your pack, Mother Lupa, and you're just destroying us."
Lupa bristled. I took pity on them, as I take pity on all newborns presented to me at the House. It was when they became older that I left them, to see if they would pass my test. They did, and now look where you are. Bind him.
He glanced around and unsheathed Riptide, preparing for the worst. However, no one moved. He smiled in success. She looked around and bared her teeth. I said, bind him! After another silence, she snarled and walked forward. Fine. You are all cowards. I will do this myself.
She stood to her full height and circled him, not paying attention to anyone in the shell-shocked crowd. He mirrored her movements. "Mother Lupa, I don't want to fight you—"
Quick as lightning, she was behind him and had pushed him to the ground, knocking the sword out of his hands. Riptide landed a few damned inches away from his outstretched arm, too far for him to grab without Lupa turning him into a wolf patty. Her weight pinned him in place, and he couldn't move without getting a snarl from the wolf.
He winced when her nose brushed the small of his back, a little jolt of pain going up his body. Abruptly, the weight was off his body and he lunged for Riptide, rolling over to see Lupa staring at him. He'd never seen the wolf look so bewildered—or angry.
And so the plot thickens. Our tale is drawing to a close, because next chapter is the last one. I really hope I don't pull a Smeyer next chapter. XD Written for Project PULL. kind of. I don't know if we were supposed to update today or not, because they haven't answered my PM. -_- Anyway. Penny for your thoughts? :3