Disclaimer: it's all Rick Riordan's.
Millennia of Hatred
"I say we should take as many people as this ship can hold."
"I say the prophecy is clear. Seven half-blood means… seven."
Both boys spoke more vehemently than what was called and Piper McLean sighed. They had found the Roman camp only yesterday, and already trouble was stirring. The Romans were not exactly welcoming. She suspected that the only reason they were still alive was that Jason had made it clear that they were not to be disturbed. Even so, Lupa – oh what a frightening figure she was, Piper was sure she'd have her in her nightmares for at least a year! – had growled too viciously for Piper's comfort, swishing her tail so fiercely that it actually left a bleeding cut on Will Solace's arm. Piper had been glad to see that he did not blink. Really, did these Romans think that they could scare them off with barking?
No, she shouldn't think like that. She was supposed to be the mediator, the one to bring friendship. So far, she had failed miserably. The Romans were beyond help. She did not dare use her charmspeaking because sooner or later, its effect would fade and then… she did not want to think what these barbarians would do to them then.
Here she was again! New to Camp Half-Blood she might be, but there were some instincts instilled in her by millennia of hatred and they were kicking in the worst moment possible. She wouldn't make a good mediator if she thought of Romans like that.
"Well, are you even sure that this boat of yours can carry even five of us all the way to Greece?"
Piper bared her teeth. She did not like this guy, Dakota Spears, one bit. Sure, he was handsome, dark of hair and eye and finely muscled, but he had done nothing but provoke them since their arrival. She knew that he was a son of Mars – the Roman equivalent of Ares, the father of Clarisse La Rue and all other bullies from the Ares cabin. Piper had finally grown to appreciate Clarisse's good traits but it had taken months. She could not spare this much time for Spears.
"Are you implying my ship isn't good enough for you, Roman?" Leo asked hotly.
Spears only huffed contemptuously. Leo took a breath and…
"Stop it. Stop it now."
Jason's voice was deadly cold. Piper was shocked. Never had she heard him talking like this – so imperiously, with the air of a man used to being obeyed unconditionally.
"Can't you be civil, just for a change?" Jason asked wearily. "You won't stop quarreling, you're driving me mad…"
Both boys glared at him and then glared at each other. But the room was suddenly full of sweet, blessed silence. Instinctively, Piper looked at Annabeth, waiting to see what her friend would do to preserve the peace. Over the blond head, she met Percy Jackson's eyes: he was looking at Annabeth, clearly thinking along the same lines like Piper. It seemed that no matter how poor his memory might be right now, he still trusted Annabeth to remedy the desperate situations.
"Is anyone hungry?" a girl asked. Piper remembered her as Gwendolyn Something, daughter of Demeter… Ceres. She had heard a lot about her by Jason, but he had not told her that Gwen was so disfigured, with a full set of teeth marks – monster teeth marks – embedded in what was left of her cheek. It was not that he had lied to her – he had not known. He had been so shocked yesterday, when he saw her. Hera had taken this memory from him. Piper supposed it had happened during the assault of Mount Othrys, but of course, she'd never ask.
Everyone said yes and she brought refreshments around. When she placed Piper's coffee and sandwich in front of her and smiled, Piper realized that she had an ally in her peaceful mission. She smiled back and Gwen headed for Malcolm from the Athena's cabin who had not even heard the banter, so hard was he staring at the enormous map of the USA hanging from the wall. Without taking his eyes off it, he fumbled for a notepad and started scribbling hurried notes, noticing Gwen only when her shadow blocked the sun on the map.
"Do you want some?" she asked and pointed with her head at the charger.
"Coffee, please," he said and served himself. "Why are you looking at me like this?" he asked. "Have we met before?"
She shook her head. "You just… look familiar." She tried to smile and kept going around.
"What are you doing, Malcolm?" Annabeth asked curiously and went to her brother to inspect the map.
"I was trying to find out where the giants will strike before they leave for Greece."
Suddenly, there was a terrible silence. The room cracked with tension. Then, Jason nodded. "Of course they will strike here first," he said. "How stupid of us not to realize. Porphyrion might have already left, but there was an army of giants that is being awakened right now."
"And they cannot reach their full strength before the summer solstice, so there's no point for them to sail for the original Mount Olympus," Annabeth breathed. She looked angry with herself for not having realized it earlier.
"But they can be reborn here, as well as there," Reyna Archer, daughter of Apollo, said. Piper had to admit that the girl did not look stupid, but as soon as she saw her, she realized that Jason felt something for her, and that caused her a horrible pain. Although she was a daughter of Aphrodite, Piper wasn't glamorous. Reyna was. No wonder Jason liked her.
No, no, no! The fate of the whole world was at stake and here she was, thinking about jealousy and stuff. Talk about conceited and shallow. Piper took a deep breath and joined the others in front of the map to see where they looked at to make their point.
"Julia says that sacred places are especially suit for bringing back monsters," Bobby Ringling, son of… Piper was not sure, but looking at his expression she'd say Hermes… well, Mercury, said.
"Who is Julia?" Annabeth asked.
"Julia Reynolds, daughter of Minerva," he said. "Right now, she's on a quest. I'd rather have her here, but…" He didn't finish.
"Well, that sounds logical," Malcolm muttered. "I wish Rachel had any idea of what we can expect on this side of the ocean, but of course, that would be just too nice, right?"
"Rachel?" Reyna asked.
"Our Oracle," Annabeth explained. "She's a student at the Clarion Academy for young ladies and the Oracle of Delphi in her free time."
It was obvious that she was trying to be friendly. Unfortunately, Reyna clearly did not appreciate her efforts. "She's the Oracle who made the so called Great Prophecy?" she demanded and at Annabeth's grim nod, she groaned. "Holy Apollo! A student! A cheerleader, probably, and we are expected to believe that…"
"Just a moment, girlie," Clarisse La Rue interrupted – beating Piper to it. Sure, Piper did not know Rachel Dare this well, but she was their Oracle – the greatest Oracle they all – Greeks and Roman – had and these Romans had the cheek to insult her? That. Was. Just. Not. To. Be. Tolerated.
"Please," Gwen said. Everyone looked at her and she sighed. "Can we just… not?"
For a moment, there was a brief silence and then Jason followed Malcolm's look. The Greek demigod was frowning, he obviously had trouble reading the Roman names on the map. "What are you trying to find?"
Malcolm looked grim. "What are you ready to bet that Bear Butte will be their top choice?" he asked.
Jason silently pointed it at the map. "It makes sense," he said. "It's a powerful place. Sacred place. The earth is strong there."
"So we'll have to take a look," Dakota concluded. "I'll choose the people for the mission, with your permission, Praetor," he addressed Jason formally.
"I am giving it," Jason said, just as formally, and Piper felt chilled. Any minute spent here made Jason more Roman. She felt that she was losing him.
Then, Bobby broke the ice. "So we've got some brains here again and they are doing the thinking." He grinned and looked at Annabeth and Malcolm with something akin to respect. "I love it this way. And so, we spring to action again. Kota, just so you know, try not to get us all killed this time, right?"
He did not mean to insult anybody but when he heard Jason's hiss of breath and saw the complete lack of expression on Dakota's face, he realized how this remark had sounded, and blanched, disgusted by himself.
"Gods, I did not want…"
"No," Jason said, "you never do."
"No, I really didn't think…" Bobby could not even finish. "With your permission, Praetor," he said and strode outside without looking back.
Gwen groaned. Jason shook his head. Dakota barked a harsh laugh. Reyna's eyes moved between the two of them, her mind obviously busily working trying to repair the damage, whatever it was. Stunned, the Greeks stared at the upset company.
"He really didn't want to offend you, it was just a joke," Reyna said carefully. "You know how he is."
"You think I am stupid and I don't understand?" Dakota's voice was as harsh as a lash.
"Holy Jupiter, Kota!" Jason exclaimed. "Why is it such a tender spot when…"
"Go bring him back before he throws himself on his gladius at the thought that I might have taken offence. Explain it to him that I am much more thick-skinned than all of you seem to think."
He sat at the table and started looking through some maps and documents, despite the fact that his heart obviously wasn't in it. Reyna and Jason shared a look, nodded and left the cabin together. Without speaking, deeply upset, Gwen left in another direction.
"Well," Clarisse drawled, "that was nice." She looked puzzled but she was not the only one. What in Hades had just happened? Piper wanted to ask Jason but that would have to wait until the Apollo girl released him for her company.
'It was not so to us."
The words came from the most unexpected place: everyone had pretty much forgotten about the girl sitting in the corner. Hazel Valentine, daughter of Venus. And a pretty unique one she was, with her left hand missing. It was obvious that it was not a battle scar, that she had been born this way. Physical imperfections were something unheard of in a child of the goddess of love and beauty. Maybe that was the reason she didn't want to attract attention to herself? Piper had not paid any attention to her before but now she was intrigued.
It was only then that the reality of their situation struck her. She hadn't really considered that they, Greeks and Romans, could have something in common, except parents, obviously… kind of. And purpose. But now she had to admit that they were all humans and all vulnerable to suspicion and distrust. Would Hazel welcome them and try to put the old prejudices aside like Gwen had? Or would she, like this formidable son of Mars, see them as a threat? They might be, after all: out of all of them, Piper had come here with the most confidence in their peaceful mission and now she was quickly becoming resentful and hostile.
As if she could sense Piper's thoughts, Hazel went straight to Malcolm and stared hard at him. "You are comely." She sounded surprised, as if she hadn't noticed it before. "So lean, with gray eyes and fair hair… It's no wonder Gwen thought you looked familiar. You resemble our friend Jerry Rogers, or what he might have looked like had he lived to be your age."
Piper blinked, but the others seemed to understand. "He died in the war, didn't he?" Malcolm asked, and Hazel nodded. "Now Julia is the head councelor for Minerva's cabin and she does great. Still…" She sighed. "Enough of that. I am sorry you had to see all this. We are… it's still not easy for us." She spoke softly but she might have saved herself the effort: Dakota clearly was not hearing her, lost in a world of misery of his own. "Come on," she said, "you still haven't been given the official tour, have you?"
She led them outside, smiling and chatting, and yet Piper could feel that her heart was not in it. Gods, it was supposed to be peaceful! Yet when she spotter Jason and Reyna walking quickly side to side, deep in a conversation, peaceful was the last thing she felt.