Disclaimer: I don't own the PJO series or anything else. If I did, I'd be rich, wouldn't I?
A/N: I realize that by doing multiple stories at once is practically asking for a death wish. I'm a slow updater (just telling you now) so please bear with me. 0_0
Chapter One: Aut Vincere aut Mori
Conquer or Die
Her name was Thalia Grace…wasn't it?
That was pretty much all she knew about herself, besides the fact that she was a girl. Her name. She didn't even know what she looked liked. Was she busty blonde or a curly brunette? Did she have a mole somewhere that she didn't quite know about yet? Did she have a bad case of ache scattered all over her face? This was all starting to sound like that one episode on Gilligan's Island, where Skipper lost his memory.
Don't ask how she knew that. She didn't even know what Gilligan's Island was.
She extended her arms, her hands stretched out in front of her. They were pale, nimble fingers, and the whiteness of her skin kind of freaked Thalia out. There was a large bandage wrapped around her right palm. Her head moved to the side, causing long, black hair to swish back and forth. Swish, swoosh. Swish, swoosh.
Judging by her surroundings, Thalia thought she was in a rather large cot in a stranded tent. The flaps of the tent billowed, the wind from the outside creasing open and close. Small, fur rugs littered the ground and there was one table on the side of the cot she sat on. To the side, there was a floor-length mirror. Immediately, she pushed back the covers of her blanket, bare feet touching the icy rugs, making her way towards the shiny object that was coaxing her.
In the mirror, she saw a girl of average height. Pale skin, black hair, and a face that looked as though she needed a full week's worth of sleep due to the purple circles. Bright blue eyes blinked owlishly back at her. What disturbed her most was the lack of meat on her body. She resembled a walking, living, breathing stick. Dear gods, had she been an anorexic before her memory had been wiped?
Thalia was pretty sure she heard a snarl from behind her. With much curiosity, she turned around and she was amazed how rooted she was in place and how she didn't run from the moment she saw what was behind her.
There was a giant she-wolf sitting just a couple distances away from her. Thalia wasn't sure if wolves were supposed to be that big. The wolf she was staring at probably stood to her chin, and that was larger than any averaged-sized wolf. The creature simply radiated with ice. Her eyes were silver, and her fur was clear white. She was regal and at the same time, lethally dangerous.
Thalia tilted her head inquiringly. "Lupa."
Wait just a minute. Where the hell did that come from? She couldn't remember anything about herself, but she could remember some strange wolf's name?
The white she-wolf curled her lip, speaking her language. I can smell you, little pup. You are not a Roman.
"You're probably right," Thalia answered without a second thought, her gaze reverting slightly back to the mirror. "I don't look Roman at all. Maybe Caucasian or mixed—"
The wolf went into a series of short barks. For some reason, it sounded like she was laughing. That is not what I meant, little pup. You reek of a Greek demigod. You do not belong here.
"Demigod?" Thalia repeated.
Half human, half god, Lupa gazed at the girl with slanted eyes. She judged the girl, her structure, her form, her balance to her surroundings. Do you know who you are? In response, Thalia shook her head and the she-wolf stepped forward, circling the pale girl.
Aut vincere aut mori, the wolf resumed, silver eyes poised on Thalia. This has always been our way. Your judgment is tomorrow at dawn. Let us find out whether you will rise or fall.
"Judgment? What do you mean—" Thalia was cut off by the splinting howl Lupa gave. Barely a second later, another wolf appeared in the tent. It was a tall one, its fur the color of deep russet, and it was slightly shorter than the she-wolf, but just as large.
Take our guest to the headquarters where she will stay. She needs all the rest to survive tomorrow, Lupa barked again, the noise sounding like some unspoken laughter to Thalia's ears before the white she-wolf gracefully rushed out of the tent.
Thalia and the russet-colored wolf stared at each other. She wondered if this one was similar to Lupa. Her question was answered when a grin appeared on the wolf's features.
You look familiar, pretty one, the wolf's grin spread wider. Was he flirting with her? Your eyes. They're the same shade of blue like Jason's. But you look nothing like him.
Jason. The name sounded so oddly familiar. "Jason?"
The wolf nodded. Praetor of the First Legion.
"Er…right." She had no idea what he was talking about.
Never had a Greek here before. Well, since the war anyway, the wolf's eyes sparkled. This could be interesting. Come along, Snow White.
Pale skin, dark hair, rosy red lips…you honestly don't see the resemblance? Just put a crown and a dress on and you're a dead ringer for her. Snow White's my favorite princess by the way, the wolf winked. And, Dakota Seymore at your service.
Thalia smiled for the first time that day, or evening. "Could you tell me what this place is?" she asked, following him out of the tent flaps.
This is the camp for heroes, Dakota said, leading her around the camp. This is a place full of demigods. You've got to prove your worth before you can train here. I think you'll make it. To get in, you'll have to still be living once Lupa is through with you. If she sees you can't take it, you're out.
"So that's it? All I have to do is fight Lupa?"
It's not as easy as it sounds. She's damn hard. Of all of us, Jason was the only one who beat her under a half hour. That explains why he's the praetor of the First Legion. There are a total of five legions here, with the Fifth being the lowest, and the First being the absolute best. Everyone here is placed into a legion.
The ground felt solid as she walked. In her bare feet, she was freezing cold, her toes probably turning purple. They stood in front of a multi-story house with massive log walls and a gabled roof. Stone spires of chimneys rose up high like wooden totem poles. There was a courtyard leading up to the doorway. There was a reflecting pond on the side, long and rectangular, and filled with mist at the bottom.
Well, here we are, Dakota grinned again at her.
Was he always so happy?
The place looked quite impressive. "Is anyone else living here?" she asked, and when Dakota shook his head, a frown pulled at her lips. "So no one lives here. Well, thanks for walking me here."
Dakota snorted. You aren't getting away from me that easily, Snow White. I'm staying with you, you know, to make sure you won't try to escape or anything.
"Why would I try to escape?" she asked incredulously. "Where would I even go?"
Don't look at me. I don't make the rules around here.
Thalia shot him a shrewd look. "Fine. Come on, Kota."
Kota? Dakota cocked his head at the nickname.
"Unless you prefer being called Dakota."
No, it's just…For the first time upon meeting each other, the cheeky wolf was speechless. Thalia suddenly felt as though she had accomplished something. I like it.
"That makes one of us," Thalia grinned. "Are you sure you can't call me by something else?"
Snow White fits you! Or maybe Snow for shorter…
Thalia shook her head, laughing as her hand reached for the doorknob. She entered through it, and the first room she saw was a room with a warm hearth in place, followed by a long couch opposite of the fire place. The corridors led to a stairway, leading to the upper floors.
She didn't want to go upstairs. For some reason, the ascending stairs leading to what seemed like a never-ending darkness gave her a bad vibe, one that she should follow. But upstairs were probably were the beds were. Of course. Thalia told herself to stop being such a coward and go already. Besides, she needed all the rest if she wanted to live. She stepped forward. But that was the only step she took.
Snow, I'm sensing your hesitation—
"Shut up, Kota." Nope. She was not going up there. No way. "I'm sleeping on the couch."
What? Dakota looked highly disgruntled at the idea. But upstairs has the big king-sized bed and all. I want to sleep on a bed!
"No," she firmly replied. A certain satisfaction swelled in her when Dakota's ears flatted back in dramatic distress. "I'm sleeping on the couch, and you're sleeping on the ground."
Dakota didn't sleep on the ground like Thalia had told to. Instead, in the middle of the night while Thalia was deep in her slumber, the capricious wolf had snuggled in the small space between the couch and Thalia. When the girl had woken up, due to Dakota kicking her, she was on the edge of the couch and had fallen off out of surprise, her ears filled Dakota's morning laughter.
In that moment, past her displeasure at having woken up in such a state, Thalia suddenly remembered that today was her judgment day. She looked at the time, and it was an hour until dawn.
Thalia sat at the table, staring at the bowl of cereal she had managed to find around the house. She couldn't remember being able to cook, and a box of Fruity Pebbles was her only option.
Gotta eat something, Snow, a voice echoed in her mind, reminding her that Dakota was there. She looked down to where the wolf sat, staring up at her. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, even I know that.
"I can't do this," Thalia muttered in a deadpanned voice. "She's going to slaughter me in front of everyone. She's going to eat me. I'm going to die."
Don't be so melodramatic. She's not going to eat you. She'll do some injury to you that land you headlong into the infirmary, but that's only the worst of it.
"How is that supposed to make me feel better?"
So I take it you're not eating then?"
Thalia shook her head. "I'm not hungry."
Dakota nudged her leg lightly. Then let's go. We shouldn't keep Lupa waiting too long. Besides, it's always good to come early and see the advantages you have in the field, no?
A long pause. And then: "You know what? I think I'm starting to feel hungry."
The place where she was supposed to fight Lupa was a large colosseum, and exact replica of the original one in Ancient Rome. You know, the one where gladiators and their chariots race against one another, or how brave warriors take on the deadliest of creatures. It was the amphitheater of antiquity.
Snickering. And a whole lot of people whispering down at her. Nothing more than what seemed like camp hazing on the newcomer.
The colosseum was filled to the top with hundreds of campers, and most of the eyes were trained on Thalia, much to her dislike. She felt like a fish trapped in a clear tank, where humans take the time to look at every inch of you, like the animal you are. She then applied this feeling to being a wild animal trapped in a cage, flustered with rage and tampered with only to the pure, hostile amusement of the watchers.
The bars to the gate had just let her in, under Lupa's command. Beforehand, she had heard Lupa boom, "We have a new challenger! I will test her myself to see if she is worthy. Come out, little pup!"
And then the bars had cranked open, and Thalia was standing where she is now.
Lupa was in her wolf form. She gave such a wolfish smile, nodding to the side of the arena. There, a simple sword lay sheathed on the ground. Dakota had told her that every opponent first entered always used the same sword.
Thalia, keeping her narrowed eyes on Lupa, walked to the sword and picked it up. Before Thalia even turned around, Lupa was running straight forward, and she had only little time to dive towards the right. Lupa was way smarter than that, so the white wolf bounced against the wall she had faced and curled back to form. She swerved away, her sword barely scraping along the wolf's legs as Lupa clipped her.
Ignoring the gasps from the crowd, Thalia was on her feet. Her silver eyes bore into Thalia's blue ones, as though the human girl was a highly complex puzzle she couldn't solve, or an annoying thorn she couldn't pick out from the side.
Then Lupa was hurtling herself towards Thalia, knocking the girl off her feet again. Lupa gnawed, her teeth snapping at Thalia's pale face, but she used the sword of her blade to block the intruding, sharp teeth. The tip of her sword was at the wolf's neck, while Lupa was attempting to slash a chunk of Thalia's face off. With a growl, Lupa grabbed the sword with her teeth and threw it across the arena.
With an intimidating snarl, Lupa left a large gash along Thalia's arm, peeling her skin off. In the short seconds that span the time, her human blood was drenching the ground.
Get up, little pup, Lupa quickly sank her teeth onto Thalia's skinny hip. She could taste the girl's fresh blood. Is that all you have?
Lupa was a bit taken back when the girl didn't respond to the remark. She didn't even flinch or scream when Lupa took a bite from her and damaged her arm. Unless the girl was already dead, she was stronger than Lupa thought.
It was really strange. Thalia didn't feel a thing. She lay there, looking weak by default, but she didn't feel any pain.
Come on, Snow, she heard Dakota speak in her mind. Slowly, she willed her eyes to look up the rows of the colosseum, up to where all the wolves were sitting, watching their leader. There, near the side and near the very front, was the russet-colored wolf that she had the chance to befriend.
The winds were howling, changing their course of direction. From whence they were traveling north, they were now going east. Thalia felt the wind caress her side, dancing along the blood bite that was dotted there. The winds were wrapping around her bloodied arm, feeling the invisible forces winding around like ribbons. The crowds were gasping again, and Thalia had found the strength to sit up.
The bite Lupa had left her on her hip was gone. Her punctured arm was fixed, sewn to perfection and leaving no scars or any memoirs of the white wolf scratching her there. The campers watching had gasped again. But Thalia took no notice to any of them. She was feeling something she hadn't felt before. It was something that was very familiar, and was only erupting now because it had been lost, along with her memory. Now it was recovered, and she could feel every single inch of her new found ability.
Everything had changed now. It was a whole different ball game.
Lupa crouched, sensing the presence of the demigod. The girl's scent was more profound now. She winded her legs, lowering herself to her hind legs before launching herself.
Yet Thalia was even faster. The winds were on her side, carrying her quick and freely, so fast that the crowd could barely see her running. To them, she looked like a tiny dot reappearing and disappearing. Even Lupa had trouble keeping her eyes on her opponent. When the dot appeared inches from her face, her claws came out and she slashed.
Where she expected blood, there was only air.
Lupa's ear twitched. Realization dawned on her. Finally, an opponent worthy of me.
Suddenly, something white flashed in Lupa's eyes, faster than any silver bullet, Thalia had knocked Lupa. The pair rolled across the arena, cutting along the dirt of the ground, snarling at each other. With her knee, Thalia shoved the white wolf faced front, digging her knee in deeper until she knew the wolf was eating dirt. She flipped the sword over in a technique she didn't realize she even knew how to do, and brought the hilt of the sword down onto Lupa's skull hardly.
Deadly silence reigned.
Still holding onto the sword, Thalia quickly got off of the white she-wolf, not yet praising in her victory yet. For now, she watched the wolf's frozen form, and she wasn't that stupid to know that Lupa was dead. Something gave her an indication that Lupa was immortal.
Thalia let her eyes roam the crowd that had snickered at her, that had whispered bets that she would either lose or win, that had scrutinized her with sharp gazes. The prior demeanors that were on the campers were gone. They were all either staring at her with shock or disbelief. She didn't know why it was so surprising to them. Hadn't they all gone through the same thing she had?
A noise to her side snapped her gaze back to the white wolf. Lupa was on her four paws again, shaking her head to test out the new cracked skull she had just obtained. Her ears twitched back as she gazed back at Thalia. For once, her silver eyes held no cold humor or no intent to murder.
Lupa crawled to where Thalia stood, noticing how the girl's eyes were trained solely on Lupa, analyzing the many different ways she could kill the defeated, white she- wolf. And the girl could kill Lupa in any of those ways. This girl was stronger than many of the campers here, and it took a colosseum brawl for Lupa to realize the high potential in the girl.
With her paws planted on the ground, Lupa bowed her white head.
A sign of respect. And in other words, it was a forfeit of the match.
It was as though the whole experience had been on mute, and someone had just decided to turn up the volume. Now, in the silence that had overtaken the crowd, the moment Lupa had bowed her head, the campers were on their feet, clapping and screaming their heads off. There was a mad frenzy of roars, their yells celebrating the victory of the newcomer.
Good job, Snow, Dakota's voice sounded happy, but there was an awed undertone to it. That was by far, the fastest match against Lupa yet. You were even faster than Jason. You're in the First Legion for sure. Vicisti.
You have conquered.
The crowd was silent again, and it took Thalia every fiber in her body not to say, "What now?"
She looked at Dakota, whose wide dark eyes were looking at the space above her head. Out of natural instinct, Thalia followed his gaze and looked up.
A bright hologram of a lightning bolt was gleaming above her head.
In the crowd, a boy with blond hair cut in a militaristic style abruptly stood up. He had an athletic build, and he was somewhere around her age. There was a tiny scar on his upper lip. What astounded her the most was that he had the same blue eyes Thalia had. He had descended the steps of the colosseum, making his way towards the outer pier where he leaned over to get a better view of her, his hands white from gripping hard against the barriers that held him back.
Something glowing turned Thalia's attention away. Lupa's white form was glowing, and Thalia realized that the white wolf was changing. The glow was metamorphosing into that of a human form. In place of Lupa the wolf, stood a tall, slender woman with silver eyes, and white hair. She looked like an ice queen, to be exact.
A cold hand was placed on her shoulder. "So it is determined," her voice was quiet, but it enunciated an authority not to be trifled with. "Hail, Thalia Grace, Daughter of Jupiter."