When a man is cursed with the impossible combination of immortality and humanity, sooner or later he's going to run into a few demigods.
Percy cringed. He froze mid-step with his foot hovering inches over the Pomerian Line circling New Rome's city.
Terminus had literally just materialized in front of him in a sudden, sulfurous pop of yellow smoke that left the demigod's lungs burning. The statue looked much like he always did: armless, stone curls wound tight against his head, and a disapproving scowl on his face.
Percy gingerly put his weight back outside the city safe zone.
"Sorry," he muttered and immediately reached into his pocket for Riptide. He could hear Frank and Hazel rustle behind him for their own weapons. Percy cast an apologetic look back to the man they were supposed to be escorting into the city and gestured with a nod that he should do the same.
The giant, golden bow he wore around his back would definitely not be allowed.
"Julia!" Terminus called out. "Where is that errant child...?"
Julia darted out from a cluster of carvings opposite to where Terminus was scanning and stood at attention. She still wore her hair in pigtails but she seemed to have grown an inch since Percy last saw her.
Terminus faced forward. "Ah, there you are! In the bin now—all of you. You know the rules."
The statue scrutinized them as they unloaded their weapons, one by one. Percy dropped Riptide next to a set of brass knuckles and smiled at Julia, who returned the gesture with an impish giggle. All of her teeth had come in since he last saw her.
"I should have known the 'rule flouter' would forget," Terminus droned on, "And Frank isn't all that surprising either—"
"Hey!" said Frank.
"—but you, Hazel? You should know better—" Terminus stopped speaking all at once. His roaming, white-set eyes bulged as they took note of the man they escorted."Nordmannus!"
If a marble statue could turn red from anger, Terminus made a pretty good effort of it. His whole body—even the square base—darkened to gunmetal grey. The carved veins of his neck seemed to throb against bottled rage.
He spat at the ground towards Hiksti, the last of their group. No spit came out, of course, but a few chips of stone hit the dirt.
"Terminus!" Hazel yelped at the spitting statue. "What—?"
"Dude..." Frank whispered, his eyes darting between Terminus and Hiksti—the latter of which stared back at the statue vacantly.
Percy couldn't blame them for their bewilderment. Terminus had just gone from nettled to apoplectic in mid-sentence. The son of Poseidon was only caught slightly less off-guard than his friends; he had seen the reaction the Lares had to the older man—fleeing at the sight of him, melting into walls and hissing obscenities... If the old Romans hated Greeks, it was nothing compared to what they thought of the 'barbarian Norse'. This was more than the distain they harbored for Greacus—the culture they conquered hundreds of years feared Hiksti and whatever he represented.
Hiksti didn't seem to mind. He had his bow un-shouldered and gazed at Terminus with that same bland expression.
His apathy only seemed to further incense the god.
"Greeks are one thing! But to dare present a Northerner at my borders...!"
"He needs to," Hazel inserted quickly. "He has news from the Eastern gods—"
Terminus wouldn't hear it. "I don't care if he has news from Jupiter himself! If you think I'm allowing one of his kind in these walls after what they did to us—!"
"Yes," Hiksti spoke up, his voice as dry as his expression. "Because that was all my doing."
"Terminus," Frank said slowly as he stepped up next to Percy, "we were told by Jupiter to bring him here."
Percy was quick to jump on the small pause of stunned silence left by the statue. "That's right. Our Oracle mentioned a champion of Thor's—," Terminus' scowl deepened at the name, "and trouble in the East... and Jupiter kind of confirmed it all."
The terms of the prophecy were still unclear to Percy—in fact, the entire situation was all rather confusing for him. Rachel had sent him west after doing her oracle thing (where he lost both his companions along the way to their own mini-quests). Then Jupiter himself greeted him at Camp Jupiter... along with an awe-stricken Hazel and Frank and a rather chagrined Hiksti.
The king of the gods did a terrible job of explaining things. All Percy managed to glean was that Hiksti was something of a traveling liaison (albeit a reluctant one) and bore ill news of the Eastern gods. He needed to be escorted into the Roman camp to convene with their council.
Percy would have questioned why Hiksti needed a chaperone, but the reception the man received so far by the Romans answered that enough—like he was one of Nico's skeleton soldiers just waltzing to New Rome. Percy would be lying if he said he wasn't at least a little bit excited to see Octavian react to Hiksti.
And though he had been nothing but agreeable since they met, Percy still wasn't quite sold on this Hiksti guy. Something about the stranger reminded Percy of Quintus—how it was impossible to put an age on him, impossible to gage his power, his intentions, his loyalties... how his physical appearance and aura somehow conflicted...
All of it reminded him of the ancient, automaton-bound demigod. A man both cursed and blessed, bitter and hopeful.
Where his gut told him he was good-to-go, Percy's mind told him to hold back his trust.
Regardless of Percy's personal feelings towards Hiksti, the man fit the bill for the "champion" Rachel prophesied. And Hiksti was as champion, despite appearances. At least, according to Jupiter in their brief and baffling meeting. Norse gods didn't have children with mortals; they bestowed their blessing on chosen humans and called them Champions. Though their origins may have differed, champions and demigods both shared a Hero's Fate.
Hiksti told him his official title was "screwed" but Percy had a hard time believing the Norse gods were that terrible at naming things.
Terminus' chin quivered. He looked as though he were fighting down every instinct his marble body harbored.
"I... that's just... if Lord Jupiter decided... very well!" he barked as though the words were painful to release. "Julia!"
The girl hopped back to her feet from where she was seated on a large stone and held out the weapons' bin again.
"You may enter and you may speak, but nothing else!" Terminus warned Hiksti. "This is a safe area. An area of peace. Do you see this? I'm pointing at you,Norseman."
Hiksti made a face. Percy didn't know if he was confused by the lack of pointing or if he took offense to the term 'Norseman'.
Without a word Hiksti turned and set his golden bow against an archway just outside the city border.
"In the box, barbarian!"
"Terminus," Hazel said warningly. She clearly thought the name-calling was uncalled for.
Terminus grumbled, "...can't even follow simple rules..."
The bow, still in Hiksti's hand, gave a little spark that had Hazel jumping into Frank's side with a squeak.
Hiksti glanced behind him, annoyed.
Terminus bristled and Percy thought he was going to have to mediate a war between a god and a…champion.
"It's for her safety," Hiksti continued, pointing at Julia. "No one should touch this."
As if to emphasize the point, a shiver-like bolt ran up the length of the bow. Hikist left it nestled against the architecture and returned to their group.
"This is completely against protocol!" Terminus snarled.
Percy knew they were already pushing on an ill-tempered god, but he also worried what Hiksti's bow might do to Julia. Sure, he thought there were plenty of panda-pillow-butchering Romans who deserved a good zap every now and then, but Julia was not one of them.
He looked at the statue and said, "Terminus, the bow is staying there. It will be in your sight. Hiksti's unarmed and he's not going to do anything to cause trouble."
Percy glanced pleadingly at the older man in question, who gave him a curt nod back.
"I'll watch the pretty bow the whole time to make sure nothing happens," Julia piped up.
The bow hummed again. Hiksti's eyes darted between his weapon and Julia and he smiled slightly.
"Just make sure you don't touch her," he told the girl in the kindest voice Percy had heard from him yet (up until that point it had been all deadpan looks and sarcasm).
"Never in all my... so many exceptions... just unseemly..." Terminus continued to mutter in a never-ending stream of complains. He tisked loudly and said, "Very well. I'll be watching you, Nordmannus. If I hear of any confrontations, just one act of graffiti, I'll slap your face so hard you'll think my arms were made of marble."
The bleak stare Hiksti gave Terminus was almost enough for Percy to laugh. Almost. Terminus still sported a dangerous shade of slate as they all stepped past him.
Their group made it three steps down into the city before Hiksti paused. He clicked his tongue, his expression returned to one of exasperation, and he turned back to his bow.
"Are you—? Ugh. Fine."
Percy, Frank and Hazel watched as the champion tromped back up those three steps and relocated the bow a quarter of an inch along the archway so that it rested in a patch of sunlight.
"Happy?" Hiksti asked his weapon.
The bow did nothing, not even a spark, but Hiksti spoke again anyway.
"What do you mean 'it's uneven'?"
"No. I'm not coming back to rotate you." Another pause. "What do you care? You can't even tan!"
Percy stared at Hiksti, then to Frank and Hazel, then to Terminus, then back to Hiksti and the bow—certain he had missed something important. The scene left him so bewildered that he hadn't realized his jaw dropped until Hazel was kind enough to tap it upward.
"You should have seen him with the dragon," Frank muttered, shaking his head.
Percy took his eyes off of the strange man. "Drakon?"
"No, Dragon," said Frank. "An actual dragon."
Before Percy could inquire when this happened and where this dragon was, Hiksti was returning to them.
"Then move yourself," he snapped with finality, throwing his hands in the air as he recrossed the Pomeranian Line. There was something about the animation in his gestures that made Hiksti seem younger.
"Is... everything okay?" Hazel asked him tentatively.
Hiksti's face darkened. Percy couldn't tell if he was embarrassed or angry, but Terminus' cackles in the background weren't helping either way.
"I will then!" An unfamiliar, shrill voice called out behind them.
For the second time Percy felt his jaw slacken. He could hear Frank sputtering to his left and Hazel murmur something curse-like in Latin... which was strange since she wouldn't swear in English.
Percy couldn't fault her for the language slip.
The bow was gone. In it's place stood a young woman, her dress as lustrous as gold, her hair long, blonde and wrapped in bands. Her skin had an unearthly shine to it, like her very aura was visible to the naked eye. She looked like a cross between a princess and an Amazon. She didn't look dangerous, but she felt dangerous.
Apparently Hiksti hadn't expected this either, though his shock was of a different calibre.
"Really?" he said strongly, incredulously, as he swung around to face the girl. "You want to use all your energy for this? Here?"
"What would it matter?" she snapped back with her arms thrown to the side. "You have ignored me for the last month. Month. You just leave me strapped to your back or on the ground or on Tannlus or other dirty places—"
"I'm telling him you called him dirty," Hiksti muttered.
"—so now it seems I have nothing better to do than to take this form and annoy you. And don't you dare say there haven't been any opportunities because you totally could have used me on those draugar the other day!"
Her tirade came in a long stream of sentences that Percy had only ever heard by Aphrodite's children before. Annabeth may have had the looks of a California valley girl, but this girl had the attitude.
"Who is that?" Frank asked Hiksti.
"And where is your bow?" Hazel added faintly. She already knew the answer, Percy figured as the girl's fingers crackled with white-hot energy, just as he did. But a verbal confirmation would have made it easier to swallow.
Hiksti ignored them and drawled back: "Did it occur to you that I just didn't need you then?"
The girl's cheeks puffed out.
"Didn't—!" her single, aggrieved step forward was suddenly blocked by Terminus.
"A weapon is still a weapon," Terminus snapped, "no matter if it parades around as a human! And none are allowed inside the Pomeranian Line!"
His voice had gone shrill with the number of times he'd had to repeat himself. This did nothing to calm the weapon down. Instead she directed her furious stare at the god of boundaries and Percy realized, belatedly, that a Norse weapon confronting a Roman god would not end well.
Hiksti must have realized the same thing because his voice was much kinder, pleading even, when he said, "Fram, just stay put, please. I'll see you in a few. No one's going to bother you if you just stay there...right?"
The last part was directed at Terminus. Percy could hear the marble teeth grinding. Apparently Terminus didn't like the Norseman speaking to him, let alone giving him indirect orders.
The girl crossed her arms and sniffed, turning away from Terminus.
"Fine," she bit out and Percy was admittedly impressed with how quickly Hiksti got through to her. "At least let me play with the Greek cutie."
She pointed at Julia, who held the weapon's bin in a white-knuckled grip and stared at 'Fram' in a trance of wonder.
It took Percy another moment to realize it was not Julia she pointed at, but the box in her hands.
Before Terminus could start yelling about protocol, before Hiksti could argue or Percy could object, the golden girl reached into the bin and pulled out Riptide.
"Hey!" Percy immediately objected. "Put that back!"
She twirled her finger around the tip of the cap and ignored him.
"Ooh, powerful," she cooed.
"Framherja! Drop it!" Hiksti ordered.
Framherja, Percy realized in the back of his mind, must have been the weapon's name.
The force of Hiksti's words would have been enough for even Percy to give pause and think about obeying (which was a feat given his natural aversion to obedience) but Framherja pursed her lips and flicked a long forelock of hair over her shoulder.
"No," she pouted. She hugged Riptide to her chest in a way that had Percy thinking—had the sword been as sentient as a certain bow—it would give no complaints.
"Is this really happening?" Frank mumbled. He seemed to be having as much trouble as Percy in comprehending the unexpected situation. At least his weapon wasn't currently being held hostage by a...bow.
Hiksti ran a hand through his hair and fisted it against the strands at the back.
"Fram," he began with very strained patience, "you're being ridiculous."
"You're being ridiculous," she countered.
Percy just kept his eyes on his weapon, wincing as she waved it about in her fist. He was reluctant to try and forcibly take it from the girl given the occasional spark that rolled of her hair when she shouted.
"Really? You can't sit tight for like five minutes?"
"You're always leaving me behind these days."
"Well, I—I've been busy!"
"Then maybe I'll be too busy the next time you need to light some revenant on fire!"
"Except I don't need you to light things on fire," Hiksti pointed out. "We both know this."
Percy didn't know this. Neither did Frank or Hazel. They all shared an alarmed look.
Framherja stamped her foot. "Why bother taking me along at all if you're just going to abandon me and not even have the decency to rotate me in the sun."
Hiksti roughly withdrew his hand from his hair.
"I'll just leave you in the tool shed next time, shall I? Right next to the rakes."
Framherja stomped her foot again and let out a strangled, archaic roar. Percy got the impression that she wasn't a fan of rakes.
"Stop that," snapped Hiksti. "You can't behave for ten minutes? That's all I'm asking."
"You said it was just five before."
"Whatever! Why can't you just be grateful I don't leave you in the weapon's bin?"
Framherja took in a deep breath and then exhaled through her nose like an incensed bull.
"Fine. I'll wait here—like this," she turned to Terminus with a wild look in her eye, daring him to argue against her human form. "With THIS."
And she shook Riptide in her fist.
"Fine," Hiksti agreed quickly. "We shouldn't be long."
Percy felt this was a bit much.
"Hey—" he immediately began to protest but Hiksti was already herding him and the others deeper into the city.
"Just let it happen," Hiksti muttered.
"Sorry about that," the man went on to Frank and Hazel, still ushering them along. "She's been so testy these days. I don't know what's wrong with her. Your sword will be fine, Percy. She always gets bored with them sooner or later."
Percy wanted to argue that this wasn't his problem and why couldn't Hiksti control his own weapons (and why was he even arguing with his weapon in the fist place?) but Hiksti already had them in the housing district.
"So..." Frank began awkwardly. "Can Riptide turn into—"
"No," said Percy shortly, still thinking of his poor, hostage sword.
"Probably," said Hiktsi.
But Hiksti had shoved his hands in his pockets and strolled through New Rome as though he already knew the streets by heart, grinning as Lares cleared from his path in a flurry of obscenities.
A/N: I'm back! ...ish
Wow... how bizarre was all this? Anyone who follows my DA page knows that's I've been on a HUGE PJ kick as well as a HUGE Framherja-has-a-human-form kick (check out my DA for pictures of her). If you haven't figured it out, Hiksti is Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the third (it's what his name would sound like to English speakers).
Just a note: Hiccup is in a bad mood. He's already a bit cranky just from dealing with gods (as we know, they always manage to rile him up), and then he was forced to walk through a Roman camp with people/ghosts pointing left and right at him whispering rude things... like the fact that he is a Viking... something he tries to ignore. His patience was a little absent by the time they reached Terminus.
So... opinions on the chapter? I tried to alter my writing style a bit to be more PJO-books oriented. It's told mostly from Percy's POV. PJ and crew IC/OOC? Hiccup too much of a poopface?
Let me know! And be grateful PJ's gotten me back into writing somewhat :)