Ace Iverson and the Fabric of Fate
Season I: The Veil of Reality
Chapter XII: The Veil of Reality
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the PJO universe. All recognizable characters, plots and settings are the exclusive property of Rick Riordan. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgement: Thank you as always to my editor Fezzik, as well as my other betas Luq707, Athena Hope, Yoshi89 and Raven0900 for their incredible work on this story.
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November 17, 2004
A Forest Just Outside of Boston
Ace’s mind blanked.
He didn’t have any sisters. His mother had only ever borne one child, which had obviously been him.
“Fucking hell,” Ace remembered muttering after Andy had fought off the Kraken. “Demigods really are a thing, aren’t they?”
It hadn’t just been him, either.
Cato had believed so, and Ace’s mind was brought forcefully back to the night he and Cato had left Los Angeles. The night they’d first spoken on their suspicions in regards to Greek mythology. More particularly, when Ace had asked about the possibility of real-life gods.
“If these monsters are really the same as the ones from the myths, do you think other things from the myths could be true as well?”
“Maybe. Can’t really say one way or the other. The Greeks could’ve just come up with the gods and heroes and stuff to explain how people managed to kill these things. Or maybe it’s all real. I have no idea, but I have a weird feeling we’re going to find out.”
It seemed though the time to find out had arrived.
This woman could only be one thing, as far as Ace was concerned.
She radiated a quiet sort of power that none of the monsters he’d met had even come close to matching. The way she had just waved her hand and casually morphed several humans to animals… no, that couldn’t possibly be in the capability of a normal monster.
Oh, fuck, the implications of this.
If she was a goddess, that meant that his and Cato’s assessment of demigods must be true. He certainly wasn’t a god, so there was no other way for the two of them to be related unless he were a demigod. Ignoring all the implications of that train of thought for a moment, Ace began connecting dots, rapidly flipping through his mental catalogue of important people in Ancient Greece.
It didn’t take long.
A woman who could turn men into chipmunks with the wave of her hand. One who just so happened to lead a band of teenage girls, all of whom appeared to be armed with silver bows and arrows.
There was only one goddess who fit that description.
Artemis — goddess of the moon, the wilderness, and the hunt.
No, that wasn’t possible.
Artemis, for it, could be nobody else, just smiled indulgently at him. “Indeed, Ace Iverson. One of several things the two of us need to discuss. Now follow me, if you would be so kind.”
It was phrased politely, but Ace knew it to be an order. If this woman was who he suspected, he also knew refusing that order would be complete and total idiocy.
One of the hunters tried to follow them. She was around Ace’s height with skin the colour of copper. Her delicate features were framed by long, dark hair that fell down her back, and a shining, silver circlet gleamed atop her head. Her skin seemed to glow, similar to the goddess that stood before them, but to a lesser extent. Artemis looked as though she was made from moonlight, where this girl and the rest of the hunters appeared as if they’d bathed in it.
“Your presence isn’t going to be required, Zoë.”
The girl, Zoë, blinked. “M’lady?”
“This is a simple matter that would frankly bore you. Besides, I have a task of utmost importance I would like for you to see through to its completion.”
Zoë seemed to straighten, now standing at attention like a soldier. “Yes, m’lady?”
“Take a group of our best combatants and patrol the outskirts of the area. Keep any monsters well away. I can feel them being drawn to us as we speak. They are little bother to us, but they may well chase away the demigods currently searching for our friends here.”
Zoë bowed her head. “As you wish, m’lady.” She shot Ace an odd look before departing, and he decided at once he didn’t like her. It was the same look he had received from bigoted teachers for years now. The same, judging look those who had assumed him to be some idiot jock gave him before the start of their first lessons. In his experience, those teachers always turned out to be judgemental pricks. That was the category he immediately filed this Zoë girl into, as soon as she had fixed him with that stare.
“Come.” Artemis’s voice brought him out of his stupor and he obeyed, limping heavily after her. “You mustn’t judge Zoë too harshly for her behaviour,” the goddess prefaced as they walked out of the main clearing, taking a path that led slightly deeper into the forest. “She has a rather murky past with male heroes, and you, unfortunately, fall into that grouping.”
“Hero?” Ace asked, confused, feeling his anxiety rise as they walked into a darker region of the woods. “I haven’t done anything to be called a hero. All I’ve done is run across America like a chicken with its head cut off. It’s hardly heroic; probably makes me look like a right idiot, from a third-person point of view.”
Artemis laughed softly. It sounded oddly like the gentle jingling of bells. “To the more educated among us, it was certainly amusing, at times.” She fixed him with her silver-eyed stare. “At other times, it has been very impressive. Before you fought the monstrosity in Dallas, only Theseus could boast of having slain the Minotaur. Your aerial acrobatics in Philadelphia were also impressive, in their own sort of way. And the term ‘hero’ is a loose one. It can be used to refer to almost any demigod.”
“Uh… thanks, I guess.”
Artemis seemed to realize exactly how tense he was. Of course, she did. Her eyes seemed to be x-raying him. He doubted whether or not he had ever been watched so intently in all of his life. “You look nervous.”
He shrugged as nonchalantly as he could manage. “A bit.”
“What is it that has you on edge? Is it simply the last number of days you have experienced? Is it walking into the depths of a forest in the middle of the night, not knowing if a monster might lunge around the corner at any moment?” Ace winced at that reminder, but Artemis only smiled. “If it is the latter, fear not, for no monster shall harm you whilst you are with me.” She paused. “If it’s me you fear, then you are wasting your energy on needless paranoia. I will not harm you. Our father would not appreciate it, and you have given me no real reason to feel any ill will towards you.”
That was surprisingly open. It seemed to be, at least. There was, of course, the possibility that Artemis was manipulating him, but he somehow didn’t think so.
Her lips twitched. “I am usually rather honest with those who have not wronged me. Manipulation has its uses, but it isn’t typically my forte. You will want to watch out for your other sister, in regards to manipulation.” Ace wondered if he could have subtly dissed the goddess of wisdom and gotten away with it.
Somehow, he suspected not.
“Our father?” Ace asked carefully, putting in a truly monumental effort at not giving away any bit of his true emotion. “So you’re… you’re actually telling me that…that—”
“That your father is Zeus? God of the Sky, Defeater of Kronos, and King of the Gods. Yes, Ace, that is exactly what I am telling you.”
Cato didn’t remember passing out.
The last thing he remembered was seeing a man fall to his gunfire, feeling a split-second of shock, and then hearing a particularly loud gunshot. Then flaming agony in his leg; agony that had not yet entirely receded, but that was mostly gone now.
So he’d been shot… huh, that was a new one.
He’d been stabbed before, but never shot.
Stabbed on a couple of occasions, actually.
Long story short, don’t go to Utah and piss off the Mormons. They are kind people, but vengeful as fuck if you piss them off. Cato subconsciously rubbed his right shoulder at the thought, remembering the gaping wound one particular knife had left behind.
But he wasn’t in Utah.
Where was he, again?
They’d fought a Kraken, met Andreia, he’d killed a hellhound, they’d met Blaze, trashed another car — gods, they had destroyed a lot of cars — and then he’d been shot. The Hells Angels had shown up somewhere in there, but it was all a bit murky.
Boston… no, that wasn’t right. They were somewhere outside of Boston…
Wait a minute!
“Oh, fuck no!” Cato exclaimed defiantly, bolting upright and reaching for his gun.
Fuck this! He wasn’t going to let them hurt his friends. Ace, Andy, and Blaze were counting on him. He wasn’t going to…
“Huh,” he said confusedly, looking around the dimly-lit… wherever he now resided. “Where the fuck am I and what the fuck just happened?”
Cato heard soft laughter coming from somewhere nearby, and his head quickly swivelled to the source of the sound, at which he was able to more accurately evaluate his surroundings.
It appeared as though he was in a small log cabin with little furnishings to speak of. Somehow, that didn’t feel right. Cato had no idea how he would have gotten to a log cabin. There certainly hadn’t been one in the clearing, and he doubted one existed anywhere in the woods they had stumbled into. It also just didn’t feel… natural.
A girl was standing near what he presumed to be the exit as if she was on guard. She had a large, silver bow and was dressed in a silvery uniform. She was tall and pale, with black hair that fell just past her shoulder blades. Her facial features were regal; well-defined jaw, delicate features, full lips, and odd, bluish-silver eyes. Cato found himself oddly drawn to those eyes as if they were magnetic, but he didn’t let any of it distract him from the myriad of pressing questions at hand.
“Awake, are we?” She sounded amused as she took a few steps towards him. She was still close enough to the exit to guard, but she was also now close enough to Cato to hold a proper conversation.
“Same questions,” Cato said pointedly. “Where the fuck am I and what the fuck just happened?”
The girl laughed again. “Not going to be distracted, huh? Alright then. You are in a bed, at the moment.”
Cato grit his teeth together. “More specifically?”
“You’re in a bed, in an enchanted tent, in the centre of a forest just outside of Boston.”
So they were still in the woods then. That probably meant Cato hadn’t been out for too long.
But too long was a very vague classification.
Especially considering he and his friends had been in mortal peril when he’d succumbed to the blackness that had rapidly closed in on all sides.
“Okay… and what happened? The Hells Angels showed up, and I got shot. What happened to my friends? Are they alive? Are they also here? Are they getting treatment? Who are you? You’re not with the Angels, so how’d you…” his eyes seemed to widen as he eyed the silvery bow and uniform. “Oh fuck! Are you… are you a hunter? Is it Artemis then? Did she save Ace, or some shit, since I’m pretty sure they’re half-brother and sister? Is this a campsite set up by the Hunters, did you deal with the—”
“Holy shit!” the huntress exclaimed. “Good god, I thought my mind was insane. Slow the fuck down!”
Cato would have laughed had the situation been different. As it was, he managed a weak smile. “Sorry, my brain just works that way sometimes.”
“Alright,” the girl muttered, “from the beginning then. Your friends are fine. Two of them are getting minor bruises and whatnot patched up. The Hells Angels were dealt with by our patron goddess, who does just so happen to be Artemis.” The glee shining in Cato’s eyes was practically manic, but the huntress didn’t comment on it.
“She dealt with the Hells Angels and we set up camp. She is speaking with the demigod named Ace at this exact moment.” She paused, narrowing her eyes suspiciously. “I was also under the impression you would have no knowledge of demigods, nor how the world truly worked.”
“Oh, I don’t,” Cato said dismissively. “I just figured shit out along the way. Once Ace told me about summoning lightning, I was suspicious as fuck. Then he jumped straight over the Minotaur and did the crazy-ass vault in the mansion. I would have never thrown him the spear if I wasn’t already suspicious. The water thing just confirmed it. Zeus and Poseidon didn’t usually get along, so…” He shrugged, smirking at the completely awestruck expression on the huntress’s face.
“Wasn’t really that hard to figure out. Was gonna tell him when we got a minute, but I needed something more obvious to happen to prove demigods existed first. That happened when Andy showed up, but haven’t had a chance to really talk with Ace since, so…”
“Good gods,” the huntress muttered. “My mind is literally supposed to be specialized towards somewhat controlled chaos, and you make me look like a normal soccer mom.”
“Oh, bubba, you ain’t never seen chaos like me.” He smirked. “Controlled chaos, huh? Lemme guess; daughter of Dionysus?”
The girl just gaped, then shook her head. “You know what? Nope. I’m done being surprised. This is dumb. Nobody should be able to figure all of this out in a few days and be so casual about it. Let alone figure out someone’s godly parent after they see one line.”
Cato grinned like a child on Christmas morning. “I’m special.”
The huntress muttered something under her breath that Cato thought might have been “No shit”.
“So, Artemis is really out there?”
“Yes, she’s with your friend, at the moment. If you haven’t figured everything in existence out yet, I’ll explain how the Greek and mortal worlds tie together, since I’m sure all your other friends are getting the same lecture.”
Cato nodded. “Sounds good to me. What’s your name, by the way?”
“Emily,” the girl said, freeing one of her hands from its place resting on her bow and extending it to Cato, who was still seated in the bed.
“Nice to meet ya, Emily.” Cato suddenly froze, a look of abject horror marring his face. “Fuck!”
Emily blinked at the sudden change of pace. “Um… what?”
“Ace… that little fucker!”
“He gets to talk to Artemis before I do! Just because he’s the son of Zeus, or whatever the fuck the reason is! Fuck!” he cursed again. “This is such bullshit!”
Emily couldn’t help it. Her composure fell apart completely as she descended into peals of laughter.
Ace’s brain nearly short-circuited. “I’m the son of… Zeus?”
“What the fuck have I stumbled into?”
Artemis laughed softly once more. “More than you could have ever imagined, I suspect.” She stared at Ace for a moment. “You seem to be taking this rather well. Perhaps a bit skeptical, but you don’t seem unwilling to believe.”
Ace laughed hollowly. Truthfully, he felt numb. None of this made sense, but all of it made sense at the same time. The way the wind had bent and directed the horn into the Minotaur’s neck. The way he always seemed to land softly on the ground when doing stupid dives that should have left him crippled.
Hell, even the lightning bolt.
Maybe there was logic to getting struck by a fucking bolt of lightning.
God, the world was weird.
Or should it be gods?
He didn’t know.
“It… lines up with other things, and that’s not even talking about the fact we’ve spent the last four days being chased across the country by monsters straight out of Greek mythology.”
“You are very logical. I appreciate that quality. You are open-minded and willing to believe, as long as the belief is supported by logic. Yet you are not gullible. It is a healthy balance I encourage you to maintain.”
“Hasn’t helped me a whole lot, though,” Ace said bitterly. “I’m still stuck in America.”
Artemis suddenly looked rather sad. “And here is where I break some rather painful news to you.”
Ace’s heart sank. “What is it?”
“You might always be stuck in America.” She held up a hand to forestall Ace’s inevitable interjection. “Physically, you could return home to your mother and her husband, but it would be ill-advised and put them in danger.”
“Demigods are powerful beings. They do not operate on the same plain as mortals, yet they are not quite immortal either. Their power and lack of immortality make them an ideal target for monsters, many of which are the manifestation of Tartarus’s cruelty. You are, in essence, a perfect target. The more powerful the demigod, the more monsters you attract. Being a son of Zeus, you rest comfortably atop that totem pole of power.”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Ace countered.
Artemis rose a brow. “Does it not?”
“No, it doesn’t. I had almost nothing like this happen while growing up. I had a run-in with a cyclops, but that was it. A bunch of strange things happened around me, but they never had anything to do with monsters.”
“You are observant and a good listener, but you lack the context to make such definitive statements. There are two reasons you have had minimal interactions with monsters thus far. The simplest of them is that a demigod is usually left alone as a child. They usually aren’t significant enough to truly draw the attention of monsters. Being a son of Zeus, you still should have dealt with a fair few, but there is another factor. Something known as the Flame of the West.”
Ace blinked. “The… what now?”
“The Flame of the West. It is the term assigned to the natural shift of power within the world. In the old times, the gods resided in Ancient Greece, for it was the heart of the mortal world. The epitome of culture and the definition of influence. When Greece fell, the Flame of the West moved to Rome, so us gods followed. We have always resided in the area of the world that is the most influential, for it is there we belong. It is among the places we will be at our strongest, and it is where our influence is most needed.
“Nowadays, we reside here — in the United States of America. Us residing here means a great number of things. One of those things is that the vast majority of the demigod population resides in America. Not all of them, mind you. Yourself and Mister Lane are probably the two most notable exceptions, though there are others. Oftentimes, they never even realize they are demigods due to the fact I am about to explain.
“I have told you already monsters seek out demigods. With the vast population of them being in America, that is where most of the world’s monsters reside.” She paused. “A fair few still call Greece and Rome their home, but most others are here, in America. Like demigods, some reside in other parts of the world, but their numbers are limited and they are typically less bold.
“This is why you did not experience the trials of your heritage. The same can be said for Mister Lane. Living in Canada, you were largely spared, simply because there weren’t enough monsters nearby you to notice.
“But that is now over. You have stepped foot in America and crossed most of the country. By now, I would not be at all surprised if every monster in the nation has caught your scent. Now that they are aware of your existence, these beasts will never let you rest. It is the duty of demigods and organizations like mine all around the world to keep monsters under control, in large part because said monsters will always hunt demigods. You, in particular, as a son of Zeus will never be able to live a normal life again. You could return to Canada, but doing so would put yourself and your loved ones unnecessarily in harm’s way.”
Ace was numb again.
He didn’t know how to cope with that revelation, so he clamped down as tightly on his emotions as he could. Best not to let them get in the way, at the moment. He’d been told before this was unhealthy, but he didn’t particularly care. At the moment, it appeared as though he had far more pressing matters at hand than that of his health.
“So… I’ll never see my mother and stepfather again?”
“That isn’t what I am saying. You will doubtlessly see them again. There are ways of communication in our world that would allow it, and I am not telling you to never return home. What I am saying is that right now, with no training and no experience, it would be suicidal for you to do so. I doubt it will be wise at any point in the future, but for now, it would be incredibly foolish. Especially as your guardians may never see the beasts coming.”
“Yeah… there’s a reason for it, then? A reason why every time a monster has shown up, all the people around us have just completely ignored it?”
“The Mist,” Artemis enlightened. “It is a force that is so quintessentially old and powerful that it fundamentally lives and breathes all around us. It is the highest level of magic. A veil of reality that obscures the horrible truth from the eyes of the mortals, revealing the world’s atrocities to only those who are worthy and able to cope with them.”
That… was a lot to take in.
“I’m going to assume since everything else in this world now seems to be taken straight out of some children’s fantasy novel that magic does more than just create this… Mist?”
“Magic is nearly limitless in its applications, though it is wielded by very few. Even the children of Hekete have limited control over the force. Very few true sorcerers and sorceresses remain. Funnily enough, the two most prominent ones who remain just so happen to be on island prisons. More ironically still, one plays prison guard while the other plays inmate.” Artemis’s voice sounded rather bitter near the end, and a small part of Ace wanted to inquire further. He didn’t though. He wasn’t sure now was the time to learn of what was powerful enough to imprison somebody who could control magic. He had been through enough already, and he suspected it wasn’t done yet.
“With so few alive who can shape the force of magic, it flows naturally, maintaining the order it has sought to keep in check for so long.” She frowned. “It does do some unnatural things that are less helpful as well. It is what allowed you to fight the Minotaur, after all.”
“What? But I wasn’t using—”
“No, no,” Artemis waved her hand dismissively. “It is what allowed the fight to take place in the first place. I told you earlier that you were the second demigod to kill the beast, did I not?”
Ace nodded but still looked puzzled until a look of dawning comprehension slowly replaced the puzzlement. “How did I not think of that?” he muttered, completely annoyed with his own stupidity.
Artemis smiled thinly. “I think you had enough to deal with, at the time. Now, back to the matter at hand.”
Blaze and Andy’s injuries, minor as they were, had been patched up very quickly. The two of them had been left to sit on a pair of stumps and wait for Ace to return from his conversation with a goddess.
“This is mental,” Blaze muttered for the hundredth time. They’d been given a brief crash course about demigods, the truths of the mortal world, and even a brief intro to Camp Halfblood. Blaze felt incredibly awed whilst Andy felt incredibly stupid.
The surfer that had pulled her out of the water all those years ago, the same one that had subtly helped her hone her powers… his name had been Triton, for fuck’s sake.
Yet she had never connected the dots.
She wondered if that had something to do with the “Mist” that they’d been told about, or whether she was just an absolute blockhead.
Whether she was a moron or not, she never decided.
Before she could, the sound of footsteps drew near, and she and Blaze exchanged brief glances, expecting the lead huntress and her companions to return.
Two figures stepped through the underbrush, and neither Blaze nor Andreia recognized either of them.
Both of them were quite tall. The girl, despite looking closer to Ace’s age, was at least as tall as Blaze, with blonde hair and stormy grey eyes. The guy beside her was probably an inch or two taller than Cato, and lean but well-muscled. He had dark blue eyes, rugged features marred partially by a long, jagged scar and short-cropped, sandy blonde hair.
Before either Andy or Blaze could react, the girl spoke, freezing them both in place with the implications of her words.
“Where is Ace Iverson?”
The season I title has finally dropped.
I thought it fitting since season I is ultimately a tale of enlightenment for Ace, Blaze, Cato and Andy. In many ways, the veil of reality is being pulled aside, revealing the truths of the world to them before the true events of the series begin.
I thought it rather poetic, and it also doesn’t hurt that it sounds incredibly ominous and dramatic, in my completely unbiased opinion.
A massive thank you is also extended to my first top-tier Patron, Κυρία της φωτιάς, Lily of Dreams, for her generous support on that platform! An additional shoutout is extended to my Oracle-level Patron, 3CP, for his unwavering support as well. Your guys’ support means the world to me.
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