FoF 14

Ace Iverson and the Fabric of Fate

Season I: The Veil of Reality

Chapter XIV: Race to the Finish

By ACI100

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

Parts Unknown

6:48 AM

For the second time in his life, Ace found himself — or his consciousness, more than likely — standing in a dark, mysterious, cave-like place. The same ominous, endless chasm he had seen in his previous vision stretched imposingly in the centre of wherever he now resided.

This time, it seemed slightly different.

During the last dream, whatever had been inside that chasm was desperate. It had seemed single-minded in its goal to escape by any means necessary; even if those means involved dragging someone towards the abyss in an effort to pull itself out. Never mind the fact that, if this thing was of the scale it felt like to Ace, that never would have worked in the first place. 

It had been emotionally driven and irrational; similar to a child trying to bend the world to their devices.

This time, it was different.

Ace could feel the imposing presence stirring deep within the endless pit, but he sensed none of the destructive urgency that had been prevalent the last time he had stood in this cave. This time, he felt far more from the creature than just desperation and malevolent power. He felt a shocking amount of cunning and intelligence, and the being’s new awareness terrified Ace much more than its previous incarnation.

“We meet at last.” 

The voice seemed to speak inside Ace’s head. It was more thought than actual sound, but the impression was there. The voice, or impression of a voice, sounded inhuman. It was a rasping, scraping sort of noise, like two metallic substances clanking roughly together in a cacophony of ear-piercing sounds.

Yet it was somehow discernible, and its horrid sound did nothing to detract from the irrational dread swelling in Ace’s stomach; wrenching at his intestines and causing his heart to beat faster as he looked anywhere but at the massive pit in front of him. There actually was an exit, at least from this particular sector of wherever the hell they were. It was a dark, narrow tunnel leading away from the pit, but Ace couldn’t move towards it. He tried to make himself turn but he couldn’t. His body felt frozen, as if his limbs had been filled with liquid nitrogen that was then solidified, and it forced him into static submission.

Even his vocal cords seemed nullified. He tried to speak, but couldn’t. The only thing that seemed to be allowed freedom of motion were his eyes, which darted around the cave-like those of a caged animal looking for a desperate escape from a cruel state of captivity.

“You know not what is going on,” the voice reverberated in Ace’s skull, seeming to echo through his very thoughts. “Soon, that will change. Soon in the abstract, that is. Months from now, you will learn what is happening. When you do, a choice will be presented to you. I am here to educate you on that choice.

“We are at the precipice of a revolution, Ace Iverson. A revolution that has been quietly building for millennia, and a revolution you will play a large part in, whether you like it or not.” The voice paused and seemed to speak its next words with a mixture of bitterness and anticipation. “A revolution against the pitiful foundations that your society so firmly rests upon.

“Think about the world in these next few months. Think about what it is — and isn’t — and all that is wrong with it. Think about all the horrible things humans have done in the names of gods. Think about the way the all-powerful immortals who lord over your world have stood by and done nothing. How they have watched atrocities, wars and genocides without so much as blinking.

“But those are wide-scale applications that your young mind may fail to grasp. So allow me to personalize things for you. What have the gods done for you? Your father is supposed to be the greatest among them, yet even he left your mother to raise you alone. He left you to your own devices, even as you fought your way across a nation in constant peril with no training at all. He stood by and watched your hardships because he is a coward — as are the rest of the Olympian gods. They stand by and watch the world burn because they have not the vision nor the courage to change it. They have stagnated, and they see no way forward, nor do they have the ambition to take a risk. They are too attached to their powers and would never dare risk them, even if it dooms millions of people a year to fates worse than death itself.

“And those who serve them aren’t much better. You and Anders said it well. You don’t trust these people. Annabeth Chase and Luke Castellan have spent years being indoctrinated to the Olympians’ way of doing things, as well as the pathetic systems, traditions and beliefs they hold so dear. 

“Yet you felt you couldn’t trust them, and I am here to tell you that you were indeed correct. They are no different than those you grew up with. The only thing separating them from those pathetic mortals is that they view themselves on some sort of moral pedestal, via association with the gods they worship for all that they pretend to do. They will use you, just as others have, and just as you feared so many others would. Nothing will change for you in this new world. You will not escape expectations, reputations, or manipulations. They will only worsen, for you are the son of Zeus and will be the gods’ golden child until they see fit for your disposal, at which point you will be cast aside with the carelessness of a child discarding his broken toy.

“Think on this, child. All you wish to escape from will worsen, and the world itself will continue to rot and decay under the Olympians’ rule. If changes are made, both of those things may well be avoided. 

“Think, Ace Iverson, before the choice comes. But for now… wake!”

Ace jolted upright with a gasp fitting for a man escaping near death via drowning. His heart was putting in an admirable effort at beating straight out of his chest, and a thin layer of sweat clung to him like precipitation on the outside of a bottle. Evidently, his fists had been clenched, for his knuckles were the same colour as a sheet of paper. He also noticed he was shaking; far more than he could ever remember shaking before, sans the occasion during which Andy had pulled him out of Quincey Bay.

“Bad dreams?”

Ace’s head snapped up to look at the blonde girl standing over him. Her grey eyes were surveying intensely, and the way they seemed to be able to pierce deeper than just his skin did not immediately inspire confidence.

“You… could say that, yeah.”

“If it helps, it’s not uncommon for demigods. I would actually be more surprised if you hadn’t ever had vivid dreams.” Her stare intensified. “What was it you were dreaming about that has you so disgruntled?”

“That’s… a very personal question.”

She shrugged. “Maybe, but demigod’s dreams aren’t always just dreams. We’ve been known to have actual visions from time to time. Usually, it’s a result of some sort of divine intervention.”

“I’m pretty confident no god showed me that dream.”

It was true, for the most part. He doubted any of the Olympians would whisper such dark propaganda in his ear. Perhaps Hades if he really was like some of the darker stories told about him, but Ace somehow wasn’t sure about that. It didn’t seem right. Why would Hades be speaking to him from the bottom of a pit? A pit that, in a previous vision, the captive of had obviously wanted to escape from above all other things.

Ace had the distinct impression Annabeth wasn’t fooled, but he had no particular reason for the train of thought. Her face stayed completely blank as she nodded. 

“We’re leaving as soon as everyone’s ready. It will be a long trip to Camp Halfblood that will take most of the day. We want to make sure we’re on the road early, just in case everything goes to Hades.”

Ace glanced around and realized he was the last one in the tent. “I’ll be out in a minute,” he promised, though his eyes didn’t stop suspiciously following Annabeth as she made her exit from the tent. Despite himself, the words from his dream replayed in his mind, mostly about Luke and Annabeth.

They will use you, just as others have, and just how you feared so many others would. Nothing will change for you in this new world. You will not escape expectations, reputations, or manipulations. They will only worsen…

About four hours later…

The sun had long since risen by the time the van carrying the most important demigod cargo in the world began to draw near to the Whitestone bridge. Up ahead, all in the vehicle could see it, stretching far out over the East River that laid far below. The water seemed surprisingly calm for this time of year, sparkling prettily in the strong rays streaming down from the sky far above.

That water dominated much of their sight and peripheral vision as the bridge drew closer. The land on either side of them was fairly rural and generic.

As for what was going on inside the van, there really hadn’t been much to tell until this moment in time. Ace, Cato, Blaze, and Andy had been reluctant to engage in conversation, Andy less so than the others. Blaze had been borderline standoffish to Luke, though not as much to Annabeth.

Speaking of, the grey-eyed girl had tried to spark conversation on a number of occasions, though she hadn’t had much success. The only one she had somewhat been able to draw in was Andy, and Blaze on occasion. She was too difficult to read for Ace’s liking. Annabeth had the blank look mastered even better than he did, and there was an amount of intelligence in those eyes that he found a bit disturbing. As a general rule, he tended not to trust people who had a significant mental edge on him. Cato had been an exception, but he hadn’t exactly had much choice but to trust him. Since he had made that decision, his brother in all but blood had proven himself to be one of the most trustworthy people Ace had ever met.

Cato was also much less closed off than Annabeth, which helped. 

All the conversations she tried to start were probing. Attempting to piece more about the group together while giving away nothing about herself. 

“Where’s Camp Halfblood, anyway?” asked Andy with interest. “I know you said it’s near Long Island Sound, but whereabouts?”

“It’s near Wildwood,” said Annabeth. “It’s a fairly major state park. It’s not exactly in Wildwood, but right around it. The Mist obscures it.”

“The what?” asked Blaze.

“Mist,” answered Ace. “It’s a sort of magical force that stops normal people from seeing all of the ridiculous things we have to deal with.”

“How in the flyin’ fuck did ya know that?” asked Cato. Ace couldn’t decide if he sounded more annoyed or impressed, but he had a feeling the former would take over with his explanation.

“Artemis. She told me about it when we had our talk in the woods last night. She called it the veil of reality.”

“That’s about right,” said Luke. “It’s crazy what mortals will miss when it’s right in front of their faces. I’d never bet on its power, but don’t underestimate it, either.”

“Demigods have never really worked out its exact limits,” continued Annabeth, “but it’s exceptionally powerful. The Athena cabin has had quite a few discussions about it. Most of us believe that the entire point is that there aren’t set limits. It’ll sort of determine its potency based on the situation.”

“Well, it is magic, isn’t it?” Annabeth nodded in answer to Andy’s question. “Well, if it’s magic, it doesn’t really need to have limits, right? Isn’t the entire point of magic to do things that can’t be done otherwise? If so, that’s not logical at all.”

“Magic is… complicated, but that’s a pretty good summary, yes.” Annabeth looked annoyed, and Ace immediately pegged her as a control freak, of sorts. Not in a bad way, per se. He could just tell she was one of those people who needed to know everything about any topic she was even a little bit interested in. Ace could understand, at least a bit. He was like that in a lot of regards, just not to what he viewed as the same extent.

Ace glanced out the van’s window and had to shield his eyes against the harsh glare of the sun off of the water.

Which only made him jump even more at what happened next.

Luke’s “What the fuck!” was the only warning he got. Before he could even look forward, the car careened to the side, and Ace could only liken the feeling to what he had felt when Cato’s truck had gone over the barricade back in Dallas.

A monster larger and more immense than any they had faced so far had appeared in front of them. It seemed to have just popped right up in the shadow created by the car in front of them, and their van slammed into it at top speed.

Their tires screeched as Luke tried to wrestle back control of the vehicle to no avail. The van spun off the road and went careening into the ditch nearby — mercifully not sliding all the way down into the river far below. Idly, Ace wondered what the fuck was going on with his and Cato’s track record with vehicles. It seemed as if every vehicle they touched died a fiery death.

“Everybody out!” Luke’s voice jolted all of them, and they were out of the van not a second too early.

A massive shape soared through the sky, landing on top of and flattening the vehicle they had ridden in.

Ace felt the blood drain from his face when he saw what the monster was. 

Ace had never seen anything like it — though that didn’t mean he failed to recognize it. On the contrary, he recognized it just fine.

It was a black mastiff… if black mastiffs made elephants look like week-old puppies. 

Oh, and if they had three heads… that was a relatively important detail.

Three heads with glowing red eyes; each pair of them fixed unblinkingly on their would-be prey.

“Fuck,” muttered Ace. “It’s a Cerberus.”

He felt a tumult of emotions — most of them centring around worry — but Cato seemed far less concerned.

“You fuckin’ sack of shit!” Cato’s spear was held at the ready as he glared at Cerberus. Ace supposed Cato had a point in insisting they all keep their weapons on them when they got into the van. “My fuckin’ flag was in that van!”

Cerberus growled menacingly, but Cato just brandished his spear. 

“You want some of this?” he challenged. “You ain’t nothin’ but an overgrown flea-ridden fuckin’ coonhound that can’t find no coons!”

Ace stood in slack-jawed awe at Cato’s challenge, as did the others. What surprised absolutely no one was that the beast standing before them did not seem at all impressed.

With an ear-splitting bark, the thing lunged. 

The demigods scattered. Cato rushed the thing, spear in hand, and Ace made what was probably the single dumbest decision of his life.

He followed Cato, sword in hand. 

They tried to fight the monster for all of ten seconds before they realized how hopelessly outmatched they were.

“Ace! Cato!” It was Annabeth’s voice, and Ace nodded to show he heard her. He assumed Cato did likewise. Neither of them could look at her nor each other, for they were rather busy not dying, at that moment. “Get to the bridge!”

Cato paused for just a second, a look of realization settling on his face. That second’s pause was almost long enough for Cerberus to swat him with its paw, but Ace lunged, tackling him out of the way at the last possible second.

Both boys hit the ground rolling and came up to their feet at once. Their friends and acquaintances were waiting for them on the bridge now, which Ace and Cato approached at a flat sprint. 

Ace was steadily pulling away from Cato, who he realized would die at any second, for the gap between him and the monster was closing too quickly. By Ace’s estimation, he wouldn’t make it to the bridge either; not unless Cerberus took the time to play with his food.

But the latter point was moot, for he refused to let Cato die.

He remembered Quincey Bay once more, but not the parts of the expedition that would haunt his dreams for years to come. He remembered the way Andreia had manipulated the water, and the way the three of them had vaguely discussed demigods powers in the moments following that feat.

He thought about himself and his father. Zeus was the King of the Gods and the God of the Sky. Anything that fell in his domain should feasibly be within Ace’s capabilities to control. That was admittedly judging off of one precedent, but it was the only thing he had resembling a set of rules for something like this. When dealing with things utterly illogical, those very things were often impossible to quantify, so Ace thought this was the best he would be able to do.

The problem was going to be learning to do it on the fly.

As he ran, the world seemed to slow. Not noticeably, but in much the same way as it had when the hellhound had lunged at him outside the car dealership in Boston. Just enough to allow him an infinitesimally small amount of extra time to work out what he needed to do.

The wind howled all around them as it came to life all at once. It did so without warning, seeming to cackle at its newfound freedom as it tore across the land in wholly unnatural ways.

Ace and Cato both suddenly felt as though they were being propelled forward, which was exactly what was happening. Ace had imagined the wind on their backs, pushing them forward with as much force as the element of air could muster without causing large-scale damage or taking them off their feet. 

The difficult part of the trick had been doing that while using wind from the other side to push against Cerberus but not impede them.

It had been very tricky and Ace was shocked he had managed it at all, but he had. He could feel the drain almost at once, but he kept running.

His feet hit the bridge a few seconds before Cato’s and, for a moment in time, he thought Cato still hadn’t made it.

He had, but only just.

Before Ace could realize that, a horrible roar emanated from behind them and Ace felt more strain than ever as Cerberus simply leapt through the wall of wind, soared straight over both them and the rest of their friends, and landed on the bridge.

Ace thanked the gods as the bridge collapsed underneath the monster, sending it plummeting into the river below with loud, dog-like whines.

A moment of complete silence followed the thing’s fall.

“Fuckin’ fleabag piece of shit,” cursed Cato. “That’s what ya get for destroyin’ my guns and flags!” He clapped Ace on the shoulder. “Bubba, I’ve never loved another person so much in my life. The shit with the Minotaur was cool and all, but that was awesome!”

“I hate to interrupt,” said Luke, “but we now need a way to camp that doesn’t involve driving across this bridge.” He gestured to the massive hole in the bridge behind them. 

“We should also get out of here before the police or whoever shows up,” advised Blaze.

“Well,” said Annabeth, “looks like we have a few bus rides and a lot of walking ahead of us.”

Ace and Cato exchanged looks. Being semi-wanted criminals would probably complicate the bus part, but it wasn’t as though they had any choice. 

Hopefully, they would go unnoticed.

November 18, 2004

Halfblood Hill 

1:01 AM

Mercifully, none of them were noticed on the several short bus rides they took that day. Ace actually wished it had been more, as they had done an absurd amount of walking. Thirteen hours, to be exact. He was all for physical activity, but it was a lot of mileage in a day, especially considering his leg which — while much better — still wasn’t fully healed.

Thank the gods, their journey had been quiet — almost disturbingly so. Annabeth had commented, rather nervously, how unusual that was on multiple occasions. According to both her and Luke, they should have been getting swarmed with monsters just based on the size of their procession. That wasn’t even taking into account the fact that one of them was a son of Zeus. That information checked out with what Artemis had told Ace, so he couldn’t figure out why the remainder of their journey was so easy. Annabeth had hypothesized Hades himself had sent Cerberus, which could perhaps explain it? Maybe he had been sending all the monsters after Ace and Cato and he’d just given up.

Ace thought that for a time… right up until the moment they neared Halfblood Hill.

“Oh… fuck,” he breathed. “That… is a lot of monsters.”

Standing on the hill not far from them was a herd of monsters larger than any they had ever seen. They blanketed the entire hill, all of them leering at the approaching demigods and obviously ready to impede their journey as they readied to attack.

“Di Immortales,” breathed Annabeth. “All three Furies and more monsters than I’ve ever seen.”

“We’re fucked,” moaned Blaze, obviously wracked with the despair which accompanied their current predicament.

Luke snarled as he readied his sword. “No,” he hissed. “I won’t fail twice and if I do, I’ll die in the attempt.” He glared around at all of them. “Keep Iverson safe at all costs. He’s our number one priority, no matter what.” They all nodded. “Well,” he said with a twisted smile, “good luck.”

And then, the monsters charged.

Author’s Endnote:

I think we will have three chapters left in season 1, but this next one will really be the climax. The two following it will be coming down from the season’s peak point. Please note that all seasons will be posted under this one story! I will not be publishing different books for each season.

Please read and review.

A massive thank you is extended to my top-tier Patrons, Κυρία της φωτιάς, Lily of Dreams and MrCCP, for their generous support on that platform!

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