Ace Iverson and the Fabric of Fate
Season I: The Veil of Reality
Chapter VII: Armed and Dangerous
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.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to my lovely betas Umar, Luq 707, Yoshi89 and Fezzik for their work on this story.
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November 14, 2004
When Ace spotted the sign that indicated he and Cato had finally entered Nashville, he internally marvelled at the fact he hadn’t died.
Driving a motorcycle at over one-hundred miles an hour down the highway for nearly ten hours was sketchy at the best of times. Doing so with no prior driving experience would commonly be referred to as suicidal.
Ace had thought so back in Dallas, but he’d decided back in that parking lot that he would rather die on his own terms — especially if the alternative was becoming a human pincushion for the Hells Angels. One that would have swiftly been peppered with bullets had he not started his bike and thrown all caution to the wind.
That was another remarkable thing about the drive.
To put it simply, the Hells Angels did not react well to being made fools of. Least of all by a thirteen-year-old boy and his slightly older accomplice. Needless to say, they had followed the duo out of Dallas with absolutely no hesitation.
This meant that not only was Ace riding a motorcycle for the first time, but he was doing so at preposterous speeds in the process. Ace was proud at how well he was following Cato and making a vast number of sharp turns, sudden exits and merges, as well as several other evasive maneuvers that weren’t so obvious as to draw the attention of any police officers in the area. Ace honestly had no idea how one hadn’t spotted him at some point along this journey. He’d kept his head low whenever he could, but he still hadn’t been optimistic about his chances of not getting arrested.
Yet he wasn’t stopping, and they’d even managed to escape the Hells Angels about three and a half hours ago. After five or so hours of chasing, the gang seemed to have given up. They clearly thought, rather reasonably, all things considered, that they had better things to do than chase around two teenagers, even if one of them had royally pissed the gang?MC off.
As he followed Cato through the centre of Nashville, Ace reflected on the exact moment they had been sure they’d lost their pursuers. The same moment when their plans for the day had been laid out.
The sun was rising, slowly peeking out over the skyline, casting the buildings’ silhouettes into vivid shadow as Ace continued to keep his head low and follow Cato on the quiet highway. The ethereal light danced across numerous surfaces like luminescent sparks as its vaguely orange glow beamed down upon the street. The glow emanating from the distant star at this time of the morning was more pleasant than it was blinding, a fact Ace was eternally grateful for, as any glare might have really caused him to crash the bike he was riding. How he hadn’t done so already was a small miracle in it of itself. The last thing he needed was anything that might achieve not dying any more of an insurmountable goal.
After no sign of any pursuers for about ten minutes, Cato veered hard towards an exit, leaving Ace no choice but to follow. Several minutes later, the two found themselves in an out-of-the-way alley, their bikes in plain sight as to not have them robbed whilst they plotted what would come next.
“Did the Hell’s Angels just give up?” Ace asked, hardly willing to believe their luck. It seemed almost too easy.
Cato laughed mirthlessly. “Given up? Hell nah, they’re just waiting for a better time. They’ll probably try ‘n figure out where we went. Once they find out where we are… hooo boy.”
Ace scrunched up his face. “Ball of optimism, you are.”
“What do you mean? I never said they’d catch us, just that they would keep trying.” He grinned at Ace, who looked somewhere between exasperated and amused. “They’ve got no chance in hell of catching us and they’re wasting their time. Point is, they’ll try again.”
“How long do we have, do you think?”
Cato seemed to ponder the question. “Well,” he stated, “we’re gonna be avoiding public places for the most part if we can. You know — semi-wanted criminals, and all.” Ace nodded. “So, they probably won’t have intel on us that way. They will get it though.” He shrugged, seeming less sure than Ace had ever seen him before. “Twelve hours after we make our next major stop, maybe.”
“Lovely. Where is our next major stop, again? There’s no Minotaur chasing us this time. Should we not just ride it out for as long as possible?”
“Nah, that’s how you walk into a trap.” Ace wasn’t entirely sure if Cato was a strategic genius or the most paranoid man he’d ever met in his life. This thought brought his mind to Mad–Eye Moody from the Harry Potter series, and Ace couldn’t help but feel particularly amused at the parallels between Cato and the fictional character. It was also the thought that made him ponder on the possibility that perhaps Cato was both. He was definitely paranoid, but that didn’t inherently mean he wasn’t a genius as well. “Besides,” Cato continued, “we need to stop in Nashville.”
Ace frowned. “You live in Nashville, right?”
“Well, right now I live in Atlanta since I’m going to the University of Georgia, but I have a place in Nashville for the summers, yeah. It was my dad’s; passed it to me in his will. A nice little place with a bunch of land.”
Ace nodded along slowly. “And, don’t take this the wrong way or anything, I’m not arguing and it’s fine if we stop, but why exactly do we need to stop in Nashville?”
Cato smirked. “Haven’t you learned by now that I usually have more than one reason for doing things?”
Ace just rolled his eyes in return. “I never said it was only one reason.”
“True,” Cato admitted, “but it kinda sounded like it. Just making sure you’ve been payin’ attention.”
“You’re not exactly easy to ignore.”
“Thank ya,” Cato said brightly before becoming a whole lot more stoic and to the point. “Right, Nashville. First reason is that I need a bit of rest. You could use some too. You’re doing good, but I can tell you’re tired, and I’m fucking exhausted. Haven’t slept in more than forty-eight hours, and a lotta shit has happened in those forty-eight hours.”
Ace blinked several times as if to clear his thoughts. It had been less than two days since he’d played in the hockey tournament with Caleb and Cadmus. Good Gods, so much had happened in that time that it had just somehow felt longer.
“Second,” Cato continued, “I need weapons.”
Ace groaned. “You already have three pistols.”
“Yeah, not good enough; not even close. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure a round from a pistol would’ve killed that Minotaur. Hurt like a bitch, but not sure about killin’ it, and I don’t wanna take chances.” There was a gleam in Cato’s eyes now, and Ace knew at once he had other ideas he wasn’t sharing. “I also don’t just mean guns. Weapon’s a pretty vague term.”
“Please tell me you don’t have a bomb that you’re planning on picking up?”
“No, actually, I don’t. No point in a bomb. Just grab a bunch of grenades. It’ll do the same thing and they’re way easier to carry and hide.”
Ace buried his head in his hands as he muttered about utter insanity. “It was a rhetorical question, Cato.”
The man blinked. “Oh,” he said smartly, seeming to be genuinely taken aback by that. “Well, point still stands.”
“Thanks,” Ace said with obvious exasperation, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good.” Cato sounded completely serious when he said that, and Ace had to resist the urge to roll his eyes for a second time in as many minutes. “Anyway, yeah, I need more weapons, but other supplies, too. And I dunno about you, but I’m starving.”
“I could definitely eat, yeah.” Only now that Cato brought it up did he realize how hungry he was. He had only eaten some random snacks from his bag — and some he had found in Cato’s truck — since the hockey tournament. Since the bike theft six or so hours ago, he had eaten nothing at all.
“Yeah, I figured. Also just nice to get cleaned up, you know?” Ace nodded. “Should also probably call your parents. God only knows what they think happened to you after not hearing from you for almost two days. That’s if your coach hasn’t already called them to report you missing.”
With mounting dread, Ace realized to his horror that his parents may very well suspect he’d died in the explosion at the Staples Center. They knew that news of the incident had gotten out to the media, for they’d seen it prominently displayed on the front page of a newspaper while scouting out the Hells Angels’ bar in Dallas.
“Alright,” Ace said with a deep breath. “We get to your place in Nashville. We eat, get some rest, stock up on weapons, or supplies, or whatever. Then I call my parents and… say I’m on my way home, I guess? Not sure how the hell I would explain all this.”
Cato looked sympathetic, but he could do little more than shake his head. “Sorry, buddy, can’t help ya there. I have no idea what I’d do in your spot.”
Ace put on a brave face and waved him off. “It’s fine; I’ll figure something out. Anyway, we do all that and then get back on the road? Keep the bikes?”
“Nah, prolly not. I think we’ll make it to Nashville, but they’re not the best option. We kinda have ta drive at night just so there’s a better chance your age won’t get noticed, and that’s really inconvenient. The truck I took to Dallas is mine, but my dad had a truck, as well. I don’t really use it. Just keep it for something to remember him by, but I’ll break that out for the rest of the trip. Should still run fine.”
Ace took a deep breath and shot a look back in the direction of his bike. “I guess it’s settled then?”
Cato nodded, also starting to move in the direction of their bikes. “Yup; time to get back on the road.
Back in the present…
All in all, it was a rather sound plan, though Ace would be lying if he didn’t admit to being a bit taken aback when Cato had originally proposed it. Disregarding the fact that the man seemed satisfied with nothing less than a personal armory at his disposal, it was not only logical but also shockingly mundane. Ace was very good at reading people. It had been a required trait as he’d grown up. Especially when needing to figure out who resented him, who actually liked him, and who was trying to use him for personal gain or popularity. He liked to think he could read people pretty well after all these years of practice, and he knew Cato Anders to be a lot of things.
Mundane was certainly not one of them.
Mundane might actually be the word least applicable to Cato out of any in the English language.
From the vague directions Cato had given him as they’d clambered back onto their bikes hours earlier, Ace knew them to be close to Cato’s home. The exit they had most recently taken was leading them out of the city’s centre and towards a more suburban area. Any moment now, Cato’s property should become visible…
“WHAT THE FUCK!!!?”
Cato’s cry of shock and horror was Ace’s first indication that something was horribly wrong. Admittedly, he had no idea what that might be at first, but the source of Cato’s distress became visible to Ace a second or so later, looming cruelly in the distance, seeming to taunt the both of them, though Cato in particular.
The house that Ace now knew to be Cato’s was ablaze. Not much of it seemed to remain at all, and most of what was left was already being consumed by the still roaring fire.
That wasn’t the only thing, either.
There was a ring of what Ace could only describe as monsters around Cato’s property. Many of them were very clearly laestrygonian giants. Ace wouldn’t soon be forgetting what those looked like. He also thought he spotted several cyclopes, as well as…
Dracaena, were they called? Ace was pretty sure that was the correct creature from mythology, though he would need to double-check that with Cato to be sure.
“Fuck!” Cato exclaimed once more, seeming angrier than anything else. “You fucking bastards!” He turned sharply and Ace almost tipped his bike as he matched his move. “Son of a b… ugh! Fuck it, new plan. Follow me!” He shouted all of this without looking backwards over his shoulder, and the two of them streaked away from Cato’s burning property, the taunting jeers of the herd of monsters ringing in their ears.
About two hours later…
Ace hadn’t even been surprised by the fact that Cato had a personal safe house in the heart of Nashville. The brilliance of it, according to Cato, was how well-hidden it was simply by being in plain sight.
That had been where Cato led Ace after their initial plan went up in flames… along with Cato’s old home. Ace knew he should say something to Cato. Apologize even though there was nothing he could have done. Offer his condolences, placations, or something more.
But he couldn’t will himself to do it.
He was completely useless when it came to emotions. He was an extremely clinical person. He overthought every decision he ever made, no matter how mundane, and inspected every situation with the intent to turn it into something advantageous. This outlook on life didn’t lend itself particularly well to being emotionally insightful, though Ace attributed that mindset to much of the success he’d experienced in all walks of his life.
The problem, at least at this moment, was that also meant he had no idea how to respond to Cato or say anything. He could tell the man was down, but he hid it well.
More than anything, Cato was pissed off. That much was evident. Especially when he had instructed Ace to wait while he went and took care of something. Ace suspected it had something to do with his old house. He’d argued weakly that he should come with Cato, mostly because whatever he was doing, he had no doubt it would be exceedingly dangerous. In the end, he’d lost the argument. He hadn’t exactly argued very hard. It was clearly a deeply personal matter to Cato. If Ace were in his shoes, he would have wanted to handle it on his own as well.
Cato grabbed several things before leaving, and Ace wasn’t entirely sure what they were, but he had an odd feeling they would make the explosion at the Staples Center look tame. He also grabbed more guns.
When he got back sometime later, his face was stony. “Yeah, we have a problem,” he told Ace. “A big problem.”
Ace sighed. “I think we have more than one so you’re going to need to be more specific.”
“Bullets don’t do shit against those things.”
Ace blinked. “Yup,” he said flatly, “that’s a problem alright.”
Cato nodded. “Good news is blowing them up does, which we already knew.” Ace didn’t even bother reacting to that. He vaguely wondered whether or not there were any monsters left, but didn’t ask. Cato seemed to know what he was thinking. “I couldn’t kill all of ‘em, but I got most. Don’t bet on me doing that again, though. Only reason it worked here is cause I had backup plans in place already for if something like this ever happened and because I had the materials to make it happen.”
Ace just nodded mutely. “So what do we do about them not being able to be killed by bullets? We can’t just blow things up every time we see a monster. That’ll eventually go horribly wrong.”
“Yeah,” Cato mused, “it will.” He drummed his fingers anxiously on the counter he was standing beside as he thought. Ace could only imagine the rapid calculations, constructions and deconstructions of plans going on inside his head at that precise moment in time. “Well,” he said slowly, “I know what we could try, but I don’t know if it’ll work.”
“Does it involve blowing more things up?”
“Probably not.” Ace mock glared at Cato, but the man was unfazed and didn’t seem bothered in the slightest. “It’ll involve breaking into a somewhat guarded area tonight though. That’s if they even have what we’re looking for.”
“And what exactly are we looking for?”
“Something made of celestial bronze.”
Ace frowned, puzzled. “Celestial bronze?”
“It’s what a lot of the heroes’ weapons were made out of in the myths. If monsters are real, there’s no reason the bronze ain’t.” He looked thoughtful. “Actually, I know it’s real. When I ran into the birds, their beaks looked like bronze, and they cut up the manticore real good, so I know it works against monsters.”
“So what, you want to make bullets out of it?”
Cato laughed. “‘Course I do, but not now. That would take time and I’d probably need a bit of practice. Nah, I want to find weapons made out of them that already exist. Judging by what I’ve seen so far if you run a monster through with one of those swords, they’d probably just dissolve into that golden dust or whatever it is.”
That made a certain amount of sense to Ace, but he would never have managed to put all of those dots together with the limited amount of information Cato was working with. Not that he’d known what celestial bronze was, anyway. If it was specified in the myths, he couldn’t remember.
Yet again, Cato seemed to know what he was thinking before he said it. “Don’t ask, I figure shit out a lot. One of the highest IQ scores ever recorded and I was thirteen. Don’t ask questions.”
Ace just sighed. “Am I allowed to ask how you always seem to know what I’m thinking?”
“Same answer plus studying body language cues. You’re pretty good at hiding emotion with your face and whatnot, but your body language gives it away.”
“Right, if we make it out of this alive and I get back to Canada, you’re going to teach me how to control that too, since I really hate the idea of other people knowing what I’m thinking.” And he truly did. Ace was a private person who liked to keep his thoughts and especially his emotions close to his chest. “If we ever see each other again after you drop me off,” he added.
Cato grinned wickedly. “Oh, trust me, we’re definitely going to see each other again. That was never a question. You’re interesting, and I really like interesting things. You think you’re just gonna get back to Canada and be done with me?” Cato laughed. “Hooo boy! Not that simple, bubba. Can’t get rid of me that easily.”
Despite himself, Ace couldn’t help but smile.
Later that night…
The plan laid out had been surprisingly simple.
Well, it actually wasn’t that simple at all, as it hinged on a ridiculous number of variables. An amended statement would be that it was very simple by Cato’s standards.
Then again, that would be like saying Ancient Greece could be boiled down to just Athens and Sparta.
About twenty-five minutes from Cato’s safe house sat Nashville’s Centennial Park. One of the park’s major attractions, situated in the centre of a field, of sorts, was a nearly life-sized replica of the Parthenon. Depending on the day, there would be different Greek exhibits on display. Oftentimes it was art, but Cato had seen weapons before. When he’d lived in Nashville full time, he frequented the attraction almost daily, mainly to see if they had anything particularly intriguing on display.
The first variable their plan hinged on was whether or not the museum had weapons on display that day. The second variable was whether or not any of those weapons were made from celestial bronze. Ace thought this a massive stretch, and Cato didn’t exactly disagree with him, but both of them thought it was worth a shot. As crazy as this sounded to most, breaking into a museum at night seemed like child’s play after their expeditions in Dallas and LA respectively.
Their plan also hinged on how many guards there might be. Cato said there were normally only one or two on guard. If there was one guard, this would be fairly simple, and also rather similar to the way they’d taken down the Hells Angels. If there was more than one… this suddenly became a whole lot more interesting.
Ace hadn’t allowed his hopes to rise too high.
Not even when, that afternoon, with hoods, pulled over their faces as not to be identified, Ace and Cato visited the exhibit, and, to their utter astonishment, there did appear to be celestial bronze weapons on display.
Well, it was only a guess, and there were only two of them.
“Hey, look at this,” Ace had said, gesturing Cato over.
Cato squinted. “What is it?”
“Am I the only one who notices that these two not only look bronze, but they don’t have a scratch on them?” Cato leaned forward and studied the sword and spear more closely. He straightened up after a moment and examined all of the other weapons on display, comparing their various states of damage. Or, in the case of the two Ace had indicated, the lack thereof.
“Good eye, buddy,” Cato muttered. “Yeah, these two look like they’re probably it. Thank fuck there’s two of ‘em. I don’t know about you, but I’d probably want the spear.”
“I definitely want the sword,” Ace had responded. “More reach and I think I would be good with it. I’ve tried fencing once or twice and was pretty good. It’s not a whole lot different from hand-to-hand combat. Footwork, angles and openings are the name of the game.”
Cato smiled. “It’s settled then. After tonight, we’ll be armed and good to go.”
“How are we going to carry a sword and a spear while on a motorbike? I’ve nearly crashed a dozen times as is.” They had originally planned to take Cato’s father’s truck, but it had gone up in flames along with his home.
Cato smirked. “Easy. Sword goes in the saddlebags. Spear’ll hang off the back of my bike like a flagpole.” His eyes lit up. “I’ll even get a flag for it!”
That conversation had taken place hours ago.
Ace and Cato had both slept for several hours after their initial scouting of the place. When they’d woken up, it had been around seven, and they’d eaten their first real meal since being on the road.
Cato had prepared an absurd amount of catfish, as well as some cornbread and coleslaw. Ace actually thought Cato was joking when he pulled fifteen fillets of catfish towards himself. At least until he watched the man plough through the heap with apparent ease.
“How the hell is that even possible?” he’d asked Cato.
Cato laughed. “This is nothing. You should see me with steak. I got kicked out of an all-you-can-eat steak place in Georgia. Didn’t leave for four hours and didn’t stop eating the entire time. I was pissed; could’ve kept going.”
That had been the end of that conversation, and a small degree of nervousness had crept to the forefront of his mind as the raid on the museum drew nearer. Ace had years of knowing how to deal with pressure and nerves though, so this didn’t bother him a whole lot, though he was certainly cognizant of it.
If anything, it made him feel more comfortable.
At long last, he was feeling something familiar as he and Cato rolled up to the Parthenon as quietly as they could. There was one guard on duty, but he wasn’t paying a great deal of attention.
Cato reached into his pocket and withdrew something that looked suspiciously like a grenade. When he’d first grabbed it back at the safehouse, Ace had actually thought that was its function. When Cato had actually explained to him what it was, he’d been suitably impressed.
Cato lobbed it over the man’s head from behind. The guard noticed it at once and drew his weapon, but he was enshrouded in thick, billowing smoke before he could even raise the gun. Just as his coughing fit began, Ace rushed forward. With a swift kick behind the man’s knee joint, he fell to a kneeling position, and Ace drove his own knee forcefully into the nerve socket on the back of the man’s head.
Cato whistled as the guard slumped to the ground. “See, I know how to do all that, but I never really practiced it. I just know it’s possible. You’re actually pretty good at this.”
Ace shrugged. “My stepdad and I watch a lot of combat sports and I am a very competitive person. Once I start training in something, I usually end up doing pretty well in it. If I didn’t, it would drive me insane.”
Cato chuckled as he successfully picked the lock and opened the main entrance door. “We really are brothers,” he said, gesturing for Ace to enter first.
Naturally, that was when everything had gone to shit.
From out of the darkness, something lunged towards Ace. He’d lunged out of the way on reflex and thankfully, so had Cato.
The good news was that whatever had lunged at them was locked outside a second or so later.
The bad news was that, now that Ace’s eyes had adjusted, he realized they were locked in the Parthenon with two dracaena.
This wasn’t good.
Cato didn’t even think.
He threw another one of his smoke grenades and sprinted for the locked display case containing the two weapons. For his part, Ace lunged straight into the smoke, leaping upwards and driving his knee forcefully into one of the thing’s jaws just as he heard the sound of shattering glass off to his right. It crumpled to the floor but didn’t stay down. That should have rendered any human unconscious, but this thing got up right away.
As it was getting to its feet, the other one grabbed Ace. He tried to pull away but knew immediately it would be fruitless. These things weren’t huge, but they were about six feet tall each and appeared to be at least as strong as a fully grown adult, though Ace suspected they were much stronger.
Before the beast could do anything to him, it howled in pain and began to writhe before slowly disintegrating. A spear fell to the floor, and Ace only then realized that Cato had thrown it and impaled the thing straight through the midsection.
Ace lunged out of the way just as the other dracaena made its way back to a standing position. Its mistake was planting a foot firmly atop the spear, obviously intent on preventing the demigods from retrieving it. Ace didn’t even think she realized there was another celestial bronze weapon in the room. At least not until he grabbed it, rushed forward and sliced it across her chest before she could even react.
The element of surprise was a truly powerful force that should never be underestimated.
Cato picked up his new spear with a wicked grin on his face. “Man, this is fun!”
Ace really wanted to disagree but he couldn’t. A small part of him, likely the part that had always sought out challenges and wild rushes of adrenaline was loving every last second of this. Judging by the knowing look Cato shot his way just as he made towards the door, he knew it, too.
Ace’s eyes widened just as Cato opened the door, for he knew exactly what would happen, and the older man seemed too preoccupied in his euphoria that he must have forgotten.
Just as he opened the door, the dracaena on the other side swung a trident towards him.
It was parried away by the bronze blade of a sword at the last second as Ace lunged forward. Cato’s eyes went wide, but it didn’t stop him from driving his spear straight through the monster’s neck while Ace had its trident preoccupied.
“Fucking hell that was close,” Cato breathed. “Thanks for the save.”
“Don’t mention it,” Ace said through a relieved sigh, trying to bring his heart rate back to a semi-safe rate. “You’d have done the same for me.”
Cato smirked. “You bet I would have. Daemons of Erebus for life, am I right?” He held out a hand, and, still laughing, Ace took it as the two of them made their way back to the bikes.
It was time to get out of Nashville.
This story is so easy to write, it’s unbelievable, and I am having a blast with each and every chapter.
I know right now Ace and Cato seem more like Batman and Robin than actual demigods, but that will change soon, don’t worry. I needed to get them actual weapons before they could fight anything like Greek heroes. And at the moment, their concerns are as much in the mundane world as they are in the mythological one.
Thank you to my lovely Discord Editors Regress (and others) for their contributions/corrections this week.
Please read and review.
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