Fabric of Fate
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 editor Athena, as well as my other betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.
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Ace Iverson and the Fabric of Fate
March 19, 2005
The Field of Mars, New Rome
A reddish light fell over New Rome as the sun set in a blood-streaked sky. It was slowly disappearing, taking refuge behind the shadowy outlines of mountains far to the north. The Little Tiber shone with dying rays dancing across its dark waters like beads of light shimmering across a sheet of glass.
In the dying light, each of the several hundred figures gathered outside the mess hall cast long shadows across the golden hill they stood atop.
Caleb watched all of this as he slid into heavy plated armour and dawned an enameled galea decorated with the spreading wings of a mighty eagle. All he could think about was how cumbersome it all was.
“Are you really telling me you’d sooner wear no armour at all?” Cadmuas asked him, having already fitted himself with everything but his own helm.
“At least then, I’d be able to move,” Caleb grumbled as he finally slid the galea over his head.
Cadmus only shrugged. “It’s no worse than hockey gear, really.”
“Excuse you. This armour’s about three times heavier than my shoulder pads ever were.”
“After three months here, one might expect you to be three times stronger.”
“Oh, I am,” Caleb assured him with a confident smile, “but just think how swift I could bound around the valley with all that extra strength and less to weigh me down.”
“And just think how easy it would be for Octavian to run a gladius through your back from behind.”
Caleb scoffed. “That scarecrow? Does he even know how to spell the word gladius?”
“With how much money his parents pay for him to study in the city, I’d hope so. The better question is, do you know how to spell the word gladius?”
“Of course I do,” Caleb answered, swinging the weapon lazily through the air as he spoke. “Not that it really matters. I can actually use one, which is more than I can say for him.”
“Okay, I think Octavian’s a prick, but he’s not that incompetent. Referrals or not, he wouldn’t be in the First Cohort if he was utterly useless.”
A part of Caleb knew there was truth in Cadmus’s words, but oh how he wished otherwise.
It had taken him approximately eight hours to get on the wrong side of Octavian. Caleb and Cadmus had been sworn into the Third Cohort that first night on probatio status. Their arrival and introduction had caused quite the stir. A number of legionnaires had approached them over dinner to offer their welcomes and encouragement, but others were less than thrilled to see them.
“I’d like to formally welcome you to the Twelfth Legion,” Octavian had said when he’d approached their table. He was tall and thin, with straw-coloured hair, watery blue eyes, and adorned in a pearly white toga.
Caleb had disliked him at first sight. There was just something about this boy that had rubbed him the wrong way. Reading people was always something Caleb had been good at. Fortunately for Cadmus, who had a harder time deciding who was worth his time and who was not.
“And I would like to formally thank you,” Caleb said after a short pause. Then, he scrunched up his face. “On second thought, if formal thanks involves me getting up, then I’ll pass. I find my food a lot more interesting.”
“More attractive, too,” said Cadmus with a grin.
“That went without saying,” Caleb agreed with a wave of his hand.
Octavian’s pale skin had flushed a deep pink and his eyes appeared to have darkened by a shade. “I would be careful who I go mouthing off to if I were you, newbies.”
“I’m being very careful,” Caleb assured him. “I’m only picking people who I think I could snap over my knee without messing up my lovely hair. Congrats, you’re the first one who’s made the cut.”
Octavian’s eyes had narrowed. “The Third Cohort was too good for both of you. No-name scum with no accolades and snotty recommendations. You should have been sent to the Fifth.”
Even after only spending hours in the camp, Caleb had gathered that the Fifth Cohort had an unsavoury reputation and was looked down on by much of the camp.
“You wouldn’t want that, Octavian,” he said with a lazy smile.
Octavian’s lips thinned. “Really? It sounds delightful right about now.”
“Right about now, maybe. I bet it wouldn’t sound so enticing after Cadmus and I led the cohort storming over yours at the first opportunity.”
Octavian’s anger appeared to break all at once, giving way to a fit of laughter as he clutched their table for support. “The Fifth Cohort storming over mine?” he wheezed, still clutching at a stitch in his side. “Oh, gods! Do you know who you’re talking to?”
“Someone who likes being publicly embarrassed in a game of quips and who doesn’t know when they’ve lost?” Cadmus offered with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m a member of the First Cohort,” Octavian boasted. “I have been from the second I walked into this count. My cohort is one of honour. You would do well to—”
Caleb grabbed a nearby jug of juice and threw the contents into Octavian’s face. Patches of the dark liquid stained his straw-coloured hair with red whilst streams of it ran down his pale skin like leaking blood from a gaping wound.
“There,” Caleb had said just before Octavian stormed off. “It was an honour to make you look like a complete dumbass in front of everyone hre. Have a nice day.”
“Let me dream, damnit,” Caleb said to Cassius with a long and drawn-out sigh.
“Dream? Why would you want to dream when you have the chance to run Octavian through with a gladius before he can do it to you?”
A manic grin spread across Caleb’s face as he slowly nodded. “See? This is why we’re friends. You understand the way I think.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Cadmuas as they formed ranks with the rest of their cohort and began the march down the side of the hill. “If I knew exactly how you thought, I think I’d have gone insane by now.”
The Field of Mars was less lucious than the rest of the valley and looked anything but a sprawling bit of land not far from Sam Francisco. It was riddled with tunnels and here and there the earth showed the wounds of war. Caleb assumed those places were where trenches had most often been dug or where especially violent scorpions had exploded. The entire field had felt the onslaught even if not all of it was as marked as its worst patches of earth. The grass had a brown-ish tinge to it in more places than not. This field was filled with more death than life. Caleb remembered thinking that was an ominous sign the first time he had partaken in a war game months earlier.
Tonight, the First, Second, and Fourth Cohorts would be defending the fort in a game of siege against the Third and Fifth cohorts.
Calebb and Cadmus stood in the centre of the attacking troops. “We’ve lost already, haven’t we?” Cadmus asked.’
“What do you mean?” Caleb returned.
“Even I can tell that no one here thinks we’re gonna win this. Look at the way they’re talking. Watch the way their shoulders slump.”
Caleb waved a hand. “That’s not important.”
Cadmus blinked. “What do you mean it isn’t important?”
“Well, it isn’t unimportant, but it’s less important than the others. Look at them — they think they’ve won this already.”
Caleb saw Cadmus crane his neck to see the figures marching away from them and could see at once his friend understood. They were almost boisterous as they moved away, as though this was nothing more than a children’s game they were destined to win.
A mischievous spark lit in Cadmus’s eyes and Caleb thought maybe, just maybe that had hope after all.
The sounds of battle raged all around as Suleyman lunged out of the way of a charging legionnaire belonging to the Second Cohort. The soldier brought up his gladius, but Suleyman had pivoted faster and was already on the attack, felling his opponent with a sharp, well-practiced thrust.
Only then did the young legionnaire have time to look around the Field of Mars.
The Third and Fifth Cohorts were making slow progress towards the armoured fortress, but it was progress nevertheless. It was the best he had seen the Fifth Cohort do in any war game since his induction into the Twelfth Legion. Though he supposed that wasn’t saying much. Suleyman had only turned twelve on the third day of the month and this was only his third night of War Games.
New to the legion he may have been, but Suleyman had lived in New Rome for as long as he could remember. He had grown up around all of this and watched more sieges than he could count. For all the years he could remember, the Fifth Cohort were like a curse all of their own. People said they really were cursed and had been since the 1980s, when a former Praetor named Michael Varus had led a disastrous expedition to Alaska resulting in their massacre and the loss of their once-famed eagle standard, plus most of their imperial gold weapons.
Suleyman’s adopted father had told him the story years ago. He’d been a part of the legion for several decades and had even been the Centurion of the Third Cohort. It was a mark of how long he had served that he had known Michael Varus and most of the men who had gone off to die with him. When Suleyman had once asked why Varus had ever thought his cohort capable of such a lofty quest, his father in all but blood had told him that the former Praetor had always been vane and overconfident and that the Fifth Cohort was suffering karma for that arrogance even now, decades later.
Yet they seemed to be holding their own tonight. That or Suleyman’s own cohort was performing exceptionally well and managing to carry them through. One of the newer recruits was stabbing his way through a wall of men as though they were little more than training dummies whilst his friend fired arrows from behind a line of shields. Suleyman’s lip curled. That boy was certainly no child of Apollo; not with aim as abysmal as his.
Suleyman felt the presence near him before it arrived and whirled to face it. His eyes widened. It was Chad who faced him, the towering son of Mars who also just so happened to be one of the two Praetors. Olivia was serving as the referee tonight, which meant Chad got to partake in his favourite activity the camp had to offer.
Suleyman rolled out of the way of his first strike and came to his feet ready to move. Fortunate he was, for that became necessary almost at once. Chad dwarfed most full-grown men, let alone twelve-year-old Suleyman. His advantage over bigger men like Chad was that he was slight and swift-footed. He wasn’t the fastest runner in a straight line, but he was extremely agile and had admirable endurance.
He dodged two more strikes before an opening presented itself. Suleyman lunged, bringing his gladius sailing through the air, a fierce, two-handed swing. Chad’s parry was almost lazy and their next exchange of blows sent Suleyman sprawling. Chad had driven his shield so hard into his ribs that Suleyman was left gasping for breath as though every last bit of air had been driven from his lungs.
Chad stepped forward and raised his gladius. Suleyman was vaguely aware of it through his haze of pain and gasping breath. He knew that the blow would be far from fatal, but it was still set to be anything but pleasant. One might expect a Praetor to take it easy on a new recruit, but not Chad. He had always believed in trial by fire and children of Mars were hardly known for their mercy. His next strike would wound Suleyman badly enough that he would need to be taken out of the game, but not badly enough to do any lasting harm. It was simply a strategic strike to gain his side an advantage. It was no more than one would expect from a man of Chad’s nature.
Suleyman became vaguely aware of something whistling through the air and could only assume it was Chad’s gladius, but confusion gripped him a second later when a voice that sounded like Chad’s cried out as if in pain. It took a tremendous amount of willpower, but Suleyman managed to roll over and peer upwards just in time to see Chad fall, an arrow protruding from his thigh.
“You all right, kid?”
It was the new recruit from several months ago — the one whose aim Suleyman had internally mocked just minutes earlier. The gods really did have a fun way of playing with fate and irony.
“Yeah,” he gasped, taking the boy’s hand and allowing himself to be pulled to his feet, “thanks.”
The boy paid him only a passing smile before rushing back off towards the larger cluster of troops. They had advanced closer to the besieged fort and were now nearly at the foot of the walls. Suleyman felt some breath return to him as his heart began to beat harder with anticipation. This could be monumental if only they could win.
Caleb raced back into the chaos, still riding high after his well-placed shot from a minute or so earlier. He had been attracted to the idea of fighting with a bow and arrow ever since arriving at Camp Jupiter. Unfortunately for him, he had spent more time fighting against the bow and arrow than with it. Never had he been so fond of something he was so utterly miserable at. When he’d taken the shot towards their Praetor a minute or so earlier, he had been sure he’d miss. Never had he even hit a target from so far away. His hope was that the stray arrow would distract the son of Mars, but a direct shot had been even better.
Their forces had made more progress whilst Caleb had been a way. The good news was they were closer than ever to breaching the oppositions’ fort. The bad news was that they were now within direct striking distance of the scorpions and the water cannons. Both forms of weaponry made themselves known and Caleb could feel their line of shields buckling.
One person who seemed completely unphased was Cadmus. He charged forward as though they were under no fire at all. The legionnaires nearest to him were taken completely off-guard as he sliced through their ranks. Hank — their Centurian — surged forward on the back of Hannibal the elephant to plough through and widen the gap Cadmus had just made. Caleb pushed through the men in front of him to fall in step a bit behind the elephant. Hannibal’s battle armour deflected almost everything thrown at it. By standing behind him, Caleb stayed almost entirely out of the line of fire.
That was until someone blindsided him from his right and sent him sprawling. It was like he was back in a hockey arena and receiving a full-speed body check, but worse. It was puzzling because surely no one in the legion could built up so much momentum.
He rolled, slightly dazed, out of the way and fell back behind the line of shields. Only then did he clamber to his feet and realize what had happened.
It was Chad! The man whose leg had been pierced with an arrow not long before must have pulled the shaft free from his skin and rejoined the fighting. He had somehow now knocked Hank from Hannibal and was surging forward towards Cadmus, who was locked in an intense battle against a man belonging to the fort’s last line of defence. Unless he beat his opponent in the next three seconds and whirled at once, he would be taken unaware by the legion’s fiercest warrior. Even if he did, Caleb doubted Cadmus could stand against Chad no matter how well he had performed tonight.
Caleb didn’t remember reaching for his bow, but it was by his shoulder with the string pulled back before he realized what he had done. His shooting was spotty at the best of times, but aiming in this melee with everything going on around him was next to impossible.
He let the arrow fly anyway, holding his breath as he watched it sore through the air, hoping beyond hope for another lucky shot and gasping at the results.
It could not have missed Chad by any more than it did. Really, it was comical how far off the shot was. Caleb had shot much too high, or else the arrow had been caught and pulled upwards by a sudden gust of wind, but whatever had caused its new path, it was not completely astray.
The arrow slammed into the water cannon directly above Cadmus and his opponent with such force that it violently exploded. The two legionnaires who had been manning the weapon were thrown backwards and slammed into others, scattering the defences up on the battlements as water poured down from the ruptured cannon and doused Chad, breaking his concentration.
“Ha!” Caleb cried, holding his bow high in the air as though he’d planned the whole thing. “Take that, losers!” he screamed up at the drenched and dazed men on the battlements. “Hydrate or dydrate!”
He returned his eyes to the field of battle just as Hannibal managed to rush forward again and knock Cadmus’s opponent out of the way. He seemed confused for a moment before Caleb saw his head turn from side to side. It was obvious that he was inspecting the battlefield. He must have liked what he saw because even from afar, his laughter was discernible through the chaos as he leapt up onto Hannibal’s back and led the charge into the opposing fort.
Cadmus had never had so much fun, yet still he was left somewhat bitter at the end of it all. The opposing defences had crumbled once he had ridden Hannibal into their midst. It was clear they had not been anticipating a breach and had been poorly prepared. Charging through their defences had been simple, though they had rallied well to try and trap him in the fort and assure he didn’t take their banners out with him.
They had partially succeeded. Cadmus had seen no way to break through their midst, so he had instead thrown the standard to another new recruit — a dark skinned boy named Suleyman who was the youngest legionnaire Cadmus was aware of.
The siege had been thrilling. Never in his life had he enjoyed anything so much and never in his life had he excelled in anything as he had that night. Cutting through man after man had seemed simple and it had felt as though no one could stand before him.
Yet all that anyone talked about was Caleb’s damned shot that blew out the water cannon. He was the smuggest of bastards, too, recounting the moment in vivid detail to anyone who would listen. Cadmus scowled any time he heard the tale. Caleb was a miserable shot; if anyone had ever gotten lucky with a bow and arrow, it was him tonight.
The one thing Cadmus did take solace in was Hannibal. The first time he had ever seen the elephant in battle, he had vowed to one day ride him to victory and now he had. Hannibal seemed quite fond of him, too. He really was an adorable creature despite his massive size. And the best part was, Caleb seemed more than a little bit miffed when he had approached Hannibal only to be snubbed and for the elephant to nuzzle Cadmus with its snout.
Olivia called them all to the field’s centre to give out honours and Cadmus’s chest was beating hard. If they gave Caleb the Mural Crown just for that one shot, Cadmus was going to riot so hard that the Roman Empire would collapse for a second time.
In the end, it proved irrelevant.
Every last one of them were given laurels before Cadmus’s name was called to step forward and receive the Mural Crown. Not one person protested; not after he had been the first to breach the fortress, nor after all the men he had bested. Caleb cat-called loudly from near the back of the crowd, but not even he could steal this moment from Cadmus.
Or, so he thought.
Campers gasped as a halo of light formed from nowhere. Cadmus had moved to the front to receive his honour and couldn’t see where it was coming from. There seemed to be two of them from near the back of the crowd, but it was impossible to tell where.
That was until the crowd parted and it was revealed that two figures had holograph-esque suns shining above their heads.
The first one hung over the head of Suleyman. That made a degree of sense. He was the youngest member of the legion and had performed well. Hell, he had been the one to carry the standards out from the fort whether Cadmus had given them over or not. There was a great deal to be proud of there and he was happy for the kid.
The other… the other was complete and utter bullshit.
How in the name of Jupiter was Caleb a son of Apollo? He could hardly hold a bow and arrow!
Then, it hit him.
The God of Prophecy…
By the gods, Caleb really was a supernatural vessel of bullshit!
This was one of the more difficult chapters to write, but it might be my favourite of the interludes. It’s definitely either this, or the first one. Let me know which is your favourite once the final one is posted.
That is the last of New Rome you’ll see until after season II, but I thought it was important to lay the foundations since it will be at the heart of season III and play an integral role in the story from that point onwards.
Please read and review.
PS: THE NEXT PASSWORD WILL BE RELEASED IN TWO WEEKS. IF YOU WANT TO AVOID THE WAIT, THE NEXT TWO CHAPTERS — THE REMAINING INTERLUDE AND THE FIRST CHAPTER OF SEASON II — ARE AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR PATRONS. SIGN UP TO MY PATREON PAGE TO READ THOSE EARLY.
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