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
April 16, 2005
The Woods, Camp Halfblood
Brittle leaves slithered unwillingly across the forest floor, moved noisily along the still-dead grass by the softly whispering wind. Camp Halfblood had large amounts of control over what weather was allowed in their borders and they had exercised it often during the winter months. Still, it had been cold and patches of snow had been allowed to fall so long as it avoided becoming a hindrance. Spring had come some time ago and rain seemed to fall every other day, but the grass was not yet green and lively like it would be in the summer months to come.
Tonight was the first evening in several days that was not marred by dark grey clouds and thick, persistent drops of rain. Last night’s rounds of sword fighting had been an especially miserable affair. A number of the campers had mocked Ace for being doused in the rain just like the rest of them whilst duelling in the open-aired arena.
“Shouldn’t you be able to like, make that stop or something?” one of the Hermes campers had asked him. Others had made jokes about how he had displeased his father, but only one remark had truly stung.
“If I were Zeus and I sent out my son just for him to be saved by the Hunters, I’d piss all over him too.”
That had been Clarisse, and her words had stung. Ace tried not to show it, but he knew that at least Annabeth — and probably Cato and Blaise as well — suspected how hard they had hit.
Ace had woken up in a strange-looking place after falling unconscious at the tail end of his quest. The room was forest-green and hung with rich pelts and massive antlers. Ace had wondered where he was before the truth had been revealed. It turned out that it wasn’t a room at all, but a tent setup by the Hunters of Artemis.
One of their healers told him his ribs had been badly broken. It took three days of drinking nectar and eating ambrosia before he was strong enough to make his way back towards the camp.
Those three days had been long and hard, not least of all because of Zoë Nightshade. Artemis had done her best to keep her lieutenant away from Ace, but they crossed paths often enough and she always had a sharp remark about the mighty falling or the arrogant getting what they were owed. It had been months since they’d met for the first time in a forest near Boston, and still, Ace wondered what he had done to offend her so. All he knew was that by the time his stay had ended, he and Zoë were about ready to rip each other’s throats out.
His quest had been a success, in a fashion. The cyclopes were dead and Hermes could restore the warehouse to its former purpose, but it had all been a massive failure as far as Ace was concerned. He’d had no idea how to deal with the threat in front of him and been left regretting his hesitancy to unlock his full power. He had spent days sulking back at Camp Halfblood before a chat with Blaze and Cato had snapped him out of his stupor.
One month earlier…
It was the first time Ace had been among others since returning to camp. His friends had called upon him often, but he was always armed with one excuse or another that excused his self-imposed isolation from the rest of them. Facing the camp was too painful after his failure. How was he destined to lead them if such a simple mission was still beyond him?
Ace had been moving around the vast open space of his cabin, sword in hand, when the door opened without warning to reveal not one, but two of his friends looking in. Cato was wearing his usual shorts and an orange Camp Halfblood t-shirt whilst Blaze was wearing the same black jacket they had found him in back in Boston four months earlier.
“You know,” said Blaze before Ace could get a word in, “you seem pretty restless for someone who refuses to leave their cabin for anything other than meals.”
Ace glared daggers at him. “What exactly is your point?”
“I would have thought that was obvious,” Blaze retorted with a raised eyebrow.
“My point is that you’re wasting away your life lurking in this cabin when you could actually be improving if you mustered up the stones to leave it and just be a camper again.”
They were blunt words that cut deep. Ace had been called many things over the years, but a coward had never been one of them. Just playing contact sports with kids so much older and bigger than him required a certain level of bravery that even his fiercest detractors had been forced to accept. Since arriving at Camp Halfblood, he had been known as the boy who had stood against an army and summoned a literal storm to save him and his friends. There had never been any room in Ace’s life for anyone to call him a coward.
He thought about that before he snapped back. Was there room now? Was Blaze goading him or could he have a point? Was Ace’s refusal to leave the cabin out of cowardice? He didn’t think so. Shame, maybe, but cowardice, no.
“Am I wasting away my life?” Ace asked, an edge of bitterness creeping into his voice.
“Yes,” said Blaze, “and all because you weren’t perfect on some solo quest given to you before you were ready.”
“I should have been ready!” Ace snapped back. “How the hell am I supposed to do what anyone here expects me to if I can’t even deal with some cyclopes?”
Blaze and Cato exchanged looks. “Come on, bubba,” Cato urged, “come and take a walk with us.”
“I’d rather not—”
“We’re aware,” Blaze cut him off.
“Then why are you here?”
“Because we ain’t takin’ no for an answer,” said Cato. “Come on; we’ll steer clear of any campers and I’ll gut ‘em if they try and give ya trouble.”
Ace looked from Blaze, to Cato, and back again before sighing and stepping outside. The sun was full and bright, warmer than it had been all year. The remaining patches of snow were melting, giving the grass a soft and squishy texture under Ace’s feet as he walked towards the woods with Blaze and Cato. Campers were out and about. None of them tried to approach, though many shot Ace wary glances that took him aback. Did they think he had gone mad?
“I expected it to be Annabeth,” Ace said, breaking the silence after a long and awkward pause.
Blaze snorted. “That girl’s mental. She’d have barged into your cabin and dragged you out by your hair the first day you were back if we’d have let her.”
Ace wondered how he might have reacted to that. His first thought was that he’d have reacted poorly and they may even have come to blows, but he doubted that the longer he pondered it. Annabeth had a way with him. Their dynamic was strange and separate from the rest of Ace’s friendships, but it was one he cherished just as much. If anyone might have been able to convince him to leave his cabin that first night, she might have been it, though he was happy his other friends had convinced her not to try.
“I appreciate it,” Ace said honestly.
“We know, bubba,” said Cato. “We’ve got your back.”
“Always,” said Blaze.
They were nearing the forest’s edge now. The groups of campers had thinned. Ace hadn’t even realized he was still carrying the sword he’d claimed from the armoury months ago until they drew near his edge. Some said there were monsters in these woods, but Ace had never seen any despite him and Cato spending countless nights in the forest searching them out.
“What about Andy?” Ace asked with some trepidation as they stepped into the shadow of a towering oak tree before passing into the forest.
“Worried sick,” said Blaze. “She’d have gone for you at the same time as Annabeth, but I think she’s worried you’d have raged at her.”
Ace would like to think he wouldn’t have. Andy was the best of them and always had been. He would never doubt her intentions and he put more stock in what someone meant than what they actually did. Whether or not that would have quelled his fury, it was impossible to say.
“So, you gonna tell us why you’ve been hidin’ out in your cabin and ignorin’ us all?”
Ace tried to glare at Cato, but couldn’t. The warm and fragrant air had sapped the fight out of him and all he could do was sigh. “I failed,” he said simply.
“Bullshit! Bubba, you ain’t failed at nothin’.”
“One of the Hunters had to spoon me nectar that first day because I could barely sit up. In what world is that not a failure?”
“A world where people are reasonable.”
Ace laughed openly at Blaze. “And what world is that, exactly? What has being reasonable ever had to do with anything?”
“The gods ain’t reasonable, but that don’t mean the rest of us ain’t.”
“You know how I grew up,” Ace told Cato. “What about parents making death threats to an eight-year-old kid just because he was captain of a team he was too young for and took the position from their kid is reasonable? What about all the kids my age hating me for nothing is reasonable? What about anything before Camp Halfblood is reasonable?”
“You want to talk about reason,” said Blaze with an ominous smile. “You know what my step father did for a living, do you not?”
“Business,” Ace remembered. “Something about owning a hospital and a bunch of other property.”
“Close enough for now. Do you know how many unreasonable things he saw on a daily basis?”
Ace frowned. “All you’re doing is proving my point.”
“No,” Blaze said calmly, “I’m not. I’m saying that your point is meaningless.”
“What do you mean it’s—”
“Bubba, anyone who expects a thirteen-year-old to storm through a bunch of cyclopes is out of their goddamn minds.”
Ace bristled. “Are you saying you didn’t believe I could do it?”
“Fuck no,” said Cato. “I know damn well you could’ve done it. Ain’t nobody doubtin’ that, but anyone who holds that against you is a dumbass who ain’t worth the dirt on your boots.”
“They don’t matter,” Blaze added, “none of them matter. That’s the thing with unreasonable people. They rarely go anywhere or become important. The ones who matter just let their words roll off of them and keep moving forward.”
“That’s what you gotta do now, bubba, don’t you see it?”
Ace opened his mouth to argue, but couldn’t. It was as they said, just like any other time he had feared the scorn of those around him growing up. Never before had words broken him then, so why should they now?
“I still feel like I failed, whether others do or not.”
“And that’s fine,” Cato assured him. “You have the right to feel however the hell you wanna feel. That ain’t wrong. You’re a perfectionist and I respect that, but it’s over. Bein’ all sullen and pissy ain’t gonna undo what’s done.”
“Nothing is,” Ace spat, glaring at a nearby tree stump as though it had done him a personal disservice.
“Of course it isn’t,” said Blaze. “Do you think the successful people of the world never fail?” Ace opened his mouth to answer, but closed it again.
“You ain’t failed enough, bubba. Life seems real easy when all you do is win, but there’s more to it than that. Sulk for a day or two if you want. That’s fine, but don’t let it destroy ya. Ain’t none of that gonna be productive or help you movin’ forward.”
“We win or we learn,” Ace remembered, repeating the words his old coach, Terry, had said many times.
“We win or we learn,” Cato recited with a broad grin. “Question is, what exactly did ya learn?”
Ace’s face hardened. “That you were right. If I’m ever to do what must be done, I’ll need more than a sword and shield.”
Back in the present…
He was mostly over the worst effects of his quest now, but from time to time, the self-loathing returned and Clarisse’s remark had brought it back in force. That was why he had asked Cato and Andy if they would come and practice that next night, rain or no.
Cato and Ace had begun experimenting with his powers immediately after their conversation with Blaze. It had gone nowhere for a time until Cato had the wise idea to recruit Andy for assistance. She had developed a stronger grasp over her own abilities. It was one thing to conceptualise what could be done, but another altogether to have felt it and be able to pass those feelings along to others pursuing similar goals.
Ace had slowly begun to get the hang of it with his friends’ help. He was still a long way from having his abilities mastered, but his progress was swift. Andy had improved herself whilst helping teach Ace. It came as no surprise to him. He had heard it said before that once you could teach something, you had truly mastered it or else you unlocked an entirely new level of understanding.
Tonight was a practice night. They stood in a wide clearing near the bank of the stream that cut directly through the forest’s heart. Ace and Cato stood some distance away from the water whilst Andy made it rise high into the air, spinning and contorting like some liquid cyclone before she allowed it to fall back into place.
Only then did Ace close his eyes and take a deep, centring breath. The wind picked up around him as a metallic scent drifted in from overhead and the sky began to rumble. The air around them thickened just as Ace’s eyes shot open and his breath was allowed lost. He thrust his sword high into the air and as if on cue, a jagged bolt of lightning arced from the now stormy-grey sky and impacted against the water’s surface with a monstrous sound as thunder boomed and water splashed everywhere. The noise reminded Ace of the time he’d heard a plane fly so fast overhead that the sound barrier had been broken.
Cato whooped from beside Ace and Andy grinned, skipping over to him and hugging him briefly before doing the same to Cato.
“It still takes too much time,” Ace observed, frowning up at the sky as if it had disappointed him. In some ways, it had.
“What do you mean?” asked Andy. “Ace, you just summoned a freaking lightning bolt!”
“It won’t be usable in battle. Not until I can do it faster and with a shorter pause. If I stopped like that to concentrate, whatever I was fighting would kill me where I stood.”
“It would,” Cato admitted, “but that ain’t important. Think of how far you’ve come in a month. Imagine where you’ll be at in a year or more.”
That much was true. Not even Zeus had expected Ace to lead the camp that year. The God of the Sky had spoken of the future and how Ace would define it. Tonight was the first time since his quest that he thought maybe, just maybe, he could live up to those expectations if given enough time. He had only to hope his father didn’t send him on another suicide mission so he could live long enough to fulfill every bit of his potential.
April 17, 2005
Zeus’s Cabin, Camp Halfblood
The smell of smoke hung in the air as great plumes of it twisted up into the sky from the crater some way behind where Ace stood. His midnight-blue cloak flapped audibly in the soft wind, its cloudy patches of white flashing out of the corners of his eye every time it did. From where he stood, he overlooked a ridge towering over most everything around it. Directly below, thick green forests had once sprawled, but now the side of the mountain was pockmarked and many of the trees had burnt away. They would regrow in time but not for a generation or more. Further off in the distance, the peak was ringed by the misty shadows of other, smaller mountains and below them, several gulfs looked like blue serpents lying on the dirt from this height.
Ace felt the first presence appear nearby and turned. It was his brother. The war had concluded days ago, yet still, he was dressed in a full suit of armour made from obsidian. His dark eyes watched Ace intently. Ace might have shivered had he been anyone else.
The third member of their trio appeared then, wearing a deep green cloak not unlike the one Ace wore around his own body. This man’s fit looser and his eyes were the same green as his cloak, his skin more tanned than either of his brothers’.
“Shall we begin?” Ace asked in a voice deeper than his own; a voice that boomed across the mountain’s shattered peak like thunder rolling across a cloud-flecked sky.
“We shall,” said the brother in black, his eyes flicking towards the other man.
“You summoned us here to distribute titles,” prompted the third of them.
Ace felt anger bubble in the pit of his stomach. Was this about nothing but titles to them? “No,” he argued, “I summoned you here to assign domains and responsibilities.”
“It all amounts to the same,” said the first brother to appear. “Power is power no matter how you dress it up or how you plan to wield it.”
“I care naught what you call it. All that is important is that we see to the matter immediately.”
“I propose we draw straws,” said the last of them to appear. “It’s only fair. We would never have overcome Father if any of us had not joined the fray.”
Ace’s eyes flashed as anger so terrible it threatened to spill forth and split the mountain a second time gripped him. Was it only fair? Was that really what his arrogant toe rag of a brother thought? He, the defeater of Kronos and the one responsible for the smoking crater where a proud fortress had once stood should draw straws with the others? Did Poseidon care nothing for merit?
“I concur,” Hades agreed before Ace could get in so much as a word.
His mouth almost fell open. They had played him for a fool! They had conspired against him to take away any leverage he had. They cared naught for honour nor fairness, they only lusted for the power he had and wished to take it all away from him.
Ace jolted awake when the door to his cabin flew open. He was on his feet and scrambling for his sword before the first of four figures had stepped inside. Only then did he realize he was wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, but by then, Cato had already moved into the cabin.
Ace opened his mouth to groggily ask what the hell they were doing here, but four voices sounded before his own could escape his throat.
His mouth fell open. By the gods, it was, wasn’t it? With all that had been going on since his failed quest, Ace had completely lost track of the date and forgotten anything about his upcoming birthday. Now, he was fourteen and he hadn’t even realized it.
They allowed him only time to dress before barging back in and thrusting packages into his hands. Ace opened them, dumbfounded and still half asleep. He had been having the oddest dream but now, it was difficult to think of that with all the excitement in the cabin.
Andy’s gift was simple, but apt; a beautiful set of stones that could only have been taken from deep beneath the waters of some nearby river. Blaze had somehow acquired a dagger of celestial bronze; he must have called in some money from his step father and exchanged it for drachmas before bribing one of the armourers. What exactly one would need to offer to have a weapon like this custom-crafted, Ace had no idea.
Annabeth had woven him a tapestry depicting the two of them in the sword fighting arena. It was breathtakingly lifelike in a way Ace could hardly imagine. He always thought of Annabeth’s ambitions to be an architect but sometimes, he forgot that her mother was also known for her affinities in the arts.
Finally, Cato stepped forward and offered Ace a long package that weighed very little. Ace frowned and pondered what could be inside before opening it. For a moment, he failed to register exactly what it was, then his brain caught up.
Inside the package was a leather jacket, black as pitch but trimmed in subtle accents of silver. Embroidered just over where one’s heart would be was a symbol Ace had never seen before. The symbol depicted what looked like a phoenix with its head raised and its wings spread wide, calling out to the night with what could only be the moon shining behind it.
Ace looked up at Cato with a dumbstruck expression only to see that his best friend was grinning like a madman. “Daemons of Erebus for life!”
And with that, all of the interludes are now complete. The next chapter will be the first of season II. I think these interludes were important for a number of reasons — this last one, in particular, is filled with an astonishing amount of foreshadowing — but I am pleased to be moving onto the main season ahead and I hope you’re all as excited as I am.
Please read and review.
PS: There will be a meaningful delay before Discord members get the first chapter of season II. I need to get more pre-written before I commit to consistent uploads again. Rest assured that I am pre-writing this fic when time presents itself, so the wait won’t be anything crazy. Perhaps some time in March — we shall see. If you would like to avoid the wait, THE FIRST CHAPTER OF SEASON II IS AVAILABLE FOR PATRONS RIGHT NOW! Sign up to my Patreon page to avoid that delay and begin season II now.
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