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PJO/HoO: The Belly of the Beast, Chapter Two: The Apprentice Gets A Shock - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
PJO/HoO: The Belly of the Beast, Chapter Two: The Apprentice Gets A Shock
Still feeling my way into this world...

TWO:
The Apprentice Gets A Shock


Octavian's dagger moved quickly, and I got the feeling he was imagining a live octopus, about to pour ink over his altar. He even jumped back a bit, as if to avoid the spurting blood.

Of course, synthetic stuffing doesn't exactly spurt out of a stuffed animal. Captain Carbuncle's side split open, and some fluffy white stuff sprang out in a little puff, but Octavian had to physically turn him inside out and yank out the guts to "pour" onto the altar. He dug around to get the insides of the tentacles while he was at it, and laid it all out so it looked like a puffy white spider. The pelt, he threw to one side, disinterested.

"Ah, yes," he said, surveying the wreckage in front of him. "I see a knot… a clump in the region of the specimen's brain… And, oh, yes, I see its feet are quite small."

"It's an octopus," I said. "They come to a point, but actually, you could think of the whole tentacle as a foot. I mean, that's the Latin, eight-footed."

Octavian gave me an annoyed look. "Thank you for the advice. I'm sure I could repay it with some hints about swabbing latrines, as soon as I talk to some of the junior officers about it."

I bit by tongue to keep from giving a retort, and stepped on Bobby's foot to keep him from doing the same. It didn't matter. All we had to do with the Octavian was get past him, and if we couldn't even manage that, we didn't deserve a quest for something harder.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm just interested in what you're seeing."

He considered this, then decided to take it as a complement. "Very well," he said. "When we used real animals, we were able to compare and contrast the organs, particularly the liver, with well-known augurs' charts. When we moved up to the synthetic form, we began to depend more on the augur's vision of how the gods were using the replacement material. We had to combine the augury with other omens at first to see if we were on the right track, but we've developed a much more stable mode of reading the auguries now. A knot in the stuffing, like this one, which came from near the center of the animal, is a common sign and means very little. Had it occurred in the feet, I would certainly refuse your quest, since it would imply a directive to stay put. The clump in the region of what would be brain suggests that little thought has gone into this, and the small feat suggest the triviality of your request."

"Oh," I said. "Then you won't recommend it?"

He swept the octopus innards into a bag. "I hardly think the matter of an old paranoid's fantasies needs the attention of an augur" -- I started to protest, but Octavian held up his hand -- "nevertheless, there are no bad omens, so I won't stand in your way when the Senate inevitably goes along with your nonsense, like they always do."

"Like they…"

He leaned over the altar. "You don't think you're a centurion because you deserve it, do you? What have you ever really done? You rescued a ghost and they made you a legionnaire."

"I had seniority when they made centurion."

"None of the things you did should have kept you in good standing in the legion. All they care about is that you're Jupiter's son. Frankly, I don't care."

He reached out to grab my arm.

I didn't shock him on purpose, and I think the thunder that suddenly rolled overhead was just a coincidence. It's always thundering in the main temple.

But as soon as he touched me, an arc of electricity jumped from my arm and up his hand, making his jaws snap tight.

He shoved me away.

Bobby jumped in between us. "Hey! Chill out, Octavian!"

Octavian, who was fuming a few feet away, didn't take that well. "Me? I'm not the one who resorted to a mystical attack! I was going to go along with this, to let you have your little vacation -- and let's not pretend it was anything else -- but if you're going to start calling in favors from Daddy -- "

The next blast of thunder wasn't coincidental. It crashed overhead like celestial cymbals in a marching band that happened to be passing over the roof. I heard screaming upstairs, and the pounding of marble falling. A red light flashed above the door and the speakers let out the whining tone of the emergency alarm, which only sounded for fires, earthquakes, and divine temper tantrums.

The Vestal girl ran back and said, "Evacuate!" so we dropped our argument and followed her. One thing about living in the legion: you learn to follow orders. (In my leadership classes as a new centurion, you learn not to give frivolous orders; that helps.) We ran up the dank hallway and up the marble stairs. The crowd in the lobby was rushing outside, and the Augur, Emily Yazzie, was lashing down the freestanding statuary in case of further disturbance. There was a hole in the corner of the roof, and a spill of marble and gold below it.

Emily glanced up and spotted us, and seemed to understand at a glance that something we'd done was the cause of it. A son of Jupiter, a Jupiter legacy, an antagonistic apprentice augur… it was probably not a hard guess. She stormed over to us as the last of the pilgrims were shooed out.

"What happened?" she demanded. She was in her mid-twenties, nearly done with her sworn service. Despite being less than five feet tall, barefoot, and carrying a slain teddy bear in one hand, she was pretty intimidating.

Octavian looked like a small, mean animal in a trap, and I realized that this new apprenticeship might be more fragile than it seemed. "Well, I was reading an augury, that's all. And… well…"

"And we got into a disagreement," I said. "I tried to tell Octavian how to read his auguries. I'm sorry. I suppose… it may have looked bad." I looked up through the broken roof. "Lord Jupiter, my Father, it was my fault."

The thunder grumbled. So did Octavian. If my father cared what I thought, there was no sign of it.

Emily sighed. "Boys, will someone tell me exactly what happened?"

We told her, while the Vestal Virgins scurried around and cleaned up what they could. Emily told them to leave the rubble pile in the corner for later; she would see if it had any omens in it.

At the end, she sighed. "Well, begging for a quest is somewhat… frowned upon," she said. "But let me have a look at the augury.

"I was fair in the augury," Octavian muttered. "I always read it the way it is."

"I didn't say you didn't. But with a few new major omens added, I'd like to see it in full context."

So we went back downstairs. Emily looked with distaste at the portrait of Apollo behind an altar to Jupiter -- dwarfing it -- but said nothing about it, at least not in front of me. She bent over the stuffing, then looked at her apprentice. "What was your reading?"

I waited for him to lie, but he didn't. "I said there were no bad omens, but the quest looked trivial." He pointed at the feet.

"I'd have read it that way, too, without the lightning strike. Given that, I think we should bring it to the Senate. Maybe there's something to it, or maybe the gods want Jason to gain experience with a quest."

"I was going to take it to the Senate," Octavian said morosely.

"I'm sure you were." Emily sighed again. "Go upstairs to my study. We'll talk about this later."

He turned to go up, but looked over his shoulder at me. "That's not all I see about you, Son of Jupiter."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Octavian," Emily scolded. "Go upstairs now." She waited for him to reach the stairs, where a Vestal met him and accompanied him, then turned back to us. "There are a dozen ways to read every sign," she said. "Octavian can read seven or eight easily. He's a decent Augur in the making. What happened?"

"He was goading Jason," Bobby said.

I held up a hand. "We just don't get along."

She nodded. "Did you call down the lightning?"

The question too me entirely by surprise. "What?"

"It's a fair question. Did you call the lightning to make a better omen?"

"I didn't! I can't!"

"I was here when you came in Jason Grace. You have powers you don't let us see very often."

"Yeah," Bobby said. "The B.O. bombs he drops in the barracks leave everyone running for cover."

Emily ignored this. "Maybe you don't remember them, but I've seen the omens. The Augur I apprenticed to -- Heather? -- spotted a prophecy on the wall that talked about the prince of the air. She remembered what you said about flying."

"I wasn't even four," I said. "I imagined it. And I never called lightning."

"A car was hit on the road only a mile up from where you were wandering. That's why the road was clear enough for you to be walking down the center line when Corey found you."

I felt like she was calling me a liar, like she thought I was sneaking around making godly things happen without telling anyone about it, so they'd be afraid of my father. I felt a deep flush in my face. I wouldn't do that. I don't have powers like that, and if I did, it would be selfish to hide them.

She looked at me shrewdly. "Never mind. I'll put you the agenda for Friday's senate meeting. I suggest you put together a quest proposal -- transportation, weapons you'll need, things like that. Also, your two companions. I need to speak to Octavian now. Please let yourselves out."

She headed out.

Bobby grinned. "We should tell her about all our special Jovian talents. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Super-Jason!"

"Shut up," I said.

"Me, I inherited his talent with the ladies. So far, no luck with the turning into gold and pouring down into a shower room trick -- they get all weird about that -- but, you know. I've got moves."

I smiled. "Yeah, I like that move you have where you trip over your shoelaces and stammer around Kate Czajkowski."

"It's a stealth move."

"Uh-huh."

"Where do you think that prophecy is? The one Emily's mentor saw?"

"I don't know. Could be anywhere." I pointed at the walls of the crafts room, where half the blocks were cracked old things from ancient temples, many of them covered with crumbling prophecies, most of which had probably been fulfilled for years.

"Well, I want to find it. For all we know, it's about me."

"Probably is."

"Don't you want a prophecy? I adopted ten of them when I was little. I wanted the one with the seven, in the big floor. And that one about a half-blood of the eldest gods. Though I guess I'm not quite half, am I?"

"Who knows how that works?" I asked. "It's not like normal DNA. Maybe it overwrites a whole family."

"You think so?"

"What do I know?" Supposedly, gods don't have DNA at all, which never made sense to me, because a human functioning on half a strand of DNA would be pretty messy. And besides, if the god didn't have anything to contribute, then we'd all be clones of our mortal parents. I'm pretty sure I'm not. I think there's something like DNA, and they just make a huge deal of it so we don't feel embarrassed about dating inside the Olympian family, because it's not the same as a human family. But that doesn't mean that there's no DNA (or equivalent).

"Jason?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I don't feel like reading the walls right now."

"Okay."

We went upstairs. There was a small group of people around the hole in the roof, looking at the pile of rubble. Apparently, Emily's important conversation with Octavian could wait, because she was crouching on the far side of the group, staring intently at something in her hand.

"What is it?" Bobby asked.

"I don't know. If it's important, we'll hear about it." I started toward the front exit.

"Wait!" Emily called. "Jason… I have something for you."

I glanced over at Bobby, who gave me an elaborate shrug, then went back to Emily.

She stood up and came forward, weaving through the group of temple staffers who'd gathered for clean-up. She was holding something small in her hand. As she got closer, I could see that it was an old Roman coin. The city was lousy with them. A lot of the materials we used to build New Rome came over magically from old Rome, and if we made a fuss every time we found real denarii, we'd spend all day every day making fuss.

"I think this is yours," she said.

I took it. It was shinier than most of the old coins I'd seen. There was a picture of Julius Caesar on one side. On the other, his name was written in Latin: IVLIVS.

"Why?" I asked.

"It was hidden in the join of the ceiling. I don't know how long it was there. But Jupiter chose to dislodge it the day you came looking for your first quest. It must mean something."

I looked at it more closely. It wasn't just shinier. It was less dented, less… I frowned. "Is this Imperial gold?"

"I think so."

"Then it should go into the armory. It can be melted for an arrowhead or something, to kill monsters. I can't --"

"I'm telling you as the Augur of Camp Jupiter: This belongs to you. I don't know what it's for, but if anyone tries to take it, send them to me. It's yours."

I didn't have any idea what I was supposed to do with a single denarius made out of Imperial Gold, but I took it and thanked Emily. I pocketed it.

"A gift from your dad?" Bobby asked. "He never gives me anything. King-of-the-Gods' pet."

"What's it supposed to be for? Tickets to the hippodrome?"

"It's probably magical. Sometimes, the gods give people magical items. Octavian's great-grandmother -- daughter of Apollo? -- had a necklace that turned into a harp. She was friends with my great-grandfather. They used to quest together. Grandpa Great told me stories."

I look at the coin. Ivlivs. I know, it's really Julius, and I can read Latin just fine, but sue me. I called it Ivlivs in my head that day, and I would call it that for a long time after this story ends.

Bobby and I made our way back to the barracks. He headed off for the baths, but I decided not to go. Everyone would be there in the middle of the afternoon, and they'd want to know about the lightning. Also, they'd probably be dunking and splashing, and, while I can swim if I need to, the truth is I don't like the water all that much. It always feels a little hostile. So I stayed back on my own, enjoying having the barracks to myself for a few minutes.

The barracks weren't anything special. Every ten-bunk room looked like every other ten bunk room. I didn't get any special centurion perks, either, other than my rank insignia and the duty roster that hung by my bed so I could make assignments based on the tasks that the praetors gave the Fifth Cohort. Growing up in the barracks, I never did accumulate much stuff. What I did own was in my footlocker.

We were allowed to decorate the footlockers a little bit, and people took advantage of it. Bobby's was covered with stickers and memorabilia from the 49ers. This was a minor scrimmage with Lucie Donegal (daughter of Venus), who wanted the be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader after she finished her stint in the legion. ("It would be a great place to hunt monsters!" she burbled sometimes. "I could be Buffy! And I bet anything monsters hang out in stadiums.") Dakota, an older boy who was passed over when I became centurion, had a picture of the Kool-Aid jug, and he'd cleverly painted around it so it looked like it really was breaking out of the side of his footlocker.

My own was pretty sparse that year. It had the marks of old stickers that I'd peeled off as I outgrow them, though an almost completely faded Barney the Dinosaur remained hidden on the back. My barracks-mates had made him say things the whole time I was little and learning to read, and I was pretty fond of him for that. No one made a fuss about it, though sometimes, one of them would sneak in and paste a dialogue balloon of him telling a dirty joke. Now, it had things other people had given me. Lucie had given me a picture of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (she was determined that we should all patrol the camp for monsters every night), which was on the front. There was a picture from the New Rome Register showing me when I became centurion, and a cartoon from the same paper. It was a running one called "Legionnaire's Dis-Ease," about the annoyances of life in the military. This one showed a junior officer ordered by his clueless senior officers to build fortifications out of office supplies. I don't remember why I clipped it, exactly.

I unlocked the footlocker and lifted the lid. Inside, I kept my private possessions. If I ever got spoils of war, they'd go in there, but at the moment, it had an old stuffed wolf (Octavian would not get without six feet of it), a random collection of pocketknives, and a shoebox that held the tiny clothes I'd been wearing when I arrived. I didn't need to open that anymore, and almost never did. I knew what was there. A pair of warn out little sneakers with red and blue shoelaces. Denim shorts that were barely bigger than my hands. A little tag with my name on it, "Jason Grace, son of Jupiter." That had been pinned to the inside of a little sweatshirt jacket. It was all good-quality, expensive stuff. The only cheap thing was the tee shirt, which was also the only really important thing. In itself, it wasn't. It was just a white tee with a picture of the Disney version of Hercules. But someone had written across it in permanent marker: "DEATH TO DISNEY PRINCESSES."

I couldn't write until I was six. It wasn't the sort of thing that an adult would write.

My sister wrote it.

She exists. She's not a figment of my imagination, because she wrote on the shirt.

She's probably not Jupiter's kid. I mean, that would be weird. Especially with my father's promise. Would he have really broken it twice with the same person? That wouldn't have made sense. But she's out there, somewhere. Maybe still with our mother. If I close my eyes, I can almost see her. She was a giant next to me. She must have been a lot older. A flash of blue eyes just like mine. Black hair, almost the opposite of mine. Sometimes, the flash of a sharp smile, then warm hands on my head, messing up my hair, and a voice saying, "Who's got Jason? Who's got Jason?" Then swinging through the air, higher, lighter than it's possible to be, and…

I shook my head. My hand was on the box, and I was about to open it, which was a pointless thing to do.

Instead, I put Ivlivs in the little pocket on top, where the small things went so they wouldn't get lost. I decided to have another look at it later.

The door opened and Dakota came in. He was drinking double-sweet Kool-Aid from a giant water bottle. I didn't know how he could stand the stuff, but his mouth was always red from it, and he was on a constant sugar-high. He used up the extra sugar with all the exercise he got, but sooner or later, I figured he'd look like the pitcher on the side of his footlocker, if he didn't cut back.

Other than the bug juice, though, he was a good guy. He didn't resent getting passed over for centurion -- "You've been here longest!" he said, "and I'd probably forget to assign anyone to anything, anyway" -- and he didn't treat me like I was a cute kid assigned too young to the post, which my co-centurion, Gwen, tended to do.

"You're doing a quest?" he asked.

"How do you know?"

"It's all over camp. Lightning from the Big Guy, Octavian getting chewed out about it. Wish I'd been there."

"It was just a lightning strike." I sat up. "Bobby said you got your license."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet (spilling a rolled-up bag of Kool-Aid at the same time). It dropped open to the ID window, where I could see him smiling out at me, looking quite deranged, from his California driver's license. "I'm street legal."

"Good. Bobby's dad might have a truck. If he does, you want to quest with us?"

He stopped. "Me?"

"Well, I can't drive."

"I don't know, Jason. I mean, I can drive you where you need to go, but… come on. Me, on a quest? I'm a son of Bacchus, man. Unless the quest is for party supplies, I don't know what else you think I can do. Unless you want me to grow some grapes."

"Being a good soldier isn't about superpowers. And you're good in the war games."

"We lose every time."

"Yeah, but that's not your fault."

He sat down and thought about it. "A quest, huh? And they'd let everybody be from the Fifth?"

"They let quest leaders pick whoever they want. And they think it's a nothing quest, anyway."

"Is it?"

I shrugged. "No idea 'til we get there."

He looked at me for a minute, then said, "Sure. I'm in. If they let us go."

"Good."

There was nothing else to say, and living in an open room with ten other people teaches you pretty early to let conversations go when they end. It's not like you can wait for someone to leave.

I leaned back on my bunk and started reading my homework assignment. It was by George Orwell, another descendent of Apollo. Animal Farm, otherwise known as, "Thank the gods, it's the short one." A lot of demigods had problems reading. Dyslexia runs in the Olympian family, apparently. I didn't have nearly as much trouble as some of the others, but every now and then, then letters would start floating away, and it would slow me down. I got out a pencil and carefully underlined anything that seemed important.

The trumpet sounded for dinner an hour later, just as I was getting the plot by the human farmers to take back Animal Farm from its new leaders, and I put it away.

Most of the other soldiers from the Fifth were heading back, and I joined the general throng on the way to the mess hall. Columns of soldiers from the other cohorts were wending their way down as well. I could already smell the food.

I realized I still had my pencil in my hand. I'd carried it out absently. It was down to a little nub, and I shoved it into my pocket.

My hand brushed against something metal.

I stopped.

"What is it?" Dakota asked.

"It's…" I drew out a bright, Imperial Gold denarius. Julius Caesar frowned impressively at me from the side that met my eyes.

I shook my head, confused. I had put Ivlivs back in the footlocker. I was sure of it.

But it had come back to me.
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Comments
shiiki From: shiiki Date: September 7th, 2016 03:11 am (UTC) (Link)
The explanation for Ivlivs! I'd actually thought it was a number (Roman numerals and all that, it being a coin) but hadn't made the Julius Caesar connection, though you make it so obvious. Cool that it does the same thing as Percy's Riptide, and I like that you show how Jason discovers that property.

I like how all the tiny snippets we see of the canon-referenced characters (like Thalia!) fit their canon characterisations. I can so see Thalia scribbling that bit about the Disney princesses.

As for Jason and the thunder and lightning ... it seems like despite what he's telling Emily, he does suspect, albeit unconsciously perhaps, that it's related to him somehow. (As the reader, we know it must be, and Emily is probably right that he can control it.) I guess he just doesn't fully know the extent of his powers yet, and part of the fun of this fic is going to be watching him come into his own with them.

Yay for a nod to the half-blood of the eldest gods prophecy! I wonder how it works, with the prophecies on both Greek and Roman sides. Like, do all the prophecies the Greeks get (even the individual, quest-specific ones) get recorded in the Roman books? And do they apply doubly such that the Romans manage to use them too? Or do the Romans view prophecies as a more hit-and-miss kind of thing--sometimes one applies, most of the time they just sit there like dusty relics (seems that way, from Bobby's comment about adopting one).



Small nitpicks --

All we had to do with the Octavian was get past him While the image of him as 'the Octavian', like he's a monster (or annoying automaton) they have to defeat, was amusing and actually quite apt, I get the feeling you didn't mean to include the 'the' before Octavian.

"I had seniority when they made centurion."-- made ME centurion?

A pair of warn out little sneakers -- worn out?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2016 06:07 am (UTC) (Link)
I thought IVLIVS was Roman numerals, too, and was wracking my brains for the "S," but then I checked online for any info on the origin and slapped myself on the forehead when I read, "Julius."

Jason definitely has not realized the extent of his powers here. It was interesting in HoO that we didn't get the story of how Jason realized he could fly -- neat choice on Riordan's part. And hey, it leaves it open for anyone else! :D

I don't know about the Roman prophecies. I doubt they could have (or need) all of them, nor are all of the spoken by the Greek oracle. I think probably the major ones are written, and maybe even played out by both.

I'll get the nitpicks. ("The Octavian beast." Snerk.)

From: (Anonymous) Date: September 7th, 2016 05:31 am (UTC) (Link)
So in essence, legacies with a chip on their shoulder look at demigods as some sort of metaphysical nouveau-riche. Fun.

Just as fun is the idea of dating someone who's essentially your half-nephew/niece (and vice-versa) or first-cousin. Though I guess kids of Venus/Aphrodite and Minerva/Athena are exempt from potential "don't think about it" squickiness due to those goddesses' respective origins.

Nobody's going to live the golden shower incident down. All things considered, it's probably one of tamest escapade stories from that electric horndog.

-- FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2016 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)
some sort of metaphysical nouveau-riche

I think that's about what I'm going for, in a nutshell. Oh, sure, they have powers, but goodness, they don't know anything at all!

Riordan finally addressed the question of the godly interrelationships as regards dating in the fifth book, with the most ridiculous of explanations (the one about the gods not having DNA) just to handwave it. Of course, it's because it's a classical world, and the classical world just didn't care about that kind of thing all that much.

Zeus and the Electric Horndogs. It's the new band name. :D
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