The Lightning Thief

When In Rome

Artie and Annabeth stood on beach of Santa Monica as Percy walked into the surf. Artie found that the beach looked exactly like the beaches he had seen in countless films and shows, but the smell had something to be desired. Artie was glad one of Annabeth's hunches had paid off, otherwise they'd still be struck without a way west and less than a day to return the master bolt. When Annabeth explained her idea of using their Lotus Casino cash cards to pay a taxi to take them all the way to California, Artie was understandably skeptical. So right now he was enjoying the refreshing breeze as Annabeth stood next to him and Tobias ate a fish he stole from a seagull.

Artie stuck his hands into his pockets. He frowned when he felt something that shouldn't be there. He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his right front pocket. He instantly flashed to Leonidas handing him a slip of paper in his last dream before they entered the Lotus Casino. He carefully uncrumpled the paper and saw a three line poem. It took him a moment or two to read the line, cursing his dyslexia for the umpteenth time.

Dogs, like wolves, have a keen ear

Dogs, like wolves, eat deer

But Dogs, unlike wolves, can't smell fear

He found the line to be fairly straightforward. The poem were merely stating that despite the countless similarities between wolves and dogs, the latter was incapable of smelling fear. Artie read the lines several times over and could not see how this would help them at all. Maybe if Hades requested a three line poem explaining the difference between two similar animal, that he highly doubted would happen. Then again he thought, stranger things had happened, he was living proof of that.

Annabeth caught him reading the poem. "What's that?"

The paper disappeared into his back pocket. "Nothing."

"Its not nothing." she said. "Come on, let me see." She smiled wryly. "Unless its from your girlfriend."

Artie raised an eyebrow. "You wanna rethink that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Think about it. Who else besides you and Percy don't seem to be afraid of me or hate me?"

"Why would they hate you?"

"Take your pick." Artie said. "See if you can name a cabin that doesn't have a problem with me."

"Demeter." said Annabeth. "Cabin four."

"They're Vegetarians."

"What does that have to do with - Ohhh . . . Not big on the whole hunting for food thing right?"

Artie nodded. "Wanna keep going?"

"Cabin Ten, Aphrodite."

"Faux furs."

"Same as the Demeter cabin then?"

Artie nodded again. "Apparently they prefer their furry cute rabbits alive rather in a stew and made into a pair of boots."

"What about the Hephaestus cabin? Cabin nine? I know for sure Beckondorf doesn't have a problem with you."

"He doesn't but the rest do." Artie explained. "Well to be fair, I guess you can't say we have a problem with each other. Their jealous they can't work with leather like I can and I''ll admit I'm jealous I have to go to them every time I need something metal related."

"So not everyone hates you." Annabeth concluded. "My cabin doesn't hate you. At least I don't."

"No, they don't." He admitted. "But they are afraid of me. Ever since my first capture the flag game."

Annabeth shuddered. She remembered when she helped carry Clarisse and her friends to the infirmary. Just remembering the those wounds made her uneasy. It reminded her of the documentaries she had seen on how wild animal left their prey. She was on defense when it happened, guarding their flag on the other side of the woods, so she was one of the few who did not see what had happened.

Somehow Artie had, with his bare hands and teeth, punctured bronze breastplates and helmets. He had left deep scratches on their shields and also snapped all of their spears, with Clarisse's being the only exception. Her spear would survive until Percy arrived at camp only two years later. She had often wondered how exactly he did all that with his bare hands, now she knew. When Artie was scared he, like most animals when backed into a corner, would lash out with everything he had not hesitating to use his nails and teeth. When she thought about it, she cursed herself for not figuring it out sooner. Artie couldn't match any of the Ares campers in strength or swordsmanship or even her siblings in the Athena cabin for that matter. Sure he was faster and more agile, but that hardly mattered if he didn't have the power to pierce the thick bronze breastplate they wore during the game.

"So what is that paper?" she asked again.

"Like I said nothing."

She frowned. "You're a idiot."

"What?"

"You say everyone has a problem with you. Did it ever occur to you that you give them a good reason to?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, have you tried to make a friend? Like actually talk and spend time with someone that wasn't covered in fur or feathers?" She ignored Tobias's angry cawing at that last remark.

Artie opened his mouth to respond but froze. Annabeth was right he realized. He never had thought about it that way. Was is possible that he avoided others as much as they avoided him? Sure he had a reputation, but rather than do his best to extinguish it, he had just rolled over and took it. The story of his life he thought, as he came to the realization. Leonidas was right, he had been running from everything in his life. He avoided dealing with the loss of his family by keeping himself busy and forcing not to deal with it. He had learned it was his scent as a demigod that brought IT to his home and the death of his brother and mother right behind, and what did he do? He watched film after film so for the briefest of periods, he did not exist except to watch and listen. Even in his dreams, he did the same, mentally choosing to live in the past while he still had his blissful ignorance.

He swore to himself, right then and there, that if he survived this quest, he would change ways, starting with camp. For years he had lived like a frightened rabbit at Camp Half Blood, not daring to leave the magically protected sanctuary. That was going to change. First of all, he would only return for the summer session that lasted roughly three months. Second, he would use the remaining nine months of the year to track down the monster that ruined his life or die trying, and gods help anything that stood in his way.

A voice chuckled deeply in the back of his head. "And then there was light."

If you're expecting an apology for ignoring you for so long, Artie told the Spartan Hero-King, don't get you're hopes up.

Leonidas chuckled again, I can wait. It's not as if I'm going anywhere.

Look I get it, he snapped, You were right and I was wrong. Can you leave me alone already.

I will for now, said Leonidas, but remember you take even the smallest step back, so will I and you won't find it so easy to be rid of me.

And with that Artie's mind suddenly grew calmer and quieter as the foreign presence faded into nothing .Artie felt as if the world had been lifted off his shoulders. No more battle crazy Greek soldiers from the past to mentally torment him in the back of his or in his dreams. He may not survive long enough to enjoy it for more than a day, but he was going to make the most of it.

He smiled and handed Annabeth the poem. "Here, maybe you can make sense of this. You're the smart one of the group anyway."

Annabeth took the paper, but didn't read it. "Why are you doing that?"

"Doing what?" Artie asked.

"Smiling like that." Annabeth answered. "No offense, but you're creeping me out."

"I'm not sure I can explain it," Artie still smiling like the Cheshire cat. "But lets just say it just a lot quieter all of a sudden."

Annabeth was about to ask him to try to explain when Percy walked out of the surf. He explained how the Nereid had given him three white pearls and to smash them at their feet when the reached the Underworld. Artie guessed them to be a way to escape the Underworld. He made the assumption based on what Percy quoted from the Nereid,' what belongs to the sea will always return to the sea'. Normally he would have indulged more time to figure out exactly what she had meant, but Percy and Annabeth had agreed there wasn't much time. They had to find the entrance of the Underworld which according to the packing slip from Medusa, was DOA Recording Studios.

They wandered until it grew dark a lots of unsavory characters came out of the woodwork. They passed several gang bangers, bums, and street hawkers, all who looked as if they were considering if the three kids walking by would be worth the trouble to mug. Apparently they were, and they learned this as they walked down an alley and found themselves at a dead end.

"Hey you." a voice called from the darkness.

They turn to see what called them, three mean looking white kids appeared. They all wore the same expensive looking clothes and mean sneers. Percy instantly was reminded of his time at Yancy academy. These were rich kid playing at being bad boys. Percy was about to uncap Riptide as Annabeth reached for her knife, but Artie stopped them.

"I got this." he said, walking up to them. He asked the one in the middle. "Do you think you can give us directions?"

"I'm sure we can come to an arrangement." he said in a smooth voice as the ones on either side each drew a switchblade. "I can tell you're new here - - -"

Artie had decided not waste time with the typical macho man banter and skip to the inevitable fight. He knew his knives couldn't hurt them, they were mortals after all, but he didn't need them. He slashed upwards with his left hand, nails growing into claws instinctively, and left three gruesome looking cuts across the kid on his right. The kid screamed and fell back clutching his face, naturally dropping the knife. Not giving the one on the left a chance to react, he slashed his other hand and left three more gashes across his face, these went horizontal rather then vertically. They did the natural thing and ran, leaving their boss at the freak's mercy.

The boss just stood there dumbfounded. Artie was fairly sure the Mist had obscured the truth as he wiped the small amount of blood and skin from his hands, but he knew he had seen something. Percy was about to step in when Annabeth held him back and shook her head. She could tell Artie wasn't himself and she had no desire to attempt a time bomb, this mortal was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Artie's voice was quite casual. "I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?" He asked. "I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about us being new. What's the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort."

Artie grabbed the wannabe gangster from the front of his shirt and slammed him against the alley wall. "Where can we find DOA Recording Studios?"

"What?" he squeaked.

Artie slammed against the wall again, "What country are you from?"

Naturally this confused the punk, "What? What? Wh - ?"

Arte growled deep in his throat. It sounded very much like their big feline friend Mufasa , " 'What ' ain't no country I've ever heard of. They speak English in What?"

"What?"

"English, M#$%#$%r, do you speak it?" Artie demanded.

"Yes, Yes." he was on the verge of tears."

"Then you know what I'm sayin'!"

"Yes!"

"Where can we find DOA Recording Studios?"

"What?"

The nails that held the punk's shirt grew and punctured just under his chin like shaving cuts. Artie raised his free hand and held up behind his head, threating to strike, "Say 'what' again. Say 'what' again, I dare you, I double dare you M#$%#$%r, say what one more time! "

"T-t-t-ther's a s-s-s-small r-r-recording studio down the street. A b-b-block or two past Crusty's Waterbed Palace. T-t-that might be the one you're looking for."

"Thank you." said Artie and threw him into the trashcans on his left. "Now get out of here before I decide to make you my scratching post."

Annabeth and Percy watched as the punk scrambled to his feet and run as fast his feet could take him. Artie waved them to follow as they went back the way they came down the alley. Percy wasn't sure where the sudden outburst came from, but he thought he was beginning to understand why the other campers might be afraid of him. Percy continued to wander as they passed Crusty's Waterbed Palace. Artie stopped to look at the store.

"He said a block or two past Crusty's right?" Artie unsure.

"Where did that come from?" Percy asked.

"Well I assume like any other building." Artie answered.

"He means the whole face cutting thing?" Annabeth explained. "Don't you think it was a little overboard?"

"Not really." He shrugged. "I made sure to avoid the eyes and this is Hollywood, land of the beautiful people. I doubt they don't have money for a plastic surgeon from those expensive clothes. I was planning on talking our way out when they pulled the knives. I wasn't about to give them the chance to use them."

"He kinda has a point." Percy pointed out. "It's not like we could fight them with our weapons. Chiron did say celestial bronze can't hurt mortals. And we don't exactly have time to waste on wannabe bad boys."

Annabeth considered his words. "Alright," she said reluctantly. "But try not to make it a habit."

"Only as a last resort." Artie promised. With that they continued walking the street.

It wasn't two minutes before Percy broke the silence. "Hey Artie?"

"Yeah?"

"What you said to that guy, that sounded familiar."

Artie smiled. "I hope so. That came from one of my favorite movies of all time."

"Which movie?"

"Samuel L. Jackson said it in the classic 1994 American crime film by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction." Artie said proudly as if it was he who made the movie.

"Okay." said Percy. "But why quote a movie in the first place."

"Seemed like a good idea at the time. Plus since we're in Hollywood, I figured 'When in Rome' . . ."

They eventually made it to DOA Recording Studio. They stood in front and saw the sign that read, NO SOLICITATION, NO LOITERING, NO LIVING. It each took them a minute or two to actually read the sign with their dyslexia.

"I think we're here." said Percy.

"Apparently today is a good day to die." Annabeth half joked.

"Personally I'd say we push dying to Friday and have a meaningful discussion on Thursday to see if we can push to Sunday." Artie fully joked.

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