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All the gods (except for Poseidon, Hestia, and Aphrodite) stared at the new Savior of Olympus in stunned silence.

Poseidon looked like he couldn't choose between proudly beaming and force himself to be happy with his son's decision, or deeply upset with the missed opportunity to make up for not being apart of most of Percy's life. So he settled with looking like a gaping fish.

Aphrodite was doing a happy dance in her throne. She had been crossing her slender fingers as tight as she could, hoping the Fates would not have Percy become a god. And, thank goodness, he refused! The goddess of love couldn't have felt more relieved, it would have difficult for her to convince the other gods to have Annabeth become immortal as well.

But who cares?! the goddess of love thought with glee, resisting the urge to throw her arms around Ares' thick neck.

Percabeth LIVES!

Aphrodite couldn't restrain the small giggle that escaped her lips.

Meanwhile, the quiet goddess by her ever burning hearth also tried and failed to hide a knowing smile. She had known the moment her younger brother suggested immortality, Percy Jackson would refuse. Although she had known him for only a short amount of time, she felt she knew him well enough to know he was too loyal to his friends and family to abandon them for a better life as a immortal.

He is definitely unlike the other heroes before him. Hestia thought, as she patiently waited for her family's response, perfectly content with once again being a wallflower.

"No?" Zeus said. "You are... turning down our generous gift?"

There was a dangerous edge to his voice, like a thunderstorm about to erupt.

"I'm honored and everything," Percy said meekly. "Don't get me wrong. It's just... I've got a lot of life left to live. I'd hate to peak in my sophomore year."

Ares inwardly deflated at the loss of his future immortal punching bag.

"I do want a gift, though," Percy said. "Do you promise to grant my wish?"

Zeus thought about this.

"If this is within our power." he cautiously replied, not sure where the son of the sea god was going with this.

"It is," Percy assured. "And it's not even difficult. But I need your promise on the River of Styx."

"What?" Dionysus cried, tearing his eyes away from his wine magazine. "You don't trust us?"

"Someone once told me," Percy said, staring directly at Hades. "you should always get a solemn oath."

Hades shrugged. "Guilty."

Quickly sending Hades a particularly nasty glare (who, in response, smirked), Zeus growled.

"Very well! In the name of the Council, we swear by the River of Styx to grant your reasonable request as long as it is within our power."

Zeus didn't bother telling the naive Percy Jackson that his request had to be reasonable to his standards.

The other gods, knowing there was a loophole in that promise somewhere, muttered assent. Thunder boomed, shaking the throne room. The deal was made.

"From now on, I want you to properly recognize the children of the gods," Percy said. "All the children... of all the gods."

Zeus' Master Bolt almost fell out of his almighty fist in shock.

"Percy," Poseidon said slowly as if his son had asked why were globes round if the earth was flat. "what exactly do you mean?"

"Kronos couldn't have risen if it hadn't been for a lot of demigods who felt abandoned by their parents, " Percy clarified.

"They felt angry, resentful, and unloved, and they had a good reason."

Zeus' royal nostrils flared. "You dare accuse-"

"No more undetermined children," Percy interrupted, aggravating the king of gods even more.

Zeus gritted his teeth, resisting the tempting urge to zap Percy Jackson back into place. Literally.

He saved Olympus. He saved Olympus. He saved Olympus.

"I want you to promise to claim your children- all your demigod children- by the time they turn thirteen. They won't be left out in the world on their own at the mercy of monsters. I want them claimed and brought to camp so they can be trained right, and survive."

"Now, wait just a moment," Apollo began, only to be ignored.

"And the minor gods," Percy added. "Nemesis, Hecate, Morpheus, Janus,"

Nobody noticed the sudden tension between the gods at the mention of the idiotic Roman god.

"Hebe- they all deserve a general amnesty and a place at Camp Half-Blood."

Everyone, except Janus' children. Zeus thought, mentally marking that down as a unreasonable request.

"Their children should not be ignored. Calypso and the other peaceful Titan-kind should be pardoned too."

They are peaceful for now, but will become backstabbers later, just like the rest of their kind. Another unreasonable request. Zeus thought.

"And Hades-"

"Are you calling me a minor god?" Hades bellowed. If looks could kill, the Savior of Olympus would've been on a one way trip to the Underworld in a split second.

"No, my lord." replied a surprisingly polite Percy, obviously not wanting to return back to Hades' dungeons. "But your children should not be left out. They should have a cabin at camp. Nico has proven that."

Nico slightly blushed at his words.

"No unclaimed demigods will be crammed into the Hermes cabin anymore, wondering who their parents are."

Chris Rodriguez, sitting next to his girlfriend, nodded his head slowly in agreement.

"That would be nice..." murmured a groggy Clovis, wiping the sleep out of his heavy lidded eyes. It was always difficult to find a decent place to sleep in the Hermes cabin.

"Too much pranksss..." he added, struggling not to doze off again. He nearly lost his head in the war because of that.

"They'll have their own cabins, for all gods. And no more pack of the Big Three. That didn't work anyway."

"You can say that again. " Hera huffed, glaring at Thalia. Said huntress glared back.

"You've got to stop trying to get rid of powerful demigods. We're going to train them and accept them instead. All children of the gods will be welcome and treated with respect."

Only if they are Greek. Zeus added silently.

"That is my wish."

Zeus snorted. "Is that all?"

It was a simple task, now that he narrowed it down to reasonable standards. All he had to do was claim all his Greek children (which, considering he only had one, was already done) and allow minor Greek gods to have their own cabins for their children at Camp Half-Blood. It was too easy! Why Percy Jackson made such a huge 'I Have A Dream' speech was beyond him.

"Percy, you ask much. You presume much." Poseidon warned.

"I hold you to your oath," Percy said. "All of you."

The gods gave him steely looks.

Much to Percy's surprise, it was Athena who spoke up next.

"The boy is correct. We have been unwise to ignore our children. It proved a strategic weakness in this war and almost caused our destruction. Percy Jackson, I have had my doubts about you, but perhaps-" she glanced at Annabeth, and spoke the last words as if it hurt more than bathing in the River of Styx. "perhaps I was mistaken. I move we accept the boy's plan."

"Humph," Zeus said. " being told what to do by a mere child. But I suppose..."

"All in favor," Hermes said.

All gods raised their hands.

"Um, thanks." Percy said sheepishly.

Percy turned, only to back away in surprise at the sudden bright light in front of him.

Roaring thunder boomed overhead with enough force to shake the gargantuous room.

Everyone immediately turned to Zeus, thinking he had something to do with it, but he looked as clueless as they were.

"Draw your weapons!" Zeus ordered when the light grew brighter. "This may be another attack from the Titans!"

Not needed to be told twice, it only took seconds for the once celebrating group to draw their choice of weapon.

When the light sluggishly faded, in it's wake stood a confused looking Latino elf-like boy.

"This could be a trick." Athena warned, but Hephaestus paid her no attention. Lowering his sword, the god of fire muttered softly in disbelief.

"Leo?"

As if hearing his name, the elf-like boy snapped out of his daze.

"Holy Hephaestus!" the boy covered in motor oil exclaimed. More out of instinct, he quickly reached in his tool belt and pulled out a tin box of breath mints.

Chapter Text

Despite being on a quest to save the world from the personification of itself, Leo Valdez was actually having a great day.

Leo knew it was only a matter of time before Murphy's law decided to rear its ugly head, but  decided not to worry too much about the catastrophe waiting to happen and focus on his first conservation with Hazel.

Well, it definitely wasn't the first conservation they had, but it was the first one that lacked the usual awkwardness between them.

"There are really people who read those and like it?" Hazel asked, breaking his train of thought.

"Yeah, some of the books even became movies." Leo evenly replied, struggling to hold back his laughter.

"But..." Hazel paused, not knowing where to begin. "It's a horrible horror book. I don't even think there is a single scary moment in the series."

"It's not a horror. " Leo corrected, not bothering to hide his smile this time. "It's a romance."

Now Hazel was dumbfounded. Leo let her recollect her thoughts as he continued silently stirring the ship.

"But... He's a monster."

"Uh-huh."

"A vampire who drinks blood..."

"Yup."

"Um...does he drink her blood by the end of the series? "

"He refuses to because he loves her."

Hazel threw her hands in her face, obviously regretting agreeing to let Leo update her on what's the latest of the new century.

"But... He's a monster."

"Yeah, we already went over that." Leo said with a laugh. "He also sparkles in the daytime."

Hazel looked like a lost small child in the mall.

"Wha... Tha...N-None of that makes any sense!"

"Welcome to 2014." Leo said with a over exaggerated bow.

"This century is so weird." Hazel concluded, grabbing a fist full of her hair.

"I agree." said a familiar voice behind them.

Hazel and Leo turned, surprised to see Nemesis sitting on the edge of the boat.

Tossing a empty fortune cookie shell overboard, the goddess of revenge read the fortune out loud.

"About time I got out of that cookie." Nemesis gritted her teeth. Tearing the tiny paper into shreds, she tossed those overboard too.

"That's not even a fortune!" Nemesis growled, grabbing another cookie from the basket.

"Nemesis? What are you doing here?" Hazel asked.

"It has nothing to do with you, Hazel Levesque." Nemesis assured. "However, you, Leo Valdez, are a different story."

It was nice while it lasted. Leo thought with a sinking feeling in his stomach.

"It's time you paid the price, Leo Valdez."

Leo kissed goodbye the closest thing to normalcy he ever had, and began deciding what color did he want his eye patch to be.

Hazel's own eyes widened at Nemesis' statement.

"You opened the fortune cookie." Hazel said, as if Leo had forgotten.

"Yeah, I did, but I thought the price was paid after Percy and Annabeth fell in Tartarus."

Nemesis stared at him as if he just coughed up a hairball.

"Why the Hades would I want that to happen?" the goddess bluntly asked. "I want you to defeat the giants."

"Although that little fall in Tartarus did manage to balance the scales a little and I can't say I didn't enjoy their little encounter with the ari. In my opinion, nobody deserved it more than Nobody herself." Nemesis cackled, meanwhile Leo and Hazel exchanged confused looks.

"But I digress," Nemesis continued. "The incident that had nothing to do with the breaking of the fortune cookie."

Leo's shoulders slumped in relief, knowing that he had nothing to do with Annabeth and Percy's fall into Tartarus or, as Leo was beginning to call it, Hell's personal hell, felt like a weight was lifted off him. However, that relief soon turned into fear of what was about to happen to him.

"Ooookkaay..." Leo said slowly, rocking on the back of his heels. "So, what exactly is my punishment? Am I grounded for two weeks?"

"Something like that." Nemesis cryptically said, throwing Leo off guard.

Suddenly everything around Leo and the goddess began to slow down.

The Argo II slowly came to a stop. The birds flying over them hung suspended in the air. The gentle breeze carding though Leo's hair disappeared as if it was never there.

Even Hazel seemed to be frozen, she stood her ground as she stared transfixed at nothing. Her golden eyes never blinked, even when Leo waved his hand in front of her face.

"What did you do?" Leo asked Nemesis.

The goddess didn't reply.

When Leo turned to look at the goddess of revenge, he took a step back in surprise of her sudden change in appearance.

The Aunt Rosa look alike's eyes turned pure bright white, hands down a creepier look then her sneer.

"Leo Valdez, with my help you have saved Hazel Levesque and Frank Zhang's life and now it is time you pay the price." the goddess' voice echoed in the seemly lifeless world.

The last thing Leo thought before being engulfed by the bright light was:

At least now I won't get a chance to accidentally destroy the world.

The first thing Leo realized when the light was gone was that he wasn't dead, which showed his great day hadn't completely abandoned him after all.

The second thing Leo realized was that he was surrounded by gods and demigods with dangerous weapons.

Normally Leo wouldn't be the least bit squeamish about a weapon ( heck, his younger brother made weapons as a hobby), but when they were all pointed at him, ready to slice him into Leo streamers, that's a different story all together.

"Holy Hephaestus!" Leo exclaimed, without thinking he reached into his tool belt and pulled out his trusty... box of breath mints.

Wonderful. Leo thought sarcastically, while Travis and Connor Stoll were desperately struggling to contain their fits of laughter. They failed when Leo, with a sheepish grin, offered the box to the king of all gods.

"Breath mint?" he asked over the brothers' howls of laughter. He gave the box a tantalizing shake.

"WHO ARE YOU?" Zeus thundered causing the teen to nearly drop his 'weapon'. 

"Who am I?" Leo repeated, as he looked for a exit. "Why, I am the one, the only, fantastic, wonderful, amazing, astonishing, astounding..."

Leo continued talking. He inwardly winced at amount synonyms he could think of for 'fantastic'.

I have got to stop hanging out with Annabeth. Leo thought, his smile grew a little wider as he listed on a bunch of words.

"-incredible... Well to sum things up, I'm supercalifragilisticexpiali-"

Leo's mouth snapped shut and he loudly gulped as an arrow whizzed by inches away from his head.

Um...Yeah...Maybe running away right now isn't a plan worthy of Athena after all.

"Get to the point." Artemis growled, sounding a lot like her father.

"Leo Valdez," Leo introduced with a shaky smile. "humble son of Hephaestus, ma'am."

"I thought your children were the quiet ones." Hermes, leaning over to the god of blacksmith, said with a smirk.

"They are." Hephaestus grunted. "Most of them, that is."

"Why are you here?" Artemis asked with no nonsense tone of voice.

"Yeah about that... you see... I don't-"

Leo was interrupted by three books and a letter appearing by his feet.

Picking up one of the books, he gasped softly in surprise.

One the cover of the book was his beloved robotic dragon, Festus. On the dragon's back was himself (why did he look like a imp?) and Piper, who was sneaking a glance at Jason sitting behind her.

The Lost Hero, the title read. Leo instantly looked up at Percy, who was watching him with distrusting eyes.

At least one thing's normal around here. Leo thought dryly.

Apollo slowly approached the boy, before picking up and reading the message. 

"Dear Olympians and Demigods,

So sorry to interrupt your celebration, but I think my reason is good enough to be pardoned.

With the help of a acquaintance, I have sent Leo Valdez,"

Leo awkwardly waved his hand at everyone when his name was mentioned.

"and three books from the future. I have sent them as a warning for you to prepare, because the worse has yet to come.

~ Nemesis, goddess of revenge."

Leo frowned.

That did not sound like Nemesis at all.

Apparently, Athena agreed.

"Why would she, out of all the people, want to help us? Nemesis isn't known to help people out of the kindness of her heart."

"Maybe, the future is so bad, that even Nemesis thought it would be fair if we knew what happened ahead of time." Annabeth suggested.

Everyone looked expectantly at Leo.

Leo shrugged.

"Personally, I think we're doing okay. You know, for a bunch of teenagers that can't legally drive a car."

"Well, we'll just see about that." Apollo said cheerfully, taking the book from Leo's hands.

"Um... sure?" Leo said because honestly, that was all he could say at this point. He had no idea what was going on. One minute, Nemesis was about to damn him for all time, then the next he's having story time with the gods and Camp Half Blood members from the past.

Aren't I supposed to be dead now? With little choice, Leo awkwardly took a seat with his fellow demigods. 

He made a face when Clovis almost instantly rested his head on Leo's shoulder. I hope these books have pictures. At least then it'll end quicker.

Once everyone was seated, Apollo began to read.

Jason I

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day... holding hands with a girl he didn't know.

"That doesn't bad at all." Travis said with a smirk. "I mean, sure not knowing where you are is bad, but holding hands with a girl makes it better."

"But only if the girl's cute." Connor added with a similar smirk.

Leo, pushing snoring Clovis off of him, snickered.

Katie punched Connor on his arm.

"Don't be so insensitive!"

The girl was cute-

"See look? Even Jason doesn't have a problem with it." Travis said.

but he couldn't figure out who she was.... fifteen? Sixteen? Okay, that was scary. He didn't even know his own age."

"Poor dear," Demeter said sympathetically. "How terrible."

"I know," Percy frowned. "I can't imagine what would it be like for me to lose all my memories, including..An...My age."

Leo wasn't sure if he should laugh or wince at the irony.

The bus rumbled along a bumpy road. Out the windows, desert rolled by under a bright blue sky. Jason was pretty sure he didn't live in the desert.... Her chocolate brown hair was cut choppy and uneven,

Aphrodite furrowed her brow.

"Why on earth would she do that to her hair? If she couldn't do it herself, couldn't she go to a hair stylist?"

Artemis snorted.

"Maybe because, unlike you, she doesn't care about looking perfect."

Aphrodite dramatically gasped and batted her eyelashes at the goddess.

"You think I look perfect?" she said as innocently as she could.

"That's not what I meant and you know it." Artemis deadpanned.

with thin strands braided down the sides... Her eyes seemed to change color like a kaleidoscope- brown, blue, and green.

"Aww, too cute." Aphrodite gushed. "Jason doesn't even know the girl's name and he's already head over heels in love with her."

"What are you talking about?" Artemis said, holding her head in her hand. "All he did was describe how she looks. I mean, it's obvious he's attracted to her. But saying he loves her is extreme, especially since he doesn't even know her."

"First, I can't say I'm surprised you don't know a thing about love at first sight. Second, I'm the goddess of love. You know, that feeling you lack. So of course, I would know as a one hundred percent fact, Jason is in love with the girl."

Artemis and her hunters gritted their teeth.

"How dare you..."

Apollo quickly continued reading before the fight could escalate. 

Jason let go of her hand. "Um, I don't-"

In the front of the bus, a teacher shouted, "All right, cupcakes, listen up!""

Leo jumped, startled when Grover Underwood moaned in the background.

"FOOOOOOOOOOD!"

The son of Hephaestus looked over at him in concern. Is he okay? Are we just going to continue reading and ignore this? 

He looked around to see the others reactions, but everyone else didn't seem too annoyed by the unconscious goat-boy.

I guess this is normal? Are all satyrs weird? Leo tapped his foot and did his best to ignore him.

The guy was obviously a couch. His baseball cap was pulled low over his hair, so you could just see his beady eyes...A whistle hung from his neck and a megaphone was clipped to his belt.

Leo smiled widely at the mention of Coach Hedge's precious megaphone.

"He would've looked pretty scary if he hadn't been five feet zero."

Apollo chuckled at those words.

"When he stood up in the aisle, one of the students called, "Stand up, Coach Hedge!""

Everyone laughed.

"Who said that?" Hermes said inbetween his laughter.

""I heard that!" the coach scanned the bus for the offender. Then his eyes fixed on Jason, and his scowl deepened."

"Coach Hedge obviously knows Jason doesn't belong there." Annabeth stated, her mother nodded in agreement.

"A jolt went down Jason's spine. He was sure the coach knew he didn't belong there... I will personally send you back to to campus the hard way."

"The hard way?" Chris asked with uncertainty.

He picked up a baseball bat and made like he was hitting a homer.

"Great way to regulate the students." Dionysus muttered his approval, not looking away from his magazine. Bored out of his mind, Ares nodded in agreement.

"Did he ever really use that?" Annabeth asked Leo.

Leo, looking up from his latest project, smiled.

"A couple times." he admitted, remembering when Joshua Paterson got whacked by the angry goat, for throwing away a 'perfectly good' milk carton. Coach Hedge was sent to the principal's office, but came back with a raise from a confused principal. The next day, the principal also made a extreme rule about recycling.

"How did he become protector?" Percy asked.

Jason looked at the girl next to him. "Can he talk to us that way?"

Leo shrugged. "That's the school system for ya'."

She shrugged...turned and laughed. "Yeah, right, Jason. We've all been framed! I didn't run away six times. Piper didn't steal a BMW.""

Hermes jaw went slack.

"That's amazing!" Connor stated in awe.

"That's been my life long dream!" Travis stated.

"That's a horrible dream." Katie said, giving him a glare.

"Piper is definitely our sister." Travis added, ignoring the daughter of Demeter.

Meanwhile Aphrodite grinned when she realized Piper was her daughter.

I have to do something about her hair. she thought.

"The girl blushed. "I didn't steal that car, Leo!""

"Poor girl, she's in denial." Connor said, shaking his head.

"Don't worry, she'll learn to embrace her kleptomania soon enough." Hermes assured his son.

"Oh, I forgot, Piper. What was your story? You talked the dealer into lending it to you?" He raised his eyebrows at Jason like, Can you believe her?

Actually, I can. Aphrodite thought, genuinely smiling. 

Leo looked like a Latino Santa's elf,

"I look like a WHAT?" Leo exclaimed, dropping his rubber band airplane on the ground.

"An elf!" Connor replied in between his laughter.

"I do not look a elf!" Leo stated firmly, crossing his arms. "I'm way taller than an elf."

"You know, now that Jason mentioned it, I can kinda see it now." Travis teased.

"I do not look like a elf!" the son of Hephaestus repeated. *

with curly black hair, pointy ears, a cheerful, babyish face,

"Now I have a baby face? Com'on, I'm clearly a man's man!" Leo huffed, before pulling more rubber bands out of his tool belt.

and a mischievous smile that told you right away this guy should not be trusted around matches

"Well at least he got one thing right." Leo murmured, still miffed about being called a baby faced Latino elf by his best friend.

"or sharp objects...Either the kid was naturally hyper or he was hopped up on enough sugar and caffeine to give a heart attack to a water buffalo."

"He sounds a lot like one of your kids, Hermes." Apollo said.

Hermes nodded.

"Hard to believe he's a son of Hephaestus." Hades added.

"Anyway," Leo said, "I hope you've got your worksheet, 'cause I used mine for spit wads days ago. "

Thalia rolled her eyes. "Boys."

Athena gave him a disapproving look.

"I know it's hard but you really should put more effort into your schoolwork," Annabeth told him. "You still have a life outside of all this."

Briefly stopping his moving hands, Leo frowned at that. Do I really? For the months, he had focused all his time and energy into this quest and trying not to be a monster's next meal. At this point, school was the last thing he had on his mind.

"Why are you looking at me like that? Somebody draw on my face again?""

Leo bounced his newly made rubber band ball and watched it leap across the room. He moved to go retrieve it, but the look on Zeus' face told him to stay put.

With a sigh, Leo stayed seated and drummed his fingers on his leg.

"I don't know you," Jason said.... "Leo Valdez!"

This immediately caught Leo's attention.

Coach Hedge yelled from the front. "Problem back there?"

Leo snickered, knowing what was going to happen next.

"Leo winked at Jason. "Watch this." He turned to the front .

"Sorry Coach! I was having trouble hearing you. Could you use your megaphone, please?""

Some people sent Leo a couple of questioning looks.

Percy looked at him as if he was crazy.

"I know what I'm doing." Leo said with a self-satisfied smirk.

Coach Hedge grunted like he was pleased to have an excuse. He unclipped the megaphone...but his voice came out like Darth Vader's. The kids cracked up.

So did everyone in the room.

"He's our new prank buddy." Travis whispered to his brother, who eagerly nodded in agreement. With Leo Valdez on their side, their possibilities were endless.

The coach tried again, but this time the megaphone blared: "The cow says moo!""

Hephaestus beamed proudly as the laughter grew louder.

....the coach slammed down the megaphone. "Valdez!"....Piper stifled a laugh. "My god,"

"Gods." Apollo corrected.

"Leo. How did you do that?"

Leo slipped a tiny Phillips head screwdriver from his sleeve. "I'm a special boy.""

"Yup he's your son. If it wasn't obvious before, it is now." Apollo said.

Smiling, Nico shook his head. "Only a child of Hephaestus would be carrying around a screwdriver."

""Guys seriously," Jason pleaded. "What am I doing here? Where are we going?"...

...."Aw, yeah, he's joking," Leo said. "He's trying to get me back for that shaving cream on the Jell-O thing aren't you?"

"We are trying on Katie." Grinning Travis whispered to Connor. He couldn't wait to see the look on her face.

Rolling his eyes, Connor snorted. "Of course."

..."No, I think he's serious." Piper tried to take his hand again but he pulled it away."

Aphrodite frowned in disappointment at this.

...Jason hadn't paid much attention to what he was wearing, but it wasn't nearly warm enough: jeans and sneakers, a purple T-shirt,

The gods immediately stiffened at that.

Athena let out a low hiss.

It's just a coincidence. Zeus thought nervously gesturing Apollo to continue reading, wanting to avoid any suspicion fro the demigods.

"and a thin black windbreaker.

"So, a crash course for the amnesiac," Leo said, in a helpful tone that made Jason think this was not going to be helpful."

"Did it ever occur to you that he could have been serious?" Thalia asked Leo, who popped a breath mint in his mouth.

The son of Hephaestus rolled his eyes. Of course the first time his old crush ever talks to him it only happens when it's about her brother and when he's already... attracted to (Leo refused to say 'loves'.) someone else.

"Not rrreeee-aaaalllly." Leo said, fiddling with the buttons on his jacket. "I mean, I believe him later, but we always played jokes on each other before, so I didn't take him too seriously."

"We go to the 'Wilderness School'"-Leo made air quotes with his fingers..... he belonged with them.

...Leo rolled his eyes. "You're really gonna play this out, huh? Okay, so the three of us started here together this semester. We're totally tight. You do everything I say and give me your dessert and do my chores-"

"Seriously?" Thalia growled. With a mischievous smile, Leo shrugged.

"I didn't think he was serious." Leo reminded, pulling out paper clips from his tool belt.

Percy shook his head. "Not cool."

Apparently the Stolls thought it was because they were cracking up.

"It was just a joke." Travis defended.

"Yeah," Connor added. "I'm sure if he had known Jason was serious, I'm positive he wouldn't have said that. Right Leo?"

"Right." Leo replied, making a paper clip chain.

""Leo!" Piper snapped."

"At least there's someone there who is smart enough to realize he wasn't joking." Thalia muttered.

Artemis nodded. "Figures, it'd be a girl."

""Fine. Ignore that last part. But we are friends.

"With friends like that who needs enemies?" Thalia muttered.

Leo looked up from his chain, feeling hurt. But he forced himself to smile.

"True." he agreed with a hollow chuckle.

Connor, who knew his new friend had his feelings hurt, immediately came to his defense.

"Hey, what's your problem? Leo said he didn't know! Why are you so defensive of a guy you haven't met."

Thalia faltered, unsure why herself.

Well, Piper's a little more than your friend, the last few weeks-"

Aphrodite squealed.

Jiper is alive! It's not as cute as Percabeth. But still cute all the same.

"Leo, stop it!" Piper's face turned red.

"Aaaaw." the goddess of love cooed.

Jason could feel his face burning too.

"Aaaawww." Aphrodite giggled. Artemis banged her head against the back of her throne.

Can she at least say something else? Or better yet, shut up. Artemis sighed.

He thought he'd remember if he'd been going out with a girl like Piper.

"That is so adorable!" Aphrodite sighed. Turning to the hunters, Aphrodite said.

"You see what you are missing out on girls?"

Some of the hunters rolled their eyes, others gagged in disgust.

"Don't try to tempt my hunters." Artemis warned her.

""He's got amnesia or something," Piper said. "We've got to tell somebody."

Leo scoffed "Who, Coach Hedge? He'd try to fix Jason by whacking him upside the head.""

"He's not lying." Percy admitted, imagining how happy Coach Hedge would be to 'help'. 

Ares, picking his teeth with a dagger, shrugged. "It might work."

Athena snorted. "If he was a cartoon character, maybe."

The coach was at the front of the group, barking orders and blowing his whistle to keep the kids in line.... The new guy wedged himself between Jason and Piper and knocked Leo down. "Don't talk to these bottom-feeders. You're my partner, remember?"

Hestia raised a eyebrow.

"Bottom-feeders?" she repeated. She may not know what's 'groovy' now a days, but she was definite 'bottom-feeders' was not what the cool cats say anymore.

The new guy had dark hair cut Superman style, a deep tan, and teeth so white they should've come with a warning label: DO NOT STARE DIRECTLY AT TEETH. PERMANENT BLINDNESS MAY OCCUR. He wore a Dallas Cowboys jersey, Western jeans and boots, and he smiled like he was God's gift to juvenile delinquent girls everywhere. Jason hated him instantly.

Percy scowled. He's met enough guys like that at schools to know a massive jerk when he heard one. And this guy fit the description perfectly.

"Yeah," Leo agreed as he continued adding more paper clips to his chain. "Dylan was a creep."

"Go away, Dylan," Piper grumbled. "I didn't ask to work with you."

"Ah, that's no way to be. This is your lucky day!" Dylan hooked his arm through hers and dragged her the museum entrance. Piper shot one look over her shoulder like, 911.

Artemis looked sympathetically at the book.

Leo got up and brushed himself off. "I hate that guy." He offered Jason his arm, like they should go skipping inside together. "I'm Dylan. I'm so cool, I want to date myself, but I can't figure out how! You want to date me instead? You're so lucky!"

Everyone laughed.

"Leo," Jason said. "You're weird."

"In a awesome way!" Travis added.

"I try!" Leo grinned, tossing his paper clip chain over Clovis' shoulder as he continued to make it longer.

""Yeah, you tell me that a lot." Leo grinned....Jason figured that if this was his best friend, his life must be pretty messed up

Leo briefly frowned. Can't argue there.

....Coach Hedge to lecture to them with his megaphone, which alternately made him sound like Sith Lord or blared out random comments like "The pig says oink."

Athena rolled her eyes. "Honestly, why would he continue using his megaphone?"

"Whatever the reason is, I'm glad he's doing it." Hermes chuckled.

Leo kept pulling out nuts, bolts, and pipe cleaners from the pockets of his army jacket and putting them together, like he had to keep his hands busy at all times.

A few demigods looked over to see Leo continue adding paper clips to his ever growing paper clip chain.

....Some girls kept looking over at Piper and Dylan and snickering. Jason figured these girls were the popular clique. They wore matching jeans and pink tops and enough makeup for a Halloween.

"They need help." Aphrodite stated. "Quick. No guy would even look at them except for laughs if they continue looking like that."

One of them said, "Hey, Piper, does your tribe run this place? Do you get in free if you do a rain dance?

Aphrodite's eye twitched.

Excuse me?

The other girls laughed. Even Piper's so-called partner Dylan suppressed a smile. 

Yup. He's a jerk. Can Piper kick him in the shin now? Percy thought.

Piper's snowboarding jacket sleeves hid her hands, but Jason got the feeling she was clenching her fists.

Like her mother was doing.

...Isabel widened her eyes in mock surprise, so that she looked an owl with a makeup addiction.

Athena gnashed her teeth.

Of course a Roman would dare insult a owl by comparing it to that...that...  girl . They never respect things I hold sacred.

"Oh, sorry! Was your mom in this tribe? Oh, that's right. You never knew your mom."

On second thought, I'm starting to think bears are more of their type. Aphrodite made a sinister smile.

"Mom?" Travis said. "If she never knew her mom, that means her mom's a goddess. Which means, we can date her. Cool!"

"You mean can date her." Connor corrected. "It's best if you not flirt with her, bro. The last thing we want is for Katie to get jealous."

Despite her face turning red, Katie rolled her eyes. "As if."

"Don't even bother, Connor. Piper likes Jason." Percy said, chuckling when Connor visibly deflated at that.

Piper charged her,

Punch her in the face, Sweetie! But don't kill her, I still need to pair her up. Aphrodite thought with a small giggle.

but before a fight could start, Coach Hedge barked, "Enough back there! Set a good example or I'll break out my baseball bat!"

Ares frowned.

"Aw! I was hoping for some action!"

Aphrodite consolingly patted his bicep.

"Me too, hun." she said sadly. "Me too."

The group shuffled on to the next exhibit, but the girls kept calling out comments to Piper.

"Good to be back on the rez?" one asked in a sweet voice.

"Where is Coach Hedge and his bat when you need them?" Aphrodite muttered, trying to distract herself by filing her nails. "These children are acting out. So why isn't he disciplining them?"

Piper wouldn't want him fighting her battles. she reminded herself, taking a deep breath.

"Dad's probably too drunk to work," another said with fake sympathy. "That's why she turned klepto."

That's it! I'm going to curse her. That girl's going to be cursed with having bad breath on all of her future dates. The goddess of love decided, her nail file snapping in half.

Piper ignored them, but Jason was ready to punch them himself.

"Do it!" Ares yelled at the same time Aphrodite exclaimed:

"Punch them where it hurts, Jason! Where it hurts!"

Everyone, including her boyfriend (who fell in love with her all over again), stared at her.

"What?" she huffed. "I don't like bullies, okay?"

He might not remember Piper, or even who he was, but he knew he hated mean kids.

Percy nodded in agreement.

Leo caught his arm. "Be cool. Piper doesn't like us fighting her battles. 

"Unfortunately," Aphrodite added.

Besides, if those girls found out the truth about her dad, they'd be all bowing down to her and screaming 'We're not worthy!'"

Aphrodite smiled. He was definitely right about that.

"Who's her dad?" Percy asked.

"You'll find out later, I'm sure." Leo said.

....Leo laughed in disbelief. "You're not kidding? You really don't remember that your girlfriend's dad-".... Leo whistled. "Whatever. We have to talk when we get back to the dorm."

"That's when I realized he wasn't kidding." Leo reported.

"That's what made you realize? Not him insisting he didn't remember?" Thalia rolled her eyes.

"Piper's dad is pretty unforgettable." he defended.

They reached the far end of the exhibit hall, where some big glass doors led out to a terrace.

"All right, cupcakes," Coach Hedge announced. "You are about to see the Grand Canyon. Try not to break it."

Leo grimaced at the mention of the Grand Canyon.

"They wouldn't break anything." Annabeth said. "But if Percy was with them, there probably wouldn't even be a Grand Crayon after he visited."

The demigods, except Leo, laughed.

"What are you talking about? Is Percy really that clumsy?" Leo asked.

Annabeth grinned. "Clumsy's not even good enough to describe it. He's more like destructive."

"Hey!" Percy protested over another round of laughter. "I'm not that bad!"

""The skywalk can hold the weight of seventy jumbo jets, so you featherweights should be out there. If possible, try to avoid pushing each other over the edge, as that would cause me extra paperwork."

"Geez, this guy reminds me of Mr. D." Percy whispered to Annabeth.

The coach opened the doors, and they all stepped outside.....

"Man," Leo said. "That's pretty wicked."

It's amazing how quickly opinions can change after simply getting tossed over a cliff.

Jason had to agree. Despite his amnesia and his feeling that he didn't belong there, he couldn't help being impressed.... Five hundred feet down, a river snaked along the canyon floor.

Thalia shuddered at the description.

...As far as Jason could see in any direction, red and gray ravines cut through the desert like some crazy god had taken a knife to it.

"At least he knows he's a demigod." Annabeth said.

Jason got a piercing pain behind his eyes. Crazy gods- Where had he come up with that idea?..... "You all right?" Leo asked. "You're not going to throw up over the side, are you?

Thalia nodded her approval to Leo. Finally Leo was showing some concern for her bro-

No. she thought, shaking her head. That's not the Jason know. That's another Jason.

'Cause I should've brought my camera."

"Leo!" Thalia exclaimed in frustration.

"Sorry!"

Jason grabbed the railing. He was shivering and sweaty, but it had nothing to do with heights. He blinked, and the pain behind his eyes subsided.

"I'm fine," he managed "Just a headache."

"It sounds more than just a headache to me." Apollo said with a frown.

"Maybe it has something to do with trying to regain his memories." suggested Athena.

Apollo shrugged, turning to Leo for confirmation.

"Hey, I don't know." Leo said, adding another paper clip to his chain. By now, Clovis was beginning to look like a paper clip mummy. "I just took his word for it. But it could have to do with his memories."

Thunder rumbled overhead. A cold wind almost knocked him sideways.

"This can't be safe." Leo squinted at the clouds. "Storm's right over us, but it's clear all the way around. Weird, huh?"

"Weird's got nothing to do with it." Nico said grimly. "There has to be some kind of monster coming."

"Great." Thalia stated with a frown. She halfheartedly plucked her bow.

...."All right, cupcakes!" Coach Hedge yelled. He frowned at the storm like it bothered him too. "We may have to cut this short, so get to work! Remember, complete sentences!"

"Ugh! I hate that! Just let me write my answers so I can finish." Percy complained.

The storm rumbled, and Jason's head began to hurt again. Not knowing why he did it, he reached into his jeans pocket and brought out a coin-a circle of gold the size of a half-dollar, but thicker and more uneven. Stamped on one side was a picture of a battle-ax. On the other side was some guy's face wreathed in laurels. The inscription said something like IVLIVS.

The tension between the gods was back.

The demigods, except Leo (who frowned, when he realized he was running out of space on Clovis for the rest of his chain), exchanged confused looks.

"I never heard of a coin like that before." Katie said.

"Maybe he got a souvenir or something at a store." Connor said.

"I think there something more to it about that coin." Annabeth stated.

Apollo began to read, before the demigods could discuss further about the coin.

...Jason put the coin away, wondering how he'd come to have it, and why he had the feeling he was going to need it soon.

"Maybe he wants to buy a soda with it later." Travis said in mock seriousness.

"It's nothing," he said. "Just a coin."

Leo shrugged. Maybe his mind had to keep moving as much as his hands.

"Hey!" Leo said. "I had way more important things to think about then a shinny gold coin!"

"Come on," he said. "Dare you to spit over the edge."

"See?" Leo said with a triumphant smile.

"Boys." Phoebe sniffed, glaring at the Stolls, who laughed. "They are all the same in my eye."

"That's because they are, Phoebe." Artemis said.

They didn't try very hard on the worksheet.

Athena sighed. 

For one thing, Jason was too distracted by the storm and his own mixed-up feelings. For another thing, he didn't have any idea how to "name three sedimentary strata you observe" or "describe two examples of erosion."

"But that's easy!" Annabeth said with exasperation.

"Annabeth," Percy began slowly. "What may be easy for you, may be difficult for others."

Leo was no help.

"Of course." Thalia muttered under her breath.

..."Check it out." He launched the copter. Jason figured it would plummet,  but the pipe-cleaner blades actually spun. The little copter made it halfway across the canyon before it lost momentum and spiraled into the void.

"Dude, that was so cool!" Connor exclaimed.

Leo shrugged. He could've done better.

"How'd you do that?" Jason asked.... "You sure? What was the first day we met? What did we talk about?"

"It was..." Leo frowned. "I don't recall exactly. I'm ADHD, man. You can't expect me to remember details."

"Actually, he should expect you to remember those things, or the conservation at least." Annabeth corrected Leo, who was too fascinated with a fly crawling up a wall to notice she was speaking to him. "You see, demigods' ADHD has a demigod noticing too much, not too little."

"Oh." he simply replied.

"But I don't remember you at all. I don't remember anyone here. What if-"

"You're right and everyone else is wrong?" Leo asked.

"You think you just appeared here this morning, and we've got fake memories of you?"

Everyone stared at Leo, who was currently remaking his helicopter, only this time adding rubber bands.

Leo looked up when he felt eyes staring at him.

"What?"

"How..." Katie began. "How you did guess that?"

"Guess what?"

Apollo reread the paragraph to him.

"Oh, that? Well, I was kinda joking around with him. Hasn't anybody seen something like that in a Sci-fi movie?"

Joking or not," Annabeth said. "That actually explains why Jason has no clue who Leo and Piper are and why they seem to know him."

"But," Nico added. "That doesn't explain why he doesn't remember the rest of his memories, including his age."

"And how he got there." Chris chipped in.

A little voice in Jason's head said, That's exactly what I think.

"Apparently the voice in Jason's head agrees with our Scooby Doo Detective Agency." Travis said, nodding his head.

But it sounded crazy. Everybody here took him for granted. Everybody acted like he was a normal part of the class-except for Coach Hedge.... About fifty feet away, Piper was trying to fill out her worksheet, but her stupid partner Dylan was hitting on her, putting his hand on her shoulder and giving her that blinding white smile. She kept pushing him away, and when she saw Jason she gave him a look like, Throttle this guy for me.

Please do Jason. Please do. Aphrodite silently pleaded.

...."Did you do this?" the coach asked him.

Jason took a step back. "Do what?" It sounded like the coach had just asked if he'd made the thunderstorm.

Which he didn't. Thalia thought quickly, before she could get her hopes up.

Coach Hedge glared at him, his beady little eyes glinting under the brim of his cap. "Don't play games with me, kid. What are you doing here, and why are you messing up my job?"

...."Look sir, I don't know how I got here. I just woke up on the school bus. All I know is I'm not supposed to be here."

Leo tossed his new and improved helicopter and watched it fly across the room. Ares, in a destructive mood, grabbed it and crushed it into a lump of junk.

Leo, muttering unflattering words about the god of war, drummed his fingers on his knee as he thought what to build next.

"Got that right." Hedge's gruff voice dropped to a murmur, like he was sharing a secret. "You got a powerful way with the Mist, kid, if you can make all these people think they know you;

"He had obviously used the mist before." Athena said.

"How was he able to learn it though? I don't remember seeing anyone like him at Camp. Unless he was on the Titans' side." Annabeth said to no one in particular.

...Most of what the coach said didn't make sense, but he decided to answer honestly. "I don't know who I am. I don't have any memories, You've got to help me."

Coach Hedge studied his face like he was trying to read Jason's thoughts.

"Except he isn't, right?" Leo asked nervously. "'Cause satyrs can't read minds, right?"

"No, Lionel. They can only read someone's feelings" Dionysus replied.

Good. Leo sighed with relief. He didn't know what he would do if people were reading his thoughts.

"Great," Hedge muttered. "You're being truthful."

...."This morning," Hedge said. "I got a message from camp. They said an extraction team is on the way. They're coming to pick up a special package, but they wouldn't give me details. I thought to myself, Fine. The two I'm watching are pretty powerful, older than most. I know they're being stalked. I can smell a monster in the group. I figure that's why the camp is suddenly frantic to pick them up. But then you pop up of nowhere. So, are you the special package?"

"Special package? What is he talking about? Why would he be a special package." Annabeth muttered, rubbing her head as she tried to make sense of things.

The pain behind Jason's eyes got worse than ever. Half-bloodsCampMonsters.... "Just sit tight. Reinforcements should be here soon. Hopefully nothing happens before-"

"He just had to say something." Leo grumbled. Stupid Murphy's Law.

Lightning cracked overhead. The wind picked up with a vengeance. Worksheets flew into the Grand Canyon, and the entire bridge shuddered.... "I thought you said this thing was stable!" Jason shouted over the wind.

"Apparently not stable enough." Leo said under his breath.

"Under normal circumstances," Hedge agreed, "which these aren't. Come on!"

"That's the end of the chapter." Apollo reported. "Anybody want to read next?"

"I will." Athena said, taking the book.

Leo inwardly groaned as he fidgeted in his seat.

Great! How many more of these do we have left?

Chapter Text

"Jason II." Athena began.

"Do all the chapters have the same titles?" Percy asked.

Athena flipped through the pages of the book.

"No," the goddess of wisdom said, "after this Jason chapter, the title will change to Piper. Then after the two Piper chapters it will change to Leo chapters."

Leo, doodling with a black sharpie on Clovis' face, looked up at the sound of his name.

"The pattern repeats itself after the Leo chapters are finished."

"Maybe they are a change of point of view. First Jason, second Piper, then Leo." Annabeth said, not noticing the son of Hephaestus' jaw drop.

"Awesome!" Travis said, his voice full of excitement. "Now we get to read Leo's thoughts!"

Leo paled.

"Perfect blackmail, here we come!" Connor added.

Leo bit the inside of his cheek so hard he could taste blood. Read my thoughts?! What?! Why would they want to read my thoughts? There's no way they can actually do that, right? I don't know about Jason's, but there's no way this book can have my thoughts! That's impossible! I don't remember having time to write anything down! I don't even remember having enough time to eat!

Leo took a deep breath and shakily releasing it. He noticed his clenched fist was beginning to ignite in tiny flames and quickly put them out before anyone could notice. Then, it hit him.

I don't know why Nemesis wants them to read these books, but  they're not going to be reading my chapters. He gave his uncurling fist a mischievous smile. Not if I can help it. 

He tried not to stare at the book in Athena's hands. Instead he kept himself busy by drawing a huge smiley face along with the words 'WASSUP?' on Clovis' cheek.

The Storm Churned Into a miniature Hurricane. Funnel clouds snaked towards the skywalk like the tendrils of a monster jellyfish.... Leo lost balance and almost toppled over the railing, but Jason grabbed his jacket and pulled him back.

The demigods and Hephaestus let out a breath they didn't realize they were holding.

Leo made a face at their actions.

Oooookaaay... Did they forget I was still sitting here alive or... What?

"Thanks, man!" Leo yelled.

"Go, go, go!" said Coach Hedge... but she looked calm and confident-telling the others it would be okay, encouraging them to keep moving.

Aphrodite smiled proudly at this.

She would make a great hunter. Artemis thought.

"I'm surprised she's able to be so calm in this situation." Katie said. Fates knew she wasn't during her first monster attack.

Jason, Leo, and Coach Hedge ran toward them, but it was like running through quicksand. The wind seemed to fight them, pushing them back.

Dylan and Piper pushed one more kid inside, then lost their grip on the doors.... Piper tugged at the handles....

"Dylan, help!" Piper shouted.

"He's not going to do anything, is he?" Percy asked with a grimace.

"No he won't." Annabeth frowned.

Dylan just stood there with an idiotic grin, his Cowboys jersey rippling in the wind, like he was suddenly enjoying the storm.

"Should've guessed he was a monster... Nobody can pull off the Superman Cowboy look and still be considered good looking." Percy sighed.

...He flicked his wrist, and Piper flew backward, slamming into the doors and sliding to the skywalk deck.

My poor Piper. Aphrodite grimaced.

Everyone else winced in sympathy.

"Piper!" Jason tried to charge forward,

"Get him! Beat his ass!" Ares cheered.

but the wind was against him, and Coach Hedge pushed him back.

"Why did he stop him?" Chris asked.

"Probably because Coach Hedge thought he wasn't experienced enough to fight the monster." Katie suggested with a shrug.

...."Jason, Leo, stay behind me," the coach ordered. "This is my fight. I should've known that was our monster."

"At least he's owning up to his mistake." Percy said.

Leo hummed softly to himself as he continued drawing on Clovis' face.

"What?" Leo demanded. A rogue worksheet slapped him in the face,

Travis snickered at the mental image.

...The coach's cap blew off, and sticking up above his curly hair were two bumps-like the knots cartoon characters get when they're bonked on the head.

Everyone laughed at the ridiculous description.

"Jason always did have a way with words." Leo joked.

Coach Hedge lifted his baseball bat-but it wasn't a regular bat anymore. Somehow it had changed into a crudely shaped tree-branch club, with twigs and leaves still attached.

"And you said he hit students with that thing?" Chris said to Leo in shock.

"Oh, I'm sure they were fine afterwards, Cody." Dionysus said dismissively. "They more than likely received nothing more than a small concussion."

"A small concussion..." Chris repeats in disbelief. Am I the only one hearing this?

Dylan gave him that psycho happy smile. "Oh, come on, Coach. Let the boy attack me! After all, you're getting too old for this. Isn't that why they retired you to this stupid school? I've been on your team the entire season, and you didn't even know. You're losing your nose, grandpa!".... "You think you can protect three half-bloods at once, old man?" Dylan laughed. "Good luck."

Nobody liked the sound of that.

Dylan pointed at Leo, and a funnel cloud materialized around. Leo flew off the skywalk like he'd been tossed. Somehow he managed to twist in midair, and slammed sideways into the canyon wall. He skidded, clawing furiously for any handhold.

Leo winced. Is it sad to say that this isn't the worst fall I've ever had?

Thinking back to his own fall off a cliff, Hephaestus' breath hitched. He took slow deep breaths to prevent hyperventilation.

Leo's fine. he thought, looking at his son, who was now drawing on Clovis' arm. See? He's right there, tormenting the narcoleptic child.

"Ouch!" Travis said sympathetically.

Leo forced a laugh.

"Yeah, that pretty much describes it."

Finally he grabbed a thin ledge about fifty feet below the skywalk.... "Help!" he yelled up at them. "Rope, please? Bungee cord? Something?"

"Even when you're in serious danger, you still make a big joke out of it." Thalia shook her head.

"It's in my nature, I guess." Leo smiled and shrugged.

Coach Hedge cursed and tossed Jason his club. "I don't know who you are, kid, but I hope you're good. Keep that thing busy- he stabbed a thumb at Dylan- "while I get Leo."

"Get him how?" Jason demanded. "You going to fly?"

Leo snorted at that.

"He's a satyr, Jason, not a gargoyle." he muttered, drawing a poorly done cat.

"Not fly. Climb." Hedge kicked off his shoes, and Jason almost had a coronary. The coach didn't have any feet. He had hooves-goat hooves.

...."You're a faun," Jason said.

"Faun?" Percy asked.

"That's the Roman name for satyrs." Annabeth said.

"Satyr!" Hedge snapped. "Fauns are Roman. But we'll talk about that later."

Hedge leaped over the railing. He sailed toward the canyon wall and hit hooves first. He bounded down the canyon wall and hit hooves first....he picked his way toward Leo.

"Isn't that cute!" Dylan turned toward Jason. "Now it's your turn, boy."

"Finally, some action." Ares said.

Jason threw the club. It seemed useless with the winds so strong, but the club flew right at Dylan, even curving when he tried to dodge, and smacked him on the head so hard he fell to his knees.

"Yeah! Bull's eye!" Ares cheered.

Piper wasn't as dazed as she appeared. Her fingers closed around the club when it rolled next to her, but before she could use it, Dylan rose. Blood-golden blood-trickled from his forehead... Inside the museum, kids stopped banging on the doors. They backed away, watching in terror.

"I wonder what they saw." Apollo mused.

"Your guess is as good as mine." Hermes replied.

Dylan's body dissolved into smoke, as if his molecules were coming unglued. He had the same face,

"Unfortunately." Leo muttered, deciding to do something else other than draw on Clovis (he was running out of space on his arm anyway).

Leo took out some wrenches from his tool belt, and began to stack one on top of another.

the same brilliant white smile, but his whole form was suddenly composed of swirling black vapor, his eyes like electrical sparks in a living storm cloud...

"You're a ventus," Jason said, through he had no idea how he knew that word. "A storm spirit."

"I never heard of those before." Katie said.

"That's because he said the Roman name for Anemoi thuella." Annabeth translated with a frown.

"Are they hard to beat?" Travis asked.

Annabeth, clutching her necklace, bit her lip and nodded. Why does he keep calling them by their Roman names?

Dylan's laugh sounded like a tornado tearing off a roof. "I'm glad I waited, demigod, Leo and Piper I've known about for weeks. Could've killed them at any time. But my mistress said a third was coming-someone special. She'll reward me greatly for your death."

"His mistress?" Annabeth wondered.

.... Piper stayed down, pretending to be dazed, her hand still gripping the club. Her face was pale, but she gave Jason a determined look, and he understood the message.

Keep their attention. I'll brain them from behind.

Annabeth nodded her head in approval. "That actually could work."

Ares smirked, also liking the violent idea.

Cute, smart, and violent. Jason wished he remembered having her as a girlfriend.

"That is so sweet." Aphrodite giggled.

"Yeah, adorable." Artemis rolled her eyes.

He clenched his fists and got ready to charge, but he never got a chance.

Everyone, except Leo (who was halfway done with his fort made entirely wrenches), stiffened.

Thalia gripped tightly on her bow.

Dylan raised his hand, arcs of electricity running between his fingers, and blasted Jason in chest.

"No!" Everybody, except Athena, exclaimed. Leo, adding the final wall to his fort, yelped in surprise at the sudden loud noise.

"You!" Thalia said with a Zeus-like growl. She grabbed Leo by the collar of his collar and dragged him to her, effectively knocking down his fort.

"Hey!" Leo exclaimed.

"He's lives right?" Thalia said, pulling him close until their noses were touching.

Normally, Leo would've been ecstatic to have a girl, especially Calypso (completely irrelevant), so close to him. But with the threatening look on the Thalia's face reminded him a awful lot like Dionysus' fan girls, the Maenads. One wrong move and he was dead. Whether that was literal or not, was still Leo's guess.

What is she even talking about? Leo looked around the room, hoping to get some kind of clue on what she meant, but a few other demigods were looking at him expectantly too. 

"Well, does he live?" Thalia said, shaking him a little, indicating that thinking time was over.

"Yes?" Leo said quickly, knowing that 'yes' was the right answer to everything.

At least, he hoped it was this time.

Thalia sighed in relief, releasing Leo's collar. Leo immediately scrambled over to the glaring Stoll brothers, the only people (besides his dad) who seemed to like him.

Meanwhile Annabeth narrowed her eyes.

For someone she doesn't know, Thalia shows a lot of concern for Jason.

Athena bit back a huge smile. Although she knew the Roman (sadly) wouldn't die, it gave her satisfaction knowing he got hurt.

Bang!  Jason found himself flat on his back. His mouth tasted like burning aluminum foil... Out of the corner of his eye, Jason saw Coach Hedge climbing up the cliff with Leo on his back.

Leo shook his head in self-disgust.

Piper was on her feet, desperately swinging the club to fend off the two extra storm spirits,

Being ten times more helpful then their sidekick Flaming Valdez. Leo added. 

but they were just toying with her. The club went right through their bodies like they weren't there.

Aphrodite winced while her boyfriend looked amused. 

...."Stop," Jason croaked. He rose unsteadily to his feet.... "How are you alive?" Dylan's form flickered. "That was enough lightning to kill twenty men!"

If he could survive that, Thalia thought, eyes widening. That would mean that.

She shook her head, trying to ignore her rising hope.

He's another child of Zeus, nothing more. Dad broke the pact, what else is new?

"Only a child of Zeus could survive that." Chris said, looking nervously at Hades and Poseidon.

Surprisingly, the two older brothers did not explode at Zeus like the demigods expect to happen. In fact, the worse the two did was glare at their younger brother. 

Percy couldn't help but frown at that. How come Dad and Hades didn't blow up like they did with Thalia and Nico? Did they already know about Jason?

"My turn," Jason said... The ridged grip fit his fingers perfectly, and the whole thing was gold-hilt, handle, and blade.

Annabeth frowned. She never heard of a golden weapon like that before.

"That's so cool." Travis said, eyes wide in awe.

"Doesn't it make you want to get one, Percy?" Connor teased.

"No." Percy replied immediately. "I'd rather have a pen that changes into Riptide than a coin like Jason's. What happens if you don't catch it in time?"

"Instant death." Clarisse La Rue spoke up, preferring her Maimer over Jason's coin. "That thing sounds more like a flashy toy then a weapon."

Dylan snarled and backed up. He looked at his two comrades and yelled, "Well? Kill him!"

"Coward!" Ares shouted.

The other storm spirits didn't look happy with that order, but they flew at Jason, their fingers crackling with electricity... Jason stepped in-one quick thrust, and the second storm spirit dissolved into gold powder.

"I thought you said they were tough to beat." Travis said to Annabeth.

"They are!" Annabeth insisted.

"Then why did Jason kill them so easily?" Chris asked.

"Maybe it's Jason's weapon." Katie suggested.

"Did you hear that, Clarisse?" Connor called out. "That 'flashy toy' just killed two tough monsters with one swipe each. Can your weapon do that?"

"Shut up." the daughter of Ares growled.

Dylan wailed in outrage. He looked down as if expecting his comrades to reform, but their gold dust remains dispersed in the wind.

Leo, handing Connor a breath mint, had no doubts that if the wind hadn't blown away the remains, the monsters would've reformed in two seconds flat.

"Impossible! Who are you, half-blood?".... Then Coach Hedge leaped back onto the skywalk and dumped Leo like a sack of flour.

Leo rolled his eyes.

Clarisse snorted. "You're not much of a fighter, are you?"

"It's his first monster battle, he's not properly trained for this yet." Hephaestus reminded her. "The boy'll get better after he goes to the camp."

You'd think that but... Leo trailed off, thinking about his previous fights.

"Spirits, fear me!" Hedge bellowed, flexing his short arms. Then he looked around and realized there was only Dylan.

"Curse it, boy!" he snapped at Jason. "Didn't you leave some for me? I like a challenge!"

"Did he seriously just yell at Jason for killing the monsters?" Travis said with a laugh. "You'd think he would be impressed that Jason managed to do that by himself."

"I know, right?" Connor agreed, laughing along with him.

"That's Coach Hedge for ya'." Clarisse said with a small smile.

Leo got to his feet, breathing hard. He looked completely humiliated,  his hands bleeding from clawing at the rocks. "Yo, Coach Supergoat, whatever you are-I just fell down the freaking Grand Canyon! Stop asking challenges!"

"Yeah, probably for the best. The last thing we need is more anemoi thuella showing up." Chris mentioned, but his voice couldn't be heard over the Stolls' laughter.

Dylan hissed at them, but Jason could see fear in his eyes. "You have no idea how many enemies you've awakened, half-blood. My mistress will destroy all demigods. This war you cannot win."

Everyone went quiet at Dylan's words.

Hestia worriedly tended to her hearth.

"You've gotta be kidding me!" Percy suddenly shouted, breaking the silence. "We just finished fighting the Titans!" 

Once he said those words, everyone started talking at once.

"We barely survived this war!" Katie exclaimed.

"How're we going to prepare for this? Who are we even fighting?" Hermes muttered, rubbing his throbbing temples. 

"This is bad. This is so bad..." Connor panicked.

"How many people are going to die this time?" Clarisse grimaced, thinking of Silena and Beckendorf.

Leo looked around the room, completely lost on how to calm everyone down. What was he supposed to tell them? 'Hey guys, it's not that bad! You just need to rely on me and a couple of my buddies to defeat Mother Earth! By the way, aren't I a great fighter?'

Thankfully, he didn't have to say anything.

"ENOUGH!" Zeus exclaimed, everyone immediately went quiet.

"We will read the book," he raised his hand, stopping protests. "Find out who this 'mistress' and put a end to the war before it even begins. Got it?"

Everyone, still struggling to control their emotions, murmured their assent.

With that, Athena began to read again.

He lunged at Jason, but Piper tackled the monster from behind...  Leo, Jason, and the coach surged forward to help,

Honestly, I would've been more helpful if I just stood there. Leo sighed.

but the spirit screamed with rage. He let loose a torrent that knocked them all backwards.... Leo hit the back of his head and curled on his side, dazed and groaning.

Leo forced himself to laugh. "Wow, that was not my day."

Piper got the worst of it. She was thrown off Dylan's back and hit the railing, tumbling over the side until she was hanging by one hand over the abyss.

Aphrodite chewed her bottom lip nervously.

Jason started toward her, but Dylan screamed, "I'll settle for this one!"

He grabbed Leo's arm and began to rise, towing a half-conscious Leo below him.

Great. Leo thought sarcastically. Even with monsters, I'm always second best.

Leo sighed.

Well... more like seventh best.

He reached into his tool belt for a distraction.

The storm spun faster, pulling them upward like a vacuum cleaner.... Then she slipped, screaming as she fell.

MY BABY! Aphrodite mentally screamed, shouting out. "No!"

Everyone else also yelled out.

Meanwhile, Leo took out post-its.

Peeling off a pink paper from his pack, he began to make a tiny paper airplane.

"Jason, go!" Hedge yelled. "Save her!"

"Save her?" Travis exclaimed. "How is he supposed to do that? She just fell down the cliff!"

"Maybe she grabs another handhold?" Aphrodite said, face paling. She refused to believe her Piper was going to die.

The coach launched himself at the spirit with some serious goat fu-lashing out with his hooves, knocking Leo free from the spirit's grasp. Leo dropped safely to the floor,

Dropped safely? Leo looked at the book as if it made a rude gesture. I nearly cracked my head like a egg on the ground.

but Dylan grappled the coach's arms instead. Hedge tried to head-butt him....  Then the satyr and the storm spirit spiraled into the clouds and disappeared.

Coach isn't dead. He can't be, he's too tough for that. Clarisse thought, biting her lip. Chris grabbed her hand and squeezed it.

Save her?  Jason thought. She's gone!

No she's not! Aphrodite denied, shaking her head.

But again his instincts won. He ran to the railing, thinking, I'm a lunatic, and jumped over the side.

Everyone stared at the book in shock.

Leo threw his pink paper plane in the air.

The mini plane did barrel roll before crash landing on the unforgiving ground.

He was just about to take another post-it, before Thalia yelled: "What the Hades!"

Hades glared at her.

Leo looked up to see the flabbergasted looks on the others faces.

Percy's jaw dropped.

"Did he really just jump off a cliff?" Katie asked in disbelief.

"Is he suicidal?" Connor asked.

"I thought instincts help you survive," Travis said. "not kill you."

Jason wasn't scared of heights. He was scared of being smashed against the canyon floor five hundred feet below.

Leo nodded. He can relate to that.

He figured he hadn't accomplished anything except for dying along with Piper... His face felt like it was peeling off.

Thalia shuddered. Why is this book have to be so descriptive?

In a heartbeat, he caught up with Piper, who was failing wildly... He wondered what dying would feel like.

The demigods grimaced.

That was a common question for a demigod to have.

Don't say that, Jason. Aphrodite thought with a small whimper.

He was thinking, probably not so good. He wished somehow they could never hit bottom.

Leo threw his green mini plane.

The plane did a loop-de-loop before landing softly on the ground. Leo smiled proudly at his plane's success.

Suddenly the wind died. Piper's scream turned into a strangled gasp.... He opened his eyes. They weren't falling. They were floating in midair, a hundred feet above the river.

Aphrodite happily clapped her hands and cheered

"No way." Travis said, eyes wide in awe.

"How is that even possible?" Percy asked.

Thalia smiled. She didn't care how it happened, all that mattered was that Jason and Piper were safe.

"Can you do that, Thalia?" Annabeth asked her closet friend.

Thalia's face turned slightly green but she shrugged as casually as she could. "I dunno, I never tried."

He hugged Piper tight, and she repositioned herself so she was hugging him too.... Her breath smelled like cinnamon.

Artemis gagged, while Aphrodite sighed with content.

Leo's nose wrinkled at the description. Why was that added? What does that have to do with anything at all?

She said, "How did you-"..... But then he thought: I don't even know who I am.

Thalia frowned sympathetically.

Maybe he's a loner like Thalia...Luke, and I were. Annabeth thought.

He imagined going up, Piper yelped as they shot a few feet higher....  The easiest thing would be to sink gently to the canyon floor. Then he looked up. The rain stopped. The storm clouds didn't seem as bad, but they were still rumbling and flashing. There was no guarantee the spirits were gone for good.... "Let's see." Jason thought Up, and instantly they shot skyward.

"So cool... Thalia, you have to try it!" Travis said.

"No." Thalia deadpanned.

The fact he was riding the winds might've been cool under different circumstances, but he was too much in shock.... Piper turned Leo over, and he groaned. His army coat was soaked from the rain. His curly hair glittered gold from rolling around in monster dust.

"Ew!" Aphrodite remarked.

Leo grimaced.

But at least he wasn't dead.

"Stupid...ugly...goat," he muttered.

"Are you serious?" Clarisse snapped at Leo. "The guy saved your life twice and that's how you talk about him?"

Percy shook his head.

"You could at least be a little sad about his disappearance," Percy said. "Coach Hedge wasn't exactly... gentle, but still..."

Thalia nodded her head in agreement.

Leo kept his eyes on the post-it in his hands. He tried to ignore the sinking feeling of guilt in his stomach.

Just keep it together, Valdez. It's only a matter of time. The son of Hephaestus gave the book a quick glare.

He threw his bright yellow airplane.

He frowned when it took a nose dive into the ground.

"Where did he go?" Piper asked.

Leo pointed straight up. "Never came down. Please tell me he didn't actually save my life."

Percy rolled his eyes.

"So what if he did?! Would that be a problem?" Clarisse challenged, Chris gripped her arm.

"No." Leo said, peeling off another post-it.

"Twice," Jason said.

Leo groaned even louder. "What happened? The tornado guy, the gold sword... I hit my head. That's it, right? I'm hallucinating?"..... "Okay. You acted like...like you'd seen them before. Who are you?"

That's what I want to know. Thalia thought.

He shook his head. "That's what I've trying to tell you. I don't know."

....The storm dissipated. The other kids from the Wilderness School were staring out of the glass doors in horror.

"Oh, I forgot they were even there." Leo said, throwing Pink.2.

The mini plane did a U-turn and crashed itself on Leo's forehead.

"Getting hit on the head can make you forget things sometimes." he added, crumpling Pink.2.

Security guards were working on the locks now, but they didn't seem to be having any luck.... "And that thing Dylan turned into..." Piper shuddered. "God, I can't believe it was hitting on me.

Aphrodite scrunched her nose in disgust.

He called us... what, demigods?"

Leo lay on his back, staring at the sky. He didn't seem anxious to get up. "Don't know what demi means," he said.

"Demi means half." Athena explained to Leo.

Annabeth nodded in agreement.

"Thanks." Leo muttered, throwing his newest plane.

The plane soared until it landed by Hades' makeshift throne.

Leo smiled sheepishly under the god's glare.

The god swiftly stomped on the little plane.

Leo reluctantly put away his post-it notes.

He sighed as he tried to figure out what to do next.

"But I'm not feeling too godly. You guys feeling godly?"

"If you're a demigod, you'll be feeling more crappy then godly." Connor told Leo.

Well, that explains my life. Leo thought.

There was a brittle sound like dry twigs snapping, and the cracks in the skywalk began to widen.... "Ohhh-kay," Leo interrupted. "Look up there and tell me if those are flying horses."

"That's probably people from camp." Annabeth stated. Finally, hopefully we can start to get some answers around here.

At first Jason thought Leo had hit his head too hard. Then he saw a dark shape descending from the east-too slow for a plane.... "And where are they extracting us to?" Piper asked.

"Someplace safer than here." Percy said.

"Way to be specific, Seaweed Brain." Annabeth smiled, bumping her shoulder against his.

Jason watched as the chariot landed on the far end of the skywalk....Two teenagers stood in the chariot-a tall blond girl maybe a little older than Jason,

The demigods immediately looked at Annabeth.

"It could be my sister." Annabeth said. "It might not be me."

and a bulky dude with shaved head and face like a pile of bricks.

Leo smiled at the mention of the rainbow pony dude.

....She pulled a knife and ran toward Jason's group while the bulky dude was reining in the horses.

"Your sister sounds a lot like you, Annabeth." Travis commented.

"Has the same choice of weapon too." Connor added.

"Where is he?" the girl demanded. Her grey eyes were fierce and startling.

"It's Annabeth." Percy confirmed, nodding his head.

"You can tell just by that?" Apollo asked.

"Of course he can!" Aphrodite replied, sending Percy a not-so-subtle wink.

Percy tried not to blush.

"Well, I mean, it's kinda obvious that it's her."

Annabeth frowned, wondering what her future self was doing there.

Could it have something to do with the special package? she wondered.

"Where's who?" Jason asked.... "What about Gleeson? Where is your protector, Gleeson Hedge?"

"Gleeson?" Travis snickered, only to stop when Clarisse sent him a death glare.

The coach's first name was Gleeson? Jason might've laughed if the morning hadn't been quite so weird and scary..... Jason did his best to explain, through it was hard to meet those intense gray eyes.

I know the feeling. Percy thought, giving Annabeth a smile.

However, she was too occupied thinking to notice.

About halfway through the story, the other guy from the chariot came over. He stood there glaring at them, his arms crossed. He had a tattoo of a rainbow on his biceps, which seemed a little unusual.

"A rainbow?" Travis laughed. "Really?"

Connor and Leo joined.

When Jason had finished his story, the blond girl didn't look  satisfied. "No, no, no! She told me he would be here. She told me if I came here, I'd find the answer."

Percy frowned, wondering what had gotten Annabeth so distressed.

Annabeth twirled her necklace in her hand.

Who is he? And why am I getting so worked up over him going missing?

Annabeth closed her eyes.

Who would make me go crazy if they went missing?"

She slowly opened her eyes in time to meet Percy's worried ones.

She instantly thought back to when Percy went missing after causing a explosion on Mt. Saint Helen's. She had never felt so worried and upset before.

Her thoughts suddenly turned to the title.

The Lost Hero.

Annabeth let out a soft gasp, before tightly squeezing her necklace.

No it has to be another hero. Annabeth thought. It has to be.

But Annabeth couldn't think of anybody else who better qualify the position.

"Annabeth," the bald guy grunted. "Check it out." He pointed at Jason's feet...

"The guy with one shoe," said the bald dude. "He's the answer." .....  She glared at the sky as though it had done something wrong. "What do you want from me?" she screamed.

Percy's concern for was growing more and more by the second.

Athena, figuring out who her daughter was talking about, gave Annabeth a worried look.

That boy is nothing but trouble. the goddess of wisdom thought with a scowl.

Annabeth slightly slouched, as if she was losing the ability to hold herself upright.

"What have you done with him?".... She fumed for a moment. "Fine." She fixed Jason a resentful look. "We'll settle this later."

"You didn't have to get angry at him." Thalia scolded. "He didn't do anything."

Annabeth looked apologetic. "I know."

She turned on her heel and marched toward the chariot...... "I'm not going anywhere with her." Jason gestured toward the blonde. "She looks like she wants to kill me."

Can't blame him for that one. Annabeth grimaced at the horrible first impression she made.

Butch hesitated. "Annabeth's okay. You gotta cut her some slack. She had vision telling her to come here, to find a guy with one shoe. That was supposed to be the answer to her problem."

"What problem?" Piper asked.

"Whatever it is," Percy said to her. "We'll face it together."

He gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze, but it did little to comfort her. If possible, it made her feel worse.

"She's been looking for one of our campers, who's been missing for three days," Butch said. "She's going out of her mind with worry. She hoped he'd be here."

The tension raised as everyone waited to hear what was next.

Leo continued playing with the buttons on his jacket.

"Her boyfriend," Butch said.

Aphrodite dramatically gasped. She leaned forward in her chair. 

 "A guy named Percy Jackson."

  "HER WHAT?" Percy exclaimed, surprising Leo.

Annabeth and Percy looked at each other as if they just noticed the other's presence.

Aphrodite squealed with joy, this time, throwing her arms around Ares.

Nico's eyes widened. He blinked furiously in effort to hold back tears.

I should've known, Nico thought, balling his hands into fists. I'm such a idiot.

Nico gritted his teeth.

Athena also gritted her teeth as she sat in her throne.

Calm done. she told herself. This relationship will not last forever. Give them a couple months, at most, and they're going to breakup and search for other people.

Athena slowly relaxed, confident her daughter would eventually lose interest in Percy. 

"Well, it's about time." Clarisse said gruffly, getting over her shock.

"I know." Travis agreed, nodding his head. "Finally you guys know how you feel about each other."

"It's a shame you two needed a book to figure it out." Katie added.

"Wait, why are you guys so shocked?" Leo said, looking back and forth between the blushing couple. "Weren't you dating before this?"

"No! I didn't even know I liked her! I mean I did... I do like her! It's just.... I never told her and... Ugh!" Percy hid his face in his hands.

Annabeth was looking everywhere but at Percy.

Leo frowned in bewilderment. With the way the two acted in the future, he always assumed that they've been together for years.

"I guess that explains why they weren't making out with each other every five seconds." Leo muttered, but everyone heard it.

Athena choked on air.

Poseidon sputtered. 

"Us?! Making out?! Like, with our lips?!" Percy groaned and scooted away from the daughter of Athena.

Leo looked even more confused. 

"Uh... duh. How else would you do it?"

"Oh gods, I can't believe this is happening." Annabeth grumbled, trying to will the blush away. First Percy's disappeared, now she's apparently going to be his girlfriend? She tried to control the roller coaster of feelings inside her.

"You guys are dorks." Clarisse stated.*

Chapter Text

Snickers and giggles can still be heard among the demigods as they sneaked glances in Percy and Annabeth's direction.  Said couple were refusing to meet each other's eyes and kept their distance. 

"Would anyone else like to read?" Athena asked, 

"I'll do it." Chris said, taking the book from the goddess of wisdom.

Once he was seated, Chris began to read.

"Piper III,"

Leo fought down the urge to tackle Chris to the ground and burn the book right then and there. 

Forcing his attention else where, he rummaged through his tool belt. 

After A Morning Of Storm Spirits, goat men, and flying boyfriends, Piper should've been losing her mind. Instead all she felt was felt was dread.

"That's a pretty calm reaction." Chris remarked.

"Well, at least she's not panicking." Apollo cheerfully added.

It's starting, she thought. Just like the dream said.

Apollo's smile faltered. 

The demigods stiffened.

"Great," Percy grimaced. "They're already starting..."

Leo took out a plastic bag of straws from his tool belt.

She stood in the back of the chariot with Leo and Jason, while the bald guy, Butch, handled the reins....They rose over the Grand Canyon and headed east...icy wind ripping through Piper's jacket. Behind them, more storm clouds were gathering.

"Sounds like more anemoi thuellai are coming." Katie said with a frown.

"That was fast." Annabeth commented.

The chariot lurched and bumped. It had no seat belts and the back was wide open....That had been the most disturbing part of the morning-not that Jason could fly but that he'd held her in his arms and yet didn't know who she was.

So, did she want him to let her fall to her death? Leo wondered, making the foundation of his straw house.

All semester she'd worked on his relationship, trying to get Jason to notice her as more than a friend. Finally she'd gotten the big to kiss her.... It was like someone had wiped his memory and she was stuck in the "do over" of all time.

Aphrodite sighed sympathetically.

She wanted to scream. Jason stood right next to her: those sky blue eyes, close-cropped blond hair, that cute little scar on his upper lip.

Thalia's eyes widened as she softly gasped. That 'cute little' scar on his upper lip was proof Jason was in fact her little brother. He's actually alive.

Where has he been all these years? Thalia thought blinking back tears, not wanting to be confronted by the others yet.

....Meanwhile, Leo was being annoying as usual.

Leo laughed at that, finishing the skeleton of his house. "Gee, thanks Piper!"

Taking out Popsicle sticks from his tool belt, he began to add the walls and floor.

"This is so cool!" He spit a pegasus feather out of his mouth. "Where are we going?"

"Hey Nico,"

Nico scowled at the sound of Percy's voice.

"Yeah?" he asked, keeping his voice as emotionless as possible.

"Doesn't Leo's actions remind you of anyone?" Percy teased.

"No." Nico replied with the slightest bit of anger in his voice.

Percy raised a eyebrow at that.

"A safe place," Annabeth said.... "Half-Blood?" Piper was immediately on guard...She'd been called a half-blood to many times-Half Cherokee, half-white-and it was never a compliment.

Aphrodite gnashed her teeth, promising herself she would find the people who said these things to her daughter and make them pay.

..."She means we're demigods," Jason said. "Half god, half mortal."

Annabeth looked back. "You seem to know a lot, Jason...Butch here is the son of Iris, the rainbow goddess."

"Well, at least that explains the rainbow tattoo." Travis said, laughing with his brother.

Snickering, Leo added wheels to his house, deciding to make a mobile home.

Leo choked. "Your mom is a rainbow goddess?"

"Got a problem with that?" Butch said.

"You might want to be careful on what you say about his mom." Katie warned.

"Careful is my middle name." Leo said at the same time Thalia snorted.

"This is Leo we're talking about," she said. "He probably said something offensive that made Butch want to kick him off the chariot."

She's actually not that far off. Leo wondered if he was really that predictable.

"No, no," Leo said. "Rainbows. Very macho."

"Nice save." Hermes said with a chuckle.

"Butch is our best equestrian," Annabeth said. "He gets along great with the pegasi."

Clarisse frowned, unable to stop herself from thinking about Silena.

Aphrodite sighed, also thinking about her other daughter.

"Rainbows, ponies," Leo muttered.

"I'm gonna toss you off the chariot," Butch warned.

Thalia looked unsurprised. She couldn't blame Butch for feeling that way.

...Lightning flashed. The chariot shuddered, and Jason yelled, "Left wheel's on fire!"

"Oh gods!" Thalia exclaimed.

Piper stepped back. Sure enough, the wheel was burning, white flames lapping up the side of the chariot-except these looked more like horses than angels.

"I thought they look like humans." Travis mentioned.

Annabeth opened her mouth to explain, but Chris interrupted.

"It's alright Annabeth, you're about to explain it to Piper in the book."

Annabeth gave Chris a grateful smile. The last thing she wanted was to repeat herself.

Leo pushed his mobile home, which looked more like a square on wheels.

The mobile home rolled forward, until it bumped Ares' foot.

Seeing the thing by his foot, he looked up at Leo and smiled an unfriendly smile before 'gently' kicking it back.

Leo ducked as the object zoomed past his head.

The mobile home smashed into splinters on wall behind him.

Muttering curses to Ares, Leo crawled next to it, searching for any parts he could reuse.

Taking the wheels, he decided he'd make a car next.

...."Anemoi come in different shapes," Annabeth said.  "Sometimes human, sometimes stallions, depending on how chaotic they are."

"Exactly." Annabeth said.

....A cold gray ocean stretched out to the left. Snow-covered fields, roads, and forests spread to the right....Piper saw a cluster of buildings like ancient Greek temples, a big blue mansion, ball courts, a lake, and a climbing wall that seemed to be on fire.

"Good old camp." Percy said fondly. "My home away from home."

"My Fields of Punishment away from the Underworld." Dionysus gruffly commented, flipping the page of his magazine.

"Com'on Mr. D, you know you love it." Hermes with a smile.

Dionysus pointedly ignored him.

But before she could really process all she was seeing, their wheels came off and the chariot dropped out of the sky.

Thalia and Hephaestus paled.

Why does it have to be from the sky? Why can't it be a foot above the ground?  the god inwardly groaned, tapping his fingers against his armrest.

Annabeth and Butch tried to maintain control... "The lake!" Annabeth yelled. "Aim for the lake!"

Piper remembered something her dad had once told her, about hitting water from up high being as bad as hitting cement.

"That's true..." Annabeth said with a grimace. "But it's better than hitting the ground."

Leo, finishing his car, pushed it back and forth on the floor.

Its wheels groaned and squeaked after the abuse it took from the god of war.

And-BOOM.

The biggest shock was the cold. She was underwater, so disoriented that she didn't know which way was up. ... Jason, Leo, and Annabeth were on shore, surrounded by kids giving them blankets and asking questions....Apparently kids fell into the lake a lot, because a detail of campers ran up with a big bronze leaf blower-looking things and blasted Piper with hot air; and in about to seconds her clothes were dry.

"You'd be surprised with how often this happens." Katie said offhandedly. 

Sqqqquuuuueaaaaak.

Sqqqqquuuuueeeeaaaak.

Sqqqqqquuueaaaaakkkk.

Squealllllllll!

Leo's car's wheels made a particularly loud scream in protest as he made the car do a U-turn.

He was just about to make the car do a figure eight, before Zeus shouted.

"Stop playing with that infernal car!"

Leo sighed and put the car to the side.

There were at least twenty campers milling around-the youngest maybe nine, the oldest college age, eighteen or nineteen-and all of them had orange T-shirts like Annabeth's... A second later the wreckage of the chariot was tossed from the lake and landed nearby with a wet crunch.

"Annabeth!" A guy with a bow and quiver on his back pushed through the crowd. "I said you could borrow the chariot, not destroy it!"

The Stolls laughed.

"Wow, Annabeth," Connor began. "You've been hanging out with Percy to much."

"Yeah," Travis nodded. "Now you're as destructive as him."

"Please," Annabeth playfully rolled her eyes. "Nobody is more destructive than Percy."

"Hey!" the son of Poseidon protested over the demigods' laughter.

"Will, I'm sorry," Annabeth sighed. "I'll get fixed, I promise."

Will Solace's eyes widened in surprise at his sudden appearance in the book.

Will scowled at his broken chariot. Then he sized up Piper, Leo and Jason. "These are the ones? Way older than thirteen. Why haven't they been claimed already?"

"Good question." Percy said, glaring at the gods.

Hephaestus looked down at his latest project on his lap, while Aphrodite twirled her hair and looked up at the damaged ceiling.

"Claimed?" Leo asked.

Before Annabeth could explain, Will said, "Any sign of Percy?"

Remembering Percy Jackson's sudden disappearance, the tension was back.

"Where could he even have gone?" Chris asked to no one in particular. "Why would he even leave in the first place?"

"Someone must've taken him," Annabeth said, grabbing her necklace. "He wouldn't have just upped and left without telling me or Chiron."

Poseidon looked at his son as if this is the last time he would see him.

I wish Dad would stop looking at me like that... Percy shifted uncomfortably in his position.

The campers muttered. Piper had no idea who this guy Percy was, but his disappearance seemed to be a big deal.

Percy gave his friends a shaky smile. 

Another girl stepped forward-tall, Asian, dark hair in ringlets, plenty of jewelry and perfect makeup... She glanced at Leo, fixed her eyes on Jason like he might be worthy of her attention....She's dealt with a lot of girls like this at the Wilderness School and every other stupid school her father had sent her to.

... "Well," the girl said. "I hope they're worth the trouble.

Leo couldn't help but frown when he remembered Drew was looking at him when she said that.

Percy narrowed his eyes. This girl also reminded him of all the bullies he's faced at his old schools.

Leo snorted. "Gee, thanks. What are we, your new pets?"

"You tell her, Leo!" Travis cheered.

Leo, unsure how to react, just smirked.

"No kidding," Jason said. "How about the answers before you start judging us-like, what is this place, why are we here, how long do we have to stay?"

Piper had the same questions, but a wave of anxiety washed over her head. Worth the trouble. If they only knew about her dream. They had no idea...

Everyone exchanged confused and concerned looks.

Leo sighed, wishing Piper had just told someone instead of keeping it bottled up halfway through the quest.

"Jason," Annabeth said. "I promise we'll answer your questions. And Drew"-

Drew Tanaka, who had being filing her finger nails, looked up at the mention of her name.

Aphrodite frowned when she realized her daughter, Drew, had been acting like that.

she frowned at the glamour girl. -"all demigods are worth saving. But I'll admit, the trip didn't accomplish what I hoped."

....Drew sniffed. "And nobody wants you, hon. Does your hair always look like a dead badger?"

"Her hair's not that bad." Aphrodite couldn't help but say with a frown. "It just... needs a little work, that's all."

"Hmm." Drew responded, not agreeing but not disagreeing.

The demigods in the room glared at Drew, but the girl continued looking in her compact mirror as if she didn't notice.

Piper stepped forward, ready to smack her,

"Oh please." Drew scoffed, rolling her eyes. "I'd like to see her try, I'm in a good mood for a laugh."

The goddess's frown deepened.

Clarisse rolled her eyes. Ya' fight one war and now you think you're a total bad ass.

but Annabeth said, "Piper, stop."

Piper did. She wasn't a bit scared of Drew,

"You should." Drew murmured, looking at her appearance through her compact mirror.

but Annabeth didn't seem like somebody she wanted for an enemy.

"Good choice." Surprisingly, Leo said. He shuddered as he remembered the look on her face after he accidentally attacked New Rome.

Some of the demigods gave him a questioning glance, wondering what he did to face the daughter of Athena's wrath.

"We need to make our new arrivals feel welcome," Annabeth said, with another pointed look at Drew..... "Would somebody tell me what claimed means?" Piper asked.

Suddenly there was a collective gasp. The campers backed away.... Then she realized their faces were bathed in a strange red light, as if someone had lit a torch behind her. She turned and almost forgot how to breathe

Floating over Leo's head was a blazing holographic image-a fiery hammer.

"Why explain it, when you could show it." Travis said with a smile.

"That was fast." Demeter remarked, not really surprised. Like herself, Hephaestus was usually quick about claiming his children. Whether it was because he didn't want his children to feel abandoned like he did as a child, or he was worried he would be so caught up in his work he might forget, Demeter had no clue.

"That," Annabeth said, "is claiming."

"What'd I do?" Leo backed toward the lake. Then he glanced up and yelped. "Is my hair on fire?"

Everyone laughed.

Leo sheepishly smiled, wondering if he could possibly die from humiliation.

"Seriously?" Katie asked with a giggle. "You just fell in a lake, how on earth would you manage to get your hair on fire?"

"I guess I forgot." Leo shrugged, not telling her he thought he accidentally set his hair on fire.

That would have been difficult to explain. Leo thought.

He ducked, but the symbol followed him, bobbing and weaving so it looked like he was trying to write something in flames with his head.

"Best. Claim. Ever." Travis said still laughing.

"Glad my traumatic experience entertains you." Leo said in mock offense.

"This can't be good," Butch muttered. "The curse-"

The laughter quickly died down.

"Curse?" Hephaestus repeated, eyebrows furrowed.

"What is he talking about?" Percy asked.

"Did somebody curse the Hephaestus cabin?" Thalia questioned.

 "Why would anybody curse one cabin and not the whole camp?" Annabeth pointed out.

"Butch, shut up," Annabeth said. "Leo, you've just been claimed-"

"By a god," Jason interrupted. "That's the symbol of Vulcan, isn't it?"

"Jason's a trekkie?" Percy said with a confused frown.

"That's the Roman name for Hephaestus." Annabeth corrected, still not meeting his eyes.

"What is up with this guy and the Roman names." Connor asked with slight exasperation.

..."Jason," Annabeth said carefully, "how did you know that?"

"I'm not sure."  

"Oooof course he doesn't..." Katie sighed, resting her head on her hand.

"Vulcan?" Leo demanded. "I don't even LIKE Star Trek.

Vulcan sputtered at the boy's words, before flickering back to his dazed counterpart.

Luckily, the demigods were too busy laughing at Leo's comment to notice.

What are you talking about?"

...The fiery hammer faded, but Leo kept swatting the air like he was afraid it was following him. "The god of what? Who?"

"Just calm down, no need to panic." Hestia said calmly.

Annabeth turned to the guy with the bow. "Will, would you take Leo, give him a tour? Introduce him to his bunk-mates in Cabin Nine."

"Sure, Annabeth."

"This'll interesting." Will commented.

"What's Cabin Nine?" Leo asked. "And I'm not a Vulcan!"

The Stolls laughed.

"Come on, Mr. Spock, I'll explain everything."

Their laughter soon was followed by others.

....Annabeth turned her attention back to Jason....but Annabeth didn't seem to care that he was a good-looking guy.

"Of course she wouldn't! She's dating the love of her life, Percy Jackson!" Aphrodite giggled.

"We're not dating!" Percy squeaked, his face turning red.

"Not yet." the goddess of love pointed out.

"Referring to Percy as 'the love of her life' is a stretch." Athena grumbled.

She studied him more like he was a complicated blueprint.

Athena smiled. That sounded like the Annabeth she knew and loved.

Finally she said, "Hold out your arm."..... Jason had taken off his windbreaker.... The tattoo couldn't have just appeared, but it was darkly etched, impossible to miss: a dozen straight lines like a bar code, and over that eagle with the letters of SPQR.

Athena felt her upper lip curl up in hatred. 

The other gods warily watched the demigods' reaction to the description.

Thankfully they seemed more confused about the tattoo's appearance than anything else.

"What kind of tattoo is that?" Annabeth muttered, distracted by her own feelings than the actual meaning behind the markings. Why do I feel this sense of danger and... disgust?  Her eyes narrowed further. I don't think I've ever seen these marks before.

Travis forced himself to laugh and elbowed his brother. 

"What a weird tattoo." Travis chuckled, giving him a meaningful look.

"I know." Connor agreed, catching on. "I hope he didn't pay for that."

"I've never seen marks like this," Annabeth said.... The other campers pushed forward, trying to get a look at Jason's tattoo. The marks seemed to them a lot-almost like a declaration of war.

Nobody liked the sound of that.

Zeus felt a headache coming on.

It's going to be like the Civil War all over again.

The god grimaced.

"They look burned into your skin," Annabeth noticed.

Thalia grimaced at the idea of someone burning a crazy tattoo on her little brother.

"It's almost like whoever did it labeled him like he was their property..." Thalia shuddered.

Everyone winced at that.

"Oh my gods..." Katie muttered, hugging her arms.

"Who would do that?" Chris said softly, looking disturbed.

"They were," Jason said. Then he winced as if his head was aching.... No one said anything. It was clear the campers saw Annabeth as the leader. They were waiting for her verdict.

Annabeth sat up straight, trying not to look too happy at that.

"Of course Annabeth would be the leader." Percy smiled.

"He needs to Chiron," Annabeth decided. "Drew, would you-"

"Drew?" Thalia repeated incredulously. She gave Annabeth a look of disbelief.

Annabeth frowned. "I guess I was so focused on what that tattoo meant, I really didn't think about it."

"Absolutely." Drew laced her arm through Jason's.

"This way, sweetie. I'll introduce to our director. He's...an interesting guy." She flashed Piper a smug look and led Jason toward the big blue house on the hill.

Leo couldn't help but feel sympathetic for the daughter of Aphrodite. 

Poor Drew, Leo thought. She won't even know what hit her.

...."Who's Chiron?" Piper asked. "Is Jason in some kind of trouble?"

Annabeth hesitated. "Good question, Piper. Come on, I'll give you tour. We need to talk."

"That's the end of the chapter." Chris said, holding out the book.

Athena said that after two Piper chapters, I'm next. Leo nervously ran his hand through his hair. We just read one Piper chapter. We have to have a break soon.

"Reading another chapter sounds great and all," Leo shook his head when Chris offered him the book. "But, I'm starting to feel hungry. Could we have a break soon?"

Zeus sighed. A break sounded great right about now.

"After this chapter, we can have a break." Zeus said.

Leo smiled and fist pumped. Yes! Too easy!

Moving over to Grover, the happy son of Hephaestus took out a black sharpie from his tool belt

Just on more chapter, Leo drew a smiley face on the satyr's forehead. I can deal with that.

Chapter Text

Leo felt like a cell phone set on vibrate. As much as he desperately wanted to make as much noise of excitement as he could, he restrained himself from making any noise remotely possible.

However, this silent vow had little, if any, effect on his constantly moving body.

Keep it together, Valdez. Leo thought, untying his shoelace. You have just one more chapter before it's good bye book, and hello ashes.

Leo grinned, firmly retying his shoes for the umpteenth time.

"Does anybody want to read?" Chris asked, still holding the book.

"I'll read." Katie volunteered, taking the book.

"Piper IV," she read out loud.

Piper Soon Realized Annabeth's Heart wasn't in the tour.

She talked about all this amazing stuff the camp offered-magic, archery, pegasus riding, the lava wall, fighting monsters- but she showed no excitement as if her mind were elsewhere....  Piper wondered who ran the camp, and how they'd known Piper and her friends belonged here... Could you flunk out of monster fighting?

"Well... you could." Nico muttered. "But flunking is a nice way of saying dying."

A million questions bubbled in her head, but given Annabeth's mood, she decided to keep quiet.

Annabeth frowned. Although she did appreciate Piper being thoughtful about her feelings, she wished Piper had asked her questions anyway. She did not want to be the person who deprives people from asking questions.

...Piper turned and got an amazing view of the valley-a big stretch of the woods to the northwest....the whole layout of the cabins-a bizarre assortment of buildings arranged like a Greek omega, with a loop of cabins around a central green, and two wings sticking out the bottom on either side. Piper counted twenty cabins in all.

The demigods smiled, happy the gods kept their promise.

One glowed golden,

Apollo and his cabin cheered at the mention of their cabin.

Another silver.

Artemis and her hunters smiled.

One had grass on the roof.

Demeter beamed in pride.

Oh thank gods! Katie sighed with relief. If I heard there was even one chocolate bunny on that roof, I swear on all things good...

Another was bright red with barbed wire trenches.

"The best cabin!" Ares exclaimed with Clarisse shouting in agreement.

One cabin was black with fiery green torches out front.

For the first time after the recent news about Percy and Annabeth's relationship, Nico smiled.

Although he knew he would rarely, if ever, visit Camp Half-Blood after this, it was still nice to know his father finally had a cabin at the camp.

Hades looked surprised he had gotten a cabin. I thought Hera was going to convince Zeus not to give me one. 

All of it seemed like a different world from the snowy hills and fields outside.... She looked at Piper like she was trying to judge how Piper was handling the news.

"You're saying Mom was a goddess."

Annabeth nodded. "You're taking this awfully calmly."

"Way better than Leo did." Travis teased.

Connor snickered.

"Not all people can keep a cool head when they find out their absentee dad's a god," Leo said, playfully rolling his eyes as he drummed his fists on the hard marble floor.

Hephaestus frowned at the description. Well, it's not like he's wrong.

Piper couldn't tell her why... Soon they will find you, demigod, that voice rumbled. When they do, follow our directions. Cooperate, and your father might live.

Aphrodite gasped.

"Do you think it might be the Titians?" Katie asked.

"No, it couldn't be," Annabeth denied. "We just beat them."

"I hope not." Percy grimaced. I don't think I can handle another fight with Kronos.

Piper took a shaky breath. "I guess after this, it's easier to believe. So who's my mom?"

.... [Annabeth] "They made a promise last summer...well, long story... but they promised not to ignore their demigod children anymore,

Leo rolled his eyes, thinking about the closing of Olympus. 

"Some deal." he grumbled.

to claim them by the time they turn thirteen. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but you saw how fast Leo was claimed once he got here."

I'm not even in the chapter and I still manage to get mentioned. Leo sighed with mild annoyance, his index finger drawing circles on his leg.

....Piper wondered if she'd have a big flaming hammer over her head, or with her luck, something even more embarrassing. A flaming wombat, maybe.

Everyone laughed.

Whoever her mother was, Piper had no reason to think she'd be proud to claim a kleptomaniac daughter with massive problems.

"I'm sure that's not true." Aphrodite said with a knowing smile.

Hestia nodded in agreement. "I think it's the opposite, really."

"I know I would!" Hermes said happily.

"Why thirteen?"

"The older you get," Annabeth said, "the more monsters notice you, try to kill you. 'Round thirteen is usually when it starts. That's why we send protectors into the schools to find you guys, get you to camp before it's too late."

....Piper had no trouble believing Coach Hedge was half goat. She'd seen the guy eat.

"If he eats anything like Grover, I'd think I understand." Percy joked.

Annabeth and Thalia laughed.

Percy watched the daughter of Athena laugh intently. He knew he shouldn't be looking at her for this long, but he still couldn't believe that he would be dating the Annabeth Chase. All this time he had been confused about his feelings toward her and Rachel then- BOOM! A book from the future comes out of nowhere and tells everyone that his future love life. 

It was probably the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to him, but he was kinda glad it helped sort out his feelings.

Now if  I can just talk to her about them. Percy quickly turned his gaze when Annabeth caught him staring. How did my future self talk to her about this?

She'd never liked the coach much, but she couldn't believe he'd sacrificed himself to save them.

More like he sacrificed himself to save me Leo thought.

"What happened to him?" she asked "When we went up into the clouds, did he...is he gone for good?"

Thank gods he wasn't. Leo didn't know how he would live with himself if he was responsible for another death.

"Hard to say." Annabeth's expression was pained. "Storm spirits...difficult to battle. Even our best weapons, Celestial bronze, will pass right through them unless you can catch them by surprise."

"Jason's sword just turned them to dust," Piper remembered.

Connor wiggled his eyebrows at Clarisse.

"Big deal!" Clarisse scowled.

"He was lucky then. If you hit a monster just right, you can dissolve them, send their essence back to Tartarus."

"Anybody could've done it." the daughter of Ares stressed.

"Tartarus."

"A huge abyss in the Underworld, where the worst monsters come from. Kind of like a bottomless pit of evil."

...But since this storm spirit Dylan got away-well, I don't know why he'd keep Hedge alive.

A couple people winced at that.

The coach'll be fine... Clarisse reassured herself.

Hedge was a protector, though. He knew the risks. Satyrs don't have mortal souls. He'll be reincarnated as a tree or a flower or something."

Leo tilted his head, deep in thought. He could see Coach Hedge more as a violent Venus fly trap than a delicate daisy.

Piper tried to imagine Coach Hedge as a clump of very angry pansies.

The Stolls laughed at the mental image.

...She gazed at the cabins below, and an uneasy feeling settled over her...Do what we tell you, the voice had said. Or the consequences will be painful...

Aphrodite balled her hands into fists. That voice was really starting to annoy her.

"It'll be okay," Annabeth promised. "You have friends here. We've all been through a lot of weird stuff. We know what you're going through."

I doubt that, Piper thought.

"Maybe they don't know the full story, but that doesn't mean that they can't help." Hestia pointed out, watching the flames dance in her hearth. 

"I've been kicked out of five different schools the past five years," she said. "My dad's running out of places to put me."

"That's actually not that bad." Percy remarked in surprise.

"Not that bad?" Leo echoed, giving a odd look the son of Poseidon.

"Trust me," Percy said. "She could have had worse."

"Like I said," Annabeth told Leo. "Nobody is as destructive as Percy Jackson."  

"Only five?" Annabeth didn't sound like she was teasing ....Right. It's because we're hardwired for battle. Restless, impulsive-we don't fit in with regular kids. You should hear how much trouble Percy-" Her face darkened.

Like it did now. 

I can't believe Percy really disappeared. Annabeth bit her lip.

...."I steal stuff," she said.

"Hey, Dad! You were right, Piper finally embraced her kleptomania." Connor said with joy.

Travis beamed like a child on his birthday.

"I told you." Hermes said with a smile. "It was a only matter of time before it happened."

"Well, not really steal..."

Hermes, Connor, and Travis visibly deflated at the once again denial.

"Is your family poor?"

Piper laughed bitterly. "Not even. I did it... I don't know why. For-"

"The adrenaline rush?" Travis interrupted with a bright smile on his face.

"That warm fuzzy feeling you get, when you steal something and know you'll never get caught?" Hermes asked, sighing fondly, ignoring the pointed glare from Hera.

"The bragging rights?" Connor asked with a smirk.

"No!" Katie said, glaring at the Stolls.

"attention,"

"Oh." Travis simply said.

"Same thing." Connor added dismissively.

Hermes shrugged, he liked his reason better, but attention was good too.

My dad never had time for me unless I got in trouble."

Aphrodite frowned at that.

Annabeth gave the book an empathetic frown.

...."Well... nobody ever believes me. The police, teachers-even the people I took stuff from: they're so embarrassed, they'll deny what happened. But the truth is, I don't steal anything. I just ask people for things. And they give me stuff.

Drew, smearing lipstick on her lips, paused.

It sounds like she has... Drew snorted and shook her head. No, there is no way in Hades is Piper related to me. That's like saying a child of Athena has a bellybutton, it can't be true. Piper's just lying to make herself look less guilty.

With a satisfied smile, Drew admired herself in the small handheld mirror.

Even a BMW convertible. I just asked. And the dealer said, 'Sure. Take it.'

"What I wouldn't give to have an ability like that." Travis said wistfully. "Do you know how much things I would take."

In that case, I'm glad this isn't a Hermes trait. Katie thought, flipping the page.

Later, he realized what he'd done, I guess. Then the police came after me."

...Annabeth shook her head, apparently mystified. "I don't know, then. With luck, your mom will claim you tonight."

You can count on it. Aphrodite silently swore.

...If her mom were a goddess, would she know about that dream? Would she know what Piper had been asked to do?

Well maybe not before, but she does now. Leo spared a glance at the goddess of love, fidgeting in his current position.

Piper wondered if Olympian gods ever blasted their kids with lightning for being evil, grounded them in the Underworld.

Hades smirked. He had no idea about Poseidon and Zeus, but he had no problems grounding his son or his nephew, Percy Jackson, in the Underworld.

Percy shuddered in memory of Hades' dungeons. Percy didn't envy Nico if he ever got grounded by his father.

....Annabeth was studying her. Piper decided she was going to have to have to be careful what she said from now on. Annabeth was obviously pretty smart. If anyone could figure out Piper's secret...

....They hiked a little farther until they reached a cave near the top of the hill....It looked like set for some kind of twisted puppet show.

"That's new." said Percy stating the obvious.

"Who do you think it's for?" Thalia asked.

Nobody knew the answer to that.

Leo eyed his abandoned car, before glancing at Zeus.

"What's in there?" Piper asked.

Annabeth poked her head inside, then sighed and closed the curtains. "Nothing, right now. A friend's place. I've been expecting her for a few days, but so far, nothing."

"What kind of friend do you have that lives in a cave, Annabeth? Batwoman?" Travis joked.

"Your friend lives in a cave?"

Annabeth almost managed a smile. "Actually, her family has a luxury condo in Queens, and she goes to a finishing school in Connecticut. But when she's here at camp, yeah, she lives in the cave.

Percy frowned. That sounded a lot like Rachel, but what would Rachel be doing living in a cave?

She's our oracle, tells the future. I was hoping she could help me-

Apollo gave the book a confused look. Although he was happy his mummy was finally out of the attic, he wondered why Annabeth would call the corpse her friend.

Maybe the curse has finally been lifted. Apollo smiled at the thought, hoping it was true.

"Find Percy," Piper guessed.

All the energy drained out of Annabeth, like she'd been holding it together for as long as she could. She sat down on a rock, and her expression was so full of pain, Piper felt like a voyeur.

Some people sent Annabeth pitying looks, but stopped when she glared at them. She didn't want or need their pity.

Percy scratched the back of his neck, wishing he could comfort her in some way.

...Her eyes drifted to the crest of the hill, where a single pine tree dominated the skyline. Something glittered in its lowest branch-like a fuzzy gold bath mat.

Thalia huffed, while everyone else laughed.

"That fuzzy gold 'bath mat' saved my life." the daughter of Zeus said, crossing her arms.

Then she noticed the base of the tree. At first she thought it was a pile of massive purple cables.

"I think the mist was still affecting her mind when she saw that." Annabeth stated. 

"Hopefully the effects will go away soon." Athena said.

But the cables became reptilian scales, clawed feet, and a snakelike head with yellow eyes and smoking nostrils.

Leo smiled. The dragon sounded cool, but he was nowhere near as awesome as Festus.

...."You look ready to drop," Piper said. "How long have you been searching for your boyfriend?"

"Three days, six hours, and about twelve minutes.

"Wow, Annabeth." Katie said. "That's some dedication."

Oh my gods, I must be a wreck... Annabeth grimaced, running her hand through her hair.

"You can't find Percy if you're running yourself to the ground." Athena told her daughter.

Percy gave her a worried glance, wondering if she slept at all during that time.

"And you've got no idea what happened to him?"

Annabeth shook her head miserably. "We were so excited because we both started winter break early. We met up at camp on  Tuesday, figured we had three weeks together. It was going to be great. Then after the campfire, he-he kissed me good night, 

"Aaww!" Aphrodite cooed.

went back to his cabin, and in the morning, he was gone.

We searched the whole camp. We contacted his mom.

Percy grimaced at the thought of his mom's face when she heard her baby boy had gone missing.

Poor Sally, I hope she's doing alright. Poseidon thought with a similar grimace.

Piper was thinking: Three days ago. The same night she'd had her dream.

"I think that dream is somehow connected to Percy's disappearance." Katie said.

Leo looked at his car before glancing back at Zeus.

"How long were you guys together?"

...."Almost exactly when I met Jason," Piper said. "But we're only been together a few weeks."

Annabeth winced. "Piper... about that. Maybe you should sit down."

Aphrodite frowned. I had a feeling this was going to be brought up...

Piper knew where this was going. Panic started building inside her, like her lungs were filling with water. ...."Piper," Annabeth said sadly. "It's the Mist."

Aphrodite flinched.

Poor Piper, she'll be crushed.

"Missed...what?"

...."But Jason's not a monster!" Piper insisted. "He's a human guy, or demigod, or whatever you want to call him. My memories aren't fake They're so real. The time we set Coach Hedge's pants on fire. The time Jason and I watched a meteor shower on the dorm roof and I finally got the stupid guy to kiss me..."

He kissed her willingly. Drew snorted. Now I know she's delusional.

She found herself rambling, telling Annabeth about her whole semester at Wilderness School. She'd liked Jason from the first week they'd met. He was so nice to her, and so patient, he could even put up with hyperactive Leo and his stupid jokes.

"I would love to know how he does it." Thalia muttered as Leo, in the middle of fidgeting, accidentally elbowed Connor.

"Hey!" the son of Hermes whined.

"Sorry!" Leo responded, tapping his feet. 

He'd accepted her for herself and didn't judge her because of the stupid things she'd done. They'd spent hours talking, looking at the stars, and eventually-finally-holding hands. All that couldn't be fake.

Don't worry Piper, you'll win his heart. You are my daughter after all. the goddess grinned.

Annabeth pursed her lips. "Piper, your memories are a lot sharper than most. I'll admit that, and I don't know why that is. But if you know so well-"

"I do!"

"Then where is he from?"

....Her mind went blank. She didn't know Jason's last name. How could that be?

She started to cry.

Leo winced. He couldn't help but feel grateful that Piper wasn't here. She would've died if she found out people were reading about this.

She felt like a total fool, but she sat down on the rock next to Annabeth and just fell to pieces. It was too much. Did everything that was good in her stupid, miserable life have taken away?

"Things will get better." Aphrodite promised. "You still have a chance." 

Yes, the dream had told her. Yes, unless you do exactly what we say.

Oh shut up! the goddess of love snapped.

"Hey," Annabeth said. "We'll figure it out. Jason's here now. Who knows? Maybe it'll work out with you guys for real."

"Exactly!" Aphrodite nodded with approval.

Annabeth silently hoped she was right.

Not likely, Piper thought. Not if the dream had told her the truth. But she couldn't say that..... Piper gazed at the crazy assortment of cabins in the valley. Her new home, a family who supposedly understood her-but soon they'd be just another bunch of people she'd disappointed, just another place she'd been kicked out of. You'll betray them for us, the voice had warned. Or you'll lose everything.

She didn't have a choice.

"You always have a choice." Percy muttered, hoping Piper would realize she was wrong.

"Yeah," she lied. "I'm ready."

On the central green, a group of campers was playing basketball. They were incredible shots. Nothing bounced off the rim. The pointers went in automatically.

"That's obviously my cabin!" Apollo stated with a bright smile. "Only children of the god of awesome could do that."

"Apollo's cabin,"

Apollo's smile grew. He wiggled his eyebrows at his sister who rolled her eyes.

Annabeth explained. "Bunch of showoffs with missile weapons-arrows, basketballs."

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Artemis muttered.

They walked past a central fire pit, where two guys were hacking each other with swords.

"Real blades?" Piper noted. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"That's sort of the point,"

A few people, even Annabeth, winced.

Maybe the Stoll's are right... Annabeth pondered. Maybe I do hang out with Percy too much...

Annabeth said. "Uh, sorry. Bad pun. That's my cabin over there. Number Six." She nodded to a gray building with a carved owl over the door.

Athena, if possible, straightened proudly in her throne.

....She led Piper around the side of the cabin, to a big metal shed that looked like it was meant for gardening tools. Annabeth unlocked it, and inside were not gardening tools, unless you wanted to make war on your tomato plants.

Demeter gasped in horror. "Who would do such a thing?!"

Katie and Hades rolled their eyes at the goddess's reaction.

The shed was lined with all sorts of weapons-from swords to spears to clubs like Coach Hedge's.

"Every demigod needs a weapon," Annabeth said. "Hephaestus makes the best,

The faintest of smiles appeared on the god's ugly face.

but we have a pretty good selection, too. Athena's all about strategy-matching the right weapon to the right person. Let's see..."

....Annabeth rummaged a little farther in the shed and brought out something else.

"A shotgun?" Piper asked.

"Mossberg 500." Annabeth checked the pump action like it was no big deal.

"Wait! We have a freakin' shotgun in the toolshed?! Why didn't anybody tell me?" Leo exclaimed. "I could've been using that as a weapon this whole time ins-"

"NO!" Hephaestus suddenly interrupted, all the worst case scenarios rushed through his head. 

Seeing the surprised looks on some of the readers' faces, the god awkwardly cleared his throat and lowered his voice. "Just...no."

Really? Me having a gun was that bad? Leo let out an exasperated sigh before turning his attention to his car.

"Don't worry. It doesn't hurt humans. It's modified to shoot Celestial bronze, so it only kills monsters.

Leo tentatively gave his car a small push.

Eek.

Leo immediately looked up at Zeus, relieved when he saw no reaction.

"Um, I don't think that's my style," Piper said.

"Mmm, yeah," Annabeth agreed. "Too flashy."

"It would've looked pretty cool on me..." Leo muttered.

She put the shotgun back and started poking through a rack of crossbows when something in the corner of the shed caught Piper's eye.

"What is that?" she said. "A knife?"

...."I don't know, Piper." Annabeth sounded uneasy. "I don't think you want this one. Swords are usually better."

"That's ironic coming from you." Thalia said to Annabeth with a smile.

Leo, still hesitant, gave his car another tiny push.

Eek.

The king of all gods made no action that revealed his annoyance.

"You use a knife." Piper pointed to the one strapped to Annabeth's belt.

Holding onto her weapon, Annabeth smiled sadly at the mention of her knife.

"Yeah, but..." Annabeth shrugged. "Well, take a look if you want."

...."It suits you," Annabeth admitted. "That kind of blade is called a parazonium. It was ceremonial, carried by high-ranking officers in Greek armies. It showed you were a person of power and wealth, but in a fight, it could protect you just fine."

Aphrodite nodded her head in approval. 

"And it makes a perfect mirror." the goddess added with a smile.

Artemis gave the goddess a look of disdain. "I don't think that should matter when choosing a weapon."

"I like it," Piper said. "Why didn't you think it was right?"

Annabeth exhaled. "That blade has a long story. Most people would be afraid to claim it. Its first owner... well, things didn't turn out too well for her. Her name was Helen."

Piper let that sink in. "Wait, you mean the Helen? Helen of Troy?"

Hera sent a venomous glare in Zeus' direction at the mention of yet another child of Zeus.

...."We're surrounded by Ancient Greek stuff," Annabeth said. "This isn't a museum. Weapon like that-they're meant to be used. They're our heritage as demigods. That was a wedding present from Menelaus, Helen's first husband

Aphrodite crinkled her nose at the mention of Menelaus. She was more of a Paris/Helen shipper.

She named the dagger Katoptris."

....Piper looked at the blade again. For a moment, her own image stared up at her, but then the reflection changed. She saw flames, and a grotesque face like something carved from bedrock. She heard the same laughter as in her dream. She saw her dad in chains, tied to a post in front of a roaring bonfire.

What?! Aphrodite's jaw dropped. Who would kidnap an innocent mortal and do this?! 

"That's horrible!" Hestia gasped.

"That's probably why she's willing to listen to the voice." Nico said grimly.

Annabeth shuddered. Despite her and her father's rocky relationship, she still loved him. She couldn't imagine how she would react to seeing that.

She dropped the blade.

...Annabeth hesitated. Then she waved off the Apollo kids. "Okay, if you're sure. You turned really pale, there. I thought you were having a seizure or something.

"I'm fine," Piper promised,

However it did little effect on the concerned goddess of love.

though her heart was still racing. "Is there... um, a phone at camp? Can I call my dad?"

Annabeth's grey eyes were almost as unnerving as the dagger blade. She seemed to be calculating a million possibilities, trying to read Piper's thoughts.

Leo shuddered at the memory of the angry grey eyes.

Percy tried not to think to deeply about her eyes.

"We aren't allowed phones," she said. "Most demigods, if they use a cell phone, it's like sending up a  signal, letting monsters know where you are. But... I've got one."

Athena looked at Annabeth in shock.

Does she realize how dangerous that is? Athena asked. She knew the answer, of course. She just hoped Annabeth had gotten a phone in order to remain having contact with her father, and not to call Percy's house.

As if having similar thoughts, Aphrodite gave strained laugh.

"What's the phone for? Your boyfriend?" she said with a squeal, but her voice didn't carry as much enthusiasm as did before.

Annabeth chose to ignore her.

She slipped it out of her pocket. "Kind of against the rules, but if it can be our secret..." Piper took it gratefully, trying not to let her hands shake. She stepped away from Annabeth and turned to face the commons area.

Leo gave his car another push.

Eeek. Eeek.

Leo cried out in surprise when a bolt of lightening viciously attacked the little car, reducing it to a pile of ash.

Leo looked back at Zeus in disbelief. 

Zeus' face showed no emotion, with the exception of a small triumphant grin.

Poseidon rolled his eyes at his brother's childish antics.

....Reluctantly she dialed the other number. Her dad's personal assistant answered immediately. "Mr. McLean's office."

"Jane," Piper said, gritting her teeth. "Where's my dad?"

Jane was silent for a moment, probably wondering if she could get away with hanging up.

Percy frowned. This Jane character was beginning to remind him of a certain Ugliano statue.

...."Maybe I'm not at school," Piper said. "Maybe I ran away to live among the woodland creatures."

Everyone laughed.

"Mmm." Jane didn't sound concerned. "Well, I'll tell him you called."

"Where is he?"

"Out."

"Would it kill you to be anymore specific." Aphrodite grumbled with a scowl. 

"You don't know, do you?" Piper lowered her voice, hoping Annabeth was too nice to eavesdrop.... "I have to go, Piper," Jane snapped. "Enjoy school."

The line went dead.

Aphrodite felt her eye twitch. Really?

Percy scowled.

What a Hera move. Thalia thought, crossing her arms.

Piper cursed. She walked back to Annabeth and handed her the phone.... Piper didn't answer. She didn't trust herself not to start crying again.

She's marrying a blobfish. the goddess decided. A big ugly blobfish.

Aphrodite began to furiously file her nails.

Annabeth glanced at the phone display and hesitated.

"Your last name is McLean? Sorry, it's not my business. But sounds really familiar."

"It does sound familiar now that I think about it." Annabeth said, wondering where had she heard of it before.

"Common name."

"It's not that common." Katie argued. 

"Yeah, I guess. What does your dad do?"

"He's got a degree in the arts," Piper said automatically. "He's a Cherokee artist."

....Piper thought she'd blown it: McLean, Greek mythology.

"Oh!" Connor exclaimed, nudging his brother.

Travis gave him a confused look.

"You know who her dad is?" he asked skeptically.

Connor rolled his eyes.

"Duh, it's obvious." Connor said before whispering. "Remember the pirated DVD we were going to get?"

"Yeah, what about-" Travis' eyes widened. "Ooooh!"

"You two know who it is?" Annabeth, who still didn't know, asked. *

"Of course we do!" Travis bragged.

"Yeah!" Connor chimed in. "It's not rocket science."

"How could you know before Annabeth?" asked Chris in disbelief.

"I don't know," With a smirk, Travis shrugged. "Maybe she's thinking about it too hard."

"Or not enough." Connor smugly added.

Annabeth scowled.

Thankfully, Annabeth didn't seem to make the connection.

Annoyed, Annabeth thought long and hard about who it could be, but couldn't connect the dots. 

"Anyway," Annabeth continued, "Artemis is goddess of the moon, goddess of hunting. But no campers. Artemis was an eternal maiden, so she doesn't have any kids."

"Oh." That kind of bummed Piper out. She'd always liked the stories of Artemis, and figured she would make a cool mom.

Artemis smiled at that.

"You're kidding me, right?" Aphrodite deadpanned. Even Artemis?!

"Well, there are the Hunters of Artemis," Annabeth amended. "They visit sometimes. They're not the children of Artemis, but they're her handmaidens-this band of immortal teenage girls who adventure together and hunt monsters and stuff."

Piper perked up. "That sounds cool. They get to be immortal?"

"Immortality sounds nice, but is it worth giving up your love life?" Aphrodite asked rhetorically, crossing her arms.

"You're kidding, right?" Artemis snorted.

"Unless they die in combat, or break their vows. Did I mention they swear off boys? No dating-ever. For eternity."

"It's worth it." Phoebe stated, other hunters nodded in agreement.

"It was the best decision I ever made." Thalia added.

Artemis happily beamed at her hunters, while Aphrodite looked sympathetically at the young girls.

Poor girls will never experience their first kiss.

"Oh," Piper said. "Never mind."

Aphrodite nodded her head in approval. No daughter of hers will ever throw away their lives and join a all girls club for eternity. They knew better than that.

Annabeth laughed. For a moment she looked almost happy, and Piper thought she'd be a cool friend to hang out with in better times.

Annabeth smiled at that. Piper was pretty cool too.

Forget it, Piper reminded herself. You're not going to make any friends here. Not once they find out.

They passed the next cabin, Number Ten, which was decorated like a Barbie house with lace curtains, a pink door, and potted carnations in the windows.

.... [Piper] "Gah, is that where supermodels go to die?"

Artemis and her hunters laughed, ignoring the heated glare from Drew.

"What?!" Aphrodite gasped. "How can she not like Cabin Ten? It's so cute!"

"Could be because of the painful neon pink paint job or because of the overwhelming smell of different perfumes, I'm not sure." Artemis said in mock innocence. 

Her hunters giggled.

Annabeth smirked. "Aphrodite's cabin. Goddess of love. Drew's the head counselor."

"Figures," Piper grumbled.

Aphrodite frowned.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Drew said, glaring daggers at the book.

"They're not all bad," Annabeth said. "The last head counselor was great."

Drew snorted and rolled her eyes.

Aphrodite gave Annabeth a grateful look.

A couple people nodded their heads in agreement.

....She wondered if she could be the daughter of Demeter, the farming goddess. Then again, Piper killed every plant she ever touched.

"Definitely not mine." Demeter said with a huff.

Athena was cool.

Aphrodite scowled. I can be cool too! I'm the goddess of love! What's more cooler than that?

Or maybe Hecate, the magic goddess.

Oh puh-lease. What does that traitor got that I don't. Aphrodite thought dismissively.

But it didn't really matter. Even here, where everyone was supposed to find a lost parent, she knew she would still end up the unwanted kid....

Don't think like that, sweetie. the goddess winced. Maybe I should've claimed her sooner...

"We started with the twelve Olympian gods," Annabeth explained. "Male gods on the left, female on the right. Then last year, we added a whole bunch of new cabins for the other gods who didn't have thrones on Olympus-Hecate, Hades, Iris-"

....Piper headed that way, and Annabeth followed, though she didn't act very excited. The Zeus cabin reminded Piper of a bank.

It's as comfortable as one too. Thalia thought with a frown. The giant statue of her father didn't help make it more cozy either.

....Unlike the other cabins, which were all noisy and open and full of activity, the Zeus and Hera cabins looked closed and silent.

"As it should be." Hera sighed with content. If only that pact actually worked.

"Are they empty?" Piper asked.

Annabeth nodded. "Zeus went a long time without having any children. Well, mostly. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, the eldest brothers among the gods-they're called the Big Three. Their kids are really powerful, really dangerous. For the last seventy years or so, they tried to avoid having demigod children."

"Tried to avoid it?"

"Sometimes they...um, cheated.

"I cheated." Hades corrected. "They," the god of the Underworld jerked his thumb to his brothers. "completely broke the pact between us."

Poseidon sheepishly smiled, while Zeus huffed.

"Always over dramatic..." Zeus rolled his eyes.

Leo fidgeted.

If I have to wait any longer, I swear... he trailed off.

Leo looked at Katie and willed her to read faster.

I've got a friend, Thalia Grace, who's the daughter of Zeus. But she gave up camp life and became a Hunter of Artemis. My boyfriend, Percy, he's a son of Poseidon. And there's a kid who shows up sometimes, Nico-son of Hades. Except for them, there are no demigod children of Big Three gods. At least, not that we know of."

Thalia, Leo, and Zeus instantly thought of Jason.

"And Hera?"

Hera laughed.

"I would never ever stoop so low as cheating my husband." she sent a meaningful glare in Zeus' direction.

Zeus didn't even look fazed.

Piper looked at the peacock decorated doors. The cabin bothered her, though she wasn't sure why.

...."You don't like her," Piper noticed.

"We have a long history," Annabeth admitted.

Bet my long history is longer than hers. Leo thought with a strained smile. His twitching hands temporarily occupied themselves by fiddling with his jacket's buttons.

"I thought we'd made peace, but when Percy disappeared... I got this weird dream vision from her."

Annabeth looked shocked. Out of all the people, she never thought Hera would help her.

"Maybe Hera had something to do with Percy's disappearance." Thalia suggested, not believing for a second Hera was helping from the goodness of her heart.

"Telling you to come get us." Piper said. "But you thought Percy would be there."

"It's probably better I don't talk about it," Annabeth said. "I've got nothing good to say about Hera right now."

Since when have I ever? Annabeth silently asked.

Piper looked down at the base of the doors. "So who goes in here?"

....Annabeth stepped back. "Um, Piper, I don't think we should-"

"We're supposed to do dangerous stuff, right?"  And Piper walked inside.

You're not supposed to do dangerous stuff  willinglyAphrodite thought.

Hera's cabin was not someplace Piper would want to live. It was cold as a freezer, with a circle of white columns around a central statue of the goddess, ten feet tall, seated on the throne in the flowing golden robes... Her face smiled, but the eyes were cold and calculating, as if she were saying: Mother knows best. Now don't cross me or I will have to step on you.

"Sounds like the real Hera." Annabeth muttered.

There was nothing else in the cabin-no beds, no furniture, no bathroom, no windows, nothing that anyone could actually use to live. For a goddess of home and marriage, Hera's place reminded Piper of a tomb.

Hera huffed at that. "This is just a honorary cabin, no one is actually supposed to live there."

No, this wasn't her mom. 

"Of course not!" Hera said, looking horrified.

"Is having a child out of wedlock really that big of a deal?" Aphrodite rolled her eyes.

....She froze. They weren't alone. Behind the statue, at a little altar in the back, stood a figure covered in a black shawl. Only her hands were visible, palms up. She seemed to be chanting something like a spell or a prayer.

Annabeth gasped. "Rachel?"

Annabeth raised a eyebrow in surprise. Rachel's the Oracle?

The other girl turned...." Hey!" She ran to give Annabeth a hug. "I'm so sorry! I came as fast as I could."

They talked for a few minutes about Annabeth's boyfriend and how there was no news, etcetera, until finally Annabeth remembered Piper, who was standing there feeling uncomfortable.

"I'm being rude," Annabeth apologized. "Rachel, this is Piper, one of the half-bloods we rescued today. Piper, this is Rachel Elizabeth Dare, our oracle."

"Yes! We finally got rid of that creepy mummy!" Connor cheered high-fiving his brother.

Percy sighed with relief, also glad the mummy was long gone. A fortune-telling corpse was definitely not something he wanted to meet before going on another deadly quest.

Apollo beamed.

"All right! I got a new Oracle!"

Rachel grinned. "That's me."

"So you're an oracle?" Piper asked. "You can tell the future?"

"More like the future mugs me from time to time," Rachel said. "I speak prophecies. The oracle's spirit kind of hijacks me every once in a while and speaks important stuff that doesn't make any sense to anybody. But yeah, the prophecies tell the future."

"I like this Oracle!" Travis admitted with a laugh.

"She's definitely more friendly than the last one." Katie agreed .

Leo impatiently tapped his shoe.

"Oh." Piper shifted from foot to foot. "That's cool."

Rachel laughed. "Don't worry. Everybody finds it a little creepy. Even me. But usually I'm harmless."

...Rachel's smile faded. She glanced at Annabeth, then back at Piper. "Just a hunch. Something about this cabin and Percy's disappearance. They're connected somehow.

Thalia nodded. I knew it.

Annabeth and Poseidon narrowed their eyes in suspicion at Hera.

Hera glared back at the demigod, silently daring her to voice her accusations.

I've learned to follow my hunches, especially the last month, since the gods went silent."

"What!" the demigods exclaimed in surprise.

"You all swore on the River of Styx not to ignore your children!" Furious Percy exclaimed.

"Actually," Zeus began. "we promised to claim all our children. We didn't promise to be attached to the hip with them. Believe it or not, Percy Jackson, but as gods we are constantly busy. We can't always be there for our children."

"Busy doing what?" Percy muttered. "Having pointless arguments and sleeping around with other humans?"

Luckily, Zeus did not hear him.

Leo drew a small island with a dancing hula girl on Grover's chin.

"Food..." Grover groaned, abruptly turned his face, ruining the already horrible looking picture.

...."Annabeth was redesigning Olympus after it was damaged in the Titan War," Rachel explained. "She's an amazing architect. You should see the salad bar-"

Normally Annabeth would have been ecstatic hearing this, however, she was more focused about why the gods went silent.

With a frown, Athena crossed her arms. If they suddenly went silent, something life threatening to even immortals, such as themselves, must be happening.

Either that, or Father is still angry about Percy's refusal.

Athena sighed, hoping it was the second idea. With a lot of persuasion, she could convince her father to end their silence.

"Anyway," Annabeth said, "starting about a month ago, Olympus fell silent. The entrance closed, and no one could get in. Nobody knows why. It's like the gods have sealed themselves off. Even my mom won't answer my prayers, and our camp director, Dionysus, was recalled."

"Well," Dionysus smiled (causing a couple demigods to shudder). "At least some good came out of the situation."

"Your camp director was the god of... wine?"

"Yeah, it's a-"

"Long story," Piper guessed. "Right. Go on."

"Trust me, it's not as exciting as you think it is." Dionysus flipped a page in his magazine.

"That's it, really," Annabeth said. "Demigods still get claimed, but nothing else. No messages. No visits. No sign the gods are even listening. 

"That's the best they can do?" Percy scowled.

It's like something has happened-something really bad. Then Percy disappeared."

..."Right," Annabeth said. "The first communication from a god in a month, and it's Hera, the least helpful goddess,

Hera made a mental note to have a few cows leave some... 'surprises' for Annabeth later.

and she contacts me, her least favorite demigod. She tells me I'll find out what happened to Percy if I go to the Grand Canyon skywalk and look for a guy with one shoe. Instead, I find you guys, and the guy with one shoe is Jason. It doesn't make sense."

"Something bad is happening," Rachel agreed. She looked at Piper, and Piper felt an overwhelming desire to tell them about her dream, to confess that she knew what was happening-at least part of the story. And the bad stuff was only beginning.

Please do. Aphrodite silently pleaded.

"Guys," she said.

Aphrodite sighed with relief, happy that Piper will tell the girls about her dream.

Hopefully they'll find a way to save Tristan.

"I-I need to-"

Before she could continue, Rachel's body stiffened.

Seriously! The Oracle decides now's the time to speak a prophecy! Aphrodite scowled.

Her eyes began to glow with a greenish light, and she grabbed Piper by the shoulders.

Piper tried to back away, but Rachel's hands were like steel clamps.

Free me, she said. But it wasn't Rachel's voice. It sounded like an older woman, speaking from somewhere far away, down a long, echoing pipe. Free me, Piper McLean, or the earth shall swallow us. It must be by the solstice.

The earth shall swallow us? Athena gasped, eyes widening, resembling owl's. Oh no.

The room started spinning. Annabeth tried to separate Piper from Rachel, but it was no use...The statue's mouth opened, its breath like horribly thick perfume. It spoke in the same echoing voice: Our enemies stir. The fiery one is only the first. Bow to his will, and their king shall rise, dooming us all. FREE ME!

"That is obviously not a prophecy." Apollo stated. "Someone has just spoke through my Oracle."

Apollo couldn't stop the fondness from being heard when he mentioned his Oracle.

"It has to be me." Hera said, chewing her lip. "I'm somehow trapped somewhere and am contacting Piper for help."

"Whoever kidnapped you might be the one called 'the fiery one'." Percy reported.

"They might also have something to do with Piper's dreams." Will added.

Piper's knees buckled, and everything went black.

"Done!" Leo reached over and closed the book on Katie's lap, purposely making her lose her place in the book.

"Hey!" Katie exclaimed.

Standing up, Leo bounced in excitement.

"It's okay Katie, we'll find our place in the book again later." Leo said cheerfully.

Not!

"Right now it's time for a break! I'm in the mood for some pizza, or ice cream, or a hot dog with mustard and relish!"

Truthfully, Leo was not hungry, but he had to keep up the act if he wanted his plan to work.

"Those foods are fattening!" Demeter scolded. "If you keep eating like that, you'll end up looking like rolie polie or be a constant miserable grump like Hades."

"Persephone loves constant miserable grumps!" Hades snapped.

"Shut up!" Demeter snapped back.

"Anyway," Demeter huffed before casting a motherly smile in Leo's direction. "if you want to grow up and become a respectable young man, I suggest you eat cereal."

"Oh. Yeah. Sure, I love cereal." Leo said, unaware of what he got himself into.

Hades shook his head sympathetically.

Meanwhile Katie covered her blushing face with her hands. Why did she have the woman addicted to cereal for a mother?

Demeter's face lit up like a candle.

"Really?" she asked.

"Ummm..." Leo hesitated, not liking how the goddess was looking at him. "Yeee-aaah, I can't get enough of it."

If possible, Demeter's smile grew.

Chapter Text

Despite his inner Cal screaming at him to destroy the books once and for all, Leo allowed himself to be shepherded along with the others into the dinning room.

He knew if he wanted his plan to be successful, he would have to act as normal as he possibly could.

Easier said then done. Leo frowned.

As he walked down the hall, he made sure to have every detail of the twisting and turning hallway forever burned in his mind like the tattoo branded on Jason's arm.

I can't screw this up. he thought with determination, momentarily stopping to look at a old vase.

If he hadn't been examining each one of the Greek pottery, he would have easily missed the black vase. Surprisingly, the vase was in perfect condition, it wasn't even chipped. The vase depicted a familiar goddess of revenge pointing a disapproving finger over one woman's shoulder at another chatting with Aphrodite. *

Apparently he and Narcissus were not the only lives Nemesis decided to majorly screw up.

Leo wasn't sure how he should honestly feel about that.

He suddenly stumbled when he was pushed from behind.

"You know," Phoebe said behind him, wiping her hands furiously against her camo pants (What? Does she still believe in cooties? Leo thought dryly). "for someone who was is so hungry, you sure are taking your sweet time walking to the dining room."

Before Leo could defend himself, he felt his arm intertwine with another.

"The huntress is right, dear." Demeter cooed, dragging the demigod along with her. "You can look at the art later. Right now, let's go eat some cereal."

"But-" Leo began, struggling to regain his footing, only to land back flat on his butt.

Connor laughed at the sight.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out an Iphone he had 'forgotten' to return to a sleeping jogger during the war** and began to snap pictures.

"Hey!" the son of Hermes protested, reaching up to take his phone back from Ares.

But he was helpless to do anything but watch in horror as the smirking god snapped it in half before handing it back to him.

"Dude! What the Hades!"

Hades glared at the oblivious Connor, who was busy mourning over the recent death of his first phone.

Watching the scene, Travis wisely kept his 'burrowed' phones in his pockets.

Looking over her shoulder, Demeter called.

"Come on, Katie."

"Huh?!" exclaimed Katie.

Demeter made a unladylike snort.

"You really didn't think I was going let you eat that junk, did you?"

"Mom, I've been eating that 'junk' for years!"

"Well it's time for a change." the goddess huffed, slowing her pace a bit so her daughter could catch up with her. Demeter made a mental note to have a little 'chat' with Katie's father and Chiron later.


Leo resisted the strong urge to bang his head repeatedly on the table.

Katie inwardly groaned as her cheerful mother continued blabbing.

Oblivious to her bored audience, Demeter, with a dreamy look on her face, continued chatting.

"-I used to take her out into the garden and watch her play. She looked so cute when she would roll around in the grass and pick flowers. I remember once, she had given me a daisy. The daisy was wilted and missing all of its petals except one, but it was the best gift I have ever received."

Demeter sighed with bliss.

Leo stirred the almond milk in his bowl with his finger, wondering what he did to deserve this.

"Those were the good centuries." Demeter smiled.

Suddenly her sunny expression darkened.

The two teens jumped in surprise when the woman's fists hit the table.

"But then, one horrible day, I turn my back for one minute, only a minute, and my little flower was gone."

One look at her murderous expression had Leo scooting his chair away.

"Imagine my horror, when I discovered my precious daughter was gone. Imagine my shock, when I discovered she was taken, no, abducted. Imagine my anger, when I discovered my child had been kidnapped, taken against her will, by Hades! My own brother had stolen Persephone when she was most vulnerable. You would think someone like Hermes would do that!"

"Hey!" Hermes, sitting on the other side of the room, objected. "I may be a bit klepto, but I'm not a child snatcher. No offense Uncle Hades." he added seeing the furious look being sent in his direction.

"I'm sorry Hermes, that was uncalled for." Demeter said sincerely. "I could understand your anger. I would be offended too, if I was compared to Hades!"

"And I would have sent them to the Fields of Punishment before they could even blink if anybody dared ever compared me to you." Hades retorted.

"Shut up! Nobody was talking to you!" Demeter snapped before turning back to Katie and Leo.

She blinked as if she just saw them for the first time.

"Why haven't you two eaten your cereal? It's soggy now."

"Mom, I've been trying to tell you, we can't. You forgot to bring spoons for everybody but yourself."

Demeter looked down at the table and discovered Katie was right.

"Oh dear!" she exclaimed, slapping her forehead. "I'll go get them right now."

Abruptly standing up, she made a beeline to the kitchen.

Katie released a long sigh as she watched her friends at the other side of the room laugh and tell jokes.

Leo, sitting across from her at the small table, didn't bother to stop his legs from swinging back and forth.

His hand would frequently brush his hair back, as he looked over his shoulder at the hallway leading to the throne room.

"Ouch!" Katie exclaimed suddenly.

Rubbing her shin, she gave Leo a glare.

"Watch where you're kicking!" she scolded.

"Oh! Sorry!" Leo apologized, forcing himself to turn his attention to Katie.

"Just don't do it again." Katie warned, not noticing Travis' side way glance.

Silence fell between them.

Leo drew figure eights on the white tablecloth.

After a long period of time, Katie finally sighed.

"Look, it's okay to be nervous."

With a confused frown, Leo looked up from the table.

"Huh?"

"With us reading your thoughts," Katie clarified. "It's okay to feel uncomfortable with the idea of people reading into your most deepest thoughts. But we need to read them."

"Yeah right. Easy for you to say." the son of Hephaestus said with a bitter laugh.

"No, really. Think about it." Katie insisted. "If we read this book and the other two, we might find a way to prevent the war from even starting or least prevent a lot of people from dying. I've just came out of one war, Leo. I've seen some of my siblings and closest friends die by the hands of monsters. The last thing I want to do is go into another war that can be ten times worse."

Katie reached over and squeezed his twitching hand in a way that was meant for comfort.

Neither noticing Travis flat out staring at them.

"I can't say I know how you feel, because I don't. But if you ever feel you need someone to talk to, I'm willing to listen. Okay?"

Shocked by the surprisingly thoughtful gesture, Leo slowly nodded.

"Um... Yeah.... Thanks..." he said, returning his gaze back to the table.

Seeing the boy needed time to think, Katie released his hand and returned her gaze to her friends.

She raised a eyebrow and mouthed 'what' when she saw Travis eyeing her.

Said boy just stuck his tongue out at her before looking away.

Katie scowled.

When the two started bickering, Leo saw his chance to leave. As casually as he could, he slowly got up and made his way to the hallway. 

He was just at the doorway, when suddenly...

"Where are you going?"

The teen froze in mid-step.

Damn it. he cursed.

He turned and looked as innocent as possible.

"Just heading the bathroom." Leo told the daughter of Athena with a shrug. He looked everywhere but her face.

Annabeth raised an eyebrow at his weird behavior. 

"You know where you're going?" 

 "Yup! Don't worry about me, I'll find it." Leo assured with a smile, trying not to look too impatient.

Unfortunately, Annabeth didn't seem ready to leave him alone.

"If you know where it is, then why are you going the wrong way?" she pointed out.

Leo faltered. Why is she asking me questions? 

"I knew that! I just needed to... stretch my legs, walk around a bit, ya' know? It's not everyday you get to be in Mount freaking Olympus, am I right?" he was rambling at this point, his eyes darted around the room until he spotted the son of Poseidon heading toward them. "Welp. I guess I'll be going! Hi Percy!"

Annabeth barely had time to turn her head before he bolted down the hallway. 

"Hey wait!" she called, but he kept running.

"Annabeth..." 

Said girl felt her heart leap to her throat at the sound of Percy's voice behind her. Schooling her features, she took a deep breath and turned to face him.

She couldn't help but relax after seeing how nervous the teen looked. Poor Percy looked like he was taking a test he didn't study for.

"C-Can we..." he winced at the crack in his voice. Annabeth watched him take a deep breath before starting over again. "Can we talk?" 

Having a feeling about what he meant, Annabeth gulped and nodded her head. The room suddenly went quiet (no doubt because of everyone listening in).

"When I was at the River Styx, turning invulnerable... Nico said I had to concentrate on one thing that kept me anchored to the world, that made me want to stay mortal." Percy began. "Then, when they wanted to make me a god and stuff, I kept thinking-"

"Oh, you so wanted to." Annabeth teased, trying to lighten the mood.

"Well, maybe a little." he admitted with a small smile. "But I didn't, because I thought- I didn't want things to stay the same for eternity, because things could always get better. And I was thinking..." Percy trailed off and looked down at his shoes.

"Anyone in particular?" Annabeth asked in mock innocence. 

"You know who..." Percy grinned shyly, forcing himself to look into her stormy grey eyes.

"I know," Annabeth smiled back, she felt her face turning warm. She hesitated, before putting her arms around his neck. "But I want you to say it."

If possible, Percy's face turned redder. 

"Um... Okay!" he squeaked, before nervously swallowing. "Annabeth, I've had a crush on you since... forever! So will you go out with me... Please?"

Annabeth smiled warmly before leaning over and kissing him.

When the couple broke apart, the dining room broke into loud cheering and shrill squealing (courtesy of Aphrodite).

"It's about time!" Clarisse shouted over the noise.

"Oh, come on!" Percy complained. "Is there no privacy?"

Annabeth laughed. She was so caught up in the moment, she completely forgot about Leo's weird behavior.


Like always, Leo ran away. 

If he was lucky, everyone would be too busy with Percy and Annabeth's love life to know he was missing. If not well...

Let's not think about that. Leo told himself before his thoughts drifted to what Katie said earlier.

If they read his thoughts, he could save lives, the war could be prevented before it even started.

He slowed his pace down a bit.

Leo thought about his last demigod dream; Camp Half-Blood, the only place after his mother's death he called home, in ruins and the countless bodies of both Roman and Greek demigods laying in on the ground.

Could he really prevent that from happening just by sharing his most personal thoughts?

Don't be stupid! There's no way it can be that easy! he scolded himself. We can't trust someone like Nemesis. Her motive doesn't even make any sense. Why would she go this far to help us, especially the gods. Doesn't she hate them? I don't know why she wants them to know, but something's not right about this...

With that in mind, he entered into the throne room.

He scooped up the Lost Hero and two other books abandoned by Zeus' throne.

Not wanting to risk one of the gods' thrones catching on fire, he carelessly tossed the hard cover books in the center of the room

Struggling to calm himself down (You need to do this. Stop wasting time!), Leo reached into his tool belt and pulled out a small glass bottle of gasoline.

After opening the bottle, he hesitated, thinking about Katie's words again.

They're not going to learn anything from my thoughts. Besides, the future's not that bad... kinda... we don't need this. Leo thought, nodding to himself.

He then gently tipped the bottle to it's side and poured the liquid all over the books.

Not satisfied with the small amount on them, he turned the bottle over, soaking the books in gasoline.

Before he or anyone else could talk himself out of it, he quickly set the books on fire.

He took four steps back as the fire quickly began to spread.

Watching the books burn in the flames, Leo felt like a massive weight had just been taken off his shoulders. Usually the sight of a roaring fire would leave a bad taste in his mouth, but as he saw those books burn page by page, Leo couldn't help but loudly exclaim:

"YES!"

He immediately covered his mouth, eyes darting around the room.

Seeing nobody, he slowly pulled his hands away from his mouth, unsure he would be able to contain his excitement.

"Phase one complete." Leo said to himself in a hushed whisper.

Smile growing wider, Leo added. "Now for Phase two."

He didn't notice of the fortune cookie materializing by his shoe as he cupped his hands over his mouth.

"OH GODS! SOMEBODY HELP ME!!" Leo yelled at the top of his lungs.

It didn't take long before everyone swarmed into the throne room, weapons drawn. 

Eyes widened in shock at the sight of the growing fire and Leo Valdez frantically fanning his hands in a effort to put the hot flames out.

"SOMEBODY HELP ME PUT OUT THE FIRE!" exclaimed Leo Valdez, biting back a large smile. Geez, I deserve some type  of Emmy. He briefly considered taking off his shirt and smothering the fire, but immediately discarded the idea. Too realistic.

"Stop, drop, and roll!" Will shouted, snapping the other boy out of his thoughts.

"What?" Leo asked, baffled.

"Your hand's on fire!" Nico explained, visibly paling at the sight of burning flesh.

Leo looked down at his right hand. Sure enough, his hand was bathed in fire.

"Oh." Leo simply said, much to everyone's (except his father's) surprise. He was just about to ask 'So?' when he realized unless he was a human cigarette lighter (which, as far as the others knew, he wasn't) this should hurt. Badly.

Mentally kicking himself for his stupid mistake, Leo quickly corrected himself.

"Oh!" Leo repeated with more surprise and, hopefully, pain. He drastically widened his eyes and waved his hand in effort to rid of the fire.

"Get it off! GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!" Leo yelled, mind racing as he struggled to think of a way to get out of this mess.

Unlike like the others, Hephaestus, with a raised eyebrow, quietly watched his son's act. He knew the fire was not causing his son any pain, so why Leo was pretending afraid of the fire bewildered him.

As some people in the group screamed at Leo to get on the ground and roll around, Percy looked around for a source of water.

Spying Ophiotaurus' aquarium, he hurtled half of the freezing water in the fire's direction.

The force of the water sent Leo crashing onto the hard marble floor.

"Nice shot, son." Poseidon complemented. With a wave of the sea god's hand, the water evaporated and returned to the cow serpent's tank.

Unfortunately, this had little effect on Leo who was soaked from head to toe.

Spitting out the sea water that manged to slip into his mouth, Leo brushed stray wet hair out of his face.

"Thanks Percy, I needed a shower." Leo said with a smile. Despite being wet and cold, he couldn't bring himself to be mad at the older boy. He was just trying to do the right thing.

Besides, now that those stupid books are gone, I've got nothing to worry about.

Leo's smile grew at the thought.

The smile faded when he was examined by a pair of grey eyes.

"Where did that fire come from?" Athena asked hands on her hips.

Saying the first thing that came to mind, Leo replied.

"I don't know. I was looking for the bathroom and then I suddenly smelled-"

"Smelt." Athena automatically corrected.

"Smelt," Leo repeated, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes. "smoke. When I went to go see where it was coming from, I found the books on fire."

Leo mentally nodded. His story sounded reasonable enough.

"Are you sure that's it?" Annabeth pressed.

"Yes." Leo was proud of himself for not making the slightest flinch when staring directly in the girl's eyes.

He then stood up and wrung out his shirt.

As he looked down, he frowned when spotting the fortune cookie.

Picking it up he was almost afraid to open it, but he knew he needed to read it.

Leo cracked the cookie open and read it to himself.

Some things are just too predictable. Lucky Numbers: 5, 6, 11, 12-

He crumpled up the small slip of paper. What's that supposed to mean.

His question was answered by Chris' astonished cry.

"The books are okay!"

"WHAT?" Leo exclaimed before he could stop himself. Looking over his shoulder, his jaw dropped at the sight of the still existing Lost Hero in Chris' hand.

The book resembled a lump of coal, but was otherwise still readable.

Leo cursed under his breath. Of course, of course the goddess would have the books fire resistant.

"How is that even possible?" Percy asked in disbelief.

Thalia took the book out of Chris' hand and suddenly frowned.

"A better question would be why does this book smell like gasoline." she threw a suspicious glance in Leo's direction.

"Are you sure you had nothing to do with this, Leo?"

Leo gave her a innocent look in return.

"Positive."

Thalia opened her mouth to comment but Hermes beat her to it.

"Look, accusing each other won't solve who tried to burn the books." he said, Leo nodded along with him. "The important thing is they failed and we still have a chance of saving the future."

"He's right, let's just read this and get it over with." Dionysus injected.

Leo chewed his lip, as much as he wanted to protest, he didn't want to draw any more negative attention then he already had. So he reluctantly remained silent.

Once everyone was seated, Thalia held out the book.

"Does anybody want to read?"

"Why don't you read, Thalia? You haven't read yet." Katie suggested.

"Maybe later, but I'm not interested in reading Leo's thoughts." Thalia replied with a look of disgust.

That makes two of us. Leo thought.

"I'll read!" Connor volunteered with too much enthusiasm for Leo's liking.

Taking the book, Connor flipped the pages until he was on the right page.

Connor flashed Leo a mischievous smile before he began to read.

"Leo V," Connor read out loud.

Leo played with the loose string on his coat, pretending he was anywhere but here.

Leo's Tour Was Going Great Until he learned about the dragon.

"You mean Peleus?"*** Annabeth asked with a raised eyebrow.

"What, are you afraid of dragons?" Clarisse said with a snort.

Looking up from the loose string, Leo smiled.

"No way! Dragons are the coolest."

Annabeth frowned when she realized Leo was completely ignoring her question.

"The archer dude, Will Solace, seemed pretty cool.

Will smiled at that.

"Right back atcha!" he said brightly.

Everything he showed Leo was so amazing, it should have been illegal.

"Mostly everything that's amazing is illegal." Travis explained to Leo.

"Yeah," Connor added. "Like taking things that aren't yours."

Katie glared at them.

"Don't listen to them, they're just trying to get you in trouble." the daughter of Demeter warned him.

Leo absentmindedly nodded. He gave his string a firm tug, snapping it off his coat.

Real Greek warships moored at the beach that sometimes had practice fights with flaming arrows and explosives?...Leo was like, Sign me up! The woods were stocked with dangerous monsters, and no one should ever go in there alone? Nice!

Some people laughed, while others stared at Leo with mild concern.

So far, so good. Leo thought, tying knots on his string.

Percy grinned.

"Are you sure he doesn't remind you of anybody?" Percy asked Nico, who managed to squeeze himself in between him and Annabeth (much to the couple's annoyance).

"I'm sure, Percy." Nico deadpanned.

And the camp was overflowing with fine-looking girls. Leo didn't quite understand the whole related-to-the-gods business, but he hoped that didn't mean he was cousins with all these ladies. That would suck.

"Behold, the typical thoughts of a boy." Phoebe muttered to another huntress.

Said huntress snorted.

"Nope, you're good." Chris replied, looking amused. 

At very least, he wanted to check out those underwater girls in the lake again. They were definitely worth drowning for.

Artemis and a couple of her hunters rolled their eyes, while Connor gave Leo a approving nod.

"Hard to believe this was the same kid who nearly had a panic attack after being claimed." Apollo chuckled.

Will showed him the cabins, the dining pavilion, and the sword area.

"Do I get a sword?" Leo asked.

Hephaestus paled at that idea.

"Absolutely not." the god sternly said, looking horrified.

Brushing his hair back, Leo rolled his eyes.

"Com'on Hephaestus, first the gun, now a sword? That's a classic demigod weapon!" he argued. "If I can't use a sword, what kind of demigod would I be?" 

"Piper and I don't have swords." Annabeth pointed out.

"Yeah, but you guys have weapons. I don't have anything." Leo complained. "What am I supposed to use?"

"How about you just stick with your breath mints?" Katie suggested with a giggle.

"Gee, thanks!" he responded in mock offense before muttering: "I could use a sword if I wanted to." 

Will glanced at him like he found the idea disturbing.

"Et tu, Will?" Leo said sadly, dramatically putting a hand over his heart.

"Sorry, I can't imagine you using a sword without cutting your arm off." Will shrugged unsympathetically. 

..."Usually, we don't call the gods by their Roman names," Will said. "The original names are Greek. Your dad is Hephaestus."

"Festus?" Leo had heard somebody say that before, but he was still dismayed. "Sounds like the god of cowboys."

Surprisingly, Hephaestus laughed at this along with the others.

"Did you seriously just reference Festus Haggen from Gunsmoke?" Thalia, trying to hide her smile, asked. ****

Leo smiled sheepishly. "I couldn't have been the only one who thought of it, right?"

"I don't even know what reference you guys are talking about, I was just laughing at the god of cowboys joke." Percy admitted with a smile.

"Com'on it's not that old for nobody to get it. Haven't you ever seen a Western show." Thalia rolled her eyes.

"He-phaestus," Will corrected. "God of blacksmiths and fire."

Leo had heard that too, but he was trying not to think about it. The god of fire...seriously? Considering what had happened to his mom, that seemed like a sick joke.

Hephaestus abruptly stopped laughing and grimaced. The demigods fell into stunned silence.

Leo looked up at the ceiling, purposely avoiding the surprised looks from the readers.

Connor blinked slowly in shock, definitely not expecting that to come out of Leo's thoughts.

"Did you read that correctly?" Will asked, although he knew Connor could the Ancient Greek as good as any other demigod.

"I did." Connor confirmed,looking at Leo with concern.

Noticing people were still looking at him, Leo immediately tried to wave off like it was no big deal.

"Hey, it's just a negative thought. So what? I'm a human being (well... half human being). I sometimes think negative, it's just normal teenage angst. Nothing special."

"So the flaming hammer over my head," Leo said. "Good thing or bad thing?"

"Well," Percy began."You got claimed. That's always a good thing, considering demigods would almost never got claimed before."

He gave the gods a meaningful look.

..."But that Rainbow Pony dude, Butch-he mentioned a curse."

Hephaestus frowned at the reminder.

"Ah...look, it's nothing. Since Cabin Nine's last head counselor died-"

Percy winced at that.

Hephaestus sadly sighed at that.

"Died? Like, painfully?"

"How else can a demigod die, Leo?" Percy said sarcastically as he glared at him.

"Sorry..." Leo muttered, rubbing his hands against each other. 

"I ought to let your bunkmates tell you about it."

"Yeah, where are my home dawgs?

"Home dawgs?" Hestia repeated slowly, as if testing out a foreign language. Is that what the 'funky fresh' kids say now a days?

Shouldn't their counselor be giving me the VIP tour?"

....He was halfway across the green when he spotted his old babysitter.

"What?" Annabeth asked in surprise.

"Why would your babysitter be there?" Chris asked, confused.

Drew, with a snort, rolled her eyes.

"It's obvious the Mist affected his mind like it did to Piper's when she saw Peleus."

....Tia Callida- Auntie Callida. That's what she'd called herself, but Leo hadn't seen her since he was five years old. She was just standing there, in the shadow of a big white cabin at the end of the green, watching him.

"Creepy." Travis said with a shudder. .

..."That old lady..." Leo said. "What's she doing here?"

Will tried to follow his gaze. "What old lady?"

"Maybe it is the Mist." Annabeth said, still unsure.

...."I think you've had a long day, Leo. The Mist could still be playing tricks on your mind. How about we head straight to your cabin now?"

Leo wanted to protest, but when he looked back toward the big white cabin, Tia Callida was gone. He was sure she'd been there, almost as if thinking about his mom had summoned Callida back from the past.

And that wasn't good, because Tia Callida had tried to kill him.

"WHAT!" Hephaestus exclaimed, startling a number of people, including Clovis.

"Coming, Mother!" the half asleep boy cried out before falling back to sleep.

Everyone ignored him.

"What kind of babysitter did you have?" Chris asked in disbelief.

Leo waved it off.

"Is it really that surprising? Yeah, she tried to kill me, but who cares? I'm a demigod! Demigods nearly die all the time. No big deal."

"She sounds like a monster." Thalia stated, looking at Leo for confirmation.

Leo, glancing at Hera, smiled. "She could be, that would explain a lot if she was."

"She sounds more like a Kindly One." Annabeth said.

"I think you might be the closest, Annabeth." Leo replied.

Stifling a laugh at the seething queen of gods, Leo began to twist and bend a copper wire he pulled out of his tool belt.

"Just messing with you, man." Leo pulled some gears and levers from his pockets and started fiddling with them to calm his nerves. He couldn't have everybody at camp thinking he was crazy.

"It's a little too late for that." Clarisse grunted.

At least, not crazier than really was.

Apollo, Hermes, and the Stoll brothers laughed at this.

"Let's go see Cabin Nine," he said. "I'm in the mood for a good curse."

From the outside, the Hephaestus cabin looked like an oversize RV with shiny metal walls and metal-slatted windows. The entrance was like a bank vault door, circular and several feet thick. It opened with lots of brass gears turning and hydraulic pistons blowing smoke.

Leo whistled. "They got a steam punk theme going on, huh?"

"It's pretty impressive, isn't it." the god of fire couldn't help but smile.

....At least that's the way Leo would've designed it. A fire pole came down from the second floor,

"Wait a minute!" Connor paused, shooting Jake Mason a small glare. "You guys got a second floor?"

Jake shrugged. "Yeah, so?"

"Soooo," Connor empathized. "It never occurred to you that maybe you guys should build us one?"

"Yeah," Travis agreed. "Do you know how cramped it is in the Hermes cabin? If anybody deserves a second floor, it's us."

"Relax guys," Percy said. "As soon as the gods claim all their children like they promised, I'm sure everyone will have enough breathing space in the Hermes cabin."

"I hope so." Connor said before he continued reading.

even though the cabin didn't appear to have a second floor from the outside.

...The walls were lined with every kind of power tool Leo could imagine, plus a huge assortment of knives, swords, and other implements of destruction. A large workbench overflowed with scrap metal-screws, bolts, washers, nails, rivets, and a million other machine parts. Leo had a strong urge to shovel them all into his coat pockets.

Leo sighed. He missed Cabin Nine.

Looking around, he could almost imagine he was back at his mom's machine shop...She would've loved this place.

"She would've..." Hephaestus muttered with a slight smile.

He pushed that thought away. He didn't like painful memories. Keep moving- that was his motto. Don't dwell on things. Don't stay in one place too long. It was the only way to stay ahead of the sadness.

Nico, glancing at Percy then at Annabeth, couldn't help but silently agree with that philosophy.

"You know you can't always run away from your problems. There's going to be a time when you have to face them." Annabeth told Leo, gripping her necklace.

Leo, bending the copper wire into a zig-zag line, just shrugged. "I guess you're right..."

Nico snorted. Of course she would say that.

....At the back of the room, one of the bunk beds was occupied. A curtain of dark camouflage material retracted, and Leo could see the guy who'd been invisible a second before. It was hard to tell much about him because he was covered in a body cast. His head was wrapped in gauze except his face, which was puffy and bruised.

Jake winced in sympathy of his sibling.

Looks like one of their machines didn't work out as planned.

He looked like the Philsbury Doughboy after a beat-down.

Jake scowled at Leo.

"Not funny, Leo."

"Sorry, just being observant." Leo said, straightening his wire. It's not like I said that out loud.

"I'm Jake Mason," the guy said.

Jake's eyes widened at that as he wondered what happened to himself. Sure he would have injuries here and there because of a machine gone wrong, but he never ended up in a body cast.

.... "Welcome to Cabin Nine," Jake said. "Been almost a year since we had any new kids. I'm head counselor

Jake grimaced. Apparently, his plan for convincing Nyssa to be head counselor would fail.

for now."

"For now?" Leo asked.

Will Solace cleared his throat. "So where is everybody, Jake?"

"Down at the forges," Jake said wistfully. "They're working on... you know, that problem."

The god of fire frowned at that, wanting to know what exactly the 'problem' is.

....Jake studied Leo, sizing him up. "You believe in curses, Leo? Or ghosts?"

I just saw my evil babysitter Tia Callida, Leo thought. She's got to be dead after all these years. And I can't go a day without remembering my mom in that machine shop fire.

At the mention of the fire, Hephaestus winced.

Don't talk to me about ghosts, doughboy.

Leo slowly sighed as his hand brushed his hair back. The other hand released the copper wire in favor of tugging the buttons on his jacket.

He was beginning to understand how a dissected frog would feel: Uncomfortable with the whole situation. Helpless because there was little he could do at the moment to stop this. And finally, angry at his own stupid helplessness and Nemesis for getting him into this mess.

Why couldn't she let me burn the books?

"Sorry." Jake said softly, bringing Leo out of his thoughts.

Leo forced himself to smile. "For what?"

Jake shifted, looking as uncomfortable as Leo felt.

"You know, for bringing up... ghosts..."

"Ah, it's alright." Leo said as casually as possible. "It's... nothing. I was just over exaggerating." 

"It didn't sound like that to me." Grover said, sensing the teen's pain.

"Well, I was." Leo insisted, his hand now yanking his jacket's button. "I was just joking."

Judging by the doubtful expressions, he wasn't fooling anybody.

But aloud, he said, "Ghosts? Pfft. Nah. I'm cool. A storm spirit chucked me down the Grand Canyon this morning, but you know, all in a day's work, right?"

"See? I'm fine!"

Hephaestus' frown deepened when he was beginning to notice a pattern in Leo's behavior.

Jake nodded. "That's good. Because I'll give you the best bed in the cabin- Beckendorf's."

A couple gasps told Leo this was a big deal.

"Isn't it a little too soon." Percy grimaced.

"It is now, but he has to sleep somewhere." Jake said, not looking to happy with his future self's decision either.

"Whoa, Jake," Will said. "You sure?"

Jake called out: "Bunk 1-A, please."

....Leo jumped right in and lay back with his arms behind his head. "I can handle this."

"It retracts into a private room below," Jake said.

"Oh, heck, yes," Leo said. "See y'all. I'll be down in the Leo Cave..."

Travis snickered at the name.

..."Yeah," Jake said. "Charles Beckendorf."

Leo imagined saw blades coming through the mattress, or maybe a grenade sewn inside the pillows.

Jake, rolling his eyes, snorted.

"If those were in the bed, we would've taken it out."

"He didn't, like, die in this bed, did he?"

"No," Jake said. "In the Titan War, last summer."

"The Titan War," Leo repeated, "which has nothing to with this very fine bed?"

Clarisse slapped her forehead.

"Nothing's wrong with the bed." Jake stressed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Okay, I get it now. But can you blame me? You guys were making such a big deal over the Curse of Cabin Nine and the ghost of Charles Beckendorf, I wouldn't have been surprised if you told me that dead counselors were haunting the cabin." Leo defended.

"The Titans," Will said, like Leo was an idiot. "The big powerful guys that ruled the world before the gods. They tried to make a comeback last summer. Their leader, Kronos, built a new palace on top of Mount Tam in California. Their armies came to New York and almost destroyed Mount Olympus. A lot of demigods died trying to stop them."

Everyone bowed their heads in memory of those who died in the war before continuing to read.

"I'm guessing this wasn't on the news?" Leo said.

Everyone stared at him in disbelief.

"You haven't seen any of the news reports?" Percy asked.

"I don't really watch the news." the son of Hephaestus shrugged. "I was kinda in my own little world when this stuff was happening."

"But you must've heard about something." Annabeth insisted. "The unnatural storms around the country? Mount St. Helens erupting?"

Leo shook his head. "Nope, sorry."

It seemed like a fair question, but Will shook his head in disbelief. "You didn't hear about Mount St. Helens erupting, or the freak storms across the country, or that building collapsing in St. Louis?"

"Have you been living under a rock?" Connor teased.

"I was busy." Leo explained, tapping his foot.

"Doing what?" Katie asked.

"You know, the usual." Leo replied, not answering her question. He picked up his copper wire and continued fiddling with it.

Leo shrugged. Last summer, he'd been on the run from another foster home.

Well, so much for keeping that a secret. Leo scowled.

"...Oh." Will said, breaking the silence. Leo couldn't bring himself to be upset by his reaction. What else do you say to that? 

"Yep." he replied, popping the 'p'.

Then a truancy officer caught him in New Mexico,

"Where were you going?" Grover asked.

"I don't know." Leo replied, to be honest, he hadn't really cared where he was going.

and the court sentenced him to the nearest correctional facility- the Wilderness School. "Guess I was busy."

"Doesn't matter," Jake said. "You were lucky to miss it. The thing is, Beckendorf was one of the first casualties, and ever since then-"

"Your cabin's been cursed," Leo guessed.

"Is there any way to break the curse?" Percy asked, saying what was on most of everyone's mind.

Jake didn't answer. Then again, the dude was in a body cast. That was an answer.

Jake, avoiding pitying looks, winced at that.

Leo started noticing little things that he hadn't seen before- an explosion mark on the wall, a stain on the floor that might've been oil... or blood.

Jake and Hephaestus grimaced.

"It could've been my imagination." Leo tried to assure them.

Broken swords and smashed machines kicked into corners of the room, maybe out of frustration. The place did feel unlucky.

"I hope they find a way to break the curse soon." Hestia said worriedly.

Jake sighed halfheartedly. "Well, I should get some sleep. I hope you like it here, Leo. It used to be... really nice."

....As they were leaving, Leo looked back at his new bed, and he could almost imagine a dead counselor sitting there- another ghost who wasn't going to leave Leo alone.

"Finished." Connor said.

"If it makes you feel better," Nico told the son of Hephaestus. "I highly doubt Beckendorf would haunt you. He's too busy enjoying his time in Elysium."

Leo frowned.

"How do you..." he began, before deciding he'd rather not know. "Thanks Nico."

Nico nodded in response.

"I'm reading next." Travis said, taking the book.

Chapter Text

"Leo VI," Travis began.

Great, just great. As if one chapter in my point of view wasn't enough. Leo let out a sigh of frustration, drumming his fingers on his leg.

"How did he die?" Leo asked. "I mean Beckendorf."

Judging by the dirty looks he was receiving, Leo guessed the former counselor's death was still a sore topic for everyone. 

"Out of all the questions, did you really have to say that one?" Nico said, glancing at Percy.

Will Solace trudged ahead. "Explosion. Beckendorf and Percy Jackson blew up a cruise ship of monsters. Beckendorf didn't make it out."

Percy bit his lip.

"You know Beckendorf doesn't blame you, right." Nico quickly reminded him. "You did the best you could do."

Percy merely nodded.

He looked over when Annabeth grabbed his hand.

"Nico's right. You have nothing to feel guilty about." she told him.

Percy grinned. "Thanks Annabeth."

Nico glared down at his worn out shoes as they were responsible for his troubled love life.

There was that name again- Percy Jackson, Annabeth's missing boyfriend.

Nico let out a low growl, which was drowned out by the chorus of 'oooohs' and cat calls.

"Cut it out." the son of Poseidon said, trying not to smile.

That guy must've been into everything around here, Leo thought.

"I guess..." Percy said modestly.

"So, Beckendorf was pretty popular?" Leo asked. "I mean- before he blew up?"

Percy, Jake, and Hephaestus winced at that.

"Do you even think before you speak?" Thalia growled "Or are you just that insensitive?"

Leo, pushing a small screw back and forth on the floor, remained silent.

"He was awesome," Will said.

Hephaestus and Jake smiled sadly.

"You're taking his questions really well," Apollo mentioned to his son.

"I probably I had time to adjust." Will replied.

"It was hard on the whole camp when he died. Jake- he became head counselor in the middle of the war. Same as I did actually.  Jake did his best, but he never wanted to be leader. He just likes building stuff. Then after the war, things started to go wrong. Cabin Nine's chariots blew up. Their automatons went haywire. Their inventions started to malfunction. It was like a curse, and eventually people started calling it that- The Curse of Cabin Nine. Then Jake had his accident-"

"So... It's less of a curse and more of a loss of morale?" Percy summed up.

"Apparently, though I can't tell which is worse." Jake sighed.  At least with a curse you can defeat the person who cast it. He had no idea how he would help boost the morale in Cabin Nine. How would Beckendorf do it?  

"Which had something to do with the problem he mentioned," Leo guessed.

"They're working on it," Will said without enthusiasm.

"Are they ever going to address what this problem is?" Annabeth said impatiently. 

The forge looked like a steam-powered locomotive had smashed into the Greek Parthenon and they had fused together....The building sat at the edge of a stream, with several waterwheels turning a series of bronze gears.

Jake sighed wistfully.

Future me must be so bored. he thought, frowning as he imagined himself laying in bed with nothing to do except sleep.

....They stepped through the doorway, and a dozen guys and girls who'd been working on various projects all froze. The noise died down to the roar of the forge and the click-click of gears and levers.

"Sup, guys," Will said. "This is your new brother, Leo-um, what's your last name?"

Leo set his screw upright and spun it like a top.

The screw twirled for a briefly before collapsing on the floor.

"Valdez." Leo looked around at the other campers. Was he really related to all of them?

"How is that so surprising?" Connor asked.

"I never had a big family before, so it was kinda weird to suddenly have all these siblings." Leo explained.

He flicked the screw and watched it roll across the room, bumping into Drew's leg.

Looking up from her fingernails, Drew glared at him before turning her attention back to her nails.

His cousins came from some big families, but he'd always just had his mom- until she died.

Wow, thanks for the reminder, book. Leo scowled.

Remembering his mom being taken by Hades, Percy grimaced. I can't imagine what my life would be if my mom had really died.

Kids came up and started shaking hands and introducing themselves. Their names blurred together: Shane, Christopher, Nyssa, Harley (yeah, like the motorcycle).

"Were you the one who named him that?" Athena asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion

Hephaestus smiled sheepishly. "It's a perfectly good name for a boy like him."

...None of them looked like the others- all different face types, hair color, height.

"Wouldn't that make it easier them apart?" Katie asked.

"Sometimes," Leo admitted. "but I keep mixing up Shane's name with Christopher's."

"You'll get it eventually." Travis assured.

...But they all had powerful hands, rough with calluses and stained with engine grease. Even little Harley, who couldn't have been more than eight, looked like he could go six rounds with Chuck Norris without breaking a sweat.

"Yeah, right." Clarisse huffed.

"Well," Chris began. "he is trained to battle monsters, so it's that hard to believe."

And all the kids shared a sad kind of seriousness. Their shoulders slumped like life had beaten them down pretty hard.

"The supposed curse, 'problem', and death of Beckendorf must be too much for them to handle." Athena said.

Hephaestus, absentmindedly twiddling his thumbs, slouched in his chair.

"Those reasons and the fact that their new counselor is in no shape to help fix the problem." the goddess of wisdom added, not noticing conscience-stricken Jake biting his bottom lip.

Several looked like they'd been physically beaten up, too. Leo counted two arm slings, one pair of crutches, an eye patch, six Ace bandages, and about seven thousand Band-Aids.

"Most of those injuries could've came from the Titian War..." Annabeth said, but she looked doubtful.

"Or it could be because of their 'curse'." Nico said with air quotes.

"Well, all right!" Leo said. "I hear this is the party cabin!"

"Idiot." Thalia muttered and rolled her eyes, wishing that this Leo chapter was almost over so they could go back to Jason.

Leo, thinking similar thoughts, took out some cable wires out of his tool belt.

Nobody laughed. They all just stared at him.

"It's was kinda corny." Chris admitted.

"I'll give you two points for trying." Travis said to Leo, who was tying and untying the cable wires together.

"But," Connor, said in mock seriousness. "I'll have to give you negative two points for failing."

Will Solace patted Leo's shoulder.

"You know you can just call me 'Will', right?" Will commented. "You don't have to call me by my full name. The first time it's okay, but now it's kinda annoying."

"Sorry, Will Solace, I'll remember that next time, you know, just in case you decide to read my thoughts again." Leo said dryly.

"I'll leave you guys to get acquainted. Somebody show Leo to dinner when it's time?"

"I got it," one of the girls said. Nyssa, Leo remembered....Except for the smiley-face Band-Aid on her chin, she looked like one of those female action heroes, like any second she was going to grab a machine gun and start mowing down aliens.

Nyssa silently raised a eyebrow at this while most of everyone else laughed.

"Cool," Leo said. "I always wanted a sister who could beat me up."

"Why not a brother?" Katie asked.

Leo untied the knot on his yellow wire.

"No reason really, just a personal preference."

That and she could give me unbelievable dating advice, and would smack me if I did anything wrong. The perfect Slap-Leo-in-the-face machine, only organic.

Leo, for the first time after reading chapters in his point of view, genuinely smiled.

Nyssa didn't smile. "Come on, joker boy. I'll show you around."

Leo was no stranger to workshops. He'd grown up around grease monkeys and power tools. His mom used to joke that his first pacifier was a lug wrench. But he'd never seen any place like the camp forge.

...."That's the metal?"

She nodded. "Mined from Mount Olympus itself. Extremely rare. Anyway, it usually disintegrates monsters on contact, but big powerful ones have notoriously tough hides. Drakons, for instances-"

"You mean dragons?"

"She means drakons." Clarisse said, subconsciously rubbing her arms for warmth.

"Similar species. You'll learn the difference in monster-fighting class."

"Monster-fighting class. Yeah, I already got my black belt in that."

Piper and Jason have their black belts. Leo corrected himself. I didn't even earn my white belt.

She didn't crack a smile. Leo hoped she wasn't this serious all the time. His dad's side of the family had some sense of humor, right?

"We can be fun... It's just... ya' know..." Jake trailed off. 

"The curse..." Nyssa finished.

... One of the campers cranked the centaur's tail, and whirred to life. It galloped across the table, yelling, "Die, mosquito! Die mosquito!" and shooting everything in sight.

Apparently this had happened before, because everybody knew to hit the floor except Leo.

Thalia shook her head at this.

Six needle-sized arrows embedded themselves in his shirt before a camper grabbed a hammer and smashed the centaur to pieces.

"Stupid curse!" The camper waved his hammer at the sky. "I just want a magic bug killer! Is that too much to ask?"

Hephaestus sighed. 

"There has to be some way to snap them out of it." Percy muttered. "Can't we have a Pizza party or something."

Nico smiled despite himself. "It's not that easy. They too convinced that it's some kind of curse."

...Leo rubbed his chest as they walked. "That sort of thing happen a lot?"

"Lately," Nyssa said, "everything we build turns to junk."

"The curse?"

Nyssa frowned. "I don't believe in curses.

"Oh they're real, trust me." Percy said to Nyssa, sending a glare to Ares (who smugly smiled back). "We're just lucky it didn't happen to your cabin."

But something's wrong. And if we don't figure out the dragon problem, it's gonna get even worse."

"The dragon problem?" Leo hoped she was talking about a miniature dragon, maybe one that killed cockroaches, but he got the feeling he wasn't going to be so lucky.

Most of the people in the room had the same feeling.

Nyssa took him over to a big wall map that a couple of girls were studying. 

...."It's got to be in the hills," the first girl said.

"We looked in the hills," the second argued. "The woods are better hiding place."

...."Hold up," Leo said. "You guys lost a dragon? A real full-size dragon?"

"It's a bronze dragon," Nyssa said.

Annabeth and Percy exchanged looks.

"This is bad." Percy concluded.

"Very bad." Annabeth corrected.

"I thought the Hephaestus Cabin fixed the dragon." Katie said, turning to Jake for a explanation.

"We did. Well... Beckendorf did..." Jake paused. "He must have malfunctioned after the Titian War."

"Great." Clarisse said through gritted teeth.

"Com'on guys," Apollo said cheerfully. "I'm sure it can't be that bad. You stopped it before, right?"

"But yes, it's a life-size automaton. Hephaestus cabin built it years ago. Then it was lost in the woods until a few summers back, when Beckendorf found it in pieces and rebuilt it. It's been helping protect the camp, but, um, it's a little unpredictable."

"Unpredictable," Leo said.

Travis paled as he read the next sentence.

"It goes haywire and smashes down cabins, sets people on fire, tries to eat the satyrs."

"Yeah, not that bad." Artemis said sarcastically to her brother.

"I didn't know!" Apollo defended.

"That's horrible!" Hestia gasped.

"T-t-tries to eat the satyrs!" Grover stuttered, nervously chewing his finger nails. "That's it! Somebody needs to destroy that thing quick, before it kills somebody!"

"It probably already has." Nico said darkly. He wouldn't be surprised if what he said was true. This wasn't the first time one of Hephaestus' automatons killed an innocent lives and it wouldn't be the last.

"Woah! Dude!" Leo exclaimed in horror at the son of Hades. His hands protectively covered his wires as if trying to prevent it from hearing. "Do you hear what comes out of your mouth?!"

"I'm not deaf." Nico retorted.

"Listen," Leo said, addressing to the group. "I know this may seem bad, but it sounds worse then it actually is."

Leo wasn't actually sure about how bad the damage was, but there was no way in Tartarus was he going to let some stupid book make people think of his dragon as some sort of monster.

"Sounds worse than it actually is?" Percy repeated in disbelief. "He sets people on fire!"

"And eats satyrs!" Grover quickly added.

"Okay." Leo, holding up one finger, began. "One: it may have set people on fire, smashed cabins, and tried to eat satyrs, but it didn't kill anybody." he glanced at Nico when he said this. "If it did, that would've have been the first thing Nyssa said about how dangerous it is. So you can calm down, Grover, there are no random tulips growing in Fe- the dragon's stomach."

Leo held up another finger.

"And two: The dragon is malfunctioning, we don't need to destroy it. We just need to fix the dragon."

Leo sighed, pulling his wires.

"Now that my little spiel is over, can we just finish this chapter?"

Surprised by the sudden outburst, it took Travis a while to snap out of his daze and continue reading.

"That's pretty unpredictable."

"Unpredictable, indeed." Athena huffed.

Nyssa nodded. "Beckendorf was the only one who could control it. Then he died, and the dragon just got worse and worse. Finally it went berserk and ran off. Occasionally it shows up, demolishes something, and runs away again. Everyone expects us to find and destroy it-"

"Of course this happens after Beckendorf leaves." Jake muttered.

"Destroy it?" Leo was appalled. "You've got a life-sized bronze dragon, and you want to destroy it?"

"It breathes fire," Nyssa explained. "It's deadly and out of control."

"But it's a dragon! Dude, that's so awesome. Can't you try talking to it, controlling it?"

"Were you even listening to the fact that there is a satyr-eating dragon rampaging in the camp?!" Grover exclaimed.

"Probably not." Thalia answered before Leo could correct him. "He more than likely stopped listening until she mentioned they were trying to destroy the thing."

"If we could fix the dragon, we would." Jake sighed.

"We tried. Jake Mason tried. You saw how well that worked."

Jake flinched, rubbing his already bandaged arm. Welp. I won't be underestimating the dragon this time.

..."The dragon drinks that?" Leo asked.

"Yeah." Nyssa sighed regretfully. "He used to like it with a little Tabasco sauce, right before bed. If he springs a trap, we come in with acid sprayers- should melt through his hide. Then we get metal cutters and... finish the job."

They all looked sad. Leo realized they didn't want to kill the dragon any more than he did.

"Nobody wants to kill the dragon." Annabeth clarified, sending Nico, who opened his mouth to protest, a quick glare. "But we have no choice, it needs to be done. The dragon is too dangerous to have running around freely in camp."

"Guys," he said. "There has to be another way."

"I wish." Nyssa muttered under her breath.

"Like what?" one asked. "The breathes fire. We can't even get close."

"Why don't they just build some fire-proof armor and weapons?" Hestia suggested.

"I doubt they would actually work considering the Hephaestus cabin's condition right now." Hermes frowned.

Fire, Leo thought. Oh man, the things he could tell them about fire...

But he had to be careful....Especially if he had to live with them.

"What does that mean?" Annabeth asked, as everyone turned to Leo.

"I don't know." Leo said, obviously lying. He avoided the looks by staring at his wires.

When he was certain nobody was staring at him, he shot the book a irritated glare.

"Well..." He hesitated. "Hephaestus is the god of fire, right? So don't any of you have like fire resistance or something?"

"I wish." Jake said wistfully. "It would be so much easier to fix the dragon."

Nobody acted as if it was a crazy question, which was a relief, but Nyssa shook her gravely.

...Leo's shoulders slumped. "Oh."

A guy in back said, "Well, a long time ago-"

Leo held back a groan of frustration. Do I really have to hear this again?

"Yeah, okay," Nyssa conceded. "A long time ago some children of Hephaestus were born with the power over fire. But that ability was very, very rare. And always dangerous.

"No kidding." Leo muttered, clenching and unclenching his hand.

"Huh?" Connor asked him.

"Nothing." Leo replied.

No demigod like that has been born in centuries. The last one..." She looked at one of the other kids for help.

"Sixteen sixty-six," the girl offered. "Guy named Thomas Faynor. He started the Great Fire of London, destroyed most of the city."

"Wow, one guy can do all that?" Percy asked in awe.

"Says the guy who demolishes schools, an inactive volcano, national landmarks, and basically everywhere he goes." Annabeth remarked, giving his hand a squeeze.

Leaning back, Percy gave her a lopsided smile.

Nico huffed and, as casually as he could, leaned back also.

Feeling a tinge of annoyance, Annabeth frowned when Nico blocked her view of Percy.

"Right," Nyssa said. "When a child of Hephaestus like that appears, it usually means something catastrophic is about to happen. And we don't need any more catastrophes."

The blank look on Leo's normally expressive face sent a shiver down Connor's spine.

"Hey Leo, are you okay?" he cautiously asked the teen. He knew Leo wouldn't properly answer his question, but he hoped he could get a reaction, any reaction, out of him.

Leo slowly blinked at him, before plastering a smile on his face.

"Sure, why wouldn't I be?" he asked rhetorically.

"I don't know, man, you tell me. You're the one who looked like a zombie."

'Smiling', Leo just hummed before searching for something in his tool belt's pocket.

Leo tried to keep his face clear of emotion, which wasn't his strong suit. "I guess I see your point. Too bad, though. If you could resist flames, you could get close to the dragon."

"It doesn't really matter since there are other ways the dragon could kill you." Hades said absentmindedly, feeling a headache beginning at the thought of all the work that was piling up in the Underworld. Persephone is going to be furious for leaving her with so much work to do.

"Then it would kill you with its claws and fangs," Nyssa said. "Or simply step on you. No, we've got to destroy it. Trust me, if anyone could figure out another answer..."

...This was the cabin's big test. If they do something only Beckendorf could do, if they could subdue the dragon without killing it, then maybe their curse would be lifted. But they were stumped for ideas. Any camper who figured out how would be a hero.

Nyssa and Jake exchanged stressed looks.

Meanwhile, Leo kept himself distracted by playing with nuts and bolts.

"You can do it. I'm sure you can think of something." Percy encouraged.

A conch horn blew in the distance. Campers started putting up their tools and projects.

Leo hadn't realized it was getting so late, but he looked through the windows and saw the sun going down... If he was interested in something, like touring a demigod camp, hours slipped away and bam- the day was over.

"That's a common symptom of being a demigod." Chris said.

....His cabin mates filed out of the forge. Soon Leo was alone with the sounds of the bellows, the waterwheels, and small machines clicking and whirring.

He stared at the map of camp- the locations where his new found siblings were going to put traps to catch a dragon. It was wrong. Plain wrong.

"It's not like we have a choice..." Nyssa reminded with a sad sigh.

Very rare, he thought. And always dangerous.

Athena raised a eyebrow at this.

He held out his hand and studied his fingers. They were long and thin, not callused like the other Hephaestus campers'..... He'd survive in tough neighborhoods, tough schools, tough foster homes by using his wit. He was the class clown, the court jester, because he'd learned early that if you cracked jokes and pretended you weren't scared, you usually didn't get beat up.

"Yup. Thanks. Didn't we already read a description about me?" Leo complained.  

"Usually" Hephaestus asked his son.

"I'm faster then I used to be." he replied.

Even the baddest gangster kids would tolerate you, keep you around for laughs. Plus, humor was a good way to hide the pain. And if that didn't work, there was always Plan B. Run away. Over and over.

Leo forced himself to laugh. "Wow! Do I sound like a wimp or what?"

Ares opened his mouth to reply, but a sideways glare from Aphrodite advised otherwise.

There was Plan C, but he'd promised himself never to use it again... He extended his fingers and felt them tingle, like they were waking up- pins and needles. Then flames flickered to life, curls of red-hot fire dancing across his palm.

Dropping his nuts and bolts, Leo, releasing a long sigh, buried his face in his hands.

"Dude! You can wield fire?!" Travis exclaimed.

"Yeah..."

"That's awesome!" Connor said with a wide smile. "Can you give us a demonstration?"

"Yeah!" Travis encouraged. "Take something out of your tool belt and burn it!"

"He already tried that." Athena told the Stolls. Turning her attention to the son of Hephaestus, Athena stated. "You tried to burn the books."

Leo hesitated.

"Uh... Yeah... But, it didn't work, so it doesn't really matter..." he trailed off, cracking his fingers.

"It doesn't matter!" Annabeth repeated in disbelief. "You almost destroy something that can help prevent another war and you say it doesn't matter?!"

"Why would you even do that?" Percy asked.

"Why are we even reading this?!" Leo finally snapped. "Why would we trust Nemesis? Wasn't she an enemy in the Titian War? How do we know that this wasn't a trap?"

"So that's the only reason. You only did it  just for our sakes and not because you feel embarrassed about us reading your point of view?" Clarisse snorted, crossing her arms.

"Well, obviously I'm not too happy with you guys reading my thoughts, but can you blame me? I'm pretty sure reading people's minds is considered an invasion of privacy! I'm not a cop or anything, but don't you need a warrant to look through someone's personal belongings?" Apollo looked ready to correct that, but Leo was already on a roll. 

"But besides all that, you know I have a point. There's no guarantee this is going to work, especially if Nemesis planned it.  If she wanted to help us, why do it this way? Why send me here? Why read it through my thoughts? And Jason and Piper's? You're not going to learn anything! We're just wasting our time!"

His shoulders heaved as he panted.

The others (except Hades and Athena) looked at him as he had just slapped each of their faces.

Hades watched him breathe heavily in a way similar to a person waiting out a rainstorm while Athena seemed be actually mulling over what he said.

"You believe that Nemesis is trying to trick us?" she asked.

"She is!" Leo exclaimed before hesitating. "Well... she could be? I can't say for sure, but it's possible. What would she gain by doing this?" 

"Nemesis tends to favor any side against those she considers to be too proud and powerful. It's likely she hates the opposing side more than she hates us." Athena pointed out. "While I agree she's not the most reliable or trustworthy ally, as long as these books are not giving us false information, I believe we can use this temporary alliance to our advantage."

"Maybe that's why she sent you here," Katie piped up. "You can let us know if anything is true or false in the books."

Great. I've been demoted from Supreme Commander to Fact checker. Leo deadpanned. If that's why I'm here, why aren't Jason and Piper here? I'm not with them all the time, how am I supposed to tell what really happened in a situation, if I wasn't there?

Seeing that he wasn't going to change their minds, the son of Hephaestus hung his head in defeat. I need a nap.

"Um... The chapter's finished." Travis said tentatively. He glanced at Leo, expecting some form of outburst. When he got no response, he continued. "Does anybody else want to read?"

"I will." Thalia volunteered, taking the book.

Chapter Text

"Jason VII," Thalia began.

At least it's not in my point of view anymore. Leo's finger idly traced patterns on his pants.

As Soon As Jason Saw The House, he knew he was a dead man.

A few people exchanged confused looks.

"Um... what?" Percy scratched his head.

"Here we are!" Drew said cheerfully. "The Big House, camp headquarters."

Thalia scowled. She had forgotten Drew was the one taking him to the Big House.

It didn't look threatening, just a four-story manor painted baby blue with white trim....Jason could imagine old people coming here for summer vacation, sitting on the porch and sipping prune juice while they watched the sunset.

"And he's scared of the Big House because..." Chris said, not seeing the reason why anybody would be afraid of the Big House.

"He could just be nervous. It is his first time at Camp." Katie suggested, looking unsure.

Still, the windows seemed to glare down at him like angry eyes....On the highest gable, a bronze eagle weather vane spun in the wind and pointed straight in his direction, as if telling him to turn around.

"What?" Thalia couldn't help but ask.

"How does he even see that?" Chris scratched his head.

"Okay he lost me" Connor declared, throwing his hands up in defeat. "I'm starting to think he has a fear of blue houses."

Every molecule in Jason's body told him he was on enemy ground.

If possible, Jason's irrational fear confused the readers even more.

"I'm not supposed to be here," he said.

I can relate. Leo thought, remembering his time at New Rome. 

"What is he talking about?" Nyssa asked nobody in particular. "Camp Half-Blood is the only safe place for a demigod. Why would he call it 'enemy ground'?"

"He might've used to be on Kronos' side in the Titian War." Annabeth thought out loud. "That would explain why he feels uncomfortable there."

"Doubt it." Thalia said. "Pretty sure we would've seen him or at least heard of him if that were true."

"I dunno. There were a lot of demigods joining the other side, it could be possible you missed him." Chris said quietly, looking down at the marble floor.

"How could we?" she challenged. "He's the son of Zeus and he can fly! If there was even a rumor about him joining the Titans, we would've known."

"Drew circled her arm through his." Thalia read, feeling like she was going to gag. "Oh, please. You're perfect here, sweetie. Believe me, I've seen a lot of heroes."

Clarisse rolled her eyes.

Drew smelled like Christmas-a strange combination of pine and nutmeg. Jason wondered if she always smelled like that, or if it was some kind of special perfume for the holidays.

"A woman never reveals her secrets." Drew giggled.

Thalia briefly looked at her with an unamused expression before going back to reading.

Her pink eyeliner was really distracting. ...S he was pretty. No doubt about that.

Drew giggled louder.

Thalia cringed. Jay, don't do this to me.

But she made Jason feel uncomfortable.

Th huntress couldn't help but feel a sense of satisfaction after seeing that stupid smile wiped off Drew's face.

Pretty sure she does that to everybody. Connor thought.

...."Look, I appreciate-"

"Is it that girl?" Drew pouted. "Oh, please, tell me you are not dating Dumpster Queen."

Aphrodite shifted uncomfortably in her seat. 

She doesn't know yet, she reminded herself. Once she does, I'm sure they'll get along.

"You mean Piper? Um..."

Jason wasn't sure how to answer...He shouldn't befriend these people, and certainly he shouldn't date one of them.

Certainly not. Athena agreed.

"These people?" Annabeth echoed, eyes narrowing. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, he just worded it badly." Thalia assured.

"I guess..." Annabeth cradled her head in her hand. Why does she keep defending him? Even if he is a son of Zeus, she wouldn't be this protective of someone she doesn't know. Have those two met somewhere?

Leo took out a piece of paper from his tool belt and began folding it.

Still... Piper had been holding his hand when he woke up on that bus. She believed she was his girlfriend...He didn't even know his own story. He couldn't play with her emotions like that.

"He's such a gentleman." Aphrodite cooed, hugging Ares' arm.

Placing his new paper hat on his head, Leo took out another piece of paper. Leo's tongue poked out of his mouth as he gingerly folded the paper.

Drew rolled her eyes. "Let me help you decide, sweetie. You can do better.

"Drew!" Aphrodite gasped.

Drew shrugged.

"Sorry." she replied dismissively. 

A guy with your looks and obvious talent."

She wasn't looking at him, though. She was staring at a spot right above his head.

"You're waiting for a sign," he guessed. "Like what popped over Leo's head."

"What? No! Well... yes. I mean, from what I've heard, you're pretty powerful, right? You're going to be important in camp, so I figure your parent will claim you right away. And I'd love to see that. I wanna be with you every step of the way! So is your dad or mom the god? Please tell me it's not your mom. I would hate if you were an Aphrodite kid."

Leo frowned at his finished swan. It looked more like a paper hairball than the elegant bird it was supposed to be.

After rolling the ball away, Leo took out another paper and began folding.

"Why?"

...."Aren't you cute! Sweetie, the godly side of your family doesn't count except for your parent. So anybody from another cabin-their fair game. So who's your godly parent-mom or dad?"

"He has amnesia." Thalia explained to Drew slowly. "How do you expect him to know if he can't even remember how old he is?"

Drew huffed. "I know that now, but I obviously don't know that in the book."

....Then he heard footsteps on the front porch. No-not footsteps-hooves.

"Chiron!" Drew called. "This is Jason. He's totally awesome!"

Thalia rolled her eyes, but couldn't help but agree. Her little brother was awesome, especially compared to other boys she knew.

Unaware of Thalia's quick glance, Leo wondered how he managed to make a paper ninja star look like an accordion.

I think I'm only good at making hats. Leo concluded, crumpling the already wrinkled paper.

Hearing the noise, Demeter looked over and dramatically gasped at the sight.

"Leo Valdez! Do you have any idea what you're doing?!" Demeter demanded.

"Uh... Nothing?"

"I wish you were doing nothing instead of crumpling that piece of paper! Are you aware of how many trees were cut down to make that one paper?"

Demeter pointed to the box in the corner of the room.

"You better recycle those papers right now young man, or no cereal for a month!"

Leo didn't get what was so bad about her punishment, but he quickly obeyed the goddess' order.

Thalia shook her head before she continued reading.

....From the waist up he was human, with curly brown hair and well-trimmed beard....His head was so high up he had to duck to avoid porch lights, because from the waist down, he was a stallion.

A few people smiled fondly at the description. 

Chiron started to smile at Jason. Then the color drained from his face.

"You..." The centaur's eyes flared like a cornered animal's. "You should be dead."

"What?" Thalia exclaimed. How would he know that? I've never even told anyone that Jason existed. Maybe he's thinking of someone else?

Annabeth studied Thalia's reaction.

How do Chiron and Thalia know this guy? ...And why haven't they told me. Annabeth felt a pang of betrayal. She knew it wasn't fair to feel this way towards them but she always told them about anything that was on her mind. She even opened up to them about her relationship with her family. I just wish they would trust me.  

Chiron ordered Jason-well, invited, but it sounded like an order-to come inside the house. He told Drew to go back to her cabin, which Drew didn't look happy about.

Sucks to suck. Thalia smirked.

The centaur trotted over to the empty wheelchair on the porch....Chiron gingerly stepped into it with his back legs and began scrunching himself into a space that should've been too small. Jason imagined a truck's reversing noises- beep, beep, beep- as the centaur's lower half disappeared and the chair folded up, popping out a set of fake human legs covered in a blanket

Apollo chuckled at that.

Wow, Jason's thoughts are more weirder than I expected them to be. Leo thought.

...."Follow me," he ordered. "We have lemonade."

"Way to break the ice, Chiron." Connor muttered.

Hearing him, Leo snickered.

The living room looked like it had been swallowed by a rain forest. Grapevines curved up the walls and across the ceiling, which Jason found a little strange. He didn't think plants grew like that inside, especially in the winter, but these were leafy green and bursting with bunches of red grapes.

"Nice interior decorating." Demeter complimented, giving Dionysus a nod of approval.

"Thank you." the voice behind the magazine said.

"I wish Hades had your sense of interior decorating," she began. She turned and glared daggers at the god. "The Underworld needs more plants! If I told him once, I told him a million times. The Underworld needs plants! Maybe Per-"

Thalia continued reading.

Demeter huffed muttering about how rude she was, while Katie and Hades were sending her looks full of gratitude.

But the weirdest thing was the stuffed leopard's head above the fireplace. It looked so real, its eyes seemed to follow Jason. Then it snarled, and Jason nearly leaped out if his skin.

Behind his magazine, Dionysus smiled. He was definitely getting that head in the future. The looks on the demigods' faces would be to good to pass up.

"Um...why is that there?" Percy couldn't help but ask.

"To eat demigods I don't like." the god easily replied. Percy would've laughed,  if he didn't sound so serious. 

"Now, Seymour," Chiron chided. "Jason is a friend. Behave yourself."

"That thing is alive!" Jason said.

Leo snickered, wishing he could see the look on Jason's normally stoic face.

Chiron rummaged though the side pocket of his wheelchair and brought out a package of sausages. He threw one to the leopard, who snapped it up and licked his lips.

"You must excuse the décor," Chiron said. "All this was a parting gift from our old director before he was recalled to Mount Olympus. He thought it would help us remember him. Mr. D has a strange sense of humor."

"Tell us about." Hera sighed.

Dionysus, sipping his Diet Coke, shrugged as if he heard it before.

"Mr.D," Jason said. "Dionysus?"

Bored, Leo took out some pipe cleaners.

His thin fingers easily bent and twisted the purple pipe cleaner.

"Mmm hmm." Chiron poured lemonade, though his hands were trembling a little.

Annabeth gave a concerned frown. What's wrong with Chiron? It's almost ilke he's scared of Jason.

"As for Seymour, well, Mr. D liberated him from a Long Island garage sale. The leopard is Mr. D's sacred animal, you see, and Mr. D was appalled that someone would stuff such a noble creature."

"It is a waste of a perfectly good leopard." Dionysus stated.

"He decided to grant it life, on the assumption that life as a mounted head was better than no life at all. I must say it's a kinder fate than Seymour's previous owner got.

Percy shuddered. He could only imagine what the wine dude did to that poor guy.

He probably turned him into a grape and ate him. Or maybe he had Seymour eat him. Percy gulped.

Seymour bared his fangs and sniffed the air, as if hunting for more sausages.

"If he's only a head," Jason said. "where does his food go when he eats?"

"Some things are better left unanswered." Artemis said with a faint look of disgust.

"Better not to ask," Chiron said. "Please, sit."

...."So, Jason," he said, "would you mind telling me- ah- where you're from?"

"I wish I knew." Jason told him the whole story...He didn't see any point in hiding details, and Chiron was a good listener. He didn't react to the story, other than to nod encouragingly for more.

"It's one of the great things about him." Hestia mentioned.

..."I see," Chiron said. "And you must have questions for me."

"Only one," Jason admitted. "What did you mean when you said that I should be dead?"

Annabeth leaned forward, ready to absorb the information like a sponge.

Chiron studied him with concern, as if he expected Jason to burst into flames.

Leo placed his curled pipe cleaner on the floor before picking up a green one.

"My boy, do you know what those marks on your arm mean? The color of your shirt? Do you remember anything?"

Annabeth raised a eyebrow. She could understand why the marks on Jason's arm would be significance, but the color of his shirt?

"What does the color of his shirt have to do with anything?" Will spoke up.

"It could be symbolic." Chris considered. "I mean, Chiron thinks the purple means something."

That's true... Annabeth thought. But what would purple mean? ...Let's see, purple is known to be a rare color in nature. It was used to represent royalty and wealth. I guess it kinda makes sense why Jason is wearing it since he's the son of Zeus, the king of gods. But wouldn't that mean Jason already knew he was Zeus's son?

Annabeth leaned back as she mulled over her thoughts. 

Jason looked at the tattoo on his forearm: SPQR, the eagle, twelve straight lines.

I don't know what SPQR means, but the eagle is an easy one. The eagle is a symbol of Zeus. I guess that the twelve lines could be used to represent how many times something happened. But who would do something so painful like burning  those marks on his body?  Did he do it to himself? Did a monster do it? But why would they waste time doing that instead of eating him? Annbeth absentmindedly twirled her hair.

"No," he said. "Nothing."

"Do you know where you are?" Chiron asked. "Do you understand what this place is, and who I am?"

"You're Chiron the centaur," Jason said. "I'm guessing you're the same one from the old stories, who used to train the Greek heroes like Heracles.

Thalia and Percy exchanged looks.

This is a camp for demigods, children of the Olympian gods."

"So you believe those gods still exist?"

"Yes," Jason said immediately. "I mean, I don't think we should worship them or sacrifice chickens to them or anything,

Those were the days. Zeus sighed wistfully. Nowadays people get sick at the mention of sacrificing a live chicken.

Out of the three, Jason is the only one who is completely fine with gods existing. Annabeth realized, staring at ceiling. I guess that's good since it'll be easy for him to transition into camp life. But how did he know about all this? Did his mom tell him or was it someone else? But if they knew gods were real, why wouldn't they take him to camp sooner? They would've had to know it existed, right?

but they're still around because they're powerful part of civilization. They move from country to country as the center of power shifts- like they move from Ancient Greece to Rome."

He even knows that? Annabeth hummed thoughtfully.

Leo looked at his green zig-zag, unsure with what to do with it, he simply rested it next to the other and picked another.

"I couldn't have said it better." Something about Chiron's voice had changed. "So you already know the gods are real. You have already been claimed, haven't you?"

"Maybe," Jason answered. "I'm not really sure ."

...The centaur had switched to another language and Jason had understood, automatically answering in the same tongue.

"Ancient Greek?" Katie guessed.

"Quis erat-" Thalia fumbled with the words' pronunciation. Jason faltered, then made a conscious effort to speak English.

"Actually, that's Latin." Surprisingly, Percy corrected.

"How do you know?" Nico asked.

"Before I became a demigod, Chiron taught me some Latin when I was twelve and I took Latin classes in my freshman year." Percy shrugged. "Guess they paid off."

"You know Latin," Chiron observed. "Most demigods recognize a few phases, of course. It's in their blood, but not as much as Ancient Greek. None can speak Latin fluently without practice."

"Maybe Jason took Latin classes too?" Percy suggested.

"No, I think it's somehow connected to his tattoos and shirt." Annabeth muttered. It's gotta be. It's too weird for it not to be.

She turned to her mother for advice, but Athena avoided her gaze. 

Annabeth narrowed her eyes.

She knows something about him. Probably the truth, but why isn't she telling me? Urgh! Why don't people tell me anything?! Annabeth sighed loudly. Okay Annabeth, relax. You don't need help. You're smart enough to do this on your own. 

Annabeth closed her eyes in concentration. Okay, let's see what we know so far. One: Jason knows all the basics about demigods and gods. He knows he's the son of Zeus, firmly believes gods exist, and probably was already claimed. Two: His tattoo, shirt, fluent Latin, and tendency to use Roman terms are all related. How does he know this? We don't know. What does the Latin and tattoos have to do with anything? We don't know. Does he know this because he was taught? Or is it just natural? Or-

Annabeth held her forehead. I feel like I'm missing a bigger picture here.

Leo could almost see the gears in her head turning. 

She's going to figure it out soon. Leo realized with a grimace. And when she tells everyone then what happens? At this point, are they even willing to trust the Romans?

....He still had the feeling that he shouldn't be here. It was wrong- and dangerous.

"This the second time he said he shouldn't be here." Thalia worriedly frowned.

Why do you care?! Why does he feel like this?! Annabeth wanted to yell.

But at least Chiron wasn't threatening. In fact, the centaur seemed concerned for him, afraid for his safety.

... [Chiron]"I taught your namesake, you know, the original Jason. He had a hard path. I've seen many heroes come and go. Occasionally, they have happy endings. Mostly they don't. It breaks my heart, like losing a child each time one of my pupils dies."

The demigods looked sad to hear something like this from the centaur.

"But you- you are not like any pupil I've ever taught. Your presence here could be a disaster."

Glad I'm not the only one whose presence does that. Leo thought, twisting the orange pipe cleaner.

...."Percy Jackson, you mean. Annabeth's boyfriend, the one who's missing."

Is that all he's known as nowadays? Nico wondered, looking at the entwined hands of the latest couple. Not as the Savior of Olympus, not as the son of Poseidon, not even as that guy who breathes underwater. He's just known as Annabeth's boyfriend. Why do people keep forgetting he was somebody else before he was Annabeth's boyfriend?

Meanwhile, Annabeth sighed sadly at the reminder of Percy's disappearance.

Chiron nodded. "I hoped that after he succeeded in the Titan War and saved Mount Olympus, we might have some peace. I might be able to enjoy one final triumph, a happy ending, and perhaps retire quietly. I should have known better. The last chapter approaches, just as it did before. The worst has yet to come."

It's just like what Nemesis said. Athena thought, remembering the letter.

"What could be worse then fighting Kronos?" Percy asked, feeling queasy at the idea.

..."Ohh-kay," Jason said. "So- last chapter, happened before, worst yet to come. Sounds fun,

"Your friend has a weird idea of what's fun." Travis told Leo.

With a goofy smile, Leo replied. "Yeah, but I wouldn't expect anything less from him."

but we go back to the part where I'm supposed to be dead? I don't like that part."

"I'm afraid I can't explain, my boy. I swore on the River Styx and on all things sacred that I would never..."

Annabeth inwardly groaned. So much for getting some information from Chiron. Of course.

Chiron frowned. "But you're here, in violation of the same oath. That too, should not be possible. 

What kind of oath would ban a demigod from going to Camp? Is he that dangerous? Annabeth tapped her fingers on her lap.

....The old centaur had frozen too. Jason jumped off the couch, but Chiron kept staring at the same spot, his mouth open mid-sentence. His eyes didn't blink. His chest didn't move.

Did Nemesis harass him too? Leo wouldn't be surprised.

....The mist took the form of a woman in black robes. Her face was hooded, but her eyes glowed in the darkness. Over her shoulders she wore a goatskin cloak.

Oh yeah, it was Hera. Leo remembered. Maybe Nemesis took some tips from her.

The demigods turned to Annabeth for a answer, but she looked as clueless as they did.

Meanwhile, the gods glanced at Hera.

Said goddess tightly grasped her slightly trembling hands.

Jason wasn't sure how he knew it was goatskin, but he recognized it and knew it was important.

"Is that like the purple shirt?" Annabeth mumbled. 

Would you attack your patron?  the woman chided. Her voice echoed in Jason's head. Lower your sword.

"Patron? Not godly parent?" Chris said.

"She couldn't be Jason's godly parent." Katie corrected. "We already know that it's Zeus."

"But why would he have a patron?

"Who are you?" Jason demanded. "How did you-"

Our time is limited, Jason. My prison grows stronger by hour.

"Oh!" Annabeth exclaimed, startling Nico. "That's Hera." Finally, that's one mystery solved!

"That's Hera?" Connor looked at the goddess. "That doesn't sound how she would dress at all."

"Why would you dressed like that?" Chris asked her.

"It doesn't matter why I decided to dress like that! What matters is I'm trapped by who knows and Jason, Piper, and Leo need to save me!" Hera snapped.

...."I don't remember. I don't remember anything."

No, you don't, she agreed. That also was necessary.

Annabeth's eyes widened in interest. 

Long ago, your father gave me your life as a gift to placate my anger.

The glare Thalia sent her father and Hera was quick, but slow enough that they saw it.

Okay, that explains the patronship. I guess even Hera has her moments when she can be useful. 

He named you Jason, after my favorite mortal. You belong to me.

"Well, that's not creepy." Travis said sarcastically.

"Whoa," Jason said. "I don't belong to anyone."

"You shouldn't belong to anyone." Thalia said through gritted teeth. "But, apparently, the gods give demigods away like they're trading cards!"

Zeus opened his mouth to explain, but changed his mind.

Leo swore if Thalia held the book any harder, she could easily rip in two, hard cover and all.

Come on! Come on! Leo, dropping his pipe cleaner, silently cheered. Tear that book apart! Show it no mercy!

Much to his disappointment, Thalia took a deep breath and continued reading.

Now is the time to pay your debt,  she said. Find my prison. Free me, or their king will rise from the earth,

Athena hoped, for their sake, it wasn't who she thought it was.

and I will be destroyed. You will never retrieve your memory.

"Did you seriously just threaten him?" Apollo asked.

"I didn't threaten him." Hera said, sounding surprised he would even accuse her of such a thing. "I merely gave him the proper motivation to come and save me."

"Pretty sure that's the same thing." Hades rolled his eyes.

Thalia slowly counted to ten and resisted the urge to chuck the book at Hera's head.

Grover looked surprised by Thalia's strong emotion.

You can do it, Thalia! Rip that book to shreds! Leo tried with all his might to will Thalia into action, but no dice.

"Is that a threat? You took my memories?"

You have until sunset on the solstice, Jason. Four short days. Do not fail me.

"No pressure." Hermes added.

The dark woman dissolved, and the mist curled into the leopard's mouth.

Time unfroze. Seymour's howl turned into a cough like he'd sucked in a hair ball. The fire crackled to life, the arcade machine beeped, and Chiron said, "-would dare to bring you here?"

Leo wondered if time unfroze after he left. Was Hazel still on the deck staring at unmoving clouds? Was she telling their friends about what happened to their poor seventh wheel? Were they continuing the quest despite his sudden absence? Were they mourning his death? Or were they desperately searching for their sidekick, Flaming Valdez?

...He told Chiron about the frozen-in-time visit, the dark misty figure that disappeared into Seymour's mouth.

"Oh, dear," Chiron murmured. "That does explain a lot."

"Then why don't you explain a lot to me?" Jason said. "Please."

Yes, Chiron, please do. Annabeth pleaded.

Before Chiron could say anything, footsteps reverberated on the porch outside. 

"Ugh!" Annabeth groaned. 

The front door blew open, and Annabeth and another girl, a redhead, burst in, dragging Piper between them. Piper's head lolled like she was conscious.

"We can live without the description, thank you." Aphrodite said, paling.

....The redheaded girl looked up, and Jason saw that she'd been crying.

"I think..." The redheaded girl gulped. "I think I may have killed her."

"I didn't hear that." Aphrodite assured herself, squeezing her eyes shut.

Ares had no idea what was his lover's problem but he gave her a one-armed hug to comfort her anyway.

"I'll read next, Thalia." Artemis said, gently taking the book from her.

Chapter Text

"Jason VIII," Artemis began.

Jason and the redhead, who introduced herself as Rachel, put Piper on couch while Annabeth rushed down the hall to get a med kit. Piper was still breathing, but she wouldn't wake up.

At least she's breathing. Aphrodite tightly gripped Ares' hand.

She seemed to be in some kind of coma.

If Hera put my child in a coma, I swear... "How long does it take for a person to wake from a coma?" Aphrodite asked.

Athena shrugged.

"Sometimes days, months, or years. Some unfortunate people never wake up."

I swear her husband's cheating will be the last thing for her to worry about. Aphrodite impatiently tapped her foot.

Meanwhile, Connor, Travis, and Leo were playing three-way rock-paper-scissors.

"We got to heal her," Jason insisted. "There's a way, right?"

There better be. Aphrodite thought.

"You can't do that!" Leo protested when the two boys pointed finger guns at his rock.

"Sure we can." Travis smiled.

"You said 'shoot', that obviously means there is a gun included in the game." Connor, with a matching mischievous smile, added.

"What? There are no guns in rock-paper-scissors. It would be called rock-paper-scissors-gun if there was."

"But you said 'shoot'."

"That means draw one of the three choices."

"Then why didn't you say 'draw'?"

"Because-"

"Silence!" Zeus shouted at them, tried of their bickering.

The suddenly quiet boys exchanged looks before turning their attention back to the book.

Seeing her so pale, barely breathing,

Aphrodite's grip on Ares' hand tightened.

Jason felt a surge of protectiveness.

Maybe he didn't really know her. Maybe she wasn't his girlfriend...He'd left her side for a little while, and this happened.

Aphrodite gave a strained smile at that. 

...."I wish I knew," she said. "As soon as I got to camp, I had a premonition about Hera's cabin. I went inside. Annabeth and Piper came in while I was there. We talked, and then- I just blanked out. Annabeth said I spoke in a different voice. "

"A prophecy?" Chiron asked.

Leo searched in his tool belt for things to do.

...."So does this happen often?" he asked. "Supernatural phone calls from convicts demanding you to bust them out of jail?"

A few people laughed at this.

"No," Percy said with a small smile. "We usually have to deal with supernatural phone calls demanding us to stop convicts from breaking out of jail."

"Your patron," Annabeth said. "Not your godly parent?"

"No, she said patron. She also said my dad had given her my life."

Thalia gritted her teeth. Don't remind me.

...."Or now," Jason said. "Sir, Mr. Chiron, you told me the greatest threat was coming. The last chapter. You can't possibly mean something worse than an army of Titans, right?"

Everyone feared the answer to that. They barely survived the Titan War, would they win this one?

Why can't we just win without something even more powerful coming to destroy us?  Percy rubbed his eyes.

Unaware of the tension in the room, Leo pulled out a measuring tape.

He pulled the yellow tape out the metal container and released it.

He watched the tape zoom back into the container.

"Oh," Rachel said in a small voice. "Oh, dear. The woman was Hera. Of course. Her cabin, her voice. She showed herself to Jason at the same moment."

"You must have used up most of your energy doing that." Zeus worriedly told his wife.

"I'll be fine." the goddess said, giving him a quick kiss.

Thalia gagged. That'll be in my nightmares tonight.

"Hera?" Annabeth's snarl was even fiercer than Seymour's.

Leo pulled the tape until it was five feet before releasing it.

The tape quickly returned to the contained.

"She took you over? She did this to Piper?"

"She'll be fine." Hera said dismissively. 

Aphrodite scowled at her.

"I think Rachel's right," Jason said. "The woman did seem like a goddess. And she wore this- this goatskin cloak. That's a symbol of Juno, isn't it?"

Annabeth blinked. What?

"It is?" Annabeth scowled. "I've never heard that."

Chiron nodded reluctantly. "Of Juno, Hera's Roman aspect, in her most warlike state. The goatskin cloak was a symbol of the Roman soldier."

So gods can change into into Roman forms? Annabeth said with dawning realization. Then if they had demigods that would mean...

"Oh my gods..." she quietly gasped, her body going stiff.

Roman demigods? Am I just overthinking things? No, it makes sense. Jason's like us but the exact opposite. He speaks Latin, uses Roman terms, Roman emperors even wore purple to show their nobility. He has to be Roman. By why did the gods not tell us? How many demigods like Jason are there? Annabeth's stomach twisted at the thought of more Romans. 

Before she could ponder her feelings, she heard the sound of pieces of plastic clattering on the ground. She turned to the corner farthest away from the group and saw Leo overturning his tool belt and dumping out....

Legos? she thought dumbfounded. 

Seeing he got her attention, Leo smiled and gestured to the Legos.

Come here, his gesture welcomed but his eyes screamed:

We need to talk.

Annabeth easily moved over to the son of Hephaestus. 

"We're making a replica of the Empire State Building." she informed him, sitting down.

"Sounds like a plan," he said, picking up pieces.

Once he was certain the others weren't listening in, Leo leaned over.

"How much do you know?" 

"Jason's a Roman." she said casually. Judging from Leo's expression, she was correct. She gave him a triumphant smile. "So that's what Thalia and Chiron are hiding!"

Leo hesitated. "Chiron knows, but I'm pretty sure Thalia doesn't. But you can't tell anyone!" he quickly added.

"Why can't I tell the others?" Annabeth asked incredulously. 

"Spoilers suck." he said with conviction. 

"This is serious!" she snapped. "There's some kind of Roman demigod out that we've never heard of before, and there can be more like him! What have they been doing all this time? Why haven't I heard of them before? Why haven't the gods ever said anything? We need to know."

Much to her surprise, Leo seemed to be seriously considering what she said. 

"There's a reason why the gods haven't told us about the Romans..." he paused. For a minute, Annabeth was worried he wasn't going to say anything, but he continued. "Apparently, there had been some kind of feud between us and every time we saw each other, it would cause some kind of conflict or us trying to tear each other apart. Last time we fought, we had this giant battle at Camp Half-Blood that got lot of demigods to get killed. Think of the Civil War, only at Camp." 

Annabeth paled. 

"Yeah," Leo stacked Lego bricks on top of each other. "After the battle, the gods used the Mist to completely wipe our memories of each other and we've been separated ever since."

"So we're enemies..." Annabeth summed up. It made sense to her. They attacked Camp Half-Blood after all. That explains Chiron's reaction and why I had bad feelings about them. Maybe they're on the opposing side of the upcoming war... She grimaced, feeling her stomach clench up at the idea.

"What? No!" Leo exclaimed, pulling her out of her thoughts. "They're one of the good guys! They're on our side!"

Annabeth crossed her arms. "So, in the future, we're on better terms?"

Leo flinched. "Erm.... I'm working on it! Look, just promise me you won't mention this to the others? Please? At least not now? I don't think I can handle being the middle man of a godly family feud."

Annabeth should've told them. She should've, but... Leo did look desperate for her not to say anything. Besides, it's not like they won't find out later.

"Okay, I promise."

Leo let out a sigh of relief.

"Thanks and er... please give Jason and the Romans a chance. I know your gut's telling you to not to trust them, believe me I know. But they're pretty cool. he assured. 

Annabeth was going to press him for more information, until Percy sat next to them.

"What'cha doing?" he asked, giving Annabeth a kiss on the cheek.

"Making the Empire State Building." she answered, wordlessly pushing bricks in his direction. As Percy began to build, Annabeth gave the other a teen a 'this isn't over look'.

Leo gave her a wary smile in response. 

What have I done?! Leo wanted to bang his head against the wall. He knew he was taking a risk by telling her. He freaking  knew it. But, of course, he thought that this Annabeth would react the same way as future Annabeth. 

Annabeth... well... Future Annabeth was willing to set aside their differences with the Romans and work together to defeat Gaia. She knew the type of person Jason was and while she didn't seem to trust him (at least from Leo's perspective), she did respect him as a team member and a fellow demigod.

But this Annabeth (past or present?) didn't have time to get to know Jason or any other Roman. She didn't understand that there was a bigger threat out there than some old beef between demigods. All she knew at this point was her gut feelings and what Leo told her. And none of those really convinced her that the Greeks and the Romans are all buddy-buddy.

How do I fix this? Leo chewed his lip. What's the point in stopping a war when he was creating an entirely new one?

"So Hera is imprisoned?" Rachel asked. "Who could do that to the queen of the gods?"

"Someone with a lot of power." Nico muttered.

Annabeth crossed her arms. "Well, whoever they are, maybe we should thank them. If they can shut up Hera-"

"Ouch!" Travis said with a laugh, but he stopped when Hera gave him a poisonous glare.

"Annabeth," Chiron warned, "she is still one of the Olympians. In many ways, she is the glue that holds the gods' family together.

Hera sat proudly in her throne. 

"Listen to your teacher." she told Annabeth.

The daughter of Athena rolled her eyes but focused on their building.

She's the glue because our anger towards her is what we all have in common. Hephaestus thought, tinkering with the mini engine on his lap.

If she truly has been imprisoned and is in danger of destruction, this could shake the foundations of the world. It could even unravel the stability of Olympus, which is never great even in the best of times. And if Hera has asked Jason for help-"

"Fine," Annabeth grumbled. "Well, we know Titans can capture a god, right? Atlas captured Artemis a few years ago."

Artemis read out loud angrily.

"Wait." Leo frowned. "Atlas? C... er... That guy who holds the sky? How'd he catch you if he's, you know, holding the sky?"

Remembering the burden of holding the sky, Annabeth grimaced. "It's a long story."

And in the old stories, the gods captured each other  in traps all the time.

Demeter sent Hades a hateful glare.

Said god, already used to it, didn't even flinch.

But something worse than a Titan...?"

...."But why use her energy to send me here?" Jason asked. "She wiped my memory, plopped me into the Wilderness School field trip, and sent you a dream vision to com pick me up. Why am I so important? Why not just send up an emergency flare to the other gods- let them know where she is so they could bust her out?"

Good question. Why would Hera bring him to us? She had to know the risks. Was she really that desperate? Annabeth frowned.

"Unfortunately, we need demigods to do these kinds of things for us." Hera grumbled.

...Annabeth fixed her eyes on Chiron. "Why are you so quiet, Chiron? What is it we're facing."

The old centaur's face looked like it had aged ten years in a matter of minutes. The lines around his eyes were deeply etched. "My dear, in this, I cannot help. I am so sorry."

Even though she knew why Chiron couldn't tell her, she still felt slightly hurt that he wouldn't tell her.

He's just trying to protect us. Annabeth reminded herself.

Percy squeezed her hand in a comforting way.

Annabeth blinked. "You've never... you never kept information from me. Even the last great prophecy-"

"I will be in my office." His voice was heavy. "I need some time to think before dinner. Rachel, will you watch the girl? Call Argus to bring her to the infirmary, if you'd like. And Annabeth, you should speak with Jason. Tell him about- about the Greek and Roman gods."

"Why Roman?" Katie wondered.

"But..."

The centaur turned his wheelchair and rolled off down the hallway. Annabeth's eyes turned stormy. She muttered something in Greek, and Jason got the feeling it wasn't complimentary toward centaurs.

Katie frowned. "He couldn't understand Ancient Greek?"

Will also frowned. "That's weird. Even if he never heard it, his brain should have been able to translate snippets of what she said."

Not if he only knows Latin. Annabeth thought grimly.

...."No," Jason said. "Like I said, I don't remember anything."

Annabeth nodded, like she'd just come up with a rather desperate plan. "If Chiron won't help, we'll need to figure out things ourselves. Which means... Cabin Fifteen.

The demigods exchanged confused looks.

Percy looked excited. "Cool! We get to see one of the new cabins!"

Rachel, you'll keep an eye on Piper?"

...."Hold on," Jason said. "What's in Cabin Fifteen?"

Annabeth stood. "Maybe a way to get your memory back."

A little more details would be nice, future me. Annabeth thought in annoyance.

They headed toward a newer wing of cabins in the southwest corner of the green...It looked like an old-fashioned prairie house with mud walls and a rush roof.

...."You think this is my parent's cabin?" he asked.

"Not even close." Thalia snorted.

"No," Annabeth said. "This is the cabin for Hypnos, the god of sleep."

..."You've forgotten everything," she said. "If there's any god who can help us figure out memory loss, it's Hypnos."

"That's true." Athena admitted. "But it wouldn't be that easy getting Jason's memory back."

"It's worth a try though." Annabeth replied, collecting more grey bricks.

Inside, even though it was almost dinnertime, three kids were sound asleep under piles of covers.

"Sounds like Clovis' dream cabin." Travis chuckled.

...Above the mantel hung a tree branch, each twig dripping white liquid into a collection of tin bowls.

Jason was tempted to catch a drop on his finger just to see what it was, but he held himself back.

Thank Artemis. Thalia sighed with relief.

...Jason blinked. He realized his knees had started to buckle.

"Cabin Fifteen does that to everyone," Annabeth warned. "If you ask me, this place is even more dangerous than Ares cabin."

"WHAT!" Ares exclaimed. "No way!"

"Our cabin is definitely more dangerous then this new one." Clarisse said, crossing her arms.

At least with Ares, you know where the land mines are."

"Looks like we'll have to change that." Clarisse said, earning a collective groan.

And I finally remembered where they all were too... Percy sighed.

Leo's jaw momentarily dropped.

"You guys got land mines? Why would you need those?" he asked.

Clarisse smiled an unfriendly smile.

"It keeps the pests out." Clarisse stared at the Stolls.

"Land mines?"

She walked to the nearest snoring kid and shook his shoulder. "Clovis! Wake up!"

"I'm awake!" Clovis shouted. He then yawned and tried to wipe the sleep out of his eyes, but his arms were tightly restrained by Leo's paper clip chain. Now fully awake as a child of Hypnos can be, Clovis struggled to free himself from his prison, but only managed to get himself further tangled up.

"Somebody help me!" Clovis cried, when he realized he was losing the battle of freedom.

"Opps." Leo said, moving to help untangle the teen. "Sorry Clovis. I forgot to put those away."

Clovis glared at him, but he looked more like a angry toddler who had been woken up too early than the scary glare he was aiming for.

After wiping the sleep out of his eyes (and smudging Leo's drawings), Clovis moved to sit next to Percy.

A minute later, Clovis was sleeping soundly, his head resting on Percy's shoulder.

The kid looked like a baby cow.

Leo laughed. "Clovis' description is worse than mine."

He had a blond tuft of hair on a wedge-shaped head....he had spindly little arms like he'd never lifted anything heavier than a pillow.

Percy gently took Clovis off his shoulder. His face made a look of disgust at the sight of drool on his shoulder.

"Clovis!" Annabeth shook harder, then finally knocked on his forehead about six times.

"Wh-wh-what?" Clovis complained...

...."First help," Annabeth said. "Then sleep."

Clovis sighed. His breath smelled like warm milk.

"Jason makes some weird observations." Will remarked, making a face.

"Fine. What?"

Annabeth explained about Jason's problem. Every once in a while she'd her fingers under Clovis' nose to keep him awake.

Clovis must have been really excited, because when Annabeth was done, he didn't pass out. He actually stood and stretched, then blinked at Jason.

"He must be really interested." Travis said. "He only does that after we tell him dinner is ready."

"And that barely happens." Connor added.

"So you don't remember anything, huh?"

"Just impressions," Jason said. "Feelings, like..."

"Yes?" Clovis said.

"Like I know I shouldn't be here. At this camp, I'm in danger."

Thalia tightened her grip on her bow. "He needs to stop saying that..."

"Hmm. Close your eyes."

....Jason was afraid he'd end up snoring in one of the bunks forever, but he closed his eyes.... The next thing he knew, his eyes snapped open. He was sitting in a chair by the fire. Clovis and Annabeth knelt next to him.

"-serious, all right," Clovis was saying.

"What happened?" Jason said. "How long-"

"Just a few minutes," Annabeth said. "But it was tense. You almost dissolved."

Thalia visibly paled. "Is that normal?!" 

"Probably not." Annabeth answered, taking Leo's wall and combining it with hers.

Jason hoped she didn't mean literally, but her expression was solemn.

"Usually," Clovis said, "memories are lost for a good reason. They sink under the surface like dreams, and with a good sleep, I can bring them back. But this..."

...."Lethe?" Jason asked.

...."The River Lethe in the Underworld. It dissolves your memories, wipes your mind clean permanently. That's the branch of a poplar tree from the Underworld, dipped into the Lethe. It's the symbol of my father, Hypnos. Lethe is not a place you want to go swimming."

"Unless you're a son of Poseidon." Percy said with a grin, thinking of Bob.

Annabeth nodded. "Percy went there once. He told me it was powerful enough to wipe the mind of a Titan."

Jason was suddenly glad he hadn't touched the branch. "But... that's not my problem?"

"No," Clovis agreed. "Your mind wasn't wiped, and your memories weren't buried. They've been stolen."

...."Stolen," Jason said. "How?"

"It's pretty obvious." Thalia glared daggers at Hera.

Hera glared back.

"A god," Clovis said. "Only a god would have that kind of power."

"We know that." said Jason. "It was Juno. But how did she do it and why?"

Annabeth made a face at the Roman usage.

"Haven't we been calling her 'Hera' this whole time? Why is he still using Roman names?" Travis complained.

Clovis scratched his neck. "Juno?"

"He means Hera," Annabeth said. "For some reason, Jason likes the Roman names."

"Hmm," Clovis said.

"What?" Jason asked. "Does that mean something?"

"Hmm," Clovis said again, and this time Jason realized he was snoring.

"I'm surprised he stayed awake that long." Nyssa said, as Annabeth slapped her forehead.

...."But they're the same gods," Annabeth said. "Just different names."

"Not exactly," Clovis said.

The demigods looked confused.

How drastic is the change?  Annabeth wondered.

...."Well..." Clovis yawned. "Some gods are only Roman. Like Janus, or Pompona. But even the major Greek gods- it's not just their names that changed when they moved to Rome. Their appearances changed. Their attributes changed. They even had slightly different personalities."

"How does Clovis know all this stuff?" Percy asked. "Doesn't he just... ya'know, sleep all day?"

"I drrrreeeeeaaaammmm..." Clovis slurred in his sleep, startling some of the readers.

Percy blinked, unsure how to respond to that. "Um...okay."

"But..." Annabeth faltered. "Okay, so maybe people saw them differently through centuries. That doesn't change who they are."

Actually, it changes more than you would believe. Athena thought, thinking of her Roman counterpart.

"Sure it does." Clovis began to nod off, and Jason snapped his fingers under his nose.

"Coming, Mother!" he yelped.

Leo returned to building with Annabeth and Percy.

"I mean... Yeah, I'm awake. So, um, personalities. The gods change to reflect their host cultures. You know that, Annabeth. I mean, these days, Zeus likes tailored suits, reality television, and that Chinese food place on East Twenty-eighth Street, right? It was the same in Roman times, and the gods were Roman almost as long as they were Greek. It was a big empire, lasted for centuries. So of course their Roman aspects are still a big part of their character."

"Makes sense." Jason said.

It does? Thalia couldn't help but think.

I guess that explains how their forms exist... Annabeth thought. But how often do they change forms?

Annabeth shook her head, mystified. "But how do you know all this, Clovis?"

"Oh, I spend a lot of time dreaming. I see the gods there all the time- always shifting forms. Dreams are fluid, you know....Like recently, I was watching a Michael Jackson concert, and then I was onstage with Michael Jackson, and we were singing this duet, and I could not remember the words for 'The Girl is Mine'. Oh, man, it was so embarrassing, I-"

"I didn't know Clovis was so talkative." Connor laughed along with a couple other people.

"Clovis," Annabeth interrupted. "Back to Rome?"

"Right, Rome," Clovis said. "So we call the gods by their Greek names because that's their original form. But saying their Roman aspects are exactly the same- that's not true. In Rome, they became more warlike. They didn't mingle with mortals as much, more powerful- the gods of an empire."

"Yuck!" Connor commented, sticking out his tongue. A couple demigods muttered in agreement.

"Like the dark side of the gods?" Annabeth asked.

"Not exactly." Clovis said. "They stood for discipline, honor, strength-"

"Good things, then," Jason said. For some reason, he felt the need to speak up for the Roman gods, though wasn't sure why it mattered to him.

"I mean, discipline is important, right? That's what made Rome last so long."

Some demigods gave the book baffled looks.

"Sure, if you like being boring." Travis said, rolling his eyes. 

"But don't the Greek gods stand for that too?" Leo asked him.

"Exactly, that's why the Roman gods shouldn't even have existed." Clarisse said. "The Romans should've just worshiped the Greek gods instead of trying to make their own watered down versions."

"That's not what I meant!" Leo squeaked, as some of the gods winced.

"Indeed." Athena agreed. "Couldn't have said it better myself."

"What?" Leo gave the goddess a look of disbelief. 

Why would Jason be defending the Roman gods? Thalia thought feeling as though her stomach was twisting itself into knots.

Clovis gave him a curious look. "That's true. But the Roman gods weren't very friendly. For instance, my dad, Hypnos... he didn't do much except sleep in Greek times. In Roman times, they called him Somnus. He liked killing people who didn't stay alert at their jobs. If they nodded off at wrong time, boom- they never woke up. He killed the helmsman of Aeneas when they were sailing from Troy.

"Maybe Annabeth was right about the whole 'dark side thing'." Will said.

"Yeah, that's pretty bad..." Jake added.

Leo grimaced.

The gods exchanged looks.

"Nice guy," Annabeth said. "But I still don't understand what it has to do with Jason."

"Neither do I," Clovis said.

"So, basically, he was giving us useless information." Clarisse snorted.

"There is no such thing as useless information." the goddess of wisdom said. "This may seem useless now, but it may come in handy later."

"But if Hera took your memory, only she can give it back. And if I had to meet the queen of the gods, I'd hope she was more in a Hera mood than a Juno mood. Can I go back to sleep now?"

Annabeth huffed.

"He acts as if Hera is the best choice." Annabeth muttered under her breath.

Nico bit back a chuckle.

....Annabeth stared at the branch above the fire, dripping Lethe water into the cups. She looked so worried, Jason wondered if she was considering a drink to forget her troubles.

"I would never do that." Annabeth told Percy. "I don't want to forget all the times I had with you, no matter how hard it gets."

Percy and Annabeth leaned forward to kiss, only to be interrupted when Nico shouted. "Get room!"

Immediately the blushing couple pulled away.

Nico didn't bother hiding the triumphant smile on his face.

Athena gave the son of Hades an approving nod, while Aphrodite slumped in disappointment.

...."Thanks, Clovis. We'll see you at dinner."

"Can I get room service?" Clovis yawned and stumbled to his bunk. "I feel like...zzzz..." He collapsed with his butt in the air and his face buried in pillow.

"Won't he suffocate?" Jason asked.

"I doubt it." Connor said with a shrug. "If he can survive eighty-two pencils in his nose, I think he can sleep with a pillow covering his face."

"How do you know?" Percy asked, face still red.

"I had a lot of free time once."

"He'll be fine," Annabeth said. "But I'm beginning to think that you are in serious trouble."

"Finished." Artemis said. Holding the book out, she added. "Does anyone want to read next?"

"I will!" Aphrodite said, taking the book. She was anxious to hear about what to her daughter.

Chapter Text

"Piper IX," Aphrodite began, trying not to make it too obvious that she was worried.

Piper dreamed about her last day with her dad.

The goddess of love smiled sadly.

They were on the beach near Big Sur, taking a break from surfing. The morning had been so perfect, Piper knew something had to go wrong soon-

"Welcome to my world." Leo grumbled, watching Annabeth add the finishing touches to their Lego building. "It's a pretty crappy place."

a rabid horde of paparazzi, or maybe a great white shark attack. No way her luck could hold.

..."Nice job out there, Pipes." He gave her the smile he was famous for: perfect teeth, dimpled chin, a twinkle in his dark eyes that always made grown women scream and ask him to sign their bodies in permanent marker. (Seriously, Piper thought, get a life.)

"My thoughts exactly." Artemis muttered.

A few hunters nodded in agreement.

"Can't say I blame them." the goddess of love sighed. He is a handsome guy, after all.

His close-cropped black hair gleamed with salt water. 

Aphrodite suppressed the urge to sigh dreamily.

"You're getting better at hanging ten."

Piper flushed with pride, though she suspected Dad was just being nice. She still spent most her time wiping out. It took special talent to run over yourself with a surfboard.

Leo laughed at the mental image.

"It just takes practice." Percy said. 

"Says the guy who can control water." Thalia playfully rolled her eyes.

...Piper would've given up surfing long time ago except it let her spend time with him. There weren't many ways she could do that.

Aphrodite frowned. 

...She took the sandwich, though her stomach was too upset to eat. She always asked for PB&J. Piper was a vegetarian, for one thing. She had been ever since they'd driven past that slaughterhouse in Chino and the smell had made her insides want to come outside.

Imagining the smell, Grover gagged.

"I wouldn't be surprised if more people quit eating meat just by smelling a slaughterhouse." Grover said, his face gaining a green tint.

But it was more than that. PB&J was simple food, like a regular kid would have for lunch. Sometimes she pretended her dad had actually made it for her, not a personal chef from France who liked to wrap the sandwich in gold leaf paper with a light-up sparkler instead of a toothpick.

Aphrodite gave the book a sympathetic look.

"He couldn't even do that for her." Annabeth said with a scowl. She couldn't help but think of her own father.

"Maybe he didn't know that was how she felt." Aphrodite couldn't help but say. I'm sure if she just tells him how she feels, it'll work out.

Couldn't anything be simple? That's why she turned down the fancy clothes. Dad always offered, the designer shoes, the trips to the salon.

Drew, combing her hair with her fingers, rolled her eyes. What a waste of money.

She cut her own hair with a pair of plastic Garfield safety scissors, deliberately making it uneven.

"That explains the hair." Aphrodite said thoughtfully. Hopefully she'll let it grow out in the future. 

Leo threw a nut in the air and caught it.

...And she hated the snobby private schools Dad thought were good for her. She kept getting herself kicked out. He kept finding more schools.

Leo tossed the nut in the air again, his hands caught it.

Yesterday, she'd pulled her biggest heist yet- driving that 'burrowed' BMW out of the dealership.

"I think that's the closest we're ever going to get to her admitting to stealing, boys." Hermes said sadly.

The Stolls' shoulders slumped and they pouted.

The brothers looked so disappointed, Leo felt bad for them.

She had to pull a bigger stunt each time, because it took more and more time to get Dad's attention.

Annabeth understood how that felt. Sure she will never grasp the understanding of living as the upper class, but she could definitely relate to wanting her father's attention.

Why doesn't he get that? Annabeth thought, subconsciously holding onto the college ring on her necklace. 

....She meant to tell him that morning. Then he'd surprised her with this trip, and she couldn't ruin it. It was the first time they'd had a day together in what- three months?

Aphrodite and Annabeth sighed.

"What's wrong?" He passed her a soda.

"Dad, there's something-"

"Hold on, Pipes. That's a serious face. Ready for Any Three Questions?"

They'd been playing that game for years- her dad's way of staying connected in the shortest possible amount of time.

Maybe Dad and I can play that game. Annabeth thought. We still have a lot of catching up to do.

They could ask each other any three questions. Nothing off-limits, and you had to answer honestly. The rest of the time, Dad promised to stay out of her business- which was easy, since he never around.

A couple people winced at that.

"Ouch!" Connor remarked.

But... Aphrodite trailed off. They used to always spend time together. Tristan can't be that busy with work, can he?

Piper knew most kids would find a Q&A like this with their parent totally mortifying. But she looked forward to it. It was like surfing- not easy, but a way to feel like she actually had a father.

"That shouldn't be one of the only ways though..." Annabeth grumbled.

"First question," she said. "Mom."

No surprise. That was always one of her topics.

"That's a common question for a demigod." said Percy, remembering the times he asked his mom about Dad.

Leo once again tossed the nut in the air.

However, instead of landing in his hands, it crash landed on Travis' head.

"Ouch!" Travis exclaimed. Picking up the nut, he chucked the nut in Leo's direction.

The nut missed the other boy by a long shot and ended up hurtling down the hall.

Leo fidgeted as he pondered what should he do next.

Her dad shrugged with resignation. "What do you want to know, Piper? I already told you- she disappeared.

Aphrodite's voice wavered slightly.

"Some sort of story on how you two met would be nice," the daughter of Athena said snappishly. "Or maybe you can say what type of person she was; If Piper looked like her. Ya'know, little details like that would've meant the world to her."

Annabeth looked away and continued fiddling with her necklace. 

I don't know why, or where she went. After you were born, she simply left. I've never heard from her again."

"Do you think she's still alive?"

....He stared at the waves.

"Your Grandpa Tom," he said at last, "he used to tell me that if you walked far enough toward the sunset, you'd come to Ghost Country, where you could talk to the dead. He said a long time ago, you could bring the dead back; but then mankind messed up. Well, it's a long story."

"That sounds a lot like Greek myths." Nico remarked.

"I know," Annabeth agreed. "It sounds so similar, it's weird." First Romans, now Cherokees? What's next? Ancient Egyptians and Norse mythology?

"Like the Land of the Dead for the Greeks," Piper remembered. "It was in west, too. And Orpheus- he tried to bring his wife back."

Dad nodded. A year before, he'd had his biggest role as an Ancient Greek king.

..."Lot of similarities between Greek and Cherokee," Dad agreed.

Leo pulled out a small sheet of bubble wrap and began to pop each plastic bubble.

"Wonder what your grandpa would think if he saw us now, sitting at the end of the western land. He'd probably think we're ghosts."

"So you're saying you believe those stories? You think Mom is dead?"

For his sake, Aphrodite hoped so.

"He really didn't know that Piper's mom was a goddess?" Annabeth muttered, if possible she felt even more sympathetic towards the other girl. At least she knew who her mother was and where she belonged. Piper literally had nothing to go off of other than her dad's vague stories about her.

His eyes watered,

Aphrodite's voice wavered again.

and Piper saw the sadness behind them.

The goddess of love paused, blinking quickly before she continued.

She figured that's why women were so attracted to him. On the surface, he seemed confident and rugged, but his eyes held so much sadness....Dad told Piper it was a Cherokee thing- they all had that darkness inside them from generations of pain and suffering. But Piper thought it was more than that.

"He had to go through so much in his life." the goddess of love muttered And I didn't make it any better.

...."I don't think I could sleep at night. I'd always be looking for someone to blame."

Somebody to blame for Grandpa Tom dying of lung cancer, Piper thought, before Dad got famous and had the money to help. For Mom- the only woman he'd ever loved- abandoning him without even a good-bye note, leaving him with a newborn girl he wasn't ready to care for. For his being so successful, and yet still not happy.

It was for the best. Aphrodite reminded herself, bottom lip trembling.

"I don't know if she's alive," he said. "But I do think she might as well be in the Ghost Country, Piper. There's no getting her back. If I believed otherwise... I don't think I could stand that, either."

Oh Tristan! Aphrodite sniffled.

Behind them, a car door opened.

"Here comes trouble." Percy muttered, he had a good feeling who was going to ruin the moment.

Piper turned, and her heart sank. Jane was marching toward them in her business suit... The look on her face was partly annoyed, partly triumphant, and Piper knew she'd been in touch with the police.

Take a hike, Jane. Aphrodite scowled.

"I knew it." Percy said, pushing Clovis' head off his lap. "It's the female version of Smelly Gabe. "

Please fall down,  Piper prayed. If there's any animal spirit or Greek god that can help, make Jane take header. I'm not asking for permanent damage, just knock her out for the rest of the day, please?

I wish I could, Piper. Aphrodite thought, quickly wiping a tear that managed to slip by.

"Please tell me one of you guys actually did it." Travis pleaded.

"We can't interfere with human affairs." Zeus said sternly.

"Besides, if we did answer all prayers like that, do you now how many times you would've fallen on your face?" Demeter added.

Travis' eyes widened, before turning to glare at Katie.

Katie didn't even bother to hide her smirk.

But Jane kept advancing.

"Dad," Piper said quickly. "Something happened yesterday..."

But he'd seen Jane, too...Jane wouldn't be here if it wasn't serious. A studio head called- a project fell through- or Piper had messed up again.

"We'll get to that, Pipes," he promised. "I'd better see what Jane wants. You know how she is."

He didn't even bother listening to what she had to say. Annabeth thought. He's her boss, he could've just told Jane to wait and listened to Piper for just a few seconds. But of course not!

The teen gritted her teeth.

Yes- Piper knew. Dad trudged across the sand to meet her....She was good at reading faces. Jane gave him the facts about the stolen car, occasionally pointing at Piper like she was a disgusting pet that had whizzed on the carpet.

Aphrodite looked like she was ready to chuck the book through the window. Way to ruin the mood! I bet she couldn't wait to tell him.

...He gestured Jane to wait. Then he walked back to Piper. 

..."You told me you would try, Piper," he said.

"Way to go listening to her side of the story instead of jumping to conclusions." Annabeth said sarcastically. "I'm sure this won't hurt her in any way at all."

Percy gave her a one-sided hug.

"You okay?" he whispered in her ear.

Annabeth tried to relax under the hug.

"Yeah, I guess I'm just thinking too much about my dad." she sighed. Forcing her hand to move away from her necklace, she placed it on top of her lap.

"Dad, I hate that school. I can't do it. I wanted to tell you about the BMW, but-"

"They expelled you," he said. "A car, Piper? You're sixteen next year. I would buy you any car you want. How could you-"

Aphrodite's frown deepened.

It's like the bonding they had earlier never existed.

"When is he going to realize the real reason she stole those things?" Annabeth muttered out loud, still trying to calm down.

Leo squirmed a little as Aphrodite read this.

"Um... Do we have to read this part?" Leo asked, gaining everyone's attention. He shifted in his chair. "I mean, this looks kinda like a private conservation that we shouldn't be looking into."

"I understand where you're coming from." Athena patiently began. "But this is clearly crucial information. This is the last day Piper saw her father before he was kidnapped. There must be some clue in here on where he could've gone or who could've taken him." 

With that the goddess gestured the other to keep reading. 

Thank gods Piper isn't here. Leo sighed before he returned his attention to his bubble wrap.

"You mean,  Jane

Aphrodite spat the name out like it was something foul.

would buy me a car?" Piper demanded. She couldn't help it. The anger just welled up and spilled out of her. "Dad, just listen to me for once. Don't make me wait for you to ask your stupid three questions. I want to go to regular school. I want you to me take to parents' night, not Jane.

Aphrodite grimaced. He was even too busy for that? 

Or home school me! I learned so much when we read about Greece together. We could do that all the time! We could-"

"Don't make this about me," her dad said.

It is about you! Annabeth wanted to shout. She drummed her fingers against her leg.

"I do the best I can, Piper. We've had this conversation."

That's all he can say?! Annabeth began to slowly count to ten.

No,  she thought. You've cut off this conservation. For years.

Her dad sighed. "Jane's talked to the police, brokered a deal. The dealership won't press charges, but you have to agree to go to a boarding school in Nevada. They specialize in problems... in kids with tough issues."

"That's what I am." Her voice trembled. "A problem."

"That's not true." Hestia said firmly.

Aphrodite nodded, it was far from the truth.

"Piper, you said you'd try. You let me down. I don't know what else to do."

"Wow." Annabeth said. There was just so so many things wrong with that sentence that she couldn't even think of the words to describe it. "Just..."

She breathed in before sighing deeply. "Wow."

"Do anything," she said. "But do it yourself! Don't let Jane handle it for you. You can't send me away."

Aphrodite blinked back tears.

..."Dad..."

He looked away, gazing at the ocean like he could all the way to Ghost Country.

Piper promised herself she wouldn't cry.

Aphrodite was also making a similar promise. She squeezed her eyes shut before reading again.

She headed up the beach toward Jane, who smiled coldly and held up a plane ticket. As usual, she'd already arranged everything.

"Can someone please push her into the ocean?" Annabeth muttered.

Piper was just another problem of the day that Jane could check off her list.

She sounds like a good wife for a iguana. Maybe I should pair the two up. It'll be fun to see what happens. Aphrodite slowly smiled at the thought.

Piper's dream changed.

Oh great! Maybe now she'll finally wake up, or dream of something happier. Aphrodite thought cheerfully.

She stood on a mountaintop at night, city lights glimmering below.

..."This is second warning," a voice rumbled, so powerful it shook the earth.

Piper had heard that voice before in her dreams.

Or not. Aphrodite slumped in her chair.

She tried to convince herself it wasn't as scary as she remembered, but it was worse.

Behind the bonfire, a huge face loomed out of the darkness...The face hardly seemed alive except for its piercing white eyes, like raw diamonds, and its horrible frame of dreadlocks, braided with human bones. It smiled, and Piper shivered.

The wide eyed gods exchanged looks before turning to Zeus.

The demigods had no idea who the voice was, but, judging by the gods' expressions, they knew it was worse then Kronos.

Zeus, unsure of what to do, was rubbing his face with his hands.

"Continue," Zeus ordered through his hands.

"You'll do what you're told," the giant said. "You'll go on the quest. Do our bidding, and you may walk away alive. Otherwise-"

He gestured to one side of the fire. Piper's father was hanging unconscious, tied to a stake.

Aphrodite whimpered. "I hate demigod dreams!" 

"I think it's safe to say we all do." Leo said, slightly less shaken then the others.

She tried to cry out. She wanted to call to her dad, and demand the giant to let him go, but her voice wouldn't work.

I hate it when that happens. Leo wrung the bubble wrap like it was a wet towel.

The sounds of popping echoed in the silent room.

"I'll be watching," the giant said. "Serve me, and you both live. You have the word of Enceladus.

"Enchiladas?" Percy repeated.

"I-I wish." Trembling, Grover stuttered.

"Are we that unlucky?" Annabeth, visibly paling, asked her mother.

"Apparently." she replied, looking a hundred years older.

Fail me... well, I've slept for millennia, young demigod. I am very hungry. Fail, and I'll eat well."

Aphrodite looked ready to faint. It took all her will power to keep reading in a clear voice.

The giant roared with laughter. The earth trembled. A crevice opened at Piper's feet, and she tumbled into darkness.

She woke

"Finally." Aphrodite sighed, she didn't think she could take any more of that brute threatening her daughter.

feeling like she'd been trampled by an Irish step-dancing troupe. Her chest hurt, and she could barely breathe. She reached down and closed her hand around the hilt of the dagger Annabeth had given her- Katoptris, Helen of Troy's weapon.

"Please don't look into it." the goddess of love pleaded. "At least not now."

So Camp Half-Blood hadn't been a dream.

...Piper tried to focus. She was lying in a bed with a white curtain on one side, like in a nurse's office. That redheaded girl, Rachel Dare, sat next to her....

"Where-" Piper's voice died when she saw the guy at the door.

He looked like a typical California surfer dude- buff and tan, blond hair, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. But he had hundred of blue eyes all over his body- along his arms, down his legs, and all over his face. Even his feet had eyes, peering up at her from between the straps of his sandals.

Hera smiled fondly as she heard Argus' description.

"I heard he has an eye on his tongue." Connor whispered to Leo.

"Really?" Leo said skeptically. "Why would he have one there? What happens if he bit his tongue?"

"I don't know," Connor shrugged. "It'll hurt like Hades though."

"That's Argus," Rachel said, "Our head of security. He's just keeping an eye on things... so to speak."

Clarisse rolled her eyes.

Argus nodded. The eye on his chin winked.

...."You're in the Big House," Rachel said. "Camp offices. We brought you here when you collapsed."

"You grabbed me," Piper remembered. "Hera's voice-"

"I'm so sorry about that," Rachel said. "Believe me, it was not my idea to get possessed. Chiron healed you with some nectar-"

...Rachel sat forward "Do you remember your vision?"

"I wish I could forget it." Aphrodite mumbled thinking about Tristan tied to the stake.

Piper had a moment of dread, thinking she meant the dream about the giant. Then she realized Rachel was talking about what happened in Hera's cabin.

"Something's wrong with the goddess," Piper said.

"Tell me something I don't know." Annabeth muttered.

Percy stifled a laugh.

"She told me to free her, like she's trapped. She mentioned the earth swallowing us, and a fiery one,

Annabeth's eyes widened in recognition.

"Oh gods." she muttered.

Romans, giants, now her. How much more do we have against us. Annabeth shivered, Percy pulled her closer.

and something about the solstice."

In the corner, Argus made a rumbling sound in his chest. His eyes all fluttered at once.

"Hera created Argus," Rachel explained. "He's actually very sensitive when it comes to her safety. We're trying to keep from crying, because last time that happened... well, it caused quite a flood."

"I'll be back soon." Hera cooed.

If he has an eye on his tongue, does that mean he could drown if he cries? Leo wondered as he scanned the plastic sheet for more bubbles.

..."So..." Piper tried not to stare as Argus wiped the tears from his elbows. "What's happened to Hera?"

"We're not sure," Rachel said. "Annabeth and Jason were here for you, by the way. Jason didn't want to leave you, but Annabeth had a idea- something that might restore his memories."

"That's... that's great."

"Would've been better if it had worked." Thalia muttered.

Jason had been here for her? She wished she'd been conscious for that... She didn't want their relationship to be just a trick of the Mist.

You still have a chance! Aphrodite thought happily.

Get over yourself, she thought. If she was going to save her dad, it didn't matter whether Jason liked her or not. He would hate her eventually. Everyone here would.

Was this how Silena felt? Clarisse thought with a frown.

She looked down at the ceremonial dagger strapped to her side. Annabeth had said it was a sign of power and status, but not normally used in battle...She didn't dare unsheathe it again, because she couldn't bear to see her own reflection.

Aphrodite's smile quickly faded.

"Don't worry." Rachel squeezed her arm. "Jason seems like a good guy. He had a vision too, a lot like yours. Whatever's happening with Hera- I think you two were meant to work together."

Not if I have anything to say about it. Drew crossed her arms.

Rachel smiled like this was good news, but Piper's spirits plunged even further... Now Rachel was basically telling her: Good new! Not only is your dad being captured by a cannibal giant,

Aphrodite slightly winced.

you also get to betray the guy you like! How awesome is that?

"Not awesome at all." Aphrodite said quietly.

"Hey," Rachel said. "No need to cry. You'll figure it out."

Piper wiped her eyes, trying to get control of herself. This wasn't like her. She was supposed to be tough- a hardened car thief, the scourge of L.A. private schools. Here she was crying like a baby. 

Drew snorted. Is that really surprising?

"How do you know what I'm facing?"

Rachel shrugged. "I know it's a hard choice, and your options aren't great. Like I said, I get hunches sometimes. But you're going to be claimed at the campfire. I'm almost sure.  When you know who your godly parent is, things might be clearer."

Clearer,  Piper thought. Not necessarily better.

Com'on, it won't be that bad. Aphrodite thought. You'll finally know who your mom is and get new siblings. Maybe they'll help you with your nightmares.

Aphrodite perked up at the thought.

She sat up in bed. Her forehead ached like someone had driven a spike between her eyes. There's no getting your mother back, her dad told her. But apparently, tonight her mom might claim her. For the first time, Piper wasn't sure she wanted that.

"It's better that, then not being claimed at all." Chris said.

"I hope it's Athena,"

Aphrodite momentarily scowled. Really? Her? She's okay, I guess...

"As much as I would like say otherwise, Piper's not my daughter." Athena said with a small smile.

Annabeth frowned in disappointment. It would've been fun having her as a sister.

..."Piper, I don't blame you. Truthfully? I think Annabeth is hoping that too. You guys are a lot alike."

More than I first realized. Annabeth thought with a small smile.

The comparison made Piper feel even guiltier. "Another hunch? You don't know anything about me."

..."You're just saying that because you're an oracle, aren't you? You're supposed to sound mysterious."

Rachel laughed. "Don't be giving away my secrets, Piper.

Apollo laughed at that.

Things will work out- just maybe not the way you plan."

"That's not making me feel better."

"It's better then things not working out." Leo said, putting the bubble wrap in his tool belt.

..."Dinner?" Piper guessed.

"You slept through it," Rachel said. "Time for the camfire. Let's go find out who you are."

"Done!" Aphrodite said. "Who's next?"

"I'll read." Hestia, excited to hear who Piper's mother is, said.

Taking the book, the goddess walked back to her hearth in the corner before she began to read.

Chapter Text

"Piper X," Hestia read.

The Whole Campfire Idea Freaked Piper it made her think of that huge purple bonfire in the dreams and her father tied to a stake.

When she got instead was almost as terrifying:

Aphrodite stiffened.

a sing-along.

"Oh!" she said laughing along with the others.

"Hey! There is nothing wrong with a sing-along! It helps bring people together!" Apollo pouted.

"Not when you sing it every twenty minutes." Artemis said, rolling her eyes.

...Piper spotted Jason in the front next to Annabeth. Leo was nearby, sitting with a bunch of burly-looking campers under a steel gray banner emblazoned with a hammer.

Standing in front of the fire, half a dozen campers with guitars and strange, old fashioned harps- lyres?- were jumping around, leading a song about pieces of armor, something about how their grandma got dressed for war.

"Sounds like Apollo is writing camp songs again." Artemis groaned.

Apollo dramatically put his hand over his chest. "That one's a classic! Everyone loves that song!"

"It's a catchy song, a lot of people request it." Will admitted.

Apollo smiled and wiggled his eyebrows at his sister, who remained unimpressed.

Everybody was singing with them and making gestures for the pieces of armor and joking around... As the energy level got higher, the flames did too, turning from red to orange to gold.

Hestia smiled at this. It was always nice to see her family relax and enjoy each other's company.

Finally the song ended with a lot of rowdy applause. A guy on a horse trotted...Then she realized it was a centaur- his bottom half was a white stallion, his top half a middle-aged guy with curly hair and a trimmed beard.

Leo took out a screwdriver and spun it on its side.

..."What about capture the flag?" somebody yelled. Grumbling broke out among some kids in armor, sitting under a red banner with the emblem of a boar's head.

"Seriously? Did they forget that there is a dangerous dragon rampaging through the woods?" Percy rolled his eyes.

"Not dangerous." Leo added, spinning the screwdriver faster. 

"Yes," the centaur said. "I know the Ares cabin is anxious to return to the woods for our regular games."

"And kill people!" one of them shouted.

"Brilliant." Athena said sarcastically while Ares beamed with pride.

There's not even killing allowed in the game. Percy thought with a sigh.

"However," Chiron said, "until the dragon is brought under control, that won't be possible. Cabin Nine, anything to report on that?"

He turned to Leo's group. Leo winked at Piper and shot her with a finger gun.

Thalia rolled her eyes.

The girl next to him stood uncomfortably. She wore an army jacket a lot like Leo's, with her hair covered in a red bandanna.

Nyssa grimaced when she realized that she had to tell the bad news.

Of course it has to be me... she thought.

"We're working on it."

..."How, Nyssa?" an Ares kid demanded.

"Really hard," the girl said.

Nyssa sat down to a lot of yelling and complaining, which caused the fire to sputter chaotically.

"Sorry..." Jake told his sister. 

"You needed to rest." Nyssa said, tried to say casually with a shrug.

"Those poor kids are under a lot of pressure." Hestia said sympathetically.

Hephaestus let out a long sigh.

...."We all have to be more patient," Chiron said. "In the meantime, we have more pressing matters to discuss."

"Percy?" someone asked. The fire dimmed even further, but Piper didn't need the mood flames to sense the mood flames to sense the crowd's anxiety.

Percy smiled sadly. It was nice to know so many people cared about him. I just wish I didn't have to find out like this.

..."I didn't find Percy," she announced. Her voice caught a little when she said his name.

Annabeth chewed her lip and Percy hugged her tighter.

"You'll find me. I'm probably out there trying to get back to Camp." the son of Poseidon said.

Or you could be tied to a stake and held hostage by a giant. Annabeth miserably thought. Or be killed by a Roman.

"He wasn't at the Grand Canyon, like I thought. But we're not giving up. We've got teams everywhere. Grover, Tyson, Nico, the Hunters of Artemis- everyone's out looking.

"T-Thanks guys." Percy stuttered.

"Don't get used to it." Clarisse said gruffly.

We will find him. Chiron's talking about something different. A new quest."

"It's the Great Prophecy, isn't it?" a girl called out.

"Unfortunately." Leo muttered, spinning the screwdriver faster.

"Great Prophecy?" Annabeth asked. She looked at the gods for information, but they had no clue. *

"What? I thought we are only having a war!" Katie exclaimed.

"How many of these 'Great' Prophecies are we gonna get?" Travis whined.

Everyone turned...They'd been chatting among themselves and not paying much attention until their leader stood up: Drew.

Everyone looked surprised. Apparently Drew didn't address the crowd very often.

"Why should I waste my breath, when I have better things to do?" Drew muttered.

"Drew?" Annabeth said. "What do you mean?"

"Well, come on." Drew spread her hands like the truth was obvious. "Olympus is closed. Percy's disappeared. Hera sends you a vision and you come back with three demigods in one day. I mean, something weird is going on. The Great Prophecy has started, right?"

"It has to," Annabeth agreed with a frown. "It's the only logical explanation for all this."

Drew shrugged as if she knew it all along.

Piper whispered to Rachel, "What's she talking about- the Great Prophecy?"

...Rachel's eyes looked scary in the firelight. Piper was afraid she might clench up and start channeling a freaky peacock goddess again,

Leo snickered as Hera rolled her eyes.

but she stepped forward calmly and addressed to the camp.

"Yes," she said. "The Great Prophecy has begun."

The children of the Big Three groaned.

"I swear if I'm in this one too, I'm going to scream." Percy warned.

Welp, start screaming. the son of Hephaestus thought.

Pandemonium broke out.

Piper caught Jason's eye. He mouthed, You all right? She nodded and managed a smile, but then looked away. It was too painful seeing him and not being with him.

"Aww." Aphrodite cooed.

...Rachel took another step toward the audience...

"For those of you who have not heard it," Rachel said, "the Great Prophecy was my first prediction. It arrived in August.

"Doesn't Great Prophecies usually take years or decades to come true?" Percy asked Apollo.

The god of the sun deeply frowned. "Usually it does. But sometimes it happens quicker."

"Our luck sucks." Connor declared, everyone agreed.

It goes like this:

Annabeth and Athena leaned forward. For once, all eyes were on Hestia.

"Seven half-bloods shall answer the call. To storm or fire the world must fall- "

Leo, stopping the spinning screwdriver, deeply frowned.

Jason shot to his feet. His eyes looked wild, like he'd just been tasered.

"Um... Is he okay?" Travis asked no one in particular.

Even Rachel seemed caught off guard. "J-Jason?" she said. "What's-"

"Ut cum spiritu postrema dejuremus,"  he chanted. "Et hostes ornamenta addent ad ianuam necern."

Silence.

"Uh..I...I think he just finished the prophecy in Latin." Percy said, after some mental decoding.

"That's impossible." Annabeth argued. "We didn't even hear the prophecy yet. How did Jason know it?"

Leo searched in his tool belt for more things to keep his attention.

An uneasy silence settled on the group... "You just... finished the prophecy," Rachel stammered. "- An oath to keep a final breath/And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. How did you-"

"I know those lines." Jason winced and put his hands to his temples. "I don't know how, but I know that prophecy."

Do the other Romans know too? Annabeth wondered. But why would they know our prophecy? What would they do with it?

"In Latin, no less," Drew called out. "Handsome and smart."

"Shut up Drew," Thalia muttered, rolling her eyes.

There was some giggling from the Aphrodite cabin. God, what a bunch of losers, Piper thought.

A few Aphrodite children gasped at the offense.

The hunters hummed in agreement.

"Says the girl who doesn't know how to use scissors properly." Drew grumbled.

But it didn't do much to break the tension. The campfire was burning a chaotic, nervous shade of green.

The fire's color probably didn't help with the mood either. Hestia thought, missing the bright colors it once had.

Jason sat down, looking embarrassed,  but Annabeth put a hand on his shoulder and muttered something reassuring. Piper felt a pang of jealously. It should have been her next to him, comforting him.

"Awww, look, she's jealous! Isn't that cute?" Aphrodite asked Ares while she shook his arm.

"I guess." Ares said with a shrug.

Rachel Dare still looked shaken. She glanced back at Chiron for guidance, but the centaur stood grim and silent, as if he were watching a play he couldn't interrupt- a tragedy that ended with a lot of people dead onstage.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! What did the book just say?!" Travis yelled as the tension built up in the room.

"I'm not reading it again" Hestia said, looking depressed.

Leo pulled out some clay and began to roll it into a ball.

"Well," Rachel said, trying to regain her composure. "So, yeah, that's the Great Prophecy. We hoped it might not happen for years, but I fear it's starting now. I can't give you proof. It's just a feeling. And like Drew said, some weird stuff is happening. The seven demigods, whoever they are, have not been gathered yet. I get the feeling some are here tonight. Some are not here."

Then where are they? Are they unclaimed demigods? Annabeth wondered. Or are they the Romans?... No, that can't be right. Why would they help us? We're enemies.

The campers began to stir and mutter, looking at each other nervously, until a drowsy voice in the crowd called out, "I'm here! Oh... were you calling roll?"

A few people chuckled.

..."Anyway," Rachel continued, "we don't know what the Great Prophecy means. We don't know what challenge the demigods will face, but since the first Great Prophecy predicted the Titan War, we can guess the second Great Prophecy will predict something least that bad."

"Or worse," Chiron murmured.

"Good old Chiron, always so optimistic." Connor muttered.

"He always knows when to put everyone at ease." Travis nervously laughed. "I can feel myself calming down already."

Maybe he didn't mean everyone to overhear, but they did. The campfire immediately turned dark purple, the same color as Piper's dream.

Aphrodite shuddered.

Hestia's shoulders slumped as she continued reading.

"What we do know," Rachel said, "is that the first phase has begun. A major problem has arisen, and we need a quest to solve it. Hera, the queen of gods, has been taken."

...Chiron pounded his hoof again, but Rachel still had to wait before she could get their attention.

Leo pushed the ball of clay back and forth for a bit, before squashing it flat again.

...Then Rachel told them about Piper passing out in Hera's cabin. Piper tried to keep a calm expression, even when she noticed Drew in the back row, pantomiming a faint,

Aphrodite frowned. Why is she antagonizing Piper? They just met. Why can't they just get along?

The goddess took a deep breath and sighed. They'll get along better when they realize their siblings. she reassured herself. They'll probably end up having a relationship like Apollo and Artemis.

Aphrodite giggled to herself.

and her friends giggling. Finally Rachel told them about Jason's vision in the living room of the Big House. The message Hera delivered there was so similar that Piper got a chill. The only difference: Hera had warned Piper not to betray her. Bow to his will, and their kind shall rise, dooming us all. Hera knew about the giant's threat. But if that was true, why hadn't she warned Jason, and exposed Piper as an enemy agent?

"Because she wants Piper to make the choice for herself." Hestia smiled fondly at Hera.

The younger sister smiled back.

I doubt it. Annabeth thought.

"Jason," Rachel said. "Um... do you remember your last name?"

Thalia held her breath.

He looked self-conscious, but he shook his head.

Thalia let out a small sigh of relief. She wasn't ready to face the confrontation of her friends yet.

"We'll just call you Jason, then," Rachel said. "It's clear Hera herself issued you on a quest."

Rachel paused, as if giving a chance to protest his destiny. Everyone's eyes were on him; there was so much pressure, Piper thought she would've buckled in his position.

"I wouldn't be surprised." Drew murmured.

Leo molded the clay into a pyramid, before crushing it with his fist.

...He set his jaw and nodded. "I agree."

...."That's the council day of the gods," Annabeth said. "if the gods don't already know Hera's gone, they'll definitely notice her absence by then. They'll probably break out fighting, accusing each other of taking her. That's what they usually do."

"True," Poseidon shrugged. "Zeus would probably accuse me first too."

"I would not!" Zeus protested.

"Yes you would. Then Hades would watch us argue for a little while before going back to the Underworld and the others would eventually be on either your side or mine. Later we'll continue fighting and Hades will somehow get roped in, even though he was trying to avoid it in the first place."

"How do you know?" Zeus said doubtfully.

"Because we always fight! We're fighting right now!"

"We are not fighting!" Zeus argued. "We're just having... a disagreement."

Poseidon just looked at him as if to say: Are you serious?

"The winter solstice," Chiron spoke up, "is also the time of great darkness. The gods gather that day, as mortals always have, because there is strength in numbers. The solstice is a day when magic is strong. Ancient magic, older than the gods. It is a day when things... stir."

The way he said it, stirring sounded absolutely sinister- like it should be a first-degree felony, not something you did to cookie dough.

"He's that talented." Connor said.

"Can Chiron at least pretend that everything's going to be okay? For us?" Katie asked.

Leo turned his clay into a cube then he sandwiched it in between his hands.

..."Why hasn't he been claimed?" somebody yelled from the Ares cabin. "If he's so important-"

"He has been claimed," Chiron announced. "Long ago. Jason give them a demonstration."

...He stepped forward nervously, but Piper couldn't help thinking how amazing he looked with his blond hair glowing in the firelight, his regal features like a Roman statues's.

"Roman statue's?" Thalia said, unintentionally sounding offended. "Doesn't she mean, Ancient Greek?"

"Is it really that big of a deal?" Leo asked. "I mean, a statue's a statue, right?"

"But he doesn't look like that." Thalia insisted. "He looks Greek." 

"How would you know?" Annabeth asked as casually as she could.

Thalia hesitated before shrugging. 

"His description sounds Greek to me." she replied.

...Jason reached into his pocket. His coin flashed in the air, and when he caught it in his hand, he was holding a lance- a rod of gold about seven feet long, with a spear tip at one end.

"Wasn't that a sword?" Chris asked. "How exactly does that thing work?"

..."Wasn't that..." Annabeth hesitated. "I thought you had a sword."

"Um, it came up tails, I think," Jason said. "Same coin, long-range weapon form."

"Dude, I want one!" yelled somebody from Ares cabin.

"Better than Clarisse's electric spear, Lamer!" one of his brothers agreed.

"Who said that?!" Clarisse yelled, face turning red.

"I'm positive that's not true." Chris quickly assured his girlfriend. "L- er... Maimer is a great weapon."

"Electric," Jason murmured, like it was a good idea. "Back away."

...Jason raised his javelin, and broke open the sky... Lightening arched down though the golden spear point and hit the campfire with the force of an artillery shell.

...A burning log had impaled a few inches from the sleeping kid Clovis, who hadn't even stirred.

Connor let out a impressed low whistle. "I always knew Clovis could sleep through anything."

Leo made the clay into a lumpy star before rolling it back into a ball.

Jason lowered his lance. "Um... sorry."

...[Chiron] grimaced as if his worse fears had been confirmed. "A little overkill, perhaps, but you've made your point. And I believe we know who your father is."

"Jupiter," Jason said. "I mean, Zeus. Lord of the Sky."

"He really needs to start getting these names right." Thalia said, crossing her arms.

Piper couldn't help smiling. It made perfect sense. The most powerful god, the father of all the greatest heroes in the ancient myths-

"Hestia, please read a little faster for this part." Poseidon said, ignoring Zeus's superior look on his face. "Any more ego boosting and Zeus's head might explode."

The goddess giggled as she did as she was told.

no one else could possibly be Jason's dad.

..."Hold it!" [Annabeth] said. "How can he be the son of Zeus? The Big Three... their pact not to have mortal kids...

"Didn't work." Hermes completed.

how could we not have known about him sooner?"

"He could've been a loner, like us." Thalia said. But that doesn't explain how he escaped the wolves. 

"But why didn't he get claimed in Camp? What's the point in claiming him in a place where other people wouldn't see or understand it." Percy said, imagining Jason getting claimed in a grocery store.

..."The important thing," Rachel said, "is that Jason's here now. He has a quest to fulfill, which means he will need his own prophecy."

...Two campers rushed forward and caught her. A third ran to the side of the amphitheater and grabbed a bronze three-legged stool, like they'd trained for the duty.

"They need to." Apollo said happily. "It's important my oracle doesn't injure herself while she's giving a prophecy."

They eased Rachel onto the stool in front of the ruined hearth...Emerald smoke issued from her mouth. The voice that came out was raspy and ancient- the sound a snake would make if it could talk:

Percy shuddered. I don't think I'll ever be used to seeing Rachel like that.

"Child of lightning, beware the earth,

Her too?! Annabeth gasped. No, it can't be, she's been asleep for so long. It has to mean something else.

The giants revenge the seven shall birth,

The forge and dove shall break the cage,

And death unleash through Hera's rage."

Great," Thalia said sarcastically. "Are you sure we can't leave her in there."

"No!" Hera replied venomously glaring the teen. "Didn't you hear Chiron? I'm the glue that holds this family together!"

Hermes, Hephaestus, and Artemis rolled their eyes.

On the last word, Rachel collapsed, but her helpers were waiting to catch her. They carried her away from the hearth and laid her in the corner to rest.

Apollo nodded his head with approval.

"So practiced, it's nice to see my Oracle being taken care of." And not put into the attic. the god said.

"Is that normal?" Piper asked.  Then she realized she'd spoken into the silence, and everyone was looking at her. "I mean... does she spew green smoke a lot?"

A couple people laughed at this.

"At least it wasn't the mummy? Can you imagine Piper's reaction?" Connor snickered.

"Nightmares for life." Travis said.

"She wasn't that bad!" Apollo argued. 

Leo made a clay car (it looked more like a circle with wheels), before flattening it again.

"Gods, you're dense!" Drew sneered. "She just issued a prophecy- Jason's prophecy to save Hera! Why don't you just-"

"She's new to Camp," Aphrodite reminded Drew. "She still has a lot to learn and since you've been there the longest, you should take time to explain it to her."

Drew snorted. Why should I?

"Drew," Annabeth snapped. "Piper asked a fair question Something about that prophecy definitely isn't normal. If breaking Hera's cage unleashes her death and causes a bunch of death... Why should we free her. It might be a trap, or- or maybe Hera will turn on her rescuers. She's never been kind to heroes."

"I am after they save me." Hera said, crossing her arms.

Jason rose. "I don't have much choice. Hera took my memory. I need it back. Besides, we can't just not help the queen of the heavens if she's in trouble."

"Exactly!" Hera said.

[Nyssa]  "Maybe. But you should listen to Annabeth. Hera can be vengeful. She threw her son- our dad- down a mountain just he was ugly."

"It was in the heat of the moment! I wasn't thinking it through!" Hera defended.

Hephaestus glared daggers at his mother. "Is that the best excuse you can come up with?"

"I already said sorry, what more do you want?"

"A sincere apology would be nice! I had to trap you on your own throne for you to even acknowledge me!"

"I gave you a place on Olympus and a beautiful wife!"

"A beautiful wife who cheats on me!" the god yelled back.

Aphrodite put her hands on her hips.

"Are you really the one to talk?" she said, jerking her head at Leo.

Said boy looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

"Why are you bringing me into this?!" he exclaimed. He has other kids in this room ya'know!

Hestia hurriedly continued reading before things could escalate further. 

"Real ugly," snickered a girl from Aphrodite.

Hephaestus silently glared at Hera who pointedly looked away.

"Shut up!" Nyssa growled. "Anyway, we've also got to think- why beware the earth? And what's the giants' revenge? What are we dealing with here that's powerful enough to kidnap the queen of the heavens?"

Hopefully, not what I think it is. Annabeth thought.

No one answered, but Piper noticed Annabeth and Chiron having a silent exchange. Piper thought it went something like:

Annabeth: The giants' revenge... no, it can't be.

Chiron: Don't speak of it here. Don't scare them.

"Is it that bad?" Katie asked, gulping.

Annabeth: You're kidding me! We can't be that unlucky.

Chiron: Later, child. If you told them everything, they would be too terrified to proceed.

"It's that bad." Nico said.

...Annabeth took a deep breath. "It's Jason's quest," she announced, "so it's Jason's choice. Obviously, he's the child of lightning. According to tradition, he may choose any two companions."

Someone from the Hermes cabin yelled, "Well, you, obviously, Annabeth. You've got the most experience."

"True," Annabeth admitted. "But the prophecy has already chosen who should go."

"No, Travis," Annabeth said.

"Hey look! I'm in the story!" Travis gloated to his brother.

Connor huffed. "I bet this is the only time."

"First off, I'm not helping Hera. Every time I've tried, she's deceived me, or it's come back to bite me later. Forget it. No way.

"I don't need your help anyway." Hera grumbled.

Secondly, I'm leaving first thing in the morning to find Percy."

"It's connected," Piper blurted out, not sure how she got the courage. "You know that's true, don't you? This whole business, your boyfriend's disappearance- it's all connected."

"But... how? Am I on some kind of quest too?" Percy asked.

"What kind of quest would have you disappear without telling anybody?" Grover commented.

..."It says who I pick," Jason agreed. "The forge and dove shall break the cage. The forge is the symbol of Vul- Hephaestus."

Under the Cabin Nine banner, Nyssa's shoulders slumped, like she'd just been given a heavy anvil to carry.

"Sorry." Jake, feeling guilty, said to his sister.

Nyssa sighed. "It's not your fault."

"If you have to beware the earth," she said, "you should avoid traveling overland. You need air transport."

"How?" Katie asked. "I thought Annabeth broke the chariot."

"They could use the Pegasi." Aphrodite suggested.

Piper was about to call out that Jason could fly.

Leo flattened the clay tree.

But then she thought better of it. That was for Jason to tell them, and he wasn't volunteering the information. Maybe he figured he'd freaked them out enough for one night.

"I think they had enough excitement for one day." Athena agreed.

"The flying chariot's broken," Nyssa continued, "and the pegasi, we're using them to search for Percy. But maybe Hephaestus cabin can help figure out something else to help.

"I doubt it would work because of the curse." Hermes said. "And they only have four days to get there."

With Jake incapacitated, I'm senior camper. I can volunteer for the quest."

Nyssa looked miserable.

Then Leo stood up. He'd been so quiet, Piper almost forgotten he was there, which was totally not like Leo.

"I can be quiet when I want to." Leo huffed.

"It's me," he said.

Nyssa sighed with relief.

...Jason studied him for a moment. Piper was sure he was going to tell Leo no. Then he smiled. "We started this together, Leo. Seems only right you come along. You find us a ride, you're in."

"Yes!" Leo pumped his fist.

"I never seen someone so happy to be on a life threatening quest before." Chris chuckled.

"It'll be dangerous," Nyssa warned him. "Hardship, monsters, terrible suffering. Possibly none of you will come back alive."

"Ppffft! Please, I live for danger." Leo said with a dismissive wave. "Danger's my middle name."

"If you say so..." his sister said with a shrug.

"Oh." Suddenly Leo didn't look so excited. Then he remembered everyone was watching. "I mean... Oh, cool! Suffering? I love suffering! Let's do this."

"That's the spirit!" Hermes cheered, laughing along with Apollo and his sons.

"Either you had no idea what you were getting yourself into," Thalia said. "Or, you're an idiot."

"I think it's a little bit of both." Leo smiled.

Annabeth nodded. "Then, Jason you only need to choose the third member. The dove-"

"Oh, absolutely!" Drew was on her feet and flashing Jason a smile. "The dove is Aphrodite. Everybody knows that. I am totally yours."

"No." Thalia said almost immediately. "No way. Is there anybody else in Cabin Ten who's willing to go?"

None of the other Aphrodite kids said anything.

Drew giggled. "Don't be silly, it has to be me! No one else is volunteering, so I'm willing to risk my life to rescue Hera."

"This isn't a game," Thalia stressed. "This is life or death. You might not make it."

The daughter of Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "Don't you think I already know that?"

The huntress scowled.

Piper's hands clenched. She stepped forward. "No."

"Why is everybody trying to stop me from going on this quest? Can't you see I'm doing you a favor?" Drew snapped.

..."had the vision of Hera; not you. I have to do this."

"Anyone can have a vision," Drew said. "You were just at the right place at the right time."

"I don't think it works like that." Katie told Drew.

"So what? It's not like she can go anyway. She's not a child of Aphrodite." she responded.

The goddess of love bit her lip.

She turned to Jason. "Look, fighting is all fine, I suppose. And people who build things..."

She looked at Leo in disdain. "Well, I suppose someone has to get their hands dirty. But you need charm on your side. I can be persuasive. I could help a lot."

"Why are you suddenly so interested in going on a quest?" Annabeth asked Drew. "You never wanted to go on a quest before."

Drew ignored her, instead, she turned her attention back to her nails.

Leo rolled the clay cake (that looked more like a cookie) back into a ball.

The campers started murmuring about how Drew was pretty persuasive. Piper could see Drew winning them over. Even Chiron was scratching his beard, like Drew's participation suddenly made to him.

Drew smirked.

Poor Piper. she thought with mock sympathy. Didn't stand a chance.

"Well..." Annabeth said. "Given the wording of the prophecy-"

"No!" Piper's own voice sounded strange in her ears- more insistent, richer in tone. "I'm supposed to go."

...Everyone started nodding, muttering that hmm, Piper's point of view made sense too.

"What?!" Drew exclaimed. Did Dumpster Queen just- No! No! It can't be! Maybe I just lost control for a little while, yeah, that's it!

Will frowned. "How could she have made a point? She didn't even form an argument."

..."Get over it!" Drew snapped at the crowd. "What can Piper do?"

Piper tried to respond, but her confidence started to wane. What could she offer?

"A lot more things then could." Leo muttered, flattening the ball again.

She wasn't a fighter, or a planner, or a fixer. She had no skills except getting into trouble and occasionally convincing people to do stupid things.

Plus, she was a liar. She needed to go on this quest for reasons that were beyond Jason- and if she did go, she'd end up betraying everyone there...How could she make a choice like that- between helping her father and helping Jason?

"It's impossible." Percy frowned, knowing he would be in a similar predicament if he had to choose between his mom or Annabeth.

"Well," Drew said smugly, "I guess that settles it."

Suddenly there was a collective gasp. Everyone stared at Piper like she'd just exploded. She wondered what she'd done wrong. Then she realized there was a reddish glow around her.

"She's finally getting claimed!" Hestia excitedly exclaimed.

She looked above her, but there was no burning symbol like the one that appeared over Leo. Then she looked down and yelped.

Her clothes... what in the world was she wearing?... she was adorned in a beautiful white sleeveless gown that went down to her ankles, with a V-neck so low it was totally embarrassing.

"I'm sure it wasn't that bad." Aphrodite giggled. Her voice was the only one speaking in the stunned silence. "I'm sure Jason liked it."

"I think he likes it more than Piper does." Leo added, unfazed by Piper's sudden change in clothes.

"I think so too." The goddess of love smiled.

After snapping out of her daze, Hestia continued.

..."Oh gods," she said. "What's happened?"

...Her hair was perfect: lush and long and chocolate brown, braided with gold ribbons down one side so it fell across her shoulder.

Aphrodite sighed. She was so glad she fixed Piper's hair.

She even wore makeup, better than Piper would ever know how to do herself- subtle touches that made her lips cherry red and brought out all different colors in her eyes.

She was... she was...

"Beautiful," Jason exclaimed. "Piper, you... you're a knockout."

"Awww! Jason's too much sometimes!" Aphrodite exclaimed, hugging stunned Ares' arm.

"Piper's... your daughter?" Artemis said, still recovering from the fact that she had wanted a child of Aphrodite's as a hunter.

"Of course she is!"

"B-But..." Annabeth trailed off. It never crossed her mind that Aphrodite could be Piper's mother. She thought it might've been a minor goddess.

"You guys are nothing..."

"Alike?" Aphrodite finished. Seeing the quick nods, Aphrodite giggled again.

"Of course she's not exactly like me! Piper's the perfect combination of me and her father! Just like all my children are!"

Aphrodite turned and smiled lovingly at her children.

Lacy, Mitchell, and the other fourteen smiled back, but Drew looked at her mother as if she just spat on her best designer shoes.

Aphrodite's smile wavered when she saw Drew's glare

"D-Drew? Aren't you happy? You have a sister!"

"I already have ten." Drew said flatly.

"B-But, the more the merrier, right?" Aphrodite's smile became more strained.

Drew ignored her.

...Drew's face was full of horror and revulsion. "No!" she cried. "Not possible!"

My thoughts exactly. Drew thought, purposely avoiding her mother's eye contact.

"This isn't me," Piper protested. "I- don't understand."

Chiron the centaur folded his front legs and bowed to her, and all the campers followed his example.

"Hail, Piper McLean," Chiron announced gravely, as if he were speaking at her funeral.

"Geez, has anybody heard Chiron smiling once in this chapter?" Travis asked.

"Daughter of Aphrodite, lady of the doves, goddess of love."

Drew scowled. I can't believe this is happening to me right now. I think I'm going to throw up.

"I'm done." Hestia said. "Does anybody want to next?"

"I will." Percy said, taking the book.

"Leo XI," Percy began.

Leo's eyes widened. His hands abruptly dropped his clay.

"Uh... Percy?" Leo said, laughing nervously. "I think you skipped a chapter. We have one more Piper chapter before I'm next."

"No, you're next." Percy said with a slight frown.

"This was the last Piper chapter," Nico corrected. "We just read two, remember?"

Leo paused when he realized the son of Hades was right. Time went by so fast, he could've sworn...

Stupid ADHD! Leo mentally cursed before forcing himself to smile.

"Oh yeah!" he said with a fake laugh. "You're right! Hey, do you guys think we can take a break before we read? I'm in the mood for some pizza-"

"No." Athena said firmly, obviously aware Leo was trying to stall. "We are reading this chapter now."

Great. Leo's hands brushed his hair back.

"Leo XI," Percy read.

Chapter Text

"Leo XI," Percy began.

Leo scowled and stared up at the cracked ceiling.

Leo Didn't Stick Around After Piper turned beautiful. Sure, it was amazing and all- She's got makeup! It's a miracle!-

"It is a miracle in its own right." Aphrodite giggled. 

"Yeah, she actually managed to look half-way decent." Drew said under her breath.

but Leo had problems to deal with.

"The transportation?" Katie guessed.

Leo, drumming his fingers on his leg, nodded.

He ducked out of the amphitheater and ran into darkness, wondering what he'd gotten himself into.

He stood up in front of a bunch of stronger, braver demigods and volunteered- volunteered- for a mission that would probably get him killed.

"I appreciate you volunteering for me." Nyssa said, Jake nodded his head.

"It was very brave." he said. "I don't know what I would've done if I were you."

Leo shrugged. 

"I did what I had to do." he replied, rummaging through his pockets.

He hadn't mentioned seeing Tia Callida, his old babysitter, but as soon as he'd heard about Jason's vision- the lady in the black dress and shawl- Leo knew it was the same woman.

This earned him sympathetic and pitying looks.

"I'm so sorry." Hermes said sincerely. 

"That must've been so hard." Aphrodite added, sadly shaking her head.

Thalia grimaced. She could only imagine what her life would be like if Hera raised her.

"I'm surprised you're still alive." Annabeth said, looking at Leo in a whole new light.

Hephaestus glared at Hera. If looks could kill, she would have been vaporized into dust.

"First you ruin my life, now you ruin my son's?" he snarled. *

Hera scowled.

"Why are all of you reacting like this?!" the goddess snapped. "Have you forgotten who I am?!"

She straightened her posture in her throne.

"I am Hera, goddess of marriage, home, and family." she stressed, earning a collective eye roll from the group. "If anyone knows how to raise children, it would be me!"

"Funny, I thought it would be the goddess of motherhood." Artemis said.

"No kidding." Apollo agreed. 

"Don't bring her up in my throne room!" Hera snapped.

She turned to her son.

"And as for you, how dare you accuse me of ruining his life! I trained him to be a warrior; I taught him; I bathed him; I fed him; I was there for all his firsts! So tell me," Hera put her hand under her chin in mock thought. "Where were you?"

The god of fire looked like he'd been slapped.

"Don't talk to me like that in front my children! You know why I couldn't be there." Hephaestus growled.

"Same reason why I couldn't be there." the goddess said, looking unimpressed. "Yet, there I was, watching him blow out the candle on his first birthday."

She smiled while the god grit his teeth.

We've only read a couple sentences and this chapter's already off to a great start. Leo thought sarcastically.

Percy quickly started reading again.

His evil babysitter was the queen of the gods. Stuff like that could really deep-fry your brain.

"You got that right." Katie said, still trying to figure out why would Hera want to babysit an illegitimate child.

He trudged toward the woods and tried not to think about his childhood- all the messed-up things that had led to his mother's death but he couldn't help it.

You're kidding me, right? We're not actually going to do this... Leo grimaced.

He took out the tin of breath mints.

Putting a couple mints in his mouth, he tossed the tin back and forth between his hands, half hoping the noise would be louder then Percy's.

Percy glanced at Leo and started reading louder.

The first time Tia Callida tried to kill him, he must've been about two.

"You tried to kill a two year old?" Thalia asked, although she didn't look entirely surprised.

"Didn't I just say I was training him?" Hera said when some people looked at her with disgust. "Honestly, it's like you people believe I'm some sort of monster."

"You 'trained' Ares too and look at him now." Hephaestus muttered, pinching the flames on his beard out.

Said god of war was lazily throwing knives up into the ceiling.

"What's wrong with him?" the goddess asked incredulously. "He is the very definition of a talented warrior."

More like a talent less meathead. Percy thought.

..."Let's set you down for a nap," she said. "Let's see if you are my brave little hero, eh?"

"What exactly does that mean?" Annabeth asked, with narrowed eyes.

...She nestled him into his blankets in a warm mound of red and yellow- pillows? The bed was like a cubby hole in the wall, made of blackened bricks, with a metal shot over his head and a square hole far above, where he could see the stars.

"Please don't tell me you put Leo where I think you put him." Hestia said sadly.

"It wouldn't have hurt him." her sister told her.

That's not the point. Hestia thought with a sigh.

He remember resting comfortably, grabbing at sparks like fireflies... Somewhere nearby, Tia Callida sat in her rocking chair- creak, creak, creak- and sang a lullaby. Even at two, Leo knew the difference between English and Spanish, and he remembered being puzzled because Tia Callida was singing in a language that was neither.

"You have a good memory." Athena noted, impressed.

"T-Thanks." Leo said, mentally cursing when he stuttered. His trembling hand shook the box harder.

He suddenly felt a squeeze on his shoulder, he turned to see Katie worriedly looking at him.

"How are you doing?" she asked.

Terrible. "Fine, would be better if we stopped though." he said as casually as he could.

Katie frowned.

"You know we can't do that." she said apologetically. 

"I know..." he answered. "But that doesn't mean you can't skip parts."

"Remember how the last chapter told us about Enceladus?" she reminded him. "We would've never known who kidnapped Piper's dad if we had just skipped it."

"I guess." he said shortly, offering her a mint. She opened the box and took one. "Still wish I didn't have to be here."

Everything was fine until his mother came home. She screamed and raced over to snatch him up, yelling at Tia Callida, 'How could you?' 

Overreacting as always. Hera rolled her eyes.

... Only years later had he realized he'd been sleeping in a blazing fireplace.

"Hera..." Hestia looked disappointed. In a hearth too.

"Seriously?" Annabeth looked at her as if she was an complete idiot.

"He's fire resistant! The flames wouldn't have hurt him."

How did you find out he was fire resistant in the first place? Nico wondered. Babies don't exactly come with an instruction manual telling you those type of things.

The weirdest thing? Tia Callida hadn't been arrested or even banished from their house.

Esperanza must have been desperate, if she was willing to give her a second chance. Hephaestus grimaced.

She appeared again several times over the next few years. Once when Leo was three, she let him play with knives.

Hephaestus's eyes nearly popped out of his head.

"Knives?! You let the boy play with knives?!" he wheezed.

"He needed the early experience with handling a weapon." Hera stubbornly replied.

"Do you hear yourself right now?! He was three!" 

"Ares started earlier than him!" 

"The only thing that kept Ares alive was his immortality!" the god snapped. "Children at that age shouldn't even be using scissors, much less knives!" 

"You must learn your blades early," she insisted, 

"I can't believe I have to hear this for the second time." the god said, feeling a headache begin.

"if you are to be my hero someday."

Leo managed not kill himself, but he got the feeling Tia Callida wouldn't have cared one way or the other.

"Wouldn't surprise me." Thalia muttered.

When Leo was four,

The box was shaken harder.

"Leo," Chris said. "Could you please stop shaking that box? I'm having a hard time hearing Percy."

That's the point. Leo wanted to say, but he restrained himself.

"Sure, Chris." Leo said instead. Reluctantly, he put the breath mints away.

Humming loudly to himself, Leo quickly kept himself busy by pulling the buttons on his jacket.

Tia found a rattlesnake for him in a cow pasture.

She gave him a stick and encouraged him to poke the animal.

The god of fire said nothing. Instead he hid his face in his hands.

I'm going to trap her. he decided. I'm going to trap her in a box, lock it, and eat the key. Then, I'm going to bury her in a place that no one can find her ever again. North Dakota, maybe? Utah? Or how about somewhere on the border of Canada? Nobody would ever think to look there.

"Fates..." Athena said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Where do I even begin...?"

"It's a test of bravery." Ares explained, sticking another knife on the ceiling.

"Thank you! Finally someone who understands!" Hera exclaimed.

"I don't think he counts." Hades said.

Still humming, Leo rolled the clay ball back and forth.

"Where is your bravery, little hero? Show me the Fates were right to choose you."

Leo stares down at those amber eyes, hearing the dry shh- shh- ssh of the snake's rattle. He couldn't bring himself to poke the snake. It didn't seem fair.

"That and it could kill you." Nico said under breath.

...The last time she babysat him, Leo was five. 

Oh thank gods, it's nearly over. Leo sighed with relief. Can the chapter please be done now. 

She brought him a pack of crayons and a pad of paper... While Tia Callida sang her strange songs, Leo drew a picture of the boat he'd seen in flames, with colorful sails and rows of oars, a curved stern, and an awesome masthead...a wind snatched the picture away. It flew into the sky and disappeared.

..."It isn't time yet, little hero. Someday, you'll have your quest. You'll find your destiny, and your hard journey will finally make sense.

I hope so. Leo left the clay alone and retied his shoes.

But you must face many sorrows. I regret that, but heroes cannot be shaped any other way."

...A few minutes later, Leo's mom came out and shrieked with horror. Tia Callida was gone, but Leo sat in the middle of a smoking fire...

Leo stopped in the middle of tying his shoes and looked for something in his tool belt.

...That made her, what- his godly grandmother? His family was even more messed up than he realized.

"More than you can imagine." Thalia admitted.

Leo pulled out a stop watch and began to take it apart.

..."She can't come back again." His mom had a beautiful face with kind eyes, and curly dark hair, but she looked older than she was because of hard work... She was the first person from her family to graduate from college...

Hephaestus smiled sadly.

Leo let out a shaky sigh.

I'm not letting a stupid book get to me. He blinked quickly.

Katie squeezed his shoulder again.

Humming a random tune, he pushed the pieces of the stop watch to his left and looked in his tool belt.

No one would hire her.

No company would take her seriously,

"It's probably because she's a woman." Artemis scowled.

so she ended up in the machine shop, trying to make enough money to support the two of them...She'd even taught him Morse code as a kind of game, so they could tap messages to each other when they were in different rooms: I love you. You okay? Simple things like that.

Hestia smiled warmly at that.

"I don't care what Callida says," his mom told him. "I don't care about destiny and the Fates. You're too young for that. You're still my baby."

Leo deeply breathed in and shakily let it out.

Deciding against going through his tool belt, Leo choose to fix the watch. Shaking hands fumbled with the small pieces. It took him three attempts before he finally managed to get a firm grip on them.

Katie rubbed soothing circles on his back.

"She reminds me a lot of my mom." Percy remarked with a grin.

"Yeah." Nico agreed. "Mine too."

She took his hands, looking for burn marks, but of course there weren't any. "Leo, listen to me. Fire is a tool, like anything else, but it's more dangerous than most. You don't know your limits. Please, promise me- no more fire until you meet your father. Someday, mijo,

Leo silently cursed when his hands dropped the pieces again.

He gave up trying to fix the watch and brushed his hair back as he let out another shaky sigh.

"You alright?" Katie asked, even though she knew it was a stupid question.

Leo nodded.

"Never better." Leo replied without much enthusiasm.

you will meet him. He'll explain everything."

Leo had heard that since he could remember. Someday he would meet his dad. His mom wouldn't answer any questions about him. Leo had never met him, never even seen pictures, 

Hephaestus tried not to look at Hera who was purposely looking in his direction. 

but she talked like he'd just gone to the store for some milk and he'd be back any minute. Leo tried to believe her. Someday, everything would make sense.

For the couple of years, they were happy. Leo almost forgot about Tia Callida. He still dreamed of the flying boat,

Is that a demigod dream? Annabeth thought.

but the other strange events seemed like a dream too.

Leo grinned, remembering the good times he had with his mother.

It all came apart when he was eight,

The small grin instantly vanished as Leo's eyes widened. Are they seriously going to read about...

Katie frowned with concern when she felt Leo shiver under her hand.

"Okay." he said forcing a smile. He clapped his clamy hands together loud enough to gain everyone's attention. "I'm positive we can skip this part! And I know!" he cut off before Katie or Athena could respond. "I know that you guys don't want to miss a single detail because of the upcoming war, but you don't need to read this to stop it." If it was even possible to begin with.

"We can't afford to skip pages." Athena told him, suppressing a sigh. He's persistent, I'll give him that. "Every paragraph counts."

"Okay, okay." he said calmly despite his heart racing. "It looks like we're at a crossroad. You want to read the books for the sake of the future and I..." Want to shove all three down Nemesis's Aunt Rosa impersonating throat. "Don't for the sake of my sanity."

"So how about this? Why don't we agree to disagree and you just send me back to my time?" 

Now everyone in the room was looking at him.

"What?" Hermes asked.

"There's no point in me staying here if I'm just going to keep bothering you about not wanting to read this or not wanting to read that." Leo continued. Please work! Please work! "And Nemesis didn't exactly give you guys any reason to keep me hostage here, so why not? Let me go back to 2014 and you can have your Story Time in peace."

"But... why would she send you here in the first place?" Chris hesitated.

"Who cares?" Leo shrugged. Just let me leave already! I gave you guys a compromise that works for both sides! "We all know she's crazy."

"Still, we shouldn't risk it by sending you back so soon." Athena frowned. "No matter how crazy she may seem, it wouldn't be wise to underestimate her."

"Seriously?" Leo scowled. I think you guys are just overestimating her.

"This'll be over before you know it." the goddess of wisdom said as Percy read on.

By then, he was spending every free hour at the shop with his mom. He knew how to use the machines... He'd learned to thing three-dimensionally, solving mechanical problems in his head the way his mom did.

"Maybe you and I can work together one day." Annabeth commented.

"Yeah, maybe." Leo, slightly shivering, said with a small knowing smile. His hands pulling the buttons on his jacket.

One night, they stayed late because his mom was finishing a drill pit design she hoped to be patent. If she could sell the prototype, it might change their lives. She'd finally get a break.

Leo wondered what life would've been like if she had finally gotten that break.

Guess we'll never know. Leo looked down at a button he unintentionally pulled off his jacket. He shoved the button in his pocket.

As she worked, Leo passed her supplies and told her corny jokes,

"W-were they new corny jokes, or they were the jokes you were planning to reuse on Jason?" Thalia hesitantly asked, trying to break the tension.

Leo looked at her in surprise, before smiling gratefully.

"The latter, of course." he answered.

trying to keep her spirits up. He loved it when he could make her laugh. She'd smile and say, "Your father would be so proud of you, mijo.

I am proud of you, Leo. Hephaestus wanted to say, but something held him back.

You'll meet him soon, I'm sure."

...That night after finishing up, they'd just gotten to the break room when his mom realized she didn't have her keys.

"You're shaking hard, man." Connor told the son of Hephaestus, with a concerned look.

Leo's hands tightly grabbed his arms.

"I know. Don't worry, I'm fine. I'm just cold. Really cold. Really, really, really, cold. Seriously, who turned down the thermostat? It's freezing cold" Leo rambled.

The Stolls and Katie exchanged looks.

"That's funny," She frowned. "I had them. Wait here, mijo. I'll only be a minute."

She gave him one more smile- the last one he'd ever get.

Leo suddenly snapped.

That's it! I'm done listening! I'm not letting the stupid book get to me anymore! I'm finished!

Shaking off Katie's hand, Leo abruptly stood up and began to casually walk out of the throne room (he had to keep some of his dignity).

"Uh... Leo?" Apollo said as everyone watched him leave. "Where are you going?"

"I'm leaving." Leo responded as if it were obvious. "You guys can keep reading if you want, but I'm not going to stay here and listen."

"When are you coming back?" Grover asked.

"I don't know." Leo admitted, not bothering to turn around.  He found himself walking faster. "I'll see you guys later. Byyyyeeeee!"

Everyone watched dumbfounded as Leo made a mad dash towards the elevator. Occasionally he would stumble because of his untied shoelace, but that did little to stop the determined teen from retreating.

"I can't believe he just did that." Travis said slowly.

Nico closed Percy's open jaw.

"I'll go get him." Katie said, beginning to stand.

"No, I'll go."

Katie bit her lip.

"Are you sure? Because I don't mind."

"I'm sure."


 

Welp. So much for his dignity. 

Leo crossed his arms as impatiently waited for the elevator to come.

Out of all the floors, why the six hundredth? Why not the hundredth, or two hundredth or the fifth?

"Com'on! Com'on! Com'on!" Leo said, furiously clicking the lit button.

"It's not going to come here any faster, boy. No matter how many times you keep clicking it."

Leo nearly leaped out of his skin at the sudden voice and nearly had a heart attack at the sight of the ugliest face he'd ever seen. 

That is, until he realized that ugly face was his father.

"Oh my gods!" Leo exclaimed, grabbing his chest. "Are you trying to kill me? Don't sneak up on me like that with your ugly looking face!" he snapped.

Hephaestus had the nerve to laugh.

"You sounded so much like your mother just now." he said with a small smile. "I miss Esperanza..."

"You and me both." he said, watching the numbers above the door light up. It's still on the sixth floor?

The two stood awkwardly side by side as they waited for the elevator to come.

Leo played with the zipper on his jacket.

"Soooo," he began because well.. Let's face it, if he didn't he was going to be stuck waiting for an elevator in awkward silence. "Are you here to drag me back? Because if you are, I will be kicking and screaming the entire way."

The god looked up from the contraption in his hands.

"Grommets and gears! Of course not!" he exclaimed. Even though that's probably why they let me go. "You shouldn't have to go through something like that all over again."  

Leo stopped punching the down button and looked up at him in surprise. "Really?"

Hephaestus nodded. He seemed to have something else on his mind but he didn't know how to word it.

"I'm no good with children." the god finally admitted. "Or any other organic life forms really."

"Yeah, I figured."

"But I care about all of my children -including you." he went back to fiddling with the object in his hands. It looked like the size of a clementine compared to how big they were. "If I could've, I would've been there for your birth, your first steps, your first birthday. And of course," his hands were squeezing the metal object. Leo could hear it groan in protest of the weight. "She wouldn't have been anywhere near you."

"Are you talking about Hera?" Leo asked. At this point, he had stopped everything was doing and was paying close attention to the god. "Are you still upset about what she said?"

"Mother always knows just what to say to grind my gears." he said with a bitter smile. "She always acts like she's doing you a favor and if you don't meet her expectations, she'll just toss you away." 

The god looked over at the edge of Mount Olympus. His face fixed as if he recalled a bad memory. "But, it doesn't matter how I feel. I just wanted to let you know the truth and not some lies she told you about something she knows nothing about."

Hephaestus hesitated before patting his son's head. Softly, as if he was afraid he was going to crush him like a soda can.

Ding. 

The two turned to see the elevator (finally) arriving on the 600th floor.

"Where are you planning on going?" the god asked, making no move to stop him.

Leo looked inside the elevator and watched the doors slowly close.

"Nowhere." he said with a shrug. "Let's just head back. They should be done by now, right?"


 

"They're back!" Hestia, seeing the two, said with a relief.

"Leo, next time you have a problem, you talk about it! Don't walk away from it!" Hera scolded.

"Sorry!" Leo said, in a way that was too happy to actually mean it. He sat down his seat. "So, what chapter are we on now? Jason XOXO?"

The rest of the group exchanged looks.

"We actually decided to wait until you come back before we read again." Katie cautiously.

The smile on Leo's face twitched. Seriously? When was he ever going to get a break?

"Um... Why? You know I told you that you can read without me, right?" Leo said, his smile strained.

"We would've but..." Chris trailed off.

"We didn't know if you would come back." Nico finished. "We thought you were going to run away."

"With the way you were running, it didn't look like Hephaestus was going to catch up with you on time." Apollo added.

Is it too late to leave again? Leo thought, his smile quickly turning into a grimace. Maybe I could tell them I'm leaving to get a hot dog?

Percy opened the book.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

Leo bit his lip.

"No," he said truthfully. "But I don't have much of a choice."

Percy gave him a sympathetic look before reading again.

She gave him one more smile- the last one he'd ever get.

"I don't think you needed to reread that."  Leo said, brushing his hair back. "I'm pretty sure everyone remembers it."

Katie's hand settled itself on Leo's back once again.

"Sorry."

- and she went back into the warehouse.

She'd only been gone for a few heartbeats when the interior door slammed shut. Then the exterior door locked itself.

"Mom?" Leo's heart pounded.

Leo picked up the stop watch pieces.

Something heavy crashed inside the warehouse..."Mom?" Frantically, he tapped a message of message on the wall: You okay?

Hestia looked worried.

Leo struggled to focus his attention on fixing his stop watch.

"She can't hear you," a voice said.

Leo stiffened, abruptly stopping his task.

Katie rubbed his back.

Leo turned and found himself facing a strange woman. At first he thought it was Tia Callida. She was wrapped in black robes, with a veil covering her face.

"It wasn't me!" Hera snapped, offended when a few people suspiciously glanced her way.

"Tia?" he said.

The woman chuckled, a slow gentle sound, as though she were half asleep.

"I am not your guardian. Merely a family resemblance."

Leo breathed in deeply and slowly let it out.

Relax, Leo. he thought, giving up on the stop watch again.

Taking out a pencil, he turned and started drawing on the wall. Just ignore him and you'll be fine.

Katie looked at him with concern but didn't comment.

"What- what do you want? Where's my mom?"

"Ah... loyal to your mother. How nice. But you see, I have children too... and I understand you will fight them some day. When they try to wake me, you will prevent them. I cannot allow that."

Leo bit his lip before humming loudly and drew a tree.

"I don't know you. I don't want to fight anybody."

He still didn't want to fight anybody.

She muttered like a sleepwalker in a trance. "A wise choice."

...But even stranger: her clothes were not made of cloth... Her pale, sleeping face was barely visible behind a curtain of dust, and he had the horrible sense she had risen from the grave.

With a similar chill, Leo scribbled over his tree and made it a tornado.

It's times like these, I hate being right. Annabeth mentally groaned while the gods exchanged looks of horror.

If the woman was asleep, Leo wanted her to stay that way. He knew that fully think, she would be even more terrible.

Leo shivered. He hummed to himself a Rolling Stone song, but instead of making him feel better, like it usually did, it made him feel worse.

He stopped humming and turned his attention back to his drawing.

"I cannot destroy you yet," the woman murmured. "The Fates will not allow it.

Hephaestus thanked the Fates for that.

But they do not your mother, and they cannot stop me from breaking your spirit. Remember this night, little hero, when they ask you to oppose."

"Leave my mother alone!" Fear rose in his throat as the woman shuffled forward.

Leo's breath hitched. He squeezed his eyes. Please let this chapter be over soon.

With his back still facing the others, he put his pencil down and tied his shoelace.

She moved more like avalanche than a person, a dark wall of earth shifting towards him.

After tying the shoelace tightly, Leo clapped his hands over his ears.

Sadly, it wasn't enough to drown out Percy's voice.

"How will you stop me?" she whispered.

She walked straight through the table, the particles of her body reassembling on the other side.

Does this book always have to be so descriptive?  Leo thought, trembling. Because I think we can live without the details.

After taking deep breaths, Leo turned around. He ignored the pitying looks and stared at his shoes.

Katie grabbed his hand and squeezed it.

She loomed over Leo, and he knew she would pass right through him too. He was the only thing between her and his mother.

He's so loyal to his mother. Demeter thought, sniffling.

His hand caught on fire.

Everyone's eyes widened.

Leo squeezed Katie's hand tightly.

Katie rubbed her thumb up and down the back of his hand.

A sleepy smile spread across the woman's face, as if she'd already won... Flames washed over the earthen woman, the walls, the locked doors. And Leo lost consciousness.

The paramedic tried to be kind. She told him the warehouse had burned down. His mother hadn't made it out.

Percy was silent.

There was no noise in the room aside from a few sniffles and hitched breathing.

I knew I should've took the elevator! I knew I should've! But nooo! 'They should be finished by now! There's just no way gosh darn they could actually be waiting for us!' Gods, I'm such an idiot! Leo thought, mentally kicking himself.

After a minute of silence, Percy began reading.

The paramedic said she was sorry, but Leo felt hollow. He'd lost control, just like his mother had warned. Her death was his fault.

"I don't blame you for your mother's death and neither should you." Hephaestus quickly told his son.

Leo nodded.

Although he learned his fire was a gift and not a curse, a small part of him couldn't forgive himself for causing his mom's death.

Soon the police came to get him, and they weren't as nice.

Hephaestus clenched his fists.

The fire had started in the break room, they said, right where Leo was standing. He'd survived by some miracle, but what kind of child locked the doors of his mother's workplace, knowing she was inside, and started a fire?

Katie gasped.

"Oh my gods! Are they saying that..." Katie trailed off, for Leo's sake, she didn't finish that sentence.

Percy grimaced.

Later, his neighbors at the apartment complex told the police what strange boy he was... They'd always know something was wrong with Esperanza Valdez's son.

Leo slightly winced. Gee, thanks.

His relatives wouldn't take him in. His Aunt Rosa called him a diablo**

Athena and Chris flinched at the choice of words.

Hephaestus clenched his hands into fists. She's got a lot of  nerve saying that considering the hell spawn she calls a son.

and shouted at the social workers to take him away. So Leo went to his first foster home.

A few days later, he ran away.

"It was too normal." Leo joked with a forced smile.

Some foster homes lasted longer than others. He joked around, make a few friends, pretend nothing bothered him, but he always ended up running sooner or later.

Leo's jaw dropped. It was really all he could do in situation like this. 

Everyone else instantly thought of Leo's run to the elevator.

"You weren't planning on coming back, were you?" Nico asked, with a look of slight understanding.

"W-What?" Leo choked out, looking anywhere except at people's faces. "N-No! I-I would never... No! Of course not!"

His words sounded fake, even in his own ears.

Percy frowned and read again.

It was the only thing that made the pain better-

Leo laughed nervously. Okay, we get the point, you can shut up now.

feeling like he was moving, getting farther and farther away from the ashes of the machine shop.

...He was almost to the woods when he imagined Tia Callida's voice: It wasn't your fault, little hero. Our enemy awakes. It's time to stop running away.

"Hera," Leo muttered, "you're not even here, are you? You're in a cage somewhere."

Hera scowled. Thanks for the reminder.

There was no answer.

But now, at least, Leo understood something....Maybe those Fates she mentioned could tell the future.

"They can." Annabeth told Leo.

"Thanks." Leo said simply, not in the talking mode, brushed his hair back. He never felt so exposed before in his life. How did Nemesis even get all this?

...You'll find your destiny,  Tia Callida had promised, and your hard journey will finally make sense.

Leo might find out what that flying boat in his dreams meant. He might meet his father,

I hope I at least appear in his dream. Hephaestus thought. It would be the least I can do .

...But first things first. He'd promised Jason a flying ride.

Not the boat from his dreams- not yet.

"Yet?" Annabeth repeated.

There wasn't time to build something that complicated. He needed a quicker solution. He needed a dragon.

"That dragon will kill you!" Nyssa warned. "You may have more of a chance than Jake did, but that chance is still slim."

"Danger's my middle name." Leo reminded with a strained smile.

He hesitated at the edge of the woods, peering into absolute darkness...

Leo remembered what Will Solace had told him:

Will quietly sighed when Leo once again used his full name.

No one should go into the woods alone, definitely not unarmed. Leo had nothing- no sword, no flashlight, no help.

"Sooo, you're going to go back and get one, right?" Will said with a expectant look.

Leo just sheepishly smiled. "Sure."

He glanced back at the lights of the cabins. He could turn around now and tell everyone he'd been joking. Psych! Nyssa could take the quest instead.

"Please don't actually do that to me." Nyssa paled.

"Relax, I'm not that much of a jerk." Leo said.

He could stay at camp and learn to be a part of the Hephaestus cabin, but he wondered how long it would be before he looked like his bunkmates- sad, dejected, convinced of his own bad luck.

Jake and Nyssa winced.

They cannot stop me from breaking your spirit, the sleeping woman had said. remember this night, little hero,

That won't be hard. Leo thought.

when they ask you to oppose me.

"Believe me, lady," Leo muttered. "I remember. And whoever you are, I'm gonna face-plant you hard, Leo-style."

He took deep breath and plunged into the forest.

"Done." Percy said.

Leo sighed with relief before turning to Katie.

"Thanks," he said to the daughter of Demeter.

"No problem." she replied.

"Does anybody want to read next?" Percy asked.

"I will." Will said, taking the book. "Leo XII."

Here we go again. Leo inwardly groaned. 

Chapter Text

"Leo XII," Will read.

This can't be as bad as the other chapter. Leo hoped, going back to fixing the stop watch. It just can't be.

The Woods Weren't Like Anyplace he'd been before... The wildest things he'd ever seen were that rattlesnake in the cow pasture and his Aunt Rosa in her nightgown,

"Oh dear gods! Who wrote that in there and why do they hate me?!" Leo gagged, his face turning green. Out of all the things he could think of, that was a mental image he never wanted to think of ever again. Ever.

until he was sent to the wilderness school.

Even there, the school had been in the desert. No trees with gnarled roots to trip over. No streams to fall into. No branches casting dark,  creepy shadows and owls looking down at him with their big reflective eyes.

This was the Twilight Zone.

"Bet you wished you had that flashlight now, don't you?" Will said with a raised eyebrow.

Leo sheepishly smiled. "Okay, okay. You were right. Happy?"

"Only a little." Will said, trying not to smile in satisfaction. 

He stumbled along until he was sure no one back at the cabins could possibly see him.

Then he summoned fire. Flames danced along his fingertips, casting enough light to see.

He hadn't tried to keep a sustained burn going since he was five, at that picnic table...Even this tiny fire made him feel guilty.

"Don't feel bad about it." Demeter told the boy. "We all know it wasn't you're fault. Right, Hades?"

She glared at Hades until he rolled his eyes and nodded in agreement.

"Thank you." Leo said.

Demeter smiled.

He kept walking, looking for dragon-type clues- giant footsteps, trampled trees, swaths of burning forest. Something that big couldn't exactly sneak around, right?

"It shouldn't be." Nico agreed "But if it were loud, wouldn't it have been easier to find?"

But he saw nada. Once he glimpsed a large, furry shape like a wolf or bear, but it stayed away from his fire, which was fine by Leo.

"Pretty sure that was a monster," Percy frowned. "The forest is full of them."

"Hopefully the fire will scare the other monsters away too," Katie said.

"Yeah," Leo said before sighing dramatically. "Would've been nice if I had a sword or a shot gun on me to defend myself..."

"No." the god said, unmoved.

Then, at the bottom of a clearing, he saw the first trap- a hundred-foot-wide crater ringed with boulders.

...In the center of the depression, a metal vat the size of a hot tub had been filled with bubbly dark liquid- Tabasco sauce and motor oil.

Drew and some of her sisters made a look of disgust.

On pedestal suspended over the vat, an electric fan rotated in a circle, spreading the fume across the forest. Could metal dragons smell?

When everyone turned to the Hephaestus children for answers, Jake shrugged.

"He senses in a way that's similar to smell." Jake explained.

The vat seemed to be unguarded. But Leo looked closely, and in the dim light of the stars and his handheld fire, he could see the glint of metal beneath the dirt and leaves- a bronze net lining the entire crater. Or maybe see wasn't the right word- he could sense it there, as if the mechanism was emitting heat, revealing itself to him.

"Dude, that's awesome!" Connor exclaimed.

"Having that ability will definitely help you on your quest." Thalia said.

"It did." Leo took out a screwdriver and began to screw back on certain pieces.

Six large strips of bronze stretched out from the vat like the spokes of a wheel. They would be pressure sensitive, Leo guessed. As soon as the dragon stepped on one, the net would spring closed, and voila- one gift-wrapped monster.

"Would it actually work?" Annabeth wondered, thinking about Cabin Nine's curse.

"Probably not." Nico replied.

Nyssa scowled.

"Of course it would work," she argued. "Just because everyone else believes we're cursed doesn't mean all of our inventions should be completely worthless. Some of them have to work."

"If that's true, why haven't you caught the dragon yet?" Clarisse asked, resting her head on her hand.

"It's not that easy!" Nyssa snapped. "You can't just throw a net over it's head and instantly capture it. This had to have taken us time to pin point locations were he's been frequently spotted; then we had to make the traps and set up (which isn't easy to do when no one is motivated); then finally, we to wait for him to walk on the trap." 

The daughter of Hephaestus sighed. "These things take time but the traps should be able to capture him."

Leo edged closer. He put his foot on the nearest trigger strip.

"He'll be fine." Nyssa assured when some people stared at Leo as if he was crazy.

As he expected, nothing happened. They had to have set the net for something really heavy. Otherwise they could catch an animal, human, smaller monster, whatever...

"Either that or it doesn't work." Clarisse muttered what was on other people's minds.

He picked his way down the crater and approached the vat. The fumes were almost overpowering, and his eyes started watering.

He remembered a time

Leo groaned. Great. Another stupid memory. Why couldn't be the one with amnesia?

when Tia Callida (Hera, whatever) had made him chop jalapenos in the kitchen and he'd gotten the juice in his eyes. Serious pain...

"HA! Is that all? Try having red hot chili pepper juice in your eyes!" Ares bragged as if he beat Leo in some kind of competition.

Leo wondered if that chili pepper juice gone in the god's brain too. "Um... okay? You win I guess."

"I don't even want to know how old he was when this happened." Hephaestus stated, glaring at Hera.

"It was an endurance challenge," Hera rolled her eyes. "How would he be able to gain a resistance towards pain if he didn't experience it?"

A what?! Hephaestus' beard began to smolder. The god gnashed his teeth together. 

"Besides, I made sure to wash his eyes out with cold water after the training was done." she added.

"You're not supposed to use water, you use milk." Hestia explained, looked more and more disturbed by the situation. That poor child!

So that was why he was still crying... Hera frowned.

Annabeth looked at Leo as if he was a puzzle she just couldn't solve. "How are you still alive?"

"My mom." he answered almost immediately. He clicked a couple pieces of the watch back into place. 

A total psycho, that lady.

"No kidding." Percy said, still taking in all the things Hera did to Leo as a kid. Who does that and thinks it's okay?

Hera glared at Leo. 

Leo was so glad he was on a quest to rescue her.

"I'm starting to think we should just leave her wherever she is." Hephaestus said. "Knowing our luck, whoever captured her will send her back shortly after the solstice." 

"You. Wouldn't. Dare." the goddess empathized with a scowl.

No he wouldn't, but that didn't mean he couldn't suggest it just to get under her skin.

... Leo looked for a trigger- something that would disable the net. He didn't see anything.

"We probably hid it somewhere so nobody would accidentally turn it off." Jake said.

"Or we might not have made one." Nyssa added.

He had a moment of panic. Nyssa had said there were several traps like this in the woods, and they were planning more. What if the dragon had already stepped into another one? How could Leo possibly find them all?

"We could've either made an alarm for each one or we routinely check it during the day." Jake said.

He continued to search, but he didn't see any release mechanism. No large button labeled OFF. It occurred to him that there might not be one. He started to despair- and then he heard the sound.

The readers tensed.

Finally finished with rebuilding the stop watch, Leo put it back in his tool belt and took out a handful of push pins.

He began to push the pins onto the wall behind him.

It was more of a tremor- the deep sort of rumbling you hear in gut rather than your ears. It gave him the jitters, but he didn't look around for the source. He just kept examining the trap, thinking, Must be a long way off. It's pounding its way through the woods. I gotta hurry.

Then he heard a grinding snort, like steam forced out of a metal barrel.

His neck tingled. He turned slowly. At the edge of the pit, fifty feet away, two glowing red eyes were staring at him.

"It's the dragon." Percy said, remembering the ruby eyes.

"That's why you pay attention to your surroundings, you're lucky that that was the dragon and not something worse." Katie scolded.

"How do we know that he's lucky? We still hadn't seen what the dragon will do." Nico pointed out, crossing his arms.

"I'll be fine." Leo reassured him, making the push pins form a smiley face.

The creature gleamed in the moonlight, and Leo couldn't believe something that huge had sneaked up on him so fast...

He could still see the dragon just fine. It was about sixty feet long, snout to tail, its body made of interlocking bronze plates. Its claws were the size of butcher knives, and its mouth was lined with hundreds of dagger-sharp metal teeth. Steam came out of its nostrils. It snarled like a chain saw cutting through a tree. It could've bitten Leo in half, easy, or stomped him flat.

"Not dangerous at all," Nico said sarcastically while Grover shuddered.

Please don't think like that." the satyr pleaded, imagining himself in the situations the son of Hephaestus described.

"No promises." Leo replied with a smile.

It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen,

Everyone, except his father and siblings, stared at Leo with disbelief written on their faces.

"Beautiful?" Nico repeated as if he heard that wrong.

"The dragon looks awesome!" Leo happily said, adding more push pins to wall.

"It does look awesome." Nyssa admitted with a grin.

"It's dangerous and beautiful at the same time." Jake sighed.

"It's one of Cabin Nine's best creations." Hephaestus said proudly.

"I think they forgot this dragon almost killed people." Connor whispered to his brother.

"Yeah." Travis whispered back.

"Sounds more frightening then beautiful to me." Grover muttered.

-except for one problem that completely ruined Leo's plan.

"You don't have wings," Leo said.

"Greek dragons are serpentine monsters." Annabeth said to Leo. "Most of them aren't flying dragons like in other mythologies."

"That kinda ruins the whole transportation idea." Connor said. "Now how are you going to go on the quest?"

"And what about the dragon?" Chris added.

"I'll figure something out." Leo responded.

The dragon's snarl died. It tilted its head as if to say, Why aren't you aren't you running away in terror?

"Hey, no offense," Leo said. "You're amazing! Good god, who made you? Are you hydraulic or nuclear-powered or what? But if it was me, I would've put wings on you. What kind of dragon doesn't have wings? I guess maybe you're too heavy to fly? I should've thought of that."

"Why you talking to the dragon?" Thalia asked. "You know it can't understand you right?"

"He can understand." Leo said, forming a zig-zag. "He's a really smart dragon."

...It took a step forward, and Leo shouted, "No!"

The dragon snarled again.

"It's a trap, bronze brain," Leo said.

"If it could understand you, I don't think it's a good idea to insult it." Chris said.

Leo thoughtfully frowned. "Yee-aaah, probably wasn't my best idea."

"They're trying to catch you."

The dragon opened its mouth and blew fire. A column of white-hot flames billowed over Leo, more than he tried to endure before.

"Dead." Nico said, loud enough that everyone heard him. "If you weren't fire resistant, you would've been on a one-way ticket to the Underworld right now."

"But I am fire resistant, so it's no big deal," Leo said dismissively.

"That's not the point," the son of Hades insisted. "You keep telling us that the dragon can be fixed and that it would never kill people, yet it just did something that could've killed you. How are we supposed to know that we can trust this thing around other people who aren't fire resistant?"

Some demigods muttered in agreement.

"Give him a chance!" Leo turned to face them. "He just got introduced in the book!"

"And he already tried to kill you." Nico pointed out.

"At least let me fix him first before you judge him."

"And what if he's unfixable?"

"Nothing's unfixable." Leo stated.

I feel like we're talking in circles. Nico groaned, rubbing his forehead.

He felt as if he were being hosed down with a very hot fire hose. It stung a little, but he stood his ground. When the flames died, he was perfectly fine.

"He wouldn't have been if I hadn't trained him." Hera said proudly.

Exasperated Hephaestus drummed his fingers on his armrest. "Your training didn't help him resist fire, he was born like that."

Even his clothes were okay, which Leo didn't understand, but for he was grateful.

"Um... How?" Travis said.

"I'm pretty awesome." Leo said as if that explained anything.

He liked his army jacket, and having his pants seared off would've been pretty embarrassing.

Not exactly something I want people to hear about... Leo thought, putting push pins in the shape of a tree.

The dragon stared at Leo. Its face didn't actually change, being made of metal and all, but Leo thought he could read its expression: Why no crispy critter? A spark flew out of its neck like it was about to short-circuit.

Nico's frown deepened, but he didn't say anything.

"You can't burn me," Leo said, trying to sound stern and calm. He'd never had a dog before, but he talked to the dragon the way he thought you'd talk to a dog. "Stay, boy. Don't come any closer. I don't want you to get caught. See, they think you're broken and have to scrapped. But I don't believe that. I can fix you if you'll let me-"

The dragon creaked, roared, and charged. The trap sprang...

He can't even reason with it. It needs to be destroyed. the son of Hades thought.

Leo was knocked off his feet, turned upside down, and doused in Tobasco sauce and oil. He found himself sandwiched between the vat and the dragon as it thrashed, trying to free itself from the net that had wrapped around them both.

"Yes! I knew it! I knew that the traps would work!" Nyssa could help but cheer. She knew they weren't cursed.

"That's not exactly a good thing, since we're going to be coming to destroy it." Jake reminded.

"Oh, right." she remembered, sighing at that. It was nice while it lasted.

The dragon blew flames in every direction, lighting up the sky and setting trees on fire.

"If they didn't know they caught him before, they do now." Percy said.

No kidding. Way to go Festus. Leo thought, rolling a push pin back and forth under his foot.

Oil and sauce burned all over them. It didn't hurt Leo, but it left a nasty taste in his mouth.

"Will you stop that?" he yelled.

..."Listen, man," Leo said, "you're just going to show them were you are. Then they'll come and break out of acid and metal cutters. Is that what you want?"

The dragon's jaw made a creaking noise like it was trying to talk.

"See? He could understand me." Leo told Thalia.

"He could be trying to eat you again." Katie said.

"Okay, then," Leo said. "You have to trust me."

And Leo set to work.

It took him almost an hour to find the control panel. It was right behind the dragon's head, which made sense. He'd elected to keep the dragon in the net because it was easier to work with the dragons constrained, but the dragon didn't like it.

"Hold still!" Leo scolded.

"Look who's talking." Thalia said.

With a smile, Leo shrugged.

The dragon made another creaking sound that might've been a whimper.

Leo examined the wires inside the dragon's head. He was distracted by a sound in the woods, but when he looked up it was just a tree spirit- a dryad, Leo thought they were called- putting out the flames in her branches.

Grover grimaced.

"She was fine." Leo assured him. I think, I mean, her dress was smoking.

Fortunately, the dragon hadn't started an all-out forest fire, 

"That's one good thing." Grover said with relief.

but still the dryad wasn't too pleased. The girl's dress was smoking.

She smothered the flames with a silky blanket, and when she saw Leo looking at her, she made a gesture that was probably very rude in Dryad.

"Probably." Dionysus agreed, flipping through a page in his magazine. "It wouldn't surprise me. You did burn her tree."

Then she disappeared in a green poof of mist.

Leo returned his attention to the wiring. It was ingenious, definitely, and it made sense to him. This was the motor control relay. This processed sensory input input from the eyes. This disk...

"It's basically the dragon's brain?" Annabeth guessed.

"Yup." Leo answered.

"Ha," he said. "Well, no wonder."

Creak? the dragon asked with its jaw.

"You've got a corroded control disk.

"Oh!" Jake said with realization. "So that's why. We can fix that!"

"We can, but I don't think we have a extra disk at the cabin." Nyssa sadly told him.

"Can't you make a new one?" Chris asked.

"We can," Jake said. "But it's pretty complicated and would take a long time to create. I don't think we'll be able to make another one and wings in time for the quest."

Probably regulates your higher reasoning circuits, right? Rusty brain, man. No wonder you're a little... confused." He almost said crazy, but he caught himself.

Chris nodded his approval.

"I wish I had a replacement disk, but... this is a complicated piece of circuitry. I'm going to have to take it out and clean it. Only a minute." He pulled out the disk, and the dragon went absolutely still. The glow died in his eyes. Leo slid off its back and began polishing the disk. He mopped up some of the oil and Tabasco sauce with his sleeve, which helped cut through the grime, but the more he cleaned, the more concerned he got. Some of the circuits were beyond repair.

Leo's siblings frowned.

He could make it better, but not perfect.

"It doesn't need to be perfect now." Jake said. "It just needs to be able to fix the dragon until we get a new brain."

"It'll be better if you leave him with us so he would be fixed." Nyssa told Leo.

"Yeah," Leo admitted, putting the box of push pins back in his belt. "But I still need him for the transportation."

The others gave him confused looks.

"You heard our conversation, right?" Chris said slowly as if the other was a toddler. "The dragon has no wings and a barely functional brain. How are you going to fly something like that?" 

 "I have my ways." Leo said, brushing imaginary lint off his jacket. Why bother telling them? They were going to read about it anyway.

For that, he'd need a completely new disk and he had no idea how to build one.

He tried to work quickly. He wasn't sure how long the dragon's control disk could be off without damaging it- maybe forever- but he didn't take chances. Once he'd done the best he could, he climbed back up to the dragon's head and started cleaning the wiring and gearboxes getting himself filthy in the process.

"Clean hands, dirty equipment," he muttered,

Leo sadly smiled.

something his mother used to say. By the time he was though, his hands were black with grease and his clothes looked like he'd just lost a mud-wrestling contest, but the mechanisms looking a lot better. He slipped in the disk, connected the last wire, and sparks flew. The dragon shuddered. Its eyes began to glow.

"Better?" Leo asked.

The dragon made a sound like a high-speed drill. It opened its mouth and all its teeth rotated.

Grover shuddered. Oh gods, who designed that and why?

"I guess that's a yes. Hold on, I'll free you."

Another thirty minutes to find the release clamps for the net and untangle the dragon, but finally it stood and shook the last bit of netting off its back. It roared triumphantly and shot fire in the sky.

"I didn't know a machine could be such a show off." Hermes chuckled.

"You'd be surprised." Hephaestus said. 

Leo looked through his pockets.

"Seriously," Leo said. "Could you not show off?"

Creak? the dragon asked.

"You need a name," Leo decided. "I'm calling you Festus."

"Um... where did that come from?" Connor asked.

"Don't you remember?" Hestia smiled at Leo, she looked at him as if he did something cute. "He thought 'Festus' was Hephaestus' name before Will corrected him. This is his way of naming the dragon after his father."

"Aaaw!" Demeter and Aphrodite cooed.

Hephaestus felt a warm feeling inside his chest.

"That's really sweet." Katie couldn't help but coo.

"Stop it! I didn't name Festus after him! Why would I?!" Leo immediately denied.

"If that's true then why are you blushing?" Travis teased, pinching his already red cheek. The son of Hephaestus smacked his hand away.

"It's okay, you don't have to hide your feelings from us." Connor said sweetly, pinching the other. "Nothing's wrong with loving your dad."

"Quit it!" Leo smacked his hand away as well.

"The truth will set you free!" Apollo added.

"I didn't!" Leo insisted. "I'm just... a really huge fan of Gunsmoke, okay?!"

"Of course!" Hestia giggled behind her hand. Judging by the amused looks on everyone's faces, nobody believed him. "My mistake."

The dragon whirred its teeth and grinned. At least Leo hoped it was a grin.

"Cool," Leo said. "But we still have a problem, because you don't have wings."

"Maybe he already has a feature that can make him fly?" Jake suggested. "We still haven't seen all he can do. Maybe he has rockets that can help him take off."

Festus tilted his head and snorted steam. Then he lowered his back in an unmistakable gesture. He wanted Leo to climb on.

"Where we going?" Leo asked.

But he was too excited to wait for an answer.

He climbed onto the dragon's back, and Festus bounded off into the woods.

"You've never lived until you ridden a dragon at least once." Leo informed the group. He looked through his pockets.

...Finally they crossed a stream and came to a dead end, a limestone cliff a hundred feet tall- a solid, sheer mass the dragon couldn't possibly climb.

Festus stopped at the base and lifted one leg like a dog pointing.

"What is it?" Leo slid to the ground. He walked up to the cliff- nothing but solid rock.

The dragon kept pointing.

...The loose wire in the dragon's neck sparked, but otherwise he stayed still.

"Is he broken again?" Jake asked Leo.

Pulling out loose change, the his brother shook his head.

"I just fixed him, why would he be broken?" he asked, absentmindedly. He counted the coins in his hand.

Leo put his hand on the cliff. Suddenly his fingers smoldered... He backed up and the door swung open, disturbingly silently for such a big slab of rock.

The demigods exchanged confused looks.

"The camp has secret cave in the forest?" Percy said in surprise. "How come nobody told me?"

"Because nobody knew." Annabeth replied with a thoughtful look.

"Why is that even there?" Chris questioned. "Nobody ever goes that deep into the woods."

"Perfectly balanced," he muttered. "That's some first-rate engineering."

The dragon unfroze and marched inside, as if he were coming home.

"Was this were he was made?" Nyssa wondered.

"It would make sense, right? He knew where the place was." Annabeth said.

Leo stepped through, and the door began to close. He had a moment of panic, remembering that night in the machine shop long ago.

Leo bounced the change in his hand and ignored the sad looks he was getting.

What if he got stuck in here? But the light flickered on- a combination of electric fluorescents and wall-mounted torches. When Leo saw the cavern, he forgot about leaving.

"Festus," he muttered. "What is this place?"

...The cave was the size of an airplane hangar, with endless worktables and storage cages, rows of garage-sized doors along either wall, and staircases that led up to a network of catwalks high above... Bulletin board were covered with tattered, faded blueprints. And weapons, armor, shields- war supplies all over the place, a lot of them only partially finished.

"The description reminds me of the forges." Nyssa told her brother.

Jake nodded in agreement.

Hanging from chains far above the dragon's platform was an old tattered banner almost too faded to read. The letters were Greek, but Leo somehow understood what they said: BUNKER 9.

Annabeth's eyes widened. This was where all the weapons were the battle. Was that why Festus was made? He was made to protect the Camp. What if he was made to do more than defend monsters.

Did that mean nine as in the Hephaestus cabin, or nine as in there were eight others?

Annabeth hummed thoughtfully.

"It could mean both." Annabeth said finally. "But why would there be a bunker in the first place?"

Leo looked at Festus, still curled up on the platform, and it occurred to him that the dragon looked so content because it was home. He had probably been built on that pad.

"Do the other kids know...?"

"I wish." Jake muttered, playing with the end of his shoelace.

Leo's question died as he asked it. Clearly, this place had been abandoned for decades. Cobwebs and dust covered everything... He was the first one in this bunker since... since a long time ago.

Bunker 9 had been abandoned with a lot of projects half finished on the tables. Locked up and forgotten, but why?

The gods probably made us forget about this place. Annabeth rested her chin on her hand. 

Leo looked at a map on the wall- a battle map of camp, but the paper was cracked and yellow as onionskin. A date at the bottom read, 1864.

The time period matches with the Civil War. Annabeth grimly realized. Guess it wasn't just a joke like I was hoping it was. 

"No way," he muttered.

Then he spotted a blueprint on nearby bulletin board, and his heart almost leaped out of his throat... Faintly scrawled words underneath it read: Prophecy? Unclear. Flight?

It was the ship he'd seen in his dreams- the flying ship.

"You mean the same ship you dreamed of as a kid?" Connor asked in disbelief.

"Yup." Leo responded, rolling a penny across the ground. The coin wobbled around before finally toppling on the ground.

"Sooo... How does that work?" Travis scratched his head. "Has this Great Prophecy already been told before? Or was this supposed to be made for some other quest but it never got done?"

"I'm not sure..." Annabeth said. "Whatever the reason, it's obviously got something to do with the Great Prophecy."

Someone had tried to build it here, or at least sketched out the idea. Then it was left forgotten... a prophecy yet to come. And the weirdest of all, the ship's masthead was exactly like the one Leo had drawn when he was five- the head of the dragon.

...The masthead gave him an uneasy feeling,

Some people gave the son of Hephaestus curious looks.

but Leo's mind spun with too many other questions to think about it for long. He touched the blueprint, hoping he could take it down to study, but the paper cracked at his touch, so he left it alone. He looked around for other clues. No boats. No pieces that looked like parts of this project,

"They must've only drawn the blueprint." Nico observed.

but there were so many doors and store rooms to explore.

Festus snorted like he was trying to get Leo's attention, reminding him they didn't have all night. It was true...He'd saved the dragon, but it wasn't going to help him on the quest. He needed something that would fly.

Festus nudged something toward him- a leather tool belt that had been left next his construction pad. Then the dragon switched on his glowing red eye beams and turned them toward the ceiling. Leo looked up to where the spotlights were pointing, and yelped when he recognized the shapes hanging above them in the darkness.

"I'm guessing that's something you could use for transportation?" Athena said to Leo.

"Yeah." Leo couldn't wait to see the look on their faces when they read about Festus flying.

As long as it's not in my point of view, I'm fine. 

"Festus," he said in a small voice. "We've got work to do."

Travis pulled Connor over to him.

"If they're jet packs, we're breaking in." the Stoll said solemnly.

"Duh!" Connor replied. "That's a given!"

"Finished." Will said. "Does anybody want to read next?"

"I will." Nyssa took the book.

"Jason XIII,"

Chapter Text

"Jason XIII," Nyssa read.

Everyone ignored the dime Leo flicked across the room.

Jason Dreamed Of Wolves.

"Wolves?" Katie repeated.

"It could be a symbolic demigod dream." Percy said, remembering his first dream. "They can get pretty weird."

He stood in clearing in middle of a redwood forest... A pack of large grey beasts milled around him, brushing against his legs, snarling and baring their teeth. They gently nudged him toward the ruins.

Jason had no desire to become the world's largest dog biscuit, so he decided to do what they wanted.

"Good choice." Chris nodded.

The ground squelched under his boots as he walked. Stone spires of chimneys, no longer attached to anything, rose up like totem poles. The house must've been enormous once, multi-storied with massive log walls and a soaring gabled roof, but now nothing remained but its stone skeletons.

The Wolf House. Athena thought with a scowl.

"Wait..." Thalia trailed off. Is this the place where Mom left Jason? How did he remember this? He was practically a baby. 

...Before him was a drained reflecting pool, long and rectangular. Jason couldn't tell how deep it was, because the bottom was filled with mist...Wolves paced under the archways of rough red volcanic stone.

At the far end of the pool sat a giant she wolf, several feet taller than Jason.

Her eyes glowed sliver in the fog,

Artemis? Thalia instantly thought, looking at the goddess.

Catching her hunter's look, Artemis shook her head.

Then who?

and her coat was the same color as the rocks- warm chocolaty red.

"I know this place," Jason said.

Annabeth frowned.

"Maybe this is a memory," she said. "Or maybe god is trying to talk to him."

Leo flipped a coin.

The wolf regarded him. She didn't exactly speak, but Jason could understand her.

The movements of her ears and whiskers, the flash of her eyes, the way she curled her lips- all these were part of language.

The demigods looked surprised.

"He speaks wolf?" Annabeth said skeptically. Is this a Roman thing? Wolves aren't Zeus' chosen animal. Only person who I can think of is Lycaon, but that can't be right.

Annabeth made a mental note to study more Roman mythology and customs when she gets back to Camp.

"Cool! Jason's Tarzan!" Travis laughed. Connor and Leo joined him.

"I think Mowgoli would be a better option." she said. Clearly they only watched the movies.

"You think he was raised by wolves too?" his brother said with a wide smile.

"Maybe, it could happen." Travis, playing along, shrugged.

Katie rolled her eyes. "That would never happen."

Of course,  the she-wolf said. You began your journey here as a pup. Now you must find your way back. A new quest, a new start.

"That isn't fair," Jason said. But as soon he spoke, he knew there was no point complaining to the she-wolf.

Wolves didn't feel sympathy. They never expected fairness. The wolf said: Conquer or die. This is always our way.

"Geez, I didn't no wolves were so harsh." Percy muttered to Annabeth.

It's the Roman way, I guess. his girlfriend thought.

Jason wanted to protest that he couldn't conquer if he didn't know who he was, or where he was supposed to go. But he knew this wolf. Her name was simply Lupa, the Mother Wolf, the greatest of her kind.

Lupa? I never heard of her before. Annabeth frowned.

Long ago she'd found him in this place, protected him, nurtured him, chosen him,

"I was right, he was raised by wolves." Travis gave Katie a smug look.

Katie snorted.

"I guess there is a first time for everything."

but if Jason showed weakness, she would tear him to shreds. Rather than be her pup, he would become her dinner. In the wolf pack, weakness was not an option.

Thalia paled. "She would've ate him?!"

"Isn't that a bit extreme?" Grover said, resisting the urge to gag.

I'm so glad we didn't meet Lupa. Leo thought.

"Can you guide me?" Jason asked.

Lupa made a rumbling noise deep in her throat, and the mist in the pool dissolved.

At first Jason wasn't sure what he was seeing. At opposite ends of the pool, two dark spires had erupted from the cement floor like the drill bits of some massive tunneling machines boring through the surface...

What is that even supposed to be? Annabeth felt a shiver go down her spine.

The one closet to Jason was darker and seemed like a solid mass, its tendrils fused together. As he watched, it pushed a little farther out of the earth and expanded a little wider.

A few people shuddered.

"Okay, I think we get the picture. You can stop now." Chris said.

Leo rolled another coin on the ground. 

On Lupa's end of the pool, the second spire's tendrils were more open, like the bars of a cage. Inside, Jason could vaguely see a misty figure struggling, shifting within its confines.

Hera grimaced.

"Hera," Jason said.

The she-wolf growled in agreement. The other wolves circled the pool, their fur standing up on their backs as they snarled at the spires.

The enemy has chosen this place to awaken her most powerful son, the giant king,  Lupa said.

"Did she just say a 'giant king'?" Percy asked Annabeth.

His girlfriend bit her lip and nodded.

"And how bad is that?" Percy dreaded hearing the answer.

Annabeth looked around before lowering her voice to a faint murmur.

"So bad, it makes the Titan War look like a game of tag."

Percy paled. "And we're supposed to fight that?"

"Piper, Leo, and Jason are supposed to fight him." Annabeth corrected, not looking happy with the arrangement. Two untrained recently claimed demigods and one capable but untrustworthy Roman versus the giant king. It was like a suicide mission. "Let's hope they free Hera before he wakes up."

Our place, where demigods are claimed- the place of death or life.

The demigods looked confused.

"What is she talking about?" Nyssa asked. "There's no other place a demigod gets claimed except Camp Half-Blood."

"Chiron mentioned that Jason's been claimed already and he's never been to camp." Nico reminded. "Maybe this is where Jason was claimed."

Meanwhile Annabeth was focused on entirely her own thoughts,

Why there though? What's the history behind that? she wondered. Why be claimed there when they can get claimed at their Camp where it's safer? Do they even have a Camp? 

"Do you know what that means?" Percy whispered to her.

Annabeth held her necklace and looked away. "No."

Percy saw right through her.

"You're lying." he said. While Annabeth can take a secret to her grave, she always had a way of telling you she was hiding something. "You know something. Com'on what is it?"

"I..." Annabeth hesitated, squeezing her necklace tighter. "I can't tell you, I promised I wouldn't say anything."

Percy raised an eyebrow. "Promised who?"

He expected Annabeth to point out her mother or one of the other gods, so he was surprised to see her wordlessly glance at the son of Hephaestus.

"Leo?" Percy said. Annabeth winced when she realized her mistake.

Said boy, in mid-coin toss, looked over at him.

"Huh?" The quarter landed on the ground.

"Nothing." Percy immediately told him.

The son of Hephaestus frowned in confusion but picked up the coin off the ground.

Why would Leo make Annabeth promise not to tell us something? Percy thought, watching him flip the quarter. The quarter bounced off his hand and fell on the floor. What doesn't he want us to know? It's gotta have something to do with Jason and Lupa right? But what?

The house of wolf.

It is an abomination. You must stop her.

"Her?" Jason was confused.

"Welcome to the club." Chris muttered.

"You mean, Hera?"

Hera rolled her eyes in annoyance.

The she-wolf gnashed her teeth impatiently. Use your sense, pup. I care nothing for Juno,

"She called her 'Juno' too." Katie noticed.

"Maybe the wolf taught him Roman names instead of Greek?" Percy guessed. But why do that? 

but if she falls, our enemy wakes. And that will be the end for all of us. You know this place. You can find it again. Cleanse our house. Stop this before it is too late.

The dark spire grew slowly larger, like the bulb of some horrible flower.

"It's much worse than a flower." Demeter muttered with a shudder.

Jason sensed that if it ever opened, it would release something he did not want to meet.

You got that right. Leo thought, twirling the coin on its side.

"Who am I?" Jason asked the she-wolf. "At least tell me that."

Wolves don't have much of a sense of humor, but Jason could tell the question amused Lupa...

You are our saving grace, as always. The she-wolf curled her lip, as if she had just made a clever joke.

Seriously? That's so cheesy, should use that one! Leo bit his lip to suppress his laughter.

Thalia just rolled her eyes. "Cute."

The other demigods looked baffled at the wolf's strange joke.

Do not fail, son of Jupiter.

"Done." Nyssa said. "Who's next?"

"I'll read." Drew offered.

Everyone looked at her in surprise.

Even Aphrodite looked at Drew as if she was the one who came from the future.

"Do you even know what chapter we're on?" Travis blurted out.

"Duh!" Drew huffed as she took the book. 

She sat down and read.

"Jason XIV,"

Chapter Text

"Jason XIV," Drew read out loud.

Jason Woke To The Sound Of Thunder

"It's not him." Thalia said when everyone else instantly turned to Zeus.

Then he remembered where he was. It was always thundering in Cabin One.

"How do you expect anyone to sleep with that noise?" Apollo asked.

"Don't ask me," Zeus replied. "Hera designed my cabin." *

"I guess that explains why my cabin doesn't even have a bathroom." Thalia glared at the queen of the gods.

"There shouldn't be anybody sleeping in there." Hera huffed, as if that explained everything.

Above his cot, the domed ceiling was decorated with a blue-and-white mosaic like a cloudy sky...

Except for the cot that the other campers had brought him, the cabin had no regular furniture- no chairs, tables, or dressers. As far as Jason could tell, it didn't even have a bathroom.

"Don't bother looking, you won't find one." Thalia glared daggers at Hera.

Hera sneered back.

Leo spun the coin like a top. It barely twirled before collapsing on the floor.

...In the center of the room, a twenty-foot-tall, full-color statue of Zeus in classic Greek robes stood with a shield at his side and a lightning bolt raised, ready to smite somebody.

"Why did you put that in there?" Chris asked Hera.

"Because Zeus kept insisting that to have that statue in there. Personally, I would have left it empty." she told him.

It actually would've been a little tolerable without the statue. Thalia thought.

Jason studied the statue, looking for anything he had in common with the Lord of the Sky. Black hair?  Grumpy expression? Well, maybe.

"Maybe?" Leo laughed, putting his remaining coins in his pocket. "More like Hades yes."

He stopped laughing when he saw the death glare from the god of the Underworld.

Beard? No thanks. In the robes and sandals, Zeus looked like a really buff, angry hippie.

Zeus sputtered.

Poseidon openly laughed while Hades wore a small smile on his face.

"Good," Poseidon said. "Now his ego has been deflated back to its regular size. Thank you Jason."

"I told you no one was going to take that statue seriously." Hera smirked at her husband.

"There's nothing wrong with my statue!" Zeus snapped. "He just has no respect for his elders!"

Yeah, Cabin One. A big honor, the other campers had told him. Sure, if you liked sleeping in a cold temple by yourself with Hippie Zeus frowning down at you all night.

"Hippie Zeus." Poseidon chuckled. "I think I'm going to use that nickname."

"It has a nice ring to it." Hades agreed.

Zeus groaned.

After putting his change in his pocket, Leo rhythmically tapped his fingers on the wall. 

Jason got up and rubbed his neck. His whole body was stiff from bad sleep and summoning lightning. That little trick hadn't been as easy as he had let on. It had almost made him pass out.

Percy smiled with understanding.

Next to the cot, new clothes were laid out for him: jeans, sneakers, and an orange Camp Half-Blood shirt... It felt wrong somehow, putting on the camp shirt. He still couldn't believe he belonged here, despite everything they'd told him.

The demigods frowned.

"It's just a shirt." Travis said. "It's not that serious."

"He barely even has a shirt left." Clarisse said, looking annoyed. "Why's he so picky?"

Why does he keep saying he doesn't belong in Camp?  Thalia thought with concern. What's it going to take to convince him?

He thought about his dream, hoping more memories would come back to him about Lupa, or that ruined house in the redwoods... But his head ached when he tried to remember. The marks on his forearm seemed to burn.

Thalia slightly winced, as if she had been burned.

If he could find those ruins, he could find his past. Whatever was growing inside that rock spire, Jason had to stop it.

He looked at Hippie Zeus.

"He needs to stop calling me that." Zeus said with a frown.

"You're welcome to help."

The statue said nothing.

Does swearing on the River of Styx mean anything to these people? Percy thought with a scowl.

"Thanks Pops," Jason muttered.

Well... it's better then 'Hippie Zeus'. the god of lightning thought.

He changed clothes and checked his reflection in Zeus' shield. His face looked watery and strange in the metal, like he was dissolving in a pool of gold.

Leo grimaced when he suddenly thought of King Midas.

He quickly forced that thought into the back of his mind and began tapping out the Psych theme song.

Definitely he didn't look as good as Piper had last night after she'd suddenly been transformed

Aphrodite giggled. "You're welcome."

Jason still wasn't sure how he felt about that. He'd acted like an idiot, announcing in front of everyone that she was a knockout.

"I think it's sweet." the goddess smiled.

Not like there'd been anything wrong with her before.

You're joking, right? Drew rolled her eyes.

Sure, she looked great after Aphrodite zapped her,

but she also didn't look like herself, not comfortable with the attention.

"Look! He's mindful of her feelings!" Aphrodite excitedly pointed out. "He's so considerate!"

Jason felt bad for her... Everybody had started fawning over her, telling her how amazing she was and how obviously she should be the one who went on the quest 

Drew's grip tightened. A page wrinkled under her pressure. Did everyone just forget that I was willing to risk my life on this quest? Why are they all focused on that... that rich brat!

- but that attention had nothing to do with who she was.

Oh Puh-lease. What do you know about Piper?  Drew snorted. I bet you wouldn't be so willing to defend her when you find out she's working with Enceladus.

...Jason felt like he understood that.

Last night when he'd called down lightning, the other campers' reactions had seemed familiar to him. He was pretty sure he'd been dealing with that for a long time- people looking at him in awe just because he was the son of Zeus.

Sounds like when I got claimed. Percy thought, remembering everyone's reactions and the feeling of isolation.That was awful.

...Nobody cared about him, just his big scary daddy standing behind him with the doomsday bolt, as if to say. Respect this kid or eat voltage!

A few people chuckled.

After the campfire, when people started heading back to their cabins, Jason had gone up to Piper and formally asked her to the quest.

"Awww, that's so cute!" Aphrodite happily exclaimed.

"He's asking her to go on a quest that she might die on, not a date." Athena reminded her.

"But he asked her formally! That's so adorable! "

She'd still been in a state of shock, but she nodded, rubbing her arms, which must've been cold in that sleeveless dress.

"Aphrodite took my snowboarding jacket," she muttered. "Mugged by my own mom."

"I'll probably give it back after I find a matching outfit." Aphrodite waved it off.

The Psych theme song slowly devolved to mindless tapping.

...Jason found a blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders.

"We'll get you a new jacket," he promised.

Aphrodite squealed.

She managed a smile. He wanted to wrap his arms around her,

Ugh! I think I'm gonna hurl. Drew angrily flipped to the next page.

but he restrained himself. He didn't want her to think he was as shallow as everyone else- trying to make a move on her because she'd turned all beautiful.

There's always next time. Aphrodite thought with a hint of disappointment.

He was glad Piper was going with him on the quest.

"And Leo." the son of Hephaestus added. Jeez, did Piper's transformation really make him forget that there was a third person coming with him?

Jason had tried to act brave at the campfire, but it was just that- an act.

The idea of going up against an evil force powerful enough to kidnap Hera scared him witless, especially since he didn't know his own past. He'd need help, and it felt right: Piper should be with him.

"And Leo." the teen added. "Seriously? How do you forget the guy who's in charge of bringing the transportation?"

But things were already complicated without figuring out how much he liked her, and why. He'd already messed with her head enough.

Leo searched through his tool belt.

...Then he spotted something he hadn't noticed before. A brazier had been moved out of one of the alcoves to create a sleeping niche, with a bedroll, a backpack, even some pictures taped to the wall.

"You still have those pictures?" Annabeth said with a soft smile.

"They were still in my pocket before I became a tree." Thalia replied with a similar smile.

Leo's head snapped up to look at her. "Wait what? You were a tree?"

Thalia shifted uncomfortably. "It's called 'Thalia's Pine Tree' for a reason..."

 The boy frowned. "What are you talking about?"

The demigods gawked at him.

"Dude..." Connor said. "You've never heard about Thalia's Pine Tree?"

"I don't even know where it is. Is it in the woods?" Leo asked, shocking the other teens.

"It's the pine tree at the tip  of camp." Will explained, looking like he couldn't believe he had to tell someone this. "The one that Peleus guards. How do you not know this?"

"Been kinda busy. Ya'know with saving Hera and the Great Prophecy..." Leo deadpanned.

"Oh. Right." Will said, looking embarrassed. "Well, I guess I'll tell you. Years ago, Thalia, Annabeth and L-"

"It's a long story." Thalia cut off.

"What? We have time! We're literally just sitting here doing nothing. Why can't we-"

"It's a long story." Thalia repeated, her glare saying: Drop it.

How come we don't have enough time to hear her story, but we have time to hear mineLeo couldn't help but complain.

Jason walked over. Whoever had slept there, it had been a long time ago... Some of the photos once taped to the wall had lost their stickiness and fallen to the floor.

One picture showed Annabeth- much younger, maybe eight...  She stood next to a sandy-haired guy about fourteen or fifteen, with a mischievous smile and ragged leather armor over a T-shirt. He was pointing to an alley behind them, like he was telling the photographer, Let's go meet things in a dark alley and kill them!

Hermes and Thalia sadly smiled.

Annabeth sighed heavily. It was hard thinking about Luke right now without remembering his final moments.

...Finally Jason picked up one of the photos that had fallen... Annabeth and the sandy-haired guy, but with another girl between them. She was maybe fifteen, with black hair- choppy, like Piper's- a black leather jacket, and silver jewelry, so she looked kind of goth. But she was caught mid-laugh, and it was clear she was with two of her best friends.

Is he even going to recognize me? Thalia thought, perking up.

"That's Thalia," someone said.

... Annabeth was peering over his shoulder. Her expression was sad, like the picture brought hard memories. 

Percy pulled her into a hug.

"I'm fine," she told him. "It's just..."

"She's the other child of Zeus who lived here- but not for long. Sorry, I should have knocked."

"It's fine," Jason said. "Not like I think of this place as home."

... Jason said, "Don't suppose you've changed your mind about coming with us?"

"No. Any quest with more than four people can cause a catastrophe." Annabeth said.

Then why do we have seven? Leo wondered, tying his shoelace.

She shook her head. "You got a good team already. I'm off to look for Percy."

Jason was a little disappointed. He would've appreciated having somebody on the trip who knew what they were doing, so he wouldn't feel like he was leading Piper and Leo off a cliff.

"I'm sure you'll be fine." Thalia muttered.

"Hey, you'll do fine," Annabeth promised. "Something tells me this isn't your first quest."

Thalia looked over at Annabeth in surprise.

"What makes you think that?" she asked.

The daughter of Athena glanced at her briefly before looking away.

"I... I guess I just had a feeling..."

She's hiding something. Thalia noticed. But why wouldn't she tell me? She always tells me everything. The only thing she didn't tell me something is...

"When she promised Chiron..." she muttered, frowning. Did she promise someone? But who would she...

Thalia followed her gaze.

Leo? the huntress blinked. What would he want Annabeth to keep quite about?

Thalia recalled Annabeth's earlier reaction. Why do I get the feeling it has something to do with Jason?

The daughter of Zeus grimaced.

...Everyone seemed to think he was so brave and confident, but they didn't see how lost he really felt. How could they trust him when he didn't even know who he was?

Annabeth found herself agreeing with him.

He looked at the pictures of Annabeth smiling. He wondered how long it had been since she'd smiled.

Three days, six hours, and about twelve minutes. Annabeth recited, sighing sadly.

She must really like this Percy guy to search for him so hard,

"Yeah, I do." Annabeth admitted. With a small grin, she bumped her shoulder against Percy's, who smiled back.

Nico scowled.

and that made Jason a little envious. Was anyone searching for him right now?

Once again, Leo couldn't help but wonder if Hazel and the others were okay.

He tapped his foot.

What if somebody cared for him that much and was going out of her mind with worry, and he couldn't even remember his old life?

"You know who I am," he guessed. "Don't you?"

The demigods turned to Annabeth.

Said girl hesitantly shook her head.

Annabeth gripped the hilt of her dagger. She looked for a chair to sit on, but of course there weren't any.

"Honestly, Jason.. I'm not sure. My best guess, you're a loner. It happens sometimes. For one reason or another, the camp never found you, but you survived anyway by constantly moving around. Trained yourself to fight. Handled the monsters on your own. You beat the odds."

If she had heard this before, Thalia would've agreed with her. But after seeing Annabeth's reaction, she was skeptical about this.There's gotta be more to it then that. Leo wouldn't ask her to keep it a secret. But what is it?

"The first thing Chiron said to me," Jason remembered, "was you should be dead."

Thalia grimaced. That has to be part of this mystery somehow.

Leo pulled out a deck of cards out of his tool belt.

After removing the rubber band, Leo lazily shuffled the deck.

..."And a child of Zeus- I mean, it doesn't get any more dangerous than that. The chances of your reaching age fifteen without finding Camp Half-Blood or dying- microscopic. But like I said, it does happen. Thalia ran away when she was young. She survived on her own for years. Even took care of me for a while. So maybe you were a loner too."

Jason held out his arm. "And these marks?"

Annabeth glanced at the tattoos. Clearly, they bothered her.

The demigods also looked unnerved by the tattoo.

"Why do they keep mentioning that tattoo?" Katie asked. "What does it even mean?"

"Well, the eagle is the symbol of Zeus, so that makes sense. The twelve lines were- maybe they stand for years, if you'd been making them since you were three years old. SPQR- that's the motto of the old Roman Empire: Sematus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome.

The answer was staring me in the face the entire time and I didn't even notice. Annabeth would've face palmed if she wasn't with the others.

"More Roman stuff." Thalia frowned. "This is so weird."

"I know," Percy agreed. "First he uses Roman terms, then he uses Roman names, and now he has a Roman motto tattooed on his body." he made a noise of exasperation. "It's almost like he wants to... I dunno... become a Roman or something?"

As if he said the magic words, Annabeth jolted up as if she had been electrocuted. Percy and Thalia watched carefully as her and Leo shared a silent exchange.

It seemed to go like this:

Annabeth: They're so close to the truth. If they just had one hint...

Leo frowned. He slightly shook his head before sticking out his pinky finger.

Leo: You promised.

Annabeth: I know, I won't. But I still think they need to know.

He immediately shook his head again and mimed checking his watch.

Leo: Not the time.

Annabeth: ... Do you really not trust us?

He winced at her disappointed expression. He bit his lip and looked briefly at the ceiling, as if trying to think of how to properly convey this.

Leo: It's not that... It's just... 

His eyes looked around the room. 

When he noticed Thalia staring at them, Leo froze. His face looked panicked before he relaxed his features. Leo smiled and waved at her. 

Just noticing her as well, Annabeth's eyes widened. She quickly turned her attention back to the book.

Percy and Thalia exchanged a look of their own. Whatever these two were hiding, they were going to figure it out.

Though why you would burn that on your own arm, I don't know. Unless you had a really harsh Latin teacher..."

"Doubt it." Chris said.

Jason was pretty sure that wasn't the reason. It also didn't seem possible he'd been own his whole life. But what else made sense? Annabeth had been pretty clear- Camp Half-Blood was the only safe place in the world for demigods.

A couple demigods nodded in agreement.

"I, um... had a weird dream last night," he said. It seemed like a stupid thing to confide, but Annabeth didn't look surprised.

"It's something every demigod has to go through. Unfortunately." Katie sighed.

..."You don't remember where the house is?" she asked.

Jason shook his head. "But I'm sure I've been there before."

"Redwoods," she mused. "Could be northern California. And the she-wolf... I've studied goddesses, spirits, and monsters my whole life. I've never heard of Lupa."

"She could be a minor goddess." Katie suggested.

"She said the enemy was a 'her'. I thought maybe it was Hera, but-"

"You were wrong." Hera finished.

..."You know what it is, don't you?" he asked. "Or least, you've got a guess. I saw your face last night at the campfire. You looked at Chiron like it was suddenly dawning on you, but you didn't want to scare us."

"Wow Annabeth! Your face is more easier to read than I thought." Travis teased.

The daughter of Athena scowled but otherwise pointedly ignored him.

Annabeth hesitated. "Jason, the thing about prophecies... the more you know, the more you try to change them, and that can be disastrous.

"Ya'know, that's a good point." Leo said, shuffling his deck. "Why should we read this if it could damage the future? Hasn't anyone ever seen shows about time travel? They always warn you about messing with the future!"

After putting the cards in his pocket, Leo began to count off by hand.

"Back to the Future, Back to the Future 2, The Time Machine, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Girl Who Lept Through Time, Phil of the Future (anybody else remember watching that?) Heck! Even Charmed talks about how dangerous it is to know too much about the future! Does the phrase 'future consequences' ring any bells?" Leo paused to take a deep breath.

He held up seven fingers.

"That's seven so far! I can keep going, but I think I proved my point. How do we know that learning about this won't make things worse? You guys shouldn't even know me yet. Do you know how weird it's going to be for past (present?) me when he (I?) comes to Camp and everyone knows who he is? Or is it 'I am'?"

Leo threw his hands up in frustration. "Whatever! You get my point!"

"Considering who we are up against I think it's worth the risk." Athena said.

Zeus nodded his head in agreement. 

"Continue," he ordered Drew.

Maybe using Movies and TV shows wasn't the best choice for evidence... Leo frowned, taking his cards out of his pocket.

Chiron believes it's better that you find your own path, find out things in your own time.

Why aren't we listening to future Annabeth? Leo shuffled the cards faster.

If he'd told me everything he knew before my first quest with Percy... I've got to admit, I'm not sure I would've been able to go through with it. For your quest, it's even more important."

"That bad, huh?"

Probably worse now. Leo thought. Good luck Past (Present?) Jason, Piper, and me.

I hope not... Annabeth bit her lip

..."But I don't even know where to start. Where am I supposed to go?"

"Follow the monsters." Annabeth suggested.

Athena nodded her approval.

Jason thought about that. The storm spirit who'd attacked the Grand Canyon had said he was being recalled to his boss... And maybe that would lead him to Hera's prison.

..."Personally, I'd ask a wind god," Annabeth said.

"Aeolus is the master of all the winds, but he's a little... unpredictable."

"Underestimate." Hades muttered.

"No one finds him unless he wants to be found. I'd try one of the four seasonal winds gods that work or Aeolus. The nearest one, the one who has the most dealings with heroes, is Boreas, the North Wind."

..."Canada," he decided. "Quebec."

Annabeth smiled. "I hope you speak French."

"I doubt he does." Thalia commented.

"Well, he speaks fluent Latin so you never know." Annabeth reminded with a shrug.

Jason actually felt excitement. Quebec- at least now he had a goal.

Find the North Wind, track down the stormy spirits, find out who they worked for and where the ruined house was. Free Hera. All in four days. Cake.

"Easier said then done." Nico warned.

"You'd be surprised what kinda things can happen on a quest." Percy said, remembering all of his close calls.

..."So, um... you said it was dangerous being a child of Zeus. What ever happened to Thalia?"

"Oh, she's fine," Annabeth said.  "She became a Hunter of Artemis- one of the handmaidens of the goddess. They roam around the country killing monsters. We don't see them at camp very often."

Jason glanced over at the huge statue of Zeus. He understood why Thalia had slept in this alcove. It was the only place in the cabin not in Hippie Zeus' line of sight.

"I think we should get rid of that statue." Zeus finally grumbled to his wife.

Hera smiled. "I knew you'd say things my way."

And even that hadn't been enough. She'd chosen to follow Artemis and be part of a group rather than stay in this cold drafty temple alone with her twenty-foot-tall dad- Jason's dad- glowering down at her. Eat voltage! Jason didn't have any trouble understanding Thalia's feelings. He wondered if there was a Hunters group for guys.

Artemis and her hunters started laughing.

"Hunters group for boys?" Phoebe laughed harder, as if that was funniest thing she heard in a decade.

"Can boys even hunt properly?" One hunter giggled.

"Can... you... imagine? A boy... give up on girls for all...eternity?" Another hunter said in between laughs.

Is it really that hard to believe? Will thought, rolling his eyes. Hunters can be so clueless sometimes.

"It's not that funny." Apollo protested. "Boys can be great hunters!"

The sun god pouted when the girls laughed harder at his statement.

After Artemis and her girls finally calmed down, Drew continued reading.

"Who's the other kid in the photo?" he asked. "The sandy-haired guy."

Annabeth's expression tightened. Touchy subject.

"That's Luke," she said. "He's dead now."

The smile on Thalia's face immediately turned to a sad frown.

Annabeth winced. I could've worded that way better.

Jason decided it was best not to ask more, but the way Annabeth said Luke's name, he wondered if maybe Percy Jackson wasn't the only boy Annabeth had ever liked.

Annabeth sighed. Maybe I am easy to read... 

He focused again on Thalia's face. He kept thinking this photo is important. He was missing something.

I knew it! the daughter of Athena thought. I knew they were connected!

...someone who might understand his confusion, maybe even answer some questions. But another voice inside him, an insistent whisper, said: Dangerous. Stay away.

What the Hades? Thalia thought with surprise.

Is it because she's Greek? Annabeth wondered, eagerly listening.

"How old is she now?" he asked.

"Hard to say. She was a tree for a while. Now she's immortal."

Imagining the look on Jason's face, Travis snickered.

"What?"

"I know right!" Leo said. "That's what I'm saying, but apparently it's a long story!" I bet it's not three books long.

His expression must have been pretty good, because Annabeth laughed. "Don't worry. It's not something all children of Zeus go through. It's a long story, 

"Of course it is." the son of Hephaestus rolled his eyes.

but... well, she was out of commission for a long time. If she'd aged regularly, she'd be in her twenties now, but she still looks the same as in the picture, like she's about... well, your age. Fifteen or sixteen?"

Something the she-wolf had said in his dream nagged at Jason. He found himself asking, "What's her last name?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" Will asked.

Thalia's clammy hands tightly gripped her bow.

"He probably already knows her and wants to know her last name to confirm it." Annabeth muttered.

...Jason waited.

"Grace," Annabeth said. "Thalia Grace."

Jason's fingers went numb. The picture fluttered to the floor.

...A shred of memory had ignited - maybe a tiny piece that Hera had forgotten to steal. Or maybe she'd left there on purpose- just enough for him to remember that name, and know that digging up his past was terribly, terribly dangerous.

The demigods exchanged uneasy looks.

"Um... what's wrong with him?" Travis asked. He turned to Thalia. "Have you guys met before or something?"

The others looked expectantly at her.

Thalia froze. What do I say? 'Yeah we met, we're full-blooded siblings!' Can I really just tell them just like that? I don't want to lie to them directly.

As Thalia struggled with how to respond, Drew rolled her eyes and continued reading.

You should be dead. Chiron had said. It wasn't a comment about Jason being a loner. Chiron knew something specific- something about Jason's family.

What...? Annabeth frowned.

The she-wolf's words in his dreams finally made sense to him, her clever joke at his expense. He could imagine Lupa growling a wolfish laugh.

Annabeth's face paled, her eyes widened in realization.

"Oh my gods..." she gasped, looking at Thalia and at the book.

The huntress' shoulders sagged, she ducked her head and plucked her bow.

"That stupid joke..." the daughter of Athena began. "His last name is Grace, right? You're related to him."

Thalia chewed on her lip and tried to ignore the stares of everyone else.

"He's..." Thalia took a deep breath and let it out. "My little brother.."

Although she already knew that, hearing herself say it out loud made it feel more official.

It's like I'm claiming him or something. she joked despite the tense situation.

"He's your little brother?" Percy repeated in surprise. 

"It makes sense." Annabeth said, her voice filled with disbelief and a twinge of anger. "She was always acting so protective of him." Of this Roman. "I got the feeling they met before but I didn't understand why she acted the way she did..."

She ran her hand through her hair. "This explains so much."

Thalia finally found the courage to look up. 

"Annabeth..." she began.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she interrupted. "I tell you everything about me. So why did you keep something this important from me?"

"I thought he was dead." Thalia blurted out.

Annabeth blinked. 

"You what?" she asked as if she misheard.

"When he was a two," Thalia began, looking back down at her shoes. "We went to that place in Jay's dreams. My... Our mom made me go back in the car and get something and when I came back, she was on crying and saying that she gave him away to Hera." She tightened the grip on her bow. She took a deep breath and shakily let it out. "After his disappearance, I decided to run away and I tried not to think about him since. I'm sorry I hadn't told you. It was just... too painful."

Annabeth bit her lip.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I should've known you had a reason for not saying anything."

Thalia waved her off.

"It's fine, you didn't know." she responded. Thalia sighed. "I just... wish I knew what happened to him. Where did he go? Why was he living with the wolves?"

Annabeth looked away. Gods I'm such a hypocrite. Here I am getting mad at her for not  telling me every single detail about her life and yet I am not telling her the truth about her brother. He might be Roman, but it's obvious he meant a lot to Thalia.

She squeezed her hands into fists. What kind of friend am I? I should've known from how much she cared about him that he was some kind of relative. I should've just told her and everyone else from the start.

"After this chapter is over... Can we have a break?" Annabeth asked. "I just need to... clear my head."

Seeing her daughter's worn out expression, Athena nodded her head. "Of course." 

Percy noticed too.

"You ok?" he asked, giving her shoulder a comforting squeeze. "You know that Thalia's not mad at you, right? You didn't know."

"I know." she said. "I just... did something that I shouldn't have."

The son of Poseidon frowned. So she does know something about Jason. What did he tell her?

Percy glanced over at the boy. The son of Hephaestus was struggling to make a house of cards. Guess there's only one way to find out.

..."You have swear not to tell anyone else," he said.

"Jason-"

"Swear it," he urged. "Until I figure out what's going on, what this all means-" he rubbed the burned tattoo on his forearm. "You have to keep a secret."

Annabeth flinched at that. 

Annabeth hesitated, but her curiosity won out.

It always does. Percy thought.

"All right. Until you tell me it's okay, I won't share what you say with anyone else. I swear on the River Styx."

At least Leo didn't make me swear on the River of Styx. Annabeth wasn't sure if she should feel honored by that or even worse since she was tempted to go against his trust. If I can just talk to him and get him to see things from my perspective, maybe it'll work out.

Thunder rumbled, even louder than usual for the cabin.

You are our saving Grace, the wolf had snarled.

"Oh! I get it now!" Travis exclaimed, he burst out laughing. 

"I get the feeling she was waiting for years to use that one!" Connor said, laughing along with him.

"Probably not. She might've just reused a joke." Leo snickered. "Either way, it's pretty bad."

Jason picked up the photo from the floor.

"My last name is Grace."  he said. "This is my sister."

"At least he remembers me." Thalia said, sadly smiling.

Annabeth turned pale.

...Then the doors of the cabin burst open. Half a dozen campers spilled in, led by the bald guy from Iris, Butch.

"Hurry!" he said, and Jason couldn't tell if his expression was excitement or fear. "The dragon is back."

Please don't tell me the dragon malfunctioned again. Jake pleaded.

Grover nervously gulped.

"I'm done." Drew said, closing the book.

She then began neatly putting her make up in her hand bag.

As the demigods were led back the dining room, Leo couldn't help but feel the three sets of eyes staring a hole through his back.

Chapter Text

Absentmindedly Leo handed Travis a card as he forced himself to keep his eyes on his deck.

He knew Connor was looking over his shoulder, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

Are they still...? Leo glanced up and looked to his right.

Percy and Thalia were whispering to each other as they openly stared at him.

Yep. he thought with a resigned sigh. What about...?

He looked behind him.

Annabeth was still standing there a couple feet away, muttering to herself. When their eyes met, the son of Hephaestus resisted the urge to shudder. Like the last time he checked, she didn't even bother to pretend she wasn't staring. Her stormy grey eyes  continued staring him down intensely.

Uh-huh. Leo quickly turned away. Still doing... whatever the Hades that is.

He had a feeling that Annabeth wanted to talk more about Jason's past (why else would she be looking at him?) But what about the other two? Why were they acting like they were doing some kind of stake out? Did they think he was going to try to sneak away and burn the books again? Or was it something different?

"Leo," Travis said impatiently, interrupting his thoughts. "Could you take this game more seriously?"

"Yeah, you're making cheating too easy." Connor complained, falling back on the bench.

"Sorry."

"Are you okay? You've been really quiet." Travis shoved the other Stoll away when he attempted to look at his cards.

"It's nothing," he dismissed. "I was just day dreaming. Do you have any threes?"

The brothers exchanged looks but didn't press the subject.

"Go fish." Travis lied.

Leo took a card from the deck.

The trio were on their fifth round of 'Go Fish' (Travis: 2, Connor: 3, and Leo: 0 -big shock), when Annabeth tapped his shoulder.

"We need to talk." she said. Annabeth spoke clearly and confidently as if she had a whole plan figured out and he was going to follow it step by step. "Alone."

"Trying to make Percy jealous?" Connor teased, he shrank back after seeing the look on her face. 

"Let's go." she told Leo. He barely had time to put his cards face down on the table (not that it would've stopped them from cheating) before he followed her.

As soon as he started walking away from the bench, nearly everyone's heads snapped up to see where he was going. They relaxed when they saw he was following Annabeth.

Geez! You try to burn a pile of books and run away once, now everyone thinks they need to watch your every step. Leo rolled his eyes.

They walked into the hallway for a bit before Annabeth pulled him into a random room.

Inside, the room was designed like a Victorian style room.

"Ancient Greek Gods with a Victorian style living room? Weird. Whose idea was this?" Leo said, looking around the room, taking in the interior designing.

Annabeth didn't look as surprised.

"The gods have moved from civilization to civilization for centuries." she reminded him. "They must've picked up some of the culture when they were in Europe."

There was a flicker of anxiousness in her face, before she schooled her features and grabbed her necklace. She took a deep breath and let it out. 

"I think we should tell Thalia the truth." she said. Just get it out of the way and tell him how you feel. "She needs to know what happened to her brother."

Leo groaned. He would've agreed with the idea if he knew how Thalia would react. Sure, she had been pretty chill about Jason's Roman side in the future, but then again, so had Annabeth and look how well that turned out. 

"I thought we agreed to wait until everyone figured out." he said tiredly, flopping on a nearby chair. 

"They practically did, you heard what Percy said earlier." she pointed out.  She looked down at her shoes and sighed. "I don't like the idea of keeping something this important from anyone, especially Thalia. She thought he was dead for years! She should know what happened to him. Wouldn't you want to know if you were her?"

Leo hesitated before shaking his head.

"We can't just tell her," he said. "What are we supposed to say? 'Hey Thalia! Jay's a Roman demigod and he spent years living with his people and the woodland creatures!' There's no telling what she'll say-"

Leo was so caught up in his words, he didn't hear the soft gasp  behind the door but Annabeth did. She silently cut the son of Hephaestus off and put a finger to her lips.

She walked to the door.

When she opened the door, Leo couldn't help but feel a sense of dread at the sight of Percy and Thalia gawking at the doorway.

"Great! Just great!" he grumbled under his breath. Leo drummed his fingers on the armrest. "How much did you hear?"

"Roman demigods exist?" Percy asked. Leo stood up and paced around the room.

"And Jason's one of them." Thalia said slowly, her voice full of shock. She stood in the doorway with a dumbfounded expression.

"I didn't tell them to come here!" Annabeth hurriedly told the son of Hephaestus. "I swear I didn't-"

"I know you didn't." Leo said as if it were obvious. Truthfully, he was more mad at himself than the others. If he had just kept quiet, none of this would be happening. "This just makes things more complicated..."

"I'm sorry, but can someone explain to me what's going on?" Percy asked sheepishly.

Leo rolled his eyes. "The guy who eavesdrops now wants an explanation. Fine. I'll explain it." It was better to have it come from him than to have Annabeth explain the situation.

After making sure there weren't any more people listening in (with how nosy everyone was, Leo couldn't be to sure), the son of Hephaestus told the two the history between the Greeks and the Romans.

Percy listened intently to his words. He occasionally stopped him to ask questions, but other than that, was quiet during his brief history lesson.

Thalia was sitting on a chair staring down at her lap. She seemed to be listening but was still shocked by the sudden revelation.

"...We've had a lot of misunderstandings, but we're not enemies." Leo stressed for what seemed like the 800th time. "We've just... Um... We're working it out."

Silence.

Annabeth stood patiently as she waited for the other two to gather their thoughts.

Leo crossed his arms and chewed the inside of his cheek, bracing himself for their reaction.

"This..." Percy began. "This is..." He blinked. "Wow."

"It's a lot to take in." Annabeth said understandingly. "I can't believe we're this unlucky, first the giants and now the Romans."

She ignored the look Leo gave her.

"What are you talking about?" he asked with a slow smile. " This is great!"

Out of all the things he expected Percy to say, that definitely wasn't it. Leo stared at the other boy in disbelief as he struggled to voice his confusion.

"Huh?" Yeah, that'll work. 

"This is awesome!" Percy said with more conviction. "Now we have more people out there who can help us defeat the giants!"

"But... But..." Leo fumbled. He held his hands up. "Wait! Aren't you angry that Romans still exist? Or hate them? Not that I'm complaining or anything, but still... How are you just... okay with Roman demigods?"

Percy looked at him as if he was being the weird one.

"Why would I hate them? I don't even know them." Percy said. "It doesn't matter what they are, demigods are demigods, right?" he shrugged. 

Percy Jackson, Leo decided, is freakin' awesome.

"We've been enemies for years," Annabeth reminded him. "They attacked Camp Half-Blood."

The son of Poseidon hesitated. "Yeah but... Did we ever try talking it out with them? Make some kind of Peace Treaty? Or find out why we're fighting in the first place? What's the point in fighting if we don't even remember why? We should just work together."

Now it was Annabeth's turn to look hesitate. "It can't be that easy..." 

"Why not? Maybe they don't like fighting with us either." Percy took her hand and squeezed it. "It's worth a try, right? Imagine how much more we could've done if they helped us fight in the Titian War."

Annabeth froze before nodding.

"You're right. It would've more efficient." she slowly admitted with dawning realization. "You know, you're pretty smart Seaweed Brain."

Percy leaned closer and rested his forehead against hers. "You're pretty smart yourself, Wise Girl."

Ugh! Really? Did they just forget that we're still here? Leo rolled his eyes. 

"Okay, okay! Break it up you two! We've got other things to talk about!" he snapped his fingers.

The two immediately broke apart.

"Sorry." Percy said with a goofy smile.

"No you're not, but it's okay." You get used to it when you're on a ship with three different couples. Leo thought. "Anyways, now that you know about the Romans, you can't tell the others."

Percy blinked at him, 

"Why?"

The son of Hephaestus paced around the room again. "Not every Greek is as accepting towards Romans as you are. I don't know why, but it's like we got this natural hatred towards each other. You've seen the others' reactions towards Jay's Roman words. Plus, the gods don't want us to know about each other. There's no telling how they'll react if the other demigods start freaking out!"

The son of Hephaestus shuddered. He turned to Percy and Thalia.

"You gotta promise me that you won't tell anyone. Swear on the River of Styx."

It all made sense in Leo's head. All they had to do was keep their mouths shut and leave the others in the dark about the Romans. Sure it sounded bad that he wanted them to withhold information and he wasn't exactly a big fan of the whole secrets thing either, but he didn't think they... well... he was ready for them to know the truth. After Annabeth's reaction and hearing the others' comments, he was still uneasy about them knowing.

So, of course, Percy Jackson had to look at him straight in the eye and say: "No."

Thalia and Annabeth looked at him in surprise.

Leo felt his heart stop.

"Wha..." Leo felt his brain short circuit, before he gathered his thoughts. "Are you trying to start a second Civil War in this building?! They can't know! At least... not now." he added after seeing the look on Annabeth's face.

"We just need to convince them." Percy insisted, looking to Annabeth and Thalia for backup. Naturally  they nodded their heads in agreement, but Thalia looked a little nervous (not as nervous as Leo felt, but still) as she nodded along. "If you can just tell them about the positives of working with the Romans and how things are coming along between them and us-"

"Wait! Me?!" Leo emphasized, pointing to himself. "What happened to 'we'?!" 

Percy looked surprised he even asked.

"Well, it has to be you. You're the only here who's met the Romans face-to-face and can tell us what's it like to have a relationship with them." he said, before adding thoughtfully. "Maybe that's why Nemesis brought you here."

"The sooner they know the better," Thalia added. "It would make things easier if they heard it from you than make assumptions on their own. I don't want the others to hate Jay before he comes to Camp."

"We should tell them during this chapter." Annabeth suggested.

"This is going to end badly, you're making a mistake." Leo warned, rubbing his temples. You're trusting the guy who fired a ballista at a Roman City!

Even his relationships with the Romans on the ship were bad; He and Frank have a strained relationship at best (What even were they? Friends? Frenemies?) and his relationship with Hazel was more convoluted than a Mission Impossible movie. Heck, the only Roman he got along with, without any problems, was Jason.

And they want me to be some kind of Roman Ambassador...? Leo felt the room start to spin. Are they nuts? They're the most influential demigods in the Camp! Why can't they say something?!

"Wait. Just give me some time," To leave! I gotta get outta here! He stumbled back. Was the room always this cramped? Why was it so hot? I just... "Gotta think of something..."

Thalia grabbed his shoulder to stop him from swaying.

"Are you okay?" she frowned. "Your jacket's smoldering."  

Without thinking, he randomly patted down different parts of his coat.

"Fine!" he squeaked, his voice sounding miles away. "Just a sec."

Thankfully he managed to pull himself together before he would embarrass himself further.

Annabeth gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze.

"Are you okay? Do you need some water?"

Leo shook his head. Big mistake. He inwardly groaned and ignored the spots in his vision. 

"I'm fine." he repeated. "Let's just... Not bring it up so suddenly. How about we wait until the book mentions it."

That should buy me enough time, right? 

"It would be better if they had context." Annabeth said. "We can't exactly just spring this on them."

"It shouldn't take too long." Thalia added.

No kidding. With the way Jay keeps bringing up the Romans, I'll probably have until another Jason chapter to get out of here. Leo brushed his hair back.

"Sounds good." Percy said. "Let's head back before the others start reading."

Leo grimaced in response but followed the others out. His mind whirling with different thoughts.


By the time they got back, the others were already in the throne room getting ready to read.

Leo sat down next to the Stolls.

"You look terrible." Travis commented, seeing the worn out look on his face. "What happened to you? What did they tell you?"

Leo didn't seem to hear him as he continued staring at nothing.

"Hey."  Connor shook his shoulder.

He jumped. "Huh? What?"

"What. Happened?" Connor said slowly. "You look like you've been pulling all-nighters for the past week."

"Feels like it." he admitted. "Nothing happened. It's not important."

Leo went back to thinking. 

"Does anybody want to read?" Athena asked, once everyone was seated.

"I will." Poseidon said with a shrug.

Taking the book, he sat back in his throne and began to read.

"Piper XV," Poseidon began.

Piper woke up and immediately grabbed a mirror.

There were plenty of those in the Aphrodite cabin. She sat on her bunk, looked at her reflection and groaned.

She was still gorgeous.

Trust me, she did you favor. Drew huffed. 

...she'd tried everything. She messed up her hair, washed the make up off her face, cried to make her eyes red. Nothing worked.

"She really hates what you did to her, Aphrodite." Hestia remarked.

Maybe I should claim her the old fashioned way. Aphrodite thought before quickly dismissing it. Nah!

"How long does that even last?" Annabeth asked.

"A couple days, maybe a week." the goddess of love shrugged.

That sucks. Annabeth thought, thinking about Piper's reaction when she finds out.

She would've changed clothes, but she had nothing to change into. The other Aphrodite campers offered her some clothes (laughing behind her back, she was sure),

Aphrodite frowned and gave her children a disapproving look.

Leo was muttering quietly to himself, drumming with his fingers on the wall.

but each outfit was even more fashionable and ridiculous than what she had on.

Drew rolled her eyes. "Talk about ungrateful. We're trying to help her and this is the thanks we get."

"She's not ungrateful, she just doesn't have the same taste in clothes." the goddess told her daughter.

...Even that horrible zit at the base of her nose, which she'd had for so many days she'd started to call it Bob, had disappeared.

"...She... named it?!" Aphrodite had a full body shudder. 

Ew! What kind of freak does that?  Drew's face turned green.

The Stolls laughed.

"Poor Bob!" Travis exclaimed in mock sympathy.

[Drew] "Oh honey, it won't go away." Her voice dripped with false sympathy. "Mom's blessing will last at least another day. Maybe a week if you're lucky."

Piper gritted her teeth. "A week?"

The other Aphrodite kids- about a dozen girls and five guys- smirked and snickered at her discomfort.

"First impressions are important. You not only have to look best but you have to be on your best behavior. If you treat Piper like this, she'll think you're a bunch of spoiled brats. Understand?" Aphrodite scolded her children.

Cabin Ten mumbled a 'yes'.

Piper knew she should play cool, not let them get under her skin. She'd dealt with shallow, popular kids plenty of times. 

The goddess's frown deepened at that.They're not shallow. They're good kids. 

But this was different. There were her brothers and sisters, even if she had nothing in common with them, and how Aphrodite had managed to have so many kids so close in age... Never mind. She didn't want to know.

"It's a long  story." Aphrodite giggled. 

Hera made a noise of disgust. 

The Cabin Ten campers pretended they didn't even hear her.

"Don't worry, hon." Drew blotted her fluorescent lipstick. "You thinking you don't belong here? We couldn't agree more.

"Drew!" Aphrodite gasped. "That is not how a camp councilor speaks to someone. Especially if that someone is their sister!"

Her daughter pointedly ignored her and the others' glares.

It's the truth. Drew scowled. The sooner she leaves the better.

Isn't that right, Mitchell?"

Mitchell flinched. Oh gods, why me?

..."Um, yeah. Sure."

...Everybody started rushing around, making beds and folding clothes, while Drew scooped up her makeup kit, hair dryer, and brush and marched into the bathroom.

Someone inside yelped, and a girl about eleven was kicked out, hastily wrapped in towels with shampoo in her hair.

Aphrodite's jaw went slack.

"You couldn't even wait for her to get the shampoo out of her hair." Percy said through gritted teeth.

"Why would you do that? You know that's wrong." the goddess said

"I don't know why I did it, it's the future." she shrugged. "I could've just had a bad day."

"Bad days don't mean you push people out of the showers." Nico pointed out.

The door slammed shut, and the girl started to cry.

Hestia sympathetically winced.

A couple of older campers comforted her and wiped the bubbles out of her hair.

"Seriously?" Piper said to no one in particular. "You let Drew treat you like this?"

"She has a point." Annabeth said to Aphrodite's kids. "You don't have to let her walk all over you."

The Aphrodite kids hesitated as they glanced at Drew.

...The guys had one row of bunks separated by a curtain, but their section of the cabin was neat and orderly as the girls'. Something was definitely unnatural about that. Every camper had a wooden camp chest at the foot of their bunk with their name painted on it, and Piper guessed that the clothes in each chest were neatly folded and color coordinated.

Cabin Ten always clean, but not that clean. Percy frowned.

'Drew.' Annabeth mouthed to him.

The only bit of individualism was how the campers decorated their private bunk spaces. Each had slightly different pictures tacked up of whatever celebrities they thought were hot.

Artemis and her hunters rolled their eyes.

...Piper hoped she might not see The Poster. It had been almost a year since the movie, and she thought by now surely everyone had torn down those old tattered advertisements and tacked up something newer. But no such luck.

Despite being deep in his thoughts, Leo couldn't help but smile at the mention of The Poster.

"The Poster?" Annabeth asked.

...The title was lurid red: KING OF SPARTA. Under that, the poster showed the leading man- a three-quarter shot of bare-chested bronze flesh, with ripped pectorals and six-pack abs. He was clad in only a Greek war kilt and a purple cape, sword in hand. He looked like he'd just been rubbed in oil, his short black hair gleaming and rivulets of sweat pouring off his rugged face, those dark sad eyes facing the camera as if to say, I will kill your men and steal your women! Ha-ha!

Aphrodite dreamily sighed.

A couple Aphrodite girls sighed too, some siblings giggled and pushed each other.

I've seen the trailers, but what was the name of that leading actor? Annabeth thought.

...Piper couldn't get away from it at school, walking down the street, even online. It became The Poster, the most embarrassing thing in her life. And yeah, it was a picture of her dad.  

The Aphrodite kids froze in mid-giggle. A couple faces flushed.

...She straightened her bed, then realized the top blanket was the one Jason had wrapped around her shoulders last night. She picked it up and pressed it to her face. 

Artemis raised a eyebrow.

Aphrodite looked disappointed.

She wants her blanket to smell like a boy? Artemis gagged. Now I know she's Aphrodite's daughter.

... "'Scuse me," said a voice by her feet. The garbage patrol guy, Mitchell, was crawling around on all fours...

Mitchell grimaced.

She moved out of his way. "What'd you do to make Drew mad?"

He glanced over at the bathroom door to make sure it was still closed. "Last night, after you were claimed, I said you might not be so bad."

"Well, it's better than nothing." the goddess said.

I could try... No... But what about? Leo frowned, pulling up his sleeves. No, that can't be possible... Can it? I mean, I did make a flying ship... 

"Hey," he said to the Stoll brothers. "Do either one of you have a cell phone I could borrow?"

Connor suddenly looked depressed. "I had  a phone." 

"Maybe I have one. What are you willing to trade?" Travis asks.

"Why would I have to trade anything? You still have my playing cards!" Leo pointed to the cards sticking out of his pocket.

Travis instinctively put his hand over his pocket.

"How do you know they're yours? Could've been a gift." the son of Hermes lied.

Connor smiled and nodded along. "It could've been, you don't have any proof."

"Proof? Are you kidding me? That's obviously- Urgh! Whatever! Look, you can keep the cards if you let me borrow the phone."

"And the push pins." Connor added, nodding to the ones sticking on the wall.

"What do you even want with...?" Leo sighed. "Who cares? Fine you can have the cards and the push pins." 

"Sweet!" The two high five each other. 

Travis handed Leo the Samsung.

"Remember, you're supposed to give it back." he reminded.

"You're the one to talk." Leo muttered, opening the internet app.

Connor moved to pluck the pins off the wall.

It wasn't much of a compliment, but Piper was stunned. An Aphrodite kid had actually stood up for her?

"We're not all jerks." Mitchell muttered. A couple people next to him nodded.

Aphrodite gave her son a grateful smile.

...A girl with blond pigtails and braces raced up with a pile of clothes in her arms. She looked around furtively like she was delivering nuclear materials.

"I brought you these," she whispered.

"Piper, meet Lacy." Mitchell said, still crawling around on the floor.

"Hi," Lacy said breathlessly. "You can change clothes. The blessing won't stop you. This is just, you know, a backpack, some rations, ambrosia and nectar for emergencies, some jeans, a few extra shirts, and a warm jacket. The boots might be a little snug. But- well- we took up a collection. Good luck on your quest!"

"I'm so proud!" Aphrodite cooed at her children.

Lacy shyly smiled back.

Lacy dumped the things on the bed and started to hurry away, but Piper caught her arm. "Hold on. At least let me thank you! Why are you rushing off?"

..."I might have to wear the shoes of shame!" Lacy gulped.

A couple people stared at Lacy as if she grew a second head.

"What's so bad about that?" Nico asked.

"I-I-I don't know." Lacy shivered. "D-Drew hasn't made up new rules yet."

Taking out a small notepad and a golf pencil, Leo began hastily scribbling down notes.

...Lacy and Mitchell both pointed to the black shelf mounted in the corning of the room, like an alter. Displayed on it were a hideous pair of orthopedic nurse's shoes, bright white with thick soles.

Dramatic gasps could be heard coming from the Cabin Ten group. A couple members frantically fanned their faces.

"Oh Fates!" Aphrodite gasped, clutching her chest. "They still sell those?! Drew, how could you! To your own siblings!"

"It'll motivate them not to break the rules." Drew replied.

"There are other ways! You don't have to go to the extremes!" The goddess raked her hand through her hair. "Fates.." 

To actually make someone walk in those shoes... Maybe Drew wasn't fit to be camp councilor... Aphrodite realized.

"I had to wear them for a week once," Lacy whimpered. "They don't go with anything!"

Aphrodite winced. 

Awful. she thought sadly. Just awful.

Lacy looked like she was seconds away from fainting at the news.

Mitchell comfortingly patted her back.

..."Charmspeak..." Piper remembered last night, the way the crowd at the campfire had swayed back and forth between Drew's opinion and hers. "You mean, like, you could talk someone into doing things. Or... giving you things. Like a car?"

"Oh, don't give Drew any ideas!" Lacy gasped.

"But yeah," Mitchell said. "She could do that."

"So that's why she's head counselor," Piper said. "She convinced you all?"

Drew looked offended by that. 

"I had to earn my title." she huffed.

Mitchell picked up a nasty wad of gum from under Piper's bed. "Nah, she inherited the post when Silena Beauregard died in the war.

Aphrodite winced.

Clarisse lowered her head.

"Silena Beauregard?" Leo repeated, looking up from the cell phone. "Who's she?"

"She's a hero." Clarisse firmly told him. She glared at him, silently daring him to disagree.

Percy nodded with agreement.

"Oh. Okay." Leo was still confused, but he didn't ask any further questions. He jotted down more notes.

..."Yes, I did!" Suddenly Drew was there, leaning against the bunk. Lacy squeaked like a guinea pig and tried to run, but Drew put an arm out to stop her. She looked down at Mitchell. "I think you missed some trash, sweetie. You'd better make another pass."

Piper glanced toward the bathroom and saw that Drew had dumped everything from the bathroom waste bin- some pretty nasty things- all over the floor.

Mitchell grimaced.

The Aphrodite kids knowingly winced.

Mitchell sat up on his hunches. He glared at Drew like he was about to attack (which Piper would've paid money to see)...

I doubt that. Drew rolled her eyes. She has tons of money, but barely uses it. Cheapskate.

Drew smiled. "See, Piper, hon, we're a good cabin here.

We were. Lacy miserably corrected.

A good family! Silena Beauregard,  though... you could take a warning from her. She was secretly passing information to Kronos in the Titan War, helping the enemy."

Everyone else tensed.

Clarisse's eye twitched. 

"What?"  she said through clenched teeth.

...Piper got the feeling Drew was looking straight into her soul, pulling out her secrets.

Helping the enemy.

"Oh, none of the other cabins talk about it," Drew confided. "They act like Silena Beauregard was a hero."

"She was a hero!" Clarisse growled to the teen.

"We know that." Chris said, in a effort to calm her.

Aphrodite looked horrified. "You don't think your sister was a hero? Silena sacrificed her life!"

So what? She still betrayed us. It's practically her fault we were fighting Kronos in the first place. Drew silently rolled her eyes.

"She sacrificed her life to make things right," Mitchell grumbled. "She was a hero."

"Mmm-hmm," Drew said. "Another day on garbage patrol, Mitchell.

Said demigod let out an annoyed sigh.

But anyways, Silena lost track of what this cabin is about. We match up cute couples at camp! Then we break them apart and start over! It's the best fun ever. 

"You're all more than that." Aphrodite told her children sadly. "Being matchmakers is fun, but Cabin Ten is more than just a bunch of cute faces."

We don't have any business getting involved in other stuff like wars and quests. certainly haven't been on any quests. They're a waste of time!"

The demigods stared at her with disbelief and anger.

"Wow. You act as if quests are an optional field trip." Leo said, going back to Google.

"Do you have any idea how many times I saved your life, because I went on a 'waste of time' quest?" Percy clenched his hands.

"Didn't you want to go on a quest a few chapters ago?" Annabeth pointed out with a scowl.

Drew bit her lip and scooted back a little.

..."Most of all," Drew continued, "we certainly don't need our image tarnished by spies, do we, Piper?"

"How do you know she's a spy?" Annabeth asked.

Drew shrugged. She probably saw how freaked out Piper was when she mentioned Silena's betrayal, and decided to keep bringing up the spy thing.

..."It's too bad you won't be around," Drew sighed. "But if you survive your little quest, don't worry, I'll find somebody to match up with you. Maybe one of those gross Hephaestus guys.

Leo rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks."

His father glared at Drew. Calling him ugly was one thing, but calling his children ugly was another thing entirely.

Or Clovis? He's pretty repulsive."

"Hey! Clovis isn't repulsive! He's just... Clovis!" Travis defended.

Drew looked her over with a mix of pity and disgust. "Honestly, I didn't think it was possible for Aphrodite to have an ugly child,

Aphrodite looked like she had been slapped.

but... who was your father? Was he some sort of mutant, or-"

"Tristan McLean," Piper snapped.

Leo let out a low whistle.

"Wow, you really pissed her off. She never used the 'famous dad' card."

"Tristan McLean? Ohduh!" Annabeth smacked her forehead. "I can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner!"

..."Oh my god!" half the girls screamed at once.

Just like they did now.

"I knew that hot body sounded familiar!" One girl giggled.

"Do you think she could get me an autograph!" Another girl whispered excitedly to her sibling.

"Maybe she'll let us meet him in person!"

A couple girls screamed with joy in response.

The hunters stared at them as if they were alien life forms from another planet.

"I can see why Piper didn't want to tell anybody." Annabeth muttered to her boyfriend.

"Sweet!" A guy said. "The dude with the sword who killed that other dude in the movie?"

Phoebe snorted.

"He is so hot for an old guy," a girl said, and then she blushed.

Even if that's true. You don't say that out loud in of his daughter! Annabeth made a face.

"Do you think you could get me his autograph?" another girl asked.

Piper forced a smile. She couldn't say, if my dad survives...

Aphrodite grimaced.

"Yeah, no problem," she managed.

The girl squealed in excitement, and more kids surged forward, asking a dozen questions at once.

"That must have been uncomfortable for her." Hestia muttered.

..."Have you had your rite of passage?"

Aphrodite crossed her arms and sighed at the mention of that.

That one caught Piper off guard. "Rite of what?" she asked.

Cabin Ten members nervously giggled and pushed each other around.

"Seriously, she doesn't even know that?" Drew groaned. 

"She just started Camp." Mitchell reminded her.

"Whatever."

"The rite of passage for an Aphrodite child," one explained. "You get someone to fall in love with you. Then you break their heart. Dump them. Once you do that, you've proven yourself worthy of Aphrodite."

"That's horrible!" Katie gasped.

"She's right." Aphrodite said. "Love isn't something you should play with."

"You do it all the time!" Drew accused.

Aphrodite twirled a lock of her hair. How do I put this? "What I do is more complicated than that. I don't play matchmaker, I am the matchmaker. When I put couples together, I give them problems to test if they are truly meant to be together. Sometimes couples stay together and become stronger," she glanced at Percy and Annabeth. "and sometimes they don't and I have to find someone else for them. Besides you don't need to make love complicated for others to prove yourself worthy of me. I'm already proud to have you all as my children."

The goddess repainted her nails, her mind was racing. Did I do that right? I got the point across, right?

Cabin Ten looked shocked before they widely smiled.

Percy grinned.

..."Oh my god!" a girl said. "I bet Aphrodite broke your dad's heart! I bet he never loved anyone again, did he?

Aphrodite sadly frowned. No matter how many times she tried to pair him up with someone else, he always refused to fall in love.

..."Forget it!" Piper yelled, a little louder than she'd intended. The other kids backed away. "I'm not breaking somebody's heart just for a stupid rite of passage!"

Which of course gave Drew a chance to take back control. "Well, there you go!" she cut in. "Silena said the same thing. She broke the tradition, fell in love with that Beckendorf boy, and stayed in love. If you ask me, that's why things ended tragically for her."

Chris and Katie grabbed Clarisse's arms to prevent her from charging at Drew.

"You little-"

"Clarisse, please!" Chris interrupted tugging her arm.

"She's not worth it!" Katie added.

"Don't listen to them! Beat her to a pulp!" Ares encouraged.

"Ares!" Aphrodite yelled, slapping the back of his head.

She turned to Clarisse. "Please calm down, I'll deal with this."

After more coaxing, Clarisse sat down. She sent Drew a look that promised a slow painful death.

"Drew, after this, I think we need to talk about your position as camp councilor." The goddess of love told her.

Drew scowled as Cabin Ten silently cheered.

Mitchell and Lacy helped Piper pack. T hey even guarded the bathroom while Piper went and changed into a better traveling outfit.

Aphrodite had a small smile on her face.

...She also noticed that the KING OF SPARTA poster had been wadded up and thrown in the trash. Drew's orders, no doubt.

"At least she saved Piper the trouble of doing it herself." Leo muttered, opening another website. 

..."Very nice! Our little quest girl all dressed in Dumpster clothes again. Now, off you go! No need to eat breakfast with us. Good luck with... whatever. Bye!"

The goddess sighed sadly. Why can't they just get along?

Piper shouldered her bag. She could feel everyone else's eyes on her as she walked to the door. She could just leave and forget about it. That would've been the easy thing. What did she care about this cabin, and these shallow kids?

The Aphrodite kids flinched.

Except some of them tried to help her. Some of them had even stood up to Drew for her.

She turned at the door. "You know, you don't have to follow Drew's orders."

..."She's a tyrant,"

Aphrodite winced at the choice of words, but she agreed. Power changes a lot of good people.

... "People!" Drew screeched. "Don't be stupid! She's charmspeaking you."

...Piper simply meant what she said. Besides, even if she tried charmspeaking, she had a feeling it wouldn't work very well on another charmspeaker like Drew.

"It wouldn't." Aphrodite informed.

Drew sneered at her. "You may have a little power, Miss Movie Star. But you don't know the first thing about Aphrodite. 

"She apparently knows more than you." Nico muttered.

You have such great ideas? What do you think this cabin is about, then? Tell them. Then maybe I'll tell them a few things about you, huh?"

Piper wanted to make a withering retort, but her anger turned to panic. She was a spy for the enemy, just like Silena Beauregard.

Everyone frowned at that.

An Aphrodite traitor. Did Drew know about that, or was she bluffing?

"She's bluffing, there's no way Drew could've know." Annabeth said.

..."Not this," Piper managed. "Aphrodite is not about this."

That's it? Drew snorted. That's the best she got? I could've gotten better from a Wikipedia page. 

Then she turned and stormed out before the other could see her blushing. Behind her, Drew started laughing. "Not this? Hear that, people? She doesn't have a clue!"

Piper promised herself she would never ever go back to that cabin.

The Aphrodite kids' frowns deepened.

"Good." Drew grumbled. Who needs her.

She blinked away her tears and stormed across the green, not sure where she was going- until she saw the dragon swooping down from the sky.

"Finished." Poseidon said.

Eyes widened in disbelief.

Grover turned deathly pale.

"The dragon has wings?" Nyssa said.

"Yup! Pretty cool, huh?" Leo smiled proudly.

"Totally!" The Stolls exclaimed.

"It's good that you got a ride," Jake said hesitantly. "But can it make it through the quest?"

Leo stopped writing and looked up. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Jake played with the bolt in his hand. "You said a couple chapters ago the dragon had some problems you couldn't fix. Won't that cause any issues on the quest?"

Nyssa worriedly frowned.

Leo nervously laughed.

"No way! Festus was, for the most part, perfectly fine to ride on during the quest."

"For the most part?" Nico picked up.

Leo's eyes darted around the room, as if searching for an answer.

"Uh... Hey, don't we have another chapter to read? Why doesn't Clovis read?" Leo happily suggested. He attempted to shake the boy awake.

Clovis lazily swatted his arms as he continued to sleep on.

Hera rolled her eyes.

"I'll read next." she said, taking the book from her brother.

"Piper XVI," she began.

Chapter Text

"Piper XVI," Hera read.

"Leo?" she yelled.

Sure enough, there he was, sitting atop a giant bronze death machine and grinning like a lunatic. Even before he landed, the camp alarm went up. A conch horn blew. All the satyrs started screaming, "Don't kill me!"

Just run. Grover thought, silently praying Leo had the dragon under control. It's all you can do. Run as fast as you can.

The Stolls snickered,

Nostalgic. Leo thought with a wide smile. Taking a calculator out of his tool belt, he quickly double-checked his math.

Half the camp ran outside in a mixture of pajamas and armor. The dragon set down right in the middle of the green, and Leo yelled, "It's cool! Don't shoot!"

...The warriors backed away, keeping their spears and swords ready. They made a loose wide ring around the metal monster.

Other demigods hid behind their cabin doors or peeped out the windows...

Piper couldn't blame them...It glistened in the morning sun like a living penny sculpture- different shades of copper and bronze- a sixty-foot-long serpent with steel talons and drill-bit teeth... It had bat-shaped wings twice its length that unfurled like metallic sails, making a sound like coins cascading out of a slot machine every time they flapped.

"It's beautiful," Piper muttered.

"She's got good taste." Leo said, scribbling down another formula. He glanced over at the phone, before adding some corrections.

"All my children have good taste." Aphrodite giggled. "What can I say? It runs in the family."

A couple gods rolled their eyes at this.

The other demigods stared at her like she was insane.

The dragon reared its head and shot a column of fire into the sky.

Nyssa, Jake, and Nico tensed.

"Relax." Leo reassured them. "It's cool."

Campers scrambled away and hefted their weapons, but Leo slid calmly off the dragon's back. He held up his hands like he was surrendering, except he still had that crazy grin on his face.

"People of Earth, I come in peace!" he shouted. Hera rolled her eyes as she read that out loud.

Hermes and his sons laughed.

His curly hair was so oily, it stuck up in porcupine quills, and he smelled strangely of Tabasco sauce. But he looked absolutely delighted. "Festus is just saying hello!"

"That's how he says 'hello'?" Nico mumbled skeptically. 

The son of Hephaestus jotted down a few more notes. "Well... he can't exactly say it."

..."Stand down!" someone ordered.

To Piper's surprise, it was Jason.

The demigods looked surprised with his sudden burst of leadership.

Thalia thought back to Future Annabeth's earlier remark. Maybe he was some kind of leader at the Roman Camp? At least he has some kind of experience...

..."It- has wings," Nyssa stammered. Her jaw looked like it might drop off her face.

A couple people chuckled.

"Yeah!" Leo said. "I found them and reattached them."

"But it never had wings. Where did you find them?"

Leo hesitated, and Piper could tell he was hiding something.

"Never hesitate before you lie," Hermes lectured sternly. "Never. I don't care if they put you on the spot or not, the moment you hesitate it's over."

"Sorry." Leo sheepishly smiled.

The god heaved a sigh. "Let's just hope your lie makes up for it."

"In... the woods," he said.

Hermes winced as if that lie physically hurt him.

"You heard that?" he asked his sons. "This is a prime example of how not to lie."

"What should I have said? 'It just magically appeared!' "

"It would've been better than 'I just found a pair of metal dragon wings randomly placed in the woods!'" the god rubbed his forehead. "You could've said the dragon had a secret mechanism that activates its wings, or you made it in the forges overnight. Fates, you can even say that Hephaestus gave them to you to help on your quest. Anything would've been better than that."

"Don't worry, we'll teach you the basics." Connor promised.

"Please do." Hermes pleaded. 

"Repaired his circuits, too, mostly, so no problems with him going haywire."

"Mostly?"

The dragon's head twitched. It tilted to one side and stream of black liquid- maybe oil, hopefully just oil- poured out of its ear, all over Leo.

"Er... Is that supposed to happen?" Will asked.

"Maybe we should find a new ride for you guys." Jake said, looking worried about the oil.

"We don't have time for that." Leo reminded. "Besides, it was just a little oil. No big deal."

"It shouldn't be leaking oil at all." Nyssa frowned.

"I can fix the kinks as we go on." he quickly reassured. "It's nothing serious."

Leo handed Travis's phone back, before he continued his math problems.

"Just a few kinks to work out," Leo said.

"Festus will be fine! He's the best person (dragon?) for the job!" the son of Hephaestus said happily.

The others exchanged looks but didn't say anything.

"But how did you survive...?" Nyssa was still staring at the creature in awe. "I mean, the fire breath..."

"I'm quick," Leo said. "And lucky. Now am I on this quest, or what?"

Hermes grimaced. "That wasn't as bad as the first one. But still... You could've said you caught it off guard or tell some long-winded story on how you fought the dragon. You really could've gone a bit more dramatic here, but you did a nice job trying to change the topic. Pretty obvious, but still, better than your lies."

"Thank you?" Leo wasn't sure how he should feel about that.

Jason scratched his head. "You named him Festus? You know that in Latin, 'festus' means 'happy'? 

"Of course he would know." Clarisse rolled her eyes.

You want us to ride off to save the world on Happy the Dragon?"

"I don't see a problem with that." Apollo chuckled.

"You wouldn't." Artemis said.

"Not exactly a name that screams fear, but hey, it works." Chris smiled. "Better than calling it 'the dragon' all the time."

"That's a yes, bro!" Leo said. "Now, um, I'd really suggest we get going, guys. I already picked up some supplies in the- um, in the woods...

The god of thieves cover his face with his hands and loudly groaned.

"We've got a lot of work to do." Travis muttered to his brother.

"Why not say you found them in the forges? Or you prayed to your father really hard and the supplies was brought down on a heavenly cloud?" Hermes threw his hands up in exasperation. "You didn't even have to bring up the supplies! Just hop on the dragon and leave!"

"Sorry!" 

"Next time you lie, please don't ever use the woods again." the god said.

..."Go," Annabeth said. She was the only who didn't look nervous at all. Her expression was sad and wistful, like this reminded her of better times.

The couple shared a bittersweet smile.

...Piper looked at the bronze dragon wings shining against the sky, and those talons that could've shredded her to pieces.

Aphrodite's face paled

The son of Hephaestus rolled his eyes. "Are you kidding me? Festus loves Piper. He would never hurt her."

...Flying on the dragon was the most amazing experience ever, Piper thought.

Leo smiled wistfully.Yeah it's pretty awesome.

He looked over his math.

...They sat single file: Leo in front, then Piper, then Jason, and Piper was very aware of Jason right behind her. She wished he would hold on to her, maybe wrap his arms around her waist; but sadly, he didn't.

Thank gods. Drew thought. If I had to listen a romantic moment between Jason and Piper right now, I would puke.

"What if we get spotted?" Piper asked.

"The Mist," Jason said. "It keeps mortals from seeing magic things. If they us, they'll probably mistake us for a small plane or something."

"I thought she already knew this." Drew grumbled, rolling her eyes.

Piper glanced over her shoulder. "You sure about that?"

"No," he admitted. Then Piper saw he was clutching a photo in his hand- a picture of a girl with dark hair.

The huntress grinned.

She gave Jason a quizzical look, but he blushed and put the photo in his pocket. "We're making good time. Probably get there by tonight."

...Had he remembered something about his life before? Was that a photo of his real girlfriend?  

 Thalia's head reared back. 

"Gods, no!"  she said, louder than she expected. The others laughed at her reaction.

"She doesn't know." Phoebe said inbetween her giggles.

"Still..." the girl shuddered. 

"Aww! She's jealous of Thalia!" Aphrodite cooed. "Too cute!"

...She asked a safer question. "Where are we heading?"

"To find the North Wind," Jason said. "And chase some storm spirits."

"Done." Hera said. "Does anybody want to read?"

"I'll read next." Demeter said, taking the book.

She frowned at the large amount of paper on her lap.

So many trees have died to make this book. she thought sadly.

"Leo XVII," Demeter read out loud.

Leo grimaced.

Focus, Valdez! He tightened his grip on his pencil. The faster you get this done, the faster you leave. 

With that in mind, he hunched over and began to roughly sketch his blueprints

Chapter Text

"Leo XVII," Demeter read out loud.

Leo was totally buzzing.

'Buzzing?' Hestia mouthed to Hermes with a confused look on her face.

'I'll tell you later.' Hermes mouthed back.

The expression on everyone's faces when he the dragon into camp? Priceless! He thought his cabin mates were going to bust a lug nut.

Everyone, except his siblings and father, stared at Leo with confusion.

"Lug nut?" Percy asked him.

"No thanks." Leo said, not looking up as he continued writing.

The son of Poseidon made a face. "Um..."

"It's a type of nut used to attach a vehicle's wheel to its axel." Hephaestus explained.

Festus had been awesome too. He hadn't blowtorched a single cabin or eaten any satyrs,

"You sound like you expected him to do that." Grover shuddered.

Leo set the notepad to the side and began to untie his shoes.

even if he dribbled a little oil from his ear.

"See? I told you it was just a little!" Leo grinned, kicking off his shoes.

Okay, a lot of oil.

Figures. the son of Hephaestus rolled his eyes before searching through his tool belt.

"First rule of lying: Never admit your lying!" Travis sighed. "Com'on man, that's Lying 101."

Leo could work on that later.

"Shouldn't you do it now?" Thalia asked the boy.

"No, it would take too long to fix." Leo pulled out some tools and a handful of battery packs. "I'll do some repairs on our next stop."

How long will that be? she couldn't help but wonder with a frown.

...He could tell them when he came back.

If  I come back, part of him thought.

Hephaestus's grip on his screwdriver tightened.

Nah, he'd come back.

The grip loosened slightly as he continued tinkering.

...Besides, he had a fire-breathing, only slightly leaky dragon on his side. What could go wrong?

"Well, you just jinxed it now." Chris sighed, half-expecting a random monster to appear afterwards.

"When you're demigod, anything can go wrong." Percy said. "It sorta comes with the title."

Well the control disk could bust,  the bad part of him suggested.  Festus could eat you.

Okay, so maybe the dragon wasn't quite as fixed as Leo might have let on.

Aphrodite and Thalia tensed.

"It'll be okay," Leo said before muttering. "Geez. You guys gotta learn to trust me more on these things."

...Hey, they were under the time limit!

"Still pretty risky." Katie pointed out.

"Don't have much of a choice." Nyssa sighed. "They have three days to save Hera."

"Three days." Chris muttered in disbelief. Is that even possible? They don't even know where she is.

Three days until the solstice. They had to get going. Besides, Leo had cleaned the disk pretty well. Most of the circuits were still good. It would just have to hold together.

His bad side started to think, Yeah, but what if-

"Shut up, me," Leo said aloud.

"What?" Piper asked.

"Nothing," he said. "Long night. I think I'm hallucinating. It's cool."

"If you're hallucinating then you shouldn't be flying the dragon." Thalia grrimaced, trying not to envision the dragon spiraling down to the ground.

"I was just joking." Leo assured her. 

..."Just joking."

"See?" Leo said, secretly hoping the next sentence wouldn't contradict him again. He spliced a couple wires together.

Leo decided it might be good to change the subject. "So what's the plan, bro? You said something about catching wind, or breaking wind,  or something."

Hermes nodded his head in approval. "Nice. You should just forget lying and stick to changing subjects."

...Jason laid out the game plan: First, find some guy named Boreas and grill him for information-

"Hopefully it won't be too difficult. Annabeth said.

"His name is Boreas?" Leo had to ask.

"What is he, the God of Boring?"

Apollo, Hermes, and the Stolls laughed.

Athena pinched the bridge of her nose.

"Please don't actually say that to him." the goddess said with a sigh.

Second, Jason continued, they had to find those venti that had attacked them at the Grand Canyon.-

Leo purposely avoided Percy's expectant look. He kept his eyes fixated on his wires and battery packs.

The son of Poseidon scowled, but didn't say anything. 

"Can we just call them storm spirits?" Leo asked. "Venti makes them sound like evil espresso drinks."

"I know right?" Apollo chuckled as Artemis rolled her eyes.

And third, Jason finished, they had to find out who the storm spirits worked for, so they could find Hera and free.

"So, you want to look for Dylan, the nasty storm dude, on purpose," Leo said. "The guy who threw me off the skywalk and sucked Coach Hedge into the clouds."

Clarisse turned to Leo. "When you find this 'Mistress', you better make her pay for what she did to Coach Hedge."

"No problem." he said, smiling as he thought about her destroyed mall.

 ... "Uh-huh," Leo said. "But you don't know where this place is."

"Nope." Jason admitted.

"Great." Chris said sarcastically.

Annabeth shrugged. "Maybe Boreas will point them in the right direction." I mean, the gods have to have some kind of clue on where the Wolf House is.

"There's also giants." Piper added. "The prophecy said the giants' revenge."

"Hold on," Leo said. "Giants- like more than one? Why can't it just be one giant who wants revenge?"

"Because then our life would be easier." Percy grumbled.

"I don't think so," Piper said. "I remember in some of the old Greek stories, there was something about an army of giants."

The readers paled at the thought.

...[Piper]"The giants- well, there were lots of giants in Greek mythology. But if I'm thinking of the right ones, they were bad news. Huge, almost impossible to kill.

"And we're supposed to fight these... things by ourselves?" Lacy squeaked.

"When she said 'huge', how exactly big is that? Are they Jack and the Beanstalk giant size or Giant Panda size?" Connor joked nervously. "Just asking for a friend."

"Hopefully, you'll never find out that answer." Athena said gravely. 

"Even more impossible then defeating a Titan?" Percy whispered to Annabeth.

Annabeth nodded.

"It's impossible for a demigod to defeat a giant unless they have the help of a god." Annabeth muttered quietly. "But since the gods have gone silent..."

"We're doomed." Percy finished with a grimace. Why are they never there when we need them?

...Leo whistled. "So... giants who can throw mountains. Friendly wolves that will eat us if we show weakness. Evil espresso drinks. Gotcha. Maybe this isn't the time to bring up my psycho babysitter."

"That one was pretty good. Granted, you weren't trying to trick anyone at the time, still, that was a nice change of topic." Hermes happily told Leo. "Just keep practicing and you'll be able to get yourself out of even the most toughest conversations."

"I'll keep that in mind." he responded, looking over his notes.

"Is that another joke?" Piper asked.

I wish. Leo thought, keeping his eyes on the paper. 

Leo told them about Tia Callida, who was really Hera, and how she'd appeared to him at camp. He didn't tell them about his fire abilities. That was still a touchy subject, especially after Nyssa told him fire demigods tended to destroy cities and stuff.

Nyssa frowned. "Sorry, Leo."

Her brother shrugged it off. "It's fine. Even if you hadn't told me, I still would've kept it from them."

..."That's... disturbing," Piper said.

"That's my life!" Leo said with forced cheerfulness.

"Please don't joke about that." Hephaestus told him.

"'Bout sums it up," Leo agreed. "Thing is, everybody says don't trust Hera. She hates demigods. And the prophecy said we'd cause death if we unleash her rage. So I'm wondering... why are we doing this?"

"So what are you suggesting?" Hera sneered at the boy. "That you should leave me to die?"

"Of course not!" Leo responded in mock innocence. He placed a hand over his heart. "I would never leave my tía in a horrible place like that! ...Well... Technically you're abuela, so, should I call you that from now on? Or do you prefer something in the middle like tía abuela?"

The goddess just rolled her eyes as Demeter kept reading.

...He just wished that if there were four more demigods destined to help them, they'd show up quick. Leo didn't want to hog all the terrifying life-threatening adventures.  

"I'm sure they're eager to have some." Percy said sarcastically.

"Besides," Jason continued, "helping Hera is the only way I can get back my memory. 

Thalia scowled.

And the dark spire in my dream seemed to be feeding on Hera's energy. If that thing unleashes a king of the giants by destroying Hera-"

"Not a good trade-off," Piper agreed. "At least Hera is on our side- mostly. Losing her would throw the gods into chaos. She's the main one who keeps peace in the family. And a war with the giants could be even more destructive than the Titan War."

"Exactly." Hera said. She looked a little too pleased with the fact that they had no choice but to rescue her.

"Your friends are reasonable people." she told Leo. "You should listen to them more often."

...[Jason] "Chiron also talked about worse forces stirring on the solstice, with in being a good time for dark magic, and all- something that could awaken if Hera were sacrificed on that day. And this mistress who's controlling the storm spirits, the one who wants to kill all the demigods-"

"Might be that weird sleeping lady," Leo finished.

"It would make sense. They do seem connected somehow." Athena said.

"Dirt Woman fully awake? Not something I want to see."

It's not something anybody wants to see. Annabeth thought with a shudder.

...He'd never told anyone about that night at the warehouse. Even if he hadn't give them the whole story, it still felt strange, like he'd opened up his chest and taken out all the gears that made him tick.

At least I told them willingly. Leo thought with a bitter smile. He'd rather tell Piper and Jason about that night at the warehouse a hundred times than continue reading this book.

...The forge and dove shall creak the cage.  Wasn't that the prophecy line? That meant Piper and he would have to figure out how to break into that magic rock prison... Then they'd unleash Hera's rage, causing a lot of death. Well, that sounded fun! Leo had seen Tia Callida in action; she liked knives, snakes, and pitting babies in roaring fires.

Hestia frowned at the last part.

The goddess of marriage just looked annoyed. 

"What makes you think that the ones who are dying are innocent people?" she argued. "How about, instead of me causing deaths to innocents, it could mean the same monsters who kidnapped me and are holding me against my will."

Hestia brightened up at that.

"I think you're right!" she agreed.

"I know myself will enough to know my actions." the goddess smiled.

"I'm still wondering if it's worth the risk." Annabeth said, earning a glare from Hera.

"Why don't you get some sleep?" Piper said in his ear. "You were up all night."

"Good idea." Thaila mumbled, plucking her bow's string.

Leo wanted to protest, but the word sleep sounded really good. "You won't let me fall off?"

Piper patted his shoulder. "Trust me, Valdez. Beautiful people never lie."

Drew snorted. Okay, but he's not trusting about beautiful person, he's trusting you."

"Right," he muttered. He leaned forward against the warm bronze of the dragon's neck, and closed his eyes.

"Finished." Demeter said, tossing the book on Hades' lap, startling the god.

"I don't see you doing anything important, so why don't you read, Hades."

"I don't want to read." Hades said, rolling his eyes.

"Well, too bad! Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do. Like how have to help Persephone pack every last day of summer before she goes to the Under-"

"Alright, I'll read." Hades groaned, picking up the book.

"Leo XVIII," he began with a sigh. 

Great, the god of the Dead is reading my thoughts. Never thought that'd happen. Leo thought. It would've been funny if it wasn't his point of view.

Chapter Text

"Leo XVIII," Hades muttered.

"Hades, if you're going to read, you need to read louder." Zeus told him with mild annoyance.

"Sounds fine to me!" Leo smiled.

Hades rolled his eyes and, much to Leo's disappointment, read louder.

It Seemed Like Only For Seconds, but when Piper shook him awake, the daylight was fading.

"I hate it when that happens." Percy said, a few demigods nodded their heads in agreement.

"Still, it's better than a dream." Will said.

"We're here," she said.

Leo rubbed the sleep out of his eyes...Buildings crowded together inside the high walls like medieval town, way older than any place Leo had seen before.

Eager to hear the details in architecture, Annabeth leaned forward and listened closely.

Leo searched through his tool belt.

In the center was an actual castle- at least Leo assumed it was a castle- with massive red brick walls and a square tower with a peaked, green gabled roof.

Athena smiled at the thoughtful look on her daughter's face.

..."Yeah, Quebec City," Piper confirmed. "One of the oldest cities in North America. Founded around sixteen hundred or so?"

"In 1763." Annabeth corrected.

Leo raised an eyebrow. "Your dad do a movie about that too?"

She made a face at him, which Leo was used to, but it didn't quite work with her glamorous makeup. "I read sometimes, okay? Just because Aphrodite claimed me, doesn't mean I have to be an airhead."

"I don't have stupid kids." Aphrodite huffed, while some of her children looked offended.

"Feisty!" Leo said.  "So you know so much, what's that castle?"

"It's not a castle." Annabeth said after thinking. "It's a hotel. Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, I think. Right?" *

"You're right." her mother confirmed.

"What's a god doing in a hotel? Shouldn't he have his own little kingdom in the sky or something?" Travis asked Leo.

He shrugged. "I dunno. What's a bunch of gods doing in the Empire State Building?"

..."Heads up, guys," Jason interrupted. "We got company!"

Leo looked below and saw what Jason meant. Raising from the top of the tower were two winged figures- angry angels, with nasty looking swords.

Judging by the annoyed look on Hera and Hermes' faces, the two gods had also met the Boreads.

Ugh! I was hoping they wouldn't run into those guys. Hermes inwardly groaned.

Chris frowned. "Are they more storm spirits?"

"I don't think so..." Katie said.

Festus didn't like the angel guys...He was getting ready to breathe fire.

Hermes couldn't blame him.

Sparks flew from Leo's direction.

At first Leo thought he was right, but as the angels got closer, he could see they were much more solid than a venti...

One was the size of an ox, with a bright red hockey jersey...The guy clearly had been too many fights, because both his eyes were black, and when he bared his teeth, several of them were missing.

The other guy looked like he'd just stepped off one of Leo's mom's 1980s rock album covers- ...He wore pointy-toed leather shoes, designer pants that were way too tight, and a god-awful silk shirt with the top three buttons open.

Aphrodite's face was turning green. She clutched her queasy stomach.

"No more descriptions, please!" the goddess pleaded.

Her children looked equally disgusted.

Maybe he thought he looked like a groovy love god, but the guy couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds, and he had a bad case of acne.

  The goddess of love squeezed her stomach tighter and shuddered. This is going to give me nightmares.

...The hockey ox grunted. "No clearance."

"'Scuse me?" Leo said.

"You have no flight plan on file." explained the groove love god. On top of his other problems, he had a French accent so bad Leo was sure it was fake.

I guess he didn't take my advice after all. Hermes rolled his eyes.

"Even worse!" Aphrodite cried, looking horrified.

...The dragon began to hiss steam, but Leo cried, "Hold on! Let's have manners here, boys. Can I at least find out who has the honor of destroying me?"

"I am Cal!" The ox grunted.

Hermes looked impressed. "Wow! He remembered his name this time."

..."That's short for Calais," the love god said. "Sadly, my brother cannot say words with more than two syllables-"

"Pizza! Hockey! Destroy!" Cal offered.

"That's half of his vocabulary." Hermes commented.

"I guess that's what happens when you take too many blows to the head." Will frowned.

..."I am Cal." Cal repeated. "And this is Zethes! My brother!"

"Wow," Leo said. "That was almost three sentences, man! Way to go."

Apollo, Hermes, and The Stolls laughed.

"I don't think it's a good idea to make him angry." Nico pointed out.

"We'll be fine." Leo assured him. He cut long pieces of duck tape.

Cal grunted, obviously pleased with himself.

"Idiot." Clarisse murmured as Nico slapped his forehead.

"Stupid buffoon," his brother grumbled. "They make fun of you. But no matter. I am Zethes, which is short for Zethes. 

"I guess Cal isn't the only dumb one!" Connor snickered. 

And the lady there-" he winked at Piper, but the wink was more like a facial seizure. "She can call me anything she likes.

"Ew!" Aphrodite shuddered again.

Perhaps she would like to have dinner with a famous demigod before we must destroy you?"

"Not now, not ever!" Aphrodite swore with a look of disgust on her face.

Actually he might be the perfect boyfriend for the Dumpster Queen. Drew giggled.

Hades sighed.

"Do I have to read this?" he asked nobody in particular.

"What's wrong?" Demeter asked with mock concern. "Too many big words?"

Hades scowled at her before continuing to read.

Piper made a sound like a sound like gagging on a cough drop. "That's... a truly horrifying offer."

"That's the stuff made of nightmares." Lacy agreed.

..."Boreas?" Jason cut in. "Do you mean, like, the sons of Boreas?"

Aphrodite couldn't help but feel grateful to Jason for changing the subject.

"Ah, so you've heard of us!" Zethes looked pleased. "We are our father's gatekeepers. So you understand, we cannot have unauthorized people flying in his airspace on creaking dragons, scaring the silly mortal peoples."

"I'm sure Rachel would just love being called a 'silly mortal' by a guy like Zethes." Percy muttered to Nico.

Nico gave him a small smile. "She'd probably hit him in the eye with a hair brush."

The two boys chuckled.

..."Which is sadly why, unless this is an emergency landing," Zethes said, brushing his hair out of his acne-covered face, "we will have to destroy you painfully."

"Destroy!" Cal agreed, with a little more enthusiasm than Leo thought necessary.

Coach Hedge and Cal would get along great together. Leo thought.

"He needs a hobby-besides hockey. Something more peaceful and less destructive..." Apollo smiled and snapped his fingers. "He should take piano lessons!"

"I don't think he's got the qualities to be a pianist." Athena pointed out. "Or any musician really."

"Wait!" Piper said. "This is an emergency landing."

"Awww!" Cal looked so disappointed, Leo almost felt sorry for him.

  Everyone sent Leo odd looks.

"You realize he was trying to kill you, right?" Will asked.

"I know, but he just sounded... so sad, ya'know?" the son of Hephaestus said, not looking up from his work.

"You choose the weirdest things to sympathize over." Nyssa told him. She looked over at the mess at his feet. Tools, stray wires, forced open battery packs, and more were strewn all over his side of the room.

"What are you doing to your shoe?" she could help but ask. 

The shoe was splayed open from in between the midsole and outersole, just barely held together by the layers of duck tape Leo was wrapping around it.

Leo froze in middle of taping.

"Nothing. I get bored easily. You know me..." he said with a nervous smile.

Mitchell looked over a made a face.

"Should it even be considered a shoe anymore? How are you going to come back to walk around with those on your feet?" he asked.

For some reason, Leo looked excited. 

"I dunno, I guess we'll have to find out later!" he said cheerfully. He continued taping his shoe.

Zethes studied Piper, which of course he'd already been doing.

Aphrodite gagged. I think I'm going to be sick.

..."We have to see Boreas. It's totally urgent! Please?" She forced a smile, which Leo figured must've been killing her,

Aphrodite and her children (except Drew) gave the book a pitying look, as if it were Piper herself.

...Zethes picked up his silk shirt, probably making sure it was still open wide enough.

"I didn't need to know that." the goddess of love shuddered.

"Well... I hate to disappoint a lovely lady, but you see, my sister, she would have an avalanche if we allowed you-"

Leo momentarily scowled at the mention of Khione. That reminds me, I still owe her a monkey wrench to the face for rocket launching me to Calypso's island.

"And our dragon is malfunctioning!" Piper added. "It could crash any minute!"

Festus shuddered helpfully, then turned his head and spilled gunk out of his ear, splattering a black Mercedes in the parking lot below.

Thalia, Nyssa, and Jake frowned at that.

"He's a great actor!" Leo told them.

Zethes pondered the problem. Then he gave Piper another spasmodic wink.

"Stop." Aphrodite breathed. She hugged herself and shivered. That ship will never be a thing.

...Leo turned to his friends. "I love these guys.

"I hope you're being sarcastic." Aphrodite said, hugging herself tighter.

...As they got closer, Leo worried they'd crash into the tower. The Boreads made right for the green gabled peak and didn't slow down. Then a section of the slanted roof slid open, revealing an entrance easily wide enough for Festus.

Maybe I should add an entrance like that when I'm rebuilding Olympus. Annabeth thought, taking mental notes.

...Festus shuddered and snorted flames. Frost started to form on his scales.

"No, no, no." Zethes marched over, though how he would walk in those pointy leather shoes, Leo had no idea.

"Are you really the one to talk?" Mitchell asked. 

Leo shrugged. "Probably not."

"The dragon must be deactivated. We can't have fire in here. The heat ruins my hair."

"Trust me, it can't get any worse." Aphrodite said.

Festus growled and spun his drill-bit teeth.

"S'okay boy," Leo turned to Zethes. "The dragon's a little touchy about the whole deactivation concept. But I've got a better solution."

"You could have him wait outside." Katie suggested.

"Nah, I had a better idea. Check this out." Leo smiled.

...Leo hooked his fingers behind the dragon's left foreleg. He pulled a switch, and the dragon shuddered from head to toe. Everyone backed away as Festus folded like origami. His bronze plating stacked together. His neck and tail contracted into his body. His wings collapsed and his trunk compacted until he was a rectangular metal wedge the size of suitcase.

"The dragon can turn into a suitcase?" Nyssa said, dumbfounded.

"Yup! I call it the Incognito button! He could do a bunch of other cool things too." Leo proudly replied.

Leo tried to lift it, but the thing weighed about six billion pounds.

"No wheels. Guess you gotta leave it." Will sighed.

"Wait for it..."

He pushed another button. A handle flipped up on the top, and wheels clicked out on the bottom.

"Ta-dah!" he announced. "The world's heaviest carry-on bag!"

The readers looked dumbfounded.

"Pretty cool, right? He's perfect for traveling on the go!" Leo bragged.

"Whoever made Festus had way too much free time on their hands." Chris said. 

A few of the others nodded in agreement.

"Stop!" Zethes ordered. He and Cal both drew their swords and glared at Leo.

"What's their problem now?" Connor asked. "They have a thing against carry-on luggage?"

"I don't think that's it." Hephaestus said, having a feeling on what the real issue was.

..."Who are you?" Zethes shoved the point of his sword against Leo's chest. "A child of the South Wind, spying on us?"

"Why would they even think that? He literally hasn't even done anything yet." Will said.

"What? No!" Leo said. "Son of Hephaestus. Friendly blacksmith, no harm to anyone!"

Cal growled.

He put his face up to Leo's, and definitely wasn't pretty at point-blank, with his bruised lip and bashed-in mouth.

Thank goodness this is just a book and not some first-person video. Aphrodite grimaced.

"Smell fire," he said. "Fire is bad."

Leo frowned.

Well, they do live in a ice penthouse. he reminded himself. He put down his thoroughly tapped up shoe and picked up the other.

"How do they know that's coming from him? Could've been the dragon." Percy argued.

"No!" Zethes pushed Leo back at sword point. "We can smell fire, demigod.

"Is that like how you can smell monsters?" Percy asked Grover.

"I guess." the satyr said. "Sounds similar."

...Jason already had his gold coin in his hand. He stepped forward, his eyes on Zethes. "Look, there's been a mistake. Leo isn't a fire guy. Tell them, Leo. Tell them you're not a fire guy."

"Um..."

"You'll have to tell them eventually." Annabeth sighed.

"I know." 

With a Swiss Army knife, Leo hacked open the sole of the shoe.

"Zethes?" Piper tried her dazzling smile again, through she looked a little too nervous and cold to pull it off.

"If I were on the quest, I would've done it perfectly." Drew grumbled.

..."The girl is pretty," Zethes admitted. "and of course she cannot help being attracted to my amazingness;  but sadly, I cannot romance her at this time."

Aphrodite made a face at that. Yeah, keep dreaming.

..."Destroy him now?" Cal asked his brother.

Zethes nodded. "Sadly, I think-"

"No," Jason insisted. He sounded calm enough, but Leo figured he was about two seconds away from flipping that coin and going into full gladiator mode.

"Gladiator..." Percy repeated, purposely being loud. "How ironic."

The other demigods looked at him funny.

"Um... What are you talking about?" Connor asked.

The son of Poseidon looked over at Leo as if waiting for him to respond. When he didn't say anything, Percy sighed. 

"Nothing."

The gods exchanged unreadable looks.

"Leo's just a son of Hephaestus. He's not threat. Piper here is the daughter of Aphrodite. I'm the son of Zeus. We're on a peaceful..."

..."What did you say?" Zethes demanded. "You are the son of Zeus?"

Thalia stiffened.

"Do they have some kind of grudge against children of Zeus?" Or Jupiter... Whatever. Thalia asked.

"Not that I'm aware of." Hermes said.

"Um... yeah," Jason said. "That's a good thing, right? My name is Jason."

...Zethes stepped forward and squinted at Jason's face. "No, he is not our Jason. Our Jason was more stylish.  Not as much as me, but stylish.

How did Jason put up with these idiots? Hera silently asked herself.

Besides, our Jason died a millennia ago."

"Our Jason?" Thalia repeated.

"Probably talking about the original Jason." Annabeth clarified. But how do they know him?

..."Of course," Zethes said. "We were his crewmates aboard his ship, the Argo, in the old times, when we were mortal demigods. Then we accepted immortality and to serve our father, so I could look this good for all time, and my silly brother could enjoy pizza and hockey."

Percy was hit with a sudden case of déjà vu.

If I had accepted immortality, would I have ended up being like Zethes and Cal?!

A shiver ran down Percy's spine at the disturbing thought and mental images that came along with it.

"Huh? What was that for?" Annabeth asked after her boyfriend gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"For saving me from making a horrible mistake." Percy solemnly replied.

She gave him a questioning look, but didn't say anything else.

"So, destroy?" Cal asked. Clearly the conservation was giving his two brain cells a serious workout.

"He needs all the exercise he can get." Hera said.

"No," Zethes said regretfully. "If he is a son of Zeus, he could be the one we've been watching for."

"They've been waiting for him?" Will frowned.

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Travis asked.

A girl's voice said, "That depends on my father's will."

Leo looked up at the staircase. His heart nearly stopped. At the top stood a girl in a white dress. Her skin was unnaturally pale, the color of snow, but her hair was a lush mane of black, and her eyes were coffee brown. She focused on Leo with no expression, no smile, no friendless. But it didn't matter. Leo was in love.

She was the most dazzling girl he'd ever seen.

Aphrodite and Hephaestus exchanged grimaces.

So basically, I had a crush on a mannequin. Leo thought, rolling his eyes. Seriously? Why did I think this girl was hot? Calypso is way hotter. She doesn't even try to look pretty. She's a natural... natural...

His thoughts ground to a halt. He slowly stopped everything he was doing like he was running out of fuel.

Not that it matters how pretty Calypso looks! Leo quickly told himself before he could think too much about it.Why would I even think about her anyway? I'm not in love with an immortal! Who said I loved her? Not me!

"Leo?" Aphrodite said with a thin smile, breaking Leo's train of thought (Oh thank gods!) "Are you sure you like that girl? Because..."

"She sounds like she's out of my league?" he guessed.

"I was going to say because she sounds like bad news." but that too. Aphrodite silently added. She never actually met Khione personally, but there was something that description that made her uneasy. **

"It's okay, I'm not interested in her anymore." Leo told her.

"Oh good!" Aphrodite said happily. 

Hephaestus silently sighed in relief.

"Father will want to see the one called Jason," the girl said.

"Then it is him?" Zethes asked excitedly.

"We'll see," the girl said. "Zethes, bring our guests."

...Before he could take a step, she froze him with a look. Not literally froze, but she might as well have.

"Not you, Leo Valdez," she said.

"How does she know your name?" Nico asked.

Leo frowned as if the thought just occurred to him. "I don't know."

...The girl tilted her head, like she wasn't used to people refusing her orders. "He will not be harmed, Jason Grace, unless you make trouble. Calais, keep Leo Valdez here. Guard him, but do not kill him."

"That sucks." Will said.

Leo shrugged. "It wasn't that bad. All we did was talk about pizza, hockey, destroying things, and avoiding getting destroyed. Ya'know, the usual."

"Riveting." Athena said sarcastically.

Cal pouted. "Just a little?"

"No," the girl insisted. "And take care of his interesting suitcase, until Father passes judgment."

"Judgment?" Annabeth muttered.

...Part of him wanted to go for it, bust out his new tool belt and see what he could do, maybe even summon a fireball or two and warm this place up.

"Not a good idea." Athena warned. "You still need information from Boreas."

But the Boread guys scared him. And that gorgeous girl scared him more, even if he still wanted her number.

"It's fine, guys," he said. "No sense causing trouble if we don't have to. You go ahead."

"Listen to your friend," the pale girl said. "Leo Valdez will be perfectly safe. I wish I could say the same for you, son of Zeus. Now come, King Boreas is waiting."

"Done," Hades said. "Does anybody want to read next?"

Hera nudged Zeus. The god sighed.

"I will." he said taking the book.

Jason XIX," he read.

Leo's head snapped up.

Jason already?! he thought, his face paling. But I haven't finished...

Leo looked at the mess in his lap and groaned.

Just finish. Just finish. Just finish. he chanted in his mind as he scrambled to put parts together.

 

Chapter Text

Jason XIX," Zeus read, with a sigh.

The god slightly slumped in his throne.

Leo wiped the sweat off his forehead.

Okay, Jay. I know this is a lot to ask, but please don't act like a Roman!  he silently pleaded as if the son of Jupiter could hear him. It sounds pretty bad, but just trust me. 

Jason didn't want to leave Leo, but he was starting to think that hanging out with Cal the hockey jock might be the least dangerous option in this place.

Thalia didn't like the sound of that.

...Then there was the ice princess. Every once in a while she'd turn and give Jason a smile, but there was no warmth in her expression. She regarded Jason like he was an especially interesting science specimen- one she couldn't wait to dissect.

Leo shuddered as he continued working.

Great. Another Drew who just can't keep her hands off my brother. Thalia scowled.

If these were Boreas' kids, Jason wasn't sure he wanted to meet Daddy.

"He can't be that bad." Annabeth said. "He's helped demigods on quests before."

"Helpful doesn't mean he can't be crazy or want something in exchange." Chris pointed out.

"Maybe he's changed." Nico told Annabeth. "Didn't they say he's not accepting visitors anymore?"

"It could be because of Olympus closing." she frowned.

Annabeth had told him Boreas was the friendliest of the wind gods. Apparently that meant he didn't kill heroes quite as fast as the others did.

I hope that's not what my future self meant. Annabeth thought. 

Jason worried that he'd led his friends into a trap. If things went bad, he wasn't sure he could get them out alive. Without thinking about it, he took Piper's hand for reassurance.

Aphrodite cooed. "Aw! At least something good came out of this!"

"It'll be fine," she promised. "Just a talk, right?"

"Hopefully..." Percy said.

At the top of the stairs, the ice princess looked back and noticed them holding hands. Her smile faded. Suddenly Jason's hand in Piper's turned ice cold- burning cold. He let go, and his fingers were smoking with frost. So were Piper's.

"Sounds like someone's jeal-ous!" Travis said in a sing-song voice.  

"Seriously?  Way to ruin the moment!" the goddess of love scowled. "Who even does that?"

Zeus resisted the urge to look over at his wife.

Don't you do worse? Percy thought, but wisely didn't say out loud.

"Warmth is not a good idea here," the princess advised, 

"Yeah. I'm sure that's the reason." Aphrodite rolled her eyes.

"especially when am your best chance of staying alive. Please, this way."

...Thalia's picture was still in his pocket, though he didn't need to look at it anymore. Her image burned itself into her mind. It was bad enough not remembering his past, but to know he had a sister out there somewhere who might have answers and to have no way of finding her- that just drove him up the wall.

Thalia smiled sadly in understanding. Maybe I should wait at Camp for him. I don't think the others would mind.

Still, Thalia looked so familiar. Hera had left him just enough memory that he could be certain. Thalia was his sister. But Annabeth had acted completely surprised when he'd told her, like she'd never heard of Thalia's having a brother. Did Thalia even know about him? How had they been separated?

Thalia's shoulders slumped. 

He's going to have to know the truth eventually. she told herself. She just wished she wouldn't have to be the one to tell him.

Hera had taken those memories. She'd stolen everything from Jason's past, plopped him into a new life, and now she expected him to save her from some prison just so he could get back what she'd taken. It made Jason so angry, he wanted to walk away, let Hera rot in that cage:  but he couldn't. He was hooked.

"Can't say I blame him." Annabeth said.

"It would make things easier." Thalia agreed, sending a glare.

Hera gritted her teeth.

He had to know more, and that made him even more resentful.

"There are a lot of things we have to do that we don't want to do." Hera pointed out.

"Hey." Piper touched his arm. "You still with me?"

Aphrodite smiled.

"Yeah... yeah, sorry."

He was grateful for Piper. He needed a friend, and he was glad she'd started losing the Aphrodite blessing... It made her look more real, and as far as Jason was concerned, more beautiful.

"Aaaw!" the goddess of love cooed.

Drew made a face. Ew! Dumpster Queen? Talk about bad taste!

He was sure now that they'd never known each other before the Grand Canyon...But the longer he spent with her, the more he wished it had been real.

"Sounds like he needs a pair of glasses..." Drew muttered, studying her nails.

Stop that, he told himself. It wasn't fair to Piper, thinking that way. Jason had no idea what was waiting for him back in his old life- or who might be waiting. But he was pretty sure he was pretty sure his past wouldn't mix with Camp Half-Blood.

Athena hummed in agreement.

"He needs to stop thinking like that." Chris said with a sigh.

"Maybe he can't." Percy said, oh-so-casually. "Maybe it's, like, programmed in his head to be uneasy around us."

Leo tensed. 

Clarisse snorted. "So you think he sees us as his enemies?"

"It would make sense, right?" he rested his chin in his hand. "I mean, you heard his reaction to the Big House and he keeps saying things like 'I don't belong here' or 'We shouldn't be friends.' This sounds deeper than a demigod who's having a hard time accepting things."

"But why?" Will tilted his head. 

Percy stared at the son of Hephaestus. "Ask Leo. He might know."

Everyone turned their attention to Leo.

The gods looked at him as if he was a ticking time bomb while the demigods looked expectant for answers.

"Um... I don't know. I'm from the future, I'm not all knowing." he laughed awkwardly. "Maybe the answer's in the next paragraph?" 

Silence.

A few demigods, including Percy, looked disappointed as Zeus continued reading.

...The princess turned. Her brown eyes glittered, and Jason felt like he was a Christmas present she was hoping to open.

 "Anybody else getting Zethes vibes from this lady?" Connor asked.

"Yeah, kinda..." Aphrodite shuddered.

"This is the throne room," she said. "Be on your best behavior, Jason Grace. My father can be... chilly. I will translate for you, and try to encourage him to hear you out. I do hope he spares you. We could have such fun."

"Something tells me, her definition of fun is different than ours." Travis said.

..."Um, okay." he managed. "But really, we're just here for a little talk. We'll be leaving right afterward."

The girl smiled. "I love heroes. So blissfully ignorant."

The demigods frowned at that.

"And this is the person who's their best chance in survival?" Annabeth muttered.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Thalia asked no one in particular.

Piper rested her hand on her dagger. "Well, how about you enlighten us? You say you're going to translate for us, and we don't even know who you are. What's your name?"

A couple of demigods turned to Annabeth.

She shrugged.

"I don't know. There aren't a lot of myths on Boreas's children. Could be a goddess of winter or snow?"

The girl sniffed with distaste. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised you don't recognize me. Even in ancient times the Greeks did not know me well. Their island homes were too far from my domain.  I am Khione, daughter of Boreas, goddess of snow."

Annabeth hid a smile. I knew it.

"Now come," Khione said. The oaken doors blew open, and cold blue light spilled out of the room. "Hopefully you will survive your little talk."

"Finished." Zeus said, glad the chapter was short.

Leo's head snapped up in surprise.

No! I'm almost done! I just need more time! he grabbed a fistful of his hair.

"I'll read next," Mitchell said. He got up and took the book from the god's hands. 

Leo watched him make his way back to his spot.

"Jason XX," Mitchell read out loud.

The son of Hephaestus hesitated before hastily adding the final adjustments. Forget it! It's only a matter of time before they figure things out. He slapped tape on the open shoe. Percy, Thalia, and Annabeth can handle this alone, I'm outta here. 

Leo forced his foot in the shoe and clumsily tied his shoelace together. He silently prayed to any god willing to listen that his invention would work.

Chapter Text

"Jason XX," Mitchell read out loud.

"If The Entry Hall Had Been Cold, the throne was- Huh?" Mitchell blinked as a blur raced past him. He tightened his grip on the book, the pages flipped through the burst of sudden wind. Eyes widened in confusion and shock as the flash of color sped around the room. 

"Um... Could someone tell me what's going on?" Travis asked. He yelped and pulled back before the blur could crash into him.

His question was answered after the blur stopped with a loud screech, revealing the speedster to be Leo Valdez. 

The boy looked dizzy as he stumbled to and fro, but he still managed to have a stupid smile on his face.

"Holy Hephaestus!" Leo gasped, his face was turning greenish but his eyes were bright with excitement. "It actually worked." 

Athena rubbed her temples. 

"What now?" she growled in a Zeus-like tone. "Can't we just read this book without any interruptions?"

"You can have all the peace and quiet you want! I'm outta here!" Leo reached into his tool belt and pulled out a stopwatch. He began to hastily punch buttons.

"You're trying to leave again?" Phoebe rolled her eyes. "Where are you going? To the park and feed the ducks?"

"Ha. Ha. Ha. No. I'm going back to my own time period. And thanks to these bad larrys," he looked down at his haphazard shoes with a wide smile. "I don't have to ask for any godly intervention. With the power of technology, I was able to modify my shoes to go as fast as the freaking speed of light."

He punched in the last couple of buttons. "So if I can run around for about eight minutes-"

"You can go into the future..." Jake completed, looking interested at the prospect.

"Exactly!" Leo exclaimed, sounding more giddy by the second. He quickly put out a small flame that ignited on the tip of his nose. He ignored the disappointed and angry looks from Annabeth, Percy, and Thalia. "Anyways, it's been real, but I gotta go! See ya'!"

With a triumphant laugh, the son of Hephaestus started his stopwatch and took off. He couldn't  make out what the random blobs of color were as he ran towards the exit, but he could hear shouting and numerous feet stomping behind him. 

Pffft! Let them try to catch me! I'm the fastest boy alive! Leo bragged. He ignored his lurching stomach as he picked up the pace. He checked the stopwatch and grinned. I'll be on the ship in no-time.

So, of course, everything goes wrong.

There was a loud 'Dzzz' sound coming from one of his shoes. Leo grimaced and looked down. 

"Oh come on!" he complained, seeing grey smoke and sparks of electricity coming out from his shoe. 

The wires popped! This is what I get for rushing at the last second... Leo gritted his teeth. He felt himself slow down and pushed himself to move faster. Suddenly his foot caught on something and he fell over.

"Oof!" He face planted on the ground. Holding his throbbing head, he looked over to see what he tripped on, he groaned when he saw his leg draped over Clovis's body (still sleeping of course).

"You gotta be kidding me..." he muttered. He noticed the unimpressed looks of the others.

"Um..." Leo picked himself up. He didn't meet their eyes as he brushed himself off. "... I'll just go sit back down now..."

"That would be a wise." Hera rolled her eyes.

As the others sat back down, Katie and the Stolls rushed over to him.

"Dude! That was awesome!" Travis exclaimed. "Can you make more shoes like that? We could totally use those for-"

"That was the most stupidest thing I ever seen!" Katie snapped, pushing the son of Hermes aside. She put her hand on her hip and wagged her finger in Leo's face. "What were you thinking?  You could have ran into a wall and got a concussion! Or the wires in your shoes could have caused an explosion! Or you could have ran too far into the future! What would have happened if your 'time-traveling' shoes broke down in the year 2066? Then what you have done?  Nothing! Because you didn't think that far! And-"

"Okay! Okay! I get it! I won't do it again!" Leo cut off, raising his hands in surrender. He muttered under his breath. "Geez! You sound like your mother."

She narrowed her eyes. "What was that?"

"Nothing! Hey, why don't we just sit down?" He quickly suggested. Maybe this chapter won't be that bad. Maybe everything will turn out alright.

The two walked away.

Meanwhile, Travis struggled to digest the fact that Katie Gardener had brushed him off in favor of yelling at Leo. Not him. Leo Valdez.

Connor gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder as they trailed behind them.

Once they were all seated, Mitchell began to read.

"If The Entry Hall Had Been Cold, the throne was like a meat locker." Mitchell paused and looked over at Leo as if he was expecting him to do something.

Said boy kicked off his shoe and began to put out the growing fire.

Mist hung in the air. Jason shivered, and his breath steamed...All around the room stood ice sculpture warriors- some in Greek armor, some medieval, some in modern camouflage- all frozen in various attack positions, swords raised, guns locked and loaded.

Hades and Nico instantly thought of Persephone's garden gnomes.

"He turns people into popsicles?" Connor frowned, he turned to Annabeth. "I thought you said he was friendly!"

"I said he was friendlier than the other wind gods." she corrected. "Besides, those might not be actual people, he might've just made them out of ice."  

"If they're fake, do they have to look so lifelike?" Lacy asked with a shiver.

After putting out the fire, Leo peeled off the melting tape to assess the damage. His shoulders slumped at the charred insides. What a waste.

He sighed, drumming his fingers on his leg.

...From the end of the hall, a man's voice rang out in a language that sounded like French. The room was so long and misty, Jason couldn't see the other end; but whatever the man said, the ice guards uncrossed their javelins.

"It's fine," Khione said. "My father ordered them not to kill you just yet."

"So far so good..." Thalia mumbled.

...Zethes probed him in the back with his sword.

"Keep moving, Jason Junior."

Connor and Leo snickered. 

"Jason Junior." The son of Hephaestus repeated with a grin. "I'm totally calling him that when I get back."

..."My father is not a patient man," Zethes warned, "and the beautiful Piper, sadly, is losing her magic hairdo very fast. Later, perhaps, I can lend her something from my wide assortment of hair products." 

Aphrodite made a face at that. 

It could work. Her hair is a mess. Drew thought.

...They kept walking, and the mist parted to reveal a man on an ice throne...His arched eyebrows made him look angry, but his eyes twinkled more warmly than his daughter's- as if he might have a sense of humor buried somewhere under the permafrost. Jason hoped so.

"Depends on what he finds funny," Nico said. "He could find turning demigods into ice sculptures hilarious." 

"Or he might actually have a decent sense of humor, you never know." Will countered.

"Bienvenu," 

Aphrodite smiled with pride as Mitchell read the French word out loud perfectly.

The king said. "je suis Boreas le Roi. Et vous?"

Khione the snow goddess was about to speak, but Piper stepped forward and curtsied.

"Votre Majeste," she said. "je suis Piper McLean. Et c'est Jason, fils de Zeus."

Percy blinked. "Piper knows French? Did she take classes in school?"

"All children of Aphrodite can speak French, it's the language of love." Mitchell explained before he went back to reading.

The king smiled with pleasant surprise. "Vous parlez francais? Tres bien!"

"Piper, you speak French?" Jason asked.

Piper frowned. "No. Why?"

"Seriously?" Drew couldn't help but groan. "Is she deaf? Did she not hear herself just now?"

"She must've done it subconsciously." Annabeth said.

...Khione looked miffed. "The king says-"

"He says I'm a daughter of Aphrodite," Piper interrupted, "so naturally I can speak French, which is the language of love. I had no idea. His Majesty says Khione won't have to translate now."

"Good, at least you don't have to rely on her." Thalia said. "Knowing her, she'd probably misinterpret things on purpose."

"Pretty sure you're right." Leo said, rummaging through his tool belt. 

...The king said something else, and Piper turned pale.

The readers tensed.

"The king says..." She faltered. "He says-"

"Oh, allow me," Khione said. "My father says he has orders to kill you. Did I not mention that earlier?"

"What?!" Aphrodite exclaimed.

"I doubt they would have willingly gone with her, if she did." Thalia scowled.

"Who ordered him to do that?" Chris wondered. "Is he working for this mistress?"

Leo took out a screwdriver.

He spun it on its side.

Jason tensed. The king was still smiling amiably, like he'd just delivered great news.

"I guess he has the same sense of humor as his kids." Will frowned.

Nico nodded his head as if he knew all along.

"Kill us?" Jason said. "Why?"

"Because," the king said, in heavily accented English, "my lord Aeolus has commanded it."

Apollo brightened up at that. "Oh! Him? They'll be fine!"

Aphrodite relaxed and giggled at her earlier reaction. "All they have to do is stall and they'll be fine."

"Aeolus will probably change his mind in about... what? Five or six minutes?" Hermes guessed.

"I've seen him change his mind faster, I'll say two." Dionysus drawled.

The demigods sent them odd looks, before turning their attention back to Mitchell.

..."Toujours, I have had a fondness for children of Aphrodite. As for you, Jason Grace, my master Aeolus would not expect me to kill a son of Lord Zeus... without hearing you out."

"That's fair..." Percy said slowly. "But... Um...why does he want them dead?"

Jason's gold coin seemed to grown heavy in his pocket. If he were forced to fight, he didn't like his chances...Then he'd be facing a god, two of his children, and an army of freeze-dried warriors.

"Don't do it." Thalia warned under her breath. "Let's just see how things play out."

"Aeolus is the master of the winds, right?" Jason asked. "Why would he want us dead?"

"You are demigods," Boreas said, as if this explained everything.

"Oh..." Percy simply said. He turned to his girlfriend. "Is it sad that this makes sense to me?"

"Not really, considering that's the reason every monster wants us dead." Annabeth sighed.

"He has to have bigger reason than that." Apollo argued. "He's usually a more passive aggressive kind of guy."

"Aeolus' job is to contain the winds, and demigods have always caused him many headaches. They ask him for favors. They unleash winds and cause chaos. But the final insult was the battle with Typhon last summer..."

Everyone grimaced.

Dionysus subconsciously rubbed the bandage around his curly black hair.

Percy guiltily looked down at his lap.

Annabeth squeezed his hand. "It wasn't your fault."

Boreas waved his hand, and a sheet of ice like a flat-screen TV appeared in the air. Images of a battle flickered across the surface- a giant wrapped in storm clouds, wading across a river toward the Manhattan skyline. Tiny glowing figures- the gods, Jason guessed- swarmed around like angry wasps, pounding the monster with lightning and fire.

Leo let out a low whistle. "Wow, that sounds pretty bad."

"That wasn't even the half of it." Artemis sighed tiredly.

"We didn't even slow him down." Hephaestus added.

Finally, the river erupted in a massive whirlpool, and the smoky form sank beneath the waves and disappeared.

A few gods gave Poseidon grateful looks.

"The storm giant, Typhon," Boreas explained. "The first time the gods defeated him, eons ago, he did not die quietly. His death released a host of storm spirits- wild winds that answered no one. It was Aeolus' job to track them all down and imprison them in his fortress. The other gods- they did not help.  They did not even apologize for the inconvenience.

"We shouldn't have to." Zeus said. "It's his job."

"We did pay him back though," Poseidon recalled. "I remember we all agreed to not complain about the weather for a whole week. I think that counts as an apology."

Demeter blinked at that. "We did?"

Hades made a face at her. "Yes, we did. Don't tell me you didn't keep your end of the deal."

The goddess forced herself to laugh. "Of course I did."

She didn't meet anyone's eyes.

The gods gave her even looks.

It took Aeolus centuries to track down all the storm spirits, and naturally this irritated him. Then, last summer, Typhon was defeated again-"

"And his death released another wave of venti," Jason guessed. "Which made Aeolus even angrier."

"So he blames us for that?" Katie said in disbelief. "We're not even the ones who defeated him!"

"But it's easier to take your anger out on demigods instead of the actual gods." Nico reminded her.

[Boreas] "...He issued orders to us: demigods who come to us for aid are no longer to be tolerated. We are to crush your little mortal faces."

The demigods stiffened. Some winced at the description.

"That's pretty... harsh." Percy said. 

"He still has to listen to what Jason has to say," Annabeth pointed out. "He might not try to kill them."

Aphrodite bit her lip. When is Aeolus going to hurry up and change his mind already?

...[Boreas]"You see, Aeolus also said a son of Zeus might seek my aid, and if this happened, I should listen to you before destroying you, as you might- how did he put it?- make all our lives very interesting."  

Annabeth frowned. How did Aeolus know about Jason?

..."Do not thank me." Boreas smiled. "There are many ways you could make our lives interesting. Sometimes we keep demigods for our amusement, as you can see."

He gestured around the room to various ice statues.

"Oh my gods!" Lacy squeaked before saying in a low voice. "Are they alive?"

"After being frozen for who-knows-how-many centuries? Probably not." Drew said, studying her nails.

"If he's the friendliest, I don't want to meet the other wind gods." Chris said.

...Khione stepped behind Jason and put her cold fingers on his neck. "My father gives me such lovely presents," she murmured in his ear. "Join our court. Perhaps I'll let your friends go."

Thalia scowled. "Does she have to be there? Aeolus only asked Boreas to judge, not her."

"No kidding." Leo agreed, spinning the screwdriver faster.

"What?" Zethes broke in. "If Khione gets this one, then I deserve the girl.

Aphrodite looked ready to argue that statement.

Khione always gets more presents!"

"They haven't even heard what Jason has to say, and they're already talking about having them as statues." Hestia grimaced.

"Such spoiled children." Demeter sniffed. "I bet if they were working at a farm, they would act more polite."

Katie rolled her eyes. 

"Now children," Boreas said sternly. "Our guests will think you are spoiled! 

"Too late." Hera muttered.

Besides, you moved too fast. We have not heard the demigod's story yet. Then we will decide what to do with them. Please, Jason Grace, entertain us."

Jason felt his brain shutting down. He didn't look at Piper for fear he'd completely lose it. He'd gotten them into this, and now they were going to die- or worse, they'd be amusement for Boreas' children an d end up frozen forever in this throne room, slowly corroding from freezer burn.

"Just tell them what you know." Thalia encouraged. "It's the best thing you can do at this point."

Khione purred and stroked his neck.

Just go away! The daughter of Zeus angrily thought.

Leo shuddered at the mental image. Why did I like that girl again?

Jason didn't plan it, but electricity sparked along his skin. There was a loud pop, and Khione flew backward, skidding across the floor.

A couple demigods nervously chuckled.

..."Stop," Jason ordered, with as much force as he could muster. "You're not going to kill us. And you're not going to keep us. We're on a quest for the quest of the gods herself, so unless you want Hera busting down your doors, you're going to let us go."

"Nice!" Thalia grinned. "That should be enough to let them go."

..."Hmm," Boreas said. His eyes twinkled, but Jason couldn't tell if it was with anger or amusement. "A son of Zeus, favored by Hera? This is definitely a first.

"And, more than likely, last." Annabeth muttered.

Tell us your story ."

Jason would've botched it right there. He hadn't been expecting to get the chance to talk, and now that he could, his voice abandoned him.

Piper saved him.

Aphrodite and Thalia sighed in relief.

..."All we ask for is guidance," Piper concluded. "These storm spirits attacked us, and they're working for some evil mistress. If we find them, maybe we can find Hera."

The king stroked the icicles in his beard. Out the windows, night had fallen, and the only light came from the aurora borealis overhead, washing in red and blue.

Hera tensed. Time's running out quickly.

"I know of these storm spirits," Boreas said. "I know where are they kept, and of the prisoner they took."

Clarisse perked up at that. "Coach's still alive?"

Boreas waved aside the question. "For now.

The daughter of Ares frowned at that.

But the one who controls these storm winds... It would be madness to oppose her. You would be better staying here as frozen statues."

"Been there, done that and I don't want to do it again." Leo said, tapping his foot.

"Hera's in trouble," Jason said. "In three days she's going to be- I don't know- consumed, destroyed, something. And a giant is going to rise."

"Yes," Boreas agreed. Was it Jason's imagination, or did he just shoot Khione an angry look?

Athena raised an eyebrow.

"Does she know something that he doesn't?" Annabeth guessed.

"Many horrible things are waking. Even my children do not tell me all the news they should. The Great Stirring of monsters that began with Kronos- your father Zeus foolishly believed it would end with the Titans were defeated. But just as before, so it is now. The final battle has yet to come, and the one who will wake is terrible than any Titan.  Storm spirits- these are only the beginning. The earth has many more horrors to yield up. When monsters no longer stay in Tartarus, and souls are no longer confined to Hades... Olympus has good reason to fear."

The tension was so thick in the room, it was almost suffocating.

Hades heavily sighed as he rubbed his temples.

"Sssoooo any monster we kill just comes back?" Connor summed up. "Now what? How do we deal with that and the unkillable giants?! "

Percy bit his lip. There is one way... If we can just get Leo to talk about it.

Jason wasn't sure what all this meant, but he didn't like the way Khione was smiling- like this was her definition of fun.

"What is wrong with her? Are all children of Boreas just messed up?" Thalia asked, throwing her hands up in frustration.

"Cal's not that bad," the son of Hephaestus argued.

"So you'll help us?" Jason asked the king.

Boreas scowled. "I did not say that."

"Please, Your Majesty," Piper said.

...She had to scared out of her mind, but she looked beautiful and confident- and it had nothing to do with the blessing of Aphrodite.

Aphrodite felt a sense of pride at that.

"If you tell us where the storm spirits are, we can capture them and bring them to Aeolus. You'd look good in front of your boss. Aeolus might pardon us and other demigods. We could even rescue Gleeson Hedge. Everyone wins."

"That's actually a good deal." Annabeth said. 

"She pretty," Zethes mumbled.

Artemis rolled her eyes. "Thanks for the words of wisdom."

"I mean, she's right."

"Father, don't listen to her," Khione said. "She's a child of Aphrodite. She dare charmspeak a god? Freeze her now!"

Could somebody just tell her to shut up! Thalia thought.

The readers stiffened.

Boreas considered this. Jason slipped his hand in his pocket and got ready to bring out the gold coin. If things went wrong, he'd have to move fast.

"This is going to end badly." Chris grimaced. "There's no way they can take them all on. Piper hasn't even been properly trained yet."

"They can try a fake out and run." Will suggested.

"I don't think they would make it. They could freeze them before they make it to the doorway. Besides, how are they supposed to escape without Leo?" Nyssa said.

The movement caught Boreas' eye.

"What is on your forearm, demigod?"

The son of Hephaestus froze. No... He wouldn't... 

The gods held their breathes.

Jason hadn't realized his coat sleeve had gotten pushed up, revealing the edge of his tattoo. Reluctantly, he showed Boreas his marks.

For some reason, the demigods felt uneasy about Boreas seeing those marks.  

...Then Boreas did something unexpected. He laughed so loudly, an icicle cracked from the ceiling and crashed next to his throne.

Mitchell frowned as he read the rest. His confusion was evident in his voice.

The god's form began to flicker. His beard disappeared. He grew taller and thinner, and his clothes changed into a Roman toga, lined with purple. His head was crowned with frosty laurel wreath, and a gladius- a Roman sword like Jason's- hung at his side.

Mitchell stopped reading and silently looked over the paragraph again, his eyebrows furrowed.

The other demigods stared at the book as if they were still processing the information. 

"...What's going on?" Katie asked, breaking the silence. "Did he just... transform?"

"He sounds like he's some kind of Roman or something." Connor said, laughing nervously.

"He is." Percy said suddenly. "Or at least, he is now."

Everyone turned to him.

"What do you mean?" Chris asked.

Percy stood up.

"Roman demigods and gods exist." He told them. He waited for some kind of reaction but everyone stayed quiet. 

 Leo felt like he was watching a train crash in slow motion as Percy explained everything to the other demigods. It was kinda scary how much he was able to repeat what he told him. 

"...But it doesn't have to be that way! We could work together and defeat the giants!" He finished.

"You don't know what you're talking about." Athena said, gritting her teeth as she tried to ignore the sudden pounding in her head. Romans and Greeks working together... Out of all the stupidest things I've heard...

"Yes, I do," he argued. He took the gods' pained groans as a sign of disbelief and continued. "You can't just keep us separated forever, you're only delaying the problem!"

"Why can't we?" Zeus snapped, his face turning purplish red. He felt like his head was being split in two. "You can't even be in the same room without being at each other's throats! What makes you think things are going to work now?"

"Who cares what he thinks? Let's just use the Mist to make them forget." Demeter said, rubbing her throbbing head. "This will never work."

A couple gods muttered in agreement.

"Wait!" Percy exclaimed. Hermes winced.

"Not so loud!" the god complained.

"We had a rocky start," Percy ignored a couple bitter laughs from the gods. "But we get along eventually. Leo told me so."

The son of Hephaestus winced when everyone's attention turned towards him. The Olympians, especially Athena, didn't look too happy to see him right now.

"Oh really?" The goddess hissed, glaring daggers at Leo.

Leo shuddered. Di immortals, he thought Annabeth's glare was bad but Athena's glare made hers look like an upset puppy. Athena's expression told him that she already knew how to completely and utterly destroy him but couldn't do it because of too many witnesses.

Dude! Shut up!  he wanted to yell at Percy, but his throat felt clogged up with dry sand. Leo swallowed.

"He's met with them before and was able to makes friends despite some centuries-old beef."

The son of Hephaestus tried not to remember firing the ballista or the sounds of screaming below the ship. 

"A beef..." Artemis muttered in disbelief. "So many people died in pointless wars because of hatred, and he calls it a beef..."

"If anybody knows what kind of people the Romans really are, it's him." Percy looked at him as if to say: That's your cue.

How do I get myself into these situations? Leo found himself asking. He didn't move from his position. Shouldn't I be at school or something? Do Hazel and the others even know I'm alive at this point?

"Hmm. Interesting." Athena's voice started to sound a little distorted, like someone was randomly changing the pitch of her voice. Not deep or high enough to pick up the first time, but Leo was already playing close attention to what was happening to her and the others. "Let's see how much he knows."

She turned her steely gaze at Leo.

After some coaxing gestures from Annabeth and a quick thumbs up from Thalia, he stood up. 

"Do you know about the history between the Ancient Greeks and Romans?" she asked. The goddess schooled her features but her hand clenched around her armrest.

 He tugged on his sleeves as he nodded. 

She narrowed her eyes. "Then you know what happened to Athens? And what they did?"

He hesitated before nodding again. 

"I know they took it," he said, dreading her reaction.

Now Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia looked confused, but the Olympians knew what he meant. They winced as the goddess's form flickered.

"You know what those disgusting Romans did to your people, yet you befriend them and encourage others to do the same?!" Minerva cried in outrage. Her expression was full of betrayal and disgust. "You traitorous..."

She groaned and flickered back to Athena, who acted like nothing just happened.

"You're a smart boy, Leonidas." She didn't even bother to hide her smile at his discomfort. "You know this is pointless. The Greeks' hatred of the Romans is too strong. You've seen their earlier reactions, it would be better if we just leave the Romans to their own devices and fight the giants on our own. There would be less bloodshed that way."

The other Olympians whispered back and worth to each other.

It took some effort, but Leo finally worked up the courage to speak up.

"That won't work, not this time. If we want to beat the giants, we have to work with them."

Athena gnashed her teeth, the some other gods looked ready to protest but Leo cut them off before they could intimidate him again.

"Listen, I know this rivalry and these feelings aren't going to go away overnight, but, in the future, we're trying to set aside our differences." He brushed his hair back. "It's not easy but we're working on it..."

Leo wished he sounded more confident

"You're making a big risk for something you're doubtful about." Zeus pointed out.

Nooo. Leo wanted to say. Your wife's making a big risk, I'm just the scapegoat. Seriously, why is she so quiet? She should have my back right now!

Instead, he shrugged. "Gotta take the risk."

"I hope you're right." Athena said, her tone of voice told Leo otherwise. "The last thing we'd want is for this to be a waste of time."

"There still some books left, they would have to know Jason's past and interact with the Romans at some point. We could decide how we should approach the situation based off that." Surprisingly, Aphrodite suggested.

"We're already in the middle of reading, we might as well finish." Hephaestus agreed.

"All in favor," Hermes said. 

Except Athena, the gods begrudgingly raised their hands.

Leo's shoulders sagged in relief. "Um... Great."

"It's not over yet," Poseidon told him. "We still haven't decided."

"And when we find out your little alley ship was hopeless from the start, you will face the consequences." Athena promised.

"What? This isn't even my idea!" Leo protested. Hera sent him a warning glare.

"True," the goddess of wisdom gave Hera a knowing look. "But to be a Greek demigod and support such nonsense is unacceptable. I won't stand for such blasphemy!" 

"Let's just read before you make any rash decisions." Hephaestus hurriedly cut in.

"Yes!" Hestia spoke up, eager to stop the fighting. "Let's finish the chapter."

She kindly motioned Mitchell to keep reading.

Said boy looked like he was still trying to wrap his head around things, but he picked up from where he left off.

"Aquilon," Jason said, though where he got the god's Roman name from, he had no idea.

The goddess of wisdom made a face of disgust.

"So that's why he keeps using the Roman names so much. 'Cause he's Roman." Will said.

Sitting back down, Leo picked the imaginary link off his jacket. "Yup."

..."And Hera sent you there..." The winter god's eyes were full of mirth. "I understand now. Oh, she plays a dangerous game. Bold, but dangerous!

The other gods glared at Hera.

Said goddess stood her ground and glared back.

"This is your fault." Hermes snapped. "If you hadn't come up with this hair brained scheme, we wouldn't be in this mess."

"How else are we going to defeat the giants?" Hera snapped back. "Do you have a better idea?"

"Any idea would be better than what you're planning." Dionysus said.

"I'm trying to save us all from being overtaken by the giants! You should be grateful!"

"Grateful?!" Demeter angrily repeated.

"ENOUGH!" Zeus shouted.

Everyone went quiet and Mitchell continued reading.

No wonder Olympus is closed. They must be trembling at the gamble she has taken." 

 "For good reason." Hades said.

...The god laughed. "No, I'm sure you don't. This should be very interesting to watch."

"Glad he's enjoying it..." Hephaestus grumbled sarcastically. 

"Does that mean he's going to let them go?" Annabeth asked.

..."My dear," Boreas said, "there is no reason for me to kill you. If Hera's plan fails, which I think it will,

"Nobody asked you." Hera rolled her eyes.

You will tear each other apart. Aeolus will never have to worry about demigods again."

The demigods stiffened.

"Um... He says that, but they won't really be trying to kill us or anything, right?" Chris nervously asked Leo.

The son of Hephaestus fiddled with his zipper. 

"No." Leo lied. What else could he say? 'Normally they wouldn't but since I blasted their city, they kinda want us dead! Sorry!' There's no way they'd take that lightly, especially the gods.

If they ever find that out, we're screwed. he grimaced. Well... I'll be screwed.

Jason felt as if Khione's cold fingers were on his neck again, but it wasn't her- it was just the feeling that Boreas was right.

"Even he knows this won't work." Artemis said.

"Just give it a chance." Leo pleaded.

That sense of wrongness which bothered Jason since he got to Camp Half-Blood, and Chiron's comment about his arrival being disastrous- Boreas knew what they meant.

"He's always so positive." Leo said sarcastically, tapping his foot.

"I don't suppose you could explain?" Jason asked.

"Oh, perish the thought! It is not for me to interfere in Hera's plan. No wonder she took your memory." Boreas chuckled, apparently still having a great time imaging demigods tearing each other apart.

Ares, with a content smile, day dreamed of something similar.

That's it you Roman scum! Kill the Graecus!

..."Now, as I was saying, I have a good reputation, but it is rare that Boreas plays an important role in the affairs of the gods.

"Oh great! We got another one of those gods again." Poseidon sighed. Always trying to be bigger than they are.

I sit here in my palace, at the edge of civilization, and so rarely have amusements. Why, even that fool Notus, the South Wind, gets spring break in Cancun. What do I get? A winter festival with naked Quebecois rolling around in snow!"

"They what?" Connor laughed despite the situation.

"They aren't really naked." Athena explained. "They wear swim suits and take snow baths. It's a tradition in the winter festival."

"I like the winter festival," Zethes muttered.

"My point," Boreas snapped, "is that I now have a chance to be the center. Oh, yes, I will let you go on this quest. You will find your storm spirits in the windy city, of course. Chicago-"

...Boreas ignored his daughter. "If you can capture the winds, you may be able to gain safe entrance to the court of Aeolus. If by some miracle, you succeed, be sure to tell him you captured the winds on my orders."

"Sounds like a good deal, now they know where to go to next." Percy said.

"Okay, sure," Jason said. "So Chicago is where we'll find this lady who's controlling the winds? She's the one who's trapped Hera?"

"Ah." Boreas grinned. "Those are two different questions, son of Jupiter."

A couple of demigods made faces at the title.

"Now he's using Roman terms." Chris noted, looking unsure of what to think about that.

..."The one who controls the winds," Boreas continued, "yes, you will find her in Chicago. But she is only a servant- a servant who is very likely to destroy you.

She would've if it wasn't for Piper. Leo thought, throwing his hands in his pockets.

If you succeed against her and take the winds, then you may go to Aeolus. Only he had knowledge of all the winds on earth. All secrets come to fortress eventually. If anyone can tell you where Hera is imprisoned, it is Aeolus.

"Should we even bother saving her? Maybe we can think of another plan." Apollo suggested innocently. 

Hera icily glared at him. "We are not going through this again." 

She ordered Mitchell to keep reading.

As for who you will meet when you finally find Hera's cage- truly, if I told you that, you would beg me to freeze you."

"Father," Khione protested, "you can't simply let them-"

"I can do what I like," he said, his voice hardening. "I am still master here, am I not?"

The way Boreas glared at his daughter, it was obvious they had some ongoing argument.

Athena raised an eyebrow at this.

Khione's eyes flared with anger, but she clenched her teeth. "As you wish, Father."

...Back in the entry hall, Cal and Leo were waiting for them. Leo looked cold but unharmed... Festus the dragon was back in normal form, snorting fire over his scales to keep himself defrosted.

As Khione lead them down the stairs, Jason noticed that Leo's eyes followed her. Leo started combing his hair back with his hands.

Leo rolled his eyes at his actions.

Uh-oh, Jason thought. He made a mental note to warn Leo about the snow goddess later. She was not someone to get a crush on.

Aphrodite nodded her head in agreement.

I'll handle it. the goddess of love promised.

At the bottom step, Khione turned toward Piper. "You have fooled my father, girl. But you have not fooled me. We are not done. And you, Jason Grace, I will see you as a statue in the throne room soon enough."

"Oh shut up!" Thalia growled.

"Boreas is right," Jason said. "You're a spoiled kid. See you around, ice princess."

"Probably not a good idea, she's still a goddess." Nico pointed out.

"Who cares? What's the worst she's going to do? Throw a snowball at him?" Thalia said dismissively, but she knew Khione could do a lot worse.

Khione's eyes flared pure white. For once, she seemed at loss for words. She stormed back up the stairs- literally. Halfway up, she turned into a blizzard and disappeared.

"Pfft. Please." Thalia said.

...Leo looked devastated. "What happened up there? You made her mad? Is she mad at me too? Guys, that was my prom date!"

"I'm sure you'll find someone else." Katie told him.

...What had happened up there? Jason wasn't sure. Boreas had turned into Aquilon, his Roman form, as if Jason's presence caused him to schizophrenic.

Is that what happened to the gods just now? Annabeth wondered. She shuddered as she remembered her mother's earlier behavior. She acted like a completely different person before returning to her more calmer self. Boreas's personality didn't change as much as hers did. Why was she like that?

"Be careful, pretty girl," Zethes said. "The winds between here and Chicago are bad-tempered. Many other evil things are stirring. I am sorry you will not be staying. You would make a lovely ice statue, in which I could check my reflection."

"A fate worse than Tartarus." Aphrodite felt a shiver run down her spine.

...Cal patted Leo on the shoulder. "Don't get destroyed," he said, which was probably the longest sentence he'd ever attempted.

Hermes blinked.

"Huh." he said, looking impressed. "I think that's the first time he's ever said something like that. That must've been some conversation."

Leo shrugged. "Not really, I did most of the talking."

Next time- hockey. Pizza."

"Come on, guys." Jason stared out at the dark. He was anxious to get out of the cold penthouse, but he had the feeling it was the most hospitable place they'd see for a while. "Let's go to Chicago and try not to get destroyed."

"Finished." Mitchell said. He turned to Lacy. "Do you want to read?"

"Sure." Lacy looked reluctant to read out loud in front of everyone, but she took the book.

Lacy couldn't help but smile when she found out she would be reading her sister's chapter. 

"Piper XXI," she read.  

Chapter Text

"Piper XXI," Lacy read.

Leo stretched his arms.

"Just curious," he said. "How many chapters do we have left?"

Lacy quickly turned to the last chapter number and did the math.

"The last chapter is fifty-six, so we just have thirty-five left to go." she told him. Lacy squeaked in surprise when Leo groaned loudly in response.

"Thirty-five? That's going to take ages!" he complained, drumming his fingers on the wall. "And you guys always act so surprised when I try to leave! It's because I'm stuck here listening about events I already went through and some of them are in my point of view!"

"So you're bored." Athena said which surprised the son of Hephaestus. He thought she would still be too mad to talk to him. 

"Um... yeah." he blinked. "Kinda. I mean, wouldn't you?"

Athena smiled in understanding, but she had this weird gleam in her eyes that Leo couldn't help but be wary at. "Of course. Don't worry, I think I can find something for you to do."

Leo wasn't so sure he wanted her to.

Annabeth watched Athena's actions with a troubled expression. 

Piper didn't relax until the glow of Quebec City faded behind them.

"You were amazing," Jason told her.

Lacy smiled in agreement.

Aphrodite beamed with pride.

The compliment should've made her day. But all she could think about was the trouble ahead. Evil things are stirring. Zethes had warned them. She knew that firsthand. The closer they got to the solstice, the less time Piper had time to make her decision.

Lacy's smile faded and the goddess of love grimaced.

She told Jason in French: "If you knew the truth about me, you wouldn't think I was so amazing."

"So that's what she said." Leo muttered.

"Why would she even say that?" Will asked.

"So she can tell Jason the truth and feel less guilty, without really telling him." Annabeth answered.

..."Hey," he said, "you saved me from joining Khione's subzero hero collection. I owe you one."

That was definitely the easy part, she thought. There was no way Piper would've let that ice witch keep Jason.

Thalia couldn't help but smile at that.

What had bothered Piper more was the way Boreas had changed form and why he'd let them go.

The demigods stiffened and looked over at their parents, but the gods looked like they were just going to ignore the elephant in the room.

Percy frowned. "They can't just ignore this. We already know about the Romans, they should just tell us what we need to know."

"You know how stubborn they can get." Annabeth said. "Besides, I don't think they will talk about it unless they're arguing about it. You saw their reactions earlier."

Percy's frown deepened. Yeah. It was horrible. He felt bad that Leo had to take the brunt of the gods' anger alone.

"What do you think he meant when he said 'I know they took it?'" he asked his girlfriend. "What did they take and why did Athena act like that?"

Annabeth played with her necklace.

"I don't know." she admitted. "He never talked about it with me. Whatever it is sounds important, especially to my mom. Maybe that's why she's so adamant that we stay separated."

Annabeth wondered just how much Leo was hiding from them.

"Trust me, man," Jason said. "Snow may be pretty, but up close it's cold and nasty. We'll find you a better prom date."

"With my help, of course!" Aphrodite happily said, breaking the momentary silence.

Hephaestus and Leo looked devastated to hear this.

"I think he can manage on his own," the god told his wife.

"Yeah, I'm good! Thanks for offering!" Leo hurriedly assured her. There was no way he wanted Piper's mom complicating his already messed up love life. 

The goddess tilted her head. "You sure?"

"Yup! Don't worry about me! I'll manage!" he said. 

I'll do it anyway, he'll thank me later. Aphrodite smiled.

Not liking the look on her face, Leo frowned back. Why is everyone suddenly trying to help me?  Weren't they just chewing me out earlier?

Piper smiled, but Leo didn't look pleased. He hadn't said much about his time in the palace...

"There wasn't much to say." Leo shrugged. He actually wished they read a chapter about that. Maybe then he would've avoided the mess he was in right now. Or, even better, maybe they would've gotten so bored, they would've decided to skip his chapters altogether.

"That would be nice," he sighed, rummaging through his tool belt.

...Whatever it was, his mood seemed to be affecting Festus, who grumbled and steamed as he tried to keep himself warm in the cold Canadian air. Happy the Dragon was not so happy. 

Travis resisted the urge to laugh at that. He forced his face to remain expressionless.

Connor elbowed him. "Com'on man, you can't stay jealous forever."

His brother scowled at him. "I'm not jealous."

"Are so."

"Am not."

"Are so."

"Am not!"

"Are so!"

"Who's jealous of who?" Leo asked, watching the back and forth like a tennis match. He pulled out a pen from his tool belt.

"Nothing!" Travis said quickly. "Connor's just jealous that I'm a better pickpocket than him."

Connor narrowed his eyes.

"Oh. You really want to go there?" he challenged.

The son of Hephaestus doodled on his arm as the two started arguing.

They ate their sandwiches as they flew. Piper had no idea how Leo had stocked up on supplies, but he'd even remembered to bring veggie rations for her. The cheese avocado sandwich was awesome.

"I know, I'm pretty awesome!" Leo bragged. Maybe I'll make more of those for her when I get back.

Nobody talked. Whatever they might find in Chicago they all knew Boreas had only let them go because he figured they were already on a suicide mission.

Hephaestus and Aphrodite exchanged looks.

"We got this." Leo assured them. 

...Piper had been thinking about the coach ever since Boreas mentioned he was still alive. She'd never liked Hedge, but he'd leap off a cliff to save Leo, and he'd sacrificed himself to protect them on the skywalk.

"He's good protector," Grover sighed. "He has some... problems, but he still got the job done."

"Yeah, he's not that bad." When he's not trying to kill things, the son of Hephaestus added.

She now realized that all the times at school the coach had pushed her, yelled at her to run faster or do more push-ups, or even when he'd turned his back and let her fight her own battles with mean girls, the old goat man had been trying to help her in his own irritating way- trying to prepare her for a life as a demigod.

"He doesn't need to treat them like glass. They won't know how to protect themselves otherwise." Clarisse smiled. 

I don't think threatening kids with baseball bats is the best way to teach demigods. Grover thought, but he didn't say anything.

...Don't get ahead of yourself, she chided. You've got bigger problems. This trip won't have a happy ending.

She was a traitor, just like Silena Beauregard.

Aphrodite flinched.

That's one thing we both can agree about. Drew mentally said.

"She doesn't know the real Silena," Chris told his girlfriend. "All she knows about her is the lies Drew told her."

Clarisse sent Drew a deadly glare. 

'You're dead.' The daughter of Ares mouthed to the other girl. She dragged a finger across her neck to empathize her point.

Drew visibly paled.

It was only a matter of time before her friends find out.

She looked up at the stars and thought about a night long ago when she and her dad had camped out in front of Grandpa Tom's house. Grandpa Tom had died years before, but Dad had kept his house in Oklahoma because it was where he grew up.

They'd gone back for a few days, with the idea of getting the place fixed up to sell... The first night had been so stifling hot- no air conditioning in the middle of August- Dad suggested they sleep outside.

"It's the best place to sleep." Phoebe smiled. A couple of hunters nodded in agreement.

They'd spread their sleeping bags and listened to the cicadas buzzing in the trees. Piper pointed out the constellations she'd been reading about- Hercules,

Hera, Artemis, and Percy scowled at the mention of the well known hero.

Apollo's lyre, 

Apollo winked at the demigods.

..."You believe in magic hedgehogs?" Piper asked.

Her dad laughed. "I think Grandpa Tom was full of bull, too, just like the Greeks.  But it's a big sky. I suppose there's room for Hercules and the hedgehogs."

Aphrodite smiled sadly and the other gods looked offended.

"Well!" Demeter huffed.

They sat for a while, until Piper got the nerve to ask a question that had been bugging her. "Dad, why don't you ever play Native American parts?"

...He winked at her. "Too close to home, Pipes. Easier to pretend I'm something I'm not."

"That's kinda sad..." Will said with a frown.

...She looked at the stars, trying to imagine them as glowing hedgehogs. All she saw were the stick figures she knew- Hercules running around the sky, on his sky to kill monsters. Dad was probably right. The Greeks and the Cherokee were equally crazy.

The stars were just balls of fire.

"Just like the sun is a big fiery ball of gas." Artemis said with a faint smile.

Apollo playfully rolled his eyes. "You're just jealous I got the awesome car, and you're stuck with Santa's sleigh."

"It's not a sleigh." Artemis immediately corrected.

"Dad," she said, "if you don't like being close to home, why are we sleeping in Grandpa Tom's yard?"

"She has a point." Mitchell chuckled.

...Piper blinked, shaking herself out of the memory. She realized she'd been falling asleep on the dragon's back. How could her dad pretend to be so many things he wasn't? She was trying to do that now, and it was tearing her apart.

"He's a paid actor. He has a lot of experience to do those type of roles." Annabeth said, she worriedly bit her lip. Hopefully she tells Leo and Jason the truth soon.

Maybe she could pretend for a little while longer. She could dream of finding a way to save her father without betraying friends- even if right now a happy ending seemed about as likely as magic hedgehogs.

She leaned back against Jason's warm chest. He didn't complain.

Lacy read this out loud with a beaming smile on her face.

"I didn't think he would." Aphrodite giggled.

Drew scowled.

As soon as she closed her eyes, she drifted off to sleep.

In her dream, she was back on the mountaintop. The ghostly purple bonfire cast shadows across the trees. Piper's eyes stung from smoke, and the ground was so warm, the soles of her boots felt sticky.

The smile on Lacy's face vanished.

Everyone tensed.

A voice from the dark rumbled, "You forget your duty." Lacy read in a whimpering tone.

Piper couldn't see him, but it was definitely her least favorite giant- the one who called himself Enceladus. She looked around for any sign of her father, but the pole where he'd been chained was no longer there.

Lacy shivered.

"Wh-Where'd he go?" Aphrodite squeaked.

"I'm sure he's fine." Athena assured the paling goddess. "Enceladus still needs him as a hostage to persuade Piper to join him."

"Thanks but that doesn't really help." the goddess of love murmured.

"Where is he?" she demanded. "What've you done to him?"

... "His body is safe enough, though I fear the poor man's mind can't take much more of my company. For some reason he finds me- disturbing.

"Gee, I wonder why..." Leo muttered, doodling a smiley face.

You should hurry, girl, or I fear there will be little left to save.

Aphrodite clenched her teeth.

"Let him go!" she screamed. "Take me instead. He's just a mortal!"

"But, my dear," the giant rumbled, "we must prove our love for our parents. That's what I'm doing. Show me you value your father's life by doing what I ask. Who's more important- your father, or a deceitful goddess who used you, toyed with your emotions, manipulated your memories, eh? What is Hera to you?"

Aphrodite glared at said goddess.

Piper began to tremble. So much anger and fear boiled inside her, she could hardly talk. "You're asking me to betray my friends."

"Sadly, my dear, your friends are destined to die. Their quest is impossible. Even if you succeeded, you heard the prophecy: unleashing Hera's rage would mean your destruction.

"It didn't say that in those words!" Hera angrily said. "That part of prophecy could mean something else entirely, like the death of our enemies!"

"Or not." Annabeth muttered.

"I can't," Piper said. "You can't ask me-"

"To betray that foolish boy Valdez, who always irritated you and is now hiding secrets from you?

Leo stiffened. "I wasn't hiding secrets! I just... didn't mention it."

"Hiding information is considered keeping a secret. Ya'know, you're pretty good at secrets. Better than some people would give you credit for." Annabeth said, giving him a look.

He made a face in response.

"Huh?" He scratched his head with the back of his pen. "Oh. You mean the Roman demigods..." 

He sighed and looked down at his pen. Leo twirled it in his hand. "You know why I didn't say anything..."

Annabeth moved closer to him. She lowered her voice. "I didn't mean the other demigods. I meant the thing they took in Athens." Leo's head snapped up to look at her, his eyes wide in alarm. "You didn't tell us the full story about the Romans. They took something from us and it's driving my mom crazy."

She glanced at her mom before looking back at the son of Hephaestus. "What did they take? Why is it making my mom act so... weird? If I find whatever this thing is and bring it to her, will she get better?"

Leo groaned. "Why are you asking me? Can't you ask Athena?" He immediately regretted saying that when he saw the expression on Annabeth's face. "Hey... Are you okay? You look... scared."

Annabeth stared at the ground and toyed with her necklace.

"I've never seen Mother act like that before," she admitted quietly. "She's usually so level-headed and kind. After hearing Percy's idea about working together, I thought, out of all the gods, she would agree. It's smart and with your confirmation that we can work together, it should've won her over. But instead..." 

She squeezed her jewelry. "She barely even listened and even taunted you. What kind of goddess of wisdom does that? What did the Romans do to make her act so irrational?" She said in disbelief, as if Athena and irrational shouldn't even be in the same sentence.

Leo's shoulders slumped. He reached out and awkwardly squeezed her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her.

"The Romans done some things that Athena considered to be unforgivable," he explained. "So when she became a Roman goddess she kinda..." Went crazy. "Got so wrapped up in her own hatred towards them, that she's not exactly thinking things through when they're involved." Did that come out better or worse? 

Annabeth finally looked up at him. Her eyes were filled with concern.

"Is there any way to snap her out of it?" she asked. 

Leo hesitated. He wished he could just pull that stupid statue out of his tool belt but, of course, it's still on his ship in the future. 

"I know this won't solve the problem completely, but we really have to try to get the demigods and the other gods on board. Then, Athena won't have a choice but to accept it." Leo tapped the pen on his leg. 

Annabeth didn't look to happy with the idea but she sighed. "It's better than nothing. There's not much we can really do here."

With that, she moved back to Percy and the two whispered back and forth to each other, no doubt talking about the conversation that just happenned. 

I hope everything works out. Leo thought with an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

To give up a boyfriend you never really had?

"She still has a chance to be with him." Aphrodite pointed out.

Is that more important than your own father?"

"I'll find a way to defeat you," Piper said. "I'll save my father and my friends."

Right! Lacy agreed as she continued reading.

The giant growled in the shadows. "I was once proud too. I thought the gods could never defeat me.  Then they hurled a mountain on top of me, crushed me into the ground, where I struggled for eons, half-conscious in pain. That taught me patience, girl. It taught me not to act rashly. Now I've clawed my way back with the help of the waking earth. I am only the first. My brethren will follow. 

Some people shuddered.

We will not be denied our vengeance- not this time. And you, Piper McLean, need a lesson in humility. I'll show you how easily your rebellious spirit can be brought to earth."

The dream dissolved. And Piper woke up screaming, free falling through the air.

Lacy gasped.

Leo nearly face-palmed. Aw crap! I was so caught up with Annabeth, I forgot this happened.

Thalia turned two shades paler. 

"Didn't you say the dragon was safe to ride?" she snapped at Leo.

"He was." Leo insisted, only to be met with skeptical looks.

"Then what happened to the dragon?" Nyssa asked.

Before he could try to think of an explanation, Annabeth came to his rescue. 

"It might not be Festus' fault," she said. "Enceladus could've done something to make Piper 'be brought to earth'."

"Whatever it is, we can find out in the next chapter!" Lacy hurriedly said, eager to find out what happens next. "Does anybody want to read?"

Dionysus sighed dramatically when he realized he was on the last page of his magazine.

I could torture myself again by looking at wine I can't drink. Dionysus grimaced at the reminder. Or I could torture myself by reading about demigods.

He sighed again and placed the magazine on his lap.

"I'll read." he said, ignoring the looks of surprise. He gestured Lacy to hand him the book.

Lacy quickly did as the god wordlessly asked.

"Pepper XXII, " Dionysus yawned.

Zeus rolled his eyes.

"Piper." Aphrodite quickly corrected.

"Hmm." the god carelessly replied before he continued. 

Chapter Text

"Pepper XXII, " Dionysus began, lounging in his throne.*

Percy couldn't help but roll his eyes. Of course.

Pepper tumbled through the sky...several hundred yards away the body of the bronze dragon spinning out of control, its wings limp, fire flickering in its mouth like a badly wired lightbulb.

Jake, Nyssa, Hephaestus, and Nico frowned at that.

They'll be fine. Thalia quickly told herself. Jason can fly. All he has to do is grab Piper and Leo and land safely.

She took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

A body shot past her- Lionel, screaming and frantically grabbing at the clouds.

Hephaestus shuddered.

"Not coooool!"

Hermes broke out into laughter.

"Out of all the things to say, you decide to say that?" Percy asked.

Twirling his pen, Leo shrugged. "It was the first thing that came to mind. What else can you say to that?"

"I dunno. Scream? That's usually what people do when they fall from something high." the son of Poseidon said.

"Oh, okay. I'll keep that in mind for next time I fall to my death." Leo said in mock seriousness.

Hephaestus gave them a disapproving look. "We are not having this type of conversation."

Somewhere above her, Jacob yelled, "Pepper, level out! Extend your arms and legs!"

...She fell spread-eagle like a skydiver, the wind underneath her like a giant block of ice. Then Jacob was there, wrapping his arms around her waist.

Aphrodite clutched her chest and breathed out a sigh of relief.

Thank god, Pepper thought. But part of her also thought: Great. Second time this week he's hugged me, and both times it's because I'm plummeting to my death.

"I guess it's the only times he's willing to do it." Drew muttered in mock innocence.

"We have to get Lionel!" she shouted.

Their fall slowed as Jacob controlled the winds, but they still lurched up and down like the winds didn't want to cooperate.

They'll be fine. Thalia reassured herself.

Leo put the pen in his pocket.

...Pepper locked her arms around him, and Jacob shot toward the ground. Pepper probably screamed.

But the sound was ripped from her mouth. Her vision blurred.

And then, thump!

Ares leaned forward.

They slammed into another warm body- Lionel, still wriggling and cursing.

Ares slumped in his seat and sighed. Boring.

Hephaestus let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding.

"Stop fighting!" Jacob said. "It's me!"

"My dragon!" Lionel yelled. "You gotta save Freddy!"

Annabeth frowned. "I think Festus is too heavy for Jason to carry. He's already struggling with keeping up Piper."

Jacob was already struggling to keep the three of them aloft,

Thalia took another shaky breath.

and Pepper knew there was no way he could help a fifty-ton metal dragon. But before she could try to reason with Lionel, she heard an explosion below them. A fireball rolled into the sky from behind a warehouse complex, and Lionel sobbed, "Freddy!"

Hephaestus and his children flinched.

Jacob's face reddened with strain as he tried to maintain an air cushion beneath them,

Thalia wrung her bow.

but intermittent slow-downs were the best he could manage. Rather than free-falling, it felt like they were bouncing down a giant staircase, a hundred feet a time, which wasn't doing Pepper's stomach any favors.

"I'm surprised I didn't throw-up." Leo muttered, shuffling through his pockets. 

...They were still high enough so that hitting the ground would flatten them into roadkill- or skykill-

Leo chuckled.

"Not funny." Thalia murmured, tightening the grip on her bow.

when Jacob groaned, "I can't-"

And dropped like stones.

Hephaestus looked ready to faint. 

Aphrodite's breath hitched.

"Oh gods!" Thalia exclaimed.

They hit- Dionysus paused to drink his Diet Coke.

"Why did you stop there?!" Aphrodite asked urgently. "Keep reading!"

The god held up a finger as he took a slow gulp. Once he was done, he finally picked up the book and continued reading.

They hit the roof of the largest warehouse and crashed through into darkness. 

Unfortunately, Dionysus read in a I-couldn't-care-less tone. Pepper tried to land on her feet.

Apollo and Will grimaced at that.

Leo pulled out a crumpled receipt. He began to straighten the paper as best as he could.

Her feet didn't like that. Pain flared in her left ankle as she crumpled against a cold metal surface.

"Sounds like she broke it." Apollo said with a sympathetic wince.

Aphrodite winced as well.

"Now how's she supposed to go on the quest?  Even with ambrosia, her foot wouldn't be fully healed." Katie said.

Leo looked up from his paper and frowned. Huh? Piper didn't complain about her foot after she ate the ambrosia.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "Doesn't ambrosia heal stuff like that?"

"It can if it's something small like cuts and bruises," Will explained. "But for something like this, it needs at least a couple days to properly heal." 

He frowned at Leo's confused expression.

"How can you guys be sent on a quest and not even know this?" Will said in bewilderment. He made a mental note to give Leo a crash course in ambrosia, nectar, and First Aid before he leaves.

I'll make sure to teach Present-Leo and Piper when they come to Camp. He nodded to himself.

For a few seconds she wasn't conscious of anything but pain- pain so bad that her ears rang and her vision went red.

Aphrodite tightly clasped her hands together.

Then she heard Jacob's voice somewhere below, echoing through the building. "Pepper! Where's Pepper?"

..."Here," she managed, her voice a whimper.  

...She looked at her foot, and a wave of nausea over her.

Her toes weren't supposed to point that way, were they?

Aphrodite's face turned green.

Apollo winced again.

Oh god. She forced herself to look away before she threw up. Focus on something else. Anything else.

After straightening the paper, Leo began to fold it.

...Jacob and Lionel reached her side.

"Um... Mr. D?" Leo said to the god of wine. Dionysus rolled his eyes and looked at him.

"What is it, Leonardo da Vinci?" he asked impatiently. "And make it quick, I'm trying to read here."

Leo blinked. "Leonardo da Vinci? How...? Weren't you saying my name was Lionel a couple seconds ag... Whatever. I just wanted to let you know, my name's 'Leo' and you got the others' names wrong too." If he doesn't know our names, can't he read it in the book?

"My mistake," the god said unapologetically.

Leon started to ask,

Hephaestus rolled his eyes at that.

"That's probably the closest he's ever going to get with saying your name right." Connor said.

"Does he get everyone's name wrong?" Leo asked.

"I think he does it only the demigods." he replied with a shrug. "I don't know why though."

"You okay..." Then he saw her foot. "Oh no, you're not."

..."You'll be fine," Jacob said, though Pepper could hear the worry in his voice. "Leon, you got any first aid supplies?"

Do they even know the basics of First Aid? Will found himself wondering. 

"How did you-" Pepper tried to sit up, and winced. "How did you pull that stuff from an empty belt?"

"Magic," Leon said. "Haven't figured it out completely, but I can summon just about any regular tool out of the pockets, plus some other helpful stuff." He reached into another pocket and pulled out a little tin box. "Breath mint?"

The Stolls snickered as they remembered the last time Leo said that.

Travis immediately stopped laughing and schooled his features.

Connor sighed. "Oh for the love of- Look, if you really believe Leo and Katie might like each other, then go ask them."

Travis's eyes widened at that. "I can't just ask Katie if she likes someone!"

"Then go ask Leo! I don't care which one you ask, just stop acting like someone stole your favorite crowbar. Gods! " His brother threw his hands up in exasperation. 

Jacob snatched away the mints. "That's great, Leon. Now, can you fix her foot?"

"I'm a mechanic, man. Maybe if she was a car..." He snapped his fingers. 

Will didn't like the sound of that. We'll definitely go through the proper training.

"Wait, what was that godly healing stuff they fed you at camp- Rambo food?"

"Really Dionysus?" Zeus said. "Rambo food?"

"Actually, Father, that was in the book." Dionysus drawled.

Leo sheepishly smiled. "I didn't know the name."

Will sadly shook his head.

...Jacob carefully pulled her backpack off her shoulders. He rummaged through the supplies the Aphrodite kids had packed for her, and found a Ziploc full of smashed pastry squares like lemon bars. He broke off a piece and fed it to her.

At least one of them knows the proper amount to give to patients. Will thought. Maybe the Romans trained him.

The taste was nothing like she expected. It reminded her of Dad's black bean soup from when she was a little girl. He used to feed it to her whenever she got sick.

Aphrodite sadly smiled. I wish I was there to see that.

Leo frowned at his origami... something (he honestly wasn't exactly sure what it was supposed to be), he unfolded it and tried to make something else.

The memory relaxed her, though it made her sad. The pain in her ankle subsided.

"More," she said.

Jacob frowned. "Pepper, we shouldn't risk it. They said too much could burn you up. I think I should try and set your foot."

Apollo nodded his approval.

Pepper's stomach fluttered. "Have you done that before?"

"Yeah... I think so."

"He must've learned it from the other camp." Annabeth said.

"But does he actually remember how to do it?" Will asked. He could make things worse.

..."Hold her leg still," Jacob told him. "Pepper, this is going to hurt."

When Jacob set the foot, Pepper flinched so hard she punched Leon in the arm, and he yelled almost as much as she did.

Leo subconsciously rubbed his arm, while the some of the others laughed.

"I'm glad you guys think it's funny." he said in mock offense.

When her vision cleared and she could breathe normally again, she found that her foot was pointing the right way, her ankle was splinted with plywood, gauze, and duct tape.

Okay, he passes. Will thought.

..."You both did great." Dionysus sarcastically read. Jacob found a canteen in Pepper's pack and gave her some water. After a few minutes, her stomach began to calm down.

Once she wasn't screaming in pain, she could hear the wind howling outside. Snowflakes fluttered through the hole in the roof, and after their meeting with Khione, snow was the last thing Pepper wanted to see.

"Is that Khione or is it just snowing?" Chris asked.

"It can't be her. Boreas said that he would let them pass, she can't just go against her dad's orders, right?" Percy argued.

"I dunno, she was upset with Jason for disrespecting her." Nico pointed out. "She could be doing it behind Boreas's back."

"What happened to the dragon?" she asked.

Everyone glanced at Leo, but didn't press him for answers.

The son of Hephaestus finished making his cootie catcher. He made a face at the lopsided origami. Does it look like that because it's so small? Or because I just suck?

He pocketed the paper.

Leon's expression turned sullen. "I don't know with Freddy. He just jerked sideways like he hit an invisible wall and started to fall."

...Had he managed to strike them down from so far away? It seemed impossible. If he were that powerful, why would he need her to her to betray her friends when he could kill them himself? And how could the giant be keeping an eye on her in a snowstorm thousands of miles away?

Good questions. Annabeth thought.

Leon pointed to the logo pointed to the logo on the wall. "As far as where we are..." It was hard to see through the graffiti, but Pepper could make out a large red eye with the words: MONOCLE MOTORS, ASSEMBLY PLANT 1.

I can't believe I didn't figure that out sooner. Leo shook his head as he drummed his fingers on his leg.

Red eye? Monocle Motors? Annabeth's eyes widened as a shiver ran down her spine. Judging from Grover's bleat and the grimace on Thalia's face, they figured it out too.

"Closed car plant," Leon said. "I'm guessing we crash landed in Detroit."

...[Pepper"How far is that from Chicago?"

Jacob handed her the canteen. "Maybe three-fourths of the way from Quebec? The thing is, without the dragon, we're stuck traveling overland."

"They can't do that. The prophecy specifically said to avoid the earth." Katie said.

"I don't even think Piper would be able to walk with her foot." Will added.

"But..." Leo still didn't get it. "The ambrosia should fix it." It did fix it. I'm not going crazy, right? There's no way Piper could've been walking around that whole time without a single complaint about her foot. Heck, she shouldn't even have been able to help me carry Jay. So how could she do it?

He tapped his foot. Is Piper just a faster healer than other demigods?

Will sighed. How could Chiron just let them go without teaching them these things. "The ambrosia only fixes the foot to an extent, she still needs to rest and let her body heal itself. You can try giving her some more the next day, but I won't be surprised if  it still hasn't completely healed. It was a nasty fall."

"But what if she was a fast healer?" Leo asked.

"Even if she was a fast healer, the size she ate wouldn't be able to fix her foot so quickly." Apollo told him, Will nodded in agreement.

Why is he so insistent about this? The son of Apollo wondered.

...[Pepper"He's right. Besides, I don't know if I can walk. And three people- Jacob, you can't fly across the country by yourself."

"No he can't." Thalia wished they would hurry up and leave the car plant.

"No way," Jacob said. "Leon, are you sure the dragon didn't malfunction? I mean, Freddy is old and-" 

"And I might not have repaired him right?"

"I'm sure he didn't mean it like that." Hestia said to Leo.

"I know." he replied, brushing his hair back. He went through his pocket.

..."It was my fault." Pepper said without thinking.

No kidding. Drew snorted.

"That's not true." Lacy protested.

She just couldn't stand it anymore. The secret about her father was heating up inside her like too much ambrosia. If she kept lying to her friends, she felt like she'd burn to ashes.

Tell them. Aphrodite pleaded.

"Pepper," Jacob said gently, "you were asleep when Freddy conked out. It couldn't be your fault."

"Yeah, you're just shaken up," Leon agreed. He didn't even try to make a joke at her expense. "You're in pain. Just rest."

Aphrodite gave Leo a grateful smile.

She wanted to tell them everything, but the words stuck in her throat. They were being so kind to her. Yet if Enceladus was watching her somehow, saying the wrong thing could get her father killed.

The goddess of love flinched.

Leon stood. "Look, um, Jacob, why don't you stay with her, bro? I'll scout around for Freddy. I think he fell outside the warehouse somewhere. If I can find him, maybe I can figure out what happened and fix him."

"You guys really shouldn't be splitting up right now." Grover warned, he collected some Legos that were abandoned on the ground and began eating them like M&Ms.

"I know," Leo tried not to stare as the satyr munched on hard plastic. Even with how often Coach Hedge eats random junk, he didn't think he could ever get used to seeing this. "But I had to find Festus and fix him. And it was better going by myself, since Piper couldn't walk. Besides, I wasn't defenseless or anything," he smiled widely. "I had my breath mints with me!"

Grover and Thalia didn't look impressed. 

...Pepper realized he was a lot more shaken up then he was letting on.

Guess I didn't hide it as well as I was hoping. Leo frowned. He took out a rubber band. He stretched it as a far as it could go.

...Jacob gave her a smile, through he looked kind of nervous. It was the exact expression he'd had on his face after he'd kissed her the first time, 

"You mean that time you imagined he kissed you. Drew thought.

up on the Wilderness School dorm roof- that cute little scar on his lip curving into a crescent. The memory gave her a warm feeling. Then she remembered that the kiss had never really happened.

Aphrodite sighed sadly.

"You look better," Jacob offered.

Drew snorted.

Pepper wasn't sure if he meant her foot, or the fact that she wasn't magically beautified anymore... She didn't know what her face looked like, but probably horrible.

And he finds that attractive. Drew made a face.

"As long as Bob's not back, I'm fine with it." Aphrodite said.

Why did it matter? She'd never cared about things like that before. She wondered if it was her stupid mother, the goddess of love, messing with her thoughts.

"Nope, that's all you." Aphrodite said, looking slightly hurt.

If Pepper started getting urges to read fashion magazines, she was going to have to find Aphrodite and smack her.

Aphrodite and a few of her children gasped.

"But those magazines help you look your best!" the goddess protested.

"She obviously doesn't want help." Artemis smirked.

..."But you're starting to have some memories, aren't you? Like that prophecy in Latin back at camp, or that dream about the wolf."

"It's fuzzy," he said. "Like deja vu. Ever forgotten a word of a name, and you know it should be on the tip of your tongue, but it isn't? It's like that- only with my whole life."

"That's awful." Percy said sympathetically.

"Yeah." Thalia gave Hera a glare.

..."That photo in your pocket," she said. "Is that someone from your past?"

Jacob pulled back.

"I'm sorry," she said. "None of my business. Forget it."

"No- it's okay." his features relaxed. "Just I'm trying to figure things out. Her name's Talia.

"Thalia." Zeus reminded his son.

"Sorry, Father." Dionysus said, after taking another sip of his beverage.

How come he's so quick to correct Dionysus when he gets my name wrong, yet he lets him call Jason 'Jacob' this whole time. Thalia crossed her arms. I know that he's technically the son of Jupiter, but that's still you.

She's my sister. I don't remember any details. I'm not even sure how I know, but-um, why are you smiling?"

Everyone laughed.

"Jealousy is so stupid! Am I right, guys? Like seriously, there's nothing more dumb than being jealous when you don't even know the full story!" Connor said, laughing along. He was looking directly at Travis as he said this.

"Okay, I get it! I'll ask him!" his brother responded.

"The sooner the better." Connor happily told him.

"Shut up." Travis sneered before switching spots with his brother.

Feeling like he just drank eight cups of coffee, he quickly tapped Leo's shoulder.

"Hey Valdez! I have a question for you!" Travis said boldly.

Still laughing from Piper's actions, Leo turned to the son of Hermes. 

"And I have an answer! What's the question, Stoll?" he asked, sounding amused.

Travis froze. Suddenly all that energy he had seemed to be sucked out of him.

How do I ask? What if he says 'yes'? Oh gods! What do I do if they love each other?! What if they're dating in the future?!

"Um... Er... Uh..." he fumbled. 

Connor and Leo exchanged looks.

"What's his problem?" Leo asked him.

"Nothing." he casually shrugged. "He's just jealous because he thinks you and Katie are madly in love with each other or something."

"Connor!" Travis hissed.

"What? It's true!" 

"Seriously! " The son of Hephaestus laughed. "Katie and I just met today! How can we magically be in love with each other?"

"Love at first sight." Connor smiled. "Couldn't take your eyes off her the moment she started yelling in your face."

Leo snickered.

"Hey! It made sense at the time!" Travis snapped, his ears turning red. "It's just... I saw you guys holding hands and the way you act around each other... I just thought..."

The son of Hephaestus laughed harder. "Wow, that must've been stressful. Ya'know, you wouldn't have to worry so much about Katie dating someone if you ask her out yourself."

"Thank you! It would save me the trouble of listening to him complaining." 

"You guys are the worst." Travis sniffed, he promptly turned his attention to Dionysus reading. He ignored the snickers from the two.

"Nothing." Pepper tried to kill the smile. Not an old girlfriend.

"Nope!" The daughter of Zeus confirmed with a smile. "He's all yours!"

Leo elbowed Travis's side. 

"She's all yours!" he joked.

"Shut up!" the Stoll snapped as Connor and Leo laughed at him.

She felt ridiculously happy. "Um, it's just- that's great you remembered. Annie Belle

"Annabeth." Athena and Percy corrected at the same time. The two looked at each other, before Percy quickly turned his gaze away from the intimidating look.

Dionysus dismissively nodded his head.

told me she became a Hunter of Artemis, right?"

Jacob nodded.

"Jason." Thalia immediately corrected. 

"Hmm." was the god's reply.

"I get the feeling I'm supposed to her, Hera left me that memory for a reason. It's got something to do with this quest. But... I also have a feeling it could be dangerous. I'm not sure I want to find out the truth. Is that crazy?"

Considering what the truth is, I don't think you're crazy. Thalia thought.

She stared at the logo on the wall: MONOCLE MOTORS, the single red eye. Something about that logo bothered her.

Percy gave Annabeth a worried look when she suddenly stiffened.

..."Jacob," she said. "Speaking of the truth, I need to tell you something- something about my dad-"

"Finally!" Aphrodite cheered along with her children (except Drew).

She didn't get the chance.

The cheering quickly turned into disappointed sighs.

Somewhere below, metal clanged against metal, like a door slamming shut. The sound echoed through the warehouse.

Everyone tensed (except Dionysus, who remained relaxed in his throne).

Did they get Leo? Grover wondered, nervously nibbling on more Legos.

Jacob stood. He took out his coin and flipped it, snatching his golden sword out of the air. He peered over the railing.

"Leon?" he called.

No answer.

He crouched next to Pepper. "I don't like this."

"Neither do I." Annabeth whispered, as if she was sharing a personal secret.

"He could be in trouble," Pepper said. "Go check."

So, they got caught because of me? Leo thought guiltily, brushing his hair back.

"No, don't go!" Thalia pleaded.

"I can't leave you alone."

"So don't!" Aphrodite quickly said.

"I'll be fine." She felt terrified, but she wasn't about to admit it.

"Just stay together!" the goddess begged.

Jacob hesitated. "I'll leave you the pack. If I'm not back in five minutes-"

Aphrodite bit her lip. 

"What can she even do? She can't walk!" Lacy whimpered.

..."Get going, Sparky, before I skewer you."

The sides of Leo's mouth twitched, but he didn't smile.

He forced himself to focus his attention on the rubber band in his hand.

"Sparky?"

Even offended, Jacob looked hot. It wasn't fair.

Aphrodite didn't giggle, instead she tightly clasped her hands as she anxiously waited to hear what happened next.

Then he made his way to the stairs and disappeared into the dark.

Thalia held her breath and squeezed her eyes shut.

Pepper counted her breaths, trying to gauge how much time had passed. She lost track at around forty-three. Then something in the warehouse went bang!

Thalia winced like she'd been struck.

The echo died. Pepper's heart pounded, but she didn't call out. Her instincts told her it might not be a good idea.

"Now what?" Lacy was fidgeting.

"Maybe Leo will come back?" Mitchell suggested, but he didn't look like he believed it.

She stared at her splinted ankle. It's not like I can run. Then she looked up again at the Monocle Motors sign... Her hand went to her backpack. She took the ambrosia squares. Too much would burn her up, but would a little more fix her ankle?

"Oh gods..." Will said, his eyes widening in realization. He finally understood why Leo was so confused earlier. It wasn't that he didn't understand how ambrosia works, he just didn't know how much Piper actually ate.

"Only one way to find- oof!" the wind was suddenly knocked out of Ares when his girlfriend swiftly elbowed him in the gut.

"Piper, don't you dare." Aphrodite said, although she was helpless to do anything.

Boom. The sound was closer this time, directly below her. She dug out a whole square of ambrosia and stuffed it in her mouth.

The demigods gasped.

Will paled.

The goddess of love immediately turned to Apollo. "She won't die, right?! Her body won't burn up, right?"

"I don't know." Apollo admitted, the goddess started frantically fanning herself. "It depends if her body can handle so much."

Her heart raced faster. Her skin felt feverish.

Dionysus paused to take a good long drink of his Diet Coke.

"DIONYSUS!" Aphrodite shouted desperately.

Demeter snatched the book out of his hand and picked up where he left off.

Hesitantly, she flexed her ankle against the splint. No pain, no stiffness at all.

Aphrodite sighed and slumped in her seat.

I think I just got a grey hair somewhere. she absentmindedly thought, smoothing her hair back.

"Um... I guess we figured out why Piper's foot healed so quickly." Leo laughed nervously.

"No kidding." Will said. He made a mental note to focus on dangers of ambrosia during the training, especially with Piper.

Shoving a whole square in her mouth... Will shook his head in disbelief. Is she asking for an early death?

...Had it been five minutes? Longer? The steps didn't sound like Jason, but maybe he was carrying Leo. Finally she couldn't stand it. Gripping her dagger, she called out, "Jason?"

"Yeah," he said from the darkness. "On my way up."

Some people sighed with relief, while the others that knew better remained tense.

Gods, I hate it when they do that. Annabeth shivered again. Percy gently took her hand in his.

Definitely Jason's voice. So why did all her instincts say Run?

The room was so quiet, the only thing you could hear was Grover's crunching.

With effort, she got to her feet.

The steps came closer.

"It's okay," Jason's voice promised.

At the top of the stairs, a face appeared out of darkness- a hideous black grin, a smashed nose, and single blood shot eye in the middle of his forehead.

Aphrodite looked faint. Lacy squeaked and hid behind Mitchell.

"Gods..." Annabeth shuddered.

"It's fine," The Cyclopes said in a perfect imitation of Jason's voice. "You're just in time for dinner."

"Done." Demeter said. Dionysus reluctantly returned to reading his magazine. "Does anybody else want to read?"

"I will." Hermes volunteered. He moved to take the book, but Athena stopped him.

"No need," she said sweetly. "We already have a volunteer."

The goddess snapped her fingers. 

The book disappeared from Demeter's hands and reappeared in Leo's.

Said teen blinked, like he had no idea what he was looking at, before he made a look of disgust.

"You're joking right?" he asked Athena, trying to keep his cool. "Since when did I volunteer to read a chapter? Especially one in my point-of-view!"

Athena tilted her head. "You said you were bored, yes? What better thing to do when you're bored than read a good book?" She gave him an unpleasant smile. "At least, it'll give you something to do."

"Forget it! There's no way I'm doing that." he snapped.

Athena's face darkened, her form flickered. "Do you really want to challenge me?"

Hephaestus gave Athena a hard glare, but he gestured his son to start reading.

Of course he'd take her side. Leo scowled but he turned to the book, ignoring the few sympathetic looks (Annabeth looked especially apologetic).

"Leo XXIII," he spat out.  

Chapter Text

"Leo XXIII," Leo read out loud, not even bothering to hide his anger. Stupid fortune cookie. Stupid chapter. How long is this anyway?

He paused and flipped through the pages.

Okay. Leo thought, taking a deep breath to calm himself down. Okay. It's not that long. If I can just get through this one chapter, I'll be fine and I'll never have to read this stupid book again.

"Anytime now, Leonidas." Athena said. She sat back in her throne, looking smug with herself.

Leo made a face. He hated his full name. Almost no one could pronounce it right ("Is it Lee-Oh-Nee-dies? Or Leo-Nay-Days?") And it was too long for his own good. Seriously? Leonidas Valdez? How did his mom expect anyone to say that tongue twister perfectly on their first try? The only thing good about his name was that it came with a nickname.

But if I tell her not to call me that, she'll probably make it her mission to use it in every sentence. He rolled his eyes.

With the impatient looks on the others' faces, Leo finally decided he did enough stalling and began to read.

I... er... Leo wished the dragon hadn't landed on the toilets.

Off to a great start. Leo thought.

Aphrodite and Cabin Ten made almost identical looks of disgust.

"You didn't get caught?" Grover asked.

"Nope." he said, tapping his fingers on the book's hard cover.

Thalia relaxed a little. Good. Then Leo can save them.

...A dozen of the blue plastic boxes had been set up in the factory yard, and Festus had flattened them all. Fortunately, they hadn't been used in a long time,  and the fireball from the crash incinerated most of the contents; but still, there were some pretty gross chemicals leaking out of the wreckage.  

Aphrodite and the others gagged and Leo couldn't blame them. 

Why is this so detailed?  he couldn't help but wonder.

...After a few minutes climbing over Festus' inanimate body, I... Leo sighed in annoyance. Leo started to get irritated. The dragon looked perfectly fine.

"If that dragon's fine, why'd it crash?" Nico frowned.

"Could've malfunctioned." Nyssa offered. "He did have a problem with his 'brain'."

...Then he opened the control panel on the dragon's head, and Leo's heart sank. "Oh, Festus, what the heck?"

...The wiring had froze over. Leo read with a scowl. 

Hephaestus' eyes narrowed.

"His wires must've froze while they were waiting for Piper and Jason." Jake said.

"But the wires would've been too hot for ice to form on it." Nyssa told her brother.

"Then how did it get ice on it?"

"It must've been Khione." Nico said.

Leo knew it had been okay yesterday. He'd worked so hard to repair the corroded lines, where it should've been too hot for ice to form. 

"That took a while to fix too." he grumbled.

The ice had caused the wiring to overload and char the control disk.

"Great." Connor said sarcastically.

"Tell me about it." Leo said, tapping a rhythm against the book's cover.

"Can you fix it?" Katie asked. 

"The wires were easy, they just needed to be replaced. But the control disk..." he trailed off with a frown. The tapping got faster.

"You can't fix it." Nico finished.

"It was fine," Leo argued. "It wasn't in the best condition, but I still got Festus running again."

...He imagined his mom's voiceMost problems look worse than they are, mijo. Nothing is unfixable. Leo swallowed the lump in his throat as he read on. 

Hephaestus smiled slightly.

His mom could repair just about anything, Leo bounced his leg. but Leo was pretty sure she'd never worked on a fifty-year-old metal dragon.

..."Gimme a nylon bristle brush, some nitrile gloves, and maybe a can of that aerosol cleaning solvent."

The tool belt obliged. Leo couldn't help smiling as he pulled out the supplies. The belt's pockets did have limits. They wouldn't give him anything magic, like Jason's sword, or anything huge, like a chain saw. He'd tried asking for both...

Travis' shoulders slumped.

"So much for that prank..." he muttered. 

Leo heard him and gave him an odd look. "What were you going to do with something like a chainsaw?"

Travis just smirked as if to say: You sure you wanna know?

Suddenly, every worst-case scenario imaginable flashed in Leo's head. All of them ending with the camp in flames.

He grimaced.

Is this how Hephaestus felt when I asked for a sword? Leo wondered. He turned his attention back to the book.

...He began cleaning off the control disk. While he worked, snow collected on the cooling dragon. Leo had to stop from time to time to summon fire and melt it away, but mostly he went into autopilot mode, his hands working by themselves as his thoughts wandered.

I swear if this stupid chapter goes all 'Leo XI' on me, I'm skipping parts. I don't care how bad Athena's temper tantrum gets! Leo swore.

Leo couldn't believe how stupid he'd acted back at Boreas' palace.

"Trust me, I still can't believe it." Leo rolled his eyes.

He should've figured a family of winter gods would hate him on sight. Son of the fire god flying a fire-breathing dragon into an ice penthouse- yeah, maybe not the best move. Leo read sarcastically.

A few people couldn't help but laugh at this. Hearing this being read from someone else was one thing, but to have Leo read the line made it funnier.

Still, he hated feeling like a reject, Jason and Piper got to visit the throne room. 

Give it some time, you'll get over it. Leo brushed his hair back.

Leo got to wait in the lobby with Cal, the demigod of hockey and major head injuries.

Hermes chuckled.

Fire is bad,  Cal told him.

Well, he's not wrong. Leo shrugged. That pretty much summed it up.

Leo knew he couldn't keep the truth from his friends much longer. Ever since Camp Half-Blood.... Leo trailed off, reading the last part of the sentence to himself. He frowned. Nope. The gods already think I'm some kind of traitor, I don't need 'ticking time bomb' to be added on the list. 

He flipped to the next page. 

Leo skimmed through the paragraphs, looking for a part he could start reading.

No. No. No. He winced. Gods no. Are my thoughts always this bad? Are the other two books going to have thoughts like this?

Fates, Leo hoped not.

"He reached into his tool belt and pulled out a three-pound club hammer with a... What?" he asked, seeing the unimpressed looks from the others.

"If you're going to skip, can you at least be less obvious?" Hermes said, looking more disappointed than anything else. "There're ways you can skip pages and make it look seamless, ya'know."

"Really? How?" Leo asked as innocently as he could. He rested his chin in his hand.

The god opened his mouth to explain, but he stopped himself.

"Oh no," Hermes said, causing the boy to frown. "Nice try (no really, nice try!) But I'm not giving you ideas. Just start reading."

"Can't you let me get away with this, just this one time? I didn't even skip anything important. You don't want to hear it. It's just me whining about how life's not fair and being surrounded by toilets. Aren't you tired of hearing that by now?" 

"Read the rest." Zeus ordered.

"Apparently not." Leo grumbled as he turned to the last page.

Ever since Camp Half-Blood, one line of that Great Prophecy kept coming back to him: Leo hesitated but he read the rest. To storm or fire the world must fall. 

The demigods looked horrified.

"I told you that you didn't want to hear it." Leo nervously joked, he forced himself to laugh off their reactions. "Stop staring at me like that, you're freaking me out."

The gods and demigods looked uneasily at him as if they were waiting for him to suddenly combust.

Leo squeezed the book tightly. He shifted uncomfortably.

"Um...Prophecies can have double meanings, right?" he began. "So it could mean something else other than destroying the world with fire or a storm."

"You're right." Percy spoke up. Leo let out a silent sigh of relief. "This prophecy could mean something entirely. You might not even be the fire." 

He turned to the others. 

"Remember the last one? I wasn't the hero like we thought the prophecy meant, Luke was."

Although there were still a few doubtful people, they reluctantly let the matter drop.

Leo gave Percy a grateful smile which he returned.

Hermes sighed sadly at the mention of Luke as Leo continued reading.

And I'm... Leo was the fire guy, the first one since 1666 when London had burned down. If he told his friends what he could really do- Hey, guess what guys? I might destroy the world!As he read this, Leo could feel nervous energy building inside him.

"I was bad with controlling my powers before, but I'm getting better at it now." Leo squeaked. He felt himself smoldering a bit as he said this.

"As long as you keep practicing, you should be fine." Percy assured, he didn't even bother commenting on the flame that sprouted on his shoulder.

Why would anyone welcome him back at camp? 

"Trust me, if Percy can destroy schools, national landmarks, parts of the city and still come to Camp every year, you'll be fine." Annabeth said, causing the demigods to laugh.

"Hey!" Percy said, pretending to look offended.

Leo would have to go on the run ag-

"That's not happening." Nico cut him off. "The moment you even leave Camp without saying goodbye, we'll go looking for you."

"And you wouldn't want Nico looking for you, would you?" Will said cheerfully with a laugh.

Leo nervously laughed with him. "Um... No... but if I did run, what would happen?"

Will just kept laughing while Nico gave him a secretive smile, as if to say: Try it and you'll find out.

Oookay then, Leo gulped, looking back down at the book. Let's hope I don't suddenly go AWOL in the future.

...Then there was Khione. Leo felt his lip curl up as he mentioned her. Dang that girl was fine. Leo rolled his eyes. Ugh! I can't believe I just said that out loud. Someone pass me a bottle of bleach so I can clean my mouth.

"I'm guessing you guys aren't on the best terms right now." Katie noted, seeing his expression.

"Yeah, I guess you can say that." he replied.

Leo knew he'd acted like a total fool, but he couldn't help himself. Leo tapped his foot. He'd had clothes cleaned with the one-hour valet service-which had been totally sweet, by the way. 

"Still pretty cool." he admitted.

He'd combed his hair- never an easy job- and even discovered the tool bag could make breath mints, all in hopes that he could get close to her.

"Hold on!" Travis laughed. "That's how you figured out about the breath mints? Because you were trying to impress Khione?"

Leo just smiled back. "Sure was! Why? Do you have something to say, Mr. Gardner?"

That shut Travis up.

"Ppfft!" Connor ducked his head as he started laughing to himself.

  Getting frozen out- story of his life- by his relatives, foster homes, you name it. Leo's smile disappeared at that.

Even at the Wilderness School, Leo had spent the last few weeks feeling like a third wheel as Jason and Piper, his only friends, became a couple. Leo made a face, he looked uncomfortable as he continued reading. ...When I... I mean....he'd found out that Jason's whole time at school had been an illusion- kind of a memory burp- Leo had been secretly excited. Leo winced. Wow, that sounds pretty bad. 

He briefly looked up, expecting some kind of comment, but thankfully there was no kind of reaction (aside from Athena's happiness towards his discomfort, of course).

How long was this chapter again? he thought. He turned the page. His shoulders slumped in relief. Almost done.

...Now Jason and Piper were heading towards being a couple again- that was obvious from the way they'd acted in the warehouse just now, like they wanted to talk in private without Leo around.

"It's not because they don't want you around." Annabeth said softly. "It's just..."

She trailed off, trying to look for the right words.

"A couple thing?" Percy suggested.

"Yeah! A couple thing! Sometimes, they're in their own little world."

"I know." Leo told them. Still doesn't make me feel better though.

What had he expected? He'd wind up the odd man out again. Khione had just given him the cold shoulder a little quicker than most. Leo sighed heavily. Damn, who know story time could be so depressing?

The readers exchanged looks.

"Enough, Valdez," he scolded himself. "Nobody's going to play the violins for you just because you're not important. Read the stupid book. Uh, I mean... Fix the stupid dragon." Leo flashed everyone a quick smile. He patted out the growing flames as he picked up where he left off.

Before he could read the next sentence out loud, Leo suddenly froze and trembled.

Picking up the spike of fear, Grover started shaking as well. 

"What?" the satyr gulped. "What happened?"

Leo forced himself to regain his composure. Calm down, dummy. She's not even awake yet, she can't get you.

He took a deep breath and let it out before reading.

You're wrong, Leo.  it said.

The readers tensed.

"A cyclops?" Lacy whimpered.

I wish. Leo thought grimly.

...Then he looked at the ground. Snow and chemical sludge from the toilets, even the asphalt itself was shifting like it was turning to liquid. A ten-foot-wide area formed eyes, a nose, and a mouth- the giant face of a sleeping woman. 

She didn't exactly speak. Her lips didn't move. But Leo could hear her voice in his head, as if the vibrations were coming through the ground, straight into his feet and resonating up his skeleton.

Leo shuddered. Seriously, why is this book so descriptive? 

They need you desperately,  she said. In some ways, you are the most important of the seven- like the control disk in the dragon's brain. Without you, the power of the others means nothing. They will never reach me, never stop me. And I will fully wake.

The gods and Annabeth paled.

"You." Leo was shaking so badly he wasn't sure he'd spoken aloud. He hadn't heard that voice since he was eight, but it was her: the earthen woman from the machine shop. "You killed my mom." Leo paused to swallow down the emotion in his voice. Don't let it get to you, just finish the stupid chapter. You're almost done.

Hephaestus tightly gripped his armrests.

The face shifted. The mouth formed a sleepy smile like it was having a pleasant dream. Ah, but Leo. I am your mother too-  the First Mother. Do not oppose me. Walk away now. Let my son Porphyrion rise and become king, and I will ease your burdens. You will tread lightly on the earth.

Leo grabbed the nearest thing he could find- a Porta-Potty seat- and threw it at her face. "Leave me alone!"

The toilet seat sank into the liquid earth. Snow and sludge rippled, and the face dissolved.

The readers waited with bated breath for the woman's face to return.

Leo stared at the ground, waiting for the face to reappear.  But it didn't.

The readers heaved a sigh of relief. 

...Then from the direction of the factory, he heard a crash...Instantly Leo knew Jason and Piper were in trouble.

Aphrodite whimpered.

"The cyclops must be using that noise to lure you back in." Annabeth said.

"I think so." Leo murmured, feeling exhausted.

Walk away now, the voice urged.

"Not likely," Leo growled. "Gimme the biggest hammer you got."

He reached into his tool belt and pulled out a three-pound club hammer...Then he jumped off the dragon's back and ran toward the warehouse.

"Finished!" Leo said with a sigh of relief. He slammed the book shut, purposely losing the page. Smiling, he held out the book like it was a dead rat. "Anyone else want to read?"

Nico made a move to take it, but stopped when he saw Athena raise an eyebrow.

"I didn't say you were done." she said.

The smile suddenly looked fake on his face, Leo felt his eye start to twitch. "...Huh? But I-"

"This chapter was too short, I can tell, being the smart young man you are, you wanted to read something longer with more details and drama." Athena snapped her fingers.

"I did?" Leo stared at the book blankly as it magically opened and flipped to the next chapter.

"Of course you did, I'm a very observant goddess. I notice these things." Athena smiled at him. "So that's why I strongly recommend you read the next chapter. It'll take your mind off the boredom."

As the book floated down into his hands, Leo felt something in him snap. 

Read again? Read again! I was just forced to read my personal thoughts out loud and now she wants me to read again?! I can't go through that crap again! There's gotta be a better way I can read this without getting to personal...

Then, it hit him.

Oh. Duh. Why didn't I do that before? He felt his composure come back as he came up with a plan.

Much to the others and Athena's surprise, Leo gave the goddess a bright smile. "Sure! One chapter coming right up!"

Leo dramatically cleared his throat.

"Ladies and gentlemen, demigods and gods, may I please present to you, Leo XXIV!" 

Chapter Text

"Ladies and gentlemen, demigods and gods, may I please present to you, Leo XXIV!" Leo cheerfully said.

The readers exchanged looks at his sudden shift in attitude, Athena especially appeared to be confused.

Why bother reading the book, when you can hear the story straight from the source? Leo thought, smiling to himself as he began to 'read'.

 I... er... Leo ente- no!- charged into the warehouse, armed with his deadly mallet!

He looked up at the catwalk, searching for his friends, but they were nowhere in sight. It's like they disappeared into thin air. He wanted to call out to them but something stopped him. Something about the factory felt... offLeo waved his hand dramatically to empathize his point.

He didn't know how he knew, but he knew something nonhuman was... Leo briefly paused. What's a stronger word for hiding...? Lurking! Lurking in the factory. Nice! It was almost like his spidey senses were tingling.

The Stolls snickered.

Leo stopped to grin at his own joke. 

Suddenly! He paused. It was kinda funny to see some of the others leaned forward with anticipation. Somewhere in the factory, Piper's voice cried out: "Leo, help!" He made sure to say Piper's line in a shrill voice.

Katie jumped at the sudden change in pitch.

"What the Hades was that?!" she asked.

"Character voices." he patiently said, as if that explained everything. "I thought that if I'm going to read a story with different people, I should add little voices. Was Piper's voice too high just now?"

Drew gave him a thumbs up.

"That was supposed to be Piper's voice?" Aphrodite said in disbelief. 

"That was awful!" Connor exclaimed, laughing along with Travis.

"How 'bout you don't add voices at all." Clarisse told him, the rest loudly agreed.

Leo rolled his eyes. "You guys are no fun." He turned his attention back to the first page of the chapter.

Some unlucky demigods might have fallen for the trap, but not Leo Valdez, Supreme Commander of the Tool Belt!

"Supreme what?" Travis laughed harder.

"There's no way the book says that." Chris stated.

I guess I got a little overboard there. Leo thought. "Sorry, you're right. I couldn't help myself." I'll have to be more careful next time.

The others looked mildly annoyed, but he shrugged and stared back innocently. 

"I don't have to read this," Leo reminded, playing with the corner of the page. "If you guys don't like how I'm reading it than one of you can-"

"No, you should keep reading." Athena cut in. "I insist."

Leo pretended to look disappointed. For a goddess of wisdom, you sure are predictable. I wonder if it's 'cause of the Minerva side.

Leo didn't say anything. The son of Hephaestus sighed. Not as fun as my original line, but hey, gotta give the people what they want.

He knew there was no way Piper could've gone down the catwalk with a broken ankle... He stopped as if considering something. Well, unless Jason carried her, but that's not the point! He bravely followed the sound of the voice and reached an assembly line close by. He crouched behind a crane with a robotic arm. 

"Leo?" Piper's voice called out. Leo didn't bother adding a voice this time.

I... He let out an annoyed sigh. Leo peeked around the machinery. Two shapes were dangling from chains on two other robotic arms. One of them was twisting around as if it were alive. 

"Only one..." Thalia and Aphrodite frowned.

"I'm sure they're fine." Percy tried to assure.

"Nobody's here," a deep voice said. Or at least, I think that's what he said... Leo scratched his head as he tried to remember. It's been a while since this happened. And it wasn't like he had been trying to remember the time his friends nearly getting eaten by cyclopes.

"Leo! Help! Leo, help me- Bah!" Piper's voice turned into a masculine growl.

Annabeth shuddered.

"Ya'know, if I was doing a voice, that could've been a dramatic moment." Leo said. "Just throwing it out there."

A bright orange light suddenly came on. After his eyes adjusted, he saw the smaller shapes dangling nearby were his friends. Jason was knocked out and Piper was flailing around and gagged. They had a fire pit directly below them. The Cyclopes kept the fire burning by chucking automobile parts gasoline into the flames.

Leo shivered at the memory. That was something he could never forget.

The readers tensed.

"We're running low on windshield wipers," a Cyclopes grunted to the other.  "go get more."

Did that happen? Who said that? It was a guy, right? What was his name? Cork? Or was that Ma Something speaking to the other dude? His brain scrambled as it tried to sort out all his memories of the event.

While the monster left to get more flammable items, Leo realized now was his chance to attack.

That didn't happen right away, he remembered. Piper had to distract them and I kinda fought them off. Leo frowned, but slightly shook his head. Who cares? It's too late to fix it. Just make up some random fight and wrap the story up.

He then... Leo paused. I... I mean, Leo... Um... He a-attacked...? No! He... His fingers tapped out 'S.O.S.' in Morse code as a question suddenly came to his head.

...How do you describe a fight scene?  His mind drew a blank, he felt himself start to panic. What the Hades? How can I have a writer's block now out of all the times? If Athena finds out, she'll- She'll-

No. 

She'll never find out.

Because he's about to pull the best godsdamn fight scene ever, right out of his ass!

I can do this! He hyped himself up. I'm a smart man! I've faced worse than this! If anyone can describe a fight, who better than Leo Valdez, Supreme Commander of-

"Uh... Are you going to start reading now?" Travis elbowed him out of his thoughts. 

Leo nearly dropped the book at the unexpected nudge.

"In a second!" he hastily replied. "I just lost where I was." 

He hummed loudly as he pretended to look. "Oh, silly me! It's on the next page!"

"You didn't even turn the page." Chris pointed out.

Leo immediately flipped to the next page.

Annabeth frowned thoughtfully at Chris's observation. "Now that I think about it, you haven't been turning the pages at all. Are you still on the first-" 

"It's a long chapter," he interrupted. "Anyways!"

I attacked the first Cyclopes and defeated it. The monster exploded into a pile of dust! Leo's hand frantically moved around as if to help convey the point. And... I... Uh... defeated um... Market Basket? No! Ma Gasket! With fire!

"Who's Ma Gasket?" Will asked. "Is that the name of one of the Cyclopes?" 

"I thought they were both guys." Travis said.

"If Ma Gasket is the Cyclopes, how did you kill her with fire? Cyclopes are fire resistant." Poseidon crossed his arms.

"Please refrain from asking questions, until the end of the- Hey!" Leo cried out in protest when Annabeth yanked the book out of his grip. He tried to snatch the book back, but the daughter of Athena moved out of his reach.

He knew story time was over the moment she skimmed through the paragraphs.

When she looked up from the book, Leo shivered at the furious glare sent in his direction.

"Seriously?" Annabeth said. "We can't even trust you to read the book."

"I'm surprised you guys let me read the second time, to be honest." Leo said meekly. 

"What did he do?!" Athena demanded to know.

Annabeth hesitated, she looked unsure if she should say anything but eventually she reluctantly told her mother.

"He made the whole story up."

Athena scowled.

"What!" some of the other readers yelled.

"You're a better liar than we thought!" Travis gasped.

"There might be some hope for you after all." Connor added, looking impressed.

"The last part was a dead give-away, but other than that, you did a decent job." Hermes remarked.

"Hey! I didn't lie, I tried to be as accurate as possible in my interpretation." Leo argued. "And can you really blame me doing this? The first time reading was hard enough! I couldn't go through that a second time! I don't even like reading. I got my Tom Sawyer essay from off the internet, without ever reading the book!"

Percy had a weird look on his face.

"From SparkNotes?" The son of Poseidon randomly asked.

Leo gave him an odd look. "Yeah, how'd you know that?"

 Before the other boy could explain, Athena spoke up.

"Well then, it's a shame you don't like reading, because you're to read this chapter whether you like it or not." The goddess glared at him. "And you won't make the same mistake again, right?"

Leo shrank back from her glare.

"Right!" he squeaked.

Annabeth handed him back the book. Leo took it with a grimace.

"Just one more chapter," she whispered to him. "You can do this."

"I hope so..." he muttered back.

"Leo XXIV," Leo reluctantly read, sounding less enthusiastic than the first time.

That's better. Athena thought, nodding to herself.

I...Leo stopped at the door and tried to control his breathing. With his free hand, Leo pulled on the jacket's buttons. The voice of the earth woman still rang in his ears, reminding him of Leo hesitated. h-his mother's death. Leo slightly stuttered as he read the last of the sentence. Scowling, He ignored the pitying looks sent in his direction. You've got to be kidding me. Out of all the things, that's the first thing to start of this chapter? It's almost like Nemesis knew I was going to read this chapter.

The last thing he wanted to do was plunge into another dark warehouse. Leo tapped his foot faster. Suddenly he felt eight years old again, alone and helpless as someone he cared about was trapped and in trouble. His grip on the book tightened.

Who wrote this? Leo couldn't help but wonder. And how do they know so much about our lives?

He paused to check the cover of the book.

No name. Figures.

Stop it, he told himself. That's how she wants you to feel. 

But that didn't make him any less scared. Leo fiddled with the corner of the page. If I pull hard enough, can't I rip it? 

He gave the page a forceful tug. 

The paper wrinkled under his pull, but it didn't tear.

His shoulders slumped. Of course.

He took a deep breath and peered inside.... He could make out the catwalk above, the dim shapes of heavy machinery along the assembly line, but no movement. No sign of his friends. 

"It's like they disappeared into thin air!" Leo joked lamely.

He almost called out, but something stopped him- a sense he couldn't identify. Then he realized it was smell. Something smelled wrong- like burning motor oil and sour breath.

Aphrodite shivered. "Ew!"

Percy made a face.

"Wait," he said, thinking of Grover's ability. "You can smell monsters?"

Leo shrugged. "It's not that hard. They're not exactly well known for taking bathes."

"I'll take that as a 'no'." he frowned.

...Somewhere in the factory floor, Piper's voice cried out: "Leo, help!"

But Leo held his tongue. How could Piper have gotten off the catwalk with her broken ankle?

"She had a broken ankle." Will corrected. I guess it's a good thing she took that risk, considering that would've held her back on the quest.

He slippped inside and ducked behind a cargo container. His hand brushed his hair back....Finally he reached the assembly line. He crouched behind the nearest piece of machinery- a crane with a robotic arm.

"My story was pretty accurate. We don't even need to read this." Leo grumbled, leaning to the side.

Piper's voice called out again: "Leo?" Less certain this time, but very close.

Leo peeked around the machinery. Hanging directly above the assembly line, suspended by a chain from a crane...-just dangling from chains on two other robotic arms, were two smaller shapes- maybe more engines, but one of them was twisting around if it were alive.

Thalia worriedly frowned. She had been hoping that Leo just over exaggerated that part of the story. 

Then one of the forklift shapes rose, and Leo realized it was a humanoid of massive size. "Told you it was nothing," the thing rumbled. Its voice was too deep and feral to be human.

Annabeth shivered.

One of the other forklift-sized lumps shifted, and called out in Piper's voice: "Leo, help me! Help-" Then the voice changed, becoming a masculine snarl. "Bah, there's nobody out there. No demigod could be that quiet, eh?"

"You'd be surprised." Leo said.

...Snap. A bright orange light sizzled to life- an emergency flare- and Leo was temporarily blinded. Leo shifted in his position. He ducked behind the crane until the spots cleared from his eyes. Then he took another peep and saw a nightmare scene even Tia Callida couldn't have dreamed up.

Hera rolled her eyes.

The two smaller things dangling from crane arms weren't engines. They were Jason and Piper. Both hung upside down, tied by their ankles and cocooned with chains up to their necks. Piper was flailing around, trying to free herself.

Drew snorted.

Lacy whimpered.

"She'll be fine," Mitchell told her. "Leo's going to save them."

Her mouth was gagged, but at least she was alive. Jason didn't look so good. He hung limply, his eyes rolled up in his head. A red welt the size of an apple had swollen over his left eyebrow.

Thalia grimaced.

"Nothing a little nectar can't fix." Leo said to her.

"Just a little!" Will stressed.

The son of Hephaestus rolled his eyes. "Yes, Mom."

...But the most terrifying of all were the cooks.

Monocle Motors:  that single red eye logo. Why hadn't Leo realized?

"Because you're recently claimed demigod with no training or knowledge of monsters and their behaviors." Nyssa pointed out before she added. "I wish you had some type of lesson before you left."

"Tell me about it." Will agreed.

"Still, I should've been able to piece together the clues. Cyclops are the most basic monsters in Greek mythology." Leo said.

Three massive humanoids gathered around the fire. 

"Three!" Lacy squeaked. "You had to face three cyclopes?"

"And save my friends, who were all chained up and couldn't help me." Leo added. "No pressure, right?"

Two were standing, stroking the flames. The largest one crouched with his back to Leo... One of the monsters wore a chain mail and a loincloth that looked really uncomfortable. The other wore a ragged fuzzy toga made of fiberglass insulation which also would not have made Leo's top ten wardrobe ideas.

"That shouldn't even be on your top one hundred..." Aphrodite shuddered. Her children looking equally disturbed by the description.

Leo's legs started quaking. Leo briefly shook his head. He'd seen some weird things so far-... But this was different. These were actual, flesh-and-blood, ten-foot-tall living monsters who wanted to eat his friends for dinner.

 Grover shivered.

"If you had the dragon, he could've ate them instead." Nico joked.

Leo grinned at that. "No, that would've given him indigestion. I would've had Festus at least stomp on them."

....But all he had was a tool belt and a backpack. His three-pound club hammer looked awfully small compared to those Cyclopes.  

"Maybe you can cause a distraction and try to free the others?" Katie suggested, looking unsure. "There's no way you can defeat all three cyclopes by yourself."

Leo snorted. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"They're at least ten feet tall." Chris reminded him. "They could swat you like a fly and kill you."

"I know. I had to be smart." Leo said.

This is what the sleeping earth lady had been talking about. Leo's free hand went back to tugging on his jacket's buttons. She wanted Leo to walk away and leave his friends to die.

"Fat chance with that happening. I can't believe she thought I would do that." The son of Hephaestus said.

...The Cyclops in the chain mail loincloth walked over to Piper, who squirmed and tried to head-butt him in the eye.

Aphrodite tensed. 

"Can I take her gag off now? I like it when they scream."

Ares smiled while Athena and Percy looked disgusted.

That would be pretty hilarious. the god admitted.

...The crouching figure grunted, and Loincloth ripped the gag off Piper's mouth.

She didn't scream. She took a shaky deep breath like she was trying to keep herself calm.

Lacy was marveled at how brave Piper was. If that were her, she probably would've screamed before fainting.

"Hopefully, her charmspeak can convince them to let her go." Annabeth said.

Meanwhile, Leo found what he wanted in the pack: a stack of tiny remote control units he'd picked up in Bunker 9. At least he hoped that's what they were. The robotic crane's maintenance panel was easy to find. He slipped a screwdriver from his tool belt and went to work...

Annabeth nodded her head in approval. "That would make a good distraction."

...His buddy Loincloth glowered at Piper, waiting for her to do something entertaining. "Scream, girl! I like funny screaming!"

Aphrodite gritted her teeth. If he doesn't shut up...

When Piper finally spoke, her tone was calm and reasonable, like she was correcting a naughty puppy. "Oh, Mr. Cyclops, you don't want to kill us. It would be much better if you let us go."

"He doesn't sound very smart. Maybe it can work." Annabeth hoped so. She fiddled with her necklace.

Loincloth scratched his ugly head. He turned to his friend in the fiberglass toga. "She's kind of pretty, Torque. Leo snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah! That's right! His name is Torque!"

His exclamation was met with confused looks from the readers.

Maybe I should let her go."

"Good, maybe this won't end so badly after all." Annabeth said.

Torque, the dude in the toga, growled. "I saw her first, Sump. I'll let her go!"

"Torque. Sump. And Ma Gasket." Leo listed off. "Got it! Won't forget them again!" At least until the next chapter comes.

Sump and Torque started to argue, but the third Cyclops rose and shouted, "Fools!"

"Or not." the daughter of Athena sighed.

"Knew it wouldn't be that easy." Thalia added, also sighing.

Leo almost dropped his screwdriver. The third Cyclops was a female.

"There are girl Cyclopes?" Percy asked in surprise.

"Yes, but they're more rarer than male Cyclopes." Poseidon replied.

...She was several feet taller than Torque or Sump, and even beefier... but her single red eye glittered with evil intelligence.

Aphrodite made a face at the description. "She needs a total makeover! Where does she even get her hair done?!"

[Ma Gasket]"The girl is a..." Leo inwardly groaned. Really, we're going to go through this again. He regrettably read the rest.They're going to make me say it anyway. "Venus spawn!"

Unlike Athena and the other gods around her, Aphrodite's form didn't flicker.

Leo gave her a confused frown as the demigods helplessly watched the other Olympians struggle to gain control of their Greek forms.

"Not that I'm upset or anything," he began. "But how come you're okay while the other gods are fighting their Roman forms?"

The goddess of love smiled.

"Love is love regardless if you're Greek or Roman." she explained to him. "So, I was one of the lucky few that didn't drastically change when converting to Rome."

Annabeth scowled. Great. While her normally level-headed mother was acting vengeful and uncooperative, they had the goddess of love who was completely fine.

We're screwed. she crossed her arms. Even if they could form an alley ship with the Romans, would it really matter if the gods are still struggling to maintain forms? Would it even help her mom? What if she still couldn't be reasoned with.

We still have to try, she told herself. The Greeks and Romans can't stay apart forever. We'll make this work somehow.

"Does it hurt when that happens?" Percy asked, looking worriedly at his father.

"I would think so," the goddess shrugged as Ares winced. She comfortingly brushed his hair back. "Just give them time, it shouldn't last very long."

After the gods managed to regain their Greek forms, Leo continued to read.

...[Ma Gasket]"She's using charmspeak on you."

Piper started to say, "Please, ma'am-"

"Rarr!" The lady Cyclops grabbed Piper around the waist.

The readers tensed.

"Don't try your pretty talk on me, girl! I'm Ma Gasket! I've eaten heroes tougher than you for lunch!"

Leo feared Piper would get crushed,

Aphrodite paled at the thought.

but Ma Gasket just dropped her and let her dangle from her chain. 

The goddess heaved a sigh of relief. 

..."I should've thrown you out on the streets when you were babies, like proper Cyclops children. You might have learned some useful skills. Curse my soft heart that I kept you!"

Percy made a face at that. What kind of parent would say that to their kids?

"Soft heart?" Torque muttered.

"What was that, you ingrate?"

"Nothing, Ma. I said you got a soft heart.

"Nice save." Hermes commented with an amused grin.

We get to work for you, feed you, file your toenails-"

"Ugh!" Aphrodite said, looking disgusted at the thought of filing the monster's feet.

"So she basically kept them as her slaves. Maybe they would've been better off on the streets." Percy muttered, feeling slightly sympathetic.

"And you should be grateful!" Ma Gasket bellowed. "Now, stroke the fire, Torque! And Sump, you idiot, my case of salsa is in the other warehouse. Don't tell me you expect me to eat those demigods without salsa!"

"Yes, Ma," Sump said. "I mean no, Ma. I mean-"

"Go get it!" Ma Gasket picked up a nearby truck chassis and slammed it over Sump's head.

Percy winced at the violent action.

Sump crumpled to his knees. Leo was sure a hit like that would kill him, but Sump apparently got hit by trucks a lot...Then he staggered to his feet and ran off to fetch the salsa.

"Now's your chance," Annabeth told Leo. "You should get them while they're still separated."

"Still need to finish the wiring on the third arm, for the plan to work." Leo said. "But it didn't take to much time."

...As he dashed between the robotic arms, the Cyclopes didn't see him, but Piper did. Her expression turned from terror to disbelief, and she gasped.

Ma Gasket turned to her. "What's the matter, girl? So fragile I broke you?"

...[Piper] "I think it's my ribs, ma'am. If I'm busted up inside, I'll taste terrible."

Ma Gasket bellowed with laughter. "Good one. The last hero we ate- remember him, Torque? Son of Mercury, wasn't he?"

"Sorry!" Leo said as the gods flickered again. 

Mercury looked heartbroken before changing back to Hermes.

The god sighed tiredly and rubbed his temples. "Let's just get this over with."

"Yes, Ma," Torque said. "Tasty. Little but stingy."

Hermes looked miserable as he struggled to remain in his Greek form.

Percy winced at the description.

"Not all Cyclopes act like this," he told Leo. "Some of them are really nice and gentle. They even make pretty cool weapons."

Knowing who he was thinking of, Poseidon, Annabeth, and Grover smiled.

"Yeah, I know," the son of Hephaestus replied. "I met your brother, Tyson. He's pretty cool."

Percy smiled fondly at that.

"Tyson's the best." he said.

I just wish he didn't hug so tightly. Leo thought, subconsciously rubbing his arm.

[Torque] "Purple shirt. Talking in Latin. Yes, a bit stingy, but good."  

The demigods hesistated. A few exchanged looks and whispered to each other.

Leo frowned. 

"Why are you guys acting like that? You know the Romans are our friends." He ignored the snort from Athena.

The demigods nervously looked at each other.

"You say that but..." Mitchell paused. "We barely know anything about these guys. How are we supposed to trust people we know nothing about."

The others started mumbling their agreements, but it quickly turned into them talking over each other as they gave their opinions.

"I know right? He's telling us to work with complete strangers!" one person said.

"Why should we work with them?" a voice huffed. "I didn't see them helping us with the Titan War."

"The Romans sound so controlling. How do we know that they wouldn't want to take over the whole quest?"

Leo knew it was stupid, but he looked over at the gods to see if they would try to regain order in the room. Of course, they didn't bother lifting a finger as they stared expectantly back.

You're on your own. Their expressions seemed to say.

Athena seemed to be enjoying the show.

"What are you going to do now?" she asked smugly. "They don't trust them. They'll never trust them. You already lost."

Leo wanted to throw the book on the ground and run away. He wanted to rebuild his time machine and take off. He had no idea what to say to fix this. What more could he say to get them to believe him because apparently saying 'They're the good guys!' doesn't work anymore.

Thankfully Annabeth knew what to say.

"QQQUUUIIITTTEE!!" she shouted. 

Everyone shut up and directed their attention to her.

Athena blinked in surprise.

Why can't I do that? Leo wondered absentmindedly.

"Can't you see this is what the giants want us to do? It would be easier for them to take us out when we're separated than if we're working together as a team."

The goddess of wisdom narrowed her eyes.

"Annabeth..." she warned.

Her daughter paused but she didn't stop. Annabeth took a deep breath and let it out.

"Athena isn't the goddess of revenge. If this were any other group of people, you'd be suggesting the same thing. Please Mom, be reasonable..."

"After what those barbarians did to me?! Never!" Athena snapped back. She winced as she felt her Roman side fight for control. "Making a Roman out of me! Stripping me of my title! You of all people should be on my side, avenging me." 

Annabeth frowned. "'Stripping you of your title'? What are you talking about?"

Despite the pain, she laughed. "So he hadn't told you? How interesting! And yet, you trust him when he says the Romans are reliable allies."

The demigods started whispering to each other.

"I forgot!" Leo defended. "You can't expect me to remember everything!"

"Did you forget to bring your homework too? Or did the dragon eat that?" Athena sneered. "Just like his Roman friends, he lies! Traitor!"

As the talking started to get louder, Nico spoke up.

"Look, the problem was that you guys don't trust the Romans because you know nothing about them, right? How about instead of jumping to conclusions, you just ask him what they're like?" he said, as if it was obvious.

Silence. Everyone turned to the son of Hades.

Chris raised an eyebrow.

"You guys?" he repeated.

"Yes, you guys. I trust Leo. The Romans might not be so bad." Nico shrugged.

The demigods looked at him in surprise, even Annabeth looked like she was not expecting him to take Leo's side so quickly.

"Um... Okay... Let's ask him..." the daughter of Athena said, still thrown for a loop. "Leo?"

Now that the attention was back on Leo, he wasn't sure what to do with it. He knew next to nothing about Roman culture or what the citizens of New Rome were like. He hadn't even gotten a chance to walk around the city since Octavian demanded to be taken straight to the ship.

Should I even be talking about how great the Roman people are? Leo grimaced. I blew up their city! ...I wish Jay or Percy were here.

The son of Hephaestus folded the corner of the page.

"Well... They make good hot chocolate..." Leo began lamely. At least, that's what I heard Annabeth tell Piper.

The others looked unimpressed.

"We want to know what they're like as people." Katie said. 

"Um... They're pretty cool. They were kinda strict and disciplined,"

Travis made a noise of disapproval at that.

"But they were really open minded about working with us. So, if they can be accepting about us, I think we should do the same." 

He stopped talking and folded another corner of the page.

"That's it?" Clarisse snorted. "That's the best you can give us?"

That's all I got. Leo thought miserably. I really don't know much about them. "You guys are going to find out what they're like eventually. Don't want to ruin the surprise!"

He tried to sound upbeat but the expressions he was getting really made it hard. 

Nico looked puzzled. He stared at Leo as if he understand why didn't he go into more detail.

With little else to do, Leo just started reading.

..."Good eating," Ma Gasket said fondly. "Point is, girl, we're not as dumb as people think! Leo rolled his eyes. Uh-huh. Sure. Keep telling yourself that. We're not falling for those stupid tricks and riddles, not us Northern Cyclopes."

...He looked up at the engine clock suspended right above the Cyclops' campsite. He wished he could use that- it would make a great weapon. But the crane holding it was on the opposite side of the conveyor belt. Leo tapped his foot again. There was no way Leo could get over there without being seen, and besides, he was running short on time.

...From his tool belt he summoned some wires, a radio adapter, and a smaller screwdriver and started to build a universal remote. For the first time, he said a silent thank-you to his dad- Hephaestus- for the magic tool belt.

Hephaestus smiled at that.

Get me out of here,  he prayed, and maybe you're not such a jerk.

The god of fire chuckled while the other gods gave Leo disapproving looks.

"You shouldn't let him talk to you like that." Demeter told Hephaestus with a frown.

The god gave her a dismissive wave. "It's fine."

..."Flattery won't work either," Ma Gasket said, though she sounded pleased. "It's true, you'll be breakfast for the best Cyclopes around."

Poseidon rolled his eyes at this. That's what you think.

"But aren't Cyclopes good?" Piper asked. "I thought you made weapons for the gods."

"She's thinking about the elder Cyclopes." Poseidon said.

"Bah! I'm very good. Good at eating people. Good at smashing. And good at building things, yes, but not for the gods. Our cousins, the elder Cyclopes, they do this, yes. Thinking they're so high and mighty 'cause they're a few thousand years older. Then there's our southern cousins, living on islands and tending their sheep, Morons! But we Hyperborean Cyclopes, the northern clan, we're the best! Blah, blah, blah! Can we just skip this?" Leo complained. "This is just boring."

Athena tilted her head. "Would you rather tell us why you were so vague about the Romans?"

Reading filler it is. Leo decided as he read on.

"Founded Monocle Motors in this old factory- the best weapons, armor, chariots, fuel-efficient SUVs! And yet- bah! Forced to shut down. Laid off most of our tribe. How exactly is this piece of information going to save the future? Leo wondered, bouncing his leg. The war was too quick. Titans lost. No good! No more need for Cyclops weapons."

"Figures they would be working for the Titans." Clarisse muttered.

"Oh, no," Piper sympathized. "I'm sure you made some amazing weapons."

..."Can I see it?" Piper asked. "If you could just free my hands-"

Torque stepped forward eagerly, but Ma Gasket said, "Stupid! She's tricking you again. Enough talk! Slay the boy first before he dies on his own. I like my meat fresh."

Thalia's grip tightened. Hurry up, Leo!

No!  Leo's fingers flew, connecting the wires for the remote. Just a few more minutes!

You don't have time for that! Thalia pressed.

...The wires sparked in Leo's hand. The Cyclopes froze and turned in his direction.

Everyone (except for Leo, Ares, Athena, and Dionysus) stiffened.

"Finally, some action." Ares said, stretching his arms as Dionysus stared longingly at the red wine in the magazine.

Then Torque picked up a truck, and threw it at him.

Leo rolled as the truck steamrolled over the machinery. If he'd been a half-second slower, he would've been smashed.

Hephaestus shuddered at the thought.

He got to his feet, and Ma Gasket spotted him.

"Hopefully your plan still works." Katie said.

...Torque barreled toward him. Leo frantically gunned the toggle on his makeshift remote.

Torque was fifty feet away. Twenty feet.

"Thank you, boy, but we could live without the description." his father muttered under his breath, trying to control his racing heart.

"Sorry, that's how it's written." Leo shrugged.

Then the first robotic arm whirred to life. A three-ton yellow metal claw slammed the Cyclops in the back so hard, he landed flat on his face.

Hephaestus sighed with relief. Machines, always there when you need them.

The rest of the demigods looked surprised at the sudden action.

Before Torque could recover, the robotic hand grabbed him by one leg and hurled him straight up.

"AHHHHHH!" Torque rocketed into the gloom.

...Torque never came back down. Instead, yellow dust rained to the floor. Torque had disintegrated.

"It worked." Will said in awe.

Leo grinned at him. "Don't act so surprised. My plans can work sometimes."

"Ahem... Nice work." Hephaestus told his son. His eyes looking up at the ceiling.

Leo blinked at him in surprise before looking back down at the book.

"Um... Thanks..." he said, fiddling with the page. He couldn't help but feel conscious of how awkward they must look to the others. 

He started reading again.

...As if on cue, Sump lumbered into the firelight with a case of salsa. "Ma, I got the extra-spicy-"

He never finished his sentence. Leo spun the remote's toggle, and the second robotic arm whacked Sump in the chest. The salsa case exploded like a pinata and Sump flew backward, right into the base of Leo's third machine. Sump may have been immune to getting hit with truck chasses, but he wasn't immune to robotic arms that could deliver ten thousand pounds of force. The third crane arm slammed him against the floor so hard, he exploded into dust like a broken flour sack.

Two Cyclopes down. Leo was beginning to feel like Commander Tool Belt

The Stolls snickered.

when Ma Gasket locked her eye on him.

She grabbed the nearest crane arm and ripped it off its pedestal with a savage roar. 

The readers tensed.

"Now what?" Lacy said.

"He's still got two more left," Will said. "He still has a chance."

Leo punched a button, and the two remaining arms swung into action. Ma Gasket caught the first one and tore it in half. The second arm smacked her in the head, but it only seemed to get her mad. She grabbed it by the clamps, ripped it free, 

"Or not." Will grimaced.

and swung it like a baseball bat. It missed Piper and Jason by an inch.

Aphrodite gulped and Thalia chewed her lip.

Then Ma Gasket let it go- spinning it toward Leo.

Hephaestus paled.

He yelped and rolled to one side as it demolished the machine next to him.

...The future of Commander Tool Belt was not looking so hot.

Ares smiled wider and leaned closer.

..."Any more tricks, demigod?" Ma Gasket demanded.

Leo glanced up. The engine block suspended on the chain- if only he'd had time to rig it. If only he could get Ma Gasket to take one step forward. The chain itself... that one link... Leo shouldn't have been able to see it, especially from so far down, but his senses  told him there was metal fatigue.

"Heck, yeah, I got tricks!" Leo raised his remote control. "Take one more step, and I'll destroy you with fire!"

Percy frowned.

"But you can't," he told him. "Cyclopes are fire resistant. No matter how hot the fire is, it shouldn't be able to hu-"

"Actually," Annabeth interrupted, realizing his plan. "You can."

"Huh?" he said, looking confused. 

Ma Gasket laughed. "Would you? Cyclopes are immune to fire, you idiot. But if you wish to play with flames, let me help!"

She scooped red-hot coals into her bare hands and flung them at Leo. They landed all around his feet.... Then Ma Gasket grinned and picked up a barrel next to the truck. Leo just had enough time to read the stenciled word on the side- KEROSENE- before Ma Gasket threw it.

The barrel split on the floor in front of him, spilling lighter fluid everywhere.

Ma Gasket looked astonished. "You live?"

Then she took that extra step forward, which put her right where Leo wanted.

...He pointed one finger in the air and summoned all his will. He'd never tried to do anything so focused and intense- but he shot a bolt of white hot flames at the chain suspending the engine block above the Cyclops' head- aiming for the link that looked weaker than the rest.

The flames died. Nothing happened.

A couple shoulders slumped. 

Ares laughed loudly.

"Fail!"

Behind the book, Leo rolled his eyes. Honestly if you would just wait a few lines...

Hephaestus glared at the god.

...The chain snapped- that single link heated beyond its tolerance point- and the engine block fell, deadly and silent.

"I don't think so," Leo said.

Ma Gasket didn't even look up.

Smash!  No more Cyclops- just a pile of dust under a five ton engine block.

"I stand corrected." Percy smiled.

"Dude, that was awesome!" Travis said, Connor nodded in agreement.

"It was okay." Leo shrugged with a small smile.

"Not immune to fire, huh?" Leo said. "Boo-yah!"

...He stumbled to his feet. He'd never tried to summon such an intense fire before, and it had left him completely drained.

I knew we should've practiced in the junkyard. Hera sighed. 

...Then together they lowered Jason, who was still unconscious.

Thalia wrung her bow.

Piper managed to trickle a little nectar into his mouth, and he groaned.  The welt on his head started to shrink. His color came back a little.

Thalia relaxed slightly.

Will crossed his arms and scowled. Of course she was able to give Jason the proper amount. But when it comes to herself, 'I'll just eat the whole thing! What's the worst that can happen?'"

He made a mental note to add 'self-preservation' conversations into the training. I have a feeling these two are going to need it.

"Yeah, he's got a nice thick skull," Leo said. "I think he's gonna be fine."

Thalia smiled as she rolled her eyes at that.

Leo looked down. "Always," he said. "I'm a freaking menace. Sorry, I know I should've told you guys sooner but-"

"Don't apologize," Clarisse told him as if that was the stupidest thing she ever heard. "Your ability just saved their lives."

Leo grinned. "Yeah, you're right."

...Leo blinked. He started to smile, but his sense of relief was ruined when he noticed something next to Piper's foot.

The readers tensed.

Annabeth frowned. "What...?"

Yellow dust- the powdered remains of the Cyclopes, maybe Torque- was shifting across the floor like an invisible wind has pushed it back together.

"Oh my gods..." Katie gasped.

 "It shouldn't be that quick." Chris paled. "It hasn't even been a day yet!"

"Okay, I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was this bad!" Connor cried. 

Hades grimaced. It's worse than I thought.

...Piper stepped away from the dust. "That's not possible. Annabeth told me monsters dissipate when they're killed. They do back to Tartarus and can't return for a long time."

"If you're lucky, which we're not." Percy murmured.

"Well, nobody told the dust that." Leo watched as it collected into a pile, then very slowly spread out, forming a shape with arms and legs.

"You need to leave now!" Aphrodite said urgently.

Leo thought about the face that had formed in the ground outside- the sleeping woman who was definitely a horror from the earth.

"You have no idea." Athena whispered.

"I don't know," he said. "But we need to get out of here."

"Finished!" Leo said with a sigh of relief. "Is it just me or was this chapter the longest one in the book?"

"Maybe. It probably didn't help that you were making things up before you actually started reading." Nico pointed out. "I'll read next."

He took the book before Leo could close it.

"Jason XXV," he began.

The some of the demigods made faces and muttered to each other.

Leo frowned.

Please don't let this be too long. he prayed to any god willing to listen.

Chapter Text

"Jason XXV," Nico read out loud.

The demigods grimaced and whispered to each other.

"Com'on guys, this is the same person we've been reading for hours now! Just 'cause he's Roman doesn't make him any different." Leo wished that he didn't sound like he was begging.

"Maybe, but it does explain his weird behavior." Drew said, painting her nails. "I knew there was something wrong about him."

Leo stared at her blankly.

"Didn't you have a crush on him?" he said up front.

Her eyes widened as she nervously looked around the room. 

"Of course not! I would never like some Roman! I was just doing my rite of passage." she said the last part loudly as if to ensure the others would hear her.

Really? Because I don't think you can fake jealousy like that. he sighed.

"There's nothing wrong with liking a Roman," Leo explained. I can't believe I'm having this conversation. I thought she would be into that 'forbidden love' crap. "They're just like us."

Drew glanced at the others before sneering at him. "Figures you would say that. Bet you think you actually have a chance with those Roman girls, don't you sweetie?"

A couple of demigods snickered at this.

Funny. Leo thought dryly, he drummed his fingers on his leg.

Jason dreamed he was wrapped in chains, hanging upside down like a hunk of meat. Everything hurt- his arms, his legs, his chest, his head. Especially his head. It felt like an overinflated water balloon.

"If I'm dead," he murmured, "why does it hurt so much?"

"You're not dead, my hero," said a woman's voice. "It is not your time. Come, speak with me."

Yes! Please! Let's all turn our attention back to Hera! The real person who's responsible for this! Leo shoved his hand in his pocket.

...He found himself standing in an earthen cage.

Hera tightly clasped her hands together.

...Outside the bars, he could see the floor of dry reflecting pool, another earthen spire growing at the far end, and above them, the ruined red stones of a burned-out house.

Next to him in the cage, a woman sat cross-legged in black robes, her head covered by a shroud. She pushed aside her veil, revealing a face that was proud and beautiful- but also hardened with suffering.

Zeus grabbed one of  his wife's hands and squeezed it.

Hera gave him a soft reassuring smile and squeezed back.

..."Welcome to my prison," said the goddess. "You will not die today, Jason. Your friends will see you through- for now."

"For now?" he asked.

Thalia glared at Hera. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means what I said." the goddess told her. "Not everything I say has to be a concealed threat."

Hades gave her a skeptical glance.

Hera gestured at the tendrils of her cage. "There are worse trail to come. The very earth stirs against us."

"You're a goddess," Jason said. "Why can't you just escape?"

"If only it were that easy..." Artemis clenched her hands into fists.

Hera smiled sadly. Her form began to glow, until her brilliance filled the cage with painful light. The air hummed with power, molecules splitting apart like a nuclear explosion. Jason suspected if he were actually there in the flesh, he would've been vaporized.

Leo winced at that as if it brought up a bad memory. 

I can't believe he survived that. How does that even work? he wondered. He fiddled with a screw he had in his pocket.

The cage should've been blasted to rubble...But when the glow died, the cage hadn't budged. Nothing outside the bars had changed. Only Hera looked a little different- a little more stooped and tired.

"How are Piper and Leo supposed to break a cage like that?" Connor asked with a frown. "It's not even a metal cage, it's completely made out of creepy vine -things."

"Don't worry, we can handle it." Leo assured.

"Some powers are even greater than gods," she said. "I am not easily contained. I can be in many places at once. But when the greater part of my essence is caught, it is like a foot caught in a bear trap, you might say. I can't escape, and I'm concealed from the eyes of the other gods. Only you can find me, and I grow weaker by the day."

Zeus felt his face pale.

Hera tried to put a brave face on in front of the others.

...The goddess sighed. "I could not stay idle. Your father, Jupiter believes he can withdraw from the world, and hull our enemies back to sleep.  He believes we Olympians have become too involved in the affairs of mortals,  in the fates of our demigod children, especially since we agreed to claim them all after the war.  He believes this is what has caused our enemies to stir. That is why he closed Olympus."

"You're kidding, right? The whole reason why the Titian army was so huge was because you weren't involved enough with your kids." Percy argued. "You can't just turn your backs on us now! Especially since the giants need to be killed by a god!"

Zeus's face was turning red with anger. His fist tightened on his lightening bolt.

"Perseus," Poseidon said in warning tone.

Percy looked like he was going to say more, but he just huffed and went quiet.

The god of the sea gave his brother an apologetic smile.

"Kids..." he shrugged as if that explained everything.

"He knew I had a point." Percy grumbled to his girlfriend. 

"You do, but you can't just talk to a god like that, especially the king of gods." she shook her head. "You really gotta think these things through, Seaweed Brian."

"But you don't agree?"

"Of course not." Hera said softly.

Zeus scowled at her.

Leo tossed a screw in the air before catching it.

 "No," she said. "Often I do not understand my husband's moods or decisions, but even for Zeus, this seemed paranoid. I cannot fathom why he was so insistent and so convinced. It was... unlike him. As Hera, I might have been content to follow my lord's wishes.

"On different circumstances, yes." Hera admitted with a slight shrug.

But I am also Juno."

Hera winced at the sudden burst of pain in her head.

The gods briefly flickered.

..."Juno Moneta they called me- Juno, the One Who Warns.  I was guardian of the state, patron of Eternal Rome. I could not sit by while the descendants of my people were attacked.

That's surprising, considering all that hard work you did in the last war. Annabeth thought sarcastically.  

I sensed danger at this sacred spot. A voice-" She hesitated. "A voice told me I should come here.

"A voice...?" Athena frowned.

Gods do not have what you might call a conscience, nor do we have dreams;

"Lucky." Nico muttered before he continued reading.

Leo spun the screw like a top.

But the voice was like that-soft and persistent, warning me to come here. And so the same day Zeus closed Olympus, I slipped away without telling him my plans, so he could not stop me. And I came here to investigate."

But it was a trap. Figures, the one time Hera decides to do something useful, she ends up getting captured. Annabeth rolled her eyes.

...The cage began to constrict, the tendrils spiraling tighter. Hera's form shivered like a candle flame in the breeze.

Hera tensed.

Zeus rubbed soothing circles in her hand.

Outside the cage, Jason could see shapes gathering at the edge of the pool- lumbering humanoids with hunched backs and bald heads. Unless Jason's eyes were tricking him- they had more than one set of arms.

"What are those?" Annabeth blinked. They sounded like Hekatonkheires but that was impossible. Briares was the last one.

...[Hera]"My keepers approach, and you begin to wake. I will not be strong enough to appear to you again, even in dreams."

"Wait," he said. "Boreas told us you'd made a dangerous gamble. What did he mean?"

Leo tried to look as invisible as possible as he slipped his screws in pocket.

Please don't bring me into this again. Please just talk to Hera about it. he silently willed. He kept his hands in his pockets. It was her idea, not mine. 

Hera's eyes looked wild, and Jason wondered if she really had done something crazy.

"That's one way of putting it." Athena said.

"An exchange," she said. Leo inwardly groaned when he saw the piqued interest in the readers' expressions. "The only way to bring peace. The enemy counts on our division, and if we are divided, we will be destroyed. You are my peace offering, Jason- a bridge to overcome millennia of hatred."

Bridge? Exchange? What is she talking about? Annabeth thought, resting her chin on her hand as she concentrated. I get the bridge part. She wants us to get to know Jason and build a relationship with him so that we'll be more inclined to work with the Romans. But an exchange? We didn't give anything to get Jaso- 

Her eyes widened in realization, her jaw went slack. 

"Oh my gods..." she whispered. How could I forget about Percy?!

Poseidon seemed to come to the same conclusion because he was glaring daggers at Hera.

"Are you insane?" the god hissed. "Out of all the people, why would you choose him?"

"He's our best choice. He's considered a leader of the camp and can be seen as Jason's equivalent. Why wouldn't I pick him?" Hera snapped.

"He could be killed." he yelled, a few people winced at the volume. "Hasn't he already done enough for us?!" 

The demigods whispered to each other, trying to figure out what's going on as the two gods continued arguing back and forth.

Percy took in Poseidon and Annabeth's reactions and grimaced. 

"Something happened to me, right?" he asked his girlfriend. He knew he was right when she winced. He sighed. "Just tell me what it is."

She played with the ring on her necklace. 

"In the exchange Hera was talking about, she gave us Jason and gave the Romans you. You probably don't even have your memories either" Just saying that out loud, had her realize the gravity of the situation. Her new boyfriend, without any memories, in a camp somewhere she couldn't find him. 

"What's the problem?" Athena asked, as Percy and the other demigods looked stunned. "The Romans are good people, right?"

"Mother, please." Annabeth said, rubbing her forehead.

"If you want to form an alley ship with the Romans, then I don't understand why you're upset with Percy being at their camp." the goddess persisted, her form began fading in and out. "You should be excited for him. I'm sure it'll be a nice experience. They make good hot chocolate, right?" 

She turned to Leo, who suddenly found his socks to be very interesting. 

"Maybe he'll love staying at there. He's an adaptable person, I'm sure he'll assimilate into the culture easily," she seemed to consider something. "Or maybe not, you know how-"

"For Fates' sake, Athena! Shut up!" Poseidon barked, cutting off Hera in her mid-shout. "I am sick and tired of hearing you screech and talk in that condescending tone of voice! Your other form's already bad enough."

Athena's eye twitched.

"Just who do you think you're talking to?" she growled.

Poseidon pretended to look surprised.

"That's funny," he remarked to Hephaestus, who suddenly found his shoes to be very interesting. "I could've sworn I was talking to Athena, bratty goddess of wisdom."

"You're only speaking up now because you know your son wouldn't last a day in that camp!"

"He could! But he shouldn't be involved in this ridiculous plan!" 

"It's not ridiculous!" Hera butted in.

"Yes it is! Your plan is a complete waste of time! Ares could've thought of a better one in his sleep!" Athena lashed out.

"I sure could!" Ares happily joined in. He smirked as he eagerly watched the back and forth.

"Excuse me?! What's that supposed to mean?!"

"ENOUGH!" Zeus boomed, the three begrudgingly stopped.

Ares flopped into his throne, looking dejected.

He gave the gods a stern glare and gestured Nico to keep reading.

Yes, I made it! Leo couldn't help but do a small fist pump.

..."I cannot tell you more," Hera said. "You have only lived this long is because I have taken your memory.

Thalia made a face at that. "Just 'cause he's Roman, doesn't mean we'd kill him or anything."

Find this place. Return to your starting point. Your sister will help."

Thalia perked up.

"How am I going to help?"

"You know where Hera is, maybe you tell him?" Annabeth suggested tiredly.

Percy pulled her into a one-armed hug.

"You know I'm still here, right?"

"I know, but still... You might not have your memories," she bit her lip. "What if you're a completely different person? What if you're in trouble and I'm not there to help you?"

Percy frowned at that.

"I'm sure things will work out." he said, hoping he sounded confident. "I mean, who can forget you?"

She smiled and rolled her eyes. "Where'd you get that from? The back of a cheesy Rom-Com DVD?"

"Hey! I'm trying here!" he laughed.

...The scene began to dissolve. "Good-bye, Jason. Beware Chicago. Your most dangerous mortal enemy waits there. If you are to die, it will be by her hand." 

The readers froze at that.

"Who would be that strong?" Chris wondered.

"Who?" he demanded.

But Hera's image faded, and Jason awoke.

"A name would've been nice." Thalia huffed.

His eyes snapped open. "Cyclops!"

"Whoa, sleepyhead." Piper sat behind him on the bronze dragon, holding his waist to keep him balanced.

Drew scowled, but otherwise made no comment.

...Jason's head throbbed. He remembered the factory, then a creature looming over him- a face with one eye, a massive fist- and everything went black.

A couple people winced in sympathy.

"Ouch." Percy said with a wince.

"How did you- the Cyclops-"

"Leo ripped them apart," Piper said. "He was amazing. He can summon fire-"

"It was nothing," Leo said quickly.

Connor rolled his eyes. "Uh-huh. Killing three cyclopes single-handedly without a scratch on you is nothing. Leo, just shut up and take the compliment."

"It was awesome, just accept it." Travis added.

"I'm pretty sure anyone else could do better." Leo admitted. "I mean, it wasn't like I shot them with lightning like Jason would, or feed them to killer sharks like Percy. Heck, even Annabeth would done something cooler like stab one of them in the toe with her dagger or-" 

"Leo," Katie cut in.

"Huh?"

"Just shut up and take the compliment."

Piper laughed. "Shut up, Valdez. I'm going to tell him. Get over it."

The Stolls and Katie nodded their heads in approval.

And she did- how Leo single-handedly defeated the Cyclopes family;  how they freed Jason, then noticed the Cyclopes started to re-form; how Leo had replaced the dragon's wiring and gotten them back in the air as they'd started to hear three Cyclopes roaring for vengeance inside the factory.

"Yeah, that's nothing." Connor said sarcastically. 

Leo sheepishly smiled and shrugged.

...It didn't exactly scare him to hear how close he'd come to death,

"It should." Thalia muttered.

but it did make him feel horrible. He'd stepped right into an ambush and spent the whole fight knocked out while his friends fended for themselves. What kind of quest leader was he?

"It's not like you asked that cyclops to knock you out," Leo muttered, rolling up the sleeves of his jacket. "Things happen."

When Piper told him about the other kid the Cyclopes claimed to have eaten, the one in the purple shirt who spoke Latin,

Mercury grimaced at the reminder and the intense pain in his head before returning back to his Greek form.

Jason felt like his head was going to explode.

"That makes two of us." Hermes murmured, feeling a little lightheaded. He could really go for some Excedrin right now.

A son of Mercury...

Hermes winced.

..."I'm not alone, then," he said. "There are others like me."

Thalia frowned at that. She really wished he found some sense of belonging at Camp. 

Annabeth grimaced. Will Percy feel like that when he's at the other camp? Missing pieces of his life and it hurts his head whenever he thinks about it.

Percy tried not to think too hard on what his Roman camp experience will be like.

...He told them what he'd seen, and what the goddess had said inside her cage.

"An exchange?" Piper asked. "What does that mean?"

"Nothing good." Poseidon grumbled, glaring at Hera.

His sister glared back.

Jason shook his head. "But Hera's gamble is me. Just by sending me to Camp Half-Blood, I have a feeling she broke some kind of rule, something that could blow up in a big way-"

The readers tensed.

"Or everything could work out great and we'll live happily ever after!" Leo added cheerfully.

Hades snorted.

Some of the readers gave him looks of disbelief.

..."That bit about the sleeping enemy- that sounds like the lady Leo told us about."

Leo cleared his throat. "About that... she kind of appeared to me in Detroit, in a pool of Porta-Potty sludge."

Jason wasn't sure he'd heard that right. "Did you say... Porta-Potty?"

Imagining the look on Jason's face, Travis couldn't help but snicker.

"That bit about the sleeping enemy- that sounds like the lady Leo told us about."

Leo cleared his throat. "About that... she kind of appeared to me in Detroit, in a pool of Porta-Potty sludge."

Jason wasn't sure he'd heard that right. "Did you say... Porta-Potty?"

Imagining the look on Jason's face, Travis snickered.

..."I don't know if she's completely unkillable," he said, "but she cannot be defeated by toilet seats. I can vouch for that. She wanted me to betray you guys, and I was like, "Pfft, right, I'm going to listen to a face in potty sludge."

Apollo, Hermes, and the Stolls laughed at that.

"Well I wasn't!" Leo said, laughing with them.

..."What's wrong?" he asked.

[Piper]"I just... Why are they toying with us? Who is this lady, and how is she connected to Enceladus?"

"She slipped up." Annabeth noticed.

"Maybe she'll come clean after?" Mitchell hoped.

"Enceladus?" Jason didn't think he'd heard that name before.

"I mean..." Piper's voice quavered. "That's one of the giants. Just one of the names I could remember."

Aphrodite sighed. She was so close to telling him the last time too.

...Leo scratched his head. "Well, I dunno about Enchiladas-"

"It's pronounced 'en SELL a dus', not 'en sell AH dus'." Athena corrected him.

"Right." Leo said, brushing off his jacket.

"Enceladus," Piper corrected.

"Whatever. But Old Potty Face mentioned another name. Propose Fear, or something?"

"Poor-FY-ree-on." Athena corrected again.

Poseidon rolled his eyes.

"It doesn't matter how you pronounce them," the god told Leo. "They aren't important enough to get their names right anyway."

"Oh, um... thanks?" Leo replied, unsure.

"No, it is important." Athena insisted. "How are people supposed to know who you're talking about!"

"Piper knew what he meant. You're just a nitpicker." Poseidon dismissed.

Athena narrowed her eyes.

Nico continued before things could escalate.

"Porphyrion?" Piper asked. "He was the giant king, I think."

Poseidon gestured towards the book as if to say: There, you see?

Jason envisioned that dark spire in the old reflecting pool- growing larger as Hera got weaker.

Hera shuddered.

"Heroes and gods had to work together," Jason said. "That's what Hera told me."

"Kind of hard to do," Leo grumbled, "if the gods won't even talk to us."

Some of the demigods exchanged grim expressions.

"He and Percy have a point, Dad." Apollo said, shrinking back when his father sent him a glare.

They flew west, and Jason became lost in his thoughts- all of them bad...A crescent of skyscrapers lined the shore. Behind them, stretching out to the western horizon, was a vast grid of snow-covered neighborhoods and roads.

"Chicago," Jason said.

He thought about what Hera had said in his dream. His worst mortal enemy would be waiting here. If he was going to die, it would be by her hand.

Thalia gulped.

"One problem down," Leo said. "We got here alive. Now, how do we find the storm spirits?"

Jason saw a flash of movement below them...The thing spiraled toward the skyscrapers, weaving and changing shape- and just for a moment it became the smoke figure of a horse.

"That was quick." Chris commented.

"How about we follow that one," Jason suggested, "and see where it goes?"

"Finished." Nico said. "Does anybody want to read next?"

"I'll do it." Jake said, taking the book.

"Jason XXVI," Jake read.

Chapter Text

"Jason XXVI," Jake read out loud.

Jason was afraid they'd lose their target. The ventus moved like... well, like the wind.

Thalia smiled and rolled her eyes.

"Good one!" Leo snickered.

"Speed up!" he urged.

"Bro," Leo said, "if I get any closer, he'll spot us. Bronze dragon ain't exactly a stealth plane."

"Slow down!" Piper yelped.

"Speed up, slow down, what do you want me to do?" the son of Hephaestus muttered, searching through his tool belt.

The storm spirit dove into the grid of the downtown streets. Festus tried to follow, but his wingspan was way too wide. His left wing clipped the edge of a building, slicing off a stone gargoyle before Leo pulled up.

"Nice driving!" Clarisse called out. 

Chris chuckled in response.

"Thanks! Not bad for someone without a license, huh?" Leo cheerfully replied.

...After a few minutes, Jason spotted the storm spirit again, zipping through the street s with no apparent purpose- blowing over pedestrians, ruffling flags, making cars swerve.

"Oh great," Piper said. "There's two."

...A second ventus blasted around the corner of the Fenaissance Hotel and linked up with the first.  

"Guess this is where they all hang out." Chris said.

"Or breeze through!" Leo joked, earning groans from some of the other readers.

"It makes sense," Annabeth commented, pretending she never heard that terrible joke (Seriously? Breeze through?) "It's called the Windy City for a reason."

...The dragons circled over a wide avenue next to a lakeside park. Storm spirits were converging- at least a dozen of them, whirling around a big public art installation.

"Which one do you think is Dylan?" Leo asked. "I wanna throw something at him."

Will gave him an odd look. 

"You realize it'll just pass throw him, right?" he asked him.

Leo waved a dismissive hand. "Details."

"I think it's more than that." Jake commented before he continued reading.

But Jason focused on the art installation. The closer they got to it, the faster his heart beat. It was just a public fountain, but it was unpleasantly familiar.

The demigods frowned.

"Uh... why?" Connor asked, looking around at the others as if they knew the answer.

 Two five-story monoliths seemed to be built of video screens, flashing the combined image of a giant face that spewed water into the pool. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but it looked like a hightech, super-sized version of that ruined reflecting pool he'd seen in his dreams, with those two dark masses jutting from either end.

The readers tensed.

Hera shuddered.

As Jason watched, the image on the screens changed to a woman's face with her eyes closed.

"Why is it showing them that?" Katie asked with a shiver.

Leo shrugged. 

"To scare us off?" he suggested, fanning himself with a protractor.

Then the screens went dark. The venti swirled together into a single funnel cloud...They got to [the fountain's] its center, popped off a drain cover, and disappeared underground.

"What are they going underground for?" Percy frowned. "That's the last place I would expect them to go."

"That could be where their mistress is," Annabeth pointed out. "But I don't know how they're going to follow them with the dragon. Even if he turns into a carry-on bag, he still would be hard to travel around with."

"Did they just go down a drain?" Piper asked. "How are we supposed to follow them?"

"Maybe we shouldn't," Leo said. "That fountain thing is giving me seriously bad vibes. And aren't we supposed to, like, beware the earth?"

"Don't really have much of a choice." Annabeth sighed.

..."Put us down in that park," [Jason] he suggested. "We'll check it out on foot."

Festus landed in an open area between the lake and skyline...The dragon's hot metal feet  hissed as they touched down. Festus flapped his wings unhappily and shot fire into the sky, but there was no one around to notice...

They dismounted, and Festus the dragon stomped his feet. One of his ruby eyes flickered, so it looked like he was blinking.

"Is that normal?" Jason asked, unknowingly voicing what was on everyone's minds.

"That's an easy fix." Leo said, twirling the protractor on his finger.

"But will you have time to get that done?" Nyssa asked. 

"Yeah I take care of it."

Leo pulled a rubber mallet from his tool bag. He whacked the dragon's bad eye, and the light went back to normal. Jake blinked before looking up at his brother.

"That's how you fixed it? By just hitting it's head?" he asked incredulously.

 "Some things don't need a lot of effort to fix." Leo pointed out. "It's kinda like when you have a bag a chips stuck in a vending machine."

"I don't think you should compare those two." Nico said.

 "Yes," Leo said. "Festus can't hang around here, though, in the middle of the park. They'll arrest him for loitering.

"Or tow him for illegal parking." Connor snickered.

He rummaged in his tool belt, but came up with nothing.

"Too specialized?" he guessed. 

But Legos are no problem? Annabeth thought, bewildered.

"Okay, give me a safety whistle. They got that in lots of machine shops."

This time, Leo pulled out a big plastic orange whistle. "Coach Hedge would be jealous! Okay, Festus, listen." Leo blew the whistle. The shrill sound probably rolled all the all the way across Lake Michigan. "You hear that, come find me, okay? Until then, you fly wherever you want. Just try not to barbecue the any pedestrians."

Nico frowned.

"Hey, relax! I'm just joking!" Leo assured with a grin.

The dragon snorted- hopefully in agreement. Then he spread his wings and launched into the air.

Piper took a step and winced. "Ah!"

Aphrodite immediately straightened in her throne.

"It's her ankle. The ambrosia probably wore off." Apollo said.

Will and Aphrodite simultaneously grimaced. Great. 

"Your ankle?" Jason felt bad he'd forgotten about injury in the Cyclops factory. "The nectar we gave you might be wearing off."

"Wait... Nectar?" Will furrowed his eyebrows. Didn't Jason give her only ambrosia? Unless...

His head snapped towards Leo.

"You gave her more?!" he exclaimed causing Leo to yelp in surprise.

"It was only a couple sips!" the teen defended. "We didn't know she ate a whole square!" 

Leo hoped that would satisfy the blond, but if possible, he seemed more irritated.

"Okay, seriously?! If it was a small piece, I would understand, but if it was as big of a piece as Piper ate, how could the two of you not notice? How often do you keep stock of what you have?"

The son of Hephaestus stared down at his protractor, as if he was trying to calculate the right angle to approach this conversation.

"When we needed it...?" Leo shyly admitted, moving the protractor's arm back and forth. Will slapped his forehead and groaned in response.

"We were on a time limit! Even if we did run out of ambrosia and nectar -and I'm not saying that we did!- you can't exactly buy those things at the nearest 7-11."

"That's not the point, Leo." Will sighed. I have a lot of work to do...

"It's fine." She shivered, and Jason remembered his promise to get her a new snowboarding coat. He hoped he live long enough to find her one.

You better. Thalia thought. We didn't even get the chance to meet each other yet.

...They wrapped themselves up as best they could and headed toward the fountain.

...They stepped to the center of the pool. No spirits tried to stop them.

Ares sighed with disappointment as he impatiently tapped the armrest of his throne.

The giant monitor walls stayed dark. The drain hole was easily big enough for a person, and maintenance ladder led down into the gloom.

Jason went first. As he climbed he braced himself for horrible sewer smells, but it wasn't that bad. The ladder dropped into a brickwork tunnel running north to south. The air was warm and dry, with only a trickle of water on the floor.

Grover, Thalia, and Annabeth looked surprised to hear that.

"Huh," the satyr blinked. "Not bad."

"This has to be where the mistress is," Thalia stated. "No way is a sewer ever this clean."

"Are all sewers this nice?" Piper wondered.

"No," Leo said. "Trust me."

Jason frowned. "How do you know-"

"Hey, man, I ran away six times. I've slept in some weird places, okay?

The god of fire tightened his screwdriver.

Now which way do we go?"

Jason tilted his head, listening, then pointed south. "That way."

"How can you be sure?" Piper asked.

"There's a draft blowing south," Jason said. "Maybe the venti went with the flow."

It wasn't much of a lead...

"It's better than nothing." Annabeth shrugged.

Unfortunately, as soon as they started walking, Piper stumbled. Jason had to catch her.

Aphrodite smiled at that.

Will looked nervous. 

Please, don't give her anymore nectar or ambrosia. Just let her rest her foot. he silently pleaded.

"Let's rest," Jason decided. Will let out a sigh of relief. "We could use it. We've been going nonstop for over a day. Leo, can you pull any food from that tool belt besides breath mints?"

...Piper and Jason sat on a brick ledge while Leo shuffled through his pack.

Jason was glad to rest. He was still tired and dizzy, and hungry too. But mostly, he wasn't eager to face whatever lay ahead. He turned his gold coin in his fingers.

Thalia plucked her bowstring.

If you are to die, Hera had warned, it will be by her hand.

He'll be fine. she tried to reassure herself.

Whoever 'her' was. After Khione, the Cyclops mother, and the weird sleeping lady, the last thing Jason needed was another psycho villainess in his life.

"Tell me about it." Thalia muttered.

"It wasn't your fault," Piper said.

... He looked down at the coin in his palm. "I was stupid. I left you alone and ended up walking into a trap. I should've known..."

He didn't finish. There were too many things he should have known- who he was, how to fight monsters, how Cyclopes lured their victims by mimicking their voices and hiding in the shadows and a hundred other tricks. All the information was supposed to be in his head. He could feel places it should be- like empty pockets. 

And that's going to happen to me... Percy thought, face paling. He would forget all the good times he had with his friends, the special moments with his mom, Annabeth, what would Hera want him to do to get them back? When would he get them back? It's taking Jason days to get his own memories back, what if he took longer?

Gods. Percy brushed his hair back. I'm probably one of the seven too. 

If Hera wanted him to succeed, why had she stolen the memories that could help him? She claimed his amnesia had kept him alive, but that made no sense.

"The Greeks would've killed you otherwise." Hera muttered.

He was starting to understand why Annabeth had wanted to leave the goddess in her cage.

The goddess of marriage rolled her eyes. "Honestly, how many times are people going to say that? Have you forgotten all the things I've done for you."

Hephaestus glared at her. "No, we haven't, that's why we're suggesting it."

Hera scowled back.

"Hey." Piper nudged his arm. "Cut yourself some slack. Just because you're the son of Zeus doesn't mean you're a one-man army."

Annabeth gave Percy a meaningful smile.

Her boyfriend sheepishly smiled back.

...In the firelight, Piper's eyes seemed to dance. Jason had been studying them for days now, and he still couldn't decide what color they were.

She tugged at the little braids on each side of her head. Again, Jason thought how glad he was that she'd lost the Aphrodite blessing. With the makeup and the dress and the perfect hair, she'd looked about twenty-five, glamorous, and completely out of his league. He'd never thought of beauty as a form of power, but that's the way Piper had seemed- powerful.

Aphrodite couldn't help but beam with pride. 

He liked the regular Piper better- someone he could hang out with. But the weird thing was, he couldn't quite get that other image out of his head. It hadn't been an illusion. That side of Piper was there too. She just did her best to hide it.  

He gets it. the goddess of love thought happily.

"Back in the factory," Jason said, "you were going to say something about your dad."

Great! He remembered! Aphrodite's smile grew as she silently encouraged her daughter to tell the truth.

...[Piper] "Was I?"  

Drew rolled her eyes. If you didn't look like you were hiding something before, you sure did now.

"Piper," he said, "he's in some kind of trouble, isn't it?"

Com'on, com'on, tell him. Aphrodite tightly crossed her fingers.

Over at the fire, Leo stirred some sizzling bell peppers and meat in a pan. "Yeah, baby! Almost there."

"Ruining the moment, hun." Aphrodite absentmindedly told him.

"Sorry."

Piper looked on the verge of tears. "Jason... I can't talk about it."

"We're your friends. Let us help."

Please listen to Jason... the goddess of love pleaded.

That seemed to make her feel worse. She took a shaky breath. "I wish I could, but-"

"And bingo!" Leo announced.

Aphrodite groaned and slumped in her seat.

...Jason had no idea where he'd gotten all the food, or how he'd put it together so fast, but it looked amazing: pepper and beef tacos with chips and salsa.

"What can I say? I'm just that good!" Leo bragged.

Clarisse made a face at the description of the meals.

"Salsa, seriously? You really gave them salsa after the Cyclopes?" she asked, looking at him as if he grew a third head.

Leo paused as if the thought never occurred to him.

"Oh." he said with an embarrassed smile. "They didn't complain, so maybe they didn't notice?" At least, I hope not.

..."Chef Leo's Taco Garage is fixing you up!" he said proudly. "And by the way, it's tofu, not beef, beauty queen, so don't freak. Just dig in!"

Jason wasn't sure about tofu, but the tacos tasted as good as they smelled. While they ate, Leo tried to lighten the mood and joke around. Jason was grateful Leo was with them.

Looking up from his protractor, Leo grinned.

It made being Piper a little less intense and uncomfortable. At the same time, he kind of wished he was alone with her,

Yeah, I figured. Leo's smiled wavered a bit, but his smile remained intact.

but he chided himself for feeling that way.

After Piper ate, Jason encouraged her to get some sleep. Without another word, she curled up and put her head in his lap.

This caused Aphrodite to perk up a bit.

Hopefully she won't get any nightmares, she needs all the rest she can get. Will thought.

...They sat in silence for a few minutes, drinking lemonade Leo had made from canteen water and powdered mix.

...But as he stared at the embers of the fire, something began to bother him. ¨Leo... about this fire stuff you can do... is it true?"

Leo's smile faltered. "Yeah, well..." He opened his hand. A small ball of flames burst to life, dancing across his palm.

"That is so cool," Jason said. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Leo closed his fist and the fire went out. "Didn't want to look like a freak."

"Hey, there's nothing wrong with being a freak." Connor told him. "We're all freaks."

"Yeah!" Travis added. "Annabeth's a human encyclopedia; Percy's a walking fish with a strange obsession with blue; Nico sees dead people; and Katie grows plants!" he paused, pretending to consider something. "Okay, that last one's boring compared to the others, but she's a freak by a landslide."

The Stolls and Leo snickered as the daughter of Demeter shot them a heated glare.

"Walking fish?" Percy muttered to Annabeth.

The daughter of Athena shrugged.

"I would've said 'Little Merman,' but 'walking fish' works too."

She tried not to smile as Percy sputtered in response.

"I have lightning and wind powers," Jason reminded him. "Piper can turn beautiful and charm people into giving her BMWs. You're no more a freak than we are. And, hey, maybe you can fly too. Like jump off a building and yell, 'Flame on!'"

A some people laughed while Hephaestus paled at the idea.

Travis beamed at Leo.

"Dude!" he said excitedly. "Can you-"

"No." 

"Have you tried?" Connor countered.

"No but-"

"Then how do you know you can't do something if you never tried?" Connor reasoned as if Leo was being difficult. 

"Yeah, at least try it before you say you can't." Travis looked like he was thinking of something before he snapped his fingers. "Oh! I know! After this, let's go up to the Big House roof and-"

"No!" Hephaestus exclaimed, surprising the others with his volume. As if just realizing how loud his voice came out, he cleared his throat and said in a more subdued tone: "No, that's not necessary."

 The room feel into awkward silence.

Jake kept reading.

Leo snorted. "If I did that, you would see a flaming kid falling to his death, Jake gave his father an apologetic smile as the god shuddered.

and I would be yelling something a little stronger than 'Flame on!' Trust me, Hephaestus cabin doesn't see fire powers as cool. Nyssa told me they're super rare. When a demigod like me comes around, bad things happen. Really bad."

Nyssa guiltily looked down at her shoes. Next time, we won't even bring up that dumb story.

"Maybe it's the other way around," Jason suggested. "Maybe people with special gifts show when bad things are happening because that's when they're needed most."

"That's a good way of looking at it." Percy said, he wondered if Jason learned that on his own or if Lupa told him.

Leo cleared away the plates. "Maybe. But I'm telling you... it's not always a gift."

Jason fell silent. "You're talking about your mom, aren't you? The night she died."

Leo stiffened, before forcing himself to focus on his protractor.

He twirled the piece of plastic on his finger.

..."Leo, her death wasn't your fault. Whatever happened that night- it wasn't because you could summon fire.

Uh-huh. Leo thought, twirling the protractor faster.

This Dirt Woman, whoever she is, has been trying to ruin you for years, mess up confidence, take away everything you about. She's trying to make you feel like a failure. You're not. You're important."

"That's what she said." Leo looked up, his eyes full of pain. "She said I was meant to do something important- something that would make or break that big prophecy

"Do we have to read this?" Leo said.

"I'm almost done." Jake told him before hurriedly reading the rest.

about the seven demigods. That's what scares me. I don't know if I'm up for it."

...Leo poked at the remnants of his fire, turning over red-hot coals with his bare hands. "You ever wonder about the other four demigods? I mean... if we're three of the ones from the Great Prophecy, who are the others? Where are they?"

"I'm not sure who the last two are," Annabeth sighed. "But I think it's safe to say we know who the other five are."

The other demigods gave her confused looks.

"Five?" Katie asked. "You know the last two?"

Annabeth nodded.

"We've got Leo, Piper, and Jason... That's three." she listed off. "And Percy and I make five."

Percy gawked at her. "Wait, you're coming?"

Annabeth crossed her arms and looked at him as if the answer was obvious.

"Of course, I'm coming. There's no way I'm going to let you go on this quest without me." she huffed. "As soon as we know where this camp is, I'm going to find you and punch you in the gut for having us worry so much." 

Percy laughed.

"I'm sure you will." he grinned.

Jason had thought about it, all right, but he tried to push it out of his mind. He had a horrible suspicion that he would be expected to lead those other demigods...

Percy made a face at that.

"I mean, he might have some say in decisions, but I don't see him being a leader of the group. Six is a lot of people to lead on a quest."

Thalia rolled her eyes. "So what are you saying? That you should be the leader?"

He shrugged.

"I don't see why not. I led a quest with three other people before and took charge during the Titian War. I think I have more experience in leadership than Jason does, we're not even sure if he's ever went on a quest before."

"We don't know, but he does have the qualities needed to be a good leader. He cares for the members of his team and thinks about the consequences of his actions. He could lead six people if he wanted to."

"He has good leadership qualities," Percy agreed. "But I don't think those are enough for him to be the leader of this big quest."

Thalia narrowed her eyes. "You're just saying that because you don't want to take orders from someone."

Percy narrowed his eyes as well. "No. It's because I don't think he can handle the pressures of being a leader."

"Oh! And you can handle it just fine!"

"I'll be the leader!" Annabeth cut in before Percy could say anything else. She looked back and forth at the two with exasperation. "We haven't even started yet. Let's not argue over something so stupid."

The two begrudgingly stopped fighting.

...Jason had been trained to never show fear. He was sure of that from his dream with the wolves. He was supposed to act confident, even if he didn't feel it. But Leo and Piper were depending o him, and he was terrified of failing them. If he had lead a group of six- six who might not get along- that would've be even worse.

"I'm sure we'll be fine. I mean all five of us seem like we can get along. Things won't change with just two more," Percy turned to Leo. "Right?"

Leo glanced at the wall. 

"Right!" he said in forced cheerfulness, he tried not to think about his complicated relationship between Frank and Hazel.

Athena looked skeptical.

"I don't know," he said at last. "I guess the other four will show up when the time is right. Who knows? Maybe they're on some other quest right now."

Poseidon stiffened at that.

Percy grimaced. "Geez. I hope not. I don't think I can handle taking on a quest without my memories. What if I forgot how my pen works? What if you guys come get me while I'm on a quest?"

Annabeth tried not to think about that last part. "Even if you forget, you should be fine with your Achilles Heel."

The gods exchanged looks.

Leo frowned. "His Chili's what?"

"Achilles Heel," she corrected, looking puzzled by his reaction. How could he not know Percy has it?  "It's a curse named after an ancient Greek hero who was almost invulnerable due to bathing in the River Styx."

"But the catch was that he had one weak spot on his body that could kill him if someone injured it." Nico added.

Leo blinked and looked even more bewildered. "The Percy in my time period didn't have that." 

Percy, Annabeth, and Nico stared at Leo.

"What?" the daughter of Athena finally said.

"You mean I did all that for nothing?" Percy groaned.

"But how is that possible?" Nico asked. "You can't just get rid of a curse."

"The Achilles Heel is considered a Greek blessing," Poseidon explained. "You can't have it once you go into Roman territory." 

Well, that changes a lot of things. Annabeth grimaced although she couldn't help but feel slightly relieved. That Achilles Heel was a real gamble, it was almost a blessing to have it be gone and not have to worry about his most vulnerable point.

 "You've got to be kidding me," Percy complained. "Now I have no memories and I'm defenseless."

"Just try not to get in too much trouble until the others find you." Nico said sympathetically.

Leo grunted. "I bet their sewer is nicer than ours."

Apollo chuckled at the same time Artemis rolled her eyes.

"I hope so." Percy said.

...It was hard to measure time, but Jason figured his friends slept about four hours. Jason didn't mind. Now that he was resting, he didn't really feel the need for more sleep. He'd been conked out long enough on the dragon.

That doesn't count as sleep. Will thought, making a face.

Plus he needed time to think about the quest, his sister Thalia, and Hera's warnings. He also didn't mind Piper's using him for a pillow.

Aphrodite and some of her daughters giggled.

She had a cute way of breathing when she slept- inhaling through the nose, exhaling with a little puff through the mouth.

"Ugh! Too much information!" Leo exclaimed. "Could somebody please explain to me how knowing Piper's breathing is 'cute' will help save the future? What? Will it help Piper overcome her fear of snoring in public or something?"

"I think it's cute." the goddess of love giggled again, hugging Ares' arm.

He was almost disappointed when she woke up.

"Awww!" Aphrodite cooed.

....It twisted and turned and seemed to go on forever. Jason wasn't sure what to expect at the end- a dungeon, a mad scientist's lab, or maybe a sewer reservoir where all Porta-Potty sludge ends up, forming an evil toilet face large enough to swallow the whole world.

"Your brother has one active imagination, Thalia." Phoebe stated, looking just as weirded out.

...Maybe he got hit in the head too hard... the daughter of Zeus thought.

Instead, they found polished stall elevator doors, each one engraved a cursive letter M. Next to the elevator was a directory, like for a department store.

The demigods exchanged confused looks.

"M for Macy's?" Piper guessed. "I think they have one in downtown Chicago."

"Don't think that the same place." Katie said.

...The doors slid open on the fourth floor, and the scent of perfume wafted into the elevator. Jason stepped out first, sword ready.

Piper joined him and caught her breath. "This is not Macy's." The department store looked like the inside of a kaleidoscope. The entire ceiling was stained glass mosaic with astrological signs around a giant sun. The daylight streaming through it washed everything in a thousand different colors. The upper floors made a ring of balconies around a huge central atrium, so they could see all the way down to the ground floor. Gold railings glittered so brightly, they were hard to look at.

"Is this place a giant mall?" Mitchell frowned. "What's the mall doing in the sewers?"

"What's the mistress doing with a mall?" Chris asked, taking in the description.

In the middle of the atrium a fountain sprayed water twenty feet into the air, changing color from red to yellow to blue. The pool glittered with gold coins, and on either side of the fountain stood a glided cage- like an oversize canary cage.

Inside one, a miniature hurricane swirled, and lightning flashed. Somebody had imprisoned the storm spirits, and the cage shuddered as they tried to get out. In the other, frozen like a statue, was a short, buff satyr, holding a tree-branch club.

"Alright! The storm spirits are all in one space!" Travis grinned.

"They even found Coach Hedge!" Connor added.

Clarisse rested her head on her chin. "Something's not right. This is too easy."

...A voice said, "May I help you find something."

There it is. Clarisse dryly thought. 

The readers exchanged looks.

A woman had just appeared in front of them.

"There's the mistress." the daughter of Ares said.

"Where did she come from?" Chris wondered. "Is she some kind of minor goddess?"

She shrugged in response.

She wore an elegant black dress with diamond jewelry, she looked like a retired fashion model- maybe fifty years old, though it was hard for Jason to judge. Her long dark hair swept over one shoulder, and her face was gorgeous in that surreal supermodel way- thin and haughty and cold, not quite human. With their long red-painted nails, her fingers looked more like talons.

"Other than the nails, she doesn't sound very tough without the storm spirits. Maybe they could overpower her?" Connor suggested.

She smiled. "I'm so happy to see new customers. How may I help you?"

Leo glanced at Jason like, All yours.

"Thanks for the help." Thalia said sarcastically.

"I'm not a smooth-talker like Jason is." Leo shrugged.

"Um," Jason started, "is this your store?"

The woman nodded. "I found it abandoned, you know. I understand so many stores are these days. I decided it would make the perfect place. I love collecting tasteful objects, helping people, and offering quality goods at a reasonable price. So this seems a good... how do you say... first acquisition in this country."

A few people looked confused by her words.

She spoke with a pleasing accent, but Jason couldn't guess where from. Clearly she wasn't hostile, though. Jason started to relax. Her voice was rich and exotic. Jason wanted to hear more.

"What's wrong with him?" Thalia asked worriedly.

"I dunno, it sounds like he's being hypnotized or something." Percy said.

Aphrodite, recognizing the signs, gasped. "She's charmspeaking him!"

"Is there anyway Leo and Piper can snap him out of it?" Will asked.

Leo sheepishly smiled. 

"Um... yeah, about that..."

"Is there any way Piper can snap them out of it?" Will asked without missing a beat.

"She could if her charmspeak is more powerful than this woman's." But she's not that confident in her power yet. Aphrodite frowned.

"So they're as good as dead." Drew said.

"I am... new," the woman agreed. "I am the Princess of Colchis.  My friends call me Your Highness. 

"What kind of friends are those?" Percy couldn't help but ask.

Now, what are you looking for?"

...Piper poked him in the ribs. "Jason..."

"Um, right. Actually, Your Highness..." he pointed to the glided cage on the first floor. "That's our friend down there, Gleeson Hedge. The satyr. Could we... have him back, please?"

"Of course!" the princess agreed immediately. "I would love to show you my inventory.

"That's not what he asked." Annabeth picked up.

First, may I have your names?"

"Jay, don't." Thalia muttered. "Remember what Hera warned you."

Jason hesitated. It seemed like a bad idea to give out their names. A memory tugged at the back of his mind- something Hera had warned him about, but it seemed. On the other hand, Her Highness was on the verge of cooperating. If they could get what they wanted without a fight, that would be better.

"If you say so." Ares scoffed.

...Piper started to say, "Jason, I wouldn't-"

At least Piper's not effected. Thalia thought. 

"This is Piper," he said. "This is Leo. I'm Jason."

The princess fixed his eyes on him and, just for a moment, her face literally glowed, blazing with so much anger, Jason could see her skull beneath her skin.

The demigods froze.

"What was that?" Grover shuddered.

"Did her head seriously just do that? Or was that just the charmspeak messing with Jason's brain?" Travis said.

Annabeth racked her brain as she tried to figure out who this mystery woman was. Whoever she is, she doesn't like the name 'Jason' that's for sure.

Jason's mind was getting blurrier, but he knew something didn't seem right. Then the moment passed, and Her Highness looked like a normal elegant woman again, with a cordial smile and soothing voice.

"Jason. What an interesting name," she said, her eyes as cold as the Chicago wind. "I think we'll have to make a special deal for you.

"What does that mean?" Thalia gulped.

Come, children. Let's go shopping."

"Finished!" Jake concluded. "Does anybody else want to read?"

"I'll do it." Clarisse said, taking the book.

"Piper XXVII," she began.

Chapter Text

"Piper XXVII," Clarisse read.

Having a feeling on what this chapter's going to have, Leo grimaced. I hope I didn't act too stupid.

Piper wanted to run for the elevator.

Her second choice: attack the weird princess now, because she was sure a fight was coming. 

Ares smiled eagerly at that.

The way the lady's face glowed when she'd heard Jason's name had been bad enough. Now Her Highness was smiling like nothing had happened, and Jason and Leo didn't seem to think anything was wrong.

The princess gestured toward the cosmetics counter. "Shall we start with the potions?"

"Cool," Jason said.

"What's she even going to do to them now that they're in her control?" Chris muttered.

Leo tossed the protractor in the air before catching it.

"Guys," Piper interrupted, "we're here to get the storm spirits and Coach Hedge. If this- princess- is really our friend-"

"Oh, I'm better than a friend, my dear,"

A few people raised an eyebrow at this.

Her Highness said. "I'm a saleswoman." 

A couple people rolled their eyes at this.

Her diamonds and sparkled, and her eyes glittered like a snake's- cold and dark.

"Snakes aren't that bad." Hermes muttered.

Speaking of snakes, we've been sitting around here forever doing nothing, I'm bored! And hungry! Can I have a rat? George whined in Hermes' head.

Be quite, George! Martha scolded. By the way, Lord Hermes, Iris is requesting you to deliver four cargo bins of wind chimes and dream catchers.

Do you think if we deliver that to her quick enough, she'll give us a big juicy rat as a tip? George eagerly inquired.

Do you always have to talk about food? Martha asked, voice full of annoyance.

Not when I'm eating a rat!

"Wind chimes and dream catchers? What does Iris want with... Never mind, I'll find out later." Hermes muttered, turning the phone on vibrate.

The cell phone vibrated in protest at this before Hermes warned. "Stop that or I'll put you on silent."

"Don't worry. We'll work out way down to the first floor, eh?"

Leo nodded eagerly. "Sure. Yeah! That sounds okay. Right, Piper?"

Said boy smacked his forehead with the piece of plastic. Yeah, Valdez, that sounds like a great idea! Follow the lady who's head can literally glow in the dark!

...She hated department sores- mostly because she'd gotten caught stealing from several of them.

"It happens to the best of us..." Travis sighed sadly.

Connor nodded sympathetically.

 "You're lucky you're not in juvie." Katie grumbled.

Well, not exactly caught, and not exactly stealing. She'd talking the salesmen into giving her computers, new boots, a gold ring, once even a lawn mower, though she had no idea why she wanted one. She never kept the stuff.

"I would!" Travis proudly exclaimed.

Hermes gave him a fond smile.

She just did it to get her dad's attention.

Aphrodite sighed sadly. 

..."And here," the princess said, "is the finest assortment of magical mixtures anywhere."

The counter was crammed with bubbling beakers and smoking vials on tripods. Lining the display shelves were crystal flasks- some shaped like swans or honey bear dispensers...And the smells- ugh! Some were pleasant, like fresh baked cookies or roses, but they were mixed with scents of burning tires, skunk spray, and gym lockers.

Lacy made a face of disgust.

The princess pointed to a blood red vial- a simple test tube with a cork stopper. "This one will heal any disease."

"Even cancer?" Leo asked. "Leprosy? Hangnails?"

"Pretty sure that isn't a disease." Percy said.

"Still annoying though..." Leo muttered, tossing the protractor in the air before catching it.

"Any disease, sweet boy. And this vial"- she pointed to a swan-shaped container with blue liquid inside- "will kill you painfully."

Ares smiled.

..."Jason," Piper said. "We've got a job to do. Remember?"

She tried to put power into her words, to snap him out of his trance with charmspeak, but her voice sounded shaky even to her.

Drew huffed. Beginners.

This princess scared her too much, made her confidence crumble, just the way she'd felt back in the Aphrodite cabin with Drew.  

"Should've just let me come on the quest. Would've saved them the trouble." Drew muttered under her breath, before blowing the nail polish dry.

"Job to do," Jason muttered.

Thalia looked hopeful.

"Sure. But shopping first, okay?"

She sighed loudly in disappointment.

"Maybe she could try slapping him or something? If her charmspeak won't work, what else can she do?" Thalia said.

The princess beamed at him. "Then we have potions for resisting fire-"

"Got that covered," Leo said.

"Way to go giving away your secret weapon." Leo rolled his eyes. Just don't speak for the rest of the chapter. 

He put his protractor aside and searched through his tool belt.

"Indeed?" The princess studied Leo's face more closely. "You don't appear to be wearing my trademark sunscreen...

"Oh!" Annabeth gasped. "Her? How is she still alive after all these years? She's not immortal... Unless...

She grabbed her necklace. The Doors of Death are open to mortals too?

Annabeth hadn't even considered it before, but now that there was a possibility of evil mortals coming through with monsters, she couldn't help but wonder:

How exactly can we defeat them? They're human beings. she thought. Our weapons are practically useless, the Celestial Bronze will just pass through them and I don't see these guys just letting us go without a fight...

The daughter of Athena frowned. We have to find a way to close these doors before things get too out of hand.

but no matter. We also have potions that cause blindness, insanity, sleep, or-"

"Wait." Piper was still staring at the red vial. "Could that potion cure lost memory?"  

Coming out of her thoughts, Annabeth blinked with interest.

"Would that even work?" she asked. "I mean, losing memories isn't the same thing as having them stolen."

Will considered the idea. "I don't think so, it's not like the potion can retrieve memories that were buried or recover memories that had been wiped. There's nothing in his head of the potion to help him remember."

"Knowing our luck, the potion would probably make Jason dissolve..." Thalia muttered.

...Piper tried to keep her expression neutral, but if that vial could cure Jason's memory...

Do I really want that? she wondered.

...What if Jason found out that he was their enemy, or something?

The demigods hesitated.

"I mean... that is a good question." Chris ventured. "What if he isn't the same person? He's fine now and he seems to be getting used to Greek terms, but what if he remembers he hates us? What'll we do then?"

"He won't." Thalia scowled. "Jason's not that type of person."

"Hera can't keep his memories forever." Annabeth pointed out. "Besides, he's the only one who would know where the Roman Camp is."

...He might have a girlfriend wherever he came from.

Members of Cabin Ten dramatically gasped.

"Oh my gods!" Lacy said. "I didn't even think about that! What's Piper going to do?"

"Nothing, obviously." Drew said. "She shouldn't even be dating his kind anyway."

It doesn't matter, she decided,  which kind of surprised her.

Lacy also looked surprised by that.

Jason always looked so anguished when he tried to remember things. Piper hates seeing him that way. She wanted to help him because she cared about him, even if that meant losing him.

"Awww!" Lacy cooed.

"They're so good together..." Aphrodite sighed happily.

Drew scowled and rolled her eyes. "Whatever."

Leo pulled out a ruler. He tapped out a beat on the wall.

..."How much?" Piper asked.

The princess got a faraway look in her eyes. "Well, now... The price is always tricky. I love helping people. Honestly, I do. 

"If that wasn't a lie than I don't know what is." Hermes said.

And I always keep my bargains, but sometimes people try to cheat me." Her gaze drifted to Jason.  "Once, for instance, I met a handsome young man who wanted treasure from my father's kingdom. We made a bargain, and I promised to help him steal it."

"From her own father." Hestia said disapprovingly.

"From your own dad?" Jason still looked half in a trance, but the idea seemed to bother him.

"Maybe if they find out who she really is, that'll break her control over them." Annabeth said thoughtfully.

"Oh, don't worry," the princess said. "I demanded a high price. The young man had to take me away with him. He was quite good-looking, dashing, strong..." She looked at Piper. "I'm sure, my dear, you understand how one might be attracted to such a hero, and want to help him."

Piper tried to control her emotions, but she probably blushed. She got the creepiest feeling the princess could read her thoughts.

"No, she's probably just really good at reading body language." Aphrodite corrected. "It comes in handy when being a charmspeaker."

She also found the princess's story disturbingly familiar...but this woman couldn't be the one she was thinking of.

"If you're thinking what I'm thinking, than sadly she is." Annabeth muttered. No wonder why Hera called this mistress dangerous. 

"At any rate," Her Highness continued, "my hero had to do many impossible tasks, and I'm not bragging when I say he couldn't have done them without me. I betrayed my own family to win the hero his prize. And still he cheated me of my payment."

"He did that? Even after what she did?" Percy frowned, feeling a bit sympathetic. 

"Don't feel too bad for her," Annabeth told him. "She murdered her own sons to get back at him."

Percy's head turned so quickly, she was surprised he didn't get whiplash. 

"Huh?!" he exclaimed. 

"That's Medea, Jason's- the original Jason's- ex-wife," Annabeth explained. "She was a mortal but she was a strong sorcerer."

Percy frowned at that.

"If she's mortal and a powerful sorcerer, how are they going to defeat her? Piper's already having trouble with Medea's charmspeak, what if she uses one of those potions?"

"I don't know," Annabeth admitted. "Hopefully Leo and Jason can snap out of it before it's too late."

"Cheated?" Jason frowned...

"That's messed up," Leo said.

Her Highness patted his cheek affectionately.

Hephaestus scowled.

"I'm sure you don't need to worry, Leo. You seem honest. You would always pay a fair price, wouldn't you?"

"Don't remind me." Leo said, moving the ruler from hand to hand. "If I wasn't so honest or fair, I wouldn't be in this mess right now."

Leo nodded. "What were we buying again? I'll take two."

"Shut up, zombified me."

Piper broke in: "So, the vial, Your Highness- how much?"

..."Would you give anything for it, my dear?" the princess asked. "I sense that you would."

The words washed over Piper as powerfully as a good surfing wave... She wanted to pay any price. She wanted to say yes.

The readers tensed, except Dionysus who loudly yawned.

"Charmspeakers can't control other charmspeakers, right?" Chris asked.

"It's hard to do, but it is possible." Lacy replied, looking nervous.

...She summoned all her willpower. "No, I won't pay any price. But a fair price, maybe. After that, we need to leave. Right, guys?"

The readers relaxed.

"Even if she gets the potion, she still can't leave with Coach and the storm spirits." Clarisse said. "Who knows how much all that's going to cost."

"It's not even like she can shoplift it either." Connor added. "I don't see this lady as the type who just calls the police."

"Yeah, she's probably one of those people who follow you around the store to make sure you don't take anything." Travis rolled his eyes and sighed. "I don't mind them sometimes because I like a challenge, but I'm not always there to steal a candy bar."

Just for a moment, her words seemed to have some effect. The boys looked confused.

"Leave?" Jason said.

"You mean... after shopping?" Leo asked.

"Pretty sure it'd be too late by then." Leo said dryly, balancing the ruler on his arm.

..."Impressive," the princess said. "Not many people could resist my suggestions. Are you a child of Aphrodite, my dear? Ah, yes- I should have seen it.

"It's an easy thing to miss if you don't know what you're looking for." Aphrodite said with a shrug.

No matter. Perhaps we should shop a while longer before you decide to buy, eh?"

..."Now, boys." She turned to Jason and Leo. Her voice was so much more powerful than Piper's, so full of confidence, Piper didn't stand a chance. "Would you like to see more?"

"Sure," Jason said.

"Okay," Leo said.

"Excellent," the princess said. "You'll need all the help you can get if you're to make it to the Bay Area."

That threw the demigods off guard.

"The Bay Area?" Katie said with a frown. "Why would she want them to go there?"

She thought about her dream of the mountaintop- the scene. Enceladus had shown her, a place she knew, where she was supposed to betray her friends in two days.

"The Bay Areas?" Piper said. "Why the Bay Area?"

The princess smiled. "Well, that's where they'll die, isn't it?"

"Of course she'd be working for the giants," Percy groaned. "Why else would she be wanting to kill them?" 

"Please tell me you heard that," Thalia pleaded with Leo.

Leo sheepishly smiled. "Sorry, I was too busy thinking about trying on some of the hats."

"Great." the daughter of Zeus said sarcastically.

Then she led them toward the escalators, Jason and Leo still looking excited to shop.

"Finished." Clarisse said, holding out the book. "Who's next?"

Phoebe shrugged. "I'll do it."

"Piper XXVIII," the hunter read, after sitting.

Chapter Text

"Piper XXVIII," Phoebe read.

PIPER CORNERED THE PRINCESS as Jason and Leo went off to check out the living fur coats.

"You want them shopping for their deaths?" Piper demanded.

"Pretty much," Percy said. "I mean, that's what it sounds like to me. I'm surprised they're not dying from boredom."

"Normally I would've, especially with the clothes, but the other things she had in the mall were pretty cool." Leo admitted. "I just wish that she wasn't the one selling them."

...Leo laughed as he tried on a hat that seemed to be made from enchanted raccoon fur. Its ringed tail twitched, and its little legs wiggled frantically as Leo walked. 

The Stolls looked interested.

"How much did she say that was?" Connor asked.

"Not worth it, trust me. You're better off just taping an actual raccoon to your head." Leo told him. 

Jason was ogling the men's sportswear.

Boy's interested in shopping for clothes? A definite sign they were under an evil spell.

"If I could, I'd just let my mom shop for all my clothes." Percy chuckled. 

Piper glared at the princess. "Who are you?"

"I told you, my dear. I'm the Princess of Colchis."

"Where's Colchis?"

...[Princess]"Where was Colchis, you mean. My father ruled the far shores of the Black Sea, as far to the east as a Greek ship could sail in those days. But Colchis is no more- lost eons ago."

"Eons!" Connor exclaimed. "How old is this lady?"

...The princess laughed.  "A lady  should avoid asking or answering that question. Let's just say the, ah, immigration process to enter  your country took a while. My patron finally brought me through. She made all this possible."

"She?" Annabeth picked up with a frown. "So she's not working directly under the giants?" 

If that's true, then she's the only one who it could be... Annabeth gulped. Is she really that powerful?

...Piper's mouth tasted like metal. "Your patron..."

"Oh, yes. She doesn't bring just anyone through, mind you- only those who have special talents, such as me.

Did she summon more people like Medea? Annabeth wondered. How many people did she resurrect? What kind of people were they?

There were so many evil mortals in Greek mythology to choose from, Annabeth couldn't help but worry about which ones Gaia did decide to pick up.  

And really, she insisted on so little- a store entrance must be underground so she can, ah, monitor my clientele; and a favor now and then. 

"Sssoooo, that means she knows they're there, right?" Connor gulped. "Please don't tell me Dirt Woman's going to make another appearance."

"I hope not." Annabeth said. "'Cause now would be the worst time."

In exchange for a new life? Really, it was the best bargain I'd made in centuries."

Run, Piper thought. We have to get out of here.

Now. Thalia agreed.

But before she could even turn her thoughts into words, Jason called, "Hey, check it out!"

From a rack labeled DISTRESSED CLOTHING, he held up a purple T-shirt like the one he'd worn on the school field trip- except this shirt looked as if it had been clawed by tigers.

"Of course Jason would find the purple shirt." Travis rolled his eyes before frowning. "What's up with the claw marks?"

"That was probably from a demigod who was 'too weak' for Lupa's pack." Katie said with a shiver.

"Nah, it was probably from something else." Leo said. "Like a bear or some kind of monster."

"It's not too far fetched," Mitchell said. "Jason did say Lupa would tear him to shreds or eat him if he showed weakness."

The son of Hephaestus gulped but tried not to look as disturbed as the others did.

"Oh, that? Pffftt!" Leo waved his ruler dismissively. "We all know how dramatic Jay can get, I wouldn't be surprised if he was over exaggerating."

"I hope so," Percy said. "What if Lupa tries to eat me?" 

"You'll be fine!" Leo reassured. "She's super chill!" At least, I hope she is.

 Jason frowned. "Why does it look so familiar?"

"Jason, it's like yours," Piper said. 

"Please don't try to buy it." Thalia pleaded. "I know they mean a lot to you, but we'll get you another purple shirt."

"He can tie-dye a purple shirt back at Camp." Connor said. "It's cheaper and it'd look cooler than the first one he had."

"I bet all his Roman pals back at their camp would be so jealous." Travis snickered. 

"Do you think they have Arts 'n Crafts at the Roman Camp?" Lacy wondered.

"Probably not," Chris shrugged. "I don't think they'd have enough time to do stuff like that with how often they travel."

Leo frowned. "Huh?"

"The Romans don't get claimed at their own camp, right?" he began. "And we haven't seen or heard of them in years (at least, not that we know of). So they could be nomadic, that could explain why they travel with wolves and consider the Wolf House as some sort of sacred ground."

"Is that what you think it's like?" Lacy said. "I thought they would be like our camp, only a little different. Maybe more pillars, a couple of Roman statues, a smaller dinning hall..."

"Wow, your imagination could use more work." Drew criticized.

Lacy blushed.

"I don't know what it could look like!" she defended. "Aren't we kinda the same anyway? So wouldn't it make sense if our camps look simila-"

"No." the other demigods chorused.

Lacy ducked her head.

Annabeth stared at the wall as she listened intently to the others' theories.

"I bet their camp is surrounded by mountains or a forest, or a moat." Connor said. "They probably only have a four or five stone cabins and they're all circled around the wolf lady's-"

"Lupa's," Will added.

"Lupa's den. I don't think these guys are really into bright colors or shiny things, so their camp is probably boring and doesn't have much to look at. Well," he paused to consider something. "They might have Roman statues..."

Lacy beamed. "They would have a ton!"

"What if they live in a city?" Leo nervously ventured. "And they basically can have normal lives as demigods?"

The demigods stared at him...

Before they burst out into laughter.

Of course. Leo deadpanned.

"Demigods with normal lives, that's pretty funny!" Percy said in between his laughter.

It wasn't that funny. Leo thought as he watched the son of Poseidon struggle to breathe.

"That's not possible." Jake smiled.

"Is it?" his brother dryly asked.

"For one thing, if there was a city of demigods," cue the giggles in the back. "We would of known about it. I don't care how much mist they use, there's no way there's a camp that big can be hidden from us."

"And there would never be that many demigods in one place." Katie said, still giggling. "Do you know how many monsters that'll attract?"

"Besides," Annabeth finally spoke up. "if there was a place where demigods would live, it would be pretty small, like a town or a village. We wouldn't have enough resources and people to make a city."

She sighed wistfully. I wish...

"Yeah, maybe we can't, but what if the Romans have more people?" Leo said as casually as he could.  

The demigods stiffened before forcing themselves to relax.

"No way," Mitchell said. "Do you see how often they die? One got eaten by the Cyclopes, another got killed by Lupa,"

"Or a monster." Leo added, moving his ruler to empathize the point.

"They're probably smaller than we are."

The demigods nodded and echoed their agreements.

"Yeah, there can't be more of them than us!" Travis said, forcing himself to laugh. "Dude, right now, I have thirteen brothers and sisters, and those are the ones that got claimed! There's no way that the Mercury Cabin can top that!"

Leo looked confused. "Should that even be something to compete over? Aren't you guys technically siblings t-"

"No." the demigods chorused.

"Jay and I are siblings." Thalia pointed out.

"That's totally different," Drew argued. "You guys have the same mom and lived in the same house. We didn't even know these people existed. Why should we be suddenly claim them as our family?"

"She's got a point." Chris shrugged.

I don't think so. Thalia scowled as Phoebe read on.

"Now we really have to leave."...

"Nonsense," the princess said. "The boys aren't done yet, are they? And yes, my dear. Those shirts are very popular- trade ins from previous customers. It suits you."

Leo picked up an orange Camp Half-Blood tee with a hole th rough the middle, as if it had been hit by a javelin.

Most of the demigods winced. 

"Why would she even be selling clothes like that anyways?" Will asked with a grimace. "Isn't that in poor taste?"

Next to that was a dented bronze breastplate pitted with corrosion- acid, maybe?- and a Roman toga slashed to pieces and stained with something that looked disturbingly like dried blood.

"How did she even get that?" Katie said, face turning greenish.

...[Piper] "Why don't you tell the boys how you betrayed your family. I'm sure they'd like to hear that story."

Her words didn't have any effect on the princess, but the boys turned, suddenly interested.

"More story?" Leo asked.

"I like more story!" Jason agreed.

Athena looked as if Jason's sudden lack of grammar had slapped her in the face.

The princess flashed Piper an irritated look. "Oh, one will do strange things for love, Piper. You should know that. I fell for the young hero, in fact, because your mother Aphrodite had me under a spell.  If it wasn't for her- but I can't hold a grudge on a goddess, can I?"

The princess' tone made her meaning clear: can take it out on you.

Aphrodite narrowed her eyes. She wouldn't dare...

She glared at the book as if it were Medea herself.

" But that hero took you with him when he fled Colchis," Piper remembered. "Didn't he, Your Highness? He married you just as he promised."

..."At first," Her Highness admitted. "it seemed he would keep his word. But even after I helped him steal my father's treasure, he still needed my help. As we fled, my brother's fleet came after us. His warships overtook us. He would have destroyed us, but I convinced, my brother to come aboard our ship first and talk under a flag of truce. He trusted me."

"And you killed your own brother," Piper said, the horrible story all coming back to her...

"What?!" Lacy gasped. 

"What's wrong with her?" Will said, looking disgusted.

"How could she do that to her own brother." Hestia said sadly.

"What?" Jason stirred. For a moment he looked almost like himself. "Killed your own-"

"No," the princess snapped. "Those stories are lies. It was my new husband and his men who killed my brother, 

"Still doesn't make you look any better considering you just let it happen." Artemis said, crossing her arms.

"How crazy is that? Watching your husband kill your brother?" Percy said in disbelief.

"She's insane." Leo stated, scraping the floor with his ruler.

though they couldn't have done it without my deception.

"Again, still not making yourself look like the good guy in this story." the goddess said.

They threw his body into the sea, and the pursuing fleet had to stop and search for it so they could give my brother a proper burial. This gave us time to get away. All this, I did for my husband. And he forgot our bargin. He betrayed me in the end."

"She sounds more upset that her husband cheated on her than the fact that he killed her brother." Katie said.

Jason looked uncomfortable. "What did he do?"

The princess held the sliced-up toga against Jason's chest, as if measuring him for assassination. 

Thalia shuddered.

"Don't you know the story, my boy? You of all people should. You were named after him."

The princess smiled. "As I said, a new life in a new country. Certainly I made mistakes. I turned my back on my own people. I was called a traitor, a thief, a liar, a murderess.

"If the shoe fits, wear it." Hermes shrugged.

But I acted out of love."She turned to the boys and gave them a pitiful look, batting her eyelashes, reminding the Aphrodite Cabin and Thalia of Drew..."Wouldn't you do the same for someone you loved, my dear?"

"Oh, sure," Jason said.

"Okay," Leo said.

... "Let's continue, shall we?" the princess said breezily. "I believe you wanted to talk about a price for storm spirits- and your satyr."

"Finally." Clarisse said.

Leo got distracted on the second floor with the appliances.

"No way," he said. "Is that an armored forge?"

Before Piper could stop him, he hopped off the escalator and ran over to a big oval oven that looked like a barbecue on steroids.

When they caught up to him, the princess said. "You have good taste. This is the H-200, designed by Hephaestus himself. Hot enough to melt Celestial bronze or Imperial gold."

"Imperial gold?" Chris repeated.

"I think it's a type of metal the Romans used to mine." Nyssa recalled. "But it's so rare, not much of it can be found today."

"Wow!" Jake said, taking in Medea's description of the forge. "That thing's amazing! Do you know how much more complex weapons or materials we can make with that? How much do you think it would cost?"

"Not much," Leo said. "If you count seven years of servitude, a bit of your strength, a pint of blood, and a piece of your pinkie toe as not much."

"Never mind." Jake gulped.

Leo shrugged. "Would you believe that the forge was the least expensive thing in the mall?"

"Even less expensive than the raccoon hat?" Annabeth raised an eyebrow.

"The hat cost the most." Leo waved the ruler around like he was conducting an orchestra. 

[Jason] "Imperial gold?"

The princess nodded. "Yes, my dear. Like that weapon so cleverly concealed in your pocket.  To be properly forged, Imperial gold had to be constructed in the Temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill in Rome. Quite a powerful and rare metal, but like the Roman emperors, quite volatile. Be sure never to break that blade..." She smiled pleasantly. 

"Or what?" Will asked. "Is she going to answer that or...?"

"Rome was after my time, of course, but I do hear stories.  And over here-

"I guess not." he sighed.

"Hopefully we'll never find out." Annabeth said.

this golden throne is one of my finest luxury items. Hephaestus made it as a punishment for his mother, Hera.

"So that's where it was," Hephaestus said in mild surprise. "I was looking all over for it last month."

Hera turned to glare at him. "Why would you be looking for that horrible thing?"

"Yes," Aphrodite squeaked. Her face paling as she nervously smiled. "Why would you be looking for it last month, darling? It wouldn't have anything to do with Ares and I, would it sweetie?"

Hephaestus smiled back.

"Of course not." he replied, but his tone said something different.

The goddess gulped. I'm so glad I got rid of that junk. It was only a matter of time... 

Sit in it and you'll be immediately trapped."

Leo apparently took this as an order. He began walking toward it in a trance.

Hephaestus's smile vanished. "No! Don't sit on it!"

"Why can't he?" Hera asked in false innocence. "It's just a lovely gift! What's the harm in sitting on it? I say, let him do it!"

"We're not having this discussion right now." the god said through gritted teeth.

"Leo, don't!" Piper warned.

He blinked. "How much for both?"

Hephaestus softly sighed with relief while his son rolled his eyes.

"Oh, the seat I could let you have for five great deeds..."  She led Leo into the appliance section, giving her prices on various items.

Piper didn't want to leave him alone with her, but she had to try reasoning with Jason. She pulled him aside and slapped him across the face.

The Stolls laughed. 

"Hopefully that should work." Thalia said.

"Ow," he muttered sleepily. "What was that for?"

"Or not." Thalia sighed. "Is this lady really that powerful?"

...[Piper]"She's charmspeaking you. Can't you feel it?"

He knit his eyebrows. "She seemed okay."

"She's not okay! She shouldn't even be alive! She was married to Jason- the other Jason- three thousand years ago. Remember what Boreas said- something about the souls no longer being confined to Hades? It's not just monsters who can't stay dead. She's come back from the Underworld!"

Jason shook his head uneasily. "She's not a ghost."

"No, she's worst! She's-"

"Children." The princess was back with Leo in tow. "If you please, we will now see what you came for. That is what you want, yes?"

...She was tempted to pull out her dagger and take on this witch herself,

"Then do it." Ares said, tired of the lack of action.

but she didn't like her chances- not in the middle of Her Highness's department store while her friends were under a spell. Piper couldn't even be sure they'd take her side in a fight. She had to figure a better plan.

Athena nodded her head in approval as Ares snorted.

 Leo tried balancing the ruler on his nose, but it fell.

The ruler landed on the ground with a loud CLANK.  

They took the escalator down to the base of the fountain. For the first time, Piper noticed two large sundial- each about the size of a trampoline- inlaid on the marble tile floor to the north and south of the fountain.

The gilded oversize canary cages stood to the east and west, and the farthest one held the storm spirits...

"Hey," Leo said, "Coach Hedge looks okay!"

Clarisse grinned at that.

They ran to the nearest canary cage. The old satyr seemed to have been petrified at the moment he was sucked into the sky above the Grand Canyon...

"Yes," the princess said. "I always keep my wares in good condition. We can certainly barter for storm spirits and the satyr. A package deal. If we come to terms, I'll even throw the vial of healing potion, and you can go in peace."

"That sounds too good to be true." Will said.

"Yeah," Annabeth agreed. "She's probably trying to trick them into believing they're in control of the situation."

As Clovis slept through the reading, Leo gently placed the ruler on his forehead. 

The ruler swayed side-to-side, but remained balanced.

...She gave Piper a shrew look. "That's better than starting unpleasantness, isn't it, dear?"

Piper needed more time to think.

"We can negotiate," she said.

"Totally!" Leo agreed. "Name your price."

"Leo!" the demigods groaned.

Said boy winced. "Sorry! I couldn't help it!"

"You really need to work on your haggling strategy," Athena warned him. "Or you're going to end up taking the short end of a deal."

"I know," Leo grimaced. I just wish I knew sooner.

He rummaged through his tool belt.

[Princess] "...Freedom is very valuable indeed. You would ask me to release this satyr, who attacked my storm winds-"

"They attacked first." Poseidon reminded.

Her Highness shrugged. "As I said, my patron asks me for small favors from time to time. Sending the storm spirits to abduct you- that was one. I assure you it was nothing personal.

"Still doesn't make it right." Percy said.

Taking out a pencil, Leo slowly put it on Clovis's nose.

It fell over.

Leo picked it up and tried again.

And no harm done, as you came here, in the end, of your own free will! At any rate, you want the satyr freed, and you want my storm spirits- who are very valuable servants, by the way- so you can hand them over to that tyrant Aeolus. Doesn't seem quite fair, does it? The price will be high."

"Yeah, I think they should just skip the paying thing all together and just take them instead." Travis said. "Saves time that way."

"She still has to save Leo and Jason first." Katie reminded.

"You're Medea," she said. "You helped the original Jason steal the Golden Fleece. You're one of the most evil villains in Greek mythology. Jason, Leo- don't trust her."

"Yeah, like that would work." Drew muttered sarcastically.

Leo placed his origami on one end of the ruler.

The ruler dipped but still remained balanced on Clovis's head. 

Piper put all the intensity she could gather into those woods... Jason stepped away from the sorceress. Leo scratched his head and looked around like he was coming out of a dream.

"What are we doing, again?"

"Finally!" Thalia sighed loudly with relief. "Now can they leave?" 

Aphrodite smiled at her daughter's success.

"Boys!" [Medea] "It's true, I'm Medea. But I'm so misunderstood.

"Just like every other monster that tries to kill demigods." Percy mentioned, rolling his eyes.

"Seriously," Leo agreed, placing a small paperclip at the center of the ruler. "Can't these guys come up with something new? Gimme more variety."

Oh, Piper, my dear, you don't know what it was like for women in the old days. We had no power, no leverage. Often we couldn't even choose our own husbands. Phoebe's grip on the book tightened as she read this.But was different. I chose my own destiny by becoming a sorceress. Is that so wrong? I made a pact with Jason: my help to win the fleece, in exchange for his love. 

"You can't win someone's love by making a deal with them." Aphrodite impatiently explained. "That relationship was doomed from the start."

A fair deal. He became a famous hero! Without me, he would've died unknown on the shores of Colchis."

 Jason- Piper's Jason- scowled. "Then... you really did die three thousand years ago? You came back from the Underworld."

"Death no longer holds me, young hero," Medea said. "Thanks to my patron, I am flesh and blood again."

"You... re-formed?" Leo blinked. "Like a monster?"

"I wouldn't say that," Nico said. "Monsters re-forming is more natural than how she came back to life."

Leo placed more small items on either side of the ruler.

...."Guys," Piper said. "The original Jason left Medea because she was crazy and bloodthirsty."

...."On the way back from Colchis, Jason's ship landed at another kingdom, and Jason agreed to dump Medea and marry the king's daughter."

"After I bore his two children!" Medea said. "Still he broke his promise! I ask you was that right?"

"It wasn't right, but you weren't innocent either." Athena said.

...."It may not have been right," she said, "but neither was Medea's revenge. She murdered her own children to get back at Jason. She poisoned his new wife and fled the kingdom."

The demigods winced.

"And there's going to be more people like her brought back to life?" Will said. "Great.

"I know, right? How much more lucky can we get?" Travis sarcastically responded.

...."You're insane," Piper said.

"I am the victim!" Medea wailed. "I died with my dreams shattered, but no longer. I know now not to trust heroes. When they come asking for treasures, they will pay a heavy price. Especially when the one asking has the name of Jason!"

"Really? Why do all these monsters have grudges against names?" Thalia groaned.

"Tell me about it, do you know how many people want to kill me just because of my name alone?" Percy complained. 

The fountain turned bright red. Piper drew her dagger, but her hand was shaking almost too badly to hold it.

FiguresDrew sneered. 

"Jason, Leo- it's time to go. Now."

"Before you've closed the deal?" Medea asked. "What of your quest, boys? And my price is so easy. Did you know this fountain is magic? If a dead man were to be thrown into it, even if he was chopped to pieces, he would pop back out full formed- stronger and more powerful than before."

"Ha!" Connor laughed. "Did she really think that they would be stupid enough to-"

"Seriously?" Leo asked. Phoebe read out loud, rolling her eyes. Boys.

"...Oh." he finished. 

The others gave Leo disappointed looks.

"I was being charmspoken! Com'on guys, give me more credit than that! I'm not that dumb!" Leo defended.

"Leo, she's lying," Piper said. "She did that trick with somebody before- a king, I think. She convinced his daughters to cut him to pieces so he could come out of the water young and healthy again, but it just killed him!"

"Wow. How many people did she end up killing before she died?" Will said in disbelief. "Seriously, this is the fifth person!"

"Ridiculous," Medea said, and Piper could hear the power charged in every syllable. "Leo, Jason- my price is so simple. Why don't you two fight? If you get injured or even killed, no problem. We'll just throw you into the fountain and you'll be better than ever. You do want to fight, don't you? You resent each other!"

"Yeah! Fight it out!" Ares demanded, receiving heated glares from Hephaestus and Thalia in response.

"Guys, no!" Piper said. But they were already glaring at each other, as if it was just dawning on them how they really felt.

"They wouldn't really try to kill each other, would they? They're best friends." Lacy worriedly whispered to Mitchell.

"Normally they wouldn't..." her brother replied, glancing at Leo, who shifted uncomfortably. "But I think they're too deep into Medea's spell to have control in their actions."

Is it sad that this isn't the worst thing I've done when under possession? Leo thought, brushing his hair back.

Clovis moved his head to the side and all his things scattered on the floor.

I gotta find a way to stop getting mind controlled. Maybe I should buy a charm? Or wear a tin hat? Those are pretty easy to make...

...Leo scowled. "Jason's always the star. He always gets the attention and takes me for granted."

Leo winced and looked everywhere but at anyone in the room.

"It was the charmspeak." he lied, crossing his arms.

"You're annoying, Leo," Jason said. 

"Guilty." Leo joked, trying to play it off.

"You never take anything seriously. You can't fix a dragon."

The demigods grimaced.

Leo said nothing at that, he just quietly picked up the things that fell of Clovs's face and pretended not to hear that.

"Stop!" Piper pleaded, but both drew weapons- Jason his gold sword, and Leo a hammer from his tool belt.

"A sword versus a hammer..." Connor made a face. "Not much of a fair fight. You sure you guys can't just talk it out?"

"Maybe rock-paper-scissors? Or a coin toss?" Travis suggested.

"Let them go, Piper," Medea urged. "I'm doing you a favor. Let it happen now, and it will make your choice so much easier. Enceladus will be pleased. You can have your father back today!" 

What does she know about Tristan? Aphrodite scowled. Does she have something to do with his kidnapping?

"You work for Enceladus," she said.

Medea laughed. "Serve a giant? No. But we all serve the same greater cause- a patron you cannot begin to challenge.  Walk away, child of Aphrodite. This does not have to be your death, too. Save yourself and your father can go free."

Leo and Jason were still facing off, ready to fight, but they looked unsteady and confused- waiting for another order.

"I wasn't eager to fight him or anything." Leo muttered, stacking Lego blocks (what little there were left after Grover's meal) on Clovis's cheek.

Part of them had to be resisting, Piper hoped. This went completely against their nature.

"Listen to me, girl." Medea plucked a diamond off her bracelet and threw it into a spray of water from the fountain..."O Iris, goddess of the rainbow, show me the office of Tristan McLean."

Most of the readers in the room exchanged looks of confusion.

The goddess of love leaned forward.

The mist shimmered, and Piper saw her father's study. Sitting behind his desk, talking on the phone, was her dad's assistant, Jane, in her dark business suit, her hair swirled in a tight bun.

"She..." the goddess' mouth gaped. "She's responsible for Tristan's disappearance?!"

"Jane's working with the giants too?!" Percy exclaimed. "How many more mortals are involved with the giants?"

"She might not be as involved as we think," Annabeth reminded. "She could be under Medea's control." Wouldn't surprise me.

..."You-" Piper was so angry she could hardly talk.

"Yes, child," Medea said. "Your father's assistant. Quite easy to manipulate. An organized mind for a mortal, but incredibly weak."

"That's probably the only positive aspect about her." Aphrodite huffed.

"Thank you, ma'am," Jane said.

The Stolls snickered at the assistant's stupidity.

"Don't mention it," Medea said. "I just wanted to congratulate you, Jane. Getting Mr. McLean to leave town so suddenly, take his jet to Oakland without alerting the press or the police- well done! No one seemed to know where he's gone. And telling him his daughter's life was on the line- that was a nice touch to his cooperation."

"She what?" the goddess hissed through her teeth. She practically squeezed the life out of her armrests. I'm starting to think that iguana might be too good for her. Maybe I should try something more out of the box? Cars? One of those Mannequins at Target? Or maybe that man on the oatmeal box?

"Yes," Jane agreed in a bland tone, as if she were  sleep walking. "He was quite cooperative when he believed Piper was in danger."

Quakers Oats man it is. Aphrodite decided.

"I may have new orders for you, Jane." Medea said. "If the girl cooperates, it may be time for Mr. McLean to come home. Would you arrange a suitable cover story for his absence, just in case? And I imagine the poor man will need some time in a psychotic hospital."

The goddess of love turned two shades paler at the thought of her Tristian in a straight jacket.

...The image faded, and Medea turned to Piper. "There, you see?"

"You lured my dad into a trap," Piper said. "You help the giant-"

"Oh, please, dear. You'll work yourself into a fit! I've been preparing for this war for years, even before I was brought back to life. 

"So that's why she got picked." Annabeth grumbled. "She already proved her worth."

I'm a seer, as I said. I can tell the future as well as your little oracle. Years ago, still suffering in the Fields of Punishment, I had a vision of the seven in your so-called Great Prophecy. I saw your friend Leo here, and saw that he would be an important enemy someday. I stirred consciousness of my patron, gave her this information, and she managed to wake just a little- just enough to visit him."

"She's lucky that I didn't throw my hammer at her." Leo muttered something under his breath.

Hephaestus gripped his screwdriver tightly. The tool began to sizzle and bubble until it began melting through his closed fist and drip onto the floor.

"Ya'know," Aphrodite began sweetly, trying not to make a face as her husband wiped his hand off on his pants. "Her mall might be opening now. Maybe we should just stop by and see how things are running? I bet if we ask her nicely enough, she'll be willing to give us a sales demonstration with that old throne you had."

Hephaestus looked surprised at her suggestion before slowly smirking at the idea. "Great idea, my lovely wife. While we're there, why don't we check Furnishing on the first floor? You've been talking about refurbishing the living room for the past decades."

Aphrodite beamed at the idea.

"Oh 'Pheastus! You're always thinking ahead!" she said with a giggle.

The two began plotting and discussing what to buy for their home.

Ares rolled his eyes at them.

Percy blinked at their interaction.

"Wasn't he just planning to trap her on that same throne?" Percy asked Annabeth. "How can they be talking normally after their last conversation?"

She looked just as confused as he felt.

"They're a weird couple." Annabeth concluded.

"Leo's mother," Piper said. "Leo, listen to this! She helped get your mother killed!"

"Uh-huh," Leo mumbled in a daze. He frowned at his hammer. "So... I just attack Jason? That's okay?"

"He probably didn't even know what she said." Katie said.

"Perfectly safe," Medea promised. "And Jason, strike him hard. Show me you're worthy of your namesake."

..."Jason, Leo, listen to me." Piper put all her emotion into her voice. For years she'd been trying to control herself and not show weakness, but now she poured everything into her words- her fear, her desperation, her anger. She knew she might be signing her dad's death warrant, but she cared too much about her friends to let them hurt each other.  "Medea is charming you. It's part of her magic. You're best friends. Don't fight each other. Fight her!"

They hesitated, and Piper could feel the spell shatter.

The Aphrodite children- except Scowling Drew- cheered at their new sister's success.

Jason blinked. "Leo, was I just about to stab you?"

"This time, don't fall for it." Thalia said, silently thanking Piper.

"Something about my mother...?" Leo frowned, then turned toward Medea. "You... you're working for Dirt Woman. You sent her to the machine shop." He lifted his arm. "Lady, I got a three-pound hammer with your name on it."

That's my boy! Hephaestus smiled evilly.

...She pressed one of the mosaic tiles on the floor, and the building rumbled Jason swung his sword at Medea, but she dissolved in the smoke and reappeared at the base of the escalator.

"Would that sword have even hurt her?" Annabeth wondered out loud.

"You're slow, hero!" She laughed. "Take your frustration out on my pets!"

Before Jason could go after her, the giant bronze sundials at either side of the fountain swung open. Two snarling gold beasts- flesh-and-blood winged dragons- crawled out from the pits below.

Each was the size of a camper van, maybe not large compared to Festus, but large enough.

"Speaking of Festus," Nico said. " Now would be a good time to call him."

The dragons spread their wings and hissed. Piper could feel heat coming off their glittering skin. One turned his angry orange eyes on her.

"Don't look at their eyes!" Annabeth said worriedly.

"Don't look them in the eye!" Jason warned. "They'll paralyze you!"

"At least he remembers that." the daughter of Athena said with a sigh of relief. The last thing they needed was more complications.

...The dragons lunged. Leo and Jason charged to intercept. Piper was amazed how fearlessly the boys attacked- working like a team who had trained together for years.

"While you stand there doing nothing like an idiot." Drew grumbled.

Medea was almost to the second floor, where she'd be able to choose from a wide assortment of deadly appliances.

"Oh, no, you don't," Piper growled, and took off after her.

...Down below, Piper heard the battle raging. Leo was blowing his safety whistle, and Jason was yelling to keep the dragons' attention. Piper didn't dare look- not while she was running with a dagger in her hand. 

She could just see herself and stabbing herself in the nose. That would be super heroic.

The Stolls and Leo snickered at this.

"That'd be a honorable way to go," Leo joked.

...She reached the top floor, breathing hard, but she was too late. Medea had reached the potions counter.

The sorceress grabbed a swan-shaped vial- the blue one that caused painful death- and Piper did the only thing that came to mind. She threw her shield.

"Great idea!" Ares approved

"Is she crazy?!" Athena gasped. "Does she have any idea what would happen if she smashed those potions?"

"Again, what happened to her self-preservation?" Will asked in exasperation. 

"You gotta do what you gotta do." Clarisse said with a shrug. "Hopefully they'll have enough time to leave before the whole mall explodes."

"Explodes?!" Lacy exclaimed.

"After smashing all those potions and combining them together, I'd be surprised if they'd even have time to escape." Annabeth added.

"Of course we'll get out in time," Leo said. "Did you guys forget that Festus was coming? He'll save us!"

Medea turned triumphantly just in time to get hit in the chest by a fifty-pound metal Frisbee.

Ares loudly laughed.

She stumbled backward, crashing over the counter, breaking vials and knocking down shelves....

"Fool!" Medea wailed. "Do you have any idea what do many potions will do when mixed?"

"Kill you?" Piper said hopefully.

"Yeah, and you in the process." Will grumbled.

The carpet began to steam around Medea's feet. She coughed, and her face contorted in pain- or was she faking?

"Doesn't sound like it..." Percy grimaced.

Below, Leo called, "Jason, help!"

The readers tensed.

Piper risked a quick look, and almost sobbed in despair. One of the dragons had Leo pinned to the floor. It was baring its fangs ready to snap. Jason was all the ways across the room battling the other dragon, much too far away to assist.  

Any minute now would be great, Festus. Thalia impatiently thought, drumming her fingers against her bow.

Hephaestus paled.

"You've doomed us all!" Medea screamed. Smoke was rolling across the carpet as the stain spread, throwing sparks and setting fires on the clothing racks. "You have only seconds before this concoction consumes everything and destroys the building. There's no time-"

CRASH! The stained glass ceiling splintered in a rain of multicolored shards, and Festus the bronze dragon dropped into the department store. He hurtled into the fray, snatching up the sun dragon in each claw...

"He's always so dramatic." Leo playfully rolled his eyes as the others listened to the description in awe.

Festus flew halfway up the atrium, then hurled the sun dragons into the pits they'd came from. Leo raced to the fountain and pressed The marble tile, closing the sundials. They shuddered as the dragons banged against them, trying to get out, but for the moment they were contained.

"Okay, I take every bad thing I said about Festus back." Percy said. "He's amazing!"

"Yup!" Leo said happily.

"He'll be useful to have for the Great Prophecy quest," Annabeth said, a few of the others nodding along.

Leo froze. The Lego tower on Clovis's cheek fell over.

"Er... He is..." he said a bit more solemnly. Just not the way you would think.

The readers noticed his tone and exchanged looks, but didn't press the subject.

..."I will not be abandoned again!" The sorceress knelt and snatched up the red healing potion, which somehow survived the crash. "You want your boyfriend's memory restored? Take me with you!"

"After you just tried to kill them?" Aphrodite said, looking unimpressed. "I think not."

"Don't even grace her with an answer, just leave." Hephaestus said, waving off the sorcerer's words.

Piper glanced behind her. Leo and Jason were board Festus's back. The bronze dragon flapped his mighty wings, snatched the two cages with the satyr and storm spirits in his claws, and began to ascend.

..."You'll never survive your quest without me!" Medea growled. "Your boy hero will stay ignorant forever, and your father will die. Take me with you!"

"They've been doing fine so far. I'm sure they'll be better off without you." Annabeth muttered.

For one heartbeat, Piper was tempted. Then she saw Medea's grim smile. The sorceress was confident with her powers of persuasion, confident that she could always make a deal, always escape and win in the end.

"Not today, witch." Piper jumped over the side. She plummeted for only a second before Leo and Jason caught her, hauling her aboard the dragon.

She heard Medea screaming in rage as they soared through the broken roof and over downtown Chicago. Then the department store exploded behind them.

"That ended nicely." Hephaestus grinned.

"I hope Medea's patron gave her mall insurance." Hermes laughed, Aphrodite laughing along with him..

"Finished." Phoebe said. "Does anybody else want to read?"

"I'll read," Hermes said, still chuckling. He took the book.

He calmed himself down before reading: "Leo XXIX,"

 

Chapter Text

"Leo XXIX," Hermes read.

Leo kept looking back. He half expec ted to see those nasty sun dragons toting a flying chariot with a screaming magical saleswoman throwing potions, but nothing followed them.

The demigods sighed with relief.

"Good, if we're lucky, we might never see her ever again." Annabeth said.

Percy made a face at that. 

"The mall exploded," he reminded. "There's no way she could survive something like that."

"You'd be surprised." Poseidon said. "Sorcerers can be tricky."

..."Good job, Festus." He patted the dragon's metal hide. "You did awesome."

The dragon shuddered. Gears popped and clicked in his neck.

Nyssa and Jake exchanged nervous looks.

Percy worriedly frowned.

Leo frowned. He didn't like those noises. If the control disk was failing again—No, hopefully it was something minor. Something he could fix.

Festus has been fine so far, he should be fine now. Thalia silently hoped that the dragon didn't crash.

"I'll give you a tune-up next time we land," Leo promised. "You've earned some motor oil and Tabasco sauce."

Festus whirled his teeth, but even that sounded weak. He flew at a steady pace, his great wings angling to catch the wind, but he was carrying a  heavy load...

"Maybe he's carrying too much." Nyssa said worriedly.

"Is there anyway to free Coach out of his cage?" Jake suggested. "That'd make the load lighter."

"Leo." Piper patted his shoulder. "You feeling okay?"

"Yeah ... not bad for a brainwashed zombie." He hoped he didn't look as embarrassed as he felt. "Thanks for saving us back there, beauty queen. If you hadn't talked me out of that spell—"

"Let's not think about that." Leo grimaced. Knowing my luck, she would've made me cut off an arm and a leg for a electric toothbrush.

"Don't worry about it," Piper said.

But Leo worried a lot. He felt terrible about how easily Medea had set him against his best friend. And those feelings hadn't come from nowhere —his resentment of the way Jason always got the spotlight   and didn't really seem to need him.

Leo ducked his head to avoid seeing the others' expressions. He flicked a pencil. It rolled away.

The some of the readers looked saddened but otherwise unsurprised.

"I figured," Hermes muttered before he continued reading.

Leo did feel that way sometimes, even if he wasn't proud of it.

What bothered him more was the news about his mom. Medea had seen the future down in the Underworld...That's how his mother had died—because of something Leo might do someday. So in a weird way, even if his fire powers weren't to blame, Mom's death was still his fault.

"It's not your fault," Hephaestus said, not looking up from his lap.

"Kinda is..." Leo muttered under his breath. But I'll make it up somehow.

He put a pink eraser on Clovis's forehead and placed a ruler on top of it.

When they had left Medea in that exploding store, Leo had felt a little too good. He hoped she wouldn't make it out, and would go right back to the Fields of Punishment, where she belonged.  Those feelings didn't make him proud, either.

"Hopefully she doesn't reform as fast as the cyclopes did." Annabeth said. "If  she's dead."

"She has to be dead." Percy argued. "She was stuck in a building just seconds away from exploding, her demon dragons were trapped in their kennels, and her only way of escaping left her there stranded. She couldn't have survived unless there was some kind of miracle."

And if souls were coming back from the Underworld ...was it possible Leo's mom could be brought back?

Hades's posture went rigid. He gave Leo an even look.

"It's best that you don't think of things like that." the god of the dead said. "Bringing back a person from the dead is impossible. Especially for someone like you."

Nico looked uncomfortable about the topic as he twisted his skull ring.

"Well... I wouldn't say it's impossible," Apollo said in mock innocence. "I can think of someone who can make resurrection possible."

Aphrodite and Hades glared at him.

"Can we please start reading again?" the goddess huffed. "I don't want to hear about him."

"You're just upset that he brought back Hippolytus." Apollo dismissed. "I bet if he saved your precious Adonis, it would've been a different story."

Aphrodite silently seethed.  

"What he did was unnatural, he deserved what he got and more." Hades said sternly.

Apollo gritted his teeth, he looked ready to argue that before someone interrupted.

"Who are you talking about?" Leo asked, watching the back and forth. "What did he do?"

Despite the disapproving looks from the gods, Apollo relaxed his features and gave Leo a bright smile.

"Years and years ago, before you and any of your friends were born, even before television existed," the god said dramatically. "My son and the god of medicine, Asclepius, created a potion that basically cures death!"

Leo froze. Cures Death?

Wasn't he and his friends in the middle of a life-or-death quest?

Apollo took his expression as a look of awe and laughed proudly.

"I know, right? I just blew your mind! One minute, Uncle H is telling you that resurrection is 'impossible' and 'unnatural' and here I am telling you otherwise!" the god said. "It should've been impossible, but Asclepius was always talented at healing. He's even better than me and that's saying something!"

"And this potion just brings people back to life?" the son of Hephaestus said slowly. He still had that weird look on his face. "They don't end up like Medea or having an extra arm growing out of their back?"

"Nope!" Apollo said, popping the 'p'. "Completely fine!"

"How'd he make it?" Leo pressed. "Are the ingredients super rare?"

The god looked thrown off by that question and Hephaestus quickly stepped in.

"Don't worry about that, boy." the god said, giving the other immortal a hard glare. "Apollo's just bragging about his children again."

"Yes," Hades agreed. "Just ignore him. The potion wouldn't work on your mother anyways."

But Leo wasn't thinking about his mom right now.

His mind raced with possibilities as he balanced erasers on either end on the ruler.

He tried to put the idea aside.

"That would be wise." Hades said.

"Yeah, messing with death won't work, just trust me on this." Percy warned. 

Leo absentmindedly nodded.

"I'm serious." he said more firmly.

"Yeah, that's cool." the other teen replied, still looking distant.

Percy sighed in response.

That was Frankenstein thinking. It wasn't natural. It wasn't right...

Hades nodded his head in approval.

No, Leo's mom had passed on. Thinkin g any other way would just drive Leo nuts.  Still, the thought kept poking at him, like an echo of Medea's voice.

Just ignore it. Hephaestus pleaded. She wouldn't want you to worry about something like this.

"We're going to have to put down soon," he warned his friends...

"Yeah," Piper agreed. "Coach Hedge probably wants to get out of his canary cage, too. Question is—where are we going?"

"The Bay Area," Leo guessed..."Didn't Medea say something about Oakland?"

...."Piper's dad," Jason put in. "Something's happened to your dad, right? He got lured into some kind of trap."

Go on, Piper! Now's your chance! Lacy encouraged.

Piper let out a shaky breath. "Look, Medea said you would both die in the Bay Area. And besides ... even if we went there, the Bay Area is huge!  First we need to find Aeolus and drop off the storm spirits. Boreas said Aeolus was the only one who could tell us exactly where to go."

"How are they supposed to even find Aeolus?" Travis said. "At least they have some kind of lead with the Bay Area."

Jason leaned forward. "You mean you don't see it?" He pointed ahead of them, but Leo didn't see anything except clouds and the lights of a few  towns glowing in the dusk.

The readers exchanged looks.

"Um... Did Leo hit Jason on the head with the hammer and we just never heard about it?" Connor asked. "Or is one of those clouds shaped like an arrow?"

..."That ... whatever it is," Jason said. "In the air."

"Leo hit him." Travis confirmed with a grin. He looked over at Leo expecting some kind of rebuttal, but the son of Hephaestus had pulled out a little notepad and appeared to be feverishly writing something.

The boy made a face at that.

"Right," Leo said. "Could you be more specific on the 'whatever-it-is' part?"

"Like a vapor trail," Jason said. "Except it's glowing. Really faint, but it's definitely there. We've been following it since Chicago, so I figured you saw it."

"The vapor trail must have been sent by Aeolus." Athena said.

"How come only Jason can see it?" Thalia asked.

"It's possible it can be because of his aerokinesis." Athena answered.*

..."Well, it's a magic trail in the wind," Jason said. "Aeolus is the wind god. I think he knows we've got prisoners for him. He's telling us where to fly."

"Or it's another trap," Piper said.

"Why would he try to trap them? They're helping him." Lacy said.

"He still could have a grudge against the demigods." Chris pointed out.

"I doubt it," Hermes said. "He's probably over it by now."

..."Pipes, you all right?" he asked.

The goddess of love winced slightly. "Really a bad time to be using that nickname."

"Don't call me that."

"Okay, fine. You don't like any of the names I make up for you. But if your dad's in trouble and we can help—"

"You can't," she said, her voice getting shakier.

They can, Piper. I'm sure if you tell them they'll think of some way to save your father. Aphrodite thought.

"Look, I'm tired. If you don't mind ..."

She leaned back against Jason and closed her eyes.

You can't hide things from them forever... Aphrodite sighed.

...They flew in silence for a while. Festus seemed to know where he was going. He kept his course, gently curving toward the southwest and hopefully  Aeolus's fortress. Another wind god to visit, a whole new flavor of crazy—Oh, boy, Leo couldn't wait.

"I just love your excitement for these kinds of things." Hermes chuckled. "It's so refreshing!"

"Thanks!" Leo said, clicking his pen.

He turned to Travis.

"Hey, remember when I borrowed your phone? Could you let me use it again?" Leo smiled and held out his pen. "I'll let you keep this. It works great and has four different inks!"

The son of Hermes rolled his eyes.

"Why so you google how to make jet pack out of paper clips and blast off into the future?" he snorted, snatching the pen out of Leo's hand. He wagged it in a scolding manner. "I'm not stupid."

Leo groaned. "I wasn't going to use it to time travel, I was... Fine, if you're not going to trade then just give me the pen back."

In response, Travis clapped his hands together and blew into his closed palms. When he separated them, the pen was gone.

"What pen?" he asked, wiggling the fingers of his empty hands.

"Seriously? Real mature!" 

"Never said I was." he said smugly.

Leo scowled. Fine! I guess I'll do research on my own time.

... His energy level was crashing. The monotonous beat of the dragon's wings made his eyes feel heavy. His head started to nod.

"Catch a few Z's," Jason said. "It's cool. Hand me the reins."

  "No it's not cool, you haven't the longest." Thalia muttered.

"Nah, I'm okay—"

"Leo," Jason said, "you're not a machine.

"Neither are you..." the huntress grumbled.

Besides, I'm the only one who can see the vapor trail. I'll make sure we stay on course."

Leo's eyes started to close on their own. "All right. Maybe just ..."

He didn't finish the sentence before slumping forward against the dragon's warm neck.

In his dream, he heard a voice full of static, like a bad AM radio: "Hello? Is this thing working?"

"Oh great!" Leo said sarcastically. "I got cheated out of a pen and I have to listen to this! I guess I'm just the luckiest guy on earth!

Leo's vision came into focus—sort of. Everything was hazy and gray, with bands of interference running across his sight. He'd never dreamed with a  bad connection before.

Annabeth frowned. "I've never heard of a dream like this before either."

"You're not missing out." Leo told her, crossing his arms.

She looked confused at his reaction. What's about to happen?

He seemed to be in a workshop... A forge glowed cheerfully against  one wall.  It wasn't the camp forge—too big. Not Bunker 9—much warmer and more comfortable, obviously not abandoned.

Then Leo realized something was blocking the middle of his view—something large and fuzzy, and so close, Leo had to cross his eyes to see it  properly. It was a large ugly face.

"Oh!" Hermes said excitedly, smiling widely. "I love it when Hephaestus meets his children! Their interactions are so awkward, it's amazing!"

"I know!" Apollo agreed enthusiastically. "They don't show them enough on Hephaestus TV!"

"There's a reason for that." the god of fire grumbled. The other gods didn't seem to hear him as they recounted former showings.

"Remember when he meet Beckendorf? They were standing there for hours trying to think of something to say!" Apollo laughed, a few people smiled at that.

"Poor kid was probably waiting for his dad to say something first!" Hermes said.

"He caught me at a bad time," Hephaestus couldn't help but smile with the others, now fond of the memory. "I was trying to set up a trap for Aphrodite and Ares's dinner date."

"Yes!" Hestia joined in, laughing with her nephews. "And they ended up walking in on you two gawking at each other!"

The demigods soon joined in their laughter.

"I didn't even know what I was looking at." Aphrodite giggled. "It was just so bizarre at the time."

After they managed to calm down, Hermes gave Leo an amused smile.

"Let's see how you do," the god grinned.

"Holy mother!" he yelped.

A few people laughed at that.

..."Humph," the man said. "Holy father , boy. I should think you'd know the difference."

"Off to a great start, He-Man! Glad to see you didn't freeze up this time!" Apollo happily commented.

"Now let's see how Leo reacts," Hermes said, smiling widely.

Being in the presence of his father for the first time, Leo probably should've been speechless or awestruck or something. Hermes smile twitched, he looked a little bit bewildered but he kept reading. But after what he'd been through the last couple of days, with Cyclopes and a sorceress and a face in the potty sludge, all Leo felt was a surge of complete annoyance.

Now everyone looked confused.

"Now you show up?" he demanded. "After fifteen years? Hermes slowly frowned. Great parenting, Fur Face. Where do you get off sticking your ugly nose into my dreams?" Hermes winced. He gave Leo a look of disapproval.

Apollo grimaced. "Ouch."

The other gods glared at Leo for such disrespect.

The demigods looked at him in morbid fascination.

"How could you say that to your own dad?" Katie gasped.

"Just spoke from the heart," Leo joked with a shrug. When he saw eyes widen, he rolled his own. "Come on guys, let's not act like Percy hasn't said worse. I bet what he said to his dad made mine's look like a Hallmark greeting card."

Percy looked horrified at the accusation.

"No." he immediately denied. "I would never say half the things you said to my dad. Even if we disagreed on something."

Leo looked surprised, as if he had said something weird. "Really? Not even the first time?"

"I was really respectful the first time I met him," Percy with a grin. "Like, almost too respectful."

The son of Hephaestus blinked. "Huh."

He turned to the others. "What about you guys?"

Leo was immediately bombarded with 'no's.

"You can't to a god like that, Leo." Annabeth warned. "It could get you in a lot of trouble."

Leo blinked again.

"Well obviously," he said. "But I was just talking to Hephaestus. It's not like he was gonna hurt me or anything."

"It's not about that," Hera sniffed. "It's about respect." We'll see how your father reacts to this.

The god raised an eyebrow. A little spark caught fire in his beard. Then he threw back his head and laughed so loudly, the tools rattled on the  workbenches.

Of course, Hera rolled her eyes. Just let him talk to you like that. It's not like you're a god that should be respected at all times or anything.

The gods turned to Hephaestus, who was still laughing to himself.

"How can you just let him say that about you and laugh it off?" Hermes couldn't help but ask. "I would've needed a moment after hearing that."

"I deserved that." he shrugged. "Besides, it's not like I haven't been called names before."

"Wow." Apollo looked impressed. "You're a pretty cool guy, Hephaestus."

"You sound just like your mother," Hephaestus said. "I miss Esperanza."

"She's been dead seven years." Leo's voice trembled. "Not that you'd care."

The gods winced.

"But I do care, boy. About both of you."

"And all of you." Hephaestus told his other children.

Jake and Nyssa immediately smiled at that.

"Uh-huh. Which is why I never saw you before today."

...The god made a rumbling sound in his throat, but he looked more uncomfortable than angry.

"Can't say I blame you." Hermes commented. "Just reading this makes me feel awful."

Maybe there's a reason you feel like that. Percy thought.

Leo took a pen out of his tool belt (not as good as the last one, but better than nothing) and began to doodle in his notepad.

..."I'm not good with children," the god confessed.

"You're not good with any living creature." Aphrodite corrected.

"Thanks." her husband grunted.

"Or people. Well, any organic life forms, really. I thought about speaking to you at your mom's funeral.  Then again when you were in fifth grade ... that science project you made, steam-powered chicken chucker. Very impressive."

"You saw that?"

"I watch all my children." the god muttered. Jake and Nyssa looked surprised to hear that. "It's..."

He looked down at the engine in his lap.

"It's easier than talking to them." he admitted.

Hephaestus pointed to the nearest worktable, where a shiny bronze mirror showed a hazy image of Leo asleep on the dragon's back.

"Is that me?" Leo asked. "Like—me right now, having this dream—looking at me having a dream?"

"...What?" Percy asked bluntly.

Hephaestus scratched his beard. "Now you've confused me. But yes—it's you. I'm always keeping an eye on you, Leo. But talking to you is, um ... different."

"You're scared," Leo said.

"Oh, he's terrified." Hermes told him. "Believe it or not, this is one of the few interactions that he's this calm. Remind me to give you some DVDs before you leave. They're pretty funny to watch."

"Don't give him those!" Hephaestus snapped, before a thought suddenly occurred to him. "How did you get DVDs? I never sold any copies..." he narrowed his eyes. "Have you been pirating shows again?"

Hermes quickly continued reading.

"Grommets and gears!" the god yelled. "Of course not!"

"Yeah, you're scared."

"Even your own kid knows." the god of thieves muttered.

But Leo's anger seeped away. He'd spent years thinking about what he'd say to his dad if they ever met—how Leo would  chew him out for being a deadbeat. Now, looking at that bronze mirror, Leo thought about his dad watching his progress over the years, even his stupid science experiments.  Maybe Hephaestus was still a jerk, but Leo kind of understood where he was coming from. Leo knew about running away from people, not fitting in. He knew about hiding out in a workshop rather than trying to deal with organic life forms.

"Aw!" Hestia cooed.  "I knew you two would get along! You have so much in common!"

"No we don't." Leo said firmly. "For one thing, I'm definitely better looking."

The demigods gawked at his response.

Hephaestus snorted.

"Can't argue with that." he grinned.

"So," Leo grumbled, "you keep track of all your kids? You got like twelve back at camp. How'd you even—Never mind. I don't want to know."

Hephaestus blushed and purposely looked away.

Aphrodite was madly giggling to herself and Hera gave him a disapproving glare.

...[Hephaestus]"Gods are different from mortals, boy. We can exist in many places at once—wherever people call on us, wherever our sphere of influence is strong. In fact, it's rare our entire essence is ever together in one place —our true form. It's dangerous, powerful enough to destroy any mortal who looks upon us. So, yes ... lots of children.  

"Wait, that was how you explained the birds and the bees to your kid?" Apollo started laughing. "I was this was on tape. I would've loved to see Leo's reaction!"

Add to that our different aspects, Greek and Roman—" The god's fingers froze on his engine project. Hermes blinked.

"Are you kidding me right now? You just slipped out the biggest secret we've ever kept, in a cough-out explanation on why you have so many kids?" he said in disbelief.

"He caught me off guard."

"You summoned him, you should be prepared for conversations like this! Do you know how many times get asked?" he said before huffing. "Now how are you going to get out of this?"

"Er, that is to say, being a god is complicated. Hermes nodded his head slowly, his face looking unimpressed.

"Now I see where your son gets his terrible lying from." he said plainly. He didn't even bother to confront Hephaestus about it. He just flipped the page and kept reading.

And yes, I try to keep an eye on all my children, but you especially."

Leo was pretty sure Hephaestus had almost slipped and said something important, but he wasn't sure what.

"That's just sheer luck." Hermes muttered.

"Why contact me now?" Leo asked. "I thought the gods had gone silent."

"We have," Hephaestus grumped. "Zeus's orders—very strange, even for him. He's blocked all visions, dreams, and Iris-messages to and from  Olympus. Hermes is sitting around bored out of his mind because he can't deliver the mail.

"I can't even deliver mail." Hermes frowned as he read on. 

Fortunately, I kept my old pirate broadcasting equipment." Hephaestus patted a machine on the table. It looked like a combination satellite dish, V-6 engine, and espresso maker.

"I told you keeping it was a good idea." Hephaestus said to Aphrodite.

"That's what you say about everything else you hoard." the goddess of love rolled her eyes.

..."But now it's come in handy again. If Zeus knew I was contacting you, he'd have my hide."

"Why is Zeus being such a jerk?"

Zeus glared at Leo.

"You see," Hera pointed out. "This is why he should be respectful to you at all times. Now that you haven't reprimanded him, he thinks it's okay to address other gods in such an inappropriate behavior."

"It's not like he was saying it to Zeus's face," Hephaestus rolled his eyes. "He was only talking to me."

"Hrumph. He excels at that, boy."

Zeus glared at Hephaestus, who keep his eyes fixated on his contraption.

Hephaestus called him boy as if Leo were an annoying machine part—an extra washer, maybe, that had no clear  purpose, but that Hephaestus didn't want to throw away for fear he might need it someday.

"I don't mean it like that..." Hephaestus muttered.

"That's just his term of endearment." Aphrodite told Leo.

Not exactly heartwarming. Then again, Leo wasn't sure he wanted to be called "son."  Leo wasn't about to start calling this big awkward ugly guy  "Dad."

"Really?" Percy said in surprise. "I mean, the 'dad' thing I could kinda get, but you wouldn't like him to call you 'my son'?"

Leo looked up from his notepad and made a face. 

"He can just call me 'boy'." he replied.

...."It was the second Titan War, I suppose," Hephaestus said. "That's what got Zeus upset. We gods were ...

"Insulted!" Zeus finished, looking pointedly at Percy.

well, embarrassed. Don't think there's any other way to say it."

"But you won," Leo said.

"Only because we had help." Artemis said.

The god grunted. "We won because the demigods of"—again he hesitated, as if he'd almost made a slip— Hermes sighed tiredly. "of Camp Half-Blood took the lead.

Annabeth frowned at that.

"Did he really mean the Roman demigods?" she asked. "Did they do something in the Titan War?"

Hermes gestured towards the girl. "See? She got it! You're not very good at hiding things!"

He sighed, drumming his fingers on the cover as he turned to the daughter of Athena.

"Since He-Man let the cat out of the bag, I guess I'll tell you." he said. "While the Battle of Manhattan was going on, the Roman demigods toppled the Black Throne on Mount Othrys and defeated the Titan guarding it, Krios." 

"So they did play a part of the war." Percy said. "We've been working together all this time and we just never knew it."

He gave the others an assuring look. "See guys, this can work out!"

The demigods exchanged looks of uncertainty.

"I don't think working together without knowing and working together is the same thing..." Mitchell said under his breath.

Athena rolled her eyes.

"What if the reason why you worked together so well, was because you were separated?" she said.

Percy frowned.

We won because our children fought our battles for us, smarter than we did. If we'd relied on Zeus's plan, we would've all gone down to Tartarus fighting the storm giant Typhon, and Kronos would've won. Bad enough mortals won our war for us, but then that young upstart, Percy Jackson—"

"The guy who's missing."

Percy's frown deepened.

"Hmph. Yes. Him. He had the nerve to turn down our offer of immortality and tell us to pay better attention to our children. Er, no offense."

"Oh, how could I take offense? Please, go on ignoring me."

Hephaestus looked pleasantly surprised.

"That's very understanding of you." Hephaestus remarked to his son.

Aphrodite and Leo rolled their eyes.

"He was being sarcastic." the goddess explained as Hermes and Apollo snickered.

The god's shoulders slumped. "Oh."

...[Hephaestus] "That was sarcasm, wasn't it? Machines don't have sarcasm, usually. But as I was saying, the gods felt ashamed, shown up by mortals. At first, of course, we were grateful. But after a few months, those feelings turned bitter. We're gods, after all. We need to be admired, looked up to, held in awe and admiration."  

"Uh-huh," Percy said sarcastically. "But what happens if you guys have been making mistakes that almost got you killed?"

"Especially then! 

"Of course." Percy sighed. "That's why we're still in this mess."

And to have Jackson refuse our gift, as if being mortal were somehow better than being a god... well, that stuck in Zeus's craw. He decided it was high time we got back to traditional values. Gods were to be respected. Our children were to be seen and not visited. Olympus was closed. 

"That's basically the same problem you had before but worse." Percy complained. 

At least that was part of his reasoning. And, of course, we started hearing of bad things stirring under the earth."

"Yeah, 'cause doing nothing works." Percy muttered.

...Hephaestus's beard began to smolder. He absently swatted out the flames. "What my blasted mother Hera is doing now—she's a meddling fool playing a dangerous game, but she's right about one thing: you demigods have to unite.

The demigods exchanged looks.

Athena sighed.

"Not you too, I was hoping you would talk some sense into your son." she said.

"If we're going to stay quiet on Olympus, then we have no choice." the god said. "They'd stand no chance against the giants if they worked alone."

That's the only way to open Zeus's eyes, convince the Olympians they must accept your help. And that's the only way to defeat what's coming. You're a big part of that, Leo. "

...."Why me?" he asked, and as soon as he said it, more questions flooded out. "Why claim me now? Why not when I was thirteen, like you're supposed to? Or you could've claimed me at seven, before my mom died! Why didn't you find me earlier? Why didn't you warn me about this?"

Hephaestus sadly sighed.

Hephaestus regarded him sadly. "Hardest part, boy. Letting my children walk their own paths. Interfering doesn't work. The Fates make sure of that. As for the claiming, you were a special case, boy. The timing had to be right. I can't explain it much more, but—"

Leo's dream went fuzzy. Just for a moment, it turned into a rerun of Wheel of Fortune . Then Hephaestus came back into focus.

"Um...What's happening?" Connor asked. 

"Zeus probably figured out I was contacting Leo." the god explained. "Looks like we'll have to end this early."

I still had so much to tell him too. Hephaestus sighed.

"Blast," he said. "I can't talk much longer. Zeus is sensing an illegal dream. He is lord of the air, after all, including the airwaves. Just listen, boy: you have a role to play. Your friend Jason is right—fire is a gift, not a curse. I don't give that blessing to just anyone. They'll never defeat the giants without you, much less the mistress they serve. She's worse than any god or Titan."

"Yeah," Leo muttered, staring at his notepad. "I think I get it now."

"Who?" Leo demanded.

Hephaestus frowned, his image becoming fuzzier. "I told you. Yes, I'm pretty sure I told you.

"Not really, you didn't even say the mistress's name." Hermes said. "Which is surprising considering how many other things you told him."

Just be warned: along the way, you're going to lose some friends and some valuable tools.

The readers exchanged looks.

Leo appeared more somber.

But that isn't your fault, Leo. Nothing lasts forever, not even the best machines. And  everything can be reused."

"What do you mean? I don't like the sound of that."

Neither did the Hephaestus Cabin.

"No, you shouldn't." Hephaestus's image was barely visible now, just a blob in the static. "Just watch out for—"

Leo's dream switched to Wheel of Fortune just as the wheel hit Bankrupt and the audience said, "Awwww!"

Then Leo snapped awake to Jason and Piper screaming.

"Not again!" Thalia groaned, visibly paling.

"That's the end of the chapter," Hermes said. "Does anybody want to read next?"

"I will." Annabeth said hastily, noticing her friend's distress. 

She took the book from the god's hands.

Taking the book, Annabeth began to read. "Leo XXX,"

Leo halfheartedly drew in his notes.

 

Chapter Text

"Leo XXX," Annabeth read.

They spiraled through the dark in a free fall,

Phoebe patted Thalia's arm in comfort as the hunter turned paler.

still on the dragon's back, but Festus's hide was cold. His ruby eyes were dim.

"What's happening?!" Thalia asked. "Is it the wiring? Did it run out of oil? Why is it crashing?!"

Nyssa and Jake exchanged looks.

"We don't know..." Nyssa admitted, rubbing her arm. "It could be because of the weight."

"Maybe fighting those sun dragons took a lot out of him?" Jake suggested.

"That's weird." Percy frowned. "I don't think metal dragons can get tired like that."

He turned to Leo, expecting some kind of explanation, only to be surprised by how serious he suddenly looked. He wasn't even twirling his pen, he just sat disturbingly still as he stared off at nothing.

"You okay?" 

Leo briefly glanced at him before tapping his pen against the notepad. Not in his usual animated way, more like he knew he should appear more lively.

"Fine." he said.

"Not again!" Leo yelled. "You can't fall again!"

Hephaestus worriedly frowned.

The demigods winced.

"He can't be that bad, right?" Mitchell said. "He's broken down before, Leo could fix him again."

Leo suppressed the urge to sigh.

...The wind stung his eyes, but he managed to pull open the panel on the dragon's neck. He toggled the switches.... The dragon's wings flapped once, but Leo caught a whiff of burning bronze. The drive system was overloaded.

Nyssa's shoulders slumped. "Oh."

Jake sucked air through his teeth and winced. That's what Dad meant when he said nothing lasts forever.

Hephaestus glanced at Leo, who remained stoic. Other than the occasional tap of his pen, he remained motionless.

...He saw the lights of a city below them—just flashes in the dark as they plummeted in circles. They had only seconds before they crashed.

The readers tensed.

Thalia shuddered.

"Jason!" he screamed. "Take Piper and fly out of here!"

"What?"

"We need to lighten the load! I might be able to reboot Festus, but he's carrying too much weight!"

"Will that even work?" Mitchell said to Jake.

"I hope so..." Jake said with a pained expression.

Jason grabbed Piper around the waist. They both unbuckled their harnesses, and in a flash they were gone—shooting into the air.

Thalia let out a silent sigh of relief.

"Now," Leo said. "Just you and me, Festus—and two heavy cages. You can do it, boy!"

Leo talked to the dragon while he worked, falling at terminal velocity. He could see the city lights below him, getting closer and closer...

He pulled a wire that he thought connected the dragon's nerve center to its head, hoping for a little wake-up jolt.

Festus groaned—metal creaking inside his neck. His eyes flickered weakly to life, and he spread his wings.

Some of the readers relaxed a bit.

Their fall turned into a steep glide.

Just focus on the landing and we can worry about the rest later. Jake coached. 

There was a big river

Jake made a face at that.

Nyssa frowned. 

"Don't. When he sinks to the bottom, you'll have no way to get him out." she said.

—no. Not good for a fire-breathing dragon...

The two nodded their heads in approval.

I should've taken my chances with the lake. Leo thought miserably. He stared at his socks.

Then, on the riverbanks, Leo spotted a white mansion with a huge snowy lawn inside a tall brick perimeter fence—like some rich person's private compound, all of it blazing with light.

"Don't have any other choice." Nyssa muttered. "It's either that or the lake."

...He did his best to steer the dragon toward it, and Festus seemed to come back to life. They could make this!

Then everything went wrong.

The air was thick with tension.

As they approached the lawn, spotlights along the fence fixed on them, blinding Leo. He heard bursts like tracer fire, the sound of metal being cut to shreds—and BOOM. Annabeth winced.

Jake's jaw dropped.

Nyssa blinked as she tried to comprehend what just happened.

Leo blacked out.

Leo shuddered.

When Leo came to his senses, Jason and Piper were leaning over him. He was lying in the snow, covered in mud and grease...

"Where—"

"Lie still." Piper had tears in her eyes. "You rolled pretty hard when—when Festus—"

"Please don't tell me it's bad." Jake muttered, fiddling with the bandage on his arm. Please just let it be a couple holes and a few dents. We can fix that back at Camp.

...Leo pushed himself to his feet. Then he saw the wreckage. Festus must have dropped the big canary cages as he came over the fence, because they'd rolled in different directions and landed on their sides, perfectly undamaged.

That's one less thing to worry about. Annabeth thought.

...The dragon had disintegrated.

Jake and Nyssa paled.

Leo halfheartedly tapped his notepad.

His limbs were scattered across the lawn. His tail hung on the fence. The main section of his body had plowed a trench twenty feet wide and fifty feet long across the mansion's yard before breaking apart.

Annabeth winced as she read.

No wonder why Leo reacted the way he did to what I said earlier. she grimaced. Poor Festus was practically killed right in front of him.

What remained of his hide was a charred, smoking pile of scraps. Only his neck and head were somewhat intact, resting across a row of frozen rosebushes like a pillow.

"Oh my gods..." Nyssa said, looking horrified.

Jake grimaced, rubbing his temples as he listened to the description. He's gone. There's no way we can fix that.

Shifting around, Nico twisted his ring. Although he hadn't trusted Festus, he knew how much that dragon meant to Leo. He was a robot, but there was something about the way Leo talked about him (or to him in the book) that made him more life-like. Nico wished there was something he could do or say to comfort the other teen.

"Sorry." he told Leo. He hoped he knew that he really meant it. After what happened to Bianca, he hated hearing that word, it always seemed so fake but what else can you really say about these types of situations? Was there a right way to give your condolences?

Leo took in Nico's expression before sighing. 

"It's alright," he finally said. He scribbled over one his cat doodles. "It sucks hearing this, but I'll be okay."

I can still fix Festus. He might be a head now, but that won't last forever. Leo thought.

"No," Leo sobbed. He ran to the dragon's head and stroked its snout. The dragon's eyes flickered weakly. Oil leaked out of his ear.

Hephaestus's shoulders slumped.

Jake and Nyssa looked depressed.

If only we weren't so caught on that stupid curse, I bet we could've fixed him sooner. Nyssa bit her lip.

I bet Beckendorf would've fixed this. Now look what happened... Jake rubbed his temples harder. Poor Festus is dead and Leo will think it's his fault.

The dragon's head whirred its gears, as if it were purring.

"He's still alive?" Percy said, looking hopeful.

"He wouldn't deactivate right away." Nyssa said sadly. 

Jason and Piper stood next to him, but Leo kept his eyes fixed on the dragon.

He remembered what Hephaestus had said: That isn't your fault, Leo. Nothing lasts forever, not even the best machines.

His dad had been trying to warn him.

"It's not fair," he said.

Life usually isn't. Hephaestus sighed.

The dragon clicked. Long creak. Two short clicks. Creak. Creak. Almost like a pattern ... triggering an old memory in Leo's mind. Leo realized Festus was trying to say something.

Annabeth's eyes widened in surprise.

"He's using Morse Code?" she couldn't help but ask. "How does he know that?"

For the first time in a while, Leo grinned.

"He's pretty smart." he told her. 

...Leo listened more intently, translating the clicks into letters: a simple message repeating over and over.

"Yeah," Leo said. "I understand. I will. I promise."

"W...What did he say?" Chris asked, hoping it wasn't too personal.

"He wanted to be reused again." Leo shortly replied, focusing on his drawings.

"We can do that." Jake said softly. "I don't know what he'd want to be, but I'm sure we can think of something."

Nyssa nodded her head in agreement.

The dragon's eyes went dark. Festus was gone.

Everyone winced.

...Finally Jason said, "I'm so sorry, man. What did you promise Festus?"

Leo sniffled. He opened the dragon's head panel, just to be sure, but the control disk was cracked and burned beyond repair.

Jake sighed.

"Something my dad told me," Leo said. "Everything can be reused."

"Your dad talked to you?" Jason asked. "When was this?"

"Now's not really a good time." Connor muttered.

Leo didn't answer. He worked at the dragon's neck hinges until the head was detached. It weighed about a hundred pounds, but Leo managed to hold it in his arms. He looked up at the starry sky and said, "Take him back to the bunker, Dad. Please, until I can reuse him. I've never asked you for anything."

"Of course." Hephaestus said.

"You called him 'dad'." Percy noticed.

Leo shrugged. 

"First time for everything." he simply said.

The wind picked up, and the dragon's head floated out of Leo's arms like it weighed nothing. It flew into the sky and disappeared.

Piper looked at him in amazement. "He answered you?"

"I had a dream," Leo managed. "Tell you later."

He knew he owed his friends a better explanation, but Leo could barely speak. He felt like a broken machine himself—like someone had removed one little part of him, and now he'd never be complete. He might move, he might talk, he might keep going and do his job. But he'd always be off balance, never calibrated exactly right.

Percy frowned.

"Maybe you could make him a new body?" he suggested. "You still got the head, right? I dunno how machines work, but don't you have enough materials at Camp to make him one?"

Jake and Nyssa blinked before exchanging looks with Leo.

"It's sounds like a challenge," Jake said as he slowly smiled. "But I think we can do it with some team effort."

Nyssa grinned. "Nothing wrong with trying."

Still, he couldn't afford to break down completely. Otherwise, Festus had died for nothing. He had to finish this quest—for his friends, for his mom, for his dragon.

He looked around. The large white mansion glowed in the center of the grounds. Tall brick walls with lights and security cameras surrounded the perimeter, but now Leo could see—or rather sense—just how well those walls were defended.

"Where are we?" he asked. "I mean, what city?"

"Omaha, Nebraska," Piper said. "I saw a billboard as we flew in. But I don't know what this mansion is. We came in right behind you, but as you were landing, Leo, I swear it looked like—I don't know—"

"Lasers," Leo said. He picked up a piece of dragon wreckage and threw it toward the top of the fence. Immediately a turret popped up from the brick wall and a beam of pure heat incinerated the bronze plating to ashes.

Nyssa and Jake winced.

"Who designed that?" Katie scowled, crossing her arms. "Are they trying to kill someone?"

Jason whistled. "Some defense system. How are we even alive?"

"Festus," Leo said miserably. "He took the fire. The lasers sliced him to bits as he came in so they didn't focus on you. I led him into a death trap."

"It wasn't your fault, Leo." Katie told him. "You didn't know the mansion had lasers."

"It is my fault. I should've known." Leo admitted. "I can sense traps. If I had been awake, I would've avoided the mansion and maybe have Festus fly over the lake or something. I shouldn't have gone to sleep in the first place. Jason hadn't slept since he was knocked out by the Cyclopes. And-"

"It's not your fault!" Nyssa told him firmly. "I don't want to hear you blame yourself over this. Whoever was the psycho who owns that house is the one responsible."

"You couldn't have known," Piper said. "He saved our lives again."

"But what now?" Jason said. "The main gates are locked, and I'm guessing I can't fly us out of here without getting shot down."

Leo looked up the walkway at the big white mansion. "Since we can't go out, we'll have to go in."

"Finished." Annabeth said. "Does anybody else want to read?"

"I'll do it." Grover said, taking the book.

"Jason XXXI," the goat-boy read.

Chapter Text

"Jason XXXI," Grover read out loud.

Jason would've died five times on the way to the front door if not for Leo.

"Five times?" Thalia echoed in disbelief. 

First it was the motion-activated trapdoor on the sidewalk, then the lasers on the steps, then the nerve gas dispenser on the porch railing, the pressure-sensitive poison spikes in the welcome mat, and of course the exploding doorbell.

"Where would they even buy those things?" Chris said, perplexed.

"Whoever owns this mansion, must have some valuable things in there." Hermes smirked. "Why else would they be so protective?"

"Could be because they're just paranoid." Apollo suggested. 

Leo deactivated all of them. It was like he could smell the traps, and he picked just the right tool out of his belt to disable them.

"I think we just found our way into the Ares Cabin." Connor told Travis, with a smirk.

Travis smirked back, his eyes bright with mischief. Clarisse wouldn't know what hit her.

"You're amazing, man," Jason said.

Leo scowled as he examined the front door lock. "Yeah, amazing," he said. "Can't fix a dragon right, but I'm amazing."

 "He didn't mean it like that." Nyssa told him. "Don't let what he said before get to you. He was being charmspoken, I'm sure he feels bad about what he said."

"Yeah." Leo responded, twirling his pen.

"Hey, that wasn't your—"

"Front door's already unlocked," Leo announced.

"It's unlocked?" Katie said in surprise. "How could you buy all that security, but not do something as basic as locking your door?"

"They're probably really confident in their traps." Leo shrugged.

Leo turned the knob. The door swung open easily. He stepped inside without hesitation.

"Should you be going in there like that?" Will frowned. "You don't exactly know who's in there."

"I didn't really care." Leo admitted.

Before Jason could follow, Piper caught his arm. "He's going to need some time to get over Festus. Don't take it personally."

"Yeah," Jason said. "Yeah, okay."

But still he felt terrible. Back in Medea's store, he'd said some pretty harsh stuff to Leo—stuff a friend shouldn't say, not to mention the fact he'd almost skewered Leo with a sword.

"I tried to give you another concussion, so I think we're even." Leo muttered.

...."Piper," he said, "I know I was in a daze back in Chicago, but that stuff about your dad—if he's in trouble, I want to help. I don't care if it's a trap or not."

Aphrodite smiled sadly.

A couple of her children cooed.

... [Piper] "Jason, you don't know what you're saying. Please—don't make me feel worse.

The goddess of love sighed.

Come on. We should stick together."

She ducked inside.

"So much for sticking together." Percy commented.

"Together," Jason said to himself. "Yeah, we're doing great with that."

Jason's first impression of the house: Dark.

"Your brother has such a way with words," Percy chuckled.

"Kinda like you." Thalia said.

Percy frowned. "I'm not that blunt." he turned to Grover. "Am I?"

"You have your moments." the satyr responded before he continued reading.

"Where's the light switch?" His voice echoed alarmingly through the room.

"Don't see one," Leo said.

"No kidding." Clarisse said sarcastically.

"Fire?" Piper suggested.

Leo held out his hand, but nothing happened. "It's not working."

The readers frowned at this.

"How does your powers not work in the room?" Annabeth asked the son of Hephaestus.

"I dunno." he replied. "I think the mansion had some kind of fire repression on the walls."

Connor let out a low whistle.

"High tech security and fire-proof mansion? This guy must be loaded."

"Wonder what they've got lying around their house." Travis smirked. "You guys should go have a look around."

"After what happened with the Cyclopes? No. They should just stay where they are." Will said firmly.

"Yeah, who knows what kinds of traps are planted in the mansion." Katie agreed.

Jason's skin tingled. He hated being a demigod.

"Join the club." Percy muttered.

Looking around, he didn't see a comfortable room to hang out in. He imagined vicious storm spirits lurking in the curtains, dragons under the carpet, a chandelier made of lethal ice shards, ready to impale them.

"He's more paranoid than the owner." Hermes joked.

"Speaking of the owner," Hades said. "Where are they? They must've realized by now that they have unwanted visitors."

"Leo's right," he said. "We're not separating again—not like in Detroit."

...."It's a few hours until dawn," Jason guessed. "Too cold to wait outside. Let's bring the cages in and make camp in this room. Wait for daylight; then we can decide what to do."

"Sounds like a plan." Will said.

Nobody offered a better idea, so they rolled in the cages with Coach Hedge and the storm spirits, then settled in. Thankfully, Leo didn't find any poison throw pillows or electric whoopee cushions on the sofas.

They actually looked! Hermes chuckled.

...As Jason ate, he studied the metal statues along the walls. They looked like Greek gods or heroes. Maybe that was a good sign. Or maybe they were used for target practice...The big chair at the other end of the table looked like a throne. 

The Stolls perked up at that.

The canary cages didn't make the place any less creepy. The venti kept churning in their prison, hissing and spinning, and Jason got the uncomfortable feeling they were watching him.

Thalia made a face at that.

He could sense their hatred for the children of Zeus—the lord of the sky who'd ordered Aeolus to imprison their kind. The venti would like nothing better than to tear Jason apart.

"Yeah, maybe we should just leave them in the cage." she said, looking more and more cautious about the cage.

"They can't just leave them in there like that." Annabeth told her. "With Festus," she winced. "Gone. They can't lug something that heavy to wherever Aeolus is."

"What else can they be put in?" Thalia said. "It's not like they will just willingly come with them or fit in some other container."

"I don't know." the daughter of Athena looked thoughtful. "Maybe Leo can do something."

As for Coach Hedge, he was still frozen mid-shout, his cudgel raised. Leo was working on the cage, trying to open it with various tools, but the lock seemed to be giving him a hard time...

Despite how wired he felt, once his stomach was full, Jason started to nod off.

Finally, he's going to sleep. Thalia sighed with relief.

Whatever Medea had meant in Chicago, about Piper getting her dad back if she cooperated—it didn't sound good. If Piper had risked her own dad to save them, that made Jason feel even guiltier.

"It's not over yet." Aphrodite murmured. "You still have a chance to save him."

Piper had already curled up on the other sofa. Jason wondered if she was really asleep or dodging a conversation about her dad.

Probably the latter. the goddess thought with a frown.

And they were running out of time. If Jason had his days straight, this was early morning of December 20. Which meant tomorrow was the winter solstice.

The gods tensed.

"They only have one more day to save me." Hera whispered, visibly paling.

"I'm sure they'll find you." Hestia said, but her voice sounded unsure.

The other immortals exchanged nervous looks.

"You guys need to have more faith in us." Leo stated, putting the pen behind his ear. He put his notepad in his pocket before searching through his tool belt.

...Jason took a deep breath. "Leo, I'm sorry about that stuff I said in Chicago. That wasn't me. You're not annoying and you do take stuff seriously —especially your work. I wish I could do half the things you can do."

Leo smiled and playfully rolled his eyes.

Leo lowered his screwdriver. He looked at the ceiling and shook his head like, What am I gonna do with this guy?

This earned him a few questioning glances.

"I try very hard to be annoying," Leo said. "Don't insult my ability to annoy. And how am I supposed to resent you if you go apologizing? I'm a lowly mechanic. You're like the prince of the sky, son of the Lord of the Universe. I'm supposed to resent you."

Hermes, the Stolls, and Apollo burst out laughing, while others looked even more confused by the response.

Of course Leo would say that. Thalia thought. With a faint grin, she shook her head.

As if hearing her thoughts, Leo smiled and shot her with his finger gun. He hastily retracted his hand when the hunters began loading their arrows.

"Just joking!" he reassured them.

They glared back as if to say: Do that again and you'll have more holes than Swiss cheese.

Thalia and Artemis pretended not to notice what was going on.

"That's how I should accept apologies from now on." Apollo said in between laughter.

"Lord of the Universe?"

"Sure, you're all—bam! Lightning 'Watch me fly. I am the eagle that soars—'"

If possible, the laughing grew louder.

Grover patiently waited for them to calm down before reading again.

"Shut up, Valdez."

Leo managed a little smile. "Yeah, see. I do annoy you."

"I apologize for apologizing."

"Thank you." He went back to work, but the tension had eased between them. Leo still looked sad and exhausted—just not quite so angry.

They have a weird friendship. Will thought, still confused by what had happened.

Leo took out a couple pink erasers and stacked them on top of each other.

..."You did fix Festus, you know," Jason said. "You gave him a purpose again. I think this quest was the high point of his life."

"Yeah," Jake agreed. "If you hadn't fixed him, we would've destroyed him."

"Being on this quest made him live longer and, since you're planning to rebuild him, he still has a long life ahead of him." Nyssa told Leo.

Leo grinned in response. "Yeah, you're right."

He placed a paper clip on top of his small tower.

Jason was afraid he'd blown it and made Leo mad again, but Leo just sighed."

"I hope," he said. "Now, sleep, man. I want some time without you organic life forms."

"Like father, like son." Hestia smiled.

....He closed his eyes and had a long, blissfully dreamless sleep. He only woke when the yelling started.

The readers tensed.

"Ahhhggggggh!"

"Sounds like the owner's back." Hermes commented as the others grimaced.

"Maybe they're friendly?" Katie hoped.

"After those lasers and poisonous doormat? Doubt it." Clarisse said.

Jason leaped to his feet. He wasn't sure what was more jarring—the full sunlight that now bathed the room, or the screaming satyr.

The tension was quickly eased when they discovered it was Coach Hedge.

"Oh." Lacy sighed with relief.

"Don't relax yet," Annabeth warned. "The owner might've heard that."

...Gleeson Hedge was capering around on his furry hindquarters, swinging his club and yelling, "Die!" as he smashed the tea set, whacked the sofas, and charged at the throne.

Clarisse laughed. "Good ol' Coach!"

"Does he still think he's fighting the ane...ano...er... storm spirits? Or does he not like the interior designing." Travis said.

"He's probably confused." Grover frowned. Or at least, I hope.

"Coach!" Jason yelled.

Hedge turned, breathing hard. His eyes were so wild, Jason was afraid he might attack. The satyr was still wearing his orange polo shirt and his coach's whistle, but his horns were clearly visible above his curly hair, and his beefy hindquarters were definitely all goat. Could you call a goat beefy?

...What? Thalia made a face.

...."Valdez, McLean," the coach said. "What's going on? We were at the Grand Canyon. The anemoi thuellai were attacking and—" He zeroed in on the storm spirit cage, and his eyes went back to DEFCON 1. "Die!"

"Don't!" Thalia tensed.

"Whoa, Coach!" Leo stepped in his path, which was pretty brave...

"Or pretty stupid." Leo shrugged as everyone else looked at him as if he were crazy.

"It's okay. They're locked up. We just sprang you from the other cage."

.... [Jason] "The extraction team came and took us to Camp Half-Blood. We thought we'd lost you. Then we got word the storm spirits had taken you back to their—um, operator, Medea."

"That witch! Wait—that's impossible. She's mortal. She's dead."

"She's supposed to be dead." Hades corrected with a sigh.

Hedge nodded, his eyes narrowing. "So! You were sent on a dangerous quest to rescue me. Excellent!"

A few readers cringed.

"Um... about that..." Connor coughed.

.... [Piper] "Actually, Glee—can I still call you Coach Hedge? Gleeson seems wrong. We're on a quest for something else. We kind of found you by accident."

Clarisse scowled. "She didn't have to phrase it like that."

"Oh." The coach's spirits seemed to deflate, but only for a second.

The daughter of Ares couldn't help but grin at that.

Then his eyes lit up again. "But there are no accidents! Not on quests. This was meant to happen! So, this is the witch's lair, eh? Why is everything gold?"

"Gold?!" Connor excitedly exclaimed. "Did he just say gold?!"

Travis eagerly leaned forward.

"Tell me everything," he told Grover.

"Gold?" Jason looked around. From the way Leo and Piper caught their breath, he guessed they hadn't noticed yet either. The room was full of gold—the statues, the tea set Hedge had smashed, the chair that was definitely a throne. Even the curtains—which seemed to have opened by themselves at daybreak—appeared to be woven of gold fiber.

The Stolls looked like two kids in a candy store.

"We'll take the statues, the curtains, even if the tea set is smashed, we can still sell the pieces..." Connor said, counting off with his fingers.

"Oh! And the throne! Don't forget the throne!" Travis added.

"I don't know why you're getting so excited." Katie rolled her eyes. "It's not like Chiron's actually going to give you permission to leave the camp."

"Details." Connor waved off. He looked up at the ceiling and sighed. I wonder if this guy owns a golden crown with a scepter.

"He might not give us permission at first, but he'll come around." If we annoy him enough. Travis silently added.

"I'll believe it when I see it." Katie snorted.

"Nice," Leo said. "No wonder they got so much security."

"Oh yeah, how are we supposed to get past that?" Travis wondered. He turned to Connor and frowned. "Should we bring Leo with us?"

"Nope!" Leo said immediately, not looking away from his leaning tower. He held his hand close to it to keep it steady. "There's no way I'm going back there again."

The Stolls pouted.

"Aw, com'on man!" Connor exclaimed. "Think of all the gold we'll get from that place! We'll split the treasure three ways!"

"It's not worth it." the son of Hephaestus said. "Just trust me."

Travis groaned dramatically. "You're no fun!"

"I'm plenty of fun!" Leo argued. "I just value my life! This guy has lasers shooting out of his lawn."

"Where's your sense of adventure?" Connor asked in exasperation. "As demigods, we've faced worse!"

"This isn't—" Piper stammered. ""This isn't Medea's place, Coach. It's some rich person's mansion in Omaha. We got away from Medea and crash-landed here."

"It's destiny, cupcakes!" Hedge insisted. "I'm meant to protect you. What's the quest?"

Before Jason could decide if he wanted to explain or just shove Coach Hedge back into his cage, a door opened at the far end of the room.

The readers tensed.

A pudgy man in a white bathrobe stepped out with a golden toothbrush in his mouth.

"A golden toothbrush! How awesome is that?! I didn't even know those existed!" Travis exclaimed, looking ecstatic.

The rest of the readers took in the description with confused expressions.

He had a white beard and one of those long, old-fashioned sleeping caps pressed down over his white hair. He froze when he saw them, and the toothbrush fell out of his mouth.

"He's the owner?" Chris said skeptically. "I don't know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn't this."

Percy frowned. "Who is this supposed to be?"

"Sounds like another mortal." Annabeth grimaced. "Probably another royal, judging from all the gold."

"Hopefully he's not as bad as Medea." Nico said.

He glanced into the room behind him and called, "Son? Lit, come out here, please. There are strange people in the throne room."

Coach Hedge did the obvious thing. He raised his club and shouted, "Die!" Grover cringed.

"That's the end of the chapter." he said, sighing over Hedge's reaction. Is he going to be like that the whole quest? "Does anybody else want-"

"I will! I need to more about this guy's mansion!" Travis volunteered.

"It's really not as great as you think it is." Leo muttered, placing a pencil eraser on top. The tower collapsed.

With a goofy smile, the son of Hermes took the book from Grover and began to read.

"Jason XXXII," Travis read, his excitement can be heard clear in his voice.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Jason XXXII," Travis read, his voice full of excitement.

It took all three of them to hold back the satyr. "Whoa, Coach!" Jason said. "Bring it down a few notches."

Grover winced. "We don't even know if they're dangerous yet..."

Leo tossed an eraser back and forth between his hands.

A younger man charged into the room.... H e was dressed in pajama pants with a sleeveless T-shirt that said cornhuskers, and he held a sword that looked like it could husk a lot of things besides corn. His ripped arms were covered in scars, and his face, framed by curly dark hair, would've been handsome if it wasn't also sliced up.

The Aphrodite kids exchanged whispers and giggles as they pushed each other around.

Lit immediately zeroed in on Jason like he was the biggest threat, and stalked toward him, swinging his sword overhead.

"Hold on!" Piper stepped forward, trying for her best calming voice... Lit stopped in his tracks, but he still looked wary. It didn't help that Hedge was screaming, "I'll get them! Don't worry!"

"Not helping Gleeson..." Grover muttered. They might have a chance of talking their way out  of this, if you don't threaten the owner.

..."Let's all put our weapons down," Piper said. "Coach, you first."

Hedge clenched his jaw. "Just one thwack?"

"No," Piper said.

"What about a compromise? I'll kill them first, and if it turns out they were friendly, I'll apologize."

"You're kidding, right?" Nico said dryly as Clarisse laughed.

Annabeth sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. 

"Please tell me he get's better after this," she told Leo.

Leo sheepishly smiled. "You'd think that but..." 

He trailed off and glanced at the pencil eraser in his hand.

Great. she thought sarcastically.

"No!" Piper insisted.

"Meh." Coach Hedge lowered his club.

Piper gave Lit a friendly sorry-about-that smile... Jason felt a little jealous she was giving Lit that smile.

Aphrodite giggled.

Lit huffed and sheathed his sword. "You speak well, girl—fortunately for your friends, or I would've run them through."

"Appreciate it," Leo said. "I try not to get run through before lunchtime."

"It tends to ruin the appetite." Apollo chuckled.

....[Bathrobe Man] "Well, since you're here. Please, sit down."

Lit frowned. "Your Majesty—"

"No, no, it's fine, Lit," the old man said. "New land, new customs. They may sit in my presence. After all, they've seen me in my nightclothes. No sense observing formalities."

"So far so good..." Percy said. Maybe this can work out?

Leo tossed the eraser in the air before trying to catch it. He missed and it landed on the floor.

He did his best to smile, though it looked a little forced. "Welcome to my humble home. I am King Midas."

The Stolls gasped and exchanged excited expressions.

"Dude!" Travis whispered, or at least tried to. "Once we steal from him, we'll be trillionaires!" He shook Connor's shoulder to empathize his point.

Katie sighed at their reaction.

Percy frowned. "Midas? Isn't he that golden touch guy?"

"Yup, that's him." Apollo scowled. "King 'Tone Deaf' Midas is back from the grave. Why would this patron waste her time bringing him back to life, is beyond me."

"He's easy to manipulate." Artemis said. "I'm sure he was more than willing to work with the giants if it means getting back at you."

"He deserved what he got, Artie." the god huffed.

"Don't call me that."

"I'm the god of music, how could he pick Pan over me? No offense Hermes, Pan was a great guy, but there was no way he could be more musically talented than me, the god of music!"

Here we go again... Artemis thought, watching her brother dramatically wave his arms around as he ranted.

Percy turned to Annabeth.

"On a scale from one to ten, how dangerous is he?" he asked her.

Annabeth pondered on this for a moment.

"I'd say... two at best." she answered with a shrug. "Midas is relatively harmless. He lost his golden touch years ago after he accidentally turned his daughter into gold. Between him and his son, Lit's obviously the biggest threat."

"That's good," Percy relaxed. "I think I've had enough magical mortals from the last chapters."

"Me too." Annabeth agreed.

"Midas? Impossible," said Coach Hedge. "He died."

"And should've stayed dead." Apollo added, drumming his fingers on his armrest.

They were sitting on the sofas now, while the king reclined on his throne. Tricky to do that in a bathrobe, and Jason kept worrying the old guy would forget and uncross his legs. Hopefully he was wearing golden boxers under there.

A few people winced at the mental image that came with that.

Where does he get these weird thoughts from?  Thalia shuddered.

Lit stood behind the throne, both hands on his sword, glancing at Piper and flexing his muscular arms just to be annoying. Jason wondered if he looked that ripped holding a sword. Sadly, he doubted it.

Aphrodite giggled.

"I don't think Piper would agree." Lacy smiled.

.... [Midas]"And yet, now we're here. I'm enjoying myself very much. I like being alive better."

"But how?" Piper asked. "You didn't happen to have a ... patron?"

Midas hesitated, but there was a sly twinkle in his eyes. "Does it matter, my dear?"

"Since you shouldn't be here in the first place, it kinda does." Annabeth said sarcastically.

"We could kill them again," Hedge suggested.

"Not a bad idea." Apollo said thoughtfully.

"Not helping." Artemis told him.

... [Jason]"Why don't you go outside and stand guard?"

"It's better than what he's doing now, I guess." Grover sighed. "But would he be okay with all those security measures outside? 

..."Oh, yes," the king said. "Sorry about that. But it's lovely stuff, isn't it? Amazing what gold can still buy. Such excellent toys you have in this country!"

He fished a remote control out of his bathrobe pocket and pressed a few buttons—a pass code, Jason guessed.

"There," Midas said. "Safe to go out now."

"I'm not sure it's a good idea to get separated again." Hestia said worriedly.

"It's either that or let Coach hang around." Leo reminded, attempting to juggle three erasers.

Hestia bit her lip at that. They have no choice...

Coach Hedge grunted. "Fine. But if you need me ..." He winked at Jason meaningfully. Then he pointed at himself, pointed two fingers at their hosts, and sliced a finger across his throat. Very subtle sign language.

Athena sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.

"It's not like they didn't know he was trying to kill them already." Mitchell said.

....After the satyr left, Piper tried another diplomatic smile. "So ... you don't know how you got here?"

"Oh, well, yes. Sort of," the king said. He frowned at Lit. "Why did we pick Omaha, again? I know it wasn't the weather."

"The oracle," Lit said.

"Rachel?" Percy guessed.

"If he knows what's good for him, it'd better not be." Apollo said firmly.

"Yes! I was told there was an oracle in Omaha." The king shrugged. "Apparently I was mistaken. But this is a rather nice house, isn't it? Lit—it's short for Lityerses, by the way—horrible name, but his mother insisted—Lit has plenty of wide-open space to practice his swordplay. He has quite a reputation for that. They called him the Reaper of Men back in the old days."

"Oh." Piper tried to sound enthusiastic. "How nice."

Lit's smile was more of a cruel sneer. Jason was now one hundred percent sure he didn't like this guy, and he was starting to regret sending Hedge outside.

"So," Jason said. "All this gold—"

....Jason looked at the brochures on the coffee table. The title said GOLD: Invest for Eternity. "Um, you sell gold?"

"No, no," the king said. "I make it. 

"He makes it?" Annabeth echoed, she blinked in confusion. "But... Didn't he give up his Golden Touch?"

The gods looked at her in disbelief. Even Dionysus looked away from his magazine and stared at her as if she stated the sky was green.

"Where'd you hear that from? Camp?" Apollo frowned and turned to the god of wine. "I thought you guys were supposed to be teaching them."

Dionysus didn't bother to look at him as he returned to his magazine. 

"Nobody watches the Orientation film, do you really think they have enough attention-spans to study out-of-date textbooks?" he grumbled. "Besides, I'm not getting paid enough to teach."

Zeus narrowed his eyes. "You're not getting paid."

The god snapped his fingers. "Bingo."

Is this the man responsible for our children? Athena grimaced. She turned to her daughter. "Did your books ever tell you how he got rid of it? Or were they vague?"

"Um..." Annabeth hesitated, still embarrassed from their reactions. "They never mention how he got rid of it, I guess I just assumed he did after he repented-"

"Repent? Him?" Apollo laughed.

Annabeth's ears turned redder. 

"And learned how to change his daughter back to normal."

"At least you're half-right." Athena said. She made a mental note to talk about the camp's curriculum with Chiron later. 

"So, it's just Leo, Piper, and Jason. Alone. With the Cornhusker guy and a king who turns everything he touches into gold?" Percy summed up. "How did this go from bad to worse so quickly?"

"Comes with being a demigod?" Leo guessed. He added another eraser to his juggling.

"It might work out, Midas only wants to talk." Annabeth reminded.

"For now." Nico grumbled.

In uncertain times like these, gold is the wisest investment, don't you think? Governments fall. The dead rise. Giants attack Olympus. But gold retains its value!" Travis frowned thoughtfully.

"Haven't we heard that ad before?" he asked Connor.

"Sounds like it." his brother said.

..."Oh, don't be fooled by cheap imitators!" the king said. "I assure you, I can beat any price for a serious investor. I can make a wide assortment of gold items at a moment's notice."

"But ..." Piper shook her head in confusion. "Your Majesty, you gave up the golden touch, didn't you?"

Annabeth felt slightly relieved that she wasn't the only one who thought that.

"Is this just a common inconsistency?" Athena wondered.

The king looked astonished. "Gave it up?"

"Yes," Piper said. "You got it from some god—"

"Dionysus," the king agreed.

A few demigods looked at the wine dude in surprise.

As if sensing those looks, Dionysus rolled his eyes. "If you brats were actually taking your studies seriously, you would've already known this."

"I'd rescued one of his satyrs, and in return, the god granted me one wish. I chose the golden touch."

"Dumbest wish I've ever granted." Dionysus admitted, turning page of his magazine.

Now Hermes looked intrigued. "Really? Compared to some of your other ones?"

"The others had some sense to them," the god said. "This guy clearly didn't think about it."

"He never can make the best decisions, can he?" Apollo asked, pretending to look thoughtful.

"But you accidentally turned your own daughter to gold," Piper remembered. "And you realized how greedy you'd been. So you repented."

"Repented!" King Midas looked at Lit incredulously.

Annabeth frowned.

"You see, son? You're away for a few thousand years, and the story gets twisted all around. My dear girl, did those stories ever say I'd lost my magic touch?"

"Well, I guess not. They just said you learned how to reverse it with running water, and you brought your daughter back to life."

"That's all true. Sometimes I still have to reverse my touch. There's no running water in the house because I don't want accidents"—he gestured to his statues— "but we chose to live next to a river just in case. Occasionally, I'll forget and pat Lit on the back—"

Lit retreated a few steps. "I hate that."

That makes two of us. Leo thought with a shudder.

"How can he just be okay with his curse after what happened to his daughter?" Annabeth asked. "Moving next to a river won't solve the other issues."

"I told you I was sorry, any rate, gold is wonderful. Why would I give it up?"

....Midas laughed. "My dear, may I see your backpack for a moment? Toss it here."

Piper hesitated, but she wasn't eager to offend the king. She dumped everything out of the pack and tossed it to Midas. As soon as he caught it, the pack turned to gold, like frost spreading across the fabric. It still looked flexible and soft, but definitely gold. The king tossed it back.

"That is so cool." Travis breathed.

"Now what?" Clarisse said. "What's the point in making it gold?"

"Travel in style, duh." Connor responded as if that were obvious.

"As you see, I can still turn anything to gold," Midas said. "That pack is magic now, as well. Go ahead—put your little storm spirit enemies in there."

"That solves one problem." Annabeth said. Maybe this won't end as badly as I thought. Why bother help them with their problem if your going to kill them?

"Sweet! Maybe the other things in the house have magic too!" Connor said enthusiastically.

"Seriously?" Leo was suddenly interested. He took the bag from Piper and held it up to the cage. As soon as he unzipped the backpack, the winds stirred and howled in protest. The cage bars shuddered. The door of the prison flew open and the winds got vacuumed straight into the pack. Leo zipped it shut and grinned.

"Gotta admit. That's cool."

The Stolls nodded in agreement.

"You see?" Midas said. "My golden touch a curse? Please. I didn't learn any lesson, and life isn't a story, girl. Honestly, my daughter Zoe was much more pleasant as a gold statue." Travis's smile quickly transformed into a confused frown as he read that out loud.

"Uh... He's joking, right?" Connor said nervously.

"She talked a lot," Lit offered.

"Exactly! And so I turned her back to gold." Midas pointed. There in the corner was a golden statue of a girl with a shocked expression, as if she were thinking, Dad!

"Holy crap." Travis muttered, face paling as he silently reread the sentence.

The demigods stiffened.

"They already got the storm spirit problem fixed, now's a good time to leave while he's in a good mood." Percy said.

"That's horrible!" Piper said.

"Nonsense. She doesn't mind.

"How does he know? Did he ask her before he turned her back to gold?" Artemis scowled, she beginning to see why Apollo hated Midas.

Besides, if I'd learned my lesson, would I have gotten these?"

Already knowing what was going to happen, Leo cringed.

Midas pulled off his oversize sleeping cap, and Jason didn't know whether to laugh or get sick. Midas had long fuzzy gray ears sticking up from his white hair—like Bugs Bunny's, but they weren't rabbit ears. They were donkey ears.

"Ugh!" Aphrodite cried out with a shudder.

"Oh my gods!" Lacy gagged. The other demigods looked equally disgusted.

"I could've lived without the mental image, thanks." Will said, grimacing.

Apollo was smiling so hard, Leo wondered if it was starting to hurt.

"Good to know he still has them." he said smugly.

"Oh, wow," Leo said. "I didn't need to see that."

The readers muttered in agreement.

"Terrible, isn't it?" Midas sighed. "A few years after the golden touch incident, I judged a music contest between Apollo and Pan, and I declared Pan the winner. Apollo, sore loser, said I must have the ears of an ass, and voilà.

Apollo's smile fell, he sputtered. 

"Sore loser!" he angrily exclaimed. "Who? Me? A sore loser?! I'm the fairest guy I know, he should be lucky I just gave him donkey ears. I could've done a lot worse."

"I'm sure you could've." Artemis said patiently, gesturing Travis to keep reading. 

"Sore loser." Apollo huffed. "I shouldn't have been so forgiving."

This was my reward for being truthful.

"Really?" Apollo scowled. "It's funny, he wasn't saying these things when he was on his hands and knees begging for mercy."

I tried to keep them a secret. Only my barber knew, but he couldn't help blabbing." Midas pointed out another golden statue—a bald man in a toga, holding a pair of shears. Travis's eyes widened dramatically. "That's him. He won't be telling anyone's secrets again." he read in a shaky voice. How many of people did he turn into gold?

"A two, huh?" Percy said to Annabeth.

Said girl fought down another wave of embarrassment. 

"I didn't know he was a deranged lunatic." she whispered back heatedly.

The king smiled. Suddenly he didn't strike Jason as a harmless old man in a bathrobe. His eyes had a merry glow to them—the look of a madman who knew he was mad, accepted his madness, and enjoyed it.

The Stolls exchanged uneasy looks.

"Maybe we should try our luck somewhere else?" Connor nervously suggested.

"Gold's overrated." Travis hurriedly agreed. "You can find that anywhere."

" Yes, gold has many uses. I think that must be why I was brought back, eh Lit? To bankroll o ur patron." 

Lit nodded. "That and my good sword arm."

..."So you do have a patron," Jason said. "You work for the giants."

King Midas waved his hand dismissively. "Well, I don't care for giants myself, of course. But even supernatural armies need to get paid. I do owe my patron a great debt. I tried to explain that to the last group that came through, but they were very unfriendly. Wouldn't cooperate at all."

..."Hunters," Lit snarled. "Blasted girls from Artemis."

The hunters scowled at that.

He better not have turned any of my hunters into gold. Artemis gritted her teeth.

Thalia swore under her breath. "We just missed him."

...His sister had been here.

"We were so close." she muttered.

Leo pocketed his erasers.

"When?" he demanded. "What happened?"

Lit shrugged. "Few days ago? I didn't get to kill them, unfortunately. They were looking for some evil wolves, or something. Said they were following a trail, heading west. Missing demigod—I don't recall."

Percy Jackson, Jason thought. Annabeth had mentioned the Hunters were looking for him... Hera had called them her keepers. It had to be connected somehow.

"Very unpleasant young ladies, those Hunters," [Midas] he recalled. "They absolutely refused to be turned into gold.

Phoebe made a face at that.

"Why would we want that?" she said in disbelief.

"This guy's insane..." Thalia murmured, paling. Get out of there now, Jay.

Much of the security system outside I installed to keep that sort of thing from happening again, you know. I don't have time for those who aren't serious investors."

The readers tensed. 

"This goes about as well as you think it would." Leo grimaced.

"Well," Piper said, managing a smile. "It's been a great visit. Welcome back to life. Thanks for the gold bag."

"Oh, but you can't leave!" Midas said. "I know you're not serious investors, but that's all right! I have to rebuild my collection."

"Is that supposed to make them stay?" Will asked incredulously. 

"How are they going to fight a guy like that?" Lacy said nervously.

..."Don't worry," the king assured them. "You don't have to be turned to gold. I give all my guests a choice—join my collection, or die at the hands of Lityerses. Really, it's good either way."

"Okay, they still have a chance to get out of this." Percy said urgently. "Obviously they need to choose Lit over Midas. Piper's charmspeak was working on him before, so if she can turn Lit against his dad, that could be the distraction they need to leave."

"That could've worked." Leo mused.

The son of Poseidon furrowed his eyebrows. "Could've?"

Piper tried to use her charmspeak. "Your Majesty, you can't—"

Quicker than any old man should've been able to move, Midas lashed out and grabbed her wrist.

The Aphrodite Cabin gasped.

"NO!" the goddess of love exclaimed.

Annabeth flinched in sympathy.

But a frost of gold spread over Piper, and in a heartbeat she was a glittering statue.

Percy blinked.

He silently took in what just happened.

"He didn't let her choose." he finally said.

"He's a bad guy for a reason." Annabeth replied.

"Is she still alive?!" Lacy asked Leo, she looked close to tears.

"She's alive." Leo assured. "Jason made sure to take us to the river." 

"Us?" Jake picked up.

Leo tried to summon fire, but he'd forgotten his power wasn't working. Midas touched his hand, and Leo transformed into solid metal.

"Oh." Jake winced.

A few people gave him sympathetic glances.

"Yeah," Leo said, playing with the cuff of his jacket. 

"Does it hurt?" Lacy worriedly asked, still thinking about Piper.

He made a face.

"It didn't hurt." Leo recalled. "I just felt a cold sensation spread across my body and I blacked out. I don't remember much except..." He paused and shuddered. "Nothing."

"What?" Lacy pressed.

"It's nothing!" he insisted. "I just... had a weird dream. It wasn't a demigod dream, I swear." Or at least, Leo hoped it wasn't. Playing 'Pin the Tail on the Valdez' with King Midas was something he did not want to become a reality.

Lacy looked perplexed, but she thankfully didn't ask any more questions.

Jason was so horrified he couldn't move. His friends—just he hadn't been able to stop it.

Midas smiled apologetically. "Gold trumps fire, I'm afraid." He waved around him at all the gold curtains and furniture. "In this room, my power dampens all others: fire... even charmspeak.

"So much for my master plan." Percy sighed. "How does gold even block charmspeak?"

"It was a good idea." Nico told him. "You didn't know."

Which leaves me only one more trophy to collect."

"Hedge!" Jason yelled. "Need help in here!"

"Yeah, now would be a good time to kill things, Hedge." Grover said, chewing on the sleeve of his shirt.

For once, the satyr didn't charge in. Jason wondered if the lasers had gotten him, or if he was sitting at the bottom of a trap pit.

"Maybe Midas reactivated the traps." Jake frowned.

Clarisse grimaced as Grover munched harder on his sleeve.

...Jason fixed on an idea. "I choose combat. You said I could choose to fight Lit instead."

...The king backed away, and Lit raised his sword.

"I'm going to enjoy this," Lit said. "I am the Reaper of Men!"

"Come on, Cornhusker." Jason summoned his own weapon. This time it came up as a javelin, and Jason was glad for the extra length.

"Oh, gold weapon!" Midas said. "Very nice."

Thalia rolled her eyes.

Lit charged.

The guy was fast. He slashed and sliced, and Jason could barely dodge the strikes, but his mind went into a different mode—analyzing patterns, learning Lit's style, which was all offense, no defense.

Jason countered, sidestepped, and blocked.

The demigods frowned at the unusual fighting style.

..."What is that style?" Lit growled. "You don't fight like a Greek."

"He fights like a cowardly Roman." Ares said, before wincing.

Athena hummed in agreement.

"Piper and I would've still been golden dust collectors if it weren't for that fighting style." Leo reminded, drumming his fingers on the wall. 

The demigods exchanged looks.

"That's true." Chris admitted.

Leo couldn't help but grin at his small victory.

"Legion training," Jason said, though he wasn't sure how he knew that. "It's Roman."

"Roman?" Lit struck again, and Jason deflected his blade. "What is Roman?"

"News flash," Jason said. "While you were dead, Rome defeated Greece. Created the greatest empire of all time." Travis rolled his eyes as he read this. "Seriously?"

Leo's grin twitched. Why did you have to brag?

"If the Roman Empire really was that great, where is it now?" Connor said, some other demigods laughed and said similar things.

"It was just a little hometown pride, he didn't mean it like that." Leo reassured them.

"I hope so." Katie huffed. "I'm sure they were a good empire, but I wouldn't call them the greatest."

"Impossible," Lit said. "Never even heard of them."

Please don't think of witty comeback, Jason. Leo begged. Everyone looked ready for him to say one wrong thing. Just beat this guy and let's move on.

Jason spun on one heel, smacked Lit in the chest with the butt of his javelin, and sent him toppling into Midas's throne.

Leo sighed with relief.

"Oh, dear," Midas said. "Lit?"

"I'm fine," Lit growled.

"You'd better help him up," Jason said.

Lit cried, "Dad, no!"

Too late. Midas put his hand on his son's shoulder, and suddenly a very angry-looking gold statue was sitting on Midas's throne.

Apollo chuckled. "Idiot."

"Curses!" Midas wailed. "That was a naughty trick, demigod. I'll get you for that." He patted Lit's golden shoulder. "Don't worry, son. I'll get you down to the river right after I collect this prize."

"He shouldn't sound so casual after what just happened." Percy said.

Midas raced forward. Jason dodged, but the old man was fast, too. Jason kicked the coffee table into the old man's legs and knocked him over, but Midas wouldn't stay down for long.

Then Jason glanced at Piper's golden statue. Anger washed over him. He was the son of Zeus. He could not fail his friends.

Thalia nodded her head in approval.

"Glad to know that I helped inspire you." Leo muttered, brushing his hair back.

"Ow! What are you doing?" he demanded. "My power is supreme here!"

Thunder rumbled. Outside, the sky turned black.

"You know another good use for gold?" Jason said.

Midas raised his eyebrows, suddenly excited. "Yes?"

"It's an excellent conductor of electricity."

Thalia grinned.

Jason raised his javelin, and the ceiling exploded. A lightning bolt ripped through the roof like it was an eggshell... Chunks of ceiling plaster crashed down. The chandelier groaned and snapped off its chain, and Midas screamed as it pinned him to the floor.

Apollo's shoulders slumped. So close, yet so far away...

The glass immediately turned into gold.

When the rumbling stopped, freezing rain poured into the building... The rain soaked everything, turning the gold chandelier back to glass. Piper and Leo were slowly changing too, along with the other statues in the room.

Aphrodite and some of her children sighed with relief.

Then the front door burst open, and Coach Hedge charged in, club ready. His mouth was covered with dirt, snow, and grass.

"Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!" Connor introduced. "Seriously, was he just out eating this whole time?"

"Can't fight bad guys on an empty stomach." Travis said in his wisest voice.

"At least he's okay." Grover sighed.

"What'd I miss?" he asked.

"Everything." Will stated. "How could he not hear the noise?"

"Where were you?" Jason demanded... "I was screaming for help."

Hedge belched. "Getting a snack. Sorry. Who needs killing?"

Some of the readers looked exasperated.

"No one, now!" Jason said. "Just grab Leo. I'll get Piper."

"Of course, he's got Piper." Aphrodite grinned.

"Don't leave me like this!" Midas wailed.

All around him the statues of his victims were turning to flesh—his daughter, his barber, and a whole lot of angry-looking guys with swords.

Apollo smiled to himself. Poetic Justice.

Jason grabbed Piper's golden bag and his own supplies.

Then he threw a rug over the golden statue of Lit on the throne. Hopefully that would keep the Reaper of Men from turning back to flesh—at least until after Midas's victims did.

"Nice touch." the god chuckled.

"Let's get out of here," Jason told Hedge. "I think these guys will want some quality time with Midas."

"I'm done." Travis said. "Does anybody else want to read next?"

"I'll do it." Will volunteered, taking the book.

"Piper XXXIII," Will began.

Chapter Text

"Piper XXXIII," Will began.

Piper woke up cold and shivering.

She'd had the worst dream about an old guy with donkey ears chasing her around and shouting, You're it! Will furrowed his eyebrows as he read this.

"What?" he muttered to himself.

The other readers had confused expressions on their faces.

Leo's shoulders slumped with relief. At least I'm not the only one. Is that just a side-effect from being turned into gold?

"Oh, god." Her teeth chattered. "He turned me to gold!"

"It's a shame she didn't stay that way." Drew muttered, combing her hair with her fingers.

"You're okay now." Jason leaned over and tucked a warm blanket around her,

"Awww!" the goddess of love cooed.

but she still felt as cold as a Boread.

She blinked, trying to figure out where they were. Next to her, a campfire blazed, turning the air sharp with smoke... They were in a shallow cave, but it didn't offer much protection. Outside, the wind howled. Snow blew sideways.

"Another snow storm?" Athena noticed. Why does Boreas keep making snow storms? Is it an order from Aeolus? 

..."L-L-Leo?" Piper managed.

"Present and un-gold-ified." Leo was also wrapped in blankets. He didn't look great, but better than Piper felt. "I got the precious metal treatment too," he said. "But I came out of it faster. Dunno why.

"Maybe it's because of your fire abilities?" Katie said.

"Could be." Leo shrugged.

We had to dunk you in the river to get you back completely. Tried to dry you off, but ... it's really, really cold."

"Sounds like hypothermia." Will said with a frown. "Try to stay bundled up and near the fire. If you guys have the ingredients, maybe Jason can make some hot chocolate too. That would help."

"We didn't have hot chocolate, but I made a mean set of burgers!" Leo bragged.

"You cooked?" Will said disapprovingly. "Why didn't Jason or Coach Hedge do it? You should've been resting."

"I'm the designated cook of this quest. If anybody's going to be making meals, it'd be Chef Leo." the son of Hephaestus told him. "Besides, Jay couldn't boil water if his life depended on it and Coach Hedge..."

Leo made a face. "I'm a little scared to try whatever he would make."

Will made a face as well. "You have a point."

"We risked as much nectar as we could. Coach Hedge did a little nature magic—"

"Sports medicine."

"I don't think sports medicine is very effective on hypothermia." the son of Apollo remarked before he continued.

... [Coach Hedge]"Kind of a hobby of mine. Your breath might smell like wild mushrooms and Gatorade for a few days, but it'll pass. You probably won't die. Probably." Will's frown deepened.

"He doesn't sound so sure." Lacy gulped, turning slightly pale.

"I'm sure she'll be fine." Mitchell said, hoping he didn't sound as unsure as he felt. "Satyrs are usually great at healing magic."

"Usually they are, but sometimes they can screw up." Drew said, ignoring a glare from her brother.

"Don't listen to her." Mitchell told Lacy, who trembled.

"Thanks," Piper said weakly. "How did you beat Midas?"

Jason told her the story, putting most of it down to luck.

"It was a lot more than that." Thalia said.

The coach snorted. "Kid's being modest. You should've seen him. Hi-yah! Slice! Boom with the lightning!"

"How would he know? Wasn't he eating half of the lawn earlier?" Thalia rolled her eyes.

Leo digged through his pockets.

..."Then I came in with my club, and we dominated that room. Afterward, I told him, 'Kid, I'm proud of you! If you could just work on your upper body strength—'"

"Coach," said Jason.

"Yeah?"

"Shut up, please."

Pulling out a loose piece of cooper wire, Leo began bending and twisting it in different directions.

"Sure." The coach sat down at the fire and started chewing his cudgel.

Jason put his hand on Piper's forehead and checked her temperature. "Leo, can you stoke the fire?"

"On it." Leo summoned a baseball-sized clump of flames and lobbed it into the campfire.

"You're getting better with using your powers." Annabeth noticed.

"I had to be if I wanted to survive this quest." Leo responded.

"Do I look that bad?" Piper shivered.

Is that a trick question? Drew snorted.

"Nah," Jason said.

"You're a terrible liar," she said.

"Tell me about it." Drew said under her breath.

"Where are we?"

"Pikes Peak," Jason said. "Colorado."

"How'd he get that far without the dragon?" Nico asked.

"But that's, what—five hundred miles from Omaha?"

"Something like that," Jason agreed. "I harnessed the storm spirits to bring us this far. They didn't like it—went a little faster than I wanted, almost crashed us into the mountainside before I could get them back in the bag. I'm not going to be trying that again."

A few readers winced.

"They need to find a new ride soon." Nyssa said. "Do you think Aeolus can give them some kind of chariot or maybe teleport them to wear they need to go next?" 

"He might if he's in a good mood." Demeter said.

"Why are we here?"

"Pikes Peak is his favorite place to dock." Apollo explained. "He might be there."

...Jason gazed into the storm as if watching for something. "That glittery wind trail we saw yesterday? It was still in the sky, though it had faded a lot. I followed it until I couldn't see it anymore. Then—honestly I'm not sure. I just felt like this was the right place to stop."

..."The Hunters were heading west," Piper remembered. "Do you think they're around here?"

"I hope so." Thalia muttered. "I need to see him again." We have so much we need to talk about.

Jason rubbed his forearm as if the tattoos were bothering him. "I don't see how anyone could survive on the mountain right now. The storm's pretty bad.

"Don't underestimate us." Thalia said. 

"We've been through worse." Phoebe said dismissively. 

It's already the evening before the solstice, but we didn't have much choice except to wait out the storm here.

The gods stiffened at that.

Can't they hurry up? Hera impatiently thought.

We had to give you some time to rest before we tried moving."

He didn't need to convince her. The wind howling outside the cave scared her, and she couldn't stop shivering.

"We have to get you warm." Jason sat next to her and held out his arms a little awkwardly. "Uh, you mind if I..."

"Of course she wouldn't mind!" Aphrodite giggled with her daughters.

"I suppose." She tried to sound nonchalant.

He put his arms around her and held her.

"Awww!" Aphrodite and a few members of Cabin Ten cooed.

"That must've been awkward." Connor said to Leo. "Just sitting there, suffering from hypothermia, while they're cuddling and flirting."

Leo snorted.

"You think this is bad?" he asked rhetorically. "Keep in mind, that I'm going to be traveling with them and these two lovebirds for the Great Prophecy."

He jerked his thumb at Percy and Annabeth.

"Yikes." Will said sympathetically.

Aphrodite cackled mercilessly. "Hope you didn't walk in on anything too bad!"

She gave her favorite couple a not-so subtle wink.

"Com'on guys! We're not that bad." Percy defended. 

"You say that now, but you've been apart in the future." Lacy mischievously reminded. "Who knows how you two will act when you see each other again."

"We'll act the same as we always do." Annabeth told her. I can keep my cool when I see him.

"Uh-huh." Nobody looked like they bought it.

...Leo broke out some cooking supplies and started frying burger patties on an iron skillet. "So, guys, long as you're cuddled up for story time ... something I've been meaning to tell you. On the way to Omaha, I had this dream. Kinda hard to understand with the static and the Wheel of Fortune