ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html Also by Rick Riordan Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Two: The Sea of Monsters Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Three: The Titan’s Curse Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Four: The Battle of the Labyrinth Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Five: The Last Olympian The Kane Chronicles, Book One: The Red Pyramid Page 1 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html

EVEN BEFORE HE GOT ELECTROCUTED, Jason was having a rotten day. He woke in the backseat of a school bus, not sure where he was, holding hands with a girl he didn’ t know. That wasn’t necessarily the rotten part. The girl was cute, but he couldn’t figure out who she was or what he was doing there. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, trying to think. A few dozen kids sprawled in the seats in front of him, listening to iPods, talking, or sleeping. They all looked around his age … fifteen? Sixteen? Okay, that was scary. He didn’t know his own age. 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. He tried to think back … the last thing he remembered … The girl squeezed his hand. “Jason, you okay? ” She wore faded jeans, hiking boots, and a fleece snowboarding jacket. Her chocolate brown hair was cut choppy and uneven, with thin strands braided down the sides. She wore no makeup like she was trying not to draw attention to herself, but it didn’t work. She was seriously pretty. Her eyes seemed to change color like a kaleidoscope—brown, blue, and green. Jason let go of her hand. Um, I don’t—” In the front of the bus, a teacher shouted, “All right, cupcakes, listen up! ” The guy was obviously a coach. His baseball cap was pulled low over his hair, so you could just see his beady eyes. He had a wispy goatee and a sour face, like he’d eaten something moldy. His buff arms and chest pushed against a bright orange polo shirt. His nylon workout pants and Nikes were spotless white. A whistle hung from his neck, and a megaphone was clipped to his belt. He would’ve looked pretty scary if he hadn’t been five feet zero. When he stood up in the aisle, one of the students called, “Stand up, Coach Hedge! “I heard that! ” The coach scanned the bus for the offender. Then his eyes fixed on Jason, and his scowl deepened. A jolt went down Jason’s spine. He was sure the coach knew he didn’t belong there. He was going to call Jason out, demand to know what he was doing on the bus—and Jason wouldn’t have a clue what to say. But Coach Hedge looked away and cleared his throat. “We’ll arrive in five minutes! Stay with your partner. Don’t lose your worksheet. And if any of you precious little cupcakes causes any trouble on this trip, I will personally send you back to campus the hard way. He picked up a baseball bat and made like he was hitting a homer. Jason looked at the girl next to him. “Can he talk to us that way? ” Page 2 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html She shrugged. “Always does. This is the Wilderness School. ‘Where kids are the animals. ’” She said it like it was a joke they’d shared before. “This is some kind of mistake,” Jason said. “I’m not supposed to be here. ” The boy in front of him turned and laughed. “Yeah, right, Jason. We’ve all been framed! I didn’t run away six times. Piper didn’t steal a BMW. The girl blushed. “I didn’t steal that car, Leo! ” “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? Leo looked like a Latino Santa’s elf, with curly black hair, pointy ears, a cheerful, babyish face, and a mischievous smile that told you right away this guy should not be trusted around matches or sharp objects. His long, nimble fingers wouldn’t stop moving—drumming on the seat, sweeping his hair behind his ears, fiddling with the buttons of his army fatigue jacket.

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. “Anyway,” Leo said, “I hope you’ve got your worksheet, ’cause I used mine for spit wads days ago. Why are you looking at me like that? Somebody draw on my face again? ” “I don’t know you,” Jason said. Leo gave him a crocodile grin. “Sure. I’m not your best friend. I’m his evil clone. ” “Leo Valdez! ” Coach Hedge yelled from the front. “Problem back there? ” 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? ” Coach Hedge grunted like he was pleased to have an excuse. He unclipped the megaphone from his belt and continued giving directions, but his voice came out like Darth Vader’s. The kids cracked up. The coach tried again, but this time the megaphone blared: “The cow says moo! ” The kids howled, and the coach slammed down the megaphone. “Valdez! ” Piper stifled a laugh. “My god, Leo. How did you do that? ” Leo slipped a tiny Phillips head screwdriver from his sleeve. “I’m a special boy. ” “Guys, seriously,” Jason pleaded. “What am I doing here? Where are we going? Piper knit her eyebrows. “Jason, are you joking? ” “No! I have no idea—” “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? ” Jason stared at him blankly. “No, I think he’s serious. ” Piper tried to take his hand again, but he pulled it away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t—I can’t—” “That’s it! ” Coach Hedge yelled from the front. “The back row has just volunteered to clean up after lunch! ” The rest of the kids cheered. “There’s a shocker,” Leo muttered. But Piper kept her eyes on Jason, like she couldn’t decide whether to be hurt or worried. Did you Page 3 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html hit your head or something? You really don’t know who we are? ” Jason shrugged helplessly. “It’s worse than that. I don’t know who I am. ” The bus dropped them in front of a big red stucco complex like a museum, just sitting in the middle of nowhere. Maybe that’s what it was: the National Museum of Nowhere, Jason thought. A cold wind blew across the desert. 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, 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. “We go to the ‘Wilderness School’”—Leo made air quotes with his fingers. “Which means we’re ‘bad kids. ’ Your family, or the court, or whoever, decided you were too much trouble, so they shipped you off to this lovely prison—sorry, ‘boarding school’—in Armpit, Nevada, where you learn valuable nature skills like running ten miles a day through the cacti and weaving daisies into hats! And for a special treat we go on ‘educational’ field trips with Coach Hedge, who keeps order with a baseball bat.

Is it all coming back to you now? ” “No. ” Jason glanced apprehensively at the other kids: maybe twenty guys, half that many girls. None of them looked like hardened criminals, but he wondered what they’d all done to get sentenced to a school for delinquents, and he wondered why 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—” “Leo! ” Piper snapped. “Fine. Ignore that last part. But we are friends.

Well, Piper’s a little more than your friend, the last few weeks—” “Leo, stop it! ” Piper’s face turned red. Jason could feel his face burning too. He thought he’d remember if he’d been going out with a girl like Piper. “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. ” The coach was at the front of the group, barking orders and blowing his whistle to keep the kids in line; but every so often he’d glance back at Jason and scowl. “Leo, Jason needs help,” Piper insisted. “He’s got a concussion or—” “Yo, Piper. One of the other guys dropped back to join them as the group was heading into the museum. 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? ” 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. “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 through the museum entrance. Piper shot one last look over her shoulder like, 911. 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! ’” Page 4 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html “Leo,” Jason said, “you’re weird. ” “Yeah, you tell me that a lot. Leo grinned. “But if you don’t remember me, that means I can reuse all my old jokes. Come on! ” Jason figured that if this was his best friend, his life must be pretty messed up; but he followed Leo into the museum. They walked through the building, stopping here and there for Coach Hedge to lecture them with his megaphone, which alternately made him sound like a Sith Lord or blared out random comments like “The pig says oink. ” 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.

Jason was too distracted to pay much attention to the exhibits, but they were about the Grand Canyon and the Hualapai tribe, which owned the museum. 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 party. One of them said, “Hey, Piper, does your tribe run this place? Do you get in free if you do a rain dance? ” The other girls laughed. Even Piper’s so-called partner Dylan suppressed a smile. Piper’s snowboarding jacket sleeves hid her hands, but Jason got the feeling she was clenching her fists. My dad’s Cherokee,” she said. “Not Hualapai. ’Course, you’d need a few brain cells to know the difference, Isabel. ” Isabel widened her eyes in mock surprise, so that she looked like an owl with a makeup addiction. “Oh, sorry! Was your mom in this tribe? Oh, that’s right. You never knew your mom. ” Piper charged her, but before a fight could start, Coach Hedge barked, “Enough back there! Set a good example or I’ll break out my baseball bat! ” The group shuffled on to the next exhibit, but the girls kept calling out little comments to Piper. “Good to be back on the rez? ” one asked in a sweet voice. Dad’s probably too drunk to work,” another said with fake sympathy. “That’s why she turned klepto. ” Piper ignored them, but Jason was ready to punch them himself. He might not remember Piper, or even who he was, but he knew he hated mean kids. Leo caught his arm. “Be cool. Piper doesn’t like us fighting her battles. 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! ’” “Why? What about her dad? ” Leo laughed in disbelief. “You’re not kidding? You really don’t remember that your girlfriend’s dad—” “Look, I wish I did, but I don’t even remember her, much less her dad. Leo whistled. “Whatever. We have to talk when we get back to the dorm. ” 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. The skywalk can hold the weight of seventy jumbo jets, so you featherweights should be Page 5 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html safe out there. If possible, try to avoid pushing each other over the edge, as that would cause me extra paperwork. ” The coach opened the doors, and they all stepped outside.

The Grand Canyon spread before them, live and in person. Extending over the edge was a horseshoe-shaped walkway made of glass, so you could see right through it. “Man,” Leo said. “That’s pretty wicked. ” Jason had to agree. Despite his amnesia and his feeling that he didn’t belong there, he couldn’t help being impressed. The canyon was bigger and wider than you could appreciate from a picture. They were up so high that birds circled below their feet. Five hundred feet down, a river snaked along the canyon floor. Banks of storm clouds had moved overhead while they’d been inside, casting shadows like angry faces across the cliffs.

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. Jason got a piercing pain behind his eyes. Crazy gods … Where had he come up with that idea? He felt like he’d gotten close to something important—something he should know about. He also got the unmistakable feeling he was in danger. “You all right? ” Leo asked. “You’re not going to throw up over the side, are you? ’Cause I should ’ve brought my camera. ” 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. ” 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? ” Jason looked up and saw Leo was right. A dark circle of clouds had parked itself over the skywalk, but the rest of the sky in every direction was perfectly clear. Jason had a bad feeling about that. “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! 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 was some guy’s face wreathed in laurels. The inscription said something like ivlivs. “Dang, is that gold? ” Leo asked. “You been holding out on me! ” 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. “It’s nothing,” he said. “Just a coin. ” Leo shrugged.

Maybe his mind had to keep moving as much as his hands. “Come on,” he said. “Dare you to spit over the edge. ” They didn’t try very hard on the worksheet. 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. ” Page 6 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html Leo was no help. He was too busy building a helicopter out of pipe cleaners. “Check it out. ” He launched the copter. Jason figured it would plummet, but he pipe-cleaner blades actually spun. The little copter made it halfway across the canyon before it lost momentum and spiraled into the void. “How’d you do that? ” Jason asked. Leo shrugged. “Would’ve been cooler if I had some rubber bands. ” “Seriously,” Jason said, “are we friends? ” “Last I checked. ” “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. ” “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 all got fake memories of you? ” A little voice in Jason’s head said, That’s exactly what I think. But it sounded crazy. Everybody here took him for granted. Everyone acted like he was a normal part of the class—except for Coach Hedge. “Take the worksheet. ” Jason handed Leo the paper. “I’ll be right back. ” Before Leo could protest, Jason headed across the skywalk. Their school group had the place to themselves. Maybe it was too early in the day for tourists, or maybe the weird weather had scared them off. The Wilderness School kids had spread out in pairs across the skywalk.

Most were joking around or talking. Some of the guys were dropping pennies over the side. 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. Jason motioned for her to hang on. He walked up to Coach Hedge, who was leaning on his baseball bat, studying the storm clouds. “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. 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? ” “You mean… you don’t know me? ” Jason said. “I’m not one of your students? ” Hedge snorted. “Never seen you before today. ” Jason was so relieved he almost wanted to cry. At least he wasn’t going insane. He was in the wrong place. “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. “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; but you can’t fool me. I’ve been smelling monster for days now. I knew we had an infiltrator, but you don’t smell like a monster. You smell like a half-blood. So—who are you, and where’d you come from? ” Page 7 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html Most of what the coach said didn’t make sense, but Jason 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 was trying to read Jason’s thoughts. “Great,” Hedge muttered. “You’re being truthful. ” “Of course I am! And what was all that about monsters and half-bloods? Are those code words or something? ” Hedge narrowed his eyes. Part of Jason wondered if the guy was just nuts. But the other part knew better. “Look, kid,” Hedge said, “I don’t know who you are. I just know what you are, and it means trouble. Now I got to protect three of you rather than two. Are you the special package? Is that it? ” “What are you talking about? ” Hedge looked at the storm.

The clouds were getting thicker and darker, hovering right over the skywalk. “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 out of nowhere. So, are you the special package? ” The pain behind Jason’s eyes got worse than ever. Half-bloods. Camp. Monsters.

He still didn’t know what Hedge was talking about, but the words gave him a massive brain freeze—like his mind was trying to access information that should’ve been there but wasn’t. He stumbled, and Coach Hedge caught him. For a short guy, the coach had hands like steel. “Whoa, there, cupcake. You say you got no memories, huh? Fine. I’ll just have to watch you, too, until the team gets here. We’ll let the director figure things out. ” “What director? ” Jason said. “What camp? ” “Just sit tight. Reinforcements should be here soon. Hopefully nothing happens before—” Lightning crackled overhead. The wind picked up with a vengeance.

Worksheets flew into the Grand Canyon, and the entire bridge shuddered. Kids screamed, stumbling and grabbing the rails. “I had to say something,” Hedge grumbled. He bellowed into his megaphone: “Everyone inside! The cow says moo! Off the skywalk! ” “I thought you said this thing was stable! ” Jason shouted over the wind. “Under normal circumstances,” Hedge agreed, “which these aren’t. Come on! ” Page 8 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html THE STORM CHURNED INTO A MINIATURE HURRICANE. Funnel clouds snaked toward the skywalk like the tendrils of a monster jellyfish.

Kids screamed and ran for the building. The wind snatched away their notebooks, jackets, hats, and backpacks. Jason skidded across the slick floor. Leo lost his balance and almost toppled over the railing, but Jason grabbed his jacket and pulled him back. “Thanks, man! ” Leo yelled. “Go, go, go! ” said Coach Hedge. Piper and Dylan were holding the doors open, herding the other kids inside. Piper’s snowboarding jacket was flapping wildly, her dark hair all in her face. Jason thought she must’ve been freezing, but she looked calm and confident—telling the others it would be okay, encouraging them to keep moving.

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. They slammed shut, closing off the skywalk. Piper tugged at the handles. Inside, the kids pounded on the glass, but the doors seemed to be stuck. “Dylan, help! ” Piper shouted. Dylan just stood there with an idiotic grin, his Cowboys jersey rippling in the wind, like he was suddenly enjoying the storm. “Sorry, Piper,” he said. “I’m done helping. He flicked his wrist, and Piper flew backward, slamming into the doors and sliding to the skywalk deck. “Piper! ” Jason tried to charge forward, but the wind was against him, and Coach Hedge pushed him back. “Coach,” Jason said, “let me go! ” “Jason, Leo, stay behind me,” the coach ordered. “This is my fight. I should’ve known that was our monster. ” “What? ” Leo demanded. A rogue worksheet slapped him in the face, but he swatted it away. “What monster? ” Page 9 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html

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. 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. 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. The coach made an angry sound like an animal bleating. “That’s it, cupcake. You’re going down. ” “You think you can protect three half-bloods at once, old man? ” Dylan laughed. “Good luck. ” Dylan pointed at Leo, and a funnel cloud materialized around him. 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. Finally he grabbed a thin ledge about fifty feet below the skywalk and hung there by his fingertips. “Help! ” he yelled up at them. “Rope, please? Bungee cord? Something? 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? ” “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’s hooves. Which meant those things on his head, Jason realized, weren’t bumps. They were horns. “You’re a faun,” Jason 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 cliff with impossible agility, finding footholds no bigger than postage stamps, dodging whirlwinds that tried to attack him as he picked his way toward Leo. “Isn’t that cute! ” Dylan turned toward Jason. “Now it’s your turn, boy. ” 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. 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. Nice try, boy. ” He glared at Jason. “But you’ll have to do better. ” The skywalk shuddered. Hairline fractures appeared in the glass. Inside the museum, kids stopped banging on the doors. They backed away, watching in terror. Dylan’s body dissolved into smoke, as if his molecules were coming unglued. He had the same face, 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. He sprouted black smoky wings and rose above the skywalk. If angels could be evil, Jason decided, they would look exactly like this. You’re a ventus,” Jason said, though he had no idea how he knew that word. “A storm spirit. ” 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! ” Two more funnel clouds touched down on either side of Dylan and turned into venti—ghostly Page 10 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html young men with smoky wings and eyes that flickered with lightning.

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. Cute, smart, and violent. Jason wished he remembered having her as a girlfriend. He clenched his fists and got ready to charge, but he never got a chance. Dylan raised his hand, arcs of electricity running between his fingers, and blasted Jason in the chest. Bang! Jason found himself flat on his back. His mouth tasted like burning aluminum foil. He lifted his head and saw that his clothes were smoking.

The lightning bolt had gone straight though his body and blasted off his left shoe. His toes were black with soot. The storm spirits were laughing. The winds raged. Piper was screaming defiantly, but it all sounded tinny and far away. Out of the corner of his eye, Jason saw Coach Hedge climbing the cliff with Leo on his back. Piper was on her feet, desperately swinging the club to fend off the two extra storm spirits, but they were just toying with her. The club went right through their bodies like they weren’t there. And Dylan, a dark and winged tornado with eyes, loomed over Jason. “Stop,” Jason croaked.

He rose unsteadily to his feet, and he wasn’t sure who was more surprised: him, or the storm spirits. “How are you alive? ” Dylan’s form flickered. “That was enough lightning to kill twenty men! ” “My turn,” Jason said. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the gold coin. He let his instincts take over, flipping the coin in the air like he’d done it a thousand times. He caught it in his palm, and suddenly he was holding a sword—a wickedly sharp double-edged weapon. The ridged grip fit his fingers perfectly, and the whole thing was gold—hilt, handle, and blade. Dylan snarled and backed up.

He looked at his two comrades and yelled, “Well? Kill him! ” The other storm spirits didn’t look happy with that order, but they flew at Jason, their fingers crackling with electricity. Jason swung at the first spirit. His blade passed through it, and the creature’s smoky form disintegrated. The second spirit let loose a bolt of lightning, but Jason’s blade absorbed the charge. Jason stepped in—one quick thrust, and the second storm spirit dissolved into gold powder. Dylan wailed in outrage. He looked down as if expecting his comrades to re-form, but their gold dust remains dispersed in the wind. “Impossible! Who are you, half-blood? Piper was so stunned she dropped her club. “Jason, how … ? ” Then Coach Hedge leaped back onto the skywalk and dumped Leo like a sack of flour. “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! ” 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 for challenges! ” Dylan hissed at them, but Jason ould see fear in his eyes. “You have no idea how many enemies Page 11 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html you’ve awakened, half-bloods. My mistress will destroy all demigods. This war you cannot win. ” Above them, the storm exploded into a full-force gale. Cracks expanded in the skywalk. Sheets of rain poured down, and Jason had to crouch to keep his balance. A hole opened in the clouds—a swirling vortex of black and silver. “The mistress calls me back! ” Dylan shouted with glee. “And you, demigod, will come with me! ” He lunged at Jason, but Piper tackled the monster from behind.

Even though he was made of smoke, Piper somehow managed to connect. Both of them went sprawling. Leo, Jason, and the coach surged forward to help, but the spirit screamed with rage. He let loose a torrent that knocked them all backward. Jason and Coach Hedge landed on their butts. Jason’s sword skidded across the glass. Leo hit the back of his head and curled on his side, dazed and groaning. 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. 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. The storm spun faster, pulling them upward like a vacuum cleaner. “Help! ” Piper yelled. “Somebody! ” Then she slipped, screaming as she fell. “Jason, go! ” Hedge yelled. “Save her! ” 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, but Dylan grappled the coach’s arms instead. Hedge tried to head-butt him, then kicked him and called him a cupcake. They rose into the air, gaining speed. Coach Hedge shouted down once more, “Save her!

I got this! ” Then the satyr and the storm spirit spiraled into the clouds and disappeared. Save her? Jason thought. She’s gone! But again his instincts won. He ran to the railing, thinking, I’m a lunatic, and jumped over the side. Jason wasn’t scared of heights. He was scared of being smashed against the canyon floor five hundred feet below. He figured he hadn’t accomplished anything except for dying along with Piper, but he tucked in his arms and plummeted headfirst. The sides of the canyon raced past like a film on fast-forward. His face felt like it was peeling off. In a heartbeat, he caught up with Piper, who was flailing wildly.

He tackled her waist and closed his eyes, waiting for death. Piper screamed. The wind whistled in Jason’s ears. He wondered what dying would feel like. He was thinking, probably not so good. He wished somehow they could never hit bottom. Suddenly the wind died. Piper’s scream turned into a strangled gasp. Jason thought they must be dead, but he hadn’t felt any impact. “J-J-Jason,” Piper managed. He opened his eyes. They weren’t falling. They were floating in midair, a hundred feet above the river. He hugged Piper tight, and she repositioned herself so she was hugging him too. They were nose to Page 12

ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html nose. Her heart beat so hard, Jason could feel it through her clothes. Her breath smelled like cinnamon. She said, “How did you—” “I didn’t,” he said. “I think I would know if I could fly…” But then he thought: I don’t even know who I am. He imagined going up. Piper yelped as they shot a few feet higher. They weren’t exactly floating, Jason decided. He could feel pressure under his feet like they were balancing at the top of a geyser. “The air is supporting us,” he said. “Well, tell it to support us more! Get us out of here! Jason looked down. The easiest thing would be to sink gently to the canyon floor. Then he looked up. The rain had 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. He had no idea what had happened to Coach Hedge. And he’d left Leo up there, barely conscious. “We have to help them,” Piper said, as if reading his thoughts. “Can you—” “Let’s see. ” Jason thought Up, and instantly they shot skyward. The fact he was riding the winds might’ve been cool under different circumstances, but he was too much in shock.

As soon as they landed on the skywalk, they ran to Leo. 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. But at least he wasn’t dead. “Stupid … ugly … goat,” he muttered. “Where did he go? ” Piper asked. Leo pointed straight up. “Never came down. Please tell me he didn’t actually save my life. ” “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? ” Jason had forgotten about the sword. He walked over to where it was lying and picked it up.

The blade was well balanced. On a hunch he flipped it. Midspin, the sword shrank back into a coin and landed in his palm. “Yep,” Leo said. “Definitely hallucinating. ” Piper shivered in her rain-soaked clothes. “Jason, those things—” “Venti,” he said. “Storm spirits. ” “Okay. You acted like … like you’d seen them before. Who are you? ” He shook his head. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I don’t know. ” The storm dissipated. The other kids from the Wilderness School were staring out the glass doors in horror. Security guards were working on the locks now, but they didn’t seem to be having any luck. Coach Hedge said he had to protect three people,” Jason remembered. “I think he meant us. ” “And that thing Dylan turned into …” Piper shuddered. “God, I can’t believe it was hitting on me. 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. “But I’m not feeling too godly. You guys feeling godly? ” Page 13 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html There was a brittle sound like dry twigs snapping, and the cracks in the skywalk began to widen. “We need to get off this thing,” Jason said. Maybe if we—” “Ohhh-kay,” Leo interrupted. “Look up there and tell me if those are flying horses. ” 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, too large for a bird. As it got closer he could see a pair of winged animals—gray, four-legged, exactly like horses—except each one had a twenty-foot wingspan. And they were pulling a brightly painted box with two wheels: a chariot. “Reinforcements,” he said. “Hedge told me an extraction squad was coming for us. ” “Extraction squad? ” Leo struggled to his feet. “That sounds painful. “And where are they extracting us to? ” Piper asked. Jason watched as the chariot landed on the far end of the skywalk. The flying horses tucked in their wings and cantered nervously across the glass, as if they sensed it was near breaking. Two teenagers stood in the chariot—a tall blond girl maybe a little older than Jason, and a bulky dude with a shaved head and a face like a pile of bricks. They both wore jeans and orange T-shirts, with shields tossed over their backs. The girl leaped off before the chariot had even finished moving. She pulled a knife and ran toward Jason’s group while the bulky dude was reining in the horses. Where is he? ” the girl demanded. Her gray eyes were fierce and a little startling. “Where’s who? ” Jason asked. She frowned like his answer was unacceptable. Then she turned to Leo and Piper. “What about Gleeson? Where is your protector, Gleeson Hedge? ” The coach’s first name was Gleeson? Jason might’ve laughed if the morning hadn’t been quite so weird and scary. Gleeson Hedge: football coach, goat man, protector of demigods. Sure. Why not? Leo cleared his throat. “He got taken by some … tornado things. ” “Venti,” Jason said. “Storm spirits. ” The blond girl arched an eyebrow. You mean anemoi thuellai? That’s the Greek term. Who are you, and what happened? ” Jason did his best to explain, though it was hard to meet those intense gray eyes. 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. 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. ” “Annabeth,” the bald guy grunted. “Check it out. ” He pointed at Jason’s feet.

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Jason hadn’t thought much about it, but he was still missing his left shoe, which had been blown off by the lightning. His bare foot felt okay, but it looked like a lump of charcoal. “The guy with one shoe,” said the bald dude. “He’s the answer. ” “No, Butch,” the girl insisted. “He can’t be. I was tricked. ” She glared at the sky as though it had done something wrong. “What do you want from me? ” she screamed. “What have you done with him? ” The skywalk shuddered, and the horses whinnied urgently. “Annabeth,” said the bald dude, Butch, “we gotta leave. Let’s get these three to camp and figure it out there.

Those storm spirits might come back. ” She fumed for a moment. “Fine. ” She fixed Jason with a resentful look. “We’ll settle this later. ” Page 14 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html She turned on her heel and marched toward the chariot. Piper shook her head. “What’s her problem? What’s going on? ” “Seriously,” Leo agreed. “We have to get you out of here,” Butch said. “I’ll explain on the way. ” “I’m not going anywhere with her. ” Jason gestured toward the blonde. “She looks like she wants to kill me. ” Butch hesitated. “Annabeth’s okay. You gotta cut her some slack.

She had a 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. “She’s been looking for one of our campers, who’s been missing three days,” Butch said. “She’s going out of her mind with worry. She hoped he’d be here. ” “Who? ” Jason asked. “Her boyfriend,” Butch said. “A guy named Percy Jackson. ” Page 15 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html AFTER A MORNING OF STORM SPIRIT’S, goat men, and flying boyfriends, Piper should’ve been losing her mind. Instead, all she felt was dread. It’s starting, she thought.

Just like the dream said. She stood in back of the chariot with Leo and Jason, while the bald guy, Butch, handled the reins, and the blond girl, Annabeth, adjusted a bronze navigation device. They rose over the Grand Canyon and headed east, icy wind ripping straight through Piper’s jacket. Behind them, more storm clouds were gathering. The chariot lurched and bumped. It had no seat belts and the back was wide open, so Piper wondered if Jason would catch her again if she fell. 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.

All semester she’d worked on a relationship, trying to get Jason to notice her as more than a friend. Finally she’d gotten the big dope to kiss her. The last few weeks had been the best of her life. And then, three nights ago, the dream had ruined everything—that horrible voice, giving her horrible news. She hadn’t told anyone about it, not even Jason. Now she didn’t even have him. It was like someone had wiped his memory, and she was stuck in the worst “do over” of all time. 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.

His face was kind and gentle, but always a little sad. And he just stared at the horizon, not even noticing her. Meanwhile, Leo was being annoying, as usual. “This is so cool! ” He spit a pegasus feather out of his mouth. “Where are we going? ” “A safe place,” Annabeth said. “The only safe place for kids like us. Camp Half-Blood. ” “Half-Blood? ” Piper was immediately on guard. She hated that word. She’d been called a half-blood too many times—half Cherokee, half white—and it was never a compliment. “Is that some kind of bad joke? ” “She means we’re demigods,” Jason said. “Half god, half mortal. Annabeth looked back. “You seem to know a lot, Jason. But, yes, demigods. My mom is Athena, goddess of wisdom. Butch here is the son of Iris, the rainbow goddess. ” Leo choked. “Your mom is a rainbow goddess? ” “Got a problem with that? ” Butch said. “No, no,” Leo said. “Rainbows. Very macho. ” “Butch is our best equestrian,” Annabeth said. “He gets along great with the pegasi. ” “Rainbows, ponies,” Leo muttered. “I’m gonna toss you off this chariot,” Butch warned. “Demigods,” Piper said. “You mean you think you’re … you think we’re—” Page 16 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. rocesstext. com/abcepub. html Lightning flashed. The chariot shuddered, and Jason yelled, “Left wheel’s on fire! ” Piper stepped back. Sure enough, the wheel was burning, white flames lapping up the side of the chariot. The wind roared. Piper glanced behind them and saw dark shapes forming in the clouds, more storm spirits spiraling toward the chariot—except these looked more like horses than angels. She started to say, “Why are they—” “Anemoi come in different shapes,” Annabeth said. “Sometimes human, sometimes stallions, depending on how chaotic they are. Hold on. This is going to get rough. Butch flicked the reins. The pegasi put on a burst of speed, and the chariot blurred. Piper’s stomach crawled into her throat. Her vision went black, and when it came back to normal, they were in a totally different place. A cold gray ocean stretched out to the left. Snow-covered fields, roads, and forests spread to the right. Directly below them was a green valley, like an island of springtime, rimmed with snowy hills on three sides and water to the north. 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.

But before she could really process all she was seeing, their wheels came off and the chariot dropped out of the sky. Annabeth and Butch tried to maintain control. The pegasi labored to hold the chariot in a flight pattern, but they seemed exhausted from their burst of speed, and bearing the chariot and the weight of five people was just too much. “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. And then—BOOM. The biggest shock was the cold.

She was underwater, so disoriented that she didn’t know which way was up. She just had time to think: This would be a stupid way to die. Then faces appeared in the green murk—girls with long black hair and glowing yellow eyes. They smiled at her, grabbed her shoulders, and hauled her up. They tossed her, gasping and shivering, onto the shore. Nearby, Butch stood in the lake, cutting the wrecked harnesses off the pegasi. Fortunately, the horses looked okay, but they were flapping their wings and splashing water everywhere. Jason, Leo, and Annabeth were already on shore, surrounded by kids giving them blankets and asking questions.

Somebody took Piper by the arms and helped her stand. Apparently kids fell into the lake a lot, because a detail of campers ran up with big bronze leaf blower–looking things and blasted Piper with hot air; and in about two seconds her clothes were dry. 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. Piper looked back at the water and saw those strange girls just below the surface, their hair floating in the current. They waved like, toodle-oo, and disappeared into the depths.

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! ” “Will, I’m sorry,” Annabeth sighed. “I’ll get it fixed, I promise. ” Will scowled at his broken chariot. Then he sized up Piper, Leo, and Jason. “These are the ones? Page 17 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html Way older than thirteen. Why haven’t they been claimed already? ” “Claimed? ” Leo asked.

Before Annabeth could explain, Will said, “Any sign of Percy? ” “No,” Annabeth admitted. The campers muttered. Piper had no idea who this guy Percy was, but his disappearance seemed to be a big deal. Another girl stepped forward—tall, Asian, dark hair in ringlets, plenty of jewelry, and perfect makeup. Somehow she managed to make jeans and an orange T-shirt look glamorous. She glanced at Leo, fixed her eyes on Jason like he might be worthy of her attention, then curled her lip at Piper as if she were a week-old burrito that had just been pulled out of a Dumpster. Piper knew this girl’s type.

She’d dealt with a lot of girls like this at Wilderness School and every other stupid school her father had sent her to. Piper knew instantly they were going to be enemies. “Well,” the girl said, “I hope they’re worth the trouble. ” Leo snorted. “Gee, thanks. What are we, your new pets? ” “No kidding,” Jason said. “How about some 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. Worth the trouble. If they only knew about her dream. They had no idea… “Jason,” Annabeth said, “I promise we’ll answer your questions.

And Drew”—she frowned at the glamour girl—“all demigods are worth saving. But I’ll admit, the trip didn’t accomplish what I hoped. ” “Hey,” Piper said, “we didn’t ask to be brought here. ” Drew sniffed. “And nobody wants you, hon. Does your hair always look like a dead badger? ” Piper stepped forward, ready to smack her, but Annabeth said, “Piper, stop. ” Piper did. She wasn’t a bit scared of Drew, but Annabeth didn’t seem like somebody she wanted for an enemy. “We need to make our new arrivals feel welcome,” Annabeth said, with another pointed look at Drew. “We’ll assign them each a guide, give them a tour of camp.

Hopefully by the campfire tonight, they’ll be claimed. ” “Would somebody tell me what claimed means? ” Piper asked. Suddenly there was a collective gasp. The campers backed away. At first Piper thought she’d done something wrong. 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. “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? 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. “This can’t be good,” Butch muttered. “The curse—” “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? ” Page 18 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html All eyes turned to him. “Jason,” Annabeth said carefully, “how did you know that? ” “I’m not sure. ” “Vulcan? ” Leo demanded. “I don’t even LIKE Star Trek. What are you talking about? “Vulcan is the Roman name for Hephaestus,” Annabeth said, “the god of blacksmiths and fire. ” The fiery hammer faded, but Leo kept swatting the air like he was afraid it was following him. “The god of what? Who? ” 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. ” “What’s Cabin Nine? ” Leo asked. “And I’m not a Vulcan! ” “Come on, Mr. Spock, I’ll explain everything. ” Will put a hand on his shoulder and steered him off toward the cabins. Annabeth turned her attention back to Jason. Usually Piper didn’t like it when other girls hecked out her boyfriend, but Annabeth didn’t seem to care that he was a good-looking guy. She studied him more like he was a complicated blueprint. Finally she said, “Hold out your arm. ” Piper saw what she was looking at, and her eyes widened. Jason had taken off his windbreaker after his dip in the lake, leaving his arms bare, and on the inside of his right forearm was a tattoo. How had Piper never noticed it before? She’d looked at Jason’ s arms a million times. 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 an eagle with the letters spqr. I’ve never seen marks like this,” Annabeth said. “Where did you get them? ” Jason shook his head. “I’m getting really tired of saying this, but I don’t know. ” The other campers pushed forward, trying to get a look at Jason’s tattoo. The marks seemed to bother them a lot—almost like a declaration of war. “They look burned into your skin,” Annabeth noticed. “They were,” Jason said. Then he winced as if his head was aching. “I mean … I think so. I don’t remember. ” No one said anything. It was clear the campers saw Annabeth as the leader. They were waiting for her verdict. “He needs to go straight to Chiron,” Annabeth decided. Drew, would you—” “Absolutely. ” Drew laced her arm through Jason’s. “This way, sweetie. I’ll introduce you 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. The crowd began to disperse, until only Annabeth and Piper were left. “Who’s Chiron? ” Piper asked. “Is Jason in some kind of trouble? ” Annabeth hesitated. “Good question, Piper. Come on, I’ll give you a tour. We need to talk. ” Page 19 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html 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. She pointed out the open-air dining pavilion that overlooked Long Island Sound. (Yes, Long Island, New York; they’d traveled that far on the chariot. ) Annabeth explained how Camp Half-Blood was mostly a summer camp, but some kids stayed here year-round, and they’d added so many campers it was always crowded now, even in winter. Piper wondered who ran the camp, and how they’d known Piper and her friends belonged here.

She wondered if she’d have to stay full-time, or if she’d be any good at the activities. Could you flunk out of monster fighting? A million questions bubbled in her head, but given Annabeth’s mood, she decided to keep quiet. As they climbed a hill at the edge of camp, Piper turned and got an amazing view of the valley—a big stretch of woods to the northwest, a beautiful beach, the creek, the canoe lake, lush green fields, and 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. One glowed golden, another silver. One had grass on the roof. Another was bright red with barbed wire trenches. One cabin was black with fiery green torches out front. All of it seemed like a different world from the snowy hills and fields outside. “The valley is protected from mortal eyes,” Annabeth said. “As you can see, the weather is controlled, too. Each cabin represents a Greek god—a place for that god’s children to live. ” 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. Piper couldn’t tell her why. She couldn’t admit that this just confirmed some weird feelings she’d had for years, arguments she’d had with her father about why there were no photos of Mom in the house, and why Dad would never tell her exactly how or why her mom had left them. But mostly, the dream had warned her this was coming. Soon they will find you, demigod, that voice had rumbled. When they do, follow our directions. Cooperate, and your father might live. Piper took a shaky breath. “I guess after this morning, it’s a little easier to believe. So who’s my mom? ” “We should know soon,” Annabeth said. “You’re what—fifteen?

Gods are supposed to claim you when you’re thirteen. That was the deal. ” “The deal? ” “They made a promise last summer … well, long story… but they promised not to ignore their demigod children anymore, 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. Should happen for you soon. Tonight Page 20 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html at the campfire, I bet we’ll get a sign. ” 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. Whoever her mother was, Piper had no reason to think she’d be proud to claim a kleptomaniac daughter with massive problems. “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. ” “Like Coach Hedge? ” Annabeth nodded. “He’s—he was a satyr: half man, half goat. Satyrs work for the camp, finding demigods, protecting them, bringing them in when the time is right. ” Piper had no trouble believing Coach Hedge was half goat.

She’d seen the guy eat. She’d never liked the coach much, but she couldn’t believe he’d sacrificed himself to save them. “What happened to him? ” she asked. “When we went up into the clouds, did he … is he gone for good? ” “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. “He was lucky, then. If you hit a monster just right, you can dissolve them, send their essence back to Tartarus. ” “Tartarus? “A huge abyss in the Underworld, where the worst monsters come from. Kind of like a bottomless pit of evil. Anyway, once monsters dissolve, it usually takes months, even years before they can re-form again. But since this storm spirit Dylan got away—well, I don’t know why he’d keep Hedge alive. 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. ” Piper tried to imagine Coach Hedge as a clump of very angry pansies. That made her feel even worse. She gazed at the cabins below, and an uneasy feeling settled over her.

Hedge had died to get her here safely. Her mom’s cabin was down there somewhere, which meant she had brothers and sisters, more people she’d have to betray. Do what we tell you, the voice had said. Or the consequences will be painful. She tucked her hands under her arms, trying to stop them from shaking. “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. “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. “Only five? ” Annabeth didn’t sound like she was teasing. “Piper, we’ve all been labeled troublemakers. I ran away from home when I was seven. ” “Seriously? ” “Oh, yeah. Most of us are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or dyslexia, or both—” “Leo’s ADHD,” Piper said. Page 21 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html “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. “Anyway, demigods get a bad rep. How’d you get in trouble? Usually when someone asked that question, Piper started a fight, or changed the subject, or caused some kind of distraction. But for some reason she found herself telling the truth. “I steal stuff,” she said. “Well, not really steal …” “Is your family poor? ” Piper laughed bitterly. “Not even. I did it … I don’t know why. For attention, I guess. My dad never had time for me unless I got in trouble. ” Annabeth nodded. “I can relate. But you said you didn’t really steal? What do you mean? ” “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. Even a BMW convertible. I just asked. And the dealer said, ‘Sure. Take it. ’ Later, he realized what he’d done, I guess. Then the police came after me. ” Piper waited. She was used to people calling her a liar, but when she looked up, Annabeth just nodded. “Interesting. If your dad were the god, I’d say you’re a child of Hermes, god of thieves. He can be pretty convincing. But your dad is mortal…” “Very,” Piper agreed. Annabeth shook her head, apparently mystified. “I don’t know, then. With luck, your mom will claim you tonight. Piper almost hoped it wouldn’t happen. If her mom were a goddess, would she know about that dream? Would she know what Piper had been asked to do? Piper wondered if Olympian gods ever blasted their kids with lightning for being evil, or grounded them in the Underworld. Annabeth was studying her. Piper decided she was going to have to be careful what she said from now on. Annabeth was obviously pretty smart. If anyone could figure out Piper’s secret … “Come on,” Annabeth said at last. “There’s something else I need to check. ” They hiked a little farther until they reached a cave near the top of the hill.

Bones and old swords littered the ground. Torches flanked the entrance, which was covered in a velvet curtain embroidered with snakes. It looked like the set for some kind of twisted puppet show. “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. ” “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.

She’ s our oracle, tells the future. I was hoping she could help me—” “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. She forced herself to look away. Her eyes drifted to the crest of the hill, where a single pine tree Page 22 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html dominated the skyline. Something glittered in its lowest branch—like a fuzzy gold bath mat. No … not a bath mat. It was a sheep’s fleece.

Okay, Piper thought. Greek camp. They’ve got a replica of the Golden Fleece. Then she noticed the base of the tree. At first she thought it was wrapped in a pile of massive purple cables. But the cables had reptilian scales, clawed feet, and a snakelike head with yellow eyes and smoking nostrils. “That’s—a dragon,” she stammered. “That’s the actual Golden Fleece? ” Annabeth nodded, but it was clear she wasn’t really listening. Her shoulders drooped. She rubbed her face and took a shaky breath. “Sorry. A little tired. ” “You look ready to drop,” Piper said. “How long have been searching for your boyfriend? “Three days, six hours, and about twelve minutes. ” “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, went back to his cabin, and in the morning, he was gone. We searched the whole camp. We contacted his mom. We’ve tried to reach him every way we know how. Nothing. He just disappeared. ” Piper was thinking: Three days ago. The same night she’d had her dream. How long were you guys together? ” “Since August,” Annabeth said. “August eighteenth. ” “Almost exactly when I met Jason,” Piper said. “But we’ve only been together a few weeks. ” Annabeth winced. “Piper … about that. Maybe you should sit down. ” Piper knew where this was going. Panic started building inside her, like her lungs were filling with water. “Look, I know Jason thought—he thought he just appeared at our school today. But that’s not true. I’ve known him for four months. ” “Piper,” Annabeth said sadly. “It’s the Mist. ” “Missed … what? ” “M-i-s-t. It’s a kind of veil separating the mortal world from the magic world.

Mortal minds—they can’t process strange stuff like gods and monsters, so the Mist bends reality. It makes mortals see things in a way they can understand —like their eyes might just skip over this valley completely, or they might look at that dragon and see a pile of cables. ” Piper swallowed. “No. You said yourself I’m not a regular mortal. I’m a demigod. ” “Even demigods can be affected. I’ve seen it lots of times. Monsters infiltrate some place like a school, pass themselves off as human, and everyone thinks they remember that person. They believe he ’s always been around.

The Mist can change memories, even create memories of things that never happened—” “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…. ” She found herself rambling, telling Annabeth about her whole semester at Wilderness School. She’ Page 23 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html 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. 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. 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 him so well—” “I do! ” “Then where is he from? ” Piper felt like she’d been hit between the eyes. “He must have told me, but—” “Did you ever notice his tattoo before today?

Did he ever tell you anything about his parents, or his friends, or his last school? ” “I—I don’t know, but—” “Piper, what’s his last name? ” Her mind went blank. She didn’t know Jason’s last name. How could that be? She started to cry. 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 to be taken away? Yes, the dream had told her. Yes, unless you do exactly what we say. “Hey,” Annabeth said. “We’ll figure it out. Jason’s here now. Who knows? Maybe it’ll work out with you guys for real. Not likely, Piper thought. Not if the dream had told her the truth. But she couldn’t say that. She brushed a tear from her cheek. “You brought me up here so no one would see me blubbering, huh? ” Annabeth shrugged. “I figured it would be hard for you. I know what it’s like to lose your boyfriend. ” “But I still can’t believe … I know we had something. And now it’s just gone, like he doesn’t even recognize me. If he really did just show up today, then why? How’d he get there? Why can’t he remember anything? ” “Good questions,” Annabeth said. “Hopefully Chiron can figure that out. But for now, we need to get you settled.

You ready to go back down? ” 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. “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. Three-pointers went in automatically. “Apollo’s cabin,” Annabeth explained. Bunch of showoffs with missile weapons—arrows, basketballs. ” Page 24 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html They walked past a central fire pit, where two guys were hacking at each other with swords. “Real blades? ” Piper noted. “Isn’t that dangerous? ” “That’s sort of the point,” 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. Through the open doorway, Piper could see bookshelves, weapon displays, and one of those computerized SMART Boards they have in classrooms.

Two girls were drawing a map that looked like a battle diagram. “Speaking of blades,” Annabeth said, “come here. ” 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. 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, but we have a pretty good selection, too. Athena’s all about strategy—matching the right weapon to the right person.

Let’s see …” Piper didn’t feel much like shopping for deadly objects, but she knew Annabeth was trying to do something nice for her. Annabeth handed her a massive sword, which Piper could hardly lift. “No,” they both said at once. 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. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt humans. It’s modified to shoot Celestial bronze, so it only kills monsters. ” “Um, I don’t think that’s my style,” Piper said. “Mmm, yeah,” Annabeth agreed. “Too flashy. ”

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? ” Annabeth dug it out and blew the dust off the scabbard. It looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day in centuries. “I don’t know, Piper. ” Annabeth sounded uneasy. “I don’t think you want this one. Swords are usually better. ” “You use a knife. ” Piper pointed to the one strapped to Annabeth’s belt. “Yeah, but …” Annabeth shrugged. “Well, take a look if you want. ” The sheath was worn black leather, bound in bronze. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy.

The polished wood handle fit beautifully in Piper’s hand. When she unsheathed it, she found a triangular blade eighteen inches long—bronze gleaming like it had been polished yesterday. The edges were deadly sharp. Her reflection in the blade caught her by surprise. She looked older, more serious, not as scared as she felt. “It suits you,” Annabeth admitted. “That kind of blade is called a parazonium. It was mostly ceremonial, carried by high-ranking officers in the Greek armies. It showed you were a person of power and wealth, but in a fight, it could protect you just fine. ” Page 25 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. rocesstext. com/abcepub. html “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? ” Annabeth nodded. Suddenly Piper felt like she should be handling the dagger with surgical gloves. “And it’s just sitting in your toolshed? ” “We’re surrounded by Ancient Greek stuff,” Annabeth said. “This isn’t a museum. Weapons 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. She named the dagger Katoptris. ” “Meaning? ” “Mirror,” Annabeth said. “Looking glass. Probably because that’s the only thing Helen used it for. I don’t think it’s ever seen battle. ” 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. She dropped the blade. “Piper? Annabeth shouted to the Apollo kids on the court, “Medic! I need some help over here! ” “No, it’s—it’s okay,” Piper managed. “You sure? ” “Yeah. I just …” She had to control herself. With trembling fingers, she picked up the dagger. “I just got overwhelmed. So much happening today. But … I want to keep the dagger, if that’s okay. ” 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, though her heart was still racing. “Is there … um, a phone at camp? Can I call my dad? Annabeth’s gray eyes were almost as unnerving as the dagger blade. She seemed to be calculating a million possibilities, trying to read Piper’s thoughts. “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. ” 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. She called her dad’s private line, even though she knew what would happen. Voice mail.

She’d been trying for three days, ever since the dream. Wilderness School only allowed phone privileges once a day, but she’d called every evening, and gotten nowhere. 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. “Piper, I Page 26 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html thought you weren’t supposed to call from school. ” “Maybe I’m not at school,” Piper said. Maybe I ran away to live among the woodland creatures. ” “Mmm. ” Jane didn’t sound concerned. “Well, I’ll tell him you called. ” “Where is he? ” “Out. ” “You don’t know, do you? ” Piper lowered her voice, hoping Annabeth was too nice to eavesdrop. “When are you going to call the police, Jane? He could be in trouble. ” “Piper, we are not going to turn this into a media circus. I’m sure he’s fine. He does take off occasionally. He always comes back. ” “So it’s true. You don’t know—” “I have to go, Piper,” Jane snapped. “Enjoy school. ” The line went dead. Piper cursed. She walked back to Annabeth and handed her the phone. “No luck? Annabeth asked. Piper didn’t answer. She didn’t trust herself not to start crying again. Annabeth glanced at the phone display and hesitated. “Your last name is McLean? Sorry, it’s not my business. But that sounds really familiar. ” “Common name. ” “Yeah, I guess. What does your dad do? ” “He’s got a degree in the arts,” Piper said automatically. “He’s a Cherokee artist. ” Her standard response. Not a lie, just not the whole truth. Most people, when they heard that, figured her dad sold Indian souvenirs at a roadside stand on a reservation. Sitting Bull bobble-heads, wampum necklaces, Big Chief tablets—that kind of thing. Oh. ” Annabeth didn’t look convinced, but she put the phone away. “You feeling okay? Want to keep going? ” Piper fastened her new dagger to her belt and promised herself that later, when she was alone, she ’d figure out how it worked. “Sure,” she said. “I want to see everything. ” All the cabins were cool, but none of them struck Piper as hers. No burning signs—wombats or otherwise—appeared over her head. Cabin Eight was entirely silver and glowed like moonlight. “Artemis? ” Piper guessed. “You know Greek mythology,” Annabeth said. “I did some reading when my dad was working on a project last year. “I thought he did Cherokee art. ” Piper bit back a curse. “Oh, right. But—you know, he does other stuff too. ” Piper thought she’d blown it: McLean, Greek mythology. Thankfully, Annabeth didn’t seem to make the connection. “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. ” Page 27 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html “Oh. ” That kind of bummed Piper out. She’d always liked the stories of Artemis, and figured she would make a cool mom. 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? ” “Unless they die in combat, or break their vows. Did I mention they have to swear off boys? No dating—ever. For eternity. ” “Oh,” Piper said. “Never mind. ” 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.

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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. They walked by the doorway, and the smell of perfume almost made Piper gag. “Gah, is that where supermodels go to die? ” Annabeth smirked. “Aphrodite’s cabin. Goddess of love. Drew is the head counselor. ” “Figures,” Piper grumbled. “They’re not all bad,” Annabeth said. “The last head counselor we had was great. ” “What happened to her? Annabeth’s expression darkened. “We should keep moving. ” They looked at the other cabins, but Piper just got more depressed. She wondered if she could be the daughter of Demeter, the farming goddess. Then again, Piper killed every plant she ever touched. Athena was cool. Or maybe Hecate, the magic goddess. 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. She was not looking forward to the campfire tonight. “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—” “What are the two big ones on the end? ” Piper asked. Annabeth frowned. “Zeus and Hera. King and queen of the gods. ” Piper headed that way, and Annabeth followed, though she didn’t act very excited. The Zeus cabin reminded Piper of a bank. It was white marble with big columns out front and polished bronze doors emblazoned with lightning bolts. Hera’s cabin was smaller but done in the same style, except the doors were carved with peacock feather designs, shimmering in different colors.

Unlike the other cabins, which were all noisy and open and full of activity, the Zeus and Hera cabins looked closed and silent. “Are they empty? ” Piper asked. Annabeth nodded. “Zeus went a long time without having any children. Well, mostly. Zeus, Page 28 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html 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’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 the Big Three gods. At least, not that we know of. ” “And Hera? ” Piper looked at the peacock-decorated doors. The cabin bothered her, though she wasn’t sure why. “Goddess of marriage. ” Annabeth’s tone was carefully controlled, like she was trying to avoid cursing. “She doesn’t have kids with anyone but Zeus. So, yeah, no demigods.

The cabin’s just honorary. ” “You don’t like her,” Piper noticed. “We have a long history,” Annabeth admitted. “I thought we’d made peace, but when Percy disappeared … I got this weird dream vision from her. ” “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. ” Piper looked down the base of the doors. “So who goes in here? ” “No one. The cabin is just honorary, like I said. No one goes in. ” “Someone does. ” Piper pointed at a footprint on the dusty threshold.

On instinct, she pushed the doors and they swung open easily. Annabeth stepped back. “Um, Piper, I don’t think we should—” “We’re supposed to do dangerous stuff, right? ” And Piper walked inside. Hera’s cabin was not someplace Piper would want to live. It was as cold as a freezer, with a circle of white columns around a central statue of the goddess, ten feet tall, seated on a throne in flowing golden robes. Piper had always thought of Greek statues as white with blank eyes, but this one was brightly painted so it looked almost human—except huge. Hera’s piercing eyes seemed to follow Piper.

At the goddess’s feet, a fire burned in a bronze brazier. Piper wondered who tended it if the cabin was always empty. A stone hawk sat on Hera’s shoulder, and in her hand was a staff topped with a lotus flower. The goddess’s hair was done in black plaits. 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. 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.

No, this wasn’t her mom. At least Piper was sure of that. She hadn’t come in here because she felt a good connection, but because her sense of dread was stronger here. Her dream—that horrible ultimatum she’d been handed—had something to do with this cabin. 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 Page 29 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html spell or a prayer. Annabeth gasped. “Rachel? The other girl turned. She dropped her shawl, revealing a mane of curly red hair and a freckled face that didn’t go with the seriousness of the cabin or the black shawl at all. She looked about seventeen, a totally normal teen in a green blouse and tattered jeans covered with marker doodles. Despite the cold floor, she was barefoot. “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, et cetera, 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. ” “The friend who lives in the cave,” Piper guessed. 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. ” “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. ” “You’re a demigod? ” “Nope,” Rachel said. “Just mortal. ” “Then what are you …” Piper waved her hand around the room. 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. I’ve learned to follow my hunches, especially the last month, since the gods went silent. ” “Went silent? ” Piper asked. Rachel frowned at Annabeth. “You haven’t told her yet? ” “I was getting to that,” Annabeth said. Piper, for the last month … well, it’s normal for the gods not to talk to their children very much, but usually we can count on some messages now and then. Some of us can even visit Olympus. I spent practically all semester at the Empire State Building. ” “Excuse me? ” “The entrance to Mount Olympus these days. ” “Oh,” Piper said. “Sure, why not? ” “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—” “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. ” “Your camp director was the god of … wine? ” Page 30 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html “Yeah, it’s a—” “Long story,” Piper guessed. “Right. Go on. ” “That’s it, really,” Annabeth said. “Demigods still get claimed, but nothing else. No messages. No visits. No sign the gods are even listening. It’s like something has happened —something really bad. Then Percy disappeared. ” “And Jason showed up on our field trip,” Piper supplied. With no memory. ” “Who’s Jason? ” Rachel asked. “My—” Piper stopped herself before she could say “boyfriend,” but the effort made her chest hurt. “My friend. But Annabeth, you said Hera sent you a dream vision. ” “Right,” Annabeth said. “The first communication from a god in a month, and it’s Hera, the least helpful goddess, 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. “Guys,” she said. “I—I need to—” Before she could continue, Rachel’s body stiffened. 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 room started spinning. Annabeth tried to separate Piper from Rachel, but it was no use. Green smoke enveloped them, and Piper was no longer sure if she was awake or dreaming. The giant statue of the goddess seemed to rise from its throne. It leaned over Piper, its eyes boring into her. 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! Piper’s knees buckled, and everything went black.

Page 31 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html LEO’S TOUR WAS GOING GREAT UNTIL he learned about the dragon. The archer dude, Will Solace, seemed pretty cool. Everything he showed Leo was so amazing, it should’ve been illegal. Real Greek warships moored at the beach that sometimes had practice fights with flaming arrows and explosives? Sweet! Arts & crafts sessions where you could make sculptures with chain saws and blowtorches? Leo was like, Sign me up! The woods were stocked with dangerous monsters, and no one should ever go in there alone? Nice!

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. At the very least, he wanted to check out those underwater girls in the lake again. They were definitely worth drowning for. Will showed him the cabins, the dining pavilion, and the sword arena. “Do I get a sword? ” Leo asked. Will glanced at him like he found the idea disturbing. “You’ll probably make your own, seeing as how you’re in Cabin Nine. ” “Yeah, what’s up with that? Vulcan? “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. ” “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. “So the flaming hammer over my head,” Leo said. “Good thing, or bad thing? ” Will took a while to answer. “You were claimed almost immediately.

That’s usually good. ” “But that Rainbow Pony dude, Butch—he mentioned a curse. ” “Ah … look, it’s nothing. Since Cabin Nine’s last head counselor died—” “Died? Like, painfully? ” “I ought to let your bunkmates tell you about it. ” “Yeah, where are my home dawgs? Shouldn’t their counselor be giving me the VIP tour? ” “He, um, can’t. You’ll see why. ” Will forged ahead before Leo could ask anything else. “Curses and death,” Leo said to himself. “This just gets better and better. ” He was halfway across the green when he spotted his old babysitter. And she was not the kind of person he expected to see at a demigod camp.

Page 32 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html Leo froze in his tracks. “What’s wrong? ” Will asked. 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. She wore her black linen widow’s dress, with a black shawl pulled over her hair. Her face hadn’t changed—leathery skin, piercing dark eyes. Her withered hands were like claws. She looked ancient, but no different than Leo remembered. “That old lady …” Leo said. What’s she doing here? ” Will tried to follow his gaze. “What old lady? ” “Dude, the old lady. The one in black. How many old ladies do you see over there? ” Will frowned. “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. “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. At least, not crazier than he really was. “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 steampunk theme going on, huh? Inside, the cabin seemed deserted. Steel bunks were folded against the walls like high-tech Murphy beds. Each had a digital control panel, blinking LED lights, glowing gems, and interlocking gears. Leo figured each camper had his own combination lock to release his bed, and there was probably an alcove behind it with storage, maybe some traps to keep out unwanted visitors. At least, that’s the way Leo would’ve designed it. A fire pole came down from the second floor, even though the cabin didn’t appear to have a second floor from the outside. A circular staircase led down into some kind of basement.

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. He loved that kind of stuff. But he’d need a hundred more coats to fit it all. Looking around, he could almost imagine he was back in his mom’s machine shop. Not the weapons, maybe—but the tools, the piles of scrap, the smell of grease and metal and hot engines. She would’ve loved this place.

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. He picked a long implement from the wall. “A weed whacker? What’s the god of fire want with a Page 33 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html weed whacker? ” A voice in the shadows said, “You’d be surprised. ” 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 for his face, which was puffy and bruised. He looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy after a beat-down. “I’m Jake Mason,” the guy said. “I’d shake your hand, but …” “Yeah,” Leo said. “Don’t get up. ” The guy cracked a smile, then winced like it hurt to move his face. Leo wondered what had happened to him, but he was afraid to ask. “Welcome to Cabin Nine,” Jake said. “Been almost a year since we had any new kids. I’m head counselor 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. ” “Oh. ” Will changed the subject. “So, you got a spare bed for Leo? ” 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. Don’t talk to me about ghosts, doughboy. 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? ” Jake nodded. “That’s good.

Because I’ll give you the best bed in the cabin—Beckendorf’s. ” “Whoa, Jake,” Will said. “You sure? ” Jake called out: “Bunk 1-A, please. ” The whole cabin rumbled. A circular section of the floor spiraled open like a camera lens, and a full-size bed popped up. The bronze frame had a built-in game station at the footboard, a stereo system in the headboard, a glass-door refrigerator mounted into the base, and a whole bunch of control panels running down the side. Leo jumped right in and lay back with 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. Which button do I press? ” “Hold on,” Will Solace protested. “You guys have private underground rooms? ” Jake probably would’ve smiled if it didn’t hurt so much. “We got lots of secrets, Will. You Apollo guys can’t have all the fun. Our campers have been excavating the tunnel system under Cabin Nine for almost a century. We still haven’t found the end. Anyway, Leo, if you don’t mind sleeping in a dead man’s bed, it’s yours. ” Suddenly Leo didn’t feel like kicking back. He sat up, careful not to touch any of the buttons. “The counselor who died—this was his bed? ” “Yeah,” Jake said. Charles Beckendorf. ” Page 34 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html Leo imagined saw blades coming through the mattress, or maybe a grenade sewn inside the pillows. “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 do with this very fine bed? ” “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. ” “I’m guessing this wasn’t on the news? ” Leo said. 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? ” Leo shrugged. Last summer, he’d been on the run from another foster home. Then a truancy officer caught him in New Mexico, 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. Jake didn’t answer. Then again, the dude was in a body cast. That was an answer. 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. Broken swords and smashed machines kicked into the corners of the room, maybe out of frustration. The place did feel unlucky. Jake sighed halfheartedly. “Well, I should get some sleep. I hope you like it here, Leo.

It used to be … really nice. ” He closed his eyes, and the camouflage curtain drew itself across the bed. “Come on, Leo,” Will said. “I’ll take you to the forges. ” 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. Page 35 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html “HOW DID HE DIE? ” LEO ASKED. “I mean Beckendorf. ” Will Solace trudged ahead. “Explosion. Beckendorf and Percy Jackson blew up a cruise ship full of monsters. Beckendorf didn’t make it out. There was that name again—Percy Jackson, Annabeth’s missing boyfriend. That guy must’ve been into everything around here, Leo thought. “So Beckendorf was pretty popular? ” Leo asked. “I mean —before he blew up? ” “He was awesome,” Will agreed. “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—” “Which had something to do with the problem he mentioned,” Leo guessed. “They’re working on it,” Will said without enthusiasm. “And here we are. ” The forge looked like a steam-powered locomotive had smashed into the Greek Parthenon and they had fused together. White marble columns lined the soot-stained walls. Chimneys pumped smoke over an elaborate gable carved with a bunch of gods and monsters. The building sat at the edge of a stream, with several waterwheels turning a series of bronze gears.

Leo heard machinery grinding inside, fires roaring, and hammers ringing on anvils. 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-click of gears and levers. “’Sup, guys,” Will said. “This is your new brother, Leo—um, what’s your last name? ” “Valdez. ” Leo looked around at the other campers. Was he really related to all of them? His cousins came from some big families, but he’d always just had his mom—until she died. Kids came up and started shaking hands and introducing themselves.

Their names blurred together: Shane, Christopher, Nyssa, Harley (yeah, like the motorcycle). Leo knew he’d never keep everybody straight. Too many of them. Too overwhelming. None of them looked like the others—all different face types, skin tone, hair color, height. You’d never think, Hey, look, it’s the Hephaestus Bunch! 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. And all the kids shared a sad kind of seriousness.

Their shoulders slumped like life had beaten them down pretty hard. 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. Page 36 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html “Well, all right! ” Leo said. “I hear this is the party cabin! ” Nobody laughed. They all just stared at him. Will Solace patted Leo’s shoulder. “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.

She wore camo pants, a tank top that showed off her buffarms, and a red bandanna over a mop of dark hair. 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 evil aliens. “Cool,” Leo said. “I always wanted a sister who could beat me up. ” 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.

One guy was working on a battle-ax. He kept testing the blade on a slab of concrete. Each time he swung, the ax cut into the slab like it was warm cheese, but the guy looked unsatisfied and went back to honing the edge. “What’s he planning to kill with that thing? ” Leo asked Nyssa. “A battleship? ” “You never know. Even with Celestial bronze—” “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? ” “Similar species.

You’ll learn the difference in monster-fighting class. ” “Monster-fighting class. Yeah, I already got my black belt in that. ” She didn’t crack a smile. Leo hoped she wasn’t this serious all the time. His dad’s side of the family had to have some sense of humor, right? They passed a couple of guys making a bronze windup toy. At least that’s what it looked like. It was a six-inch-tall centaur—half man, half horse—armed with a miniature bow. One of the campers cranked the centaur’s tail, and it 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. 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? ” “Ouch,” Leo said. Nyssa pulled the needles out of his shirt. “Ah, you’re fine. Let’s move on before they rebuild it. ” 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? ” Page 37

ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html Nyssa frowned. “I don’t believe in curses. 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. Nyssa took him over to a big wall map that a couple of girls were studying. The map showed the camp—a semicircle of land with Long Island Sound on the north shore, the woods to the west, the cabins to the east, and a ring of hills to the south. It’s got to be in the hills,” the first girl said. “We looked in the hills,” the second argued. “The woods are a better hiding place. ” “But we already set traps—” “Hold up,” Leo said. “You guys lost a dragon? A real full-size dragon? ” “It’s a bronze dragon,” Nyssa said. “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. “It goes haywire and smashes down cabins, sets people on fire, tries to eat the satyrs. “That’s pretty unpredictable. ” 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 it and destroy it—” “Destroy it? ” Leo was appalled. “You’ve got a life-size 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? ” “We tried. Jake Mason tried. You saw how well that worked. Leo thought about Jake, wrapped in a body cast, lying alone on his bunk. “Still—” “There’s no other option. ” Nyssa turned to the other girls. “Let’s try more traps in the woods— here, here, and here. Bait them with thirty-weight motor oil. ” “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 can come in with acid sprayers—should melt through his hide. Then we get metal cutters and … and finish the job. ” They all looked sad. Leo realized they didn’t want to kill the dragon any more than he did. Guys,” he said. “There has to be another way. ” Nyssa looked doubtful, but a few other campers stopped what they were working on and drifted over to hear the conversation. “Like what? ” one asked. “The thing breathes fire. We can’t even get close. ” Fire, Leo thought. Oh, man, the things he could tell them about fire… But he had to be careful, even if these were his brothers and sisters. Especially if he had to live with them. “Well …” He hesitated. “Hephaestus is the god of fire, right? So don’t any of you have like fire Page 38 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. om/abcepub. html resistance or something? ” Nobody acted as if it was a crazy question, which was a relief, but Nyssa shook her head gravely. “That’s a Cyclops ability, Leo. Demigod children of Hephaestus … we’re just good with our hands. We’re builders, craftsmen, weaponsmiths—stuff like that. ” Leo’s shoulders slumped. “Oh. ” A guy in back said, “Well, a long time ago—” “Yeah, okay,” Nyssa conceded. “A long time ago some children of Hephaestus were born with power over fire. But that ability was very, very rare. And always dangerous. 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. ” “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. ” 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. ” “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 …” She didn’t finish, but Leo got the message. This was the cabin’s big test. If they could 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. 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.

His ADHD did that to him sometimes. If he was bored, a fifty-minute class seemed like six hours. If he was interested in something, like touring a demigod camp, hours slipped away and bam—the day was over. “Dinner,” Nyssa said. “Come on, Leo. ” “Up at the pavilion, right? ” he asked. She nodded. “You guys go ahead,” Leo said. “Can you … give me a second? ” Nyssa hesitated. Then her expression softened. “Sure. It’s a lot to process. I remember my first day. Come up when you’re ready. Just don’t touch anything. Almost every project in here can kill you if you’re not careful. ” “No touching,” Leo promised.

His cabinmates 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 newfound siblings were going to put traps to catch a dragon. It was wrong. Plain wrong. Very rare, he thought. And always dangerous. He held out his hand and studied his fingers. They were long and thin, not callused like the other Hephaestus campers’. Leo had never been the biggest or the strongest kid. He’d survived in tough neighborhoods, tough schools, tough foster homes by using his wits.

He was the class clown, the court Page 39 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html jester, because he’d learned early that if you cracked jokes and pretended you weren’t scared, you usually didn’t get beat up. 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. There was a Plan C, but he’d promised himself never to use it again. He felt an urge to try it now—something he hadn’t done since the accident, since his mom’s death.

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. Page 40 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html AS SOON AS JASON SAW THE HOUSE, he knew he was a dead man. “Here we are! ” Drew said cheerfully. “The Big House, camp headquarters. ” It didn’t look threatening, just a four-story manor painted baby blue with white trim. The wraparound porch had lounge chairs, a card table, and an empty wheelchair. Wind chimes shaped like nymphs turned into trees as they spun.

Jason could imagine old people coming here for summer vacation, sitting on the porch and sipping prune juice while they watched the sunset. Still, the windows seemed to glare down at him like angry eyes. The wide-open doorway looked ready to swallow him. On the highest gable, a bronze eagle weathervane spun in the wind and pointed straight in his direction, as if telling him to turn around. Every molecule in Jason’s body told him he was on enemy ground. “I am not supposed to be here,” he said. Drew circled her arm through his. “Oh, please. You’re perfect here, sweetie. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of heroes. 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. Her pink eyeliner was really distracting. Every time she blinked, he felt compelled to look at her. Maybe that was the point, to show off her warm brown eyes. She was pretty. No doubt about that. But she made Jason feel uncomfortable. He slipped his arm away as gently as he could. “Look, I appreciate—” “Is it that girl? ” Drew pouted. “Oh, please, tell me you are not dating the Dumpster Queen. ” “You mean Piper?

Um …” Jason wasn’t sure how to answer. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Piper before today, but he felt strangely guilty about it. He knew he shouldn’t be in this place. He shouldn’t befriend these people, and certainly he shouldn’t date one of them. Still … Piper had been holding his hand when he woke up on that bus. She believed she was his girlfriend. She’d been brave on the skywalk, fighting those venti, and when Jason had caught her in midair and they’d held each other face-to-face, he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t a little tempted to kiss her. But that wasn’t right. He didn’t even know his own story.

He couldn’ t play with her emotions like that. Drew rolled her eyes. “Let me help you decide, sweetie. You can do better. 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 heard, you’re pretty powerful, right? You’re going to be important at 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 Page 41 ABC Amber ePub Converter Trial version, http://www. processtext. com/abcepub. html mom. I would hate it if you were an Aphrodite kid. ” “Why? ” “Then you’d be my half brother, silly. You can’t date somebody from your own cabin. Yuck! ” “But aren’t all the gods related? ” Jason asked. “So isn’t everyone here your cousin or something? ” “Aren’t you cute! Sweetie, the godly side of your family doesn’t count except for your parent. So anybody from another cabin—they’re fair game. So who’s your godly parent—mom or dad? ” As usual, Jason didn’t have an answer.

He looked up, but no glowing sign popped above his head. At the top of the Big House, the weathervane was still pointing his direction, that bronze eagle glaring as if to say, Turn around, kid, while you still can. Then he heard footsteps on the front porch. No—not footsteps—hooves. “Chiron! ” Drew called. “This is Jason. He’s totally awesome! ” Jason backed up so fast he almost tripped. Rounding the corner of the porch was a man on horseback. Except he wasn’t on horseback—he was part of the horse. From the waist up he was human, with curly brown hair and a well-trimmed beard. He wore a T-shirt that said World’s Best Centaur, and