“Ah, yes.” I tried to bring up a clear mental picture of Camp Jupiter, the Roman enclave near Berkeley, California, but the details were hazy. I could only remember my conversations with Octavian, the way he’d turned my head with his flattery and promises. That stupid boy…it was his fault I was here.

A voice whispered in the back of my mind. This time I thought it might be my conscience: Who was the stupid boy? It wasn’t Octavian.

“Shut up,” I murmured.

“What?” Nico asked.

“Nothing. Continue.”

“Jason and Piper are spending the school year in Los Angeles with Piper’s dad. They took Coach Hedge, Mellie, and Little Chuck with them.”

“Uh-huh.” I did not know those last three names, so I decided they probably weren’t important. “And the seventh hero…Leo Valdez?”

Nico raised his eyebrows. “You remember his name?”

“Of course! He invented the Valdezinator. Oh, what a musical instrument! I barely had time to master its major scales before Zeus zapped me at the Parthenon. If anyone could help me, it would be Leo Valdez.”

Nico’s expression tightened with annoyance. “Well, Leo isn’t here. He died. Then he came back to life. And if I see him again, I’ll kill him.”

Will elbowed him. “No, you won’t.” He turned to me. “During the fight with Gaea, Leo and his bronze dragon, Festus, disappeared in a midair fiery explosion.”

I shivered. After so many centuries driving the sun chariot, the term midair fiery explosion did not sit well with me.

I tried to remember the last time I’d seen Leo Valdez on Delos, when he’d traded the Valdezinator for information….

“He was looking for the physician’s cure,” I recalled, “the way to bring someone back from the dead. I suppose he planned all along to sacrifice himself?”

“Yep,” Will said. “He got rid of Gaea in the explosion, but we all assumed he died too.”

“Because he did,” Nico said.

“Then, a few days later,” Will continued, “this scroll came fluttering into camp on the wind….”

“I still have it.” Nico rummaged through the pockets of his bomber jacket. “I look at it whenever I want to get angry.”

He produced a thick parchment scroll. As soon as he spread it on the table, a flickering hologram appeared above the surface: Leo Valdez, looking impish as usual with his dark wispy hair, his mischievous grin, and his diminutive stature. (Of course, the hologram was only three inches tall, but even in real life Leo was not much more imposing.) His jeans, blue work shirt, and tool belt were speckled with machine oil.

“Hey, guys!” Leo spread his arms for a hug. “Sorry to leave you like that. Bad news: I died. Good news: I got better! I had to go rescue Calypso. We’re both fine now. We’re taking Festus to—” The image guttered like a flame in a strong breeze, disrupting Leo’s voice. “Back as soon as—” Static. “Cook tacos when—” More static. “¡Vaya con queso! Love ya!” The image winked out.

“That’s all we got,” Nico complained. “And that was in August. We have no idea what he was planning, where he is now, or whether he’s still safe. Jason and Piper spent most of September looking for him until Chiron finally insisted they go start their school year.”

“Well,” I said, “it sounds like Leo was planning to cook tacos. Perhaps that took longer than he anticipated. And vaya con queso…I believe he is admonishing us to go with cheese, which is always sound advice.”

This did not seem to reassure Nico.

“I don’t like being in the dark,” he muttered.

An odd complaint for a child of Hades, but I understood what he meant. I, too, was curious to know the fate of Leo Valdez. Once upon a time, I could have divined his whereabouts as easily as you might check a Facebook timeline, but now I could only stare at the sky and wonder when a small impish demigod might appear with a bronze dragon and a plate of tacos.

And if Calypso was involved…that complicated things. The sorceress and I had a rocky history, but even I had to admit she was beguiling. If she’d captured Leo’s heart, it was entirely possible he had gotten sidetracked. Odysseus spent seven years with her before returning home.

Whatever the case, it seemed unlikely that Valdez would be back in time to help me. My quest to master the Valdezinator’s arpeggios would have to wait.

Kayla and Austin had been very quiet, following our conversation with wonder and amazement. (My words have that effect on people.)