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“Yes,” the centaur said. “I know the Ares cabin is anxious to return to the woods for our regular games.”

“And kill people!” one of them shouted.

“However,” Chiron said, “until the dragon is brought under control, that won’t be possible. Cabin Nine, anything to report on that?”

He turned to Leo’s group. Leo winked at Piper and shot her with a finger gun. The girl next to him stood uncomfortably. She wore an army jacket a lot like Leo’s, with her hair covered in a red bandanna. “We’re working on it.”

More grumbling.

“How, Nyssa?” an Ares kid demanded.

“Really hard,” the girl said.

Nyssa sat down to a lot of yelling and complaining, which caused the fire to sputter chaotically. Chiron stamped his hoof against the fire pit stones—bang, bang, bang—and the campers fell silent.

“We will have to be patient,” Chiron said. “In the meantime, we have more pressing matters to discuss.”

“Percy?” someone asked. The fire dimmed even further, but Piper didn’t need the mood flames to sense the crowd’s anxiety.

Chiron gestured to Annabeth. She took a deep breath and stood.

“I didn’t find Percy,” she announced. Her voice caught a little when she said his name. “He wasn’t at the Grand Canyon like I thought. But we’re not giving up. We’ve got teams everywhere. Grover, Tyson, Nico, the Hunters of Artemis —everyone’s out looking. We will find him. Chiron’s talking about something different. A new quest.”

“It’s the Great Prophecy, isn’t it?” a girl called out.

Everyone turned. The voice had come from a group in back, sitting under a rose-colored banner with a dove emblem. They’d been chatting among themselves and not paying much attention until their leader stood up: Drew.

Everyone else looked surprised. Apparently Drew didn’t address the crowd very often.

“Drew?” Annabeth said. “What do you mean?”

“Well, come on.” Drew spread her hands like the truth was obvious. “Olympus is closed. Percy’s disappeared. Hera sends you a vision and you come back with three new demigods in one day. I mean, something weird is going on. The Great Prophecy has started, right?”

Piper whispered to Rachel, “What’s she talking about—the Great Prophecy?”

Then she realized everyone else was looking at Rachel, too.

“Well?” Drew called down. “You’re the oracle. Has it started or not?”

Rachel’s eyes looked scary in the firelight. Piper was afraid she might clench up and start channeling a freaky peacock goddess again, but she stepped forward calmly and addressed the camp.

“Yes,” she said. “The Great Prophecy has begun.”

Pandemonium broke out.

Piper caught Jason’s eye. He mouthed, You all right? She nodded and managed a smile, but then looked away. It was too painful seeing him and not being with him.

When the talking finally subsided, Rachel took another step toward the audience, and fifty-plus demigods leaned away from her, as if one skinny redheaded mortal was more intimidating than all of them put together.

“For those of you who have not heard it,” Rachel said, “the Great Prophecy was my first prediction. It arrived in August. It goes like this:

“Seven half-bloods shall answer the call. To storm or fire the world must fall—”

Jason shot to his feet. His eyes looked wild, like he’d just been tasered.

Even Rachel seemed caught off guard. “J-Jason?” she said. “What’s—”

“Ut cum spiritu postrema sacramentum dejuremus,” he chanted. “Et hostes ornamenta addent ad ianuam necem.”

An uneasy silence settled on the group. Piper could see from their faces that several of them were trying to translate the lines. She could tell it was Latin, but she wasn’t sure why her hopefully future boyfriend was suddenly chanting like a Catholic priest.

“You just … finished the prophecy,” Rachel stammered. “—An oath to keep with a final breath/And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. How did you—”

“I know those lines.” Jason winced and put his hands to his temples. “I don’t know how, but I know that prophecy.”

“In Latin, no less,” Drew called out. “Handsome and smart.”

There was some giggling from the Aphrodite cabin. God, what a bunch of losers, Piper thought. But it didn’t do much to break the tension. The campfire was burning a chaotic, nervous shade of green.

Jason sat down, looking embarrassed, but Annabeth put a hand on his shoulder and muttered something reassuring. Piper felt a pang of jealousy. It should have been her next to him, comforting him.

Rachel Dare still looked a little shaken. She glanced back at Chiron for guidance, but the centaur stood grim and silent, as if he were watching a play he couldn’t interrupt—a tragedy that ended with a lot of people dead onstage.

“Well,” Rachel said, trying to regain her composure. “So, yeah, that’s the Great Prophecy. We hoped it might not happen for years, but I fear it’s starting now. I can’t give you proof. It’s just a feeling. And like Drew said, some weird stuff is happening. The seven demigods, whoever they are, have not been gathered yet. I get the feeling some are here tonight. Some are not here.”

The campers began to stir and mutter, looking at each other nervously, until a drowsy voice in the crowd called out, “I’m here! Oh … were you calling roll?”

“Go back to sleep, Clovis,” someone yelled, and a lot of people laughed.

“Anyway,” Rachel continued, “we don’t know what the Great Prophecy means. We don’t know what challenge the demigods will face, but since the first Great Prophecy predicted the Titan War, we can guess the second Great Prophecy will predict something at least that bad.”

“Or worse,” Chiron murmured.

Maybe he didn’t mean everyone to overhear, but they did. The campfire immediately turned dark purple, the same color as Piper’s dream.

“What we do know,” Rachel said, “is that the first phase has begun. A major problem has arisen, and we need a quest to solve it. Hera, the queen of the gods, has been taken.”

Shocked silence. Then fifty demigods started talking at once.

Chiron pounded his hoof again, but Rachel still had to wait before she could get back their attention.

She told them about the incident on the Grand Canyon skywalk—how Gleeson Hedge had sacrificed himself when the storm spirits attacked, and the spirits had warned it was only the beginning. They apparently served some great mistress who would destroy all demigods.

Then Rachel told them about Piper passing out in Hera’s cabin. Piper tried to keep a calm expression, even when she noticed Drew in the back row, pantomiming a faint, and her friends giggling. Finally Rachel told them about Jason’s vision in the living room of the Big House. The message Hera had delivered there was so similar that Piper got a chill. The only difference: Hera had warned Piper not to betray her: Bow to his will, and their king shall rise, dooming us all. Hera knew about the giant’s threat. But if that was true, why hadn’t she warned Jason, and exposed Piper as an enemy agent?

“Jason,” Rachel said. “Um … do you remember your last name?”

He looked self-conscious, but he shook his head.

“We’ll just call you Jason, then,” Rachel said. “It’s clear Hera herself has issued you a quest.”

Rachel paused, as if giving Jason a chance to protest his destiny. Everyone’s eyes were on him; there was so much pressure, Piper thought she would’ve buckled in his position. Yet he looked brave and determined. He set his jaw and nodded. “I agree.”

“You must save Hera to prevent a great evil,” Rachel continued. “Some sort of king from rising. For reasons we don’t yet understand, it must happen by the winter solstice, only four days from now.”

“That’s the council day of the gods,” Annabeth said. “If the gods don’t already know Hera’s gone, they will definitely notice her absence by then. They’ll probably break out fighting, accusing each other of taking her. That’s what they usually do.”

“The winter solstice,” Chiron spoke up, “is also the time of greatest darkness. The gods gather that day, as mortals always have, because there is strength in numbers. The solstice is a day when evil magic is strong. Ancient magic, older than the gods. It is a day when things … stir.”

The way he said it, stirring sounded absolutely sinister—like it should be a first-degree felony, not something you did to cookie dough.

“Okay,” Annabeth said, glaring at the centaur. “Thank you, Captain Sunshine. Whatever’s going on, I agree with Rachel. Jason has been chosen to lead this quest, so—”

“Why hasn’t he been claimed?” somebody yelled from the Ares cabin. “If he’s so important—”

“He has been claimed,” Chiron announced. “Long ago. Jason, give them a demonstration.”

At first, Jason didn’t seem to understand. He stepped forward nervously, but Piper couldn’t help thinking how amazing he looked with his blond hair glowing in the firelight, his regal features like a Roman statue’s. He glanced at Piper, and she nodded encouragingly. She mimicked flipping a coin.

Jason reached into his pocket. His coin flashed in the air, and when he caught it in his hand, he was holding a lance—a rod of gold about seven feet long, with a spear tip at one end.

The other demigods gasped. Rachel and Annabeth stepped back to avoid the point, which looked sharp as an ice pick.

“Wasn’t that …” Annabeth hesitated. “I thought you had a sword.”

“Um, it came up tails, I think,” Jason said. “Same coin, long-range weapon form.”

“Dude, I want one!” yelled somebody from Ares cabin.

“Better than Clarisse’s electric spear, Lamer!” one of his brothers agreed.

“Electric,” Jason murmured, like that was a good idea. “Back away.”

Annabeth and Rachel got the message. Jason raised his javelin, and thunder broke open the sky. Every hair on Piper’s arms stood straight up. Lightning arced down through the golden spear point and hit the campfire with the force of an artillery shell.

When the smoke cleared, and the ringing in Piper’s ears subsided, the entire camp sat frozen in shock, half blind, covered in ashes, staring at the place where the fire had been. Cinders rained down everywhere. A burning log had impaled itself a few inches from the sleeping kid Clovis, who hadn’t even stirred.

Jason lowered his lance. “Um … sorry.”

Chiron brushed some burning coals out of his beard. He grimaced as if his worst fears had been confirmed. “A little overkill, perhaps, but you’ve made your point. And I believe we know who your father is.”

“Jupiter,” Jason said. “I mean Zeus. Lord of the Sky.”

Piper couldn’t help smiling. It made perfect sense. The most powerful god, the father of all the greatest heroes in the ancient myths—no one else could possibly be Jason’s dad.