- The Lost Hero
Apparently, the rest of the camp wasn’t so sure. Everything broke into chaos, with dozens of people asking questions until Annabeth raised her arms.
“Hold it!” she said. “How can he be the son of Zeus? The Big Three … their pact not to have mortal kids … how could we not have known about him sooner?”
Chiron didn’t answer, but Piper got the feeling he knew. And the truth was not good.
“The important thing,” Rachel said, “is that Jason’s here now. He has a quest to fulfill, which means he will need his own prophecy.”
She closed her eyes and swooned. Two campers rushed forward and caught her. A third ran to the side of the amphitheater and grabbed a bronze three-legged stool, like they’d been trained for this duty. They eased Rachel onto the stool in front of the ruined hearth. Without the fire, the night was dark, but green mist started swirling around Rachel’s feet. When she opened her eyes, they were glowing. Emerald smoke issued from her mouth. The voice that came out was raspy and ancient—the sound a snake would make if it could talk:
“Child of lightning, beware the earth, The giants’ revenge the seven shall birth, The forge and dove shall break the cage, And death unleash through Hera’s rage.”
On the last word, Rachel collapsed, but her helpers were waiting to catch her. They carried her away from the hearth and laid her in the corner to rest.
“Is that normal?” Piper asked. Then she realized she’d spoken into the silence, and everyone was looking at her. “I mean… does she spew green smoke a lot?”
“Gods, you’re dense!” Drew sneered. “She just issued a prophecy—Jason’s prophecy to save Hera! Why don’t you just—”
“Drew,” Annabeth snapped. “Piper asked a fair question. Something about that prophecy definitely isn’t normal. If breaking Hera’s cage unleashes her rage and causes a bunch of death … why would we free her? It might be a trap, or—or maybe Hera will turn on her rescuers. She’s never been kind to heroes.”
Jason rose. “I don’t have much choice. Hera took my memory. I need it back. Besides, we can’t just not help the queen of the heavens if she’s in trouble.”
A girl from Hephaestus cabin stood up—Nyssa, the one with the red bandanna. “Maybe. But you should listen to Annabeth. Hera can be vengeful. She threw her own son—our dad—down a mountain just because he was ugly.”
“Real ugly,” snickered someone from Aphrodite.
“Shut up!” Nyssa growled. “Anyway, we’ve also got to think —why beware the earth? And what’s the giants’ revenge? What are we dealing with here that’s powerful enough to kidnap the queen of the heavens?”
No one answered, but Piper noticed Annabeth and Chiron having a silent exchange. Piper thought it went something like:
Annabeth: The giants’ revenge … no, it can’t be.
Chiron: Don’t speak of it here. Don’t scare them.
Annabeth: You’re kidding me! We can’t be that unlucky.
Chiron: Later, child. If you told them everything, they would be too terrified to proceed.
Piper knew it was crazy to think she could read their expressions so well—two people she barely knew. But she was absolutely positive she understood them, and it scared the jujubes out of her.
Annabeth took a deep breath. “It’s Jason’s quest,” she announced, “so it’s Jason’s choice. Obviously, he’s the child of lightning. According to tradition, he may choose any two companions.”
Someone from the Hermes cabin yelled, “Well, you, obviously, Annabeth. You’ve got the most experience.”
“No, Travis,” Annabeth said. “First off, I’m not helping Hera. Every time I’ve tried, she’s deceived me, or it’s come back to bite me later. Forget it. No way. Secondly, I’m leaving first thing in the morning to find Percy.”
“It’s connected,” Piper blurted out, not sure how she got the courage. “You know that’s true, don’t you? This whole business, your boyfriend’s disappearance—it’s all connected.”
“How?” demanded Drew. “If you’re so smart, how?”
Piper tried to form an answer, but she couldn’t.
Annabeth saved her. “You may be right, Piper. If this is connected, I’ll find out from the other end—by searching for Percy. As I said, I’m not about to rush off to rescue Hera, even if her disappearance sets the rest of the Olympians fighting again. But there’s another reason I can’t go. The prophecy says otherwise.”
“It says who I pick,” Jason agreed. “The forge and dove shall break the cage. The forge is the symbol of Vul—Hephaestus.”
Under the Cabin Nine banner, Nyssa’s shoulders slumped, like she’d just been given a heavy anvil to carry. “If you have to beware the earth,” she said, “you should avoid traveling overland. You’ll need air transport.”
Piper was about to call out that Jason could fly. But then she thought better of it. That was for Jason to tell them, and he wasn’t volunteering the information. Maybe he figured he’d freaked them out enough for one night.
“The flying chariot’s broken,” Nyssa continued, “and the pegasi, we’re using them to search for Percy. But maybe Hephaestus cabin can help figure out something else to help. With Jake incapacitated, I’m senior camper. I can volunteer for the quest.”
She didn’t sound enthusiastic.
Then Leo stood up. He’d been so quiet, Piper had almost forgotten he was there, which was totally not like Leo.
“It’s me,” he said.
His cabinmates stirred. Several tried to pull him back to his seat, but Leo resisted.
“No, it’s me. I know it is. I’ve got an idea for the transportation problem. Let me try. I can fix this!”
Jason studied him for a moment. Piper was sure he was going to tell Leo no. Then he smiled. “We started this together, Leo. Seems only right you come along. You find us a ride, you’re in.”
“Yes!” Leo pumped his fist.
“It’ll be dangerous,” Nyssa warned him. “Hardship, monsters, terrible suffering. Possibly none of you will come back alive.”
“Oh.” Suddenly Leo didn’t look so excited. Then he remembered everyone was watching. “I mean … Oh, cool! Suffering? I love suffering! Let’s do this.”
Annabeth nodded. “Then, Jason, you only need to choose the third quest member. The dove—”
“Oh, absolutely!” Drew was on her feet and flashing Jason a smile. “The dove is Aphrodite. Everybody knows that. I am totally yours.”
Piper’s hands clenched. She stepped forward. “No.”
Drew rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, Dumpster girl. Back off.”
“I had the vision of Hera; not you. I have to do this.”
“Anyone can have a vision,” Drew said. “You were just at the right place at the right time.” She turned to Jason. “Look, fighting is all fine, I suppose. And people who build things …” She looked at Leo in disdain. “Well, I suppose someone has to get their hands dirty. But you need charm on your side. I can be very persuasive. I could help a lot.”
The campers started murmuring about how Drew was pretty persuasive. Piper could see Drew winning them over. Even Chiron was scratching his beard, like Drew’s participation suddenly made sense to him.
“Well …” Annabeth said. “Given the wording of the prophecy—”
“No!” Piper’s own voice sounded strange in her ears—more insistent, richer in tone. “I’m supposed to go.”
Then the weirdest thing happened. Everyone started nodding, muttering that hmm, Piper’s point of view made sense too. Drew looked around, incredulous. Even some of her own campers were nodding.
“Get over it!” Drew snapped at the crowd. “What can Piper do?”
Piper tried to respond, but her confidence started to wane. What could she offer? She wasn’t a fighter, or a planner, or a fixer. She had no skills except getting into trouble and occasionally convincing people to do stupid things.
Plus, she was a liar. She needed to go on this quest for reasons that went way beyond Jason—and if she did go, she’d end up betraying everyone there. She heard that voice from the dream: Do our bidding, and you may walk away alive. How could she make a choice like that—between helping her father and helping Jason?
“Well,” Drew said smugly, “I guess that settles it.”
Suddenly there was collective gasp. Everyone stared at Piper like she’d just exploded. She wondered what she’d done wrong. Then she realized there was a reddish glow around her.
“What?” she demanded.
She looked above her, but there was no burning symbol like the one that appeared over Leo. Then she looked down and yelped.
Her clothes … what in the world was she wearing? She despised dresses. She didn’t own a dress. But now she was adorned in a beautiful white sleeveless gown that went down to her ankles, with a V-neck so low it was totally embarrassing. Delicate gold armbands circled her biceps. An intricate necklace of amber, coral, and gold flowers glittered on her chest, and her hair …
“Oh, god,” she said. “What’s happened?”
A stunned Annabeth pointed at Piper’s dagger, which was now oiled and gleaming, hanging at her side on a golden cord. Piper didn’t want to draw it. She was afraid of what she would see. But her curiosity won out. She unsheathed Katoptris and stared at her reflection in the polished metal blade. Her hair was perfect: lush and long and chocolate brown, braided with gold ribbons down one side so it fell across her shoulder. She even wore makeup, better than Piper would ever know how to do herself—subtle touches that made her lips cherry red and brought out all the different colors in her eyes.
She was...she was...
“Beautiful,” Jason exclaimed. “Piper, you … you’re a knockout.”
Under different circumstances, that would’ve been the happiest moment of her life. But now everyone was staring at her like she was a freak. Drew’s face was full of horror and revulsion. “No!” she cried. “Not possible!”
“This isn’t me,” Piper protested. “I—don’t understand.”
Chiron the centaur folded his front legs and bowed to her, and all the campers followed his example.
“Hail, Piper McLean,” Chiron announced gravely, as if he were speaking at her funeral. “Daughter of Aphrodite, lady of the doves, goddess of love.”
LEO DIDN’T STICK AROUND AFTER PIPER turned beautiful. Sure, it was amazing and all—She’s got makeup! It’s a miracle! —but Leo had problems to deal with. He ducked out of the amphitheater and ran into the darkness, wondering what he’d gotten himself into.
He’d stood up in front of a bunch of stronger, braver demigods and volunteered—volunteered—for a mission that would probably get him killed.