On Lupa’s end of the pool, the second spire’s tendrils were more open, like the bars of a cage. Inside, Jason could vaguely see a misty figure struggling, shifting within its confines.
“Hera,” Jason said.
The she-wolf growled in agreement. The other wolves circled the pool, their fur standing up on their backs as they snarled at the spires.
The enemy has chosen this place to awaken her most powerful son, the giant king, Lupa said. Our sacred place, where demigods are claimed—the place of death or life. The burned house. The house of the wolf. It is an abomination. You must stop her.
“Her?” Jason was confused. “You mean, Hera?”
The she-wolf gnashed her teeth impatiently. Use your senses, pup. I care nothing for Juno, but if she falls, our enemy wakes. And that will be the end for all of us. You know this place. You can find it again. Cleanse our house. Stop this before it is too late.
The dark spire grew slowly larger, like the bulb of some horrible flower. Jason sensed that if it ever opened, it would release something he did not want to meet.
“Who am I?” Jason asked the she-wolf. “At least tell me that.”
Wolves don’t have much of a sense of humor, but Jason could tell the question amused Lupa, as if Jason were a cub just trying out his claws, practicing to be the alpha male.
You are our saving grace, as always. The she-wolf curled her lip, as if she had just made a clever joke. Do not fail, son of Jupiter.
JASON WOKE TO THE SOUND OF THUNDER. Then he remembered where he was. It was always thundering in Cabin One.
Above his cot, the domed ceiling was decorated with a blue-and-white mosaic like a cloudy sky. The cloud tiles shifted across the ceiling, changing from white to black. Thunder rumbled through the room, and gold tiles flashed like veins of lightning.
Except for the cot that the other campers had brought him, the cabin had no regular furniture—no chairs, tables, or dressers. As far as Jason could tell, it didn’t even have a bathroom. The walls were carved with alcoves, each holding a bronze brazier or a golden eagle statue on a marble pedestal. In the center of the room, a twenty-foot-tall, full-color statue of Zeus in classic Greek robes stood with a shield at his side and a lightning bolt raised, ready to smite somebody.
Jason studied the statue, looking for anything he had in common with the Lord of the Sky. Black hair? Nope. Grumbly expression? Well, maybe. Beard? No thanks. In his robes and sandals, Zeus looked like a really buff, really angry hippie.
Yeah, Cabin One. A big honor, the other campers had told him. Sure, if you liked sleeping in a cold temple by yourself with Hippie Zeus frowning down at you all night.
Jason got up and rubbed his neck. His whole body was stifffrom bad sleep and summoning lightning. That little trick last night hadn’t been as easy as he had let on. It had almost made him pass out.
Next to the cot, new clothes were laid out for him: jeans, sneakers, and an orange Camp Half-Blood shirt. He definitely needed a change of clothes, but looking down at his tattered purple shirt, he was reluctant to change. It felt wrong somehow, putting on the camp shirt. He still couldn’t believe he belonged here, despite everything they’d told him.
He thought about his dream, hoping more memories would come back to him about Lupa, or that ruined house in the redwoods. He knew he’d been there before. The wolf was real. But his head ached when he tried to remember. The marks on his forearm seemed to burn.
If he could find those ruins, he could find his past. Whatever was growing inside that rock spire, Jason had to stop it.
He looked at Hippie Zeus. “You’re welcome to help.”
The statue said nothing.
“Thanks, Pops,” Jason muttered.
He changed clothes and checked his reflection in Zeus’s shield. His face looked watery and strange in the metal, like he was dissolving in a pool of gold. Definitely he didn’t look as good as Piper had last night after she’d suddenly been transformed.
Jason still wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He’d acted like an idiot, announcing in front of everyone that she was a knockout. Not like there’d been anything wrong with her before. Sure, she looked great after Aphrodite zapped her, but she also didn’t look like herself, not comfortable with the attention.
Jason had felt bad for her. Maybe that was crazy, considering she’d just been claimed by a goddess and turned into the most gorgeous girl at camp. Everybody had started fawning over her, telling her how amazing she was and how obviously she should be the one who went on the quest—but that attention had nothing to do with who she was. New dress, new makeup, glowing pink aura, and boom: suddenly people liked her. Jason felt like he understood that.
Last night when he’d called down lightning, the other campers’ reactions had seemed familiar to him. He was pretty sure he’d been dealing with that for a long time—people looking at him in awe just because he was the son of Zeus, treating him special, but it didn’t have anything to do with him. Nobody cared about him, just his big scary daddy standing behind him with the doomsday bolt, as if to say, Respect this kid or eat voltage!
After the campfire, when people started heading back to their cabins, Jason had gone up to Piper and formally asked her to come with him on the quest.
She’d still been in a state of shock, but she nodded, rubbing her arms, which must’ve been cold in that sleeveless dress.
“Aphrodite took my snowboarding jacket,” she muttered. “Mugged by my own mom.”
In the first row of the amphitheater, Jason found a blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “We’ll get you a new jacket,” he promised.
She managed a smile. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, but he restrained himself. He didn’t want her to think he was as shallow as everyone else—trying to make a move on her because she’d turned all beautiful.
He was glad Piper was going with him on the quest. Jason had tried to act brave at the campfire, but it was just that—an act. The idea of going up against an evil force powerful enough to kidnap Hera scared him witless, especially since he didn’t even know his own past. He’d need help, and it felt right: Piper should be with him. But things were already complicated without figuring out how much he liked her, and why. He’d already messed with her head enough.
He slipped on his new shoes, ready to get out of that cold, empty cabin. Then he spotted something he hadn’t noticed the night before. A brazier had been moved out of one of the alcoves to create a sleeping niche, with a bedroll, a backpack, even some pictures taped to the wall.
Jason walked over. Whoever had slept there, it had been a long time ago. The bedroll smelled musty. The backpack was covered with a thin film of dust. Some of the photos once taped to the wall had lost their stickiness and fallen to the floor.
One picture showed Annabeth—much younger, maybe eight, but Jason could tell it was she: same blond hair and gray eyes, same distracted look like she was thinking a million things at once. She stood next to a sandy-haired guy about fourteen or fifteen, with a mischievous smile and ragged leather armor over a T-shirt. He was pointing to an alley behind them, like he was telling the photographer, Let’s go meet things in a dark alley and kill them! A second photo showed Annabeth and the same guy sitting at a campfire, laughing hysterically.
Finally Jason picked up one of the photos that had fallen. It was a strip of pictures like you’d take in a do-it-yourself photo booth: Annabeth and the sandy-haired guy, but with another girl between them. She was maybe fifteen, with black hair—choppy like Piper’s—a black leather jacket, and silver jewelry, so she looked kind of goth; but she was caught mid-laugh, and it was clear she was with her two best friends.
“That’s Thalia,” someone said.
Annabeth was peering over his shoulder. Her expression was sad, like the picture bought back hard memories. “She’s the other child of Zeus who lived here—but not for long. Sorry, I should’ve knocked.”
“It’s fine,” Jason said. “Not like I think of this place as home.”
Annabeth was dressed for travel, with a winter coat over her camp clothes, her knife at her belt, and a backpack across her shoulder.
Jason said, “Don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind about coming with us?”
She shook her head. “You got a good team already. I’m off to look for Percy.”
Jason was a little disappointed. He would’ve appreciated having somebody on the trip who knew what they were doing, so he wouldn’t feel like he was leading Piper and Leo off a cliff.
“Hey, you’ll do fine,” Annabeth promised. “Something tells me this isn’t your first quest.”
Jason had a vague suspicion she was right, but that didn’t make him feel any better. Everyone seemed to think he was so brave and confident, but they didn’t see how lost he really felt. How could they trust him when he didn’t even know who he was?
He looked at the pictures of Annabeth smiling. He wondered how long it had been since she’d smiled. She must really like this Percy guy to search for him so hard, and that made Jason a little envious. Was anyone searching for him right now? What if somebody cared for him that much and was going out of her mind with worry, and he couldn’t even remember his old life?
“You know who I am,” he guessed. “Don’t you?”
Annabeth gripped the hilt of her dagger. She looked for a chair to sit on, but of course there weren’t any. “Honestly, Jason … I’m not sure. My best guess, you’re a loner. It happens sometimes. For one reason or another, the camp never found you, but you survived anyway by constantly moving around. Trained yourself to fight. Handled the monsters on your own. You beat the odds.”
“The first thing Chiron said to me,” Jason remembered, “was you should be dead.”
“That could be why,” Annabeth said. “Most demigods would never make it on their own. And a child of Zeus—I mean, it doesn’t get any more dangerous than that. The chances of your reaching age fifteen without finding Camp Half-Blood or dying—microscopic. But like I said, it does happen. Thalia ran away when she was young. She survived on her own for years. Even took care of me for a while. So maybe you were a loner too.”
Jason held out his arm. “And these marks?”
Annabeth glanced at the tattoos. Clearly, they bothered her. “Well, the eagle is the symbol of Zeus, so that makes sense. The twelve lines—maybe they stand for years, if you’d been making them since you were three years old. SPQR—that’s the motto of the old Roman Empire: Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome. Though why you would burn that on your own arm, I don’t know. Unless you had a really harsh Latin teacher …”
Jason was pretty sure that wasn’t the reason. It also didn’t seem possible he’d been on his own his whole life. But what else made sense? Annabeth had been pretty clear—Camp Half-Blood was the only safe place in the world for demigods.
“I, um … had a weird dream last night,” he said. It seemed like a stupid thing to confide, but Annabeth didn’t look surprised.