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“Of course,” Zethes said. “We were his crewmates aboard his ship, the Argo, in the old times, when we were mortal demigods. Then we accepted immortality to serve our father, so I could look this good for all time, and my silly brother could enjoy pizza and hockey.”

“Hockey!” Cal agreed.

“But Jason—our Jason—he died a mortal death,” Zethes said. “You can’t be him.”

“I’m not,” Jason agreed.

“So, destroy?” Cal asked. Clearly the conversation was giving his two brain cells a serious workout.

“No,” Zethes said regretfully. “If he is a son of Zeus, he could be the one we’ve been watching for.”

“Watching for?” Leo asked. “You mean like in a good way: you’ll shower him with fabulous prizes? Or watching for like in a bad way: he’s in trouble?”

A girl’s voice said, “That depends on my father’s will.”

Leo looked up the staircase. His heart nearly stopped. At the top stood a girl in a white silk dress. Her skin was unnaturally pale, the color of snow, but her hair was a lush mane of black, and her eyes were coffee brown. She focused on Leo with no expression, no smile, no friendliness. But it didn’t matter. Leo was in love. She was the most dazzling girl he’d ever seen.

Then she looked at Jason and Piper, and seemed to understand the situation immediately.

“Father will want to see the one called Jason,” the girl said.

“Then it is him?” Zethes asked excitedly.

“We’ll see,” the girl said. “Zethes, bring our guests.”

Leo grabbed the handle of his bronze dragon suitcase. He wasn’t sure how he’d lug it up the stairs, but he had to get next to that girl and ask her some important questions—like her e-mail address and phone number.

Before he could take a step, she froze him with a look. Not literally froze, but she might as well have.

“Not you, Leo Valdez,” she said.

In the back of his mind, Leo wondered how she knew his name; but mostly he was just concentrating on how crushed he felt.

“Why not?” He probably sounded like a whiny kindergartner, but he couldn’t help it.

“You cannot be in the presence of my father,” the girl said. “Fire and ice—it would not be wise.”

“We’re going together,” Jason insisted, putting his hand on Leo’s shoulder, “or not at all.”

The girl tilted her head, like she wasn’t used to people refusing her orders. “He will not be harmed, Jason Grace, unless you make trouble. Calais, keep Leo Valdez here. Guard him, but do not kill him.”

Cal pouted. “Just a little?”

“No,” the girl insisted. “And take care of his interesting suitcase, until Father passes judgment.”

Jason and Piper looked at Leo, their expressions asking him a silent question: How do you want to play this?

Leo felt a surge of gratitude. They were ready to fight for him. They wouldn’t leave him alone with the hockey ox. Part of him wanted to go for it, bust out his new tool belt and see what he could do, maybe even summon a fireball or two and warm this place up. But the Boread guys scared him. And that gorgeous girl scared him more, even if he still wanted her number.

“It’s fine, guys,” he said. “No sense causing trouble if we don’t have to. You go ahead.”

“Listen to your friend,” the pale girl said. “Leo Valdez will be perfectly safe. I wish I could say the same for you, son of Zeus. Now come, King Boreas is waiting.”

JASON DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE LEO, but he was starting to think that hanging out with Cal the hockey jock might be the least dangerous option in this place.

As they climbed the icy staircase, Zethes stayed behind them, his blade drawn. The guy might’ve looked like a disco-era reject, but there was nothing funny about his sword. Jason figured one hit from that thing would probably turn him into a Popsicle.

Then there was the ice princess. Every once in a while she’d turn and give Jason a smile, but there was no warmth in her expression. She regarded Jason like he was an especially interesting science specimen—one she couldn’t wait to dissect.

If these were Boreas’s kids, Jason wasn’t sure he wanted to meet Daddy. Annabeth had told him Boreas was the friendliest of the wind gods. Apparently that meant he didn’t kill heroes quite as fast as the others did.

Jason worried that he’d led his friends into a trap. If things went bad, he wasn’t sure he could get them out alive. Without thinking about it, he took Piper’s hand for reassurance.

She raised her eyebrows, but she didn’t let go.

“It’ll be fine,” she promised. “Just a talk, right?”

At the top of the stairs, the ice princess looked back and noticed them holding hands. Her smile faded. Suddenly Jason’s hand in Piper’s turned ice cold—burning cold. He let go, and his fingers were smoking with frost. So were Piper’s.

“Warmth is not a good idea here,” the princess advised, “especially when I am your best chance of staying alive. Please, this way.”

Piper gave him a nervous frown like, What was that about?

Jason didn’t have an answer. Zethes poked him in the back with his icicle sword, and they followed the princess down a massive hallway decked in frosty tapestries.

Freezing winds blew back and forth, and Jason’s thoughts moved almost as fast. He’d had a lot of time to think while they rode the dragon north, but he felt as confused as ever.

Thalia’s picture was still in his pocket, though he didn’t need to look at it anymore. Her image had burned itself into his mind. It was bad enough not remembering his past, but to know he had a sister out there somewhere who might have answers and to have no way of finding her—that just drove him up the wall.

In the picture, Thalia looked nothing like him. They both had blue eyes, but that was it. Her hair was black. Her complexion was more Mediterranean. Her facial features were sharper—like a hawk’s.

Still, Thalia looked so familiar. Hera had left him just enough memory that he could be certain Thalia was his sister. But Annabeth had acted completely surprised when he’d told her, like she’d never heard of Thalia’s having a brother. Did Thalia even know about him? How had they been separated?

Hera had taken those memories. She’d stolen everything from Jason’s past, plopped him into a new life, and now she expected him to save her from some prison just so he could get back what she’d taken. It made Jason so angry, he wanted to walk away, let Hera rot in that cage: but he couldn’t. He was hooked. He had to know more, and that made him even more resentful.

“Hey.” Piper touched his arm. “You still with me?”

“Yeah … yeah, sorry.”

He was grateful for Piper. He needed a friend, and he was glad she’d started losing the Aphrodite blessing. The makeup was fading. Her hair was slowly going back to its old choppy style with the little braids down the sides. It made her look more real, and as far as Jason was concerned, more beautiful.

He was sure now that they’d never known each other before the Grand Canyon. Their relationship was just a trick of the Mist in Piper’s mind. But the longer he spent with her, the more he wished it had been real.

Stop that, he told himself. It wasn’t fair to Piper, thinking that way. Jason had no idea what was waiting for him back in his old life—or who might be waiting. But he was pretty sure his past wouldn’t mix with Camp Half-Blood. After this quest, who knew what would happen? Assuming they even survived.

At the end of the hallway they found themselves in front of a set of oaken doors carved with a map of the world. In each corner was a man’s bearded face, blowing wind. Jason was pretty sure he’d seen maps like this before. But in this version, all the wind guys were Winter, blowing ice and snow from every corner of the world.

The princess turned. Her brown eyes glittered, and Jason felt like he was a Christmas present she was hoping to open.

“This is the throne room,” she said. “Be on your best behavior, Jason Grace. My father can be … chilly. I will translate for you, and try to encourage him to hear you out. I do hope he spares you. We could have such fun.”

Jason guessed this girl’s definition of fun was not the same as his.

“Um, okay,” he managed. “But really, we’re just here for a little talk. We’ll be leaving right afterward.”

The girl smiled. “I love heroes. So blissfully ignorant.”

Piper rested her hand on her dagger. “Well, how about you enlighten us? You say you’re going to translate for us, and we don’t even know who you are. What’s your name?”

The girl sniffed with distaste. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you don’t recognize me. Even in the ancient times the Greeks did not know me well. Their island homes were too warm, too far from my domain. I am Khione, daughter of Boreas, goddess of snow.”

She stirred the air with her finger, and a miniature blizzard swirled around her—big, fluffy flakes as soft as cotton.

“Now, come,” Khione said. The oaken doors blew open, and cold blue light spilled out of the room. “Hopefully you will survive your little talk.”

IF THE ENTRY HALL HAD BEEN COLD, the throne room was like a meat locker.

Mist hung in the air. Jason shivered, and his breath steamed. Along the walls, purple tapestries showed scenes of snowy forests, barren mountains, and glaciers. High above, ribbons of colored light—the aurora borealis—pulsed along the ceiling. A layer of snow covered the floor, so Jason had to step carefully. All around the room stood life-size ice sculpture warriors—some in Greek armor, some medieval, some in modern camouflage—all frozen in various attack positions, swords raised, guns locked and loaded.

At least Jason thought they were sculptures. Then he tried to step between two Greek spearmen, and they moved with surprising speed, their joints cracking and spraying ice crystals as they crossed their javelins to block Jason’s path.

From the far end of the hall, a man’s voice rang out in a language that sounded like French. The room was so long and misty, Jason couldn’t see the other end; but whatever the man said, the ice guards uncrossed their javelins.

“It’s fine,” Khione said. “My father has ordered them not to kill you just yet.”

“Super,” Jason said.

Zethes prodded him in the back with his sword. “Keep moving, Jason Junior.”

“Please don’t call me that.”

“My father is not a patient man,” Zethes warned, “and the beautiful Piper, sadly, is losing her magic hairdo very fast. Later, perhaps, I can lend her something from my wide assortment of hair products.”

“Thanks,” Piper grumbled.

They kept walking, and the mist parted to reveal a man on an ice throne. He was sturdily built, dressed in a stylish white suit that seemed woven from snow, with dark purple wings that spread out to either side. His long hair and shaggy beard were encrusted with icicles, so Jason couldn’t tell if his hair was gray or just white with frost. His arched eyebrows made him look angry, but his eyes twinkled more warmly than his daughter’s—as if he might have a sense of humor buried somewhere under that permafrost. Jason hoped so.