“It may not have been right,” she said, “but neither was Medea’s revenge. She murdered her own children to get back at Jason. She poisoned his new wife and fled the kingdom.”
Medea snarled. “An invention to ruin my reputation! The people of the Corinth—that unruly mob—killed my children and drove me out. Jason did nothing to protect me. He robbed me of everything. So yes, I sneaked back into the palace and poisoned his lovely new bride. It was only fair—a suitable price.”
“You’re insane,” Piper said.
“I am the victim!” Medea wailed. “I died with my dreams shattered, but no longer. I know now not to trust heroes. When they come asking for treasures, they will pay a heavy price. Especially when the one asking has the name of Jason!”
The fountain turned bright red. Piper drew her dagger, but her hand was shaking almost too badly to hold it. “Jason, Leo—it’s time to go. Now.”
“Before you’ve closed the deal?” Medea asked. “What of your quest, boys? And my price is so easy. Did you know this fountain is magic? If a dead man were to be thrown into it, even if he was chopped to pieces, he would pop back out fully formed—stronger and more powerful than ever.”
“Seriously?” Leo asked.
“Leo, she’s lying,” Piper said. “She did that trick with somebody before—a king, I think. She convinced his daughters to cut him to pieces so he could come out of the water young and healthy again, but it just killed him!”
“Ridiculous,” Medea said, and Piper could hear the power charged in every syllable. “Leo, Jason—my price is so simple. Why don’t you two fight? If you get injured, or even killed, no problem. We’ll just throw you into the fountain and you’ll be better than ever. You do want to fight, don’t you? You resent each other!”
“Guys, no!” Piper said. But they were already glaring at each other, as if it was just dawning on them how they really felt.
Piper had never felt more helpless. Now she understood what real sorcery looked like. She’d always thought magic meant wands and fireballs, but this was worse. Medea didn’t just rely on poisons and potions. Her most potent weapon was her voice.
Leo scowled. “Jason’s always the star. He always gets the attention and takes me for granted.”
“You’re annoying, Leo,” Jason said. “You never take anything seriously. You can’t even fix a dragon.”
“Stop!” Piper pleaded, but both drew weapons—Jason his gold sword, and Leo a hammer from his tool belt.
“Let them go, Piper,” Medea urged. “I’m doing you a favor. Let it happen now, and it will make your choice so much easier. Enceladus will be pleased. You could have your father back today!”
Medea’s charmspeak didn’t work on her, but the sorceress still had a persuasive voice. Her father back today? Despite her best intentions, Piper wanted that. She wanted her father back so much, it hurt.
“You work for Enceladus,” she said.
Medea laughed. “Serve a giant? No. But we all serve the same greater cause—a patron you cannot begin to challenge. Walk away, child of Aphrodite. This does not have to be your death, too. Save yourself, and your father can go free.”
Leo and Jason were still facing off, ready to fight, but they looked unsteady and confused—waiting for another order. Part of them had to be resisting, Piper hoped. This went completely against their nature.
“Listen to me, girl.” Medea plucked a diamond off her bracelet and threw it into a spray of water from the fountain. As it passed through the multicolored light, Medea said, “O Iris, goddess of the rainbow, show me the office of Tristan McLean.”
The mist shimmered, and Piper saw her father’s study. Sitting behind his desk, talking on the phone, was her dad’s assistant, Jane, in her dark business suit, her hair swirled in a tight bun.
“Hello, Jane,” Medea said.
Jane hung up the phone calmly. “How can I help you, ma’am? Hello, Piper.”
“You—” Piper was so angry she could hardly talk.
“Yes, child,” Medea said. “Your father’s assistant. Quite easy to manipulate. An organized mind for a mortal, but incredibly weak.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Jane said.
“Don’t mention it,” Medea said. “I just wanted to congratulate you, Jane. Getting Mr. McLean to leave town so suddenly, take his jet to Oakland without alerting the press or the police—well done! No one seems to know where he’s gone. And telling him his daughter’s life was on the line—that was a nice touch to get his cooperation.”
“Yes,” Jane agreed in a bland tone, as if she were sleepwalking. “He was quite cooperative when he believed Piper was in danger.”
Piper looked down at her dagger. The blade trembled in her hand. She couldn’t use it for a weapon any better than Helen of Troy could, but it was still a looking glass, and what she saw in it was a scared girl with no chance of winning.
“I may have new orders for you, Jane,” Medea said. “If the girl cooperates, it may be time for Mr. McLean to come home. Would you arrange a suitable cover story for his absence, just in case? And I imagine the poor man will need some time in a psychiatric hospital.”
“Yes, ma’am. I will stand by.”
The image faded, and Medea turned to Piper. “There, you see?”
“You lured my dad into a trap,” Piper said. “You helped the giant—”
“Oh, please, dear. You’ll work yourself into a fit! I’ve been preparing for this war for years, even before I was brought back to life. I’m a seer, as I said. I can tell the future as well as your little oracle. Years ago, still suffering in the Fields of Punishment, I had a vision of the seven in your so-called Great Prophecy. I saw your friend Leo here, and saw that he would be an important enemy someday. I stirred the consciousness of my patron, gave her this information, and she managed to wake just a little—just enough to visit him.”
“Leo’s mother,” Piper said. “Leo, listen to this! She helped get your mother killed!”
“Uh-huh,” Leo mumbled, in a daze. He frowned at his hammer. “So … I just attack Jason? That’s okay?”
“Perfectly safe,” Medea promised. “And Jason, strike him hard. Show me you are worthy of your namesake.”
“No!” Piper ordered. She knew it was her last chance. “Jason, Leo—she’s tricking you. Put down your weapons.”
The sorceress rolled her eyes. “Please, girl. You’re no match for me. I trained with my aunt, the immortal Circe. I can drive men mad or heal them with my voice. What hope do these puny young heroes have against me? Now, boys, kill each other!”
“Jason, Leo, listen to me.” Piper put all of her emotion into her voice. For years she’d been trying to control herself and not show weakness, but now she poured everything into her words—her fear, her desperation, her anger. She knew she might be signing her dad’s death warrant, but she cared too much about her friends to let them hurt each other. “Medea is charming you. It’s part of her magic. You are best friends. Don’t fight each other. Fight her!”
They hesitated, and Piper could feel the spell shatter.
Jason blinked. “Leo, was I just about to stab you?”
“Something about my mother … ?” Leo frowned, then turned toward Medea. “You … you’re working for Dirt Woman. You sent her to the machine shop.” He lifted his arm. “Lady, I got a three-pound hammer with your name on it.”
“Bah!” Medea sneered. “I’ll simply collect payment another way.”
She pressed one of the mosaic tiles on the floor, and the building rumbled. Jason swung his sword at Medea, but she dissolved into smoke and reappeared at the base of the escalator.
“You’re slow, hero!” She laughed. “Take your frustration out on my pets!”
Before Jason could go after her, the giant bronze sundials at either end of the fountain swung open. Two snarling gold beasts—flesh-and-blood winged dragons—crawled out from the pits below. Each was the size of a camper van, maybe not large compared to Festus, but large enough.
“So that’s what’s in the kennels,” Leo said meekly.
The dragons spread their wings and hissed. Piper could feel the heat coming off their glittering skin. One turned his angry orange eyes on her.
“Don’t look them in the eye!” Jason warned. “They’ll paralyze you.”
“Indeed!” Medea was leisurely riding the escalator up, leaning against the handrail as she watched the fun. “These two dears have been with me a long time—sun dragons, you know, gifts from my grandfather Helios. They pulled my chariot when I left Corinth, and now they will be your destruction. Ta-ta!”
The dragons lunged. Leo and Jason charged to intercept. Piper was amazed how fearlessly the boys attacked—working like a team who had trained together for years.
Medea was almost to the second floor, where she’d be able to choose from a wide assortment of deadly appliances.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Piper growled, and took off after her.
When Medea spotted Piper, she started climbing in earnest. She was quick for a three-thousand-year-old lady. Piper climbed at top speed, taking the steps three at a time, and still she couldn’t catch her. Medea didn’t stop at floor two. She hopped the next escalator and continued to ascend.
The potions, Piper thought. Of course that’s what she would go for. She was famous for potions.
Down below, Piper heard the battle raging. Leo was blowing his safety whistle, and Jason was yelling to keep the dragons’ attention. Piper didn’t dare look—not while she was running with a dagger in her hand. She could just see herself tripping and stabbing herself in the nose. That would be super heroic.
She grabbed a shield from an armored manikin on floor three and continued to climb. She imagined Coach Hedge yelling in her mind, just like back in gym class at Wilderness School: Move it, McLean! You call that escalator-climbing?
She reached the top floor, breathing hard, but she was too late. Medea had reached the potions counter.
The sorceress grabbed a swan-shaped vial—the blue one that caused painful death—and Piper did the only thing that came to mind. She threw her shield.
Medea turned triumphantly just in time to get hit in the chest by a fifty-pound metal Frisbee. She stumbled backward, crashing over the counter, breaking vials and knocking down shelves. When the sorceress stood from the wreckage, her dress was stained a dozen different colors. Many of the stains were smoldering and glowing.
“Fool!” Medea wailed. “Do you have any idea what so many potions will do when mixed?”
“Kill you?” Piper said hopefully.
The carpet began to steam around Medea’s feet. She coughed, and her face contorted in pain—or was she faking?
Below, Leo called, “Jason, help!”
Piper risked a quick look, and almost sobbed in despair. One of the dragons had Leo pinned to the floor. It was baring its fangs, ready to snap. Jason was all the way across the room battling the other dragon, much too far away to assist.