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As Jason ate, he studied the metal statues along the walls. They looked like Greek gods or heroes. Maybe that was a good sign. Or maybe they were used for target practice. On the coffee table sat a tea service and a stack of glossy brochures, but Jason couldn’t make out the words. The big chair at the other end of the table looked like a throne. None of them tried to sit in it.

The canary cages didn’t make the place any less creepy. The venti kept churning in their prison, hissing and spinning, and Jason got the uncomfortable feeling they were watching him. He could sense their hatred for the children of Zeus—the lord of the sky who’d ordered Aeolus to imprison their kind. The venti would like nothing better than to tear Jason apart.

As for Coach Hedge, he was still frozen mid-shout, his cudgel raised. Leo was working on the cage, trying to open it with various tools, but the lock seemed to be giving him a hard time. Jason decided not to sit next to him in case Hedge suddenly unfroze and went into ninja goat mode.

Despite how wired he felt, once his stomach was full, Jason started to nod off. The couches were a little too comfortable —a lot better than a dragon’s back—and he’d taken the last two watches while his friends slept. He was exhausted.

Piper had already curled up on the other sofa. Jason wondered if she was really asleep or dodging a conversation about her dad. Whatever Medea had meant in Chicago, about Piper getting her dad back if she cooperated—it didn’t sound good. If Piper had risked her own dad to save them, that made Jason feel even guiltier.

And they were running out of time. If Jason had his days straight, this was early morning of December 20. Which meant tomorrow was the winter solstice.

“Get some sleep,” Leo said, still working on the locked cage. “It’s your turn.”

Jason took a deep breath. “Leo, I’m sorry about that stuff I said in Chicago. That wasn’t me. You’re not annoying and you do take stuff seriously—especially your work. I wish I could do half the things you can do.”

Leo lowered his screwdriver. He looked at the ceiling and shook his head like, What am I gonna do with this guy?

“I try very hard to be annoying,” Leo said. “Don’t insult my ability to annoy. And how am I supposed to resent you if you go apologizing? I’m a lowly mechanic. You’re like the prince of the sky, son of the Lord of the Universe. I’m supposed to resent you.”

“Lord of the Universe?”

“Sure, you’re all—bam! Lightning man. And ‘Watch me fly. I am the eagle that soars—’”

“Shut up, Valdez.”

Leo managed a little smile. “Yeah, see. I do annoy you.”

“I apologize for apologizing.”

“Thank you.” He went back to work, but the tension had eased between them. Leo still looked sad and exhausted—just not quite so angry.

“Go to sleep, Jason,” he ordered. “It’s gonna take a few hours to get this goat man free. Then I still got to figure out how to make the winds a smaller holding cell, ’cause I am not lugging that canary cage to California.”

“You did fix Festus, you know,” Jason said. “You gave him a purpose again. I think this quest was the high point of his life.”

Jason was afraid he’d blown it and made Leo mad again, but Leo just sighed.

“I hope,” he said. “Now, sleep, man. I want some time without you organic life forms.”

Jason wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but he didn’t argue. He closed his eyes and had a long, blissfully dreamless sleep.

He only woke when the yelling started.


Jason leaped to his feet. He wasn’t sure what was more jarring—the full sunlight that now bathed the room, or the screaming satyr.

“Coach is awake,” Leo said, which was kind of unnecessary. Gleeson Hedge was capering around on his furry hindquarters, swinging his club and yelling, “Die!” as he smashed the tea set, whacked the sofas, and charged at the throne.

“Coach!” Jason yelled.

Hedge turned, breathing hard. His eyes were so wild, Jason was afraid he might attack. The satyr was still wearing his orange polo shirt and his coach’s whistle, but his horns were clearly visible above his curly hair, and his beefy hindquarters were definitely all goat. Could you call a goat beefy? Jason put the thought aside.

“You’re the new kid,” Hedge said, lowering his club. “Jason.” He looked at Leo, then Piper, who’d apparently also just woken up. Her hair looked like it had become a nest for a friendly hamster.

“Valdez, McLean,” the coach said. “What’s going on? We were at the Grand Canyon. The anemoi thuellai were attacking and—” He zeroed in on the storm spirit cage, and his eyes went back to DEFCON 1. “Die!”

“Whoa, Coach!” Leo stepped in his path, which was pretty brave, even though Hedge was six inches shorter. “It’s okay. They’re locked up. We just sprang you from the other cage.”

“Cage? Cage? What’s going on? Just because I’m a satyr doesn’t mean I can’t have you doing plank push-ups, Valdez!”

Jason cleared his throat. “Coach—Gleeson—um, whatever you want us to call you. You saved us at the Grand Canyon. You were totally brave.”

“Of course I was!”

“The extraction team came and took us to Camp Half-Blood. We thought we’d lost you. Then we got word the storm spirits had taken you back to their—um, operator, Medea.”

“That witch! Wait—that’s impossible. She’s mortal. She’s dead.”

“Yeah, well,” Leo said, “somehow she got not dead anymore.”

Hedge nodded, his eyes narrowing. “So! You were sent on a dangerous quest to rescue me. Excellent!”

“Um.” Piper got to her feet, holding out her hands so Coach Hedge wouldn’t attack her. “Actually, Glee—can I still call you Coach Hedge? Gleeson seems wrong. We’re on a quest for something else. We kind of found you by accident.”

“Oh.” The coach’s spirits seemed to deflate, but only for a second. Then his eyes lit up again. “But there are no accidents! Not on quests. This was meant to happen! So, this is the witch’s lair, eh? Why is everything gold?”

“Gold?” Jason looked around. From the way Leo and Piper caught their breath, he guessed they hadn’t noticed yet either.

The room was full of gold—the statues, the tea set Hedge had smashed, the chair that was definitely a throne. Even the curtains—which seemed to have opened by themselves at daybreak—appeared to be woven of gold fiber.

“Nice,” Leo said. “No wonder they got so much security.”

“This isn’t—” Piper stammered. “This isn’t Medea’s place, Coach. It’s some rich person’s mansion in Omaha. We got away from Medea and crash-landed here.”

“It’s destiny, cupcakes!” Hedge insisted. “I’m meant to protect you. What’s the quest?”

Before Jason could decide if he wanted to explain or just shove Coach Hedge back into his cage, a door opened at the far end of the room.

A pudgy man in a white bathrobe stepped out with a golden toothbrush in his mouth. He had a white beard and one of those long, old-fashioned sleeping caps pressed down over his white hair. He froze when he saw them, and the toothbrush fell out of his mouth.

He glanced into the room behind him and called, “Son? Lit, come out here, please. There are strange people in the throne room.”

Coach Hedge did the obvious thing. He raised his club and shouted, “Die!”

IT TOOK ALL THREE OF THEM to hold back the satyr. “Whoa, Coach!” Jason said. “Bring it down a few notches.” A younger man charged into the room. Jason guessed he must be Lit, the old guy’s son. He was dressed in pajama pants with a sleeveless T-shirt that said cornhuskers, and he held a sword that looked like it could husk a lot of things besides corn. His ripped arms were covered in scars, and his face, framed by curly dark hair, would’ve been handsome if it wasn’t also sliced up.

Lit immediately zeroed in on Jason like he was the biggest threat, and stalked toward him, swinging his sword overhead. “Hold on!” Piper stepped forward, trying for her best calming voice. “This is just a misunderstanding! Everything’s fine.” Lit stopped in his tracks, but he still looked wary. It didn’t help that Hedge was screaming, “I’ll get them!

Don’t worry!”

“Coach,” Jason pleaded, “they may be friendly. Besides, we’re trespassing in their house.”

“Thank you!” said the old man in the bathrobe. “Now, who are you, and why are you here?”

“Let’s all put our weapons down,” Piper said. “Coach, you first.”

Hedge clenched his jaw. “Just one thwack?”

“No,” Piper said.

“What about a compromise? I’ll kill them first, and if it turns out they were friendly, I’ll apologize.”

“No!” Piper insisted.

“Meh.” Coach Hedge lowered his club.

Piper gave Lit a friendly sorry-about-that smile. Even with her hair messed up and wearing two-day-old clothes, she looked extremely cute, and Jason felt a little jealous she was giving Lit that smile.

Lit huffed and sheathed his sword. “You speak well, girl—fortunately for your friends, or I would’ve run them through.”

“Appreciate it,” Leo said. “I try not to get run through before lunchtime.”

The old man in the bathrobe sighed, kicking the teapot that Coach Hedge had smashed. “Well, since you’re here. Please, sit down.”

Lit frowned. “Your Majesty—”

“No, no, it’s fine, Lit,” the old man said. “New land, new customs. They may sit in my presence. After all, they’ve seen me in my nightclothes. No sense observing formalities.” He did his best to smile, though it looked a little forced. “Welcome to my humble home. I am King Midas.”

“Midas? Impossible,” said Coach Hedge. “He died.”

They were sitting on the sofas now, while the king reclined on his throne. Tricky to do that in a bathrobe, and Jason kept worrying the old guy would forget and uncross his legs. Hopefully he was wearing golden boxers under there.

Lit stood behind the throne, both hands on his sword, glancing at Piper and flexing his muscular arms just to be annoying. Jason wondered if he looked that ripped holding a sword. Sadly, he doubted it.

Piper sat forward. “What our satyr friend means, Your Majesty, is that you’re the second mortal we’ve met who should be—sorry—dead. King Midas lived thousands of years ago.”

“Interesting.” The king gazed out the windows at the brilliant blue skies and the winter sunlight. In the distance, downtown Omaha looked like a cluster of children’s blocks —way too clean and small for a regular city.

“You know,” the king said, “I think I was a bit dead for a while. It’s strange. Seems like a dream, doesn’t it, Lit?”