“Oh, gold weapon!” Midas said. “Very nice.”
The guy was fast. He slashed and sliced, and Jason could barely dodge the strikes, but his mind went into a different mode—analyzing patterns, learning Lit’s style, which was all offense, no defense.
Jason countered, sidestepped, and blocked. Lit seemed surprised to find him still alive.
“What is that style?” Lit growled. “You don’t fight like a Greek.”
“Legion training,” Jason said, though he wasn’t sure how he knew that. “It’s Roman.”
“Roman?” Lit struck again, and Jason deflected his blade. “What is Roman?”
“News flash,” Jason said. “While you were dead, Rome defeated Greece. Created the greatest empire of all time.”
“Impossible,” Lit said. “Never even heard of them.”
Jason spun on one heel, smacked Lit in the chest with the butt of his javelin, and sent him toppling into Midas’s throne.
“Oh, dear,” Midas said. “Lit?”
“I’m fine,” Lit growled.
“You’d better help him up,” Jason said.
Lit cried, “Dad, no!”
Too late. Midas put his hand on his son’s shoulder, and suddenly a very angry-looking gold statue was sitting on Midas’s throne.
“Curses!” Midas wailed. “That was a naughty trick, demigod. I’ll get you for that.” He patted Lit’s golden shoulder. “Don’t worry, son. I’ll get you down to the river right after I collect this prize.”
Midas raced forward. Jason dodged, but the old man was fast, too. Jason kicked the coffee table into the old man’s legs and knocked him over, but Midas wouldn’t stay down for long.
Then Jason glanced at Piper’s golden statue. Anger washed over him. He was the son of Zeus. He could not fail his friends.
He felt a tugging sensation in his gut, and the air pressure dropped so rapidly that his ears popped. Midas must’ve felt it too, because he stumbled to his feet and grabbed his donkey ears.
“Ow! What are you doing?” he demanded. “My power is supreme here!”
Thunder rumbled. Outside, the sky turned black.
“You know another good use for gold?” Jason said.
Midas raised his eyebrows, suddenly excited. “Yes?”
“It’s an excellent conductor of electricity.”
Jason raised his javelin, and the ceiling exploded. A lightning bolt ripped through the roof like it was an eggshell, connected with the tip of Jason’s spear, and sent out arcs of energy that blasted the sofas to shreds. Chunks of ceiling plaster crashed down. The chandelier groaned and snapped offits chain, and Midas screamed as it pinned him to the floor. The glass immediately turned into gold.
When the rumbling stopped, freezing rain poured into the building. Midas cursed in Ancient Greek, thoroughly pinned under his chandelier. The rain soaked everything, turning the gold chandelier back to glass. Piper and Leo were slowly changing too, along with the other statues in the room.
Then the front door burst open, and Coach Hedge charged in, club ready. His mouth was covered with dirt, snow, and grass.
“What’d I miss?” he asked.
“Where were you?” Jason demanded. His head was spinning from summoning the lightning bolt, and it was all he could do to keep from passing out. “I was screaming for help.”
Hedge belched. “Getting a snack. Sorry. Who needs killing?”
“No one, now!” Jason said. “Just grab Leo. I’ll get Piper.”
“Don’t leave me like this!” Midas wailed.
All around him the statues of his victims were turning to flesh—his daughter, his barber, and a whole lot of angry-looking guys with swords.
Jason grabbed Piper’s golden bag and his own supplies.
Then he threw a rug over the golden statue of Lit on the throne. Hopefully that would keep the Reaper of Men from turning back to flesh—at least until after Midas’s victims did.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jason told Hedge. “I think these guys will want some quality time with Midas.”
PIPER WOKE UP COLD AND SHIVERING.
She’d had the worst dream about an old guy with donkey ears chasing her around and shouting, You’re it!
“Oh, god.” Her teeth chattered. “He turned me to gold!”
“You’re okay now.” Jason leaned over and tucked a warm blanket around her, but she still felt as cold as a Boread.
She blinked, trying to figure out where they were. Next to her, a campfire blazed, turning the air sharp with smoke. Firelight flickered against rock walls. They were in a shallow cave, but it didn’t offer much protection. Outside, the wind howled. Snow blew sideways. It might’ve been day or night. The storm made it too dark to tell.
“L-L-Leo?” Piper managed.
“Present and un-gold-ified.” Leo was also wrapped in blankets. He didn’t look great, but better than Piper felt. “I got the precious metal treatment too,” he said. “But I came out of it faster. Dunno why. We had to dunk you in the river to get you back completely. Tried to dry you off, but … it’s really, really cold.”
“You’ve got hypothermia,” Jason said. “We risked as much nectar as we could. Coach Hedge did a little nature magic—”
“Sports medicine.” The coach’s ugly face loomed over her. “Kind of a hobby of mine. Your breath might smell like wild mushrooms and Gatorade for a few days, but it’ll pass. You probably won’t die. Probably.”
“Thanks,” Piper said weakly. “How did you beat Midas?”
Jason told her the story, putting most of it down to luck.
The coach snorted. “Kid’s being modest. You should’ve seen him. Hi-yah! Slice! Boom with the lightning!”
“Coach, you didn’t even see it,” Jason said. “You were outside eating the lawn.”
But the satyr was just warming up. “Then I came in with my club, and we dominated that room. Afterward, I told him, ‘Kid, I’m proud of you! If you could just work on your upper body strength—’”
“Coach,” said Jason.
“Shut up, please.”
“Sure.” The coach sat down at the fire and started chewing his cudgel.
Jason put his hand on Piper’s forehead and checked her temperature. “Leo, can you stoke the fire?”
“On it.” Leo summoned a baseball-sized clump of flames and lobbed it into the campfire.
“Do I look that bad?” Piper shivered.
“Nah,” Jason said.
“You’re a terrible liar,” she said. “Where are we?”
“Pikes Peak,” Jason said. “Colorado.”
“But that’s, what—five hundred miles from Omaha?”
“Something like that,” Jason agreed. “I harnessed the storm spirits to bring us this far. They didn’t like it—went a little faster than I wanted, almost crashed us into the mountainside before I could get them back in the bag. I’m not going to be trying that again.”
“Why are we here?”
Leo sniffed. “That’s what I asked him.”
Jason gazed into the storm as if watching for something. “That glittery wind trail we saw yesterday? It was still in the sky, though it had faded a lot. I followed it until I couldn’t see it anymore. Then—honestly I’m not sure. I just felt like this was the right place to stop.”
“’Course it is.” Coach Hedge spit out some cudgel splinters. “Aeolus’s floating palace should be anchored above us, right at the peak. This is one of his favorite spots to dock.”
“Maybe that was it.” Jason knit his eyebrows. “I don’t know. Something else, too …”
“The Hunters were heading west,” Piper remembered. “Do you think they’re around here?”
Jason rubbed his forearm as if the tattoos were bothering him. “I don’t see how anyone could survive on the mountain right now. The storm’s pretty bad. It’s already the evening before the solstice, but we didn’t have much choice except to wait out the storm here. We had to give you some time to rest before we tried moving.”
He didn’t need to convince her. The wind howling outside the cave scared her, and she couldn’t stop shivering.
“We have to get you warm.” Jason sat next to her and held out his arms a little awkwardly. “Uh, you mind if I …”
“I suppose.” She tried to sound nonchalant.
He put his arms around her and held her. They scooted closer to the fire. Coach Hedge chewed on his club and spit splinters into the fire.
Leo broke out some cooking supplies and started frying burger patties on an iron skillet. “So, guys, long as you’re cuddled up for story time … something I’ve been meaning to tell you. On the way to Omaha, I had this dream. Kinda hard to understand with the static and the Wheel of Fortune breaking in—”
“Wheel of Fortune?” Piper assumed Leo was kidding, but when he looked up from his burgers, his expression was deadly serious.
“The thing is,” he said, “my dad Hephaestus talked to me.”
Leo told them about his dream. In the firelight, with the wind howling, the story was even creepier. Piper could imagine the static-filled voice of the god warning about giants who were the sons of Tartarus, and about Leo losing some friends along the way.
She tried to concentrate on something good: Jason’s arms around her, the warmth slowly spreading into her body, but she was terrified. “I don’t understand. If demigods and gods have to work together to kill the giants, why would the gods stay silent? If they need us—”
“Ha,” said Coach Hedge. “The gods hate needing humans. They like to be needed by humans, but not the other way around. Things will have to get a whole lot worse before Zeus admits he made a mistake closing Olympus.”
“Coach,” Piper said, “that was almost an intelligent comment.”
Hedge huffed. “What? I’m intelligent! I’m not surprised you cupcakes haven’t heard of the Giant War. The gods don’t like to talk about it. Bad PR to admit you needed mortals to help beat an enemy. That’s just embarrassing.”
“There’s more, though,” Jason said. “When I dreamed about Hera in her cage, she said Zeus was acting unusually paranoid. And Hera—she said she went to those ruins because a voice had been speaking in her head. What if someone’s influencing the gods, like Medea influenced us?”
Piper shuddered. She’d had a similar thought—that some force they couldn’t see was manipulating things behind the scenes, helping the giants. Maybe the same force was keeping Enceladus informed about their movements, and had even knocked their dragon out of the sky over Detroit. Perhaps Leo’s sleeping Dirt Woman, or another servant of hers …
Leo set hamburger buns on the skillet to toast. “Yeah, Hephaestus said something similar, like Zeus was acting weirder than usual. But what bothered me was the stuff my dad didn’t say. Like a couple of times he was talking about the demigods, and how he had so many kids and all. I don’t know. He acted like getting the greatest demigods together was going to be almost impossible—like Hera was trying, but it was a really stupid thing to do, and there was some secret Hephaestus wasn’t supposed to tell me.”