Jason shifted. Piper could feel the tension in his arms.
“Chiron was the same way back at camp,” he said. “He mentioned a sacred oath not to discuss—something. Coach, you know anything about that?”
“Nah. I’m just a satyr. They don’t tell us the juicy stuff. Especially an old—” He stopped himself.
“An old guy like you?” Piper asked. “But you’re not that old, are you?”
“Hundred and six,” the coach muttered.
Leo coughed. “Say what?”
“Don’t catch your panties on fire, Valdez. That’s just fifty-three in human years. Still, yeah, I made some enemies on the Council of Cloven Elders. I’ve been a protector a longtime. But they started saying I was getting unpredictable. Too violent. Can you imagine?”
“Wow.” Piper tried not to look at her friends. “That’s hard to believe.”
Coach scowled. “Yeah, then finally we get a good war going with the Titans, and do they put me on the front lines? No! They send me as far away as possible—the Canadian frontier, can you believe it? Then after the war, they put me out to pasture. The Wilderness School. Bah! Like I’m too old to be helpful just because I like playing offense. All those flower-pickers on the Council—talking about nature.”
“I thought satyrs liked nature,” Piper ventured.
“Shoot, I love nature,” Hedge said. “Nature means big things killing and eating little things! And when you’re a —you know—vertically challenged satyr like me, you get in good shape, you carry a big stick, and you don’t take nothing from no one! That’s nature.” Hedge snorted indignantly. “Flower-pickers. Anyway, I hope you got something vegetarian cooking, Valdez. I don’t do flesh.”
“Yeah, Coach. Don’t eat your cudgel. I got some tofu patties here. Piper’s a vegetarian too. I’ll throw them on in a second.”
The smell of frying burgers filled the air. Piper usually hated the smell of cooking meat, but her stomach rumbled like it wanted to mutiny.
I’m losing it, she thought. Think broccoli. Carrots. Lentils.
Her stomach wasn’t the only thing rebelling. Lying by the fire, with Jason holding her, Piper’s conscience felt like a hot bullet slowing working its way toward her heart. All the guilt she’d been holding in for the last week, since the giant Enceladus had first sent her a dream, was about to kill her.
Her friends wanted to help her. Jason even said he’d walk into a trap to save her dad. And Piper had shut them out.
For all she knew, she’d already doomed her father when she attacked Medea.
She choked back a sob. Maybe she’d done the right thing in Chicago by saving her friends, but she’d only delayed her problem. She could never betray her friends, but the tiniest part of her was desperate enough to think, What if I did?
She tried to imagine what her dad would say. Hey, Dad, if you were ever chained up by a cannibal giant and I had to betray a couple of friends to save you, what should I do?
Funny, that had never come up when they did Any Three Questions. Her dad would never take the question seriously, of course. He’d probably tell her one of Grandpa Tom’s old stories—something with glowing hedgehogs and talking birds—and then laugh about it as if the advice was silly.
Piper wished she remembered her grandpa better. Sometimes she dreamed about that little two-room house in Oklahoma. She wondered what it would’ve been like to grow up there.
Her dad would think that was nuts. He’d had spent his whole life running away from that place, distancing himself from the rez, playing any role except Native American. He’d always told Piper how lucky she was to grow up rich and well cared-for, in a nice house in California.
She’d learned to be vaguely uncomfortable about her ancestry—like Dad’s old pictures from the eighties, when he had feathered hair and crazy clothes. Can you believe I ever looked like that? he’d say. Being Cherokee was the same way for him—something funny and mildly embarrassing.
But what else were they? Dad didn’t seem to know. Maybe that’s why he was always so unhappy, changing roles. Maybe that’s why Piper started stealing things, looking for something her dad couldn’t give her.
Leo put tofu patties on the skillet. The wind kept raging. Piper thought of an old story her dad had told her … one that maybe did answer some of her questions.
One day in second grade she’d come home in tears and demanded why her father had named her Piper. The kids were making fun of her because Piper Cherokee was a kind of airplane.
Her dad laughed, as if that had never occurred to him. “No, Pipes. Fine airplane. That’s not how I named you. Grandpa Tom picked out your name. First time he heard you cry, he said you had a powerful voice—better than any reed flute piper. He said you’d learn to sing the hardest Cherokee songs, even the snake song.”
“The snake song?”
Dad told her the legend—how one day a Cherokee woman had seen a snake playing too near her children and killed it with a rock, not realizing it was the king of rattlesnakes. The snakes prepared for war on the humans, but the woman’s husband tried to make peace. He promised he’d do anything to repay the rattlesnakes. The snakes held him to his word. They told him to send his wife to the well so the snakes could bite her and take her life in exchange. The man was heartbroken, but he did what they asked. Afterward, the snakes were impressed that the man had given up so much and kept his promise. They taught him the snake song for all the Cherokee to use. From that point on, if any Cherokee met a snake and sang that song, the snake would recognize the Cherokee as a friend, and would not bite.
“That’s awful!” Piper had said. “He let his wife die?”
Her dad spread his hands. “It was a hard sacrifice. But one life brought generations of peace between snakes and Cherokee. Grandpa Tom believed that Cherokee music could solve almost any problem. He thought you’d know lots of songs, and be the greatest musician of the family. That’s why we named you Piper.”
A hard sacrifice. Had her grandfather foreseen something about her, even when she was a baby? Had he sensed she was a child of Aphrodite? Her dad would probably tell her that was crazy. Grandpa Tom was no oracle.
But still … she’d made a promise to help on this quest. Her friends were counting on her. They’d saved her when Midas had turned her to gold. They’d brought her back to life. She couldn’t repay them with lies.
Gradually, she started to feel warmer. She stopped shivering and settled against Jason’s chest. Leo handed out the food. Piper didn’t want to move, talk, or do anything to disrupt the moment. But she had to.
“We need to talk.” She sat up so she could face Jason. “I don’t want to hide anything from you guys anymore.”
They looked at her with their mouths full of burger. Too late to change her mind now.
“Three nights before the Grand Canyon trip,” she said, “I had a dream vision—a giant, telling me my father had been taken hostage. He told me I had to cooperate, or my dad would be killed.”
The flames crackled.
Finally Jason said, “Enceladus? You mentioned that name before.”
Coach Hedge whistled. “Big giant. Breathes fire. Not somebody I’d want barbecuing my daddy goat.”
Jason gave him a shut up look. “Piper, go on. What happened next?”
“I—I tried to reach my dad, but all I got was his personal assistant, and she told me not to worry.”
“Jane?” Leo remembered. “Didn’t Medea say something about controlling her?”
Piper nodded. “To get my dad back, I had to sabotage this quest. I didn’t realize it would be the three of us. Then after we started the quest, Enceladus sent me another warning: He told me he wanted you two dead. He wants me to lead you to a mountain. I don’t know exactly which one, but it’s in the Bay Area—I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from the summit. I have to be there by noon on the solstice, tomorrow. An exchange.”
She couldn’t meet her friends’ eyes. She waited for them to yell at her, or turn their backs, or kick her out into the snowstorm.
Instead, Jason scooted next to her and put his arm around her again. “God, Piper. I’m so sorry.”
Leo nodded. “No kidding. You’ve been carrying this around for a week? Piper, we could help you.”
She glared at them. “Why don’t you yell at me or something? I was ordered to kill you!”
“Aw, come on,” Jason said. “You’ve saved us both on this quest. I’d put my life in your hands any day.”
“Same,” Leo said. “Can I have a hug too?”
“You don’t get it!” Piper said. “I’ve probably just killed my dad, telling you this.”
“I doubt it.” Coach Hedge belched. He was eating his tofu burger folded inside the paper plate, chewing it all like a taco. “Giant hasn’t gotten what he wants yet, so he still needs your dad for leverage. He’ll wait until the deadline passes, see if you show up. He wants you to divert the quest to this mountain, right?”
Piper nodded uncertainly.
“So that means Hera is being kept somewhere else,” Hedge reasoned. “And she has to be saved by the same day. So you have to choose—rescue your dad, or rescue Hera. If you go after Hera, then Enceladus takes care of your dad. Besides, Enceladus would never let you go even if you cooperated. You’re obviously one of the seven in the Great Prophecy.”
One of the seven. She’d talked about this before with Jason and Leo, and she supposed it must be true, but she still had trouble believing it. She didn’t feel that important. She was just a stupid child of Aphrodite. How could she be worth deceiving and killing?
“So we have no choice,” she said miserably. “We have to save Hera, or the giant king gets unleashed. That’s our quest. The world depends on it. And Enceladus seems to have ways of watching me. He isn’t stupid. He’ll know if we change course and go the wrong way. He’ll kill my dad.”
“He’s not going to kill your dad,” Leo said. “We’ll save him.”
“We don’t have time!” Piper cried. “Besides, it’s a trap.”
“We’re your friends, beauty queen,” Leo said. “We’re not going to let your dad die. We just gotta figure out a plan.”
Coach Hedge grumbled. “Would help if we knew where this mountain was. Maybe Aeolus can tell you that. The Bay Area has a bad reputation for demigods. Old home of the Titans, Mount Othrys, sits over Mount Tam, where Atlas holds up the sky. I hope that’s not the mountain you saw.”
Piper tried to remember the vista in her dreams. “I don’t think so. This was inland.”
Jason frowned at the fire, like he was trying to remember something.
“Bad reputation … that doesn’t seem right. The Bay Area …”
“You think you’ve been there?” Piper asked.
“I …” He looked like he was almost on the edge of a breakthrough. Then the anguish came back into his eyes. “I don’t know. Hedge, what happened to Mount Othrys?”