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“We should know soon,” Annabeth said. “You’re what—fifteen? Gods are supposed to claim you when you’re thirteen. That was the deal.”

“The deal?”

“They made a promise last summer … well, long story… but they promised not to ignore their demigod children anymore, to claim them by the time they turn thirteen. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but you saw how fast Leo was claimed once he got here. Should happen for you soon. Tonight at the campfire, I bet we’ll get a sign.”

Piper wondered if she’d have a big flaming hammer over her head, or with her luck, something even more embarrassing. A flaming wombat, maybe. Whoever her mother was, Piper had no reason to think she’d be proud to claim a kleptomaniac daughter with massive problems. “Why thirteen?”

“The older you get,” Annabeth said, “the more monsters notice you, try to kill you. ’Round thirteen is usually when it starts. That’s why we send protectors into the schools to find you guys, get you to camp before it’s too late.”

“Like Coach Hedge?”

Annabeth nodded. “He’s—he was a satyr: half man, half goat. Satyrs work for the camp, finding demigods, protecting them, bringing them in when the time is right.”

Piper had no trouble believing Coach Hedge was half goat. She’d seen the guy eat. She’d never liked the coach much, but she couldn’t believe he’d sacrificed himself to save them.

“What happened to him?” she asked. “When we went up into the clouds, did he … is he gone for good?”

“Hard to say.” Annabeth’s expression was pained. “Storm spirits … difficult to battle. Even our best weapons, Celestial bronze, will pass right through them unless you can catch them by surprise.”

“Jason’s sword just turned them to dust,” Piper remembered.

“He was lucky, then. If you hit a monster just right, you can dissolve them, send their essence back to Tartarus.”


“A huge abyss in the Underworld, where the worst monsters come from. Kind of like a bottomless pit of evil. Anyway, once monsters dissolve, it usually takes months, even years before they can re-form again. But since this storm spirit Dylan got away—well, I don’t know why he’d keep Hedge alive. Hedge was a protector, though. He knew the risks. Satyrs don’t have mortal souls. He’ll be reincarnated as a tree or a flower or something.”

Piper tried to imagine Coach Hedge as a clump of very angry pansies. That made her feel even worse.

She gazed at the cabins below, and an uneasy feeling settled over her. Hedge had died to get her here safely. Her mom’s cabin was down there somewhere, which meant she had brothers and sisters, more people she’d have to betray. Do what we tell you, the voice had said. Or the consequences will be painful. She tucked her hands under her arms, trying to stop them from shaking.

“It’ll be okay,” Annabeth promised. “You have friends here. We’ve all been through a lot of weird stuff. We know what you’re going through.”

I doubt that, Piper thought.

“I’ve been kicked out of five different schools the past five years,” she said. “My dad’s running out of places to put me.”

“Only five?” Annabeth didn’t sound like she was teasing. “Piper, we’ve all been labeled troublemakers. I ran away from home when I was seven.”


“Oh, yeah. Most of us are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or dyslexia, or both—”

“Leo’s ADHD,” Piper said.

“Right. It’s because we’re hardwired for battle. Restless, impulsive—we don’t fit in with regular kids. You should hear how much trouble Percy—” Her face darkened. “Anyway, demigods get a bad rep. How’d you get in trouble?”

Usually when someone asked that question, Piper started a fight, or changed the subject, or caused some kind of distraction. But for some reason she found herself telling the truth.

“I steal stuff,” she said. “Well, not really steal …”

“Is your family poor?”

Piper laughed bitterly. “Not even. I did it … I don’t know why. For attention, I guess. My dad never had time for me unless I got in trouble.”

Annabeth nodded. “I can relate. But you said you didn’t really steal? What do you mean?”

“Well … nobody ever believes me. The police, teachers—even the people I took stuff from: they’re so embarrassed, they’ll deny what happened. But the truth is, I don’t steal anything. I just ask people for things. And they give me stuff. Even a BMW convertible. I just asked. And the dealer said, ‘Sure. Take it.’ Later, he realized what he’d done, I guess. Then the police came after me.”

Piper waited. She was used to people calling her a liar, but when she looked up, Annabeth just nodded.

“Interesting. If your dad were the god, I’d say you’re a child of Hermes, god of thieves. He can be pretty convincing. But your dad is mortal…”

“Very,” Piper agreed.

Annabeth shook her head, apparently mystified. “I don’t know, then. With luck, your mom will claim you tonight.”

Piper almost hoped it wouldn’t happen. If her mom were a goddess, would she know about that dream? Would she know what Piper had been asked to do? Piper wondered if Olympian gods ever blasted their kids with lightning for being evil, or grounded them in the Underworld.

Annabeth was studying her. Piper decided she was going to have to be careful what she said from now on. Annabeth was obviously pretty smart. If anyone could figure out Piper’s secret …

“Come on,” Annabeth said at last. “There’s something else I need to check.”

They hiked a little farther until they reached a cave near the top of the hill. Bones and old swords littered the ground. Torches flanked the entrance, which was covered in a velvet curtain embroidered with snakes. It looked like the set for some kind of twisted puppet show.

“What’s in there?” Piper asked.

Annabeth poked her head inside, then sighed and closed the curtains. “Nothing, right now. A friend’s place. I’ve been expecting her for a few days, but so far, nothing.”

“Your friend lives in a cave?”

Annabeth almost managed a smile. “Actually, her family has a luxury condo in Queens, and she goes to a finishing school in Connecticut. But when she’s here at camp, yeah, she lives in the cave. She’s our oracle, tells the future. I was hoping she could help me—”

“Find Percy,” Piper guessed.

All the energy drained out of Annabeth, like she’d been holding it together for as long as she could. She sat down on a rock, and her expression was so full of pain, Piper felt like a voyeur.

She forced herself to look away. Her eyes drifted to the crest of the hill, where a single pine tree dominated the skyline. Something glittered in its lowest branch—like a fuzzy gold bath mat.

No … not a bath mat. It was a sheep’s fleece.

Okay, Piper thought. Greek camp. They’ve got a replica of the Golden Fleece.

Then she noticed the base of the tree. At first she thought it was wrapped in a pile of massive purple cables. But the cables had reptilian scales, clawed feet, and a snakelike head with yellow eyes and smoking nostrils.

“That’s—a dragon,” she stammered. “That’s the actual Golden Fleece?”

Annabeth nodded, but it was clear she wasn’t really listening. Her shoulders drooped. She rubbed her face and took a shaky breath. “Sorry. A little tired.”

“You look ready to drop,” Piper said. “How long have been searching for your boyfriend?”

“Three days, six hours, and about twelve minutes.”

“And you’ve got no idea what happened to him?”

Annabeth shook her head miserably. “We were so excited because we both started winter break early. We met up at camp on Tuesday, figured we had three weeks together. It was going to be great. Then after the campfire, he—he kissed me good night, went back to his cabin, and in the morning, he was gone. We searched the whole camp. We contacted his mom. We’ve tried to reach him every way we know how. Nothing. He just disappeared.”

Piper was thinking: Three days ago. The same night she’d had her dream. “How long were you guys together?”

“Since August,” Annabeth said. “August eighteenth.”

“Almost exactly when I met Jason,” Piper said. “But we’ve only been together a few weeks.”

Annabeth winced. “Piper … about that. Maybe you should sit down.”

Piper knew where this was going. Panic started building inside her, like her lungs were filling with water. “Look, I know Jason thought—he thought he just appeared at our school today. But that’s not true. I’ve known him for four months.”

“Piper,” Annabeth said sadly. “It’s the Mist.”

“Missed … what?”

“M-i-s-t. It’s a kind of veil separating the mortal world from the magic world. Mortal minds—they can’t process strange stuff like gods and monsters, so the Mist bends reality. It makes mortals see things in a way they can understand —like their eyes might just skip over this valley completely, or they might look at that dragon and see a pile of cables.”

Piper swallowed. “No. You said yourself I’m not a regular mortal. I’m a demigod.”

“Even demigods can be affected. I’ve seen it lots of times. Monsters infiltrate some place like a school, pass themselves off as human, and everyone thinks they remember that person. They believe he’s always been around. The Mist can change memories, even create memories of things that never happened—”

“But Jason’s not a monster!” Piper insisted. “He’s a human guy, or demigod, or whatever you want to call him. My memories aren’t fake. They’re so real. The time we set Coach Hedge’s pants on fire. The time Jason and I watched a meteor shower on the dorm roof and I finally got the stupid guy to kiss me....”

She found herself rambling, telling Annabeth about her whole semester at Wilderness School. She’d liked Jason from the first week they’d met. He was so nice to her, and so patient, he could even put up with hyperactive Leo and his stupid jokes. He’d accepted her for herself and didn’t judge her because of the stupid things she’d done. They’d spent hours talking, looking at the stars, and eventually—finally—holding hands. All that couldn’t be fake.

Annabeth pursed her lips. “Piper, your memories are a lot sharper than most. I’ll admit that, and I don’t know why that is. But if you know him so well—”

“I do!”

“Then where is he from?”

Piper felt like she’d been hit between the eyes. “He must have told me, but—”

“Did you ever notice his tattoo before today? Did he ever tell you anything about his parents, or his friends, or his last school?”