Piper drew her dagger. Jason grabbed an ice-covered plank off the pool floor. Leo reached into his tool belt, but he was so shaken up, all he produced was a tin of breath mints. He shoved them back in, hoping nobody had noticed, and drew a hammer instead.
One of the wolves padded forward. It was dragging a human-size statue by the leg. At the edge of the pool, the wolf opened its maw and dropped the statue for them to see—an ice sculpture of a girl, an archer with short spiky hair and a surprised look on her face.
“Thalia!” Jason rushed forward, but Piper and Leo pulled him back. The ground around Thalia’s statue was already webbed with ice. Leo feared if Jason touched her, he might freeze too.
“Who did this?” Jason yelled. His body crackled with electricity. “I’ll kill you myself!”
From somewhere behind the monsters, Leo heard a girl’s laughter, clear and cold. She stepped out of the mist in her snowy white dress, a silver crown atop her long black hair. She regarded them with those deep brown eyes Leo had thought were so beautiful in Quebec.
“Bon soir, mes amis,” said Khione, the goddess of snow. She gave Leo a frosty smile. “Alas, son of Hephaestus, you say you need time? I’m afraid time is one tool you do not have.”
AFTER THE FIGHT ON MOUNT DIABLO, Jason didn’t think he could ever feel more afraid or devastated.
Now his sister was frozen at his feet. He was surrounded by monsters. He’d broken his golden sword and replaced it with a piece of wood. He had approximately five minutes until the king of the giants busted out and destroyed them. Jason had already pulled his biggest ace, calling down Zeus’s lightning when he’d fought Enceladus, and he doubted he’d have the strength or the cooperation from above to do it again. Which meant his only assets were one whiny imprisoned goddess, one sort-of girlfriend with a dagger, and Leo, who apparently thought he could defeat the armies of darkness with breath mints.
On top of all this, Jason’s worst memories were flooding back. He knew for certain he’d done many dangerous things in his life, but he’d never been closer to death than he was right now.
The enemy was beautiful. Khione smiled, her dark eyes glittering, as a dagger of ice grew in her hand.
“What’ve you done?” Jason demanded.
“Oh, so many things,” the snow goddess purred. “Your sister’s not dead, if that’s what you mean. She and her Hunters will make fine toys for our wolves. I thought we’d defrost them one at a time and hunt them down for amusement. Let them be the prey for once.”
The wolves snarled appreciatively.
“Yes, my dears.” Khione kept her eyes on Jason. “Your sister almost killed their king, you know. Lycaon’s off in a cave somewhere, no doubt licking his wounds, but his minions have joined us to take revenge for their master. And soon Porphyrion will arise, and we shall rule the world.”
“Traitor!” Hera shouted. “You meddlesome, D-list goddess! You aren’t worthy to pour my wine, much less rule the world.”
Khione sighed. “Tiresome as ever, Queen Hera. I’ve been wanting to shut you up for millennia.”
Khione waved her hand, and ice encased the prison, sealing in the spaces between the earthen tendrils.
“That’s better,” the snow goddess said. “Now, demigods, about your death—”
“You’re the one who tricked Hera into coming here,” Jason said. “You gave Zeus the idea of closing Olympus.”
The wolves snarled, and the storm spirits whinnied, ready to attack, but Khione held up her hand. “Patience, my loves. If he wants to talk, what matter? The sun is setting, and time is on our side. Of course, Jason Grace. Like snow, my voice is quiet and gentle, and very cold. It’s easy for me to whisper to the other gods, especially when I am only confirming their own deepest fears. I also whispered in Aeolus’s ear that he should issue an order to kill demigods. It is a small service for Gaea, but I’m sure I will be well rewarded when her sons the giants come to power.”
“You could’ve killed us in Quebec,” Jason said. “Why let us live?”
Khione wrinkled her nose. “Messy business, killing you in my father’s house, especially when he insists on meeting all visitors. I did try, you remember. It would’ve been lovely if he’d agreed to turn you to ice. But once he’d given you guarantee of safe passage, I couldn’t openly disobey him. My father is an old fool. He lives in fear of Zeus and Aeolus, but he’s still powerful. Soon enough, when my new masters have awakened, I will depose Boreas and take the throne of the North Wind, but not just yet. Besides, my father did have a point. Your quest was suicidal. I fully expected you to fail.”
“And to help us with that,” Leo said, “you knocked our dragon out of the sky over Detroit. Those frozen wires in his head—that was your fault. You’re gonna pay for that.”
“You’re also the one who kept Enceladus informed about us,” Piper added. “We’ve been plagued by snowstorms the whole trip.”
“Yes, I feel so close to all of you now!” Khione said. “Once you made it past Omaha, I decided to asked Lycaon to track you down so Jason could die here, at the Wolf House.” Khione smiled at him. “You see, Jason, your blood spilled on this sacred ground will taint it for generations. Your demigod brethren will be outraged, especially when they find the bodies of these two from Camp Half-Blood. They’ll believe the Greeks have conspired with giants. It will be … delicious.”
Piper and Leo didn’t seem to understand what she was saying. But Jason knew. His memories were returning enough for him to realize how dangerously effective Khione’s plan could be.
“You’ll set demigods against demigods,” he said.
“It’s so easy!” said Khione. “As I told you, I only encourage what you would do anyway.”
“But why?” Piper spread her hands. “Khione, you’ll tear the world apart. The giants will destroy everything. You don’t want that. Call off your monsters.”
Khione hesitated, then laughed. “Your persuasive powers are improving, girl. But I am a goddess. You can’t charm-speak me. We wind gods are creatures of chaos! I’ll overthrow Aeolus and let the storms run free. If we destroy the mortal world, all the better! They never honored me, even in Greek times. Humans and their talk of global warming. Pah! I’ll cool them down quickly enough. When we retake the ancient places, I will cover the Acropolis in snow.”
“The ancient places.” Leo’s eyes widened. “That’s what Enceladus meant about destroy the roots of the gods. He meant Greece.”
“You could join me, son of Hephaestus,” Khione said. “I know you find me beautiful. It would be enough for my plan if these other two were to die. Reject that ridiculous destiny the Fates have given you. Live and be my champion, instead. Your skills would be quite useful.”
Leo looked stunned. He glanced behind him, like Khione might be talking to somebody else. For a second Jason was worried. He figured Leo didn’t have beautiful goddesses make him offers like this every day.
Then Leo laughed so hard, he doubled over. “Yeah, join you. Right. Until you get bored of me and turn me into a Leosicle? Lady, nobody messes with my dragon and gets away with it. I can’t believe I thought you were hot.”
Khione’s face turned red. “Hot? You dare insult me? I am cold, Leo Valdez. Very, very cold.”
She shot a blast of wintry sleet at the demigods, but Leo held up his hand. A wall of fire roared to life in front of them, and the snow dissolved in a steamy cloud.
Leo grinned. “See, lady, that’s what happens to snow in Texas. It—freaking—melts.”
Khione hissed. “Enough of this. Hera is failing. Porphyrion is rising. Kill the demigods. Let them be our king’s first meal!”
Jason hefted his icy wooden plank—a stupid weapon to die fighting with—and the monsters charged.
A WOLF LAUNCHED ITSELF AT JASON. He stepped back and swung his scrap wood into the beast’s snout with a satisfying crack. Maybe only silver could kill it, but a good old-fashioned board could still give it a Tylenol headache.
He turned toward the sound of hooves and saw a storm spirit horse bearing down on him. Jason concentrated and summoned the wind. Just before the spirit could trample him, Jason launched himself into the air, grabbed the horse’s smoky neck, and pirouetted onto its back.
The storm spirit reared. It tried to shake Jason, then tried to dissolve into mist to lose him; but somehow Jason stayed on. He willed the horse to remain in solid form, and the horse seemed unable to refuse. Jason could feel it fighting against him. He could sense its raging thoughts—complete chaos straining to break free. It took all Jason’s willpower to impose his own wishes and bring the horse under control. He thought about Aeolus, overseeing thousands and thousands of spirits like this, some much worse. No wonder the Master of the Winds had gone a little mad after centuries of that pressure. But Jason had only one spirit to master, and he had to win.
“You’re mine now,” Jason said.
The horse bucked, but Jason held fast. Its mane flickered as it circled around the empty pool, its hooves causing miniature thunderstorms—tempests—whenever they touched.
“Tempest?” Jason said. “Is that your name?”
The horse spirit shook its mane, evidently pleased to be recognized.
“Fine,” Jason said. “Now, let’s fight.”
He charged into battle, swinging his icy piece of wood, knocking aside wolves and plunging straight through other venti. Tempest was a strong spirit, and every time he plowed through one of his brethren, he discharged so much electricity, the other spirit vaporized into a harmless cloud of mist.
Through the chaos, Jason caught glimpses of his friends. Piper was surrounded by Earthborn, but she seemed to be holding her own. She was so impressive-looking as she fought, almost glowing with beauty, that the Earthborn stared at her in awe, forgetting that they were supposed to kill her. They’d lower their clubs and watch dumbfounded as she smiled and charged them. They’d smile back—until she sliced them apart with her dagger, and they melted into mounds of mud.
Leo had taken on Khione herself. While fighting a goddess should’ve been suicide, Leo was the right man for the job. She kept summoning ice daggers to throw at him, blasts of winter air, tornadoes of snow. Leo burned through all of it. His whole body flickered with red tongues of flame like he’d been doused with gasoline. He advanced on the goddess, using two silver-tipped ball-peen hammers to smash any monsters that got in his way.
Jason realized that Leo was the only reason they were still alive. His fiery aura was heating up the whole courtyard, countering Khione’s winter magic. Without him, they would’ve been frozen like the Hunters long ago. Wherever Leo went, ice melted off the stones. Even Thalia started to defrost a little when Leo stepped near her.
Khione slowly backed away. Her expression went from enraged to shocked to slightly panicked as Leo got closer.