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Hera waved aside the question. “Storm spirits are creatures of chaos. I did not destroy that one, though I have no idea where he went, or whether you’ll see him again. But there is an easier way home for you. As you have done me a great service, so I can help you—at least this once. Farewell, demigods, for now.”

The world turned upside down, and Piper almost blacked out.

When she could see straight again, she was back at camp, in the dining pavilion, in the middle of dinner. They were standing on the Aphrodite cabin’s table, and Piper had one foot in Drew’s pizza. Sixty campers rose at once, gawking at them in astonishment.

Whatever Hera had done to shoot them across the country, it wasn’t good for Piper’s stomach. She could barely control her nausea. Leo wasn’t so lucky. He jumped off the table, ran to the nearest bronze brazier, and threw up in it—which was probably not a great burnt offering for the gods.

“Jason?” Chiron trotted forward. No doubt the old centaur had seen thousands of years’ worth of weird stuff, but even he looked totally flabbergasted. “What—How—?”

The Aphrodite campers stared up at Piper with their mouths open. Piper figured she must look awful.

“Hi,” she said, as casually as she could. “We’re back.”

PIPER DIDN’T REMEMBER MUCH ABOUT the rest of the night. They told their story and answered a million questions from the other campers, but finally Chiron saw how tired they were and ordered them to bed.

It felt so good to sleep on a real mattress, and Piper was so exhausted, she crashed immediately, which spared her any worry about what it would be like returning to the Aphrodite cabin.

The next morning she woke in her bunk, feeling reinvigorated. The sun came through the windows along with a pleasant breeze. It might’ve been spring instead of winter. Birds sang. Monsters howled in the woods. Breakfast smells wafted from the dining pavilion—bacon, pancakes, and all sorts of wonderful things.

Drew and her gang were frowning down at her, their arms crossed.

“Morning.” Piper sat up and smiled. “Beautiful day.”

“You’re going to make us late for breakfast,” Drew said, “which means you get to clean the cabin for inspection.”

A week ago, Piper would’ve either punched Drew in the face, or hidden back under her covers. Now she thought about the Cyclopes in Detroit, Medea in Chicago, Midas turning her to gold in Omaha. Looking at Drew, who used to bother her, Piper laughed.

Drew’s smug expression crumbled. She backed up, then remembered she was supposed to be angry. “What are you—”

“Challenging you,” Piper said. “How about noon in the arena? You can choose the weapons.”

She got out of bed, stretched leisurely, and beamed at her cabinmates. She spotted Mitchell and Lacy, who’d helped her pack for the quest. They were smiling tentatively, their eyes flitting from Piper to Drew like this might be a very interesting tennis game.

“I missed you guys!” Piper announced. “We’re going to have a great time when I’m senior counselor.”

Drew turned bug juice red. Even her closest lieutenants looked a little nervous. This wasn’t in their script.

“You—” Drew spluttered. “You ugly little witch! I’ve been here the longest. You can’t just—”

“Challenge you?” Piper said. “Sure, I can. Camp rules: I’ve been claimed by Aphrodite. I’ve completed a quest, which is one more than you’ve completed. If I feel I can do a better job, I can challenge you. Unless you just want to step down. Did I get all that right, Mitchell?”

“Just right, Piper.” Mitchell was grinning. Lacy was bouncing up and down like she was trying to achieve liftoff.

A few of the other kids started to grin, as if they were enjoying the different colors Drew’s face was turning.

“Step down?” Drew shrieked. “You’re crazy!”

Piper shrugged. Then fast as a viper she pulled Katoptris from under her pillow, unsheathed the dagger, and thrust the point under Drew’s chin. Everybody else backed up fast. One guy crashed into a makeup table and sent up a plume of pink powder.

“A duel, then,” Piper said cheerfully. “If you don’t want to wait until noon, now is fine. You’ve turned this cabin into a dictatorship, Drew. Silena Beauregard knew better than that. Aphrodite is about love and beauty. Being loving. Spreadingbeauty. Good friends. Good times. Good deeds. Not just looking good. Silena made mistakes, but in the end she stood by her friends. That’s why she was a hero. I’m going to set things right, and I’ve got a feeling Mom will be on my side. Want to find out?”

Drew went cross-eyed looking down the blade of Piper’s dagger.

A second passed. Then two. Piper didn’t care. She was absolutely happy and confident. It must’ve shown in her smile.

“I … step down,” Drew grumbled. “But if you think I’m ever going to forget this, McLean—”

“Oh, I hope you won’t,” Piper said. “Now, run along to the dining pavilion, and explain to Chiron why we’re late. There’s been a change of leadership.”

Drew backed to the door. Even her closest lieutenants didn’t follow her. She was about to leave when Piper said, “Oh, and Drew, honey?”

The former counselor looked back reluctantly.

“In case you think I’m not a true daughter of Aphrodite,” Piper said, “don’t even look at Jason Grace. He may not know it yet, but he’s mine. If you even try to make a move, I will load you into a catapult and shoot you across Long Island Sound.”

Drew turned around so fast, she ran into the doorframe. Then she was gone.

The cabin was silent. The other campers stared at Piper. This was the part she was unsure of. She didn’t want to rule by fear. She wasn’t like Drew, but she didn’t know if they’d accept her.

Then, spontaneously, the Aphrodite campers cheered so loudly, they must’ve been heard all across camp. They herded Piper out of the cabin, raised her on their shoulders, and carried her all the way to the dining pavilion—still in her pajamas, her hair still a mess, but she didn’t care. She’d never felt better.

By afternoon, Piper had changed into comfortable camp clothes and led the Aphrodite cabin through their morning activities. She was ready for free time.

Some of the buzz of her victory had faded because she had an appointment at the Big House.

Chiron met her on the front porch in human form, compacted into his wheelchair. “Come inside, my dear. The video conference is ready.”

The only computer at camp was in Chiron’s office, and the whole room was shielded in bronze plating.

“Demigods and technology don’t mix,” Chiron explained. “Phone calls, texting, even browsing the Internet—all these things can attract monsters. Why, just this fall at a school in Cincinnati, we had to rescue a young hero who Googled the gorgons and got a little more than he bargained for, but never mind that. Here at camp, you’re protected. Still … we try to be cautious. You’ll only be able to talk for a few minutes.”

“Got it,” Piper said. “Thank you, Chiron.”

He smiled and wheeled himself out of the office. Piper hesitated before clicking the call button. Chiron’s office had a cluttered, cozy feel. One wall was covered with T-shirts from different conventions—party ponies ’09 vegas, party ponies ’10 honolulu, et cetera. Piper didn’t know who the Party Ponies were, but judging from the stains, scorch marks, and weapon holes in the T-shirts, they must’ve had some pretty wild meetings. On the shelf over Chiron’s desk sat an old-fashioned boom box with cassette tapes labeled “Dean Martin” and “Frank Sinatra” and “Greatest Hits of the 40s.” Chiron was so old, Piper wondered if that meant 1940s, 1840s, or maybe just A.D. 40.

But most of the office’s wall space was plastered with photos of demigods, like a hall of fame. One of the newer shots showed a teenage guy with dark hair and green eyes. Since he stood arm in arm with Annabeth, Piper assumed the guy must be Percy Jackson. In some of the older photos, she recognized famous people: businessmen, athletes, even some actors that her dad knew.

“Unbelievable,” she muttered.

Piper wondered if her photo would go on that wall someday. For the first time, she felt like she was part of something bigger than herself. Demigods had been around for centuries. Whatever she did, she did for all of them.

She took a deep breath and made the call. The video screen popped up.

Gleeson Hedge grinned at her from her dad’s office. “Seen the news?”

“Kind of hard to miss,” Piper said. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Chiron had shown her a newspaper at lunch. Her dad’s mysterious return from nowhere had made the front page. His personal assistant Jane had been fired for covering up his disappearance and failing to notify the police. A new staff had been hired and personally vetted by Tristan McLean’s “life coach,” Gleeson Hedge. According to the paper, Mr. McLean claimed to have no memory of the last week, and the media was totally eating up the story. Some thought it was a clever marketing ploy for a movie—maybe McLean was going to play an amnesiac? Some thought he’d been kidnapped by terrorists, or rabid fans, or had heroically escaped from ransom seekers using his incredible King of Sparta fighting skills. Whatever the truth, Tristan McLean was more famous than ever.

“It’s going great,” Hedge promised. “But don’t worry. We’re going to keep him out of the public eye for the next month or so until things cool down. Your dad’s got more important things to do—like resting, and talking to his daughter.”

“Don’t get too comfortable out there in Hollywood, Gleeson,” Piper said.

Hedge snorted. “You kidding? These people make Aeolus look sane. I’ll be back as soon as I can, but your dad’s gotta get back on his feet first. He’s a good guy. Oh, and by the way, I took care of that other little matter. The Park Service in the Bay Area just got an anonymous gift of a new helicopter. And that ranger pilot who helped us? She’s got a very lucrative offer to fly for Mr. McLean.”

“Thanks, Gleeson,” Piper said. “For everything.”

“Yeah, well. I don’t try to be awesome. It just comes natural. Speaking of Aeolus’s place, meet your dad’s new assistant.”

Hedge was nudged out of the way, and a pretty young lady grinned into the camera.

“Mellie?” Piper stared, but it was definitely her: the aura who’d helped them escape from Aeolus’s fortress. “You’re working for my dad now?”

“Isn’t it great?”

“Does he know you’re a—you know—wind spirit?”

“Oh, no. But I love this job. It’s—um—a breeze.”

Piper couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m glad. That’s awesome. But where—”

“Just a sec.” Mellie kissed Gleeson on the cheek. “Come on, you old goat. Stop hogging the screen.”