Jason looked up again at the glowering statue of his father.
“It’s not fair,” Jason said. “I could ruin everything.”
“You could,” Juno agreed. “But gods need heroes. We always have.”
“Even you? I thought you hated heroes.”
The goddess gave him a dry smile. “I have that reputation. But if you want the truth, Jason, I often envy other gods their mortal children. You demigods can span both worlds. I think this helps your godly parents—even Jupiter, curse him—to understand the mortal world better than I.”
Juno sighed so unhappily that despite his anger, Jason almost felt sorry for her.
“I am the goddess of marriage,” she said. “It is not in my nature to be faithless. I have only two godly children—Ares and Hephaestus—both of whom are disappointments. I have no mortal heroes to do my bidding, which is why I am so often bitter toward demigods—Heracles, Aeneas, all of them. But it is also why I favored the first Jason, a pure mortal, who had no godly parent to guide him. And why I am glad Zeus gave you to me. You will be my champion, Jason. You will be the greatest of heroes, and bring unity to the demigods, and thus to Olympus.”
Her words settled over him, as heavy as sandbags. Two days ago, he’d been terrified by the idea of leading demigods into a Great Prophecy, sailing off to battle the giants and save the world.
He was still terrified, but something had changed. He no longer felt alone. He had friends now, and a home to fight for. He even had a patron goddess looking out for him, which had to count for something, even if she seemed a little untrustworthy.
Jason had to stand up and accept his destiny, just as he had done when he faced Porphyrion with his bare hands. Sure, it seemed impossible. He might die. But his friends were counting on him.
“And if I fail?” he asked.
“Great victory requires great risk,” she admitted. “Fail, and there will be bloodshed like we have never seen. Demigods will destroy one another. The giants will overrun Olympus. Gaea will wake, and the earth will shake off everything we have built over five millennia. It will be the end of us all.”
“Great. Just great.”
Someone pounded on the cabin doors.
Juno pulled her hood back over her face. Then she handed Jason the sheathed gladius. “Take this for the weapon you lost. We will speak again. Like it or not, Jason, I am your sponsor, and your link to Olympus. We need each other.”
The goddess vanished as the doors creaked open, and Piper walked in.
“Annabeth and Rachel are here,” she said. “Chiron has summoned the council.”
THE COUNCIL WAS NOTHING LIKE Jason imagined. For one thing, it was in the Big House rec room, around a Ping-Pong table, and one of the satyrs was serving nachos and sodas. Somebody had brought Seymour the leopard head in from the living room and hung him on the wall. Every once in a while, a counselor would toss him a Snausage.
Jason looked around the room and tried to remember everyone’s name. Thankfully, Leo and Piper were sitting next to him—it was their first meeting as senior counselors. Clarisse, leader of the Ares cabin, had her boots on the table, but nobody seemed to care. Clovis from Hypnos cabin was snoring in the corner while Butch from Iris cabin was seeing how many pencils he could fit in Clovis’s nostrils. Travis Stoll from Hermes was holding a lighter under a Ping-Pong ball to see if it would burn, and Will Solace from Apollo was absently wrapping and unwrapping an Ace bandage around his wrist. The counselor from Hecate cabin, Lou Ellen something-or-other, was playing “got-your-nose” with Miranda Gardiner from Demeter, except that Lou Ellen really had magically disconnected Miranda’s nose, and Miranda was trying to get it back.
Jason had hoped Thalia would show. She’d promised, after all—but she was nowhere to be seen. Chiron had told him not to worry about it. Thalia often got sidetracked fighting monsters or running quests for Artemis, and she would probably arrive soon. But still, Jason worried.
Rachel Dare, the oracle, sat next to Chiron at the head of the table. She was wearing her Clarion Academy school uniform dress, which seemed a bit odd, but she smiled at Jason.
Annabeth didn’t look so relaxed. She wore armor over her camp clothes, with her knife at her side and her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. As soon as Jason walked in, she fixed him with an expectant look, as if she were trying to extract information out of him by sheer willpower.
“Let’s come to order,” Chiron said. “Lou Ellen, please give Miranda her nose back. Travis, if you’d kindly extinguish the flaming Ping-Pong ball, and Butch, I think twenty pencils is really too many for any human nostril. Thank you. Now, as you can see, Jason, Piper, and Leo have returned successfully… more or less. Some of you have heard parts of their story, but I will let them fill you in.”
Everyone looked at Jason. He cleared his throat and began the story. Piper and Leo chimed in from time to time, filling in the details he forgot.
It only took a few minutes, but it seemed like longer with everyone watching him. The silence was heavy, and for so many ADHD demigods to sit still listening for that long, Jason knew the story must have sounded pretty wild. He ended with Hera’s visit right before the meeting.
“So Hera was here,” Annabeth said. “Talking to you.”
Jason nodded. “Look, I’m not saying I trust her—”
“That’s smart,” Annabeth said.
“—but she isn’t making this up about another group of demigods. That’s where I came from.”
“Romans.” Clarisse tossed Seymour a Snausage. “You expect us to believe there’s another camp with demigods, but they follow the Roman forms of the gods. And we’ve never even heard of them.”
Piper sat forward. “The gods have kept the two groups apart, because every time they see each other, they try to kill each other.”
“I can respect that,” Clarisse said. “Still, why haven’t we ever run across each other on quests?”
“Oh, yes,” Chiron said sadly. “You have, many times. It’s always a tragedy, and always the gods do their best to wipe clean the memories of those involved. The rivalry goes all the way back to the Trojan War, Clarisse. The Greeks invaded Troy and burned it to the ground. The Trojan hero Aeneas escaped, and eventually made his way to Italy, where he founded the race that would someday become Rome. The Romans grew more and more powerful, worshipping the same gods but under different names, and with slightly different personalities.”
“More warlike,” Jason said. “More united. More about expansion, conquest, and discipline.”
“Yuck,” Travis put in.
Several of the others looked equally uncomfortable, though Clarisse shrugged like it sounded okay to her.
Annabeth twirled her knife on the table. “And the Romans hated the Greeks. They took revenge when they conquered the Greek isles, and made them part of the Roman Empire.”
“Not exactly hated them,” Jason said. “The Romans admired Greek culture, and were a little jealous. In return, the Greeks thought the Romans were barbarians, but they respected their military power. So during Roman times, demigods started to divide—either Greek or Roman.”
“And it’s been that way ever since,” Annabeth guessed. “But this is crazy. Chiron, where were the Romans during the Titan War? Didn’t they want to help?”
Chiron tugged at his beard. “They did help, Annabeth. While you and Percy were leading the battle to save Manhattan, who do think conquered Mount Othrys, the Titans’ base in California?”
“Hold on,” Travis said. “You said Mount Othrys just crumbled when we beat Kronos.”
“No,” Jason said. He remembered flashes of the battle—a giant in starry armor and a helm mounted with ram’s horns. He remembered his army of demigods scaling Mount Tam, fighting through hordes of snake monsters. “It didn’t just fall. We destroyed their palace. I defeated the Titan Krios myself.”
Annabeth’s eyes were as stormy as a ventus. Jason could almost see her thoughts moving, putting the pieces together. “The Bay Area. We demigods were always told to stay away from it because Mount Othrys was there. But that wasn’t the only reason, was it? The Roman camp—it’s got to be somewhere near San Francisco. I bet it was put there to keep watch on the Titans’ territory. Where is it?”
Chiron shifted in his wheelchair. “I cannot say. Honestly, even I have never been trusted with that information. My counterpart, Lupa, is not exactly the sharing type. Jason’s memory, too, has been burned away.”
“The camp’s heavily veiled with magic,” Jason said. “And heavily guarded. We could search for years and never find it.”
Rachel Dare laced her fingers. Of all the people in the room, only she didn’t seem nervous about the conversation. “But you’ll try, won’t you? You’ll build Leo’s boat, the Argo II. And before you make for Greece, you’ll sail for the Roman camp. You’ll need their help to confront the giants.”
“Bad plan,” Clarisse warned. “If those Romans see a warship coming, they’ll assume we’re attacking.”
“You’re probably right,” Jason agreed. “But we have to try. I was sent here to learn about Camp Half-Blood, to try to convince you the two camps don’t have to be enemies. A peace offering.”
“Hmm,” Rachel said. “Because Hera is convinced we need both camps to win the war with the giants. Seven heroes of Olympus—some Greek, some Roman.”
Annabeth nodded. “Your Great Prophecy—what’s the last line?”
“And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.”
“Gaea has opened the Doors of Death,” Annabeth said. “She’s letting out the worst villains of the Underworld to fight us. Medea, Midas—there’ll be more, I’m sure. Maybe the line means that the Roman and Greek demigods will unite, and find the doors, and close them.”
“Or it could mean they fight each other at the doors of death,” Clarisse pointed out. “It doesn’t say we’ll cooperate.”
There was silence as the campers let that happy thought sink in.
“I’m going,” Annabeth said. “Jason, when you get this ship built, let me go with you.”
“I was hoping you’d offer,” Jason said. “You of all people —we’ll need you.”
“Wait.” Leo frowned. “I mean that’s cool with me and all. But why Annabeth of all people?”
Annabeth and Jason studied one another, and Jason knew she had put it together. She saw the dangerous truth.
“Hera said my coming here was an exchange of leaders,” Jason said. “A way for the two camps to learn of each other’s existence.”
“Yeah?” Leo said. “So?”
“An exchange goes two ways,” Jason said. “When I got here, my memory was wiped. I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged. Fortunately, you guys took me in and I found a new home. I know you’re not my enemy. The Roman camp—they’re not so friendly. You prove your worth quickly, or you don’t survive. They may not be so nice to him, and if they learn where he comes from, he’s going to be in serious trouble.”