“I—I don’t know, but—”
“Piper, what’s his last name?”
Her mind went blank. She didn’t know Jason’s last name. How could that be?
She started to cry. She felt like a total fool, but she sat down on the rock next to Annabeth and just fell to pieces. It was too much. Did everything that was good in her stupid, miserable life have to be taken away?
Yes, the dream had told her. Yes, unless you do exactly what we say.
“Hey,” Annabeth said. “We’ll figure it out. Jason’s here now. Who knows? Maybe it’ll work out with you guys for real.”
Not likely, Piper thought. Not if the dream had told her the truth. But she couldn’t say that.
She brushed a tear from her cheek. “You brought me up here so no one would see me blubbering, huh?”
Annabeth shrugged. “I figured it would be hard for you. I know what it’s like to lose your boyfriend.”
“But I still can’t believe … I know we had something. And now it’s just gone, like he doesn’t even recognize me. If he really did just show up today, then why? How’d he get there? Why can’t he remember anything?”
“Good questions,” Annabeth said. “Hopefully Chiron can figure that out. But for now, we need to get you settled. You ready to go back down?”
Piper gazed at the crazy assortment of cabins in the valley. Her new home, a family who supposedly understood her—but soon they’d be just another bunch of people she’d disappointed, just another place she’d been kicked out of. You’ll betray them for us, the voice had warned. Or you’ll lose everything.
She didn’t have a choice.
“Yeah,” she lied. “I’m ready.”
On the central green, a group of campers was playing basketball. They were incredible shots. Nothing bounced off the rim. Three-pointers went in automatically.
“Apollo’s cabin,” Annabeth explained. “Bunch of showoffs with missile weapons—arrows, basketballs.”
They walked past a central fire pit, where two guys were hacking at each other with swords.
“Real blades?” Piper noted. “Isn’t that dangerous?”
“That’s sort of the point,” Annabeth said. “Uh, sorry. Bad pun. That’s my cabin over there. Number Six.” She nodded to a gray building with a carved owl over the door. Through the open doorway, Piper could see bookshelves, weapon displays, and one of those computerized SMART Boards they have in classrooms. Two girls were drawing a map that looked like a battle diagram.
“Speaking of blades,” Annabeth said, “come here.”
She led Piper around the side of the cabin, to a big metal shed that looked like it was meant for gardening tools. Annabeth unlocked it, and inside were not gardening tools, unless you wanted to make war on your tomato plants. The shed was lined with all sorts of weapons—from swords to spears to clubs like Coach Hedge’s.
“Every demigod needs a weapon,” Annabeth said. “Hephaestus makes the best, but we have a pretty good selection, too. Athena’s all about strategy—matching the right weapon to the right person. Let’s see …”
Piper didn’t feel much like shopping for deadly objects, but she knew Annabeth was trying to do something nice for her.
Annabeth handed her a massive sword, which Piper could hardly lift.
“No,” they both said at once.
Annabeth rummaged a little farther in the shed and brought out something else.
“A shotgun?” Piper asked.
“Mossberg 500.” Annabeth checked the pump action like it was no big deal. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt humans. It’s modified to shoot Celestial bronze, so it only kills monsters.”
“Um, I don’t think that’s my style,” Piper said.
“Mmm, yeah,” Annabeth agreed. “Too flashy.”
She put the shotgun back and started poking through a rack of crossbows when something in the corner of the shed caught Piper’s eye.
“What is that?” she said. “A knife?”
Annabeth dug it out and blew the dust off the scabbard. It looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day in centuries.
“I don’t know, Piper.” Annabeth sounded uneasy. “I don’t think you want this one. Swords are usually better.”
“You use a knife.” Piper pointed to the one strapped to Annabeth’s belt.
“Yeah, but …” Annabeth shrugged. “Well, take a look if you want.”
The sheath was worn black leather, bound in bronze. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy. The polished wood handle fit beautifully in Piper’s hand. When she unsheathed it, she found a triangular blade eighteen inches long—bronze gleaming like it had been polished yesterday. The edges were deadly sharp. Her reflection in the blade caught her by surprise. She looked older, more serious, not as scared as she felt.
“It suits you,” Annabeth admitted. “That kind of blade is called a parazonium. It was mostly ceremonial, carried by high-ranking officers in the Greek armies. It showed you were a person of power and wealth, but in a fight, it could protect you just fine.”
“I like it,” Piper said. “Why didn’t you think it was right?”
Annabeth exhaled. “That blade has a long story. Most people would be afraid to claim it. Its first owner … well, things didn’t turn out too well for her. Her name was Helen.”
Piper let that sink in. “Wait, you mean the Helen? Helen of Troy?”
Suddenly Piper felt like she should be handling the dagger with surgical gloves. “And it’s just sitting in your toolshed?”
“We’re surrounded by Ancient Greek stuff,” Annabeth said. “This isn’t a museum. Weapons like that—they’re meant to be used. They’re our heritage as demigods. That was a wedding present from Menelaus, Helen’s first husband. She named the dagger Katoptris.”
“Mirror,” Annabeth said. “Looking glass. Probably because that’s the only thing Helen used it for. I don’t think it’s ever seen battle.”
Piper looked at the blade again. For a moment, her own image stared up at her, but then the reflection changed. She saw flames, and a grotesque face like something carved from bedrock. She heard the same laughter as in her dream. She saw her dad in chains, tied to a post in front of a roaring bonfire.
She dropped the blade.
“Piper?” Annabeth shouted to the Apollo kids on the court, “Medic! I need some help over here!”
“No, it’s—it’s okay,” Piper managed.
“Yeah. I just …” She had to control herself. With trembling fingers, she picked up the dagger. “I just got overwhelmed. So much happening today. But … I want to keep the dagger, if that’s okay.”
Annabeth hesitated. Then she waved off the Apollo kids. “Okay, if you’re sure. You turned really pale, there. I thought you were having a seizure or something.”
“I’m fine,” Piper promised, though her heart was still racing. “Is there … um, a phone at camp? Can I call my dad?”
Annabeth’s gray eyes were almost as unnerving as the dagger blade. She seemed to be calculating a million possibilities, trying to read Piper’s thoughts.
“We aren’t allowed phones,” she said. “Most demigods, if they use a cell phone, it’s like sending up a signal, letting monsters know where you are. But … I’ve got one.” She slipped it out of her pocket. “Kind of against the rules, but if it can be our secret …”
Piper took it gratefully, trying not to let her hands shake. She stepped away from Annabeth and turned to face the commons area.
She called her dad’s private line, even though she knew what would happen. Voice mail. She’d been trying for three days, ever since the dream. Wilderness School only allowed phone privileges once a day, but she’d called every evening, and gotten nowhere.
Reluctantly she dialed the other number. Her dad’s personal assistant answered immediately. “Mr. McLean’s office.”
“Jane,” Piper said, gritting her teeth. “Where’s my dad?”
Jane was silent for a moment, probably wondering if she could get away with hanging up. “Piper, I thought you weren’t supposed to call from school.”
“Maybe I’m not at school,” Piper said. “Maybe I ran away to live among the woodland creatures.”
“Mmm.” Jane didn’t sound concerned. “Well, I’ll tell him you called.”
“Where is he?”
“You don’t know, do you?” Piper lowered her voice, hoping Annabeth was too nice to eavesdrop. “When are you going to call the police, Jane? He could be in trouble.”
“Piper, we are not going to turn this into a media circus. I’m sure he’s fine. He does take off occasionally. He always comes back.”
“So it’s true. You don’t know—”
“I have to go, Piper,” Jane snapped. “Enjoy school.”
The line went dead. Piper cursed. She walked back to Annabeth and handed her the phone.
“No luck?” Annabeth asked.
Piper didn’t answer. She didn’t trust herself not to start crying again.
Annabeth glanced at the phone display and hesitated. “Your last name is McLean? Sorry, it’s not my business. But that sounds really familiar.”
“Yeah, I guess. What does your dad do?”
“He’s got a degree in the arts,” Piper said automatically. “He’s a Cherokee artist.”
Her standard response. Not a lie, just not the whole truth. Most people, when they heard that, figured her dad sold Indian souvenirs at a roadside stand on a reservation. Sitting Bull bobble-heads, wampum necklaces, Big Chief tablets—that kind of thing.
“Oh.” Annabeth didn’t look convinced, but she put the phone away. “You feeling okay? Want to keep going?”
Piper fastened her new dagger to her belt and promised herself that later, when she was alone, she’d figure out how it worked. “Sure,” she said. “I want to see everything.”
All the cabins were cool, but none of them struck Piper as hers. No burning signs—wombats or otherwise—appeared over her head.
Cabin Eight was entirely silver and glowed like moonlight.
“Artemis?” Piper guessed.
“You know Greek mythology,” Annabeth said.
“I did some reading when my dad was working on a project last year.”
“I thought he did Cherokee art.”
Piper bit back a curse. “Oh, right. But—you know, he does other stuff too.”
Piper thought she’d blown it: McLean, Greek mythology. Thankfully, Annabeth didn’t seem to make the connection.
“Anyway,” Annabeth continued, “Artemis is goddess of the moon, goddess of hunting. But no campers. Artemis was an eternal maiden, so she doesn’t have any kids.”