JASON WAITED ALONE IN CABIN ONE.
Annabeth and Rachel were due any minute for the head counselors’ meeting, and Jason needed time to think.
His dreams the night before had been worse than he’d wanted to share—even with Piper. His memory was still foggy, but bits and pieces were coming back. The night Lupa had tested him at the Wolf House, to decide if he would be a pup or food. Then the long trip south to … he couldn’t remember, but he had flashes of his old life. The day he’d gotten his tattoo. The day he’d been raised on a shield and proclaimed a praetor. His friends’ faces: Dakota, Gwendolyn, Hazel, Bobby. And Reyna. Definitely there’d been a girl named Reyna. He wasn’t sure what she’d meant to him, but the memory made him question what he felt about Piper—and wonder if he was doing something wrong. The problem was, he liked Piper a lot.
Jason moved his stuff to the corner alcove where his sister had once slept. He put Thalia’s photograph back on the wall so he didn’t feel alone. He stared up at the frowning statue of Zeus, mighty and proud, but the statue didn’t scare him anymore. It just made him feel sad.
“I know you can hear me,” Jason said to the statue.
The statue said nothing. Its painted eyes seemed to stare at him.
“I wish I could talk with you in person,” Jason continued, “but I understand you can’t do that. The Roman gods don’t like to interact with mortals so much, and—well, you’re the king. You’ve got to set an example.”
More silence. Jason had hoped for something—a bigger than usual rumble of thunder, a bright light, a smile. No, never mind. A smile would’ve been creepy.
“I remember some things,” he said. The more he talked, the less self-conscious he felt. “I remember that it’s hard being a son of Jupiter. Everyone is always looking at me to be a leader, but I always feel alone. I guess you feel the same way up on Olympus. The other gods challenge your decisions. Sometimes you’ve got to make hard choices, and the others criticize you. And you can’t come to my aid like other gods might. You’ve got to keep me at a distance so it doesn’t look like you’re playing favorites. I guess I just wanted to say …”
Jason took a deep breath. “I understand all that. It’s okay. I’m going to try to do my best. I’ll try to make you proud. But I could really use some guidance, Dad. If there’s anything you can do—help me so I can help my friends. I’m afraid I’ll get them killed. I don’t know how to protect them.”
The back of his neck tingled. He realized someone was standing behind him. He turned and found a woman in a black hooded robe, with a goatskin cloak over her shoulders and a sheathed Roman sword—a gladius—in her hands.
“Hera,” he said.
She pushed back her hood. “To you, I have always been Juno. And your father has already sent you guidance, Jason. He sent you Piper and Leo. They’re not just your responsibility. They are also your friends. Listen to them, and you will do well.”
“Did Jupiter send you here to tell me that?”
“No one sends me anywhere, hero,” she said. “I am not a messenger.”
“But you got me into this. Why did you send me to this camp?”
“I think you know,” Juno said. “An exchange of leaders was necessary. It was the only way to bridge to gap.”
“I didn’t agree to it.”
“No. But Zeus gave your life to me, and I am helping you fulfill your destiny.”
Jason tried to control his anger. He looked down at his orange camp shirt and the tattoos on his arm, and he knew these things should not go together. He had become a contradiction—a mixture as dangerous as anything Medea could cook up.
“You’re not giving me all my memories,” he said. “Even though you promised.”
“Most will return in time,” Juno said. “But you must find your own way back. You need these next months with your new friends, your new home. You’re gaining their trust. By the time you sail in your ship, you will be a leader at this camp. And you will be ready to be a peacemaker between two great powers.”
“What if you’re not telling the truth?” he asked. “What if you’re doing this to cause another civil war?”
Juno’s expression was impossible to read—amusement? Disdain? Affection? Possibly all three. As much as she appeared human, Jason knew she was not. He could still see that blinding light—the true form of the goddess that had seared itself into his brain. She was Juno and Hera. She existed in many places at once. Her reasons for doing something were never simple.
“I am the goddess of family,” she said. “My family has been divided for too long.”
“They divided us so we don’t kill each other,” Jason said. “That seems like a pretty good reason.”
“The prophecy demands that we change. The giants will rise. Each can only be killed by a god and demigod working together. Those demigods must be the seven greatest of the age. As it stands, they are divided between two places. If we remain divided, we cannot win. Gaea is counting on this. You must unite the heroes of Olympus and sail together to meet the giants on the ancient battlegrounds of Greece. Only then will the gods be convinced to join you. It will be the most dangerous quest, the most important voyage, ever attempted by the children of the gods.”
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.”