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The Lost Hero
The Lost Hero/61
“Thank you, guys,” Piper said. “I—”
She wanted to tell them how much they meant to her. They’d sacrificed everything, maybe even their quest, to help her. She couldn’t repay them, couldn’t even put her gratitude into words. But her friends’ expressions told her they understood.
Then, right next to Jason, the air began to shimmer. At first Piper thought it was heat off the tarmac, or maybe gas fumes from the helicopter, but she’d seen something like this before in Medea’s fountain. It was an Iris message. An image appeared in the air—a dark-haired girl in silver winter camouflage, holding a bow.
Jason stumbled back in surprise. “Thalia!”
“Thank the gods,” said the Hunter. The scene behind her was hard to make out, but Piper heard yelling, metal clashing on metal, and explosions.
“We’ve found her,” Thalia said. “Where are you?”
“Oakland,” he said. “Where are you?”
“The Wolf House! Oakland is good; you’re not too far. We’re holding off the giant’s minions, but we can’t hold them forever. Get here before sunset, or it’s all over. ”
“Then it’s not too late?” Piper cried. Hope surged through her, but Thalia’s expression quickly dampened it.
“Not yet,” Thalia said. “But Jason—it’s worse than I realized. Porphyrion is rising. Hurry. ”
“But where is the Wolf House?” he pleaded.
“Our last trip,” Thalia said, her image starting to flicker. “The park. Jack London. Remember?”
This made no sense to Piper, but Jason looked like he’d been shot. He tottered, his face pale, and the Iris message disappeared.
“Bro, you all right?” Leo asked. “You know where she is?”
“Yes,” Jason said. “Sonoma Valley. Not far. Not by air. ”
Piper turned to the ranger pilot, who’d been watching all this with an increasingly puzzled expression.
“Ma’am,” Piper said with her best smile. “You don’t mind helping us one more time, do you?”
“I don’t mind,” the pilot agreed.
“We can’t take a mortal into battle,” Jason said. “It’s too dangerous. ” He turned to Leo. “Do you think you could fly this thing?”
“Um …” Leo’s expression didn’t exactly reassure Piper. But then he put his hand on the side of the helicopter, concentrating hard, as if listening to the machine.
“Bell 412HP utility helicopter,” Leo said. “Composite four-blade main rotor, cruising speed twenty-two knots, service ceiling twenty-thousand feet. The tank is near full. Sure, I can fly it. ”
Piper smiled at the ranger again. “You don’t have a problem with an under-aged unlicensed kid borrowing your copter, do you? We’ll return it. ”
“I—” The pilot nearly choked on the words, but she got them out: “I don’t have a problem with that. ”
Leo grinned. “Hop in, kids. Uncle Leo’s gonna take you for a ride. ”
FLY A HELICOPTER? SURE, WHY NOT. Leo had done plenty of crazier things that week.
The sun was going down as they flew north over the Richmond Bridge, and Leo couldn’t believe the day had gone so quickly. Once again, nothing like ADHD and a good fight to the death to make time fly.
Piloting the chopper, he went back and forth between confidence and panic. If he didn’t think about it, he found himself automatically flipping the right switches, checking the altimeter, easing back on the stick, and flying straight. If he allowed himself to consider what he was doing, he started freaking out. He imagined his Aunt Rosa yelling at him in Spanish, telling him he was a delinquent lunatic who was going to crash and burn. Part of him suspected she was right.
“Going okay?” Piper asked from the copilot’s seat. She sounded more nervous than he was, so Leo put on a brave face.
“Aces,” he said. “So what’s the Wolf House?”
Jason knelt between their seats. “An abandoned mansion in the Sonoma Valley. A demigod built it—Jack London. ”
Leo couldn’t place the name. “He an actor?”
“Writer,” Piper said. “Adventure stuff, right? Call of the Wild? White Fang?”
“Yeah,” Jason said. “He was a son of Mercury—I mean, Hermes. He was an adventurer, traveled the world. He was even a hobo for a while. Then he made a fortune writing. He bought a big ranch in the country and decided to build this huge mansion—the Wolf House. ”
“Named that ’cause he wrote about wolves?” Leo guessed.
“Partially,” Jason said. “But the site, and the reason he wrote about wolves—he was dropping hints about his personal experience. There’re a lot of holes in his life story—how he was born, who his dad was, why he wandered around so much—stuff you can only explain if you know he was a demigod. ”
The bay slipped behind them, and the helicopter continued north. Ahead of them, yellow hills rolled out as far as Leo could see.
“So Jack London went to Camp Half-Blood,” Leo guessed.
“No,” Jason said. “No, he didn’t. ”
“Bro, you’re freaking me out with the mysterious talk. Are you remembering your past or not?”
“Pieces,” Jason said. “Only pieces. None of it good. The Wolf House is on sacred ground. It’s where London started his journey as a child—where he found out he was a demigod. That’s why he returned there. He thought he could live there, claim that land, but it wasn’t meant for him. The Wolf House was cursed. It burned in a fire a week before he and his wife were supposed to move in. A few years later, London died, and his ashes were buried on the site. ”
“So,” Piper said, “how do you know all this?”
A shadow crossed Jason’s face. Probably just a cloud, but Leo could swear the shape looked like an eagle.
“I started my journey there too,” Jason said. “It’s a powerful place for demigods, a dangerous place. If Gaea can claim it, use its power to entomb Hera on the solstice and raise Porphyrion—that might be enough to awaken the earth goddess fully. ”
Leo kept his hand on the joystick, guiding the chopper at full speed—racing toward the north. He could see some weather ahead—a spot of darkness like a cloudbank or a storm, right where they were going.
Piper’s dad had called him a hero earlier. And Leo couldn’t believe some of the things he’d done—smacking around Cyclopes, disarming exploding doorbells, battling six-armed ogres with construction equipment. They seemed like they had happened to another person. He was just Leo Valdez, an orphaned kid from Houston. He’d spent his life running away, and part of him still wanted to run. What was he thinking, flying toward a cursed mansion to fight more evil monsters?
His mom’s voice echoed in his head: Nothing is unfixable.
Except the fact that you’re gone forever, Leo thought.
Seeing Piper and her dad back together had really driven that home. Even if Leo survived this quest and saved Hera, Leo wouldn’t have any happy reunions. He wouldn’t be going back to a loving family. He wouldn’t see his mom.
The helicopter shuddered. Metal creaked, and Leo could almost imagine the tapping was Morse code: Not the end. Not the end.
He leveled out the chopper, and the creaking stopped. He was just hearing things. He couldn’t dwell on his mom, or the idea that kept bugging him—that Gaea was bringing souls back from the Underworld—so why couldn’t he make some good come out of it? Thinking like that would drive him crazy. He had a job to do.
He let his instincts take over—just like flying the helicopter. If he thought about the quest too much, or what might happen afterward, he’d panic. The trick was not to think—just get through it.
“Thirty minutes out,” he told his friends, though he wasn’t sure how he knew. “If you want to get some rest, now’s a good time. ”
Jason strapped himself into the back of the helicopter and passed out almost immediately. Piper and Leo stayed wide-awake.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, Leo said, “Your dad’ll be fine, you know. Nobody’s gonna mess with him with that crazy goat around. ”
Piper glanced over, and Leo was struck by how much she’d changed. Not just physically. Her presence was stronger. She seemed more … here. At Wilderness School she’d spent the semester trying not to be seen, hiding out in the back row of the classroom, the back of the bus, the corner of the lunchroom as far as possible from the loud kids. Now she would be impossible to miss. It didn’t matter what she was wearing —you’d have to look at her.
“My dad,” she said thoughtfully. “Yeah, I know. I was thinking about Jason. I’m worried about him. ”
Leo nodded. The closer they got to that bank of dark clouds, the more Leo worried, too. “He’s starting to remember. That’s got to make him a little edgy. ”
“But what if … what if he’s a different person?”
Leo had had the same thought. If the Mist could affect their memories, could Jason’s whole personality be an illusion, too? If their friend wasn’t their friend, and they were heading into a cursed mansion—a dangerous place for demigods—what would happen if Jason’s full memory came back in the middle of a battle?
“Nah,” Leo decided. “After all we’ve been through? I can’t see it. We’re a team. Jason can handle it. ”
Piper smoothed her blue dress, which was tattered and burned from their fight on Mount Diablo. “I hope you’re right. I need him …” She cleared her throat. “I mean I need to trust him…”
“I know,” Leo said. After seeing her dad break down, Leo understood Piper couldn’t afford to lose Jason as well. She’d just watched Tristan McLean, her cool suave movie star dad, reduced to near insanity. Leo could barely stand to watch that, but for Piper—Wow, Leo couldn’t even imagine. He figured that would make her insecure about herself, too. If weakness was inherited, she’d be wondering, could she break down the same way her dad did?
“Hey, don’t worry,” Leo said. “Piper, you’re the strongest, most powerful beauty queen I’ve ever met. You can trust yourself. For what it’s worth, you can trust me too. ”
The helicopter dipped in a wind shear, and Leo almost jumped out of his skin. He cursed and righted the chopper.
Piper laughed nervously. “Trust you, huh?”
“Ah, shut up, already. ” But he grinned at her, and for a second, it felt like he was just relaxing comfortably with a friend.
Then they hit the storm clouds.
AT FIRST, LEO THOUGHT ROCKS WERE pelting the windshield. Then he realized it was sleet. Frost built up around the edges of the glass, and slushy waves of ice blotted out his view.
“An ice storm?” Piper shouted over the engine and the wind. “Is it supposed to be this cold in Sonoma?”
Leo wasn’t sure, but something about this storm seemed conscious, malevolent—like it was intentionally slamming them.