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[JASON]

JASON WAS BEGINNING TO feel nervous

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JASON WAS BEGINNING TO feel nervous. The two angel-like teenagers were threatening Leo just because of who his father was and now wanted to kill them.

A female voice spoke and they all looked up the staircase. At the top stood a girl in a white silk dress. Her skin was unnaturally pale, the color of snow, but her hair was a lush mane of black, and her eyes were coffee brown. She focused on Leo with no expression, no smile, no friendliness. Then she looked at Jason, Kyra, and Piper, and seemed to understand the situation immediately.

"Father will want to see the one called Jason," the girl stated,

"Then it is him?" Zethes asked excitedly.

"We'll see," the girl said. "Zethes, bring our guests."

Leo grabbed the handle of his bronze dragon suitcase. But before he could take a step, she froze him with a look. Not literally froze, but she might as well have, "Not you, Leo Valdez," she said.

"Why not?" He probably sounded like a whiny kindergartner, but he couldn't help it.

"You cannot be in the presence of my father," the girl answered, "Fire and ice—it would not be wise."

"We're going together," Jason insisted, putting his hand on Leo's shoulder, "or not at all."

The girl tilted her head, like she wasn't used to people refusing her orders. "He will not be harmed, Jason Grace, unless you make trouble. Calais, keep Leo Valdez here. Guard him, but do not kill him."

Cal pouted. "Just a little?"

"No," the girl insisted. "And take care of his interesting suitcase, until Father passes judgment."

Jason, Kyra and Piper looked at Leo, their expressions asking him a silent question: How do you want to play this?

Part of Leo wanted to go for it, bust out his new tool belt and see what he could do, maybe even summon a fireball or two and warm this place up. But the Boread guys scared him. And that gorgeous girl scared him more. "It's fine, guys," he told them, "No sense causing trouble if we don't have to. You go ahead."

"Listen to your friend," the pale girl replied, "Leo Valdez will be perfectly safe. I wish I could say the same for you, son of Zeus. Now come, King Boreas is waiting."

Jason didn't want to leave Leo, but he was starting to think that hanging out with Cal the hockey jock might be the least dangerous option in this place.

As they climbed the icy staircase, Zethes stayed behind them, his blade drawn. The guy might've looked like a disco-era reject, but there was nothing funny about his sword. Jason figured one hit from that thing would probably turn him into a Popsicle.

Then there was the ice princess. Every once in a while she'd turn and give Jason a smile, but there was no warmth in her expression. She regarded Jason like he was an especially interesting science specimen—one she couldn't wait to dissect.

If these were Boreas's kids, Jason wasn't sure he wanted to meet Daddy. Annabeth had told him Boreas was the friendliest of the wind gods. Apparently, that meant he didn't kill heroes quite as fast as the others did.

Jason worried that he'd led his friends into a trap. If things went bad, he wasn't sure he could get them out alive. Without thinking about it, he took Kyra's hand for reassurance and she squeezed it to give him reassurance, "It'll be fine," she promised. "Just a talk, right?"

At the top of the stairs, the ice princess looked back and noticed them holding hands. Her smile faded. Suddenly Jason's hand in Kyra's turned ice cold—burning cold. He let go, and his fingers were smoking with frost. So were Kyra's.

"Warmth is not a good idea here," the princess advised, "especially when I am your best chance of staying alive. Please, this way."

Piper gave them a nervous frown like, 'What was that about?'

Jason didn't have an answer. Zethes poked him in the back with his icicle sword, and they followed the princess down a massive hallway decked in frosty tapestries.

Freezing winds blew back and forth, and Jason's thoughts moved almost as fast. He'd had a lot of time to think while they rode the dragon north, but he felt as confused as ever.

Thalia's picture was still in his pocket, though he didn't need to look at it anymore. Her image had burned itself into his mind. It was bad enough not remembering his past, but to know he had a sister out there somewhere who might have answers and to have no way of finding her—that just drove him up the wall.

In the picture, Thalia looked nothing like him. They both had blue eyes, but that was it. Her hair was black. Her complexion was more Mediterranean. Her facial features were sharper—like a hawk's.

Still, Thalia looked so familiar. Hera had left him just enough memory that he could be certain Thalia was his sister. But Annabeth had acted completely surprised when he'd told her, like she'd never heard of Thalia's having a brother. Did Thalia even know about him? How had they been separated?

Hera had taken those memories. She'd stolen everything from Jason's past, plopped him into a new life, and now she expected him to save her from some prison just so he could get back what she'd taken. It made Jason so angry, he wanted to walk away, let Hera rot in that cage: but he couldn't. He was hooked. He had to know more, and that made him even more resentful.

"Hey." Kyra touched his arm gently, "You still with us?"

"Yeah ... yeah, sorry."

He was grateful for Kyra. He needed a friend, especially now. She was the only one who wasn't there on the bus at the Grand Canyon. She didn't have a pre-existing opinion and thoughts about him.

At the end of the hallway, they found themselves in front of a set of oaken doors carved with a map of the world. In each corner was a man's bearded face, blowing wind. Jason was pretty sure he'd seen maps like this before. But in this version, all the wind guys were Winter, blowing ice and snow from every corner of the world.

The princess turned. Her brown eyes glittered, and Jason felt like he was a Christmas present she was hoping to open.

"This is the throne room," she said. "Be on your best behavior, Jason Grace. My father can be ... chilly. I will translate for you, and try to encourage him to hear you out. I do hope he spares you. We could have such fun."

Jason guessed this girl's definition of fun was not the same as his.

"Um, okay," he managed. "But really, we're just here for a little talk. We'll be leaving right afterward."

The girl smiled. "I love heroes. So blissfully ignorant."

Piper rested her hand on her dagger. "Well, how about you enlighten us? You say you're going to translate for us, and we don't even know who you are. What's your name?"

The girl sniffed with distaste. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised you don't recognize me. Even in the ancient times, the Greeks did not know me well. Their island homes were too warm, too far from my domain. I am Khione, daughter of Boreas, goddess of snow."

She stirred the air with her finger, and a miniature blizzard swirled around her—big, fluffy flakes as soft as cotton.

"Now, come," Khione said. The oaken doors blew open, and cold blue light spilled out of the room. "Hopefully you will survive your little talk."

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