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[JASON]

JASON DREAMED HE WAS WRAPPED in chains, hanging upside down like a hunk of meat

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JASON DREAMED HE WAS WRAPPED in chains, hanging upside down like a hunk of meat. Everything hurt—his arms, his legs, his chest, his head. Especially his head. It felt like an overinflated water balloon.

"If I'm dead," he murmured, "why does it hurt so much?"

"You're not dead, my hero," said a woman's voice. "It is not your time. Come, speak with me."

Jason's thoughts floated away from his body. He heard monsters yelling, his friends screaming, fiery explosions, but it all seemed to be happening on another plane of existence —getting farther and farther away.

He found himself standing in an earthen cage. Tendrils of tree roots and stone whirled together, confining him. Outside the bars, he could see the floor of a dry reflecting pool, another earthen spire growing at the far end, and above them, the ruined red stones of a burned-out house.

Next to him in the cage, a woman sat cross-legged in black robes, her head covered by a shroud. She pushed aside her veil, revealing a face that was proud and beautiful—but also hardened with suffering.

"Hera," Jason stated,

"Welcome to my prison," said the Goddess. "You will not die today, Jason. Your friends will see you through—for now."

"For now?" he asked.

Hera gestured at the tendrils of her cage. "There are worse trials to come. The very earth stirs against us."

"You're a Goddess," Jason pointed out, "Why can't you just escape?"

Hera smiled sadly. Her form began to glow, until her brilliance filled the cage with painful light. The air hummed with power, molecules splitting apart like a nuclear explosion. Jason suspected if he were actually there in the flesh, he would've been vaporized.

The cage should've been blasted to rubble. The ground should've split and the ruined house should've been leveled. But when the glow died, the cage hadn't budged. Nothing outside the bars had changed. Only Hera looked different—a little more stooped and tired.

"Some powers are even greater than the Gods," she explained "I am not easily contained. I can be in many places at once. But when the greater part of my essence is caught, it is like a foot in a bear trap, you might say. I can't escape, and I am concealed from the eyes of the other gods. Only you can find me, and I grow weaker by the day."

"Then why did you come here?" Jason asked. "How were you caught?"

The Goddess sighed, "I could not stay idle. Your father Jupiter believes he can withdraw from the world, and thus lull our enemies back to sleep. He believes we Olympians have become too involved in the affairs of mortals, in the fates of our demigod children, especially since we agreed to claim them all after the war. He believes this is what has caused our enemies to stir. That is why he closed Olympus."

"But you don't agree."

"No," she continued, "Often I do not understand my husband's moods or his decisions, but even for Zeus, this seemed paranoid. I cannot fathom why he was so insistent and so convinced. It was ... unlike him. As Hera, I might have been content to follow my lord's wishes. But I am also Juno." Her image flickered, and Jason saw armor under her simple black robes, a goatskin cloak—the symbol of a Roman warrior—across her bronze mantle. "Juno Moneta they once called me—Juno, the One Who Warns. I was the guardian of the state, patron of Eternal Rome. I could not sit by while the descendants of my people were attacked. I sensed danger at this sacred spot. A voice—" She hesitated. "A voice told me I should come here. Gods do not have what you might call a conscience, nor do we have dreams; but the voice was like that—soft and persistent, warning me to come here. And so the same day Zeus closed Olympus, I slipped away without telling him my plans, so he could not stop me. And I came here to investigate."

"It was a trap," Jason guessed.

The Goddess nodded. "Only too late did I realize how quickly the earth was stirring. I was even more foolish than Jupiter—a slave to my own impulses. This is exactly how it happened the first time. I was taken captive by the giants, and my imprisonment started a war. Now our enemies rise again. The gods can only defeat them with the help of the greatest living heroes. And the one whom the giants serve ...she cannot be defeated at all—only kept asleep."

"I don't understand."

"You will soon," Hera told him,

The cage began to constrict, the tendrils spiraling tighter. Hera's form shivered like a candle flame in the breeze. Outside the cage, Jason could see shapes gathering at the edge of the pool—lumbering humanoids with hunched backs and bald heads. Unless Jason's eyes were tricking him—they had more than one set of arms. He heard wolves too, but not the wolves he'd seen with Lupa. He could tell from their howls this was a different pack—hungrier, more aggressive, out for blood.

"Hurry, Jason," Hera said. "My keepers approach, and you begin to wake. I will not be strong enough to appear to you or your friends again, even in dreams."

"Wait," he paused, "Boreas told us you'd made a dangerous gamble. What did he mean?"

Hera's eyes looked wild, and Jason wondered if she really had done something crazy.

"An exchange," she answered, "The only way to bring peace. The enemy counts on our divisions, and if we are divided, we will be destroyed. You are my peace offering, Jason—a bridge to overcome millennia of hatred."

"What? I don't—"

"I cannot tell you more," Hera interrupted, "You have only lived this long because I have taken your memory. Find this place. Return to your starting point. Your sister will help."

"Thalia?"

The scene began to dissolve. "Goodbye, Jason. Beware Chicago. Your most dangerous mortal enemy waits there. If you are to die, it will be by her hand."

"Who?" he demanded.

But Hera's image faded, and Jason awoke.

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