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[KYRA]

KYRA WOKE UP COLD AND SHIVERING

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KYRA WOKE UP COLD AND SHIVERING. She'd had the worst dream about an old guy with donkey ears chasing her in a game of tag. "Oh, Gods." Her teeth chattered. "He turned me to gold!"

"You're okay now." Jason leaned over and tucked a warm blanket around her, but she still felt as cold as a Boread.

She blinked, trying to figure out where they were. Next to her, a campfire blazed, turning the air sharp with smoke. Firelight flickered against rock walls. They were in a shallow cave, but it didn't offer much protection. Outside, the wind howled. Snow blew sideways. It might've been day or night. The storm made it too dark to tell.

"L-L-Leo? P-Piper?" Kyra managed, "Are they o-okay?"

"Present and un-gold-ified." Leo and Piper were also wrapped in blankets. They didn't look great, but better than Kyra felt. 

"We came out of it faster. Dunno why. We had to dunk you in the river to get you back completely. Tried to dry you off, but ... it's really, really cold." Piper explained,

"You've got hypothermia," Jason said. "We risked as much nectar as we could. Coach Hedge did a little nature magic—"

"Sports medicine." The coach's ugly face loomed over her. "Kind of a hobby of mine. Your breath might smell like wild mushrooms and Gatorade for a few days, but it'll pass. You probably won't die. Probably."

"Thanks," Kyra muttered weakly. "How did you beat Midas?"

Jason told her the story, putting most of it down to luck. The coach snorted. "Kid's being modest. You should've seen him. Hi-yah! Slice! Boom with the lightning!"

"Coach, you didn't even see it," Jason replied, narrowing his eyes at the satyr, "You were outside eating the lawn."

But the satyr was just warming up. "Then I came in with my club, and we dominated that room. Afterward, I told him, 'Kid, I'm proud of you! If you could just work on your upper body strength—'"

"Coach," Jason interrupted.

"Yeah?"

"Shut up, please."

"Sure." The coach sat down at the fire and started chewing his cudgel.

Jason put his hand on Kyra's forehead and checked her temperature. "Leo, can you stoke the fire?"

"On it." Leo summoned a baseball-sized clump of flames and lobbed it into the campfire.

Kyra looked up at Jason, "I told you, you could beat him."

Jason sighed, "You need to stop putting yourself in danger for me."

She smiled, "I don't think I can. You're our leader, Jason. You need to make it to the end. And besides, I care about you."

"I care about you, too." Jason replied, "That's why I hate seeing you do this to yourself."

"I'm the daughter of Apollo." Kyra smirked, "Healing is in my blood."

Jason smiled and shook his head, remembering her saying that at the beginning of the quest.  He continued to stare at her, observing her injuries. "Do I look that bad?" Kyra shivered, noticing his eyes on her,

"Nah," Jason answered, shaking his head,

"You're a terrible liar," she smiled, "Where are we?"

"Pikes Peak," Jason said. "Colorado."

"But that's, what—five hundred miles from Omaha?"

"Something like that," Jason agreed. "I harnessed the storm spirits to bring us this far. They didn't like it—went a little faster than I wanted, almost crashed us into the mountainside before I could get them back in the bag. I'm not going to be trying that again."

"Why are we here?"

Leo sniffed. "That's what I asked him."

Jason gazed into the storm as if watching for something. "That glittery wind trail we saw yesterday? It was still in the sky, though it had faded a lot. I followed it until I couldn't see it anymore. Then—honestly I'm not sure. I just felt like this was the right place to stop."

"'Course it is." Coach Hedge spit out some cudgel splinters. "Aeolus's floating palace should be anchored above us, right at the peak. This is one of his favorite spots to dock."

"Maybe that was it." Jason knit his eyebrows. "I don't know. Something else, too ..."

"The Hunters were heading west," Piper remembered. "Do you think they're around here?"

Jason rubbed his forearm as if the tattoos were bothering him. "I don't see how anyone could survive on the mountain right now. The storm's pretty bad. It's already the evening before the solstice, but we didn't have much choice except to wait out the storm here. We had to give you some time to rest before we tried moving."

He didn't need to convince her. The wind howling outside the cave scared her, and she couldn't stop shivering.

"We have to get you warm." Jason sat next to her and held out his arms a little awkwardly. "Uh, you mind if I ..." Kyra nodded and leaned into him, glad for the extra warmth. He put his arms around her and held her. They scooted closer to the fire and Kyra could feel Piper's eyes on her and Jason. Coach Hedge chewed on his club and spit splinters into the fire.

Leo broke out some cooking supplies and started frying burger patties on an iron skillet. "So, guys, long as you're cuddled up for story time ... something I've been meaning to tell you. On the way to Omaha, I had this dream. Kinda hard to understand with the static and the Wheel of Fortune breaking in—"

"Wheel of Fortune?" Piper questioned, assuming Leo was kidding, but when he looked up from his burgers, his expression was deadly serious.

"The thing is," he continued, "my dad Hephaestus talked to me."

Leo told them about his dream. In the firelight, with the wind howling, the story was even creepier. Kyra could imagine the static-filled voice of the God warning about giants who were the sons of Tartarus, and about Leo losing some friends along the way.

She tried to concentrate on something good: Jason's arms around her, the warmth slowly spreading into her body, but she was terrified. "I don't understand. If demigods and Gods have to work together to kill the giants, why would the Gods stay silent? If they need us—"

"Ha," Coach Hedge chuckled darkly, "The gods hate needing humans. They like to be needed by humans, but not the other way around. Things will have to get a whole lot worse before Zeus admits he made a mistake closing Olympus."

"Coach," Piper said, "that was almost an intelligent comment."

Hedge huffed. "What? I'm intelligent! I'm not surprised you cupcakes haven't heard of the Giant War. The gods don't like to talk about it. Bad PR to admit you needed mortals to help beat an enemy. That's just embarrassing."

"There's more, though," Jason stated. "When I dreamed about Hera in her cage, she said Zeus was acting unusually paranoid. And Hera—she said she went to those ruins because a voice had been speaking in her head. What if someone's influencing the Gods, like Medea influenced us?"

Kyra shuddered and Jason wrapped his arms tighter around her, assuming that it was from the cold. But it was from fear and realization. Some force they couldn't see was manipulating things behind the scenes, helping the giants. Had knocked their dragon out of the sky over Detroit. Perhaps Leo's sleeping Dirt Woman, or another servant of hers ...

Leo set hamburger buns on the skillet to toast. "Yeah, Hephaestus said something similar, like Zeus was acting weirder than usual. But what bothered me was the stuff my dad didn't say. Like a couple of times, he was talking about the demigods, and how he had so many kids and all. I don't know. He acted like getting the greatest demigods together was going to be almost impossible—like Hera was trying, but it was a really stupid thing to do, and there was some secret Hephaestus wasn't supposed to tell me."

Jason shifted and Kyra could feel the tension in his arms, "Chiron was the same way back at camp," he said. "He mentioned a sacred oath not to discuss something."

Kyra stared into the fire. What was being kept from them?

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