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[JASON]

JASON HAD FOUND HIS SISTER AND lost her in less than an hour

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JASON HAD FOUND HIS SISTER AND lost her in less than an hour. As they climbed the cliffs of the floating island, he kept looking back, but Thalia was gone.

Despite what she'd said about meeting him again, Jason wondered. She'd found a new family with the Hunters, and a new mother in Artemis. She seemed so confident and comfortable with her life, Jason wasn't sure if he'd ever be part of it. And she seemed so set on finding her friend Percy. Had she ever searched for Jason that way?

Not fair, he told himself. She thought you were dead.

He could barely tolerate what she'd said about their mom. It was almost like Thalia had handed him a baby—a really loud, ugly baby—and said, Here, this is yours. Carry it. He didn't want to carry it. He didn't want to look at it or claim it. He didn't want to know that he had an unstable mother who'd gotten rid of him to appease a goddess. No wonder Thalia had run away.

Then he remembered the Zeus cabin at Camp Half-Blood—that tiny little alcove Thalia had used as a bunk, out of sight from the glowering statue of the sky god. Their dad wasn't much of a bargain, either. Jason understood why Thalia had renounced that part of her life too, but he was still resentful. He couldn't be so lucky. He was left holding the bag —literally.

The golden backpack of winds was strapped over his shoulders. The closer they got to Aeolus's palace, the heavier the bag got. The winds struggled, rumbling and bumping around.

The only one who seemed in a good mood was Coach Hedge. He kept bounding up the slippery staircase and trotting back down. "Come on, cupcakes! Only a few thousand more steps!"

As they climbed, Leo, Kyra, and Piper left Jason in his silence. Maybe they could sense his bad mood. Kyra kept glancing back, worried, as if he were the one who'd almost died of hypothermia rather than she. Or maybe she was thinking about Thalia's idea, they had told Piper how they could save both her dad and Hera—but Jason didn't really understand how they were going to do that, and he wasn't sure if the possibility had made Piper more hopeful or just more anxious.

Leo kept swatting his own legs, checking for signs that his pants were on fire. He wasn't steaming anymore, but the incident on the ice bridge had really freaked Jason out. Leo hadn't seemed to realize that he had smoke coming out his ears and flames dancing through his hair. If Leo started spontaneously combusting every time he got excited, they were going to have a tough time taking him anywhere. Jason imagined trying to get food at a restaurant. I'll have a cheeseburger and—Ahhh! My friend's on fire! Get me a bucket!

Mostly, though, Jason worried about what Leo had said. Jason didn't want to be a bridge, or an exchange, or anything else. He just wanted to know where he'd come from. And Thalia had looked so unnerved when Leo mentioned the burned-out house in his dreams—the place the wolf Lupa had told him was his starting point. How did Thalia know that place, and why did she assume Jason could find it?

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