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KYRA WOKE AT A TABLE AT A SIDEWALK CAFÉ. For a second, she thought she was still dreaming. It was a sunny morning. The air was brisk but not unpleasant for sitting outside. At the other tables, a mix of bicyclists, business people, and college kids sat chatting and drinking coffee.

She could smell eucalyptus trees. Lots of foot traffic passed in front of quaint little shops. The street was lined with bottle-brush trees and blooming azaleas as if winter was a foreign concept.

In other words: she was in California.

Her friends sat in chairs around her—all of them with their hands calmly folded across their chests, dozing pleasantly. And they all had new clothes on. Kyra looked down at her own outfit and gasped.

She was louder than she meant. Jason, who was sitting next to her, flinched, bumping the table with his knees, and then all of them were awake.

"What?" Hedge demanded. "Fight who? Where?"

"Falling!" Leo grabbed the table. "No—not falling. Where are we?"

Jason blinked, trying to get his bearings. He focused on Kyra and made a little choking sound. "What are you wearing?"

Piper then looked down at her outfit, "Mother!"

Kyra blushed. She was wearing blue short overalls with a yellow tank top underneath paired with grey boots. Luckily she still had her charm bracelet on along with a new black and grey flannel. Turning towards the side and stared into the cafe's window. Her hair had been done along with her makeup.

The blonde turned towards the other female in their group who had also been given a makeover. She wore a turquoise dress with black leggings and black boots. "It's my—" Piper began before hesitating, "It's nothing."

Leo grinned. "Aphrodite strikes again, huh? You two gonna be the best-dressed warrior in town, beauty queen."

Kyra smirked at the son of Hephaestus, "Hey, Leo. You look at yourself recently?"

"What ... oh."

All of them had been give a makeover. Leo was wearing pinstriped pants, black leather shoes, a white collarless shirt with suspenders, and his tool belt, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and a porkpie hat.

"God, Leo." Piper tried not to laugh. "I think my dad wore that to his last premiere, minus the tool belt."

"Hey, shut up!"

"I think he looks good," said Coach Hedge. "'Course, I look better."

The satyr was a pastel nightmare. Aphrodite had given him a baggy canary yellow zoot suit with two-tone shoes that fit over his hooves. He had a matching yellow broad-brimmed hat, a rose-colored shirt, a baby blue tie, and a blue carnation in his lapel, which Hedge sniffed and then ate.

"Well," Jason cleared his throat, and glanced at Piper, "at least your mom overlooked me."

Kyra knew that wasn't exactly true. Looking at him, her heart did a little tap dance. Jason was dressed simply in jeans and a clean purple T-shirt, like he'd worn when he showed up at Camp Half-Blood. He had new track shoes on, and his hair was newly trimmed. His eyes were the same color as the sky. Aphrodite's message was clear: This one needs no improvement.

And Kyra agreed.

Jason caught her staring and sent a wink her way, causing Kyra to blush even more.

"Anyway," Piper said uncomfortably, "how did we get here?"

"Oh, that would be Mellie," Hedge answered, chewing happily on his carnation. "Those winds shot us halfway across the country, I'd guess. We would've been smashed flat on impact, but Mellie's last gift—a nice soft breeze—cushioned our fall."

"And she got fired for us," Leo stated, "Man, we suck."

"Ah, she'll be fine," Hedge replied. "Besides, she couldn't help herself. I've got that effect on nymphs. I'll send her a message when we're through with this quest and help her figure something out. That is one aura I could settle down with and raise a herd of baby goats."

"I'm going to be sick," Piper commented, "Anyone else want coffee?"

"Coffee!" Hedge's grin was stained blue from the flower. "I love coffee!"

"Um," Jason said, "but—money? Our packs?"

Kyra looked down. Their packs were at their feet, and everything seemed to still be there. Piper reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a wad of money.

Leo whistled. "Allowance? Piper, your mom rocks!"

"Waitress!" Hedge called. "Six double espressos, and whatever these guys want. Put it on the girl's tab."

It didn't take them long to figure out where they were. The menus said "Café Verve, Walnut Creek, CA." And according to the waitress, it was 9 a.m. on December 21, the winter solstice, which gave them three hours until Enceladus's deadline.

They didn't have to wonder where Mount Diablo was, either. They could see it on the horizon, right at the end of the street. After the Rockies, Mount Diablo didn't look very large, nor was it covered in snow. It seemed downright peaceful, its golden creases marbled with gray-green trees. 

But size was deceptive with mountains, Kyra knew. It was probably much bigger up close. And only a few miles away, somewhere on that peaceful mountain, a superpowerful, super-evil giant was about to have Piper's father for lunch.

Leo pulled something out of his pocket—the old crayon drawing Aeolus had given him. Aphrodite must've thought it was important if she'd magically transferred it to his new outfit.

"What is that?" Piper asked.

Leo folded it up gingerly again and put it away. "Nothing. You don't want to see my kindergarten artwork."

Kyra immediately stuck her hand in the front pocket of her overalls and felt the photo that Aeolus had given her. Did her mother really throw the photo away?

"It's more than that," Jason guessed. "Aeolus said it was the key to our success."

Leo shook his head. "Not today. He was talking about... later."

"How can you be sure?" Kyra asked as she slipped her photo into her backpack.

"Trust me," Leo said. "Now—what's our game plan?"

Coach Hedge belched. He'd already had three espressos and a plate of doughnuts, along with two napkins and another flower from the vase on the table. He would've eaten the silverware, except Piper had slapped his hand.

"Climb the mountain," Hedge said. "Kill everything except Piper's dad. Leave."

"Thank you, General Eisenhower," Jason grumbled.

"Hey, I'm just saying!"

"Guys," Piper cleared her throat, causing everyone to go silent, "There's more you need to know."

GOLDEN DAYS |JASON GRACE| {1}Where stories live. Discover now