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KYRA HOPED THE TAXI COULD TAKE THEM all the way to the top

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KYRA HOPED THE TAXI COULD TAKE THEM all the way to the top.

No such luck. 

The cab made lurching, grinding sounds as it climbed the mountain road. Since there were five of them, Leo and Hedge were squished up front with the driver while Piper, Kyra, and Jason sat in the back. Kyra felt awkward sitting between the two. She knew that back at their Wilderness Schoo, the mist made it seem that Jason and Piper were dating, but since showing up at Camp Half-Blood, Kyra haven't seen the two interact much. She knew Piper was hurt by the fact all their memories together was fake, and Kyra didn't know how the brunette would feel if she admitted to having feelings for the son of Zeus.

Halfway up they found the ranger's station closed, a chain blocking the way. "Far as I can go," the cabbie told the five of them, "You sure about this? Gonna be a long walk back, and my car's acting funny. I can't wait for you."

"We're sure." Kyra had a bad feeling about what was wrong with the cab, and when she got out and looked down, she saw she was right. The wheels were sinking into the road like it was made of quicksand. Not fast—just enough to make the driver think he had a transmission problem or a bad axle—but Kyra knew different.

The road was hard-packed dirt. No reason at all it should have been soft, but already Kyra's shoes were starting to sink. Gaea was messing with them.

"Keep the change," Piper told the cabbie as she paid him, "And get out of here. Quick."

The driver didn't argue. Soon all they could see was his dust trail.

The view from the mountain was pretty amazing. The whole inland valley around Mount Diablo was a patchwork of towns—grids of tree-lined streets and nice middle-class suburbs, shops, and schools. All these normal people living normal lives.

"That's Concord," Jason said, pointing to the north. "Walnut Creek below us. To the south, Danville, past those hills. And that way ..." He pointed west, where a ridge of golden hills held back a layer of fog, like the rim of a bowl. "That's the Berkeley Hills. The East Bay. Past that, San Francisco."

"Jason?" Piper touched his arm. "You remember something? You've been here?"

Jason and Kyra looked at each other. San Fransisco had some importance to him. She remembered seeing it when she tried to heal his mind and remember his past.

"Yes ... no." He gave Kyra an anguished look. "It just seems important."

Piper noticed the two staring at each other and quickly let go of Jason's arm.

"That's Titan land." Coach Hedge nodded toward the west. "Bad place, Jason. Trust me, this is as close to 'Frisco as we want to get."

But Jason looked toward the foggy basin with such longing that Kyra felt uneasy. Why did Jason seem so connected with that place—a place Hedge said was evil, full of bad magic and old enemies? What if Jason came from here? Everybody kept hinting Jason was an enemy, that his arrival at Camp Half-Blood was a dangerous mistake.

But Jason was their friend.

"Hey, guys," Leo tried to move his foot, but his heels were now completely embedded in the dirt, "Let's keep moving."

The others noticed the problem.

"Gaea is stronger here," Hedge grumbled. He popped his hooves free from his shoes, then handed the shoes to Leo. "Keep those for me, Valdez. They're nice."

Leo snorted. "Yes, sir, Coach. Would you like them polished?"

"That's varsity thinking, Valdez." Hedge nodded approvingly. "But first, we'd better hike up this mountain while we still can."

"How do we know where the giant is?" Piper asked.

Jason pointed toward the peak. Drifting across the summit was a plume of smoke. From a distance, Kyra had thought it was a cloud, but it wasn't. Something was burning.

"Smoke equals fire," Jason said. "We'd better hurry."

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