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THE MOUNTAINSIDE WAS ON FIRE. Smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air. Jason spotted a helicopter—maybe firefighters or reporters—coming toward them.

All around them was carnage. The Earthborn had melted into piles of clay, leaving behind only their rock missiles and some nasty bits of loincloth, but Jason figured they would re-form soon enough. Construction equipment lay in ruins. The ground was scarred and blackened.

Coach Hedge started to move. He sat up with a groan and rubbed his head. His canary yellow pants were now the color of Dijon mustard mixed with mud.

He blinked and looked around him at the battle scene. "Did I do this?"

Before Jason could reply, Hedge picked up his club and got shakily to his feet. "Yeah, you wanted some hoof? I gave you some hoof, cupcakes! Who's the goat, huh?" He did a little dance, kicking rocks and making what were probably rude satyr gestures at the piles of clay.

Kyra cracked a smile, and Jason couldn't help it—he started to laugh. It probably sounded a little hysterical, but it was such a relief to be alive, he didn't care.

Then a man stood up across the clearing, Piper beside him. Tristan McLean staggered forward. His eyes were hollow, shell-shocked, like someone who'd just walked through a nuclear wasteland "Piper?" he muttered to her, his voice cracking, "Pipes, what—what is—"

He couldn't complete the thought, letting go of his daughter's waist. He almost didn't seem to know her.

Jason had felt a similar way—that morning at the Grand Canyon, when he woke with no memory. But Mr. McLean had the opposite problem. He had too many memories, too much trauma his mind just couldn't handle. He was coming apart.

"We need to get him out of here," Jason told them.

"Yeah, but how?" Leo asked. "He's in no shape to walk."

Jason glanced up at the helicopter, which was now circling directly overhead. "Can you make us a bullhorn or something?" he asked Leo. "Piper has some talking to do."

Borrowing the helicopter was easy. Getting Piper's dad on board was not. Piper needed only a few words through Leo's improvised bullhorn to convince the pilot to land on the mountain. The Park Service copter was big enough for medical evacuations or search and rescue, and when Piper told the very nice ranger pilot lady that it would be a great idea to fly them to the Oakland Airport, she readily agreed.

"No," her dad muttered, as they picked him up off the ground. "Piper, what—there were monsters—there were monsters—"

Piper needed both Leo's and Jason's help to hold him, while Coach Hedge and Kyra gathered their supplies. Fortunately, Hedge had put his pants and shoes back on, so Piper didn't have to explain the goat legs.

Piper's heart seemed to break as she watched her father. Pushed beyond the breaking point, crying like a little boy. None of them knew what the giant had done to him exactly, how the monsters had shattered his spirit, but Piper didn't think she could stand to find out.

"It'll be okay, Dad," she said, making her voice as soothing as possible. Jason knew she didn't want to charmspeak her own father, but it seemed the only way. "These people are my friends. We're going to help you. You're safe now."

He blinked, and looked up at helicopter rotors. "Blades. They had a machine with so many blades. They had six arms ..."

When they got him to the bay doors, the pilot came over to help. "What's wrong with him?" she asked.

"Smoke inhalation," Jason suggested. "Or heat exhaustion."

"We should get him to a hospital," the pilot suggested.

"It's okay," Piper stated, "The airport is good."

"Yeah, the airport is good," the pilot agreed immediately. Then she frowned, as if uncertain why she'd changed her mind. "Isn't he Tristan McLean, the movie star?"

"No," Piper replied,  "He only looks like him. Forget it."

"Yeah," the pilot said. "Only looks like him. I—" She blinked, confused. "I forgot what I was saying. Let's get going."

Jason raised his eyebrows at Piper, impressed, but knew Piper felt miserable. She didn't want to twist people's minds, convince them of things they didn't believe. To her, It felt so bossy, so wrong—like something Drew would do back at camp, or Medea in her evil department store. And how would it help her father? She couldn't convince him he would be okay, or that nothing had happened. His trauma was just too deep.

Finally, they got him on board, and the helicopter took off. The pilot kept getting questions over her radio, asking her where she was going, but she ignored them. They veered away from the burning mountain and headed toward the Berkeley Hills.

The other four were careful not to watch the interaction between the father and daughter. Jason grabbed Kyra's hand as they gazed at the valley below—the roads backing up as mortals stopped their cars and gawked at the burning mountain. 

He remembered her trying to distract Enceladus and he in return tried to harm her with fire. Jason felt his heart stop beating as he watched the fire blast towards the blonde girl, watched as she fell to the ground, and it didn't start beating again until he saw her sit up.

Jason looked over at her, her head leaning against his shoulder with her eyes closed. He knew she wasn't asleep, he noticed her mumbling something. Her other hand was outstretched and Jason noticed her fingers grazing Piper's dad's arm. She was healing him.

Jason smiled before looking back out the window. As they passed over the hills into the East Bay, Jason tensed. He leaned out of the doorway and Kyra shot up before looking over at him.

He pointed. "What is that?" Jason stared down at the street below.

"Where?" Kyra asked from right next to him 

"That road," he replied, "The one that goes through the hills."

Piper picked up the com helmet the pilot had given her and relayed the question over the radio. The answer wasn't very exciting, "She says it's Highway 24," Piper reported. "That's the Caldecott Tunnel. Why?"

Jason stared intently at the tunnel entrance, but he said nothing, lost in thought. It disappeared from view as they flew over downtown Oakland, but Jason still stared into the distance, his expression almost as unsettled as Piper's dad's.

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