LIII

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[KYRA]


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WHEN KYRA WOKE UP, SHE THOUGHT ROCKS WERE pelting the helicopter. After looking out the window, she realized it was sleet. Frost built up around the edges of the glass, and slushy waves of ice blotted out her view.

"An ice storm?" Piper shouted over the engine and the wind. "Is it supposed to be this cold in Sonoma?"

Kyra sat up, something about this storm seemed conscious, malevolent—like it was intentionally slamming them.

Jason woke up quickly and the two of them crawled forward, grabbing Piper's and Leo's seats for balance. "We've got to be getting close."

Leo was too busy wrestling with the stick to reply. Suddenly, it wasn't so easy to drive the chopper. Its movements turned sluggish and jerky. The whole machine shuddered in the icy wind. The helicopter probably hadn't been prepped for cold-weather flying. The controls refused to respond, and they started to lose altitude.

Below them, the ground was a dark quilt of trees and fog. The ridge of a hill loomed in front of them and Leo yanked the stick, just clearing the treetops.

"There!" Jason shouted.

A small valley opened up before them, with the murky shape of a building in the middle. Leo aimed the helicopter straight for it. Trees cracked and exploded at the edges of the clearing. Shapes moved through the mist. Combat seemed to be everywhere.

He set down the helicopter in an icy field about fifty yards from the house and killed the engine. Kyra almost relaxed before she heard a whistling sound and saw a dark shape hurtling toward them out of the mist, "Out!" Leo screamed at them,

They leaped from the helicopter and barely cleared the rotors before a massive BOOM shook the ground, knocking Kyra and the others off their feet and splattering ice all over her.

Kyra groaned as she got up shakily and saw that the world's largest snowball—a chunk of snow, ice, and dirt the size of a garage—had completely flattened the helicopter.

"You all right?" Jason ran up to her, Piper and Leo at his side. They all looked fine except for being speckled with snow and mud.

"Yeah." Kyra shivered. "Guess we owe that ranger lady a new helicopter."

Piper pointed south. "Fighting's over there." Then she frowned. "No ... it's all around us."

Piper was right. The sounds of combat rang across the valley. The snow and mist made it hard to tell for sure, but there seemed to be a circle of fighting all around the Wolf House.

Behind them loomed Jack London's dream home—a massive ruin of red and gray stones and rough-hewn timber beams. Kyra could imagine how it had looked before it burned down—a combination log cabin and castle, like a billionaire lumberjack might build. But in the mist and sleet, the place had a lonely, haunted feel. Kyra could totally believe the ruins were cursed.

"Jason!" a girl's voice called.

Thalia appeared from the fog, her parka caked with snow. Her bow was in her hand, and her quiver was almost empty. She ran toward them, but made it only a few steps before a six-armed ogre—one of the Earthborn—burst out of the storm behind her, a raised club in each hand.

"Look out!" Leo yelled.

 They rushed to help, but Thalia had it under control. She launched herself into a flip, notching an arrow as she pivoted like a gymnast and landed in a kneeling position. The ogre got a silver arrow right between the eyes and melted into a pile of clay.

Thalia stood and retrieved her arrow, but the point had snapped off. "That was my last one." She kicked the pile of clay resentfully. "Stupid ogre."

"Nice shot, though," Leo commented,

Thalia ignored him as usual. She hugged Jason and nodded to Piper and Kyra. "Just in time. My Hunters are holding a perimeter around the mansion, but we'll be overrun any minute."

"By Earthborn?" Jason asked.

"And wolves—Lycaon's minions." Thalia blew a fleck of ice off her nose. "Also storm spirits—"

"But we gave them to Aeolus!" Piper protested.

"Who tried to kill us," Leo reminded her. "Maybe he's helping Gaea again."

"I don't know," Thalia said. "But the monsters keep re-forming almost as fast as we can kill them. We took the Wolf House with no problem: surprised the guards and sent them straight to Tartarus. But then this freak snowstorm blew in. Wave after wave of monsters started attacking. Now we're surrounded. I don't know who or what is leading the assault, but I think they planned this. It was a trap to kill anyone who tried to rescue Hera."

"Where is she?" Jason asked.

"Inside," Thalia answered, "We tried to free her, but we can't figure out how to break the cage. It's only a few minutes until the sun goes down. Hera thinks that's the moment when Porphyrion will be reborn. Plus, most monsters are stronger at night. If we don't free Hera soon—" She didn't need to finish the thought.

Kyra, Jason, Leo, and Piper followed her into the ruined mansion.

Jason stepped over the threshold and immediately collapsed, "Hey!" Kyra caught him. "Don't do that to me, Jason. What's wrong?"

"This place ..." Jason shook his head. "Sorry ... It came rushing back to me."

"So you have been here," Piper said.

"We both have," Thalia replied for him. Her expression was grim, like she was reliving someone's death. "This is where my mom took us when Jason was a child. She left him here, told me he was dead. He just disappeared."

"She gave me to the wolves," Jason murmured. "At Hera's insistence. She gave me to Lupa."

"That part I didn't know." Thalia frowned. "Who is Lupa?"

An explosion shook the building. Just outside, a blue mushroom cloud billowed up, raining snowflakes and ice like a nuclear blast made of cold instead of heat.

"Maybe this isn't the time for questions," Leo suggested. "Show us the Goddess."

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