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[JASON]

A WOLF LAUNCHED ITSELF AT JASON

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A WOLF LAUNCHED ITSELF AT JASON. He stepped back and swung his scrap wood into the beast's snout with a satisfying crack. Maybe only silver could kill it, but a good old-fashioned board could still give it a Tylenol headache.

He turned toward the sound of hooves and saw a storm spirit horse bearing down on him. Jason concentrated and summoned the wind. Just before the spirit could trample him, Jason launched himself into the air, grabbed the horse's smoky neck, and pirouetted onto its back.

The storm spirit reared. It tried to shake Jason, then tried to dissolve into mist to lose him; but somehow Jason stayed on. He willed the horse to remain in solid form, and the horse seemed unable to refuse. Jason could feel it fighting against him. He could sense its raging thoughts—complete chaos straining to break free. It took all Jason's willpower to impose his own wishes and bring the horse under control. He thought about Aeolus, overseeing thousands and thousands of spirits like this, some much worse. No wonder the Master of the Winds had gone a little mad after centuries of that pressure. But Jason had only one spirit to master, and he had to win.

"You're mine now," Jason said.

The horse bucked, but Jason held fast. Its mane flickered as it circled around the empty pool, its hooves causing miniature thunderstorms—tempests—whenever they touched, "Tempest?" Jason said. "Is that your name?"

The horse spirit shook its mane, evidently pleased to be recognized, "Fine," Jason said. "Now, let's fight."

He charged into battle, swinging his icy piece of wood, knocking aside wolves and plunging straight through other venti. Tempest was a strong spirit, and every time he plowed through one of his brethren, he discharged so much electricity, the other spirit vaporized into a harmless cloud of mist.

Through the chaos, Jason caught glimpses of his friends. Kyra swiftly shot at the Earthborn and wolves, easily taking them out. She seemed to glow brighter each time she let the arrow go. The few scratches she had received during the battle seemed to heal themselves within moments.

Piper was surrounded by Earthborn, but she seemed to be holding her own. She was so impressive-looking as she fought, almost glowing with beauty, that the Earthborn stared at her in awe, forgetting that they were supposed to kill her. They'd lower their clubs and watch dumbfounded as she smiled and charged them. They'd smile back—until she sliced them apart with her dagger, and they melted into mounds of mud.

Leo had taken on Khione herself. While fighting a Goddess should've been suicide, Leo was the right man for the job. She kept summoning ice daggers to throw at him, blasts of winter air, tornadoes of snow. Leo burned through all of it. His whole body flickered with red tongues of flame like he'd been doused with gasoline. He advanced on the Goddess, using two silver-tipped ball-peen hammers to smash any monsters that got in his way.

Jason realized that Leo was the only reason they were still alive. His fiery aura was heating up the whole courtyard, countering Khione's winter magic. Without him, they would've been frozen like the Hunters long ago. Wherever Leo went, ice melted off the stones. Even Thalia started to defrost a little when Leo stepped near her.

Khione slowly backed away. Her expression went from enraged to shocked to slightly panicked as Leo got closer.

Jason was running out of enemies. Wolves lay in dazed heaps. Some slunk away into the ruins, yelping from their wounds. Piper stabbed the last Earthborn, who toppled to the ground in a pile of sludge. Kyra quickly killed off the last wolf just before it pounced. Jason rode Tempest through the last ventus, breaking it into vapor. Then he wheeled around and saw Leo bearing down on the Goddess of Snow.

"You're too late," Khione snarled. "He's awake! And don't think you've won anything here, demigods. Hera's plan will never work. You'll be at each other's throats before you can ever stop us."

Leo set his hammers ablaze and threw them at the Goddess, but she turned into snow—a white powdery image of herself. Leo's hammers slammed into the snow woman, breaking it into a steaming mound of mush.

Kyra was breathing hard, but she smiled up at Jason. "Nice horse." Tempest reared on his hind legs, arcing electricity across his hooves. A complete show-off.

Then Jason heard a cracking sound behind him. The melting ice on Hera's cage sloughed off in a curtain of slush, and the goddess called, "Oh, don't mind me! Just the Queen of the Heavens, dying over here!"

Jason dismounted and told Tempest to stay put. The four demigods jumped into the pool and ran to the spire.

Leo frowned. "Uh, Tía Callida, are you getting shorter?"

"No, you dolt! The earth is claiming me. Hurry!"

As much as Jason disliked Hera, what he saw inside the cage alarmed him. Not only was Hera sinking, but the ground was also rising around her like water in a tank. Liquid rock had already covered her shins. "The giant wakes!" Hera warned. "You only have seconds!"

"On it," Leo said before turning to the daughter of Aphrodite, "Piper, I need your help. Talk to the cage."

"What?" she asked,

"Talk to it. Use everything you've got. Convince Gaea to sleep. Lull her into a daze. Just slow her down, try to get the tendrils to loosen while I—"

"Right!" Piper cleared her throat and said, "Hey, Gaea. Nice night, huh? Boy, I'm tired. How about you? Ready for some sleep?"

The more she talked, the more confident she sounded. Jason felt his own eyes getting heavy, and he had to force himself not to focus on her words. It seemed to have some effect on the cage. The mud was rising more slowly. The tendrils seemed to soften just a little—becoming more like tree root than rock. 

Leo pulled a circular saw out of his tool belt. How it fit in there, Jason had no idea. Then Leo looked at the cord and grunted in frustration. "I don't have anywhere to plug it in!"

The spirit horse Tempest jumped into the pit and whinnied, "Really?" Jason asked.

Tempest dipped his head and trotted over to Leo. Leo looked dubious, but he held up the plug, and a breeze whisked it into the horse's flank. Lighting sparked, connecting with the prongs of the plug, and the circular saw whirred to life.

"Sweet!" Leo grinned. "Your horse comes with AC outlets!"

Their good mood didn't last long. On the other side of the pool, the giant's spire crumbled with a sound like a tree snapping in half. Its outer sheath of tendrils exploded from the top down, raining stone and wood shards as the giant shook himself free and climbed out of the earth.

Jason hadn't thought anything could be scarier than Enceladus.

He was wrong.

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