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[JASON]

THEY BOTH GLARED AT PIPER, and for three long seconds, Jason wasn't sure which one of them was going to kill the daughter of Aphrodite first

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THEY BOTH GLARED AT PIPER, and for three long seconds, Jason wasn't sure which one of them was going to kill the daughter of Aphrodite first.

Finally Thalia grunted. "You've got spirit, Piper." She pulled a silver card from her parka and tucked it into the pocket of Piper's snowboarding jacket. "You ever want to be a Hunter, call me. We could use you."

Hera crossed her arms. "Fortunately for this Hunter, you have a point, daughter of Aphrodite." She assessed Piper, as if seeing her clearly for the time. "You wondered, Piper, why I chose you for this quest, why I didn't reveal your secret in the beginning, even when I knew Enceladus was using you. I must admit, until this moment I was not sure. Something told me you would be vital to the quest. Now I see I was right. You're even stronger than I realized. And you are correct about the dangers to come. We must work together."

"Yeah," Leo said, "I don't suppose that Porphyrion guy just melted and died, huh?"

"No," Hera agreed. "By saving me, and saving this place, you prevented Gaea from waking. You have bought us some time. But Porphyrion has risen. He simply knew better than to stay here, especially since he has not yet regained his full power. Giants can only be killed by a combination of god and demigod, working together. Once you freed me—"

"He ran away," Jason interrupted, "But to where?"

Hera didn't answer, but a sense of dread washed over him. He remembered what Porphyrion had said about killing the Olympians by pulling up their roots. Greece. He looked at his sister's grim expression and guessed the Hunter had come to the same conclusion.

"I need to find Annabeth," Thalia said. "She has to know what's happened here."

"Thalia ..." Jason gripped her hand. "We never got to talk about this place, or—" He just got her back. He didn't want to lose her again.

"I know." Her expression softened. "I lost you here once. I don't want to leave you again. But we'll meet soon. I'll rendezvous with you back at Camp Half-Blood." She glanced at Hera. "You'll see them there safely? It's the least you can do."

"It's not your place to tell me—"

"Queen Hera," Piper interceded.

The Goddess sighed. "Fine. Yes. Just off with you, Hunter!"

Thalia gave Jason a hug and said her good-byes. When the Hunters were gone, the courtyard seemed strangely quiet. The dry reflecting pool showed no sign of the earthen tendrils that had brought back the giant King or imprisoned Hera. The night sky was clear and starry. The wind rustled in the redwoods.

Jason wrapped his arm around Kyra, afraid she was going to collapse again. She huddled closer to him, trying to get away from the cold before looking up at him, "Jason, what happened to you here?" she asked. "I mean—I know your mom abandoned you here. But you said it was sacred ground for demigods. Why? What happened after you were on your own?"

Jason shook his head uneasily. "It's still murky. The wolves ..."

"You were given a destiny," Hera answered for him, "You were given into my service."

Jason scowled. "Because you forced my mom to do that. You couldn't stand knowing Zeus had two children with my mom. Knowing that he'd fallen for her twice. I was the price you demanded for leaving the rest of my family alone. "

"It was the right choice for you as well, Jason," Hera insisted. "The second time your mother managed to snare Zeus's affections, it was because she imagined him in a different aspect—the aspect of Jupiter. Never before had this happened—two children, Greek and Roman, born into the same family. You had to be separated from Thalia. This is where all demigods of your kind start their journey."

"Of his kind?" Piper asked.

"She means Roman," Jason replied, "Demigods are left here. We meet the she-wolf Goddess, Lupa, the same immortal wolf that raised Romulus and Remus."

Hera nodded. "And if you are strong enough, you live."

"But ..." Leo looked mystified. "What happened after that? I mean, Jason never made it to camp."

"Not to Camp Half-Blood, no," Hera agreed.

Kyra gripped onto Jason more, feeling a bit dizzy,  "You went somewhere else. That's where you've been all these years. Somewhere else for demigods—but where?"

Jason turned to the Goddess. "The memories are coming back, but not the location. You're not going to tell me, are you?"

"No," Hera said. "That is part of your destiny, Jason. You must find your own way back. But when you do ... you will unite two great powers. You will give us hope against the giants, and more importantly—against Gaea herself."

"You want us to help you," Jason said, "but you're holding back information."

"Giving you answers would make those answers invalid," Hera replied. "That is the way of the Fates. You must forge your own path for it to mean anything. Already, you three have surprised me. I would not have thought it possible ..." The Goddess shook her head. "Suffice to say, you have performed well, demigods. But this is only the beginning. Now you must return to Camp Half-Blood, where you will begin planning for the next phase."

"Which you won't tell us about," Jason grumped. "And I suppose you destroyed my nice storm spirit horse, so we'll have to walk home?"

Hera waved aside the question. "Storm spirits are creatures of chaos. I did not destroy that one, though I have no idea where he went, or whether you'll see him again. But there is an easier way home for you. As you have done me a great service, so I can help you—at least this once. Farewell, demigods, for now."

The world turned upside down, and Jason almost blacked out.

When he could see straight again, they were back at camp, in the dining pavilion, in the middle of dinner. They were standing on the Aphrodite cabin's table, and Piper had one foot in Drew's pizza. Sixty campers rose at once, gawking at them in astonishment.

Whatever Hera had done to shoot them across the country, it wasn't good for Jason's stomach. She could barely control her nausea. Leo and Kyra weren't so lucky. The two jumped off the table, Leo ran to the nearest bronze brazier and threw up in it- which was probably not a great burnt offering for the gods. Kyra ran over to a bush and Jason followed to make sure she was alright.

"Jason?" Chiron trotted forward. No doubt the old centaur had seen thousands of years' worth of weird stuff, but even he looked totally flabbergasted. "What—How—?"

Jason looked back at Chiron and glance at Piper while he rubbed Kyra's back,

"Hi," Piper cleared her throat, as casually as she could. "We're back."

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