As they got closer, Mira worried they’d crash into the tower. The Boreads made right for the green gabled peak and didn’t slow down. Then a section of the slanted roof slid open, revealing an entrance easily wide enough for Festus. The top and bottom were lined with icicles like jagged teeth.
“This cannot be good,” Jason muttered. Mira privately agreed, but Leo spurred the dragon downward, and they swooped in after the Boreads.
They landed in what must have been the penthouse suite; but the place had been hit by a flash freeze. The entry hall had vaulted ceilings forty feet high, huge draped windows, and lush oriental carpets. A staircase at the back of the room led up to another equally massive hall, and more corridors branched off to the left and right. But the ice made the room’s beauty a little frightening. When Mira slid off the dragon with shaky but grateful feet, the carpet crunched under her shoes. A fine layer of frost covered the furniture. The curtains didn’t budge because they were frozen solid, and the ice-coated windows let in weird watery light from the sunset. Even the ceiling was furry with icicles. As for the stairs, Mira was sure she’d slip and break her neck if she tried to climb them.
“Guys,” Leo said, “fix the thermostat in here, and I would totally move in.”
“Not me.” Jason looked uneasily at the staircase. “Something feels wrong. Something up there…”
Festus shuddered and snorted flames. Frost started to form on his scales.
“No, no, no.” Zethes marched over, though how he could walk in those pointy leather shoes, Mira had no idea. “The dragon must be deactivated. We can’t have fire in here. The heat ruins my hair.”
Festus growled and spun his drill-bit teeth.
“’S’okay, boy.” Leo turned to Zethes. “The dragon’s a little touchy about the whole deactivation concept. But I’ve got a better solution.”
“Destroy?” Cal suggested.
“No, man. You gotta stop with the destroy talk. Just wait.”
“Leo,” Mira said nervously, “what are you—”
"Don't tell me you forgot already, Sharkgirl. When we were repairing Festus last night, I found all kinds of buttons. Some, you do not want to know what they do. But others… Ah, here we go.”
Mira watched in apprehension as Leo hooked his fingers behind the dragon’s left foreleg. He pulled a switch, and the dragon shuddered from head to toe. Everyone backed away as Festus folded like origami. His bronze plating stacked together. His neck and tail contracted into his body. His wings collapsed and his trunk compacted until he was a rectangular metal wedge the size of a suitcase.
"Oh," Mira said weakly. "I remember, now." She felt a little dumb. She'd been so tense flying in the air that her mind had basically shut down. Now she was stupid as well as a coward and a phony. How wonderful.
Leo tried to lift it, but stopped almost immediately. Evidently, the thing weighed about six billion pounds. “Um… yeah. Hold on. I think— aha.”
He pushed another button. A handle flipped up on the top, and wheels clicked out on the bottom.
“Ta-da!” he announced. “The world’s heaviest carry-on bag!”
“That’s impossible,” Jason said. “Something that big couldn’t—”
That's right, Mira remembered with amusement. Wasn't Jason a huge physics nerd? Nothing seemed funnier to her than that— Jason Grace, for all of his serious, stoic, handsome son of Jupiter reputation, was really just a big dork.
Mira had always rather thought the two of them could be friends. They weren't close yet, but it had been, like, one day. Mira had hopes. Then again, she'd also thought Leo and her would get along famously, and she was clearly wrong there.
“Stop!” Zethes ordered. He and Cal both drew their swords and glared at Leo. Mira flinched.
Leo raised his hands. “Okay… what’d I do? Stay calm, guys. If it bothers you that much, I don’t have to take the dragon as carry-on—”
“Who are you?” Zethes shoved the point of his sword against Leo’s chest. “A child of the South Wind, spying on us?”
“What? No!” Leo said. “Son of Hephaestus. Friendly blacksmith, no harm to anyone!”
Cal growled. He put his face up to Leo’s, and he definitely wasn’t any prettier at point-blank, with his bruised eyes and bashed-in mouth. “Smell fire,” he said. “Fire is bad.”
“Oh.” Leo sounded nervous.
Mira's heart raced.
“Yeah, well… my clothes are kind of singed, and I’ve been working with oil, and—” Leo tried to cover.
“No!” Zethes pushed Leo back at sword point. “We can smell fire, demigod. We assumed it was from the creaky dragon, but now the dragon is a suitcase. And I still smell fire… on you.”
Leo looked really uncomfortable. “Hey… look… I don’t know—” He glanced at the other three desperately. “Guys, a little help?”
Jason already had his gold coin in his hand. He stepped forward, his eyes on Zethes. “Look, there’s been a mistake. Leo isn’t a fire guy. Tell them, Leo. Tell them you’re not a fire guy.”
And Leo thought she was bad at faking it? "L-Leo's dad is the god of f-fire," Mira said. Her teeth chattered in the cold. "It's p-probably just his godly heritage."
The Boreads didn't seem convinced.
“Zethes?” Piper tried her dazzling smile again, though she looked a little too nervous and cold to pull it off. “We’re all friends here. Put down your swords and let’s talk.”
“This girl is pretty,” Zethes admitted, “and of course she cannot help being attracted to my amazingness; but sadly, I cannot romance her at this time.” He poked his sword point farther into Leo’s chest, and Mira could see the frost spreading across his shirt.
"Wait, no!" Mira squeaked. "Stop!" She searched for something to say, but her mind was annoyingly blank.
“Destroy him now?” Cal asked his brother.
Zethes nodded. “Sadly, I think—”
“No,” Jason insisted. He sounded calm enough, but Mira figured he was about two seconds away from flipping that coin and going into full gladiator mode. “Mira's right. Leo’s just a son of Hephaestus. He’s no threat. Mira's father is Poseidon. Piper here is a daughter of Aphrodite. I’m the son of Zeus. We’re on a peaceful…”
Jason’s voice faltered, because both Boreads had suddenly turned on him.
“What did you say?” Zethes demanded. “You are the son of Zeus?
“Um... yeah,” Jason said. “That’s a good thing, right? My name is Jason.”
Cal looked so surprised, he almost dropped his sword. “Can’t be Jason,” he said. “Doesn’t look the same.”
Zethes stepped forward and squinted at Jason’s face. “No, he is not our Jason. Our Jason was more stylish. Not as much as me— but stylish. Besides, our Jason died millennia ago.”
“Wait,” Jason said. “Your Jason… you mean the original Jason? The Golden Fleece guy?”
“Of course,” Zethes said. “We were his crewmates aboard his ship, the Argo, in the old times, when we were mortal demigods. Then we accepted immortality to serve our father, so I could look this good for all time, and my silly brother could enjoy pizza and hockey.”
“Hockey!” Cal agreed.
“But Jason— our Jason— he died a mortal death,” Zethes said. “You can’t be him."
“I’m not,” Jason agreed.“So, destroy?” Cal asked. Clearly the conversation was giving his two brain cells a serious workout.
“No,” Zethes said regretfully. “If he is a son of Zeus, he could be the one we’ve been watching for.”
“Watching for?” Leo asked. “You mean like in a good way: you’ll shower him with fabulous prizes? Or watching for like in a bad way: he’s in trouble?”
A girl’s voice said, “That depends on my father’s will.”
Mira looked up the staircase. Her heart almost stopped with fear. At the top stood a girl in a white silk dress. Her skin was unnaturally pale, the color of snow, but her hair was a lush mane of black, and her eyes were coffee brown. She focused on Mira and the demigod could have sworn the corner of her mouth twitched. But she might have imagined it, because the gorgeous girl turned to Leo with no expression, no smile, no friendliness. Mira wanted to roll her eyes at the way Leo was staring at her, awestruck, enamored. She might have nudged him if she wasn't so scared of the girl.
Then the girl (Mira got a horrid feeling from her, like she was bad, but she couldn't remember why) looked at Jason and Piper, and seemed to understand the situation immediately.
“Father will want to see the one called Jason,” the girl said.
“Then it is him?” Zethes asked excitedly.
“We’ll see,” the girl said. “Zethes, bring our guests.”
Leo grabbed the handle of his bronze dragon suitcase. Mira wasn’t sure how he’d lug it up the stairs, but he seemed determined to get next to that girl and ask her some important questions— like her e-mail address and phone number. Mira wanted to scoff.
But before Leo could take a step, she froze him with a look. Not literally froze, but she might as well have.
“Not you, Leo Valdez,” she said.
In the back of her mind, Mira wondered how she knew Leo's name; but mostly she was just concentrating on how scared she felt.
“Why not?” Leo sounded like a whiny kindergartner.
“You cannot be in the presence of my father,” the girl said. “Fire and ice— it would not be wise.” She glanced at Mira, and that strange expression— was it amusement?— filled her eyes again. "You may remain here with Mira Morgan. Poseidon's children tend to be a little more... interestingly unpredictable than we like it up here."
"Not Mira," Leo muttered. "She's pretty boring and predictable."
Mira gritted her teeth in irritation. Even if it was true now, she wasn’t always. Piper nudged Leo, sending her a worried glance.
“We’re going together,” Jason insisted, putting one hand on Leo’s shoulder and the other on Mira's, “or not at all.”
The girl tilted her head, like she wasn’t used to people refusing her orders. “They will not be harmed, Jason Grace, unless you make trouble. Calais, keep Leo Valdez and Mira Morgan here. Guard them, but do not kill them.”
Cal pouted. “Just a little?”
“No,” the girl insisted. “And take care of Leo Valdez's interesting suitcase, until Father passes judgment.”
Jason and Piper looked at Mira and Leo, their expressions asking them a silent question: How do you want to play this?
Mira felt a surge of gratitude. They were ready to fight for her and Leo. They wouldn’t leave her alone with grumpy, mean Leo and the hockey ox. Part of her wanted to go for it. But the Boread guys scared her. And even if she didn't remember what happened, she knew it was important that Piper and Jason went to see Boreas. She remembered that it was a major plot point, even if she had no idea what it entailed.
Leo seemed to be on the same page as her— Mira could tell, because he sent her a frustrated look, as if to say, It's your fault we're doing this again.
“It’s fine, guys,” She said.
“Yeah, no sense causing trouble if we don’t have to. You go ahead.” Leo added.
“Listen to your friend,” the pale girl said. “Leo Valdez and Mira Morgan will be perfectly safe. I wish I could say the same for you, son of Zeus. Now come, King Boreas is waiting.”
When the effects of flying had finally worn off, Mira found herself wishing she'd gone with Jason and Piper to meet the north wind. At least there, she would have had Superman and Wonder Woman to help her out. Instead, she had to stay alone with a buff, immortal demigod that wanted to kill her, eat pizza, and play hockey (in no particular order), and Leo Valdez, repair boy extraordinaire, who probably wouldn't help her if she got into trouble, unless Festus was also in danger.
"So... this place seems lit," Leo muttered nervously, walking in front of Mira with Calais, who was leading them into another room.
Cal looked at Leo, shocked.
"Home not hot! Fire is bad." he repeated, seemingly recalling a memory. Call shuddered violently.
"Calm down, buddy, no one's setting this place on fire," Leo said, patting Cal's shoulder awkwardly, as he stared back with a serious face. He made eye contact with Mira, who snickered a bit.
"So..." Mira started, not liking the awkward silence.
"Your hotel got a bathroom?" Leo asked suddenly, picking at the threads in his shirt nervously. He eyed Mira's clothes with a raised eyebrow. Mira turned down to look at her attire, and wasn't pleased.
She'd known that her shirt was oily and greasy, but between fixing Festus, avoiding Festus's fire breath, and thinking she was gonna die on Festus, she hadn't noticed that her shirt had actually torn in a couple of places. Her jeans had been wrecked, but that was fine because they weren't skinny jeans. She was just really upset because the sleeve of her shirt had torn in a really unflattering way. As an anxious teenager, Mira found other people's opinions important. And right now, nothing mattered to her more than at least looking presentable in front of her book-crush. At least he wouldn't look at her with that much disgust then.
"Yes please. I gotta clean up," she said, wrinkling her nose at her orange Camp shirt, which had brown and black stains on it. Cal stared at them blankly.
"You know, bathroom? Shower?" Leo drawled out.
Hesitantly, Cal nodded. He led them through the hotel, and dropped them off inside one of the rooms.
"Cal will guard," he nodded respectfully, and stood outside the hotel room, glaring at the teens suspiciously, as though he thought they'd use the shower heads to beat him up. Or beat him in hockey, Mira wasn't exactly sure which was his first priority. She rolled her eyes as Leo shut the door.
He then turned to Mira.
"Who's going first?" he asked, eyeing the stains on Mira's clothes once again.
"Go ahead," Mira said meekly, and sat down on the bed. While Leo was into the bathroom, she rummaged through the room to see if she could find extra clothes. The cupboard had nothing. The closet had a couple of robes, but nothing she'd able to wear. Mira sighed in defeat until her eye caught something under the bed. She gasped.
This was a low point for her. Never had she been so anxious as to steal clothes from someone. But even though this felt so wrong, she couldn't stop herself. She noticed that the clothes were a couple sizes bigger than her. She took out a grey coloured sweater, and decided she wouldn't take anything else. She shifted through her pockets, wondering if she had any money with her. At least then she wouldn't feel so guilty.
All she could come up with was five dollars and two cents. She left the money in place of the sweater and zipped up the suitcase. And then she waited. Soon, Leo came outside, wearing his jeans and one of the robes from the hotel. His smile faded as soon as he saw Mira.
Mira dashed into the bathroom, holding a towel (from the cupboard) in her hand. After a good fifteen minutes of scrubbing, and washing herself, she stepped out of the shower smelling like oranges and cinnamon. Her long, damp hair was difficult to dry with the single towel she'd taken with her, but she was just happy to have gotten rid of the grime and grease that had once plagued her hair. Once again putting on her shredded flared jeans, Mira carefully slipped on the greyish-cream knitted sweater over her head. As expected, it was loose and big on her. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she winced. Nothing she could do about the way she looked.
She stepped out the steaming bathroom, holding her torn orange Camp T-shirt in her hands.
"Where did you get that?" Leo asked the moment she stepped out. He was standing at the door of the room, holding his shirt in his hands, which was now fresh and clean. He must have used the valet service.
"Get what?" Mira asked.
"The sweater," Leo rolled his eyes.
Now what would she tell Leo?
"You know, if you're going to steal from someone, at least make sure you put the broken lock of their suitcase back on." he told her, glancing at his feet. Mira noticed with burning horror that the lock was still on the floor. She winced, expecting Leo to start yelling at her, but when she glanced up, he was grabbing something from his tool belt. She watched in confusion as he wordlessly got to his knees, fiddled with the lock, and put it back on the suitcase. It closed with a click, good as new. Leo got back up to his feet, dusting off his pants.
"You- you're not mad?" Mira asked. Leo hesitated.
"Not about this," he spoke carefully. He glanced at her Camp Half-Blood shirt. "No way you could wear that again," he pointed out, "It's, like, below freezing out, and that shirt's half missing anyway."
Mira sat down on the edge of the bed. Leo headed to the bathroom, probably to put on his clean shirt. After coming back out, (thankfully not wearing the ghastly robe this time), he sat down on the sofa in the room.
"Leo?" Mira asked. "Why do you hate me so much?"
Leo turned to her at the speed of lightning. Apparently, he hadn't expected her to ask him the question. He raised his eyebrows. "You're kidding, right?"
Mira winced. "In the day and a half you've known me, have I ever even made a pun?" She retorted.
Leo rolled his eyes. "You really want to know?"
Mira hesitated. Did she? "No. But if we're gonna work as a team, we've gotta start somewhere."
"You said it's your fault I have to go through this again," he said. "My memories are mostly gone. My friends have no clue this is happening again. All the trouble we went through to win the war was for nothing. On top of that, for some reason, you're here with us this time, when you know you're not supposed to be here. You make everything harder, you're afraid of the littlest things..." he continued on, actually ticking things off on his fingers as he listed them.
Mira couldn't believe he'd had so many things to hate about her. She turned away, not wanting him to see her upset.
"I told you, I didn't want this to happen. I mean, I did, but not like this." She whispered.
"And that!" Leo exclaimed. "You say it's your fault this is happening, but then you defend yourself in the same sentence! If you know what's going on, tell us!"
"I told you, I don't know why I'm here!"
"What do you mean by that? You must have done something." Leo fumed.
"All I wanted was to be like you!" Mira finally screamed back at him. "To be as wise as Annabeth, to be as amazing as Percy. As confident as Piper. But the one thing I wanted most was to be like you. You'd gone through so much. Your mom, the Earth lady, foster care." Mira's voice cracked, but she ignored it. "And yet you kept smiling through all of it. I wished I'd get to meet you someday, even though I knew it was impossible. You belonged to a different world, a different universe." Mira was talking more to herself than to Leo now. She hardly noticed as he stared at her. She couldn't stop herself from ranting about her problems.
"And when I actually did, you were nothing at all how I had imagined you to be. But I didn't mind. It was my fault after all. But then, on top of that, to find out I was a demigod here? A freaking child of Poseidon?" She laughed out loud, but there was no humor in her voice. "I'm a cliche! I- I wanted to come here because I thought I'd be able to find a home." She shook her head at herself. "I should have known, nothing is as good as it seems! Least of all my favorite characters!" She glared at him.
"You haven't fought in a war only to have to live through it all over again!" Leo told her. He looked mildly confused and a bit upset, as though he couldn't understand Mira, but she kept going.
"You call me childish. You say I'm afraid of the smallest things. Fine. I'm not going to deny it. But I wasn't supposed to be a half blood. And I wasn't supposed to be afraid of heights. I was supposed to be afraid of the sea, I was afraid of the sea. But all because of one stupid wish, my life turned upside down. Now I live with the fear of Zeus knocking me out of the sky, just because I'm a child of Poseidon. Now I live with the fear of having monsters killing me before I can even graduate." Mira wanted to punish herself. She shouldn't have told all of that to him. For all she knew, he'd start hating her more. Thankfully, he didn't seem to understand what Mira meant. Leo didn't reply to her for a long time.
"Zeus would do that?" he asked curiously. "From what I remember...." He frowned, thinking hard. "I think... Percy could fly, couldn't he? Without freaking out?"
"Not at first," Mira explained heavily. "And not on a dragon." Her brows furrowed. "I think you're right, I think he can fly, on... a pegasus?" She thought hard. "And on a boat. A flying boat? Does that even make sense?" She shook her head. "But... yeah, Zeus would do that. I mean, even some of his own kids are afraid of flying." Mira couldn't think of an example, everything was going hazy in her mind, but she knew it was true.
Leo looked at Mira skeptically. He looked like he was doubting her words and intentions still, but he didn't voice his opinion this time.
"So when will you explain the whole 'characters' thing? I get the feeling your definition of 'home' is different from mine," he said carefully.
Mira, who had been staring at her shoes in embarrassment, looked up at Leo. She felt her blood drain from her face.
"Oh.. uhm. That. Right, I'm not exactly sure what that meant. I guess it was an insult? Like you know, characters, cartoony," Mira chuckled awkwardly. She could have kicked herself. Hopefully, Leo wouldn't find out. It would only complicate things more.