Mira was working really hard to control her breathing.
You're being silly, she told herself, you've never been afraid of heights before. When you go back home, you'll laugh it off.
If I go back, another part of her thought.
Nah, she’d go back. Much as she hated the foster care system, she knew that world was where she belonged. Life wasn't fair. She wasn't going to be able to stay here, because this wasn't her home. For better or for worse, that awful earth was her home.
But that did little to quell her anxiety at the moment. What would happen to her if she died here, in this universe? She remembered... something about giants. Not enough for her to know what was going on, but she knew enough to realize that she was completely and totally out of her element.
You can't think like that, she tried to tell herself as her breathing escalated. Of course you'll survive. None of these guys died on this quest. They were... well, not safe, exactly, but they'd survive. Besides, they had a fire-breathing, only slightly leaky dragon on their side. What could go wrong?
That comment was more sarcastic than Mira intended. She was actually very rarely sarcastic, but she felt this occasion called for it. She knew, of course, that something would go wrong. She just didn't know what, exactly.
Well, the control disk could bust, the bad part of her suggested. Festus could eat you.
Okay, so the dragon wasn’t quite as fixed as Leo told Camp Half-Blood. They’d worked all night attaching those wings, but neither of them had found an extra dragon brain anywhere in the bunker. It's okay, she told herself, Festus adores Leo. He's not going to hurt us. Besides, Leo had cleaned the disk pretty well. Mira had made sure most of the circuits were still good. It would just have to hold together.
“Shut up, me,” Leo said aloud.
“What?” Piper asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “Long night. I think I’m hallucinating. It’s cool.”
Mira felt her breathing pick up in panic. No, no, no, not cool. Leo couldn't be driving a dragon through the air while hallucinating. She let out a cry of alarm and fell tears prick at her eyes. Her grip tightened on the back of Leo's army jacket.
“Just joking, jeez.” Leo glanced back at her, annoyed. “It's nothing to get worked up over." He turned to face Jason and Piper. "So what’s the plan, bro? You said something about catching wind, or breaking wind, or something?”
As they flew over New England, Jason laid out the game plan: First, find some guy named Boreas and grill him for information—
“His name is Boreas?” Leo asked. “What is he, the God of Boring?”
Mira would have giggled, but she was too scared.
Second, Jason continued, they had to find those venti that had attacked them at the Grand Canyon—
“Can we just call them storm spirits?” Leo asked. “Venti makes them sound like evil espresso drinks.”
They had Starbucks, too? That was weird.
And third, Jason finished, they had to find out who the storm spirits worked for, so they could find Hera and free her.
“So you want to look for Dylan, the nasty storm dude, on purpose,” Leo said. “The guy who threw me off the skywalk and sucked Coach Hedge into the clouds.”
“That’s about it,” Jason said. “Well … there may be a wolf involved, too. But I think she’s friendly. She probably won’t eat us, unless we show weakness.”
Jason told them about his dream— the big nasty mother wolf and a burned-out house with stone spires growing out of the swimming pool.
“Uh-huh,” Leo said. “But you don’t know where this place is.”
“Nope,” Jason admitted.
Mira frowned. The Wolf House, she thought, but she couldn't remember the significance of it, or where it was. Something about Jack London, maybe? She sighed, irritated with herself. What was the point of being a Percy Jackson fan if she couldn't remember anything important?
“There’s also giants,” Piper added. “The prophecy said the giants’ revenge.”
“Hold on,” Leo said. “Giants—like more than one? Why can’t it be just one giant who wants revenge?”
Mira let out a hysterical little laugh. Good question. Leo glared at her, and Mira remembered that he knew all this already. He was faking for Piper and Jason's benefit. His expression told her, in no uncertain terms: Don't let them know you don't belong.
“I don’t think so,” Piper said. “I remember in some of the old Greek stories, there was something about an army of giants.”
“Great,” Leo muttered. “Of course, with our luck, it’s an army."
"So you know anything else about these giants? Didn’t you do a bunch of myth research for that movie with your dad?” Mira asked, mostly because she hoped Piper remembered details that could jog her memory.
“Your dad’s an actor?” Jason asked.
Leo laughed. “I keep forgetting about your amnesia. Heh. Forgetting about amnesia. That’s funny. But yeah, her dad’s Tristan McLean.”
“Uh— Sorry, what was he in?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Piper said quickly. “The giants— well, there were lots of giants in Greek mythology. But if I’m thinking of the right ones, they were bad news. Huge, almost impossible to kill. They could throw mountains and stuff. I think they were related to the Titans. They rose from the earth after Kronos lost the war— I mean the first Titan war, thousands of years ago— and they tried to destroy Olympus. If we’re talking about the same giants—”
“Chiron said it was happening again,” Jason remembered. “The last chapter. That’s what he meant. No wonder he didn’t want us to know all the details.”
Leo whistled. “So … giants who can throw mountains. Friendly wolves that will eat us if we show weakness. Evil espresso drinks. Gotcha. Maybe this isn’t the time to bring up my psycho babysitter.”
“Is that another joke?” Piper asked.
Leo told the three of them about Tía Callida, who was really Hera, and how she’d appeared to him at camp. Mira listened, aghast. As he spoke, she remembered the rest of his backstory... his mom, the way she died, the first time he met... what was her name? The sleeping woman. She noticed that Leo didn’t tell Jason and Piper about his fire abilities. That was clearly still a touchy subject, especially since Leo would have to get into his mom’s death, and … No. Mira knew from experience that he wasn’t ready to go there. He did manage to tell the three of them about the night she died, not mentioning the fire, just saying the machine shop collapsed. He kept his eyes straight ahead as they flew.
And he told them about the strange woman in earthen robes who seemed to be asleep, and seemed to know the future.
Again, alarm bells rung in Mira's head. She knew that was important.
She reached out and squeezed his shoulder gently as tears filled her eyes for him. Seeing his mom die... nobody should have to go through that. Leo stiffened and glared at her, but it was half-hearted. Mira read his gratitude in the glassiness of his eyes, and the way he blinked furiously as he turned back around.
“That’s … disturbing,” Piper said.
“’Bout sums it up,” Leo agreed. “Thing is, everybody says don’t trust Hera. She hates demigods. And the prophecy said we’d cause death if we unleash her rage. So I’m wondering … why are we doing this?”
“She chose us,” Jason said. “All four of us. We’re the first of the seven who have to gather for the Great Prophecy. This quest is the beginning of something much bigger.”
Except... Hera hadn't chosen Mira. She wasn't one of the seven. She wasn't supposed to be there. It didn’t make her feel any better, but she couldn’t very well argue with Jason’s point without revealing herself. And his words rang true...it did feel like this was the start of something huge. It was, she knew, for the Greeks and Romans. Duh. But for her... well, that was a different story. It was colossal. She needed to get to the bottom of it.
“Besides,” Jason continued, “helping Hera is the only way I can get back my memory. And that dark spire in my dream seemed to be feeding on Hera’s energy. If that thing unleashes a king of the giants by destroying Hera—”
“Not a good trade-off,” Piper agreed. “At least Hera is on our side— mostly. Losing her would throw the gods into chaos. She’s the main one who keeps peace in the family. And a war with the giants could be even more destructive than the Titan War.”
Jason nodded. “Chiron also talked about worse forces stirring on the solstice, with it being a good time for dark magic, and all— something that could awaken if Hera were sacrificed on that day. And this mistress who’s controlling the storm spirits, the one who wants to kill all the demigods—”
“Might be that weird sleeping lady,” Leo finished. “Dirt Woman fully awake? Not something I want to see.”
“But who is she?” Mira asked, mostly to herself, frustrated that she couldn't remember. “And what does she have to do with giants?”
Good questions, but none of them had answers. Mira was more occupied with Leo at the moment. His body was shaking, and she suspected it wasn't from the cold. She felt fear bubbling in her chest. If Leo lost control— if he fell... she shivered. No. Don't think about how high up you are.
Festus kept flying. The wind got colder, and below them snowy forests seemed to go on forever. Mira didn’t know exactly where Quebec was. Leo had told Festus to take them to the palace of Boreas, and Festus kept going north. Hopefully, the dragon knew the way, and they wouldn’t end up at the North Pole.
Mira shuddered again. She just... didn't want to be flying.
“Why don’t you two get some sleep?” Piper said in her ear. “You were up all night.”
Mira wanted to protest, but the word sleep sounded really good. “You won’t let me fall off?” She asked in a small voice. "Promise me, Piper." Her voice shook.
Piper patted her shoulder kindly. "Of course, Mira."
Leo glanced back. "Uh, when you say 'you two' get some sleep..."
"You're included in that," Piper smiled. “Trust me, Valdez. Beautiful people never lie.”
“Right,” Leo muttered. He leaned forward against the warm bronze of the dragon’s neck, and closed his eyes. Mira didn't want to irritate him anymore, and honestly, the security of Piper keeping her from falling made her decision for her. She leaned back against the daughter of Aphrodite and fell asleep almost immediately.
At first Mira couldn't sleep. She was afraid that Zeus would pull something on her while she was knocked out. Mira felt like she had only slept for a second, but when Piper her awake, the daylight was fading.
“We’re here,” she said. Mira grumbled, re-adjusted her high ponytail, and yawned a couple times.
"Should I wake Leo?" she asked, hoping Piper would say no.
"Yeah, he'll probably want to see this,"
Sighing deeply, Mira tugged on Leo's jacket. No response. She tugged a bit harder and Leo snored loudly, but didn't wake. Mira turned back to the snickering couple with a hopeless face.
"Go on," Piper said, like a mom setting her kids up for a play date.
Mira leaned down a bit and shook Leo's shoulder. He yelped and awoke quickly, almost bumping into Mira.
"We're here," Mira clarified to him, before he could go all grumpy Leo on her. She then scanned her surroundings.
Below them, a city sat on a cliff overlooking a river. The plains around it were dusted with snow, but the city itself glowed warmly in the winter sunset. Buildings crowded together inside high walls like a medieval town, way older than any place Mira had seen before. In the center was an actual castle. At least, it looked like a castle to Mira. It had massive red brick walls and a square tower with a peaked, green gabled roof.
"Wow," Mira said, her hands automatically trying to grasp something solid due to her fear of flying.
“Tell me that’s Quebec and not Santa’s workshop,” Leo said.
“Yeah, Quebec City,” Piper confirmed. “One of the oldest cities in North America. Founded around sixteen hundred or so?”
Leo sounded surprised. “Your dad do a movie about that, too?"
He turned around to look at Piper, but came face to face with Mira, who squeaked at the sudden movement. Leo moved his head to the side to be able to get a view of Piper.
She made a face at him, which didn’t quite work with her new glamorous makeup. “I read sometimes, okay? Just because Aphrodite claimed me, doesn’t mean I have to be an airhead.”
"You told him," Mira snorted, and Leo made the same face back at Mira. Mira was really starting to dislike this Leo. If Mira got back to her world, she'd write a complaint to Rick for getting his character wrong. Mira then scrunched up her nose. She was in another world, going on a dangerous quest, and she was thinking about writing complaint letters to one of the greatest authors she ever knew. She really wanted to get rid of her new-found ADHD.
"So if you know so much, what’s that castle?” Leo asked, turning back around.
“A hotel, I think.”
Leo laughed. “No way.”
Mira knew Piper was right. She was your go-to girl for remembering the seemingly-useless-but-actually-important details, after all. The grand entrance was bustling with doormen, valets, and porters taking bags. Sleek black luxury cars idled in the drive. People in elegant suits and winter cloaks hurried to get out of the cold.
“The North Wind is staying in a hotel?” Leo said. “That can’t be—”
“Heads up, guys,” Jason interrupted, finally speaking up. “We got company!”
Mira moved slowly to the side so she could look over Leo. Rising from the top of the tower were two winged figures— angry angels, with nasty-looking swords.
Festus didn’t like the angel guys. He swooped to a halt in midair, wings beating and talons bared, and made a rumbling sound in his throat that Mira recognized. He was getting ready to blow fire.
“Steady, boy,” Leo muttered. At this point, Mira was trying to remember more about that happened during the quest. All she could come up with was that there would be hockey, pizza, and a horrifying encounter with a flirting guy.
“I don’t like this,” Jason said. “They look like storm spirits.”
Mira noticed Jason was right. Now she began feeling even more uncomfortable. As the angels got closer, she could see they were much more solid than venti, but at this point, she questioned the intention of anyone with wings.
They looked like regular teenagers except for their icy white hair and feathery purple wings. Their bronze swords were jagged, like icicles. Their faces looked similar enough that they might’ve been brothers, but they definitely weren’t twins.
One was the size of an ox, with a bright red hockey jersey, baggy sweatpants, and black leather cleats. The guy clearly had been in too many fights, because both his eyes were black, and when he bared his teeth, several of them were missing.
The other guy looked like he’d just stepped off one of Mira's dad's yearbook pictures, maybe even lamer. His ice-white hair was long and feathered into a mullet. He wore pointy-toed leather shoes, designer pants that were way too tight, and a god-awful silk shirt with the top three buttons open. Maybe he thought he looked like a groovy love god, but the guy couldn’t have weighed more than ninety pounds, and he had a bad case of acne. Mira figured that the buff one was the horrifying flirting guy. He looked more confident, after all.
The angels pulled up in front of the dragon and hovered there, swords at the ready.
The hockey ox grunted. “No clearance.”
“’Scuse me?” Leo said.
“You have no flight plan on file,” explained the puny guy. On top of his other problems, he had a French accent so bad Mira was sure it was fake. Also, this was Canada. Shouldn't the accent be Quebecois? “This is restricted airspace.”
“Destroy them?” The ox showed off his gap-toothed grin.
The dragon began to hiss steam, ready to defend them. Mira jumped and shuffled closer to Piper. Jason summoned his golden sword, but Leo cried, “Hold on! Let’s have some manners here, boys. Can I at least find out who has the honor of destroying me?”
“I am Cal!” the ox grunted. He looked very proud of himself, like he’d taken a long time to memorize that sentence.
“That’s short for Calais,” the love god said. “Sadly, my brother cannot say words with more than two syllables—”
“Pizza! Hockey! Destroy!” Cal offered.
“—which includes his own name,” the love god finished.
“I am Cal,” Cal repeated. “And this is Zethes! My brother!”
“Wow,” Leo said. “That was almost three sentences, man! Way to go.”
Cal grunted, obviously pleased with himself.
“Stupid buffoon,” his brother grumbled. “They make fun of you. But no matter. I am Zethes, which is short for Zethes. And the lady there—” He winked at Piper, but the wink was more like a facial seizure. “She can call me anything she likes. Perhaps she would like to have dinner with a famous demigod before we must destroy you?”
Huh. Mira's eyebrows shot up. So it would seem that the skinny one with terrible acne was the overly confident, flirty one. She did not expect that.
Piper made a sound like gagging on a cough drop. “That’s … a truly horrifying offer.”
“It is no problem.” Zethes wiggled his eyebrows. “We are a very romantic people, we Boreads.”
“Boreads?” Jason cut in. “Do you mean, like, the sons of Boreas?”
“Ah, so you’ve heard of us!” Zethes looked pleased. “We are our father’s gatekeepers. So you understand, we cannot have unauthorized people flying in his airspace on creaky dragons, scaring the silly mortal peoples.”
He pointed below, and Leo saw that the mortals were starting to take notice. Several were pointing up— not with alarm, yet— more with confusion and annoyance, like the dragon was a traffic helicopter flying too low.
“Which is sadly why, unless this is an emergency landing,” Zethes said, brushing his hair out of his acne-covered face, “we will have to destroy you painfully.”
“Destroy!” Cal agreed, with a little more enthusiasm than Mira thought necessary. She jumped nervously.
“Wait!” Piper said. “This is an emergency landing.”
“Awww!” Cal looked disappointed.
Zethes studied Piper, which of course he’d already been doing. “How does the pretty girl decide this is an emergency, then?”
“We have to see Boreas. It’s totally urgent! Please?” She forced a smile, which Mira knew must’ve been killing her; but she still had that blessing of Aphrodite thing going on, and she looked great. Something about her voice, too— Mira found herself believing every word. Jason was nodding, looking absolutely convinced.
Zethes picked at his silk shirt, probably making sure it was still open wide enough. “Well … I hate to disappoint a lovely lady, but you see, my sister, she would have an avalanche if we allowed you—”
“And our dragon is malfunctioning!” Piper added. “It could crash any minute!”
Mira let out a low whimper. Piper's charmspeak was so powerful, Mira really believed it. Which, you know, as a daughter of the sea god (supposedly), was kind of worrisome. Piper glanced at her.
"And if our dragon crashes, our friend here dies! She's a Poseidon kid. That's why it's urgent!"
Festus shuddered helpfully, then turned his head and spilled gunk out of his ear, splattering a black Mercedes in the parking lot below.
“No destroy?” Cal whimpered.
Zethes pondered the problem. Then he gave Piper another spasmodic wink. “Well, you are pretty. I mean, you’re right. A malfunctioning dragon— this could be an emergency.”
“Destroy them later?” Cal offered, which was probably as close to friendly as he ever got.
“It will take some explaining,” Zethes decided. “Father has not been kind to visitors lately. But, yes. Come, faulty dragon people. Follow us.”
The Boreads sheathed their swords and pulled smaller weapons from their belts— or at least Leo thought they were weapons. Then the Boreads switched them on, and Leo realized they were flashlights with orange cones, like the ones traffic controller guys use on a runway. Cal and Zethes turned and swooped toward the hotel’s tower.
Leo turned to them. “I love these guys. Follow them?”