What was meant to be a serious training session soon deteriorated into a game of hide n' go seek.
Jason, Frank, and Piper chased each other through the trees, apparently needing some kind of release from the earlier tension of the day. Piper had gotten the drop on Jason pretty quick, though he would never admit he let her. She'd blended with the colors of the grass, river, and sky- and used the ability to sneak up on him, and whisper in his ear. She'd commanded, "Do as I say," and the scarlet glimmer of her silhouette moved to stand before him.
She pointed Katoptris at his heart (this was Jason's defeat, as she really could've killed him then). Then she gave the order to raise Frank into the air, and keep him suspended above the ground- just a diversion tactic, considering Frank could fly if he wanted. Piper just needed him temporarily confused before she snuck up on him, too.
She may have complained about Jason's hardness, his sudden mentoring sensibilities. But she was learning as much as Frank was.
No one had to tell Piper about the weakness in her new power- that it wasn't so effective if she moved, quickly or not. The camouflage also became obvious when she was too close to the eye, the stripes and swirls of color danced like television static, trying to match the objects in her vicinity. Otherwise, when she walked or ran, it looked like someone had cut a mirror into the shape of a person- and brought it to life. A mirror with a muted, red border.
Frank stood idly by across the field, waiting his turn, having not seen Piper sneak up on Jason. Before he knew it, and before he decided what to do about it, he was a few feet off the ground and wondering why gravity had abandoned him. Then, just inches from his throat, Jason's gladius materialized into view- having been hidden in Piper's jacket, disguised to the eye, just as she was. Frank was a little too high off the ground for her favorite and personal dagger, Katoptris.
A reddish gleam, hitting Jason's eye like the twinkle of a star, warped into a humanoid shape, then into Piper.
She beamed proudly. "Bam. You're dead." Then lowered the sword. "You're both dead. I win."
She tossed Jason's coin back to him with a confident grin. "You can release him now." Frank dropped onto the grass, and Jason was freed from her charmspeak. "You can do what you will."
They played around for a while, with Jason and Frank competing to see who could spot Piper first. To see just how well she could disappear. To do this, they'd both cover their eyes and count to a random number to give her a head start. This concept devolved into more childish games, starting when they'd spent ten minutes looking for Piper in the distance, only to find she was fully visible behind them.
Jason now stood in the forest, with his back to a trunk of a tree. Piper was hiding from him, and he was hiding from Frank. It was really stupid, the whole thing. But it sparked fleeting memories of early childhood, the last time he felt he could be this carefree.
He might've complained the game wasn't fair. Piper could hide in plain sight, and Frank could drop off the face of the Earth. But Jason's air sensibilities had grown exponentially in the recent days, without him even realizing. He'd unwittingly started to rely on an advantage after they'd moved their games into the forest. When Piper was in range, he could tell exactly where she was by sensing the pattern of her breathing. All he had to do was focus on where the air was going in, out, in, out, in, out. Especially when she breathed hard from running. Frank and his animals were a different story.
A robin flew overhead, landing on the branch directly above Jason. He squinted at it suspiciously, and it stared back, tilting its head in curiosity. The beady eyes were a little too keen. A little too intelligent.
"Alright, Frank. You got me. Let's go find Piper."
Jason spotted an open space in the tree canopy, and flew upwards, expecting the bird to follow. It did, but went right past him, and joined a flock. Okay. Not Frank. Jason still surveyed the top of the forest, deciding how far and where he wanted to look next. If he'd get caught by the real Frank.
The wind picked up, and dark and silver greys swirled above. But not because of him. He had a strange feeling about these winds, like they were familiar. Jason listened closely, for some reason thinking he'd be able to hear anything but the sounds of nature.
A raspy, feminine voice spoke. At least that's what it sounded like. A flash of lightning traveled in between two bulbous, grey clouds.
The child, or the captor?
A different voice this time. Smoother. Deeper. But still feminine.
Do it now, the raspy voice said.
A bellow of thunder struck loud in his ears, which then rang in a high-pitched tone so strongly it blocked out everything else. It screwed with his sense of balance, and had been so unexpected he let himself drop through the treetops and to the ground. Jason slammed into the dirt and bushes, as the sounds of the forest returned.
He laid there a minute, trying to piece together what just happened. His skin stung where sharp branches had bit him. Then the sound of footsteps, or rather, pawsteps, crescendoed until a fox bounded up to him, morphing efficiently into Frank- who was in a fantastic mood.
"Piper says if you quit showing off, she'll give you an advantage and only be half invisible."
Jason sat up, scrutinizing the bits of sky between the leaves above. "That wasn't me." He got to his feet, slowly. "Come look at this."
Again, he breached the tree canopy. With Frank, as a blue jay, really in tow this time. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and Frank waited for him to explain.
"Something, or someone," Jason said. "Is messing with us. And it isn't the first time."
Jason never really knew what it was like to be pummeled by the wind. He supposed what happened next was karma for Frank and Piper, and anyone else he's ever casually tossed around.
The same raspy, female voice said, in a whisper: Again.
A block of air struck Frank and Jason like a brick to the face. Jason got starry eyed, and crashed once more into thick branches and bunches of leaves- after witnessing Frank get punted into the distance, still a small and helpless bird.
Jason faintly heard the raspy voice: You hit the wrong one. The words were emphasized and relayed at the same time a web of lightning flashed across the sky.
A boom of thunder sounded, but not as loud, and sort of like a groan or scoff of frustration.
Jason was just picking himself up again, body really aching now, when Piper weaved her way through the trees.
"What are you doing? Where's Frank?"
"Uhh," Jason gestured to his right. "A ways back that way."
Piper's face dropped in disappointment, and a small amount of fear. "I thought we were done with you throwing us around."
Somehow that stung more than anything else she'd said all day. Jason replied, "That wasn't me."
How could he explain what he'd heard? He said, "I think we have a real storm on our hands."
Piper glanced in the direction they'd wandered far from, where Festus and their campsite were. "I thought you said Leo would get Festus today. It's almost afternoon."
Afternoon. That word rattled around in Jason's brain. Something was supposed to happen early afternoon. In the forest.
I bet he'll come back for the dragon, but if he does it won't be until later. Early afternoon. You can swing that?
Was that something Jason said? A conversation he had? Part of a dream?
Piper shifted her gaze to the ground. "I thought you didn't want to see him. That we were supposed to be gone by now."
"Umm," Jason couldn't stop thinking about the forest they stood in. Something about meeting, or running into someone…maybe a lot of people…
"I'm not saying we should leave," Piper continued. "I wanna see him, and I think you two should make up, it's just-"
The forest floor rumbled, and somewhere to their right, the direction Frank had been blown in, a crowd roared in approval. Like spectators in a coliseum.
Wordlessly, Jason and Piper ran for the source of the noise. Jason's stomach dropped when they reached it, even as they remained safely hidden by foliage and tree trunks.
They saw what looked like an out-of-control zombie frat party, populating a large clearing. Superimposed over the area was a spectral mirage of a palace. With whitewashed stucco walls lined with balconies three stories high, columned porticoes facing a central atrium, and a huge fountain and bronze braziers. At a dozen banquet tables, ghouls laughed and ate and pushed one another around.
Around a hundred spirits were milling about, chasing spectral serving girls, smashing plates and cups, making a nuisance of themselves.
Most looked like Lares from Camp Jupiter- transparent purple wraiths in tunics and sandals. A few revelers had decayed bodies with grey flesh, matted clumps of hair, and nasty wounds. Others seemed to be regular living mortals- some in togas, some in modern business suits or army fatigues. Jason even spotted one guy in a purple Camp Jupiter t-shirt and Roman legionnaire armor.
In the center of the atrium, a grey-skinned ghoul in punctured Greek armor paraded through the crowd, holding a marble bust over his head like a sports trophy. The other ghosts cheered and slapped him on the back. The bust he was holding...was that Zeus?
It was hard to tell. Most Greek god statues looked similar. But the bearded, glowering face reminded Jason very much of the statue in Cabin One at Camp Half-Blood.
"Our next offering!" the ghoul shouted, his voice rough, like a heavy smoker. "Let us feed the Earth Mother!"
The partyers yelled and pounded their cups. The ghoul made his way to the central fountain. The crowd parted, and Jason realized the fountain wasn't filled with water. From the three-foot-tall pedestal, a geyser of sand spewed upward, arcing into an umbrella-shaped curtain of white particles before spilling in the circular basin.
A cold feeling dripped down from Jason's head, like someone had spilled a cup of ice water over his hair. The headache he'd had off and on for the last few days threatened to reappear, and for some reason, Jason almost felt compelled to join in the ghost's celebrations. More likely because he didn't want to join the party, but crash it. Regardless, hearing the words "Earth Mother" made him feel some type of way.
The ghoul heaved the marble bust into the fountain. As soon as Zeus's head passed through the shower of sand, the marble disintegrated like it was going through a wood chipper. The sand glittered gold, the color of ichor- godly blood. Then the ground rumbled with a muffled BOOM, as if belching after a meal.
The dead partygoers roared with approval.
"Any more statues?" the ghoul shouted to the crowd.
A reveler in a toga and sickly, blueish flesh, raised a goblet of wine- and something else he held in his hand. A blue jay. He said drunkenly, "No, but I got this!"
The bird squirmed uncomfortably, and Jason understood why Frank didn't just morph now. It was better to not let them know what they had, so they wouldn't be alerted to danger and find Jason or Piper off their guard.
Jason took Piper's arm and led her away, where they wouldn't be seen or heard. "So, uh, that bird he was holding…"
"Oh no…" Piper groaned. "What are they doing there? And why? Do they know how close we are? Did they think we'd show?"
Jason wanted to assume the answer was no, since they clearly had no idea they had Frank. But something kept him from saying so. "It's fine, we're fine. We just need that dumb, old ghoul to let Frank go. They don't know we're here."
Piper's look of apprehension didn't go away. "But if Leo comes, and they see the Argo…"
Jason's heart dropped. Two hundred ghosts versus one Leo? Yeah, that would be a problem. "Let's save Frank first and then...and then we'll sort that out. Together."
He hoped Piper understood the double meaning behind his last word. That whatever happened next, he didn't want to treat her or Frank like underlings, like he was their praetor. When he said together, he meant it.
Piper nodded. "I think it should be me. They won't see me."
"They'll notice you if you move, and you have to move through them to get close enough."
"Maybe we just wait it out?" Piper suggested. "He's gotta let go sometime, then Frank can just fly away."
An odd voice in the back of his head told Jason that wouldn't happen, and he couldn't figure out why. What would a random ghoul want with a random bird? "No, I think we should act soon."
"I could disguise myself, change my clothes to look like one of those Greek serving-maidens, and then I could go convince him to let Frank go."
Jason grimaced. He didn't like the idea, but he didn't have another one to refute it. Something just told him it wouldn't work. "I don't know, Pipes…"
"If we're going to be a team, a real team. Then you have to trust me." She had gotten the double meaning. Now she was challenging Jason to see if he really meant it.
"I have a really, really bad feeling about this. But I can't explain why. So...maybe it's because I'm worried about you."
Admitting something like that used to be the key to Piper's heart, but she didn't seem so touched. "Maybe you're worried because you don't trust me."
"That's not it, it's just…"
"...It's just you can't give me another reason."
Jason didn't know what to say, so he let that be the end of the conversation. He and Piper crept back to the borders of the party, where Piper studied one of the serving girls, and gradually altered her appearance so she'd match the attire. Her hair changed, too, shifting around so that it was pinned up in a braided spiral. Silver bracelets adorned her arms, and she resembled a statue of her mother, Aphrodite.
The sight of her transformation brought him back to the campfire that night, at Camp Half-Blood, where everything was set into motion. It pained him, too, and he found himself nostalgic for the beginning of everything, when it had all seemed so complicated but was really so simple. Compared to now.
They shared a look, but had no parting words for each other. She slipped into the crowd.
Piper blended in, unnoticed, and was casually smiling and filling wine glasses for the ghostly revelers. If she was afraid, she didn't show it. So far the ghosts weren't paying her any special attention.
Jason's anxiety faded, as she got closer and closer to the ghoul holding Frank. He didn't know what he'd been so worried about.
She pet Frank the Bird with one finger, giggling like she was as drunk as the ghoul was, and extraordinarily excited by his adorable pet. He seemed pleased, offering her a toothy grin, but still kept his fingers clamped tight. Piper held out her hands and Jason could practically hear her say, in an agreeable, irresistible voice, "Oh, please, can I hold him?"
The ghoul's smile dropped. He stared at her intently, then abruptly turned his head and made eye contact with the guy Jason had seen earlier in the Camp Jupiter t-shirt and armor- who nodded as if in response. The ghoul could've only resisted Piper's charmspeak, if he knew it was coming.
Two other ghouls in tattered Greek tunics grabbed Piper by the arms, then led her toward the center fountain. Jason's insides twisted and turned, and his heart got caught in his throat. He had to act fast, and do something, but what?
No, he knew. It was what Frank and Piper had practiced all day to defend themselves from.
Jason raised his arms, and the leaves rustled around him, as air was summoned, ready to be blasted like artillery. It had to be bigger, better than his usual command of the wind. The sky above began to take on a pale, green color, as he toyed. This would disrupt the party for sure. He'd have trouble finding Frank later, if he got caught up in this. But Jason would have to watch out for Piper. He'd have to take special care to keep her safe.
And then...it stopped. The wind froze, then dissipated, or went about its normal activity. The storm he was raising had begun to fade as soon as he'd brought it to life. His power just...not working. Not listening to him. His head ached, and there was a sudden notion in his mind that he just had to wait, to unleash all he could. Just wait.
Jason's gaze got lost in the sky, and he remembered the two voices he'd heard earlier, who'd sent him crashing to the ground. Twice. This was them. This had to be them.
He didn't even clock the army of ghouls who'd descended down on him and his hiding spot. A couple grabbed him by the arms, just like they did to Piper, but he had about ten surrounding him on all sides, as they led him into the crowd.
The guy in the Roman armor turned his head, as they approached the central fountain. Jason could see his face clearly now. The face of Michael Varus. There was no mistaking the SPQR tattoo on his forearm- the double-faced head of the god Janus, and six score marks for years of service. On his breastplate hung the badge of praetorship and emblem of the Fifth Cohort.
Jason had never met Michael Varus. The infamous praetor had died in the 1980s. Still, Jason's skin crawled when he met Varus's gaze. Those sunken eyes bored into his soul, they bored so deep it seemed he was looking right through him.
Michael used one hand to grab Jason's face by the cheeks, and turned his head from side to side. "Who's in control here?"
Jason assumed Michael was mocking his weakness, that he hadn't done anything to keep from being captured. He didn't respond, and Michael smiled grimly, as if Jason's silence confirmed something for him. He paced leisurely around the fountain, every ghost and ghoul waiting on his command, listening with intention.
Frank was still in the blue ghoul's clutches, hopefully waiting for the best moment of opportunity to escape. He was possibly waiting for Jason's signal.
"My friend Antinous couldn't be here today," Michael started. "You see, we originally planned to have this whole party in Ithaca."
Jason sensed a monologue coming on. That was good. It would give Jason more time to think.
"But the Earth Mother instructed us to move locations. Out here. In the middle of nowhere. It disagreed with Antinous, and I, too, thought- why here? Why not the remains of the real and glorious Palace of Odysseus? Why must we celebrate the palace here?"
There was a murmur among the crowd, musings of agreement. They'd been withheld this information, until now. Jason tried to catch Frank's small, beady eye.
"But she had her reasons. A couple of her minions, two favorites she waited to return through the Doors, had a plan. A plan with a goal not to kill the demigods, but to break them. They lose one, they fight. They lose two, they still fight. They fight to avenge, they fight because they rely on each other. Because they're stronger together."
Something clicked in his brain, something snapped in recognition. He found himself hanging on Michael's every word.
"Our Mother has tried. Has taunted, and tempted. But the truth is obvious now. The only way to break their trust in each other, is to get them to do it for us."
He found Jason's eyes again, with that piercing dagger of a stare. Jason didn't understand why it felt like more than it was- a look. He didn't understand why Michael's words enveloped him in dread.
Except he did.
The last week dawned on him, and more than anything, he wanted to see Leo. He wanted Annabeth at his side. And Hazel. And Percy.
It was too late now, to fix what had been broken. It was his fault.
Michael grinned maliciously, and Jason worried he could read his mind.
"We brought a gift for you, Jason. Just for you."
Behind Varus, the crowd parted. The shimmering ghost of a woman drifted forward, as Jason felt as if his bones were turning to dust. All other thoughts vanished, and his vision blurred briefly. He imagined his brain was melting and pooling around his eyes, that this was a gift of a vivid hallucination before the rest of his body shut down.
If he ever thought he'd meet his mother again, he was sure it'd be in death.
"My dearest," she said. "I've been waiting for you."
Somehow he knew her. He recognized her dress- a flowery green-and-red wraparound, like the skirt of a Christmas tree. He recognized the colorful plastic bangles on her wrists that had dug into his back when she hugged him good-bye at the Wolf House. He recognized her hair, an over-teased corona of dyed blonde curls, and her scent of lemons and aerosol.
Her eyes were blue like Jason's, but they gleamed with fractured light, like she'd just come out of a bunker after a nuclear war- hungrily searching for familiar details in a changed world.
"Beryl," Michael said. "Why don't you two go for a walk, find somewhere private. I'm sure he has questions for you." He grabbed Piper by the neck, who's mouth had been gagged. "I'm sure he won't run off."
She led him away, and as they walked, her ghostly hand on his shoulder went from feeling like nothing to fingers of ice. She took on a smoky aura, and her eyes almost glowed, glinting with yellow light. Maybe it was nerves, manifesting through supernatural means of her supernatural form.
A certain pain disappeared, then, as if a hot spike had been removed from Jason's forehead. He was hot suddenly. Sweaty. Like he'd been out in a winter chill without a coat, but hadn't realized it. The feeling was familiar, but his mind was so occupied now he couldn't tell from where. Could his mom have such an effect on him? After all these years? After what she did?
They stopped in an area choked by trees, too far from the crowd to hear anyone but themselves, and his mother's expression had gone from wild and hungry to robotically pleasant. She wore a gentle face and a gentle smile that promised no anger and no sadness, and Jason thought...where was this perfect mother all those years ago?
"Dearest, aren't you happy to see me?"
Jason let her put her hands on his shoulders, but, assessing his emotions, he didn't know how to answer the question. So he asked one.
"Why did Michael call you by your first name?"
She wouldn't let go of his shoulders, and understood the real meaning of what he implied, but regarded it as casual and unassuming.
"Oh, honey, he knows everyone, as every good host of every good party should."
"Did he tell you what to say to me?"
Her cold fingers felt more like talons. "I'm not here under orders, Jason. I'm here because I love you. I want to come home with you."
He took her hands from his shoulders, and held them in his own. His mom flushed, delighted by the intimate gesture, and Jason studied her muted, ashy flesh. She looked very much dead, but despite what her initial appearance betrayed...she was as tangible as he was.
"That's not possible. You're gone." Even as he said it, he wasn't sure he believed it to be true.
She stepped closer. "I can come back…"
Before Jason, her form solidified further. Her hands felt warmer, and more human in his. The color in her cheeks became rosy, her chalky skin seemed to glow, then retain the vibrancy of life. If Jason didn't know any better, he might've thought her heart was really beating.
She took one of her hands from his, and caressed his cheek with a gentle, motherly love.
He stared into her electric, blue eyes, with an odd feeling that something strange was behind them. "For a price, right?" he asked.
He watched for changes in her demeanor and expression. For some emotion of hers she was keeping hidden, that would reveal the truth.
Why would she want him now? What would make her love him now?
"A small, small little thing," she answered. "A test. For your friends."
"The boy and the girl." She intercepted him before he could speak. "Yes, we know about Frank. He knows not to shapeshift out of our grasp. Not yet."
"We?" Jason said. It didn't seem right, his mother in league with Michael Varus, and ghosts, and Gaea. His mother should only know of the god she'd loved. "What does 'we' mean? You're not supposed to work together. You-you're-"
That wasn't the word he was looking for. Either way, Jason found her eyes again, and couldn't say yes. Monsters never meant anything to him. She did.
His mother continued: "The test is simple. It's a test of strength, a chance to prove their worth. I told them you would approve."
She ran a hand through his hair, which was longer than it had been in years, and longer than when she'd left him. "My little soldier."
Something pounded against his chest. He tilted his head away, and she took her hand back, slightly daunted. Jason asked, "What would they have to do?"
She leaned back, dismayed that he resisted her affection. "There are many beings in this forest. Within our gathering. Ghosts, ghouls, spirits of the undead. They must all be destroyed. Even Michael, which he does not know. Then the Earth Mother will grant them their freedom, and you yours. And let me stay here, on Earth. With you."
Was that all? Was that possible?
Jason remembered a quest he'd taken for Camp Jupiter years ago in San Bernardino, where he'd fought grey-skinned ghouls like the ones in the clearing. They weren't defeated easily.
"What do I have to do?" he questioned.
"You must only stay here with me, until it's over. You can't interfere. All you have to do is say yes, and all I have to do is say the word."
Jason backed away, taking enough steps so he could see the full picture of his mom. Then he broke his stare, and studied the ragged bark on the trees, the stormy sky. Anything to ground himself further in reality. He was surprised to see his hands were in fists, his nails biting into his palms.
Beryl's expression soured, feeling her spell on him was being broken. She said, "You wanted to be equals now. You trained them for that purpose." Her sickly sweet voice taunted him. "Don't tell me you don't trust them?"
He couldn't figure if that was the real reason for his aversion to the deal, or if she was planting that idea in his head. Shouldn't he say no in order to keep his friends safe? But then again…
"You're saying Gaea will stop sending monsters after me, Frank, and Piper. Even if we still try to stop her from rising."
"Yes," his mother confirmed.
"And she lets you stay on Earth with me?"
Beryl's excitement was disgustingly palpable, and it severed the hand of temptation. "Yes."
Jason paced, his back facing her, with his hands on his hips and his head down, like he was really thinking. Like he was really considering it. But he was hiding the cold throb of anger pounding against his chest. His fingers stung with electric sparks, and an animalistic hatred. His blood boiled, as it softly had in the background all his life. Every day with the wolves, and every day at Camp Jupiter, he'd kept a special wrath hidden under his skin. Under a mask. Sometimes it slept, and sometimes it breached the surface. It breached with Octavian. It breached with monsters and the Titan Krios and anyone he'd declared an enemy.
It clawed its way to the forefront of his being now, charged, and about to meet its maker.
Jason turned around, and his mother's face dropped in shock. Jason said with a smile but no amusement, "Why would I want that?"
Beryl stumbled over her next words. She had expected to see her young, frightened son, and received a boy so much older than his years and suddenly devoid of mercy. "Well, your friends would be safe."
"No," he said. "Why would I want you?"
Her jaw fell, eyes widening like prey before a predator. The illusion of life within her thawed, as the smoky aura of her form returned, and her eyes shifted from blue to a sickly amber. Jason no longer saw any trace of the mother he'd once loved.
She composed herself, and the cadence of her voice changed. "I know what's wrong. You're upset I gave you up."
The blithe acknowledgment of her wrongdoing made Jason's cheeks burn. "You threw away a responsibility."
Her amber eyes lightened, the harder she stared at Jason. They turned yellow, as if they were reflecting the sun. But clouds blanketed the sky. "You're upset that your fellow Romans abandoned you. Let you disappear."
"This isn't about them. It's about you."
Beryl's motherly, nurturing farce had dissolved completely. Leaving a rotten ghost taunting him in malice. "It only started with me. Are you still upset or aren't you?"
"They did what they should've done." Jason wasn't about to let this ugly, dead thing get to him.
"You were indispensable- Jupiter's only son. And they didn't care anyway."
No one had ever known about Jason's secret arrogance, when it came to his father. Save for Octavian, who likely suspected. But Jason had always played the part of the humble, benevolent soldier. "Shut up."
"You're upset your best friend, stuck between two sides, didn't choose yours."
"I said shut up!" The mention of Leo made his vision red. It was his best friend's own self-pity that drove the wedge between them- not Jason himself. He couldn't allow it. He couldn't live with it.
She closed the gap between them, dripping with glacial smoke that pricked Jason's skin like dry ice. The yellow irises of her eyes bloomed into a golden luminance, overtaking her pupils and hypnotizing him so he couldn't look away.
She traced his chin with her finger. "You can be the bravest leader, the most loyal soldier, and it won't earn anyone's true love. Not even your father's. That's why you're upset."
He slapped her hand, but it was as if he'd hit a projection. The image scattered, then the illusion of her body reformed.
Beryl held an expression of false pity, as if Jason was only a pouting, petulant child. "You've been left behind all your life, Jason. You know how it feels. And you chose to leave Percy Jackson to rot."
Jason snapped. "Why should I save him? We both disappeared, and he got search parties. He got half the damn world looking for him- even my sister. What did I get? I stayed at that camp for months, and it was "Percy this", "Percy that". But what happened when I got home? Was anyone worried sick about me? Did anyone care?"
She seemed pleased to tell him: "It's because you push people. You repel them. Like me, like Reyna, like Leo, and you know what? Soon, not even Piper will be able to stand you."
He faltered. "What are you talking about."
"Why do you think Hera wiped your mind? You were too broken. Angry. Intolerable. She had to create a fiction so real even you almost believed it."
"It was real," Jason insisted. "It is."
Her voice became soft, menacing. "You can lie to yourself, Jason. You can't lie to me."
Beryl's body morphed, and Jason almost saw what looked like his own- with those glowing, golden eyes. He blinked and it was the same ghost of his mother. She pressed a vapored, icy finger to his forehead.
"You think I don't know what's behind that door of yours? Who do you think helped you open it?"
Jason stumbled back. The pounding of anger still throbbed in his chest, but it was accompanied by fear. "I'm not that person anymore."
His mother's spirit seemed to grow taller, float higher. Her voice sounded whispy and inhuman. "That wretched goddess can toy all she likes with her golden crew, mold them into perfection, set them on a path even from birth. But her magic can't last forever. Its lingering effects have left you, and it's only a matter of time before Piper notices."
Jason pulled out his sword. "She knows what Juno did. She still loves me."
"She loves an idea of you. She has yet to know it doesn't exist anymore. Not after today. Not ever again."
The difference between Beryl Grace and any other monster Jason had struck down in his path was growing very slim. "No. I know who I am. She knows who I am."
Maybe it was the rage that purified him, but this was the clearest his head had been in a long, long time.
She smiled serenely, as if she'd waited for this moment all her life, and even all her death. For her son to be as broken as she was.
"I think she's about to."
He couldn't hold his fury back anymore, and he knew he never could again.
So be it.
Jason called to the winds again, and this time they listened, ready to be commanded and generate destruction like never before. It wouldn't only be the air, but lightning, thunder, rain, hail, and the likes of a storm that had never before touched this part of the Earth.
The smoke and vapor that comprised his mother's form oozed away, and so did her coldness. She seemed now an ordinary spirit. Her eyes faded back into their familiar blue, wrought with confusion, as if she didn't know what she'd just done. Jason didn't care.
"Gaea would never let us go," he said. "Not for some deal, not for passing some test. She's up to her old tricks, and using you as her pawn."
His mother's spirit bent to her knees, shaking. "Jason, believe me, whatever you've just heard, those words weren't mine, this wasn't part of the-"
Jason ignored her. "She thinks she can turn Piper against me, that's fine. She can try. It's my mission to kill her and all her evil goons, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."
She cowered at his feet, and Jason raised his sword over his mother's head, over her neck, where'd strike with accuracy and no hesitation. "Starting with you."
He brought his sword down in one swift, precise motion, and her image vanished with a soft hiss. The last he saw of her was a look of frozen horror. He felt nothing for it.
Thunder boomed overheard, and Jason knew this time it was of his making. No mysterious voices would follow, and their owners wouldn't challenge him. He made his way back to the ghostly gathering.
Michael was unperturbed, not surprised at all to see him, and even amused. "Ah, that didn't take long. Have you chosen your fate, Jason Grace?"
Jason marched forward, and Michael recoiled, just like his mother had, upon seeing his look of death.
Electricity charged the air, and lightning flashed overheard, on the cusp of striking- of burning everyone and everything to the ground. It was a threat evident in Jason's eyes, and that's what kept Michael frozen while Jason stalked forward.
"I've chosen yours." Jason thrust his sword into Michael's chest, impaling him between the armor.
Michael Varus disintegrated into nothing. And Jason unleashed the same hell on all evil souls that remained.