A satyr knocked on the door the next morning while everybody was dressing and told Connor and Travis they were wanted up at the Big House. They went off at once with hair uncombed and shoes untied muttering to each other and trying to figure out what they'd done.

The rest of us were wondering the exact same thing as we went to breakfast. They haven't left the cabin for three days and we were with them every minute yesterday," Trix mused. "I mean unless they got up in night to pull something…"

"I really don't think they were in the mood to make trouble last night," Terry said dubiously, helping himself to hash brown potatoes.

Trix snorted. "They are always in the mood to make trouble.

One of the hulking Hephaestus guys from at the next table must have heard because he called over; "Percy and Annabeth got back early this morning and Chiron called a counselors meeting."

Nico dropped his fork. "They're back! Is Bianca with them?" He didn't wait for answer but scrambled off the bench and ran for the Big House.

Uh oh. "The Hunters left last night," I said. "I sure hope his sister didn't go with them."

"Without saying good-bye?" Poppy asked. "She wouldn't."

"Maybe," I said but Hunters aren't very considerate, especially of boys.

Cabin 11 had clean up that morning so nobody expected Nico or the Stolls to come back during the first activity period. At Camp Half-Blood we wash dishes in lava – yes lava – meaning you have to wear shoulder high asbestos gloves, aprons and splash masks which was good because Sandy, Murphy and Harry decided to get into a lava fight. So the rest of us were steaming in more senses than one when we tramped into the arena for our unarmed combat class and found the Stolls waiting but no Nico.

Our counselors looked unusually serious. "Bianca was killed on the quest," Travis explained. "Percy took the kid out to break the news and neither of them has been seen since."

"Oh, poor Nico," Harry cried.

Murphy cracked his knuckles, a maddening habit he has when he's upset. Sandy turned absolutely paper white. I think it was just then, for the first time, it came home to him that this wasn't some cool LARP but Real Life and a real war where people could die.

Well Nico never showed for unarmed combat, his absolute favorite class, and he wasn't at lunch either. When he failed to appear for third period tracking skills with our goaty friend Woody the rest of us demanded that the Stolls do something.

"Like what?" Travis asked. "We've already checked the cabin and he's not there."

"Like go down to the Big House and ask what's going on!" Trix snapped right back.

"That's an idea," Connor said to his brother. "If the kid took it really hard Chiron might have put him in the infirmary for observation."

"Well go check!" We all yelled. So he did. Woody, nice satyr that he is, agreed to delay the start of class until Connor came back with news, or better still Nico. He came back alone and the news was grim.

"Nico's gone."

"What do you mean 'gone'?" said Harry.

"I mean run away," Connor answered him. "When Nico heard his sister was dead he ran off into the forest. Percy, Annabeth and Grover have been hunting for him ever since and found nothing. He's probably been eaten."

Sandy lost all his color again and I shouted, "Connor!"

"What?" he shouted back. "That's what happens when you go into the forest unarmed!"

"And it's better than the alternative," Woody said grimly.

"Yeah," Connor agreed. "Better dead then captured by Kronos!"

We didn't have tracking that day or any of our other scheduled activities. We went back to Cabin 11 and huddled together on the girls' side where we didn't have to look at Nico's bunk. Chiron came down to talk to us bringing Percy Jackson with him.

He looked taller than he had in my dream, alongside fifteen or twenty foot gods, and scarily grown up. There was a grim set to his mouth and sadness in his eyes that I really didn't want to see on the faces of my own brothers or Poppy either.

"It's all my fault," he said bluntly. "I promised Nico I'd take care of his sister and I didn't."

"Get real, Perce," Connor answered. "That's not the kind of promise a hero can keep no matter how hard he tries." It was funny how campers referred to themselves and each other as 'heroes' like it was a job description or something.

"It was in the prophecy," Travis agreed. "You can't fight the Fates." Maybe not but Percy Jackson looked to me like the kind of guy who'd try.

"What prophecy?" I asked.

Chiron answered; "Five shall go west to the goddess in chains; which was Artemis. One shall be lost in the land without rain –"

"Which turned out to be Bianca," said Percy.

"The bane of Olympus shows the trail-" Chiron continued.

"The Ophiotaurus!" I blurted. "I'm so glad you saved her, Percy. She's the cutest sea monster I've ever seen."

He and Chiron both stared at me. "Bessie's a 'him'," said Percy. "And how do you know about that?"

"I dreamed it," I said. "I wanted to know what was happening." I turned to Chiron; "You know the gods were all set to kill Percy and Thalia 'just in case'? What kind of divine morality is that?"

Chiron looked distressed but not surprised. "I am afraid the Olympians sometimes favor expediency over morality."

"Yeah, tell me about it," Percy said dryly.

"No offense, Percy," I said to him. "I mean your dad seems like a real cool guy standing up for you and the ophiotaurus like he did, but I am so glad none of those other clowns are our parents!" Chiron and the regular campers all opened their mouths but I rode over them. "Look, I saw the gods and our mom and dad were not there."

"Just like we've been telling you all along," Terry added.

"Not all gods have thrones on Olympus," Chiron said. "There are a number of minor divinities and underworld gods like Harry's mother."

Some people just will not listen!

"But what about Nico," Harry pleaded. "He could be alive somewhere."

"We haven't given up on him," Percy answered. "Annabeth, me, the other campers out in the real world and the satyrs will keep looking." He looked determined, like nothing better get in his way. "And if Kronos has got him we'll rescue him. I swear it on the River Styx!"

Chiron looked dismayed and the Stolls exchanged glances. "Way to get yourself killed, Percy," Travis said.

"I owe it to Bianca," Poseidon's son answered stubbornly.


The rest of the day pretty much sucked. Sandy and Harry had this huge fight with the Stolls over what to do with Nico's stuff. The younger boys wanted to keep their friend's bunk exactly the way he'd left it but our counselors though Nico's clothes and other things should be packed away because like who needed the reminder. They backed down fast after Harry gave them donkey ears.

The whispers and sympathetic looks from the other tables at dinner didn't help anybody's mood but trust Mr. D to make things that much worse. Yeah he was back from Olympus and still in a bad mood over not being allowed to kill Percy or Thalia or at least the Ophiotaurus. Chiron stomped for attention and Mr. D heaved himself to his feet.

"I'm supposed to tell you brats its official; Kronos has risen. That means war and your mommies and daddies are all aflutter over your safety. So, full security measures are back in place including a nightly patrol of the boundaries. Happily setting that up is your problem and not mine." He started to sit down but pulled himself back upright at a sharp, reminding look from Chiron. "Oh yes, our new campers Blanche and Nicky Diablo are both missing. The girl's presumed dead and the boy probably is too. Boo hoo."

I grabbed Murphy just in time as he made a lunge for our camp director with blood in his eye. Murph's an easygoing kid as a rule, but trust me you do not want to make him mad. On the other hand mixing it up with a god seemed like a real bad idea to me. Across the table the Stolls were sitting on Sandy and Harry. Luckily the rest of us were old enough to have a little self-control. Unluckily the death glares coming from our table didn't seem to faze Mr. D at all.

Neither did Chiron's more-in-sorrow-than-anger look. "Capture the Flag is cancelled for tonight," he said as Mr. D trudged off to the Big House. It was a measure of the mood that nobody groaned. "Instead there will be a full scale search of the forest and monster hunt. We are looking for any trace of Nico di Angelo. Poseidon, Athena and Hermes' cabins will take the south forest, work your way northward to the creek. Ares, Hephaestus and Aphrodite's cabins will search the north forest from the sound to the creek. Destroy any monster you encounter. They are a danger we can no longer tolerate." He made his usual gesture and the tables filled with weapons and armor. "Heroes, arm yourselves."