Annabeth tried not to let her voice betray the frantic, panicky energy building up inside her as she searched the camp for the daughter of Aphrodite.
“She was down by the lake last I saw her,” a nearby satyr supplied, looking at Annabeth with concern.
She nodded her thanks and dashed off toward the canoe lake, too preoccupied to wonder what he must have thought of her.
Sure enough, there on the beach was Piper along with most of the Aphrodite cabin. Many of the girls were tanning in bikinis or reading gossip magazines, but Piper was lounging under the shade of a pine on top of the dunes, reading a large book Annabeth hadn’t seen before. For once in her life, she didn’t care about the book.
She stopped in front of her friend, her chest heaving from running, her back to the other girls. “Hey, Piper.”
Something in her voice must have tipped Piper off because she looked up quickly and narrowed her eyes. Worry must have been clearly etched on Annabeth’s face. “What’s up?” Without looking away from Annabeth, she set her book on the sand and stood.
“Can we talk? You know, somewhere else?” Her hands twitched nervously at her sides.
“Sure.” They walked a few feet away from the beach and the giggling Aphrodite girls, far enough away to be out of earshot.
“What’s going on?” Piper asked.
Annabeth could hardly keep herself under control. She paced back and forth rapidly, her mind spinning, trying to grasp onto any possible explanation. This can’t be happening, her head told her. Not again.
She started talking so fast that her words ran together. “You know I trust you more than most girls here, or most campers honestly, and if I can’t go to Percy about something I’ll usually go to you so—“
Piper raised an eyebrow. “You can’t go to Percy about this?”
Annabeth froze in her pacing and shook her head frantically. “No. No, I can’t, because I can’t find him.”
Piper’s eyes widened. Before she could stop herself, a small gasp escaped from her lips. She quickly composed herself with a deep breath. “What do you mean you can’t find him?”
“I mean just that! I checked his cabin multiple times and the Big House and the arena and the amphitheater, the woods, the Sound, he isn’t anywhere!” She collapsed suddenly to her knees and gripped her hair with tight-fisted hands. “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. Not again… He's always out of reach, they always take him from me!” Suddenly the world felt like it was caving in around her. The weight of the sky sat on her shoulders once more. She couldn’t breathe.
Piper knelt next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right, Annabeth.” She poured charmspeak into her words. “We’ll find out what’s going on. There’s got to be an explanation.”
“You’re right,” Annabeth heaved, the world allowing her a bit more room. “You’re right.”
“Okay,” Piper said, clearly satisfied that she’d made some progress. She sat back and crossed her legs. “You’re better at puzzles than I am, but tell me what happened. Maybe if you talk it out, something will make sense. When did you last see him?”
Annabeth looked up at her through her fingers. “Yesterday. We were sparring in the arena for a few hours…”