“You’re saying you cannot offer me your undivided service to restore me to my throne?”

“Um…yeah.” He pointed at the bedroom doorway. “Besides, my mom’s pregnant. I’m going to have a baby sister. I’d like to be around to get to know her.”

“Well, I understand that. I remember when Artemis was born—”

“Aren’t you twins?”

“I’ve always regarded her as my little sister.”

Percy’s mouth twitched. “Anyway, my mom’s got that going on, and her first novel is going to be published this spring as well, so I’d like to stay alive long enough to—”

“Wonderful!” I said. “Remind her to burn the proper sacrifices. Calliope is quite touchy when novelists forget to thank her.”

“Okay. But what I’m saying…I can’t go off on another world-stomping quest. I can’t do that to my family.”

Percy glanced toward his window. On the sill was a potted plant with delicate silver leaves—possibly moonlace. “I’ve already given my mom enough heart attacks for one lifetime. She’s just about forgiven me for disappearing last year, but I swore to her and Paul that I wouldn’t do anything like that again.”


“My stepdad. He’s at a teacher in-service today. He’s a good guy.”

“I see.” In truth, I didn’t see. I wanted to get back to talking about my problems. I was impatient with Percy for turning the conversation to himself. Sadly, I have found this sort of self-centeredness common among demigods.

“You do understand that I must find a way to return to Olympus,” I said. “This will probably involve many harrowing trials with a high chance of death. Can you turn down such glory?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can. Sorry.”

I pursed my lips. It always disappointed me when mortals put themselves first and failed to see the big picture—the importance of putting me first—but I had to remind myself that this young man had helped me out on many previous occasions. He had earned my goodwill.

“I understand,” I said with incredible generosity. “You will at least escort us to Camp Half-Blood?”

“That I can do.” Percy reached into his hoodie pocket and pulled out a ballpoint pen. For a moment I thought he wanted my autograph. I can’t tell you how often that happens. Then I remembered the pen was the disguised form of his sword, Riptide.

He smiled, and some of that old demigod mischief twinkled in his eyes. “Let’s see if Meg’s ready for a field trip.”

Seven-layer dip

Chocolate chip cookies in blue

I love this woman

SALLY JACKSON was a witch to rival Circe. She had transformed Meg from a street urchin into a shockingly pretty young girl. Meg’s dark pageboy hair was glossy and brushed. Her round face was scrubbed clean of grime. Her cat-eye glasses had been polished so the rhinestones sparkled. She had evidently insisted on keeping her old red sneakers, but she wore new black leggings and a knee-length frock of shifting green hues.

Mrs. Jackson had figured out how to keep Meg’s old look but tweak it to be more complementary. Meg now had an elfish springtime aura that reminded me very much of a dryad. In fact…

A sudden wave of emotion overwhelmed me. I choked back a sob.

Meg pouted. “Do I look that bad?”

“No, no,” I managed. “It’s just…”

I wanted to say: You remind me of someone. But I didn’t dare open that line of conversation. Only two mortals ever had broken my heart. Even after so many centuries, I couldn’t think of her, couldn’t say her name without falling into despair.

Don’t misunderstand me. I felt no attraction to Meg. I was sixteen (or four thousand plus, depending on how you looked at it). She was a very young twelve. But the way she appeared now, Meg McCaffrey might have been the daughter of my former love…if my former love had lived long enough to have children.

It was too painful. I looked away.

“Well,” Sally Jackson said with forced cheerfulness, “how about I make some lunch while you three…talk.”

She gave Percy a worried glance, then headed to the kitchen, her hands protectively over her pregnant belly.

Meg sat on the edge of the sofa. “Percy, your mom is so normal.”

“Thanks, I guess.” He picked up a stack of test preparation manuals from the coffee table and chucked them aside.

“I see you like to study,” I said. “Well done.”