He howled and beat his small chest. “Peaches!”

Slowly, Percy raised his sword. His nose was still red and runny, and his face was puffy. “Meg, don move,” he snuffled. “I’m gonna—”

“No!” she said. “Don’t hurt him.”

She put her hand tentatively on the creature’s curly head. “You saved us,” she told the karpos. “Thank you.”

I started mentally preparing a list of herbal remedies for regenerating severed limbs, but to my surprise, the peach baby did not bite off Meg’s hand. Instead he hugged Meg’s leg and glared at us as if daring us to approach.

“Peaches,” he growled.

“He likes you,” Percy noted. “Um…why?”

“I don’t know,” Meg said. “Honestly, I didn’t summon him!”

I was certain Meg had summoned him, intentionally or unintentionally. I also had some ideas now about her godly parentage, and some questions about this “guardian” that the spirits had mentioned, but I decided it would be better to interrogate her when she did not have a snarling carnivorous toddler wrapped around her leg.

“Well, whatever the case,” I said, “we owe the karpos our lives. This brings to mind an expression I coined ages ago: A peach a day keeps the plague spirits away!”

Percy sneezed. “I thought it was apples and doctors.”

The karpos hissed.

“Or peaches,” Percy said. “Peaches work too.”

“Peaches,” agreed the karpos.

Percy wiped his nose. “Not criticizing, but why is he grooting?”

Meg frowned. “Grooting?”

“Yeah, like thah character in the movie…only saying one thing over and over.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t seen that movie,” I said. “But this karpos does seem to have a very…targeted vocabulary.”

“Maybe Peaches is his name.” Meg stroked the karpos’s curly brown hair, which elicited a demonic purring from the creature’s throat. “That’s what I’ll call him.”

“Whoa, you are not adopting thah—” Percy sneezed with such force, another irrigation pipe exploded behind him, sending up a row of tiny geysers. “Ugh. Sick.”

“You’re lucky,” I said. “Your trick with the water diluted the spirit’s power. Instead of getting a deadly illness, you got a head cold.”

“I hate head colds.” His green irises looked like they were sinking in a sea of bloodshot. “Neither of you got sick?”

Meg shook her head.

“I have an excellent constitution,” I said. “No doubt that’s what saved me.”

“And the fact thah I hosed the smoke off of you,” Percy said.

“Well, yes.”

Percy stared at me as if waiting for something. After an awkward moment, it occurred to me that if he was a god and I was a worshipper, he might expect gratitude.

“Ah…thank you,” I said.

He nodded. “No problem.”

I relaxed a little. If he had demanded a sacrifice, like a white bull or a fatted calf, I’m not sure what I would’ve done.

“Can we go now?” Meg asked.

“An excellent idea,” I said. “Though I’m afraid Percy is in no condition—”

“I can drive you the rest of the way,” he said. “If we can get my car out from between those trees…” He glanced in that direction and his expression turned even more miserable. “Aw, Hades no….”

A police cruiser was pulling over on the side of the road. I imagined the officers’ eyes tracing the tire ruts in the mud, which led to the plowed-down fence and continued to the blue Toyota Prius wedged between two peach trees. The cruiser’s roof lights flashed on.

“Great,” Percy muttered. “If they tow the Prius, I’m dead. My mom and Paul need thah car.”

“Go talk to the officers,” I said. “You won’t be any use to us anyway in your current state.”

“Yeah, we’ll be fine,” Meg said. “You said the camp is right over those hills?”

“Right, but…” Percy scowled, probably trying to think straight through the effects of his cold. “Most people enter camp from the east, where Half-Blood Hill is. The western border is wilder—hills and woods, all heavily enchanted. If you’re not careful, you can get lost….” He sneezed again. “I’m still not even sure Apollo can get in if he’s fully mortal.”