“My problems should not affect you,” I promised. “If Zeus went around retroactively yanking my divine power out of all my descendants, half the medical schools in the country would be empty. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would disappear. The Tarot-card reading industry would collapse overnight!”

Austin’s shoulders relaxed. “That’s a relief.”

“So if you die while you’re mortal,” Kayla said, “we won’t disappear?”

“Guys,” Will interrupted, “why don’t you run to the Big House and tell Chiron that our…our patient is conscious. I’ll bring him along in a minute. And, uh, see if you can disperse the crowd outside, okay? I don’t want everybody rushing Apollo at once.”

Kayla and Austin nodded sagely. As my children, they no doubt understood the importance of controlling the paparazzi.

As soon as they were gone, Will gave me an apologetic smile. “They’re in shock. We all are. It’ll take some time to get used to…whatever this is.”

“You do not seem shocked,” I said.

Will laughed under his breath. “I’m terrified. But one thing you learn as head counselor: you have to keep it together for everyone else. Let’s get you on your feet.”

It was not easy. I fell twice. My head spun, and my eyes felt as if they were being microwaved in their sockets. Recent dreams continued to churn in my brain like river silt, muddying my thoughts—the woman with the crown and the peace symbol, the man in the purple suit. Lead me to the Oracle. I’ll enjoy burning it down!

The cabin began to feel stifling. I was anxious to get some fresh air.

One thing my sister Artemis and I agree on: every worthwhile pursuit is better outdoors than indoors. Music is best played under the dome of heaven. Poetry should be shared in the agora. Archery is definitely easier outside, as I can attest after that one time I tried target practice in my father’s throne room. And driving the sun…well, that’s not really an indoor sport either.

Leaning on Will for support, I stepped outside. Kayla and Austin had succeeded in shooing the crowd away. The only one waiting for me—oh, joy and happiness—was my young overlord, Meg, who had apparently now gained fame at camp as Crotchkicker McCaffrey.

She still wore Sally Jackson’s hand-me-down green dress, though it was a bit dirtier now. Her leggings were ripped and torn. On her bicep, a line of butterfly bandages closed a nasty cut she must have gotten in the woods.

She took one look at me, scrunched up her face, and stuck out her tongue. “You look yuck.”

“And you, Meg,” I said, “are as charming as ever.”

She adjusted her glasses until they were just crooked enough to be annoying. “Thought you were going to die.”

“Glad to disappoint you.”

“Nah.” She shrugged. “You still owe me a year of service. We’re bound, whether you like it or not!”

I sighed. It was ever so wonderful to be back in Meg’s company.

“I suppose I should thank you….” I had a hazy memory of my delirium in the forest, Meg carrying me along, the trees seeming to part before us. “How did you get us out of the woods?”

Her expression turned guarded. “Dunno. Luck.” She jabbed a thumb at Will Solace. “From what he’s been telling me, it’s a good thing we got out before nightfall.”


Will started to answer, then apparently thought better of it. “I should let Chiron explain. Come on.”

I rarely visited Camp Half-Blood in winter. The last time had been three years ago, when a girl named Thalia Grace crash-landed my bus in the canoe lake.

I expected the camp to be sparsely populated. I knew most demigods only came for the summer, leaving a small core of year-rounders during the school term—those who for various reasons found camp the only safe place they could live.

Still, I was struck by how few demigods I saw. If Cabin Seven was any indication, each god’s cabin could hold beds for about twenty campers. That meant a maximum capacity of four hundred demigods—enough for several phalanxes or one really amazing yacht party.

Yet, as we walked across camp, I saw no more than a dozen people. In the fading light of sunset, a lone girl was scaling the climbing wall as lava flowed down either side. At the lake, a crew of three checked the rigging on the trireme.

Some campers had found reasons to be outside just so they could gawk at me. Over by the hearth, one young man sat polishing his shield, watching me in its reflective surface. Another fellow glared at me as he spliced barbed wire outside the Ares cabin. From the awkward way he walked, I assumed he was Sherman Yang of the recently kicked crotch.