We left Meg happily making three-point shots into Seymour’s mouth with the treats.

Once Chiron and I reached the porch, he turned his wheelchair to face me. “She’s an interesting demigod.”

“Interesting is such a nonjudgmental term.”

“She really summoned a karpos?”

“Well…the spirit appeared when she was in trouble. Whether she consciously summoned it, I don’t know. She named him Peaches.”

Chiron scratched his beard. “I have not seen a demigod with the power to summon grain spirits in a very long time. You know what it means?”

My feet began to quake. “I have my suspicions. I’m trying to stay positive.”

“She guided you out of the woods,” Chiron noted. “Without her—”

“Yes,” I said. “Don’t remind me.”

It occurred to me that I’d seen that keen look in Chiron’s eyes before—when he’d assessed Achilles’s sword technique and Ajax’s skill with a spear. It was the look of a seasoned coach scouting new talent. I’d never dreamed the centaur would look at me that way, as if I had something to prove to him, as if my mettle were untested. I felt so…so objectified.

“Tell me,” Chiron said, “what did you hear in the woods?”

I silently cursed my big mouth. I should not have asked whether the missing demigods had heard anything strange.

I decided it was fruitless to hold back now. Chiron was more perceptive than your average horse-man. I told him what I’d experienced in the forest, and afterward in my dream.

His hands curled into his lap blanket. The bottom of it rose higher above his red sequined pumps. He looked about as worried as it is possible for a man to look while wearing fishnet stockings.

“We will have to warn the campers to stay away from the forest,” he decided. “I do not understand what is happening, but I still maintain it must be connected to Delphi, and your present…ah, situation. The Oracle must be liberated from the monster Python. We must find a way.”

I translated that easily enough: I must find a way.

Chiron must have read my desolate expression.

“Come, come, old friend,” he said. “You have done it before. Perhaps you are not a god now, but the first time you killed Python it was no challenge at all! Hundreds of storybooks have praised the way you easily slew your enemy.”

“Yes,” I muttered. “Hundreds of storybooks.”

I recalled some of those stories: I had killed Python without breaking a sweat. I flew to the mouth of the cave, called him out, unleashed an arrow, and BOOM!—one dead giant snake monster. I became Lord of Delphi, and we all lived happily ever after.

How did storytellers get the idea that I vanquished Python so quickly?

All right…possibly it’s because I told them so. Still, the truth was rather different. For centuries after our battle, I had bad dreams about my old foe.

Now I was almost grateful for my imperfect memory. I could not recollect all of the nightmarish details of my fight with Python, but I did know he had been no pushover. I had needed all my godly strength, my divine powers, and the world’s most deadly bow.

What chance would I have as a sixteen-year-old mortal with acne, hand-me-down clothes, and the nom de guerre Lester Papadopoulos? I was not going to charge off to Greece and get myself killed, thank you very much, especially not without my sun chariot or the ability to teleport. I’m sorry; gods do not fly commercial.

I tried to figure out how to explain this to Chiron in a calm, diplomatic way that did not involve stomping my feet or screaming. I was saved from the effort by the sound of a conch horn in the distance.

“That means dinner.” The centaur forced a smile. “We will talk more later, eh? For now, let’s celebrate your arrival.”

Ode to a hot dog

With bug juice and tater chips

I got nothing, man


Especially sitting at a picnic table eating mortal food. With mortals.

The dining pavilion was pleasant enough. Even in winter, the camp’s magical borders shielded us from the worst of the elements. Sitting outdoors in the warmth of the torches and braziers, I felt only slightly chilly. Long Island Sound glittered in the light of the moon. (Hello, Artemis. Don’t bother to say hi.) On Half-Blood Hill, the Athena Parthenos glowed like the world’s largest nightlight. Even the woods did not seem so creepy with the pine trees blanketed in soft silvery fog.

My dinner, however, was less than poetic. It consisted of hot dogs, potato chips, and a red liquid I was told was bug juice. I did not know why humans consumed bug juice, or from which type of bug it had been extracted, but it was the tastiest part of the meal, which was disconcerting.