“Your cabin mate, Billie…Is she nice?”

“Sure. All good.”

“And Peaches?”

She looked at me sideways. “Disappeared overnight. Guess he only shows up when I’m in danger.”

“Well, that’s an appropriate time for him to show up.”

“Ap-pro-pri-ate.” Meg touched a waffle square for each syllable. “Sherman Yang had to get seven stitches.”

I glanced over at Sherman, who sat at a safe distance across the pavilion, glaring daggers at Meg. A nasty red zigzag ran down the side of his face.

“I wouldn’t worry,” I told Meg. “Ares’s children like scars. Besides, Sherman wears the Frankenstein look rather well.”

The corner of her mouth twitched, but her gaze remained far away. “Our cabin has a grass floor—like, green grass. There’s a huge oak tree in the middle, holding up the ceiling.”

“Is that bad?”

“I have allergies.”

“Ah…” I tried to imagine the tree in her cabin. Once upon a time, Demeter had had a sacred grove of oaks. I remembered she’d gotten quite angry when a mortal prince tried to cut it down.

A sacred grove…

Suddenly the bacon in my stomach expanded, wrapping around my organs.

Meg gripped my arm. Her voice was a distant buzz. I only heard the last, most important word: “—Apollo?”

I stirred. “What?”

“You blanked out.” She scowled. “I said your name six times.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. Where did you go?”

I could not explain. I felt as if I’d been standing on the deck of a ship when an enormous, dark, and dangerous shape passed beneath the hull—a shape almost discernible, then simply gone.

“I—I don’t know. Something about trees….”

“Trees,” Meg said.

“It’s probably nothing.”

It wasn’t nothing. I couldn’t shake the image from my dreams: the crowned woman urging me to find the gates. That woman wasn’t Demeter—at least, I didn’t think so. But the idea of sacred trees stirred a memory within me…something very old, even by my standards.

I didn’t want to talk about this with Meg, not until I’d had time to reflect. She had enough to worry about. Besides, after last night, my new young master made me more apprehensive than ever.

I glanced at the rings on her middle fingers. “So yesterday…those swords. And don’t do that thing.”

Meg’s eyebrows furrowed. “What thing?”

“That thing where you shut down and refuse to talk. Your face turns to cement.”

She gave me a furious pout. “It does not. I’ve got swords. I fight with them. So what?”

“So it might have been nice to know that earlier, when we were in combat with plague spirits.”

“You said it yourself: those spirits couldn’t be killed.”

“You’re sidestepping.” I knew this because it was a tactic I had mastered centuries ago. “The style you fight in, with two curved blades, is the style of a dimachaerus, a gladiator from the late Roman Empire. Even back then, it was rare—possibly the most difficult fighting style to master, and one of the most deadly.”

Meg shrugged. It was an eloquent shrug, but it did not offer much in the way of explanation.

“Your swords are Imperial gold,” I said. “That would indicate Roman training, and mark you as a good prospect for Camp Jupiter. Yet your mother is Demeter, the goddess in her Greek form, not Ceres.”

“How do you know?”

“Aside from the fact that I was a god? Demeter claimed you here at Camp Half-Blood. That was no accident. Also, her older Greek form is much more powerful. You, Meg, are powerful.”

Her expression turned so guarded I expected Peaches to hurtle from the sky and start pulling out chunks of my hair.

“I never met my mom,” she said. “I didn’t know who she was.”

“Then where did you get the swords? Your father?”

Meg tore her waffle into tiny pieces. “No….My stepdad raised me. He gave me these rings.”

“Your stepfather. Your stepfather gave you rings that turn into Imperial golden swords. What sort of man—”

“A good man,” she snapped.

I noted the steel in Meg’s voice and let the subject rest. I sensed a great tragedy in her past. Also, I feared that if I pressed my questions, I might find those golden blades at my neck.