I was too angry to be terrified. I stared at the woods and dared the whispering voices to disturb me. I thought, Come on, then. Take me, too. The trees remained silent. Kayla and Austin did not return.

Toward dawn, it started to snow. Only then did Meg speak. “We should go inside.”

“And abandon them?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Snow salted the hood of her winter coat. Her face was hidden except for the tip of her nose and the glint of rhinestones on her glasses. “You’ll freeze out here.”

I noticed she didn’t complain about the cold herself. I wondered if she even felt uncomfortable, or if the power of Demeter kept her safe through the winter like a leafless tree or a dormant seed in the earth.

“They were my children.” It hurt me to use the past tense, but Kayla and Austin felt irretrievably lost. “I should’ve done more to protect them. I should have anticipated that my enemies would target them to hurt me.”

Meg chucked another rock at the trees. “You’ve had a lot of children. You take the blame every time one of them gets in trouble?”

The answer was no. Over the millennia, I had barely managed to remember my children’s names. If I sent them an occasional birthday card or a magic flute, I felt really good about myself. Sometimes I wouldn’t realize one of them had died until decades later. During the French Revolution, I got worried about my boy Louis XIV, the Sun King, then went down to check on him and found out he had died seventy-five years earlier.

Now, though, I had a mortal conscience. My sense of guilt seemed to have expanded as my life span contracted. I couldn’t explain that to Meg. She would never understand. She’d probably just throw a rock at me.

“It’s my fault Python retook Delphi,” I said. “If I had killed him the moment he reappeared, while I was still a god, he would never have become so powerful. He would never have made an alliance with this…this Beast.”

Meg lowered her face.

“You know him,” I guessed. “In the Labyrinth, when you heard the Beast’s voice, you were terrified.”

I was worried she might order me to shut up again. Instead, she silently traced the crescents on her gold rings.

“Meg, he wants to destroy me,” I said. “Somehow, he’s behind these disappearances. The more we understand about this man—”

“He lives in New York.”

I waited. It was difficult to glean much information from the top of Meg’s hood.

“All right,” I said. “That narrows it down to eight and a half million people. What else?”

Meg picked at the calluses on her fingers. “If you’re a demigod on the streets, you hear about the Beast. He takes people like me.”

A snowflake melted on the back of my neck. “Takes people…why?”

“To train,” Meg said. “To use like…servants, soldiers. I don’t know.”

“And you’ve met him.”

“Please don’t ask me—”


“He killed my dad.”

Her words were quiet, but they hit me harder than a rock in the face. “Meg, I—I’m sorry. How…?”

“I refused to work for him,” she said. “My dad tried to…” She closed her fists. “I was really small. I hardly remember it. I got away. Otherwise, the Beast would’ve killed me, too. My stepdad took me in. He was good to me. You asked why he trained me to fight? Why he gave me the rings? He wanted me to be safe, to be able to protect myself.”

“From the Beast.”

Her hood dipped. “Being a good demigod, training hard…that’s the only way to keep the Beast away. Now you know.”

In fact, I had more questions than ever, but I sensed that Meg was in no mood for further sharing. I remembered her expression as we stood on that ledge under the chamber of Delphi—her look of absolute terror when she recognized the Beast’s voice. Not all monsters were three-ton reptiles with poisonous breath. Many wore human faces.

I peered into the woods. Somewhere in there, five demigods were being used as bait, including two of my children. The Beast wanted me to search for them, and I would. But I would not let him use me.

I have well-placed help within the camp, the Beast had said.

That bothered me.

I knew from experience that any demigod could be turned against Olympus. I had been at the banquet table when Tantalus tried to poison the gods by feeding us his chopped-up son in a stew. I’d watched as King Mithridates sided with the Persians and massacred every Roman in Anatolia. I’d witnessed Queen Clytemnestra turn homicidal, killing her husband Agamemnon just because he made one little human sacrifice to me. Demigods are an unpredictable bunch.