I glanced at Meg. I wondered if she could be lying to me—if she was some sort of spy. It seemed unlikely. She was too contrary, impetuous, and annoying to be an effective mole. Besides, she was technically my master. She could order me to do almost any task and I would have to obey. If she was out to destroy me, I was already as good as dead.

Perhaps Damien White…a son of Nemesis was a natural choice for backstabbing duty. Or Connor Stoll, Alice, or Julia…a child of Hermes had recently betrayed the gods by working for Kronos. They might do so again. Maybe that pretty Chiara, daughter of Tyche, was in league with the Beast. Children of luck were natural gamblers. The truth was, I had no idea.

The sky turned from black to gray. I became aware of a distant thump, thump, thump—a quick, relentless pulse that got louder and louder. At first, I feared it might be the blood in my head. Could human brains explode from too many worrisome thoughts? Then I realized the noise was mechanical, coming from the west. It was the distinctly modern sound of rotor blades cutting the air.

Meg lifted her head. “Is that a helicopter?”

I got to my feet.

The machine appeared—a dark red Bell 412 cutting north along the coastline. (Riding the skies as often as I do, I know my flying machines.) Painted on the helicopter’s side was a bright green logo with the letters D.E.

Despite my misery, a small bit of hope kindled inside me. The satyrs Millard and Herbert must have succeeded in delivering their message.

“That,” I told Meg, “is Rachel Elizabeth Dare. Let’s go see what the Oracle of Delphi has to say.”

Don’t paint over gods

If you’re redecorating

That’s, like, common sense

RACHEL ELIZABETH DARE was one of my favorite mortals. As soon as she’d become the Oracle two summers ago, she’d brought new vigor and excitement to the job.

Of course, the previous Oracle had been a withered corpse, so perhaps the bar was low. Regardless, I was elated as the Dare Enterprises helicopter descended just beyond the eastern hills, outside the camp’s boundary. I wondered what Rachel had told her father—a fabulously wealthy real estate magnate—to convince him she needed to borrow a helicopter. I knew Rachel could be quite convincing.

I jogged across the valley with Meg in tow. I could already imagine the way Rachel would look as she came over the summit: her frizzy red hair, her vivacious smile, her paint-spattered blouse, and jeans covered with doodles. I needed her humor, wisdom, and resilience. The Oracle would cheer us all up. Most importantly, she would cheer me up.

I was not prepared for the reality. (Which again, was a stunning surprise. Normally, reality prepares itself for me.)

Rachel met us on the hill near the entrance to her cave. Only later would I realize Chiron’s two satyr messengers were not with her, and I would wonder what had happened to them.

Miss Dare looked thinner and older—less like a high school girl and more like a young farmer’s wife from ancient times, weathered from hard work and gaunt from shortage of food. Her red hair had lost its vibrancy. It framed her face in a curtain of dark copper. Her freckles had faded to watermarks. Her green eyes did not sparkle. And she was wearing a dress—a white cotton frock with a white shawl, and a patina-green jacket. Rachel never wore dresses.

“Rachel?” I didn’t trust myself to say any more. She was not the same person.

Then I remembered that I wasn’t either.

She studied my new mortal form. Her shoulders slumped. “So it’s true.”

From below us came the voices of other campers. No doubt woken by the sound of the helicopter, they were emerging from their cabins and gathering at the base of the hill. None tried to climb toward us, though. Perhaps they sensed that all was not right.

The helicopter rose from behind Half-Blood Hill. It veered toward Long Island Sound, passing so close to the Athena Parthenos that I thought its landing skids might clip the goddess’s winged helmet.

I turned to Meg. “Would you tell the others that Rachel needs some space? Fetch Chiron. He should come up. The rest should wait.”

It wasn’t like Meg to take orders from me. I half expected her to kick me. Instead, she glanced nervously at Rachel, turned, and trudged down the hill.

“A friend of yours?” Rachel asked.

“Long story.”

“Yes,” she said. “I have a story like that, too.”

“Shall we talk in your cave?”

Rachel pursed her lips. “You won’t like it. But yes, that’s probably the safest place.”

The cave was not as cozy as I remembered.