“We should get inside,” I said. “Percy Jackson will help us.”
Still, Meg held back. She had shown no fear while pelting muggers with garbage in a blind alley, but now she seemed to be having second thoughts about ringing a doorbell. It occurred to me she might have met demigods before. Perhaps those meetings had not gone well.
“Meg,” I said, “I realize some demigods are not good. I could tell you stories of all the ones I’ve had to kill or transform into herbs—”
“But Percy Jackson has always been reliable. You have nothing to fear. Besides, he likes me. I taught him everything he knows.”
She frowned. “You did?”
I found her innocence somewhat charming. So many obvious things she did not know. “Of course. Now let’s go up.”
I rang the buzzer. A few moments later, the garbled voice of a woman answered, “Yes?”
“Hello,” I said. “This is Apollo.”
“The god Apollo,” I said, thinking perhaps I should be more specific. “Is Percy home?”
More static, followed by two voices in muted conversation. The front door buzzed. I pushed it open. Just before I stepped inside, I caught a flash of movement in the corner of my eye. I peered down the sidewalk but again saw nothing.
Perhaps it had been a reflection. Or a whirl of sleet. Or perhaps it had been a shiny blob. My scalp tingled with apprehension.
“What?” Meg asked.
“Probably nothing.” I forced a cheerful tone. I did not want Meg bolting off when we were so close to reaching safety. We were bound together now. I would have to follow her if she ordered me to, and I did not fancy living in the alley with her forever. “Let’s go up. We can’t keep our hosts waiting.”
After all I had done for Percy Jackson, I expected delight upon my arrival. A tearful welcome, a few burnt offerings, and a small festival in my honor would not have been inappropriate.
Instead, the young man swung open the apartment door and said, “Why?”
As usual, I was struck by his resemblance to his father, Poseidon. He had the same sea-green eyes, the same dark tousled hair, the same handsome features that could shift from humor to anger so easily. However, Percy Jackson did not favor his father’s chosen garb of beach shorts and Hawaiian shirts. He was dressed in ragged jeans and a blue hoodie with the words AHS SWIM TEAM stitched across the front.
Meg inched back into the hallway, hiding behind me.
I tried for a smile. “Percy Jackson, my blessings upon you! I am in need of assistance.”
Percy’s eyes darted from me to Meg. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Meg McCaffrey,” I said, “a demigod who must be taken to Camp Half-Blood. She rescued me from street thugs.”
“Rescued…” Percy scanned my battered face. “You mean the ‘beat-up teenager’ look isn’t just a disguise? Dude, what happened to you?”
“I may have mentioned the street thugs.”
“But you’re a god.”
“About that…I was a god.”
Percy blinked. “Was?”
“Also,” I said, “I’m fairly certain we’re being followed by malicious spirits.”
If I didn’t know how much Percy Jackson adored me, I would have sworn he was about to punch me in my already-broken nose.
He sighed. “Maybe you two should come inside.”
Casa de Jackson
No gold-plated throne for guests
ANOTHER THING I have never understood: How can you mortals live in such tiny places? Where is your pride? Your sense of style?
The Jackson apartment had no grand throne room, no colonnades, no terraces or banquet halls or even a thermal bath. It had a tiny living room with an attached kitchen and a single hallway leading to what I assumed were the bedrooms. The place was on the fifth floor, and while I wasn’t so picky as to expect an elevator, I did find it odd there was no landing deck for flying chariots. What did they do when guests from the sky wanted to visit?
Standing behind the kitchen counter, making a smoothie, was a strikingly attractive mortal woman of about forty. Her long brown hair had a few gray streaks, but her bright eyes, quick smile, and festive tie-dyed sundress made her look younger.
As we entered, she turned off the blender and stepped out from behind the counter.
“Sacred Sibyl!” I cried. “Madam, there is something wrong with your midsection!”
The woman stopped, mystified, and looked down at her hugely swollen belly. “Well, I’m seven months pregnant.”