Guide to Apollo-speak

Achilles the best fighter of the Greeks who besieged Troy in the Trojan War; extraordinarily strong, courageous, and loyal, he had only one weak spot: his heel

Admetus the king of Pherae in Thessaly; Zeus punished Apollo by sending him to work for Admetus as a shepherd

Aeolus  the Greek god of the winds

Agamemnon king of Mycenae; the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War; courageous, but also arrogant and overly proud

agora Greek for gathering place; a central outdoor spot for athletic, artistic, spiritual, and political life in ancient Greek city-states

Ajax Greek hero with great strength and courage; fought in the Trojan War; used a large shield in battle ambrosia food of the gods; has healing powers

amphitheater an oval or circular open-air space used for performances or sporting events, with spectator seating built in a semicircle around the stage

Aphrodite   the Greek goddess of love and beauty

apodesmos a band of material that women in ancient Greece wore around the chest, particularly while participating in sports

Apollo the Greek god of the sun, prophecy, music, and healing; the son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin of Artemis

Ares    the Greek god of war; the son of Zeus and Hera, and half brother to Athena

Argo the ship used by a band of heroes who accompanied Jason on his quest to find the Golden Fleece Argonauts a band of heroes who sailed with Jason on the Argo, in search of the Golden Fleece Artemis the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon; the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin of Apollo

Asclepius   the god of medicine; son of Apollo; his temple was the healing center of ancient Greece

Athena   the Greek goddess of wisdom

Athena Parthenos  a giant statue of Athena; the most famous Greek statue of all time

ballista (ballistae, pl.) a Roman missile siege weapon that launched a large projectile at a distant target Batavi an ancient tribe that lived in modern-day Germany; also an infantry unit in the Roman army with Germanic origins

Briseis a princess captured by Achilles during the Trojan War, causing a feud between Achilles and Agamemnon that resulted in Achilles refusing to fight alongside the Greeks

Bunker Nine a hidden workshop Leo Valdez discovered at Camp Half-Blood, filled with tools and weapons; it is at least two hundred years old and was used during the Demigod Civil War

Caesar Augustus the founder and first emperor of the Roman Empire; adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar (see also Octavian)

Calliope   the muse of epic poetry; mother of several sons, including Orpheus

Calypso the goddess nymph of the mythical island of Ogygia; a daughter of the Titan Atlas; she detained the hero Odysseus for many years

Camp Half-Blood the training ground for Greek demigods, located in Long Island, New York Camp Jupiter the training ground for Roman demigods, located between the Oakland Hills and the Berkeley Hills, in California

Cassandra the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba; had the gift of prophecy, but was cursed by Apollo so that her predictions were never believed, including her warning about the Trojan Horse

catapult   a military machine used to hurl objects

Cave of Trophonius a deep chasm home to the Oracle Trophonius; its extremely narrow entrance required a visitor to lie flat on his back before being sucked into the cave; called “The Cave of Nightmares” due to the terrifying accounts of its visitors

Celestial bronze a rare metal deadly to monsters centaur a race of creatures that is half-human, half-horse Ceres the Roman god of agriculture; Greek form: Demeter

Chiron   a centaur; the camp activities director at Camp Half-Blood

chiton a Greek garment; a sleeveless piece of linen or wool secured at the shoulders by brooches and at the waist by a belt

Chrysothemis a daughter of Demeter who won Apollo’s love during a music contest Circe a Greek goddess of magic

Cloacina  goddess of the Roman sewer system

Clytemnestra the daughter of the king and queen of Sparta; married and later murdered Agamemnon

Colosseum an elliptical amphitheater in the center of Rome, Italy, capable of seating fifty thousand spectators; used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas

Colossus Neronis (Colossus of Nero) a gigantic bronze statue of Emperor Nero; was later transformed into the sun god with the addition of a sunray crown

Cretan     of the island of Crete

Crommyon a village in ancient Greece where a giant wild sow wreaked havoc before it was killed by Theseus

cuirass leather or metal armor consisting of a breastplate and backplate worn by Greek and Roman soldiers; often highly ornamented and designed to mimic muscles

Cyclops (Cyclopes, pl.) a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of his or her forehead

Cyrene a fierce huntress with whom Apollo fell in love after he saw her wrestle a lion; Apollo later transformed her into a nymph in order to extend her life

Daedalus a skilled craftsman who created the Labyrinth on Crete in which the Minotaur (part man, part bull) was kept

Daphne a beautiful naiad who attracted Apollo’s attention; she was transformed into a laurel tree in order to escape him

Demeter the Greek goddess of agriculture; a daughter of the Titans Rhea and Kronos; Roman form: Ceres

dimachaerus                 a Roman gladiator trained to fight with two swords at once

Dionysus the Greek god of wine and revelry; the son of Zeus; activities director at Camp Half-Blood Domus Aurea Emperor Nero’s extravagant villa in the heart of ancient Rome, built after the Great Fire of Rome

Doors of Death the doorway to the House of Hades, located in Tartarus; doors have two sides—one in the mortal world, and one in the Underworld

drakon a gigantic yellow-and-green serpentlike monster, with frills around its neck, reptilian eyes, and huge talons; it spits poison

dryads   tree nymphs

Erebos a place of darkness between earth and Hades Eros the Greek god of love

Erythaea an island where the Cumaean Sibyl, a love interest of Apollo, originally lived before he convinced her to leave it by promising her a long life

Fields of Punishment the section of the Underworld where people who were evil during their lives are sent to face eternal punishment for their crimes after death

Gaea the Greek earth goddess; mother of Titans, giants, Cyclopes, and other monsters Germani (Germanus, sing.) tribal people who settled to the west of the Rhine river

Golden Fleece this hide from a gold-haired winged ram was a symbol of authority and kingship; it was guarded by a dragon and fire-breathing bulls; Jason was tasked with obtaining it, resulting in an epic quest

Gorgons three monstrous sisters (Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa) who have hair of living, venomous snakes; Medusa’s eyes can turn the beholder to stone

Great Fire of Rome a devastating fire that took place in 64 CE, lasting for six days; rumors indicated that Nero started the fire to clear space for the building of his villa, Domus Aurea, but he blamed the Christian community for the disaster

greaves   shin armor

Greek fire an incendiary weapon used in naval battles because it can continue burning in water Grove of Dodona the site of the oldest Greek Oracle, second only to the Delphi; the rustling of trees in the grove provided answers to priests and priestesses who journeyed to the site

Hades the Greek god of death and riches; ruler of the Underworld

harpy    a winged female creature that snatches things

Hebe the Greek goddess of youth; daughter of Zeus and Hera Hecate goddess of magic and crossroads

Hephaestus the Greek god of fire and crafts and of blacksmiths; the son of Zeus and Hera, and married to Aphrodite

Hera     the Greek goddess of marriage; Zeus’s wife and sister

Hermes Greek god of travelers; guide to spirits of the dead; god of communication Herodotus a Greek historian known as the “Father of History”

Hestia    Greek goddess of the hearth

hippocampi (hippocampus, sing.) half-horse, half-fish creatures hippodrome an oval stadium for horse and chariot races in ancient Greece

Hittites a group of people who lived in modern Turkey and Syria; often in conflict with Egyptians; known for their use of chariots as assault weapons

House of Hades a place in the Underworld where Hades, the Greek god of death, and his wife, Persephone, rule over the souls of the departed

Hunters of Artemis a group of maidens loyal to Artemis and gifted with hunting skills and eternal youth as long as they reject men for life

Hyacinthus a Greek hero and Apollo’s lover, who died while trying to impress Apollo with his discus skills

Hypnos   the Greek god of sleep

ichor the golden fluid that is the blood of gods and immortals imperator a term for commander in the Roman Empire

Imperial gold a rare metal deadly to monsters, consecrated at the Pantheon; its existence was a closely guarded secret of the emperors

Iris      the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and a messenger of the gods

Julian dynasty the time period measured from the battle of Actium (31 BCE) to the death of Nero (68 CE)

karpoi (karpos, sing.)  grain spirits

kouretes  armored dancers who guarded the infant Zeus from his father, Kronos

Kronos the youngest of the twelve Titans; the son of Ouranos and Gaea; the father of Zeus; he killed his father at his mother’s bidding; Titan lord of fate, harvest, justice, and time; Roman form: Saturn

Labyrinth an underground maze originally built on the island of Crete by the craftsman Daedalus to hold the Minotaur

Laomedon a Trojan king whom Poseidon and Apollo were sent to serve after they offended Zeus Lepidus a Roman patrician and military commander who was in a triumvirate with Octavian and Marc Antony

Leto     mother of Artemis and Apollo with Zeus; goddess of motherhood

Lupercalia a pastoral festival, observed on February 13 through 15, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility

Lydia a province in ancient Rome; the double ax originated there, along with the use of coins and retail shops

Marc Antony a Roman politician and general; part of the triumvirate, with Lepidus and Octavian, who together tracked down and defeated Caesar’s killers; had an enduring affair with Cleopatra

Marsyas a satyr who lost to Apollo after challenging him in a musical contest, which led to Marsyas being flayed alive

Medea    a follower of Hecate and one of the great sorceresses of the ancient world

Midas a king with the power to transform anything he touched to gold; he selected Marsyas as the winner in the musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas, resulting in Apollo giving Midas the ears of a donkey

Minos king of Crete; son of Zeus; every year he made King Aegus pick seven boys and seven girls to be sent to the Labyrinth, where they would be eaten by the Minotaur; after his death he became a judge in the Underworld

Minotaur the half-man, half-bull son of King Minos of Crete; the Minotaur was kept in the Labyrinth, where he killed people who were sent in; he was finally defeated by Theseus

Mithridates king of Pontus and Armenia Minor in northern Anatolia (now Turkey) from about 120 to 63 BCE; one of the Roman Republic’s most formidable and successful enemies, who engaged three of the prominent generals from the late Roman Republic in the Mithridatic Wars

Mount Olympus home of the Twelve Olympians

myrmeke a giant antlike creature that poisons and paralyzes its prey before eating it; known for protecting various metals, particularly gold

Nemesis  the Greek goddess of revenge

Nero     Roman emperor from 54 to 68 CE; the last in the Julian dynasty

New Rome a community near Camp Jupiter where demigods can live together in peace, without interference from mortals or monsters

Nike     the Greek goddess of strength, speed, and victory

Nine Muses Greek goddesses of literature, science, and the arts, who have inspired artists and writers for centuries

Niobe daughter of Tantalus and Dione; suffered the loss of her six sons and six daughters, who were killed by Apollo and Artemis as a punishment for her pride

nosoi (nosos, sing.) spirits of plague and disease nymph a female nature deity who animates nature

Octavian the founder and first emperor of the Roman Empire; adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar (see also Caesar Augustus)

Odysseus legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey Ogygia the island home—and prison—of the nymph Calypso

omphalus stones used to mark the center—or navel—of the world Oracle of Delphi a speaker of the prophecies of Apollo

Oracle of Trophonius a Greek who was transformed into an Oracle after his death; located at the Cave of Trophonius; known for terrifying those who seek him

Ouranos  the Greek personification of the sky; father of the Titans

palikoi (palikos, sing.) twin sons of Zeus and Thaleia; the gods of geysers and thermal springs

Pan the Greek god of the wild; the son of Hermes

Pandora the first human woman created by the gods; endowed with a unique gift from each; released evil into the world by opening a jar

Parthenon a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena located at the Athenian Acropolis in Greece Patroclus son of Menoetius; he shared a deep friendship with Achilles after being raised alongside him; he was killed while fighting in the Trojan War

pegasus (pegasi, pl.)   a winged divine horse; sired by Poseidon, in his role as horse-god

Peleus father of Achilles; his wedding to the sea-nymph Thetis was well attended by the gods, and a disagreement between them at the event eventually lead to the Trojan War; the guardian dragon at Camp Half-Blood is named after him

Persephone the Greek queen of the Underworld; wife of Hades; daughter of Zeus and Demeter

phalanx (phalanxes, pl.) a compact body of heavily armed troops

Phidias a famous ancient Greek sculptor who created the Athena Parthenos and many others

Polyphemus the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa; one of the Cyclopes

Poseidon the Greek god of the sea; son of the Titans Kronos and Rhea, and brother of Zeus and Hades

praetor an elected Roman magistrate and commander of the army

Primordial Chaos the first thing ever to exist; a void from which the first gods were produced

Prometheus the Titan who created humans and gifted them with fire stolen from Mount Olympus

Pythia the name given to every Oracle of Delphi

Python a monstrous serpent that Gaea appointed to guard the Oracle at Delphi Rhea Silvia the queen of the Titans, mother of Zeus

Riptide    the name of Percy Jackson’s sword; Anaklusmos in Greek

River Styx the river that forms the boundary between earth and the Underworld Saturnalia an ancient Roman festival celebrating Saturn (Kronos)

satyr     a Greek forest god, part goat and part man

shadow-travel a form of transportation that allows creatures of the Underworld and children of Hades to use shadows to leap to any desired place on earth or in the Underworld, although it makes the user extremely fatigued

Sibyl    a prophetess

Sibylline Books a collection of prophecies in rhyme written in Greek; Tarquinius Superbus, a king of Rome, bought them from a prophetess and consulted them in times of great danger

siccae a short curved sword used for battle in ancient Rome

Sparta a city-state in ancient Greece with military dominance

Stygian iron a magical metal, forged in the River Styx, capable of absorbing the very essence of monsters and injuring mortals, gods, Titans, and giants; has a significant effect on ghosts and creatures from the Underworld

Talos a giant mechanical man made of bronze and used on Crete to guard its shoreline from invaders

Tantalus According to legend, this king was such a good friend of the gods that he was allowed to dine at their table—until he spilled their secrets on earth; he was sent to the Underworld, where his curse was to be stuck in a pool of water under a fruit tree, but never be able to drink or eat

Tartarus husband of Gaea; spirit of the abyss; father of the giants; a region of the Underworld Theodosius the last to rule over the united Roman Empire; known for closing all ancient temples across the empire

Thracian   of Thrace, a region centered on the modern borders of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey

Titan War the epic ten-year battle between the Titans and the Olympians that resulted in the Olympians taking the throne

Titans a race of powerful Greek deities, descendants of Gaea and Ouranos, that ruled during the Golden Age and were overthrown by a race of younger gods, the Olympians

trireme a Greek warship, having three tiers of oars on each side triumvirate a political alliance formed by three parties

Trojan War According to legend, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband, Menelaus, king of Sparta

Troy a Roman city situated in modern-day Turkey; site of the Trojan War Tyche the Greek goddess of good fortune; daughter of Hermes and Aphrodite

Typhon the most terrifying Greek monster; father of many famous monsters, including Cerberus, the vicious multi-headed dog tasked with guarding the entrance to the Underworld

Underworld the kingdom of the dead, where souls go for eternity; ruled by Hades Zephyros the Greek god of the West Wind

Zeus   the Greek god of the sky and the king of the gods

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The Hidden Oracle chapter 39

Want to hit Leo?

That is understandable

Hunk Muffin earned it

 

THE DEMIGODS HAD TO TAKE NUMBERS.

 

Nico commandeered a dispenser from the snack bar and carried it around, yelling, “The line starts to the left! Orderly queue, guys!”

“Is this really necessary?” Leo asked.

“Yes,” said Miranda Gardiner, who had drawn the first number. She punched Leo in the arm. “Ow,” said Leo.

 

“You’re a jerk, and we all hate you,” said Miranda. Then she hugged him and kissed his cheek. “If you ever disappear like that again, we’ll line up to kill you.”

“Okay, okay!”

Miranda had to move on, because the line was getting pretty long behind her. Percy and I sat at the picnic table with Leo and his companion—none other than the immortal sorceress Calypso. Even though Leo was the one getting punched by everyone in camp, I was reasonably sure he was the least uncomfortable one at the table.

 

When they first saw each other, Percy and Calypso had hugged awkwardly. I hadn’t witnessed such a tense greeting since Patroclus met Achilles’s war prize, Briseis. (Long story. Juicy gossip. Ask me later.) Calypso had never liked me, so she pointedly ignored me, but I kept waiting for her to yell “BOO!” and turn me into a tree frog. The suspense was killing me.

 

Percy hugged Leo and didn’t even punch him. Still, the son of Poseidon looked disgruntled. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “Six months—”

 

“I told you,” Leo said. “We tried sending more holographic scrolls. We tried Iris messages, dream visions, phone calls. Nothing worked.—Ow! Hey, Alice, how you doing?—Anyway, we ran into one crisis after another.”

Calypso nodded. “Albania was particularly difficult.”

 

From down the line, Nico di Angelo yelled, “Please do not mention Albania! Okay, who’s next, folks? One line.”

 

Damien White punched Leo’s arm and walked away grinning. I wasn’t sure Damien even knew Leo. He simply couldn’t turn down a chance to punch someone.

 

Leo rubbed his bicep. “Hey, no fair. That guy’s getting back in the line. So, like I was saying, if Festus hadn’t picked up on that homing beacon yesterday, we’d still be flying around, looking for a way out of

 

the Sea of Monsters.”

 

“Oh, I hate that place,” Percy said. “There’s this big Cyclops, Polyphemus—” “I know, right?” Leo agreed. “What is up with that guy’s breath?”

“Boys,” Calypso said, “perhaps we should focus on the present?”

 

She did not look at me, but I got the impression she meant this silly former god and his problems. “Yeah,” Percy said. “So the communication issues…Rachel Dare thinks it’s got something to do with

this company, Triumvirate.”

Rachel herself had gone to the Big House to fetch Chiron, but Percy did a reasonable job summarizing what she had found out about the emperors and their evil corporation. Of course, we didn’t know very much. By the time six more people had punched Leo in the arm, Percy had brought Leo and Calypso up to speed.

 

Leo rubbed his new bruises. “Man, why does it not surprise me that modern corporations are run by zombie Roman emperors?”

 

“They are not zombies,” I said. “And I’m not sure they run all corporations—” Leo waved away my explanation. “But they’re trying to take over the Oracles.” “Yes,” I agreed.

 

“And that’s bad.” “Very.”

“So you need our help.—Ow! Hey, Sherman. Where’d you get the new scar, dude?”

While Sherman told Leo the story of Crotchkicker McCaffrey and the Demon Peach Baby, I glanced at Calypso.

 

She looked very different from what I remembered. Her hair was still long and caramel brown. Her almond-shaped eyes were still dark and intelligent. But now, instead of a chiton she wore modern jeans, a white blouse, and a shocking-pink ski jacket. She looked younger—about my mortal age. I wondered if she had been punished with mortality for leaving her enchanted island. If so, it didn’t seem fair that she had retained her otherworldly beauty. She had neither flab nor acne.

As I watched, she stretched two fingers toward the opposite end of the picnic table, where a pitcher of lemonade sweated in the sunlight. I had seen her do this sort of thing before, willing her invisible aerial servants to whisk objects into her hands. This time, nothing happened.

 

A look of disappointment crossed her face. Then she realized I was watching. Her cheeks colored. “Since leaving Ogygia, I have no powers,” she admitted. “I am fully mortal. I keep hoping, but—” “You want a drink?” Percy asked.

“I got it.” Leo beat him to the pitcher.

 

I had not expected to feel sympathy for Calypso. We’d had harsh words in the past. A few millennia ago, I had opposed her petition for early release from Ogygia because of some…ah, drama between us. (Long story. Juicy gossip. Please do not ask me later.)

Still, as a fallen god, I understood how disconcerting it was to be without one’s powers.

 

On the other hand, I was relieved. This meant she could not turn me into a tree frog or order her aerial servants to toss me off the Athena Parthenos.

 

“Here you go.” Leo handed her a glass of lemonade. His expression seemed darker and more anxious, as if…Ah, of course. Leo had rescued Calypso from her prison island. In doing so, Calypso had lost her powers. Leo felt responsible.

 

Calypso smiled, though her eyes were still touched by melancholy. “Thank you, babe.” “Babe?” Percy asked.

 

Leo’s expression brightened. “Yeah. She won’t call me Hunk Muffin, though. I dunno why.—Ow!” It was Harley’s turn. The little boy punched Leo, then threw his arms around him and broke down

sobbing.

 

“Hey, brother.” Leo ruffled his hair and had the good sense to look ashamed. “You brought me home with that beacon of yours, H-Meister. You’re a hero! You know I never would’ve left you hanging like that on purpose, don’t you?”

Harley wailed and sniffled and nodded. Then he punched Leo again and ran away. Leo looked like he was about to get sick. Harley was quite strong.

 

“At any rate,” Calypso said, “these problems with the Roman emperors—how can we help?” I raised my eyebrows. “You will help me, then? Despite…ah, well, I always knew you were

kindhearted and forgiving, Calypso. I meant to visit you at Ogygia more often—”

 

“Spare me.” Calypso sipped her lemonade. “I’ll help you if Leo decides to help you, and he seems to have some affection for you. Why, I can’t imagine.”

 

I let go of the breath I had been holding for…oh, an hour. “I’m grateful. Leo Valdez, you have always been a gentleman and a genius. After all, you created the Valdezinator.”

 

Leo grinned. “I did, didn’t I? I suppose that was pretty awesome. So where is this next Oracle you— Ow!”

 

Nyssa had made it to the front of the line. She slapped Leo, then berated him in rapid Spanish. “Yeah, okay, okay.” Leo rubbed his face. “Dang, hermana, I love you, too!”

He turned his attention back to me. “So this next Oracle, you said it was where?”

Percy tapped the picnic table. “Chiron and I were talking about this. He figures this triumvirate thingie…they probably divided America into three parts, with one emperor in charge of each. We know Nero is holed up in New York, so we’re guessing this next Oracle is in the second dude’s territory, maybe in the middle third of the U.S.”

 

“Oh, the middle third of the U.S.!” Leo spread his arms. “Piece of torta, then. We’ll just search the entire middle of the country!”

“Still with the sarcasm,” Percy noted.

“Hey, man, I’ve sailed with the most sarcastic scalawags on the high seas.”

 

The two gave each other a high five, though I did not quite understand why. I thought about a snippet of prophecy I’d heard in the grove: something about Indiana. It might be a place to start….

The last person to come through the line was Chiron himself, pushed in his wheelchair by Rachel Dare. The old centaur gave Leo a warm, fatherly smile. “My boy, I am so pleased to have you back. And you freed Calypso, I see. Well done, and welcome, both of you!” Chiron spread his arms for a hug.

 

“Uh, thanks, Chiron.” Leo leaned forward.

From underneath Chiron’s lap blanket, his equine foreleg shot out and implanted a hoof in Leo’s gut. Then, just as quickly, the leg disappeared. “Mr. Valdez,” Chiron said in the same kindly tone, “if you ever pull a stunt like that again—”

 

“I got it, I got it!” Leo rubbed his stomach. “Dang, for a teacher, you got a heck of a high kick.” Rachel grinned and wheeled Chiron away. Calypso and Percy helped Leo to his feet.

“Yo, Nico,” Leo called, “please tell me that’s it for the physical abuse.”

 

“For now.” Nico smiled. “We’re still trying to get in touch with the West Coast. You’ll have a few dozen people out there who will definitely want to hit you.”

 

Leo winced. “Yeah, that’s something to look forward to. Well, I guess I’d better keep my strength up. Where do you guys eat lunch now that the Colossus stepped on the dining pavilion?”

 

 

Percy left that night just before dinner.

 

I expected a moving one-on-one farewell, during which he would ask my advice about test taking, being a hero, and living life in general. After he lent me his help in defeating the Colossus, it would have been the least I could do.

 

Instead, he seemed more interested in saying good-bye to Leo and Calypso. I wasn’t part of their conversation, but the three of them seemed to reach some sort of mutual understanding. Percy and Leo embraced. Calypso even pecked Percy on the cheek. Then the son of Poseidon waded into Long Island Sound with his extremely large dog and they both disappeared underwater. Did Mrs. O’Leary swim? Did she travel through the shadows of whales? I did not know.

 

Like lunch, dinner was a casual affair. As darkness fell, we ate on picnic blankets around the hearth, which blazed with Hestia’s warmth and kept away the winter chill. Festus the dragon sniffed around the perimeter of the cabins, occasionally blowing fire into the sky for no apparent reason.

 

“He got a little dinged up in Corsica,” Leo explained. “Sometimes he spews randomly like that.” “He hasn’t blowtorched anyone important yet,” Calypso added, her eyebrow arched. “We’ll see how

he likes you.”

 

Festus’s red jewel eyes gleamed in the darkness. After driving the sun chariot for so long, I wasn’t nervous about riding a metal dragon, but when I thought about what we’d be riding toward, geraniums bloomed in my stomach.

 

“I had planned to go alone,” I told them. “The prophecy from Dodona speaks of the bronze fire-eater, but…it feels wrong for me to ask you to risk your lives. You have been through so much just to get here.” Calypso tilted her head. “Perhaps you have changed. That does not sound like the Apollo I remember.

You definitely are not as handsome.”

 

“I am still quite handsome,” I protested. “I just need to clear up this acne.” She smirked. “So you haven’t completely lost your big head.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Guys,” Leo interrupted, “if we’re going to travel together, let’s try to keep it friendly.” He pressed an ice pack to his bruised bicep. “Besides, we were planning to head west anyway. I got to find my peeps Jason and Piper and Frank and Hazel and…well, pretty much everybody at Camp Jupiter, I guess. It’ll be fun.”

 

“Fun?” I asked. “The Oracle of Trophonius will supposedly swallow me in death and madness. Even if I survive that, my other trials will no doubt be long, harrowing, and quite possibly fatal.”

“Exactly,” Leo said. “Fun. I don’t know about calling the whole quest thing Apollo’s trials, though. I think we should call it Leo Valdez’s Victory Lap World Tour.”

 

Calypso laughed and laced her fingers in Leo’s. She may not have been immortal anymore, but she still had a grace and easiness about her that I could not fathom. Perhaps she missed her powers, but she seemed genuinely happy to be with Valdez—to be young and mortal, even if it meant she could die at any moment.

 

Unlike me, she had chosen to become mortal. She knew that leaving Ogygia was a risk, but she had done it willingly. I didn’t know how she’d found the courage.

 

“Hey, man,” Leo told me. “Don’t look so glum. We’ll find her.” I stirred. “What?”

“Your friend Meg. We’ll find her. Don’t worry.”

A bubble of darkness burst inside me. For once, I hadn’t been thinking of Meg. I’d been thinking about myself, and that made me feel guilty. Perhaps Calypso was right to question whether or not I’d changed.

 

I gazed at the silent forest. I remembered Meg dragging me to safety when I was cold and soaked and delirious. I remembered how fearlessly she fought the myrmekes, and how she’d ordered Peaches to extinguish the match when Nero wanted to burn his hostages, despite her fear of unleashing the Beast. I had to make her realize how evil Nero was. I had to find her. But how?

“Meg knows the prophecy,” I said. “If she tells Nero, he will know our plans as well.”

 

Calypso took a bite of her apple. “I missed the whole Roman Empire. How bad can one emperor be?” “Bad,” I assured her. “And he is allied with two others. We don’t know which ones, but it’s safe to

 

assume they are equally cutthroat. They’ve had centuries to amass fortunes, acquire property, build armies…Who knows what they are capable of?”

“Eh,” Leo said. “We took down Gaea in, like, forty seconds. This’ll be easy squeezy.”

I seemed to recall that the lead-up to the fight with Gaea had involved months of suffering and near misses with death. Leo, in fact, had died. I also wanted to remind him that the Triumvirate might well have orchestrated all our previous troubles with the Titans and giants, which would make them more powerful than anything Leo had ever faced.

I decided that mentioning these things might affect group morale.

 

“We’ll succeed,” Calypso said. “We must. So we will. I have been trapped on an island for thousands of years. I don’t know how long this mortal life will be, but I intend to live fully and without fear.”

“That’s my mamacita,” Leo said.

“What have I told you about calling me mamacita?”

Leo grinned sheepishly. “In the morning we’ll start getting our supplies together. As soon as Festus gets a tune-up and an oil change, we’ll be good to go.”

 

I considered what supplies I would take with me. I had depressingly little: some borrowed clothes, a bow, a ukulele, and an overly theatrical arrow.

 

But the real difficulty would be saying good-bye to Will, Austin, and Kayla. They had helped me so much, and they embraced me as family more than I had ever embraced them. Tears stung my eyes. Before I could start sobbing, Will Solace stepped into the light of the hearth. “Hey, everybody! We’ve started a bonfire in the amphitheater! Sing-along time. Come on!”

 

Groans were mixed in with the cheers, but most everyone got to their feet and ambled toward the bonfire now blazing in the distance, where Nico di Angelo stood silhouetted in the flames, preparing rows of marshmallows on what looked like femur bones.

 

“Aw, man.” Leo winced. “I’m terrible at sing-alongs. I always clap and do the ‘Old MacDonald’ sounds at the wrong time. Can we skip this?”

 

“Oh, no.” I rose to my feet, suddenly feeling better. Perhaps tomorrow I would weep and think about good-byes. Perhaps the day after that we would be flying toward our deaths. But tonight, I intended to enjoy my time with my family. What had Calypso said? Live fully and without fear. If she could do it, then so could the brilliant, fabulous Apollo. “Singing is good for the spirits. You should never miss an opportunity to sing.”

 

Calypso smiled. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but for once I agree with Apollo. Come on, Leo. I’ll teach you to harmonize.”

 

Together, the three of us walked toward the sounds of laughter, music, and a warm, crackling fire.

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The Hidden Oracle chapter 38

After the sneezing

Healing peeps, parsing limericks

Worst God Award? Me

 

THE PLAGUE SPREAD.

 

That was the price of our victory: a massive outbreak of hay fever. By nightfall, most of the campers were dizzy, groggy, and heavily congested, though I was pleased that none of them sneezed their heads off, because we were running low on bandages and duct tape.

 

Will Solace and I spent the evening caring for the wounded. Will took the lead, which was fine with me; I was exhausted. Mostly I splinted arms, distributed cold medicine and tissues, and tried to keep Harley from stealing the infirmary’s entire supply of smiley-face stickers, which he plastered all over his flamethrower. I was grateful for the distraction, since it kept me from thinking too much about the day’s painful events.

 

Sherman Yang graciously agreed not to kill Nico for tossing him out of his chariot, or me for damaging it, though I had the feeling the son of Ares was keeping his options open for later.

 

Chiron provided healing poultices for the most extreme cases of hay fever. This included Chiara Benvenuti, whose good luck had, for once, abandoned her. Strangely enough, Damien White got sick right after he learned that Chiara was sick. The two had cots next to each other in the infirmary, which I found a little suspicious, even though they kept sniping at each other whenever they knew they were being watched.

 

Percy Jackson spent several hours recruiting whales and hippocampi to help him haul away the Colossus. He decided it would be easiest to tow it underwater to Poseidon’s palace, where it could be repurposed as garden statuary. I was not sure how I felt about that. I imagined Poseidon would replace the statue’s gorgeous face with his own weathered, bearded mien. Still, I wanted the Colossus gone, and I doubted it would have fit in the camp’s recycling bins.

 

Thanks to Will’s healing and a hot dinner, the demigods I had rescued from the woods quickly got back to full strength. (Paolo claimed it was because he waved a Brazilian-flag bandana over them, and I was not about to argue.)

 

As for the camp itself, the damage might have been much worse. The canoe dock could be rebuilt. The Colossus’s footstep craters could be repurposed as convenient foxholes or koi ponds.

The dining pavilion was a total loss, but Nyssa and Harley were confident that Annabeth Chase could redesign the place next time she was here. With luck, it would be rebuilt in time for the summer.

 

The only other major damage was to the Demeter cabin. I had not realized it during the battle, but the

 

Colossus had managed to step on it before turning around for the beach. In retrospect, its path of destruction appeared almost purposeful, as if the automaton had waded ashore, stomped Cabin Four, and headed back out to sea.

Given what had happened with Meg McCaffrey, I had a hard time not seeing this as a bad omen. Miranda Gardiner and Billie Ng were given temporary bunks in the Hermes cabin, but for a long time that night they sat stunned among the smashed ruins as daisies popped up all around them from the cold winter ground.

 

Despite my exhaustion, I slept fitfully. I did not mind Kayla and Austin’s constant sneezing, or Will’s gentle snoring. I did not even mind the hyacinths blooming in the windowsill, filling the room with their melancholy perfume. But I could not stop thinking of the dryads raising their arms to the flames in the woods, and about Nero, and Meg. The Arrow of Dodona stayed silent, hanging in my quiver on the wall, but I suspected it would have more annoying Shakespearean advice soon. I did not relish what it might telleth me about my future.

 

At sunrise, I rose quietly, took my bow and quiver and combat ukulele, and hiked to the summit of Half-Blood Hill. The guardian dragon, Peleus, did not recognize me. When I came too close to the Golden Fleece, he hissed, so I had to sit some distance away at the foot of the Athena Parthenos.

I didn’t mind not being recognized. At the moment, I did not want to be Apollo. All the destruction I saw below me…it was my fault. I had been blind and complacent. I had allowed the emperors of Rome, including one of my own descendants, to rise to power in the shadows. I had let my once-great network of Oracles collapse until even Delphi was lost. I had almost caused the death of Camp Half-Blood itself.

 

And Meg McCaffrey…Oh, Meg, where were you?

Do what you need to do, she had told me. That’s my final order.

 

Her order had been vague enough to allow me to pursue her. After all, we were bound together now. What I needed to do was to find her. I wondered if Meg had phrased her order that way on purpose, or if that was just wishful thinking on my part.

 

I gazed up at the serene alabaster face of Athena. In real life, she didn’t look so pale and aloof—well, not most of the time, anyway. I pondered why the sculptor, Phidias, had chosen to make her look so unapproachable, and whether Athena approved. We gods often debated how much humans could change our very nature simply by the way they pictured us or imagined us. During the eighteenth century, for instance, I could not escape the white powdered wig, no matter how hard I tried. Among immortals, our reliance on humans was an uncomfortable subject.

Perhaps I deserved my present form. After my carelessness and foolishness, perhaps humanity should see me as nothing but Lester Papadopoulos.

 

I heaved a sigh. “Athena, what would you do in my place? Something wise and practical, I suppose.” Athena offered no response. She stared calmly at the horizon, taking the long view, as always.

 

I didn’t need the wisdom goddess to tell me what I must do. I should leave Camp Half-Blood immediately, before the campers woke. They had taken me in to protect me, and I had nearly gotten them all killed. I couldn’t bear to endanger them any longer.

 

But, oh, how I wanted to stay with Will, Kayla, Austin—my mortal children. I wanted to help Harley put smiley faces on his flamethrower. I wanted to flirt with Chiara and steal her away from Damien…or perhaps steal Damien away from Chiara, I wasn’t sure yet. I wanted to improve my music and archery through that strange activity known as practice. I wanted to have a home.

Leave, I told myself. Hurry.

 

Because I was a coward, I waited too long. Below me, the cabin lights flickered on. Campers emerged from their doorways. Sherman Yang began his morning stretches. Harley jogged around the green, holding his Leo Valdez beacon high with the hope it would finally work.

 

At last, a pair of familiar figures spotted me. They approached from different directions—the Big

 

House and Cabin Three—hiking up the hill to see me: Rachel Dare and Percy Jackson.

 

 

“I know what you’re thinking,” Rachel said. “Don’t do it.” I feigned surprise. “Can you read my mind, Miss Dare?” “I don’t need to. I know you, Lord Apollo.”

 

A week ago, the idea would have made me laugh. A mortal could not know me. I had lived for four millennia. Merely looking upon my true form would have vaporized any human. Now, though, Rachel’s words seemed perfectly reasonable. With Lester Papadopoulos, what you saw was what you got. There really wasn’t much to know.

“Don’t call me Lord,” I sighed. “I am just a mortal teen. I do not belong at this camp.”

 

Percy sat next to me. He squinted at the sunrise, the sea breeze tousling his hair. “Yeah, I used to think I didn’t belong here either.”

 

“It’s not the same,” I said. “You humans change and grow and mature. Gods do not.” Percy faced me. “You sure about that? You seem pretty different.”

 

I think he meant that as a compliment, but I didn’t find his words reassuring. If I was becoming more fully human, that was hardly a cause for celebration. True, I had mustered a few godly powers at important moments—a burst of divine strength against the Germani, a hay fever arrow against the Colossus—but I could not rely on those abilities. I didn’t even understand how I had summoned them. The fact that I had limits, and that I couldn’t be sure where those limits were…Well, that made me feel much more like Lester Papadopoulos than Apollo.

 

“The other Oracles must be found and secured,” I said. “I cannot do that unless I leave Camp Half-Blood. And I cannot risk anyone else’s life.”

 

Rachel sat on my other side. “You sound certain. Did you get a prophecy from the grove?” I shuddered. “I fear so.”

 

Rachel cupped her hands on her knees. “Kayla said you were talking to an arrow yesterday. I’m guessing it’s wood from Dodona?”

“Wait,” Percy said. “You found a talking arrow that gave you a prophecy?”

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “The arrow talks, but I got the prophecy from the grove itself. The Arrow of Dodona just gives random advice. He’s quite annoying.”

The arrow buzzed in my quiver.

“At any rate,” I continued, “I must leave the camp. The Triumvirate means to possess all the ancient Oracles. I have to stop them. Once I have defeated the former emperors…only then will I be able to face my old enemy Python and free the Oracle of Delphi. After that…if I survive…perhaps Zeus will restore me to Olympus.”

 

Rachel tugged at a strand of her hair. “You know it’s too dangerous to do all that alone, right?” “Listen to her,” Percy urged. “Chiron told me about Nero and this weird holding company of his.” “I appreciate the offer of assistance, but—”

 

“Whoa.” Percy held up his hands. “Just to be clear, I’m not offering to go with you. I still have to finish my senior year, pass my DSTOMP and my SAT, and avoid getting killed by my girlfriend. But I’m sure we can get you some other helpers.”

“I’ll go,” Rachel said.

 

I shook my head. “My enemies would love to capture someone as dear to me as the priestess of Delphi. Besides, I need you and Miranda Gardiner to stay here and study the Grove of Dodona. For now, it is our only source of prophecy. And since our communication problems have not gone away, learning to use the grove’s power is all the more critical.”

 

Rachel tried to hide it, but I could see her disappointment in the lines around her mouth. “What about

 

Meg?” she asked. “You’ll try to find her, won’t you?”

 

She might as well have plunged the Arrow of Dodona into my chest. I gazed at the woods—that hazy green expanse that had swallowed young McCaffrey. For a brief moment, I felt like Nero. I wanted to burn the whole place down.

 

“I will try,” I said, “but Meg doesn’t want to be found. She’s under the influence of her stepfather.” Percy traced his finger across the Athena Parthenos’s big toe. “I’ve lost too many people to bad

 

influence: Ethan Nakamura, Luke Castellan…We almost lost Nico, too….” He shook his head. “No. No more. You can’t give up on Meg. You guys are bound together. Besides, she’s one of the good guys.”

 

“I’ve known many of the good guys,” I said. “Most of them got turned into beasts, or statues, or—or trees….” My voice broke.

 

Rachel put her hand over mine. “Things can turn out differently, Apollo. That’s the nice thing about being human. We only have one life, but we can choose what kind of story it’s going to be.”

That seemed hopelessly optimistic. I had spent too many centuries watching the same patterns of behavior be repeated over and over, all by humans who thought they were being terribly clever and doing something that had never been done before. They thought they were crafting their own stories, but they were only tracing over the same old narratives, generation after generation.

Still…perhaps human persistence was an asset. They never seemed to give up hope. Every so often they did manage to surprise me. I never anticipated Alexander the Great, Robin Hood, or Billie Holiday. For that matter, I never anticipated Percy Jackson and Rachel Elizabeth Dare.

 

“I—I hope you’re right,” I said.

She patted my hand. “Tell me the prophecy you heard in the grove.”

 

I took a shaky breath. I didn’t want to speak the words. I was afraid they might wake the grove and drown us in a cacophony of prophecies, bad jokes, and infomercials. But I recited the lines:

 

ere once was a god named Apollo o plunged in a cave blue and hollow n a three-seater

bronze fire-eater

forced death and madness to swallow”

 

Rachel covered her mouth. “A limerick?” “I know!” I wailed. “I’m doomed!”

“Wait.” Percy’s eyes glittered. “Those lines…Do they mean what I think?”

“Well,” I said, “I believe the blue cave refers to the Oracle of Trophonius. It was a…a very dangerous ancient Oracle.”

 

“No,” Percy said. “The other lines. Three-seater, bronze fire-eater, yadda yadda.” “Oh. I have no clue about those.”

 

“Harley’s beacon.” Percy laughed, though I could not understand why he was so pleased. “He said you gave it a tuning adjustment? I guess that did the trick.”

 

Rachel squinted at him. “Percy, what are you…” Her expression went slack. “Oh. Oh.” “Were there any other lines?” Percy urged. “Like, except for the limerick?”

“Several,” I admitted. “Just bits and pieces I didn’t understand. The fall of the sun; the final verse.

 

Um, Indiana, banana. Happiness approaches. Something about pages burning.”

Percy slapped his knee. “There you go. Happiness approaches. Happy is a name—well, the English version, anyway.” He stood and scanned the horizon. His eyes fixed on something in the distance. A grin spread across his face. “Yep. Apollo, your escort is on the way.”

 

I followed his gaze. Spiraling down from the clouds was a large winged creature that glinted of

 

Celestial bronze. On its back were two human-size figures.

 

Their descent was silent, but in my mind a joyous fanfare of Valdezinator music proclaimed the good news.

Leo had returned.

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The Hidden Oracle chapter 37

Hey, look! It’s Percy

Least he could do was help out

Taught him everything

 

I WAS TOO SURPRISED TO SPEAK. Otherwise I would have warned Percy what was about to happen.

Hellhounds are not fond of heights. When startled, they respond in a predictable way. The moment Percy’s faithful pet landed on top of the moving Colossus, she yelped and proceeded to wee-wee on said Colossus’s head. The statue froze and looked up, no doubt wondering what was trickling down his imperial sideburns.

 

Percy leaped heroically from his mount and slipped in hellhound pee. He nearly slid off the statue’s brow. “What the—Mrs. O’Leary, jeez!”

 

The hellhound bayed in apology. Austin flew our chariot to within shouting distance. “Percy!” The son of Poseidon frowned across at us. “All right, who unleashed the giant bronze guy? Apollo,

did you do this?”

 

“I am offended!” I cried. “I am only indirectly responsible for this! Also, I have a plan to fix it.” “Oh, yeah?” Percy glanced back at the destroyed dining pavilion. “How’s that going?”

With my usual levelheadedness, I stayed focused on the greater good. “If you could please just keep this Colossus from stomping the camp’s hearth, that would be helpful. I need a few more minutes to enchant this arrow.”

 

I held up the talking arrow by mistake, then held up the bent arrow. Percy sighed. “Of course you do.”

 

Mrs. O’Leary barked in alarm. The Colossus was raising his hand to swat the trespassing tinkler. Percy grabbed one of the crown’s sunray spikes. He sliced it off at the base, then jabbed it into the Colossus’s forehead. I doubted the Colossus could feel pain, but it staggered, apparently surprised to

suddenly have grown a unicorn horn.

 

Percy sliced off another one. “Hey, ugly!” he called down. “You don’t need all these pointy things, do you? I’m going to take one to the beach. Mrs. O’Leary, fetch!”

Percy tossed the spike like a javelin.

The hellhound barked excitedly. She leaped off the Colossus’s head, vaporized into shadow, and reappeared on the ground, bounding after her new bronze stick.

Percy raised his eyebrows at me. “Well? Start enchanting!”

He jumped from the statue’s head to its shoulder. Then he leaped to the shaft of the rudder and slid

 

down it like a fire pole all the way to the ground. If I had been at my usual level of godly athletic skill, I could’ve done something like that in my sleep, of course, but I had to admit Percy Jackson was moderately impressive.

“Hey, Bronze Butt!” he yelled again. “Come get me!”

The Colossus obliged, slowly turning and following Percy toward the beach.

 

I began to chant, invoking my old powers as the god of plagues. This time, the words came to me. I didn’t know why. Perhaps Percy’s arrival had given me new faith. Perhaps I simply didn’t think about it too much. I’ve found that thinking often interferes with doing. It’s one of those lessons that gods learn early in their careers.

 

I felt an itchy sensation of sickness curling from my fingers and into the projectile. I spoke of my own awesomeness and the various horrible diseases I had visited upon wicked populations in the past, because…well, I’m awesome. I could feel the magic taking hold, despite the Arrow of Dodona whispering to me like an annoying Elizabethan stagehand, SAYEST THOU: “PLAGUEY, PLAGUEY, PLAGUEY!”

 

Below, more demigods joined the parade to the beach. They ran ahead of the Colossus, jeering at him, throwing things, and calling him Bronze Butt. They made jokes about his new horn. They laughed at the hellhound pee trickling down his face. Normally I have zero tolerance for bullying, especially when the victim looks like me, but since the Colossus was ten stories tall and destroying their camp, I suppose the campers’ rudeness was understandable.

 

I finished chanting. Odious green mist now wreathed the arrow. It smelled faintly of fast-food deep fryers—a good sign that it carried some sort of horrible malady.

“I’m ready!” I told Austin. “Get me next to its ear!”

“You got it!” Austin turned to say something else, and a wisp of green fog passed under his nose. His eyes watered. His nose swelled and began to run. He scrunched up his face and sneezed so hard he collapsed. He lay on the floor of the chariot, groaning and twitching.

 

“My boy!” I wanted to grab his shoulders and check on him, but since I had an arrow in each hand, that was inadvisable.

 

FIE! TOO STRONG IS THY PLAGUE. The Dodona arrow hummed with annoyance. THY CHANTING

 

SUCKETH.

“Oh, no, no, no,” I said. “Kayla, be careful. Don’t breathe—” “ACHOO!” Kayla crumpled next to her brother.

“What have I done?” I wailed.

 

METHINKS THOU HAST BLOWN IT, said the Dodona arrow, my source of infinite wisdom.

 

MOREO’ER, HIE! TAKEST THOU THE REINS.

“Why?”

 

You would think a god who drove a chariot on a daily basis would not need to ask such a question. In my defense, I was distraught about my children lying half-conscious at my feet. I didn’t consider that no one was driving. Without anyone at the reins, the pegasi panicked. To avoid running into the huge bronze Colossus directly in their path, they dove toward the earth.

 

Somehow, I managed to react appropriately. (Three cheers for reacting appropriately!) I thrust both arrows into my quiver, grabbed the reins, and managed to level our descent just enough to prevent a crash landing. We bounced off a dune and swerved to a stop in front of Chiron and a group of demigods. Our entrance might have looked dramatic if the centrifugal force hadn’t thrown Kayla, Austin, and me from the chariot.

Did I mention I was grateful for soft sand?

The pegasi took off, dragging the battered chariot into the sky and leaving us stranded.

 

Chiron galloped to our side, a cluster of demigods in his wake. Percy Jackson ran toward us from the

 

surf while Mrs. O’Leary kept the Colossus occupied with a game of keep-away. I doubt that would hold the statue’s interest very long, once he realized there was a group of targets right behind him, just perfect for stomping.

“The plague arrow is ready!” I announced. “We need to shoot it into the Colossus’s ear!”

 

My audience did not seem to take this as good news. Then I realized my chariot was gone. My bow was still in the chariot. And Kayla and Austin were quite obviously infected with whatever disease I had conjured up.

“Are they contagious?” Cecil asked.

 

“No!” I said. “Well…probably not. It’s the fumes from the arrow—” Everyone backed away from me.

 

“Cecil,” Chiron said, “you and Harley take Kayla and Austin to the Apollo cabin for healing.” “But they are the Apollo cabin,” Harley complained. “Besides, my flamethrower—”

 

“You can play with your flamethrower later,” Chiron promised. “Run along. There’s a good boy. The rest of you, do what you can to keep the Colossus at the water’s edge. Percy and I will assist Apollo.”

 

Chiron said the word assist as if it meant slap upside the head with extreme prejudice. Once the crowd had dispersed, Chiron gave me his bow. “Make the shot.”

 

I stared at the massive composite recursive, which probably had a draw weight of a hundred pounds. “This is meant for the strength of a centaur, not a teen mortal!”

 

“You created the arrow,” he said. “Only you can shoot it without succumbing to the disease. Only you can hit such a target.”

“From here? It’s impossible! Where is that flying boy, Jason Grace?”

Percy wiped the sweat and sand from his neck. “We’re fresh out of flying boys. And all the pegasi have stampeded.”

“Perhaps if we got some harpies and some kite string…” I said.

“Apollo,” Chiron said, “you must do this. You are the lord of archery and illness.” “I’m not lord of anything!” I wailed. “I’m a stupid ugly mortal teenager! I’m nobody!”

 

The self-pity just came pouring out. I thought for sure the earth would split in two when I called myself a nobody. The cosmos would stop turning. Percy and Chiron would rush to reassure me.

None of that happened. Percy and Chiron just stared at me grimly.

Percy put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re Apollo. We need you. You can do this. Besides, if you don’t, I will personally throw you off the top of the Empire State Building.”

 

This was exactly the pep talk I needed—just the sort of thing Zeus used to say to me before my soccer matches. I squared my shoulders. “Right.”

 

“We’ll try to draw him into the water,” Percy said. “I’ve got the advantage there. Good luck.” Percy accepted Chiron’s hand and leaped onto the centaur’s back. Together they galloped into the

 

surf, Percy waving his sword and calling out various bronze-butt-themed insults to the Colossus. I ran down the beach until I had a line of sight on the statue’s left ear.

 

Looking up at that regal profile, I did not see Nero. I saw myself—a monument to my own conceit. Nero’s pride was no more than a reflection of mine. I was the bigger fool. I was exactly the sort of person who would construct a hundred-foot-tall naked statue of myself in my front yard.

I pulled the plague arrow from my quiver and nocked it in the bowstring.

 

 

The demigods were getting very good at scattering. They continued to harry the Colossus from both sides while Percy and Chiron galloped through the tide, Mrs. O’Leary romping at their heels with her new bronze stick.

“Yo, ugly!” Percy shouted. “Over here!”

 

The Colossus’s next step displaced several tons of salt water and made a crater large enough to swallow a pickup truck.

 

The Arrow of Dodona rattled in my quiver. RELEASE THY BREATH, he advised. DROPETH THY

 

SHOULDER.

“I have shot a bow before,” I grumbled.

 

MINDETH THY RIGHT ELBOW, the arrow said. “Shut up.”

AND TELLEST NOT THINE ARROW TO SHUT UP.

I drew the bow. My muscles burned as if boiling water was being poured over my shoulders. The plague arrow did not make me pass out, but its fumes were disorienting. The warp of the shaft made my calculations impossible. The wind was against me. The arc of the shot would be much too high.

 

Yet I aimed, exhaled, and released the bowstring.

The arrow twirled as it rocketed upward, losing force and drifting too far to the right. My heart sank. Surely the curse of the River Styx would deny me any chance at success.

 

Just as the projectile reached its apex and was about to fall back to earth, a gust of wind caught it… perhaps Zephyros looking kindly on my pitiful attempt. The arrow sailed into the Colossus’s ear canal and rattled in his head with a clink, clink, clink like a pachinko machine.

 

The Colossus halted. He stared at the horizon as if confused. He looked at the sky, then arched his back and lurched forward, making a sound like a tornado ripping off the roof of a warehouse. Because his face had no other open orifices, the pressure of his sneeze forced geysers of motor oil out his ears, spraying the dunes with environmentally unfriendly sludge.

Sherman, Julia, and Alice stumbled over to me, covered head to toe with sand and oil.

 

“I appreciate you freeing Miranda and Ellis,” Sherman snarled, “but I’m going to kill you later for taking my chariot. What did you do to that Colossus? What kind of plague makes you sneeze?”

 

“I’m afraid I—I summoned a rather benign illness. I believe I have given the Colossus a case of hay fever.”

 

You know that horrible pause when you’re waiting for someone to sneeze? The statue arched his back again, and everyone on the beach cringed in anticipation. The Colossus inhaled several cubic acres of air through his ear canals, preparing for his next blast.

 

I imagined the nightmare scenarios: The Colossus would ear-sneeze Percy Jackson into Connecticut, never to be seen again. The Colossus would clear his head and then stomp all of us flat. Hay fever could make a person cranky. I knew this because I invented hay fever. Still, I had never intended it to be a killing affliction. I certainly never anticipated facing the wrath of a towering metal automaton with extreme seasonal allergies. I cursed my shortsightedness! I cursed my mortality!

 

What I had not considered was the damage our demigods had already done to the Colossus’s metal joints—in particular, his neck.

 

The Colossus rocked forward with a mighty CHOOOOO! I flinched and almost missed the moment of truth when the statue’s head achieved first-stage separation from his body. It hurtled over Long Island Sound, the face spinning in and out of view. It hit the water with a mighty WHOOSH and bobbed for a moment. Then the air blooped out of its neck hole and the gorgeous regal visage of yours truly sank beneath the waves.

 

The statue’s decapitated body tilted and swayed. If it had fallen backward, it might have crushed even more of the camp. Instead, it toppled forward. Percy yelped a curse that would have made any Phoenician sailor proud. Chiron and he raced sideways to avoid being crushed while Mrs. O’Leary wisely dissolved into shadows. The Colossus hit the water, sending forty-foot tidal waves to port and starboard. I had never before seen a centaur hang hooves on a tubular crest, but Chiron acquitted himself well.

 

The roar of the statue’s fall finally stopped echoing off the hills.

 

Next to me, Alice Miyazawa whistled. “Well, that de-escalated quickly.”

 

Sherman Yang asked in a voice of childlike wonder: “What the Hades just happened?” “I believe,” I said, “the Colossus sneezed his head off.”

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The Hidden Oracle chapter 36

I love me some plague

When it’s on the right arrow

Ka-bam! You dead, bro?

 

SCATTERING WAS THE EASY PART. They did that very well.

 

Miranda, Cecil, and Ellis ran in different directions, screaming insults at the Colossus and waving their arms. This bought the rest of us a few seconds as we sprinted for the dunes, but I suspected the Colossus would soon enough come after me. I was, after all, the most important and attractive target.

 

I pointed toward Sherman Yang’s chariot, which was still circling the statue’s legs in a vain attempt to electrocute its kneecaps. “We need to commandeer that chariot!”

“How?” Kayla asked.

I was about to admit I had no idea when Nico di Angelo grabbed Will’s hand and stepped into my shadow. Both boys evaporated. I had forgotten about the power of shadow-traveling—the way children of the Underworld could step into one shadow and appear from another, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Hades used to love sneaking up on me that way and yelling, “HI!” just as I shot an arrow of death. He found it amusing if I missed my target and accidentally wiped out the wrong city.

 

Austin shuddered. “I hate it when Nico disappears like that. What’s our plan?” “You two are my backup,” I said. “If I miss, if I die…it will be up to you.” “Whoa, whoa,” Kayla said. “What do you mean if you miss?”

 

I drew my last arrow—the one I’d found in the grove. “I’m going to shoot that gorgeous gargantuan in the ear.”

 

Austin and Kayla exchanged looks, perhaps wondering if I’d finally cracked under the strain of being mortal.

 

“A plague arrow,” I explained. “I’m going to enchant an arrow with sickness, then shoot it into the statue’s ear. Its head is hollow. The ears are the only openings. The arrow should release enough disease to kill the Colossus’s animating power…or at least to disable it.”

 

“How do you know it will work?” Kayla asked. “I don’t, but—”

 

Our conversation was ruined by a sudden heavy downpour of Colossus foot. We darted inland, barely avoiding being flattened.

Behind us, Miranda shouted, “Hey, ugly!”

I knew she wasn’t talking to me, but I glanced back anyway. She raised her arms, causing ropes of sea grass to spring from the dunes and wrap around the statue’s ankles. The Colossus broke through them

 

easily, but they annoyed him enough to be a distraction. Watching Miranda face the statue made me heartsick for Meg all over again.

 

Meanwhile, Ellis and Cecil stood on either side of the Colossus, throwing rocks at his shins. From the camp, a volley of flaming ballista projectiles exploded against Mr. Gorgeous’s naked backside, which made me clench in sympathy.

“You were saying?” Austin asked.

 

“Right.” I twirled the arrow between my fingers. “I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have godly powers. It’s doubtful I’ll be able to cook up the Black Death or the Spanish Flu. But still, if I can make the shot from close range, straight into its head, I might be able to do some damage.”

 

“And…if you fail?” Kayla asked. I noticed her quiver was also empty.

“I won’t have the strength to try twice. You’ll have to make another pass. Find an arrow, try to summon some sickness, make the shot while Austin holds the chariot steady.”

I realized this was an impossible request, but they accepted it with grim silence. I wasn’t sure whether to feel grateful or guilty. Back when I was a god, I would’ve taken it for granted that mortals had faith in me. Now…I was asking my children to risk their lives again, and I was not at all sure my plan would work.

 

I caught a flash of movement in the sky. This time, instead of a Colossus foot, it was Sherman Yang’s chariot, minus Sherman Yang. Will brought the pegasi in for a landing, then dragged out a half-conscious Nico di Angelo.

 

“Where are the others?” Kayla asked. “Sherman and the Hermes girls?” Will rolled his eyes. “Nico convinced them to disembark.”

 

As if on cue, I heard Sherman screaming from somewhere far in the distance, “I’ll get you, di Angelo!”

 

“You guys go,” Will told me. “The chariot is only designed for three, and after that shadow-travel, Nico is going to pass out any second.”

“No, I’m not,” Nico complained, then passed out.

Will caught him in a fireman’s carry and took him away. “Good luck! I’m going to get the Lord of Darkness here some Gatorade!”

 

Austin hopped in first and took the reins. As soon as Kayla and I were aboard, we shot skyward, the pegasi swerving and banking around the Colossus with expert skill. I began to feel a glimmer of hope. We might be able to outmaneuver this giant hunk of good-looking bronze.

 

“Now,” I said, “if I can just enchant this arrow with a nice plague.” The arrow shuddered from its fletching to its point.

THOU SHALT NOT, it told me.

 

 

I try to avoid weapons that talk. I find them rude and distracting. Once, Artemis had a bow that could cuss like a Phoenician sailor. Another time, in a Stockholm tavern, I met this god who was smoking hot, except his talking sword just would not shut up.

But I digress.

I asked the obvious question. “Did you just speak to me?”

 

The arrow quivered. (Oh, dear. That was a horrible pun. My apologies.) YEA, VERILY. PRITHEE,

 

SHOOTING IS NOT MY PURPOSE.

His voice was definitely male, sonorous and grave, like a bad Shakespearean actor’s.

 

“But you’re an arrow,” I said. “Shooting you is the whole point.” (Ah, I really must watch those puns.) “Guys, hang on!” Austin shouted.

 

The chariot plunged to avoid the Colossus’s swinging rudder. Without Austin’s warning, I would have

 

been left in midair still arguing with my projectile.

 

“So you’re made from Dodona oak,” I guessed. “Is that why you talk?” FORSOOTH, said the arrow.

“Apollo!” Kayla said. “I’m not sure why you’re talking to that arrow, but—”

From our right came a reverberating WHANG! like a snapped power line hitting a metal roof. In a flash of silver light, the camp’s magical barriers collapsed. The Colossus lurched forward and brought his foot down on the dining pavilion, smashing it to rubble like so many children’s blocks.

“But that just happened,” Kayla said with a sigh.

 

The Colossus raised his rudder in triumph. He marched inland, ignoring the campers who were running around his feet. Valentina Diaz launched a ballista missile into his groin. (Again, I had to wince in sympathy.) Harley and Connor Stoll kept blowtorching his feet, to no effect. Nyssa, Malcolm, and Chiron hastily ran a trip line of steel cable across the statue’s path, but they would never have time to anchor it properly.

I turned to Kayla. “You can’t hear this arrow talking?”

Judging from her wide eyes, I guessed the answer was, No, and does hallucinating run in the family? “Never mind.” I looked at the arrow. “What would you suggest, O Wise Missile of Dodona? My

quiver is empty.”

 

The arrow’s point dipped toward the statue’s left arm. LO, THE ARMPIT DOTH HOLD THE

 

ARROWS THOU NEEDEST!

Kayla yelled, “Colossus is heading for the cabins!” “Armpit!” I told Austin. “Flieth—er, fly for the armpit!”

That wasn’t an order one heard much in combat, but Austin spurred the pegasi into a steep ascent. We buzzed the forest of arrows sticking out of the Colossus’s arm seam, but I completely overestimated my mortal hand-eye coordination. I lunged for the shafts and came up empty.

Kayla was more agile. She snagged a fistful but screamed when she yanked them free. I pulled her to safety. Her hand was bleeding badly, cut from the high-speed grab.

 

“I’m fine!” Kayla yelped. Her fingers were clenched, splattering drops of red all over the chariot’s floor. “Take the arrows.”

 

I did. I tugged the Brazilian-flag bandana from around my neck and gave it to her. “Bind your hand,” I ordered. “There’s some ambrosia in my coat pocket.”

“Don’t worry about me.” Kayla’s face was as green as her hair. “Make the shot! Hurry!”

I inspected the arrows. My heart sank. Only one of the missiles was unbroken, and its shaft was warped. It would be almost impossible to shoot.

I looked again at the talking arrow.

THOU SHALT NOT THINKEST ABOUT IT, he intoned. ENCHANT THOU THE WARPED ARROW!

 

I tried. I opened my mouth, but the proper words of enchantment were gone from my mind. As I feared, Lester Papadopoulos simply did not possess the power. “I can’t!”

 

I SHALT ASSIST, promised the Arrow of Dodona. STARTEST THOU: “PLAGUEY, PLAGUEY, PLAGUEY.”

 

“The enchantment does not start plaguey, plaguey, plaguey!” “Who are you talking to?” Austin demanded.

“My arrow! I—I need more time.”

“We don’t have more time!” Kayla pointed with her wrapped bloody hand.

 

The Colossus was only a few steps away from the central green. I wasn’t sure the demigods even realized how much danger they were in. The Colossus could do much more than just flatten buildings. If he destroyed the central hearth, the sacred shrine of Hestia, he would extinguish the very soul of the camp. The valley would be cursed and uninhabitable for generations. Camp Half-Blood would cease to exist.

 

I realized I had failed. My plan would take much too long, if I could even remember how to make a plague arrow. This was my punishment for breaking an oath on the River Styx.

Then, from somewhere above us, a voice yelled, “Hey, Bronze Butt!”

 

Over the Colossus’s head, a cloud of darkness formed like a cartoon dialogue bubble. Out of the shadows dropped a furry black monster dog—a hellhound—and astride his back was a young man with a glowing bronze sword.

The weekend was here. Percy Jackson had arrived.

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The Hidden Oracle chapter 35

Buck-naked statue

A Neurotic Colossus

Where art thy undies?

 

EVEN MY SUPERNATURAL POWERS of description fail me.

 

Imagine seeing yourself as a hundred-foot-tall bronze statue—a replica of your own magnificence, gleaming in the late afternoon light.

 

Now imagine that this ridiculously handsome statue is wading out of Long Island Sound onto the North Shore. In his hand is a ship’s rudder—a blade the size of a stealth bomber, fixed to a fifty-foot-long pole —and Mr. Gorgeous is raising said rudder to smash the crud out of Camp Half-Blood.

This was the sight that greeted us as we flew in from the woods.

“How is that thing alive?” Kayla demanded. “What did Nero do—order it online?”

 

“The Triumvirate has vast resources,” I told her. “They’ve had centuries to prepare. Once they reconstructed the statue, all they had to do was fill it with some animating magic—usually the harnessed life forces of wind or water spirits. I’m not sure. That’s really more of Hephaestus’s specialty.”

 

“So how do we kill it?” “I’m…I’m working on that.”

All across the valley, campers screamed and ran for their weapons. Nico and Will were floundering in the lake, apparently having been capsized in the middle of a canoe ride. Chiron galloped through the dunes, harrying the Colossus with his arrows. Even by my standards, Chiron was a very fine archer. He targeted the statue’s joints and seams, yet his shots did not seem to bother the automaton at all. Already dozens of missiles stuck from the Colossus’s armpits and neck like unruly hair.

 

“More quivers!” Chiron shouted. “Quickly!”

Rachel Dare stumbled from the armory carrying half a dozen, and she ran to resupply him.

 

The Colossus brought down his rudder to smash the dining pavilion, but his blade bounced off the camp’s magical barrier, sparking as if it had hit solid metal. Mr. Gorgeous took another step inland, but the barrier resisted him, pushing him back with the force of a wind tunnel.

 

On Half-Blood Hill, a silver aura surrounded the Athena Parthenos. I wasn’t sure the demigods could see it, but every so often a beam of ultraviolet light shot from Athena’s helmet like a search lamp, hitting the Colossus’s chest and pushing back the invader. Next to her, in the tall pine tree, the Golden Fleece blazed with fiery energy. The dragon Peleus hissed and paced around the trunk, ready to defend his turf.

 

These were powerful forces, but I did not need godly sight to tell me that they would soon fail. The camp’s defensive barriers were designed to turn away the occasional stray monster, to confuse mortals

 

and prevent them from detecting the valley, and to provide a first line of defense against invading forces. A criminally beautiful hundred-foot-tall Celestial bronze giant was another thing entirely. Soon the Colossus would break through and destroy everything in its path.

“Apollo!” Kayla nudged me in the ribs. “What do we do?”

 

I stirred, again with the unpleasant realization that I was expected to have answers. My first instinct was to order a seasoned demigod to take charge. Wasn’t it the weekend yet? Where was Percy Jackson? Or those Roman praetors Frank Zhang and Reyna Ramírez-Arellano? Yes, they would have done nicely.

 

My second instinct was to turn to Meg McCaffrey. How quickly I had grown used to her annoying yet strangely endearing presence! Alas, she was gone. Her absence felt like a Colossus stomping upon my heart. (This was an easy metaphor to summon, since the Colossus was presently stomping on a great many things.)

 

Flanking us on either side, the soldier ants flew in formation, awaiting the queen’s orders. The demigods watched me anxiously, random bits of bandage fluff swirling from their bodies as we sped through the air.

 

I leaned forward and spoke to Mama in a soothing tone, “I know I cannot ask you to risk your life for us.”

Mama hummed as if to say, You’re darn right!

“Just give us one pass around that statue’s head?” I asked. “Enough to distract it. Then set us down on the beach?”

She clicked her mandibles doubtfully.

“You’re the best mama in the whole world,” I added, “and you look lovely today.”

 

That line always worked with Leto. It did the trick with Mama Ant, too. She twitched her antennae, perhaps sending a high-frequency signal to her soldiers, and all three ants banked hard to the right.

 

Below us, more campers joined the battle. Sherman Yang had harnessed two pegasi to a chariot and was now circling the statue’s legs, while Julia and Alice threw electric javelins at the Colossus’s knees. The missiles stuck in his joints, discharging tendrils of blue lightning, but the statue barely seemed to notice. Meanwhile, at his feet, Connor Stoll and Harley used twin flamethrowers to give the Colossus a molten pedicure, while the Nike twins manned a catapult, lobbing boulders at the Colossus’s Celestial bronze crotch.

 

Malcolm Pace, a true child of Athena, was coordinating the attacks from a hastily organized command post on the green. He and Nyssa had spread war maps across a card table and were shouting targeting coordinates, while Chiara, Damien, Paolo, and Billie rushed to set up ballistae around the communal hearth.

 

Malcolm looked like the perfect battlefield commander, except for the fact that he’d forgotten his pants. His red briefs made quite a statement with his sword and leather cuirass.

Mama dove toward the Colossus, leaving my stomach at a higher altitude.

 

I had a moment to appreciate the statue’s regal features, its metal brow rimmed with a spiky crown meant to represent the beams of the sun. The Colossus was supposed to be Nero as the sun god, but the emperor had wisely made the face resemble mine more closely than his. Only the line of its nose and its ghastly neck beard suggested Nero’s trademark ugliness.

 

Also…did I mention that the hundred-foot statue was entirely nude? Well, of course it was. Gods are almost always depicted as nude, because we are flawless beings. Why would you cover up perfection? Still, it was a little disconcerting to see my buck-naked self stomping around, slamming a ship’s rudder at Camp Half-Blood.

 

As we approached the Colossus, I bellowed loudly, “IMPOSTER! I AM THE REAL APOLLO! YOU’RE UGLY!”

 

Oh, dear reader, it was hard to yell such words at my own handsome visage, but I did. Such was my

 

courage.

 

The Colossus did not like being insulted. As Mama and her soldiers veered away, the statue swung its rudder upward.

 

Have you ever collided with a bomber? I had a sudden flashback to Dresden in 1945, when the planes were so thick in the air, I literally could not find a safe lane to drive in. The axle on the sun chariot was out of alignment for weeks after that.

 

I realized the ants were not fast enough fliers to escape the rudder’s reach. I saw catastrophe approaching in slow motion. At the last possible moment, I yelled, “Dive!”

 

We plunged straight down. The rudder only clipped the ants’ wings—but it was enough to send us spiraling toward the beach.

 

 

I was grateful for soft sand.

 

I ate quite a bit of it when we crash-landed.

By sheer luck, none of us died, though Kayla and Austin had to pull me to my feet. “Are you okay?” Austin asked.

“Fine,” I said. “We must hurry.”

The Colossus stared down at us, perhaps trying to discern whether we were dying in agony yet or needed some additional pain. I had wanted to get his attention, and I had succeeded. Huzzah.

 

I glanced at Mama and her soldiers, who were shaking the sand off their carapaces. “Thank you. Now save yourselves. Fly!”

 

They did not need to be told twice. I suppose ants have a natural fear of large humanoids looming over them, about to squash them with a heavy foot. Mama and her guards buzzed into the sky.

 

Miranda looked after them. “I never thought I’d say this about bugs, but I’m going to miss those guys.” “Hey!” called Nico di Angelo. He and Will scrambled over the dunes, still dripping from their swim

in the canoe lake.

“What’s the plan?” Will seemed calm, but I knew him well enough by now to tell that inside he was as charged as a bare electrical wire.

BOOM.

The statue strode toward us. One more step, and it would be on top of us. “Isn’t there a control valve on its ankle?” Ellis asked. “If we can open it—” “No,” I said. “You’re thinking of Talos. This is not Talos.”

 

Nico brushed his dark wet hair from his forehead. “Then what?”

 

I had a lovely view of the Colossus’s nose. Its nostrils were sealed with bronze…I supposed because Nero hadn’t wanted his detractors trying to shoot arrows into his imperial noggin.

I yelped.

Kayla grabbed my arm. “Apollo, what’s wrong?”

 

Arrows into the Colossus’s head. Oh, gods, I had an idea that would never, ever work. However, it seemed better than our other option, which was to be crushed under a two-ton bronze foot.

 

“Will, Kayla, Austin,” I said, “come with me.” “And Nico,” said Nico. “I have a doctor’s note.”

“Fine!” I said. “Ellis, Cecil, Miranda—do whatever you can to keep the Colossus’s attention.” The shadow of an enormous foot darkened the sand.

“Now!” I yelled. “Scatter!”

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The Hidden Oracle chapter 33

Parting is sorrow

Nothing about it is sweet

Don’t step on my face

 

THE TREES WERE using their inside voices.

 

As I stepped through the gateway, I realized they were still talking in conversational tones, babbling nonsensically like sleepwalkers at a cocktail party.

 

I scanned the grove. No sign of Meg. I called her name. The trees responded by raising their voices, driving me cross-eyed with dizziness.

 

I steadied myself on the nearest oak. “Watch it, man,” the tree said.

I lurched forward, the trees trading bits of verse as if playing a game of rhymes:

 

es of blue. ke the hue.

 

tward, burning. es turning. ana.

e banana.

 

piness approaches. pents and roaches.

 

None of it made sense, but each line carried the weight of prophecy. I felt as if dozens of important statements, each vital to my survival, were being blended together, loaded in a shotgun, and fired at my face.

(Oh, that’s a rather good image. I’ll have to use it in a haiku.) “Meg!” I called again.

 

Still no reply. The grove did not seem so large. How could she not hear me? How could I not see her? I slogged along, humming a perfect A 440 hertz tone to keep myself focused. When I reached the

 

second ring of trees, the oaks became more conversational. “Hey, buddy, got a quarter?” one asked.

Another tried to tell me a joke about a penguin and a nun walking into a Shake Shack.

A third oak was giving its neighbor an infomercial sales pitch about a food processor. “And you

 

won’t believe what it does with pasta!”

 

“Wow!” said the other tree. “It makes pasta, too?” “Fresh linguine in minutes!” the sales oak enthused.

 

I did not understand why an oak tree would want linguine, but I kept moving. I was afraid that if I listened too long, I would order the food processor for three easy installments of $39.99, and my sanity would be lost forever.

 

Finally, I reached the center of the grove. On the far side of the largest oak tree, Meg stood with her back to the trunk, her eyes closed tight. The wind chimes were still in her hand, but they hung forgotten at her side. The brass cylinders clanked, muted against her dress.

 

At her feet, Peaches rocked back and forth, giggling. “Apples? Peaches! Mangoes? Peaches!” “Meg.” I touched her shoulder.

 

She flinched. She focused on me as if I were a clever optical illusion. Her eyes simmered with fear. “It’s too much,” she said. “Too much.”

 

The voices had her in their grip. It was bad enough for me to endure—like a hundred radio stations playing at once, forcibly splitting my brain into different channels. But I was used to prophecies. Meg, on the other hand, was a daughter of Demeter. The trees liked her. They were all trying to share with her, to get her attention at the same time. Soon they would permanently fracture her mind.

 

“The wind chimes,” I said. “Hang them in the tree!”

I pointed to the lowest branch, well above our heads. Alone, neither of us could reach it, but if I gave Meg a boost…

 

Meg backed away, shaking her head. The voices of Dodona were so chaotic I wasn’t sure she had heard me. If she had, she either didn’t understand or didn’t trust me.

 

I had to tamp down my feelings of betrayal. Meg was Nero’s stepdaughter. She had been sent to lure me here, and our whole friendship was a lie. She had no right to mistrust me.

 

But I could not stay bitter. If I blamed her for the way Nero had twisted her emotions, I was no better than the Beast. Also, just because she had lied about being my friend did not mean I wasn’t hers. She was in danger. I was not going to leave her to the madness of the grove’s penguin jokes.

I crouched and laced my fingers to make a foothold. “Please.”

To my left, Peaches rolled onto his back and wailed, “Linguine? Peaches!”

 

Meg grimaced. I could see from her eyes that she was deciding to cooperate with me—not because she trusted me, but because Peaches was suffering.

 

Just when I thought my feelings could not be hurt any worse. It was one thing to be betrayed. It was another thing to be considered less important than a diapered fruit spirit.

 

Nevertheless, I remained steady as Meg placed her left foot in my hands. With all my remaining strength, I hoisted her up. She stepped onto my shoulders, then planted one red sneaker on top of my head. I made a mental note to put a safety label on my scalp: WARNING, TOP STEP IS NOT FOR STANDING.

 

With my back against the oak, I could feel the voices of the grove coursing up its trunk and drumming through its bark. The central tree seemed to be one giant antenna for crazy talk.

 

My knees were about to buckle. Meg’s treads were grinding into my forehead. The A 440 I had been humming rapidly deflated to a G sharp.

 

Finally, Meg tied the wind chimes to the branch. She jumped down as my legs collapsed, and we both ended up sprawled in the dirt.

 

The brass chimes swayed and clanged, picking notes out of the wind and making chords from the dissonance.

The grove hushed, as if the trees were listening and thinking, Oooh, pretty.

Then the ground trembled. The central oak shook with such energy, it rained acorns. Meg got to her feet. She approached the tree and touched its trunk.

 

“Speak,” she commanded.

 

A single voice boomed forth from the wind chimes, like a cheerleader screaming through a megaphone:

 

re once was a god named Apollo

 

o plunged in a cave blue and hollow n a three-seater

bronze fire-eater

forced death and madness to swallow

 

The wind chimes stilled. The grove settled into tranquility, as if satisfied with the death sentence it had given me.

 

 

Oh, the horror!

 

A sonnet I could have handled. A quatrain would have been cause for celebration. But only the deadliest prophecies are couched in the form of a limerick.

 

I stared at the wind chimes, hoping they would speak again and correct themselves. Oops, our mistake! That prophecy was for a different Apollo!

 

But my luck was not that good. I had been handed an edict worse than a thousand advertisements for pasta makers.

 

Peaches rose. He shook his head and hissed at the oak tree, which expressed my own sentiments perfectly. He hugged Meg’s calf as if she were the only thing keeping him from falling off the world. The scene was almost sweet, except for the karpos’s fangs and glowing eyes.

Meg regarded me warily. The lenses of her glasses were spiderwebbed with cracks. “That prophecy,” she said. “Did you understand it?”

I swallowed a mouthful of soot. “Perhaps. Some of it. We’ll need to talk to Rachel—”

“There’s no more we.” Meg’s tone was as acrid as the volcanic gas of Delphi. “Do what you need to do. That’s my final order.”

 

This hit me like a spear shaft to the chin, despite the fact that she had lied to me and betrayed me. “Meg, you can’t.” I couldn’t keep the shakiness out of my voice. “You claimed my service. Until my

 

trials are over—” “I release you.”

 

“No!” I could not stand the idea of being abandoned. Not again. Not by this ragamuffin Dumpster queen whom I’d learned to care about so much. “You can’t possibly believe in Nero now. You heard him explain his plans. He means to level this entire island! You saw what he tried to do to his hostages.”

 

“He—he wouldn’t have let them burn. He promised. He held back. You saw it. That wasn’t the Beast.”

 

My rib cage felt like an over-tightened harp. “Meg…Nero is the Beast. He killed your father.” “No! Nero is my stepfather. My dad…my dad unleashed the Beast. He made it angry.” “Meg—”

 

“Stop!” She covered her ears. “You don’t know him. Nero is good to me. I can talk to him. I can make it okay.”

 

Her denial was so complete, so irrational, I realized there was no way I could argue with her. She reminded me painfully of myself when I fell to earth—how I had refused to accept my new reality. Without Meg’s help, I would’ve gotten myself killed. Now our roles were reversed.

I edged toward her, but Peaches’s snarl stopped me in my tracks.

 

Meg backed away. “We’re done.”

 

“We can’t be,” I said. “We’re bound, whether you like it or not.”

It occurred to me that she’d said the exact same thing to me only a few days before.

 

She gave me one last look through her cracked lenses. I would have given anything for her to blow a raspberry. I wanted to walk the streets of Manhattan with her doing cartwheels in the intersections. I missed hobbling with her through the Labyrinth, our legs tied together. I would’ve settled for a good garbage fight in an alley. Instead, she turned and fled, with Peaches at her heels. It seemed to me that they dissolved into the trees, just the way Daphne had done long ago.

Above my head, a breeze made the wind chimes jingle. This time, no voices came from the trees. I didn’t know how long Dodona would remain silent, but I didn’t want to be here if the oaks decided to start telling jokes again.

 

I turned and saw something strange at my feet: an arrow with an oak shaft and green fletching. There shouldn’t have been an arrow. I hadn’t brought any into the grove. But in my dazed state, I

 

didn’t question this. I did what any archer would do: I retrieved it, and returned it to my quiver.

 

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