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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