“I don’t know any of those people.”
“We need to spend more time on your pop culture lessons.”
“No, please.” Calypso struggled with the zipper of her coat.
Today she was wearing an assortment of borrowed clothing she must have picked out in total darkness: a battered silver parka, probably from Emmie’s Hunters of Artemis days; a blue INDY 500 T-shirt; an ankle-length brown skirt over black leggings; and bright purple-and-green workout shoes. Meg McCaffrey would have approved of her fashion sense.
“What about the sword-wielding Cornhusker?” Calypso asked.
“Lityerses, son of King Midas. I don’t know much about him, or why he is serving the emperor. We can only hope to get in and out of the zoo before he shows up. I don’t relish the idea of meeting him in combat.”
Calypso flexed her fingers, perhaps remembering what happened the last time she punched someone. “At least your friend Meg escaped her escorts,” she noted. “That’s good news.”
“Perhaps.” I wanted to believe Meg was rebelling against Nero. That she had finally seen the truth about her monstrous stepfather and would now rush to my side, ready to aid me in my quests and stop giving me vexing orders.
Unfortunately, I knew firsthand how hard it was to extricate oneself from an unhealthy relationship. Nero’s hooks were buried deep in the girl’s psyche. The idea of Meg on the run without a destination, terrified, pursued by the minions of two different emperors…that did not reassure me. I hoped she at least had her friend Peaches the grain spirit to rely on, but I had seen no sign of him in my visions.
“And Trophonius?” asked Calypso. “Do you often forget when someone is your child?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“We’re looking for a dangerous Oracle that drives people insane. The spirit of this Oracle happens to be your son, who just might hold a grudge against you because you didn’t answer his prayers, thus forcing him to cut off his own brother’s head. Those facts would have been good to know.”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind! It’s a very small mortal mind.”
“At least we agree on the size of your brain.”
“Oh, stick a brick in it,” I muttered. “I was hoping for advice on how to proceed. You’re useless.”
“My advice is to stop being such a gloutos.”
The word meant buttocks, except that in ancient Greek it had a much ruder connotation. I tried to think of a withering reply, but the ancient Greek phrase for I know you are, but what am I? eluded me.
Calypso ruffled the fletching in my quiver. “If you want advice, why not ask your arrow? Perhaps he knows how to rescue griffins.”
“Humph.” I did not like Calypso’s advice for seeking advice. I didn’t see what a Shakespearean-talking arrow could contribute to our present quest. Then again, I had nothing to lose except my temper. If the arrow annoyed me too much, I could always fire him into some monster’s gloutos.
I pulled out the Arrow of Dodona. Immediately, his sonorous voice spoke in my mind, the shaft resonating with each word.
LO, it said. THE MORTAL DOTH FINALLY SHOW SENSE.
“I’ve missed you, too,” I said.
“It’s talking?” Calypso asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. O, Arrow of Dodona, I have a question for you.”
HITTEST ME WITH THY BEST SHOT.
I explained about my visions. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, talking to an arrow as we strolled along West Maryland Street. Outside the Indiana Convention Center, I tripped and nearly impaled myself through the eye, but Calypso didn’t even bother to laugh. During our travels together she’d seen me humiliate myself in much more spectacular ways.
Talking proved a slower way of bringing a projectile up to speed than by simply launching it from a bow, but at last I succeeded.
FIE. The arrow shuddered in my hand. THOU HAST GIVEN ME NOT A QUESTION BUT A STORY.
I wondered if it was testing me—gauging just how far it could push me before I snapped it in two. I might have done so long ago except I feared I would then have two fragments of a talking arrow, which would give me bad advice in harmony.
“Very well,” I said. “How can we find the griffins? Where is Meg McCaffrey? How can we defeat the local emperor, free his prisoners, and take back control of the Oracle of Trophonius?”
NOW HAST THOU ASKED TOO MANY QUESTIONS, the arrow intoned. MY WISDOM DOTH NOT SPEW FORTH ANSWERS AS IF ’TWERE GOOGLE.
Yes, the arrow was definitely tempting me to snap it.
“Let’s start simply, then,” I said. “How do we free the griffins?”
GOEST THOU TO THE ZOO.
“We’re already doing that.”
FINDEST THOU THE GRIFFINS’ ENCLOSURE.
“Yes, but where? And don’t tell me at the zoo. Where exactly in the Indianapolis Zoo are the griffins being kept?”
SEEKEST THOU THE CHOO-CHOO.
IST THERE AN ECHO IN HERE?
“Fine! We look for a choo—a train. Once we locate the griffins, how do we free them?”
LO, THOU SHALT GAIN THE BEASTS’ TRUST WITH TATER TOTS.
I waited for clarification, or even just another snarky comment. The arrow remained silent. With a snort of disgust, I returned it to my quiver.
“You know,” Calypso said, “hearing only one side of that conversation was very confusing.”
“’Twas not much better hearing both sides,” I assured her. “Something about a train. And children made of potatoes.”
“Tater Tots are food. Leo—” Her voice caught on his name. “Leo likes them.”
My vast experience with women told me that Calypso was either feeling remorseful about her argument with Leo yesterday or she got emotional on the subject of Tater Tots. I wasn’t inclined to find out which.
“Whatever ist the case, I knowest not—” I spat the Shakespearean English off my tongue. “I don’t know what the arrow’s advice means. Perhaps when we get to the zoo, it will make sense.”
“Because that happens so often when we arrive in new places,” Calypso said. “Suddenly everything makes sense.”
“You have a point.” I sighed. “But much like the point on my talking arrow, it does us no good. Shall we continue?”
We used the Washington Street Bridge to cross the White River, which was not at all white. It flowed wide, sluggish, and brown between cement retaining walls, the water breaking around islands of scrubby bushes like acne patches (with which I was now all too familiar). It reminded me strangely of the Tiber in Rome—another underwhelming, long-neglected river.
Yet world-altering history had been made along the banks of the Tiber. I shuddered to think what plans Commodus had for this city. And if the White River fed the canals I’d glimpsed in his throne room, his lair might be close. Which meant that his new prefect, Lityerses, might already be at the zoo. I decided to walk faster.
The Indianapolis Zoo was tucked away in a park just off West Washington. We crossed an empty parking lot, heading toward the turquoise marquee of the main entrance. A banner out front read WILDLY CUTE! For a moment I thought perhaps the zoo staff had heard I was coming and decided to welcome me. Then I realized the banner was just an advertisement for koala bears. As if koalas needed advertising.