The Dark Prophecy

Page 24

A brief flash of anger washed over his face. I knew my sweet Commodus could have an ugly temper. He was a little too fond of slaughter. But what did I care? I was a god. I could speak to him in ways no one else dared.

The tent flap opened. A centurion stepped inside and saluted crisply, but his face was stricken, gleaming with sweat. “Princeps…” His voice quavered. “It’s your father. He…he is…”

He never spoke the word dead, but it seemed to float into the tent all around us, sapping the heat from the air. The lyre player stopped on a major seventh chord.

Commodus looked at me, panic in his eyes.

“Go,” I said, as calmly as I could, forcing down my misgivings. “You will always have my blessings. You will do fine.”

But I already suspected what would happen: the young man I knew and loved was about to be consumed by the emperor he would become.

He rose and kissed me one last time. His breath smelled of grapes. Then he left the tent—walking, as the Romans would say, into the mouth of the wolf.

“Apollo.” Calypso nudged my arm.

“Don’t go!” I pleaded. Then my past life burned away.

The sorceress was frowning at me. “What do you mean don’t go? Did you have another vision?”

I scanned the dark kitchen of the snack bar. “I—I’m fine. What’s going on?”

Calypso pointed to the freezer. “Look at the prices.”

I swallowed down the bitter taste of grapes and boar meat. In the freezer, on the corner of each white butcher-paper package, a price was written in pencil. By far the most expensive: griffin taters, $15,000 per serving.

“I’m not good at modern currency,” I admitted, “but isn’t that a bit pricey for a meal?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Calypso said. “I know the S symbol with the line through it means American dollars, but the amount…?” She shrugged.

I found it unfair that I was adventuring with someone as clueless as I was. A modern demigod could have easily told us, and they also would have had useful twenty-first-century skills. Leo Valdez could repair machines. Percy Jackson could drive a car. I would even have settled for Meg McCaffrey and her garbage-bag-throwing prowess, though I knew what Meg would say about our present predicament: You guys are dumb.

I pulled out a packet of griffin taters and unwrapped one corner. Inside, small frozen cubes of shredded potato gleamed with a golden metallic coating.

“Are Tater Tots usually sprayed with precious metal?” I asked.

Calypso picked one up. “I don’t think so. But griffins like gold. My father told me that ages ago.”

I shuddered. I recalled her father, General Atlas, unleashing a flock of griffins on me during the Titans’ first war with the gods. Having your chariot swarmed by eagle-headed lions is not something you easily forget.

“So we take these taters to feed the griffins,” I guessed. “With luck, this will help us win their trust.” I pulled the Arrow of Dodona from my quiver. “Is that what you had in mind, Most Frustrating of Arrows?”


“What did he say?” Calypso asked.

“He said yes.”

From the counter, Calypso grabbed a paper menu with a map of the zoo on it. She pointed to an orange loop circling the PLAINS area. “Here.”

The loop was labeled TRAIN RIDE, the least creative name I could imagine. At the bottom, in a map key, was a more detailed explanation: TRAIN RIDE! A LOOK AT THE ZOO BEHIND THE ZOO!

“Well,” I said, “at least they advertise the fact that they have a secret zoo behind the zoo. That was nice of them.”

“I think it’s time to ride the choo-choo,” Calypso agreed.

From the front of the café came a crashing sound, like a Germanus had tripped over a trash can.

“Stop that!” barked Lityerses. “You, stay here and keep watch. If they show, capture them—don’t kill them. You, come with me. We need those griffins.”

I counted silently to five, then whispered to Calypso, “Are they gone?”

“Let me use my super vision to look through this wall and check,” she said. “Oh, wait.”

“You are a terrible person.”

She pointed to the map. “If Lityerses left one guard at the crossroads, it will be difficult to get out of here and reach the train without him seeing us.”

“Well,” I said, “I suppose we could go back to the Waystation and tell Britomartis that we tried.”

Calypso threw a frozen golden Tater Tot at me. “When you were a god, if some heroes had returned empty-handed from a quest and told you Oh, sorry, Apollo. We tried, would you be understanding?”

“Certainly not! I would incinerate them! I would…Oh. I see your point.” I wrung my hands. “Then what do we do? I don’t feel like being incinerated. It hurts.”

“Perhaps there’s a way.” Calypso traced her finger across the map to a section labeled MEERKAT, REPTILE & SNAKE, which sounded like the worst law firm ever.

“I have an idea,” she said. “Bring your Tots and follow me.”

Yeah, we got the skills

Fake hexes and shooting feet

Teach you ’bout pancakes

I DID NOT WISH to follow Calypso, with or without my Tots.

Sadly, my only other option was to hide in the café until the emperor’s men found me or the café manager arrived and impressed me into service as a short-order cook.

Calypso led the way, darting from hiding place to hiding place like the urban ninja she was. I spotted the lone Germanus on sentry duty, about fifty feet across the plaza, but he was busy studying the carousel. He pointed his polearm warily at the painted horses as if they might be carnivorous.

We made it to the far side of the crossroads without attracting his attention, but I was still nervous. For all we knew, Lityerses might have multiple groups sweeping the park. On a telephone pole near the souvenir shop, a security camera stared down at us. If the Triumvirate was as powerful as Nero claimed, they could easily control surveillance inside the Indianapolis Zoo. Perhaps that was why Lityerses was searching for us. He already knew we were here.

I thought about shooting the camera with an arrow, but it was probably too late. Cameras loved me. No doubt my face was all over the security office monitors.

Calypso’s plan was to circumvent the orangutans and cut through the reptile display, skirting the park perimeter until we reached the train depot. Instead, as we passed the entrance to the ape habitat, voices of an approaching Germanus patrol startled us. We dove into the orangutan center for cover.

All right…I got startled and dove for cover. Calypso hissed, “No, you idiot!” then followed me inside. Together we crouched behind a retaining wall as two Germani strolled past, chatting casually about head-bashing techniques.

I glanced to my right and stifled a yelp. On the other side of a glass wall, a large orangutan was staring at me, his amber eyes curious. He made some hand gestures—sign language? Agamethus might have known. Judging from the great ape’s expression, he was not terribly delighted to see me. Alas, among the great apes, only humans are capable of proper awe for the gods. On the plus side for orangutans, they have amazing orange fur that no human could possibly rival.

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