Lityerses advanced on Meg again, slashing and stabbing. I was no expert on swordplay, but as good as Meg was, I feared she was outmatched. Lityerses had more strength, speed, and reach. He was twice Meg’s size. He’d been practicing for countless more years. If Lityerses hadn’t recently been injured from having a roof dropped on him, I suspected this fight might have been over already.
“Go on, Apollo!” Lit taunted. “Fire that arrow at me.”
I had seen how fast he could move. No doubt he would pull an Athena and slash my arrow out of the sky before it hit him. So unfair! But shooting at him had never been my plan.
I leaned toward Abelard’s head and said, “Fly!”
The griffin launched himself into the air as if my added weight was nothing. He circled around the stadium tiers, screeching for his mate to join him.
Heloise had more trouble. She lumbered halfway across the arena floor, flapping her wings and growling with discomfort before getting airborne. With Calypso clinging to her neck for dear life, Heloise began flying in a tight circle behind Abelard. There was nowhere for us to go—not with the net above us—but I had more immediate problems.
Meg stumbled, barely managing to parry Lit’s strike. His next cut sliced across Meg’s thigh, ripping her legging. The yellow fabric quickly turned orange from the flow of blood.
Lit grinned. “You’re good, little sister, but you’re getting tired. You don’t have the stamina to face me.”
“Abelard,” I murmured, “we need to get the girl. Dive!”
The griffin complied with a bit too much enthusiasm. I almost missed my shot. I let my arrow fly not at Lityerses, but at the control box next to the emperor’s seat, aiming for a lever I had noted earlier: the one that read OMNIA—everything.
WHANG! The arrow hit its mark. With a series of satisfying ka-chunks, the Plexiglas shields dropped from all the enclosures.
Lityerses was too busy to realize what had happened. Being dive-bombed by a griffin tends to focus one’s attention. Lit backed away, allowing Abelard to snatch Meg McCaffrey in his paws and soar upward again.
Lit gaped at us in dismay. “Good trick, Apollo. But where will you go? You’re—”
That’s when he was run over by a herd of armored ostriches. The swordsman disappeared under a tidal wave of feathers, razor wire, and warty pink legs.
As Lityerses squawked like a goose, curling up to protect himself, the winged serpents, fire-breathing horses, and Aethiopian Bull came out to join the fun.
“Meg!” I stretched out my arm. While precariously gripped in Abelard’s paws, she willed her swords to shrink back into golden rings. She caught my hand. Somehow I managed to pull her onto Abelard and seat her in front of me.
The flying serpents fluttered toward Heloise, who squawked defiantly and beat her mighty wings, climbing toward the netting. Abelard followed.
My heart hammered against my ribs. Surely we couldn’t bust through the net. It would be designed to withstand brute force, beaks, and claws. I imagined us hitting the barrier and getting bounced back to the arena floor as if on a reverse trampoline. It seemed an undignified way to die.
A moment before we would have slammed into the net, Calypso thrust up her arms. She howled in rage and the net blasted upward, ripped from its moorings, and was tossed into the sky like a giant tissue in a gale-force wind.
Free and unhurt, we soared out of the arena. I stared at Calypso in amazement. She seemed as surprised as I was. Then she slumped and listed sideways. Heloise compensated, shifting her pitch to keep the sorceress on board. Calypso, looking only semiconscious, clung weakly to the griffin’s fur.
As our two noble steeds rose into the sky, I glanced down at the arena. The monsters were engaged in a vicious free-for-all, but I saw no sign of Lityerses.
Meg twisted to face me, her mouth set in a ferocious scowl. “You were supposed to go!”
Then she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tightly I felt new fracture lines developing on my ribs. Meg sobbed, her face buried in my shirt, her whole body shaking.
As for me, I did not weep. No, I’m sure my eyes were quite dry. I did not bawl like a baby in the slightest. The most I will admit is this: with her tears moistening my shirt, her cat-eye glasses digging uncomfortably into my chest, her smell of baked apples, dirt, and sweat overwhelming my nostrils, I was quite content to be annoyed, once again, by Meg McCaffrey.
To the Waystation
Meg McCaffrey eats my bread
I cry godly tears
HELOISE AND ABELARD knew where to go. They circled the Waystation roof until a section of shingles slid open, allowing the griffins to spiral into the great hall.
They landed on the ledge, side by side in their nest, as Josephine and Leo scrambled up the ladders to join us.
Josephine threw her arms first around Heloise’s neck, then Abelard’s. “Oh, my sweethearts! You’re alive!”
The griffins cooed and leaned against her in greeting.
Josephine beamed at Meg McCaffrey. “Welcome! I’m Jo.”
Meg blinked, apparently not used to such an enthusiastic greeting.
Calypso half climbed, half tumbled from Heloise’s back. She would have toppled off the ledge if Leo hadn’t caught her.
“Whoa, mamacita,” he said. “You okay?”
She blinked sleepily. “I’m fine. Don’t fuss. And don’t call me—”
She crumpled against Leo, who struggled to keep her upright.
He glared at me. “What did you do to her?”
“Not a thing!” I protested. “I believe Calypso managed some magic.”
I explained what had happened at the zoo: our encounter with Lityerses, our escape, and how the arena’s netting had suddenly shot into the sky like a squid from a water cannon (one of Poseidon’s less successful prototype weapons).
Meg added unhelpfully, “It was crazy.”
“Lityerses,” Leo muttered. “I hate that guy. Is Cal going to be okay?”
Josephine checked Calypso’s pulse, then pressed a hand against her forehead. Slumped against Leo’s shoulder, the sorceress snored like a razorback sow.
“She’s blown a circuit,” Josephine announced.
“Blown a circuit?” Leo yelped. “I don’t like blown circuits!”
“Just an expression, bud,” said Josephine. “She’s overextended herself magically. We should get her to Emmie in the infirmary. Here.”
Josephine scooped up Calypso. Ignoring the ladder, she jumped off the ledge and landed easily on the floor twenty feet below.
Leo scowled. “I could have done that.”
He turned to Meg. No doubt he recognized her from my many tales of woe. After all, young girls in stoplight-colored clothing and rhinestone cat-eye glasses were not common.
“You’re Meg McCaffrey,” he decided.
“Cool. I’m Leo. And, uh…” He pointed at me. “I understand you can, like, control this guy?”
I cleared my throat. “We merely cooperate! I’m not controlled by anyone. Right, Meg?”
“Slap yourself,” Meg commanded.
I slapped myself.
Leo grinned. “Oh, this is too good. I’m going to check on Calypso, but later we need to talk.” He slid down the ladder railings, leaving me with a deep sense of foreboding.