The Dark Prophecy

Page 36

Once, I spotted Calypso and Leo down in the great hall, walking with Emmie, the three of them deep in conversation. Several times I saw Agamethus float through the hall, wringing his hands. I tried not to think about his Magic 8 Ball message: WE CANNOT REMAIN, which was neither cheerful nor helpful when one was trying to provide egg-laying mood music.

About an hour into my second set, Jo resumed the manufacture of her tracking device in the workshop, which necessitated me finding tunes that went well with the sound of a welding torch. Fortunately, Heloise enjoyed Patti Smith.

The only person I didn’t see during the afternoon was Meg. I assumed she was on the roof, making the garden grow at five times its normal rate. Occasionally I glanced up, wondering when the roof might collapse and bury me in rutabagas.

By dinnertime, my fingers were blistered from playing my combat ukulele. My throat felt like Death Valley. However, Heloise was clucking contentedly on top of her newly laid egg.

I felt surprisingly better. Music and healing, after all, were not so different. I wondered if Jo had sent me to the roost for my own good as well as Heloise’s. Those Waystation women were tricky.

That night I slept like the dead—the actual dead, not the restless, headless, glowing orange variety. By first light, armed with Emmie’s directions to the Canal Walk, Meg, Leo, and I were ready to navigate the streets of Indianapolis.

Before we left, Josephine pulled me aside. “Wish I was going with you, Sunny. I’ll do my best to train your friend Calypso this morning, see if she can regain control over her magic. While you’re gone, I’ll feel better if you wear this.”

She handed me an iron shackle.

I studied her face, but she did not seem to be joking. “This is a griffin manacle,” I said.

“No! I would never make a griffin wear a manacle.”

“Yet you’re giving me one. Don’t prisoners wear these for house arrest?”

“That’s not what it’s for. This is the tracking device I’ve been working on.”

She pressed a small indentation on the rim of the shackle. With a click, metallic wings extended from either side, buzzing at hummingbird frequency. The shackle almost leaped out of my hands.

“Oh, no,” I protested. “Don’t ask me to wear flying apparel. Hermes tricked me into wearing his shoes once. I took a nap in a hammock in Athens and woke up in Argentina. Never again.”

Jo switched off the wings. “You don’t have to fly. The idea was to make two ankle bracelets, but I didn’t have time. I was going to send them off to”—she paused, clearly trying to control her emotions—“to find Georgina and bring her home. Since I can’t do that, if you get in trouble, if you find her…” Jo pointed to a second indentation on the manacle. “This activates the homing beacon. It’ll tell me where you are, and you’d better believe we’ll send reinforcements.”

I didn’t know how Josephine would accomplish that. They didn’t have much of a cavalry. I also did not want to wear a tracking device on general principle. It went against the very nature of being Apollo. I should always be the most obvious, most brilliant source of light in the world. If you had to search for me, something was wrong.

Then again, Josephine was giving me that look my mother, Leto, always pulled when she was afraid I’d forgotten to write her a new song for Mother’s Day. (It’s kind of a tradition. And yes, I am a wonderful son, thanks.)

“Very well.” I fastened the shackle around my ankle. It fit snugly, but at least that way I could hide it under the hem of my jeans.

“Thank you.” Jo pressed her forehead against mine. “Don’t die.” Then she turned and marched purposefully back to her workshop, no doubt anxious to create more restraining devices for me.

Half an hour later, I discovered something important: one should never wear an iron manacle while operating a pedal boat.

Our mode of transportation was Leo’s idea. When we arrived at the banks of the canal, he discovered a boat-rental dock that was shut down for the season. He decided to liberate a teal plastic pedal boat, and insisted we call him the Dread Pirate Valdez. (Meg loved this. I refused.)

“This is the best way to spot that secret-entrance grate thing,” he assured us as we pedaled along. “At water level, we can’t miss it. Plus, we’re traveling in style!”

We had very different ideas of traveling in style.

Leo and I sat in the front, operating the pedals. Under the iron manacle, my ankle felt like it was being slowly chewed off by a Doberman pinscher. My calves burned. I did not understand why mortals would pay money for this experience. If the boat were pulled by hippocampi, perhaps, but physical labor? Ugh.

Meanwhile, Meg faced the reverse direction in the backseat. She claimed she was “scouting our six” for the secret entrance to the sewers, but it looked an awful lot like she was relaxing.

“So what’s with you and the emperor?” Leo asked me, his feet pedaling merrily along as if the exertion didn’t bother him at all.

I wiped my brow. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“C’mon, man. At dinner, when Meg started shouting about commodes? You ran straight to the bathroom and spewed.”

“I did not spew. It was more like heaving.”

“Ever since, you’ve been awfully quiet.”

He had a point. Being quiet was another un-Apollo-like trait. Usually I had so many interesting things to say and delightful songs to sing. I realized I should tell my companions about the emperor. They deserved to know what we were pedaling into. But forming the words was difficult.

“Commodus blames me for his death,” I said.

“Why?” Meg asked.

“Probably because I killed him.”

“Ah.” Leo nodded sagely. “That would do it.”

I managed to tell them the story. It wasn’t easy. As I stared ahead of us, I imagined the body of Commodus floating just below the surface of the canal, ready to rise from the icy green depths and accuse me of treachery. You. Blessed. Me.

When I was done with the story, Leo and Meg remained silent. Neither of them screamed Murderer! Neither of them looked me in the eye, either.

“That’s rough, man,” Leo said at last. “But it sounds like Emperor Toilet needed to go.”

Meg made a sound like a cat’s sneeze. “It’s Commodus. He’s handsome, by the way.”

I glanced back. “You’ve met him?”

Meg shrugged. At some point since yesterday, a rhinestone had fallen out of her glasses’ frames, like a star winked out of existence. It bothered me that I’d noticed such a small detail.

“Once,” she said. “In New York. He visited my stepfather.”

“Nero,” I urged. “Call him Nero.”

“Yeah.” Red blotches appeared on her cheeks. “Commodus was handsome.”

I rolled my eyes. “He’s also vainglorious, puffed up, egotistical—”

“So he’s like your competition, then?” Leo asked.

“Oh, shut up.”

For a while, the only sound on the canal was the chugging of our pedal boat. It echoed off the ten-foot-high embankments and up the sides of brick warehouses that were in the process of conversion to condominiums and restaurants. The buildings’ dark windows stared down at us, making me feel both claustrophobic and exposed.

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