The girl wrinkled her nose. “What are you, a tinkerer?”
“That’s Lord Tinkerer to you.”
The girl swiped the tools. “I’ll take them all.” She scowled at me. “What about your bow?”
“You can’t have my bow,” I said. “I’m Apollo.”
Her expression changed from shock to understanding to forced calm. I guessed the plight of Lester Papadopoulos was known among the Hunters.
“Right,” the girl said. “The rest of the Hunters should be on their way. I was the nearest to Indianapolis. I decided to play advance scout. Obviously, that didn’t work out so well for me.”
“In fact,” I said, “there was an incursion at the front gates a few minutes ago. I suspect your comrades have arrived.”
Her eyes darkened. “We need to leave, then. Quickly.”
Meg helped the emaciated boys from their cell. Up close, they looked even more pathetic and fragile, which made me angrier.
“Prisoners should never be treated this way,” I growled.
“Oh, they weren’t denied food,” the silver-haired girl said, admiration creeping into her voice. “They’ve been on a hunger strike. Courageous…for a couple of boys. I’m Hunter Kowalski, by the way.”
I frowned. “A Hunter named Hunter?”
“Yeah, I have heard that a million times. Let’s free the others.”
I found no convenient switch box to lower the glass doors, but with Meg and Leo’s help, we began slowly liberating the captives. Most seemed to be human or demigod (it was difficult to tell which) but one was a dracaena. She looked human enough from the waist up, but where her legs should have been, twin snake tails undulated.
“She’s friendly,” Hunter assured us. “We shared a cell last night until the guards separated us. Her name’s Sssssarah, with five s’s.”
That was good enough for me. We let her out.
The next cell held a lone young man who looked like a professional wrestler. He wore only a red-and-white loincloth with matching beads around his neck, but he did not seem underdressed. Just as gods are often depicted nude because they are perfect beings, this prisoner had no reason to hide his body. With his dark, glossy skin, his shaved head, and his muscular arms and chest, he looked like a teak warrior brought to life through the craft of Hephaestus. (I made a mental note to ask Hephaestus about such a project later.) His eyes, also teak brown, were piercing and angry—beautiful in the way only dangerous things can be. Tattooed on his right shoulder was a symbol I did not recognize, some sort of a double-bladed ax.
Leo fired up his hands to melt the glass, but the dracaena Sssssarah hissed.
“Not that one,” she warned. “Too dangerousssss.”
Leo frowned. “Lady, we need dangerous friends.”
“Yessss, but that one fought for money. He wassss employed by the emperor. He’sssss only here now because he did ssssomething to anger Commodussss.”
I studied Tall, Dark & Handsome. (I know that’s a cliché, but he really was all three.) I didn’t intend to leave anyone behind, especially someone who wore a loincloth so well.
“We’re going to free you,” I shouted through the glass, not sure how much he could hear. “Please don’t kill us. We are enemies of Commodus, the man who put you here.”
TD&H’s expression did not change: part anger, part disdain, part indifference—the same way Zeus looked every morning before his coffee-infused nectar.
“Leo,” I said. “Do it.”
Valdez melted the glass. TD&H stepped out slowly and gracefully, as if he had all the time in the world.
“Hello,” I said. “I’m the immortal god Apollo. Who might you be?”
His voice rolled like thunder. “I am Jimmy.”
“A noble name,” I decided, “worthy of kings.”
“Apollo,” Meg called. “Get over here.”
She was staring into the last cell. Of course it would be the last cell.
Hunched in the corner, sitting on a familiar bronze suitcase, was a young girl in a lavender wool sweater and green jeans. On her lap sat a plate of prison slop, which she was using to finger-paint on the wall. Her tufts of brown hair looked like she’d cut them herself with gardening shears. She was large for her age—about Leo’s size—but her babyish face told me she couldn’t have been more than seven.
“Georgina,” I said.
Leo scowled. “Why is she sitting on Festus? Why would they put him in there with her?”
I didn’t have an answer, but I motioned for Meg to cut through the glass wall.
“Let me go first,” I said.
I stepped through. “Georgie?”
The girl’s eyes were like fractured prisms, swirling with unanchored thoughts and waking nightmares. I knew that look too well. Over the centuries I’d seen many mortal minds broken under the weight of prophecy.
“Apollo.” She let out a burst of giggles as if her brain had developed a leak. “You and the dark. Some death, some death, some death.”
Science can be fun
Squirt those toxic chemicals
GEORGINA GRABBED MY WRIST, sending an unpleasant chill up my forearm. “Some death.”
On the list of things that freaked me out, seven-year-old girls who giggled about death were right at the top, along with reptiles and talking weapons.
I remembered the prophetic limerick that had brought us west—the warning that I would be forced death and madness to swallow. Clearly, Georgina had encountered such horrors in the Cave of Trophonius. I did not fancy following her example. For one thing, I had zero skill at painting with prison slop.
“Yes,” I said agreeably. “We can talk more about death once we get you home. Emmie and Josephine sent me to get you.”
“Home.” Georgina spoke the word as if it were a difficult term from a foreign language.
Leo got impatient. He climbed into the cell and trotted over. “Hey, Georgie. I’m Leo. That’s a nice suitcase. Can I see it?”
Georgina tilted her head. “My clothes.”
“Oh, uh…yeah.” Leo brushed the name tag on his borrowed coveralls. “Sorry about the sewage stains and the burning smell. I’ll get ’em cleaned.”
“The burning hot,” Georgie said. “You. All of it.”
“Right…” Leo smiled uncertainly. “Ladies often tell me I’m all the burning hot. But don’t worry. I won’t set you on fire or anything.”
I offered Georgie my hand. “Here, child. We’ll take you home.”
She was content to let me help her. As soon as she was on her feet, Leo rushed to the bronze suitcase and began fussing over it.
“Oh, buddy, I’m so sorry,” he murmured. “I should never have left you. I’ll get you back to the Waystation for a good tune-up. Then you can have all the Tabasco sauce and motor oil you want.”
The suitcase did not respond. Leo managed to activate its wheels and handle so he could lug it out of the cell.
Georgina remained docile until she saw Meg. Then, suddenly, she had a burst of strength worthy of me.
“No!” She yanked herself from my grip and plunged back into her cell. I tried to calm her, but she continued to howl and stare at Meg in horror. “NERO! NERO!”