The Dark Prophecy

Page 49

Atop Festus, Leo saluted me like a fellow fighter pilot. “What’s up, Lesteropoulos? Jo got your emergency signal. She sent us back right away.”

Thalia Grace jogged over with two of her Hunters. “We need to evacuate. We’ll be overrun in a few minutes.” She pointed to the end zone, where the survivors from Festus’s fiery victory lap were starting to form ranks: a hundred assorted centaurs, cynocephali, and demigods from the Imperial Household.

I glanced to the sidelines. Leading into the lowest tier of seats was a ramp—possibly wide enough for an elephant. “I’m not leaving Livia behind. Take Lityerses. And take the Throne of Memory.” I unslung the chair, thankful again for its light weight, and tossed it across to Leo. “That throne has to get back to Georgie. I’ll ride Livia out one of the mortal exits.”

The elephant dumped Lityerses onto the turf. The Cornhusker groaned and pressed his hands around the arrow in his leg.

Leo frowned. “Uh, Apollo—”

“I will not leave this noble elephant behind to be tortured!” I insisted.

“No, I get that.” Leo pointed at Lit. “But why would we take this fool? He tried to kill me in Omaha. He threatened Calypso at the zoo. Can’t I just let Festus stomp him?”

“No!” I wasn’t sure why I felt so strongly about it. Commodus betraying this swordsman made me almost as angry as Nero manipulating Meg, or…well, yes, Zeus abandoning me in the mortal world for the third time. “He needs healing. He’ll behave himself, won’t you, Lit?”

Lityerses grimaced in pain, blood soaking through his tattered jeans, but he managed a slight nod.

Leo sighed. “Whatever, man. Festus, we’re taking this bleeding idiot with us, okay? But if he gets uppity en route, feel free to chuck him against the side of a skyscraper.”

Festus creaked in agreement.

“I’ll go with Apollo.” Thalia Grace climbed up behind me on the elephant—which fulfilled a daydream I’d once had about the pretty Hunter, though I hadn’t imagined it happening quite this way. She nodded at one of her comrades. “Iphigenia, get the rest of the Hunters out of here. Go!”

Leo grinned and slung the Throne of Memory across his back. “See y’all back home. And don’t forget to pick up some salsa!”

Festus flapped his metallic wings. The dragon grabbed Lityerses and launched himself skyward. The Hunters activated their winches. They ascended as the first wave of angry spectators arrived on the field, throwing spears and vuvuzelas that fell clattering back to earth.

When the Hunters were gone, the crowd turned their attention to us.

“Livia,” I said. “How fast can you run?”

The answer: fast enough to evade an armed mob, especially with Thalia Grace on her back, shooting arrows and brandishing her shield of terror at anyone who got too close.

Livia seemed to know the corridors and ramps of the stadium. They’d been designed for large crowds, which made them equally convenient for elephants. We made a few turns around the souvenir kiosks, barreled through a service tunnel, and finally emerged on a loading dock on South Missouri Street.

I’d forgotten how wonderful sunlight felt! Crisp fresh air on a late winter day! Granted, it wasn’t as exhilarating as driving the sun chariot, but it was a darn sight better than the snake-infested sewers of Commode Palace.

Livia lumbered down Missouri Street. She turned into the first blind alley she saw, then stomped and shook. I was pretty sure I understood her message: Take off this stupid chain mail.

I translated for Thalia, who shouldered her bow. “I don’t blame her. Poor elephant. Women warriors should travel light.”

Livia lifted her trunk as if to say thank you.

We spent the next ten minutes de-armoring the elephant.

Once we were done, Livia gave Thalia and me a group hug with her trunk.

My adrenaline rush was fading, leaving me feeling like a deflated inner tube. I sank down with my back against the brick wall and shivered in my damp clothes.

Thalia produced a canteen from her belt. Instead of offering it to me first, as would have been proper, she poured some liquid into her cupped hand and let Livia drink. The elephant slurped down five handfuls, not much for a big animal, but she blinked and grunted in a satisfied way. Thalia took a sip herself, then handed the canteen to me.

“Thanks,” I mumbled. I drank, and my vision cleared immediately. I felt as if I’d just had six hours of sleep and a good hot meal.

I stared in amazement at the battered canteen. “What is this? Not nectar…”

“No,” Thalia agreed. “It’s moonwater.”

I’d dealt with the Hunters of Artemis for millennia, but I had never heard of moonwater. I recalled Josephine’s story about bootlegging in the 1920s. “Do you mean moonshine? As in liquor?”

Thalia laughed. “No. It’s not alcoholic, but it is magic. Lady Artemis never told you about this stuff, eh? It’s like an energy drink for Hunters. Men rarely ever get a taste.”

I poured a tiny bit into my palm. The stuff looked like regular water, though perhaps more silver, as if it had been blended with a trace amount of liquid mercury.

I considered taking another sip, then decided it might make my brain vibrate to the point of liquefying. I passed back the canteen. “Have you…Have you talked to my sister?”

Thalia’s expression turned serious. “In a dream, a few weeks ago. Lady Artemis said that Zeus has forbidden her from seeing you. She’s not even supposed to give us orders to help you.”

I had suspected as much, but having my fears confirmed would have overwhelmed me with despair if not for the moonwater. Its energy burst kept me humming right along over the deeper emotions, like wheels skimming across the top of loose sand.

“You’re not supposed to help me,” I said. “And yet you’re here. Why?”

Thalia gave me a coy smile that would have made Britomartis proud. “We were just in the area. Nobody ordered us to help. We’ve been searching for a particular monster for months now and…” She hesitated. “Well, that’s another story. The point is, we were passing through. We helped you the way we’d help any demigod in danger.”

She didn’t mention anything about Britomartis finding the Hunters and urging them to come here. I decided to play her little game of let’s-pretend-that-never-happened.

“Can I guess another reason?” I asked. “I think you decided to help me because you like me.”

The corner of Thalia’s mouth twitched. “What makes you say that?”

“Oh, come now. The first time we met, you said I was hot. Don’t think I didn’t hear that comment.”

I was gratified to see her face turn red.

“I was younger then,” she said. “I was a different person. I’d just spent several years as a pine tree. My vision and reasoning were impaired from sap damage.”

“Ouch,” I complained. “That’s harsh.”

Thalia punched my arm. “You need an occasional dose of humility. Artemis says so all the time.”

“My sister is a sneaky, deceptive—”

“Watch it,” Thalia warned. “I am her lieutenant.”

I crossed my arms in a petulant, Meg sort of way. “Artemis never told me about moonwater. She never told me about the Waystation. It makes me wonder how many other secrets she’s hiding.”

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