“Dear Meg,” I said. “I can’t be sure about Lityerses. But I think we must try. We only fail when we stop trying.”
She studied a callus on her index finger. “Even after somebody tries to kill us?”
I shrugged. “If I gave up on everyone who has tried to kill me, I would have no allies left on the Olympian Council.”
She pouted. “Families are dumb.”
“On that,” I said, “we can fully agree.”
Josephine glanced over and saw me. “He’s here!”
She hustled over, grabbed my wrist, and hauled me toward the couch. “We’ve been waiting! What took you so long? We have to use the chair!”
I bit back a retort.
It might have been nice to hear, Thank you, Apollo, for freeing all these prisoners! Thank you for returning our daughter! She could at least have decorated the main hall with a few APOLLO IS THE GREATEST banners, or offered to remove the uncomfortable iron manacle on my ankle.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” I complained.
“Yes, we did,” Josephine said. “Every time we tried to put Georgie in the throne, she flailed around and shrieked your name.”
Georgie’s head lolled toward me. “Apollo! Death, death, death.”
I winced. “I really wish she’d stop making that connection.”
Emmie and Josephine lifted her gently and set her on the Throne of Mnemosyne. This time, Georgie did not resist.
Curious Hunters and freed prisoners gathered around, though I noticed Meg stayed in the back of the room, well away from Georgina.
“The notepad on the counter!” Emmie pointed toward the kitchen. “Someone grab it, please!”
Calypso did the honors. She hurried back with a small yellow legal pad and a pen.
Georgina swayed. Suddenly all her muscles seemed to melt. She would have slumped out of the chair if her parents hadn’t held her.
Then she sat bolt upright. She gasped. Her eyes flew open, her pupils as wide as quarters. Black smoke belched from her mouth. The rancid smell, like boiling roof tar and rotten eggs, forced everyone back except for the dracaena, Sssssarah, who sniffed the air hungrily.
Georgina tilted her head. Smoke curled through the choppy brown tufts of her hair as if she were an automaton, or a blemmyae with a malfunctioning fake noggin.
“Father!” Her voice pierced my heart—so sharp and painful, I thought my bandolier of scalpels had turned inward. It was the same voice, the same cry I had heard thousands of years ago, when Trophonius had prayed in agony, pleading for me to save Agamethus from the collapsed thieves’ tunnel.
Georgina’s mouth contorted into a cruel smile. “So have you finally heard my prayer?”
Her voice was still that of Trophonius. Everyone in the room looked at me. Even Agamethus, who had no eyes, seemed to fix me with a withering glare.
Emmie tried to touch Georgina’s shoulder. She recoiled as if the little girl’s skin were molten hot. “Apollo, what is this?” she demanded. “This isn’t prophecy. This has never happened before—”
“You sent this little sister of mine to do your errands?” Georgina tapped her own chest, her eyes wide and dark, still focused on me. “You’re no better than the emperor.”
I felt as if a chain-mail elephant were standing on my chest. This little sister? If he meant that literally, then…
“Trophonius.” I could barely speak. “I—I didn’t send Georgina. She isn’t my—”
“Tomorrow morning,” Trophonius said. “The cave will only be accessible at first light. Your prophecy will unfold—or the emperor’s. Either way, there will be no hiding in your little haven. Come in person. Bring the girl, your master. You will both enter my sacred cavern.”
A horrible laugh escaped Georgina’s mouth. “Perhaps both of you will survive. Or will you suffer the same fate as my brother and I? I wonder, Father, to whom will you pray?”
With one final belch of blackness, Georgina toppled sideways. Josephine scooped her up before she could hit the floor.
Emmie rushed to help. Together they placed Georgie gently on the couch again, tucking her in with blankets and pillows.
Calypso turned to me. The empty notepad dangled from her hand. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” she said, “but that was no prophecy. That was a message to you.”
The collective gaze of the crowd made my face itch. It was the same feeling I used to have when an entire Greek village looked to the heavens and called my name, pleading for rain, and I was too embarrassed to explain that rain was actually Zeus’s department. The best I could offer them was a catchy new song.
“You’re right,” I said, though it pained me to agree with the sorceress. “Trophonius did not give the girl a prophecy. He gave her a—a recorded greeting.”
Emmie stepped toward me, her fists clenched. “Will she be healed? When a prophecy’s expelled on the Throne of Memory, the supplicant usually returns to normal within a few days. Will Georgie—” Her voice broke. “Will she come back to us?”
I wanted to say yes. Back in the old days, the recovery rate for supplicants of Trophonius had been around 75 percent. And that was when the petitioners were properly prepared by the priests, the rituals all done correctly, and the prophecy interpreted on the throne immediately after visiting the cave of terrors. Georgina had sought out the cave on her own with little or no preparation. She’d been trapped with that madness and darkness for weeks.
“I—I don’t know,” I admitted. “We can hope—”
“We can hope?” Emmie demanded.
Josephine took her hand. “Georgie will get better. Have faith. That’s better than hope.”
But her eyes stayed on me a little too long—accusing, questioning. I prayed she would not fetch her submachine gun.
“Ahem,” Leo said. His face was lost in the shadow of his raised welding visor, his grin fading in and out of sight à la the Cheshire Cat. “Uh…the thing about little sister? If Georgie is Trophonius’s sister, does that mean…?” He pointed at me.
Never before had I wished I were a blemmyae. Now, I wanted to hide my face inside my shirt. I wanted to pull off my head and throw it across the room. “I don’t know!”
“It would explain a lot,” Calypso ventured. “Why Georgina felt so attuned to the Oracle, why she was able to survive the experience. If you…I mean…not Lester, but Apollo is her parent—”
“She has parents.” Josephine put her arm around Emmie’s waist. “We’re standing right here.”
Calypso raised her hands in apology. “Of course. I just meant—”
“Seven years,” Emmie interrupted, stroking her daughter’s forehead. “Seven years we’ve raised her. It never mattered where she came from, or who her biological parents might have been. When Agamethus brought her…we checked the news. We checked the police reports. We sent Iris-messages to all our contacts. No one had reported a missing baby girl like her. Her birth parents either didn’t want her, or couldn’t raise her….” She glared at me. “Or maybe they didn’t even know she existed.”
I tried to remember. Honestly, I did. But if the god Apollo had enjoyed a brief romance with some Midwesterner eight years ago, I had no recollection of it. I was reminded of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who had also come to my attention when he was seven years old. Everyone said, Oh, surely he is the son of Apollo! The other gods looked at me for confirmation, and I wanted so badly to say, Yes, that boy’s genius was all me! But I simply could not remember ever having met Wolfgang’s mother. Or, for that matter, his father.