I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly. “Piano lessons? Now?”
“Not now, dummy. But sometime. Can you teach me?”
What a horrifying idea! I wanted to think I was far enough along in my career as a music god not to give piano lessons to beginners. Then again, I noticed that Meg had asked me, not ordered me. I detected something tentative and hopeful in her voice, a fresh green chia shoot emerging. I was reminded of Leo and Calypso last night in the library, talking wistfully of the normal life they might build in Indiana. Strange, how often humans dream about the future. We immortals don’t bother. For us, dreaming of the future is like staring at the hour hand of a clock.
“Very well,” I said. “Assuming we survive this morning’s adventures.”
“Deal.” Meg banged out a final chord that Beethoven would have loved. Then, from her backpack of supplies, she produced a baggie of carrots (peeled by me, thank you very much) and began munching them loudly while knocking the tips of her shoes together.
“We should talk strategy,” I suggested. “When we get to the caverns, we’ll need to find the secret entrance. I doubt it will be as obvious as the regular mortal entrance.”
“Once you’ve dispatched whatever guards we find—”
“Once we have dispatched them,” she corrected.
“Same difference. We’ll need to look for two nearby streams. We’ll have to drink from both of them before—”
“Don’t tell me.” Meg held up a carrot like a baton. “No spoilers.”
“Spoilers? This information might save our lives!”
“I don’t like spoilers,” she insisted. “I want to be surprised.”
I clenched the wheel. It took great effort not to punch the gas and send us hurtling toward the horizon. I wanted to talk about the Cave of Trophonius…not just to enlighten Meg, but to see if I myself had the details straight.
I’d stayed up most of the night in the Waystation library. I’d read scrolls, sifted through my imperfect memories, even tried to wrangle more answers from the Arrow of Dodona and Agamethus’s Magic 8 Ball. I’d had limited success, but what I’d managed to piece together just made me more nervous.
I liked to talk when I was nervous.
Meg, however, seemed unconcerned by the task ahead of us. She acted as annoying and carefree as she had the first day I’d encountered her in that Manhattan alley.
Was she just putting on a brave act? I didn’t think so. I was constantly amazed at how resilient mortals could be in the face of catastrophe. Even the most traumatized, ill-treated, shell-shocked humans could carry on as if things were completely normal. Meals were still prepared. Work was still done. Piano lessons were commenced and carrot sticks munched.
For miles, we rode in silence. I couldn’t even play any decent tunes, because the Mercedes did not have satellite radio. Curse Leo Valdez and his free luxury vehicles!
The only FM station I could find featured something called the Morning Zoo. After my experience with Calypso and the griffins, I was in no mood for zoos.
We passed through small towns with run-down motels, secondhand clothing shops, feed stores, and various vehicles for sale on the side of the road. The countryside was flat and monotonous—a landscape that would not have been out of place in the ancient Peloponnese except for the telephone poles and billboards. Well, and the road itself. Greeks were never very good at building roads. That’s probably because Hermes was their god of travel. Hermes was always more interested in fascinating, dangerous journeys than he was in quick and easy interstates.
Finally, two hours after leaving Indianapolis, dawn started to break, and I started to panic.
“I’m lost,” I admitted.
“Knew it,” Meg said.
“It’s not my fault! I followed those signs for God’s Place!”
Meg squinted at me. “The Christian Bible store we passed? Why’d you do that?”
“Well, honestly! The locals need to be more specific about which gods they’re advertising!”
Meg belched into her fist. “Pull over and ask the arrow. I’m getting carsick.”
I did not want to ask the arrow. But I also did not want Meg throwing up her carrots all over the leather upholstery. I pulled to the side of the road and dug my prophetic missile weapon from my quiver.
“O, Wise Arrow,” I said. “We’re lost.”
I KNEWST THAT WHEN I MET YOU.
Such a thin shaft the arrow had. How easy it would be to break! I restrained myself. If I destroyed the Grove of Dodona’s gift, I worried that its patron, my hippie grandmother, Rhea, might curse me to smell like patchouli for all time.
“What I mean,” I said, “is that we need to find the entrance to the Cave of Trophonius. Quickly. Can you direct us there?”
The arrow vibrated, perhaps testing for local Wi-Fi connections. Given our remote location, I feared he might start channeling the Morning Zoo.
THE MORTAL ENTRANCE LIES ONE LEAGUE EAST, he intoned. NEAR A PORTABLE SHED WITH A ROOF OF BLUE.
For a moment, I was too surprised to speak. “That…was actually helpful.”
BUT THOU CANST NOT USE THE MORTAL ENTRANCE, he added. ’TIS GUARDED TOO WELL, AND ’TWOULD BE DEATH.
“Ah. Less helpful.”
“What’s he saying?” Meg asked.
I gestured for her to be patient. (Why, I don’t know. It was a hopeless wish.) “Great Arrow, I don’t suppose you know how we should get into the cave?”
GOEST THOU DOWN THIS ROAD TO THE WEST. THOU SHALT SEEST A ROADSIDE STAND WHICH SELLETH FRESH EGGS.
THIS ROADSIDE STAND IS NOT IMPORTANT. KEEP DRIVING.
“Apollo?” Meg poked me in the ribs. “What’s he saying?”
“Something about fresh eggs.”
This answer seemed to satisfy her. At least she stopped poking me.
GOEST THOU FARTHER, the arrow advised. TAKEST THE THIRD LEFT. WHEN THOU SEEST THE ROAD SIGN OF THE EMPEROR, THOU SHALT KNOW ’TIS TIME TO STOP.
“What road sign of the emperor?”
THOU SHALT KNOWEST IT WHEN THOU SEEST IT. STOPPEST THERE, JUMPEST THOU THE FENCE, AND PROCEED INLAND TO THE PLACE OF TWO STREAMS.
Cold fingers played an arpeggio down my vertebrae. The place of two streams—that, at least, made sense to me. I wished it did not.
“And then?” I asked.
THEN THOU MAYST DRINK AND JUMP INTO THE CHASM OF HORRORS. BUT TO DO SO, THOU MUST FACE THE GUARDIANS THAT CANNOT BE KILLED.
“Fantastic,” I said. “I don’t supposeth—I don’t suppose your Wikipedia article has more information about these unkillable guardians?”
THOU DOST JAPE LIKE A JAPING JAPER. BUT NAY. MY PROPHETIC POWERS SEE THIS NOT. AND ONE MORE THING.
LEAVEST ME IN THE MERCEDES. I WISH NOT TO PLUNGE INTO DEATH AND DARKNESS.
I slid the arrow under the driver’s seat. Then I reported the entire conversation to Meg.
She frowned. “Unkillable guardians? What does that mean?”
“At this point, Meg, your guess is as good as mine. Let’s go find a chasm of horrors to jump into, shall we?”