“Peaches?” demanded Peaches.
“Yes,” I groaned. “We need to get her to Indianapolis quickly. If you and your friends…Um, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Apollo.”
Peaches pointed to his friend on the right. “Peaches.” Then to the baby demon on his left. “Peaches.”
“I see.” I tried to think. Agony spiked up my arm into my jaw. “Now, listen, I—I have a car. A red Mercedes, nearby. If I can get to it, I can drive Meg to—to…”
I looked down at my broken forearm. It was turning some beautiful shades of purple and orange, like an Aegean sunset. I realized I wasn’t going to be driving anywhere.
My mind began sinking into a sea of pain under that lovely sunset.
“Be with you in a minute,” I muttered.
Then I passed out.
Commodus will pay for this
And I don’t take cash
I REMEMBER VERY LITTLE about the trip back.
Somehow, Peaches and his two friends carried Meg and me out of the cave and to the Mercedes. More disturbingly, the three karpoi somehow drove us to Indianapolis while Meg sat muttering and shivering in the passenger seat and I lay groaning in the back.
Don’t ask me how three karpoi combined forces to drive an automobile. I can’t tell you which of them used the wheel, the brake, or the gas pedal. It’s not the sort of behavior you expect from edible fruit.
All I know is that by the time I regained more or less full consciousness, we had reached the city limits.
My broken forearm was wrapped in leaves glued together with sap. I had no memory of how this came to pass, but the arm felt better—still sore, but not excruciating. I counted myself lucky the peach spirits had not tried to plant me and water me.
I managed to sit upright just as the peach spirits curbed the Mercedes on Capital Avenue. Ahead of us, police cars blocked the road. Large red signs on sawhorses announced: GAS LEAK EMERGENCY. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE!
A gas leak. Leo Valdez had been right again. Assuming he was still alive, he’d be insufferable about this for weeks.
A few blocks beyond the barricades, a column of black smoke rose from the approximate location of the Waystation. My heart fractured more painfully than my arm. I glanced at the Mercedes’s dashboard clock. We had been gone less than four hours. It felt like a lifetime—a godly lifetime.
I scanned the sky. I saw no reassuring bronze dragon flying overhead, no helpful griffins defending their nest. If the Waystation had fallen…No, I had to think positive. I wouldn’t let my fears attract any more prophetic bee swarms today.
“Peaches,” I said. “I need you—”
I turned my gaze forward and nearly jumped through the car ceiling.
Peaches and his two friends were staring at me, their chins in a line atop the driver’s seat back like See-No-Evil, Peel-No-Evil, and Eat-No-Evil.
“Ah…yes. Hi,” I said. “Please, I need you to stay with Meg. Protect her at all costs.”
Peaches Prime bared his razor-sharp teeth and snarled, “Peaches.”
I took this as agreement.
“I have to check on our friends at the Waystation,” I said. “If I don’t come back…” The words stuck in my throat. “…then you’ll have to search for the Throne of Memory. Getting Meg into that chair is the only way to heal her mind.”
I stared at the three pairs of glowing green eyes. I couldn’t tell if the karpoi understood what I was saying, and I didn’t know how they could possibly follow my instructions. If the battle was over and the Throne of Memory had been taken or destroyed…No. That was bee-pollen thinking!
“Just…take care of her,” I pleaded.
I stepped out of the car and valiantly threw up on the sidewalk. Pink emojis danced across my eyes. I hobbled down the street, my arm covered in sap and leaves, my damp clothes smelling of bat guano and snake excrement. It was not my most glorious charge into battle.
No one stopped me at the barricades. The officers on duty (regular mortals, I guessed) looked more interested in their smartphone screens than in the smoke rising behind them. Perhaps the Mist concealed the true situation. Perhaps they figured if a ragged street person wanted to stumble toward a gas-leak emergency, they weren’t going to stop him. Or perhaps they were engrossed in an epic Pokémon Go gym battle.
A block inside the cordoned zone, I saw the first burning bulldozer. I suspected it had driven over a land mine specially modified by Leo Valdez, since along with being half-demolished and in flames it was also splattered with smiley-face stickers and gobs of whipped cream.
I hobbled faster. I spotted more disabled bulldozers, scattered rubble, totaled cars, and piles of monster dust, but no bodies. That raised my spirits a little. Just around the corner from the Union Station roundabout, I heard clanging swords ahead—then a gunshot and something that sounded like thunder.
I had never been so happy to hear a battle in progress. It meant not everyone was dead.
I ran. My weary legs screamed in protest. Every time my shoes hit the pavement, a jarring pain shot up my forearm.
I turned the corner and found myself in combat. Charging toward me with murder in his eyes was a demigod warrior—some teenage boy I’d never seen, wearing Roman-style armor over his street clothes. Fortunately, he’d already been badly beaten up. His eyes were almost swollen shut. His bronze chest plate was dented like a metal roof after a hailstorm. He could barely hold his sword. I wasn’t in much better shape, but I was running on anger and desperation. I managed to unsling my ukulele and slam the demigod in the face.
He crumpled at my feet.
I was feeling pretty proud of my heroic act until I looked up. In the middle of the roundabout, on top of the fountain and surrounded by Cyclopes, my favorite graduate accounting student, Olujime, stood like an ancient war god, swinging a bronze weapon that resembled a double-wide hockey stick. Each sweep sent crackling tendrils of electricity through his enemies. Every hit disintegrated a Cyclops.
I liked Jimmy even more now. I’d never had much affection for Cyclopes. Still…something was strange about his use of lightning. I could always recognize the power of Zeus in action. I’d been zapped by his bolts often enough. Jimmy’s electricity was different—a more humid scent of ozone, a darker red hue to the flashes. I wished I could ask him about that, but he looked a little busy.
Smaller fights raged here and there across the roundabout. The Waystation’s defenders appeared to have the upper hand. Hunter Kowalski leaped from foe to foe, shooting down blemmyae, wolf-headed warriors, and wild centaurs with ease. She had an uncanny ability to fire on the move, avoid counterstrikes, and target her victims’ kneecaps. As an archer, I was impressed. If I’d still had my godly powers, I would have blessed her with fabulous prizes like a magic quiver and possibly a signed copy of my greatest-hits anthology on classic vinyl.
In the hotel drive-through, Sssssarah the dracaena sat propped against a mailbox, her snake-tail legs curled around her, her neck swollen to the size of a basketball. I ran to her aid, afraid she might be wounded. Then I realized the lump in her throat was in the shape of a Gallic war helmet. Her chest and belly were also quite bloated.
She smiled at me lazily. “’Sssssup?”