The Dark Prophecy

Page 74

Meg wiped her chin. “Huh?”

“The details aren’t important right now.” I gestured for her to continue eating. “My guess is that the Triumvirate means to eliminate the threat by burning down the camp. The words that memory wrought are set to fire.”

Calypso frowned. “Five days. How do we warn them in time? All our means of communication are down.”

I found this irritating in the extreme. As a god, I could have snapped my fingers and instantly sent a message across the world using the winds, or dreams, or a manifestation of my glorious self. Now, we were crippled. The only gods who had shown me any sort of favor were Artemis and Britomartis, but I couldn’t expect them to do more—not without them incurring punishment as bad as what Zeus had done to me. I wouldn’t wish that even on Britomartis.

As for mortal technology, it was useless to us. In our hands, phones malfunctioned and blew up (I mean, even more than they did for mortals). Computers melted down. I had considered pulling a random mortal off the street and saying, Hey, make a call for me. But who would they call? Another random person in California? How would the message get through to Camp Jupiter when most mortals couldn’t find Camp Jupiter? Besides, even attempting this would put innocent mortals at risk of monster attacks, death by lightning bolt, and exorbitant data-plan overage fees.

I glanced at Thalia. “Can the Hunters cover that much ground?”

“In five days?” She frowned. “If we broke all the speed limits, perhaps. If we suffered no attacks along the way—”

“Which never happens,” Emmie said.

Thalia laid her knife on the table. “The bigger problem is that the Hunters must continue their own quest. We have to find the Teumessian Fox.”

I stared at her. I was tempted to ask Meg to order me to slap myself, just to make sure I wasn’t stuck in a nightmare. “The Teumessian Fox? That’s the monster you’ve been hunting?”

“Afraid so.”

“But that’s impossible! Also horrible!”

“Foxes are cute,” Meg offered. “What’s the problem?”

I was tempted to explain how many cities the Teumessian Fox had leveled in ancient times, how it gorged on the blood of its victims and ripped apart armies of Greek warriors, but I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s Tofurky dinner.

“The point is,” I said, “Thalia’s right. We cannot ask the Hunters to help us any more than they already have. They’ve got their own problem to solve.”

“That’s copacetic,” Leo said. “You’ve done enough for us, T.”

Thalia inclined her head. “All in a day’s work, Valdez. But you do owe me a bottle of the Texas hot sauce you were telling me about.”

“That can be arranged,” Leo promised.

Josephine crossed her arms. “Well and good, but we’re left with the same dilemma. How do we get a message to California in five days?”

“Me,” Leo said.

We all stared at him.

“Leo,” Calypso said. “It took us six weeks just to get here from New York.”

“Yeah, but with three passengers,” he said. “And…no offense, one of them was a former god who was attracting us all kinds of negative attention.”

I could not argue with that. Most of the enemies who had attacked us on our journey had introduced themselves by screaming, There’s Apollo! Kill him!

“I travel fast and light,” Leo said. “I’ve covered that much distance before by myself. I can do it.”

Calypso did not look pleased. Her complexion turned just a shade lighter than her yellow legal pad.

“Hey, mamacita, I’ll come back,” he promised. “I’ll just enroll late for the spring semester! You can help me catch up on my homework.”

“I hate you,” she grumbled.

Leo squeezed her hand. “Besides, it’ll be good to see Hazel and Frank again. And Reyna, too, though that girl still scares me.”

I assumed Calypso was not too upset by this plan, since aerial spirits did not pick up Leo and hurl him through the rose window.

Thalia Grace gestured to the notepad. “So we’ve got one stanza figured out. Yippee. What about the rest?”

“I’m afraid,” I said, “the rest is about Meg and me.”

“Yep,” Meg agreed. “Pass the biscuits?”

Josephine handed her the basket, then watched in awe as Meg stuffed her mouth with one fluffy biscuit after another.

“So the line about the sun going southward,” Josephine said. “That’s you, Apollo.”

“Obviously,” I agreed. “The third emperor must be somewhere in the American Southwest, in a land of scorching death. We get there through mazes—”

“The Labyrinth,” Meg said.

I shuddered. Our last trip through the Labyrinth was still fresh in my mind—winding up in the caverns of Delphi, listening to my old enemy Python slithering and hissing right above our heads. I hoped this time, at least, Meg and I would not be bound together for a three-legged race.

“Somewhere in the Southwest,” I continued, “we must find the crossword speaker. I believe that refers to the Erythraean Sybil, another ancient Oracle. I…I don’t remember much about her—”

“Surprise,” Meg grumbled.

“But she was known to issue her prophecies in acrostics—word puzzles.”

Thalia winced. “Sounds bad. Annabeth told me how she met the Sphinx in the Labyrinth once. Riddles, mazes, puzzles…No thanks. Give me something I can shoot.”

Georgina whimpered in her sleep.

Emmie kissed the girl’s forehead. “And the third emperor?” she asked. “Do you know who it is?”

I turned over phrases of the prophecy in my mind—master of the swift white horse. That didn’t narrow it down. Most Roman emperors liked to portray themselves as victorious generals riding their steeds through Rome. Something unsettled me about that third stanza: to westward palace, in thine own enemy’s boots. I could not wrap my mental fingers around the answer.

“Meg,” I said, “what about the line Demeter’s daughter finds her ancient roots? Do you have any family in the Southwest? Do you remember ever going there before?”

She gave me a guarded look. “Nah.”

Then she shoved another biscuit in her mouth like an act of rebellion: Make me talk now, sucker.

“Hey, though.” Leo snapped his fingers. “That next line, The cloven guide alone the way does know. That means you get a satyr? They’re guides, aren’t they, like Coach Hedge was? That’s, like, their thing.”

“True,” Josephine said. “But we haven’t seen a satyr in these parts since—”

“Decades,” Emmie finished.

Meg gulped down her wad o’ carbs. “I’ll find us one.”

I scowled. “How?”

“Just will.”

Meg McCaffrey, a girl of few words and much belching.

Calypso flipped to the next page of her notepad. “That just leaves the closing couplet: When three are known and Tiber reached alive, / ’Tis only then Apollo starts to jive.”

Leo snapped his fingers and began dancing in his seat. “About time, man. Lester needs more jive.”

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