The dark prophecy, p.28
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       The Dark Prophecy, p.28
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         Part #2 of The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan

  “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.”

  “Hmph.” I did not feel like getting into that topic. I was still sore that Earth, Wind & Fire had rejected my audition in 1973 because I was jive-deficient. “I believe those lines mean we will soon know the identity of all three emperors. Once our next quest is complete in the Southwest, Meg and I can travel to Camp Jupiter, reaching the Tiber alive. Then, I hope, I can find the path back to my former glory.”

  “By…jive talkin’,” Leo sang.

  “Shut up,” I grumbled.

  No one offered any further interpretations of the sonnet. No one volunteered to take on my perilous quest duties for me.

  “Well!” Josephine patted the dining table. “Who wants carrot cake with blowtorched meringue for dessert?”

  The Hunters of Artemis left that night at moonrise.

  As tired as I was, I felt the need to see them off. I found Thalia Grace in the roundabout, overseeing her Hunters as they saddled a herd of liberated combat ostriches.

  “You trust them to ride?” I had thought only Meg McCaffrey was that crazy.

  Thalia arched her eyebrows. “It’s not their fault they were trained for combat. We’ll ride them for a while, recondition them, then find a safe place to release them where they can live in peace. We’re used to dealing with wild animals.”

  Already the Hunters had freed the ostriches from their helmets and razor wire. The steel fang implants had been removed from their beaks, making the birds look much more comfortable and (slightly) less murderous.

  Jimmy moved among the herd, stroking their necks and speaking to them in soothing tones. He was immaculate in his brown suit, completely unscathed from the morning’s battle. His strange bronze hockey-stick weapon was nowhere to be seen. So the mysterious Olujime was a pit fighter, an accountant, a magical warrior, and an ostrich whisperer. Somehow I was not surprised.

  “Is he going with you?” I asked.

  Thalia laughed. “No. Just helping us get ready. Seems like a good guy, but I don’t think he’s Hunter material. He’s not even, uh…a Greek-Roman type, is he? I mean, he’s not a legacy of you guys, the Olympians.”

  “No,” I agreed. “He is from a different tradition and parentage entirely.”

  Thalia’s short spiky hair rippled in the wind, as if reacting to her uneasiness. “You mean from other gods.”

  “Of course. He mentioned the Yoruba, though I admit I know very little about their ways.”

  “How is that possible? Other pantheons of gods, side by side?”

  I shrugged. I was often surprised by mortals’ limited imaginations, as if the world was an either/or proposition. Sometimes humans seemed as stuck in their thinking as they were in their meat-sack bodies. Not, mind you, that gods were much better.

  “How could it not be possible?” I countered. “In ancient times, this was common sense. Each country, sometimes each city, had its own pantheon of gods. We Olympians have always been used to living in close proximity to, ah…the competition.”

  “So you’re the sun god,” Thalia said. “But some other deity from some other culture is also the sun god?”

  “Exactly. Different manifestations of the same truth.”

  “I don’t get it.”

  I spread my hands. “Honestly, Thalia Grace, I don’t know how to explain it any better. But surely you’ve been a demigod long enough to know: the longer you live, the weirder the world gets.”

  Thalia nodded. No demigod could argue with that statement.

  “So listen,” she said. “When you’re out west, if you get to LA, my brother Jason is there. He’s going to school with his girlfriend, Piper McLean.”

  “I will check on them,” I promised. “And send your love.”

  Her shoulder muscles unknotted. “Thanks. And if I talk to Lady Artemis…”

  “Yes.” I tried to swallow down the sob in my throat. Oh, how I missed my sister. “Give her my best.”

  She extended her hand. “Good luck, Apollo.”

  “To you as well. Happy foxhunting.”

  Thalia laughed bitterly. “I doubt it will be happy, but thanks.”

  The last I saw the Hunters of Artemis, they were trotting down South Illinois Street on a herd of ostriches, heading west as if chasing the crescent moon.

  Pancakes for the road

  Need a guide for your journey?

  Check the tomatoes

  THE NEXT MORNING, Meg kicked me awake. “Time to get going.”

  My eyelids fluttered open. I sat up, groaning. When you are the sun god, it’s a rare treat to be able to sleep late. Now here I was, a mere mortal, and people kept waking me up at the crack of dawn. I’d spent millennia being the crack of dawn. I was tired of it.

  Meg stood at my bedside in her pajamas and red high-tops (good gods, did she sleep in them?), her nose running as always, and a half-eaten green apple in her hand.

  “I don’t suppose you brought me breakfast?” I asked.

  “I can throw this apple at you.”

  “Never mind. I’ll get up.”

  Meg went off to take a shower. Yes, sometimes she actually did that. I dressed and packed as best I could, then headed to the kitchen.

  While I ate my pancakes (yum), Emmie hummed and banged around in the kitchen. Georgina sat across from me coloring pictures, her heels kicking against her chair legs. Josephine stood at her welding station, happily fusing plates of sheet metal. Calypso and Leo—who refused to say good-bye to me on the assumption that we would all see each other soon—stood at the kitchen counter, arguing about what Leo should pack for his trip to Camp Jupiter and throwing bacon at each other. It all felt so cozy and homey, I wanted to volunteer to wash dishes if it meant getting to stay another day.

  Lityerses sat down next to me with a large cup of coffee. His battle wounds had been mostly patched up, though his face still looked like the runway system at Heathrow Airport.

  “I’ll watch after them.” He gestured at Georgina and her mothers.

  I doubted Josephine or Emmie wanted to be “watched after,” but I did not point that out to Lityerses. He would have to learn on his
own how to adapt to this environment. Even I, the glorious Apollo, sometimes had to discover new things.

  “I’m sure you’ll do well here,” I said. “I trust you.”

  He laughed bitterly. “I don’t see why.”

  “We share common ground—we’re both sons of overbearing fathers, and we’ve been misled and burdened by bad choices, but we’re talented in our chosen ways.”

  “And good-looking?” He gave me a twisted smile.

  “Naturally that. Yes.”

  He cupped his hands around his coffee. “Thank you. For the second chance.”

  “I believe in them. And third and fourth chances. But I only forgive each person once a millennium, so don’t mess up for the next thousand years.”

  “I will keep that in mind.”

  Behind him, in the nearest hallway, I saw a flicker of ghostly orange light. I excused myself and went to say another difficult good-bye.

  Agamethus hovered in front of a window overlooking the roundabout. His glowing tunic rippled in an ethereal wind. He pressed one hand against the windowsill as if holding himself in place. His other hand held the Magic 8 Ball.

  “I’m glad you’re still here,” I said.

  He had no face to read, but his posture seemed sad and resigned.

  “You know what happened at the Cave of Trophonius,” I guessed. “You know he is gone.”

  He bowed in acknowledgement.

  “Your brother asked me to tell you he loves you,” I said. “He is sorry about your fate.

  “I want to apologize, too. When you died, I did not listen to Trophonius’s prayer to save you. I felt you two deserved to face the consequences of that robbery. But this…this has been a very long punishment. Perhaps too long.”

  The ghost did not respond. His form flickered as if the ethereal wind was strengthening, pulling him away.

  “If you wish,” I said, “when I attain my godhood again, I will personally visit the Underworld. I will petition Hades to let your soul pass on to Elysium.”

  Agamethus offered me his 8 Ball.

  “Ah.” I took the sphere and shook it one last time. “What is your wish, Agamethus?”

  The answer floated up through the water, a dense block of words on the small white die face: I WILL GO WHERE I MUST. I WILL FIND TROPHONIUS. TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER, AS MY BROTHER AND I COULD NOT.

  He released his grip on the windowsill. The wind took him, and Agamethus dissolved into motes in the sunlight.

  The sun had risen by the time I joined Meg McCaffrey on the roof of the Waystation.

  She wore the green dress Sally Jackson had given her, as well as her yellow leggings, now mended and clean. All the mud and guano had been scrubbed from her high-tops. On either side of her face, rainbow-colored pipe cleaners twisted through her hair—no doubt a parting fashion gift from Georgina.

  “How do you feel?” I asked.

  Meg crossed her arms and stared at Hemithea’s tomato patch. “Yeah. Okay.”

  By which I think she meant: I just went insane and spewed prophecies and almost died. How are you asking me this question and expecting me not to punch you?

  “So…what is your plan?” I asked. “Why the roof? If we are seeking the Labyrinth, shouldn’t we be on the ground floor?”

  “We need a satyr.”

  “Yes, but…” I looked around. I saw no goat men growing in any of Emmie’s planting beds. “How do you intend—?”

  “Shhh.”

  She crouched next to the tomato plants and pressed her hand against the dirt. The soil rumbled and began to heave upward. For a moment, I feared a new karpos might burst forth with glowing red eyes and a vocabulary that consisted entirely of Tomatoes!

  Instead, the plants parted. The dirt rolled away, revealing the form of a young man sleeping on his side. He looked about seventeen, perhaps younger. He wore a black collarless jacket over a green shirt, and jeans much too baggy for his legs. Over his curly hair flopped a red knit cap. A scruffy goatee clung to his chin. At the tops of his sneakers, his ankles were covered in thick brown fur. Either this young man enjoyed shag-carpet socks, or he was a satyr passing for human.

  He looked vaguely familiar. Then I noticed what he cradled in his arms—a white paper food bag from Enchiladas del Rey. Ah, yes. The satyr who enjoyed enchiladas. It had been a few years, but I remembered him now.

  I turned to Meg in amazement. “This is one of the more important satyrs, a Lord of the Wild, in fact. How did you find him?”

  She shrugged. “I just searched for the right satyr. Guess that’s him.”

  The satyr woke with a start. “I didn’t eat them!” he yelped. “I was just…” He blinked and sat up, a stream of potting soil trickling from his cap. “Wait…this isn’t Palm Springs. Where am I?”

  I smiled. “Hello, Grover Underwood. I am Apollo. This is Meg. And you, my lucky friend, have been summoned to lead us through the Labyrinth.”

  Aegis a shield used by Thalia Grace that has a fear-inducing image of Medusa on its front; it turns into a silver bracelet when she isn’t using it

  Aethiopian Bull a giant, aggressive African bull whose red hide is impervious to all metal weapons

  Agamethus son of King Erginus; half brother of Trophonius, who decapitated him to avoid discovery after their raid on King Hyrieus’s treasury

  Amazon a member of a tribe of warrior women

  amphitheater an oval or circular open-air space used for performances or sporting events, with spectator seating built in a semicircle around the stage

  amphora ceramic jar used to hold wine

  Ares the Greek god of war; the son of Zeus and Hera, and half brother to Athena

  Artemis the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon; the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin of Apollo

  Asclepius the god of medicine; son of Apollo; his temple was the healing center of ancient Greece

  Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom

  Athenian of the city of Athens, Greece

  Atlas a Titan; father of Calypso and Zoë Nightshade; he was condemned to hold up the sky for eternity after the war between the Titans and the Olympians; he tried unsuccessfully to trick Hercules into taking his place forever, but Hercules tricked him in return

  blemmyae a tribe of headless people with faces in their chests

  Britomartis the Greek goddess of hunting and fishing nets; her sacred animal is the griffin

  Bruttia Crispina a Roman Empress from 178 to 191 CE; she was married to future Roman Emperor Commodus when she was sixteen years old; after ten years of marriage, she was banished to Capri for adultery and later killed

  Byzantium an ancient Greek colony that later became Constantinople (now Istanbul)

  caduceus the traditional symbol of Hermes, featuring two snakes winding around an often winged staff

  Calliope the muse of epic poetry; mother of several sons, including Orpheus

  Calypso the goddess nymph of the mythical island of Ogygia; a daughter of the Titan Atlas; she detained the hero Odysseus for many years

  Camp Half-Blood the training ground for Greek demigods, located in Long Island, New York

  Camp Jupiter the training ground for Roman demigods, located between the Oakland Hills and the Berkeley Hills, in California

  Carthaginian Serpent a 120-foot snake that emerged from the River Bagrada in North Africa to confront Roman General Marcus Atilius Regulus and his troops during the First Punic War

  Cave of Trophonius a deep chasm, home to the Oracle of Trophonius

  centaur a race of creatures that is half-human, half-horse

  centicore (see also yale) a fierce yak-like creature with large horns that can swivel in any direction

  Chiron a centaur; the camp activities director at Camp Half-Blood

  chiton a Greek garment; a sleeveless piece of linen or wool secured at the shoulders by brooches and at the waist by a belt

  Cloacina goddess of the Roman sewer system

  Colosseum an elliptical amphitheater i
n the center of Rome, Italy, capable of seating fifty thousand spectators; used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles; also called the Flavian Amphitheater

  Colossus Neronis (Colossus of Nero) a gigantic bronze statue of the Emperor Nero; was later transformed into the sun god with the addition of a sunray crown

  Commodus Lucius Aurelius Commodus was the son of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius; he became co-emperor when he was sixteen and emperor at eighteen, when his father died; he ruled from 177 to 192 CE and was megalomaniacal and corrupt; he considered himself the New Hercules and enjoyed killing animals and fighting gladiators at the Colosseum

  Cretan of the island of Crete

  Cyclops (Cyclopes, pl.) a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of his or her forehead

  Daedalus a skilled craftsman who created the Labyrinth on Crete in which the Minotaur (part man, part bull) was kept

  daimon Greek for demon; an intermediary spirit between mortals and the gods

  Dambe a centuries-old form of boxing associated with the Hausa people of West Africa

  Danubian bordering the Danube river in Europe

  Daphne a beautiful naiad who attracted Apollo’s attention; she was transformed into a laurel tree in order to escape him

  Delos a Greek island in the Aegean Sea near Mykonos; birthplace of Apollo

  Demeter the Greek goddess of agriculture; a daughter of the Titans Rhea and Kronos

  Demophon the baby son of King Celeus, whom Demeter nursed and tried to make immortal as an act of kindness; brother of Triptolemus

  Dionysus the Greek god of wine and revelry; the son of Zeus

  Dionysus Festival a celebration held in Athens, Greece, to honor the god Dionysus, the central events of which were theatrical performances

  Doors of Death the doorway to the House of Hades, located in Tartarus; doors have two sides—one in the mortal world, and one in the Underworld

  elomìíràn the Yoruba word for others

  Elysium the paradise to which Greek heroes were sent when the gods gave them immortality

  Erythaea an island where the Cumaean Sibyl, a love interest of Apollo, originally lived before he convinced her to leave it by promising her a long life

  Eubouleus son of Demeter and Karmanor; the Greek god of swineherds

  Fields of Punishment the section of the Underworld where people who were evil during their lives are sent to face eternal punishment for their crimes after death

 
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