She might as well have plunged the Arrow of Dodona into my chest. I gazed at the woods—that hazy green expanse that had swallowed young McCaffrey. For a brief moment, I felt like Nero. I wanted to burn the whole place down.
“I will try,” I said, “but Meg doesn’t want to be found. She’s under the influence of her stepfather.”
Percy traced his finger across the Athena Parthenos’s big toe. “I’ve lost too many people to bad influence: Ethan Nakamura, Luke Castellan…We almost lost Nico, too….” He shook his head. “No. No more. You can’t give up on Meg. You guys are bound together. Besides, she’s one of the good guys.”
“I’ve known many of the good guys,” I said. “Most of them got turned into beasts, or statues, or—or trees….” My voice broke.
Rachel put her hand over mine. “Things can turn out differently, Apollo. That’s the nice thing about being human. We only have one life, but we can choose what kind of story it’s going to be.”
That seemed hopelessly optimistic. I had spent too many centuries watching the same patterns of behavior be repeated over and over, all by humans who thought they were being terribly clever and doing something that had never been done before. They thought they were crafting their own stories, but they were only tracing over the same old narratives, generation after generation.
Still…perhaps human persistence was an asset. They never seemed to give up hope. Every so often they did manage to surprise me. I never anticipated Alexander the Great, Robin Hood, or Billie Holiday. For that matter, I never anticipated Percy Jackson and Rachel Elizabeth Dare.
“I—I hope you’re right,” I said.
She patted my hand. “Tell me the prophecy you heard in the grove.”
I took a shaky breath. I didn’t want to speak the words. I was afraid they might wake the grove and drown us in a cacophony of prophecies, bad jokes, and infomercials. But I recited the lines:
“There once was a god named Apollo
Who plunged in a cave blue and hollow
Upon a three-seater
The bronze fire-eater
Was forced death and madness to swallow”
Rachel covered her mouth. “A limerick?”
“I know!” I wailed. “I’m doomed!”
“Wait.” Percy’s eyes glittered. “Those lines…Do they mean what I think?”
“Well,” I said, “I believe the blue cave refers to the Oracle of Trophonius. It was a…a very dangerous ancient Oracle.”
“No,” Percy said. “The other lines. Three-seater, bronze fire-eater, yadda yadda.”
“Oh. I have no clue about those.”
“Harley’s beacon.” Percy laughed, though I could not understand why he was so pleased. “He said you gave it a tuning adjustment? I guess that did the trick.”
Rachel squinted at him. “Percy, what are you…” Her expression went slack. “Oh. Oh.”
“Were there any other lines?” Percy urged. “Like, except for the limerick?”
“Several,” I admitted. “Just bits and pieces I didn’t understand. The fall of the sun; the final verse. Um, Indiana, banana. Happiness approaches. Something about pages burning.”
Percy slapped his knee. “There you go. Happiness approaches. Happy is a name—well, the English version, anyway.” He stood and scanned the horizon. His eyes fixed on something in the distance. A grin spread across his face. “Yep. Apollo, your escort is on the way.”
I followed his gaze. Spiraling down from the clouds was a large winged creature that glinted of Celestial bronze. On its back were two human-size figures.
Their descent was silent, but in my mind a joyous fanfare of Valdezinator music proclaimed the good news.
Leo had returned.
Want to hit Leo?
That is understandable
Hunk Muffin earned it
THE DEMIGODS HAD TO TAKE NUMBERS.
Nico commandeered a dispenser from the snack bar and carried it around, yelling, “The line starts to the left! Orderly queue, guys!”
“Is this really necessary?” Leo asked.
“Yes,” said Miranda Gardiner, who had drawn the first number. She punched Leo in the arm.
“Ow,” said Leo.
“You’re a jerk, and we all hate you,” said Miranda. Then she hugged him and kissed his cheek. “If you ever disappear like that again, we’ll line up to kill you.”
Miranda had to move on, because the line was getting pretty long behind her. Percy and I sat at the picnic table with Leo and his companion—none other than the immortal sorceress Calypso. Even though Leo was the one getting punched by everyone in camp, I was reasonably sure he was the least uncomfortable one at the table.