The next sound you hear will be me blowing you a giant Meg-McCaffrey-quality raspberry.
I swallowed back the taste of fear and seven-layer dip. “I just…I assumed—I hoped this would be taken care of by now.”
“You mean by demigods,” Percy said, “going on a big quest to reclaim the Oracle of Delphi?”
“Exactly!” I knew Percy would understand. “I suppose Chiron just forgot. I’ll remind him when we get to camp, and he can dispatch some of you talented fodder—I mean heroes—”
“Well, here’s the thing,” Percy said. “To go on a quest, we need a prophecy, right? Those are the rules. If there’s no Oracle, there are no prophecies, so we’re stuck in a—”
“A Catch-88.” I sighed.
Meg threw a piece of lint at me. “It’s a Catch-22.”
“No,” I explained patiently. “This is a Catch-88, which is four times as bad.”
I felt as if I were floating in a warm bath and someone had pulled out the stopper. The water swirled around me, tugging me downward. Soon I would be left shivering and exposed, or else I would be sucked down the drain into the sewers of hopelessness. (Don’t laugh. That’s a perfectly fine metaphor. Also, when you’re a god, you can get sucked down a drain quite easily—if you’re caught off guard and relaxed, and you happen to change form at the wrong moment. Once I woke up in a sewage treatment facility in Biloxi, but that’s another story.)
I was beginning to see what was in store for me during my mortal sojourn. The Oracle was held by hostile forces. My adversary lay coiled and waiting, growing stronger every day on the magical fumes of the Delphic caverns. And I was a weak mortal bound to an untrained demigod who threw garbage and chewed her cuticles.
No. Zeus could not possibly expect me to fix this. Not in my present condition.
And yet…someone had sent those thugs to intercept me in the alley. Someone had known where I would land.
Nobody can tell the future anymore, Percy had said.
But that wasn’t quite true.
“Hey, you two.” Meg hit us both with pieces of lint. Where was she finding this lint?
I realized I’d been ignoring her. It had felt good while it lasted.
“Yes, sorry, Meg,” I said. “You see, the Oracle of Delphi is an ancient—”
“I don’t care about that,” she said. “There are three shiny blobs now.”
“What?” Percy asked.
She pointed behind us. “Look.”
Weaving through the traffic, closing in on us rapidly, were three glittery, vaguely humanoid apparitions—like billowing plumes from smoke grenades touched by King Midas.
“Just once I’d like an easy commute,” Percy grumbled. “Everybody, hold on. We’re going cross-country.”
Percy’s definition of cross-country was different from mine.
I envisioned crossing an actual countryside. Instead, Percy shot down the nearest exit ramp, wove across the parking lot of a shopping mall, then blasted through the drive-through of a Mexican restaurant without even ordering anything. We swerved into an industrial area of dilapidated warehouses, the smoking apparitions still closing in behind us.
My knuckles turned white on my seat belt’s shoulder strap. “Is your plan to avoid a fight by dying in a traffic accident?” I demanded.
“Ha-ha.” Percy yanked the wheel to the right. We sped north, the warehouses giving way to a hodgepodge of apartment buildings and abandoned strip malls. “I’m getting us to the beach. I fight better near water.”
“Because Poseidon?” Meg asked, steadying herself against the door handle.
“Yep,” Percy agreed. “That pretty much describes my entire life: Because Poseidon.”
Meg bounced up and down with excitement, which seemed pointless to me, since we were already bouncing quite a lot.
“You’re gonna be like Aquaman?” she asked. “Get the fish to fight for you?”
“Thanks,” Percy said. “I haven’t heard enough Aquaman jokes for one lifetime.”
“I wasn’t joking!” Meg protested.
I glanced out the rear window. The three glittering plumes were still gaining. One of them passed through a middle-aged man crossing the street. The mortal pedestrian instantly collapsed.
“Ah, I know these spirits!” I cried. “They are…um…”
My brain clouded over.
“What?” Percy demanded. “They are what?”
“I’ve forgotten! I hate being mortal! Four thousand years of knowledge, the secrets of the universe, a sea of wisdom—lost, because I can’t contain it all in this teacup of a head!”