- The Hidden Oracle
In the fireplace, a log slipped from the andiron. I may or may not have jumped in my seat.
“The disappearances, yes.” I wiped drops of tea from my pants and tried to ignore Meg’s snickering. “Tell me about those.”
“Three in the last month,” Chiron said. “First it was Cecil Markowitz from the Hermes cabin. One morning his bunk was simply empty. He didn’t say anything about wanting to leave. No one saw him go. And in the past few weeks, no one has seen or heard from him.”
“Children of Hermes do tend to sneak around,” I offered.
“At first, that’s what we thought,” said Chiron. “But a week later, Ellis Wakefield disappeared from the Ares cabin. Same story: empty bunk, no signs that he had either left on his own or was…ah, taken. Ellis was an impetuous young man. It was conceivable he might have charged off on some ill-advised adventure, but it made me uneasy. Then this morning we realized a third camper had vanished: Miranda Gardiner, head of the Demeter cabin. That was the worst news of all.”
Meg swung her feet off the armrest. “Why is that the worst?”
“Miranda is one of our senior counselors,” Chiron said. “She would never leave on her own without notice. She is too smart to be tricked away from camp, and too powerful to be forced. Yet something happened to her…something I can’t explain.”
The old centaur faced me. “Something is very wrong, Apollo. These problems may not be as alarming as the rise of Kronos or the awakening of Gaea, but in a way I find them even more unsettling, because I have never seen anything like this before.”
I recalled my dream of the burning sun bus. I thought of the voices I’d heard in the woods, urging me to wander off and find their source.
“These demigods…” I said. “Before they disappeared, did they act unusual in any way? Did they report…hearing things?”
Chiron raised an eyebrow. “Not that I am aware of. Why?”
I was reluctant to say more. I didn’t want to cause a panic without knowing what we were facing. When mortals panic, it can be an ugly scene, especially if they expect me to fix the problem.
Also, I will admit I felt a bit impatient. We had not yet addressed the most important issues—mine.
“It seems to me,” I said, “that our first priority is to bend all the camp’s resources to helping me regain my divine state. Then I can assist you with these other problems.”
Chiron stroked his beard. “But what if the problems are connected, my friend? What if the only way to restore you to Olympus is by reclaiming the Oracle of Delphi, thus freeing the power of prophecy? What if Delphi is the key to it all?”
I had forgotten about Chiron’s tendency to lay out obvious and logical conclusions that I tried to avoid thinking about. It was an infuriating habit.
“In my present state, that’s impossible.” I pointed at Meg. “Right now, my job is to serve this demigod, probably for a year. After I’ve done whatever tasks she assigns me, Zeus will judge that my sentence has been served, and I can once again become a god.”
Meg pulled apart a Fig Newton. “I could order you to go to this Delphi place.”
“No!” My voice cracked in midshriek. “You should assign me easy tasks—like starting a rock band, or just hanging out. Yes, hanging out is good.”
Meg looked unconvinced. “Hanging out isn’t a task.”
“It is if you do it right. Camp Half-Blood can protect me while I hang out. After my year of servitude is up, I’ll become a god. Then we can talk about how to restore Delphi.”
Preferably, I thought, by ordering some demigods to undertake the quest for me.
“Apollo,” Chiron said, “if demigods keep disappearing, we may not have a year. We may not have the strength to protect you. And, forgive me, but Delphi is your responsibility.”
I tossed up my hands. “I wasn’t the one who opened the Doors of Death and let Python out! Blame Gaea! Blame Zeus for his bad judgment! When the giants started to wake, I drew up a very clear Twenty-Point Plan of Action to Protect Apollo and Also You Other Gods, but he didn’t even read it!”
Meg tossed half of her cookie at Seymour’s head. “I still think it’s your fault. Hey, look! He’s awake!”
She said this as if the leopard had decided to wake up on his own rather than being beaned in the eye with a Fig Newton.
“RARR,” Seymour complained.
Chiron wheeled his chair back from the table. “My dear, in that jar on the mantel, you’ll find some Snausages. Why don’t you feed him dinner? Apollo and I will wait on the porch.”