- The Hidden Oracle
Now Kayla scooted toward me. “What did you guys talk about in the Big House? Chiron told you about the disappearances…?”
“Yes.” I tried to avoid looking in the direction of the woods. “We discussed the situation.”
“And?” Austin spread his fingers on the table. “What’s going on?”
I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want them to see my fear.
I wished my head would stop pounding. On Olympus, headaches were so much easier to cure. Hephaestus simply split one’s skull open and extracted whatever newborn god or goddess happened to be banging around in there. In the mortal world, my options were more limited.
“I need time to think about it,” I said. “Perhaps in the morning I’ll have some of my godly powers back.”
Austin leaned forward. In the torchlight, his cornrows seemed to twist into new DNA patterns. “Is that how it works? Your strength comes back over time?”
“I—I think so.” I tried to remember my years of servitude with Admetus and Laomedon, but I could barely conjure their names and faces. My contracting memory terrified me. It made each moment of the present balloon in size and importance, reminding me that time for mortals was limited.
“I have to get stronger,” I decided. “I must.”
Kayla squeezed my hand. Her archer’s fingers were rough and calloused. “It’s okay, Apollo…Dad. We’ll help you.”
Austin nodded. “Kayla’s right. We’re in this together. If anybody gives you trouble, Kayla will shoot them. Then I’ll curse them so bad they’ll be speaking in rhyming couplets for weeks.”
My eyes watered. Not so long ago—like this morning, for instance—the idea of these young demigods being able to help me would have struck me as ridiculous. Now their kindness moved me more than a hundred sacrificial bulls. I couldn’t recall the last time someone had cared about me enough to curse my enemies with rhyming couplets.
“Thank you,” I managed.
I could not add my children. It didn’t seem right. These demigods were my protectors and my family, but for the present I could not think of myself as their father. A father should do more—a father should give more to his children than he takes. I have to admit that this was a novel idea for me. It made me feel even worse than before.
“Hey…” Will patted my shoulder. “It’s not so bad. At least with everybody being on high alert, we might not have to do Harley’s obstacle course tomorrow.”
Kayla muttered an ancient Greek curse. If I had been a proper godly father, I would have washed her mouth out with olive oil.
“I forgot all about that,” she said. “They’ll have to cancel it, won’t they?”
I frowned. “What obstacle course? Chiron mentioned nothing about this.”
I wanted to object that my entire day had been an obstacle course. Surely they couldn’t expect me to do their camp activities as well. Before I could say as much, one of the satyrs blew a conch horn at the head table.
Chiron raised his arms for attention.
“Campers!” His voice filled the pavilion. He could be quite impressive when he wanted to be. “I have a few announcements, including news about tomorrow’s three-legged death race!”
Three-legged death race
Five terrible syllables
Oh, gods. Please not Meg
IT WAS ALL HARLEY’S FAULT.
After addressing the disappearance of Miranda Gardiner—“As a precautionary measure, please stay away from the woods until we know more”—Chiron called forward the young son of Hephaestus to explain how the three-legged death race would work. It quickly became apparent that Harley had masterminded the whole project. And, really, the idea was so horrifying, it could only have sprung from the mind of an eight-year-old boy.
I confess I lost track of the specifics after he explained the exploding chain-saw Frisbees.
“And they’ll be like, ZOOM!” He bounced up and down with excitement. “And then BUZZ! And POW!” He pantomimed all sorts of chaos with his hands. “You have to be really quick or you’ll die, and it’s awesome!”
The other campers grumbled and shifted on their benches.
Chiron raised his hand for silence. “Now, I know there were problems last time,” he said, “but fortunately our healers in the Apollo cabin were able to reattach Paolo’s arms.”
At a table in back, a muscular teen boy rose and began ranting in what I thought was Portuguese. He wore a white tank top over his dark chest, and I could see faint white scars around the tops of his biceps. Cursing rapidly, he pointed at Harley, the Apollo cabin, and pretty much everyone else.