- The Hidden Oracle
“No.” Chiara sniffled. “It wasn’t.”
Only Austin seemed unaffected. His eyes shone with what looked like pride, though I didn’t understand why he would feel that way.
I played a C minor scale. The B string was flat. It’s always the B string. Three thousand years since I invented the guitar (during a wild party with the Hittites—long story), and I still couldn’t figure out how to make a B string that stays in tune.
I ran through the other scales, delighted that I still remembered them.
“Now this is a Lydian progression,” I said. “It starts on the fourth of the major scale. They say it’s called Lydian after the old kingdom of Lydia, but actually, I named it for an old girlfriend of mine, Lydia. She was the fourth woman I dated that year, so…”
I looked up mid-arpeggio. Damien and Chiara were weeping in each other’s arms, hitting each other weakly and cursing, “I hate you. I hate you.”
Valentina lay on the amphitheater bench, silently shaking. Woodrow was pulling apart his panpipes.
“I’m worthless!” he sobbed. “Worthless!”
Even Austin had a tear in his eye. He gave me a thumbs-up.
I was thrilled that some of my old skill remained intact, but I imagined Chiron would be annoyed if I drove the entire music class into major depression.
I pulled the D string slightly sharp—a trick I used to use to keep my adoring fans from exploding in rapture at my concerts. (And I mean literally exploding. Some of those gigs at the Fillmore in the 1960s…well, I’ll spare you the gruesome details.)
I strummed a chord that was intentionally out of tune. To me it sounded awful, but the campers stirred from their misery. They sat up, wiped their tears, and watched in fascination as I played a simple one-four-five progression.
“Yeah, man.” Austin brought his violin to his chin and began to improvise. His resin bow danced across the strings. He and I locked eyes, and for a moment we were more than family. We became part of the music, communicating on a level only gods and musicians will ever understand.
Woodrow broke the spell.
“That’s amazing,” the satyr sobbed. “You two should be teaching the class. What was I thinking? Please don’t flay me!”
“My dear satyr,” I said, “I would never—”
Suddenly, my fingers spasmed. I dropped the guitar in surprise. The instrument tumbled down the stone steps of the amphitheater, clanging and sproinging.
Austin lowered his bow. “You okay?”
“I…yes, of course.”
But I was not okay. For a few moments, I had experienced the bliss of my formerly easy talent. Yet, clearly, my new mortal fingers were not up to the task. My hand muscles were sore. Red lines dug into my finger pads where I had touched the fret board. I had overextended myself in other ways, too. My lungs felt shriveled, drained of oxygen, even though I had done no singing.
“I’m…tired,” I said, dismayed.
“Well, yeah.” Valentina nodded. “The way you were playing was unreal!”
“It’s okay, Apollo,” Austin said. “You’ll get stronger. When demigods use their powers, especially at first, they get tired quickly.”
“But I’m not…”
I couldn’t finish the sentence. I wasn’t a demigod. I wasn’t a god. I wasn’t even myself. How could I ever play music again, knowing that I was a flawed instrument? Each note would bring me nothing but pain and exhaustion. My B string would never be in tune.
My misery must have shown on my face.
Damien White balled his fists. “Don’t you worry, Apollo. It’s not your fault. I’ll make that stupid guitar pay for this!”
I didn’t try to stop him as he marched down the stairs. Part of me took perverse satisfaction in the way he stomped the guitar until it was reduced to kindling and wires.
Chiara huffed. “Idiota! Now I’ll never get my turn!”
Woodrow winced. “Well, um…thanks, everyone! Good class!”
Archery was an even bigger travesty.
If I ever become a god again (no, not if; when, when), my first act will be to wipe the memories of everyone who saw me embarrass myself in that class. I hit one bull’s-eye. One. The grouping on my other shots was abysmal. Two arrows actually hit outside the black ring at a mere one hundred meters. I threw down my bow and wept with shame.
Kayla was our class instructor, but her patience and kindness only made me feel worse. She scooped up my bow and offered it back to me.
“Apollo,” she said, “those shots were fantastic. A little more practice and—”