Harley loved the attention. By the end of lunch, his table was piled high with offerings (read: bribes)—chocolate bars, peanut butter cups, gummy bears, and Hot Wheels. Harley would have made an excellent god. He took the gifts, mumbled a few pleasantries, but told his worshippers nothing helpful.
I tried to speak with Chiron about the dangers of the woods, but he was so frantic with last-minute race preparations that I almost got trampled just standing near him. He trotted nervously around the pavilion with a team of satyr and dryad referees in tow, comparing maps and issuing orders.
“The teams will be almost impossible to track,” he murmured, his face buried in a Labyrinth schematic. “And we don’t have any coverage in grid D.”
“But, Chiron,” I said, “if I could just—”
“The test group this morning ended up in Peru,” he told the satyrs. “We can’t have that happen again.”
“About the woods,” I said.
“Yes, I’m sorry, Apollo. I understand you are concerned—”
“The woods are actually speaking,” I said. “You remember the old—”
A dryad ran up to Chiron with her dress billowing smoke. “The flares are exploding!”
“Ye gods!” Chiron said. “Those were for emergencies!”
He galloped over my feet, followed by his mob of assistants.
And so it went. When one is a god, the world hangs on your every word. When one is sixteen…not so much.
I tried to talk to Harley, hoping he might postpone the race, but the boy brushed me off with a simple “Nah.”
As was so often the case with Hephaestus’s children, Harley was tinkering with some mechanical device, moving the springs and gears around. I didn’t really care what it was, but I asked Harley about it, hoping to win the boy’s goodwill.
“It’s a beacon,” he said, adjusting a knob. “For lost people.”
“You mean the teams in the Labyrinth?”
“No. You guys are on your own. This is for Leo.”
Harley squinted at the device. “Sometimes, if you can’t find your way back, a beacon can help. Just got to find the right frequency.”
“And…how long have you been working on this?”
“Since he disappeared. Now I gotta concentrate. Can’t stop the race.” He turned his back on me and walked off.
I stared after him in amazement. For six months, the boy had been working on a beacon to help his missing brother Leo. I wondered if anyone would work so hard to bring me back home to Olympus. I very much doubted it.
I stood forlornly in a corner of the pavilion and ate a sandwich. I watched the sun wane in the winter sky and I thought about my chariot, my poor horses stuck in their stables with no one to take them out for a ride.
Of course, even without my help, other forces would keep the cosmos chugging along. Many different belief systems powered the revolution of the planets and stars. Wolves would still chase Sol across the sky. Ra would continue his daily journey in his sun barque. Tonatiuh would keep running on his surplus blood from human sacrifices back in the Aztec days. And that other thing—science—would still generate gravity and quantum physics and whatever.
Nevertheless, I felt like I wasn’t doing my part, standing around waiting for a three-legged race.
Even Kayla and Austin were too distracted to talk with me. Kayla had told Austin about our experience rescuing Sherman Yang from the woods, but Austin was more interested in swabbing out his saxophone.
“We can tell Chiron at dinner,” he mumbled with a reed in his mouth. “Nobody’s going to listen until the race is over, and we’ll be staying out of the woods anyway. Besides, if I can play the right tune in the Labyrinth…” He got a gleam in his eyes. “Ooh. Come here, Kayla. I have an idea.”
He steered her away and left me alone again.
I understood Austin’s enthusiasm, of course. His saxophone skills were so formidable, I was certain he would become the foremost jazz instrumentalist of his generation, and if you think it’s easy to get half a million views on YouTube playing jazz saxophone, think again. Still, his musical career was not going to happen if the force in the woods destroyed us all.
As a last resort (a very last resort), I sought out Meg McCaffrey.
I spotted her at one of the braziers, talking with Julia Feingold and Alice Miyazawa. Or rather, the Hermes girls were talking while Meg devoured a cheeseburger. I marveled that Demeter—the queen of grains, fruits, and vegetables—could have a daughter who was such an unrepentant carnivore.