- The Hidden Oracle
Then again, Persephone was the same way. You’ll hear stories about the goddess of springtime being all sweetness and daffodils and nibbling on pomegranate seeds, but I’m telling you, that girl was frightening when she attacked a mound of pork spareribs.
I strode over to Meg’s side. The Hermes girls stepped back as if I were a snake handler. I found this reaction pleasing.
“Hello,” I said. “What are we talking about?”
Meg wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “These two wanna know our plans for the race.”
“I’m sure they do.” I plucked a small magnetic listening device from Meg’s coat sleeve and tossed it back to Alice.
Alice smiled sheepishly. “Can’t blame us for trying.”
“No, of course not,” I said. “In the same spirit, I hope you won’t mind what I did to your shoes. Have a good race!”
The girls shuffled off nervously, checking the soles of their sneakers.
Meg looked at me with something resembling respect. “What did you do to them?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Half the trick to being a god is knowing how to bluff.”
She snorted. “So what’s our top secret plan? Wait. Let me guess. You don’t have one.”
“You’re learning. Honestly, I meant to come up with one, but I got sidetracked. We have a problem.”
“Sure do.” From her coat pocket, she pulled two loops of bronze, like resistance bands of braided metal. “You’ve seen these? They wrap around our legs. Once they’re on, they stay on until the race is over. No way to get them off. I hate restraints.”
“I agree.” I was tempted to add especially when I am tied to a small child named Meg, but my natural diplomacy won out. “However, I was referring to a different problem.”
I told her about the incident during archery, when Sherman had almost been lured into the forest.
Meg removed her cat-eye glasses. Without the lenses, her dark irises looked softer and warmer, like tiny plots of planting soil. “You think something in the woods is calling to people?”
“I think something in the woods is answering people. In ancient times, there was an Oracle—”
“Yeah, you told me. Delphi.”
“No. Another Oracle, even older than Delphi. It involved trees. An entire grove of talking trees.”
“Talking trees.” Meg’s mouth twitched. “What was that Oracle called?”
“I—I can’t remember.” I ground my teeth. “I should know. I should be able to tell you instantly! But the information…It’s almost as if it is eluding me on purpose.”
“That happens sometimes,” Meg said. “You’ll think of it.”
“But it never happens to me! Stupid human brain! At any rate, I believe this grove is somewhere in those woods. I don’t know how or why. But the whispering voices…they are from this hidden Oracle. The sacred trees are trying to speak prophecies, reaching out to those with burning questions, luring them in.”
Meg put her glasses back on. “You know that sounds crazy, right?”
I steadied my breathing. I had to remind myself that I was no longer a god. I had to put up with insults from mortals without being able to blast them to ashes.
“Just be on guard,” I said.
“But the race doesn’t even go through the woods.”
“Nevertheless…we are not safe. If you can summon your friend Peaches, I would welcome his company.”
“I told you, he sort of pops up when he feels like it. I can’t—”
Chiron blew a hunting horn so loudly my vision doubled. Another pledge to myself: once I became a god again, I would descend upon this camp and take away all their horns.
“Demigods!” said the centaur. “Tie your legs together and follow me to your starting positions!”
We gathered in a meadow about a hundred yards from the Big House. Making it that far without a single life-threatening incident was a minor miracle. With my left leg bound to Meg’s right, I felt the way I used to in Leto’s womb just before my sister and I were born. And, yes, I remember that quite well. Artemis was always shoving me aside, elbowing me in the ribs and generally being a womb hog.
I said a silent prayer that if I got through this race alive, I would sacrifice a bull to myself and possibly even build myself a new temple. I am a sucker for bulls and temples.
The satyrs directed us to spread out across the meadow.
“Where is the starting line?” Holly Victor demanded, shoving her shoulder ahead of her sister’s. “I want to be the closest.”