- The Hidden Oracle
Meg whispered, “Easy jump.”
I gave her a look that under different circumstances would’ve incinerated her. “Too dangerous.”
“Apple,” she hissed.
“Monster!” I hissed back.
“Three.” She jumped.
Which meant that I also jumped. We made the ledge, though our heels sent a spray of rubble into the chasm. Only my natural coordination and grace saved us from toppling backward to our deaths. Meg snatched up the apple.
Above us, the monster rumbled, “Who approaches?”
His voice…Gods above, I remembered that voice—deep and gruff, as if he breathed xenon rather than air. For all I knew, he did. Python could certainly produce his share of unhealthy gasses.
The monster shifted his weight. More gravel spilled into the crevasse.
I stood absolutely still, pressed against the cold face of the rock. My eardrums pulsed with every beat of my heart. I wished I could stop Meg from breathing. I wished I could stop the rhinestones on her eyeglasses from glittering.
Python had heard us. I prayed to all the gods that the monster would decide the noise was nothing. All he had to do was breathe down into the crevasse and he would kill us. There was no escaping his poisonous belch—not from this distance, not for a mortal.
Then, from the cavern above, came another voice, smaller and much closer to human. “Hello, my reptilian friend.”
I nearly wept with relief. I had no idea who this newcomer was, or why he had been so foolish as to announce his presence to Python, but I always appreciated it when humans sacrificed themselves to save me. Common courtesy was not dead after all!
Python’s harsh laugh shook my teeth. “Well, I was wondering if you would make the trip, Monsieur Beast.”
“Don’t call me that,” the man snapped. “And the commute was quite easy now that the Labyrinth is back in service.”
“I’m so pleased.” Python’s tone was dry as basalt.
I couldn’t tell much about the man’s voice, muffled as it was by several tons of reptile flesh, but he sounded calmer and more in control than I would have been talking to Python. I had heard the term Beast used to describe someone before, but as usual, my mortal brainpower failed me.
If only I’d been able to retain just the important information! Instead, I could tell you what I had for dessert the first time I dined with King Minos. (Spice cake.) I could tell you what color chitons the sons of Niobe were wearing when I slew them. (A very unflattering shade of orange.) But I couldn’t remember something as basic as whether this Beast was a wrestler, a movie star, or a politician. Possibly all three?
Next to me, in the glow of the apple, Meg seemed to have turned to bronze. Her eyes were wide with fear. A little late for that, but at least she was quiet. If I didn’t know better, I might have thought the man’s voice terrified her more than the monster’s.
“So, Python,” the man continued, “any prophetic words to share with me?”
“In time…my lord.”
The last words were spoken with amusement, but I’m not sure anyone else would’ve recognized it. Aside from myself, few had been on the receiving end of Python’s sarcasm and lived to tell the tale.
“I need more than your assurances,” the man said. “Before we proceed, we must have all the Oracles under our control.”
All the Oracles. Those words almost sent me off the cliff, but somehow I retained my balance.
“In time,” Python said, “as we agreed. We have come this far by biding our time, yes? You did not reveal your hand when the Titans stormed New York. I did not march to war with Gaea’s giants. We both realized the time for victory was not yet right. You must remain patient for a while longer.”
“Don’t lecture me, snake. While you slumbered, I built an empire. I have spent centuries—”
“Yes, yes.” The monster exhaled, causing a tremor along the cliff face. “And if you ever want your empire to come out of the shadows, you need to deliver on your side of the bargain first. When will you destroy Apollo?”
I stifled a yelp. I should not have been surprised that they were talking about me. For millennia, I had assumed that everyone talked about me all the time. I was so interesting they simply couldn’t help it. But this business about destroying me—I didn’t like that.
Meg looked more terrified than I’d ever seen her. I wanted to think she was worried for my sake, but I had a feeling she was equally concerned about herself. Again, those mixed-up demigod priorities.