- The Hidden Oracle
The man stepped closer to the chasm. His voice became clearer and louder. “Don’t worry about Apollo. He is exactly where I need him to be. He will serve our purpose, and once he is no longer useful…”
He did not bother finishing the statement. I was afraid it did not end with we will give him a nice present and send him on his way. With a chill, I recognized the voice from my dream. It was the nasal sneer of the man in the purple suit. I also had a feeling I’d heard him sing before, years and years ago, but that didn’t make sense….Why would I suffer through a concert given by an ugly purple-suited man who called himself the Beast? I was not even a fan of death metal polka!
Python shifted his bulk, showering us with more rubble. “And how exactly will you convince him to serve our purpose?”
The Beast chuckled. “I have well-placed help within the camp who will steer Apollo toward us. Also, I have upped the stakes. Apollo will have no choice. He and the girl will open the gates.”
A whiff of Python vapor floated across my nose—enough to make me dizzy, hopefully not enough to kill me.
“I trust you are right,” said the monster. “Your judgment in the past has been…questionable. I wonder if you have chosen the right tools for this job. Have you learned from your past mistakes?”
The man snarled so deeply I could almost believe he was turning into a beast. I’d seen that happen enough times. Next to me, Meg whimpered.
“Listen here, you overgrown reptile,” the man said, “my only mistake was not burning my enemies fast enough, often enough. I assure you, I am stronger than ever. My organization is everywhere. My colleagues stand ready. When we control all four Oracles, we will control fate itself!”
“And what a glorious day that will be.” Python’s voice was jagged with contempt. “But beforehand, you must destroy the fifth Oracle, yes? That is the only one I cannot control. You must set flame to the grove of—”
“Dodona,” I said.
The word leaped unbidden from my mouth and echoed through the chasm. Of all the stupid times to retrieve a piece of information, of all the stupid times to say it aloud…oh, the body of Lester Papadopoulos was a terrible place to live.
Above us, the conversation stopped.
Meg hissed at me, “You idiot.”
The Beast said, “What was that sound?”
Rather than answer, Oh, that’s just us, we did something even more foolish. One of us, Meg or me—personally, I blame her—must have slipped on a pebble. We toppled off the ledge and fell into the sulfurous clouds below.
The Labyrinth most definitely had a sense of humor. Instead of allowing us to smash into a rock floor and die, the maze dropped us into a mound of wet, full garbage bags.
If you’re keeping score, that was the second time since becoming mortal that I had crash-landed in garbage, which was two times more than any god should endure.
We tumbled down the pile in a frenzy of three-legged flailing. We landed at the bottom, covered with muck, but, miraculously, still alive.
Meg sat up, glazed in a layer of coffee grounds.
I pulled a banana peel off my head and flicked it aside. “Is there some reason you keep landing us in trash heaps?”
“Me? You’re the one who lost his balance!” Meg wiped her face without much luck. In her other hand, she clutched the golden apple with trembling fingers.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Fine,” she snapped.
Clearly that was not true. She looked as if she’d just gone through Hades’s haunted house. (Pro tip: DO NOT.) Her face was pallid. She had bit her lip so hard, her teeth were pink with blood. I also detected the faint smell of urine, meaning one of us had gotten scared enough to lose bladder control, and I was seventy-five percent sure it wasn’t me.
“That man upstairs,” I said. “You recognized his voice?”
“Shut up. That’s an order!”
I attempted to reply. To my consternation, I found that I couldn’t. My voice had heeded Meg’s command all on its own, which did not bode well. I decided to file away my questions about the Beast for later.
I scanned our surroundings. Garbage chutes lined the walls on all four sides of the dismal little basement. As I watched, another bag of refuse slid down the right-hand chute and hit the pile. The smell was so strong, it could have burned paint off the walls, if the gray cinder blocks had been painted. Still, it was better than smelling the fumes of Python. The only visible exit was a metal door marked with a biohazard sign.
“Where are we?” Meg asked.