- The Hidden Oracle
I glared at her, waiting.
“You can talk now,” she added.
“This is going to shock you,” I said, “but it appears we are in a garbage room.”
“Could be anywhere. The Labyrinth intersects with subterranean places all around the world.”
“Like Delphi.” Meg glowered at me as if our little Greek excursion had been my fault and not…well, only indirectly my fault.
“That was unexpected,” I agreed. “We need to speak with Chiron.”
“What is Dodona?”
“I—I’ll explain it all later.” I didn’t want Meg to shut me up again. I also didn’t want to talk about Dodona while trapped in the Labyrinth. My skin was crawling, and I didn’t think it was just because I was covered in sticky soda syrup. “First, we need to get out of here.”
Meg glanced behind me. “Well, it wasn’t a total waste.” She reached into the garbage and pulled out a second piece of glowing fruit. “Only one more apple to go.”
“Perfect.” The last thing I cared about was finishing Harley’s ridiculous race, but at least it would get Meg moving. “Now, why don’t we see what fabulous biohazards await us behind that door?”
They have gone missing?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
No, et cetera
THE ONLY BIOHAZARDS we encountered were vegan cupcakes.
After navigating several torchlit corridors, we burst into a crowded modern bakery that, according to the menu board, had the dubious name THE LEVEL TEN VEGAN. Our garbage/volcanic gas stench quickly dispersed the customers, driving most toward the exit, and causing many non-dairy gluten-free baked goods to be trampled. We ducked behind the counter, charged through the kitchen doors, and found ourselves in a subterranean amphitheater that looked centuries old.
Tiers of stone seats ringed a sandy pit about the right size for a gladiator fight. Hanging from the ceiling were dozens of thick iron chains. I wondered what ghastly spectacles might have been staged here, but we didn’t stay very long.
We limped out the opposite side, back into the Labyrinth’s twisting corridors.
By this point, we had perfected the art of three-legged running. Whenever I started to tire, I imagined Python behind us, spewing poisonous gas.
At last we turned a corner, and Meg shouted, “There!”
In the middle of the corridor sat a third golden apple.
This time I was too exhausted to care about traps. We loped forward until Meg scooped up the fruit.
In front of us, the ceiling lowered, forming a ramp. Fresh air filled my lungs. We climbed to the top, but instead of feeling elated, my insides turned as cold as the garbage juice on my skin. We were back in the woods.
“Not here,” I muttered. “Gods, no.”
Meg hopped us in a full circle. “Maybe it’s a different forest.”
But it wasn’t. I could feel the resentful stare of the trees, the horizon stretching out in all directions. Voices began to whisper, waking to our presence.
“Hurry,” I said.
As if on cue, the bands around our legs sprang loose. We ran.
Even with her arms full of apples, Meg was faster. She veered between trees, zigzagging left and right as if following a course only she could see. My legs ached and my chest burned, but I didn’t dare fall behind.
Up ahead, flickering points of light resolved into torches. At last we burst out of the woods, right into a crowd of campers and satyrs.
Chiron galloped over. “Thank the gods!”
“You’re welcome,” I gasped, mostly out of habit. “Chiron…we have to talk.”
In the torchlight, the centaur’s face seemed carved from shadow. “Yes, we do, my friend. But first, I fear one more team is still missing…your children, Kayla and Austin.”
Chiron forced us to take showers and change clothes. Otherwise I would have plunged straight back into the woods.
By the time I was done, Kayla and Austin still had not returned.
Chiron had sent search parties of dryads into the forest, on the assumption that they would be safe in their home territory, but he adamantly refused to let demigods join the hunt.
“We cannot risk anyone else,” he said. “Kayla, Austin, and—and the other missing…They would not want that.”
Five campers had now disappeared. I harbored no illusions that Kayla and Austin would return on their own. The Beast’s words still echoed in my ears: I have upped the stakes. Apollo will have no choice.
Somehow he had targeted my children. He was inviting me to look for them, and to find the gates of this hidden Oracle. There was still so much I did not understand—how the ancient grove of Dodona had relocated here, what sort of “gates” it might have, why the Beast thought I could open them, and how he’d snared Austin and Kayla. But there was one thing I did know: the Beast was right. I had no choice. I had to find my children…my friends.