- The Hidden Oracle
The sofas were overturned. The coffee table had a broken leg. The floor was strewn with easels and canvases. Even Rachel’s tripod stool, the throne of prophecy itself, lay on its side on a pile of paint-splattered drop cloths.
Most disturbing was the state of the walls. Ever since taking up residence, Rachel had been painting them, like her cave-dwelling ancestors of old. She had spent hours on elaborate murals of events from the past, images from the future she’d seen in prophecies, favorite quotes from books and music, and abstract designs so good they would have given M. C. Escher vertigo. The art made the cave feel like a mixture of art studio, psychedelic hangout, and graffiti-covered highway underpass. I loved it.
But most of the images had been blotted out with a sloppy coat of white paint. Nearby, a roller was stuck in an encrusted tray. Clearly Rachel had defaced her own work months ago and hadn’t been back since.
She waved listlessly at the wreckage. “I got frustrated.”
“Your art…” I gaped at the field of white. “There was a lovely portrait of me—right there.”
I get offended whenever art is damaged, especially if that art features me.
Rachel looked ashamed. “I—I thought a blank canvas might help me think.” Her tone made it obvious that the whitewashing had accomplished nothing. I could have told her as much.
The two of us did our best to clean up. We hauled the sofas back into place to form a sitting area. Rachel left the tripod stool where it lay.
A few minutes later, Meg returned. Chiron followed in full centaur form, ducking his head to fit through the entrance. They found us sitting at the wobbly coffee table like civilized cave people, sharing lukewarm Arizona tea and stale crackers from the Oracle’s larder.
“Rachel.” Chiron sighed with relief. “Where are Millard and Herbert?”
She bowed her head. “They arrived at my house badly wounded. They…they didn’t make it.”
Perhaps it was the morning light behind him, but I fancied I could see new gray whiskers growing in Chiron’s beard. The centaur trotted over and lowered himself to the ground, folding his legs underneath himself. Meg joined me on the couch.
Rachel leaned forward and steepled her fingers, as she did when she spoke a prophecy. I half hoped the spirit of Delphi would possess her, but there was no smoke, no hissing, no raspy voice of divine possession. It was a bit disappointing.
“You first,” she told us. “Tell me what’s been going on here.”
We brought her up to speed on the disappearances and my misadventures with Meg. I explained about the three-legged race and our side trip to Delphi.
Chiron blanched. “I did not know this. You went to Delphi?”
Rachel stared at me in disbelief. “The Delphi. You saw Python and you…”
I got the feeling she wanted to say and you didn’t kill him? But she restrained herself.
I felt like standing with my face against the wall. Perhaps Rachel could blot me out with white paint. Disappearing would’ve been less painful than facing my failures.
“At present,” I said, “I cannot defeat Python. I am much too weak. And…well, the Catch-88.”
Chiron sipped his Arizona tea. “Apollo means that we cannot send a quest without a prophecy, and we cannot get a prophecy without an Oracle.”
Rachel stared at her overturned tripod stool. “And this man…the Beast. What do you know about him?”
“Not much.” I explained what I had seen in my dream, and what Meg and I had overheard in the Labyrinth. “The Beast apparently has a reputation for snatching up young demigods in New York. Meg says…” I faltered when I saw her expression, clearly cautioning me to stay away from her personal history. “Um, she’s had some experience with the Beast.”
Chiron raised his brows. “Can you tell us anything that might help, dear?”
Meg sank into the sofa’s cushions. “I’ve crossed paths with him. He’s—he’s scary. The memory is blurry.”
“Blurry,” Chiron repeated.
Meg became very interested in the cracker crumbs on her dress.
Rachel gave me a quizzical look. I shook my head, trying my best to impart a warning: Trauma. Don’t ask. Might get attacked by a peach baby.
Rachel seemed to get the message. “That’s all right, Meg,” she said. “I have some information that may help.”
She fished her phone from her coat pocket. “Don’t touch this. You guys have probably figured it out, but phones are going even more haywire than usual around demigods. I’m not technically one of you, and even I can’t place calls. I was able to take a couple of pictures, though.” She turned the screen toward us. “Chiron, you recognize this place?”