Chiron furrowed his brow. “So our missing campers are wandering in the trees, perhaps already insane from the voices.”

“Or they’re dead,” Meg added.

“No.” I could not abide that thought. “No, they are still alive. The Beast is using them, trying to bait me.”

“How can you be sure?” Rachel asked. “And why? If Python already controls Delphi, why are these other Oracles so important?”

I gazed at the wall formerly graced by my picture. Alas, no answers magically appeared in the whitewashed space. “I’m not sure. I believe our enemies want to cut us off from every possible source of prophecy. Without a way to see and direct our fates, we will wither and die—gods and mortals alike, anyone who opposes the Triumvirate.”

Meg turned upside down on the sofa and kicked off her red shoes. “They’re strangling our taproots.” She wriggled her toes to demonstrate.

I looked back at Rachel, hoping she would excuse my street urchin overlord’s bad manners. “As for why the Grove of Dodona is so important, Python mentioned that it was the one Oracle he could not control. I don’t understand exactly why—perhaps because Dodona is the only Oracle that has no connection with me. Its power comes from Rhea. So if the grove is working, and it is free of Python’s influence, and it is here at Camp Half-Blood—”

“It could provide us with prophecies.” Chiron’s eyes gleamed. “It could give us a chance against our enemies.”

I gave Rachel an apologetic smile. “Of course, we’d rather have our beloved Oracle of Delphi working again. And we will, eventually. But for now, the Grove of Dodona could be our best hope.”

Meg’s hair swept the floor. Her face was now the color of one of my sacred cattle. “Aren’t prophecies all twisted and mysterious and murky, and people die trying to escape them?”

“Meg,” I said, “you can’t trust those reviews on The hotness factor for the Sibyl of Cumae, for instance, is completely off. I remember that quite clearly.”

Rachel put her chin on her fist. “Really? Do tell.”

“Uh, what I meant to say: the Grove of Dodona is a benevolent force. It has helped heroes before. The masthead of the original Argo, for instance, was carved from a branch of the sacred trees. It could speak to the Argonauts and give them guidance.”

“Mm.” Chiron nodded. “And that’s why our mysterious Beast wants the grove burned.”

“Apparently,” I said. “And that’s why we have to save it.”

Meg rolled backward off the couch. Her legs knocked over the three-legged coffee table, spilling our Arizona tea and crackers. “Oops.”

I ground my mortal teeth, which would not last a year if I kept hanging around Meg. Rachel and Chiron wisely ignored my young friend’s display of Megness.

“Apollo…” The old centaur watched a waterfall of tea trickling from the edge of the table. “If you are right about Dodona, how do we proceed? We are already shorthanded. If we send search teams into the woods, we have no guarantee they’ll come back.”

Meg brushed the hair out of her eyes. “We’ll go. Just Apollo and me.”

My tongue attempted to hide in the depths of my throat. “We—we will?”

“You said you gotta do a bunch of trials or whatever to prove you’re worthy, right? This’ll be the first one.”

Part of me knew she was right, but the remnants of my godly self rebelled at the idea. I never did my own dirty work. I would rather have picked a nice group of heroes and sent them to their deaths—or, you know, glorious success.

Yet Rhea had been clear in my dream: finding the Oracle was my job. And thanks to the cruelty of Zeus, where I went, Meg went. For all I knew, Zeus was aware of the Beast and his plans, and he had sent me here specifically to deal with the situation…a thought that did not make me any more likely to get him a nice tie for Father’s Day.

I also remembered the other part of my dream: the Beast in his mauve suit, encouraging me to find the Oracle so he could burn it down. There was still too much I didn’t understand, but I had to act. Austin and Kayla were depending on me.

Rachel put her hand on my knee, which made me flinch. Surprisingly, she did not inflict any pain. Her gaze was more earnest than angry. “Apollo, you have to try. If we can get a glimpse of the future…well, it may be the only way to get things back to normal.” She looked longingly at the blank walls of her cave. “I’d like to have a future again.”