- The Hidden Oracle
I had never understood that expression. It made me think of the KICK ME signs Artemis used to tape to my toga during festival days. Still, I nodded. “Your back shall be had.”
We reached the edge of the woods and found a small going-away party waiting for us: Will and Nico, Paolo Montes, Malcolm Pace, and Billie Ng, all with grim faces.
“Be careful,” Will told me. “And here.”
Before I could object, he placed a ukulele in my hands.
I tried to give it back. “I can’t. I made an oath—”
“Yeah, I know. That was stupid of you. But it’s a combat ukulele. You can fight with it if you need to.”
I looked more closely at the instrument. It was made from Celestial bronze—thin sheets of metal acid-etched to resemble the grain of blond oak wood. The instrument weighed next to nothing, yet I imagined it was almost indestructible.
“The work of Hephaestus?” I asked.
Will shook his head. “The work of Harley. He wanted you to have it. Just sling it over your back. For me and Harley. It’ll make us both feel better.”
I decided I was obliged to honor the request, though my possession of a ukulele had rarely made anyone feel better. Don’t ask me why. When I was a god, I used to do an absolutely blistering ukulele version of “Satisfaction.”
Nico handed me some ambrosia wrapped in a napkin.
“I can’t eat this,” I reminded him.
“It’s not for you.” He glanced at Meg, his eyes full of misgiving. I remembered that the son of Hades had his own ways of sensing the future—futures that involved the possibility of death. I shivered and tucked the ambrosia into my coat pocket. As aggravating as Meg could be, I was deeply unsettled by the idea that she might come to harm. I decided that I could not allow that to happen.
Malcolm was showing Meg a parchment map, pointing out various places in the woods that we should avoid. Paolo—looking completely healed from his leg surgery—stood next to him, carefully and earnestly providing Portuguese commentary that no one could understand.
When they were finished with the map, Billie Ng approached Meg.
Billie was a wisp of a girl. She compensated for her diminutive stature with the fashion sense of a K-Pop idol. Her winter coat was the color of aluminum foil. Her bobbed hair was aquamarine and her makeup gold. I completely approved. In fact, I thought I could rock that look myself if I could just get my acne under control.
Billie gave Meg a flashlight and a small packet of flower seeds.
“Just in case,” Billie said.
Meg seemed quite overwhelmed. She gave Billie a fierce hug.
I didn’t understand the purpose of the seeds, but it was comforting to know that in a dire emergency I could hit people with my ukulele while Meg planted geraniums.
Malcolm Pace gave me his parchment map. “When in doubt, veer to the right. That usually works in the woods, though I don’t know why.”
Paolo offered me a green-and-gold scarf—a bandana version of the Brazilian flag. He said something that, of course, I could not understand.
Nico smirked. “That’s Paolo’s good-luck bandana. I think he wants you to wear it. He believes it will make you invincible.”
I found this dubious, since Paolo was prone to serious injury, but as a god, I had learned never to turn down offerings. “Thank you.”
Paolo gripped my shoulders and kissed my cheeks. I may have blushed. He was quite handsome when he wasn’t bleeding out from dismemberment.
I rested my hand on Will’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll be back by dawn.”
His mouth trembled ever so slightly. “How can you be sure?”
“I’m the sun god,” I said, trying to muster more confidence than I felt. “I always return at dawn.”
Of course it rained. Why would it not?
Up in Mount Olympus, Zeus must have been having a good laugh at my expense. Camp Half-Blood was supposed to be protected from severe weather, but no doubt my father had told Aeolus to pull out all the stops on his winds. My jilted ex-girlfriends among the air nymphs were probably enjoying their moment of payback.
The rain was just on the edge of sleet—liquid enough to soak my clothes, icy enough to slam against my exposed face like glass shards.
We stumbled along, lurching from tree to tree to find any shelter we could. Patches of old snow crunched under my feet. My ukulele got heavier as its sound hole filled with rain. Meg’s flashlight beam cut across the storm like a cone of yellow static.
I led the way, not because I had any destination in mind, but because I was angry. I was tired of being cold and soaked. I was tired of being picked on. Mortals often talk about the whole world being against them, but that is ridiculous. Mortals aren’t that important. In my case, the whole world really was against me. I refused to surrender to such abuse. I would do something about it! I just wasn’t quite sure what.