- The Hidden Oracle
“Maybe we could find him,” Meg suggested, “and bring him back.”
Pete shook his head. “Paulie made me promise not to follow him and not to tell anybody else where the grove is. He’s pretty good at resisting those weird voices, but you guys wouldn’t stand a chance.”
I was tempted to agree. Finding ancient killing machines sounded much more reasonable. Then I pictured Kayla and Austin wandering through the ancient grove, slowly going mad. They needed me, which meant I needed their location.
“Sorry, Pete.” I gave him my most critical stare—the one I used to crush aspiring singers during Broadway auditions. “I’m just not buying it.”
Mud bubbled around Pete’s caldera. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“I don’t think this grove exists,” I said. “And if it does, I don’t think you know its location.”
Pete’s geyser rumbled. Steam swirled in his spotlight beam. “I—I do know! Of course it exists!”
“Oh, really? Then why aren’t there billboards about it all over the place? And a dedicated Web site? Why haven’t I seen a groveofdodona hashtag on social media?”
Pete glowered. “I suggested all that! Paulie shot me down!”
“So do some outreach!” I demanded. “Sell us on your product! Show us where this grove is!”
“I can’t. The only entrance…” He glanced over my shoulder and his face went slack. “Ah, spew.” His spotlights shut off.
I turned. Meg made a squelching sound even louder than her shoes in the mud.
It took a moment for my vision to adjust, but at the edge of the clearing stood three black ants the size of Sherman tanks.
“Pete,” I said, trying to remain calm, “when you said your spotlights attracted the wrong kind of attention—”
“I meant the myrmekes,” he said. “I hope this won’t affect your online review of the Woods at Camp Half-Blood.”
Breaking my promise
I blame Neil Diamond
MYRMEKES SHOULD BE high on your list of monsters not to fight.
They attack in groups. They spit acid. Their pincers can snap through Celestial bronze.
Also, they are ugly.
The three soldier ants advanced, their ten-foot-long antennae waving and bobbing in a mesmerizing way, trying to distract me from the true danger of their mandibles.
Their beaked heads reminded me of chickens—chickens with dark flat eyes and black armored faces. Each of their six legs would have made a fine construction winch. Their oversize abdomens throbbed and pulsed like noses sniffing for food.
I silently cursed Zeus for inventing ants. The way I heard it, he got upset with some greedy man who was always stealing from his neighbors’ crops, so Zeus turned him into the first ant—a species that does nothing but scavenge, steal, and breed. Ares liked to joke that if Zeus wanted such a species, he could’ve just left humans the way they were. I used to laugh. Now that I am one of you, I no longer find it funny.
The ants stepped toward us, their antennae twitching. I imagined their train of thought was something like Shiny? Tasty? Defenseless?
“No sudden movements,” I told Meg, who did not seem inclined to move at all. In fact, she looked petrified.
“Oh, Pete?” I called. “How do you deal with myrmekes invading your territory?”
“By hiding,” he said, and disappeared into the geyser.
“Not helpful,” I grumbled.
“Can we dive in?” Meg asked.
“Only if you fancy boiling to death in a pit of scalding water.”
The tank bugs clacked their mandibles and edged closer.
“I have an idea.” I unslung my ukulele.
“I thought you swore not to play,” Meg said.
“I did. But if I throw this shiny object to one side, the ants might—”
I was about to say the ants might follow it and leave us alone.
I neglected to consider that, in my hands, the ukulele made me look shinier and tastier. Before I could throw the instrument, the soldier ants surged toward us. I stumbled back, only remembering the geyser behind me when my shoulder blades began to blister, filling the air with Apollo-scented steam.
“Hey, bugs!” Meg’s scimitars flashed in her hands, making her the new shiniest thing in the clearing.
Can we take a moment to appreciate that Meg did this on purpose? Terrified of insects, she could have fled and left me to be devoured. Instead, she chose to risk her life by distracting three tank-size ants. Throwing garbage at street thugs was one thing. But this…this was an entirely new level of foolishness. If I lived, I might have to nominate Meg McCaffrey for Best Sacrifice at the next Demi Awards.