- The Hidden Oracle
Somehow, I managed to react appropriately. (Three cheers for reacting appropriately!) I thrust both arrows into my quiver, grabbed the reins, and managed to level our descent just enough to prevent a crash landing. We bounced off a dune and swerved to a stop in front of Chiron and a group of demigods. Our entrance might have looked dramatic if the centrifugal force hadn’t thrown Kayla, Austin, and me from the chariot.
Did I mention I was grateful for soft sand?
The pegasi took off, dragging the battered chariot into the sky and leaving us stranded.
Chiron galloped to our side, a cluster of demigods in his wake. Percy Jackson ran toward us from the surf while Mrs. O’Leary kept the Colossus occupied with a game of keep-away. I doubt that would hold the statue’s interest very long, once he realized there was a group of targets right behind him, just perfect for stomping.
“The plague arrow is ready!” I announced. “We need to shoot it into the Colossus’s ear!”
My audience did not seem to take this as good news. Then I realized my chariot was gone. My bow was still in the chariot. And Kayla and Austin were quite obviously infected with whatever disease I had conjured up.
“Are they contagious?” Cecil asked.
“No!” I said. “Well…probably not. It’s the fumes from the arrow—”
Everyone backed away from me.
“Cecil,” Chiron said, “you and Harley take Kayla and Austin to the Apollo cabin for healing.”
“But they are the Apollo cabin,” Harley complained. “Besides, my flamethrower—”
“You can play with your flamethrower later,” Chiron promised. “Run along. There’s a good boy. The rest of you, do what you can to keep the Colossus at the water’s edge. Percy and I will assist Apollo.”
Chiron said the word assist as if it meant slap upside the head with extreme prejudice.
Once the crowd had dispersed, Chiron gave me his bow. “Make the shot.”
I stared at the massive composite recursive, which probably had a draw weight of a hundred pounds. “This is meant for the strength of a centaur, not a teen mortal!”
“You created the arrow,” he said. “Only you can shoot it without succumbing to the disease. Only you can hit such a target.”
“From here? It’s impossible! Where is that flying boy, Jason Grace?”
Percy wiped the sweat and sand from his neck. “We’re fresh out of flying boys. And all the pegasi have stampeded.”
“Perhaps if we got some harpies and some kite string…” I said.
“Apollo,” Chiron said, “you must do this. You are the lord of archery and illness.”
“I’m not lord of anything!” I wailed. “I’m a stupid ugly mortal teenager! I’m nobody!”
The self-pity just came pouring out. I thought for sure the earth would split in two when I called myself a nobody. The cosmos would stop turning. Percy and Chiron would rush to reassure me.
None of that happened. Percy and Chiron just stared at me grimly.
Percy put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re Apollo. We need you. You can do this. Besides, if you don’t, I will personally throw you off the top of the Empire State Building.”
This was exactly the pep talk I needed—just the sort of thing Zeus used to say to me before my soccer matches. I squared my shoulders. “Right.”
“We’ll try to draw him into the water,” Percy said. “I’ve got the advantage there. Good luck.”
Percy accepted Chiron’s hand and leaped onto the centaur’s back. Together they galloped into the surf, Percy waving his sword and calling out various bronze-butt-themed insults to the Colossus.
I ran down the beach until I had a line of sight on the statue’s left ear.
Looking up at that regal profile, I did not see Nero. I saw myself—a monument to my own conceit. Nero’s pride was no more than a reflection of mine. I was the bigger fool. I was exactly the sort of person who would construct a hundred-foot-tall naked statue of myself in my front yard.
I pulled the plague arrow from my quiver and nocked it in the bowstring.
The demigods were getting very good at scattering. They continued to harry the Colossus from both sides while Percy and Chiron galloped through the tide, Mrs. O’Leary romping at their heels with her new bronze stick.
“Yo, ugly!” Percy shouted. “Over here!”
The Colossus’s next step displaced several tons of salt water and made a crater large enough to swallow a pickup truck.
The Arrow of Dodona rattled in my quiver. RELEASE THY BREATH, he advised. DROPETH THY SHOULDER.