Calypso frowned at the shuttered ticket booths. “Nobody here. The place is locked up tight.”
“That was the idea,” I reminded her. “The fewer mortals around, the better.”
“But how do we get in?”
“If only someone could control wind spirits and carry us over the fence.”
“If only some god could teleport us,” she countered. “Or snap his fingers and bring the griffins to us.”
I folded my arms. “I’m beginning to remember why we exiled you on that island for three thousand years.”
“Three thousand five hundred and sixty-eight. It would have been longer if you’d had your way.”
I hadn’t meant to start this argument again, but Calypso made it so easy. “You were on a tropical island with pristine beaches, aerial servants, and a lavishly appointed cave.”
“Which made Ogygia not a prison?”
I was tempted to blast her with godly power, except…well, I didn’t have any. “You don’t miss your island, then?”
She blinked as if I’d thrown sand in her face. “I—no. That’s not the point. I was kept in exile. I had no one—”
“Oh, please. You want to know what real exile feels like? This is my third time as a mortal. Stripped of my powers. Stripped of immortality. I can die, Calypso.”
“Me too,” she snapped.
“Yes, but you chose to go with Leo. You gave up your immortality for love! You’re as bad as Hemithea!”
I hadn’t realized how much anger was behind that last shot until I let it fly. My voice resounded across the parking lot. Somewhere in the zoo, a rudely awakened tropical bird squawked in protest.
Calypso’s expression hardened. “Right.”
“I only meant—”
“Save it.” She gazed down the perimeter of the fence. “Shall we find a place to climb over?”
I tried to formulate a gallant apology that would also completely vindicate my position, but I decided to let the matter drop. My shout might have woken up more than the toucans. We needed to hurry.
We found a breaching point where the fence was slightly lower. Even in a skirt, Calypso proved the more agile climber. She made it over the top with no problem, while I snagged my shoe on barbed wire and found myself hanging upside down. It was complete luck that I did not fall into the tiger habitat.
“Shut up,” I told Calypso when she pulled me free.
“I didn’t say anything!”
The tiger glared at us from the other side of his enclosure glass as if to say, Why are you bothering me if you haven’t brought me breakfast?
I’d always found tigers to be sensible creatures.
Calypso and I crept through the zoo, keeping a lookout for mortals or imperial guards. Except for a zookeeper hosing down the lemur display, we saw no one.
We stopped in an area that seemed to be the park’s main crossroads. To our left stood a carousel. To our right, orangutans lounged in the trees of a large netted compound. Strategically placed around the plaza were several gift shops and cafés, all closed. Signs pointed toward various attractions: OCEAN, PLAINS, JUNGLE, FLIGHTS OF FANCY.
“‘Flights of fancy,’” I said. “Surely they would file griffins under fanciful flights.”
Calypso scanned our surroundings. She had unnerving eyes—dark brown and intensely focused, not unlike Artemis’s gaze when she took aim at a target. I suppose on Ogygia Calypso had had many years of practice staring at the horizon, waiting for someone or something interesting to appear.
“Your arrow mentioned a train,” she said. “There’s a sign for a train ride.”
“Yes, but my arrow also said something about Tater Tots. I think it’s getting a bit warped.”
Calypso pointed. “There.”
At the nearest outdoor café, next to a shuttered serving window, a lunch menu was posted on the wall. I scanned the selections.
“Four different kinds of Tater Tots?” I felt overwhelmed by culinary confusion. “Why would anyone need so many? Chili. Sweet potato. Blue? How can a Tot be—?” I froze.
For a nanosecond, I wasn’t sure what had startled me. Then I realized my keen ears had picked up on a sound in the distance—a man’s voice.
“What is it?” Calypso asked.
“Shh.” I listened more intently.
I hoped I might have been mistaken. Perhaps I’d simply heard some exotic bird with a gravelly croak, or the zookeeper cursing as he hosed out lemur poop. But no. Even in my diminished mortal state, my hearing was exceptional.
The voice spoke again, familiar and much closer. “You three, that way. You two, with me.”
I touched Calypso’s jacket sleeve. “It’s Lityerses, the Cornhusker.”
The sorceress muttered another Minoan curse, naming a part of Zeus’s body that I did not want to think about. “We need to hide.”
Unfortunately, Lityerses was approaching from the way we’d come. Judging from the sound of his voice, we had only seconds before he’d arrive. The crossroads offered any number of escape routes, but all of them would be within Lityerses’s line of sight.
Only one place was close enough to offer cover.
“When in doubt,” Calypso said, “Tater Tots.”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me around the back of the café.
My life goal is realized
Any fries with that?
WHEN I WAS A GOD, I would’ve been pleased to have a beautiful woman pull me behind a building. But as Lester with Calypso, I was more likely to get killed than kissed.
We crouched next to a stack of milk crates by the kitchen entrance. The area smelled of cooking grease, pigeon droppings, and chlorine from the nearby children’s splash park. Calypso rattled the locked door, then glared at me.
“Help!” she hissed.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Well, now would be a good time to have a burst of godly strength!”
I should never have told her and Leo about that. Once, when facing Nero at Camp Half-Blood, my superhuman power had briefly returned, allowing me to overcome the emperor’s Germani. I’d thrown one of them into the sky where, for all I knew, he was still in low earth orbit. But that moment had quickly passed. My strength hadn’t returned since.
Regardless, Leo and Calypso seemed to think I could summon godly bursts of awesomeness anytime I wanted, just because I was a former god. I found that unfair.
I gave the door a try. I yanked the handle and almost pulled my fingers out of their sockets.
“Ow,” I muttered. “Mortals have gotten good at making doors. Now, back in the Bronze Age—”
Calypso shushed me.
Our enemies’ voices were getting closer. I couldn’t hear Lityerses, but two other men were conversing in a guttural language that sounded like ancient Gallic. I doubted they were zookeepers.
Calypso frantically pulled a bobby pin from her hair. Aha, so her lovely coiffed locks did not stay in place by magic! She pointed at me, then pointed around the corner. I thought she was telling me to flee and save myself. That would have been a sensible suggestion. Then I realized she was asking me to keep watch.
I didn’t know what good that would do, but I peered over the rampart of milk crates and waited for Germani to come and kill us. I could hear them at the front of the café, rattling the shutter over the order window, then conversing briefly with lots of grunts and grumbling. Knowing the emperor’s bodyguards, they were probably saying something like Kill? Kill. Bash heads? Bash heads.