Calypso nudged my leg. “We need to keep moving.”
We scurried deeper into the display room. Our simian movements must have amused the orangutan. He made a deep barking noise.
“Shut up!” I stage-whispered back at him.
At the far exit, we huddled behind a curtain of camouflage netting. I cradled my taters and tried to steady my breathing.
Next to me, Calypso hummed under her breath—a nervous habit of hers. I wished she would stop. Whenever she hummed a tune I knew, I had the urge to sing harmony very loudly, which would have given away our position.
At last, I whispered, “I think the coast is clear.”
I stepped out and smacked straight into another Germanus. Honestly, how many barbarians did Commodus have? Was he buying them in bulk?
For a moment, all three of us were too surprised to speak or move. Then the barbarian made a rumbling sound in his chest as if about to shout for backup.
“Hold these!” I thrust my package of griffin food into his arms.
Reflexively, he took them. After all, a man giving up his Tots is a gesture of surrender in many cultures. He frowned at the package as I stepped back, slung my bow off my shoulder, fired, and planted an arrow in his left foot.
He howled, dropping the Tater Tots package. I scooped it up and ran, Calypso close behind me.
“Nicely done,” she offered.
“Except for the fact that he probably alerted—Veer left!”
Another Germanus came barreling out of the reptile area. We scrambled around him and ran toward a sign that said SKYLINE.
In the distance loomed an aerial tram—wires strung from tower to tower above the treetops, a single green gondola hanging about fifty feet in the air. I wondered if we could use the ride to reach the secret zoo area, or at least gain a height advantage, but the gondola house entrance was fenced off and padlocked.
Before I could ask Calypso to work her hairpin hocus-pocus, the Germani cornered us. The one from the reptile area advanced, his polearm leveled at our chests. The one from the orangutan house came snarling and limping behind, my arrow still sticking out of his bloody leather boot.
I nocked another arrow, but there was no way I could bring them both down before they killed us. I’d seen Germani take six or seven arrows to the heart and still keep fighting.
Calypso muttered, “Apollo, when I curse you, pretend to faint.”
She wheeled on me and shouted, “You have failed me for the last time, slave!”
She made a series of hand gestures I recognized from ancient times—hexes and curses that no one had ever dared to make in my direction. I was tempted to slap her. Instead, I did as she asked: I gasped and collapsed.
Through my half-lidded eyes, I watched Calypso turn on our enemies.
“Now it is your turn, fools!” She began making the same rude gestures toward the Germani.
The first one stopped. His face paled. He glanced at me lying on the ground, then turned and fled, barreling past his friend.
The Germanus with the wounded foot hesitated. Judging from the hatred in his eyes, he wanted revenge for the missile weapon that had ruined his left boot.
Calypso, undaunted, waved her arms and began to incant. Her tone made it sound as if she were raising the worst daimons from Tartarus, though her words, in ancient Phoenician, were actually a recipe for making pancakes.
The wounded Germanus yelped and hobbled away, leaving a trail of smeared red prints behind him.
Calypso offered me a hand and pulled me up. “Let’s move. I’ve only bought us a few seconds.”
“How did you—Did your magic return?”
“I wish,” she said. “I faked it. Half of magic is acting like it will work. The other half is picking a superstitious mark. They’ll be back. With reinforcements.”
I’ll admit I was impressed. Her “hexing” had certainly unnerved me.
I made a quick gesture to ward off evil, just in case Calypso was better than she realized. Then we ran together along the perimeter fence.
At the next crossroads, Calypso said, “This way to the train.”
She nodded. “I’m good at memorizing maps. Once, I made one of Ogygia; reproduced every square foot of that island. It was the only way I kept myself sane.”
This sounded like a terrible way to keep oneself sane, but I let her lead the way. Behind us, more Germani were shouting, but they seemed to be heading toward the Skyline gates we’d just left. I allowed myself to hope that the train station might be clear.
HA-HA-HA. It was not.
On the tracks sat a miniature train—a bright green steam engine with a line of open passenger cars. Next to it on the station platform, under an ivy-covered canopy, Lityerses stood with his feet planted, his unsheathed sword resting over his shoulder like a hobo’s bindle. A battered leather cuirass was strapped over his Cornhuskers shirt. His dark curly hair hung in tendrils over his red bandana, making it look as if a large spider were crouched on his head, ready to spring.
“Welcome.” The prefect’s smile might have seemed friendly, except for the crosshatching of scars on his face. He touched something on his ear—a Bluetooth device, perhaps. “They’re here at the station,” he announced. “Converge on me, but slow and calm. I’m fine. I want these two alive.”
He shrugged at us apologetically. “My men can be overenthusiastic when it comes to killing. Especially after you’ve made them look like fools.”
“It was our pleasure.” I doubt I pulled off the self-assured, swashbuckling tone I was going for. My voice cracked. Sweat beaded on my face. I held my bow sideways like an electric guitar, which was not proper shooting stance, and in my other hand, instead of an arrow that might have been useful, I held a package of frozen Tater Tots.
It was probably just as well. In my dream, I’d seen how rapidly Lityerses could swing his sword. If I tried to fire on him, our heads would be rolling on the pavement before I drew back my bowstring.
“You’re able to use a phone,” I noticed. “Or a walkie-talkie, or whatever that is. I hate it when the bad guys get to talk to each other and we can’t.”
Lityerses’s laugh was like a file across metal. “Yes. The Triumvirate likes to have certain advantages.”
“I don’t suppose you’d tell us how they manage it—blocking demigod communications?”
“You won’t live long enough for that to matter. Now, drop your bow. As for your friend…” He sized up Calypso. “Keep your hands at your side. No sudden curses. I’d hate to chop off that pretty head of yours.”
Calypso smiled sweetly. “I was just thinking the same thing about you. Drop your sword and I won’t destroy you.”
She was a good actor. I made a mental note to recommend her to my Mount Olympus invitation-only summer camp, Method Acting with the Muses—if we got out of this alive.
Lityerses chuckled. “That’s good. I like you. But in about sixty seconds, a dozen Germani are going to swarm this depot. They will not ask as politely as I did.” He took a step forward and swung his sword to his side.
I tried to think of a brilliant plan. Unfortunately, the only thing that came to mind was weeping in terror. Then, above Lityerses, the ivy rustled on the canopy.
The swordsman didn’t seem to notice. I wondered if orangutans were playing up there, or perhaps some Olympian gods had gathered for a picnic to watch me die. Or maybe…The thought was too much to wish for, but in the interest of buying time, I dropped my bow.