“Which part?” I said. “The drowning? The screaming?”
“Nah, man—how you collapsed that brick wall. You should do that more often.”
I plucked a teal plastic shard from my coat. “As an annoying demigod once told me, Gee, why didn’t I think of that? I’ve explained before—I can’t control those bursts of power. Somehow, in that moment, I found my godly voice. Brick mortar resonates at a certain frequency. It’s best manipulated by a baritone at one hundred twenty-five decibels—”
“You saved me,” Meg interrupted. “I was going to die. Maybe that’s why you got your voice back.”
I was reluctant to admit it, but she might have been right. The last time I’d experienced a burst of godly power, in the woods of Camp Half-Blood, my children Kayla and Austin had been in imminent danger of burning alive. Concern for others was a logical trigger for my powers. I was, after all, selfless, caring, and an all-around nice guy. Nevertheless, I found it irritating that my own well-being wasn’t sufficient to give me godly strength. My life was important too!
“Well,” I said, “I’m glad you weren’t crushed to death, Meg. Anything broken?”
She touched her rib cage. “Nah. I’m good.”
Her stiff movement, her pale complexion, and the tightness around her eyes told me otherwise. She was in more pain than she would admit. However, until we got back to the Waystation infirmary, I couldn’t do much for her. Even if I’d had proper medical supplies, wrapping the ribs of a girl who’d almost been crushed to death might do more harm than good.
Leo stared at the dark green water. He looked more pensive than usual, or perhaps it was just the fact that he wasn’t on fire anymore.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
He glanced over—no snappy comeback, no playful grin. “Just…Leo and Calypso’s Garage: Auto Repair and Mechanical Monsters.”
“Something Cal and I used to joke about.”
It didn’t sound like a very funny joke. Then again, mortal humor wasn’t always up to my godly standards. I recalled Calypso and Leo deep in conversation with Emmie yesterday as they walked through the great hall.
“Something to do with what Emmie was telling you?” I ventured.
He shrugged. “Stuff for the future. Nothing to worry about.”
As a former god of prophecy, I’d always found the future a wonderful source of worry. But I decided not to press the issue. Right now, the only future goal that mattered was getting me back to Mount Olympus so the world could once again bask in my divine glory. I had to think of the greater good.
“Well,” I said, “now that we’re warm and dry, I suppose it’s time to get in the water again.”
“Fun,” Meg said. She jumped in first.
Leo led the way, keeping one burning hand above the water for light. Every so often, small objects floated up from the pockets of his tool belt and drifted past me—Velcro tabs, Styrofoam peanuts, multicolored twist ties.
Meg guarded our backs, her twin swords gleaming in the darkness. I appreciated her fighting skills, but I did wish we had some additional help. A demigod child of the sewer goddess Cloacina would have been welcome…which is the first time I’d ever had that depressing thought.
I trudged along in the middle, trying to avoid flashbacks of my long-ago, unintended trip through a sewage-treatment facility in Biloxi, Mississippi. (That day would’ve been a total disaster, except that it ended with an impromptu jam session with Lead Belly.)
The current became stronger, pushing against us. Up ahead, I detected the glow of electric lights, the sound of voices. Leo extinguished his hand fire. He turned to us and put his finger to his lips.
After another twenty feet, we arrived at a second set of golden bars. Beyond that, the sewer opened into a much larger space where the water ran at a crosscurrent, some of it diverting into our tunnel. The force of the outflow made it difficult to stand.
Leo pointed at the golden grate. “This runs on a clepsydra lock,” he said just loud enough to be heard. “I think I can open it quietly, but keep watch for me just in case…I don’t know…giant serpents.”
“We have faith in you, Valdez.” I had no idea what a clepsydra lock was, but I’d learned from dealing with Hephaestus that it was best to show optimism and polite interest. Otherwise the tinkerer took offense and stopped making shiny toys for me to play with.
Within moments, Leo had the grate open. No alarms sounded. No contact mines exploded in our faces.
We emerged in the throne room I’d seen in my vision.
Fortunately, we were neck-deep in one of the open channels of water that lined the sides of the chamber, so I doubted anyone could easily spot us. Along the wall behind us, videos of Commodus looped over and over on the giant television screens.
We trudged toward the opposite side of the channel.
If you have ever tried to walk while immersed in a swift stream, you know how difficult it is. Also, if you have tried it, then may I ask why? It was absolutely exhausting. With every step, I feared the current would sweep me off my feet and flush me into the bowels of Indianapolis. Somehow, though, we made it to the far side.
I peeked over the edge of the channel and was immediately sorry I did.
Commodus was right there. Thank the gods, we had crossed slightly behind his throne, so neither he nor his Germani guards saw me. My least favorite Cornhusker, Lityerses, knelt before the emperor, facing my direction, but his head was lowered. I ducked back below the edge before he could spot me. I gestured to my friends: Quiet. Yikes. We’re going to die. Or something to that effect. They seemed to get the message. Shivering miserably, I pressed against the wall and listened to the conversation going on just above us.
“—part of the plan, sire,” Lityerses was saying. “We know where the Waystation is now.”
Commodus grunted. “Yes, yes. Old Union Station. But Cleander searched that place several times before and found nothing.”
“The Waystation is there,” Lityerses insisted. “The tracking devices I planted on the griffins worked perfectly. The place must be protected by some sort of magic, but it won’t stand up to a fleet of blemmyae bulldozers.”
My heart climbed above water level, which put it somewhere between my ears. I dared not look at my friends. I had failed once again. I had unwittingly betrayed the location of our safe haven.
Commodus sighed. “Fine. Yes. But I want Apollo captured and brought to me in chains! The naming ceremony is tomorrow. Our dress rehearsal is, like, right now. When can you have the Waystation destroyed?”
Lityerses hesitated. “We need to scout the defenses. And gather our forces. Two days?”
“TWO DAYS? I’m not asking you to cross the Alps! I want it to happen now!”
“Tomorrow, then, at the latest, sire,” said Lityerses. “Definitely by tomorrow.”
“Hmph. I’m beginning to wonder about you, son of Midas. If you don’t deliver—”
An electronic alarm blared through the chamber. For a moment, I thought we’d been discovered. I may or may not have emptied my bladder in the channel. (Don’t tell Leo. He was downstream.)
Then, from the other side of the room, a voice shouted in Latin, “Incursion at the front gates!”