Emmie knit her brow. “You’re right.” She faced the doorway. “Waystation, can we have a ramp, please?”
The metal rungs vanished. With a soft rumble, the chute’s interior wall slanted backward, the bricks rearranging themselves into a gentle upward slope.
“Whoa,” said Leo. “Did you just talk to the building?”
A smile tugged at the corner of Emmie’s mouth. “The Waystation is more than a building.”
Suddenly, I did not fancy the look of that ramp. “This is a living structure? Like the Labyrinth? And you expect us to go inside?”
Emmie’s glance was definitely the look of a Hunter. Only my sister’s followers would dare to give me such a malodorous stink-eye. “The Waystation is no work of Daedalus, Lord Apollo. It’s perfectly safe…as long as you remain our guests.”
Her tone suggested that my welcome was probationary. Behind us, the emergency sirens grew louder. Calypso inhaled raggedly. I decided we didn’t have much choice. We followed Emmie into the building.
Lighting appeared along the walls—warm yellow candles flickering in bronze sconces. About twenty feet up the ramp, a door opened on our left. Inside, I glimpsed an infirmary that would’ve made my son Asclepius jealous: A fully stocked supply cabinet with medicine, surgical tools, and potion ingredients; a hospital bed with built-in monitors, GCI interface, and levitating bariatric slings. Racks of healing herbs dried against the wall next to the portable MRI machine. And in the back corner, a glassed-in habitat seethed with poisonous snakes.
“Oh, my,” I said. “Your med bay is cutting-edge.”
“Yes,” Emmie agreed. “And Waystation is telling me I should treat your friend immediately.”
Leo poked his head into the infirmary. “You mean this room just appeared here?”
“No,” Emmie said. “Well, yes. It’s always here, but…it’s easier to find when we need it.”
Leo nodded thoughtfully. “You think the Waystation could organize my sock drawer?”
A brick fell from the ceiling and clunked at Leo’s feet.
“That’s a no,” Emmie interpreted. “Now, if I can have your friend, please.”
“Uh…” Leo pointed to the glass habitat. “You got snakes in there. Just saying.”
“I’ll take good care of Calypso,” Emmie promised.
She took Calypso from us, lifting the sorceress in her arms with no apparent difficulty. “You two go ahead. You’ll find Jo at the top of the ramp.”
“Jo?” I asked.
“You can’t miss her,” Emmie replied. “She’ll explain the Waystation better than I could.”
She carried the sorceress into the infirmary. The door shut behind her.
Leo frowned at me. “Snakes?”
“Oh, yes,” I assured him. “There’s a reason a snake on a rod symbolizes medicine. Venom was one of the earliest cures.”
“Huh.” Leo glanced at his feet. “You think I can keep this brick, at least?”
The corridor rumbled.
“I would leave it there,” I suggested.
“Yeah, think I’ll leave it there.”
After a few more feet, another door opened on our right.
Inside, sunlight filtered through pink lace curtains onto the hardwood floor of a child’s room. A cozy bed was piled with fluffy comforters, pillows, and stuffed animals. The eggshell-colored walls had been used as a canvas for crayon art—stick-figure people, trees, houses, frolicking animals that might have been dogs or horses or llamas. On the left-hand wall, opposite the bed, a crayon sun smiled down on a field of happy crayon flowers. In the center, a stick-figure girl stood between two larger parental stick figures—all three of them holding hands.
The wall art reminded me of Rachel Elizabeth Dare’s cavern of prophecy at Camp Half-Blood. My Delphic Oracle had delighted in painting her cave with things she’d seen in her visions…before her oracular power ceased to work, that is. (Totally not my fault. You can blame that overgrown rat snake, Python.)
Most of the drawings in this bedroom seemed typical for a child of about seven or eight. But in the farthest corner of the back wall, the young artist had decided to inflict a nightmarish plague upon her crayon world. A scribbly black storm was brewing. Frowning stick figures threatened the llamas with triangular knives. Dark curlicues blotted out a primary-colored rainbow. Scratched over the field of green grass was a huge inky sphere like a black pond…or the entrance of a cave.
Leo stepped back. “I dunno, man. Don’t think we should go in.”
I wondered why the Waystation had decided to show us this room. Who lived here? Or more accurately…who had lived here? Despite the cheerful pink curtains and the pile of stuffed animals on the carefully made bed, the bedroom felt abandoned, preserved like a museum exhibit.
“Let’s keep going,” I agreed.
Finally, at the top of the ramp, we emerged into a cathedral-like hall. Overhead curved a barreled ceiling of wood carvings, with glowing stained-glass panels in the center creating green and gold geometric designs. At the far end of the room, the rose window I’d seen outside cast dartboard-line shadows across the painted cement floor. To our left and right, there were raised walkways with wrought-iron railings, and elegant Victorian lampposts lined the walls. Behind the railings, rows of doorways led into other rooms. Half a dozen ladders stretched up to the ornate molding at the base of the ceiling, where the ledges were stuffed with hay-like roosts for very large chickens. The whole place had a faint animal scent…though it reminded me more of a dog kennel than a henhouse.
In one corner of the main room gleamed a chef’s kitchen big enough to host several celebrity cook-offs at once. Sets of sofas and comfy chairs were clustered here and there. At the center of the hall stood a massive dining table of rough-hewn redwood with seating for twenty.
Under the rose window, the contents of several different workshops seemed to have been disgorged at random: table saws, drills, lathes, kilns, forges, anvils, 3-D printers, sewing machines, cauldrons, and several other industrial appliances I couldn’t name. (Don’t judge me. I’m not Hephaestus.)
Hunched over a welding station, throwing sparks from her torch as she worked on a sheet of metal, was a muscular woman in a metal visor, leather apron, and gloves.
I’m not sure how she noticed us. Perhaps the Waystation chucked a brick at her back to get her attention. Whatever the case, she looked in our direction, shut off her torch, then lifted her visor.
“I’ll be hexed!” She barked out a laugh. “Is that Apollo?”
She tugged off her safety gear and lumbered over. Like Emmie, the woman was in her sixties, but whereas Emmie had the physique of a former gymnast, this woman was built for brawling. Her broad shoulders and dark, well-sculpted arms stretched against the confines of a faded pink polo shirt. Wrenches and screwdrivers sagged from the pockets of her denim overalls. Against the umber skin of her scalp, her buzz-cut gray hair shimmered like frost.
She thrust out her hand. “You probably don’t remember me, Lord Apollo. I’m Jo. Or Josie. Or Josephine. Whichever.”
With each version of her name, she squeezed my hand tighter. I would not have challenged her to an arm-wrestling contest (though with her meaty fingers I doubt she could play guitar as well as I do, so ha). Her square-jawed face would’ve been quite intimidating except for her cheerful, twinkling eyes. Her mouth twitched as if she were exerting a great effort not to bust out laughing.