I turned to my friends. Their clothes had also lightened by several shades. The fronts of their hair had been frosted with highlights, but they had all, wisely, kept their eyes shut.
Thalia studied me in amazement. “What just happened? Why are you toasted?”
I looked down. True enough, my skin was now the color of maple bark. My leaf-and-sap cast had burned away, leaving my arm fully healed. I thought I looked quite nice this way, though I hoped I could become a god again before I discovered what sort of horrible skin cancers I’d just given myself. Belatedly, I realized how much danger I’d been in. I had actually managed to reveal my true divine form. I had become pure light. Stupid Apollo! Amazing, wonderful, stupid Apollo! This mortal body was not meant for channeling such power. I was fortunate I hadn’t burned up instantly like an antique flashbulb.
Commodus wailed. He grabbed the nearest thing he could find, which happened to be one of his Germani, and lifted the blind barbarian over his head. “I will destroy you all!”
He threw his barbarian toward the sound of Thalia’s voice. Since we could all see, we scattered easily and avoided becoming bowling pins. The Germanus hit the opposite wall with such force, he broke into a starburst of yellow powder and left a beautiful abstract expressionist statement across the bricks.
“I do not need eyes to kill you!” Commodus slashed upward with his sword, taking a chunk out of the dining table.
“Commodus,” I warned, “you will leave this city and never return, or I will take more than your sight.”
He charged toward me. I sidestepped. Thalia let loose an arrow, but Commodus was moving too fast. The missile hit the second Germanus, who grunted in surprise, fell to his knees, and crumbled to powder.
Commodus tripped over a chair. He face-planted on the living room rug. Let me be clear: it’s never okay to take delight in the struggles of someone who can’t see, but in this rare instance, I couldn’t help myself. If anyone deserved to fall on his face, it was Emperor Commodus.
“You will leave,” I told him again. “You will not return. Your reign in Indianapolis is over.”
“It’s Commodianapolis!” He struggled to his feet. His armor sported some new skid marks. The slash across his face was not getting any prettier. A little figurine made of pipe cleaners—maybe something Georgina had made—clung to the emperor’s shaggy beard like a mountain climber.
“You haven’t won anything, Apollo,” he growled. “You have no idea what’s being prepared for your friends in the east and the west! They will die. All of them!”
Leo Valdez sighed. “All right, guys. This has been fun, but I’m gonna melt his face now, ’kay?”
“Wait,” said Lityerses.
The swordsman advanced on his former master. “Commodus, go while you still can.”
“I made you, boy,” said the emperor. “I saved you from obscurity. I was a second father to you. I gave you purpose!”
“A second father even worse than the first,” Lit said. “And I’ve found a new purpose.”
Commodus charged, swinging his sword wildly.
Lit parried. He stepped toward Josephine’s workshop. “Over here, New Hercules.”
Commodus took the bait, rushing toward Lit’s voice.
Lit ducked. He blade-slapped the emperor’s butt. “Wrong way, sire.”
The emperor stumbled into Josephine’s welding station, then backed into a circular saw, which, fortunately for him, was not running at the time.
Lityerses positioned himself at the base of the giant rose window. I realized his plan as he yelled, “Over here, Commode!”
The emperor howled and charged. Lit stepped out of the way. Commodus barreled straight toward the window. He might have been able to stop himself, but at the last second, Calypso flicked her hands. A gust of wind carried Commodus forward. The New Hercules, the god-emperor of Rome, shattered the glass at the six o’clock mark and tumbled into the void.
Shakespeare, don’t bring that
Up in my face, yo
WE GATHERED at the window and peered down. The emperor was nowhere to be seen. Some of our friends stood in the roundabout below, gazing up at us with confused expressions.
“A little warning, perhaps?” Jimmy called.
He had run out of enemies to electrocute. He and Hunter Kowalski now stood unscathed in the middle of a mosaic of fallen glass shards.
“Where’s Commodus?” I asked.
Hunter shrugged. “We didn’t see him.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded. “He literally just flew out this window.”
“No,” Leo corrected. “He Lityerses-ly flew out the window. Am I right? Those were some sweet moves, man.”
Lit nodded. “Thanks.”
The two bumped fists as if they hadn’t spent the last few days talking about how much they wanted to kill each other. They would have made fine Olympian gods.
“Well,” Thalia said. Her new gray highlights from my solar blast looked quite fetching. “I guess we should do a sweep of the neighborhood. If Commodus is still out there…” She gazed down South Illinois Street. “Wait, is that Meg?”
Rounding the corner were three karpoi, holding Meg McCaffrey aloft as if she were bodysurfing (or peach-surfing). I almost jumped out the window to get to her. Then I remembered I could not fly.
“The Throne of Memory,” I told Emmie. “We need it now!”
We met the karpoi in the building’s front foyer. One of the Peacheses had retrieved the Arrow of Dodona from under the Mercedes’s driver’s seat and now carried it in his teeth like a pirate’s accessory. He offered it to me. I wasn’t sure whether to thank him or curse him, but I slipped the arrow back into my quiver for safekeeping.
Josephine and Leo rushed in from a side room, carrying between them my old backpack—the Throne of Memory. They placed it in the center of a still-smoldering Persian rug.
The peach babies carefully lowered Meg into the seat.
“Calypso,” I said. “Notepad?”
“Got it!” She brandished her small legal tablet and pencil. I decided she would make an excellent high school student after all. She actually came to class prepared!
I knelt next to Meg. Her skin was too blue, her breath too ragged. I placed my hands on the sides of her face and checked her eyes. Her pupils were pinpoints. Her consciousness seemed to be withdrawing, getting smaller and smaller.
“Stay with me, Meg,” I pleaded. “You’re among friends now. You’re in the Throne of Mnemosyne. Speak your prophecy!”
Meg lurched upright. Her hands gripped the sides of the chair as if a strong electric current had taken hold of her.
We all backed away, forming a rough circle around her as dark smoke spewed from her mouth and encircled her legs.
When she spoke, it was thankfully not in Trophonius’s voice—just a deep neutral monotone worthy of Delphi itself:
The words that memory wrought are set to fire,
Ere new moon rises o’er the Devil’s Mount.
The changeling lord shall face a challenge dire,
Till bodies fill the Tiber beyond count.
“Oh, no,” I muttered. “No, no, no.”