I examined the doll. It wasn’t much, a sort of gingerbread-man silhouette of wire and rainbow fuzz, with a few beard whiskers stuck in the joints….Wait. Oh, dear. This was the same little doll that had been smashed against Commodus’s face. I supposed it must have fallen out when he charged toward the window.
“Thank you,” I said. “Georgina, if you ever need me, if you ever want to talk—”
“No, I’m good.” She turned and ran back to Josephine’s arms.
Josephine kissed the top of her head. “You did fine, baby.”
They turned and headed for the stairs. Calypso smirked at me, then followed, leaving me alone with Emmie.
For a few moments, we stood together in silence at the garden bed.
Emmie pulled her old silver Hunter’s coat around her. “Heloise and Abelard were our first friends here, when we took over the Waystation.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Her gray hair glinted like steel in the sunset. Her wrinkles looked deeper, her face more worn and weary. How much longer would she live in this mortal life…another twenty years? The blink of an eye to an immortal. Yet I could no longer feel annoyed with her for giving up my gift of divinity. Artemis obviously had understood her choice. Artemis, who shunned all sorts of romantic love, saw that Emmie and Josephine deserved to grow old together. I had to accept that, too.
“You’ve built something good here, Hemithea,” I said. “Commodus could not destroy it. You’ll restore what you’ve lost. I envy you.”
She managed a faint smile. “I never thought I’d hear those words from you, Lord Apollo.”
Lord Apollo. The title did not fit me. It felt like a hat I’d worn centuries ago…something large and impractical and top-heavy like those Elizabethan chapeaus Bill Shakespeare used to hide his bald pate.
“What of the Dark Prophecy?” Emmie asked. “Do you know what it means?”
I watched a stray griffin feather tumble across the dirt. “Some. Not all. Perhaps enough to make a plan.”
Emmie nodded. “Then we’d best gather our friends. We can talk at dinner. Besides”—she punched my arm gently—“those carrots aren’t going to peel themselves.”
Prophecies don’t mix
With Tofurky and biscuits
Just give me dessert
MAY THE FATES consign all root vegetables to the depths of Tartarus.
That is all I will say on the matter.
By dinnertime, the main hall had been mostly put back together.
Even Festus, amazingly, had been more or less reconstructed. He was now parked on the roof, enjoying a large tub of motor oil and Tabasco sauce. Leo looked pleased with his efforts, though he was still searching for a few last missing parts. He’d spent the afternoon walking around the Waystation, shouting, “If anyone sees a bronze spleen about yea big, please let me know!”
The Hunters sat in groups around the hall, as was their habit, but they had integrated the newcomers we’d freed from Commodus’s cells. Fighting side by side had created bonds of friendship.
Emmie presided at the head of the dining table. Georgina lay asleep in her lap, a stack of coloring books and markers in front of her. Thalia Grace sat at the other end, twirling her dagger on its point like a top. Josephine and Calypso were shoulder to shoulder, studying Calypso’s notes and discussing various interpretations of the prophetic lines.
I sat next to Meg. What else is new? She seemed fully recovered, thanks to Emmie’s healing. (At my suggestion, Emmie had removed her enclosure of curative snakes from the infirmary while treating Meg. I feared if McCaffrey woke up and saw serpents, she might panic and turn them into chia pets.) Her three peach-spirit attendants had gone off, for now, to the extra-dimensional plane of fruit.
My young friend’s appetite was even more voracious than usual. She shoveled in her Tofurky and dressing, her movements as furtive as if she’d gone back to being a half-feral alley child. I kept my hands well away from her.
At last, Josephine and Calypso looked up from the yellow legal pad.
“Okay.” Calypso let out a deep sigh. “We’ve interpreted some of these lines, but we need your help, Apollo. Maybe you could start by telling us what happened at the Cave of Trophonius.”
I glanced at Meg. I was afraid if I recounted our horrible adventures, she might crawl under the table with her plate and snarl at us if we tried to get her out.
She merely belched. “Don’t remember much. Go ahead.”
I explained how I had collapsed the Cave of the Oracle at Trophonius’s request. Josephine and Emmie did not look pleased, but they didn’t yell or scream, either. Josephine’s submachine gun stayed safely in its gun cabinet in the kitchen. I could only hope my father, Zeus, would react as calmly when he learned I’d destroyed the Oracle.
Emmie scanned the main hall. “Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen Agamethus since before the battle. Has anyone?”
No one reported sighting a headless orange ghost.
Emmie stroked her daughter’s hair. “I don’t mind the Oracle being destroyed, but I worry about Georgie. She’s always felt connected to that place. And Agamethus…she likes him a lot.”
I looked at the sleeping girl. I tried, for the millionth time, to see some resemblance to godly me, but it would have been easier to believe she was related to Lester Papadopoulos.
“The last thing I want,” I said, “is to cause more pain to Georgina. I think, though, the destruction of the cave was necessary. Not just for us. But for her. It may free her to move forward.”
I remembered the dark crayon drawings on the girl’s wall, made in the throes of her prophetic lunacy. I hoped, perhaps, that by sending me away with that ugly pipe cleaner man, Georgie was attempting to send away her entire experience. With a few cans of pastel paint, Josephine and Emmie could now give her a fresh canvas of bedroom walls.
Emmie and Josephine exchanged a look. They seemed to come to silent agreement.
“All right, then,” Josephine said. “About the prophecy…”
Calypso read the sonnet aloud. It sounded no more cheerful than it had before.
Thalia spun her knife. “The first stanza mentions the new moon.”
“Time limit,” Leo guessed. “Always a dang time limit.”
“But the next new moon is in only five nights,” Thalia said.
Trust a Hunter of Artemis to keep track of the phases of the moon.
No one jumped up and down in glee. No one shouted, Hooray! Another catastrophe to stop in just five days!
“Bodies filling up the Tiber.” Emmie hugged her daughter closer. “I assume the Tiber refers to the Little Tiber, the barrier of Camp Jupiter in California.”
Leo frowned. “Yeah. The changeling lord…that’s gotta be my homeboy Frank Zhang. And the Devil’s Mount, that’s Mount Diablo, right near the camp. I hate Mount Diablo. I fought Enchiladas there once.”
Josephine looked like she wanted to ask what he meant, then wisely decided not to. “So the demigods of New Rome are about to be attacked.”
I shivered, partly because of the words of the prophecy, partly because of the Tofurky gravy dribbling down Meg’s chin. “I believe the first stanza is all of a piece. It mentions the words that memory wrought. Ella the harpy is at Camp Jupiter, using her photographic memory to reconstruct the lost books of the Cumaean Sybil.”