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The Tyrant's Tomb
Author: Rick Riordan

The Dark Prophecy

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.

Yet southward must the sun now trace its course,

Through mazes dark to lands of scorching death

To find the master of the swift white horse

And wrest from him the crossword speaker’s breath.

To westward palace must the Lester go;

Demeter’s daughter finds her ancient roots.

The cloven guide alone the way does know,

To walk the path in thine own enemy’s boots.

When three are known and Tiber reached alive,

’Tis only then Apollo starts to jive.

 

 

There is no food here

Meg ate all the Swedish Fish

Please get off my hearse

I BELIEVE IN RETURNING dead bodies.

It seems like a simple courtesy, doesn’t it? A warrior dies, you should do what you can to get their body back to their people for funerary rites. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. (I am over four thousand years old.) But I find it rude not to properly dispose of corpses.

Achilles during the Trojan War, for instance. Total pig. He chariot-dragged the body of the Trojan champion Hector around the walls of the city for days. Finally I convinced Zeus to pressure the big bully into returning Hector’s body to his parents so he could have a decent burial. I mean, come on. Have a little respect for the people you slaughter.

Then there was Oliver Cromwell’s corpse. I wasn’t a fan of the man, but please. First, the English bury him with honors. Then they decide they hate him, so they dig him up and “execute” his body. Then his head falls off the pike where it’s been impaled for decades and gets passed around from collector to collector for almost three centuries like a disgusting souvenir snow globe. Finally, in 1960, I whispered in the ears of some influential people, Enough, already. I am the god Apollo, and I order you to bury that thing. You’re grossing me out.

When it came to Jason Grace, my fallen friend and half brother, I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. I would personally escort his coffin to Camp Jupiter and see him off with full honors.

That turned out to be a good call. What with the ghouls attacking us and everything.


Sunset turned San Francisco Bay into a cauldron of molten copper as our private plane landed at Oakland Airport. I say our private plane; the chartered trip was actually a parting gift from our friend Piper McLean and her movie star father. (Everyone should have at least one friend with a movie star parent.)

Waiting for us beside the runway was another surprise the McLeans must have arranged: a gleaming black hearse.

Meg McCaffrey and I stretched our legs on the tarmac while the ground crew somberly removed Jason’s coffin from the Cessna’s storage bay. The polished mahogany box seemed to glow in the evening light. Its brass fixtures glinted red. I hated how beautiful it was. Death shouldn’t be beautiful.

The crew loaded it into the hearse, then transferred our luggage to the backseat. We didn’t have much: Meg’s backpack and mine, my bow and quiver and ukulele, and a couple of sketchbooks and a poster-board diorama we’d inherited from Jason.

I signed some paperwork, accepted the flight crew’s condolences, then shook hands with a nice undertaker who handed me the keys to the hearse and walked away.

I stared at the keys, then at Meg McCaffrey, who was chewing the head off a Swedish Fish. The plane had been stocked with half a dozen tins of the squishy red candy. Not anymore. Meg had single-handedly brought the Swedish Fish ecosystem to the brink of collapse.

“I’m supposed to drive?” I wondered. “Is this a rental hearse? I’m pretty sure my New York junior driver’s license doesn’t cover this.”

Meg shrugged. During our flight, she’d insisted on sprawling on the Cessna’s sofa, so her dark pageboy haircut was flattened against the side of her head. One rhinestone-studded point of her cat-eye glasses poked through her hair like a disco shark fin.

The rest of her outfit was equally disreputable: floppy red high-tops, threadbare yellow leggings, and the well-loved knee-length green frock she’d gotten from Percy Jackson’s mother. By well-loved, I mean the frock had been through so many battles, been washed and mended so many times, it looked less like a piece of clothing and more like a deflated hot-air balloon. Around Meg’s waist was the pièce de résistance: her multi-pocketed gardening belt, because children of Demeter never leave home without one.

“I don’t have a driver’s license,” she said, as if I needed a reminder that my life was presently being controlled by a twelve-year-old. “I call shotgun.”

“Calling shotgun” didn’t seem appropriate for a hearse. Nevertheless, Meg skipped to the passenger’s side and climbed in. I got behind the wheel. Soon we were out of the airport and cruising north on I-880 in our rented black grief-mobile.

Ah, the Bay Area…I’d spent some happy times here. The vast misshapen geographic bowl was jam-packed with interesting people and places. I loved the green-and-golden hills, the fog-swept coastline, the glowing lacework of bridges, and the crazy zigzag of neighborhoods shouldered up against one another like subway passengers at rush hour.

Back in the 1950s, I played with Dizzy Gillespie at Bop City in the Fillmore. During the Summer of Love, I hosted an impromptu jam session in Golden Gate Park with the Grateful Dead. (Lovely bunch of guys, but did they really need those fifteen-minute-long solos?) In the 1980s, I hung out in Oakland with Stan Burrell—otherwise known as MC Hammer—as he pioneered pop rap. I can’t claim credit for Stan’s music, but I did advise him on his fashion choices. Those gold lamé parachute pants? My idea. You’re welcome, fashionistas.

Most of the Bay Area brought back good memories. But as I drove, I couldn’t help glancing to the northwest—toward Marin County and the dark peak of Mount Tamalpais. We gods knew the place as Mount Othrys, seat of the Titans. Even though our ancient enemies had been cast down, their palace destroyed, I could still feel the evil pull of the place—like a magnet trying to extract the iron from my now-mortal blood.

I did my best to shake the feeling. We had other problems to deal with. Besides, we were going to Camp Jupiter—friendly territory on this side of the bay. I had Meg for backup. I was driving a hearse. What could possibly go wrong?

The Nimitz Freeway snaked through the East Bay flatlands, past warehouses and docklands, strip malls and rows of dilapidated bungalows. To our right rose downtown Oakland, its small cluster of high-rises facing off against its cooler neighbor San Francisco across the bay as if to proclaim, We are Oakland! We exist, too!

Meg reclined in her seat, propped her red high-tops up on the dashboard, and cracked open her window.

“I like this place,” she decided.

“We just got here,” I said. “What is it you like? The abandoned warehouses? That sign for Bo’s Chicken ’N’ Waffles?”

“Nature.”

“Concrete counts as nature?”

“There’s trees, too. Plants flowering. Moisture in the air. The eucalyptus smells good. It’s not like…”

She didn’t need to finish her sentence. Our time in Southern California had been marked by scorching temperatures, extreme drought, and raging wildfires—all thanks to the magical Burning Maze controlled by Caligula and his hate-crazed sorceress bestie, Medea. The Bay Area wasn’t experiencing any of those problems. Not at the moment, anyway.

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