Rachel pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes and gritted her teeth.
At first, when she’d started to lose patience, she’d told herself, Ella’s not getting anything out of this. She's doing it as a favor to you--well, to Percy and Hazel and Frank. She doesn't owe you anything.
When that had worn thin, she'd tried: She's not human. You can't expect her to act like a human would.
By now, her internal mantra had been shortened to: Don't get mad at a harpy. Don't get mad at a harpy.
“Listen,” said Rachel, carefully not looking at the top of the tall bookcase where Ella was perched; sometimes she was more inclined to talk if she thought you couldn’t see her. “Once the Earth returns to sleep--that’s now. This could be important. Could you just please tell me the rest? Or if there isn’t any more, we’ll work with that, too, just tell me.”
Silence. Rachel opened up her laptop bag and shook it, trying to waft the smells upwards. Really, she shouldn’t have been bringing food into the library, but this was an emergency. “I’ve got beef jerky. And turkey jerky. Alligator jerky?”
The silence, if possible, only grew a little more disdainful. Rachel leaned her head back over the edge of her chair. One last try. Sometimes quoting something with the right words or phrases in it could get Ella to give an answering quote, though not always the one you were looking for. Rachel started to sing, softly:
“Go to sleep you little baby
Go to sleep you little baby
Your momma's gone away
And your daddy’s gonna stay
Didn't leave nobody but--”
From the top of the bookcase, Ella started to speak, and Rachel shut up quickly and started typing. She didn’t want to miss any of it.
“The dead still haunt the hidden path
That Hermes’ daughter walked at need
But once the Earth returns to sleep
What once was bound will soon be freed.
The kin who perished long before
Will answer when the master calls
And leave nothing but bitter grief.
The dead will rise, and Delphi falls.”
“Well, shit,” said Rachel, reading what she’d just transcribed. “Are you sure there’s no more?”
“I Don’t Get No Respect. Rodney Dangerfield, 1973,” said Ella, showering Rachel with red feathers as she flew out the window.
“Sorry, Ella! You’re the best, really, I just--” Rachel called after her, but she was already gone.
From somewhere in the stacks, a librarian said, “No shouting in the library.”
“Ugh.” Rachel planted her elbows on either side of her laptop’s keyboard and buried her head in her hands briefly. Then she looked up at her screen again. Aside from the sense that bad things were probably going to be happening real soon, she couldn’t make heads or tails of it. And the person she knew who was the best at figuring things out was in New York, three time zones away. Rachel hesitated for another minute, then called Annabeth up on Skype.
An Iris-Message would have been safer, but those hadn’t been working reliably since the end of the Titan War. Just like a lot of other things.
“Hey,” said Annabeth’s voice from the speakers. Her face lagged a little behind, jerky and pixelated. “Sorry about the shitty video quality.”
“Oh my gods, are you still using Sally’s old laptop?” said Rachel. “I’ll get you a new one. It’s no big deal.”
“This one’s fine. It’s better, really, because monsters can’t track the wireless signal on old machines as well--”
“Pretty sure you just pulled that ‘fact’ out of your ass,” said Rachel. “But I don’t have time to argue with you right now. I think Ella just predicted the zombie apocalypse.” It was odd, reading out her transcription, when prophecy used to burn itself on the end of her tongue. When she got to the part about Delphi falling, she couldn’t suppress a shiver.
But Annabeth was all business. “The hidden path--that one’s easy. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t get it, but I guess--you know Harriet Tubman, and the Underground Railroad?”
“Sure. We went on a field trip in sixth grade to one of the farmhouses they used to use. I had one of my weird shit episodes; there was this glowing--” Rachel clapped her hands over her mouth. “Gods. The Labyrinth.”
“Right. According to Chiron, Harriet Tubman was a daughter of Hermes, and she used to take escaped slaves through the Labyrinth sometimes, to hide from the mortal government. And there was something else--give me a second--” Annabeth’s eyes stopped focusing on the camera, and Rachel could hear her fingers on the keyboard for a minute. Then she said, “Got it. Delphi Falls, New York. It’s a little hamlet way upstate near Syracuse. There were a lot of escaped slaves going that way that were never caught, a couple of famous trials of the people who helped them.”
“Okay,” said Rachel, “but wasn’t the Labyrinth tied to Daedalus’ life force? I thought it was destroyed when he died.”
“So did I,” said Annabeth. “But it turns out it wasn’t that simple. Large parts of it were destroyed, and it’s nowhere near as extensive as it was, but the Labyrinth has a life force of its own. And--actually, you’ve got the new master of the Labyrinth right there in Camp Jupiter. Hazel.”
“Right,” said Rachel, still processing. The Labyrinth frankly freaked her out, a feeling she thought she was entitled to, considering how many times she’d nearly died there. But if Delphi Falls was the name of a place, rather than a thing that was going to happen--well, she couldn’t count on it. Prophecy was full of double meanings.
“Meanwhile, I’m going to go see if I can find my local expert in freaky underworld stuff,” said Annabeth. “Talk to you in a bit.”
Annabeth signed off, and Rachel was just starting to pack up her stuff and go look for Hazel, when Hazel came in on her own, Ella fluttering behind her.
“Ella said you wanted me?” said Hazel.
Rachel gave the harpy a disgruntled look. “Now you decide to be helpful.”
“Hazel is Ella’s good friend,” said Ella, and went back to her perch on top of the shelves.
Rachel stuck her tongue out. “Love you too, bird-brain.” Then she turned back to Hazel. “It’s about this prophecy Ella just said.”
Before Rachel could explain, Annabeth called back, with Nico hovering over her shoulder. Everyone exchanged greetings, and Annabeth brought them up to speed on the situation.
“First thing,” said Hazel. “I am not anyone’s master.”
“It’s what the prophecy said,” said Annabeth. “I just meant--”
“I know what you meant. But let’s not use that word, okay? The Labyrinth and I . . . have agreed to ignore each other’s existence, for now. It’s easier. And my mother was the voodoo queen, not me. I don’t want a zombie army.”
“I don’t see what’s so bad about raising the dead,” said Nico.
“And the part about bitter grief?” said Hazel.
Nico shrugged. “Sometimes that’s necessary, too. It’s better than just forgetting everything. Look, a lot of bad stuff happened in the Labyrinth over the years. A lot of people died. And the reason I’ve stayed at Camp Half-Blood is because there are so many dead who need to be laid properly to rest, and aren’t--will you help me?”
Hazel clearly wasn’t happy about it, and she was proof against a lot of things, but a direct appeal for help from Nico wasn’t one of them. “Yeah, okay. Lemme just talk to Frank and get some official leave, and I’ll shadow-travel and meet you there.”
“Thanks.” Nico’s face lit up in a rare grin. “You too, Rachel. And Ella.”
Ella didn’t answer, but there was a pleased sound to the rustling of feathers coming from her perch.
“I’d better come along,” said Annabeth. “Round out the three for the quest, you know. Bad luck otherwise.”
“Sure,” said Nico.
“Of course,” said Hazel.
“Good luck, you guys,” said Rachel. “Try not to get killed or start the zombie apocalypse.”
“No promises,” said Annabeth.
Annabeth signed off, and Hazel went to go talk to Frank and then to New York. Rachel had a lot of experience with sending demigods off on quests and then staying behind and biting her nails, but it was never any fun. Still, there was research to do, even if she didn’t feel up to pestering Ella any more today. She forced herself to focus on her computer, going over the fragments of prophecy she’d managed to collect, trying to put them in some sort of order. Ella came down from her perch to look over Rachel’s shoulder, and Rachel passed her some alligator jerky; if the librarian passing by reshelving books noticed, she didn’t say anything.
Then Ella flew off, and, still not saying anything, came back with a book: the chronicles of Camp Jupiter from the 1930’s. Skimming through it, it seemed like the prophecy Rachel had open might have referred to some of the events back then, and she added some notes, and was able to make a guess at some of the missing words.
With Ella and Rachel working in companionable silence, Rachel only noticed that several hours had passed, and they’d assembled a stack of books almost as high as Ella, when Annabeth called back. She looked freshly showered, and there was a bandage across one cheek.
“Everything okay?” said Rachel.
“Yeah,” said Annabeth. “Turns out there was an evil sorcerer up that way about two hundred years ago, preying on the slaves who were making their way up to Canada. He died a while back, but the spirits he’d captured were still trapped, and then a whole bunch of monsters moved into his evil lair--you know. All in a day’s work. Nico and Hazel are working on getting their spirits sorted in the Underworld right now. Hazel’s pretty upset about the whole thing--she once told me that her grandmother was a slave. I don’t think she ever knew her very well, but still. She’s a lot closer to this stuff than we are.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel.
“Anyway,” said Annabeth. “I just wanted to let you know that we’re all okay, and Hazel should be heading back your way tomorrow. And also--you do pretty damned useful work even if the spirit of Delphi is silent.”
“Is that what you think I’m worried about?” The irritation in Rachel’s voice seemed to upset Ella; she’d been sitting quietly on the back of Rachel’s chair, but now she grabbed the beef jerky and flew back up to the top of the bookcase. “Look, I know I do useful work--when I teach art to kids who can’t afford art classes, I’m doing useful work. When I go to a protest, I’m doing useful work. It’s just--I know Zeus can be kind of . . . hasty,” she said, lowering her voice, as if that would help. If she got New Rome University’s library struck by lightning, she probably wasn’t going to be welcome to keep using it. “But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time Apollo tried to take over Olympus. What if he really was manipulating me, and manipulating Octavian--I mean, that guy was a little shit, but he--” Rachel rubbed her eyes, and it turned out that they weren’t only stinging because she’d been staring at her laptop screen for too long; her hand came back wet.
“Of course he was using you. Whether he was trying to take over Olympus or not. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about you, but he’s a god. You’re a person. It’s what they do. You’ve just got to decide where you stand, and what you’re willing to fight for, and hope it’s all worth it.”
“I miss him,” said Rachel. “I’m worried about him, which sounds dumb, but he’s facing the wrath of Zeus, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. And you--you fell into Tartarus for your mother. Was that worth it?”
Annabeth’s eyes went wide, and then narrow, in a jerky, pixelated way. Probably Rachel had gone too far, it was way too personal and unfair of a question. “Had to be,” Annabeth said finally. “The Athena Parthenos united the camps when they would have torn each other apart otherwise, and gave them the strength to defeat Gaea’s forces--it had to be worth it.”
That wasn’t really the answer Rachel had been looking for, but it was an answer. She glanced at the time in the lower right corner of her screen; it was after 10 PM, and the library would be closing soon. And it was three hours later in New York. “Damn, it’s late. Get some sleep, will you?”
Annabeth laughed. “Yeah, okay. Talk to you later. Miss you.”
“Miss you too,” said Rachel, closing the Skype window. She’d also missed dinner. She’d grab a sandwich or something on the way back to her room, but first--after packing up her computer, putting the books in the reshelve bin, and calling out goodnight to Ella--she stopped at the shrine to Minerva at the entrance to the library.
She set down the turkey jerky, all the spare change from her wallet, and a copy of the prophecy Ella had given her, handwritten on notebook paper, and said, “O goddess, accept my offering.” Then she took a deep breath. “Look, I don’t know if you’ve told Annabeth sorry for what she went through, or thanked her for what she did. I don’t know if you can. But Daedalus’ laptop was one of the things she treasured most, and she lost it in Tartarus, along with so much else . . . you know Annabeth has a hard time letting go of things. She won’t accept a new laptop from me. But she’d probably take one from you. Talk to Reyna’s sister Hylla; she’ll set you up.”
Rachel wiped the tears from her eyes, bowed to the little statue of the goddess set up in the shrine, then settled the strap of her laptop bag on her shoulder and went off in quest of a sandwich.