Chapter no 32

The Burning Maze

Don’t make me do it

I’m crazy, I’ll do it, I’ll –Ow, that really hurt

Oh, no, thou shalt not, buzzed a voice in my head.

My noble gesture was ruined when I realized I had, once again, drawn the Arrow of Dodona by mistake. It shook violently in my hand, no doubt making me look even more terrified than I was. Nevertheless, I held it fast.

Caligula narrowed his eyes. ‘You would never. You don’t have a self-sacrificing instinct in your body!’

‘Let them go.’ I pressed the arrow against my skin, hard enough to draw blood. ‘Or you’ll never be the sun god.’


‘Oh, Medea,’ Caligula called over his shoulder, ‘if he kills himself in this fashion, can you still do your magic?’

‘You know I can’t,’ she complained. ‘It’s a complicated ritual! We can’t have him murdering himself in some sloppy way before I’m prepared.’

‘Well, that’s mildly annoying.’ Caligula sighed. ‘Look, Apollo, you can’t expect this will have a happy ending. I am not Commodus. I’m not playing a game. Be a nice boy and let Medea kill you in the correct way. Then I’ll give these others a painless death. That’s my best offer.’

I decided Caligula would make a terrible car salesman.

Next to me, Piper shivered on the floor, her neural pathways probably overloaded by trauma. Crest had wrapped himself in his own ears. Jason continued to meditate in his cone of swirling shrapnel, though I couldn’t imagine he would achieve nirvana under those circumstances.

Meg yelled and gesticulated at me, perhaps telling me not to be a fool and put down the arrow. I took no pleasure in the fact that, for once, I couldn’t

hear her orders.

The emperor’s guards stayed where they were, gripping their spears.

Incitatus munched his oats like he was at the movies. ‘Last chance,’ Caligula said.

Somewhere behind me, at the top of the ramp, a voice called, ‘My lord!’ Caligula looked over. ‘What is it, Flange? I’m a little busy here.’

‘N-news, my lord.’ ‘Later.’

‘Sire, it’s about the northern attack.’

I felt a surge of hope. The assault on New Rome was happening tonight. I didn’t have the good hearing of a pandos, but the hysterical urgency in Flange’s tone was unmistakable. He was not bringing the emperor good news.

Caligula’s expression soured. ‘Come here, then. And don’t touch the idiot with the arrow.’

The pandos Flange shuffled past me and whispered something in the emperor’s ear. Caligula may have considered himself a consummate actor, but he didn’t do a good job of hiding his disgust.

‘How disappointing.’ He tossed Meg’s golden rings aside like they were worthless pebbles. ‘Your sword, please, Flange.’

‘I –’ Flange fumbled for his khanda. ‘Y-yes, lord.’

Caligula examined the blunt serrated blade, then returned it to its owner with vicious force, plunging it into the poor pandos’s gut. Flange howled as he crumbled to dust.

Caligula faced me. ‘Now, where were we?’

‘Your northern attack,’ I said. ‘Didn’t go so well?’

It was foolish of me to goad him, but I couldn’t help it. At that moment, I wasn’t any more rational than Meg McCaffrey – I just wanted to hurt Caligula, to smash everything he owned to dust.

He waved aside my question. ‘Some jobs I have to do myself. That’s fine.

You’d think a Roman demigod camp would obey orders from a Roman

emperor, but alas.’

‘The Twelfth Legion has a long history of supporting good emperors,’ I said. ‘And of deposing bad ones.’

Caligula’s left eye twitched. ‘Oh, Boost, where are you?’

On the port side, one of the horse-groomer pandai dropped his brush in alarm. ‘Yes, lord?’

‘Take your men,’ Caligula said. ‘Spread the word. We break formation immediately and sail north. We have unfinished business in the Bay Area.’

‘But, sire …’ Boost looked at me, as if deciding whether I was enough of a threat to warrant leaving the emperor without his remaining guards. ‘Yes, sire.’

The rest of the pandai shuffled off, leaving Incitatus without anyone to hold his golden oat bucket.

‘Hey, C,’ said the stallion. ‘Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse? Before we head off to war, you’ve got to finish your business with Lester.’ ‘Oh, I will,’ Caligula promised. ‘Now, Lester, we both know you’re not

going to –’

He lunged with blinding speed, making a grab for the arrow. I’d been anticipating that. Before he could stop me, I cleverly plunged the arrow into my chest. Ha! That would teach Caligula to underestimate me!

Dear reader, it takes a great deal of willpower to intentionally harm yourself. And not the good kind of willpower – the stupid, reckless kind you should never try to summon, even in an effort to save your friends.

As I stabbed myself, I was shocked by the sheer amount of pain I experienced. Why did killing yourself have to hurt so much?

My bone marrow turned to lava. My lungs filled with hot wet sand. Blood soaked my shirt and I fell to my knees, gasping and dizzy. The world spun around me as if the entire throne room had become a giant ventus prison.

VILLAINY! The Arrow of Dodona’s voice buzzed in my mind (and now also in my chest). THOU DIDST NOT JUST IMPALE ME HEREIN! O, VILE, MONSTROUS FLESH!

A distant part of my brain thought it was unfair for him to complain, since I was the one dying, but I couldn’t have spoken even if I’d wanted to.

Caligula rushed forward. He grabbed the shaft of the arrow, but Medea yelled, ‘Stop!’

She ran across the throne room and knelt at my side.

‘Pulling out the arrow could make matters worse!’ she hissed.

‘He stabbed himself in the chest,’ Caligula said. ‘How can it be worse?’ ‘Fool,’ she muttered. I wasn’t sure whether the comment was directed at me

or Caligula. ‘I don’t want him to bleed out.’ She removed a black silk bag from her belt, pulled out a stoppered glass vial and shoved the bag at Caligula. ‘Hold this.’

She uncorked the vial and poured its contents over the entry wound.

COLD! complained the Arrow of Dodona. COLD! COLD!

Personally, I didn’t feel a thing. The searing pain had become a dull, throbbing ache throughout my whole body. I was pretty sure that was a bad sign.

Incitatus trotted over. ‘Whoa, he really did it. That’s a horse of a different colour.’

Medea examined the wound. She cursed in ancient Colchian, calling into question my mother’s past romantic relationships.

‘This idiot can’t even kill himself right,’ grumbled the sorceress. ‘It appears that, somehow, he missed his heart.’


I made a mental note to either thank or break the Arrow of Dodona later, whichever made the most sense at the time.

Medea snapped her fingers at the emperor. ‘Hand me the red vial.’

Caligula scowled, clearly not used to playing surgical nurse. ‘I never rummage through a woman’s purse. Especially a sorceress’s.’

I thought this was the surest sign yet that he was perfectly sane. ‘If you want to be the sun god,’ Medea snarled, ‘do it!’ Caligula found the red vial.

Medea coated her right hand with the gooey contents. With her left, she grabbed the Arrow of Dodona and yanked it from my chest.

I screamed. My vision went dark. My left pectorals felt like they were being excavated with a drill bit. When I regained my sight, I found the arrow wound plugged with a thick red substance like the wax of a letter seal. The pain was horrible, unbearable, but I could breathe again.

If I hadn’t been so miserable, I might have smiled in triumph. I had been counting on Medea’s healing powers. She was almost as skilled as my son Asclepius, though her bedside manner was not as good, and her cures tended to involve dark magic, vile ingredients and the tears of small children.

I had not, of course, expected Caligula to let my friends go. But I had hoped, with Medea distracted, she might lose control of her venti. And so she did.

That moment is fixed in my mind: Incitatus peering down at me, his muzzle flecked with oats; the sorceress Medea examining my wound, her hands sticky with blood and magic paste; Caligula standing over me, his splendid white trousers and shoes freckled with my blood; and Piper and Crest on the floor nearby, their presence momentarily forgotten by our captors. Even Meg seemed frozen within her churning prison, horrified by what I had done.

That was the last moment before everything went wrong, before our great tragedy unspooled – when Jason Grace thrust out his arms, and the cages of wind exploded.

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