Chapter no 38

The Burning Maze

I sing to myself! Though Apollo is cooler Like, way, way cooler

I hated being right.

When we got to the end of the tunnel, the word DEATH blazed on the floor behind us. We found ourselves in a larger circular chamber, five new tunnels branching out before us like the fingers and thumb of a giant automaton hand.

I waited for a new clue to appear on the wall. Whatever it was, I desperately wanted the answer to be NOT REALLY. Or perhaps AND DEFEATS IT EASILY!

‘Why is nothing happening?’ Grover asked. Meg tilted her head. ‘Listen.’

Blood roared in my ears, but at last I heard what Meg was talking about: a distant cry of pain – deep and guttural, more beast than human – along with the dull crackle of fire, as if … oh, gods. As if someone or something had been grazed by Titan heat and now lay dying a slow death.

‘Sounds like a monster,’ Grover decided. ‘Should we help it?’ ‘How?’ Meg asked.

She had a point. The noise echoed, so diffuse I couldn’t tell which corridor it came from, even if we were free to pick our path without answering riddles.

‘We’ll have to keep going,’ I decided. ‘I imagine Medea has monsters on guard down here. That must be one of them. I doubt she’s too concerned about them occasionally getting caught in the fires.’

Grover winced. ‘Doesn’t seem right, letting it suffer.’

‘Also,’ Meg added, ‘what if one of those monsters triggers a flash fire and it comes our way?’

I stared at my young master. ‘You are a fountain of dark questions today.

We have to have faith.’

‘In the Sibyl?’ she asked. ‘In those evil shoes?’

I didn’t have an answer for her. Fortunately, I was saved by the belated appearance of the next clue – three golden lines in Latin.

‘Oh, Latin!’ Grover said. ‘Hold on. I can do this.’ He squinted at the words, then sighed. ‘No. I can’t.’

‘Honestly, no Greek or Latin?’ I said. ‘What do they teach you in satyr school?’

‘Mostly, you know, important stuff. Like plants.’ ‘Thank you,’ Meg muttered.

I translated the clue for my less educated friends:

‘Now must I tell of the flight of the king. The last to reign over the Roman people Was a man unjust yet puissant in arms.’

I nodded. ‘I believe that’s a quote from Ovid.’ Neither of my comrades looked impressed.

‘So what’s the answer?’ Meg asked. ‘The last Roman emperor?’

‘No, not an emperor,’ I said. ‘In the very first days of Rome, the city was ruled by kings. The last one, the seventh, was overthrown, and Rome became a republic.’

I tried to cast my thoughts back to the Kingdom of Rome. That whole time period was a little hazy to me. We gods were still based in Greece then. Rome was something of a backwater. The last king, though … he brought back some bad memories.

Meg broke my reverie. ‘What is puissant?’ ‘It means powerful,’ I said.

‘Doesn’t sound like that. If somebody called me puissant, I would hit them.’

‘But you are, in fact, puissant in arms.’ She hit me.


‘Guys,’ Grover said. ‘What’s the name of the last Roman king?’

I thought. ‘Ta … hmm. I just had it, and now it’s gone. Ta-something.’ ‘Taco?’ Grover said helpfully.

‘Why would a Roman king be named Taco?’

‘I don’t know.’ Grover rubbed his stomach. ‘Because I’m hungry?’

Curse the satyr. Now all I could think of was tacos. Then the answer came back to me. ‘Tarquin! Or Tarquinius, in the original Latin.’

‘Well, which is it?’ Meg asked.

I studied the corridors. The tunnel on the far left, the thumb, had ten spaces, enough for Tarquinius. The tunnel in the middle had seven, enough for Tarquin.

‘It’s that one,’ I decided, pointing to the centre tunnel.

‘How can you be sure?’ Grover asked. ‘Because the arrow told us the answers would be in English?’

‘That,’ I conceded, ‘and also because these tunnels look like five fingers. It makes sense the maze would give me the middle finger.’ I raised my voice. ‘Isn’t that right? The answer is Tarquin, the middle finger? I love you, too, maze.’

We walked the path, the name TARQUIN blazing in gold behind us.

The corridor opened into a square chamber, the largest space we’d seen yet.

The walls and floor were tiled in faded Roman mosaics that looked original, though I was fairly sure the Romans had never colonized any part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The air felt even warmer and drier. The floor was hot enough that I could feel it through the soles of my sandals. One positive thing about the room: it offered us only three new tunnels to choose from, rather than five.

Grover sniffed the air. ‘I don’t like this room. I smell something … monstery.’

Meg gripped her scimitars. ‘From which direction?’ ‘Uh … all of them?’

‘Oh, look,’ I said, trying to sound cheerful, ‘another clue.’

We approached the nearest mosaic wall, where two golden lines of English glowed across the tiles:

Leaves, body-leaves, growing up above me, above death,

Perennial roots, tall leaves – O the winter shall not freeze you, delicate leaves

Perhaps my brain was still stuck in Latin and Greek, because those lines meant nothing to me, even in plain English.

‘I like this one,’ Meg said. ‘It’s about leaves.’ ‘Yes, lots of leaves,’ I agreed. ‘But it’s nonsense.’

Grover choked. ‘Nonsense? Don’t you recognize it?’ ‘Er, should I?’

‘You’re the god of poetry!’

I felt my face begin to burn. ‘I used to be the god of poetry, which does not mean I am a walking encyclopedia of every obscure line ever written –’

‘Obscure?’ Grover’s shrill voice echoed unnervingly down the corridors. ‘That’s Walt Whitman! From Leaves of Grass! I don’t remember exactly which poem it’s from, but –’

‘You read poetry?’ Meg asked.

Grover licked his lips. ‘You know … mostly nature poetry. Whitman, for a human, had some beautiful things to say about trees.’

‘And leaves,’ Meg noted. ‘And roots.’ ‘Exactly.’

I wanted to lecture them about how overrated Walt Whitman was. The man was always singing songs to himself instead of praising others, like me, for instance. But I decided the critique would have to wait.

‘Do you know the answer, then?’ I asked Grover. ‘Is this a fill-in-the-blanks question? Multiple choice? True-False?’

Grover studied the lines. ‘I think … yeah. There’s a word missing at the beginning. It’s supposed to read Tomb-leaves, body-leaves, et cetera.’

‘Tomb-leaves?’ Meg asked. ‘That doesn’t make sense. But neither does body-leaves. Unless he’s talking about a dryad.’

‘It’s imagery,’ I said. ‘Clearly, he is describing a place of death, overgrown by nature –’

‘Oh, now you’re an expert on Walt Whitman,’ Grover said. ‘Satyr, don’t test me. When I become a god again –’

‘Both of you, stop,’ Meg ordered. ‘Apollo, say the answer.’ ‘Fine.’ I sighed. ‘Maze, the answer is tomb.’

We took another successful trip down the middle finger … I mean, central hall. The word TOMB blazed in the four squares behind us.

At the end, we arrived in a circular room, even larger and more ornate.

Across the domed ceiling spread a silver-on-blue mosaic of zodiac signs. Six new tunnels radiated outward. In the middle of the floor stood an old fountain, unfortunately dry. (A drink would have been much appreciated. Interpreting poetry and solving puzzles is thirsty work.)

‘The rooms are getting bigger,’ Grover noted. ‘And more elaborate.’ ‘Maybe that’s good,’ I said. ‘It might mean we’re getting closer.’

Meg eyed the zodiac images. ‘You sure we didn’t take a wrong turn? The prophecy doesn’t even make sense so far. Apollo faces death Tarquin tomb.’

‘You have to assume the small words,’ I said. ‘I believe the message is Apollo faces death in Tarquin’s tomb.’ I gulped. ‘Actually, I don’t like that message. Perhaps the little words we’re missing are Apollo faces NO death; Tarquin’s tomb … something, something. Maybe the next words are grants him fabulous prizes.’

‘Uh-huh.’ Meg pointed at the rim of the central fountain, where the next clue had appeared. Three lines in English read:

Named for Apollo’s fallen love, this flower should be planted in autumn. Set the bulb in the soil with the pointy end up. Cover with soil

And water thoroughly … you are transplanting.

I stifled a sob.

First the maze forced me to read Walt Whitman. Now it taunted me with my own past. To mention my dead love, Hyacinthus, and his tragic death, to reduce him to a bit of Oracle trivia … No. This was too much.

I sat down on the rim of the fountain and cupped my face in my hands. ‘What’s wrong?’ Grover asked nervously.

Meg answered. ‘Those lines are talking about his old boyfriend. Hyacinth.’ ‘Hyacinthus,’ I corrected.

I surged to my feet, my sadness converting to anger. My friends edged away. I supposed I must have looked like a crazy man, and that’s indeed how I felt.

‘Herophile!’ I yelled into the darkness. ‘I thought we were friends!’

‘Uh, Apollo?’ Meg said. ‘I don’t think she’s taunting you on purpose. Also, the answer is about the flower, hyacinth. I’m pretty sure those lines are from the Farmer’s Almanac.’

‘I don’t care if they’re from the telephone directory!’ I bellowed. ‘Enough is enough. HYACINTH!’ I yelled into the corridors. ‘The answer is HYACINTH! Are you happy?’

Meg yelled, ‘NO!’

In retrospect, she really should have yelled Apollo, stop! Then I would’ve had no choice but to obey her command. Therefore, what happened next is Meg’s fault.

I marched down the only corridor with eight squares.

Grover and Meg ran after me, but by the time they caught me it was too late.

I looked behind, expecting to see the word HYACINTH spelled out on the floor. Instead, only six of the squares were lit up in glaring correction-pen red:


Under our feet, the tunnel floor disappeared, and we dropped into a pit of fire.

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