I—I don’t know. Has there been anyone you’ve been able to be . . . freer with?

The doorbell rang, followed by three impatient knocks. While Mamaw and the other two women straightened in their chairs, Carson hurried to the front hall. She opened the door and Blake rushed in, swooping up Carson in his arms. He swung her around a few times, grinning like a fool. Mamaw, Harper, and Dora set down their cards, the game forgotten.

It was all I could do to avoid pitching forward into the geyser. Meg needed me more than ever. But I would have to do this right. I would have to be careful—even more careful than when I gave the fiery horses of the sun their yearly vaccinations.Pete, I said, do you still oversee sacred oaths?

Uh, the thing is, you’ve got this aura around you like you just broke a sacred oath, maybe one you swore on the River Styx? And if you break another oath with me—I swear that I will save Meg McCaffrey. I will use every means at my disposal to bring her safely from the ants’ lair, and this oath supersedes any previous oath I have made. This I swear upon your sacred and extremely hot waters!Pete winced. Well, okay. It’s done now. But keep in mind that if you don’t keep that oath, if Meg dies, even if it’s not your fault…you’ll face the consequences.

I am already cursed for breaking my earlier oath! What does it matter?Yeah, but see, those River Styx oaths can take years to destroy you. They’re like cancer. My oaths… Pete shrugged. If you break it, there’s nothing I can do to stop your punishment. Wherever you are, a geyser will instantly blast through the ground at your feet and boil you alive.

Ah… I tried to stop my knees from knocking. Yes, of course I knew that. I stand by my oath.

You’ve got no choice now.I just have to grab a few things, he told her, clearly preoccupied. Make yourself at home.

Carson was intrigued at this peek into Blake’s life. His shared office was far from glamorous, but she could tell from the photos of dolphins posted on the walls, the awards he’d won, the maps of the Charleston-area rivers with red pushpins marking coordinates, that he was committed to his research. When she spotted a hoard of photography equipment, however, she zeroed in. It was an impressive, quality array of cameras.Pretty top-notch equipment. Who’s the photographer? she asked him.

Blake was searching through files. I guess I am, he replied. We’re collaborating on the research project.What are you studying? she asked.