- The Battle of the Labyrinth
“So many,” Grover said.
“Yes, well, Apollo is too busy to see them,” Geryon explained, “so he subcontracts to us. We breed them vigorously because there’s such a demand.”
“For what?” I asked.
Geryon raised an eyebrow. “Meat, of course! Armies have to eat.”
“You kill the sacred cows of the sun god for hamburger meat?” Grover said. “That’s the against ancient laws!”
“Oh, don’t get so worked up, satyr. They’re just animals.”
“Yes, and if Apollo cared, I’m sure he would tell us.”
“If he knew,” I muttered.
Nico sat forward. “I don’t care about any of this, Geryon. We had business to discuss, and this wasn’t it!”
“All in good time, Mr. di Angelo. Look over here; some of my exotic game.”
The next field was ringed in barbed wire. The whole area was crawling with giant scorpions.
“Triple G Ranch,” I said, suddenly remembering. “Your mark was on the crates at camp. Quintus got his scorpions from you.”
“Quintus…” Geryon mused. “Short gray hair, muscular, swordsman?”
“Never heard of him,” Geryon said. “Now, over here are my prize stables! You must see them.”
I didn’t need to see them, because as soon as we got within three hundred yards I started to smell them. Near the banks of a green river was a horse corral the size of a football field. Stables lined one side of it. About a hundred horses were milling around in the muck—and when I say muck, I mean horse poop. It was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen, like a poop blizzard had come through and dumped four feet of the stuff overnight. The horses were really gross from wading through it, and the stables were just as bad. It reeked like you would not believe—worse than the garbage boats on the East River.
Even Nico gagged. “What is that?”
“My stables!” Geryon said. “Well, actually they belong to Aegas, but we watch over them for a small monthly fee. Aren’t they lovely?”
“They’re disgusting!” Annabeth said.
“Lots of poop,” Tyson observed.
“How can you keep animals like that?” Grover cried.
“Y’all getting’ on my nerves,” Geryon said. “These are flesh-eating horses, see? They like these conditions.”
“Plus, you’re too cheap to have them cleaned,” Eurytion mumbled from under his hat.
“Quiet!” Geryon snapped. “All right, perhaps the stables are a bit challenging to clean. Perhaps they do make me nauseous when the wind blows the wrong way. But so what? My clients still pay me well.”
“What clients?” I demanded.
“Oh, you’d be surprised how many people will pay for a flesh-eating horse. They make great garbage disposals. Wonderful way to terrify your enemies. Great at birthday parties! We rent them out all the time.”
“You’re a monster,” Annabeth decided.
Geryon stopped the moo-mobile and turned to look at her. “What gave it away? Was it the three bodies?”
“You have to let these animals go,” Grover said. “It’s not right!”
“And the clients you keep talking about,” Annabeth said. “You work for Kronos, don’t you? You’re supplying his army with horses, food, whatever they need.”
Geryon shrugged, which was very weird since he had three sets of shoulders. It looked like he was doing the wave all by himself. “I work for anyone with gold, young lady. I’m a businessman. And I sell them anything I have to offer.”
He climbed out of the moo-mobile and strolled toward the stables as if enjoying the fresh air. It would’ve been a nice view, with the river and the trees and hills and all, except for the quagmire of horse muck.
Nico got out of the back car and stormed over to Geryon. The cowherd Eurytion wasn’t as sleepy as he looked. He hefted his club and walked after Nico.
“I came here for business, Geryon,” Nico said. “And you haven’t answered me.”
“Mmm.” Geryon examined a cactus. His left arm reached over and scratched his middle-chest. “Yes, you’ll get a deal, all right.”
“My ghost told me you could help. He said you could guide us to the soul we need.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “I thought I was the soul you wanted.”
Nico looked at me like I was crazy. “You? Why would I want you? Bianca’s soul is worth a thousand of yours! Now, can you help me, Geryon, or not?”
“Oh, I imagine I could,” the rancher said. “Your ghost friend, by the way, where is he?”
Nico looked uneasy. “He can’t form in broad daylight. It’s hard for him. But he’s around somewhere.”
Geryon smiled. “I’m sure. Minos likes to disappear when things get…difficult.”
“Minos?” I remembered the man I’d seen in my dreams, with the golden crown, the pointed beard, and the cruel eyes. “You mean that evil king? That’s the ghost who’s been giving you advice?”
“It’s none of your business, Percy!” Nico turned back to Geryon. “And what do you mean about things getting difficult?”
The three-bodied man sighed. “Well, you see, Nico—can I call you Nico?”
“You see, Nico, Luke Castellan is offering very good money for half-bloods. Especially powerful half-bloods. And I’m sure when he learns your little secret, who you really are, he’ll pay very, very well indeed.”
Nico drew his sword, but Eurytion knocked it out of his hand. Before I could get up, Orthus pounced on my chest and growled, his faces an inch away from mine.
“I would stay in the car, all of you,” Geryon warned. “Or Orthus will tear Mr. Jackson’s throat out. Now, Eurytion, if you would be so kind, secure Nico.”
The cowherd spit into the grass. “Do I have to?”
“Yes, you fool!”
Eurytion looked bored, but he wrapped one huge arm around Nico and lifted him up like a wrestler.
“Pick up the sword, too,” Geryon said with distaste. “There’s nothing I hate worse than Stygian Iron.”
Eurytion picked up the sword, careful not to touch the blade.
“Now,” Geryon said cheerfully, “we’ve had the tour. Let’s go back to the lodge, have some lunch, and send an Iris-message to our friends in the Titan army.”
“You fiend!” Annabeth cried.
Geryon smiled at her. “Don’t worry, my dear. Once I’ve delivered Mr. di Angelo, you and your party can go. I don’t interfere with quests. Besides, I’ve been paid well to give you safe passage, which does not, I’m afraid, include Mr. di Angelo.
“Paid by whom?” Annabeth said. “What do you mean?”
“Never you mind, darlin’. Let’s be off, shall we?”
“Wait!” I said, and Orthus growled. I stayed perfectly still so he wouldn’t tear my throat out. “Geryon, you said you’re a businessman. Make me a deal.”
Geryon narrowed his eyes. “What sort of deal? Do you have gold?”
“I’ve got something better. Barter.”
“But Mr. Jackson, you’ve got nothing.”
“You could have him clean the stables,” Eurytion suggested innocently.
“I’ll do it!” I said. “If I fail, you get all of us. Trade us all to Luke for gold.”
“Assuming the horses don’t eat you,” Geryon observed.
“Either way, you get my friends,” I said. “But if I succeed, you’ve got to let all of us go, including Nico.”
“No!” Nico screamed. “Don’t do me any favors, Percy. I don’t want your help!”
Geryon chuckled. “Percy Jackson, those stables haven’t been cleaned in a thousand years…though it’s true I might be able to sell more stable space if all that poop was cleared away.”
“So what have you got to lose?”
The rancher hesitated. “All right, I’ll accept your offer, but you have to get it done by sunset. If you fail, your friends get sold, and I get rich.”
He nodded. “I’m going to take your friends with me, back to the lodge.
We’ll wait for you there.”
Eurytion gave me a funny look. It might have been sympathy. He whistled, and the dog jumped off me and onto Annabeth’s lap. She yelped. I knew Tyson and grover would never try anything as long as Annabeth was hostage.
I got out of the car and locked eyes with her.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said quietly.
“I hope so, too.”
Geryon got behind the driver’s wheel. Eurytion hauled Nico into the backseat.
“Sunset,” Geryon reminded me. “No later.”
He laughed at me once more, sounded his cowbell horn, and the moo-mobile rumbled off down the trail.
I SCOOP POOP
I lost hope when I saw the horses’ teeth.
As I got closer to the fence, I held my shirt over my nose to block the smell. One stallion waded through the muck and whinnied angrily at me. He bared his teeth, which were pointed like a bear’s.
I tried to talk to him in my mind. I can do that with most horses.
Hi, I told him. I’m going to clean your stables. Won’t that be great?
Yes! The horse said. Come inside! Eat you! Tasty half-blood!
But I’m Poseidon’s son, I protested. He created horses.
Usually this gets me VIP treatment in the equestrian world, but not this time.
Yes! The horse agreed enthusiastically. Poseidon can come in, too! We will eat you both! Seafood!
Seafood! The other horses chimed in as they waded through the field. Flies were buzzing everywhere, and the heat of the day didn’t make the smell any better. I’d had some idea that I could do this challenge, because I remembered how Hercules had done it. He’d channeled a river into the stables and cleaned them out that way. I figured I could maybe control the water. But if I couldn’t get close to the horses without getting eaten, that was a problem. And the river was downhill from the stables, a lot farther away than I’d realized, almost half a mile. The problem of the poop looked a lot bigger up close. I picked up a rusted shovel and experimentally scooped some away from the fence line. Great. Only four billion shovelfuls to go.
The sun was already sinking. I had a few hours at best. I decided the river was my only hope. At least it would be easier to think at the riverside than it was here. I set off downhill.
When I got to the river, I found a girl waiting for me. She was wearing jeans and a green T-shirt and her long brown hair was braided with river grass. She had a stern look on her face. Her arms were crossed.
“Oh no you don’t,” she said.
I stared at her. “Are you a naiad?”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course!”
“But you speak English. And you’re out of the water.”