“You know, my lord,” Aelia said, “Daedalus thought you would come. He thought the riddle might be a trap, but he couldn’t resist solving it.”
Minos frowned. “Daedalus spoke to you about me?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“He is a bad man, princess. My own daughter fell under his spell. Do not listen to him.”
“He is a genius,” Aelia said. “And he believes a woman is just as smart as a man. He was the first to ever teach us as if we had minds of our own. Perhaps your daughter felt the same way.”
Minos tried to sit up, but Aelia’s sisters pushed him back into the water. Aelia came up behind him. She held three tiny orbs in her palm. At first I thought they were bath beads. But she threw them in the water and the beads sprouted bronze threads that began wrapping around the king, tying him up at the ankles, binding his wrists to his sides, circling his neck. Even though I hated Minos, it was pretty horrible to watch. He thrashed and cried out, but the girls were much stronger. Soon he was helpless, lying in the bath with his chin just above the water. The bronze strands were still wrapping around him like a cocoon, tightening across his body.
“What do you want?” Minos demanded. “Why do you do this?”
Aelia smiled. “Daedalus has been kind to us, Your Majesty. And I do not like you threatening our father.”
“You tell Daedalus,” Minos growled. “You tell him I will hound him even after death! If there is any justice in the Underworld, my soul will haunt him for eternity!”
“Brave words, Your Majesty,” Aelia said. “I wish you luck finding your justice in the Underworld.”
And with that, the bronze threads wrapped around Minos’s face, making him a bronze mummy.
The door of the bathhouse opened. Daedalus stepped in, carrying a traveler’s bag.
He’d trimmed his hair short. His beard was pure white. He looked frail and sad, but he reached down and touched the mummy’s forehead. The threads unraveled and sank to the bottom of the tub. There was nothing inside them. It was as if King Minos had just dissolved.
“A painless death,” Daedalus mused. “More than he deserved. Thank you, my princesses.”
Aelia hugged him. “You cannot stay here, teacher. When our father finds out—”
“Yes,” Daedalus said. “I fear I have brought you trouble.”
“Oh, do not worry for us. Father will be happy enough taking that old man’s gold. And Crete is a very long way away. But he will blame you for Minos’s death. You must flee to somewhere safe.”
“Somewhere safe,” the old man repeated. “For years I have fled from kingdom to kingdom, looking for somewhere safe. I fear Minos told the truth. Death will not stop him from hounding me. There is no place under the sun that will harbor me, once word of this crime gets out.”
“Then where will you go?” Aelia said.
“A place I swore never to enter again,” Daedalus said. “My prison may be my only sanctuary.”
“I do not understand,” Aelia said.
“It’s best you did not.”
“But what of the Underworld?” one of her sisters asked. “Terrible judgment will await you! Every man must die.”
“Perhaps,” Daedalus said. Then he brought a scroll from his traveling bag—the same scroll I’d seen in my last dream, with his nephews notes. “Or perhaps not.”
He patted Aelia’s shoulder, then blessed her and her sisters. He looked down once more at the coppery threads glinting in the bottom of the bath. “Find me if you dare, king of the ghosts.”
He turned toward the mosaic wall and touched a tile. A glowing mark appeared—a Greek Δ—and the wall slid aside. The princesses gasped.
“You never told us of secret passages!” Aelia said. “You have been busy.”
“The Labyrinth has been busy,” Daedalus corrected. “Do not try to follow me, my dears, if you value your sanity.”
My dream shifted. I was underground in a stone chamber. Luke and another half-blood warrior were studying a map by flashlight.
Luke cursed. “It should’ve been the last turn.” He crumpled up the map and tossed it aside.
“Sir!” his companion protested.
“Maps are useless here,” Luke said. “Don’t worry. I’ll find it.”
“Sir, is it true that the larger the group—”
“The more likely you get lost? Yes, that’s true. Why do you think we sent out solo explorers to begin with? But don’t worry. As soon we have the thread, we can lead the vanguard through.”
“But how will we get the thread?”
Luke stood, flexing his fingers. “Oh, Quintus will come through. All we have to do is reach the arena, and it’s at the juncture. Impossible to get anywhere without passing it. That’s why we must have a truce with its master. We just have to stay alive until—”
“Sir!” a new voice came from the corridor. Another guy in Greek armor ran forward, carrying a torch. “The dracaenae found a half-blood!”
Luke scowled. “Alone? Wandering the maze?”
“Yes, sir! You’d better come quick. They’re in the next chamber. They’ve got him cornered.”
“Who is it?”
“No one I’ve ever seen before, sir.”
Luke nodded. “A blessing from Kronos. We may be able to use this half-blood. Come!”
They ran down the corridor, and I woke with a start, staring into the dark. A lone half-blood, wandering in the maze. It was a long time before I got to sleep again.
The next morning I made sure Mrs. O’Leary had enough dog biscuits. I asked Beckendorf to keep an eye on her, which he didn’t seem too happy about. Then I hiked over Half-Blood Hill and met Annabeth and Argus on the road.
Annabeth and I didn’t talk much in the van. Argus never spoke, probably because he had eyes all over his body, including—so I’d heard—at the tip of his tongue, and he didn’t like to show that off.
Annabeth looked queasy, as if she’d slept even worse than me.
“Bad dreams? I asked at last.
She shook her head. “An Iris-message from Eurytion.”
“Eurytion! Is something wrong with Nico?”
“He left the ranch last night, heading back into the maze.”
“Nico was gone before he woke up. Orthus tracked his scent as far as the cattle guard. Eurytion said he’d been hearing Nico talk to himself the last few nights. Only now he thinks Nico was talking with the ghost again, Minos.”
“He’s in danger,” I said.
“No kidding. Minos is one of the judges of the dead, but he’s got a vicious streak a mile wide. I don’t know what he wants with Nico, but—”
“That’s not what I meant,” I said. “I had this dream last night…” I told her about Luke, how he’d mentioned Quintus, and how his men had found a half-blood alone in the maze.
Annabeth’s jaw clenched. “That’s very, very bad.”
“So what do we do?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s a good thing you have a plan to guide us, huh?”
It was Saturday, and traffic was heavy going into the city. We arrived at my mom’s apartment around noon. When she answered the door, she gave me a hug only a little less overwhelming than having a hellhound jump on you.
“I told them you were all right,” my mom said, but she sounded like the weight of the sky had just been lifted off her shoulders—and believe me, I know firsthand how that feels.
She sat us down at the kitchen table and insisted on feeding us her special blue chocolate-chip cookies while we caught her up on the quest. As usual, I tried to water down the frightening parts (which was pretty much everything), but somehow that just made it sound more dangerous.
When I got to the part about Geryon and the stables, my mom pretended like she was going to strangle me. “I can’t get him to clean his room, but he’ll clean a hundred tons of horse manure out of some monster’s stables?”
Annabeth laughed. It was the first time I’d heard her laugh in a long time, and it was nice to hear.
“So,” my mom said when I was done with the story, “you wrecked Alcatraz Island, made Mount St. Helens explode, and displaced half a million people, but at least you’re safe.” That’s my mom, always looking on the bright side.
“Yep,” I agreed. “That pretty much covers it.”
“I wish Paul were here,” she said, half to herself. “He wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh, right. The school.”
So much had happened since then that I’d almost forgotten about the high school orientation at Goode—the fact I’d left the band hall in flames, and my mom’s boyfriend had last seen me jumping through a window like a fugitive.
“What did you tell him?” I asked.
My mom shook her head. “What could I say? He knows something is different about you, Percy. He’s a smart man. He believes that you’re not a bad person. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but the school is pressuring him. After all, he got you admitted there. He needs to convince them the fire wasn’t your fault. And since you ran away, that looks bad.”
Annabeth was studying me. She looked pretty sympathetic. I knew she’d been in similar situations. It’s never easy for a half-blood in the mortal world.
“I’ll talk to him,” I promised. “After we’re done with the quest. I’ll even tell him the truth if you want.”
My mom put her hand on my shoulder. “You would do that?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, he’ll think we’re crazy.”
“He already thinks that.”
“Then there’s nothing to lose.”
“Thank you, Percy. I’ll tell him you’ll be home…” She frowned. “When? What happens now?”
Annabeth broke her cookie in half. “Percy has this plan.”
Reluctantly I told my mom.
She nodded slowly. “It sounds very dangerous. But it might work.”
“You have the same abilities, don’t you?” I asked. “You can see through the Mist.”
My mom sighed. “Not so much now. When I was younger it was easier. But yes, I’ve always been able to see more than was good for me. It’s one of the things that caught your father’s attention, when we first met. Just be careful. Promise me you’ll be safe.”
“We’ll try, Ms. Jackson,” Annabeth said. “Keeping your son safe is a big job, though.” She folded her arms and glared out the kitchen window. I picked at my napkin and tried not to say anything.
My mom frowned. “What’s going on with you two? Have you been fighting?”
Neither of us said anything.
“I see,” my mom said, and I wondered if she could see through more than just the Mist. It sounded like she understood what was going on with Annabeth and me, but I sure as heck didn’t. “Well, remember,” she said, “Grover and Tyson are counting on you two.”