- The Battle of the Labyrinth
I lost track of how many turns we made. We didn’t stop to rest until we came to a room the size of a gymnasium with old marble columns holding up the roof. I stood at the doorway, listening for sounds of pursuit, but I heard nothing. Apparently we’d lost Luke and his minions in the maze.
Then I realized something else: Mrs. O’Leary was gone. I didn’t know when she’d disappeared. I didn’t know of she’d gotten lost or been overrun by monsters or what. My heart turned to lead. She’d saved our lives, and I hadn’t even waited to make sure she was following us.
Ethan collapsed on the floor. “You people are crazy.” He pulled off his helmet. His face gleamed with sweat.
Annabeth gasped. “I remember you! You were one of the undetermined kids in the Hermes cabin, years ago.”
He glared at her. “Yeah, and you’re Annabeth. I remember.”
“What—what happened to your eye?”
Ethan looked away, and I got the feeling that was one subject he would not discuss.
“You must be the half-blood from my dream,” I said. “The one Luke’s people cornered. It wasn’t Nico after all.”
“Never mind,” Annabeth said quickly. “Why were you trying to join up with the wrong side?”
Ethan sneered. “There’s no right side. The gods never cared about us. Why shouldn’t I—”
“Sign up with an army that makes you fight to the death for entertainment?” Annabeth said. “Gee, I wonder.”
Ethan struggled to his feet. “I’m not going to argue with you. Thanks for the help, but I’m out of here.”
“We’re going after Daedalus,” I said. “Come with us. Once we get through, you’d be welcome back at camp.”
“You really are crazy if you think Daedalus will help you.”
“He has to,” Annabeth said. “We’ll make him listen.”
Ethan snorted. “Yeah, well. Good luck with that.”
I grabbed his arm. “You’re just going to head off alone into the maze? That’s suicide.”
He looked at me with barely controlled anger. His eye patch was frayed around the edges and the black cloth was faded, like he’d been wearing it a long, long time. “You shouldn’t have spared me, Jackson. Mercy has no place in this war.”
Then he ran off into the darkness, back the way we’d come.
Annabeth, Rachel, and I were so exhausted we made camp right there in the huge room. I found some scrap wood and we started a fire. Shadows danced off the columns rising around us like trees.
“Something was wrong with Luke,” Annabeth muttered, poking at the fire with her knife. “Did you notice the way he was acting?”
“He looked pretty pleased to me,” I said. “Like he’d spent a nice day torturing heroes.”
“That’s not true! There was something wrong with him. He looked…nervous. He told his monsters to spare me. He wanted to tell me something.”
“Probably, ‘Hi, Annabeth! Sit here with me and watch while I tear your friends apart. It’ll be fun!’”
“You’re impossible,” Annabeth grumbled. She sheathed her dagger and looked at Rachel. “So which way now, Sacagawea?”
Rachel didn’t respond right away. She’d become quieter since the arena. Now, whenever Annabeth made a sarcastic comment, Rachel hardly bothered to answer. She’d burned the tip of a stick in the fire and was using it to draw ash figures on the floor, images of the monsters we’d seen. With a few strokes, she caught the likeness of a dracaena perfectly.
“We’ll follow the path,” she said. “The brightness on the floor.”
“The brightness that led us straight into a trap?” Annabeth asked.
“Lay off her, Annabeth,” I said. “She’s doing the best she can.”
Annabeth stood. “The fire’s getting low. I’ll go look for some more scraps while you guys talk strategy.” And she marched off into the shadows.
Rachel drew another figure with her stick—an ashy Antaeus dangling from his chains.
“Annabeth’s usually not like this,” I told her. “I don’t know what her problem is.”
Rachel raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure you don’t know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Boys,” she muttered. “Totally blind.”
“Hey, don’t you get on my case, too! Look, I’m sorry I got you involved in this.”
“No, you were right,” she said. “I can see the path. I can’t explain it, but it’s really clear.” She pointed toward the other end of the room, into the darkness. “The workshop is that way. The heart of the maze. We’re very close now. I don’t know why the path led through that arena. I—I’m sorry about that. I thought you were going to die.”
She sounded like she was close to crying.
“Hey, I’m usually about to die,” I promised. “Don’t feel bad.”
She studied my face. “So you do this every summer? Fight monsters? Save the world? Don’t you ever get to do just, you know, normal stuff?”
I’d never really thought about it like that. The last time I’d had something like a normal life had been…well, never. “Half-bloods get used to it, I guess. Or maybe not used to it, but…” I shifted uncomfortably. “What about you? What do you do normally?”
Rachel shrugged. “I paint. I read a lot.”
Okay, I thought. So far we are scoring a zero on the similarities chart. “What about your family?”
I could sense her mental shields going up, like this was not a safe subject. “Oh…they’re just, you know, family.”
“You said they wouldn’t notice if you were gone.”
She set down her drawing stick. “Wow, I’m really tired. I may sleep for a while, okay?”
“Oh, sure. Sorry if…”
But Rachel was already curling up, using her backpack as a pillow. She closed her eyes and lay very still, but I got the feeling she wasn’t really asleep.
A few minutes later, Annabeth came back. She tossed some more sticks on the fire. She looked at Rachel, then at me.
“I’ll take first watch,” she said. “You should sleep, too.”
“You don’t have to act like that.”
“Like…never mind.” I lay down, feeling miserable. I was so tired I fell asleep as soon as my eyes closed.
In my dreams I heard laughter. Cold, harsh laughter, like knives being sharpened.
I was standing at the edge of a pit in the depths of Tartarus. Below me the darkness seethed like inky soup.
“So close to your own destruction, little hero,” the voice of Kronos chided. “And still you are blind.”
The voice was different than it had been before. It seemed almost physical now, as if it were speaking from a real body instead of…whatever he’d been in his chopped-up condition.
“I have much to thank you for,” Kronos said. “You have assured my rise.”
The shadows in the cavern became deeper and heavier. I tried to back away from the edge of the pit, but it was like swimming through oil. Time slowed down. My breathing almost stopped.
“A favor,” Kronos said. “The Titan lord always pays his debts. Perhaps a glimpse of the friends you abandoned…”
The darkness rippled around me, and I was in a different cave.
“Hurry!” Tyson said. He came barreling into the room. Grover stumbled along behind him. There was a rumbling in the corridor they’d come from, and the head of an enormous snake burst into the cave. I mean, this thing was so big its body barely fit through the tunnel. Its scales were coppery. Its head was diamond-shaped like a rattler, and its yellow eyes glowed with hatred. When it opened its mouth, its fangs were as tall as Tyson.
It lashed at Grover, but Grover scampered out of the way. The snake got a mouthful of dirt. Tyson picked up a boulder and threw it at the monster, smacking it between the eyes, but the snake just recoiled and hissed.
“It’s going to eat you!” Grover yelled at Tyson.
“How do you know?”
“It just told me! Run!”
Tyson darted to one side, but the snake used its head like a club and knocked him off his feet.
“No!” Grover yelled. But before Tyson could regain his balance, the snake wrapped around him and started to squeeze.
Tyson strained, pushing with all his immense strength, but the snake squeezed tighter. Grover frantically hit the snake with his reed pipes, but he might as well have been banging on a stone wall.
The whole room shook as the snake flexed its muscles, shuddering to overcome Tyson’s strength.
Grover began to play with pipes, and stalactites rained down from the ceiling. The whole cave seemed about to collapse…
I woke with Annabeth shaking my shoulder. “Percy, wake up!”
“Tyson—Tyson’s in trouble!” I said. “We have to help him!”
“First things first,” she said. “Earthquake!”
Sure enough, the room was rumbling. “Rachel!” I yelled.
Her eyes opened instantly. She grabbed her pack, and the three of us ran. We were almost to the far tunnel when a column next to us groaned and buckled. We kept going as a hundred tons of marble crashed down behind us.
We made it to the corridor and turned just in time to see the other columns toppling. A cloud of white dust billowed over us, and we kept running.
“You know what?” Annabeth said. “I like this way after all.”
It wasn’t long before we saw light up ahead—like regular electric lighting.
“There,” Rachel said.
We followed her into a stainless steel hallway, like I imagined they’d have on a space station or something. Fluorescent lights glowed from the ceiling. The floor was a metal grate.
I was so used to being in the darkness that I had to squint. Annabeth and Rachel both looked pale in the harsh illumination.
“This way,” Rachel said, beginning to run. “We’re close!”
“This is so wrong!” Annabeth said. “The workshop should be in the oldest section of the maze. This can’t—”
She faltered, because we’d arrived at a set of metal double doors. Inscribed in the steel, at eye level, was a large blue Greek Δ.
“We’re here,” Rachel announced. “Daedalus’s workshop.”
Annabeth pressed the symbol on the doors and they hissed open.
“So much for ancient architecture,” I said.
Annabeth scowled. Together we walked inside.
The first thing that struck me was the daylight—blazing sun coming through giant windows. Not the kind of thing you expect in the heart of a dungeon. The workshop was like an artist’s studio, with thirty-foot ceilings and industrial lighting, polished stone floors, and workbenches along with windows. A spiral staircase led up to a second-story loft. Half a dozen easels displayed hand-drawn diagrams for buildings and machines that looked like Leonardo da Vinci sketches. Several laptop computers were scattered around on the tables. Glass jars of green oil—Greek fire—lined one shelf. There were inventions, too—weird metal machines I couldn’t make sense of. One was a bronze chair with a bunch of electrical wires attached to it, like some kind of torture device. In another corner stood a giant metal egg about the size of a man. There was a grandfather clock that appeared to be made entirely of glass, so you could see all the gears turning. And hanging on the wall were several sets of bronze and silver wings.