- The Battle of the Labyrinth
He fixed his gaze on Daedalus. “There you are, my old friend.”
Daedalus’s jaw clenched. He looked at Kelli. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Luke sends his compliments,” Kelli said. “He thought you might like to see your old employer Minos.”
“This was not part of our agreement,” Daedalus said.
“No indeed,” Kelli said. “But we already have what we want from you, and we have other agreements to honor. Minos required something else from us, in order to turn over this fine young demigod.” She ran a finger under Nico’s chin. “He’ll be quite useful. And all Minos asked in return was your head, old man.”
Daedalus paled. “Treachery.”
“Get used to it,” Kelli said.
“Nico,” I said. “Are you okay?”
He nodded morosely. “I—I’m sorry, Percy. Minos told me you were in danger. He convinced me to go back into the maze.”
“You were trying to help us?”
“I was tricked,” he said. “He tricked all of us.”
I glared at Kelli. “Where’s Luke? Why isn’t he here?”
The she-demon smiled like we were sharing a private joke. “Luke is…busy. He is preparing for the assault. But don’t worry. We have more friends on the way. And in the meantime, I think I’ll have a wonderful snack!” Her hands changed into claws. Her hair burst into flame and her legs turned to their true form—one donkey leg, one bronze.
“Percy,” Rachel whispered, “the wings. Do you think—”
“Get them,” I said. “I’ll try to buy you some time.”
And with that, all Hades broke loose. Annabeth and I charged at Kelli. The giants came right at Daedalus, but Mrs. O’Leary leaped to his defense.
Nico got pushed to the ground and struggled with his chains while the spirit of Minos wailed, “Kill the inventor! Kill him!”
Rachel grabbed the wings off the wall. Nobody paid her any attention. Kelli slashed at Annabeth. I tried to get to her, but the demon was quick and deadly. She turned over tables, smashed inventions, and wouldn’t let us get close. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mrs. O’Leary chomp her fangs into a giant’s arm. He wailed in pain and flung her around, trying to shake her. Daedalus grabbed for his sword, but the second giant smashed the workbench with his fist, and the sword went flying. A clay jar of Greek fire broke on the floor and began to burn, green flames spreading quickly.
“To me!” Minos cried. “Spirits of the dead!” He raised his ghostly hands and the air began to hum.
“No!” Nico cried. He was on his feet now. He’d somehow managed to remove his shackles.
“You do not control me, young fool,” Minos sneered. “All this time, I have been controlling you! A soul for a soul, yes. But it is not your sister who will return from the dead. It is I, as soon as I slay the inventor!”
Spirits began to appear around Minos—shimmering forms that slowly multiplied, solidifying into Cretan soldiers.
“I am the son of Hades,” Nico insisted. “Be gone!”
Minos laughed. “You have no power over me. I am the lord of spirits! The ghost king!”
“No.” Nico drew his sword. “I am.”
He stabbed his black blade into the floor, and it cleaved through the stone like butter.
“Never!” Minos’s form rippled. “I will not—”
The ground rumbled. The windows cracked and shattered to pieces, letting in a blast of fresh air. A fissure opened in the stone floor of the workshop, and Minos and all his spirits were sucked into the void with a horrible wail.
The bad news: the fight was still going on all around us, and I let myself get distracted. Kelli pounced on me so fast I had no time to defend myself. My sword skittered away and I hit my head hard on a worktable as I fell. My eyesight went fuzzy. I couldn’t raise my arms.
Kelli laughed. “You will taste wonderful!”
She bared her fangs. Then suddenly her body went rigid. Her red eyes widened. She gasped, “No…school…spirit…”
And Annabeth took her knife out of the empousa’s back. With an awful screech, Kelli dissolved into yellow vapor.
Annabeth helped me up. I still felt dizzy, but we had no time to lose. Mrs. O’Leary and Daedalus were still locked in combat with the giants, and I could hear shouting in the tunnel. More monsters were coming toward the workshop.
“We have to help Daedalus!” I said.
“No time,” Rachel said. “Too many coming!”
She’d already fitted herself with wings and was working on Nico, who looked pale and sweaty from his struggle with Minos. The wings grafted instantly to his back and arms.
“Now you!” she told me.
In seconds, Nico, Annabeth, Rachel, and I had fitted ourselves with coppery wings. Already I could feel myself being lifted by the wind coming through the window. Greek fire was burning the tables and furniture, spreading up the circular stairs.
“Daedalus!” I yelled. “Come on!”
He was cut in a hundred places—but he was bleeding golden oil instead of blood. He’d found his sword and was using part of a smashed table as a shield against the giants. “I won’t leave Mrs. O’Leary!” he said. “Go!”
There was no time to argue. Even if we stayed, I wasn’t sure we could help.
“None of us know how to fly!” Nico protested.
“Great time to find out,” I said. And together, the four of us jumped out the window into open sky.
I OPEN A COFFIN
Jumping out a window five hundred feet aboveground is not usually my idea of fun. Especially when I’m wearing bronze wings and flapping my arms like a duck.
I plummeted toward the valley and the red rocks below. I was pretty sure I was going to become a grease spot in the Garden of the Gods, as Annabeth yelled from somewhere above me, “Spread your arms! Keep them extended.”
The small part of my brain that wasn’t engulfed in panic heard her, and my arms responded. As soon as I spread them out, the wings stiffened, caught the wind, and my descent slowed. I soared downward, but at a controlled angle, like a kite in a dive.
Experimentally, I flapped my arms once. I arced into the sky, the wind whistling in my ears.
“Yeah!” I yelled. The feeling was unbelievable. After getting the hang of it, I felt like the wings were part of my body. I could soar and swoop and dive anywhere I wanted to.
I turned and saw my friends—Rachel, Annabeth, and Nico—spiraling above me, glinting in the sunlight. Behind them, smoke billowed from the windows of Daedalus’s workshop.
“Land!” Annabeth yelled. “These wings won’t last forever.”
“How long?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t want to find out!” Annabeth said.
We swooped down toward the Garden of the Gods. I did a complete circle around one of the rock spires and freaked out a couple of climbers. Then the four of us soared across the valley, over a road, and landed on the terrace of the visitor center. It was late afternoon and the place looked pretty empty, but we ripped off our wings as quickly as we could. Looking at them, I could see Annabeth was right. The self-adhesive seals that bound the wings to our backs were already melting, and we were shedding bronze feathers. It seemed a shame, but we couldn’t fix them, and couldn’t leave them around for the mortals, so we stuffed the wings in trash bins outside the cafeteria.
I used the tourist binocular camera to look up at the hill where Daedalus’s workshop had been, but it had vanished. No more smoke. No broken windows. Just the side of a hill.
“The workshop moved,” Annabeth guessed. “There’s no telling where.”
“So what do we do now?” I asked. “How do we get back in the maze?”
Annabeth gazed at the summit of Pikes Peak in the distance. “Maybe we can’t. If Daedalus died…he said his life force was tied into the Labyrinth. The whole thing might’ve been destroyed. Maybe that will stop Luke’s invasion.”
I thought about Grover and Tyson, still down there somewhere. And Daedalus…even though he’d done some terrible things and put everybody I cared about at risk, it seemed like a pretty horrible way to die.
“No,” Nico said. “He isn’t dead.”
“How can you be sure?” I asked.
“I know when people die. It’s this feeling I get, like a buzzing in my ears.”
“What about Tyson and Grover, then?”
Nico shook his head. “That’s harder. They’re not humans or half-bloods. They don’t have mortal souls.”
“We have to get into town,” Annabeth decided. “Our chances will be better of finding an entrance to the Labyrinth. We have to make it back to camp before Luke and his army.”
“We could just take a plane,” Rachel said.
I shuddered. “I don’t fly.”
“But you just did.”
“That was low flying,” I said, “and even that’s risky. Flying up really high—that’s Zeus’s territory. I can’t do it. Besides, we don’t even have time for a flight. The labyrinth is the quickest way back.”
I didn’t want to say it, but I was also hoping that maybe, just maybe, we would find Grover and Tyson along the way.
“So we need a car to take us into the city,” Annabeth said.
Rachel looked down into the parking lot. She grimaced, as if she were about to do something she regretted. “I’ll take care of it.”
“How?” Annabeth asked.
“Just trust me.”
Annabeth looked uneasy, but she nodded. “Okay, I’m going to buy a prism in the gift shop, try to make a rainbow, and send an Iris-message to camp.”
“I’ll go with you,” Nico said. “I’m hungry.”
“I’ll stick with Rachel, then,” I said. “Meet you guys in the parking lot.”
Rachel frowned like she didn’t want me with her. That made me feel kind of bad, but I followed her down to the parking lot anyway.
She headed toward a big black car parked at the edge of the lot. It was a chauffeured Lexus, like the kind I always saw driving around Manhattan. The driver was out front, reading a newspaper. He wore a dark suit and tie.
“What are you going to do?” I asked Rachel.
“Just wait here,” she said miserably. “Please.”
Rachel marched straight up to the driver and talked to him. He frowned. Rachel said something else. He turned pale and hastily folded up his magazine. He nodded and fumbled for his cell phone. After a brief call, he opened the back door of the car for Rachel to get in. She pointed back in my direction, and the driver bobbed his head some more, like Yes, ma’am. Whatever you want.
I couldn’t figure out why he was acting so flustered.
Rachel came back to get me just as Nico and Annabeth appeared from the gift shop.
“I talked to Chiron,” Annabeth said. “They’re doing their best to prepare for battle, but he still wants us back. They’re going to need every hero they can get. Did we find a ride?”