- The Battle of the Labyrinth
I drew Riptide and too a little comfort from the familiar weight of the sword in my hand.
Whenever I’d approached Kronos before, his evil voice had spoken in my mind. Why was he silent now? He’d been shred into a thousand pieces, cut with his own scythe. What would I find if I opened that lid? How could they make a new body for him?
I had no answers. I just knew that if he was about to rise, I had to strike him down before he got his scythe. I had to figure out a way to stop him.
I stood over the coffin. The lid was decorated even more intricately than the sides—with scenes of carnage and power. In the middle was an inscription carved in letters even older than Greek, a language of magic. I couldn’t read it, exactly, but I knew what it said: KRONOS, LORD OF TIME.
My hand touched the lid. My fingertips turned blue. Frost gathered on my sword.
Then I heard noises behind me—voices approaching. It was now or never. I pushed back the golden lid and it fell to the floor with a huge WHOOOOM!
I lifted my sword, ready to strike. But when I looked inside, I didn’t comprehend what I was seeing. Mortal legs, dressed in gray pants. A white T-shirt, hands folded over his stomach. One piece of his chest was missing—a clean black hole about the size of a bullet wound, right where his heart should’ve been. His eyes were closed. His skin was pale. Blond hair…and a scar running along the left side of his face.
The body in the coffin was Luke’s.
I should have stabbed him right then. I should’ve brought the point of Riptide down with all my strength.
But I was too stunned. I didn’t understand. As much as I hated Luke, as much as he had betrayed me, I just didn’t get why he was in the coffin, and why he looked so very, very dead.
Then the voices of the telekhines were right behind me.
“What has happened!” one of the demons screamed when he saw the lid. I stumbled away from the dais, forgetting that I was invisible, and hid behind a column as they approached.
“Careful!” the other demon warned. “Perhaps he stirs. We must present the gifts now. Immediately!”
The two telekhines shuffled forward and knelt, holding up the scythe on its wrapping cloth. “My lord,” one said. “Your symbol of power is remade.”
Silence. Nothing happened in the coffin.
“You fool,” the other telekhine muttered. “He requires the half-blood first.”
Ethan stepped back. “Whoa, what do you mean, he requires me?”
“Don’t be a coward!” the first telekhine hissed. “He does not require your death. Only your allegiance. Pledge him your service. Renounce the gods. That is all.”
“No!” I yelled. It was a stupid thing to do, but I charged into the room and took off the cap. “Ethan, don’t!”
“Trespasser!” The telekhines bared their seal teeth. “The master will deal with you soon enough. Hurry, boy!”
“Ethan,” I pleaded, “don’t listen to them. Help me destroy it.”
Ethan turned toward me, his eye patch blending in with the shadows on his face. His expression was something like pity. “I told you not to spare me, Percy. ‘An eye for an eye.’ You ever hear that saying? I learned what it means the hard way—when I discovered my godly parent. I’m the child of Nemesis, Goddess of Revenge. And this is what I was made to do.”
He turned toward the dais. “I renounce the gods! What have they ever done for me? I will see them destroyed. I will serve Kronos.”
The building rumbled. A wisp of blue light rose from the floor at Ethan Nakamura’s feet. It drifted toward the coffin and began to shimmer, like a cloud of pure energy. Then it descended on the sarcophagus.
Luke sat bolt upright. His eyes opened, and they were no longer blue. They were golden, the same color as the coffin. The hole in his chest was gone. He was complete. He leaped out of the coffin with ease, and where his feet touched the floor, the marble froze like craters of ice.
He looked at Ethan and the telekhines with htose horrible golden eyes, as if he were a newborn baby, not sure what he was seeing. Then he looked at me, and a smile of recognition crept across his mouth.
“This body has been well prepared.” His voice was like a razor blade running over my skin. It was Luke’s, but not Luke’s. underneath his voice was another, more horrible sound—an ancient, cold sound like metal scraping against rock. “Don’t you think so, Percy Jackson?”
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t answer.
Kronos threw back his head and laughed. The scar on his face rippled.
“Luke feared you,” the Titan’s voice said. “His jealously and hatred have been powerful tools. It has kept him obedient. For that I thank you.”
Ethan collapsed in terror. He covered his face with his hands. The telekhines trembled, holding up the scythe.
Finally I found my nerve. I lunged at the thing that used to be Luke, thrusting my blade straight at his chest, but his skin deflected the blow like he was made of pure steel. He looked at me with amusement. Then he flicked his hand, and I flew across the room.
I slammed against a pillar. I struggled to my feet, blinking the stars out of my eyes, but Kronos had already grasped the handle of his scythe.
“Ah…much better,” he said. “Backbiter, Luke called it. An appropriate name. now that it is re-forged completely, it shall indeed bite back.”
“What have you done to Luke?” I groaned.
Kronos raised his scythe. “He serves me with his whole being, as I require.
The difference is, he feared you, Percy Jackson. I do not.”
That’s when I ran. There wasn’t even any thought to it. No debate in my mind about—gee, should I stand up to him and try to fight again? Nope, I simply ran.
But my feet felt like lead. Time slowed down around me, like the world was turning to Jell-O. I’d had this feeling once before, and I knew it was the power of Kronos. His presence was so strong it could bend time itself.
“Run, little hero,” he laughed. “Run!”
I glanced back and saw him approaching leisurely, swinging his scythe as if he were enjoying the feel of having it in his hands again. No weapon in the world could stop him. No amount of celestial bronze.
He was ten feet away when I heard, “PERCY!”
Something flew past me, and a blue plastic hairbrush hit Kronos in the eye.
“Ow!” he yelled. For a moment it was only Luke’s voice, full of surprise and pain. My limbs were freed and I ran straight into Rachel, Nico, and
Annabeth, who were standing in the entry hall, their eyes filled with dismay.
“Luke?” Annabeth called. “What—”
I grabbed her by the shirt and hauled her after me. I ran as fast as I’ve ever run, straight out of the fortress. We were almost back to the Labyrinth entrance when I heard the loudest bellow in the world—the voice of Kronos, coming back into control. “AFTER THEM!”
“No!” Nico yelled. He clapped his hands together, and a jagged spire of rock the size of an eighteen-wheeler erupted from the ground right in front of the fortress. The tremor it caused was so powerful the front columns of the building came crashing down. I heard muffled screams from the telekhines inside. Dust billowed everywhere.
We plunged into the Labyrinth and kept running, the howl of the Titan lord shaking the entire world behind us.
THE LOST GOD SPEAKS
We ran until we were exhausted. Rachel steered us away from traps, but we had no destination in mind—only away from that dark mountain and the roar of Kronos.
We stopped in a tunnel of wet white rock, like part of a natural cave. I couldn’t hear anything behind us, but I didn’t feel any safer. I could still remember those unnatural golden eyes staring out of Luke’s face, and the feeling that my limbs were slowly turning to stone.
“I can’t go any farther,” Rachel gasped, hugging her chest.
Annabeth had been crying the entire time we’d been running. Now she collapsed and put her head between her knees. Her sobs echoed in the tunnel. Nico and I sat next to each other. He dropped his sword next to mine and took a shaky breath.
“That sucked,” he said, which I thought summed things up pretty well.
“You saved our lives,” I said.
Nico wiped the dust off his face. “Blame the girls for dragging me along. That’s the only thing they could agree on. We needed to help you or you’d mess things up.”
“Nice that they trust me so much,” I shined my flashlight across the cavern. Water dripped from the stalactites like a slow-motion rain. “Nico…you, uh, kind of gave yourself away.”
“What do you mean?”
“That wall of black stone? That was pretty impressive. If Kronos didn’t know who you were before, he does now—a child of the Underworld.”
Nico frowned. “Big deal.”
I let it drop. I figured he was just trying to hide how scared he was, and I couldn’t blame him.
Annabeth lifted her head. Her eyes were red from crying. “What…what was wrong with Luke? What did they do to him?”
I told her what I’d seen in the coffin, the way the last piece of Kronos’s spirit had entered Luke’s body when Ethan Nakamura pledged his service.
“No,” Annabeth said. “That can’t be true. He couldn’t—”
“He gave himself over to Kronos,” I said. “I’m sorry, Annabeth. But Luke is gone.”
“No!” she insisted. “You saw when Rachel hit him.”
I nodded, looking at Rachel with respect. “You hit the Lord of the Titans in the eye with a blue plastic hairbrush.”
Rachel looked embarrassed. “It was the only thing I had.”
“But you saw,” Annabeth insisted. “When it hit him, just for a second, he was dazed. He came back to his senses.”
“So maybe Kronos wasn’t completely settled in the body, or whatever,” I said. “It doesn’t mean Luke was in control.”
“You want him to be evil, is that it?” Annabeth yelled. “You didn’t know him before, Percy. I did!”
“What is it with you?” I snapped. “Why do you keep defending him?”
“Whoa, you two,” Rachel said. “Knock it off!”
Annabeth turned on her. “Stay out of it, mortal girl! If it wasn’t for you…”
Whatever she was going to say, her voice broke. She put her head down and sobbed miserably. I wanted to comfort her, but I didn’t know how. I still felt stunned, like Kronos’s time-slow effect had affected my brain. I just couldn’t comprehend what I’d seen. Kronos was alive. He was armed. And the end of the world was probably close at hand.
“We have to keep moving,” Nico said. “He’ll send monsters after us.”
Nobody was in any shape to run, but Nico was right. I hauled myself up and helped Rachel to her feet.
“You did good back there,” I told her.
She managed a weak smile. “Yeah, well. I didn’t want you to die.” She blushed. “I mean…just because, you know. You owe me too many favors.