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The Battle of the Labyrinth
"Make a left here," I instructed my cab driver. He pulled around the bend and I gazed up at a huge brownstone building with a white archway above the door. I stared at the plaque on the edge of the property. Goode High School. Yup, this was it.
I paid my driver and got out of the cab. Even though it was already June, I was struck by how much milder the weather was in New York compared to San Francisco, where I lived during the school year. Since May, temperatures there had been soaring, just another thing to add to my list of problems about moving there.
Now, don't get me wrong, I know most kids would kill to live in sunny Southern California. But when you're a demigod, a child of an Olympian, and you're forced to live mere miles away from the home base of the Titans, the gods' bitterest enemies, things get kind of complicated. Luckily, they had left me relatively undisturbed this year. A few monster sightings here and there, but nothing a daughter of Athena couldn't handle.
A high-pitched bell snapped me back to reality. I glanced at my watch. 12:50. I was supposed to be meeting Percy Jackson, the demigod child of Poseidon and one of my best friends, after he was done with his orientation here, but I was a little early. Orientation wasn't supposed to end for another 40 minutes.
Which is why I was shocked to see him hurtling down the front steps about 5 seconds later.
Apparently, though, he didn't see me. He barreled straight into me and almost ran into the street before I caught his shoulders.
"Hey, you're out early!" I laughed, surprised. "Watch where you're going, Seaweed Brain!"
He stopped for a moment, out of breath, and was just about to reply when a girl burst out of the school doors behind him.
"Percy, wait up!" She called.
As she sprinted down the front steps, I looked at the school behind her and noticed a trail of dusty black smoke coming out of the windows right next to the door they had just burst out of. The high-pitched bell rang again. That's when I realized it wasn't a bell. It was a fire alarm.
I looked back at Percy. "What did you do this time?" I asked, just as the girl approached us. She was tall, with short, curly red hair and a pretty face dotted with freckles. Did Percy know her? "And who is this?"
He seemed startled. "Oh-Rachel-Annabeth. Annabeth-Rachel," he stammered. "Um, she's a friend, I guess."
She greeted me quickly and turned back to Percy. "You are in so much trouble." Yeah, I could have told him that much. "And you still owe me an explanation!"
Her words were cut off by police sirens wailing on the road below us.
"Percy, we should go," I urged. The last thing I needed to cap off a long flight ride across the country was a police interrogation.
But Rachel was insistent. "Wait! I want to know more about half bloods, and monsters, and this stuff about the gods."
My mouth dropped open in shock. What did she just say? I didn't know anything about this girl, but I knew she didn't go to Camp Half-Blood. Which meant she was mortal.
If that wasn't bad enough, she whipped a permanent marker out of her bag and started writing a series of numbers on Percy's arm.
"You're going to call me, okay?" She instructed him, completely ignoring me. "You owe me that. Now get going."
As Percy protested, she said, "I'll make up a story. I'll tell them it wasn't your fault. Just go!"
And with that, she ran back into the school.
I stared at Percy for a second. Then I turned and walked away.
"Hey!" He called after me, jogging to catch up. He was hastily explaining about an incident with some school cheerleaders trying to kill him when I interrupted.
"You told a mortal girl about half-bloods?" I demanded.
"But she can see through the Mist. She saw the monsters before I did," he retorted.
The mist was a veil that shielded most mortal's eyes from seeing things like gods and monsters and stuff. But some mortals had the ability to see through it. Not that it mattered at all to me. It still didn't change the fact that Percy had completely exposed our world to some random mortal.
"So you told her the truth?" I demanded.
"She recognized me from the Hoover Dam, so—"
Now this made me stop short. "You've met her before?"
"Um, last winter. But seriously, I barely know her," he said defensively.
"She's kind of cute," I pointed out. Not that I cared.
"I—I never thought about it," Percy stammered. I scowled and continued walking.
"I'll deal with the school," he promised me, making an obvious effort to change the subject. "It'll be fine."
I pointedly looked away. We had been planning to go to the movies that afternoon, but if what Percy was saying was true, that he had been attacked by demon cheerleaders, we probably weren't too safe around here.
"I guess of our afternoon is off," I mumbled. "We should get you out of here, now that the police will be searching for you."
"You're right," he agreed. "We have to get to Camp Half-Blood. Now."
I rehearsed in my head one more time what I was going to say. I had always been good at giving speeches in school, but telling hundreds of demigods that Camp Half-Blood was no longer safe was going to be a bit tougher than my end-of-year biology speech on regenerative medicine.
The campers filed in to the sword arena and sat down, looking at me expectantly. Chiron nodded at me to begin.
I started off by explaining about the Labyrinth, an underground maze that could get you anywhere across the country. How just last night, Percy and I had discovered an entrance located right in the heart of camp.
I felt bad being the one to break the news. See, for years, Camp Half-Blood was the one safe place for demigods like us. It had magical boundaries around the outside of it, ensuring that no monster would be able to enter our camp. The boundaries were so powerful that even the Titans didn't have the power to break through. However, the entrance we found leading from Labyrinth was completely vulnerable.
"An ancient architect named Daedalus invented the Labyrinth thousands of years ago, and rumor has it that he still lives in the maze. If Luke can convince Daedalus to help him navigate it, we won't stand a chance. Once his army of monsters find the entrance, they'll completely overrun us."
There was a moment of silence as everyone took in what I said. I counted to ten in my head. It didn't sound like anyone wanted to comment. "We need to go in," I announced. "We have to find Daedalus's workshop before Luke does. If Daedalus is alive, we convince him to help us, not Luke."
Finally, Chiron spoke up. "In that case, we need a quest. Somebody must enter the Labyrinth, find the workshop of Daedalus, and prevent Luke from invading this camp."
"We all know who should lead this." Clarisse, a daughter of Ares, interrupted. "Annabeth."
There was a murmur of agreement, and I felt my cheeks turn red. I had been studying the Labyrinth for years, and I knew more about architecture than practically anyone at camp. But Clarisse had been investigating the Labyrinth with me all year. She had even been a scout for us and ventured into the maze. I would honestly rather fight a pack of hellhounds than go on a quest with her, but she had earned it as much as I had.
Reluctantly, I suggested that she accompany me.
Clarisse shook her head. "I'm not going back in there."
Some of the boys laughed. "Don't tell me you're scared, Clarisse, chicken?" one of them teased.
She stood up and yelled shakily, "You don't understand anything, punk. I'm never going in there again. Never!"
And she stormed out.
Wow. If the Labyrinth was enough to scare Clarisse, a daughter of the war god and one of the toughest kids at camp, it had to be pretty terrible. The thought didn't exactly cheer me up.
Chiron turned to me. "My dear, it is time you consult the Oracle. When you return, we will discuss what to do next."
If there was anything worse than being forced to speak in front of the entire camp, it was visiting the Oracle.
The Oracle had been sort of stored up in the Big House attic for the past 50 years. See, for centuries, the Oracle lived inside the spirit of a beautiful woman, delivering prophecies for gods and heroes. But when she gave a prophecy that ruined Hades, the god of the Underworld, he cursed her, trapping her spirit inside of this shriveled-up mummy looking thing. As you can image, no one really enjoyed visiting her.
I walked across camp to the Big House, and slowly ascended the stairs to the musty attic. As I opened the door, the first thing I saw was the table where heroes stored old trophies from their quests. Monster claws, dented shields, and worn flags were among the collection of items. I was about to turn away when something wedged under one of the broken swords caught my eye. A bright pink scarf.
I picked it up and smiled at the tag:
'Recovered by Annabeth Chase and Percy Jackson
On their quest to recover Zues's master bolt'
I vaguely remembered finding this in my bag after Percy, Grover, and I had returned from our first quest, four years ago, and bringing it up here. I laughed to myself as I remembered the adventure Percy and I encountered at Waterland. It ended up being a little trap set up by Ares-we were sent on a waterslide complete with mechanical spiders and arrow-shooting statues, and, to top it off, broadcasted live to Olympus.
Everything had been different then. None of us knew Kronos was awakening in Tartarus, there was no threat of war, no one trying to destroy the gods. And Luke. He had still been on our side.
I snapped out of my daydreaming and figured I should get on with this Oracle thing before him and his army destroyed our camp.
I walked up to the Oracle and drew in a breath of the musty attic air. She looked as if she hadn't moved for hundreds of years. It didn't seem like she was going to say anything to me, so I steeled myself and asked "Oh Oracle, will I lead the quest through the Labyrinth to Daedalus's workshop?"
A green mist began escaping from her mouth. Oh gods…it was starting….
And then she spoke.
Let me clarify. Being dead, the Oracle can't actually "speak." It was more like a hissing noise coming from inside my head. I had heard of heroes that had gone mad as she whispered prophecies predicting horrible death and destruction, but never really understood what it was like until now.
"You shall delve in the darkness of the endless maze…"
Okay, I said, fighting to stay calm. Not too cryptic. I figured this meant I would be leading the quest, and, for a second, my heart leaped.
"The dead, the traitor, and the lost one raise…."
Whatever joy I got in hearing the first line pretty much vanished. Not that I was really expecting this prophecy to be all that heart-warming. But what did this mean? The traitor, the lost one…..the dead? It couldn't be…..Kronos?
"You shall rise or fall by the ghost king's hand….the child of Athena's final stand…"
Okay, now I was starting to panic. I wasn't really expecting to meet any other children of Athena on this quest, so I assumed the prophecy was talking about me. And a final stand didn't sound good.
I thought the Oracle was done, but obviously this prophecy wasn't gloomy enough for her yet.
"Destroy with a hero's final breath…."
Final breath? Was it still talking about me? Or was someone else supposed to die too?
"And lose a love worse than death."
And at that, the green mist vanished, and the Oracle shrank back against the wall, looking as if she hadn't moved at all.
Our first few minutes in the Labyrinth went pretty well. After that, I decided we were pretty much completely lost.
Seriously, five minutes in, we came to an intersection with eight tunnels that looked absolutely identical. Nothing on any of the maps I studied had made any reference to them. So I did what any other intelligent child of Athena does when facing a tough decision. I played eenie-meenie-miney-mo.
Eventually, the ceiling began stooping lower and lower, until we were practically crawling. Grover, being a satyr, was absolutely terrified of small spaces. He started hyperventilating so loud I thought he was going to pass out.
"I can't stand it anymore," he whispered through his gasping, "Are we there yet?"
"We've been down here maybe five minutes!" I yelled at him.
Tyson was a young Cyclopes, only a few years old, but he was still so tall that even at a crawl he was banging his head. As if that wasn't enough for him to complain about, every time we heard some weird noise through the darkness he would start to whimper.
After crouching so long I was sure I was going to have a permanent hunchback, the tunnel started to get taller, thank the gods, and opened up into a huge room with mosaic tiles all over the ceiling. However, Percy was so distracted by them that he stopped watching where he was going, promptly tripped over a giant rock, and skinned both of his knees.
This was going to be a long trip.
None of us were in a particularly good mood. We had spent the past two weeks fighting psychotic monsters, three-bodied men, and horses that breathed fire. But, at last, we were getting somewhere. We were on our way to Hephaestus, the blacksmith god. He was rumored to know where Daedalus's workshop was. The hard part would be getting him to tell us.
We journeyed through winding tunnels, long corridors, and even a set of monkey bars. My legs felt like blocks of lead from weeks of walking non-stop, and I was just about to suggest we stop and rest when we emerged in a huge room. I shielded my eyes as a spotlight powerful enough to light up a football stadium blazed right at us.
Across the room, I saw the woman that was shining the spotlight on us. She had a smile on her face and she was lying on a glittery dais, but as I looked down I received a jolt. She wasn't actually a woman-she had the body of a lion. She was a Sphinx.
I saw an exit on the other side of the room, and I took off, but not before the Sphinx leaped in front of me. Bars came down on both exits of the room.
Great. Now we were trapped in a room with a bloodthirsty menace.
She opened her mouth, and I was afraid she was going to rip my head off, but as a huge grin spread across her face she shouted, "Welcome, lucky contestants! Get ready to play…ANSWER THAT RIDDLE!"
Confetti rained down on us and game show music began playing as the Sphinx said, "Fabulous prizes! Pass the test, and you get to advance! Fail, and I get to eat you! Who will be our lucky contestant?"
Of course, now it made sense! There was a legend that a monster lurked in the Labyrinth waiting to ask passing travelers a riddle. If they solved it, they could pass; if not….well, hopefully we wouldn't have to think about that. Luckily, I had done so much research on the Labyrinth that I knew the riddle she was going to ask by heart.
I grabbed Percy's arm. "I've got this," I whispered to him. "I know exactly what she's going to ask."
He thought for a moment. "Alright," he agreed. "You're the best one of us to try," and I stepped up onto the podium.
"Welcome, Annabeth Chase," the Sphinx said before I had actually told her my name. "Are you ready for your test?"
"Yes," I said, taking a calming breath. This shouldn't be too hard. "Ask your riddle."
"Twenty riddles, actually," the Sphinx countered.
"What? But in the old days-"
"Oh, we've raised our standards. To pass, you must show proficiency in all twenty. Isn't the great?"
Yeah, I bet it's just great for you, you bloodthirsty Sphinx. All my earlier confidence vanished, and I turned around and looked at my friends. Grover and Tyson looked scared out of their wits, but Percy attempted an encouraging nod.
"Okay," I replied hesitantly, "I'm ready."
The Sphinx began excitedly. "What…is the capital of Bulgaria?"
I thought I had misheard her. Seriously? The capital of Bulgaria? What kind of riddle was that?
"Sofia," I answered. "but—"
"Correct!" The Sphinx cheered. "Next question!"
Okay, now I was confused. This was completely wrong! She was supposed to be asking me riddles, not useless trivia!
"Wait a second," I stopped her, "What about 'What walks on four legs in the morning'?"
"I beg your pardon?" The Sphinx asked me, annoyed.
I explained to her about the riddle she was supposed to give to me. The one where a man walks on four legs in the morning, like a baby, two in the afternoon, like an adult, and three in the evening, like an old man with a cane. "That's the riddle you used to ask!" I complained.
"That's exactly why we changed the test! You already knew the answer!" The Sphinx exclaimed. "Okay, second question-what is the square root of 16?"
"Four," I replied, "but-"
"Correct! Which U.S. president signed the Emancipation Proclamation?"
"Abraham Lincoln, but-"
"Correct! How much force-"
I couldn't take this nonsense anymore. "Hold up!" I screamed.
The Sphinx was really starting to get annoyed with me now, but I continued. "These aren't riddles!"
"What do you mean?" the Sphinx retorted. "Of course they are! This test is specifically designed—"
"It's just a bunch of dumb, random facts," I persisted. "Riddles are supposed to make you think."
"Think?" Now the Sphinx looked confused. "How am I supposed to test whether you can think? That's ridiculous! Now, how much force is required—"
"Stop!" I yelled. "This is a stupid test."
Behind me, I heard Grover whimper. "Um…Annabeth, maybe you should just, you know, finish the test first and complain later."
I took another glance at my friends. Grover's bottom lip was quivering. Percy was looking at me, completely baffled. And Tyson, the Cyclops, the biggest and strongest one out of all of us, was crouched against the wall, a look of pure fear on his face.
I knew what I was saying was sounding utterly ridiculous to them. I mean, come on, these questions were a piece of cake! Why couldn't I just answer them and pass through? Why in the name of Zeus was I putting my life at stake over a dumb quiz?
But I was thinking of my mother, the Goddess of Wisdom. About what she would do in my place. She would never let this Sphinx boss her around, giving her these ridiculous questions trying to measure her intelligence. I knew I could never face her if I let this monster walk all over me. I made my decision.
"I'm a child of Athena," I announced, "and this is an insult to my intelligence. I won't answer these questions."
Something changed in the Sphinx's eyes. That's when I knew I was in trouble.
"Why then, my dear," she said, "If you won't pass, you fail. And since I can't allow children to be held back, you'll be EATEN!"
And then she leapt right at me.
I would've been a goner if it weren't for Tyson. He lunged at the Sphinx, intercepting her in midair just before she reached me. They hurtled into the wall, causing the whole room to shake. Tyson got up a little dizzily. His shirt had been clawed through, but otherwise he seemed unhurt.
I took out my knife and prepared to fight, but Percy stopped me.
"Turn invisible!" he shouted.
"I can fight!"
"No! The Sphinx is after you! Let us get it."
The Sphinx got up and looked right at me with her beady black eyes. As she lunged for me, I threw my invisibility cap over my head and dove out of the way.
"No fair!" she wailed. "Cheater!"
I scrambled for the exit. Percy swiped at the Sphinx with his sword, distracting her just long enough for Tyson to run to the door. He threw his weight into one of the metal bars blocking the exit, bending it just enough for us to squeeze through, and we sprinted through the tunnel.
We could the Sphinx's anguished shrieks fading behind us, but we didn't stop running for a long, long time.
I wiped the sweat off my forehead for what felt like thousandth time in the past half hour. Gods were so predictable-always in it for themselves. Hephaestus couldn't, you know, just give us the information we needed and get back to what he was doing. No, he needed us to go explore his forges and find whatever monsters were lurking up there, report back to him, and then he would tell us how to find Daedalus's workshop.
So here Percy and I were, in a tunnel under Mount St. Helens, sweating to death. We had to have walked a mile already, and hadn't found his forges yet.
I was in such a bad mood I almost suggested turning around and going back to give Hephaestus a piece of my mind when I heard a huge roaring noise up ahead. Percy and I looked at each other and sprinted up the rocky path.
The path ended at a cavern the size of a football field. The bottom was basically a pit of lava, but there were bridges spanning across the cavern, connecting hundreds of rooms built into the cave walls. A bunch of huge tools and metal-working machines were scattered around the cavern. The forges of Hephaestus.
I noticed a bunch of black shapes walking across the bridges, and realized they must have been the monsters Hephaestus wanted us to look for. But from this high up, they looked like ants.
"We'll never be able to sneak up on them," Percy said.
"I can," I said, as I slid on my invisibility cap. "Wait here."
Percy opened his mouth to protest, but I had already started my trek down the cavern.
I slowly descended to the lava pit at the bottom and got a closer look at the monsters above me. But what I saw at first didn't make sense. The creatures…they were just a bunch of big black dogs.
I jumped up onto some kind of metal-carving machine, grabbed onto the railing of the bridge above me, and swung myself over the side, landing cleanly on my feet. For a second, I wondered if Percy had noticed my agility, but then remembered I was invisible. I ducked out of the way of a metal cart wheeling by, and what I saw made my heart stop.
The creatures pushing it weren't dogs, though they looked like it at first glance. Their heads looked like they came straight from a Doberman pinscher, but they had the body of a sleek sea animal, like a seal, and feet that resembled flippers. Well, except for the massive claws.
I remembered reading about these creatures-telekhines. They had allied with the gods in the first Titan war, but later betrayed the Olympians by making weapons for the Titan army. The fact that they were using Hephaestus's forges wasn't a good sign—what if they were making weapons for Luke?
As much as I wanted to go find out, I knew it wouldn't be wise. I didn't want to blow our cover—I had done what Hephaestus had asked; now all we had to do was report back to him and we could be on our merry way. Besides, once we told him about the telekhines he would surely stop them from doing…well, whatever it was they were doing here.
I ran back up the bridge to the rock ledge where I had left Percy. We were on a tight schedule already and we had to get back to Hephaestus before….
I gasped as I made it to the top of the ledge. Percy's backpack was lying on the ground, but Percy was gone.
Leave it to a boy to go running off when I had the whole situation under control. What was the last thing I said to him? Oh, right. Wait here.
I ran across the bridges, checking in any empty rooms for a sign of him. Nothing. There had to be hundreds of bridges spanning the cave, connecting dozens and dozens of rooms. It would take me forever to search this whole place!
I was really starting to panic when I reached the platform above the lava pit and hadn't found any trace of him. Wherever he was, I hoped he hadn't been seen.
That hope vanished when I saw him sprinting, sword drawn, onto the wide open platform at the bottom of the cavern.
"Annabeth!" He screamed at the top of his lungs.
What was he doing? I ran up behind him and clamped a hand over his mouth. "Shhh!" I yelled at him, yanking him behind a metal cauldron. "Are you trying to get us killed?"
He moved his hands around in the air for a while before he found my head and took off my invisibility cap. I did my best to scowl at him, though I was secretly relieved to have found him. "Percy, what is your problem?"
Still panting from his sprint down the cavern, he starting explaining what had happened. Apparently, he came up with the brilliant idea of hiding in one of the metal carts the telekhines were pushing around. Seriously, Percy? I wanted to interrupt. Were you trying to get caught? Do you ever even attempt to formulate some kind of plan? But then he told me that a pack of them had discovered him hiding and chased after him, and I figured we didn't have much time to spare. I could chastise him for his complete idiocy (seriously, that boy was going to get himself killed if he didn't start listening to me) when we were out of this mess.
I was trying to figure out how in Hades we were supposed to get out of there when I heard the voices behind me.
"The blade is almost complete. It needs another cooling in blood to fuse the metals."
"Aye, it shall be even sharper than before."
I turned around and saw the two telekhines, larger than any of the others I had come across so far, but that wasn't what frightened me. One of them was holding a sharp, curved blade covered in some inky, lethal-looking substance. As if that wasn't bad enough, the blade was at least six feet long. I recognized it immediately. Kronos's scythe. That must be the weapon they were building in here! It was said to be the most deadly weapon ever invented; the weapon Kronos used in his first attempt to defeat the gods, but supposedly it had been destroyed eons ago. I could only think of one reason they would be making a new one…
I turned back to Percy. "We have to get out—"
I was interrupted by a doorway bursting open and dozens of young telekhines running out. They were in a complete frenzy, tripping over each other and frantically searching around the cavern. One screamed, "The son of Poseidon! Where is he!"
I froze. We had no plan. What were we going to do? They were going to find us any second…
"Put your cap back on!" Percy yelled. "Get out!"
"What?" I cried, dumbfounded. "No! I'm not leaving you!"
"Get back to Hephaestus—you have to tell him what's going on." As I interrupted, he said, "I've got a plan. I'll distract them."
"But you'll be killed!" Seriously, that's how bad his plans were.
"I'll be fine. Besides, we've got no choice."
I was seriously considering punching him—maybe that would knock some sense back into his kelp-filled brain. Everything we had been through on this quest, every battle we had fought, every monster we faced, and he was asking me to leave him to die with a herd of telekhines! What kind of person did he think I was?
But then I realized how stubborn I was being. I knew what he was doing. Our odds weren't looking too good against these monsters, but one of us had to get back to Hephaestus—tell him about the telekhines, find out how to get to Daedalus's workshop. And Percy was willing to risk his life so that it could be me. And I knew that nothing I said could change his mind.
So I kissed him.
"Be careful, Seaweed Brain," I said to him, and I slid my invisibility cap on.
As I ran up the side of the cavern, I looked back at him one last time, and what I saw made me smile.
He was still sitting against the wall, staring at the lake, looking positively dumbstruck.
The farther I got out of the tunnel, the more I began to regret leaving him. I knew there was nothing more I could do, but I still felt the guilt nagging at my chest. You left your best friend to fight those monsters alone.
Eventually I couldn't stand it anymore. I turned around, knowing going back was pointless. Slaying a herd of telekhines was next to impossible; I would only end up getting myself killed. I guess that's what Percy was thinking when he sent me back to Hephaestus.
Wait—that was it! Hephaestus! I couldn't be too far from his workshop now. If could run back fast enough and tell him what was in his forges, I could get him to save Percy!
I knew there was the possibility that he might not. Gods generally didn't think about the welfare of mortals too much. But I figured it was the best shot I had.
I ran through the tunnel, the heat pressing in on me. I felt like I was going to suffocate until, finally, I reached the edge of the mountain. I could see the mark of Daedalus that indicated the entrance to the Labyrinth at the bottom of the hill. Hephaestus's workshop was right down there.
Just hold out for a few more minutes, Percy, I thought.
I had almost reached the door when it happened.
I felt a tremor in the ground, sort of like the earthquake we had last year in San Fransisco. I froze. It only lasted a few seconds, but just as I had broken into a run again, I felt another tremor, longer and more violent than the previous.
The ground continued to shake beneath me, and in a matter of seconds it had grown powerful enough to send rocks down the mountain in an avalanche. What in Hades was going on?
The tremors turned into violent lurches, and I was thrown off my feet. I rolled down the mountain, and my head banged into a rock. For a few seconds, my vision went so foggy I couldn't even make out what was going on.
The ground started shaking so bad, I couldn't move. I attempted to push myself into a standing position, but was violently lurched back to the ground, landing on top of my right arm. I felt it twist at a painful angle, and I cried out in pain. I managed to grab hold of a tree the side of the mountain with my good arm before I could start rolling down again. I decided I would have to lay there and try to hold on until the earthquake ended.
And then the mountain erupted.
A force powerful enough to knock my teeth out shook the earth and hot, glowing red lava spewed out of the mountain and traveled down the hill, completely obliterating everything in its path. More rocks starting hurtling down the hill in an avalanche, and I was guaranteed to be hit if I didn't get out of there. If I hadn't been miraculously thrown a few feet from the door to the Labyrinth, I never would have survived.
I managed to crawl to the entrance on my hand and knees, and pressed the mark of Daedalus to open the door. I jumped in, taking one last glance back at the mess of boulders and lava heading straight for me. The door began sealing painfully slow. It was never going to close in time!
I pressed my body against the door and pushed with all my might. It slammed closed just in the nick of time.
Gasping for air, my heart racing, I sat down on the floor, staring numbly at the ceiling and trying to calm down. The pain in my right arm was excruciating, and my body was covered in scratches.
As my pulse slowed, the recollection of how just bad the eruption had been came back to me. I bit back tears as I realized there was no way anyone inside of that mountain had survived.
I woke to the sound of the conch horn signaling breakfast. My siblings in the Athena cabin got up and started getting ready. I lied in bed, trying to talk myself into actually getting up, but I couldn't really find a reason to.
13 days. That was how long Percy had been gone.
My brother Malcolm gave me a sympathetic smile. I knew what he was thinking. What everyone at camp was thinking. That I was deluding myself hoping Percy was still alive.
13 days. Where could he have been for 13 days?
"Annabeth, you should probably start getting ready if we want to get there on time," Carly, my younger sister, said softly. I could tell she didn't want to push me, but we were all going to be late if our head camper didn't get out of bed soon.
With a sigh, I pushed myself out of bed and started getting ready.
For most of breakfast, I was preoccupied with looking at the ocean. It reminded me of the Sea of Monsters, where Percy and I gone on a quest in our second year of camp. It was 3 years ago, but I still remembered going to the Land of the Sirens. I had almost walked straight into a death trap. But Percy had jumped of the boat and swam through jagged rocks and flesh-eating monsters to save me, even though I struggled and fought him, brainwashed by the Sirens' music.
And how did I repay him? By leaving him to fight his way through a pack of monsters.
It seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn't shake this horrible sense of guilt from my shoulders. It was my fault. If Percy was dead, it was all my fault. Which was why he couldn't be dead.
Just as everyone was finishing up, Chiron stepped up onto the podium at the front of the dining hall. He looked unkempt, and the bags under his eyes looked even worse than my own. I knew something must be serious, because Chiron rarely gave speeches in front of the camp unless we were at a war council. He cleared his throat, and everyone in the dining hall quieted.
"Good morning, everyone." His expression was somber, and I realized what he was about to say. I wanted to yell at him to stop, but I couldn't move.
"As you all know, Percy Jackson went missing two weeks ago." 13 days, to be exact, I thought to myself, hoping I was wrong about what was coming next.
"Since then, we've sent out demigod scouts, search parties, and have tried to contact him in multiple ways. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful. We have held out hope that he would return, but I'm afraid we cannot hope to delude ourselves about this matter any further."
Please don't say it. Please.
"After two weeks of searching, I'm afraid we have no other option but to pronounce him dead."
The words hung in the air for a while, and everyone was silent.
I felt a weird buzzing in my ears. Everything in the dining hall went out of focus. Suddenly, campers started whispering. I could hear someone crying, and thought it was Silena Beauregard, but with my vision all foggy I couldn't really tell.
"We will be holding an official funeral tomorrow at 12:00, in the sword arena." Chiron fished gravely, sitting down.
What was going on? All I could feel was this weird numbness spreading over me. My vision started clearing and the dining hall came back into focus. Everyone's expressions were grave. Even Clarisse, who tried to flatten Percy into a pancake half the times she saw him, looked distraught.
Slowly, the numbness was fading, and what Chiron said was beginning to sink in. No other option left but to pronounce him dead….
The words I had been avoiding saying to myself for the past 13 days.
Usually, as head of the Athena cabin, I led everyone to our activities throughout the day. But Malcolm could see I was pretty out of it, and he offered to lead our cabin to the funeral. I didn't really feel like talking to anyone, so just I walked alone in the back.
The arena was packed. Not only had every camper come for Percy's funeral (even Clarisse marched in reluctantly and sat with her cabin); I recognized some of Grover's satyr friends and even some nymphs and water spirits, who usually don't like having too much with us.
In the middle of the arena sat a huge fire pit. Chiron stood next to it, his face void of any expression, and motioned me to the front as everyone else took their seats. Once everyone seated, he was quiet for a moment, and then started his speech. It started something like, "Thank you for joining us here to recognize…." And for the rest I was completely zoned out, wondering what in the name of the gods I was going to say when it was my turn to speak.
What was I supposed to say? I could go on for a million years about everything Percy and I been through together, his bravery, his loyalty, his sense of humor. The countless times he had risked his life for the people he cared about. How, when things went wrong, everyone knew to look to him for leadership. How I always got this wierd feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever he smiled at me.
Thinking about it welled up tears in my eyes. I couldn't do this.
But before I knew it, Chiron was saying, "I have asked his best surviving friend to do the final honors."
Chiron bent down and picked up a blue and green flag with a trident on it.
Percy's shroud. I took it from Chiron and held it in my hands for a while before I set it on the flames. I watch the edges begin to burn, and the fire begin to work its way into the trident emblazoned into the center.
I managed to choke back my tears as I said, "He was probably the bravest friend I ever had. He…"
It was so quiet in the arena that I could hear the door open in the back of the room. I looked for the source of the noise and did a double-take. There was a figure entering through the doors of the arena. Walking down the rows of people. Coming up to the stage. It looked like….oh geez, was I having hallucinations now?
No, this was no hallucination. Other people were gasping as they noticed him, too.
It was Percy Jackson.
"He's right there!" I yelled.
Every head in the arena turned and took in the boy that had just entered. His clothes were tattered, his face was streaked with grime, and he was thin as a rail, but there was no doubt that it was Percy Jackson. There were screams and gasps, and I swear I saw one of the daughters of Aphrodite pass out. But all I could do was stand there feeling hot blood pulsing in my veins.
Now, don't get me wrong, I know I should have been happy. My best friend was back! After days of expecting the worst, Percy was alive!
But suddenly, all I could think about was how much worry, how much anguish, how much absolute turmoil his absence had put me through the last 13—wait, 14, now—days. How I could barely get myself to get out of bed with this guilt weighing down on me. How I had just cried for him at his funeral, thinking I had lost him forever.
And I was furious.
Campers were crowding around him, high-fiving him, cheering. It's Percy! I could hear them yelling. Percy Jackson! He's alive!
After everyone had started to calm down, Chiron started walking over, and everyone cleared a path for him.
"Well," he sighed, relieved, "I don't believe I've ever been happier to see a camper return."
Okay, that was the last straw. If Percy thought he could get away with all the grief he cause me, caused everyone, and then just walk in during the middle of his funeral, he was dead wrong.
Chiron was in the middle of asking Percy exactly where he was when I shoved my way through the crowd.
"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?" I screamed, my voice echoing off the roof of the arena.
Everyone fell silent, and Percy flinched as if I was going to punch him. Not that I blamed him—I was still considering it. Instead, I gave him a rib-shattering hug.
Then I noticed everyone staring at me. "I-we thought you were dead, Seaweed Brain!"
"I'm sorry," he said. "I got lost."
"LOST?" I yelled at him. The anger was back again. "For two weeks, Percy? Where in the world—"
"Annabeth," Chiron interrupted. "Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere more private, shall we? The rest of you, back to your normal activities!"
He picked up Percy and me and slung us on his back, and we departed for the Big House.
Percy told us his story. Don't ask me how, but miraculously, he had survived the volcano eruption. He told us about his fight with the telekhines, and how a fire had started, causing the mountain to erupt with him and the monsters inside of it. He had been severely burned and thrown hundreds of feet into the air, but he had survived.
Crazy enough, that was the only part I believed.
Because then he started talking about getting marooned on some island, and that's when things started to get fishy.
First off, I asked him how exactly he got to an uncharted island, and he mumbled something about getting lost.
Next, I asked him how he managed to escape, and he talked about some magical floating raft.
I didn't know where he'd been, but I was pretty sure he was lying about something.
"You've been gone for two weeks," I said after he had finished, "When I heard the explosion, I thought for sure—"
"I know," he said, "I'm sorry." He genuinely did sound sorry, but that didn't change the fact that there was something he wasn't telling me. Marooned on an island? Really?
"But I figured out how to get through the Labyrinth," he continued. "I talked to Hephaestus."
"He told you the answer?"
"Well, he sort of told me that I already knew. And I do. I understand now." And then he explained his plan to us.
He told us how mortals had been used to navigate the Labyrinth before. One of the most famous heroes from the Greek myths, Theseus, used the mortal princess Ariadne. Harriet Tubman, a daughter of Hermes, even used mortals on the Underground Railroad. But you couldn't use just any mortals. They had to have a special gift—the ability to see through the mist.
"And I know who we can ask," he said.
My jaw dropped open as I realized who he was talking about.
Rachel Elizabeth Dare.
Well, leading a quest was nice while it lasted. Before it got taken over by some annoying mortal girl.
We met Rachel outside the Marriot Marquis, a hotel in Times Square. Don't ask me why, but she was painted completely golden: her skin, clothes, even her hair, and stood frozen with a bunch of other art freaks also painted metallic colors. A couple of the people walking by tossed money by the tarp at their feet.
When Rachel saw us, she unfroze. "Hey Percy," she said, "Good timing! Let's get some coffee."
I grudgingly followed her as she led us down West 43rd Street to a coffee bar called Java Moose. We ordered our drinks and sat down at a table outside. We sipped our drinks quietly until Rachel finally seemed to notice me. "So," she said, 'It's Annabell, right?"
"Annabeth," I corrected her, rolling my eyes. "Do you always dress in gold?" I asked.
"Not usually," she said. She talked about how she was raising money for a group that did volunteer art project for elementary schools. "But I'm guessing you don't want to talk about that. You're a half-blood, too?" she asked, making absolutely no effort to lower her voice.
"Shhh!" I said, making sure no one sitting around us had heard. "Just announce it to the world, how about?"
"Okay," she said. I stared at her as she stood up and yelled:
"HEY, EVERYBODY! These two aren't human! They're half Greek god!"
My jaw hung open. What did she think she was doing? Yelling something like that out in a public place just to spite me? People were going to think we were some kind of lunatics!
That's when I realized we were in New York City. Here, you passed lunatics on the street every other minute. No one even bothered to look over.
Rachel shrugged and sat down. "They don't seem to care."
I could see Percy's lips trying to hide a smile, but he immediately ducked his head when I glared at him.
"That's not funny," I insisted. "This isn't a joke, moral girl."
"Hold it, you two," Percy intervened. "Just calm down."
"I'm calm," Rachel retorted, her voice sarcastic. "Every time I'm around you, some monster attacks us. What's to be nervous about?"
"Look, I'm sorry about the band room," Percy said, referring to when they met those cheerleaders at Goode High School that turned out to be empousa. "I hope they didn't kick you out or anything."
"Nah. They just asked me a bunch of questions about you. I played dumb."
"Was it hard?" I interrupted, still fuming about her earlier outburst.
"Okay, stop!" Percy yelled. "Rachel, we've got a problem. And we need your help."
"You need my help?" But she wasn't talking to Percy—she was glaring at me.
I still wasn't all that excited about our plan, but it was the only one we had, so I muttered sullenly, "Yeah. Maybe."
Percy explained to her that we needed a guide to lead us through the Labyrinth. She seemed dubious at first, especially when Percy explained how dangerous it would be, and I felt a shred of hope. Maybe she wouldn't agree!
She thought for a while. "Okay," she decided. "I'm in."
I sighed loudly and I stood up. If I sat on the cold floor of the maze for one second longer, I was going to explode.
Rachel looked pretty tense, too. "Should we go up and make sure he's okay?" she asked.
Until about a few minutes ago, Rachel had been leading Percy, Nico, and I back to Camp Half-Blood. At least, she was supposed to be. Her 'expert' guiding skills had ended us up at Mount Tamaulipas in California, which I figured was pretty much as far from New York as you could get. It also happened to be the home of the Titans.
And Percy just couldn't resist going to spy on them. Like all he needed was another near death experience. I gave him my invisibility cap, though, so if he was smart, he should be able to sneak in and out undetected.
I looked at my watch again. Had we really only been waiting for him for 15 minutes? It felt like a century.
"Maybe in a little bit," I decided, and sat back down.
The truth was, going up there was the last thing I wanted to be doing. It wasn't that I was afraid of the Titans, or of their army of monsters. Well, maybe a little. But Luke was probably up there, and I didn't know if I could handle seeing him again. The last line of the prophecy rang in my head: And lose a love worse than death…. the prophecy had to be talking about Luke, right? Unless it meant….
CRASH! The sound of something huge clamoring to the ground rattled the maze. I heard a deep scream echoing of the walls.
It was coming from the mountain.
Without stopping to discuss or attempting to formulate any sort of plan, Rachel, Nico, and I sprinted up to the Labyrinth exit on Mount Tamaulipas. We emerged on the top of a mountain overlooking San Francisco. It was night, but the torches placed around the mountain lit up the horrifying scene.
Percy was standing there, moving as if he was in slow motion. It looked as if time had slowed down. And there was Luke, standing directly across from him, swinging a six-foot long, deadly-looking curved blade as if he had all the time in the world. I recognized the blade immediately. It was the same one Percy and I had seen at the forges of Hephaestus-Kronos's scythe.
It took me a while before I realized what was out of place in the scene. Luke's movements seemed completely unnatural. And then he turned his head, and I looked into his eyes. In place of Luke's most outstanding feature, his bright blue eyes, were deep golden sockets. There was no way those things were human. And when he spoke, it wasn't his voice.
It was Kronos.
Luke was starting to close in on Percy, who still seemed to be frozen in time.
Rachel was the first one to regain her senses. "PERCY!" she called.
And, looking desperate, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the only thing she had with her—a blue plastic hairbrush.
She threw it straight at Luke. It flew directly at him, knocking him in one of his bright golden eyes.
"Ow!" he yelled. But it wasn't Kronos's voice this time. It was Luke's.
The spell that seemed to be freezing Percy lifted, and he sprinted towards us.
Everyone started to run, but I was still in shock. I couldn't move. "Luke?" I called. "What-"
Before I could finish, Percy had grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me along behind him. I could hear Kronos's deep voice echoing menacingly off the walls: "AFTER THEM!"
We ran back into the Labyrinth and sprinted down the rocky hills of the chamber. I could hear the footsteps of the Titan army behind us, and the battle cries of hundreds of monsters. My lungs were burning. I was moving my legs as fast as I could, but we weren't fast enough. Their army was gaining.
"No!" Nico yelled. He stopped and faced the army, and as I turned around I got my first good look at them. There were endless waves of creatures: dracaena, telekhines, giants, hellhounds, and a bunch of other weird-looking monsters I couldn't even begin to name.
And just before they were about to trample Nico, he clapped his hands and a huge, jagged rock emerged straight from the ground, completely blocking them from proceeding. The force was so powerful that it caused an avalanche of rocks and dust to rain down from the ceiling.
Monsters began running into the rock wall, trying to break it down. Some were cut on the jagged edges, and some were even crushed by the rocks that rained down on. But we didn't have time to stop and watch the show. Instead, we turned and ran until we could no longer hear the echo of the Kronos's menacing howls behind us.
Percy and I returned to camp and found everyone having dinner in the dining pavilions. I took in the scene for a moment before I walked in. It was mostly quiet; some of the cabins were whispering among themselves. It looked normal enough, but when I looked closer I could see how much the imposing threat was affecting everyone. All the campers looked exhausted. I didn't know if it was from the lack of sleep or just all the work they were putting into war preparation. Probably both. But what threw me the most was the expressions on the campers faces. I had grown so used to smiling faces, laughter, and crazy antics filling the hall during dinner, and all of that was gone. Now, everyone just looked worried. And sad. I knew everyone was trying to be strong given the circumstances, but I couldn't help but wonder if things could ever go back to normal.
Percy and I walked in and the hall silenced. I knew, after everything they'd been through, that what they wanted most was just a small shred of good news. Something to give them hope.
And I so desperately wished I could give it to them. The last thing these guys needed was more talk about how much danger we were in. But we didn't have time to spare.
Okay, here goes.
"We found Daedalus's workshop." I announced. "We tried to convince him to help us through the Labyrinth, and to stop Luke from finding our camp.
"But we were too late. Luke had been there hours before, and got Daedalus to give him Ariadne's string, which will allow him to navigate the maze. He's on his way here already. With an army—a huge army of monsters. We may only have a few hours before they find us."
I realized I should probably start calling Luke 'Kronos' now, but that would mean telling everyone about the fact that Kronos was back from Tartarus and we may very well be forced to fight him. I figured they had had enough bad news for now.
Preparations started immediately. We built a huge setup at the entrance to the Labyrinth, and each cabin contributed. The Hephaestus cabin had set up huge, complicated traps-trip wire, Greek fire, catapults, you name it. The Apollo and Hermes cabins were ready with bows and arrows, and my cabin and Ares (if the situation weren't life and death, this would not be happening) would be battling together on the front line together. My brother Malcolm and I were directing the operations from a command tent.
I looked across the field. All of the campers looked fairly confident with our set-up, but I had seen the size of the Titan army. No matter how prepared we were, it simply wasn't going to be enough.
"Hey, Annabeth," Malcom said behind my shoulder. "You don't think Kronos will be leading this army, do you?"
I stared across the clearing as I thought about how to answer him. I really hoped not. I shuddered as I thought about what I had seen Luke—sorry, Kronos—do to Percy on Mount Tam. He had the power to make time slow down. This was going to be tough enough just fending off the monsters. If we were frozen in time, we wouldn't stand a chance.
I was just about to answer when the ground started shaking. "Positions!" I yelled to everyone. Campers scrambled to their stations and braced themselves for what was about to emerge from the Labyrinth.
Seconds later, the door burst open and a group of 15-foot tall Laistrygonian giants ran through. They carried clubs the size of tree trunks—wait a minute, I'm pretty sure those were tree trunks—and with one fell swoop has tossed the entire Ares cabin on the front line aside.
The Hephaestus cabin sprung their traps and loaded the catapults with rocks. The archers launched a huge volley of arrows. Some of them exploded in front of the giants, and some even found chinks in their armor. Rocks from the catapults sailed into the giant's chests. A shower of Greek fire rained down on them, and one of them even started running in circles trying to extinguish the fire that had caught on his pants.
It looked like we were doing pretty well until about 50 dracaena burst through the entrance behind them.
"ATTACK!" I yelled to my cabin, but there were only 20 of us, and about half of them were standing there, paralyzed with fear. Chiron had instructed me not to leave the command tent, but there was no way they were going to be able to hold off all of those monsters alone.
"Malcolm, you're in charge!" I yelled, and grabbed my sword and shield. He looked at me, completely baffled, and was just starting to complain that he had no idea what he was doing when I charged into battle, straight for the new wave of dracaena.
I let my instincts take over. I stabbed, slashed, and ducked, trying to slay as many as I could. For a few minutes, everything was a blur. I had no idea how we were doing, or if we were even fending them off at all. I heard yells, but I hoped no one had been seriously injured. All of a sudden, I heard someone call my name from behind me. I turned just as a dracaena was about to stab me in the back. I dove to the ground, but I still probably would have been toast if Lee Fletcher hadn't sent an arrow perfectly aimed at the chink in her armor.
As she vaporized, I looked for more dracaena to attack when I realized our cabin was holding up pretty well. Most of the new wave of dracaena were gone, and it looked like everyone was still standing.
But of course, just as things seemed to be going in our favor, who bursts out of the Labyrinth, but Kampe.
She flew out of the entrance to the top of Zeus's fist and shrieked, spraying poison down on the campers beneath her. I can honestly say it was one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen. Everywhere, campers started screaming in agony and running away in horror.
"STOP! Don't run from her! Fight!" I screamed.
But it was too late. Kids had started scrambling and fleeing from the battle, and I cringed as I saw one I didn't recognize get stepped on by a Laistrygonian.
Kampe jumped down from the rock and looked around, trying to decide who her first victim would be. There was only one thing I could do to stop her. I charged.
Apparently, Percy was thinking the same thing, because we both ended up right in front of her, our swords clutched in our hands.
Kampe stood about two feet taller than us, held two poison swords, and was looking down at us with complete loathing. I realized that we were probably both going to die. "This might be it," I said to him.
I thought of something cheerful to say, in case they were my last words. "Nice fighting with you, Seaweed Brain."
And we charged.
Usually, when you have two people fighting one monster, it's a piece of cake. One person distracts the beast while the other goes in and tries to stab it. Simple, right? Unfortunately, Kampe was probably ambidextrous, because she was able to fight with both hands independently. Her swords began slashing at each of us and I was barely able to defend myself. Occasionally, she would spray a cloud of poison at us, forcing us to dive to the ground, which didn't exactly make things any easier. Chiron was shooting arrow after arrow at Kampe's chest, but all it was doing was aggravating her even more.
Finally, after Chiron shot a well-placed arrow right at her eye, she stepped back and screamed in pain. I took the opportunity to slash at her and Percy got so close to stabbing her right in the chest before she slammed us back. Everything turned black as my head smacked against the ground.
My vision cleared and I saw Kampe standing right above us, her two swords clenched in her hands dripping with poison. I close my eyes and waited for the pain.
But it never came. I heard a loud 'Oof!' and looked up to see a huge black dog slamming in to Kampe, knocking her backwards. Mrs. O'Leary!
"Good girl!" I heard a voice shout at the hellhound, and I knew who it was before I looked over. Daedalus was crawling his way out of the Labyrinth battling a Laistrygonian giant. He grabbed a dented shield from the ground, slammed it into the giant's head, and ran towards us. But before any of us could say something, the Labyrinth entrance completely exploded. My heart fell as a gigantic person burst through. Who did Kronos have fighting for him now?
And then I realized it wasn't just a person. He had completely human features, but he also had what looked like one hundred hands jutting out from his body.
"Briares!" Tyson cried.
Briares, using every one of his hundred hands, grabbed the rocks the Hephaestus cabin was using to load the catapult and began launching them at Kampe. There was a whirlwind of arms and rocks, and Kampe let out a blood-curling shriek. She made one final attempt to fly away, but it was too late. In about five seconds, all that was left of where Kampe had been standing was a huge pile of boulders.
The campers cheered, and I thought it was finally, finally over. But the Titan army refused to be silenced. The remaining forces took advantage of our momentary distraction and gave one last desperate attempt. And so many campers were already down that there was no one left to fight them.
That's when it happened.
A Laistrygonian charged right at Grover and Juniper, who were standing alone by the woods, completely defenseless. They were too far away for us to reach, and I knew Grover couldn't battle that thing on his own. Frozen in shock, Grover opened his mouth to scream. But the sound that came out wasn't just a scream. It was hands-down the most horrible, terrifying noise I had ever heard in my life, magnified a thousand times—the sound of pure fear.
The battle ceased for a moment as everyone, camper and monster, froze. And suddenly, every member of the Titan army screamed, dropped their weapons, and ran back into the Labyrinth like their lives depended on it.
Even when the last monster had left the scene, not a single camper had moved. I couldn't believe it.
It was over.
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