The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 12: I TAKE A PERMANENT VACATION

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Chapter 12: I TAKE A PERMANENT VACATION

I woke up feeling like I was still on fire. My skin stung. My throat felt as dry as sand. 

  I saw blue sky and trees above me. I heard a fountain gurgling, and smelled juniper and cedar and a bunch of other sweet-scented plants. I heard waves, too, gently lapping on a rocky shore. I wondered if I was dead, but I knew better. I’d been to the Land of the Dead, and there was no blue sky. 

  I tried to sit up. My muscles felt like they were melting. 

  “Stay still,” a girl’s voice said. “You’re too weak to rise. ”

  She laid a cool cloth across my forehead. A bronze spoon hovered over me and liquid was dribbled into my mouth. The drink soothed my throat and left a warm chocolaty aftertaste. Nectar of the gods. Then the girl’s face appeared above me. 

  She had almond eyes and caramel-color hair braided over one shoulder. She was…fifteen? Sixteen? It was hard to tell. She had one of those faces that just seemed timeless. She began singing, and my pain dissolved. She was working magic. I could feel her music sinking into my skin, healing and repairing my brain. 

  “Who?” I croaked. 

  “Shhh, brave one,” she said. “Rest and heal. No harm will come to you here. I am Calypso. ”

  ***

  The next time I woke I was in a cave, but as far as caves go, I’d been in a lot worse. The ceiling glittered with different-color crystal formations— white and purple and green, like I was inside one of those cut geodes you see in souvenir shops. I was lying on a comfortable bed with feather pillows and cotton sheets. The cave was divided into sections by white silk curtains. Against one wall stood a large loom and a harp. Against the other wall were shelves neatly stacked with jars of fruit preserves. Dried herbs hung from the ceiling: rosemary, thyme, and a bunch of other stuff. My mother could’ve named them all. 

  There was a fireplace built into the cave wall, and a pot bubbling over the flames. It smelled great, like beef stew. 

  I sat up, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in my head. I looked at my arms, sure that they would be hideously scarred, but they seemed fine. A little pinker than usual, but not bad. I was wearing a white cotton T-shirt and cotton drawstring pants that weren’t mine. My feet were bare. In a moment of panic, I wondered what happened to Riptide, but I felt my pocket and there was my pen, right where it always reappeared. 

  Not only that but the Stygian ice dog whistle was back in my pocket, too. Somehow it had followed me. And that didn’t exactly reassure me. 

  With difficulty, I stood. The stone floor was freezing under my feet. I turned and found myself staring into a polished bronze mirror. 

  “Holy Poseidon,” I muttered. I looked as if I’d lost twenty pounds I couldn’t afford to lose. My hair was a rat’s nest. It was singed at the edges like Hephaestus’s beard. If I saw that face on somebody walking down a highway intersection asking for money, I would’ve locked the car doors. 

  I turned away from the mirror. The cave entrance was to my left. I headed toward the daylight. 

  The cave opened onto a green meadow. On the left was a grove of cedar trees and on the right a huge flower garden. Four fountains gurgled in the meadow, each shooting water from the pipes of stone satyrs. Straight ahead, the grass sloped down to a rocky beach. The waves of a lake lapped against the stones. I could tell it was a lake because…well, I just could. Fresh water. Not salt. The sun sparkled on the water, and the sky was pure blue. It seemed like a paradise, which immediately made me nervous. You deal with mythological stuff for a few years, you learn that paradises are usually places where you get killed. 

  The girl with the braided caramel hair, the one who’d called herself Calypso, was standing at the beach, talking to someone. I couldn’t see him very well in the shimmer from the sunlight off the water, but they appeared to be arguing. I tried to remember what I knew about Calypso from the old myths. I’d heard the name before, but…I couldn’t remember. Was she a monster? Did she trap heroes and kill them? But if she was evil, why was I still alive?

  I walked toward her slowly because my legs were still stiff. When the grass changed to gravel, I looked down to keep my balance, and when I looked up again, the girl was alone. She wore a white sleeveless Greek dress with a low circular neckline trimmed in gold. She brushed at her eyes like she’d been crying. 

  “Well,” she said, trying for a smile, “the sleeper finally wakes. ”

  “Who were you talking to?” My voice sounded like a frog that had spent time in a microwave. 

  “Oh…just a messenger,” she said. “How do you feel?”

  “How long have I been out?”

  “Time,” Calypso mused. “Time is always difficult here. I honestly don’t know, Percy. ”

  “You know my name?”

  “You talk in your sleep. ”

  I blushed. “Yeah. I’ve been…uh, told that before. ”

  “Yes. Who is Annabeth?”

  “Oh, uh. A friend. We were together when—wait, how did I get here? Where am I?”

  Calypso reached up and ran her fingers through my mangled hair. I stepped back nervously. 

  “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve just grown used to caring for you. as to how you got here, you fell from the sky. You landed in the water, just there. ” She pointed across the beach. “I do not know how you survived. The water seemed to cushion your fall. As to where you are, you are in Ogygia. ”

  She pronounced it like oh-jee-jee-ah. 

  “Is that near Mount St. Helens?” I asked, because my geography is pretty terrible. 

  Calypso laughed. It was a small restrained laugh, like she found me really funny but didn’t want to embarrass me. She was cute when she laughed. 

  “It isn’t near anything, brave one,” she said. “Ogygia is my phantom island. It exists by itself, anywhere and nowhere. You can heal here in safety. Never fear. ”

  “But my friends—”

  “Annabeth,” she said. “And Grover and Tyson?”

  “Yes!” I said. “I have to get back to them. They’re in danger. 

  She touched my face, and I didn’t back away this time. “Rest first. You are no good to your friends until you heal. ”

  As soon as she said it, I realized how tired I was. “You’re not…you’re not an evil sorceress, are you?”

  She smiled coyly. “Why would you think that?”

  “Well, I met Circe once, and she had a pretty nice island, too. Except she liked to turn men into guinea pigs. ”

  Calypso gave me that laugh again. “I promise I will not turn you into a guinea pig. ”

  “Or anything else?”

  “I am no evil sorceress,” Calypso said. “And I am not your enemy, brave one. Now rest. Your eyes are already closing. ”

  She was right. My knees buckled, and I would’ve landed face-first in the gravel if Calypso hadn’t caught me. Her hair smelled like cinnamon. She was very strong, or maybe I was just really weak and thin. She walked me back to a cushioned bench by the fountain and helped me lie down. 

  “Rest,” she ordered. And I fell asleep to the sound of the fountains and the smell of cinnamon and juniper. 

  ***

  The next time I woke it was night, but I wasn’t sure if it was the same night or many nights later. I was in the bed in the cave, but I rose and wrapped a robe around myself and padded outside. The stars were brilliant—thousands of them, like you only see way out in the country. I could make out all the constellations Annabeth had taught me: Capricorn, Pegasus, Sagittarius. And there, near the southern horizon, was a new constellation: the Huntress, a tribute to a friend of ours who had died last winter. 

  “Percy, what do you see?”

  I brought my eyes back to earth. However amazing the stars were, Calypso was twice as brilliant. I mean, I’ve seen the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite, and I would never say this out loud or she’d blast me to ashes, but for my money, Calypso was a lot more beautiful, because she just seemed so natural, like she wasn’t trying to be beautiful and didn’t even care about that. She just was. With her braided hair and white dress, she seemed to glow in the moonlight. She was holding a tiny plant in her hands. Its flowers were silver and delicate. 

  “I was just looking at…” I found myself staring at her face. “Uh…I forgot. ”

  She laughed gently. “Well, as long as you’re up, you can help me plant these. ”

  She handed me a plant, which had a clump of dirt and roots at the base. The flowers glowed as I held them. Calypso picked up her gardening spade and directed me to the edge of the garden, where she began to dig. 

  “That’s moonlace,” Calypso explained. “It can only be planted at night. ”

  I watched the silvery light flicker around the petals. “What does it do?”

  “Do?” Calypso mused. “It doesn’t really do anything, I suppose. It lives, it gives light, it provides beauty. Does it have to do anything else?”

  “I suppose not,” I said. 

  She took the plant, and our hands met. Her fingers were warm. She planted the moonlace and stepped back, surveying her work. “I love my garden. ”

  “It’s awesome,” I agreed. I mean, I wasn’t exactly a gardening type, but Calypso had arbors covered with six different colors of roses, lattices filled with honeysuckle, rows of grapevines bursting with red and purple grapes that would’ve made Dionysus sit up and beg. 

  “Back home,” I said, “my mom always wanted a garden. ”

  “Why did she not plant one?”

  “Well, we live in Manhattan. In an apartment. ”

  “Manhattan? Apartment?”

  I stared at her. “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?”

  “I fear not. I haven’t left Ogygia in…a long time. ”

  “Well, Manhattan’s a big city, with not much gardening space. ”

  Calypso frowned. “That is sad. Hermes visits from time to time. He tells me the world outside has changed greatly. I did not realize it had changed so much you cannot have gardens. ”

  “Why haven’t you left your island?”

  She looked down. “It is my punishment. ”

  “Why? What did you do?”

  “I? Nothing. But I’m afraid my father did a great deal. His name is Atlas. ”

  The name sent a shiver down my back. I’d met the Titan Atlas last winter, and it had not been a happy time. He’d tried to kill pretty much everyone I care about. 

  “Still,” I said hesitantly, “it’s not fair to punish you for what your father’s done. I knew another daughter of Atlas. Her name was Zoë. She was one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. ”

  Calypso studied me for a long time. Her eyes were sad. 

  “What is it?” I asked. 

  “Are—are you healed yet, my brave one? Do you think you’ll be ready to leave soon?”

  “What? I asked. “I don’t know. ” I moved my legs. They were still stiff. I was already getting dizzy from standing up so long. “You want me to go?”

“I…” Her voice broke. “I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep well. ”

  She ran off toward the beach. I was too confused to do anything but watch until she disappeared in the dark. 

  ***

  I don’t know exactly how much time passed. Like Calypso said, it was hard to keep track on the island. I knew I should be leaving. At the very least, my friends would be worried. At worst, they could be in serious danger. I didn’t even know if Annabeth had made it out of the volcano. I tried to use my empathy link with Grover several times, but I couldn’t make contact. I hated not knowing if they were all right. 

  On the other hand, I really was weak. I couldn’t stay on my feet more than a few hours. Whatever I’d done in Mount St. Helens had drained me like nothing else I’d ever expected. 

  I didn’t feel like a prisoner or anything. I remembered the Lotus Hotel and Casino in Vegas, where I’d been lured into this amazing game world until I almost forgot everything I cared about. But the island of Ogygia wasn’t like that at all. I thought about Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson constantly. I remembered exactly why I needed to leave. I just…couldn’t. and then there was Calypso herself. 

  She never talked much about herself, but that just made me want to know more. I would sit in the meadow, sipping nectar, and I would try to concentrate on the flowers or the clouds or the reflections on the lake, but I was really staring at Calypso as she worked, the way she brushed her hair over her shoulder, and the little strand that fell in her face whenever she knelt to dig in the garden. Sometimes she would hold out her hand and birds would fly out of the woods to settle on her arm—lorikeets, parrots, doves. She would tell them good morning, ask how it was going back at the nest, and they would chirp for a while, then fly off cheerfully. Calypso’s eyes gleamed. She would look at me and we’d share a smile, but almost immediately she’d get that sad expression again and turn away. I didn’t understand what was bothering her. 

  One night we were eating dinner together at the beach. Invisible servants had set up a table with beef stew and apple cider, which may not sound all that exciting, but that’s because you haven’t tasted it. I hadn’t even noticed the invisible servants when I first got to the island, but that’s because you haven’t tasted it. I hadn’t even noticed the invisible servants when I first got to the island, but after a while I became aware of the beds making themselves, meals cooking on their own, clothes being washed and folded by unseen hands. 

  Anyway, Calypso and I were sitting at dinner, and she looked beautiful in the candlelight. I was telling her about New York and Camp Half-Blood, and then I started telling her about the time Grover had eaten an apple while we were playing Hacky Sack with it. She laughed, showing off her amazing smile, and our eyes met. Then she dropped her gaze. 

  “There it is again,” I said. 

  “What?”

  “You keep pulling away, like you’re trying not to enjoy yourself. ”

  She kept her eyes on her glass of cider. “As I told you, Percy, I have been punished. Cursed, you might say. ”

  “How? Tell me. I want to help. ”

  “Don’t say that. Please don’t say that. ”

  “Tell me what the punishment is. ”

  She covered her half-finished stew with a napkin, and immediately an invisible servant whisked the bowl away. “Percy, this island, Ogygia, is my home, my birthplace. But it is also my prison. I am under…house arrest, I guess you would call it. I will never visit this Manhattan of yours. Or anywhere else. I am alone here. ”

  “Because your father was Atlas. ”

  She nodded. “The gods do not trust their enemies. And rightly so. I should not complain. Some of the prisons are not nearly as nice as mine. ”

  “But that’s not fair,” I said. “Just because you’re related doesn’t mean you support him. This other daughter I knew, Zoë, Nightshade—she fought against him. She wasn’t imprisoned. ”

  “But, Percy,” Calypso said gently, “I did support him in the first war. He is my father. ”

  “What? But the Titans are evil!”

  “Are they? All of them? All the time?” She pursed her lips. “Tell me, Percy. I have no wish to argue with you. but do you support the gods because they are good, or because they are your family?”

  I didn’t answer. She had a point. Last winter, after Annabeth and I had saved Olympus, the gods had had a debate about whether or not they should kill me. That hadn’t been exactly good. But still, I felt like I supported them because Poseidon was my dad. 

  “Perhaps I was wrong in the war,” Calypso said. “And in fairness, the gods have treated me well. They visit me from time to time. They bring me word of the outside world. But they can leave. And I cannot. ”

  “You don’t have any friends?” I asked. “I mean…wouldn’t anyone else live here with you? it’s a nice place. ”

  A tear trickled down her cheek. “I…I promised myself I wouldn’t speak of this. But—”

  She was interrupted by a rumbling sound somewhere out on the lake. A glow appeared on the horizon. It got brighter and brighter, until I could see a column of fire moving across the surface of the water, coming toward us. 

  I stood and reached for my sword. “What is that?”

  Calypso sighed. “A visitor. ”

  As the column of fire reached the beach. Calypso stood and bowed to it formally. The flames dissipated, and standing before us was a tall man in gray overalls and a metal leg brace, his beard and hair smoldering with fire. 

  “Lord Hephaestus,” Calypso said. “This is a rare honor. ”

  The fire god grunted. “Calypso. Beautiful as always. Would you excuse us, please, my dear? I need to have a word with our young Percy Jackson. ”

  ***

  Hephaestus sat down clumsily at the dinner table and ordered a Pepsi. The invisible servant brought him one, opened it too suddenly, and sprayed soda all over the gods work clothes. Hephaestus roared and spat a few curses and swatted the can away. 

  “Stupid servants,” he muttered. “Good automatons are what she needs. They never act up!”

  “Hephaestus,” I said, “what’s going on? Is Annabeth—”

  “She’s fine,” he said. “Resourceful girl, that one. Found her way back, told me the whole story. She’s worried sick, you know. ”

  “You haven’t told her I’m okay?”

  “That’s not for me to say,” Hephaestus said. “Everyone thinks you’re dead. I had to be sure you were coming back before I s tarted telling everyone where you were. ”

  “What do you mean?” I said. “Of course I’m coming back!”

  Hephaestus studied me skeptically. He fished something out of his pocket—a metal disk the size of an iPod. He clicked a button and it expanded into a miniature bronze TV. On the screen was news footage of Mount St. Helens, a huge plume of fire and ash trailing into the sky. 

  “Still uncertain about further eruptions,” the newscaster was saying. “Authorities have ordered the evacuation of almost half a million people as a precaution. Meanwhile, ash has fallen as far away as Lake Tahoe and Vancouver, and the entire Mount St. Helens area is closed to traffic within a hundred-mile radius. While no deaths have been reported, minor injuries and illnesses include—”

  Hephaestus switched it off. “You caused quite an explosion. ”

  I stared at the blank bronze screen. Half a million people evacuated? Injuries. Illness. What had I done?

  “The telekhines were scattered,” the god told me. “Some vaporized. Some got away, no doubt. I don’t think they’ll be using my forge any time soon. On the other hand, neither will I. the explosion caused Typon to stir in his sleep. We’ll have to wait and see—”

  “I couldn’t release him, could I? I mean, I’m not that powerful!”

  The god grunted. “Not that powerful, eh? Could have fooled me. You’re the son of the Earthshaker, lad. You don’t know your own strength. ”

  That’s the last thing I wanted him to say. I hadn’t been in control of myself in that mountain. I’d released so much energy I’d almost vaporized myself, drained all the life out of me. Now I found out I’d nearly destroyed the Northwest U. S. and almost woken the most horrible monster ever imprisoned by the gods. Maybe I was too dangerous. Maybe it was safer for my friends to think I was dead. 

  “What about Grover and Tyson?” I asked. 

  Hephaestus shook his head. “No word, I’m afraid. I suppose the labyrinth has them. ”

  “So what am I supposed to do?”

  Hephaestus winced. “Don’t ever ask an old cripple for advice, lad. But I’ll tell you this. You’ve met my wife?”

  “Aphrodite. ”

  “That’s her. She’s a tricky one, ad. Be careful of love. It’ll twist your brain around and leave you thinking up is down and right is wrong. ”

  I thought about my meeting with Aphrodite, in the back of a white Cadillac in the desert last winter. She’d told me that she had taken a special interest in me, and she’d be making things hard for me in the romance department, just because she liked me. 

  “Is this part of her plan?” I asked. “Did she land me here?”

  “Possibly. Hard to say with her. But if you decide to leave this place—and I don’t say what’s right or wrong—then I promised you an answer to your quest. I promised you the way to Daedalus. Well now, here’s the thing. It has nothing to do with Ariadne’s string. Not really. Sure, the string work. That’s what the Titan’s army will be after. Btu the best way through the maze…Theseus had the princess’s help. And the princess was a regular mortal. Not a drop of god blood in her. But she was clever, and she could see, lad. She could see very clearly. So what I’m saying—I think you know how to navigate the maze. ”

  It finally sank in. why hadn’t I seen it before? Hera had been right. The answer was there all the time. 

  “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I know. ”

  “Then you’ll need to decide whether or not you’re leaving. ”

  “I…” I wanted to say yes. Of course I would. But the words stuck in my throat. I found myself looking out at the lake, and suddenly the idea of leaving seemed very hard. 

  “Don’t decide yet,” Hephaestus advised. “Wait until daybreak. Daybreak is a good time for decisions. ”

  “Will Daedalus even help us?” I asked. “I mean, if he gives Luke a way to navigate the Labyrinth, we’re dead. I saw dreams about…Daedalus killed his nephew. He turned bitter and angry and—”

  “It isn’t easy being a brilliant inventor,” Hephaestus rumbled. “Always alone. Always misunderstood. Easy to turn bitter, make horrible mistakes. People are more difficult to work with than machines. And when you break a person, he can’t be fixed. ”

  Hephaestus brushed the last drops of Pepsi off his work clothes. “Daedalus started well enough. He helped the Princess Ariadne and Theseus because he felt sorry for them. He tried to do a good deed. And everything in his life went bad because of it. Was that fair?” The god shrugged. “I don’t know if Daedalus will help you, lad, but don’t judge someone until you’ve stood at his forge and worked with his hammer, eh?”

“I’ll—I’ll try. ”

  Hephaestus stood. “Good-bye, lad. You did well, destroying the telekhines. I’ll always remember you for that. ”

  It sounded very final, that good-bye. Then he erupted into a column of flame, and the fire moved over the water, heading back to the world outside. 

  ***

  I walked along the beach for several hours. When I finally came back to the meadow, it was very late, maybe four or five in the morning, but Calypso was still in her garden, tending the flowers by starlight. Her moonlace glowed silver, and the other plants responded to the magic, glowing red and yellow and blue. 

  “He has ordered you to return,” Calypso guessed. 

  “Well, not ordered. He gave me a choice. ”

  Her eyes met mine. “I promised I would not offer. ”

  “Offer what?”

  “For you to stay. ”

  “Stay,” I said. “Like…forever?”

  “You would be immortal on this island,” she said quietly. “You would never age or die. You could leave the fight to others, Percy Jackson. You could escape your prophecy. ”

  I stared at her, stunned. “Just like that?”

  She nodded. “Just like that. ”

  “But…my friends. ”

  Calypso rose and took my hand. Her touch sent a warm current through my body. “You asked about my curse, Percy. I did not want to tell you. the truth is the gods send me companionship from time to time. Every thousand years or so, they allow a hero to wash up on my shores, someone who needs my help. I tend to him and befriend him, but it is never random. The Fates make sure that the sort of hero they send…”

  Her voice trembled, and she had to stop. 

  I squeezed her hand tighter. “What? What have I done to make you sad?”

  “They send a person who can never stay,” she whispered. “Who can never accept my offer of companionship for more than a little while. They send me a hero I can’t help…just the sort of person I can’t help falling in love with. ”

  The night was quiet except for the gurgle of the fountains and waves lapping on the shore. It took me a long time to realize what she was saying. 

  “Me?” I asked. 

  “If you could see your face. ” She suppressed a smile, though her eyes were still teary. “Of course, you. ”

  “That’s why you’ve been pulling away all this time?”

  “I tried very hard. But I can’t help it. The Fates are cruel. They sent you to me, my brave one, knowing that you would break my heart. ”

  “But…I’m just…I mean, I’m just me. ”

  “That is enough,” Calypso promised. “I told myself I would not even speak of this. I would let you go without even offering. But I can’t. I suppose the Fates knew that, too. You could stay with me, Percy. I’m afraid that is the only way you could help me. ”

  I stared at the horizon. The first red streaks of dawn were lightening the sky. I could stay here forever, disappear from the earth. I could live with Calypso, with invisible servants tending to my every need. We could grow flowers in the garden and talk to songbirds and walk on the beach under perfect blue skies. No war. No prophecy. No more taking sides. 

  “I can’t,” I told her. 

  She looked down sadly. 

  “I would never do anything to hurt you,” I said, “but my friends need me. I know how to help them now. I have to get back. ”

  She picked a flower from her garden—a sprig of silver moonlace. Its glow faded as the sunrise came up. Daybreak is a good time for decisions, Hephaestus had said. Calypso tucked the flower into my T-shirt pocket. 

  She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me on the forehead, like a blessing. “Then come to the beach, my hero. And we will send you on your way. ”

  ***

  The raft was a ten-foot square of logs lashed together with a pole for a mast and a simple white linen sail. It didn’t look like it would be very seaworthy, or lakeworthy. 

  “This will take you wherever you desire,” Calypso promised. “It is quite safe. ”

  I took her hand, but she let it slip out of mine. 

  “Maybe I can visit you,” I said. 

  She shook her head. “No man ever finds Ogygia twice, Percy. When you leave, I will never see you again. ”

  “But—”

  “Go, please. ” Her voice broke. “The Fates are cruel, Percy. Just remember me. ” Then a little trace of her smile returned. “Plant a garden in Manhattan for me, will you?”

  “I promise. ” I stepped onto the raft. Immediately it began to sail from the shore. 

  As I sailed onto the lake I realized the Fates really were cruel. They sent Calypso someone she couldn’t help but love. But it worked both ways. For the rest of my life I would always be thinking about her. She would always be my biggest what if. 

  Within minutes the island of Ogygia was lost in the mist. I was sailing alone over the water toward the sunrise. 

  Then I told the raft what to do. I said the only place I could think of, because I needed comfort and friends. 

  “Camp Half-Blood,” I said. “Sail me home. ”

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