The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 13: WE HIRE A NEW GUIDE

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Chapter 13: WE HIRE A NEW GUIDE

Hours later, my raft washed up at Camp Half-Blood. How I got there, I have no idea. At some point the lake water just changed to salt water. The familiar shoreline of Long Island appeared up ahead, and a couple of friendly great white sharks surfaced and steered me toward the beach. 

  When I landed, the camp seemed deserted. It was late afternoon, but the archery range was empty. The climbing wall poured lava and rumbled all by itself. Pavilion: nothing. Cabins: all vacant. Then I noticed smoke rising from the amphitheater. Too early for a campfire, and I didn’t figure they were roasting marshmallows. I ran toward it. 

  Before I even got there I heard Chiron making an announcement. When I realized what he was saying, I stopped dead in my tracks. 

  “—assume he is dead,” Chiron said. “After so long a silence, it is unlikely our prayers will be answered. I have asked his best surviving friend to do the final honors. ”

  I came up on the back of the amphitheater. Nobody noticed me. They were all looking forward, watching as Annabeth took a long green silk burial cloth, embroidered with a trident, and set it on the flames. They were burning my shroud. 

  Annabeth turned to face the audience. She looked terrible. Her eyes were puffy from crying, but she managed to say, “He was probably the bravest friend I’ve ever had. He…” Then she saw me. Her face went blood red. “He’s right there!”

  Heads turned. People gasped. 

  “Percy!” Beckendorf grinned. A bunch of other kids crowded around me and clapped me on the back. I heard a few curses from the Ares cabin, but Clarisse just rolled her eyes, like she couldn’t believe I’d had the nerve to survive. Chiron cantered over and everyone made way for him. 

  “Well,” he sighed with obvious relief. “I don’t believe I’ve ever been happier to see a camper return. But you must tell me—”

  “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” Annabeth interrupted, shoving aside the other campers. I thought she was going to punch me, but instead she hugged me so fiercely she nearly cracked my ribs. The other campers fell silent. 

  Annabeth seemed to realize she was making a scene and pushed me away. 

  “I—we thought you were dead, Seaweed Brain!”

  “I’m sorry,” I said. “I got lost. ”

  “LOST?” she yelled. “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!”

  Without waiting for us to protest, he picked up Annabeth and me as easily as if we were kittens, slung us both on his back, and galloped off toward the Big House. 

  ***

  I didn’t tell them the whole story. I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about Calypso. I explained how I’d caused the explosion at Mount St. Helens and gotten blasted out of the volcano. I told them I’d been marooned on an island. Then Hephaestus had found me and told me I could leave. A magic raft had carried me back to camp. 

  All that was true, but as I said it my palms felt sweaty. 

  “You’ve been gone two weeks. ” Annabeth’s voice was steadier now, but she still looked pretty shaken up. “When I heard the explosion, I thought—”

  “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. But I figured out how to get through the Labyrinth. 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. ”

  I told them my idea. 

  Annabeth’s jaw dropped. “Percy, that’s crazy!”

  Chiron sat back in his wheelchair and stroked his beard. “There is precedent, however. Theseus had the help of Ariadne. Harriet Tubman, daughter of Hermes, used many mortals on her Underground Railroad for just this reason. ”

  “But this is my quest,” Annabeth said. “I need to lead it. ”

  Chiron looked uncomfortable. “My dear, it is your quest. But you need help. ”

  “And this is supposed to help? Please! It’s wrong. It’s cowardly. It’s—”

  “Hard to admit we need a mortal’s help,” I said. “But it’s true. ”

  Annabeth glared at me. “You are the single most annoying person I have ever met!” And she stormed out of the room. 

  I stared at the doorway. I felt like hitting something. “So much for being the bravest friend she’s ever had. ”

  “She will calm down,” Chiron promised. “She’s jealous, my boy. ”

  “That’s stupid. She’s not…it’s not like…”

  Chiron chuckled. “It hardly matters. Annabeth is very territorial about her friends, in case you haven’t noticed. She was quite worried about you. And now that you’re back, I think she suspects where you were marooned. ”

  I met his eyes, and I knew Chiron had guessed about Calypso. It was hard to hide anything from a guy who’s been training heroes for three thousand years. He’s pretty much seen it all. 

  “We won’t dwell on your choices,” Chiron said. “You came back. That is what matters. ”

  “Tell that to Annabeth. ”

  Chiron smiled. “In the morning I will have Argus take the two of you into Manhattan. You might stop by your mother’s, Percy. She is…understandably distraught. ”

  My heart skipped a beat. All that time on Calypso’s island, I’d never even thought how my mom would be feeling. She’d think I was dead. She’d be devastated. What was wrong with me that I hadn’t even considered that?

  “Chiron,” I said, “what about Grover and Tyson? Do you think—”

  “I don’t know, my boy. ” Chiron gazed into the empty fireplace. “Juniper is quite distressed. All her branches are turning yellow. The Council of Cloven Elders had revoked Grover’s searcher license in absentia. Assuming he comes back alive, they will force him into a shameful exile. ” He sighed. “Grover and Tyson are very resourceful, however. We can still hope. ”

“I shouldn’t have let them run off. ”

  “Grover has his own destiny, and Tyson was brave to follow him. You would know if Grover was in mortal danger, don’t you think?”

  “I suppose. The empathy link. But—”

  “There is something else I should tell you, Percy,” he said. “Actually two unpleasant things. ”

  “Great. ”

  “Chris Rodriguez, our guest…”

  I remembered what I’d seen in the basement, Clarisse trying to talk to him while he babbled about the Labyrinth. “Is he dead?”

  “Not yet,” Chiron said grimly. “But he’s much worse. He’s in the infirmary now, too weak to move. I had to order Clarisse back to her regular schedule, because she was at his bedsideconstantly. He doesn’t respond to anything. He won’t take food or drink. None of my medicines help. He has simply lost the will to live. ”

  I shuddered. Despite all the run-ins I’d had with Clarisse, I felt horrible for her. She’d tried so hard to help him. And now that I’d been in the Labyrinth, I could understand why it had been so easy for the ghost of Minos to drive Chris mad. If I’d been wandering around down there alone, without my friends to help, I’d never have made it out. 

  “I’m sorry to say,” Chiron continued, “the other news is less pleasant still. Quintus has disappeared. ”

  “Disappeared? How?”

  “Three nights ago he slipped into the Labyrinth. Juniper watched him go. It appears you may have been right about him. ”

  “He’s a spy for Luke. ” I told Chiron about the Triple G Ranch—how Quintus had bought his scorpions there and Geryon had been supplying Kronos’s army. “It can’t be a coincidence. ”

  Chiron sighed heavily. “So many betrayals. I had hoped Quintus would prove a friend. It seems my judgment was bad. ”

  “What about Mrs. O’Leary?” I asked. 

  “The hellhound is still in the arena. It won’t let anyone approach. I did not have the heart to force it into a cage…or destroy it. ”

  “Quintus wouldn’t just leave her. ”

  “As I said, Percy, we seem to have been wrong about him. Now, you should prepare yourself for the morning. You and Annabeth still have much to do. ”

  I left him in his wheelchair, staring sadly into the fireplace. I wondered how many times he’d sat here, waiting for heroes that never came back. 

  ***

  Before dinner I stopped by the sword arena. Sure enough, Mrs. O’Leary was curled up in an enormous black furry mound in the middle of the stadium, chewing halfheartedly on the head of a warrior dummy. 

  When she saw me, she barked and came bounding toward me. I thought I was dead meat. I just had time to say, “Whoa!” before she bowled me over and started licking my face. Now usually, being the son of Poseidon and all, I only get wet if I want to, but my powers apparently did not extend to dog saliva, because I got a pretty good bath. 

  “Whoa, girl!” I yelled. “Can’t breathe. Lemme up!”

  Eventually I managed to get her off me. I scratched her ears and found her an extra-gigantic dog biscuit. 

  “Where’s your master?” I asked. Her. “How could he just leave you, huh?”

  She whimpered like she wanted to know that, too. I was ready to believe Quintus was an enemy, but still I couldn’t understand why he’d leave Mrs. O’Leary behind. If there was one thing I was sure of, it was that he really cared for his megadog. 

  I was thinking about that and toweling the dog spit off my face when a girl’s voice said, “You’re lucky she didn’t bite your head off. ”

  Clarisse was standing at the other end of the arena with her sword and shield. “Came here to practice yesterday,” she grumbled. “Dog tried to chew me up. ”

  “She’s an intelligent dog,” I said. 

  “Funny. ”

  She walked toward us. Mrs. O’Leary growled, but I patted her on the head and calmed her down. 

  “Stupid hellhound,” Clarisse said. “Not going to keep me from practicing. ”

  “I heard about Chris,” I said. “I’m sorry. ”

  Clarisse paced a circle around the arena. When she came to the nearest dummy, she attacked viciously, chopping its head off with a single blow and driving her sword through its guts. She pulled the sword out and kept walking. 

  “Yeah, well. Sometimes things go wrong. ” Her voice was shaky. “Heroes get hurt. They…they die, and the monsters just keep coming back. ”

  She picked up a javelin and threw it across the arena. It nailed a dummy straight between the eyeholes of its helmet. 

  She had called Chris a hero, like he had never gone over to the Titan’s side. It reminded me of the way Annabeth sometimes talked about Luke. I decided not to bring that up. 

  “Chris was brave,” I said. “I hope he gets better. ”

  She glared at me as if I were her next target. Mrs. O’Leary growled. 

  “Do me a favor,” Clarisse told me. 

  “Yeah, sure. ”

  “If you find Daedalus, don’t trust him. Don’t ask him for help. Just kill him. ”

  “Clarisse—”

  “Because anybody who can make something like the Labyrinth, Percy? That person is evil. Plain evil. ”

  For a second she reminded me of Eurytion the cowherd, her much older half brother. She had the same hard look in her eyes, as if she’d been used for the past two thousand years and was getting tired of it. She sheathed her sword. “Practice time is over. From now on, it’s for real. ”

  ***

  That night I slept in my own bunk, and for the first time since Calypso’s Island, dreams found me. 

  I was in a king’s courtroom—a big white chamber with marble columns and a wooden throne. Sitting on it was a plump guy with curly red hair and a crown of laurels. At his side stood three girls who looked like his daughters. They all had his red hair and were dressed in blue robes. 

  The doors creaked open and a herald announced, “Minos, King of Crete!”

  I tensed, but the man on the throne just smiled at his daughters. “I can’t wait to see the expression on his face. ”

  Minos, the royal creep himself, swept into the room. He was so tall and serious he made the other king look silly. Minos’s pointed beard had gone gray. He looked thinner than the last time I’d dreamed of him, and his sandals were splattered with mud, but the same cruel light shined in his eyes. 

  He bowed stiffly to the man on the throne. “King Cocalus. I understand you have solved my little riddle?”

  Cocalus smiled. “Hardly little, Minos. Especially when you advertise across the world that you are willing to pay a thousand gold talents to the one who can solve it. Is the offer genuine?”

  Minos clapped his hands. Two buff guards walked in, struggling with a big wooden crate. They set it at Cocalus’s feet and opened it. Stacks of gold bars glittered. It had to be worth like a gazillion dollars. 

  Cocalus whistled appreciatively. “You must have bankrupted your kingdom for such a reward, my friend. ”

  “That is not your concern. ”

  Cocalus shrugged. “The riddle was quite simple, really. One of my retainers solved it. ”

  “Father,” one of the girls warned. She looked like the oldest—a little taller than her sisters. 

  Cocalus ignored her. He took a spiral seashell from the folds of his robe. A silver string had been threaded through it, so it hung like a huge bead on a necklace. 

  Minos stepped forward and took the shell. “One of your retainers, you say? How did he thread the string without breaking the shell?”

  “He used an ant, if you can believe it. Tied a silk string to the little creature and coaxed it through the shell by putting honey at the far end. ”

  “Ingenious man,” Minos said. 

  “Oh, indeed. My daughters’ tutor. They are quite fond of him. ”

  Minos’s eyes turned cold. “I would be careful of that. ”

  I wanted to warn Cocalus: Don’t trust this guy! Throw him in the dungeon with some man-eating lions or something! But the redheaded king just chuckled. “Not to worry, Minos. My daughters are wise beyond their years. Now, about my gold—”

  “Yes,” Minos said. “But you see the gold is for the man who solved the riddle. And there can be only one such man. You are harboring Daedalus. ”

  Cocalus shifted uncomfortably on his throne. “How is that you know his name?”

  “He is a thief,” Minos said. “He once worked in my court, Cocalus. He turned my own daughter against me. He helped a usurper make a fool of me in my own palace. And then he escaped justice. I have been pursuing him for ten years. ”

  “I knew nothing of this. But I have offered the man my protection. He has been a most useful—”

  “I offer you a choice,” Minos said. “Turn over the fugitive to me, and this gold is yours. Or risk making me your enemy. You do not want Crete as your enemy. ”

  Cocalus paled. I thought it was stupid for him to look so scared in the middle of his own throne room. He should’ve summoned his army or something. Minos only had two guards. But Cocalus just sat there sweating on his throne. 

  “Father,” his oldest daughter said, “you can’t—”

  “Silence, Aelia. ” Cocalus twisted his beard. He looked again at the glittering gold. “This pains me, Minos. The gods do not love a man who breaks his oath of hospitality. ”

  “The gods do not love those who harbor criminals, either. ”

  Cocalus nodded. “Very well. You shall have your man in chains. ”

  “Father!” Aelia said again. Then she caught herself, and changed her voice to a sweeter tone. “At—at least let us feast our gust first. After his long journey, he should be treated to a hot bath, new clothes, and a decent meal. I would be honored to draw the bath myself. ”

  She smiled prettily at Minos, and the old king grunted. “I suppose a bath would not be amiss. ” He looked at Cocalus. “I will see you at dinner, my lord. With the prisoner. ”

  “This way, Your Majesty,” said Aelia. She and her sisters led Minos out of the chamber. 

  I followed them into a bath chamber decorated with mosaic tiles. Steam filled the air. A running-water faucet poured hot water into the tub. Aelia and her sisters filled it with rose petals and something that must’ve been Ancient Greek Mr. Bubble, because soon the water was covered with multicolored foam. The girls turned aside as Minos dropped his roves and slipped into the bath. 

  “Ahh. ” He smiled. “An excellent bath. Thank you, my dears. The journey has been long indeed. ”

  “You have been chasing your prey ten years, my lord?” Aelia asked, batting her eyelashes. “You must be very determined. ”

  “I never forget a debt. ” Minos grinned. “Your father was wise to agree to my demands. ”

  “Oh, indeed, my lord!” Aelia said. I thought she was laying on the flattery pretty thick, but the old guy was eating it up. Aelia’s sisters trickled scented oil over the king’s head. 

  “You know, my lord,” Aelia said, “Daedalus thought you would come. He thought the riddle might be a trap, but he couldn’t resist solving it. ”

  Minos frowned. “Daedalus spoke to you about me?”

  “Yes, my lord. ”

  “He is a bad man, princess. My own daughter fell under his spell. Do not listen to him. ”

  “He is a genius,” Aelia said. “And he believes a woman is just as smart as a man. He was the first to ever teach us as if we had minds of our own. Perhaps your daughter felt the same way. ”

  Minos tried to sit up, but Aelia’s sisters pushed him back into the water. Aelia came up behind him. She held three tiny orbs in her palm. At first I thought they were bath beads. But she threw them in the water and the beads sprouted bronze threads that began wrapping around the king, tying him up at the ankles, binding his wrists to his sides, circling his neck. Even though I hated Minos, it was pretty horrible to watch. He thrashed and cried out, but the girls were much stronger. Soon he was helpless, lying in the bath with his chin just above the water. The bronze strands were still wrapping around him like a cocoon, tightening across his body. 

  “What do you want?” Minos demanded. “Why do you do this?”

  Aelia smiled. “Daedalus has been kind to us, Your Majesty. And I do not like you threatening our father. ”

  “You tell Daedalus,” Minos growled. “You tell him I will hound him even after death! If there is any justice in the Underworld, my soul will haunt him for eternity!”

  “Brave words, Your Majesty,” Aelia said. “I wish you luck finding your justice in the Underworld. ”

  And with that, the bronze threads wrapped around Minos’s face, making him a bronze mummy. 

  The door of the bathhouse opened. Daedalus stepped in, carrying a traveler’s bag. 

  He’d trimmed his hair short. His beard was pure white. He looked frail and sad, but he reached down and touched the mummy’s forehead. The threads unraveled and sank to the bottom of the tub. There was nothing inside them. It was as if King Minos had just dissolved. 

  “A painless death,” Daedalus mused. “More than he deserved. Thank you, my princesses. ”

  Aelia hugged him. “You cannot stay here, teacher. When our father finds out—”

  “Yes,” Daedalus said. “I fear I have brought you trouble. ”

  “Oh, do not worry for us. Father will be happy enough taking that old man’s gold. And Crete is a very long way away. But he will blame you for Minos’s death. You must flee to somewhere safe. ”

  “Somewhere safe,” the old man repeated. “For years I have fled from kingdom to kingdom, looking for somewhere safe. I fear Minos told the truth. Death will not stop him from hounding me. There is no place under the sun that will harbor me, once word of this crime gets out. ”

  “Then where will you go?” Aelia said. 

  “A place I swore never to enter again,” Daedalus said. “My prison may be my only sanctuary. ”

  “I do not understand,” Aelia said. 

  “It’s best you did not. ”

  “But what of the Underworld?” one of her sisters asked. “Terrible judgment will await you! Every man must die. ”

  “Perhaps,” Daedalus said. Then he brought a scroll from his traveling bag—the same scroll I’d seen in my last dream, with his nephews notes. “Or perhaps not. ”

  He patted Aelia’s shoulder, then blessed her and her sisters. He looked down once more at the coppery threads glinting in the bottom of the bath. “Find me if you dare, king of the ghosts. ”

  He turned toward the mosaic wall and touched a tile. A glowing mark appeared—a Greek Δ—and the wall slid aside. The princesses gasped. 

  “You never told us of secret passages!” Aelia said. “You have been busy. ”

  “The Labyrinth has been busy,” Daedalus corrected. “Do not try to follow me, my dears, if you value your sanity. ”

  ***

  My dream shifted. I was underground in a stone chamber. Luke and another half-blood warrior were studying a map by flashlight. 

  Luke cursed. “It should’ve been the last turn. ” He crumpled up the map and tossed it aside. 

  “Sir!” his companion protested. 

  “Maps are useless here,” Luke said. “Don’t worry. I’ll find it. ”

  “Sir, is it true that the larger the group—”

  “The more likely you get lost? Yes, that’s true. Why do you think we sent out solo explorers to begin with? But don’t worry. As soon we have the thread, we can lead the vanguard through. ”

  “But how will we get the thread?”

  Luke stood, flexing his fingers. “Oh, Quintus will come through. All we have to do is reach the arena, and it’s at the juncture. Impossible to get anywhere without passing it. That’s why we must have a truce with its master. We just have to stay alive until—”

  “Sir!” a new voice came from the corridor. Another guy in Greek armor ran forward, carrying a torch. “The dracaenae found a half-blood!”

  Luke scowled. “Alone? Wandering the maze?”

  “Yes, sir! You’d better come quick. They’re in the next chamber. They’ve got him cornered. ”

  “Who is it?”

  “No one I’ve ever seen before, sir. ”

  Luke nodded. “A blessing from Kronos. We may be able to use this half-blood. Come!”

  They ran down the corridor, and I woke with a start, staring into the dark. A lone half-blood, wandering in the maze. It was a long time before I got to sleep again. 

  ***

  The next morning I made sure Mrs. O’Leary had enough dog biscuits. I asked Beckendorf to keep an eye on her, which he didn’t seem too happy about. Then I hiked over Half-Blood Hill and met Annabeth and Argus on the road. 

  Annabeth and I didn’t talk much in the van. Argus never spoke, probably because he had eyes all over his body, including—so I’d heard—at the tip of his tongue, and he didn’t like to show that off. 

  Annabeth looked queasy, as if she’d slept even worse than me. 

  “Bad dreams? I asked at last. 

  She shook her head. “An Iris-message from Eurytion. ”

  “Eurytion! Is something wrong with Nico?”

  “He left the ranch last night, heading back into the maze. ”

  “Nico was gone before he woke up. Orthus tracked his scent as far as the cattle guard. Eurytion said he’d been hearing Nico talk to himself the last few nights. Only now he thinks Nico was talking with the ghost again, Minos. ”

  “He’s in danger,” I said. 

  “No kidding. Minos is one of the judges of the dead, but he’s got a vicious streak a mile wide. I don’t know what he wants with Nico, but—”

  “That’s not what I meant,” I said. “I had this dream last night…” I told her about Luke, how he’d mentioned Quintus, and how his men had found a half-blood alone in the maze. 

  Annabeth’s jaw clenched. “That’s very, very bad. ”

  “So what do we do?”

  She raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s a good thing you have a plan to guide us, huh?”

  ***

  It was Saturday, and traffic was heavy going into the city. We arrived at my mom’s apartment around noon. When she answered the door, she gave me a hug only a little less overwhelming than having a hellhound jump on you. 

  “I told them you were all right,” my mom said, but she sounded like the weight of the sky had just been lifted off her shoulders—and believe me, I know firsthand how that feels. 

  She sat us down at the kitchen table and insisted on feeding us her special blue chocolate-chip cookies while we caught her up on the quest. As usual, I tried to water down the frightening parts (which was pretty much everything), but somehow that just made it sound more dangerous. 

  When I got to the part about Geryon and the stables, my mom pretended like she was going to strangle me. “I can’t get him to clean his room, but he’ll clean a hundred tons of horse manure out of some monster’s stables?”

  Annabeth laughed. It was the first time I’d heard her laugh in a long time, and it was nice to hear. 

  “So,” my mom said when I was done with the story, “you wrecked Alcatraz Island, made Mount St. Helens explode, and displaced half a million people, but at least you’re safe. ” That’s my mom, always looking on the bright side. 

  “Yep,” I agreed. “That pretty much covers it. ”

  “I wish Paul were here,” she said, half to herself. “He wanted to talk to you. ”

  “Oh, right. The school. ”

  So much had happened since then that I’d almost forgotten about the high school orientation at Goode—the fact I’d left the band hall in flames, and my mom’s boyfriend had last seen me jumping through a window like a fugitive. 

  “What did you tell him?” I asked. 

  My mom shook her head. “What could I say? He knows something is different about you, Percy. He’s a smart man. He believes that you’re not a bad person. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but the school is pressuring him. After all, he got you admitted there. He needs to convince them the fire wasn’t your fault. And since you ran away, that looks bad. ”

  Annabeth was studying me. She looked pretty sympathetic. I knew she’d been in similar situations. It’s never easy for a half-blood in the mortal world. 

  “I’ll talk to him,” I promised. “After we’re done with the quest. I’ll even tell him the truth if you want. ”

  My mom put her hand on my shoulder. “You would do that?”

  “Well, yeah. I mean, he’ll think we’re crazy. ”

  “He already thinks that. ”

  “Then there’s nothing to lose. ”

  “Thank you, Percy. I’ll tell him you’ll be home…” She frowned. “When? What happens now?”

  Annabeth broke her cookie in half. “Percy has this plan. ”

  Reluctantly I told my mom. 

  She nodded slowly. “It sounds very dangerous. But it might work. ”

  “You have the same abilities, don’t you?” I asked. “You can see through the Mist. ”

  My mom sighed. “Not so much now. When I was younger it was easier. But yes, I’ve always been able to see more than was good for me. It’s one of the things that caught your father’s attention, when we first met. Just be careful. Promise me you’ll be safe. ”

  “We’ll try, Ms. Jackson,” Annabeth said. “Keeping your son safe is a big job, though. ” She folded her arms and glared out the kitchen window. I picked at my napkin and tried not to say anything. 

  My mom frowned. “What’s going on with you two? Have you been fighting?”

  Neither of us said anything. 

  “I see,” my mom said, and I wondered if she could see through more than just the Mist. It sounded like she understood what was going on with Annabeth and me, but I sure as heck didn’t. “Well, remember,” she said, “Grover and Tyson are counting on you two. ”

“I know,” Annabeth and I said at the same time, which embarrassed me even more. 

  My mom smiled. “Percy, you’d better use the phone in the hall. Good luck. ”

  I was relieved to get out of the kitchen, even though I was nervous about what I was about to do. I went to the phone and placed the call. The number had washed off my hand a long time ago, but that was okay. Without meaning to, I’d memorized it. 

  ***

  We arranged a meeting in Times Square. We found Rachel Elizabeth Dare in front of the Marriott Marquis, and she was completely painted gold. 

  I mean, her face, her hair, her clothes—everything. She looked like she’d been touched by King Midas. She was standing like a statue with five other kids all painted metallic—copper, bronze, silver. They were frozen in different poses while tourists hustled past or stopped to stare. Some passerby threw money at the tarp on the sidewalk. 

  The sign at Rachel’s feet said, URBAN ART FOR KIDS, DONATIONS APPRECIATED. 

  Annabeth and I stood there for like five minutes, staring at Rachel, but if she noticed us she didn’t let on. She didn’t move or even blink that I could see. Being ADHD and all, I could not have done that. Standing still that long would’ve driven me crazy. It was weird to see Rachel in gold, too. She looked like a statue of somebody famous, an actress or something. Only her eyes were normal green. 

  “Maybe if we push her over,” Annabeth suggested. 

  I thought that was a little mean, but Rachel didn’t respond. After another few minutes, a kid in silver walked up from the hotel taxi stand, where he’d been taking a break. He took a pose like he was lecturing the crowd, right next to Rachel. Rachel unfroze and stepped off the tarp. 

  “Hey, Percy. ” She grinned. “Good timing! Let’s get some coffee. ”

  We walked down to a place called the Java Moose on West 43rd. Rachel ordered an Espresso Extreme, the kind of stuff Grover would like. Annabeth and I got fruit smoothies and we sat at a table right under the stuffed moose. Nobody even looked twice at Rachel in her golden outfit. 

  “So,” she said, “it’s Annabell, right?”

  “Annabeth,” Annabeth corrected. “Do you always dress in gold?”

  “Not usually,” Rachel said. “We’re raising money for our group. We do volunteer art projectsfor elementary kids ’cause they’re cutting art from the schools, you know? We do this once a month, take in about five hundred dollars on a good weekend. But I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about that. You’re a half-blood, too?”

  “Shhh!” Annabeth said, looking around. “Just announce it to the world, how about?”

  “Okay. ” Rachel stood up and said really loud, “Hey, everybody! These two aren’t human! They’re half Greek god!”

  Nobody even looked over. Rachel shrugged and sat down. “They don’t seem to care. ”

  “That’s not funny,” Annabeth said. “This isn’t a joke, mortal girl. ”

  “Hold it, you two,” I said. “Just calm down. ”

  “I’m calm,” Rachel insisted. “Every time I’m around you, some monster attacks us. What’s to be nervous about?”

  “Look,” I said. “I’m really sorry about the band room. I hope they didn’t kick you out or anything. ”

  “Nah. They asked me a lot of questions about you. I played dumb. ”

  “Was it hard?” Annabeth asked. 

  “Okay, stop!” I intervened. “Rachel, we’ve got a problem. And we need your help. ”

  Rachel narrowed her eyes at Annabeth. “You need my help?”

  Annabeth stirred her straw in her smoothie. “Yeah,” she said suddenly. “Maybe. ”

  I told Rachel about the Labyrinth, and how we needed to find Daedalus. I told her what had happened the last few times we’d gone in. 

  “So you want me to guide you,” she said. “Through a place I’ve never been. ”

  “You can see through the Mist,” I said. “Just like Ariadne. I’m betting you can see the right path. The Labyrinth won’t be able to fool you as easily. ”

  “And if you’re wrong?”

  “Then we’ll get lost. Either way, it’ll be dangerous. Very, very dangerous. ”

  “I could die?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “I thought you said monsters don’t care about mortals. That sword of yours—”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Celestial bronze doesn’t hurt mortals. Most monsters would ignore you. But Luke…he doesn’t care. He’ll use mortals, demigods, monsters, whatever. And he’ll kill anyone who gets in his way. ”

  “Nice guy,” Rachel said. 

  “He’s under the influence of a Titan,” Annabeth said defensively. “He’s been deceived. ”

  Rachel looked back and forth between us. “Okay,” she said. “I’m in. ”

  I blinked. I hadn’t figured it would be so easy. “Are you sure?”

  “Hey, my summer was going to be boring. This is the best offer I’ve gotten yet. So what do I look for?”

  “We have to find an entrance to the Labyrinth,” Annabeth said. “There’s an entrance at Camp Half-Blood, but you can’t go there. It’s off-limits to mortals. ”

  She said mortals like it was some sort of terrible condition, but Rachel just nodded. “Okay. What does an entrance to the Labyrinth look like?”

  “It could be anything,” Annabeth said. “A section of wall. A boulder. A doorway. A sewer entrance. But it would have the mark of Daedalus on it. A Greek Δ, glowing in blue. ”

  “Like this?” Rachel drew the symbol Delta in water on our table. 

  “That’s it,” Annabeth said. “You know Greek?”

  “No,” Rachel said. She pulled a big blue plastic hairbrush from her pocket and started brushing the gold out of her hair. “Let me get changed. You’d better come with me to the Marriott. ”

  “Why?” Annabeth said. 

  “Because there’s an entrance like that in the hotel basement, where we store our costumes. It’s got the mark of Daedalus. ”

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