The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 14: MY BROTHER DUELS ME TO THE DEATH

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Chapter 14: MY BROTHER DUELS ME TO THE DEATH

The metal door was half hidden behind a laundry bin full of dirty hotel towels. I didn’t see anything strange about it, but Rachel showed me where to look, and I recognized the faint blue symbol etched in the metal. 

  “It hasn’t been used in a long time,” Annabeth said. 

  “I tried to open it once,” Rachel said, “just out of curiosity. It’s rusted shut. ”

  “No. ” Annabeth stepped forward. “It just needs the touch of a half-blood. ”

  Sure enough, as soon as Annabeth put her hand on the mark, it glowed blue. The metal door unsealed and creaked open, revealing a dark staircase leading down. 

  “Wow. ” Rachel looked calm, but I couldn’t tell if she was pretending or not. She’d changed into a ratty Museum of Modern Art T-shirt and her regular marker-colored jeans, her blue plastic hairbrush sticking out of her pocket. Her red hair was tied back, but she still had flecks of gold in it, and traces of the gold glitter on her face. “So…after you?”

  “You’re the guide,” Annabeth said with mock politeness. “Lead on. ”

  The stairs led down to a large brick tunnel. It was so dark I couldn’t see two feet in front of us, but Annabeth and I had restocked on flashlights. As soon as we switched them on, Rachel yelped. 

  A skeleton was grinning at us. It wasn’t human. It was huge, for one thing—at least ten feet tall. It had been strung up, chained by its wrists and ankles so it made a kind of giant X over the tunnel. But what really sent shivers down my spine was the single black eye socket in the center of its skull. 

  “A Cyclops,” Annabeth said. “It’s very old. It’s not…anybody we know. ”

  It wasn’t Tyson, she meant. But that didn’t make me feel much better. I still felt like it had been put here as a warning. Whatever could kill a grown Cyclops, I didn’t want to meet. 

  Rachel swallowed. “You have a friend who’s a Cyclops?”

  “Tyson,” I said. “My half brother. ”

  “Your half brother. ”

  “Hopefully we’ll find him down here,” I said. “And Grover. He’s a satyr. ”

  “Oh. ” Her voice was small. “Well then, we’d better keep moving. ”

  She stepped under the skeleton’s left arm and kept walking. Annabeth and I exchanged looks. Annabeth shrugged. We followed Rachel deeper into the maze. 

  After fifty feet we came to a crossroads. Ahead, the brick tunnel continued. To the right, the walls were made of ancient marble slabs. To the left, the tunnel was dirt and tree roots. 

  I pointed left. “That looks like the tunnel Tyson and Grover took. ”

  Annabeth frowned. “Yeah, but the architecture to the right—those old stones—that’s more likely to lead to an ancient part of the maze, toward Daedalus’s workshop. ”

  “We need to go straight,” Rachel said. 

  Annabeth and I both looked at her. 

  “That’s the least likely choice,” Annabeth said. 

  “You don’t see it?” Rachel asked. “Look at the floor. ”

  I saw nothing except well-worn bricks and mud. 

  “There’s a brightness there,” Rachel insisted. “Very faint. But forward is the correct way. To the left, farther down the tunnel, those tree roots are moving like feelers. I don’t like that. To the right, there’s a trap about twenty feet down. Holes in the walls, maybe for spikes. I don’t think we should risk it. ”

  I didn’t see anything like she was describing, but I nodded. “Okay. Forward. ”

  “You believe her?” Annabeth asked. 

  “Yeah,” I said. “Don’t you?”

  Annabeth looked like she wanted to argue, but she waved at Rachel to lead on. Together we kept walking down the brick corridor. It twisted and turned, but there were no more side tunnels. We seemed to be angling down, heading deeper underground. 

  “No traps?” I asked anxiously. 

  “Nothing. ” Rachel knit her eyebrows. “Should it be this easy?”

  “I don’t know,” I said. “It never was before. ”

  “So, Rachel,” Annabeth said, “where are you from, exactly?”

  She said it like, What planet are you from? But Rachel didn’t look offended. 

  “Brooklyn,” she said. 

  “Aren’t your parents going to be worried if you’re out late?”

  Rachel exhaled. “Not likely. I could be gone a week and they’d never notice. ”

  “Why not?” This time Annabeth didn’t sound as sarcastic. Having trouble with parents was something she understood. 

  Before Rachel could answer, there was a creaking noise in front of us, like huge doors opening. 

  “What was that?” Annabeth asked. 

  “I don’t know,” Rachel said. “Metal hinges. ”

“Oh, that’s very helpful. I mean, what is it?”

  Then I heard heavy footsteps shaking the corridor—coming toward us. 

  “Run?” I asked. 

  “Run,” Rachel agreed. 

  We turned and fled the way we’d come, but we didn’t make it twenty feet before we ran straight into some old friends. Two dracaenae—snake women in Greek armor—leveled their javelins at our chests. Standing between them was Kelli, the empousa cheerleader. 

  “Well, well,” Kelli said. 

  I uncapped Riptide, and Annabeth pulled her knife; but before my sword was even out of pen form, Kelli pounced on Rachel. Her hand turned into a claw and she spun Rachel around, holding her tight with her talons at Rachel’s neck. 

  “Taking your little mortal pet for a walk?” Kelli asked me. “They’re such fragile things. So easy to break!”

  Behind us, the footsteps came closer. A huge form appeared out of the gloom—an eight-foot-tall Laistrygonian giant with red eyes and fangs. 

  The giant licked his lips when he saw us. “Can I eat them?”

  “No,” Kelli said. “Your master will want these. They will provide a great deal of entertainment. ” She smiled at me. “Now march, half-bloods. Or you all die here, starting with the mortal girl. ”

  ***

  It was pretty much my worst nightmare. And believe me, I’ve had plenty of nightmares. We were marched down the tunnel, flanked by dracaenae, with Kelli and the giant in back, just in case we tried to run for it. Nobody seemed to worry about us running forward. That was the direction they wanted us to go. 

  Up ahead I could see bronze doors. They were about ten feet tall, emblazoned with a pair of crossed swords. From behind them came a muffled roar, like from a crowd. 

  “Oh, yessssss,” said the snake woman on my left. “You’ll be very popular with our hossssst. ”

  I’d never gotten to look at a dracaena up close before, and I wasn’t real thrilled to have the opportunity. She would’ve had a beautiful face, except her tongue was forked and her eyes were yellow with black slits for pupils. She wore bronze armor that stopped at her waist. Below that, where her legs should’ve been, were two massive snake trunks, mottled bronze and green. She moved by a combination of slithering and walking, as if she were on living skis. 

  “Who’s your host?” I asked. 

  She hissed, which might have been a laugh. “Oh, you’ll sssssee. You’ll get along furiousssly. He’ssss your brother, after all. ”

  “My what?” Immediately I thought of Tyson, but that was impossible. What was she talking about?

  The giant pushed past us and opened the doors. He picked up Annabeth by her shirt and said, “You stay here. ”

  “Hey!” she protested, but the guy was twice her size and he’d already confiscated her knife and my sword. 

  Kelli laughed. She still had her claws at Rachel’s neck. “Go on, Percy. Entertain us. We’ll wait here with your friends to make sure you behave. ”

  I looked at Rachel. “I’m sorry. I’ll get you out of this. ”

  She nodded as much as she could with a demon at her throat. “That would be nice. ”

  The dracaenae prodded me toward the doorway at javelin-point, and I walked out onto the floor of an arena. 

  ***

  I guess it wasn’t the largest arena I’d ever been in, but it seemed pretty spacious considering the whole place was underground. The dirt floor was circular, just big enough that you could drive a car around the rim if you pulled it really tight. In the center of the arena, a fight was going on between a giant and a centaur. The centaur looked panicked. He was galloping around his enemy, using sword and shield, while the giant swing a javelin the size of a telephone pole and the crowd cheered. 

  The first tier of seats was twelve feet above the arena floor. Plain stone benches wrapped all the way around, and every seat was full. There were giants, dracaenae, demigods, telekhines, and stranger things: bat-winged demons and creatures that seemed half human and half you name it—bird, reptile, insect, mammal. 

  But the creepiest things were the skulls. The arena was full of them. They ringed the edge of the railing. Three-foot-high piles of them decorated the steps between the benches. They grinned from pikes at the back of the stands and hung on chains from the ceiling like horrible chandeliers. Some of them looked very old—nothing but bleached-white bone. Others looked a lot fresher. I’m not going to describe them. Believe me, you don’t want me to. 

  In the middle of all this, proudly displayed on the side of the spectator’s wall, was something that made no sense to me—a green banner with the trident of Poseidon in the center. What was that doing in a horrible place like this?

  Above the banner, sitting in a seat of honor, was an old enemy. 

  “Luke,” I said. 

  I’m not sure he could hear me over the roar of the crowd, but he smiled coldly. He was wearing camouflage pants, a white T-shirt, and bronze breastplate, just like I’d seen in my dream. But he still wasn’t wearing his sword, which I thought was strange. Next to him sat the largest giant I’d ever seen, much larger than the one on the floor fighting the centaur. The giant next to Luke must’ve been fifteen feet tall, easy, and so wide he took up three seats. He wore only a loincloth, like a sumo wrestler. His skin was dark red and tattooed with blue wave designs. I figured he must be Luke’s new bodyguard or something. 

  There was a cry from the arena floor, and I jumped back as the centaur crashed to the dirt beside me. 

  He met my eyes pleadingly. “Help!”

  I reached for my sword, but it had been taken from me and hadn’t reappeared in my pocket yet. 

  The centaur struggled to get up as the giant approached, his javelin ready. 

  A taloned hand gripped my shoulder. “If you value your friendsss’ livesss,” my dracaena guard said, “you won’t interfere. This isssn’t your fight. Wait your turn. ”

  The centaur couldn’t get up. One of his legs was broken. The giant put his huge foot on the horseman’s chest and raised the javelin. He looked up at Luke. The crowd cheered, “DEATH! DEATH!”

  Luke didn’t do anything, but the tattooed sumo dude sitting next to him arose. He smiled down at the centaur, who was whimpering, “Please! No!”

  Then the sumo dude held out his hand and gave the thumbs down sign. 

  I closed my eyes as the gladiator giant thrust his javelin. When I looked again, the centaur was gone, disintegrated to ashes. All that was left was a single hoof, which the giant took up as a trophy and showed the crowd. They roared their approval. 

  A gate opened at the opposite end of the stadium and the giant marched out in triumph. 

  In the stands, the sumo dude raised his hands for silence. 

  “Good entertainment!” he bellowed. “But nothing I haven’t seen before. What else do you have, Luke, Son of Hermes?”

  Luke’s jaw tightened. I could tell he didn’t like being called son of Hermes. He hated his father. But he rose calmly to his feet. His eyes glittered. In fact, he seemed to be in a pretty good mood. 

  “Lord Antaeus,” Luke said, loud enough for the crowd to hear. “You have been an excellent host! We would be happy to amuse you, to repay the favor of passing through your territory. ”

  “A favor I have not yet granted,” Antaeus growled. “I want entertainment!”

  Luke bowed. “I believe I have something better than centaurs to fight in your arena now. I have a brother of yours. ” He pointed at me. “Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon. ”

  The crowd began jeering at me and throwing stones, most of which I dodged, but one caughtme on the cheek and made a good-sized cut. 

  Antaeus’s eyes lit up. “A son of Poseidon? Then he should fight well! Or die well!”

  “If his death pleases you,” Luke said, “will you let our armies cross your territory?”

  “Perhaps!” Antaeus said. 

  Luke didn’t look too pleased about the “perhaps. ” He glared down at me, as if warning me that I’d better die in a really spectacular way or I’d be in big trouble. 

  “Luke!” Annabeth yelled. “Stop this. Let us go!”

  Luke seemed to notice her for the first time. He looked stunned for a moment. “Annabeth?”

  “Enough time for the females to fight afterward,” Antaeus interrupted. “First, Percy Jackson, what weapons will you choose?”

  The dracaenae pushed me into the middle of the arena. 

  I stared up at Antaeus. “How can you be a son of Poseidon?”

  “I am his favorite son!” Antaeus boomed. “Behold, my temple to the Earthshaker, built from the skulls of all those I’ve killed in his name! Your skull shall join them!”

  I stared in horror at all the skulls—hundreds of them—and the banner of Poseidon. How could this be a temple for my dad? My dad was a nice guy. He’d never ask me for a Father’s Day card, much less somebody’s skull. 

  “Percy!” Annabeth yelled at me. “His mother is Gaea! Gae—”

  Her Laistrygonian captor clamped his hand over her mouth. His mother is Gaea. The earth goddess. Annabeth was trying to tell me that was important, but I didn’t know why. Maybe just because the guy had two godly parents. That would make him even harder to kill. 

  “You’re crazy, Antaeus,” I said. “If you think this is a good tribute, you know nothing about Poseidon. ”

  The crowd screamed insults at me, but Antaeus raised his hand for silence. 

  “Weapons,” he insisted. “And then we will see how you die. Will you have axes? Shields? Nets? Flamethrowers?”

  “Just my sword,” I said. 

  Laughter erupted from the monsters, but immediately Riptide appeared in my hands, and some of the voices in the crowd turned nervous. The bronze blade glowed with a faint light. 

  “Round one!” Antaeus announced. The gates opened, and a dracaena slithered out. She had a trident in one hand and a weighted net in the other— classic gladiator style. I’d trained against those weapons at camp for years. 

  She jabbed at me experimentally. I stepped away. She threw her net, hoping to tangle my sword hand, but I sidestepped easily, sliced her spear in half, and stabbed Riptide through a chink in her armor. With a painful wail, she vaporized into nothing, and the cheering of the crowd died. 

  “No!” Antaeus bellowed. “Too fast! You must wait for the kill. Only I give that order!”

  I glanced over at Annabeth and Rachel. I had to find a way to get them free, maybe distract their guards. 

  “Nice job, Percy. ” Luke smiled. “You’ve gotten better with the sword. I’ll grant you that. ”

  “Round two!” Antaeus yelled. “And slower this time! More entertainment! Wait for my call before killing anybody. OR ELSE!”

  The gates opened again, and this time a young warrior came out. He was a little older than me, about sixteen. He had glossy black hair, and his left eye was covered with an eye patch. He was thin and wiry so his Greek armor hung on him loosely. He stabbed his sword into the dirt, adjusted his shield straps, and pulled on his horsehair helmet.

“Who are you?” I asked. 

  “Ethan Nakamura,” he said. “I have to kill you. ”

  “Why are you doing this?”

  “Hey!” a monster jeered from the stands. “Stop talking and fight already!” The others took up the call. 

  “I have to prove myself,” Ethan told me. “Only way to join up. ”

  And with that he charged. Our swords met in midair and the crowd roared. It didn’t seem right. I didn’t want to fight to entertain a bunch of monsters, but Ethan Nakamura wasn’t giving me much choice. 

  He pressed forward. He was good. He’d never been at Camp Half-Blood, as far as I knew, but he’d been trained. He parried my strike and almost slammed me with his shield, but I jumped back. He slashed. I rolled to one side. We exchanged thrusts and parries, getting a fell for each other’s fighting style. I tried to keep on Ethan’s blind side, but it didn’t help much. He’d apparently been fighting with only one eye for a long time, because he was excellent at guarding his left. 

  “Blood!” the monsters cried. 

  My opponent glanced up at the stands. That was his weakness, I realized. He needed to impress them. I didn’t. 

  He yelled an angry battle cry and charged me, but I parried his blade and backed away, letting him come after me. 

  “Boo!” Antaeus said. “Stand and fight!”

  Ethan pressed me, but I had no trouble defending, even without a shield. He was dressed for defense—heavy armor and shield—which made it very tiring to play offense. I was a softer target, but I also was lighter and faster. The crowd went nuts, yelling complaints and throwing rocks. We’d been fighting for almost five minutes and there was no blood. 

  Finally Ethan made his mistake. He tried to jab at my stomach, and I locked his sword hilt in mine and twisted. His sword dropped into the dirt. Before he could recover, I slammed the butt of my sword into his helmet and pushed him down. His heavy armor helped me more than him. He fell on his back, dazed and tired. I put the tip of my sword on his chest. 

  “Get it over with,” Ethan groaned. 

  I looked up at Antaeus. His red face was stony with displeasure, but he held up his hand and put it thumbs down. 

  “Forget it. ” I sheathed my sword. 

  “Don’t be a fool,” Ethan groaned. “They’ll just kill us both. ”

  I offered him my hand. Reluctantly, he took it. I helped him up. 

  “No one dishonors the games!” Antaeus bellowed. “Your heads shall both be tributes to Poseidon!”

  I looked at Ethan. “When you see your chance, run. ” Then I turned back to Antaeus. “Why don’t you fight me yourself? If you’ve got Dad’s favor, come down here and prove it!”

  The monsters grumbled in the stands. Antaeus looked around, and apparently realized he had no choice. He couldn’t say no without looking like a coward. 

  “I am the greatest wrestler in the world, boy,” he warned. “I have been wrestling since the first pankration!”

  “Pankration?” I asked. 

  “He means fighting to the death,” Ethan said. “No rules. No holds barred. It used to be an Olympic sport. ”

  “Thanks for the tip,” I said. 

  “Don’t mention it. ”

  Rachel was watching me with wide eyes. Annabeth shook her head emphatically, the Laistrygonian’s hand still clamped over her mouth. 

  I pointed my sword at Antaeus. “Winner takes all! I win, we all go free. You win, we die. Swear upon the River Styx. ”

  Antaeus laughed. “This shouldn’t take long. I swear to your terms!”

  He leaped off the railing, into the arena. 

  “Good luck,” Ethan told me. “You’ll need it. ” Then he backed up quickly. 

  Antaeus cracked his knuckles. He grinned, and I saw that even his teeth were etched in wave patterns, which must’ve made brushing after meals a real pain. 

  “Weapons?” he asked. 

  “I’ll stick with my sword. You?”

  He held up his huge hands and wiggled his fingers. “I don’t need anything else! Master Luke, you will referee this one. ”

  Luke smiled down at me. “With pleasure. ”

  Antaeus lunged. I rolled under his legs and stabbed him in the back of the thigh. 

  “Argggh!” he yelled. But where blood should’ve come out, there was a spout of sand, like I’d busted the side of an hourglass. It spilled into the dirt floor, and the dirt collected around his leg, almost like a cast. When the dirt fell away, the wound was gone. 

  He charged again. Fortunately I’d had some experience fighting giants. I dodged sideways this time and stabbed him under the arm. Riptide’s blade was buried to the hilt in his ribs. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was wrenched out of my hand when the giant turned, and I was thrown across the arena, weaponless. 

  Antaeus bellowed in pain. I waited for him to disintegrate. No monster had ever withstood a direct hit from my sword like that. The celestial bronze blade had to be destroying his essence. But Antaeus groped for the hilt, pulled out the sword, and tossed it behind him. More snad poured from the wound, but again the earth rose up to cover him. Dirt coated his body all the way to his shoulders. As soon as the dirt spilled away, Antaeus was fine. 

  “Now you see why I never lose, demigod!” Antaeus gloated. “Come here and let me crush you. I’ll make it quick!”

  Antaeus stood between me and my sword. Desperately, I glanced to either side, and I caughtAnnabeth’s eye. 

  The earth, I thought. What had Annabeth been trying to tell me? Antaeus’s mother was Gaea the earth mother, the most ancient goddess of all. Antaeus’s father might have been Poseidon, but Gaea was keeping him alive. I couldn’t hurt him as long as he was touching the ground. 

  I tried to skirt around him, but Antaeus anticipated my move. He blocked my path, chuckling. He was just toying with me now. He had me cornered. 

  I looked up at the chains hanging from the ceiling, dangling the skulls of his enemies on hooks. Suddenly I had an idea. 

  I feinted to the other side. Antaeus blocked me. The crowd jeered and screamed at Antaeus to finish me off, but he was having too much fun. 

  “Puny boy,” he said. “Not a worthy son of the sea god!”

  I felt my pen return to my pocket, but Antaeus wouldn’t know about that. He would think riptide was still in the dirt behind him. He would think my goal was to get my sword. It wasn’t much of an advantage, but it was all I had. 

  I charged straight ahead, crouching low so he would think I was going to roll between his legs again. While he was stooping, ready to catch me like a grounder, I jumped for all I was worth—kicking off his forearm, scrambling up his shoulder like it was a ladder, placing my shoe on his head. He did the natural thing. He straightened up indignantly and yelled “HEY!” I pushed off, using his force to catapult me toward the ceiling. I caught the top of a chain, and the skulls and hooks jangled beneath me. I wrapped my legs around the chain, just like I used to do at the ropes course in gym class. I drew Riptide and sawed off the chain next to me. 

  “Come down here, coward!” Antaeus bellowed. He tried to grab me, but I was just out of reach. Hanging on for dear life, I yelled, “Come up and get me! Or are you too slow and fat?”

  He howled and made another grab for me. He caught a chain and tried to pull himself up. While he was struggling, I lowered my sawed-off chain, hook first. It took me two tries, but finally I snagged Antaeus’s loincloth. 

  “WAAA!” he yelled. Quickly I slipped the free chain through the fastening link on my own chain, pulled it taut, and secured it the best I could. Antaeus tried to slip back to the ground, but his but stayed suspended by his loincloth. He had to hold on to the other chains with both hands to avoid getting flipped upside down. I prayed the loincloth and the chain would hold up for a few more seconds. While Antaeus cursed and flailed, I scrambled around the chains, swinging and cutting like I was some sort of crazed monkey. I made loops with hooks and metal links. I don’t know how I did it. My mom always said I have a gift for getting stuff tangled up. Plus I was desperate to save my friends. Anyway, within a couple of minutes the giant was suspended above the ground, hopelessly snarled in chains and hooks. I dropped to the floor, panting and sweaty. My hands were raw from climbing. 

  “Get me down!” Antaeus demanded. 

  “Free him!” Luke ordered. “He is our host!”

  I uncapped Riptide. “I’ll free him. ”

  And I stabbed the giant in the stomach. He bellowed, and sand poured out, but he was too far up to touch the earth, and the dirt did not rise to hep him. Antaeus just dissolved, pouring out bit by bit, until there was nothing left but empty swinging chains, a really big loincloth on a hook, and a bunch of grinning skulls dancing above me like they had finally had something to smile about. 

  “Jackson!” Luke yelled. “I should have killed you long ago!”

  “You tired,” I reminded him. “Let us go, Luke. We had a sworn agreement with Antaeus. I’m the winner. ”

  He did just what I expected. He said, “Antaeus is dead. His oath dies with him. But since I’m feeling merciful today, I’ll have you killed quickly. ”

  He pointed at Annabeth. “Spare the girl. ” His voice quavered just a little. “I would speak to her before—before our great triumph. ”

  Every monster in the audience drew a weapon or extended its claws. We were trapped. Hopelessly outnumbered. 

  Then I felt something in my pocket—a freezing sensation, growing colder and colder. The dog whistle. My fingers closed around it. For days I’d avoided using Quintus’s gift. It had to be a trap. But now…I had no choice. I took it out of my pocket and blew. It made no audible sound as I shattered into shards of ice, melting in my hand. 

  Luke laughed. “What was that supposed to do?”

  From behind me came a surprised yelp. The Laistrygonian giant who’d been guarding Annabeth flew past me and smashed into the wall. 

  “AROOOOF”

  Kelli the empousa screamed as a five-hundred-pound black mastiff picked her up like a chew toy and tossed her through the air, straight into Luke’s lap. Mrs. O’Leary snarled, and the two dracaenae guards backed away. For a moment the monsters in the audience were caught completely by surprise. 

  “Let’s go!” I yelled at my friends. “Heel, Mrs. O’Leary!”

  “The far exit!” Rachel cried. “That’s the right way!”

  Ethan Nakamura took his cue. Together we raced across the arena and out the far exit, Mrs. O’Leary right behind us. As we ran, I could hear the disorganized sounds of an entire army trying to jump out of the stands and follow us. 

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