The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 16: I OPEN A COFFIN

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Chapter 16: I OPEN A COFFIN

Jumping out a window five hundred feet aboveground is not usually my idea of fun. Especially when I’m wearing bronze wings and flapping my arms like a duck. 

  I plummeted toward the valley and the red rocks below. I was pretty sure I was going to become a grease spot in the Garden of the Gods, as Annabeth yelled from somewhere above me, “Spread your arms! Keep them extended. ”

  The small part of my brain that wasn’t engulfed in panic heard her, and my arms responded. As soon as I spread them out, the wings stiffened, caught the wind, and my descent slowed. I soared downward, but at a controlled angle, like a kite in a dive. 

  Experimentally, I flapped my arms once. I arced into the sky, the wind whistling in my ears. 

  “Yeah!” I yelled. The feeling was unbelievable. After getting the hang of it, I felt like the wings were part of my body. I could soar and swoop and dive anywhere I wanted to. 

  I turned and saw my friends—Rachel, Annabeth, and Nico—spiraling above me, glinting in the sunlight. Behind them, smoke billowed from the windows of Daedalus’s workshop. 

  “Land!” Annabeth yelled. “These wings won’t last forever. ”

  “How long?” Rachel asked. 

  “I don’t want to find out!” Annabeth said. 

  We swooped down toward the Garden of the Gods. I did a complete circle around one of the rock spires and freaked out a couple of climbers. Then the four of us soared across the valley, over a road, and landed on the terrace of the visitor center. It was late afternoon and the place looked pretty empty, but we ripped off our wings as quickly as we could. Looking at them, I could see Annabeth was right. The self-adhesive seals that bound the wings to our backs were already melting, and we were shedding bronze feathers. It seemed a shame, but we couldn’t fix them, and couldn’t leave them around for the mortals, so we stuffed the wings in trash binsoutside the cafeteria. 

  I used the tourist binocular camera to look up at the hill where Daedalus’s workshop had been, but it had vanished. No more smoke. No broken windows. Just the side of a hill. 

  “The workshop moved,” Annabeth guessed. “There’s no telling where. ”

  “So what do we do now?” I asked. “How do we get back in the maze?”

  Annabeth gazed at the summit of Pikes Peak in the distance. “Maybe we can’t. If Daedalus died…he said his life force was tied into the Labyrinth. The whole thing might’ve been destroyed. Maybe that will stop Luke’s invasion. ”

  I thought about Grover and Tyson, still down there somewhere. And Daedalus…even though he’d done some terrible things and put everybody I cared about at risk, it seemed like a pretty horrible way to die. 

  “No,” Nico said. “He isn’t dead. ”

  “How can you be sure?” I asked. 

  “I know when people die. It’s this feeling I get, like a buzzing in my ears. ”

  “What about Tyson and Grover, then?”

  Nico shook his head. “That’s harder. They’re not humans or half-bloods. They don’t have mortal souls. ”

  “We have to get into town,” Annabeth decided. “Our chances will be better of finding an entrance to the Labyrinth. We have to make it back to camp before Luke and his army. ”

  “We could just take a plane,” Rachel said. 

  I shuddered. “I don’t fly. ”

  “But you just did. ”

  “That was low flying,” I said, “and even that’s risky. Flying up really high—that’s Zeus’s territory. I can’t do it. Besides, we don’t even have time for a flight. The labyrinth is the quickest way back. ”

  I didn’t want to say it, but I was also hoping that maybe, just maybe, we would find Grover and Tyson along the way. 

  “So we need a car to take us into the city,” Annabeth said. 

  Rachel looked down into the parking lot. She grimaced, as if she were about to do something she regretted. “I’ll take care of it. ”

  “How?” Annabeth asked. 

  “Just trust me. ”

  Annabeth looked uneasy, but she nodded. “Okay, I’m going to buy a prism in the gift shop, try to make a rainbow, and send an Iris-message to camp. ”

  “I’ll go with you,” Nico said. “I’m hungry. ”

  “I’ll stick with Rachel, then,” I said. “Meet you guys in the parking lot. ”

  Rachel frowned like she didn’t want me with her. That made me feel kind of bad, but I followed her down to the parking lot anyway. 

  She headed toward a big black car parked at the edge of the lot. It was a chauffeured Lexus, like the kind I always saw driving around Manhattan. The driver was out front, reading a newspaper. He wore a dark suit and tie. 

  “What are you going to do?” I asked Rachel. 

  “Just wait here,” she said miserably. “Please. ”

  Rachel marched straight up to the driver and talked to him. He frowned. Rachel said something else. He turned pale and hastily folded up his magazine. He nodded and fumbled for his cell phone. After a brief call, he opened the back door of the car for Rachel to get in. She pointed back in my direction, and the driver bobbed his head some more, like Yes, ma’am. Whatever you want. 

  I couldn’t figure out why he was acting so flustered. 

  Rachel came back to get me just as Nico and Annabeth appeared from the gift shop. 

  “I talked to Chiron,” Annabeth said. “They’re doing their best to prepare for battle, but he still wants us back. They’re going to need every hero they can get. Did we find a ride?”

“The driver’s ready when we are,” Rachel said. 

  The chauffeur was now talking to another guy in khakis and a polo shirt, probably his client who’d rented the car. The client was complaining, but I could hear the driver saying, “I’m sorry, sir. Emergency. I’ve ordered another car for you. ”

  “Come on,” Rachel said. She led us to the car and got in without even looking at the flustered guy who’d rented it. A minute later we were cruising down the road. The seats were leather. There was plenty of legroom. The backseat had flat-panel TVs built into the headrests and a mini-fridge stocked with bottled water, sodas, and snacks. We started pigging out. 

  “Where to, Miss Dare?” the driver asked. 

  “I’m not sure yet, Robert,” she said. “We just need to drive through town and, uh, look around. ”

  “Whatever you say, miss. ”

  I looked at Rachel. “Do you know this guy?”

  “No. ”

  “But he dropped everything to help you. Why?”

  “Just keep your eyes peeled,” she said. “Help me look. ”

  Which didn’t exactly answer my question. 

  We drove through Colorado Springs for about half an hour and saw nothing that Rachel considered a possible Labyrinth entrance. I was very aware of Rachel’s shoulder pressing against mine. I kept wondering who she was exactly, and how she could walk up to some random chauffeur and immediately get a ride. 

  After about an hour we decided to head north toward Denver, thinking that maybe a bigger city would be more likely to have a Labyrinth entrance, but we were all getting nervous. We were losing time. 

  Then right as we were leaving Colorado Springs, Rachel sat bolt upright. “Get off the highway!”

  The driver glanced back. “Miss?”

  “I saw something, I think. Get off here. ”

  The driver swerved across traffic and took the exit. 

  “What did you see?” I asked, because we were pretty much out of the city now. There wasn’t anything around except hills, grassland, and some scattered farm buildings. Rachel had the driver turn down this unpromising dirt road. We drove by a sign too fast for me to read it, but Rachel said, “Western Museum of Mining & Industry. ”

  For a museum, it didn’t look like much—a little house like an old-fashioned railroad station, some drills and pumps and old steam shovels on display outside. 

  “There. ” Rachel pointed to a hole in the side of a nearby hill—a tunnel that was boarded up and chained. “An old mine entrance. ”

  “A door to the Labyrinth?” Annabeth asked. “How can you be sure?”

  “Well, look at it!” Rachel said. “I mean…I can see it, okay?”

  She thanked the driver and we all got out. He didn’t ask for money or anything. “Are you sure you’ll be all right, Miss Dare? I’d be happy to call your—”

  “No!” Rachel said. “No, really. Thanks, Robert. But we’re fine. ”

  The museum seemed to be closed, so nobody bothered us as we climbed the hill to the mine shaft. When we got to the entrance, I saw the mark of Daedalus engraved on the padlock, though how Rachel had seen something so tiny all the way from the highway I had no idea. I touched the padlock and the chains fell away. We kicked down a few boards and walked inside. For better or worse, we were back in the Labyrinth. 

  ***

  The dirt tunnels turned to stone. They wound around and split off and basically tried to confuse us, but Rachel had no trouble guiding us. We told her we needed to get back to New York, and she hardly even paused when the tunnels offered a choice. 

  To my surprise, Rachel and Annabeth started up a conversation as we walked. Annabeth asked her more about her background, but Rachel was evasive, so they started talking about architecture. It turned out that Rachel knew something about it from studying art. They talked about different facades on buildings around New York—“Have you seen this one,” blah, blah, blah, so I hung back and walked next to Nico in uncomfortable silence. 

  “Thanks for coming after us,” I told him at last. 

  Nico’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t seem as angry as he used to—just suspicious, careful. “I owed you for the ranch, Percy. Plus…I wanted to see Daedalus for myself. Minos was right, in a way. Daedalus should die. Nobody should be able to avoid death that long. It’s not natural. ”

  “That’s what you were after all along,” I said. “Trading Daedalus’s soul for your sister’s. ”

  Nico walked for another fifty yards before answering. “It hasn’t been easy, you know. Having only the dead for company. Knowing that I’ll never be accepted by the living. Only the dead respect me, and they only do that out of fear. ”

  “You could be accepted,” I said. “You could have friends at camp. ”

  He stared at me. “Do you really believe that, Percy?”

  I didn’t answer. The truth was, I didn’t know. Nico had always been a little different, but since Bianca’s death, he’d gotten almost…scary. He had his father’s eyes—that intense, manic fire that made you suspect he was either a genius or a madman. And the way he’d banished Minos, and called himself the king of ghosts—it was kind of impressive, but it made me uncomfortable too. 

  Before I could figure out what to tell him, I ran into Rachel, who’d stopped in front of me. We’d come to a crossroads. The tunnel continued straight ahead, but a side tunnel T’d off to the right—a circular shaft carved from volcanic rock. 

  “What is it?” I asked. 

  Rachel stared down the dark tunnel. In the dim flashlight beam, her face looked like one of Nico’s specters. 

  “Is it that way?” Annabeth asked. 

  “No,” Rachel said nervously. “Not at all. ”

  “Why are we stopping then?” I asked. 

  “Listen,” Nico said. 

  I heard wind coming down the tunnel, as if the exit were close. And I smelled something vaguely familiar—something that brought back bad memories. 

  “Eucalyptus trees,” I said. “Like in California. ”

  Last winter, when we’d faced Luke and the Titan Atlas on top of Mount Tamalpais, the air had smelled like that. 

  “There’s something evil down that tunnel,” Rachel said. “Something very powerful. ”

  “And the smell of death,” Nico added, which made me feel a whole lot better. 

  Annabeth and I exchanged glances. 

  “Luke’s entrance,” she guessed. “The one to Mount Othrys—the Titans’ palace. ”

  “I have to check it out,” I said. 

  “Percy, no. ”

  “Luke could be right here,” I said. “Or…or Kronos. I have to find out what’s going on. ”

  Annabeth hesitated. “Then we’ll all go. ”

  “No,” I said. “It’s too dangerous. If they got hold of Nico, or Rachel for that matter, Kronos could use them. You stay here and guard them. ”

  What I didn’t say: I was also worried about Annabeth. I didn’t trust what she would do if she saw Luke again. He had fooled her and manipulated her too many times before. 

  “Percy, don’t,” Rachel said. “Don’t go up there alone. ”

  “I’ll be quick,” I promised. “I won’t do anything stupid. ”

  Annabeth took her Yankees cap out of her pocket. “At least take this. And be careful. ”

  “Thanks. ” I remembered the last time Annabeth and I had parted ways, when she’d given me a kiss for luck in Mount St. Helens. This time, all I got was the hat. 

  I put it on. “Here goes nothing. ” And I sneaked invisibly down the dark stone tunnel. 

  ***

  Before I even got to the exit I heard voices: the growling, barking sounds of sea-demon smiths, the telekhines. 

  “At least we salvaged the blade,” one said. “The master will still reward us. ”

  “Yes! Yes!” a second shrieked. “Rewards beyond measure!”

  Another voice, this one more human, said: “Um, yeah, well that’s great. Now, if you’re done with me—”

  “No, half-blood!” a telekhine said. “You must help us make the presentation. It is a great honor!”

  “Gee, thanks,” the half-blood said, and I realized it was Ethan Nakamura, the guy who’d run away after I’d saved his sorry life in the arena. 

  I crept toward the end of the tunnel. I had to remind myself I was invisible. They shouldn’t be able to see me. 

  A blast of cold air hit me as I emerged. I was standing near the top of Mount Tam. The Pacific Ocean spread out below, gray under a cloudy sky. About twenty feet downhill, two telekhines were placing something on a big rock—something long and thin and wrapped in a black cloth. Ethan was helping them open it. 

  “Careful, fool,” the telekhine scolded. “One touch, and the blade will sever your soul from your body. ”

  Ethan swallowed nervously. “Maybe I’ll let you unwrap it, then. ”

  I glanced up at the mountain’s peak, where a black marble fortress loomed, just like I’d seen in my dreams. It reminded me of an oversized mausoleum, with walls fifty feet high. I had no idea how mortals could miss the fact that it was here. But then again, everything below the summit seemed fuzzy to me, as if there were a thick veil between me and the lower half of the mountain. There was magic going on here—really powerful Mist. Above me, the sky swirled into a huge funnel cloud. I couldn’t see Atlas, but I could hear him groaning in the distance, still laboring under the weight of the sky, just beyond the fortress. 

  “There!” the telekhine said. Reverently, he lifted the weapon, and my blood turned to ice. 

  It was a scythe—a six foot-long blade curved like a crescent moon, with a wooden handle wrapped in leather. The blade glinted two different colors— steel and bronze. It was the weapon of Kronos, the one he’d used to slice up his father, Ouranos, before the gods had taken it away from him and cut Kronos to pieces, casting him into Tartarus. Now the weapon was re-forged. 

  “We must sanctify it in blood,” the telekhine said. “Then you, half-blood, shall help present it when the lord awakes. ”

  I ran toward the fortress, my pulse pounding in my ears. I didn’t want to get anywhere close to that horrible black mausoleum, but I knew what I had to do. I had to stop Kronos from rising. This might be my only chance. 

  I dashed through a dark foyer and into the main hall. The floor shined like a mahogany piano—pure black and yet full of light. Black marble statues lined the walls. I didn’t recognize the faces, but I knew I was looking at images of the Titans who’d ruled before the gods. At the end of the room, between two bronze braziers, was a dais. And on the dais, the golden sarcophagus. 

  The room was silent except for the crackle of the fires. Luke wasn’t here. No guards. Nothing. 

  It was too easy, but I approached the dais. 

  The sarcophagus was just like I remembered—about ten feet long, much too big for a human. It was carved with elaborate scenes of death and destruction, pictures of the gods being trodden under chariots, temples and famous world landmarks being smashed and burned. The whole coffin gave off an aura of extreme cold, like I was walking into a freezer. My breath began to steam. 

I drew Riptide and too a little comfort from the familiar weight of the sword in my hand. 

  Whenever I’d approached Kronos before, his evil voice had spoken in my mind. Why was he silent now? He’d been shred into a thousand pieces, cut with his own scythe. What would I find if I opened that lid? How could they make a new body for him?

  I had no answers. I just knew that if he was about to rise, I had to strike him down before he got his scythe. I had to figure out a way to stop him. 

  I stood over the coffin. The lid was decorated even more intricately than the sides—with scenes of carnage and power. In the middle was an inscription carved in letters even older than Greek, a language of magic. I couldn’t read it, exactly, but I knew what it said: KRONOS, LORD OF TIME. 

  My hand touched the lid. My fingertips turned blue. Frost gathered on my sword. 

  Then I heard noises behind me—voices approaching. It was now or never. I pushed back the golden lid and it fell to the floor with a huge WHOOOOM!

  I lifted my sword, ready to strike. But when I looked inside, I didn’t comprehend what I was seeing. Mortal legs, dressed in gray pants. A white T-shirt, hands folded over his stomach. One piece of his chest was missing—a clean black hole about the size of a bullet wound, right where his heart should’ve been. His eyes were closed. His skin was pale. Blond hair…and a scar running along the left side of his face. 

  The body in the coffin was Luke’s. 

  ***

  I should have stabbed him right then. I should’ve brought the point of Riptide down with all my strength. 

  But I was too stunned. I didn’t understand. As much as I hated Luke, as much as he had betrayed me, I just didn’t get why he was in the coffin, and why he looked so very, very dead. 

  Then the voices of the telekhines were right behind me. 

  “What has happened!” one of the demons screamed when he saw the lid. I stumbled awayfrom the dais, forgetting that I was invisible, and hid behind a column as they approached. 

  “Careful!” the other demon warned. “Perhaps he stirs. We must present the gifts now. Immediately!”

  The two telekhines shuffled forward and knelt, holding up the scythe on its wrapping cloth. “My lord,” one said. “Your symbol of power is remade. ”

  Silence. Nothing happened in the coffin. 

  “You fool,” the other telekhine muttered. “He requires the half-blood first. ”

  Ethan stepped back. “Whoa, what do you mean, he requires me?”

  “Don’t be a coward!” the first telekhine hissed. “He does not require your death. Only your allegiance. Pledge him your service. Renounce the gods. That is all. ”

  “No!” I yelled. It was a stupid thing to do, but I charged into the room and took off the cap. “Ethan, don’t!”

  “Trespasser!” The telekhines bared their seal teeth. “The master will deal with you soon enough. Hurry, boy!”

  “Ethan,” I pleaded, “don’t listen to them. Help me destroy it. ”

  Ethan turned toward me, his eye patch blending in with the shadows on his face. His expression was something like pity. “I told you not to spare me, Percy. ‘An eye for an eye. ’ You ever hear that saying? I learned what it means the hard way—when I discovered my godly parent. I’m the child of Nemesis, Goddess of Revenge. And this is what I was made to do. ”

  He turned toward the dais. “I renounce the gods! What have they ever done for me? I will see them destroyed. I will serve Kronos. ”

  The building rumbled. A wisp of blue light rose from the floor at Ethan Nakamura’s feet. It drifted toward the coffin and began to shimmer, like a cloud of pure energy. Then it descended on the sarcophagus. 

  Luke sat bolt upright. His eyes opened, and they were no longer blue. They were golden, the same color as the coffin. The hole in his chest was gone. He was complete. He leaped out of the coffin with ease, and where his feet touched the floor, the marble froze like craters of ice. 

  He looked at Ethan and the telekhines with htose horrible golden eyes, as if he were a newborn baby, not sure what he was seeing. Then he looked at me, and a smile of recognition crept across his mouth. 

  “This body has been well prepared. ” His voice was like a razor blade running over my skin. It was Luke’s, but not Luke’s. underneath his voice was another, more horrible sound—an ancient, cold sound like metal scraping against rock. “Don’t you think so, Percy Jackson?”

  I couldn’t move. I couldn’t answer. 

  Kronos threw back his head and laughed. The scar on his face rippled. 

  “Luke feared you,” the Titan’s voice said. “His jealously and hatred have been powerful tools. It has kept him obedient. For that I thank you. ”

  Ethan collapsed in terror. He covered his face with his hands. The telekhines trembled, holding up the scythe. 

  Finally I found my nerve. I lunged at the thing that used to be Luke, thrusting my blade straight at his chest, but his skin deflected the blow like he was made of pure steel. He looked at me with amusement. Then he flicked his hand, and I flew across the room. 

  I slammed against a pillar. I struggled to my feet, blinking the stars out of my eyes, but Kronos had already grasped the handle of his scythe. 

  “Ah…much better,” he said. “Backbiter, Luke called it. An appropriate name. now that it is re-forged completely, it shall indeed bite back. ”

  “What have you done to Luke?” I groaned. 

  Kronos raised his scythe. “He serves me with his whole being, as I require. 

  The difference is, he feared you, Percy Jackson. I do not. ”

  That’s when I ran. There wasn’t even any thought to it. No debate in my mind about—gee, should I stand up to him and try to fight again? Nope, I simply ran. 

  But my feet felt like lead. Time slowed down around me, like the world was turning to Jell-O. I’d had this feeling once before, and I knew it was the power of Kronos. His presence was so strong it could bend time itself. 

  “Run, little hero,” he laughed. “Run!”

  I glanced back and saw him approaching leisurely, swinging his scythe as if he were enjoying the feel of having it in his hands again. No weapon in the world could stop him. No amount of celestial bronze. 

  He was ten feet away when I heard, “PERCY!”

  Rachel’s voice. 

  Something flew past me, and a blue plastic hairbrush hit Kronos in the eye. 

  “Ow!” he yelled. For a moment it was only Luke’s voice, full of surprise and pain. My limbs were freed and I ran straight into Rachel, Nico, and

  Annabeth, who were standing in the entry hall, their eyes filled with dismay. 

  “Luke?” Annabeth called. “What—”

  I grabbed her by the shirt and hauled her after me. I ran as fast as I’ve ever run, straight out of the fortress. We were almost back to the Labyrinth entrance when I heard the loudest bellow in the world—the voice of Kronos, coming back into control. “AFTER THEM!”

  “No!” Nico yelled. He clapped his hands together, and a jagged spire of rock the size of an eighteen-wheeler erupted from the ground right in front of the fortress. The tremor it caused was so powerful the front columns of the building came crashing down. I heard muffled screams from the telekhines inside. Dust billowed everywhere. 

  We plunged into the Labyrinth and kept running, the howl of the Titan lord shaking the entire world behind us. 

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