The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 18: GROVER CAUSES A STAMPEDE

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Chapter 18: GROVER CAUSES A STAMPEDE

Distance was shorter in the Labyrinth. Still, by the time Rachel got us back to Times Square, I felt like we’d pretty much run all the way from New Mexico. We climbed out of the Marriott basement and stood on the sidewalk in the bright summer daylight, squinting at the traffic and crowds. 

  I couldn’t decide which seemed less real—New York or the crystal cave where I’d watched a god die. 

  I led the way into an alley, where I could get a nice echo. Then I whistled as loud as I could, five times. 

  A minute later, Rachel gasped. “They’re beautiful!”

  A flock of pegasi descended from the sky, swooping between the skyscrapers. Blackjack was in the lead, followed by four of his white friends. 

  Yo, boss! He spoke in my mind. You lived!

  “Yeah,” I told him. “I’m lucky that way. Listen, we need a ride to camp quick. ”

  That’s my specialty! Oh man, you got that Cyclops with you? Yo, Guido! How’s your back holding up?

  The Pegasus Guido groaned and complained, but eventually he agreed to carry Tyson. Everybody started saddling up—except Rachel. 

  “Well,” she told me, “I guess this is it. ”

  I nodded uncomfortably. We both knew she couldn’t go to camp. I glanced at Annabeth, who was pretending to be very busy with her Pegasus. 

  “Thanks, Rachel,” I said. “We couldn’t have done it without you. ”

  “I wouldn’t have missed it. I mean, except for almost dying, and Pan…” Her voice faltered. 

  “He said something about your father,” I remembered. “What did he mean?”

  Rachel twisted the strap on her backpack. “My dad…My dad’s job. He’s kind of a famous businessman. ”

  “You mean…you’re rich?”

  “Well, yeah. ”

  “So that’s how you got the chauffeur to help us? You just said your dad’s name and—”

  “Yes,” Rachel cut me off. “Percy…my dad’s a land developer. He flies all over the world, looking for tracts of undeveloped land. ” She took a shaky breath. “The wild. He—he buys it up. I hate it, but he plows it down and builds ugly subdivisions and shopping centers. And now that I’ve seen Pan…Pan’s death—”

  “Hey, you can’t blame yourself for that. ”

  “You don’t know the worst of it. I—I don’t like to talk about my family. I didn’t want you to know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. ”

  “No,” I said. “It’s cool. Look, Rachel, you did awesome. You led us through the maze. You were so brave. That’s the only thing I’m going to judge you on. I don’t care what your dad does. ”

  Rachel looked at me gratefully. “Well…if you ever feel like hanging out with a mortal again…you could call me or something. ”

  “Uh, yeah. Sure. ”

  She knit her eyebrows. I guess I sounded unenthusiastic or something, but that’s not how I meant it. I just wasn’t sure what to say with all my friends standing around. And I guess my feelings had gotten pretty missed up the last couple of days. 

  “I mean…I’d like that,” I said. 

  “My number’s not in the book,” she said. 

  “I’ve got it. ”

  “Still on your hand? No way. ”

  “No. I kinda…memorized it. ”

  Her smile came back slowly, but a lot happier. “See you later, Percy Jackson. Go save the world for me, okay?”

  She walked off down Seventh Avenue and disappeared into the crowds. 

  ***

  When I got back to the horses. Nico was having trouble. His Pegasus kept shying away from him, reluctant to let him mount. 

  He smells like dead people! The Pegasus complained. 

  Hey now, Blackjack said. Come on, Porkpie. Lotsa demigods smell weird. It ain’t their fault. Oh—uh, I didn’t mean you, boss. 

  “Go without me!” Nico said. “I don’t want to go back to that camp anyway. ”

  “Nico,” I said, “we need your help. ”

  He folded his arms and scowled. Then Annabeth put her hand on his shoulder. 

  “Nico,” she said. “Please. ”

  Slowly, his expression softened. “All right,” he said reluctantly. “For you. but I’m not staying. ”

  I raised an eyebrow at Annabeth, like, How come all of a sudden Nico listens to you? She stuck her tongue out at me. 

  At last we got everybody on a Pegasus. We shot into the air, and soon we were over the East river with Long Island spread out before us. 

  ***

  We landed in the middle of the cabin area and were immediately met by Chiron, the potbellied satyr Silenus, and a couple of Apollo cabin archers. Chiron raised an eyebrow when he saw Nico, but if I expected him to be surprised by our latest news about Quintus being Daedalus, or Kronos rising, I was mistaken. 

  “I feared as much,” Chiron said. “We must hurry. Hopefully you have slowed down the Titan lord, but his vanguard will still be coming through. They will be anxious for blood. Most of our defenders are already in place. Come!”

  “Wait a moment,” Silenus demanded. “What of the search for Pan? You are almost three weeks overdue, Grover Underwood! Your searcher’s license is revoked!”

  Grover took a deep breath. He stood up straight and looked Silenus in the eye. “Searcher’s licenses don’t matter any more. The great god Pan is dead. He has passed on and left us his spirit. ”

  “What?” Silenus’s face turned bright red. “Sacrilege and lies! Grover Underwood, I will have you exiled for speaking thus!”

  “It’s true,” I said. “We were there when he died. All of us. ”

  “Impossible! You are all liars! Nature-destroyers!”

  Chiron studied Grover’s face. “We will speak of this later. ”

  “We will speak of it now!” Silenus said. “We must deal with this—”

  “Silenus,” Chiron cut in. “My camp is under attack. The matter of Pan has waited two thousand years. I fear it will have to wait a bit longer. Assuming we are still here this evening. ”

  And on that happy note, he readied his bow and galloped toward the woods, leaving us to follow as best we could. 

  ***

  It was the biggest military operation I’d ever seen at camp. Everyone was at the clearing, dressed in full battle armor, but this time it wasn’t for capture the flag. The Hephaestus cabin had set up traps around the entrance to the Labyrinth—razor wire, pits filled with pots of Greek fire, rows of sharpened sticks to deflect a charge. Beckendorf was manning two catapults the size of pickup trucks, already primed and aimed at Zeus’s Fist. The Ares cabin was on the front line, drilling in phalanx formation with Clarisse calling orders. Apollo’s and Hermes’s cabins were scattered in the woods with bows ready. Many had taken up positions in the trees. Even the dryads were armed with bows, and the satyrs trotted around with wooden cudgels and shields made of rough tree bark. 

  Annabeth went to join her brethren from the Athena cabin, who had set up a command tent and were directing operations. A gray banner with an owl fluttered outside the tent. Our security chief, Argus, stood guard at the door. Aphrodite’s children were running around straightening everybody’s armor and offering to comb the tangles out of our horsehair plumes. Even Dionysus’s kids had found something to do. The god himself was still nowhere to be seen, but his two blond twin sons were running around providing all the sweaty warriors with water bottles and juice boxes. 

  It looked like a pretty good setup, but Chiron muttered next to me. “It isn’t enough. ”

  I thought about what I’d seen in the Labyrinth, all the monsters in Antaeus’s stadium, and the power of Kronos I’d felt of Mt. Tam. My heart sank. Chiron was right, but it was all we could muster. For once I wished Dionysus was here, but even if he had been, I didn’t know if he could do anything. When it came to war, gods were forbidden to interfere directly. Apparently, the Titans didn’t believe in restrictions like that. 

  Over at the edge of the clearing, Grover was talking to Juniper. She held his hands while he told her our story. Green tears formed in her eyes as he delivered the news about Pan. 

  Tyson helped the Hephaestus kids prepare the defenses. He picked up boulders and piled them next to the catapults for firing. 

  “Stay with me, Percy,” Chiron said. “When the fighting begins, I want you to wait until we know what we’re dealing with. You must go where we most need reinforcements. ”

  “I saw Kronos,” I said, still stunned by the fact. “I looked straight into his eyes. It was Luke…but it wasn’t. ”

  Chiron ran his fingers along his bowstring. “He had golden eyes, I would guess. And in his presence, time seemed to turn to liquid. ”

  I nodded. “How could he take over a mortal body?”

  “I do not know, Percy. Gods have assumed the shapes of mortals for ages, but to actually become one…to merge the divine form with the mortal. I don’t know how this could be done without Luke’s form turning into ashes.”

“Kronos said his body had been prepared. ”

  “I shudder to think what that means. But perhaps it will limit Kronos’s power. For a time, at least, he is confined to a human form. It binds him together. Hopefully it also restricts him. ”

  “Chiron, if he leads the attack—”

  “I do not think so, my boy. I would sense if he were drawing near. No doubt he planned to, but I believe you inconvenienced him when you pulled down his throne room on top of him. ” He looked at me reproachfully. “You and your friend Nico, son of Hades. ”

  A lump formed in my throat. “I’m sorry, Chiron. I know I should’ve told you. It’s just—”

  Chiron raised his hand. “I understand why you did it, Percy. You felt responsible. You sought to protect him. But, my boy, if we are to survive this war, we must trust each other. We must…”

  His voice wavered. The ground underneath us was trembling. 

  Everyone in the clearing stopped what they were doing. Clarisse barked a single order: “Lock shields!”

  Then the Titan lord’s army exploded from the Labyrinth. 

  ***

  I mean I’d been in fights before, but this was a full-scale battle. The first thing I saw were a dozen Laistrygonian giants erupting from the ground, yelling so loudly my ears felt like bursting. They carried shields made from flattened cars, and clubs that were tree trunks with rusty spikes bristling at the end. One of the giants bellowed at the Ares phalanx, smashed it sideways with his club, and the entire cabin was thrown aside, a dozen warriors tossed to the wind like rag dolls. 

  “Fire!” Beckendorf yelled. The catapults swung into action. Two boulders hurtled toward the giants. One deflected off a car shield with hardly a dent, but the other caught a Laistrygonian in the chest, and the giant went down. Apollo’s archers fired a volley, dozens of arrows sticking in the thick armor of the giants like porcupine quills. Several found chinks in armor, and some of the giants vaporized at the touch of celestial bronze. 

  But just when it looked like the Laistrygonians were about to get overwhelmed, the next wave surged out of the maze: thirty, maybe forty dracaenae in full battle armor, wielding spears and nets. They dispersed in all directions. Some hit the traps the Hephaestus cabin had laid. One got struck on the spikes and became an easy target for archers. Another triggered a trip wire, and pots of Greek fire exploded into green flames, engulfing several of the snake women. But many more kept coming. Argus and Athena’s warriors rushed forward to meet them. I saw Annabeth draw a sword and engage one of them. Nearby, Tyson was riding a giant. Somehow he’d managed to climb onto the giant’s back and was hitting him on the head with a bronze shield—BONG! BONG! BONG!

  Chiron calmly aimed arrow after arrow, taking down a monster with every shot. But more enemies just kept climbing out of the maze. Finally a hellhound—not Mrs. O’Leary—leaped out of the tunnel and barreled straight toward the satyrs. 

  “GO!” Chiron yelled at me. 

  I drew Riptide and charged. 

  As I raced across the battlefield, I saw horrible things. An enemy half-blood was fighting with a son of Dionysus, but it wasn’t much of a contest. The enemy stabbed him in the arm then clubbed him over the head with the butt of his sword, and Dionysus’s son went down. Another enemy warrior shot flaming arrows into the trees, sending our archers and dryads into a panic. 

  A dozen dracaenae suddenly broke away from the main fight and slithered down the path that led toward camp, like they knew where they were going. If they got out, they could burn down the entire place, completely unopposed. 

  The only person anywhere near was Nico di Angelo. He stabbed a telekhine, and his black Stygian blade absorbed the monster’s essence, drinking its energy until there was nothing left but dust. 

  “Nico!” I yelled. 

  He looked where I was pointing, saw the serpent women, and immediately understood. 

  He took a deep breath and held out his black sword. “Serve me,” he called. 

  The earth trembled. A fissure opened in front of the dracaenae, and a dozen undead warriors crawled from the earth—horrible corpses in military uniforms from all different time periods—U. S. Revolutionaries, Roman centurions, Napoleonic cavalry on skeletal horses. As one, they drew their swords and engaged the dracaenae. Nico crumpled to his knees, but I didn’t have time to make sure he was okay. 

  I closed on the hellhound, which was now pushing the satyrs back toward the woods. The beast snapped at one satyr, who danced out of its way, but then it pounced on another who was too slow. The satyr’s tree-bark shield cracked as he fell. 

  “Hey!” I yelled. 

  The hellhound turned. It snarled at me and leaped. It would’ve clawed me to pieces, but as I fell backward, my fingers closed around a clay jar—one of Beckendorf’s containers of Greek fire. I tossed it into the hellhound’s maw, and the creature went up in flames. I scrambled away, breathing heavily. 

  The satyr who’d gotten trampled wasn’t moving. I rushed over to check on him, but then I heard Grover’s voice: “Percy!”

  A forest fire had started. Flames roared within ten feet of Juniper’s tree, and Juniper and Grover were going nuts trying to save it. Grover played a rain song on his pipes. Juniper desperately tried to beat out the flames with her green shawl, but it was only making things worse. 

  I ran toward them, jumping past duels, weaving between the legs of giants. The nearest water was the creek, half a mile away…but I had to do something. I concentrated. There was a pull in my gut, a roar in my ears. Then a wall of water came rushing through the trees. It doused the fire, Juniper, Grover, and pretty much everything else. 

  Grover blew a spout of water. “Thanks, Percy!”

  “No problem!” I ran back toward the fight, and Grover and Juniper followed. Grover had a cudgel in his hand and Juniper held a stick—like an old-fashioned whipping switch. She looked really angry, like she was going to tan somebody’s backside. 

  Just when it seemed like the battle had balanced out again—like we might stand a chance—an unearthly shriek echoed out of the Labyrinth, a sound I had heard before. 

  Kampê shot into the sky, her bat wings fully extended. She landed on the top of Zeus’s Fist and surveyed the carnage. Her face was filled with evil glee. The mutant animal heads growled at her waist. Snakes hissed and swirled around her legs. In her right hand she held a glittering ball of thread—Ariadne’s string—but she popped it into a lion’s mouth at her waist and drew her curved swords. The blades glowed green with poison. Kampê screeched in triumph, and some of the campers screamed. Others tried to run and got trampled by hellhounds or giants. 

  “Di Immortales!” Chiron yelled. He quickly aimed an arrow, but Kampê seemed to sense his presence. She took flight with amazing speed, and Chrion’s arrow whizzed harmlessly past her head. 

  Tyson untangled himself from the giant whom he’d pummeled into unconsciousness. He ran at our lines, shouting, “Stand! Do not run from her! Flight!”

  But then a hellhound leaped on him, and Tyson and the hound went rolling away. 

  Kampê landed on the Athena command tent, smashing it flat. I ran after her and found Annabeth at my side, keeping pace, her sword in her hand. 

  “This might be it,” she said. 

  “Could be. ”

  “Nice fighting with you, Seaweed Brain. ”

  “Ditto. ”

  Together we leaped into the monster’s path. Kampê hissed and sliced at us. I dodged, trying to distract her, while Annabeth went in for a strike, but the monster seemed able to fight with both hands independently. She blocked Annabeth’s sword, and Annabeth had to jump back to avoid the cloud of poison. Just being near the thing was like standing in an acid fog. My eyes burned. My lungs couldn’t get enough air. I knew we couldn’t stand our ground for more than a few seconds. 

  “Come on!” I shouted. “We need help!”

  But no help came. Everyone was either down, or fighting for their lives, or too scared to move forward. Three of Chiron’s arrows sprouted from Kampê’s chest, but she just roared louder. 

  “Now!” Annabeth said. 

  Together we charged, dodged the monster’s slashes, got inside her guard, and almost…almost managed to stab Kampê in the chest, but a huge bear’s head lashed out from the monster’s waist, and we had to stumble backward to avoid getting bitten. 

  Slam!

  My eyesight went black. The next thing I knew, Annnabeth and I were on the ground. The monster had its forelegs on our chests, holding us down. Hundreds of snakes slithered right above me, hissing like laughter. Kampê raised her green-tinged swords, and I knew Annabeth and I were out of options. 

  Then, behind me, something howled. A wall of darkness slammed into Kampê, sending the monster sideways. And Mrs. O’Leary was standing over us, snarling and snapping at Kampê. 

  “Good girl!” said a familiar voice. Daedalus was fighting his way out of the Labyrinth, slashing down enemies left and right as he made his way toward us. Next to him was someone else—a familiar giant, much taller than the Laistrygonians, with a hundred rippling arms, each holding a huge chunk of rock. 

  “Briares!” Tyson cried in wonder. 

  “Hail, little brother!” Briares bellowed. “Stand firm!”

  And as Mrs. O’Leary leaped out of the way, the Hundred-Handed One launched a volley of boulders at Kampê. The rocks seemed to enlarge as they left Briares’s hands. There were so many, it looked like half the earth had learned to fly. 

  BOOOOOM!

  Where Kampê had stood a moment before was a mountain of boulders, almost as tall as Zeus’s Fist. The only sign that the monster had ever existed were two green sword points sticking through the cracks. 

  A cheer went up from the campers, but our enemies weren’t done yet. One of the dracaenae yelled, “Ssssslay them! Kill them all or Kronossss will flay you alive!”

  Apparently, that threat was more terrifying than we were. The giants surged forward in a last desperate attempt. One surprised Chiron with a glancing blow to the back legs, and he stumbled and fell. Six giants cried in glee and rushed forward. 

  “No!” I screamed, but I was too far away to help. 

  Then it happened. Grover opened his mouth, and the most horrible sound I’d ever heard came out. It was like a brass trumpet magnified a thousand times—the sound of pure fear. 

  As one, the forces of Kronos dropped their weapons and ran for their lives. The giants trampled the dracaenae trying to get into the Labyrinth first. Telekhines and hellhounds and enemy half-bloods scrambled after them. The tunnel rumbled shut, and the battle was over. The clearing was quiet except for the fires burning in the woods, and the cries of the wounded. 

  I helped Annabeth to her feet. We ran to Chiron. 

  “Are you all right?” I asked. 

  He was lying on his side, trying in vain to get up. “How embarrassing,” he muttered. “I think I will be fine. Fortunately, we do not shoot centaurs with broken… Ow! …broken legs. 

  “You need help,” Annabeth said. “I’ll get a medic from Apollo’s cabin. ”

“No,” Chiron insisted. “There are more serious injuries to attend to. Go! I am fine. But, Grover…later we must talk about how you did that. ”

  “That was amazing,” I agreed. Grover blushed. “I don’t know where it came from. ” Juniper hugged him fiercely. “I do!” Before she could say more, Tyson called, “Percy, come quick! It is Nico!”

  ***

  There was smoke curling off his black clothes. His fingers were clenched, and the grass all around his body had turned yellow and died. 

  I rolled him over as gently as I could and put my against his chest. His heart was beating faintly. “Get some nectar!” I yelled. 

  One of the Ares campers hobbled over and handed me a canteen. I trickled some of the magic drink into Nico’s mouth. He coughed and spluttered, but his eyelids fluttered open. 

  “Nico, what happened?” I asked. “Can you talk?”

  He nodded weakly. “Never tried to summon so many before. I—I’ll be fine. ”

  We helped him sit up and gave him some more nectar. He blinked at all of us, like he was trying to remember who we were, and then he focused on someone behind me. 

  “Daedalus,” he croaked. 

  “Yes, my boy,” the inventor said. “I made a very bad mistake. I came to correct it. ”

  Daedalus had a few scratches that were bleeding golden oil, but he looked better than most of us. Apparently his automaton body healed itself quickly. Mrs. O’Leary loomed behind him, licking the wounds on her master’s head so Daedalus’s hair stood up funny. Briares stood next to him, surrounded by a group of awed campers and satyrs. He looked kind of bashful, but he was signing autographs on armor, shields, and T-shirts. 

  “I found the Hundred-Handed One as I came through the maze,” Daedalus explained. “It seems he had the same idea, to come help, but he was lost. And so we fell in together. We both came to make amends. ”

  “Yay!” Tyson jumped up and down. “Briares! I knew you would come!”

  “I did not know,” the Hundred-Handed One said. “But you reminded me who I am, Cyclops. You are the hero. ”

  Tyson blushed, but I patted him on the back. “I knew that a long time ago,” I said. “But, Daedalus…the Titan army is still down there. Even without the string, they’ll be back. They’ll find a way sooner or later, with Kronos leading them. ”

  Daedalus sheathed his sword. “You are right. As long as the Labyrinth is here, your enemies can use it. Which is why the Labyrinth cannot continue. ”

  Annabeth stared at him. “But you said the Labyrinth is tied to your life force! As long as you’re alive—”

  “Yes, my young architect,” Daedalus agreed. “When I die, the Labyrinth will die as well. And so I have a present for you. ”

  He slung a leather satchel off his back, unzipped it, and produced a sleek silver laptop computer—one of the ones I’d seen in the workshop. On the lid was the blue symbol Δ. 

  “My work is here,” he said. “It’s all I managed to save from the fire. Notes on projects I never started. Some of my favorite designs. I couldn’t develop these over the last few millennia. I did not dare reveal my work to the mortal world. But perhaps you will find it interesting. ”

  He handed the computer to Annabeth, who stared at it like it was solid gold. “You’re giving me this? But this is priceless! This is worth…I don’t even know how much!”

  “Small compensation for the way I have acted,” Daedalus said. “You were right, Annabeth, about children of Athena. We should be wise, and I was not. Someday you will be a greater architect than I ever was. Take my ideas and improve them. It is the least I can do before I pass on. ”

  “Whoa,” I said. “Pass on? But you can’t just kill yourself. That’s wrong. ”

  He shook his head. “Not as wrong as hiding from my crimes for two thousand years. Genius does not excuse evil, Percy. My time has come. I must face my punishment. ”

  “You won’t get a fair trial,” Annabeth said. “The spirit of Minos sits in judgment—”

  “I will take what comes,” he said. “And trust in the justice of the Underworld, such as it is. That is all we can do, isn’t it?”

  He looked straight at Nico, and Nico’s face darkened. 

  “Yes,” he said. 

  “Will you take my soul for ransom, then?” Daedalus asked. “You could use it to reclaim your sister. ”

  “No,” Nico said. “I will help you release your spirit. But Bianca has passed. She must stay where she is. ”

  Daedalus nodded. “Well done, son of Hades. You are becoming wise. ” Then he turned toward me. “One last favor, Percy Jackson. I cannot leave Mrs. O’Leary alone. And she has no desire to return to the Underworld. Will you care for her?”

  I looked at the massive black hound, who whimpered pitifully, still licking Daedalus’s hair. I was thinking that my mom’s apartment wouldn’t allow dogs, especially dogs bigger than the apartment, but I said, “Yeah. Of course I will. ”

  “Then I am ready to see my son…and Perdix,” he said. “I must tell them how sorry I am. ”

  Annabeth had tears in her eyes. 

  Daedalus turned toward Nico, who drew his sword. At first I was afraid Nico would kill the old inventor, but he simply said, “Your time is long since come. Be released and rest. ”

  A smile of relief spread across Daedalus’s face. He froze like a statue. His skin turned transparent, revealing the bronze gears and machinery whirring inside his body. Then the statue turned to gray ash and disintegrated. 

  Mrs. O’Leary howled. I patted her head, trying to comfort her as best I could. The earth rumbled—an earthquake that could probably be felt in every major city across the country—as the ancient Labyrinth collapsed. Somewhere, I hoped, the remains of the Titan’s strike force had been buried. 

  I looked around at the carnage in the clearing, and the weary faces of my friends. 

  “Come on,” I told them. “We have work to do. ”

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