The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 20: MY BIRTHDAY PARTY TAKES A DARK TURN

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Chapter 20: MY BIRTHDAY PARTY TAKES A DARK TURN

The rest of the summer seemed strange because it was so normal. The daily activities continued: archery, rock climbing, Pegasus riding. We played capture the flag (though we all avoided Zeus’s Fist). We sang at the campfire and raced chariots and played practical jokes on the other cabins. I spent a lot of time with Tyson, playing with Mrs. O’Leary, but she would still howl at night when she got lonely for her old master. Annabeth and I pretty much skirted around each other. I was glad to be with her, but it also kind of hurt, and it hurt when I wasn’t with her, too. 

  I wanted to talk to her about Kronos, but I couldn’t do that anymore without bringing up Luke. And that was one subject I couldn’t raise. She would shut me out every time I tried. 

  July passed, with fireworks on the beach on the Fourth. August turned so hot the strawberries started baking in the fields. Finally, the last day of camp arrived. The standard form letter appeared on my bed after breakfast, warning me that the cleaning harpies would devour me if I stayed past noon. 

  At ten o’clock I stood on the top of Half-Blood Hill, waiting for the camp van that would take me into the city. I’d made arrangements to leave Mrs. O’Leary at camp, where Chiron promised she’d be looked after. Tyson and I would take turns visiting her during the year. 

  I hoped Annabeth would be riding into Manhattan with me, but she only came to see me off. She said she’d arranged to stay at camp a little longer. She would tend to Chiron until his leg was fully recovered, and keep studying Deadalus’s laptop, which had engrossed her for the last two months. Then she would head back to her father’s place in San Francisco. 

  “There’s a private school out there that I’ll be going to,” she said. “I’ll probably hate it, but…” she shrugged. 

“Yeah, well, call me, okay?”

  “Sure,” she said half-heartedly. “I’ll keep my eyes open for…”

  There it was again. Luke. She couldn’t even say his name without opening up a huge box of hurt and worry and anger. 

  “Annabeth,” I said. “What was the rest of the prophecy?”

  She fixed her eyes on the woods in the distance, but she didn’t say anything. 

  “You shall delve in the darkness of the endless maze,” I remembered. “The dead, the traitor, and the lost one raise. We raised a lot of the dead. We saved Ethan Nakamura, who turned out to be a traitor. We raised the spirit of Pan, the lost one. ”

  Annabeth shook her head like she wanted me to stop. 

  “You shall rise or fall by the ghost king’s hand,” I pressed on. “That wasn’t Minos, like I’d thought. It was Nico. By choosing to be on our side, he saved us. And the child of Athena’s final stand—that was Daedalus. ”

  “Percy—”

  “Destroy with a hero’s final breath. That makes sense now. Daedalus died to destroy the Labyrinth. But what was the last—”

  “And lose a love to worse than death. ” Annabeth had tears in her eyes. “That was the last line, Percy. Are you happy now?”

  The sun seemed colder than it had a moment ago. “Oh,” I said. “So Luke—”

  “Percy, I didn’t know who the prophecy was talking about. I—I didn’t know if…” She faltered helplessly. “Luke and I—for years, he was the only one who really cared about me. I thought…”

  Before she could continue, a sparkle of light appeared next to us, like someone had opened a gold curtain in the air. 

  “You have nothing to apologize for, my dear. ” Standing on the hill was a tall woman in a white dress, her dark hair braided over her shoulder. 

  “Hera,” Annabeth said. 

  The goddess smiled. “You found the answers, as I knew you would. Your quest was a success. ”

  “A success?” Annabeth said. “Luke is gone. Daedalus is dead. Pan is dead. How is that—”

  “Our family is safe,” Hera insisted. “Those others are better gone, my dear. I am proud of you. ”

  I balled my fists. I couldn’t believe she was saying this. “You’re the one who paid Geryon to let us through the ranch, weren’t you?”

  Hera shrugged. Her dress shimmered in rainbow colors. “I wanted to speed you on your way. ”

  “But you didn’t care about Nico. You were happy to see him turned over to the Titans. ”

  “Oh, please. ” Hera waved her hand dismissively. “The son of Hades said it himself. No one wants him around. He does not belong. ”

  “Hephaestus was right,” I growled. “You only care about your perfect family, not real people. ”

  Her eyes turned dangerously bright. “Watch yourself, son of Poseidon. I guided you more than you know in the maze. I was at your side when you faced Geryon. I let your arrow fly straight. I sent you to Calypso’s island. I opened the way to the Titan’s mountain. Annabeth, my dear, surely you see how I’ve helped. I would welcome a sacrifice for my efforts. ”

  Annabeth stood still as a statue. She could’ve said thank you. She could’ve promised to throw some barbecue on the brazier for Hera and forget the whole thing. But she clenched her jaw stubbornly. She looked just the way she had when she’d faced the Sphinx—like she wasn’t going to accept an easy answer, even if it got her in serious trouble. I realized that was one of the things I liked best about Annabeth. 

  “Percy is right. ” she turned her back on the goddess. “You’re the one who doesn’t belong, Queen Hera. So next time, thanks…but no thanks. ”

  Hera’s sneer was worse than an empousa’s. Her form began to glow. “You will regret this insult, Annabeth. You will regret this very much. ”

  I averted my eyes as the goddess turned into her true divine form and disappeared in a blaze of light. 

  The hilltop was peaceful again. Over at the pine tree, Peleus the dragon dozed under the Golden Fleece as if nothing had happened. 

  “I’m sorry,” Annabeth told me. “I—I should get back. I’ll keep in touch. ”

  “Listen, Annabeth—” I thought about Mount St. Helens, Calypso’s Island, Luke and Rachel Elizabeth Dare, and how suddenly everything had gotten so complicated. I wanted to tell Annabeth that I didn’t really want to be so distant from her. 

  Then Argus honked his horn down at the road, and I lost my chance. 

  “You’d better get going,” Annabeth said. “Take care, Seaweed Brain. ”

  She jogged down the hill. I watched her until she reached the cabins. She didn’t look back once. 

  ***

  Two days later it was my birthday. I never advertised the date, because it always fell right after camp, so none of my camp friends could usually come, and I didn’t have that many mortal friends. Besides, getting older didn’t seem like anything to celebrate since I’d gotten the big prophecy about me destroying or saving the world when I turned sixteen. Now I was turning fifteen. I was running out of time. 

  My mom threw me a small party at our apartment. Paul Blofis came over, but that was okay because Chiron had manipulated the Mist to convince everyone at Goode High School that I had nothing to do with the band room explosion. Now Paul and the other witnesses were convinced that Kelli had been a crazy, firebomb-throwing cheerleader, while I had simply been an innocent bystander who’d panicked and ran from the scene. I would still be allowed to start as a freshman at Goode next month. If I wanted to keep my record of getting kicked out of school every year, I’d have to try harder. 

  Tyson came to my party, too, and my mother baked two extra blue cakes just for him. While Tyson helped my mom blow up party balloons, Paul Blofis asked me to help him in the kitchen. 

  As we were pouring punch, he said, “I hear your mom signed you up for driver’s ed this fall. ”

  “Yeah. It’s cool. I can’t wait. ”

  Seriously, I’d been excited about getting my license forever, but I guess my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and Paul could tell. In a weird way he reminded me of Chiron sometimes, how he could look at your and actually see your thoughts. I guess it was that teacher aura. 

  “You’ve had a rough summer,” he said. “I’m guessing you lost someone important. And…girl trouble?”

  I stared at him. “How do you know that? Did my mom—”

  He held up his hands. “Your mom hasn’t said a thing. And I won’t pry. I just know there’s something unusual about you, Percy. You’ve got a lot going on that I can’t figure. But I was also fifteen once, and I’m just guessing from your expression…Well, you’ve had a rough time. ”

  I nodded. I’d promised my mom I would tell Paul the truth about me, but now didn’t seem the time. Not yet. “I lost a couple of friends at this camp I go to,” I said. “I mean, not close friends, but still—”

  “I’m sorry. ”

  “Yeah. And, uh, I guess the girl stuff…”

  “Here. ” Paul handed me some punch. “To your fifteenth birthday. And to a better year to come. ”

  We tapped our paper cups together and drank. 

  “Percy, I kind of feel bad giving you one more thing to think about,” Paul said. “But I wanted to ask you something. ”

  “Yeah?”

  “Girl stuff. ”

  I frowned. “What do you mean?”

  “Your mom,” Paul said. “I’m thinking about proposing to her. ”

  I almost dropped my cup. “You mean…marrying her? You and her?”

  “Well, that was the genera idea. Would that be okay with you?”

  “You’re asking my permission?”

  Paul scratched his beard. “I don’t know if it’s permission, so much, but she’s your mother. And I know you’re going through a lot. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t talk to you about it first, man to man. ”

  “Man to man,” I repeated. It sounded strange, saying that. I thought about Paul and my mom, how she smiled and laughed more whenever he was around, and how Paul had gone out of his way to get me into high school. I found myself saying, “I think that’s a great idea, Paul. Go for it. ”

  He smiled really wide then. “Cheers, Percy. Let’s join the party. ”

  ***

  I was just getting ready to blow out the candles when the doorbell rang. 

  My mom frowned. “Who could that be?”

  It was weird, because our new building had a doorman, but he hadn’t called up or anything. My mom opened the door and gasped. 

  It was my dad. He was wearing Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and Birkenstocks, like he usually does. His black beard was neatly trimmed and his sea-green eyes twinkled. He wore a battered cap decorated with fishing lures. It said NEPTUNE’S LUCKY FISHING HAT. 

  “Pos—” My mother stopped herself. She was blushing right to the roots of her hair. “Um, hello. ”

  “Hello, Sally,” Poseidon said. “You look as beautiful as ever. May I come in?”

  My mother made a squeaking sound that might’ve been either a “Yes” or “Help. ” Poseidon took it as a yes and came in. 

  Paul was looking back and forth between us, trying to read our expressions. Finally he stepped forward. “Hi, I’m Paul Blofis. ”

  Poseidon raised his eyebrows as they shook hands. “Blowfish, did you say?”

  “Ah, no. Blofis, actually. ”

  “Oh, I see,” Poseidon said. “A shame. I quite like blowfish. I am Poseidon. ”

  “Poseidon? That’s an interesting name. ”

  “Yes, I like it. I’ve gone by other names, but I do prefer Poseidon. ”

  “Like the god of the sea. ”

  “Very much like that, yes. ”

  “Well!” my mom interrupted. “Um, we’re so glad you could drop by. Paul, this is Percy’s father. ”

  “Ah. ” Paul nodded, though he didn’t look real pleased. “I see. ”

  Poseidon smiled at me. “There you are, my boy. And Tyson, hello, son!”

  “Daddy!” Tyson bounded across the room and gave Poseidon a big hug, which almost knocked off his fishing hat. 

  Paul’s jaw dropped. He stared at my mom. “Tyson is…”

  “Not mine,” she promised. “It’s a long story. ”

  “I couldn’t miss Percy’s fifteenth birthday,” Poseidon said. “Why, if this were Sparta, Percy would be a man today!”

  “That’s true,” Paul said. “I used to teach ancient history. ”

  Poseidon’s eyes twinkled. “That’s me. Ancient history. Sally, Paul, Tyson…would you mind if I borrowed Percy for a moment?”

  He put his arm around me and steered me into the kitchen. 

  ***

  Once we were alone, his smile faded. 

  “Are you all right, my boy?”

“Yeah. I’m fine. I guess. ”

  “I heard stories,” Poseidon said. “But I wanted to hear it directly from you. Tell me everything. ”

  So I did. It was kind of disconcerting, because Poseidon listened so intently. His eyes never left my face. His expression didn’t change the whole time I talked. When I was done, he nodded slowly. 

  “So Kronos is indeed back. It will not be long before full war is upon us. ”

  “What about Luke?” I asked. “Is he really gone?”

  “I don’t know, Percy. It is most disturbing. ”

  “But his body is mortal. Couldn’t you just destroy him?”

  “Mortal, perhaps, but there is something different about Luke, my boy. I don’t know how he was prepared to host the Titan’s soul, but he will not be easily killed. And yet, I fear he must be killed if we are to send Kronos back to the pit. I will have to think on this. Unfortunately, I have other problems of my own. ”

  I remembered what Tyson had told me at the beginning of the summer. “The old sea gods?”

  “Indeed. The battle came first to me, Percy. In fact, I cannot stay long. Even now the ocean is at war with itself. It is all I can do to keep hurricanes and typhoons from destroying your surface world, the fighting is so intense. ”

  “Let me come down there,” I said. “Let me help. ”

  Poseidon’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Not yet, my boy. I sense you will be needed here. Which reminds me…” He brought out a sand dollar and pressed it into my hand. “Your birthday present. Spend it wisely. ”

  “Uh, spend a sand dollar?”

  “Oh, yes. In my day, you could buy quite a lot with a sand dollar. I think you will find it still buys a lot, if used in the right situation. ”

  “What situation?”

  “When the time comes,” Poseidon said, “I think you’ll know. ”

  I closed my hand around the sand dollar, but something was really bothering me. 

  “Dad,” I said, “when I was in the maze, I met Antaeus. He said…well, he said he was your favorite son. He decorated his arena with skulls and—”

  “He dedicated them to me,” Poseidon supplied. “And you are wondering how someone could do something so horrible in my name. ”

  I nodded uncomfortably. 

  Poseidon put his weathered hand on my shoulder. “Percy, lesser beings do many horrible things in the name of the gods. That does not mean we gods approve. The way our sons and daughters act in our names…well, it usually says more about them than it does about us. And you, Percy, are my favorite son. ”

  He smiled, and at that moment, just being in the kitchen with him was the best birthday present I ever got. Then my mom called from the living room. “Percy? The candles are melting!”

  “You’d better go,” Poseidon said. “But, Percy, one last thing you should know. That incident at Mount St. Helens…”

  For a second I thought he was talking about Annabeth kissing me, and I blushed, but then I realized he was talking about something a lot bigger. 

  “The eruptions are continuing,” he said. “Typhon is stirring. It is very likely that soon, in a few months, perhaps a year at best, he will escape his bonds. ”

  “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean—”

  Poseidon raised his hand. “It is not your fault, Percy. It would’ve happened sooner or later, with Kronos awakening the ancient monsters. But be aware, if Typhon stirs…it will be unlike anything you have faced before. The first time he appeared, all the forces of Olympus were barely enough to battle him. And when he stirs again, he will come here, to New York. He will make straight for Olympus. ”

  That was just the kind of wonderful news I wanted to get on my birthday, but Poseidon patted me on the back like everything was fine. “I should go. Enjoy your cake. ”

  And just like that he turned to mist and was swept out the window on a warm ocean breeze. 

  ***

  It took a little work to convince Paul that Poseidon had left via the fire escape, but since people can’t vanish into thin air, he had no choice but to believe it. 

  We ate blue cake and ice cream until we couldn’t eat anymore. Then we played a bunch of cheesy party games like charades and Monopoly. Tyson didn’t get charades. He kept shouting out the answer he was trying to mime, but it turned out he was really good at Monopoly. He knocked me out of the game in the first five rounds and started bankrupting my mom and Paul. I left them playing and went into my bedroom. 

  I set an uneaten slice of blue cake on my dresser. Then I took off my Camp Half-Blood necklace and laid it on the windowsill. There were three beads now, representing my three summers at camp—a trident, the Golden Fleece, and the latest: an intricate maze, symbolizing the Battle of the Labyrinth, as the campers had started to call it. I wondered what next year’s bead would be, if I was still around to get it. If the camp survived until next summer. 

  I looked at the phone by my bedside. I thought about calling Rachel Elizabeth Dare. My mom had asked me if there was anyone else I wanted to have over tonight, and I’d thought about Rachel. But I didn’t call. I don’t know why. The idea made me almost as nervous as a door into the Labyrinth. 

  I patted my pockets and emptied out my stuff—Riptide, a Kleenex, my apartment key. Then I patted my shirt pocket and felt a small lump. I hadn’t even realized it, but I was wearing the white cotton shirt Calypso had given me on Ogygia. I brought out a little piece of cloth, unwrapped it, and found the clipping of moonlace. It was a tiny sprig, shriveled up after two months, but I could still smell the faint scent of the enchanted garden. It made me sad. 

  I remembered Calypso’s last request of me: Plant a garden in Manhattan for me, will you? I opened the window and stepped onto the fire escape. 

  My mom kept a planter box out there. In the spring she usually filled it with flowers, but now it was all dirt, waiting for something new. It was a clear night. The moon was full over Eighty-second Street. I planted the dried sprig of moonlace carefully in the dirt and sprinkled a little nectar on it from my camp canteen. 

  Nothing happened at first. 

  Then, as I watched, a tiny silver plant sprang out of the soil—a baby moonlace, growing in the warm summer night. 

  “Nice plant,” a voice said. 

  I jumped. Nico di Angelo was standing on the fire escape right next to me. He’d just appeared there. 

  “Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to startle you. ”

  “That’s—that’s okay. I mean…what are you doing here?”

  He’d grown about an inch taller over the last couple of months. His hair was a shaggy black mess. He wore a black T-shirt, black jeans, and a new silver ring shaped like a skull. His Stygian iron sword hung at his side. 

  “I’ve done some exploring,” he said. “Thought you’d like to know, Daedalus got his punishment. ”

  “You saw him?”

  Nico nodded. “Minos wanted to boil him in cheese fondue for an eternity, but my father had other ideas. Daedalus will be building overpasses and exit ramps in Asphodel for all time. It’ll help ease the traffic congestion. Truthfully, I think the old guy is pretty happy with that. He’s still building. Still creating. And he gets to see his son and Perdix on the weekends. ”

  “That’s good. ”

  Nico tapped at his silver ring. “But that’s not the real reason I’ve come. I’ve found out some things. I want to make you an offer. ”

  “What?”

  “The way to beat Luke,” he said. “If I’m right, it’s the only way you’ll stand a chance. ”

  I took a deep breath. “Okay. I’m listening. ”

  Nico glanced inside my room. His eyebrows furrowed. “Is that…is that blue birthday cake?”

  He sounded hungry, maybe a little wistful. I wondered if the poor kid had ever had a birthday party, or if he’d ever even been invited to one. 

  “Come inside for some cake and ice cream,” I said. “It sounds like we’ve got a lot to talk about. ”

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